Spot-Lit for August 2014

Spot-Lit

Here’s our fiction selector’s curated list of noteworthy August releases. Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction   

General Fiction

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage  by Haruki Murakami
The Fortune Hunter  by Daisy Goodwin
Lucky Us  by Amy Bloom
The Kills  by Richard House
The Madmen of Benghazi  by Gerard de Villers

First Novels

Debut

Your Face in Mine  by Jess Row
Painted Horses  by Malcolm Brooks
The Frozen Dead  by Bernard Minier
The Good Girl  by Mary Kubica
Panic in a Suitcase  by Yelena Akhtiorskaya

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Crime

A Colder War  by Charles Cumming
The Long Way Home  by Louise Penny
Strange Shores  by Arnaldur Indridasson
One Kick  by Chelsea Cain
The Furies  by Natalie Haynes

SF / Fantasy / Horror

SF-2

Fool’s Assassin  by Robin Hobb
Trial by Fire  by Charles Gannon
Lock In  by John Scalzi
We Are All Completely Fine  by Daryl Gregory
The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit  by Graham Joyce

Romance

Romance

Heroes Are My Weakness  by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
With Every Breath  by Elizabeth Camden
Virgin  by Radhika Sanghani
Since You’ve Been Gone  by Anouska Knight
His Every Need  by Terri L. Austin

More good reading

If you’re curious about titles that will be coming out later this year, take a look through The MillionsMost Anticipated Books for the Second Half of 2014. Or to see what you may have missed, revisit their preview picks for the First Half of the year. Amazon looks in the rear-view mirror in their recently posted Best of 2014 so far, where Spot-Lit followers will recognize many of our own earlier picks. And if you’re looking to discover additional new talent, check out Library Journal’s Summer Best Debuts.

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

Word on the Street

024Ah the typewriter. Those of a certain age may remember when these machines were not collectibles or antiques but vital tools for the writer and office worker alike.  It’s probably been a while since you’ve seen a person hunched over a manual wordsmitherary, trying to produce a coherent sentence without the aid of spell check, but if you’ve been strolling down the streets of downtown Everett recently you may have stumbled upon this very scene.

These modern-day hunt-and-peck aficionados are participating in the city of Everett’s latest outdoor interactive art project titled Word on The Street. Ten vintage typewriters seated atop artist-embellished typewriter tables have been placed on sidewalks throughout downtown Everett. But these creations are not simply museum displays, no no no! People are encouraged to type away and leave their musings for others to discover. And to get the creative juices flowing there is a Question of the Day, provided by Everett Public Library staff no less. If you want to see all of these machines from yesteryear, a list of all their locations is available, including one found in the library of course. Don’t take too long though; the typewriters will only be on the street through August 5th.

typewriterartAs you ponder what to type, you may be interested to learn that the typewriter has actually been at the heart of an artistic movement for many years. If you would like to take a gander at all the art that was inspired and produced on this humble instrument, definitely check out Typewriter Art: A Modern Anthology by Barrie Tullett. In the pages of this handsome book you will find a surprisingly wide and varied array of works as well as interviews with those who use the medium.

So what are waiting for? Get out there and type.

Erotica (shhh!)

Erotica is something that we don’t discuss so much in American culture, certainly don’t talk about as part of our current reading list. Yet books like Fifty Shades of Grey top the bestseller lists and romance novels, a staple of American reading, include more and more erotic content. So we may not admit to it, but we certainly do read it.

Therefore in perpetuum let me openly proclaim, I read erotic novels. Sometimes they’re great, sometimes I laugh openly and immediately dispose of them. But, on occasion, I do read (shhh!) erotic books.

Typically I don’t write negative reviews in this blog as I want to encourage people to read, and I realize that people have different tastes, interests and so on, but for today’s lesson we will delve into the dark side of criticism. As with any book, quality of writing is important, and there are perhaps more poorly-written erotic books than there are in other genres. Fifty Shades of Grey sold like wildfire, so obviously many people loved it. I too read this title to see what all the hubbub was about. Well. Let me tell you a thing or two about this particular word salad. It’s one of the most poorly-written books I’ve ever encountered. And it’s not even mildly erotic. The attempted eroticism is laughable. Ha ha!

Now the only reason I bring this book up is to have a sort of base line with which to compare other books. I fully support anyone who enjoyed this book because one of the important things about reading is to have fun. However, I am going to stand by my earlier assertions. So let’s look at some other erotic literature in the library and see how it compares to this recent bestseller.

FermataThe Fermata by Nicholson Baker
The Fermata employs an extremely literate writing style enjoyable perhaps to the readers of Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Eugenides or Yann Martel. As with anything sexual in nature, the story certainly has the ability to offend, but this is on the kind and gentle end of the spectrum. The story tells of a man who is able to freeze time, and, as one might suspect, he uses this ability to take advantage of women, although only by undressing them. What makes the character interesting is that he is not a drooling pervert but a sensitive, caring person with a sort of moral code that he imposes on his interactions with the frozen women. The erotic content of this book is more titillating or sensual than overtly sexual.

Jane EyroticaJane Eyrotica by Charlotte Brontë and Karena Rose
A somewhat popular literary trend of recent years is the literary remix. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!, The Meowmorphosis and Zombie Island are just a few examples of classic literature updated in an absurd, nearly surreal manner. The best of these feature seamless rewrites, the style of the modern author matching perfectly that of Austen, Kafka and Shakespeare. Jane Eyrotica is a rather racy remix of Brontë’s classic, rampant with bosom heaving, Victorian innuendo, bondage and somewhat explicit carnal activities. Although the story is changed a bit (Jane being 16 rather than 10) to accommodate the subject matter, this is a well-written book, classic yet sexual, and a far cry above the quality of Fifty Shades. For a quick taste, witness Jane’s reaction when looking at a photograph of an attractive man:

“Upon first seeing [his eyes], I had felt a jolt of pleasure beneath my petticoat;”

A fairly tame observation, Victorian in its naiveté, but merely an aperitif of what is to come.

Twilight GirlsTwilight Girls by Paula Christian
Both an example of 1950’s pulp fiction and vintage erotica, Twilight Girls is an early lesbian romance. The book contains two novelettes about a stewardess called Mac who is tired of men’s advances and one night stands. After finding herself confused and attracted to another stewardess, Toni, she transfers to a faraway state and tries to put her feelings for Toni behind her. Without giving too much of the story away, this is a book about a relationship (which just happens to be lesbian) peppered with tawdry and sordid encounters as the characters come to terms with their true natures. Although pulp by definition is not high-quality writing, this tale is still head-and-shoulders above Fifty Shades.

Finally, here are a few mainstream romance authors who include healthy doses of eroticism in their books.

Sylvia Day

Sylvia DayJulie Kenner

Julie Kenner

Maya Banks

Maya Banks

So what have we learned today? Erotica comes in many shapes and sizes. Read it proudly, read it discerningly, but most importantly, don’t forget your petticoat.

When History Splashes Off the Page

You may recall I gave myself a list of reading challenges for 2014. They are all self-imposed and they all just randomly fell out of my brain one day in a burst of madness inspiration. Whether this is the first you’re hearing of my reading resolutions or you just want to review, here is the list of my reading inspirations:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular (see below)
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

Up until now I thought of this list as only a clever way for me to have some ready-made books to blog about. However, I really didn’t expect anything mind-blowing to result. Then I decided to tackle number five, the super-popular designation. And guys, I finished reading this book three weeks ago. Three weeks ago. I have been unable to pick up another book since. This book broke me. I am stuck in a rut, afraid to pick up another book because it’s really not fair to that book to have to follow behind one so good as this one.

The boys in the boatUnless you’ve been living under a rock, or just not in the Pacific Northwest, everyone has been buzzing about The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. The library first bought the book last June and I don’t think we’ve ever been successful at keeping a single copy on the shelf. As of this writing there are still twenty-two outstanding holds across all formats. I was lucky enough to snag an eBook copy. Pro tip: if you need a popular book quickly, the holds queues for eBooks tend to be far shorter than physical print copies.

So there I was: sitting curled up on the couch, Saturday morning, fresh-brewed coffee in hand. This was back before that big summer heat wave hit Seattle. It was just me and the title screen on my Kindle. I had no idea what was about to happen, how truly involved in this story I would become. I ended up creating countless highlights in my eBook of passages I thought embodied a person, idea, or event. I didn’t count on how difficult it would be to retrieve said highlights later. So you’ll have to keep with me as I try to put into words how incredibly magnificent this book was, and still is.

Joe Rantz was born in Spokane in 1914. His childhood and early adulthood are detailed throughout the book, juxtaposed with great inventions of the time, and a healthy dose of local, federal, and world history. His father invented as a hobby, but it was never enough to pay the bills. When Joe was still quite young his mother died. His father, heartbroken and searching for work, moved all over the Northwest. Sometimes he took Joe; sometimes he left Joe behind; sometimes he shipped Joe out to a relative’s house. As a result, Joe had a severely unstable childhood but also became extremely self-reliant. Being left behind in a half-built house in the wilderness outside of Sequim, while your father packs up his new family and leaves for parts unknown will do that to you.

By the time he got to the University of Washington in 1933, Joe was always second-guessing his worth. Despite working hard, and during the Great Depression no less, to not only scrape together tuition money but also find a place to live, Joe never really saw his strengths. Joe was used to hard work, but he thought he would finally feel like he fit in with like-minded people in college. Instead his threadbare clothes and deep poverty made him feel like an outcast from the very start of his college career.

Eventually, Joe managed to work his way onto the UW crew team. Despite his aptitude, dedication, and stamina, he saw that his place on the team was not permanent and never guaranteed. Coaches swapped students around on different boats, trying to find the right combination of rowers. This boat-swapping, coupled with his childhood of abandonment put Joe constantly on edge, fearful that he would be let go from the team just when he was starting to feel at home. Knowing that staying on the crew team was his only chance to stay in college, and have a shot at a good future, Joe was constantly worried but always striving to be better.

Over his freshman and sophomore years, his boat had its ups and downs in competitions and teammate personality conflicts. But it wasn’t until his junior year that his teammates became as close as family. In 1932 UW’s west coast rowing rivals, UC “Cal” Berkeley, had won Olympic gold. Entering the 1935 rowing season, everyone at both UW and Cal knew that their coach would be pushing them to fight for the chance at the gold medal at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. And any team competing against Germany on their home turf during an oppressive time would, if they could win it…well, do I need to go on?

The Dust Bowl. Nazis. The Great Depression. Hitler’s rise to power. All of this is set against our group of farm boys, working hard on the waters of Lake Washington. This is a true underdog story, one made more inspirational because every word of it is true. Pay special attention to the quotes from George Yeoman Pocock at the start of each chapter. He handcrafted all the racing shells at UW during Joe’s tenure, and he was wise beyond his years. I would love to read more about him and his equally humble beginnings and incredible life.

I really did not think I would like The Boys in the Boat, but was curious how a book about rowing could become so popular. I told my dentist I was going to read this book. He, an avid fisherman and happiest, I suspect, when he’s on the open water, said that it was also on his list to read this summer. I feel like I did us both proud. Look at me, reading a book about sports! But it’s so much more than that. If you, too, decide to give it a chance, prepare to be swept away at forty-five strokes per minute. Now that I’ve written this review I hope it releases me from the spell cast by Daniel James Brown. I’m going to crack open a new book tonight and test my theory.

In case you’re wondering, and lest us always remember, the boys in the boat:
Left to right: Don Hume, Joe Rantz, George “Shorty” Hunt, Jim “Stub” McMillin, John “Johnny” White Jr., Gordon “Gordy” Adam, Chuck Day, Roger Morris. Kneeling: Bobby Moch

1936 UW Varsity Crew Team

Must Reads for Summer 2014

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There are good and bad things about working in a library. The good: all of the great books that you discover and get to read. The bad: all of the great books that you don’t have time to read. We all have excuses and these are mine: full-time work and a toddler who just turned two years old and a baby who is ten months old. Oh yeah, and a house and garden and that guy I married 33 years ago. So, I often feel like that funny old bird the pelican whose beak holds more than his belly can. I have a beak full of great reads these days which may interest you if you’re participating in the summer reading program at the Everett Public Library or if you’re lucky enough to be planning a vacation and need a good book to take along. This list has a little bit of everything so there may be just the right book for you. Let’s start with non-fiction.

indexCA1ADCTLFlash Boys: a Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis is on my list since I read Boomerang and I thought that it was the bomb. This guy also wrote Moneyball and The Blind Side and other excellent books. It reads like a John Grisham novel, but it’s a true story about stock exchanges, high frequency traders, and dark pools. The author is great at explaining complicated technical subjects and telling a good story around them. I want to read it!

indexCA63IMS4Leonardo and the Last Supper has been by my bedside for a few weeks now. It’s excellent! I was an art history major in college and I’ve learned so much more from this book about the creation of this Renaissance masterpiece. Mr. King has managed to focus on a particular theme and give the reader as much information as needed to really understand it. Another of his earlier books accomplished the same thing, Brunelleschi’s Dome, which I can also recommend.

indexCAAEEVC8The President and the Assassin: McKinley, terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century is a great book (obvious from the first chapter) by Seattle author, Scott Miller. He creates a portrait of turn of the century America going back and forth between an under-appreciated president, William McKinley and his anarchist assassin, Leon Czolgosz. This was a time when the powerful were growing more powerful and desperate men turned to terrorism. Sound familiar?

And now for some fiction:

index (16)I have to read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie because my daughter heard her give a talk recently in Copenhagen and apparently it’s wonderful. The author takes on immigration, race, and what it means to leave home and to return, all wrapped up in a love story. Adichie has also written Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus. The first chapter alone is marvelous. Let’s all get with it and read this one.

indexCAZNZBA7The Care of Wooden Floors by Will WIles was recommended to me by two co-workers so I checked it out and my husband read it while we were on vacation. Even though I couldn’t read it, he confirmed that it is funny and interesting and a good book.  It’s an odd couple story of a fellow who house sits for a composer friend. He accidentally spills wine on the apartment’s priceless wooden floor and endures a disastrous week of perfectionist repair and maintenance.

index (1)Delicious! is by Ruth Reichl. I’ve read all of her memoirs from Garlic and Sapphires to Tender at the Bone. This is her first attempt at fiction and she certainly writes about what she knows: the heroine is a woman who works for a venerable food magazine that suddenly ceases publication. It looks like a pretty fun and fast read, and if you’re looking for a souffle-type novel, you could do worse! Plus, the cover is lovely.

indexBroken Harbor is Tana French’s new ‘Dublin Murder Squad’ crime novel and it’s supposed to be every bit as brilliant as her three earlier books featuring that tough cop, Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy. This is a murder story which seems easy to solve at first until the details don’t add up. Read this one to get the atmosphere of an Ireland hit hard by the recession, an idea of police procedure and to become engrossed in a well written who dunnit.

index (1)The Possibilities is written by Kaui Hart Hemmings who also wrote The Descendants. You’ll remember that movie with George Clooney. This new book follows a similar theme of family and loss and is set in the paradise of Breckenridge, Colorado. A single mom is grieving the loss of her son, Cully, in an avalanche when a strange girl shows up with a secret from Cully’s past.

indexThe Vacationers by Emma Straub  will take you all the way to the beaches of Spain, where a family’s dramas are set against the beautiful background of a lush vacation. It will leave you feeling like you were just on a family trip — laughing, exhausted and filled with love.

So, check out one of these books to take on your next vacation or simply read one for a great ‘staycation’. Either way, enjoy!

Ghosts in the Shelf

Voodoo Hoodoo SpellbookAs librarians, we love it when our patrons get excited about the materials we purchase for them. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a title we’ve ordered fly off the shelf and accumulate holds; it’s a good sign that we’re on the right track to knowing what our readers want. Occasionally there’s a downside to success: when we can’t keep a title on the shelf because people don’t want to return it. When titles go unreturned we charge the guilty party and replace the books right away, either with copies of the same book, or with something more updated. We often order multiple copies of replacement books to accommodate the obviously high level of interest. Over time, the librarians who buy books in different areas of our collection have come to notice specific titles and topics that go A.W.O.L. more frequently than others. Some may not be too shocking to some, while others may be a bit of a surprise. Here’s what our book selectors have to say about what some readers just can’t get enough of at the EPL:

Essential Bicycle Maintainance & RepairAccording to Richard, bicycle repair manuals often ride off into the sunset, and sex instruction books frequently go undercover.

Pat reports that books on growing and cultivating marijuana go up in smoke.

Alan frequently has to reorder rock star memoirs on addiction recovery.

Game of ThronesAndrea says that in the young adults section, books by Ellen Hopkins are frequent offenders. One disappearing nonfiction title that gave her a chuckle had something to do with being an ethical hacker.

In Zac’s area, he has to replace a lot of graphic novels. Some eternally-popular titles include Sin City Vol. 1, The Eye of the World, The Game of Thrones, Y: The Last Man, The Lucifer series, and Batman:The City of Owls.

Cover image from Numerology for your FamilyFor my part, books in the occult and new age areas (reading crystals, casting spells, astrology, etc.) can be an issue. Bibles, bible study books, and devotionals are often not returned. My favorite not returned title was a self-help book on impulse control. My guess is that the borrower really needed it.

Other problem areas include automotive repair, true crime, diet and medical advice, gardening and homesteading, herbalism, foraging, computers and technology how-tos, cookbooks, tattoo design, crafting, test prep, and home projects.

For the most part it seems like the materials that most frequently go unreturned at the EPL are items that people might need at their side for quick reference. There are a lot of manuals (hands-on or spiritual) for getting through day-to-day problems, or self-improvement. Occasionally these books make their way back to our shelves after long absences. One can only hope that this means the borrowers finally fixed whatever issues were plaguing them.

While we may find some humor in the variety of materials that our patrons can become overly-attached to, missing items can be a serious problem if left unchecked. Library staff constantly work at following up on long-overdue items to make sure that materials are where they need to be when our readers want to check them out. So to our loyal readers, if you happen to be sitting on a cache of late materials, be kind and get them back a.s.a.p so that someone else can enjoy them.

Adult Summer Reading Reviews

We are nearing the mid-way point for the Literary Elements Adult Summer Reading Challenge. Many of you have signed up and received lots of great prizes. Some of you have gone out of your way to share reviews of books that you have been reading this summer. It was hard to choose, but a few selected reviews are shown below from the ones we have received so far. Thanks to all for participating and sharing your reviews with us!

An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James (Reviewed by Patricia R.)

inquiryintoloveanddeathAs a dedicated reader of fiction– Mysteries and Sci-Fi Fantasy–for over 65 years, this book surpassed anything I have ever heard of or read. From the first page to the last, it is a slow builder of suspense! And yes,fear! This is my first encounter with Gothic, though it is not the gory horror stories that make one ill. Ms. St. James has welded together Gothic, Mystery, and Romance with such great skill that the reader should not be surprised if she experiences goose bumps in the final chapters. Location is England in the early 1900’s, shortly after WW1, in a remote village. Ms. St. James writings are filled with spine-tingling, terrifying characters, but, there is also the beautiful romance with a Scotland Yard Inspector and the discovery of Jillian’s family history. I would share with you that this story is so compelling and intense that I would not choose to read this at night before bed. In some ways, a wonderful, old-fashioned ghost story! Her three books have been reviewed and listed on the NY Times Best Seller List with the 4th one to be released in April, 2015.

The Way of All Fish by Martha Grimes (Reviewed by Cathleen V.)

wayofallfishContract killers who take jobs on the condition that they can decide for themselves whether or not the target is worthy of elimination is an intriguing idea. Even though the inside flap of this novel gives the impression that the hit men are the focus of the tale, there are a large number of other characters who are part of the detailed schemes in this book. Some of the characters have talents, skills, hobbies, and occupations that could make them worthy of novels of their own. The twists, devious manipulations, and humor kept me reading through the points in the story which seemed slow or less relevant to the plot, even a few places where I was not certain I wished to continue on reading. I would say this is all right as one of my first reads of the summer. It requires some attention to keep track of several characters and storylines but is not so challenging that it is frustrating.

Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why it Matters for Global Capitalism by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller (Reviewed by Cynthia W.)

animalspiritsI like to be reading a novel and a non-fiction book at all times. I have lots of opportunities to share good novels with friends and co-workers but I really value this forum to share an occasional non-fiction book. I just finished reading Animal Spirits, a look at classical economic theory and Keynesian theory in light of our questions regarding the recent behavior of our world economy. I have no training in economics so I was a bit nervous but also encouraged by the funny artwork on the cover and the mention of human psychology in the subtitle. The authors, George Akerlof and Robert Schiller, are economists whose names I have seen and heard in the news. While their collaborative style of writing is not graceful or very engaging, it is also not academic or difficult to understand for readers with a good all-round education in other fields. In fact, there is humor to be found in these pages. Beginning with a brief over-view of the work of Adam Smith and his most influential successor John Maynard Keynes, the authors point out the strengths and weaknesses of both theories as they have historically been applied to policy decisions. The “animal spirits” element of Keynes’ analysis, largely ignored by economists since his time, are explained as elements of non-rational human psychology that influence financial and economic decision-making. Since most decisions are made by people who are not following a theoretical ideology but are attempting to make the right decisions for themselves and their society, human psychology plays a greater role than previously acknowledged by theoreticians and scholars. The human considerations examined here are confidence, fairness, corruption and bad faith, money illusion (a new concept for me) and the human propensity to create a narrative story around our lives and circumstances. The effects that these considerations have on individual decisions, relationships and political discussion are easy to see in the world right now. In part 2 the book attempts to answer questions that depend on the economic concepts and human psychology presented in part 1. Questions like “Why do economies fall into depressions?” (lots of history in this one regarding both the US depression of the 1890’s and the Great Depression of the 1930’s that effected the whole world,) “Why are there people who cannot find a job?” (surprisingly, classical theory and the stripped-down version of Keynesian theory do not recognize the existence of involuntary unemployment,) “Why is saving for the future so arbitrary?” (including individual and cultural influences on decisions to save or spend,) and “Why do real estate markets go through cycles?” Animal Spirits is only 177 pages long but I would not call it an easy read. Neither is it too difficult. The insight into the current economic environment gained from this treatise ( the authors do espouse the view that government has a legitimate and vital role to play in economic health and stability) is well worth the effort. I feel more prepared to engage in discussion with the tools to express my own viewpoint and values and without rancor or accusation.