Spot-Lit for July 2018

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 2018 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction

Who is Vera Kelly?

Student, activist…spy? Who is Vera Kelly? is a spy novel by Rosalie Knecht published earlier this week by Tin House Books. It’s also a question I asked myself many times while reading this engrossing novel of intrigue and identity. What Vera Kelly is not is your typical school girl, and she’s definitely not your typical spy.

1966 is a dangerous time to be living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. For those of you who may have forgotten your world history, events in the summer of 1966 sparked the Argentine Revolution that overthrew the government and began a long period of dictatorship. Up until 1966 Vera was supplementing her low-wage radio station job doing occasional weekend surveillance jobs for the CIA, but the Buenos Aires job would be quite different. I’ll let Vera explain herself:

My handler pitched it to me in January 1966, in a diner where he liked to meet on East Fifty-Second Street. The Argentine president was weak, there could be a coup anytime, and KGB activity had picked up in Buenos Aires. I would have to do infiltration work as well as surveillance. I would be gone indefinitely, months or a year, and I would have to quit my job. For this they would pay me thirty-five thousand dollars.

You math nerds and currency freaks will realize how much thirty-five thousand dollars was in 1966, but I’ll spell it out so the rest of us can understand. According to one inflation calculator I consulted, that would be over $270,000 in today’s dollars. For someone scraping by at $38/per week at her day job (about $259 in today’s dollars) it was kind of a no-brainer financially for Vera to accept the job.

But even more than the money, Vera has found a sense of accomplishment in her work with the CIA. The satisfaction of a job well done in service to her country is what helps make the rest of her lonely existence worth getting up for every morning. I say lonely because Vera is a closeted lesbian and in the 1960s it wasn’t impossible to find female companionship in New York City, but doing so could possibly jeopardize her security clearance. This is a sad way of telling you that Vera suppressed a lot of her identity in service to her country, but she wasn’t always so noble.

The chapters alternate between Vera’s present-day espionage and her formative years growing up in Chevy Chase, MD. Vera’s battles with undiagnosed depression eventually led to a suicide attempt. This is revealed in the very first paragraphs of the book (you’ll get no spoilers from me, but do consider this a trigger warning for a suicide attempt right at the top of the story). Vera’s recovery shut her off even more from a world that didn’t understand her, and would eventually lead to heartbreak and a brush with the law. That sounds very depressing, and it is! But it does steer her down a winding path to the CIA and her life of adventure.

Vera spends much of her time surrounded by other people, and though it’s the nature of the job as a spy to lie to people and not trust what she’s told in return, Vera is essentially a woman alone. It’s hard to make friends when you’re a spy and it’s even harder to find romance or even simple physical companionship when you don’t fit into society’s prescribed heteronormative expectations and ideals.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give more of a taste of the espionage portion of the plot because if this book’s plot were a pepperoni pizza, the spy parts are the cheese and the character development is the pepperoni. It’s got a good sprinkling of character development, but every bite is covered in the cheese of espionage.

The best books make me scattered in my retellings. Just take my awkward pizza metaphor as the gold star this book deserves!

Once the coup in Argentina begins, Vera’s plans go up in smoke and she’s forced to improvise in order to escape the police state and survive. This is where Vera surprises both the reader and herself as she depends entirely on her instincts and cunning to get herself home.

There are secrets, betrayals, weapons, and kisses. This is a book that really does have it all.

I’m not usually a fan of character-driven literature, but apparently if you throw in an engrossing spy plot and some witty dialogue I will fall at your feet in worship. My girl Amy Stewart blurbed this book as “The twisty, literary, woman-driven spy novel you’ve always wanted to read. Dazzling.” And of course she’s right. Vera Kelly is 100% the spy I’ve always wanted. Thank you, Rosalie Knecht, for bringing her into my life.

Now please, please, PLEASE tell me this will be a series?! Because like all great literary characters, after meeting Vera Kelly I’m not ready to say goodbye.

Spot-Lit for June 2018

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 2018 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction

Don’t Judge a Book by its Zombies

We’ve all been told not to judge a book by its cover. At this point it feels cliché, even if the words hold value. But more to the point, sometimes it can be good to judge a book by its cover! Dread Nation by Justina Ireland is a kick-ass book with a kick-ass cover. Judge away! But please, please do not judge this book by its zombies.

I’d never describe myself as a lover of the zombie genre, though I’ve read more than a few books featuring the undead. I understand why some readers are skeptical of these stories and I realize that it doesn’t really help my case to say “but this book isn’t really about the zombies.” I mean, that’s what everyone says, right? But listen…this book?  It isn’t really about the zombies!

283ca973-6947-478d-abe1-e941ef671538-dreadnation_hc-for-webDread Nation takes place in the years following the Civil War. In this version of history the dead began to rise during the war, forcing the North and South into an uneasy truce. The South was ravaged by dead soldiers who have risen from battlefields and agreed to end slavery in exchange for Northern support. However, like during the actual Reconstruction Era, many Northerners and Southerners in this version of history remain determined to punish people of color and pursue the interests of white (and only white) Americans. One way that white supremacy manifests in Dread Nation is through a reeducation act that forces native and black children into schools. They are taught how to fight the zombie hordes – called shamblers in this book – sacrificing their own well-being to ensure the safety and comfort of wealthy and white society.

Jane McKeene, Dread Nation’s narrator, is a student at one of these schools. She is training to be a lady’s attendant, expected to cater to the whims and needs of a member of high society while also lopping off the heads of any shamblers who come-a-shambling. Though Jane takes readily to combat training and has a brilliant mind, she struggles to follow rules, is disinterested in etiquette, and bristles at the expectation that she ‘know her place.’  When Jane and two of her friends wind up on the wrong side of some very powerful (and very racist) politicians, they are banished to Summerland, Kansas.

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Justina Ireland

Summerland is supposed to be the vision of the future: technologically advanced, morally pure, well defended, and structured to provide comfort to white society through the toil and suffering of people of color. But Jane quickly discovers that not everything in Summerland is as it seems and that the poisonous ills woven through the fabric of this ‘utopia’ threaten not just the people of Summerland, but the survival of the human race in the battle against the dead. It will take all of Jane’s courage, scrappiness, and intellect to find a way to escape from this flimsy house of cards before irreversible disaster strikes.

It is worth noting that Ireland uses upsetting language to describe some groups of people. To my knowledge, these words are used in a historically accurate way even if they are far beyond the pale of what is acceptable today. It can make parts of this book uncomfortable, jarring, and difficult to read, as it should be.

Dread Nation holds its own as a dystopian zombie novel with a fast paced and thrilling story filled with dark mysteries and some gruesome deaths. But this book also serves as an excellent work of speculative fiction: reimagining the Civil War, many of its famous people and events, and the societal forces that both led to this conflict and impeded any legitimate notion of equality long after the war’s end. Ireland uses this book to take a frank look at the ways bigotry and hate thrive, even as humanity struggles to survive. And, finally, Jane is a phenomenal narrator: witty, charming, plucky, and perhaps just a bit deceptive as she pulls the reader into her story. Like I said – it’s not about the zombies!

Read Like Library Staff Part 2

The last time we sat here together I gave you a big list of books my coworkers absolutely adore. But wait, there’s more! Because you can never have enough good books to read, here are some more EPL staff recommended reads to help you accomplish the May reading challenge.

The Tricksters Series by Tamora Pierce
I love many of Tamora Pierce’s novels, but I have to say that her Tricksters series might be my favorite. Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen follow Aly – the daughter of legendary lady knight Alanna – on her quest to become a spy in the realm of Tortall. When she sets out on her adventures, however, she has no idea that her fate will be influenced by the Trickster god, who has his own plans for her.

These books are such a fun read filled with strong, intelligent, and highly loveable characters, as well as battles, magic, and political intrigue. If you haven’t read any of the other books in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall Universe, these will definitely make you want to!
–From Elizabeth W., Evergreen Branch Circulation

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder.
If you are in the mood for a non-fiction read, pick up Nomadland. Bruder explores the mostly hidden world of America’s citizens, many of whom are of retirement age, currently living in a vast fleet of improvised mobile homes. From cleverly retrofitted cars to full-size RVs, people who are unable to afford the cost of living in conventional housing have increasingly turned to the road to find home and work. Bruder spent years following this story, first interviewing some of these mobile-dwellers, and then eventually embedding herself in some of their seasonal communities to gain a more intimate perspective. This book is well researched and well written; though it almost has the depth of an anthropological field study, the personal narratives that are interwoven give the whole piece a lot of emotional appeal.
–From Lisa, Northwest Room

Love and Other Alien Experiences by Kerry Winfrey.
Adorkable YA romance alert! I describe Love and Other Alien Experiences as a cross between Everything, Everything and Geekerella.

Since her dad abandoned her family, a teen girl’s extreme anxiety keeps her inside her home (she physically reacts to leaving the house) until one day she finds herself outside and begins working towards freeing herself from a prison of her brain’s own making. As someone who’s always struggled with anxiety I probably got more out of the main character’s struggles than others. Still, I think anyone into quirky romantic comedies with a hefty dose of problematic situations should pick this up.
–From Carol, Main Library Cataloging

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
The incredibly inspiring true story of a striving, young Yemeni-American man who learns of his ancestral homeland’s critical connection to the world’s favorite addictive beverage. This inspires him to work from abject poverty on the mean streets of San Francisco through a civil war in Yemen. This thrillingly contemporary book will make you love the character as much as you shake your head in disbelief over what he has to overcome even from the TSA at the airport.
–From Alan, Evergreen Branch Manager

The Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh
I’m reading a good book right now called The Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh. Here’s the summary from the catalog:
“Set in Kenya against the fading backdrop of the British Empire, a story of self-discovery, betrayal, and an impossible love. After six years in England, Rachel has returned to Kenya and the farm where she spent her childhood, but the beloved home she’d longed for is much changed. Her father’s new companion–a strange, intolerant woman–has taken over the household. The political climate in the country grows more unsettled by the day and is approaching the boiling point. And looming over them all is the threat of the Mau Mau, a secret society intent on uniting the native Kenyans and overthrowing the whites. As Rachel struggles to find her place in her home and her country, she initiates a covert relationship, one that will demand from her a gross act of betrayal.”
–From Leslie, Main Library Youth Services

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
Are you looking for a new series? Moon Called by Patricia Briggs, shelved in Science Fiction, is the first book in the Mercy Thompson series. It’s one of my all-time favorite book series, and the only series I can read and get completely sucked in each and every time!
–From Feylin, Main Library Circulation

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
Andreas Egger’s mother died when he was a young boy, and he was shipped off to live with his aunt’s husband in a German alpine town in the early 1900s. As the title indicates, this is the story of a life, and it spans about 80 years in which we see Andreas getting whipped with a hazel switch, standing up to his abusive guardian, taking on work building lifts for the burgeoning ski industry, finding love, going to war on the Russian front, surviving painful losses, and watching the modern world transform all around him.
Seethaler is a fluid, at times lyrical, storyteller, who shifts parts of the tale around chronologically to effectively share the life of this humble, resourceful, but also lonely man. The story draws you in immediately as Andreas relates how he found an old goatherd dying in his hut in 1933 and attempts to carry him through a snowstorm down the mountains to the village. This anecdote ends in a surprising way and comes back in haunting fashion much later in this moving and finely rendered tale.
–From Scott, Main Library Adult Services

Read Like Library Staff Part 1

Hey hey, how’s your May reading coming along? Are you ready for another challenge? After all the reading challenges we’ve thrown your way, this month’s is my favorite because we’re essentially telling you what to read. [Insert evil emoji here] In May we’re asking you to read a book recommended by a library employee. This week I’m bringing you not one but two posts so full of book recommendations that they will make your TBR scrape the ceiling.

The Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles
This is Will’s first book, and I think he did a superb job! I very much enjoyed this book. We have two old college roommates, similar to The Odd Couple. Now, years later, one is doing a favor for the other and house sitting. What happens to the perfect wooden floors and the comedy of errors that follow will keep you laughing! Will has an enjoyable style of writing, and his descriptions alone make it worth taking a look!
–From Linda, Evergreen Branch Circulation

Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze
This is a gem of a noir novel, first published in 1953, about an escaped convict who wants to pull off a big-time heist. When he meets and partners with a suspiciously well-spoken vamp, who trusts him as little as he does her, the heist plan begins to really take shape. The action moves from bayou country to the mountains outside of Denver, and Chaze writes as well about the mountain west as everything else in this engaging and desperate tale. If you like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James Cain or Jim Thompson you’ll want to read this.
–From Scott, Main Library Reference

The Hike by Drew Magary
Basically this guy is on a business trip and checks in to a lodge type hotel. He decides before dinner he’ll go for a short hike, call his wife, and relax a little. He walks past a barrier on the property and eventually realizes that not only are impossible creatures trying to kill him but he’s now in a different dimension from his hotel, his wife, and everything he knows. As the days, weeks, and months go by his fight for survival also becomes a struggle to find his way home.

This book was creepy as hell and definitely not my typical read. It’s horror for people who don’t like horror. I recommend it for anyone looking for something both weird and wonderful.
–From Carol, Main Library Cataloging

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
I highly recommend An Unkindness of Ghosts. Solomon has done an amazing job with her world building, creating a range of complex characters whose personalities and inner conflicts feel very real. It’s a story of racial tension and class struggle set aboard the HSS Matilda – an interstellar life raft containing the last traces of the human race, fleeing from a dying world. I don’t want to give away much more about this addictive read; I hope that there is more to come from the creative mind of Rivers Solomon. Side note: I enjoyed this book as an eaudiobook via the library’s CloudLibrary platform and thought that the skillful narration performed by Cherise Boothe added a lot of depth to the experience.
–From Lisa, Northwest Room

How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper
Every one of Tropper’s too-few books is witty, deeply insightful, yet breezily readable & fun. The finest of literary fiction. In this one, we accompany Doug, the titular character, as he comes to terms with his grief and the transformation is as entertaining as it is authentic.
–From Alan, Evergreen Branch Manager

Compass by Mathias Énard
Compass won France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt in 2015, and it’s an extraordinary book that might best be summarized as a love letter to readers and scholars of cosmopolitan literature, music, culture, and history. The story unfolds as a single sleepless night in the life of a Viennese man, Franz Ritter, and his nightlong reflections on his work as an ethnomusicologist, his mostly unrequited love for a fellow European scholar named Sarah, and his travels abroad – with her and without her – to such places as Istanbul, Damascus, Palymra, Aleppo, and Tehran.

A major theme is the influence of Eastern culture on the music and literature of the West, and Énard weaves the names of many well-known Western authors and composers into the narrative. Sarah and Franz, as “Orientalists,” share with the reader their deep understanding of this cultural cross-pollination while seeking “a new vision that includes the other in the self.”

Franz is a sensitive, insightful and voluble narrator, and after taking the reader on a whirlwind tour of the Middle East and his life, the book ends on a sweetly hopeful note.
–From Scott, Main Library Reference

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell by W. Kamau Bell
While I initially wanted to read this because I wanted to learn more about Kamau, I quickly realized that this was way more than just another comedian’s memoir. Race, racism, and politics are heavily threaded throughout. Kamau is candid about his experiences in stand-up and in the entertainment industry, which really opened my eyes to not just how completely screwed up the showrunning/writing relationship can be, but also how representation is in the entertainment industry is just as important as it is in every other working environment.
–From Carol, Main Library Cataloging

Spot-Lit for May 2018

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 2018 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction