Rumor Has It

What the heck must it be like to be so confident in yourself that you could see someone you like, march right up to them, and say: “You. I’m taking you home to my bed right now.” Not only to have the confidence to say that, but also the confidence to know that the person is going to nod yes, take your hand, and let you lead them to a place where you can be alone. Mind you, I’ve just downed more than half a box of cold medicine, a feat that would impress Keith Richard, so I’m also wondering how men can have sex with a lamp on or the curtains open, letting all that new moon shine down on, well, all that moon.

In Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by L.C. Rosen, Jack is a promiscuous high school student and I mean promiscuous in the best way possible: he likes himself and he likes sex. He likes it a lot. And for that, he’s become fodder for the high school gossip mill. The girls bathroom is right next to the boys and once a week Jack enjoys a solitary cigarette while listening to the latest news about himself through the thin walls of the bathroom. Evidently, any male he makes eye contact with becomes a conquest. It’s been said he was part of a forgy (an orgy of 3 or more people). Many of the rumors about him are wrong except that he does like sex. He’s just not about doing it for popularity.

One day he opens his locker and a note slips out. It seems he has a secret admirer. He can’t tell if it’s sweet or creepy. His best friend Ben, a romantic who is still waiting on his fist kiss, thinks it’s sweet while Jenna, with her razor sharp tongue, thinks it’s a little stalkery.

Jenna got kicked off the school’s newspaper for articles like which teacher was pulled over for a DUI, so now she does online news. She wants Jack to answer sex, relationship, and life questions for her blog. He’s reluctant to put himself out there, giving advice he’s afraid might mess someone’s life up. But he starts reading submitted questions and gets hooked. His answers to questions would make Doctor Ruth turn bright red and fall off her sex therapist chair.

Jack begins to get more notes slipped into his locker. They’ve gone from sweet to restraining order worthy. The notes begin to threaten his friends and his mother. Jack’s always been close with his mom but lately he feels like they haven’t been connecting. He doesn’t know who his father is. His mom chose a sperm donor. One of the notes threatens her job. He does his best to keep the notes from her.

He confides in his beloved art teacher. (Why is there always that one teacher you know will be in your corner and fight for you? And why can’t that happen when you become an adult and get a boss?) She takes Jack and the notes to the principal. The principal basically says that Jack brings it on himself, wearing a little make up to make his looks stand out. Just when Jack is going to give up and give in to his stalker, he finds out who it is. And it’s not anyone who’d ever be on the suspect list.

Full of love, doubt, and confusion, Jack of all Hearts is about not apologizing for who you are or playing into the cliche of how everyone thinks certain people should act.

Excuse me, the other half of the NyQuil box is calling and Keith Richards is mumbling about how amazed he is someone can survive that ( except nobody can understand him so someone finds a translator.) Be yourself, have as much sex as you can, be safe, protect your heart but if it gets broken, let it be broken for awhile before you find the super glue in the junk drawer.

Spot-Lit for January 2019

January is looking like a stellar month for fiction readers. It is rare for a book to win a coveted starred review from each of the four big trade book review sources (Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly), but this month we see three such titles: An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma, The New Iberia Blues by James Lee Burke, and Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty.

Additionally, readers here in the northwest might want to pick up Lake City by Thomas Kohnstamm, about a backsliding young man set in the less-than-glamorous north Seattle suburb of that name in 2001, or Lyndsay Faye’s racially-charged Prohibition-era thriller, The Paragon Hotel (3 starred reviews), set in Portland.

All around, great stuff from established, new, and emerging authors. 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 2019 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction

Here’s to the Scientists and Monkeys

Every once in a while, I read a book that must have been made for me. I don’t mean one that just aligns with my interests. I mean there’s an underground lab somewhere filled with white coated technicians experimenting with plot formula and monkeys with typewriters tapping away, all working on the singular mission to create books perfectly tailored for my taste.

That’s the only explanation I can think of for Amy Rose Capetta’s The Brilliant Death. Released in October. I only found this book last week. As I’ve read it, I’ve been increasingly impressed by the work of this cabal of scientists and monkeys that call themselves “Amy Rose Capetta” and increasingly annoyed that it took me two months and a decent amount of dumb luck to stumble upon it.

9109wewh-qlThe Brilliant Death is set in a kingdom filled with murder, intrigue, and stories of magic wielding strega. Teodora di Sangro has grown up with ample firsthand experience of violence and viscous plots. Her father is the head of one of five families that rule the kingdom. Like the mafia, these families rule through an intricate web of extortion, intimidation, and retribution that keep the people fed, clothed, and thoroughly subjugated.

Teo also carries a secret. The stregas of childhood legend are more than bedtime stories. They are real, and Teo is one of them – possibly the only one. She has always kept her magic secret, but has used it to help her family. When an enemy, rival, or other problematic person threatens them, she is quick to secretly transform them into pretty trinkets that now line her bedroom’s shelves.

Then one day, Teo’s entire world is shaken. First, her father is poisoned and falls into a coma. The new capo, who rules the five families, claims credit for the assassination attempt and summons a family representative to the capital. Teo believes she is the best choice among her father’s children to assume this task – after all, she has been secretly defending her family for years. However, Toe is also a daughter in a world where her gender effectively disqualifies her from leadership.

Yet on the same day her father falls, Teo meets Cielo. Cielo is beguiling, witty, and possibly quite dangerous. Like Teo, Cielo is a strega. And a gender fluid strega at that! Cielo’s appearance, combined with their ability to completely transform their appearance, give Teo hope that she too can transform, allowing her to travel to the capital and confront the capo. With the help of Teo’s brilliant younger brother Luca, she and Cielo set off for the capital in an uneasy alliance, one that will need to be unbreakable to survive the deceit, cruelty, and corruption that await them.

The Brilliant Death is full of mythical magic, fantastical world-building, and political intrigue in a kingdom stuffed with dastardly criminals and dashing rogues. It also prominently features queer romance, a thoughtful approach to identity, and complicated presentations of family, loyalty, and betrayal.  I’m not saying it’s a perfect book, but for me it comes pretty darn close!

The Best Books I Read in 2018

2018 brought a lot of heartache and stress.

I probably shouldn’t start this post out that way, but looking back it’s been an exhausting year for me. I sold my house, bought a new one, dealt with the movers using a broken toilet and overflowing the house we no longer owned (yes, really), packed and unpacked an insane amount of boxes stacked Tetris-style in a storage unit, spent months figuring out what plants I had in my new yard and how to not kill them, hosted visits from Midwestern family loves, and had to say goodbye to the sweetest cat ever.

It’s been barely controlled chaos. And that’s not even looking outward at our divided country and other political and social nightmares popping up on a daily basis.

However.

2018 also brought a deluge of amazing books. While society is one large dumpster fire and I still have a ton of stuff to check off my never-ending to-do list, giving up sleep in favor of reading means that I got to read more this year than I expected. So without further ado here are just a few of the best books I read this year.

Pride : a Pride and Prejudice Remix by Ibi Zoboi
This is the modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice I had been waiting for! I read this in one sitting and want to go back and read it again–which is so rare for me I can’t even. Our setting is modern-day Bushwick, Brooklyn. Our Bennet family is actually the Benitez family, Afro-Latino and close-knit. Our Darcys are still the Darcys, but these Darcys buy the entire building across the street from the Benitez’s building and renovate it into one luxurious home for just the four of them. To Zuri Benitez the Darcys–and especially their arrogant son Darius–embody the gentrification that is rapidly changing her neighborhood and pricing out families who have lived there for generations. But Zuri’s older sister Janae is crushing hard on Darius’s older brother Ainsley, and thus Zuri is reluctantly drawn into Darius’s universe, even as her place in both Bushwick and the world (hello, college applications!) shifts. Pride is filled with emotion and possibility, and the characters speak like real teens, not like the stuffy ideal aristocracy in the original P&P. I am one of the few who didn’t like the original, so Pride really spoke to me and has become an instant classic.

We Are Not Yet Equal : Understanding the Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson’s groundbreaking White Rage has been adapted for teens, and I’m here to tell you this book is for literally everyone. Anderson reframes the conversation about race with a straightforward and accessible voice. Her chronology begins at the end of the Civil War and follows through to the turmoil we face today. Anderson focuses on the systemic and sadly legal ways American society has suppressed progress for African-Americans. Racism is a horrible problem we still face today, but by learning from the past–and present–there can be hope for change in the future. There are historic photos and added resources for further reading and reflection. Hand this book to your relative who thinks everyone was made equal with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and doesn’t understand why we definitely still need activists and movements like Black Lives Matter.

(Don’t) Call Me Crazy : 33 Voices Start the Conversation About Mental Health edited by Kelly Jensen
I’ve been steadily diversifying my TBR, adding in authors of color and LGBTQIA authors, generally absorbing life experiences that are different from my own as a way to expand empathy and understanding of more people. I haven’t been so great about seeking out books explaining mental health and how mental health challenges can look different to each individual. Kelly Jensen–former librarian, current Book Riot editor, and all-around book champion–has assembled a diverse and absorbing introduction to this extremely important and under-represented demographic. Each essay is from a different perspective but straightforward and descriptive, helping the reader see through each author’s eyes. What’s it like to be called crazy? And how can we start having real and true conversations about mental health when such stigma is attached? This book answers those questions and so much more.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
At a secluded house party, Evelyn Hardcastle will die. She’ll die every night at 11pm until Aiden Bishop can determine who her killer is and break the cycle. However, each day he wakes up in the body of a different party guest, with no way to predict which body he’ll inhabit next. As he lives each day and learns more about Evelyn, Aiden becomes determined to not only unmask the killer, but he intends to prevent her death entirely. This is the perfect mystery for readers who think they’re pretty good at predicting twists and figuring out whodunnit. Seriously, it’s just…not what you’re expecting, even if you (accurately) expect a murder mystery that answers the question: What would happen if Agatha Christie wrote a mash-up of Groundhog Day and Quantum Leap? Don’t let the number of pages fool you. You’ll stay up late and cancel plans to finish reading this book.


Darius the Great is Not Okay
by Adib Khorram, There There by Tommy Orange, and Vox by Christina Dalcher
These books were fantastic and at the tippy-top of the favorites pile for me. I won’t go into detail here because Jesse and I have already written in-depth reviews about each. Go check them out and thank us later.

Darius the Great is Not Okay, aka Star Trek, Soccer, and Ancient Persian Kings
There There, aka The Best Book I’ll Read This Year
Vox, aka 900 Words About Vox

Well, that’s all for me. As we wave goodbye to another year of fantastic reading, I can’t help but wonder what 2019 will bring us. Drop a comment below with titles you’re looking forward to reading and when they’ll be published. Because if this year taught me anything it’s this: my TBR cannot be too big, and reading when I’m stressed is the best thing for my soul.

Unmade Families

At first it starts with the looks or rather the lack of a look. Death has an insidious way of making a person turn inward on themselves with grief. Eye contact doesn’t last long and the unending pats on the arms and bone crushing hugs that are wrapped up with so much unsaid, seem to go on forever.  Then there’s the other side of it, the people who know you’ve lost someone but they can’t bring themselves to offer any comfort. They freeze up and slide their eyes elsewhere, searching the horizon for some clue as to what to say.

After my mom died last March I went back to work after my bereavement leave, bracing myself for those who would descend on me and encase me in love and well-meaning but tired platitudes. The people I expected to find me and offer a few kind words avoided me. If we were walking on the sidewalk, they would cross the street to be free of my orbit of grief. And then there are the people who think grief has a shelf life: okay, it’s been 4 months, shouldn’t you be over this already?  Wow. With the power of that pep talk I am now free of my grief! Hallelujah! It’s a miracle! Grief has no shelf-life. There isn’t an expiration mark on me anywhere to tell me when grief will be done with me.

In Jonathan Tropper’s How to Talk to a Widower, Doug knows all about grief. His wife Hailey died a year ago in a plane crash and the man has been steeped in grief ever since. We’re talking mourning drunk every day for a year, the house packed to capacity with his dead wife’s presence. Doug’s seen as a bit of a loser. I don’t think he’s a loser but society – so good at making people miserable after being brainwashed into what they should be doing in their lives at a certain age – sees him as a slacker with no ambition.

And that was before his wife died. Before marrying Hailey, Doug just floated through life: not picking a career, going from one job to the next, excelling at being seen as a giant disappointment to his family. Especially by his father who was never an affectionate man until a stroke rewired his brain and he’s now ‘wild and unpredictable dad.’ Doug’s mother is a 1950’s throwback: a bottle of wine finished by midafternoon helped along with generous helpings of her anxiety medication.

She especially didn’t want Doug to marry Hailey. Not only was she 10 years older than Doug, but she had a teenage son to boot. But they fell in love despite the age gap and were prepared to live, well, if not happily after, at least satisfied ever after. But then Doug gets the call in the middle of the night that Hailey died in a plane crash on her way to a conference. Thus began Doug’s exile from happiness to abject despair over the loss of the love of his life.

A year goes by. Doug doesn’t see his stepson Russ much because the kid has gone to live with his father now that Hailey is gone. One night in a boozy haze, an officer shows up at the front door with Russ in tow, busted for being stoned. Russ told the cop Doug was his father. Doug thanks the officer and tucks Russ into his bed in his old room, unsure of what to do with the kid. Hailey’s dead; Russ isn’t Doug’s problem anymore.

After a full year in mourning, people begin to give Doug advice. Claire, his twin sister and a beautifully foul-mouthed banshee, tells him he needs to get laid. She’s full of advice for someone who thinks she’s not in love with her husband anymore. Bedding a random stranger is the last thing on his mind. Well, maybe not the last thing since the ethereal cougar down the street is still making him condolence meatloaf once a week and flirting with him so hard even Stevie Wonder can see it. He’s tempted but the memory of Hailey stops him-until he finally gives in. It’s as awkward and depressing as he thought it would be, but soon it becomes a regular thing with the amorous housewife who promises there are no strings attached. If you believe that, I also have tickets on a rocket ship ready to hurl through space and colonize Mars.

Meanwhile, his stepson Russ keeps getting into trouble at school and is always being bailed out by Doug. He doesn’t know what to do with the kid’s pain at losing his mother because he still doesn’t know what to do with his own pain, except for writing a massively popular blog called How to Talk to a Widower. He’s called into the school counselor’s office one day after Russ gets into a fight.

He is pleasantly surprised by the youth of the counselor and her quirky sense of humor.  He’s still boinking the luscious hausfrau, but he’s intrigued by the counselor who he accidentally runs into at the movies one day. Doug starts to feel things he doesn’t want to feel and he’s terrified. Will he ever be ready to put himself in a vulnerable position? What if Hailey was the love of his life and he spends the rest of his years comparing every woman he meets to her?

Added to the mix is his complicated relationship with his family, a family that makes the one from Arrested Development look sane. His father, once a distant man, now seems to be a different person in the second half of his life while his mother mixes booze and downers and watches the man she married decline into someone unexpected and new. Claire’s marriage seems to be imploding and his younger sister, who is savagely ambitious, needs to get the stick surgically removed from her backside. She’s about to get married to Doug’s friend. They met at Hailey’s wake and engaged in an inappropriate, non-funeral like way which Doug has not forgiven or forgotten.

In turns both hilarious and heart breaking, How to Talk to a Widower tells the story of a screwed up family, unexpected loss, and even more unexpected love in strange places.

An Inconvenient Woman

For good or ill, the shopping season is upon us. As you finally find that perfect gift, and this is assuming you actually go out into the world to do your shopping, it is easy to forget about the employee ringing up your purchase. Retail work is not an easy gig, so it seems totally normal to me if a store employee just goes through the motions or does the bare minimum to collect a paycheck. The workers that stand out for me are those who seem super happy with their job, the store, and the whole retail experience. For some reason, that attitude has always seemed a little ‘off’ if not downright creepy. After reading the excellent Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, however, I think it’s time for me to reassess my reaction.

Keiko Furukura really, really, really likes her job at the Hiiromachi branch of the ‘Smile Mart’ convenience store in a suburb of Tokyo. She enthusiastically greets the customers, makes sure everything is stocked correctly for the season and always adheres to the company’s newest edicts. She is far from a mindless automaton however. She has used her 18 years at the Smile Mart to observe others’ puzzling behavior and learn how to be normal.

From an early age Keiko realizes that her way of thinking and feeling just doesn’t adhere to societal standards. When she sees two students fighting and the teacher orders them to stop, she hits one of them over the head with a spade, stopping the fight but winning no accolades. She simply does not understand human emotions and reactions. Worse still, she finds out that society will single you out and punish you for not fitting in. Her solution? Bury herself in her job at the Smile Mart, learn what is considered normal from other employees, and apply that knowledge in order to be left alone.

This all works pretty well until she reaches the age of 36 and her family begins questioning why she is still working at an entry-level job and has no boyfriend/husband. Enter Shiraha, a fellow employee who is lazy, misogynistic and prone to endlessly spouting out simplistic ‘ideas’ about the Stone Age and modern society. The one thing they have in common: a mistrust of normalcy. Perhaps Keiko can use that to her advantage…

Convenience Store Woman is told using a straightforward, yet elegant style that conveys Keiko’s unique perspective. While the ideas presented might be a bit off-putting for some at first, the author packages them in such a way as to make Keiko ultimately seem sympathetic. You come to see her as a somewhat damaged, by societal standards, individual carving out a tolerable existence in a hostile world. This short novella is well worth your reading time. Plus it will give you a new perspective while doing your holiday shopping.

Spot-Lit for December 2018

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.

As always, you can click the link for Notable New Fiction 2018 (to date) below, which now includes all the Spot-Lit titles for the year, and here’s a link to our separate Best Books of the Year post.  Happy reading!

Notable New Fiction 2018 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction