Let’s Get Sleazy!

SoHo SinsI need a bath. Maybe a shower too. And some steel wool. I might never feel clean again. But that’s kind of the point of reading pulp, to slither through filthy streets, vicariously partake of forbidden fruit and get really, really slimy.

The Hard Case Crime books are a contemporary series of pulp / detective / noir books, some reprints of old stories, some newly written ones. Many are gems. Today we look at a brand spankin’ new hard case, a trashy, delicious, disgusting, amazing story by first-time novelist Richard Vine called SoHo Sins.

I read a lot of pulp. Truth be told, there’s not a lot of variety in the genre. The beauty typically comes in the language, the prose. Stories tend to borrow liberally from the tried-and-true, with minor variations. Not so for SoHo Sins. What I like about this book is the ways in which it stretches the standard pulp template. The main character/narrator is a wealthy art dealer, not a detective (neither professional nor amateur). He is close friends with a P.I. but their friendship is never explained nor explored (which I quite enjoy). This P.I. asks the art dealer for help in investigating a murder that on the surface seems to be an open-and-shut case. So we do have a murder, a suspect (who is possibly being framed) and an investigation, all typical pulp fare. However, the way that things unfold is anything but typical.

The detective, usually the focal point of pulp novels, is almost a minor character in SoHo Sins. Instead, our narrator, the art dealer, is the story’s focus. He’s the one who carries out most of the investigative legwork. And this detecting occurs at an almost leisurely pace, pausing for months while the art dealer deals art. It’s a lovely technique for freshening up a well-trodden path.

As the investigation meanders along, the detective focuses on a suspected child pornographer, and we meet a 12-year-old girl who is the daughter of a friend of the art dealer (try to keep up with me here). The girl, along with her mother, moves into the same building as the narrator and she starts referring to him as her boyfriend. This does not bother him, a man of some years, as much as it should. The detective asks him to investigate the pornographer (who is obviously interested in the 12-year-old), which requires him to pose as a fellow … pervert? Thus begins the descent into the slime.

Perhaps you can see why it’s bath time.

SoHo Sins will be published on July 19 and it will soon join the EPL collection of Hard Case Crime novels, along with the titles pictured below:

group1

group2

 

Bowie Has Left the Planet

group0

10 years of nothingness had passed when seemingly out of nowhere David Bowie released The Next Day. People assumed he’d retired from music, the album came as a complete surprise. Although it took two years to record, Bowie made sure it was kept entirely secret. If I’d been paying attention to his career, had known he was still capable of making incredible music, I would have been thrilled! But the release passed me by, unnoticed. Until now.

When I think of Bowie, I tend to think of Suffragette City and other songs in that vein. If one approaches his later work with the expectancy of Ziggy Stardust rocking out, one will be disappointed. Unlike mosquitos filled with dinosaur DNA, artists are not bugs captured in amber. Their work evolves over time. People age, their capabilities change. In the case of David Bowie, his voice is the most noticeable difference, no longer as flexible, no longer as energetic or dynamic. Yet … still amazing. Melodies tend to be a bit more monotone, tempos slower, dynamics softer. But this isn’t better or worse, it’s just new.

The Next Day includes songs that range from full-on rockers ([You Will] Set The World on Fire), to the slow and delicate (Where Are We Now?) to standard anthems (How Does the Grass Grow?) to chaos infused with fits of stability (If You Can See Me). Styles are incredibly varied. This is classic Bowie yet innovative. While you might find some tarnish amongst the glitter, the album is certain to please.

group1

The following year, 2014, saw the release of Nothing Has Changed, a career-spanning collection of greatest hits reaching back to 1969 and wrapping up with selections from 2013’s The Next Day. All phases of Bowie’s career, other than Tin Machine, are covered in this comprehensive release. If you’re looking for an introduction to 45 years of music, Nothing Has Changed is an excellent choice.

group2

And finally, all too soon, I come to that which I’ve been putting off, the acceptance of mortality. Perhaps when I was unaware of his later work I didn’t care as much, but now I’m truly sorry I’ve heard the last of David Bowie. His music will always be there for me, but it is complete, finite, there will be no more.blackstar

In my research for this series of posts I made an intriguing discovery: every David Bowie album has a picture of Bowie on the cover. Sometimes it’s a fairly simple photo, other times a cartoonish drawing, a stylized scenario, or even, as in the case of The Next Day, the re-use of a previous album cover (Heroes) with Bowie’s photo obscured by a white square. Every cover sports a picture of Bowie except for the cover of his final album. Blackstar features the image of a black star. This seems significant. We could ponder the symbolism of a black star or the clues found in the album’s lyrics, but instead of dwelling upon the sadness of death, let us rejoice that Blackstar is a stunning collection of music.

Somewhat in the same vein as The Next Day, the album features songs varying in style tremendously, laid-back vocals and a quiet/ethereal/sparse mood. It’s one of the best efforts from Bowie’s later career, a thoroughly satisfying and lush listening experience. The opening song, Blackstar, is simply gorgeous. Beautiful keyboards, a dark mood and a story well-matched by its music. Sue is an unsettling song filled with discomfiting music. Wild, crazy percussion and bass play frantically beneath sparse, languishing vocals. The album concludes with a celebratory mood in I Can’t Give Everything Away, a wonderful career-ending song.

And then, Bowie left the planet.

Reading for Empathy

indexThe 2016 summer reading assignment for Whitman College freshmen  is to read the book Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. It is a collection of essays that explore empathy, beginning with her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose. Jamison’s essays ask essential questions about our basic understanding of others: Why should we care about each other? Is empathy a tool by which to test or even grade each other? How can my child become more empathetic? How important is reading fiction in socializing children? How does reading literature move people in a different way than non-fiction reading?

Researchers at The New School in New York City have found evidence that literary fiction improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling. And a Cambridge University study by Maria Nikolajeva, professor of education, found that “reading fiction provides an excellent training for young people in developing and practising empathy and theory of mind, that is, understanding of how other people feel and think.” Finding the right book is the first step to helping children understand what their peers may be thinking and feeling.

index (1)I once had a father who wanted a book for his young son who was starting to bully another boy in preschool partly because the new boy was from another country. I came up with I’m New Here by Anne O’Brien, in which three children from Somalia, Guatemala, and Korea struggle to adjust to their new home and school in the United States. It is positive and uplifting, as they do all make new friends and succeed at the end of the book.

index (2)The book that I thought of after the father had walked away was Children Just Like Me by Anabel Kindersley. Photographs and text depict the homes, schools, family lives, and cultures of young people from around the world. Children will enjoy reading about the dreams and beliefs, hopes and fears, and day-to-day events of other children’s lives. Children are encouraged to participate in a special pen pal arrangement, so they may share their own experiences with children in other countries.

index (1)Another book along these lines is A Life Like Mine: How Children Live Around the World by DK Publishing. Wonderful photos show children from all over the world leading their lives in completely different and fascinating ways. They speak different languages, look different, and face all kinds of challenges every day. Although they live thousands of miles apart, in so many ways their needs and hopes are alike. Meet these special children in this book and other books created by UNICEF and DK Publishing.

index (2)A fascinating ‘look-at’ book is What the World Eats by Peter Menzel. This is a  photographic collection exploring what the world eats featuring portraits of twenty-five families from twenty-one countries surrounded by a week’s worth of food. The resulting family portraits give an interesting glimpse into the cultural similarities and differences served on dinner plates around the world.

index (3)One of my favorite picture books is Stella’s Starliner by Rosemary Wells. Stella is perfectly happy living in her silver home until a group of weasels tease her for living in an air stream trailer. Her bubble is burst but her parents help her by moving the trailer to a new setting where she meets two bunnies who think that her home is awesome and that she must be really rich to live in a silver home. You’ll just love Stella and her story.

indexLast Stop on Market Street won both the Caldecott Honor Award and the Newberry Medal this year. Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty–and fun–in their routine and the world around them.

Reading is a great way to understand another’s situation or feelings. When you read, you walk a mile in another’s shoes and get an idea of his feelings and situation. I hope that these books (and others that we have at the library) will help your child empathize with others.

Vroom Vroom

suicidemotorclubI have to admit I almost didn’t read this book for a stupid reason: I kept seeing an ad for it on Facebook. I rolled my eyes and thought ‘Another self-published writer hawking his stuff on Facebook. Ugh.’ This is how I know I probably won’t be a published writer. I don’t like to pimp my work out. I feel like one of those pimps with a gold-fish in the heel of his platform shoes, a purple fedora with an Ostrich feather dangling off it, and a voice that could melt steel: “Hey, guuuuuuuurl. You wanna read my short story? Leave the money on the dresser.”

But then I was processing new books and The Suicide Motor Club by Christopher Buehlman turned up. I sighed the sigh of a billion sighs and thought: ‘might as well take a peek at it.’

I am glad I did.

Granted, I am super high on Benadryl as I’m writing this so maybe I’m seeing the novel through Benadryl colored glasses. And that little dragon running by with a cat on its back isn’t helping. Someone’s at the door. I smell pennies. The lights just flickered. I smell burning toast.

Oh….Benadryl.

Picture it: a deserted stretch of road on Route 66 in New Mexico, 1967. In the dark heart of the night a car full of psychopaths preys on those passing through this lonely stretch of nowhere. They pull up alongside other cars and snatch people away. Sounds kind of acrobatic for humans, huh? Well they aren’t human. They look into your eyes and can convince you of anything. Want to kill your husband? Go ahead, the rifle is in the hall closet. On top of a high-rise? Get up on that ledge and drop because you’re a bird.

One night while roaring up and down the highway looking for cars to wreck, they pull alongside a car with a woman, a man, and a small child. Quick as an eighth grader sneaking a cigarette behind the cafeteria dumpster, they grab the boy from the car and intentionally run it off the road where it crashes, killing the man but leaving the woman barely alive. Nobody questions a wrecked vehicle along the side of the road. Bad things happen on empty roads. You drive by a wreck and a secret sick fascination compels you to look for bodies by the road.

Fast forward two years later. The woman, Judith, has physically recovered from that horrible night but in her brain she’s been plotting revenge. Not knowing whether her child is still alive or was killed immediately after being grabbed, she becomes a nun. This is the first step of her revenge. Waaaaay drastic measure. She gets contacted by a group made up of people whose loved ones have been snuffed out by the carload of vampires and are bent on seeking revenge. Yeah, I said vampires but don’t worry about it. These vampires do not sparkle or feel love. This is basically the group:  a bunch of people who were assholes when they were alive and are now undead, but still assholes.

Except there’s one vampire who walks a fine line between good and evil, whose vestiges of humanity throws Judith for a loop. Kinda threw me too. I like my vampires evil as can be. I don’t want any of those vampires who loathe their existence and rail at a God for letting them become monsters. Not God’s fault. He was probably on a conference call with Pat Robertson and Jim Jones.

While reading this I would sometimes have to close the book and stare off into space for five minutes. How is that different from what I do with every book I read? Usually when I stare at a wall I’m thinking about what I want to eat, is it going to involve putting on pants, and do I have to interact with other humans. Reading The Suicide Motor Club made me put the book down and stare at the wall both in awe and in frustration. I’ll never be able to write like this, damn it. This book is up there with Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire mixed in with a little bit of Stephen King and a pinch of the hilarious Christopher Moore.

So there you have it. A car full of marauding monsters not unlike the ‘Squeal like a piggy’ psychopaths from Deliverance except instead of rape, they will drain your body of blood and leave you on the side of the road next to the burned out hulk of your car. End of story. Okay. You can go now. Get out of here before I throw some holy water on you and throw a cross at your head.

Spot-Lit for July 2016

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, emerging, and debut authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases for July, 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 2016 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction
Most Popular Books @ EPL

New Reviews From Sarah

Here are two new reviews from Sarah. For more of Sarah’s reviews, and lots of other great stuff, head over to our Facebook page.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

VegetarianThis novel won the Man Booker Prize for fiction, and I was concerned it might be too “literary” for my tastes. But it’s easily accessible, and I devoured it in two days.  The title, while accurate, is pretty nondescript at explaining this complex work. Yeong-hye, an obedient and solemn wife, decides to quit eating meat, after she has a disturbing nightmare. No one in her family can understand her reasoning, or her consequent retreat into herself. Yeong-hye’s emotions seem to shut down, as she rejects those closest to her, and isolates. Her brother-in-law, an artist who has lost inspiration, becomes obsessed with Yeong-hye. His artistic vision requires her participation in an explicit sensual piece of performance art. In-hye, Yeong-hye’s sister, struggles with her own mental fragility, as she attempts to assist her ailing sister. Kang follows each character’s unique mental stability, delusions and dreams. It’s challenging to determine which character is falling into madness. This is truly a unique and dark look at the human mind, connections and instinct.

Kill Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride

killemandleaveJames McBride, National Book Award winner and musician in his own right, sets off to explore the roots of the iconic soul legend, James Brown. James Brown led a complicated life, and he was a very secretive man. Few people were let into his inner circle, and he purposefully kept his fans and entourage at a distance. Brown was born in South Carolina in extreme poverty, spent his adolescence with extended family and got interested in music at a young age. McBride delves deep into Brown’s past, interviewing past band members, family members and those who knew Brown best. This biography isn’t chronological, but collates a myriad of personal recollections, attempting to find the real James Brown. Unbeknown to me, James Brown informally adopted Al Sharpton, helping to shape the civil rights leader’s career and focus. McBride’s writing is easily digestible, and he provides a lyrical account of the racial environments that produced a legend. One of the best books I’ve read this year, and McBride may have set himself up for another award.

Comics TBR

comics tbr

Comic books! I totally missed out on the awesomeness of comics when I was a kid and I find myself more than making up for it as an adult. Lately, however, I find that my eyes are bigger than my allotted reading time. It’s like being at a buffet and filling up plate after plate, but in the end you only have so much time to eat.

I’m hoping to grab some time this weekend to play a little catch-up, and I thought a great way to psych myself up would be to share with you just a few of the series that are currently casting a shadow in front of my Shakespeare books at home. I’ll pair them up how I plan to read them. Maybe if you’ve already read one, you’d consider reading its complementary series?

Lumberjanes & Gotham Academy
Lumberjanes was one of the first comic series I really got into reading. A group of girls meets at summer camp and form fast friendships. Soon, however, they realize the surrounding woods are home to magical creatures who aren’t always harmless. It’s up to our gals from the Roanoke cabin to take all that knowledge they gained from earning badges and apply it to the real-life situations they face.

Gotham Academy is about an adventurous group of kids about the same age as our Lumberjanes. Though these kids attend a boarding school outside Gotham City, they also have their share of run-ins with the impossible. And while these two have similarities, they’re listed here together because just this month a new comic series has begun where they have put both casts of characters together in one adventure. This new team-up series is going to be one of the first comics I finish off of that giant stack pictured above.

Batgirl & Black Canary
Did you know that the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, was a librarian? It’s true! And while the reboot of one of my favorite characters has gone in a new direction (Babs is in her 20s and in college) I’m totally loving it. There’s a lot of focus on her struggle to balance school, work, friendships, and relationships with fighting crime in Burnside (kinda like Brooklyn).

Dinah Lance is a character I first met in an issue of Batgirl. She fronts a band called Black Canary…and I’m having trouble remembering more details because I’ve only read the first issue! I do remember that they’re like a magnet for trouble. All their concerts get riot-ish and it’s up to them to find out why before they start losing fans.

She-Hulk & Patsy Walker aka Hellcat
Okay, so I’ve actually read all the She-Hulk issues and am almost up-to-date on Patsy Walker aka Hellcat. However, these two pair so well together I had to take the opportunity to tell you about them. She-Hulk, Jennifer Walters, is a defense attorney and a Hulk who can actually control her rage. Hellcat, Patsy Walker, works for a time as an investigator for She-Hulk. The two are really good friends who work well together, both professionally and personally. And they’re both willing to go the extra mile for the underdog.

Rat Queens & Nimona
I’m big into RPGs (role playing games) and so it’s totally surprising that I haven’t actually read Rat Queens yet. Here’s the summary from the library’s catalog:

Who are the Rat Queens? A pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire, and they’re in the business of killing all god’s creatures for profit. It’s also a darkly comedic sass-and-sorcery series starring Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief.

Nimona will also appeal to fantasy fans, though again I’m not sure why I haven’t read this yet. The character Nimona is a shapeshifter who teams up with a villain and tries to prove that the heroes of the land aren’t actually heroes after all. Alan reviewed it last year as one of the best graphic novels of 2015, so I would truly be a fool to let this sit around collecting dust much longer.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. If we consider my stack of unread comic books a buffet, I am planning to gorge myself and soon!