Funny Strange or Funny Ha-Ha

I’ve always had a weakness for stories that live at the intersection of funny and weird. Straight up hilarious or bizarre is great in a story, but when you combine the two it produces a strange feeling of unease that I find oddly gratifying. If you have ever laughed at a situation or occurrence while reading a story and simultaneously thought ‘why the heck am I laughing at this’ then you know what I mean. Luckily, I’ve recently read three short story collections that are chock full of stories that fit the bill. Some veer a little more toward the strange and others toward the funny, but many of the stories are smack dab at the rarefied intersection of weird and funny. If you enjoy these types of stories as well, or just want to try something new, the short story collections listed below will definitely be worth your limited reading time.

American Housewife by Helen Ellis

americanhousewifeThis collection definitely brings on the funny as the author sets out to wittily skewer contemporary domestic mores and the traditional roles of women in the 21st century. She does so by taking a seemingly ‘normal’ situation and ramping it up to absurd levels with the story veering off into the truly bizarre: ‘The Wainscoting War’ records the email war between two neighbors as they try to claim the right to decorate their shared hallway with deadly results. ‘Hello! Welcome to Book Club’ is the story of the initiation of a new book club member who begins to realize that the book club wants to control more than just what she reads. ‘My Book is Brought to You by the Good People at Tampax’ is a standout and details an author’s subjugation to her book’s sponsor as it takes over every aspect of her life. While these stories are consistently funny, most head toward strange with pleasing results.

Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

homesickThe stories in this collection are more somber, but still provide some outstanding tales blending the humorous and the strange. The author has a knack for creating characters that are at once obsessive, slightly neurotic, and definitely odd but still sympathetic. You may just end up chuckling at their life situations in spite of yourself: ‘Bettering Myself’ is the story of an alcoholic teacher at a Catholic school who ensures her employment by fudging her student’s test scores. ‘Malibu’ introduces you to an odd nephew and uncle who spend their days in front of the TV, except to go out to find the perfect place to deposit the uncle’s ashes when he dies. ‘The Weirdos’ details a woman’s breakup, sort of, with her truly bizarre aspiring actor boyfriend who is convinced aliens exist and that the local crows are after him. The emphasis is more on the strange in these stories, but the funny is definitely there as well.

Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein

childrenA near future where technology has taken a disquieting and frighteningly plausible turn is the setting for most of the stories in this work. The author is great at creating a sense of unease, but is also capable of creating a strong sense of sympathy for his characters and their predicaments. While strangeness abounds in this collection, there is definitely a lot humor-but be warned that it is mostly of the dark kind:  ‘Children of the New World’ details an infertile couple’s anxiety at having to delete their virtual children due to a computer virus. ‘The Cartographers’ is the story of a programmer who has developed a program that can beam other people’s memories into his own brain, causing him to not know what is real and what isn’t. ‘Rocket Night’ introduces us to an elementary school where parents gather annually to decide which of their children is least liked and then launch the unfortunate student into space. If you don’t mind your dystopian strangeness mixed with a little dark humor, this is the collection for you.

Enjoy these short story collections and free yourself from having to determine whether they are funny strange or funny ha-ha. Happily they are both.

Spot-Lit for February 2017

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 2017 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

The Girl Before by JP Delaney is not my typical feel good read, in fact it is anything but!

girlbeforeInitially after reading the summary of this advanced reader copy and agreeing to preview the book, I expected I’d be getting a historical  novel but there was a mix up. Once I received the book and read the back jacket it was quite clear The Girl Before was not what I signed up for. However it looked intriguing: a psychological thriller, something I do enjoy now and then.

Admittedly, as I began reading I got sucked into the short chapters alternating between Emma and Jane. What I wasn’t prepared for was the graphic sex scenes. At one point I nearly gave up, but  I read on Amazon that the book is soon to be a movie produced by Ron Howard.

I’d just seen an old re-run of The Andy Griffith Show and had lingering fond memories of the good old days. I rationalized Opie, Ron Howard’s sweet innocent character, wouldn’t be involved in anything too scandalous.

Well I’ll let you be the judge of that!

Emma and Jane have multiple things in common: each are looking for a fresh start, both women are in a vulnerable state, neither of them can afford the flat known as One Folgate Street, and both  women have a similar look, one that attracts strange men. Lastly, and most disturbingly, Emma and Jane don’t seem fazed by the fact that the flat they want to rent has a frightening history.

First we meet Emma and her boyfriend Simon as they are filling out an elaborate questionnaire to meet the bizarre qualifications to become renters. Emma is much more engaged than Simon who more or less just goes along. Emma ends her relationship with Simon shortly after the couple moves into One Folgate Street. Emma moves right into a sizzling relationship with One Folgate Street’s owner Edward. The relationship seems a stretch given Emma’s lack of tidiness, something Edward insists upon, but she manages to compromise as she becomes obsessed with her new lover.

Next we are introduced to Jane who takes possession of One Folgate Street after Emma’s mysterious death. Jane must comply as well with the restrictive guidelines required to live in One Folgate and she too ends up in a romantic relationship with Edward. Like Emma, at her own expense.

Edward is a purist, a perfectionist, a minimalist, and even though I didn’t look up the definition of a sociopath in the dictionary, I imagined Edward to fit the mold. Not surprisingly he approaches Jane in the same manner he did Emma.

One Folgate Street is a secure and ultra-modern flat giving both women peace of mind. The house is operated remotely by technology. For example, if one breaks the ‘rules’ the shower will not turn on or turn cold notifying the resident that they have broken a rule. Edward, as I mentioned, has idiosyncrasies about neatness. It is just one of the absolutes that tenants are expected to strictly adhere to.

I’ve not read The Girl on the Train, nor Gone Girl, but I have recently read The Woman in Cabin 10. The Girl Before moves much more quickly and is a page turning mystery thriller. You’ve been warned!

Spot-Lit for January 2017

Spot-Lit

These titles – many from debut 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.

All On-Order Fiction

Urban Lit and Iceberg Slim

Enjoy this new post from Sarah:

Urban lit are the type of books that normally take place in a big city, and can take on dark undertones, demonstrating the gritty side of urban living. These books can be graphic, explicit, and don’t always have happy endings.

Iceberg Slimstreetpoison (i.e. Robert Beck) is considered to be one of the great urban lit authors. Both Ice-T and Ice Cube pay homage to him in their names. His novel Pimp sold over 2 million copies, which is remarkable considering it never made it into mainstream bookstores and was primarily purchased in grocery stores and barber shops.

Robert Beck was born in Chicago and was exposed early on to life on the streets. He was mesmerized by women, pimps, and the possibility of easy and fast money. He briefly attended college, but was lured back to the streets and was determined to become the best pimp ever.

When he got incarcerated, he became a self-taught man, reading copious amounts of books in prison libraries. He also studied pimping from his fellow inmates, gleaning knowledge from an oral tradition known as the pimp book. To succeed at pimping, one must utilize a mixture of psychological manipulations, violence, and maintain control at all times. Gifford does an excellent job of bringing the reader into the mindset of the pimp, and how one can become “street poisoned.”

Beck spent years alternating between the high life of pimping – leisure suits, fancy clubs, lots of cash, and then spending years behind bars in some of American’s hardest prisons. When he retired from pimping, he settled down, had children, and that’s when he began to write. His writing is honest, brutal and crude, and opened people’s eyes to the dark underside of urban cities in the 40s and 50s.

Some authors popular in the urban lit genre include Nikki Turner, K’Wan, and Donald Goines.  We have a display up at the main library displaying some urban titles, come check them out!

urbanlit

All I Wanted for Christmas was Time to Read!

Time, that precious and fleeting commodity. Like sand through the hourglass indeed, time just seems to slip right through my fingers. As soon as I get some it’s already gone. Etc. Etc. I know you know what I mean! As you read this I’m enjoying a break from the library, spending time with family and reading next to a crackling fire while snow blankets the flat-yet-somehow-rolling hills of Southern Illinois. I decided to treat myself this year and set aside time to read. Here are some of the books I’ve taken 2,200 miles away with me.

relishRelish by Lucy Knisley
Did you read Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt? I’m hoping this will be similar, a graphic memoir about food and the people who love it. In Lucy Knisley’s case she takes actual episodes from her life and frames them by what she was eating at the time. There are recipes in every chapter and I’m hoping to find one I can make with family on my trip. Even if I strike out I’m sure I’ll love reading about all the food. ALL THE FOOD! *grabby hands*

 

 

9781925321548Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart
Um, so reading Girl Waits With Gun set me down a winding, happy road of reading books solely based on someone else’s recommendation. In the case of GWWG it was intrepid librarian and awesome colleague Joyce Hansen who was discussing it as part of the library’s monthly book discussion group. Lady Cop Makes Trouble is the sequel to GWWG and I can’t wait to jump back in time nearly 100 years to the world of Constance Kopp and her determined sisters.

 

 

before-i-fallBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver
I have a fantastic hair stylist. Not only does she give me amazing hair, she also loves to swap book recommendations with me. The last time I was in she was raving about the book she had just finished and thought I would love it, too. I confess for a minute I thought she was recommending Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, which was a breakout hit of the summer but definitely a very different book than this! Before I Fall (what, do you find this confusing or something?!) is about a teen reliving the last day of her life over and over again after she dies. I am a sucker for the “I woke up dead, now what?” type of books so of course this sounds right up my alley. Before the Fall, bee-tee-dubs, is about a regional plane crash, the two survivors, and the backstories of those who perished. I’ll probably read that one at some point, but definitely not while traveling on a plane myself!

relentlessRelentless by Cherry Adair
Oh, Cherry! I had read a few of her books years ago but here’s what’s getting me back into her work: Cherry herself. I was lucky to have been on the planning committee for a library conference back in October and she was one of our keynote speakers (we also had authors Lauren Dane and Susan Mallery, and the Romantic Times Librarian of the Year Robin Bradford of Timberland Regional Library, who are all incredibly awesome human beings and I really hope to hang with them all again). Cherry was a hoot, always cracking me up and getting me involved in what was going on inside her head. Impossibly tall and drop-dead gorgeous shoes lined up in her custom closet? Check. What sorts of shenanigans go on at the Romantic Times convention? Check. Then she got up in front of 120+ amazing professionals and proceeded to act out a raunchy scene from a book that inspired one of her own. Oh my word, that woman is amazing and I want to get back into her books like, now!

untitled-design-1

The chilly, nasty winter weather just makes me want to curl up and get lost in a good book and there’s never been a better time than right now. And maybe later. And definitely on the plane ride home. Oh! And on the commute there’s that audiobook I’d like to try…

Best of 2016 Redux

It’ll probably come as no surprise to you that those of us who work in libraries tend to be voracious readers. We consume information, words, articles, books, and series as fast as we can manage. Part of it is a personal interest and part of it is professional: we can do a better job recommending things to you if we’ve read a variety of things ourselves. That’s a very long-winded way of saying we had more recommendations for 2016 than we could fit in our previous posts. So without further ado I present to you everything else we loved to bits this year.

Adult Fiction
adult-fiction

A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin
Summary: Milo Andret, a strange but uniquely talented loner who develops into a brilliant mathematician, is plagued by alternating feelings of grandiosity and utter failure. Milo’s son Hans, similarly brilliant and troubled, tells the second half of Milo’s story.
Why Elizabeth liked it: This book opened my eyes to the intensely grueling, emotionally devastating world of academic competition. Milo’s self-destructive tendencies are painful indeed, but what lingers is amazement at the transformative power of family.

The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates
Summary: After a life threatening brain infection robbed Elihu Hoopes of his short term memory he endures decades of testing at the hands of neuroscientists. Margot Sharpe develops her whole career from these studies but also develops feelings for her subject.
Why Elizabeth liked it: If you like psychology, brain science, bizarre human relationships, and hints of a dark and mysterious past, you will eat this up! Oates exposes the ruthless nature of scientific study in this suspenseful and disturbing tale.

The Nest by Cynthia D’aprix Sweeney
Summary: The Plumb siblings have always expected a large inheritance as soon as the youngest, Melody, turned 40. That day is nearing when Beatrice, Jack and Melody are devastated to discover that Leo’s wild ways have resulted in a loss of most of the Nest.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Dysfunctional family drama galore! The siblings are flawed, funny, and (mostly) financially doomed. I found myself thinking why is this so entertaining? Because the writing, the family, the setting (NYC) all add up to a really engrossing page turner.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Summary: Two middle school friends learn of their special powers.  Laurence is able to tweak the time continuum, and Patricia has the ability to talk to animals.  Earth is doomed, and their relationship may restore humanity, or their opposing views may collide.
Why Sarah liked it: This is a quirky fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian romance, with superb technological innovations, and lots of spunk.

Georgia by Dawn Tripp
Summary: Georgia O’Keeffe‘s artistic focus and determination was helped and sometimes hurt by her decades-long relationship with photographer Alfred Stieglitz. While this is fiction, Tripp’s research and skill at imagining Georgia’s thoughts give it the ring of truth.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I have really enjoyed the handful of historical fiction books about artists that I have read, and this one may be the best yet. At the end I was newly, and greatly, impressed with O’Keeffe and had to seek out books about her art.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich
Summary: Imagine you accidentally shot your best friend’s son, and the custom forced you to give your own child to the bereaved family? LaRose, one of many with that name in his family of healers, is the child who is given away.
Why Elizabeth liked it: The incredibly richly imagined cast of characters makes for a very engrossing read. Since this is the 15th of Erdrich’s North Dakota Cycle I am looking forward to reading a lot more about this community.

Young Adult Fiction
ya fiction

I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Sarah wakes up dead at the Mall of America only to find she was murdered, and she must work with a group of dead teenagers to finish up the unresolved business of their former lives while preventing her murderer from killing again.
Why Carol liked it: Despite the serious subject matter of, ya know, waking up dead and knowing someone killed you, this book was quirky good fun! I really wanted a sequel, but I think this book will stand alone.

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Summary: In 1882 England when her sister Rose vanishes, Evelyn, bored with society and its expectations, embarks on a search for Rose, encountering the reclusive Sebastian Braddock, who is also looking for Rose and claiming that both sisters have healing powers.
Why Carol liked it: I read this in April and my memory is struggling with specifics here in December. So here’s my Goodreads review from April: Witty as hell and so fast-paced my neck almost snapped. Can’t wait for book 2!

Adult Nonfiction
adult-nonfiction

French Country Cooking: Meals and Moments from a Village in the Vineyards by Mimi Thorisson
Summary: A captivating journey to off-the-beaten-path French wine country with 100 simple yet exquisite recipes, 150 sumptuous photographs, and stories inspired by life in a small village.
Why Leslie liked it: This beautiful cookbook has approachable recipes, especially the “staff meals.” I love the vichyssoise! So simple and good.

The Aleppo Cookbook: Celebrating the Legendary Cuisine of Syria by Marlene Matar
Summary: Wonderful full-color photographs of the food, people, and markets of Aleppo make this a stunning cookbook and fitting tribute to a beautiful city and the suffering its people continue to endure.
Why Pat liked it: Tempting recipes, culturally informative text, great illustrations, and a message of hope of rebuilding this ancient city yet one more time– everything you can want in a cookbook and more–a beautiful, meaningful book.

Superbetter by Jane McGonigal
Summary: Self-help with a twist! McGonigal studies game theory so this method of getting better from illness, depression or other situations is full of quests, power ups, superhero identities, etc. By making your life “gameful” you can battle your “bad guys” and win.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I am not much of a self-help reader but the methods in this book feel like they would actually work while being fun rather than tedious. It could make a real difference in helping people develop resilience, and improve mental health and happiness.

Graphic Novels for Kids
graphic-novels-for-kids

Dog Man by Dav Pilkey
Summary: George and Harold, protagonists from the Captain Underpants series, create a new comic called Dog Man. It’s just as silly and irreverent as you would expect Dav Pilkey to be.
Why Emily liked it: For fans of Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, Captain Underpants, Bad Kitty, and other humorous, illustrated fiction.

Poptropica 1: Mystery of the Map by Jack Chabert
Summary: Oliver, Mya, and Jorge take a ride in a hot-air balloon, only to crash-land on an unknown island filled with extinct animals and a horde of angry Vikings.
Why Andrea liked it: This graphic novel is a great introduction to the worlds of Poptropica (a gaming website for children 6 to 10 years old). It is filled with exciting chase scenes, hilarious dodo birds, and a daring prison break.