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.

A Nice Jacket (tie is optional)

In a recent blog, Lisa confessed to judging books by their covers. Now it is my turn to enter the confessional. Please don’t judge me.

I’m a browser.

Sure, I read reviews and get excited by their eloquent descriptions. Inevitably, in a state of rapture I’ll put a reviewed book on hold, sometime later I’ll be notified of its arrival, and sure as shootin’ I’ll have no memory of placing the hold and no interest in the book. It’s either not a genre I read or the description sounds depressing or the colors on the jacket clash. Perhaps at the time an epic intergenerational romance between a potato bug and a budgie tickled a particular nerve, but now it just seems so overdone.

So yes, I browse. And typically I look for authors that are new to me rather than tried-and-true scribes who would all but guarantee an enjoyable reading experience. My selection process is rather complicated and technical, but I’ll try to boil it down:

 The books I select must have appealing jackets.
With quirky artwork. And a nice font.

Thus I end up with some unusual reading material, things that I would not necessarily choose from a review, and have the added bonus that the book is in hand and can be read immediately (before I forget why I was attracted).

It’s always interesting in the line of duty to rediscover a book that I’d found through browsing but had since forgotten. Here are a few titles that I read in the mists of yesteryear and recently rediscovered on the shelf.

The Scheme for Full Employment by Magnus Mills Scheme for full employment
How do they create full employment in the UK? By building factories that make parts for the vans that drive between the factories to deliver the parts that the vans need as they wear out delivering parts for the vans. Got it? This system works perfectly until the company’s employees break into two different ideological groups and mess things up.

IntoxicatedIntoxicated by John Barlow
In 1860’s England an entrepreneurial hunchback midget engages the help of a businessman to create an exciting new elixir using rhubarb and coca leaf. The process of coming up with the perfect formula for Rhubarilla is described in great detail, shedding some light on a practice that is taken for granted in our modern industrial world.

The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl by Tim Pratt Rangergirl
Marzi is the night manager of a coffeehouse, but her true love is cartooning. Specifically, she creates The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, a neo-western cowpunk adventure. More and more, Marzi starts seeing the world through Rangergirl’s eyes. One day she finds a secret door in the coffeehouse that leads to … well, a strange and dangerous place created by Marzi’s mind. Both the “real” world and the world behind the door are in grave danger, and Rangergirl is the only one who can save the day.

gaudeamusGaudeamus by John Barnes
Author John Barnes writes a story in which the main character, science fiction author John Barnes, is approached by an old friend who spins a wild tale of telepathy pills, Native Americans dressed in clown suits, and an enigmatic technology called Gaudeamus. Strangely enough, Barnes is already deeply involved with a Web cartoon called Gaudeamus that makes references to his friend’s adventures. Gaudeamus the book mixes bits of autobiographical material from Barnes’ life into a fantastical plot to create a unique reading experience.

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi agent to the stars
Many books and movies speculate on what would happen when humans and an alien race meet for the first time. Agent to the Stars is a first-contact story where the peaceful aliens, gelatinous blobs who communicate through foul odors, are savvy enough to know that earthlings will find them unpleasant. So, before revealing themselves to the entire human race, they hire an up-and-coming Hollywood agent to create a positive image for their people.

So there you have it: a collection of admittedly weird books that I never would have discovered without walking the library’s aisles. If this is not your typical method of book selection, give it a try. Perhaps you’ll soon discover your own version of foul-smelling gelatinous blobs that will burrow their way into your heart.

Spot-Lit for September 2013

Spot-Lit

To read reviews or place holds, click the titles below then click the Full Display button.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction 

Dissident Gardens    Enon    Lowland    Woman Who Lost Her Soul    Maids Version

Dissident Gardens  by Jonathan Lethem

Enon  by Paul Harding

The Lowland  Jhumpa Lahiri

The Woman Who Lost Her Soul  by Bob Shacochis

The Maid’s Version  by Daniel Woodrell

First Novels

Edge of Normal       Burial Rites       Just What Kind of Mother Are You       Alex

The Edge of Normal  by Carla Norton

Burial Rites  by Hannah Kent

Just What Kind of Mother Are You?  by Paula Daly

Alex  by Pierre Lemaitre

Crime Fiction / Suspense

Execution       Strangled in Paris       Then We Take Berlin

Execution  by Adrian Magson

Strangled in Paris  by Claude Izner

Then We Take Berlin  by John Lawton

SF and Fantasy

Maddaddam       Mage's Blood       Gideon Smith       Vicious

MaddAddam  by Margaret Atwood

Mage’s Blood  by David Hair

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl  by David Barnett

Vicious  by V.E. Schwab

Romance and Western

Tear You Apart        Blackmoore       Rebellious Heart       Wreaths of Glory

Tear You Apart  by Megan Hart

Blackmoore  by Julie Donaldson

Rebellious Heart  by Jody Hedlund

Wreaths of Glory  by Johnny Boggs

To see all the on-order fiction, click here.

Spot-Lit for July 2013

Spot-Lit

Lots of good fiction is headed your way this 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 

              My Education         Impossible Lives of Greta Wells         Light in the Ruins

My Education  by Susan Choi

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells  by Andrew Sean Greer

The Light in the Ruins  by Chris Bohjalian

First Fiction

Curiosity Ten Things Loteria Gamal Byzantium Daedalus Incident

The Curiosity  by Stephen Kiernan

Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love  by Sarah Butler

Lotería  by Mario Alberto Zambrano

The Gamal  by Ciaran Collins

Byzantium  by Ben Stroud

The Daedalus Incident  by Michael Martinez

Crime Fiction / Suspense

Skinner Visitation Street Summertime All the Cats Are Bored Last Word Crocodile Eye for an Eye

Skinner  by Charlie Huston

Visitation Street  by Ivy Pochoda

Summertime, All the Cats are Bored  by Philippe Georget

The Last Word  by Lisa Lutz

The Crocodile  by Maurizio de Giovanni

Eye for an Eye  by Ben Coes

SF / Fantasy / Romance / Western

The Humans      Fifth Grave Past the Light      If the Shoe Fits      Winter Kill

The Humans  by Matt Haig

Fifth Grave Past the Light  by Darynda Jones

If the Shoe Fits  by Megan Mulry

Winter Kill  by Bill Brooks 

To see all the on-order fiction, click here.

Spot-Lit for May 2013

So, you’ve probably heard that Dan Brown, John Sandford, John Le Carré, Isabel Allende, and Kite Runner author Khaled Hosseini all have new books out or due out this month. Below are some more titles getting a lot of advance review buzz and/or publisher support. Click on the titles to read more or to place holds.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction 

Dual InheritanceA Dual Inheritance  by Joanna Hershon
A friendship formed at Harvard in 1962 then abruptly broken off is the focus of this love-triangle novel which spans the past fifty years. Hershon’s novel is being compared to Freedom, Rules of Civility, and The Marriage Plot.

FoolsFools  by Joan Silber
Occurring in many locations around the globe, and spanning the 1920s to Occupy Wall Street, these interlinked stories look at the ways people dupe one another – subtly or otherwise – and are likewise duped.

First Novels

ConstellationA Constellation of Vital Phenomena  by Anthony Marra
After her father is abducted, an eight-year-old girl and her neighbor, Akhmed, take refuge in a bombed out hospital in Chechnya where Sonja, the sole remaining doctor, treats the wounded and mourns her missing sister. In writing that is detailed and eloquent, Akhmed and Sonja explore their pasts and the events that have bound them together.

Red SparrowsRed Sparrow  by Jason Matthews
Pitting Putin’s SVR against the CIA, this exceptional spy thriller includes a host of villains, hit-men, and politicos while employing such spy-trade techniques as counterintelligence, surveillance, “sexpionage,” cyber-warfare and covert communications. Ex-CIA man Matthews knows his stuff.

Under Tower PeakUnder Tower Peak  by Bart Paul
Iraq-war vet Tommy Smith and his wilderness guide partner find themselves in the thick of things when they discover the wreckage of a missing billionaire’s airplane high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Thugs and family members all seek their self-interest and Tommy has to dust off the sniper skills he thought he’d retired for good. 

Crime Fiction

End of the WorldThe End of the World in Breslau  by Marek Krajewski
Hard-drinking Eberhard Mock investigates the grisly murders of two seemingly unrelated victims in the Polish town of Breslau in 1927. Evidence deliberately left at both crime scenes points to a single suspect. Suspicion falls on Mock’s wife when she begins to display unusual behavior.

RedeemerThe Redeemer  by Jo Nesbø
Renegade detective Harry Hole has little to go on in solving the contract killing of a musician. Flawed, frail human nature is revealed in the characters of The Redeemer – along with their ambiguous quests for redemption. This is masterfully plotted crime writing that explores the darkest corners of the human psyche.

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Human DivisionThe Human Division  by John Scalzi
A bold, hard-SF novel in which earthlings find their own Colonial Union has deceived them and conscripted humans in a generations-long fight with aliens. Things get interesting when the aliens appeal to the betrayed humans to join them in the fight against the CU…  Bradbury and Heinlein fans will want to grab this.

nos4a2NOS4A2  by Joe Hill
Charles Talent Manx has a thing for abducting children. Victoria McQueen is the only victim to ever escape his grasp. That was long ago, but he hasn’t forgotten her. And now he has her son.

Red MoonRed Moon  by Benjamin Percy
This supernatural thriller featuring werewolves (lycans) in a story with strong social and geopolitical undercurrents should attract more than just horror fans. Percy’s book is drawing comparisons to Justin Cronin’s The Passage and Max Brooks’s World War Z.

One for the Ladies

DivergentIt may seem a bit odd to celebrate Women’s History Month by talking about fictional females, but here I am. I’ve noticed that I wind up reading a lot of fiction with males in lead roles; I guess it’s all that wizardry, sword fighting, and space travel going on – apparently lots of testosterone is needed. Needless to say, I always find it refreshing when I come across a woman in a book that I’m reading who can play with the boys, sometimes even beating them at their own game. Whether it’s mental, physical, or emotional, I love the strong ladies of lit. Sometimes things don’t work out well for them at the end of their journeys, but reading their exploits can be a welcome change in perspective from chest-thumping bros or hand-wringing ninnies. Here are some of my favorite female leads for those of you looking for a sassy lass or two:

True GritMattie RossTrue Grit by Charles Portis.  Mattie just might be #1 on my list, so I figure she’s a great place to start. Not long ago, a librarian friend of mine challenged me to name an of-age female protagonist from a book, written for an audience older than age 12, who had no romantic or sexual subplot attached to her. At first you wouldn’t think this type of character would be hard to find, but the only person I could come up with was Miss Ross. Mattie spends much of the story as a teen, so that’s not too difficult to explain, but she also ends the book as a wise old spinster. Aside from settling a bet among librarians, Mattie is great for other reasons. She is undeniably the heroine of the story, and throughout shows cunning, bravery, and determination. I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who have never picked up this book, but I think most readers will enjoy Mattie’s particular brand of pluck.

Beatrice “Tris” PriorDivergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth. If you liked Katniss Everdeen trust me, you are going to love Tris Prior. Unlike Katniss, Tris made the conscious choice to enter a life of danger and adventure. In a post-apocalyptic Chicago, society is broken down into five factions where individuals live according to a core value that they choose to uphold. At sixteen Tris does the unthinkable and opts to leave her humble faction of service, Abnegation, for the daredevil warrior faction, Dauntless. This choice sets off an avalanche of challenges for Tris as she struggles to prove herself as a Dauntless member and gain acceptance into her new faction. The stakes are high, and failure could be fatal. You don’t want to miss this series.

DraculaMina HarkerDracula by Bram Stoker. In the opening chapters of Dracula, Mina is a single, orphaned, yet financially-independent woman – no mean feat in the late 19th Century. When I first read Dracula, I had to do a double-take on the date of publication because I was surprised by the strong lead role that Mina played. Clearly Mr. Stoker thought that Mina was exceptional as well; at one point he describes her as having a ‘man’s brain.’ Throughout the book, we learn bits and pieces about Mina’s life by reading excerpts from her correspondences and journals. Mina comes across as a very intelligent person – not only perfecting her stenography skills in order to succeed as a legal assistant for her fiance, but also studying his law texts so that she can better help him in his practice when he becomes established as a solicitor. She is an interesting mixture of the stereotypical gentle, subservient Victorian wife and a brave and intellectual heroine, often leading her vampire-hunting counterparts to important clues about Dracula’s location and plans. This mix of femininity and intellect makes her a very believable and likable protagonist.

Amelia Peabody's EgyptAmelia Peabody Emerson -The Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. Last summer I was quoted as saying that I wanted to be Indiana Jones when I was a kid; that was true, but I think I should have added that I wanted to be Amelia Peabody as well. I was in love with the Amelia Peabody mystery series when I was younger, possibly more than I was with the Indiana Jones movies because I could actually imagine being Peabody. Amelia was everything I wanted to be: mature, insanely smart, funny independent, and above all – an Egyptologist at the turn of the century! This was an intoxicating thought to a nerdy little girl who loved to daydream about digging in the sand in a pith helmet and bloomers, and peering through cracks in ancient stone doors with Howard Carter to discover ‘wonderful things.‘ Through the magic of fiction, Amelia got to do all of this for me, and was witty and endearing while she was at it. To be fair, the entire cast in this series is wonderful – from Amelia’s ornery beau to their precocious children who arrive later in the series. I’d highly recommend these stories to anyone who likes both a good mystery and historical fiction.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreKat PotenteMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Let me just say, completely aside from the topic of this post, that I fell hard for this book; what an absolute delight it was to read! Even if you weren’t on a quest for a new female heroine I would tell you to grab this book and love it. But back to the topic at hand! Kat Potente enters the scene as the love interest of our male protagonist, Clay, but you soon learn that she is far more than a pretty face. Kat is one of the data visualization whiz kids at Google – a beyond-smart techie who seems to be on the verge of climbing high up the ranks at the internet powerhouse. When Clay becomes obsessed with mysterious goings on at his very unusual place of employment, he turns to Kat to help him find answers through the far-reaching network of information and technology that she has access to through Google. I like Kat because I find her work to be a fascinating look into the near future of where Internet technology, and the digitization of old texts, will take researchers. To a librarian and archivist, it’s tantalizing to see the concepts at play in this book, even if it’s fiction. You know that not far beneath the surface there is a lot of reality in what Sloan is writing about.

Juego de TronosA Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones), by George R.R. Martin. Do I have to pick just one? This series is chock full of awesome ladies; my personal favorites are Arya, the young tomboy of House Stark, and Brienne of Tarth, the warrior maiden. Both ladies are fiercely independent, even when it causes them great pain and hardship. Without risking too much in the area of spoilers, I can also let it slip that Caitlin Stark (Eddard’s wife), Osha (a wildling woman taken captive by House Stark), and Ygritte (another wildling woman) play very important and interesting roles in the series.

Of course there are many other fascinating women in literature that deserve a write-up. I’ve tried to include books/heroines that do not get mentioned as frequently in the numerous ‘Women in Literature’ lists that can be found online. I would love to hear about your personal favorites!

Lisa

Spot-Lit for January 2013

spot-litWhether you want to get the new year going with a new author (the first-time novelists listed here are getting rave reviews) or a returning favorite, there’s a lot to choose from this month.

Among popular authors with new releases are: Erica Bauermeister, Tracy Chevalier, Mary Jane Clark, John Connolly, Bernard Cornwell, Robert Crais, Mary Daheim, James Grippando, Kim Harrison, Linda Howard, Jayne Ann Krentz, Ian Rankin, Marcia Muller & Bill Pronzini, Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson.

And if you happen to be a Downton Abbey fan, you’ll want to check out Habits of the House, a new book by Fay Weldon (author of the pilot for Downton-predecessor Upstairs, Downstairs), and the debut novel, Ashenden by Elizabeth Wilhide. You might also take a look at The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction 

SaundersTenth of December  by George Saunders
Saunders, known for his sharp, oddball satire, adds deep emotion and compassion to the mix in this knockout collection of 10 new stories.

zambraWays of Going Home  by Alejandro Zambra
A story within a story set in Pinochet’s Chile that reflects on life under dictatorship and explores the nature of writing.

First Novels

Truth in Advertising  by John Kenney
This highly anticipated debut from a New Yorker humorist, features a burnt-out 39-year-old ad-man whose long-estranged father has just gone into the hospital – witty, spot-on accounts of work and coworkers, lovers and friends, and a family in crisis.

The Intercept  by Dick Wolf
Ground Zero’s new Freedom Tower is threatened – and more – in this high-energy, twisty, terrorism and espionage thriller from the man responsible for TV’s popular Law and Order series.

OdonnellThe Death of Bees  by Lisa O’Donnell
Upon their negligent parents’ deaths, Marnie and Nelly bury them in the backyard and try to avoid detection for a year – when Marnie will be old enough to become the guardian of her sister.  A compelling coming-of-age novel that is bleak, moving, and at times funny.

MilchmanCover of Snow  by Jenny Milchman
Nora Hamilton’s seemingly happy husband has hung himself. As she struggles through her grief and begins to dig into the circumstances of his death, she discovers shocking secrets about both her spouse and the town in this taut thriller.

ScottMotherlunge  by Kirstin Scott
The theme of motherhood winds through this realistic story of two sisters as they tussle with the decision of whether or not to have children while also dealing with their own mentally fragile mother. Likable characters and solid storytelling.

BelcherSix-Gun Tarot  by R.S. Belcher
An ancient evil comes to inhabit a played out silver mine in Golgotha, Nevada where a host of characters, who are not quite what they appear to be, attempt to reckon with it in this wild-west steampunk debut.

Crime Fiction /Suspense

EllisGun Machine  by Warren Ellis
A lunatic with a shotgun kills detective John Tallow’s partner, and a cache of weapons is discovered with connections to killings that span decades in this noirish twist on forensic detective work.

HunterThe Third Bullet  by Stephen Hunter
Sniper Bob Lee Swagger is back, and this time he’s tracking down evidence that may indicate the presence of another gunman in the JFK assassination.

MagsonRetribution  by Adrian Magson
Ex-MI5 agent Harry Tate’s past comes back to haunt him when an assassin begins tracking down all the members who were part of the U.N. close-protection unit during the Kosovo war – one of whom is alleged to be involved in the rape and murder of a young girl.

Science Fiction

HamiltonGreat North Road  by Peter F. Hamilton
A clone in the extended North family is murdered in 2143, leaving precious little evidence for Sidney Hurst to go on, though what he turns up could connect the murder with a two-decade-old slaughter. Epic, big idea, thrilling science fiction.

Romance

KlassenThe Tutor’s Daughter  by Julie Klassen
Emma Smallwood goes with her father to tutor a baron’s four sons, but mysterious events occur that both threaten and tempt in this suspenseful, gothic, Regency romance.