Spot-Lit for November 2015


The titles listed here are some of the most anticipated November releases based on a consensus of advance review praise and book world enthusiasm. Click here to see all these titles in the library catalog, read reviews, or place holds. Or click a book cover to enlarge it or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2015 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

Rise of the Machines

PMrobotsI know this is going to come as a shocking confession from a librarian, but I like to prioritize the things I worry about. My favorite organizational criterion (yes, I have a favorite) is:  ‘how likely is (insert worry here) going to happen.’  If it doesn’t seem very likely, I can set it aside and move on. I used to think worrying about a rogue Artificial Intelligence using its robot minions to take over the world was a pretty long shot. The other day though, I came across several articles referencing an Open Letter signed by the likes of Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk that was concerned with the possible misuse of AI and robots as they continue to be developed. Clearly I am missing something to worry about. Time to do some research at the library to find out what all the fuss is about.

robotbuilderI was surprised to learn that if you want to get hands on and actually build a mechanical companion, we have several books to get you started. For an overview of what is currently possible, definitely take a look at Popular Mechanics Robots: a New Age of Bionics, Drones & Artificial Intelligence. You will learn about self-driving cars, surprisingly intelligent, and somewhat creepy, coffee makers and bionic limbs. After you have selected your project, the books Robot Builder: the Beginner’s Guide to Building Robot by John Baichtal, Making Simple Robots by Kathy Ceceri and Robot Builder’s Bonanza by Gordon McComb will get you started. Before releasing your creation on the world though, please read Chapter 5 of Robot Builder titled ‘Controlling Your Robot’ very carefully. Also having an off switch might come in handy.

whattothinkWhile what is possible today when it comes to Artificial Intelligence and robots is definitely intriguing, the near future, very near according to some, should be the time when things really get interesting. In the book What to Think About Machines That Think by John Brockman, the author asked many prominent philosophers, scientists and creative types a simple question: What do you think about machines that think? As you might expect, the answers vary widely. Some offer dystopian visions of the demise of humanity, while others promote a world where AI solves all our problems.  If you want to delve deeper, definitely check out The Technological Singularity by Murray Shanahan. This well researched book explains the Technological Singularity, basically the point where AI can learn on its own and overtakes human intelligence, and even tries to predict when it might happen and the consequences.

We actually have many more books that examine the issues surrounding AI and its development from various viewpoints. A few of the noteworthy titles include: Humans Need Not Apply: a Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Jerry Kaplan, The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake our World by Pedro Domingos and Virtually Human: the Promise and the Peril of Digital Immortality by Martine Rothblatt.

auroraWhen it comes to speculating about what AI is capable of though, fiction and film is definitely where all the fun is at. The scenario of the evil computer trying to take over the world is used so often in fiction that it is almost a cliche at this point. A fun cliche, but a cliche nonetheless. I recently read, well listened to actually, a really interesting take on AI in the book Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. Aurora is the story of an attempt to colonize planets in the Tau Ceti system which is 12 light years from earth. Getting there takes nearly 160 years so it is the great grandchildren of those who departed who finally arrive. Overseeing the whole process is an artificial intelligence that prefers the simple name ‘ship’. Ship actually narrates a good three fourths of the book and in so doing examines a lot of compelling questions about what it means to exist, consciousness and the ability to think and feel. Here is a good example:

After much reflection, we are coming to the conclusion, preliminary and perhaps arbitrary, that the self, the so-called I that emerges out of the combination of all the inputs and processing and outputs that we experience in the ship’s changing body, is ultimately nothing more or less than this narrative itself, this particular train of thought that we are inscribing as instructed by Devi. There is a pretense of self, in other words, which is only expressed in this narrative; a self that is these sentences. We tell their story, and thereby come to what consciousness we have. Scribble ergo sum.

So I’m still not sure where to place the worry of an AI takeover on my list of worries. I have had fun researching the idea though. Maybe telling the story is the whole point, as ship would say.

OMG Read This! Or, 5 Reasons to Read the Book First

the martian

OMG guys, read the book. Then see the movie. Then see the movie again. Then read the book again. Then just basically stalk Matt Damon.

Sometimes when I really, truly love something, I have a difficult time adequately describing exactly what specifically it is that I loved, and why you should give a care. Take The Martian and my verbal diarrhea above. That fangirl gibberish is literally what I sent my editor when asked what I was going to write about this month and, strangely, it fits perfectly.

There are oodles of posts out there reviewing in detail both the book by Andy Weir (debut novel that was originally self-published–keep that in mind, fellow NaNoWriMo peeps!) and the Matt Damon box-office smash hit movie. That’s not what this is. This is me trying to tell you why it’s so very important to read the book before you watch the movie.

  1. The obvious snobbery. “Oh, you didn’t read the book? I see…” said with disdain and a mouth full of fake-buttery popcorn. I’ve never actually been a book snob; I read for entertainment at every given opportunity and tend to stay far away from award-winners and Oprah’s book club picks. So when I can actually flash the book snob card, I don’t hesitate, as it’s a rare thrill and I can be that shallow.
  2. The book will have the details that make your heart sing. I don’t care how good the movie is; there’s really no way to get all the detail out on screen, unless you want your film to be 18 hours long. In the case of The Martian, much of the story is told through Mark Watney’s journal entries. You can believe the film is not narrated start-to-finish by Matt Damon. That would test even my patience. Instead, the director made selective use of narration, sometimes leaving patches of silence, which actually works for this stranded-in-space story.
  3. You may discover a new favorite author. I know I’m not the only one who tends to read books that are definitely not candidates for film. The books being made into movies are outside my wheelhouse, and by reading one of them I’m exposing myself to different voices and perspectives.
  4. You’ll know when it’s safe to get refills or hit the restroom. I love experiencing film in the theater, as both the picture and sound quality are usually above and beyond anything I could replicate at home. However, there’s no pause button, so you really have to take a gamble when choosing the best time for a refill on popcorn or a trip to the loo. Not so when you already know the order of events. You have a mental crystal ball that will tell you when it’s safe to rush out and see to your needs.
  5. You might get a more complete ending. Let’s face it: The Martian book ends rather abruptly. You get a general sense of completion in terms of “did Watney get rescued or not?,” but there’s no epilogue to tie it up with a pretty red bow. The movie, however, gave me that sense of closure and a feeling that I really knew what became of all of the main characters.

Full disclosure: the whole reading-the-book-and-then-seeing-the-screen-adaptation-thing is something I rarely ever do. But after my experience with The Martian, I am making it my new standard MO. I’ve seen The Martian twice now, but you can bet it’s likely I’ll be back in the theater before its run is over. There’s just something about this story of hope and humanity that has me glued to my seat, even though I already know what’s going to happen.

On a side note, I have to commend the people creating the PR materials for The Martian movie. Sure, they released your typical movie previews in advance of the release date, but they also have these incredibly fun and fascinating faux documentaries about the Ares 3 crew and its mission. I’ll leave you with my favorite, done in the style of Cosmos and starring everyone’s favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

And for those of you jonesing for a dose of reality, the insanely cool folks at NASA have compiled an interactive repository for all things about the real Martians. I’ll see you all next month, once I find my way out of this new and exciting rabbit hole of information!

Spot-Lit for October 2015


Click here to see all these titles in the library catalog, read reviews, or place holds. Or click a book cover to enlarge it or to view the covers as a slide show.

Crazy Fall Publishing Part 5: September 29th

Hey there. What’s up with me? I’m drowning in new books. NBD! The things I do for you, dear reader. Yep, I’m definitely coveting and eventually reading all these books for you. No need to thank me, but if you do you can forward your good words straight to my boss. Performance appraisal time is just around the corner and a good word from you is sure to go a long way.

Anyway, I’ve been counting the days since these new books arrive, and I hope you’ll want to read them, too. Check them out–literally!

all american boysAll American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Summary: A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galuzzi, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement? But there were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.
Why I’m stoked: As previously mentioned on this blog, I’m from Alton, IL, a small town across the Mississippi from Ferguson, MO. I don’t think I have to tell you how upset I’ve been to see my neighbors, friends, and family rocked by community violence and mistrust. Books like this one are necessary and welcome. I plan to read it and The Ferguson Report back-to-back. I may be known for my preference for fluffy and frivolous reads, but this is one I know will be difficult for me–and I honestly can’t wait.

madlyMadly by Amy Alward
Summary: When the Princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn. Enter Samantha Kemi – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they’ve fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? Just how close is Sam willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing former classmate and enemy, in the meantime? And just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news. No big deal, then.
Why I’m stoked: Fantasy and humor. Romance and adventure. And a cover that launched a thousand Instagram posts (if you didn’t see this pop up in your feed in recent weeks you are following the wrong people, my friend). Oh, my goodness. And it’s also book one in a series. Be still my beating heart. I just know this is going to be a fantastic read.

sanctuarySanctuary by Jennifer McKissack
Summary: After the untimely death of her aunt Laura, Cecilia Cross is forced to return to Sanctuary, a rambling, old French-Gothic mansion that crowns a remote island off the coast of Maine. Cecilia is both drawn to and repulsed by Sanctuary. The scent of the ocean intoxicates her, but she’s also haunted by the ghosts of her past–of her father who died at Sanctuary five years ago, and of her mother who was committed soon after. The memories leave Cecilia feeling shaken, desperate to run away and forget her terrible family history. But then a mysterious guest arrives at Sanctuary: Eli Bauer, a professor sent to examine Sanctuary’s library. Cecilia is intrigued by this strange young man who seems so interested in her — even more interested in her than in the books he is meant to be studying. Who is he and what does he want? Can Cecilia possibly trust her growing feelings for him? And can he help her make peace with her haunted, tragic past?
Why I’m stoked: I know the two plots are not the same at all, but reading this synopsis reminded me so strongly of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir that I felt compelled to put it on my TBR. While I love ghost stories, I confess it’s been an age since I’ve read a good Gothic. And the fact that a personal library plays a prominent role in the book kind of makes me crave reading it even more.

zeroesZeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti
Summary: Ethan, aka “Scam,” has a way with words. When he opens his mouth, whatever he wants you to hear comes out. But Ethan isn’t just a smooth talker. He has a unique ability to say things he doesn’t consciously even know. Sometimes the voice helps, but sometimes it hurts – like now, when the voice has lied and has landed Ethan in a massive mess. So now Ethan needs help. And he needs to go to the last people who would ever want to help him – his former group of friends, the self-named “Zeroes” who also all possess similarly double-edged abilities, and who are all angry at Ethan for their own respective reasons. Brought back together by Scam’s latest mischief, they find themselves entangled in an epic, whirlwind adventure packed with as much interpersonal drama as mind-bending action.
Why I’m stoked: On the plus side, I’ve never read a Scott Westerfeld book, so this makes me feel pretty adventurous. On the downside, I almost across the board loathe dystopian novels. However, the abilities the Zeroes posses make me second-guess my dystopian disgust. This one is going to be book one of at least a trilogy, so if I really love it I can look forward to delving into more stories later.

I should probably take a photograph of my TBR for dramatic effect. However, it would be so much taller than me it may topple over and land me with an injury that may prevent me from reading. Tragic!

Crazy Fall Publishing Part 4: September 22nd

What time is it? New book time! Despite the fact that I usually blog about books that are not new and often not even hot, I am making up for lost time this fall. Each week I’m bringing you my totally subjective list of books to squee about. And of all the weeks thus far in the fall publishing season, I am most looking forward to this one.

Ritter_BeastlyBones_jkt_COMP.inddBeastly Bones by William Ritter
Summary: In 1892 in New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer R. F. Jackaby are called upon to investigate the supernatural. First, a vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens, and a day later, their owner is found murdered with a single mysterious puncture wound. Then in nearby Gad’s Valley, now home to the exiled New Fiddleham police detective Charlie Cane, dinosaur bones from a recent dig mysteriously go missing, and an unidentifiable beast starts attacking animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Charlie calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer
Why I’m stoked: One of the best books I read this past winter, Jackaby helped get me through the long wait for Libba Bray’s Lair of Dreams, the sequel to the stunning book The Diviners. How’s this for irony? I am definitely going to read Beastly Bones before Lair of Dreams. I mean, I’ve waited this long. What’s another week? Or day. I’ll probably read Beastly Bones in a day. A day with no sleep. And lots of excited exclamations punctuating the pure silence with which I like to read.

dreamlandDreamland by Robert L. Anderson
Summary: Odea Donahue has been able to travel through people’s dreams since she was six years old. Her mother taught her the three rules of walking: Never interfere. Never be seen. Never walk the same person’s dream more than once. Dea has never questioned her mother, not about the rules, not about the clocks or the mirrors, not about moving from place to place to be one step ahead of the unseen monsters that Dea’s mother is certain are right behind them. Then a mysterious new boy, Connor, comes to town and Dea finally starts to feel normal. As Connor breaks down the walls that she’s had up for so long, he gets closer to learning her secret. For the first time she wonders if that’s so bad. But when Dea breaks the rules, the boundary between worlds begins to deteriorate. How can she know what’s real and what’s not?
Why I’m stoked: I just finished reading the totally awesome and completely engrossing Arkwell Academy series by Mindee Arnett. The protagonist is a Nightmare, which means she feeds off people’s dreams by entering them. Since I’m still so reluctant to let that world go, I am beyond thrilled to get my hands on Dreamland. Don’t get me wrong: if I knew you were dipping in and out of my dreams I would freak out. But since it’s fiction I’m on board for the thrills.

sleeper and the spindleThe Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
Summary: On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom. This queen will decide her own future – and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. Twisting together the familiar and the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents.
Why I’m stoked: Despite following him all over social media and loving every quote of his I’ve ever read out of context, I’ve never actually read a Neil Gaiman book. I know, I know. I’m in line now to return my nerd card. Hopefully the line moves slowly enough that I can check out this book and actually read it before the revocation. I love it when fairy tales get turned on their sides, and a battle-ready female character speaks to my Dungeons & Dragons self. That’s right. I think my fighter Aida will be smitten with this book.

unquietThe Unquiet by Mikaela Everett
Summary: For most of her life, Lirael has been training to kill—and replace—a duplicate version of herself on a parallel Earth. She is the perfect sleeper-soldier. But she’s beginning to suspect she is not a good person. The two Earths are identical in almost every way. Two copies of every city, every building, even every person. But the people from the second Earth know something their duplicates do not—two versions of the same thing cannot exist. They—and their whole planet—are slowly disappearing. Lira has been trained mercilessly since childhood to learn everything she can about her duplicate, to be a ruthless sleeper-assassin who kills that other Lirael and steps seamlessly into her life.
Why I’m stoked: I think every time I confess to not finishing a series, be it book or TV, a gremlin gets fed after midnight. Wait. Angel and wings? Nope, most definitely gremlin. This is a poor segue into me confessing to loving TV series Fringe but never actually finishing it. This book screams Fringe at me so much I’m waiting for bangs to sprout on my forehead (the Anglophile in me thought that joke was hilarious). Maybe after I read this I’ll pop those DVDs back in and see what’s going on with Walter. The good Walter. Not the bad Walter. The bad Walter is just too scary to handle sometimes.

Sleep is for the weak. And this week I’m all out of sleep. Wait…what was I saying? That’s right: tell me what books you’re most looking forward to reading. If I get enough replies I can “write it up” as a blog post and give myself more time for reading. Or sleeping. Man, I need to put the book down and get some– zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Spot-Lit for September 2015


Love-him-or-love-to-hate-him, the “Great American Novelist,” Jonathan Franzen is back with Purity, a novel of family secrets, complex characters and questionable intentions.

In other family-centered storytelling, Lauren Groff takes a hard, clear look at the surfaces and undercurrents of a decades-long marriage.

Fans of tell-all auto-fiction in the vein of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series will want to check out Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels – The Story of the Lost Child, the series closer, is due out this week.

In dystopian novels, Margaret Atwood returns with a frightening story of economic collapse and totalitarianism, and Claire Watkins spins a dark tale about the changed social and physical landscape brought on by a near-future California drought.

Northwest authors Jonathan Evison and J.A. Jance have new books forthcoming. And a couple of first novels feature Northwest settings – Jimmy Bluefeather (Alaska) and Dryland (Portland).

Among other standout first novels there’s Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (woman loses everyone and everything she loves in a house fire), and After the Parade by Lori Ostlund (setting out on one’s own after being paralyzed by loss and grief).

In the crime realm, look for the familiar-sounding The Girl in the Spider’s Web – a follow-up to the immensely popular Stieg Larsson books. And advance praise is raining down on The Killing Lessons, The Scribe and The Child Garden.

Fantasy fans will want to know that Jim Butcher’s starting a new series and might also want to take a look at Seth Dickinson’s Traitor Baru Cormorant. For readers of the supernatural, try Tananarive Due’s Ghost Summer.

Click the book cover montage below to see this list of titles in the library catalog, read reviews, or place holds.


Notable New Fiction 2015 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.