My Reading Challenge

Enjoy this post from our new contributor Katie:

Last year I read 121 books. My goal was 75. This year my goal is still 75 but I want to do something a little different than just push myself to read as many books as I can. So I decided to take a reading challenge. The list that I decided to go with comes from Pop Sugar and it has a really nice variety of topics that I hope will provide a unique reading experience. Check it out here at  http://www.popsugar.com/love/Reading-Challenge-2016-39126431.

challenge1and2

Not everything I read will be chosen in order to meet the challenge. For example, I read Super Mutant Magic Academy just for fun without intending to use it to check off a box, and it is now one of my favorite books.

Super Mutant

Most of the books I read last year were graphic novels. Currently I read graphic novels almost constantly, but before last year this wasn’t the case. The library in my college town was woefully underfunded and graphic novels are expensive. I was overjoyed to find that our library here in Everett has a wonderful graphic novel selection that not only has many of my favorites but also allows me to find new and interesting ones to read. This is why I read The Wicked and the Divine Vol. 1: The Faust Act as “a book from the library” for the reading challenge. I want to help bring awareness to the amazing and diverse and beautiful story telling that is the graphic novel.

Wicked

The Wicked and the Divine has been on my To-Read list for quite some time. When I saw that it was at the library I picked it up immediately. I was unprepared for just how much I was going to enjoy it. I’m frequently drawn to books that take interesting twists on mythology, such as the Percy Jackson series which is one of my favorites. The Wicked and the Divine takes place in a universe where 12 gods return to Earth every 90 years. They live for two years and then perish. In this particular cycle, each of the gods is a rock star. I found some similarities with their styles and certain current pop stars/celebrities today, but you’ll have to read it to find out which ones.

The main character is a mortal girl named Laura who follows the gods almost obsessively. She is a huge fan and tries to go as many concerts as she can. We are privy to her thoughts as she interacts with the gods and becomes involved in the dangerous world they inhabit. An interesting twist is that their divinity is not necessarily obvious. Much like current celebrities and pop stars, their god-like qualities could easily be attributed to stardom, loads of money, and special effects. Not everyone is convinced that they are in fact actually gods (though we the readers know better).

The gods cover a wide variety of pantheons. This current cycle has Lucifer (as a woman — my favorite), Sakhmet (my other favorite), Minerva, Baal and others as they get revealed through the story. As I read I became emotionally invested in these characters. It’s so easy to like them, but they are also complex. All of the gods and side characters are brought to life vividly by the beautiful and colorful artwork. It’s incredible. The storyline balances heartbreak and happiness with ease as the plot develops. I was unprepared for so much fun and drama, but I can’t wait to read more. I have a feeling that this series is going to break me (in a good way).

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.

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