ARRT GENRE STUDY WEBSITE

CLICK HERE for quick access to the materials for the 2016-17 Speculative Fiction Genre Study.
The website now features UNRESTRICTED access, including notes from our meetings; however, in order to attend the meetings in person, you must be a member of ARRT. Click here for information about how you can join.

RA FOR ALL...THE ROAD SHOW!

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.

Friday, September 28, 2012

My New Fantasy Resources Article

The October 2012 issue of NoveLists RA News is now available and it includes an article I wrote entitled, "Keeping Up With the Fans: Fantasy on the Web."

I recently did a companion article on Science Fiction that you can find here, and I am currently working on one for Thrillers that will come out in December.

I have had a great time doing these articles for NoveList because I have a chance to dig up new resources both for my own use and to share them with a wider audience.  I hope they are useful to you as you go about helping your patrons.

So please, click through and take a look at my article and the entire issue dedicated to Fantasy.

Why Adults Read So Much YA Lit

Over the last couple of weeks there has been much conversation about how much YA Lit is actually read by adults.  Christi (of reading map fame here) passed on an interesting article from Culture Ramp in which the authors try to break down the reasons why adults enjoy YA Lit.  They also link to the study that started this discussion in the first place.

One of their arguments is that the "remedial" nature of YA Lit for adults is a nice change of pace.  The argument is much more complex than this sound bite version I am writing here, so click through to read this well thought out and argued article.

While their points are well taken, I think Culture Ramp and others who have engaged in this debate are missing one key factor.  There is currently a trend away from the sympathetic narrator in adult fiction, especially in literary fiction, but even in genre fiction.  One thing you can count on in YA Lit is that the reader is meant to sympathize with and root for the protagonist.  The protagonists in teen novels are supposed to be reflective of the teens who are reading them, and are meant to provide an example of the best course of action to take in a difficult situation.  These novels and their protagonists in particular, serve as role models for teens.  The protagonists go through a worse version of what the teen readers are going through and come out okay on the other end.  The readers are supposed to identify with the characters' plight and learn from the fictional teens' mistakes.

In my work with adult readers, I find that many of them are growing weary with protagonists they cannot trust or do not like.  For these readers, knowing that a YA novel will give them a sympathetic narrator is just what they are looking for.

Anyway, that is my 2 cents on the subject,  Feel free to leave your in the comments.

On a side note, this reasoning is also why I am generally disappointed with YA novels.  I like ambiguity in my protagonists; I crave the unreliable narrator.  The clear cut nature of who is good and who is bad is why I often stay away from YA lit in my own personal reading.  On the other hand, this is why I like the YA novels of John  Green because I feel like he does not pander to teens.  His protagonists are nuanced and complex in more of an adult literary fiction style.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Book Bloggers Are Bad?

The Guardian UK has sparked an international conversation by posting the comments of the Booker's lead judge saying that book bloggers are harming literature.  The author, a book blogger himself, brings up some good points on both sides of the debate.

Click here for the post.

My opinion is nuanced.  I take writing this blog very seriously, I try to be fair and provide a product that is useful to my readers.  I am also a freelance writer, meaning people pay me to write, as a result, the quality of the writing here is at a higher than average level.  However, I am also aware of what is out there-- that the vast majority of bloggers do not have the training and/or attitude that I do.

But even with the large number of bad blogs, there are still many treasures out there, other independent bloggers like myself, who are not paid but are using their personal expertise to help others.  Those gems  make blogging worth it.

I also think that any conversations about books and reading are positive for everyone involved--from the publishers to the authors to the readers.

Finally, as the Guardian notes, the one thing book bloggers have is space.  In a world where more and more information is condensed into short, sound bites, we bloggers still take the time and space to thoughtfully talk about books and reading in a long-form format.

I will keep reading the official literary critics, I will also keep reading the work of my favorite book bloggers, and most importantly, I will keep blogging myself.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Reading Map is Ready and Some Great Reading Maps for Popular Children's Series

After I published this article with former intern, now librarian in Adult Services in Naperville, Christi clearly laying out how to create an effective reading map, I promised to complete my own map.

That day has come, as I just added my reading map for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to the Browsers' Corner's growing collection of original reading maps.

I am unveiling the map today because tonight also happens to be the class where I talk to the students about creating their own reading map.  This is one of their options for a midterm or final.  I keep an archive of the better examples of student reading maps here.

One of the best things about teaching RA is that when the students graduate they become my colleagues, taking what they learned and applying it to their specific work situations.

One former student and new librarian, Laura, has been actively exploring how to use reading maps in a Youth Services setting. One of the issues Laura encountered while making reading maps for the St Charles (IL) Public Library is how to make them fun, interactive, and educational. One of her solutions was to connect her topics to the educational resources, especially the rich databases, available to library card holders.  The results are maps that entice the kids to explore and enjoy, but also provide important bibliographic instruction.  These maps show the kids how to do more research using library resources, and to not just rely on a google search.

Here are Laura's maps for the Percy Jackson series and the 39 Clues series.  Check them out to see what I mean.

And in just a few weeks, I will be back with more reading maps from this semester's students.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Reader Profile and Response

Each semester, I have my students write their reader profile-- the books they most and least enjoy and why.  Click here for more explanation and examples.

I then have the students switch profiles with each other, and as their first official RA assignment, suggest at least 3 titles for their classmates.

As I have said in the past here, this is a great assignment for two reasons:

  1. The best way to learn how to help readers is to spend the time really identifying why you like to read what you like to read.  How can you possibly help decode someone else's reading tastes if you have never tried to decode yourself.
  2. By blindly swapping profiles, the students are able to get a real life example of a patron, but since it is in writing, not an actually person hovering over them at the desk, the students can take the profile home and spend their time with the resources without pressure.  They have time for trial and error; they can fail safely, learn from their mistakes, and then succeed. It builds confidence for the rest of the semester.
I have just finished grading their 2 part assignment, and, having received permission, I would like to share the tandem who had the best example of a profile and a response.
  • Here is the link to Elizabeth's profile.
  • Here is the link to Melissa's response.

Both are accessible on Google Drive without sign-in as long as you use the link provided. Please let me know if there are technical problems.

If you are interested, you can use this link to pull up past student profile and response examples.

Thanks to Elizabeth and Melissa for agreeing to share their work too.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Discussion: Moby Dick Big Read

On Friday I posted a link to the Moby Dick Big Read that is going on right now.  The latest chapter as of the time of this post is Chapter 9.  I have only had time to listen to 1 chapter myself, but as I have mentioned many times on this blog before, I am a huge fan of Moby Dick.  I think I read it at the right time, with the right teacher.  As a result, this project really interests me.

The idea of the project is to present this great American novel in a more accessible way.  The 135 chapters are being read aloud by people from famous to unknown and each chapter is accompanied by art (more at this link).  By taking it a chapter at a time in an audio format, where the reader can sit back and let the words and language wash over them, the organizers hope to introduce more people to the beauty and brilliance of this work.

This made me think of myself and my own reading.  When I am confronted with a "big" book, Moby Dick sized, I often turn to listening to it.  In the last few weeks, I have done this with Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 and Stephen King's 11/22/63.  Both of which are long and complexly layered. I don't know if I would have gotten through them if I had to carry a heavy book around for 3 weeks each to read them, but I loved listening to each of these captivating stories while I walked, drove, did laundry, or washed dishes.  I think I enjoyed them even more because I listened to them. I did not feel the pressure of a huge number of pages still to go, rather, I returned to each with a desire to be lost in the story again.  Both were among the best books I read this year.

Back to the point for today's discussion though.  The combination of the Moby Dick Big Read and my two positive experiences listening to big books got me thinking about other large tomes that might work well in this chapter a day, read by different people format.

So for today's Monday Discussion, I want to hear from you about what you would want to hear this way.

I will start with my suggestion. I would love it is someone organized a big read for all of The Wizard of Oz stories. Like Moby Dick, these are tales people know the basic plots for but very few people have read them. And, I think it would work well with different readers.

What about you?  For today's Monday Discussion, let me know a book or series that you would like to give the Audio Big Read treatment.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

RA Links Round Up

It's another fun filled edition of links I didn't have time to write entire posts about, but want to pass on.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Romance Current Trends and My Second Romance Read

Recently, I participated in a BookList Webinar called "Keeping Romance Fresh: Debut Authors and New Trends."  It featured 2 publishers and then John Charles and Rebecca Vnuk, librarians talking about resources and trends in Romance.

You can click here to watch the Webinar for yourself, but I did want to share a few things I learned.

While I was very interested in the Webinar for the collection development aspects, I also had a personal reason to participate.  Let's go back to January and my reading resolutions:
"I did not actually read a romance from cover to cover last year.  I speed read a few, but actually read...no, that didn't happen.  Even worse, the romances I speed read were by authors I already knew about.  Shame on me.  But in my defense, I was finishing a book for the first half of the year and then catching up on everything in my life for the second half.  So in 2012, I resolve to read the works of at least 2 new (to me) romance authors AND review them here on RA for All. That should be interesting and entertaining."
After gathering reader suggestions in this post, I ended up reading and reviewing  Smooth Talking Stranger by contemporary romance bestseller, Lisa Kleypas.

But I still have to read 1 more romance. I watched the Webinar hoping to get ideas, and it worked.  John Charles specifically came to my rescue offering a concise list of key trends and a list of 5 debut romance authors from 2012 that every public library needs to own.  Here they are, from my notes:

Debut Romance Titles Every Library Should Own

  • Western set Romances started to wane early in the 20th Century, but the are rising up again.  Cowboys are very popular.
  • Contemporary Romance was being usurped by paranormal in the last few years, but now that trend has reversed.  Contemporary is on the rise again.  Charles specifically singled out blue collar heroes and humorous romance as big growth areas.
  • Small Town Romance is all the rage right now.  Readers love that you can spend a series in one small town, following different characters with each book.  Since it is a small town, former leads show up in future books frequently.
  • There is a return to Chick Lit again.  This time, while the novels have all the shopping, story lines of professional women looking for love, now there is also the addition of more serious issues to the novels.  Charles offered 3 titles to illustrate this:
Again, if you want more info, the Webinar is archived and available for free viewing here.  And I will be back to you in a few weeks with my final romance title of the year.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

National Alzheimer Day Film Discussion

Yesterday, my post on our discussion of The Madonnas of Leningrad dealt with the issue of Alzheimer's.  By sure coincidence, this week also marks World Alzheimer Day--Friday, September 21st.

In Chicago, the day is being marked by a screening of the film, I Remember Better When I Paint (trailer embedded below).  Here are the details:

The Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center (CNADC) of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine is hosting a screening of I Remember Better When I Paint on World Alzheimer’s Day 2012. 
Date:
Friday, September 21, 2012 
Time:
1:30-3:30pm
The screening is followed by a panel discussion on the benefits of creative arts interventions. 
Venue:
Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center303 E. Superior Street
Hughes Auditorium
Chicago, Illinois 60611
Space is limited and online registration is required.
For more information, visit the CNADC website.
You can also click here or here for more details.

This film was co-directed by a family friend and she wanted me to especially let all the librarians out there know about the screening and discussion.  Many of us at the public library deal with older patrons and memory problems are an issue with this population.  I can see many programming opportunities and partnerships to enrich our senior population's lives here.

I unfortunately have to be at work all day on Friday and can't make it, but if you are downtown near Northwestern, you should try to join them,  And please, pass this on.




Tuesday, September 18, 2012

BPL Book Discussion: The Madonnas of Leningrad

Yesterday, the group met to discuss The Madonnas of Leningrad (2006) by Debra Dean.  Here is the plot summary from the publisher:
One of the most talked about books of the year . . . Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina's grip on the everyday. And while the elderly Russian woman cannot hold on to fresh memories—the details of her grown children's lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild—her distant past is preserved: vivid images that rise unbidden of her youth in war-torn Leningrad.
In the fall of 1941, the German army approached the outskirts of Leningrad, signaling the beginning of what would become a long and torturous siege. During the ensuing months, the city's inhabitants would brave starvation and the bitter cold, all while fending off the constant German onslaught. Marina, then a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum, along with other staff members, was instructed to take down the museum's priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, yet leave the frames hanging empty on the walls—a symbol of the artworks' eventual return. To hold on to sanity when the Luftwaffe's bombs began to fall, she burned to memory, brushstroke by brushstroke, these exquisite artworks: the nude figures of women, the angels, the serene Madonnas that had so shortly before gazed down upon her. She used them to furnish a "memory palace," a personal Hermitage in her mind to which she retreated to escape terror, hunger, and encroaching death. A refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more. . . .

Seamlessly moving back and forth in time between the Soviet Union and contemporary America, The Madonnas of Leningrad is a searing portrait of war and remembrance, of the power of love, memory, and art to offer beauty, grace, and hope in the face of overwhelming despair. Gripping, touching, and heartbreaking, it marks the debut of Debra Dean, a bold new voice in American fiction.
On to the discussion:
  • 10 people liked the book, 4 were so-so, and 1 disliked it.
  • This dislike person said it was just too sad for her.  She was old enough to remember seeing the newsreels of the siege and the starving Russians.  She also wished the story had included some of Marina's good years, which she obviously had had in her life in America.  The story only focused on the siege and the final years of her life.  Another person agreed with this participants points, but said that Dean was able to counterweight the sadness by introducing us to Dima (Marina's husband) as an old man caring for her very early in the story.  This helped this reader to know the couple would find one and other in the end, and lighted the heaviness of the story for her.
  • Those who liked it had many different reasons. Here are some comments:
    • I loved how the paintings, and the descriptions of them helped to tell the story.
    • Normally I do not like when the book moves back and forth in time, but here I liked it.  It made a good juxtaposition of the horrible siege with the happiness of Marina's granddaughter's wedding.
    • I loved how memory itself was a character here.
    • I loved the historical fiction part of the book. I felt like I was there with them in the museum.
    • I had read this book when it first came out and didn't like it; but reading it again, years later, I was captivated.
    • I liked how the dementia angle was portrayed.  It was very intriguing to see how Marina was calm and knew exactly what she was doing in her own mind, but those around her were confused by her behavior.
    • Marina is why I loved this book.  She was generous, had dignity and integrity, and was able to understand the importance of art even when she was literally starving.
  • We moved onto a general discussion of the characters.  We began with Helen, with whom many of the participants felt a connection.  One said, Helen was an accurate portrayal of a 50 something woman who had not had her dreams fulfilled.  She was in the emotional roller coaster that is menopause (although this was never stated in the book, but as one lady said, "We all know what was happening with her body there.") They thought she showed a different view of disruption and uncertainty in life from Marina's extreme view.  Many were touched when she began drawing Marina; her art began to come out.  Still more mentioned how much they liked seeing Marina through Helen's eyes.
  • Marina of course took up a lot of our time.  I will list a few of the more memorable comments/discussion points here:
    • The way she took the young cadets through the empty museum recreating the paintings with their descriptions brought me to tears.
    • She took you through starvation at such a personal level.
    • Marina's life was traumatic, may be even too traumatic to remember until her memory is going.  This could explain why she did not let anyone in her family know what she went through.  People shared personal experiences with their own families and how these stories of life in the old country are often lost forever.
    • Marina became one of the Madonnas of Leningrad
  • We talked about all of the "miracles" in this book
    • Marina and Dima finding each other after the war, hiding their identities from Stalin, and making it to the new world with their son
    • The miracle of art and the power of its beauty.  Literally, the need to preserve a "memory palace" of the paintings kept Marina alive through the long winter.
    • The miracle of her baby being born just fine despite starvation conditions while she was pregnant.
    • It is mentioned that it is a miracle that Anya, who was so frail, and the one who taught Marina to memorize and save the paintings, survived the siege.
    • The miracles that imagination and memory can provide.
  • I purposely left out Marina's conception of her child in this list.  Marina imagines an immaculate conception for herself, but it could easily have been from her coupling with Dima before he was sent to the front.  But it could also just as easily have been a rape by a German solider at some point.  It is mentioned that the boy had golden curls which Dima did not. Young Marina dismisses her immaculate conception vision as a hallucination, but old Marina thinks Zeus is her son's father.  What is so interesting is that her vision is an embodiment of the Madonna paintings she is preserving in her memory, but as a non-Catholic herself, she turns to an explanation from a painting where Zeus is coming to a woman in bed.  I asked the group if it mattered that we do not ever find out who the father of Marina's miracle child is.  The group liked that we don't know.  It was said that it enhances the memory theme; that is doesn't matter if the real and the memory match up perfectly.
  • On a quick side note about the son.  Many people agreed that they did not like how Marina introduces Dima to their son when the two meet up again. We all wanted more here.
  • As mentioned throughout these notes, "MEMORY" is an important theme in this novel:
    • At the end, Marina's life has come full circle and she is remembering the people in the paintings as her friends.  Although this is technically wrong, how wrong is it really? They got her through the toughest point in her life.  That's what friends do.
    • Many of the mature women in my group agreed that as you age you cannot remember what you did yesterday but years ago is crystal clear.
    • "Memory is a coping mechanism for aging" This is why "retro" things are so popular.
    • The dichotomy between her past and the joy and abundance of her granddaughter's wedding in the present was too much for her damaged brain.  It forced her deeper into the past.
    • The memory palace, her drive to memorize every painting in the empty Hermitage, was her safe zone.  It gave her comfort and allowed her to transcend the short comings of her present.
    • As her memory gets worse at the end, the time frame and pov switches become less clear in the novel itself.  The confusion and overlapping in the storytelling was an appreciated writing choice. It made us as readers more muddled and confused; we stood in Marina's shoes, if only briefly.
  • The ending--there are really 2 endings here.  The first is the cadet tour she gives back in the 1940s story.  Marina is finally given the chance to see if her memory palace worked as she gives the cadets a tour of a museum with no paintings on its walls.  She is seeing the beauty of the paintings and passing it on.  The cadets can see the paintings and are moved by them based solely on her descriptions.  This is the culminating moment in her life.  Her reason for living through the siege is confirmed.  This ending to the 1940s story is coupled with the old Marina being found in a half finished home (reminiscent of a bombed out building in her state), and showing the carpenter who finds her the beauty all around them.  Whether it is the beauty of the art in her head or the amazing natural vista before them, she is right, it is all beautiful.  We all appreciated the double ending and through that it reconciled and unified Marina's story as told in the novel as a whole.
  • Finally, here are the words the group threw out at the end to describe the book:
    • selfless
    • memory
    • beauty
    • the power of art/the artist
    • miracles
    • imagination
    • survival
    • resilience
    • transcendence
    • teachers/guides

Readalikes: Let me first start with some author suggestions:
  • If you liked Dean's incorporation of art into a historical story, than you should try Susan Vreeland who is excellent in this respect
  • If you like Dean's intimate story telling technique-- how she made a huge moment in history very personal, you should try Geraldine Brooks.
  • Finally, if you like historical fiction set in Russia (which also describes Dean's new 2012 novel, The Mirrored World) you should try Robert Alexander.
In terms of specific title to title matches I have a few suggested directions to go here:
  • For those interested in more detail on the siege of Leningrad from a nonfiction viewpoint, I would suggest Leningrad: State of Siege by Michael Jones.
  • For those who want more historical fiction looks at the siege, I have 2 options.  First a book I read and loved, City of Thieves by David Benioff. This novel is also set during the siege of Leningrad, but does not fluctuate to the present and our protagonists are young boys. Click here and scroll down a bit to see my full review. Second, many resources suggest, The Siege by Helen Dunmore.  From NoveList: "Set against the turbulent backdrop of Leningrad in 1941, a novel of love and war follows the Levin family — twenty-two-year-old Anna, her young brother Kilya, and their father, Mikhail — as they struggle to survive during the German siege."  Both novels listed here like Madonnas of Leningrad were single out in multiple end of the year "Best Lists" when they first came out.
  • Finally, in the book format, I want to mention what happens to be our next book for book club, Still Alice by Lisa Genova.  Here the story is set only in the present. Alice is a Harvard psychologist who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's.  The novel follows her as she deals with the news, and slowly loses her memory.
People who want to see the art at the Hermitage should head over to their website.  You can choose English on the first page.

Finally, check out the award winning film, Russian Ark which was shot in the Hermitage.  2 people in the group had seen it and highly recommended it.  Here is the review from Amazon:
Russian master Alexander Sokurov has tapped into the very flow of history itself for this flabbergasting film. Thanks to the miracles of digital video, Sokurov (and cinematographer Tilman Buttner) uses a single, unbroken, 90-minute shot to wind his way through the Hermitage in St. Petersburg--the repository of Russian art and the former home to royalty. Gliding through time, we glimpse Catherine II, modern-day museumgoers, and the doomed family of Nicholas II. History collapses on itself, as the opulence of the past and the horrors of the 20th century collide, and each door that opens onto yet another breathtaking gallery is another century to be heard from. The movie climaxes with a grand ball and thousands of extras, prompting thoughts of just how crazy Sokurov had to be to try a technical challenge like this--and how far a distance we've traveled, both physically and spiritually, since the movie began.
We do own this film in VHS at the BPL.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday Discussion: What Type of Reader Are You?

Last week on Grasping for the Wind I encountered this great link entitled, "What Kind of Book Reader Are You? A Diagnostics Guide."

In this post from The Atlantic, they lay out many different types of readers, with descriptions and then offer suggestions.  The post was so popular, they added a second part with more reader types. It was very fun to go through the entire list.  I know people (both friends and patrons) who fit just about every type.

If you are reading this blog, at least one of these labels fits you.  Now is the day to come clean. So for today's Monday Discussion, look through the types and confess your dirty little secret here.

Here are mine. From the first set, I settled on:
The Bookophile. More than reading, you just love books. Old ones, the way they smell, the crinkles and yellowing of the pages; new ones, the way they smell, too, the crispness, running your hands over a stack of them at the bookstore. You like books rescued from the street as much as signed first editions; you like drugstore paperbacks, you like hardcover new releases, you like it all. You just like books. To you, they are an object of beauty, and you would never, ever hurt them in any way. Suggested bookophile reads: Anything you can get your hands on. God, that's gorgeous, isn't it? 
But then on the second page of choices, I found my perfect diagnosis:
The All-the-Timer/Compulsive/Voracious/Anything Goes Reader. Wherever you go, whatever you do, there's a book with you. It doesn't matter what it is, really, so long as there are pages with words on them, or an e-reader with words on it. We can't really suggested anything here because you took it with you to the grocery store or subway or library or laundromat or coffee shop, and you're standing in line or sitting down and reading it right now.
What about you?

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

What I'm Reading: A Land More Kind Than Home

Yesterday, I reminded you about the Browser's Corner, and working on my review for this book is why it was in the front of my brain.  Let me explain. At our May 29th meeting of the Book Lover's Club Alena said this about A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash:
"This is a debut novel by a southern writer.  This book got a rare five stars from me.  It is about a creepy preacher man in the North Carolina mountains who handles snakes.  Of course he is crooked but no one can prove it.  You have these ugly horrible people and this gorgeous writing.  The action is in 48 hours.  It is not pleasant; there is no hero, there is killing, death and destruction.  But the whole thing ends the way it should end.  Cash is a writer to watch.  I love Southern fiction and religious extremism as a background to novels.  A down and dirty book that has writing that elevates it."
When the Book Lover's Club meets on the last Tuesday of odd numbered months, I take notes on what the participants have to say about the book they have come to share.  We then post the notes on the Browser's Corner, here.  These notes serve as an annotated reading list of patron picks for both the members of the group to go back and look at, and for any one to peruse.  The Book Lover's Club notes on their own are a fabulous RA tool, and they are just one section of The Browser's Corner.

Needless to say, after that description by Alena, I put the book on hold for myself the next day, got it within a week, and finished it right away.  I have to agree with everything she said.

This is a beautifully wrought story that at every turn gives you more than you expected.  The "plot" involves the killing of a mute child at a prayer "healing" by the creepy preacher mentioned above.  But we know from the first pages that the child will die.  Thus, this novel is not about the murder.  It is about rural communities and the intimate links between the people who live there.  And it is about the setting.  In the end this is a story where a drama unfolds, a conflict which has it roots back a generation from the current murder, and once we reach the last page, everything has changed and yet, at the same time, we are back to the way it always was.

That is the general review.  Here are some specific things I want to point out about the appeal of this novel.  I would classify this book as psychological suspense meets Souther Gothic.

First let's look at its psychological suspense aspects. Terrible stuff happens, and we see it unfold from the point of view of the murdered boy's younger brother, the female town elder/midwife [she is the moral center of this community], and its current Sheriff.  The story is bleak and atmospheric. The tension is thick, and I was on the edge of my chair turning the pages with trepidation both wanting, and not wanting, to know what would happen next. It is intricately plotted, with layers overlapping and time frames shifting, but the style adds to the uneasy atmosphere and provides key details to the story.  But again, it is not straight suspense or mystery because the investigation is not part of the story.  The reader knows what happened and why; the murderer is never in question.  The questions come from how people will react.

Second, and probably even more key to whether or not someone will like this novel is its deep roots into the Southern Gothic tradition.  This is a lyrically written novel in which the setting [North Carolina hill country] is a character.  Cash describes the tough landscape and its weathered people, but with an obvious affection.  His love for the place is evident despite the bleakness of the story.

Another key thing in A Land More Kind Than Home is the characterization.  The setting and characters go hand in hand.  Without careful construction of fleshed out characters whose motivations, history, and present situations we truly understand, Cash's carefully constructed novel falls flat.

A Land More Kind Than Home is a novel you experience.  While there is not fast-paced action, the novel's contradiction of the beautiful language with the horrible actions compelled me to stay in my seat and keep reading the pages.  While technically I would classify the novel as leisurely paced, I was so enchanted by the world Cash created that I read it in 2 sittings.

I can't wait to read Cash's second novel.

Three Words That Describe This Book: lyrical, mutliple points of view, atmospheric

Readalike:  Wiley Cash's novel is everything people always claim  John Hart is.  Hart doesn't do it for me as you can see here, but many people do enjoy Hart's North Carolina set suspense novels, so I think he is a good suggestions option for some readers.

But the author Cash most reminds me of is the great Joyce Carol Oates.  Of course, Cash has 1 novel and Oates is one of our greatest living American writers, but I see a lot of Oates in Cash.  A good similar read here would be The Falls.

The Cove by Ron Rash which also came out this spring, is a suspense story which hinges on its North Carolina setting and is probably as close to perfect a match as you could get here.  At the same May 29, 2012 Book Lover's Club, Marilyn had this to say about The Cove:
"I was immediately caught by the cover - a stream with wooded hills on both sides and the back of a woman with long hair wading in the water.  There is a brief introduction by the author which says that during WWI Germans in America were taken to internment camps. It is set in the backwoods of North Carolina.  It starts in the 1930s with a man who is doing a land survey.  He is from out of town and not feeling very welcome.  He finds an abandoned well and pulls out a skull.  Flash back to 1918 where a young sister and brother are trying to run their farm after their parents die.  The sister helps a man who has been stung by wasps and she finds a note in his pocket that says I am a mute and trying to get to New York and that is all I will say…"
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier shares the southern setting, lyrical language, and vivid characterizations with A Land More Kind Than Home. They also share a shifting point of view and a storyline in which characters must come terms with the difficulty of their life situation.

A suggestion that is a little more off the beaten path would be Alden Bell's The Reapers Are the Angels. Like Cash's novel, Bell's is also a psychological suspense story merged with a Southern Gothic feel, only in Bell's novel, the characters inhabit a world where they has been a zombie apocalypse.  Take out the zombies though, and they are remarkably similar stories.

And for a cross format watch alike, the entire time I was reading A Land More Kind Than Home, it kept reminding me of the HBO series Carnivale from the early 2000s.  Both have weird preachers and an atmospheric, odd, bleak, yet beautiful story driven by psychological suspense, setting, and characters.  Go seek out the DVDs for the series if you liked this novel.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Don't Forget About The Browsers Corner

I am off to spend the afternoon at the school library, so I will be away from the computer. I will be back later with a full post but for now, I wanted to remind people about all the great stuff we are doing over on The Browsers Corner.  So click through while you wait for me to reemerge.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

50 Shades of Grey No Longer #1

It seems that the hunting and killing of Bin Laden, as written about in No Easy Day is more popular than erotic bondage romance because for the first time in 20 weeks, 50 Shades of Grey is not Number 1.

This is according to the USA Today bestseller list, which is the only list that looks at total book sales regardless of the reading level, format (paperback vs hardcover) or if it is fiction or nonfiction.  This is the list of total sales of any book for a given week.

So while you will still see 50 Shades of Grey on the top of the paperback fiction list in the NYTimes, No Easy Day is the current highest selling book in America.

Librarian Rules for Reading...1937

Over on Galley Cat I saw this interesting post where a librarian shared some documents she found in her library's archives from 1937.  Click through to see all of it, but here are the images she captured to share with the larger library community and to start a conversation about what had changed and what has stayed the same.

These documents come at a very opportune time for me personally.  Tonight is the third class of the semester; it is the class where we really start talking about how to help readers find their next good read.    I will be using these documents tonight as a conversation starter in class.  But especially the last list, "Questions to put to ourselves as library workers," is an important one for any one working in library, but especially those in a graduate program currently pursuing their library science degree.

I hope you find them as interesting as I did.








Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Literary Guide to the NFL Season

I am a huge fan of the NFL.  I own season tickets to the Bears, I grew up going to most of the NY Giants' home and took a yearly sojourn to Philly for the Giants-Eagles game.  I own a Eli Manning jersey...and wear it a lot! I play fantasy football and am in 2 weekly picks pools.

So you get the point.  I love the NFL.  But, there I days when I feel like my love of football clashes with my obsession with literature and reading.  But the people over at the Page Turners blog (NY Daily News) have helped me to reconcile my two seemingly diametrically opposed loves, with a great essay analyzing the literature that best defines each team.  Use the linked title below to see the original post with pictures, or just read the text copy below.

But first a 2 bits on analysis here:
  1. Their overall point is one I love: there will only be one team with a happy ending, but after the season, each team will have a good story to tell.
  2. What a great way to branch out the concept of readalikes too.  Here are readalikes for you favorite sports team.  Brilliant.  And I thought I was inventive for offering book readalikes for TV shows.

Nerds and Neanderthals: A literary guide to the 2012 NFL season

America makes a clear distinction between bookish types and football types. The Nerd vs. Neanderthal dichotomy is a cornerstone of American culture (at least in American culture as presented in high school TV shows).  
But the truth is that football and literature do not occupy separate realms. As any fan knows, football is driven by drama of the game. Each week’s contests are served up with a mythological importance: Epic battles between the forces of good and evil; tales of impossible redemption colliding with heartbreaking falls from grace; traitors conspiring in the shadows of egomaniacal tyrants. And all of that is just on the New York Jets. 
So to help you make sense of this upcoming season, here is a literary guide to the 2012 NFL season, wherein we identify some of the most compelling storylines and narratives from each team and its literary equivalent.  While only one team’s season will have a truly happy ending  —every team will emerge with a few good stories to tell.  
 AFC East

Buffalo Bills: Tired of wallowing in mediocrity, the Bills have decided to throw caution to the wind.  They’ve opened up their wallets and are looking to a large man (DE Mario Williams) to show them the way to a happier life.
Literary Equivalent: "Zorba the Greek" (Nikos Kazantzakis)

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins are the stars of the NFL reality show, "Hard Knocks." Will they be able to ignore the intense scrutiny of the camera and focus on their craft? Or will these highly-trained professionals succumb to the drama and allow their art to be compromised?
Literary Equivalent: "My Name is Red" (Orhan Pamuk) 
New England Patriots: A misanthropic genius (Bill Belichick) continually tinkers with his team, mixing and matching discarded parts into a fearsome juggernaut. Will his experimenting give birth to a breakthrough or an imperfect monster that ultimately leads to heartbreak?
Literary Equivalent: "Frankenstein" (Mary Shelley)

New York Jets: In the absence of true leadership, a culture arises that values bravado over all other virtues. This volatile mix of personalities must resist a descent into anarchy and choose between two imperfect leaders (Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow) before they tear themselves apart.
Literary Equivalent: "Lord of the Flies" (William Golding)

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: After years of striking fear in the hearts of men, is this the season that the great Baltimorean (Ray Lewis) finally meets his end?
Literary Equivalent: "The Poe Shadow" (Matthew Pearl)

Cincinnati Bengals: Pinning their hopes to an unproven but charismatic redhead (Andy Dalton), this swarthy crew hopes he has what it takes to lead them to glory.
Literary Equivalent: "The Long Ships" (Frans Bengtsson)

Cleveland Browns: As a Cleveland fan, you had better learn to love the pain.
Literary Equivalent: "Fifty Shades of Grey" (E.L. James)

Pittsburgh Steelers: Led by a man with a reputation as a headhunter (James Harrison), the Steelers play with the ruthless aggression of a bygone era. But has the world moved on and made their violent style obsolete?
Literary Equivalent: "Blood Meridian" (Cormac McCarthy)

AFC South

Houston Texans: Despite making their first ever playoff appearance, the Texans lost several key contributors on both offense and defense and begin the season with nothing but questions.
Literary Equivalent: "The Interrogative Mood" (Padgett Powell)

Jacksonville Jaguars: Compact but powerful, Maurice Jones-Drew packs a concise punch while toiling in relative obscurity.
Literary Equivalent: "The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis" (Lydia Davis)

Indianapolis Colts: Against a backdrop dripping with nostalgia, the team must learn to move on from their rich past. With a lot of (Andrew) luck, they just might be able to carve out their own place in the world.
Literary Equivalent: "The Joy Luck Club" (Amy Tan)

Tennessee Titans: In the world of fantasy (football), Chris Johnson had no equal… until reality came crashing down on him last season. Can he regain his footing in the fantasy realm and scramble his way back into our good graces?
Literary Equivalent: "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (Patricia Highsmith)

AFC West
Denver Broncos: Searching for a more beautiful brand of football, John Elway becomes infatuated with the talented Peyton Manning. In a vain attempt to hold on the glories of his youth, Manning strikes a deal with Elway in an attempt to retain his youth and delay the inevitable march of time.
Literary Equivalent: "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (Oscar Wilde)

Kansas City Chiefs:  Last year everything seemed to go wrong for Kansas City (particularly losing young stars Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry for the season), and yet they managed to come out on the other side, if not better, then tougher. Now the team must regroup and find the strength to keep pushing despite past heartbreak.
Literary Equivalent: "Play It As It Lays" (Joan Didion)

Oakland Raiders: This season will be played in the shadow of departed owner Al Davis, a hard-living Californian who notoriously bypassed prudence in favor of speed (Exhibit A: Darius Heyward-Bey).  As the team races on, will Davis’s legacy be one of triumphant ecstasy or wasted potential?
Literary Equivalent: "Less Than Zero" (Brett Easton Ellis)

San Diego Chargers: The team said goodbye to two legends during the off-season (Junior Seau and LaDainian Tomlinson). Will they be able to cope and do they have the key to unlocking playoff success and leaving their painful past behind?
Literary Equivalent: "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (Jonathan Safran Foer)

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys: Are they an offensive juggernaut on the cusp of breaking through? An overrated glamour team with no guts? A mediocre team elevated by the grace of being in a high profile market? This team looks different from every perspective, and you're never quite sure which account is accurate.
Literary Equivalent: "Rashomon and Other Stories" (Ryunosuke Akutagawa)

New York Giants: Once again, the G-men are Masters of the Universe —  but can they maintain their perch at the top?
Literary Equivalent: "Bonfire of the Vanities" (Tom Wolfe)

Philadelphia Eagles: Everything seemed to be going their way, but the Eagles found themselves in a rut for most of last season. Will breaking up with Asante Samuel and starting a promising new relationship with DeMeco Ryans be enough for the team to recapture its mojo?
Literary Equivalent: "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" (Terry McMillan)

Washington Redskins: With this team there always seems to be magic in the air--at least during the summertime. Will the arrival of the enchanting Robert Griffin III be enough to finally turn their off season dreams into reality or will Washington fans eventually awake, disillusioned and unsatisfied?
Literary Equivalent: "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" (William Shakespeare)

NFC North

Chicago Bears: Under former offensive coordinator Mike Martz, the Bears strayed from its lunch pail roots and experimented with a more aesthetically pleasing brand of offensive football — with mixed results. Now the team looks to get back to the basics, going for substance over style with the realization that when it comes to football, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.
Literary Equivalent: "On Beauty" (Zadie Smith)

Detroit Lions: The sharp rise from league embarrassment to “it” team has left team this struggling with a major identity crisis. Are they loveable upstarts or menacing bullies? Following an off-season featuring multiple arrests, this team has a lot of soul searching ahead of them if they have any hope of establishing an identity for themselves.
Literary Equivalent: "The Namesake" (Jhumpa Lahiri)

Green Bay Packers: Motivated by his humble beginnings (an embarrassing drop in the 2005 NFL Draft), Aaron Rodgers has climbed to such great heights that anything short of a Super Bowl is considered as a disappointment.
Literary Equivalent: "Great Expectations" (Charles Dickens)
 Minnesota Vikings: Recovering from a devastating leg injury, star running back Adrian Peterson must hold depression at bay if he has any hope of regaining his previous form.
Literary Equivalent: "Slow Man" (J.M. Coetzee)


NFC South

Atlanta Falcons: Last year, GM Thomas Dmitroff gave up a king’s ransom for the right to draft wide receiver Julio Jones, hoping that his rare combination of speed and power would put the Falcons over the top. After a promising but inconsistent rookie season, Jones is out to realize his potential and prove that he is the right fit for this team.
Literary Equivalent: "The Missing Piece" (Shel Silverstein)

Carolina Panthers: In his record-breaking rookie reason, quarterback Cam Newton displayed superhuman abilities, not only with his rocket arm, but with his uncanny ability to escape tricky situations. With his tenacious sidekick (Steve Smith) by his side, the unlikely duo is determined to take the team to new heights and change NFL landscape.
Literary Equivalent: "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" (Michael Chabon)

New Orleans Saints: After a tumultuous off season heavy with suspensions and fines (including a year-long ban for head coach Sean Payton), New Orleans fans will spend most of their season resentful and sending angry missives to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other authority figures; letters that will probably never even be read.
Literary Equivalent: "Herzog" (Saul Bellow)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs have put together an intriguing cast of characters, but the question remains: Do they have the skill to successfully weave the different parts together into a cohesive whole?
Literary Equivalent: "A Visit from the Goon Squad" (Jennifer Egan)

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals: Since entering the league, Larry Fitzgerald has been one of the league’s greatest wide receivers and one of its consummate professionals. But since QB Kurt Warner’s retirement, his world has become a truly desolate place. With such scant signs of life around him, Fitzgerald can’t help but feel desperately alone on the football field.
Literary Equivalent: "Zone One" (Colson Whitehead)

St. Louis Rams: Despite a successful track record, head coach Jeff Fischer was unceremoniously dismissed from his position with Tennessee. Known for his disarming nature and straight- forward approach, Fischer will bring a new sincerity to a program that is in desperate need of a fresh perspective.
Literary Equivalent: "No One Belongs Here More Than You" (Miranda July)

San Francisco 49ers: Always the controversial figure, the enigmatic Randy Moss has been largely villainized in the court of public opinion. This is his last chance to prove that the stories aren’t true, that he has been misunderstood this whole time. It also wouldn’t hurt his cause if he could prove that he can still fly down the field.
Literary Equivalent: "Wicked" (Gregory Maguire)

Seattle Seahawks: Unable to find his perfect man, the likeable but unlucky Pete Carroll decided to take a chance on Russell Wilson — despite his obvious shortcomings. Will Wilson turn out to be the Mr. Right with whom Carroll can spend the rest of his life season?
Literary Equivalent: "Bridget Jones’s Diary" (Helen Fielding)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday Discussion: Things You Wish You Liked More

Last week I posted here about how I wished I sought out more poetry. I like poetry, I just forget to seek it out, and since it is not shelved in my collection area, I need to work harder to simply remember it.

But then I got to thinking about genres and authors I should like in theory, but when I actually read them, I just don't.

Here are some examples.

China Mieville is an author I should love.  His books are genre benders that mix fantasy and science fiction.  They are intricately plotted, with awesome world-building and lots of social commentary.  But every time I read one, I am disappointed. Usually it is the characters and the endings that let me down.  I really want to like Mieville, but it just never comes together for me.

I also do not like Mysteries as much as I think I should.  I have a few series I like a lot, but I like those because of the characters or the setting.  In general, I am always annoyed at how neatly mysteries end.  The bad guy is caught and the good guys prevail.  Mystery has none of the anxiety and uncertainty I love in horror and psychological suspense.

Here is an example of these mixed feelings from when I read Jo Nesbo's The Snowman.  I loved the book until the movie-like ending.  It wrapped up too neatly for me. But even though I know that Mysteries always end happily resolved without any ambiguity, I keep trying to find one I will love without reservation.

What about you?  For today's Monday Discussion, share an author, genre, or format you wish you liked more.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

What I'm Reading: The Snow Child

Many moons ago I read the debut novel by Alaskan author Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child.  The novel is based on a traditional Russian folk tale in which a childless couple make a snow child and it comes to life, but eventually it melts when the warm weather comes.  Click here for a recent picture book adaptation of the tale.

In Ivey's version, the couple, Jack and Mabel, are homesteaders in 1920s Alaska, not a very forgiving landscape.  They are barley making it.  She is lonely and he is physically unable to keep up with the intense labor of the farming.  During the season's first snowfall in the nadir of their time in Alaska, the couple has a fun moment building a snow child.  The next morning, the snow child is gone but they glimpse a blonde, wild girl running into the woods.  So begins their relationship with this mysterious child, Faina.

Now Jack and Mabel are well educated and understand that what they are seeing could only come out out of a fairy tale, but over time, Farina becomes a part of their life, and their family.  While Mabel accepts Faina without question, Jack sets out to prove where she really came from.  She gives them purpose, but in a story based on a fairy tale, the ending can only be bittersweet at best.

This is a novel for people who like retold fairy tales. Even though we know how the story will eventually end up, there are still surprises, enchanting moments, wonderful characters, and a just a feeling for being utterly transfixed by the story.  You get lost in this book, and don't want to leave the characters.

The setting here is so vivid it becomes a character.  It is stark and unforgiving.  It is cold and wet.  We can feel the wind as Ivey describes it.  But it is also beautiful and mysterious.  When spring comes we breathe a sigh of relief with the homesteaders.  I was transfixed by the descriptions.  I also enjoyed the historical aspects too.  There is much detail here about how one would actually have to live on a homestead in 1920s Alaska, how you would (or wouldn't) be able to communicate with your family back East, and why one would make the choice to live literally in the middle of nowhere.

The characters are also an important part of whether or not you will like this story.  Because the plot is not action oriented-- the seasons come and go with regularity and life does not vary much-- it is the characters you must read for.  Mabel and Jack are well fleshed out, as we get alternating chapters from their different point s of view.  Their only friends and neighbors are great secondary characters and add a bit of humor to the story.  And their youngest son becomes a pivotal character in the tale.

Since the story takes place over a 2 decade period, we see the characters grow and change.  We see how the harsh landscape grows on them.  And we come to love them all like family.

The language is lyrical and slightly old fashioned but it works for the setting and frame of the retold fairy tale. This is a great book to curl up with and read in one of 2 sittings.  The ending is resolved but a bit open.  Overall this is a dreamlike read with a bittersweet ending.

Three Words That Describe This Book: retold fairy tales, strong sense of place, dreamlike

Readalikes: The first book I thought of when reading The Snow Child was Keith Donohue's The Stolen ChildClick here for my review of that novel.

Really anything by Donohue, Kevin Brockmeier, or Steven Millhauser would work here.  In fact, take a look at this post where I summarize the appeal of all three of these authors.  But for those of you who don't want to open a new window, I would say these men share with Ivey a style in which they tell a story and you, the reader, sit back and experience it.  Their work is  lyrical, dreamlike, and character driven with details frames anchoring it all.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern also has a similar fairy tale quality, where the setting and characters reign supreme.  Again, it is a book that will transfix you.  Click here to read my detailed review.  (You can also see me interview live next month for free by clicking here).

Other books I read that would work as readalikes (use links for details):
One of my favorite backlist titles is The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall.  Here is what I have to say about it on the Browsers Corner:
Edgar is a half-apache, half white child whose life the reader enters when his head is crushed under the wheel of the mailman’s truck.  After a miracle recovery, Edgar is abandoned by his family and begins a remarkable journey. This is an uplifting and inspiring story of a truly unique and lovable protagonist. Fans of John Irving will love this novel
Finally, here is the link to the GoodReads page on Fairy Tales that includes links and lists for traditional fairy tales and retellings.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Emily Dickinson Photo and Leisure Reading Poetry in the 21st Century

I don't talk about poetry enough here.  I know.  And this will not really be a post about poetry RA, but I am going to try to at least get the conversation started.

My alma matter claims to have found the second only known photo of Emily Dickinson.  Click here for the story.

This got me thinking about poetry and leisure reading.  Personally, I enjoy poetry when I read it, but I don't actively seek it out.  I especially like the poetry I was introduced to in high school and college, and as should come as no surprise, I still know all of Annabelle Lee and most of The Raven, both by Edgar Allan Poe, by heart.

But even though I enjoyed the poetry I was exposed to in a classroom setting, I have not sought out more in my own leisure reading. Why?  I am not sure.

So if you have any poets or poetry from the last 30-40 years that you would like to suggest to me, I am game.  Now is your chance to tell me what to read.  Leave a comment and I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fall Previews Are Coming Fast and Furious

As I do at the beginning of most seasons, I will periodically point out a few of the important and interesting pre-pub lists. But I also want to remind you that my colleagues over at RA Online are the experts here.

Go to their Fall Books list now to see a comprehensive list of Fall books in all genres (including nonfiction).  It will be updated throughout the season.  Don't forget to also take a look at their awesome list for Summer 2012 to see what a completed compilation looks like. Which reminds me, just because it is not summer anymore, that doesn't mean those hot summer books are off limits now.  In fact, hold lists may finally be done for many of those titles.

This is also an important time to note one of my blog philosophies, both for me and anyone looking to start a library blog. You need to pick a focus for your blog and stick to it.  In my case, I have my mission statement right at the top of every page:
LOOKING FOR YOUR NEXT GOOD READ? RA FOR ALL IS A BLOG TO SHOWCASE HOW THE READERS' ADVISORS AT YOUR LOCAL PUBLIC LIBRARY CAN HELP.
On the horror blog, I have a longer mission statement here.

I try very hard to stick to those missions and not go too far away from their scope and intent.  So, in this case, I have made the choice to pass on a few lists each season, but I do not try to keep up with all of them for you.

Resources like RA Online, however do this as part of their mission.  A good librarian knows where to find the answers, when to share them, and not to waste time (and money) duplicating services.  To that end, use RA Online's comprehensive season lists; don't look here for that information.  Go there for up to the minute additions.  Goodness knows I use those lists frequently both as a collection development tool and to help readers.  In fact, as mentioned above, I particularly like to use the immediately past season to help readers looking "for something good."

That being said, to get you started, here are a few lists and articles about this busy fall season that I wanted to pass on:

  • Early Word has this post about the literary traffic jam that is stacking up right now.
  • io9 has this list of the best SF and Fantasy coming out in September
  • While I have seen many articles about the plethora of book based movies coming out soon, this post from BookBrowse is they only place where I have seen a bunch of the trailers all in one place.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What I'm Reading: The Last Policeman

There are plenty of post-apocalyptic novels, but I would bet you have not read a pre-apocalytpic novel.  That is exactly what you get with Ben H. Winters' The Last Policeman.  In fact, there is no other way to introduce this novel than by saying its setting is pre-acolcolypse.  The reaction from a reader going to go one of two ways:
1. That's weird or 2. Tell me more!
To the first people, you know this is not a book for them, to the second group, you have them hooked, but there isn't much more to tell without giving things away.

Let me back up first before this review goes too far.  I was predisposed to loving this book. It is published by Quirk Books, the publishers who brought us Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, among other excellent novels and survival guides.  Winters, cut his teeth for Quirk writing both Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and some of their humorous survival guides.  But last year he got my attention with the scary and original horror novel Bedbugs.

So when The Last Policeman was getting a ton of pre-publication buzz, using just the teaser line about the pre-apocalyptic setting, I put my name on the reserve list right away.

Okay, back to the novel.  The Last Policeman is the first of a trilogy.  The novel is really set in a world, not too far in the future, where we know a giant asteroid is going to hit earth and kill at least 50% of the world's population.  There is nothing we can do about it.

People react in different ways with the knowledge of their imminent mortality.  Some run off and quit their jobs to follow their dreams.  Others travel the world.  Still more go into deep despair, which is where our particular peek into this imagined world begins.

Our hero, is Hank Palace, a police detective in Concord, New Hampshire (a stand in for any middle sized town, USA).  99% of what the police in this town do is respond to suicides.  Hank, who has not been a police officer long, and has only moved up to detective due to attrition (see previous paragraph), is very earnest.  He wants to do the best job he can, regardless of the asteroid's date with our planet.  So when he finds a suspicious suicide, Hank insists on pursuing it as a murder.

As we follow Hank, we know he means well and we get caught up in his logic, but we also know that he is a bit green and is making some very rookie mistakes.  But we follow him because as others often remark, he was meant for this job.  Hank does not care that his case doesn't matter "in the grand scheme of things," since there is no more grand scheme to worry about.  He simply loves being a detective and wants to keep going.

Along the way, Hank fills us in on how the asteroid was discovered, how the world was informed of its seriousness, and how people are reacting.  We see what a society who has given up on any future looks like.  Cell phone service is spotty, for example, because no one is bothering to keep up the infrastructure.

Hank and his hardboiled, earnest, but not too good at his job voice is why you read this novel.  Yes, the pre-apocalypse story line is an alluring entrance point, but without Hank, the asteroid would not loom as ominously.

The Last Policeman reads like old fashioned hard boiled detective novel, albeit with a huge dose of the macabre.  Along the way of looking into the life of his victim, Hank uncovers the real story and begins a new one.  I won't say much more, but the murder/suicide mystery is resolved well and the door is opened to a story that can easily carry 2 more novels leading up to impact day-- only months away.  Talk about a ticking time bomb.

Many reviews note how the mystery storyline is good, and while I agree, I think the story is more than a mystery.  It fits more into the true definition of psychological suspense.  It is disturbing, unsettling, and uneasy first with a good crime plot second.

The world building is good here too, in fact, it felt more real than much of the post-apocalyptic stuff I read and love.  There is no supernatural event here, no killer flu, no terrorism; just the fact that our planet is adrift in a universe of debris that could hit us at any moment.

The marketing campaign for the book asked people to answer the question of what they would do if the world was going to end. Click here to read some answers.  You cannot read this novel without asking yourself the same question.

Three Words That Describe This Book: endearing narrator, pre-apocalypse, thought provoking

Readalikes:  I am not sure if all people who like a post-apocalyptic storyline would automatically enjoy a pre-apocalyptic one.  I do, but the feeling you get when reading the post-apocalypse books if very different than pre-apocalypse mostly because when you read about the post situations, the stories are all about how society rebuilt, while here in the pre story, it is much darker.  Everyone is alive still, but they all know they will probably not be for long and there is no action they can take, no rebuilding they can do, nothing really.  It is more macabre, creepier, and more anxious a story when we are talking pre vs post apocalypse.

There will be overlap, so feel free to seek out post-acaoplypse stories, but I want to offer you a few choices which recreate the tone of this novel.

The first book that came to my mind when I was reading Winters' novel was Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro.  In this dystopian novel, we follow the story of some children in a British boarding school, who come to find out their they are only alive to have their organs harvested.  Click here for more on this disturbing and unsettling read.  This is as close to pre-apocalypse as you can get, and the feelings I had when reading both were similar

Second, fans of Mira Grant's post-zombie-apocalypse thrillers in the Newsflesh series will be intrigued by the conspiracy which is hinted at right in the last pages of The Last Policeman.  It will take the second book here to see if this readliake option holds its weight, but I will bet on it for now, especially because Hank's sister is leading the charge in the search for the truth as The Last Policeman ends.

As for a third option, if you want to read a modern take on the hardboiled detective who tries but is not completely cutting it, I would suggest he backlist option, Huge by James Fuerst. The novel follows a young, troubled boy who thinks he is Sam spade.  Click here to read my full review.

Fourth, The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker combines the pre and post apocalyptic angles nicely.  I will have a review of this novel up soon, but to tide you over, here is what was said at the July meeting of the Berwyn Public Library's Book Lovers' Club:
This book is set in modern times in the not so distant future.  The earth’s rotation slows down and the days and nights get longer.  Told over the course of a year from the point of view of a 6th grade girl who doesn’t have the usual teenage angst.  Having a young girl as the main character frees the author from delving into the scientific or economic issues.  Since it is solely from her perspective, what happens is on a very micro level.  It is a very interesting what if; how would it affect you and the people you know? It ends with a sort of we were here statement. I found the premise to be very interesting. 

Finally, for those who want more scientific information about asteroids and their ability to destroy life on earth, click here to see Winters own research.