Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Enjoy this last review from intrepid librarian Sarah as she heads off into a bright future:

Evicted : Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

evictedHarvard professor Matthew Desmond spent years in Milwaukee following tenants trying to find affordable housing. He also tracked landlords dealing with tenants who have fallen behind on their rent, and eventually end up evicted. This is a very timely piece, as housing prices are skyrocketing in most major cities, and people are struggling to find safe havens for their families. Desmond painstakingly looked at data in the housing market, eviction and court records to piece together a picture of a reality that has not been well researched.

There are lots of reports on low-income housing’s effectiveness and availability. What has been left behind are the people who are trying to make it in the regular rental market, as it can take years to get placed into low-income housing. The tenants’ life stories and fixed incomes can contribute to their ability (or inability) to pay rent each month. Desmond tries to humanize both the tenant experience, as well as the landlord business model, and the epic magnitude of our nation’s housing crisis. He argues that housing is a basic human right, especially in a country as wealthy as the United States.

His citations and research are a bit daunting, but his work is very readable and disseminated in simple terms. I appreciated his closing arguments, which provided ample plausible solutions. I was fascinated to find out our government spends more on tax breaks for home owners (i.e. mortgage interest deductions), than breaks for people trying to find a roof to live under. Being homeless can set off a wave of unfortunate circumstances. By supplying safe shelter to our citizens, we can begin the process of helping people chart their own success.

Urban Lit and Iceberg Slim

Enjoy this new post from Sarah:

Urban lit are the type of books that normally take place in a big city, and can take on dark undertones, demonstrating the gritty side of urban living. These books can be graphic, explicit, and don’t always have happy endings.

Iceberg Slimstreetpoison (i.e. Robert Beck) is considered to be one of the great urban lit authors. Both Ice-T and Ice Cube pay homage to him in their names. His novel Pimp sold over 2 million copies, which is remarkable considering it never made it into mainstream bookstores and was primarily purchased in grocery stores and barber shops.

Robert Beck was born in Chicago and was exposed early on to life on the streets. He was mesmerized by women, pimps, and the possibility of easy and fast money. He briefly attended college, but was lured back to the streets and was determined to become the best pimp ever.

When he got incarcerated, he became a self-taught man, reading copious amounts of books in prison libraries. He also studied pimping from his fellow inmates, gleaning knowledge from an oral tradition known as the pimp book. To succeed at pimping, one must utilize a mixture of psychological manipulations, violence, and maintain control at all times. Gifford does an excellent job of bringing the reader into the mindset of the pimp, and how one can become “street poisoned.”

Beck spent years alternating between the high life of pimping – leisure suits, fancy clubs, lots of cash, and then spending years behind bars in some of American’s hardest prisons. When he retired from pimping, he settled down, had children, and that’s when he began to write. His writing is honest, brutal and crude, and opened people’s eyes to the dark underside of urban cities in the 40s and 50s.

Some authors popular in the urban lit genre include Nikki Turner, K’Wan, and Donald Goines.  We have a display up at the main library displaying some urban titles, come check them out!


Boy Scouts, Marital Strife and California Cults: Three Reviews from Sarah

Do you need a good book to read? Of course you do. Get three excellent reading recommendations from Sarah right here.

The Troop by Nick Cutter

thetroopA group of young boy scouts are on a weekend trip on a remote island off Prince Edward Island. An extremely ill and disturbed man makes contact with their camp, and it’s quickly apparent that he is not long for this world. He’s got an insatiable hunger, and as their scout master attempts medical intervention, he inadvertently exposes them all to the pathogen. The pathogen ends up being a genetically modified tape worm, gone viral and out of control. The military has quarantined the island, and unbeknownst to the young boys, they are on their own. This story gave me chills, and the grotesque descriptions of one’s body becoming consumed from the inside are extremely disturbing. Stephen King gave this rave reviews, and I agree.

Carousel Court  by Joe McGinniss Jr.

carouselcourtNick and Phoebe are in a tough place. They moved to Southern California to start over with their small son. Instead of opportunity, they are stuck with an underwater house in a neighborhood besieged with foreclosures. Crime is rampant and morale is low. Phoebe works in medical sales, and is battling her own addiction to painkillers. Nick is making ends meet, working odd jobs and cleaning out bank possessed properties. Their marriage is stressed, and their young son neglected. Each party sets off on their own secretive path to secure the family’s financial footing. Unbeknownst to each other, their choices will soon catapult them into further catastrophe. This reminds me of a modern version of Revolutionary Road, but with more animosity and spite between the spouses.

The Girls by Emma Cline

thegirlsIt’s 1969 in Northern California. 14 year old Evie stumbles across a group of free spirited girls living at an abandoned ranch. The girls all adore an older man named Russell and yearn for his affection. He assures them of a new spiritual awakening and offers free love. Evie totters back and forth between drug induced freedom at the ranch and her stereotypical teenage life with high school and bickering parents. She struggles for acceptance, individuality and finding her place in the world. Evie is especially drawn to a charismatic girl named Suzanne, who mesmerizes Evie with her nonchalance and freedom. This is a dark story about influence and power and a superb debut from Emma Cline.

Two by Liz Moore

Liz Moore has produced two of librarian Sarah’s favorites in recent years. Enjoy her reviews of both of them.

The Unseen World

unseenworldAda Sibelius was home-schooled by her father David. A prestigious scientist, David ran a university research laboratory and raised Ada to think independently and embedded her love of cryptography. The pinnacle of David’s work is an artificial intelligence program named ELIXIR. When David begins to show the beginning signs of Alzheimer’s, Ada is sent to live with one of his colleagues and her three adolescent boys. As David’s past starts to unravel, it’s determined that he may have not been forthright about his childhood and upbringing. As Ada struggles with her own teenage turmoil, she attempts to uncover the truth about her father and the ELIXIR program. Moore does a superb job of bringing together smart characters and emotionally charged circumstances. A truly graceful story about identity, love and science.


heftArthur Opp used to be a successful university professor. But things are different now. He lives alone, in the house he inherited from his parents. He doesn’t venture outside and has all of his meals and necessities delivered. Morbidly obese at over 500 pounds, Arthur is trapped in a cycle of overeating, anxiety and depression.

While he was teaching, he befriended a young student, Charlene. They developed a close relationship and remained pen pals for years. Arthur misrepresented himself in his letters and when Charlene proposes to meet up, he is forced to reconcile his surroundings and lifestyle. Nervous about the condition of his house, Arthur turns to a maid service and young, energetic Yolanda shows up on his front doorstep. Arthur hasn’t let anyone into his life for years and they develop a special friendship based on mutual acceptance and openness.

Liz Moore does a magnificent job of harnessing the human desire to connect. She does an outstanding job of conveying social anxiety, embarrassment and shame in her characters, without making them seem weak or hopeless.

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.

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

Enjoy Sarah’s latest book review and, as always, check out our Facebook page for more reviews from Sarah and the latest happenings at Everett Public Library.

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

miller's valleyMimi Miller is the youngest of her siblings, and grows up on a rural farm. The land has been in her family for generations. The government is attempting to buy out homesteads, in an effort to flood the valley, and create a public recreational area.  Mimi’s family is stubborn and her parents are refusing to budge. Mimi’s eldest brother moves to the city, and embarks on a career and family. Her next eldest brother tries to escape the monotony of country living, enlists in the military, and completes several tours of Vietnam. At home, Mimi is determined to find her own path to independence. An emotionally fragile aunt takes up residence on their property. Mimi navigates romantic interests throughout high school, while maintaining high academic success. When her time comes, will she be ready to make her mark? Quindlen’s latest saga is a timeless tale of family drama: the ties that bind, and the ties that break.

Seattle Events in Truth and Fiction

Here are two new book reviews from Sarah about events in the Emerald city. Make sure to check out our Facebook page for more reviews from Sarah and the latest happenings at Everett Public Library.

While the City Slept: A Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man’s Descent into Madness by Eli Sanders

whilethecitysleptIn 2009, Isaiah Kalebu broke into a home in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle, and brutally raped and attempted to kill two women, Teresa Butz and Jennifer Hopper.  While the women were able to escape, Teresa’s injuries were fatal, and Jennifer survived as the only witness.

This is a true crime story, but journalist Eli Sanders does something more than report the horrific facts. He investigates the backstory of Teresa and Jennifer’s lives, tells how they met and fell in love, and details the planning of their upcoming nuptials.

Sanders then delves into Isaiah’s story. He recounts how his parents’ turbulent and violent marriage dissolved. He talks of family members increased concern over Isaiah’s welfare and ability to deal with reality. Throughout the years there were many attempts at intervention to get Isaiah help for mental instability. As Isaiah grows into a young adult, he is plagued by delusions, possibly inherited from his mother’s side, where many struggled with schizophrenia and other afflictions. He never receives any formal psychiatric intervention.

What Sanders tries to do is to rationalize how Isaiah may have ended up in Teresa and Jennifer’s house. And look at what resources may have been able to prevent such a violent and terrible act.

With reduced budgets, and strained workloads, it’s utterly disturbing to realize the inadequacies of our mental health and court systems. Sanders eloquently blasts the systems that failed to prevent Isaiah from his crimes, and ultimately failed to protect Teresa and Jennifer.

This book is deemed to be an unfortunate new classic in true crime writing, with an overpowering sense of love between two women, and a rational voice for change.

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

yourheartisamuscleThis is hands down one of the best books published in 2016 so far.

This book is set against the backdrop of the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, back in 1999. Sunil Yapa invokes empathy and consideration for all sides involved. Victor, a young nomad, is back in Seattle, after traveling the world and objecting to injustice. He’s at the protests to make a statement and sell as much weed as possible. A young anarchist couple, dedicated to treating pepper spray victims, are on the scene to help the wounded. The police chief is in over his head, and two of his on-duty officers interpret the protesters in extremely contrasting ways. One of the WTO delegates, a representative from Sri Lanka, paints a sobering picture of his country’s peril, and of his overwhelming desire to help his constituency.

Yapa’s plot builds substantially, as the violence in the protests escalates. His character’s flaws are revealed with superb timing, and he does a great job of describing Seattle’s downtown core.

Everyone involved in the protests had a valid reason for their participation. Seeing the other point of view is not a simple task, but one he does with grace among a day filled with angst.

Smoke and Miracles

SarahWhat do death rituals and miraculous births have in common? They figure prominently in the latest two books Sarah has read. Find out more about them by reading her reviews listed below. And as always, check out our Facebook page for more reviews from Sarah and the latest happenings at the Everett Public Library.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory
Caitlin Doughty

smokeHaving always been fascinated by death, Caitlin Doughty took a job as a crematorium operator at a funeral home in Oakland, California. This book chronicles her exposure to the funeral industry and her perspectives on death and the human body. Caitlin’s duties involve picking up bodies from various locales, including the coroner’s office and hospitals. She deals with the deceased’s family and friends when retrieving bodies from their homes. She notices a huge discrepancy between people’s comfort levels with death. Some prefer to wash and dress their loved ones themselves, and others don’t want anything to do with the corpse. Our culture has trained us to relinquish ownership of death, and leave tasks once done at home, to the direction of undertakers.

Caitlin intertwines death culture from around the world, emphasizing the American people’s isolation from death. As more people die in medical environments, rather than home, many people go through life with little or no exposure to dead bodies. She gets trained on how to operate the cremation furnaces, and uses frank, honest language to describe a procedure most have never seen. As a warning, there are very graphic descriptions as she goes through the process; I recommend avoiding eating while reading. As Caitlin progresses in her funeral operator career, her vision becomes more concrete. She wants to make death accessible to people, and open a dialog on a topic most would like to avoid. This is a unique and honest memoir.

The Girl Who Slept with God
Val Brelinski

girlwhoJory’s sister Grace returns from a missionary trip to Mexico a little early, and with a big surprise. She’s pregnant, and she is insistent that it’s a miracle conception, and she’s having God’s baby. Jory’s father Oren is a prominent college astronomy professor. While scientific in his work, he is a devout evangelical in his faith, and has raised his 3 daughters accordingly. In their small, rural community, Oren decides to move Grace into a rural homestead, and instates Jory as her overseer and companion. Grace is pulled from school, and Jory is forced to attend a public rural high school, quite the shock from her previous Christian academy. Pulled away from their family, the girls struggle with being abandoned. They find friendship in an elderly neighbor woman, who provides motherly advice. Jory tests the boundaries of adolescence, experimenting with boys, substances and developing a friendship with an illicit ice cream man. A beautiful coming-of-age story, and remarkable debut from Brelinski, who was raised in an evangelical household herself.

Sarah’s Latest by Lawson

furiouslyhappysarahFor your reading enjoyment, here are two reviews from Sarah. She has been reading books by Jenny Lawson lately. As always, check out our Facebook page for more reviews from Sarah and the latest happenings at Everett Public Library.


Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (a mostly true memoir)
letspretendJenny Lawson’s known as the Bloggess. She has lots of online followers, and this first full-length book is a culmination of her material. I chuckled out loud in the beginning chapters, recalling harrowing, and emotional damaging events from her childhood. Her father was a taxidermist, so there were plenty of dead things around. Highlights include young Jenny standing inside of a dead animal, and drinking potentially poisonous well water (that was sanctioned safe by their mother). She has problems with socialization and depression, and she illustrates her issues with humor and self-depreciation. Lawson handles her adult reality with an awkward and uncomfortable grace that makes her honest and relatable.

Furiously Happy
furiouslyhappyLawson is back at it, curating her experience with anxiety and depression, and adding a touch of ecstatic happiness. In this collection of essays, Lawson tackles paranoid delusions, dialog with her psychologist, and of course, taxidermy. Lawson is brutally straightforward in detailing her personal struggle with mental illness, and she is encouraged by her fans who relate to her inner demons. She’s not looking for sympathy; she is determined to notate the absurdity of the human race, and finding humor in the dismal abyss. Favorite essay titles include: “Koalas are Full of Chlamydia” and “Things I May Have Accidentally Said During Uncomfortable Silences.”  Lawson has been compared to David Sedaris and Chelsea Handler, and she has definitely struck a chord with the dark humor crowd.


Sarah’s Selections

sarahlanguageartsInterested in a great novel or inspiration for finally building your home away from home? If so, check out Sarah’s latest reading adventures. For more of Sarah’s reviews, and lots of other great stuff, head over to our Facebook page.

Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos

Charles teaches English at a prestigious, private, Seattle school. His wife and he have divorced, after difficulties raising their autistic son, Cody. They are in the process of converting an older home into a private group home for Cody and some of his fellow classmates. Charles devotes much of his spare time writing letters to his younger daughter, Emmy, who’s away at college, and reminiscing about his own childhood. In Charles’ youth, he befriended a boy, Dana McGucken, who’s mysterious behavior was unnamed at the time, but now would be recognized on the autistic spectrum. Charles remembers how unhappy his parents were in their marriage, and recounts his relationship with his 4th grade Language Arts teacher, a woman who emphasized the Palmer method of penmanship. Charles makes revelations between his relationship with Dana, and the strained relationship he now has with his son. 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. Kallos doesn’t publish very often, but I’m always happy when she does. She’s a talented storyteller, and her conviction for her characters is strong.

cabinpornCabin Porn: Inspiration for Your Quiet Place Somewhere
by Zachery Klein

Cabin Porn began as an online collection of photos to inspire a group of friends embarking on homebuilding. Readers around the world submitted shots of various structures to get ideas and brainstorm. The snapshots are mainly of exteriors, and many are tucked away in nature’s nooks and crannies. Some of the more oddball structures include a renovated grain silo, and an underground bunker built into a hillside. Rustic charm is illustrated throughout, and if you’re looking for inspiration for solitude this is it. It’s time to start saving up the cabin fund.

rocktheshackRock the Shack: Architecture of Cabins, Cocoons and Hide-outs: The Architecture of Cabins, Cocoons and Hide-Outs
by Sven Ehmann

Tired of city living? Are your neighbors driving you crazy? This collection of architectural gems will inspire you to get away from it all. Structures range from simple huts and teahouses to glamorous cabins with modern lines. Many of the submissions are from Europe and Japan, and the architectural designs will inspire you to downsize and escape. These quirky and unique dwellings showcase the human desire to create a sense of home.