America Undone

It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel….a little itchy and anxious to be honest.

It is possible that I enjoyed myself an inappropriate amount while reading Omar El Akkad’s American War. The title probably betrays this fact, but this is not exactly a delightful romp. Set in the late 21st Century during the second Civil War, this novel 32283423presents an upsetting and eerily plausible portrayal of our near future. Ostensibly this war is fought over a national ban on fossil fuels, but the roots of the conflict creep far deeper into the national psyche, playing on centuries old resentments and cultural differences (but good news – “proud, pacifist Cascadia” is far from the front lines).

American War follows the life of a young woman named Sarat, born into a chaotic South devastated by flooding, famine, war, and the worst elements of humanity. Sarat spends her formative years in a refugee camp, witnessing both the fanatical partisanship of the Southern rebels and the cruel indifference of the Northern war machine. As Sarat grows older, she finds herself drawn into the war that has defined her existence, becoming an agent of death that will help shape history and bring about grave and devastating consequences.

So, yeah, I realize that doesn’t sound terribly cheery, but El Akkad’s deft narrative style sucked me deep into this novel. By mixing Sarat’s story with government dispatches, oral reports, written records and other “source material,” American War had the feel of an upsetting historical account. At the same time I found myself without context, unsure of how events would unfold and where bias existed in the presentation, but still burdened by the full knowledge of these events terrible impact.

Station_Eleven_CoverPerhaps I have a morbid streak as I have always enjoyed dark and disastrous accounts of imagined futures. For me, the immediate comparison for American War is Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Like American War, Station Eleven presents our future in stark and frightening terms – it follows a travelling Shakespearean troupe in the years after a viral pandemic devastates humanity, leaving only scattered pockets of survivors in its wake. It also shares American War’s storytelling technique, incorporating various source materials from before, during, and after the height of the catastrophe.

World_War_Z_book_coverI feel compelled to also mention World War Z, by Max Brooks. Please don’t judge this book because of the movie based on it. Designed to be read as an oral history, each section is narrated by a different survivor of a zombie apocalypse, describing responses and containment attempts by different groups across the globe. With this narrative Brooks crafts a book that is as much a consideration of international relations as it is a zombie novel. Rather than a work of horror, this is a novel of logistics and strategy in the face of terrible catastrophe. If you enjoy audiobooks, this title makes a particularly great listen as many talented and diverse voices were cast to portray the book’s narrators.

unwindNow, I’m a Youth Services Librarian and I just talked about three ADULT novels, so I have to plug some YA. The Unwind series by Neal Shusterman takes place after a second American civil war fought over reproductive rights. When partisan militias fight to a stalemate, a compromise is reached. Though abortion is outlawed, unwanted children between ages 13 and 18 can be “unwound,” a process through which they are physically dismantled and recycled for transplants. The justification for this macabre policy is that every part of the unwound teenagers is reused, and therefore the body lives on. I realize that this premise sounds as absurd as it is disgusting, but Shusterman is a masterful writer and takes the time to illustrate how this policy slowly developed at the hands of well-meaning policy makers. By the end of the series it feels a little too plausible for my comfort.

ashfallpb_hiresMike Mullin’s Ashfall also does a superb job portraying societal collapse. Ashfall follows a teen after the (very real) supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park erupts. Spoiler alert: things don’t go well unless you’re a fan of sunless days, endless winter, famine, and roving gangs of cannibals. Despite a whole lot of death and destruction, this is an enjoyable and ultimately hopeful series. Scientists confidently assert that this supervolcano won’t erupt anytime soon. Probably.

136471._SX1280_QL80_TTD_Finally, before I leave to ponder our impending ruin, I just want to mention one graphic novel. Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra follows a twenty something slacker named Yorick and his pet monkey after a mysterious virus leaves them the only two living males of any species. Chaos quickly ensues and it is awesome.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short walk from “great book” to “WE’RE ALL DOOMED.” If you need me, I’ll be taking deep breaths and either hiding under a desk or stockpiling canned goods.

The Female of the Species

This is how I kill someone.

I learn his habits, I know his schedule. It is not difficult. His life consists of quick stops at the dollar store for the bare minimum of things required to keep his ragged cycle going, his hat pulled down over his eyes so as not to be recognized.

But he is. It’s a small town.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for opening lines. The above quote, which opens Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species, is narrated by Alex Craft, a teenager in a small Ohio town hit hard by recession and harder by opioid addiction. The soon-to-be-victim that Alex is stalking is the man who abducted, raped and killed her older sister three years prior. Due to a lack of evidence, police cannot make charges stick. Thus, the killer walks free until Alex takes ferocious justice into her own hands.

femalespeciesAmazingly, in a small town with no secrets, Alex gets away with murder. People are satisfied that a vigilante “made things right,” and the killer’s death evolves from recent crime to urban legend. But for Alex, this act of savage violence bears its own costs. Though she feels no guilt, she remains overcome with rage and views herself as deeply damaged. To protect others and herself, Alex withdraws, keeping to herself whenever possible. However, during her senior year of high school two classmates threaten her seclusion. Peekay, the local preacher’s daughter and Jack, the closest thing the town has to a golden child, are both drawn to Alex and determined to bring her into their lives. As Alex begins to care for Peekay and Jack, she feels a fierce need to protect them, bringing her anger back to the surface with explosive and violent effects.

At times, The Female of the Species is deeply upsetting. McGinnis does not shy away from uncomfortable subjects including addiction, sexual assault, rape culture, and the unequal expectations society places on young men and women. McGinnis gives her characters the voice to skewer hypocrisy with devastating precision, as when Alex observes: “But boys will be boys, our favorite phrase that excuses so many things, while the only thing we have for the opposite gender is women, said with disdain and punctuated with an eye roll.”

The Female of the Species rewards readers willing to grapple with these difficult issues by masterfully blending genres. McGinnis seamlessly maintains the intensity of a psychological thriller while incorporating elements of a contemporary coming of age story and flirting with classical tragedy. As the story unfolds, told from the alternating perspectives of Alex, Peekay and Jack, Alex is revealed to be an incredibly complex young woman whose intensity, ferocity and loyalty are equally mesmerizing and terrifying.

Spot-Lit for August 2015

Spot-Lit

An embarrassment of riches is coming your way in August (and it’s a shame that many worthy contenders had to be left off this list).

See in particular The Journey by Sergio Pitol, considered by those in the know to be one of the greatest living Spanish language writers (this is the second book in his Trilogy of Memory which is being translated this year into English for the first time).

Adventurous readers might also want to check out the Complete Stories by the great Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector.

Best Boy, by Eli Gottlieb, delivers a moving look at autism in middle age.

Haruki Murakami fans get a pair of early works (long out of print), and new books are on the way by popular authors Alice Hoffman, Louise Penny and Ivan Doig (the novel he completed just before his death earlier this year).

Cozy fans can reconnect with Simon Brett’s Mrs. Pargeter after a sixteen-year absence, and readers of creepier crime fiction might consider Karin Fossum’s The Drowned Boy.

For a dark, cataclysmic fantasy take a look at N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season.

Readers looking for new talent might want to try Drunken Botanist author Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits with Gun, Vu Tran’s thriller Dragonfish, or Lauren Holmes collection of stories about navigating the new adult world, Barbara the Slut.

Of course there’s more I haven’t mentioned – click on the book cover montage below to see all the titles in the list, read reviews or place holds.

montageNotable New Fiction 2015 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

Spot-Lit for November 2014

Spot-Lit

Here are some of November’s fiction releases you may want to have on your radar. Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction  

Book of STrangeMermaids in ParadiseUsMap of BetrayalLet Me Be Frank with You

The Book of Strange New Things  by Michel Faber
Mermaids in Paradise  by Lydia Millet
Us  by David Nicholls
A Map of Betrayal  by Ha Jin
Let Me Be Frank with You  by Richard Ford

First Novels / Fiction

Bed of NailsPetite MortBad CountryForty DaysPreparation

Bed of Nails  by Antonin Varenne
Petite Mort  by Beatrice Hitchman
Bad Country  by C.B. McKenzie
Forty Days without Shadow  by Olivier Truc
Preparation for the Next Life  by Atticus Lish

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Burning RoomWink of an EyeKiller Next DoorMidnight PlanMurder of Harriet Krohn

The Burning Room  by Michael Connelly
Wink of an Eye  by Lynn Chandler-Willis
The Killer Next Door  by Alex Marwood
The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man  by W. Bruce Cameron
The Murder of Harriet Krohn  by Karin Fossum

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Three-BodyPeripheralDreamer's PoolRevival

The Three-Body Problem  by Cixin Liu
The Peripheral  by William Gibson
Dreamer’s Pool  by Juliet Marillier
Revival  by Stephen King

Romance

Before We FallAll Broke DownBlood MagickKraken King

Before We Fall  by Courtney Cole
All Broke Down  by Cora Carmack
Blood Magick  by Nora Roberts
The Kraken King  by Meljean Brook

 To see all on-order fiction, click here.

Spot-Lit for October 2014

Spot-Lit

Every month our fiction buyer scours the new fiction landscape and presents here a curated list of some of the most anticipated new releases based on advance review praise, publisher enthusiasm, library- and lit-crowd blogs, and other sources (some well below the radar).

Here are a few highlights from this month’s installment:

  • Garth Stein, past Everett Reads author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, has a new novel out, A Sudden Light – a Puget Sound-set, coming-of-age ghost story.
  • It Won’t Always Be This Great, Seinfeld writer Peter Mehlman’s first novel, came out in mid-September so this is cheating a bit (it just sounds too good to not highlight) – but take a look at the other stellar debuts too.
  • The Zone of Interest, Martin Amis’s new holocaust novel is being called brilliant, audacious, and haunting, and it’s stirring up controversy in France and Germany.
  • Among returning favorites you’ll find new books from Jane Smiley, Marilynne Robinson and Debbie Macomber, and from crime fiction stars John Grisham and John Sandford.
  • Additionally in the mystery genre, Felix Francis really hits his stride in Damage, the latest in his continuation of his father’s horse-racing series.

Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction  

Zone of InterestSudden LightLilaSome LuckHuman Body

The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
A Sudden Light  by Garth Stein
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
Some Luck by Jane Smiley
The Human Body by Paolo Giordano

First Fiction

WallcreeperMurder at the BrightwellLife We BuryIt Won't AlwaysFour Corners

The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink
Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver
The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
It Won’t Always Be This Great by Peter Mehlman
The Four Corners of Palermo by Giuseppe Di Piazza

Crime Fiction /Suspense

click to enlargeTruth Be ToldGray MountainDealineDamage

Quartet for the End of Time by Johanna Skibsrud
Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan
Gray Mountain by John Grisham
Deadline by John Sandford
Dick Francis’s Damage by Felix Francis

SF / Fantasy

Ancillary SwordDie and Stay DeadBlood of AngelsFalling SkyShotgun Arcana

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Die and Stay Dead by Nicholas Kaufmann
The Blood of Angels by Johanna Sinisalo
Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna
The Shotgun Arcana by R.S. Belcher

Romance

ScratchAt BluebonnetRowdyMr MiracleAmerican Duchess

Scratch by Rhonda Helms
At Bluebonnet Lake by Amanda Cabot
Rowdy by Jay Crownover
Mr. Miracle by Debbie Macomber
An American Duchess  by Sharon Page

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

It’s Time to Get Romantic

Romance. Erotica. What comes to mind when you read these words? Do you think of the “pinkies” in the Large Type collection? Harlequin romances your mom used to read? Fifty Shades of Grey? Romance is all of that and so much more.

I unabashedly admit proclaim being a romance reader and enjoy sharing with you the best of the best every year when I cover the RITAs. The RITAs are selected by the Romance Writers of America every year at their annual conference. The category descriptions have one thing in common: the romance titles they list are emotionally satisfying and optimistic. This is also known as the main reason Carol reads romance in the first place.

This year’s winners were announced at the end of July but I was still trying to snap out of the lovely trance The Boys in the Boat had woven around me. Now I’m a bit back to normal and happy to link you to this year’s winners:

No Good Duke - MacLeanBest First Book Winner
The Sweet Spot by Laura Drake

Contemporary Romance Winner
Crazy Thing Called Love by Molly O’Keefe

Erotic Romance Winner
Claim Me by J. Kenner

Historical Romance Winner
No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean

Inspirational Romance Winner
Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano

Claim Me - KennerParanormal Romance Winner
The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Romance Novella Winner
Take Me, Cowboy by Jane Porter

Romantic Suspense Winner
Off the Edge by Carolyn Crane

Short Contemporary Romance Winner
Why Resist a Rebel? by Leah Ashton

You’ll notice I didn’t include a link for every title. That’s because the library is working on purchasing them, but they’re not yet in the catalog. If you’re interested, feel free to talk to a librarian. Let them know it’s now an award winner and that Carol sent ya.

RWA also awards a Librarian of the Year to someone who demonstrates outstanding support of romance authors and the romance genre. This year’s librarian of the year is Sean Gilmartin from The Anythink Library in Thornton, Colorado. Sean did a wonderful write-up of his experience in USA Today that you should totally go read. Like, right now. He’s also a writer, so keep your eyes open for his name on the shelves of the Romance section in the future.

Obsidian - ArmentroutI learned from Carol Ritter, Deputy Executive Director of RWA, that this year there weren’t enough entries in the YA category, so as a result there was no winner. I classify this as a major bummer and hope that next year will be different. Carol also said there aren’t any plans at this time to add an NA category to the RITAs, but I speculate that may change in the future as its popularity continues to rise. What is NA? While many people recognize YA standing for young adult, not everyone has caught on to NA, or new adult. NA is similar to YA in that the characters are of a certain age. But in NA’s case the age group is closer to college-aged. Characters aren’t in high school anymore, but they’re also not exactly established in their careers yet. They’re just starting out on their own, and as they explore their worlds these books get to the core of what it’s like to really fall hard for someone for the first time. The romantic elements tend to be more explicit in NA than in YA, but both usually contain a fair amount of emotional turmoil and fresh-faced discovery.

Frigid - J LynnCan’t decide which to explore first? I will ease you into it by suggesting you read anything and everything written by Jennifer L. Armentrout (YA) aka J. Lynn (NA). Jennifer is one of the most prolific writers of our time, and more importantly, her books are good. I mean, really, really good. You will care and cry and laugh and swoon for her characters. You will identify and connect with someone in your life who has read her and find yourself talking about the little quirks the characters have, and what you hope does or does not happen in the series conclusion. And when you’ve devoured her stories and are waiting for the next to be published, she tweets behind-the-scenes descriptions of what life is really like for a writer. She champions self-published authors, since she started out as one, and will express her joy at a book she’s read and enjoyed during those rare moments of free time. She interacts directly with fans and one of her best collections of photos is with fans at book signings & conferences.

So far, I have devoured all but the ending to The Lux series, which is classified as YA. I’ve been waiting until I have a bit more uninterrupted free time to read the conclusion. It has romance, action and adventure, and a Sci-Fi twist: aliens! Last week The Lux series cracked the NY Times YA Series list at number 4. As a thank you, Jennifer posted a bonus passage for Lux fans who have completed the series that catches up with the characters a few years later. I can’t read it just yet but am excited know it’s there, waiting for me.

My first taste of NA was Frigid, followed immediately by Wait for You. The plot of Frigid is a variation on my favorite theme, friends who become more than just friends. Wait for You centers on a woman who faces her internal demons while working toward a brighter future. At the time I wasn’t aware that either book would be part of a series, so now I can look forward to falling further into obsession love with the characters and settings!

For me, the best part of reading romance is knowing there is a happy ending waiting at the conclusion of the book. It’s something I can count on, something I can look forward to experiencing. We can all use a little bit of happy in our lives, and that’s why I will never tire of reading romance. And, dear reader, I will never tire of telling you why you need to read it as well.