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.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Never Take Yourself Too Seriously

The golden rule of being a Reader's Advisor is also where I start my 10 Rules of RA Service-- Betty Rosenberg's famous quote “Never apologize for your reading tastes.”

Okay, I know 90% of you know this and are thinking, "why is Becky telling us things we already know?" Ahh, but just because we know something doesn't mean we always remember to do it.

Look, we all try very hard not to judge the reading of others, but we can all also be a bit snobby when it comes to some books.  Librarians as a group tend to enjoy literary fiction at a higher rate than the general public. We take these tomes, especially when they win lots of awards, very seriously.

While you might joke around with your romance or sf readers as you help them at the desk, I bet when someone comes in looking for a copy of Don Quixote to read for fun, you treat them differently.

My point here is that all books are equal to the RA librarian.  You must live and die by the motto that reading ANYTHING is a worthwhile experience.

Why am I talking about this now though?

Well, as many of you probably saw, this story about the professor and his kid who made "Brickjest," 100 scenes from Infinite Jest by the late David Foster Wallace recreated with LEGOS; a novel that is widely considered a modern classic.

If ever something screamed, "DON'T TAKE YOURSELF TOO SERIOUSLY!" this is it.  I loved watching this classic, revered, and very serious novel, play out in the bright whimsy of LEGOS.  

Kudos to them, but also, heed this as a warning to yourself.  Check yourself. Leave your pretensions at the door. And remember, all of these novels we are suggesting to patrons are of equal value.

Click here to go directly to the Brickjest Homepage. And have a great holiday weekend. Here's hoping your plans include some LEGOS [mine will for sure].

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I’m Busy Today-- Go Listen to Circulating Ideas

Yeah, what that post title says.

No seriously, I am putting the finishing touches on my bi-annual horror take-over of Neal Wyatt’s Reader’s Shelf column in Library Journal today so I don’t have to work a lot over the holiday weekend.  It will feature 6 fantastic horror novels that you can suggest to patrons. 

While I am immersed in haunted houses, vicious, attacking rats, bio-engineered, killer parasites, a near future where opening your eyes equals death, vampires in 19th Century London, and neo-noir stories [Yes that was a teaser of the six titles that will be included in the list], you should be checking out the fantastic librarian interview podcast...Circulating Ideas.


Well, first, did you read my above sentence?  He interviews librarians...about what they are doing. If you read this blog, you are almost definitely someone who would find that interesting.

Second, as much as librarians love to share, it is very easy for us to get caught up in our own little world.  Even I get that way.  I often think, why should I care what the youth librarians are doing; I don’t work with the little kids.  Or, who cares what a special librarian at a corporation is doing, I work with the public.  But this thinking is wrong!  All librarians have things we can learn from each other.  We have enough obstacles against us in the wider world [bad pay, bad stereotypes, etc...], we don’t need to turn against each other too.  I love that Steve goes out of his way to interview librarians from all areas of the profession even though he works in a public library himself.  Take the most recent episode [which I just listened to as I took a short writing break to do some laundry], where he interviews Elizabeth Keathley, author of Digital Asset Management: Content Architectures, Project Management, and Creating Order out of Media Chaos. I never really thought about DAMS before, but Elizabeth got me thinking about the entire issue and how and why it is relevant to me. Go listen for yourself if you donbelieve me.

Third, Circulating Ideas is a great example of how librarians can work together to market ourselves and our relevance to the larger world.  We are not just there to provide reference and suggest books.  We all do so much else.  Reminding us, and the wider world, of our ubiquity and importance to all is one of the best things about Circulating Ideas.

Finally, I convinced Steve to bring the magic of Circulating Ideas to the ILA Annual Conference in Springfield, IL this October.  He will presenting 2 programs.  One on running a successful Kickstarter   and another on the basics of podcasting for librarians.  Click here and search by Steve’s last name, “Thomas,” to pull up the details.

You can access Circulating Ideas on the website, on Twitter, or subscribe through iTunes [which is what I do].

Okay, back to work for me, or I will be working all weekend.

The horror is waiting..................

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What I'm Reading: Prayers for the Stolen

Earlier this summer I was helping out at the Circulation desk when a patron returned Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement, and could not stop gushing about it. So I grabbed it for myself and immediately read it.

And am I sure glad I did.

Prayers for the Stolen  is narrated by a captivating, smart, funny, and strong young woman, Ladydi Garcia Martinez.  Yes, she is named for Lady Diana, which leads to some funny scenes spread throughout the book.

Ladydi lives up in a mountain village in Guerro, Mexico, not far from Acapulco.  In Guerro, the men have all left for better opportunities in America and those who are left work for the drug kingpins.  Life is harsh for the women left behind on the mountain.  Bodies are dumped in their neighborhood with regualrity, drive by shooting happen all the time, even the natural world is harsh, full of bugs, snakes, scorpions, and the repeated spraying of chemicals from government helicopters to kill the fields of drugs growing all over the mountain. [These poisons rain down without warning].

But the biggest problem of all is that the worst thing a young girl can be int he village is beautiful because the pretty girls are stolen and taken to live in the compounds of the drug lords and are used for their bodies.  So Ladydi, her friend,s and their mothers are always trying to come up with ways to make the girls look ugly.

Now, I understand that from this description, Prayers for the Stolen sounds depressing.  But trust me it is a beautiful book.  That's why plot summaries are often not enough to give you the feel of a book.  So that's what I am going to do now.

Why you would want to read this book: First and foremost, this is a character driven story. Ladydi is spirited and determined, but NOT in that "plucky" way that can sometimes annoy readers.  Rather she is honest and inquisitive.  She understands her situation, but is also willing to question how messed up it is.  She is self aware and critical, but also adventurous and caring.

This book is also the story of her journey from a child living with her mother on the mountain, to moving to Acapulco to be the nanny for a rich family, to something happening that I don't want to give away but pulls every thread of the story together and from which Ladydi emerges as an adult ready to face the world head on. She will no longer cower in the mountains trying to hide her beauty (both inner and outer).

But it's not just Ladydi who is a great character here.  All the women on the mountain, and the other women Ladydi encounters in that third act of the story are richly drawn and interesting.

This is a book you are reading for the characters

The tone and writing style of this novel are also striking.  This is a haunting and gritty tale, but it is told in a lyrical way.  Clement is an amazing writer who lives in Mexico and was the President of PEN Mexico for a few years.  Her mastery of the technique of writing a compelling and beautiful story with fantastic characters is awe inspiring. Her writing captured me and brought me into Ladydi's world.

The frame was also extremely interesting.  We know about the horrors of the drug trade on the people of Mexico from the news, but to be put into the intimate world of one small mountain village, and then even more focused, into the life of 1 young woman was an appeal for me. Also, the hopelessness of village life juxtaposed by the excess in Acapulco was powerful.

The pacing was also very fast for the complexity of the story.  Again, I think this is a testament to Clements technical skill, but we are talking about a literary fiction title, with intense and serious topics that moves steadily and surprisingly quickly.  One factor I think is Ladydi.  But also, it is the three part structure of the story-- part 1 in the mountain village, part 2 working in Acapulco, part 3...as I said you have to read it to find out-- that keeps you turning the pages.

The ending is open, but triumphant.  Ladydi is finally in charge of herself and her future, but what exactly will happen to her, we can’t know for sure. But what is even more striking about the ending here is that Clement manages to tie up all of the loose ends of the story and make them important to everything that happens. This is hard for many authors to do; in fact, I get complaints from readers when authors do NOT managed to accomplish this.  This is not an ending that will disappoint, despite the fact that it does not spell out what is next on Ladydi's horizon.

This is a book for people who want to be put into the hands of a captivating narrator and placed into a world outside of your every day existence, but not so foreign that you cannot relate. It is serious, and even sad at times, but ultimately the tone is one of triumph. Ladydi is a survivor and I was happy to spend a couple hundred pages in her company.

Three Words That Describe This Book: haunting, gritty, lyrical

Readalikes: The first book I thought of when reading Prayers for Stolen was Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea which I read and loved. They are both set in Mexican towns where the men have all gone and the drug lords are terrorizing everyone, but they share more than this.  They both feature strong and interesting female characters, and involve a gritty and haunting story that is ultimately uplifting.

Another moving story with a coming of age theme that is haunting, character driven and heartbreakingly beautiful is Canada by Richard Ford. Here the setting is on the US Canada border, but many of the issues and themes are the same.  Click through for details.

Right after I read Canada, I also read The Round House by Louise Erdrich and I also described it as heartbreakingly beautiful. Click here and here for lots more on that novel.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini is also a gritty, haunting and lyrical story with female characters facing impossible choices at its center.  Here the setting is Afghanistan.  Click here for my detailed review.

Finally, Ladydi reminded me of June, the young narrator in Tell the Wolves I’m Home by carol Rifka. In my review of that book I mention a colleague saying about this novel, "This was a wonderful book that broke my heart in the best possible way.” That is how I feel about Prayers for the Stolen.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

News from Booklist Online Blogs

At the end of the work day yesterday. Keir Graff announced some big changes for all of the Booklist Online blogs.  Click here or see below.

I am excited to see what happens here because taken all together the five Booklist Online blogs have a lot of excellent information, but like Keir says below, it can be hard to navigate. 

I use Booklist, the print, the online, the webinars and blogs almost daily, so anything that makes it all easier to use, sounds like a good idea to me.

Read below and as Keir says, “Stay tuned!”


Monday, August 25, 2014 4:23 pm
Posted by: Keir Graff

The Booklist ReaderIt’s going to be pretty quiet here at Likely Stories for the next couple of weeks—but that’s because big changes are in the works.

After 8 long years and nearly 2,200 posts (over half of them written by yours truly), the blog is about to undergo major surgery. Actually, ALL of the Booklistblogs—Likely StoriesBookendsBook Group BuzzAudiobooker, and Shelf Renewal—are going under the knife, and when they emerge, it’s going to be a sight to behold.
Instead of having five blogs at five URLs with some two dozen bloggers, we’re going to have one, beautiful, brand-spanking-new blog called The Booklist Reader. The existing blogs won’t go away but will function more as departments within a single larger publication. Posts will be sortable in many different ways, allowing you to browse by department (Bookends, for example), post author (Mary Burkey, let’s just say), big-picture categories (YA, videos, etc.), or a wide assortment of tags (James Franco, literary feuds, etc.) And, before long, we’ll be adding even more bloggers and departments, with posts we promise will inform and entertain, bewitch and bemuse, and, possible, baffle and befuddle.
Why are we doing this? Well, we believe it will be more conversational, for starters. Blogs give us a chance to share ideas, opinions, and stories that don’t necessarily fit into Booklist,Book Links, or any of our other fine publications, whether for reasons of tone or just simply space. The benefits of getting all our bloggers in the same virtual room, reading and responding to each other, seem clear. We also want to add tools that will make it easier for readers to read and respond, too, to all the great writing we have to offer.
And, as everyone knows, eight years without a makeover is about a century in internet years—and we’re as vain as anybody. We really want a blog that looks as good as we feel.
So, please bear with us as we get under way. By mid-September, we’ll be up and running and ready for you at The Booklist Reader. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday Discussion: End of Summer Blues

Since next Monday, Labor Day, is the unofficial end of summer and there will be no Monday Discussion because the library will be closed, that means today is the last Monday Discussion of summer.

This weekend, I was thinking back on my summer reading plans, and lamenting what I didn't get to.  Don't get me wrong, I read some fantastic books this summer, but I had really wanted to read a WWI set book this summer to coincide with the start of WWI. I did not.

But as I said, I did read some great books this summer, many of which I will be writing up reviews for in the coming days. So it's like a good news bad news situation.  I am just feeling a little sadness that summer is just about over. I am probably not alone here, so I thought it might make us all feel better to vent a little here.


What about you, are you feeling the end of summer blues when it comes to your reading?  Will you miss reading outside when the weather changes? Are there certain books you only seem to read in summer that you will miss come Fall?


Are you sick of all this talk of summer reads and are celebrating the impending change of season?

Well, share your end of summer reading blues today in the Monday Discussion.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Come Party With ARRT for Our 30th Birthday!

I am easing back into the school year schedule.  So today, I have a post that is really just schilling for the SUPER AWESOME AND FUN party ARRT is throwing.  And you need not be a member to come and join us.

Today is the deadline to RSVP and all of the details are posted below.  Or click here for more information and to sign up.  But seriously, where else can you have this much geeky fun on a Saturday night, for so little money, and with the guarantee of fabulous people in attendance.

Plus, look at the fantastic new logo we have unveiled in honor of turning 30.

Just come. You won’t regret it.

Enjoy light appetizers and a complimentary beverage, cash bar, trivia and prizes. 
Admission is free for ARRT members and former Steering Committee members. Guests may purchase tickets for $10.  
Please RSVP by August 22.
Details here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

RA Links Round-Up

Today was filled with meetings. Lots of meetings means very little time to post. Instead, here are a few links worth your time:

That’s all for tonight.  Back tomorrow with more reviews.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

BPL Book Discussion: The Girls of Atomic City

On Monday, we met to discuss The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of The Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan.

From the publisher:
The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in US history. 
At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, consuming more electricity than New York City. But to most of the world, the town did not exist. Thousands of civilians—many of them young women from small towns across the South—were recruited to this secret city, enticed by solid wages and the promise of war-ending work. Kept very much in the dark, few would ever guess the true nature of the tasks they performed each day in the hulking factories in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. That is, until the end of the war—when Oak Ridge’s secret was revealed. 
Drawing on the voices of the women who lived it—women who are now in their eighties and nineties—The Girls of Atomic City rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of American history from obscurity. Denise Kiernan captures the spirit of the times through these women: their pluck, their desire to contribute, and their enduring courage. Combining the grand-scale human drama of The Worst Hard Time with the intimate biography and often troubling science of The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Girls of Atomic City is a lasting and important addition to our country’s history.
Before I get to the specifics of our discussion however, I need to shout this from the Book Discussion Leader rooftops...READ THIS BOOK WITH YOUR GROUP!  I don't care if you think you have read too many WWII books already, this is like nothing you have read before.

On to the discussion:
  • We had 13 likes and 3 so-sos with zero dislikes.
  • So-so comments:
    • It was too verbose; there was so much information. 
    • The way it was told bothered me because it was not chronological [Becky noted that author did it this way on purpose and lays out her organizational choices at the start of the work. This is an issue we returned to later]. 
    • I wanted more about the women and less about the science, even though the science did help me understand it all better.
  • Liked comments:
    • I loved learning about women in the scientific community at that time
    • I loved the style! I felt like it captured the innocence of the time and the secrecy.  She kept the story compartmentalized just as the workers were. You only knew what you needed to know and not a bit more.
  • Discussion topic-- Let's talk about the era a bit more
    • These people were only 1 step away from the depression.  A good paying job was a good paying job.  Not knowing what you were doing or why and having to keep it all secret from everyone around you (even though you worked in the same place) was worth it.
    • One of our group members worked for the FBI during WWII (this has come up before in book club). She was a secretary with high security clearance just like Celia in the book.  She confirmed that she knew there was a huge facility/town in Oak Ridge, TN but she did not know what they were doing until after the Atomic Bomb was dropped.  But she did confirm how strict the "loose lips sink ships" rules were.
    • This was not a generation of complainers-- this statement is brought up by Kiernan multiple times in the book.  These women put up with the mud and the rules and the secrecy because they had to.
    • I was struck by the different levels of sacrifice people in this book were forced to make.  Some had to give up their land for the construction of the plants, some moved hundreds of miles from home without more than a vague promise of work and housing.
    • They didn't need to know what or why, they just wanted to do their part to end the war however they could help.
  • This line of questioning led me to ask about the level of trust everyone had in the US government. Would this work now in our era of distrust?
    • Kiernan captured the unadulterated trust that the American people had in the government. We will never get that back.  It is a time lost to history.
    • Reading this book, I was struck by all of the secrecy and censorship that was required in order to create the bomb. It kinda made me feel icky. But it did seem necessary as we see in the final results. The Russians got the bomb too because of spies.
    • This led us to a talk about Edward Snowden and the line between leaking so people know what is actually happening and national security.  We talked about that for awhile.  We all felt like we understood the complexity of the Snowden current events because of reading this book.
    • So then are we safer now because we know everything? Or are we less safe because our enemies know all our secrets too?  We had a nice discussion of this but came to no definitive answer. Overall we think knowing more and having fewer secrets is probably better in the long run.  
    • Knowing more has helped stop the bomb from being used again.  
  • The references to medical experiments being done on the side due to everyone’s unwilling exposure to radiation.
    • We loved the line that one of the “girls” thought whatever they were doing in Oak Ridge must have to do with urine because all she did was collect urine samples.
    • What about the men who went across the country from TV to Los Alamos handcuffed to boxes of “tube alloy?” They did not know what they were carrying.
    • The worst is the story of the patient who breaks his leg and they wait 20 days to set it so they could shoot him full or uranium to see what happens! Awful.
    • Nazi’s did this kind of stuff too, but on a larger scale, someone said.  We did it too. 
  • Because I had to ask it-- Does the ends justify the means here?
    • These people were all working to build the atomic bomb to end the war.  They didn’t know that’s what they were doing until after it was used. The use of the bomb and the ethics of it is a sensitive issue still, with no clear right or wrong answer.
    • Also, we have the hindsight problem.  The whole time we are reading the book, we know what is coming, so we are analyzing if it was all worth it from page 1.
    • In the end, we all agreed that yes, the ends probably did justify the means.  The Japanese Emperor was not going to surrender.  
    • Some of us were more willing to say yes, others were more hesitant.
    • We probably could have done some more tests so that we could have known how bad the “fall out” was going to be.  But then someone else said, we saw that there was not enough tube alloy for the “gadget” to do many tests.
    • One lady said that she had read her dad’s letters home from the European front and he was saying that he was being sent to Japan next. She’s glad he didn’t have to go.
  • We started looking at how Kiernan wrote the book.  We did this from a few different angles. First, how she handled all of the complicated science.
    • Some wished there did not have to be any science and they skimmed these chapters.
    • Most loved how Kiernan but the important scientific information into short chapters with a different font.  We got just enough to understand what was going on. It also gave us scientific and historical context.
    • Without any science, the book, and our understanding of the immense task ahead of the government, would have been less successful.
  • Second we talked about how she chose the women to follow.
    • We liked how she picked women who were there from early in the project and that she chose a woman from every walk of like that Oak Ridge had.  Black and white, high school grads, secretaries, nurse, female scientists.
    • Through this range of women, many of the social issues were revealed-- things like segregation and discrimination against women.
    • We got the full picture of life.
    • Focusing on the women and their varied jobs also showed how compartmentalized life was in Oak Ridge.  It showed how very little they each knew what the others were doing, and even what they themselves were doing.
    • The jumping around throughout the chapters was disorienting at times, but we decided, that was the point.  Kiernan was trying to recreate just a snippet of what it was like to live in this crazy, secret filled world.
  • Third we talked about how the book used current interviews but was told entirely from the perspective of the past.  We enjoyed that.
    • If she did it more in an interview format, looking back, we would get too much hindsight.
    • By placing the entire story in the past, as the women were living it, we are placed there.  You can experience the richness of the setting and the story more.
  • The title.  What use word “Girls” and not women?
    • "I told my sister the title of the book I was reading, and she was mad at the use of the word girls." It is pejorative.
    • But, when you read the book, the word girls is used deliberately.  It is actually key to the amazing story.  These were girls; they were young women, on their own for the first time in their lives.  They were seen in a pejorative way by others as just “girls” too.  Yet together they saved the day!
    • Compare how they were perceived vs what they accomplished.  This is what is so amazing about Oak Ridge. The term girls highlights this dichotomy and adds power to their amazing story.
  • Someone in the group who is a little younger, asked some of the women who were a bit older, “What motivated you to get an education beyond high school if you knew that you might not get a job anyway just because you were a woman, or you would have to quit when you got pregnant?”  The few who answered shared that they did it because they were encouraged by their parents to get an education. They had internal drive to educate themselves for the sake of education.
  • Oak Ridge the town:
    • The inequality of the housing for blacks was upsetting.  Someone read a quote from the era where a newspaper said it was the only town in America to have planned slums.
    • Even when the war ended and the town was one of the first to “desegregate” their schools, they really didn’t.  The school took black and white students, but they were in different classes.
    • The social/psychological issues and implications of forcing all of these people together and making them live in close quarters, working long hours, but never being able to unburden themselves of fear of losing their jobs was crazy.
    • The locked gates, the constant police state, the fear of your friend, spouse or neighbor ratting you out.
    • A great example of how weird the town was: the newspaper couldn’t report anything that happened. Instead they would focus on “future events.”
    • I wish there was more about the psychologist who is only mentioned a few times.  What did all that stress and secrecy do to the people long term?
    • It was an army base that didn’t take the lives of the families and the women into account when they planned it.
    • Women became the backbone of this town.
  • We talked about the overall tone Kiernan strives for here
    • She walks the fine line between history, celebration of these women, and the overall uneasiness we all have with what they were building [again because we know what is coming]
    • This book made me proud of those women despite how I feel about the atomic bomb.
    • We needed this book to remind us of the contributions these people made to the war effort.
    • Yes it is ambiguous, but look at where we are now.  Look how much more we know about science and fission. And look at how much better the world scientific community works together now. Too much secrecy could have harmed scientific discovery in the long run.
    • This book made me feel like cheering, “Rah, Rah, Rah!”
  • Words of phrases to describe this book:
    • proud
    • patriotic
    • atmosphere of fear
    • secret history
    • triumph of science
    • compartmentalization
    • loose lips sink ships
    • mud [there was a lot of mud in the town and it permeated the story, plus it is a great metaphor for the situation in general]
    • making a home
    • sacrifice
Readalikes: Right now the TV show Manhattan is a big hit.  It is all about the race to develop the atomic bomb but like The Girls of Atomic City, it is also about the lives of the people who were part of this huge scientific and historical event. You cannot fully understand the bomb without understanding the people who made it possible.

For another great overview of WWII which includes some of the more forgotten stories and heroes told in their own words, you can watch Ken Burns', The War or read the companion book.

Of course Kiernan lists many great resources in her extensive notes at the end of the book.  As notes sections go, this one is actually quite fun to read.  She also has a website for the book here, with a lot more information, links, pictures, videos, and more.

Up at the top of this post, the publisher mentions The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Worst Hard Time as readalike options.  I agree; in fact, the Henrietta Lacks book came to my mind while I was reading this book and a participant mentioned it during the discussion.  Here is a link to my review of when I read TILoHL.  I did not enjoy that book as much as this one, mostly because I thought the author interjected herself too much into the story.  Kiernan did the exact opposite.  Even though she interviewed many of the women herself, and visited Oak Ridge, she never put herself in the story.  She set it in the past and let the women speak for themselves.

Two other books we have discussed in book club before I think are interesting readalike options, the first came up in the discussion because it was last month’s book-- Remarkable Creatures which was all about the forgotten contributions of female scientists to huge discoveries.  Another is The Zookeeper’s Wife which tells a story of courage from a forgotten moment during WWII.

Suggestions from NoveList that I also thought were worth sharing:
And finally, here is the link for Goodreads readers who like Girls of Atomic City also liked these books.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What I’m Reading: World of Trouble

There are very few times in life when you complete a series and it is just perfect.  As I mentioned in a previous Monday Discussion on this blog, this is how I felt about completing Ben H. Winters The Last Policeman Trilogy with the last installment, World of Trouble.

This review of World of Trouble as a novel will be short because to say too much would give away the joy of reading the series.

First, you need to see my reviews of The Last Policeman (book 1) and Countdown City (book 2) for more details.  Click through. I can wait.

Okay, you are back.  All I am going to say about World of Trouble as a book is that the story picks up where Hank left off, leaving his girlfriend at a safe house and headed back out into a world only weeks away from impact with the asteroid that will destroy most, if not all life on Earth.

Hank follows some leads to Ohio where most of the action in this book takes place.  I can tell you that before the asteroid hit the earth, Hank has put all the pieces into place from the last 2 books.  He knows what was going on with his sister, he solves a few other mysteries along the way, and still leaves time to end the novel in a beautiful, heart warming scene as the asteroid streaks across the sky.  It’s just perfect.

For Readers Advisory purposes what you really need to know is how to suggest this now completed trilogy to patrons. Here are a few tips and points on that front.

First, it stays completely true to the tone and focus of the first installment.  This means, Hank gets a bit more seasoned as he is investigating the mystery surrounding his sister, but he is still a bit naive and bubbling until the end.  He also remains endearingly good hearted and good natured despite the fact that the world may be ending any day. You can be sure Hank stays Hank no matter what.

Second, this series although set in a pre-apocalyptic time NEVER moves to post apocalypse.  Do not give this series to people who want to know what happens because of the asteroid!  This is a hard-boiled detective novel, albeit featuring an unexperienced detective, who refuses to accept defeat even as he faces down the end of the world.  He will fight to figure out what happened to his sister and why until the end. He will leave no stone unturned.  He will complete his mission before the deadline. Hank is nothing if not earnest, but Winters will not break our trust.  This is a pre-apocalyptic novel and it stays that way until the end.

But it is also a novel about what choices people make when they know the end of the world is coming.  There is no blue print for how you are supposed to act here.  We meet many, many people who all make different choices.  We see what happens to the country’s infrastructure, institutions, and community as the day of impact comes closer.  This is a lot to take in and makes the trilogy very thought provoking, but not as dark as you would imagine because of Hank’s positive personality.  Seeing these background details evolve over the course of the series is not only very interesting, but it is also a huge factor in why someone would read and enjoy these books. So my RA point here...take the term pre-apocalyptic literally.

Third, this is a great option for mystery fans with an off kilter sense of humor, who enjoy quirky characters, and a first person narration.

Fourth, if you commit to reading the entire trilogy, rest assured, it is extremely well paced.  You can read each book in a few sittings.  It would not be a huge investment in time.  They are also paperback originals, so I will be sending quite a few patrons with all three on vacation in the years to come.

Taking the entire series into consideration, I have been suggesting it to many more readers than before the publication of World of Trouble.  Until I finished the trilogy, I couldn’t be sure that it would  stay true to the mystery part.  I was worried that the gimmick of the asteroid would overtake the true story here.  So now, you can be sure the reader does not need to like apocalyptic fiction in order to enjoy these books; they just need to be okay with the pre-apocalyptic setting and the shadow it casts over the tone.

Three Words That Describe This Book: endearing narrator, pre-apocalypse, thought provoking [same three words I used at the start and they still are the key appeal of this series]

Readalikes:  I have plenty of readalikes listed from when I wrote about the first 2 books here and here.

I think your best readalike options have NOTHING to do with the science fiction aspects or apocalyptic stuff though. I do have those other options listed in the links from previous reviews.   Rather, your focus on readalikes should be for other mystery series with an endearing detective, an off beat sense of humor, and some level of thought provoking issues [in other words, it needs to be a bit more than fluff because there are some serious issues at the foundation of  the story...the end of the world is coming for goodness sake].  Thankfully, this is one of my favorite areas of mysteries.  So here are a few options with links to my reviews:

Monday, August 18, 2014

Monday Discussion: Back to School Edition

I can hardly believe it but some of the Berwyn school started today and my own kids go back on Wednesday. That summer went fast!

This mean it's time for our annual back to school edition of the Monday Discussion.

This year I want to know about the best book you ever HAD to read for school.

I could list many including The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison in 10th Grade American Literature and Beowulf in 9th Grade English, but this year I was reminded on being assigned Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes in 8th grade.

My daughter's 7th grade summer reading assignment was to read The Outsiders by Hinton and another book from a provided list.  Flowers for Algernon was there and I book talked it to her.  I told her how much I had loved it in Junior High and explained why she would love it.  I thought it was a nice readalike for Wonder by R.J. Palacio which she loved in 5th grade. Well, after reading it AND writing her paper, she really loved the novel and I think it is also a book that will stay with her for many years to come.

I think Flowers for Algernon will remain forever as my favorite book I HAD to read because of this extra level of enjoyment I have now had with my own daughter.

What about you?  For today's Monday Discussion, think back to your assigned reading days and share the best book you were ever assigned to read.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Let's Get Excited About RA and Libraries

As you saw in yesterday's post about RA Summer Camp, I am feeling particularly inspired to provide the best RA service I can. And for those of you who know me and my enthusiasm for the field, this is saying a lot.

But I am not the only one getting excited these days.

Over at Booklist, Donna Seaman wrote a wonderful article "In Defense of Fiction." If you work with leisure readers, read this. Even after 14 years of training my patrons that helping them to find the perfect fiction book for their mood and tastes IS my most important job, some of them still think their leisure reading questions are less worthy than other's fact based questions.  I am going to use some  of what Donna has to say to help remind them, like this:
The pleasures and benefits of reading fiction are many and profound. Yet fiction is often cast as a frivolous pursuit in our utilitarian society, and under totalitarian regimes, reading fiction can be a crime. Two zealous, learned, and eloquent literary advocates—both college literature teachers and energetic critics—passionately celebrate and defend fiction and its role in our lives in two exhilarating books that combine memoir, literary criticism, and vivid portraits of the writers under discussion. 
Click through for more from Donna. And her article reminds me to remind you that books about books and reading make for the perfect "outside the box" reading suggestions for your stuck in a rut patrons. Here and here are of ideas to get you started with those suggestions.

Also, thanks to the Readers and Reference team at the Syosset [NY] Public Library, I found this article from Tuesday's WSJ entitled, "Why the Public Library Beats Beats Amazon-- For Now." This article takes a lot about what I had to say about how librarians should be reacting to all the Amazon backlash, but uses actual data to back it all up.

Be proud of our fantastic work at American public libraries.  Yes, each individual library has its own set of problems, but look at this data.  As a united front we are kicking butt!  We are putting leisure readers first and giving them the best access to all books and reading for only the cost of their tax dollars. What a deal.

We rock!

Now stop reading this blog and get out there to help match someone with their next great read!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

RA Summer Camp Program Recap

As promised, here is a recap of the program with Neal Wyatt yesterday.

Annabelle and I tweeted during the event using the hashtag #arrtreads. You do not need to have a Twitter account to view our notes.  I will be repeating some of what was there, but not everything, so click. Also, there are pictures and posts from yesterday on the ARRT Facebook page.

First and foremost, what I loved most about this program overall is that Neal took the one thing all of us RA librarians think we know everything about-- appeal-- and made us look at it in a new way.  The result? I felt like I had my eyes opened.  I learned so much more about what I do every day and have many good ideas to bring back to use with our staff.

But let's back track.  Neal opened with what I saw as a brilliant idea, but was shocked that no one had ever done it before.  She took the three main RA sources which introduced the idea of appeal and went through them [quickly] to show where they were the same and where they differed.  These three are outlined in the following books. listed in the order in which they were published:
She spent about 30 minutes really honing us in on their similarities and what is most important to consider because the bulk of the 2 hour meeting as going to be all about writing annotations! But just before we switched gears, Neal tried out her newly created Myers-Briggs style test so we could each assess our personal reading tastes based on 4 big areas of appeal; the areas where the 3 resources overlap the most.

We also did madlibs with appeal where we were given a sentence with multiple missing adjectives and a noun and a verb to fill in.  The goal, make 2 sentences but make them be completely opposite of each other. Not only was it fun, it really focuses you on how the words you chose to use in only 1 sentence make a HUGE difference in how the book sounds to a reader.

So before we all dug into reading The Lottery by Shirley Jackson [which we later worked on writing an annotation for] Neal talked at length about annotations. Along the way she used examples of her own work to point out both how to and how NOT to.  Here are some quick soundbites of the things she said on this topic:

  • Writing an annotation is not like writing a review.  An annotation is to advertise a book to its best reader.
  • Always start with genre and type of book.  Example: a locked room mystery.  This orients the audience to the type of book it is right away.
  • The biggest mistake people make when writing annotations is that they add more story. Instead, less plot and more appeal.
  • Show restraint. Don't overshare
  • You are writing to someoone who has not read the book already, so do not write in code.
  • Characater-- identify main character and write only the 1 most important thing about him or her.  Example: Jack Reacher-- mention he is an ex Army MP, leave out that he doesn't own anything. [Becky's note: although I often like mentioning his weird tick of him not owning anything because it is funny and endearing about Reacher, she is correct, it is not the most important thing about Reacher; readers can discover that quirk on their own.]
  • Be DEFT with your writing.  Make your words do double duty. Example: use adverbs and adjectives that reflect the tone of the book as you are describing the story.
  • There is no need to mention the setting in an annotations unless it acts like another character in the story or it is key to the book's plot.  Example: Hampton Sides' In the Kingdom of Ice is very setting dependent.
  • While setting is not always necessary to mention, frame is very necessary. If a book has any specific frame you must mention it.
  • In general advice about writing annotations: Only talk about the things that matter to the experience of reading the book.
I want to also quickly mention Neal's personal advice on how to write an annotation.  As she cautioned, this is what works for her. She had a slide which Annabelle posted a picture of here.  Below are her steps in the order she does them as she writes an annotation:
  • Sketch out the elements you will include
  • Look for overlaps
  • Look for empty thoughts
  • Order by orientation and importance
  • Look for gaps
  • Write it
  • Revise it
  • Fact check it
  • Prepare to be edited
Then we read The Lottery [love that story!] and brainstormed an annotation as a group of 50+. Very cool.  My favorite adjective that came out of our brainstorming was from the BPL RA's fearless leader Kathy-- "disorienting."

Then we ended the session by playing RA Jeopardy!
Other quick takeaways of note:
  • Neal is working on a book on the history of RA Service.  Knowing Neal it will be comprehensive AND interesting to read.  I am quite excited. 
  • ARRT is a big part of that history of RA service in US public libraries and we are celebrating our 30th Anniversary this year.  Big milestone birthday means big party!  Go here for details and to sign up. You do not need to be a member to join us at the Oak Park Public Library on Saturday, September 6th. Non-members do need to fork over $10 though.  Again details here.
  • The next ARRT program will be Wednesday November 12th from 2-4 PM at the Schaumburg Township District Library and it will feature Heather Booth talking about RA for Teens. She is currently working on an update to her 2007 ALA Edition guide on that topic. More details after we party.  
All in all it was wonderful day at RA Summer Camp!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

RA Summer Camp and Horror Blog Update

Today is the RA Summer Camp Program.  Click here for details.  It is from 2-4 central time and myself and other attendees will be tweeting using the #arrtreads hashtag during the event.

I will have a longer report up tomorrow on the blog because I know there is a lot of interest in this program.  I did get one preview tip which has really gotten me excited.  The only handout is a copy of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery!

This is going to rock.

Until then, I have a brand new post on the horror blog. It is the first in an occasional series of posts that are meant to get you and your library ready for Halloween.  Believe it or not, the planning is well underway in the horror community for October 31st.

So click through to that post while you wait to here how my afternoon at RA Summer Camp went!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Monday Discussions: Endings That Don’t Suck

For today’s Monday discussion, I wanted to celebrate finishing the fantastic The Last Policeman series by Ben Winters over the weekend.  Here and here are my reviews of the first 2 books in this pre-apocalyptic series.

There have been lots of kudos for this series, including from me, but what I loved about this final installment, World of Trouble, was how PERFECTLY it ended [at least for me]. I was hoping for the best and Winters delivered an ending even better than my wildest hopes.  Yay!  It was so invigorating to come out so happy from a trilogy.  That doesn't always happen.

This got me thinking about my personal reading.  Too often I love a book until the ending.  Bad endings ruin so many books for me that when I come across a great one, I am elated.

This works for TV shows too. Over the weekend, my sister and I were talking about how we are upset with the final season of True Blood becuase we feel like they are trying to hard to wrap it all up too neatly, but that led my Dad to chime in about how utterly perfect the final episode of Alan Ball's other series Six Feet Under was. We all agreed there. So we are holding out hope.

This leads to our discussion today.  Let's celebrate our favortie perfect endings in any media becuase life is too short to complain about the bad endings [plus there are too many of those to list].

Here are some recent endings I adored to kick off the discussion [besides World of Trouble]:
What about you?  For today's Monday discussion, share some of your favorite endings in books, tv series, or movies. From recently or from way back; it doesn't matter. Do not include any ending syou hated.  We are all about the positive today.

For past Monday Discussions click here.

Library Reads: September 2014

You know the drill on Library Reads by now.  Click here for past lists. Lots of big names on this one.

September 2014 LibraryReads List


Smoke Gets in Your Eyes:
And Other Lessons from
the Crematory

by Caitlin Doughty

Published: 9/15/2014
by W.W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 9780393240238
“Part memoir, part exposé of the death industry, and part instruction manual for aspiring morticians. First-time author Doughty has written an attention-grabbing book that is sure to start some provocative discussions. Fans of Mary Roach’s Stiff and anyone who enjoys an honest, well-written autobiography will appreciate this quirky story.”
Patty Falconer, Hampstead Public Library, Hampstead, NH

Station Eleven: A Novel

by Emily St. John Mandel

Published: 9/9/2014 by Knopf
ISBN: 9780385353304
“An actor playing King Lear dies onstage just before a cataclysmic event changes the future of everyone on Earth. What will be valued and what will be discarded? Will art have a place in a world that has lost so much? What will make life worth living? These are just some of the issues explored in this beautifully written dystopian novel. Recommended for fans of David Mitchell, John Scalzi and Kate Atkinson.”
Janet Lockhart, Wake County Public Libraries, Cary, NC

The Secret Place

by Tana French

Published: 9/2/2014 by Viking Adult
ISBN: 9780670026326
“French has broken my heart yet again with her fifth novel, which examines the ways in which teenagers and adults can be wily, calculating, and backstabbing, even with their friends. The tension-filled flashback narratives, relating to a murder investigation in suburban Dublin, will keep you turning pages late into the night.”
Alison McCarty, Nassau County Public Library System, Callahan, FL

Rooms: A Novel

by Lauren Oliver

Published: 9/23/2014 by Ecco
ISBN: 9780062223197
“A family comes to terms with their estranged father’s death in Oliver’s first novel for adults. Told from the perspective of two ghosts living in the old house, this unique story weaves characters and explores their various past connections. Great book!”
Rachel Fewell, Denver Public Library, Denver, CO

The Children Act

by Ian McEwan

Published: 9/9/2014 by Nan A. Talese
ISBN: 9780385539708
“Judge Fiona Maye is at a difficult point in her marriage. Taking refuge in addressing other people’s problems in family court, Fiona extends herself more than usual, meeting a boy whose future is in her hands. McEwan is a masterful observer of human distress. With a simple story and flawed, genuine characters, this novel is poignant and insightful.”
Jennifer Alexander, St. Louis County Library, St. Louis, MO

The Distance: A Thriller

by Helen Giltrow

Published: 9/9/2014 by Doubleday
ISBN: 9780385536998
“Imagine a modern-day Robin Hood who deals not in money, but identity. Karla, the protagonist of The Distance, is a tech guru with a conscience, and the security of several nations dependent on her. This nuanced book kept me on the edge of my seat. I cannot wait until the next one comes out.”
Cathy Scheib, Indianapolis Public Library, Indianapolis, IN

Horrorstor: A Novel

by Grady Hendrix

Published: 9/23/2014 by Quirk Books
ISBN: 9781594745263
“You know how some horror movies would work better as novels? Horrorstor is that book, perfectly capturing everything that is terrific about the horror genre. In its catalog-style pages, you’ll find a hefty dose of satire, as a Scandinavian furniture store is transformed overnight into a prison. With characters that you’re rooting for and terror that creeps up on you, Horrorstor will keep you up all night in the best possible way.”
Donna Matturri, Pickerington Public Library, Pickerington, OH

The Paying Guests

by Sarah Waters

Published: 9/16/2014 by Riverhead
ISBN: 9781594633119
“You can almost bet that a situation with long-term guests–paying or not–is not going to turn out well. This novel by Waters, who many know from her earlier booksTipping the Velvet and The Little Stranger, will keep you turning the page to see just how tense things can get, and how far fear and passion can push someone.”
Elizabeth Angelastro, Manlius Library, Manlius, NY

The Witch with No Name

by Kim Harrison

Published: 9/9/2014 by Harper Voyager
ISBN: 9780061957956
“In this book, Harrison ends her long-running Hollows series, featuring witch Rachel Morgan, vampire Ivy, and pixy Jenks. Rachel’s come a long way; now, she and her friends attempt the impossible and face their toughest battle yet. Harrison skillfully wraps up many plot points, leaving readers sad that the series is over but satisfied by its ending. Fans will surely cheer Rachel on and shed a tear or two.”
Ilene Lefkowitz, Denville Public Library, Denville, NJ

Season of Storms

by Susanna Kearsley

Published: 9/2/2014 by Sourcebooks Landmark
ISBN: 9781402258732
“Once again, Kearsley introduces you to a cast of characters who will quickly hold a special place in your heart. Celia and Alex mirror lovers from decades past, sharing similar secrets and passions. Flashbacks are woven seamlessly into the storyline, and the strong family component is handled beautifully, with surprising twists and turns.”
Marianne Colton, Lockport Public Library, Lockport, NY

Thursday, August 7, 2014

For Your Amusement....

I have spent all morning working on ILA Annual Conference planning and am about to head out to Glenview Public Library for the next ARRT Genre Study meeting-- Historical Crime.

You can click here for ILA Conference info.  The early bird discount is still available.

You can click here for all the ARRT Genre Study info including the next assignment which I prepared on our first subsets of Thrillers.

But, you don't care about any of this.  I know that.  You want a post.  Well, today you are getting a "just for fun" one.

Go to the blog Fake Library Stats.  Read it.  Bookmark it.  Follow it on Twitter.  Trust me.  No matter what kind of day you are having, no matter how many patrons yell at you, no matter what kind of bodily fluid you have to clean up in the stacks, this site will put a smile on your face. You will thank me, if not today, then some day when you really need it, and then you will already know about Fake Library Stats, you will visit it, and it will brighten your day.

You are welcome.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Summer Reading Postmortem Report 1

Our Summer Reading program ended on Saturday, and Monday afternoon, Kathy and I had a blast with this site generating random numbers to pick our grand prize winners.

But now the fun begins-- the data gathering and postmortem assessment of how it all went.  Today, I have the first of what I see as at least 2 reports on our summer reading program.  First, is the immediate reactions and current action steps for the next three weeks, basically until Labor Day when summer unofficially ends.  The second report, will come sometime after our late August staff meeting where the entire team will be breaking down the pros and cons of what we did this summer, how it all went, what was fantastic, what needs to be tweaked, and what should be scrapped.

Which brings up my first and MOST important point about summer reading programs.  Yes they are a lot of work to plan, yes they boost circulation, yes they make patrons happy, BUT if you just have the reading program and do nothing with the data you collect they are a complete waste of your time.

In order to help you to better use your summer reading program to help your RA service and collection development all year long, here is a run down of what we we are doing.

First, some background. Here is the link to a post I had last year detailing how we have used our summer reading program as an RA and collection development tool in year's past.

And here is the post from earlier this summer in which I talked about all the changes we had in store for this year's summer reading.

I highly suggest you quickly peruse these 2 links before reading the rest of this post.  They should open in a new tab so that you don't loose this page. I am not going to repeat it all here, but those posts provide the necessary context to what comes next.

Now on to the nitty gritty quick data from summer reading.

We gave out 400 lawn signs-- modeled here by our Head of Circ, Crytsal.  There were on lawns all over town, and people kept coming into the library all summer saying that they saw a sign on their friend or neighbor's lawn and wanted one for themselves. YAY!  It was very satisfying to drive through town and see the signs everywhere.

We had close to 1,100 books read and logged by our adult readers and just under 350 books read and logged by our teens!  All of this in a mere 8 weeks!

We are still evaluating the online, Google form system we used for patrons to sign up and log books this year, but one thing we know we are keeping and already using for RA purposes is the mandatory "Tell Us Something About The Book" field.

As I have mentioned on this blog in the past, we have a high traffic area near our desk which we use for "conversation starter displays."  Well, for the next 3 weeks or so [from the end of summer reading through Labor Day] we are using that small area to highlight a book read by a summer reading participant and their comment about said book.  Below you can see a photo of the display and then another photo close-up of the form Kathy created to highlight the patron annotation about the book.

The book here is The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King and the comment reads:
"I've read most of this author's Mary Russell novels, and have enjoyed them all.  This is a stand-alone, with all new characters, but it captured my attention from beginning to end. The setting is Paris, a city I love, and the story winds around the art world in the time of Man Ray and the surrealists. The ending was a surprise, even though I am not in the habit of trying to guess "who dunnit." I really recommend this book.  --Barb"
Our plan is to leave each book and its corresponding patron comment on display for up to 3 days or until the book is checked out and then replace and repeat.  It is an easy "Patrons' Picks" display, but also, the patrons can clearly see we are paying attention to them and what they read. This should make them more willing to both participate in summer reading next year and to just stop by and ask for help identifying their next good read.

The display says we listen and we care. It says we paid attention to you all summer. It says we want you to know about the great books your fellow patrons are reading. It screams the RA department is interested in helping you.

So that's how it is going in these first 5 days after we have wrapped up our 8 week summer reading program.  As I mentioned, above we still have to evaluate the online Google forms process and start sifting through the data itself to identify issues for collection development and 2015 display planning.

But that is for Summer Reading Postmortem Report 2 and maybe even 3!