Spot-Lit for April 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

A Quiet Apocalypse

Books and movies depicting the apocalypse have a tendency to go big. I understand that the end of civilization would be a pretty big deal, but does it always have to be so dramatic? Be it zombies, plague, natural disaster or aliens, ‘the end’ comes storming onto the scene and everyone runs screaming. Because of this, I’ve always appreciated works that depict the world’s upcoming doom as just one event among many in a character’s everyday life. It just seems more realistic to me. Admittedly, wanting realism when it comes to the apocalypse might seem a bit odd. But hey, I am what I am.

In Severance by Ling Ma, the apocalypse is a quiet one. It takes the form of Shen Fever, which is a highly contagious disease, turning people into zombies but not the bloodthirsty brain eating kind. Instead, Shen Fever is a ‘disease of remembering’ that renders its victims harmless, but doomed to repeat the routines they performed in life, until they slowly waste away. But even this catastrophic event is not the center of the book. Instead, it is the life of the protagonist Candace that is of most importance.

Alternating between Candace’s life before and after the pandemic, you come to know her as a quirky twenty-something coming to terms with a world that is drastically altered, yet strangely the same. Before the pandemic, she works for a Manhattan book publisher in the ‘specialty Bibles division’ and lives with her on again off again boyfriend Jonathan in Brooklyn. Both have vague artistic ambitions, but Candace has resigned herself to a more mundane job to pay the bills. Once Shen Fever hits the city, and the number of people in her office slowly starts to decline, she actually has a chance to indulge her creative side. She founds the blog NY Ghost and captures haunting images of an empty New York City for those who have fled.

Once things really start to fall apart, with food and the internet in short supply, she is forced to leave and try to find a new way of living. She eventually comes across a group of survivors led by Bob, a former IT specialist with some rather odd ideas about the new world and his role in it. The group continues in search of a safe place, that only Bob knows about. On the way, they scavenge homes for supplies, filled with victims of the fever who are continually performing the same routine tasks they did when healthy.

Severance is an odd but rewarding read. By focusing on character rather than catastrophe, it produces a convincing portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of a possibly dying world and her place in it.

Enter the Grishaverse

I usually try to approach book-to-screen adaptations with a fair bit of skepticism. Sure, they sometimes work out, but I’m a levelheaded guy who controls his impulses and manages his expectations with Jedi-like discipline. Just kidding! I never learn my lesson. Every time I hear about a new adaptation, my hope spirals out of control. Why keep your cool and be pleasantly surprised when you can build unrealistic expectations and experience utter devastation?

This might explain why I’m ecstatic that Rick Famuyiwa will direct Children of Blood and Bone. And why I refuse to worry that Brian K. Vaughan’s Y, the Last Man (already shortened by FX to Y, which definitely isn’t a bad sign, right?) will use CGI for Ampersand the monkey. And when Netflix announced an adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, I really lost it. I can’t remember the last time I was this excited for a TV show.

So, what exactly is the Grishaverse? Leigh Bardugo has written seven books in this world so far, with at least one more in the pipeline and rumors of several more to follow. This world is first introduced in Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy: Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising. These books are set in Ravka, a land both on the brink of civil war, and facing encroaching threats from powerful nations at its borders. Complicating matters further, Ravka’s military is divided into two groups. The first of these is a pretty straightforward army. But Ravka’s Second Army is composed of magic wielders known as Grisha and led by the Darkling, a mysterious, ambitious, and charismatic young man who also happens to be the world’s most powerful Grisha. Like many misunderstood groups, the Grisha have long suffered abuse in Ravka and other nations and the Darkling seems bent on not just defeating foreign enemies, but also securing permanent power for himself and Grisha dominance throughout society.

This trilogy focuses on a young orphan named Alina. When her powers as a Grisha manifest, it becomes clear that she has a unique and legendary gift. She quickly finds herself in an elevated position, both courted and mentored by the Darkling. Alina quickly learns that she will need to navigate many dangers: jealous rivals, court intrigue, foreign assassins, and the Darkling’s morally ambiguous schemes, while learning to develop her power and determining which decisions she makes might save her country and which might lead to its ruin.

While I love Alina’s story, it isn’t necessarily where I recommend readers begin. My first foray into Bardugo’s thrilling work was the duology composed of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. These stories take place after the events of the Grisha trilogy, and follow a ruthless, scrappy, and irresistible group of criminals when they take a job breaking into an impenetrable fortress and rescuing a scientist who possesses incredibly powerful and dangerous knowledge. I don’t want to say a lot more about these books – they’re filled with twists, betrayals, and cliffhangers that I don’t want to risk ruining. I will say, however, that the characters in these books are immensely likable, their relationships are complicated in ways that are both satisfying and maddening, and that Bardugo’s work in this series is as strong as any fantasy writing that I’ve read. The best description I’ve seen for these books is Game of Thrones meets a heist movie. If that doesn’t have you chomping at the bit, check your pulse.

King of Scars, Bardugo’s latest work, is the first book in a new duology. Virtually any details about this novel would spoil the earlier books. Suffice it to say, this new release follows a cursed king as he deals with dangerous new threats, a returning menace, and two very, very badass Grisha. For fans of deep dives, there is also The Language of Thorns. This collection of short stories brings to life the myths and fairy tales of the Grishaverse. This is a worthy read, and ties in nicely with the traditions that crop up throughout all these books.

It’s been a pleasure to read (and re-read) these books and watch as Bardugo’s sharp and witty writing has matured. Over the course of these seven books, she has built a world filled with magic, intrigue, and adventure. I eagerly await more Grishaverse novels, and will be following every update on the miniseries with bated breath. Don’t screw this up, Netflix.

Spot-Lit for March 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

Spot-Lit for February 2019

This month’s all-stars (unanimous starred reviews in Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly) go to Elizabeth McCracken’s Bowlaway, an inter-generational tale centered around a family-run bowling alley; first novelist Lauren Wilkinson’s literary thriller American Spy; Charlie Jane Anders SF novel The City in the Middle of the Night, and The Ruin of Kings, an epic fantasy by Jenn Lyons.

Also this February, Booker-prize-winner Marlon James ventures into fantasy in his Black Leopard, Red Wolf, much-honored Yiyun Li looks at a mother dealing with her young son’s suicide in Where Reasons End, and Valeria Luiselli creatively chronicles a struggling marriage and immigration issues in her Lost Children Archive. These are just a few of the titles you have to look forward to this month.

Click here to see all of the titles below 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. And remember, each month, beneath these thumbnail book covers are links to all our on-order fiction, to the cumulative notable new fiction featured here as the year progresses, and a new link for 2019 Debuts – featuring 2019’s notable new novelists and short story writers, which will also grow as new authors publish their first books.  Read on!

Notable New Fiction 2019 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction  | 2019 Debuts

Spot-Lit for January 2019

January is looking like a stellar month for fiction readers. It is rare for a book to win a coveted starred review from each of the four big trade book review sources (Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly), but this month we see three such titles: An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma, The New Iberia Blues by James Lee Burke, and Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty.

Additionally, readers here in the northwest might want to pick up Lake City by Thomas Kohnstamm, about a backsliding young man set in the less-than-glamorous north Seattle suburb of that name in 2001, or Lyndsay Faye’s racially-charged Prohibition-era thriller, The Paragon Hotel (3 starred reviews), set in Portland.

All around, great stuff from established, new, and emerging authors. 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

Here’s to the Scientists and Monkeys

Every once in a while, I read a book that must have been made for me. I don’t mean one that just aligns with my interests. I mean there’s an underground lab somewhere filled with white coated technicians experimenting with plot formula and monkeys with typewriters tapping away, all working on the singular mission to create books perfectly tailored for my taste.

That’s the only explanation I can think of for Amy Rose Capetta’s The Brilliant Death. Released in October. I only found this book last week. As I’ve read it, I’ve been increasingly impressed by the work of this cabal of scientists and monkeys that call themselves “Amy Rose Capetta” and increasingly annoyed that it took me two months and a decent amount of dumb luck to stumble upon it.

9109wewh-qlThe Brilliant Death is set in a kingdom filled with murder, intrigue, and stories of magic wielding strega. Teodora di Sangro has grown up with ample firsthand experience of violence and viscous plots. Her father is the head of one of five families that rule the kingdom. Like the mafia, these families rule through an intricate web of extortion, intimidation, and retribution that keep the people fed, clothed, and thoroughly subjugated.

Teo also carries a secret. The stregas of childhood legend are more than bedtime stories. They are real, and Teo is one of them – possibly the only one. She has always kept her magic secret, but has used it to help her family. When an enemy, rival, or other problematic person threatens them, she is quick to secretly transform them into pretty trinkets that now line her bedroom’s shelves.

Then one day, Teo’s entire world is shaken. First, her father is poisoned and falls into a coma. The new capo, who rules the five families, claims credit for the assassination attempt and summons a family representative to the capital. Teo believes she is the best choice among her father’s children to assume this task – after all, she has been secretly defending her family for years. However, Toe is also a daughter in a world where her gender effectively disqualifies her from leadership.

Yet on the same day her father falls, Teo meets Cielo. Cielo is beguiling, witty, and possibly quite dangerous. Like Teo, Cielo is a strega. And a gender fluid strega at that! Cielo’s appearance, combined with their ability to completely transform their appearance, give Teo hope that she too can transform, allowing her to travel to the capital and confront the capo. With the help of Teo’s brilliant younger brother Luca, she and Cielo set off for the capital in an uneasy alliance, one that will need to be unbreakable to survive the deceit, cruelty, and corruption that await them.

The Brilliant Death is full of mythical magic, fantastical world-building, and political intrigue in a kingdom stuffed with dastardly criminals and dashing rogues. It also prominently features queer romance, a thoughtful approach to identity, and complicated presentations of family, loyalty, and betrayal.  I’m not saying it’s a perfect book, but for me it comes pretty darn close!