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.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Best Books 2011...So Far

Can you believe 2011 is half over?  It has gone fast.

Well while I was in denial about the months speeding past, Amazon was on top of things.  They posted their best of the first half of 2011.

Also, this has nothing to so with today's post, but I really found it interesting.

And that is all you are getting today.  It's my birthday and I am trying not to work!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

BPL Book Discussion: Wait Till Next Year

WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR: A MEMOIRWell, due to part one of the installation of our new chiller at the BPL, book club met a week late.  This month we all read historian and numerous award-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin's light memoir of her childhood growing up in the NY suburbs during the 1950s, Wait Till Next Year.

After appearing as one of the stars of Ken Burns' Baseball documentary talking about her childhood as a Brooklyn Dodger fan (yeah!) and her adulthood as a Red Sox fan (boo!) people were asking her for more.  She was very engaging on the small screen and I have to say her memoir is equally as engaging.

Before we get to the discussion I have a few comments to frame it all for you because the make up of the group did drive this discussion more than others we have had in the last 10.5 years.  This was one of those discussions where I didn't go to one of my prepared questions until we were almost an hour in.  Also, I should note that my ladies are all Goodwin's age, or at the most 10 years older, so they understood the world she was describing because they had lived it, just in Chicago (mostly) rather than NY.

I fell like as the only younger member of the group, I should let you know how I felt so that you don't think that you need to have lived during this era to enjoy this memoir.  I really enjoyed the book.  However, I love baseball and baseball history.  I still prefer to listen to ball games on the radio or go to a game than watch them on TV.  Also, I grew up in the NY area and am a huge Yankees fan.  My Dad grew up in Queens during this era too.  His Dad was a huge Dodger fan (my Dad has the 1955 Championship poster in his home still) and he was a huge Yankees fan in the late 60s. (He was under 10 when the Dodgers moved to LA).  So I was predisposed to liking this memoir based on setting and main subject.

So in terms of appeal, I think you need to have a love for baseball as our National Pastime, a connection to or interest in the 1950s, or a love of memoirs in order to enjoy this book.
  • We began with the liked, disliked, so-so question and all but 2 were an enthusiastic LIKEs!  The two who voted so-so enjoyed her writing and the time period nostalgia, but one has no interest in sports or rooting for teams and the other grew up in Minnesota at that time where they did not have a baseball team so she couldn't get into the rivalry between the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees. 
  • The 10 who liked it had many reasons.  First they all agreed it was super easy to just imagine the rivalry between the Cubs and Sox of the same era.  In fact, many of them just changed the teams and players names in their heads.  They all talked fondly of scoring games, listening on the radio, going to the ball park, rooting for their team, following every game, and arguing with friends and neighbors who rooted for the other team.  
  • We also talked about the time period.  The participants spent most of the discussion reminiscing with Goodwin.  I brought up the fact that the best memoirs make you recall your own memories, which led one lady to bring out her own list of her memories which this book made her think about.  her list started a longer discussion about all of the great memories this book brought up.  I will not list them all here, but let me say that talk of the era and of life at that time, took up most of our discussion.  It was a fun and dynamic discussion.  It flowed on its own with one participant bringing up a memory and relating it to the book and then another and another.  I had to really do a lot of moderating on Monday, making sure everyone got to have their say.  It was great!
  • One participant felt the book was too light and positive.  She wanted more depth and nuance, knowing what a great and well respected historian Goodwin is.  Another participant who has read and enjoyed Goodwin's heavier books, presented a counterpoint here.  She felt the entire tone of the book was one of nostalgia and adding more negativity, no matter how appropriate, would have spoiled the cohesive tone of the book.
  • We did bring up the few troublesome issues from her childhood:
    • Sick Mother: One participant grew up at the same time with a sick mother.  She said this is how it was.  People did not talk about it or dwell on it, but neighbors just picked up the slack with the kids.  I mentioned how I wanted more depth here, but this participant said as a child, there would not have been more depth for Goodwin.  Yes, looking back she could analyze it, but the memoir is written so that Goodwin is describing how she felt as she experienced her childhood.  This participant felt Goodwin accurately portrayed how it was as it was happening.
    • Polio: Again, I thought Goodwin was sort of flippant about how serious the threat was.  As a mother, those discussions of polio attacking children in a seemingly random pattern with no one knowing how or why it was transmitted was terrifying.  But again, the ladies told me as a kid, you did feel like Goodwin.  You were bummed at not being able to go to the pool or being forced inside on a nice day.  For the parents it was a nightmare, but for the kids, it was a nuisance.  She captured it as they had felt it.
    • The McCarthy Hearings: Probably the most troubling thing Goodwin brings up is living through the McCarthy hearings.  She describes the games her friends all played recreating the hearings that their mothers watched on TV all day, every day for months. They had their own hearings which ended up heated and nasty, much like the ones on TV.  While none of the ladies said they played games like this, they did talk about how scary the hearings were, and how they were all people were talking about at the time.
  • We talked about how much easier it was to have ball players as heroes in the 1950s. First of all, Jackie Robinson was Goodwin's favorite player. A better role model would be hard to find.  We talked about how the people weren't better then, but that the media ignored the bad and focused on the good.  Today, the media looks hard for dirt on any famous person.  We thought that it was still okay for kids to look up to sports figures, but that as parents, we needed to help guide their choices in who they look up to.
  • Goodwin talks about her dual devotions to the Dodgers and the church.  Many of the participants had similar experiences. People talked about meeting kids with different religions, nuns who love baseball, saying lots and lots of prayers before bed, and many of the other things she brings up.
  • We also talked about how unique the 50s were in America.  Things got a bit better every year for all of their families, even those who grew up poorer.  This led to a discussion about the sustainability of that life style and how today's young people may be the first Americans to not do better than their parents in almost a century.
  • There a strong father-daughter relationship theme to this book.  Goodwin and her Dad were very close due to her mother's illness and their shared love of baseball.  This topic, although not discussed specifically, came up frequently and is a huge overriding arc in the memoir.
  • I ended as I always try to with  having people throw out words or phrases to describe the book:
    • memories
    • homespun
    • light
    • baseball
    • relaxing
    • nostalgia
    • comfortable
    • childhood
Readalikes:  There are many directions to take a reader who enjoyed this book.  Next month we are reading another memoir which is a great compliment to Wait Till Next Year, Bill Bryson's memoir of growing up in Iowa during the 1950s, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.

For those who want a full account of the history of the era, I would suggest the wonderful The Fifties by the late historian David Halberstram.

Many might want to read more about the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson.  For those readers I would suggest the following books: Jackie Robinson by Arnold Rampersad, Branch Rickey by Jimmy Breslin, and Forever Blue by Michael D'Antonio. Also, don't forget the aforementioned Baseball by Ken Burns and the companion book.

For those who want more memoirs about fathers and daughters, try Swing Low by Miriam Toews.

For novels, I happen to love novels which feature baseball.  Here are some of my suggestions which capture the tone and feel of Goodwin's memoir:
  • Snow in August by Pete Hamil (NY, baseball, religion)
  • The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa (previous book discussion book, Japan but baseball and scoring it are key, nostalgic and positive tone)
  • Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella (the book on which Field of Dreams was based)
  • Underworld by Don DeLillo (a bit more literary, but begins with "The Shot Heard Round the World" in the Dodgers-Giants game, also this novel tells the history of the second half of the 20th century and readers who also like Goodwin's award winning history titles will really enjoy Underworld)
  • For more, I have this post on Baseball Reads.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Back to Books: Bridging the Physical--Virtual Divide (post updated 4/12)

Today I will be appearing at the Park Ridge Public Library as part of the Reference Librarians Association's Continuing Education program entitled, "Back to Books:"
Librarians have been focused on technology recently and RLA-CE is no different.  We’ve had programs on eReaders, the dot gov websites, and consumer/product evaluations.  But what about books?  Y’know, those things that take up the majority of the space in most libraries?  Made from paper, written from the heart and cataloged with love?  Well, on Tuesday, June 28th, RLA-CE presents workshop highlighting some of the best ways to bring focus back to books and how technology can help us promote books more effectively.
My part of the 3 person panel is about promoting books virtually. I am using my 30 minutes to talk about the importance of using your physical, in library, book promotion in tandem with your virtual work.  I am still surprised by the number of libraries that do not consciously try to use their physical and virtual services in tandem.  My talk is going to focus on how each type of service should be driving patrons to the other.

What follows is a few soundbites from my lecture and the links to all of the examples I will talk about during the presentation.  So, for those of you who attended the event, this post also serves as your paperless handout.


Promoting books in the virtual world is a tricky proposition.  On the one hand, you want to exploit the 2.0 tools of blogs, wikis, and social media to reach more readers, but on the other hand, you do not want to forget about your core brick and mortar customers.

When I co-created the RA department at the BPL in 2000 our goal was to put a spotlight on leisure readers and give them a desk where their needs could be met…and exceeded!  From the start, in our promotion of books to leisure readers, we have made a conscious effort to create a link between our physical and virtual services.

The first step is to think of your virtual work with leisure readers as the other side of the SAME coin you are already using to help the readers who come into your building.  This symbiotic rather than exclusionary relationship is what drives everything we do at the BPL RA desk.  Our goal is to get our patrons to use both services; in fact, we want one to drive them to use the other.  We have built a following in the building and one online, but because we have consciously worked to link the two experiences and make them equally as engaging and interesting, we now have patrons using the physical and virtual services interchangeably.  They have a seamless library experience across every platform.

One last comment that I need to stress.  The one thing the library has in stock that bookstores do not is the backlist.  We try to focus a large portion of our book promotion on the backlist.  That gem of the library; the thousands of great reads just waiting on the shelf to be matched with just the right reader.  For more on my strong feelings about promoting the backlist, click here.
  • Facebook
    • Thursday Book Chat
    • Promote leisure reading events
And the example we are most proud of-- the one which embodies everything we are striving to do as we bridge the physical--virtual divide...
  • The Browsers Corner: Books People Like at the Berwyn Public Library (BPL at the BPL)
    • Physical Corner (see right) with staff suggestions and reading lists, flyers for book clubs, lists of award winners, and resources.
    • Virtual Corner online with same content.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Discussion: TV Adaptations

Like millions of others, I watched the Season 4 premiere of True Blood last night. I am not ashamed to admit that I find the series outrageous, raunchy, unbelievable, violent, and just plain awesome. Personally, I enjoy the show more than Charlaine Harris' books, but that might be more because I have so much else I have to read and am able to get my Sookie fix through the TV.

I know I am not alone. Hello out there, stand up and be counted.  This post I did last year on Sookie Stackhouse readalikes for the Season 3 premiere is one of my most popular ever (we are talking hits in the thousands) and its sister post on the Browser's Corner is also one of that site's most popular pages.

But Sookie is not the only character born in a book and brought to the small screen.  Writers used to strive to sell the movie rights to their work, but these days it seems that television is nabbing some of the best novels to turn  into a TV series. A couple of years ago, The AV Club Blog ran this article commenting on the trend. And when Karin Slaughter came to the BPL last Thursday, she also mentioned that she is actively shopping her books to be made into a television series.

Right now, people are talking about a lot of TV shows. Check out the non-comprehensive list I have compiled below.  These are very popular shows right now and they all began as novels (or graphic novels). The titles are linked to the show, followed by a link to the corresponding book:
And then there are the books that get made into TV shows, are be rejected by the network that ordered them, only to see a fan campaign to let the show be seen.

So for today's Monday Discussion tell me either your favorite book to TV transfer or a book/series you want to see on the small screen.

For the record, I would love to see the bumbling bookmobile librarian Israel Armstrong get his own series, but I may be alone on this one since a British-Jewish librarian working in rural Ireland who can barely keep himself together, let alone solve a mystery is a fairly small niche. But hey, we dream big here on the Monday Discussion.

Monday Discussion archive is here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Karin Slaughter Wrap-Up and ALA National Conference

Sorry no post yesterday.  I was running the Karin Slaughter program all day.  She was great by the way. Very personable, funny, and really LOVES the public library.  We also had a great turn out, including another author, Gillian Flynn.

The good news is you don't just have to take my word for it.  A crew taped the entire thing and will be making a video to go up on Library Journal.com shortly.  I will pass on the link when it is available.

The event went well enough, that Kathy and I are considering seeking out future author appearances (if the conditions are right) for the BPL.  I'll keep you posted.

But back to the real world today, and for many of my friends and fellow librarians that means traveling to New Orleans for the ALA National Conference.  I know two people who are stuck in airports right this minute.

Although I will not be there myself, I have been before and know that a successful conference requires planning.  For what it is worth, I will share my advice today.  Also, if you are not attending, remember, many of the presenters make their presentations available online for anyone to access. Next week, I will highlight some of these.
  • Here is the direct link to the website for the conference.
  • Read CogNotes each day!
  • Follow the official Twitter hashtag for the conference #ala11.  I am following even though I am not there.  This will keep you "in the know" in real time.
  • Please make sure to give yourself at least 2 separate times (preferably on 2 different days) to go through the exhibits.  The exhibit area is huge, but useful.  Talk to the vendors, you may learn a lot.  Also, stop at the booths of the smaller presses.  They are more willing to chat, and you will learn about books you may be missing.  I have made some great contacts this way.
  • Yes some big authors will be there signing books, but ask yourself, is my time best spent standing in line for 2 hours to shake Neil Gaiman's hand, or should I use that time to go to a program and/or see more of the exhibits.  This is the exact choice I was faced with at ALA in Chicago.  I love Neil Gaiman, but I did not wait in line.  Instead, I did go to see more exhibits, and with a huge number of people in line for Gaiman, I got a lot more done with smaller crowds.
  • Try a program that is just outside your area of experience.  I always go to at least one Reference based program.  Not only am I exposed to something new, these tangential program often allow me to look at my RA service from a different perspective.  It helps you to think outside of the box and reassess your services from another angel.  Try it.
  • Finally, if I had to pick one "not to miss" program, it would be Readers' Advisory Research & Trends Forum: What We Learn From Our Readers: A conversation with Nancy Pearl and Catherine Sheldrick Ross, moderated by Joyce SaricksClick here for details.  Joyce will also be accepting the Margaret Monroe Award on Sunday.
If you are going, have a great time.  My cousin just graduated from library school and is making her first trip.  ALA Annual is tiring but fun.  Every library worker should have a chance to go once in their career.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

RUSA 2011 Notable Books List

From the official announcement in RUSQ:
Since 1944, the Notable Books Council has annually selected a list of twenty-five very good, very readable, and at times very important fiction, nonfiction, and poetry books for the adult reader. Books may be selected because they possess exceptional literary merit, expand the horizons of human knowledge, make a specialized body of knowledge accessible to the nonspecialist, have the potential to contribute significantly to the solution of a contemporary problem, or present a unique concept.
These are books that every public library should own.  These may not all be the "best" books out there, but they are good reads for a broad audience.  One of my favorite books I read in 2010 is even on the list.

Click here for the full list of adult fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

What I'm Reading: Warm Bodies

This is a cross-post with RA for All: Horror

What I'm Reading: Warm Bodies

Recently I finished the post-apocalyptic zombie novel, Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion.  Wait right there.  I know what you are thinking, "another post-apocalyptic zombie novel."  But this one is different.

Warm Bodies is Marion's first novel, and it is remarkable for what it is not.  It is not a story of how people are surviving after zombies rise up and destroy life as we know it.  Rather it is the story of a zombie, R, who cannot remember his life before he was a zombie, but with the help of Julie, his human friend, he is beginning to heal.

That's right, I said heal.  The zombie virus appears to be mutating.  And R and Julie, and their human-zombie friendship is leading toward a new future for life on earth by book's end.

I don't want to give much more away about the plot, rather, I want to talk about the appeal-- the "why" you would want to read this novel.

The main appeal to this story are the two main characters and their evolving relationship:  R (the zombie) and Julie (the young adult human). The entire book is from R's point of view.  He is an evolving zombie.  He is healing from the virus that made him a man-eating monster.  Through his relationship with Julie, he is learning to become human again.  As the two grow closer, Jule shares her personal thoughts about how humanity is choosing to live now. I was enthralled by R, how he evolves, and how together with Julie they tried to "change the world."

Since this novel is character centered over action centered, the pace is not super fast, but it is also not slow either.  It would call it "steadily building."  The pace is appropriate to the thought-provoking nature of the story.  As readers, we need a breather from the tense scenes so that we can sit back and process what just happened.  This is a novel of ideas, big ideas, about human civilization and life.  We experience it all through R and Julie, but we readers need time to think about things for ourselves too.

This novel is also appealing because it is so unexpected.  Yes, there have been zombie novels from the zombie's perspective before, but never have I read one that looks at the possibility of the zombies healing and rejoining the world, albeit a totally new world from the one we actually live in.  It is not just the overall theme and plot that are unexpected though.  R and Julie are interesting and original characters.  For someone who reads a lot of zombie books, it was nice to read one that surprised me.

I also want to comment on the setting, which I found extraordinary.  Interestingly, in Marion's imagination of a post-apocalyptic world, humans have turned their huge sports stadiums into new cities.  The scenes when R goes into the human settlement and describes what he sees were riveting.  It was a completely original way to look at how we would organize our lives after everything has collapsed.  Despite the overwhelming mass of fiction which has looked at this issue in the past, Marion managed to add something new to the pile.  I would suggest this book to readers just for these few chapters alone.

So it must now be asked, is Warm Bodies horror?  In the new book, I define horror as, "a story in which the author manipulates the readers' emotions by introducing situations in which unexplainable phenomena and unearthly creatures threaten the protagonists and provoke terror in the reader."

I think the answer to this question may depend on the reader.  The main goal of this novel is to explore the zombie apocalypse and posit a solution, a chance for the virus to be cured, and for civilization to go on again.  However, the unease is huge here.  Since we are in the head of a zombie (who does eat people during the book), we, the readers, are never fully at ease.  Even as our sympathy for R grows, we never fully trust him.  The book does not work if Marion does not play with our emotions and keep us unsteady, engrossed, and ultimately scared of what is coming next.

I would say that Warm Bodies is part of the "new" type of horror as begun by Joe Hill in Horns.  Click here to see where I discuss this issue in detail.  So be prepared to be frightened, but in an unexpected way.

Three Words That Describe This Book: thought-provoking, character-centered, unexpected

Where This Book Took Me (summer reading feature): post-apocalyptic America; into the brain of a zombie.

Readalikes:  The new book has a great chapter on zombie books.  If you haven't been able to tell by now, zombie books are my personal favorite horror stories.  So I have a ton of suggestions for sure bet zombie reads listed in there.  But specifically here, readers who liked the more thought-provoking style with a character centered (not action oriented) focus should try the following books featuring zombies:
The annotations for these suggestions will all appear in Chapter 7-- Zombies: Following the Walking Dead of the new book.

I did also see one Amazon reviewer liken R to Edward Scissorhands. I totally agree. So if you like that movie, try Warm Bodies.

Of course there is also an entire cottage industry in nonfiction zombie survival guides.  It all started with The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks.  But click through and see what else customers bought and you will find nonfiction options like this, this, and this.  

And don't forget the book you should suggest to R to read for himself (now that he is beginning to regain that skill): So Now You're a Zombie: A Handbook for the Newly Undead.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Karin Slaughter Live at the BPL: Now Free to All!!!

Fallen: A NovelAs I mentioned here, best-selling author Karin Slaughter is coming to the BPL on Thursday at 1:30.  She will be talking about her writing, her new book, Fallen (out today), and about the importance of libraries, especially in these tough economic times.

Although this was supposed to be a closed event, the Chicago Tribune ran this article listing our event.  So, we are expecting more people than we might be able to accept.  No problem though.  Slaughter is a great author and is supporting an important cause, so we are trying to accommodate everyone we can.

If you live in the area near the BPL, contact me by clicking here.  I will get back to you.  I will get blog readers on the list first.  

This event will probably fill up, so don't wait.  Get on the list through me now.  Everyone else will have to show up on Thursday and try their luck with waiting in line.

Help support libraries and an author willing to put her neck out for us!

Monday, June 20, 2011

How an Audiobook is Made in 30 Tweets/Videos

Scott Brick, the acclaimed audiobook narrator, got together with his friends to present "How to Make an Audiobook in 30 Tweets."

But not only are they tweeting it, they have also filmed their tweets.

Click here to go to Scott Brick's channel on You Tube where he is cataloging the tweets.  The videos appear in backward chronological order (most recent first),  but they are all numbered.  Just scroll down to the bottom before you begin. 

This is a great series for anyone who has ever listened to an audiobook.  I found it very interesting. Come to think of it, I would also suggest this series of short videos even to people who do not regularly listen to audiobooks.  Watching it may make you want to try one.

To get you started, here is video #1

No Monday Discussion...No AC at BPL

Due to some previously scheduled work on out chiller, the BPL is too hot to open to patrons today; however, I am sitting here braving the heat at the RA desk to make some phone calls to cancel programming for today.

So, there will be no Monday Discussion today.  We'll say it is a victim of heat stroke.

Also, there will be no book club today, which means there will be no report on our discussion this week.  We will meet next week to discuss WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR: A MEMOIR by Doris Kearns Goodwin, so look for the highlights of that discussion next week.

I should post later today, but from the cool confines of my home.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Great Travel Books: General and Specific

With the BPL's summer reading theme being "Novel Destinations," everyone on staff has traveling on the brain.  Case in point, Bobbie in our Processing Department passed on this wonderful list of the 25 Greatest Travel Books of All Time.  I have personally read a few of the titles and loved them myself.

Many patrons also come into the library in the summer looking for a book to match their particular summer vacation destination. So to further help you to help your readers (or maybe yourself) here are a some other options and search strategies I have come across which list good travel leisure reads, both general and specific:
That should get you started.  Happy travels whether you are physically going somewhere, or just taking a trip through your next good read.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Readalikes Direct From the Author for the Stubborn Patron

I always forget to blog about this even though it is a tip which I pass on to patrons and students all of the time.  And it is one which never fails to make me look like a reading superhero.

We all have those patrons who have a handful of favorite authors from which they will not stray, no matter how much we suggest other authors to them.  You know the ones.  They say things like, "I have read everything you have here," even though you have thousands of books which they have never opened.  And you know you have the exactly perfect readalike option for them; it is an author who others whom like said author have loved; it is a best-seller; etc....  They still will NOT try something else.

For these patrons, and others who have absolute favorite authors, I have found success in directing them to the blogs, Facebook pages, and/or Twitter accounts of their favorite authors.  Some even have Goodreads or Shelfari Accounts too.  Most love for fans to ask to follow them on these book social networking sites; in fact, many will contact you first if they see you have their books or ones like theirs already on your shelf. Check out my friends on Shelfari. There are a few authors there.

Authors, especially successful ones, love to promote other authors.  They want you to read.  The more you read the better it is for all of them.  So on their personal social media pages they will talk about their favorite authors, new authors who they are excited about, and backlist gems they love.

To get started, simply Google the author in question and go to his or her homepage.  From there you will find links to any and all places where the author resides online.  It is really easy, but not an option that always immediately comes to mind as you busy helping a cranky patron.

So, take those stubborn patrons and show them how to follow what their favorite authors are reading and suggesting to their fans.  Your patrons will be ecstatic, and will may just finally be willing to try something different.  It may be the exact same title or author you have been trying to get said patron to try for months without success, but when it comes direct from the author's "mouth," your patron will probably finally take the plunge, and you will still be the hero.

Try it out and let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What I'm Reading: The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus

When we have our ARRT Steering Committee meetings, the members are encouraged to share an interesting book with the group.  This is a great way for us Readers' Advisors to share titles that we think would be good suggestions for our patrons.  It also opens us up to new titles.  Since no one can possible read everything, it is a wonderful way to learn about more books.  In fact, I quite frequently will use the suggestion straight from a fellow ARRT member and pass it on to a patron the very next day.

At the March meeting, Karen suggested we all try The Hunchback of  Neiman Marcus: A Novel About Marriage, Motherhood, and Mayhem by Sonya Sones.  She had just turned in this review to Library Journal on the book:
Sones, Sonya. The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus: A Novel About Marriage, Motherhood and Mayhem. Harper: HarperCollins.Apr. 2011. c.416p. ISBN 9780062024671. pap. $13.99. In her first adult novel, an ode to the sandwich generation, Sones employs the same light, free-verse style that has made her young adult titles (Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy; One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies) so popular. Dodging her book editor’s calls, newly menopausal Holly finds no pleasant distraction in focusing on her family—a hospitalized mother suffering from ’roid rage and dementia, an only daughter going away to college, and a husband idling at his own midlife crossroads. Readers will smile when they see the “but” coming in a poem that begins, “My husband has many fine qualities” and sigh when Holly describes the ache she feels watching a young neighbor playing with her toddler. Somewhere between Nora Ephron and Jennifer Weiner, Sones recounts the little ouches of aging with a perfect blend of wit and tenderness.VERDICT This is what chick lit should want to be when it grows up—wise, funny, and blunt.—Karen Kleckner, Deerfield P.L., IL
This book is exactly as advertised.  Holly tells us her story, both her present situation with a daughter about to go off to college, a husband who is keeping a secret, and a sick mother thousands of miles away, and her thoughts about how she got to this point.  Her nostalgic looks back at her daughter's childhood were especially moving for me personally.

Holly's voice alternates between humorous, touching, annoyed, angry, frustrated, joyous, and thankful.  She is the reason to read this book.  Her emotions feel real, her reactions true, and her insight down-to-earth

The verse is not as obtrusive as one would think.  We open with Holly's 50th birthday around the corner and the realization that menopause has come.  The short poems capture her feelings perfectly.  Sones uses some poems to move Holly's story forward and others look at the issues of the sandwich generation in greater detail.  So while one poem may be about how much she will miss her daughter, the next may be about her sagging breasts.  There will be one about her work followed immediately by one about her mother.  The switching back and forth is not distracting, rather, it gives Holly depth.  I could feel her inner struggle and the different things vying for her attention.  I did not need pages of character development to understand Holly.  Her poems, and the order in which Sones placed them, did the heavy lifting of the character development here.

Due to the verse style, this is also a quick read.  I raced through the book telling myself I would just read one more poem, but then 45-60 seconds later I thought, just one more, and again...you get the point.  This would be a great summer read for any mom, whether they are living Holly's life right now, or will be someday.

Three Words That Describe This Book: novel-in-verse, humorous, touching

Where This Book Took Me (summer reading feature):  to a peek into what my life may be like in 12-14 years.

Readalikes:  I like Karen's description that this book fits in somewhere between Jennifer Weiner and Nora Ephron.  The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is a Women's Lives book in the truest sense.  It explores the choices and situations which women in America face today as they move from their child bearing and rearing years into their middle age.

Other women's lives books about mature women which are both humorous and touching are The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine (more literary), Julie and Romeo by Jeanne Ray (more chick lit feel but with an older protagonist), and the Miss Julia series by Ann B. Ross (a cozier story).

Adriana Trigiani is also a great writer of stories of women from all ages and walks of life.  Her focus is on families, friends, and their interaction with a great balance between humor and touching scenes.  She is just an all out excellent story-teller who will appeal to those who like Sones' work here.

Sones also reminds me of Elizabeth Berg, but with a tad bit more in your face humor (Berg's can be subtle).

If you just liked the whole novel in verse thing, I ran a search in NoveList by clicking on the genre heading in this novel's record called "novels in verse," limited it to "Adult" and "Fiction" and got 31 solid results which included books by the poet and novelist Ana Castillo, who is a great choice for these readers.  Try Watercolor Women / Opaque Men: A Novel in Verse or the novel Peel My Love Like an Onion.