Spot-Lit for February 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

Spot-Lit for January 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

Survival of the Fittest

Reading dystopian novels during a pandemic? Maybe that’s the last thing you’d want to do right now, or maybe you find courage and inspiration in reading about how people survive harrowing situations. Dystopian is defined in the Oxford Dictionary:

relating to or denoting an imagined state or society where there is great suffering or injustice

Personally, I love survival stories of all kinds, and a favorite book of 2020 renewed my interest in the genre.

“I love building worlds – I think it’s one of my favorite parts of writing.” So says author Diane Cook, author of The New Wilderness. Cook certainly succeeded in building a fascinating world and a gripping story about survival, sacrifice, and relationships challenged by this tough world. I was thrilled to find out the book was a finalist for The Booker Prize. (The prize was awarded to another book, Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart.) I agree completely with what Roxana Gay says about Cook’s debut novel “I was entirely engrossed in this novel. I didn’t want to leave it…” Learn more about the book by watching this video.

What is it about The New Wilderness that really stuck with me? I checked Novelist (featured in this blog post) to see how they describe it:

Genre: Dystopian fiction; Literary fiction; Multiple perspectives
Character: Complex
Storyline: issue-oriented
Tone: Darkly humorous; Suspenseful; Thought-provoking
Writing style: Compelling; Descriptive

If these descriptors sound good to you, take a look at these dystopian/survival favorites of mine from over the years. All of these titles, like The New Wilderness, left a lasting memory in my mind of their worlds.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood must be at the top of the list because it sparked my fascination with this genre (plus Atwood is just amazing overall). In the Republic of Gilead, male dominance has returned with a vengeance and women are relegated to a handful of truly horrible roles from Commanders’ wives to colony slaves. Don’t miss the Hulu series, which you can check out from the library!

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
The world has been devastated by a pandemic, and outdoorsman Hig is surviving in an abandoned airport. He loves his dog, misses his wife, and has conversations with his weapons hoarding neighbor, while fighting off marauding bands of desperate savages. He also occasionally takes his small plane out to search for more survivors, and one day hears a voice on the radio. Library Journal describes the book: “In spare, poetic prose, [Heller] portrays a soaring spirit of hope that triumphs over heartbreak, trauma, and insurmountable struggles.”

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag is another climate change related book in which the ice caps have melted, raising the sea level so high that only mountains are left above water. Most of life is spent traveling by boat, trying to find enough to eat, and hoping to find some place on land not under the control of ruthless gangs of pirate types. Myra and her 7 year old daughter, barely making a living by fishing, hear a rumor that Myra’s oldest daughter, stolen by her ex and presumed dead, may be living in an encampment in the far north. The two embark on a perilous journey. Booklist describes it thus: “Anchored by a complicated, compelling heroine, this gripping, speculative, high-seas adventure is impossible to put down.”

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is the first in a four part young adult series which, despite being published 14 years ago, stays with me to this day. The moon has been knocked off course by a meteor and an extreme winter sets in. As the situation gets more and more dire, 16 year old Miranda and her family tries everything they can think of to stay alive. Publisher’s Weekly wrote in 2006: “…readers will find it absorbing from first page to last. This survival tale…celebrates the fortitude and resourcefulness of human beings during critical times.”

Gold, Fame, Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
The California drought turns the landscape into mountains of sand, and a mass exodus ensues, with only a few hearty, pioneering types left behind. Former model Luz and AWOL Ray are squatting in an abandoned mansion when they encounter a strange little orphan girl. They take to the hills in search of a safer place to raise her. BookList describes their trek: “Their journey across the vast, ever-changing dunes is cosmic and terrifying as Watkins conjures eerily beautiful and deadly sandscapes and a cult leader’s renegade colony.”

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, does not fit perfectly into this genre, but definitely involves survival. Eight year old Peggy has been taken to the woods by her survivalist dad who claims the world has ended and they are the only two people left. Library Journal, in its Starred Review of the book concludes, “Though not always easy reading, Fuller’s emotionally intense novel comes to an unexpected but rewarding conclusion. Don’t let this gripping story pass you by.”

But this is just a beginning – there are so many other good dystopian and survival books out there. Our librarians have created a few collections you may enjoy: If You Liked The Handmaid’s Tale, and Pandemic Apocalypse Fiction. If you prefer nonfiction, check out this list of true survival stories.

Spot-Lit for December 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 | All On-Order Fiction | 2020 Debuts

Spot-Lit for November 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

Escape to the Future

I think most of us can currently be described as ‘forward thinking.’ The desire to see 2020 in the rearview mirror is nearly universal at this point. My reading choices have been reflecting this trend with science fiction being my go to genre of late. I’ve always liked it, but something about our current position on the space-time continuum makes me gravitate towards stories of the distant future. My reasoning being: whatever that future is, at least it isn’t now.  

Luckily for me, there are a lot of great science fiction tales being published. While it is hard to choose, here are two of my recent favorites. 

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine 

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare has her work cut out for her. Arriving in the imperial capital of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire, she has been tasked with preventing her independent, but small, mining colony from being annexed. While she has studied and admired Teixcalaanli culture and literature, she isn’t totally prepared for its Byzantine political structure and rituals. She also arrives at a time of political turmoil, with an aged emperor facing succession problems and a growing threat on the border. Oh, and the matter of the former ambassador being murdered, officially a case of food poisoning no less, has complicated things.

A Memory Called Empire is definitely chock full of world building and political intrigue, but it didn’t feel like a space opera to me. The author creates fully formed characters, Mahit and her cultural guide Three Seagrass especially, who you sympathize with as they try to negotiate a foreign cultural landscape. It also brings up intriguing ideas about identity and assimilation; the push and pull of simultaneously wanting, and not wanting, to be something else. All this plus lots of adventure, humor and fascinating concepts that only science fiction can provide make for a great read, or listen.

Network Effect by Martha Wells 

Murderbot, its chosen moniker, hacked its governor module long ago and is free from the corporate entities that once controlled its every move. But what is an artificial intelligence with organic elements to do with new found freedom? If it was up to Murderbot, all its time would be spent watching its beloved media serials, especially The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon, and making snarky comments. But, sadly, reality always has a way of intruding. This time around, reality includes protecting clueless, and somewhat gross humans, interacting with a cynical ship’s AI named ART, all while trying to prevent evil corporations from getting their hands on alien technology.

Network Effect is the first novel length book in the Murderbot diaries series but easily stands on its own. Wells has created a unique and incredibly entertaining central character whose take on the humans around it is both hilarious and unique. As the ultimate, but sympathetic, outsider, Murderbot’s perspective also examines the idea of looking in at a corporate culture that produces great fictional universes via popular media, but which has a reality that doesn’t match up. Ultimately, though, this is an adventure story chock full of interesting characters that is hard to put down once started.  

So if you need a little break from reality as well, give these two excellent science fiction novels a try. What have you got to lose? 

Spot-Lit for October 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

Spot-Lit for September 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

A Little Noir For Yar

Noir

As a diehard reader of detective pulp fiction and a connoisseur of comedy, I may have found religion in Noir by Christopher Moore. Not to be confused with the religion I found in Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.

Lamb

If you’re a fan of Damon Runyon and his unique use of language, Noir might be just the ticket for you.

“He looked like one of those dried-up faces you carve out of an apple in third grade to teach you that time is cruel and we are all just going to shrivel up and die, so there’s no point in getting out of bed.”

Similes and metaphors run wild, like turkeys in search of a barber… Scratch that. Like the Portuguese armada during their defeat in 1588… Well, let’s just say that words are not restrained by the laws of gravity in Moore’s writing.

And speaking of gravity, classy ladies fill the pages of this prestigious tome.

“She had the kind of legs that kept her butt from resting on her shoes — a size eight dame in a size six dress and every mug in the joint was rooting for the two sizes to make a break for it as they watched her wiggle in the door and take a seat at the end of the bar.”

Moore is one of the few contemporary authors who does a credible job of creating Runyonesque prose. Each page is teeming with hoodlums, graft, gats, lookers and betties all ensconced in a miasma of despair and alcohol then rolled in a fine powder of lust and sex.

“It was the kind of kiss that he wanted to wake up to and keep refreshing periodically until he got one long last one, salty with tears, in his casket.”

For my ears, the story is almost inconsequential. Down-on-his-luck guy works in San Francisco as a bartender, is indebted to a gangster, falls for a dame… space aliens ensue, etc. etc. You know the drill, your typical post-war comic sci-fi noir thriller. Moore dots the proverbial i’s with his copious wit, leaving ample opportunity to cross the t’s with abundant atmosphere. It may not be the ride of your life, but Noir is at bare minimum the attempted hitchhike of your youth.

Why, you might even want to read Noir in a book club with your friends, and then orchestrate a moment that echoes a line from the text where:

“…everyone looks up like rats caught in a spotlight eating the brains of a friend dead in a trap.”

Of course, you might choose not to eat your friends’ brains.

So, as pleasant breaks from reality go, Noir is an excellent choice. Perhaps you could even explore Moore’s other writings, all steeped in the same blend of hilarity and repartee, not to mention jocularity. Like a fine Earl Grey tea. Tee hee.

Heartwood 10:2 – The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany

Samuel R. Delany’s name has been coming up in all the right places for years now, so I finally grabbed this thin title to give his work a try. The Einstein Intersection is mostly a retelling of the Orpheus myth, but it also includes a chapter that is reminiscent of the hunting of the Minotaur, and much of the latter part of the book is something of a futuristic western, where the cowboys ride and mobilize a group of dragons. Many other allusions swirl and mix in the book to tell tales that don’t quite sync up with their origins, but that are different and tell of difference.

Delany writes in a crisp style that moves the action along, but that also displays a more reflective nature. The chapters are preceded with epigraphs (often several) from diverse figures including James Joyce, Bob Dylan, the Marquis de Sade, Sartre, Ruskin, Yeats, Andrew Marvell, and even a snippet from a Pepsi commercial. Lo Lobey, the Orpheus character, is ready to track down Kid Death (modeled on Billy the Kid) to get Friza back from the dead (Kid Death says he took her life). Lobey has telepathic powers that allow him to hear music and words in other people’s heads, and Friza has telekinetic powers (as does Kid Death). Instead of a lyre, Lobey has a machete that has a flute built into it with twenty perforations which he covers with his fingers and his especially long toes (it’s more like he has four arms at times). The characters in this story are the successors to humans who are long since gone and whose cities are now buried in sand.

The action at the end of the book picks up speed as the dragon wranglers bring the herd into Branning-at-sea, a huge urban metropolis, where Green-eye, a mute fellow wrangler, is recognized as some kind of prince, maybe even the prince of peace. I found the conclusion to be open-ended and a bit challenging to follow  Perhaps the best way to think about this book is suggested by a conversation between Lobey and a character named Spider who emphasizes the importance of Gödel’s theorems that any closed mathematical system has an infinite number of truths that elude our grasp. Delany has taken several well-known myths or narratives and transformed them, remixed them, moved them into the future, made them difficult to recognize, and by doing so has created a kind of composite myth of his own. There’s no way I can adequately summarize it other than to encourage you to read the book and see for yourself just what he has done.

A plus for Neil Gaiman fans is the introduction he wrote to this Wesleyan edition in 1997, back when he was mostly known for his comic book series The Sandman.