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.

Them’s Good Readin’

Habits certainly change over the years and I’ve gone from a person who finishes each and every book regardless of quality to a person who reads the first few pages of many books in search of something irresistible. What is the indefinable quality I seek that makes some books impossible to put down?

One can find copious writings on the aspects of books that define a reader’s preferences: writing style, characters, setting and so on. I’ve never felt that my taste fits easily into any one category. However, I am aware that I grow attached to characters. Perhaps sadly, they become like friends (not to be confused with the taxidermied animals in my safe room who are my best friends). In fact, at times I get depressed when a good book ends because I want to know what happens next to these people.

Apparently I am not alone in this trait. Whilst perusing Amazon one might notice that the number of series currently being written (as opposed to stand-alone novels) is HUGE. A series gives a reader the opportunity to find out what does happen next. (On a more cynical note, series are a great way for authors to make money!)

Current readsCurrently I’m reading three books: Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes, The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black and Born of Illusion by Teri J. Brown. All three titles are quite enjoyable, but only one is hard to put down, Vertigo 42. Is it a coincidence that this book is the 23rd Richard Jury mystery that I’ve read and that I’m in some kind of a relationship with Grimes’ cast of characters? While the plot is not the strongest of the series it’s still good, the writing is superb and most importantly, I want to know what happens next to the characters I’ve befriended over a period of two decades!

This sort of book does not come along very often for me. More common is the book that I enjoy but have no problem setting aside, The Black-Eyed Blonde being an excellent example. Although the star of the story, Philip Marlowe, appears in many books and other media, I’m not overly familiar with nor heavily invested in him. What I enjoy in this book is the pulp detective writing style, the time period and locale, the dirty underbelly of society in which Marlowe operates, a bit of hopelessness but also small victories. For whatever reason, I seem to enjoy this style in smaller doses and thus move back and forth happily between books while reading pulp.

Finally, Born of Illusion is one of the few books in recent times that I’ve given up on and later returned to. It’s a YA historical novel set in 1920s New York City featuring séances, spiritualism, (perhaps) real magic and Harry Houdini. Ever since reading Carter Beats the Devil I’ve been fascinated by early 20th century magic, the work and technology put into illusions, and this book taps into that fascination. I’m not sure why I gave up on it; probably I was simply more interested in some other titles at the time. But now that I’m back into it I’m thoroughly enjoying this novel.

So what’s the point here? I notice that my reading goes through cycles of too many exciting books to get through followed by nothing interesting enough to keep my attention. It would be nice to know myself well enough to figure out what book I need to escape the reading doldrums. This summer I’m going to delve deeper into some mystery series I’ve perused in the past and see how well this tactic holds my interest.

Perhaps today’s blog is more of a musing or rumination, providing no answers to the questions that fascinate my singular brain, but at the very least I’ve left you with three excellent book recommendations. Go. Read. Pay attention to why you find one book compelling and another not so much. Perhaps you’ll learn a little something about the peculiar substance that is you.

Heartwood 4:4 – The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas

The Birds with citationThe Birds is the story of Mattis, a man with learning disabilities in his late 30s, and his sister Hege who takes care of him. They live near the shore of a lake somewhere in rural Norway. Hege knits sweaters almost constantly to bring in the little money that supports the two of them. Due to his general ineptitude, Mattis is unable to secure much in the way of work  – he’s even worn out his welcome as a day laborer, though his neighbors could always use the help at harvest time.

Mattis is afraid of thunderstorms, is spellbound by the habitual flight-path of a woodcock, and sees omens in the two dead aspen that everyone refers to as Hege and Mattis. The story is told from Mattis’s point of view and we quickly discover his enthusiasms and desires as well as his worries and fears. We also come to understand with great intimacy the complex personality that lies beneath his “simple,” slow, and clumsy behavior. Every detail is significant in Mattis’s life and the natural world is especially filled with meanings, both awe-inspiring and frightening.

In one of my favorite scenes, a couple of bikini-clad girls rescue Mattis and his sinking rowboat from an island in the lake. He manages to take charge of the situation, rowing the girls in their boat and towing his empty boat behind as the girls indulge his vanity and chat with him along the way. This success helps convince him that he should offer a ferry service to take people across the lake. But everything changes for Mattis when he brings a lumberjack across who then takes lodging at the house with him and his sister.

I don’t know if I would have ever heard about this tremendous book if I hadn’t been reading My Struggle, the remarkable, multi-volume autobiographical novel by Karl Ove Knausgaard that’s been getting all kinds of coverage in the literary world in recent months. There is quite a bit in Knausgaard about art and music and literature, and somewhere in Book Two he complains about Norwegian fiction of the past fifty years, contentiously claiming The Birds (from 1957) is one of that country’s last successful novels. I love to follow leads like this, what Alan Jacobs calls reading upstream –  that is, finding out who has influenced the writers you admire and then reading the books they have read or enjoyed. Since reading so often shapes a writer, it’s frequently worth taking the bait when an author you like starts dropping names. It definitely worked for me in this case. So, who influenced Tarjei Vesaas? I don’t know yet, but after reading The Birds I’m beginning to think I should find out.

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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.

Heartwood 4:3 – Colonel Chabert by Balzac

Colonel ChabertThe Colonel at the center of this novella by Balzac was left for dead and buried in a mass grave during the Napoleonic battle at Eylau. After miraculously digging himself out and being ever-so-slowly nursed back to health by a farmer couple, he returns to Paris where he discovers that his wife has remarried, and that she treats the news of his survival as the scheme of an imposter and would-be usurper of her (his) fortune. Chabert is penniless, physically disfigured, and ridiculed by those who hear him tell of his battlefield experience. He convinces a lawyer to take his case in the fight to restore his name and fortune, but his dignity and honor are no match for human avarice and callous disregard.

This powerful moral tale, told in Balzac’s capable yarn-spinning style, contains some of the darkest views of humanity to be found anywhere in his multivolume The Human Comedy. That the human condition has not improved since then can be readily confirmed by a casual glance at the daily newspaper. The book ends with the last encounter between the destitute and raving Chabert and his lawyer, Derville, who gives Chabert some alms and afterward tells an associate that he is leaving the practice of law and bitterly condemns the egregious behavior he has seen throughout his career, the multitude of “crimes that justice is powerless to rectify.”

I picked up Colonel Chabert after reading about it at length in Javier Marías’s recently translated book The Infatuations – a novel that opens with a shocking murder and is deeply concerned with questions of desire, moral erosion and the slippery slope of rationalized self-interest. The Infatuations also features some beautiful writing about grief. I encourage you to read both.

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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.

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.

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