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.

Monday, March 25, 2013

RA for All Is On Spring Break

Where does a blog go on spring break?  Cancun? Florida? The Grand Canyon?

I have no idea, but feel free to leave a comment as to where you think the blog is spending the week.

I will be back to find out how RA for All's well deserved time off went on April 1st.

In the mean time, you can always click here to look for your next good read.

Friday, March 22, 2013

What I'm Reading: Man In The Empty Suit

Last month I had so much fun reading Man in the Empty Suit that I could hardly talk to anyone, about anything, without mentioning the book in every conversation.

This novel is the best episode of Dr, Who you haven't seen.

Intrigued yet?

The plot and the story's frame are very simple.  Instead of a TARDIS (like Dr. Who) our nameless hero in this novel has a craft in which he spends his life floating through time.  Each year on the 100th Anniversary of his birthday (2071), all of his selves gather at a dilapidated hotel in what has become a dystopian NYC to drink scotch and have a party.

All of his life, our hero has been waiting to be the version of himself that comes in wearing this awesome white suit.  Finally, the year of his 39th birthday, the traveler finds himself in the suit and entering the party, but what he thought would be the best birthday of his life, goes down hill quickly as one of his selves is murdered.

What follows is part murder mystery, part love story, and part contemplation of "the self."

The novel is book ended by his 39th and 40th years at the party, with the year in between lived with a girl named Lilly in 2071 NYC.

Seeing everything unfold from two different perspectives of our hero at the same party is very cool. As the traveler begins to change history, the present of the party is altered and he begins to supposed that some of his selves are becoming  "unteathered" from each other.  It makes for great plot twists, as our hero doesn't know which of his selves he can trust or which even share his future.  This will drive purists (like Dr. Who himself) crazy, but Ferrell isn't professing to have a true time travel novel.  What SF fans might see as inconsistency simply added to the intrigue of the mystery part of the story for me.

This "unteathering" story arc also underscored what I think Ferrell was really trying to do with this book.  I think this is a novel that contemplates what the self really is.  By placing so many versions of the traveller's self in one place at one time, we are forced to look at this contradiction and think about our own selves over time.  He is asking us to think about who we are, who we were, and who we will become.  Are we all one and the same?

I have to mention here how the traveller gives his selves other than his current self great nicknames like "the nose," "screwdriver," and "seventy," among others. This is humorous but also feeds in nicely to the whole "what is the self" questions in the novel.

Man in the Empty Suit is also a coming of age tale, as the traveller learns what really matters in life and chooses to let his love go so she can have a happier life, which will ultimately make him happier-- both the unteathered self and his current self.

The dystopian NYC setting was not thoroughly explained, but things in 2071 are pretty bad.  Our hero gets involved with some good people and makes some friends, but we don't get too much detail.  The setting is there more as a backdrop to help set the mood and tone.  It underscores the urgency of our hero's quest and the dark, philosophical and thought provoking nature of the story line.

Overall the book was off beat, engaging, introspective and just plain fun.  Although the time travel is at the heart of the story, it is just as much a psychological suspense tale as a science fiction one. This is underscored by the fact that if you are reading it for an accurate resolution to the unteathering of selves issues, you will be disappointed with how the novel ends.  But, if you are in a philosophical mood, you will love it-- like I did.

Three Words That Describe This Book: time travel, thought provoking, off beat

Readalikes: I have so many suggestions bursting from me that I had to take notes on paper before writing this post.

Again, as I said above, this novel made me think it would be a crazy awesome episode of Dr. Who.

First, I mentioned how much fun I had reading this book.  I have not felt that way since I read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  Both are light SF, set in a broadly drawn near future dystopia.  The dystopias are there to propel the story.  Both have a coming of age theme with a compelling protagonist, and although both novels are thought provoking, neither takes themselves too seriously.

This story also reminded me of the Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon (read pre-blog).  Here you again have a light SF tale, but the SF comes from alternative history.  Click through to see more details, but the titles share a though provoking story line, a flawed but lovable hero, and a mystery at their center.

Last year, I read (and loved) the time travel novel 11/22/63 by Stephen King.  King's novel is more true to the time travel science, but I did think of 11/22/63 while reading Man in the Empty Suit.

Two other accessible and fun SF titles that I would also suggest here are How To Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe by Charles Yu and Red Shirts by John Scalzi.

If you are looking for more time travel stories check out Connie Willis, or the list of suggestions I gave here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

RA Links Round-Up

It's about time for another old fashioned links round-up.  I will have a book review post tomorrow, but for now, links to check out.
  • From Book Page-- New books for book lovers.  I have already given the second one on the list as a gift to my sister in-law.
  • Also from Book Page-- Vote for the cover to Elizabeth Gilbert's new book.  Voting begins today. Click through for all the details.  The book appears to have been delayed over arguments between Gilbert and the publisher about the cover.  I find it interesting that Gilbert is taking a stand on her cover.  I have heard many authors say that they have not control over covers.  Maybe Gilbert's demands will change that. From the publisher's point of view this is a win-win though.  Now the book is getting a ton of free publicity and buzz before it even comes out. I would not be surprised to see fans getting a chance to vote on future covers by other authors, bestsellers and new authors, in the near future.
  • Back on March 7th I mentioned that Book Club Girl would be interviewing Jacqueline Winspear.  Well, she did and here is the link to the audio.
  • Above I have a list of books about books, so why not this list from Book Riot on books about libraries.
  • Book Riot also had this essay on the importance of endings.  Too many people complain to me that the book was great until the ending.  I have authors I love because they can end a book well (Neil Gaiman, Stephen King) and ones I read despite the fact that I love their books until the ending (I'm looking at you Geraldine Brooks).  I appreciate an author who plans an ending to their book.
  • From Flavorwire-- 10 Best Millennial Authors You Probably Haven't Read (Yet)
  • From the Barnes and Noble Book Blog-- The 20 Best Paranormal Novels of the Last Decade.
  • From Reading the Past-- A 2 part post of new historical fiction from small and independent presses.  Part 1 and Part 2.  I don't know about your library, but I cannot buy too much historical fiction; it is extremely popular here.
  • We are smack dab in the middle of the Morning News' Tournament of Books and the other day I was riveted by the battle between 2 of my 2012 best reads: The Fault in Our Stars and The Orphan Masters' Son Click through to see who won. It pained me to have to pick one of these 2 great books over the other, but for the record, I agree with their decision completely.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

BPL Book Discussion: Fun Home

On Monday, our group tried something new-- we read a graphic novel.  For many of my "mature" ladies, this was a new experience, one that they were a bit nervous about.  But I am happy to say not only did we all survive, but also we had had a great discussion.

Yes, I led a book discussion on Fun Home by Alison Bechdel with a group of mostly senior citizen women.  It was a great experience and really tested my skills as a facilitator.  I often can coast when I lead the group, but making them move out of their comfort zone, pushed me to leave mine too.  In the end I think we all appreciated it.

For the record, I love this book.  It made my best of the year reads in the first year I did one of those posts.  I also read the sequel in 2012, Are You My Mother?, and although I did not like it as much as Fun Home, when you read the sequel, you learn quite a bit about what went into the creation of Fun Home.  That made me appreciate Fun Home even more when I re-read it last week.

But enough intro, let's get to the normal book discussion report format which begins with the publisher summary:
In this groundbreaking, bestselling graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel charts her fraught relationship with her late father. In her hands, personal history becomes a work of amazing subtlety and power, written with controlled force and enlivened with humor, rich literary allusion, and heartbreaking detail. 
Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the "Fun Home." It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.
I have been asked recently why I always use the publisher's summary for my book discussion reports whereas in my reviews, I use my own words.  I do have a reason, and since I was asked, I will share the answer.  It is two-fold.  First, Kathy and I try to use the publisher's summary when we create our ballot for the groups to vote on the titles we will do for the 6 month planned period.  We do this so that we are not unconsciously swaying the vote by including an opinion, either our own or from a review.  I think it keeps the list more objective when it is presented for voting.  Stemming from that, second, I use the same words here so as not to color to insert too much of my opinion into these reports.  They are different from my What I Am Reading reviews.  Those are about my experience with a book.  These BPL Book Discussion reports are about the group, not me, so I use the publisher's description to emphasize that.

Now on to the discussion:
  • Come on, you know what is first.  We voted and I got 5 liked, 3 disliked, and 6 so-so.  As we discussed more, it turns out many of the so-sos were because they could not connect with Bechdel as a narrator.  Interestingly, this is a complaint I have heard about this book before.  I also want to note that one of the likes was a participant who is a fan of Bechdel's comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, and she loved seeing Bechdel's personal story.  She said it helped her to appreciate the strip even more.  If you are interested in the strip, we do carry the collections at the BPL.
  • Of course, since this was our first experience reading a graphic novel as a group, I started by asking about the pictures.  Here are some of the comments:
    • I wasn't sure I would enjoy reading a memoir with pictures but it helped the story.
    • The pictures were memorable, detailed, and enhanced the story.  I especially liked how the pictures of the father working on the home and the garden showed how distant he really was.
    • The art is so powerful it magnifies the feeling of the story.  It really showed us how unhappy the family was.
    • It got me into the story more.
    • Bechdel's journals and her OCD tics that began appearing in them were more moving to see on the page rather than just have them described.
    • These were just the initial comments, they got more used to using the text and pictures in tandem to talk about the book as the discussion went on.  Keep reading for more on that.
  • I do want to mention that fairly early on in the conversation one lady raised her hand and wanted to ask about homosexuality in general.  She wanted to know "if they were born this way." First, I want to say I think she really wanted to know more, she was not trying to judge, but second, I also knew this was not the place or time to get into a conversation like this. Personally, I am an out spoken proponent of gay rights, but that was also not the point of the book.  I was on guard for this question coming up and said to that person, "We can have that discussion privately later and I can suggest some books for you on the topic, but since that is not what this book is about, I don't think it is appropriate for our discussion."
  • Which led to my next question: Why did Bechdel write this book?
    • To forgive herself. To forgive her dad
    • To come to terms with his death by understanding his life
    • It is about her assessing all of her losses in her life and trying to get down to a larger truth about herself and her dad.
    • It is memoir so it is the perception of her past from a perspective in the future.
    • Memoirs are spearheaded by emotion or something that is eating you up alive.  You have to get it out.  (A member who has written, but not published, a memoir)
    • I was troubled by the fact that she does all this soul searching but there is no huge cathartic moment.  However, another person added that she felt that was the point; Bechdel could try all she wanted, but she would never know if her coming out to her dad finally pushed him over the edge. She will never know if he killed himself or if it was an accident.  It is impossible.  So the book is more about the coming to terms process.
  • We talked about the fact that each family member was a talented artist and that as artists they were all self absorbed.  This made them more unhappy and alienated from each other.  One person had us all turn to the picture on page 134 (seen right above this text) and how it drove this point home more than pages of written words could.  The house becomes a reflection of the inner soul of the family life in this picture.
  • We talked about how the mom and dad in particular were self absorbed as a coping mechanism to deny the truth.  The dad focused on the house and making it perfect to hide his secret of being gay and to keep himself from cruising for young boys.  While the mom knew what was going on, but had her music and acting to distract and consume her.
  • While we are talking about specific drawings.  Another person pointed us to page 99 (seen above) because for her it illustrated the inner turmoil Allison and Bruce had with each other and with the true selves they were denying. This intricate layering is the crux of the entire memoir, yet it is hard to explain in words.  We talked about this page and how in 5 panels, she boils down the entire theme of the book.
  • Someone shared that she was amazed at how every single panel in the book connects in some way with her relationship with her father.  This was an amazing feat and held her in awe of Bechdel's talent.
  • As a book group, we loved the focus on books and reading throughout this work.  There are so many literary illusions.  Allison and her father's largest connection to each other was through their shared love of reading and analyzing literature. Books were also a way they could be honest with each other, and send each other messages they were not able to voice out loud.
  • We did tackle the question at the heart of why Bechdel started writing this book-- did her father die in an accident or did he kill himself?  We took turns sharing our opinions.  We went back and forth for awhile.  What I can share here is that like Bechdel, we have no idea.  I guess we came to the consensus that it was probably not a planned suicide for that moment, but with the divorce pending and Allison coming out, Bruce was probably tired of all the lies and might have slipped on purpose.  But again, who knows. The reason I had us talk about it was for us to see how frustrating it was for us to not know.  Then I said, "Imagine what it was like for her."  Again, this brought us back to a better understanding of the "why" Bechdel bared her soul in this book.
  • I moved us to talk about the color palate since it is so distinctive. Fun Home is done in what is called a single color technique.  She used black, white, and then shades of blue.  Here are comments about the color palate:
    • It underscored the somber tone
    • It made it easier to follow
    • The 1 color unified the work for me and made it flow better
    • The simplicity of using only carefully chosen words paired with intensely complex pictures added to the complexity of the emotions portrayed.  The 1 color enhanced that.  More would have been distracting and taken away from the beauty of the complexly detailed pictures.
    • It was like she, Bechdel, was living in a world that was all grey after the death of her father.  The book was written as she is waiting for the sunshine.  She is looking for the sunshine with the book, the bluish-gray tones underscored that.
  • We talked about the parents' marriage.  This came up throughout, but I combined it all here:
    • Why did the mother marry him? We felt like as an artistic, independent woman in the 1950s and 60s, Bruce presented freedom to her.  She knew he was gay, but she also knew he wouldn't come out.  She could have a family and an artistic life and still be free to do her own thing as long as she let him do his own thing too.
    • Why did Bruce not come out?  Bechdel struggles with this.  She does mention maybe he was not easily tagged as "gay." maybe he was bisexual, maybe he didn't know what he was.  It was a different time It was troubling that he might have been a pedophile though. Some thought the divorce stemmed from this.
    • Why stay in such a small town.  The mother seemed confined by it.  She thought they would stay in Europe, but the family business, The Fun Home (Funeral Home), brought them back.  We thought we learned more about Bruce by seeing how he lived the part of his life as a funeral director.
    • Why did the mom finally file for divorce? She was sick of him getting caught with young boys.  Allison coming out gave her the courage to take her life back.  She felt confined and couldn't take it anymore. 
  • I did ask about Bechdel as a narrator since it had come up earlier.  While no one found her warm and fuzzy, most thought she was very authentic.  Even those who did not "like" her as a narrator felt she was effective and reliable.  We appreciated her willingness to open up to the reader and let us in to her healing process.  
  • We were emotionally drained after this discussion but I pressed the group to give me words or phrases to sum up the book:
    • somber
    • cathartic
    • raw truth (I liked this one)
    • sad
    • healing
    • well written
    • drek (she did not like it and would not elaborate as to why) 
    • literary
    • literate
    • composite of emotions
    • expressive
    • confessional
  • For the record, I did use the questions in the right gutter of this blog as a guide for the discussion, but much of what we talked about came up organically as we discussed the book.
Readalikes:  Back when I first read Fun Home, I had readlaikes here.  And then last year when I read Bechdel's follow-up Are You My Mother?, I had more suggestions here, including The Glass Castle which is another memoir of a dysfunctional family that we also read in book club.

Two newer graphic novel memoirs that have a similar somber, raw truth, confessional tone that have also received intense critical acclaim are My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf and Stitches by David Small.  My Friend Dahmer is an interesting parallel because while Fun Home is all about Bechdel coming to terms with her possible role in father's death while Dahmer is the recollections of a childhood friend of the serial killer coming to terms with his own guilt.

Bechdel mentions the book And the Band Played On in Fun Home also. I would highly recommned this groupdbreaking work on the origins of the AIDS epidemic.

If you are looking for another critically acclaimed LGBT themed title, go to the Lambda Literary Foundation's website.  I personally really enjoy the work of David Leavitt. On NoveList, I wrote this about him and his style:
David Leavitt writes award-winning literary fiction, short stories, and nonfiction from the gay perspective. His empathetic characterizations make Leavitt's books popular with all audiences. Leavitt also edits collections by gay writers. He uses all his works to illustrate the daily difficulties of being gay in a dominantly homosexual world. Whether it is a fictional writer struggling to live openly, the biography of a brilliant mathematician, persecuted for his sexual orientation, or his own travels through Italy, Leavitt's work goes beyond the sensationalism of gay sex (although it is there), focusing more on the humanity of individuals and their relationships with the world. Start with: The Lost Language of Cranes (fiction) or The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer (nonfiction).
I think Leavitt and Bechdel have a similar feel, although it is important to note that some fans of Bechdel enjoy her work for its strong feminism, and they would not get this from Leavitt.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Final Say on All The Best Books of 2012

While yesterday I asked you to talk about the books on the horizon that you are most anticipating, today, I want to take one last look back at 2012.

Williamsburg Regional Library’s Blogging for a Good Book and specifically, chief compiler, [and all around good guy] Neil Hollands creates an annual compilation of "All the Best Books" from 120 sources.

Click here for access to the final spreadsheet on Blogging for a Good Book. The post also has links to Neil's in depth break downs for each genre.

I have been following the ABBC over the last few months, but waited for this final post to make it easier to link everything all in one place.

Here is why you need to click through and pay attention to it too:
  1.  In the rush for everyone to get out their "Best" lists at the end of the year, we lose perspective.  Too many best books are thrown at us all at once, during what is already a busy time of year.  Now, in mid-March, we can have perspective and distance to appreciate the list.
  2. It includes over 2200 books that someone considered the best.  This gives you, the RA librarian, a wider range of titles to suggest to patrons.  And as we know, our patrons have a wide range of tastes, so the widest possible range of suggestions is appreciated.
  3. Neil's genre breakdowns serve as a good collection development tool.  You can assess the state of your holdings based on these genre best lists as well as use them as a reading list for yourself if you need to brush up on a genre.
  4. Finally, they want to share this with you. Take them up on this generous offer.
There will be one more final spreadsheet coming out at the end of March, but RA for All will be on vacation then, so I didn't want to wait.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Monday Discussion: Spring Preview

Despite the temperature refusing to budge over the 40 degree mark here in Illinois, Spring is coming this week.  I thought this would be a good time to look ahead to the books that are coming out soon.

So for today's Monday Discussion, I want to know the spring titles you are most excited about.

Don't know what's on the horizon?  Click here for RA Online's archive of Hot Prospects for 2013.  Or click here for all things tagged Winter/Spring 2013 on Early Word.

I'll go first. Without question the book I am most excited for this spring is NOS4A2 the new horror novel by Joe Hill. I have to wait until 4/30, but I am sure it will be worth it.  You can click here to go over to the horror blog where I posted an exclusive excerpt.

There are other books I am eagerly awaiting too, just not as intensely.  I am very interested in reading Kate Atkinson's new novel, Life After Life (out 4/2).  This is NOT a Jackson Brodie novel, but I have enjoyed both the Brodie and non-Brodie novels by Atkinson in the past.

What about you?  Use the above links to help you see what is coming out soon and leave a comment with your top anticipated titles.

Click here for past Monday Discussions.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Beyond the Bestseller List: El Iliminado

I am not committing myself to a full blown new occasional series yet, but I have been waiting to write about the book in the title of the post for awhile now and couldn't really come up with a reason.

But as it says above-- Beyond the Bestseller List-- is exactly what I am trying to promote.  I talk about the popular new books a bit and the backlist a lot, but there is this whole other area of books that are new, not getting a ton of press, but are totally worth a look.  So for now I am labeling these books with that tag-- Beyond the Bestseller List.

To christen the series, I want to point you to a unique graphic novel that is getting quite a bit of buzz, and it isn't even a memoir.  El Iluminado by Ilan Stavans and illustrated by Steve Sheinkin is Da Vinci Code-esque thriller involving the Crypto-Jews (families of Jewish peoples who have hidden their religious identities for centuries, usually to avoid persecution or even death.)

Click here for the Graphic Novel Reporter reivew

Click here for an interview with Stavans

And click here to see what readers are saying

This is a great option for people who want a compelling story in graphic novel form. Fans of conspiracy thrillers, historical fiction, Jewish culture, hidden religious sects, or stories set in the American West would enjoy this book.

If only El Ilumindo got more media attention, I think it would be enjoyed by a large audience, hence my designation of Beyond the Bestseller List. I hope to bring the series back soon to highlight other worthy titles that need a bit more promotion.

Editor's Note: I first learned of this book from my college's alumni news as Stavans is a professor there, but no one solicited me directly or sent me a copy of the book for review.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Women's Fiction's Day in the Sun

Cue the trumpets....

The May 15th issue of Booklist contains a Spotlight on Women's Fiction.

As a genre, women's fiction, or as I call it when I teach, Women's Lives and Relationships, does not get the attention it deserves.  Too often it is referred to only as a subset of Romance, but this is completely false.  The biggest reason is that Romance always ends with a marriage between the leads, while Women's Lives and Relationships books deal with the story after the happily ever after.

Confused?

Don't worry, I have the leading expert on Women's Fiction to break it all down for you, Rebecca Vnuk.  In the issue she has this essay explaining just exactly how you define the genre and this annotated list of the best Women's Fiction from the last 12 months.

I used the links to refresh myself on the genre conventions, key authors, and to check to make sure the BPL has all the books on Rebecca's list of the best of 2012. I really can't have enough Women's Fiction at the BPL.  It is one of our most popular genres.

Click through  to both for yourself.  It's still Women's History Month.  There is no better time to brush up on the genre than right now.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What I'm Reading: Series Roundup

[Ed note: I know I missed posting yesterday, but today you get 2 reviews, so we are even.]

It's time for another installment of Becky's series roundup.  I usually don't have enough to say for an entire post on the series titles I read, but I like to record anything unique about the specific book, and I always try to find new readalikes. Today I have two popular crime fiction titles that I have finished recently.

Speaking From Among the Bones is the next installment in the Flavia de Luce series. It is no secret that I just adore Flavia. You can click here for details on the other books in this series featuring the 11 year-old (living in 1951), British chemist with a speciality in poisons.

The story picks up a few months after the last book, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, which was a Christmas story. It is now nearing Easter time and things are not improving for the de Luce's as their finances are in even worse shape.

The murder here involves the planned disinterment of the town's Saint (Tancred).  But when the tomb is opened, the missing town organist's dead body is found in the crypt.  Of course nosey Flavia is there, having ridden her trusty bike Gladys to the church yard, and she begins her own investigation.  Like the previous installments, her investigation leads Flavia to find clues others have missed, to learn more about her missing mother and family history, and to get herself in serious danger. In the end, she solves the case as usual too.

You read Flavia for  more than the mystery. Yes, the mysteries themselves are (in my opinion) better than the average cozy mystery, but it is Flavia you need to adore if you will enjoy this series.  Other appeal strengths here are the returning eccentric and interesting secondary characters.  It is also fast paced with a hopeful tone.  They are just fun to read.

The series has a conversational flow.  Flavia is telling us about solving the mystery, but she is also baring her soul to the reader. As a result, you always remember that she is 11; Flavia does not act older than her years.  This is a plus.  The reader is meant to be an adult looking back on what it was like to be 11.  We know more than her and Bradley underscores this in small ways, such as the fact that she does not understand love, marriage, or finances yet. She knows the family is in dire straights because her Father and older sisters tell her, but her day to day life is no different, so it does not bother her much. Until, that is, she thinks she might lose her beloved chemistry lab if the manor is sold.

As I suspected in the Christmas story (and wrote about here), not only is Flavia growing-up, but Bradley is advancing the main conflict in all of the books--what happened to Harriet (Flavia's Mom)?  This book ends with a shocking cliff hanger on that front, so if you are new to the series I would make sure to not start here.  In fact, this is a series I would suggest you begin at book one as this subplot has been consciously built over the course of the series, rather brilliantly, by Bradley (in my opinion).

In fact, this is why the Flavia series is so different from other cozy mystery series.  In many traditional cozies, you can pick up any of the books, in any order, and be fine.  Here, the storyline that is driving the entire series is the fate of Harriet.  It goes beyond each murder mystery, and to fully enjoy the series, you need to start at the beginning.

Three Words That Describe This Book: eccentric characters, conversational tone, fun

Readalikes: Please click here to see the many times I have listed readalikes for Flavia or mentioned Bradley's series as a readalike for other books.

But, I like to give at least one new readalike option each time I read a new series installment.  Today I want to offer the Charlaine Harris' Aurora Teagarden mysteries.  As NoveList says in the series readalike statement:
Although the Flavia De Luce Mysteries have some macabre humor not found in the Aurora Teagarden Mysteries, both feature strong female protagonists, complex family relationships, vividly atmospheric portraits of small-town communities, and wryly humorous depictions of colorful and eccentric characters.
This is also a good choice since Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series is coming to an end this year, now is a great time to remind people of another one of her series.

And now for something completely different, a violent, dark and twisted Nordic Noir-- the next book (for me) in the Harry Hole series, The Leopard.

Most Americans began following Hole's troubles with the 7th book in the series, The Snowman (click here for my review).  This was the first Hole book that was heavily marketed in America.  I had a lot to say about Hole in my review. Please click through if you are new to Nesbo's series as I do not want to repeat myself.

Like all Nordic titles, I listened to The Leopard mostly so I don't have to struggle with pronouncing the foreign words. I am happy to report the audio is excellent again.  The narrator is Hole to me, and I am not bothered by the fact that a Norwegian detective talks with a British accent.  Also, it is important to note the audio when you are reading a book in translation.  Hearing a book that is translated badly is very jarring.  That is not the case here.  The translation was smooth and effortless.  You would think the book first came out in English if it were not for the note at the end as to who translated it.

Back to The Leopard specifically.  Here are the only plot details you need to know.  The story begins with Harry living in Hong Kong trying to run away from his demons from The Snowman case.  He is failing miserably at this.  Kaja, a young, female crime squad detective convinces him to come back to Norway to help with a case, but the only reason he comes back is because his father is dying.

What follows is Harry being drawn into helping with a particularly brutal and vicious case involving the murders of people who are only connected by the fact that they spent one night in a wilderness cabin together as they were skiing the back country. But like previous Hole books, this is just the tip of a very twisted and evil iceberg.

The story is like The Snowman in tone.  It is dark, the bad guy is vicious and evil, there is corruption within the police, and even the good guys here all have a bad side to them.  There are also many twists; so many that they add to the suspense and the compelling pace.  You keep reading to watch it all unravel. There are descriptions of death and near deaths that are quite graphic and visceral.  Again, I did the audio which makes this even more noticeable, but I have a high tolerance for gore.  However, there was one scene where Harry has to injure himself pretty gruesomely in order to save his life.  Even I cringed a bit during that part.

Also, true to the series is the layering of multiple subplots that Nesbo handles flawlessly.  There are at least 4 major subplots going on under the layer of the murder instigation, and each eventually gets related back to the story as a whole.  In fact, often, one of the subplots contains a major clue to the murder investigation, but Nesbo is such a great storyteller that I often got wrapped up in the side stories for their own sake and forgot to pay attention to the clues hidden within them.

Another interesting style point with these books is that Nesbo gives you peeks into the bad guy's point of view off and on but you don't know who he is.  You also gets looks into the victim's perspective before they die as well as a few other main characters, but often, when it is not Hole, the reader is not sure exactly who is talking to us.  This also adds to the suspense and the compelling pacing.

If it is possible, Harry is even more broken in this installment than the one previous.  And even though he wins in the end, it is at a steep price.  The ending is still very dark even though Harry somehow manages to cheat death and save the lovely Kaja despite very unbelievable odds.  I did mention this "Hollywood Ending" problem with the first book, but obviously I did not mind it enough to not read the next book.  And, I was not surprised that such a dark book still had a happy-ish ending.

Like Bradley's series above, you read this series for Harry.  If you do not like Harry-- troubled, alcoholic, pining for his girlfriend, dad in a coma dying, Harry-- you will not like this series.  He is a completely different person from Flavia.  She is an optimist, Hole a pessimist.  But the appeal for readers is the same.  If you are okay with a troubled, conflicted, not all white knight protagonist, you will like Hole.  It can't be that crazy to connect these two widely different detectives (Harry and Flavia) because I enjoy them both, although for completely different reasons.

Three Words That Describe This Book: suspenseful, dark, lots of plot twists

Readalikes: Again, I have many varied readalike options with explanations here, but I want to add at least one new one.

John Burdett's Sonchai Jitpleecheep mysteries set in Bangkok and put out by the same publishers are also a good choice.  Both Jitpleecheep and Hole are troubled police officers who are involved in twisted, dark, and violent mysteries where the line between good and bad is very thinly drawn.  Also, both have a foreign setting (to American readers), a fact which is one appeal factor for me as a reader. 

On an interesting side note, I was compelled to return to the Harry Hole series to read The Leopard because I had noticed the newest book in the series, Phantom, on many of the year end best lists for 2012.  So I had Nesbo on my mind already, and then my son began reading Nesbo's humorous Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder children's series (which my son gives a hearty thumbs up to).  I couldn't resist the dichotomy of us reading the books side by side.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Monday Discussion: Vacation Reading-- How Do You Choose?

Here at the BPL RA Dream Team, we have 2 staff members on vacation and another one who will be leaving in 10 days.  Also, most schools are off during the week either before or after Easter.  So, the question of what to read on vacation has been coming up frequently these days.

Some people like to match their reading to their vacation. others save special books so that they can be read with a more uninterrupted time frame, still others pick the book based on if they can get it in a small mass market paperback or ebook version for easy traveling.

Let's take me for example.  I will be taking a Revolutionary War themed road trip on my next vacation.  For our family audio book experience we are going to listen to the Revolutionary War, Newbery Honor classic, My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier in the car.

But for my personal reading, I am thinking of finally reading The Twelve by Justin Cronin, since it is long, the second book in a trilogy, and I have a paperback advanced reader copy that a colleague passed down to me.  I know I won't love it as much as The Passage, mostly because I am not a fan of second books in trilogies in general (they are too plot oriented for my tastes) but I know I need the second book to get the third.

I briefly considered a themed read, but decided against it since I will want to read for escape, and as much as I love American History, even I will want a break after being immersed in it all day. Also, I really want to read The Twelve in as close to a single sitting as possible. But, interestingly, my husband almost always does a themed read to go with our vacations.

The point is there are always extra considerations beyond just what you are in the mood for when planning your vacation reading.  I also always bring more books than I will need, even when space is tight, because it would be a nightmare for me to run out of books to read on vacation.  That could ruin my vacation, actually. In fact, I usually drag along many back issues of The New Yorker as a backup.

What about you?

For today's Monday Discussion, share your thoughts and stories about what goes into your decisions as to what to read on a vacation.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Vote in PW's Poll For The Great American Novel

We are hosting a 60 person lunch and movie event here at the library today, so no time for an original post.  Instead I want to encourage you to place your vote in Publisher Weekly's Great American Novel Poll.  Click here to participate and read their rules/justifications.

Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Women's History Month Links

March is Women's History month so I thought I would share some of these interesting links in the book world in the spirit of Women's History.
Check out a link or two this month. Feel free to add more to the comments as you find them.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

To Read While You Wait for the New Pope

I may not be Christian myself, but man, I am in awe how Catholics take pomp and circumstance to the max.  Maybe only the British Monarchy can eclipse them.

So, as the world waits for the Cardinals to pick a Pope, your patrons might be looking for something to read.  Over on Book Browse's blog they posted this list: Books About Popes, Past & Present, Fiction & Fact. This annotated list has a reading suggestion for all types of readers.

And before I go, just a general RA tip.  Patrons love current event based displays.  They do not have to be overly complicated.  For example, at the BPL, we have a few books out on a side table right now with a sign that says "Vatican Reads." It took a few minutes for John to throw together and patrons love it.  The cost benefit ratio of happy patrons to time spent preparing is hugely in our favor. They appreciate us anticipating their needs and we love seeing the books leave the building, matched with a reader.

There are very few win-win opportunities in life.  Quick, current events displays are one you should grab by the horns every chance you get.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Death of the ISBN Number?

Not an RA specific link, but as a library geek I love the ISBN number.  I am willing to bet that since many of my readers have Masters of Library Science too that more than a few of you out there are fans of the International Standard Book Number too.

Well, January Magazine had this link to a great Economist article about the possible death of the beloved ISBN number.

And just after I got used to putting a 978 on the front of everything.

New Article Out: Using Goodreads As A RA Tool

My latest article for NoveList came out today.  It is entitled "Using NoveList and Goodreads in Tandem."

It is specifically about using the two services together to help patrons, but in general, don't forget to use Goodreads for more than simply keeping track of your reading.

Here is the link to the entire issue.

Here is the link to my article.

Also, don't forget that I have a link to all of the back issues of NoveList RA News in the right gutter under "Other Sites Featuring Me." You do not need a subscription to NoveList to access the newsletters.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Monday Discussion: Too Much of a Good Thing?

I have had a few conversations with readers recently that have got me thinking about reading habits, specifically whether or not you read all the same type of book or not.

There are many staff members at the BPL who read romance and only romance.  They like that the story is predictable and they can just escape into the book easily. But the other day I was talking to a friend who said her mom and sister always read romance, and when she runs out of books to read, she grabs one of theirs. She enjoys it, but doesn't want another. The times she has read more than 1 in a row, she has begun to resent the genre.  But is she reads just one, once in a while, she enjoys them greatly.

This led me to think about my own reading.  I just read the newest Flavia de Luce mystery and I am listening to a Jo Nesbo mystery right now.  But I know myself, by the time I finish the Nesbo, I am going to be "sick" of mysteries.  I will need a mystery break.  It's not that I don't enjoy mysteries.  I really do.  But the genre conventions of the mystery are such that I start to get annoyed by the predictability of the story.  I will need a break.

Intern Elizabeth felt similarly about YA Dystopian fiction.  Again, she admits to "loving it," but she also said she has read so much of it in the last year that she is good for now and is taking a break from the genre.

I think this is an important issue for us to recognize in oursevles and as we help readers.  That's why it is important to go beyond asking patrons what type of books they enjoy and continue the RA conversation with the question, "Are you in the mood for that or something different?"

It is easy to keep reading the same type of book, especially if you enjoy it, but can you have too much of a good thing?

That's what I am asking you here today on the Monday Discussion. Let me know if there is a type of book that you love, but you also know you have to make sure to moderate your consumption of it so you don't move from loving it to being sick of it.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, March 1, 2013

RA 763's Blog Getting Some Love

Thanks to my friends Rebecca and Karen over on the fabulous Booklist Shelf Renewal blog for making the blog of my students, RA 763's Blog, their Web Crush of the Week.

From their post:
One of the assignments is that the students must contribute to the class blog. Students are given free range to read any 5 books that interest them and post reviews on the RA 763 Blog. They must use the language of appeal in their annotations, provide 3 fiction readalikes and 3 nonfiction readalikes with a comment for each as to why the title fits as a similar read, and are encouraged to give at least one “outside the box” suggestion.

Joyce Saricks and I are so happy to share the great work our students do.