Best of 2017: Books for Adults

With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas on the near horizon, it is time for the ‘Best of 2017’ lists to begin. We here at the library are not immune to wanting to get all of our favorites from the year listed and out to you. And you can bet we have a lot to share. So much so that we will be dividing up our recommendations into four posts, starting with our recommendations for 2017’s best in Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction and Graphic novels. If you want to check out the whole list, definitely take a look at the Library Newsletter.

Adult Fiction

Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

Kate, whose lifelong anxiety is compounded by a traumatic event, bravely switches apartments with her cousin– he moves to London and she to Boston. Right away a neighbor disappears, and this time Kate is right when she imagines the worst.

While not my usual fare, I really enjoyed flying through this page-turner of a story. With its suspenseful elements of “Rear Window” and a strong visual sense of place, I’d love to see this made into a movie!  –Elizabeth

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

When elderly author Gil thinks he sees his presumed-dead wife Ingrid, he falls and injures himself. The action takes off when Gil’s daughters arrive to take care of him, alternating between Ingrid’s story and the present-day family dynamics.

I loved Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days. While not as intense, this new work proves the author’s ability. The gradual reveal of the mystery of Ingrid’s disappearance kept me guessing to the end and beyond. Loved the setting, too!  –Elizabeth

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

Emma and Jane each rent a home from an enigmatic and stringent architect whose rules and designs are meant to transform the tenants. Their stories unfold through suspenseful, short chapters alternating between the two women—one alive, and the other dead.

I like a fast-paced whodunit. Some sections were a bit graphic for my taste, but I couldn’t put it down!  –Margo

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less is more, unless your name is Arthur Less, and then less is never enough! He travels all over the world trying to change his luck and forget his past. But fate has other plans for Arthur.

I loved this book because Arthur was so hopelessly loveable, even though he’s convinced that he’s unlovable.  –Linda

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

A publisher and editor are reading the newest submission from famous author Alan Conway in his “Atticus Pünd” series. Then they realize the last chapter is missing. Before they have a chance to ask him where it is, Alan commits suicide. Or does he?

What a fun book! Magpie Murders is a mystery within a mystery—a really challenging whodunit!  –Linda

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

A mother’s hurried choice of a nanny for her toddler results in multiple complications. Art, privilege, motherhood, love, and seriously dysfunctional relationships thrive in Lepucki’s second novel, which is nothing like her first, California.

Having gone to art school myself, I enjoyed the bizarre art project that the nanny contrives to undertake right under the nose of the mother. The added touches of Twitter addiction, selective mutism, and reckless behavior make this an entertaining read.  –Elizabeth

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Samuel Hawley, scarred from 12 bullet wounds, has lived a life of crime about which his daughter, Loo, knows nothing. Gradually, the story behind each of those bullets is revealed, along with the truth about Loo’s mother’s death.

Despite the violence of Hawley’s former life he fiercely loves and protects Loo. This dichotomy between despicable behavior and tenderhearted parenting makes this an endlessly intriguing story, full of intensity and complexity. I loved it!  –Elizabeth

Edgar and Lucy by Victor Lodato

Edgar is a quirky 8-year-old struggling to find his place. His dad is dead, his mother is a messed up partier, and his loving grandmother just died. When a strange man treats Edgar with kindness, he makes the grave mistake of getting pulled under his spell.

Seriously flawed characters galore here, but you can’t help but empathize with each one and even understand their crazy actions. Suspenseful, full of twists and turns—it keeps you guessing!  –Elizabeth

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

Seven tales of middle-aged guys and the women they’ve known, loved, used, and lost. One is starving from unrequited love. Another hears about his lover’s former life as an eel. One wakes up as a Gregor Samsa, a man after having been a cockroach.

It’s hard to put into words why I love Murakami’s work. It’s a sort of intense introspective wonder about people, relationships, and the world in general. I loved the incredible details of these stories, and didn’t want any of them to end.  –Elizabeth

The Echo of Twilight by Judith Kinghorn

Pearl Gibson works her way up to becoming the head maid for the wealthy and strong-willed Lady Ottoline Campbell. The two ladies’ lives intertwine over the years as they deal with love, loss, and secrets.

The Echo of Twilight is a sweeping story that is reminiscent of Downton Abbey. The descriptions of lush scenery, opulent surroundings, and interesting relationships between characters made for a fantastic read.  –Liz

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

This is the last installment in the Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy. Feyre learns how to use her powers and become a leader in order to try save those in the human realm as well as those in the Faerie realm.

I would describe this book as “Twilight for grown-ups.” It’s filled with action, romance, magic, and the supernatural.  –Liz

Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

In a world where nothing holds its shape unless labeled and named by humans over and over, Vanja travels to cold, dreary Amatka to study hygiene products for the government. Initially, she is a loyal servant but soon discovers all is not what it seems.

Amatka kept me fascinated from bizarre beginning to ambiguous end, which I hope hints at more to come from this debut Swedish author.  –Elizabeth


How to be Human
by Paula Cocozza

Mary, newly separated, barely keeping her head above water, with a tedious job and a ramshackle house, becomes enamored with a splendidly gorgeous wild fox. To Mary’s horror, the neighbors want to bring in an exterminator.

This strange storyline made me a bit worried at times, wondering what might happen. But I loved the buildup of tension and claustrophobia, and finally, Mary’s transformation.  –Elizabeth

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

A strange Victorian tale of small village fears and superstitions. Is there a monster lurking in the fog and mist of Colchester? Add in a forbidden love story, a tragic case of consumption, religion, science, and feminism, and the result is intriguing.

My son called this audiobook “overwrought,” but I loved performer Juanita McMahon’s voice. Plus, the main character Cora, who wears men’s clothes and tromps around in the bog studying nature, is certainly a woman ahead of her time.  –Elizabeth

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

Told from a variety of perspectives, Mrs. Fletcher follows the misadventures of a 46-year-old divorcee and her son, as the son adapts to college and the mom adapts to an empty nest.

Perrotta (Little children, Election, and The Leftovers) returns with his first amusing, thought-provoking, character-driven novel in six years. As raunchy as it may be, it is far sweeter… and harder to put down.  –Alan

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

The latest from the British mystery author of In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10—this is another terrific thriller regarding teen best friends who carry a deadly secret into adulthood.

Chock full of twists and stunningly styled, The Lying Game is thrillingly engaging, especially as an audiobook performed by the incomparable Imogen Church.  –Alan

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

In 1940s Italy, teenager Pino Lella joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape over the Alps and falls for a beautiful widow. He also becomes the personal driver of one of the Third Reich’s most powerful commanders.

This is a “can’t put it down” book based on a true story. Totally loved it!  –Leslie

Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith

A paean both to the public library and the book, Scottish novelist Ali Smith’s latest book blends true words from library lovers with short stories suffused with her trademark magical realism.

This book serves as a kind of literary activism. While it is known that Smith writes so beautifully, her reading of the audiobook is what really recommends this inspiring work.  –Alan

Adult Non-Fiction

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking

This book has recipes, decorating tips, and lifestyle advice about how the Danes incorporate hygge—meaning comfort or well-being—into their everyday lives, making them some of the happiest people in the world.

I really love all the information about making your home more comfortable and your lifestyle more relaxed in order to fully appreciate the important things in life such as family and friends.  –Liz

Driving Miss Norma: One Family’s Journey Saying Yes to Living by Tim Bauerschmidt

Recently widowed nonagenerian Norma opts out of cancer treatment and goes on an adventure of a lifetime in an RV with her son, daughter-in-law, and a large poodle. This book chronicles their journey and shares the warmth, wisdom, and kindness they encountered every step of the way.

Driving Miss Norma teaches us to embrace life and adventure. We are never too old to try new things.  –Julie

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

A husband and wife team shares their personal story, from humble beginnings to their current careers as home improvement experts and television personalities.

These two have a remarkably strong relationship, four kids, work really hard in all aspects of life, and are amazing at home remodel and design. This is a fascinating story that reveals the couple behind the popular TV show, Fixer Upper–Margaret

Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

Osage Indians in Oklahoma were among the wealthiest people in America in the 1920s, thanks to the discovery of oil beneath their land. And then, one by one, dozens of tribal members were murdered, as were the local law enforcement officials who dared investigate the killings. The fledgling FBI picked up the case and bungled it badly.

This is one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history and a very good read.  –Leslie

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? Acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson guides readers through these questions in this compact and contemplative guide to the cosmos.

Tyson brings the universe down to earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit, in tasty chapters consumable anytime and anywhere in your busy day.  –Leslie

The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage by Jared Yates Sexton

Featuring in-the-field reports as well as deep analysis, Sexton’s book is a sobering chronicle of our polarization and a firsthand account of the 2016 presidential election and the cultural forces that powered Trump’s victory.

Sexton grapples with the lies, news, ugly debate, social media echo chambers…and tells us how we got here. One critic called it “A leftist counterweight to Hillbilly Elegy with shots of Hunter S. Thompson.”– Alan

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay delves into one of the most painful and deeply personal aspects of herself: her body. This is her story of how a major trauma from her adolescence played out and manifested itself through her body.

This book touches on an issue that almost every woman can relate to in our country. Gay’s honesty and vulnerability show the interrelatedness of trauma and disordered eating.  –Serena

‘Twas the Nightcap before Christmas by Katie Blackburn & Sholto Walker

A new version of an old tale—absolutely adorable and relatable! Any parents who have been up until the wee hours of Christmas Eve will wonder why it took until now for someone to write this. I loved it, and can’t wait to buy my own copy!

The story and artwork were both fun!  –Linda

Adult Graphic Novels

Motor Crush 01 by Brenden Fletcher

Domino Swift might be the best motorcycle racer alive, but her activity on the underground racing circuit is jeopardizing her official career. Domino’s real trouble begins when she finds herself battling a gang over a mysterious illegal engine stimulant.

The Road Rash-style motorcycle racing would have been enough to get my interest, but the futuristic setting along with a slight Overdrive vibe to the artwork adds a layer of depth to the storytelling and completes the experience.  –Zac

Savage Town by Declan Shalvey

Jimmy Savage is a small time gangster in Ireland struggling to keep his small empire together with threats from outside, as well as from within.

The authentic-sounding dialogue brings this story to life and makes it more than just another gangster story.  –Zac

Labor and Lumber

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To help commemorate the centennial of the Everett Massacre, we’ve pulled together this list of historical fiction titles. Only Sawdust Empire, by J.D. Howard, deals directly with the bloody events on Everett’s waterfront 100 years ago, but all of these books look at the timber industry and laborers from the 1890s to the present day (with many of them emphasizing the labor struggles of the 1930s).

Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, about an Oregon logging family that continues to work through a bitter strike, is the best-known of these Northwest labor novels. But it’s good to see the recent reprinting of Robert Cantwell’s long out-of-print, Aberdeen-set novel, The Land of Plenty (originally published in 1935). For a mid-century style and take see Roderick Haig-Brown’s 1942 book, Timber, with its detailed accounts of logging work, and his 1949 title On the Highest Hill. Cormac McCarthy fans ought to appreciate Brian Hart’s gritty 2014 novel, Bully of Order about the extremely rough and lawless world of a Northwest coast logging town in the 1890s.

If you like a bit of mystery with your historical fiction, take a look at the award-winning Timber Beasts or Black Drop by S.L. Stoner, or The Big Both Ways by John Straley.

Click here to see a list of all of these titles in the library catalog and to place holds. Or click on a book jacket below to enlarge it or to view the covers as a slide show.

For additional fiction focusing on the laboring life, take a look at the titles in this list.

Quick Picks!

c1d4eb0de14c5411ecece51e6819d96eDid you know that we have a browsing section of books at the Everett Public Library that consists of newly published trade and mass market paperbacks? They are called “Quick Picks” and you can find great titles that are almost always available because no one can place holds on these books. Think of it: Brand new hot paperback titles, yours for the taking. This is your chance to get those hardbound bestsellers that are just out in paper. Here are a few that I have eyed lately.

index-3Look closely at the photo above.  I just spied a book which is on the current paperback non-fiction bestsellers list. Do you see it? S P Q R by Mary Beard is a history of Rome with passion and without technical jargon. It’s history written with common sense, a point of view and a healthy level of snark just to keep things interesting. So this is how perusing the Quick Picks works. You find books that you didn’t even know you needed!

 

51ab-hiwhml-_sx336_bo1204203200_I recently found a stunner of a book, Isabella the Warrior Queen.  Kristin Downey takes the Spanish Queen out from behind the shadow of Ferdinand and illuminates her importance in the history of the world. As Queen, she took effective measures against the Muslim threat to western civilization, had the vision to support Columbus’ venture and set the stage for the Spanish/Hapsburg empire building in Europe and the Americas. Oh, yes. And she started the Inquisition. Oops!  Nonetheless, this is an amazing story of a remarkable woman that reads like a novel. I highly recommend it!

indexThere’s a great selection of non-fiction in the Quick Picks section. Julie, a co-worker, recommended Pogue’s Basics: Life; Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You). It’s a great ‘nibbler’ book and by that I mean you can open it up anywhere and read a bit. There’s useful information like how to remember how to set the utensils on your table: it’s alphabetical, fork, knife, spoon from the left. Also, fork and left both have four letters while knife, spoon and right have five letters. See? You gotta read this one!

index-1Welcome to Subirdia by John M Marzluff is also available as a Quick Pick. There are always overflow crowds when this University of Washington professor lectures at EPL. Avoid the crowds and get this author all to yourself with this book about how birds have adapted and survived in urban areas. In this fascinating and optimistic work, Marzluff tells how our own actions affect the birds and animals that live in our cities and towns, and he provides ten specific strategies everyone can use to make human environments friendlier for our natural neighbors.

index-2I just grabbed a copy of The Shell Collector which is a collection of exquisitely crafted short stories by the author of the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning #1 New York Times bestseller All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr. This is a wonderful collection of longish short stories. The loose theme that weaves them together is water, the sea, love of nature, and finding your place in life, even if it means severing ties with those you love. Check it out if only to read the title story. And to gaze at the cover. Beautiful.

index-1Did you miss Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun when it was popular as a hardbound book? Read the Quick Pick! This novel by Beryl Markham transports you to 1920’s Kenya and the world of Out of Africa. This is historical fiction that is beautifully written, historically accurate, and utterly engrossing. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes strong female figures and/or has an interest in 20th century colonial Africa. This is one great read.

 

index-2Who can resist the idea of a book barge on the Seine in Paris where the bookseller, Jean Perdu, uses his intuition to select just the right book to deal with whichever emotion – small or large – is afflicting you? Nina George writes a charming, wise and winsome novel in The Little Paris Bookshop. We go on a journey with Perdu to the South of France as he moves from being lost in grief to slowly reclaiming himself and his life. The further south we go, the warmer the weather and the more Perdu comes alive. Bookseller. Lost love. The wisdom of books. All combine to make an enchanting read. Don’t miss it.

So remember to check out our Quick Picks collections at both locations. Browse a selection of mystery, romance, and notable bestsellers. Don’t waste your money on books when you can borrow them from your library. Quick! Pick a book!

Summer Reading, Having a Blast!

Book and StonesI’ve signed up for the Adult Summer Reading Program at the Everett Public Library and I’m super happy about my reading stack this summer. I’ve only read three so far, but I’m excited to get some time to read and also to share the whole pile with you. Here goes!

indexIf you’re pining for the old days when you could ride your pony to the candy store, I recommend Elizabeth Lett’s book The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation. This book tells the dramatic odyssey of a horse called Snowman, saved from the slaughterhouse by a young Dutch farmer named Harry. Harry and Snowman went on to become America’s show-jumping champions, winning first prize in Madison Square Garden. Set in the mid-to late-1950s, this book also includes a fair amount of history of the horse. I dare you not to cry when Snowy dies.

indexUnder the Wide and Starry Sky is the fictionalized account of the relationship of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his spunky, older American wife Fanny. It is beautifully written and meticulously researched. This novel met all of my criteria for good historical fiction: believable characters, atmospheric setting, and it leaves you wanting to know even more about the people, places, and events. Besides, the boat that they adventured in is right here on the waterfront in Everett.

index (3)Shadows in the Vineyard: the True Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine is by Maximillien Potter. On the surface, it is a true story of an extortion plot against the world’s greatest vineyard, a tiny patch of land in Burgundy, France which grows the universally acclaimed best wine in the world. But it’s also the story of the family that grows the wine: the generations that have owned and run the vineyard, treating the vines like their own children, back to when they bought it after the French Revolution. Cheers!

index (1)A Hero of France: A Novel by Alan Furst is set in Paris,1941. Mathieu leads a small group of Resistance fighters. They help British airmen stranded in occupied France to make their way to Spain and then return to England. It’s dangerous work. Mathieu has to rely on his instincts to know who he can trust. He also needs to build a network of people he can rely on and be able to rapidly improvise when things don’t go according to plan (which is pretty much all the time). Meanwhile, a top German detective has arrived in Paris tasked with identifying and arresting members of the Resistance.

index (2)Seinfeldia: How a Show about Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Armstrong is about nothing and everything. If you are a Seinfeld fan this is a MUST READ! It goes in depth on the genesis of Seinfeld from its main characters, the writers and the real-life situations that inspired most of the insane plot lines. It follows the show from it’s inception to finale, including the “reunion” on Curb Your Enthusiasm as well as the effect that Seinfeld has on pop culture even to this day.

index (3)I am listening to Here’s To Us by Elin Hildebrand and it looks like the perfect summer read, doesn’t it? Deacon Thorpe was a famous bad boy chef. When he dies at his Nantucket house, his agent calls his three ex-wives together to the house to say goodbye. The story is told by several characters and switches from the present to the past. Secrets are revealed and at the end the family learns to forgive. This is a quick read with some interesting characters.

index (5)I’m also listening to The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns because we recently drove down to Rainier. Burns and Dayton Duncan delve into the history of the park idea, from the first sighting by white men in 1851 of the valley that would become Yosemite and the creation of the world’s first national park at Yellowstone in 1872, to the most recent additions to a system that now encompasses nearly four hundred sites and 84 million acres. There’s a lot of history and adventure here to be enjoyed. Going to Glacier? Grab these CD’s for the car ride.

index (6)Everyone Brave is Forgiven is by Chris Cleave, the best-selling author of Little Bee.  The plot centers on three Londoners (Mary, Thomas and Alistair) and how the war orchestrates the choices they make. The story is loosely based on love letters between the author’s grandparents. The beauty of this book is not so much the plot, but how the story is told with beautiful prose, cleverly placed humor, and a quiet urgency. It would make a good book club book.

index (4)And lastly, a co-worker suggested Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart the gal who wrote The Drunken Botanist. It is a novel based on the forgotten true story of one of the nation’s first female deputy sheriffs. Apparently it’s “really good”, so good, in fact, that there will be a sequel titled Lady Cop Makes Trouble. I haven’t actually gotten my hands on this one, but will have to wait. Without a gun.

Well, gotta go. I hear a hammock calling my name. What’s on your reading list this summer? Come on down to the library and check out these and other great summer reads. See you there!

Before the Wind

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Most people have never sailed.  So when you take them out, they wear clumsy shoes and start calling you Ahab or Bligh.  Or if they’re particularly nervous, they’ll quote Whitman- Captain my Captain!- and shout Bon voyage! or talk like pirates, as if this were the freshest improv:  Arrrggh!  Keelhaul the Wrench!  They’ll offer to help, but what they really want to know is where to sit and what to hold on to and when you’ll get them a drink.  –Before the Wind

You don’t need to know how to sail to enjoy Jim Lynch’s latest novel Before the Wind. Just get a drink, sit yourself down and prepare to be immersed in this creative, vividly detailed, emotional and gripping family story set in the world of boats driven by the wind. Lynch introduces readers to a cast of characters as varied and different as things can get. These characters have a lot of talents, but it’s up to all of them to keep their family together and a boat race might just be the best bet for that.

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The Family on ‘Flair’

But, if you do come from a sailing family, well, watch out! You’ll be buying copies of this book for Father’s Day or birthdays. When I asked my husband what were the highlights of his family boating history, he talked for half of an hour before taking a breath.  It started with his Dad attending the Naval Academy, romancing Mother on a sailboat while in medical school and starting many remarkable family sailing traditions. There were the sailing camps for two weeks each summer on Tulalip Bay, the races on Puget Sound (even to Hawaii one year on the Victoria to Maui race) and the family cruises on Flair and later, bigger boats.  My husband was the baby of the family and had to sleep with his head right by the head. For the longest time he thought that’s why it’s called a head. Well, he also thought that there were eight days in the week thanks to the Beatles.

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Sailing Lazers on Tulalip Bay (Red boats are in!)

My own memories of sailing over the years include wonderful weeks on the water with babies and children and their parents and grandparents. We’d dock at places like Ovens Island in Canada or Henry Island in the San Juans, go for a swim, harvest oysters from the beach and play cards and eat and drink and just enjoy the heck out of ourselves.Think camping, but on the water.

 

And then there are the frantic sailing moments like the time we were racing Swiftsure, a race from Victoria out to the Swiftsure Light boat and back. We had the spinnaker up but there was too much wind, so we needed to take it down and put up the smaller one. Well, snafus happen, and they were both up at once and we were ‘slapped down’ with the mast parallel to the water. Now, the thing you worry about is losing someone overboard or having a big piece of equipment break and knock someone out. Neither happened, and it’s a good thing because a tugboat was just coming around race rocks towards us. (Tugboats have the right of way.) Yikes! Well, we all lived to tell the tale and I’m sure that my father-in-law is cringing that I told that particular story.

Enough of my sailing yarns, let’s get back to Lynch’s tale. Narrated by Josh, the adult middle child of the famous boat-building Johanssens of Puget Sound, the family also includes the domineering father who drives his children to excel at racing, the hot-headed oldest brother Bernard and  the youngest Johanssen Ruby who is a gifted sailor. There’s also a mom who is a high school physics teacher who “might have understood Einstein better than she did us and never passed up an opportunity to explain and extol him.” And then there’s Grumps (the grandfather), the boatyard crew who work with Josh (one of which loves to quote from the March of the Penguins) and the characters at the rundown marina where Josh lives who all try to get him to fix their boats. There’s a lot of humor and some sadness in this novel and it is totally enjoyable.

Sailor or not, you need to get your hands on Jim Lynch’s new novel Before the Wind. You’ll love it. Tack on down to your local library and pick up a copy when it is finally out on April 19th. Bon Voyage!

Scandinavian Crime or Not?

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Did you like the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books or the Kurt Wallander series? Well, here’s a great tip from my good friend Chris: Read all of the Department Q novels you can get your hands on. Chris told me that they are riveting mysteries and the characters are “just so well-developed.” I took her advice and checked out the first in the series and my husband and I have been hooked ever since.

Department Q is a series of crime thriller novels by Danish novelist Jussi Adler-Olsen. The series follows Carl Morck, one of the best homicide detectives in Copenhagen who has been ‘promoted’ to head the cold case department. This series originally began in Danish with Kvinden i buret in 2007. In 2011, it was translated into English and published in the UK as Mercy and in the USA as The Keeper of Lost Causes.

Olsen is Denmark’s #1 crime writer and this book, the first in the series, makes it quite evident why. His writing style flows smoothly, keeping the pace of the story moving along while providing back story and strong characterization. His main character, Carl, is an acerbic and difficult man but a brilliant detective. He has just returned to work after an attack at a crime scene that left one of his colleagues dead and another paralyzed – Carl was hit in the head by a bullet and has been out for several months. Upon his return, he has set himself to do as little as possible; all interest in his career is gone. So Carl’s boss puts him in charge of  Department Q, which is designed to look into long-cold cases. The first case Carl starts with is the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, a politician who disappeared five years ago from a ferry on the way to Germany. It was believed that she fell overboard – either deliberately on her part, or by accident – and the case was left unsolved. Carl starts digging into it and finds many things left unchecked; maybe she’s still alive.

The story is lightened by Carl’s assistant Hafez el-Assad, called Assad.  Assad is both comic relief and a very intriguing character. He demonstrates great insight into detective work and has amazing contacts and capabilities which generates interest about his mysterious past. Carl and Assad make a great team, their opposing characters bounce off each other as each gains greater respect for the other.

This fabulous book has everything one could want in a thriller: twists and turns and fantastic descriptions of the victim’s suffering. The point of view alternates between the present, with Carl investigating the disappearance and with the past, as we watch (and cheer for and worry about) the victim as she waits for her death or for Carl to finally rescue her.

Good news! There are five more great Department Q novels waiting for you once you finish the first:

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indexSo, if you don’t like crime mysteries, there’s still a Scandinavian option for you. A Man Called Ove is the first novel of Swedish author Fredrik Backman. Simply put, Ove is a human version of the Grumpy Cat, claws and all. One of my favorite quotes pertains to his relationship with the neighborhood stray, and at the same time paints a very accurate picture of Ove as a character:

It was five to six in the morning when Ove and the cat met for the first time. The cat instantly disliked Ove exceedingly. The feeling was very much reciprocated.

Forced into early retirement at the age of 59, recently widowed and quietly missing his wife Sonja, Ove finds that his highly structured world is becoming devoid of meaning. A man for whom the concept of things being either black or white (Ove drives a Saab and anyone driving a BMW is not to be trusted) comes naturally, he quickly arrives at a decision that would solve the problem his new living situation presents. The only thing he does not take into account is the ongoing disruption of his plans in the form of his new next door neighbor, a whirlwind called Parvaneh and her family. In between numerous disturbances to Ove’s little universe, we keep getting glimpses not only into what hides behind his grumpiness, but also into his past and the events that shaped both his life and him as a person.  This is a book similar to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Try it.

Come on down to the library and check out these books for your own mini-vacation to Scandinavia. Farvel!

Best of 2015 Redux Pt. 1: Fiction and Nonfiction for Adults

Fiction

Did you get a chance to read our 2015 staff favorites? Turns out there’s more! All this week we’re bringing you the books and music we loved–but had to be cut due to space limitations. To save us time linking (and save you time endlessly clicking) we’ve compiled all of these gems into one giant list for you to pick through. Today we’ll start with fiction and nonfiction for grownups like you & (sometimes) me.

FICTION!

Lucky Alan by Jonathan Lethem
Summary: Major literary fiction figure (Motherless Brooklyn, Fortress of Solitude) Jonathan Lethem returns with a collection of 9 short stories.
Why Alan liked it: Ranging from almost unreadably quirky to painfully awkward and bizarre, Lethem writes with precision and insight about each of these microcosms. Like Raymond Carver, Lethem has an eye for tragedy and an ear to the human in a dehumanizing world.

Green Hell by Ken Bruen
Summary: Another dark novel following Irish anti-hero Jack Taylor. In this one, he befriends a Rhodes scholar who changes his thesis from Beckett to Taylor and begins to help him try and take down a criminal passing as a respected professor.
Why Alan liked it: The dark side of human nature is there; I like to experience it vicariously through art. The winner of many awards, Bruen’s writing is sharp, funny, insightful, and the book is ironic to the tone and subject matter, a heck of a lot of fun to read.

Boo by Neil Smith
Summary: Thirteen year old Oliver Dalrymple, aka “Boo” due to his pasty white complexion and fragile health, dies in front of his school locker under mysterious circumstances, goes to heaven, investigates his own death, and learns the meaning of forgiveness.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Neil Smith’s Heaven is not at all the typical vision of pearly gates and puffy clouds! The residents of “Town” are all 13 and from the U.S., there’s a group called Gommers (Getting Over Murder), and the supplies are second hand. Very original and funny!

The Marauders by Tom Cooper
Summary: In alternating chapters we follow the eventually colliding stories of shrimpers dealing with oil spill tainted waters, an obsessive treasure hunter, community service workers gone awry, and violent brothers growing marijuana in the Louisiana bayou.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I loved this book despite the lack of female protagonists. Funny, sad, suspenseful, and masterful, I really did not want it to end. Each flawed character was an original and had me alternating between cheering them on and wishing for their demise!

Aquarium by David Vann
Summary: Caitlyn visits the Seattle Aquarium every day after school while her mother works long hours. There she meets a friendly older man who seems unusually interested in her life and thoughts. His attention propels Caitlyn’s life into an unexpected direction.
Why Elizabeth liked it: The dreamy, magical aquarium life, protected yet trapped, provide a striking contrast to the sequence of events that unfold and threaten to unravel lives completely. Seattle in the drear of winter adds to the claustrophobic tension.

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh
Summary: In 1989 a 15 year old girl named Lindy is raped at dusk in a quiet Baton Rouge neighborhood. There are several suspects, including our teen narrator, who idolizes Lindy to the point of obsession. Years pass and the crime remains unsolved.
Why Elizabeth liked it: This is an engrossing and thoughtful book that examines what it means to be young, inexperienced, and in love (or in lust). We are reminded that the mistakes we make while trying to figure out who we are can have lasting consequences.

The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter
Summary: William Avery, a young soldier in the East India Company, is stagnating and in debt when he accepts an assignment to accompany knowledgeable but rebellious Jem Blake in a search to find missing and much maligned author Xavier Mountstuart.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Full of excitement, vivid scenery, lots of fighting, and suspense, this is not my usual fare but I sure enjoyed it. Tigers, thugs, sweltering heat, monsoon rains, and deep dark jungle set the scene. It’s a downright swashbuckling adventure!

Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link
Summary: This collection of short stories all have an element of fantasy, yet are told in such an ordinary way, that the fantastical comes as a total surprise until you get in sync with Link’s wild imagination. Each story is read masterfully by a different actor.
Why Elizabeth liked it: These wonderfully quirky stories have a lasting quality and real depth. My favorite, Secret Identity, is about a teen girl who sneaks off to a NYC hotel to meet her 32-year-old online boyfriend amidst a superhero convention.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Summary: A companion piece (as Atkinson states in the afterword) to Life After Life (2013), A God in Ruins follows Ursula’s brother Teddy’s story through his various roles as RAF pilot, father, and spouse, and travels through his young adulthood to old age.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I listened to the audiobook and thought Alex Jennings, with his lovely accent, did excellent job capturing Teddy and setting the mood. At 16 hours, this is a lot of listening, but like Life After Life I never tired of Atkinson’s superb storytelling.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
Summary: Residents of Elizabeth, New Jersey are devastated by a plane crash right in the town, which kills several residents. Little do they know, it is only the beginning. Fifteen year old Miri and her extended family and friends struggle to regain their lives.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Real people, a variety of problems, family love and warmth, tragedy, and a rather unusual series of events made for a really engaging book. The short sections told in alternating voices make this a quick read which you won’t want to end.

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
Summary: Bride, whose very dark skin made her mother unable to truly love her, reinvents herself into a striking beauty with a prestigious career. Things start to go wrong for her when a woman she helped convict is released from prison.
Why Elizabeth liked it: The story is intense, original, and engrossing but even if it weren’t, Toni Morrison’s wondrous voice could carry it along. No one could have read it better. Without being overly dramatic she can express such feeling, depth, and truth.

The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
Summary: Half-sisters Taisy and Willow have had no contact due to a long ago falling out between the first and second families. When their father becomes ill, they finally meet. Neither understands the other’s past or current struggles.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I loved listening to this book. Two readers do an excellent job portraying the two sisters in alternating chapters. I especially enjoyed Taisy’s voice. Funny, heartfelt, and very entertaining, it made me want to read more by the author.

The Tuner House by Angela Flournoy
Summary: The Turner family lived on Yarrow Street in Detroit long enough for 13 children plus multiple grandchildren to grow up. Now the sad old empty house is worth much less than is owed, and the adult children must decide what to do with it.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Through the varied experienced of the Turner children, I learned about devastated Detroit, gambling addiction, and even southern ”haints”, but what stayed with me was the story of a family pulling together despite decades of hardship.

Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb
Summary: Todd is autistic and now in his 50s. At the Payton Living Center where he’s been living for the past 40 years, he’s a respected citizen and comfortable, but when a sinister new aide starts working at Payton, painful memories start to invade Todd’s life.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I have read several books about autism but never fiction told from the viewpoint of an autistic person. Gottlieb really seems to grasp the complexities of being autistic, and Todd is completely believable. Simply written but hard to put down!

Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos
Summary: Charles teaches English at a prestigious, private, Seattle school. His wife and he have divorced, after difficulties raising their autistic son, Cody.
Why Sarah liked it: Charles’s life is focused on language and prose, and yet he can’t communicate with his son. A dramatic plot twist at the end cements the story, and unites the characters together.

NONFICTION!

Simple Sabotage: a Modern Field Manual for Detecting and Rooting Out Everyday Behaviors that Undermine Your Workplace by Robert M. Galford, Bob Frisch, and Cary Greene
Summary: Inspired by the Simple Sabotage Field Manual released by the Office of Strategic Services in 1944 to train European resistors, this is the essential handbook to help stamp out unintentional sabotage in any working group.
Why Carol liked it: Don’t let the quirk fool you; there are some serious communication tips in here to help you work better. I’m already applying what I’ve learned!

The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today by The Gang (writers and cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia)
Summary: The Gang from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia attempts its most ill-conceived, get-rich-quick scheme yet: publishing a self-help book to hilarious, sometimes dangerous, and often revolting, results.
Why Carol liked it: Ever since I stumbled upon this raunchy and hilarious TV show I have been obsessed with The Gang. There’s a good variety of formats (open letters, a therapy session, guidebook, etc.) to keep you interested–in case the raunch wasn’t enough on its own!

Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove
Summary: A firsthand account of the lives of captive killer whales by one of SeaWorld’s most experienced orca trainers.
Why Leslie liked it: This is an interesting memoir about a controversial subject.

Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
Summary: This book presents a chronicle of the sinking of the Lusitania and discusses the factors that led to the tragedy.
Why Leslie liked it: Larson is one of the few authors who can make history positively come alive.

The Oregon Trail: a New American Journey by Rinker Buck
Summary: Buck tells the story of making a modern-day 2,500 mile trip with a mule driven covered wagon along the path of the Oregon Trail. He relates: the history of the Oregon Trail, Mormons in the West, and of mules. Fascinating!
Why Leslie liked it: This is currently my favorite book! This book is hilarious while being thoughtful and packed full of history.
Editor’s note: Leslie wrote a full blog post about this earlier in the year. Check it out!

My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl
Summary: Good News! Ruth Reichl has a new memoir chock full of recipes. It chronicles her difficult time after Gourmet magazine folded and she found herself again through cooking.
Why Leslie liked it: This is a beautiful cookbook with ideas to change the way you cook and celebrate.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Summary: Krakauer examined years of mishandling of rape cases at the University of Montana. The university is home to a beloved football team, and when some of its players were accused of rape, the community was split.
Why Sarah liked it: Krakauer does an excellent job looking at the root causes of what went wrong, and sheds light on the victim’s predictaments, as their cases are dismissed.

Stay tuned for more all week long!