Click here for quick access to all of the materials for the 2014-15 Crime Fiction Genre Study. Please note, some information will be password protected for members only. Click here for information about joining ARRT.


I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My New Favorite Resource: The Genrify Blender!

So if you are not already reading The Reader's Advisor Online's weekly RA Run Down every Monday morning, you need to start now. Sarah and Cindy do a fantastic job providing, in one post, everything you need to know about what is going on in our very specific world of Adult RA in American Public Libraries. Seriously, everything in the column is useful to us and our work.

Case in point, this week I found my new favorite resource in the RA Run Down...The Genrify Blender!

What is the Genrify Blender?  Well, we all know that one of the biggest trends in all fiction right now is that authors are blending genres in their novels.  [Click here for my post on a longer discussion of this trend  from ALA Annual 2013.] Now that this trend has been popular for a while, patrons are used to it, liking it, and asking for reading suggestions of more genre blended novels. [This is a big step forward from 2012 when they were complaining about authors not knowing what genre they were writing in]. However, while the patrons have caught on to the trend, the professional resources are not as up to date.

Enter the blog, Genrify: Where Genres Mix and Mingle a blog and resource to help identify genre blended books.  It is simple, fun, and, most importantly, useful.

Click here and pick 2 or 3 genres, hit "Blend" and see what suggestions you get.

I have already used it for 6 or 7 patrons since finding out about it Monday [again, yay RA Run Down].  They all loved using the blender, and the results seemed promising. I do think the fun of using the resource itself predisposes people to liking the book, but I will have to wait for the patrons to return to see about that.

Try the genre blender yourself.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

August 2014 Issue of NoveList News Featuring Me

Click here to access the entire August 2014 issue of NoveList’s RA news.  Along with a very useful article on how to bed use Tumblr at your library, there is this article by me on Book Discussion First Aid: Reassessing Your Group Dynamics.

I have reposted the article below, but the entire issue is worth a look.  Also, you do not need to be a NoveList subscriber to get this monthly newsletter.  I think it is worth it even when I don’t have an article.  [heehee]

For the lazy bunch, I have reposted my article below.  But first, I have an interesting anecdote to share from book club yesterday.

We met a week late due to my vacation [report on the actual discussion will be up later this week], and a new member joined us.  After we were done she said, “I go to another book club at a different library and this book club was NOTHING like that one.” [her emphasis]

I was nervous because I had no idea if that was a positive or negative statement.  So I said, “Well, I am a unique leader, so....”

She interrupted, “Oh, don’t worry. Yours was much better.”


I guess I have our group dynamic figured out.  Read my article here or posted below to help assess your group dynamic and see if you can improve it.


Book Discussion First Aid: Reassessing Your Group Dynamics

by Becky Spratford

*This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of RA News.*

Every book discussion group has its ups and downs, and I have found that the longer a group has been together, the longer the down swings seem to last.  As readers become more comfortable with each other it is easy to fall into bad habits that can drag group discussions down. It is the group's dynamic -- how the group works together [or not] as they discuss the books -- that is frequently to blame So, before you worry that your book choices are making meetings dull, figure out whether or not the group's dynamic is the real issue.  

Several years ago, I noticed that our discussions were becoming...difficult. There was no easy flow of conversation and ideas. One or two people dominated the conversation and participants were not open-minded to the opinions of others. We were having trouble getting deeper than comments such as, "I liked the book!" The lack of give and take in our discussions was upsetting to everyone.  We wanted to get together to have fun and vibrant discussions, but somewhere between our desires and our reality we were missing a critical step.

I found inspiration from my children's elementary school. At the start of each school year, each homeroom teacher and their students work together to develop behavioral norms for the coming year.  Because everyone contributes to the rules, everyone knows up front what is expected of them, of their peers, and of their teacher.  When there are issues, they have a group-created plan for dealing with it. The children were more responsive to correction since their misbehavior was in direct violation of a rule they played a hand in creating.

With that in mind, I initiated a discussion about our group norms. I acknowledged that as the leader I was ultimately responsible for the success and failure of the group, but I wanted to initiate a discussion on our group dynamic, where we could talk openly and freely about how we wanted our discussions to proceed.

Using the school model as a guide, we created two sets of norms: their expectations for me, as the leader; and their expectations for one another, as discussion participants. Having this open discussion about the group also got us out of our book discussion rut.  Everyone had something to add, ideas were flowing freely, and when we finally discussed the book itself, we all felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from our shoulders and had the best book discussion of the year.
This is what my group drafted:

Leader Norms:

  • Read the entire books
  • Gather information to help enhance the discussion
  • Be prepared to offer counter opinions -- even if they differ from your own
  • Be prepared to begin new lines of discussion when necessary
  • Do not let one person monopolize the discussion
  • Be willing and prepared to take control of the group, firmly but respectfully

Group Norms:

  • Make your best effort to complete the book
  • Come ready to both share AND listen
  • Be ready to back up your opinions with the "Why"
  • Self-censor
  • Have a great time -- if you stop enjoying it, let the leader know

You'll notice that these norms are easy to follow: they emphasize common sense and basic courtesy, and require minimal effort. The tools the group needed to keep the discussions flowing smoothly are also embedded in them; we have a clear set of shared rules to refer to as we handle any difficult situations.
For example, if someone dominates the discussion, I can gently remind them that we have agreed to "share AND listen."  And if things devolve further, I can always invoke the norm they have empowered me with: "Be willing and prepared to take control of the group, firmly but respectfully." I once actually dealt with a difficult participant in the heat of a discussion by standing up and literally saying, "It is now time for me to be firm, but respectful." Not only did it defuse the uncomfortable situation, but it made us all giggle, check ourselves, and regain composure.

The second point I want to stress about these norms is that you cannot expect them to work in a vacuum. My group revisits our norms at our December holiday party each year, to talk about what works and what we'd like to change. (in fact, the norms you see above are the product of 5 years of fine tuning!)  I print out copies for everyone and we have an open discussion about our norms while we are enjoying a yummy pot luck lunch. We talk about how we did following them as a group and as individuals over the previous twelve months.  We suggest modifications and vote on our norms for the next calendar year. It's a chance for the whole group to think about how we interact, both the good and the bad. Keeping the process responsive is part of what keeps the group invested in following the norms they set.

Responsive norms will produce results. Norms that you create and never revisit won't.  You need to be engaged in a discussion about the group, its dynamics, what is both working AND failing if you want to keep your discussions viable and fun.

Taking a hard look at your group's dynamic and seriously questioning how you are functioning will go a long way toward improving all of your discussions. It may seem daunting at the outset, but feel free to use this article as an icebreaker to get the conversation going. As I have seen from experience, once you begin discussing the group dynamic, it may be hard to get everyone to stop participating.  But isn't that why you are engaging in this conversation -- to recharge the energy and the give and take of a good discussion? Try it out with your group, and let us know how it went.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Crime Fiction Genre Study Updates

We are quickly approaching the next meeting of the ARRT Crime Fiction Genre Study. We will be at Glenview Public Library on 8/7/14 discussing Historical Crime. Click here for all of the details on our Crime Fiction Genre Study website, including the assignment.

I also just posted the assignment for the October 2, 2014 meeting on Legal, Political/Financial, and Techno Thrillers.

Remember, while you need to be a member of ARRT to join us for the discussions and/or to review the password protected notes from our meetings, anyone can access the website.  Please feel free to use our assignments, resources, links, etc... to lead your own genre study.  All we ask is that you credit ARRT.

It helps all librarians and library patrons everywhere when we work together to help readers. Even if you are not planning to do an entire Crime Fiction Genre Study yourself, taking a look at each of our assignments will give you a snapshot of these genres and subgenres as they stand for a popular reading audience right now.

If you have any questions, all the contact info is on the site.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

More Audiobook Resources

Back in May, I posted about NoveLists’s brand new Audiobook resources.  In that post, I talked about a few other resources I use to help audiobook patrons, but I completely forgot one of my favorite audiobook discovery tools, Audiobook-Heaven.

Not only does Audiobook-Heaven have useful reviews, with a clear searching interface, and a wide variety of genres to choose from, but the story behind the site is almost as interesting as the reviews themselves. And the focus of these reviews is on how the books work in audio form.  It is the best site out there with reviews by someone who is a fan of the format.

Click here for details and to start using it yourself.

I think if you combine Audiobook-Heaven, NoveList, Audiofile, and Audible you can really train yourself to help audiobook patrons.  For further reading, I also highly suggest Joyce Sarick’s Read On... Audiobooks.

After I felt compelled to write this post, I got to thinking about why I have been so infatuated with posting about audiobooks recently, and then I realized, I have had an amazing streak of good audiobooks going for a while now.  Currently I am listening to Cuckoo’s Calling and LOVING IT and I am super stoked to get the new Deborah Harkness on audio really soon. [I listened to the first 2 in the trilogy already; reviews here and here]

If you know of another audiobook resource that I am not considering or you want more advice on RA for listeners, leave a comment.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Are You Ready For RA Summer Camp!

That's right, I said summer camp, and it is being presented by Neal Wyatt, readers' advisory expert and all around great person.  Here is the link to the official flyer from the ARRT webpage.

But here are the details:

RA Summer Camp: Developing Skills Through Play
Tuesday, August 12th @ 2 PM
Naperville Public Library, 95th Street Branch

MadLibs! Myers-Briggs! Jeopardy! Find come fun relief from the dog days of summer in this interactive and practical RA program.  Neal Wyatt, co-chair of ALA's RA Committee and Library Journal's RA contributing editor, will host a program focused on two key RA skills-- writing about books [everything from annotations to blog posts to published columns] and understanding appeal [Nancy Pearl's Doorways, Joyce Saricks's big six, and more].  Some participants will leave with prizes bur all will gain a deeper understanding of what they enjoy in the works they read, how other readers connect to titles, and how to write about the reading experience in ways that grab and audience.

And all of this is only $15 to attend.  Our library is sending as many people as we can spare to be away and who can fit in my van. You do not need to be an ARRT member to come.

I can't wait.  This is a RA program that will benefit anyone who works with readers, from the newbie to experts like me.

If you cannot make it, but are intrigued, let me know.  I can tell you how it went after and put you in touch with Neal to see if she can do this program in your location.

Finally, here is the flyer so you can see how snazzy it is whether or not you click here. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Attention Chicago Area Librarians-- Event 7/24

Click here for details about an event I will be attending at Bucket O Blood, a fantastic independent book and record shop in Chicago this Thursday.

Library Reads: August 2014

I have been on vacation, which would also explain why my past week or so posts have all gone up in a timely fashion [yay, pre-programmed posting], so I missed being able to post the August list right when it came out.

Here it is today. Also, your friendly monthly reminder to use past lists to help a patron who can't tell you more than they just want a good read.  These are just that, good reads that are librarian approved.

Click here for my archive. There is now one full year of lists!! And I have already used these lists more than I ever used the NYT bestseller list to help a patron. I am serious, I have used the Library Reads List more times in 1 year to help  patron than I have used any best seller list to help a patron in 14 years!

August 2014 LibraryReads List


One Kick: A Novel

by Chelsea Cain

Published: 8/19/2014
by Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781476749785
“Kick Lannigan survived being kidnapped as a child. Now, at twenty-one, determined never to be a victim again, she has reinvented herself. Martial arts and weapons handling are just a few of the skills she has learned over the years. Kick catches the attention of John Bishop, a mystery man with access to unlimited funds, and together they go after a cabal of child pornographers. A read-in-one-sitting, edge-of-your-seat thriller.”
Elizabeth Kanouse, Denville Public Library, Denville, NJ

Lucky Us: A Novel

by Amy Bloom

Published: 7/29/2014 by Random House
ISBN: 9781400067244
“Is a family the people you are born to, or the people who you find along the way? That’s what Bloom explores in this novel set in pre- and post-WWII Ohio, Los Angeles, New York and Germany. The story follows resourceful Eva, who was abandoned by her mother at an early age, and her sister Iris, an aspiring actress who tries to find love at a time when her kind of love must be secretive. Every character is beautifully drawn, warm, and believable.”
Kathryn Hassert, Henrietta Hankin Branch Library, Chester Springs, PA


Heroes Are My Weakness: A Novel

by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Published: 8/26/2014 by William Morrow
ISBN: 9780062106070
“Any Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel is going to make it onto my must-read list, but this one is particularly wonderful, and here’s why: she creates, then cheerfully destroys, the romance cliche of the brooding hero with a dark secret who lives in a crumbling mansion and captivates a plucky heroine. The hero is a horror novelist, and the heroine a failed actress-turned-puppeteer. This warm, witty, comedy-drama is a perfect summer read.”
Donna Matturri, Pickerington Public Library, Pickerington, OH


Lock In

by John Scalzi

Published: 8/26/2014 by Tor
ISBN: 9780765375865
“There’s been a good run of fantasy and science fiction books this year. Joining the list of great fantastical reads is John Scalzi’s Lock In. Scalzi is best known for his military SF (especially the Old Man’s War series), so his latest is a change of pace. A blending of SF and police procedural that hits every note just right.”
Jane Jorgenson, Madison Public Library, Madison, WI


The Miniaturist: A Novel

by Jessie Burton

Published: 8/26/2014 by Ecco
ISBN: 9780062306814
“A dollhouse whose figures and furnishings foretell life events, mysterious notes, family secrets and the powerful guild and church of 1686 Amsterdam. All these elements combine for an engaging story of a young bride’s struggle to be the ‘architect of her own fortune.’”
Elizabeth Angelastro, Manlius Library, Manlius, NY


Big Little Lies

by Liane Moriarty

Published: 7/29/2014 by Amy Einhorn/Putnam
ISBN: 9780399167065
“A horrible act of violence occurs at the Pirriwee Public School’s trivia night fundraiser for parents, but what happened and who was involved? The novel begins six months before that fateful evening and lets us in on the lives of single mother Jane, divorcee Madeline, and Celeste, who secretly suffers from domestic abuse. Big Little Lies is another page-turning read from Moriarty that had me gasping with surprise at the end.”
Lora Bruggeman, Indian Prairie Public Library, Darien, IL


The Truth about Leo

by Katie MacAlister

Published: 8/5/2014 by Sourcebooks Casablanca
ISBN: 9781402294457
“I always adore Katie MacAlister! Her sense of humor is outstanding, and her heroines have real bodies. This is another installment in the delightful historical Noble series, and it doesn’t disappoint. Fans of humor with their romance are sure to enjoy this regency romp.”
Jessica C. Williams, Westlake Porter Public Library, Westlake, OH


An Unwilling Accomplice

by Charles Todd

Published: 8/12/2014 by William Morrow
ISBN: 9780062237194
“Bess Crawford, a courageous World War I battlefield nurse, is faced with another complex mystery. A patient about to receive a high honor from the King manages to disappear on Bess’s watch, sending her life into a tailspin. In order to clear her name, she must find the missing patient and find out why he is now accused of murder. Intelligent and fantastic, just like the others in this series!”
Monicah Fratena, La Porte County Public Library, La Porte, IN


The Magician’s Land: A Novel

by Lev Grossman

Published: 8/5/2014 by Viking Adult
ISBN: 9780670015672
“Even if you haven’t read the first two books in the wonderful Magicians Trilogy, you will enjoy the escapades of Quentin Coldwater. Now 30 years old, Quentin finds himself back at Brakebills, experiencing school from the teacher’s side of the desk. But his adventures are far from over! Although I’m not generally a fantasy reader, I’ve been rooting for Quentin ever since I first picked up this series and am sad to see it end.”
Kelly Currie, Delphi Public Library, Delphi, IN


The Story Hour: A Novel

by Thrity Umrigar

Published: 8/19/2014 by Harper
ISBN: 9780062259301
“Another beautifully written novel by Thrity Umrigar. A relationship develops between Maggie, a psychologist, and Lakshmi, a troubled Indian woman. As their stories develop, it is hard to figure out which woman does more to impact the other’s life. Highly recommended.”
Ellen Firer, Merrick Library, Merrick, NY

Monday, July 21, 2014

Staff Recommendations 24 Hours a Day on The Browsers Corner

I haven’t written about our fantastically amazing permanent staff recommendations blog The Browser’s Corner in a while, so that’s what I’m going to do today.

What I love about this blog is that we have staff from all over the library [not just the RA Dream Team] suggesting books.  It is regularly updated with new recommendations, but now that we have been at it for awhile, there are hundreds of staff approved books ready for any reader with an Internet connection to peruse.

We try very hard to focus on the appeal of each title, not the plot.  As a result, the blog also serves as a great RA tool because you can search by appeal factors as well as authors and titles. Either use the tags to search or use the search box and type in an adjective to see what you get.

If you visit the physical building of the BPL, you can also see our Browser’s Corner shelf [which is in an actual corner] with some of the suggested titles and the recommendation shelf talkers in person.

So no matter where you are, feel free to use the BPL’s staff recommendations to help your patrons find their next good read.

I know I use it all of the time, and it makes me look so smart.  So thanks to my fellow staff for all of their work.  The Browser’s Corner is the perfect example of a team effort.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Backlist Not to Miss: The Housekeeper and the Professor

Today I am taking a break from new reviews and posting the links to the 2x I read The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa.

I have been giving this book out to many people this summer.  Why?  Well, one, it is part of our popular book discussion collection so I have multiple, paperback copies.  Two, it is a quick, compelling read suitable to a wide audience.  And, three, it has this killer soundbite I use to book talk it:
A housekeeper is assigned by the agency she works for to take care of the a former mathematics professor's home and make his meals. She is the 9th housekeeper assigned to the professor. This is because the professor has a brain injury. He can remember everything that happened before his accident (1970s), but since, his memory is on a 80 minute loop. That's right, his memory only lasts 80 minutes. Intriguing, huh?
The ensuing story is about her time working for the Professor and the bond they form. It is about her son's relationship with her and the Professor. It is about the loss of a genius; we still see sparks of the old Professor as he works on complicated math problems. And finally, it is a story about living, no matter the obstacles; about living a life with meaning even if you cannot remember what happened 81 minutes ago.
So click here to see my initial review and here to see the book discussion report. And please don’t forget to push older titles.  There are more good books in your stacks than there are on your new shelf.  And that’s not a dig at the new books, it’s simple mathematical truth!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What I’m Reading: Wolf Hall

Today I have my review of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. But first an editor’s note.  I am not sure why it took me this long to think of posting the audiobook cover and linking to the record of the book when I have listened to it.  Oh well, better late than never.

Now here’s why you need to read my review, even though I am probably the millionth person to read this popular and critically acclaimed book.  I am not a Tudors lover. I am not a Tudor hater either; I am indifferent.  However, I do love  well researched and compelling historical fiction novels.  But it is important to note here that we all encounter many readers that love everything and anything if it features a Tudor.  Fiction-Nonficion-Magazine articles- TV shows.  Those people will find this book on their own.  This review will be helpful for you to identify other readers who may also enjoy this novel.

[By the way, reading this book made me think of pitting all my Tudor Lovers vs the legions of Jane Austen fans.  What a great display idea.  Literary Smack-Down: Tudors vs Austen!  But I digress.]

In case you don’t know, the plot of this 650 page, first of a trilogy, is easy to explain.  The entire series follows the life of Thomas Cromwell, through his eyes (but in an omniscient third person) beginning, in Wolf Hall, with his service to the Cardinal, leading up to Henry VIII divorce of Catherine, marriage to Anne Boleyn, and ending with the execution of Thomas Moore. So the 1520s and 30s.

Because I do not know all of the intricate details and timelines for the drama that was Henry VIII, I did go to some resources to get a sketch of Cromwell’s life before reading this novel.  I don’t normally do that, but since this was such a leisurely paced journey through the era and names were thrown around willy nilly, I wanted to have a way to listen up for the key moments.  Huge fans of the era would notice more foreshadowing on their own.

So if not the Tudors, what did I enjoy.  I read  for the politics, the sweeping picture of life in the 1520s, the characters from all walks of life, the rich details, the intricate plot, and the wonderfully rounded out historical characters.

Specifically I was intrigued by the research Mantel did to uncover how much of a bigger role Cromwell actually played in the events that led up to the marriage of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII.  This novel also made me appreciate how this was a turning point for English history.  Without the intervention of Cromwell, I don’t think Henry would have broken away from Rome and married Anne.  Without that marriage there is no Queen Elizabeth.  And, without Elizabeth maybe no Shakespeare.  Ahh, the horror. It is interesting to see how different things could be without Cromwell.

Also because of Cromwell’s position as a business person who started in the gutter and rose to be the right hand man of a King, we see all walks of life in this novel.  You get a wonderful panoramic view of what life was like in the 1520s. I loved hearing details about his household.  The side jaunts where Mantel goes away from the characters in the Court and looks at the lives of the regular people were among my favorite scenes. Wolf Hall placed me firmly in the time and place while I was reading the novel.  This is a huge accomplishment by Mantel, and one of the main reasons she won the Booker Prize for this work.

So that’s how a non-Tudor fan could enjoy this novel.  I am glad I read it; however, I know what is going to happen.  We all do.  Lots of heads will be lost, Cromwell’s included, and eventually, Elizabeth, the daughter of Anne and Henry will rise to be Queen, the first female to inherit the crown.  So that’s all for me in the trilogy.  I liked it plenty, but want to find another sweeping historical novel about a new place a time.  One where I can be similarly caught up in the people, places, and events, but in a new frame. I’m good on the Tudors for a while.

Notes on the audio: The narrator Simon Slater did a good job, but I don’t think he improved upon the book at all. But, I do know that I never would have made it through reading this book.  I definitely would have given up, but the audio kept me going.  I prefer a straight up first person narration for my audiobooks, so the third person omniscient with the focus on Cromwell took a little getting used to.  There were a lot of characters and Slater could have differentiated his voice a bit more for some of them, but the big characters had distinct voices. He did not do female voices particularly well and being that there were a few key female players, this did get a little confusing at times.  Though part of that is on me as I did not know the history as well going in.

Three Words That Describe This Book: sweeping, extremely detailed, historically accurate

Readalikes: As I mentioned, anything Tudors works here.  There is so so so so much.  Click here to begin your journey through the literary world of Tudor England.

Recently, my book group read The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, and Wolf Hall came up during out discussion. Click here for details.

In NoveList, Katherine Johnson suggests Mistress in the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin:
"Like Wolf Hall, Mistress of the Art of Death has a strong, accurate historical sense of place and time, and portrays a maligned figure, Henry II, sympathetically. Unlike Wolf Hall, it's a mystery with less focus on historical characters, but will still enthrall discerning readers."
But in my opinion, for people who like the details of life in England’s  pre-indutrial age, readers who don’t need the Tudors to be part of the story but love the epic sweeping details, the back stabbing, and the drama of life in that era, I highly suggest Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  Click here for my full review including more readalike options.