Building_Stories_coverA flurry of positive buzz at the end of 2012 made Building Stories by Chris Ware one of the most talked about books of the year (at least, on the geeky book review blogs we librarians read). Certainly the most ambitious and successful graphic novel I’ve ever read, Building Stories is very much a novel: a story told in a visual medium that takes several hours of cooperation between your brain and your eyes to interpret. There are words – lots of them – in addition to the illustrations, and one could not survive without the other. There are two main characters: an unnamed woman living in Chicago and the three-story building she lives in. Each of the particles of this novel (it’s printed on a collection of 14 different paper products, ranging from hardcover book to cardboard broadsheet to flimsy pamphlet) zooms in on a short period in her life or the lives of the other people in the building, which provides a delicate but firm link between all the characters. There’s no defined order (which is intentional), so you sift through the vignettes of her life in much the same way you sift through your own memories: not sequentially, or always with a logical connection from point A to B, but arbitrarily and unpredictably.

At any moment in your reading, you can see the woman in various states of dissatisfaction, from the crushing loneliness of single life to the dispirited letdown of motherhood in the suburbs. It’s not a happy book, but there are moments of levity – you’ll be charmed by the short interlude of Branford, the Best Bee in the World, whose brief bee life is indeed connected with the human characters. Watch out for the scene where the woman finds a copy of Building Stories itself: a moment of humorous, metafictional, mildly unsettling genius that (like the book entire) asks some very real questions about the physical and emotional nature of books.

2013Let DPL help you realize your reading goals in 2013! Whether you need books, recommendations, or just a quiet spot to devour the newest Stephanie Plum/Alex Cross novel, we can help.

Numeric resolutions: I will read X books in 2013.

  • Do you have 45 minutes a day? Count up your free time: lunch hour, breaks, waiting at the curb for your kids to get out of school, before bed, while your spouse does the dishes, while you’re on the treadmill. If you do, you could read 52 books in 2013. One book* per week = 39 pages (about 45 minutes) per day.
  • Only 15 minutes per day? Maths out to about 17 books for 2013. Not too shabby!
  • 20 minute drive to and from work? Not even counting all the other trips you make, you can listen to 21 books* this year (bonus: no more annoying radio ads).
  • Children’s books, audiobooks, graphic novels, comics, short stories, magazines, newspapers, and internet articles ABSOLUTELY. COUNT. You are more of a reader than you think; don’t sell yourself short!
Content resolutions: I will read more (insert genre) books in 2013.
  • Branching out into new content areas can be frustrating, but the librarians at DPL are here to help! We’ll cook up a list of books for you based on any criteria, and we offer 100% forgiveness for those who abandon books without finishing. Life is too precious to waste on finishing a book you don’t like.
  • Broadening your genre horizons is rewarding; more often than not, a single title will blend influences from many genres. I love fantasy, but some of my favorite fantasy titles are shelved in regular fiction or romance. If it sounds confusing, we’ll happily help you navigate.

Making your resolutions real

  • If you use a social reading log website (Good Reads, Librarything, and Shelfari, for example), you and your friends can share progress on whatever resolution you make. Nifty!
  • Use your library account online to keep track of saved title lists, saved searches, and even maintain a list of ALL the books you’ve ever checked out! (Note: for privacy and security purposes, only you can elect to maintain a reading list. It does not happen automatically and library staff cannot create the list for you.)
  • For old-fashioned paper lovers, get yourself a reading notebook: write down the titles you read and a little note about what you thought of the book. That way you won’t lose track of what you’ve read.
  • Resolve to share your love of books: Promise that you’ll read out loud to your kids or grandkids, bring a friend with you to the library, give copies of your favorite titles as gifts, or donate your pre-loved books to the Friends of DPL or another book charity. Books are best when they’re shared!

*For math purposes, a “book” is 275 pages or 8 hours of audio recording. Bonus points for reading something longer!

Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s co-authored epistolary novel has a very long title: Sorcery and Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot: being the correspondence of two young ladies of quality regarding various magical scandals in London and the country. Please don’t judge it by this wordy title or by its tragically hideous cover. It’s great!

It’s Regency England, magic is real, and cousins Cecelia (Cecy) and Kate correspond over the course of a summer, unraveling alone and together the mystery surrounding the titular enchanted chocolate pot and the “Mysterious Marquis.” The action is very exciting, the letters brisk and forthcoming, the characters sympathetic, the romance delightful, the magic subtle and delectably menacing. It’s a delight – the only complaint I can offer to temper my enthusiasm is that Cecy and Kate are virtually indistinguishable. I cannot recall a single difference between them, whether in temperament, opinion, age, physical appearance, or letter-writing style. The only difference between them is that Kate is in London and Cecy in the country; or did I switch that around? I’ll have to look back at the letters to check.

By sheer good luck, my reading of this novel overlapped with my listening to the also epistolary, also long-titled, also co-authored, and also excellent The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This was an enormous hit with book clubs a couple of years ago, but if you missed out on it then, treat your ears to this audiobook right away! It has become my standard audio fiction recommendation, even surpassing At Home and Twenties Girl. Juliet Ashton corresponds with and befriends the people of Guernsey, an island in the English Channel which was occupied for 5 years by the Germans during World War II. Each character’s letters are read by a different voice actor, and the result is entirely winning. It’s a lovely book read by lovely people, and it’s about resilience and friendship and bravery and the love of books. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Deb Perelman is one of my favorite nonfiction writers. Her blog,, is one of the most beautiful and well-cultivated on the web. She writes with good grammar, common sense, and maturity: all too rare in the world of blogging. Her photos are sumptuous; her voice is authentic and charming; her advice is encouraging but never preachy. Her recipes range from moderate ease (mixed bean salad) to incredible ambition (Moules à la Marinière) . Most importantly, her lifestyle (which is what any blogger on any topic is ultimately selling) seems attainable, realistic, homey, and good. Now, she has “arrived,” so to speak, by getting herself published in “real life,” aka, a glossy hardcover book published by Knopf.

And what a hardcover it is! I have it checked out now, but I know I’ll be returning to it too often not to make a home on my own bookshelf for it. Most of the recipes are new, which is to say they have never appeared on the website. The design is crisp, the photos delectable, the writing full of warmth. I have no reservations whatsoever about recommending this book to anyone who has a kitchen!

I found this book in a roundabout way, but I’m so glad I landed on it! On the recommendation of a friend, I picked up Julia Quinn’s What Happens In London to read on an upcoming vacation, so I was familiar with the author: her books focus on 19th century London society, clever dialog, and spirited characters. So, when I saw A Night Like This on a search of audiobooks read by my favorite narrator, Rosalyn Landor (a reader I fell in love with for her perfect reading of Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella), and it happened to be on the shelf not 10 feet away from my desk, I snagged it immediately!

I’m very glad I did. A Night Like This is a terribly fun romance; a genuine connection between two likable people, explored in an enjoyable book with a bearable quota of romance cliches. Anne Wynter, the main character, is probably my new all-time favorite romance heroine. She is brave, intelligent, and kind, and she is factually, genuinely self-sufficient in a way that most historical heroines are emphatically NOT (though the author may try to trick you into thinking they are). After a scandalous incident in her teen years, she is sent away from her modest gentry family to live as a governess under an assumed name; during this novel, she has been succeeding at this career for eight lonely years, isolated from her family and unable to create any new connections of her own status. That she still manages to be bright and positive is inspirational, and when she falls in love with the Earl of Winstead, a man way out of her league as a “ruined woman,” you’ll root for them all the way. Daniel, her beloved, is a pretty boring version of the romance-hero-pretty-boy trope, and his instant lovesickness is tiresome, but this book is worth reading just to get to know Anne.

Good news! This audiobook is available for download via WILBOR!

In case it wasn’t already obvious, the librarians who write for this blog LOVE A Song of Ice and Fire. We really can’t seem to stop writing about it. If you do too, these two brand new items are definitely worth a look:

Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones by Bryan Cogman: an in-depth look at the HBO series, with material from both the first and second season. Interviews of the cast, behind the scenes photography, stills from the show, family trees, interviews with production designers and costume designers and conceptual artists: everything you could really want. If you’ve combed the extra material on the DVD sets, most of this isn’t new, but it’s gorgeous anyway.


The Lands of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin: This brand new non-book is more than it appears: it’s a set of twelve full-color poster sized maps folded up and packaged in book shape. But when you unfold them, it’s a fantasy reader’s dream! Detailed, beautiful maps with tons of new information: before now, the exact parameters and proportions of Martin’s vast imagined world were not exactly defined. But now, NOW we finally know where the Dothraki sea sits in relation to the Red Waste; where the Shadow Lands and Asshai are; the layout of the canals of Braavos; and oh, behold the new details of the smoking ruins of Valyria!! It’s glorious, but a warning: if you are a show-watcher and not a book-reader, there are spoilers inside!

(And in case you’re just starting out, you can find the novels at many Rivershare libraries.)

It’s been absolutely ages since the last time I read a picture book, but these excellent titles make me wish I’d picked them up more often. I have been missing a lot of awesome stuff! Like any great book, the appeal of these titles isn’t limited to one audience or one time or one interpretation: whether or not you have children in your life, these books are interesting and worth your time.

Stuck (words and pictures by Oliver Jeffers): “Stuck is a book about trying to solve a growing problem by throwing things at it,” Oliver Jeffers says in this video, where he reads most of the book. I could not stop giggling when I read it! Compulsively, obnoxiously, making-the-other-people-in-the-room-give-me-weird-looks giggling. When Floyd’s kite gets stuck in a tree, he chucks up his shoe to knock it down. When the shoe gets stuck too, he hurls up another shoe. Pretty soon, he’s lobbed everything he can think of at the tree and he has to think outside the box to solve the problem. Oliver Jeffers is a big name in picture books for good reason – the tidy blend of humor, art, and lessons learned make this a no-brainer for reading to kids.

A Sick Day For Amos McGee (words by Philip C. Stead, pictures by Erin E. Stead): animals acting like humans is standard fare in children’s literature, but this book improves on the concept with a subtly playful story and illustrations that are just plain jaw-dropping. A zookeeper called Amos has a daily routine: chess with the Elephant, footraces with the Tortoise, quiet time with the shy Penguin, etc. When he takes a sick day, his friends at the zoo brighten his day in return. The pictures are warm and wonderful, with thoughtful expressions on all of the characters’ faces (animal and human alike). Picture-only subplots add yet another layer of story to this 2011 Caldecott winner.

I Want My Hat Back (words and pictures by Jon Klassen): I can’t believe I’m about to write this about such a simple book, but I actually don’t want to reveal too much about it for fear of spoiling the ending! Imagine: spoiler alerts for a picture book. But here we are. I truly do not know how Jon Klassen gets so much deadpan humor and plain-as-day emotion into the faces of such simply drawn characters, but he manages it on every page. The ending has a refreshingly pithy, humorous, unapologetic taste to it. I’m eagerly anticipating getting my hands on a copy of his second book, This Is Not My Hat.

Extra Yarn (words by Mac Barnett and pictures by Jon Klassen): For an extra helping of Jon Klassen’s art, this book fits the bill beautifully. If you are a knitter or crocheter, you’ll be totally enamored of his illustrations here. A little girl discovers a box of infinitely replenishing color-changing yarn, and proceeds to knit sweaters for all of the animate and inanimate denizens of her town. The white space and gradual introduction of color, along with the touching story, make this a really special book.

Charles Todd’s A Duty to the Dead (the first mystery in the Bess Crawford series) has far too much life and vigor for the god-awful cover design it’s been dealt. It’s really a hideous cover: the image, the colors, the fonts, they’re all drab and uninteresting. But if you can look past them, this is an engaging mystery novel with a heroine anyone would love.

Bess Crawford is a gentleman’s daughter and an Army nurse in the Great War (if you’re thinking of Lady Sybil Crawley right now, you’re not alone!). She’s injured when the hospital ship Britannic is sunk, and during her convalescent leave, she visits the family of Arthur Graham, a wounded soldier she befriended, to deliver the deathbed message he begged her to pass on to his brother. What she finds in the Graham hometown of Owlhurst is a web of secrets and lies that the all-too-British neighbors have happily swept under the rug while they keep calm and carry on.

Bess is in-demand in Owlhurst for her nursing skills, and before long she is pressed into duty caring for a shell-shocked soldier and a possible lunatic. The effect of witnessed horrors and repressed violent memories on the mind is a big part of this novel, which is as much psychiatric as it is suspenseful. In a time when mental health was imperfectly understood, Bess’s intuitively modern understanding of the way our brains work is a mark in her favor.

While you’re waiting (and waiting… and waiting … ) for Downton Abbey to come to US shores next January, this novel can help fill the gap. Its shared setting, dealings with the same issues (the affect of the war on families back home), and the similarities between Sybil and Bess will keep you in the mindset of Downton while you wait for season 3.

If the slowly lengthening nights and cooling winds have you longing for the perfect title to take with you under the covers, check out any one of these lush, engrossing novels.

In Amanda Coplin’s dense debut novel The Orchardist, an orchard farmer called Talmadge has been tending the same grove of fruit trees in the foothills of the Cascades for half a century. His life is changed forever by the appearance of two young sisters and the violent men who trail them. This turn-of-the-century America is as wild as it can be: a nation where solitude is genuine and there truly are places that the law just doesn’t reach.

The Crimson Petal and the White offers a lurid, intoxicating look at the oft-visited streetwalkers, orphans, and gentle ladies of Victorian England. From the high to the low, the people who make up this fabled society are brought together through the dreams of a surprisingly well-read young prostitute named Sugar. Author Michael Faber invokes the gas-lit ambiance of that era but tinges his narrative with an irresistible modernity that makes this novel unique.

Margaret Atwood is my favorite author. You probably know her for her famous dystopian masterpiece The Handmaid’s Tale, but forget all about that and read The Blind Assassin instead. In this Booker Prize winner, Atwood traces the history of two sisters: Laura Chase, a novelist who dies mysteriously in her twenties, and Iris Chase, who recounts their story as an octegenarian. There is a novel within this novel, written by Laura; within Laura’s novel, there’s a novel within a novel within a novel: a science fiction tale called “The Blind Assassin” as told to Laura by her lover. It sounds impossibly convoluted, but it just works – Atwood’s genius isn’t just plotting, but stunning language: years later, sentences from this gorgeous book will still be rattling around in your brain. It’s unforgettable.

This month is all about pumpkin lattes, Halloween costumes, and vibrant fall leaves, but it’s also when crafty people start looking ahead to the winter holidays. If you’re planning to create or make gifts by hand this year, now is the time to get cracking! Additionally, the Christmas and winter themed books that will be in short supply after Thanksgiving are abundant in October, so you are much more likely to find something inspiring when you stop by DPL.

The Art of Gift Wrapping: No matter what’s inside the package, thoughtful gift wrapping always makes it much more special. Instead of last-resort gift bags and tissue paper, check out this book for ideas and detailed instructions on innovative and lovely gift wrapping techniques.

Classic Crafts and Recipes for the Holidays: For timeless and sophisticated (and decidedly not “beginner”) DIY decorating, Martha Stewart’s books are the way to go. This particular one includes directions for some stunning outdoor-only ice decorations as well as decadent holiday recipes and some very creative uses for velvet.

Knitted Gifts and Holiday Knits each include the instructions for quite a few lovely knitting projects that are sure to please anyone on your gift list, from Christmas stockings to baby booties, cable-knit hats and mittens and decorative ornaments. All projects include photos and patterns. Easy for experienced knitters, but not out of reach for beginners either.