Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Top Ten Series I've Been Meaning To Start But Haven't

I read a lot, obviously, but no matter how much I read, my "to-read" list is always longer than the list of books I've finished. Also, sometimes it is so daunting to jump into an existing series, because I then feel pressured to read all of them, so I don't start the first one. Until just a few years ago, I'd never even started the Harry Potter series (see more on that here), so sometimes it just takes me a while to come around. Here's a list of ten series I've been meaning to start (I swear!) but haven't.

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

March Trilogy by John Lewis
I've heard so much about this trilogy, but haven't yet picked it up. These non-fiction graphic memoirs follow the life of civil rights activist John Lewis. Through many years and many protests, his conviction shines through.

Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford
This series is reminiscent of Downton Abbey, showing the two sides of those that live at the affluent Cavendon Hall, both the residents and those who are employed there. I checked this out once before but was turned off by a violent scene in the first book. I've been promised the story gets better, so I intend to revisit it.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
How many times have I picked this book up but never read it? Countless. As someone who prides herself on their knowledge of teen literature, I'm a bit ashamed I haven't picked up this creepy series yet.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
So many people have told me to read these books! And I mean to, I really do. It's a futuristic tale that covers corporate greed and mass plagues. The story is told completely through "found" documents, such as emails, notes, corporate memos, etc. I'm told this makes the whole book go quickly. I'll get to it soon!

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chang
My only graphic novel collection on this list. I am a fan of Vaughan's work because of my reading of Saga (which is brilliant if you haven't read it!), so I've been meaning to pick up this series. It's completely different from Saga, taking place in the late 1980s, surrounding the lives of several young women who work in newspaper delivery.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Here's another that I just started at the wrong time. I really want to dive into this series about two young women in Italy, exploring their friendship and the ups and downs of their lives. And I really will read it someday. Promise.

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
I'm not a huge sci-fi/fantasy reader. So for me to pick up a book like that I have to be in the right mood and it has to interest me in just the right way. This series has all the correct markers, including being very library-focused (yay!), so now I just need to be motivated enough to start the series.

The Selection by Kiera Cass
This is one of those book series that was all the rage here for awhile amongst our teens. I think interest in it has declined some, but I still want to read this series about the selection process for the next princess. It's like a fairy tale with a dystopian twist. Right up my alley.

Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
ZOMBIES! For some time there, I read lots of zombie-lit. It was a fascination that came in part from my interest in dystopian literature. I'm not really about the monsters. This zombie tale is supposed to be different. The series follows two zombie-hunter brothers and is really more about them (with action and zombies thrown in).

The Cherry Cola Book Club by Ashton Lee
Every once in a while, I look for a cozy read. Something simple and sweet, but still interesting. I'm particularly drawn to this series because it features librarians (ahem) and book clubs, both of which I'm quite familiar with. The series starts out with a young librarian trying to help boost interest in her library, so she starts a book club. It takes place in the south, which is inherently cozy to me. I'll get to this one sooner rather than later.

Okay, so which series have you put off til now?


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Crosstalk: The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

Author Mindy McGinnis will be visiting MPL next Tuesday, June 20 at the main branch. In light of her coming visit, Meredith and John revisit one of her works that very much affected them, The Female of the Species (2016). 

John: Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species is a story about high school kids (girls primarily) in a small Ohio town. It’s got to be one of the most intense books ever to come out as a YA title. The story centers on a girl named Alex whose sister has been murdered and it looks at the ways that that experience alters her. I remember the first time you described the plot to me I really could hardly believe it. What was it that first drew you to this book?

Meredith: A couple of superficial reasons, actually. First of all the title, The Female of the Species, is odd in a way that I found attention-grabbing. It gives you the sense that teen girls are some sort of mysterious creatures that need to be studied in order to be understood. And then there’s the first line of the jacket, “Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it.” This book ends up covering a few different topics, one of which is female anger. That’s something I find endlessly fascinating: the way girls are socialized to internalize their anger so as not to upset the people around them. Our protagonist Alex, understandably, has a lot of anger. Her sister was brutally murdered and the killer went free because of a lack of evidence. So Alex is left to deal with all of those feelings and one way she copes is with catastrophic violence. John, the way the book unfolds leaves the reader with a lot of doubts regarding Alex’s reliability as a narrator. Did you get the same feeling?

John: Absolutely. The narrative structure of the book is really interesting. It’s told in alternating and overlapping bits by the three main protagonists (Alex, Peekay, and Jack) and in the present tense, which leaves the story open for revision. But as far as Alex goes, yeah, you’re left in some doubt about how much of what she’s saying is true and how much is sort of...aspirational. It’s especially interesting because the things that she’s thinking and talking about have a pretty profound influence on the kind of person she is. McGinnis does a great job of contrasting her internal monologue with the external view that her friends have of her. This is important especially because of the role that violence plays in the book. Alex’s life is shaped by violence, and it has changed her into the kind of person who is ready to use violence in ways that can be quite startling. What did you think about how violence played out in this story?

Spoilers ahead! Click "Read More" below to continue this Crosstalk. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

TTT: Adult Fiction Books That I've Recently Added To My TBR List

As a librarian, I am constantly adding to my "to be read" (TBR) list. I read about books all over the place and add them to my ever-growing list. Patrons and colleagues recommend books. I'll discover a new author and have to read more by them. This is really a problem, since that list will never get shorter. I read a lot, but I'm a little all over the map in my book selections. This summer, I'm trying to read more adult fiction novels, since I feel I've been lacking in that area lately. So here are ten books I've recently added to that neverending TBR list, and that I'm hoping to pick up this summer.

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig
Ginny is a 14-year-old autistic foster child. She's on her fourth family, finally one who seems to understand her and love her. The family is expecting a new baby and it has triggered memories in Ginny and sent her on a quest to get her baby doll back. The book sounds like one that will most definitely make me cry, and I'm looking forward to following Ginny's story.

Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery
Susan Mallery is one of my guilty pleasure authors. She's so prolific that it's easy to find one I haven't read when I'm craving it. This story is about sisters Kate and Olivia, who have been estranged for six years prior to the start of the novel. Kate stayed home, taking over the family business as a tulip farmer, and everything is thrown into chaos when her sister returns. On top of that, Kate's old beau has returned to town. I managed to get my hands on an ARC of this book, so I'm looking forward to diving in.

The Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton
Sara's grandmother Mag recently passed away, willing her the B&B she owned and operated in Sweet Bay, Alabama. Sara goes to Sweet Bay, hoping to sell the B&B and get back home to her life. But Grandma Mag had different things in mind for Sara, because not only is the B&B falling apart, it has multiple residents. Staying to revamp the place leads to all sorts of challenges for Sara, but also leads to discovering all about the grandmother she thought she knew. This seems like a sweet, summer read to me, so that's my goal.

Miss You by Kate Eberlen
Tess and Gus are meant to be, but over the course of 16 years they miss all of their chances to meet one another. The book is told in alternating perspectives, showing just how close they come to meeting many times. The reader gets to know each character well enough to hope they finally make it at the end. This story sound very uniquely written and I think I just need to see how this works.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
This one was recommended to me by a colleague. Taking place in 1984, 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish takes a walk through New York City, meeting all sorts of different people along her way. Readers are also given a peek into Lillian's life, from the Jazz Age to the 80s. The book is touted as a love story to a city, and sounds like a lovely read.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
I added this to my list in light of the super popular HBO series. The book surrounds three very different women, all with their own secrets. Something terrible has happened in their town, and these women are thrown together to show the details of the situation.

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan
I very much liked Sullivan's Maine, and this book's reviews tell me that this book has the same feel. Two young women, sisters, emigrate to America from Ireland. One sister, Nora, is the responsible one, caring for her flighty younger sister Theresa. One decision they make changes their lives forever. Flash forward 50 years, Nora has a big family and is estranged from her sister. An unexpected event brings the two back together, forcing them to confront the past. I can't wait to lose myself in this story.

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
This is my historical fiction pick. The Kurc family lives in Poland at the start of WWII. In 1939, the large, close family is unconcerned about the growing threat to them. Over the course of the six years of  the war, the family is scattered across five continents. Their challenges and lives are explored through this trying time. The book is based on the true events of the author's family.

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain
Bookseller Laurent stumbles across an abandoned handbag on the streets of Paris. There's no identifying information in the bag, but the items in the bag build a picture of a woman he wants to meet. This is especially true of her red notebook, which has notes and impressions the woman has written. The premise of this book sort of reminds me of Amelie, and I really want to read it.

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin
Rabbit Hayes has a limited number of days left. But she's not telling that to her family. Instead, she's living up her last few days the way she wants, reliving the past in some ways, and exploring what the future could have held for her. It's supposed to be a life-changing sort of book, and I'm sure I'll cry.

What books have you added to your TBR list lately?


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Picture Books for Mother’s Day

Okay, Mother's Day may have occurred this past weekend, but it is always a good time to appreciate moms. This list highlights some of my favorite picture book moms. Enjoy!

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

Mama Seeton’s Whistle by Jerry Spinelli
So one of our co-workers said that I needed to put this at the top of my list, and I was happy to oblige. When Mama Seeton whistles, her children know that it’s time to come home for hugs, kisses, and sweets. And even years later, when the children’s have grown up and moved away, they will still run back home when they hear their mom’s whistle.

When Mama Goes to Work by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Being a mom is one of the best jobs in the world, but lots of moms have other jobs that they go to every day. Mom and kids may miss each other all day, but they have lots of work to do that keeps them happy. And at the end of the day they get to spend lots of fun time together.

Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse
This was one of my favorite books growing up, and my parents still have it on their shelf at home and they now read it to my niece. I remember being fixated on the illustrations because the style was so different from the stories that I was used to. In the story a young girl tries to find the limits of her mother’s love and is always met with the answer, “still I would love you.”

My New Mom and Me by Renata Galindo
Moms come in many different shapes and sizes, and sometime they may look a little different than their kids. In this story a little dog is adopted by a loving cat. The dog is nervous because he doesn’t look like his new mom and even tries painting himself to fit in. But his new mom loves him just the way he is.

The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
This one is a classic and I’m sure that plenty of you are already familiar with it. For those of you who aren’t, The Runaway Bunny is about a young bunny who decides to run away. He questions his mother as to what lengths she would go to in order to find him. But a mother’s love knows no bounds.

Zombie in Love, 2 +1 by Kelly DiPucchio
In the first Zombie in Love, the lonely zombie Mortimer found his true love, another zombie named Mildred. Well now the two have discovered a human baby on their doorstep, and he is not what they expected. He sleeps during the night and doesn’t cry or moan. The two new parents struggle to connect to their new son, but they may have more in common with him then they think.

Bob, Not Bob! by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick
Poor little Louis has a bad cold and needs his mom’s help to get better. There’s just one problem, every time he calls for his mom to help it comes out wrong, causing his dog Bob to come running instead. This book is a lot of fun and is best read while plugging your nose to make it sound like you have the worst cold ever.

Toads on Toast by Linda Bailey
What is Mamma Toad to do? All of her little ones have been snatched up by the hungry Fox for lunch. In an attempt to save her kids, Mamma Toad teaches Fox a new recipe for Toad-in-a-Hole, which doesn’t require any toads. There is a recipe in the back for Toad-in-a-Hole which is simple enough to make at home with your little ones. Happy snacking!

My Mom Has X-Ray Vision by Angela McAllister
Moms have so many talents that sometimes it seems like they might have super powers! They always know where you are hiding, and when you are about to cause trouble. It seems like they might have X-Ray vision. It’s time to put them to the test and see if they are the superheroes we think they are!

When I Carried You in My Belly by Thrity Umrigar
Moms start to bond with their little ones before the baby is even born. In this story a mom explains to her daughter how her laughter, love of music, and kind nature can all be traced back to the time she was in her mom’s tummy.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Ill Will: A Review

Ill Will by Dan Chaon is one of the darker books I've read in recent memory, but if you tend to equate “darkness” in a book or film with over-the-top gore and violence—for example the always reliable Chuck Palahniuk, or George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire—you might be surprised by what you find here. The horror in Ill Will is the psychological kind that burrows under your skin and festers—it makes for a sometimes uncomfortable and always unputdownable read.

The novel is concerned with Dustin Tillman, who found his parents and aunt and uncle murdered as a young boy, and is still dealing with the repercussions of that incident as a middle-aged psychologist and father of two boys whose wife is dying of cancer.

Meanwhile, Rusty, Dustin's stepbrother whom Dustin testified against during the trial after the killings, is cleared and released from jail thanks to the aid of the Innocence Project. After his wife dies, Dustin lets a patient draw him into his obsessive investigation of a series of drownings. So those dual mysteries propel the plot: Who killed Dustin's family? Are these drownings even murders and if so who is the killer?

As we read, we're let into Dustin's psyche little by little. Chaon makes really good use of devices like leaving sentences unfinished and splitting pages into columns to signify Dustin's distracted, detached worldview. We become suspicious of Dustin just before other characters in the book do, and our suspicion morphs into some mix of pity/dread/anxiety/fear (i.e. "ill will") early enough that what unfolds at the end of the book feels true, inevitable and sad. There's barely a shred of redemption here, buts it feels brave and almost refreshing for an author to withhold the resolution we expect in a story like this.

One book I’d compare Ill Will to is the more obscure but no less disturbing Mira Corpora by Jeff Jackson, which also makes effective use of devices that most writers would shy away from, and employs a childhood trauma backstory that on its face seems conventional to unexpected and devastating effect.


Dan Chaon will be visiting the Main Branch of Mentor Public Library at 6:300pm on Wednesday, May 17. He will give a reading from his book and have a Q&A session to follow. Please register to attend: online or by phone (440) 255-8811, ext. 247.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: YA Book Covers 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic
People often say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, but we all do it. YA novels in particular often have very beautiful and enticing covers; I assume this is to attract reluctant teen readers. But as an adult librarian who is well aware of how little the cover has to do with the content, I am still a sucker for a well done book cover. This is a list of my top ten YA novels published/to be published in 2017 that have amazing covers. Some I have read, some I plan to read, and some I have little interest in and only plan to admire the cover.

Defy The Stars by Claudia Gray
I finished this book recently and I admittedly picked it up solely based on its beautiful cover. Luckily, this story lived up to the artwork. Noemi is a warrior, sworn to protect her home planet of Genesis against the forces of planet Earth. Abel is a mech (robot) from Earth that has been stranded in space for 30 years; during this time his programming has evolved into something he doesn’t quite understand. When these two meet, a journey across space ensues. This is a fun sci-fi adventure with a lot of heart.

Hunted by Meagan Spooner
This Beauty and the Beast retelling is another that I have read recently. The “Beauty” in this story is a fierce hunter and her prey is the beast. The cover of this book sets the tone for the story that takes place in a medieval Russia-type setting – there is a lot of snow and just the right amount of magic. For some reason I am not usually a fan of book covers with people featured on them, but I think this one was done well.

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Lazlo Strange is an orphan and junior librarian obsessed with the lost city of Weep. When an opportunity to venture to this forbidden and unseen city presents itself, Lazlo must take it. I am currently reading Strange the Dreamer and so far, it is just as magical and mysterious as the cover would have you believe.

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
Tea is a bone witch with the gift of necromancy who is given an opportunity to train under an older, more powerful bone witch who will teach her to control her powers. I was intrigued by the description of this book and the beautiful cover. Unfortunately I only made it about one-fourth of the way in before abandoning it. The story itself was just very slow and just not interesting. The cover is still beautiful though!

The Glass Spare by Lauren DeStefano
Wil is the daughter of a king who uses her as a spy to further the expansion of his empire. When she finds out she can turn people to gemstone with one touch, Wil must leave her home to find the truth about her curse. I read Lauren DeStefano’s book Perfect Ruin a few years ago and really enjoyed it so The Glass Spare is on my “to be read” list. The cover has a medieval kingdom feel; I am excited to see how the story lives up to the artwork.

The Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh
Mariko is the daughter of a samurai and although she is an accomplished alchemist, she is also a girl arranged to be married for political gain. But on the way to her wedding, she barely escapes an attack by members of the Black Clan. Determined to find her attackers, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan disguised as a boy. With purple throwing stars adorning the cover of this book, I am expecting an exciting story from this one.

Wicked Like A Wildfire by Lana Popovic
This book is about two sisters with very strange magical abilities. After their mother is attacked the sisters set out to find the truth about the magic surrounding their family and they unearth a wicked curse. I’m not sure if this story is my style but I love the whimsical cover art so I think I may try it.

Roar by Cora Carmack
Aurora Paven is being groomed to be queen of kingdom ruled by violent magical storms that are control by people called Stormlings. But Aurora has a secret; she has no magical ability and will not be able to protect her people as queen. When she learns there may be a way to gain the magic from the storms themselves, she sets out to do just that. Once again, I am not usually a fan of people on book covers but I think this one is beautiful and it makes me want to read about that world.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Scarlett has always dreamed of seeing Caraval, the once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show. When she finally gets her chance, she discovers that her sister Tella is at the center of the show this year. As she races to find Tella before the 5 days are up, she is whisked away by the magic of Caraval. This is one that I don’t think I will read, it is just not for me, but I still love the cover.

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Kiko Himura has a difficult home life and when she doesn’t get into her dream art school, she jumps at the chance to tour schools with her childhood friend on the west coast. Now that Kiko is finally free, she must confront hard truths about herself and her past. This is a contemporary YA fiction novel, and while I don’t usually gravitate towards this particular subgenre, I can appreciate this beautiful cover. Plus purple is my favorite color.

So there you have it! Those are my picks for the best YA book covers of this year, so far. Obviously, don’t always avoid books with poorly designed covers and certainly don’t force yourself to read a poorly written book with an attractive cover, but it is definitely OK to occasionally judge a book by its cover!

~Ragan S.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Reading Gamification

I read 36 books in 2016. I’m not bragging or anything; as a librarian, I’m actually pretty ashamed of that number. I have plenty of excuses for the low number (buying a house doesn’t exactly leave a lot of free time or energy), but the truth is that I knew I could do better. That’s why, when it came time to make a New Year’s resolution this year, I made reading priority numero uno.

The thing is, I’m a creature of habit. I need some major motivation in order to adjust my routine even a tiny bit, and I need incentives to keep going when I do implement a change. In order to accomplish this new goal, I had to do more than just tell myself to read more. I needed a battle plan.

First, I had to do a bit of introspection. What habits do I currently employ, and how did they become so… habitual? Most people know that I am a pretty big video game fan, but I realized during my self-reflection that I just enjoy games in general. I enjoy strategizing, plotting my next course of action, getting closer and closer to an objective, step by step. I don't even care that much about winning (although my husband would contest that statement), but there is something very satisfying about attempting and (hopefully) accomplishing a goal. That’s when it hit me. I needed to gameify my reading.

Now, I’m no game designer, so I didn’t actually develop a game from scratch. What I did was to join a group on Goodreads that hosts a number of reading challenges. Members of the group can join in any or all of the different games, whatever suits them best. I joined in on a few, but my favorite is called ScatterShelves.

ScatterShelves is a reading challenge adapted from the board game Scattergories. Every month, a moderator announces 5 randomly chosen letters from the alphabet. The Objective is to fill out your "Game Card" by reading books that use one of the montly letters to satisfy certain conditions. (More detailed information can be found here.) But filling out your Game Card is only half the battle. Only once you have read all of the books on your card can you announce to the group that you’ve completed your Game Card.

It sounds complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple. The challenging part is finding books that will complete the whole card!  As an example, here is my completed card for January:

Letters:  S G P R I
1. S – Supernatural – The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater  
2. G – Genetic – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card 
3. P - Paranormal Fantasy – The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman
4. R – Read for School – The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
5. I – Insta-Love – The Sun is Also a Star  by Nicola Yoon

1. First Word in Title      S – The Scorpio Races
2. Any Other Word in Title    G – Ender’s Game
3. Author’s First Name     G - Genevieve Cogman
4. Author’s Last Name   S - Maggie Stiefvater
5. Item on Cover    S – String Art (The Sun is Also a Star)
6. Any Word in Series Name or Subtile   I – Invisible Library series (The Burning Page is #3 in this series)
7. Name of Character   P – Puck Connolly (from The Scorpio Races)

It's not a competition, and there are no prizes for completing your card; but I’ve found receiving congratulations from other readers to be rewarding enough! Another bonus is that I've branched out of my reading comfort zones by reading books from genres I wouldn't normally be drawn towards.

As a result of this game, I have read 22 books so far this year. That’s 61% of the number I read last year, and it’s not even May yet! Come December, I’ll have a yearly total that’s really worth bragging about.

Clearly, gamifying my reading has helped me accomplish my goal to read more this year. This method may not work for everyone, but I think it shows that a little introspection can help you take advantage of what makes you tick. Find a strategy that works for you, and happy reading!