Spot-Lit for July 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

Did You Know? (Shoe Edition)

The oldest leather shoe known to archaeologists was found (in 2008) embedded in a pit of sheep droppings in a cave in Armenia and is around 5,500 years old, according to a report by the BBC?

Photo by Pinhasi R, Gasparian B, Areshian G, Zardaryan D, Smith A, et al.  PLoS ONE 5(6): e10984. CC BY 2.5

The so-called Areni-1 shoe is an example of early, basic footwear, which may have gone on to influence the development of other types of shoe design in the ancient world. According to LiveScience, anthropologists believe that humans started wearing shoes around 40,000 years ago, contributing to anatomical changes in human feet and limbs. However, we have very little idea of what these prehistoric shoes might have looked like.     

Investigating History Mysteries by Alex Woolf is about all the ways archeologists can find information about artifacts. He talks about carbon dating to test for the age of items, analyzing oxygen isotopes to tell what the weather was like, DNA sampling for identifying where a mummified body was from, and investigating insects and pollen samples for additional information regarding the surrounding areas.

You know those days when your shoes are pinching your toes and your feet are hurting? Shoes: A Brief History by Lucy Johnston and Linda Woolley will give you a new appreciation for how comfortable your shoes really are! In the 1600’s and 1700’s pointy shoes were very popular for men and women, and narrow raised heels could make walking difficult, uncomfortable, and very painful. There are many interesting pictures of shoes in a variety of styles and materials from as early as the 1400’s. 

Of course, shoes have been in stories for generations. Some very well-known fairy tales involving shoes are Puss in Boots, the Elves and the Shoemaker and Cinderella. Other stories are bound to become classics. I’m amazed how many times shoes can be the answer to a problem!

Set in the 1950’s, New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer, tells the story of cousins Ella Mae and Charlotte who open their own shoe store where African-Americans can try the shoes on. In Seamus’s Short Story by Heather Hartt-Sussman, Seamus is very short but discovers high heels to make him taller. But then he realizes that it’s not so bad being short after all. We also have the DVD Kinky Boots which is the story of Charlie who grew up in a shoe factory and Lola who grew up loving shoes. To help Charlie with the struggling family business, Lola helps him design shoes for cross dressers: “But Charlie learns that being different – just like walking in stiletto boots – isn’t always easy.”

There is only one thing I can think of that is comfier than a nice pair of slippers – – and that is to wear no shoes at all!  You can read Whole Body Barefoot by Katy Bowman or Barefoot Walking by Michael Sander and Jessica Lee to discover the pleasure of getting in touch with the earth.

Lastly, even though you can walk barefoot, my favorite kind of “barefoot” is Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa. Her cookbooks like Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust make it easy to prepare simple and elegant food, that you can eat with or without shoes!

Escaped and Missing!

Ever want to disappear, escape from your life? When I find a good book that’s exactly what happens. I lean towards the genres of Historical Fiction, Mystery, and occasional a combination of both.

The list of subjects found under the mystery genre is long: there’s paranormal and knitting and everything in-between. Super sleuth I’m not but I have discovered my own pattern of favorites:

  • Missing Persons
  • Murder
  • Detective
  • Victim

Below is a list of mysteries I read over the last year that reflect these topics. Each story is similar in that the reader is lead down his or her detective path exploring and imagining possible outcomes. What’s different is the style, tone, circumstances, and scenarios ranging from atmospheric/contemplative to thriller/page turner.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

I read The Vanishing Half when it first came out last spring. Set in a fictional small town, the story begins in the 1950’s spanning to the 90’s. A pair of twin sisters take two different life paths when they conspire to escape to New Orleans for a better life. Stella finds work in an office and is wooed by the ‘good life’ and the attraction of her boss. She accepts his proposal leaving all others behind. Her light brown skin tone grants her access into a new world, one she is determined to keep hidden and separate from her past.  Desiree’s dreams, however, don’t materialize as she imagined. More historical fiction than mystery, The Vanishing Half addresses emotional issues of family and race. Bennett’s characterizations make this a compelling read.

Lost Boy Found by Kirsten Alexander

In 1913, long before television and radio were a source of communication, four-year-old Sonny Davenport wanders off the family’s vacation property. A huge search party ensues without a lead. Shock and fear turn into a depression and desolation that unravels a once happy family. Desperate to appease his wife Mary, John resorts to taking matters in his own hands. Using his wealth and the power of persuasion, blame is pinned on the poor and innocent which even by today’s standards seems unconscionable.

The Red Lotus by Chris Bohjalian

Red Lotus captured my attention immediately. Austin and his new girlfriend, an ER doctor, are on a bicycling tour in Vietnam. Near the end of their trip, Austin insists on taking a solo bike ride against their tour guide’s safety warnings. The reader learns right away of his demise. A complex plot involving an illegal international web follows. “The Red Lotus is a fascinating story of those who dedicate their lives to saving people, and those who instead peddle death to the highest bidder“… provided by the publisher.

Before She Was Helen by Caroline Cooney

Over the course of working from home, I listened to a podcast featuring authors discussing their latest novels. Beloved children’s author Cooney announced she had written her first adult novel. Before She Was Helen interested me because the story depicts a complex older woman as the main character. Helen goes ‘missing’ intentionally, creating two separate lives: the one her family knows about and the other she portrays living in her retirement community. Helen gets tangled unwittingly in a murder when she sends an incriminating text to her nephew with an attached photo. Humorous and heartbreaking, Before She Was Helen is a murder mystery and more.

When the Stars go Dark by Paula McLain

Pivoting from historical fiction (The Paris Wife) to a missing person’s investigation, McLain’s latest book did not disappoint. Several young women turn up missing in a northwest coastal region of California. Kidnapped? Runaways? Are the events related?  Suffering from her own trauma, San Francisco detective Anna Hart returns to her hometown of Mendocino, California to re-evaluate and take a needed break. Anna can’t rest when she learns of one local young girl who has disappeared without explanation.

“As past and present collide, Anna realizes that she has been led to this moment… As Anna becomes obsessed with these missing girls, she must learn that true courage means getting out of her own way and learning to let others in.”–provided by the publisher.

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

My grandmother used to say: “Location, Location, Location!” Of course she was referring to real estate, but I can say that the same rings true in classic murder mystery. Think Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express or Lifeboat directed by Alfred Hitchcock … the setting can create suspense.

Perched on a cliff in the Swiss Alps, a renovated sanatorium turned upscale hotel, Le Sommet, is the setting for this thriller. A murder is followed by an avalanche that blocks the local police out, isolating guests, staff, and the killer setting the tone for this fast-paced novel. Weary and unsettled Elin Warner is on a leave of absence as a detective in the UK. Invited to join the celebration of her estranged brother and former girlfriend Laure. When Laure disappears old suspicions and tensions mount. Suspense ratchets up as the storm intensifies. The Sanatorium is more of a whodunit than a missing person; a debut novel sure to climb the best seller lists. So, here’s my take on a good mystery: it needs to be engaging, provide multifaceted characters, and be a story that sweeps you away to a different era or intriguing location. In my early days reading mysteries I was pacified with the predictable, but I quickly tired of reading the same author who invariably employed a similar plot and characters for each novel.

Finishing a good mystery is a bit like putting the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle.

Happy Pride Month!

If you were young and LGBTQ+ anytime before 1969, there was no world wide web, no “customers who bought this item also bought,” and no friendly librarians steeped in the parlance of broad-mindedness, diversity and human variety. Gay literature was not positively represented. In June, we celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride Month with the commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, which spurred the start of the modern gay rights movement.

Among other things, that movement lead to a shift in the perception of gay literature, and the acceptance of it remains a work in progress, a not-quite-there-yet effort. This annual observance showcases a glorious variety of humans, and it is a reminder that work remains to keep the evolution of LGBTQ+ rights moving in the direction of equality. As the Library of Congress put it, Pride month demonstrates “how LGBTQ Americans have strengthened our country, by using their talent and creativity to help create awareness and goodwill.”

Celebrate Pride with fiction and nonfiction from your library! Links titled Subjects, Genre, and Topics offer even more reading, listening and watching ideas. For a dash of past Pride, check out these blog posts from across the Library of Congress related to LGBTQ history. And now, onto the suggestions!

FOR KIDS 

Who is RuPaul? by Nico Medina. 

In this child-level nonfiction biography, learn how this Emmy-winning host, producer, and television personality became the world’s most famous drag queen. Even as a young child, RuPaul Andre Charles loved to dress up and imitate the glamorous women he saw on television. When he turned fifteen, he began studying theater in a performing arts school in Atlanta and never looked back. — from the publisher’s description

Be Amazing: A History of Pride by Desmond Napoles; pictures by Dylan Glynn

A kid-friendly primer to LGBTQ history that covers everything from the Stonewall Riots to RuPaul’s “Drag Race.” “Be Amazing” encourages young readers to embrace their own uniqueness and ignore the haters. Ages 0-8.

Subjects:Gays — Juvenile literature. Sexual minorities — Juvenile literature. Sexual orientation — Juvenile literature. Transgender people — Juvenile literature. Picture books for children. Gay liberation movement. Gay Pride Day.

FICTION

Patricia Highsmith‘s eerie 1952 romance-as-thriller, The Price of Salt, got the Hollywood treatment in 2015 and emerged as the feature film Carol. The rights to her first novel, Strangers on a Train, published in 1950, were immediately secured by Alfred Hitchcock, who released the classic film of the same name in 1951. She had her own group of underground Manhattan friends, all closeted lesbian “creatives,” including the remarkable photographer Berenice Abbott and the writer Djuna Barnes (doomy, melodramatic Nightwood, 1936).

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo  

Evaristo, winner of the 2019 Booker Prize for this title, is the first black woman to receive this highest literary honor in the English language. She compels the reader to accommodate and adjust, and the rewards for this tiny bit of mental labor are extraordinary. As she creates a space for immigrants and the children of immigrants to tell their stories, Evaristo explores a range of topics both contemporary and timeless. There is room for everyone to find a home in this extraordinary novel. Beautiful and necessary. — Kirkus Reviews.  Available to check out as a book club set!

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Cynical August starts to believe in the impossible when he meets Jane on the subway, a mysterious punk rocker she forms a crush on, who is literally displaced in time from the 1970s and is trying to find her way back. McQuiston’s joyful sophomore romp mixes all the elements that made “Red, White & Royal Blue” so outstanding—quirky characters, coming-of-age confusion, laugh-out-loud narration, and hilarious pop-cultural references (“Bella Swan, eat your horny little Mormon heart out”)—into something totally its own. 

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, this novel about a resilient and courageous woman transformed by the friendship of two remarkable women has become a Broadway show and a cultural phenomenon. Check out the book or the feature film.

Bessie  (DVD) starring Queen Latifah. Bessie Smith, known as the “Empress of the Blues,” was a bold, supremely confident artist who sang with breathtaking emotional intensity on songs such as “Down Hearted Blues,” “Empty Bed Blues,” and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” — Britannica.  While you’re at it, check out other materials featuring this Tennessee native.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Set in El Paso, Texas in the 80s, the novel follows two Mexican-American teenagers, their friendship, and their struggles with racial and ethnic identity, sexuality, and family relationships. A gem of a coming-of-age YA story.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth. In the early 1990s, when gay teenager Cameron Post rebels against her conservative Montana ranch town and her family decides she needs to change her ways, she is sent to a gay conversion therapy center. Check out the book or the feature film.  

Subjects:Gay teenagers — Drama. Sexual reorientation programs — Drama. 

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Emezi’s debut novel incorporates Igbo cosmology into her semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel about a young woman, Ada, who must contend with a multitude of identities living within her as she navigates the world—first in Nigeria and later as an immigrant in the United States. Exploring the spaces between gender, culture, and existence, Emezi writes of identities that do not fit neatly into a single category. 

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

A Vietnamese-American poet’s debut mines his extraordinary family story with passion and beauty. The novel also draws on elements of his life, to tell the coming-of-age story of Little Dog, the son of Vietnamese immigrant parents in the US. 

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin 

When David meets the sensual Giovanni in a bohemian bar, he is swept into a passionate love affair. But his girlfriend’s return to Paris destroys everything. Unable to admit to the truth, David pretends the liaison never happened – while Giovanni’s life descends into tragedy.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson 

Describes the funny, poignant adventures of a young girl’s adolescence. Jeanette is a bright and rebellious orphan who is adopted into an evangelical household in the dour, industrial North of England and finds herself embroidering grim religious mottoes and shaking her little tambourine for Jesus. Jeanette’s insistence on listening to truths of her own heart and mind—and on reporting them with wit and passion—makes for an unforgettable, moving chronicle into adulthood. “Winterson’s voice, with its idiosyncratic wit and sensitivity, is one you’ve never heard before.” — Ms. Magazine

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Tired of being labeled white trash, Ruth Anne Boatwright–a bastard who is attached to the indomitable women in her mother’s family–longs to escape from her hometown, and especially from Daddy Glen and his mean-spirited jealousy. Allison’s remarkable country voice emerges in a first novel spiked with pungent characters ranging from the slatternly to the grotesque, and saturated with sense of place — Greenville, S.C.

A landmark coming-of-age novel that launched the career of one of this country’s most distinctive voices, Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown, remains a transformative work more than forty years after its original publication. Born out of wedlock and adopted by a poor, loving family, Molly Bolt finds the South and even bohemian New York a hostile world for a lesbian but manages to thrive and remain confident. With her startling beauty and crackling wit, Molly finds that women are drawn to her wherever she goes–and she refuses to apologize for loving them back. This literary milestone continues to resonate with its message about being true to yourself and, against the odds, living happily ever after.

Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg 

Mrs. Threadgoode’s tale of two high-spirited women of the 1930s, Idgie and Ruth, helps Evelyn, a 1980s woman in a sad slump of middle age, to begin to rejuvenate her own life.

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger. A groundbreaking novel that tells the story of a transgender teen’s search for identity and acceptance. 

Subjects:Transsexuals — Fiction. Identity (Psychology) — Fiction.

HERmione by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) 

A semi-autobiographical tale of Doolittle’s early 20s. She is driven to a nervous breakdown by conflicting aspects of her personality. After her relationship ends (a thinly veiled portrait of Ezra Pound) and she comes home from Bryn Mawr, Hermione goes through a painful self-reflection with a beautifully transcribed eerie, interior monologue. 

Loving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert

When AP political reporter Lorena Hickok is assigned to cover Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1932 campaign, the two women become deeply involved. “Loving Eleanor” is a profoundly moving novel that illuminates a relationship we are seldom privileged to see, celebrating the depth and durability of women’s love.

The Magnificent Spinster : a novel  by May Sarton

The fifty-year friendship of two remarkable women, Jane and Cam, is relived as Cam, in her seventies, recalls and celebrates the personality, compassion, and fulfilling career of her recently deceased friend.

The Revolution of Little Girls by Blanche McCrary Boyd

Bedeviled by fragments of her childhood dreams, Ellen embarks on a painful odyssey that leads from her Charleston youth to lesbian experiences, spiritual quests, and a reconciliation with her mother.

Crossing by Pajtim Statovci; translated from the Finnish by David Hackston

Originally born in Kosovo to Albanian parents, Statovci’s family fled to Finland to escape the violence that destroyed Yugoslavia. This novel, a finalist for the National Book Award, follows a young Albanian boy, Bujar, and his best friend as they deal with the aftermath of war, eventually leaving to find better lives in Italy. In a foreign country, however, they are forced to confront their identities in more ways than one, exploring the intersections of sexual orientation, gender identity, alienation, and migration. –BUST Magazine

NONFICTION

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (true) story & art by Nagata Kabi; translation, Jocelyne Allen

This gripping graphic novel about a 28-year-old Japanese woman who is struggling with her sexuality and mental health, makes even the lumpiest of her warts-and-all confessions look adorable. Winner of many awards and critical acclaim, the memoir features minimalist drawings that underscore a powerful story of struggle and self-discovery and confronting topics ranging from sex work to depression with dignity and understanding. It will strike a chord with people from anywhere, undergoing any kind of struggle. 

Subjects:  Lesbians — Comic books, strips, etc.

The Sacred Band: Three Hundred Theban Lovers Fighting to Save Greek Freedom by James Romm. A vivid portrait of ancient Thebes — and the saga of the greatest military corps of the age, the Theban Sacred Band, a unit composed of 150 pairs of male lovers. A spirited, informative classical history from an expert on the subject. 

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein. Stein’s other writings include letters between her and Thornton Wilder. The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder  Edited by Edward Burns and Ulla E. Dydo, with William Rice.

The friendship between Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder is a surprise. How did two such different writers, of different generations and with such radically opposed cultural backgrounds, become so close? As the editors succinctly explain, and the letters so eloquently prove, Wilder, 37 when he first met Stein in Chicago in 1934, was in dire need of a mentor, and Stein, sanguine at 60, was thrilled to find a new disciple, especially one as gifted and impressionable as Wilder. –Booklist

Queer Intentions: a (Personal) Journey Through LGBTQ+ Culture by Amelia Abraham 

Today, the options and freedoms on offer to LGBTQ+ people living in the West are greater than ever before. But is same-sex marriage, improved media visibility and corporate endorsement all it’s cracked up to be? At what cost does this acceptance come? And who is getting left behind, particularly in parts of the world where LGBTQ+ rights aren’t so advanced? Combining intrepid journalism with her own personal experience, in “Queer Intentions,” Abraham searches for the answers to these urgent challenges, as well as the broader question of what it means to be queer right now.

Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism by Taylor G. Petrey

Information-packed, with a forceful thesis and jargon-free prose, this is an important contribution to Mormon studies as well as a convincing consideration of the ways religions construct and maintain frameworks. Petrey’s trenchant history takes a landmark step forward in documenting and theorizing about Latter-day Saints (LDS) teachings on gender, sexual difference, and marriage. 

Subjects:Gender identity — Religious aspects — Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sexual orientation — Religious aspects. Mormon Church — United States — History — 20th century. Mormon Church — Political activity — United States. Sexual ethics — Religious aspects — Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager

Short and straightforward profiles of queer figures throughout history, ranging from ancient and obscure to modern and well known. For as long as there’s been air, there’s been Queer; in acknowledgment, Prager offers 23 short biographies of individuals who changed their world and ours. Ages 12 and Up.

Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician elected to office in California, fought for civil and human rights. Elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, this charismatic and eloquent public servant was assassinated by a fellow supervisor almost a year after taking office on November 27, 1978, at age 48. Check out the books and documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk.  

Subjects:Milk, Harvey. Gay politicians — California — San Francisco. Assassination — California — San Francisco. Gay men — California — San Francisco — Biography. Gay liberation movement — United States Gay liberation movement — California — San Francisco — History — 20th century.

Art After Stonewall: 1969 – 1989, edited by Jonathan Weinberg. Explores the impact of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights movement on the art world of the period. It focuses on openly LGBTQ artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Catherine Opie, and Andy Warhol, as well as the practices of such artists as Diane Arbus, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Karen Finley in terms of their engagement with queer subcultures. –Adapted from inside front cover.

Subjects:Art — United States — 20th century — History and criticism — Exhibitions. Gay artists — United States — Exhibitions. Lesbian artists — United States — Exhibitions. Gay men in art — Exhibitions. Lesbians in art — Exhibitions. Transgender people in art — Exhibitions. Gender identity in art — Exhibitions. Gay liberation movement — United States — Exhibitions. Stonewall Riots, New York, N.Y., 1969.

Outlaw Marriages: the Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same-Sex Couples by Rodger Streitmatter

A selective glimpse at prominent same-sex nuptials. For more than a century before gay marriage became a hot-button political issue, same-sex unions flourished in America. In the households of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, both parties were famous. Walt Whitman, the father of free verse, had a 25-year relationship with his muse, the significantly younger railroad worker Peter Doyle. Jane Addams, the most admired woman in America in the 1900s, and who became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, had a 40-year marriage with Mary Rozet Smith, whose financial backing kept Hull House afloat. 

The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me : An Aristocratic Family, a High-Society Scandal and An Extraordinary Legacy by Sofka Zinovieff

In this gorgeous, entertaining narrative of bohemian aristocracy illustrated with lots of photos, Zinovieff gives an account of her grandparents’ unconventional relationship with her grandfather’s gay lover, examining period taboos, family secrets and cultural dynamics that shaped their shared lives. This impressively researched saga, which spans both world wars, is an effervescent account of the British upper class in the first half of the 20th century.

Genre: NonFiction; Domestic; Gay; Gay and lesbian; Lesbian; Sociology; Biography

Same-sex marriage; Marriage; Relationships; Gay lifestyle; Lesbians; Social history; American history

Topics: Same-sex marriage — United States.

Behind the Mask : the Life of Vita Sackville-West by Matthew Dennison. A lively, vigorously written biography of a singular character that beckons readers urgently back to Sackville-West’s writing. A British novelist and poet known mostly for her ardor for Virginia Woolf and as a gardener at Sissinghurst later in life, she grew up an only child to her overbearing mother. Her adoration for playing dramatic roles, cross-dressing, and wearing masks tied in befittingly with Vita’s extravagant, secretive persona, and her duality of nature, male and female, that she would try to resolve in her writing. 

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde

A collection of essential essays and speeches written by Lorde, a woman who wrote from the particulars of her identity: Black woman, poet, activist, cancer survivor, mother, and feminist writer. This collection now considered a classic volume, of Lorde’s most influential works of non-fiction prose has had a groundbreaking impact in the development of contemporary feminist theories. –Wikipedia

A Cure For The Boogie Woogie Blues

Sure, swing is fun, but why listen to the slow-paced stodginess of String of Pearls when you can lindy to that hot mess of jump blues known as Jump, Jive, an’ Wail? Granted, a little of the Ludwig Van is fine and dandy, but when all is said and done the hep cats just want to know Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby?

Now, many of you are thinking in your own unique vernacular, “What the heck is jump blues?” This redheaded stepchild of a genre is not so abundantly discussed as boogie woogie or R&B or swing, yet it’s related to all three styles and served as an important bridge leading to rock and roll. In most basic terms, jump blues is fast, jazz-oriented little-big-band chaos with intense vocals, call and response, humorous lyrics, honking saxophones and a pronounced swagger to its walk. The style first became popular in the 1940s and more recently has found a small but happy audience in today’s youth and elders.

Thanks to Hoopla, many jump blues artists are available for your listening pleasure, including Louis Jordan, one of the originators and standouts of this genre. Rooted in jazz, Jordan had a penchant for comedy which came out both in his music and the music videos he created in pre-MTV days. As one of the most successful and influential African-American artists of his time, Jordan scored hits with Caldonia, Choo Choo Ch’boogie and Five Guys Named Moe, as well as many more.

Another jump blues Louis, one who was the voice of King Louie in The Jungle Book, was Louis Prima.  He also began in jazz and moved toward jump blues at about the same time as Louis Jordan. When swing enjoyed a short-lived surge of popularity with the younger crowd in the 1990s, Prima’s Jump, Jive, an’ Wail was practically the theme song of the movement. With wild antics on trumpet and an equally fierce voice, Prima was a jump blues standout.

In the modern world which we currently inhabit, Squirrel Nut Zippers are perhaps the most successful and well-known practitioners of jump blues. This frenetic small big band pumps out crazy jitterbugging classics such as Hell, Fat Cats Keep Getting Fatter and Ghost of Stephen Foster that keep the kids’ toes tapping manically.

Amongst contemporary jump blues standouts are such diverse artists as Four Charms, Atomic Fireballs and Mike Sanchez. Each captures the excitement that jump blues incited at its inception while still sounding as fresh as a frosty morning in Denmark. With all the heat of hot jazz packed into gilded shrink wrap (metaphorically speaking), these folk help keep jump blues alive and kicking in the 21st century.

Music is always hard to describe with words, so check out these recording artists to find out the shocking truth about jump blues! And take a gander at Hoopla while you’re at it. The diversity of artists available for streaming is downright spectacular. As always, be sure to tuck in your safety flaps.

Old Dogs New Tricks

Since the pandemic began, I’ve been watching a lot more television and I’ve been drawn to lighter shows with some comedy. After a year at home, it’s becoming harder and harder to find new TV shows with lots of episodes to watch.

Lately we’ve been watching a British crime series that we’ve been enjoying very much. We discovered it on streaming and I was delighted to notice that we have Season 7 on DVD at the library. It’s called New Tricks and stars four great English actors (Amanda Redman, James Bolam, Alun Armstrong and Dennis Waterman).

Three retired English police officers return to work to hunt bad guys in a new unit called UCOS (Unsolved Crimes and Open Cases squad), reporting to a much younger female officer. They use old-fashioned police work and their decades of contacts to solve cases that defeated other squads. The characters are fantastic:

Jack is the executive, suit-wearing type – who has his beloved late wife buried in his back garden! His nightly talks to his wife (with her headstone surrounded by candles) are intriguing.

Brian has a photographic memory and recalls details of every case and person he’s ever heard of, as well as being the team’s computer guy. He has a hard time socializing with actual people but has a devoted wife.

Jerry has been married and divorced three times and has a daughter with each wife – they have formed a close-knit family unit and all regularly have dinner together. He’s the ladies man of the group and has good contacts on the street.

The tone is light-hearted and loyal – and they always solve the case! There are 12 seasons of the show, but the first 8 seasons are the only ones that contain all of the original cast, and these seasons are by far the best.

Coming of Age

I guess I like to read coming-of-age novels because they describe a process that is something painfully beautiful and life changing and totally unlike my coming of age event. I don’t think I had a coming-of-age moment, at least not the kind you see in movies (Ahem, I’m looking at you, John Hughes.) And that’s why I love novels that do have wonderous coming of age stories.

In Ellie Eaton’s The Divines, we are thrown between the present day and a run-down all-girls school in England in the 1990’s. Josephine is newly married and on her honeymoon with her husband Jurgen. As they’re driving to their honeymoon destination, Jo decides to make a detour to her old school. The school did not survive a scandal in Jo’s last year there and went on to become a dentist’s office while other buildings on the grounds were torn down.

Jo is thrown back into memories of her days at the girls’ school and how the townies used to bully them, beat them up for being “posh” girls who went to a fancy school. But Jo’s memories begin to lead her down a dark path, many of the memories involving an unliked and unwanted classmate by the name of Daphne who had an unfortunate accident falling out of a window.

Told in turn by the Jo of now (married and with a child) and the Jo of the mid 90’s (first loves, first times, finding a best friend in a townie girl who adopted her) The Divines is a novel about who you think you were, versus how you really were at a certain age. It’s also about realizing how others saw you at a certain point in your life and how you saw yourself and reconciling the two halves.

Make no mistake, this is no ‘frilly girly’ coming of age story. The Divines has sharp teeth and will dig into the deepest part of you, searching for any and everything you’re feeling only to suck that part out of you. This was one of those rare books that when I finished the last page, I had to put the book down and stare at the wall for a few minutes and sort myself out.

Enjoy The Divines and stare at the wall for an hour afterward. I swear you won’t regret it.

Whisper Down The Lane

How many times does a lie need to be told before it becomes the truth? If more than one person tells it then it must be true, right? If it is a child and the lie is outrageous then it is has to be true because a child could never make something up like that would they?

Imagine a fib you told as a child. A little white lie. Now imagine it taking on a life of its own and you have no control over it. It consumes everyone around you.

This is what happened to Sean as a young boy in Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman. He told his mom a fib, she told the authorities, who then told the school, who then told the other parents. The parents then asked their kids questions in such a way that the fib was planted in their minds and confirmed. Kids being kids, they wanted to please adults and tell them what they think they wanted to hear. The next thing you know people believed the lie and lives were ruined!

Fast forward many years. Richard starts working at an elementary school. The kids in his class are great. They have a classroom routine. Study, read a story and after lunch they have “circle time” and everyone naps. The children are happy and all are doing well.

It isn’t long before the routine gets broken and things take a turn for the worse. Richard finds a threatening note written in a child’s scrawl. The schools pet rabbit is killed. There are rumors around town and in the school about “devil worship.”

Soon Richard is under suspicion for something so terrible he can’t believe anyone would think of him, or anyone, doing such things. He especially can’t believe that the rest of the school staff are even considering he could have any part in it.

This book is a gripping story that could have been torn from the headlines. It filled me with fear to see how easily lies could be spread and that any one of us could bear the brunt of it. You’ll be reading late into the night to see what happens and how it will all end. Get your fingers in shape to turn these pages as fast as you can!

A Network Effect

If you need an example of something positive in this world, look no further than the recently announced Nebula Awards. If you aren’t aware, the Nebula Awards are the premier awards for science fiction and fantasy and this year Martha Wells has won for her novel, Network Effect.

I’ve reviewed Network Effect before, but it bears repeating how smart, creative, snarky and downright fun her whole Murderbot diaries series can be. Yes, I did just write Murderbot diaries. A tad dubious about taking up a series with a title like that? Here is a little intro to the character to ease your mind… somewhat.

Murderbot, the name it uses for itself but never shares, is a semi-organic sentient android known as a SecUnit. SecUnits are created and controlled by big corporations to do their bidding. This usually entails long hours of guarding corporate assets, with a little lethal force thrown in. Murderbot has hacked its Governor Module, however, and is now completely independent from its corporate overlords.

So, what does it do with this newfound freedom? Go on a murderous rampage perhaps or take over the world? No, Murderbot just wants to watch as many video serials as possible, especially its favorite space soap opera, Sanctuary Moon. Sadly, events force Murderbot to not only interact with humans, who it doesn’t understand and wants to avoid at all costs, but also engage with a world far different from its beloved fictional programs.

Network Effect is the first novel length book in the series and can definitely be read on its own. I would highly recommend starting from the beginning, however. All of the other entries, including the most recent (Fugitive Telemetry) are novellas so no need to worry about getting bogged down in lengthy tomes.

Be warned though, once you get hooked, you will probably be wishing for more. With a brand-new Nebula award in her pocket, fingers crossed that Martha Wells will be encouraged to add even more entries to this outstanding series.

T. Rex (Not The Dinosaur)

Tribute albums are often, simply put, horrible. While I get excited to hear new and exciting versions of songs I already love, the bands covering these tunes frequently play them exactly the same as the originals, except worse. So, I approached Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan & T. Rex with some trepidation.

Now, you may not know who Marc Bolan and T. Rex were, but that would be your bad, as the kids say. Granted, the reign of T. Rex really occurred 50 years ago, but as the pioneers of glam rock these lads were HUGE in the UK, at one point as popular as the Beatles. The U.S. did not embrace them quite as warmly, but Bang a Gong (Get it On) still enjoyed heavy rotation AM radio airplay in 1971.

The group started out as Tyrannosaurs Rex in 1967, playing psychedelic folk music sporting titles such as Frowning Atahuallpa (My Inca Love). But in 1970 their sound began to change to something new. Songs were simple, repetitive and catchy. Vocals still had a bit of a sweet folk ambiance. And the mood in general was happy, happy, happy. I think of T. Rex as providing the perfect soundtrack for the flower children. After 1973 the band’s popularity began to fade, and in 1977 singer and songwriter Marc Bolan died in an automobile accident. And though people may not have known it at the time, the group’s influence was just beginning to be felt on the shoulders and elbows of the music world. Flash forward to 2021, Angelheaded Hipster showcases an impressive catalog of hits with 2 discs of T. Rex songs, generally interpreted with great respect and more than a modicum of originality.

While comparing the original songs to the covers, I realized that T. Rex frequently employed orchestral strings in their music, often using them more than guitar. One example of this is found in Cosmic Dancer, which is covered here by Nick Cave. Anyone familiar with Mr. Cave is aware that he can interpret a tune, and interpret he does with piano and voice dominating this poignant rendering. The original assaults all that is holy with monstrously rocking drums, but Cave’s version remains sedate. Well worth checking out.

Metal Guru is covered by Nena on this compilation. Where T. Rex had a happy tune with heavy and huge instrumentation, Nena takes the same feel but makes it into a sixties Motown event. A most excellent example of an artist taking someone else’s song and making it their own.

Speaking of making something one’s own, Todd Rundgren takes the simple and straightforward Planet Queen and creates a swingful lounge feel that I found amusing and superb. A kinetic surge of psychedelic big band assaults the ears and caresses this listener’s pleasure centers.

Finally, the band’s biggest American hit, Bang a Gong (Get It On) is tackled by David Johansen, a former glamster with the New York Dolls. This cover plays almost like a comedy routine with crowd sounds from a fictitious night club accompanying the lounge lizard delivery of Johansen. While the original is essentially a rock and roll anthem, this new version is strictly the cat’s pajamas.

Conclusion? Angelheaded Hipster is a well-done tribute album to a group that we could all benefit from hearing. Check it out, check out other T. Rex releases. But most of all, have a glamorous experience.