Not Just a Pretty Face

The Magicians coverLike a literary magpie, I am drawn to pretty, shiny, exciting things. I often enter the library without a clue about what I want to read. I wander and browse until something jumps out at me – a cool spine design, a flashy cover, a witty title. It doesn’t take much.

I judge books by their covers.

Sometimes this approach backfires, but more often than not, I find that I like the book if I like the way the author has chosen to decorate it. It could be dumb luck, or perhaps the author and I agree on some deep, mystical, aesthetic level. Either way, I’ve been happy with my track record, and I’d like to share some of my favorite ‘window shopping’ finds:

Dreams and Shadows coverDreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill. This book will appeal to anyone who is into folklore, mythical creatures, and generally wizardy stuff. Cargill’s style of writing was right up my alley – a little bit edgy, but sprinkled with humor and an occasional academic interlude to fill in more information about some of the supernatural beings that are involved in his story. I feel this book was left open-ended enough that it could be turned into the first of a series, or it could remain as a good stand-alone work. Those who liked American Gods may be into this.

Utopian Man coverUtopian Man by Lisa Lang. This was a really lovely read from start to finish. I enjoyed getting lost in the world that Edward William Cole, our Utopian Man, was trying to create with his glorious Arcade. Setting the story in 19th-Century Melbourne made the book all the more fascinating, as it’s a time and place that is very unknown and exotic to me. I think the author brings this feeling of newness and excitement across very well to the reader. This is a light read full of beautiful imagery, a little bit of conflict, and a lot of imagination.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I’ve already raved about this book in another post, so I’ll get to the important part. This book jacket GLOWS IN THE DARK! Aside from it being a great book, what more do you need to know?

Deathless coverDeathless by Catherynne Valente. 2/3 Russian fairy tale, 1/3 history of Russia from the death of the Tsar through the Siege of Leningrad. It took me a couple of chapters to warm up to this book, mainly because I didn’t know what it was I was getting into: fantasy, a dream sequence, a paranoid delusion, or allegory. Once I figured out how I related to the book, I was drawn in. Deathless reads primarily like a folktale, punctuated with passages full of beauty, mystery, hardship, poetry, mythology, joy, and melancholy. While the library doesn’t own Deathless, I was able to get it through Interlibrary Loan. EPL does have many of Valente’s other titles on shelf.

Age of Wonder coverThe Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. I picked this one up shortly after I finished grad school. I found a note I’d written about it on GoodReads while I was reading the book that made me chuckle: “Interesting subject matter, but perhaps a bit more dense than my poor brain wants to deal with so soon after graduating. Recovery is a long, hard road. I’m sticking it out though, for the greater good.” I am happy to report that it was worth it, and that I learned a lot about science in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As grueling as I made it sound, the book was quite a pleasure to read.

Super Sad True Love Story coverSuper Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. SSTLS is kind of an odd book for me. Generally when I love a book, I love it from the beginning. With this story, my feelings sometimes bordered on hate, and for the most part, hovered in the area of disinterest. Then a funny thing happened: I finished the story and let it marinate in my brain for a while. Soon enough, ideas from SSTLS started popping up in conversations with friends and they would immediately jump in saying that they’d read the same book and completely agreed. Similar to the movie Idiocracy, SSTLS delivers a darkly humorous appraisal of the future of mankind that occasionally seems prophetic when watching the news.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Kind of like Harry Potter, but for grown folks. I went on to read the sequel, The Magician King, and enjoyed it just as much. I would recommend Grossman for anyone who likes a little humor and sarcasm to go along with their fantasy reads.

Travels in Siberia coverTravels in Siberia by Ian Frazier. Before I knew that Ian Frazier was awesome, I stumbled upon his cover for Travels in Siberia. I thought it was lovely and that combined with my odd fascination with all things Russian was enough to get me to put it on hold. I was not disappointed. I think those who enjoy the kind of travel writing one gets from Paul Theroux or Bill Bryson would really connect with this author.

Lisa

Haunt Locally

I grew up in what’s known as one of the most haunted small towns in America. Alton, IL is home to haunted mansions, schools, and churches. Ghost sightings and spooky histories are more abundant than actual people to tell the tales. There was never a shortage of material for the ghost stories we told around bonfires on chilly autumn evenings.

And guess what? The greater Seattle area is full of similar spots and stories, just waiting for you to explore and discover. Even better? The library has several books to help you find ghostly hot spots and haunted locales.

The easiest way to see as many haunted locations as possible is to follow the driving routes in Washington’s Haunted Hotspots by Linda Moffitt. There are 17 separate road trips, taking you from one end of the Evergreen State to the other. Everett falls in chapter 7 and includes some familiar local buildings. The Rucker Mansion, for instance, is said to be haunted by Bethel Rucker’s mother-in-law Jane, who died in the home of natural causes. Jane must have been a virtuoso in her day, because now she can be heard playing the piano when no one else is at home. Everett High School is also mentioned as being haunted by a man wandering the halls. A construction worker fell to his death when the school was being built—could this be the same man?

Spooked in Seattle by Ross Allison is another book packed with local ghostly lore. Each chapter centers on a different Seattle neighborhood. Most locals are familiar with ghost stories surrounding some of these spooky hotspots, like the Seattle Underground, Smith Tower, and Pike Place Market. But the Museum of Flight, Fremont Troll, and even the Rite-Aid in West Seattle are also apparently visited by spirits from the great beyond. Familiarize yourself with some of the more obscure tales and impress out-of-town guests the next time you head down to the Big City.

While it has the fewest photos, the best written book of the bunch is Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Seattle and Puget Sound by Jeff Dwyer. Don’t be put off by the sections of serious ghost hunting information in this book. Sure, I giggled at the thought of Dr. Venkman and Dr. Spengler running around Capitol Hill on the trail of Slimer. But I urge you to look past that to the wealth of ghost stories that are sandwiched in between ghost hunting tips and ghost sighting report forms. From Manresa Castle in Port Townsend to the Mount Baker Theatre in Bellingham, this book covers much more than just the Emerald City. You may be particularly interested in the story about the haunting at the Historic Everett Theatre on Colby:

For nearly thirty years, patrons, theater staff members, and renovators have reported encounters with an elderly male presence. Many have gotten the impression that this ghost is a devoted patron or a former employee. Psychic investigations of the site have confirmed the presence of a spirit. The entity has been located in the balcony, the aisles of the main floor, backstage, and in the lobby near the four white columns.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, I guarantee you’ll find at least one story to interest you in these tomes. In fact, if you’re planning a bonfire and an evening of storytelling, be sure to pick up a copy of one (or all) of these books. When you read some of these stories out loud, you’ll have your audience in the palm of your hand.

Carol

A Horticultural Fantasy

Sorticulture is fast approaching and we’re smack in the middle of gardening season. What better way to ease those sore muscles after a turn in the garden than unwinding with a book featuring some truly crazy gardening practices?

Crystal Gardens by local author Amanda Quick is the first in a new trilogy, the Ladies of Lantern Street. Each of the Ladies of Lantern Street novels focuses on women who are employed by a hired companion agency. While they appear to be hired out as paid companions, the ladies actually use their specialized psychic powers to solve mysteries. Have I lost you? Keep reading—the gardens will take prime focus, I promise.

Crystal Gardens is the story of paid companion and budding novelist Evangeline Ames. She’s come to the small town of Little Dixby to focus on writing her novel. Unfortunately she was followed from London and is attacked in her rented cottage. She flees in the middle of the night and takes refuge in the Crystal Gardens. She has heard the villagers speak warnings of the dangers that lurk within, but she takes a risk that pays off. Eluding her attacker, she is then discovered by the owner of the property, Lucas Sebastian. He offers to help her figure out who sent the attacker after her, and why.

Lucas’s deceased uncle, the former owner of the Crystal Gardens, was rumored to have gone mad trying to improve the properties of the plants in the gardens. No one really knows what makes the plants glow—yes, glow— but the stories of missing intruders are still told in the village. Most people are smart enough to steer clear of the gardens, but the legend of buried Roman gold is enough to lure a few people past the gates despite the rumors that the grounds are haunted.

What may first appear to be a romance wrapped in a mystery and sprinkled with the paranormal is actually a fantastic novel surrounding the creation and growth of the weirdest garden I have ever encountered in literature. You will be fascinated by the horticultural possibilities in Crystal Gardens.

If you enjoy the paranormal aspects of this book, you may also enjoy titles in the Arcane series, written under the two nom de plumes of the author Jayne Ann Krentz : Amanda Quick and Jayne Castle. I’ve always been a fan of her works but these novels have reduced me to counting down the days until the next book is released…and I couldn’t be happier.

Carol

You Need to Read “Need”

Believe it or not, we library folk don’t get to read books at work. Some days it can be torturous, but it’s true. If we want to read a book, we have to check it out and take it home just like you.

I’m a cataloger for children’s books and music. Most of these books come across my desk without raising my interest. However, I recently happened upon one quite by accident that broke three of my supposed hardcore reading rules. (We catalogers have rules for everything.)

1. It’s written for Young Adults. I’m pushing 30, and generally dismiss YA fiction as being too young for me.

2. It’s written in the present tense. For some reason, my brain has a hard time reading a story when it’s not in the past tense.

3. It’s about werewolves. Well, technically they’re called “were folk,” but you get the idea.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You think this is just another attempt to latch onto Twilight’s coattails, to use the paranormal trend sweeping the nation to get readers hooked on more mindless entertainment. Well, yes, I do want to get everyone to read this book. And if that means exploiting a nationwide craze then I will do it!

Need by Carrie JonesThis amazing book that I can’t stop talking about is Need by Carrie Jones. When Zara’s dad has a heart attack and dies, Zara goes into a deep depression and is sent to live in rural Maine with her grandmother. Zara faces many challenges you’d expect a 17-year-old to deal with in a new school like making friends and trying to be “normal” when her world is so chaotic. Then she sees a man who looks familiar. Did he follow her to Maine? And, wait, is he leaving gold dust behind him when he walks? Boys are disappearing, tempers are flaring at school, and all Zara can think about is the man who haunts her every move. When she discovers he’s a fairy king after a bride, she knows she has to find a way to stop him before it’s too late.

I still can’t exactly say why I liked this book when the odds were stacked against it. Perhaps it was because of the characters, who were mysterious but obviously different from “normal” people. Maybe it was the way the story twisted at the end and kept me guessing. Or it could have been the lightning-fast pace of the story, which grabbed onto me and took me for a really wild ride.

So, are you hooked yet? Take it from me, the shy reader. Sometimes it pays to break your reading rules and give a book a chance.

 Carol