Reading Series – a professional’s guide

Probably the first series I ever encountered was one my three older sisters had “bequeathed” to the family collection – it was the Trixie Belden mystery series.

As I read the single book in the series that we had on our bookshelves, I quickly became aware of (and somewhat annoyed at) the fact that the title in question was NOT the first book in the series.  In the book, references were made to events and characters from the previous novels. Starting the series in the “middle,” so to speak was certainly not ideal.

And that brings us to a fundamental feature of reading a series of novels – depending on the series, it can end up being virtually just one long story.  Many readers consider it vital that they start the series at the beginning.  It’s easy to see why that could be important – in a highly complex series, the plot development, character development, timeline and essential story being told are dependent on a linear progression of comprehension.  Imagine starting The Lord of the Rings trilogy at the second book: who are these people/creatures?  Why is the ring important? Where in space and time is the action taking place?  All these are set up in the first book.

Almost as important as starting at the beginning is having access to the conclusion of the series, or perhaps better stated as having access to the entire series.  Again, using one of the most popular titles as an example, imagine not having access to the final book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The second book concludes with a “cliffhanger” ending, and the reader is drawn inexorably on to the next/final piece of the story.  The term “cliffhanger” literally means a story (whether a movie, radio drama or book series) where “each installment ends in suspense in order to interest the [audience] in the next installment.” (From  Of course, it comes from an installment of the story ending with the protagonist hanging from a cliff, and the audience does not know what is going to happen.

As story-consumers, we all want to know what’s going to happen next.  If the story in a book series compels the reader, we are eager to follow the series to its conclusion.  And that introduces another “downside” to becoming addicted to a series – if the series is ongoing, then the reader must wait for the next piece of the story to be produced.

I remember getting the first book in a series once for Christmas.  At the time, the series had four volumes.  Originally planned as a six-book series, I anticipated getting “hooked” on the story, but since the volumes had been getting published roughly a year apart, I did not foresee much difficulty in procuring the remaining volumes.  That book was The Eye of the World, and the series was the best-selling Wheel of Time series.  Well, that book series eventually ran to 14 volumes, and the author died after volume 11.  As you can imagine, distress by the fans was not insignificant.  Luckily for the readers, (if not the author), the author Robert Jordan died from a condition where death was foreseen (although expectations were for four years and he only survived about 18 months).  Therefore, he dictated and completed an outline for how the series was to be finished, and his wife/editor picked an excellent writer to complete the series.

This is not just an isolated example; right now, the highly popular book series A Song of Fire and Ice (on which the Game of Thrones television series is based) is uncompleted.  Originally planned to be a trilogy, it has expanded in the author’s vision to be a seven-book series, of which only five are complete.  The last book was published almost five and a half years ago.  Because of situations like this, some readers will not start a series unless they know that it has been completed.


On the other hand, there are few reading experiences more potentially rewarding than a long, dense, well-told story.  A reader literally does not want the series to end!

Currently, I find myself following several ongoing series.  Here are some still open-ended series that I eagerly anticipate the publishing of each new installment:

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

The original name for the first title was Semiautomagic, and describes this blend of urban fantasy with noir detective story.

A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin [see earlier link]

The series that is the basis of the very popular HBO series Game of Thrones [see earlier link]; this series takes almost every fantasy trope and stands it on its head.  Compelling reading.

The Necromancer Series by Lish McBride

This is a YA series with a good-hearted hero who unknowingly is heir to dark necromantic powers.

The Checquy Files by Daniel O’Malley

The first book starts with the heroine having no memory, but awakening surrounded by dead bodies.  It gets even more intriguing after that.

The Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

Superheroes in a post-apocalyptic world of zombies!  ‘Nuff said.

And here are five series that are completely finished that I’ve enjoyed:

The Lord of the Rings by J. R.R. Tolkien

This is the ultimate high fantasy series.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

A children’s series with surprising depth, it tells the story of an alternate world of talking animals.

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan (and Brandon Sanderson) [see earlier link]

This fourteen title high fantasy series is not for lightweights, but it is a richly developed world, has a multitude of interesting characters, and the long story’s destination is ultimately worth the journey.

The Baroque Series by Neal Stephenson

3 historical fiction novels (with cliffhanger endings) set in the period from the mid-1600s to the early 1700s – they span the globe, and while the main protagonists are fictional, they interact with real historical characters while telling an incredible tale of the real-life wonders that took place around the world during this time period when science was in its infancy.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

This series tells the story of a young wizard through seven titles, each covering a year of his schooling while he and his friends deal with dark and deadly adversaries. {And our library has the titles in Spanish too!}

Finally, there are series where each title is essentially “stand-alone” – if you are hooked by the setting and/or the protagonist, but want to feel free to “dip in and out” with no linear plotlines, I can recommend these:

The Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs (the first two books do have a “one story” theme, with the first book ending in a cliffhanger of sorts, but the rest are pretty much stand-alone).

A child of noble English lineage is orphaned in the deepest jungle of Africa and raised by apes.

The Reacher series by Lee Child

A lone wolf former military policeman drifts across the US righting wrongs and solving mysteries.

[The Fontana Regional Library system has some or all of the titles mentioned in each of these series!]


“In 1951, Mohammed Mossadeq, then prime minister of Iran, nationalized the oil industry. In retaliation, Great Britain organized an embargo on all exports of oil from Iran. In 1953, the CIA, with the help of British intelligence, organized a coup against him. Mossadeq was overthrown and the Shah, who had earlier escaped from the country, returned to power. The Shah stayed on the throne until 1979, when he fled Iran to escape the Islamic Revolution.

“Since then, this old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism. As an Iranian who has lived more than half of my life in Iran, I know that this image is far from the truth. This is why writing Persepolis was so important to me. I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists. I also don’t want those Iranians who lost their lives in prison defending freedom, who died in the war against Iraq, who suffered under various repressive regimes, or who were forced to leave their families and flee their homeland to be forgotten.

“One can forgive but one should never forget.”

-Marjane Satrapi

Paris, September 2002


In the less than two page introduction of the graphic novel titled Persepolis, author Marjane Satrapi  provides a succinct synopsis explaining the political and cultural climate of Iran leading up to the Islamic or Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s. Just as she is quoted in writing above, Iran is balled up into many of our western understandings of the Middle East–a discourse that is usually riddled with overtones of violence, religious extremism, terrorism, etc. In the wake of several bloody attacks claimed by ISIS or ISIL just this year, the recent hostage switch in Iran, the Syrian refugee crisis and civil war, and fear-mongering western ideologies, the message conveyed by Satrapi through her autobiographical comic Persepolis is something we need now more than ever.

Generalized news accounts of conflicts, wars, political events, etc., are much more effective and humanized when there is some form of personal account or narrative to supplement with more macro narratives. Take, for instance, the haunting piece of photojournalism that has dominated the covers of newspapers, magazines, and online articles the past week: the photograph of a shocked, silent, and bloody 5 year old boy, Omran Daqneesh, who was rescued from the site of an air raid in the city of Aleppo. His numb gaze is the product of the Syrian civil war. There are many other children like him. Many other children, like Omran’s older brother who died in that same raid, or 3 year old Aylan Kurdi whose drowned body washed upon Turkish shores around this time last year, who are forever silenced. The photographs of Aylan Kurdi and later his morning father started an urgent conversation in Europe regarding the treatment and permittance of refugees fleeing Syria. The parallel between people like Omran Daqneesh’s story and Marjane’s in Persepolis is that readers and viewers can all see the effects of extremism on individual people–people who do not have a say in the trajectory of their own country’s embattlements.

Persepolis is both an autobiography and Bildungsroman. It begins with a young Marji who begins to explain how the revolution in Iran is affecting her and her classmates on a personal level. The great thing about graphic novels is how effectively an image can communicate information in a much more viscerally striking manner. In the image below, Satrapi provides the reader with a snapshot of events that led to the image that many of us attach to Iranian women after the revolution. The veil, or hijab.


As stated earlier, the importance of learning the rich history of certain countries and people is invaluable to our understanding and tolerance toward any given situation regarding human rights, religion, ideology, etc. Perceptions of Iranian people and culture is challenged when we see people like Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin becoming the first Iranian woman to win a medal at Rio 2016 Olympics. Throughout her Taekwando match and after, she wore a veil or hijab which covered her hair and neck.

The matter of the hijab, chador, niqab, and burqa has dominated recent news stations as well. Over a week ago on a beach in Nice, France, a woman was forced to remove her burqini by four French police officers who were enforcing the recent and controversial ban on burqinis. Burqini is a term used for a type of swimwear that covers the entire body leaving the feet, hands, and face visible, allowing Muslim women to sunbathe, swim, etc., while covering their body. The burqini ban is mandated by French mayors as a result of the Bastille Day terrorist attacks in Nice earlier this summer.

Persepolis provides a context of humanism rather than terrorism when talking about issues dealing with the hijab and other topics related to Islamic cultural and religious institutions. While Marji rebels against the mandated veil because it does not fall in line with her’s or her mother’s beliefs, the floor becomes open for discussion and understanding when reading about a person’s individual experience with the sometimes controversial garment. In Iran, shortly after the revolution gained enough speed to begin mandating certain aspects of Sharia law, Marji is met with the same resistance and oppression that the sunbathing woman mentioned earlier faced when a group of women wearing veils chastises and threatens Marji for wearing her blue jean jacket and Michael Jackson button. In this book, the dichotomous world of right and wrong is surpassed–ultimately providing a space for considering the places in between two dichotomies.

Persepolis is usually catalogued in Young Adult sections of libraries, making way for young people to critically think about and process certain issues that are otherwise glossed over in all-too-predictable and inaccessible dialogue.

Bear in mind that this analysis of Persepolis is coming from someone who was born in 1989. I had no prior understanding or knowledge of Iran other than what has been in the news since I can remember. Persepolis is often times taught in high schools, an environment where students’s perceptions are constantly changing–their minds making room for both fictional and real human experiences.

Persepolis follows young Marji as she grapples with the changes in the political, social, and religious landscape of Iran. Marji idolizes various revolutionists, social theorists, and activists, including her uncle Anoosh who dies at the hands of prison guards of the revolution because he is considered an infidel. As Marji grows older and witnesses the country around her transform into an isolated country ruled by Sharia law, she only becomes more and more resistant to this transformation. She continues to rebel in various forms–from attending protests to wearing “westernized” or “decadent” clothing. Her mother knows how serious the revolution is. In a stingingly memorable part of this work is when Marji’s mother tells her that she is risking being imprisoned and executed. What’s worse, her mother warns her, is that virgins cannot be executed. This means that an imprisoned young woman like Marji would first be married to the leader of the revolution, raped, then executed. In fear of this brutal reality, Marji’s parents agree to send her to school in Austria. While Marji is keen on leaving the Islamic republic and its ideals in her past, she begins to realize that there are still so many aspects of Iranian culture that she is adamant about defending. She sees parts of herself “assimilating into western culture” and simultaneously gains pride in her heritage. Marji falls in love with Reza, moves back to Iran to attend university, challenges many inequitable institutions in her Tehran university, graduates, and, well, you’ll have to read the rest.

Though the images are provided in a stark palette of black and white, Satrapi presents the reader with a story that explores the gray areas. Please give this book a read. In honor of Banned Books week, which is upon us, this book has been challenged and banned in various locations.



The Grand Finale

I’ve done over 50 blog posts in my career here at Fontana Regional Library. 50! Seems like a lot. The reason I bring this up is because this post that you are reading right now is my last. I am leaving the library and we are moving across the country (2,674 miles to be exact). And by we I mean me, my wife Christina, who co-wrote the early blogs, and Bellatrix.

No, Bella, you can’t keep that table.

So then, what shall we talk about? I thought of a few things, like talking about my favorite books once again, or reminiscing about previous posts. I discarded those ideas, because they don’t take us anywhere. Been there, done that.

Next I thought about the identity of the blog, and specifically my posts. What have I been trying to achieve? What was the point? The answer is obvious. Glaringly, blindingly obvious. The answer is books. Sure, I ventured off the beaten trail a few times (and note how I am avoiding referencing previous posts. They are there. You can find them yourself if you want), but the main focus was always books. It is always gratifying when someone likes or shares or comments on a post, but when someone says they read one of the books I suggested? That is sublime.

I already said I wasn’t going to prattle on about books I already prattled on about, and a couple of posts back I talked about the miscellaneous titles I hadn’t gotten around to talking about yet. So what am I going to talk about? Nothing. Okay, that is a gross oversimplification. If you think you are getting out of this without me slipping in some of my favorites, you are crazy. What I really mean is that I am going to let others do the talking.

bella-and-scrambles1 (1)
No, not the squirrel talkers.

I asked a few of my co-workers if they wanted to suggest a title or two, or three, or four in one case *coughEmilycough*. The idea is that while I may not be around to give you reading recommendations, there are lots of other people who are. Remember, these are their words, not mine.

Kristina (Macon County Public Library)

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

I picked this up while thinking ahead about an upcoming League of Women Voters book and movie display, since one of the characters is a former suffragette, and I thought it might complement the Carey Mulligan/Helena Bonham Carter movie we’ll be showing.

This quiet little book just ended, and burst my heart wide open! Books that make me cry are highly recommended.

Charles (Macon County Public Library)

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

I have not laughed so much at a book in quite some time.

Serenity (Albert Carlton-Cashiers Community Library)

Feed by Mira Grant

One of my go to not quite guilty pleasures is the Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant. First book is Feed. It’s a great little commentary on media and politics wrapped up in a tasty zombie horror shell.

FullSizeRender (3)
Fed and sleeping.

Karen (Hudson Library)

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

My favorite recommendation no matter the age, teen and beyond, is Bryce Courtenay’s classic The Power of One.

Emily (Hudson Library)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Emily at Hudson recommends Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – and not just because they share the same name! Station Eleven is well-written, easy-to-read, and considers the importance of Art as an essential part of survival in a post-apocalyptic (so to speak) world.

Your Heart Is A Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

This spectacular work covers a single day at the WTO protests in Seattle and forces readers to empathize with characters they would not normally identify with – which is arguably an essential function of great literature.

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

A refreshing spin on “Snow White” with a beautiful book cover!

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems

Fun for the whole family!

Different weight classes.

Stephanie (Jackson County Public Library)

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

It saved my life.

Christina (Funemployed)

Pulp Fiction directed by Quentin Tarantino

I have a lot of favorite movies and books, but there aren’t many that have actually affected me in such a way that I remember the first time I experienced them. In fact, I can only think of two.

For both times, I was in high school. The first memory was when I was fourteen, and was out walking with my friend. Neither of us had a car or even a license, so we ended up walking to the movie theater (we had missed a bus to something and therefore had all day to kill). After buying a ticket for a PG movie, we snuck into Pulp Fiction (don’t do this at home, kids!).

My friend and I sat in a mostly empty theater, stunned by the violence, unforgettable characters, and sharp dialogue. We laughed when others gasped and left the theater grinning from ear to ear. I remember thinking, “when I create something, I want to have an impact like that”. It’s still one of my favorite movies.

Brain Droppings by George Carlin

The second memory involves my favorite all time comic, George Carlin. I was in a bookstore with two friends (one was the Pulp Fiction fellow sneaker), and we spotted Brain Droppings. Curious, I picked it up and began reading it out loud. Soon we were all hysterical, and I made a beeline for the checkout counter. I ended up reading most of it to my friends during lunch but had to stop because we were laughing so hard our stomachs began hurting. I still have the book, and it still makes me laugh.


Blackstar by David Bowie

It was quite startling to listen to Bowie’s final CD and realize that as much credit as he was given we may still have underappreciated him. An astounding piece of work.

Okay, that last one was me. I want to thank everyone for contributing, and hope some of you readers read some of their reading recommendations. I know I will.

Speaking of thanks, there are a few personal ones I want to pass out. I would beg your indulgence, but this is still my blog, so I can do what I want. First, my wife Christina, without whom none of this would have happened. Sounds cliche, I know, but I wouldn’t have started blogging at all if she hadn’t done it with me. Plus she has had to listen to me bounce ideas off of her ever since. Thank you, and I love you. And a shout out to our cats, Bellatrix, Scrambles the Death Dealer, and Siouxsie, who if nothing else provided plenty of pictures for the blog.

Thanks to Don, the first blog admin I had. He provided lots of support and help as I started writing, not to mention spending an inordinate amount of time figuring out how I could use spoilers in a post.

Thanks to all the other Shelf Life in the Mountains blog contributors, especially the current ones, Amy and Stephen. Besides her excellent writing, Amy is also the “looks” of the organization. By which I mean she created the new logo, and she creates the images for each new post that we use on the library website. Thanks Amy! And Stephen…well Stephen just keeps going like clockwork. I feel like that in 50 years from now he will still be educating and entertaining us with new posts.

Finally, thanks most of all to the readers. Whether you are a long time aficionado or first time peruser, I want to thank each and every one of you for taking a few minutes (or a bunch of minutes when it comes to some of my posts) to take a look. None of this happens without your support. We have had readers from near and far, and I hope all of you got something worthwhile out of it. Thank you all.

I already thanked you, Scrambles!


Just one more thing. I promise! It is easy enough to find bestseller lists and classics and such. One thing I always liked was being able to point people towards good books they may not have found otherwise. So I conclude with a list of some of my favorites, many of which I think not enough people are aware of. No Commentary, just a list and a final bit of wisdom: keep reading!

Silk by Alessandro Baricco

Lexicon by Max Barry

The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell

Hyperbole and a Half  by Allie Brosh

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Here by Richard McGuire

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto






ISDKWYATA: Even More Acronyms (and books)

I received a lot of good feedback on my first post about acronyms. Several people mentioned other ones that they use or see with some frequency, so I figured a second venture into the world of initialisms was warranted. See what I did there?

It has been argued that what are commonly referred to as acronyms are not acronyms at all but are really initialisms. This argument might have some technical legitimacy, but not much. Most reliable sources give the word acronym a wide and broad meaning, and general usage certainly does. Enough so that I think that initialism proponents don’t have much of a letter to stand on.

The rules of grammar are well guarded.

I will not only define these acronyms, but also use them in a sentence about a book. Unlike last time, these are mostly books I have not talked about before, so I will try to work in some mini reviews as well.


Your mileage may vary. A way to say that other people may not have the same reaction to something that you did.

“YMMV, but I found Prep to be a terrific read. Honest, heartfelt, uplifting, and painful. And avoids the horrible cliches one expects to find. One of the best books I’ve read recently.”


On my way. Like letting my wife know I am heading home from work.

“OMW, but not like in Divergent, where the Dauntless often jump on and off of moving trains. BTW, Divergent is a YA dystopian novel that works better when it explores class structures and the nature of our true inner selves than it does at the action packed ending. Of course, YMMV.”


Shaking my head. Showing disbelief and/or disdain at the actions or words of others.

“SMH that some people haven’t read The Girl with All the Gifts, a zombie-dystopia-action-horror novel that is much more than any of those things. Is a child who is a monster still a child?”

An accomplished head shaker.
An accomplished head shaker.


We need to talk. Usually a warning that a Serious Conversation is about to happen. Might precede a breakup, for instance.

“WNTT…about why you haven’t read All Other Nights. Sure , it might not be in any of the genres you typically read, but that shouldn’t stop you. Jewish historical fiction set during the Civil War, ultimately it is a story of the extreme lengths a man will go to escape some things and run back to others.”


As far as I know. Indicates you think you know the answer, but you haven’t fact checked it.

“AFAIK, The Sandman: Book of Dreams is the only true prose collection of stories based on the Sandman graphic novels. And it is better than one would suspect from such a collection. Some real gems in there, from authors both known and unknown, but admittedly aimed at readers familiar with the source material.”


You know it. Affirmation of statement, sort of like “you betcha!”

“Is Silver Screen Fiend a good read? Woo woo woo, YKI! Patton talks about his obsession with film, and muses on how it affected him and his life. I like how he, as many of us do, reflects on what an idiot his younger self was. Note that while he lists out all the films he saw, he does not go into any great detail about them. Also, I do have an interesting Zack Ryder story you can ask me about in person.”

Been there, seen that.
Been there, seen that.


Fixed it for you. A way to show that you corrected an error someone made, or more commonly a way to mock someone else. For instance, if you posted that The Adoration of Jenna Fox is not a good book, I might reply like this:

“The Adoration of Jenna Fox is not a good book. FIFY. It is a story of a teenager who awakens from a year long coma after being in a car crash to find that her loving and supportive family now is hiding secrets, namely secrets about who, or what, she really is. It is not a great book, but it is a good one.”


Personal message. Basically telling someone to contact you privately.

“I’ve had mixed feelings about this series lately. PM me and I’ll fill you in on the details. I did think Archmage was a solid entry. For those not familiar, it is Dungeons and Dragons fantasy, and you’ll really want to be familiar with the previous books to fully enjoy this one.”


I don’t know. Admitting you don’t know something, which we should all probably do more often.

“Are cruises fun? IDK, I’ve never been on one. The people in Day Four do not have fun, as their cruise ship is mysteriously stranded out at sea, and things keep going from bad to worse, both from supernatural events and  the actions of people. Like a fair number of horror books, the ending does not quite match the build up, but it is still a worthy read, and a good crossover book, meaning all readers and not just horror fans will enjoy it.”

I think he does know.
I think he does know.


To be honest. Letting people know you are being straightforward with them. Often in conjunction with a statement that might be surprising or controversial.

“TBH, I am not sure reading Preacher was a good idea. Now I am hooked on another series, and there is even a TV show coming out.”


Too long; didn’t read. This tells someone that while you are responding to them, you did not read all of what they had posted, presumably because it was a wall of text or such.

“This blog was totally TL;DR. You know what isn’t? The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil Gaiman. A take on Sleeping Beauty, it isn’t very long. It gives the tale enough edge to appeal to adults, while still staying appropriate for most children. Plus it is gorgeously illustrated by Chris Riddell.”


I still don’t know what you are talking about. A reference to how bewildering unknown acronyms can be. I made it up for this blog, but feel free to use it. Viral, FTW!*

“ISDKWYATA, like at all, especially when you mention The Seven Deadly Sins Sampler, which the library doesn’t even own! It is a collection of short stories, two for each of the deadly sins, and it features a sinfully delightful collection of authors. Faulkner, Atwood, Chekhov, O’Connor, etc. And then you come across one you don’t recognize, like Bobbie Ann Mason, and then you read her story Shiloh and realize it might be the best in the book.”

FTW! is more dramatic than checkmate.
FTW! is more dramatic than checkmate.

*FTW. For The Win. One fun thing to do with acronyms is make up your own versions. Forget The Waitress! Fang Toothed Walrus! Formidable Tea Wizard! Okay, we’re done here.



Star Wars. Star Wars (Books) Everywhere

What is the first thing that comes to you when I say Star Wars? For me it is that Star Destroyer rumbling down the screen, first seen back when it was just Star Wars, and not yet Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. I was 10 at the time, and no other movie experience has come close to that since. My first Star Wars action figures came on 12 back cards, so believe me my fandom is legit.

Darth Vader Santa bobblehead
Reason for the season?

I think for most people Star Wars evokes visual images such as that. We had the original three movies (plus their theatrically released Special Editions), and the three prequels (one so far re-released in 3D), and now Episode VII: The Force Awakens is upon us. Seven movies spanning, what, three generations? I’m never sure how generations are counted.

Of course there is also The Clone Wars animated movie. Can’t forget that, right? Plus the two made-for-TV Ewok movies. the Droids made-for-TV movie, and the disowned Holiday special (starring Bea Arthur). The television series include Droids (13 episodes), Ewoks (35 episodes), Clone Wars (25 episodes), The Clone Wars (121 episodes), and Rebels (23 episodes to date). Phew, that is a lot to watch. But today we are talking about reading Star Wars. After all, the book came first. Sort of.

The official novelization of Star Wars was released in 1976. Attributed to George Lucas, we now know it was ghost written by Alan Dean Foster. No one paid it much attention at the time because Star Wars wasn’t a thing yet. In 1978 Foster wrote Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, and the Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU) was born. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is a nifty enough adventure that features Luke and Leia shortly after A New Hope takes place. Fun, but not canon.

Two EU trilogies would follow over the next few years, one featuring Han Solo and the other Lando Calrissian, but then nothing (except the movie adaptations) until 1991. That was the year that Timothy Zahn, like Foster an established sci fi writer, put out Heir to the Empire. This was  eight years after the last movie had been out, and not much was happening then in the Star Wars world. Zahn’s book (first in a trilogy) changed that.

In 1992 the sequel came out, plus three Star Wars books aimed at younger readers. In 1993 four more came out, and six in 1994, and 10 in 1995, and so forth every year since. How many are there? Well, that is a tricky answer, tricky because what counts as a Star Wars book?

Star Wars books

Adult Novels

On the heels of Zahn’s trilogy came many other new books. Initially it was a mish mosh of stand alone books and short series or story collections. All were set after the original movies, continuing the stories of our favorite heroes…and villains. For many Zahn’s are considered the best, and have a true cinematic feel to them. The others often fell into the trope of what new super threat is there now. “Blew up a Death Star or two? No matter, there are more of them” sort of thing.

Eventually LucasBooks took more editorial control over the EU books, and developed a routine of planned series with multiple authors and curated story lines. Many well known authors have taken a crack at writing Star Wars, including Greg Bear, Terry Brooks, Troy Denning, Barbara Hambly, R.A. Salvatore, and others.

So where does one start? Anywhere, really. There are series and standalones, books set after the movies and 1000s of years before them, good books and meh books. Here are a few suggestions.

Shadows of the Empire, by Steve Perry

Rogue Squadron, by Michael Stackpole (X-wing 10 book series)

Vector Prime, by R.A. Salvatore (The New Jedi Order 19 book series! Warning: a much beloved character does not survive this book.)

Betrayal, by Aaron Allston (Legacy of the Force 9 book series)

Outcast, by Aaron Allston (Fate of the Jedi 9 book series)

Death Troopers, by Joe Schreiber (zombies!)

Scoundrels, by Timothy Zahn (Han and Lando in an Ocean’s Eleven style caper.)

Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig (lead in for the new movie)

LEGO minifigures
Darth Vader and his posse

Novels for Younger Readers

Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks are vivid reminders of how a lot of Star Wars is aimed at children. As adults we sometimes assume some type of ownership over the franchise that just isn’t there. Anyway, there are plenty of good books for our younger readers too.

The Rising Force, by Dave Wolverton (Jedi Apprentice 20 book series, all but the first one written by Jude Watson. Ages 9-12, but good crossover appeal, like most of these books, really.)

The Desperate Mission, by Jude Watson (The Last of the Jedi 10 book series, Young Adult)

Han Solo at Star’s End, by Brian Daley (trilogy, Young Adult)

Eaten Alive, by John Whitman (Galaxy of Fear 12 book series, modeled after Goosebumps. Seriously).

Darth Vader and Son, by Jeffrey Brown (4 of the most adorable picture books ever.)

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger (6 book series about sixth graders obsessed with Star Wars.)

And there are piles more Star Wars book in the children’s area of your library, including many aimed for beginning readers. We even have Star Wars phonics.

Graphic Novels

Marvel published the first Star Wars comic books in conjunction with the release of the movie, and various companies have been doing the same ever since. There are some good stories in there, and some laughable ones as well. I like looking at the old Marvel ones, when the only source material they had was the first movie. The romantic tension between Luke and Leia is creepy. I suppose they only ever teased that in the comics because they weren’t sure if Leia would end up with Han instead.

Star Wars: Aratanaru Kibō,  (manga Star Wars)

The Star Wars (based off the original screenplay draft)

Star Wars Omnibus : A Long Time Ago… (the first Marvel comics)

Star Wars Omnibus. Shadows of the Empire (good example of Dark Horse comics, features Mara Jade, who in the EU marries Luke Skywalker.)

Star wars : Clone Wars Adventures (series aimed at younger readers)

Star Wars Pez
The usual suspects.


The movies all received novelizations of course, as did some of the video games. Most stay very close to the source material.

Star Wars Trilogy

The Phantom Menace, by Terry Brooks

Attack of the Clones, by R.A. Salvatore

Revenge of the Sith, by Matthew Stover

The Force Awakens, by Alan Dean Foster (not yet released)

The Clone Wars, by Karen Traviss

The Force Unleashed, by Sean Williams

A New Hope: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy, by Alexandra Bracken (a retelling of A New Hope for younger readers)


And finally there are a ton of nonfiction books for all ages. Some expand and expound upon the Star Wars universe, while others go in all sorts of other directions. Here is just a taste.

The Star Wars cook book : Wookiee cookies and other galactic recipes, by Robin Davis ; photography by Frankie Frankeny

Star Wars : the magic of myth, by Mary Henderson (Smithsonian exhibit tie in)

LEGO Star Wars : the visual dictionary, by Simon Beecroft and Jason Fry

Star Wars : the essential guide to warfare, by Jason Fry with Paul R. Urquhart

Star Wars origami : 36 amazing paper-folding projects from a galaxy far, far away, by Chris Alexander

Star wars : incredible cross sections, by David West Reynolds

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars : Verily, A New Hope, by Ian Doescher ; inspired by the work of George Lucas and William Shakespeare (for realz. Doescher has done Star Wars as Shakespeare for all six movies to date, and they are brilliant.)

LEGO General Grievous and minifigs
General Grievous and friends

Wow, that seems like a lot of Star Wars books, but in actuality I barely scratched the surface. Books for every fan of every age. Whether you have never seen Star Wars on the big screen or will go to your grave insisting that Greedo shot last, there is a Star Wars book(s) for you.





Genre Bingo!

Once upon a time I mostly read books from one literary genre: fantasy. As the years have gone by I have found that I read a much wider range of things. In fact, I voted for several genres in last weeks poll.  I don’t have a master plan here. I read whatever I come across that looks interesting, or is recommended to me. In fact I even went so far recently as to tell my wife to stick a book in my hand, and that is what I would read next. She did, and I read it. It was a good book, and it was something that I probably wasn’t going to read otherwise.

This is the main point of this post: reading things you wouldn’t normally read. It is easy enough for me to say you should try reading outside your comfort zone, but that doesn’t really help you do it now, does it? Oh, and if you only ever read, say, novels about 18th century conflicted Persian poets, than that is fine. You can keep reading those. But for the rest of us it is time for…Genre Bingo!

Genre Bingo pic
Feel free to print, use, or share this bingo card in any way that helps you (and others) read more.

The goal here is to read a book from each of the genres in a line across, down, or diagonally on the genre bingo card. Once you complete that line, you win! The Free Space space isn’t actually free. You still have to read a book, but you can read any sort of thing you want and count it for that space. There is no set order, and there is no time limit. You can read 20 mysteries before you get around to reading a book of short stories if you want. It can even be a book of mystery short stories. However, each book can only be counted for one space.

I know what you are thinking at this point. You are thinking “this is just the greatest and coolest, but how on earth am I going to find books from genres I am not familiar with?” Good question. I’m glad you asked. (Also, Genre Bingo is totally not my idea. Lots of people have done it before.) You can always ask your Friendly Neighborhood Library Practitioner for genre help and advice, of course. That is always a great option. You can also use this handy list of links to genre books that I am providing.

Fiction Essentially, any book that doesn’t fit into a specific genre. Most best sellers will fit this category.

New York Times best seller list

Mystery Who-done-its.

The Edgar Awards

Science Fiction Spaceships and aliens.

The Nebula Awards

Fantasy Wizards and unicorns.

The Hugo Awards

Romance Love is in the air. Also known as “happy ending” stories.

The RITA Awards

Horror To quote my niece coming out of the Haunted Mansion at Disney, “scary monsters, Mommy”. Also, zombies.

The Bram Stoker Awards

Western Howdy there, pardner.

The Spur Awards

Christian Fiction Also known as “gentle reads”.

The Christy Awards

old books
Random photo of old books to break up monotony of text.

Short Story Books of short stories are often anthologies with numerous authors, but can also be compilations of a single author’s work.

The O. Henry Prize

North Carolina Books set in North Carolina, or written by North Carolina authors.

A blog about books set in North Carolina 

Nonfiction Books with real facts in them.

A list of National Book Award winners for nonfiction

Biography A book detailing a person’s life. An autobiography is one written by the actual person.

A list of Los Angeles Times Book Prize winners for biographies

Young Adult Books for teenagers. Although us library types will tell you that there is some good reading for adults in YA.

The Alex Awards which are for adult novels that have appeal to teens

Historical Fiction Books set in the past.

The Walter Scott Prize

Classics All those books that we should have read but haven’t gotten around to.

A challenge to read 100 classics of which I have read like 25

Urban Fiction Usually features African American characters. My wife had a side gig reviewing submitted manuscripts in this genre a few years ago.

The Street Literature Book Award

Realistic Fiction Books where the characters, plot, and settings are are true to real life.

A list of realistic fiction books

Imperator Furiosa
Imperator Furiosa is skeptical of your realism.

Humor Books that make you laugh. Hopefully. Remember, British humor is different than ours.

The Thurber Prize

Adventure The Indiana Jones and Errol Flynn part of the blog. Can be fiction or nonfiction.

A list of 50 adventure books

Poetry It doesn’t even have to rhyme.

A list of Poets’ Prize winners

Thriller Hero vs the bad guys in a modern setting, such as spy novels.

The Thriller Awards

Graphic Novels Fully illustrated books. See my post here for a more thorough explanation.

List of award-winning graphic novels

Award Winners Any book that has won a literary award.

A list of literary awards which link to lists of the award winners

Crime This would include detective stories and police procedurals.

The Daggers Awards


So, what happens when you get genre bingo? First the fireworks go off.

Disclaimer: these are Canadian fireworks.

Then you get a prize. There is an exciting list of prizes to choose from.

  1. Reading is its own reward.
  2. The admiration of your peers.
  3. Something to gripe about (if you didn’t like some of the books you read).
  4. A cookie.
  5. Another cookie.
  6. A free cheat day (dieters only).
  7. Bragging rights.
  8. A personalized prize from me. (Seriously. Send me an email at with the details of your winning genre bingo card and I will do my best to send you a real life prize.)

Am I going to play genre bingo myself? Sort of. I think I am going to continue my reading habits as normal and keep track of what bingo spaces I hit on. In a year, if I remember, I will revisit this and see how many I got.

As a finale I present to you an alternate bingo card. Instead of genres we have random types of books to read. Same rules and prizes as above. Feel free to share your thoughts and bingo progress in the comments. and Happy Reading!

random book bingo card
Feel free to print, use, or share this bingo card in any way that helps you (and others) read more.

What Are You Reading: Genre Poll

As a lead in for next week’s Genre Bingo post, I am doing a poll about what genres we all read. If you don’t see one that you read, you can write it in at the bottom. You can also choose more than one. This poll will remain open for one week, so get voting!

The Fall of Teens: Dystopia in Young Adult Fiction

Dystopia: “an imaginary place or condition in which everything is as bad as possible”.  (Oxford English dictionary: a real honest-to-goodness book made of paper and everything.)

In The Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen is forced to fight in a televised competition against other teens.  To the death.  In Divergent Beatrice Prior struggles to find her own way in a society that forces people into factions based on their natural aptitudes.  In The Maze Runner Thomas awakens in a teen society without his memory, and with the answers he needs hidden beyond a huge and deadly maze.  In The Giver Jonas lives in a seeming utopia, a world that has eliminated pain…and also emotion.

World Domination

These are four of the best known teen (or in library speak, Young Adult or YA) dystopian novels.  Even if you haven’t read them you have probably heard of them, if for no other reason the big budget films adaptations they all have.  But our real goal here is to talk about some of the books you may not know about.  And while these are “teen” books, adults are allowed to read them.  And will enjoy them.

It's just like high school!
It’s just like high school!

All fiction goes through trends.  One year political thrillers are all the rage and the next it is paranormal romances.  The same holds true for YA fiction, and in recent years dystopia has been popular.  This is well documented, as shown here, and here, and here.  A more thorough overview can be found here.

Similar to dystopian books you have post-apocalyptic ones, where some tragic event such as war or disease has destroyed civilization.  There is a lot of common ground between the genres.  To me it seems that many times dystopian books deal with the bigger picture of civilization while post-apocalyptic ones focus more on individual stories, something that is quite evident in zombie fiction.  I like how YA books often do a nice job of merging these tropes together.


Legend trilogy, by Marie Lu.

Legend_Marie_Lu_Book_coverLegend features dueling protagonists.  Day is a Robin Hood type, a teen who early on tries to steal the cure for a plague that afflicts his family in future Los Angeles.  June is a prodigy of the Republic, a girl with a bright military future.  She is sent undercover out into the world to try and find the notorious Day, who is also the suspected murderer of her brother.

When Day and June encounter each other they have no idea who the other one is.  By the time they figure it out, not only do they both realize that the Republic has been telling lies, but that they also have feelings for each other.

Legend is one of the books I stick in people’s hands when they are looking for something to read after The Hunger Games.


Uglies quartet, by Scott Westerfeld

UgliesThree hundred years in the future, with the world’s petroleum supplies destroyed, the government controls all aspects of life, including your looks.  At age 16 every citizen receives their “pretty” operation, cosmetic surgery transforming their looks to please society.

Days before her operation Tally Youngblood meets Shay, an “Ugly” who talks of rebellion.  Found out, Tally is ordered to betray Shay, and to discover where he and his friends are hiding.  Along the way Tally learns some hard truths, and suddenly becoming a Pretty doesn’t seem to be quite so appealing.


Delirium trilogy, by Lauren Oliver

DeliriumFellow blogger Stephanie says “I. Love. Lauren Oliver.”  That should be enough of a recommendation, I think.

Another series where the government mandates operations.  In this case the affliction is “amor deliria nervosa”, otherwise known as “love”.  Lena Haloway has been eagerly awaiting the operation, when days before she meets Alex, a boy living in the Wilds, the rural areas fenced off from the cities.  She experiences actual love, and now has to choose between love and remaining a part of society.


Life As We Knew It trilogy, by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Pfeffer_Life_As_We_Knew_It_2006Miranda is a normal 16 year old girl, living in Pennsylvania.  Like everyone else she is excited to watch an asteroid crash into the moon.  But when the moon’s orbit is shifted, things fall apart quickly.

This book does not have many of the features of other dystopian novels.  There is no evil government entity, for instance.  In fact the government is helpful, but is no longer efficient or effective.  More so than any of the others this book gives you a good opportunity to put yourself in the place of the protagonist and ask “what would I do in that situation?”


The Chemical Garden trilogy, by Lauren DeStefano

witherIn the future genetic engineering has cured man’s ills.  All disease and defects are gone. However, the celebration is short as a plague comes with the cure, a plague that kills everyone once they reach their 20s.

Rhine Ellery is caught up in the chaos as society is torn by the plague, and the divide between the rich and poor grows ever wider.  The writing in this series is a little uneven but the powerful themes make up for it.


The 5th Wave trilogy, by Rick Yancey

5th WaveThis one varies a bit, as it features aliens and is really at least as much science fiction as dystopian.  An alien invasion quickly destroys all of human civilization, leaving the survivors to try to exist in a very different new world.

Cassie Sullivan is one of those survivors.  Despite all the hardships she encounters, she keeps going, and learns that her younger brother Sammy is being held captive by the aliens, who are reconditioning humans to fit their needs.  As she sets about to rescue him she learns that the few other free humans come in two types: those that can be trusted and those that can’t.


Matched trilogy, by Allie Condie

Why yes, many teen series are trilogies.  And have one word titles.
Why yes, many teen series are trilogies. And have one word titles.

Cassie Reyes lives in a society that “matches” you with your life partner at age 17.  She is matched with her best friend Xander.  But a computer glitch seems to indicate that someone else was supposed to be her match.  Are the results being manipulated?

Matched does a nice job of showing a world that initially seems utopian, but is slowly revealed to be the opposite.  Food is calorie controlled but is bland and tasteless.  Population control is strictly enforced.  And the government is openly observing the populace, looking for misdeeds.


Reboot, by Amy Tintera

Reboot-AU-CoverLike so many others, Connolly was killed by the virus.  But she was strong, and was one of the few who “rebooted” and essentially returned to life.  The reboots are no longer quite human, and she is trained with the others to be an elite crime fighter. She is very good at this; so good in fact that she is tapped to train new reboots.

Callum is one of these new recruits.  He retains more of his humanity, which causes him to not follow orders the way he should.  This is a big problem for Connolly, especially when she is ordered to eliminate this problem.  She must then see if she can regain her own humanity, and her capability to love.


The Adoration of Jenna Fox trilogy, by Mary E. Pearson

Jenna FoxJenna Fox wakes up from a year long coma.  Her memory is shattered, but she has lots of support from her adoring family, even if they won’t really talk about what happened to her.  She has plenty of home movies to watch that help her start piecing her life back together.

But things don’t seem right to her.  She starts to doubt that all of these memories are really hers.  She realizes that a great secret is being kept from her, and she must decide if she really wants to find out the truth.


Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank

BabylonThis is another outlier to the “standard” dystopian fare.  It is by far the oldest book on this list, having been published in 1959, and is more post-apocalyptic than dystopian, although those two genres have similar traits.

Randy Bragg lives in a small town in central Florida, and thanks to a warning from his brother is able to help the town cope with the outcome of a nuclear war.  The townspeople have to create their own new society in order to survive.

This is a fascinating read when done through the eyes of current times.  The technology of the 50s was so different that it is fun to make the comparison and to think about life without all our modern conveniences.


Feed, by M. T. Anderson

FeedTitus lives in a future where most people are directly wired into the “feednet”, a huge computer network that gives them instant access to a wealth of information.  Of course the feed is controlled by corporate interests that adjust the content to fit the users preferences, and also strips away any notions of privacy.

When Titus and his friends meet Violet, they are stunned by her critical-thinking skills.  Violet starts them down the road of resisting the feed, but there are consequences to doing so, and there are forces actively opposed to them doing so.


One of the things I really enjoy about dystopian fiction is that it makes you think about how things came to be so bad.  It often serves as a warning about how as a society we must be careful about losing control of our lives.  Teen dystopia often features exciting action sequences as a bonus, while adult ones tend to be more grim.


In any event, I am ready to do some reading!  Also, here is a brief list of some great adult dystopian novels, and be sure to add your own recommendations to the comments below.

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (1932)

Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell (1949)

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury (1953)

A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess (1962)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick (1968), movie version is Blade Runner

The Children of Men, by P. D. James (1992)

A list of all the titles mentioned in this blog can be found here:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

Tales of a Lifelong Reader: My Favorite Kids Books

By Chris

I’ve always been surrounded by books.  Reading is a popular activity in my family, something my mother championed, and something I was able to pass on to my own sons.  My mother’s motto was “it doesn’t matter so much what you are reading, so long as you are reading”.  In fact, when some relatives disapproved of me reading comic books, she went and got me subscriptions to the Star Wars and G.I. Joe comics.

When I had children of my own it was neat to go to the bookstore and see many of the same books I had as a wee tot still on the shelves, classics such as Are You My Mother and Make Way for Ducklings.  It was a treat to watch them discover their own favorites, like Richard Scarry and series such as Goosebumps and Captain Underpants.  And yes, they also read comic books, although one favored The Simpsons and the other liked Spawn.  I am confident that when they have their own children the reading legacy will continue.

But this blog is about my faves, not theirs.  And I really want to talk about books that I liked as a child and as a teen (and as a parent, though here is a list of kids books that adults should read, or read again).

Christopher for President
Well, that didn’t happen.

I don’t believe any such list can be made without including Dr. Seuss.  He is the grandmaster of the genre.  My favorite as a child was Green Eggs and Ham.  I can remember wondering back then if there was such a thing as green eggs.  And I was delighted when in kindergarten my eldest had a classmate named Sam, so I could use the phrase “that Sam-I-Am” a lot.  My boys took a liking to their mother’s favorite, Yertle the Turtle.  My coworkers can attest that to this day I can recite most of the book from memory.

A staple of children’s books through the years are Little Golden Books.  My favorite was The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover, written by Jon Stone (who was a Sesame Street writer and producer) and illustrated by Michael Smollin.  In the book the narrator, Grover, implores you to not read the book, since there is a monster at the end.  He employs various tactics to try and stop the reading, only to find at the end that the monster is Grover himself.  A great interactive read, and as an adult you appreciate the subtleties of the book, which I talked about before here.

Another all timeless favorite  is Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.  It is a book that sparks imagination, and it is fun to read to kids as you get several text-less pages where you can just go “RUMPUS! RUMPUS! RUMPUS!”

One of the first books I loved as I became an independent reader was a bit of an anomaly, being that it is a “girly” book.  The author having the same last name as me probably got me to initially read it.  Little House in the Big Woods was the first of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books.  I really liked how the life that it portrayed was so different from mine.  I don’t recall if I read any of the others.

The Lion, the Witch, and the wardrobe
My childhood copy.

I believe it was in 4th grade that my love for fantasy books was kickstarted by, unsurprisingly, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the first of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series.  I read those books repeatedly, especially enjoying The Silver Chair and The Horse and His Boy.  As a kid I would sometimes read a book and when I finished I would go back to page one and start over.  As an adult I recently cleared a number of books off my shelves, since I have read them once and I am fine with that.  Also, if you are wanting to get a child to read this series, make sure to start with “The Lion…”  Some editions number the series chronologically, which puts the driest of them, The Magician’s Nephew, first.  Bad idea to me, but opinions vary.

The next entry on my list is probably the longest book I read as a youth, coming in at 500+ pages.  Of course my kids read longer ones, thanks to Harry Potter. Duncton Wood is a book about moles.  Not sold?  Let me try again.  Duncton Wood is a grand sweeping adventure novel, filled with romance, intrigue, harrowing battles, dastardly villains and heroic deeds.  It just happens to features moles as the characters.  William Horwood wrote another five books about these brave moles.  When I read it I didn’t even know what a mole looked like.  I had to look them up next time I was at the library.

A mole
Totes heroic.

Often times someone comes into the library and asks us to help them find a book they once read.  This can be an easy task or an extremely difficult one (“It had a red cover, and maybe there was a dog in it”)  In fact, the library had a challenge contest for all our staff a couple years ago to help track down one of these books.  It was hard.  This leads me to my next books, because for many years I couldn’t find them.  I did not remember the titles or the author, and the parts of the books I did recall were too generic to help.  Until I thought of one particular monster that appeared in the second book, a gelatinous cube (okay, it was called a Bayemot in the book, but I know a gelatinous cube when I see one).

The Prince in Waiting is the first in the Sword of the Spirits trilogy by John Christopher.  It is a teen series mixing fantasy and science fiction.  Set in England, it takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where technology is shunned and mankind has reverted to medieval ways.  Our protagonist, 13 year old Luke, has to not only learn to deal with the political intrigue that comes from being the son of a Captain, but also cope when he finds that the ways and the teachings of his society are both wrong and are being manipulated.

My best exposure to puns came with A Spell for Chameleon, the first in the Xanth series by Piers Anthony.

Ice Ice Baby
I’m not explaining this.

The Xanth series of novels, originally planned to be a trilogy, debuted in 1977.  The 39th volume was released this year, with more to come.  Set in the magical land of Xanth, which is shaped exactly like Florida, these books are fun even before you factor in all the puns in them.  Just look at some of the titles:  Crewel Lye, Isle of View, and Knot Gneiss.  They were a reading staple of my teen years.  I haven’t fully kept up with the series as an adult, but they are always good for a quick, fun read.

These were my favorites, but I would like to mention some of the books my boys liked when they were little.  Go, Dog. Go!, by Seuss protege P.D. Eastman, is a good read along book, one that helps the transition from you reading to them to them reading to you.

The Bravest Ever Bear, by Allan Ahlberg, takes standard childrens tales and turns them on their head, featuring a princess who won’t follow the script and kung fu bears.

This was my oldest son’s first favorite book.  A prize to whomever can identify it.

Ruined book
Does this count as mint condition?

Finding an old Pooh book lead to many great reads.  Pooh and Piglet trying to catch a Heffalump had us laughing so hard that I could barely keep reading.

Three Stories from The House at Pooh Corner book

And then we have Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, by Doreen Cronin.  Farmer Brown’s cows find an old typewriter and use it to start to issuing demands.  For those of us with offbeat senses of humor this book is a must.  Plus your kids will like it too.

There are so many other great kids books out there, like The Giving Tree and Love You Forever, two books that are great if you want your kids to see your cry.  And there is A Wrinkle in Time, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Goodnight Moon, The Hobbit…but you don’t need me to tell you that.  You are clearly a reader since you read this blog.  So you tell me what kids books you like.  There are no wrong answers.

A list of the the books mentioned in this blog can be found in our library catalog here:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

Random Book Day 2014, Featuring 15 Random Reads in 8 Categories

By Chris

A lot of people shiver in anticipation waiting for Random Book Day.  Sure, it is a day I made up last year, and no one knows when it happens, or even if it will happen.  SPOILER ALERT!  It is happening!  Right now!  So brace yourselves.  Seriously, we are heading for 3000 words.

This year I have selected 15 titles for your enjoyment.  Since several of them are similar to each other I have separated the books into 8 helpful categories.  You are guaranteed to love each of these books, the guarantee being that if you don’t you can let me hear all about it in the comments section.

Category 1:  Fantasy

Censored image.
Not that kind of fantasy!

As I mentioned in my fave kids books post, which exists in the future, I started reading fantasy novels at a young age.  This trend continues today, although I certainly read many things other than fantasy.  One of my favorite all time fantasy books (and series) is The Black Company, by Glen Cook.  This book mixes gritty, militaristic narrative with epic, mighty magics, and does so seamlessly.  Told by the viewpoint of a surgeon and historian for a mercenary company, it features characters ranging from lowly soldiers to an Empress and her array of world-shaking sorcerers.  The series goes for 10 books, told by five different narrators, and never disappoints.  I’m also partial to Cook’s more light-hearted Garrett, PI series, which is crime noir set in a fantasy world.

There was a time when books based on games and movies and such were rare, other than the “official” novelizations.  TSR, publishers of the Dungeons & Dragons game, was an early leader in changing this.  One of their earliest book projects was the Dragonlance Chronicles, a series that was intended to tie in with simultaneously released game adventures.  They looked at several established fantasy authors (such as Philip Jose Farmer), before settling on the in-house talents of Tracy Hickman (a game developer) and Margaret Weis (a newly hired book editor).  They collaborated on the first Dragonlance novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight.  TSR, unsure if sales would warrant future books, insisted that this volume, meant to be the first in a trilogy, have a definitive ending.  Well, the book sold well enough for the trilogy to proceed.  And another trilogy.  And another…and now we have over 200(!) DL novels, written by many, many authors.

Anyway…Dragons of Autumn Twilight is a great fantasy read.  Heroes of varying types fight monsters, battle dragons, and save the day.  Until the next book, at least.  As one early review said, it at least gives you something to read after Lord of the Rings.

I came late to the Disc World series by Terry Pratchett.  Actually, that isn’t precisely true, since as a teen I read his novel Strata, that does interact with the Disc World, but that only sort of counts.  I really started with the 31st book in the series, Monstrous Regiment.  Polly Perks joins the army in order to save her family’s pub.  To do so she has to pretend to be male.  As the story progresses she discovers that not only do some of the other troops in her regiment (which include a troll, a vampire, and an Igor) have secrets, but that all of them do.  While there are many recurring characters and themes in the series, you can pretty much pick up any of them and be good to go.  And by the way, Strata is also a good read, darker in tone and much more science fiction than fantasy.

The final entry in this category is Ariel, by Steve Boyett.  I read this in my late teen years, and just recently rediscovered it.  It is the tale of a boy and his unicorn.  But this book is much more post-apocalyptic than fairy tale.  The world suffers a sudden change, when all technology ceases to work and fantastical creatures and magic become reality.  Unicorns are rare and precious beings, and the Necromancer wants Ariel’s horn, even if it means killing her.

Boyett, after 20+ years of denying he ever would, finally wrote a sequel titled Elegy Beach.  I really liked how he adjusted the world to take into account the technology differences between the times he wrote the books.  Boyett also has become a DJ with one of the most successful podcasts on iTunes.

Category 2:  Cats

Scrambles the cat
Scrambles looking wiser than normal.

We’ve done a whole blog post on cats before.  But who can’t get enough of cats, right?   I Can Has Cheezburger?: A LOLcat Colleckshun is a book you should read.  I especially enjoy the pokemons one.  kthxbai

Category 3:  Paranormal

Hearts with vampire teeth.
Must love involve teeth?

I started pretty early with the paranormal romances.  I don’t read a lot of them, but a few series I have really enjoyed.  Undead and Unwed, by MaryJanice Davidson, kicks of a 12 book series detailing the exploits of Betsy Taylor, a single, unemployed 30 year old who becomes Queen of the Vampires.  This is a very fun read.  Betsy is an irreverent character, and can do things that other vamps can, like go in the sun and swear properly.  You will also learn a lot about women’s shoes by reading this series.  Alas, my ultimate recommendation is read the first few and be done.  They go off the rails later, and by off the rails I mean like falling into the Grand Canyon while on fire off the rails.

The story goes that Laurell K. Hamilton, who had a couple of novels out already, had difficulty in getting Guilty Pleasures published.  The horror people said it was a mystery, and the mystery people said it was fantasy, and the fantasy people said it was horror, etc.  Actually it is a crime noir style of book featuring Anita Blake, a woman who reanimates zombies for money and battles vampires on the side.  Once it did get published there was no stopping it, as the Anita Blake series is in the 20s and still going.  While the early volumes stayed true to the origins, up until the excellent Obsidian Butterfly, later ones took on a notably more sexual tone, for better or worse depending on your reading preferences.  I prefer the early ones, that mix many elements together, giving an elegant look at the gritty undead underbelly of St Loius.

A lot of  fantasy and paranormal series start small, as far as the monsters go.  You find out in book one that there are vampires, and then come the werewolfs in book two, and then on to all sorts of other lycanthopes and fairies and ghosts and what have you.  So one of the things I immediately liked about Kim Harrison’s Dead Witch Walking was that it was a world that already had all of those things out in the open.  Rachel Morgan is a “runner”, essentially a bounty hunter for supernatural creatures.  While she tends to get the job done, often aided by her vampire and pixie partners, things rarely go as planned.  There is some Stephanie Plum influence here, and I mean that in a positive way.  Plus the titles are mostly Clint Eastwood allusions.

Category 4:  Token YA Book

Author Jodie Bliss takes a bite out of her profits.

I always enjoy finding a Young Adult novel that brings something fresh to the table.  Faking Faith, by Jodie Bliss, is the story of teenage Dylan, who is ostracized at school after a sexting incident.  She looks for refuge online, and is fascinated by the blogs of fundamentalist home schooled Christian girls.  She invents an online persona in order to interact with these girls, who are so different from her, and takes things as far as to visit one of them.  Of course her deceit is deceitful and has consequences.  It is a surprisingly nonjudgmental book, considering the topics it covers, and gives insight into teens from a fresh angle.

Category 5:  Nonfiction

Stalingrad statue.
The Motherland Calls. And I would listen if I were you. She’s kinda big.

Perhaps the thing that impressed me the most about Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad is the way it was researched.  If I wanted to study the epic and important battle I would…well, I would read Enemy at the Gates.  But other than that I would be doing a lot of online searching.  When William Craig set out to chronicle the battle there was no Internet.  It took him five years of studying archival materials and conducting interviews to produce this book, travelling to the Soviet Union (not such an easy things in the early 70s), Germany, Israel, and the UK.  His writing is approachable without stinting on the historical accuracy.  The Jude Law and Rachel Weisz movie about snipers at Stalingrad is of course fictionalized, but there are real events in the book that are crazier than Hollywood is.

And I suppose we must talk about that statue.  279 feet from the tip of the sword to the base of the feet and made with nearly 8000 tons of concrete, it is truly an engineering marvel.  I find it interesting that it is not attached to the base, but is standing on its own two feet.  The model used by the sculptor found that she was recognized by her resemblance to the finished product.  I hope to see it in person one day.

Category 6:  Short stories

May is short story month
Random Book Day does not bend to your rules.

I am not always keen on short stories.  Sometimes it seems that just when I am getting into the story it ends.  But there are some collections that I truly cherish.  First off we have 20th Century Ghosts, by the magnificent Joe Hill.  These are mostly horror stories, and the opener, “Best New Horror”, is pretty brutal.  But get past that one and you will find a surprising variety of high quality short fiction.  My favorite?  “Voluntary Committal” perhaps, but I think each time I read the book I have a new favorite.

My next book has a title that is true and yet misleading in a way.  Geektastic is a YA anthology with stories from a number of acclaimed authors.  Yes, geeks are the recurring narrative theme.  But the underlying theme here is acceptance.  Many of the stories emphasize that no matter what our hobbies and obsessions might be, we are all people.  At a con a Klingon (a girl) and a Jedi (a boy) meet, and their friends are horrified at this treason.  The couple realizes how absurd that is and head off for coffee.  A cheerleader enlists the help of geeks to boost her knowledge of Star Trek to impress her boyfriend, only to discover she likes some of this stuff more than he does.  A star baton twirler moves to another state, only to find her skills don’t carry the same popularity at her new school, and so on.  Good stuff.

Have you ever read a story, have no idea what is happening in it, yet can’t get enough of it?  If not, then give “Magic for Beginners” a shot.  The story appears in Kelly Link’s third story collection, Pretty Monsters.  Fantastic fantastical writings she does.  But don’t just take my word for it.  So far eight of her stories have won major awards.

Category 7:  Baseball

A baseball


Is anything as nostalgic as baseball?  And if you want to reminisce about baseball years gone by, your go to author is Roger Angell.  Not only is he one of the greatest of all baseball writers, but he wrote about different baseball eras, so you can choose the one that best fits your mood.  Or go with Once More Around the Park: A Baseball Reader, that collects some of his best writings from throughout the years.  And then you can tell everyone about how back in your day things, and especially baseball, were so much better.

Category 8:  Gillian Flynn

Dark Places book cover
I doubt you expected just a picture of the cover.

Back in August I finally read Flynn’s bestseller Gone Girl.  It was on the shelf at the library at the time.  Now, at the end of October, it has 333 holds on it.  Ah, the power of cinema.  Gone Girl was not her first book, nor was it the first one of hers I read.  Sharp Objects was her first book, which I stuck into my horror books blog.  Her second book, and the first I read, is Dark Places.  This is the story of Libby Bray, who as a girl survived the night her brother massacred the rest of their family.  As an adult, still carrying physical, mental and emotional scars of that horrible night, she reluctantly is drawn into an amateur sleuths attempts to prove her brother innocent.  The secrets they unearth are surprising and lead to, aptly enough, dark places.  Wonderful read, and lets hope that the movie version in production, starring Charlize Theron, lives up to it.

Hmm.  Didn’t even get close to 3000 words.  Must be losing my touch.  Anyway, one of the nice things about Random Book Day for you, the reader, is that you can mention, suggest, or ridicule any book you want in the comments section.

Find all of these books in our library catalog here:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0