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, December 30, 2016

RA for All Vacation

Hello and thank you for visiting RA for All.

The blog is on vacation until January 9th.

There may not be any new material right now, but there is plenty to peruse in the archives and various pages. Definitely much more than you can get through in the time I am gone.

Have fun exploring without me. I’ll “see" you all soon.

Looking for a place to start? Why not check out where I have been recently and where I am about to go here.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

What I’m Reading: The Best Books I Read This Year

This is the last post for RA for All for 2016 which means it is time for my personal Top 10 books I read this year. I do not limit myself to 2016 titles in this annual list. And, the reasons why these books are the best has as much to do with the experience I had reading them as it does with the book itself.  To illustrate this, I will be adding some comments after each title as to why the book made my list.

Except for the first title, these are in no particular order, and each caption includes a link to my full review. Here we go:

As I said in my PLA webinar, this was hands down the best book I read this year because of the experience I had with the book. Yes, it was very good, but in a vacuum it was not the “best” book I read this year. However, because I read this book and then led a series of book discussions on it all over Illinois, it became my favorite reading experience of the year.  Click here to read more about those discussions.

Literally the first book I read in 2016 [I finished the ARC on New Year’s Day, 2016], The Fireman has stayed with me throughout the year. That is impressive. It also helps that Joe Hill is one of my favorite authors. This was my #1 title on my Horror top ten list which you can see in its entirety here.

American Housewife: Stories was fantastic on audio and blew me away with its  macabre humor that also spoke the truth.


Homegoing was my favorite audiobook I listened to this year.

The Mothers was lyrical and character centered but it was also surprisingly mature for a debut. 

Dark Matter was way too much fun for how thought provoking it was. Funny, I don’t think of myself as a big Science Fiction person, but each year a SF title always seems to sneak into my top 10.

Yes, Career of Evil was the third in a mystery series, but I really enjoyed the turn the series took with this new installment. Also this was my guilty pleasure title on the list. Not all the “best” books have to be high art. I had fun with this one and I don’t care who knows it.

Yes, a children’s book. It was very good. But more importantly, I loved leading my son and some of his classmates in their book discussion of this title.  We met over a number of weeks and I chronicled the entire experience here. Again, it was the entire experience that sent this book to the top of my list.

From a kid’s book to an adult book that harkens back to childhood. Every Heart a Doorway  is the story every bookish kid needs to read as an adult.

And finally, my wild card title, a book I saw in the NYT review and read on a whim, but loved! Travelers Rest. It was psychological, it was horror, it was a bit weird, and I loved every minute of it. 
Go to my Goodreads shelf to see every book I read this year. For the ones I didn’t write a full review, there are at least three words or phrases about the appeal.

Also I am currently reading Underground Railroad. I wonder if it will make the 2017 best books I read this year list. It very well could. I was reading The Fireman 1 year ago today and it held up over 12 months to make it here at the end of 2016. I guess you will have to keep reading for at least another year to find out.

Thanks for following along with me on our journey to help readers for yet another year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What I’m Reading: Homegoing and The Mothers-- Two Amazing Debut Novels

Today I have my last two reviews of books I read in 2016 that will be making my year end best list [which is why they need full reviews and don’t just get comments in my Goodreads account.  Sorry Wangs vs the World. I loved you, but you just missed the cut, but only because of a fifth grade book club. Confused? It will all become clear in tomorrow’s post.]

Here we go....

The best audiobook I listened to this year was Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Plot summary from Goodreads:
The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indeliably drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.

Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.
Appeal: First and foremost this is an original, engaging, and epic historical saga. Anyone who loves broad scoped stories of a family over centuries will LOVE this novel. The historical, family saga in general is hugely popular and Homegoing will be enjoyed by all fans of this subgenre.

The way Gyasi tells the story was also part of the enjoyment.  We begin with the two half sisters’ stories, one and then the other. Told entirely separate from each other, but paired in tandem. And then each chapter alternates in the same order with two specific people in the next generation. Each time, the person we follow in the next generation, is about to be born in the generation before. And then it repeats, over and over again until we get to the present.

The effect of this frame has a ripple effect. First, it increases the pacing. You want to keep reading to see what happens next. But also, each protagonist has a short turn at the helm of the story, so the entire book reads like a series of connected short stories which significantly speeds up what is an epic tale.  It also helps the pacing that each “story” ends in a cliff-hanger.

Second, the characters are enhanced by this frame. Now that may seem counter intuitive at first since we only get to see each quickly and for a specific moment in their lives as the protagonist, but because the generations pile upon each other, and people reappear in the next generation, the resulting effect is that all of the characters we meet get more detailed, more well rounded, and more real with each story.

Third, the huge scope of centuries is brought under control because we are taking the generations and the story in bit by bit, two people at a time. The scope of this novel is broad enough that other novelists tell similar tales in hundreds if not a thousand pages, but because of Gyasi’s unique  narrative choice, she can tell a story with as much depth of character and emotion as others do in triple the page count.

I do need to comment on the ending. Yes it is kinda obvious and a little “set up” but that doesn’t matter. It is a beautiful reuniting of the characters and their stories, stories that divided early, moved back and forth, gaining in strength in our hearts, and pulling us in, and then in the end, it all goes back home. [But you knew that from the title, right?]

You do not need to know anything about the slave trade or Africa in order to enjoy this book. All you need to be is someone who loves a compelling story of a family across centuries and oceans. All you need know is that this is a historically framed story about home, love, and family.  All you need is to sit back and let Gyasi tell you the story of two half sisters and where the generations took them.

Audio Narration: Over on Audible there are a wide range of opinions about Dominic Hoffman’s narration. I for one enjoyed it. Yes it was only 1 person and he did the male and female voices, but I liked how the character’s voices were done by one person because all of the characters are related in some way, even if the relation gets fairly distant by the end. Having a man for the male voices and a woman for the female voices would add a layer of separation between the characters that would be in direct contradiction to the way the tale is written. Keeping the same narrator, even if some chapters are better narrated than others, keeps the tenuous thread connecting all of the characters across time and space taut. That is why I think the narration is perfect.

Three Words That Describe This Book: historical saga, connected stories, engaging 

Readalike: Let’s start with the obvious readalikes here, other African American historical family sagas like Roots by Alex Haley. A newer book that fits this bill is Grace by Natashia Deon. But also don’t forget one of my all time favorites, The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

Now let’s take the readalikes options out of the box a bit more. Another one of my all time favorites tells a story over centuries beginning in the 1700s in Ireland, goes aboard a slave ship, and ends up in New York up through 9/11, but this epic historical saga has a magical element and our narrator is alive throughout these centuries. He is our only narrator. It’s Forever by Pete Hamil and it is a backlist gem I still hand out all of the time. People who enjoyed Homegoing and are okay with the magical realism element should give Forever a try.

Also a bot outside the box because it is Science Fiction, I would also suggest Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. It spans 5,000 years of 7 families and tackles the issue of racism head on. It was one of my favorite reads last year too.

Back to more traditional epic, family sagas that are not only African American based. As I mentioned above, this is a popular type of book, one that transcends the character’s country of origin. Here are some suggestions, but there are literally thousands of options:

Some readers may want to know more about the slave trade. To them I recommend, The Door of No Return: The History of Cape Cast Castle and the Atlantic Slave Trade by William St. Clair as a good place to start.

Now onto The Mothers by Brit Bennett for which I read the ARC passed on to me by my friend, Magan Szwarek, after she turned in her star review for Booklist. Here is the plot summary from Goodreads:

A dazzling debut novel from an exciting new voice, The Mothersis a surprising story about young love, a big secret in a small community—and the things that ultimately haunt us most. Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett’s mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, and ambition. It begins with a secret. 
“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.” 
It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt. 
In entrancing, lyrical prose, The Mothers asks whether a “what if” can be more powerful than an experience itself. If, as time passes, we must always live in servitude to the decisions of our younger selves, to the communities that have parented us, and to the decisions we make that shape our lives forever. 
Appeal: The coolest things about this novel is how Bennett uses “The Mothers,” the older woman of the church, as a Greek Chorus. They comment on the actions and the choices of the characters and lead us through the story, for example, telling us when time passes and what we have missed. It is an ancient storytelling tradition, but one that is not used much anymore. It was refreshing but it also worked; it was not simply a “look at how smart I am author trick.” It enhanced the novel.

This is a short book (under 300 pages), but beware, it moves at a leisurely pace. It is not slow. It is reflective and lyrical. You are supposed to sit and savor the characters, their actions, and the language here. It is not a book you read for plot.  In fact, I noticed that the description I posted above basically tells you everything that happens in this novel, but it does not give away any of the joy of the experience of reading this book.

The novel is all about the characters and our reflection on their choices. The reader must be an active participant if he or she wants to enjoy this book. There is no judgment or preaching here (despite the fact that the church plays a huge part in the novel). As a result, we delve deeply into every character. We see things the other characters do not. And not every question we have about each of them is answered fully, just like in real life. How intensely the reader interacts with the prose and reacts to the characters will determine whether or not he or she enjoys this book.

This focus on characters over plot also allows for the development of a handful of solid secondary characters; more than you would normally find in a book this length. I especially liked Nadia’s father and the solider Aubrey befriends.

I also love that the fact that all of the characters are African American is not the main point of the novel. It is just who they are and the world they live in. This is the story of people. Their race is there and it does inform the story and the characters decisions, but it is not why you read this novel. This is a universal story about a community and three specific young people at its center. 

The Mothers surpassed me in that it was the most honest, nonjudgemental, nonpolitical, and fair discussions of abortion and its ramifications that I have ever read. Nadia has the abortion and then we see what happens. Again, we watch and reflect. Nothing catastrophic happens, but her life is also not infinitely better because of it either. It is just one among the many decisions made in a collection of lives. That was very refreshing. With such a divisive issue, it was nice to see it handled without judgment. [Although very passionate pro-life people may not agree with my statement.]

As much as I enjoyed reading Homegoing and was impressed with the storytelling for a debut, The Mothers possesses a maturity and sense of restraint that shocked me. Debuts are not normally this complex and well crafted.

Three Words That Describe This Book: lyrical, thoughtful, coming of age

Readalikes: I see that NoveList lists Marilynne Robinson’s classic Housekeeping as a readalike saying:
"After their mothers commit suicide, the girls in these lyrical coming-of-age novels adapt to their newly broken existence with the help of surrogate mothers while simultaneously longing to leave their claustrophobic small towns. Both character-driven stories are moving and reflective
I read that novel years ago [pre blog] but I agree.

I also thought of a few other lyrical, character centered, coming of age stories. Please click on the titles to see more detail and readalike options.

Interestingly, a bunch of these books I listed are also debuts. Hmmm.


Finally, to wrap up this entire post, I want to mention another debut novel I read this year that just missed my “best of” cut-- Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn. You can see what I had to say about that book here. It would be a good readalike for either book in this post, but for different reasons.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What I’m Reading: American Housewife

This Fall I listened to the audio of the story collection American Housewife by Helen Ellis.  Summary from Goodreads:

A sharp, funny, delightfully unhinged collection of stories set in the dark world of domesticity, American Housewife features murderous ladies who lunch, celebrity treasure hunters, and the best bra fitter south of the Mason Dixon line. 
Meet the women of American Housewife: they wear lipstick, pearls, and sunscreen, even when it's cloudy. They casserole. They pinwheel. They pump the salad spinner like it's a CPR dummy. And then they kill a party crasher, carefully stepping around the body to pull cookies out of the oven. These twelve irresistible stories take us from a haunted prewar Manhattan apartment building to the set of a rigged reality television show, from the unique initiation ritual of a book club to the getaway car of a pageant princess on the lam, from the gallery opening of a tinfoil artist to the fitting room of a legendary lingerie shop. Vicious, fresh, and nutty as a poisoned Goo Goo Cluster, American Housewife is an uproarious, pointed commentary on womanhood.
Appeal: These are stories of modern women, from right now, not the 1950s, who are extremely flawed [even bordering on unreliable at times], have pent up rage, and are not afraid to extract revenge. They do not hold back, but they also get their revenge with a smile on their face-- a pasted on, fake smile, but a smile nonetheless. And the result is hysterical.

Okay, well let me clarify. This may not be funny to every reader because it is a macabre, dark, almost Gothic sense of humor. But it is not bleak. The pacing is brisk with the barbs and jabs being thrown at the reader and the characters with the precision of a carnival knife thrower. You are shocked, awed, and entertained, but you also understand there is a darkness at the core of your fun.

It is satire at its best. Hardly a topic that faces women today is missed. The social commentary and through provoking aspects of the stories-- both taken alone and read as entire volume-- are impossible to evade; you cannot hide from Ellis’ sharp prose. Even when the humor goes a bit over the top at times, it never obscures the fact that Ellis wants you to be entertained while reading, but then, after closing the book, she wants you to truly think about how her satire speaks to you and your specific life.

I think it is also important to note that off the 12 pieces here, less than half are traditional stories.  A few are lists or very short vignettes.  My favorites were the ones about the wainscoting war and the reality TV show, but I enjoyed every story for what it was and what it was trying to do.

I think all American women, no matter what their career choice, would have something to gain from reading this.  Yes, the dark, macabre humor is not for every reader, but the social commentary is. In fact, I think many men would learn a lot by reading this volume too, it just might be a hard sell.

Audio Narration: I cannot exaggerate enough how much I loved this book on audio.  I am not sure I would have liked it as much without the expert, southern drawls by the various female narrators. Ellis must have worked with them to get the emphasis and tone just perfect. I would not have enjoyed the book as much reading it in my own head. Although it is not a readalike in anyway, this is the same experience I had when I listened to one of my 2015 favorites, Delicious FoodsClick through to Audible for more comments by other listeners and full info on all the narrators.

Three Words That Describe This Book: satire, hilarious, macabre

Readalikes: Right after finishing this collection, I read Today Will be Different by Maria Semple, another sardonic look at modern womanhood. You can click through to read my review, and while I enjoyed Semple’s novel, I thought American Housewife was better. But, I also concede that the audio experience was so fantastic for me with this Ellis collection, that my opinion could have been swayed by the format.  Either way, they make for excellent readalikes.  The Semple review also has a bunch of readalike suggestions which I will not repeat here.

In her star review of this collection in Booklist, Donna Seaman said: "By extracting elements from the southern gothic tradition, Shirley Jackson, and Margaret Atwood, Ellis has forged her own molten, mind-twisting storytelling mode. “ I agree with those readalikes. To keep with the stories format try Jackson’s The Lottery and Atwood’s collection, “The Tent.” But work by either author is a good suggestion here.

The macabre and sardonic southern humor of Carl Hiaasen would also appeal to fans of this collection.

Two titles I haven’t gotten around to reading, but who fellow library workers have recommended to me and that are very similar are The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie and Dietland by Sarai Walker.

Monday, December 26, 2016

What I’m Reading: Dark Matter

In August I read an ARC of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

Plot summary via Goodreads:
“Are you happy with your life?”  
Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.  
Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.  
Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”  
In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.
Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe. 
From the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy, Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.
Appeal: We meet Jason and are breathlessly thrown into his kidnapping. From there, again, alongside Jason, we are thrust into a different version of his life, the version where he did create a way to move into different realities, to move through the multi-verse. It all happens in the first few pages.

As a result, even though this is a highly philosophical story, it is also very fast paced. This is a hard juxtaposition to keep up without resorting to cliche, but Crouch sustains it in a way that is both brilliant and seemingly effortless.

You keep turning the pages as Jason uses the device he theorized he could create in his reality, but that actually exists in the reality he is stuck in, breathlessly following him, and seeing where he ends up next. Yet, you are also seriously thinking about how and why all of these different multiverses can exists. Your brain could start hurting, but you are too totally enraptured by the story and all of it’s intricately plotted glory to care. Then you close the book for a reading break, but your mind is racing with all of the philosophical and scientific implications you have now been introduced too.

You are entertained both viscerally and intellectually. It is a very cool feeling.

I also enjoyed how the plot complications that arise-- yes beyond the fact that he has to navigate an infinity number of multiverses in an attempt to get back “home”-- are surprising at first, but then like all great science fiction, you are like, “duh” of course that would have to happen because...science.

Another huge appeal factor of this book, and this one rises above the science fiction aspects and is a good reason to give this book to those who don’t normally read science fiction, is the family centered drama at the core of this novel. Jason is risking his life for his family. As he is searching for them he enters worlds where his wife exists but it is very different. As Jason searches across the multiverse, he, and the reader, are put through a series of emotions alternating between heart breaking, uplifting, devastating, and joyous. But at the core, it is all about a search for family. This is an appeal factor that permeates the entire novel, allowing it to transcend its genre.

As we go through this roller coaster of emotions with Jason and his friends and family, we also get to know the characters in a deep way. We see them in different, parallels universes where their situations may differ, but their character mostly does not. If you like well rounded characters, this book is for you.

Finally, sometimes books with such high minded concepts and consciously constructed situations like this one are great until things need to be wrapped up and the ending fizzles (see Man in the Empty Suit review below), but not here. The way Jason solves his final conflict and the ultimate resolution are both perfect. They make sense, are satisfying, and leave the conflict closed but the future open.

This is a thoughtful novel that is also a crowd pleaser. I will be handing this out to readers for years to come.

Three Words That Describe This Book: the multiverse, thought provoking, dramatic 

Readalikes: Dark Matter is a perfect readalike for fans of the current incarnation of Dr Who [2005-present].

Anything by Connie Willis who is the queen of light science fiction, especially with time travel would work. While Jason is not really traveling through time here [he is in the exact same time but just in a different version of reality at that time], time travel fiction has a similar feel.

Other books I have read which are readalikes include:

  • Travelers Rest by Keith Lee Morris (family centered, multiverse, thought provoking)
  • Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell (multiverse, time travel, thought provoking)
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King (time travel, multiverse, thought provoking, dramatic)

Click on each title to see more detailed reasons why and more readalike options.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Library Workers' Favorite 2016 Titles

From 12/12-21 I participated in #LibFaves16 on Twitter. From Early Word:
The Librarians Have Spoken—or Tweeted #libfaves16. 
NOTE: Six years ago, our GalleyChatter columnist, Robin Beerbower along with Stephanie Chase and Linda Johns, began the annual #LibFaves project, an opportunity for librarians to tweet their favorite titles of the year. Since then, it has grown by leaps and bounds.. Below is Robin’s roundup of the year’s titles. 
Thanks also to the those who helped with the vote counting, Janet Lockhart, Vicki Nesting, Gregg Winsor, Robin Nesbitt, Andrienne Cruz, Jane Jorgenson, Lucy Lockley, Kristi Chadwick, Janet Schneider and Joe Jones. 
———————————————————————————————–For the past ten days, librarians have been doing their own year-end roundup of the best books by tweeting their favorites. The votes have now been tallied and EarlyWord can exclusively announce the results (eat your heart out, Entertainment Weekly!).There were over 1,400 total votes (300 more than last year!) for over 750 titles (100 more!), just another indicator of how widely librarians read. 
Click here to read the full run down of all the top titles. And here for the full spreadsheet of all of the votes.
I participated too, but I only did my favorite 2016 horror titles.  I wrote a wrap up of that on the horror blog, here.
My annual Top 10 books I read this year will post on 12/29 and includes titles published before 2016. Interestingly, my list of favorite books includes three of the Library Faves titles, and I am reading a fourth right now but I won’t be counting it in my 2016 rundown because even if I finish it in the next day or 2, I want to get a review up. You will probably be seeing it in my 2017 best list though.
Next week, I will be finishing up reviews for the year.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

New South Wales RA Advisory Group and Evaluating RA Service

I talk about ARRT a lot here on the blog, but that is because I am on the Steering Committee and I want to make sure the work we are doing helps as many of you as possible.

But I also know that ARRT is not the only RA networking group out there. In fact, there is one RA networking group who I have worked with in the past who do amazing work, but I would bet that many of you don’t know about since they are in Australia!

It’s the New South Wales Readers Advisory Group and they have created a wonderful wiki:
This wiki is to provide resources, ideas, and tips for public library staff to use as part of their readers advisory services. It is managed by the New South Wales Readers Advisory Group, however, people from libraries elsewhere are welcome to join.This wiki is about promoting the enjoyment of reading and our library collections.
Using this site they post the videos and slides from their seminars (full disclosure, I was a speaker once; find me), they have this useful RA training page with links to a wide range of materials, and the information about their Read Watch Play program, which was one of the first of it’s kind.  Click through to see more on all of these topics. I promise you, there is at least one [if not 12] new thing you will learn to improve your service to readers with a visit to this site.

But the newest part of the wiki is something I am very excited about. A member of the group, Melanie Mutch contacted me earlier this year as she was developing a set of standards for evaluating RA service.

This is a question I get all of the time-- how do we evaluate if our RA Service is working or not? It is a very tricky question and, honestly, one we will all have to start answering soon. We put staff, money, time, and training into growing and enhancing our service to readers, but are we doing a good job? Should we continue as we have been or do we need to shift our tactics?

I hope together, we can all start diving into the issue of evaluation in 2017, but to get us started as we think about this important and necessary topic, here is the direct link to the page Melanie created with the basics on Evaluating Readers Advisory. And here is a link to a presentation, handouts, and notes Melanie put together. I would like to publicly thank her for allowing me to share them with all of you.

If you have ideas about evaluating your RA Service, please contact me. I would love to share them here on the blog.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Becky's Top Horror Reads of 2016

Over on the horror blog, I posted my personal favorite horror books that were published in 2016. Please click here to see that list. It is important for your collection development.

2016 also marked the first full year I was a reviewer for Booklist. I reviewed almost exclusively horror. In that post, I talk about why I made that choice AND give huge props to Booklist for all they do to help you help your horror readers.

Here is an excerpt:
I do want to make a very big plug for Booklist here. They truly care about helping library workers help genre readers. They appreciate that I am a horror expert, and my editor, Rebecca Vnuk and the Publisher, Bill Ott, defer to me often when it comes to horror. If there is a title that they have not received an ARC for, but I think it needs to be in the magazine so library workers know about it, they let me solicit it myself and review it.
As the person either ordering for your horror collections and/or helping readers as they come to the desk, don’t underestimate how important this behind the scenes step is to making your job easier. If they only allowed reviews of titles they have been sent or if I didn’t alert them to titles that would be great for libraries if only they let me review it, you would not have known about many great books including my #9 and #2 titles (the #2 title even made the Booklist Horror Top Ten for all of 2016).
By the way, this is why I only review for Booklist. If I didn’t think they cared about helping you help readers, I would stop immediately. I only do it to help all of you.
Please click through and read the entire post to see how you can easily access my top 10 AND every title I reviewed some for Booklist and some just for the blog. Overall, I added reviews for around 2 dozen new horror titles this year. Actually, it was more like 35-40 if you count the titles I read and wrote about for my LJ columns here and here.

Why am I telling you this? It is not to brag. Not at all. It is to show you that you have absolutely no excuse not to order good, new horror for your library's collection. I am doing all of the work for you by pulling out the best titles for libraries.

By the way, this post is just about the horror titles I read this year. I also read a few dozen non-horror books too. I will be posting my general top 10 list here on RA for All on 12/29, my last work day of the year before the family and I take a well deserved vacation until 1/9.

Until then, look for my catch up reviews and a few year end wrap ups.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Becky’s Go-To Best List Archives and My Plea To Use Them More Than Once a Year

Back at the beginning of the month, I presented a webinar for PLA entitled "Sure Bet Bests: Matching Readers With Their “Best”Read.”[link goes to slides].

In the webinar, I talked at length about how my wrap up of the “best”books of the year was going to be different from everyone else’s.

Here are screen shots of slides 3 and 4 to make that point quickly:


Slide access with photo credits
As you can see, I was making a very specific point about using best lists in a different way than we normally do.

While that webinar was to challenge you to continue serving readers with their “best”read all year long, I do not want anyone to think that I do not see the value in compiling as many “best" lists as possible as each year comes to a close. Quite the contrary, I love looking at huge indexes of best lists just as much as all of you.

In fact, is when you look at as many best lists as possible, in one place, that you get to see a truer picture of what is the best. The wider the view, the more voices that are included, the more realistic and useful the outcome.

And, when you can look at not only the current year’s lists, but past ones too, especially the 4-5 most recent years, you do your patrons an even bigger service because now they have access to even more options.

But where to go to easily mine this data, quickly, while an impatient patron is standing in front of you looking for their “best”read, one that is on the shelf and can be taken home to read right now?

As I mentioned in the slide above, my 2 favorite places where many best books lists are indexed are:
Both are wide in scope and have easy and clear access to past year’s lists from the current list. Please treat them each as one more tool in your belt as you help readers....now and six months from now.

If I can teach you one thing in 2016, I hope it is that best books are not something you only read in December.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A New, Old, Winter Storytelling Tradition With A Library Display Opportunity

The weekend after Thanksgiving I went back to my old neighborhood in Chicago to do some holiday shopping and stopped in at Volumes Bookcafe.

While I was there I found a beautiful series of paperback, spooky stories on display.  Below is a picture of the front of the three I purchased and a shot of the back of the Burrage title.


You can zoom in to read the back, but basically, these titles have been produced to revive the Victorian tradition of families getting together to read ghost stories aloud on Christmas Eve. 

I did some more research on this topic and found this interesting article that explains the tradition in more detail. It turns out that the tradition hit it’s heyday in Victorian Times, but probably dates back before that. As the article also notes, while much of our current holiday season traditions are remarkably similar to those from Victorian times, this one specific tradition has all but disappeared.

The winter, with it’s long nights, led to spookier thoughts and more forced togetherness huddled inside, around the fire. Ghost stories made for popular entertainment in these circumstances. But Christmas Eve in particular, when large groups were assembled already, grew to be the most popular time to read ghost stories aloud. 

As I mentioned above, I did purchase three titles in this series and our family plans to spend a few evenings over the days off this holiday season to read these stories together, aloud, around our 21st Century fire place. No screens or other distractions involved. 

While I hope some of you out there give the old tradition a try, I think it is a great display option for all libraries. Any spooky story will do. And, it is not Christmas specific. A spooky story for a long winter’s night works no matter where you live, regardless of whether you celebrate a holiday during this season or not. It is a display you can do now, to take advantage of the time people have off of work and school over the next 2 weeks or wait for the new year.

Let’s bring this tradition back through the public library.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Booklist Online Spotlight on Book Discussions

My second favorite issue of Booklist just came out-- The Spotlight on Book Discussions. (of course my favorite is the one that spotlight’s horror, duh).

I love leading book discussions AND helping to train all of you to be better book discussion leaders. In fact, my book discussion leader programs are my most popular.

For last year’s Spotlight on Book Discussions, I had this article about the important of creating support groups for Book Discussion Leaders. And in 2017, I will be working on more book discussion initiatives with Booklist, initiatives that many of you can participate in with me! So keep an eye out for those announcements.

But that’s 2015 and 2017. Let’s talk about the 2016 Spotlight today.

Here are the links to the current lists and articles that I think are the most useful to those of you leading and/or helping your local book clubs.

  • The Carnegie Medal Finalists for Fiction and Nonfiction all make for great book discussion options. [I know because I used last year’s winner to do a series of very successful books discussions myself.] But besides being involved with this award [to be given out at ALA Midwinter in January], Booklist has included a list of the finalists and three readalikes for each title in this issue, giving you 24 excellent book discussion options! Click here for the Fiction finalists with readalikes and here for the Nonfiction finalists with readalikes.
  • I love it when someone in my book discussion group has listened to the audiobook of the title we are discussing. These participants ALWAYS have something different and interesting to share about the title and ALWAYS enhance our discussion. Sometime I have even led a discussion, or two, having only listened to the book. Joyce Saricks agrees with me and she has contributed this list of great genre audiobooks for book discussion groups. 
    • By the way...I have no patience for those of you reading this who think that listening is not reading by the way. You are wrong. End of discussion. 
  • Rebecca Vnuk has this Trend Alert article and reading list for “Genre-X” titles to attract Generation-X readers to your book clubs.
Good luck as you head into your 2017 book discussions. I have my first one on January 12th. If you live in the Chicago are, you can join me. Details here.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What I'm Reading: Little Heaven

My last book review of the year appeared in the 12/15/16 issue of Booklist and it's a STAR!

Little Heaven.

Cutter, Nick (author).
Jan. 2017. 496p. Gallery, hardcover, $26(9781501104213); ebook (9781501104220). REVIEW.  First published December 15, 2016 (Booklist).
Cutter [The Troop] proves yet again why his is the reigning champ of thoughtful, pulp horror. The year is 1980 and a young girl, is lured from her home by a grotesque monster, but this is more than just a random kidnapping. That monster has a score to settle with the girl’s father and his friends, a score that goes back to 1965 and the isolated, religious commune, Little Heaven, deep in the wilderness of New Mexico. And so, the father, and his two oldest friends, all of whom originally met because they were hired, separately, to kill one and other, reunite to save the girl and settle their debts. Told with an alternating time frame between 1980 and 1965, that perfectly enhances the novel’s intensifying pace, this gruesome novel drips with dread from the very first lines, as we meet our extremely flawed but undeniably sympathetic heroes and watch them get dragged into the hell that is Little Heaven only to find a much worse supernatural monsters lurking in the surrounding woods. With it’s claustrophobically isolated setting, gory details and strong action sequences, this book is sure to win over horror fans, but there is also a powerful, underlying philosophical aspect here which ponders the meaning of family, love, and community. It permeates the novel and anchors it even in it’s most disturbing moments. Imagine that Bentley Little or the late Richard Laymon tried their hand at writing a Cormac McCarthy novel and you understand who will enjoy this story.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Dual [but linked] times frames, gory details, philosophical

Readalikes: Besides the authors mentioned in the review, I would also suggest the work of Brian Keene who shares an ability to write great characters and gory action sequences, while still having a powerful overall message in his horror works.

One thing that Nick Cutter does well in all of his novels is to craft a claustrophobic, isolated setting that in and of itself is chilling [even without the introduction of a supernatural threat]. Another book which does this well is Sparrow Rock by Nate Kenyon.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Tournament of Books Long List Announced

Next to the NPR Book Concierge and A Year of Reading from The Millions, my other favorite best list is The Morning News Tournament of Books [or ToB].

Now, the tourney itself doesn’t start until March, which is one of the reasons I adore it. They give you time to digest all the best of the year hoopla and lists before diving into the tourney on 2016’s best books a few months into 2017. The pause and the perspective it affords are nice.

But, so as not to miss out on “the season of besting,” the ToB released their awesome long-list this week. 120 Books! The finalists for the ToB will contain titles from this 120 book grouping.

This long list and the tourney itself are a wonderful example of the overall point I have been trying to make this month about Sure Bets Lists being better than Best Lists. Because the ToB always considers genre and trends into their compilation of titles, AND because they are willing to consider best sellers alongside more literary offerings, AND because they allow the judges to make a personal decision on the winner of each head to head pairing AND because they allow for “zombies” who were eliminated to come back from the dead and keep competing AND because they always have some great under the radar titles that I have missed.... for all of these reasons [and a few I must be forgetting], the ToB lists are a great sure bet option for readers.

The ToB uses different perspectives of what was “Best” in 2016 to crowdsource a list that considers as wide a range of tastes as possible. The just released long-list alone can help you to help many readers looking for a good, “best” read this holiday season. Yes some are hot titles that will be checked out, but many will be on your shelf right now. And, they each come with an annotation so you can book talk the title immediately.

Click here for much more from me on the ToB. And don’t forget to look at the past years’s lists [links in the right gutter]. If you put those lists together with the narratives from the judging process, you get a great sense of what type of reader to give the books to even if you have never read them, or even heard of them, yourselves.

ToB is both fun and a great RA tool. Click over and see for yourself. There are hundreds of sure bet options there for a wide range of library patrons. The work is done for you, if you only visit the site.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

End of the Year Adult Reading Round Table Updates

Today I have a bunch of links, information, and announcements having to do with my work with ARRT. Please remember, while ARRT is a networking and training organization for Readers' Advisory Library Workers, we provide much content, lists, and training documents for everyone, everywhere.

From our Popular Author lists (both for Adult and Teen authors) which are always available in the RA Toolbox on NoveList to allowing anyone to signup for our newsletter [the form is on every page of the website in the right gutter] and much in between, ARRT is here to help anyone who is helping leisure readers.

Here is a sample of our most recent updates and information:
  • Back in November, I presented as part of ARRT's RA Hacks program. You can click here for my slides.  I also was one of five breakout session leaders. As promised, we compiled the notes from the breakout sessions and they are now available here.
  • The Speculative Fiction Genre Study is about to enter it's second, and final, year. The last meeting was on December 1 and we discussed the Doorway of Character. Here is the assignment we used. Just before that meeting, the notes on our first Doorway discussion, this time of Setting, went live at this link. Our next meeting, on the Doorway of Story will be on February 2, 2017. Details, including the assignment, are here. In general, anyone can access all of the information about the Speculative Fiction Genre Study, and even past genre studies, including all assignments and notes, here. We encourage others to use our Genre Studies as a guide to frame your own. Use as much of what we have up here as you want, all we ask is that your cite us as your source.
  • The Book Club Study [formerly known as the Literary Book Discussion and Leadership Training] is going strong. We are meeting on January 12, 2017, from 2-4 pm at Schaumburg Township District Library to discuss Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. The book discussion will be led by Emily Vinci. The Leadership Topic, led by me, will be about managing the group dynamic during book discussions. All of the details are here including how you can sign up.
  • Finally, we are in the middle of our annual membership renewal drive. Here is the form so you can renew or join. Remember, while the notes from all of our programs are free on the web, in order to attend the Book Club Study and the Genre Study you must be a member.
I truly believe in the work we do through ARRT for everyone out there helping leisure readers. We all volunteer our time to be on the Steering Committee because we know that we are lucky to have such a long standing RA networking group in our area. But please know we realize that many of you are going at your work alone. Don't forget we are here to help, either through the ARRT website, our social media [Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest], or here on RA for All with the ARRT tag.

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Year in Reading


Today I want to point everyone to one of my favorite year end book things... The Millions A Year In Reading, a series in which they ask writers to share the best thing they read this year and why.

The link I included goes to the entire archive. Each essay not only talks abut a book that impacted a current writer in the last year, but it also provides background on the author of the essay too; meaning, each entry in the series is enjoyable on two levels, which makes it twice as good.

And finally, every single entry has clear links to every year this series has run so that you can easily access the backlist.

If you have a patron looking for their next good read, and you are stumped in how to help him or her, click on over to A Year in Reading and let the patron look through it. These are books that deeply effected someone enough to write an entire essay about it. Also, if the patron can find an author he or she enjoys [or has at least heard of], that will help you to make a connection to keep the RA conversation going. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

RA for All Roadshow Visits the Kokomo-Howard County [IN] Public Library for an All Staff Development Day

Yesterday I was also at the KHCPL, but I was speaking to library workers who lead book clubs from KHCPL and the surrounding area.  It was a meeting of the book discussion leader minds.


Today, the entire KHCPL system is closed for staff development [as this screen shot I took off their website clearly says].

I will be presenting the Keynote and two break out sessions for KHCPL today.  Below you can find the schedule and the links to all of the slides.

Before I get to that though, I just wanted to mention that today marks my final programs of the year.  Thanks to everyone who had me out to their library or meeting in 2016 and also thanks to all of you who have already booked me for 2017.

Soon, I will have a year end post about how my first full year as a professional trainer went, along with information about the most useful and popular programs. In the meantime, to see where I have been, where I am going, and the types of programs I provide please go to my Recent and Upcoming Presentations page.

But we still have today. Here is the schedule and slides...
  • 10:30-Noon Keynote/Training for ALL KHCPL Staff
    • RA for All: Readers Advisory belongs in every library, no matter its budget. The implementation of this vital service is the responsibility of every staff member-- from pages to directors, from those behind the scenes to the ones on the front lines. This program will remove the mystery behind providing great RA service. Using her “Ten Rules of Basic RA Service” as a guide, Becky Spratford will use your own love of your favorite books to show you how to help any patron find their next great read. It's not as hard as you think. But more importantly, you will learn why a staff that can harness the power of sharing a great read will become a stronger team and improve service to all patrons.
  • 1-1:50 Breakout Session #1
    • Demystifying Genre: How To Help Every Type of Reader: Nothing is scarier than trying to help a fan of a genre you yourself don’t enjoy. You want to help that, for example, Romance reader find the perfect book, but you are having trouble knowing where to begin because...eek!... you don’t read Romance. You are afraid they will find out you are a fraud. How can YOU possibly help THEM?!? Never fear, in this program, Readers’ Advisory expert, Becky Spratford, will teach you how to keep your genre knowledge up to date, explain the biggest trends in genre fiction, and share her time tested tricks for working with genre readers. You will leave this webinar with the confidence and skill to help fans of every genre, regardless of whether you have ever read a book in that genre. And that will leave a trail of happy patrons in your wake.
  • December 9, 2-2:50 Breakout Session #2
    • Booktalking: Harnessing the Power of Sharing Books with PatronsBooktalking is at the heart of what we do with patrons each and every day at the public library. Whether we are sharing books informally at the services desk, presenting a prepared list of books, or posting information online, talking about books is something we do each and every day. It is a core service, but it is also hard to teach. Booktalking is more of an art than a skill, but with the right guidance and some practice, it can go a long way toward engaging your patrons and re-energizing your staff. Join experienced Readers’ Advisory Becky Spratford as she shares the secret behind delivering great book talks, giving you tips and tricks you can begin using right away to hone your own skills. Rediscover the power and joy that comes from sharing books with patrons.
    • SLIDES