Spot-Lit for August 2020

Spot-Lit didn’t run for a few months due to the coronavirus, the library closure, and disruption in the publishing world, but we’re glad to be back.

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 2020 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2020 Debuts

Shell Scott Mysteries

Be it because my brain is so focused on various worries or because I use up all my reading neurons on news, I currently have very little interest in perusing for pleasure. Add to this that I typically don’t like serious stuff or conflict or stress or Nazis or the earth moving closer to the sun but wait it was a dream and it’s actually moving farther from the sun, well, there ain’t a whole lotta words I wanna interact with right now.

But one genre that has stood by me throughout good times and bad is the less-than-hardboiled detective book. And my favorite purveyor of said genre is Richard S. Prather.

Group1

Shell Scott is everything you could want in a detective: physically imposing, young yet experienced, able to outfight your average thug, possessing a tendency to do what’s right and sporting a flair for the fairer s-e-x. He drinks hard, lusts freely and displays a wide streak of goofiness. And while many fictional detectives have an antagonistic relationship with local police, Shell often works with the law.

Prather wrote most of the Shell Scott mysteries in the 1950s and 60s, overlapping James Bond, Mike Hammer and many other spies and detectives. As one might expect, the morés and attitudes of the day permeate the prose, so there’s something to offend everyone I reckon. However, it’s the prose that makes this series stand out.

According to thrillingdetective.com, the Scott stories were “…smirky, outlandish, innuendo-laden, occasionally alcohol-fueled, off-the-wall tours-de-farce that, depending on your point of view, were either a real hoot, or a lot of adolescent, sexist swill and hackwork.” And I am in total agreement with this viewpoint. Fortunately for me, I frequent the adolescent section of the maturity scale, making me the target audience for Prather’s wordsmithing.

But what better way to see what Shell Scott is about than reading a few pithy quotes? First up is a taste of grit:

“The sudden sight of the girl so messily dead had shocked me, and I guess I let my guard down. The hiss of the slug near my head and the crack of the gun seemed simultaneous.”
      ~ from The Kubla Khan Caper

Characters we have previously met frequently die in these tales. Try not to become too attached. Yet the tone is often silly. Scott does not think highly of thugs and he lets the audience know it:

“He had the look of a cat who would wear monogrammed shorts. Or even silk underwear with his whole name printed on it. And maybe his picture. A picture of him in his shorts.” 
     ~ from The Meandering Corpse

 But the floweriest prose generally focuses on descriptions of women:

“She smiled like a woman getting chewed on the neck by Pan. It was a nice smile. I liked it. It went in my eyes and reamed out my arteries and steamed my blood and opened up half a dozen glands like cooked lotus blossoms.”
     ~ from Kill Me Tomorrow

And those descriptions can become downright bizarre:

 “… she didn’t wear one of those bosom contraptions, either – like lifters, expanders, separators, elevators, pushers, poochers, upmashers, tiptilters, squeezers, and aprilfoolers – that have come along since plain old brassieres went out of style, and that are so adorable you almost want to leave the gal home and take her contraption out dancing.”
     ~ from The Meandering Corpse

I guarantee you won’t find that particular sentence anywhere else in literature.

Everett Public Library has a variety of Shell Scott mysteries available as electronic downloads. Perhaps they are just the thing to warm the cockles of your heart in difficult times. I know I’m going to get back to reading one as soon as I do some research on bosom contraptions.

Introducing Books for You

The Everett Public Library is happy to be launching a new service during Phase 2 of the ongoing pandemic. For the past month we have been offering curbside service in which we bring to your vehicle the materials you have requested once they are ready for pick-up.

Now, with our Books for You project we’ll surprise you with 3-5 books that are similar to popular authors or titles you may have liked or that are focused on a variety of popular genres and subjects of interest.

Do you like true crime, or alternate histories, or mysteries featuring amateur sleuths?  We’ve got you covered. Maybe you loved Delia Owens’ bestseller Where the Crawdads Sing – we’ll bring you 3-5 similar books that you might also enjoy. Or say you’re waiting to read Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist or Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility – we’ll bring you some titles that also address racial equity and systemic racism in America.

Take a look through the Books for You categories below and give us a call at 425-257-8000 so we can surprise you with some handpicked read-alikes.

Books for You categories

While you wait for:
How to Be an Antiracist or White Fragility

If you liked:
A Gentleman in Moscow
The Handmaid’s Tale
Little Fires Everywhere
Where the Crawdads Sing

If you like:
Clive Cussler
David Baldacci

If you’re interested in:
Alternate Histories
Amateur Sleuths
Best Sellers from Around the World
The Black American Experience in Fiction
Books set in the Pacific Northwest
Culinary Mysteries
Debut Fiction
Diverse Sci-Fi and Fantasy
Everett History 101
Heartwarming Reads
Inspirational Fiction
The Latinx Experience
Pandemic Apocalypse Fiction
Science Books for Curious Minds
Short (but not so sweet) Stories
Small Press Fiction Sampler
True Crime
What They Didn’t Teach in History Class

Simply give us a call at 425-257-8000 or reach us at Ask a Librarian regarding the Books for You category you are interested in and we’ll contact you when they are ready for curbside pick-up.

Visit epls.org/bfy to see the current list of Books for You categories.

Of course, you’re not limited to the categories above – we’re here to help you discover good reading, whatever your areas of interest, so give us a call.

And for kids materials, click here to browse reading suggestions or to have our Youth Services librarians gather some Personal Picks for you.

We look forward to surprising you with some great reads!

These Witches Don’t Burn

It’s hard enough to be a teenager without the added baggage of being a member of an ancient family full of witches. Add to that the fact that these teen witches sometimes must wear a ring that binds their powers and dark magic showing up in town, and you have something that would give any Salem Witch Trials survivor vivid flashbacks. Welcome to the world of These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling.

Hannah is from a family of elemental witches in Salem, Massachusetts. They harness the power of the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. A handful of other families are ancient lineage witches, but they all have to keep it a secret and cannot risk exposing their lifestyle to the Regs (kind of like Muggles: regular people who don’t know that witchcraft actually exists). Witches can be excommunicated from their covens for showing their magic in front of Regs.

Teen witches must go to classes and if they’re caught abusing their powers, they have to wear a binding ring that nixes any use of witchcraft. Hannah broke up with her girlfriend Veronica a few months before. Veronica, from another family of witches, continuously inserts herself into Hannah’s life trying to make up with her, but Hannah doesn’t want to go backwards. She wants to move on with her life, become more adept at magic, work her part time job at the Fly By Night Cauldron selling witchcraft paraphernalia (her boss is a practicing Wiccan and Tarot card reader; she’s not a real witch but she has excellent senses) and just live a fairly normal life.

But months before while vacationing in New York, a deadly magical being known as a Blood Witch tried to attack Hannah and now there are signs that a blood witch in in town. But who is it? Is it the emo kid who keeps coming into the magic shop to buy hexes against his bullies? Is it the new detective in town who is always suspicious that Hannah seems to be around whenever something bad happens? Gemma, Hannah’s best friend and a reg, hooks her up with a new ballerina in her troupe. Could it be her? Something is targeting everyone Hannah loves, putting their lives in danger and soon they will do anything to kill them.

Fast-paced and original, These Witches Don’t Burn will satisfy your need for fantasy, lgbtq+ characters, and strong family bonds.

Night Train

Parts of Night Train by David Quantick really scared me… in that “this-has-got-to-be-a-dream-why-can’t-I-wake-up” kind of way. Other times I just felt claustrophobic. Maybe that’s because it’s how the main character feels when she wakes up alone in a moving train car.

Her name is Garland – according to the name tag on her jumpsuit. But she doesn’t remember anything. There is no way off the train, it just keeps speeding along. The windows won’t break, and there are no escape hatches.

After Garland travels through a few cars she meets Banks, a different kind of ‘person.’ Banks has no memory of his life before the train either, but he’s been there for quite a while. Garland convinces him they must get to the front of the train and stop it. As they travel together from car to car to car, they find that each one is completely different, and surprising.

I found myself holding my breath as they opened each door, especially since some of the doors locked behind them. Sometimes Banks and Garland come across a situation that brings a glimmer of remembrance about their actual selves, and we realize that their trip to the front of the train is a fight with their own personal issues.

This is a must read because there are moments in our lives when we realize that things are perceived differently from what they really are. I kept thinking “what would I do if this were me?” So, come join the adventure as Garland and Banks make their way to the front of the train, and see for yourself how it ends!

O Canada

Yes, it is Canada Day! A perfect time to learn more about our neighbors to the north and their many great accomplishments.

A good place to start in your Canadian appreciation journey is by learning a little bit about their history. We have lots of books on the history of the nation, individual provinces and territories, first nations, and the many peoples that make up Canada today.

On the cultural front, Canada is no bit player. From artists, to authors, to the many productions of ‘Hollywood north,’ Canadian contributions are many and varied. And, of course, don’t forget the hockey and, yes, cuisine.

While, understandably but sadly, the border between the US and Canada is closed for travelers at this time, that just gives you more time to research your next trip. We have many travel books on all regions of Canada for you to explore.

For many of us in Washington, Canada means beautiful British Columbia. Appropriately, Everett Public Library has many books on that great province.

So, take a little time today to celebrate Canada and get to know our fellow North Americans a little better.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

I do not usually read scary books nor books about people having psychological crises. And yet…

Southern Book Club

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix is a scary book about a woman facing a mental breakdown. Initially I expected humor, and there is indeed a bit. Early on Patricia (the main character) encounters the inexplicable when an elderly neighbor, who’s found eating a mangled raccoon, attacks her and bites off her ear. We don’t know why the old woman acts this way, but the book’s title does include the word vampire so… assumptions could be made. This situation struck me as humorous (which might reflect more on me than on the author’s intent). You know, old woman in night clothes eating raccoon intestines and attacking a much younger woman. Ha. Ha ha ha.

What attracted me to the book, aside from my misassumption that it was a funny story, was the prose; it got good words. And the setting is an idyllic southern community in the 1990s, a place where people know their neighbors, help each other and don’t lock their doors. Mythical America. As a child of the 1970s suburbs, I’ve always found small town bonhomie an appealing concept. Patricia’s Charleston neighborhood is as good as it gets. Yet just under the veneer of perfection, housewives struggle with boredom, lack of appreciation, second-class status.

Patricia is especially susceptible to these issues. Her husband is seldom home leaving her to raise the kids, keep the household going and take care of her dementia-ridden mother-in-law. She is not happy with her lot in life. The arrival of James Harris, great-nephew of the elderly ear biter, is a happy distraction for her. He treats her nicely, seems genuinely interested in who she is. But, just so things don’t get too normal, the mother-in-law starts rambling incoherently about Harris having a different name and killing her father some 60 years earlier. While looking exactly the same as he does now.

Say it with me: Vampire.

But one of the things I loved about this book is that we’re never entirely sure if Harris is a vampire or if Patricia is losing touch with reality. Author Hendrix does an excellent job of leaving both possibilities viable. Until the end where we find out… well, you’ll just have to read the book.

The potential vampire is plugged into modern society brilliantly. No fangs, no death by sunlight, no fear of holy water. He charms people not with mental abilities but by helping them gain money and power. He insinuates himself into the close-knit society until his own position is one of power. While Patricia does witness some events that make her think Harris is a vampire, friends and family mercilessly mock her and attack her sanity, leading Patricia to question her own memories and perceptions.

Horrorstor

After completing this disturbing story I discovered that the author also wrote Horrorstör, another vaguely funny largely troubling book I read some years back, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. So I’m declaring Grady Hendrix an author you might well enjoy. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is hitting the shelves any day now. Don’t be the last kid on your block to scream in terror when… well, you’ll just have to read the book.

Not That Kind of Party

I was once standing in line in a bookshop (remember those, the humming thrum of all those captured words waiting to be freed from the shelves so they could release their stories?) when the couple in front of me began talking about one of my obsessions: the Donner Party.

A little back story: The Donner Party is one of the most well-known ‘wagons west survival stories.’ Many people think they were just unlucky, unprepared or downright cursed. I believe all three had a hand in what happened to the wagon party of several families who set out to forge a new life in the West, got caught in the Sierra Nevada mountains in a brutal snowstorm, and ended up resorting to cannibalism to survive.

The Donner party set out with hope for a new life in California and put their trust in a man by the name of Lansford Hastings who said he had “worked out a new and better road to California.” The Hastings Cutoff ended up being a disaster, with the wagons and animals barely able to make it through.

The party pushed on, crossing into Truckee Lake (now known as Donner Lake because hey, after having to eat a few of your traveling companions to survive, you should get a lake named after you). The Donner party decided to camp 3 miles from the summit near a cabin that had been built by previous pilgrims. Then 5-10-foot snow drifts trapped the party and the food ran out…

You get the picture: a big wagon party forging westward gets stuck and the living must eat the dead to survive.

But back to the bookshop. The man was saying to the woman beside him something about the anniversary of the Donner Party coming up. The woman shuddered like she felt one of the cannibal’s frozen hands slip down her back and hissed that she didn’t think she could ever resort to cannibalism, even if it was to survive. I’m not the kind of person to join in on strangers’ conversations, but I pushed a thought at the shivering woman: you have no idea what you would do when push came to shove in a matter of survival, even if it meant slicing a chunk of flesh out of a body half buried in the snow, face down so you can’t see who it is.

Well, that was lovely. I went dark there for a minute, didn’t I? I’m not sorry. It’s what I do.

Alma Katsu’s novel The Hunger follows the Donner party as they make the trek westward. The families start out excited and happy to be beginning this new part of their lives, but soon the journey becomes exhausting, things go wrong, and supplies run out. A child goes missing one evening and is found torn open by some beast. Tamsin Donner, on her second husband and maybe a little bit on the witchy side (making potions and concoctions and collecting herbs), begins to sense that something is not right. Something more than the normal peril of crossing America has attached itself to them.

One of her stepdaughters, who is thought to be a bit touched in the head, hears the voices of the dead. Some of them are full of madness while others are trying to warn her. Strange beings seem to be following them, appearing in the dark, watching them and waiting to catch them off guard. Up close, these things are barely human, more monster than man. More members of the wagon party disappear and some begin to get sick. Is it one of their own who is summoning these beings and passing a disease around the families or is there a reasonable explanation.?

I’ll tell you right now, no, there is no reasonable explanation. What is happening is beyond the realm of the known and defies explanation and…..you know what? No. I’m not going to tell you the rest. If you want to read an adventure story based on historical record dive on into Alma Katsu’s The Hunger. You may think you know the full story of the Donner Party, but Katsu turns it on its ear and sets it off down paths of the supernatural and unexpected. You’ll devour this book. And if you don’t like it, eat me.

Know About Novelist?

There are many ways we at Everett Public Library try to to help you find your next great read. Normally, we offer book clubs, Everett Reads!, book displays all over the library, and author talks, plus you can ask us for recommendations in person. Right now the options are more limited since we are closed, but you can still check out our book reviews and Notable New Fiction book lists on our blog, A Reading Life. We have staff picks collections that show up in our catalog. You can email us at libref@everettwa.gov, call us Monday-Friday from 10-5 (425-257-8000), or ask us for recommendations on Facebook. If none of those appeal to you read on.

Novelist is one of many research databases that the library subscribes to for our patrons to use, but it happens to be one that a lot of librarians use on occasion as well. It’s a fast way for busy librarians to find a list of books similar to a one a patron just finished. It has a variety of ways to find your next read by genre, appeal, themes, and award winners. I recently used it myself to discover how I might describe a certain type of book that I love reading.

Since we’ve been been staying home basically all the time due to the Stay Home, Stay Healthy emergency order, I’ve been listening to more audiobooks on weekends. I finished one I really enjoyed called After Me Comes the Flood, by Sarah Perry, and realized how much I have liked the other books I’ve read by her, The Essex Serpent and Melmoth (for a fascinating look at what was happening medically in her life when she wrote that one, check out this Guardian article “Out of my mind: Sarah Perry on writing under the influence of drugs“).

Since there wasn’t another book by her I could listen to, I decided to see how NoveList categorized or described After Me Comes the Flood.
Genre: First person narratives; Psychological suspense
Storyline: Character-driven
Pace: Leisurely paced
Tone: Atmospheric; Creepy

Okay, so I like creepy, psychological books that take place in eerie, atmospheric settings. I always knew I was weird. So how to find more? When searching by title, scroll past the reviews to find a Search for More option where you can choose from those descriptors and more to find similar books. For me it was the creepiness, atmosphere, and psychological suspense that were most appealing, so I can check those boxes to find similar titles, 66 of them in this case.


Searching by author gives the option for author read-alikes and title read-alikes lists. This is one of the most useful functions of NoveList for librarians, because you will get a printable list to be able to hand to patrons for future reading ideas.

You will often find NoveList recommendations right in our catalog without having to navigate to NoveList. Look up the title of the book you loved, click on the link to fully open the information about the title, scroll down a bit, and often you will find Read-alikes right there.

NoveList is not just for novels – there are nonfiction categories to search through – and it isn’t just for adult books. You can find books for ages 0-8, 9-12, and teens. There are many genres to choose from for each age range; for instance Ages 9-12 brings up a real variety such as Adventure Stories, Horror, If you Like…, and Mysteries.

We also subscribe to NoveList K-12, which is similar but focused on books for kids and teens. By doing an advanced search you can find books in the right reading level (Accelerated Reader and Lexile), publish date, and even limit by gender and cultural identity of the author. You can also look for titles that received starred reviews.

Another nice thing about NoveList is that it connects with our catalog; by clicking on Check Availability and then Go to Catalog, you can place a hold on the book. What NoveList doesn’t do so well is find our ebooks – it seems to only be able to connect with our print copies of titles. Still, you may find it useful to find a list of titles to read now or in the future.

May you find something good to read in whatever way suits you best. We are still here, ready to help.

Happy reading!

Patty the Vampire Slayer

In The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix, Campbell loves her husband and children, but she thought she’d be living a bigger life than running errands all day, cleaning the entire house, doing loads of laundry, and cooking gourmet meals for her less than appreciative family every night. Oh, and on top of all that, her elderly mother-in-law, in the grips of dementia (the poor soul has almost forgotten how to eat) moves in and Patricia has another person to look after.

Campbell has given up her career as a nurse, married a very ambitious (and now often distant) doctor, and makes herself nearly insane by being part of a book club where execution is the preferred method of shaming if you haven’t read the assigned book. It’s at one of these horrible book club meetings that a smaller faction of women who don’t want to read ‘Books of the Western World’ come together to form their own book club. The new book club includes four other Southern housewives: Slick, Kitty, Maryellen, and Grace.

The new club reads true-crime novels with titles like Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs and Buried Dreams: Inside the Mind of John Wayne Gacy. They also choose more well known titles like The Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, and the oddly chosen Bridges of Madison County because one of the club members thinks the main character is a serial killer who drifts around the country killing housewives. The book club is the only exciting thing in Patricia’s dull life of driving her two children to after school events, packing lunches, and getting no support from a husband who spends most of his days at the office.

One evening, with the thrill of a book club meeting still fizzling through her, Patricia sees that her son Blue hasn’t taken the garbage bins to the end of the driveway. She can’t really blame him since the cans are stored at the side of the house and it’s pitch black and a little scary there once night falls. So she heaves a sigh only a mother can sigh and begins to drag the garbage bins down the driveway. But a noise catches her attention: the slurping, gulping, crunching sound of something being eaten.

In the shadows she sees her neighbor from down the block, Mrs. Savage, a mean old biddy not much beloved by the neighbors. Mrs. Savage is down on her haunches behind the cans with a raccoon stuffed in her mouth. She disembowels the dead animal while growling at Patricia who is backing away from the old lady and is about to make a run for it when the old woman pounces and tears off Patricia’s ear lobe. The cops and an ambulance come and take both Patricia and the old lady to the hospital.

Patricia is patched up and sent home. The next day she hears that Mrs. Savage has died from some sort of blood poisoning. There’s evidence of intravenous drug use on the on woman’s inner thighs, injection holes that have pierced her skin. Patricia knows that Mrs. Savage has a nephew living with her and acting as her caretaker. Like any Southern woman worth her weight would do, Patricia decides she needs to take a consolation casserole over to the grieving man.

When she gets to Mrs. Savage’s house, she sees it’s completely closed up and the blinds are drawn even though it’s a scorching hot day. When no one answers the door, Patricia lets herself in and begins to search the house for the nephew. She finds him lying in a bedroom. She can tell he’s not breathing. Her old nursing skills kick in and she immediately begins to give him CPR. His skin is cold and dry and she’s positive he’s dead until he sits up with a gasp.

This is her introduction to James Harris, a seemingly shy and artistic man with a hint of appealing strangeness to him. The sunlight hurts him and makes him fatigued. He seems helpless in both his grief over his aunt and whatever ailment haunts him. She decides James Harris is going to be her friend (perhaps more?) and helps him get settled as a real resident of the town: setting up a bank account and going to pay his power and water bills because he can’t bear to be out in the light. He drives a white van (the kind that you expect to see ‘Free Candy Inside’ written on the side) with windows that are heavily tinted to dim any light from getting in.

One evening, James comes over to Patricia’s house while the family is having dinner. Patricia’s mother-in-law, Mary, is having a particularly bad night and takes one look at James and starts babbling about a picture she has of him. Her behavior is excused because of her waning mental faculties. Soon, however, Patricia begins to think James Harris is something sinister with his cagey, secretive ways, the fact that he doesn’t go out during the day much, and his creepy van.

She starts to hear stories about children in town disappearing only to return as ghosts of themselves and eventually committing suicide. Not much has been done about it because it’s in the ‘bad part of town’ where most of the people of color live (remember, this is the early 90s in the South). Mrs. Greene who lives in that part of town and who is Mary’s nurse, tells Patricia about the missing children and how they come back.

Curious, Patricia decides to go there and investigate. She finds a very familiar creepy white van in the woods and what she sees happening in the back is something she can’t explain to herself, let alone to anyone else: James Harris with a monster’s face leaning over the prone body of a little girl. Patricia thought he might have been a serial killer but what she sees in the van is a creature from the depths of myth and folklore.

Patricia tries to tell her book club all about it, but they think she’s nuts and let her know they won’t put up with her crazy stories and theories about James Harris, who has become an upstanding citizen and businessman in town. So Patricia decides to go it alone, to get proof that he is indeed a monster that needs to be destroyed. But even crippling James Harris on her own is more than she’s capable of and in the end, it seems like he will continue snatching small children while charming the town and the book club members husbands. That is, until another book club member witnesses something and they band together to take this creature down.

If you like funny horror novels that are just a damn pleasure to read from beginning to end, pick up Grady Hendrix’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. You’ll laugh, get scared sh**less, laugh again, and find yourself cheering on a group of somewhat cliched Southern belles whose only worries up until that point had been packing lunches every day and making sure their kids make it to swimming practice on time. Much like blood on the lips of a vampire’s mouth, this book will stick with you for a long time. For God sake, go download it and get to reading!!