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

Monday, November 30, 2015

New York Times Notable Books List and How It Can Help You

I had another post planned for today, but I wanted to make sure I posted the link to the NYT Notable Books list. [That post will go up later this week.]

This is a list of 100 books. What I love about the list is its length.  Why? Well first you get some nice surprises when you have 100 books.  Yes, a few of my favorites which were on many other lists are there, but that’s not all.

For example, one book I was so glad to see on there was the graphic novel Here by Richard McGuire which I started reading last night and had to force myself to stop so I could get some reviews finished. It is wonderful, but this is the only list where I have seen it mentioned.

The length at 100 books also means that there is a good chance you have something from this list on your shelves right now to satisfy readers who want to read the “best" books. [Don’t forget to check out my post about how to make the curse of the “best” list season work in your favor.]

But finally, I love this list because it serves as one of my favorite collection development tools for the general leisure reading collection.  While I realize that not every library can order all 100 books, I always used this list to check against my collection.  Did we order these books throughout the year? Did they circulate? Is this what our patrons wanted to read? What conclusions can I draw about my population’s reading preferences and the “best” titles? What books did my patrons like more that are not on this list?

The Notable Books list is one a few “guideposts” that you can use to quickly measure the state of your collection and the state of “literature” in America today. It is long enough to cover multiple areas of interest and appeal, but short enough to be sorted through in a timely manner.

Friday, November 27, 2015

What I'm Reading: Time and Time Again, Medusa's Web, and City of Blades

Here are three books which I recently read and reviewed for Booklist.

Time and Time Again by Ben Elton

Dec. 2015. 400p. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, hardcover, $26.99(9781250077066); St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, e-book, $12.99 (9781466888906)
REVIEW.  First published December 1, 2015 (Booklist).

What if you had one chance to change one thing in history? Would you do it? What would you change? These are the central questions at the heart of Elton’s hybrid historical fiction-time travel adventure. Due to a mathematical calculation done by Sir Isaac Newton and passed down in secret for close to 300 years, not to be opened until Christmas Eve, 2024, time travel back to the early summer of 1914 is possible. Hugh Stanton, ex-military and overall adventurer, is recruited by the Chronations, a group of Trinity scholars who have confirmed Newton’s figures, to be the hero who will stop WWI from ever happening, thus saving millions of lives and more importantly, stopping the Twentieth Century from entering into a spiral of bloodshed. The set up is compelling, the historical aspects are well researched, and the time travel storyline is not well explained, but it also wraps around itself in a way sure to please even the most hardcore time travel purists. However, it is the complex, nuanced, and likable Stanton who will grab readers as they blindly follow and actively root for him with each turn of the page. He will do anything to set history right, even when he is what makes it wrong. Thought provoking and captivating, this is a novel for fans who love King’s 11/22/63, Atkinson’s Life After Life, and any of the award-winning historical fiction-time travel hybrids of Connie Willis. A must read with an awesomely unsettling ending that has very real implications to today’s readers.

Three Words That Describe This Book: genre-blend, thought provoking, captivating

 Readalikes: I am not exaggerating about this book. It really was awesome. Please, please, please, get this book in people's hands when it comes out. Fans of the very popular readalikes I listed are the first place you should start.

Another book I have read that reminded me bit of Time and Time Again is Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell.  To be fair, the Elton book is a better read for a wider audience, but there are some memorable scenes in Man in the Empty Suit involving the protagonist in a room with multiple versions of himself where he is desperately trying to fix things that popped into my head when I was reading Time and Time Again.

Medusa’s Web by Tim Powers
Jan. 2016. 368p. Morrow, hardcover, $26.99 (9780062262455); e-book, $12.99 (9780062262493)
REVIEW.  First published December 1, 2015 (Booklist).

In this interesting take on the haunted house troupe, Powers, [winner of the Philip K. Dick and World Fantasy Awards], begins with the return of the now adult Scott, and his sister Madeline, to the old mansion where they were raised by their Aunt Amity after their parents disappeared over two decades ago. Amity has just committed suicide. The home, Caveat, is creepy and isolated up in the Hollywood Hills, but when Scott and Madeline’s cousins, Ariel and Claimayne open the door to let them in, things seem even stranger than they had expected. This is a family and a home holding on to deep and dangerous secrets-- secrets that are contained in ancient symbols known as “spiders,” that when viewed, allow you to bend the space time continuum, possess another, and extend your life. When Madeline is overcome by the lingering spirit of Aunt Amity, Scott tries to save her by taking on the dangerous task of unraveling how the spiders work and navigating the very large web they have spun. But who can he trust? Set over the course of one week, this novel is an atmospheric and complex, supernatural thriller, with an old-time Hollywood frame, that steadily builds to a frenetic climax. Good for fans of Dan Simmons’ Flashback, Pessl’s Night Film, or King’s Doctor Sleep.

Three Words That Describe This Book: atmospheric, old Hollywood, complex

Readalikes: This is a great horror/thriller blend with pretty much equal parts of both. The creepy old Hollywood frame combined with the psychological horror of the spiders add enough chills while the hero/villain cat-and-mouse games keep the story moving. The three books I mention above capture the overall appeal of this novel best, but here are a few more options based on specific appeals:

  • The Darkling by R. B. Chesterton really captures the old house, old time Hollywood, and psychological aspects here.
  • Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger and Slade House by David Mitchell also contain a creepy "soul sucking" angle.

All links go to my reviews of each title for more details.

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

Jan. 2016. 496p. Broadway, paperback, $15 (9780553419719)
REVIEW.  First published December 1, 2015 (Booklist).

In a novel that is both a stand alone and a sequel, Bennett returns to the same post-apocalyptic fantasy world he created to much critical and reader acclaim in City of Stairs, but this time, we enter different ruined city where their ruling god is dead, and lawlessness abounds. General Mulaghesh had retired from military service when she is forced back into the fray in the city of Voortyashtan, so named for the defeated god of the dead, Voortya, who had promised her army of supporters a glorious afterlife before they were all destroyed. While Mulaghesh’s cover story is to assist the military commander, her real assignment is to investigate the disappearance of another officer who had uncovered a dangerous secret about Voortya and her defeated army. With appearances by characters from the first book, but a storyline that is independent, fans new and old will find much to enjoy here. Like the very best speculative fiction, City of Blades, immerses readers in a made-up world only to make us take a harder look at the real one in which we are currently living. Give this to fans of other strong world-building, high fantasy series with political/military intrigue like those by Brian Staveley, Kameron Hurley, or even George R.R. Martin.

Three Words That Describe This Book: strong world building, intrigue, epic scope

Readalikes: I am not as much of an expert in this are of epic urban fantasy, but I listed 2 other popular and similar authors above.  I also included Martin because this Bennett series shares much with Martin's wildly popular series.  While the settings [rural/historical vs urban] are miles apart, the political intrigue and military elements are strong in both.  I know many fans of the Martin series who  normally don't read epic fantasy but really enjoy him for those reasons.

There is much here for Gaiman fans too-- especially those who like American Gods, Neverwhere, or Anansi Boys.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tell Booklist About Your Book Club

Over on the Booklist Reader they want to know about your book club, and since I know many of us are in book clubs I wanted to pass on this opportunity here on the blog.

Here is the deal, if you click here or scroll to the details below you will see they are trying to compile information about all of the different types of book clubs there are out there.  While they will be publishing the information about specific book clubs, they are also trying to craft an overall picture of what the book club landscape is like these days.

I think Thanksgiving Eve is the perfect time to post this and encourage you all to participate by sharing the details of your groups because I know that book clubs are one of the things I am most thankful for in my professional life. Being in a book club and working with other book club leaders is one of the most rewarding things I get to do. It is the one place where everything I love about working with leisure readers all comes together. I am sure I am not alone in feeling this way.

Please consider participating. You can brag about your awesome group, but more importantly, you can help to add to the data set so that all of us can learn from each other.

Thanks and have a wonderful Thanksgiving. RA for All will be back on Friday with three new reviews, including a forthcoming title I LOVED that I think will be a huge library hit come January.

Whether your book group meets in a library, a living room, or a bibliophiles’ secret lair, we want to read all about it. To be considered for a featured profile on The Booklist Reader, just answer the questions below and send them, along with your answers and a picture of your book group, to Keir Graff (kgraff@ala.org).
Book Group Hands
Book Group Q&A
Tell us a little about your book group in 200 words or less. How and when did it start? What is the tone or vibe of the group? Is there a theme? What makes your group different from others?

When, where, and how often do you meet?

How does your group make its reading selections? Include any resources you use, such as websites or periodicals.

Which book did your group collectively like the most this past year?

Which is the most divisive book your group has read, and why?

How do your group discussions work? Is there one leader or do you have another way of discussing?

What is your group most looking forward to reading this next year?

What is the best piece of advice you’d give a group that is just getting started?

Are you looking for new members? If so, leave your contact info for those interested.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Look Back at 2015 in NoveList-- An Why It Will Help You Serve Patrons Better Whether or Not You Subscribe

NoveList sent out their year end report to anyone who subscribes to their NoveList News Newsletter. I was very excited to see this snap shot of what people searched in the database over the course of a year for a few reasons, which I will get to in a second, but first, I had a nice surprise.

As you will see if you click here or read the entire post below, my "It's All About That Frame" article was #3 on the list of the TOP 10 Newsletter Articles or Blog Posts.  I really enjoyed writing that one and sharing this important appeal issue with everyone, so thank you all for reading it. [I also liked giving it the super cheesy title; well I might have liked that part a little too much. Thank goodness my wonderful editor Krista liked it too.]

Now enough about me. Here is why every single library worker who helps leisure reader of any age need to read this look back at 2015-- even more than you need to read any best list [although earlier this month I did have this post on how to properly use the onslaught of best lists to help you to help patrons and look smart]. One of the biggest problems libraries bring to me is that they are having trouble getting their leisure reading patrons to start talking to them about what they want or like.  A lot of my training is about how to begin engaging the public in a conversation about reading.

This is hard because many patrons don't realize that we are there to help them find a good read-- an issue I bring up on this blog frequently. As a result, it can be a slow go for many libraries. The staff are actively trying to build their skills but they are not sure exactly where to begin using these enhanced skills on patrons. They need to know what their patrons like and are looking for in order to help them to identify places to insert themselves into the conversation. But if the patrons won't talk to them about their leisure reading preferences, how can they start.  Arrrggh. It can be a vicious circle of failure.

Never fear though, this article will stop the negative cycle.

Well, here is a snap shot of the national picture of what people are searching right here!  What NoveList has compiled is the titles, appeal terms, list, and more that were the most searched on their database in 2015.  It doesn't matter if librarians or patrons were the ones doing the searching because these items were searched for a reason.  Somewhere a patron spurred the search.

So look at this lists below as the issues, appeal terms, titles, etc... that were the most important to readers in 2015.  Now even if you tried and tried and still could not get RA conversations going with your patrons at your libraries, you still have data and patron driven info to help you plan for 2016. In fact, now you have more ammo on what to begin the conversation with. Try out one of the most popular titles or appeals as you engage a reader in a conversation about books. You will surprise him or her with how well you "know them."

Again, you do not need a subscription to NoveList to see what the American reader is most interested in. Now it is your job [with my help] to see where you can enter the equation and be a RA superstar.


All Wrapped Up: A Look Back at 2015

Post by Cassi Hall
Posted November 19, 2015 in NextReadsNoveList Plus
NoveList SpotLight Image
As we approach the end of this year and start heading into the next, it’s good to pause and reflect on all the great things about the year we’re leaving behind. So without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the most popular lists, articles, appeal terms, and more in NoveList and LibraryAware from 2015. 

Top 10 Most Searched Titles in NoveList

YA books aren’t just for teens -- readers of all ages love these titles! These were the 10 most often accessed titles in NoveList:
  1. The Hunger Games
  2. The Maze Runner
  3. The Fault in Our Stars
  4. Teeny Little Grief Machines
  5. The Last Leaves Falling
  6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid
  7. Wonder
  8. Go Set a Watchman
  9. Divergent
  10. Finding Ruby Starling

Top 10 Recommended Reads Lists for Adults

You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to see that NoveList users love their mysteries! These lists received the most clicks:
  1. Best Of Fiction A-Z 2014
  2. Best Historical Fiction of 2014
  3. Best Mysteries of 2014
  4. Getting Cozy
  5. Classic Mysteries
  6. Best Thrillers & Suspense of 2014
  7. Police Procedurals
  8. Best Fantasy of 2014
  9. Classic Historical Fiction
  10. By the Book

Top 5 Recommended Reads Lists for Teens

Dystopian fiction is still on top for teen readers. Here are the lists with the most clicks:
  1. Best Of Teen Fiction 2014
  2. 2015 Mid-Year Teen Faves
  3. Contemporary Teen Romance
  4. Dystopias
  5. If You Like…The Hunger Games

Top 5 Recommended Reads Lists for Older Kids

Older kids were looking for laughs in 2015. These are the most frequently used lists:
  1. Best Of Older Kids Fiction 2014
  2. 2015 Mid-Year Older Kids Faves
  3. If You Like…Diary of a Wimpy Kid
  4. If You Like…Harry Potter
  5. Laugh Out Loud

Top 10 Character Appeal Terms

From flawed to sympathetic, NoveList users loved searching for a wide range of characters to read about! Here are the character appeals with the most titles attached to them. Want to know more about appeals?
  1. Flawed
  2. Complex
  3. Likeable
  4. Well-developed
  5. Authentic
  6. Quirky
  7. Strong female
  8. Sympathetic
  9. Introspective
  10. Spirited

Top 10 Newsletter Articles & Blog Posts

2015 was the year of Nonfiction and Storytime for our newsletter subscribers. These were the most clicked on articles. Sign up now if you don’t already receive our newsletter.
  1. Nonfiction Read-alikes for Fiction Bestsellers
  2. Help Patrons Find the Book They Never Knew They Were Looking For
  3. It’s All About That Frame
  4. Venturing into New Territories: High Interest Adult Nonfiction for YA Readers
  5. Reading Science Fiction for Pleasure
  6. How to Choose Great Storytime Books
  7. Storytime Toolbox
  8. Funny Women: Getting a Laugh in a Man’s World
  9. Give Them Goosebumps (Or Something Like It)
  10. Romance for Non-Romance Readers

Top 5 Favorite LibraryAware Designs

We loved these designs LibraryAware users made this year!
  1. Book Face
  2. Read a Graphic Novel
  3. Family Storytime
  4. Anti-Dystopian YA
  5. Libraries & Librarians in Fiction

Top 5 NextReads Newsletters

These are the NextReads newsletters with the most overall subscribers.
  1. Fiction A-Z                          
  2. Mystery                                              
  3. Thrillers and Suspense  
  4. NY Times Fiction                              
  5. Historical Fiction
What were some of your favorite things from NoveList this year? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Are You Coming to ARRTapalooza? I’ll be there with RA for All Swag!

On December 9th from 9:30 to 4:30 ARRT is hosting a fantastic 1 day RA training program at the 95th Street Branch of the Naperville Public Library.

This program is an amazing deal-- only $50 for members and $60 for non-members. We have nationally recognized RA experts, lunches included in your price, and everyone gets a copy our much anticipated YA Popular Fiction list. [It will also become available on NoveList after January 1.]

And we recently added Library Journal Mover & Shaker and the Director of Hillsboro Library in Oregon-- Stephanie Chase!!!! 

Yes, we are flying people in for this. I told you it was going to be good.

What I also love about this program is that when you go to our Eventbrite sign up page, you get to pick your top 5 break out session choices. Yes, we have made this a customizable experience. We have classes for everyone from the RA newbie to experts. You will be assigned 3 of your top 5 choices.

It is also a great networking opportunity as many of the top RA librarians in IL will be there, whether they are presenting or not. Everyone will have name tags, so feel free to go up to anyone. We are all there to improve our RA skills and talk books! Oh, I am getting so excited just thinking about it.

We have multiple payment options from credit card to mailing a check to even paying at the door. Head on over and sign up before the spots fill up-- and they will.

It is a great way to end the year and get you revved up for a great 2016 of service to leisure readers!

I am excited to be there as an attendee. And, I can’t wait to meet all of you. So seek me out and let’s chat. I will have RA for ALL swag to give away to everyone who I talk to.

This is also a great time to talk to me about coming to your library in 2016. My schedule is starting to fill up, but local appearances can be easily fit in. We can even talk about ways I can provide RA training to your staff without you having to close the library. It can be done!

And, If you book me to come to your library, you get an RA for All tote bag. You will see a few attendees at ARRTapalooza who have gotten their own bag because they have booked me already. Truth in advertising.

What are you waiting for? Sign up now. More details and links below.

Winter Program: ARRTapalooza! 

Join the Adult Reading Round Table for a single day conference covering hot topics from New Adult to niche book discussions, featuring breakout sessions for new or experienced teen and adult readers advisors. 

Speakers include:
  • 2015 ILA YA Librarian of the Year Heather Booth
  • ILA Library Luminary Joyce Saricks
  • Booklist Collection Development Editor Rebecca Vnuk 
  • 2012 Library Journal Mover & Shaker Leah White
  • and many more!

All attendees will receive the updated Young Adult Popular Fiction List.

Registration includes lunch.

Have questions about ARRTapalooza? Contact Adult Reading Round Table

Friday, November 20, 2015

Becky's Under the Radar Holiday Book Suggestions-- Fiction

This will come as no surprise to many of you, but I am often asked for advice on what books someone should buy for another someone.  This kind of third hand RA work is never easy, but I feel even more pressure to do it well because if I screw up on a suggestion with a library book, well, it was free. You simply close it, return it and get another one.  But when someone is asking me for help to spend their money to buy a gift for someone they care about....well, that is money and my reputation on the line.

Seriously though, helping someone find a good book for themselves is hard enough, but when I am helping you find for someone who is not in the room who you may or may not know the intricacies of their reading tastes....this can be difficult. But hey, I love a challenge.

When I do take up these holiday gift suggestion challenges, I always try to find some sure bet, back list stunners. Books that I have suggested to a wide readership with great success for years. I do this for a few reasons. One, they have stood the test of time. Two, they are titles that have stayed with me in surprising ways, and when you give a novel to someone as a gift, you want it to be memorable to them. And three, older book suggestions make the gift giver look like they tried. You didn't just go to the book store, or the front page of Amazon. No you sought out advice on the perfect book for that person-- which you actually did do if you asked me for help. You can tell someone you worked hard on their gift all you want, but if you show up with a copy of Girl on the Train or Between the World and Me, they won't believe you-- even if that is the perfect book for that person.

So because people have begun asking me for these gift suggestions, and because I cannot possibly help everyone who wants my help, I am going to share my favs with links to the reviews. And please note, those reviews also have readalikes which means that this list can lead you to hundreds more off the beaten path suggestions.  Good luck.

If I have time [and remember] I will try to do a narrative nonfiction version of this post too.  No promises though.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

What I'm Reading: 2015 National Book Award Winner-- Fortune Smiles

As I was watching the live stream of the National Book Awards last night, I was hoping for one of the two books I had read to win, fully prepared to post a review of that book today.

And....Fortune Smiles, the new short story collection by Adam Johnson won! I think everyone thought it was a 2 horse race between Fates and Furies (the other book I read and will have a review of very soon) and A Little Life.  I am wondering if those two books ended up splitting the vote leading to Johnson's win.

But I would also not be surprised if that theory is completely wrong because I was completely enchanted and amazed by Fortune Smiles when I read it last month. This is one of the best story collection I have ever read because of its technical genius and the fact that each story, while emotionally difficult, was an "entertaining" read. Each captivated me into its world while I was reading it. None are connected at all either, in fact they are all very different, which makes it even more amazing how well each grabbed ahold of me on its own merit-- and so quickly.

I am getting ahead of myself though. Let's step back a tiny bit with some basic details. There are 6 stories here. Since the book is over 300 pages, that makes each hefty enough to read like a mini novella more than a short story.

You can click here for summaries of each story and some background information in Ron Charles' Washington Post review. I am going to write about three in more details for particular appeal reasons, as well as offer general appeal statements about the entire collection to help you to book talk it to the numerous interested patrons who will be coming in to ask for it today.

Let me go to the last, and title story first. "Fortune Smiles," is set in South Korea and follows 3 North Korean defectors. This story shares a lot in common with Johnson's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Orphan Master's Son (which I LOVED when I listened to it). I think it was a great idea to put this story last. As a reader who knew nothing about Johnson besides his N. Korean set novel, I loved that I had 5 stories to appreciate how amazing a writer he truly is before I was taken back to the familiar themes and settings of his novel. I don't know who was responsible for this restraint [was it Johnson, or his editor, or the publisher (probably not the publisher)?], but it would have been very easy to put the title story first. It was daring to save it for the end from a marketing standpoint.  Whoever made this choice, I thank them. I appreciated the other stories and his technical skills much more for this reason.

The overall appeal of Johnson as a writer goes way beyond the North Korea frame. All of these stories were surprisingly powerful and brutally honest. They were tragic but not depressing.  The people all have extraordinary experiences yet the way Johnson writes, the characters still feel relatable and ordinary. These are stories that "stick to" you more than they "stick with" you. You cannot escape the characters, the ideas, the events. You will turn them over in your head for days after finishing the stories. You will want a hologram of an assassinated President to help you sort through the ideas and feelings these stories bring up (see the story in this collection "Nirvana" to get the reference.)

Here are two more examples from my two favorite stories.

"Interesting Facts;" blew me away. Johnson writes a VERY personal story of a woman, married to a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist who wrote a book about North Korea, who is dying of breast cancer.  It is from her perspective as she slips away. It is full of love for her family but also anger, frustration, and confusion.  How brave of him to write a story from his own wife's perspective (she is a cancer survivor), yes, but this story was also honest and believable. I am a wife and mother and if I didn't know a man wrote this, I would have sworn it was a woman writer. I have told many people to read this story. Anyone who is in a loving relationship will find much of themselves in this tender yet brutally honest story. But, beware, if you are not self aware, this story and its honesty may bother you.

My absolute favorite story was "George Orwell Was A Friend of Mine." This story is narrated by an unapologetic, retired East German prison warden at a notoriously awful prison. He still lives nearby and walks his dog on the prison grounds every day. It is current day and the prison has become a memorial to its victims. The guard is estranged from his wife and daughter. He talks to visitors who come to the museum now, trying to explain why the prison was fine and did not do anything that didn't need to be done.  It is heart breaking how he lives in denial. We know he is wrong, yet Johnson subtly fills the character with so much humanity that we do not hate him. We should, but we do not.  If that wasn't enough the second half of the story takes off in a surprising and emotional direction. You will not be able to turn away. Johnson will challenge you to, but you won't be able to do it. Talk about a jumble of confused emotions.

Please read this collection whether you liked The Orphan Master's Son or not.  That book was definitely hard to follow for many (worth it for me, but not everyone I suggested it to). Fortune Smiles has everything that made his novel great, but in smaller packages.

I am so happy that many more will read it now that it has won The National Book Award.

Three Words That Describe This Book: thought provoking, engaging narration, brutally honest

Readalikes: You will need suggestion today for Fortune Smiles because someone has already come and checked it out this morning, and more people are coming through the door to ask for it.

The first place to go here is to suggest story collections that are BOTH thought provoking AND entertaining. All of these will be owned by most libraries:

Tenth of December by George Saunders
Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
Thunderstruck and Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

But what about some novels? Here are some shorter novels (under 300 pages) that are also powerful, thought provoking, engaging, and brutally honest. Links are to my reviews where possible:

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Anything by Marilynne Robinson [I read Housekeeping, pre blog]
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Let me know if you run out of titles and need more suggestions.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What I’m Reading: The Gilded Age in Fiction-- Same Frame, Two Different Reading Experiences

This Fall I read two new books with the exact same setting-- The Gilded Age in New York City [1870-1900]. However, beyond the shared frame, these books have very little else in common in terms of traditional appeal factors.

I am grouping them together here because for some people, frame is very important. They will read anything with a specific frame.  So as not to repeat myself, I have a much longer piece on that issue here. For those people, I am making sure to put the frame in my "three words" for both books.

Now for others, frame is the not an important issue.  Instead pacing or storyline or character etc... is what makes a great read for them.  However, we may be tempted to match books when their frame is as similar as these two’s happen to be. You see “Gilded Age” listed for both and you might be tempted to think the books are readalikes for one and other, yet that may not be the case at all.

In fact, if you search either of these books on NoveList, the other appears in the readalike bar on the right.  Interestingly, they are computer, not people, created matches based on the shared genre, time period, and place. I do not disagree with this, as I said above, these three frames may be all someone needs to enjoy both books, but this reinforces what I am trying to do here-- suss out the nuances that matter. Because while I liked both, I clearly enjoyed one more than the other AND I have not suggested both to the same reader yet.

To that end these reviews are meant to illustrate the give and take inherent in this issue.  Both are very well executed novels that will appeal to a wide range of readers, but at their core’s these novels have a very different feel.

First up, the historical thriller, House of Thieves by Charles Belfoure.

At it’s essence this is the story of how a good, solid man turns to a life of crime, while still staying likable and good in our eyes.

Here is a tiny bit of set up.  It’s 1886 and the rich are VERY rich and the poor, very poor. NYC is run by respected crime bosses. They are criminals yes, but they also among the city's largest arts and political donors. They truly run the city. Our villain is Kent, a crime boss and his crew. Our “hero,” John Cross, is an architect for the very rich. But his son has a gambling problem. To resolve the large debt, Kent wants Cross to use his connections and knowledge to help him rob the homes of NYC’s richest residents.

But why you will like this book is how Belfoure writes it. What is so great here is how he managed to write a novel convincingly and accurately set in its historical time, while telling the story in a way today’s audiences like. He nailed both the historical and the thriller aspects.

For historical fiction fans, the novel has all the details of the time and place. It has a lot of information about being an architect to the rich at this time. And it has amazing descriptions of some spectacular homes. The streets, people, and places come alive.

And while I love historical details, sometimes, historical thrillers move to slow for me. I don’t know why I don’t mind it with regular historicals and do with thrillers, but I do and from our discussions in the crime fiction genre study and from my work with readers, I know I am not alone there [*cough cough* The Alienist]. But Belfoure has managed to use modern techniques like short chapters, fluid point of view shifts, and powerful action scenes to ratchet up the suspense and pacing.

Here are two examples that occur in the first 30 pages to illustrate what I am talking about.

First, the novel opens with an awesome bank robbery and explosion scene that then moves to the perspective of the crime bosses who are watching the scene unfold. The details set the historic tone, but the scene served the same purpose that today’s prologues in suspense novels do. We were thrown right into the middle of the story and are excited to keep reading to see what is going on and how our story will fit into this world.

And second [one of my favorite moments in the beginning of a book in a long time], at around page 30, we see the beginning of the day in a rich home. One of the things the wealthy of this time had were ice boxes. They were built into the side of the house with a door that opened to the outside so literal huge blocks of ice could be delivered to keep things in the ice box cold.  Well, what if you opened your ice box to find...A FROZEN SEVERED HEAD! That was pretty great.  Let’s you know this is not your typical historical thriller.

This novel is under 400 pages and has a moderate cast of characters who all get frequent turns to narrate with fluid and fast paced shifts in the point of view [the entire Cross clan, even the little 10 year old brother has a chance to narrate-- and that was good], yet it is moments like the two above throughout the story that keep the pacing high.

There is also social commentary and flashy fun here [a climax is at the top of the under construction Statue of Liberty!]. But what I loved the most was the ending. The decision Cross and his wife make about how they will live the rest of their lives after the ordeal under Kent’s thumb is over is what takes this book from good to awesome.

Three Words That Describe This Book: flashy fun, suspenseful, Gilded Age

Readalikes: I thought about Pete Hamil and his novel North River while reading this.  You can go to my review of North River, which also has readalikes [fiction and nonfiction]. The time period is different though (1934).

I also think the historical thrillers of Matthew Pearl are a good option here.  Both authors write compelling, historical thrillers with a solid amount of detail.  With Pearl the professional setting is usually book based. I have read a few of them.

But the nuanced characters and their surprising decisions reminded me more of the suspense novels of today.  Belfoure has much in common [protagonist wise] with Gillian Flynn or Tana French. I think House of Thieves is a great option for fans of those popular, literary, psychological suspense writer who want a bit more action and don’t mind the historical setting.

Next up is the medical framed, women’s lives, historical by Sara Donati, The Gilded Hour.

Here the date is 1883 and again we are in NYC. The story is about the forgotten people of this time.  It is about racial injustice, the suppression of women, medical advancements, and fertility issues.

Our main characters are two women, cousins, one who is half black, who are trying to provide birth control to women and how they were prosecuted by a real life Postal Inspector (who had a ton of political and legal power) and his crusade to suppress vice [The Comstock Act].

Okay first big difference here, the pacing. This is a 700 page, traditional historical. It moves at a much more methodical pace but one that is appropriate to the type of book; it is a pace that fans of a thick historical will expect and enjoy.

You know it will be a complex, historical because the families and major characters are listed in the front two pages and those who are real are noted. The novel also incorporates newspaper articles, telegraphs, and letters as a narrative device to keep up an authentic tone, as opposed to House of Thieves above, where things get a bit outrageous [but super fun] at times.  Again, same setting but two different readers.

This is a great read for people interested in the history of medicine, women's history [especially women in medicine], women's lives, and/or a history of women's health issues. There is a strong romance element here too.

There is suspense with the postal inspector trying to catch our heroes. There are many people [of all sexes and races] who help them along the way.  Things get tense and threatening but the overall story is not about the crime angle, it is more the issues I listed in the previous paragraph.

Three Words That Describe This Books: history of medicine, character centered, Gilded Age

Readalikes: The most obvious readalike is a TV series-- The Knick-- which I have written about at length with readalikes here.

Donati also mentioned the wonderful Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard which I read here, for people who want more history of medicine detail from this era. I agree.

Another author who is similar to Donati is Jennifer Donnelly. Both write historicals featuring women and their lives with strong romance elemnts.  Interestingly, Donnelly has a very similar historical novel about social conscious female doctors, The Winter Rose.

Finally, a book I read which had a very similar feel, although is set in Brooklyn in 1700s and follows a woman who runs a gin still is Brookland by Emily Barton.  I highly suggest this for fans of a book like The Gilded Hour. You can click on the title for my full review.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What I'm Reading: Builders and Made To Kill

Here are two books I recently read and reviewed for Booklist. As usual, I have included my draft review and have incorporated my "three words" and extra readalikes.

The Builders by Daniel Polansky

Nov. 2015. 221p. Tor, paperback, $12.99 (9780765385307); Tor, e-book, $2.99 (9780765384003)
REVIEW.  First published November 15, 2015 (Booklist)

Revenge is a powerful emotion, and if you are already a stone-cold killer, revenge can be a dangerous weapon as well. In this briskly paced, dark fantasy epic, the Captain, a mouse, is a brilliant and talented outlaw who was previously bested but is now determined to avenge his loss. He rounds up his old team of small animals (e.g. mole, badger, owl, salamander) to reignite the war between the brother Lords and reinstate “the Elder” to the throne. The characters are animals yes, but they are not the least bit cuddly. All are well trained assassins with a special talent, all are very good at  job, all want their Lord to stay in power, and each spills plenty of blood along the way. This is Redwall all grown up with a Western sensibility.  Expect excellent world-building, a huge cast of interesting characters, and a suspenseful, well executed storytelling style that keeps the reader guessing until the final page. Despite the high body count, there is also a satisfying amount of smart, dark humor here. A great option for fans of the off-kilter, The Sisters Brothers or the novels of the late Elmore Leonard.

Three Words That Describe This Book: revenge, unique characters, not what you think

Readalikes: This books surprised me-- in a good way.  A fantasy with animals that is really a spaghetti western.  There were parts of this book that reminded me of a Tarantino movie.  I didn’t this in my official review, but I still can’t shake the similarity especially to Kill Bill or Reservoir Dogs.

Another readalike I couldn’t fit in the review is to True Grit by Charles Portis. Again, I think it’s the “not what you think” quality of both stories that is a match as well as the shared western sensibility. 

Made to Kill by Adam Christopher

Nov. 2015. 256p. Tor, hardcover, $24.99(9780765379184); e-book(9781466867154)
REVIEW.  First published November 15, 2015 (Booklist).

The genre blending trend takes an enjoyable turn in Christopher’s science fiction--hardboiled PI hybrid where he imagines writing “Raymond Chandler’s long-lost science fiction epic.” The year, 1965. The place, Hollywood. In this alternate history, the world is doubly captivated by the Cuban Missile Crisis [JFK is still alive] and a big Hollywood premier. Enter our hero, Ray, a robot PI. Ray is the last robot left in a world that used to be dominated by them. He has recently been reprogrammed by his supercomputer boss, Ada, to be an undercover contract killer, but with only a 24 hour memory tape, Ray is not sure how or why this happened. When a sultry starlet comes into Ray’s office with an order to kill her leading man and a bag full of gold bars to cover the payment, Ray is put in the middle of an evil conspiracy with roots much deeper than the movie industry. The action, plot, dialog, and characters are straight out of Chandler, while the science fiction elements are reminiscent of the very best of that genre from 1940s and 50s [think Dick and Heinlein]. A fun, fast read for anyone willing to take the speculative leap, and with two titles in the series already planned, a must add for most collections.

Three Words That Describe This Book: genre blend, alternative history, fun

Readalikes: I purposely chose the word “fun” in the final sentence of the review because this book was fun. It was a wink-wink story for those in the know when it comes to old school PI noir and classic robot SF, but it was also well done. This is more than an homage or a parody-- it is a good work standing on its own. I also love how it does what the very best SF is supposed to do-- use a world that is not to comment on our own world.

Another book that does all of this excellently is Redshirts by John Scalzi. In this case, it is an homage to/parody of Star Trek, but again, it becomes much much more.

I also felt that Made to Kill’s ability to pay homage to a well trod genre while still being a good work in and of itself reminded me of the zombie-thriller genre blend, Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant. Christopher’s novel is the first in planned trilogy itself.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Tomorrow: New CODES Readers' Advisory Convo Coming (November 17-18)

In case you are not signed up, I will be participating...well at least lurking and reading, but this is worth all of the emails you will receive.  This is free way to participate in a Nationwide conversation on RA issues at your own pace.

I NEVER have time to reply when the conversation is going on, but I always make time to read all of the emails.  I have learned a lot by participating in these email conversations. And seriously people, if I get a lot out of it, and you turn to me as someone to help you be better at providing RA Service, I am sure you will get something out of them too.

Please see the official notice from CODES below:

My name is Cindy Orr, and I am this year’s chair of ALA’s RUSA Readers’ Advisory Research and Trends Committee. The other committee members are:
Kristi Chadwick – Massachusetts Library System
Bill Kelly – Cuyahoga County Public Library
Dodie Ownes – Mediasource, Inc.
Michael Santangelo – BookOps
Steve Sposato – Chicago Public Library
Barry Trott – Williamsburg Regional Library
David Wright – Seattle Public Library

Our committee will sponsor another CODES email conversation on:
Tuesday November 17 and Wednesday November 18, 9am-9pm EDT 

The topic this time is Watch, Listen, Read: Whole Collection Advisory.

Expect a high volume of messages throughout the day. If you’re worried about email volume you can set up a folder and filter the conversation to that folder to keep from cluttering up your regular inbox. In the alternative, you could set up a free email account and then re-subscribe to the conversation using that account. To subscribe or unsubscribe, go here: http:///lists.ala.org/sympa/info/codes-convos

Friday, November 13, 2015

RA for All Road Show Stops at Algonquin Area Public Library District

Good morning Algonquin Area 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 Algonquin Area Public Library District, but tomorrow it could be your library. Contact me for details, pricing, and scheduling.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Book Genie from Downers Grove Pubic Library-- Winner of the ARRT First Annual ILA RA Award

Back in May, I asked people to nominate libraries or specific librarians who were providing particularly excellent RA Service in Illinois for the First Annual ARRT Sponsored ILA RA Service Award.  Details here.

Well, late last month, I was there to help support ARRT and our winner-- The Downers Grove Public Library and their fantastic Book Genie-- at The Library State of Mind conference

What is Book Genie and why did it win? That is the subject of today's post. With the help of the DGPL staff, I am presenting this post both to show off this award winning service AND to give you a glimpse behind the scenes of how they did it.

Before I hand it over to DGPL, I wanted to thank them for not only agreeing to share the "What" answers behind Book Genie, but also, the "How." They are showing a true commitment to improving service to all leisure readers by being willing to share how they built the site, how they update it, and how they market it.


What is Book Genie?:
  • An interactive readers’ advisory quiz for kids, teens, and adults.
  • Original RA quiz was long, not used much, and users had to wait for suggestions.
  • Modeled after online quizzes where you pick an image you like and receive immediate results.
  • Visitors also have the option to take a personalized RA quiz afterwards for additional suggestions.

The staff found that Book Genie offered mutually-beneficial fulfillment-- Patrons receive immediate book suggestions while DGPL enhanced our reading-focused strategic plan to “maintain a focus on books and reading and associated services.”

How Did You Build It?:
  • www.dglibrary.org/genie is on the website and was built using a custom Drupal 7 module.
  • Built on a Drupal taxonomy where genres/titles are organized in a hierarchical tree structure controlled by staff.
  • The templates render each taxonomy term to display the associated cover image and title. The top-level genres are displayed on the opening page, and each links to a page with its child terms (sub-genres). This pattern repeats until there are no more children, in which case the webform displays.
How Do You Promote It?:
  • Initial publicity was joint with new website launch
  • Later did month-long pushes
  • Standees, giveaway items, internal displays, and social media
  • Schools, teacher trainings, farmers market
How Is It Updated?:
  • Done quarterly
  • Librarians spend ~2 weeks selecting titles.
    • Adult/teens: done in teams
    • Kids: done annually all at once, then added to website as appropriate
  • PR & IT staff spend an additional ~2 weeks updating the website.
  • Seasonal categories: Movie Genie, Holiday Genie, Super Genie for SRC
How Do You Evaluate Its Success?:
  • Google Analytics used to review category popularity.
    • Most popular: Historical fiction, book club favorites, biographies, librarian picks, teen nonfiction, teen dystopian, kids fantasy
    • Least popular: Fashionista, Horror, Man Cave
  • Adjusted quiz structure  (number of results, number of clicks, etc.)
  • Included readalike categories (If you liked NPR’s Serial…
Here's an example of a media release they send out when the content is changed out, as it is every few months:

DGPL Announces: Book Genie Grants Your Reading Wishes, All Summer Long

Our “what you should read next” Book Genie quiz got a makeover, complete with updated book titles in tons of categories - even a Summer Reading Club League of SuperReaders section. Select genres that interest you and receive recommendations for kids, teens, and adults the whole way through!

If you want even more suggestions, let us know at askus@dglibrary.org. We love doing more in-depth readers advisory meetings, too.

Users describe Book Genie as "a fun way to discover new books to read. Clever!" So try it out at www.dglibrary.org/genie. Just like that, your reading wishes are granted!

If you would like more information about Book Genie, please contact:
Melissa DoornbosPublic Relations ManagerDowners Grover Public Librarymdoornbos [at] dglibrary [dot] org
Finally, it is not too early to start thinking about who deserves out award next year.

A pdf version of the DGPL's
ILA poster session visual