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.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Vampires, Twilight, and Me...Oh My!

Last week I was interviewed by a reporter from Florida Today to discuss why the Twilight Saga is soooooo popular.

Here is a link to the article. My quotes end the article on page 2.

For the record though, the Twilight books are NOT horror; they are romances which feature vampires.

Speaking of vampires...I am reading The Passage right now (about 300 pages in) and it really is as good as everyone is saying.

Anyway, if you are interested, click on over to the article to see me in Professor mode. Also, check out my former student, and current YA librarian at the Deerfield Public Library, Colleen's Twilight reading map here.

Shelf Renewal Features Student Reading Map!

Over on Shelf Renewal, Rebecca is featuring one of my former student's reading maps.

Last semester, Bethany did a great job with her reading map on Emma Bulls' War of the Oaks and obviously others agreed.

Click here to see what Shelf Renewal had to say about it.

And, use my Reading Maps page (always accessible from any page on RA for All in the top right gutter) to access all past student reading maps, including a few new ones from Joyce's crop of summer students.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What I'm Reading: The Lonely Polygamist

Okay, here is my first review of one of the 2010 summer reading darlings. In the interest of full disclosure, I have a lot of love for Brady Udall (click here for proof), but even I was a bit worried before I opened his new 600+ page book about a Polygamist and his family.

I am happy to report, that despite the fact that the plot had me worried, Udall is such a great writer that it didn't matter. I was hooked, and I have to say, this was quite a page-turner...for literary fiction at least.

The plot of The Lonely Polygamist  is fairly simple. Golden Richards is the head of a large family; 28 kids and 4 wives. He is going through a midlife crisis to match the size of his family. Business has kept him out of town for nights on end and the family is falling apart. Also, the death of one of his children is still haunting him.

The story opens with a great extended scene of life in the Richards' home. It goes back to look at how Golden got to where he is today. Then Udall begins to introduce the two other points of view which will tell the story of the downfall and the eventual steps to rebuild the Richards family.

This is where the book moves from good to great. Golden's 4th wife, Trish and his most emotionally troubled 11-yr old son, Rusty, take turns, with Golden, telling their stories. Pieced together, this is a tragic story; we are watching a slow-motion train wreck here, but it is with genuine characters. It is the inner struggle of these richly drawn characters that drives the story. The more we learn about them, the more steam the story picks up, and the action follows.

I haven't even mentioned any of the particulars of said action, but trust me, you don't want me to ruin it. This is a book that begs to be experienced, not just read.

Warning, things do not turn out well for all 33 members of the Richards family, but as a unit, the family has healed and found peace by the novel's conclusion, and, after 600+ pages of living with them, you the reader are also satisfied. It is an open but resolved ending.

As of right now, The Lonely Polygamist is running even with Await Your Reply as the best book I have read so far this year. Why? This is a believable story of life on the fringes with flawed but intriguing characters.While the huge cast could have been distracting, by focusing on 3 points of view, the story has both focus and variety. When one story line is starting to wane, another one picks up. I haven't even mention the great writing, the amazingly described desert landscapes, and the great characters.

Three Words to Describe This Book:  character-centered, family dysfunction, complex
[Notice I didn't include polygamy here. It really is not at the center of why someone would or would not like this book.]

Readalikes: In an enthusiastic review of Udall's novel in Library Journal these readalike suggestions were offered, "Think of the zany theatrics of Carl Hiaasen paired with the family drama of Elizabeth Berg." I don't disagree with the thought that is your could smush Hiaasen and Berg together you would get a book very similar to The Lonely Polygamist; however, this cannot actually be done, and an individual book by either author may or many not reliably appeal to a Udall fan. I am a great example of this theory, as I love Udall, always, mostly like Hiaasen, and only sometimes like Berg.

Other reviewers have said that Udall's complex family story is reminiscent of Tolstoy, while others have mentioned John Irving. These readalike suggestions I feel are going to be more reliable.

The books and authors that came to my mind as possible readalike suggestions upon completion of this novel were (with reasons in parentheses):
Readers may also want to read nonfiction about uranium mining, the Manhattan Project, the Mormon Church, and polygamy (this link includes memoirs).

And of course there are the comparisons to the TV show Big Love, but really, The Lonely Polygamist is much, much better, and much more complex. While Big Love is about the life of a polygamist, The Lonely Polygamist is about a life, actually it is more specifically about 3 lives within one large family.

Oh, and if you are one of the only people left in the world who I haven't told this to, go out and read Udall's The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint. It really is one of the best books I have ever read.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday Discussion: Favorite Short Story Collections

Last week I started a new feature here on RA for All and now I am calling it the Monday Discussion.

Last week I posed the question of what 1 book you would suggest to an eighth, going into ninth grader.  Click here to see the post and the discussion. The staff at the BPL did a great job adding to the conversation. They will get involved every week, but so can you.

This week, I was thinking about short story collections since I am reading the deliciously evil and twisted collection These Children Who Come At You With Knives and Other Fairy Tales by Jim Knipfel. I also just bought my husband the brand new collection edited by Neil Gaiman, called simply Stories.

I happen to enjoy short story collections myself, but I am always having trouble finding resources to identify good story collections for my patrons. There are very few resources for Short Story RA out there. So, using the collective brain of our wonderful BPL staff, and you, the blog readers, I thought we would compile a list of our favorite short story collections.

First a note: at the BPL, we do not note if a book is a collection of stories in the catalog, but we do put a big "Short Stories" stickers on the book itself.

Here are some ideas from Lit Lists to start us off:
Next, here are some of my favorite story collections:
20th Century Ghost by Joe Hill
Any collection by Steven Millhauser, Lorrie Moore, or Alice Munro
Olive Kittridge by Elizabeth Strout (which I read here)
Different Seasons by Stephen King

But my all-time favorite short story collection is still Twice Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Now it is your turn. What are your favorite short story collections?

Also, click here to view past Monday Discussions.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Joy of Serendipity

One of the reasons I fell in love with the public library as a kid was because of the joy of the serendipity of finding a great book by accident. With so many books in one place, it is fun to just pick a book at random while browsing. I have found some great reads this way, by pure accident.

So last week I was happy to see others sharing my joy of finding a book by serendipity.  Over at The Millions (an online magazine that focuses on books, art and culture) they made the following announcement:
Over the last seven-plus years, we have written about thousands of books. Knowing that people like to dig through the archives to read about the books we’ve covered, we’ve tried to create ways to make that easier, but until now our efforts had proven unwieldy to use and to manage.
So, in an effort to solve this problem once and for all, we’ve spent several months putting together a new section that we are proud to show off today: The Millions Books and Reviews.
That main page is an exercise in serendipity. Hit refresh and ten new random books will appear that have been mentioned on the site at some point in our history. Click on any one of those covers and learn more — or hit refresh again.
If you are looking for something more specific, browse by author using the alphabetical navigation at the top of the page. From those pages you’ll be able to click through to any book and view The Millions’ coverage of that book.
I have used the new index myself, and it really is fun. Each time you refresh, the book covers change. So if you have no idea what to read, why not click here and try one of the random ten books that pop up. Remember simply click on the title and a hyperlinked list of articles in which the book appeared will reveal itself.

Have fun!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

NPR Best Thrillers Continued

As I mentioned in this post, NPR is asking listeners to vote for their favorite thrillers this summer.

In the spirit of encouraging people to share, they are interviewing famous thriller writers to get their opinions on the subject.

To start off the series, Scott Turow talks about his favorite Thriller, The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. Click here to see/hear the full story.

And please go on over to the NPR books site and add your vote for your favorite thriller.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Student Annotations: The End For a Few Months

The last bunch of student annotations for the semester are  up on the Dominican class blog. Click on over to see them.

Joyce taught alone this summer session and I usually anchor the fall semester. However, this fall I will be finishing up the second edition of my horror book for ALA (in fact, this post is giving me a few minutes break from working on that very book). Joyce and I and all of our student's annotations will be back for the Spring 2011 semester though.

Remember, even though there will not be new entries for awhile after today, you can still use the class blog as a database to search for titles by appeal factors. Overtime I am happy to say it has become the useful resource I hoped it could be back when I started it 2 years ago.

BPL Book Discussion: The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle: A MemoirThis week the BPL Book Club met to discuss the memoir, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

Plot summary from the publisher:
The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette's brilliant and charismatic father captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn't want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

The Glass Castle is truly astonishing -- a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar, but loyal, family. Jeannette Walls has a story to tell, and tells it brilliantly, without an ounce of self-pity.
On a personal note, I loved reading this book. I was totally caught up in the "story" and literally had to tear myself away from the book at times. But upon reflection, I felt a bit bad that I "loved" the book so much, since it was about so much misery. But I will get into this in our discussion.

Here's what the ladies had to say about it:

All 13 of of us loved the book. No one was even in the "so-so" camp. We all loved it even though bad things were happening to the kids. We decided that Walls' tone is what allowed us to still enjoy this book. She never whined, complained, or blamed anyone for their life. She mater-of-factly told us her story. As a result, it read as a "compelling," "amazing," story of survival. Many of the ladies said the book inspired them to stop complaining about their own lives. Walls' was a testament to the fact that you can overcome any adversity as long as you do not let yourself get overwhelmed by it. I really liked this last statement.

The parents, Rex and Rose Mary were discussed at length. First the positive. No matter how terrible you think they were as parents, they obviously gave their children a solid foundation to survive and be successful.

Rex: He loved his kids and wanted their respect. He had pride, but he never came through for the kids. His Glass Castle, which Jeannette finally tells him she knows he will never build as she leaves home for NYC, symbolizes much of his personality- his grand plans, for which he was brilliant enough to accomplish, but too much of a drunk to fulfill. We tended to agree that Rex's alcoholism is what wrecked the Walls family, but it is the revelation in the last half of the book that Rex was almost definitely the victim of sexual abuse by his mother that made us at least understand his addiction.

Rose Mary: We were very upset with her selfishness. Things like eating chocolate bars while her kids are literally starving, refusing to sell her land, which we find out is worth 1 million dollars, not working unless forced to even though she easily can get a job as a teacher in each town they live in, refusing food stamps, not selling the diamond ring Lori finds because it is "pretty." Rose Mary was obsessed with teaching her children to be independent, but it was to an extreme. When things got really bad, she didn't even seem to care. She said to "think of it as an adventure." This attitude of never complaining despite a terrible situation was the mother's one true gift to her children; it probably is what allowed them to not only survive, but become so successful despite the odds. We also agreed she must have had some kind of mental illness.

I asked straight out if people thought that the Walls' children should have been removed from the household by social services. This led to an interesting discussion. Overall we thought no because the parents were educating their kids, the kids went to school, they did manage to find food, and there was no physicial or sexual abuse. Walls does provide many examples of children in much more danger than herself too.

Style: One participant did find the short chapters a bit choppy at times. Another liked the short,vinette style because it gave her time to read a chapter and then sit back to absorb it and think how she would have handled those situations. Yet another participant mentioned that the chapters had to be short or else it would be too heartbreaking. Also, she noted that if you go back, Walls did a great job ending each chapter with a beautifully written last sentence or two.

Tone: As I mentioned in the first bullet point, we liked how Walls told her story without placing blame. As one participant put it, in our hypercritical society, it was inspiring to just have her tell her story. It took such courage to write this book.

We also discussed what scenes we found most memorable. The scene at the beginning when Jeannette is 3 and burns herself badly while cooking herself a hot dog: many could not get this scene out of her head for the entire book. It really sets up everything that comes after. Another mentioned how the dad could fix people's TVs with a macaroni noodle. This shows the brilliance of Rex, despite everything. The most heartbreaking scene is when Rex takes Jeannette to the bar with him and all but prostitutes her out. We also discussed the scene when Jeannette is taken to the public pool by her black friend, where she is the only white person. Jeannette falling out of the car and waiting for her parents was memorable because it shows how Jeannette knows she is loved.

This book has 2 distinct sections. When they live out West in the desert and when they live in Welch, WV. In the first section we discussed how there was still hope in their lives. Even we, the readers, had hope that the parents would pull it together. But when they move to WV, all hope is gone. Why don't they leave? I asked this because up until they move to WV, they pick up and move all of the time. We decided that they stayed because when he went back to his hometown, Rex reverted to being a child and that was the end of moving until the kids got up and left their parents.

Finally, I asked the group what Jeannette inherited from each of her parents. We decided that her pride and stubbornness came from her father and her creativity from her mother. This book is like her therapy, to come to terms with where she came from and to admit it openly. It gives her closure and lets her tell her own story for herself.
    When asked to sum up the appeal of The Glass Castle in a few words here's what the group had to say: inspirational, intriguing (with the prologue setting up Walls as wealthy and Mom as homeless, you are compelled to read how they each got there), soul-wrenching, heartbreaking, and a triumph of the human spirit.

    Overall I was extremely pleased with this discussion. Even though we all loved it, we still had a dynamic discussion. In fact, we discussed things like style and tone much more than usual. And, we had a great time too ! Kudos to the group.

    Readalikes: There is a glut of memoirs about unique childhoods out there, many involving abuse. Since The Glass Castle does not have much of this (the dunk father is fairly harmless compared the the drunk mother in Running With Scissors), I will offer more "tame" but unique family memoirs.

    *A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel follows Kimmel's unique upbringing in rural Iowa.

    *Naked by David Sedaris is one of his earlier collections and has a lot of essays about his dysfunctional but  hilarious family.

    *The Bookmaker's Daughter by Shirley Abbot was a suggestion I found on NoveList. It has the rural upbrinning of The Glass Castle (here it is Arkansas) but it takes place in the 1940s and 50s. There is also the troubled father-daughter relationship.

    *My group also read The Liar's Club many year's ago, but Mary Karr's family is more abusive than Walls' imo, and Karr does spend more time placing blame than Walls.

      In terms of fictional readalikes, the first half of the book (in the desert) reminded me of The Bean Trees and Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver and the second half (in Appalachia) reminded me of the novels of Fannie Flagg.

      My ladies also offered readalikes during the discussion. One mentioned that the scenes with Jeannette's black friend reminded her of The Color Purple . And another mentioned Angela's Ashes.

      Tuesday, June 22, 2010

      RA Programs at ALA Conferece

      Due to a bumper crop of family weddings and a new niece this summer, I literally could not find the time to get out to DC for the ALA National Conference, which begins on Friday. I even had a place to stay for free. Bummer. Thankfully I have friends and colleagues going and am excited to hear about everything. And with such happy celebrations as the reason I am missing out, I can't get too upset.

      For those who are interested here is a post from RA Online with all of the RA programming at ALA in one place.

      Even if you are not going, if you see a program of interest you can look to the ALA website in the next few weeks for reports and handouts from each program. Also, RA Online will have posts about some of the bigger programs and I will cross post those here.

      Anyone who does go and wants to pass on any reports to me, you can click the contact me link in my profile or leave a comment on this post and I will get back to you.  Don't fret about leaving contact info, I get the comments via email first and won't publish them.

      Thanks in advance.

      Monday, June 21, 2010

      Books to Spring into Adulthood

      Earlier this month, the Chicago Tribune ran this interesting article entitled "Freshmen to Be: Time to Hit the Books."

      For the article, William Hageman asked a range of people from Jerry Springer to a Nobel Prize winner what books they would suggest as summer reading to a student making the leap from grade school to Freshman year of high school. The range of books offered is wide- from Cabeza de Vaca  to The Power of Now with a few To Kill a Mockingbirds thrown in for good measure- but it is the explanations, the "whys" these well known people gave that is worth while here.

      Since I normally don't post about books for readers under 16, you may be asking why I am directing you to read this article for yourself. The answer is simple. This is a good list of books that successful people found inspiring. It is a great list for readers of any age who are looking for an interesting thought-provoking book.

      So check the list out for yourself and let me know what books you would suggest to this proposed person on the cusp of adulthood. Remember, the book has to be at the reading level of an average 14 year old, so please no Moby Dick or James Joyce here.

      I will start the conversation with my own suggestion. I would suggest A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. Written by Bryson after he returned back to American after many years abroad, the out of shape and out of sorts travel author, decided to reconnect with his home country by attempting to walk the entire Appalachian Trail. This is an inspiring story about our country's natural history, forgotten, out of the way places, and those who have and continue to work to conserve our natural resources. But this is also the story of an outsider, someone who feels he doesn't fit in, who is also not necessarily cut out for the task at hand (he is not in good enough shape for this endeavor, nor does he have any hiking OR camping experience), who nonetheless sets out on a new adventure to better himself.  All of this sets a great example for incoming Freshman, and one with themes and feelings they can relate to. And best of all, he does not actually succeed in his literal goal, yet he still accomplishes a great deal. (This theme of success found in failure is an important life lesson that is often lost in our public education system). This book is a mix of history and adventure, which, I would hope, upon reading would inspire these young adults to strive for a mix of education and adventure in their own lives.

      So, what would you suggest and why? Just give me a sentence or two if you want.

      Saturday, June 19, 2010

      Lots of Student Annotations

      I was out of town last week and forgot to remind you that there are lots of new annotations available on the Dominican class blog.

      Just click on over to get some good reading ideas.

      Friday, June 18, 2010

      Readalikes for Steig Larsson

      People have been asking me where my readalikes for Steig Larsson are. Although I have not done an official Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest post yet, as I am still patiently waiting for my tun with the audio, I have posted about the first two books and the entire Nordic Noir phenomenon in the past.

      Use this link to see my posts about Scandinavian Crime Fiction, including readalikes.

      Also, here is a good article from The New York Times all about the other authors moving in to fill the post Larsson void.

      What I'm Reading: The Last Child

      Recently, I finished listening to this year's Edgar Award winner for best novel, The Last Child by John Hart. Although this book has garnered much praise, I was less than overwhelmed by it. I will point out my problems with the book after, like the good RA librarian I am, I focus on why it would appeal to readers.

      The plot is pretty simple. Our setting is a not quite suburban, not quite rural, North Carolina small town. There are two main protagonists who drive this mystery/suspense tale.

      First is the child in the title and on the cover, Johnny, whose twin sister has been missing for exactly one year. In that year, Johnny's life has fallen to pieces. His Dad has run off, his mom has become the concubine of a rich sleaze bag who keeps her constantly high but puts a roof over her and Johnny's head. Johnny has gone from a good, happy kid to a delinquent who skips school and disappears for hours at a time so that he can go house by house in their town looking for his sister.

      Our other protagonist is Detective Hunt, who has also been haunted by the disappearance of Johnny's twin sister. As the lead detective on the case, Hunt has also seen his life go down the tubes in the last 12 months. His son has withdrawn from him, his wife has left him, and he has developed an unhealthy obsession with Johnny's mother.

      So, the plot follows these 2 characters as they work toward solving the mystery. Along the way they uncover more crimes, research the history of slaves in their county, and are forced to do a lot of soul searching.

      Appeal: This is a twisting, suspense story with a child hero. It is a detailed and constantly busy story; just as things slow down, something new is discovered, or the pov shifts, and we are back, breathlessly on the run trying to keep up with the plot. There are 2 main first person narrators and a large cast of interesting secondary characters. The book is also domestically centered, as many of the plot lines have familial consequences. Although there is drug use, domestic violence, exhumed bodies, and children in danger, there is very little blood in this story and it would appeal to a wide range of suspense fans. The book is concluded satisfactorily with all of the main plot strings very neatly tied up, but with a few unanswered questions for the future if Hart ever wanted to revisit the characters.

      For me, this book was not one of my favorite suspense titles for a few reasons that directly relate to its appeal to me as a reader.  First, I knew from the start who "did it." I did not have the details right and Hart threw in a few curves but I knew who was guilty. So, as I read, and Hart tried to throw me off the track with a different shocking sub plot, I became angry when I got to the end and saw that I was actually on the right track from about page 50.

      Also, I read for character and I never really got into Johnny and Detective Hunt. I liked them, but I was not compelled to follow them. Both were too good and perfect in my mind. In fact, everything in this book was black and white. I much prefer my fiction to have some ambiguity; an unreliable narrator, a dark spot in someone's past, etc.. There was very little of that here.

      And finally, I found the end of this novel to be too overtly evangelical. I was shocked that no reviewer pointed out that the conclusion involves the discussion of how God sometimes needs to sacrifice the innocent to help bring evil doers to justice. It went into much more detail than this and went on for quite awhile imo. Maybe I was too sensitive being a non-Christian, but it was a bit uncomfortable for me and, I felt, kinda out of nowhere.

      Readalikes: As I mentioned above, The Last Child won this year's Edgar Award for Best Novel. Here are the other nominees from this year. At he bottom of the page you can also find links to the past few year's nominees and winners.

      For fans of award winning, not gratuitously violent, family-centered suspense, I would highly suggest Mary Higgins Clark, Harlen Coben, and C.J. Box.

      Jim the Boy by Tony Earley and its sequel, The Blue Star are not suspense stories, but they do have a young protagonist out on his own looking for answers to family questions in rural North Carolina. I would highly suggest these titles to fans of the setting and the young protagonist.