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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fifty Books for Our Times from Newsweek

One of my on going diatribes is for librarians and readers to remember the one thing that libraries do better than book stores, and that is that we have the backlist. Libraries will always have, for example, copies of that book which was popular 3 years ago, but no one remembers now. Yes we have the newest books and the classics, but unlike the bookstores, we have everything in between. Oh, and by the way, our books are free to borrow.

Promoting the backlist is where libraries can help readers best. This week, Newsweek is focusing on the backlist with this list 50 books for our times. As they say in the article, who needs them to tell you that The Great Gatsby is a great book?

This really is a great list, with helpful annotations. They cover a wide range of genres and have fiction and nonfiction. There should be something here for just about any reader.

Thanks to Early Word for singling out this great list.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What I'm Reading: The Last Dickens

I thought it was just me, but here in America we seem to be on a Dickens kick. I just finished Matthew Pearl's latest, The Last Dickens and I am in the process of listening to the 24 discs that make up Dan Simmons, Drood.

There have also been the PBS Masterpiece reworkings of Dickens' Tales. I also looked back at my blog over the past 12 months and saw that Dickens had come up frequently. All I have to say is that somebody has been doing some great subliminal Dickens' marketing.

But on to the book at hand, Matthew Pearl's The Last Dickens. I have read all three of Pearl's books. His newest has a more convincing mystery than Poe Shadow and is less bloody than The Dante Club. But like both of his previous books, The Last Dickens is chocked full of historical facts and people. In fact, at the end of the book, Pearl lists which characters were based on real people and which were made up for the narrative's sake.

Here is the basic plot. James Osgood, the American publisher for Dickens' work is waiting for the 6th installment of Dickens' latest novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, to arrive. He sends his right hand man to the dock to await the manuscript, but the young man mysteriously dies on the way back to the office. Was it murder? A nefarious foreigner is also introduced as chasing down the manuscript.

A few days later, Dickens dies; thus leaving his last work unfinished forever. Osgood and and a young divorcee from his office, Rebecca, travel to England to try and unravel the mystery surrounding Dickens' death and his mysterious last novel. Like any amateur detective novel, Osgood is in for more than he bargained and mortal danger, high speed horse and carriage races, and burning buildings await him on his journey. Their adventures and inquiries make up one of the two main story lines.

The second storyline takes place 3 years previously, during Dickens' last American tour. James Osgood was a part of this tour, but it is Dickens' young bodyguard Tom Branagan, through whom we see the story here. The two story lines do merge in the "present" of the book in a satisfactory way.

The Last Dickens was published in 2009, but is written as if it were a novel of 1870. So to those reviewers who complain that the villain's need to explain himself at the end is a bit much, I say that's how it would have been in a crime novel in 1870. That is why I enjoyed this novel. It was very much about the time while also mimicking it. It is even written in 6 "installments," just as the real publication of The Mystery of Edwn Drood was. And much like installment published novels of the era, Pearl ends each installment with a cliff hanger, but begins the next with the other storyline, alternating until the two collide and the novel moves briskly toward a conclusion. Again, just like most novels in the late 19th Century. As a reader who appreciates the history of leisure reading, I loved this aspect.

Without giving the ending away, I do have to mention some of the complaints about it. This is a work of historical fiction. Historical fiction needs to stay true to history. History stands than The Mystery of Edwin Drood went unfinished. This book needed to end with an unfinished book. However, The Last Dickens is also a mystery. And here our mystery involves what the finished book would contain. So, Pearl needed to have Osgood find the manuscript to have a satisfactory resolution to the mystery, but then he still needed to have it lost somehow, preserving the true historical outcome.

Personally, As I was getting closer to the end and Osgood had discovered that the last 6 installments were probably out there, I was getting worried that he would find them. Once he did locat ethe pages, I appreciated that rather exaggerated way in whcih they were lost forever. But really, I think it is a matter of taste; you will either like the ending or think it is a cop out.

Readalikes: There are so many options here. First and foremost is the other current book about Dickens' and his last work, Drood by Dan Simmons. Also, many are going to want to read The Mystery of Edwin Drood for themselves. Here is a link to all of Dickens work while we are at it.

Some critics have called The Mystery of Edwin Drood the first modern crime novel. Some other books that compete for that title are Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and The Dupin Tales by Poe (this edition has an introduction by Mattew Pearl).

Other similar titles would be the novels Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott and The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti, both of which I have read and written about here and here.

Similar nonfiction readalikes would be The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester, The Lost City of Z : a Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann, and The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Book Discussion Survey Results

In this post I urged you to take the Reading Group Guides Survey for book club participants. They just posted the results here.

7,700 people took the survey. One of the findings that most interested me was the fact that over 70% of people get their discussion book suggestions from friends. This is a void into which your public library can step.

Whether or not you library hosts a book discussion group, the staff should be able to help you find appropriate titles for your group.

Here at BPL we have noted this finding, and we are going to try to market our services better to the groups that meet outside of the library. People don't know what we can do for them unless we tell them.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Now It's Your Turn to Vote on the Best Beach Reads

Enough of everyone else telling you what the best beach read is. NPR is going to let you tell them. Click here for details and vote for your favorite beach read.

They asked, I say we tell them!

Click here for all of my summer reading posts.

Over 100 Summer Reading Lists!

Someone with way more time than me has been keeping a list of every summer reading list he has come across. Click over to his delicious bookmarks to check them out for yourself.

Again, you can also click here to see everything I have posted about summer reading.

Library Lovers Unite to Save Ohio Libraries!

As reported on the 23rd in Early Word, Ohio Libraries (which unlike most public libraries in the country, get the majority of their budget from the state) are facing a 50% cut in funding.

A blog called, Save Ohio Libraries has been set up. Go on over there to see how you can help.

Ohio, along with my home state of Illinois, is known for having some of the best public libraries and public library services in the country. In these tough economic times, the library is one place where funding needs to at least stay the same.

Click here to see my past posts about how the economy is effecting library service.

Please go to their blog and help as best you can. Just adding them as a friend on Facebook will help. No matter where you live, if you believe in the value of public library service, they need your help. Spread the word.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Student Annotations: Special Reading Interests

Today's class is a catch all that we call Special Reading Interests. These are books that fall into any genre but fit the following reading interests: African-American, Latino/a, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, or Inspirational.

These are the four most common special interest in the area around Dominican University, as a result, these are the ones we focus on. If you were near a reservation, I could see why you might focus on Native American Literature, or if you were in CA, you might need to add Asian-American Literature to the list.

The key to this day is to show the students that you sometimes need to think about issues beyond just genre when giving reading suggestions. And, a great way to do this is by picking the most popular reading interests in your area.

Also, we use this class to stress how important it is to not think of, for example, "African-American" books as a genre. This is a big mistake. Within each of these special reading interests, there is a book in every genre, with appeal factors specific to that genre. For example, just because a reader likes "gay authors" does not mean they will like the literary fiction of David Leavitt the same as the mysteries of Mark Zubro. You need to further understand within the confines of "gay authors" what type of book that reader wants.

Enough explaining, here is the link to Joyce's students' annotations for today.

Monday, June 22, 2009

More Summer Reading Suggestions

My friends over at the Readers' Advisor Online Blog have a few summer reading suggestions.

Here is a list by

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lit Lists, Lots and Lots of Lit Lists

Newly added to my list of interesting RA sites is Lit Lists. Lit Lists is part of a network of blogs headed by Campaign for the American Reader, whose main goal is to get more people reading more books.

But back to Lit Lists specifically. Readers are always looking for suggested lists of books. Visit this blog regularly and you will never be out of lists.

My most recent favorite is "Ten of the Best Pieces of Fruit in Literature." Some people really like fruit.

But seriously, there are many less esoteric lists available, with a new one posted daily.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What I'm Reading: Ghost Radio

Recently I listened to Ghost Radio, the debut novel by Leopoldo Gout. This 2008 horror title worked very well on audio because it centers around the host of an occult call-in radio show called Ghost Radio. However, I should note that Gout, who is also a graphic novelist, included intricate drawings at the start of each chapter in the printed book that are also worth checking out. Gout has also set up the Ghost Radio website to continue the conversations begun the fictional radio show.

The plot revolves around a young man named Joaquin. When he is a teenager, on a trip from his home in Mexico to see his Grandma in Houston, TX, Joaquin and his parents are in a car accident. In another car, Gabriel and his parents are also involved in the accident. Only the 2 boys survive. This event unites them in a life-long friendship. Both boys also like the Dead Kennedys' song, "Kill the Poor," which later in the book becomes important.

The story alternates between the present, where a grown Joaquin hosts a popular Mexican call-in radio show called Ghost Radio, in which callers talk about their occult experiences, and the past, where Joaquin's and Gabriel's life from accident to the present is explained. In the present, however, Gabriel is dead and Joaquin hosts the radio show with his girlfriend Aolondra.

The novel alternates between these three characters' points of view, but the focus is very clearly on Joaquin. Joaquin moves the Ghost Radio show to America, but after relocating, Joaquin's reality quickly begins to unravel, and he goes on a quest to discover the truth. Along the way, Joaquin meets up with a Toltec Priest and finds archives of his own radio show from 20 years before he began working on it.

There is also a sinister, unnamed force which is stalking Joaquin and speaks directly to the reader off and on throughout the novel. And, as we find out, this is not surprising because the dead can hear all of the living's radio shows. This force is using Ghost Radio to move back into the world of the living.

The novel is in the 300 page range, but has 55 short chapters, so it moves briskly. The narrative is also interspersed with the stories from some of the show's callers recounting their own terrifying experiences with ghosts and other supernatural forces. I loved these asides. They added to the tension and unease which Gout builds relentlessly. Also, since I was listening to this novel, I felt like I was listening to the real radio show.

The ending is a perfect horror ending. The story is resolved, Joaquin completes his quest, but the supernatural force is left completely open ended. In fact, the reader is left questioning what the truth is and what really happened to Joaquin. The implication is that the entire book was really just the story of one caller into Ghost Radio. Gout left me completely unsettled, and I loved it.

For another reader's take on Ghost Radio, there is a review on the Fantasy Book Critic Blog.

Readalikes: I really liked the creepy uneasiness that permeated Ghost Radio. The book constantly has you questioning what is real and what is supernatural. The lines of reality are blurred and you believe everything (even the obviously supernatural events) is really happening. In this way, Gout's book reminded me of Stephen King's work. Like King, Gout is a storyteller first and foremost. Joe Hill's collection of stories 20th Century Ghosts is also a great readalike for Ghost Radio. I wrote about reading this collection here (middle of the post) and suggest a few more readalikes.

For the rabid Neil Gaiman fans out there (I am one of you), Gout should be a reliable new author for you to enjoy.

Bentley Little also writes novels in which the real world and the supernatural collide in an unsettlingly realistic way. Try The House.

While I was reading Ghost Radio, I also thought it was similar to the work of Dan Simmons, specifically, The Terror, and then there was a memorable scene in which a caller recounts a terrifying tale of his ship being crushed in the arctic ice. This solidified my feeling. But please note, The Terror is a much longer book, with a more measured paced since it is both historical fiction about the doomed Franklin Arctic expedition, and a horror book with supernatural elements.

For those interested in more about The Dead Kennedys, producing radio shows, or the Toltecs of Mexico, use the embedded links for more information.

And finally, please remember the wonderful horror radio programs of the past. Many have now been restored and compiled on CD. At the Berwyn Library we have this wonderful collection, Horror in the Air, available for checkout. Click here for more detail. You can take this 8 disc collection home and continue listening to Ghost Radio.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

BPL Book Discussion: North River

This week at BPL we discussed Pete Hamill's North River. I also wrote about reading this novel in June of 2008 here.

Pete Hamill is an accomplished, if not quite bestselling author, who tends to write literary fiction that captures the people and character of New York City.

North River follows Dr. Delaney, the local doctor in Greenwich Village during the Depression. He is an injured WWII vet, serving the poor and dealing with the disappearance of his wife. Delaney has been limping through life, not fully living, until his only child, Grace, abandons her almost 3 year old son Carlito on his doorstep. Delaney also saves the life of his WWII buddy, turned Italian mobster friend and gets himself mixed up in a mob war. Into this chaos enters Rose, an illegal, Sicilian immigrant, who is hired to care for Carlito and keep house. Her solidity and love of life, help to change the Delaney home forever.

This is a slice of life story about the growth of Delaney. As a Jersey girl myself, I loved the 1930s, NYC setting, and found the happy (but let me say, very open) ending refreshing in a work of literary fiction. Don't get me wrong, there are some dark issues like mafia, suicide, prostitution, poverty, and domestic abuse, which are all explored in this novel. However, overall, Delaney's story is life affirming.

And it is with this point that our discussion began. The entire group loved how this book felt "old fashioned," not just because it was about a simpler time, but also because it was a novel with substance that was "easy to read," "fluid," and "straightforward." (The quoted terms were all used by the participants to describe this novel.)
We also talked a great deal about Hamill's use of words. People read out passages with descriptions they enjoyed. We talked about how well Hamill captured Carlito's 3 year-old voice. He is young and did not know English. Delaney's observations of how he learns to build sentences (noting his first uses of adjectives and verbs) as well as Hamill's dialog for the boy, were striking to us. Hamill is known for his ability to capture people and describe places evoking all five of the readers senses, and our group noticed this right away.

Despite the fact that this novel was written by a man, the participants were quite impressed with how Hamill described Rose. One participant thought he did such a great job describing the food and cooking smells that she had to double check the author's name to make sure it wasn't a female writer. This led another group member to comment on Delaney's dreams. She also felt that including dreams was a bit more feminine. We were in agreement that this novel would be a great choice for groups that tend to only read women writers but want to try a male author.

North River also centers around the grandfather/grandson relationship which my group enjoyed, although here they thought Hamill's maleness shone through. As mothers and grandmothers, the participants felt that Carlito adjusted a little too fast for their taste. Others were appalled that Delaney agrees to give custody of Carilto back to his daughter, the mother who abandoned him, so easily. And a few others though Delaney himself made the transistion from being "numb" to having a full household a bit too smoothly. However, these were all minor complaints. No one thought that any of this took away from the novel as a whole.

There is some moral ambiguity in this novel too. Delaney tends to injured people in the neighborhood who are victims of domestic abuse and severely injured Chinese prostitutes, but never reports any crimes to the police. The largest issue, however, is Delaney's involvement in a mob war. First he saves his war buddy, who is one of the local mob bosses, after a botched assassination attempt. For his work, Delaney accepts $5,000 in cash from the mobster. He then is targeted by the rival mob boss, Frankie Botts. After caring for Frankie's sick mother, Delaney is no longer in mortal danger. Yet, when his war buddy returns and makes it clear that Frankie will be dead shortly, Delaney does not alert the police or Botts. He questions himself when a mob war breaks out all over the city. He could have stopped it, but chose not to.

We discussed these moral ambiguities. However, we agreed that Hamill built up Delaney as the caregiver to the community; the only doctor they had. He needed to take care of these forgotten people, and since no one could really pay him, taking the $5,000 from a mobster was a no-brainer. He had a kid to take care of now. And, for the same reasons he could not get involved in their mob issues.

The only other mild criticism our group had was that the ending was a bit too neat. Things seemed to wrap-up perfectly. Although, again, the characters and setting we so richly described that we all were okay with the happy, if still slightly open, ending.

One last amusing anecdote from our group. I used these Reading Group Guides discussion questions to lead the group. Question 12 states:

One presence in this novel has in fact vanished: the big city political machine. Such machines were often corrupt but did play important roles in urban life --- for example, in handling the arrival of immigrants in large numbers. Are there any lessons here for today’s world?
Okay, note to the writers of these questions....we live in Chicagoland and the big political machine is still HUGE here. Those people need to see Mayor Daley in action some time. I mean the guy wanted to close an airport, and when no one would let him, he brought in some bulldozers in the middle of the night to dig up the runway. And he will get us the Olympics, I am sure of it. Without his political machine, we would have no chance.

During the discussion, participants mentioned that this book reminded them of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith and The Godfather by Mario Puzo.
Those who liked North River for its historical description of local politics may also want to try William Kennedy's novels of Albany politics. Ironweed is the best of the lot and takes place in a similar time frame.

Richard Russo also writes about the evolution of mature men very well. Try Straight Man which follows a middle aged college professor who is humorously stumbling through absurd situations. Although it has more blatant humor than North River, at its heart, Straight Man is about its main character's growth.

The "Five Points" history of NYC plays a big role in creating the mood and setting for this novel. Those who want to know more about the history of that era should either check out the book The Gangs of New York : an Informal History of the Underworld by Herbert Ashbury or view the Martin Scorsese film The Gangs of New York (2002).

For those who liked the New York City setting I would suggest the novel, Empire Rising by Thomas Kelly or these books about the history of NYC.

The next meeting of our group is on Monday, July 20th at 2pm when we will be discussing Joan Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking.

What is a Beach Read?

This time of year publishers, libraries, bookstores, and the media love to talk about "beach reads," but what does that term really mean?

Erin Collazo Miller
, the moderator of About.Com's Guide to Bestsellers does an admirable job of trying to define the term. Here is an excerpt:
A good beach book is engaging and a quick enough read that you can finish most of it on the beach before your sunscreen wears off. A beach book isn't necessarily literature, but a beach book will entertain.
After this definition, Ms. Miller goes on to provide lists of beach reads based on appeal. You can use the previous link to access all of the lists, but my favorite are:

Beach Books With Likable Detectives
Modern Romance on the Beach
Reclaiming Your Childhood in the Sand
Smart Beach Reads
Beach Books to Make You Cry

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Oprah Book Club Summer Reading Picks

I know I already posted about summer reading here, but the people at Oprah's Book Club have posted a list of 20 Beach Reads. Each book gets its own page write-up.

Another list can't hurt.

Happy Reading!

The Horror Writers Association and Stoker Awards Announced

Well it is official. The Horror Writers Association has accepted my application for membership as a professional writer in their group.

Normally they only accept fiction writers, but they deemed my professional writing as a significant contribution to the genre, and they allowed me in. Yippee!

This is a great boost to my work revising my book for the American Library Association, The Horror Readers' Advisory (2004). I will be completely revamping this book for a deadline of November 2010. With my Horror Writers Association membership, I will now be able to pick the brains of the best horror writers in the world through their member discussion boards and resources.

And once I get my feet wet, I plan to start volunteering within the organization. I hope to help them with their blog, Dark Whispers. But really, I will help any way I can.

Also, this weekend, the HWA gave out their annual Stoker Awards. These are the most prestigious awards in the world of Horror. Congrats to all of the winners.

For librarians, I normally recommend you purchase the major winners for your library. Even if you do not know much about Horror, these are always a good bet.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Student Annotations: Genres of the Emotions

Right now over at Dominican University, Joyce will be teaching the class about genres in which the most important appeal factor is how the books make the reader feel. So today it is Romance, Gentle Reads, Women's Lives and Relationships and Horror.

Horror? Yes, Horror. Horror may feel like the winner of the "which one of these doesn't belong" prize here, but think about it, it makes sense. Horror is all about how it makes you feel. In this case it is terror, not the heart-warming feeling of all the is good and nice in the world like a Gentle Read.

It is simply a different emotion, but it is still all about how the books make you feel. People read Horror to be scared, just as others read Romance to participate in the love story of the main characters.

Go on over to the Word Press Blog to see what the students think.

25 Ways for Libraries to Support Book Clubs

Today is book discussion day at BPL and as part of my preparation for this afternoon's discussion, I was checking out Booklist Online's blog about book groups, Book Group Buzz.

Earlier in the month, Neil Hollands attended Book Expo in NYC and came back with lots of new ideas for book groups. Check out her post on 25 ways your library can support book clubs. I especially like her idea of scheduling time to meet with other area book club leaders to see how you (the library) can support their endeavors. Also, sharing ideas with these other leaders can only help you make your library sponsored groups better.

Look for my post about our discussion of North River by Pete Hamill later in the week.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What I'm Reading: Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery If you are looking for a unique and original cozy mystery, I have a suggestion for you. It is 1950 in rural England and Flavia de Luce is an 11 year-old aspiring chemist with an interest in poisons. She lives in a country mansion, with her father and two older sisters. Early one morning, Flavia finds a man laying in their garden, taking his last breaths. The problem... late the evening before, Flavia had overheard her father arguing with this very same man. So begins an investigation into this strangers death; an investigation which involves rare stamps, a boys' school in the 1920s, and lots of intrigue and danger for young Flavia. But it is still a cozy, so not too much danger.

This is the set up for Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Canadian author, Alan Bradley which won the 2007 Dagger Award for best first crime novel. What is most endearing and entertaining about this novel is Flavia's voice. Bradley, was 11 himself in 1950 (so yes, he is a first time novelist in his 70s), and he understands the time period. For example, Flavia cannot just hop on the Internet to look things up; instead, she spends a lot of time in the musty stacks at her local public library. The book obviously won my heart right there.

Flavia is just old enough to look out for herself but her adventurous spirit has not yet been squashed by adulthood. She is still naive enough and her 1950s rural England world is still safe and small enough, that she takes the risks that keep the plot interesting. It would be hard to believe that an 11 year-old today could just slip away for the entire day, ride her bike all around the county, and have no one asking after her. But in the setting Bradley chose, it all seems fine.

The mystery was fresh and the 1950s setting was well recreated. Like most cozy mysteries I was interested in the characters more than the mystery itself. This is important to point out about cozy mysteries. If you really want a well defined mystery with lots of twists, a cozy is not for you. But if you want eccentric characters, an interesting setting, and a mystery without any explicit violence (the death happen on-stage, but is completely, and confoundingly, bloodless), this is the book for you.

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the first in a projected trilogy. I would read the next one just to enter Flavia's world and narration again. Bradley made me care about Flavia, her family, and her friends enough that I would love to spend a few days with them again.

Other cozy mysteries with intriguing and original narrators that may appeal to readers of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie are the mysteries of Bradley's fellow Canadian Louise Penny. Her Three Pines mystery series is set in a small Quebec village. The first is Still Life.

If you liked the original voice and unique setting in Bradley's novel as well as the eccentric characters, you should also try Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. When I was reading Flavia's story I realized that I hadn't been so taken in by both a narrator and a setting since I had first read Precious Ramotswe's tale of solving problems in Botswana.

For more cozy reading suggestions, visit the Cozy Library.

A few reviews also mentioned how Flavia is reminiscent of Harriet the Spy.

Those who liked this book but want a little more sarcasm (this book has none), I would suggest Confessions of a Teen Sleuth by Chelsea Cain, which is the fictional biography of Nancy Drew.

In terms of nonfiction, readers may want to try these books about stamp collecting, poisons/chemistry, and rural England in the 1950s.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Student Annotations: Genres of the Intellect

Joyce's students meet twice a week in the summer, so we all get twice the annotations to read this week (this is also why I take the summer off).

Today they posted their annotations for Science Fiction, Literary Fiction, Psychological Suspense, and Mystery. We teach these genres together because they all deal with puzzles that the reader must work out. For more details, I again point you toward the brand new edition of Joyce's book, The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (ALA 2009).

If this appeals to you, go on over to the Word Press blog to see what the students had to say. Maybe you'll find your next good read.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

BPL Displays: Summer Reading 2009

As I mentioned here, the theme of our summer reading program at the Berwyn Public Library is "Master the Art of Reading."

In the awesome display pictured here (created by a team of Berwyn staff members as conceived by Kathy) we are currently highlighting books that feature art and/or artists. By artists, we mean anyone in the arts, including but not limited to painters, writers, dancers, actors, etc... Click here for 2 annotated lists of suggestions, one for general fiction and one for mysteries.

In July this display will change, stay tuned for details.

Our other display will be up all summer and features books that are classics or are "destined to be classics. Use the embedded link to see our annotated lists of suggested titles.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Student Annotations: Audiobooks, Bestsellers, and Graphic Novels

Monday's GSLIS 763 class led by Joyce was on Graphic Novels, Best Sellers and Audiobooks. Go on over to the student's annotation blog to see what they have to say about what they are reading.

Master the Art of Reading: Summer Reading 2009

Like me, I bet you feel like you are seeing summer reading lists every where you go these days. Below, I have compiled lists from some major publications, but first I would like to remind everyone that your local public library has been running a summer reading program for years. We are the originators of the summer reading phenomenon.

Here at the Berwyn Public Library you can see we are calling our summer reading program: Master the Art of Reading. Along with winning prizes simply for reading, we are also offering a creative journal writing class. You do not have to be a Berwyn resident to join our reading program, so stop on by. Click here for details.

Tomorrow, I will be posting our display lists to give you some summer reading suggestions, but here are some of my favorite lists I found other places...
One of my favorite things about these lists is that, taken together, they mix new and old titles. Don't let the media make you think that you can only read the new "hot" books this summer. There are many great titles from the backlist, books you always meant to get to, but never did, and they are all available through your local public library.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What I'm Reading: Breathers: A Zombie's Lament

Breathers: A Zombie's LamentI need to start with a exclamation...I LOVED THIS BOOK!

Okay, now that I got that out of the way, I will say something that actually helps you decide if this book is for you. Breathers by S.G. Browne is marketed as a romantic zombie comedy, or rom-zom-com for short. This is an effective description. The book opens in the middle of the story. Andy is lying on the floor of his kitchen staring at a refrigerator packed with the chopped up parts of his parents. If you are fine with the humor in this scene, keep reading. If this sounds repulsive to you, stop reading this review right now and do not pick up this book. Did I mention it is hilarious? It is, I promise.

Andy then goes back to recount how he got to the point where he is getting ready to serve his parents at a dinner party. He tells the story of how he became a zombie and evolved from trying to fit in among the living who resent, ignore, and pelt him with food, to fighting for equal rights for peaceful zombies, to finally becoming a human flesh eating (but still lovable), zombie. Along the way Andy find love with Rita, a fellow zombie. But really, he finds himself.

Breathers is surprisingly touching, but is also true enough to the zombie fiction traditions that even hard-core horror fans will like it.

Breathers is currently in development for a 2011 movie release. I think it has the potential to be better than Shaun of the Dead, the current humorous zombie movie gold standard.

Breathers reminded me of so many other books, and they were not all about zombies. In fact, this book is most like the Dexter books by Jeff Lindsay . Beginning with Darkly Dreaming Dexter, this series has a similar tone: dark comedy about death and murder. Dexter is a serial killer who kills serial killers. Like Andy, he is likable despite his misanthropy and grisly obsessions. Interestingly, both Breathers and Darkly Dreaming Dexter also spend a great number of pages discussing the cutting up of human bodies into parts. Most importantly, the conversational narration style used by Andy and Dexter is strikingly similar. Both protagonists talk directly to the reader, in a conspiratorial tone. This softens the horrific details and makes each character sympathetic. Click here to read about when I read Darkly Dreaming Dexter.

Other similar fiction titles would include the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris (particularly because it deals with Vampire rights issues, much as Andy works to champion Zombie rights in Breathers) and Hero by Perry Moore, which I reported on in detail here (scroll to the end of the post).

For those who crave more zombies, click here for an Amazon generated list of zombie books. This will also cross reference you to movies.

In terms of nonfiction, there is the pseudo-nonfiction title The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks and Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead by Jonathan Maberry. Browne also makes many references to the mother of all zombie stories, the film, Night of the Living Dead. Finally those who want to know more about what really happens to people after they die, you should try the entertaining, but totally fact based Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. But, warning, there are no zombies here, only the true (and yet still disconcerting) story of dead bodies.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

If You Like Marjane Satrapi Try...

I just turned in the first draft of my readalike article on graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi for the NoveList database. You should look for it to be up in the next 2 weeks or so. Until then, look at this list of readalike authors for Satrapi which I compiled for the BPL website.

As well as my readalike article talking about the appeal of Marjane Satrapi with a list of 5 authors who are similar and why, NoveList also has a book discussion guide on Satrapi's Persepolis ready to go up any day. It is the database's first book discussion guide for a graphic novel!

I have been trying to get my group to read Persepolis for years, maybe now they will be more willing. In the meantime, these 2 new additions to the wonderful offerings already available on NoveList (accessible from most public library websites or in person) should help a lot of readers.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What I'm Reading: The Book of Fate

I used to write once a month about the books I was reading, but I did not feel like I was giving each book the amount of time it deserved, and I never wrote about more than 4 books a month. I am hoping by writing about 1 (or two if they are paired well) at a time will be better for everyone, more books talked about, more frequently. Also, I might remember more about each title if I do them right away.

So, I begin with Brad Meltzer's political thriller, The Book of Fate. I listened to Scott Brick's reading of this title for the upcoming Adult Reading Round Table audio book bibliography. I picked this title because I volunteered to listen to a book read by Scott Brick, one of the leading audio book readers today, and thrillers are his specialty. Meltzer is also a very popular author. Sharon, at the BPL RA desk has read a few of his titles; check her shelfari shelf to see what she thought.

The story begins narrated by a young man, Wes, who is the personal assistant to a fictional president, Leland Manning (who is supossed to come after the second George Bush). Wes is injured at the Daytona Speedway when there is an assassination attempt on the President. One of the President's cabinet members, Ron Boyle, is killed.

Flash forward 8 years later and Wes still works for Manning, but it is in the post-Presidency years. While giving a speech overseas, Wes sees the supposedly dead Boyle and so begins a fast paced story full of many twists that leads Wes, his friends, and a newspaper reporter, on a whirlwind journey to uncover a deadly conspiracy that goes straight to the top reaches of our government.

The appeal of The Book of Fate lies in its unrelenting and its numerous twists and turns. Wes is an extremely sympathetic character who grows from a boy into a man throughout the course of the novel. We can also palpably feel Wes's stress and are thus compelled to continue following his quest for justice. In true Meltzer fashion, the reader never knows which characters, beyond Wes, to trust. Also, you get the villain's point of view. There are some grisly scenes here, and innocent people do die, but the violence is not gratuitous. The Book of Fate also has plenty of comic relief (especially in the form of Wes's roommate/lawyer), a bit of romance, and a resolved, happy ending.

In terms of readalikes for The Book of Fate, another master at the political thriller is David Baldacci. Those who enjoyed the Presidential angle could start with Absolute Power and those who were more drawn to the conspiracy theory parts of the book should try the Camel Club series. Stephen Frey and Joseph Finder are also good readalikes for Meltzer.

I also wanted to identify a writer who captured the essence of Meltzer without the political aspects. I think Harlan Coben with his twist filled suspense novels about ordinary people put under great stress is a good match for fans who liked the twists upon twists upon twists, and the sympathetic main character in The Book of Fate. Try Tell No One.

After finishing The Book of Fate readers may also be interested in nonfiction titles about the Freemasons (which plays a very small part in this story) or about life in the White House.

I do want to mention a bit about Brick's narration, since his style is so unique. As AudioFile Magazine has noted:
In all his work, Brick almost sings in a youthful, manly voice brimming with personality and gusto.” He seems to have an intuitive ear for the authorial voice, an uncanny ability to portray the personality of the author as well as those of his characters. As Musselman says, “He lets the author’s words do the work." Scott himself characterizes his approach more modestly: “I’m not one of these guys who do a lot of voices. Accents, yes; characterizations, yes; but I can count with one hand the times I’ve done a serious, heavy, over-the-top character voice--probably because, when I hear those tapes later, it makes me cringe. For some people, that style works brilliantly, and I love hearing it. For me, not so much.”
Finally those who particularly like Scott Brick's reading style, here is a link to his complete audiography.

Student Annotations: Adrenaline Genres

Joyce's GSLIS 763 students are busy reading fast paced novels. Click on over to their Word Press blog for annotations on thrillers, suspense, romantic suspense, and adventure novels.