Spot-Lit for July 2013


Lots of good fiction is headed your way this July. 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 

              My Education         Impossible Lives of Greta Wells         Light in the Ruins

My Education  by Susan Choi

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells  by Andrew Sean Greer

The Light in the Ruins  by Chris Bohjalian

First Fiction

Curiosity Ten Things Loteria Gamal Byzantium Daedalus Incident

The Curiosity  by Stephen Kiernan

Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love  by Sarah Butler

Lotería  by Mario Alberto Zambrano

The Gamal  by Ciaran Collins

Byzantium  by Ben Stroud

The Daedalus Incident  by Michael Martinez

Crime Fiction / Suspense

Skinner Visitation Street Summertime All the Cats Are Bored Last Word Crocodile Eye for an Eye

Skinner  by Charlie Huston

Visitation Street  by Ivy Pochoda

Summertime, All the Cats are Bored  by Philippe Georget

The Last Word  by Lisa Lutz

The Crocodile  by Maurizio de Giovanni

Eye for an Eye  by Ben Coes

SF / Fantasy / Romance / Western

The Humans      Fifth Grave Past the Light      If the Shoe Fits      Winter Kill

The Humans  by Matt Haig

Fifth Grave Past the Light  by Darynda Jones

If the Shoe Fits  by Megan Mulry

Winter Kill  by Bill Brooks 

To see all the on-order fiction, click here.

Spot-Lit for May 2013

So, you’ve probably heard that Dan Brown, John Sandford, John Le Carré, Isabel Allende, and Kite Runner author Khaled Hosseini all have new books out or due out this month. Below are some more titles getting a lot of advance review buzz and/or publisher support. Click on the titles to read more or to place holds.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction 

Dual InheritanceA Dual Inheritance  by Joanna Hershon
A friendship formed at Harvard in 1962 then abruptly broken off is the focus of this love-triangle novel which spans the past fifty years. Hershon’s novel is being compared to Freedom, Rules of Civility, and The Marriage Plot.

FoolsFools  by Joan Silber
Occurring in many locations around the globe, and spanning the 1920s to Occupy Wall Street, these interlinked stories look at the ways people dupe one another – subtly or otherwise – and are likewise duped.

First Novels

ConstellationA Constellation of Vital Phenomena  by Anthony Marra
After her father is abducted, an eight-year-old girl and her neighbor, Akhmed, take refuge in a bombed out hospital in Chechnya where Sonja, the sole remaining doctor, treats the wounded and mourns her missing sister. In writing that is detailed and eloquent, Akhmed and Sonja explore their pasts and the events that have bound them together.

Red SparrowsRed Sparrow  by Jason Matthews
Pitting Putin’s SVR against the CIA, this exceptional spy thriller includes a host of villains, hit-men, and politicos while employing such spy-trade techniques as counterintelligence, surveillance, “sexpionage,” cyber-warfare and covert communications. Ex-CIA man Matthews knows his stuff.

Under Tower PeakUnder Tower Peak  by Bart Paul
Iraq-war vet Tommy Smith and his wilderness guide partner find themselves in the thick of things when they discover the wreckage of a missing billionaire’s airplane high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Thugs and family members all seek their self-interest and Tommy has to dust off the sniper skills he thought he’d retired for good. 

Crime Fiction

End of the WorldThe End of the World in Breslau  by Marek Krajewski
Hard-drinking Eberhard Mock investigates the grisly murders of two seemingly unrelated victims in the Polish town of Breslau in 1927. Evidence deliberately left at both crime scenes points to a single suspect. Suspicion falls on Mock’s wife when she begins to display unusual behavior.

RedeemerThe Redeemer  by Jo Nesbø
Renegade detective Harry Hole has little to go on in solving the contract killing of a musician. Flawed, frail human nature is revealed in the characters of The Redeemer – along with their ambiguous quests for redemption. This is masterfully plotted crime writing that explores the darkest corners of the human psyche.

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Human DivisionThe Human Division  by John Scalzi
A bold, hard-SF novel in which earthlings find their own Colonial Union has deceived them and conscripted humans in a generations-long fight with aliens. Things get interesting when the aliens appeal to the betrayed humans to join them in the fight against the CU…  Bradbury and Heinlein fans will want to grab this.

nos4a2NOS4A2  by Joe Hill
Charles Talent Manx has a thing for abducting children. Victoria McQueen is the only victim to ever escape his grasp. That was long ago, but he hasn’t forgotten her. And now he has her son.

Red MoonRed Moon  by Benjamin Percy
This supernatural thriller featuring werewolves (lycans) in a story with strong social and geopolitical undercurrents should attract more than just horror fans. Percy’s book is drawing comparisons to Justin Cronin’s The Passage and Max Brooks’s World War Z.

One for the Ladies

DivergentIt may seem a bit odd to celebrate Women’s History Month by talking about fictional females, but here I am. I’ve noticed that I wind up reading a lot of fiction with males in lead roles; I guess it’s all that wizardry, sword fighting, and space travel going on – apparently lots of testosterone is needed. Needless to say, I always find it refreshing when I come across a woman in a book that I’m reading who can play with the boys, sometimes even beating them at their own game. Whether it’s mental, physical, or emotional, I love the strong ladies of lit. Sometimes things don’t work out well for them at the end of their journeys, but reading their exploits can be a welcome change in perspective from chest-thumping bros or hand-wringing ninnies. Here are some of my favorite female leads for those of you looking for a sassy lass or two:

True GritMattie RossTrue Grit by Charles Portis.  Mattie just might be #1 on my list, so I figure she’s a great place to start. Not long ago, a librarian friend of mine challenged me to name an of-age female protagonist from a book, written for an audience older than age 12, who had no romantic or sexual subplot attached to her. At first you wouldn’t think this type of character would be hard to find, but the only person I could come up with was Miss Ross. Mattie spends much of the story as a teen, so that’s not too difficult to explain, but she also ends the book as a wise old spinster. Aside from settling a bet among librarians, Mattie is great for other reasons. She is undeniably the heroine of the story, and throughout shows cunning, bravery, and determination. I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who have never picked up this book, but I think most readers will enjoy Mattie’s particular brand of pluck.

Beatrice “Tris” PriorDivergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth. If you liked Katniss Everdeen trust me, you are going to love Tris Prior. Unlike Katniss, Tris made the conscious choice to enter a life of danger and adventure. In a post-apocalyptic Chicago, society is broken down into five factions where individuals live according to a core value that they choose to uphold. At sixteen Tris does the unthinkable and opts to leave her humble faction of service, Abnegation, for the daredevil warrior faction, Dauntless. This choice sets off an avalanche of challenges for Tris as she struggles to prove herself as a Dauntless member and gain acceptance into her new faction. The stakes are high, and failure could be fatal. You don’t want to miss this series.

DraculaMina HarkerDracula by Bram Stoker. In the opening chapters of Dracula, Mina is a single, orphaned, yet financially-independent woman – no mean feat in the late 19th Century. When I first read Dracula, I had to do a double-take on the date of publication because I was surprised by the strong lead role that Mina played. Clearly Mr. Stoker thought that Mina was exceptional as well; at one point he describes her as having a ‘man’s brain.’ Throughout the book, we learn bits and pieces about Mina’s life by reading excerpts from her correspondences and journals. Mina comes across as a very intelligent person – not only perfecting her stenography skills in order to succeed as a legal assistant for her fiance, but also studying his law texts so that she can better help him in his practice when he becomes established as a solicitor. She is an interesting mixture of the stereotypical gentle, subservient Victorian wife and a brave and intellectual heroine, often leading her vampire-hunting counterparts to important clues about Dracula’s location and plans. This mix of femininity and intellect makes her a very believable and likable protagonist.

Amelia Peabody's EgyptAmelia Peabody EmersonThe Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. Last summer I was quoted as saying that I wanted to be Indiana Jones when I was a kid; that was true, but I think I should have added that I wanted to be Amelia Peabody as well. I was in love with the Amelia Peabody mystery series when I was younger, possibly more than I was with the Indiana Jones movies because I could actually imagine being Peabody. Amelia was everything I wanted to be: mature, insanely smart, funny independent, and above all – an Egyptologist at the turn of the century! This was an intoxicating thought to a nerdy little girl who loved to daydream about digging in the sand in a pith helmet and bloomers, and peering through cracks in ancient stone doors with Howard Carter to discover ‘wonderful things.‘ Through the magic of fiction, Amelia got to do all of this for me, and was witty and endearing while she was at it. To be fair, the entire cast in this series is wonderful – from Amelia’s ornery beau to their precocious children who arrive later in the series. I’d highly recommend these stories to anyone who likes both a good mystery and historical fiction.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreKat PotenteMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Let me just say, completely aside from the topic of this post, that I fell hard for this book; what an absolute delight it was to read! Even if you weren’t on a quest for a new female heroine I would tell you to grab this book and love it. But back to the topic at hand! Kat Potente enters the scene as the love interest of our male protagonist, Clay, but you soon learn that she is far more than a pretty face. Kat is one of the data visualization whiz kids at Google – a beyond-smart techie who seems to be on the verge of climbing high up the ranks at the internet powerhouse. When Clay becomes obsessed with mysterious goings on at his very unusual place of employment, he turns to Kat to help him find answers through the far-reaching network of information and technology that she has access to through Google. I like Kat because I find her work to be a fascinating look into the near future of where Internet technology, and the digitization of old texts, will take researchers. To a librarian and archivist, it’s tantalizing to see the concepts at play in this book, even if it’s fiction. You know that not far beneath the surface there is a lot of reality in what Sloan is writing about.

Juego de TronosA Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones), by George R.R. Martin. Do I have to pick just one? This series is chock full of awesome ladies; my personal favorites are Arya, the young tomboy of House Stark, and Brienne of Tarth, the warrior maiden. Both ladies are fiercely independent, even when it causes them great pain and hardship. Without risking too much in the area of spoilers, I can also let it slip that Caitlin Stark (Eddard’s wife), Osha (a wildling woman taken captive by House Stark), and Ygritte (another wildling woman) play very important and interesting roles in the series.

Of course there are many other fascinating women in literature that deserve a write-up. I’ve tried to include books/heroines that do not get mentioned as frequently in the numerous ‘Women in Literature’ lists that can be found online. I would love to hear about your personal favorites!


Spot-Lit for January 2013

spot-litWhether you want to get the new year going with a new author (the first-time novelists listed here are getting rave reviews) or a returning favorite, there’s a lot to choose from this month.

Among popular authors with new releases are: Erica Bauermeister, Tracy Chevalier, Mary Jane Clark, John Connolly, Bernard Cornwell, Robert Crais, Mary Daheim, James Grippando, Kim Harrison, Linda Howard, Jayne Ann Krentz, Ian Rankin, Marcia Muller & Bill Pronzini, Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson.

And if you happen to be a Downton Abbey fan, you’ll want to check out Habits of the House, a new book by Fay Weldon (author of the pilot for Downton-predecessor Upstairs, Downstairs), and the debut novel, Ashenden by Elizabeth Wilhide. You might also take a look at The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction 

SaundersTenth of December  by George Saunders
Saunders, known for his sharp, oddball satire, adds deep emotion and compassion to the mix in this knockout collection of 10 new stories.

zambraWays of Going Home  by Alejandro Zambra
A story within a story set in Pinochet’s Chile that reflects on life under dictatorship and explores the nature of writing.

First Novels

Truth in Advertising  by John Kenney
This highly anticipated debut from a New Yorker humorist, features a burnt-out 39-year-old ad-man whose long-estranged father has just gone into the hospital – witty, spot-on accounts of work and coworkers, lovers and friends, and a family in crisis.

The Intercept  by Dick Wolf
Ground Zero’s new Freedom Tower is threatened – and more – in this high-energy, twisty, terrorism and espionage thriller from the man responsible for TV’s popular Law and Order series.

OdonnellThe Death of Bees  by Lisa O’Donnell
Upon their negligent parents’ deaths, Marnie and Nelly bury them in the backyard and try to avoid detection for a year – when Marnie will be old enough to become the guardian of her sister.  A compelling coming-of-age novel that is bleak, moving, and at times funny.

MilchmanCover of Snow  by Jenny Milchman
Nora Hamilton’s seemingly happy husband has hung himself. As she struggles through her grief and begins to dig into the circumstances of his death, she discovers shocking secrets about both her spouse and the town in this taut thriller.

ScottMotherlunge  by Kirstin Scott
The theme of motherhood winds through this realistic story of two sisters as they tussle with the decision of whether or not to have children while also dealing with their own mentally fragile mother. Likable characters and solid storytelling.

BelcherSix-Gun Tarot  by R.S. Belcher
An ancient evil comes to inhabit a played out silver mine in Golgotha, Nevada where a host of characters, who are not quite what they appear to be, attempt to reckon with it in this wild-west steampunk debut.

Crime Fiction /Suspense

EllisGun Machine  by Warren Ellis
A lunatic with a shotgun kills detective John Tallow’s partner, and a cache of weapons is discovered with connections to killings that span decades in this noirish twist on forensic detective work.

HunterThe Third Bullet  by Stephen Hunter
Sniper Bob Lee Swagger is back, and this time he’s tracking down evidence that may indicate the presence of another gunman in the JFK assassination.

MagsonRetribution  by Adrian Magson
Ex-MI5 agent Harry Tate’s past comes back to haunt him when an assassin begins tracking down all the members who were part of the U.N. close-protection unit during the Kosovo war – one of whom is alleged to be involved in the rape and murder of a young girl.

Science Fiction

HamiltonGreat North Road  by Peter F. Hamilton
A clone in the extended North family is murdered in 2143, leaving precious little evidence for Sidney Hurst to go on, though what he turns up could connect the murder with a two-decade-old slaughter. Epic, big idea, thrilling science fiction.


KlassenThe Tutor’s Daughter  by Julie Klassen
Emma Smallwood goes with her father to tutor a baron’s four sons, but mysterious events occur that both threaten and tempt in this suspenseful, gothic, Regency romance.

Heartwood 2:10 – Wolf Song

Wolf Song
by Harvey Fergusson (1890-1971)
206 pgs. Gregg Press, 1978.
Orig. pub. 1927.

Sam Lash is a mountain man who is first encountered traveling with two companions – rough and rowdy Gullion, and the wizened crank Old Rube. Their various adventures are recounted in a punchy, rhythmic way that suits the rugged image of their demanding lifestyle, including the spinning of tall tales and drunken braggadocio. It’s a rough life, and inevitably deadly, but the draw of the wild outdoors is irresistible. The mountain men are known to complain – saying they’d better leave the mountains and settle down before they get “rubbed out” – but each new trapping season finds them back in the woods.

But Wolf Song doesn’t simply romanticize the individualism of the old west; it is equally concerned with what draws people together and how different cultures struggle to preserve their own values in changing times. Three cultural groups are in conflict here – Anglo (or gringo, to use Fergusson’s term), Native American and Mexican. Episodic chapters allow Fergusson to introduce characters in their cultural context, setting spirit quests and supernatural prophecy alongside high society and quasi-barbarism.

Lash falls in love with Lola Salazar the daughter of a wealthy and powerful Mexican family in Taos, New Mexico, but his wild, mountain man ways are incompatible with their Catholic standards. Though Lash is unlikely to win the favor of the family patriarch in the wooing of his daughter, he is dependent on Taos for trading his furs, so he cannot get too far on the wrong side of Don Salazar. Outside its economic importance, Taos also offers the returning mountain men much needed social interaction, loose women, and whiskey.

Lash is being split down the middle by his love for Lola and his competing need to be working a trapline. As he travels through a distant canyon, his distracted state of mind puts him in danger when Black Wolf, a Cheyenne Indian, sees an opportunity to improve his standing within his tribe and, particularly, to win the hand of the woman he loves. You’ll have to read it yourself to discover who gets rubbed out.


William Pilkington, in the Introduction, says “Harvey Fergusson’s Wolf Song is, it seems to me, the most neglected “classic” in the canon of Western American fiction.” He puts it in the same class as A. B. Guthrie’s The Big Sky and Frederick Manfred’s Lord Grizzly.  If you like mountain man stories, you might want to give this one a try.

Heartwood | About Heartwood

Spot-Lit (September, 2012)

Uber-popular authors such as Lee Child, Ken Follett, James Patterson, J.D. Robb, and Stuart Woods hardly need us here at Spot-Lit to give their new novels more attention. But did you know that superstar kids’ author J.K. Rowling (the Harry Potter novels) has a new book for adults? Other popular authors with new titles include T.C. Boyle, Michael Chabon, and Junot Diaz.

In the debut category, September brings new novels looking at the Iraq war (Fobbit, The Yellow Birds), a thriller grounded in a familiar-looking financial crisis (Black Fridays), a centenarian’s adventures upon escaping from a retirement home (The 100-Year-Old Man…), Japanese steampunk (Stormdancer), and the second in a knockout historical sci-fi series starring H.G. Wells (Map of the Sky).

Other treats this month include a newly discovered novel by noir-master James Cain, a political thriller by Hank Phillippi Ryan, and a novel of supernatural horror by Stefan Kiesby. See below for summaries of these books plus others. Click the titles to read more about them or to place holds in the library catalog.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction

Casual Vacancy  by J.K. Rowling
Tensions roil in the seemingly idylic town of Pagford, England when a council member dies and a contentious election is held to fill the vacant seat. After the astounding success of the Harry Potter novels, Rowling releases her first novel for adults.

San Miguel  by T.C. Boyle
Two families – one in the 1880s and one in the 1930s – seek freedom and self-reliance on a tiny island off the Southern California coast. Told with Boyle’s assured command of characterization, pacing and period detail.

Map of the Sky  by Felix J. Palma
Palma’s debut, The Map of Time, wowed readers with its intricate plotting and inventive story-telling – expect more of the same here as he weaves time-travel and mystery into interconnected plots and includes H.G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe as characters.

Telegraph Avenue  by Michael Chabon
Small-potatoes Brokeland Records on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue is threatened by the announcement of the opening of a new music megastore nearby. The midwife spouses of the record store owners face their own personal and professional challenges in a powerful story that stretches from 2004 back to rock ‘n roll’s glory days.

John Saturnall’s Feast  by Lawrence Norfolk
A young orphan kitchen-worker at a manor house rises to become a great chef, and vies for the hand of the maiden of the manor in this sensuous treat.

Panorama City  by Antoine Wilson
In this thoughtful, and intriguing novel, “slow absorber” Oppen Porter thinks he is dying, so he records on audio cassette everything he thinks his unborn son will need to know.

This is How You Lose Her  by Junot Diaz
Stories of the passions, foibles, longings and weaknesses of the human heart from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

First Novels

Fobbit  by David Abrams
In this Iraq war novel that is very much in the spirit of Catch-22 and M.A.S.H., Abrams takes aim at the goings-on at Baghdad’s Forward Operation Base.

The Yellow Birds  by Kevin Powers
Two men form a fierce and emotional bond as their platoon fights an extended, bloody battle in the Iraq war. The fog of war and its hidden costs are powerfully depicted.

The People of Forever Are Not Afraid  by Shani Boianjiu
Three eighteen-year-old girls join the Israeli Defense Forces. Ever alert to danger they also find themselves reflecting on the day-to-day activities of families at checkpoints and the passionate energy of refugees.

The Three-Day Affair  by Michael Kardos
A two-bit rock band drummer finds himself party to robbery and kidnapping when his friend jumps into his car with a girl hostage after holding up a convenience store.

Black Fridays  by Michael Sears
A former Wall Street trader is in the thick of it when, after his prison stint, the only kind of work he can get puts his life in danger – a life he is actively re-examining as he also tries to reclaim his autistic son from his unbalanced ex.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared  by Jonas Jonasson
The title alludes to the escape and adventures of a still-lively man from the clutches of his nursing home. This hilarious novel by a Swedish author has sold almost 2 million copies worldwide.

Stormdancer  by Jay Kristoff
When disaster upends her mission to find a supposedly extinct griffin for the Shogun, Yukiko finds herself exiled and alone on an island with only the wounded creature for company as she fights to return to her homeland and to help the griffin fly. First in a new fantasy series.

The Map of Lost Memories  by Kim Fay
Irene Blum goes from Seattle to Shanghai then on to Cambodia in search of ancient Khmer scrolls, accompanied by a scholar and with her dying lover – who each have their own reasons for seeking the scrolls.

Something Red  by Douglas Nicholas
In a debut mixing fantasy and mythology, a group of 13th-century travelers encounter a host of fantastical and historical characters and discover an evil force in the woods which they must confront before an epic snowstorm sets in.

Crime Fiction /Suspense

The Cocktail Waitress  by James M. Cain
The recently discovered manuscript from the noir-master who gave us the classic books/movies: Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Mildred Pierce.

The Other Woman  by Hank Phillippi Ryan
Newspaper reporter Jane Ryland is investigating the mistress of a candidate just days before a pivotal Senate election. Meanwhile, detective Jake Brogan is on the trail of a serial killer – are their cases related?

Death in Valencia  by Jason Webster
The second in Webster’s mystery series featuring the flawed inspector Max Camara looks into the death of a popular and outspoken chef and the political interest in redeveloping the neighborhood where his restaurant was located.

Dead Anyway  by Chris Knopf
A man left for dead has himself declared so by his physician sister then seeks out whoever it was that put the hit on him and his wife in this chilling and inventive tale of revenge.

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Dirty Streets of Heaven  by Tad Williams
The souls of earth’s recently departed are soughts after by flawed angels and temptress demons in this new urban fantasy – but suddenly the souls are disappearing.

Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone  by Stefan Kiesbye
Four young friends’ innocent play reveals their village’s darkest secrets in this novel of atmospheric dread that’s been described as a combination of Shirley Jackson, the Brothers Grimm and The X-Files.


With Blood in Their Eyes  by Thomas Cobb
Based on a true story sparked by a shoot-out in Arizona a century ago this is a richly detailed look at flawed men, driven by their passions.