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 including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

In the spirit of all things creepy, here is a link to a list of haunted libraries. (Scroll to the bottom to get a list for each region of the country)

Remember, I also have many horror related postings on this blog. Click here for everything I have tagged horror.

Happy Haunting!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What I'm Reading: October 2008

This month I read two completely different historical fiction titles and a popular nonfiction one.

I first encountered The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti when reading reviews and, as I often do when a review strikes me, put the title on hold. Many times I end up returning the book before reading it, but this title seemed too good to pass up, and thankfully I was correct. The Good Thief has been described as being reminiscent of Dickens, and I think that is very much true. The time period, class issues, and the plucky orphan main character all lead one to that comparison.

Here are the details. The Good Thief is Tinti's first novel. We begin the story in 19th Century, New England, in a Catholic orphanage. 12-year-old Ren has lived here for as long as he can remember. He also has no recollection of how he came to lose his hand either. Ren is worried about his future because he is nearing the age when, if not adopted, he will be sold into the army and never know what it is like to have a home and a family. One day, Benjamin arrives,claiming to be Ren's brother, and adopts Ren. As you can imagine, Benjamin is not who he claims to be and the two begin an exciting adventure together.

The Good Thief is, refreshingly, a traditional adventure story (with a historical background) in a literary landscape where adventure is being consumed by thrillers and terrorism plot lines. It is fast paced, the hero is resourceful and lucky (maybe unbelievable so, but that goes with the genre), and it has a resolved, happy ending. Tinti uses many of Dicken's own tricks and themes to propel her story along., including a wonderful cast of eccentric secondary characters such as a dwarf who lives on the roof, a murdering giant, and a hard of hearing landlady. The novel is appropriately funny, heart-warming, melodramatic, and bittersweet, with each occurring in the right places.

I would suggest this novel to anyone looking for a fast paced, old fashioned story. Although it is not a gentle read (there are murders and the exhumation of bodies), it is good for a wide range of readers. I would especially suggest this in audio form to a family with middle school and older children to listen to on a driving vacation.

Specific readalike titles would of course include anything by Dickens. But for more modern authors and titles, those interested could try the hugely popular The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski which also has a disabled but plucky, young male protagonist (here he is mute), and a coming-of-age theme; it also loosely follows the plot of Hamlet. A less mainstream suggestion would be another well received first novel, When the Finch Rises by Jack Riggs. Here the reader follows two young boys in the 1960s South, their tough lives, their coming-of-age, and the strength of their friendship that pulls them through. It is important to note that this novel does have touches of magical realism. Finally one of my back list favorites that I would be a perfect match for readers who liked Ren is The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall.

For those who really enjoyed the 19th century, New England setting, you could always try works by or about Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau or Ralph Waldo Emerson. All three writers captured this time, as it happened, and are still read today.

I also read another historical fiction with some adventure elements and a similar title, but with a completely different setting and tone. City of Thieves by David Benioff is a WWII drama. St. Petersberg (or Pitter as its residents refer to it) is under siege by the Nazis and Lev, the son of a poet (and victim of Stalin) is literally starving while protecting his beloved Pitter. One evening he is caught out after curfew, thrown in jail, and awaiting his punishment...death. In his cell, Lev meets an army deserter and university student named Kolya. The two are offered a reprieve by the Colonel if they can locate a dozen eggs for his daughter's wedding cake in less than a week's time. The boys set out into the wild streets of Pitter, and eventually slip behind German lines. Along the way, as Lev narrates, the two form a true friendship, meet many interesting people, and come to understand the beauty and horrors of war.

City of Thieves has both a war and coming-of-age theme, much like How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. Also, the popular and well reviewed thriller, Child 44 by Tom Rob Smtih, has a similar setting, but a faster pace and a bit less historical detail. Both would make good readalikes, but possibly not for the same reader.

For nonfiction suggestions, there are literally millions of books on WWII, but this link will lead you to a list of books about the Russian Front, giving any interested readers more information about the setting of Benioff's novel.

Finally, this month I also listened to Simon Winchester reading his latest books, The Man Who Loved China. First comment, Winchester is a wonderful writer, but probably not the most exciting reader. That being said, if you are interested in the West's first true and fair encounter with China and the creation of what is still considered to be the best reference guide of the history of china, read this book. Joseph Needham, the man referred to in the book's title, was not only brilliant, but also interestingly eccentric. In true Winchester style, Needham and his work are raised in importance and links are drawn between Needham and larger world issues, such as the Unibomber.

As I have written on NoveList Plus in my readalike for Winchester, similar authors would include Mark Kurlansky, Jared Diamond, John McPhee, Dava Sobel and Susan Orlean. I would highly suggest checking out these authors if you like Winchester's work.

But specifically, as I read this book, a few novels about Cambridge and China that I had read recently kept popping into my head. I really don't have a subjective reason why, but Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stout and the novels of Lisa See came into my mind often as I read The Man Who Loved China. For what it's worth, I have linked to blog entries where I discussed these novels.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Boston Public Library TV ads

The Boston Public Library has recently posted their wonderful new ad campaign. They worked with an ad agency (who donated their services) to create print, radio and television ads with the tag line of "What Do You Want to Know?". Click here to access examples.

This is a highly innovative campaign, and I think much of what this campaign says about the Boston Public Library specifically, can be applied to just about every public library in the country. Although, I do wish they'd talk about finding you a good book to read.

Thanks to my student Joe, who passed these links on.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Crime Fiction Resources

In preparation for my talk tomorrow on Crime Fiction at the North Suburban Library System, I compiled a list of my favorite Crime Resources. Click here to access the Word document.

My personal favorite is the last one on the list: Murder by Toaster: Mysteries With Surprisingly Lethal Weapons

Seriously though, my presentation is focused on how to help your patrons who enjoy all kinds of crime fiction. Those who join me tomorrow, will get the full scoop, but if you can't make it, try some of the resources above to help your patrons or to help yourself.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

BPL Book Discussion: Dream When You're Feeling Blue

This week my book discussion group met to talk about Elizabeth Berg's story of the Heaney Family on the home front during WWII entitled, Dream When You're Feeling Blue. I wrote about this title last Spring when my local library used this title as part of a cooperative effort to present The Big Read with other area libraries.

Click here for my original posting about this title, including plot and readalikes.

Click here for the information compiled by those presenting the Big Read, including readalikes, historical background information, and information about the author.

Besides the readalikes listed in the two above sources, I want to remind you to check out Ken Burns' WWII documentary, the companion book, and the CD box set. His multi-part film captures the tone of this work and also gives attention to the home front. Since this novel is also named after a song of the era, and popular culture of the time, dancing, and music all play a large part in the story, the CD box set also goes nicely with the novel.

Another book our group read about a group of women (not sisters though) who work together through hardship and protect each other is Sandra Dallas' The Persian Pickle Club. You can click here to read about our discussion.

But enough about all the background info and readalikes. On to what we discussed...

A big discussion point about this novel has to do with the ending, in fact, that is where our discussion began. Although everyone in the group loved reading the book, some were "crushed" by the ending, another thought it was too abrupt, and still others loved it. Without giving the twist away, I will say that although the ending is a twist, it is not outrageous, and, as far as our group was concerned, whether or not they liked the ending did not interfere with their overall enjoyment of the novel.

Kitty, the middle sister who is in her late teens, is the character through which we view the Heaney family. Many of my group participants were young children during the days of WWII and commented on remembering some of the things that Kitty discusses such as Roosevelt coffee, going to Marshal Field's as a special outing, and the USO dances. One participant loved watching Kitty grow and blossom. As a young girl, she never thought she had a choice of what she could do with her life once she grew up, but seeing Kitty get a factory job and begin to assert her independence made this woman happy. Others remarked that despite her selfishness, Kitty always showed empathy for those around her.

Of course, the group loved the Chicago setting and many people shared their own stories about their victory gardens, rations, and especially of going downtown and seeing sailors and soldiers everywhere you looked.

Toward the end we moved to a discussion of drawing parallels between the WWII era and today. We talked about life on the home front during war time. My group talked about how proud they were to endure the hardships on the home front because it made you feel proud to be part of the war effort. The participants felt it was easier to band together then because our enemy was so clear and defined. Today our enemies are unknown. They could be anyone, and the psychological burden of this hidden enemy makes us live under, what one participant called, "a cloud of concern." The group agreed that without a transparent enemy, it is hard to unite those at home.

I am so glad my group discussed this book. My participants are of an age where they can remember a bit from the era and were excited to relive those memories. I would suggest this book to any Chicagoland book clubs or to groups anywhere with participants who lived through the WWII era.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Crime Fiction Presentation By Me

October 28th, I will be at the North Suburban Library System presenting a three hour class on Crime Fiction. Click here for the class description and sign-up.

I am preparing many new resources and reading lists in preparation, but I did want to share one web site now. Crime Culture is a resource that explores different critical approaches to crime literature and film. Click here to learn more about their aims. It is a fun and thought provoking site.

Monday, October 20, 2008

BPL Displays: October 2008 and POEfest!!

Kathy and I worked on the lists for the October displays at the BPL this month.

The first is called "Graphic Novels for Grownups." About 6 months ago, one of my book club participants asked for a list of Graphic Novels that she might enjoy. I made her an unannotated reading list right away. However, I realized she might not be the only one out there looking for grown up graphic novels, so the display idea was born. It has been up for a few days now, and as I sit here on Monday morning, not only is the display looking empty, but the return cart is full of graphic novels to be reshelved.

The second display is of course for Halloween. But this year, the BPL, along with the Berwyn Arts Council, North Berwyn Park District, 16th Street Theater, Horrorbles, and Cigars & Stripes, is a sponsor of a community wide POEfest. All month long there will be movies, student art and writing exhibitions, reading, and a gala to celebrate this wonderful author and his legacy. Our 2 lists celebrating the newest releases in horror fiction (compiled by me) and some of the best of Poe's stories (compiled by Kathy) are under the heading, "Celebrate Halloween...Poe Style."

If you live in the Chicago area, please click here and come attend one of the events. It should be a great time and all events are free.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


It's high awards season. Here are just a few award winning titles and authors announced in the last week:

My personal favorite, the Booker Prize went to White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. Click here to read an interview with the author from the Book Group Buzz Blog by Booklist Online.

The Anthony Award winners (mystery), presented last weekend at Buchercon 2008 can be found here. This list has the nominees and the winners. I would especially like to highlight the winner for best website, my favorite mystery resource Stop You're Killing Me.

The 2008 Nobel Prize in literature went to
Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. He was cited as being an "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization."

Finally, Larry Doyle won the 2008 Thurber Prize for American Humor.

Now to get you ready for the next round of awards, here is an article about the short-list for the Giller Prize for Canadian Fiction.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Take Ten: Columbus Day Readalikes

In honor of the spirit of exploration we celebrated today, I would like to suggest a few books with unlikely adventurers. All of these books and annotations are taken from my Shelfari shelf which you can access with this link, or at any time on the right column of this blog. Call it an impromptu "Take Ten," in no particular order.

Watership Down by Richard Adams
Fiver senses the impending disaster about to befall his community and convinces a small band to leave the safety of home and run away. Hazel, the leader, takes the group on an Exodus like journey to the promised land of Watership Down. Hazel, Fiver and their band are no ordinary pilgrims, however. They are rabbits and the reader is drawn into their world of warrens, rabbit folk-lore, and complex politics while following them on their dangerous journey. The result is a moving tale of survival and adventure, no matter the species.

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
At age 7, Henry Day is kidnapped by a pack of hobgoblins who replace him with one of their own. The chapters alternate between the experiences of human Henry and hobgoblin Henry. Neither Henry feels content in his life, and both are losing a grip on their true pasts. Their concurrent struggle to find where they came from lead the two Henrys to finally meet decades later.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Richard Mayhew is your average young Londoner, until he stops to help a young homeless girl he finds on the street. This chance encounter leads Richard into “London Below,” a dark and magical parallel city under the familiar streets of his hometown. Before he can return to the world above, Richard must battle monsters and henchmen, visit with a fallen angel, and find his own inner strength.

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
A deadly virus is quickly killing off everyone on Earth, and Laura Byrd, a researcher in Antarctica is apparently the last person left alive. This apocalyptic story alternates between Laura’s struggle for survival and an alternate universe called “the city,” populated by the dead who still are remembered by those living on Earth. This compelling and original tale is chilling and thought provoking.

Girl in Landscape by Jonathan Lethem
13 year old Pella Marsh and her family flee a post-apocalyptic Brooklyn to become settlers on a new planet. The previous inhabitants of this planet were a highly evolved alien race which used viruses to alter the planet. To add to the tension, Pella’s father, a politician, clashes with another settler about the type of society they want to establish. Although the novel takes place in outer space, the story feels more like a classic Western than Science Fiction. Told through Pella’s eyes, this is a tale about the loss of innocence and the trials of being a pioneer.

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
In this classic novel, 18th Century, explorer Lemuel Gulliver, encounters Lilliputians, giants, scientists, philosophers, and brutes in five different worlds. Swift used each encounter to skewer his contemporaries, but 300 years later, his insight into human behavior and hypocrisy is still surprisingly fresh.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
At age 6, Ender Wiggins is identified as the “last hope” to defeat the alien race set upon the destruction of the Earth and all of its inhabitants. Sent to a special military training school in space, Ender leaves his family behind and begins an intensive training involving team building and simulated war games. The reader follows both Ender’s trials at living on his own and his family’s story of dealing with the increasingly difficult political situation back on Earth. Ender’s Game is a moving coming-of-age tale with a science fiction twist.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Daisy is a disaffected, motherless, NYC tough girl who is sent to live at her Aunt's English Country Estate. The twist here is that a World War is beginning and eventually, Daisy and her cousins are left to fend for themselves without any communication with the outside world. The story that follows has some violence, but is very realistic. You will be emotionally affected by this novel. Up against terrible odds, Daisy learns what really matters in life and the reader is treated to a fairly happy ending.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob Jankowski, a ninety-something year old nursing home patient. The novel is his reminiscence of his life in a depression era circus, specifically his coming-of-age as a man and as a veterinarian. The story follows Jacob as he learns of the indignities of circus life and the intense desperation of the Great Depression. We follow Jacob as he falls in love with a performer, tries to save her from an abusive husband, and fights for the rights of the circus workers and animals. But it is with the introduction of Rosie, an elephant, that the story blossoms into something special.

Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende
This historically accurate novel relates the true story of the Spanish conquerors of Chile in the 1500s. Ines Suarez narrates the book in her old age, as a memoir being told to her daughter, Isabel. Ines began her life as a seamstress in Spain, but became the first Gobernadora of Chile. Ines relates the trials and jubilation, the hard times and the wonderful moments of establishing Santiago, Chile. Most of the novel is taken up with the story of Ines and her lover, Pedro Valdivia, the war hero, and their bloody struggles with the indigenous people of Chile. This is the story of Ines’ life, a chronicle of the founding of Chile, a comment on the price of “discovering” the New World, and a tale of the power of love.

As a side note, my library was closed today. My adventures led me and my two school-aged children to see Beverley Hills Chihuahua and explore a suburban pumpkin farm. Not nearly as memorable as "discovering" the New World (or slaughtering indigenous people) but a fun day off nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Reader's Advisor Online Historical Fiction

Cindy Orr over at the Reader's Advisor Online Blog (which can always be found on my list of sites to checkout on the right hand side of this page) just posted this great list of historical fiction websites.

One of the problems with locating historical fiction titles for readers is that they are not always cataloged with the appropriate subject headings, as their nonfiction counterparts are. Librarians rely heavily on print and web resources to help find the right books for each historical fiction reader, and this post will go a long way toward helping many patrons. Thanks Cindy.

Keep an eye out for comments to this post for additional resources. And, in general, check out the RA Online blog regularly for RA news, lists, and links.

The RA Rundown, written and posted by Cindy each Monday, is an excellent RA news resource for librarians and readers.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Last Day to Register to Vote in IL is Tuesday, 10/7!

As well as being a Readers' Advisor, I am also a passionate Voter Registrar. We do quite a bit of voter registration at the BPL RA desk. In the days leading up to the deadline for the Februrary primary, we did hundreds of registrations.

We have rearranged schedules at BPL and any and all Cook County residents who need to register can come to the library (2701 S. Harlem Ave) between 9am and 9pm Monday and Tuesday to register to vote. After 9pm Tuesday, you will have to sit this one out. Please don't miss this last chance to register.

We will have at least 3 registrars at the library, at all times, for you.

Please register to vote, your time is running out.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Hispanic Heritage Month Part 2

The ALA has also started a campaign to increase public library use by Latinos. They taped many public service announcements with Spanish speaking librarians. One of my former students, Semi, who also works for the Metropolitan Library System and the Cicero Public Library, recorded a couple at they are now being used all across the country on Spanish radio stations.

Click here to hear her PSA. Congrats Semi.

Semi also blogs at Pretty Hip Librarian.

BPL Display: Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15-October 15 and Kathy has put together another good display for Berwyn.

She decided to use the celebration as a chance both the highlight Hispanic authors and showcase our growing Spanish fiction collection.

Here is the annotated list that goes with the display. It is a list of fiction we carry in both English and Spanish.

We have many more titles in Spanish, both by Hispanic authors, and general best-sellers, such as My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult.