Spot-Lit for December 2019

Just a reminder at this time when various outlets compile their lists of best-books-of-the-year that we offer you here an ongoing monthly selection of the most anticipated fiction and a link, updated each month, to our notable new fiction of the year. So check in regularly, no need to wait until the end of the year to see some of the best recent writing that awaits you. For your convenience we also link to a regularly updated selection of the best releases from first-time novelists and short story writers.

Click here to see all of our December picks 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 | 2019 Debuts

It’s Like “The Sixth Sense.” But Good.

Great news! I have the perfect book for this Halloween season and I’m only two weeks late! That might not seem particularly helpful now, but all things being equal, this is the perfect book for any season, especially the wet, cold, and dark days of November through…(sigh) May. Leigh Bardugo is a name I’ve mentioned here before. Her Grishaverse novels are among my favorites, so I was ready to love Ninth House, her debut for adult audiences. Yet even with high expectations, it left me incredibly impressed and desperate for a sequel. 

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Alex Stern can see dead people. While this might seem neat to the gothically inclined, it makes Alex’s life a nightmare. For as long as she can remember, ghosts have lurked around her, decorated with the grisly evidence of their unseemly demises (semi-decapitated heads, gunshot wounds, etc.). Her grim ‘ability’ drives her in a dangerous direction – she is a teenage runaway under the influence of drugs, alcohol, and selfish, manipulative men. And yet, when she wakes in a hospital after a violent and tragic night, a tidy gentleman is waiting by her bedside suggesting that her power might open doors to a fresh start in an unlikely environment – Yale University. 

It turns out that New Haven, Connecticut is a city brimming with potent magic. This supernatural resource is channeled by eight ancient houses at Yale which operate under the guise of secret societies, while playing a huge role in world affairs, from throwing elections, to manipulating securities markets, to boosting pop star’s careers. This magic, however, can be extremely dangerous which is why a ninth house, Lethe, was formed to monitor the use of magic by Yale’s young elites. With her powerful connection to the supernatural, Lethe believes that Alex will make a valuable warden against the abuse of magic.  

Alex is assigned to train under the wing of Darlington, an uptight but brilliant and charismatic senior. Darlington has high standards and is skeptical that Alex has the necessary character or background to thrive in this world. At first, Darlington appears to be correct. Alex struggles to learn the rites and history that Lethe demands of her, while also suffering from the academic pressure of student life at Yale and the weight of managing a secret life as a college freshman. Just as she begins to get a feel for her many different roles at Yale, everything falls apart. Darlington disappears under strange and sinister circumstances and a young woman is murdered on campus, with Alex suspecting involvement by at least one of the houses. Alex is left to deal with magical forces she is only beginning to understand, indifferent bureaucracies, and rich, privileged, students who are empowered by a heady mix of supernatural power, generational wealth, and good old-fashioned toxic masculinity. Oh, also someone definitely wants Alex dead, and is not being shy about it. 

Ninth House is told in a non-linear fashion. I’m an impatient reader, and I am often annoyed by this style of storytelling, but not when a master of the genre like Bardugo is at the helm. Alex is an incredibly fun protagonist to follow – she is both self-aware and self-destructive, incredibly capable, but not unrealistically so, and a narrator of very questionable reliability. Bardugo is not just a deft writer, but also a thoughtful one. She is able to take a thrilling story of magic, power, and corruption and weave in a mediation on the destructive power of trauma without a whiff of heavy-handed moralizing. Books with magic can be a tricky proposition, especially for adult audiences, but Bardugo manages to make the magic in Alex’s world both frighteningly powerful and almost laughably mundane, grounding the supernatural in the onerous burden of everyday reality. Ninth House has already been picked up as a potential streaming series, which is why I looked up from the book and exclaimed to my partner “they have to cast Danny DeVito as Anderson Cooper!” But you’ll have to read the book to understand why.

Spot-Lit for November 2019

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 2019 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2019 Debuts

Heartwood 9:5 – The Night Watchman by Simonne Jacquemard

Simonne Jacquemard’s intriguing novel The Night Watchman was published over fifty years ago, and though it won France’s highly regarded Renaudot Prize, it appears to be all but forgotten today. That is unfortunate, as it is an exquisitely written work (at least in L.D. Emmet’s translation) which may bring variably to mind Albert Camus’s The Stranger, Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos, the romans durs of Georges Simenon, the novels of Virginia Woolf, or the Greek drama Antigone. The story revolves around the life and interests of Siméon Leverrier, a night watchman and petty thief who discovers a buried well in his back yard and begins to excavate it.

Leverrier is obsessed with geomorphology and has built his own furnace for smelting purposes. The fact that rocks liquefy beneath the thin crust of the earth seems to both fascinate and nauseate him. His excavation of the well is relayed in prose at once lyrical and scientific, oneiric and archaeological (as to this last trait, his digging, in fact, ends up uncovering Gallo-Roman baths and a carved stela from the era of Julius Caesar). Similar to Camus’s Meursault, the protagonist is socially disconnected, much consumed by his own thoughts and interests, and he is also being investigated for murder. In a scene in which the intent is left unclear, Leverrier abducts a young woman, and locks her in his cellar. We later learn that he has put her to work in assisting him in the excavation, otherwise keeping her imprisoned in her cell. But this is not a thriller; we learn very little about Agathe-Alexandrine, and Leverrier is not fixated on her in any typical way (he even must remind himself not to let her starve to death).

Jacquemard is a stylist of the first order. The book braids several narrative threads and signals changes of direction by alternating between standard and indented columns. She also incorporates italicized parenthetical content and makes effective use of repetition and variation (which to this reader brings Virginia Woolf to mind), an example of which can be found in the book’s opening image in which the leaves of trees begin to be individually distinguishable at dawn (variations of this image recur periodically). We also get some entries from Leverrier’s notebooks, and parts of the book are told in the voice of a next-door neighbor and others from that of the man who is prosecuting him for the death of Agathe.

The novel resists any simple summing up, but delves into such things as placing the individual against the deep background of geologic time and the echoes of history; the admixture of good and evil, life and death, crime and justice; mythological symbolism, dreamlike states of mind, and the collective unconscious; doors and thresholds (crossed and uncrossed); thoughts and sensations vs. the mute material substance of the earth and cosmos; and the iterative, diurnal and nocturnal patterns that underlie so much of human experience. This will be spellbinding reading for those attuned to this kind of thing.

Stay Home for This Challenge

Fall is my most favorite season. We get pumpkin spice, falling leaves, and furnaces kicking on. My sweaters and boots are so happy to see me and I’m whipping up soups and stews every weekend. And we get rain. Months and months of glorious, life-giving rain. I may as well call myself Shirley Manson because I’m only happy when it rains. Just kidding–but I do love a great rain shower and/or thunderstorm.

We also get a new reading challenge. Read the book, post a photo of it with #everettreads, and be entered into a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card courtesy of the Friends of the Everett Public Library. Thanks, Friends! This month we’re going to read a book set in Washington State.

That’s right, dear reader. We get to stay home for this challenge.

You may have heard about a little book called Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. I reviewed it a few years back and the film adaptation was released in August. While I still wholeheartedly recommend reading Bernie, I also think you should try these books set in our wet and wonderful Evergreen State. Just click the cover and be magically–okay, it’s HTML–taken to the summary and with a few more clicks you can reserve your very own copy.

FYI: some of these look really spooky, so if you are looking for some Halloween mood reading you might be able to check two boxes with one book.

I’m going to curl up with Useless Bay by M.J. Beaufrand. Shocking family secrets and a giant mystery on Whidbey Island? Count me in! What will you read for the October challenge?

Spot-Lit for October 2019

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 2019 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2019 Debuts

Spot-Lit for September 2019

Spot-Lit consults the big four book trade journals (along with quite a variety of other sources) while pulling these monthly lists together, and it is pretty rare when all four give a starred review to a title. So imagine our surprise to see Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly all giving stars to: Quichotte by Salman Rushdie, The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz, and A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker!  Other stellar releases include new books by Margaret Atwood, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s (his first novel), Man Booker International Prize-winner László Krashnahorkai, and more.

Click here to see all of the titles below 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 | 2019 Debuts