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Monday, July 31, 2017

RA for All Vacation Edition: Day 8- Backlist Gems from the Archives

And finally, as my vacation comes to a close, the 10th anniversary of RA for All is also on the horizon-- actually, it's 1 week from yesterday.

More on that next week, but to end this vacation week of backlist reading suggestions, I thought it would be fitting the post my very first "What I'm Reading" report. Back then I only did 1 a month.

Back tomorrow with new content. Thanks for reading even while I was away. I hope one of these backlist options helped you to help a reader, or at the very least, inspired you to look to the backlist for a great suggestion.


What I'm Reading August 2007

During the last week of each month I will give a run down of some of the books I read that month. I will try to include at least 3 titles, a brief annotation, and one readalike. So here's the first month's run down.

Kristin Gore, daughter of former Vice-President Al Gore, published her second novel in July, Sammy's HouseIn this sequel to Sammy's Hill, Samantha James is now the health care policy adviser to the Vice President of the United States. She is also involved in her first serious relationship and trying to navigate her career and a long distance boyfriend. The insider information that only those who have worked in the White House could provide adds a unique angle to the story. WhileSammy's Hill was pure Chick Lit, Sammy' House is moving into Women's Lives and Relationships territory. Anyone who enjoys Marian Keyes' novels of women dealing with life, love, and career will enjoy this book. Also any fans of politics and how the American government works (who also don't mind the relationship issues) should give this one a try.

I also finished listening to Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land this month. At 20+ discs, it took awhile. This is the third in Ford's Frank Bascombe trilogy, the second of which won the Pulitzer Prize. This was a satisfying read and as usual, Ford captured the NJ setting perfectly. As a "Jersey Girl" I appreciate this very much. Each of the three books revolves around a holiday, and they always involve some kind of catastrophe, that gets satisfactorily resolved. Here it is Thanksgiving, 2000 and the election is still up in the air, although Frank has conceded that his guy (Gore) is done. Frank himself is undergoing treatment for Prostate Cancer, having problems with his second wife, and as usual, is perplexed by his son. This is a long book, and Ford takes his time with the story. His writing is exquisite and I loved every detail. Bascombe is an everyman and the reader roots for him, even as we cringe watching him make poor decisions. Bascombe is very similar to the middle aged men in Richard Russo's books. If you liked Empire Falls or Straight Man, the Bascombe Trilogy is for you.

Another book I listened to this month is Ian McEwan's new novella On Chesil Beach. Check the Amazon link for a basic summary. I do not want to give too much away about the plot since it is so short, but this is classic McEwan. Here we have the familial dysfunctionclaustrophobic setting, and sexual problems found in most McEwanbooks. I might even start suggesting this book to those who have never read McEwan as the new first place to start since this novella provides everything a McEwan novel is, only in a smaller package. Note to new readers of McEwan, his endings in general are resolved but not necessarily happy. His works also require work from the reader to look between the printed lines. Here I also highly recommend getting your hands on the audio. Included at the end is one of the best author interviews I have ever heard. If you like Paul Auster, Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, or Philip Roth, try McEwan.

This is a good first month's report. It should help get you started on some reading ideas for yourself. Each title has a link to the Amazon record where you can read other actual readers' thoughts on these titles. I encourage you to browse them. You may find more titles to add to your to read list.

Finally, don't forget to check the posts tagged "book discussion books." These are also books I read in any given month. The reports posted there go over the main topics of discussion and contain readalikes. Eventually, the other librarian who runs the book groups at our library will also post comments once her group has discussed the title.

Friday, July 28, 2017

RA for All Vacation Edition: Day 7- Backlist Gems from the Archives

Today I've got a women's lives-novel in verse- for adults- by a YA author. Got that? Good. Here it is. 


What I'm Reading: The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus

When we have our ARRT Steering Committee meetings, the members are encouraged to share an interesting book with the group.  This is a great way for us Readers' Advisors to share titles that we think would be good suggestions for our patrons.  It also opens us up to new titles.  Since no one can possible read everything, it is a wonderful way to learn about more books.  In fact, I quite frequently will use the suggestion straight from a fellow ARRT member and pass it on to a patron the very next day.

At the March meeting, Karen suggested we all try The Hunchback of  Neiman Marcus: A Novel About Marriage, Motherhood, and Mayhem by Sonya Sones.  She had just turned in this review to Library Journalon the book:
Sones, Sonya. The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus: A Novel About Marriage, Motherhood and Mayhem. Harper: HarperCollins.Apr. 2011. c.416p. ISBN 9780062024671. pap. $13.99. In her first adult novel, an ode to the sandwich generation, Sones employs the same light, free-verse style that has made her young adult titles (Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy; One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies) so popular. Dodging her book editor’s calls, newly menopausal Holly finds no pleasant distraction in focusing on her family—a hospitalized mother suffering from ’roid rage and dementia, an only daughter going away to college, and a husband idling at his own midlife crossroads. Readers will smile when they see the “but” coming in a poem that begins, “My husband has many fine qualities” and sigh when Holly describes the ache she feels watching a young neighbor playing with her toddler. Somewhere between Nora Ephron and Jennifer Weiner, Sones recounts the little ouches of aging with a perfect blend of wit and tenderness.VERDICT This is what chick lit should want to be when it grows up—wise, funny, and blunt.—Karen Kleckner, Deerfield P.L., IL
This book is exactly as advertised.  Holly tells us her story, both her present situation with a daughter about to go off to college, a husband who is keeping a secret, and a sick mother thousands of miles away, and her thoughts about how she got to this point.  Her nostalgic looks back at her daughter's childhood were especially moving for me personally.

Holly's voice alternates between humorous, touching, annoyed, angry, frustrated, joyous, and thankful.  She is the reason to read this book.  Her emotions feel real, her reactions true, and her insight down-to-earth

The verse is not as obtrusive as one would think.  We open with Holly's 50th birthday around the corner and the realization that menopause has come.  The short poems capture her feelings perfectly.  Sones uses some poems to move Holly's story forward and others look at the issues of the sandwich generation in greater detail.  So while one poem may be about how much she will miss her daughter, the next may be about her sagging breasts.  There will be one about her work followed immediately by one about her mother.  The switching back and forth is not distracting, rather, it gives Holly depth.  I could feel her inner struggle and the different things vying for her attention.  I did not need pages of character development to understand Holly.  Her poems, and the order in which Sones placed them, did the heavy lifting of the character development here.

Due to the verse style, this is also a quick read.  I raced through the book telling myself I would just read one more poem, but then 45-60 seconds later I thought, just one more, and again...you get the point.  This would be a great summer read for any mom, whether they are living Holly's life right now, or will be someday.

Three Words That Describe This Book: novel-in-verse, humorous, touching

Where This Book Took Me (summer reading feature):  to a peek into what my life may be like in 12-14 years.

Readalikes:  I like Karen's description that this book fits in somewhere between Jennifer Weiner and Nora Ephron.  The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is a Women's Lives book in the truest sense.  It explores the choices and situations which women in America face today as they move from their child bearing and rearing years into their middle age.

Other women's lives books about mature women which are both humorous and touching are The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine (more literary), Julie and Romeo by Jeanne Ray (more chick lit feel but with an older protagonist), and the Miss Julia series by Ann B. Ross (a cozier story).

Adriana Trigiani is also a great writer of stories of women from all ages and walks of life.  Her focus is on families, friends, and their interaction with a great balance between humor and touching scenes.  She is just an all out excellent story-teller who will appeal to those who like Sones' work here.

Sones also reminds me of Elizabeth Berg, but with a tad bit more in your face humor (Berg's can be subtle).

If you just liked the whole novel in verse thing, I ran a search in NoveList by clicking on the genre heading in this novel's record called "novels in verse," limited it to "Adult" and "Fiction" and got 31 solid results which included books by the poet and novelist Ana Castillo, who is a great choice for these readers.  Try Watercolor Women / Opaque Men: A Novel in Verse or the novel Peel My Love Like an Onion.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

RA for All Vacation Edition: Day 6- Backlist Gems from the Archives

Of course I was going to have a horror title appear during this 8 day stretch. I made you wait just long enough until you thought I would forget though. Ha! That was fun.

Okay, enough teasing. Below is a book I read in 2009 that I still think about and hand out. But I also I this post to serve as a reminder that I archive all of my horror reviews [no matter which blog they appear on] here. So you never have an excuse that you don't know about enough horror books when a patron asks.


What I'm Reading: Ghost Radio

Recently I listened to Ghost Radio, the debut novel by Leopoldo Gout. This 2008 horror title worked very well on audio because it centers around the host of an occult call-in radio show called Ghost Radio. However, I should note that Gout, who is also a graphic novelist, included intricate drawings at the start of each chapter in the printed book that are also worth checking out. Gout has also set up the Ghost Radio website to continue the conversations begun the fictional radio show.

The plot revolves around a young man named Joaquin. When he is a teenager, on a trip from his home in Mexico to see his Grandma in Houston, TX, Joaquin and his parents are in a car accident. In another car, Gabriel and his parents are also involved in the accident. Only the 2 boys survive. This event unites them in a life-long friendship. Both boys also like the Dead Kennedys' song, "Kill the Poor," which later in the book becomes important.

The story alternates between the present, where a grown Joaquin hosts a popular Mexican call-in radio show called Ghost Radio, in which callers talk about their occult experiences, and the past, where Joaquin's and Gabriel's life from accident to the present is explained. In the present, however, Gabriel is dead and Joaquin hosts the radio show with his girlfriend Aolondra.

The novel alternates between these three characters' points of view, but the focus is very clearly on Joaquin. Joaquin moves the Ghost Radio show to America, but after relocating, Joaquin's reality quickly begins to unravel, and he goes on a quest to discover the truth. Along the way, Joaquin meets up with a Toltec Priest and finds archives of his own radio show from 20 years before he began working on it.

There is also a sinister, unnamed force which is stalking Joaquin and speaks directly to the reader off and on throughout the novel. And, as we find out, this is not surprising because the dead can hear all of the living's radio shows. This force is using Ghost Radio to move back into the world of the living.

The novel is in the 300 page range, but has 55 short chapters, so it moves briskly. The narrative is also interspersed with the stories from some of the show's callers recounting their own terrifying experiences with ghosts and other supernatural forces. I loved these asides. They added to the tension and unease which Gout builds relentlessly. Also, since I was listening to this novel, I felt like I was listening to the real radio show.

The ending is a perfect horror ending. The story is resolved, Joaquin completes his quest, but the supernatural force is left completely open ended. In fact, the reader is left questioning what the truth is and what really happened to Joaquin. The implication is that the entire book was really just the story of one caller into Ghost Radio. Gout left me completely unsettled, and I loved it.

For another reader's take on Ghost Radio, there is a review on the Fantasy Book Critic Blog.

Readalikes: I really liked the creepy uneasiness that permeated Ghost Radio. The book constantly has you questioning what is real and what is supernatural. The lines of reality are blurred and you believe everything (even the obviously supernatural events) is really happening. In this way, Gout's book reminded me of Stephen King's work. Like King, Gout is a storyteller first and foremost. Joe Hill's collection of stories 20th Century Ghosts is also a great readalike for Ghost Radio. I wrote about reading this collection here (middle of the post) and suggest a few more readalikes.

For the rabid Neil Gaiman fans out there (I am one of you), Gout should be a reliable new author for you to enjoy.

Bentley Little also writes novels in which the real world and the supernatural collide in an unsettlingly realistic way. Try The House.

While I was reading Ghost Radio, I also thought it was similar to the work of Dan Simmons, specifically, The Terror, and then there was a memorable scene in which a caller recounts a terrifying tale of his ship being crushed in the arctic ice. This solidified my feeling. But please note, The Terror is a much longer book, with a more measured paced since it is both historical fiction about the doomed Franklin Arctic expedition, and a horror book with supernatural elements.

For those interested in more about The Dead Kennedysproducing radio shows, or the Toltecs of Mexico, use the embedded links for more information.

And finally, please remember the wonderful horror radio programs of the past. Many have now been restored and compiled on CD. At the Berwyn Library we have this wonderful collectionHorror in the Airavailable for checkout. Click here for more detail. You can take this 8 disc collection home and continue listening to Ghost Radio.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

RA for All Vacation Edition: Day 5- Backlist Gems from the Archives

Today I have more nonfiction, two titles to be exact, and both are audiobooks too. Bonus upon bonus today.


What I'm Reading: American Buffalo and The Big Burn

Last month I listened to two audio books with similar subject headings, but very different styles, tones, and feel. Both American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon by Steven Rinella and The Big Burn: Teddy Rooevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan are about the history of the American West. Both have a focus on the natural beauty of the West. And both have a tone that is nostalgic for a by gone era while still being critical of the mistakes we, as Americans, have made in the past in regards to how we treated the preservation of our natural landscape.

Finally, both utilize tricks from fiction to make their stories more compelling. Like a suspense novel, each begins with a scene that puts us at the climax of the book, and then backs up to go back to the beginning. You are compelled to keep reading to get back to, in Rinella's case, the moment when he has killed his Buffalo, and in Egan's case, the evacuation of the women and children from a frontier town threatened by a huge forest fire.

I want to start with American Buffalo because it serves as a great example of appeal vs. subject heading. On the surface, American Buffalo is about hunting for Buffalo. Personally, I am not a fan of hunting or guns, and quite honestly, although buffalo interest me, but I don't really think about them unless I am at the zoo or eating a yummy buffalo burger here or here.

However, when the book first came out I heard Rinella interviewed on NPR. Talking about why he wrote the book, his intense love and obsession with the buffalo, and how this book was the culmination of a quest for personal discovery, made me put the book on my to read listimmediately.

While the subject headings for this book are things like "Hunting" and "Sports Literature," the appeal is in the way these things are described. Rinella recounts the history of buffalo in America, American expansion, natural history, and his own personal story about getting a permit to trek into the Alaskan wild and kill is own buffalo.  This was much more a narrative history of buffalo and a personal story of self discovery all rolled into one, rather than a pro-hunting diatribe.

My only problem with the book came from its informal structure as a personal narrative.  At times, I felt like my 5 year-old son wrote the book, as Rinella goes into stretches where he is spitting out every fact he knows about Buffalo for minutes at a time before returning to the narrative.

On the more formal side of nonfiction about conservation and American expansion into the West, is Pulitizer Prize winner Timothy Egan's The Big BurnEgan is an accomplished historian. All of his books offer a nice balance of well researched history, charcater development and a compelling storyline. Unlike Rinella's personal, diary like tone, Egan's works are professional but compelling narrative histories. Egan the man in not part of the story himself, rather, he lets the adventure, intrigue, danger, and people of history speak for themselves. I think I could read any book he writes, no matter the subject because, again, like Rinella, it is how he writes, not the subject, that makes his books appealing to me.

Specifically, The Big Burn is about the friendship between Gifford Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt and their fight to start a government sponsored conservation movement in the United States

In an interview on Amazon.com Egan said of these two men:
I was hugely impressed with Roosevelt and his chief forester, a very strange and original American now nearly lost to our history named Gifford Pinchot. These were two easterners, born into wealth, who crusaded a century ago for the Progressive Era idea that a democracy and public land were inextricably linked. They always talked about land belonging to “the little guy.” It was a radical idea then, at a time when the gulf between the rich and poor was never greater. Roosevelt and Pinchot were both traitors to their class, in that sense.
Of course, the seminal moment in the history of the Forest Service is the giant forest fire ta the center of this book described in amazing detail by Egan. He intersperses the action based storyline of the fire with the history of the time, place and people involved. I cannot say enough about how well Egan captures the events and people. I was literally riveted by this story, not to mention the interesting and eccentric people involved.

Since I listened to both of these, I would like to make a few comments on the audio.  First, Rinella's book incorporates the endnotes into the audio, while to read the footnotes in Egan's work, you would need to get a hard copy of the work. The Big Burn also has great photos which I went and looked at after I listened to the audio. You can see many of them now right here. Although, Egan does such a great job describing the fire and its effects that I could literally visualize the event as I listened to the book.

Three Words That Describe American Buffalo: Buffalo, Personal Quest, Obsession
Three Words That Describe The Big Burn: Fire, Forgotten History, Preservation

American Buffalo is very similar to Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, except in Rinella's book we have a happy ending. Also, Rinella's personal, almost diary like writing style focusing on the nature that the average American never experiences, was very reminiscent of Henry David Thoreau.

Rinella also spends a bit of time talking about the migration of the first people to North America. Those who found this part of the story appealing should look at Katherine and Michael Gear's series, The First North Americans.

And for those who just love reading about buffalo, use this link.

Over to The Big Burn, Egan's criticism of the Forest Service is muted. He makes apologies for the well meaning people who got usurped by corrupt politicians.  For a more no holds barred approach to the beginnings of the National Forest Service watch Ken Burns' National Parks documentary or read the companion book.

Some readers may want to read more about the times and people in Egan's book. You can click here for books about Teddy Roosevelt, the National Forest ServiceGifford Pinchot, or the early 20th Century Progressives.

Readers of either book who want some fiction which evokes the beauty of the Western landscape should try Leif Enger or Ivan Doig.

Navada Barr has an excellent mystery series featuring her amateur detective/National Park Ranger Anna PigeonEach book is set in a different National Park and any would appeal to fans of either of these books.

Alaska and the Western US are also popular settings for mysteries. Click here for some suggestions based on location. Specifically, I would suggest C.J. BoxDana StabenowSue Henry, or the late Tony Hillerman as good examples.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

RA for All Vacation Edition: Day 4- Backlist Gems from the Archives

Sticking on the vacation theme, here is a review of a travel guide as a leisure reading option.

Although this review is from a vacation past, I still read Lonely Planet travel guides both for their usefulness and for fun. I read them when on vacation and for armchair travel.

Don't forget  that we can help our patrons travel anywhere in the world through a book.


What I'm Reading: Lonely Planet Nova Scotia, New Brunswick & Prince Edward Island

Last month as part of my summer vacation, the family and I travelled to Nova Scotia.  Family events put us in New England already, and we had always wanted to see the Atlantic Provinces of Canada.  As we were planning the trip, we also saw that one of our favorite travel book companies, Lonely Planet, had a brand new edition of their guide to Nova Scotia coming out in April of 2011.  So we ordered, Lonely Planet Nova Scotia, New Brunswick & Prince Edward Island and got planning.

While the book was well thumbed through during the planning process and extremely helpful at allowing us to fit as much as we could on our 5 short days in Canada, what surprised me was how much I loved reading this book in a more traditional cover to cover fashion while on the trip.

Now I have worked with many patrons who enjoy reading cookbooksthis way, cover to cover, for leisure reading without ever cooking a recipe, but when dealing with my personal leisure reading, I tend to use titles like travel books and cookbooks on a more as need basis for reference purposes.

But on this trip, I surprised myself by reading this book in its entirety (but not necessarily in a linear fashion) and loving the experience.  So the first point I want to make in this review is that no matter how self aware you are about your personal reading tastes, there are always new areas into which you can grow.  I am totally using this experience as the antidote to my patrons who say that they have read everything we have that they will enjoy and don't like anything else we have to offer.

Back to me personally though...

There were days when we were driving for hours and while I was using the book to plan where we should take lunch breaks or what we would be doing the next day, that took only a few minutes.  As I was paging through for specific information, I found myself lingering on other pages.  I specifically loved the last third of the book which was general information about all of the Atlantic Provinces.  There were statistical items, customs, history, and anecdotes.

Surprisingly, I found the sections on the provinces I was not visiting, Newfoundland and Labrador the most interesting.

The point here is I have created a new leisure reading interest for myself, travel guidebooks.  But I need to be specific here.  It is not every guidebook I would enjoy.  I like the companies who focus more on the narrative in their books.  So the appeal here for me is the story about the place as much as what you can do there.  Lonely Planet is known for this.

Lonely Planet is also known for their off the beaten path information and irreverent attitude.  So you need to not mind these in order to enjoy their books.  So readers may be turned off by the style and narrative voice.

In general, I will now seek out more guides for places I would like to visit, not just the places I know I am going to visit.

Readalikes: We also spent some time in Maine on this trip and used the Maine Moon Handbook.  I also enjoyed their narrative structure.  I learned quite a bit about the regional slang and history of Maine, especially the less populace parts.  In general, readers who like Lonely Planet Guides as a leisure reading option will also enjoy Moon Handbooks.

There are some great travel writers who I would also suggest to fans of the Lonely Planet travel guides both in content and style:

Finally, if you want to do some hard core armchair travel, check out Nancy Pearl's Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers (we have a copy you could borrow at the BPL RA desk) or this post I did recently on Great Travel Books.

Safe travels.

Monday, July 24, 2017

RA for All Vacation Edition: Day 3- Backlist Gems from the Archives

Today I have a review of a great historical fiction novel from 2011 and happens to be set near where I am on vacation today.

I am also posting this title because of a new appeal factor for this title which has emerged-- this is the perfect read for anyone who is into craft spirits.

Read on to see why....


What I'm Reading: Brookland

Thank goodness for Shelfari and its "planning to read shelf."  This feature, and really any place you can keep your to-read list in "the cloud," is a reader's best friend.  Any place where I have Internet access, I can add a book to my to-read list.  I can also then access that list from anywhere with an Internet connection.  Without this ease of storing my to-read list, I never would have gotten around to reading Brookland by Emily Barton.

When Brooklyn first came out (Feb. 2006), I was drawn to it immediately.  The book had glowing, starred reviews in just about every journal.  It was historic fiction set in the years immediately after the American Revolution (love the time period), and it had something to do with building a bridge between Brooklyn and NYC (I'm oddly and inexplicably obsessed with the Brooklyn Bridge, specifically its creation).  Sounds like the perfect book for me, but for some reason, when it first came out, I couldn't get into it.  So, thank you Shelfari.  I put the title on the "Planning to Read" shelf, returned the physical book, and exactly 5 years later, got to read it. 

The plot follows Prudence Winship, who owns and runs a popular gin distillery in Brooklyn during the 18th century.  But while the book contains great details about distilling gin, this is really a novel about Prudence, her family, her obsession with building a bridge connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan, and her family's secrets.

This is a long, measured historical fiction novel.  You cannot zip through it, but if you want a story which recreates a time and place in cinematic detail, this is the book for you.  We begin with Prudence writing a letter to her daughter recounting her life history.  Although this is not an epistolary novel their communication back and forth does frame the book; it is the reason Prudence final reveals all of her secrets.

The story begins during the waning years of the Revolutionary War, when Brooklyn (known as Brookland then) is filled with British soldiers. Prudence tells about her father's gin distillery, the birth of her sisters, and the curse she thinks she placed on her sister, Pearl.  Pearl almost died after birth and was never able to speak.  It is the relationship between these two sisters which causes much of the tension in the novel.  It is psychological tension for 90% of the book however.  The conflict does finally rise to the surface in a highly dramatic scene.

Prudence is taught her father's trade and runs the distillery, which means the novel contains a lot of information about how a woman in the 18th Century would run a major business.  But it is her obsession with building the bridge which consumes her and takes up the last half of the novel.  It almost ruins her and her husband.

Brookland is a somber book, where the sense of place (Brooklyn in the 18th Century) is the largest appeal factor.  We get the domestic and business details of how life actually was for people in that place and time.  While this again slows the pace down, it is also fascinating.  The plot may be stagnant for 20 pages, but unique and interesting details keep you going.

Imagine a time when Brooklyn, New York was consider a rural outpost.  Also the details about business and politics in a brand new country were great.

This is also a book for people interested in the making of gin.  The process is described in great detail by Prudence as she goes through her year long training.  Women's issues (specifically their place and options in 18th Century America), family secrets, and bridge building are also discussed at length.

Brookland is an intimate portrayal of a successful but troubled family during an intriguing time period.

Three Words That Describe This Book: intimate, historical fiction, strong women

Readalikes: I kept thinking of Pete Hamill's historical fiction/magical realism tale of the history of NYC, Forever as I read this novel.  Both books recreate their similar place well.  For more details see this reporton when I read Forever.   Metropolis by Elizabeth Gaffney is also a well reviewed, historical fiction about old New York.  This time we are in the post-Civil War years.  Like Brookland, Metropolis is a sprawling epic.  The final epic, historical fiction about New York which I would highly suggest is Edward Rutherfurd's New York.

Readers who enjoyed the combination of historical fiction with the strong women who are sisters should also try Shanghai Girls by Lisa See and The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillippa Gregory.

People who want more on the history of Brooklyn, try: The Battle of Brooklyn, 1776 by John Gallagher and Song of Brooklyn: An Oral History of America's Favorite Borough by Marc Eliot.

Finally, people who want the real story of the bridge that finally made it across the East River need to read David McCullough's The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge and watch the Ken Burns' documentary based on McCullough's book, Brooklyn Bridge.

Friday, July 21, 2017

RA for All Vacation Edition: Day 2- Backlist Gems from the Archives

Today's book doesn't go back as far, but since I mentioned the resurgence of Westerns [especially weird westerns] earlier this week, I thought this one was well timed.


What I'm Reading: Builders

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 Billor 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.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

RA for All Vacation Edition: Day 1- Backlist Gems from the Archives

Starting today I am taking a much needed family vacation. I normally just let the blog go silent, but I had a little time to load some content and schedule it out before I left.

I am always promoting the backlist here on the blog so it's time to live up to my own advice. For the next 8 days of the blog I will be reporting old reviews, but here is the catch-- I will not post a single title that appeared on any of my year end best lists.

So these are great reads that may have been forgotten. They will represent different formats and genres, including nonfiction.

I'll begin with a great graphic novel. The review is of Volume 2 but I chose that because this review also links to my shorter review of Volume 1. So you get the entire series this way. Enjoy!


What I'm Reading: Castle Waiting Volume 2

Day two of review-a-polooza.  Today it is the graphic novel, Castle Waiting 2 by Linda Medley which I mentioned grabbing off the new shelf here.  For the record, I talked about how we organize our new shelf at the BPL in that post, but I forgot to mention that until January of this year, we did not include graphic novels on our general new shelf.  Instead, they were ghettoized to their own shelf on the graphic novels shelf.  In a few months, we will be checking to see if the circ stats went up on the new graphic novels and the general adult graphic novel collection with this change.

Now on to the review...

Just like when I read Castle Waiting Vol 1, I was engrossed in Castle Waiting 2 by Linda Medley, finishing it in one long sitting.  How much did I love the first volume two years ago?  Click here to see my review.  I also chose it to be included on the Browser's Corner, where I said this:
This graphic novel begins as a retelling of Sleeping Beauty but evolves into a modern fable about an abandoned castle and its eccentric inhabitants. Medley uses the fairy tale format to tell the story of strong, independent women who do not need to be saved, but instead save themselves with the help of wonderful friends. I was completely engrossed by this book and could not put it down for the few hours it took me to read it.
While the first volume was more fairy tale based, Vol 2 focuses more on filling in the back story of the secondary characters and beginning a look into the history of the castle itself.  We get two new characters who have historical links to the current castle residents.  Everyone is just as eccentric as ever, but they are all more comfortable with each other.  As one character begins to move into the castle keep, they all work together to make it ready.  As walls are removed, secrets and mysteries are unearthed.

Again, like the first volume, the ending is fairly open, maybe even more so than Volume 1.  I learned a lot more about these amazing characters, but I still want to know more.  And the mysteries of the keep are only just beginning to unfold.  I hope it is not another 2 years until the next volume.

Like last time, Medley also uses black and white, pen and ink drawings in a fairly standard comics style. She often does whole page frames.  Her style may be without color, but it is extremely detailed and beautiful.  She also tells the story in a lineal fashion with frequent flashbacks to fill in the blanks. The flashbacks are cool because they tend to come as stories told by a character.  It is a nice feeling to read a story and have the story tell you a story.

The tone here is optimistic but with a nod to the tragedies of the past.  All of these characters came to the castle because of something bad which had happened to them in the past.  While they are moving forward with their lives together, the problems and trials of their pasts' casts a slight pall over the story.  All are still healing, but each is at a different stage in the healing process.

This is a book for anyone who likes fantasy based in a fairy tale atmosphere with a darker, but not oppressive tone, without sex of violence.  Even if you do not normally read graphic novels, but enjoy this type of fantasy, I would try Castle Waiting.

Three Words That Describe This Book:  eccentric characters, fairy tale-esque, engrossing

Readalikes:  In my review of Volume 1 I suggested, Jane Yolen and Robin McKinley among others.  Click here for those suggestions.

Although Kate DiCamillo writes children's books, her novels share much with Castle Waiting.  There are all fairy tale-esque, with interesting and original characters, a darker, but ultimately optimistic tone, and an engrossing pace.  Try The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (which I am reading with my six-year-old son now).

Readers who enjoy Neil Gaiman or Audrey Niffenegger should also try Castle Waiting 1 and 2, for many of the same reasons you should try DiCamillo.  The Graveyard Book by Gaiman and Her Fearful Symmetryby Niffenegger are great readalike options here.  Use the links to read my reviews and see why.

Moving on to suggestions based more on the appeal of the setting (which is huge here as the keep becomes a character in the story itself)...

Another great novel that looks into the dark mysteries of castle keeps is Jennifer Egan's The Keep.  I still think about this book, years after finishing it.  Also with all the buzz on her recent Pulitzer Prize, why not try this excellent backlist psychological suspense title by her.

For an even darker story about a house with secrets try Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez's Locke and Key graphic novel series.  This is horror, not fantasy, but these graphic novel series share the appeals of great characters with troubling pasts, and a home with hidden, nefarious secrets.