My Name is Helen and I’m a Minotaur

I am not a fantasy literature enthusiast. (Don’t even get me started on science fiction and fantasy being lumped together). Oh, there was a time when I would occasionally read a questing book, but seldom was my interest piqued. Then came a day when I could no longer tolerate the Hermit of Xymanocles and his winged steed Zqlkmoyx climbing the Teeth of Mekjalinm in search of Belxogggm’s Sherbet. It didn’t matter if the story was compelling or well-written, I just couldn’t take one more unpronounceable name.

Helen and TroyBut recently while walking the hallowed aisles of EPL, a book cover caught my attention, Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest. It had “quest” in the title, definitely a bad sign, but between the enticing blurb, the bitchin’ artwork and my enjoyment of the author’s Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain, I decided to give it a go.

One of my favorite devices in literature, as well as in other artistic endeavors, is for an author/artist to take an established form and to mess with it. For example, Picasso, although employing an abstract style, painted classical subjects such as still lifes and portraits. Many of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels take well-known fables and twist them. And literary remixes like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters surround actual classic books with additional text, thus making something new from something old. So I had high hopes that this quest would be the fractured fairy tale of all quests.

In the world that A. Lee Martinez created for this epic road quest, Helen is a Minotaur. This is unusual. Although there are people with Minotaur characteristics here and there, very few of them are full-blown 100% Minotaur. And, life can be difficult for a 7 foot teenage girl with horns and fur. Troy by contrast is human, Asian (which helps him relate to Helen in how people can be stereotyped) and perfect in every way: handsome, fit, smart, funny, patient, unflappable. The two work together at a burger joint until the day when their leprechaun boss tries to sacrifice Helen (assuming that she is a virgin) to his god.

In Helen and Troy’s world, most people are … well, just that, people. But mythical beings such as orcs and the occasional Cyclops are also a common part of the mix of creatures inhabiting the earth. And these beings do not live apart from the humans; orcs, nearly indestructible and somewhat nasty, are accountants, salespeople, and so on. This mixture of races isn’t regarded as remarkable, it’s just how things are.

And as many types of creatures as there be, even more gods are toying with people’s lives. Helen and Troy are given the choice by a sort of paranormal FBI to go on a quest or die. They choose to quest, even though chances are they’ll die in the process. So the two are assigned to find certain unidentified items but aren’t told what items to look for, nor for that matter where to look. This might seem to be an insurmountable undertaking, but adventures/fables/quests follow a certain format and the two teens end up on the right track despite their lack of preparation.

To tell too much more would give away the fun bits of the story, but what I can say is that this quest was palatable and enjoyable because it turned expectations upside down and didn’t use funny names. Here is a world where mythical monsters are just everyday joes doing their jobs (practically clocking in for the day) and everyone is a pawn of the gods, working unwillingly to help the immortals overcome the boredom of eternity.

The tale is filled with large doses of humor, teen angst, and romantic tension between the two main characters. An orc motorcycle gang, following the command of their own god, creates further interest and comic relief. Finally, here’s a quest I can get behind.

Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest is a Quick Pick, so you won’t find it in the EPL catalog. But try browsing the Quick Pick collection until you find this fantasy gem. If late summer finds you looking for adventure, romance and tips on how to keep boys from noticing your shedding fur, you could certainly do worse.

Adventures in Time and Space – Part 2

In Part 1 of Adventures in Time and Space we looked at the history of that epic TV show, Doctor Who. In part 2 we will examine some of the books written about this pop culture juggernaut.

Hundreds of official and unofficial books exploring the show’s history and mythology are available. Here are a few of my favorites that are available at Everett Public Library.

Visual dictionaryDoctor Who: The Visual Dictionary is a large, glossy, colorful, official guide to the first four seasons of the revived series. The book is published by Dorling Kindersley (DK), who is known for their oversize illustrated books on hundreds of topics such as Ancient Egypt, Forensic Science, Marvel Super Heroes and Star Wars. The books often have top-to-bottom and head-to-toe illustrations of their subjects, with detailed descriptions of the function of the various parts. So as one might expect, the Doctor, as well as foes such as the Cybermen, the Daleks, and the Sontarans are pictured from top-to-bottom with descriptions of the functions of uniforms, casings, and weaponry. There are also cross-sections of a few items from the Doctor Who universe such as the inner workings of the Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver, the Dalek Mothership, and a look inside a Dalek.

Lives and timesAnother slightly smaller but thicker official volume is Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Lives and Times. Each chapter in the book tells the story of one of the 11 incarnations of the Doctor, first from a fictional point-of-view using diaries, memoirs, letters, and newspaper clippings written in the world of Doctor Who, and second from a real-life, behind-the-scenes point of view with quotes from each actor who plays the Doctor, co-stars, production team members and others connected to the program. For example, Harry Melling, who played Harry Potter’s spoiled cousin Dudley, is quoted about his grandfather Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor, and the ‘wackiness’ and ‘boldness’ of Troughton’s acting. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is also quoted in the chapter on the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, in reference to Douglas Adams and the humor he injected into Doctor Who. Adams was the script editor on Doctor Who during the show’s 17th Season in 1979, just as his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was growing in popularity. Dawkins met ex-Doctor Who actress Lalla Ward (who was briefly married to Tom Baker in the early 1980s) at a party given by Douglas Adams: they were married in 1992. Dawkins also made a very brief appearance, being interviewed as himself on a news program, in the 2008 Doctor Who episode The Stolen Earth.

The VaultThe book that has captured my attention recently is the brilliant Doctor Who: The Vault by Marcus Hearn. It’s a year by year celebration of the 50 years of Doctor Who and one of the most enjoyable Doctor Who books I’ve read. Right away the reader sees something that, as far as I know, has never been published before: a ¼ scale floor plan of studio D of the BBC’s Lime Grove studios, from the archive of Doctor Who’s first director, Waris Hussein. The floor plan shows the studio as it was laid out for the very first Doctor Who episode, An Unearthly Child. Doctor Who was taped in the cramped Lime Grove facility for most of its first season between 1963 and 1964 and most of seasons five and six between 1967 and 1969. Each chapter starts with a summary of a year in the history of Doctor Who, followed by a topic relevant to that year such as the creation of Doctor Who, the role of the assistant, the concept of regeneration, violence in Doctor Who, Doctor Who fandom, the marketing of Doctor Who in the USA and so on. The book is illustrated with photos, artwork, production drawings, office memos, merchandise, costumes and props from the show and more. Doctor Who: The Vault is an impressive, beautiful, colorful book. It is a fitting celebration of 50 years of Doctor Who.

And still, this barely scratches the surface of what’s available. If you’re interested, take a look in the EPL catalog to find more material on Doctor Who. The catalog might appear small, but it’s bigger on the inside than you might think.

Spot-Lit for August 2014

Spot-Lit

Here’s our fiction selector’s curated list of noteworthy August releases. Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction   

General Fiction

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage  by Haruki Murakami
The Fortune Hunter  by Daisy Goodwin
Lucky Us  by Amy Bloom
The Kills  by Richard House
The Madmen of Benghazi  by Gerard de Villers

First Novels

Debut

Your Face in Mine  by Jess Row
Painted Horses  by Malcolm Brooks
The Frozen Dead  by Bernard Minier
The Good Girl  by Mary Kubica
Panic in a Suitcase  by Yelena Akhtiorskaya

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Crime

A Colder War  by Charles Cumming
The Long Way Home  by Louise Penny
Strange Shores  by Arnaldur Indridasson
One Kick  by Chelsea Cain
The Furies  by Natalie Haynes

SF / Fantasy / Horror

SF-2

Fool’s Assassin  by Robin Hobb
Trial by Fire  by Charles Gannon
Lock In  by John Scalzi
We Are All Completely Fine  by Daryl Gregory
The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit  by Graham Joyce

Romance

Romance

Heroes Are My Weakness  by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
With Every Breath  by Elizabeth Camden
Virgin  by Radhika Sanghani
Since You’ve Been Gone  by Anouska Knight
His Every Need  by Terri L. Austin

More good reading

If you’re curious about titles that will be coming out later this year, take a look through The MillionsMost Anticipated Books for the Second Half of 2014. Or to see what you may have missed, revisit their preview picks for the First Half of the year. Amazon looks in the rear-view mirror in their recently posted Best of 2014 so far, where Spot-Lit followers will recognize many of our own earlier picks. And if you’re looking to discover additional new talent, check out Library Journal’s Summer Best Debuts.

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

Adventures in Time and Space – Part 1

I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since 1985, back when budgets were low and one had to stay up until 1am (or later) on Saturday night to get a weekly Doctor Who fix. The character of the Doctor appealed to me, generally using his wits rather than weapons to defeat his foes.

general Dr Who picWhat or who is Doctor Who? It’s a British science fiction TV serial that first aired on November 23, 1963. The ‘Who’ in the title refers to the mystery surrounding the main character, known only as The Doctor, his real name never being revealed.

The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. His people mastered the mystery of time travel but chose to observe rather than interfere in the lives of other people and planets. The Doctor, however, as he put it in the 1969 story The War Games, ‘got bored’. So he left his planet in a stolen time machine called a TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), became a self-imposed exile, and travelled time and space fighting injustice in the Universe.

The Doctor has the ability to regenerate, to die and be reborn, and with each regeneration his appearance changes. This allows different actors to play the role. So, every three years or so, one actor leaves the show and another takes over, which accounts for the program’s longevity. Thus far 11 actors have starred as The Doctor in the British Broadcasting Corporation’s long-running show, and a 12th recently made his first appearance in the 2013 Christmas episode.

Doctor_Who_1996_posterThe ‘classic’ show ran continuously from 1963 to 1989, a Saturday tea time staple until the early 1980s when the BBC began experimenting with time slots. Seven actors played the role during this period. Later, a US/UK coproduced Doctor Who, featuring an eighth actor in the role, was attempted in 1996. It was a big hit in the UK but not in the USA and so remained a standalone film rather than a series.

In 2005, the program was revived by the BBC, with Russell T. Davies acting as executive producer and head writer. Davies created the TV series Queer as Folk  for Britain’s Channel 4 network, which was later reworked for the American cable network Showtime. Steven Moffat, who co-created the hit series Sherlock, a contemporary reimagining of the Sherlock Holmes story, is the current executive producer/head writer for Doctor Who. The revived Doctor Who has currently run for 7 seasons and is one of the top rated dramas on British television, as well as the highest rated show on the US cable channel BBC America. Amazingly, November 23, 2013 was the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who!

EPL holdings include:

Individual story arcs from the ‘classic’ series

Classic
 Specials

Specials

Seasons of the revived series

Revived

Audiobooks

Audio1

Fiction

Fiction

Graphic Novels

Graphic

So whether you’re new to Doctor Who or a seasoned veteran, a veritable gold mine of treasures awaits you. And stay tuned for the next installment of Adventures in Time and Space, which focuses on books about The Doctor.

Spot-Lit for July 2014

Spot-Lit

Here’s our list of fiction to look for in July. Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction  

Last Stories    Toledo    One Plus One    Tigerman    Care and Management of Lies

Last Stories and Other Stories  by William T. Vollman
How To Tell Toledo from the Night Sky  by Lydia Netzer
One Plus One  by Jojo Moyes
Tigerman  by Nick Harkaway
The Care and Management of Lies  by Jacqueline Winspear

Archival Revivals / New Translations

Echo's Bones    Conversations    Mr Gwyn    Professor    Agostino

Echo’s Bones  by Samuel Beckett
The Conversations  by César Aira
Mr. Gwyn  by Alessandro Baricco
The Professor and the Siren  by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Agostino  by Alberto Moravia

First Novels

Last Night    Sleepwalker's    Dry Bones in the Valley    Man Called Ove    Girls from Corona Del Mar

Last Night at the Blue Angel  by Rebecca Rotert
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing  by Mira Jacob
Dry Bones in the Valley  by Tom Bouman
A Man Called Ove  by Frederik Backman
The Girls from Corona del Mar  by Rufi Thorpe

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Peter Pan Must Die    Everyone Lies    That Night    Dead Will Tell    Night Searchers

Peter Pan Must Die  by John Verdon
Everyone Lies  by A.D. Garrett
That Night  by Chevy Stevens
The Dead Will Tell  by Linda Castillo
The Night Searchers  by Marcia Muller

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Queen of the Tearling    Half a King    Full Fathom Five    All Those Vanished Engines    House of Small Shadows

The Queen of the Tearling  by Erika Johansen
Half a King  by Joe Abercrombie
Full Fathom Five  by Max Gladstone
All Those Vanished Engines  by Paul Park
The House of Small Shadows  by Adam Nevill

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

Spot-Lit for June 2014

Spot-Lit

These June novels are getting a lot of praise in advance reviews. Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction  

summer house    Arsonist    Vacationers    Bellweather Rhapsody    Hundred-Year House

Summer House with Swimming Pool  by Herman Koch
The Arsonist  by Sue Miller
The Vacationers  by Emma Straub
Bellweather Rhapsody  by Kate Racculia
The Hundred-Year House  by Rebecca Makkai

First Novels

Antiquarian    Everything    Quick    Fourth of July    People in the Photo

The Antiquarian  by Gustavo Faveron Patriau
Everything I Never Told You  by Celeste Ng
The Quick  by Lauren Owen
Fourth of July Creek  by Smith Henderson
The People in the Photo  by Helene Gestern

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Good Suicides    Better World    Coldsleep Lullaby    Silkworm    Truth About

The Good Suicides  by Antonio Hill
A Better World  by Marcus Sakey
Coldsleep Lullaby  by Andrew Brown
The Silkworm  by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair  by Joel Dicker

SF & Fantasy

Memory of Water    Hard to Be a God    Koko    Madonna    Cibola Burn

Memory of Water  by Emmi Itäranta
Hard to Be a God  by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Koko Takes a Holiday  by Kieran Shea
The Madonna and the Starship  by James Morrow
Cibola Burn  by James S.A. Corey

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

For other notable new fiction lists, try the Indie Next List and Library Reads

Spot-Lit for May 2014

Spot-Lit

In May, this reader is particularly looking forward to the next installment of My Struggle and the books, largely grounded in the written word, History of the Rain, and The Word Exchange. But your tastes may point you toward new books by Michael Cunningham (transcendent emotional inner worlds), Anthony Doerr (intertwined voices in WWII France), or Peter Heller (his second novel, following his popular The Dog Stars). Mystery readers pining for Spenser might try Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage; and for those of you who like western-themed mysteries, definitely take a look at Any Other Name. Thriller fans may want to grab I Am Pilgrim, Natchez Burning, or Prayer. If you go in for the paranormal, check out the zombie thriller Omega Days, or Charlaine Harris’s (of Sookie Stackhouse fame) new series opener Midnight Crossroad. For steampunk fans there’s Highfell Grimoires. And in romance, you’ll find a range from contemporary to chick-lit to urban fantasy to inspirational.

Read more about May’s Spot-Lit picks by clicking on the titles and reading the summaries or reviews.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction 

All the Light  Snow Queen  History of the Rain  Painter  My Struggle

All the Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr
The Snow Queen  by Michael Cunningham
History of the Rain  by Niall Williams
The Painter  by Peter Heller
My Struggle: Book Three  by Karl Ove Knausgaard

First Novels

I Am Pilgirm Book of You  All That Is Solid  Remember Me Like This  Word Exchanbe

I Am Pilgrim  by Terry Hayes
The Book of You  by Claire Kendal
All That Is Solid Melts Into Air  by Darragh McKeon
Remember Me Like This  by Bret Johnston
The Word Exchange  by Alena Graedon

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Natchez Burning  Prayer  Any Other Name  Bred in the Bone Wolverine Bros

Natchez Burning  by Greg Iles
Prayer  by Philip Kerr
Any Other Name  by Craig Johnson
Bred in the Bone  by Christopher Brookmyre
Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage  by Steve Ulfelder

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Midnight Crossroad  My Real Children  Queen of the Dark Things  Highfell Grimoires  Omega Days

Midnight Crossroad  by Charlaine Harris
My Real Children  by Jo Walton
Queen of the Dark Things  by C. Robert Cargill
Highfell Grimoires  by Langley Hyde
Omega Days  by John L. Campbell

Romance

Collide  Somebody Like You Skinny Bitch Gets HitchedBeautiful Distraction  Sparrow Hill Road

Collide  by Gail McHugh
Somebody Like You  by Beth Vogt
Skinny Bitch Gets Hitched  by Kim Barnouin
A Beautiful Distraction  by Kelsie Leverich
Sparrow Hill Road  by Seanan McGuire

To see all on-order fiction, click here.