Get the jump on these highly anticipated new releases coming out in March.
Click the book cover montage below to read more or to place titles on hold.
The Notable New Fiction list for February is here.
Lots of advance praise for the new offerings by Anne Tyler, Kate Alcott, and Laura Lippman. And February is the month for short stories with stellar new collections by Charles Baxter, Katherine Heiny, Jonathan Lethem, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, and Rose Tremain.
Among new authors, Tom Cooper presents a noir-ish post-Katrina comic thriller, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the first books by Jonas Karlsson, M.O. Walsh, Laura van den Berg and Lucy Atkins.
In addition to Lippman’s new standout, crime readers will want to check out the titles by Frances Brody, Colette McBeth, Helene Tursten, Michael Kardos, and Gold Dagger-winner Mick Herron.
Science fiction and fantasy readers can look forward to V.E. Schwab’s latest (after last year’s popular Vicious) along with new books by Elizabeth Bear, Joe Abercrombie, and Marcus Sedgwick.
Click here to browse the list or place titles on hold.
The new Spot-Lit list of notable new fiction is here.
Yes, Spot-Lit posts will appear a little differently this year. We’ll announce here on the blog when a new list is ready and provide a link that will display all the titles directly in the library catalog. You can also find the selected titles right on the main catalog page – just scroll down to the Notable New Fiction of the Month carousel below the search box.
If last year is any indication, we’ll be featuring many of the fiction titles likely to end up on the 2015 best-of-the-year lists that will begin popping up in December – so why wait? Each month we’ll be letting you know about some of the year’s best reads often before they’ve even come off the press.
Some January highlights: Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Effect (follow-up to the popular The Rosie Project); a bunch of smashing debuts (Black River, Bonita Avenue, The Unquiet Dead, The Girl on the Train, The Bishop’s Wife, and the additive Etta and Otto and Russell and James); Pierce Brown’s highly anticipated SF/dystopia, Golden Son (after last year’s Red Rising) and Hugo-winner Jo Walton’s philosophical fantasy, The Just City. These are just a few of our selections, so take a look for more good reading to help you get through your January hibernation – enjoy!
Meatloaf sandwich, fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Mmmmm. Comfort food. As I look back at 2014, I realize that I indulge in comfort books. So many books I want to read but dang it, Perry Mason is so entertaining. And comforting.
And so I overindulge in Mr. Mason.
I decided to do something at the end of this year that I’ve not done before, to list every book that I read over the past 12 months and to analyze my reading trends for the year. So prepare for the post that was one year in the making: Year-End Roundup 2014!
Mysteries, mysteries, mysteries
I read many mysteries. Surprisingly many. Almost exclusively.
Most books I read were part of larger series.
Ring in the old
Typically I try to read recently-written stuff, but this year found many pre-1960 books on my virtual nightstand.
May I have pulp with that?
I’ve long enjoyed pulp fiction, but this year I discovered heroes of old that I’d not heard of before.
Here are some of the titles I enjoyed.
Perry, Perry, Perry
The Case of the …
Velvet Claws (1933) (#1), Sulky Girl (1933) (#2), Curious Bride (1935) (#5), Caretakers Cat (1935) (#7), Half-Wakened Wife (1945) (#27), Vagabond Virgin (1948) (#32), Cautious Coquette (1949) (#34), Fiery Fingers (1951) (#37), Moth-Eaten Mink (1952) (#39), Fugitive Nurse (1954) (#43), Long-Legged Models (1958) (#56) all by Erle Stanley Gardner
As an interesting side note, I’ve enjoyed all the Mason books tremendously except for The Case of the Fugitive Nurse. It is very poorly written, not at all the quality of the others. This leads me to wonder if Gardner farmed it out to a hack writer.
Fast One (1933) by Paul Cain
Junkie (1952) by Jonathan Craig
Super-Detective Jim Anthony: Dealer in Death (1941) by Victor Rousseau
The Quick Red Fox (1964), and The Scarlet Ruse (1973) by John D. MacDonald
The Uncomplaining Corpses (1940) by Brett Halliday
The Dream Girl (The Hilarious Adventures of Toffee #1) (late 1940s) by Charles F. Myers
The Best of Spicy Mystery Vol. 1 (1930s) edited by Alfred Jan
Satan’s Daughter (1936) by E. Hoffman Price
The Secret Adversary (1922) by Agatha Christie
Antiques Roadkill (2007), Antiques Slay Ride (2013) and Antiques Con (2014) by Barbara Allan
The Yard (2012) and The Black Country (2013) by Alex Grecian
Murder with Peacocks (1999) by Donna Andrews
The Spellman Files (2007) by Lisa Lutz
The White Magic Five and Dime (2014) by Steve Hockensmith
The Invisible Code (2013) by Christopher Fowler
I’m never a big non-fiction reader, but this year was exceedingly sparse. However, One Summer was one of the best books I read this year, focusing on a few months in 1927, the important events that occurred during those months, and showing how seemingly unrelated happenings influenced each other.
Not too much read outside of the mystery/pulp genre this year, but The Garden on Sunset, a presumably self-published ebook, was one of my favorites. While the writing is not absolutely top-notch, the subject matter of regular folk living in early Hollywood and rubbing noses with stars of the golden age is intriguing.
And there you have it, my reading year in a nutshell. Help! I’m in a nutshell! How did I get into this nutshell? Look at the size of this bloody great big nutshell! What sort of shell has a nut like this? This is crazy!
It’s become a habit, a sleazy late-night habit, when the stars are out and the ladies are tucked away between chenille and damask sheets. But then we’re not dealing with ladies here are we? Broads, dames, happy cha-cha marimba girls in twirling sequined dresses and little else if you know what I mean and I think you do.
What with a tsunami of ancient pulp novels and short stories being reissued as ebooks, I’m discovering authors and characters I’ve never heard of, brave adventurers I crave to read about again and again. This is not frilly prose filled with multisyllabic words such as “anglepoise” or “asymptomatic” but rapid-fire, clipped writing featuring gats and hooch and stiffs.
Over the past few months, I’ve read little other than pulp and blogged about the same. One of my discoveries this month was Super-Detective Jim Anthony. Let me say that delicious name again: Super-Detective Jim Anthony. Written in the 1940’s before the U.S. entered World War II, Anthony is often described as a Doc Savage clone (no time to go into Savage today), sharing similar characteristics and cohorts. He is a perfect physical specimen, superior athlete, supergenius, inventor, engineer, chemist, and on and on. No time for ladies, duty calls! In Dealer in Death, Anthony must defeat the ultravillain Rado Ruric who is trying to bring down the U.S. in a bloody revolution. If you can imagine a Flash Gordon serial as a novel then you understand the concept.
As with many stories from this time period there are racial stereotypes that we no longer consider acceptable. And of course, women are, well, window dressing, underlings, dames, broads … Well, you get the picture. Dickens it ain’t, but I thoroughly enjoyed Super-Detective Jim Anthony (I could not resist saying it again) and his gang as they saved our beloved nation.
The library does not have a lot of pulp titles as they are long out-of-print, but you can find a few collections of short stories, as well as a book filled with pulp author profiles. Here are some titles worth (wait for it) checking out.
The Mammoth Book of Pulp Action ed. by Maxim Jakubowski
A collection of crime stories written in the 1930’s and beyond, this book features pulp authors such as Erle Stanley Gardner, David Goodis, Hugh B. Cave, Lawrence Block, Frederic Brown, John D. MacDonald and Ed Gorman.
Paperback Confidential: Crime Writers of the Paperback Era by Brian Ritt
This title contains profiles of important pulp authors including Gil Brewer, Paul Cain, Lester Dent, Brett Halliday, Orrie Hitt, Elisabeth Saxnay Holding, Day Keene, Richard S. Prather, Harry Whittington and Cornell Woolrich.
Hard-boiled: an Anthology of American Crime Stories ed. by Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian
An anthology of crime stories written from the 1920’s to the 1990’s by Raoul Whitfield, Frederick Nebel, James M. Cain, Chester Himes, Leigh Brackett, Jim Thompson and others.
Perhaps it’s hard to compare beautiful prose to pulp writing, but it’s the very hit-or-miss quality of metaphors and similes, the unlikely turns of phrase, the clichés, the “churn-it-out-if-you-wanna-get-paid” quality that makes pulp stories endearing to me. The stories in these anthologies are a good starting point, so find authors that grab your roving eye and then explore their writing further. Strangely, these long out-of-print tales are getting easier and easier to find.
And who can resist writing like this, a statement made by Dolores, the woman in love with … Super-Detective Jim Anthony?
“Jim, don’t you realize that a killer as shrewd as that might have deliberately switched cars, knowing of your gelatine process?”
That, my friends, is pulp.
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 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 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 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 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.
The Spellmans by Lisa Lutz.
A quirky, dysfunctional family of detectives. Imagine working in close quarters with your parents and/or siblings.
Antiques 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 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?
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.
The 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 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.
Shovel 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.