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Friday, May 30, 2014

What I’m Reading: The Outsmarting of Criminals

Reviews keep coming...

Earlier this month I read the first book in a new cozy series, The Outsmarting of Criminals: A Mystery featuring Miss Felicity Prim by Steven Rigolosi

I placed this book on hold immediately after reading this review in Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ After being mugged in New York City, Miss Felicity Prim plans to embark on a new career: "criminaloutsmarting." She is going to do it the cozy way by moving to a small hamlet in Connecticut, where she'll buy a cottage with a garden. All this in Chapter 1! The staff of the doctor's office where she works is distraught when Felicity announces her resignation, especially the doctor, who wants to marry her. She'll have none of this until she tries her new venture, though. Investigating as a concept gets decidedly real when a corpse turns up in her basement (a secret basement, by the way). Det. Ezra Dawes and his team make a valiant effort to keep up with Felicity. Concurrently, Felicity and her sister learn they have a secret half-sister, and thus she has a second case to solve. Mercy! VERDICT This title had me at the cover—all done in Edward Gorey style. The tongue-in-cheek humor Rigolosi showed in his earlier work (Androgynous Murder House Party ) is key to this pitch-perfect mash-up of the greatest traditional/cozy mystery tropes. Similar in tone to Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series although with a contemporary setting; a pleasure from cover to cover. --Teresa L. Jacobsen (Reviewed March 1, 2014) (Library Journal, vol 139, issue 4, p74)
Between my love of books about books, the fact that I am leading the ARRT Crime Fiction Genre Study, AND that I had just led our 2 hour discussion on cozies a few weeks before, this book was exactly what I needed.

You get the plot and some of the appeal from the review, but let me talk a bit more about WHY someone would enjoy this book.  First, it is adorable.  If you like reading and are someone who gets caught up in books on a regular basis, I mean so caught up in the characters that you forget they ARE NOT REAL [you know you’ve done it]-- this is the book for you.  Felicity is that kind of reader of mystery novels, especially the classics.  But you don’t have to love mysteries to enjoy this series.  Rather, it is that “getting caught up” in a book aspect that is shared here.

This is a mystery about a reader and the books she loves first and foremost. But, it is also a "wink, wink" parody of mystery novels, their plots, and the eccentric characters who live on the small towns of cozy mysteries.  The official term for this type of book about books where the reader is in on the joke is technically called metafiction. In terms of appeal what that  term means is that you, the reader, should expect to have a fun romp in an endearing, engaging, and witty book about a love of books and reading.  The reader is in on all of the jokes, we crave the next plot twist ripped from the classic cannon of mystery fiction, and we can’t wait for what’s still to come.

Now many may find this piling on of all of the inside jokes a bit much.  Not me though.  Warn people that it is an exaggerated, adorable, send up and they can decide if they are interested for themselves. This is a book for which someone’s enjoyment will be highly dependent upon their expectations and mood as they read it.

But it is not all puns and inside jokes.  Rigolosi is a good writer. An example can be seen in his brilliant, “show don’t tell” portrayal of Felicity’s terrible driving. That bit of writing skill is worth reading the book.  It is a great running gag but done in an understated way that I really enjoyed.

The Outsmarting of Criminals is a fast paced, fun, page turner. It is a perfect summer read for all book lovers. And don’t blame me if after you finish the novel you too are thinking about leaving the rat race behind and becoming a cozy amateur detective yourself. Just make sure to buy a house that comes with its very own secret basement.

Three Words That Describe This Book: adorable, witty, eccentric characters 

Readalikes: This series takes everything I love about Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series and Hall’s Vish Puri series and smooshes [I know, not an actual word] them together.  Click here for more on Flavia and here for more on Puri including dozens more readalike options.

But really anything on the ARRT crime fiction genre study list from the April Meeting of Amateur, Cozy, and Humorous mysteries will work as a suggestion here.

This series also reminded me of a backlist, harder to find British mystery series that also is a parody of mystery novels by L.C. Tyler and beginning with The Herring Seller’s Apprentice.  Here is the link to my review of that book and here is the link to the Goodreads info on the whole series.

And finally, the best series for people who love books, reading, and metafiction is Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series. I think it should be required reading for book lovers.

More reviews coming over the weekend [especially since I took yesterday off from posting].

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What I’m Reading: This Dark Road to Mercy

Way back in February, I read This Dark Road To Mercy by Wiley Cash.  Let me begin by saying I was one of the many LOVERS of Cash’s debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home.  And, while I did not love TDRTM as much, I still found it to be very good.  [It is hard when ALMKTH was pretty close to perfect. ] I am also struck by how much of what I found appealing about ALMKTH is the same here in TDRTM just to a slightly lesser degree.  If you are new to Wiley Cash, click here for my ALMKTH review.

Here’s the set up for TDRTM. We are in North Carolina.  It’s 1995.  Our narrators are a Easter, a young girl who along with her sister, Ruby, lives in foster care after the death of their mother, Brad Weller, their social worker, and Robert Pruitt, an ex-con with a grudge against Easter’s Dad.

The narration goes back in forth between the three as we follow the story of Wade, Easter’s dead beat, former minor league baseball star Dad, as he tries to get his girls back.  Wade convinces the girls to escape into the night with him.  They go since there only other option is to move to Alaska to live with the grandparents they have never met. Brady and Pruitt are both looking for Wade but each man has different intentions on what they want to do with him once they find him.

Like ALMKTH there is violence and tension here, enough to make more delicate readers uncomfortable.  Let me say, Wade is just a loser, but Pruitt is a bad, bad man, and since he takes his turns telling the story, it can get intense.

Easter was okay to me.  She grew on me, but I never loved her, but I really liked Brady.  And Pruitt was a great villain. The characters drive the action, but overall, I did not inhabit them as I did in ALMKTH. I think if Easter was a bit stronger, I would have LOVED this book.  I am hearing that from other readers too.  Once they get past Easter’s opening chapters and keep going, they really get into the book.

Again the landscape plays a part in the story.  For example, the first time Easter and Ruby see the ocean after years of living so close but never getting there was heartbreakingly beautiful.

This is modern Southern Gothic, psychological suspense that is compellingly paced, but not brisk.  As the pacing begins to drag with one narrator, we switch voices and it starts building again.  Although like other psychological suspense stories, the tension builds and the pacing increases as we race toward the finish. And I loved the climax here.

The most strikingly genius thing about this novel is how Cash uses the 1995 home run record race between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa to play with the tone of the novel.  Let me explain.  Like all of us were during the summer of 1995, the characters in the novel are wrapped up in the race for the HR record.  People are giddy over it.  Everyone, everywhere is following it.  The novel’s climax even happens at a Cubs-Cardinals game.  Back in 1995, we were all excited by this.  It made you smile to hear about who hit how many home runs no matter how bad a day you had. Everyone was talking about Sosa and McGuire and their home runs.  It was the lead story on the news every night, all over America.

But that was 1995.  Cash published this book in 2014.  The reader in 2014 can remember back to that innocent age and now knows it was all a sham and a fraud!  The double entendre of feelings-- remembering our pure joy and having the frustration and sadness that it was all because of steroids that it was possible-- adds a unique unsettling quality to the entire book.  It is subtle and brilliant.

Overall, TDRTM is just a little more straight forward than ALMKTH.  The atmosphere is there, but it is not an overriding appeal. The characters are good, but not great. The story is interesting and compelling, but will not haunt you.  However, I am giving it out to readers constantly and they seem to be enjoying it, again, one they get past Easter’s opening and move into Brady.  If they can make it to Pruitt’s first chapters, they are usually hooked.

I myself liked it and would be willing to read Cash’s next book.

Three Words That Describe This Book: psychological suspense, southern gothic, multiple narrators

Readalikes:  Click here for my first round of Cash readalikes, including John Hart who would be your best bet match especially for this novel.  Click here to my review of The Last Child, which is a good suggestion here too.

Specifically with TDRTM, if you want more books about the foster care system, another good option is The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. The link is to my report from when our book group read that novel.

Also, many people will enjoy this book for the large baseball frame.  This happens to be a personal favorite frame of mine and I have blogged about it many times.  Click here to pull up tons of baseball suggestions. I would also specifically suggest The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach as a readalike for more reasons than just the baseball frame.

For a more traditional psychological suspense involving sisters try Ruth Rendell’s The Water’s Lovely.

Finally, on NoveList I found a perfect "title to title" suggestion, Southern Cross the Dog by Bill Cheng. Here is an excerpt from the reason why: "These richly atmospheric Southern Gothic novels are simultaneously brutal, lyrical, and moving, filled with memorable characters and desperate adventures. Couldnt have said it better myself.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What I'm Reading: The Bees

Okay, I am officially overwhelmed by how far behind in reviews I am.  So, I now have a self inflicted blogging punishment-- I will only post reviews until I am caught up. To jump start myself, I am going with the book I finished this weekend and will be talking about at tonight's Book Lovers Club, The Bees by Laline Paull.

I first became aware of this title because it was featured on the May 2014 Library Reads list:
“This book is set entirely in a beehive, but the novel and its characters are so beautifully rendered that it could have been set anywhere. Societal codes and social mores combine with the ancient behavior rituals of bees, bringing forth a remarkable story that is sure to be a book club favorite.”
—Ilene Lefkowitz, Denville Public Library, Denville, NJ
I agree with the above statement completely.  But my sound bite review is-- The Bees is a fascinating look at life inside a bee hive in the tradition of Watership Down meets Divergent.

Literally.  It is just like the wonderful world created by Richard Adams in his classic story of what life is really like in a rabbit warren. Instead, here you see what happens in a bee hive from the social hierarchy, to the day to day living, to the fighting (outside enemies and among themselves) in this female driven world.

The Divergent part comes in to play in that the entire story is from the perspective of  Flora 717, a divergent bee. She is born of the lowest kin, a Flora-- the waste removal kin, but she is different; in fact, she is almost killed at birth because she is deviant.

What follows is Flora’s tale. We see the hive and how it functions through the eyes of this rare bee who is able to move throughout the complicated strata of the bee world.  This is a female driven story in what is a female driven culture. What I liked about this is that it had the full range of female characters from heroes to villains, from strong to weak, but it was all done without an "in-your-face girl power" that I tend to find annoying in both fiction and nonfiction.  As a result, men and women can enjoy this book.

You also don’t really need to know a lot about bees to enjoy the novel because Flora is learning how to be a bee herself over the course of the novel.  This is her story, through her eyes. We learn with her about how the work is divided, how they survive, how they fight, and how they pollinate our flowers and crops for us.  We see the negative effects of humans on the world of bees (and all nature), but again without a heavy hand. Paull is simply letting Flora live and through her fascinating life, we can’t help put be forced to pause and contemplate things in our world like the environment, to war, to different forms of government.

The bees have a mantra to keep them all in line, “Accept, Obey, and Serve.” They repeat it over and over.  They serve the Queen, the only female (in a hive full of them) who may breed.  Juts this scant bit of information hints at the vast thought provoking questions at the heart of this novel.

While the novel is thought provoking, it is also briskly paced-- which is not always the case with all thought provoking tales.  Flora lives a year and the book is barely over 300 pages. Things move here.  Each time there is a lull, we get action, violence, adventure...something happens to keep the story moving and the reader turning the pages.

But the action all builds purposely.  This is an extremely well plotted tale with everything that happens to Flora 717, everything she observes, everything that she does-- all of it ends up mattering in the end. I was satisfied that the ride Paull took me on was both fun and worth my time.

I should note that humans do appear although they only speak in the prologue and epilogue.  In these quick appearances (4 pages max), we learn quite a bit about the man who kept the bees in Fora 717’s hive for many generations of bees.  In fact, I found the ending of Flora 717’s story and the closure of the human side of the story right after make for an extremely satisfying double ending.

I am someone who praises authors for when they know how to end their stories.  This may be Paull’s first novel, but she has nailed a just about perfect story from start to finish. This would be a great summer reading option, especially is read outside near flowers.

The Bees is a great choice for readers from high school up. I think teenagers would learn quite a bit about world politics and government as it stands in the 21st Century by reading this book.  The Bees is a product of its time, just as Animal Farm is of its time.

Finally, one of the things I loved about this story is that is complete in one volume. This is the story of Flora 717 from her birth to her death.  Unlike many of the dystopian fiction novels today, but very much like the classic stand alone titles, The Bees is NOT a series. I really enjoyed that about it, but others may be disappointed that it is a one shot.

Three Words That Describe the Book: dystopian, anthropomorphism, fascinating

Readalikes: As I mentioned above, this is Watership Down meets Divergent-- totally a perfect read for someone who finds that statement intriguing.

Other thought provoking dystopian stories that it reminded me of:
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell   (I think The Bees is actually a better choice to get at some of the same ideas for today's students.)
  • The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood (Dystopian, breeding issues, strong woman with opposition views who changes a society)
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (I can’t say why other than it just had a similar feel to me; the regular hero who has divergent views and tries to change society)
For books in which bugs and their society stand in for human civilization I found 2 suggestions from NoveList: Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky and Empire of the Ants by Bernard Werber.
This is a perfect read for anyone who likes classic dystopian fiction.  For more of these titles click here for the Goodreads portal to all things dystopian.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Gone Girl Back at #1-- Readalikes For You

Two years after it came out, Gone Girl is finally in paperback, and of course, it went straight to #1 again. So it is back on the high demand holds list again.

Readers of this blog know that Flynn came to the BPL just as Gone Girl first hit number one, so we are HUGE Flynn fans here-- both staff and patrons.

Today, I have compiled a list of resources to help your Flynn fans to find similar reads.

This should help you to help readers as Gone Girl love is back in earnest.

[Click here to see our final Death Bracket match between Stephen King and Gillian Flynn].

Thursday, May 22, 2014

BPL Book Discussion: The Round House

Wow, did we have a great book discussion on Monday about The Round House by Louise Erdrich.

Instead of my usual publisher summary, I will direct you here for my review of when I read this novel last year.  But I would like to again highlight what the National Book Foundation said when they awarded this novel the National Book Award:
"In this haunting, powerful novel, Erdrich tells the story of a family and community nearly undone by violence. Using the quiet, reflective voice of a young boy forced into an early adulthood following a brutal assault on his mother, Erdrich has created an intricately layered novel that not only untangles our nation’s history of moral and judicial failure, but also offers a portrait of a community sustained by its traditions, values, faith, and stories."
As I mentioned in the open, we had a GREAT book discussion, but I was not surprised. As Lit Lovers mentions here, a study last year came out saying the books make us more human.  One of the books used in the study was The Round House. You can click here for more info on that.

As you will see below, our discussion focuses on a deep philosophical and moral quandary at the heart of this amazing novel, so as a result, this discussion report had MAJOR SPOILERS.  I generally try to avoid those, but I cannot report on our discussion for members who missed it and the other book club leaders who use these reports to assist them as they lead their groups with out these spoilers

So, if you want to know more about the book from me, read my extensive but spoiler free review.  Consider yourself warned that SPOILERS will appear below.

Discussions notes start now...so no spoilers people, look away...look away.

  • I was quite surprised but our opening tally was 13 liked, 0 disliked, and only 1 so-so.  Initial opening comments:
    • I wish I was teaching philosophy again so I could use this book with students.
    • There are so many questions here about justice.
    • I experienced how complex the question of what of you do when there is no system of justice.
    • And, she addressed this in a way that didn’t preach to you at all.  Amazing.
    • The ending was perfect, down to the last line...”We just kept going.”  The family is intact, driving in the car, but they are forever changed. All they can do is keep going.
    • The reactions to the mother’s rape which opens the book were all over the place.  This member has worked with rape victims and said that this is true to life.  No one reacts the same way-- no rape victim, no family or friend.
    • I enjoyed the complexity of the twin issue. It was subtle but well established and made for an interesting, but not cliche, plot twists.
  • Question: This book is filled with characters, before we move into Joe, our narrator in more detail do you want to talk about any you loved specifically?
    • One of the things that surprised me here was that I liked all of the characters--despicable to likable I enjoyed reading them all.  She is excellent at crafting complex and interesting characters.
    • This use of characters made the story feel so real.
    • I loved Cappy [murmurs of shared opinion].  He was such a friend.  He was there for Joe in whatever Joe needed.
    • I also enjoyed the character of Father Travis [he came up again later too].
    • The characters highlight the overall theme here which is a coming of age.  The combined coming of age/justice issues were clearly reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn.  Someone else chimed in, “ Yes, and Stand by Me too.” Yet another person said, and To Kill a Mockingbird, especially the scenes where Joe and his Dad are looking through laws and trying to figure out the whole tribal law vs state law vs federal law convergence issues.
    • Both car trip scenes highlighted the characters and coming of age themes well.
  • We talked about the opening scene with Joe recalling how that summer began with him pulling out the seedlings whose roots were threatening their home.  I talked about that scene at length in my review last year too. Their additions to the symbolism here:
    • Their core was being attacked that summer: their family core, Joe’s moral core, the tribes legal core, etc... The seedlings were the foreshadowing of what was to come. They needed to be eradicated to keep the core intact.
    • The core of everything they knew was under the microscope.
    • I loved the idea that these seeds settled into the ground unnoticed months before, and now were sprouting and threatening.  It made me think of the seeds of our villain.  We get the stories from his twin sister of him back to the womb.  She argued that this may have been the start of his evil.
  • Question: Does the Native American legal system help those on the reservation?
    • At that time, 1988, no.  Erdrich mentions in her notes that it has changed since then.  But in 1988, I was bothered by the fact that any “white” person could commit a crime on the reservation and NOT be prosecuted.
    • Joe must think it was okay though because he became a tribal judge.  The irony though is that he had to murder to get justice but then he dedicated his life to the legal system.
    • At one point in the story, Joe’s Dad says it is okay to kill someone who is evil in the eyes of tribal rules, morals and laws.
    • But, a participant mentioned the BIG PROBLEM with this.  In Pakistan/Afghanistan their tribal laws says you can kill your daughter if she marries the wrong person.  Their federal laws say it is illegal, but tribal law trumps it.  We do not agree with this law so we say it is evil and wrong, but to them it is just and right. In this Erdrich example, we happen to agree with Joe and his Dad, so we say it is okay.  This is troubling.  We discussed the moral quandary here for a bit.
    • As I was reading, I knew Joe was going to go through with murdering the man who raped his mom, and it made me slow down.  I almost stopped reading because I didn’t want to see Joe commit murder.  I was literally telling him,  “Don’t do it Joe!”
  • Question: So now is the time to discuss Joe and his taking of the law into his own hands. We spent close to an hour on this.
    • Joe plans the murder of his mother’s rapist and takes the first wounding shot.  Even though it is Cappy who fires the fatal shot, Joe is the only one standing at the end of the novel. He never turns himself in.  We can assume this because he became a judge.  I don’t think he should have killed for justice. I think he deserves to be punished.
    • I think he should have killed him [I thanked this participant for being so honest with the group]. I feel bad saying it, but I am glad Lyndon is dead and that Joe was not punished for it.
    • The rapist was an “insanely horrible” person.  We all loved this term.  We then talked at length about how Erdrich made Lyndon more and more horrible.  He really was despicable.  This makes it easier for us to reconcile the paradox that Joe is a murderer but we love him and don’t want him to get caught.
    • It is troubling when you think about it.  We all love Joe and care for him.  We all want to protect him.  What brilliance by Erdrich to get those feelings out of us.  Cappy dies, but he almost has to since he is the one who pulled the trigger on the fatal bullet.  But Cappy didn’t plan anything; he was just a faithful friend.
    • This is just the perfect ethical dilemma Erdrich has set up in novel form.
    • I believe “Thou Shall Not Kill” yet I’m okay with this novel.
    • Joe is not only NOT punished, he becomes the tribal judge as an adult. He becomes the upholder of the law.  Is that penance itself? It’s ironic at the least.
    • Joe was driven to murder after his Dad had the heart attack.  By that time Joe knew they couldn’t catch Lyndon with the law, but Joe knew if he didn’t do something this guy would end up killing them all.
    • When Father Travis talks about the different types of evil, I thought that meant Joe was going to decide NOT to kill Lyndon.
      • In general I found the juxtaposition of the tribal and Church interesting.
    • Money and politics end up playing a big part in the story.  The moral/philosophical juxtaposition are mucked up by those. No one is completely right or totally wrong-- all sides (good and evil) are compromised by money and politics.
    • If you knew your child killed someone, how would that be?
    • But if they had to see him every day and know he did it, how could I live with myself?
    • But how can everyone in the tribe look at Joe and know he killed?
    • Leader’s Note: I loved that these questions were flying back and forth from the group members themselves.
  • Question: As I began to try to wrap things up, I asked if people thought Joe’s actions were justice or vengeance?
    • This book made me think of the Samurai who only kill for justice, but if they are emotionally attached to a victim, they are not supposed to kill. So even if a just killing, Joe is too connected to the crime.
    • I think if it was justice, he would have confessed. So it is vengeance because he is remorseful.
    • I think the complexity of this question is there to illustrate how teens have more complexity than we give them credit for.
  • Question: What would have happened if Joe did not kill him?
    • I hope the tribe would have found a way to take justice into their own hands as a group.
    • We are uncomfortable with admitting that sometimes evil succeeds-- this statement made us all stop and think for a moment.  First moment of quiet in 80 minutes.
    • I don’t think his mother would have recovered mentally if her attacker was still alive.
    • Also, we saw that Lyndon was incapable of remorse throughout his life, so he would have kept pestering them and holding power over them.
  • Words to describe this book:
    • beautifully heart wrenching
    • philosophical
    • morally complex
    • dilemma
    • justice
    • vengeance
    • love [family and tribal]
    • respect for Native Americans
    • mother-son bond
Readalikes: I have extensive readalikes here. But to those I would add a few more I found on NoveList:
  • Thirteen Moon by Charles Fraizer: both are literary, coming of age stories with an adult narration recalling back to childhood and feature Native Americans
  • Perfect by Rachel Joyce: "These haunting literary novels feature young men whose lives are uprooted when dramatic, life changing events force them abruptly into adulthood....Both are surprisingly uplifting.
Also, those of your who skimmed may have missed the readalikes that came up in the discussion as outline in the first Question bullet point.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Summer Reading Updates

We are beginning the Summer Reading push here at the BPL.  Sign-up begins on May 31.

This year, I have created a website and online forms.  Click here to access that.

We are very serious about using the data we collect from our summer readers for collection development.  If you are interested in how serious we are and what we do with the statistics we gather, I have written about that at length in this post.

This year we are using a Google form to sign people up.  Google forms takes all of the entries and automatically puts them into a spreadsheet for us! Click see all of our forms.

As a library, our Director is also committed to us telling the community not just what we do and provide for them; that they have heard.  Rather, we are trying to focus on the "WHY."

To that end, we have ordered the lawn signs you see here on the left being modeled by our Head of Circulation, Crystal. Every single person, child or adult who signs up for summer reading will get a lawn sign to proudly proclaim that they are a reader!

We get over 1,000 sign-ups, so the town will be littered with lawn signs.  I am so excited and proud.  I hope to have pictures of the signs up later this summer.

So please, look through the links I provided in this post. I hope I have inspired you to put the finishing touches on your library's awesome summer reading program.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or want to know more details: @RAforAll or zombiegrl75[at]gmail[dot]com.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Expert Help for Audiobook Patrons is FINALLY a Reality

In the works for months, NoveList has now gone live with the first librarian centered audiobook listener’s advisory service ever! Click here for an overview of what they offer.  Some of the basic info, including a training video are available to all, not just subscribers.

When I taught RA to grad students, I had to spend a lot of time showing them how to cobble together different resources (Audiofile Magazine and Audible being my top two choices) in order to be able to help audiobook fans decipher the appeal of what they like to listen to and why.  We all listened to an audiobook on our own, tried to describe the narration using the language of appeal and then listened to clips from award winning audiobooks with different types of narrations (single narrator, author reading own work, full cast recordings, etc...) as a group.

I tried very hard to at least get them primed to help listeners, but I never felt satisfied that I gave them enough skills to immediately assist patrons.  There is just too much that is different when you help a listener than when you help a reader.

Take just myself for example.  When I listen, I prefer longer, more methodically paced books, with a first person narration. While when I read, these 2 key appeal factors for me in audiobooks don’t really factor into my decisions at all.  Why does it matter for me in audio then? Well, I prefer first person in audio because I love how I experience the audiobook as if the narrator, that specific character, is telling me the story.  In terms of the methodical pacing, I have two reasons.  First, I can listen to a slower paced with more patience.  I give a methodical book more time to grab me because I am doing something else while I listen (usually that something else is some kind of housework).  Second, I usually listen for long stretches at a time and find that more leisurely paced books are more satisfying to me when I experience them in larger chunks.  While I often only have small bursts of time to read a print book, I often spend 2-3 hours in a row listening. So, slower pace means I make the choice to go with the audio version. I will not enjoy it as much in those shorter reading spurts as I will in the longer listening binges.

Now this is just my personal listener profile.  I have spent years fine tuning it so that I can pick the right books for me.  Without a professional tool to help me to help my patrons, it has been hard to provide listener’s advisory to someone I only get to talk to of a few minutes.  In fact, I often only feel comfortable helping listeners who I have worked with and known for years; a few women in my book club and my children’s sitter come to mind as immediate examples.

But, I have more and more patrons wanting this help. It is not like me not to offer to help someone find “something good to read,” but I have found myself shirking my duties a bit with listeners.  Those of you who know me or have had a training from me know this is a HUGE admission from me.

But now, I have a resource and it is from one I trust and use every day. I am so happy for me and my patrons.  Now I can provide listener’s advisory with the same level of expertise as I can for my readers. Everyone wins!

Click through for more info.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Monday Discussion: I Read YA Week

Today marks the beginning of "I read YA" week. A week when people of all ages talk about the teen books they enjoy.  From the official tumblr:
Follow along May 19-23 for your daily dose of YA pride from some of our favorite authors and share your YA book recommendations using #IreadYA!
There is a topic of the day to encourage a week long discussion of YA recommendations.  Today is "You Recommend!"

So for today's Monday Discussion we are going to do just that, and share our favorite YA reads.

I'll go first.

One of my favorite YA books to suggest to adults and teens is Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry. It really is the perfect suggestion. Why? Well, Mabery is a horror master and he really delivers the thrills and scares here.  This book has everything that is great about zombie novels, but since it is YA, it has a little less gore than some of the adult specific zombie books. So, it is the perfect zombie novel option for people who want to experience the zombie craze with a smaller amount of gore. However, it is still a solid enough apocalyptic zombie novel to be good without the gore.  This is a big feat.

It is the first book in a series.  But, it also reads as an excellent stand alone with a very moving ending.  So, it appeals to readers who like single titles AND those who like series.  I give this book out a lot, to a wide range of readers. Click here for my full review for more info about Rot and Ruin.

Also, last year I loved the YA Graphic novel Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang. It is an especially good adult cross-over option.  Click through for the full review.

Now it's your turn.

For I read YA week and the Monday Discussion...You Recommend!

Click here for past Monday Discussions.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Awesome Box-- Post Updated October 2022

Thanks to
RAUNCON going on right now, I now know about THE AWESOME BOX! You need to click here now and see it for yourself.

Anyone who has attended any one of my training sessions or has been a student in one of my classes knows that I advocate passionately for allowing patrons to browse the return carts. As I said in this post about return carts:
The return carts hold the secret to your collection.  I am not exaggerating here. ...This is everything the people in your community have recently brought home with them.  Notice I didn't say "read." We can't know if they read the book or not, but we do know that it intrigued them enough to take it home.  This is a snapshot of what your patrons want right now!  You cannot massage the reports feature on your catalog to get better results than of you simply go look at the return cart.  Make sure, however, that your visit it on different days of the week and at least 2x per month to understand what your patrons are looking for.
But it is for more than training you, the library worker, as to what your patrons want.  The patrons love to be able to peruse the return cart because to them (whether they are conscious of this or not) it is a pre-approved  display of books people liked enough to check out and bring home.  It is a way to winnow down their choices when faced with imposing stacks filled with books for which they know nothing about.

The problem with patrons using the return carts as a display of good reads is that we don't know if the patron who returned the book loved or hated it. Is the book worth the next person's time. But THE AWESOME BOX solves that problem.  The Awesome Box allows patrons to choose if a book deserves to be categorized as awesome or not. It is an easy way to encourage patron empowerment AND provide book recommendations for your entire service community.

And add the social media and catalog implications outlined here and....  All I can say is-- Mind Blow!
I mean, the box [used to] tweet @HLAwesome and had its own website

The Awesome Box takes a good situation-- patrons being able to browse the book carts-- and makes it better.  No, not better-- AWESOME!

I have to go and email this to my staff right now.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What I'm Reading: Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Project Finalists

Followers of the blog know that I have been involved with the Soon to be Famous Illinois Author project.  If you are new or need more info, click here for all of my past posts on STBF and here for their official page.

In this post, I have my reviews of the three finalists with the winner first. Please note, I will post the book descriptions for plot in these reviews so that I can focus on “why” a patron would enjoy these novels.  But I would like to say before I begin, all 3 titles will find a wide audience in your public libraries.

Our winner of STBF was fittingly, a librarian.  Joanne Zienty for her literary fiction novel, The Things We Save.  From the book jacket:
A broken 45 rpm record held together with adhesive tape, a fading stack of Polaroids, a cobalt blue perfume bottle, and a braid of human hair … these are just some of the things Claire Sokol keeps stashed in an old Marshall Field’s gift box. But how did they get there and what do they signify? If these relics could talk, what stories would they tell? The tale of a child torn between the bitter sermons of a troubled, troublesome mother and the honeyed praise of the beautiful, sophisticated woman who just might be her fairy godmother? Of an innocent girl and boy lost in a dark, forbidding forest of adult lies and deceit? Of a young woman fighting to save a beloved father from his worst enemy – himself? Of a young man's death, a tragedy from which to flee or a mystery to finally solve? The Things We Save tells the story of the ways, both subtle and brutal, that a family falls apart and the intimate struggle to put what remains back together. It asks provocative questions about the nature of love, the corrosive effects of envy and guilt, and the limits of forgiveness. The Things We Save is for anyone who has ever slammed out a door with the vow to never return, only to find his or her way back home again.
Appeal:  This is a well paced literary fiction title.  The opening grabbed me right away and drew me into the story.  I cared about Claire, I wanted to know why these things were in her box, I wondered why her relationship with her family was so fractured. I wanted to read on to find out more.

I loved the idea of centering a story around WHY those items were in her “forever box” [That’s what my kids and I call it]. We all have those things we save, but it is the story behind WHY we save them that tells the story of who we were and are.  Anyone who has one of these boxes would enjoy this story for that reason alone.

Now I should say that Claire is a very damaged and angry woman with serious family issues.  However, the story never delves into melodrama.  The novel is the story of Claire’s belated coming of age.  Her father’s illness brings her back into the family fold and forces her to confront why she has become estranged from everyone.  She does come to terms with it all through the course of the story, but in a realistic way that made for a good read.

The sense of place is strong here.  The south side of Chicago comes alive.  The lake, the factories, specific streets and parks are well developed.  The place feels alive and is integral to the story.  It is like a secondary character.

The pacing is methodical with a steady build overall, but in the literary fiction genre, I would up that to compellingly paced.  In other words, for genre fiction, it moves a bit more leisurely, but for literary fiction, it is brisk. Zienty’s pacing is helped by her deft use of the flashback to keep the story moving.

The Things We Save would be an excellent choice for Chicago area book discussion groups.

Three Words That Describe This Book: coming of age, family secrets, strong sense of place

Readalikes: The focus on the family relationships in a literary style, with a bit of mystery thrown in reminded me a lot of The Round House by Louise Erdrich.  In both stories the coming of age of the narrator is the key, but unravelling the complex familial relationships keeps the story moving.  Both also have a very well developed sense of place [for Erdrich it is the North Dakota Ojibwe Reservation] that is integral to the plot.

In terms of an overall author readalike, the way Zienty wrote reminded me greatly of Stewart O’Nan. I have written more about O’Nan and his appeal here.

Next up is Change of Address by Rick Polad.  This is the first in Polad’s Spencer Manning PI Mystery series.  The second one is already out and the third is coming soon.

From the book jacket:
Spencer Manning decides not to follow in his Dad's police footsteps and instead gets a PI license. Tracking down an unknown father involves him in murder and drugs as his first case leads him to a Chicago racetrack and the mayor's house.
Appeal: Polad has written a compelling mystery.  It is a well plotted, hard boiled, PI story which pays homage to the subgenre’s history while still forging new territory for itself.  Spencer knows how a PI should be but he has to reconcile what the job is like in reality.

This mystery has the perfect mix of humor and seriousness.  Spencer is a great character who is a PI novice resulting in some humorous blundering but combined with his family’s deep roots in the Chicago PD and their personal tragedy adds the gravitas you need when dealing with a murder investigation.

The character development is also strong in this debut. Spencer alone will bring readers back for the next book. But as regular readers of mystery series know, it is often the secondary characters that keep readers coming back.  Here Polad comes through again.  The police chief and Spencer’s diner owning friend/first client, and his various friends are all excellent.

The mystery itself is very Chicago-centric and will appeal to people who enjoy that setting.  The places as well as the politics of Chicago and the 1990s setting will draw readers in.  And I have to say, even though I thought I figured out the “whodunit” here early on, I was only partially right.  The twists and turns of the plot as well as the eventual reveal of what was truly going on was clever, interesting, and satisfying.  There are plenty of well established mystery authors for whom I could not give this praise.

Three Words That Describe This Book: hard boiled, fast paced, great secondary characters

Readalike: As I mentioned above, Polad pays homage to the PI mystery’s history.  There is probably not a coincidence that Spencer Manning’s name is reminiscent of the last Robert Parker’s Spenser for Hire. Fans of Parker’s Spenser stories will LOVE Polad.

Parker’s Spenser is in the hard boiled style of the originator of the subgenre, Raymond Chandler, who is also a good readalike option here too.

Finally, if you want more wry, hard boiled PIs AND with a Chicago setting, I would try The Michael Kelly mysteries by Michael Harvey.

And our third finalist was Warming Up by Mary Hutchings Reed.
Approaching forty, unemployed but well-off, talented but unknown, functional but depressed, former musical actress Cecilia Morrison reluctantly seeks therapy. Although she once won leading roles, Cecilia now can't bring herself to audition for parts. In the end it's not therapy, but a runaway teenager who changes her life when he cons her out of sixty bucks. Whether at the apex of one's success or just starting out, Warming Up speaks to anyone who's ever wondered, "What's it all about?" or who finds themselves doing something they never thought they'd do.
 Appeal: Warming Up is firmly entrenched in the genre of women’s lives and relationships and will greatly appeal to fans of Jodi Picoult.

The story is mostly from Cecilia’s point of view, but there are small portions of the story written in italics from another character’s perspective.  As the book opens, we have that alternate and purposely obscured pov which made the novel a bit of a slower start; however, over time, those sections pay off and add to the story. They add depth and complexity to the story that is worth the slower start.

In fact, the pacing overall is compelling once you get going, building as you turn the pages. There is a subplot with a crime fiction angle that emerges and increases the pacing while also adding complexity and interest to the story. Readers will keep the pages turning to see how this key subplot pans out.

This is a coming of age story with a heartwarming tone.  Again, the Chicago setting is strong and the secondary characters are interesting. I began to be attached to Cecilia’s best friend/vocal coach and her psychologist in particular.  I also liked how her friends challenged Cecilia to get over her personal problems and finally “grow up.”  I find many heroines in this genre of Women’s Lives to be a bit too whiny, but when Cecilia got too “poor me” there were people to tell her to stop being stupid.
here is also a subplot with a crime fiction angle that emerges and increases the pacing and adds complexity and interest to the story.

Basically, there is much here for many readers, especially fans of women’s fiction.

Three Words That Describe This Book: coming of age, singers, heartwarming

Readalikes: As I mentioned above, Reed’s novel reminded me of the hugely popular novels of Jodi Picoult.  Fans of Elizabeth Berg, Sue Miller, and Anita Shreve would also like Warming Up.  All of these writers include more mature women in their novels and explore the issues in women’s lives in a more literary fashion.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

RAUNCON This Friday in Darien, CT

As I tweeted here, a group of RA librarians out East are hosting their own RA Unconference Friday. They were inspired by the Unconference that ARRT ran last year.

Even though the program itself isn’t until Friday, they have a great conversation going here and their Tumblr is already producing useful resources for everyone, not just those who will be joining them.

For example, when people registered, they were asked to share where they learn about books.  The organizers have posted that list of resource in the order of how many times they were mentioned, here.

Quite useful. I am so proud and happy that we inspired them.

I hope it goes well for them Friday. I can’t wait to see [and reap the benefits of] what else they share with the rest of us.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

New Issue of Corner Shelf With ME!

The new issue of Booklist's The Corner Shelf is available right now.  You know you want to read it because it has an interview with me.

And more info about Soon to be Famous Illinois Author Project too.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Library Reads: June 2014

Here is the June list.  Click here to pull up past months' lists.

June 2014 Library Reads List


Elizabeth is Missing: A Novel

by Emma Healey

Published: 6/10/2014 by Harper
ISBN: 9780062309662
“Maude sinks into a confusing world in this gripping psychological mystery written in the voice of an aging woman with Alzheimer’s. She can’t remember what she’s doing or where she is, but she is obsessed with one thought–her good friend Elizabeth is missing. Book groups will enjoy this satisfying and entertaining read!”
Mary Campanelli, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Columbus, OH

China Dolls: A Novel

by Lisa See

Published: 6/3/2014 by Random House
ISBN: 9780812992892
“Set in 1938 San Francisco, this book follows the lives of three young women up through WWII. Grace travels to California seeking stardom, where she meets Helen, a young woman from Chinatown, and the two find jobs as nightclub dancers. While auditioning, they cross paths with Ruby, and the book alternates between all three viewpoints. Lisa See is one of my favorite authors, and her newest title doesn’t disappoint.”
Catherine Coyne, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA


The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street: A Novel

by Susan Jane Gilman

Published: 6/10/2014 by Grand Central Publishing
ISBN: 9780446578936
“In the tenements of old New York, a young Russian Jewish immigrant woman is taken in by an Italian family who sells ice. Through sheer persistence and strong will, she manages to build an ice cream empire. Lillian Dunkle is a complex character who will both make you cheer even as you are dismayed. Have ice cream on hand when you read this book!”
Marika Zemke, Commerce Township Public Library, Commerce Twp, MI


I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You: A Novel

by Courtney Maum

Published: 6/10/2014 by Touchstone
ISBN: 9781476764580
“Set mainly in Paris, this love story for grown-ups tells the story of a decent man who almost ruins his life and then goes to great lengths to restore his marriage. If your path to a happy marriage has been straight-forward, you may not appreciate this book – but it’s perfect for the rest of us!”
Laurel Best, Huntsville-Madison County Public Library, Huntsville, AL


The Matchmaker: A Novel

by Elin Hilderbrand

Published: 6/10/2014 by Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 9780316099752
“Set in romantic Nantucket, Hilderbrand’s newest novel is a heartwarming and moving story about the power of love. Dabney Kimball Beech, long denied her own true love, is determined to match up those closest to her before it is too late. This captivating book had me weeping through the last few chapters. A beautifully written and heartbreaking story!”
Jill Kaufman, Desloge Public Library, Desloge, MO


Summer House with Swimming Pool: A Novel

by Herman Koch

Published: 6/3/2014 by Hogarth
ISBN: 9780804138819
“A deliciously nasty study in sociopathy, veiled in the alluring sheen of European upper class lifestyles and sensibilities. Summer House with Swimming Pool will grip you with an uneasy dread and won’t let you stop turning the pages until the riveting end. Fair warning: you will never look at your family doctor the same way again.”
Kristin Cole, The Seattle Public Library, Seattle, WA


The Lobster Kings: A Novel

by Alexi Zentner

Published: 5/27/2014 by W. W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 9780393089578
“This well-crafted story truly captures the beauty and brutality of living by the sea. The characters show what it’s like to have saltwater in your veins and commitment to family and community. Zentner depicts a way of life that is fast disappearing. Perfect for summer reading.”
Lisa Marie Joyce, Portland Public Library & South Portland Public Library, Portland, ME


The Hurricane Sisters: A Novel

by Dorothea Benton Frank

Published: 6/3/2014 by William Morrow
ISBN: 9780062132529
“Having just completed my annual trek to the Carolina Lowcountry, compliments of Dorothea Benton Frank, I’m happy to report that a good time was had by all. It was, as ever, a pleasure to meet her new characters, travel down Highway 17 (llama optional), sit back with a glass of wine and take in the beautiful sunsets and ocean breeze, all without leaving the comfort of my easy chair.”
Yvonne Jefferson, Pittsylvania County Public Library, Dry Fork, VA


The Quick: A Novel

by Lauren Owen

Published: 6/17/2014 by Random House
ISBN: 9780812993271
“This book starts out slowly, with an unconventional Victorian-era romance and builds to an unexpected development by the end of part one. Owen continues the slow boil of suspense with a curiously-enticing plot, centering on members of an exclusive London gentleman’s club who are testing the boundaries of their own organization. For those who enjoy historical fiction with a twist.”
Lucy Lockley, St. Charles City-County Library, St. Peters, MO



edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Published: 6/17/2014 by Bantam
ISBN: 9780345537263
“This anthology is worth reading for the Rothfuss’s story alone! ‘The Lightning Tree’ follows Bast spending a day outside the tavern, which left me anxious for Kingkiller Book 3 to come out. Other stand-outs are stories by Garth Nix, Cherie Priest and Connie Willis. Rogues should enjoy a large audience of Martin fans and is a good entry point to the other contributing authors’ works.”
Keith Hayes, West Regional Library, Wake County Public Libraries, Cary, NC

Monday Discussion: Book Alive Day [More Pics Added]

Today is the start of Children's Book Week.  The first day is also known as Book Alive Day!  At the BPL we encourage staff to dress up as a character from a children's book on this day.  Today I am The Queen of Hearts.


For more photos, click here.

But whether you dressed up or not today, in honor of Children's Book Week the Monday Discussion is all about kid's books.  Let me know your favs.

I'll go first.  Two years ago, in honor of this day, I wrote about these favorites:
I loved Shel Silverstein as a kid.  Heck, I still do. But, today I wanted to point out a few books that I read to my kids and now buy for all the new parents I know.  Here is a small list of the childrens' books I have learned to love as a parent.
  • The Red Lemon by Bob Staake: such a great message and the rhymes written as an homage to Dr. Seuss makes it fun to read aloud.
  • Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox: A great book for young children.  A more perfect book to read right from birth through age 3 I have had yet to find.  I think I could still recite it by heart if pressed to do so.
  • Any Harold and the Purple Crayon books: old I know, but I was not as in to them when I was a kid.
  • Any Mo Willems book, but I am especially fond of Leonardo, the Terrible Monster because it is so fun to read out loud.  A close second is Today I Will Fly! only because I am an eternal optimist like Piggie, and it is nice to see his dreams of the impossible coming true.
To this I will add anything Kate DiCamillo writes.  They are a joy for parents and kids.  I will never forget reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane with my son or The Tale of Despereaux with my daughter. 

And, over the years, my children and I have created a rule of thumb for picture books-- If it has a chicken in it, it will be funny.  We have yet to be let down.

Now it's your turn. Get in the spirit of Children's Book Week.  [It's the only guaranteed time that this blog will talk about kid's books.]  And share your favorite.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.