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.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dracula's Birthday and a New Authorized Sequel

It was on May 26, 1897 that Dracula by Bram Stoker was first published.

The Rap Sheet did a nice write up to mark the anniversary here. Their post has tons of links and excerpts from some of the original reviews of this mother of all vampire novels.

Although Dracula was not the first vampire novel, it has endured as the most influential. Horror maven that I am marketed to be, I have to admit that I am less interested in today's vampire books, mostly because they tend to be more about romance and less about horror. That being said, Dracula is a great book that has stood the test of time.

Interestingly, Stoker's great-grand nephew will be coming out with Dracula the Un-Dead in time for Halloween 2009. (Thanks Rap Sheet for the heads up) This novel is being hailed as the first authorized Dracula story since the 1931 Bela Lugosi film.

I have a feeling this new novel will be very popular. Libraries, start ordering now.

Friday, May 29, 2009

New Book Discussion Group Beginning at BPL!

Our book discussion groups at BPL are getting so popular that beginning in July we will be adding a Saturday group led by Briana. She has decided to go with a "greatest hits of Berwyn's book discussion" theme. After polling Kathy and me she has come up with the following 6 month schedule (links are to my blog posts about past discussions):

July - My Sister's Keeper
August - Thirteenth Tale
September - River of Doubt
October - Behind the Scenes at the Museum
November - Suite Francaise
December - Loving Frank

Briana's group also highlights the fact that Briana, Kathy, and I take our old book discussion books and create kits that patrons can check out. Each kit contains at least 9 paperback copies of the book, discussion questions and read alike suggestions. Click here to see our full list of available titles.

Kathy and I have also announced our July-December schedule. Click here to see it. We accept anyone who can make it in person to the meetings, whether you live in Berwyn or not.

While I am talking about book discussions I should also mention our list of book discussion resources, available here. Personally, my absolute favorite free resource is Reading Group Guides. I use this to get ideas for titles to discuss, read author interviews, acquire discussion questions, and just to read their great blog.

A new resource I just found is Readers Place. I like this one because it is from the UK and offers a different perspective.

That should keep your book clubs busy for the next few months.

If you have had a great discussion and want to share with the rest of us, let me know.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Joyce Saricks New Genre Book

Speaking of Joyce teaching our class solo this semester, her newly revised genre fiction reference book just came out.

We use this book as the textbook in our Dominican University class and the new edition will be useful to our students and librarians all over the country.

Personally, I an excited to see the finished copy.

Click here or here to order it.

Student Annotations: Fantasy, Western, Historical Fiction

I may not be teaching this semester, but Joyce is and her students put up their first annotations for the "Landscape Genres:" Fantasy, Historical Fiction, and Westerns.

Go on over to our Word Press blog to check them out.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Romance for All

I have talked about Romance getting a bad rap many times on this blog. One of my favorite resources to combat this unfair treatment of romance novels and their readers is the web site Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

This no-nonsense web guide to romance has now morphed into a book, Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels, which I also purchased for the Berwyn Public Library's collection.

These ladies are pretty amazing. They are tireless in their goal of legitimizing the genre and its readers. For example, a few months ago they went on NPR to try to get the anchor to read a romance. Click here to read all about it.

Kudos to these ladies. Come check out the book at BPL (ignore the non-circ call number; we'll let you check it out if you want to) or go to their website to find the perfect Romance for you.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Is Suite Francaise Historical Fiction? Depends on Who's Asking.

When writing about my book discussion group's meeting on Nemirovisky's book, I forgot to talk about our discussion of historical fiction.

For the record, Suite Francaise is not historical fiction because Nemirovsky was not writing about the past, she was writing contemporary fiction both during and about the 1940s; it was simply not published until recently.

For you librarians, historical fiction is defined as a novel written about a time before the author's birth. So Pride and Prejudice is not historical fiction since Austen was writing about her own time, but the novels of Bernard Cornwell are.

That being said, if our patrons come up talking about how they love historical fiction and you ask what they have read recently and enjoyed and they say, "Suite Francaise," this is not the time for you to correct them. To that reader (to many in fact), Suite Francaise is historical fiction simply because it is about the past and is realistic. Go with their lead and find that reader novels set in the past (whether true historical fiction or not) that would fit with their overall reading tastes.

For specific historical fiction resources to help you help your patrons, click here. For things I have tagged histoical fiction, click here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

BPL Book Discussion: Suite Francaise

This past Monday the group got together for a great discussion of Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise. First some background on the book. One reason Suite Francaise makes such a great book discussion book is that it has the powerful double pronged attack....the book itself (really 2 novellas) is a well crafted and entertaining work of literature, while the back story, Nemirovsky's life (and death) story add another dimension to the work. The two are so intertwined, it is impossible to separate her from her novellas.

Suite Francaise is the title Nemirovsky gave for her planned collection of 5 novels about France during WWII. Nemirovsky wrote the first 2 books and outlined the third while she and her family were trying to allude the Germans, who had occupied Paris and its suburbs. As stateless Jews (of Russian descent) Nemirovsky and her husband were subject to deportation. Ultimately, Nemirovsky and her husband were sent to concentration camps (separately) where they died. Their children were hidden and managed to save the manuscripts and notes, which published with her translated notes and correspondences with her husband and publisher once Nemirovsky was arrested by the Germans, make up the book Suite Francaise.

For more on Nemirovsky's story you can go here.

What is so intriguing about this work is that it is almost definitely the earliest work of fiction about WWII. Writing in 1942 about the 1940 fall of Paris and the German occupation of France, Nemirovsky was not even sure where the last 2 unwritten sections of her work would go. The war would have needed to progress further and her life would have needed to be extended for her to figure out where the book would go.

This led our group to discuss how different Suite Francaise was from the myriad of WWII books and novels we have read. This work is not a readalike for The Diary of Anne Frank or Night; these books would be readalikes for her biography, rather, this work is about the day to day aspects of living in a country controlled by the enemy. We marvelled in her descriptions of how the villagers coped with housing the German officers in their homes, while their own young, male family members were either fighting the Germans, prisoners of war, or already dead. One participant likened their arrangements and general friendliness to one and other as remarkably similar to the relationships between plantation owners and house slaves in the American South.

We spent most of our time talking about the second novella,"Dolce," which is set entirely in one village, as mentioned above, and goes into remarkable detail about the occupation and how the villagers lived. While the relationships between the Germans and French was important here, there was also quite a bit about the strict class distinctions among the French villagers. The situation was described multiple times as the "eye of he storm." It was a soft, sweet time as the novella's title suggests, but it was all the more powerful after reading her notes, knowing Nemirovsky planned to follow "Dolce," with a novel entitled "Captivity."

The characters in "Dolce" were sympathetic and fully realized. Many participants remarked on the detail in character descriptions and the lyrical language (how she could describe the weather so beautifully, for example). Even without the fact that she wrote this novella while literally on the run, we were amazed by the work's technical virtuosity.

We did talk about the first novella, "Storm in June," we just spent less time on it. A lot of this has to do with the style of the section. "Storm in June" follows a few characters who are frantically fleeing Paris as the Germans take over the city. We talked about how the style of this first section accurately reflects the plot. The narration jumps around to different people's points of view. It is scattered and incomplete; filled with violent and mean spirited acts. In short, is is as uncomfortable and unsettling to read as the evacuation itself.

We hit a few other topics such as the French resistance and where Nemirovsky might have gone with her book if she had lived.

I would highly suggest this title to groups who are looking for a different view on a popular topic, who are willing to mix fiction and nonfiction, and/or groups who do not mind an unfinished work.

In terms of readalikes, click here for a list of books on occupied France.

Fiction readers who enjoyed this book should also try Sebastian Faulks, most notably Charlotte Gray and Birdsong. I would also suggest Geraldine Brooks' most recent title People of the Book which I also wrote about here. This novel hits at the issues within Nemirovsky's novellas, living with the enemy and surviving through war, as well as addressing the author's life story, keeping a book safe despite terrible odds.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Finalist

One thing you can always count on from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel awards is that they will really choose unknown novels.

Here are the three finalists as announced yesterday. You can also use this link to download an excerpt of each novel.

Have you read any of them? Chances are the answer is no, and that is great! Amazon may be trying to shove the Kindle down our throats, but with this award they are doing things the right way. By choosing to showcase lesser known, yet worthy novels by truly "new-to-you" authors, Amazon is using their might for right.

The winner will be announced on May 27th.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Adult Reading Round Table Wiki

As I have mentioned before, I am on the steering committee for the Adult Reading Round Table, a group of RAs in Northern Illinois who help librarians provide better service to leisure readers. After hosting Nora Rawlinson, the editor of the blog Early Word, at a program in March, ARRT is working with Ms. Rawlinson to start a wiki for its members to use to write reviews on advance reader copies of books that will be coming out soon.

Click here to see the wiki.

Anyone can view the wiki, but it is only available to members to add to the content. If you are an ARRT member, go here to sign up.

This new wiki serves two purposes. First, it allows interested librarians to preview upcoming titles and present early reviews for our colleagues. Second, this wiki is meant to serve as a place for the members of ARRT to practice using a wiki and incorporating this technology into their work with leisure readers.

It is important for librarians to stay up to date with the newest technology. Our patrons are using it and expect us to incorporate it into our services. The La Grange Public Library just finished a similar technology training with their staff here.

How do you keep up to date? Even if you aren't involved with the two groups mentioned in this post, take a look at what they are doing and try some of it on your own.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Read Alikes on NoveList and BPL Website

NoveList has posted my Read Alike article on Jonathan Lethem. I don't know about other states, but in Illinois, the state library makes NoveList Plus available to all public libraries for a very nominal fee.

The NoveList Read Alike articles are detailed and extensive, including an essay by leading readers' advisors as to exactly why readers enjoy the specific author and others they may enjoy and why. These articles are among the most popular features on NoveList. Berwyn cardholders can access NoveList at any time by clicking here.

On the Berwyn Library website, we have also begun to offer a simplified version of read alikes to our patrons who need just a quick list of authors. Click here to see our growing list of authors. RA staff members take our most popular authors and create lists of other authors who share similar appeal factors. Here is the direct link to my list of read alike authors for the genre bending Jonathan Lethem.

The entire staff has been working hard to create the lists, all as part of our larger effort to anticipate our patrons' needs on the web. However, beyond helping our patrons, Briana and I have been working on having Google pick-up our lists when readers, anywhere, search for their own read alikes.

I am happy to report that after a few months, we have been successful. Now if you search "If you like Jonathan Lethem try" or "Lee Child read alikes" in Google, the BPL read alike offering appear on the first page of results. You can try it for any of our authors.

Please feel free to use our lists to help your patrons. But remember, for more detailed information, turn to NoveList.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

BPL Display: Big is Beautiful

I love this new display we have up at the Berwyn Library featuring our extensive Large Print Collection. It is called, "Big is Beautiful." Thanks to Betty for the annotations.

We knew we had a popular Large Print collection, but recently we also found out it is among the best in the country. Our rep from one of the largest Large Print publishers in the country stopped by our library the other day. She has been traveling all over the country visiting libraries and she told us that our collection at the Berwyn Library is one of the best she has seen.

Good thing we had already planned to showcase our collection with Betty's display. Talk about timing. Stop by and check it out.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Student Booktalk: Yellowstone National Park

For her final, Cynthia compiled a list of books for a group traveling to Yellowstone this summer. Here is the link to the PDF file containing the annotated list.

Cynthia had to accommodate a group which varied in age and taste in books, but shared a common interest in Yellowstone itself. Her list contains books from many genres with a wide range in tone from serious to laugh-out-loud funny. I am sure anyone who is interested in Yellowstone National Park (or just wants to read about it) could find something of interest here.

Student Reading List: So you liked The Other Bolyen Girl, Now Try...

Along with reading maps, some of my students chose to do annotated reading lists for their final projects.

Here, Emily used the popularity of Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl to offer 5 fiction and 5 nonfiction titles for further reading. In her talk and paper, Emily explained that she was supposing that readers who like the Gregory book do not mind long books and like historical fiction about real people. She also focused on stories about strong women, with a few men thrown in for good measure. Also, I like how she added a bit of humor to the list. See the first nonfiction title, A Treasury of Royal Scandals, below. Finally, notice how she wrote the annotations themselves. They are a good example of leading the reader into a book without giving it all away.

Here is Emily's list with links to Amazon:

If you enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, then you might try one of these!

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross (1996) 432p
This is a novel about an extremely controversial character, Joan of Ingelheim, the first and only female pope! Yet Joan makes her way through school, the monastery, and up to become the pope's confidante all under the guise of being John Anglicus, a man. Along with the story of Joan, the reader will get a colorful and complex view of what it was like to live in the 9th century. This is a story of the struggles and relationships that one woman faced in order to become the most powerful figure in religion. However there is one thing that a woman can do that a man cannot, and that is something that is difficult to hide, especially from a catholic audience....

Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund (2006) 592p
Like many royal marriages, this is one that was arranged at a young age. Marie Antoinette is sent to marry the Dauphin of France. She goes there trying to embrace her new family and her new country, but comes to realize that without producing an heir to the throne, she quickly falls out of favor. When you can't produce an heir because your husband will not consummate the marriage, what is a girl to do? The young Dauphine throws herself into an abundant and over indulgent social life at court. Readers get a vivid view of court life in France during the 1700's. But what will the cost of her socializing be? What about the country that she is supposed to be ruling? Will they turn against her and the Dauphin? Will they survive?

Nefertiti by Michelle Moran (2007) 496p
Set in ancient Egypt, this compelling and thrilling story is full of colorful places and people. This book is written from the viewpoint of Nefertiti's sister Mutnodjmet. She views her sister Nefertiti’s marriage to the unstable pharaoh Amunhotep and describes how the couple embrace a new god and their desire to overthrow the state religion and indulge in all of their own power. Mutnodjmet does not share in her sister’s desire for power, but she struggles as her sister orders her to remain at court and marry for political gain. We witness the relationship between family and the pressure to do what politics force royal families to practice. At what cost will Nefertiti and Amunhotep pay to gain the power they desire? At what cost to the sister's relationship? Egypt itself?

The Agony and the Ecstasy
by Irving Stone (1961) 784p
A well known historical figure, Michelangelo is portrayed in this novel as he explores his passion for sculpting, his talent for painting, and his struggle with the manipulative powers that use him as a pawn. Stone carves a delightful and beautiful story set in the vividly described Renaissance era. The art, the places, the people, and the discovery of rich and meaningful talent are clearly portrayed in this book. Michelangelo struggles with the tasks that royalty and the church require of him, the competition of other artists, and leaving behind unfinished pieces of precious marble in order to complete the work of a lifetime, the painting of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling. What hardships did he have to face in order to survive? What loves did he leave behind? What did one suffer in order to remain in favor of the powers that be?

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Key Penman (1985) 720p
This is the story of King John of England has taken the throne, his bastard daughter Joanna, his favorite, and Joanna's love Llewelyn the Great. This is a story about a woman struggling between the love of her doting father, and her romantic great love for her husband. This novel is rich in detail of the worlds of 12th century England, France and Wales. The relationships in this story are of true family love, but also marred by the politics of the time. King John is ruthless in his ruling and his greatest opponent is none other than his daughter's husband. Llewelyn did not know that he would fall in love with his rival's bastard, yet he does. How will the love of these two great men affect Joanna's life? If in the end she needs to choose one, which one will she choose to love?

A Treasury of Royal Scandals: The Shocking True Stories of History's Wickedest, Weirdest, Most Wanton Kings, Queens, Tsars, Popes, and Emperors by Michael Farqhar (2001) 352p
True as these stories may be, they are written with the mind of a common tabloid with subject headings such as "Temper Temper", "A Son Should Love His Mother, But...", and "Until Divorce or Decapitation Do Us Part (in Six Sections)". This book is full of all the nasty, interesting, twisted things that royals and people of power have done throughout the hands of time. This is a fun read that is entertainingly informative of those figures in history that we love to love, or love to hate. Can anyone guess who that last subject heading was for?

The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn
by Eric Ives (2004) 458p
Anne Boleyn had one controversial role in history as Henry VIII's mistress, then wife. We are familiar with her person as a seductress and emotional woman. Ives details Anne's life so that the reader learns that Anne took an active part in the politics as queen, a woman passionate about the new cultural Renaissance, and an intelligent ruler. Her whole adult life she struggled to remain in favor with the king and Tudor politics, but as we know her life is cut short. How did the court really bring down Anne Boleyn? Why is it still questioned today as being truth or lie?

The Six Wives of Henry VIII
by Allison Weir (1991) 656p
There was Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn...but was Henry VIII not famous for having six wives? Weir examines the lives of all six wives that Henry had. This book is not recognized for scholarly quality and reads more interestingly like a novel with little to no dialog. Every wife Henry VIII had was in some way scandalous. There is forced annulment, executions, deaths, and of course politics. We see Henry VIII as a man that wanted to please his people, but only if he could also please himself. He was a man of passion, but a passion that was so strong that he would kill or socially destroy his wives. And why would women keep flocking to him? Was his power so great? Did he ever finally have a wife that suited him and his people?

Catherine the Great by Henri Troyat (1977) 400p
Catherine the Great of Russia was another controversial character, and is somewhat similar to Henry VIII in the manner that she had many lovers. Catherine was married to the Grand Duke Peter, who was stark raving mad having deep obsessions with toy soldiers and Prussia. After the Empress's death, Catherine shows her power and ambition by overthrowing her husband, has him murdered, and takes over ruling Russia with love and determination as though it was her home country. Yet Catherine had not a drop of Russian blood in her veins. After having an unconsummated marriage for 8 years, Catherine begins her own string of romances and lovers. Catherine uses her relations with men for political gain and becomes one of the greatest female rulers in history.

Elizabeth & Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens by Jane Dunn 480p
Illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I is a well known figure in English history. Mary Queen of Scots is also a figure that is recognized for her power and rule over Scotland. The relationship between these two women is strictly one of blood. Blood relations and the desire for the other ones blood on the scaffold. Having never even met, these two figures plot, plan, and attempt to destroy the other for the sake of their own personal safety and thrones. Of course as female do, they save face and speak not ill of each other to the public denying any plots against the life of the other. These bitter rivals share so much in common besides family ties, they struggle to rule a kingdom as single women, they fight the pressure to have a husband to produce heirs, and they both proclaim to be devout in their religion and love for their people. We know that only one of these women survived this brutal rivalry, but this book gives us the scandal and truth that lived behind the plot.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

What I'm Reading: April 2009

I'm a few days behind this month, due to having to read final papers and enter grades in a 48 hour window. But grades are in and here is my report on three of the books I read this month. Interestingly, each book is part of a series.

Early in the month I finished listening to the third book in Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series, When Will There Be Good News? What I love about Atkinson is that she assumes the reader is smart. She weaves a story that has many layers and complications, but always bring together every loose end. The pay off is always there in all of her novels, series or standalone.

In this newest book, Atkinson again has Jackson Brodie in Scotland and crossing paths with Louise, a Chief Inspector. (Check the bottom of this post for a report on the second installment in the series, One Good Turn.) However, for the first time in the series, Jackson is not the main focus. The story still turns on girl in trouble, as it always seems to for Jackson. In this case a grown woman, Jo, whose entire family had been slaughtered when she was 6, and her 16 year-old plucky nanny, Reggie. Louise and Jackson get caught up in Reggie's search for Jo, who has vanished. As usual, Jackson ends up in a lot of trouble along the way-- he almost dies in a train crash and is twice mistaken for a serial killer.

As usual, Atkinson's writing captures the true nature of people. Her characters are fully rounded, flawed, and just plain real. Also, this is the third book in the series, and the best so far. That's not just my opinion either, check the reviews. Atkinson has set up more sexual tension (without even a kiss ever being shared) between Jackson and Louise, and has set up Reggie as a character who deserves an entire book of her own.

I have explored readalikes for Atkinson (at the bottom of this post) before. To that list I want to add the Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear. Like Atkinson, Winspear is great at creating full realized characters and her British settings, although historical (between the World Wars) vividly capture the varied landscapes of Great Britain much like Atkinson does in her writing.

Like Atkinson, the genre bending, award-winning suspense series by Stieg Larsson beginning with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, pairs a reluctant male investigator with a female investigator. Here there are also decades old crimes to solve and wonderfully drawn characters. The setting, Sweden, is even darker and more foreboding than Atkinson's Scotland.

I also read the third book in another series I enjoy, but here humor was the main appeal. Lisa Lutz's Revenge of the Spellmans continues the story of Izzy Spellman, her family of PIs in San Francisco, and her misadventures in life and love. (See this post from 10/07 for more background on the series). As in the 2 previous mysteries, Izzy is surrounded by her eccentric friends and family as she ends up in compromising situations, working on cases she should probably leave alone. The plot details are not too important here but there is court ordered therapy, parked cars moving themselves, PSAT cheating accusations, unwanted house guests, and switched identities just to name a few of the issues that pop-up here (use this link to read about it). Don't try to keep it straight, just pick up any of the books in this series and know that you are in for more humor than mystery, more character than plot, tons of wit and irony, and lots of laughs.

Previously I have said that Lutz is a readalike for Janet Evanovich, but now that she is coming into her own, you may see readers looking for readalikes for Lutz herself. I would suggest Donna Andrews' funny Meg Langslow Mysteries (The first is Murder with Peacocks). Meg is a young, amateur detective, not a PI, but her family is almost as crazy. Like Lutz' Spellman books, Andrews' series has also won many awards and fans.

Finally I read Jonathan Maberry's brand new thriller Patient Zero. I posted about it in detail here, and look to the end for Maberry's own comments on my post and the book. In Patient Zero, we are introduced to Joe Ledger who is, dare I say it, just a hero. I wrote about the plot specifics in the other post, but let me tell you, this is a fast paced, pure terrorism techno-thriller, with shifting points of view (hero and villains), and a happy, resolved ending. Joe Ledger will become a force to be reckoned with as the series continues.

Maberry is better known as a horror writer, but although Patient Zero has zombies, the novel is ultimately an adventure-thriller. The zombies all get killed, and there is no lingering virus to continue the zombie threat into another book. Ledger saved the day and will move on to a new crisis in his next book. I dare say it is farwell to Maberry in the horror world. Do check-out his award-winning Pine Deep horror trilogy though. (I wrote about the first book here).

If Joe Ledger and his exploits with the Department of Military Service are appealing to you, try the Shane Schofield series by Matthew Reilly or anything by James Rollins. Maberry also gives a shout-out to David Morrell in this novel (a charcater is reading a Morrell novel). Morrell is a great readalike option here since both authors sneak a bit of more traditional horror appeal into their thrillers. Fans of Patient Zero should start with Morrell's Creepers.