"A library doesn't need windows. A library is a window." – Stewart Brand

Mar 6, 2014

Read Something! THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE by Laurie R. King


THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE
Laurie R. King
 
Mystery

[First in a series]

Fifteen-year-old Mary Russell is out for a walk on the Sussex Downs when she literally stumbles into one of the greatest minds of her time. Sherlock Holmes, retired to a quieter rural life, is irritated and then intrigued to find sharp observational skills and an intellect to rival his own in this orphaned young woman. With that moment begins an apprenticeship that eventually becomes a partnership as Russell and Holmes confront cunning adversaries in their first cases together. In this series opener, King deftly brings Sherlock Holmes out of the gaslight and into a world on the cusp of the modern era while creating a thoroughly modern young woman as a new foil for the legendary detective.

Three descriptors: woman-focused (i.e. lots of strong female characters, basically all important characters who weren't in the Holmes canon are women), well-written, witty

Readalikes/watchalikes:
  • the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Julia Quinn romances - feature strong women, British setting, light, witty writing; perhaps not a good readalike for people who enjoy the intellectual/suspenseful elements of The Beekeeper's Apprentice
  • For those who enjoy the new perspective on Holmes, modern TV adaptations/re-envisionings of Holmes stories that maintain the intellectual/problem-solving feel, including the BBC series featuring Benedict Cumberbatch, "Elementary", possibly "House"
  • possibly the Flavia de Luce books (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, etc.) by Alan Bradley? Both feature a young, smart female amateur detective coming into her own in the English countryside

Oct 23, 2013

Be ready for anything...

During my most recent reference desk shift, I...

  • Captured a wasp that had found its way into our quiet room, for release outside
  • Informed three teenage boys that they should not be on the roof of our recycling shed (and asked how on earth they got up there in the first place)
  • Was treated to a poetry reading by a patron who is known for being extremely cranky most of the time - and who then asked for my opinion of his poetry - I'm not touching that with a ten-foot pole!
Just goes to show that when you deal with the public, you've got to be ready for anything.

Sep 27, 2013

Read Something! THE RIME OF THE MODERN MARINER by Nick Hayes

THE RIME OF THE MODERN MARINER
Nick Hayes

Graphic novel / poetry

This timely update of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's classic poem recasts the wedding guest as a cynical divorcee and the mariner as a harbinger of environmental doom. This mariner's murder of an albatross curses him to sail becalmed waters in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, witness the destruction wreaked upon our oceans and their wildlife by our discarded plastics and other garbage, confront the horrors of our lust for oil, and see for himself the devastating effect of humanity's actions upon our planet. But will his listener actually listen? With eye-catching visuals and a powerful message, this graphic novel brings home the need for change in our relationship with our planet while attaining some degree of literary/poetic merit in its own right. 

Readalikes:
  • "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", Samuel Taylor Coleridge - the poem upon which this graphic novel is based
  • Moby-Duck by Donovan Hohn - nonfiction, but touches on many of the same topics and issues; told through the perspective of one man traveling the world to learn more
  • Sin City by Frank Miller - for those attracted to the unusual and striking visuals of the book, Sin City's stark illustrations will provide a similar reading experience although the subject matter is quite different (and violent)

Aug 26, 2013

Read Something! DIARY by Chuck Palahnuik

DIARY
Chuck Palahnuik

Literary (?) fiction

Misty Wilmot was supposed to be a famous artist, but somehow that didn't quite work out. Somehow she ended up with a husband and a daughter and a dead-end waitressing job at the run-down hotel on Waytansea Island, where she's found herself living after marriage and pregnancy deferred her dreams. Somehow she's supposed to manage things alone after her husband, a building contractor, put himself in a coma through a failed suicide attempt. After his clients started calling, complaining of rooms in their houses found boarded-up, of strange obscene messages left inside.

All Misty wanted was to be an artist, before married motherhood on this picturesque island distracted her. Now, she's at the end of her rope. It doesn't help that all her mother-in-law wants her to do is take up her long-forgotten paints. It's what Misty's daughter wants, too. And many of the old island families are asking after her art... Something begins to seem not quite right as everyone on the island goes to increasing lengths to spark Misty's creativity. It's not clear what her art is supposed to accomplish - but it's becoming increasingly evident that she won't be allowed to not paint.

This is a dark and snappily written little novel for those of us interested in just how far people will go, and how awful the things they do will be, to ensure their own survival. It's by the author of Fight Club - so expect a healthy dose of meta and a plot twist or seven thrown in for good measure.

Aug 15, 2013

Read Something! REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi

REDSHIRTS
John Scalzi

Science fiction

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been posted to the Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union fleet. It's a prestigious post, but when Dahl arrives on board, he finds that life aboard the Intrepid is just a little... well, strange. To start off, it seems like the crew avoids their senior officers. Those that don't tend to get assigned to away teams, and those assigned to away teams... often end up dead. Then there's the Box, a device of unknown provenance that consistently offers solutions to insoluble problems just in the nick of time. Something isn't right on the Intrepid, and Dahl and his friends are going to get to the bottom of it - even if it means their world will never be the same.

Scalzi has written a fast-paced, entertaining narrative great for fans of Star Trek and similar sci-fi shows as well as people who enjoy a healthy dose of "meta" in their fiction.
 

Jul 1, 2013

Read Something! LOVE AND REVOLUTIONARY GREETINGS by Laurie Levinger

LOVE AND REVOLUTIONARY GREETINGS: AN OHIO BOY IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR
Laurie Levinger

Nonfiction / history / biography

Laurie Levinger never met her uncle Sam, though his pictures were in every house she lived in growing up. Sam died in 1937 in the Spanish Civil War, to which he had gone as one of the three thousand Americans who joined the International Brigades fighting Fascism. In 2001, Laurie's father gave her a box of letters and other memorabilia about Sam - and Laurie's journey to discover who her uncle was began.

Love and Revolutionary Greetings is the story of a young man, idealistic and courageous, who fought and died in an attempt to create a better world. It is the story, too, of Sam's mother, of the family he left behind, and of one of the great convulsions preceding World War II. Levinger has edited an affecting collection of first-hand descriptions of the war and its aftermath - mostly Sam's letters and his mother's written attempts to understand his life and his fate, but also primary source material from others who were in the war and Laurie and her family's own thoughts about Sam.


Readalikes:
  • World War II Remembered by the residents of Kendal at Hanover? - also first-person stories of wartime

Jun 14, 2013

Read Something! A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ
Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Science fiction / postapocalyptic fiction / literary fiction

In the centuries after nuclear apocalypse, human society rebuilds itself almost from scratch. Told in three sections, each set several centuries after the previous story, A Canticle for Leibowitz shows us the lives of three men in the Order of Saint Leibowitz, an order of monks dedicated to preserving what books and papers remain of the civilization that existed before global thermonuclear war destroyed much of human society and precipitated a violent backlash against the educated, technologically advanced culture that had made nuclear weapons possible. As Miller brings the reader into the hearts, minds, hopes, and dreams of relatively ordinary people, and as the world moves from a dark age through a new renaissance into another technological era, the unavoidable question looms: will humanity avoid its past mistakes?

Warning [and spoiler warning]: This is not a happy ending.


Readalikes:
  • Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban - similar post-nuclear-apocalyptic Dark Ages setting, questions of what society would look like after a nuclear holocaust, themes of history repeating itself
  • Miller wrote a sequel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman.
  • 1984 - similar for sheer bleakness

May 27, 2013

Read Something! THREE PARTS DEAD by Max Gladstone

THRE PARTS DEAD
Max Gladstone 

Fantasy / thriller

Kos Everburning, god of fire, is dead. Without Him, the great city of Alt Coulumb, dependent on his powers, will soon die as well.

Tara Abernathy left the Hidden Schools in fire and lightning, expelled post-graduation in a great battle with her former professors. Despite her irregular method of departure, she's caught the eye of the prestigious firm Kelethras, Albrecht, and Ao, and now she's an entry-level associate tasked with finding out who killed Kos, how, and why. Soon Tara, her only-somewhat-human boss, and their temporary assistant, the chain-smoking priest Abelard, are avoiding assassination attempts, chasing vampires, fending off attacks by gargoyles, and uncovering a web of intrigue that brings them before the reincarnation of Justice Herself to argue their case.

This is that too-rare work of speculative fiction that combines carefully detailed world-building with well-realized characters who feel like real people. Add a thrilling plot with plenty of twists, turns, and adventure, and Gladstone's debut novel (!) is a winner. This book has it all: murder, magic, intrigue, treachery, power, love - and I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel, coming in October 2013.

Readalikes:
  • The book jacket invokes Zelazny, Gaiman, and Grisham. I haven't read Zelazny and I'm not sure I concur with Grisham (the legal thriller aspects are there, but I don't really know that it's the same), but Gaiman's writing seems to have a very similar atmosphere/feeling to it.
  • Might be a good stretch for mystery/thriller readers who could be induced to read something in a more fantastic setting.

May 13, 2013

Read Something! AFFINITY by Sarah Waters

AFFINITY 
Sarah Waters

Historical fiction / literary fiction / horror

Surfacing from a deep depression brought on by her father's death, Margaret Prior takes a family friend's advice and volunteers as a "lady visitor" at Millbank, a women's prison, where she hopes to become a positive influence on some of the inmates. In those dreary surroundings she meets the spiritualist medium Selina Dawes, sentenced to Millbank after a seance gone wrong resulted in a woman's death. Margaret and Selina are drawn to each other, but does Selina really talk to spirits? And what really happened in her past? Alternating passages from Margaret and Selina's diaries bring us closer and closer to the truth of the night that drastically changed Selina's life - and to a night that will forever change Margaret's. This is a dark, psychological novel about loss and grief, and about living in a world into which one will never quite fit neatly.

Slight warnings for mentions of attempted suicide, some nonexplicit but non-"vanilla" eroticism.

Readalikes:
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters - similar slightly spooky atmosphere, unreliable narrators; both stories are deliberately vague as to the reality of the ghosts/spirits (at least for most of the narrative); both set in Britain in times past; both very focused on characters' psychology
  • "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman - potentially unbalanced female narrators, similar time setting, themes of entrapment/imprisonment and haunting, atmospherically similar

Feb 8, 2013

I'm published on the ILA Marketing Committee blog!

I seem to be writing for other blogs much more than I'm writing for this one! As of this morning, I have a post up on the Illinois Library Association Marketing Committee blog about cultivating staff buy-in. You can find it here.