Seriesly

One thing that I spend far too much time thinking about is the psychology of television. For example, TV watchers can be more attracted to television programs than to interacting with real live people. And, watchers tend to like specific shows and to watch those shows repeatedly. So my inquiring mind wonders, Why?

In the past, I was one of those TV watchers. Perhaps this is why I’m fascinated by the topic. And one thing I figured out all by myself is that the characters on a particular show become like friends or family. And yes, I know this sounds pathetic. I particularly remember watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show 5 nights a week from start to finish in college, and when the series ended, even though I’d seen the entire run when it originally was on, I was very sad. My friends were gone.

As I said, pathetic.

But what this shows is that people like familiarity, characters they know. And obviously this translates into books as well as television. I am stunned by the number of series that are currently being written. It seems to me (without actually researching this) that in the past most books were standalones, and now most are part of a series. And one can see in the library how popular these series are.

2014 will be remembered as the year that I read series. Or at least parts of series. Focusing mainly on mysteries and detective pulps, I have spent 365 glorious days (pro-rated) with my literary friends and family. And today I share some of those series with you.

Meg LanslowMeg Langslow mysteries by Donna Adams.
Meg is a blacksmith in Caerphilly, Virginia. Her quirky family includes a professor husband, computer whiz brother, doctor/animal activist/mystery enthusiast father and renowned biologist grandfather. As with most cozy mysteries, an inordinate amount of murders happen in her small town, and Meg becomes the local crime solver. This series is a cut above most cozy mysteries.

Perry MasonPerry Mason mysteries/court dramas by Erle Stanley Gardner.
“The DA was Burger, the cop was Tragg, Della was the secretary, Drake sat on the desk with Perry…” ~ lyrics that The Blues Brothers set to the Perry Mason theme

Mason, one of the best lawyers in the country, is also a fair crime solver. While these stories are not filled with much character development, we still grow close to Perry and the gang. And Erle Stanley could write one mean story I must say.

Richard JuryRichard Jury mysteries by Martha Grimes.
Jury is a British police inspector or superintendent or whatever British coppers are called. His partner in crime, Sergeant Wiggins, is a professional hypochondriac. His non-professional crime fighting brother-in-arms is Melrose Plant, a filthy rich earl who cares nothing for money and has renounced his title. Plant’s village of Long Piddleton is filled with quirky characters and murders. But Jury is based in London, so the whole of England is fair game in this wonderful, and often dark, series.

Scotland YardScotland Yard’s Murder Squad by Alex Grecian.
This wonderful series looks at the infancy of crime solving in Scotland Yard. A very small number of detectives, with limited tried-and-tested crime solving techniques, are responsible for all of the murders in London, a huge amount to be sure. Fortunately, they have a Sherlock-like doctor who helps them along the way.

Spellmans

 

The Spellmans by Lisa Lutz.
A quirky, dysfunctional family of detectives. Imagine working in close quarters with your parents and/or siblings.

 

AntiquesAntiques mysteries by Barbara Allan.
Small town, mother and daughter antique sellers, both with psychological issues. Many murders, both mother and daughter narrate, interrupting each other in the narratives to make corrections. Cute and funny.

 

Travis McGeeTravis McGee, detective of a sort, by John D. MacDonald.
McGee does not call himself a detective, more of a person who helps others find things. He lives on a houseboat in Florida and would just as soon spend a lazy day in the sun as work. He is hard edged, but not without sympathy, and lands his share of the ladies. Excellent hard-boiled writing.

And this is just scratching the surface of my 2014 series. Here are a few other series you can find in the library that might be of interest.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
Joanna Brady mysteries by J. A. Jance
The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde
Horatio Hornblower by C. S. Forester
All the Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket

Of course the list goes on and on. The only thing left is to ask, what’s your favorite series?

Bad Good Guys

Based on a scientific analysis conducted by consulting my own opinion, I have determined that protagonists are typically good guys or heroes.

Except when they aren’t.

It’s easy enough to like a likable character (Einstein wrote a paper on this), but less easy to like a jerk. Why would you want to read an entire book about someone unsympathetic or nasty? Creating compelling stories where the reader cares about a psychopath or a twit is a challenging undertaking.

I seem to have run across my fair share of such stories of late, and here are a few unlikable people you might like to meet.

Spellman FilesThe Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
This book is the first in a series about a family of detectives, the Spellmans. Izzy, the middle daughter, is the protagonist, a self-destructive, defiant, irritable and sarcastic example of humanity. David, her eldest sibling, is annoyingly perfect in every way which simply highlights Izzy’s shortcomings. Their parents, in misguided attempts to reign in Izzy’s destructiveness, resort to techniques (i.e. planting listening devices in her bedroom) which are not found among Dr. Spock’s parenting tips. The only person unaffected by the family’s general craziness is Izzy’s much younger sister Rae. And in this highly dysfunctional family, Izzy is the queen of maladjustment, seemingly lacking in all virtuous qualities.

The narrative ricochets through time, starting in the present with Izzy at age 28 and Rae missing. The author admirably fills in backstory in a non-linear fashion as we learn family history and the events leading up to Rae’s disappearance. Izzy matures along the way but never really becomes a likable character.

Yet I still found the book hard to put down. This family might be crazy, but they’re interesting and the drama around finding Rae, which stretches through most of the book as the narrative jumps around in time, is compelling. Author Lisa Lutz makes me want to read about her unpleasant hero.

fast-one-1952Fast One by Paul Cain
This little-known gem, written in 1932 and currently on-order at EPL, was referred to by Raymond Chandler as “… [representing] some kind of highpoint in the ultra hardboiled manner!”  What Ray meant is that the writing style is extremely choppy and pared down. There is dialogue and action, action and dialogue, but very little description. Although you learn about the characters, it is through (wait for it) dialogue and action only.

Our protagonist, Gerry Kells, is a man who is ostensibly a detective, but who in the past had intimate connections with the slimy underbelly of society. As this story of crime lords vying for control of Los Angeles unfolds, Kells throws his hat in the ring and rapidly shifts from a seemingly good guy to a really bad guy. It’s difficult to say much more without giving the story away, but suffice it to say that Kells is perhaps the least sympathetic protagonist you’ll ever meet. Yet once again I couldn’t put the book down until the end.

You can listen to some of Cain’s other writings in The Black Mask Audio Magazine Volume 1.

Black Mask

Shovel ReadyShovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh
A final example is found in Spademan, a former sanitation worker living in a near-future New York City that has been devastated by a nuclear bomb. Most survivors leave the city, but those who stay behind do whatever it takes to stay alive. Spademan becomes a guy-with-a-box-cutter-for-hire. Perhaps it’s harder to define hero and anti-hero in this world where the concepts of right and wrong no longer rigidly apply, but a guy killing people with a box cutter for money is not someone you’d bring home to meet your Meemaw. Moving amongst poor people living in tent cities and rich people plugged into a happier virtual world, Spademan searches for his latest target, a famous televangelist’s daughter. While hunting he falls in love with her and transcends the role of assassin, but never fear, there is still plenty of brutality and violence.

Books are filled with other great anti-heroes such as Dexter and Serge Storms, and what fascinates me is that we want to read about these people. So, “Bravo!” to their authors for creating stories where we readers connect with these undesirable types. If only I could feel so well-disposed towards their real-life counterparts.

Spot-Lit for November 2014

Spot-Lit

Here are some of November’s fiction releases you may want to have on your radar. 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  

Book of STrangeMermaids in ParadiseUsMap of BetrayalLet Me Be Frank with You

The Book of Strange New Things  by Michel Faber
Mermaids in Paradise  by Lydia Millet
Us  by David Nicholls
A Map of Betrayal  by Ha Jin
Let Me Be Frank with You  by Richard Ford

First Novels / Fiction

Bed of NailsPetite MortBad CountryForty DaysPreparation

Bed of Nails  by Antonin Varenne
Petite Mort  by Beatrice Hitchman
Bad Country  by C.B. McKenzie
Forty Days without Shadow  by Olivier Truc
Preparation for the Next Life  by Atticus Lish

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Burning RoomWink of an EyeKiller Next DoorMidnight PlanMurder of Harriet Krohn

The Burning Room  by Michael Connelly
Wink of an Eye  by Lynn Chandler-Willis
The Killer Next Door  by Alex Marwood
The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man  by W. Bruce Cameron
The Murder of Harriet Krohn  by Karin Fossum

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Three-BodyPeripheralDreamer's PoolRevival

The Three-Body Problem  by Cixin Liu
The Peripheral  by William Gibson
Dreamer’s Pool  by Juliet Marillier
Revival  by Stephen King

Romance

Before We FallAll Broke DownBlood MagickKraken King

Before We Fall  by Courtney Cole
All Broke Down  by Cora Carmack
Blood Magick  by Nora Roberts
The Kraken King  by Meljean Brook

 To see all on-order fiction, click here.

You Just Need a Good Book!

Recently Christin Rude from the University of Washington Bookstore came to the Everett Public Library and presented some reading recommendations to the Everett Woman’s Book Club. I have been attacking this list with fervor and have found the books to be not just good, but excellent.

index (19)The first book I picked up was non-fiction. I think we all know what we would learn if we read the book The Shallows: What the internet is Doing to Our Brains. We would find what author Nicholas Carr presents: that books and reading help to focus our minds and promote deep thoughts while the internet, with its rapid, distracted sampling of small bits and pieces, is making us good at scanning and skimming. What we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection. We don’t have time to read and even if we did, we’d be too distracted to concentrate.

That is exactly what we’d learn if we had time to read The Shallows. I know I don’t.  I’m too busy with Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and my other online obsessions. Until I find a good book. And, you guys, I have! I have found two from Rude’s list that I’ve read more quickly than any in recent memory because they grabbed me and I was consumed with their worlds. In the interest of fighting Internet distraction, I’d like to share them with you.

index (20)Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin is fabulous. This literary murder mystery won the Gold Dagger Award in 2011 because of wonderfully drawn characters and a setting which sucks you into the world of rural Mississippi of the 1970’s. Silas was the son of a poor, single black mother, and Larry was the child of lower middle-class white parents. Despite the racial tensions of the era, they become friends until a girl goes missing after a date with Larry. She is never found and Larry lives with the suspicion of her murder for years, spending his days as a lonely mechanic and becoming known as ‘Scary Larry’ to the folks in the town. He’s a compelling character as he visits his mother daily and keeps her chickens (named after the first ladies) and home up, all the while just hoping for a friend. His boyhood friend Silas returns after many years to become the town ‘constable’ who must investigate a new murder. It turns out that Silas does know something of the long ago murder and what he has left unsaid impacts his life and that of many others. Read this book if you want an engrossing novel which you will contemplate and reflect upon for many days.

index (1)The second book I read from Rude’s list has been a runaway number one best-seller in France and is the first work translated into English by author Gregoire Delacourt. My Wish List  is the story of Jocelyne, a wife and mother living in a small French town. She runs a haberdashery and writes a successful crafting blog. Her best friends work at the hairdressers next door and dream of winning big on the Euromillions. Convinced that Jocelyne will get a taste for their lottery habit, they encourage her to buy a ticket and, amazingly, Jocelyne wins 18 million euros. Before cashing her winnings, Jocelyne begins to list her ‘desires’ which are mostly simple, everyday objects.  She ponders whether money can truly bring happiness. Should she cash the check? Or will having such a large sum of money cause more problems than it solves?

My Wish List made me contemplate just how much influence money has over our lives, not just the opportunities it can afford but also affecting how you are perceived by others and whether it is healthy to be able to afford everything you wish for. From the opening sentence to the closing message, it was a literary, yet very accessible book. Touching and heart-wrenching, My Wish List lives up to the hype surrounding it. It is a well crafted and all-consuming novel.

I am looking forward to reading more books on Rude’s list and perhaps sharing them with you. But right now, I gotta go check my Facebook page. Squirrel!

Extra, Extra! Perry Mason Kisses Della Street!

As my year of nostalgic reading continues, I’ve discovered that good books often go out of print, libraries weed their collections, used book stores don’t often carry copies of older books. In other words, it can be very difficult to find certain books.

Technology to the rescue!

Many out-of-print books that would perhaps not sell well if reprinted are being re-issued as ebooks. Currently, I am thoroughly entrenched in detective pulp, noire and mysteries, and at the forefront of my assault on those genres has been that judiciary steamroller, Perry Mason.

Perry televisionPerry hit the network airwaves in 1957, and I recall as a young man watching the occasional rerun in the afternoon. It wasn’t until my adult years that I watched the show in earnest, thoroughly enjoying Perry’s daily evisceration of Hamilton Burger. And it wasn’t until even later that I read one of Erle Stanley Gardner’s books, The Case of the Glamorous Ghost. While I did enjoy the story, it took several years for me to return to the courtroom, this time with a purchased ebook, The Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink. I devoured this story in no time at all, so I purchased another. And another, and another … (They were on sale, so I was actually saving money by buying them!)

Mason1

Anywho, after accumulating a handful of titles, I discovered that amongst them were the first two volumes in the series (there are roughly 87 titles!). I like to see how characters develop, and it appealed to my sense of order to start at the beginning. As it turns out, book character Perry, while similar to television Perry, is not identical to the icon we all know.

Mason2

Mason first appears in The Case of the Velvet Claws, written in 1933. Keeping in mind that morés of the 30’s differed from current standards, that America was fiercely entrenched in an economic crisis and that law enforcement was perhaps less than 100% lawful, Mason’s character has what we would now consider questionable ethics. But his overriding goal is still laudable, to prove the innocence of all clients. The ends that he goes to, however, are certainly not legal, and the original written Mason is not above pulling dirty tricks to win cases. Television Mason, on the other hand, while pushing boundaries would not actually break the law.

Incidentally, Perry and Della do not have a platonic boss/underling relationship! But I’ll let you explore that in your own readings.

Out of the many other early pulp authors I have discovered, the library has scarce holdings. After all, these are long out-of-print items. But here are a few authors of interest that you can find on the shelves.

Library holdings
Charles Willeford
Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
Peter Rabe
Day Keene
John Trinian

Group1

Additional books by the same authors

Group2

You can practically smell the ink jump off of the pages! Lurid covers, foul murders, pathetic hopelessness, crooked cops … Ooh, I wanna go grab one off the shelf right now and hear the rapid staccato of a tommy gun sending a deadly warning, or the dull thud of a well-placed blackjack dropping a floozy like a pig from a zeppelin. Off I go!

Spot-Lit for October 2014

Spot-Lit

Every month our fiction buyer scours the new fiction landscape and presents here a curated list of some of the most anticipated new releases based on advance review praise, publisher enthusiasm, library- and lit-crowd blogs, and other sources (some well below the radar).

Here are a few highlights from this month’s installment:

  • Garth Stein, past Everett Reads author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, has a new novel out, A Sudden Light – a Puget Sound-set, coming-of-age ghost story.
  • It Won’t Always Be This Great, Seinfeld writer Peter Mehlman’s first novel, came out in mid-September so this is cheating a bit (it just sounds too good to not highlight) – but take a look at the other stellar debuts too.
  • The Zone of Interest, Martin Amis’s new holocaust novel is being called brilliant, audacious, and haunting, and it’s stirring up controversy in France and Germany.
  • Among returning favorites you’ll find new books from Jane Smiley, Marilynne Robinson and Debbie Macomber, and from crime fiction stars John Grisham and John Sandford.
  • Additionally in the mystery genre, Felix Francis really hits his stride in Damage, the latest in his continuation of his father’s horse-racing series.

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  

Zone of InterestSudden LightLilaSome LuckHuman Body

The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
A Sudden Light  by Garth Stein
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
Some Luck by Jane Smiley
The Human Body by Paolo Giordano

First Fiction

WallcreeperMurder at the BrightwellLife We BuryIt Won't AlwaysFour Corners

The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink
Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver
The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
It Won’t Always Be This Great by Peter Mehlman
The Four Corners of Palermo by Giuseppe Di Piazza

Crime Fiction /Suspense

click to enlargeTruth Be ToldGray MountainDealineDamage

Quartet for the End of Time by Johanna Skibsrud
Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan
Gray Mountain by John Grisham
Deadline by John Sandford
Dick Francis’s Damage by Felix Francis

SF / Fantasy

Ancillary SwordDie and Stay DeadBlood of AngelsFalling SkyShotgun Arcana

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Die and Stay Dead by Nicholas Kaufmann
The Blood of Angels by Johanna Sinisalo
Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna
The Shotgun Arcana by R.S. Belcher

Romance

ScratchAt BluebonnetRowdyMr MiracleAmerican Duchess

Scratch by Rhonda Helms
At Bluebonnet Lake by Amanda Cabot
Rowdy by Jay Crownover
Mr. Miracle by Debbie Macomber
An American Duchess  by Sharon Page

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

Whoops! BANNED Book Week

Well.

I humbly compose this retraction. As many of you probably realize, this is not Band Book Week but rather Banned Book Week. Obviously an ostrich of an entirely different color. Sure, band books are important, and what with the sex and drugs some of them are probably banned band books, but what we really celebrate this week is freedom from censorship.

Libraries and schools are targets for those who feel that certain types of materials should not be accessible in a public venue. They challenge these books, approaching those in authority with a request to have the books removed from circulation. Sometimes, sadly, the books are removed (banned), but more often they remain available.

Many recognized masterworks are frequently challenged, including 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, and The Grapes of Wrath.

Books 1-4Newer challenged books include Fifty Shades of Grey and The Lovely Bones.

Books 4.1-4.2

Children’s and young adult materials are frequently challenged, including Captain Underpants, The Hunger Games series, the Harry Potter series, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Books 5-8

Graphic novels are not exempt from attempted censorship. Bone by Jeff Smith was number 10 on the 2013 most often challenged list. Other critically acclaimed graphic novels such as Blankets by Craig Thompson and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel have also been protested as containing “obscene images.”

Books 9-11All of these examples are wonderful books in the eyes of some readers, but books that should be hidden from the light of day by others.

Why, you might wonder, would someone think a book should be banned? Reasons ranging from sexual overtones to anti-family content, from promotion of smoking and drinking to coarse language, from sexism to nudity are all used to justify the challenges to these books. There will always be materials that someone objects to, but fortunately we have a system that allows people to object, their objections to be reviewed, and censorship to generally not be tolerated.

Let me regale you with a couple of stories from my life that help illuminate my attitude.

My high school librarian was not a very friendly person. Most students did not like him. It came to light that he took it upon himself to hide books in a back room if he thought that they were not suitable for students. These books did not show up in the card catalog and he did not go through any channels to have the books banned. It was purely one individual’s decision. And of course these decisions impacted hundreds of people each year. This is not a shocking story that ends with our hero being wrongly tortured and executed, but it did shape my attitudes towards censorship.

The second story is that of living in a country which practices censorship. For two years I lived in Malaysia and this provided an interesting introduction to censorship. Certain books and magazines were not allowed in bookstores (I never interacted with the library system if there is one). Movies were edited to remove language and objectionable scenes, as were television shows. Of course this censorship was carried out for religious reasons, and I respect this, but it did make me appreciate the freedoms we have here. And on a side note, much like Prohibition times in the USA, the censored materials were available if you knew where to look, but getting caught was not a desirable outcome.

Getting back to the books that were listed above, I’ve read about half of them and I’m a better person for it. I sometimes read books that disturb me but often gain something from them. I enjoy themes that might disturb others and I’m glad that books with those themes can be found in my public library. And most of all, I’m ecstatic that I don’t have to secretly obtain censored books and live in fear of being discovered with them.

So celebrate! Check out a banned book and see what the fuss is all about. Come to the main library to see our banned book display. Find a book that you think should be banned and try to approach it with an open mind, perhaps searching for redeeming qualities. In all activities, rejoice that you have the freedom to object, to read and most of all, to benefit from the collections that we maintain in the library.