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, May 30, 2013

While You Wait-- And The Mountains Echoed

The two big books of the month are now out and both have long holds queues.  Dan Brown's Inferno is a bit easier to find readalikes for as his brand of intellectual, historical, adventure thriller has been often duplicated.  Also, at the BPL we already have this list of Dan Brown readalikes posted online and available in print at the library.

Khaled Hosseini is a bit harder to match with suggestions while people wait for And The Mountains Echoed.  Hosseini crafts moving, character centered tales, with a strong emotional pull and a setting or frame in Afghanistan.  Some people read his books because of their Afghanistan frame, but many who were first drawn to him because of that current events frame have learned to love his storytelling style.

I have read both of Hosseini's previous titles, but only A Thousand Splendid Suns was read since the blog began.  Here is what I had to say about that title in March of 2008:
I also listened to the popular A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Hosseini's follow-up to The Kite Runner tells to stories of two women, Miriam and Laila, as they live through three decades of war in Afghanistan. With his second novel, Hosseini has shown that he is an excellent storyteller who is here to stay. I especially enjoyed the detailed history lesson which this book provided. Mostly, I was riveted by the two women, their voices, and their stories. 
Those who like Hosseini's setting of Afghanistan should also try the current nonfiction best seller Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson or the fiction title The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra. Those who enjoyed learning about the history of Afghanistan may also want to delve into the Iranian Revolution (a neighbor of Afghanistan). Here I suggest The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. In this accessible graphic novel, Satrapi tells her personal story of living through war and Islamic revolution in Iran. Much of her story resonates with that of Miriam and Laila's. Finally, those readers who found the women's friendship against all odds very appealing, I suggest Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. Although this novel takes place in China, the laotongrelationship between the two main characters has many similarities with Hosseini's novel.
Since Hosseini does not write quickly, people are literally clamoring for And the Mountains Echoed.  The reviews are also fabulous, pushing demand even higher. People want this book right now, and you are the one that has to tell them that they are not going to get it.

But look on the bright side.  Times like this are when you have a chance to shine.  Yes you will have to take the patron's hold for And the Mountains Echoed, but look at all of the other books that are sitting on your shelves just waiting to be read by someone at this very moment. You have the perfect opportunity to show these patrons another great title they can read while they wait. Do not let this captive audience leave without even offering to give them a title to read now.

That's where I come in.  Besides the titles I mentioned above and other books with a Afghanistan frame, here are some titles that are also intricately plotted stories, told with lyrical language, characters you care about, and a reflective tone.  Again, these are NOT your typical Middle East set suggestions.  Most importantly, these books will be on the shelf.  Links are to my reviews where possible:

There is no reason for your patrons to leave unsatisfied when they come in hoping to get a copy of And the Mountains Echoed because there is always another book they will like somewhere else in the stacks.

Feel free to add your own readalike suggestions in the comments.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Armchair BEA

I am not at Book Expo America in NYC which is happening now, but I am not the only one.

Click here for the official virtual BEA Convention HQ for book bloggers-- Armchair BEA. There is a question or topic for each day of the convention.

Many blogs will have reports from those who are at the convention.  Unless I see something fabulous, I will probably not post it here on RA for All. There will be plenty of coverage all over the place.  As the week goes on, I will instead focus on getting more book reviews up.

But besides Armchair BEA, which I have been having fun with, here are a few other "armchair BEA" ideas and links. Use these all week and it will feel like you were there too...almost.

BEA runs today through Saturday.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Spring Cleaning Time: Weeding Tips

Summer's unofficially began this past weekend, and like many in the Chicagoland area, the cold weather kept me inside more than I would have liked.

As a result, I got caught up on my spring cleaning.  One of the big projects I was hoping to tackle in the beginning weeks of June got done early because of the weather-- weeding the kids' over flowing book shelves.

I am sure it comes as no surprise that my kids love to read.  And like their mother, they also don't mind weeding out the old to make way for the new.  I am well known for my love of weeding and all the good it can do for your collection.  Click here for those details.

But as much as I love weeding, my friend and colleague Rebecca Vnuk, an editor over at Booklist, is the Queen of Weeding.  This month, she expanded her popular Weeding Tips FAQ .  You can click here to access it and find links to an entire webinar she ran on weeding, as well as even more tips.

It's all the info you could ever want to make your collection leaner and more responsive to patrons' needs. As I have said before here [but it bears repeating since many of you librarians won't let go of anything], weeding is a huge part of customer service.  Keeping your shelves neat, clean, and full of books your patrons actually want to read is one of your most important duties.  Don't be afraid of weeding.  Embrace it by looking to the Queen of Weeding for assistance.

Back to my weeding.  I was mostly getting rid of picture books from my about to be 3rd and 6th grade children's book shelves.  While I have been slowly weeding their shelves for years, I had been keeping some of the Eric Carle, Mo Willems, and other favorite picture books on their shelves.  Yes, I was probably in denial about their growing up, but even I could no longer justify taking up the room.  So, 2 paper bags of picture books were put aside for donation and 2 plastic boxes were put in the attic to await the next generation of readers.

It was painless and easy. The treasured books are safe in labeled boxes and can be easily retrieved if I want them back.  I am happier to see their rooms less cluttered, but more importantly, by clearing out the clutter, they both spent some time in their rooms rediscovering the books still left on their shelves; books they had been hidden by the cramped conditions but now, unearthed by our weeding, were enjoyed once again. It was a weeding success story right under my own roof.

So get out there and do some spring cleaning of your own and weed a section or 2 at your library in the coming weeks.  At the BPL we are constantly weeding and sending our discards to Reading Tree, but I understand some of you need to start with baby steps.  Maybe a nice hard look at your personal home shelves is a good place to start.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Teen Desk Resource Sheet

As I have mentioned on the blog before, the BPL RA Dream Team has taken over the YA Department.

The first thing we did was change the name to Teen.  Next, we have been ordering new fiction like crazy.  Now the nonfiction has been separated out so that the Reference team took the factual books and we are keeping the leisure reading nonfiction.

Things are shaping up well for our first big test-- the end of the school year.  Very soon-- 10 days or so-- school will be out and the teens will be in the library signing up for summer reading and asking us for reading suggestions.

I will have more about all of our summer reading programs the first week of June, but it is the second part I am worried about.

I have been preparing myself personally by reading teen books, following popular blogs, reading reviews, and just trying to cram for the onslaught of actual 13-18 year old readers that we always get after school lets out.  On some days I feel ready, and on others, I am terrified.

Then I realized if I am terrified, what about the rest of the staff? Well, it turns out we are all a bit nervous.  We all have comfort zones but they are still small.

So I came up with a solution to get us through with the least pain. I offered to make a list of the best sites to use with teen patrons as they are at the desk asking us questions. I will be posting the list below at the desk early next week, but before it is finalized, I wanted to give everyone else out there a chance to add to it. So leave a comment with your favorite teen reading resource if you want.  Please note though, I am looking for sites that I my staff can use with patrons at the desk during the RA conversation; I am not looking for resources to help educate them in teen library issues right now.

Becky's Go-To Teen Resources To Use At The Service Desk: [Rough Draft]

  • Teen Reads which I have already highlighted in detail here.  I check this site at least once a day while working at the teen desk. Between the suggested reading lists and the reviews and articles, I always find ideas and talking points if not suggestions to use with my teen patrons.
  • School Library Journal: I love Library Journal's RA content but I have to move to SLJ for the same content for teen readers.  But like LJ, SLJ is THE place to go for information on where libraries and teens intersect. Expect essays, reviews, readalike information for popular titles, research and study reports, bestseller lists, and discussions.
  • YALSA-- The Young Adult Library Services Organization is the ALA's teen arm.  When I am desperate for a suggestion, I turn to one of their multiple lists.  They are the experts.  When I have more time, I use the site to bolster my knowledge base.
  • NoveList (subscription database): I love how I can search for all reading levels from child to adult all in one place with this resource.
  • Stacked a blog which I discussed previously in detail here. While this is a blog,  a format more useful to learning and staying current than it is for helping a patron in front of you right at this moment, Kelly from Stacked has compiled this great spreadsheet of Contemporary YA Lit.  She notes the themes and settings as well as links to any reviews on Stacked.  Again, this is a great list if you get brain freeze while helping a patron.
Again, please share your thoughts or sites with me before I get this list out at the desk.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What I'm Reading: Raven Girl

Last week I read the short story graphic novel by Audrey Niffenegger entitled Raven Girl. Talk about bridging the Dewey divide, this volume is the result of a joint collaboration with the  Royal Ballet of London.  Niffenegger was asked to write the story for a brand new ballet.  They requested that it be in the fairy tale mold.  This slim, illustrated volume is the result.

Although this is more of a single illustrated story, I felt that since the author is such a big name and the book will be in high demand, this was worth a short review.

The story is simply explained.  It is the tale of a girl who is half raven, half human and her coming of age. But it is how the story is told which would determine whether or not you would enjoy it.

This story is short, sweet, and beautiful in a traditional fairy tale way.  What we have a a Gothic story in words and picture. It is atmospheric and a bit macabre.  For example, the Raven Girl herself cannot speak human words, but can understand them.  She goes to human college but yearns for bird wings.

The story is original but based in tradition.  As I read it, I felt the story was familiar and I knew where it was going, but while in general theme, tone, and story arc, I was correct, the journey of getting to the end of the story was a delight, both in the originality of the plot and the execution of the drawings.

Also because it is meant to be performed as a ballet, there is a lyrical, flowing, movement to the story.  It has a gracefulness that hints at its root in the dance format.

This is a volume for fans of Niffenegger's work but not for those who only like  The Time Traveler's Wife. It is for fans of macabre and Gothic stories. There is a darkness here, but it is enveloped by hope and beauty.

Raven Girl is also a good entry point for people who are new to graphic novels.  There are pages without pictures, just text.  It is really more of an illustrated story; a picture book for adults.

I was enchanted by this tale, but recognize that it is not for everyone.  However you would only have to give up an hour or two to see for yourself. In fact, I do suggest reading this volume in one sitting.

Three Words That Describe This Book: atmospheric, fairy tale, graceful

Readalikes: The Raven Girl is just my kind of story.  As I result, I have so many ideas of books that it reminded me of.  Here is a short list of those titles with links to the reviews for details, and don't forget, each review has readalikes also, many of which could be readalikes here also.  But in general, these are all atmospheric, moody stories with a Gothic and/or fairy tale feel:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

BPL Book Discussion: Family Fang

About 6 months ago, I read The Family Fang.  You can read my initial review here.  As I mentioned in that review.  I loved the book while I was reading it, but the more time that went by, the less it stayed with me. But, I was glad to get the chance to read it again, but more importantly, I was excited to discuss it with others. And that is just what we did with the monthly BPL Book Discussion Group this past Monday.

The discussion will come in a moment, but first here is the publisher's summary:
Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief.
Performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang dedicated themselves to making great art. But when an artist’s work lies in subverting normality, it can be difficult to raise well-adjusted children. Just ask Buster and Annie Fang. For as long as they can remember, they starred (unwillingly) in their parents’ madcap pieces. But now that they are grown up, the chaos of their childhood has made it difficult to cope with life outside the fishbowl of their parents’ strange world.
When the lives they’ve built come crashing down, brother and sister have nowhere to go but home, where they discover that Caleb and Camille are planning one last performance–their magnum opus–whether the kids agree to participate or not. Soon, ambition breeds conflict, bringing the Fangs to face the difficult decision about what’s ultimately more important: their family or their art.
Filled with Kevin Wilson’s endless creativity, vibrant prose, sharp humor, and keen sense of the complex performances that unfold in the relationships of people who love one another, The Family Fang is a masterfully executed tale that is as bizarre as it is touching.
Now on to the discussion, but first a note.  This book tackles a lot of large, universal issues including the meaning of art, what makes good parents, and more.  We had a wonderfully rich discussion on mostly the larger themes of the book. I would highly suggest this novel for any book discussion group.
  • I was not surprised by our vote: liked--5, disliked--2, and so-so--8.  As I thought most would be conflicted but the so-sos were definitely leaning to like.  The 2 dislikes could not get over the fact that what the Fangs do is not Art.  I made that an entire question a few minutes in.
  • The likes had some good initial comments:
    • I liked the dedication to art to a ridiculous extent.  I didn't agree with it, but I liked the satire of it.
    • I liked Buster and Annie's reactions to things. They were interesting and funny.  And while the book had sadness at the end, it was not sad.
    • I liked this book because it had no connection to my life, anyone or anything I know; reading it was like going to an alien planet.  It was fun.
    • The parents were appalling but the story was so engaging
    • I enjoyed the bizarre ride of reading this book
  • Since the so-sos were the majority, I wanted to feel them out.  I also encouraged them to jump in with their comments so I could best gauge where I would take the discussion next. As a book discussion leadership note, it is important to make sure you find a way to take the pulse of the majority as soon as possible.  This will help you direct the questioning in a way that will ensure participation. Here are the so-so comments:
    • I wanted more character development from parents and Hobart. Specifically, I wanted Annie and Buster to stay and talk to Hobart to learn more about their parents.
    • I noted Bonnie was probably important but forgot about her.
    • I wasn't engaged by the characters enough to root them on.  I usually want that in my books
    • I liked how by the end Buster and Annie finally started coping with life.
  • Question: Do you consider what the Fangs do as ART?
    • More performance than art
    • They were insane, not artists
    • Is it art if the people who they were making it with (the people in the mall at the time, for example) had no idea that they were even part of Art?
    • Someone countered this by saying, but then when it was studied by artists or in art school, it became art.
    • Also someone said, we don't know if people discussed what they experienced after being an unknowing participant in a Fang piece.  For example, she said, I am sure the piece where Buster entered a beauty pageant had a lot of people talking.
    • Art relies on the control of the artist but the Fangs have no control.
    • Their art was destructive and I see art as creative and life giving.
    • Yes this is art, but an art I wouldn't want to be a part of.  Art is about asking questions and pushing boundaries.  Morally it may not be okay, but they did ask questions and push boundaries.
    • Was it creative or manipulation? More manipulative art, but art; not art I liked though.
    • Art is personal.  What is art to you may not be to someone else.
    • It's like Candid Camera. Is that art?
  • Let's talk about the family issues explored here.
    • I was concerned about Camille Fang.  I felt like she was being used.
    • Are you raising kids or are you controlling art with kids?
    • As a result of their upbringing the kids have issues as adults.  Buster is frightened and Annie is angry.
    • Are the Fangs that different from families that, for example, get their kids involved in swimming and it's all they do?  Their whole life revolved around swimming and meets.  How different is it?
    • What about people who raise their kids in a commune.  Also similar?
    • Both kids did grow up to be successful artists despite trying to rebel from their parents, they are just a different type of artists.
    • But the parents were so selfish. Although someone mentioned it would have been even more selfish not to have Annie in the first place.  They didn't want kids, but they found a way to make the family and the art work together.
    • The kids were used by their parents to make their art.  They were used for the parents' livelihood.  But when people live on a farm they have kids specifically to help run the farm--for their livelihood.  Not as practical as working on a farm, but not that different.  To the Fangs making this art was essential to living.
    • Interesting that the song, "Kill All the Parents," bookends the novel.
  • A side question came up.  Do the Fangs love Annie and Buster?
    • Camille loves the kids.  We all had no question there. But Camille is captured emotionally by Caleb.  Some of us felt she was a victim.
    • Caleb loves the kids only when they are helping him make the art he wants to make.
    • The fact Camille showed the kids her paintings was her way of showing them that she loved them and appreciated them.
    • But both parents did share their passion with their children which is a sign of love.
    • The parents could not show the emotion necessary to raise kids,
  • Question: What is Wilson (an artist) saying about artists with this book?
    • It is a stereotype of artists who are so consumed with their art that they cannot see anything else.
    • He might be saying that it is impossible to love kids and/or have a family and be a true artist
    • But he does present the Fangs as extreme.  The Dad is mad at kids for leaving him for "inferior art." Both sides are artists; both sides cannot agree on art; neither is right.
    • He is pointing out the pitfalls of being an artist and a parent.  Its a cautionary tale.
    • Caleb is too narcissistic of an artist; we are less willing to forgive him anything. But someone said including the kids in his art was a huge act of love for him.
  • Question: Why title it The Family Fang instead of The Fang Family?
    • First the word "fang" as the name.  It is a menacing object. That "Fangness" damaged the family.
    • Reminiscent of vampires. A Fang draws the blood out of real life and becomes art.
    • Fangs rip and tear and their art was cutting edge.
    • Saying it as Family Fang is more arty, more European.
    • The flipping of the names puts you on guard that this is not a regular family; things are slightly askew.
  • Question: How did you like the structure of the novel with the "present" story and the past story told through the set pieces of their performances from the past.
    • I liked the performances more than present story.
    • I felt like the performance descriptions were focused and compact; they were like a short story in and of themselves.
    • I liked to see the past through the art
    • The author has a fantastic imagination.  I can't wait to see what he writes next.
  • Question: What did you think of Annie and Buster's decision not to reveal that their parents were still alive.
    • They can move on now; they don't have to deal with their parents anymore
    • They can have their own life and their own art
    • But, in a way their choice still traps them in their parents' art. They are now a part of it. They know in 7 years, the Fangs will come back from the dead. They were a part of hiding it and they will be wrapped up as Child A and Child B when the Fangs re-emerge.
    • If Annie and Buster had given the parents up now, that would have been spiteful.  They had grown up enough to not want revenge, they just wanted a break from parents' emotional strangle hold.
    • I loved that this ending was very complex and conflicted, yet still utterly satisfying.
    • I liked how the kids were in a really bad place at the start of the novel and by the end they are literally moving on.
  • Question: In 7 years will the art world still care about the Fangs?
    • Art changes so quickly; they may not be relevant?
    • Kids will be in a better place to deal with the spotlight.
    • There is probably enough residue from their fame in the past that a museum will pick up their performance.
    • I think Camille will leave Caleb and be a grandma to the kids Buster and new wife will probably have by then. 
  • Question? What about your life? Have you ever witnessed something like the Fang's art
    • One participant was in performance art in the 70s.  It was fun.  People stopped.
    • Seeing a staged disaster for training purposes
    • Protests are like political art/expression
    • The occupy movement
    • One participant once staged a murder in her classroom in order to teach problem solving skills.
  • Finally, give me words or phrases to sum up the book:
    • alien planet
    • Art?
    • quirky
    • askew
    • absurd
    • manufacturing responses
    • extreme art
    • coercion
    • coming of age
    • bizarre
    • role or place of art
    • family dynamics
    • original
    • imaginative
    • One of the most provocative books I have read in a long time.
Readalikes: I have six readalikes already listed here, but the discussion brought up a few more.

Another author who writes darkly humorous satirical novels while still being reflective is Arthur Phillips. His Tragedy of Arthur or The Egyptologist both fit this description well.

Also, on NoveList, Shauna Griffin suggests a book I have not read myself, The Elephant Keepers' Children by Peter Hoeg for the following reason:
These quirky, unusual novels share one plot point (a mother and father have disappeared under unusual circumstances, and their children are trying to find them) but what really ties them together is the inventive humor, under which lies real sadness.
During the discussion,  when someone made the commune comment (see above) it made me think of Arcadia by Lauren Groff, which was one of my favorite reads in 2012.

Another participant mentioned the book Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe.  She said the Fang parents were typical early Baby Boomers. This book was all about the generalizations we can make about groups of people based on when they were born. She thought about those generalizations as she read this book.

Finally, I have no idea why I didn't think of this the first time I read the book, but The Family Fang is very much in the same tone as a Wes Anderson film, specifically The Royal Tenenbaums comes to mind since it is about a dysfunctional, quirky family.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Monday Discussion: Looking Forward to Summer

It is hard to believe it but this is the last Monday Discussion before the unofficial start of summer.  RA for All will be off next Monday to celebrate Memorial Day, so today is our chance to get a jump on summer.

For today's Monday Discussion, I want us to share what books we are most excited to read this summer.  They do not have to be the newest or hottest books either.

Are you going to read a book you have been waiting to get to all year?  Is your favorite author coming out with a new title? Is there a classic you've always wanted to read and have been saving for this summer?

To help, here is the link to Reader's Advisor Online's Hot Prospects for 2013 list.  The early summer reading lists are at the top.  Also, Book Expo America is just on the horizon and Kirkus Reviews published this special BEA issue with reviews of 160 of the buzziest books from BEA.

As usual, I'll go first.  For me, I still have Justin Cronin's The Twelve to get to.  Since it is an ARC paperback, I figure it is good to bring to the pool this summer.  I also have a stack of JournalStone horror ARCs to get to.  But I am holding off on any big plans because I know I will have 3 days at the ALA Annual Conference here in Chicago where I will be introduced to new authors and/or new books that I will be dying to read.

Also, later today the Monday Afternoon Book Club is meeting and they will be turning in their final votes for the July-December selections. That will let me know some of what I will be reading this summer too.

Now it is your turn.  What are you excited to read this summer?

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, May 17, 2013

RA Links Round-Up

With my busy day in Naperville all day yesterday, today is going to be spent catching up.  So why not have a links round-up:

Before I go, just some scheduling notes, book club meets on Monday and I plan to concentrate on reviews next week as well.  I also have a backlog of horror titles that need reviewing over on the horror blog.  I know reviews are among my most popular posts, so be on the look out for more.

Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

ARRT Genre Boot Camp, Horror Author John Everson, and Me live in Naperville

From 9-4:30 today I will be at the ARRT Genre Boot Camp at the Naperville Public Library 95th Street Branch.

Here's the summary of what's going on all day or you can click here for the awesome flyer:


Join us on Thursday, May 16th at the Naperville Public Library for a full-day Readers Advisory crash course. This is a great opportunity for new advisors to get up to speed and for anyone looking to brush up on specific genres. The Genre Boot Camp is also an excellent opportunity to network with other professionals and bring new ideas back to your library.

  • Learn how to use fourth edition of the ARRT Popular Fiction List. Don't have yours yet? You can purchase a specially priced copy with your registration.
  • Get inspired by Joyce Saricks, author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction and Readers' Advisory Service in the Public Library, as she starts the day with a keynote address.
  • Next, you will attend three breakout sessions. Whip your RA skills into shape with a customized slate of genre workshops, led by experts in the field. Novice Readers Advisors should consider attending specially-designed sessions that will explore the similarities and differences between related genres.
  • Finally, meet author John Everson – the winner of the Bram Stoker award for First Novels for his debut, Covenant, and a current finalist for the 2012 Bram Stoker for Superior Achievement in a Novel for NightWhere.

As well as being on the ARRT Steering Committee, I am also one of the "breakout" speakers mentioned above.  I am doing a talk on African American, Hispanic American, and Asian American fiction. You can view my presentation on "Hyphenate Americans" here.

Paying participants will have access to all of the presentations from today, even the ones they couldn't make it to as well as a resource sheet for each "genre," but I figured that it wouldn't hurt to give those of you who couldn't make it a small taste of what I will be doing all day today.

I am also honored to be introducing horror author John Everson at the end of the day.  I have a lot more to say about that as well as a guest post by Everson himself over on RA for All: Horror today. So head on over there too.

I am excited for what is going to be a great day.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What I'm Reading: Between Man and Beast

Last month I listened to the new history of science nonfiction title Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debates, and the African Adventure That Took the Victorian World by Storm by Monte Reel

I was drawn to this book because I enjoy history of science particularly in this time period (mid-19th Century).  Actually to be more specific, I really enjoy the mid-19th Century as a setting in general, but for nonfiction of any kind, it is a time period I return to frequently. But when it is a history of science title, I love how this time period marks the crisis point in science.  It is when religion finally lost out to science.  It is when the scientists who went in the field, buckled down and spent their lives studying and experimenting with the actual world in front of them and stopped using the Bible as their source material.  This was also a time when you no loner had to have a high social standing to be considered a serious scientists. Provable scientific method was finally beginning to be what mattered in the world of science.

I knew all this about the time period going in and not only did Between Man and Beast support this, but it also presents a scenario even crazier than a 21st Century person could believe if it were not so well supported with documented research by Reel.

Time for a few particulars (even though the essence of the book is really captured above). At the center of the book is the life and work of Paul Du Chaillu, a mysterious figure who lived in and traveled throughout Eastern Africa and was one of the first Europeans to see a gorilla.  Reel was researching the time period, Darwin, and the obsession in popular culture of the gorilla during this time and found mentions of Paul.  The more he looked into Paul's past, the more intriguing and unbelievable the story became.

There are long descriptions of Paul's trips into the jungle where he observed and killed gorillas.  There is time spent on Paul's life in London trying to work his way into the upper class scientific community, but it is with Paul's return trip to Africa and Reel's discovery of Paul's true identity that the story really picks up.

Reel jumps around quite a bit in his storytelling style, but Paul is always at the center.  Even when Reel veers off into a longer discussion of other people, he eventually brings it back around again to Paul.  This made the book move at a compelling pace.  It also adds some foreshadowing which also makes this well researched history story move briskly. As Reel introduces rivals and enemies to Paul, the reader knows problems are coming, but with all of the crazy accusations that get thrown around (in the name of "science"), it is hard to imagine what bad thing is around the corner.  You read on just to find out what they will throw at Paul next, how he will handle it, and what the outcome will be.

The good thing in reading Between Man and Beast is that we know that science will win.  We know that Apes really do walk on the ground, we know that evolution is true, and we know that the scientist who goes into the field, collects specimens, and conducts actual research will be taken more seriously than the rich guy in his armchair back home. But going back to that pivotal, emotional, and stressful point where the fate of science hung in the balance made for a great read.

A note on the Audio:  I listened to Between Man and Beast (as I do with most of the history of science books I read). Click here to listen to a snippet. It is narrated by Bob Walter.  I checked to see what else he has read.  I have apparently not listened to him before but nonfiction seems to be his specialty.  I found his narration to be clear, commanding, and unobtrusive (good for nf in my opinion).  He also added the right intonations to note the important foreshadowing aspects I mentioned above. Walter helped the keep the brisk pace going.  He probably made the book more compelling for me than I would have made it for myself.  But again, it was subtle.

Three Words That Describe This Book: dramatic, compelling, well researched

Readalikes:  Books I have read which are also dramatic, compelling and well researched nonfiction with a similar time period setting that I would suggest are:

You can click on the titles for detailed reviews of these books and even more readalike options.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What I'm Reading: His Majesty's Dragons

Today I have a review of a book that is part of my reading resolutions for 2013. Ironically, I have finished 3 books in the last 3 days, so I am seriously behind on the resolution to not have more than 3 books waiting for review at any time.  But here is the resolution to which His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik fits:
"Genre Resolution:  Last year I resolved to read 2 "new to me" contemporary romance authors. Not only did I accomplish this small goal, but by making the resolution, I also did a lot to educate myself on the newest trends in romance throughout the year. This year I am picking a new area to focus on-- Epic Fantasy.  I am a big watcher of epic fantasy in TV and movies, but not a big reader.  I love lighter, shorter single titles or series in my books. The big epic series are very popular though and I am not as well versed in them beyond George R R Martin. I am also currently working on a Game of Thrones readalikes list for the library, so a little more research will be helpful. Thus, I resolve in 2013 to read 2 first books in epic fantasy series that are new to me."
His Majesty's Dragon is the first in Novik's Temeraire series [and the first of my resolution], one that I have long admired and even lectured about. I knew it had a historically accurate Napoleonic War setting only with an aerial assault courtesy of intelligent, talking dragons.  The historical details are extremely accurate (despite the dragons), placing it firmly in the historical fantasy subgenre and making it very appealing to historical fiction readers.  It is also military (specifically naval) based so it also has fast paced battle action and the camaraderie of soldiers.

That's what I knew BEFORE I read this novel, and I am happy to confirm that my perceptions were all correct after I actually read it.

As a first book in what is an on-going epic fantasy series, what we have in His Majesty's Dragon is a whole lot of world building.  Personally, this is why I love first books in fantasy series and tend to lose interest as the series continue. I love this setting the stage detail and character focus.

In this case the story begins with our narrator, William who is an experienced ship captain for the British Navy.  After overtaking a French ship at the novel's open, his crew finds that the conquered ship was carrying a dragon egg.  This is huge because in the British's fight against Napoleon, they are strong in naval defense, but weak in dragons.

What follows is the story of the birth of Temeraire and William's reluctance at leaving the Navy behind and entering the strange world of Aviators (those who control the dragons for the British army).

The joy in reading the story is William and his "fish out of water" status.  Most Aviators come to the profession as young children. William has to enter a new world with what is already a strange and unidentified dragon species. His social faux pas are amusing, but they are shed a lot of light on the customs and behaviors of the era.  William is the traditional 19th Century man and his new Aviator compatriots challenge him.

But no one affects William more than Temeraire.  He is an amazing creature this dragon.  He is intelligent and brave, true to William and good hearted. He questions everything and opens both William's and the readers' eyes to the truth in our flawed human world and interactions with each other.  I lived for the moments when the two, William and Temeraire, sat together and talked.

The world building and relationship building is what takes up most of this novel, the battles are few and far between, but that is to be expected in a first book in an epic fantasy series.  I have heard from readers that while the character-centered story found here does give way to more action and plot oriented battles as the series goes on, the character centered focus still lays at the heart of this long running and popular series.

The pacing is compelling, but not brisk.  There is much set-up that needs to be done since William (and readers) know nothing about dragons. There are pages and pages of dragon lore, harnessing rules, and discussions of caring for dragons.  But I was so invested in William and Temeraire that the pacing felt faster; I wanted to keep reading to know what would happen to them next. I wanted to read just one more section so I could learn more about dragons and the people who loved them, cared for them, and entered battle with them.

The ending of this book sees William and Temeraire take part in a huge battle and ends with them recuperating back at base, assessing their losses, and beginning to move on to their next adventure. Novik is asking you to go along on the next adventure in the final lines.

Overall, I loved being immersed in this world and I can see myself returning back to book 2 but not right away.  I think when I get bored of my same-old-same-old and need a shakeup, I will know exactly where to turn.

A note on the audio:  I listened to His Majesty's Dragon narrated by Simon Vance. I love Vance.  Click here to hear a snippet of the audiobookfor yourself.  His voice makes me listen harder.  I would listen to him read anything.  In fact, he also read the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson which I also listened to.  You can click here for those reviews. Vance made that series better for me too.  But specifically here with Novik's book, I was drawn to the voices of William and Temeraire.  In fact, Temeraire in particular came alive to me through Vance's portrayal of him.  And at only 10 hours for the full unabridged, you are looking at a fairly short time investment given the genre.

Three Words That Describe This Book: historical-military, dragons, fish out of water

Readalikes:  Novik's series reminded me most of some of the best historical, naval fiction writers, most of who ply their trade during this rich Napoleonic Wars time period when there were no airplanes and naval warfare was still king.  Specifically Bernard Cornwell (the Sharpe series in particular, but all his books are great), Patrick O'Brien, and C.S. Forester.

Another historical fantasy author who I think would appeal here is Susanna Clarke and her Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.  There is plenty of the historical detail from a similar time period that Novik fans would enjoy, but there is not the large military component.

A few readers have mentioned that the Temeraire series is like The Hobbit with a lot more dragons.  I agree.  You have the fish out of water protagonist, great battle scenes and a clear sense of right and wrong.

I am going to include Novik's series in my list of readalikes for George R.R. Martin for people who want more dragons.  The dragons are not the main appeal here or in the Martin series, but there are many readers out there who will read anything with dragons. If you, or one of your patrons, fits this bill, click here to pull up a list on Goodreads of every book that got a "dragons" tag.

So as you can see, readailke options are kind of all over the place depending on which parts of the story you most enjoyed.  However, there will be people [myself included] who like the whole package.  Readers like this will want a series that has the actual history, mixed with the interesting characters, and an added slice of a fantasy creature to bring it all together.  For these readers, I think you get a whole package readalike with Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series.  Now I should begin this suggestion by mentioning that the Leviathan series is technically YA, but I know plenty of adults who enjoy it too.  The setting is historically WWI, with the British against the Germans, but the British use these genetically engineered airships made out of living creatures.  Both series also have a steampunk feel without really being part of steampunk proper. I would highly suggest the Leviathan series for fans of Novik's Temeraire series.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Monday Discussion: Do You Read a Book Differently Depending On What You Read Before It?

[Ed's Note: Sorry for the delay. I had a meeting that took up most of my day.]

Today's Monday Discussion is to satisfy my own curiosity.

Over the weekend I finished Joe Hill's awesomely creepy, anxiety producing new horror opus, NOS4A2.  I loved every pulse quickening moment of it. A review will come very soon.

Without much thought, I went right into the YA title Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, another book I have been dying to read.  While my brain knew that Eleanor and Park was a realistic teen story set in 1986, my emotions were still in the world of NOS4A2.  As a result. for the first 100 pages of the teen title, I was waiting for a villain to kidnap Eleanor or Park, I was figuratively peering around the corner looking for evil lurking in the shadows, and I was still completely unsettled.  This is crazy because while Eleanor and Park is framed around their reading of Romeo and Juliet in school (so you know things will not end well here), there is no chance for a supernatural evil to kill them.

I literally had to put the teen book down and give myself some emotional space for a bit.

Now I am all good, but it did make me think about how a book may read differently depending on what you read immediately before it, especially with those of us who read so many books right in a row.  I even went back at looked at some of my reviews to see if this has happened before, and I realized that when I reviewed Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 I noted, in the readalike section, how its proximity to my reading of Stephen King's 11/22/63 made me think of the two as readalikes.

So I guess this happens more than I think. At least for me.

So that leads to today's Monday Discussion.  Does this ever happen to you? Do you read a book differently depending on what you read before it?

For past Monday Discussions click here.

Friday, May 10, 2013

What I'm Reading: Vampires in the Lemon Grove

It is not a secret that I adored Karen Russell's only novel Swamplandia!, but when I heard her new book would be short stories, I was a bit sad.  I wanted to sink my teeth into one of her worlds for another whole novel. But that didn't stop me from placing a reserve on Vampires in the Lemon Grove (herein VitLG) so I could read it soon after it came out.  And, my goodness, I had nothing to worry about.

VitLG was awesome. Each story grabbed on to me, shook me around a bit, and let me go, a little unsteady on my feet, but excited to see what the next story had in store.

But I am getting a little ahead of myself.  VitLG is a book of 8 short stories.  They are all on the "things are not as they seem" side, but for different reasons.  They range from funny to scary to just plain odd, but each one is thought provoking. But before I go into more of the appeal detail, I found this great review by Jenny on Goodreads where she very quickly summarizes each story:
  • Vampires in the Lemon Grove - two ancient vampires try to satiate their desires by eating lemons
  • Reeling for the Empire - human silkworms
  • The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979 - maybe the seagulls are the only ones really paying attention
  • Proving Up - starts as a struggling farm family story, ends in a ... i can't even.... *shiver*
  • The Barn at the End of Our Term - dead presidents alive in horses' bodies (actual presidents, not the band)... this one made me laugh more than any of the others.
  • Dougbert Shackleton's Rules of Antarctic Tailgating - Sometimes you're the whale, but you're probably usually the krill.
  • The New Veterans - PTSD, massage, tattoos, and what is healing, exactly?
  • The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis - I couldn't decide what I thought of this one. It did have the only bit I marked, because it is about a librarian: "I think we needed that librarian to follow us around the hallways for every minute of every school day, reading us her story of our lives, her fine script of who we were."
You can go to Jenny's blog for more of her reviews. I think she has parsed down each story into the soundbite of what it is about and why you would like it.  If you click through to her full review you can also see that she provided a readalike for each story.

 Most of the stories are on the creepier side, which I personally love, but the range is from pure out terror-- like in the AMAZING "Proving Up" which begins as a tale of the American frontier and slowly builds an uneasy atmosphere to an all our horror ending [loved it]-- to seemingly silly-- like in the story of Antarctic tailgating where our narrator risks life and limb to root for the krill to beat the killer whale.  I say seemingly silly because the story's glib tone and structure hide a larger issue of the fate of the underdog in real life.

But I think the story that best summed up the entire book for me was "Reeling for the Empire."  It had a darker tone and an original premise-- poor Japanese girls being taken from their homes to make silk in a factory but in reality they were being turned into silk worms.  So it also had speculative elements.  It was a thought provoking, coming of age story that made you really think about how much say you have on your place in the work.

A combination of some of these things can be found in most of the stories, but in "Reeling for the Empire," they are all in one place. I get the marketing decision to put the first story as the title since it is provocative and Vampires sell books, but "Reeling" is the anchor story here.

The best way to describe the overall feel of this book is-- slightly askew.  It is a reality that seems true but something is off.  And when you are confronted with this askew picture, it makes you think about how and why things are the way they are.  This is what the stories is VitLG do to the reader.
For me as a reader, this is the perfect kind of story.  I think "slightly askew" will replace "macabre" as my new sound bite description of my personal reader profile.

On a side note, I have been reading books of connected short stories recently (click here for details) so this was a change for me.  Since each story was a complete piece on its own, I was able to read this book in chunks, which fit my reading needs at that time.  I was able to read a bit and then take a break to prepare for the March book club, I was able to read a bit more and then leave it at home while I went on Spring Break where I read a novel, and I was able to pick it right back up and finish after returning. So that is another appeal of this book, the ability to read it piecemeal in the midst of a million distractions and still enjoy it.

Three Words That Describe This Book: stories, thought provoking, slightly askew

Readalikes:  As I was reading VitLG, especially during "Reeling for the Empire," I could not stop thinking about my all time favorite "slightly askew" short story writer, Steven Millhauser. Then this led me to thinking about other writers like Millhauser who I enjoy: Kevin Brockmeier and Keith Donohue. Back in 2011, I had this post talking about all three writers and their style:
Why I was particularly happy to see Donohue's review is that authors like Brockmeier, Donohue, and Millhauser, are very hard to suggest readalikes for. It is because they do not write traditional genre fiction. You could categorize them all as literary fiction, but that would not hit at their appeal. They all have a level of fantasy in their work. It is a bit more speculative than magical realism, but not really straight fantasy. They also all use their speculative elements to raise thought provoking questions about our world and the choices we make. If you laid out the plot summaries of they work side-by-side, however, you would not be able to see any similarity between their books. Their similarity lies in the tone, mood, characterizations, and style of their work. Things that are harder to assess.

Russell is very similar to these three writers.

A female short story writer whose tone and feel comes close to Russell's is the Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa.  She also crafts "slightly askew" short stories and novels.  Her most recent collection is Revenge, which I have been meaning to read.  A few years ago I did read The Housekeeper and the Professor, a story which has stayed with me to this day. Its unsettling premise of a man whose memory is on a 80 minute loop. That's right, his memory only lasts 80 minutes. Intriguing odd, and slightly askew, right?

I would also suggest the 4 novella length stories that make up Stephen King's Full Dark, No Stars. Click here for my review.

Have a great weekend and a nice Mother's Day

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Backlist Not to Miss: Short Story Edition

As I have discussed on this blog many a time, the backlist is what we libraries have that the book store does not.  We have old, out of print books that may be hard to find for purchase, but with the public library card each and every person here in America is entitled to (citizen or not), you can read just about anything.

Again, click here for all of my posts that specifically ponder the backlist.  But, today, I want to consider reading the backlist of short stories.

When I first started at the BPL, almost 13 years ago, we had a HUGE backlist collection of short stories.  We had every single copy of The Best American Short Stories from the 1930s to the present taking up rows upon rows on our shelves.  Now that was a bit extreme for a public library in a community of about 55,000 people.

But books of short stories are relatively popular at the BPL. We made a collection development decision to continue buying most of the titles in The Best American series for the library, but to only keep the current 3-5 years (depending on demand and which piece in the series it was; for example, general short stories we keep longer than genre editions).

So we got rid of all of those old collections, but we did replace them with The Best American Stories of the Century, a collection that included the very best of the stories which appeared in the original annual collections. This item still circulates regularly.

So in general, the BPL has a pretty solid Best American Stories backlist collection to choose from.  But it is by no means comprehensive in any way.

It is hard to know which stories are worth keeping once we get past the 5 year self-life.  Or, what backlist stories from years gone by are worth your time as a reader?

Well, I have found a place where you can hear some of the best short stories ever written as judged by the best practitioners of the form today.  The New Yorker is best place to find the most interesting short fiction today and you get a story a week.  Since May of 2007 though, they have expanded their short story reach by having a monthly FREE podcast in which a short story writer (quite often someone whose current work was featured in the print magazine that month) read one of their favorite short stories.

Click here to access the archive and listen for yourself.

Not only are are these stories hand picked and read by great writers of today, but the authors also take time to comment on the writer whose story they chose and the work itself.  It puts it all in a historical perspective that increases my enjoyment of the stories I have encountered there. And did I mention, in the spirit of the pubic library, these stories are FREE.

This month's offering is Richard Ford reading and discussing Harold Brodkey's "The State of Grace."

As the summer begins and we all spend more time outside and on the go, consider downloading some classic short stories to take with you. You can have the best of the backlist at your command.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Circulating Ideas Kickstarter

Back at the beginning of this year I was honored to be asked to a guest on Circulating Ideas, Steve Thomas' podcast interviewing interesting librarians.  You can click here to see my specific contribution to his podcast or here to access the homepage and see everything.

A few weeks ago, Steve let me know about his Kickstarter initiative to raise $2000 to make the podcast more mobile, specifically to take it on the road to the ALA Conference in Chicago next month and interview Nancy Pearl (among others). Click here to see all of the details.

I am embarrassed to say that I filed away his email, meaning to get to it, and lost it in the shuffle of life. But, not only did I remember in time to ask you to help contribute, but also, in the meantime, he has hit his initial Kickstarter goals and has added new stretch goals.

So please consider clicking through and backing Steve (as I have).  He is highlighting some of the best people in our field, giving us all access to new ideas, for free.

I am excited to see what comes out of Steve's podcasts from ALA. I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sure Bet Book Picks For Most Moms

A good book is an excellent option for a Mother's Day present.  My mother is getting one on Sunday [can't divulge the title here but I will tell you the book is mentioned in this post].

Not surprisingly, no one buys me books for Mother's Day.  I mean who buys the lady who matches people with the best book for them as her career a book? Probably not the best idea.

But, as a mother and a readers' advisor, I figure I can give you some "sure bet" ideas for the mothers on your shopping list.  But first, what do I mean by "sure bet." Of course I know that I cannot guarantee a list of books that everyone, everywhere will enjoy every time, but over the course of a career, it does help you, the librarian, to come up with some key titles or authors that you feel like you can confidently suggest to a wide swath of readers who give you nothing more than that they want a good story. These titles become your security blanket of go-to authors, otherwise known as "sure bets." For more on "sure bets" from me, click here for this post from 2011.

So here I have broken down some authors and titles to make your shopping go a bit more smoothly.

Sure Bet Authors:

  • Adriana Trigiani-- I have yet to have a general fiction reader dislike her books
  • Jacqueline Winspear-- If your mom likes historical fiction and mysteries, the Maisie Dobbs series is also a crowd pleaser.  
  • Speaking of mysteries, Alan Bradley and Louise Penny write series that I cannot get enough of, and I am not a huge mystery fan.
  • Gillian Flynn is great only if your mom doesn't mind high suspense, huge plot twists, and bad women (including more than a few horrible mothers).  Flynn is an amazing writer but you better get along well with your mom before you hand her something like Sharp Objects.
Sure Bet Titles:

At the BPL, we have taken many of our past book discussion titles and placed them on spinners near our desk.  While they are ostensibly there for other book clubs, they have also become a de facto "sure bets" collection for the staff when we need a "good read" for a patron. Why? Well, between Kathy's group and my group, we have seen the hand picked selections on these spinners go over well with a widely diverse group of (mostly) women.  We are confident that others will enjoy them too.  To access detailed reports about all of the books my group has discussed, click here.  I begin each of these discussion reports with a vote by the group on how they felt about the book, so you can sort through and see the most enjoyed titles.

But here are a few other titles I have read that I would feel confident gifting to most moms. All have very little to zero sex and/or violence, happier endings, are solidly written, and have an overall compelling pace. Please click on the titles for a full review, by me, on each.
I hope this list helps you to find your mom a good read for her to settle down with this Sunday.  [That's what I plan to do.] A trip to your local independent book store should be all you need to get a copy of one of these books in plenty of time.  Click here to find your local store.  If you were wondering, my book store of choice is The Book Table in Oak Park.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Monday Discussion: Name Your Favorite Literary Villain

As you can see from the side bar, I am reading Joe Hill's NOS4A2, and LOVING it.

Over the weekend, I received my monthly Goodreads Newsletter and Joe Hill had this essay about some of his favorite horror villains.

Click through to read it.  The list includes BPL fav Gillian Flynn's Amazing Amy.

Also, next week, I will be introducing Bram Stoker winning author John Everson at the ARRT Genre Boot Camp, so I have bad guys on the mind.  I figured I should run with it for today's discussion and have us all list our favorite villains.

I will start.  I read a lot of twisted books, so I have many villains to chose from.  For today's purposes I decided I would limit myself to books I have read in the last couple of years that are in different genres from horror, so as to spread the wealth (so to speak). But if it is more horror you want, don't forget to visit the horror blog too.  For the villains listed here today, I have noted the genres and linked to my full reviews for more details:
  • The first villain that jumped into my mind was "The Past" in Stephen King's 11/22/63 [Science Fiction].  Click here to read my full review but here is the excerpt where I talk about "The Past":
    • "The Past", in capital letters, is a character here. It is the main villain actually, more than Oswald, and it is not until after the assassination is stopped that we see the full fury and evil "The Past" can throw at us. "The Past" is constantly after Jake and this adds a chilling and menacing aspect to the novel.
  • Ben in Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson [psychological suspense] is one villain I keep thinking about. The fact that our narrator has a limited memory, but her journal screams at her, "Don't Trust Ben," should give it away, but Watson does such a great job lulling us into trusting Ben, that we don't see it coming. Click here for details.
  • The villain who is finally revealed in Jo Nesbo's The Leopard, is pretty darn awful.  He is smart, violent, and creepy.  That book had me squirming. And since it is more of a traditional mystery, our villain meets a very fitting end. Details here.
  • The level of menace that pervades Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 is overwhelming. Villains abound, but there is one physical man who stalks our main characters.  It is not often that a true villain emerges in a literary fiction novel, but I would say this one qualifies. Details here.
So there are some suggestion of a few great villains. But I purposely left a lot of fabulously awful bad guys out of the discussion because I want to here from you.

For today's Monday Discussion, let me know your favorite villains and why you love to hate them.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

RA Links Round-Up

My list of saved links that haven't begot a post is getting loooooong, so it's time for another round-up of links.

This is the first real round-up since I started using NetVibes as my feed reader too.  I had to get used to saving posts by clicking "read later" as opposed to the old Google Reader  standby of "starred."

So here are a the best of the "read later" bunch: