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.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday Discussion: Favorite Forgotten Authors

Back in January I came upon this article from The Rap Sheet on Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Mysteries. Wow, that was a blast from the past for me.

Way back in library school, when I took the RA class (we are talking last century here), I was introduced to the Nero Wolfe mysteries by chance.  I literally pulled a paperback at random out of the box of provided mysteries for that week's assignment.

For me, someone who hadn't read a traditional mystery since I had read Agatha Christie as a teenager, this book opened my eyes to the world of classic mysteries.  I can remember my experience of reading and writing about that book as the turning point to when I knew I could do RA as a career.  I could see how and why someone would love to read books like this all of the time, even if I myself would not.

Although I have only gone back and read 1 other Nero Wolfe book in the years since, I still have a soft spot in my heart for that misogynistic, overweight, orchid loving PI.  But, sadly, even though as this article explains, Robert Goldsborough continued the series into the 1990s, he dropped it until recently returning to it.  So although Wolfe is a great option for many readers, many of us have forgotten about him.  That makes me sad.

Well, I am going to do something about it and so are you.

For Today's Monday Discussion, dig back in your brain and give some love for an author you love who you feel may be forgotten. Think back like I did to someone you had a soft spot for years ago, who is still worth reading today. Together, we will make a list of forgotten authors and we can all start suggesting them to patrons. We will all look like super-librarians to our patrons.

Everyone wins here.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Flashback Friday: What I Was Doing in Marches Past and How This is Relevant to RA Training

All of these reviews of books I am writing now made me think about what I was reading in March of years gone by.  Well, because of the blog, I can answer that for myself and share it with all of you. I spent an hour or so going back to the March archives and read through what I found there.

But seriously, sometimes we get so caught up in what we are currently reading or focusing on that we forget to step back and think about what we were obsessing about only a year or two ago.

As a RA Librarian, I also like to think about my reading as a journey.  Why did I read a certain book and what did I think about it at the time? Do I still agree with that now?  Would I read that book now, or have a moved on in my taste or interests?

And going beyond my reading, what RA issues and concerns were important enough for me to write about in the past? Are they still relevant today, or have we all moved on?  Or, even worse, are they still important but I have left them behind.

Assessing our past helps us to tackle the patron in front of us now. Glancing back through Marches of the past today energized me to help patrons. I was remembering good books that I could suggest to them, and I was reminded of ideas that were good, but had been left behind for something new a shiny.  Now I might revisit them.  And happily, I saw mentions of programs started in the past that I continue to use to help patrons today.

Take a look for yourself:

This was really a fun exercise for me.  I hope it was helpful to you too.  I think I might try this with a different month next year too.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What I’m Reading: Graphic Novel Round-Up

In the past few months I have a read a few graphic novels, and I will quickly review them all here. It’s Spring Cleaning Super-Sized!

The first title is a compilation of info graphics about graphic novels entitled, Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe by Tim Leong.  Some of the infographics are specific to a certain series and others are more general.  For example, you can see a graphic depiction of the the Marvel Universe, a history of Manga in visual form, or a graph charting the sadness scale of Chris Ware all in one book.  It is a fun and novel way to look at the world of comics and is the perfect read for fans of any graphic novels  and comics as well as a great choice for librarians who want to learn more about the history of the format.

This is a book best digested in pieces, not all at once.  I was fasciated by the infographics every time I cracked the book open, but they were each chocked full of so much information that after  reading a few, my head was spinning and I needed a break.  But then, when I returned back to the book, I was again enthralled for awhile. This was a constant cyle for me.

This book was especially enjoyable because I had spent much of 2013 engaged in the ARRT Graphic Novel Genre Study.  Super Graphics felt like a combination recap/pop quiz.

I highly suggest this book for anyone who works with comics and graphic novel readers. Since the scope here is huge, no one is enough of an expert in every area of every type of graphic novel to not find something new and/or interesting here.
Three Words That Describe This Book:  fascinating, huge scope, intensely visual

Readalikes: This is easy.  I suggest you take a look at Super Graphics and try NOT to find a suggestion for further reading.

But for people more interested in Infographics than the comics world, try The Best American Infographics series, edited by Gareth Cook and now in its second year.

Much like my review earlier in the week on the 6th book in the Flavia de Luce series, I also recently read the 6th, but in this case FINAL, installment in my absolute favorite horror series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, Locke and Key. The final compilation is titled Alpha & Omega.

The Locke and Key story can be recapped in full by looking at my reviews of the first five volumes here.

I will say that this final compendium of the last 6 individual comics brings the story to a satisfying conclusion for horror fans.  Joe Hill, always willing to work within the constraints of the horror genre while at the same time actively pushing its boundaries [see Horns and NOS4A2 for example].  The result here is the PERFECT horror ending.

There is an uneasy build to the fast approaching the final battle...on PROM night!  Remember our main characters are teenagers here, plus that allows Hill to throw in a funny, and not too subtle, Carrie reference.  While most of the good guys ultimately triumph over the bad guys Hill leaves a VERY SUBTLE hint of the evil still lurking within the Locke family.  In fact, I went back to give the panel another look.  It is before the final battle, but it very clearly sets up great feelings of unease.  While it appears the Locke’s have won, the reader still has an uneasy feeling that it could all repeat for yet another generation.  Well done Hill.  And just like with NOS4A2, if you are not a careful reader, you may miss it, and missing it changes the entire tone of either work.  Just when horror fans think they have seen it all, Hill is still able to put a small twist into the story.

As Hill promised, the conclusion to the multi-generational battle here does not end without some tears, but overall, the family is in a better place than they were when the series began.  most importantly, Tyler is able to work to the unresolved issues he had with his dad who was murdered as the first book opened.

I have been proclaiming for years, that Locke and Key was not only the best graphic novel series out there, but also the best horror series available. Now that it has completed its run, I am gad to see I was not proven wrong.

Three Words That Describe This Book: compelling, unsettling, complex characters.

Readalikes: Again, I have many options listed here, but with the Locke and Key saga coming to an end, I need to find a new dark graphic novel series to be obsessed with.

Last year I found two newer series to love and I think they share enough with Locke and Key to be solid readalike suggestions. Use the links provided for details.

  • Revival by Tim Seeley and illustrated by Mike Norton
  • Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
And now from supernatural horror, to real life horror,  The Great War: July 1, 1916: the First Day of the Battle of the Somme by Joe Sacco. From the publisher:
Launched on July 1, 1916, the Battle of the Somme has come to epitomize the madness of the First World War. Almost 20,000 British soldiers were killed and another 40,000 were wounded that first day, and there were more than one million casualties by the time the offensive halted. In The Great War, acclaimed cartoon journalist Joe Sacco depicts the events of that day in an extraordinary, 24-foot- long panorama: from General Douglas Haig and the massive artillery positions behind the trench lines to the legions of soldiers going “over the top” and getting cut down in no-man’s-land, to the tens of thousands of wounded soldiers retreating and the dead being buried en masse. Printed on fine accordion-fold paper and packaged in a deluxe slipcase with a 16-page booklet, The Great War is a landmark in Sacco’s illustrious career and allows us to see the War to End All Wars as we’ve never seen it before.
As described above, this item is made up of 2 distinct parts. Both pieces slide into a sturdy cardboard sleeve. We have been circulating this item with no problems as of yet. I included the above photo rather than the traditional cover so that you could see what this work looks like.

Sacco has drawn a panorama of the first 24 hours of WWI’s epic Battle of the Somme, using 1 foot to depict each hour.  This graphic novel is one giant picture, drawn in great details using only black, white, and shades of grey.  The detail is amazing, moving, heartbreaking, and educational.  In the 16 page booklet, Sacco has an artist’s note where he explains why and how he created this book, while journalist and historian Adam Hochschild wrote a succinct and educational essay on the Battle itself, placing the graphic novel in a larger perspective.

If you are unfamiliar with Sacco’s previous work, let me fill you in quickly by explaining that he is the undisputed king of modern war comics.  He is a graphic journalist.  His most complete and best work is Palestine, which won the American Book Award and started an entirely new form of journalism.

Since 2014 is the 100 year Anniversary of the start of WWI, many books are coming out on the topic, but I would venture that none will be as heart wrenching and moving as this one.  The pictures are deceptively simple, but taken together en mass, reading this is an overwhelming experience.  Seeing soldiers injured and killed, bombs exploding, life in the trenches, all of this only in simple black and white strokes is somehow worse than if it was in full technicolor.  While large moments like troops charging, and entire regiments preparing are clear, it was in the smaller moments, drawn with loving detail that got me.  A single solider, back to the reader, reliving himself against a building; men sitting around a camp fire; a single bandaged solider waiting for medical attention.  If you had no opinion of feelings about WWI before now, read this book and you will begin to grasp the horror of the Great War.

Three Words That Describe This Book: heartbreaking, informative, thought provoking

Readalikes:  There are a few ways to go here.  Click here for a list of the most popular books tagged World War I on Goodreads.  I like the sampling there.

If you want to read about the Battle of the Somme in prose, try the extremely well received The First of July by Elizabeth Speller which came out right at the end of 2013.

Finally for more graphic journalists try:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What I’m Reading: The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

Today I have another review.  I am trying to look at this flurry of reviews as Spring Cleaning, rather than the first reviews of non-book discussion titles I have written all year.

This review will be quick as it is for the 6th installment of Alan Bradley's captivating Flavia de Luce Mysteries, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches.

Interestingly, this is one of the few mystery series for which I have read and reviewed every book.  So I will not waste time here with back story.  For that, click here to bring up the previous five Flavia reviews.

This book takes place just a few weeks after Speaking From Among the Bones and is mostly concerned with the shocking information that was revealed at the end of that book-- the discovery of the body of Flavia's mom Harriet.

Dead in Their Vaulted Arches is much different book in tone, scope, and purpose than the five that came before.  The novel is mostly centered around what happened to Harriet and why it matters to all of England in general, and Flavia in particular.

The novel is more spy thriller than mystery.  This is a big shift in the direction of the series.  In fact, in my review of Speaking From Among the Bones I did note that I was sensing a change in the tone of the series, but it is more than that.

The way this novel ends, everything about the series, from the setting, to the focus (spying more than mystery) to the tone (much more serious) has changed.  I am excited about the change because it paves the way for our 11 year old, precious chemist to finally being to grow into a woman.  The shift and the explanation behind it also explains why Flavia was allowed to be so eccentric and independent, which will silence some critics who find her too precocious and without enough supervision in the past.

In short, Dead in Their Vaulted Arches marks the end of an era for Flavia the girl detective, but begins a brand new journey for her as a British Spy. The series and Flavia are coming of age together.  And, while things are getting more serious, I would still call this a moderately cozy series.

However, from a RA perspective, you need to be aware that your Flavia fans will either love and embrace this change, or it will put them off of Flavia forever.  This is the most important thing to be aware of when book talking this series to readers.

Three Words That Describe This Book: captivating, quirky, original

Readalikes: I have given many readalikes for this series over the past few years.  You can pull them all up with this link, but I also feel like a new book in the series means I should at least give you a couple of new readalikes too.  So here are 2 more series to check out if you like Flavia:

  • The Joanne Kilbourne mysteries by Gail Bowen are also cozy and quirky. Kilbourn is a university professor in Saskatchewan.
  • I have been reintroduced to Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot mysteries because my daughter is reading them now. Like Flavia, Poirot is an outsider, intellectual.  The time frames are similar and both are cozy.  Interestingly, I made this RA connections when my daughter asked me for readalikes for the Poirot mysteries and I thought of giving her Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What I’m Reading: Longbourn

Back in early January before I read Death Comes to Pemberley for the January BPL book club, I read Longbourn by Jo Baker. I wanted to get in the mood for the fan fiction book club choice set after the events of Pride and Prejudice by reading this 2013 favorite

On a side note, I mentioned Longbourn during the book discussion and one member of the group called me just to tell me that Jo Baker is now one of her favorite writers.  She read 3 of her books in the last month, including Longbourn and loved them all.

Longbourn is very easy to book talk to patrons.  It tells the story of P&P but only from the points of view of  a few of the domestic servants.  So everything unfolds as you know it will, but from a different vantage point.  Plus, there is the added drama of parallel romances within the servants world too [there are 2, and one is quite scandalous, the other dovetails with Elizabeth and Darcy's travails].

This novel, as well as being just pure fun to read when paired with P&P, is also well done on its own.  Even without a detailed knowledge of all of the plot points of the source material, a reader will be easily drawn into the story Baker crafts.  The pacing is compelling and swift, especially when compared to P&P.  The characters Baker has created are vibrant, fully rounded, and interesting.  And some of the side plots are also very intriguing, including one involving Bingley's steward.

Baker has also built her story around the historical frame work of the time period; in fact, I found the historical issues she brings up to explore in more detail [such as the war, race relations, women's equality, class issues] much more compelling than how Austen treated them.  Now much of this has to do with the fact that Baker has the benefit of historical distance, while Austen was critiquing her own time, which is much harder to do, but still, I found much enjoyment in how Baker worked the larger historical picture into her story.

Obviously the whole upstairs, downstairs thing is hugely popular right now too.  This part of the story was great.  I enjoyed the detailed descriptions of how Pemberley was run.  What it took to cook and clean for the Bennet family, and how they were transported everywhere. Baker incorporated these details into the story in a way that never bogged the pace down too.

The point I want to make in this review is that Longbourn was an excellent read on its own.  I am not a huge fan of P&P as a novel, but I love the fact that it is the beginning of the Romantic Comedy as we know it today.  I love the story, not the writing.  By retelling Elizabeth and Darcy's story in a different way, having a mirrored love triangle with the servants, and by doing it all in a more modern style with a much quicker pace, I found Longbourn irresistible.

On the other hand, I know people who love, no worship is a better word choice here, P&P and those people were not as enamored with Longbourn.  For them it was too different.

So, this book is a great sure bet for people who like [but don't love] P&P.  It's a maybe for people who love Austen.  But, it is also a good choice for readers who want good character centered, historical fiction with a domestic workers point of view.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Austen fan fiction, domestic workers, character centered

Readalikes: As I mentioned in my book discussion report on Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, you can click here for the Goodreads users’ list of the best Austen fan fiction.

And if you haven't read Pride and Prejudice yet, or just haven't read it in awhile, a side-by-side reading is pretty fun.

Obviously, there is a huge Downton Abbey connection here.  There are many readalike options and lists you can find here.

Finally, for a few outside of the box suggestions, here are some books that are also character centered, historical fiction that feature domestic workers but are set in a different time or place [because not all readers will want a British upstairs-downstairs readalike]:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday Discussion: What's the Best Bad Book You Have Ever Read?

Today's Monday Discussion comes from a conversation over on the Shelftalker blog sponsored by Publisher Weekly, where they asked "What's the Best Bad Book You Have Ever Read?"

The conversation began with Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews, and boy could I relate to that one.  As a teenager, I LOVED Flowers in the Attic and plowed through many more books by Andrews. However, even then I knew they were not the best written books, but that didn't stop me from loving every minute of reading them.

Of course I have also read a lot of "bad" horror in my time, but in terms of the best bad horror novel, I would have to give that title to The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin. It is a trashy read, but it is worth noting since the term "Stepford Wife" has entered the American lexicon and is used by people who have never read the book.

For more ideas, I enjoyed this Flavorwire article on 40 Trashy Books You Must Read Before You Die. I really do need to read Lady Chatterley's Lover one of these days.

But now it is your turn.  For today's Monday Discussion share with all of us the best bad book you have ever read.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Contemplation of George R R Martin’s Place in the Fantasy Cannon

The Guardian recently had this interesting essay which began with a question, “Where and When Are George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones Novels Set?

What follows is an interesting look at setting and how it has bee used in Epic Fantasy over time. Since Fantasy as a genre is most often characterized by and enjoy because of its world building, this essay is a must read for fans of fantasy and any of you who ever help a fantasy reader...which would be everybody.

With Game of Thrones about to begin another season on HBO, reading this essay today will give you a leg up on the patrons coming in with epic fantasy related questions.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Stewart O'Nan: A Great Sure Bet Option

As I was scanning my RSS feed the other day, I came upon this short but wonderful reading recommendation courtesy of my NPR Books feed:
Inspired by the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, author Jonathan Evison recommends the novel Songs for the Missing, by Stewart O'Nan, as a book with something to say about mysterious disappearances.
Click here for the full transcript.

I agree with Jonathan Evison when he said, about this novel in general, "it's a deeply human, finely detailed, achingly sympathetic approach to the characters."

I feel like that is a great description of every book O'Nan writes.  They are all on different subjects, but each of his novels is character centered.  O'Nan sympathetically portrays his characters, documenting some large event and its aftermath.  We see the characters thoughts and understand their motivations.  Each novel has a slim investigative angle, but more on the psychological suspense track.  These can be slightly sad stories, but I describe O'Nan as for readers who like the idea of a Jodi Picould but find her melodrama a bit over the top.

His novels also tend to be short and fairly fast paced with a polished writing style that will even appeal to more discerning literary fiction reader too.

As readers start coming in looking for what to read while on Spring Break, try suggesting Stewart  O'Nan.  His works will appeal to a wide swath of readers and you are bound to have some on the shelf.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

PLA Reports

While I did not make it to the PLA Conference last week, a van full of my co-workers did, and they all came back energized.

Today, as I was listening to Jose telling me all about the programs he attended, I realized that not everyone will get first hand reports like I am privy to.

So click here to access the program materials from just about every session.

And for the best and most relevant recaps [to readers of this blog at least], check out my area colleague, Rick Librarian's reports. That link is to all things he has tagged pla14.

Now get clicking so you can harness some of the energy from the conference too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

BPL Book Discussion: The Red House

Yesterday the BPL Book Club met to discuss The Red House by Mark Haddon.  From the publisher:

The set-up of Mark Haddon's brilliant new novel is simple: Richard, a wealthy doctor, invites his estranged sister Angela and her family to join his for a week at a vacation home in the English countryside. Richard has just re-married and inherited a willful stepdaughter in the process; Angela has a feckless husband and three children who sometimes seem alien to her. The stage is set for seven days of resentment and guilt, a staple of family gatherings the world over.
But because of Haddon's extraordinary narrative technique, the stories of these eight people are anything but simple. Told through the alternating viewpoints of each character, The Red Housebecomes a symphony of long-held grudges, fading dreams and rising hopes, tightly-guarded secrets and illicit desires, all adding up to a portrait of contemporary family life that is bittersweet, comic, and deeply felt. As we come to know each character they become profoundly real to us. We understand them, even as we come to realize they will never fully understand each other, which is the tragicomedy of every family.
On a personal note, this was my second time reading the book.  Here is the link to my initial review of the book back in 2012.

I also book talked this one in Book Lover’s Club in July 2012, saying:
This is the newest novel by the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  Here Haddon imagines an estranged family: 2 grown siblings and their spouses and kids renting a house in the Welsh countryside for 7 days.  Instead of chapters the novel is divided into the days of the vacation.  Within each day the point of view skips around to every character.  The changes in point of view can be jarring since they are not marked in any way; the point of view will simply change after a small break in the text. The minor confusion that occurs as a result is worth it, as you get to see everything from each character's point of view.  These are troubled people, but they are all troubled in a different way.  When thrown together, there are trials and tribulations, but also moments of revelation and joy.  The family vacation will leave permanent scars on the group, but it will also bring them all closer together.  This is a great read if you are preparing for an extended family gathering.
Now on to our discussion:

  • Because this book is written in an odd style with stream of consciousness, lots of inner monologues, and frequent shifts in the POV, I was worried about how the initial vote would go, but interestingly it was an equal split with 3 likes, 4 dislikes, and 3 so-so.  Comments from the start were all over the place, but here are a few:
    • I did not like reading this book, but the writing was extraordinary.  I loved it for that alone.
    • I voted so-so because the character development was excellent but the plot and writing style drove me crazy.
    • I voted dislike because I couldn’t even finish it. It was too confusing to me that I could not focus.  I was reading the words, but I was not absorbing anything.
    • Without book club, I wouldn’t have read it.
    • It took me a while to get into how he wrote it.
    • I liked it a lot.  I liked that I could see what was going on in everyone’s head.  This made me like each person at one point or another.  Even when I later hated them, I could remember being in his or her head and liking that person.
  • That brings up the inner monologue as Haddon’s major plot device here.  The inner monologues, not the action, are what propel the story. Did that work for you as a reader?
    • I loved Beloved and Ulysses and those both use the inner monologue to move the story.  I liked how Haddon used the inner monologue but it was in other places where I thought he tried too hard to add drama.
    • Benji’s inner monologue was just perfect.  It completely captured the way a little boy’s brain works.
    • I thought all the inner monologues were a bit much...TMI [too much information]. I didn’t need to know everything they were thinking.
    • But, for all we did know, I felt like there was so much I didn’t know.  There were hints of all the information that was being left out.
    • Also, it was TMI for the reader, but it was interesting because only we knew it.  The other characters were not privy to these thoughts.
    • Without the inner monologues, we don’t see much change in the characters, but with it everyone is changed as a result of the story.
  • Let’s talk about Angela and Richard, their relationship as siblings, and them as characters.
    • The issues of caring for an ailing parent rang true to me.  She then shared her own personal story of caring for her sick mother while her brother was living far away.
    • We talked a bit about how siblings can have a completely different remembrance of their shared history.
    • This led us to a larger discussion of how things are remembered.  Angela and Richard can’t remember the same things from their past the same way, so then how will this vacation be remembered differently by all involved.  That is cool.  So meta too.
    • In case you missed this point, Haddon drives it home at the end when he has Louisa see a small plane with its engine on fire on her drive home, but Haddon tells us she will remember forever that she saw it at the red house.
  • The titular house is described on page 19.  Someone read the description. [ed note, I loved how the hard cover and paperback were laid out so that the page numbers matched up.] As someone said, we should have known that some stressed and disturbing things were bound to happen in a house with the history of this one.
  • We looked at page 131 as a group  It is almost an entire page of free associations that are disconnected from each others.  This happens right as “Monday” is ending.  They turned to me, the leader, to explain what was happening there.  I ventured that Haddon was trying to recreate all of the independent and separate thoughts running through the heads of the 8 people in the house as they were winding down for the night.
  • Questions: Have you ever been on a vacation like this?
    • Yes.  This is universal
    • Oh, and the “crap store,” everyone stops there on vacation.
    • The effort to share cooking.  I related to that.
    • Haddon captures the forced togetherness.
    • He is right that some people go on excursions and some stay behind.
  • Question: What is the role of death and absence in this novel?
    • The entire set up is based on those 2 things.
    • I saw Angela throwing the doll into the fire at the end as her exorcising her ghosts.
    • Angela never had a chance to heal over the death of her baby.  All being together made Karen’s absence worse.
    • But why so upset about Karen now, 18 years later? Angela is is surprised by the intensity of her emotion too.
    • Maybe it was because she was so upset about her mom’s death recently, and still upset about her dad’s death years before.
    • Also, Angela was very worried about losing her mind like her mother.
    • Absence:  When they all get to the house their outside life is absent, but it intrudes slowly on the story of their vacation as the book goes on.
    • Speaking of, there is no plot here.  But, someone asked, do most relaxation vacations have a plot? No.  So why are we expecting one in a book about it.
  • Richard:
    • He is an easy villain at the start, but we learn very quickly that it is much more complicated than that.
    • I loved the scene where he takes the long run.  I felt like I learned so much about who Richard really was then.
    • I liked it up until he falls and almost dies of hypothermia.  I fond that to be a stretch.
    • In general, I think I always stereotype characters at the start of a book.  Haddon wants me to and then he turns everything on its head.  This is an uncomfortable feeling.  The entire book is very frank and uncomfortable, but that is how life is if you are truly living.
  • Question: Which character of you most identify with?
    • Alex because he loved nature so much
    • Benji.  Maybe not identified but understood him the best because I have a young son.
    • Overall, I identified most with Angela, but there were times when I knew she was VERY different from me.
    • Louisa because she did her best to make the vacation work even though she is the least connected to the group
    • I liked how on the last night she had to break the salmon to cook it and then reconstruct it [and it looked perfectly whole] to serve it. That was so symbolic of what she was to the group.
    • I felt like Richard and Louisa as a couple were very real.  Their issues and how they worked them out were realistic.
    • Although I didn’t really like Dominic, I felt like he was an excellent Dad. He wanted to be a good husband, was trying.
  • Question: What does the future hold for these people?
    • We all thought that Dom would try to give up his affair with Amy, but we were worried that she will not make it easy and will probably expose their affair.  Also, someone said while he might end it with Amy, she thought he would eventually stray again.
    • As a group, we felt that Angela was on her way toward healing.  Burning the doll was a big step.
    • I don’t think anyone is going to change! They changed while they were at the red house in relation to one and other, but I doubt it will stick.  True change takes a lot of work and a long time; these people are too self absorbed to experience real change.
    • The entire book is a critique of how narcissistic our society has become.
    • I think the key to the future is in Louisa’s hands.  If Louisa can bring them all together again, they will all be the better for it.  But, Haddon has the specters of disaster on Louisa’s horizon: Richard’s lawsuit and Melissa’s school problems, so she could easily get side tracked.
    • I think Benji could bring them together.  He wrote the note for the whole group in the guest book.  That is a sign that he can be the lynchpin.
    • The friendship that Louisa and Daisy seemed to strike up felt real and gives me hope for this group.
  • Question: Final comments
    • The word choices in this book were amazing and beautiful.  I wrote a few down.  When describing the train it “unzips the land,” or the swallows overhead were like “pairs of scissors.”
  • Words to describe this book:
    • disjointed
    • multiple monologues
    • psychological
    • broken to healing
    • problems
    • TMI
    • difficult
    • confusing
    • a bit over reaching
Readlikes:  Here is what I had to suggest the first time I read The Red House:
Although there are no vacations in it The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender is similar to The Red Housein that both are moving, character centered stories that deal with family secrets. They also build to dramatic, but not tragic finales.  Click here to see my post from when the BPL book discussion group read Bender's novel.
Like The Red HouseSeating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead also came out this summer.  Here the setting is a family wedding in New England.  If you liked the family drama parts of The Red House, this would be a good suggestion. 
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby is also an adult book for young adults option, that is quite dramatic (four strangers find themselves on a roof top on New Year's Eve and all plan to jump) and told in multiple points of view.
During the discussion the group also had a few suggestions.  As I mentioned above, a few other classic works of literature with inner monologues might work too.  Another participant also pointed out that this book reminded her of the movie The Big Chill, but she liked that movie and not this book.  As a group we deduced that while both stories are about people coming together because of the death of someone they all loved, the author’s purpose is completely different in each.  The movie is about celebration a life, while this book is about the failed connections of family.

Speaking of dysfunctional families, that is a key appeal factor here.  Some good options that in and of themselves hit a wide range of other areas of appeal are:

Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday Discussion: Who's Your Favorite Irish Author?

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Today is an obvious discussion.  Name your favorite Irish Author. Look, I didn't want to make it too hard on all of you who over did it this weekend.

I'll go first.  There is no question in my mind here.  My favorite Irish Author is Roddy Doyle.

A distance second is John Banville writing as Benjamin Black.

Now it's your turn.

Let me know your favorite Irish Author.   Together we can make a nice list of options. It's that easy today.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Pi Day Reading List

Happy Pi Day.  It's 3.14 today.  And I have set this to post at 1:59.  So yes, this post is 3.14159.  You can thank my math loving 6th grade daughter for this bit of nerdy fun.

While math is not my thing, books are.  So my contribution to Pi Day is this list of great reads featuring math. Annotations are courtesy of NoveList and all links go to Goodreads unless otherwise noted.  Feel free to use this list at your library, just credit this link.  Also, this list is just a sampling.  There are many great reads featuring math out there.  Please add your favorites in the comments.  The more the merrier.

RA for All's Pi Day Reads

A housekeeper is assigned by the agency she works for to take care of the a former mathematics professor's home and make his meals. She is the 9th housekeeper assigned to the professor. This is because the professor has a brain injury. He can remember everything that happened before his accident (1970s), but since, his memory is on a 80 minute loop.
That's right, his memory only lasts 80 minutes. Intriguing, huh?The ensuing story is about her time working for the Professor and the bond they form. It is about her son's relationship with her and the Professor. It is about the loss of a genius; we still see sparks of the old Professor as he works on complicated math problems. And finally, it is a story about living, no matter the obstacles; about living a life with meaning even if you cannot remember what happened 81 minutes ago.
  • The SF novels of Neal Stephenson tend to include a mathematical frame.  Try Anathem. "Having lived in a monastery since childhood, away from the violent upheavals of the outside world, Raz becomes one of a group of formerly cloistered scholars who are appointed by a fear-driven higher power to avert an impending catastrophe."
  • If Stephenson is a little too Cyber Punk for you, why not try a classic SF math based title like Carl Sagan's Contact, "December, 1999, the dawn of the millennium. A team of international scientists is poised for the most fantastic adventure in human history. After years of scanning the galaxy for signs of somebody or something else, this team believes they've found a message from an intelligent source, and they travel deep into space to meet it. Who or what is out there?"
  • For a Women's Fiction and math double shot try, The Geometry of Sisters by Luanne Rice. "Desperate to rebuild her life, English teacher Maura Shaw comes to Newport Academy, an elite private high school, with her two children, but the ghosts of the past, including her estrangement from her sister, continue to haunt her."
  • How about a mystery featuring math?  I have two great options for you.
    • The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martínez. "A sequence of mathematical symbols holds the key to a series of murders that Oxford mathematician Arthur Seldom and his assistant, a young Argentine mathematics student, must solve to find the killer before he can strike again."
    • No One You Know by Michelle Richmond. "Twenty years after the unsolved murder of her sister Lila, Ellie's chance meeting with the man accused of the crime leads to the discovery of Lila's secret notebook, filled with mathematical equations that lead to other enigmas in her sister's life."
  • How about a satire? Try Flatterland by Ian Stewart which was reviewed in Booklist as follows, "Scientific American’s math writer offers a sequel to Flatland, Edwin Abbott’s late-nineteenth-century fantasy about a two-dimensional universe disturbed by a visitor from the third dimension, the Sphere. Since Abbott’s era, mathematicians and physicists have latched onto fourth, nth, and fractional dimensions, which mandates an update. Stewart introduces Flatlander Vikki Line, who discovers a great-grandfather’s book that mentions the third dimension. Apoplectic about such apostasy, Vikki’s father destroys the book, but she has saved a copy in her computer. She summons the Space Hopper to guide her through the “Mathiverse,” the set of all possible spaces and times. As they alight in Topologica, Hyperbolica, Planiturthia, and elsewhere, the Space Hopper surveys the inhabitants’ horizons while Vikki, bright line though she is, sweats her way to understanding. She and the Space Hopper proceed to atomic physics, where a quantum cat talks about being dead and alive in Schrodinger’s box, and to relativity, ruled by the Hawk King. Yes, the puns are groaners, but Stewart’s Flatland-plus makes it fun to think in more than three dimensions. (Reviewed May 15, 2001) -- Gilbert Taylor"
  • Or try the original, Flatland by Edwin Abbot. "In a parody of Victorian society, A. Square meets a tragic fate when he dares to inform the inhabitants of his two-dimensional universe that there is a third and fourth dimension."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Why You Should Follow The Tournament of Books: A RA Perspective

I can’t believe I missed the start of The Morning News’ Tournament of Books, but the first round is currently underway.

In case you are new to the ToB, click here for the basic run down.

But if you are a fan of reading...anything...for fun...anytime...you will love following the ToB. I promise.  If I am wrong, you are a liar and you don’t love reading as much as you think you do.

Each day they have 2 books from the previous year, so in this case 2013, squaring off in a March Madness bracket style, so that the titles get narrowed down to 1 final winner.  The final match is judged by all of the judges for fairness.  Click here to see the entire 2013 ToB IX.

There is a judge, normally themselves an award winning author, who writes a long commentary on how the two book stack up against one and other.  Each official judge’s commentary and ruling is then followed by a commentary on that specific match and how it played out by The Morning News editors, Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner.

Here’s why this process is so great for you as a reader.  First, these books are not judged in a vacuum.   All of the books in the tourney have already been through that process and have been determined among the best books of the previous year.  Reading another author’s take on how a specific book fairs when paired with another specific book is fascinating.  Is it unfair? Probably, yes.  Depending on what you are against and by whom it is being judged, both of those factors can help predetermine the outcome.

But, is it fun? Heck yeah.  As a book lover and reader, I simply adore reading the judge’s commentaries themselves.  Because the matches are judged by award winning authors, I often feel like the commentary they provide to pick a winner reads like a short story in and of itself. Also, since it is so arbitrary, the entire thing both validates and satirizes the awards process-- simultaneously.  I love that too.

And Kevin and John playing the part of the “regular reader” is great for placing the match within the context of the entire tourney and the larger literary world.

So even if you are not a traditional literary fiction fan, I highly suggest you follow the ToB because doing so is like reading a novel about the best novels of 2013. It is the most fun year in a review you will even experience.

I even think it is worth going back and re-reading the commentaries from past years.  Why? You will find many good backlist options for your patrons.  And, because the commentaries are so well done, you will gather great appeal information about the titles, making it easier to book talk them to your readers.  And, with older titles, there is sure to be a few lurking in the stacks.

Wow, that was a lot of “Ands.”  But seriously, the ToB, all 10 years of it, is a gold mine of fabulous reading suggestions, with annotations written for you by other awesome authors.  This is almost too easy!  So start using the ToB as your new RA tool, and keep using it all year long.

Click here for the current match.  Scroll down in the right gutter for links to past year’s tourneys too.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Soon to Be Famous Judging Update...

We have three finalists!
Congratulations to:
Rick Polad, author of Change of Address.
Nominated by Philips Library, Aurora University
Mary Hutchings Reed, author of Warming Up.
Nominated by the Mount Prospect Public Library
Joanne Zienty, author of The Things We Save.
Nominated by CCSD 62 Forest School, Des Plaines
The entire judging committee will read all three books.  The winner will be announced on Wednesday, April 16, at 2 p.m. at the RAILS office at 126 Tower Drive in Burr Ridge.  Please join us for a reception, light refreshments, and the reveal of our Soon to Be Famous Author!

I added links to the Kindle copy pages for each book so you could read the finalists for yourself if you wanted.

I was one of the second round judges for The Things We Save, so I was happy to see that one move on to the final round for two reasons.  First, because I enjoyed it.  But second, because now I only have to read 2 of the three by the 31st.

I won’t have more to say on this until announcement day, but that is only the beginning of the journey.  The entire idea of this award is for the library community to band together, show our influence, pluck a worthy author from unpublished obscurity, and bring him or her into the spotlight, hopefully helping him or her to achieving a publishing contract along the way.  All of this to show publishers that while we don’t charge patrons for the books they borrow, we are still useful to them.

So stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

RA for All Goes International With an Updated Horror Presentation

Click here for a 2014 coupon
Yes, International!  Due to the wonders of technology and in spite of the perils of time zones, day light savings time, and the international date line, I will be making my first ever overseas appearance for a New South Wales Readers Advisory training based out of Sydney, Australia.

The appearance is on Wednesday March 12th in the afternoon their time, but will be this evening my time.  I feel like I get to time travel. That was a bonus I never saw coming.

This will be my 1 Hour Horror RA program based on my book, The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror, 2d edition, but with new examples, trends, and authors.

I have made the presentation available for anyone to view.  Simply click here for access.  

The good people at ALA Editions have also provided a great coupon for anyone to use in order to buy my book in print or eBook format.  Remember, the book comes with a free update...the horror blog! The coupon is in the second slide if you are interested.

But feel free to view the presentation no matter where you live.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Library Reads: April 2014

The new list is up right now.  Past lists can be found here.  Remember to use the past titles as sure bet suggestions for patrons who cannot articulate what they want to read.  These are "good reads" suggested by other librarians as worth your time.  And since each title includes an annotation, the patron can decide for themselves.  Titles from the older lists should be more readily available for immediate checkout too.

Collection development alert: if you are at a public library in America and do ordering, buy these for your collection.

Finally, I have had great luck placing the current month's list at the RA desk.  The well designed March flyer is on the desk in front of me right now, and gets consulted by a patron at least once a day.

April 2014 Library Reads List


The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry:
A Novel

by Gabrielle Zevin

Published: 4/1/2014 by Algonquin Books
ISBN: 9781616203214
“A middle-aged bookseller mourning his lost wife, a feisty publisher’s rep, and a charmingly precocious abandoned child come together on a small island off the New England coast in this utterly delightful novel of love and second chances.”
Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY

Frog Music: A Novel

by Emma Donoghue

Published: 4/1/2014 by Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 9780316324687
“Donoghue returns to historical fiction in this latest offering, based on the unsolved murder of Jenny Bonnet, a cross-dressing frog catcher with a mysterious past. Set in 1870s San Francisco, this brilliant book includes impeccable historical details, from a smallpox epidemic to period songs.”
Diane Scholl, Batavia Public Library, IL


And the Dark Sacred Night: A Novel

by Julia Glass

Published: 4/1/2014 by Pantheon
ISBN: 9780307377937
“Four stars to Julia Glass for this, her best work since Three Junes. We become reacquainted with old characters Malachy, Fenno, and Walter and learn more about their life stories. The individuals are imperfectly human, and perfectly drawn. A wonderful, highly recommended novel.”
Kelly Currie, Delphi Public Library, Delphi, IN


Silence for the Dead: A Novel

by Simone St. James

Published: 4/1/2014 by NAL Trade/Penguin
ISBN: 9780451419484
“A young nurse working in an isolated hospital for WWI veterans finds herself in over her head. Are the patients in the mysterious estate haunted by their wartime experiences, or something more malevolent? St. James is an up-and-coming author with a flair for combining horror and romance. A great choice for readers of either genre.”
Jenna Persick, Chester County Library, Exton, PA


By its Cover: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

by Donna Leon

Published: 4/1/2014 by Atlantic Monthly Press
ISBN: 9780802122643
“In the 23rd book in this delightful series, Commissario Guido Brunetti is brought in to investigate the theft of pages and maps from rare books. Brunetti is a great character with warmth, style and elegance. Leon’s book enlightens us about Venetian customs and delivers a solid mystery.”
Joanne Genovese, Smithtown Special Library District, Smithtown, NY


The Intern’s Handbook: A Thriller

by Shane Kuhn

Published: 4/8/2014 by Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781476733807
“How did Shane Kuhn pull this off? He’s written an action-packed, twisting thriller about professional assassins, and–guess what?–it’s funny and romantic, too! In a totally quirky way, of course. You have to read it to believe it.”
Nancy Russell, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Columbus, OH


Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home

by Nina Stibbe

Published: 4/22/2014 by Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 9780316243391
“With a unique voice, Stibbe brings 1980s literary Camden back to life in this delightful epistolary memoir. The letters that Stibbe writes to her sister are a hoot, featuring unexpected cooking advice from the great Alan Bennett, and droll commentary on just about everything from Mary-Kay Wilmers.”
Jennifer Estepp, Queens Library, Jamaica, NY


The Axe Factor: A Jimm Juree Mystery

by Colin Cotterill

Published: 4/15/2014 by Minotaur Books
ISBN: 9781250043368
“I love this sharply-written and quirky cozy mystery. Jimm Juree is a wonderful character, slyly funny and insightful, with an oddball cast of family and friends to back her up. Set in coastal Thailand, this is a laugh-out-loud funny mystery with plenty of great twists and turns that will keep readers guessing.”
Vicki Nesting, St. Charles Parish Library, Destrehan, LA


Family Life: A Novel

by Akhil Sharma

Published: 4/7/2014 by W. W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 9780393060058
“The Mishras move from India to New York City in the 1980s in order to give their two sons better educational opportunities. When tragedy strikes, the family tries to recover the optimism and hope that propelled them to America. Beautiful, clear-eyed and compelling, this book packs a powerful punch.”
Anbolyn Potter, Chandler Public Library, Chandler, AZ


On the Rocks: A Novel

by Erin Duffy

Published: 4/22/2014 by William Morrow
ISBN: 9780062205742
“After her fiance dumps her on Facebook, Abby retreats to her apartment until her best friend invites her to spend the summer in Newport. This book is for every woman who’s been determined to put things back together after finding herself on the wrong side of social media, in the aftermath of a bad breakup, or elbow deep in Ben & Jerry’s when things fall apart.”
Sara Grochowski, Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library, Alpena, MI