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

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What I’m Reading: Marked

I am actually working on three reviews for some January 2016 genre titles that are due to Booklist today, but before I finish those up I wanted to tell you that the newest issue digital issue of Booklist came out and it includes my STARRED review of a debut fantasy novel that is a great adult-YA crossover.

So below is my draft review which includes links to the published review AND a few extras.

Marked by Sue Tingey

Nov. 2015. 352p. Quercus, hardcover, $26.99  (9781623659202); Quercus, e-book, $12.99  (9781623659226)
First published November 1, 2015 (Booklist).


In this compelling, debut, urban fantasy, readers are introduced to Lucky, a young woman who can see ghosts, a gift that has made her an outcast her entire life; in fact, her only friend is a ghost named Kayla. Lucky leads a quiet, solitary life debunking fake psychics until the day her life is turned upside down when she is called back to her former school to investigate the appearance of an evil daemon, a daemon that it appears has come from a parallel world to use Lucky as a pawn in their political drama. Reluctantly Lucky travels to the “Underlands” where she is confronted with new truths about her friend, her family history, and her special place in the daemon world. Readers will eagerly follow the plucky and headstrong Lucky and her new champions including two handsome daemons vying for her affection and a loyal pet Drakon, Lucky must become her “true self” under trying circumstances, while fighting for what is she believes is right in a brutal, foreign land. This is a brisk paranormal tale, with outstanding world-building, a large cast of well drawn characters, and an intricate plot, filled with intrigue and adventure. Marked reads like a PG-13 version of the Sookie Stackhouse series  combined with some of the sinister and thought-provoking undertones of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. This series opener will find wide appeal in libraries, hungry for more quality urban fantasy.

YA Appeal: This is an excellent option for YA fans of paranormal, urban fantasy. The coming of age theme is very strong and while there is a romance element, it is tame. Teen readers will see a lot of themselves in Lucky.

Three Words That Describe This Book: compelling, coming of age, paranormal

Readalikes: When I was reading Marked, I kept thinking how similar it was to Harry Potter in that you watch Lucky enter a world she didn’t know existed, a world where not only was she not considered weird and a nuisance, but also a world where she is the lost key to saving everyone. While the story isn’t like Harry Potter at all, this feeling and set up was EXACTLY like it.

For the same reasons, and for a more decidedly mature adult read, The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harness has a similar feel. I listened to all three: A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Halloween is Almost Here: Why I Work So Hard To Help You-- Includes a Chance To Win a Free Book (and another fandom reference)

Did you know that Halloween is Saturday? I am sure you do, but have you remembered that I am running a 31 day blog-a-thon chock full of horror RA advice over on RA for All: Horror?

This year I have focused my attention on providing you, the library worker who helps adult leisure readers, with as many perspectives from horror fans and authors as possible. My goal was to expose you not only to those authors, but also, to their favorite authors. 

The result-- dozens of examples of WHY someone might like horror AND hundreds of authors and titles you can use to help patrons.

Why do you need this info?  Well first, the descriptions from authors as to why they love scary stories provides you with an example of a horror loving patron. Each post can be seen as a practice patron for you. A way to work out your genre muscles and prepare for the real live (or shuffling undead) patron who comes in to ask for a horror book. And second, the sheer list of authors I have provided this month can keep you stocked with horror suggestions all year long!

Yes, you will get horror requests outside of the 10th month of the year. Shocking, but true.

Although I was able to get some HUGE authors to participate in my blog-a-thon, and they mentioned many more authors, there are still more out there that your patrons may enjoy.  One resource where you can get more information this week is Goodreads where they have horror authors taking your questions all week.

Finally, to keep with the Fandom theme I have inadvertently taken on this week, I wanted to repost my giveaway that is going on over the horror blog. You still have time to enter...

Since October 19th, I have been running a giveaway of the soon to be released short story collection, The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft [another huge fandom].  I will end today’s post with a link [and repost] to my first post during the series. You can go visit RA for All Horror this week or any week all year long for horror help:

Today I am beginning a smaller series within this 31 day horror fest.  In December, JournalStone is releasing a book that EVERY PUBLIC LIBRARY needs to buy.   
From the publisher:  
JournalStone Publishing (JSP) President, Christopher C. Payne is pleased to announce The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft, a brand new anthology that collects the twelve principal deities of the Lovecraftian Mythos and sets them loose within its pages. Featuring the biggest names in horror and dark fantasy, including many NY Times bestsellers, full of original fiction and artwork, and individual commentary on each of the deities by Donald Tyson, author of Grimoire of the Necronomicon and Alhazred.  
Lovecraft’s bestiary of gods has had a major influence on the horror scene from the time these sacred names were first evoked. Cthulhu, Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, Yog-Sothoth—this pantheon of the horrific calls to mind the very worst of cosmic nightmares and the very darkest signs of human nature. The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft brings together twelve all-new Mythos tales from:  
1. Cthulhu (Adam Nevill) 2. Yog-Sothoth (Martha Wells)3. Azathoth (Laird Barron) 4. Nyarlathotep (Bentley Little) 5. Shub-Niggurath (David Liss) 6. Tsathoggua (Brett Talley)7. The Mi-Go (Christopher Golden & James A. Moore)8. Nightgaunts (Jonathan Maberry) 9. Elder Things (Joe Lansdale)10. Great Race (Rachel Caine)11. Yig (Douglas Wynne)12. The Deep Ones (Seanan McGuire)This book is not coming out until December but I have seen an ARC and can give you multiple reasons as to why you should pre-order this book now. 
First, look at that list of authors. There are many NY Times bestselling authors there, and a few that are the biggest young names in dark fiction right now. 
Second, this collection serves as an excellent introduction to the Mythos for novices. Most readers interested in horror have read about Lovecraft, but I have found many of them haven’t found a good entry point to Lovecraft’s world for themselves.  They are overwhelmed by the breadth of the fandom, let alone the original works themselves. 
Well, here it is. 
Third, this collection is also great for Lovecraft fans. Even those who are well versed in the Mythos will enjoy seeing these Gods reinterpreted by many of the best of today’s horror writers. 
And fourth, the commentaries by Donald Tyson are enlightening in and of themselves. You can learn about each god and why he or she was important to the Mythos with or without having read the story in which that God was featured. 
I will have a full, more official review of the collection in a future edition of Booklist, but for now, I still have a few treats in relation to this book up my sleeve. 
Over 9 of the next 10 days I will be featuring 10 of the 12 authors in this collection. Each has answered a series of questions from me about their God, why they picked it, what their favorite scary books are, and more.  It’s very similar to the posts I have been running by authors all month, just with a Lovercraftian spin. Expect each day’s post to bring you a handful of new authors and titles to add to your arsenal of books you can suggest to patrons.  
As if that wasn’t a huge gift, JournalStone is also providing 2 free copies of The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft that I will give away here, on the blog.
So between now and 11:59 pm on 10/29, you can email me, 1 entry per person, at zombiegrl75 [at] gmail [dot] com to be eligible. I will have a reminder each day and draw the winners on 10/30. 
I hope this multi-day feature will not only introduce you to the world of Lovecraft, but also, allow you to see why some of today’s best horror writers love horror. And both of those things will make you better at helping your horror readers find their next good read.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

RA for Fandoms Part 2: Women in SF and FSY

My RA for fandoms post yesterday drew a lot of interest.  In fact, here is an article form the ALA that I forgot to link to that explains why libraries need to know about fandoms with many more resources.

One of the main reasons fandoms are going mainstream is due to the unprecedented growth of fandoms among girls.  You can click here, here, here, and here to read articles on this trend from many different points of view.

Now this change from a fandom world dominated by fanboys to one quickly moving to be over 50% fangirls [in a very short time frame], has led to some very serious problems. However, I feel like the library is a safe space for girls in fandoms.

My feelings about this perception of safety are not based on research, but when I did work with teens in the public library I saw this to be true, and an informal survey I did of my colleagues confirms this.

Also, a few weeks ago Seattle hosted Geek Girl Con and during the convention, a group of Washington librarians gave a talk entitled, Awesome Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Misha Stone wrote up this great summary [with presentation links] for The Booklist Reader. Thanks Misha.

You can find more resources on the Geek Girl Con website. And don't forget, if someone did a presentation that looks interesting to you, look them up on social media and reach out. These presenters are wonderful resources in and of themselves.

I don't plan on continuing this conversation here on the blog for a third day, but then again, I didn't plan on it going a second day. All I know is that there is a need for us to talk about fandoms and RA service because all I did was one quick post and it hit a chord. People were reaching out to me.

I hope you can use these two posts to take the next step-- actively trying to provide RA service to patrons in fandoms.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Helping Readers in Fandoms

One of the most popular emerging areas that I am asked about is in helping readers in fandoms. Fandoms and fan fiction have been on the fringes as long as there have been stories that enrapture readers, begging them to live in the world beyond the time they spend while reading the source material.

As the mother of a teen firmly entrenched in a few fandoms, a teen who is also starting to write her own fan fiction, I have a deep understanding of this issue from a personal standpoint. I am constantly looking for books for her to read, books that she will enjoy, books that acknowledge her fandom loves while reaching outside of them [because there is never enough simply within the fandom itself].

With social media making fandoms easier to join and more immediate than they ever were before, this is a main stream leisure media issue that librarians need to feel comfortable with. We need to know how to advise these fans as they look for more leisure reading and watching options.

If you are new to this trend, I have a few suggestions on where to start for more background. In One of Our Thursday’s Is Missing, Jasper Fforde gives one of the best descriptions of fan fiction I have ever read.  Click here for my review of the book and to see a picture of “Fiction Island” which has a fan fiction area in the SE corner.

In 2012, I also had this post about Fan Fic including a guest post by an author in the genre.

But a simple way to think about it is to look at the world of Star Wars and all of the books that use the characters, refer to the characters, or incorporate the characters from Star Wars that are not part of the Lucas, Star Wars world. Everyone can think of 1 or 2 at least.

But fandoms are about more than fan fiction.  And helping readers in fandoms is about more than finding them every possible book that includes mentions or references to their fandoms. Often there are great books that are technically outside of the official fandom that would be a great suggestion for that reader.

For example, when I read Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell, I mentioned how it read like an episode of Dr. Who.

Rainbow Rowell, is an author who is actively exploring the concept on fandoms and fan fiction in her enormously popular YA fiction.  There is a reason beyond her writing skill [which is very good] that her stories are capturing the attention and love of so many readers.  Her finger is on the pulse of the fandom issue and readers are drawn to that.

Thankfully, I am not the only one getting these questions or thinking about these issues.  NoveList has been too. Here is a post, with links to resources on a recent presentation at the North Carolina Library Association Conference entitled, Fandom, Fanfiction, and Readers’ Advisory by NoveList staffers.

Click through to learn more about this issue and start helping fandom reader ASAP. They are avid and voracious readers.  Let’s show them that we care about their leisure reading needs, and capture them as library users now and for the future.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Slides for Genre Study Success at #ILLibrary15

I have been very busy attending the A Library State of Mind Conference over the last few days, and it is still going on tomorrow.

There have been many amazing programs and conversations happening between librarians of all types.

You can see what we have been doing by clicking here for the conference twitter talk.

The conference will still be going on tomorrow; in fact, that is when I am presenting for ARRT.

Here is the link to my slides for my Genre Study Success program.

This program is for ALL librarians from ALL library types. I will be offering a mix-and-match training on how you can find the best way to study genre for you.

I’ll be back on Monday with new posts.

Hope to see some of you tomorrow.

Slide Access

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Listen to Me Answer Your Horror Questions on Book Riot

On Monday, I recorded an episode of the new Book Riot "Get Booked" podcast with Amanda Nelson. From a previous post on RA for All:

Get Booked is a brand new podcast from Book Riot and it is perfect for all of you who provide RA service.  Here is their description of what they are going to do:
"We’ve got a new podcast coming your way! Get Booked will be a biweekly write-in show for personalized book recommendations, whether they’re for you, your great Aunt Sally, or anyone else in your life! Want to know what to read to fill the Harry Potter void? We’re here for you. Need a bookish gift for your dad? On it. Want a list of excellent romance novels for your book club? I’ve got your back. I’ll be hosting the show, and each week I’ll have a new guest host to help me."Click through to the Book Riot site here to listen to episode 0. You can also send in your request for a book recommendation with a form on that same page.
Here is the permalink for my horror episode: Get Booked Episode #4: Haunted by Horror

You can click here for the archive of all Get Booked Podcasts.

We had a lot of fun answering your questions and gave AWESOME suggestion (imo).

Happy listening.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What I’m Reading: The Fifth Heart

Back in the spring I read The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons.

Becky's Soundbite Review:
What if on a dark night, on the banks of the Seine river, in 1893, Henry James was prevented from killing himself by the one and only Sherlock Homes [who himself if having a bit of an identity crisis]. So begins the meta mystery investigation in which the very real author and the possibly real Holmes team up to solve the mystery surrounding the death of James' good friend Clover Adams back in Washington, DC. Much like Simmons' Drood, this is a methodically paced, dark tale, filled with intrigue, historical detail and Holmes oeuvre references. This is the perfect read for historical fiction fans, those who love books about books, and Holmes aficionado's alike.
This novel was very much like Drood [click for full review]. Like Drood, the Fifth Heart is methodically paced. This is a long book with lots of detail, and a plot that takes it's time coming together.  But in these novels, the plot is not as important as following the literary characters and becoming immersed in their world. So methodical is what Simmons is going for and what readers expect.

For example, there is a very long scene about 1/3 of the way into the book where Holmes and James are inside the monument that Adams has erected for his wife's grave. It is long and detailed, but so interesting. It was my favorite scene in the entire book. It has a little bit to do with the plot, but it is in the story to set the mood, tone, and establish very important things about those three characters. There are also long dinner scenes told in full detail from the food, to the clothing of the guests, to the conversation. Again, not all important to the plot, but all integral to establishing the setting and deepening the characters.

Now, I listened to Drood, so the parts that "dragged" didn't bother me. I read this novel in print, so I noticed the dragging parts more. I think I prefer Simmons in audio because in that format I can more easily get immersed by the world he is creating and I fall deeply inside, loving every minute of it.

I also adored how in the novel, Holmes is working on the Clover Adams case AND a case of International importance all while questioning if he is a real person or a fictional construction. And pairing him with the super serious James makes for quite an odd team.  That being said, while this is a fun narrative choice and leads to some "wink-wink" humor, Simmons is NOT writing a parody. Rather, this is an authentic and historical representation of time, place and people (whether they are real historical figures or fictional characters).

Fans of books about books will love how "meta" this novel is, while fans of more traditional, big, historical novels will enjoy how much they learn. For me, it is been well documented on this blog that I love the Victorian Era. So for me, the time period was perfect. I also loved how much I learned specifically about Henry and Clover Adams, the early days of the Secret Service, and Sherlock Homes as a person-- I know that was made up, but it was still fun. I really liked the scenes when characters who were fans of Holmes were totally geeking out talking to the man himself. So very cool.

Finally, although I have not seen any reviewers mention this, I found The Fifth Heart to be the best explanation I have ever seen as to how the eternally serious and boring Henry James could have written a psychological suspense masterpiece like The Turn of the Screw. Trust me, this is a quandary I have been thinking about and writing about since 10th grade, and while this explanation here in The Fifth Heart is obviously not correct I am going with it.

If you have access to Novelist. I have written a long Read Alike article for Dan Simmons. Just search his name and choose "Lists and Articles."

Three Words That Describe This Book: books about books, alternative history, methodically paced

Readalikes: Many readers will want to read more about, by or featuring the characters in this novel. So try anything featuring Holmes and/or books by or about James or Adams.

If you like this time period and the darker undertones here, watch The Knick. I love this show and have written about the first season and offered readalikes here. It covers many of the same issues and themes found in The Fifth Heart but from a medical, instead of literary and government, perspective.

But for books that are also methodically paced, dark, and literary try a few of these. Links go to my reviews where appropriate and I have noted those that are also historical (because that may matter to some readers):

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Up Coming Free Webinar on Re-Engaging Library Users

I am so excited to attend this upcoming webinar that I needed to let others know about it too.  

Effective service to readers is a huge part of why patrons come to the library. I have seen it happen first hand. It is when we help people find a leisure reading or watching option-- something they didn't need, but just wanted-- that they are most appreciative of us and the Library in general.

The needs, they expect us to help them with.  But when we help patrons with wants, they start to look at us differently. We really do want to help them. We really can be there for them, We really are relevant.

So, I have attached all the details below. "See" you there. 

Where have all the patrons gone? Are you seeing a decline in the number of once-regular visitors stopping in to browse for a book or place a book on hold in your catalog? How can you bring them back?

You’ll hear from two different libraries about how they did just that. The Charlotte-Mecklenberg Library brought 13,000 inactive patrons back to the library in the last year through a large scale marketing endeavor. The Jacksonville Public Library (FL) used an email campaign to re-engage library patrons. Join NoveList and our panel of library marketing professionals as they discuss what their libraries did to bring their patrons back, and talk about new ideas and inspiration you can implement at your library. If you're on Twitter, don't forget to use the hashtag for this event: #back2thelibrary


Date: Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Time: 2:00 pm ET

Monday, October 19, 2015

RA for ALL at the Library State of Mind Conference-- Free SWAG Can be Yours!

I don't want to repeat myself too much, but back in July, I mentioned here that RA for All [that's really just me] is a silver sponsor of the joint Illinois Libraries conference.

I am there is a variety of capacities.

  1. As a sponsor [See my ad in the program book, page 120]
  2. As a speaker
  3. As a representative for ARRT both as a speaker and for our exciting, first annual RA Award.
Again, you can click here for all of those details from back in July.

I am not headed to Peoria until Thursday, but I wanted to give  those of you who are going a heads up on a few things now.  Plus, if you are not going, and even if you don't live anywhere near IL, I still have some info for you too.

Let's start with #1. I am a sponsor of coffee. Here is your proof from the program book.

But caffeinating you [specifically on Saturday morning] is not the main reason I am a sponsor. I am a sponsor because I want to get the word out that I want to come to your library and help you to help your staff help your leisure readers. I work mostly with public libraries, but I am also beginning to branch out into school, academic, and even special libraries too. I want to be available to my home state libraries first and foremost. 

If you are at the conference, come find me. Just tweet me @RAforAll and we can meet up. I have stickers for all RA for All fans to wear. I also have pens and postcards for libraries that talk to me about possible trainings and the kicker.....a RA for All awesome TOTE BAG if we set up a specific training at the conference itself.

Yes, I know my audience, TOTE BAGS will win your hearts.

But, for the rest of this month, I am extending this offer to anyone out there reading this. You book me for a 2016 event (2015 is closed to appearances) you get a TOTE BAG mailed to you now.

This is a limited time offer. As always, you can contact me by clicking on the logo or the "About" page. Or simply, click right here, right now.

#2: My presentation is on Saturday morning at 9am. It is on running a successful genre study and is geared toward School and Public Librarians. I have embedded a screen shot of the basic info here in the post, and I will also make the slides Friday's post. But if you cannot wait, go to the conference website and search for my program.  There you will get a full summary of the program and access to the slides immediately.

If you come to my presentation, I also have stickers, pens, and some books to giveaway. Yes, I am bribing you to fill my room. I have no shame and I am fine with that.

I am presenting for ARRT which leads me into #3. On Friday night, before I present for ARRT, Saturday morning, I will be at the awards gala dinner in support our Chair, Annabelle Mortensen as she presents our first ever award:
Yay DGPL. They are friends and do great work. We are all so excited for them, and, quite frankly, for us-- ARRT. Our leadership has made RA Service important enough here in IL to get it's very own award. We are now as important as Tech, Youth, YA, and Reference Services. This is a big step for all of us who put working with leisure readers at the top of our service priorities.

I am going to try to pre-load RA for All with a lot of reviews this week, but if something worth blogging about happens at the conference, I will post more.  Otherwise, look for me on Twitter @RAforAll using the official conference hashtag: #ILLibrary15. And if you are not on Twitter [as many of my readers always remind me that they are not], you can follow what I am tweeting in the right gutter of this blog.

I hope to see you in Peoria.

Friday, October 16, 2015

What I’m Reading: Another Booklist Reviews Edition

Here are three reviews I recently did for Booklist.

Re: Booklist Review Posts:
"As they go up on the site and are published in the magazine, I will link to them here. But for the blog purposes I will repost the unedited versions with a little bit extra, including my 3 words and possibly a few more readalikes than the ones I managed to work into the review itself."

The first one was web only

Koko the Mighty.

Shea, Kieran (author).
Aug. 2015. 327p. Titan, paperback, $14.95 (9781781168622); Titan, e-book(9781781168646)
First published September 30, 2015 (Booklist Online).
Koko Martstellar, the world’s most badass mercenary, and her boyfriend Jedidiah Flynn are back home trying to live peacefully as the proprietors of the most decadent and violent resort in 26th Century Earth after barely surviving in Koko Takes a Holiday (2014). Koko wants to leave the killing behind, but there is still a determined bounty hunter out finish the job. So begins Koko’s next cyberpunk adventure, one that is even more dangerous and with bigger stakes than the last time. Told in an urgent present tense, with alternating viewpoints, this novel is fast paced, action packed, violent, and just plain fun. And since this is the sequel, readers get treated to even more world building and character development, both of which are just as interesting and satisfying as the action driven plot. Although Koko’s story is told in words only, it has a graphic novel storytelling sensibility that will appeal to fans of series like Hellboy or Saga. As as the ending implies, we can expect more from Koko in the future, so make sure you have this crowd pleasing, well executed series available for your patrons now.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Action, Violent, Fun

Readalikes: I also think readers who like Koko would also enjoy the award winning Imperial Radch series by Ann Leckie which begins with Ancillary Justice.  Leckie has much less violence, but the compelling pace, revenge themes and great characters will appeal here.

The last two not only appeared in print, but also in the FIRST EVER digital edition of Booklist, which is free to all using this link.



Dhooge, Bavo (author) and Josh Pachter (author).

Nov. 2015. 336p. Simon & Schuster/Simon451, hardcover, $25(9781476784649); Simon & Schuster/Simon451, e-book (9781476784663) First published October 15, 2015 (Booklist).
“Styx wasn’t just suffering a midlife crisis. This was a life crisis…” Styx is a good guy, but a dirty cop in the Belgian seaside town of Ostend, best known as home to some of Europe’s most famous surrealist painters. Both Styx and Ostend have seen better days, but when a vicious serial killer starts murdering young women, removing their organs, stuffing them with sand, and leaving them on display in public all over town, Styx will do anything to stop him. When the killer shoots Styx and leaves him for dead, the deceased detective reanimates and the investigation really begins. With alternating viewpoints between Styx and the killer, this is a taut, atmospheric, and suspenseful crime story. Readers can feel the fog settling in, and learn about surrealist art, the history of Ostend, and the effects of Belgian Imperialism as it pertains to race issues in the country today. These details are all seamlessly incorporated into the investigation. Rest assured, Styx’s zombie situation is not a cheap trick, rather it adds complexity to the investigation and allows Dhooge to develop both Styx and his partner’s characters more deeply. Thankfully, the door also appears to have been left open for a sequel. Run, don’t walk, to give this book to fans of Joe Nesbo and Robert Galbraith. Dhooge has won three of Belgium’s most prestigious crime writing awards; it is time for American readers to see why for themselves.
Three Words That Describe This Book: alternating viewpoints, dark, noir

Readalikes: I am serious about the Nesbo and Galbraith comparisons here. But anyone who likes any Nordic Noir would love this book.


Savile, Steven (author).
Nov. 2015. 300p. Akashic/Infamous, paperback, $15.95 (9781617754067); Akashic/Infamous, e-book(9781617754265)
REVIEW. First published October 15, 2015 (Booklist).
In the frighteningly realistic world of Sunfail a shift in the polar magnetic fields is wreaking havoc on civilization. Birds are falling from the sky, wild dogs are roaming the streets, and sunlight is weakening. As people are trying to cope with the disaster in real time, a series of perfectly timed terrorist strikes have also begun. Did someone know what was coming and are they using it to their advantage? Enter Jake Quinn, ex Special Forces Operative, current transit electrician, and overall hero to the scene as he takes it upon himself to figure out what is going on, confronts the bad guys, and unveils a conspiracy that has been orchestrated for years by the world’s most powerful people. But can one man and his cobbled together band of experts save us all? With fast paced action, awesome fight scenes (one between two brilliant female assassins is particularly well done), relatable heroes, and just the right amount balance between intrigue and plot twists Sunfail is a fun and exciting read with a wide appeal perfect for fans of complex series heroes like Jack Reacher and Joe Ledger with a dash of Dan Brown’s sensibility.
Three Words That Describe This Book: conspiracy thriller, fast paced, relatable heroes

Readalikes: Here are some more readalikes from when I read the first Joe Ledger novel by Jonathan Mayberry.:
If Joe Ledger and his exploits with the Department of Military Service are appealing to you, try the Shane Schofield series by Matthew Reillyor anything by James Rollins.  Maberry also gives a shout-out to David Morrell in this novel (a charcater is reading a Morrell novel).  Morrell is a great readalike option here since both authors sneak a bit of more traditional horror appeal into their thrillers. Fans of Patient Zeroshould start with Morrell's Creepers.  
These all work for Sunfail too. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Working with Genre Readers-- Training Options

Yesterday, I attended the fun and informative Novelist webinar "Appealing to Genre Readers" featuring Joyce Saricks, Molly Wetta, Elizabeth Coleman, and Lori Reed.

This is a training that is useful to anyone who works with genre readers whether you have NoveList access or not. You do NOT need to have NoveList to watch it either.

Click here to access the NoveList resources page with access to the recording AND a bunch of resources.

Click here to see the Twitter chatter the presentation generated (no need to have an account to view).

I get the most requests to train staff on how to work with genre readers-- more than any other topic by far-- so I know there is a need to watch this training.

I also have a webinar on the topic coming up for RAILS on November 9th entitled Demystifying Genre: How to Help Every Type of Reader:
Nothing is scarier than trying to help a fan of a genre you yourself don’t enjoy. You want to help that, for example, Romance reader find the perfect book, but you are having trouble knowing where to begin because...eek!... you don’t read Romance. You are afraid they will find out you are a fraud. How can YOU possibly help THEM?!? Never fear, in this program, Readers’ Advisory expert, Becky Spratford, will teach you how to keep your genre knowledge up to date, explain the biggest trends in genre fiction, and share her time tested tricks for working with genre readers. You will leave this webinar with the confidence and skill to help fans of every genre, regardless of whether you have ever read a book in that genre. And that will leave a trail of happy patrons in your wake.
Check out my past posts on working with genre readers for more tips too.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

RA Service Assessment: Step 3-- Providing RA to Each Other

It’s time for another RA Service Assessment post.

You can access the entire series through the page I have set up entitled “RA Service Assessment.” Ahhh yes, an obvious name, and it is in the right gutter of every page on the blog, but my goal is to help you help patrons better, so making it easy is key.

In the past two posts I have talked about you and your staff assessing your own personal reading and how to assess your staff and patron service strengths.

If you have completed those steps you now have a better idea of your strengths and weaknesses as a staff. Now, your instinct is going to be to attack the weak areas, such as gaps in genre knowledge among staff vs. patron interest.  However, while we will get to that, jumping right to genre training will not improve your services as much as you think.

First, you need to start small and build confidence.  You need to start practicing suggesting books to others without stress or consequence. You need to allow staff to feel good about committing to your leisure readers by providing early positive experiences for them.

Let me explain what I mean, and then I will explain why I believe this step needs to be BEFORE genre training.

If you had your staff do  Step 1-- Assess Your Own Reading Preferences you have a sheet for each staff member where they have listed their favorite and least favorite books and genres. [Ed note: I updated that post from a survey to a paper form earlier today.]

Now, you take these reader profiles, mix them up, and hand them back out so that each participating staff member gets the profile of another staff member.  You can either do this blindly or, as I prefer, by passing them out in a way that matches up people from different departments who may not know each other very well.  This “interference” adds an extra team building benefit to the exercise.

But no matter how you distribute the profiles, you now have given each staff member a “patron” to practice their RA skills on. That patron being a co-worker who is also committed to the RA improvement process because he or she has chosen to participate with their own profile.

This last point is key.  Unlike other training exercises where people are roped into participating. Here, if you filled out a profile yourself, you are invested in getting a reply for yourself. This makes you more willing to help provide a reply to your fellow coworker.  The give and get here is equivalent. Everyone is doing both sides of the exercise in equal measure. That is one of the reasons this process works.

Set goals for the staff.  I suggest that you give each person 2 weeks to use the staff profile they have received to provide a list of three reading suggestions to that person.

Then, once a staff member has received their 3 personalized reading suggestions, he or she must read at least 1 title and report back to the suggesting staff member as to whether or not the book was enjoyed and why within a month.

Each person has suggested three books to a coworker and each person has received three suggested reads. Now everyone has a personalized suggestion to try.

I have seen this training work dozens of times with students and library staff. By engaging in this exercise what you have done is created a safe practice environment where staff can take their time and help out a coworker. Whether they get their suggestions right or wrong, because it is a fellow staff member, they will get feedback on the process.

Even experts like me do not nail every suggestion to every patron.  But whether or not the patron likes the suggested book is not as important as getting feedback as to WHAT was liked or disliked.  This feedback is often missing when we work with patrons (although how to solicit patron feedback will be a later RA Assessment topic). It is by having a full RA Conversation that our skills improve and our patrons are happier.

So use my Staff Reader Profile form to get started on Step 3 of you RA Service Assessment journey.

Now quickly, back to my promised discussion of why you should do this step BEFORE genre training.  I feel very strongly about building confidence in the idea of recommending leisure reading first.  People who work in libraries love books and reading. I have seen staff who think they have no idea how to provide RA use their instincts to make great RA suggestions.  Why? Because they love books and reading. The power of this instinct cannot be overlooked or underestimated.  In fact, by doing this exercise first and genre training after, you are celebrating your staff’s implicit book knowledge.

Just like we try to make library signage positive [eg, cell phone friendly floors vs. NO CELLPHONES signs], I want to make the RA experience positive for staff.  It is scary the first few times you are suggesting a “good read” to someone. This exercise allows a more positive “first time” experience.

So before we start pointing out the staff’s faults and training them on everything they don’t know, why not start with what they do? They know books. Let everyone try to suggest one to a coworker.

That being said, genre training will be needed and I will have a few posts on genre training coming in steps 5 and 6. But for now....get out their and provide RA to each other;.

I have at least five more steps in the works, so look for more RA Service Assessment posts soon. The good news is, with all of the steps on one page, you can access them at your own pace.

And if you want me to help walk you through the steps or inspire you and your staff to get started, I am booking appearances for 2016 now. 2015 is closed except for [very] select local appearances.
Click here for details on how to contact me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

New Issue of Corner Shelf Featuring Joyce Saricks’ Column on Psychological Suspense

I’m back from the Columbus Day holiday.....

Yesterday, a new issue of The Corner Shelf-- Booklist’s newsletter on “Where Readers' Advisory Meets Collection Development” came out. Click here to access the entire issue.

Here is the editor’s note which previews the issue:
No matter how widely read we consider ourselves to be, every librarian has a favorite genre or two. I like to think a healthy mix of reading preferences makes for a better library staff, and so I'm giving all of you who consider yourself "book floozies" (I prefer to call myself "the Booklist slattern") permission to celebrate your love of anything deemed nonserious. Nicolette Warisse Sosulski provides the "Real Life Reference" column for our Top Shelf Referencenewsletter, and I'm delighted to give her the opportunity to show her fiction skills off to Corner Shelf readers with her feature, "I Am a Book Floozy.” 
This issue also features part 2 of Robin Bradford's interview series featuring self-published authors, a new "Weeding Tips" column, and a look at how our sponsor, Baker & Taylor, seeks customer satisfaction in "At the Corner of Baker & Taylor: In Pursuit of Customer Delight." And just in time for Halloween reading, a link to Joyce Saricks' recent "At Leisure" column, focusing on creepy psychological suspense. 
As always, I love to hear about what you'd like to see featured in Corner Shelf, particularly if you are interested in submitting a feature item. Get in touch with me at rvnuk@ala.org. 
Rebecca Vnuk, Editor, Reference and Collection Management, Booklist

Although the entire issue is worth your time, I did want to take a moment to point out Joyce’s Saricks’ column this month both because it is useful AND the link in the newsletter is wrong.

It’s all about my favorite genre-- psychological suspense [link goes to all RA for All posts tagged with that genre].

Psychological Suspense is a great genre to suggest at Halloween time, as Joyce describes in the column at length.

When Joyce and I taught together [beginning back in 2004], we were always advocating for people to consider psychological suspense as its own genre. For many years, it was an uphill battle.  I am so glad others have begun to enjoy it as much as we always have.

Back tomorrow with some reviews.

And don’t forget, RA for All Horror is going strong with a post a day all month.

Friday, October 9, 2015

RA for All Road Show Stops at McHenry Public Library District

Good morning McHenry Public Library District. Today we will be doing my signature RA for All training.

This is a fun, interactive, and patron centered presentation. Here is the official description:
RA for All: From Pages to Directors, this program is aimed at any staff member in the library who interacts with patrons. Being able to provide good RA service from any desk in the library will help staff communicate effectively and ensure satisfied patrons. Using her “Ten Rules of Basic RA Service" as a guide," Becky Spratford will show you how to help any patron find their next great read. It's not as hard as you think.
I use this page with my 10 Rules of Basic RA Service as a way to guide the presentation. But that is all it is, a guide because although I have been presenting RA for All-- the program-- for years, what I love about coming to your library [to any library] is that it is a different presentation each and every time. The library, its needs, and its staff is what defines what happens during our 90 minutes together.

Yes, the overall theme is the same-- teaching library staff how to suggest leisure reading to patrons with confidence-- but the experience is unique to your library.

Also, every talk I am doing now includes an exercise where staff learn how to create their own reader profile and, with the help of your library’s management team, use those profiles to start all staff off on their first RA journey-- suggesting a good book to a fellow staff member.

So today it’s McHenry Public Library District, but tomorrow it could be your library. Contact me for details, pricing, and scheduling.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Book Discussion Report: The Winter People

On Tuesday I led a book discussion for book discussion leaders at the RAILS HQ in Burr Ridge, including 2 brave souls participating via video conference.

Our book was The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon. From the publisher:
A simmering literary thriller about ghostly secrets, dark choices, and the unbreakable bond between mothers and daughters . . . sometimes too unbreakable. 
West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie. Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara's farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn.  
Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that suddenly proves perilous when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished without a trace. Searching for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea's diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother's bedroom.  
As Ruthie gets sucked deeper into the mystery of Sara's fate, she discovers that she's not the only person who's desperately looking for someone that they've lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself. 
Before I start the report on the discussion, I have a few comments.

First, this was a training for book discussion leaders so at times throughout the discussion I paused the discussion itself to make general observations about what was happening and what we could learn as leaders from it.

Second, while I tried to capture that ongoing discussion in my notes, some of it was missed. I have tried to include it here. So then this report is both a report on the discussion itself and a few of the leadership training topics and issues that were brought up. I am going to try to represent the training issues in this color so that the people who use these reports to help guide a discussion on the same book with their library can filter them out. I thought about separating the 2 different tracks, but when I did that, the context of the training tips were lost. So sorry in advance for the occasional schizophrenia of this post, but it is all worthwhile information to share.

Third, I tired to build the training portion of this talk off of the webinars I presented for RAILS last month. So as not to repeat myself both in the training yesterday and in today’s report, I ask that you refer to the video archive of my Recharge Your Book Club webinar for further training tips and tricks.

Now we can get to the discussion notes, but please note they do contain SPOILERS:
  • I started the discussion by explaining to the group why-- from our position as book group leaders-- The Winter People was chosen for today.
    • I picked this book very deliberately. First, I wanted something creepy because it was October.  But second, and more importantly, I wanted to pick a title that had genre tendencies while still having enough to discuss.
    • In this case, The Winter People hits at some of the biggest genres and genre blends right now too: literary, historical, thriller, psychological suspense, supernatural-- all rolled into one.
    • And then at the end of the discussion I had a question about picking books for a group that only likes genre reads. I referred back to these opening statements and my webinar where I talk about what makes a good book discussion book. I told the group you can find genre-ish reads that can still be discussable. Educate your group on what makes a good book discussion book and let them know that you are trying to find genre options that fit the bill.
  • Now on to the Becky Book Club traditional start. Votes on Liked, Disliked, and So-so for the book at hand:
    • 8 likes, 1 dislike, and 4 so-so
    • Although later in the discussion, one participant said, oh-no I think discussing this book has moved me from liked to so-so.  I assured her this was fantastic, if counterintuitive.  The changing of an opinion about how a specific reader feels about the book, whether that change is positive or negative, is a sign that you are having a dynamic and worthwhile discussion. It can only happen if you have delved further into the discussable parts of the book and have strayed from simply rehashing what has happened.
    • I started with the one brave disliked to start off the conversation, allowing the minority to speak:
      • As I was reading it, I enjoyed it, but I found the conclusion to be reminiscent of other creepy stories like the classic The Monkey’s Paw. It just felt a bit trite to me at the end.
      • Becky countered this by saying but maybe it is an homage to the types of stories and is playing with the familiarity of them. Just as it plays with the concept of a “strong woman” and gives us “strong women” who we are drawn to, but who make “bad" choices (more on this topic later)
      • She countered with-- I thought the women made bad choices. I was mad at them.
      • Becky pointed out here and multiple other times that when fictional characters make readers feel real emotion, the writer has done a great job, and it is a good sign that this is a good book discussion title.
    • The liked and so-sos threw out a few more initial comments:
      • I liked the setting, the creepy atmosphere, the historical setting, the flipping back and forth in time and between characters...
      • Becky stopped the group and explained how she was writing all of these “liked” areas down to go back to later and ask specific questions about. Gathering these “off the top of the head” comments at the start is a great way to know where you, the leader, should steer the conversation.
      • I liked the part of the story set in the past more than the present.
      • I liked the present more than the past 
      • This is situation a gold-mine for the discussion leader to exploit later. It will lead to a great back and forth.
      • I too was a bit disappointed in the ending. I felt bad for Ruthie. Now she is never getting out of her life in VT. I was sad that she was at peace with that fact too.
      • The first page grabbed me. What is going on here? What is this diary? Who are these people?
      • I loved how this book was anchored by strong women, but they were not your stereotypical strong women of most books. They were nurturing but not in any traditional way. They were caring for a murderous monster.
    • Since the strong women of the book were starting to dominate the opening comments, I steered the conversation by asking everyone to talk about their favorite character. This line of questioning went back and forth for a while:
      • Katherine was brought up first. Someone was drawn to her and her art. We talked about how she was interesting because she lost a child, but her immediate pain was over losing her husband.
      • Sara-- our historical character, the mother of Gertie, and the one responsible for turning her into a Sleeper-- had a few “fans” in the group.
      • Our biggest Sara fan felt she was the strongest of all the women. This person felt her loss of Gertie the most intensely.
      • But, said another, I thought Alice was stronger than Sara. She took on the "Gertie" problem without being related to the monster. I also didn't like Sara as much because once Gertie was born she shut out her husband.
      • Speaking of, what does the book say about marriage since all the husband in this book die.
      • I thought Ruthie was the strongest-- her upbringing helps her to be strong. She never even considered calling the police when Alice went missing because she was raised to be self reliant.
      • Ruthie is naive for 19 about the world, but very self reliant
  • The discussion started to move into the way the story is told:
    • 1908 was key for Sara's story.  It was the beginning of the new century when things would change for women, but yet, still limited roles.
    • The way the multiple storylines and time frames unfold is confusing at first, but it did keep the creepy mysterious vibe strong.
    • If this story was told in a straight forward fashion, it would probably have been less creepy. Definitely less mysterious.
    • The historical parts drove the narrative for me. I knew something bad was going to happen.
    • I loved Ruthie's present story the most! She was my favorite, yet I found myself reading her portions faster because the present felt safe to me. It was my modern world. The cold, old times were scary.
    • I like stories that go back and forth in time as a rule. This one was well done.
    • Diary entires specifically are used to tell the historic part of the story. I liked that it was diary entries because I felt like I was in Sara's head. There was more tension because a diary is more honest. Also I felt how much worse the loss of Gertie was than the horror of the monster she became.
    • I thought the diary was written in a little too detached of a voice.  At times I felt like the author was imposing herself on Sara.
    • At times with all the back and forth and multiple storylines, I felt like this novel was trying to cram too many stories into one book.
    • I liked this about the novel. It was like a tapestry. You think the tapestry is done, but then the artist introduced a new color and you see so much more. It was also compact and complicated just like Katherine's dioramas. 
    • Again like my note above, this book was great for starting multiple discussions where 2 people were on complete opposite sides of an issue. This was great and makes it easy for you, the leader.
  • There is a big theme of obsession here:
    • Martin is obsessed with Sara
    • Sara is obsessed with Gertie
    • Candace is obsessed with Ruthie
    • Alice is so obsessed with Gertie that she risks her children's safety. 
    • Auntie is obsessed with vengeance
    • Katherine has a ton of obsessions.
    • We talked a bit about what it means. One thing we came up with was that all of these people had huge losses in their lives, losses they never properly dealt with. Obsession is a consequence of that.
  • Auntie!
    • We talked about her a bit.
    • Self sufficient in a time when for women, that was taken as a bad thing
    • Sara's dad tried to kill her but she takes it out on kids.
    • She holds the key to the supernatural in this story.
    • I think it was interesting that she is the only character driven by vengeance and she starts the entire story rolling.
    • I wanted more Auntie, less Katherine.
    • I wanted Auntie to break the mold more. She turned into more of a stereotypical witch. I wished she could have been more.
  • The setting! This was brought up at the start, but I finally had time to bring it up again.
    • It was great. Cold, isolated, Vermont, off the grid.
    • It would be much harder to hide a monster child-zombie-vampire creature in NYC, for example.  It was hard enough in Vermont.
    • The setting is a character in this novel. 
    • The Devil's Hand as a place is a physical manifestation of Gertie and Sara's deed of awakening her.
    • The old house felt like a character to me.  It is strong and has nooks and crannies that hold its secrets.
    • I couldn't read this book in a room with a closet!
    • The setting added so much atmosphere. It acted as a shortcut for the author to create that creepy feeling faster. That was a good thing.
  • I took this question one step further and asked how the past of your place effects your present, even if it has nothing to do with you.
    • This led us to talk about places like Selma or Birmingham where even today you live with its history every day.
    • Someone brought up a great local example-- Crestwood, IL
    • This was a productive line of discussion and moved us beyond the text.
  • What is Fawn's role in the story?
    • She is 6. Gertie was 6, Katherine's son was 6 when he died.  666. YIKES!
    • Wait, Candace's son is 6 too.  Phew.
    • Oh, and Sara's brother was 6 when killed.
    • Yikes, now we were worried for Fawn.
    • Fawn is not related to Sara as Ruthie is, but she still seems to have a connection to Gertie. Why?
      • Age
      • animal connection: Gertie is a fox, Fawn is named for an animal.
  • Title time. Who are The Winter People?
    • The obvious answer is "The Sleepers are."
    • Vermonters are too
    • Those who create Sleepers and care for them are because everyone who cares for Gertie is always preparing for "winter." They can never enjoy the present.
  • There are three endings here. We talked a bit about how we felt about each
    • Ruthie is first: 
      • She is coming to terms with her place as Gertie's next caretaker.
      • How dare Alice do this to her!
      • This is so terrible. It plays off the idea that no matter what women will always be forced to be held back to care for children.
      • Ruthie was going to get out, but now stuck with Gertie.
      • She did find purpose for the first time with Gertie though.
    • Katherine is second:
      • She closes the door on her finished diorama. This could be her closure on her loss but....
      • It is hinted that she was successful in awakening the dead Gary.
      • Will they awaken Austin too?
      • Will they have 7 days of bliss and closure together? Many people said YES.
      • Becky shot them all down with her evil mind though. Seriously, I said, no one else in the book has had success bringing back a sleeper and using it for closure, why would Katherine?!?
      • Katherine is turning into Sara. She has been sucked into the Sara trap.
      • Katherine will repeat?
      • Katherine's chance at closure was when she finished the diorama. She should have left that door closed.
    • Sara is third:
      • A diary page from 1939 when Sara is still alive but living in the world of the undead, caring for Gertie.
      • Heartbreaking and sad
      • It reiterates what we saw with Katherine a page before-- the cycle will never be broken.
      • Makes us sadder for Ruthie's fate, and the fate of her children.
    • Despite the progressively sadder endings, we did not feel sad after reading this book.  Interesting.
  • The rest of the discussion was about leadership issues
  • We talked about listening to a book for a discussion.
    • Having someone who listened to it adds another avenue of questioning and discussion for the group.
    • I can't listen if leading because I need to be able to flip back and forth in the print
    • Sometimes I listen when leading because it is easier to schedule my time.  Often I am rushing through the book the day before. If I have the audio, I know exactly how much time I have left in the book and I can schedule enough time to finish it at the right pace.
  • I had a question about questions. I referred her to the webinar. But I also held up my print out of the publisher questions for this book. I had taken the main themes of some of the questions and reworded them. I also had some written in questions. Plus I had a few I crossed out as we went along.
Readalikes: The Winter People is great example of titles I call, Horror for the Squeamish. They are creepy with outright supernatural elements at times and just a hint of it for others.  Click here for an older list I made of some of these books.

Other books I have read which this book specifically reminded me of with quick “whys” and links to full reviews are:
  • Burial Rites by Hannah Kent [both are atmospheric, with a strong sense of place-- a cold place, and both deal with strong women who are forced into bad situations.]
  • The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue [creepy, non-human children, sense of place]
  • The Darkling by R.K. Chesterton [creepy, kids in peril, weird notion of nurturing]
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield [creepy family history, strong sense of place]
  • Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger [ghosts, family history, dark]
  • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey [cold, child in woods, atmospheric]
These books would all also make for a good book discussion

NoveList had some great suggestions from a different perspective:
  • The Woman in Black by Susan HillIn the best of the gothic tradition, these shivery ghost stories feature creepy locations, dark family secrets, and mysteries that are better left unsolved. Both novels are literary, with an oppressive atmosphere and a slowly building sense of dread. -- Jessica Zellers
    • Becky comment: a good readalike, but not the best choice for a book discussion
  • The Night Strangers by Chris
    Atmospheric, creepy, and compelling, these intricately plotted novels of psychological suspense focus on families coping with grief and guilt as they investigate the history of their New England homes. Both haunting tales unfold through multiple perspectives, slowly unearthing long-buried secrets. -- Gillian Speace
    • Becky comment: a great author for dynamic book discussions in general
  • A Dark Matter by Peter Straub: Dark deeds committed in the past haunt participants (and their families) in the present-day in these creepy, intricately plotted psychological suspense stories spiced with hints of the supernatural. Both describe events, including occult rites and paranormal phenomena, from multiple perspectives. -- Gillian Speace
    • Becky comment: this is a classic horror novel that is much more violent than The Winter People. Great readalike for those who wanted more chills and scares, but probably not a great general book discussion choice.
There are a few more good ones if you visit NoveList.