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, February 27, 2010

Black History Month For All

I know black history month ends tomorrow, but for those of you who meant to read a book by an African American author, here is a site that you can use all year long. Called, White Readers Meet Black Authors, this blog is:
"Your official invitation into the African American section of the bookstore! A sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted plea for EVERYBODY to give a black writer a try"
This site is chocked full of useful information. But more importantly, I love the tone of the blog. Many white readers are hesitant to ask for help finding African American authors, but here is a resource asking you to ask. I love it!  My only quibble is that she should add "library" after bookstore.

Don't forget the BPL's annotated lists for Black History Month which I posted about here.

Thanks to Rebecca over at Shelfrenewal for pointing out this site.

And finally, a special note to my students...use this site if you are still trying to find a multicultural title for class.

Friday, February 26, 2010

BPL Book Discussion: An Unsuitable Job for A Woman

This week the Monday afternoon book discussion group at the Berwyn Public Library met to discuss, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James. It is important to note before we begin that this title is not in the Dalgliesh series, rather it is part of a two book series featuring Cordelia Gray, a young PI. And, as you saw in this post, I created a list of questions that we used loosely to frame the discussion.

Many of the women in our group had read P.D. James before, but only her more popular and plentiful Adam Dagliesh novels, so they were unsure about how they would feel about Cordelia. One participant even went so far as to say she did not like Cordelia at the start becuase of how detached she seemed upon finidng her partner and mentor, dead (of a suicide) in this novel's opening pages.  However, James' writing won her over almost immediately.

Others agreed that what was most striking about this novel was not so much the plot, but rather the writing, language, style, and objective and meticulous details. James' level of detail was commented upon by many in the group. Another participant commented on how too much detail usually bothers her, but not here. Still another member of the club said that all of those descriprions put her right at Cordelia's side; she was right there with Cordelia, so much so that when Cordelia was tossed into a well, this woman felt the breath come out of her own body.

All of this realistic detail made the novel compelling and made the mystery part of the book interesting. The participants loved how the book was loaded with clues; how it was so consciously constructed, but not slowed down by this. We talked about all of the little things from throughout the book that in hindsight, were clues. We had a great time doing this.

I asked the group if they had figured out who dunnit? Although many were not surprised by the identity murderer toward the end, they did love how it was unraveled. However, many were surprised by Cordelia's actions in not properly revealing the murder to the authorities. I don't want to give away the ending, but the who dunnit is not as shocking as how Cordelia handles that information.

We also appreciated the final confrontation between Cordelia and Dagliesh. One participant was glad that Cordelia "told him off." And, as mystery fans, the participants liked the contradiction it set up between the PI and the Police Detective.

We talked about James' social commentary about young people, the British educational system, the family. One person went so far as to say that there wasn't a place for a normal family in this book. A comment that made everyone laugh.

We also spent a lot of time discussing the timeless feel of this novel and how the characters are the driving force here. They liked that many of the characters were fleshed out and that they kept overlapping and meeting out of context.

The one word the group chose to describe this book is "surprising;" surprising both because there was so much in such a small book and because of the ending (both the solving of the mystery and Cordelia's handling of it).

One final point I want to make about the book, although Cordelia appears to be getting another assignment as this novel ends, there is still some question as to whether or not she can make it on her own as a woman PI. I tried to get my ladies to discuss this, being that there is only 1 more book in the Cordelia Gray series. They refused to think she would fail, and would not discuss it. They loved her too much to bear to think of her not succeeding. However, if your group does this book, I think it is worth considering. What is James saying about Cordeila's professional success by only giving her 2 cases?

Overall, this was a wonderful discussion  both about the novel and what makes for a good mystery. This really was the first time we all loved a book and still had a great discussion. Usually we need dissent to get things going; however, I think James is such a compelling and accomplished writer that we had plenty to dissect as we discussed.

Readalikes: Cordelia Gray is so similar to Jaqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs that it would be a crime not to mention the similarities.  Other mystery writers who came up during the discussion as similar were Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers.

The NoveList readalike article for P. D. James also lists Ruth Rendell's Chief Inspector Wexford series, Elizabeth George's Inspector Thomas Lynley series, and Deborah Crombie.

As if these are not enough, personally, I would also suggest fans of James' Cordelia Gray try mystery writers Louise Penny and Peter Robinson.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Big Read Gets Big Attention

As I mentioned in this post, my local library works with 9 other libraries to present "The Big Read" each year.  This year's title, The Help is drawing a lot of interest, and not just locally.

My colleague from the Adult Reading Round Table, Ted Balcolm, wrote about us on Book Group Buzz. Click on over to see what he has to say.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Student Annotations: Adrenaline

Rush on over to the class Word Press blog to read about the fast-paced Adventure, Thriller, Suspense and Romantic Suspense read by our students this week.

What I'm Reading: The Bad Book Affair and Dog On It

Recently I finished two good examples of the cozy mystery. The Bad Book Affair by Ian Sansom is the 4th book in his bookmobile mystery series which I have read and discussed previously here.  In this installment our outcast protagonist (a Jewish, Londoner, librarian, running a Northern Ireland bookmobile) is approaching his 30th birthday, getting over being dumped by his long-time girlfriend, and embroiled in the mystery surrounding a missing teenager to whom he recently check-out a banned book. If you like this series, you will enjoy Israel's growth in this installment. Again, click here for more details about the series and for tons of readalikes.

In Dog On It by Spencer Quinn, we are introduced to a new voice in the cozy PI world, Chet, a former police dog and partner to Bernie, a Southern CA, PI. You heard me right, this book is narrated by the dog. Before you start drawing conclusions about this book, I want to point out that it received starred reviews everywhere.  Take this one from Booklist for example:
An exciting new mystery series debuts with this first Chet and Bernie novel. Chet the Jet is a dog who failed K-9 school (cats in the open country played a role in his demise), but now he is a dedicated PI and works with Bernie, owner of the Little Detective Agency. The story is told entirely from Chet’s point of view, which will delight dog-loving mystery readers, but the book is also an excellent PI tale, dogs aside, as Chet and Bernie investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl whose developer dad may be up to no good. Chet may not understand things like maps (he doesn’t need them, as he can sniff his way home), but he is a great sleuth who finds the girl and solves the case. The always upbeat Chet may well be one of the most appealing new detectives on the block, but conscientious, kind, and environmentally aware Bernie is a close runner-up. Excellent and fully fleshed primary and secondary characters, a consistently doggy view of the world, and a sprightly pace  make this a not-to-be-missed debut. Essential for all mystery collections and for dog lovers everywhere.
Dog On It was also a finalist in the mystery category of the RUSSA Reading List Awards. FYI, Spencer Quinn is the pseudonym the accomplished psychological suspense author Peter Abrahams uses to write these mysteries.

As you can probably tell, these novels are much more about the characters and the background details than about the mysteries. Their appeal lies in the reader's interests. For example, I am Jewish, living in a place with very few Jews and am a librarian, all like Israel. I also love to read books about Ireland and books about books, so the Bookmobile Mysteries are a perfect fit for me when I am craving a fast read. The mystery plays no part in my decision to read these books, as it shouldn't. The actual mystery is not very difficult to figure out, but rather, it is simply the reason I get to spend a few hours with these characters I love. After four books, I look forward to each new book, and love that I can read them quickly.

I enjoyed Dog On It because I loved reading a fairly conventional PI mystery from a dog's point of view. I found it compelling and unique, but not being much of a dog person, I don't see myself reading another. It is important to point out that Quinn's book is much more centered on the mystery than Sansom's. Chet and Bernie have returned in a sequel too.

Another interesting side note, although these novels have very different narrators and setting, both mysteries involved a teenage girl being kidnapped, and the kidnapping was directly related to each girl's father. Hmmmm....

Three Words That Describe The Bad Book Affair: fish-out-of-water, humorous, Ireland
Three Words That Describe Dog On It: original, PI, dog narrator

Readalikes: In terms of readalikes for Sansom, I want to remind you to click here and see the other suggestions I have already made for fans of this series. There are a lot to choose from.

Another good cozy but intelligent mystery series is Richard Yancey's Highly Effective Detective series.

For specific fans of dog sleuths with a similar feel to Dog On It, I would suggest The Unscratchables by Cornelius Kane.

Readers who want a mystery with dogs, but narrated by a human should try the very well reviewed Andy Carpenter series by David Rosenfelt beginning with Open and Shut.

And for another uniquely narrated mystery try Amberville by Tim Davys. Here our sleuth is a stuffed animal. Click here to go to the Browsers' Corner and see why Kathy at the BPL enjoyed it.

Finally, for more cozy mysteries click here. Or to find a specific type of sleuth, use the job index on the Stop, You're Killing Me site. (By the way, "pets" is a job.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Avatar Prequel Book

I went to see Avatar (finally) this past week and I loved it, both as a movie going experience (in IMAX 3-D) and as an example of the Science Fiction genre.

SF you say? Not fantasy? Yes. Avatar is the perfect example of Science Fiction as defined by ARRT in our Genre Fiction List (also available to NoveList subscribers as "Popular Fiction Checklist" on the right hand side of the start page)
Science Fiction is speculative fiction based on plausible extrapolation from our current understanding of science and the physical world. The appeal of the genre is often the intellectual exploration of traditional ideas in nontraditional settings. The best Science Fiction evokes a 'sense of wonder' in new worlds and new adventures. The genre defies precise classification because science fiction authors experiment with themes, styles, and frames, blending technology with sociological ideas or adventure.

If you have seen Avatar you know it fits this definition perfectly.  Fantasy is based on magic to provide the speculative part.  In Avatar, science explains everything. Cameron built a world, Pandora, in which all of the creatures and plants could have easily evolved to be the way they are. This is science we don't know about yet, but it is not based on magic in any shape or form.

After we left the movie, my husband talked about what a great book Avatar would make. He was thinking more of a nonfiction book explaining the flora and fauna of Pandora, like a DK guide, but I was thinking what a great series of novels this meticulously created world could spawn.

Obviously James Cameron agrees with me, as he plans to write a traditional novel telling the pre-Avatar story of Pandora. This could be the next big SF franchise to fill up your shelves. If nothing else, it will bring new patrons into the library.

Keep an eye out for it. And, if you want to understand the appeal of SF go see Avatar or any of the original Star Wars movies.

On the other hand, for a better understand of Fantasy's appeal you can turn to the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings movies.  After seeing one of each, fantasy and sf, you will be better able to distinguish them in the future.

Monday, February 22, 2010

BPL Book Discussion: Questions for An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

Today at the BPL we will be discussing An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James. This is from her Cordelia Gray series and was originally published in 1972.

There are no prepared discussion questions for An Unsuitable Job available on the Internet, however, I wrote my own using this Fiction-L post as a guide. In general this post is a great resource to create your own questions. I often refer to this list even if I have questions to make sure that the questions I do have hit at every major issue in the book.

In case there are other groups out there interested in discussing this novel, here are the questions I wrote and will be using to lead the discussion at 2 pm (cst) this afternoon. Please feel free to use them for your group, just credit this blog post. And check back here for what we discussed at the BPL in a few days.

Book Discussion Questions for An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James 
Questions by Becky Spratford for the Berwyn (IL) Public Library 2/22/11

1.    What is a suitable job for a woman? Why is this not one in the 1970s? Is it one today? What is this novel saying about the place of women in society? How has the role of women in detective fiction changed since 1972?
  1. What is An Unsuitable Job saying about the detective novel? “As a Mystery writer James is primarily interested in working within the conventions of the classic British Mystery novels she herself grew up reading. From her first book many of these conventions are present, including the use of a closed circle of suspects, the idea that the crime is a puzzle to be solved, and other elements such as the country house setting, or some variation of it, frequently used by Golden Age Mystery writers. The skillful inclusion of these classic ingredients in most of James' books is one reason she remains a favorite with readers who prefer traditional Mysteries.”  (quote from NoveList Read Alike for James by John Charles)
3.    How is An Unsuitable Job old fashioned? How is it modern? How is it different from a book written by today’s mystery writers? What other books is this one similar to?
4.    This is one of James’ earlier novels. How did you like the writing style and organization of the book? Have you read others? How has her style changed?
5.    Did you figure out whodunit?
6.    James’ is described as a writer of cozies. Is this true? How does she transcend the subgenre’s confines?
7.    How is this story tied to its time and place? How would it be different set in another time or place?
8.    Were there too many or too few details? What did you still want to know after you closed the book?
9.    Who were your favorite characters? How did you not like? Do you relate to any of them? Did Cordelia Gray remind you of anyone?
10.  Family obligations is a big theme in this book. What do you think James is saying about the state of the British family?
11. What is this novel saying about the education system in England? 
12. Was this novel believable? Why?
13. Did you find this book uplifting or depressing?
14. Was there any humor in this book?
15. What are the book’s strengths? What about its weaknesses? What was your favorite part? What could you have done without?
16. How did you feel about the novel’s ending? What will happen to Cordelia? Will she make is on her own?
17. This book/series have been made into TV movies? Have you seen them? Did you enjoy them? Why do you think there are more movies than books in this series? Why has James not returned to Gray in almost 30 years?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bram Stoker Nominees Annouced

Readers of this blog know I am a proud member of the Horror Writers Association. One of our biggest contributions is the highest honor in horror fiction, the Bram Stoker Award.  I am pleased to pass on the HWA's press release announcing this year's nominees. Please note, all links are to any posts I have written which mention these works. For the record I am very happy with the list.

For immediate release    Contact Lisa Morton, HWA Stoker Event Organizer
February 19, 2010    lisa@lisamorton.com

Horror Writers Association announces
2009 Bram Stoker Award Nominees

Each year, the Horror Writers Association presents the Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement in the field of horror writing, named in honor of Bram Stoker, author of the seminal horror work Dracula. Since 1987, the approximately 500 members of the HWA have recommended, nominated and voted on the greatest works of horror and dark fantasy of the previous calendar year, making the Stokers the most prestigious award in the field of horror literature.

Currently the awards are presented in eight categories: Novel, First Novel, Long Fiction, Short Fiction, Fiction Collection, Anthology, Non-fiction, and Poetry Collection. The organization's Active members will select the winners from this ballot; voting will close on March 3rd, and the awards will be presented this year at a gala banquet on Saturday evening, March 27, at the World Horror Convention in Brighton, UK.

This year's nominees in each category are:


Audrey's Door by Sarah Langan (Harper)
Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry (St. Martin's Griffin)
Quarantined by Joe McKinney (Lachesis Publishing)
Cursed by Jeremy Shipp (Raw Dog Screaming Press)


Breathers by S. G. Browne (Broadway Books)
Solomon's Grave by Daniel G. Keohane (Dragon Moon Press)
Damnable by Hank Schwaeble (Jove)
The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay (Henry Holt)


Dreaming Robot Monster  by Mort Castle (Mighty Unclean)
The Hunger of Empty Vessels by Scott Edelman (Bad Moon Books)
The Lucid Dreaming by Lisa Morton (Bad Moon Books)
Doc Good's Traveling Show by Gene O'Neill (Bad Moon Books)


"Keeping Watch" by Nate Kenyon (Monstrous: 20 Tales of Giant Creature Terror)
"The Crossing of Aldo Ray" by Weston Ochse (The Dead That Walk)
"In the Porches of My Ears" by Norman Prentiss (Postscripts #18)
"The Night Nurse" by Harry Shannon (Horror Drive-in)


Martyrs and Monsters by Robert Dunbar (Dark Hart Press)
Got to Kill Them All and Other Stories by Dennis Etchison (Cemetery Dance)
A Taste of Tenderloin by Gene O'Neill (Apex Book Company)
In the Closet, Under the Bed by Lee Thomas (Dark Scribe Press)


He is Legend: An Anthology Celebrating Richard Matheson edited by Christopher Conlon (Gauntlet Press)
Lovecraft Unbound edited by Ellen Datlow (Dark Horse Books)
Poe edited by Ellen Datlow (Solaris)
Midnight Walk edited by Lisa Morton (Darkhouse Publishing)


Writers Workshop of Horror by Michael Knost (Woodland Press)
Cinema Knife Fight by L. L. Soares and Michael Arruda (Fearzone)
The Stephen King Illustrated Companion by Bev Vincent (Fall River Press)
Stephen King: The Non-fiction by Rocky Wood and Justin Brook (Cemetery Dance)


Double Visions by Bruce Boston (Dark Regions)
North Left of Earth by Bruce Boston (Sam's Dot)
Barfodder by Rain Graves (Cemetery Dance)
Chimeric Machines by Lucy A. Snyder (Creative Guy Publishing)

More information on the Horror Writers Association is at http://www.horror.org  More information on the World Horror Convention is at http://www.whc2010.org

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Vampires: NPR Style

You know the current vampire trend has jumped the shark for sure with this NPR article and booklist on vampires.

Don't get me wrong, the list is good (check out #75, it is a hot title at the BPL right now), I am just amused by vampires getting the NPR treatment.  However, it is not as humorous as when Scott Simon interviewed Ke$ha recently.

Seriously though, if you like any kind of vampire book, click on over; you'll be glad you did.

Also, don't forget the brand new title by the mastermind who brought us Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This time we have Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Student Annotations: Lanscape Genres

They're back on the class Word Press blog. What you ask? Student annotations, I say.

Click on over to see what the current batch of RA students are writing about the Fantasy, Historical Fiction, and Westerns they read for this week's class.

If you like what they are doing why not sign-up for the RSS feed for the class blog? And while you are at it, don't forget to sign up for the feed for RA for All too!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Helping You To Find Your Next Good Read: Historical Fiction

As I am preparing for this week's class on what Joyce calls "The Landscape Genres," meaning genres for which the setting is a huge appeal for readers, I came across this new prize for historical fiction.

There is sometimes confusion as to what makes something historical fiction as opposed to a book from a long time ago.  I have discussed this issue and given examples here. It is an interesting distinction that our patrons aren't always making when they ask for a title, but one which we as RAs need to aware of. Click through to see what I am talking about, then use the back button to get back to this post.

When I first started teaching the RA class back in the fall of 2004, the list of historical fiction resources was embarrassingly small.  (I think there were 2, and they were only in print) Now, there are many to choose from, both in print and online.  Here are a few of my favorite Historical Fiction resources.
Now go find a book to read.

    Monday, February 15, 2010

    RA For All: President's Day Edition

    President's Day is one of those holidays which is not celebrated the same everywhere.  Here in IL some places are closed for Lincoln's official birthday (2/12) only while others are closed both the 12th and today, and still others close for neither.

    But no matter if you worked today or not here are some Presidential inspired book links:
    These links are just a starting point. I would also suggest looking up any President in Wikipedia.  There you will get a list of many books by and about the person.  Click here for Teddy Roosevelt on Wikipedia and here and here for books by and about him. Your local card catalog is also a good bet. Again, try Teddy Roosevelt in ours.

    Can you tell I am on a Roosevelt kick? More on him in a few days. For now, Happy President's Day.

    Sunday, February 14, 2010

    Happy Valentine's Day: The Paranormal Edition

    In my work as a Horror maven I am constantly asked about paranormal romance titles. As I will talk about at length in the second edition of my book, paranormal romance is not horror.  Paranormal Romance blends all of the great characters, love relationships, and drama of a great romance, with all the fun of fantasy. But Horror it is not.

    That being said, people still want suggestions and resources from me, and with the extreme popularity of these books, I of course oblige them (after ranting about how they are not horror). Here are a few places where you can find lists paranormal romances for this heart day:
    Still aren't even sure if you know what a paranormal romance is? ... click here.

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    Locus Recommended Reading List Out Now

    My favorite work related annual event for February has happened.  The publication of Locus Magazine's annual list of the best Science Fiction and Fantasy books from the previous year.

    Not only do I enjoy this list as a fan of speculative fiction, but it also serves as my main collection development tool for these genres. Locus in print and online is the most trusted source for all things speculative. If you want to know what is going on in SF and FSY, Locus is where you turn.

    And, of course, they are also so helpful to me personally since I will be talking about Fantasy on Wednesday night's class.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010

    Audiobooks Survery Results

    In this post on February 1, I asked people to go on over to the Audiobooker Blog and share their personal audiobook habits in a quick survey.

    Well, yesterday, Mary Burkey posted the results with some very nice pie charts.

    I thought readers would want to see the results.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    RA and Customer Service

    Readers' Advisory is dependent upon building good relationships with your patrons; therefore, you cannot succeed without GREAT customer service.

    Good RA librarians go out of their way to be helpful, and respectful.  The biggest hurdle is that librarians are not known for their customer service. 10 years in, I still have patrons walking up to our desk and telling us how surprised they are that we can talk at the desk and are even encouraging conversation rather than shushing them.

    So point number one: its 2010, don't shush people in the library. Send the people who want quiet to a quiet area; everywhere else is public space.

    My goal in spreading the RA gospel to my co-workers, students, and other library professionals who I travel around to train, is to create an army of little Beckys...librarians who are friendly, go out of their way to help each and every patron, and never shush people who want to talk to us.

    Think it can't happen at your library? Wrong. Anyone can influence an entire library. Take the BPL for example.  When Tammy Clausen and I came in to start RA in 2000, customer service was not the library's strongest point. Tammy and I set out to lead by example. We went above and beyond for each and every patron. Yes, we stepped on a few toes of our co-workers, but in the end, we were able to change the entire customer service culture at the BPL. Customer service is now a top priority; new hires have helped to influence this, and the biggest triumph of all, Tammy is now our Director!

    "How do I begin at my library?" you may ask. Tonight I will begin answering this question with my class of library students, and although I cannot recreate the 1 hour lecture they will get here, I can leave you at our starting point.  On page 7 of the February 2008 Illinois Library Association Reporter, they had the following Top Ten List to get any library started on improving their customer service:

    10. Believe wholeheartedly that each customer service encounter makes or breaks that
    person’s perception of the library (this applies to customers and staff) 
    9.  Pay attention to your own customer service
    experiences outside and inside the library — consciously observe these interactions
    8. Learn from the worst of those experiences — adjust accordingly
    7. Emulate the best of those experiences
    6. Keep your mind open
    5. Keep your heart open
    4. Smile warmly
    3. Expect the best of each person
    2. Expect and commit to your personal best
    1. Start fresh each day, knowing that the daily work that you do has the power to make a positive difference in the life of another person — and isn’t that why you enjoy working in a library?
    The only library mantra this list is missing is one I have made up. Remember, the books  on your shelves are not "yours," they are the patrons' books.  Too many librarians get proprietary about loaning rules. Guess what? Not our books. The patrons are paying for the books with their taxes. If they have a card, give them the book. Even if they don't have their card on them, but have one on file and can prove who they are, good enough for me. Even if they do this all of the time, again, fine with me. Get over it. We librarians are shepards not gatekeepers. Put the books in the people's hands. End of story.

    Post this list at your desk. We had it there for about a year. Make these your top customer service goals. Set a standard that your department will provide the best customer service in the library (that's what we did). Then, as your library as a whole improves, set the goal that you will provide the best customer service of any library in your area.

    Good customer service makes for happier patrons and as a result, happier employees. Besides, how hard is it to treat everyone the way we would most want to be treated.


    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    Most Borrowed Titles in 2009

    And for the final word in 2009 Best Lists, here is one of the most useful lists for public librarians, Library Journal's Most Borrowed Titles of 2009 List.

    In terms of RA training, as a public librarian, make sure you are familiar with all 30 titles.  This does not mean you have to have read all of them, but AT LEAST, know what each is about.  Also, think about readalikes for these titles, assess how their popularity affects your collection development, and be aware of what these authors are doing.

    For example, Kathryn Stockett, author of the number 15 most borrowed book in 2009, The Help, is heavily promoting a new title out today, The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.  Scroll down for an interview Kathryn Stockett did for Amazon with Sarah Blake.

    You need to know this because your patrons who liked Stockett's debut novel (and there are a lot of them, including me), will be asking for Blake's novel. Since The Postmistress is brand new, you may not have your readalike lists ready, but don't worry. For now, your The Help readalike lists should help you to suggest other books for your patrons while they wait for The Postmistress. (Our system already has 69 holds on 35 copies)

    Don't have a prepared readalike list for The Help? Even though you should by now, click here, here, here, and here for help. (pun intended)

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    What I'm Reading: The Little Stranger

    The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters was listed by Stephen King as the best book he read in 2009. Already on my list before that, it moved to the top of the stack.

    The plot is very simple, we are in post WWII England in a crumbling estate. Our narrator, is the local doctor whose mother also happened to be a maid at said estate, back in its glory days. He becomes obsessed with the home and its inhabitants after treating their only servant. The story follows the changing social structure of England and the deterioration of the house and the family inside of it.

    We have the mother, son and daughter.  Each slowly goes mad, and each meets a bad end.  Are they being stalked by the ghost of a dead family member or is the doctor orchestrating their demise?  He is a truly creepy and unreliable narrator.

    Bad things pile ontop of each other, over and over again, in this novel.  Things start badly and slowly, I would even say painfully, get worse with each turn of the page. Do not expect things to turn around for the better here.  In fact, just as things seem to be looking up, they get tragically worse. It is oppressive for the characters and the reader.

    Who or what is responsible for the destruction of the estate and the family is never revealed. Read and decide for yourself.

    The Little Stranger has been described as old-fashioned horror, but I would classify it more as historical, psychological suspense.  Why?  Well, the feeling of dread is their from the first lines how can it not be? We begin with the past: a beautiful home and family, the young child dies, war comes, the family loses their money, etc...

    It cannot be true horror because we never know for sure if what is stalking the family is supernatural or not. I am leaning toward it being the doctor who caused everything.  The ending resolves the main plot issues, but the fear of it all happening again has not been erased because we never know who or what was responsible. This novel truly is a classic example of psychological suspense in a historic setting.

    The best description I can give of this book is that it stays with you. You will think about it long after the last page is turned.

    3 Words That Best Describe This Book: historical, unhurried, oppressive

    Readalikes: The Unseen Alexandra Sokoloff has faster pacing and a similar haunted house plot, but it is more modern and there is a definite supernatural presence here. I wrote about reading The Unseen here. Anything by Sarah Langan will also work.

    The Little Stranger looks back on two other classics which ride this thin line between horror and psychological suspense, Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. If you haven't read either of these and liked The Little Stranger, pick up these backlist titles.

    I read Drood by Dan Simmons last year and it shares a lot of similarities with The Little Stranger: the unreliable narrator, the question of a supernatural being vs. a human serial killer, an obsessive narrator, and a historical British setting (although this one if during Dickens' time).

    I would also suggest the stories and novels of the late Shirley Jackson to anyone who enjoyed The Little Stranger, especially her classic novel, The Haunting of Hill House or the story, "The Lottery."

    The modern psychological suspense of Carol Goodman or Peter Abrahams both offer the same claustrophobic settings, obsessive characters and unsettling feelings as Waters' novel.

    For another disturbing (but not supernatural) book set in a similar time and place I would suggest Ian McEwan's Atonement.  This also happens to be one of my all-time favorite books.  While I was reading The Little Stranger I kept thinking of Atonement. This is a great example of the readalike which fits because they share the same feel, if not any plot points.  Also, one of my favorite things about each of these books is the unreliable narrator issue. Finally, both novels  share the same deliberate pace where the tension builds so slowly at times that you literally feel like the entire book is physically pressing down on you. From the RA standpoint, this can be a positive (for a reader like me) or a huge limiter for other readers; best to point it out ahead of time.

    Nonfiction readers may be very interested in post-WWII England and country doctors.  Also, for a nonfiction look at a "cursed," wealthy, British family, try The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale, which I read here.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010

    Great Reads for the "Super" game this weekend

    There are days when I think I may love football more than books.  This Sunday is one of those days.

    There are many books about football that you can enjoy in the days leading up to the big game. Check out this post from when I read Stephan Fatsis's A Few Secnds of Panic: A 5-Foot-8, 170 Pound, 43-Year-Old Sportswriter Plays in the NFL. It has many other football suggestions.

    Also, Lit Lists has this list of the five best books about the Super Bowl itself.

    Ultra Condensed Classics

    Just for fun, here is a great web site of tongue-in-cheek ultra condensed books, called Book-A-Minute Classics.

    For example, Huckleberry Finn: "Goes Rafting, Goes Home."

    Or, War and Peace: "History controls everything we do, so there is no point in observing individual actions. Let's examine the individual actions of over 500 characters at great length."

    Try it out for yourself.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    Working With Specific Appeal Factors: New Jersey

    This past week two things happened to remind me of how specific some reader's can be when it comes to what appeals to them.

    The first and most obvious event was that appeal was the topic of conversation in my RA class at Dominican University on Wednesday night. The students are being asked to think about why they like certain books and don't enjoy others. Besides the most obvious appeal points in a book, things like its pacing, characterization, storyline, frame/setting, tone/mood, and style/language, people have certain things that they will like (or dislike) in any book.

    These will be completely individual to each reader and not always evident when conducting the RA interview. This leads to me and the second thing that reminded me of how specific I can be when it comes to what appeals to me personally: my best friend from high school came out from my home state of NJ, sans kids and husband, to spend the weekend.

    Her visit also reminded me that as a displaced Jersey girl myself, I have a peculiar appeal, at least peculiar here in Northern Illinois.  I will read any book if it features NJ, fiction or nonfiction. It can be totally counter to everything I generally like in a book, but if NJ is featured prominently, I will like it.  What can I say, you can take the girl out of Jersey but you can't take the Jersey out of the girl.

    In that vein, I thought I would share some of my favorite books that feature the great state of NJ.
    Don't forget that Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum lives in NJ and F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack lives in NYC but is from NJ.

    I also love books that feature circuses, baseball, academic settings, and non-battle Civil War books, but those lists are for another time.  What about your specific appeals?

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    Reinvigorate Your Book Club

    Today at work five of my regular book club participants stopped in to say hi to me at the desk.  Many of them wanted to comment on how much they are enjoying our upcoming February title (An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by PD James).

    Seeing them got me to thinking about our group and its longevity.  We celebrated our 9th anniversary with the January 2010 meeting. That is a long time. It's even longer when I think back to the fact that even after giving birth two children in those 9 years, I have missed less than 5 meetings.

    I love my group and it is a joy to lead them, but we all need a little refreshing now and then. Over the years I have added new techniques to keep things fresh.  One addition I have made to our discussions in the past 18 months is the use of reviews during the discussion itself.

    Neil Hollands posted about the uses of reviews for book clubs a few days ago on Book Group BuzzClick here for the post; my comments are at the bottom.

    The new year is a time for all book clubs to think outside their comfortable box.   Reading Group Guides, suggests old groups looking closely at advice for new groups as a great way to reinvigorate a long standing group.

    Calling All Audiobook Listeners...

    Mary Burkey, over at Audiobooker is asking for any and all audiobook listeners to take a very short survey. She wants to explore the shift from physical to digital for audiobook listeners. Do you prefer CD's or digital downloads for your audio books? Do you see yourself changing your format preferences? How do you acquire your audiobooks.

    Click here to participate in the survey. It only runs for 1 week.  If you enjoy audiobooks, please take the survey.  This will help booksellers and librarians plan for the future.

    She also posted last night's Spoken Word Grammy winners here.