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Thursday, July 28, 2011

What I'm Reading: American Vampire 2

American Vampire Vol. 2This is a cross post with RA for All: Horror

Boy, I have been on a sequels kick recently.  Here we have another installment of what is a great vampire graphic novel series.  American Vampire Vol. 2 by Scott Snyder continues the set-up presented in the first volume.  We are dealing with new world vampires who can cavort in the daylight.  Their only weakness is still a secret to many.Click here for more on the first book.

Again we have the VERY evil Skinner, but this time we have moved forward a decade and are in Las Vegas of the Depression Era.  The men in charge of building the Hoover Dam are being killed by a vampire.  Is it Skinner? The local lawman teams up with Federal vampire killers to solve the case, but the fight becomes very personal.

The alternating story finds Pearl, Skinner's protege, living as normal a life as possible with her love Henry (a human) in rural California.  Pearl was a vicious killer, but has left that life behind.  As the novel closes, Pearl's former best friend (turned vampire) is out for revenge.

Volume three promises more of the same only this time during WWII.

While one of the obvious appeals here is the joy of a story with truly scary and evil vampires (Skinner got more evil in this book; I did not think that was possible), what I also love is how the story explores American history of the early twentieth century as it scares your pants off.

The drawings are again vivid and detailed, with brutal killings.  Black and red are the dominant colors.  The story also jumps around, with lots of foreshadowing, so you have to pay attention to the box that appears at the top of the page and identifies when you are in a new town or time period.

We barely see the old world vampires here, but I am not sure that they are gone.  Skinner, our American Vampire, is definitely doing better than his old world only out at night rivals, but as the book ends, his hold on Vegas is slipping.  But as usual with Skinner, when he is down, he is never out.  Stay on your toes.

Read this series if you like graphic horror with mean, vicious vampires.  Stay away if you like your vampires to be sweet and romantic.

Three Words That Describe This Book: evil vampires, American History, violent

Where This Book Took Me (Summer Reading Feature): The American West of the 1930s.

Readalikes: Previously I suggested these books:

If you want to read more horror graphic novels check out the Locke and Key series by Joe Hill, The Walking Dead series by Robert Kirkman, or the Hellboy series by Mike Mignola. 
I also felt that my alternating love and disgust for Skinner and Pearl reminded me of Ig in Horns by Joe Hill. 
For more scary vampires you can also try The Passage. 
For those who want to try a western, if you haven't read Louis L'Amour before, go to the library and check out Hondo.  There is a lot of similarity here.  I have had students read Hondo in the past.  Click here to see what they have had to say.
To this list of suggestions I would also add anything by Brian Keene.  He doesn't write about vampires, but he has the same level of violence as well as a similar feel to his story lines.  He writes bloody, fast-paced horror which tends to feature zombies, but not always.  He has great character development, and no one can describe a body being dismembered better.  Try Castaways.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Book Group Buzz Webinar

On Monday, Rebecca Vnuk of Shelfrenewal and Book Group Buzz, moderated a Booklist webinar Book Group Buzzing. Our fearless leader Kathy participated in the webinar at the BPL and found it very useful.

I wanted to thank Rebecca for including this blog in her list of resources which she posted on Book Group Buzz. I feel very strongly about the power of a well run book club to bring people together to share their love of reading.  I am glad others agree.

Summer Student Annotations Begin

Even though I am off from teaching in the summers, Joyce has been busy twice a week with a new crop of students busily posting on the student blog.

Last week they worked on genres of landscape (fantasy, historical fiction, and western) and after 6 pm tonight they will be posting a new set (tbd).

Click here to see what they are reading and writing about.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What I'm Reading: Deadline

This is a cross post with RA for All: Horror

Deadline (Newsflesh, Book 2)Last month I read the second volume in Mira Grant's Newsflesh trilogy, Deadline.

Click here for the full set-up, but here is a snippet from when I read Feed (book 1):

Feed is set in a near future in which the cure for the common cold, mixed with the cure for cancer has caused a zombie problem. The world is full of zombies and they are not nice. Another speculative feature of this world is that when the dead started rising, the traditional news outlets ignored the story, but not bloggers.  Bloggers saved the day by working together to figure out what was going on and pass on information on how to properly kill a zombie and protect yourself.
So in book 1, the bloggers led by Georgia and Sean (siblings) are the official reporters for the Presidential campaign.  While working they are caught up in a conspiracy that led to Georgia's death.  (Again click here for details).  Deadline picks up a year later with Sean now running one of the biggest news organizations in the world.

Sean is not taking Georgia's death well; in fact she still talks to him inside his head and he answers her out loud.  He spends most of his time trying to find out who was really responsible for his sister's death. In the process he (with the help of his team) uncovers another BIGGER conspiracy which may get to the heart of the virus which has changed the world.

As I have said before, despite the zombie backdrop, these are NOT horror books.  The Newslfesh series is pure thriller.  This book reads like you are riding a roller coaster.  There are build ups to a very fast paced action sequence, then things quiet down before again returning to a slow build up to more fast paced action, etc...  This happens over and over; there were too many little bursts of intense action for me to count.  Without the world building that was necessary in Feed, Deadline is all about the action and uncovering the conspiracy.

If you are only picking this book up because it has zombies, you may be disappointed.  The goal here is not to scare the reader.  The appeal is all about the rush.  This is not a judgmental comment because personally, I loved reading Deadline.  It was a non-stop fun thrill ride.  I was worried I wouldn't like Sean as much as Georgia, but he was great.

Another appeal here is the post-apocalyptic setting.  I know for me that is a huge plus in any book, no matter the genre.

One final word of warning with Deadline.  Make sure when you finish the book that you read the included first chapter of the next book. Without reading it you will not fully understand the ending of Deadline.

Three Words That Describe This Book: conspiracy, post-apocalyptic, thrilling

Where This Book Took Me (Summer Reading Feature): post-apocalyptic America

Readalikes:  Here is a link to the readalikes I mentioned previously.  I do want to highly suggest the Joe Ledger supernatural thriller series by Jonathan Maberry again for fans of Grant's series.

If you like the intense, cinematic action and uncovering of conspiracies and don't need the supernatural elements, you should also try Dan Brown.

Other authors with similar pacing and tone are Kelly Link, John Farris, and Koji Suzuki.

Of course if it is simply great zombie action you are after go read The Walking Dead graphic novels by Robert Kirkman or the short story collection The Living Dead.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Discussion: Seafaring Reading

My summer vacation will take me on a nautical journey to visit Maine and Nova Scotia, Canada.  It will be filled with lobster, scallops, the amazing tides of The Bay of Fundy, migrating whales, lighthouses, pirates (well, at least the places they used to frequent), Titanic burial grounds, and sea birds just to name a few of the nautically themed attractions.

To get in the spirit, I want to talk about nautical books for todays Monday Discussion.

I happen to be a sucker for Moby Dick.  Not only do I love the book, but books about that book intrigue me.  For example,  In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick and Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund.

The nautical adventures of Patrick O'Brian which began with Master and Commander have held up against the test of time and are a popular summer read for a wide range of patrons.

For fantasy fans, I highly suggest the Naomi Novik nautical novels which reimagine the Napoleonic Wars on the sea as fought by Admirals who can control dragons.  The captivating and popular Temeraire series begins with His Majesty's Dragons.

For the adventure reader, the benchmark nautical author is Clive Cussler.  If you have never read Raise the Titanic, I highly suggest giving it a try.  They used some of the techniques Cussler mentions in the book to actually raise the real Titanic.

And finally, for the horror fan, there is no better book of a sea voyage gone horribly wrong than Dan Simmons The Terror.

This is just a start.  Now it is your turn.  For today's Monday Discussion, share some nautical books that have captivated you.

Click here for the Monday Discussion Archive.

Friday, July 22, 2011

What I'm Reading: Faithful Place

Faithful Place: A NovelI am very far behind in my reviews of what I have read, so unless something BIG breaks in the RA world (hey, that's a funny thought) over the next week or so, you can expect lots of reviews for the time being here on RA for All.

Back in June I listened to Faithful Place by Tana French.  What I love about French is that she writes dark, literary crime novels that share a lot of the appeal of the popular Nordic Noir, but with more subtle psychological suspense and less in your face violence.  The other thing I enjoy with her books is that they are NOT a series.  Both as a reader and as a librarian, I can have someone pick up any of her three books.  There is no worry about the order here.

Here the plot involves Frank Mackey, the head of the Dublin Undercover unit, who 22 years ago left his family and old life behind, but is forced to return home when the suitcase of Rosie, the girl he had planned to run away with 22 years ago is discovered.  Did she stand Frank up back then as he has thought all this time, or did some harm come to her?  Frank must help solve the case and confront his family; a family he has ignored for two decades. Can he survive, both physically and emotionally, being drawn back into the drama of Faithful Place?

Last year  I read French's debut novel In the Woods, and looking back, I was surprised by how much of what I said about the appeal of that novel applies here too:
In the Woods can best be described as: police procedural meets psychological suspense.  This is a dark book, with an extremely flawed narrator.  Bad things are happening here and even when the crime is "solved," no one is satisfied; in fact, just about everyone involved with the case has been ruined as a result of the investigation.   And the kicker is, you know that it will not end well from the start, but you are so compelled by the complex plot, the interesting, 3-dimensional characters and their interactions that you cannot look away.  I found myself cleaning out a closet, just so I could have 1 hour to myself to listen to this novel. I was completely absorbed by the story, the atmosphere, and the characters.  Even when not much was happening, I needed to keep listening.  It was a bit scary, like an addiction.
That's the thing about French, it is how her books make you feel that is way more important than what happens.  Her books are well plotted police procedurals, but the mysteries are not always solved, and if they are, the bad guy does not always get brought to justice.  You are not quite sure what to expect.  With the number of suspense books I read, this is a huge compliment.  It is no wonder that her books end up on every award and best books list each time she writes a new one.

I also especially enjoy how she includes the politics behind the scenes at police headquarters, class issues (which are huge in these books), violence, especially between family and loved ones, the deep characterizations, and the emotion she brings out in her characters and the reader.

For example, there is an amazing extended scene at a wake in Faithful Place in the middle of the novel that reveals so much about the characters and the story without much happening, as well as an emotionally raw conversation between Frank and his ex-wife toward the end of the book. All of this detail could easily bog down the pacing, but it does not. This novel may be dark, atmospheric, and unsettling, but it is also steadily paced.

In the two books I have read by French, she also uses a case from the past to draw ties to the present.  In both cases, the past case was also connected to the lead investigator.  I found this a compelling plot device in both cases.  The sense of place is also huge.  I could see, smell, and hear the neighborhood of Faithful Place.  I was there with Frank, even though I nave never been to Dublin.

Three Words That Describe This Book: unsettling, psychological suspense, family

Where This Book Took Me (Summer Reading Feature): Working-Class Dublin


Readalikes: Kate Atkinson also has the past intrude upon her literary, atmospheric, crime novels featuring Jackson Brodie.  Fans of French or Atkinson would enjoy the other. Click here to see what I have had to say about Atkinson in the past.

Also, click here for my report, with tons of readalikes from when I read French's first novel, In the Woods.

I also think people who like the unsettling psychological suspense of Peter Abrahams (try, Oblivion) or Ruth Rendell (try, 13 Steps Down) would find enjoyment in French.  But if you like the atmosphere of French but want a little more meat to the police procedural part of the plot, I suggest Tess Gerritsen (try, The Keepsake), C. J. Box (try, Blue Heaven) or John  Lescroart (try, Dead Irish).

Thursday, July 21, 2011

USA Today's New Expanded Book Coverage

As I read in this article, the USA Today, long the home of the most useful bestseller list in America, has finally created an online home for book coverage.

Yes, there are reviews, but there is also now the Book Buzz Blog, a section with "News, Trends, and Interviews," and a Features section.

The limited books coverage had previously only been a part of the larger Life section.  But with http://books.usatoday.com, there is now a go-to place for everything books in its own place.

I do want to comment that this new site is just a start.  I was upset to see that the blog does not, as of yet, have RSS feed access (I even tried to manually enter the url), and many of the page's sections are not hyperlinked to their own pages.  However, I am hoping that these problems will be fixed soon and that the site will get more user friendly soon.

I'll keep you posted. For now though, it is worth a stop as you are browsing for book info for you or your patrons.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Biggest Books of 2011's Second Half

A few weeks ago, I posted this list of the best books so far in 2011.

Now it is time to look ahead.  The Millions had this report entitled, The Great Second-Half 2011 Preview.

If I had to pick 1 book as THE most anticipated book still to come, it would be Haruki Murakami's 1Q84.  The Millions knows this too, and they also released an exclusive get, the first lines of this upcoming tome.

I know it is 100 degrees outside, but it is not too early to start planning for Fall.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

BPL Book Discussion: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A MemoirIt may have been pushing 100 degrees with the heat index yesterday, and the BPL may have had no AC, but no one can accuse our book group of being lazy.  As I mentioned here, despite adversity, we took the Monday Book Club on the road for a field trip to the Riverside Public Library to discuss Bill Bryson's memoir of growing up, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.

Using his trademark humorous, but extremely informative style, Bryson recounts his childhood in Des Monies, Iowa, growing up with his parents (both reporters for the Register) and older siblings.  This is a memoir of his particular life experiences and of the country as a whole during the 1950s.

Click here to listen to this awesome 2006 interview with Bryson on NPR where he talks about the book.

We had lively discussion, especially considering last month's discussion of Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin another memoir of life in 50s.  So please click through and read that report, because we did a lot of comparisons between the two memoirs.

Here are the highlights of our discussion:
  • You know how we start by now.  8 liked, 1 disliked, and 3 were so-so on this book.
  • Our 1 "disliked" did not like the way this book jumped around.  She much preferred Goodwin's memoir which followed more of a plot.  Here, Bryson took each chapter to explore a facet of life during the 1950s, so his age jumped around quite a bit depending on what he was specifically talking about.
  • On the other hand another participant said this is exactly why she liked the book. It was written as if from a child's point of view.  It jumped around, it was playful, there was exaggeration.  All of this helped to underscore that it was a book about childhood.
  • Many people loved the insight this book gave them into what was going on in the brains of their brothers back when they were growing up.  Overall, my Midwestern participants could really relate to this Iowa story. Especially remembered were the rickety roller coasters at the local amusement park, the midday movies filled with kids without a parent in sight, the candy and popcorn flying. Also someone said her brother, like Bryson, would go into the public bathrooms and lock all of the stalls.  In general, they loved how this book made them remember things they forgot about their childhood.
  • But the most often cited reason for enjoying this book was the humor.  My favorite comment was how the book had "me laughing out loud, but when asked by my husband just what was so funny, I could not point to one thing."  "All of it," she said. The humor was pervasive, but it was also used to teach us something about the era. He captured the competing awe and ridiculousness of the time.
  • We talked about Bryson's parents.  They were definitely quirky. The mom was extremely forgetful and the Dad very, very cheap.  I have to say though, the group was not too interested in discussing them in any detail.
  • We were shocked that Bryson barely attended school.  With working parents he was able to skip more than he attended.  He really got away with murder at school, one participant observed. So I asked, how did he become so successful as a writer without going to school?  Answers from the group: luck, native intelligence, he read a lot, self educated, father was talented writer, creativity, his ability to take initiative.  One participant was more surprised that he became a more structured nonfiction writer as opposed to a genre fiction writer, as his imagination seemed to be leading.
  •  The style of this book was mentioned above, but we discussed it in more detail.  The way he bounces around made us think he might have a bit of ADD.  Besides the humor and the hodge-podge nature of the book, he also uses exaggeration, and funny pseudonyms (like the geeky friend, Milton Milton).  But then, in the "Farewell" chapter there is a different style. In this epilogue he is saying goodbye to his childhood; it is written in more of an adult's voice.  Overall though we felt that his writing style is very much in the forefront of this book and if you did not like it, it would be very difficult to like the book as a whole.  It did add to the reading experience for the majority of our participants and they appreciated the effort he put in here.
  • The title refers to the alter-ego superhero Bryson assumes as a kid.  We talked about how he did this so he could BE something, it gave him power over his environment, and it was a way to hone his creative skills which he uses as an adult.  One participant said her brother had an entire summer where he wore a cape. 
  • I also asked the group if they could be a superhero or have a super power what would it be.  Some responses: Wonder Woman, wiggle my nose and have magic, cape and be able to fly ("I was always in trouble for  climbing on people’s roofs"), cowgirl ("I spent part of summer on farm. I thought more exciting than living in city"), Superman.
  • We talked about the amount of kids that were around during the 1950s.  While Bryson did exaggerate the number of kids, he was not off by much.  There were more kids around than ever before or ever since.  The scenes of kids gathering were hilarious, but for my group also nostalgic.  One lady who grew up in the 50s said there was a park near her house where a few college kids were paid by the city to sit and loosely organize stuff for the neighborhood kids on summer days.  She would leave her house after breakfast and not get home until dinner.  This was free, fairly unorganized, only slightly supervised, but great fun.
  • Other childhood memories which were brought back by this book and discussed: the candy store, matinee movies, paper routes (everything he said was true, not an exaggeration even though it seemed so), the smell of the mimeograph machine and its copies. This led to a side discussion about a joint candy, ice cream, and cigar store under the El tracks.  That was a smell this woman would never forget from her childhood.
  • We talked about the ending.  It has a sad feeling about how he went back and everything is gone now.  But he is right.  That world is gone.  His childhood, but also America's childhood was ending. This led me to ask if the past was really as great as we remember it.  One lady said absolutely not. The innovation now makes life so much easier.  Another lady countered by saying that no, it was better then.  She misses how everyone knew each other and looked out for one and other.  Together we discussed and decided that if we could combine the innovation of today with the attitude of then, things would be close to perfect.
  • Finally, we ended with words or phrases to describe this book: nostalgia, funny, quirky, hodge-podge, hilarious, 1950s, memories.
Readalikes: For those who want more memoirs set in the 1950s, click here for when we discussed Wait Till Next Year.  Also The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less by Terry Ryan, Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, and This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolf.

For those who want more childhood tales that will make you laugh, try A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel, Me Talk Pretty One Day or Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris and Why I'm Like This by Cynthia Kaplan.

For more books on the 1950s again click here or try The Proud Decade: America in War and Peace, 1941-1960 by Edward Teller, The Real Dr. Strangelove by Peter Goodchild, and Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America by Bradford Wright (we did talk about comic books for awhile too).

Suggested by the group: The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow (similar atmosphere, 1970s Iowa) and Too Close to the Falls by Catherine Gildiner (it is cross between Bryson and Goodwin).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday Discussion: The Brave New World of Spy Fiction

I have been working on the August display of spy fiction.  Compiling the list has been a great experience.  I mostly used NoveList to identity adult fiction "spy stories," and then cross-checked the suggestions against our catalog.  Throughout the process, I was pleasantly surprised not only by how many of the spy series we owned, but also by how popular they are with our readers.

Those of us 30 and older, tend to associate spy fiction with the cold war.  While there are tons of books still coming out set during the golden spy era of  the cold war, there is also a new a vibrant selection of spy fiction for the 21st century.

In fact, it is these series of "not your father's spy fiction" that I will be focusing on for my annotated list to go with the display.  It will go live on 8/3.

But before that, I feel inspired to share some of the newer spy series for today's Monday Discussion.

The man who was the first to revive the dying spy genre was Daniel Silva with his art restorer/ex-Mossad agent Garbriel Allon.  With the reluctant and traumatized ex-assassin hunting another assassin storyline, of the first book in the series, The Kill Artist, readers were drawn in to a new kind of spy series; one that Silva has keep strong, book after, best selling book.  Allon is a conflicted killer who is interesting and brilliant.  Silva has brought what used to be the untouchable, superhuman spy back down to a fragile, fallible, human level.  These are great books for any reader, spy fiction fan or not.

Last year I also read Once a Spy by Keith Thomson.  Here, an aging CIA agent is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's, and some other agents are out to assassinate him before he inadvertently spills government secrets.  Click here for my full report.  A second book in the series was just released this year.

I am also intrigued by Barry' Eisler's Rain series which follows a half Japanese, half American spy,
Olen Steinhauer's Milo Weaver trilogy which begins with The Tourist as Weaver, a Black-Ops CIA agent post-pones his suicide for one more case, and Brett Battles' Jonathan Quinn series which features a freelance, professional "cleaner" who specializes in disposing of bodies and tying up loose ends.

Of course, even with all of these new spies the old classics like Ludlum, Le Carre, and the James Bond books both old and new are still a great read for a wide audience.
So for today's Monday Discussion, tell me about a spy book you enjoy.  Don't forget you can include any memoirs or biographies of real life spies if you want.

Click here for the Monday Discussion archive.