Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I've only read one book from but NEED to read more

Happy Top Ten Tuesday! This week's topic is all about our to-reads. If I like an author, I do typically seek out their other works, but here are a few that have eluded me.

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

Barbara Pym. I got a couple of Pym’s books for Christmas one year, but I’ve only managed to finish Excellent Women so far. So, unfortunately Jane and Prudence and Quartet in Autumn sit on my shelf unread.

Kirby Larson. Larson’s Hattie Big Sky won a Newbery Honor in 2007 and I really enjoyed her story of a girl making a go of a Montana homestead claim, but I’ve always been meaning to read the sequel, Hattie Ever After.

Kazuo Ishiguro. Never Let Me Go is one of my favorite books, so you’d think I’d have read his most famous work, The Remains of the Day. Yet, it remains one of those many books I’ve started and never finished.

Isabel Allende. When I was in college, Allende came to speak at the National Cathedral. Many of my friends were really excited, but somehow I had no idea who that was. I quickly remedied that by reading Daughter of Fortune, but I never got around to reading any others, including my roommate at the time’s favorite, Stories of Eva Luna.

Toni Morrison. Morrison was covered in a couple of literature classes I took in college, but both times the professor assigned us Jazz. I’ve heard excellent things about her other books, but I’ve never read them.

William Faulkner. I felt so accomplished after finishing The Sound and the Fury and even more accomplished when I felt like I understood it, so I’m a little ashamed to say that in an attempt to chase that feeling again I started but failed to read As I Lay Dying or Absalom, Absalom.

Laurie Halse Anderson. While looking through my Goodreads page, I was surprised to realize that I’ve only read Speak. I thought I had also read Fever, 1793, but I guess I just checked it out and returned it without actually reading it.

Haruki Murakami.  This is a little bit of a cheat because I never finished The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. So I need to finish that first and then I need to read his other books.

Diane Setterfield. I thought The Thirteenth Tale was incredible and it was seven years before Setterfield wrote another book.  However, I heard Bellman & Black was mediocre at best.  So she needs to write another, better book and then I’ll read that.

Karen Thompson Walker. This last one is a total cheat, Walker has only written one book, The Age of Miracles (which I loved!) so this is really more of a hope that she eventually writes more.

Which authors have you only read one book from?

~Meredith T. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Listening to books

So far this year, I have read 75 books. Those are of all different types. (Take a look at my Goodreads page to find out what books specifically). Of those books, 19 were audiobooks. I am an audiobook convert, having begun listening to them a few years ago and now, I'm hooked. I listen to them in my car, which is especially nice because I have a six-disc cd player. Convenient, I tell you.

At first, it was difficult to get used to someone telling me the story, versus me interpreting the narrative voice of the book. However, I grew to enjoy this way of reading. You never get tired of being told a story it seems, and I found that it was nice to hear the accent in someone's voice instead of trying to manufacture it myself. Anywho, this year I've been plugging right along in my audiobook habits, jumping from one book directly into the next. Especially when I'm super busy at home, it's nice to sneak in my reading in my daily commute.

Below are the top audiobooks I've read this year (so far).

Paper Towns by John Green
I wanted to read another John Green book, and this one was recommended to me. The story is about a teenage boy searching for the girl of his dreams, Margo Roth-Spiegleman, who left behind clues to her whereabouts for him. It was a fun read, and quite the journey itself.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
This is a memoir of Jenny Lawson's life. She is a former HR employee, daughter of a taxedermist, and known for her blogging skills. Parts of this book were a bit drab, but other parts had me crying laughing. In fact, I even made a friend listen to my favorite part when we were driving together. (She was crying laughing too).

Harry Potter, books 1-3 by J.K. Rowling
You may recall that this series is my "books we've missed" subject. I had heard that the audioboks for this series were very well-done, so that was my preferred reading method for these. They were indeed done extremely well. The narrator does an excellent job doing different voices for the characters, and it really helped bring the story to life.

Room by Emma Donoghue
The book is told from a little boy's point of view, and the audio narrator is a little boy. It was a bit jarring at first, but it added to the haunted quality of the story. The book definitely stuck with me.

Seriously...I'm Kidding by Ellen Degeneres
This audiobook reminded me how much I really do love Ellen. Her witty observational comedy had me laughing so hard I thought I may have to pull over. It's really the simple things with her, and my favorite parts were when she was discussing everyday life.

The Intern's Handbook by Shane Kuhn
See my review of this book here. The narrator just did an amazing job expressing the emotions of John Lago in his voice, and it made the book super memorable for me.

Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer
Now, this is a book I have read multiple times before. I think I may have even listened to it once before. I love this story of a cranky southern cook trying to put on a wedding. This book has humor, the mob, romance, and yes, a hitman. Funny, sweet, and surprisingly fast-paced. The narrator of the book does a great job with Agnes's crankiness, but I wasn't a fan of the echo-y voice to represent her internal thoughts.

What's your take on audiobooks? Are you an audiobook "reader?" If so, what are you favorites?

~Cailey W.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Five Books Worth Reading: Graphic Novel Memoirs

She's talked about her five books worth reading in both graphic novels and in memoirs, now in a mash-up, Meredith gives us her FBWR in graphic novel memoirs. These are memoirs told in a graphic novel format. Don't let the word "novel" fool you though, they are non-fiction. 

I talked a little bit about Allie Brosh’s book, Hyperbole and a Half for our list of favorite funny books, but I can’t help but plug it a little more. It rises above silly, (intentionally) poorly draw pictures to touch upon topics from her rampaging childhood id to her battle with depression. 

Julia Wertz is my favorite cartoonist right now. Her newest book, The Infinite Wait and Other Stories covers a huge swath of her life including her first swears, her multiple jobs in the food industry, and her diagnosis of systematic lupus. I really enjoy her dark humor – Wertz manages to tell personal stories without becoming overly sentimental. The fact that she is a self-proclaimed curmudgeon probably helps curb any navel-gazing. In The Infinite Wait, Wertz uses comics as a way to deal with her illness and in turn, has created something very much worth your time.

When David Small was 11 years old, he woke up from a surgery that left him with only one vocal cord, rendering him all but mute. What proceeds is a Kafkaesque journey through the years that led up to his diagnosis (cancer, though his parents hid the truth from him at the time) and the eventual discovery that his father, a doctor who treated Small as a sickly child with radiation (as was the norm) had probably caused the cancer.

I immediately recognized Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant as the work of Roz Chast thanks to years of flipping through my dad’s issues of The New Yorker growing up. Chast’s memoir covers the years she spent caring for her elderly parents. She confronts her conflicted feelings about having to deal with end of life care – the stress of dealing with never ending medical bills, the draining effort to watch her parent’s health deteriorate, and the guilt of feeling like she’s not doing enough.

If there’s one thing we love more here in reference than books and reading, it’s eating! And Lucy Knisley’s memoir Relish is the perfect combination of our favorite things. It’s not just a celebration of good food, but also what food can mean to a person’s memories and personal history. It also includes delicious sounding recipes that I want to try immediately.

Did I miss any in this category that you deem worthy?

~Meredith T.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I'd Want at my Lunch Table

Happy Top Ten Tuesday! Today's back-to-school themed topic is "Characters I'd want at my lunch table." See below for a list of characters we think are awesome. Who would you want at your table?

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

I would like to spend time with Barbara Gordon; she's just your friendly, neighborhood librarian who also moonlights as Batgirl. So, we could hit the mall, split a cinnabon, and then fight crime - you know, normal librarian stuff.
~Meredith T.

I would like to have Spenser from Robert B. Parker’s A Catskill Eagle (and a lot of other books) at my lunch table. He’s a right guy who could face down any bullies, and or savage them with his rapier wit.
~John F.
While I personally do not think that I was ever cool enough in high school to have sat with my favorite characters, I would have loved to have sat with Kate Daniels (Magic Bites) and Rachel Morgan (Dead Witch Walking). Both Kate and Rachel are kick-butt, can-do, magical characters. Kate Daniels is a hard working mercenary in a post-apocalyptic world where magic is making a comeback in, well, waves. Rachel Morgan is a Runner, which is a bounty hunter/investigator for magical beings, who is on the outs (as in they are trying to kill her) with her local police force. The last book, Witch With No Name, (#13) in the Rachel Morgan series is coming out in September and the Kate Daniels series, while still ongoing, has just finished a major story arc in its latest book, Magic Breaks (#7). They are two of the coolest, baddest babes around and I had nowhere near the street cred to have sat with them, but I would have liked to.
~Mary P.

Marian from Barbara Cooney's Roxaboxen would be at my table. She established the city of Roxaboxen, a makeshift town built from the imaginations of children and stones from the desert. I grew up with this book, and Roxaboxen represents all of the best things about growing up in a close knit neighborhood and was the inspiration for many of my childhood adventures. Marian was the glue that held Roxaboxen together and I think we would have gotten along very well. 
I'd also want to have Alphonse Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist. He lost his body after he and his older brother attempted to bring his mother back to life using alchemy, leaving his soul bound to a suit of armor. He’s already an accomplished alchemist at the age of 13, and is easily the most compassionate character in the series. I’d love to have a friend who could fix anything that’s broken and help you with your science homework. Plus, who wouldn’t want to have lunch with a giant walking, talking suit of armor (even if he can’t actually eat anything). 
~Marilyn W.

Beth from Rainbow Rowell's Attachments would be a great lunch buddy! Beth is a pretty normal woman, holding down a job, going through boyfriend troubles, and living life as a 20-something. She's funny, thoughtful, intelligent, and a good friend. We would get along famously!
~Kristin M.

Even though the first Harry Potter book was released 16 years ago, Hermione is still one of my favorite female book characters. She is strong, brave, and not ashamed of her intelligence. I would definitely want her at my lunch table in the hopes that some of her awesomeness would rub off on me!
~Ragan S.

Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series would be at my table for sure. She first appears in the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and is a prominent figure in Harry’s group of friends from there on out. I love her eccentricity and optimism—plus she’s in Ravenclaw, so you know she could help out with your homework!
~Ariel J.

I'd want to have Violet Baudelaire of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events at my lunch table. She's inventive and would be very entertaining to sit with each day. I'm picturing her creating little gadgets and inventions out of lunch bags, silverware, and milk cartons. Of course her siblings would have to be with us, so let's hope that Sunny isn't feeling particularly aggressive that day (she bites).
~Cailey W.

I don't picture specific characters sitting at my lunch table, but when I look across the cafeteria, I picture Draco Malfoy doing magic to impress Abby Normal, who's only tolerating school to get in with the Cullens (she's totally on to them). Margo Roth Spiegelman is saying something witty to the popular kids, while Zuzana plans out her next big art project. But really, I'd like to take a hint from Claudia and Jamie Kincaid and maybe skip school for the day and head to the museum. Or maybe the library.

~Amanda D.

Who would you want to hang out with?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Interns and Assassins

It is no secret that I read a lot. In fact, I also listen to audiobooks in order to extend my reading even while driving. I also have a tendency read a lot about reading. So, I come across all sorts of books that I then tell myself to read (via the "Want to Read" list on Goodreads). This particular book I came across on a list of the best audiobooks of the year so far, and I was like, "Cailey, you should read that." It also helped that I had seen Marilyn reading the book not too long ago. Anyway, I just wanted you to know how I got to this book that really isn't in my usual genre.

The Intern's Handbook: A Thriller by Shane Kuhn is a comedy/thriller. It is kind of hard to say which box it ticks. John Lago, orphaned at birth, raised rough in the foster system, was taken in by HR Inc. HR Inc. is a super-secret agency that plants assassins, in the form of interns, for high-profile bad guys--basically, higher-ups in companies who have ticked off the wrong people. So, for years, John has posed as an intern in law firms, accountant firms, Fortune-500s, and more. In each position, he has eliminated a target, and given a plausible fallback for the culprit (i.e. blaming it on the company's competition, the mob, etc.). To do all of this, John has to infiltrate the company at the lowest, most unsuspecting level: intern. Being an intern means that he is invisible. People don't notice him when they are having a conversation, and give him menial tasks that inadvertently reveal their weaknesses.
“Interns are invisible. You can tell an executive your name a hundred times and that executive will never remember it because they have no respect for someone at the bottom of the barrel, working for free.” 
John is good at his job. No, he's great. The fact that John is still alive after all these years is a testament to that. He is very smart, quick on his feet, and inventive. Honestly, that man had some very creative ways to murder someone. This is John's last job though. At the age of 25, he now has to retire. No worries though, because he has a ton of money stored away, and the last job should be a cinch. Of course this isn't the case.
Going into his last job, John encounters unique problems. One in the form of a woman who has piqued his interest more than he has ever encountered. John is great at thinking on his feet, but, as much as he'd hate to admit it, he's human. John makes mistakes and gets himself into trouble. He's plagued by misinformation, competing agencies, and intentional omissions from his own agency. John is determined to complete his mission and get out alive.

The book is written as a "handbook" to the new "interns," but is really more of an account of his last job entirely. I had trouble with this book in some parts, as some things seemed improbable that John would openly share them with the other interns. I liked that there were FBI files interspersed with John's chapters. John isn't the most reliable of narrators, and those sections helped glimpse the reality of his situation.
It was graphic, action-packed, and full of surprises. The book frequently tricked me. I wasn't a huge fan of the ending, but the ride there was good. I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys action films, with a lot of sarcasm on the side. John is a cynical, gritty sort of guy. I, for one, appreciate that in a person. Some people who do not like swear words may not.

For the record, it was a pretty good audiobook. The narrator was able to pack a lot of emotion into the story, and I can't think of the book being narrated by anyone else.

Also, fun fact: this book has already been optioned for film, starring Dave Franco (brother to James Franco).

~Cailey W.

PS-Just take a second to appreciate the beauty of this cover!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Books We've Missed: John Reads Killing Kennedy

One of my co-workers (I will not say who in order to protect the innocent) assigned me Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard as part of our “Books We’ve Missed” project. This made a certain amount of sense, as Killing Kennedy, along with its companion volumes Killing Jesus and Killing Lincoln, are some of the highest circulating items here. And I have a rep as the department historian, so it probably seemed appropriate, but I’ll be honest, this was a bit of a challenge for me.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy is one of the most heavily researched and analyzed events in American history. Even the most basic search of the Library of Congress brings up over 1000 entries (and even that barely scratches the surface), so it takes a certain chutzpah to feel like one can add to this literature. Of course, chutzpah is what Bill O’Reilly is all about. One simply doesn’t become the sort of polarizing figure that he is without a fair amount of self-confidence.

In light of the task that O’Reilly and his partner Martin Dugard set for themselves, Killing Kennedy achieves a modicum of success. It is smartly written, full of interesting, if sometimes lurid detail, and doesn’t bog down in the mass of available factual (to say nothing of conspiratorial) material surrounding the assassination.

Killing Kennedy is at its best when it picks up the threads of the narrative and runs with them. In many respects, it reads like a Robert Ludlum novel, gathering momentum as it spirals toward a foregone conclusion. The virtue of the book is in the telling itself, rather than in the promise of new information, of which it contains practically none. It’s mostly told in the present tense, and spiced with a large helping detail, some of it quotidian, some of it lurid, pretty much all of it already well known to practically everyone who had watched the History Channel.

Having said that, one point in favor of this book that it stays away from the sort of conspiracy mongering that is so often found in this genre. I give O’Reilly and Dugard credit for resisting the temptation to weave in speculations about shadowy figures on the grassy knoll, the roll that LBJ may have played, or the idea that the assassination was undertaken by the freemasons (all of which have been posited by conspiracy theorists at one time or another).

Given that, according to a poll done in 2012, something like 7% of American’s believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the guy who assassinated Lincoln, there is definitely a place for this book in today’s society. If it is sometimes grim, sometimes shocking in its details, it must also be said it is moderate and restrained in terms of political spin. And, putting aside for a moment my professional historian’s streak of curmudgeonliness, I will say that this is the kind of history book that is enjoyable reading for the nonspecialist. If you’re interested in learning about an important historical event, and don’t want to get bogged down in a lot of references or left field speculation, O’Reilly and Dugard’s book is well worth your time.

What books have you missed reading?

~John F.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Next Good Book

After finishing a book, I sometimes have a hard time figuring out what to read next. Should I re-read a book that I have read and loved in the past, or should I take a leap into less familiar literary territory?

What follows is a short list of my go-to strategies for finding the next good book:

Pick up the first book in a series

This is a strategy that I have developed for myself over the years. If you saw my home library, you’d notice that a good third of it is comprised of what I like to call “series-starters.” I find this strategy to be helpful, because it takes away a lot of the work in finding the next book to read. If you like the first book, you have more to look forward to! I recently used this method, picking up The Alchemyst by Michael Scott. I’m only halfway finished with it; and, honestly, I’m not sure if I’m going to continue the series or not. But, it’s comforting to know that if I do decide to continue the series, there are five more books waiting!

Of course, depending on the length of the series and how quickly you get through it, you may find yourself back in What-Do-I-Read-Now? Land sooner than expected. That’s why I sometimes need to use…
Online Reader’s Advisory Tools

There are a ton of resources online that can help you find your next book. One of my favorites is NoveList Plus, which you can access through the library’s website with your library card. Simply put in the title of a book or an author’s name, and NoveList will provide you with a list of “read-alikes.” That’s how I found out about Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles—Wrede was listed as a read-alike for Terry Pratchett.

One of the best aspects of NoveList, however, is that each title has been thoroughly analyzed by experts. The resource will provide information about storyline, pace, tone, and other elements of each title. You can then find other titles with those same characteristics. For example, I enjoyed how the plot of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is character-driven, but it’s going to be a while before I want to read another story that’s as emotionally intense. I can use NoveList to find character-driven books in other genres.

If you want a more social experience, you can try websites like GoodReads.com* and LibraryThing.com. These sites are composed of user-generated ratings, reviews, and recommendations. I like to use sites like these when I want to know more about a specific title before making a commitment to reading it. If most people liked the book, then I am more willing to try it for myself.

But, my number one source for reading recommendations has to be…

Asking a librarian!
Librarians are living, breathing, walking, talking resources—take advantage of their skills! They may not have read every book in the library, but they have been trained to connect readers with reading materials. Tell them what you like (or what you don’t like), and they will find books that match your tastes. Seriously, let them do all the work!
Our Reference staff, left to right: Cailey, Mary, John, Amanda, Kristin, and Meredith.
(This was Halloween; we normally don't carry weapons, even pretend.)
So, what about you?  How do you like to discover the next good book to read?
-Ariel J.

*To the right of the screen you can see our librarians' GoodReads feeds, showing their most recently read books and ratings. Click through for full reviews!