I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

NYPL's National Poetry Month Contest

As I have mentioned multiple times this month, I have really made an effort to be more cognisant of poetry during April, National Poetry Month. 

Today, for the last day of the celebration, I have a link to share, and it is one that features a BPL staff member.

This month, the New York Public Library sponsored a contest entitled, "Little Poems, Big Thoughts."  From their site:
"April is National Poetry Month. Celebrate with the winners of NYPL's National Poetry Contest on Twitter chosen by our judges from nearly 400 registrants from 224 Cities in 41 States, ranging from Alaska to Wyoming."
They posted a winner a day, all month long.  There is some fun, accessible, and well written poetry here.  I also love how they used  technology to put a new shine on an old medium.  They may have been tweeted poems, but they are still poems.  What a fun way to stay true to the core mission of the library while still attracting new writers and readers.

As if that were enough, about halfway down the page, one of the winners is the BPL's very own reference librarian, Verna Austen.  Click here for her twitter feed.

Congratulations Verna.  And thanks to the NYPL for running the contest.  And, one last time, Happy National Poetry month.  I hope we all think about poetry a little more all the year through.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday Discussion: RUSA CODES Discussion

I am doing a little something different for today's Monday Discussion.  Instead of us having a discussion, I am going to point you to one that went on last week.

I lurked on the RUSA CODES email discussion entitled: "Navigating the RA High-Wire Act: Practicing RA When You Don't Read Widely."  I had hoped to participate, but due to a staff meeting and a few commitments with the kids at school, I really only had time to lurk.

It was a great discussion, and I was humbled by the nice things people said about this blog.  So those of you who are new to this blog because of the discussion, welcome.

What basically happened in this discussion for two days was that members of the RUSA CODES committee, posed questions and moderated a discussion that began with how to keep up with all of the reading options that are out there.  Of course we can't read it all, but we have to help everyone.

Ironically, during the discussion on email, we had a staff meeting where we went through lists of the most popular authors in all the major genres and assessed or strengths and weaknesses as individuals and as a team.  You will be hearing more about these results in the coming months as we complete some mini genre studies.

But back to the CODES Conversation.  From the initial set of questions, new threads emerged.  I highly suggest you check out the archive as given to us by the moderator:
The conversation will be archived here: http://lists.ala.org/sympa/arc/codes-convos/2013-04/ (click on the 2013/04 box highlighted in blue)

If you have trouble accessing it go to the bottom of this page and join the mailing list, or email me: zombiegrl75[at]gmail[dot]com.  Also you may want to join so you are enrolled in the next discussion coming in August.

Before I go and let you see the discussion for yourself, a note on participating in mass email conversations in general.  They can be overwhelming.  I had hundreds of messages to go through during the 2 days.  However, I sent them to the gmail address listed above.  This is my web communication email address.  It gets lighter traffic than my personal email and my work email.  In this way I could ignore the messages as they piled up when I was busy, and take the time to go through them when I more had time.  Also, gmail can presort the messages into a nice folder for you.

A few people expressed concern over the number of emails they received.  But beyond using the technology to your advantage to help manage the influx of mail in your inbox, I also suggest you look at it a different way.  This is a 2 day barrage of emails that no one is forcing you to keep up with.  But rather, the bounty of information found in them, whenever you get to them, is invaluable.  Don't be mad that you have a lot of emails, be thankful that there are so many people out there, just like you, who want to successfully serve patrons leisure reading needs.

Look beyond the number of emails and see the content.  It was inspiriring to see so many people share their passion for Readers' Advisory, and I gathered a few new ideas from the conversation.  Check it out and you might too.

Click here for past Monday Discussions.

Friday, April 26, 2013

What I'm Reading: Series Round-Up-- Chew Volume 3

As you can see from my reviews of the first two compiled "Omnivore Editions," I am a huge fan of the graphic novel series Chew written by John Layman and drawn by Rob Guillory.

Just what is Chew?  Well you can click here and here to see my posts on Volumes 1 and 2.  I also described the series this way at the PLA 2012 conference:

Welcome to a near future dystopia where a horrible bird flu has killed millions of people, and now, chicken as a food source has been completely outlawed for our own safety.  Or, as we come to question, is that just what the government is telling us? Why? What is the big secret?  Enter Tony Chu, a cibopath, a term that means he can get a psychic impression from whatever he eats.  It also means that if he is willing to eat corpses, he can solve just about any case.  Tony's powers move him to the biggest, baddest government agency in this new world...the FDA!  His job is to stop illegal chicken consumption; however, his powers have created many enemies who are out to get him. Such is the original, dark world of the graphic novel series Chew by John Layman and illustrated by Rob Guillory. This is a dark, character driven story with cliff hangers, shocking plot twists, dark humor, and an extremely interesting frame.  But it is not for the weak stomached.

Since you have had plenty of chances to click here and see the previous reviews,  I am going to move right on in to this third compendium of a year's worth of serial comics.  I felt like this volume brought together all of the strings from the many story lines set up in Volumes 1 and 2 and began knitting the cloth that is the main story of this series.

Let me explain.  Volumes 1 and 2 introduced a ton of quirky characters and set up the world, but it was beginning to feel fractured to me by the end of Volume 2.  I had too many story lines, too many conflicts, too many issues floating around in my head.  Ahh, but I have to give Layman credit.  He knew what he was doing.  Just when I felt the series was getting too busy without going anywhere...BAM!  This compendium was all about taking the loose ends and bringing them into the fold.  We now have one story.

Also, new to Volume 3, Tony has finally been fired by his boss and moved from the FDA to a traffic cop.

The series is still part speculative fiction, part alternate reality, part dystopia, part crime fiction with lots of tongue in cheek humor (see traffic cop comment above) and great, colorful, rich, pictures.  The characters have come a long way too.  They began as merely interesting and quirky, but have now been fleshed out both in drawing and writing.

In fact, now is a good time to mention the illustrator, Guillory.  He has really blossomed in this series. The pictures are beautiful; they add to the story in their vibrancy, playfulness, and detail.  They are useful to moving the story along.  You need to spend time examining the pictures on each page if you want to get the full depth of the story, but they are also so vivid and eye catching that you want to linger.  I see Guillory's talent growing with each book.

A perfect example of the appeal of this series in writing and art, as I have been trying to describe it, is best seen in the extra standalone comic featuring POYO, a secret agent, assassin, bionic chicken. This issue is included in the Omnivore Edition Volume 3. Here is a picture of POYO.  Again, it fully captures the tone of the series.

In general, the speculative world is also getting rounder.  New powers and details are being added.  I would say this is great time to start the series and read all three volumes. If you are not sure (because I have to admit, the frame is a bit on the odd side) read the first issue in Volume 1.  You will know right away if it is for you or not.  If you like it, you should read all 3 "Omnivore" Compendiums

I should mention a few limiters beyond it being "odd."  The series is a bit gory and gross, I mean, the cibopaths take bites out of dead people to find out who killed them.  There is violence and sex, but I would say of the PG13 variety; there is no nudity, but there are people in lingerie, and there are people being split in two. This volume, while advancing the overall story, also has a solid and complete mystery line of its own which involves Tony being kidnapped for an interesting reason.

This is a series I will be sticking with.  I am hungry (pun intended) for more.

Three Words That Describe This Book: offbeat, great characters, rich illustrations

Readalikes:  I have many readalikes if you click here including novels and graphic novels. But I still have a few new ideas.

The offbeat tone with a alternative reality frame reminds me of Seth Grahame-Smith, specifically Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and Unholy Night.  If you like Layman's crazy story lines, I think Grahame-Smith is a nice compliment.

If you like the mystery angle with an original premise and alternative reality setting, Ben Winter's The Last Policeman is a nice match.

And finally, another graphic novel suggestion is the Astro City series by Kurt Busiek which presents short stories about Astro City and the superheroes and citizens who live there.  It is a compelling series with some mystery aspects, lots of offbeat, dark humor, and a SF, alternative reality frame.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

World Book Night 2013 Recap...With Pictures! [UPDATED 4/25]

Well last night I had a great time passing out books at Meijer in Berwyn.  Click here for the details on what books I had.

I do want to give a big thanks to Marsha, the Store Director at Meijer in Berwyn who is a big supporter of the library.  Also, we are very pleased in Berwyn to be the site of one of their first urban stores. Their presence has brought jobs and helped to revitalize the historic Cermak Plaza.

The celebrations began at the BPL at 4:30pm when our fearless leader, Kathy came to distribute our official book giver shirts with the logo on the front and "Book Giver" on the back.  (see me wearing it in the picture below)

I forgot to get a picture of the team, but I went off to Meijer and then another group of four was going to divide and conquer at the commuter rail station.

At a little after 5, I went into the Meijer store, checked in at the customer service desk and got to work spreading my love of books by handing out FREE BOOKS (no strings attached) to shoppers and workers.  Everyone was so nice and appreciative.  It only took me 12 minutes to hand out 25 books!!!!

May people even agreed to have their photos taken with their books.  And I had an employee snap a shot of me too.  They are all embedded below.

But before I conclude this post, I want to say what a great event World Book Night is.  It takes a lot of planning and is run completely on donations.  I hope it continues.  I am proud to have been involved with it since its inception.  Please consider becoming a giver yourself next year.

Even in the "Express Lane" people stopped to take a book

Me in action!
As promised, here are the pictures of BPLers Kathy, Jose and Crystal in the shirts we had made, modeling front and back.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Two Links I Couldn't Wait to Post

I know I have already posted a review today, and it is not time for another RA Links Roundup, but in the two major papers I read daily (yes, I am under 40 and I still read newspapers...in print!) each have had articles that I felt are important for all of the rest of you to see as well.

The first is in the spirit of my trying to be more cognizant of poetry in honor of National Poetry Month (April). The New York Times had this great article about Poets in Unexpected Places, a troop who strive to bring poetry out into the community.  I was very inspired by their work as described in the article.  As one of the founders said in the article, "There is something beautiful about public artwork."

But as great as this is, I was even happier to see my local paper, The Chicago Tribune prominently showcase this column by Ron Grossman today entitled, "A How-To On Loving Your Public Library: A Book Snob Discovers You Can Go Home Again." [Thanks to my mother-in-law for altering me to the article before I got to the paper.]

I am often down on the Tribune's book coverage, not to mention their even worse library coverage.  In this, a city that is home to the American Library Association, a city that has the best network of neighborhood public library's in the country, a city that regularly hosts the national conference for all librarians all over the country, they are constantly ignoring the library or the work of librarians and have even made their book coverage cost extra money; which forced all areas libraries to spend an extra $90 on top of our subscriptions to the paper because we had to have it for our patrons since many of them couldn't afford it. Click here for more on my rant on that. Thanks for the extra financial burden Tribune

Too bad they didn't pay attention to us enough to run this column last week during National Library Week, but better late than never.

It really is a great article, but it is a shame that it starts off by belittling the library (see subtitle as an example). Many of us already understood the joy and wonder of the public library and have made its success our life's mission.

If you are reading this blog, I know you already know what Grossman shares in his column.  I am simply linking to it to show you that even those that are not usually on our side can see the light.

What I'm Reading: The Round House

I was doing great on my New Year's resolution to not get behind by more than 3 reviews, until last week when I finished 4 books!  One, was the book discussion, which I have already written up and the other 3 are in the queue (one of which is for the first resolution), but I had a fifth book still awaiting a review, The Round House by Louise Erdrich.  And, with its place on the short list for the Carnegie Medal being announced yesterday combined with my first slip into not sticking to my New Year's resolution, I am stopping the presses on everything else I had planned to do this morning and finally sitting down for long enough to write this review. [But this means I have to get another one done this week, since there are still 3 in line and I am about to finish another book! By the way, these are great problems to have for someone like me.]

First a little back story on how this book ended up in my to-read pile in the first place.  I have always meant to read Erdrich.  Her books, mostly centered on the reservations and/or tribes of the upper plains (mostly North Dakota) have won numerous accolades and awards. She is also an author that shows up as a good reading suggestion based on my own personal reader profile.  I knew this, but I just never seemed to get around to one of her books.  I think it was because I had a handle on what readers I could suggest her to and I had positive feedback from these readers. With so many other books and authors, I felt like I had Erdrich under control without having to read one.

And then last Fall I had a student whose favorite author was Erdrich.  I was even more intrigued because she was from Arkansas, and had no special affinity for North Dakota or Native Americans AND our reading preferences were eerily similar.  During the Fall 2012 semester, Erdrich also won the National Book Award for The Round House.  Use this link to see her acceptance speech.

Okay, these were enough signs that it was time for me to read Erdrich.  I placed the audio on hold in November (the student told me it was especially good, see the end of the review for those details) and waited.  It was quite the popular book, so I didn't get it until February and I listened to it in March.  I happy to report, this book is worth the hype.

Here is a quick plot set-up.  Our narrator is Joe, an Ojibwe Indian of the reservation in North Dakota.  The story is told from his point of view as an adult, who has become a tribal lawyer and judge (just like his father before him) but the entire story takes place during his 13th summer (1988) when his mom is raped. The story is from his perspective looking back on everything that happened that summer  and how it changed his life forever.

To start with my talk of the appeal, or why you would want to read this book, I found the citation by the National Book Foundation to accurately capture this, so I will begin with their words:
"In this haunting, powerful novel, Erdrich tells the story of a family and community nearly undone by violence. Using the quiet, reflective voice of a young boy forced into an early adulthood following a brutal assault on his mother, Erdrich has created an intricately layered novel that not only untangles our nation’s history of moral and judicial failure, but also offers a portrait of a community sustained by its traditions, values, faith, and stories."
I think this sums up everything the novel is about and the over all feel of the story.  It is important to note here that since Joe's dad is the tribal judge, there are interesting scenes where they discuss specific cases as well as the intricacies and contradictions in the justice system, especially when you are dealing with three jurisdictions-- state, federal, and tribal.

Weaved into the mystery/criminal justice story are the stories of Joe's coming of age and tribal life in the late 1980s.

Let's talk about the huge coming of age theme part of the story first.  Joe is telling us his story.  He is looking back, as a well adjusted adult on the pivotal summer of his life and how it changed him forever, making him the man he is now.  Although we might not agree with the choices Joe ultimately makes and upsetting things end up happening, the overall message is that things happened the way they had to.  Joe is obviously at a good point in his life as a adult, despite what transpired that summer.  So while there is sadness here, the book is not depressing, as Joe let's us know throughout the book that he is a happily married, successful adult.

As I mentioned there is also lots of detail about tribal life worked into the story. For example, a huge scene in the story takes place during a tribal ceremony at the Round House of the title. The juxtaposition of the two events (I don't want to give anything away) is amazing.  Actually, I have a better phrase and it describes the entire feel of the book perfectly-- that scene and others throughout the story are beautifully heart-wrenching. The entire book is constructed in a way that has beauty despite the heart-wrenching things that are happening to Joe's family and their community. This is the essence of the novel's appeal to readers.

The mystery aspects of the story, working out who brutally attacked his mother and why keeps this quiet, thoughtful story moving at an engrossing pace. As details unfold, and Joe and his friend Cappy in particular play detective, the reader is compelled to keep reading.  Things move slowly at first, but eventually Joe and Cappy are caught up in a quest for justice that, while chased after with honorable intentions, is not going to end well. As a result, the over all pacing is leisurely, but compelling with action that spirals downhill quickly for the last third of the book.

But one of the things I appreciate most about this novel, was that all of the details brought up in the more leisurely told, detail oriented parts at the beginning of the novel all come into play in its denouement.  Seriously, every detail becomes important.  This is why I feel it deserves all the awards and recognition it is receiving.  Erdrich has managed to write a detailed novel, in which you are richly rewarded for paying attention throughout.  It reminded me of the writing of Kate Atkinson in this way.  As I said in this review of Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog:
Kate Atkinson is one of my personal sure bet authors.  No matter what she writes, I know I will enjoy it.  What I love about her is that she writes complex, layered stories, but always manages to bring every last thread back together in a smart, interesting, and satisfactory way.  I can sit back and relax when I read an Atkinson book because I trust that she will lead me in the right direction.
This statement holds true here with Round House too.  I would not say the two books are readalikes per se, but if you appreciate writers who have layered, complex stories in which all the threads are brought around in the end, then yes, they are.

Back to Erdrich's novel.  The Round House is also filled with symbolism, but it's not the "goes over your head" type.  For example, at the novel's open, Joe is removing invasive roots  from the foundation of his home. Not only does this scene open the book but it comes back to Joe's memory a few times throughout the story.  It is clear that we (Joe and the reader) are supposed to see that this is a symbol for the uprooting of his innocence and the beginning of his adult life, as well as a harbinger of the intrusion into the foundation of his family and community that is to come. But you get it without being hit over the head.  All the symbolism is calmly, clearly, and elegantly woven into the story, and since Joe is telling the story in a wistful, looking back over it all tone, he is working out the symbolism himself throughout the story with you as he looks back on that fateful summer.

And, to top all of this amazingness (not a word, I know) off, the ending is worth the ride.  It is not an ending without tears, but it is not devastating.  It is mournful and haunting.  It is as I said above, beautifully heart wrenching, just like the book itself.  Too many books these days are great until the ending.  When I find books that are appropriately and carefully concluded, I like to celebrate them and their creator.

Finally, a note on the audio.  The audiobook is narrated by Native American actor Gary Farmer. I cannot stress enough how much his narration enhanced the book.  First, as a Native American, he understands the cadence of Erdrich's writing and of the narrator's storytelling technique.  He moves slower than I would have reading the print, but that is a good thing here.  He is recounting this pivotal summer in Joe (and the tribe's) life in a way that honors the storytelling traditions of the tribe but also reflects the urgency of the tale we are reading.  This added a level of authenticity to the story, and gave me a better overall immersion into the setting and frame than I would have gotten reading the story in my head, using my White, East-Coast world-view.  Even being a Midwest transplant, it is Chicago I moved to, I have no concept of the open stretch of barren lands that is North Dakota.  The spare, methodical narration, forced me to try to place myself in the story.  I greatly appreciated that. Finally, this is a gripping and heart-wrenching first person narration, told by a grown man of the summer that changed his life.  Having that man tell me the story (yes, I know it is a reader, but it felt like Joe was telling me it), in my ear was very powerful and emotional.

I am very glad I read this novel.  It deserves all of the accolades it has received. More importantly, it is also an example of an accessible award winner.  You can confidently give this book to a wide range of readers.

Three Words That Describe This Book: coming-of age, engrossing, beautifully heart-wrenching

Readalikes: Canada by Richard Ford is a great readalike here. Interestingly, as soon as I finished the book last month, I jotted down this readalike option, and then ironically, both were named as finalists for the Carnegie Medal yesterday.  The books have such a similar feel that I would also say my suggestions of Brady Udall and Leif Enger in my review of Canada also hold true for The Round House.  Click through for details.

I also highly suggest Ivan Doig. His novels of Western Montana have a similar feel.  I wrote the Novelist author description for Doig.  You can go to NoveList for the full statement, but here is the part that rings most true for The Round House in particular:
"A typical Doig Western follows a family as they attempt to settle, live, and prosper in an unforgiving environment. Readers enjoy his lyrical prose, deliberate pacing, and vivid scenery. Doig's books are ultimately hopeful, paying homage to his forebearers. Start with: The Whistling Season."
The above suggestions are all non-Native American readalikes, but some readers are drawn to Erdrich because of the Native American frame.

For those who want both Native American and mystery try the late Tony Hillerman or C.J. Box's Joe Pickett novels both of which are mysteries set in Navajoland.  They deal with issues of Native American life and the justice system on the reservation.

Sherman Alexie is often paired with Erdrich.  Both are the most acclaimed Native American novelists of this era.  While Erdrich is mostly concerned with the Ojibwe of North Dakota (in past and present), Alexie's focus is on the Spokane/Coeur d'Alene tribe of the Pacific Northwest today.  Alexie's work is grittier and more concerned with the assimilation issues facing a tribe in a more populated, urban area, but if your readers want more award winning, Native American fiction after reading Erdrich, Alexie is your best bet. My suggestion as a starting point is his breakout short story collection, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.  It gives an introduction to his style and tone.

Here is a longer list of books by and/or about Native American from Goodreads.

Finally, that student from last Fall who finally convinced me to try Erdrich wrote this great annotation of another Erdrich title, complete with a few more readalike options.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction Announced

Today the ALA announced the finalists for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.  Here is the official list:
 I am so excited for three reasons.
  1. I have read all three of these books and loved them.  Use the links to my reviews.
  2. I am so happy to see this award, now in its second year.  The ALA has made a huge impact on Children's Books by having some of the most prestigious awards in the field: The Newbery and the Caldecott, but until last year, librarians had no say in the best books for Adults.  I am glad to see such a solid list of finalists.
  3. I have a final selfish reason.  I will be at the Carnegie Medal dinner on June 30th and I will get to meet one of these fabulous authors in person.  As I said, I loved these books, so I can't lose here.  Although a have a soft place in my hear for Ford and Diaz who have set their books in NJ.
They also have 3 nonfiction finalists.  Click here for all the details.

Monday Discussion: What Are You Doing on World Book Night?

I can't believe it is here.  World Book Night is tomorrow. If you are unfamiliar with the event, go here for more information. But here's the short version.  World Book Night is sponsored by the major publishers and the ALA to have a day where people who love books go out into their communities, in mass, and give out books to anyone and everyone, no strings attached. Here is the full list of books that will be given away this year.

Many readers of the blog are involved with the event whether they are a pick-up location for givers or are givers themselves. So for today's Monday Discussion I thought I would give you all a chance to talk about what you are doing to celebrate tomorrow.

Here's my details.  I got the official okay from Marsha, the store manager at Berwyn's wonderful new Meijer store, to give away books at their location, inside the store, from  5-7 tomorrow night. I will be just inside the store giving away 10 copies of City of Thieves by David Benioff, my first choice, I swapped the other 10 copies with Jose for 10 copies of Looking for Alaska by John Green.  I also have 5 copies of Montana Sky by Nora Roberts because since the BPL was a pickup location for Givers, we were given some extra books. So I have 25 books with a wide range of appeal.

Team BPL also got shirts to wear as we spread out across Berwyn and give out books.

I am so excited to be a part of World Book Night for another year. As it says on the official sign, seen here at the top of the post, World Book Night is all about sharing the love of reading, spreading the joy of books, and celebrating the wonder of stories.  This is my passion, my life's work, and my personal joy.  To be a part of such a great event is a dream come true. I will take some pictures tomorrow night and post them on the blog Wednesday.

Now it's your turn.  Share your plan for World Book Night tomorrow.  How are you celebrating?

For past Monday Discussions click here.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Canadian Crime Fiction

J Kinsgston Pierce, the editor of the crime blog, The Rap Sheet, and a columnist for Kirkus, had a very interesting string of of posts about Canadian Crime Fiction this week.
I was first drawn to reading these posts because of the huge popularity of Louise Penny here in America, but I got more than I expected out of them.

Click here to read the Kirkus article in which Pierce interviews people who are scholars on Canadian crime fiction, lists resources and authors, and posits that Canadian crime fiction may be less popular in the US because it does not seem exotic enough to readers. But, as he considers in the article, there are very real differences between the crime fiction of our countries.

In the article, Pierce has a few quotes from Marilyn Rose, a professor in the Department of English at Ontario’s Brock University. With Jeannette Sloniowski, an associate professor in Brock’s Department of Communication, 
Popular Culture and Film, Pierce tells us, "Rose has created the online database CrimeFictionCanada, a scholarly resource dedicated to the study of detective fiction in English. Rose and Sloniowski are also co-editors of the book Detecting Canada: Essays on Canadian Detective Fiction, Film, and Television, which is due out in July from Wilfrid Laurier University Press." (see cover left)

Then, in this post on The Rap Sheet, Kingston shared the text of his entire interview with Rose.  I found this interview intriguing.  It is opening my eyes to more writers.

But where to start?  Well, that leads me to this post from last night on The Rap Sheet, a list of the Crime Writers of Canada's annual award nominees.  Click through to their website to learn even more.  In the meantime, I am getting my order for Detecting Canada in later today. 

And, I am going to add the Crime Writers of Canada's website to my go-to Crime Resources.  I have been exploring it all morning and am quite impressed.  I also love their punny tag line: "The write kind of crime." So they have a good sense of humor to boot.

I am embarrassed to admit I knew nothing of these resources.  But that is why I always caution my colleagues that you are never done learning and improving your skills.  People consider me an RA expert and here I am identifying an embarrassingly large hole in my knowledge. But I also know that this is par for the course.  I write this blog to educate myself as much as all of you readers.

Well, now we all can try a Canadian Crime novel beyond Louise Penny.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Wet, Wet, Wet

I am sure you know or have heard, but Chicago is very wet today.  We have had around 5-7 inches of rain in the last 48 hours on already soggy ground.  Many libraries in the area are closed due to flooding in the building or flooding in the streets.  Major highways are closed due to standing water.  The zoo even closed for only the 3rd time in its history.

I talked to the head of our local park district today and asked how the parks were doing.  He said great if you need to go for a swim. This is taking the whole "April Showers" thing a bit too far.

We have one more round of storms to come (right about when the kiddos get out of school) and then we will be able to dry out a bit.

So of course, all regular plans for posts today have been usurped by thoughts of rain and water. So I figured, why not make a list of stormy reads.  Problem is, all the ones I can think of off the top of my head are horror novels.  I guess that makes sense since a truly terrible storm is horrific on its own, and then, if you set a monster on the loose, it gets even worse.

My favorite book that takes place almost entirely during a storm is Castaways by Brian Keene.  Click here for a full review.  Castaways is an homage to the late, great horror author Richard Laymon.  Laymon's One Rainy Night is a terrifying tale of a strange precipitation that is turning people into violent killers.

There are many more stormy horror tales, but I want to offer a wider range of reading options.  Try The Rainy Season by James Blaylock.  I really like Blaylock's fantasy and steampunk and have had great luck giving his books out to readers. He is an author that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle though. Not today though.

There are also the popular thrillers by Barry Eisler featuring the half Japanese, half American assassin turned secret agent John Rain.  Rain Fall is the first in the series. Not about rain at all, I know. The series is a great choice for fans of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series.

For those looking for brighter skies, there are rainbows.  Rainbows are used in the titles of many romance novels because they invoke the idea of a fresh start after a horrible storm.  The romantic suspense tale, Annie's Rainbow by Fern Michaels is quite popular at our library. What about women's lives? Those titles also often deal with a new beginning.  Chasing Rainbows by Kathleen Long a well reviewed choice.

Finally, don't forget movies-- a great suggestion if the whole family is holed up due to rain.  Why not watch Monsoon Wedding?  It's not about rain, but its title is in the right spirit of this list and it is a great movie.

I hope you are all staying safe and dry. Feel free to leave a rainy read in the comments.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

BPL Book Discussion: I Still Dream About You

On Monday the group met to discuss the upbeat, character driven I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg.  Here is the publisher's summary to get us started:

The beloved Fannie Flagg is back and at her irresistible and hilarious best in I Still Dream About You, a comic mystery romp through the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, past, present, and future.
Meet Maggie Fortenberry, a still beautiful former Miss Alabama. To others, Maggie’s life seems practically perfect—she’s lovely, charming, and a successful real estate agent at Red Mountain Realty. Still, Maggie can’t help but wonder how she wound up in her present condition. She had been on her hopeful way to becoming Miss America and realizing her childhood dream of someday living in one of the elegant old homes on top of Red Mountain, with the adoring husband and the 2.5 children, but then something unexpected happened and changed everything.
Maggie graduated at the top of her class at charm school, can fold a napkin in more than forty-eight different ways, and can enter and exit a car gracefully, but all the finesse in the world cannot help her now. Since the legendary real estate dynamo Hazel Whisenknott, beloved founder of Red Mountain Realty, died five years ago, business has gone from bad to worse—and the future isn’t looking much better. But just when things seem completely hopeless, Maggie suddenly comes up with the perfect plan to solve it all. 
As Maggie prepares to put her plan into action, we meet the cast of high-spirited characters around her. To Brenda Peoples, Maggie’s best friend and real estate partner, Maggie’s life seems easy as pie. Slender Maggie doesn’t have to worry about her figure, or about her Weight Watchers sponsor catching her at the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop. And Ethel Clipp, Red Mountain’s ancient and grumpy office manager with the bright purple hair, thinks the world of Maggie but has absolutely nothing nice to say about their rival Babs “The Beast of Birmingham” Bingington, the unscrupulous estate agent who hates Maggie and is determined to put her out of business. 
Maggie has heartbreaking secrets in her past, but through a strange turn of events, she soon discovers, quite by accident, that everybody, it seems—dead or alive—has at least one little secret. 
I Still Dream About You is a wonderful novel that is equal parts Southern charm, murder mystery, and that perfect combination of comedy and old-fashioned wisdom that can be served up only by America’s own remarkable Fannie Flagg.
Let's move on to the discussion:

  • As I expected with the feel good plot line we had 13 likes and 4 so-sos with no dislikes.  I have read Fannie Flagg before, and I really don't know how you could "dislike" her upbeat stories filled with rich and quirky characters.  I was one of the so-sos, but for me, I am always so-so on Flagg.  I love her fun and compelling story lines and I adore her characters but, the far fetched fairy tale endings (which I know are coming before I begin) always leave me a bit disappointed.  Three of the other "so-so" people shared my thoughts.  One said, "I loved the characters but the plot was ridiculous." On the other hand, here are some of the liked comments--the majority opinion:
    • The characters were meaty, like people you would actually know.
    • If the characters walked out of the book, they could be your friend.
    • It was fun.
    • Birmingham came alive to me in this book.
  • Although this question was not provided by the publisher, I felt strongly that I needed to ask it.  I began by pointing out the tonal inconsistency that is the backbone of this book. Maggie's "plan," mentioned above, is to kill herself.  I am not spoiling anything because we learn this very quickly as readers.  So I asked, "This book has a light and fun tone, yet the entire story is predicated on a planned suicide.  How did that make you feel?"
    • One participant said it was fine because Maggie went to such great extremes to plan out every single detail around her suicide that it was comical.  This meant you never thought she would actually do it.
    • We then listed our favorite "funny" things she did each time she planned for and cancelled her suicide attempt.  I will not give them away here because they did add to the enjoyment of the story.  The point you need to know here is that it is comical to an absurd sense.  We agreed that this was handled masterfully by Flagg.  She was able to allow Maggie to come full circle from wanting to kill herself to relishing life without bringing the over tone of the book down.
    • She also did not treat the suicide storyline too frivolously.  SMALL SPOILER ALERT-- We all saw this when Maggie has a dream about going through with it.  We were all as upset as her by the vividness of this scene.  We knew she would not ultimately kill herself because the tone of the story was too happy, but every person in the group was effected by this emotional scene. It made us all question our belief that Maggie would NOT kill herself and that realization left us all breathless. Again, we thought this was a great job by Flagg.  It was her good writing that made us feel such intense emotion.
  • This discussion led us to a larger discussion of Maggie:
    • Maggie began the book as a passive person who only saw the world in black and white, so to her, of course there was on other option than to kill herself.
    • Maggie grew up above a movie theater.  Her plans were like she was planning the ending to the movie that was her life. This led to another lovely side discussion about how her life above the movie theater was described.
    • Maggie was Miss Alabama, but felt like her life did not live up to that title.  She had a problem when life was ordinary.  The ordinary is what she was most afraid of and could not handle. So when life became ordinary without anything to look forward to, that's when she felt ready to kill herself.
    • She seemed so put together to all of those around her, but inside she was a mess.  
    • She was a functional depressed person
    • She kept putting off her suicide because she had things to do, but when she actual dreamed of going through with it, Maggie understood the will to live.
  • We talked about Maggie's decision on Easter Sunday not to kill herself, but rather to live life to its fullest.  We decided it was like a delayed (she's 60) coming of age when Maggie finally stopped expecting her life to be laid out like a perfect movie and instead accepted life for the imperfect, but glorious, thing that it is. So then I asked the group when in the story did mature Maggie start.
    • When she stole the listing for Crestview from the villian Babs. It gave her life purpose and brought her childhood dreams full circle.
    • When she had the dream and decided to live
    • When she was still planning to kill herself and began to realize that if she was going to die, she did not have to go the gym anymore or worry about the news or worry about speaking her mind or even worrying about what people thought.  When she shed all of these things about living she hated, she began to enjoy living again.
    • When Hazel died five years ago, Maggie started planning her death; that is when she ironically began to live again.
  • We talked about the Miss Alabama and Miss America storyline.  This is the key thing about Maggie's life.  As you read we find out she was the leading contender to win Miss America.  This was during a time when the Miss America pageant was watched by almost every American.  However, Maggie's turn coincided with the violence in Birmingham and the glaring spotlight it put on their city.  Alabama and our country were going through a crisis.  Maggie was caught in the middle.  It was emotional to see her go from front runner to being hit with mud pies due to current events, not due to anything she did.  Seeing the time period through Maggie's eyes and through her friend and partner (a black woman now, young girl at time) was interesting and gripping.
  • This prompted one person to say that Maggie, Brenda, and the city of Birmingham were the three main characters to her.  Maggie and Brenda are a given.  But we explored this idea of "The Magic City" as a character.  The more we thought about it, the more we all agreed.  This patron even brought in a section from our local papers which was talking about Birmingham 50 years later.  Reading this book with an eye to Birmingham as a character really made us appreciate Flagg's writing more too.  We talked about instances where the city itself grows and changes as a character would.
    • On a side note, this same patron said that the novel made her realize that she still holds stereotypes against "Southerners," especially in regards to Civil Rights. This book opened her eyes to her own prejudice and made her realize that the city and the people living in it have changed too.  Just as she has changed over time, they have evolved too, and they are not the same people, nor the same town, that knocked people down with firehoses.
  • This idea of Maggie's nostalgia for the old, pre-Civil Rights tainted Birmingham and her acceptance of how it is today led one participant to bring up the title.  Who is still dreaming about whom:
    • Of course we began with Maggie and Brenda's separate dreams for the city.  Maggie dreams to save the charm of the old city and by saving its oldest, grandest house she meets her dream, while Brenda dreams of becoming mayor to fix the city. Maggie's dream is especially reinforced by the cover, which is a view from Crestview ( the house) looking down on a beautiful city.
    •  It could also refer to Maggie and Charles still dreaming about each other after so many years apart
    • Hazel: they all still dream of her and she obviously thought of them from beyond the grave by leaving contingencies in her will to make them all wealthy after her husband passed.
    • It could also refer to Maggie's disappointment in not being the person she dreamed she'd be.
    • Finally, we liked how the book ended with the dream of a young girl as she looked up at Crestview.  It all came full circle, both the story and the title.
  • This book is also about the power of female friendships.  For Maggie and Brenda, a deep and true friendship emerges by the end of the book.  They thought they were friends before, but by the book's end, they come to understand a deeper friendship.  We also see through flashback, the relationship between Hazel and Ethel.  This story is a testament to the wonder and power of female friendships, but done it a way that does not lay it on too thickly.
  • Speaking of friendships, Hazel is a larger than life force in this novel.  She is the dynamo, little person who became a real estate and business mogul.  She believed in Maggie and hired her when her prospects were dim, same for Brenda.  But at the novel's open (2008) she is 5 years dead.  Here's a summary of our Hazel discussion:
    • She was positive, feisty, and a fighter
    • We talked about how Hazel was a bit too good to be true, but she felt real.  Maybe not 1 person, but she felt like an amalgamation of people we all know in life.
    • She was the ray of sunshine in Maggie, Brenda, and Ethel's life.  Her positive attitude kept them going.
    • She saw the beauty in everything and accepted herself, something both Brenda and Maggie struggle with throughout the book.  By the end, though, Brenda and Maggie get there and are happy with themselves and their lives.
    • Hazel is the moral center of the book. We all have limitations, some are more obvious than others, but we all can rise above.  Her moral center place in the book is underscored by Maggie seeing a sign from Hazel in the form of a white lily on Easter Sunday, and this becomes the final straw in Maggie's decision to not kill herself.
    • Hazel was a bit too perfect a character, but Flagg knows this.  That is why we think it is important that Hazel is dead in the present of the book.  It is more effective to have her appear as remembered.  The real Hazel is not there, just the fond memories.  As a literary device this allows the reader to accept a "perfect" Hazel easier. It's all a bit too sweet, but it is okay because the Hazel of the book is not "real."
    • We talked about the mystery surrounding the builder of Crestview that pops up in the middle of the book.  People felt that while it seemed to come out of nowhere, overall the story line added depth to the setting and enhanced the notion of Birmingham as a character in the story.  It also gave Maggie purpose and direction, allowing her to unite her old self and her new self. And, it underscored the theme of the literal and figurative skeletons in everyone's closets. Maggie is not the only one living with a secret.
    • We talked about Maggie and Charles.  When they were younger it seemed Charles really did love and appreciate Maggie for who she was, but Maggie was still living in movie mode.  She wanted to "make it big."  But by the end, both are different people.  She appreciated him more now because she appreciated herself finally.
  • We wrapped it all up with words or phrases to describe the book:
    • entertaining
    • flair
    • quirky
    • characters
    • delightful
    • funny
    • heartwarming
  • On a final note, I think this novel is a great choice for a book group who is getting bogged down by depressing books.  Yes it is a feel good story, but there is enough meat and issues to handle a discussion.  It was a nice pick-me-up for the group.
Readalikes: As one participant mentioned, Adriana Trigiani is a great readalike option for Flagg fans.  Both women write compelling and heartwarming stories that feature some of the best characters in contemporary fiction.  They are also both able to balance the serious and the funny in their stories.

For people who liked the Southern setting, aging main characters, mix of serious and funny story lines, and over all quirky feel should also try the Miss Julia series by Ann B. Ross.

Lorna Landvik also writes stories of women and their friendships again tackling more serious topics but with an overall heartwarming tone. Years ago, back before the blog, our group read Angry House Wives Eating Bon-Bons.

Speaking of previous books, two other books I would suggest that we read are  Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens and The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas. Use the linked titles for full reports.

Finally, during the discussion we talked about how the parts of the story during which Brenda and Maggie talk about not fully understanding what was happening in their town and how it was perceived by the wider world during the Civil Right Movement reminded us of  The Help.  In The Help, Skeeter has to find out from an editor in NYC just what is going on in her home town Jackson, MS. Both are also about unexpected friendships.

Random House Authors Celebrate Libraries

National Library Week continues and Random House's Library Marketing Team is pulling out all the stops.  Click here to read an essay a day--all week long-- by bestselling authors writing about why they love libraries.

I will be back later today with the BPL book discussion report too.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pulitzer Wrap-Up

We have 6 hours of disaster training at our library in-service today.  After yesterday's events it seems to come not a moment too soon.

This also means I do not have time for an original blog post.  However, I do have something to point you to today.  Yesterday's winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson, one of my favorite reads of 2012.

Two finalists up were also cited, one of which was another one of my favorite reads of 2012, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. 

Click on the titles to read my reviews.

I cannot say enough good things about Johnson's novel in particular.  It is a book that has stayed with me long after I finished it.  I listened to it, and highly recommend the audio too.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday Discussion: National Library Week Edition

Welcome to National Library Week, the one week a year when the wonderful world of libraries are celebrated by all.  And with Caroline Kennedy as our spokesperson this year, we are getting lots of media attention.  Click through for more information.

In honor of National Library Week, I thought I would put a twist on the Monday Discussion today and ask you all what your favorite thing about being a library patron is.

I will go first. The library has meant many different things to me over the years, but I want to share a favorite moment from just last week.  I love how my local public library is not only a place where my children love to go, but also, a place they are made to feel welcome. Too often kids are seen as pests in the community, but not at my library.

Let me explain. This last week my daughter's school art work was picked to be hung in the public library so we have been in and out of the Youth Department for her to show it off to people. On Friday, my 8 year old son and I went to look at it and get him a book.  Here's what I loved.  He went up to the librarian and the two of them had a 5 minute conversation about books.  They were sharing back and forth about titles they enjoy and why.  She was 3x his age, but talked to him like a peer.  There was no baby talking or talking down.  He was treated like a book loving patron.  He left happy and I left elated.  He will remember positive interactions like this forever, and that makes me happy.

So in honor of National Library Week share your library patron moments here.

For past Monday Discussions click here.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Game of Thrones Episode by Episode Readalikes

As I have mentioned on this blog before, one of the projects I am working on is a list of readalikes for the fans of George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones TV series on HBO and A Song of Ice and Fire book series.

I am currently in the gathering sources and idea stage of the brochure, but something that struck me as extreme useful and interesting is this ongoing series of posts on the NoveList Blog where Lisa Schimmer takes each episode of Season 3, summarizes it, and then gives episode by episode read and watch alike suggestions.  This is the link for episode 2, but it has a link to the first episode too.  A quick peek back here every so often should give you new ideas and suggestions.

I think these are a bit too specific for my more general readalike brochure, but it is a very cool option to have for your hard core Martin fans.

Also, don't forget the BPL's A Song of Ice and Fire reading map.  It is chock full of links and suggestions.

Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Reading A Year Without Autumn For a School Book Club

During February and March I was part of a team of 3 moms who led a weekly, lunchtime school book discussion for 5th grade girls (a group that included my own daughter).  Our book was A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler.  Like all my book discussion reports, I will begin with the publisher's summary:

The author of the best-selling Emily Windsnap series spins a gripping tale about a girl who stumbles into the future--and must change its course to save a friendship. 
Jenni Green's family vacation has finally arrived! Even though she has to deal with her annoying little brother, her slightly overbearing dad, and her very pregnant mom, she gets to spend a week with her bestest friend in the world, Autumn. But twelve-year-old Jenni's world turns upside down when she takes an old elevator to visit Autumn and discovers that everything has changed: not only is her friend in a different condo, but tragedy has struck Autumn's family, Jenni's mother has had her baby, and everyone is a year older. When Jenni realizes that the elevator caused her to skip a whole year, she tries to go back, but soon finds that fixing things won't be as easy as pressing a button. How can she alter the past and keep her family and Autumn's from falling apart? With honesty and insight, Liz Kessler explores how the bonds of family and friendship can endure through time.
I initially agreed to help lead this club because they were having trouble finding people to help and they knew I was a librarian, so they reached out to me.  Due to my work schedule though, I could not commit to more than 2 meetings, but as it turned out, that was enough.

The group ran 8 weeks, during which the girls were asked to read 2 chapters a week. The discussion would be about those 2 chapters specifically, and, as the discussion went on, we could relate the current chapters to what we had already read.  Also, we were asked to make sure the girls made predictions at the end of each meeting as to what would happen next in the story.  So it was very important for people not to read ahead.  This was no easy request however, as the book was very compelling, but overall the girls honored this rule.

I led a middle discussion and the final discussion. I chose to do the last one on purpose, as this is where I knew my skills would be the most useful, although as you will see in #3 below, I am now okay leading a discussion of part of a book.

Since I only led 2 of the meetings, and we read bits of the book at a time, I am not going to walk you through our discussions in detail as I do for my monthly discussions, rather, I am going to use this post to share with you 3 important things I learned by being a part of this book club.  These 3 things are concepts and skills I can now take to improve my own book group.

  1. It recharged my batteries.  While I was in working with the girls, I was also creating a brand new "Re-Charge Your Book Club" webinar for a library system in the Kansas City Metro Area.  So while I was methodically going through my strategies for reinvigorating an adult book group in the doldrums, I was experiencing these 10 and 11 year old girls pure joy at getting to discuss this book.  There were times girls were literally jumping out of their chairs to have the chance to talk.  They were invested in characters and situations with all of their hearts.  I would ask them pretty detailed questions about characters' motivations and they would jump at the chance to share their thoughts.  One other thing I loved about them was that they were quick to make a judgement but then after listening to their classmates, they were also easily willing to rethink that initial opinion.  They were open minded and curious, a perfect combination for a fruitful book discussion.  For me, it was so great to see a group so eager to discuss, so eager to share ideas with each other, and so eager to learn from one and other.  I now saw that the key that re-charging any long time adult group, or long time adult book club leader, is to recapture that pure joy in the discussion itself; the discovery of new ideas, the joy of the story, and the sharing of the book and how it makes us feel.  It is that simple.  Get the group back to the "why" they got together in the first place and you improve the entire experience for everyone.  This became the heart of my brand new webinar, and now I can share this with a larger audience.
  2. It got me to rethink what questions need to be asked.  When you can only ask questions about part of a book, you really need to think about what needs to be discussed much more closely.  I created questions that were much more focused and pointed for this club.  For example, we spent a lot of time talking about the characters in detail. Not just if we liked them or not, but how they were portrayed, why they were in the story, etc...  I asked about specific phrasing, plot devices, and smaller events.  This allowed us to focus on why the author created the story and what her intentions were in much more detail than when I am discussing an entire book at once.  The girls were really drawn to these questions and considered them in the weeks that followed too.  I then took this experience with me when I led my March book club at the BPL.  I think you can even see the benefits in my report here.  We really focused in more than usual and people responded well to it.
  3. It got me to consider taking a book in pieces.  This was a strange experience for me.  I had never discussed a book in pieces.  Now, I would never be able to meet weekly with my group and discuss only a few chapters at a time, but we do have a hard and fast 400 page limit rule in the BPL book club.  We never waiver from it.  But there have been times when people have wanted to discuss a longer book, most notable with John Adams. I said no outright without considering an alternative.  Well, do I feel stupid now because we easily could have broken it up into 2 larger chunks and had a great discussion.  So now when someone asks for a longer book, I will consider offering it as a 2 month option.  And I think doing that will allow my group to reap some of the benefits in numbers 1 and 2 as well.
As a final note, during the last meeting all 3 parents were there and I saw how wonderfully this book could work for a mother-daughter book discussion.  There is enough here for adults-- such as the nature of friendships and whether or not you would go to the future to see yourself and your life if you could-- and these topics are especially ripe for a multi-generational discussion.

But what I am most happy about with this experience is that I can say in all honesty that I learned from the girls as much as they learned from me.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Browsers Corner Updates

I am manning the ship alone this morning so no time to get a review up.  However, I did have something to share quickly.  The Browsers Corner has new updates.  Along with new books to suggest, Kathy also just posted the latest annotated list of books that were presented at the last Book Lover's Club meeting.

I am most excited about reading the newest crop of Book Lover's Club blurbs because I was on vacation for the last meeting.  Now it is just as if I didn't miss a thing.  Big thanks to Jose for taking the notes in my absence too.

You can access the annotated lists from all past Book Lover's Clubs here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Switching My RSS Feeds From Google Reader To...

I spent half of yesterday and all this morning finishing up my testing of different feed reader replacements and officially switching over.

As I have said on this blog many times, the RSS feed is a librarian's best friend.  I need to know what is going on in so many different arenas, a large portion of which are outside my personal areas of interest and/or expertise, but having a computer compile the information for me, all in one place, at all times which I can access from any computer or smart phone makes the job more manageable, makes me better at my job, and allows me to appear smarter than I am.

For years I have used Google Reader to do this, mostly out of laziness.  Since this blog is hosted on Google, I could login once to access multiple services.  Now, I knew Google Reader wasn't the best feed reader out there, but again, ease of use was a huge benefit to me.

But now, with Google discontinuing the Reader in July, I was forced into action.  After some initial research before my vacation (this article was the most useful for me) I had narrowed the search down to 2 services: Feedly and Net Vibes.  In the end I chose Net Vibes, but what works for me may not work for you.  To that end, I will explain what I saw as the positive and negative about each and explain why I made the choice I did.

First, Feedly.  I was initially drawn to Feedly because of its touted seamless integration across platforms.  It seemed that you got the same experience on a computer vs iPhone vs iPad.  This was intriguing to me.  Also, a few other bloggers I follow mentioned how well it was working for them. And, it took only 1 click for it to import my entire Google Reader data.

However, I hit a few snags with Feedly.  First, it is a app, not a cloud program.  So you have to download the app on your phone and add it as an app to your browser.  Here is where I hit the biggest snag.  The phone was no problem. I got the app running and was reading my feeds.  But, I have to say, I did not like the flashy interface (very much like Flipboard) to access my feeds.  When it comes to scanning my feeds, I want it to be simple text that I can move through, mark the ones I need to go back to, and quickly clear out the junk.

But that was just the phone app.  I only access my feeds via the phone once or twice a week.  I mostly am looking through my feeds as I am working on the computer at home or work.  Between the 2 locations I have 4 computers I use almost daily and 2 more I access regularly.  That is 6 computers to load the app onto.  To make matters more difficult, I work at the public library.  Four of those computers are at that library.  I need the IT guy to not only give me permission to install Feedly to my browser, but I need him to do it for me.  We cannot add anything to the computers without him.  I thought of asking him to do it on one, but then I realized I would also need the browser to be regularly updated for it to keep working, and this too is tricky.  Ahhh, too much extra work and hassle

I did try Feedly out at home though.  Again I found it too flashy for my needs so I decided not to pursue the matter until I test drove Net Vibes to have a comparison.

Net Vibes made my final trials because the research I did said that it most closely resembled Google Reader in look (if you took off the default Widget mode (the flashy one) and put it in Reader mode; that took only one click). It is a cloud reader, meaning I can access it from any Internet connection anywhere.  The mobile version is web based, not an app which is fine with me.

I have begun to set up the Net Vibes, but am having some trouble exporting my Google Reader data.  Their directions are not jiving with what information I am getting on Google's screen.  But for now, I was simply playing with its look and setting up my categories: General, RA, Horror, and Teen.  I am also toying with the idea of NOT exporting my Google Reader data.  I figure since I have a few months, I can slowly move things over to Net Vibes and do some spring cleaning of resources while I am at it.

So far I really like the clean, data first look for the reader.  It also have plenty of ways I can catalog and organizes my feeds; a dream come true to a librarian. I have to admit, I went away on vacation very worried about what I would do about Google Reader ending and dreaded having to deal with it on my return, but I think it is all going to be okay.

I hope this post helps some of you who still have to make the switch.  Or, even better, if you aren't already using a feed reader to help you to manage the most information possible, give one of these options a try for yourself.  Back to regular reading based posts tomorrow.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Monday Discussion: Same Book Different Age, Any Difference?

It is drab and raining here today with the promise of two more days of the same.  I was not feeling very inspired to come up with a Monday Discussion today.  But thankfully, Elizabeth the Intern was here and she had a great idea. It's one I have done before, but not for years.

So the question is, is there a book you read when you were younger that you did not like, but re-read as an adult and loved?

I will go first.  I read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school and liked it just fine, but when I re-read it as an adult, I absolutely loved it.  I understood Atticus Finch and his dilemma much better the second time around.  We get the story through Scout's eyes only, and since she is a kid, she doesn't articulate everything that is really going on, only what she sees and notices.  As a kid myself reading the novel, I took everything Scout said as the whole story, but as an adult, I knew how to read between the lines more.

What about you?  For today's Monday Discussion share an experience you have had where a book changed for you by reading it at a different point in your life.

Friday, April 5, 2013

What I'm Reading: The Madman's Daughter

Okay, so I am trying to get into the groove of this reading more YA lit thing, so over my recent vacation, I nixed the plan of reading The Twelve and instead brought along The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd (and a whole bunch of New Yorker back issues). It was the only "work" I did on vacation. But thankfully, it ended up being very enjoyable.

I was intrigued by The Madman's Daughter when I was reading reviews, and in fact, I placed a hold for myself at the same time I ordered it for the BPL Teen collection.

Why was I intrigued? Because The Madman's Daughter is basically a retelling of The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells but from the Doctor's 16 year old daughter's perspective. First, I love Wells and second, it was a YA book that was not dystopian.  Also, a mad scientist, not a romance, was the driving force behind the narrative.

Let me give a bit more detail.  Juliet Moreau is a poor maid at the medical college in 19th Century London, but she was not always living on the bottom of society.  In her childhood her father was a celebrated surgeon, but there was some controversy with his work, he was run out of England and presumed dead.  Juliet and her mother got by (with her mother turning toward being a glorified concubine) until her mother's death of consumption.

Desperate, Juliet follows a lead that her father might still be alive and discovers her childhood friend/family servant boy Montgomery, who reluctantly tells Juliet that her father is alive and continuing his "great" work on an isolated island in the South Pacific.  Juliet returns to the island with Montgomery to try to understand her father's obsession with his science, decide for herself if he is the monster people back in London say he is, and hopefully reconnect with him.

During the long sea voyage, the ship picks up a castaway, Edward Prince.  And thus the story begins in earnest.

Dr. Moreau is just like he is in the Wells classic.  He has created new, thinking beings by combining other animals.  The story is part sf thriller, part love story (as Juliet explores her feelings for Montgomery and Edward) and part mystery, as Juliet needs to learn about her own origins and deduce where her father's allegiances truly lay.

The novel is Gothic in the classical sense of the term.  It has bits of horror as there are monsters (both human and science fiction) who incite fear and attack and chunks of thriller (as there are great action-mystery-investigation scenes).  It is also a coming of age story.

I saw one reviewer on Amazon call the novel "grotesquely beautiful."  This I think sums it up perfectly.

There are shocking twists here, and more literary allusions than just the Moreau stuff. In fact, I think adult readers will get more out of the twists and allusions than most teens will.

It is also important to note that if you did not know the Island of Doctor Moreau back story, you would be fine.  The story stands nicely on its own, but a knowledge of what it is an homage to makes it even more fun to read.

I have read some reviews that thought the sea voyage scenes were slow and useless.  I disagree because they help to set the historical tone of the story.  Passage by ship was slow and arduous.  The length of story spent on the voyage underscored how far they were going.  Also, it helped to solidify Juliet's character.  Her inner conflict between loving her father, holding on to intense anger at him and being petrified of him was established here.  Finally, this book is set to be the first in a trilogy, and the second book will be beginning on the sea, so I think some of what we saw in those long sea voyage passages here, will come into play in book two.

Speaking of the planned trilogy.  I have to say, I was sad to see the story was going to continue.  I felt the ending was perfect. It is not traditional YA though, so true readers of the genre would be disappointed if it ends as it does.  People have called it a cliff hanger ending, but I did not see it that way.  The conflict on the island is resolved and we know Juliet returns to civilization because we are reading the book she has presumably has written a book about her adventures (the novel is in first person). The love story is what you could say has a cliff hanger, but I disagree; I think it ends as it should.

Again, on this point I think this is an adult reader reading YA problem.  I like ambiguous endings that veer toward the darker resolutions (Like Gone Girl), whereas, most YA readers want wish fulfillment, happy endings, with a coupling at the end. So when I book talk this to a teen reader I will say there is a cliff hanger with 2 more books to come, even though I will not read those myself. I am happy with how it concluded; in fact, I loved how it ended.

Three Words That Describe This Book: homage, Gothic, "grotesquely beautiful"

Readalikes: Before I start with readalikes, I wanted to point out this playlist from an editor at Amazon.  Scroll down to the reviews to it-- "Songs in the Mood for Madness."

The original, inspiration text, The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells is a good read in and of itself for adults and teens alike. Click here to read it online, for free, right now.

There are two books I have read that I think make good readalikes here.  First the YA horror novel Ghosts of Coronado Bay by J. G. Faherty is very similar. Click through for a full review, bu in short, both novels feature strong, but outcast teenage girl protagonists.  Both share a love triangle, speculative frame, island setting, and frightening action scenes.

I would also suggest the steampunk first in a series Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.  Click through for the full review.  Here the similarities include a mad scientist and 19th Century setting. Boneshaker has high teen cross over appeal. However, it is important to note that Boneshaker is firmly in the steampunk genre while The Madman's Daughter is an homage to a science fiction classic.

For an adult readalike that is okay for teens, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is a good choice.  It is also based on an old story (in this case Dracula), it is creepy, Gothic, and features a father-daughter relationship at its core.

Kenneth Oppel's popular Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein YA series that begins with This Dark Endeavor is also a great readalike option. In this case, we are seeing the childhood of the mad scientist not the daughter of one.  It makes a nice parallel read.

Finally, I am currently reading The Lady and Her Monsters: a Tale of Dissections, Attempts to Reanimate Dead Tissue, and the Writing of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein by Roseanne Montillo.  This is a nonfiction story about the real scientists pushing the boundaries of nature during the 19th Century and the literature their work inspired.  This is a drier, nonfiction book and would probably only appeal to adults who are very interested in writers like Wells and Shelley (as I am), but not too many teens.