It’s Time to Get Romantic

Romance. Erotica. What comes to mind when you read these words? Do you think of the “pinkies” in the Large Type collection? Harlequin romances your mom used to read? Fifty Shades of Grey? Romance is all of that and so much more.

I unabashedly admit proclaim being a romance reader and enjoy sharing with you the best of the best every year when I cover the RITAs. The RITAs are selected by the Romance Writers of America every year at their annual conference. The category descriptions have one thing in common: the romance titles they list are emotionally satisfying and optimistic. This is also known as the main reason Carol reads romance in the first place.

This year’s winners were announced at the end of July but I was still trying to snap out of the lovely trance The Boys in the Boat had woven around me. Now I’m a bit back to normal and happy to link you to this year’s winners:

No Good Duke - MacLeanBest First Book Winner
The Sweet Spot by Laura Drake

Contemporary Romance Winner
Crazy Thing Called Love by Molly O’Keefe

Erotic Romance Winner
Claim Me by J. Kenner

Historical Romance Winner
No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean

Inspirational Romance Winner
Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano

Claim Me - KennerParanormal Romance Winner
The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Romance Novella Winner
Take Me, Cowboy by Jane Porter

Romantic Suspense Winner
Off the Edge by Carolyn Crane

Short Contemporary Romance Winner
Why Resist a Rebel? by Leah Ashton

You’ll notice I didn’t include a link for every title. That’s because the library is working on purchasing them, but they’re not yet in the catalog. If you’re interested, feel free to talk to a librarian. Let them know it’s now an award winner and that Carol sent ya.

RWA also awards a Librarian of the Year to someone who demonstrates outstanding support of romance authors and the romance genre. This year’s librarian of the year is Sean Gilmartin from The Anythink Library in Thornton, Colorado. Sean did a wonderful write-up of his experience in USA Today that you should totally go read. Like, right now. He’s also a writer, so keep your eyes open for his name on the shelves of the Romance section in the future.

Obsidian - ArmentroutI learned from Carol Ritter, Deputy Executive Director of RWA, that this year there weren’t enough entries in the YA category, so as a result there was no winner. I classify this as a major bummer and hope that next year will be different. Carol also said there aren’t any plans at this time to add an NA category to the RITAs, but I speculate that may change in the future as its popularity continues to rise. What is NA? While many people recognize YA standing for young adult, not everyone has caught on to NA, or new adult. NA is similar to YA in that the characters are of a certain age. But in NA’s case the age group is closer to college-aged. Characters aren’t in high school anymore, but they’re also not exactly established in their careers yet. They’re just starting out on their own, and as they explore their worlds these books get to the core of what it’s like to really fall hard for someone for the first time. The romantic elements tend to be more explicit in NA than in YA, but both usually contain a fair amount of emotional turmoil and fresh-faced discovery.

Frigid - J LynnCan’t decide which to explore first? I will ease you into it by suggesting you read anything and everything written by Jennifer L. Armentrout (YA) aka J. Lynn (NA). Jennifer is one of the most prolific writers of our time, and more importantly, her books are good. I mean, really, really good. You will care and cry and laugh and swoon for her characters. You will identify and connect with someone in your life who has read her and find yourself talking about the little quirks the characters have, and what you hope does or does not happen in the series conclusion. And when you’ve devoured her stories and are waiting for the next to be published, she tweets behind-the-scenes descriptions of what life is really like for a writer. She champions self-published authors, since she started out as one, and will express her joy at a book she’s read and enjoyed during those rare moments of free time. She interacts directly with fans and one of her best collections of photos is with fans at book signings & conferences.

So far, I have devoured all but the ending to The Lux series, which is classified as YA. I’ve been waiting until I have a bit more uninterrupted free time to read the conclusion. It has romance, action and adventure, and a Sci-Fi twist: aliens! Last week The Lux series cracked the NY Times YA Series list at number 4. As a thank you, Jennifer posted a bonus passage for Lux fans who have completed the series that catches up with the characters a few years later. I can’t read it just yet but am excited know it’s there, waiting for me.

My first taste of NA was Frigid, followed immediately by Wait for You. The plot of Frigid is a variation on my favorite theme, friends who become more than just friends. Wait for You centers on a woman who faces her internal demons while working toward a brighter future. At the time I wasn’t aware that either book would be part of a series, so now I can look forward to falling further into obsession love with the characters and settings!

For me, the best part of reading romance is knowing there is a happy ending waiting at the conclusion of the book. It’s something I can count on, something I can look forward to experiencing. We can all use a little bit of happy in our lives, and that’s why I will never tire of reading romance. And, dear reader, I will never tire of telling you why you need to read it as well.

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.

Book Club Adventures

A long time ago, in a job/city far away, I was tasked with forming a book discussion group. As a fairly introverted person whose previous work experience was along the lines of solo archival work with just a dash of librarianship, I found the idea a bit terrifying. Would I have to talk? With real people? Shudder to think. Little did I know that hosting the book group would soon become one of my favorite parts of the job.

The Adventures of Augie March CoverThings didn’t start out all that easy, though the pay-offs tended to be pretty satisfying. On one memorable occasion none of my small group of regulars were able to attend. At the very last minute I had one woman, previously unknown to the group, ask to set up an alternate meeting date to discuss the book. We met over lunch, and she proceeded to rip into everything she disliked about my selection for about 20 uninterrupted minutes (The Adventures of Augie March). She actually told me that she wanted to meet so that she could tell me how much she hated the title. After she’d gotten it all out of her system and my ears stopped burning, we actually settled down to a really great, in-depth discussion of the book. I happened to have loved the book, so there was some really lively back and forth. After that she never missed a meeting.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo cover imageMy fledgling club didn’t gain much traction until I picked a current bestseller to discuss. Attendance for our Girl with the Dragon Tattoo discussion was triple the usual amount. This was both a blessing and a curse. From the large group that attended we gained many new regulars. On the downside, the group was large and unwieldy and the flow of conversation was a bit awkward. Lesson learned? If you want to kick-start a new club consider picking something that’s new and hot. If you want to ensure success in the long run, pay attention to what your regulars are into and choose your reads wisely.

Mill Town cover imageFast forward to the present day where I find myself, once again, at the helm of a young book club. This time I get the chance to experiment with doing a themed club: local history and literature. Amazingly, our first meeting was well-attended and lively. We decided to do a mixed approach, where we led off with a mini-lecture on a related topic and then launched into the discussion. This worked wonderfully with Mill Town, which tells the story of Everett’s early days up until the notorious Everett Massacre; our group really enjoyed seeing the book’s pages brought to life with images from our archives. Our second title, The Mushroom Hunters, was a more intimate discussion with some folks who were very interested in foraging and the politics surrounding it. We swapped stories and recipes, and everyone left having learned something new. It was a treat to get to talk with people who were genuinely enthusiastic about the selected title.

The Beginning of a Mortal cover imageThis month we host our third discussion in the series: Max Miller’s The Beginning of a Mortal. I’m excited to see how things go. My colleague and I picked Miller’s autobiographical work of fiction because he wrote extensively about his childhood in Everett. I loved the book’s lively vignettes of daily life in Mill Town highlighting the good, the bad, and the ugly with humor and compassion. As an additional perk, the book is sprinkled with charming pen illustrations of the author in his Huck-Finn-like adventures about town. So if you’re like me and have a thing for hobos, shingle mills, and history, come to the Northwest History Room to grab a copy from our book club set. We’d love to see you at our meeting on August 25th, at 6:30pm in the Main Library Training Room.

The Best Laid Plans

As you may recall, gentle reader, in June I devised a list of interesting non-fiction titles to guide my summer reading.  Well the good news is that I have been reading non-fiction. The bad news is that none of the titles I’ve chosen so far have been selected from that list. I had hoped to whittle away at my reading list, but sadly I’ve just added to it. Still, in the grand scheme of things, there are worse problems to have than a long list of interesting books to read.  Speaking of the grand scheme of things, the titles I have been reading this summer have had a philosophical bent for some reason. Perhaps sunshine makes a person question their place in the universe. Or it could be sunstroke. In any case, here are few more titles you might want to consider for your summer non-fiction reading.

Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero by James Romm
dyingeverydayWhile this work is definitely chock full of intriguing Roman Imperial history, the book’s central aim is trying to answer a seemingly intractable question: Just what kind of person was Seneca? On the one hand, thanks to many of his surviving philosophical works, we know that he was a dyed in the wool Stoic preaching the rigorous virtues of poverty, morality and the equality of all before fate. On the other we have his career as a shrewd politician and tutor to the young Emperor Nero; Seneca amassed a huge amount of wealth while delicately maneuvering through the deadly and incredibly amoral minefield of the imperial court. The author is a master at examining a tenant of stoicism that Seneca espoused and then contrasting it with the rather seedy political world he found himself in. Romm makes a convincing argument concerning Seneca’s moral character, but ultimately leaves it up to the reader to decide.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
theswerveThis one is a librarian’s, or book lover’s, dream. In the winter of 1417 the Italian humanist and former Papal secretary Poggio Braccilini was searching for forgotten manuscripts, a popular pastime in that era, in the monasteries of Southern Germany.  What he discovered was a fragile copy of an ancient poem titled On the Nature of Things (De rerum natura). This text, written by Lucretius and promoting the ideas of the philosopher Epicurus, was praised for the beauty of its language, but the ideas it conveyed were definitely not kosher for the time. A few examples: early atomic theory (discovered centuries before the scientific method was invented), the idea of an indifferent universe, and, worst of all, the concept that seeking pleasure was actually a good thing. Greenblatt’s book is not only an examination of the history of these ideas and their influence on our culture, but also the fascinating story of Poggio Braccilini and his time.

The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman
accidentaluniverseAll the essays in this short work are concerned with the impact of recent scientific discoveries on our view of the universe and our place in it. The author is both a theoretical physicist and a novelist which I found to be a great help when it came to his descriptions of some of the more complicated scientific concepts such as dark matter and the multiverse which he deftly puts in layman’s terms.  The essays are not simply explanations of scientific concepts. Instead, Lightman tries to integrate the scientific ideas with concepts from history, literature, and his own personal experiences.  This creates a balanced approach that is greatly appreciated when it comes to hot button topics like the often uneasy relationship between belief and the scientific method. This book is not a series of rants from a particular perspective, but rather a balanced and humane attempt to genuinely explore the ideas scientific discoveries are bringing to the fore.

A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning by Robert Zaretsky
alifeworthlivingWhile you may associate Albert Camus with past memories of disgruntled youths wearing all black and mumbling the first line from The Stranger (Mother died today. Or was it yesterday; I can’t be sure.) this blend of biography and criticism would argue that there is much more to the man and his ideas for living.  Zaretsky structures the biographical details around a series of concepts that Camus grappled with and that make up the chapter headings: Absurdity, Silence, Measure, Fidelity, Revolt.  What emerges is a set of ideas for understanding the world that are constantly open to exploration and interpretation, far from the static label (existentialism) often ascribed to them. While struggle is definitely a component, Camus finds that there is actually cause for hope and, gasp, happiness in this life:

It was the middle of winter, I finally realized that, within me, summer was inextinguishable.

So, a few suggestions for a little light non-fiction reading this summer. Perhaps I need to get out of the sun.

Explore Washington!

The weather forecast is for a string of beautiful days here in the Pacific Northwest so that means it’s time to get outside and explore our fair state. But, where to go and what to do? Start at the library with one of these guidebooks!

indexCheck out the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to the Pacific Northwest for a good over-view of the area and fantastic pictures and maps that will lead you straight to the best attractions the northwest coast of the USA has to offer. This book will take you street by street  through Pike Place Market, give you details like the hours and a map of the Woodland Park Zoo, help you find a place to stay and most importantly, point you to a good place to eat. It’s also a handy travel size so you can take it along with you.

index (2)If you’re interested in a road trip, I’d recommend The Pacific Northwest’s Best Trips: 33 Amazing Road Trips. This Lonely Planet guide (love them!) features 33 amazing road trips, from 2-day escapes to 2-week adventures and points out good places to eat and sleep. It includes tips on seeing each area like a local, using maps, directions and expert advice. It can help you plan trips focusing on history, food & drink, family trips, or the mountains. I’m dreaming about the three-day wine tour myself.

index (4)Jack McLeod who wrote the North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide to America’s Alps will give a free author talk at the main library on Sunday, September 28th at 2 PM. This is an illustrated natural history guide which helps travelers and readers to appreciate the deeper beauty behind the landscape. Organized as a series of stops at eye-catching sites along eighty miles of the highway, this book reveals the geological story of each location. Reserve a copy before the rush!

index (1)When I was a child, our family goal was to try all of the Mexican Restaurants in San Diego. My husband wants to visit all of the major league baseball stadiums if he ever retires. Perhaps you’d like a goal also. Why don’t you search for all of the spectacular waterfalls in Washington State? The Waterfall Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest is your ticket to that adventure. Go see five-star falls such as Snoqualmie or Wallace Falls or discover smaller, closer falls which may be hidden but not after you read this book. Check it out!

index (2)My husband just completed the RAMROD (ride around Mt. Rainier in one Day). It was 175 miles of constant up and down. If you want to see the area from the seat of your bicycle, check out Biking Puget Sound. You’ll find local trails in Everett (our favorite is out to Snohomish along the river because you’re in the country within ten minutes of leaving home) or rides up in the San Juan Islands (steer clear of Mt. Constitution!), or longer rides across the state. Next thing you know, you’ll be signing up for the RAMROD!

index (3)If hiking is more to your liking, we’ve always used the Mountaineer’s Guides. The Day Hiking books will get you out and up to a beautiful alpine lake and then back home in time for dinner. These are the updated Mountaineer books that we all used to break in our hiking boots. Even young children can do a lot of the hikes such as Heather, Elizabeth, or Barclay Lakes. These guides will tell you if hikes are dog-friendly, kid-friendly, easy, historical, or full of wildflowers. Of course, you’ll learn how to drive to the trails and what to look for while on the trails so you don’t get lost.

index (5)There are a number of walks closer to home included in the Take a Walk books by Sue Muller Hacking. The first walk listed is 2-4 miles on Jetty Island just west of Everett. Then there’s Langus Riverfront Park, Spencer Island, Centennial Trail, Howarth Park, Forest Park, and the Lowell Riverfront Trail. This is the book for when you just have half a day and want to explore the local area more deeply. It lists the park amenities and driving directions. Perfect.

index (7)Paddling Washington: Flatwater and Whitewater routes in Washington State and the Inland Northwest is your ticket to a memorable time out on the water. Detailed locator maps and instructions on safety are included, as well as appendices on equipment, map sources and a useful route comparison chart for selecting the right trip level for any paddler. The 112 water routes cover western and eastern Washington, British Columbia, North Idaho and Montana. If you don’t have a boat yourself, you can easily rent one at the University of Washington. Be one of the boys in the boat!

Get_Asset_Img

Get_Asset_Img (1)For other summer activities pick up a free copy of the Everett Parks and Recreation Summer Guide while you’re at the library. We have stacks of them and It lists day camps, aquatics, health and fitness classes, and guided outdoor activities. There’s a fall edition coming out soon.

When we’re not at the library, I hope to see you out on the roads or water or trails. Enjoy!

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.