Processed Cheese by Stephen Wright

Wow! Stephen Wright has a way with words!

People’s names: Graveyard, MisterMenu, Ambience, SideEffects, Carousel, Roulette, LemonChiffon, CarnyDoll, CyberLawn, CartWheel, and FancyPants

Places: House of Sweet Delay (perfume store), GutterBalm (makeup store), AlleyOops (clothing store), TooGoodForYou (the up-town shopping district), BurnishMe Island (vacation spot)

These are just a few examples of the unusual names of people and places in Wright’s new book Processed Cheese. They made it really fun to read.

Basically, the story starts with the character Graveyard walking home and a bag of money falling from the sky. He and his wife Ambience go on a spending spree (I mean really, wouldn’t you?) and eventually MisterMenu traces the bag of money his wife threw from his high-rise window to Graveyard and tries to get it back…

It was entertaining to see the lengths that MisterMenu went to try and get it back, and the extremes that Graveyard goes to avoid him.

Does he get the money back or not? You will have to read this astonishing book to find out!

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

The Best Books of 2019

With the year rapidly drawing to a close, it is time to reflect on the past year. Here at the library, of course, that means talking about all the great books we have read. Our full list of recommendations (including fiction, non-fiction, young adult and children’s books) has already been released, but some of us can’t help but want to tell you more. Here are a few select reviews from our best of list written by our dedicated and always reading staff.

Alan:

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

From one of the best mystery writers of our time, the modern Agatha Christie, comes a suspense-filled epistolary tale of a nanny hired at a posh, remote estate in the Scottish Highlands. Idyllic until things take a turn for the darker. In a series of letters to an attorney, the facts of the case are revealed as our narrator unravels, and we wonder how reliable she is…

Chaz:

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

The solution to information overload is to be mindful with how and why you interact and engage with technology. Does it serve your essential and personal goals?  Can you achieve the same result without using the technology? Cal Newport explores a philosophy of digital minimalism that fits this time of life.

I Will Teach You to be Rich by Ramit Sethi

How much time do you spend learning about money? 10 hours? 1 hour? None? Actively avoid thinking about it? The title may seem off-putting, as if it were some kind of get-rich-quick scheme, but on the contrary, Ramit teaches the long game of growing wealth over time. This requires taking an honest look at your finances and spending habits, and making a clear budget for money to have fun with (guilt free!). Where is the motivation in saving money for 40 years if you can’t enjoy some of it in the meantime?  Ramit provides a simple framework for understanding where you’re at with money, both mentally and financially. He shows how you should focus your resources to maximize debt reduction and wealth creation.  Through the book, you grow your self-understanding and are able to make a plan that will lead you confidently into the future.

Indistractable by Nir Eyal

There are many dozens of definitions for distraction, but Nir Eyal has got to have one of the most useful ones. He says that a distraction is anything that keeps you from fulfilling your word. This book is a manual for empowerment- teaching the importance of honoring your word and with this, growing respect for yourself. Did I say that I can peruse Instagram, or did I already commit to working in the garden Saturday morning? Nir provides a simple method for self-empowerment with many examples and situations to draw from.

Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller

Is Dave Ramsey the best personal finance expert in the world? Probably not, so why is he the most successful? It’s because he has the clearest message: financial peace. Donald Miller explores the 7 elements that make up a story and how businesses can clarify their message and invite customers into the story. The business is the guide – the customer is the hero. What is the story?

Eileen:

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

Arthur believes in romance and signs from the universe. When his heart skips a beat at the sight of Ben at the post office and then a magical flash mob proposal breaks out, he believes. Ben, however, does not believe in signs. The box of items he’s mailing back to his ex is clear evidence that the universe has nothing for him. But what if there’s more to the universe than both of them see?

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Fifteen year old Will knows the rules: no crying, no snitching, and it’s up to him to avenge his brother’s murder. With a gun shoved in his waistband, he takes the elevator from the seventh floor to fulfill his role. But the elevator door opens on the sixth floor, and in walks a dead man.

Stand on the Sky by Erin Bow

Aisulu’s dream of eagle hunting goes against the Kazakh tradition that restricts training to men. When her parents take her ill brother to a distant hospital, she’s left with a strange aunt and uncle- and an orphaned eagle to rescue.

Linda (click on the links to Linda’s review for each title):

The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

Lisa:

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is one of those books that you cruise through in a couple reads because it is just that hard to put down. Imagine if Cinderella was set in rural Jazz Age Mexico, only instead of a benevolent fairy godmother, it is the deposed Mayan god of death who changes our young heroine’s life. Instead of being carried away in a beautiful enchanted pumpkin carriage, she is bound to the former lord of the underworld when a sliver of his bone embeds in her hand and her blood reanimates his corpse. Far from being a maiden needing to be rescued, our heroine, Casiopea Tun must not only save herself, but save the entire world from falling into a new age of darkness on Earth should she fail to defeat the schemes of the reigning god of death, Vucub-Kame. I hope you enjoy this amazing mix of Maya folklore, Mexican culture, drama, and historical fiction, as much as I did.

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval by Saidiya Hartman is an incredible work of historical research and non-fiction writing. Hartman is able to strike a satisfying balance between heavily-footnoted academic, and very personal and engaging narrative writing styles. The personal stories and photographs used illustrate in a very relatable way, what life was like for Black women in Philadelphia and New York City at the turn of the century. Each chapter is a revelation that challenges what we commonly believe about Victorian life, and the way that women were allowed to move about their worlds. Hartman uses expert research and storytelling skills to give voices to women who were only brief news stories, or even nameless photographs in the historical record. These histories are often overlooked but should never be undervalued in terms of what they can tell us about the history of women’s rights, the struggles Black women faced during the Great Migration, and the wide variety of ways that Black urban women were making lives for themselves during a very turbulent time. I found myself having to re-read pages to make sure I didn’t miss a single detail

Margo:

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

I loved this story. My 83-year-old mom loved this story! It made me laugh and it made me cry.

Quoting from a New York Times Book Review author Mary Beth Keane states “No one ever plans to become estranged.” This profound truth sets the stage for a thought-provoking novel delving into how one deals with injustice, pain, and deception especially when it happens in your own family.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope meet each other on the job in the NYPD. The young rookie cops work at a precinct in the Bronx. Francis meets and falls in love with Lena. Wanting to raise a family, the couple moves out of the city and into the suburbs. Several years later the Stanhope family move in next store, but there is a breach of some sort. Brian’s wife Anne is standoffish. The relationship that buds, however, is between Gleeson’s youngest daughter Kate and Stanhope’s only child Peter. Kate and Peter become best friends.

Set in the 1970’s when mental illness and addiction were subjects rarely discussed, Keane paints a portrait of two very different families with Irish Catholic roots whose lives become entwined. Layered with complex characters, a story of love, sorrow, tragedy, and ultimately, forgiveness unfolds.

Transcending time and generation, the story is timely and relevant. In an age where offenses are taken, and misunderstandings fueled by bitterness lead to many broken relationships, Ask Again, Ask offers hope.

Mindy:

Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg

In many ways, this is a familiar story about a woman struggling to balance her photography career and creative ambition as a single mother. However, the storytelling is completely original, as it unfolds in the form of a photography exhibit catalog curated by the woman’s daughter. The imagery is so vivid that you almost feel like you’re seeing the photographs instead of words on a page.

Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer

Flight Portfolio is the fictionalized story of Varian Fry, a real historical figure who covertly rescued countless Jewish artists and their works from the Nazis. I’m not usually a big reader of historical fiction, but I’m a big fan of this author and her richly imagined characters and exquisite writing.

Susan:

The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins

I adored this book! It starts strong and remains strong to the very end. This is magical realism in a small southern town in the vein of Sarah Addison Allen but with a charm all its own. Sarah Dove is the seventh daughter of the Dove family, an old family in town whose daughters all have magic. Sarah’s magic is that books talk to her, telling her which person in town needs to read them. As the town librarian, she makes sure each book gets to the right person. Such a lovely idea! Sadly, her beloved small town of Dove Pond is failing. The population is dwindling, they have no jobs for the young people, and most of the downtown storefronts are vacant. People are worried. Luckily, the town lore is that whenever the Dove family has seven daughters something good happens for the town. As a seventh daughter, Sarah has always thought she would save the town, but she has no idea how to do that. Then Grace Wheeler, broke and with crushing family responsibilities, comes to town and Sarah realizes that it is her job to befriend Grace and help Grace save the town. This is a lovely novel of friendship, family, belonging and finding home.

Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

The serial killer isn’t on trial. He’s on the jury. That’s the premise for this totally original legal thriller by Irish author Steve Cavanagh. What’s the best way to get away with murder? Have someone else convicted of the crime. What’s the best way to have someone else convicted of the crime? Make sure you (the killer) are on the jury! I’m a big fan of this author, and this is his best legal thriller yet.

Theresa:

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray

They say one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but an interesting title always attracts me. The title of Anissa Gray’s debut novel grabbed my attention and her writing held it. The book begins with the stunning arrest of Althea and Proctor, a well-respected couple in their community. As her sisters struggle with their disbelief at the arrest of their eldest sister, and with caring for their nieces, what happened and how is revealed through the separate stories of those involved. This is primarily a character driven novel, with a dash of mystery on the side.

 

Spare Parts

Where was this book when I was a teenager? Oh yeah. It wasn’t written yet and I was already more than obsessed with the works of Stephen King. If ever I needed a manifesto (and not in a creepy way: there’s no dog-eared Catcher in the Rye nestled in any of my coat pockets) it would be Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl. Shuffling and stubbing my toes into my 40s, I still need a guide to help me see who I am and who I’m becoming. It’s a process I still haven’t acquired a taste for, like lima beans or small talk. But Johanna Morrigan is my new hero.

It’s 1990 and 14-year-old Johanna Morrigan lives in a small town in England with her exasperating family. Her family is on government benefits because of her father’s ‘back pain.’ None of the children can tell anyone they’re on benefits because questions would be asked, such as “Didn’t I see your father bent over a car in the driveway the other day? I thought he was physically unfit to wield a wrench?” Johanna’s father thinks he’s going to make millions as a rock star (what do you call a musician without a girlfriend? Homeless) and her mother is in postpartum decline from giving birth to twins. Johanna slips up one day while talking to an elderly neighbor and mentions the benefits. She realizes she’s put her family in financial peril. She waits every day by the mailbox to intercept any official letters saying the family’s benefits have been cut off.

Johanna always had a knack for writing and decides to write a poem for a contest. She wins and along with a tidy sum of money, she gets to read her poem on live TV.  She bombs so badly, humiliates herself so roundly, that she decides to become someone else. She creates an alter ego and gives herself the name Dolly Wilde. Wilde after Oscar Wilde, the decadent and naughty writer who once said: if you find yourself in the gutter, roll over and look at the stars. Johanna stumbles onto a job writing for a music magazine which involves going to clubs as well as interviewing up and coming and already established bands. For a kid who’s always immersed herself in words and music, this is a dream job. Her first essay is about a popular singer named John Kite and it reads like a mushy fangirl letter. The two have a connection that will span several years.

Two years pass and a now 16-year-old Johanna/Dolly Wilde is an old hand at interviewing bands. She dresses as a goth and often wears a top hat cocked at an angle. She’s aware that she is a chubby small-town girl, but it doesn’t stop her. She begins to smoke like a chimney, get drunk, and go on liberating sexual adventures where she convinces herself she uses her sexual partners just as much as they use her. There is no falling in love. Life is just one experience after another. She’s also financially supporting her family now and drops out of school to devote all her time to writing.

She indeed becomes someone else entirely. She uses her writing gift to eviscerate bands, making many enemies. A man in a band that got a less than favorable review from her dumps a drink on her head, saying he wanted to pour his urine over her head instead. Dolly laughs it off, telling herself that’s what happens when you’re a truthful writer. Things begin to change when one of her sexual escapades involves another writer at the magazine. She starts to think of him as her boyfriend, only to overhear him describe her as a ‘piece of strange’ meaning she’s from the wrong side of the tracks and he’s slumming it. It’s like a light bulb goes off in her head (or completely shatters, sending glass shards through her brain) and she realizes Dolly Wilde isn’t who she is. While Dolly served her purpose, she now knows that she is Johanna Morrigan:

But one day you’ll find a version of you that will get you kissed, or befriended, or inspired, and you will make your notes accordingly, staying up all night to hone and improvise upon a tiny snatch of melody that worked. Until-slowly, slowly-you make a viable version of you, one you can hum every day. You’ll find the tiny, right piece of grit you can pearl around, until nature kicks in, and your shell will just quietly fill with magic, even while you’re busy doing other things.

As Johanna makes these life changing realizations, she pulls another humiliating stunt by getting drunk with John Kite and professing her overwhelming love for him. She doesn’t remember much from that night except for spilling her guts to him and him going off to sleep in the bathtub:

Since I met you, I feel like I can see the operating system of the world-and its unrequited love. That is why everyone’s doing everything. Every book, opera house, moon shot, and manifesto is here because someone, somewhere, lit up silent when someone else came into the room, and then quietly burned when they didn’t notice them.

Now older, Johanna sees that her parents did their best with what they had. Her father with his outrageous schemes and blind faith in himself, her ghost of a mother just beginning to surface from her depression with the help of an antidepressant cocktail, Johanna sees them as two people doing their best:

They made you how they want you. They made you how they need you. They built you with all they know, and love-and so they can’t see what you’re not: all the gaps you feel leave you vulnerable. All the new possibilities only imagined by your generation, and nonexistent to theirs.

And finally, I wish I had heard (known) this going into my late teens:

And you will be quite on your own when you do all this. There is no academy where you can learn to be yourself; there is no line manager slowly urging you toward the correct answer. You are midwife to yourself, and will give birth to yourself, over and over, in dark rooms, alone.

Not just a coming of age tale, How to Build a Girl is an anthem sending a call to all humans to pick through the flotsam and jetsam of who they are, dig for the seeming detritus and know it for what it is: they key to becoming who you are and who you need to be.

Thanks for reading. I gotta go write a book. I’m going to title it How to Put Back Together a Middle-Aged Woman.

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

Hoarder’s Delight

A dozen years ago my mother flew to California to help my grandma pack up her tiny apartment and move into an assisted living home. Now, my grandma wasn’t the classic definition of a hoarder. There were no precarious stacks of yellowed newspapers or National Geographic magazines going back to the 1940s lying around. Grandma Flower was more of a pack rat: squirreling away slips of paper she’d scribbled on or pretty papers that caught her fancy, even if she never looked at them again.

During the visit, my mom and grandma sat on the couch watching television. My mom studied my grandma as she ripped a piece of Kleenex into tiny pieces and shoved them down the side of the couch. “Hey mom, why are you doing that, why are you tucking pieces of Kleenex into the sides of the couch?” My mom asked gently. Bewildered (and no doubt embarrassed about someone witnessing her little ritual) my grandma spat out “I just don’t know, Linda!” Now my brother and I yell it at each other when we catch each other doing something downright goofy.

In T. Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones, Mouse’s aging father asks her to clear out her deceased grandmother’s home in rural North Carolina. Mouse thinks, why not? She’s a freelance editor and can work anywhere. Plus, her father said whatever the house sells for she can keep. Mouse and her hound dog Bongo head to North Carolina. How bad could the old woman’s place be since the last two years of her life were spent in a retirement home?

Turns out, pretty damn bad. The house is crammed with the junk of a long life; a house of nonsense collections of items her grandmother couldn’t throw out. Had her grandmother been a kind and warm person, the task might have been a terrible emotional war, but Mouse’s grandmother was nothing but mean with a cruel streak ten miles wide. Instead of taking only a few days, Mouse realizes it’s going to take weeks to clear the house out, especially when she finds a room dedicated solely to her grandma’s creepy doll collection.

She picks out the most livable looking room to stay in and finds a journal written by her step-grandfather. She barely remembers the man. He was mostly a quiet person who read the newspaper all day. As Mouse reads through the journal, she starts to wonder if he had been in the active stages of dementia. He mentions marrying Mouse’s grandmother because ‘They’ steer clear of her. There was something about her that ‘They’ despised and avoided.

He mentions his birthplace in Wales and wonders if ‘They’ crossed the ocean with him. Because really, the old gods and creatures, whose only joy lies within darkness, like to follow humans wherever they go. They’re like ancient pop stars who fear being left behind and made irrelevant. Cotgrave, her step-grandfather, had a mantra he repeated to himself to keep ‘Them’ away: I made faces like the faces in the rocks, and I twisted myself about like the twisted ones, and I lay down flat on the ground like the dead ones.

Mouse finds the sing-song chant creepy but chalks it up to an old man whose mind was beginning to sour. In the following days making trips to the dump (bye bye terrifying dolls) the chant begins to roam through her mind more and more. One night she’s awoken by her dog Bongo who is growling at the window. Mouse looks out to see deer crossing the front lawn except one of them seems disfigured, its legs bent at odd angles. Pretty weird but nothing to be afraid of.

Taking a break from cleaning one afternoon, she takes Bongo for a walk in the woods. The house itself is out in the boonies with a couple of neighbors down the road. Mouse and Bongo follow a trail only to discover something grotesque hanging from a tree. It looks like a deer, but the skull is upside down and pieces of it seem to be held together with wires and strips of cloth. Is it alive in that tree and watching her? It makes a clicking sound: rocks hanging in its chest knock against rib bones, like wind chimes from the deepest reaches of hell.

Mouse and Bongo almost break a land speed record running back to the house. After a fright, humans are good at rationalization, our brains making excuses for what has been seen. But that night she’s woken again by Bongo’s growl. The thing she saw hanging from a tree is at her window and looking at her. There’s no explaining that one. Mouse fears she might be losing her mind.

She’s made friends with people down the road, people her grandmother labeled sneeringly as hippies. Foxy is head of the household, a woman in her late fifties and far from a hippie. More like Annie Oakley, target shooting over her shoulder using only a mirror. Mouse tells her everything that’s been happening and Foxy’s not surprised. She says there has always been spooky happenings in the woods and even more remote places. People don’t talk about it much and treat it like a biting insect: if we don’t bother it, it won’t bother us.

Not really relieved to hear that otherworldly creatures exist and people just accept it, Mouse is ready to pack up her dog and go back home. Her father gave her an easy out. If cleaning out the house was unimaginable, then it could be bulldozed and the land cleared. But before Mouse can make her getaway, Bongo disappears. There’s no way Mouse will leave without him. Foxy invites herself along on the search, because what lies on the edge of their known world is a different and uninviting world.

This was a unique book that brought old customs and beliefs into this century, along with a compulsively relatable friendship between a woman and her dog. Great. Now I can’t see a deer without imaging its skull pressed against my window, watching me. I’d better twist myself about like the twisted ones. Maybe that will help.

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.