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November is National Novel Writing Month

October 24, 2016

National Novel Writing Month logoNovember is National Novel Writing Month, fondly known as NaNoWriMo, when writers challenge themselves to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. That’s right — an entire novel in just 30 days. If you’re an aspiring author, NaNoWriMo may just be the motivation you need to sit down and pen that novel you’ve always dreamed of writing. It’s also a great way to get plugged into your local writing community.

The Columbia Public Library will be hosting a Get Ready to Write a 30-Day Novel program tonight (October 24) in the Friends Room from 7-8:30 p.m. to introduce newcomers to NaNoWriMo. We’ll show you how to sign up and provide you with some tips and tricks for plotting your novel and getting to work on that first draft.

Then come back to the library and show us your progress during our National Novel Writing Month Write-ins. Write-ins will be hosted at both the Callaway County Public Library and the Columbia Public Library. We’ll serve refreshments, have local author readings and get those creative juices flowing as you continue working on your novels. What better place to find inspiration than in the library, surrounded by books?

And while you’re plotting your novel, here are some books about writing to offer advice, motivation and inspiration for your writing adventure:

Book cover for No Plot? No Problem!No Plot? No Problem!” by Chris Baty

Perfect for National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo’s founder Chris Baty has crafted a guide specifically for novelists tackling the challenge of crafting a novel in a mere 30 days. This humorous handbook advises writers to lower their expectations, set deadlines for themselves, and summon their creativity because NaNoWriMo isn’t about producing the next bestseller, but rather about throwing yourself into a challenge with enthusiasm and determination.

On Writing” by Stephen King

Part memoir, part writing advice, King draws readers in with tales of his childhood and adolescence, giving insight into his development as an author throughout his writing career. His writing advice covers the basic building blocks from plot to character development. Even if you’re not a fan of Stephen King’s books, there’s a lot to learn from this best-selling author.

Book cover for The Magic WordsThe Magic Words” by Cheryl B. Klein

If your novel is geared toward children or young adults, you should check out Klein’s brand new book. In “The Magic Words,” Klein not only explains how to tailor the elements of a novel for a younger audience, but also how to craft a novel that will sell. Klein discusses the importance of diversity and world-building, but she also covers more business-like advice for writers such as the ins and outs of securing an agent. While geared toward writers of children’s and teen fiction, writers of all genres and for all audiences can benefit from her advice.

Words Are My Matter” by Ursula K. Le Guin

By one of fantasy’s greatest authors, this collection of talks, essays and book reviews is sure to spark the imagination. Le Guin’s other books about writing are also well worth the time of any aspiring author. “Steering the Craft: A Twenty-first Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story” is an updated version of Le Guin’s previous book of the same title (though with a different subtitle). Both versions offer valuable advice on crafting a novel, from the basics of grammar to more complex elements, with plenty of exercises designed to give readers a chance to apply her advice and hone their skills.

Additional books about writing offer both broad spectrum advice and more specific tips and exercises, from Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” to Rebecca Smith’s “The Jane Austen Writers’ Club.” Other books on writing from which you can draw inspiration and advice include:

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Categories: Book Buzz

Top 10 Books Librarians Love: The November 2016 LibraryReads List

October 21, 2016

Library Reads LogoNeed a hot read for your cold November nights? Look no further than this month’s Library Reads list. Suspense, fantasy, historical fiction, biography — there’s something for every reader’s taste or mood, including new titles from Lee Child, Wally Lamb, Zadie Smith, Michael Chabon and more. Here are books publishing next month that librarians across the country recommend.

Book cover for Faithful by Alice HoffmanFaithful” by Alice Hoffman

“With only a touch of her usual magical realism, Hoffman crafts a tale that still manages to enchant. In ‘Faithful,’ a young girl who survives a car accident that almost kills her best friend spends the next decade doing penance to try and alleviate her guilt. Despite her best efforts to avoid it, love, hope and forgiveness patiently shadow her as she slowly heals. Shelby is a complex character, and through her internal growth, Hoffman reveals that she is a person worthy of love, a bit of sorcery that readers will hold dear. Simply irresistible.”
– Sharon Layburn, South Huntington Public Library, Huntington Station, NY

Book cover for The Fate of the TearlingThe Fate of the Tearling” by Erika Johansen

“It’s been fascinating to watch the Tearling saga evolve into a riveting blend of fantasy and dystopian fiction with characters developing in unexpected but satisfying ways into people I really care about. With the introduction of new characters in the town, a third timeline is woven into the story, leading to a plot twist that I did not see coming at all. This book has given me lots to think about — community, leadership, the use and abuse of power — and makes me want to reread all three books.”
– Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY

Book cover for Night School by Lee ChildNight School: A Jack Reacher Novel” by Lee Child

“Child goes back to the well and gives readers another glimpse into Jack Reacher’s past as a military cop — and what a worthwhile trip it is. It’s 1996, and after Reacher receives a Legion of Merit medal, he’s sent to “Night School” with two other men, one from the FBI and another from the CIA. Soon the trio learns that they’ve been selected for a covert mission. Child layers his page-turning story with careful and sometimes dryly humorous details.This suspense series keeps getting better — it’s a joy to read.”
– Elizabeth Eastin, Rogers Memorial Library, Southampton, NY

And now the rest of the best for your holds-placing pleasure:

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Categories: Book Buzz

The Gentleman Recommends: Scary Books

October 17, 2016

Book cover for Scary Stories to Tell in the DarkThis Halloween, take a break from mutilating winter squash and wearing disguises while you threaten people until they give you candy. Use this break to wrap yourself in your fear shawl, and read a scary book. Here are some scary books.

Zone One” by Colson Whitehead is the most poetic zombie novel I’ve read. If you want your zombie novels to be propelled by quality prose and melancholy rather than constant descriptions of carnage, this is the novel for you.

The Girl With All The Gifts” by M.R. Carey is another zombie novel. It begins in a research facility in which infected children are sprayed with stuff that makes them less bitey. The children are studied. Then something bad happens, and the action sequences start. It also packs a doozy of an ending.

House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski will try to bend your mind much like it bends the typography contained in the book. The narrator reads a book about a documentary about a house that is larger on the inside than it is on the outside. People explore the increasingly massive passages that appear in the house. It’s scary. If you like horror and weirdness, and don’t mind having to turn your reading material upside down, this is the book for you.

The Road” by Cormac McCarthy probably shouldn’t be read by parents anxious about the future, but anyone else that enjoys dark fiction should give it a shot. There are terrifying scenes, but what’s maybe most memorable is the way McCarthy suffocates the whole story with dread. It’s up to the reader to decide if the book offers any hope.

Book cover for World War ZWorld War Z” by Max Brooks is another zombie novel. But rest assured, it bears no resemblance to the movie that shares its title. It’s a series of accounts from people all over the world trying to survive a zombie outbreak.

John Dies at the End” by David Wong is a horror novel for people that want to laugh at least as much as they clutch their fear shawl. You’ll want to be a connoisseur of jokes about bodily functions to truly appreciate this one.

I haven’t read “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark” since I was a child, but I remember being frightened by them. Read them to your kids; it may prove a chilling reprieve from the despair of the current news cycle.

Little-known author Stephen King has written over 45,000 novels. He did much to corrupt my childhood, and I’ll always be thankful for that.  “Pet Sematary” and “Salem’s Lot”  were the novels that most moistened my onesies.

 Ascent, 1889-1939Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939” by Volker Ullrich is horror for people that prefer nonfiction. It’s terrifying and nearly unthinkable that a loud-mouth egomaniac can rise to power through nothing more than showmanship, nationalism and the repetition of substance-free mantras. I enthusiastically recommend that you read this brilliant review.

Looking for more chilling tales? I’ve previously recommended spooky books by Kelly Link, Lauren Beukes, Katherine Dunn, Graham Joyce, Emily St. John Mandel, Jeff Vandermeer, Flann O’Brien and Paul Tremblay. Also, read Shirley Jackson.

Boo! (Sorry about spooking you just now. ‘Tis the season, though.)

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Categories: Book Buzz

The Fascinating Life of Eleanor Roosevelt

October 10, 2016

Eleanor RooseveltOctober 11 marks the birthday of the woman who spent more time in the White House as first lady than any before or since. At her birth, Eleanor Roosevelt seemed destined for a life lived mostly on the periphery of the political dynasty she was born into. A series of childhood tragedies changed her trajectory, and Eleanor went on to not only redefine the role of first lady, but also to become a political force in her own right.

Born in 1884 to socialite parents, Eleanor was orphaned by the age of 9. She attended Marie Souvestres’s all-girl’s finishing school in England. Souvestre’s teaching methods encouraged students to think independently and express themselves. The influence of this education is visible in the social justice work Eleanor pursued as an adult. Blanche Wiesen Cooke’s “Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume One, 1884-1933” documents in depth these influential early years of Eleanor’s life.

After her education, Eleanor returned to the states and became acquainted with her distant cousin, Franklin. Romance blossomed, and the two married in 1905, with Eleanor given away by her Uncle Teddy. From the beginning their relationship was fraught with difficulties. Franklin was not faithful, famously finding love with Eleanor’s social secretary, Lucy Mercer. This was painful for Eleanor, who contemplated leaving him, but it’s speculated that she may have also found romance outside of their marriage. Hazel Rowley’s “Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage” explores their unconventional relationship, why they stayed together and how it ultimately benefited them in their own personal pursuits.

Book cover for No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns GoodwinTheir marriage grew into a political force to be reckoned with after a life-changing battle with polio threatened Franklin’s political career. Eleanor helped Franklin keep in touch with the political world during his recovery through her own involvement in the Democratic party. She learned how to successfully navigate the political world and pursue those social causes that were most important to her. As first lady, Eleanor truly found her political voice. “No Ordinary Time” by Doris Kearns Goodwin provides insight into how World War II affected the homefront and shaped Eleanor’s role as first lady as she worked to help the nation’s poor and disenfranchised.

Book cover for Hissing CousinsEven after she was no longer first lady, Eleanor managed to have a huge influence on humanitarian causes, with a focus on racial and social justice. Marc Peyser’s “Hissing Cousins: The Untold Story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth” provides an interesting look at Eleanor’s political pursuits by contrasting them with her cousin, Alice Roosevelt’s. Alice, the oldest child of Uncle Theodore, was in many was Eleanor’s equal. She was quite intelligent and is famous for her biting wit (though Eleanor also had a way with words). Alice was also interested in politics, just like her cousin, but their viewpoints and interests varied wildly. Peyser’s book offers a fascinating look at the strikingly different ways both women affected politics in Washington and how that shaped their own relationship.

photo credit: CT 57-899 via photopin (license)

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Categories: Book Buzz

Judging a Book by Its Cover

September 30, 2016

Book cover for A few months ago, a shock of red caught my eye as I walked past a display of oversize books at the library. “Cover” by Peter Mendelsund collects in stunning fashion the artwork he has created for book jackets, both new works and reissued classics. If you think you don’t know his work, you actually do. Steig Larsson’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” Jo Nesbo’s “The Snowman” and current bestseller “The Girls” by Emma Cline all have covers created by Mendelsund. Reading about his creative process provides a window into a world readers often wonder about. Just how does the artwork for a book get selected? Does the author have a say? Who makes the final call? And also, why are so many book covers similar?

About the same time that I picked up Mendelsund’s book, I started noticing images or themes repeated in the cover art for novels, particularly images of women in profile, with their features hidden from the viewer. An example:

book cover for Mr. Churchill's Secretary

And another:

Book cover for A Small IndiscretionAnd still another:

Book cover for The Daring Ladies of LowellThis is just a small sampling of the book cover images I’ve collected since I first noticed the pattern. What gives? I assume the women at the centers of these novels have secrets or are somehow unknowable. They have shadowy pasts or complicated interior lives hidden by a composed exterior. But shouldn’t there be a greater variety of ways to indicate these characteristics in the cover art?

What trends in book cover designs have you noticed? Is there a particular one that appeals to you? That turns you off? Let us know in the comments.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Celebrating the Freedom to Read!

September 26, 2016


I love FALL! One of the reasons I love fall is that the American Library Association (ALA) celebrates Banned Books Week the last week of September. This year, the celebration is from September 25 – October 1, and the theme is “Celebrating the Freedom to Read.”

These days when we talk about banned books, we aren’t usually talking about bans by the government; however, there are countries that do still actively ban books, and our government used to be one of them. “Fanny Hill” holds the distinction of being the last book banned by the US government. It was banned in 1821 and again in 1963, and the ban was lifted after the Supreme Court decision of  Memoirs v. Massachusetts in 1966. “The Satanic Verses” continues to be banned in many Islamic countries.

Book cover for The Grapes of WrathIt is amazing to me that some of our most beloved classics have been challenged or banned. I might not have appreciated all of these books when I was in high school, but “The Grapes of Wrath” is one of my all time favorites! I have read about a fourth of the classics on the ALA’s list and loved almost all of them. I will admit that “Ulysses” was not my cup of tea, mainly because following the stream-of-consciousness style was just more work than I wanted to do to read a book — but I heartily support anyone else’s right to put in that much work!

Book cover for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeBooks do continue to face challenges in our libraries and schools. Even universities have jumped on the bandwagon in recent years with the use of “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces,” raising concerns about academic and intellectual freedom. The ALA posts its “most frequently challenged list” every year. This year’s top 10 list contains another one of my favorite books, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” It’s a book about a gifted but autistic boy who works to solve a mystery. I can’t count the number of times I have recommended this book! Another book on the list, “Fun Home,” has been on my to-read list for a while now. I think I will bump it to the top in honor of Banned Books Week.

Please enjoy your freedom to read! But remember, not every book is for every person at every time, and that’s okay. I will grab my banned books coffee mug and a book and head outside to enjoy mine!

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Categories: Book Buzz

Top 10 Books Librarians Love: The October 2016 LibraryReads List

September 23, 2016

Library Reads LogoNot one of these recommended books is pumpkin spice flavored, but any would pair well with your favorite fall beverage. Break out the decorative gourds, and enjoy this list of books publishing in October that librarians across the country love.

Book cover for News of the WorldNews of the World” by Paulette Jiles

“Readers fortunate enough to meet Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an old ex-soldier who makes a living reading the news to townspeople in 1870s Texas, and Joanna, the Indian captive he is charged with returning to her relatives, will not soon forget them. Everything, from the vividly realized Texas frontier setting to the characters, is beautifully crafted, right up to the moving conclusion. Both the Captain and Joanna have very distinctive voices. Wonderful storytelling.”
– Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY

Book cover for The Trespasser by Tana FrenchThe Trespasser” by Tana French

“Aislinn Murray is beautiful, lives in a picture-perfect cottage, and has a boy she’s crazy about. Antoinette Conway is a tough member of the Dublin Murder Squad who knows no one likes her and says she doesn’t care. When Aislinn is murdered, Conway and her partner Steve Moran take the case and start listening to all the stories about Aislinn. Which ones are true? Was she in love and with whom? Are the stories we tell ourselves and others anywhere near the truth? Great read from Tana French.”
– Kathryn Hassert, Chester County Library, Exton, PA

Book cover for Small Great Things by Jodi PicoultSmall Great Things” by Jodi Picoult

“A black neonatal nurse is charged with causing the death of a white supremacist’s newborn baby. The story is told from the points of view of the nurse, her attorney and the baby’s heartbroken father. As always, Picoult’s attention to legal, organizational and medical details helps the tale ring true. What sets this book apart, though, are the uncomfortable points it makes about racism. The novel is both absorbing and thought-provoking and will surely spark conversations among friends, families and book clubs.”
– Laurie Van Court, Douglas County Libraries, Castle Rock, CO

And here is the rest of this month’s list. Place your holds today!

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Categories: Book Buzz

The Gentleman Recommends: Gary Shteyngart

September 19, 2016

Book cover for Super Sad True Love StoryGreat satirists thrive when stuff in the world is goofy or evil. So, given the idyllic nature of the world these days, it’s hard to imagine that there’s much good satire out there or that satirists would manage to earn enough to keep themselves fed and sheltered rather than wasting away in the gutter where they probably belong. But, even with our utopia’s total lack of need for satirists, Gary Shteyngart has managed to keep himself fed, sheltered, gutter-free and, as you’ll see if you google “Shteyngart + vodka,” frequently drunk.

Shteyngart has earned the sustenance and drunkenness. That satire is pointless in our current climate is inarguable, but we still have a few years left before hilarious literature in which nearly every sentence contains a delightful turn of phrase becomes the province only of those who attempt to produce it. He’s a funny guy and a great writer, and I hope he’s able to eat comfortably at least until he’s no longer of any value to our society. (You’ll notice I linked to a picture of him being funny rather than pick from the bountiful text examples of his hilarity. I do this because, as the GlobalTeens social network from his brilliant novel “Super Sad True Love Story” says in one of its many helpful tips, “Switch to Images today! Less words = more fun!”)

Super Sad True Love Story” chronicles the relationship between Lenny Abramov, son of Russian immigrants, book lover, and mid-level employee at a firm that aims to sell immortality to the super rich, and Eunice Park, daughter of Korean immigrants, shopping lover, and unemployed. In addition to the ups and downs of their relationship, we get the scoop on the fantastically dark world they live in. People spend all their time using their “apparats,” an unthinkable device that could only spring from the mind of the most deviant of satirists. An apparat keeps you constantly linked to everyone in the world and instantly provides any information the user needs. (Among other superlative features, it keeps you perpetually informed of your attractiveness to others, via an index whose name would be inappropriate to print here. Also inappropriate to print here are the names of the story’s most popular clothing lines.) America is so indebted to “The People’s Bank of China Worldwide” that a dollar has no value unless it’s pegged to the yuan. There are protests being waged by the poor against the rich. Translucent pants (no underwear) are popular. Hardcore pornography is considered mainstream entertainment. Books are relics: everyone hates the smell.

Super Sad True Love Story” obviously is a lying title, but that’s okay because it’s satire. As every other recommender out there has noted, it’s super and sad and a love story, but it’s not true. It’s fiction. Which would become rapidly obvious to the reader as its setting is far from the world of gumdrops, equality and plentiful currency that we currently enjoy.

So why read something so absurdly inapplicable to our current situation? I don’t know. It’s hilarious and brilliant, but so is this picture of a cat. I guess I just want to make sure Mr. Shteyngart is able to procure as much horseradish vodka and organ meat as he requires, at least until he finds a proper and relevant line of work and no longer requires my assistance.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Upcoming Author Talks

September 16, 2016

One Read is in full swing, but this community reading program is not the only upcoming opportunity to hear from nationally known, award-winning and local authors. Mark your calendars for these not-to-be-missed talks and book signings!

Book cover for Start a Community Food GardenMizzou Botanic Garden Author Reception
Monday, September 19 › 7-8:30 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Friends Room
Come meet nationally known author LaManda Joy, the founder of Chicago’s Peterson Garden Project, and hear her speak about the process of starting and maintaining a community garden. Copies of her book “Start a Community Food Garden” will be available for purchase and signing. Co-sponsored by the Mizzou Botanic Garden.

Photo of author Rachel HallMeet the Author of “Heirlooms
Wednesday, September 21 › 7-8:30 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Virginia G. Young Room
This collection of linked short stories by Columbia native Rachel Hall won a major award for short fiction and has been lauded as “masterful and devastating.” Based on real-life events and inspired by family stories, it begins in 1939 in coastal France and follows a Jewish family through World War II, to a new country and into a new century where they survive and forge new lives with their only heirlooms being memories. Rachel is a creative writing professor at the State University of New York and returns to her hometown for this special event.

Book cover for Mizzou Sports Through the AgesMizzou Sports Through the Ages
Thursday, October 6 › 7-8:15 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Friends Room OR
Thursday, October 20 › 6-7 p.m.
Southern Boone County Public Library
Mizzou sports have been thrilling and frustrating Tiger fans since 1890. “Mizzou Sports Through the Ages: An Illustrated Timeline of University of Missouri Athletics” by Brendon Steenbergen is the first comprehensive history of the entire University of Missouri sports program. Brendon will share some little-known stories, explore the ups and downs of various sports and follow the accomplishments of historic Mizzou sports figures. This lavishly photographed book captures the spirit of the Tigers and provides a rich history and a cherished keepsake. Copies will be available for purchase and signing.

Book cover for Haunted MissouriHaunted Columbia With Mary Barile
Monday, October 10 › 7-8 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Friends Room
Columbia has a rich treasure of ghostly lore reaching across the Mizzou Quad and Stephens College to the surrounding countryside. Have you heard about the specter of Broadway legend Maude Adams visiting classes at Stephens College? Or the story of invisible fingers on Blind Boone’s piano? Hear some hair-raising stories from accomplished researcher and storyteller, Mary Collins Barile, many of which are featured in her latest book “Haunted Columbia, Missouri.” Copies will be available for purchase and signing.

Book cover for Snakes in the KitchenLocal Author Carolyn Branch
Monday, October 24, 2016 › 7-8 p.m.
Callaway County Public Library, Friends Room
Join us as local author Carolyn Branch, born and raised in Mokane, shares insights and the history relating to her recently published book “Snakes in the Kitchen: A Memoir.” A book signing follows. Presented in collaboration with the Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society.

A Brooklyn Memoir by Joseph C. Polacco
Wednesday, October 26 › 7-8:15 p.m.
Columbia Public Library, Friends Room
Joe Polacco remembers his youth growing up in Brooklyn, New York in a loving and humorous tribute to his mother. “Vina: Bensonhurst Memories” is a celebration of his wise and generous mother, great Italian food, extended family and others who made up the heart and soul of this old world neighborhood. Polacco is a professor emeritus of biochemistry at the University of Missouri. He has spent most of his life in Missouri, but you can still hear the New York accent from the pages of this memoir. Copies will be available for purchase and signing.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Getting to Know Agatha Christie

September 12, 2016

 An AutobiographyIf you’re looking for a cozy mystery, you can’t go wrong with any one of Agatha Christie’s books. As the uncontested “queen of the mystery,” Christie helped define a genre with her legendary characters, Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. Christie was not afraid to let the dark sides of society show through in the stories she wrote. Readers may find themselves wondering how a seemingly mild-mannered lady came up with these stories, and there are several books at the library that can give insight into the life that inspired these classic mysteries. Here are a few I recommend.

  • Christie’s natural storytelling abilities shine brightly in the telling of her own story in “An Autobiography.” Initially published shortly after her death, the book chronicles Christie’s life, from a rather idyllic childhood, spent mostly in the countryside of Devonshire, to the archaeological trips that took her around the world. Readers will enjoy getting to know the personal side of Christie and her perspective on a life lived out during the turbulent years of the early 1900s.

  •  Around the World With the Queen of MysteryAlthough many of Christie’s novels are set in England, her characters do venture out to other parts of the world. These exotic settings were likely inspired by Christie’s own travels, particularly the world tour that she took in 1922 with her first husband, Archibald. “The Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery” gathers the correspondence between Christie and her mother over the 10 months she was away. Colored with vivid descriptions of both the countries she visited and the people who inhabited them, this is a delightful look into an adventure that shaped the great mystery writer.
  •  The Real Life of Agatha ChristieReaders wanting a more whimsical read should check out Anne Martinetti and Guillaume Lebeau’s “Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie.” This graphic novel appears quite simple at a glance, but it offers a colorful look into Christie’s life. Fans of her books may enjoy it especially because Poirot and Miss Marple pop up throughout the book, offering insight into the woman who created them.
  • Christie herself starred in what may have been her greatest mystery. In 1926 she disappeared from her home for 11 days. Search parties were gathered, and even some of the other mystery greats of the day — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers — pondered what may have happened. Christie eventually turned up at a hotel spa, seemingly with no memory of the time she was missing. She would not speak about the event, so all that exists of what happened is speculation. Author Jared Cade explores the events of those 11 days and offers his own theory regarding her missing time in “Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days.”

Happy reading!

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Categories: Book Buzz

Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The September 2016 List

August 31, 2016

The kids are back at school, and maybe that has some readers feeling overwhelmed by the orientations, sports practices, rehearsals and other related events suddenly filling up the family calendar. Or perhaps the back-to-school spirit has you ready to learn something new. Whether you want to read for escape or for self-improvement, this month’s LibraryReads list has you covered. Here are the 10 titles publishing in September that librarians across the country recommend.

Book cover for Leave Me by Gayle FormanLeave Me” by Gayle Forman

“Aren’t there days when you just want to leave it all behind? After a life threatening event, that’s exactly what Maribeth Klein does. Maribeth, wife, mom of 4-year old twins, and editor of a glossy magazine is told to rest. Sure! The choice she makes is not the one for most, but following Maribeth on this journey is compelling nonetheless. Fast paced narrative and terrific writing make this one hard to put down. Recommended!” – Carol Ann Tack, Merrick Library, Merrick, NY

The Bookshop on the Corner” by Jenny Colgan

“Despite losing her job as a librarian who liked to put the right book into a patron’s hands, Nina continues her mission by moving to rural Scotland, purchasing a van, converting it into a bookmobile, and taking to the road. The plot revolves around the romance of the road, the romance of books and reading, and just plain old romance. Another marvelous book by Colgan! A gem of a book!” – Virginia Holsten, Vinton Public Library, Vinton, IA

Book cover for Commonwealth by Ann PatchettCommonwealth” by Ann Patchett

“The Cousins and the Keatings are two California families forever intertwined and permanently shattered by infidelity. Bert Cousins leaves his wife for Beverly Keating, leaving her to raise four children on her own. Beverly, with two children of her own, leaves her husband for Bert. The six children involved are forced to forge a childhood bond based on the combined disappointment in their parents. As adults, they find their families’ stories revealed in a way they couldn’t possibly expect. Patchett has written a family drama that perfectly captures both the absurdity and the heartbreak of domestic life.” – Michael Colford, Boston Public Library, Boston, MA

Here’s the rest of the best for your holds-placing pleasure!

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Categories: Book Buzz

Staff Review: The Grownup

August 22, 2016

Grownup bookc coverAs a young adult, I sometimes feel like a fraud — a kid just playing pretend at being a grownup. I think most people have feelings like this occasionally, but the unnamed narrator in Gillian Flynn’s latest is a fraud and has made a living at it her entire life. Growing up poor, she and her mother would beg on the streets, and they had an intricate system: they knew who to ask, how to ask, when to embellish and which specific embellishment to use on a particular mark.

As “The Grownup” opens, the narrator makes ends meet by a rather unsavory profession, which she simply calls working in “customer service.” When she gets the chance to work as (read: pretend to be) a psychic, she jumps on it, knowing that her ability to manipulate people would make for easy money. She takes on Susan as a client, a housewife with a rocky relationship with her seemingly evil stepson and a house that appears haunted. Is the narrator finally in over her head? One thing is certain: something malicious exists, but where it originates and what can be done to stop it will keep you guessing.

This book, clocking in at 64 pages, is an incredibly short yet satisfying read. It was originally published as part of a collection of short stories — “Rogues,” edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Flynn acknowledges Martin at the end of the book, thanking him for asking her to write him a story, but this reader would like to thank Flynn for providing us with this intriguing little tale.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Book and Tea Pairings

August 19, 2016

tea and book

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Last year I broke my foot and had to have surgery. That meant recovery time, which actually meant reading time. During the week following my surgery, between bouts of nausea and fatigue, I read the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. I also exclusively drank Harney & Sons Green Tea with Coconut Blend. Now anytime I drink that coconut green tea, the scent bombards me with reminders of magic, time travel, alchemy and romance.

While my magical fantasy + coconut green tea pairing happened organically, it inspired me to think up some other tea and book pairings.

Old Man and the Sea book coverClassics like “Jane Eyre,” an enduring romance centered around a strong, non-traditional heroine, or Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” in which a fisherman battles with a marlin, need a classic tea, no? I suggest an English Breakfast tea (decaf, if you’re reading past your bedtime).

Seveneves book coverIf you’re interested in books with a more elaborate storyline, perhaps “The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield is for you. A famous reclusive author commissions a biographer, and both women must confront family secrets. Or try “Seveneves” by Neal Stephenson. This story follows the progeny of the few survivors from Earth who have lived in space for five thousand years, and now they must return to the drastically changed planet. Whichever book you choose, pair it with the complex and sophisticated Earl Grey to make a great duo.

Hamilton book coverMaybe you’ve managed to get your hands on a copy of “Alexander Hamilton,” the biography by Ron Chernow on which the Tony-winning musical, Hamilton, is based. Or perhaps you’re perusing “Hamilton, the Revolution,” the complete libretto itself, including photos and cast interviews. You’ll want something a little more patriotic, a little less sophisticated (like young and scrappy Hamilton himself): freshly brewed iced tea — sweetened if you’re more of a Southerner like Thomas Jefferson.

Modern Lovers book coverPerhaps some fun and easygoing books are more your cup of tea (ha!). “Not Working” follows the life of Claire, who spontaneously quits her job and loses all semblance of a routine. With her new free time she is forced down a path of self discovery. Emma Straub’s newest, “Modern Lovers,” is about a close bunch of college friends who have grown up and have college-aged children of their own. When their children start having relationships with each other, the parents’ lives begin to unravel. Both of these recently published books are sure to leave you happy and content, and what could go better with a fun story than a refreshing cup of fruity tea? Wild berry would pair excellently with either literary pick.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Is Summer Over Already?!

August 17, 2016

Back to School WPA Poster from the Library of Congress CollectionWhen the summer began, I had all sorts of plans. One of my plans was to add variety to my reading by reading more fiction. Yes, you read that right — more fiction. This was sparked by a conversation with my husband.

Husband: Why don’t you read something for fun for a change?

Me: I am reading something fun!

Husband: But all you read is nonfiction.

Yes, that’s me. I like nonfiction. This summer was going to be different, but here it is, time for school to start up again. Those lazy days of summer have led to me reading mostly… nonfiction. In my defense, there are a lot of really good nonfiction books that have been published this year! I won’t mention all of them, but I will tell you about three that I really loved.

Book cover for Lab GirlLab Girl” by Jahren Hope
“Because I am a female scientist, nobody knows what the hell I am, and it has given me the delicious freedom to make it up as I go along.” Jahren is a botanist who is passionate about her field. She weaves the insights she discovers in the lab and in the field seamlessly with her personal day-to-day life. “Lab Girl” is one of those odd books that is part science book, part memoir, with a bit of philosophy thrown in, and it reads more like poetry at times. “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.”

Book cover for TribeTribe: On Homecoming and Belonging” by Sebastian Junger
This is another memoir-ish book combined with journalism and science. At only 192 pages, Junger has written a very concise book about post-traumatic stress disorder in our society, including the Native American population and returning war veterans, as well as our society as a whole. “Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end.”  I really connected with the longing for community that this book invokes.

 An Intimate HistoryThe Gene: An Intimate History” by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Once again, this is a memoir mixed with science, or maybe it’s science mixed with memoir. (I think I’m sensing a pattern here.) Mukherjee traces the history of the gene from Aristotle, Mendel and Darwin, on through the German and American eugenics programs, to Watson and Crick and modern gene therapy. This is a very personal odyssey for Mukherjee because of mental illness that runs in his family. He delves into the factual science of genes and our understanding of them and examines the ethics of genetic manipulation. This is a very moving account of a very complex topic, and at times it borders on the poetic: “History repeats itself, in part because the genome repeats itself. And the genome repeats itself, in part because history does. The impulses, ambitions, fantasies, and desires that drive human history are, at least in part, encoded in the human genome. And human history has, in turn, selected genomes that carry these impulses, ambitions, fantasies, and desires. This self-fulfilling circle of logic is responsible for some of the most magnificent and evocative qualities in our species, but also some of the most reprehensible. It is far too much to ask ourselves to escape the orbit of this logic, but recognizing its inherent circularity, and being skeptical of its overreach, might protect the week from the will of the strong, and the ‘mutant’ from being annihilated by the ‘normal’.”

I will keep trying to add more fiction to my reading list, but when there is nonfiction this interesting, how can I resist?

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Categories: Book Buzz

The Gentleman Recommends: Noah Hawley

August 15, 2016

Book cover for Before the FallNoah Hawley is a great example of a writer who does not need this gentleman’s boost. In addition to the thousands of projects he has in the works (including a television adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’sCat’s Cradle“), Hawley is the showrunner of “Fargo,” one of my favorite television shows ever. He’s also a novelist, because apparently brilliant, hard-working people get to experience all manner of professional satisfaction. (Join me, won’t you, in declaring it’s high time some of this good fortune is distributed to all the frequently recumbent and mostly slovenly gentlemen out there just trying to peaceably make their way through the world’s bakeries without having their various flasks constantly confiscated.)

Before the Fall” is Hawley’s latest novel, and anyone who has experienced the rich tapestry of detailed characterization, deft and often hilarious dialogue, and rapid-fire plotting of “Fargo” will not be surprised to learn that is a delightful piece of entertainment. It tells the tale of a plane crash and the lives it ended or, in the case of two passengers, the lives it upended. The crash and the surviving passengers’ harrowing journey to safety occur in the first several pages, then the novel gives us a mix of flashbacks (fleshing out the characters and the possible reasons for the plane crash) and post-crash scenes largely concerned with one of the surviving passengers and government efforts to determine why the plane crashed. In reading the dead’s stories, the reader will learn some theories about the how the plane crashed (with one seeming particularly likely).

Among the dead are the owner of a fictional news network, a bodyguard, a guy that makes lots of money by doing things to money (including laundering money for terrorists), some spouses, a child, two pilots and a flight attendant. This is how the rich travel. (Join me, won’t you, in declaring it’s high time some of this luxurious travel, minus the crashing part, is shared with those of us who generally get around by balancing on our only functional rolling skate and tossing a grappling hook at passing automobiles or bikes pedaled by people whose strength is readily apparent.)

One of the survivors, a 47-year-old painter who was just finally beginning to experience a taste of potential success before the crash, is judged a hero by most, but a villain by some, including a host of a right-wing “news” show. The reader may join the blowhard host in finding it curious that the painter has recently produced a series of paintings of disasters, the descriptions of which indicate that Hawley may also be a gifted painter, which would be another of his gifts that I do not envy.

Before the Fall” is a mystery, a satire and an outstanding read. It doesn’t need the sales surge that a gentleman’s recommendation inevitably causes, but it merits it. You have my blessing to continue thriving and producing things that thoroughly entertain me, Mr. Hawley.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Read-a-Romance Month: Romance for Newbies

August 12, 2016

There once was a time that I scoffed at romance books, and I certainly wouldn’t be caught dead reading one. “They’re not literary,” I would say, high on my horse. Maybe my mind started to change when I read the genre-defying “Outlander,” or maybe I matured a little and realized I was being judgmental. I just know that at some point I found myself checking out “The Duchess War” by Courtney Milan, complete with a young woman in a poofy ball gown on the cover. And, guys? I loved it! The book was smart, well-written, had great dialogue and believable development of the romantic relationship — basically all the things I like in any book. And it’s not alone; there are a ton of great romances out there! In honor of August being Read-a-Romance Month, here’s a short list of books to help ease you into the waters of romance novels.

Knight in Shining Armor coverA Knight in Shining Armor” by Jude Deveraux

A distraught, modern woman, abandoned by her lover, suddenly meets a real knight, complete with clanking armor, in a cemetery. Also, according to the gravestone next to her, he died in 1564. This classic romance, by the legendary Jude Deveraux, includes time travel, grand adventure and, of course, excellent romance.

For My Lady's Heart coverFor My Lady’s Heart” by Laura Kinsale

A medieval romance with a complex heroine and dashing English knight (I promise not all romance novels feature knights . . .). Dialogue is written in Middle English and it has an intricate plot. “For My Lady’s Heart” has been compared, by some readers, to literary giants George R.R. Martin and Tolkien in terms of its world building.

The Grand Sophy coverThe Grand Sophy” by Georgette Heyer

Many romance readers consider this book to be one of the best Regency romances by one of the greatest Regency authors. Sophy is the independent heroine of this story, which is lighter on the romance scenes. “The Grand Sophy” is sure to appeal to fans of Jane Austen.

Iron Duke coverThe Iron Duke” by Meljean Brook

Zombies, airships, kraken, pirates — oh, and romance, too. This steampunk romance follows Rhys, who finds a dead body dumped from an airship at his front door. He and Detective Mina Wentworth uncover a conspiracy that threatens the whole of England. This adventurous, fast-paced and very steamy novel is great for those readers who want to get lost in another world.

Natrual Born Charmer coverNatural Born Charmer” by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

The story starts with Blue (our heroine) walking on the side of the road in a beaver costume. Hunky quarterback, Dean, spots her and pulls his car over. What comes next is a hilarious and sweet romance. This book is great for rom-com lovers.

Secret History of the Pink Carnation coverThe Secret History of the Pink Carnation” by Lauren Willig

This one has a story within a story. Eloise is working on her dissertation on English spies (the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian) and learns of the Pink Carnation: a spy who nearly single-handedly saved England from Napoleon. The story of the Pink Carnation is full of adventure and sensual romance.

If none of these titles tickle your fancy, check out the full Romance for Newbies list in our catalog.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Classics for Everyone: To Canterbury and Beyond

August 8, 2016

book cover for Canterbury TalesIf you’re reading this in English, thank Geoffrey Chaucer. His “Canterbury Tales”, published in 1400, was the first book of poetry written in English, rather than Latin or Italian. By using the common language, he made literature accessible to the common person. Having opened the way for everyone from William Shakespeare to Janet Evanovich, Chaucer can rightly be called the father of English literature.

The poems in his book relate the stories shared by travelers in a group heading from London to Canterbury. The members of the group come from disparate backgrounds, and their tales run the gamut from bawdy comedy to sober religious parables. Pieced together, they provide a picture of life in Medieval England. The larger story, about the trip itself, serves as a frame for this picture.

Though this story-within-a-story framing wasn’t new with Chaucer, his use of it influenced later writers. “Canterbury Tales” is well worth reading, but the Middle English requires some effort. If you want a Chaucer-like read without as many trips to the footnotes, I can recommend a few titles with layered narratives.

  • The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood is about two sisters, one of whom is an author and has died a mysterious death. Her novella, which might provide clues to her demise, is contained within the pages of the larger story. Within the inner novel, readers will find another complete short story – “The Blind Assassin.”
  • Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell, contains six stories set in different time periods, past and future. The first half of the book provides the beginning of each story, while the second half gives their conclusions, in reverse order. So the sixth story is sandwiched between the pages of the fifth, which is nested within the fourth, etc. All of the narratives connect – the diary of one character falls into the hands of a character in a different story, who writes about it in letters to a friend who ends up with his own tale.
  • A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd merits its own category as a novel started by one author (Dowd) and, after her death, completed by another (Ness.) 13-year-old Connor lives with his mother, who has cancer. He has been abandoned by his father and is a target of bullies. A monster appears in his dreams and tells him three fables in return for hearing Connor’s own story.

Chaucer understood that each language is worthy of a cultural heritage, even though it takes all languages to make up the world of human communication. All of these authors help us remember that each individual’s story is complete and worthy to be told on its own but is also only one part of the larger picture of humanity.

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Categories: Book Buzz

A Reading Slump: Pick My Next Read

August 3, 2016

Have you ever been in a reading slump? Your to-be-read pile can be bursting with books you’ve been meaning to read, but nothing sounds good, or, once you start to read one, it just doesn’t stick. A slump happens to me occasionally, and I’m in one now. I’ve tried reading books from various genres, I’ve tried new authors, and I’ve even tried revisiting old favorites, but to no avail! So now I turn to you, fellow readers. I’ve gathered a few books that look promising and want your feedback so I can decide what to try next.

Man Called Ove book coverA Man Called Ove” has been receiving praise as a New York Times bestseller. It’s quite popular here at DBRL, with a long holds list and more copies on order. This debut novel by Swedish author Fredrik Backman tells the story of a cranky old man whose wife has recently died. His depression leads him to consider ending his own life, but when a young family moves in next door and runs over his mailbox, a comical string of interactions begins. This book is promised to be witty and heartwarming.

Small Blessings book coverMartha Woodroof’s first novel, “Small Blessings,” is touted as a book for bookish people. Sign me up! The story follows Tom Putnam, an English professor with a wife who, because of an affair between Tom and a poetess a decade earlier, is a complete shut-in. When the two take part in a social engagement for the first time in a long while, Tom hopes that things are changing. However, when they return home, he finds a letter from the poetess telling him that he fathered a son, and the 10-year-old is on a train heading his way. The vibrant, quirky cast of characters carries this sweet tale of life and the unexpected. 

Marriage of Opposites book coverOne of my favorite authors is Alice Hoffman, so it’s surprising that I haven’t read this one yet: “The Marriage of Opposites” is an historical fiction novel about the mother of Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. Hoffman provides the readers with a slightly dysfunctional family saga taking place on the tropical island of St. Thomas. The main character, Rachel, is forced to marry an older man to save her father’s business. When she becomes a widow, she starts a scandalous, passionate affair with her late husband’s nephew. Their relationship affects her entire family, including her son, who would become known as the father of Impressionism.

Have you read any of these titles? Maybe you’ve been wanting to read one of the books I’m considering, but want another opinion on it before you take the plunge. I’ll write a review of whichever book you folks pick for me. Leave a comment so I can decide which book to read next!

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Categories: Book Buzz

Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The August 2016 List

August 1, 2016

Book cover for Arrowood by Laura McHughIt’s my favorite LibraryReads list yet! Why, you may ask? Because this month’s list of forthcoming titles that librarians across the country recommend includes “Arrowood,” the latest from local author Laura McHugh. The novel follows Arden Arrowood as she returns to her declining Iowa hometown and her childhood home after a failed attempt at graduate school. She is haunted by the memory of her twin sisters, kidnapped from the front yard while they were in her care. McHugh is masterful when it comes to vividly rendering place and setting, as well as the psychology of her main characters. This novel is moody, atmospheric and melancholy with a delicious undercurrent of suspense. Place your hold now, and enjoy this month’s other recommendations!

Book cover for A Great ReckoningA Great Reckoning” by Lousie Penny
“Armand Gamache is back, and it was worth the wait. As the new leader of the Surete academy, Gamche is working to stop corruption at its source and ensure the best start for the cadets. When a copy of an old map is found near the body of a dead professor, Gamache and Beauvoir race against the clock to find the killer before another person dies. A terrific novel that blends Penny’s amazing lyrical prose with characters that resonate long after the book ends. Highly recommended.” – David Singleton, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Charlotte, NC

Book cover for The Couple Next DoorThe Couple Next Door” by Shari Lapena
“This book is so full of twists and turns that my head was swiveling. Who took baby Cora? Marco and Anne decide to leave their baby home alone. After all, they share a wall with their neighbors, with whom they are partying. They would take turns checking in on her baby monitor. But when they return to their flat, the first thing they find is an open door and no Cora. Who’s to blame? Could it be an unlikely suspect that you won’t see coming? If you like a book that keeps you guessing until the very end, you won’t be disappointed.” – Debbie Frizzell, Johnson County Library, Roeland Park, KS

Book cover for Watching EdieWatching Edie” by Camilla Way
“Twisty psychological banter makes this book a thrill ride. Edie was the girl in high school who had it all. Heather was the awkward girl who wanted so badly to be accepted. That was high school, and now Edie is a single mom caught in a dead end job. She is about to lose it when Heather comes to her rescue. While Edie loves being able to get her life back, the hold that Heather has on her and the baby is disconcerting. The story jumps back and forth between past and present, and you will change your mind about their friendship right up to the last page.” – Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX

And here’s the rest of the list for your holds-placing pleasure!

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Categories: Book Buzz

Bone-Chilling Reads for the Dog Days of Summer

July 25, 2016

Book cover for Winter PeopleThe dog days of summer are upon us. Long stretches of 90 degrees-plus temperatures are the norm. And this being Missouri, it’s not the heat but the humidity that makes it so uncomfortable, right?

Finding a nice place in the shade with a good book is a great way to keep cool. And if that book happens to be set during the dead of winter, that’s even better. Here are some books that will chill you to your core on these hot days!

If a dark and icy-cold New England winter sounds perfect right about now, you should try Jennifer McMahon’s “The Winter People.” Set in a small town in Vermont, the novel recounts the mysterious murder of Sara Harrison Shea outside her home in 1908. A hundred years later, Ruthie, Fawn and their mother move into Sara’s old house. The girls find Sara’s diary hidden under the floor, revealing what may have actually happened to her. This sets into motion a series of horrific events that threaten to destroy their family. McMahon’s writing is spell-binding in this unique approach to the typical ghost story. You won’t want to put this one down!

Book cover for AbominableMount Everest is definitely colder than Missouri right now, making for an awesome book setting. In the 1920s, the world’s tallest peak still had not been summitted. The race to reach the top always ended at best in disappointment and at worst in tragedy, as in the case of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine who disappeared during a climb. In “The Abominable,” Dan Simmons tells the story of a group of adventurers in the late 1920s who set out against nearly impossible odds to reach the top the mountain. Their journey is fraught with difficulties — the cold and snow is expected, but the mysterious person or creature who seems to be pursuing them in the night is not. The book is tense and action-packed, full of nail-biting scenes as the climbers face off against unbelievable terrors. Simmons presents the tale as a “found manuscript,” intricately weaving historical figures and events into a fictional tale that will chill you to the bone.

Book cover for SnowblindOf course, on hot days like we’ve been experiencing, a blizzard doesn’t sound all that bad. Christopher Golden delivers not one, but two blizzards in his terrifying novel  “Snowblind.” Several folks mysteriously die during the worst snowstorm the town of Coventry has seen in years. 12 years later, a new storm is blowing in and the ghosts of those lost seem to be returning. The story is told ensemble-style, which allows readers to fully immerse themselves into the horrors the townsfolk are experiencing, not only from the endless snowfall, but also from the evil the snow has brought with it. This is honestly one of the scariest books I’ve read in a long time.

Happy (and cool) reading!

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Categories: Book Buzz
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