Spot-Lit for December 2016

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Remember to check back monthly: Many of the titles we feature here each month end up in major media lists of best books of the year, alongside lesser-touted gems you won’t want to miss. You can see all of this year’s Spot-Lit titles here.

Notable New Fiction 2016 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

NaNoReMo

November is National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. Write-ins are happening all over the place, including the library. And some people even go a step further: they become published authors as a result of their hard work and dedication to the craft of writing. How cool is that? One year my husband and I decided that we would each write a novel during NaNoWriMo. While we would be writing vastly different stories and not exactly collaborating, we wrote side-by-side in the same room and bounced ideas and grammar conundrums off of each other. Neither one of us finished our novels, but we had a lot of fun and learned more about each other as a result. Which, let me tell you, after being together for almost half your lives is something special indeed!

But this isn’t a post about NaNoWriMo. This is about a new moniker I am giving November: NaNoReMo, which stands for National Novel Reading Month. Reading books out loud together is something my husband and I have done on multiple occasions. Sharing an experience with someone can definitely bring you closer together, and sharing the experience and enjoyment of a book together is one of my top things for us to do as a couple. It’s free, doesn’t take much time, and can sometimes even be done while doing otherwise mundane or boring tasks. I’m going to share with you a few of our favorite books that we have read together, which will hopefully spark your own imagination and enthusiasm!

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The time we read to each other: Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
One of the best things about reading a Jim Gaffigan book is when you can get your hands on an audio recording of it and hear him read it to you. As huge fans of Jimbo, we were tempted to go that route. But instead we decided it would be fun to try reading each other alternating chapters. You read chapter 1, I’ll read chapter 2. One of the best things about this method was sometimes one or the other of us would be sleepy and not be up for reading that night. That’s okay; the other person was ready with the bedtime story. I might be sharing too much of myself here, but there is nothing I love hearing more than the sound of my husband’s voice. When he would read to me, I could feel the stress of the day melt away and if I was awake enough I’d be laughing right along with him as he read. I don’t know if he feels the same way about my voice, but I definitely returned the favor. It was a great balance and the fact that the book’s content was about an experience we haven’t yet shared, parenthood, made the experience educational as well.

2-ready-player-oneThe time we listened to an audiobook instead of watching TV: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
When Ready Player One first came out it didn’t even become a tiny blip on my radar. It’s the worst-kept secret that I detest dystopian novels, and this promised to fit the bill. But then the library acquired the audiobook and I saw that it was read by Wil Wheaton. After a quick fangirl dance of joy I promptly checked it out. On the drive home from work that night I listened to the beginning of the story, and over the next couple of weeks I finished the first few discs on my commute. It was a great way to pass the time while fighting rush hour traffic, but I had a better idea. I knew this story would appeal to my husband, so that night I brought the whole set into the house, set up some equipment, and started from the beginning. We were both riveted, and over the next several days we skipped the usual evening television programming in favor of listening to Wesley Crusher relate the story of Wade Watts and his journey into the OASIS system in search of James Halliday’s three keys and, hopefully, his ticket out of poverty.

3-the-martianThe time we read the same book back-to-back: The Martian by Andy Weir
This was another not-on-my-radar book that I almost missed. A few months before the Matt Damon movie was to be released in theaters, my husband read a story about the movie and knew he wanted to see the movie but read the book first. He devoured the book. I mean, he’s a quick reader anyway compared to my reading speed, but in this case he actually lost sleep in favor of finding out if astronaut Mark Watney, who was stranded on Mars for several years, ever made it back to Earth or not. He then began his campaign to get me to read it, too. Our reading tastes don’t often overlap so we aren’t in the habit of pestering each other to read a book we enjoyed. But this was different. He warned me about some technical jargon and heavy use of math (what does that say about me, that I need a math trigger warning?) but said the humor and writing style would win me over, and the suspense would keep me up as well. While I admit that I started reading the book in a thinly-veiled attempt to shut him up, the joke was on me. I absolutely loved it, and consider myself fortunate to have read the book before seeing the movie. Through no real effort my brain read the book in Matt Damon‘s voice.

4-romeo-and-or-julietThe time we will take turns choosing how the book goes: Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North
So I don’t know about you, but my Octobers are always super-busy, very stressful, and as a result I always get sick. This year was no exception. It was such a struggle to get through the month that November has so far been a kind of recuperation period. That’s all ending this Veterans Day when both my husband and I will finally have some quality time together. We’ve planned to read this book by Ryan North, aka one of the funniest guys in comics today, aka the crazy mad awesome genius behind The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series for Marvel. He has reworked Shakespeare so that the reader gets to choose the ending. That’s right; it’s a choose your own adventure for adults, and it has been sitting on our shelf at home for months collecting dust, waiting for its turn in the TBR. Our plan is for one of us to read while the other one drives; that is to say if I’m reading, he’s telling me which choice he wants as we go along. I really can’t wait for this one, as it’s another new type of book that is sure to help rejuvenate our spirits before we plan to travel back home for the holidays (stress x 1000).

So there you have it. Whether you’ve been married for decades or just swiped right, I urge you to file this one away in your relationship database. Let’s make America read again!

Spot-Lit for November 2016

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2016 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

Crazy Fall Publishing: Picture Book Edition

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I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve read about five hundred books this year! You may ask, “How is that possible?” Well, I purchase the picture books for the Everett Public Library and I read each and every one that comes into the library. Some I read quickly at my desk, but I check out about half of them and take them home to try on my two little guinea pigs, er, I mean, granddaughters. Quite a few have become instant favorites and are now part of our family life. Let me share the sweetest ones with you here.

The book pictured above is a real beauty complete with rhyming words, lovely art work, and awesome pull out pages called gate folds which actually frighten this librarian because they are fragile and will probably rip easily. “Leaves on trees are green and bright. Abracadabra! What a sight!” This is a celebration of the fall season similar to the very successful Abracadabra! It’s Spring! which was published, you guessed it, last spring.

There are a few new Halloween books which merit a reading. The Rules of the House isn’t really a Halloween book, but it sure is on the scary side as far as picture books go. It has already become part of our shared literary experience at home as we remind ourselves of the ‘rules of the house’: no pinching, no fibbing, and always rescue your sister. Birdie’s Happiest Halloween has a good ‘can’t decide my costume’ story and a great ending. Grimelda the Messy Witch is funny and leads to a good discussion about cleaning up your messes. A Teeny Tiny Halloween is just a fun read about a tiny woman who tries to get help when leaves bury her house.

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We love Mo Willems and were sad when the very last Elephant and Piggy book, The Thank You Book, was published this year. I read it to all of the schools I visited to talk up our Summer Reading Program. Everyone loved it! But, have no fear, now Willems is working on a new series called Elephant and Piggy Love Reading. We Are Growing and The Cookie Fiasco are hilarious! Just perfect for children learning to read. Nanette’s Baguette is a rhyming masterpiece: “It’s Nanette’s first trip to get the baguette! Is she set? You bet!”

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I refer to Please Say Please every single day when my little granddaughters want anything: “Please say please!” It is a very useful book. The Magic Word by Barnett is a hilarious take on what a magic word really is. Are Pirates Polite? by Demas shows that even pirates can say please and thank you. Read this if you want to stress good behavior and still have fun.

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Being polite is important, but it’s really important to Be Who You Are!  Author Todd Parr encourages kids to embrace themselves because they are special. Ada Twist, Scientist  is constantly wondering about and questioning the world around her. Who? What? Why? Where? When? Her sense of wonder is infectious. Thunder Boy, Jr. is by Sherman Alexie and is about a boy who wants a name of his own. The beautiful illustrations by Yuyi Morales celebrate this father-son relationship.

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Everyday Birds introduces kids to 20 types of North American birds through a gentle rhyme. At the back of the book there is information on each bird, should the reader be curious to learn more. Bright, bold, and colorful illustrations will draw a child’s eye. Hungry Bird is just as delightful and hilarious as the first two books in Tankard’s BIRD series. The animal characters experience negative emotions and they work through those feelings with care, heart and laughs. Hooray for Today is great for learning about nocturnal animals or for a bedtime story. Owl has a wagon filled with books, music, party things, and wants someone to play. Everyone he tries to wake up is too sleepy, until night is over and they are ready to get up, but now HE is the sleepy one.

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They All Saw a Cat is a good one. In simple, rhythmic prose and stylized pictures, a cat walks through the world, and all the other creatures see the cat differently. It illustrates perspective for children.  I Hear a Pickle: (and Smell, See, Touch and Taste It Too!) is Caldecott Honor winner Rachel Isadora’s introduction to the five senses and is perfect for the youngest children, who will recognize themselves in charming vignettes that portray a wide range of activities. Before Morning is simply beautiful and definitely a Caldecott contender. Take time to ‘read’ the illustrations as they add so much to the overall story. A little girl wishes for a snow day – – a day slow and unhurried enough to spend at home together.

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I would like to encourage you to take these picture books home from the library and spend an unhurried day with your favorite child. Who knows? You may end up reading more books than me!

Heartwood 6:6 – Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

carmillaI don’t normally read to scare myself, boost my heart rate, or get a jolt of adrenaline, but this time of year I often find myself looking for something a little spooky, dark, or supernatural. This year, the 140-year-old novella Carmilla, one of the earliest vampire tales (predating Bram Stoker’s Dracula), delivered just the dose of gothic elegance I was after.

When a carriage crashes on the road near their Styrian castle, Laura, a young woman, and her father offer their assistance and find themselves taking temporary custody of the weakened Carmilla, a woman in appearance about Laura’s age, as her mother has urgent business she must attend to farther down the road. Laura is thrilled to have found a female companion, and they form a remarkably quick and somewhat seductive intimacy. But early intimations that all is not quite right with the languid guest, who only emerges from her room late in the afternoon, grow more serious when Laura too begins to experience a similar loss in vigor and vitality.

The story moves along quite quickly and is told in an appealingly antiquated style with calm deliberateness and economy (though it does include a bit of unneeded repetition while also leaving a number of things unexplained). What I liked best about the book was Carmilla’s mysterious way of talking about being together forever with Laura, the significance of dreams, and the dreamlike ways in which the vampire would strike. Additionally, avid readers will be happy to see that book learning plays a large role in eventually putting the vampire (and story) to rest.

The Perils of Reading

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Reading a good book can be fabulous and depressing all at once. Page turners, stories that can’t be put down, books that demand to be picked up again, all can leave a reader wanting more. Perhaps it’s a sad commentary on my psyche that I grow so attached to the characters in a book, but on the other hand gifted authors paint such vivid, realistic pictures that their characters practically jump off the page.

Enter gifted author Connie Willis. Classified as a sci-fi writer, Willis writes books that are really historical fiction with a bit of sci-fi thrown in. Her Oxford Time Travel series uses, wait for it, time travel to get characters to a particular point in history, and then the stories become almost entirely historical fiction. And what stories they are! Doomsday Book finds a time traveler trapped in a village during a bubonic plague outbreak. Here Willis creates a world where you-the-reader actually feel that you’ve experienced the insane hardships of the black death.

As amazing as this book is, today I want to discuss Blackout and All Clear, two books which really are just one book split into two. In this adventure, time travelers (called historians) from 2060 go to various points in WWII England to observe and study. Initially, the story jumps around quite a bit between 2060 Oxford and each of the traveler’s adventures. As stories begin to intertwine, three historians who are on separate assignments in 1940 gradually discover that they cannot return to 2060. They start looking for each other (not an easy task in the middle of a world war), each of them incorrectly assuming that the others still have access to the future. Thus the story ends up focusing on Polly, Eileen and Mike in London from mid-1940 to mid-1941.

As much as one can know facts about WWII, there’s no way to know what it was like living through it without having done so. And although Willis’s books are fiction, they thoroughly immerse the reader in the mindset of Londoners during the war. Terror and uncertainty caused by the blitz, loss of loved ones at any given moment, annihilation of homes, daily bombings, destruction of roads and railways and on and on.

But perhaps more than the negative impacts of war, we are shown the resilience of the British. Throughout eight solid months of bombing, people continued going to jobs, shopping, celebrating Christmas and living life day to day. I can’t even begin to imagine the numbing difficulty of living through such an event. And yet live they did.

There is also a sci-fi component to the stories with each of the main characters worried that they might change history (seriously, no one considered this in the 40 years that time travel had been happening?), that they could even cause Hitler’s Germany to win the war. In fact, they are obsessed with this issue. After the time travel process stops working, the three fear that their actions have somehow caused its failure. And to top that off, Polly had earlier in her life gone back to May 1941, so she must return to 2060 before then or the laws of physics and time travel will eradicate her. So we have a thriller that exists on several different levels simultaneously.

When I finished All Clear (some thousand pages later), I felt an emptiness because the end of the book was the end of my relationship with the book’s characters, people who took me through life-changing adventures. In a small way, it paralleled the end of the war when people who had grown so close returned to their normal lives without their wartime families. Happy that the war was over, sad that the experiences which forged strong bonds had ended.

Bittersweet.

Fabulous, depressing, wondrous and fleeting. This is the literary world. So read a good book, make new fictional friends and mourn their departures as the book concludes.

And then, repeat.

Labor and Lumber

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To help commemorate the centennial of the Everett Massacre, we’ve pulled together this list of historical fiction titles. Only Sawdust Empire, by J.D. Howard, deals directly with the bloody events on Everett’s waterfront 100 years ago, but all of these books look at the timber industry and laborers from the 1890s to the present day (with many of them emphasizing the labor struggles of the 1930s).

Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, about an Oregon logging family that continues to work through a bitter strike, is the best-known of these Northwest labor novels. But it’s good to see the recent reprinting of Robert Cantwell’s long out-of-print, Aberdeen-set novel, The Land of Plenty (originally published in 1935). For a mid-century style and take see Roderick Haig-Brown’s 1942 book, Timber, with its detailed accounts of logging work, and his 1949 title On the Highest Hill. Cormac McCarthy fans ought to appreciate Brian Hart’s gritty 2014 novel, Bully of Order about the extremely rough and lawless world of a Northwest coast logging town in the 1890s.

If you like a bit of mystery with your historical fiction, take a look at the award-winning Timber Beasts or Black Drop by S.L. Stoner, or The Big Both Ways by John Straley.

Click here to see a list of all of these titles in the library catalog and to place holds. Or click on a book jacket below to enlarge it or to view the covers as a slide show.

For additional fiction focusing on the laboring life, take a look at the titles in this list.