Spot-Lit for August 2021

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 2021 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction 2021 Debuts

My Best Friend’s Exorcism

There’s nothing quite like a childhood friend. They’ve seen you puke weird blue stuff while getting off the school bus, they’ve watched you go through that weird religious phase you went through when you were ten and spent the summer with a very Catholic grandma (spoiler alert: the religious mania didn’t hit me when I was 10. We all know that if I step inside a church I will immediately burst into flames). And if you’re fortunate enough to keep your childhood friend through your teens, they even help exorcise a demon from your body.

Because that’s what best friends do.

In My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix, Abby and Gretchen meet when they’re in the fifth grade and they become inseparable. When they get to high school it seems like nothing can stop the duo from graduating high school and getting out of town to do bigger and better things. But something happens to Gretchen one night when a group of girls goes exploring.

Gretchen goes into a dilapidated house in the woods and disappears for hours. The person who returns is not Gretchen and Abby seems to be the only one who realizes it. Gone is her perky sweet friend and in her place is a cruel girl, a faded ghost who seems to get pleasure from cruel jokes that have life altering outcomes. Not only will no one believe Abby, but since she comes from a poor(ish) family, teachers and parents decide that she’s pulling pranks to get attention.

Gretchen’s family forbids her from being friends with Abby. Whatever the demon is inside Gretchen, it shows itself to Abby and tells her there’s nothing she can do to stop her. The demon’s objective is to use up Gretchen’s body until there’s nothing left and to wreck so much havoc that it can bathe in the river of horror and sorrow it leaves behind.

What’s a girl who wants to save her best friend’s life to do?

Abby recruits the help of a religious zealot body builder who has watched his preacher father do many exorcisms and believes he can exorcise the demon from Gretchen’s body and save her soul. What follows is a sort of a dark night of the soul for both Abby and Gretchen. Will Abby lose her best friend to the demon or will the power of friendship save Gretchen?

True to form, Grady Hendrix has written a hilariously moving novel about what good human beings are capable of and the lengths friends will go to to save one another’s souls. If you like your horror novels to be on the comical (and yet still terrifying) side, pick up this book right now or I swear to God I will cross the threshold of a Catholic church and become engulfed in flames. Or, you know, I’ll read another Grady Hendrix book. Depends on my mood.

Spot-Lit for July 2021

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 2021 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction 2021 Debuts

All in All it’s Just Another Body in the Wall

At first, I thought Riley Sager’s Home Before Dark might end up being another cliched hum-drum ghost story. My mind was already made up not to feel guilty if I decided to put it down and pick up another book to read. But some little voice (call it Jiminy Cricket, the ghost of the still living Stephen King, or hell, even Leonard Cohen whom I was listening to when I picked the book up) told me to keep going. So kept going I did and this book knocked my socks off. Well, they were already half off because my puppy was tugging on them so he could run around with them in his mouth, but you get what I’m saying.

As the book opens, an abandoned, possibly haunted, house still clings to the family who left it with just the clothes on their backs twenty-five years ago never to return. Ewan, his wife Jess, and their young daughter Maggie moved into the massive mansion for a fresh start. Ewan is a writer and his freelance jobs are drying up. He thinks the move into an old home with a colorful history will give him the push he needs to write a novel.

The house has its eccentricities: a chandelier that turns itself on, a record player in the den that plays a song from the album The Sound of Music. But all old houses have their own personalities, so the Holt family isn’t too worried about it. Jess made Ewan swear he wouldn’t get lost digging into the house’s past and although he makes the promise, he breaks it and finds out some disturbing things about the past owners of the home.

A father killed himself and then his daughter a few years before the Holts moved in. Before that, a 16-year-old girl had killed herself when her father forbade her from seeing a man she fell in love with. Many other inexplicable deaths occurred in the home when it was a bed and breakfast as well.

Ewan is awoken at the same time in the middle of the night to a thump and the record player starting up on its own and a strange tapping noise coming from the hallway. Meanwhile, their daughter Maggie complains about Mister Shadow and Miss Penny Face, two entities who seem to haunt her at night, watching her from the giant armoire in her bedroom. The haunting comes to a head two weeks after they move in and they flee in the night without any of their belongings.

Time shifts to 25 years later and Maggie is all grown up with a home restoration business of her own. Her father Ewan has just died. She remembers nothing from their stay in that house. But after running away in the night her father wrote a bestseller called House of Horrors that made the family a lot of money and pretty much ruined Maggie’s life. She was always “that girl who lived in a haunted house.”

At the reading of Ewan’s will, Maggie discovers that her parents never sold Baneberry Hall and her father left it to her. She decides it’s the perfect time to go there, renovate the house and finally find out what happened all those years ago, believing that both of her parents have spent the past 25 years telling her lies about it. Maggie goes to Baneberry Hall and shrugs off the feeling that the house is haunted by saying it’s such an old house of course it’s going to be odd.

But finding answers and the truth isn’t as easy as Maggie thought it’d be. The Ditmers, who used to look after and clean the house still live in a small house on the property. Mrs. Ditmer is old and has dementia and her daughter Hannah takes care or her. Hannah’s older sister Petra disappeared the same night that the Holt family ran away, and she hasn’t been seen since. Some of the talk is that Ewan must have had something to do with it, especially when her bones show up in the house.

Primarily a spooky mystery about the redemption of family and the need to heal the past, Home Before Dark is a damn fine read. Just spooky enough to pull the blankets around my shoulders and take a glimpse under the bed for any, you know, ghosts or dead folk and mysterious enough to have me wanting to hang around until it was solved, Home Before Dark is a book you can lose yourself in for a couple of hours. But make sure you keep that armoire closed and maybe put a two by four in the handles so Mister Shadow and Miss Penny Face can’t get out and watch you sleep.

Spot-Lit for March 2021

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 2021 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2021 Debuts

Side Effects May Include but Aren’t Limited To…

Even though I have a better paying job I still find myself short on cash, enough so that I’ve taken a shallow peek into those medical studies programs. You know the ones: they’ll pay you $1500 to see if a diabetic pill will make your foot rot and fall off or a high blood pressure medication will make your eyes pop out. But hey, at least I’d be compensated for a rotten foot and buggy eyes. One of my favorite sayings is “Why does it cost so much to be alive? I’m not even having a good time.”

In Megan Giddings Lakewood, Lena Johnson knows what I’m talking about. After her beloved grandmother’s funeral, her family finds itself under a mountain of debt due to unpaid hospital bills. Lena’s in college and her own mother is poorly and can’t work, so it’s up to her to find a way to get cash to start paying bills off before they all go under. Lena drops out of college to take care of her mother and the mounting bills. She decides to take a job in the town of Lakewood, Michigan.

The job seems sweet as advertised on paper: high paying, all medical care and prescriptions paid for, free rent while she’s living in the small town. But the real job is being put through the paces of both medical and physical experimentation. She must lie to her family and friends about what she’s doing, sign an NDA stating that there will definitely be criminal and financial penalties for leaving the study early and for divulging just what goes on.

The experiments could be anything: eye drops to turn brown eyes blue (ahem, paging Auschwitz’s Dr. Mengele) or a pill that might cure dementia and chase depression away for good. Lena is given the usual medical spiel about her service in the experiments changing the world (and really, who doesn’t want to hear that they might be involved with something that could potentially change the world for the better?). But what Lena actually participates in is much darker in nature.

What follows is a dreamy novel where life becomes blurry, everything moves at a dreamlike speed, and a history laden with medical experiments on African Americans comes to the surface. The entire time I was reading this book (I seriously couldn’t put it down and would sneak a few pages in between answering work calls) I felt like I was floating through dark clouds, my body rotating as if in molasses, and looking down at a world scattered with unscrupulous monsters saying that the way to save humanity is by brainwashing children into killing their entire families and then writing a paper on it. Boom. That’s how you save the world.

If you want to read a novel where you have absolutely no idea where it’s going the entire time, Lakewood is the one. Even the ending has a dream-like quality that leaves you wondering what happened to this character who took a blue pill, had some kind of fit at her desk, and was whisked away never to be seen again. Lakewood is a thoroughly creepy book. But in a good way. Good creepiness and a terrible uneasiness abound in this novel. Go get it. And I don’t care how hard up for money you are, maybe you should stick to donating plasma and leave the “We can help you lose 80 pounds in 24 hours” experiments alone.

Walk-Ins Welcome

They say that there are many parallel worlds all around us, just out of sight. Who are “they?” I don’t know. Fringe scientists, paranormal armchair detectives, somebody’s crazy Aunt Lulu down in Boca Raton who, some speculate, has been baking in the sun too long.

There is a popular thought that in each of these parallel worlds are versions of ourselves. In one world maybe I finally got off my ass and wrote the novel that would become a best seller. In another world, maybe I became the funeral director I always wanted to be. And maybe in another, someone wanted to marry this mess and procreate with me.

I first came across the term “walk-ins” while reading a Stephen King novel. Yeah. Big surprise. Walk-ins are those who very clearly do not belong in our world. They show up in the middle of a sweltering August heatwave wearing winter jackets 50 years out of date. Or they insist a building was once where a building never stood. There’s just something…off about these walk-ins.

Whew. Having said all that, let’s get to the book I want to tell you about.

In Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood, Alice is a 17-year-old girl always on the run from something looming but unseen with her mother. Her mother Ella doesn’t want them staying in one place for too long, but she’ll never explain why to Alice. Alice has never met her grandmother Althea before but knows that the woman has a rabid cult following because of a book of fairy tales she wrote years ago, set in a place called the Hinterland. Ella refuses to talk about Althea or her popular novel and flew into a rage the one time she caught Alice with a copy of the book.

After having settled for the millionth time in a new place and new school, they get word that Althea has died alone on her estate. The estate’s name? Hazel Wood. Alice has a faint memory of being a young child and being abducted by a man. Not exactly kidnapped in a rough fashion. She willingly went with the man. She was found unharmed and alone. Now, over ten years later, she sees the man again sitting in a café, unchanged, unaged. Something is going on, something hovering-like another world-at the edges of her vision.

Her mother inexplicably vanishes, taken by something or someone. All that’s left is a note in her mother’s handwriting reading “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.” Not damn likely to happen, Alice thinks and with the help of a classmate named Ellery Finch (who is a hardcore fan of Althea’s book of fairytales and has his own reasons for helping Alice out) Alice embarks on a dangerous mission to rescue her mother. A mission which includes slipping through to a world not just made up in the mind of Althea.

What follows is a thorn choked path where everything Alice thought she knew to be true turns out to be false. But will she find her mother and escape the strange fairytale world and make it back to her world? Will she be the same person? Are any of us the same person at the end of a magnificent and harrowing adventure? Not damn likely.

Spot-Lit for August 2020

Spot-Lit didn’t run for a few months due to the coronavirus, the library closure, and disruption in the publishing world, but we’re glad to be back.

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

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

I do not usually read scary books nor books about people having psychological crises. And yet…

Southern Book Club

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix is a scary book about a woman facing a mental breakdown. Initially I expected humor, and there is indeed a bit. Early on Patricia (the main character) encounters the inexplicable when an elderly neighbor, who’s found eating a mangled raccoon, attacks her and bites off her ear. We don’t know why the old woman acts this way, but the book’s title does include the word vampire so… assumptions could be made. This situation struck me as humorous (which might reflect more on me than on the author’s intent). You know, old woman in night clothes eating raccoon intestines and attacking a much younger woman. Ha. Ha ha ha.

What attracted me to the book, aside from my misassumption that it was a funny story, was the prose; it got good words. And the setting is an idyllic southern community in the 1990s, a place where people know their neighbors, help each other and don’t lock their doors. Mythical America. As a child of the 1970s suburbs, I’ve always found small town bonhomie an appealing concept. Patricia’s Charleston neighborhood is as good as it gets. Yet just under the veneer of perfection, housewives struggle with boredom, lack of appreciation, second-class status.

Patricia is especially susceptible to these issues. Her husband is seldom home leaving her to raise the kids, keep the household going and take care of her dementia-ridden mother-in-law. She is not happy with her lot in life. The arrival of James Harris, great-nephew of the elderly ear biter, is a happy distraction for her. He treats her nicely, seems genuinely interested in who she is. But, just so things don’t get too normal, the mother-in-law starts rambling incoherently about Harris having a different name and killing her father some 60 years earlier. While looking exactly the same as he does now.

Say it with me: Vampire.

But one of the things I loved about this book is that we’re never entirely sure if Harris is a vampire or if Patricia is losing touch with reality. Author Hendrix does an excellent job of leaving both possibilities viable. Until the end where we find out… well, you’ll just have to read the book.

The potential vampire is plugged into modern society brilliantly. No fangs, no death by sunlight, no fear of holy water. He charms people not with mental abilities but by helping them gain money and power. He insinuates himself into the close-knit society until his own position is one of power. While Patricia does witness some events that make her think Harris is a vampire, friends and family mercilessly mock her and attack her sanity, leading Patricia to question her own memories and perceptions.

Horrorstor

After completing this disturbing story I discovered that the author also wrote Horrorstör, another vaguely funny largely troubling book I read some years back, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. So I’m declaring Grady Hendrix an author you might well enjoy. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is hitting the shelves any day now. Don’t be the last kid on your block to scream in terror when… well, you’ll just have to read the book.

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.