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

Friday, December 22, 2017

What I’m Reading: Becky’ Favorite Reads of 2017

Its my annual list of the best books I read this year, regardless of what year they were published. But, I am changing it up this year and putting my“best” books into categories. Why? Because as I was going through everything I read this year, I kept identifying favorites with caveats like, “that was the best historical fiction I read” or “that was my favorite audio.” Also I realized that grouping them in this way didn’t only make it easier for me to make choices, but it also made the list more useful to you as you help readers.

For example, knowing that I have River of Teeth on my list because it is the “Most fun I had reading a book this year,” means much more than simply listing it as a favorite.

Plus, after 10 years of “best” lists, it’s time to do something a little different. Even I am getting bored of myself.

On a side note, I am very proud of myself that there was almost 50% diversity in my favorite book choices. I actually made myself pick my favorites first and then went back and audited my results. Here are the results:

  • I have 4 straight up POC titles
  • 1 LGBTQ
  • 1 has a non binary protagonist

That’s 6 out of 13 titles listed here.

Enough intro. Here is the list with links to my full reviews either from the blog or on Goodreads.

Speaking of categories, my colleagues over at the Booklist Readers also made a fun year end list based on highly specific categories. Check it out here.

Finally, a reminder that I am starting 2018 with Sing Unburied Sing and The Changeling-- In this post I said that The Leavers would be one of those books, but it looks like I will be reading it for a book club later in 2018, so I am pushing that one back. I never got to The Changeling when I got the ARC and it is the one best speculative book I didn’t read this year.

This is my last post of the year. After a short break, I will return with some catch up reviews before beginning the regular blogging schedule again on 1.8.18.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Resurrecting A Victorian Christmas Storytelling Tradition

Yesterday, I came upon this article from the Smithsonian Magazine, “A Plea to Resurrect the Christmas Tradition of Telling Ghost Stories.

This made me remember that I already made this plea to all of you, my readers, almost exactly a year ago- not that this fact surprises anyone. I guess I was a year early on the trend, so today, I have a rerun of that post where I talk about this tradition, discuss how you can turn this into a fun display, and even offer up some reads.

And, I happy to report, as a family, we are keeping this tradition going in our house for second year in a row. 


A New, Old, Winter Storytelling Tradition With A Library Display Opportunity

The weekend after Thanksgiving I went back to my old neighborhood in Chicago to do some holiday shopping and stopped in at Volumes Bookcafe.

While I was there I found a beautiful series of paperback, spooky stories on display.  Below is a picture of the front of the three I purchased and a shot of the back of the Burrage title.

You can zoom in to read the back, but basically, these titles have been produced to revive the Victorian tradition of families getting together to read ghost stories aloud on Christmas Eve. 

I did some more research on this topic and found this interesting article that explains the tradition in more detail. It turns out that the tradition hit it’s heyday in Victorian Times, but probably dates back before that. As the article also notes, while much of our current holiday season traditions are remarkably similar to those from Victorian times, this one specific tradition has all but disappeared.

The winter, with it’s long nights, led to spookier thoughts and more forced togetherness huddled inside, around the fire. Ghost stories made for popular entertainment in these circumstances. But Christmas Eve in particular, when large groups were assembled already, grew to be the most popular time to read ghost stories aloud. 

As I mentioned above, I did purchase three titles in this series and our family plans to spend a few evenings over the days off this holiday season to read these stories together, aloud, around our 21st Century fire place. No screens or other distractions involved. 

While I hope some of you out there give the old tradition a try, I think it is a great display option for all libraries. Any spooky story will do. And, it is not Christmas specific. A spooky story for a long winter’s night works no matter where you live, regardless of whether you celebrate a holiday during this season or not. It is a display you can do now, to take advantage of the time people have off of work and school over the next 2 weeks or wait for the new year.

Let’s bring this tradition back through the public library

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

#LibFaves17 Wrap-Up: Includes the List of Every Title!

Today I want to point you all to Early Word and the official report on this year’s Twitter library worker countdown of their 10 favorite titles.

Click here for the full report which includes a lists of every single title that was mentioned and an overall Top Ten.

As I mentioned in this post announcing the start of #LibFaves17, there are many reasons why this countdown is so great [click through to read that one too], but on Early Word’s wrap up post they also added this “joy”:
One of the joys of the list is that it is not limited by age designation or format, so it offers opportunities to discover picture books, graphic novels, and YA titles.
That “joy” in the unrestrained nature of the suggestions [as long as they were published in 2017] is exactly why I use this use the annual #LibFaves17 countdown as an opportunity to highlight my horror top 10-- so that these titles make it into that final report. Yes, I manipulate the system to help you to help horror readers better. Again, I explain my rationale here. But the result is that there are at least 10 horror titles in the final list of every title mentioned. Success!

That being said, I do have this post on the horror blog with my official horror top ten including links to my longer reviews. It is the same as the one I Tweeted for #LibFaves17 but it will have bonus content and my honorable mention list. You should use this list for your horror collection development and as you help patrons.

I am also putting the finishing touches on my overall top ten of the books I read in 2017. I plan to post that by 12/27 at the latest, but it could be sooner. That list will have a new look this year as I am putting my favorite reads from 2017 into categories. This was more fun for me, yes, but I also think it makes the list way more useful to you as you help readers. But I will explain in that post. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, go visit Early Word’s #LibFaves17 Wrap-Up Report.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

RA for All Virtual Roadshow: PCI Webinars Staying in Genre Shape

This morning is my second of two genre related webinars for PCI. You can see this one from 2 weeks ago which is an introduction to thinking about genre based on why readers enjoy them here. There are slides an a handout available at this link.

Today is a completely updated and new version of my second level genre training-- Staying in Genre Shape. The biggest change in this Genres 201, as I like to call it is that I have taken the focus off of telling you what I think you should know and instead put the emphasis on teaching you how to keep yourself in the know.

Here is the description:
Staying in Genre ShapeOnce you know what makes a mystery a mystery or a fantasy a fantasy and why a patron may prefer on of those genres to another, it is time to move on to the next step...keeping that genre knowledge up to date. Yes, Harry Potter will always be classified a fantasy and Agatha Christie a mystery, but within those larger categories there are smaller subgenres and trends that evolve over time. Join noted Readers’ Advisory Specialist and long time Genre Study coordinator, Becky Spratford as she gives you a work out plan for staying in genre shape. She will show you not only how vital it is to stay on top of the changes within genre fiction, but also how easy and, more importantly, fun it is to stay in genre shape. Together we will rethink the entire concept of genre and how we use it to help readers find their next good read.  
Everyone can see the slides here and below. I also made an extensive handout with all of my favorite resources for each genre.

The overall theme of this webinar is that just by creating your own genre plan and then revisiting it on a regular basis, much like a simple workout plan, you can stay in the know for every genre.

I am already contracted to give this overhauled program at many libraries in 2018 and I am sure it will evolve further the more times I give it.  If you want me to share this training with your staff or regional team, contact me. I am offering 2017 pricing through 12/31 for all dates in 2018. I have limited dates in April, May, and June still available and Fall is wide open [except Columbus Day].

But right now I need to give my last live program of 2017.

Click here for slide access

Monday, December 18, 2017

Book Discussion Books: ARRT Book Club Study Notes and 2018 Schedule Announcement

Before the year is closed out, I wanted to have a post wrapping up the 2017 ARRT Book Club Study and introducing the 2018 schedule.

On November 9th, Megan hosted the final ARRT Book Club Study of the year where we discussed The Mothers by Brit Bennett. And Greta hosted the Leadership Discussion on how to discuss books with sensitive issues. You can read the details including the notes on both discussions here.

Don’t forget that we have an entire website for all of the ARRT Book Club Studies with notes on our discussions of the books and the notes on each leadership topic. You can always go there to see the latest news or view old discussion notes as a preview to help you run your discussions.

Speaking of preview....

We have set the first three book discussions for the year and it is a very exciting lineup. From the homepage:
2018 Discussion Schedule:
  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid will be held at Indian Prairie Public Library on Tuesday, January 23rd from 2:00-4:00 
  • A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev will be held at the NAPER BLVD branch of Naperville Public Library on Wednesday, April 25th from 2:00-4:00.                                                 *Please note- Sonali Dev will join us for the second half of our discussion. 
As you can see here Exit West is our first discussion, led by Jennifer. When Jennifer came to me with a list of choices for titles, I immediately jumped on Exit West. I recently completed it and it will be in paperback this spring. It was on all of the 2017 Best Lists, so it is going to be a book in heavy book discussion rotation once the paperback is released. It makes for the perfect training discussion title because it will give the 17-25 people we usually have at these meetings a chance to preview discussing it.

Exit West also lends itself nicely to the discussion topic posted here:
The Leadership Topic, led by Elizabeth Hopkins, will focus on discussing "best" books. "Best" books refers to either award winners or popular book club picks. Please come ready to share one "best" book that worked for your book club or one that didn't! Also, remember that you can always bring any problems or concerns you have with your group, no matter the topic, so we can all help each other.
People always want to do the “best books,” so together we are going to talk about these titles and which ones make for the best discussions. As a group we will be creating a bibliography of titles you can consider for your groups. They will be available to everyone similarly to this valuable list the Book Club Study made of “Under the Radar Titles.”

The second book and discussion topic have also been chosen. Since we will be beginning the two year ARRT Romance Genre Study this coming February, we knew we wanted to discuss a romance. As you can see above, we will be doing Sonali Dev's new book, A Distant Heart. After we discuss the book, Sonali will be joining us as I facilitate the leadership discussion on using romance in book discussions. I am very excited about this topic because it used to be that romance was a “no go” for book discussions, but that is no longer the case. Sonali is not only a wonderful writer, but also a huge advocate for the genre, a huge supporter of ARRT and an active patron of the Naperville Public Library. We are so excited to include her in this discussion.

I will post more about the Romance Genre Study after the new year so those of you who are interested can learn more, but if you can’t wait, click here for the full schedule and the first assignment.

As you can see above and on the site we also have a date and a book for the third discussion [a Graphic Novel!] but no leadership topic. We are holding off on the leadership training topic in order to poll attendees on what they want to talk about. We are still figuring out the Fall book and date. But, in the meantime, if you can join us, try to schedule time to attend the first three meetings ASAP. And for those of you following from home, all notes will be posted on the Book Club Study page and here on RA for All. They can be pulled up with all of the book discussions I am a part of using the Book Discussion Books tag.

Finally, after being the person in charge of the transformation of this entire program from just a chance for book discussion leaders to participate in a discussion to a quarterly training and support group, 2017 marks my end as the Book Club Study’s Coordinator. I am stepping back to assist Elizabeth as she takes over the day to day operations and administration of this program.  During 2018 I will be there to support her and train her assistant, Bill. I am so proud of the two of them, former students who have joined the ARRT Steering Committee. They are both excellent book discussion leaders who are thoughtful and willing to think outside the box while still holding true to what a book discussion is meant to be.

I am excited to keep being a part of this program, but I am more excited to watch them run it. I can’t wait to see how they make it even better going in to the future. They have been there from the start, taking leadership roles and are poised to keep this program going without stagnating. But don’t worry, I will still update all of you here on RA for All. I know many of you use our notes to help run your book clubs. Plus, I plan to go to as many of these meetings as I physically can.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Library Reads: January 2018

I really thought this was the month I stopped prefacing my monthly Library Reads announcement with a statement about diversity. We were doing so much better. But, nope. We got 1 diverse title-- The Wedding Date. It is a great one though.

So you are still getting my double preamble for the monthly list. It’s about diversity but also about why we do this list. Here’s some hard truth-- Last time I checked every library worker knows that the new JoJo Moyes and Jayne Ann Krentz will be popular. Why are we wasting our time nominating those books? Let's get lesser known books on there.


Read below. There is a statement about nominating more diverse books and a statement on how to use the list to help patrons.

Library Reads is a great thing, but WE together are Library Reads. Let’s work to make it awesome and representative.


This is your monthly Library Reads announcement.

I usually just cut and paste the same intro each month, but for the next few months I am amending it with this long introduction. I want to address the fact that Library Reads has been called out for their lists being too "white." While this is a fair criticism, blaming Library Reads is not fair because Library Reads and their Steering Committee are only the ones running the website, coordinating the eArc process, and counting the votes, the voters who pick the books are ALL OF YOU!!!! [Seriously, Steering Committee members votes do not come into play. I looked into it.]

So that means all of you-- all of us-- are falling down on the job of nominating more diverse titles-- both in terms of the ethnicity and race of the author and the genres represented. So I think the problem requires action in a two pronged strategy.

First, we need more of you to participate, especially those of you who read more diversely and widely. Basically Library Reads needs new blood. Library reads is SUPER EASY to participate in, yet despite that, as I travel the country meeting all of you, many of you do not participate and surprisingly, a lot of you don't even now how to begin. So, we are going to fix that. Here's the recording of a LibraryReads webinar on how to participate.

But one fallacy about Library Reads is that you have to write a full annotation in order for your vote to be counted. That is not true. You just need to read [or honestly skim] the eARC and then rate the book and submit your vote to Library Reads. But the webinar will explain it all.

I know many of you have not gotten involved because you thought that it was too difficult. I am here to tell you it is not. So let's get some new people submitting votes. It only takes a few new people to make a big difference. I am calling on you, my readers [and there are thousands of you reading this] to step up and make your voices heard.

Second, stop voting for the obvious books. I know you like the big name authors. We all do, but seriously people, voting for big name, huge bestselling authors over and over again is helping no one. Looking at the list below for August 2017, WHY is Louise Penny taking a spot from a less well known author. Look don't get me wrong. I LOVE Louise Penny [proof here]. For goodness sake, if you go on NoveList and see the author appeal statement for her-- I WROTE THAT. So I am not dissing her. I adore her novels. But seriously is there a library worker in America who hasn't hear of Louise Penny AND who doesn't have this author on automatic order already? NO!

We are Library Reads. We need to do better. Library Reads needs to be more proactive in helping library workers identify the great books we wouldn't know about without this resource. Don't squander the opportunity to read a great under the radar title- early and for free- and to then pass it on to others. Read Louise Penny early for yourself, but spend your time voting for the titles that will not find an audience without your expert help.

If we keep voting for the mainstream titles, the publishers will keep spending money signing similar authors, but if we use our power to vote for more diverse and less mainstream works that we know our patrons would love, titles that no one would know about without us raising our voice to be heard, we can make great change. We can force the publishers to sign more diverse authors and we can get some great reads into more library collections, and we can have a backlist archive of great titles for all readers.

I am not going to tell you what to vote for though. I want you-- all of you-- to decide for yourselves. Me telling you would be as bad as the publishers forcing titles on us [which they already do]. The more voices we can gather who each independently choose the books that they are passionate about, the better the list will be. It will be more diverse by default when more of us use this two pronged approach that I have outlined today.

Remember, Library Reads is not a nebulous group of librarians lording over us-- it is you, me, your co-workers. It is up to us to do the right thing here because goodness knows, the publishers aren't going to do it unless we force them to.

Let's work together to make Library Reads more diverse and reflective of the full range of great books that are coming down the pike, then when we go to use these lists as a backlist tool we have an ever better resource at our fingertips.

[Now back to your regular Library Reads message.]

Library Reads day means 3 things here on RA for All.

  1. I post the list and tag it “Library Reads” so that you can easily pull up every single list with one click.
  2. I can remind you that even though the newest list is always fun to see, it is the older lists where you can find AWESOME, sure bet suggestions for patrons that will be on your shelf to actually hand to them right now. The best thing about Library Reads is the compound interest it is earning. We now have hundreds and hundreds of titles worth suggesting right at our fingertips.
  3. You have no excuse not to hand sell any Library Reads titles because there is a book talk right there in the list in the form of the annotation one of your colleagues wrote for you. All you have to say to your patron is, “such and such library worker in blank state thought this was a great read,” and then you read what he or she said.
So get out there and suggest a good read to someone today. I don’t care what list or resource you use to find the suggestion, just start suggesting books. 

January 2018 LibraryReads

The Immortalists

by Chloe Benjamin

Published:1/9/2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
ISBN: 9780735213180
“A thought-provoking, sweeping family saga set in New York City’s Lower East Side, 1969. Four siblings sneak out to visit a psychic who reveals to each, separately, the exact date of his or her death. The book goes on to recount five decades of experience shaped by the siblings attempts to control fate.”    Kelly Currie, Delphi Public Library, Delphi, IN

The Wife Between Us: A Novel

by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Published: 1/9/2018 by St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 9781250130921
“A thriller told from the perspective of three narrators:  a woman, her ex-husband, and his fiance. The storyline is intricate and nonlinear and the characters are likable, but unreliable. This one will keep you guessing.”    Kelly Moore, Carrollton Public Library, Carrollton, TX

The Woman in the Window: A Novel

by A.J. Finn

Published: 1/2/2018 by William Morrow
ISBN: 9780062678416
“A menacing psychological thriller that starts out like Rear Window and then veers off into unexpected places. An agoraphobic recluse languishes in her New York City home, drinking wine and spying on her neighbors. One day she witnesses a crime that threatens to expose her secrets.”    Joseph Jones, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Cuyahoga, OH 

Promise Not To Tell

by Jayne Ann Krentz

Published: 1/2/2018 by Berkley
ISBN: 9780399585272
“Virginia owns a successful art gallery in Seattle now, but she has had to overcome many demons from her childhood in a cult. When one of her artists commits suicide, leaving her a mysterious message, she suspects the cult leader may have resurfaced.”     Kelly Rohde, Mead Public Library, Sheboygan, WI​

The Wedding Date

by Jasmine Guillory

Published: 1/30/2018 by Berkley Jove
ISBN: 9780399587665
“Drew is in San Francisco for his ex-girlfriend’s wedding. When he finds himself stuck in an elevator with Alexa, they hatch a plan to go to the wedding together, pretending to be a couple. Told in alternating points of view, this is a delightful multicultural romance.”    Elizabeth Gabriel, Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee, WI

Carnegie’s Maid: A Novel

by Marie Benedict

Published: 1/16/2018 by Sourcebooks Landmark
ISBN: 9781492646617
“Engaging, richly-detailed, biographical, and historical fiction. In 1860s Pittsburgh, Clara, an Irish immigrant takes a job working as a maid for Andrew Carnegie, with whom she falls in love, and then goes missing.”    Carol Ann Tack, Merrick Library, Merrick, NY

Beneath the Sugar Sky

by Seanan McGuire

Published: 1/9/2018 by Tor.com
ISBN: 9780765393586
“McGuire continues her astounding Wayward Children series with the third volume. A fantastical journey to find and resurrect a mother in a land of sweets. A great fantasy for those who want to give the genre a try.”    Andrienne Cruz, Azusa City Library, Azusa, CA 

Still Me: A Novel

by Jojo Moyes
Published: 1/30/2018 by Pamela Dorman Books
ISBN: 9780399562457

“The irrepressible Louisa Clark is back and she has a new job as an assistant to the super wealthy Gopniks in New York City. She’s thrilled, a little overwhelmed, and unsure how distance will affect her relationship with her boyfriend, Sam. A spirited look at New York high society.”      Donna Maturri, Pickerington Public Library, Pickerington, OH 

The Girl in the Tower: A Novel

by Katherine Arden

Published: 12/5/2017 by Del Rey
ISBN: 9781101885963
“Vasilisa’s gift for seeing what others do not won her the attention of Morozko and together they saved her people from destruction. Compelling political intrigue set in medieval Russia with a twist of folklore and some lush and inventive world building.”    Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY 

Eternal Life: A Novel

by Dara Horn

Published: 1/23/2018 by W.W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 9780393608533
“Ever since she made a deal to save her son’s life in Roman-occupied Jerusalem, Rachel has been doomed to live eternally. When one of her grandchildren tries to study the secret of her longevity and asks for a DNA sample,  her world spins out of control.”      Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Library, Austin, TX

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Booklist’s Editor’s Choice Lists

Today, Booklist released their 2017 Editor’s Choice Lists. Below is their release language with links, but first I have some things I want to point out about why the Booklist best lists are special.

There is a reason I write reviews for Booklist and it is because I feel like its mission fits best with what I am trying to do. At Booklist if we do not think a book should be in your library’s collection, we don’t waste our time reviewing it. You have other resources for that. We are librarians. We know how much you all have to do. Reading reviews of books that aren’t worth your time helps no one-- not you and definitely not our patrons who want the best collections for their needs. Our reviews might not be as early as those by others, but they are all worth your time.

Booklist is also part of the ALA so it is a not for profit. They do not take bribes for reviews. They do not write the magazine to make a profit. They do it all to help you. I support that.

But the final reason I write for Booklist is illustrated in the lists you see below. Booklist understands that genre titles are important. They understand that genre titles are among some of our most popular books at the library. I know they understand this, but I was almost in tears today when I saw the Editor’s Choice for All Adult Books they included STRANGE WEATHER by Joe Hill. A horror book that I reviewed! But a horror book in the overall best list. It was not relegated to a special genre area. It was not just deemed good for horror, it was good for ALL types of books for all libraries.

I agree of course, but I am so used to being the only one screaming about the value of genre books and fighting for not putting them in a corner, that I was a bit taken aback.. You can click here to see that list; they used my language in the annotation. Plus there is a link to my review.

Thank you Booklist and all my editors and friends who work there for proving me right in my choice to share my knowledge and passion with your publication.

By the way I have looked though all of the adult lists, and especially in the Adult Nonfiction, I found a lot of great titles I am not seeing on other best lists; some that I didn’t even know about. I can’t wait to start suggesting them to readers [starting with myself and this one].

Finally, if your library doesn’t subscribe to Booklist please show them this post and argue for it. They do more to help you as you strive to provide the very best RA Service than any other library journal. Literally you can use every single issue to make a display and help patrons because each issue is a spotlight on a specific topic- including a best list for the last calendar year. And there are reviews on top of that! It pays for itself.
Our editors have selected the following titles as representative of the year's outstanding books and media for public library collections. To see our full lists of Editors' Choice titles, hyperlinked to their Booklist reviews, please follow the links below.

Adult Books, 2017

Audio for Adults, 2017

Adult Books for Young Adults, 2017

Books for Youth, 2017

Audio for Youth, 2017

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Year in Books 2017 From Amazon’s POV

Say what you want about Amazon, but they know a lot about the reading habits of their customers. Yes, it is creepy and it is one of the reasons I buy very few books from them, but as a library worker their treasure trove of data is very useful to us.

Because Amazon sells a lot of self published authors AND has Audible, they also give us a much fuller picture of what is being read in America by everyone than we get from traditional best seller lists which give more weight to more traditionally published books even though some self published, ebook titles may actually sell more copies than some of the titles on the traditional lists.

Amazon has put all of this data to a very good use as far as those of us serving leisure readers in the public library are concerned with their release of the 2017 Year in Books Charts.

No matter how you feel about Amazon, you need to visit this page. It isn’t tied to the year the books were published, it is tied to what was read this year. And it is real people and their habits not critics. We all know that people pick what to read based on a variety of reasons and critical acclaim is often not the largest determining factor. This chart reflects a full cross section of American readers. In other words, this chart is a report on what our patrons were actually most interested in reading this year. 

WE NEED TO KNOW THIS. Many libraries do not fully understand what our patrons really want. Well, this resource is a step forward in that regard.

Every single one of you who reads this blog needs to look at it. You will see media tie-tie ins like It and The Handmaid’s Tale as well as the critical darlings. There is data aggregated by state, and even further down, by month, there are lists of the most quotable books, and even the most “unputdownable.” You will see lists of the most read translated books and even the most popular animals in books [library workers know this might be the most important list, hint cats aren’t happy].

They also have an entire section on cover trends of the year. [See yesterday’s post for more on that topic].

Browsing through the chart will give you a much better sense of what our patrons are looking for than any other resource. Use it for collection development, use it for displays, use it for conversation starters. Just use it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Judge a Book By Its Cover

Every once in a while I bring back this concept. Please, please, please judge a book by its cover. The publishers pay a lot of money to make a cover that sells to book to people as they pass by. They articulate the appeal of the book-- who would most enjoy it-- with images. If they put so much time and effort into the covers, why aren't we using them to make our job easier?

Much of it has to do with bad school librarians or teachers we had as kids who scolded us for doing this. Well, I have made my entire career off of debunking library stereotypes and going out of my way to rethink how we do things, so today's topic is perfect, and it works like magic.

For example, when you see pastel colors on the cover expect a lighter tone. Lots of dark colors-- darker tone. Black with lots of red usually means violence inside.  Complex or ambiguous covers-- probably a complex plot. And of course sexy covers-- steamy books.

Here is the link to a 2008 post where I first elaborated on this concept.

The point is that while the cover cannot tell you what happens in the book, it tells you quite a bit about what the feel of the book is. It sets the tone for the words inside. 

I often use the cover of a book to begin talking to a patron about the book, especially when I don't know anything about that book. I will say something like, "From what I've heard, this book looks like you may enjoy it, but let's look at it together before you decide to take it home." I then use a combination of the NoveList record, Goodreads entry [plot and the 5 star AND 2 star comments] and the cover to have a conversation about the title in question with the patron.

Patrons love this "behind the scenes" peek at how we do our job. Obviously you can only do the long version with patrons who have time, but in a pinch, I grab a book and literally book talk to cover and the plot summary on the book itself. On books from the last 5 years to the present, there is often an appeal statement to begin the plot summary which helps. But with practice you can book talk the appeal of a book, from just the cover and reading the flap together.

Again, I am honest with the patron on what I am doing. I outright admit I know nothing more than what they do, but make it clear that I know how to "read" the cover. Patrons also love the conspiratorial nature of this interaction. We are "one upping" the publishers at their own game, and we are playing our own game of guess the book's appeal. I find that for many patrons, playing this "game" with me makes them more willing to give these "cold" suggestions a try. They are also more willing to come back and share what "actually" happened in the book with me and they give me detailed comments on the feel of the book and if it matched the cover or not.

Again, it won't work for every patron, but it works with quite a few. They will be easier to help because they are more willing to just take the book [it's free!] and give it a try AND, more importantly, this method entices more of them to come back and give us feedback on the book and our service. This later interaction is the one all of us are most looking for.

Here are some links to get you started on your judge a book by its cover adventure. In the first two examples you can begin your RA conversation with the cover because they have been deemed "best" by reputable sources. Yet another interesting way to frame the "best" books interaction [for more on that topic by me, click here]. The second two links are for sources which regularly assess cover trends so you can keep judging books by their covers all year long. In fact, I have had fun with cover trends displays and simply discussing these trends with regular patrons [many of whom check out as many books with the cover trend as possible and then report back to us about the books and how they are the same and different]:

Give it a try. You will have fun and improve your RA Service by encouraging it to move from the suggestion only phase to a service which is about having conversations about books and reading. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

What I’m Reading: December Issue of Indie Picks

Have you subscribed to Indie Picks yet for your library? The December issue is out and I have three reviews that showcase the full breadth of horror from spooky to terrifying and a feature interview.  [You can visit the horror blog here for the feature interview]

You can click here to see tons of sample material. This magazine is a must read for library workers and patrons. We work very hard to let you know about a small sample of the independently published, books that would be perfect for your library, if only you knew to buy them.  You can click here to read my longer post about why Indie Picks is worth your money.

Today I have my draft reviews from this issue. A final reminder though. I pick these books very carefully. I truly believe most public libraries should add every title I include. I wouldnt review them if I didnt think they would work for a general public library audience. To help you booktalk each title I have also included multiple readalike options at the end of each review and my “three words."

Becky’s December 2017 DRAFT Indie Picks Magazine Horror Column

Horror is more popular than ever, but what readers find horrific is highly personal and varies widely from those who cannot handle more than a few ghosts to some who want to intensely experience the fear with all five of their senses. Thankfully, there is a wide range of horror to satisfy just about every reader, from spooky to terrifying here are three options that capture the full spectrum of thrills and chills.

Spooky Suspense

Patricia V. Davis follows up her National Book Critics Circle Award nominated COOKING FOR GHOSTS with her second entry in the Secret Spice Cafe series, SPELLS AND OREGANO [HD Media Press, Inc; 978-0-9899056-8-8; $15.95; 2017]. Once again the setting is on the Queen Mary, and its well known status as one of the most haunted places in America sets the uneasy atmosphere before you even open the cover, and once you do open it, Davis hits the ground running with an excellent dual plotline, supernatural thriller. Sarita is the manager of The Secret Spice Cafe, the upscale restaurant aboard the Queen Mary [founded in book one]. She is a troubled young woman with psychic abilities and a strong connection to the ship’s spirits. Luca is a young man who has suffered much personal loss but a family connection draws him to the Queen Mary. Luca and Sarita meet and fall in love, but their pasts are literally coming back to haunt them. As Sarita and Luca’s stories unfold, their plot lines converge, and the danger increases. Along the way, Davis throws in well developed secondary characters and many engaging and well researched details about food, magicians, psychics, and the stately Queen Mary herself, all without sacrificing the compelling pace; in fact, these details are equally as engrossing as the heart-racing suspense. By the end the stakes are high and all are held breathless awaiting the shocking conclusion. Don’t worry if you missed the first book in the series, this one can stand alone. It is perfect for both readers who enjoy the supernatural psychological suspense of Jennifer McMahon and also those who love Nora Roberts’ storytelling prowess across many genres. This is spooky suspense that will frighten just enough to make readers give any movement in the shadows a hard, second look.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Supernatural Suspense, Multiple Storylines, Interesting Frame

Dark Dread

There is no question the dread and fear are ratched up in the next book, a dark fantasy by John Urbancik, THE CORPSE AND THE GIRL FROM MIAMI [DarkFluidity; 978-0-99838-824-3; $15; 2017]. The unease grabs the reader from the very first scene and really never lets go. A man returns from the dead, resurrected in a cemetery, in the driving rain, in a seedy section of Boston, with no memory, only an ID with an address. With no other options, he heads to the address and meets Ofelia and Mr Maker, both who have been waiting for him. Ofelia is a fem fatale who wants revenge, Mr Maker, a being with connections to a mythological world standing just outside of our own, and our corpse, Lucas, is just trying to figure out who he is and how he fits into the story. The three protagonists, in their three storylines, are laid out in alternating chapters, with the point of view quickly bouncing back and forth. Readers will be engrossed, turning the pages, following the leads, seeing the stories converge, and finding out that they are all after the same thing-- a diamond with more power than any of them can imagine. The mythological details about the magic inherent in a place are captivating, the old fashioned pulp heist story fantastic, and the resurrected corpses add just the right amount of supernatural horror. Come for the awesome action and world building, but stay for the characters, especially Lucas as he searches for the answers to the man he was and struggles to figure out who he is supposed to be now. This original, dark fantasy tale is a must read for fans of Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series with touches reminiscent of Seanan McGuire and Gaiman’s American Gods.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Mythological Tone, Engrossing, Original

Traditional Terror

While the first two books showcase how horror can slip into stories that are firmly rooted in other genres, sometimes readers just want a traditional tale of terror by a master of the form. Enter Bentley Little and his terrifying supernatural mystery THE HANDYMAN [Cemetery Dance Publications; 978-1-58767-616-1; $25; 2017]. Daniel, now an adult real estate agent, recounts the story of his family’s encounters with Frank, the handyman who built their Arizona vacation home back in the 1980s, who at best is a con artist, but at worst is a man with a connection to an otherworldly evil. Daniel thought his family was the only one destroyed by Frank and the homes he built, but after hearing a client mention the problems with his family’s “Frank” home, Daniel goes on a cross country search to try to understand the truth behind Frank. What Daniel undercovers, however, is much more sinister and dangerous than he could have ever imagined, and now his life and all those he knows and loves may be in perilous danger. Told in three distinct parts each with a unique style, the terror intensifies throughout. Part one reads like a traditional supernatural investigation, while part two is a series of impressions of Frank from the point of view of others over the years, and finally, part three brings Daniel and his friends back for the horrific and disorienting conclusion. Little has also infused the story with Asian horror influences, some overt and others more subtle. The result is a trippy and terrifying story of an insidious horror hidden just behind the walls. Pair this with other terrifying, surreal tales of deadly haunted homes like THE HOUSE OF LEAVES by Danielewski or SLADE HOUSE by Mitchell. Fair warning though, don’t hire anyone to do work on your house for a few weeks before or after reading this one.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Terrifying, Surreal, Asian Influences

Friday, December 8, 2017

RA for All Roadshow Visits Addison [IL] Public Library With Tips on In-Service Planning and Avoiding Jargon

Today I will be at Addison [IL] Public Library as one of the presenters for their in-service day. Addison, like a few other libraries I have visited recently, is using the “Conference” model for their staff training: planners have arranged for a variety of presenters on a wide range of topics and staff are encouraged to explore those topics that most interest them.

I love this idea because it allows staff to learn about something, whether or not is is specifically tied to their every day job. As we all know, working at the public library in one capacity does not mean you will not be called upon to help out somewhere else at some point; in fact, that’s pretty much the only thing you can count on at the public library, having to know a little bit about every job.

Of course, administrators can direct certain staff to a particular training session, but the idea that every staff member can choose their own CE adventure is a great way to make staff more invested in their own learning and continuing education. It will energize everyone to get the most out of the in service day. And it will be more fun. More fun means people pay more attention which should translate to more learning.

I don’t think this model would work for every library out there, but it is something to consider for your next in-service day. If you are a small library, this would would very well if you combined in-service training to do with other libraries. [Another trend I see quite often in more rural locations].

But back to day and my second point in this post. I will be offering my signature RA for All program followed by the Booktalking program for the staff at Addison who choose to join me. However, because Brooke, the Assistant Director of Addison Public Library, didn’t want the jargon [what does RA for All or Booktalking mean to non RA staff?] to confuse people and keep them from trying my sessions simply because they didn’t understand what was being offered, she asked if she could rebrand them. I eagerly said yes, not only because I have known Brooke for years and trust her, but also because it is an excellent point. How will nonprofessional staff be able to make an informed choice about which sessions to attend if they don’t even understand the title of the the program.

So today instead of RA for All and Booktalking, I will be presenting....

Have a great weekend and don’t forget to keep participating in #LibFaves17, it will go on throughout the weekend. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

What I’m Reading: Zero Day to Commemorate the Final Meeting of the ARRT Speculative Fiction Genre Study

Today I have a starred review of the final book in a trilogy. The star I gave this final book is really a star for the entire series. I have enjoyed the other books in the series which I wrote about here and here, but with the publication of the final installment I can 100% tell you that this is a must buy and a must read.  

Even though this review was published last week, I held it for today because it is the final meeting of the two-year ARRT Speculative Fiction Genre Study.  You can click here for all of the notes and assignments

Specifically this is our [final] assignment for later today:

Lunch, Book Talks, and Wrap-Up

December 7, 2017, 2-4 PM
Glenview Public Library
  • Come prepared to share a 90-second booktalk on an author or book we didn’t cover the course of the genre study. Please bring a printout of the booktalk so we can include it in the notes.

Which brings me back to the review for today, this book is the perfect title to showcase speculative fiction today. It is fun, draws from different genres, and can be read by a wide range of readers, even those who don’t think they like speculative fiction. 

[On a side note, today is also my final time in 5 years where I had some type of leadership responsibilities for the genre study. I will not be a part of the team running the 2018-19 Romance genre study, but I will still be posting notes and assignments here on the blog.]

Here is the draft of my Booklist review which I will be presenting as my book talk:

Zero Day.

Boone, Ezekiel (author)

Feb. 2018. 336p. Atria/Emily Bestler, hardcover, $26 (9781501125102); e-book (9781501125133)First published December 1, 2017 (Booklist).

Following directly on the heels of THE HATCHING and SKITTER, Boone brings his excellent spider-apocalypse thriller to an exciting conclusion in ZERO DAY. Back is the same realistic, fast paced, edge of your seat action from the first two books, as the story continues to bounce around the world, following the cast of well developed and diverse characters readers have grown to loathe and love, as they inch closer to figuring out the key to defeating the spiders who are systematically destroying humanity. This final installment has everything readers crave in a solid thriller series, speculative or realistic, but it is the spiders, the inherent fear they invoke, their ability to reproduce efficiently, and their evolution as actors in this drama that raises the stakes, the suspense, and the enjoyment here. Also, unlike most adventure stories, this one is not fueled by testosterone; in fact quite the opposite, as it is the women here who posit that the key to saving the world might be in understanding the spider queens. In particular it is a female scientist and US President who fight the men to be heard, take over, and lead the final charge, hoping that their intuition will save all of humanity, but fully knowing that if they are wrong, the world as we know it will end. Readers will race to the trilogy’s finish with our heroes, and be glad that they went along for the entire ride. ZERO DAY cements the entire series as one you will be handing out for years to come for fans of all high action thrillers, but especially for those who like the speculative frame in titles by Mira Grant, Jonathan Maberry and Ben H. Winters. But more importantly, it is a series worth rooting for. In a landscape where the adventure thriller seems to be dragging, it is clear all we needed were some spiders to revive it.
Further Appeal: I cannot stress enough how this is a perfect thriller with or without the spiders. To prove this point, I gave it to a patron who loves Baldacci and doesn’t really like apocalyptic or speculative fiction. She literally couldn’t put the first two books down. Well, let me rephrase that, she only put them down when she started to feel things crawling on her. She took a break but went back to it as soon as she could. Yesterday I gave her my ARC of this third book. She cannot wait to finish the series.

As a reader, I also liked how this series shows the apocalypse as it unfolds, in real time. Many apocalyptic series start post apocalypse and then they go back and show you how things got to be destroyed through flashbacks while they concentrate the “present" action on how people are surviving. Here, in Boone’s series, we watch the apocalypse happen in real time and the focus is on the battle to stop it. Choices, both good and bad, are made, and they are made urgently as things are unfolding quickly. We the reader can see all over the world and know things the local actors do not. All of this adds suspense, drama, and intrigue to the story.

Finally, I have to say it.....SPIDERS! Seriously, is there anything people in general are more scared of than spiders? Nope. It’s genius to have them bring the apocalypse.

Three Words That Describe This Book: fast-paced, speculative thriller, fun

Readalikes: All three mentioned in the review above are the best matches as they are all series that share the fast-paced, speculative thriller, and fun appeal factors, but many realistic political thrillers would work also work, like Baldacci.

World War Z is also a good readalike, and that is a book that also had cross-over appeal for people who don’t normally like supernatural aspects to their geo-political thrillers. However, World War Z  is told entirely in flashback. If you really liked the speculative apocalypse in real-time aspects of the Boone series, I would suggest The Fireman by Joe Hill instead.