It’s Time to Get Romantic

Romance. Erotica. What comes to mind when you read these words? Do you think of the “pinkies” in the Large Type collection? Harlequin romances your mom used to read? Fifty Shades of Grey? Romance is all of that and so much more.

I unabashedly admit proclaim being a romance reader and enjoy sharing with you the best of the best every year when I cover the RITAs. The RITAs are selected by the Romance Writers of America every year at their annual conference. The category descriptions have one thing in common: the romance titles they list are emotionally satisfying and optimistic. This is also known as the main reason Carol reads romance in the first place.

This year’s winners were announced at the end of July but I was still trying to snap out of the lovely trance The Boys in the Boat had woven around me. Now I’m a bit back to normal and happy to link you to this year’s winners:

No Good Duke - MacLeanBest First Book Winner
The Sweet Spot by Laura Drake

Contemporary Romance Winner
Crazy Thing Called Love by Molly O’Keefe

Erotic Romance Winner
Claim Me by J. Kenner

Historical Romance Winner
No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean

Inspirational Romance Winner
Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano

Claim Me - KennerParanormal Romance Winner
The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Romance Novella Winner
Take Me, Cowboy by Jane Porter

Romantic Suspense Winner
Off the Edge by Carolyn Crane

Short Contemporary Romance Winner
Why Resist a Rebel? by Leah Ashton

You’ll notice I didn’t include a link for every title. That’s because the library is working on purchasing them, but they’re not yet in the catalog. If you’re interested, feel free to talk to a librarian. Let them know it’s now an award winner and that Carol sent ya.

RWA also awards a Librarian of the Year to someone who demonstrates outstanding support of romance authors and the romance genre. This year’s librarian of the year is Sean Gilmartin from The Anythink Library in Thornton, Colorado. Sean did a wonderful write-up of his experience in USA Today that you should totally go read. Like, right now. He’s also a writer, so keep your eyes open for his name on the shelves of the Romance section in the future.

Obsidian - ArmentroutI learned from Carol Ritter, Deputy Executive Director of RWA, that this year there weren’t enough entries in the YA category, so as a result there was no winner. I classify this as a major bummer and hope that next year will be different. Carol also said there aren’t any plans at this time to add an NA category to the RITAs, but I speculate that may change in the future as its popularity continues to rise. What is NA? While many people recognize YA standing for young adult, not everyone has caught on to NA, or new adult. NA is similar to YA in that the characters are of a certain age. But in NA’s case the age group is closer to college-aged. Characters aren’t in high school anymore, but they’re also not exactly established in their careers yet. They’re just starting out on their own, and as they explore their worlds these books get to the core of what it’s like to really fall hard for someone for the first time. The romantic elements tend to be more explicit in NA than in YA, but both usually contain a fair amount of emotional turmoil and fresh-faced discovery.

Frigid - J LynnCan’t decide which to explore first? I will ease you into it by suggesting you read anything and everything written by Jennifer L. Armentrout (YA) aka J. Lynn (NA). Jennifer is one of the most prolific writers of our time, and more importantly, her books are good. I mean, really, really good. You will care and cry and laugh and swoon for her characters. You will identify and connect with someone in your life who has read her and find yourself talking about the little quirks the characters have, and what you hope does or does not happen in the series conclusion. And when you’ve devoured her stories and are waiting for the next to be published, she tweets behind-the-scenes descriptions of what life is really like for a writer. She champions self-published authors, since she started out as one, and will express her joy at a book she’s read and enjoyed during those rare moments of free time. She interacts directly with fans and one of her best collections of photos is with fans at book signings & conferences.

So far, I have devoured all but the ending to The Lux series, which is classified as YA. I’ve been waiting until I have a bit more uninterrupted free time to read the conclusion. It has romance, action and adventure, and a Sci-Fi twist: aliens! Last week The Lux series cracked the NY Times YA Series list at number 4. As a thank you, Jennifer posted a bonus passage for Lux fans who have completed the series that catches up with the characters a few years later. I can’t read it just yet but am excited know it’s there, waiting for me.

My first taste of NA was Frigid, followed immediately by Wait for You. The plot of Frigid is a variation on my favorite theme, friends who become more than just friends. Wait for You centers on a woman who faces her internal demons while working toward a brighter future. At the time I wasn’t aware that either book would be part of a series, so now I can look forward to falling further into obsession love with the characters and settings!

For me, the best part of reading romance is knowing there is a happy ending waiting at the conclusion of the book. It’s something I can count on, something I can look forward to experiencing. We can all use a little bit of happy in our lives, and that’s why I will never tire of reading romance. And, dear reader, I will never tire of telling you why you need to read it as well.

The Best Laid Plans

As you may recall, gentle reader, in June I devised a list of interesting non-fiction titles to guide my summer reading.  Well the good news is that I have been reading non-fiction. The bad news is that none of the titles I’ve chosen so far have been selected from that list. I had hoped to whittle away at my reading list, but sadly I’ve just added to it. Still, in the grand scheme of things, there are worse problems to have than a long list of interesting books to read.  Speaking of the grand scheme of things, the titles I have been reading this summer have had a philosophical bent for some reason. Perhaps sunshine makes a person question their place in the universe. Or it could be sunstroke. In any case, here are few more titles you might want to consider for your summer non-fiction reading.

Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero by James Romm
dyingeverydayWhile this work is definitely chock full of intriguing Roman Imperial history, the book’s central aim is trying to answer a seemingly intractable question: Just what kind of person was Seneca? On the one hand, thanks to many of his surviving philosophical works, we know that he was a dyed in the wool Stoic preaching the rigorous virtues of poverty, morality and the equality of all before fate. On the other we have his career as a shrewd politician and tutor to the young Emperor Nero; Seneca amassed a huge amount of wealth while delicately maneuvering through the deadly and incredibly amoral minefield of the imperial court. The author is a master at examining a tenant of stoicism that Seneca espoused and then contrasting it with the rather seedy political world he found himself in. Romm makes a convincing argument concerning Seneca’s moral character, but ultimately leaves it up to the reader to decide.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
theswerveThis one is a librarian’s, or book lover’s, dream. In the winter of 1417 the Italian humanist and former Papal secretary Poggio Braccilini was searching for forgotten manuscripts, a popular pastime in that era, in the monasteries of Southern Germany.  What he discovered was a fragile copy of an ancient poem titled On the Nature of Things (De rerum natura). This text, written by Lucretius and promoting the ideas of the philosopher Epicurus, was praised for the beauty of its language, but the ideas it conveyed were definitely not kosher for the time. A few examples: early atomic theory (discovered centuries before the scientific method was invented), the idea of an indifferent universe, and, worst of all, the concept that seeking pleasure was actually a good thing. Greenblatt’s book is not only an examination of the history of these ideas and their influence on our culture, but also the fascinating story of Poggio Braccilini and his time.

The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman
accidentaluniverseAll the essays in this short work are concerned with the impact of recent scientific discoveries on our view of the universe and our place in it. The author is both a theoretical physicist and a novelist which I found to be a great help when it came to his descriptions of some of the more complicated scientific concepts such as dark matter and the multiverse which he deftly puts in layman’s terms.  The essays are not simply explanations of scientific concepts. Instead, Lightman tries to integrate the scientific ideas with concepts from history, literature, and his own personal experiences.  This creates a balanced approach that is greatly appreciated when it comes to hot button topics like the often uneasy relationship between belief and the scientific method. This book is not a series of rants from a particular perspective, but rather a balanced and humane attempt to genuinely explore the ideas scientific discoveries are bringing to the fore.

A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning by Robert Zaretsky
alifeworthlivingWhile you may associate Albert Camus with past memories of disgruntled youths wearing all black and mumbling the first line from The Stranger (Mother died today. Or was it yesterday; I can’t be sure.) this blend of biography and criticism would argue that there is much more to the man and his ideas for living.  Zaretsky structures the biographical details around a series of concepts that Camus grappled with and that make up the chapter headings: Absurdity, Silence, Measure, Fidelity, Revolt.  What emerges is a set of ideas for understanding the world that are constantly open to exploration and interpretation, far from the static label (existentialism) often ascribed to them. While struggle is definitely a component, Camus finds that there is actually cause for hope and, gasp, happiness in this life:

It was the middle of winter, I finally realized that, within me, summer was inextinguishable.

So, a few suggestions for a little light non-fiction reading this summer. Perhaps I need to get out of the sun.

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.

Spot-Lit for July 2014

Spot-Lit

Here’s our list of fiction to look for in July. 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  

Last Stories    Toledo    One Plus One    Tigerman    Care and Management of Lies

Last Stories and Other Stories  by William T. Vollman
How To Tell Toledo from the Night Sky  by Lydia Netzer
One Plus One  by Jojo Moyes
Tigerman  by Nick Harkaway
The Care and Management of Lies  by Jacqueline Winspear

Archival Revivals / New Translations

Echo's Bones    Conversations    Mr Gwyn    Professor    Agostino

Echo’s Bones  by Samuel Beckett
The Conversations  by César Aira
Mr. Gwyn  by Alessandro Baricco
The Professor and the Siren  by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Agostino  by Alberto Moravia

First Novels

Last Night    Sleepwalker's    Dry Bones in the Valley    Man Called Ove    Girls from Corona Del Mar

Last Night at the Blue Angel  by Rebecca Rotert
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing  by Mira Jacob
Dry Bones in the Valley  by Tom Bouman
A Man Called Ove  by Frederik Backman
The Girls from Corona del Mar  by Rufi Thorpe

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Peter Pan Must Die    Everyone Lies    That Night    Dead Will Tell    Night Searchers

Peter Pan Must Die  by John Verdon
Everyone Lies  by A.D. Garrett
That Night  by Chevy Stevens
The Dead Will Tell  by Linda Castillo
The Night Searchers  by Marcia Muller

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Queen of the Tearling    Half a King    Full Fathom Five    All Those Vanished Engines    House of Small Shadows

The Queen of the Tearling  by Erika Johansen
Half a King  by Joe Abercrombie
Full Fathom Five  by Max Gladstone
All Those Vanished Engines  by Paul Park
The House of Small Shadows  by Adam Nevill

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

Books That Started as Blogs

If you’re like me, and I hope you are, you follow a blog or two just because it’s fun. Of course I read this very blog because my smart and hip co-workers contribute valuable stuff to it. Hey, you’re reading it right now! You must be just like me.

Did you know that there are a lot of great books which have been spawned from blogs? Let’s explore some recent titles which had their starts as blogs. I’ll start with the visual ones:

indexCake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong by Jen Yates is so funny! Yates has been entertaining us with the worst cakes ever, including the ugly, silly, creepy, sad, and suggestive on her blog since 2008. It currently features photos of awful graduation cakes. Have your cake and laugh at it, too. With witty commentary and behind-the-scenes tidbits, Cake Wrecks will ensure that you never look at a cake the same way again.

index (1)There, I Fixed It! No, You Didn’t by Cheez Burger is part of the ubiquitous Cheezburger Network of blogs and is another hilarious visual feast full of epic fails which show human ingenuity at its worst. My favorite ‘chapter’ features quick fixes with duct tape.

index (14)How To Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You is based on the blog, The Oatmeal, a hugely popular website. It is a brilliant 136 page offering of cat comics, facts, and instructions to help you enjoy, love, and survive your cat. The book is a #1 NY Times best seller and sold over a half million copies in its first three months in print. Check it out from the library for free. Even I laughed, and I hate cats.

index (3)I do love dogs and fortunately for me there’s Dog Shaming by Pascale Lemire, based on the blog with the same name. This book features the most hilarious, shameful, and never-before-seen doggie misdeeds. It reminds me of the evening we were sitting around with friends having a nice conversation, when we discovered that our friend’s dog had chewed apart another friend’s shoe. We didn’t think to take a photo, but these folks have taken some pretty funny ones.

index (13)And what blog-book list would be complete without an awkward family photo selection? I’ll include Awkward Family Pet Photos which came from the Awkward Family Photos blog. These books are always so weird, yet funny. Just look at this fellow hugging his dog on the cover. The photos with monkeys, possums, and chickens are especially hilarious. And now on to the blog-books which have more text than photos.

index (4)Let’s Pretend This Never Happened:  (A Mostly True Memoir) is written by Jenny Lawson, the “Bloggess”. She’s ‘like Mother Theresa, only better.’ She writes this about her book: “You should probably go buy it right now, because it’s filled with awesomeness. And cocaine. But only if you hollow it out and fill it with your own cocaine. I’m not buying you cocaine. Because I love you.” I thought it was hilarious when I read it and you may also, since you’re just like me!

index (5)Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian by Scott Douglas who writes dispatches on McSweeney’s. Scott Douglas works for a smallish public library nestled cozily between Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm in Orange County, California. This is where most of his observations occur, although sometimes he goes to other libraries. This book is super funny because it could have taken place at our very own local library. Read it and see for yourself.

index (6)The Happiest Mom by Meagan Francis who writes the Happiest Home blog online. The author also writes for Parenting magazine and is the mother of five children, so she presumably knows her stuff and spells it out in ten simple rules that are delivered with humor. This book has gorgeous graphics and the main idea is that you can be a mom (or grandparent) and still be happy. As I’ve always said, if Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!

These blog-books are sure to make you happy.  Check them out at your local library!

Spot-Lit for June 2014

Spot-Lit

These June novels are getting a lot of praise in advance reviews. 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  

summer house    Arsonist    Vacationers    Bellweather Rhapsody    Hundred-Year House

Summer House with Swimming Pool  by Herman Koch
The Arsonist  by Sue Miller
The Vacationers  by Emma Straub
Bellweather Rhapsody  by Kate Racculia
The Hundred-Year House  by Rebecca Makkai

First Novels

Antiquarian    Everything    Quick    Fourth of July    People in the Photo

The Antiquarian  by Gustavo Faveron Patriau
Everything I Never Told You  by Celeste Ng
The Quick  by Lauren Owen
Fourth of July Creek  by Smith Henderson
The People in the Photo  by Helene Gestern

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Good Suicides    Better World    Coldsleep Lullaby    Silkworm    Truth About

The Good Suicides  by Antonio Hill
A Better World  by Marcus Sakey
Coldsleep Lullaby  by Andrew Brown
The Silkworm  by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair  by Joel Dicker

SF & Fantasy

Memory of Water    Hard to Be a God    Koko    Madonna    Cibola Burn

Memory of Water  by Emmi Itäranta
Hard to Be a God  by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Koko Takes a Holiday  by Kieran Shea
The Madonna and the Starship  by James Morrow
Cibola Burn  by James S.A. Corey

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

For other notable new fiction lists, try the Indie Next List and Library Reads

Spot-Lit for May 2014

Spot-Lit

In May, this reader is particularly looking forward to the next installment of My Struggle and the books, largely grounded in the written word, History of the Rain, and The Word Exchange. But your tastes may point you toward new books by Michael Cunningham (transcendent emotional inner worlds), Anthony Doerr (intertwined voices in WWII France), or Peter Heller (his second novel, following his popular The Dog Stars). Mystery readers pining for Spenser might try Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage; and for those of you who like western-themed mysteries, definitely take a look at Any Other Name. Thriller fans may want to grab I Am Pilgrim, Natchez Burning, or Prayer. If you go in for the paranormal, check out the zombie thriller Omega Days, or Charlaine Harris’s (of Sookie Stackhouse fame) new series opener Midnight Crossroad. For steampunk fans there’s Highfell Grimoires. And in romance, you’ll find a range from contemporary to chick-lit to urban fantasy to inspirational.

Read more about May’s Spot-Lit picks by clicking on the titles and reading the summaries or reviews.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction 

All the Light  Snow Queen  History of the Rain  Painter  My Struggle

All the Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr
The Snow Queen  by Michael Cunningham
History of the Rain  by Niall Williams
The Painter  by Peter Heller
My Struggle: Book Three  by Karl Ove Knausgaard

First Novels

I Am Pilgirm Book of You  All That Is Solid  Remember Me Like This  Word Exchanbe

I Am Pilgrim  by Terry Hayes
The Book of You  by Claire Kendal
All That Is Solid Melts Into Air  by Darragh McKeon
Remember Me Like This  by Bret Johnston
The Word Exchange  by Alena Graedon

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Natchez Burning  Prayer  Any Other Name  Bred in the Bone Wolverine Bros

Natchez Burning  by Greg Iles
Prayer  by Philip Kerr
Any Other Name  by Craig Johnson
Bred in the Bone  by Christopher Brookmyre
Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage  by Steve Ulfelder

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Midnight Crossroad  My Real Children  Queen of the Dark Things  Highfell Grimoires  Omega Days

Midnight Crossroad  by Charlaine Harris
My Real Children  by Jo Walton
Queen of the Dark Things  by C. Robert Cargill
Highfell Grimoires  by Langley Hyde
Omega Days  by John L. Campbell

Romance

Collide  Somebody Like You Skinny Bitch Gets HitchedBeautiful Distraction  Sparrow Hill Road

Collide  by Gail McHugh
Somebody Like You  by Beth Vogt
Skinny Bitch Gets Hitched  by Kim Barnouin
A Beautiful Distraction  by Kelsie Leverich
Sparrow Hill Road  by Seanan McGuire

To see all on-order fiction, click here.