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

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Meet Omaha Public Library’s Well-Read Collective An Example That Working Together Is Your Best Resource

I have been giving my signature RA for All training for over 10 years now, but every single time I present this talk it is different. Yes, some of the examples have stayed the same and the basic principles have not changed, but if I go back and compare the first time I gave this talk and the most recent one you might not even recognize them as the same training.

I use my 10 Basic Rules of RA Service as the broad outline for this introduction to the principles and basic actions of providing service to leisure readers. When I update this page and the rules, I always note that date in the page title, so long time readers can see that there is something new.

Recently, I made some major updates. Once was this:
8. Working together is your MOST valuable resource
     --both across whole staff and with other libraries
In the talk I lead up to this rule slowly, mentioning and developing the idea so that by the time we get to it, the audience is nodding along.

The basic principle is that you can use the concept compound interest to have access to more information about more books. If I read 10 books this year, and Jenny reads 20 and Bill reads 15 and Jose reads 30, and we all record something that isn’t plot based [I argue at least three adjectives] about those books, I may have only read 10 books but I have access to 75 “read” books.

Now I can use everyone’s reading to help my patrons. By working together, I have exposed myself to many more books, books I would never have the time to read myself. Plus, when we share with each other, we learn which staff members like which kind of books. Jenny may work in Youth Services but turns out, her favorite personal reads are contemporary erotica [this is based on my experience that more YS librarians than you think love this subgenre, you just don’t know about it because they can’t suggest them at the desk]. When we know who likes what, we can use each staff member as a resource for those types of books.

If we work together, we learn who the staff exerts are for different types of books. Yes, this means we know who to send readers with a similar taste, but if we treat this institutional knowledge like a resource and put it somewhere in the cloud [Goodreads, website, etc...], we can help these readers even when that staff member if off.

Don’t underestimate how important this is to your institution beyond just helping readers. First, the feeling of being part of team is enhanced by all parties when we use each other as a resource. Team building is always good for any staff. Second, it reinforces to the patrons that the library works as a team and they can expect the same level of excellent service from all staff members.

My 8th rule also mentions working with other libraries. This is especially important in more rural areas where the libraries themselves only have a few staff members. The compound interest of combining 3 people’s reading is not as helpful as when the staff is larger. But, you can virtually share across libraries. I use the Missouri Book Challenge as my favorite example of that regional sharing.

But here is a secret. All library staff, everywhere, who share their reading online can help anyone else with internet access anywhere. Today I wanted to highlight one of the better examples of staff sharing their reading preferences from a library I have visited-- The Omaha Public Library’s Well-Read Collective:

Click through and see what they have for yourself. You don’t have to live in Omaha to use their lists as a resource. You an even go into their catalog and see the comments from the library workers, comments which focus on the appeal of the book because the plot is right there in the catalog record.

What I love about the Well-Read Collective is that it is a program that focuses on helping people both in the building and online. It is also accessible through their website, but the comments by the library workers are also in the catalog. They are helping readers and each other by working together in as many places and from as many access points as possible. And, since OPL is a library with a solid budget and a large staff, they have the resources to help every single one of us.

There are many examples of this type of sharing, both formal like this and more informal like with shared Goodreads shelves, but the overall point is that working together is the best resource. So get out there and are what you are reading, work together, in our libraries, in our regions, and across the country.

You can always see everything I have read since 2007 by using this link.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

RA Outreach Slides and Upcoming ARRT Program Announcement

Last week I went to the ARRT program RA Outreach: Taking Books on the Road. Although I am on the Steering Committee for ARRT, I had nothing to do with this program and I had missed the March meeting where the details were unveiled so I was not prepared for how INSPIRING and USEFUL this program ended up being. I mean, I knew it would be good, but it was awesome.

I was one of the official live Tweeters during this event. For every program we use #ARRTreads but because I know that people encounter my posts in different time frames, I have also included this link which isolates only the Tweets for this program. Reminder, you do NOT have to have a Twitter account to see the conversation. You only need an account to participate.

There you will see, in reverse chronological order, the full conversation and revelations that happened at that program.

But you can also pair that Twitter discussion with the slides that Sarah and Sam graciously shared with us. They are posted here on the ARRT Programs page, where we post all of the links and handouts from past programs.

Pairing the twitter conversation and slides, you can recreate being there fairly well.  I should also point out that Sarah and Sam did a great job with their slides. They each had a lot of information about demographics and such that we needed to know in order for their presentations to make sense, so they made a few slides with all of that data and info. It was there for us to refer to, then and later, but also, freed them up from having to spend their presenting time going over it all.

[Side note/hint: if you want to see the live Tweets from another program, use the program page to figure out the date and then do a Twitter advanced search for #ARRTreads and make the date range from the day before to the day after. You can then pair that with the slides for that particular program.]

I was very energized to think about how my community could improve its RA outreach [and we already do a lot more than others]. In fact, I brought up something in Sarah’s brainstorming session during the presentation-- providing RA at the Friday night football games in our town. My high school football team is not very good but everyone comes out to support them. It is more about the hanging out as a community than the football. Why not have the library there? Other community groups bring a table and set up in the track. It’s well lit. There are plenty of power sources. We could bring books, do mobile circ, teach people how to download, etc.... Especially in the second half when there is less reason to stay and many of the people who came to support their kids in the halftime shows, leave.

Go look at the Tweets and the slides for yourself. It was a great program.

But now it is time to move on to the next one, and it features last year’s ARRT sponsored ILA RA Service award winner, Deborah Hoffman:
Hosting Author Events At Your Library
Tues, July 24, 1:00 – 3:00 PM
Warren-Newport Public Library
I unfortunately cannot make this one, but if you can, click here to sign up.

I do know that someone will be live Tweeting it and there will be slides, so I can recreate what happened in my absence.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Call to Action: Formats Are Not Genres

I always think this is obvious, but alas, I am often reminded that not everyone knows this basic info so I will repeat it clearly today:
  • Graphic Novels and or Comics are not a genre 
  • Audio Books are not a genre.
  • eBooks are not a genre 
Each is a FORMAT, a way in which a story is arranged and presented that is different from a traditional prose book.

Graphic novels/comics use picture and words to tell their story. Audio books are a reading of any kind of story. eBooks are digitized versions of a story that must be read on and electronic device of some type.

Every single one of these FORMATS can be used to tell a story in ANY GENRE, fiction and nonfiction. In the case of eBooks, you can even have a double format in any genre as it could be a digital graphic novel or comic. These formats are used to tell stories in every genre. You pick a genre and a format as a reader. 

I know you all know this when you think about it. I know you are not dumb. And yet, all of the time I see and hear people talking about these formats like they are genres, as if every reader who wants a graphic novel is looking for the same type of read. They are not.

The story itself, the feel of it, the general genre outlines which dictate the type of storytelling, all of this is independent of the format in which the story unfolds. 

Readers need to pick a genre and a format. Just because we think printed novels are the default does not mean that is so for every reader. 

Now, there are definitely issues relating to format that can make one preferred over another at different times for different readers.  Let’s take myself for example. When it comes to audio books, I prefer to read nonfiction, mysteries, and long literary fiction, and science fiction in audio. I cannot articulate exactly why this is the case and I am not exclusive in only listening to these genres, nor do I never read these genres in a paper book [except maybe traditional mysteries; I pretty much only do those on audio], but when I am looking for audio, these are the genres I prefer.

But that is me. See how complicated I am. And I understand myself as a reader because it is literally my job to analyze myself. Now multiple this time every single patron who walks through our doors and add the fact that our readers aren’t thinking about their own reading preferences as specifically when it comes to genre, let alone format, and this is where problems occur.

Here is another story to showcase this point from a different angle. Back in 2013 my book club really wanted to try a Graphic Novel. They were intrigued by the format,  but were overwhelmed by the shear number of choices.  They thought that if we picked the title together and I was helping them through it, allowing them to discuss it and adding some of my expertise along they way, that they would have a better experience. I made them an annotated list of graphic novels in a variety of genres, both fiction and nonfiction that weren’t superhero based. Before I even started explaining how artists draw in different styles, I reminded them that they needed to also consider genre. To my surprise, none of them realized that “graphic novels” wasn’t a genre classification.

Now these are well educated women who read in every genre. They read diversely and internationally. I had trained them to think about their personal appeal preferences and analyze what they were looking for each time they reached for a new book. They were “smart” readers and even they were mixing up format and genre.

Eventually, we decided that since they all tended to enjoy memoir as a genre both personally and in book club, that we would chose a memoir in graphic form. The deciding factor for them was that if they picked a graphic memoir that was written and drawn by the author they could also more easily discuss the pictures as an extension of the story this person was crafting about themselves. In other words, we thought about genre and format in making our decision.

We chose Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and you can read how the discussion went here.

I am happy to say, that a few of those ladies have gone on to read more graphic novels since then, and one even thanked me a few years later for making her think about graphic novels as a format only. She has sought out other stories and genres in this format because of our work together.

The moral today is that we all need to be more aware of the fact that we need to help our readers navigate to the correct story for them while also educating them about the fact that they can enjoy those stories in a variety of formats. Don’t assume that our patrons understand that format is NOT the same as genre, even the savvy ones. Heck, even we forget sometimes.

Please don’t forget to offer other formats and not only when the print book is checked out. Yes, I know that many people are first introduced to audio books or eBooks when the print version they wanted is checked out, and I know many of these readers then end up seeking out these formats on their own after that, but format recommendations should not be for emergencies only. Nor should they be for vacation only. Format can be a first choice, but only if we remember to offer and explain the full range of choices.

If our patrons knew more about their choices, if we had conversations about both the type of story they are looking for AND the way in which it is presented to them, we would not only make ourselves more useful to our patrons, but they will be more satisfied with both their service and the stories they find with our help.

And it all starts with my friendly reminder that Formats are not Genre.

For past Call to Action posts, click here.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Barbara Hoffert’s 2018 BEA Galley Guide

BEA is just around the corner, but dont be sad if you arent going because you still have access to Barbara Hofferts wonderful Galley Guide. 

Click here for access to over 200 key titles from the show with descriptions!

But Becky, if I am not going, why should I care about the free books other people are going to get?

Thanks for asking disembodied voice of the average reader.

As I have explained in this [different] post, whether or not you are present at the conference in question, these galley guides can help you immensely. I will not repeat myself as to why. You can easily go here and read.

So before you head out for the holiday weekend, take a look at the galley guide and especially this post by me on how to use it to help patrons right away. Seriously, even though many of these books aren’t coming out for a while, I have proven tips and tricks on how to make this preview work for you today-- right now! Im not kidding. Immediately. Click through and see for yourself.

And if you see something you really like, head on over to NetGalley or Edelweiss+ and request an eGalley of your own. Not sure how to sign-up and get preapproved? No problem, Library Reads has you covered here.

Have a great holiday weekend. May you read a good book or two. See you Tuesday.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

RA for All Roadshow Visits Northbrook [IL] Public Library

Today I am not traveling far but I am helping a library reinforce a shift it its organization both physically and in terms of its culture.

The Northbrook [IL] Public Library recently merged its Adult Fiction and AV departments into one single Fiction and Media Department. This change signaled that all leisure items and the patrons who use them- whether they are watched, listened to, or read are now on equal footing and demand the same amount of respect and importance.

But this change also means that staff could either use a refresher or an introduction as to basic RA. I was invited to provide just this-- a singular training experience that would both reinvigorate the experts and introduce the novices all at the same time. In other words-- we are going to have a whole lot of RA based fun today. Oh, and learn something too.

The Fiction and Media Department also invited anyone else on staff who wanted to come to my program and I have heard a bunch of people took them up on the offer. All in all they are expecting 24 people for this 3 hour training, which is a good number considering the size of the library and the fact that it will remain open while I am there.

I applaud Northbrook for putting enough of an importance of their advisory services to leisure patrons to not only hire me to come out, but to make time for staff from all over the organization to attend.

Here is the schedule for this afternoon:

1-2:45: RA for All Signature Training: follows my 10 Rules of Basic RA Service [just updated!]

3-4: Booktalking: Harnessing the Power of Sharing Books With Readers: Slide access here

Finally, this would be a good time to remind everyone that I am only open to local appearances [within 3 hours of Chicago] June and July [although even that is tight]. I have limited August and [more limited] September openings. October is CLOSED. November and December are beginning to get inquiries and I already have a few 2019 dates in the works. If you want me to come to your library or conference soon, get in touch. We can at least get the conversation started. [If we start talking in 2018, I can hold you at 2018 pricing.]

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Searching by Themes in NoveList

Today I have an announcement from NoveList, one I have been waiting to share with you for a while.

For years here on the blog I have talked about getting to the “why” people like a book through appeal terms. It is not plot that determines whether or not someone loves a book. Nope, not even a little. Don’t believe me? Here’s an exercise I do with people in my training sessions:
Think about a book you love. An all time favorite or a recent good read. Now think about the plot, what happens in the story....
 Okay, now think about a bunch of books you have enjoyed over the years. Just let them come to mind. Now, stop. Raise your hand if every single book you thought of has the same plot as that first book?
I haven’t seen a hand go up yet....ever.

It is the things other than plot which dictate whether or not you like it. It is the overall feel of the book, its appeal. Those appeal factors are in the categories of pacing, character, storyline style, tone, mood, frame etc... Those  adjectives I talk about with my “three words” in my reviews. Those appeal terms are also something you can search by in NoveList

But there are things that do show up in many of the stories that a single person may enjoy. These are things that, while not exactly plot, do tie in with the plot. Things like “suburban malaise” or “friends to lovers.” Themes that frame a story and are specifically tied with the plot without completely defining “what happens.”

People have asked me for years in my training sessions how they can search for these. All I would offer was keyword searching to capture those themes as mentioned in reviews, knowing that this was imperfect because individual reviewers would use different phrasing; it would not be a standard language. However, for a while now, I have known that NoveList has been working on adding these themes to their databases, standardizing the language, and tagging everything to make it all searchable. Late last week, it was finally unveiled.

I have also added “themes” as a tag here on the blog and will write about themes and how to use them to match readers with books more often, especially now that I know there is a resource for it.

Even if you do not subscribe to NoveList, I think the concepts they present in the announcement below can be used to help you help patrons. Just thinking about theme as an entry point into a “good read” for a patron is another conversation starter for your RA interactions.

Here is that announcement with links to contact them for more information and it is reposted [with permission] below.


Product update: Themes

Magnified Appeal and Themes
Appeal terms are a signature feature of NoveList, and since their introduction in 2010 have been helping librarians and readers around the world find books based on style and mood. 

We like to think of appeal terms as the secret language of books, all the ways a book speaks to a reader and lingers long after it’s been returned to the library. Of course, great book recommendations aren’t about appeal alone. They’re about how all the elements of a story fit together and create something special. Appeal, genre, and -- the newest addition to NoveList -- theme.

Themes are popular and recurring plot elements found in fiction -- think ‘chosen ones’ in fantasy or fake relationships in romance. You’ll see them in NoveList with the genre and appeal terms of a book.
NoveList librarians have been hard at work researching and developing themes, and we can’t wait to see what books themes guide you to discover. 
We want your readers to be excited, too, so we also created a series of bookmarks in LibraryAware with popular titles, their story elements, and reading recommendations for those story elements.
As you’re browsing NoveList and discovering themes for your favorite books, we want to know what you think! Contact us with your feedback -- and if you come across a theme you find particularly exciting (“secret baby” is a favorite around here) share it with us on Twitter or Facebook

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Happy Birthday Arthur Conan Doyle

Today is Sherlock Holmes Day, and it’s being celebrated all over the world! That’s because it is Arthur Conan Doyle’s birthday.

From the Sherlock Holmes Wikipedia page [which is an awesome resource/rabbit hole for info on its own]:
Though not the first fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes is arguably the best known, with Guinness World Records listing him as the "most portrayed movie character" in history.[1] Holmes's popularity and fame are such that many have believed him to be not a fictional character but a real individual;[2][3][4] numerous literary and fan societies have been founded that pretend to operate on this principle. Widely considered a British cultural icon, the character and stories have had a profound and lasting effect on mystery writing and popular culture as a whole, with the original tales as well as thousands written by authors other than Conan Doyle being adapted into stage and radio plays, television, films, video games, and other media for over one hundred years.
But, Sherlock Holmes is more than just popular, people all over the world, from all backgrounds have not only been drawn to him, but they have made him their own. And for many, Holmes is more than a fictional character, he is a real person.

A few years ago I had a chance to go to 221b Baker Street and visit the “world’s most famous address.” Holmes’ “home" is a museum now, and on the top floor they keep a binder with letters that real people have written to Holmes. The museum constantly rotates the letters so that the most recent are there for you to look at [they keep them all in storage and they have hundreds of thousands which have been sent to the address since the 1800s]. Seeing those letters, people asking for help with a mystery, telling Holmes what he means to them, and just expressing thanks was not only moving, but educational. 

Seeing how much this fictional character meant to so many people really drove home the theories I teach. Doyle’s Holmes was so vividly drawn that he is literally a friend to people, people who could never meet him. That is intense appeal personified. I was blown away by how a character, made up by a man, brought to life on the page, over a century ago could be so real. Even I could feel him when I was there. When people have strong feelings about any book [good or bad] I remind myself of that visit to 221b Baker Street and remember how fake things can become real. I will never forget that day and I am simply someone who likes Holmes, not an uber fan in any way [now my 15 year old daughter, she is in the uber fan category].

You can celebrate Sherlock Holmes anytime of year in the library-- he is that popular and you have that many items to make a display in each department - but today you can take advantage of the intense coverage like that over at Book Riot which has links, lists, and more from just about every conceivable angle. It will help you celebrate a little better.

I also highly suggest Leslie Klinger’s award winning work writing about Holmes and annotating his stories. 

Happy Sherlock Holmes Day!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Call to Action-- How to Identify Diverse Books Before They Are Published [via Kelly Jensen and Book Riot]

As readers of this blog know, I have been on all of you for a while now about not only diversifying your own reading, but promoting more diverse reads.

You can click here to see many of my rants about this topic. [I especially think you need to read this one] But, I have also been particularly on all of us about how we need to do better when it comes to Library Reads.

Here’s the hard truth about this “too many white books” issue-- librarians are over 80% white ladies. White ladies are the majority and if there is a problem here [which there is] then the only way to fix it is with those in that majority to take a stand. Marginalized people should not have to “fix” a problem the majority has created. In fact, I find it repulsive that we throw this issue back at marginalized librarians to handle it for us.

To be fair, I work behind the scenes with some of marginalized librarians to make sure I am addressing the issue appropriately [because good intentions are not always enough], but it is the white lady librarians who need to lead the charge and Kelly Jensen and I are ready and willing.

A few months ago, Kelly and I went out to lunch to work out a plan to combat this problem AND give you all the information you need to be successful executing the plan. We have both put our positions out in public; we have both made it clear that we are mad and fed up, and we have both implored you all to do better.  Well, today we have your marching orders.

Kelly offered to take the lead and begin this next step with a how-to post on identifying diverse books  on Book Riot because we are sick of all you all complaining that you can’t find diverse books.

We are specifically targeting the Library Reads nomination process to effect real change.  As I have said here and Kelly also says in her post, stop using the LR list to promote the big name titles people would be ordering no matter what.

While Kelly has taken on the topic of identifying new diverse titles, I have started a tangential discussion to help solve the problem on older books, books which are perfectly good to book talk except that you all tell me you can’t because you haven’t read them. My solution, “Use the Words of Others to Booktalk.”  Seriously, you can read a review off of Goodreads or Novelist of a “diverse” title and that’s a booktalk.

So Kelly gives you the new book info and I have the backlist. This means you can start today with older titles while you look forward to promoting new ones.

But we are not stopping here. Next, look for more conversations about this issue coming from me and Kelly. We are gathering your comments [and both of us have received many, some kind, and some less so] and we will have a series of conversations shared in print and in person where we can address frank and honest concerns and issues. But I promise you this, we will not make excuses for any of you, nor will we let you get away with making excuses for yourself.

So read Kelly’s post. The intro paragraphs and a link to the full piece are below. She even gives you access to the database she has created of the diverse titles due out in the coming months. That’s right, you can no longer use the I am too busy argument. Kelly did your work for you.

Read on, think about the books you are promoting and make sure they reflect all experiences, and remember, we, the majority of librarians, [even the well meaning ones, even me], we are the problem. Let’s start working on being the solution.





If your job is to serve your community—and frankly, the excuse that your community is “all white” is a lie you keep telling yourself, perhaps in part because you’re simply welcoming one demographic over every other one—then you need to be reading diversely. One extremely simple way to do this is to read diverse books with an eye toward elevating them to a LibraryReads nomination. The LibraryReads lists, as you should be aware, are then distributed to librarians throughout the USA, helping them to better select and highlight great books for their patrons.
But if the lists continue to be all or primarily white—and even more frustrating, highlight the books that any good librarian is going to buy anyway since they’re by heavy-hitting authors—then the list serves no purpose for you as a reader, for you as a reader’s advisor, or for anyone else who picks it up. It’s merely a popularity contest.
“I don’t have time to read diverse books” is a statement borne of privilege and laziness, plain and simple. You do. Perhaps it means you prioritize reading one title by an author of color per month over something else you can pick up down the road. Perhaps it means you challenge yourself to do something more radical, like read a book by an author of color every three books you read. These are extremely simple changes that will pull you from your comfort zone, make you a better reader, and make you better aware of the reality of the community your serving and in turn, better serve that community. 

Click here to continue reading...

Friday, May 18, 2018

Get in the Mood for Romance with The Corner Shelf

Many of you and your patrons will be getting up at the crack of dawn to participate in the Royal Wedding [I will be sleeping]. Romance is in the air and Susan Maguire has you covered with many useful and fun links in the latest issue of The Corner Shelf from Booklist.

There is an interview with Rebekah Weatherspoon about her romance website-- WOCInRomance.com. I love this resource because it is one of the only romance resources that breaks out the different tropes the way readers look for them, plus everything is diverse!

This issue also includes the video from an excellent live event about helping patrons find romance titles and a historical romance list without a single Duke.

Finally,  Susan mentions the ALA Annual Read N Rave panel which I can now announce that I will be a part of for the second year in a row! If you are in NOLA come see me on 6/25 at 10:30 am raving about what I have read.

Below is the intro from the newsletter with all the deals and links. Click here to see the entire newsletter.
In this issue, we've got an interview with Rebekah Weatherspoon, romance writer and founder of WOCInRomance.com, which will become your next collection-development and readers'-advisory obsession. Then I made a list of the top 10 historical romances that aren't about, like, dukes and stuff. Not that there's anything wrong with dukes! (Happy wedding, Harry and Meghan! Call me!) And, yes, I also share the video of our live RA Conversation about romance and diversity, called "Everybody Say Love: Helping All Patrons Find HEA." 
And that's it! What are you guys reading? What are your patrons reading? Do you do summer-reading programs for adults or just for kids? Drop me a line at smaguire@ala.org, and let me know! 
And if you're going to ALA, come to our Read 'n' Rave on Monday at 10:30. We'll be readin' and ravin'. 
Yours fondly,Susan Maguire, Senior Editor, Collection Development and Library Outreach, Booklist 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

What I’m Reading: Three Completely Different [but all very good] Science Fiction Books

As I mentioned here yesterday, I have five reviews in the current issue of Booklist. Today I am posting the 3 Science Fiction ones. Beginning with the one that straddles horror and SF and then moving to the darker SF and then finally the lightest one.

As I looked at this progression, laid out in a single post, I was struck by how they present a snapshot of the wide range of writing styles and tones in SF. I personally liked all three very much but I also recognize that in most cases each has a different audience. But all 100% belong in the public library.

Note: like all my Booklist reviews, the ones published here are the unedited drafts [so they are longer] and I add bonus information.

Black Helicopters.

Kiernan, Caitlín R. (author).
May 2018. 208p. Tor, paperback, $14.99 (9781250191137); e-book, $3.99 (9781250191120)First published May 15, 2018 (Booklist).

Kiernan follows up the success of Agents of Dreamland [2017] and its mysterious hero “the Signalman” by revisiting and expanding the World Fantasy Award Nominated novella where this secret agent first appeared, albeit only briefly. In this nonlinear, science fiction horror hybrid, populated by strong and brilliant women, Ptolema, an immortal assassin working for a secretive agency is sent to Ireland to find and destroy “The Twins,” while across the ocean a Lovecraftian creature is emerging from the ocean off the coast of Maine, threatening to destroy humanity, and, centuries into the future, the consequences of these two storylines are still playing out. But this novella is less about the intricate plot, although the action itself is intense and compelling, instead this book paints a cautionary, haunting, and menacing picture of a world that is falling apart at its edges, in places the average person cannot see, yet it is clear that this very real danger will eventually reach us all. Kiernan lures readers in with her lyrical language, juxtaposing gorgeous prose with scenes that are horrific, both literally and psychologically. The effect is stunning and uncomfortably satisfying. This is not a book for readers who want to know where the author is taking them, but rather those who are looking for a read that will immerse them in a rich, atmospheric and slightly terrifying world. Suggest to fans of the new spate of weird fiction such as critically acclaimed and popular works by Jeff VanderMeer, Victor LaValle and Carmen Maria Machado.

Further Appeal: This is a rewritten, prequel novella to Agents of Dreamland, and Agents” has been nominated for every speculative fiction novella award over the past year, so there will be interest in Black Helicopters.

This novella is weird, but in a good way. And it wasn’t just the storyline that was askew, but also the way the story is told. Each chapter begins with the date and where you are, but it really jumps around.  It was a bit confusing at first, but once I got in the rhythm and knew the characters [it moves pretty quickly], I was in the groove. This is a story that would not be as interesting if it were told in order, however. The fluidity of the timeline added to the anxiety and dread.

There are also a few frames that add interest: chess and paleontology. You don’t need to like or know about either but if you do, it’s a good draw here.

Kiernan is a genius; that is an accepted fact in the speculative fiction world. Her work with these Tor.com novellas is simply putting that virtuosity on display for a new generation of readers.

On a side note, I got to sit with her and her wife at dinner for the Stoker Awards banquet. Kiernan was a guest of honor and had just given her papers to the Hay at Brown University [where Lovecraft’s paper are]. She is a guarded and quiet person but so very kind and brilliant. I had completely forgotten I had this novella on tap to review until I got home and saw it waiting for me.

Three Words That Describe This Book: fluid timeline, strong women, menacing

Readalikes: The three I give in the review above are linked to times I have written about those authors here on the blog. Those links lead to even more readalike options.

Also, those who are nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award most embody the way Kiernan writes.

It Takes Death to Reach a Star.
Jones, Stu (author) and Gareth Worthington (author).
May 2018. 306p. Vesuvian, paperback, $17.99  (9781944109523); e-book, $7.99 (9781944109530)
REVIEW. First published May 15, 2018 (Booklist).

It is the year 2251 and humans have barely survived the New Black Death [NBD] that swept the globe after WWIII. Civilization is now only in Etyom, a dark, freezing city in what was Siberia. There are two races of people living two very different lives. In the dark, frigid, walled cities on the ground live the Robusts, descendants of the poor who were immune to the NBD and live hand to mouth, surviving however they can, while up in the skies, on a series of “lily pads” lives the Graciles, genetically engineered descendants of the super rich, living in comfort. Readers enter this complex world effortlessly as they fall into step with Mila, a plucky, strong, and resourceful Robust and Demitri, a brilliant, scientist Gracile with heart who is hiding a dark secret. Their strong and engaging first person narrations alternate, telling the story from their diametrically opposed yet neighboring worlds, while the action and twisting plot, blending political intrigue and caper, keeps the story moving at a fun and brisk pace from the very first page. But there is also much to ponder here in this well researched tale; serious issues like the place where science and faith collide, human interference in evolution, and race and class biases. Cinematic, thought provoking, and immersive, this is a great option for fans of darker, grittier, and more science focused dystopias in the style of the Blade Runner movies or the novels of Philip K. Dick.

Further Appeal: This was a unique dystopia in that it had a very strong spiritual frame without being overtly religious and without making a judgment pro or con about that spirituality. It was refreshing in this time when things that bring up religion and spirituality usually have an agenda. I did not feel this book did.

The world building was also excellent without sacrificing the plot or the character development.

And the cast was very diverse in the Robust's world and not so much with the Gracile's [this is because they are genetically engineered to be so similar]. Like the very best SF of any era, this novel uses science to bring us to a world not possible yet, but uses that setting to make us ponder our current situations, issues, and problems. 

Three Words That Describe This Book: cinematic, thought provoking, immersive

Readalikes: Any darker, hard science dystopias like those I mention in the review would work well. I also thought of Seveneves by Stephenson while reading this novel.

Gate Crashers.

Tomlinson, Patrick S. (author).
June 2018. 416p. Tor, paperback, $15.99 (9780765398642); e-book (9780765398659)
First published May 15, 2018 (Booklist).

The year is 2345 and the American-European Union Starship Magellan, travelling at half light speed, its crew on a 60+ year mission, comes upon proof of the existence of sentient aliens in the form of a space “buoy”. Captain Allison Ridgeway and her crew work with a secret government team back on earth to figure out the technology of this alien craft and learn more about who made it. Of course, the secret isn’t kept back on earth or for that matter, in space, for long as politicians, bureaucrats, the military, and even some alien beings start to get involved. What follows is a political space opera, where humor and hard science play off each other with a colloquial ease as the reader gets to know a motley group of characters whose actions are the main engine driving this story. With a constantly shifting narration, that not only provides a 360 degree view of the issues, situation, and perspectives but also drives the compelling pace and the strong world building, holding us in place as the characters move through the universe, develop new technologies, explore new planets, and encounter new species, all the while forcing all, human, alien, and the reader, to think about our place in the universe, what we would actually do if we made contact with aliens, and how those aliens might in turn deal with us? It may sound like old tropes, but there are many new ideas here, ones to draw in genre fans both casual and serious. This is thought provoking, character-centered, science fiction with a sense of humor in the vein of Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire or Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series.

Further Appeal: I cannot stress how much fun this book was to read, but the humor was NEVER at the expense of the seriousness of the story. It did both very well. It is thought provoking and fun in equal measures which is rare.

The science was also good. It was plausible and interesting. Plus, the discussion of technology and how different beings figured out different things and when and how they use it-- all of those space set SF science details that make the story better were top notch.

I loved the characters. From the scientists back on earth to the aliens we meet to the earthlings on the ship, they were all great. The interplay between everyone was enjoyable too. And the entire conceit of the story-- how and why the aliens have left us alone-- was fantastic. It made so much sense.

I can’t stress enough how much this can be enjoyed by hard core space opera fans and newbies alike.

Three Words That Describe This Book: fun, thought provoking, character driven

Readalikes: I gave two choices above. Scalzi in particular is the king of this type of story and any readalikes for him would also work.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

What I’m Reading: Cabin At the End of the World and Clickers Forever

I have 5 reviews in May 15, 2018 issue of Booklist but I am breaking them up because 2 are horror and 3 are SF.

Before I get to the reviews of the horror ones today I wanted to share that both of these horror books made me cry, and not out of fear, out of true emotional feelings. That is the sign of an amazing horror book. I am sharing this because you can use that extra info to help booktalk the titles. 

As always, here on the blog, I post the draft reviews [which are longer than the published ones] with extra appeal info, readalikes, and my “three words.” 

 The Cabin at the End of the World.

Tremblay, Paul (author).

June 2018. 288p. Morrow, hardcover, $26.99  (9780062679109); e-book (9780062679123)
First published May 15, 2018 (Booklist).

Tremblay is back with another thought provoking, page turning, horror novel that stabs readers directly in the gut, twists the knife, yet leaves them begging not to be let go. Wen is almost eight years old. She is on vacation, with her Dads, Andrew and Eric, at the end of a dirt road, on a lake in New Hampshire, with no one for miles. While catching grasshoppers on the front lawn, Leonard, a large man in a white button down shirt, approaches Wen, asking her for help to convince her Dads to let him and his friends into their home, for you see, they have come here, to this secluded place, with their menacing and crude weapons, to stop the world from ending, and Wen and her Dads are the key to humanity’s survival. What follows is an extremely intense, anxiety inducing thriller that puts the family in mortal danger while forcing them, and the reader, to tackle a universal dilemma-- how does the sacrifice of one balance against that of 7 billion others? Told from various points of view, including all members of the family, all are unreliable in the sense that each only understands part of the situation, but then again, the reader too is caught up in the emotional struggle not knowing what to believe or who to trust. Is the world really going to end? Does it even matter if you don’t have the ones you love most with you. The inclusion of flashbacks into the lives of Wen, Andrew, and Eric and the family they have built together despite the odds deftly builds their characters and amplifies the dread and terror which permeates every sentence. This is a novel with the heart and tone of The Road by McCarthy, but will also appeal to fans of Ruth Ware, Josh Malerman and Joe Hill.

Further Appeal: First, in case you missed it, this title made the PW Best Book of Summer 2018 list.

Right after I turned in this review, I got to meet Tremblay in person and he told me that this novel is what happened when he challenged himself to write a home invasion story that he would want to read. Well apparently, a lot of other people want to read it too.

Readers here on the blog know I read a lot of dark books, but this one literally kept me up and gave me anxiety nightmares. By the way, for a horror fan, that is a good thing.

Personally, I really enjoyed the flashbacks into Wen, Andy and Erics lives both before they met each other and after. They are the center of this story. And, this is a little mean spirited, but I love that there will be readers who get pissed at Tremblay for holding up Wen and her Dads as being the quintessential family that can save the world. They may not be “normative," but the thing is, they are quintessential. They have so much love and respect for each other. They are not perfect, but it is nice to read about a caring, loving family for a change. However, it is still a horror novel, so you have to be willing to read about a loving family going through intense trauma too.

Which is a good point, I should remind you that this is Horror not a typical suspense story. It is horror both for the speculative elements and because of how the story plays out. Be careful. You will have your heart shattered but, in the process, you be given a lot to think about. This is an original and just outright amazing cautionary tale for our times.

Three Words That Describe This Book: family-centered, thought provoking, menacing

Readalikes: As I say above, The Road is the single book that this is most like. But, I did think of specific titles by the other authors I mentioned in the review as I was reading Cabin at the End of the WorldSpecifically if you could combine, The Woman in Cabin 10, Bird Box and The Fireman into one tight package, that best describes what Tremblay has given us here.

I also think The Changeling by Victor LaValle could work for some. The Changeling is much more fantastical and epic in scope than Cabin at the End of the World but they both have an emotionally driven parent-child story at their center.

Clickers Forever: A Tribute to J. F. Gonzalez.
Keene, Brian (editor).
 Feb. 2018. 440p. Deadite Press, hardcover, $15.95  (9781621052746)
First published May 15, 2018 (Booklist).
In this tribute to Mexican-American trailblazing author Gonzales, who died of cancer in 2014, horror master Keene, used Gonzales’ first novel, the cult-hit, crabs gone wild, Clickers, as a framework, asking his fellow writers to contribute to a collection that would honor the author. The result is a moving, compelling, and just plain fun to read volume which seamlessly melds critical essays on, such as one by Jonathan Maberry on the history of the “munch-out” subgenre, personal recollections by the Gonzales’ closest friends on the author and his work, including more than one piece about his influence as a writer of color, and even a few unpublished works by the subject himself. But those are the book’s exoskeleton, the meat lies in the 20 brand new tales of terror, set in Gonzales’ worlds, spun by those from the current generation of horror, authors like Jonathan Janz, Matt Hayward, Adam Cesare, Amber Fallon, and Stephen Kozeniewski, stories that show admiration, yes, but also showcase these up and comers own talents. Just the authors listed in the table of contents alone will have readers dying to get their claws on this volume, but combined with the recent revival in popularity of pulp horror as chronicled in Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks From Hell, this a collection that libraries need to shelve. However, the best thing about CLICKERS FOREVER is that not only will readers come away from this collection with a desire to read more by Gonzales [and all the featured authors], but also, they will feel an affection for the man himself, a man whose works they might not have ever read, a man they almost certainly have never met, but a man whose loss they will nonetheless feel because they came into contact with this book.

Further Appeal: First, wowza! That cover. Perfect for displays.

So many authors contributed to this, but despite the fact that there is fiction and nonfiction mixed together, Keene created a unified volume that has an affection for Gonzales uniting the volume. It is a book that entertains, educates, and gives you all the feels along the way.

You want more inclusive titles at your library, right? Gonzales was one of the most influential horror authors of his generation period. But specifically, there are pieces here by authors of color who share what Gonzales as a peer and an influence meant to them.

Pulp horror is also extremely popular right now; the result of a combination of the success of Paperbacks from Hell  and Generation X nostalgia. Clickers Forever fits into this trend perfectly.

Finally, Keene is the executor of Gonzales’ literary estate and all of the proceeds of this book go to the late author's widow and daughter. Keene has also been working to get Gonzales’ backlist titles back in print. Click here to see those. Grab a few for your library’s collection. Your patrons will hank you.

Three Words That Describe This Book: episodic, heart-warming, pulp

Readalikes: Just look at the table of contents or go to the killer animals chapter in Paperbacks from Hell. That will keep you and your patrons busy for a good long while.