Sunday, April 23, 2017

Book Evolution

My earliest memories of books are from age 5 when I carried my favorite book with me to Mrs. Patrones' house after morning kindergarten.  I remember sharing it with my friend, Frankie.  I had many favorites through the years, but most of the early ones caught my attention with their beautiful colors and pictures.  I can see the turtles in the tuttle tuttle tree, and the melting tiger as he turned into buttery syrupy pancakes and the especially perfect colors of the Popples, which looked like they'd be soft when I touched the page but never where (that mismatch totally mesmerized me).  Other than the Dr. Seuss one, I can't remember the stories very well, but I can see some of the pictures and feel the magic still.

As I got older, the books got fewer pictures, of course, but richer detail that made pictures in my own mind.  I can "see" Louis the trumpeter swan and his chalkboard, Charlotte in her web, princess Sara Crewe in her dreary attic with Becky, and Rose and all of her rowdy cousins.  The stories grew in imagery, but the pictures were drawn with words.  They morphed from small, thin hardcovers or board books to paperback chapter books and thick hardcovers that made me feel so grown up.

Now my books are thin again.  In fact, they mostly have no physical substance at all!  They exist on my kindle.  Of course, I still read a lot of print books, but if I can get them on my kindle I do so.  I read a lot more nonfiction than I did as a child - some because I need the information and some just because I connect with them more now as I think about more esoteric ideas and enjoy making connections.

What will my books look like 20 years from now?  Will we still have any print books?  Will storytelling take an entirely new form?

It would be easy to go along with the crowds and talk about the rise of digital media and how all books will be on the computer.  Or how nobody reads anymore and there will be hardly any new books by then.  Or how we've been slowly dumbing down and in 20 years all the new books will be inane and empty.  I agree with Ursula Le Guin that TV shows and movies have become "brain-numbing... remakes of remakes". (Staying Awake, 2008)  Those writers are obviously out of ideas and originality. But - and this is a big but - I think humanity is just as intelligent and creati
ve as ever.  The problem is one of overload.  We have so many stories, so much access, so easily, that we can't find anything of value among the fluff.  In addition, I believe that our educational system is part of the problem, rather than the solution.  That's a different topic, but one I encourage you to explore.

In my humble opinion, I think the recent interest in all things retro will include reading as a pastime.  I think people are tired of emptiness and are looking for depth and meaning.  Memoirs are on the rise, everyone can publish, and people want connection.  I predict those things will coalesce into the greatest boom in book publishing that the world has ever seen.  They'll need librarians even more to separate the grain from the chaff and help people find the stories that inspire their lives.  I look forward to reading them whether they're on an ereader or paper!

Let Me Tell Ya...

...'bout the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees...

Nah, you know all about that.  I want to tell ya 'bout the thrillers and the horror and the romance and the sci fi...

Ok, it doesn't rhyme but I still want to tell you about all the awesome books we have for you at the library.  But how?

Here are a few ideas that have worked for me and my heroic librarian friends and I hope you'll share some fabulous ideas with me, so together we'll be like Library SuperTwins:

  • Displays (kind of useful, but not super duper)
  • Bundling with the Movie (lots of checkouts, but I think people only watch the movie)
  • Displayed during a Program (pretty effective since people are already excited)
  • BookTalks (Best. Thing. Ever. Like a superpower for librarians)

So, seriously, what kinds of activities can we do at the library to help people find books that they want to read?  There are many ideas that've been promulgated by various libraries, groups, authors, and "experts", but the absolute best, most effective method I've seen is personal recommendation.  This can come in the form of booktalks or readers' advisory.

For those of you who don't know, booktalks are exactly like what you do when you're telling your best friend about the great book you just finished:

"it was so..."                "and then..."               "and you just want to..."           "You HAVE to read this!"

The only difference is that you're talking to a group instead of one friend.  One major rule:  READ THE BOOK.  This seems like a no-brainer, and yet I know people who think they can just tell you what the reviews say and not give a personal reaction or insight.  NO!  Just like in this class, you have to read, or at least skim, the book yourself in order to have a truly good grasp on the appeal factors of the story and be able to share it in an authentic and genuine way.  If you don't read it, please be honest about that to people.  You can still do readers' advisory with it, but you can't effectively booktalk it.

BTW, don't just booktalk in the library.  GO OUT! Booktalk at events, schools, clubs, everywhere.

Turn your mouth into a mouse and booktalk online - Facebook, Twitter, and the library blog are all great places to booktalk.  The reviews we've been doing in this class are formal - take them to a more informal, casual, personal level and BLAM, you've got a booktalk!  Post it!

Book displays can be creative, imaginative, eye-catching, and fun.  You can do a Pinterest search and find a tremendous amount of wonderful ideas like these:

Some displays are more effective than others, and I've personally found that many people are hesitant to take a book that's part of a display because they don't want to mess up the great tableau.  I think complicated book displays are best as part of a library marketing tool to show how fun the library is, but I'm not convinced that they lead to those featured books being checked out more.  The types of displays that work the best, in my opinion, are those that are simple and highlight the books rather than the creativity of the librarians.

Bundling the books with the movies has been extremely popular in my library.  We created a READ BOX and put it right next to the checkout desk.

Ours is similar to this one, and it gets a lot of attention, but in chatting with the patrons we're pretty sure they just watch the movie and don't read the book.  Sad, but true.  The movie is the pretty, popular kid while the book is the poor, ugly, neglected stepchild.

Books promoted during garden program.
ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS gather books that are related to your program or event and display them near the entrance during the program.  People coming to a library program are already interested in that topic and are much more likely to be interested in those books.  It's kind of like passive RA - you know something about what they like and you're offering suggestions.  Also, part of the reason for holding programs, workshops, classes, and events at the library is to offer avenues to information, so keep going and show people the resources we have that they can checkout and take home - duh!  It's a no-brainer, but it's surprising how often it doesn't happen.

These are my "best practices" for sharing and promoting books.  What are yours?  I really, really want to know so share in the comments!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Where'd They Go?

So... where'd the gay and black folks books go?

The question is whether LGBT and/or African American books should be shelved separately from other library materials or not.

First off, what IS an LGTB book or an African American book?  Is it a book about being gay or black? Is it a book by a gay person or black person?  Is it history, contemporary? And if we shelve them separately, is that "celebrating" or "segregating"?  Is it helping folks find stuff, or just another way of pointing out someone's "different-ness"?

"...and librarians have a profound responsibility to give validity to that freedom to read by making it possible for the readers to choose freely from a variety of offerings."  (ALA, 2017)

I decided to look at this through the LGBT experience and interviewed two people about their viewpoint.  Z explained that she had been to bookstores many years ago that had a separate LGBT section, and she felt very exposed and uncomfortable just browsing there.  Both X and Z said they appreciated being able to find gay books easily, and that having access to books which feature gay people or address gay concerns is important to them, but they would prefer to not feel singled out.  Z suggested that libraries should try using metadata tags, which made me go "aarrgh!", and I explained that we DO.  They both said that with the availability of searchable catalogs that include LGBT metadata tags and subject headings, they can find materials without having to go to the "gay" shelf.  X said that a book about gay parenting should be in the parenting section so that she can browse all kinds of parenting books.  "We're interested in the same things as everyone else, so the books should be integrated".

Does this mean that if we segregate these books (make them "special") we somehow abridge the ability of both gay and straight patrons to choose from a variety?  My friends suggest that this is so, and causes pigeonholing.  Pigeonholing = bad.

 They suggested that having a display during pride month (June) if a library wants to showcase its LGBT collection and show support for that group of minority people.
X disagreed with marking or labeling books in any way.  At first it seemed like a good idea for browsing, but then they both said people might feel uncomfortable bringing a marked book to the checkout counter or having it visible in their home if they're not "out" yet, so they decided that they really feel that for most gay people the best solution is to use the catalog search filters.  This provides accessibility, while still protecting privacy.  The American Library Association (ALA) states:  It is not in the public interest to force a reader to accept with any book the prejudgment of a label characterizing the book or author as subversive or dangerous.  Would a label denoting a book as LGBT be perceived by that community as helpful or judgemental?  According to my friends, it could be the latter, and that would against the ethical and professional standards of the ALA.  

I think these ideas apply to African American books as well.  If I go to the "black" section, I feel very conspicuous, like I shouldn't be there, or I'm only there to prove how non-racist I am.  Makes me feel like a poser.  On the other hand, if I'm browsing the fiction and run across The Help, I just feel like I found a great book - not a black book.  Yes, it certainly sheds light on a black issue, but those issues are important for all of humanity.  And for crying out loud, I'm guessing that black people have had enough of being separated.

Disclaimer: This does not apply to special centers or museums dedicated to preserving a unique history or voice, or an academic library supporting specialized research. 

Let's just stick together, people!

African American Genre Annotation

Hidden Figures

by Margot Lee Shetterley

William Morrow Pub. (2016)
ISBN: 978-0062363596
Available formats:  HardcoverPaperback


"Just as islands...have relevance for the ecosystems everywhere, so does studying...overlooked people and events from the past turn up unexpected connections and insights to modern life.  The idea that black women had been recruited to work as mathematicians at the NASA installation in the South during the days of segregation defies our expectations and challenges much of what we think we know about American history.  It's a great story, and that alone makes it worth telling." (p. xv)

This is an account of an extraordinary moment in history when a door opened and African American women walked through it to join white men at the forefront of the Space Race.  It revolves around 4 particular women, Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden, describing their lives, their families, their hopes, and their greatest challenges.  It's almost like a 4-part biography wrapped in a historical event.  Each woman is introduced, along with her family and educational background and her own personal dreams and needs.  She's then woven into the narrative of the Langley Laboratory and the amazing story of how this group of black women became a force for positive social change in one of the most prestigious and leading industry's in the country at that time.  The story is about this change and the tremendous impact it had on the women (of all colors, though especially black) who followed.  

Characteristics of this Book

Story:  Historical documentary.  If you like history, particularly history regarding race relations and how they've evolved, then you'll like this book.  It's not like a novel, but more like a treatise or exposition; we learn about the characters and the things that happened to them, or that they did, but we don't get into their minds very much.  

Pacing:  Very slow and studious, densely written.

Setting:  The story is set in Hampton, Virginia from the early '40s to the late '60s, mostly in the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory.  It's a setting that combines the racial issues of a smallish, southern college town with a highly educated and technological government research facility.  

Tone:  Thoughtful and insightful, explanations and facts are presented without being overly emotional, but with a sense of strength and admiration.  There's a sense of optimism and pragmatism laced throughout the book.  

Style:  Informative. Understated and elegant writing.  You get a real sense of the time and place with the use of common local terminology such as calling the women "computers" and referring to the Langley facility as "Mother Langley".  

Characterization:  The women in the book are described as real people with varying attributes, standards, goals, ethics, and personalities.  Although we don't enter their heads like we do with most fiction, we do get a very full sense of who they are based on personal and family interviews, letters, and other memorabilia.  It makes you want to meet them in person!  

Appeal terms:  Insightful, uplifting, encouraging, informative, studious, complex, very real 

Personal Note

If you pick up this book expecting it to be similar in feel or scope to the movie, as I did (although I haven't seen the movie, only the trailers), you'll be in for a big surprise.  This is a historical documentary.  Although it's centered loosely around the 4 women, it's really a very thorough treatise of the cultural and racial issues faced by black American working women of the time.

It's a little confusing and hard to follow since the author jumps around frequently; one paragraph she's describing Dorothy's marital difficulties because of her new job, and then suddenly we're into an anecdote about peeking at German POWs, then the neighbor's daughter and her education and marriage, and then we're on the bus with Dorothy on the way to begin the job that would later cause the marital difficulties we started the chapter with.  The book doesn't flow well, making it hard to really get "into", but close reading reveals wonderfully insightful gems such as "Who would have thought that such a mélange of black and white, male and female, blue-collar and white-collar workers, those who worked with their hands and those who worked with numbers, was actually possible?  And who would guess that the southern city of Hampton, Virginia, was the place to find it?"  Unfortunately, you  have to be willing to slog through a lot of other minutiae to get to the good stuff.  It worth it, though, because most other African American works I've seen are either about slavery prior to the Civil War, black experience during Reconstruction, black soldiers, or the 60's Civil Rights Movement.  The book fills in a gap in both time period and gender stories, on the brink of what the author justly calls America's "great transformations".

I ultimately found it ok, but couldn't get into it - too jumpy.


Movie!  Yay!  Of course this book has been made into a movie which just came out this year in January.  I haven't seen it yet since I had wanted to read the book first.  There's a great interview with the author here, where she talks about the differences between the book and the movie, saying that the movie only focuses on one particular event, where the book gives a much deeper and broader account (she still likes the movie, though).  

Official Book Trailer

Friday, April 7, 2017

Yours, Mine, and Ours

This is an interesting issue, and one which, although it's not a problem for my library now, will be next year.  Right now the Teen Area at both our branches is open to the rest of the library.  The items are shelved separately from the Adult sections, but nearby.  Anyone can come and go easily.  But...

We're in the process of adding on to our Main Branch and the plans call for a new Teen Room (yay!).  Until now, I hadn't thought about the impact this will have on adults who like to read YA books.  This new room will be on a completely different floor than the adult area and will be closed with a glass wall and doors - great for teens hanging out and for doing loud programs, but not so great for adults who want to browse the YA shelves.  I'm not comfortable with adults hanging out in the teen room, but they should be able to come in and get books if they want.  Ergh, now I'm feeling a little concerned...

An article on WebJunction reflects most YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) advice:
Teen Space is For the Teens.
You need to establish this basic rule early on, and have support at all levels. No policy exists in a vacuum, and your administration must back you up. No teen will feel welcome in the space if the area is filled with adults, nor will a shy 13- year-old ask an adult to please leave the teen area. While teens seem invincible in groups, they are in fact quite vulnerable. Just like a patron of any other age, library policy must reflect a teen’s right to use the library free of impediments, including aggressive adults. (Mary McCarthy, Boulder Public Library, 2004)
I think this is good advice, but I think we can brainstorm some ways that materials can still feel accessible to adults.  Perhaps we can have "open door" times, or start an "Adults Who Love YA" book club?  Maybe we could place a shelf outside the door for popular titles?  Or find some kind of fun, funky signs to invite adults to choose their items quickly and GET OUT BEFORE THE TEEN ZOMBIES GET YOU!...  Or some other idea...   I have 1 year to come up with a plan.  Yikes.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

New Adult Annotation

A Court of Thorns and Roses 

Court of Thorns & Roses series

Bloomsbury USA Childrens (May 5, 2015)
ISBN-13: 978-1619634442
Available formats:  HardcoverPaperback


A modern day spin-off of The Beauty and The Beast...
The father's 3 ships were sunk, consigning him and his 3 daughters to poverity.  The youngest daughter is compelled to live with a monstrous beast, but discovers the humanity within, falls in love, and must find a way to release him from the horrible curse. 

Feyre (fay-ruh) is a cynical girl who spends her days hunting and striving to provide for her crippled father and her spoiled sisters and keep them all from starving to death.  While hunting in the forest, she kills a wolf, though she suspects that he's actually a dangerous faerie in disguise.  The Treaty between humans and fae demands a life for a life, but the beastly faerie who shows up at her hovel offers a deal:  she can live out the rest of her life in Prythian (faerie land) rather than die.  Feyre has no hope of a future, she only wants to protect her family, so she agrees to go with the beast.  Once there, she finds that the beast and all his court are under a curse, and the entire country, including the human lands, are endangered by a mysterious High Fae woman.  Feyre has to navigate this strange and frightening world, and re-think her own prior perceptions of herself and others, to figure out what to do.  

New Adult Appeal Characteristics in this Book

Story:  Novelist calls it action-packed.  It drags a little bit in the middle as Feyre is settling into her new life in Tamlin's mansion and becoming attracted to him, but picks up again with lots of tension and action near the end.  There's a lot of romance in the story and some parts are pretty harlequin-esque and explicit. 

Pacing:  Moderate.  There's a fair amount going on in the story, and it keeps the pages turning fairly well, other than a little bit of slow down in the middle with dreamy, lush descriptions of the manor grounds and the fae.

Setting:  The story is set in a fantasy world split into human territory and fae territory.  The world-building is fair, but not extensive since the focus is on the romance between Feyre and Tamlin. The fun part of the setting is "Beauty and the Beast" framework which is the basis of the story.  There are frequent references which bring the original story to mind, adding to the sense of "otherness" that pervades the fantasy world.

Tone:  The tone is an interesting mashup of dark fairy tale and sexy romance, ending up with what Novelist calls "steamy". “We moved together, unending and wild and burning, and when I went over the edge the next time, he roared and went with me.” (quote) Definitely steamy! “I love you," I said, and stabbed him. (quote) Definitely dark!

Style:  The writing is complex and descriptive, and sometime poetic:  “I was as unburdened as a piece of dandelion fluff, and he was the wind that stirred me about the world.” (quote) Many parts are reminiscent of a cheesy romance novel, but still vivid and lush and dreamy.

Characterization:  Feyre starts out like another Katniss:  angry, desperately poor, anxious to save her family, and unrealistically skilled at hunting.  She then morphs into a romantic artist.  Then, finally, she comes to some deep realizations, and comes together as a complex and interesting person.  She has the fortitude to do hard things and make hard choices with clear eyes.  Rhysand turns into a complex and mysterious character, but the rest stay within their narrow caricatures, but this works perfectly for the fairy tale.  

Appeal terms: fantasy, dark, sexy, adventurous, fairy tale retelling

Young Adult or New Adult?  That is the question...

It can sometimes be tricky to tell whether a book should be categorized as YA/teen or New Adult.  Common criteria according to New Adult Alley ( is:

  • protagonist is between 18 - 26 yrs old, has left home for the first time, and has his/her first serious relationship
  • more explicit sex scenes

In A Court of Thorns and Roses, Feyre is 19 yrs. old and must leave home to make a new life in a strange land.  She's had a casual boyfriend before, but now falls in love for the first time.  The book contains a number of references to casual sex, and includes some very hot, steamy episodes:  "...his kiss deepened as his fingers slid between my legs, coaxing and teasing. I ground against his hand, yielding completely to the writhing wildness that had roared alive inside me..." (quote).  
This is not the kind of writing that is normal in YA!  Whew!  

Other reviewers have said:

Though A Court of Thorns and Roses is a young adult novel, the book was written with a slightly older reader in mind (my note: this indicates readers older than teens) compared to Maas's Throne of Glass series. "When I write, I usually just let the story take me where it needs to go," she says. "In this case that was into a dark, sensual, often violent world, with characters that were a direct product of it."    (Valerie Tejeda, 12/9/2014, )

A Court of Thorns and Roses is not a YA novel. This New Adult fantasy is passionate, violent, sexy and daring with brief love scenes that, while compelling and tastefully constructed for mature audiences, contain sexual content that should be considered inappropriate for younger readers.                                                                                       (Serena Chase, 4/14/2015

Personal Note

I started this book prepared to dislike it, and in fact, didn't care for it much until near the end.  Then it got interesting....  Feyre turned into a character with depth and substance, facing hard choices and being willing to admit her mistaken ideas about family, love, and her own nature.

Parts of the earlier story that I liked were the parallels to the original Beauty and the Beast story (not the Disney one) and the descriptive writing.  What I disliked were the cheesy romance-novel bits; "He flexed his bandaged hand, studying the white bindings, stark and clean against his sun-kissed skin."   "But he shook his head, and his golden hair caught and held the morning light as if it were spun from the sun itself."  Barf.

Once Feyre and Tamlin got together, a little over midway, the story became less romance and more fantasy/adventure, which is much more my thing.  There is nice little plot twist near the end, nothing terribly dramatic, but enough to perk things up a little and be entertaining.  In the end...  I liked it, and yes, I would recommend it to a friend looking for a light fantasy/sexy


  Coloring book available here.

Official Fan-made Book Trailer


Enter the Matrix... the RA Matrix!

Jared Diamond's "matrix" of the spread (or not) of inventions.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies 

by Jared Diamond
Published July 17, 2005
528 pages

Setting:  World          
Time Period:  Human origins to modern, concentrated from 13,000 B.C. to 1900 A.D.
Subject Headings:  Social evolution, Civilization – History, Ethnology
Type:  Science

Series notes:  n/a
Book summary:  The author dismantles racially based theories of human history by revealing the environmental factors he feels are responsible for history's broadest patterns.  (Worldcat, 2017)
Reading elements:  Thought-provoking, informative, detailed, sweeping scope, well-researched and documented, documentary-like
Annotation:  A thought-provoking look at the ultimate (not proximal, he really harps on this distinction) causes of human civilization patterns throughout history, arguing that more highly developed societies resulted from geographic, environmental, and political factors rather than genetic or racial factors. 
Similar works:  Salt by Mark Kurlansky; 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
by Charles C. Mann

1.       Where is the book on the narrative continuum?  Highly fact-based
2.       What is the subject of the book?  Exploring the reasons why some cultures/societies have developed and/or been more dominant than others
3.       What type of book is it?  Anthropological exposition - Science
4.       Articulate appeal. 
a.       Pacing:  Highly detailed, slow reading as explanations build to conclusions, in-depth thinking    
b.       Describe the characters of the book:  No particular characters, this book is idea-based
c.       How does the story feel?  Philosophical, like an exploration of ideas, documentary   
d.       What is the intent of the author?  To persuade the reader of the validity of his hypothesis    
e.       What is the focus of the story?  To explain ultimate causes of why particular societies have thrived more than others      
f.        Does the language matter?  Yes               
g.       Is the setting important and well-described?  Yes.  Geographical considerations play a very large role in this essay and these factors are described in detail         
h.       Are there details, and if so, what?  Yes, lots.  About geographic, political, and other factors that either contributed or hindered human development      
i.         Are there sufficient charts and other graphic materials?  Are they useful and clear?  Not many, but they are clear
j.         Does the book stress moments of learning, understanding, or experience?   Yes, understanding is stressed throughout the book. 
5.       Why would a reader enjoy this book?
a.       Explores big ideas
b.       Thought-provoking about the haves and have-nots
c.       Clear, in-depth explanations which are well-supported and well-argued

Saturday, March 25, 2017

How Appealing is Your Medium?

From the book cover of Reluctant Medium by G.G. Collins
I have to confess:  I've been prejudiced against certain mediums.  Not people mediums, story mediums.  I was a die hard print reader until my daughter dragged me into the world of the Kindle.  Then I still thought this was just modern print, and refused any other mediums like audio, graphics, video game stories, and so on.  I was also prejudiced against any tablet-style medium - only plain old e-ink for TRUE READERS.  Ha!  Now I eat crow...  and have learned the value of all the various story mediums for various patron needs.  

In the last couple of years, we’ve seen an increase in ebook reading and audiobook listening at my library.  This has a huge impact on the reader, but I had never really thought of it as Reader’s Advisory before.  I thought of it more as technology advisory, but it is absolutely true that it has a major impact on the experience of reading a book. 

I have a lot of trouble with recommending audiobooks.  As Kaite Mediatore says in Reading With Your Ears, “The most significant element of appeal for a recorded book [is] audible presentation…”  The narrator is the key here, and I didn’t know where to turn for that kind of information.  Amazon, Baker & Taylor, and publishers will tell who the narrator is, but more details aren’t listed.  For example, I tried to listen to Bloody Jack by L.A. Me
yer, but found that the heavy British accent made it impossible to decipher.  Ergh!  So frustrating!  In writing, this is a wonderful story and I can “hear” the accent in my head, but as an audio it will never circulate in my library because no one can tell what it’s saying.  Of course, now Amazon offers a preview feature and that’s invaluable when we’re purchasing for the library, but what about the patron browsing the shelf?  How will he or she know if the audiobook is something they’ll enjoy?  I think they’ll need librarian “picks” to help them get started, and then if they find a favorite narrator, author, genre, or creator they’ll be good to go for a while. 

Format, I think, is becoming more and more important in audiobooks as it is for ebooks.  I found that circulation of our YA audiobook collection had decreased dramatically, and on investigating, discovered that local teens use Chromebooks for school, which don’t have a disk drive.  They don’t use Walkman’s (so old school), they don’t drive until 17 or older, so they simply don’t have a device on which to play an audio CD.  They will, however, happily listen to books on Playaway devices, or, more frequently, download them onto their phones.  This last option requires some training, but once they have the apps and their library login, they seem to really like it. 

Ebooks is a whole ‘nother issue.  Any books that are heavy on graphics, whether actual graphic novels or non-fiction full of charts and maps, will NOT play well with a regular Kindle or other plain ereader.  If your patron reads that kind of stuff, they’ll need a Kindle Fire, IPad, or tablet if they want the ebook instead of the print book.  I got an exercise book a couple of years ago on my Kindle and the photos are small and the charts are completely useless.  I had to get on the laptop and download them there, then print them out for use in workouts.  Fortunately, I got lazy and quit working out so
that’s not an issue anymore, lol.  The other major factor for ebooks is ease of accessing the books and ease of using the reader.  Kindle is a hands-down winner here, but for teens, who are unlikely to have their own Amazon account, the Kindle app on their phone will work as will Adobe Reader, which lets them read epub and pdf formats as well.  Maximum versatility.  Also, students who are required to read classics may be able to find them for free download if they’re in the public domain, but the formats will be not be supported by Amazon. 

There are a couple other interesting intangibles that people like about ebooks.  One new feature that has recently come up was when a mom at our library decided to get her daughter an ereader so that as she goes off to college, the mom can instantly send any books to help her get through the homesickness, or other issues, and they can stay connected.  Isn’t that nice?  Also, I have learned through my brother-in-law, who works for a textbook distributor, that more and more college books are becoming available through Kindle so students don’t have to carry those gigantic textbooks.  With newer ereaders that have bookmarking and comment features, this is a nice perk.  We have one family in my library who particularly likes to borrow ebooks because they automatically return and the poor mom constantly was trying to wrangle books and worry about late fines.  Ebooks to the rescue!
 I think the only issue they have now is the lack of enough titles to check out, so the libraries need to rise to that challenge. 

My new motto:  Right story, right format, right equipment for ALL!


Mediatore, K. (2003). Reading with Your Ears: Readers' Advisory and Audio Books. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 42(4), 318-23.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Non-fiction Annotation

The Hot Zone: 

The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus

by Richard Preston

Anchor Books (1999)
ISBN: 978-0385495226
Available formats:  Hardcover, Paperback


Charles Monet returned to his job at the pump house at the sugar factory. He walked to work each day across the burned cane fields, no doubt admiring the view of Mount Elgon, and when the mountain was buried in clouds, perhaps he could still feel its pull, like the gravity of an invisible planet. 

Meanwhile, something was making copies of itself inside Monet. 

A life form had acquired Charles Monet as a host, and it was replicating.

...Charles Monet is sitting on a bench in casualty, and he does not look very much different from someone else in the room, except for his bruised, expressionless face and his red eyes. A sign on the wall warns patients to watch out for purse thieves, and another sign says: PLEASE MAINTAIN SILENCE YOUR COOPERATION WILL BE APPRECIATED. NOTE: THIS IS A CASUALTY DEPARTMENT. EMERGENCY CASES WILL BE TAKEN IN PRIORITY. YOU MAY BE REQUIRED TO WAIT FOR SUCH CASES BEFORE RECEIVING ATTENTION 

Monet maintains silence, waiting to receive attention. Suddenly he goes into the last phase. The human virus bomb explodes. Military biohazard specialists have ways of describing this occurrence. They say that the victim has "crashed and bled out". Or more politely they say that the victim has "gone down".

Pools of blood spread out around him, enlarging rapidly. Having destroyed its host, the agent is now coming out of every orifice, and is "trying" to find a new host.  (excerpts from the book, emphasis mine)

The Hot Zone is an alarming and incredible account of the emergence of the highly lethal virus, Ebola, in the world.  Scientists have to track down this invisible invader, figure out where it came from, and determine how it travels and how to fight it.  Ebola has up to a 90% fatality rate within days of infection, and no cure, so the fight is especially urgent.  It arrives in the U.S. through monkeys shipped here for research and breaks out, prompting the secret mobilization of the military and top level scientists in a desperate attempt to isolate and destroy it before it can spread and kill.  The team will have to wade into the blood and face this terrifying life-form directly in order to keep the rest of us safe.  Would you be willing to handle it with only a pair of rubber gloves for protection?  “Shocking, frightening, and impossible to ignore, The Hot Zone proves that truth really is scarier than fiction.” (book jacket)

"In the opinion of General Russell, this was a job for soldiers operating under a chain of command.  There would be a need for people trained in biohazard work.  They would have to be young, without families, willing to risk their lives.  They would have to know each other and be able to work in teams.  They had to be ready to die."  (excerpted from the book)

Appeal Characteristics in this Book

Story:  Novelist calls this an issue-oriented story.  This is a well-researched and documented exploration of the origins of the ebola virus and its social and political implications for humankind.  It's also a warning to pay attention to ethical issues in medical research.

Pacing:  The pace of this story is somewhat of a roller coaster.  Parts of it are edge-of-your-seat thriller, and other parts are leisurely background description of the main players, and in-between we're caught up in a moderate to fast-paced tale that's part science and part detective story. 

Setting:  The Hot Zone ranges around the contemporary world from the caves, jungles, and cities of Africa to the highly modern and technological setting of urban research and military centers in the United States and Europe.  

Tone:  This is a thought-provoking and suspenseful story.  The story is mostly optimistic, but is also a warning and the tone is serious and, as Novelist says, sobering. 

Style:  The structure of the book is complex, jumping around in time and place, and highly detailed with a lot of technical terms.  The unfamiliar terms are explained well and give the reader a true sense of the world of the scientists.  The government and military are inordinately fond of acronyms and these are scattered liberally throughout the book.  

Characterization:  The central “character” in the book is the ebola virus itself, which is treated as an intelligent monster purposely hunting and attacking human hosts.  The other "characters" are the real scientists, doctors, healthcare professionals, military specialists, politicians, and victims surrounding the virus.  

Appeal terms:  true story, compelling, intense, suspenseful, fast-paced, medical thriller

Personal Note

This is the scariest, most mesmerizing, intense book I have ever read, hands down!  It seems like science fiction, blended with horror, but it's ALL TRUE making it absolutely freaky.  I'm so glad I don't live anywhere near any research facilities.  One of the most awful parts of book is when one of the researchers, Tom Geisbert, is doing what he thinks is routine work when he discovers that what he's been handling is Ebola - with no protection, he and his boss even smelled it!  He's on edge for a week, wondering if he's going to die, and has no idea what to do.  Oy! Just thinking about it again makes my blood run cold.

This is one of the best books I have EVER read.  There simply aren't words to explain....  This is a MUST READ!!  It even scared Stephen King, who called it, "One of the most horrifying things I've ever read...remarkable."

Wow.  Just, wow.  I have to read it again.  Now.  So do you.



No one around the Institute wanted to get involved with his Ebola project. Ebola, the slate wiper, did things to people that you did not want to think about. The organism was too frightening to handle, even for those who were comfortable and adept in space suits. They did not care to do research on Ebola because they did not want Ebola to do research on them.  

Ebola Zaire is the most feared agent at the Institute. The general feeling around USAMRIID has always been "Those people who work with Ebola are crazy." To mess around with Ebola is an easy way to die. Better to work with something safer, such as anthrax.

Movie rights have been purchased and an attempt was made which was not particularly successful.  It came across as a cheesy sci fi film, unfortunately.  Talk is going around the Web that another movie or TV series will be made which will hold more true to the book, but so far there are no definite plans.  

The outbreak of 2014-2015 affected countries around the world, including the U.S. with 4 cases diagnosed here.  It took a concerted effort from all major health agencies and military branches to isolate, contain, and finally defeat this outbreak.  Updates from this and any new outbreaks can be found at the Centers for Disease Control here

Did you know?: December 24, 2014 - The CDC announces that a technician will be monitored for three weeks after possibly being exposed to the Ebola virus at one of the agency's Atlanta labs. The agency reports a small amount of material which may have contained the live virus had been mistakenly transferred from one lab to another.  (  Major oops!

Book Trailers

Very well done trailer.

Hilarious student trailer.
I love the plush monkey autopsy!
Note the styrofoam cup face mask...
Great sound effect, lol...



Most of these are written by the same author, Richard Preston.  Micro was mostly written by Michael Crichton, but was finished by Preston.  Both Micro and The Cobra Event are fiction, while The Demon in the Freezer and Panic in Level 4 are non-fiction.  Jurassic Park is Michael Crichton's most well-known and popular work, Spillover is a highly acclaimed science non-fiction. 
All are considered "bio-thrillers".  


Historical Fiction Annotation

Queen Margot 

by Alexandre Dumas

Miramax Books (1994)
originally published in 1845
ISBN: 978-0786880829
Available formats:  Hardcover, Paperback


Queen Margot is a sweeping historical novel of political intrigue in the palaces of France during religious wars of the mid-16th century.  It’s based on real people and the real events of the time, climaxing with the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of the protestant Huguenots.  Margot (Marguerite de Valois) is a Catholic who is being forced to marry the protestant King Henri of Navarre in order to try to bring peace to the various factions.  Margot and Henri forge a friendship and alliance, and in true French fashion, agree to pursue their own romantic liaisons after the wedding, as long as they’re discreet.  Margot is passionate and desperately in love with La Molé, a French soldier and a protestant Huguenot, and ends up trying to navigate the treachery of her own mother, Catherine de Medici, while keeping her lover safe.  Queen Margot is an opulent and adventurous novel of French royalty, traitors, lovers, alliances, and passion, against a backdrop of social upheaval leading up to the French religious civil war.

This is a classic book, originally published in French in 1845 as La Reine Margot. and has since been translated into multiple languages.  

Characteristics of Historical Fiction in this Book

Story:  This story has lots of royal court intrigue and the fabulous, dramatic, romances for which the French are famous.  Secrets, assassinations, greed, power, lust, love, and political manipulation are the main themes.  "In other Historical novels, characters take center stage, and the lives of the protagonists are more important than individual events...Although historical details frame these novels, the narrative emphasizes the characters and their stories within these times."  (Saricks, 2009, p. 295)  This is the case in this novel, which focuses on Margot, Henri, La Molé, and Catherine and their various schemes and personal motivations, against the violent social upheaval of the times.  

Pacing:  This is a fast-paced narrative, with lots of action.  There are some pauses for descriptive paragraphs with fancy French names, which may slow some readers down, but only for a moment and the action picks right back up.  The characters are constantly on the brink of either disaster or success, and the reader is caught up in the race.  Immediacy, as described by Saricks (RA Guide to Genre Fiction, p. 297) is a good term for the pace of this book.  

Setting:  The story is set in 16th century France, during a very turbulent time in history, among the royalty and high court.  This world is sweepingly wealthy, privileged, and formal with rigid behavioral norms which transport the reader. 

Tone:  The tone of this book is adventurous and suspenseful as danger is ever-present, but also moody and dramatic since Margot is desperate, lonely, passionate, and anxious.  Heavy, epic, orchestra music would be the perfect companion to this novel.

Style:  Because the story was written in the 1800's, and originally in French, the writing is vivid, old-fashioned, and comparatively formal.  Dumas is known for his rich descriptions and this is true here as well, with complex and beautiful sentences:  "A farce, Réné, a farce!  I know not why but everyone is seeking to deceive me.  My daughter Marguerite is leagued against me; perhaps she, too, is looking forward to the death of her brothers; perhaps she, too, hopes to be Queen of France."  Note that the writing structure and vocabulary are advanced and may be a challenge for some readers.  

Characterization:  "Actual historical figures need to act in ways that are consistent with known facts... and act in ways that could have actually happened." (Saricks, 2009, p. 296)  In this case, Dumas plays with the characters, inventing personalities, quirks, and motivations, but they do stay generally consistent with historical facts, marriages and known alliances or major actions.  This works because personal, intimate details about these people are mostly unknown to history and Dumas keeps his versions of them believable and true-to-time/place.  They're a little bit stereotypical and caricatured, but that helps to keep them light and fun, rather than deeply complex which would end up dragging the story.

Appeal terms:  dramatic, adventurous, passionate, suspenseful, vividly historical, fast-paced, lush writing, complex plot and structure

Personal Note

I read this book mostly because my daughter read it first and recommended it.  Word-of-mouth is, of course, the best readers' advisory ever.  I found it lush, intriguing, and full of wonderfully deceitful characters.  It was so rich and detailed that I could picture everything perfectly.  I couldn't really relate to the characters since I'm not the kind of person that could just go around having lovers and affairs and secrets and doing all that manuevering - I'm way too straightforward, so I would've lost my head, literally, very quickly.  My favorite aspect of the book was the historical background since my ancestors came from this very time period, fleeing eventually to the fledgling New World colonies, changing their name from the French "Bruneau" to "Bronaugh" which was my great-grandparent's name. Reading about the Huguenots this way made my family history much more alive for me.


The story was made into a French film in 1994
and then re-made in an English version.
Portrait of Marguerite de Valois
 by Francois Clouet (1515-1572)
courtesy Getty Images


  • The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers are by the same author and written in similar style with similar settings.
  • The Huguenots is a non-fiction account of the same events depicted in Queen Margot so some readers may be intrigued and want to read more about the real history.
  • The Vatican Princess is also lush, historical, and full of intrigue and courtly deception.
  • The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is fun to read since it turns the story on its head with the point of view of the villainess.
  • Medicis Daughter is a re-telling of a younger Margot giving us another view of the same character.

The photo links below will take you to the Evergreen Indiana library catalog so you can borrow and read these great books, except for The Huguenots which will take you to Goodreads.

Saricks, J. G. (2009). The readers' advisory guide to genre fiction. Chicago: American Library Association.