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.

Spot-Lit for March 2020

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

Heartwood 10:1 – Lives & Deaths

Two brief reviews of small books that are well-worth your time.

Marcel Schwob’s Imaginary Lives contains twenty-two short biography-like accounts of lives that, in life-like fashion, are all rounded out in death. Schwob focuses on a variety of historical figures, such as Empedocles, Herostratus, Lucretius, Petronius, Pocahontas, Paolo Uccello, and Captain Kidd. He also includes stories of the associates of famous people: Cecco Angiolieri (wannabe poet rival of Dante), Nicolas Loyseleur (deceiver of Joan of Arc), Major Stede Bonnet (romanticizer of piracy, who crosses paths with Blackbeard), and actor Gabriel Spenser (falling under the sword of Ben Jonson), to name a few.

I relished these tales (each about a half-dozen pages) reading one or two at a time, savoring their richness, and marveling at Schwob’s way of capturing character in resonant details. Though I’m incapable of reading the original French, it appears that Chris Clarke has done an excellent translation – the attention to word choice is notable and his awareness of Schwob’s sources (usually unattributed) speaks to his deep knowledge of the author’s personal interests and reading history.  The Wikipedia page for this book provides links to the (real) characters that have Wikipedia entries.

The main narrative thread of Valérie Mréjen’s very brief book, Black Forest, involves a daughter’s lifelong reflections and speculations about her mother and the day she died of an overdose while she, the daughter, was at the hairdressers. But this unfolding account is frequently interrupted by extremely compressed descriptions of the various deaths of other individuals – a woman who chokes to death while laughing at a joke while dining; an overweight man whose body blocks the bathroom door and prevents his girlfriend from assisting him when he has a heart attack; a man who is thrown from his motorcycle and lands alive and intact in a wheat field only to be mowed down by a truck as he returns to the road; a woman whose baby drowns in the bathtub when she steps away to answer the telephone. It is not always easy to tell when these transitions are occurring, and this is partly due to the main storyline being told variously in first- and third-person voices, but also by the distance achieved by the careful diction – a finely rendered tone and immediacy that is open and honest, personable but free of sentimentality. The language is so fine, in fact, that the reader would never guess that this is a translation. A gem.

Spot-Lit for February 2020

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.

All On-Order Fiction | 2020 Debuts

Spot-Lit for January 2020

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.

These books will appear in the Everett Public Library catalog early in January when our new budget year is underway, so check back soon. Click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2019  | All On-Order Fiction | 2019 Debuts

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

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

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

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

I really enjoyed Tidelands by Philippa Gregory. While technically a work of fiction, it is a compelling story and feels true to the time period. Philippa is such a fabulous writer and her research is impeccable.

In the year 1648 people were very superstitious. Alinor is descended from a long line of wise women and has attended the births of most of the women on Sealsea Island, off the coast of the county of Sussex, England. Knowing the craft of healing and herbs is considered akin to being a witch. Alinor’s abusive husband has disappeared (not that she misses him!) and the townsfolk wonder if she had a part in his disappearance. Alinor’s daughter Alys and son Rob know they must be very careful and help promote a wholesome image to protect her reputation.

Sealsea Island is very small and when the tide comes in or out, the whole island can change, becoming murky, swampy and very unsafe and unstable in places…

There is a war going on in England and King Charles I is being held prisoner. Later, he is tried for treason. Alinor meets James, a priest trying to help King Charles, and a secret, forbidden romance begins. In the meantime, Alys becomes engaged to a boy who is considered above her station, much to the boy’s parents chagrin.

I was enraptured with the characters of Tidelands and couldn’t wait to find out how the dramas all worked out. Of course, one hopes for happy endings all around, but there are some twists that make for a denouement you will not be expecting!