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, August 30, 2019

What I'm Reading: Gwendy's Magic Feather [Booklist Review]

Gwendy’s Magic Feather.

Chizmar, Richard (author).
Nov. 2019. 330p. Cemetery Dance, $25 (9781587677311)
REVIEW. First published September 1, 2019 (Booklist).
In the follow up to bestseller, Gwendy’s Button Box [link to my star review], co-written with Stephen King, Chizmar brings readers back to Gwendy’s Castle Rock, with King’s blessings in the forward. Gwendy, now in her late 30s is a Congressperson representing her hometown, living in DC. Readers are treated to a captivating opening that not catches them up on Gwendy’s life and sets the stage of her alternative history 1999, but also gives some background on what happened to her as a child. When the Button Box spontaneously appears in her DC office on the eve of Christmas recess, Gwendy and the Box return home to a town in turmoil: young girls are being kidnapped, her mom is recovering from cancer, and a paranoid Gwendy cannot stop looking over her shoulder. The story is told in classic supernatural thriller mode with all of the unsettling, creeping dread of horror, all accomplished without gore. Ultimately though, this is a mythical story with an epic feel that still moves swiftly. Yes there is a compelling crime plot, but this is the story of Gwedny’s finding her personal power, on her own, to shake the demons of the Box even as it is right in front of her, and live up to her full potential and promise. An easy choice to hand off to fans of King’s Castle Rock mythos [who will love all of the “easter eggs” here], Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas Series, and most series by Charlaine Harris.

YA Statement: Teens who enjoyed the first book will be equally as enamored with the sequel. Even though Gwendy is now a full fledged adult, the coming of age themes are still very strong here. Also any teens who enjoy King’s books set in the Castle Rock mythos and those who like watching Stranger Things should check this one out.

As usual, the above was my draft review that I turned into the Booklist. The magazine review is shorter and does not include the extra information below.

Further Appeal: This is a sequel for sure. In the introStephen King talks about how Chizmar has taken Gwendy into adulthood. While you could technically get by without having read the novella which precedes this book, without it, this new story will be missing the emotional foundation upon which the novella is built and then has deposited as a sturdy foundation to this sequel.

People will still like it if they read this book alone, but they will like it more if they already knew Gwendy.

The book has a very strong narration from above, an all seeing narrator, this adds a satisfying level of eerie-ness to the entire story. Also escalating the eerie factor, this is a world that feels 100% real, but there is just a touch of magic on the edges. Chizmar pulls you under his spell with great character development and the correct amount of frame and setting details. As a result, everything is more creepy because it could really be happening. You believe it all, even after finishing the story. You know it can't be real, but what if...?

The biggest appeals are the Castle Rock Mythos, the sympathetic heroine, and the paranormal investigation storyline.

Three Words That Describe This Book: compelling, eerie, sympathetic heroine

Readalikes: I listed 2 paranormal series above, but really any paranormal investigation series, fiction or nonfiction will work here, especially those with a well developed and sympathetic hero/heroine. Odd Thomas is a perfect example.

An oldie but a goodie paranormal investigation story that this reminded me of is Alexandra Sokoloff's The Unseen. Here is a link to my review. I checked and my system still has 8 copies of this book available, including the one I bought for the Berwyn Library, so you can still get it.

But as I also mentioned above in the appeal section, this book, it all feels real, so don't forget to suggest nonfiction paranormal investigation books as a readalike too. I know you have tons on the shelf.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

RA for All Roadshow Visits Northeastern PA for a Day of Regional RA Training

One of the things I love about my job as a library consultant is the different types of groups I get to work with. Sometimes it is a single library system staff, others it is a gathering of the entire staff of a few small libraries all at once, and then I go to conferences where you get a whole mixed up group of library people. But some of the most satisfying work I do is targeted staff training as I will be doing today at a regional all day RA conference in Wilkes-Barre, PA.
Why is it so satisfying? Because at these events I can teach as a "train the trainer." I am reaching more libraries at once because their RA staff are being sent by their library to this regional event. This means that the administration already has buy-in to do more RA or they wouldn't pay for the staff member to be with me. And, I am able to include more working together exercises so that these people, from all over the same region, but most of whom do not know each other well, will continue to reach out and work together after I leave.
It is the combination of energizing library workers from so many libraries and encouraging them to both bring the information back to their home turf and to continue working together that makes me so professionally happy. I have seen my participation in these types of event help large swaths of libraries, many of whom are not officially connected in anyway other than geographic proximity, improve their service to all readers. And honestly, improving service to leisure readers is why I do this in the first place.
That being said, while the schedule of events appears to be the same as the program I did earlier this month in WI, as I was going through my approach to these presentations for today, I realized what I will say and emphasize, is actually quite different. As it should be. First the audience is double the size today. Second, the previous presentation was for a single staff serving one population, while these library workers come from a wide range of service populations. And third, I have made some updates and additions to my standard presentations even from earlier this month.
Let's get to it. Remember, while these links are specifically for today's PA attendees, there is a lot here for all of my readers, including the very first exercise we are going to be doing during check-in time! Seriously, if any of you are going to a regional meeting or running a training anytime soon, feel free to borrow this exercise. 
Here is today's schedule of events:
9-9:30: Check in and Breakfast Exercise: As people enter, they will find two sheets of paper on their tables. Each paper will have a conversation starter question. Attendees will be encouraged to discuss both questions and record some of the answers on the paper. The sheets will be collected and the answers and ideas explored at each table will be compiled by the organizers so that all of the attendees can see what was discussed at every table. The questions I have chosen for this exercise today are:
  • Why is it important to read diversely?
  • What book fo you wish you could read again for the first time?
The other point about this exercise is that it gives people a conversation starter to connect with others during the breaks too. I will be facilitating this exercise and encouraging participants share with each other all day both formally and informally.

9:30-10:45: RA for All: Readers Advisory belongs in every library, no matter its budget. The implementation of this vital service is the responsibility of every staff member-- from pages to directors, from those behind the scenes to the ones on the front lines. This program will remove the mystery behind providing great RA service. Using her “Ten Rules of Basic RA Service” as a guide, Becky Spratford will use your own love of your favorite books to show you how to help any patron find their next great read. It's not as hard as you think. But more importantly, you will learn why a staff that can harness the power of sharing a great read will become a stronger team and improve service to all patrons, especially the hardest to reach ones.
15 min break

11:00- 12: Booktalking Your Way to the Friendliest Library in Town: Booktalking is at the heart of what we do with patrons each and every day at the public library. Whether we are sharing books informally at the services desk, presenting a prepared list of books, or posting information online, talking about books is something we do each and every day. It is a core service, but it is also hard to teach. Booktalking is more of an art than a skill, but with the right guidance and some practice, it can go a long way toward engaging your patrons and re-energizing your staff. Join experienced Readers’ Advisory Becky Spratford as she shares the secret behind delivering great book talks, giving you tips and tricks you can begin using right away to hone your own skills. Rediscover the power and joy that comes from sharing books with patrons.
Lunch 12-1 with Booktalking Exercise

1-2: Demystifying Genre: Nothing is scarier than trying to help a fan of a genre you yourself don’t enjoy. You want to help that, for example, Romance reader find the perfect book, but you are having trouble knowing where to begin because...eek!... you don’t read Romance. You are afraid they will find out you are a fraud. How can YOU possibly help THEM?!? Never fear, in this program, Readers’ Advisory expert, Becky Spratford, will teach you the basic appeals of the major genres, give you the inside track on what a fan of that genre is most drawn to, and provide you with talking points to get your genres readers to tell you what they want. This program focuses on providing you with a diverse and inclusive list of up to date authors with at least 40% of the example titles representing own voices. You will leave this session with the confidence and skill to help fans of every genre, regardless of whether or not you have ever read a book in that genre yourself. And that will leave a trail of happy patrons in your wake.
15 min break

2:15-3: RA Rethink: Merchandising and Upselling Edition: If someone told you there’s a practical and easy way to increase circulation, patron visits, program attendance and the job satisfaction of your staff, would you do it? Of course you would. Librarian Becky Spratford has developed a method you can use to accomplish all of this and it plays off of the skills, talents, and interests you already possess. She’ll explain how to deepen staff involvement in readers’ advisory in a way that gets everyone from staff to patrons excited. You are spending a lot of effort and money on cultivating good collections, but are you giving those collections a fair chance to shine? Are you linking your work with patrons as you find them items to your programming and other services? Do your patrons even know the full breadth of what you offer them? And how are you measuring results? With just a few simple tweaks to how you already market your collections, services, programs and even staff, Becky will help you leave a trail of happier and more engaged patrons in your wake. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Me Talking About Helping Horror Readers and A Horror Genre Overview Featuring Other Voices Telling You What's What

The Haunting Season is creeping up on us. You know what that means, lots of resources to get you up to speed on horror.

First, a few weeks ago I ventured to ALA HQ to record a conversation with my Booklist editor, Susan Maguire about helping horror readers. You can listen to our conversation in the current episode of Susan's fantastic podcast, Shelf Care right here. 

I do need to make 2 small corrections to Susan's intro though. 1., the HWA stands for the Horror Writers Association, not Horror Writers of America. We are international. But Susan being a Romance person, is used to RWA. 2., the third edition of my book, which Susan refers to, is due to ALA Editions in late 2020, but it will not be available for purchase until Spring 2021. 

Listen to the entire podcast here, but full disclosure, my part is at the beginning. 

This leads me to the next opportunity you have to learn about horror and helping horror readers, and this one does not involve me AT ALL.

As part of NoveList and LibraryReads on going series of FREE, "Crash Course" presentation in all the genres [click here for access to the full series], Horror is up next.

You can click here to sign up or see below.

Many people have reached out to me to ask if I am involved in this webinar and the answer is, "No," and that is a good thing. Let me explain. 

First, this series is about LibraryReads Board Members and the full time staff of NoveList coming together to help library workers help every kind of reader. I am not either of those two categories of people, so I have no place being a part of this. 

Two, I should not be the only person out there telling you how to help horror readers for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I am only 1 person and I don't have that much time and enegery. But more importantly, just like I preach that "Every person reads a different version of the same book," well, that holds true for genres and training sessions too. My version of horror and my version of how to help horror readers is NOT the only version. We need multiple voices and opinions, more options and ideas in order to help every type of horror reader. I am so very glad for once to be in the audience and learn from others. I know something will come up that I haven't considered or thought of and I can't wait.

Which leads me to the webinar itself. Many people have also asked if I will be viewing it live, and I have decided not to. I am signed up and will watch the recording. I don't want to be in the virtual room, where participants will see my name and then try to interact with me. I don't want people in the chat to be asking me what I think of what is being said. I know Gregg and Autumn and Kaitlin will do a great job. I don't want to cause any distractions- for them or me. I need to learn from them just as much as you do. I know what I think. I need to hear from others. It's how we learn, but encountering new ideas from a fresh perspective. I for one, cannot wait.

Sign up for Crash Course in Horror here or use the links below.

Click here to sign up for FREE
Does the thought of helping horror readers terrify you? Whether your readers are fans of ghost stories or horror classics, let NoveList and LibraryReads break down the best horror has to offer your readers — from found footage to final girls.
Join us as they cover:
  • Why horror is so popular and how libraries can ramp up the thrills and chills in their collections
  • How horror developed, including classics, newcomers, and awards to know
  • Subgenres and trends
  • NoveList insider information on genre headings, themes, appeal terms, and more
We welcome anyone interested to stay for an additional 15-minute training to share search strategy tips and learn where to access genre-related information in NoveList.
Tuesday, September 24, 2019
2-3pm Eastern (optional training from 3-3:15pm)


Gregg Winsor is a member of the LibraryReads Board of Directors and works as a Reference Librarian and Readers' Advisory Specialist at the Johnson County Library in Overland Park, Kansas. He’s presented at several regional library associations and comic book conventions, including WorldCon and BookExpo America. He’s been a horror fan ever since he stumbled across Stephen King's short story collection Night Shift at his library at a far too young and impressionable age. You can usually find him dodging a teetering pile of unread books at his desk. 

Autumn Winters is Recommendations Lead at NoveList. When she's not busy ensuring that NoveList's handwritten recommendations are stellar, she maintains the Recommended Reads lists for children and teens and the Diverse Reading BookSquad email. In 1986, Autumn couldn't sleep for a year due to the combined influences of V.C. Andrews and Freddy Krueger. She ran a public library haunted house before coming to NoveList, and can vouch for the power of a fog machine and a few well-placed teen volunteers wearing masks to make people of all ages very uneasy.

Kaitlin Conner is a Readers’ Advisory Librarian at NoveList, where she selects and annotates horror and nonfiction titles for NextReads newsletters, creates recommendations content, and spearheads the Navigating Nonfiction Book Squad email.  She wasn’t always a horror fan (thanks to some traumatic playacting her sister insisted upon in childhood), but now she takes to the genre with gusto like Leatherface firing up the ol’ chainsaw. She loves social commentary in her horror, final girls, and Brad Dourif’s Chucky voice. She met Grady Hendrix once and it was pretty much the highlight of her year.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

If You Don't Count Audiobooks as Reading You Are Wrong

The title of this post is something I say at every library which I present. I find a way to work this statement in no matter what. I actually include Graphic Novels in the statement too, but today is about audio books specifically because while I knew I was correct, actual SCIENCE has proved me right!

Yes I am going to gloat about this to everyone who has ever disagreed with me. And long time readers know that this is not a new issue for me [That 2016 post includes a link to a 2007 post where I took a stand on this issue].

Here is the link to a summary of the study which appears in the Journal of Neuroscience. This post includes links to further information including some upcoming brain mapping. They also talk about the findings previous to the new study and where they want to expand their research.

Also, I am linking to a summary from a popular science site instead of the direct study because, well, it is easier to understand for lay people [myself included]. But again, the link to the actual study is there too.

I am hopeful this is the beginning of the end of me having to fight people over this issue.

But, seriously for a moment, because I am not a mean person and I really want to help everyone improve their service, if you are someone struggling with the idea that audiobooks are reading, I don't just want to dismiss you. I want to educate you both from this scientific standpoint, and from a RA Service point of view. So besides looking at the proof, please also read my Call to Action where I talk about why audiobooks are reading from the reader's standpoint.

Consuming a story is consuming a story, whether we do it by reading words [or words with pictures], listening to someone read to us, or watching a movie. Our brain is doing the same work. Look at it that way, and you will be less judgmental and more willing to meet your patrons where they want to begin their leisure "reading" adventure, not just where you think the starting line has to be.

Open your ears and your mind.

Monday, August 26, 2019

How We Can [and Must] Fight The Publishers on Ebook Access in Libraries

Although I haven't written about it much here on the blog, we all know that our most pressing issue these days is the increasingly contentious relationship publishers are having with libraries re: eBook access.

For those of you who need a primer, here is a link to the MANY press releases ALA has issued on the topic. 

Things are bad right now. Publishers are trying to either deny us access to eBooks in a timely fashion, creating metered access, are gouging us, or all of the above! Authors are not 100% behind us. Some are, but take this recent press release from the Authors Guild where they stood behind Macmillan in their change in access for libraries.

That is not OKAY. Compare it to the 100% against position the ALA [and many others in the library world] have taken.

Honestly, as bad as the price gouging is, it is this metered access where ebooks disappear from our offerings after so many check outs that is the worst. This is a huge administrative issue because, one, when they disappear from our OverDrive accounts, that doesn't delete them from our OPAC records, so patrons will still think they can get the books and will be upset to find they aren't even there as an option for holds, and two, we are going to be dealing with a nightmare of when books need to be reordered vs new titles being added. We will all need a full time staff member just to monitor the expiring titles, decide if we are reordering, and then There is no way this will work in a cost effective or customer service friendly way.

Even worse, we will be wasting collection development level library workers' time as they spend more of their time doing the clerical work of checking every ebook holding instead of figuring out what titles our patrons would want.

All of this, by the way, means that smaller libraries will simply stop getting eBooks for their patrons because it will not longer be cost effective on multiple fronts. And that will hurt everyone, patrons, libraries, authors and publishers.

Of course in the library world we all know this is detrimental to the patrons, our readers, the most. And we all know that if our readers don't get access to these books, they won't read them, ask for more, and or buy more titles by those authors on their own.

Jennifer, a Public Librarian in Arlington, VA has an excellent Twitter threads that she is updating with pricing info for library books, print, ebook for consumers, ebook for libraries, etc.... This is a great project she is undertaking on her won to educate as many people as possible about the problem. [You don't nee to have a Twitter login to view.] Click here to access.

But us "knowing" all of this has not been proven to the publishers. As I have mentioned here on the blog before, I have been involved with the Panorama Project, the first data-driven project to show the impact of the public library on book sales and author discovery.

Their work is more important than ever. We need to promote, encourage, and use what they are producing in order to help build actual PROOF that limited library access to materials will hurt authors and publishers in their wallets.

Please get up to speed on what the Panorama Project is doing to help us fight for ourselves and our patrons. Below are a few key links that you can use to familiarize yourself with the project and some of the people working behind the scenes to help us stand up for ourselves.

We all need to be advocating for the importance of the library as vehicle for author discovery. We need to remind publishers that we buy MANY copies of the same book. We need to show how library checkouts lead to more sales by readers who seek out titles to own. We need to stop being anecdotal about how much we so for the publishing industry and start proving it.

Panorama Project is one step forward in this journey. Jennifer is trying another. All of us need to do something. Get on social media, write articles for the local paper, reach out to authors your patrons love, talk to local bookstores, find a way to do something.

And understand, this is going to be a journey. We cannot get complacent and just accept these new rules. I know we are all busy with a thousand other issues, but find some time to do something.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Friday Reads: Flashback to Homegoing and The Mothers

When I talk about using the the backlist as your BEST resource for suggestions to patrons, I often remind you that the "sweet spot" are titles that are 2-5 years old. This is because those titles will probably still be in the library. If they were award winning and popular 2-5 years ago, they are probably not currently checked out and also aren't weeded yet.

But I don't just talk about suggesting backlist titles, I practice it.

Recently, I have fund myself suggesting The Mothers by Brit Bennett everywhere I go. When I pulled up my review of the book I found it is paired with another title I suggest all of the time too-- Homegoing by Yah Gyasi.

I have found both of these titles to be sure bet options for a wide range of readers. Currently, I am suggesting The Mothers to people who like Jodi Picoult type stories of families with issues.

Ands Homegoing is a title I give to Historical Fiction fans of all stripes, but especially those who like the wide time span a saga brings, but don't want to 800 page count.

These books are still, 3 years later, great reads and chances are more of your patrons than not haven't read them. They are "new to them," and that is all that matters.

Click here or see below for my more details reviews of these amazing 2016 debut novels. Now if only we could have a second book by these talented women. Oh well, for now, these will more than suffice.


What I’m Reading: Homegoing and The Mothers-- Two Amazing Debut Novels

Today I have my last two reviews of books I read in 2016 that will be making my year end best list [which is why they need full reviews and don’t just get comments in my Goodreads account.  Sorry Wangs vs the World. I loved you, but you just missed the cut, but only because of a fifth grade book club. Confused? It will all become clear in tomorrow’s post.]

Here we go....

The best audiobook I listened to this year was Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Plot summary from Goodreads:
The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indeliably drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.

Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.
Appeal: First and foremost this is an original, engaging, and epic historical saga. Anyone who loves broad scoped stories of a family over centuries will LOVE this novel. The historical, family saga in general is hugely popular and Homegoing will be enjoyed by all fans of this subgenre.

The way Gyasi tells the story was also part of the enjoyment.  We begin with the two half sisters’ stories, one and then the other. Told entirely separate from each other, but paired in tandem. And then each chapter alternates in the same order with two specific people in the next generation. Each time, the person we follow in the next generation, is about to be born in the generation before. And then it repeats, over and over again until we get to the present.

The effect of this frame has a ripple effect. First, it increases the pacing. You want to keep reading to see what happens next. But also, each protagonist has a short turn at the helm of the story, so the entire book reads like a series of connected short stories which significantly speeds up what is an epic tale.  It also helps the pacing that each “story” ends in a cliff-hanger.

Second, the characters are enhanced by this frame. Now that may seem counter intuitive at first since we only get to see each quickly and for a specific moment in their lives as the protagonist, but because the generations pile upon each other, and people reappear in the next generation, the resulting effect is that all of the characters we meet get more detailed, more well rounded, and more real with each story.

Third, the huge scope of centuries is brought under control because we are taking the generations and the story in bit by bit, two people at a time. The scope of this novel is broad enough that other novelists tell similar tales in hundreds if not a thousand pages, but because of Gyasi’s unique  narrative choice, she can tell a story with as much depth of character and emotion as others do in triple the page count.

I do need to comment on the ending. Yes it is kinda obvious and a little “set up” but that doesn’t matter. It is a beautiful reuniting of the characters and their stories, stories that divided early, moved back and forth, gaining in strength in our hearts, and pulling us in, and then in the end, it all goes back home. [But you knew that from the title, right?]

You do not need to know anything about the slave trade or Africa in order to enjoy this book. All you need to be is someone who loves a compelling story of a family across centuries and oceans. All you need know is that this is a historically framed story about home, love, and family.  All you need is to sit back and let Gyasi tell you the story of two half sisters and where the generations took them.

Audio Narration: Over on Audible there are a wide range of opinions about Dominic Hoffman’s narration. I for one enjoyed it. Yes it was only 1 person and he did the male and female voices, but I liked how the character’s voices were done by one person because all of the characters are related in some way, even if the relation gets fairly distant by the end. Having a man for the male voices and a woman for the female voices would add a layer of separation between the characters that would be in direct contradiction to the way the tale is written. Keeping the same narrator, even if some chapters are better narrated than others, keeps the tenuous thread connecting all of the characters across time and space taut. That is why I think the narration is perfect.

Three Words That Describe This Book: historical saga, connected stories, engaging 

Readalike: Let’s start with the obvious readalikes here, other African American historical family sagas like Roots by Alex Haley. A newer book that fits this bill is Grace by Natashia Deon. But also don’t forget one of my all time favorites, The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

Now let’s take the readalikes options out of the box a bit more. Another one of my all time favorites tells a story over centuries beginning in the 1700s in Ireland, goes aboard a slave ship, and ends up in New York up through 9/11, but this epic historical saga has a magical element and our narrator is alive throughout these centuries. He is our only narrator. It’s Forever by Pete Hamil and it is a backlist gem I still hand out all of the time. People who enjoyed Homegoing and are okay with the magical realism element should give Forever a try.

Also a bot outside the box because it is Science Fiction, I would also suggest Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. It spans 5,000 years of 7 families and tackles the issue of racism head on. It was one of my favorite reads last year too.

Back to more traditional epic, family sagas that are not only African American based. As I mentioned above, this is a popular type of book, one that transcends the character’s country of origin. Here are some suggestions, but there are literally thousands of options:

Some readers may want to know more about the slave trade. To them I recommend, The Door of No Return: The History of Cape Cast Castle and the Atlantic Slave Trade by William St. Clair as a good place to start.

Now onto The Mothers by Brit Bennett for which I read the ARC passed on to me by my friend, Magan Szwarek, after she turned in her star review for Booklist. Here is the plot summary from Goodreads:

A dazzling debut novel from an exciting new voice, The Mothersis a surprising story about young love, a big secret in a small community—and the things that ultimately haunt us most. Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett’s mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, and ambition. It begins with a secret. 
“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.” 
It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt. 
In entrancing, lyrical prose, The Mothers asks whether a “what if” can be more powerful than an experience itself. If, as time passes, we must always live in servitude to the decisions of our younger selves, to the communities that have parented us, and to the decisions we make that shape our lives forever. 
Appeal: The coolest things about this novel is how Bennett uses “The Mothers,” the older woman of the church, as a Greek Chorus. They comment on the actions and the choices of the characters and lead us through the story, for example, telling us when time passes and what we have missed. It is an ancient storytelling tradition, but one that is not used much anymore. It was refreshing but it also worked; it was not simply a “look at how smart I am author trick.” It enhanced the novel.

This is a short book (under 300 pages), but beware, it moves at a leisurely pace. It is not slow. It is reflective and lyrical. You are supposed to sit and savor the characters, their actions, and the language here. It is not a book you read for plot.  In fact, I noticed that the description I posted above basically tells you everything that happens in this novel, but it does not give away any of the joy of the experience of reading this book.

The novel is all about the characters and our reflection on their choices. The reader must be an active participant if he or she wants to enjoy this book. There is no judgment or preaching here (despite the fact that the church plays a huge part in the novel). As a result, we delve deeply into every character. We see things the other characters do not. And not every question we have about each of them is answered fully, just like in real life. How intensely the reader interacts with the prose and reacts to the characters will determine whether or not he or she enjoys this book.

This focus on characters over plot also allows for the development of a handful of solid secondary characters; more than you would normally find in a book this length. I especially liked Nadia’s father and the solider Aubrey befriends.

I also love that the fact that all of the characters are African American is not the main point of the novel. It is just who they are and the world they live in. This is the story of people. Their race is there and it does inform the story and the characters decisions, but it is not why you read this novel. This is a universal story about a community and three specific young people at its center. 

The Mothers surpassed me in that it was the most honest, nonjudgemental, nonpolitical, and fair discussions of abortion and its ramifications that I have ever read. Nadia has the abortion and then we see what happens. Again, we watch and reflect. Nothing catastrophic happens, but her life is also not infinitely better because of it either. It is just one among the many decisions made in a collection of lives. That was very refreshing. With such a divisive issue, it was nice to see it handled without judgment. [Although very passionate pro-life people may not agree with my statement.]

As much as I enjoyed reading Homegoing and was impressed with the storytelling for a debut, The Mothers possesses a maturity and sense of restraint that shocked me. Debuts are not normally this complex and well crafted.

Three Words That Describe This Book: lyrical, thoughtful, coming of age

Readalikes: I see that NoveList lists Marilynne Robinson’s classic Housekeeping as a readalike saying:
"After their mothers commit suicide, the girls in these lyrical coming-of-age novels adapt to their newly broken existence with the help of surrogate mothers while simultaneously longing to leave their claustrophobic small towns. Both character-driven stories are moving and reflective
I read that novel years ago [pre blog] but I agree.

I also thought of a few other lyrical, character centered, coming of age stories. Please click on the titles to see more detail and readalike options.

Interestingly, a bunch of these books I listed are also debuts. Hmmm.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

NPR Summer Reads Funny Books List is Live

As I mentioned back in June here, when NPR announced their Summer Reads would have the theme of Funny Books:
"And this year is awesome because it is all about Funny Books. Funny Books is something we get asked for at the library all of the time, but since it is not a genre categorization, it is often hard for us to find titles. We usually rely on working together within our libraries and across libraries making and sharing lists."
And now that the list is done, categorized, and annotated, I can tell you it is even better than I imagined. Click here for the crowd sourced lists of books, stories, poems, fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels....everything regardless of its genre of format category that the readers and an expert panel put together.

Bookmark this page. Even in happier times, I was asked for "funny" book frequently, but these days, with the world being a dumpster fire, this is a request we all get daily.

Not only is it hard to gauge what another human thinks of as "funny," humor being so subjective, but also there are all the appeal issues that you have to consider too. What kind of story in general does this person enjoy or want at this time. Once we figure that out, then we have to hunt and peck within that larger result for those books that could be "funny." It can be done, but it is time consuming.

But now we have a wide and diverse lists of options to get us started, and there is one for just about every reading taste.

The NPR Summer Reads program is great in general, every year. It is a resource I use all year long, and one I use as a backlist resource.

And it is more than the final list they compile, by the way. Every year the panel of experts contribute articles too. Click here for all of the Summer Reads Funny Books bonus coverage, but in particular here is a great article about one of my backlist favorites for the entire family, The Westing Game, a title I would never have classified as a "funny" book, but the article made me realize the snark is one of the reasons I love it [and lots of teens do too].

To encourage you to use the wealth of resources compiled by NPR Summer Reads over the years, click here to run a keyword search on the NPR to pull up every Summer Reads they have ever done; from horror to thrillers, romance to comics and more, it is all there to help readers with one click.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

RA for All Virtual Road Show Visits PCI Webinars

Later today I am doing my 60 minute webinar version of the RA for All signature program for a regular client, PCI. PCI provides affordable library training via webinars to libraries and library systems all over the country. I enjoy working for them because they have a high standard of product for their clients and they respect their professional presenters. I am not only paid a fair wage for these webinars, but if they get more views than expected, they pay me royalties.

Here is the link to the slides which are filled with many more links.

This program is where I introduce the concept of RA Service by giving library workers a chance to reconnect with their own personal love of reading. The general public thinks library workers sit around and read all day, but as we know, the truth is that we rarely have any time to read at all. Allowing library staff the chance to think about the books they truly enjoy and really think about why they love them, is a treat. But it is also great training. When library staff have the chance to connect with their own personal reading preferences, it not only make it easier for them to be able to assess the reading preferences of others, but it makes them more empathetic to the process. They understand how great it made them feel to connect with their reading loves, and they want to pass that good feeling on, even if the person in front of them likes books they personally don't enjoy.

It also connects every staff member, no matter their job in the organization, to our brand....books.

I have seen this method of training work wonders over the last 4-5 years. First with students, and now with library workers all over the world.

But I don't stop there. The second half of this signature program brings in some larger concepts of how the entire library can work together better both to improve staff satisfaction and patron experience-- in general and in relation to RA Service.

I love how the 60 minute time limit of the webinar format has forced me to boil down what is most important in my training programs. I still prefer to give this signature program in person because then I can interact with the group more [to personalize the message] and they can do a few exercises together, but I also know that I cannot be everywhere and, even more importantly, there are many libraries that cannot afford to bring me out. Through the webinar, I have also be able to bring this program to very rural areas where library staff cannot leave their buildings for training.

A version of this webinar is available for anyone to view right now. Click here for details. It is an affordable way [$59] for you to see what my training programs are all about too.

This is also a good reminder that if you contact me about coming to your library before the end of 2019, while I probably could not come until 2020, you will lock in 2019 pricing. Prices are going up a bit in January after not going up last year. All I need is a query email by 12/31/19 for that offer to stand.

Also there is currently this coupon circulating [pun intended].

Now, back to RA for All: The Webinar.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

ARRT Summer Program: Earworms for Book Worms Podcasting in Libraries and Bridging the Physical Virtual Divide

Click here to register
Today I am at Ela Area Library in Lake Zurich, IL to meet with the head of Popular Materials about an upcoming project.

As a reminder, that very department was recently announced as the 2019 recipient of the ARRT sponsored ILA Award for RA Service.

Since I am here, I figured it was a good chance to accomplish two things for all of you out there.

The first is for all the Northern IL people. I want to remind you that next week, ARRT is hosting a program on podcasting entitled "Earworms for Bookworms: Podcasting in Libraries." This program will be taking place at the Ela Area Public Library and features the staff from Popular Materials who produce the Three Books Podcast and representatives from Des Plaines Public Library who do the Miner Recs podcast.

ARRT is specifically using local libraries who do smaller podcasts on purpose. Notice we did not bring in national experts. The focus here is on these libraries and why they decided to do a podcast, how they make it work with very little technical help, experience, or fancy equipment. And, if you come in person, you will get a tour of the "studio" where Three Books is recorded. I put it in quotes because the studio is one of their rooms that patrons can also use. They book it just like a patron and if you have listened, they make a very solid product on their own.

Although I will be unable to make this program, I am super excited about it because I feel like it will give everyone who attends the practical advice and information to decide, one, if a podcast is something that may be worth their time, two help them decide if it could it work for their community, and three, how to begin with little to no experience or funding.

Both libraries see their audience as their patrons too. It's another way to connect with the community. These are not podcasts with grand designs to become national phenomenon. They see it as a different way to serve their patrons. And they have found that a podcast has 100% been worth the time and the effort.

Sign up and come learn about podcasting from practical, no previous experience people who have managed to find success in the format.

The second reason for this post is that I have talked about the Three Books podcast before as one of my favorite local library podcasts because they not only have a podcast, but they have made the commitment to bridge the physical virtual divide by buying a copy of every single book that is mentioned to put on display. This means they have created a display of books that has no boundaries; if a guest mentions it, the books are together in one display. And their guests talk about everything and anything!

For example, when I am on and mention a horror book, it can end up next to a children's book that another guest mentioned, as this picture of the display taken today shows:

One of the things not enough of us do at the library is create displays that illustrate the breadth of our holdings to patrons.  We are so focused on having kids books in one area and adults in another. Fiction on one display and nonfiction on another. And god forbid if you put some graphic novels or audio with "regular" books. We spend too much time and engird trying to keep the books and formats from mixing. WHY?!?!?!

I am over it. We complain that the public doesn't understand everything we offer. Well, maybe they don't because we don't let them see it. We should show them more often. We should have more displays that cater to any and all patrons IN ONE PLACE. Seriously people, this is not as big a deal as we think. No one will go to library jail. And our patrons will be happier.

Here is a picture of the current Three Books display:

And here is a close up of 2 very different books, next to each other to also showcase the spine sticker and call number. And yes, they have copies of these two books in their "proper" library sections too. These are extra copies, but on a display together. I would argue that this is the only library with these 2 books on the same display. Same for the first example. And it is wonderful! 

The staff will address both the podcast and the shelf in their presentation next week, but I can tell you that they now know that there are people who have never heard the podcast but LOVE the Three Books display. They are constantly checking it for reading ideas. So way to go Ela. The shelf alone makes the podcast worth their time. No question. 

So, if you are reading this post today and are thinking, "I will never do a podcast. This post is useless to me," I am here to tell you you are wrong on the second point. Whether or not you podcast, you can learn from the Three Books example. Find a way to create displays, in central locations at the library, especially near the entrance, where you can display items from all over the building. Where you can welcome all patrons with something that says, "Oh, they have something for me." 

That attitude and willingness to welcome all is why Ela Area Library's Popular Materials Department is now an award winning department, not because they podcast.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Using Awards Lists As A RA Tool: Hugo Awards 2019 Edition

Over the weekend, the Hugo Awards were given out in Ireland. I have posted the winners and nominees below and you can find also find them at this link.

One of my most popular mantras is-- Awards lists are one of your best RA and Collection Development tools

Click here to see every time I have talked about this and here for the first time.  

But the gist is you can use them for displays, as a resource of sure bet reads, to get yourself up to speed in the genre [in this case SF and fantasy], and for collection development. I especially like the Hugo Awards because they give an award for best series and a new writer which means we have nominees too. 

See below or click here, and start using any titles you see listed to help a patron, build a display, or add to your collection today.

2019 Hugo and Campbell Awards Winners

Winners for the Hugo Awards and for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer were announced by Dublin 2019, the 77th Worldcon, on August 18, 2019 at the Convention Centre Dublin in Dublin Ireland.
Best Novel
WINNER: The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
Best Novella
WINNER: Artificial Condition, Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing
Best Novelette
WINNER: “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again“, Zen Cho (B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog 11/29/18)
Best Short Story
Best Series
WINNER: Wayfarers, Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager US; Hodder & Stoughton)
  • The Universe of Xuya, Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean)
  • Machineries of Empire, Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
  • The October Daye series, Seanan McGuire (DAW)
  • The Centenal Cycle, Malka Older (Tor)
  • The Laundry Files, Charles Stross (Tor.com Publishing; Orbit)
Best Graphic Story
WINNER: Monstress, Vol 3: Haven, Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
WINNER: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
  • Annihilation
  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Black Panther
  • A Quiet Place
  • Sorry to Bother You
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
WINNER: The Good Place: “Janet(s)”
  • Doctor Who: “Demons of the Punjab”
  • Doctor Who: “Rosa”
  • Dirty ComputerJanelle Monáe
  • The Expanse: “Abaddon’s Gate”
  • The Good Place: “Jeremy Bearimy”
Best Related Work
WINNER: Archive of Our Own (The Organization for Transformative Works)
Best Professional Editor, Short Form
WINNER: Gardner Dozois
  • Neil Clarke
  • Lee Harris
  • Julia Rios
  • Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
  • E. Catherine Tobler
Best Professional Editor, Long Form
WINNER: Navah Wolfe
  • Sheila E. Gilbert
  • Anne Lesley Groell
  • Beth Meacham
  • Diana Pho
  • Gillian Redfearn
Best Professional Artist
WINNER: Charles Vess
  • Galen Dara
  • Jaime Jones
  • Victo Ngai
  • John Picacio
  • Yuko Shimizu
Best Semiprozine
WINNER: Uncanny
Best Fanzine
WINNER: Lady Business
Best Fancast
Best Fan Writer
WINNER: Foz Meadows
  • James Davis Nicoll
  • Charles Payseur
  • Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
  • Alasdair Stuart
  • Bogi Takács
Best Fan Artist
WINNER: Likhain (Mia Sereno)
  • Sara Felix
  • Grace P. Fong
  • Meg Frank
  • Ariela Housman
  • Spring Schoenhuth
Best Art Book
WINNER: The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition, Ursula K. Le Guin, illustrated by Charles Vess (Saga)
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (not a Hugo)
WINNER: Jeannette Ng
  • Katherine Arden
  • S.A. Chakraborty
  • R.F. Kuang
  • Vina Jie-Min Prasad
  • Rivers Solomon
Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book
WINNER: Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt; Macmillan)