The Hit by Melvin Burgess

Oh God, I hope my mom doesn’t read this. Usually she’s busy being retired and teaching our dog tricks. Don’t read this, Mom. I’ll give you $5 not to read this. I think the dog pooped in the hallway. You better go check that situation out. I don’t think you want to hear that the only reason your kid doesn’t do drugs is because she’s too lazy to go find them.

I don’t do drugs. I don’t avoid them because they’re bad for me and will lead my life down a path of ruin and eventual death. I don’t do drugs because I have no idea where I would get them and I’m too lazy to seek them out. The hardest drug I do is Benadryl. And caffeine.

thehitMelvin Burgess’s The Hit is about a drug unlike any other. It’s called Death and it’s in high demand. You swallow it and have 7 days to live, but those 7 days are the best days you could ever hope for. You wake up euphoric, a burst of energy unlike any high you’ve ever felt. Any dream you’ve had, whatever you wanted to become in life, you pursue it with passion (instead of what I do which is ‘I think I want to write a book except my favorite episode of American Dad is on and I’ve only seen it 17 times.’)

Adam comes from a poor family. His dad is disabled and unable to work and his mom works so many shifts that all she can do when she gets home is sleep. His brother Jess, a chemist, hasn’t been heard from in days. England is on the edge of anarchy, goaded on by a terrorist group known as the Zealots who want to bring down the capitalist regime. Adam’s girlfriend Lizzie comes from money and it’s the same old story: boy from the wrong side of the tracks and the rich girl falling in love. Adam doesn’t think his life is going to get any better. He’s going to have to drop out of school and find a job.

He takes Lizzie on a date to see their favorite rock star Jimmy Earle who caps his performance by saying he’d taken Death 7 days before. At the end of the concert, Jimmy Earle drops dead on stage. A near riot ensues on the streets of Manchester. Crowds of people caught up in the fervor of bringing down the government clog the streets. Someone is handing out Death. Adam and Lizzie watch people pop the drug into their mouths. Someone hands Adam Death. He pockets it. It had been the perfect night.

The next day Adam and his parents receive a letter from the Zealots saying his brother Jess has been killed. Jess was working for the Zealots as a chemist, manufacturing Death. His parents are horrified and Adam sinks into a depression. What does his life mean now? He’ll have to quit school and take some crap job and live a crap life. There will be no university. In his despair he swallows the Death he’d pocketed the night before and begins his own countdown. He makes a bucket list for the next 7 days:

1. Loads of sex with loads of girls. Several of them at once.
2. Get rich. Leave my parents and Lizzie with enough money so they’ll never have to work again.
3. Drink champagne till I can’t stand.
4. Do cocaine.
5. Do something so that humanity will remember me forever.

Yeah, that first to-do is definitely a teenage boy’s top priority.

Mixed in with the Zealots is a gangster. Isn’t there always a bad dude in the midst of everything: one hand out for cash in exchange for a bad deed, the other hand holding a machete? This gangster (sorry, entrepreneur ) is named Florence Ballantine and he has a psychotic 46-year-old son Christian who thinks he’s fourteen. Christian wears a baseball cap with the bill flipped to the side, baggy jeans, expensive t-shirts and has a bodyguard named Vince who likes to put his anti-psychotic medicine in a glass of milk. This father and son team manufacture Death. Who cares that it causes people to expire in 7 days? There’s money to be made.

Adam and Lizzie trip through the criminal underworld and get caught up in a race to accomplish everything on Adam’s bucket list all the while counting down the days and hours. While Adam is trying to make the first to-do on his bucket list happen, Christian sees Lizzie at a party and demands that she be his new girlfriend. Nobody wants to be his girlfriend because the dude’s brain is fried. And he’s terrifying.

Is Adam brave enough (or dumb enough) to take on the Zealots, Florence the gangster and his cuckoo for cocoa puffs son? Does Lizzie love him enough to survive a week of knowing he’s going to die? Why was Jess so secretive about what he was working on for the Zealots? Wait until you read the ending. I did not see it coming.

Spot-Lit for April 2014

Spot-Lit

Lots of good fiction is headed your way this month. 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    

American Romantic    Frog Music    Storied Life    Lovers at the Chameleon Club    Plover

American Romantic  by Ward Just
Frog Music  by Emma Donoghue
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry  by Gabrielle Zevin
Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932  by Francine Prose
The Plover  by Brian Doyle

First Novels / Fiction

Whiskey Barons    Past the Shalllows    Sedition    Steal the Summer    Skookum

The Whiskey Baron  by Jon Sealy
Past the Shallows  by Favel Parrett
Sedition  by Katharine Grant
Steal the North  by Heather Bergstrom
Skookum Summer  by Jack Hart

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Until You're Mine    Destroyer Angel    Waiting for Wednesday    Cold Nowhere    By Its Cover

Until You’re Mine  by Samantha Hayes
Destroyer Angel  by Nevada Barr
Waiting for Wednesday  by Nicci French
The Cold Nowhere  by Brian Freeman
By Its Cover  by Donna Leon

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Goblin Emperor    Bird Eater    Days of the Deer    Afterparty    Battle Royale

The Goblin Emperor  by Katherine Addison
The Bird Eater  by Ania Ahlborn
The Days of the Deer  by Liliana Bodoc
Afterparty  by Daryl Gregory
Battle Royale – Remastered  by Koushun Takami  

Romance

                            Bet    Hotelles    Far Gone

The Bet  by Rachel Van Dyken
Hotelles  by Emma Mars
Far Gone  by Laura Griffin

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

De-tech-tives

detechtives

Recently I’ve noticed that television detectives’ detection skills have been replaced by technology. Between cell phones, email, tracking devices and the multitude of cameras that cover every nook and cranny of the earth, it’s nearly impossible for a modern TV criminal to operate in anonymity. This is a strange and drastic change from Dragnet days when phone dialing, ledger collation, footwork and thinking were involved in any arrest.

The YardThe Yard by Alex Grecian
What fascinates me is that, before modern techniques and technologies were created, police could catch criminals at all! In the novel The Yard author Alex Grecian portrays a squalid, horrifying London of 1890 where five-year-old children work dangerous jobs, living conditions for many are abysmal, and human life is held in little regard. Scotland Yard’s murder squad consists of 12 detectives who have roughly 400 murders per year to crack, and after the unsolved Jack the Ripper killings of 1888 public opinion of the police force’s skills is extremely low. Then the unthinkable occurs. A member of the murder squad, one of the men attempting to keep London safe, is brutally slaughtered. The team’s newest member is put in charge of the investigation, but there seems no hope in unearthing the crime’s perpetrator. Even after the Ripper murders, the idea of killing for pleasure is foreign to the detectives and they don’t know where to begin to find this new type of killer. But with the aid of Dr. Kingsley, the Yard’s first forensic pathologist (and somewhat of a Sherlockian figure) the squad makes slow progress, although the murders do continue. This is crime solving at its most basic – follow paltry clues, cogitate, and find a killer.

keystone-kops-granger

These 1890’s were a time when it was relatively simple to be a successful murderer. Police had few tools-of-the-trade and criminals were able to easily disappear in obscurity. Here are a few titles that examine various aspects of the infancy of crime fighting.

Devil in the white cityThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
While examining the amazing feats that went into constructing the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Erik Larson also describes the activities of H.H. Holmes, a Chicago serial killer who used the draw of the World’s Fair to murder somewhere between 27 and 200 people in relative anonymity. In fact, it wasn’t until he left Chicago, continuing to commit homicides and other crimes, that Holmes was finally arrested in Boston a year later. His Chicago killings, however, remained unknown until the custodian of Holmes’s Chicago murder castle (you’ll have to read the book for those details) tipped off the police and Holmes’s murder victims were found. This true story shows how easy it was to operate as an invisible killer in the days before advanced technologies.

Great Pearl HeistThe Great Pearl Heist: London’s Greatest Thief and Scotland Yard’s Hunt for the World’s Most Valuable Necklace by Molly Caldwell Crosby
This non-fiction account of an early 20th-century jewel heist details both the plans of the thieves and the methods used by Scotland Yard to catch them. In addition to being an engaging read, Crosby’s book highlights the importance of this case to the future of British crime fighting.

Poisoner's handbookThe Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum
This entertaining book looks at the careers of New York’s first medical examiner and toxicologist. Surprisingly, these positions didn’t even exist until after World War I. Blum makes a potentially dull topic intriguing and understandable.

police corruption

As police forces moved into the 20th-century, corruption came to be accepted as a normal facet of law enforcement.

Breaking blueBreaking Blue by Timothy Egan
In 1935, during the dust bowl years, a spate of dairy robberies in the Spokane area resulted in the shooting death of Marshal George Conniff. Decades later, Sheriff Tony Bamonte of Pend Oreille County tried to shed light on the robberies and Conniff’s death. Author Timothy Egan paints a vivid picture of Spokane’s dirty underbelly and the role that law enforcement played in these crimes.

LA ConfidentialL.A. Confidential
This Oscar-winning movie portrays a shady LA police force that is rife with injustice and brutality. At a time when Hollywood was king, justice was elusive (put that on your movie poster!) and criminals often dwelt on both sides of the law.

victorian police

Certainly TV policing has little in common with reality, but then again, reality is far more interesting. So set aside your new-fangled DVDs and give an old-timey police investigatory book a try. At the very least, you’ll gain an appreciation for the accomplishments that were made with minimal means in less-than-hospitable conditions.

Book Awards with a Twist

Gold Trophy

Many, many book awards are given out every year, but here are three unique awards you might want to add to your bookmarks.

On the whole, U.S. citizens have very little awareness of non-English language literature; for this reason alone the Best Translated Book Award deserves your attention. The award is offered through the website Three Percent and they recently announced the longlist for the 2014 award. Over the next few weeks they’ll be posting arguments for why each longlisted contender should win. The shortlist will be announced April 15th and the award on April 28th.

EPL currently owns 13 of the 25 BTBA contenders.

Another award that rewards a daily check on the action is the Tournament of Books, now in its tenth year. As described on their About page, “The ToB is an annual springtime event… where 16 or so of the previous year’s best works of fiction enter a March Madness-style battle royale. At the end of the month, the winner of the Tournament is blessed with the Rooster, our prize named after David Sedaris’s brother (because why not).”  This year’s tourney is now in the quarterfinals, but even if you’re late joining in, you can still revisit each bout in the links on the sidebar. In addition to the renowned individual judges who preside over each match, you’ll find great color commentary from the event hosts and a fan base commentariat that engages in lively extended discussions of the books.

EPL currently owns 14 of the 17 ToB contenders.

And finally, a new award is in the works to redress the wrongs of book awards given 50 years ago. The website Bookslut has come up with the Daphnes, and is currently reevaluating books published in 1963. They announced their shortlist last month (here’s the L.A. Times coverage of the announcement). The award categories include fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and children’s literature.

EPL currently owns 5 of the 7 Daphne fiction finalists.

One thing all these awards do is remind us that taste is subjective and each of these contenders will be considered the winner in some readers’ eyes; check the lists or follow the action and maybe you’ll discover a new (or new to you) favorite author or book.

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

a long way downMy co-worker Leslie recently wrote a post about books that are going to be made into movies. Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down is one of them. He’s also the author of About a Boy and High Fidelity. Hey, both of those are movies too.

It all starts on New Year’s Eve when four very different people climb onto a roof to commit suicide. Suicide is a solitary job. You want to be left alone with your thoughts, which is ironic since your thoughts are what make you want to commit suicide. Group suicide is for Jim Jones and those Heaven’s Gates people. .

Martin is a washed up talk show host (think Good Morning America but British) who spent time in prison for having sex with a 15-year-old girl. His career is dead. He’s now the host of a local TV station that is viewed by maybe 30 people. His ex-wife won’t let him see his daughters. He doesn’t want to see them either because he feels like a washed-up loser. He decides he’s done with his life and climbs on top of a roof that’s known for jumpers when he’s interrupted by a fellow would-be jumper.

Jess is a mess. Not even a hot mess because being a hot mess implies you were something grand and slightly astonishing at one point and now there’s nothing left but a glimmer of that. Jess’s dad is an education minister (for some reason I see a preacher in a church throwing literature books at people) and she finds ways of embarrassing him and her mother on a daily basis. Her older sister Jen went missing. Jen didn’t leave a note or any clues as to where she went. Jess’s parents thinks Jen is dead and they go about their lives as if this is common knowledge and they rarely say her name. Jess is wonderfully foul-mouthed, hopped up on drugs and Bacardi Breezers and still chasing after the boy who dumped her. He is the reason why she wants to jump off a building.

JJ is an American musician whose band was starting to get a following when they decided to call it quits. He had a girlfriend, a promising music career and then nothing. The music came to a grinding halt, his girlfriend left him and then he and his best friend parted ways. He’d gone from touring cities with his band to being a pizza delivery boy and decided he’d kill himself on New Year’s Eve.

Maureen is in her 50’s and has a severely handicapped son. She’s sheltered and lonely and shy. As much as she loves her son Matty, she can’t do it anymore. She can’t stand to see the days, weeks, months, and years stretch out in front of her, caring for her child who is a vegetable. She decides to climb to the top of a building and jump.

All four of them find themselves at a loss up on the roof. Nobody wants to be the first jumper, let alone commit the act in front of strangers. They start to talk. Not the kind of “Someone Saved My Life tonight” kind of talk. More like “Why are you jumping?.” And each of them try to out-do one another: “My story’s worse than yours.”

The four of them climb down from the roof and go for a drink. They make a pact that if they still feel like killing themselves in 6 weeks’ time they will go through with it.

Little by little they worm their way into each other’s lives-sometimes not in a good way. Jess is a foul-mouthed brat who says anything that comes to mind. If she doesn’t like you, she’ll let you know. And then some. She’s the character I love. And hate. Martin is still a jerk that goes between knowing he’s a loser and thinking he’s still TV royalty. Maureen is terrified of the world and has never been on a proper vacation. JJ is living in the past, getting embarrassed and delighted when people recognize him from “that band.” What do you call a musician without a girlfriend? Homeless.

What drew me in deeper into this novel was the fact that Martin, Jess, JJ, and Maureen weren’t trying to save each other’s lives by putting suicide on hold. It was more of “Let’s go get a drink or nine, play ‘My life sucks more than yours ever could,’ and see what happens tomorrow.” Not once does this book get preachy or anti-suicide.

Suicide is an uncomfortable topic whether it’s talked about or not. A Long Way Down smashes that uneasiness and says it with honesty: people think about killing themselves. The thought bubbles up and most times it goes away. In the end, Martin, Jess, JJ, and Maureen don’t become best friends and vacation in Maui. But they do go through something that connects them.

Nick Hornby is a hilarious writer and he deals with a subject that makes a lot of people cringe. Since I like books about people who are (or seem) more messed up than me this was the perfect book. 

I haven’t gone looking for a roof to jump off in three days.

Spot-Lit for March 2014

Spot-Lit

Here’s our hand-picked list of fiction titles coming out in March. Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place holds.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction  

Bark    Orchard of Lost Souls    Curse on Dost    Blazing World    Boy, Snow, Bird

Bark: stories  by Lorrie Moore
The Orchard of Lost Souls  by Nadifa Mohamed
A Curse on Dostoevsky  by Atiq Rahimi
The Blazing World  by Siri Hustvedt
Boy, Snow, Bird  by Helen Oyeyemi

First Fiction

Redeployment    Burnable Book    Wives of Los Alamos    Precious Thing    Weight of Blood

Redeployment  by Phil Klay
A Burnable Book  by Bruce Holsinger
The Wives of Los Alamos  by Tarashea Nesbit
Precious Thing  by Colette McBeth
The Weight of Blood  by Laura McHugh

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Accident    Disappeared    Why Kings Confess    Black-Eyed Blonde    Watching You

The Accident  by Chris Pavone
The Disappeared  by Kristina Ohlsson
Why Kings Confess  by C.S. Harris
The Black-Eyed Blonde  by Benjamin Black
Watching You  by Michael Robotham

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Man Came Out    Undead Pool    Murder of Crows    Trpoic of Serpents    Code Zero

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain  by Adrianne Harun
The Undead Pool  by Kim Harrison
A Murder of Crows  by Anne Bishop
The Tropic of Serpents  by Marie Brennan
Code Zero  by Jonathan Maberry

Romance

                    Evening Stars          Replacement Wife          Love Comes Calling

Evening Stars  by Susan Mallery
The Replacement Wife  by Tiffany Warren
Love Comes Calling  by Siri Mitchell

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

Heartwood 4:2 – Lands of Memory

Jacket with citationTurn off your interruptive devices and find a comfortable chair where you can slip into the dreamlike short fiction of Felisberto Hernández’s Lands of Memory.

The book consists of two novellas and four short stories all featuring a Uruguayan pianist as the first-person narrator. These pages are concerned with phenomena and spirit and thought and memory; they’re about people and events remembered later by a probing and persistent mind. The two longer pieces are especially satisfying – filled with episodic scenes, rich in detailed remembrances of the narrator’s life, and pieced together in sometimes surprising ways. As is the case with richly orchestrated music, those who immerse themselves in this concentrated and reflective storytelling will be well rewarded.

One of the things I especially like about Hernández’s writing is his narrators’ sensitivity to the world around him. This is not always a blessing, as can be seen in the passage below, which will give you an idea of what you can expect to find in Lands of Memory:

At times, without recalling the notes of a melody, I could remember the feeling it had given me and what I’d been looking at when I heard it. One evening as I was listening to a brilliant piece while staring out the window, my heart came out of my eyes and absorbed a house many stories tall that I saw across the way. Another night, in the penumbra of a concert hall, I heard a melody floating upon ocean waves that a great orchestra was making; in front of me, on a fat man’s bald pate, gleamed a little patch of light; I was irritated and wanted to look away, but since the only comfortable position for my eyes left my gaze resting on the gleam of that pate, I had no choice but to allow it to enter my memory along with the melody, and then what always happens happened: I forgot the notes of the melody – displaced by the gleaming pate – and the pleasure of that moment remains supported in my memory only by the bald pate. Then I decided always to look at the floor whenever I was listening to music. But once, when a lady behind me was with a very young child, I saw water appear between my own feet, gliding along like a viper, and then suddenly its head began to grow larger in a depression in the floor and eyes of foam came running along the liquid body to gather in the head.

____________________________

Felisberto Hernández’s work has influenced Latin American writers from Julio Cortázar to Gabriel García Márquez to Roberto Bolaño.

Heartwood | About Heartwood

Pulp Rock

Once upon a time various musical genres – blues, country, honkytonk, western swing and others – amalgamated into an exciting new sound called rock and roll. The music was edgy, full of vim and vigor, and never boring. As time moved on, corporate lackeys watered down the rock and roll to appeal to a wider fan base and generate taller stacks of money. Later still, rock evolved into a highly orchestrated, squeaky clean entity, in the process losing its edge and becoming, dare I say, boring. Until roughly 1975 when bands such as The Ramones re-introduced the idea of some mates getting together, picking up instruments, throwing together a few chords, and creating exciting sonic art.

However, today’s blog is about pulp fiction. So place your seats in a reclined position as we journey from music, through a metaphorical slipstream, and ultimately land in the works of John D. MacDonald.

Rocket to RussiaThe Ramones, Richard Hell, Dead Boys and others emerged, in great contrast to the highly-produced sounds of Yes and ELP. Gone was the boredom of album-oriented-rock. A new frenzy of emotion leapt from these bands’ ineptitudes, and it became apparent that a satisfying thrill could be obtained listening to music filled with uncertainty; uncertainty if the band would land together on beat one, if the bass player would actually make it through a run, if the blazing guitarist would manage to finish his solo before the vocalist came back in. This was excitement! Disaster might rear its head at any moment, and this created a riveting listening experience.

Exit music, enter literature. There was a time when pulp authors would pump out prose at an alarming rate. The result was similar to my beloved rock and roll: a disaster lay lurking behind every corner. Due to the speed with which they worked, quality within a single book could vary significantly. When prose was bad it was quite bad, but when it was good it was amazing.

And this takes us to John D. MacDonald. He wrote thrillers, what one might loosely think of as private detective stories, often set in Florida, often featuring Travis McGee, a salvage consultant who finds missing things for money. McGee’s character is quite different from the typical private eye, although the morose life-view which permeates the PI genre is an integral part of his persona. What sets MacDonald’s stories apart are, mixed among the mundane and sometimes poorly-written prose, stunning observations presented in vivid wordsmithery.

So rather than reviewing titles or describing plots, I leave you with excerpts that reveal the essence of MacDonald’s writing style.

  • “We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody threw the girl off the bridge.” – from Darker Than Amber
  • “Good old Meyer. He can put a fly into any kind of ointment, a mouse in every birthday cake, a cloud over every picnic. Not out of spite. Not out of contrition or messianic zeal. But out of a happy, single-minded pursuit of truth. He is not to blame that the truth seems to have the smell of decay and an acrid taste these days. He points out that forty thousand particles per cubic centimeter of air over Miami is now called a clear day. He is not complaining about particulate matter. He is merely bemused by the change in standards.” – from The Scarlet Ruse
  • “It is strange how a man, totally naked, feels a little more vulnerable. It seems to be a distraction, an extra area to guard. Cloth is not armor, yet that symbolic protection makes one feel at once a little more logical and competent. Doubtless the hermit crab is filled the strange anxieties during those few moments when, having outgrown one borrowed shell, he locates another and, having sized it carefully with his claws, extracts himself from the old home and inserts himself into the new. The very first evidence of clothing in prehistory is the breechcloth for the male.” – from The Scarlet Ruse
  • “The only thing that prisons demonstrably cure is heterosexuality.” – from The Long Lavender Look
  • “He had detected a certain sensitivity, a capacity for imagination, in the girl in New York. But the years and the roads, the bars and the cars and the beds and the bottles—they all have flinty edges, and they are the cruel upholstery in the dark tunnel down which the soul rolls and tumbles until no more abrasion is possible, until the ultimate hardness is achieved. So here she sat, having achieved the bland defensive heartiness of a ten–dollar whore.” – from Slam the Big Door

coversSo climb aboard the non-stop express to MacDonald’s melancholic, intoxicating world. And while you’re there, give Rocket to Russia a spin.

I Love Bernie (And So Will You)

This year I decided to give my reading life a little bit of direction and structure. Though I tend to prance through life with copious amounts of chaos, I decided that I could and would cram in some reading goals for 2014. Why not stretch my mind a little? Though I’ll still be reading fun, fluffy, and frivolous books (currently reading a YA spy thriller) I thought if I mapped out my year I could easily shift in some unexpected titles and see how well I do following directions, even if they are from myself. I detested assigned reading in school but I’m hoping that taking orders from myself will go over better.

Yeah, I’m a hot mess.

Let me recap for you what I’m calling my 2014 Reading Resolutions:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book (see below)
  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
  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

wheredyougobernadetteThis month I decided to tackle the Everett Reads! book. As Kate mentioned already, Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is what we’re hoping all of Everett will try this month. On February 23rd at 7pm Maria will be at the Performing Arts Center downtown. We’re told she’s a very engaging and entertaining speaker, and those who wish to meet her/have a book signed afterwards will have that opportunity. Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE?!

We’ve been doing this “one book for the whole community to read” type of program for several years now. The first year we read The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I love mysteries, so that year I read the book, discussed it with colleagues, and went to the programs offered. In the intervening years I didn’t really get excited about any of the other titles. That’s not to say they were bad books. They just didn’t capture my interest.

This year everything changed. This year we picked a book that was funny.

I’m not great at summarizing stories without giving anything away. What you should know is that, although everyone told me this book is all about teenager Bee searching for her mother Bernadette who just disappeared, it’s so much more than that. I checked out the eBook edition and Bernadette didn’t disappear until about 2/3 of the way through the book. While many books heavy on exposition and background can be tedious and overbearing, it’s just not the case here. The writing is laugh-out-loud hilarious, the best lines coming straight from Bernadette herself:

Greetings from sunny Seattle, where women are “gals,” people are “folks,” a little bit is a “skosh,” if you’re tired you’re “logy,” if something is slightly off it’s “hinky,” you can’t sit Indian-style but you can sit “crisscross applesauce,” when the sun comes out it’s never called “sun” but always “sunshine,” boyfriends and girlfriends are “partners,” nobody swears but someone occasionally might “drop the f-bomb,” you’re allowed to cough but only into your elbow, and any request, reasonable or unreasonable, is met with “no worries.”

Have I mentioned how much I hate it here?

The whole story is told through varying forms of communication: school memos, emails, faxes, magazine articles, and even a captain’s report from a cruise ship. This structure really held my interest and also provided deep insight into each characters’ motivations, feelings, and personalities. That’s a really tricky thing to do well in a book but Maria Semple pulls it off.

Unfortunately this format can be tricky to follow when listening to the audiobook, as one of my colleagues discovered. So I would suggest if you’re getting lost or losing interest in the audio, grab a hard copy of the book and try that instead. Give Bernie a chance to win your heart like she did mine.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (yes, it bothers me that the official title does not include a question mark) has something for everyone. Bernadette’s husband, Elgie, is an avid cyclist, so this will appeal to my friends who bike to work. Elgie also works at Microsoft, and the book goes into great detail about life on a business campus. I read these parts out loud to my software engineer husband. There’s a lot of coverage of the school Bee attends and the moms Bernadette refers to as “gnats” since they’re annoying but nothing you’d really exert effort over (hello, all my parental friends who have experience in the trenches). Ever been on a cruise? Deal with motion sickness? You’ll be nodding your head (nothing that would trigger that horrible nausea feeling, though). If nothing else, this book is a great fit for anyone who has had a complicated relationship with their parents (who doesn’t?) and, of course, any humor fans.

bernie

I want to hear from you. Are you joining your neighbors in reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette? I’d love to see you all pack the house at the Performing Arts Center on Sunday, February 23rd. The program starts at 7pm but if you want the good seats you’ll want to get there a little early.

If Bee can search the ends of the earth for her mom, surely all of Everett can enjoy the same book.

Nostalgia, or, Whatever Happened to Beany and Cecil?

I don’t know if it’s a common progression in the first-world aging process, but I seem to have hit the part of life where I crave things from my youth, perhaps to reconnect, perhaps for comfort. In the world of books this translates into re-reading favorites, something I’ve seldom done in the past as I’m always seeking out new treasures. Perchance I’m searching for old friends to see if our relationships have changed. Whatever the reason, I’m firmly entrenched in a tour of previously-read books.

So here’s a bit of what I’ve been up to.

Old FoxThe Old Fox Deceiv’d by Martha Grimes
I think the first mysteries I read were by Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, but the first series I really connected with was the Richard Jury mysteries by Martha Grimes. I discovered these books about 25 years ago, and since then I’ve read every Jury title (with a new one due out this June!). The Old Fox Deceiv’d is the second in the series and contains the many elements that I so enjoyed when first encountering Grimes’ writing. Early Jury books often focus on the characters from a small town that Jury’s sometime amateur assistant, Melrose Plant, calls home. These people and their goings-on are at least as interesting as the mysteries themselves. As the series has progressed, the bit players have appeared less and the focus of the mysteries has turned much darker. I still love the books, but I do miss my “friends” from the earlier stories. Anyone who enjoys British cozy mysteries (even though Grimes is from Baltimore) should check out Richard Jury.

Dirk Gently bookDirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
On the heels of the fabulous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, Adams introduced a strange detective, Dirk Gently, who appeared in two books. Not as uproariously funny as Hitchhiker’s Guide, these books are still quirky, dry and hilarious.

Dirk Gently DVDThe BBC recently produced a short series based on the character of Dirk Gently, and this inspired me to re-examine the books. I’m not too far into this one yet, but what I have discovered so far is a profound lack of Dirk Gently; it’s taking a while for him to find his way into the story. Whereas Hitchhiker’s Guide is a knee-slap-a-minute, Dirk Gently is a much more, well, gentle and abstract humor. One has to work a bit harder to get one’s money’s worth with Dirk.

TekWarRon Goulart, a writer not widely known, is perhaps one of the most prolific American authors of recent times. I discovered his quirky, humorous sci-fi in high school, and went on to read every title of his I could find. Recently Calling Dr. Patchwork (the first of his books I ever purchased) found its way onto my Kindle. Sadly, I’m not as taken with Goulart’s unique style as I once was, but I am enjoying analyzing his writing techniques (for example, conversations where every single sentence is interrupted by the other participant) to discover tricks I can borrow. While EPL does not have any of his entertaining pulp novels, we do carry books from the TekWar series which were credited to William Shatner but are quite obviously penned by Goulart.

My nostalgia has manifested in many other ways, leading me to watch old movies such as Rear Window, Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope and That Touch of Mink. Or to delve into finales and conclusions of TV shows such as The Office and The Mentalist. Pulp readings from young-adult years revisit me, including works of John D. MacDonald and Robert Sheckley. It’s a strange phenomenon, and I’m not enjoying everything of old as much as I once did, but overall the experience is positive.

I’m not sure what the next step or phase of life will be, but I do know that I’m not ready for pants that go halfway up my chest.

Yet.