Monday, April 25, 2016

Read Harder Challenge Check In (8 out of 24)

I'm happy to say I've been keeping up pretty well with completing two of Book Riot's 2016 Read Harder Challenge tasks each month. Along with expanding my genre horizons, it's also helped me simply read more, as I've pushed myself to read two non-challenges a month too. Here's a look at the tasks I've completed in March and April:

Challenge #13: Read a book that is set in the Middle East

Children of the Jacaranda Tree
by Sahar Delijani

This was a heartbreaking read. Delijani illustrates the effect that war and political unrest in Iran has had on mothers, fathers, children and families. Among many, she relates the stories of a girl born in a prison in Tehran and taken from her mother and a three year old whose political activist parents were arrested in front of him.

Challenge #1: Read a horror book

by Koji Suzuki

The novel that inspired the movie The Ring. The story follows Asakawa, a hardworking journalist, as he investigates his niece's death. He discovers a videotape that ends by alerting viewers they will die in seven days unless they complete a certain task. Problem: the instructions have been recorded over. I personally didn't find the novel as chilling as the movie, but still a good read.

Challenge #20: Read a book about religion

A.D. 30
by Ted Dekker

After their enemies attack their palace, Maviah, the illegitimate daughter of an Arabian ruler, is sent to King Herod of the Jews to save her people. On the way, she meets an enigmatic teacher. Her story provides an interesting outsider perspective to Yeshua's (Jesus) teachings and an inspirational tale of someone overcoming adversity through learning to see things differently. A great adventure and story of triumph.

Challenge #11: Read a book under 100 pages

Albert Nobbs
by George Moore

An interestingly progressive story for its time period, Albert Nobbs is a woman disguised and working as a male waiter at an early 20th century English hotel. Albert meets another female working as a male painter who tells her she's married to another woman, and this encourages Albert to find a wife of her own. A quick read, but was turned into one of the most touching films I've ever watched, starring Glenn Close.

Click here to see what I read in January and February.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Three Things I've Stolen from the Grocery Store

image was originally posted to Flickr by Seattle Municipal Archives at
Original image was originally posted to Flickr by Seattle
Municipal Archives under the terms of the cc-by-2.0
In order to make ends meet, I recently served a brief stint as a cashier at a national grocery chain. Before I could even touch a register, I had to spend six grueling, consecutive hours watching training videos and another six hours in a group session taking turns reading aloud from a flip chart with my fellow newly-minted corporate coworkers.

After you get through the repetitive safety courses and cheesy bagging tutorials, you learn how to provide exemplary customer service while not making it totally obvious that you’re trying to move as much product as possible. Along with “The customer’s always right” and “Service with a smile,” you’re taught a number of tips from on-screen employees who you wonder how much extra they were paid to act in these videos.

As a former desk-ridden reference librarian who’s branched out into the world of roving readers’ advisory, I’ve stolen – or borrowed – three of these tips to help me in this new role:
1. Look up! Be ready to help. While assigned to the floor, I’m responsible for helping patrons, reshelving items, shelf reading, and keeping the stacks neat and tidy. Building relationships with our readers and helping them find new books to read is our main priority, but I can’t do that if my eyes are constantly looking down at book carts or busy scanning call numbers on the bottom shelves. I’ve been training the natural introvert in me to start making eye contact with patrons, and from there, it’s much easier to start the “What are you reading?” conversation.
2. Did you remember the garlic bread? One of the videos features a cashier scanning items, and she says to the customer, “Looks like you’re making spaghetti tonight. Did you remember the garlic bread?” And lo, the customer did not, but thanks to her suggestion and willingness to go grab it, dinner was saved! It’s not always easy for me to think on my feet, but when I engage patrons and find out that they’ve picked up the latest by David Mitchell, I might mention how The Bone Clocks reminded me a little bit of one of Haruki Murakami’s prolific tomes. If they’ve got the latest by Barbara Kingsolver I might compare it to something by Jane Smiley. I make it a goal to sneak in one or two suggestions that go well with what they’ve already picked up.
3. Offer more than just a rain check. In another video, a customer gets dramatically angry because there’s no more store brand green beans from the sale ad on the shelf. The smiling clerk who happens to be nearby not only offers a rain check, but gives the customer the name brand at the discounted price as well. Though this is an obvious one, it always slips my mind to make further suggestions when a book someone wants isn’t on the shelf. I can help that patron find something to read in the meantime if I go beyond just placing a hold on the item and moving to next patron.
Now, I realize it isn’t our only goal in readers’ advisory to just move product, but these tips still help me interact and build relationships with patrons and hopefully help them leave the library with a positive experience and a number of good reads.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Read Harder Challenge Check In (4 out of 24)

This year, the Readers' Services Staff is encouraging all staff at my library to do the 2016 Read Harder Challenge - a list of 24 challenges that are intended to stretch your reading boundaries. To add a little incentive, we'll be doing a drawing each quarter for staff who turn in what they've read so far. It's a great way for us, as librarians and recommenders of books, to learn about books outside of the genres and topics we gravitate toward. Here's what I've read so far:

Challenge #18: Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie.

The Martian 
by Andy Weir

Mark Watney is left on Mars after his crew evacuates for safety, mistaking him for dead. A gripping survivor story that's out of this world - literally! This was this year's Read Across Lawrence pick for adults, and the library partnered with a number of organizations in the community on several fantastic programs.  (I admit, I haven't watched the movie yet - but I intend to once it's out on DVD.)

Challenge #15: Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900.

by Janice Young Brooks

Set in 1898 (cutting it close I kow!), 29 year old spinster Janet Sullivan leaves her overprotective aunt and uncle to follow a gold-seeking man she's only known for 3 days into the Yukon. In order to survive on her own and ward off unwanted attention, she dresses as a man and calls herself John Glory. An adventurous romance!

Challenge #5: Read a middle grade novel.

The Shadowhand Covenant
by Brian Farrey

The second book in Farrey's Vengekeep Prophecies trilogy about an unforgettable family of thieves turned heroes. Jaxter gets caught in a conspiracy when a highly secretive clan of thieves known as the Shadowhands recruits his mother for a mission. The trilogy is a perfect "next read" for fans of Harry Potter!

Challenge #10: Read a book over 500 pages long.

The Bone Clocks
by David Mitchell

Fifteen year old Holly Sykes runs away from home and encounters the "Radio People" - a group of psychics who follow her throughout her life. I found Mitchell's prediction of the future world most fascinating. A number of shifts in perspectives and jumps through time settings - this is a dense one!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Book Review - The Great American Whatever

Quinn Roberts is a sixteen-year-old smart aleck and Hollywood hopeful whose only worry used to be writing convincing dialogue for the movies he made with his sister Annabeth. Of course, that was all before—before Quinn stopped going to school, before his mom started sleeping on the sofa…and before Annabeth was killed in a car accident.

Enter Geoff, Quinn’s best friend who insists it’s time that Quinn came out—at least from hibernation. One haircut later, Geoff drags Quinn to his first college party, where instead of nursing his pain, he meets a guy—a hot one—and falls hard. What follows is an upside-down week in which Quinn begins imagining his future as a screenplay that might actually have a happily-ever-after ending—if, that is, he can finally step back into the starring role of his own life story.

     Summary from
I really enjoyed Tim Federle’s two middle grade novels, Better Nate than Ever and Five Six Seven Nate! and I was happy to hear that he was trying his hand at Young Adult. After reading The Great American Whatever, I’d have to say he’s graduated with honors.

I’ve never experienced a loss of a sibling, and hope not to a child, but Tim’s characters illustrate exactly how I’d imagine it would feel. Quinn and his mother pretty much give up on everything after Annabeth dies. Quinn sticks to his room and gives up on writing; his mother sleeps on the sofa and overeats. Annabeth's death leaves both of them in a believable depression and affects their whole community.

The only thing that didn’t really sit well with me about the situation was that the principal of the high school had middle schoolers paint a portrait of Annabeth on the side of the school and it makes her look like a pug. I would have expected flowers and maybe a framed photo?

The novel starts with Geoff, Quinn’s charming best friend, encouraging him to go a college party (I’m discovering a lot of YA novels involve house parties) where not much happens besides Quinn meeting this hot guy, Amir. Geoff and Quinn’s relationship is a positive example that a straight guy can be friends with a gay guy – even if the straight guy does disgusting things like name his farts. Quinn isn’t quite out of the closet – he hasn’t told his mother – but the story isn’t centered on that.

The novel then focuses on Quinn’s developing relationship with Amir, his dealing with the events that surround his sister’s death, and his finding his way back to his passion, which is writing screenplays. Quinn and Amir’s relationship starts out healthy, but it’s evident that they both have different ideas of what they want out of it and its direction. I’m not sure I’m happy with where it did go – but not all relationships go the way we want them, do they?

There’s a lot of great YA coming out this year, and I’m pretty sure The Great American Whatever will be at the top of my list of favorites. I would definitely recommend it to older teens and adults looking for a funny, yet heartwarming story.

The Great American Whatever is due out from Simon & Schuster on March 29, 2016. *Disclosure: I received an advance review copy from a coworker.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Reminiscing with Historical Romance

My grandmother was an avid fan of the mystery author Jill Churchill, and when I was in high school, she got me and my cousin both hooked on her Jane Jeffries series. These were quirky, tongue in cheek cozy mysteries with pun filled titles like War and Peas and Silence of the Hams. Together we'd anticipate each release, which my grandmother would gift us for Christmas or for our birthdays.

Prior to her mysteries, the author wrote a number of historical romance novels under her real name, Janice Young Brooks. My grandmother had duplicate copies of a few of them - some even signed by Janice. All of these titles went out of print by the late 90's, and because my grandmother was such a fan, I tasked myself with tracking down each one.

There was this perfect used bookstore in Mission, Kansas - an hour's drive from where I lived. Hidden around the corner of a strip of shops, the store was a maze of book shelves with hardcovers and paperbacks stacked in lines along the aisles. Definitely not a fire marshal's ideal, but a bookworm's dream. One of those places you could get lost in.

Monthly, I would make the drive out there just to see if they had any of Janice's books. Each time, I'd ask at the front counter, and the owner - knowing they were out of print and rare - would pull them from a shelf behind the counter and gruffly hand them to me. With the rise of the Internet, I was able to discover the full list of Janice's titles, and even found ones that my grandmother didn't know existed. When she passed about 10 years ago, I inherited a number of her books, and I've held on to them since.

In memory of my grandmother, I chose to re-read one of my favorites of Janice's historical novels as my last read of 2016: Still the Mighty Waters. Set in the 1800's along the Mississippi river, the novel follows the daughters of a once respected lawyer as they relocate to the Midwest after his downfall and death. Honore and Lisette Legarde and their brother Paul set out on a not so pleasant boat ride down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers for St. Louis where, they were told, their cousins own and operate a hotel.

Now don't let the cover mislead you - there are only about three or four steamy scenes in the 492 pages. Though Honore's relationships are central to the plot, you learn a bit about the fur trade, a bit about the rise of steamboat technology, and a lot about what it took to survive and even succeed in the Midwest during the early 19th century.

On their trip to St. Louis, tragedy strikes when an earthquake - based on an actual event that caused the Mississippi to run backwards - leaves Honore and Lisette with no money and no way to travel further. On top of that, Lisette comes down with a debilitating fever. They are saved by the dashing fur trader, Bastille DuChamps, who delivers them to safety on a rickety raft. Bastille quickly falls for Honore, but after a brief moment of passion, remembers some emotional baggage from his past and escapes back to the wild.

Honore and Lisette eventually make it to St. Louis, where they find the situation not quite as they expected. Honore adapts to a different lifestyle, working hard at the tavern owned by their cousin by marriage, Hildy. Then Matthew Leigh, a businessman they met on the trip from New England, offers to house the three of them and hire Honore as his son's governess at the imposing manor he's built on an island in mighty waters of the Mississipi.

Honore eventually accepts a marriage proposal from Matthew after hearing the rumored death of Bastille, on whom she had her heart set. Thus begins the complications between Matthew and Honore, as she tries to get along with his son and becomes more and more involved in his riverboat business. Lies, drama, explosions and fires ensue - keeping this historical romance a definite page turning affair.

The last quarter of the book turns focus to Honore's daughter, Celeste, who inherits half of Matthew's business and finds herself in a battle with his son, Lewis. This was only the second time I've read the book, but as you can tell from the photo above, my copy - not new when I purchased it - has been well used. I gave it five out of five stars over on Goodreads.

I don't when or if I'll get to re-reading the rest of the historical novels or even the mysteries, but I'm really glad that my grandmother introduced me to Janice/Jill. I'll always think of her when I see them on my bookshelves and feel her with me when I do pick one up.