Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Chick Lit - Not to be confused with Literature


Wikipedia defines chic lit as genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly. Really, a marketing wizard somewhere decided to label a profitable segment of sales with a phrase reminiscent of chiclet candy.  If you don’t remember, chiclets are cute, sweet, minty and come in a variety of pretty colors.  What more could you want in chewing gum or books?  Although chick lit will never be confused with literary fiction (defined by Wikipedia as a term principally used for fictional works that hold literary merit) many authors of books geared to a female audience fall into a larger commercial or mainstream category, defined as somewhere between chick lit and literary masterpieces.  Reviewers and critics should be very cautious in applying the chick lit label to writers presenting a more realistic, balanced and less-escapist approach to issues confronting women.
Putting aside my small chiclet tirade, I read chick lit.  Some of my colleagues would consider that statement to be embarrassing, but I have already confessed in earlier posts to having crazy cats named after the Blues Brothers. Have I ever mentioned my fondness for the two Hellboy movies?  I especially like chick lit during the summer and I prefer series to stand-alones.  The authors listed below, a mix of chick lit and mainsteam/commercial, manage to include laughter, a few serious issues, knowledge of some field I know nothing about (restoration, wine and beer making, dolphins, etc), and love.  Their books hold more than a box of chiclets ever could.
My favorite series:
       Darcy Burke                     Ribbon Ridge
       Mary Alice Monroe         Lowcountry Trilogy (currently 4 books – Lowcountry Wedding just out)
       Wendy Wax                      Ten Beach Road (my new favorite)
       Beth Kendrick                  Black Dog Bay (Once Upon a Wine due in July)
       Kristan Higgins                Blue Heron
Lit Chicks, perhaps less judgmental sounding than Chick Lit,  would also include Jennifer Weiner, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Beth Harbison, Susan Mallery, and Sophie Kinsella.
Happy beach reading.  

-S. Bakos

Monday, May 9, 2016

Historic vs. Historical Fiction

I started this post two months ago and have written, re-written and erased the opening paragraph.  It started to make sense when I watched Steve Martin and Edie Brickell on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  They were talking about Bright Star, their new musical.  While researching the names of train lines running through Texas in the early 1900s, Brickell found an article about a baby in a suitcase being tossed from a train.  Martin referred to actual events such as the Iron Mountain Baby that we read or hear about and never know the beginning or end of the story.  Perhaps a need to know the whole story explains the popularity of historical fiction.  

The phrase historical fiction is part of the problem.  It is too vague and open to interpretation.  Historical fiction can be divided into a variety of genres including, but certainly not limited to, mysteries, romance, nautical adventures and tales of the Wild West or Far East.  Historical fiction can be defined or delineated by time.  Are you interested in prehistory, prehistoric times, medieval knights, the age of exploration, Tudor kings, or the Jazz Age?  The glory days of Ancient Rome and Greece are always popular.  Are you interested in a specific war?  Are you interested in only one country?  Do you like to immerse yourself in a series or saga?  Better yet, how recently does history begin?  The questions are never ending.

Perhaps a more important question is why are you reading historical fiction?  What are your expectations of the degree of historic accuracy?  Are you looking for a relatively painless way to learn more about a specific period of time?  Do you expect actual historical figures?  Some scholars differentiate between historic fiction (contains characters who actually existed and are portrayed accurately) and historical fiction (brings history to life).  Bottom line – is the purpose to give a face to history and make it possible for readers to relate or reach a better understanding?


History and historical fiction are necessarily not the same thing. the purpose of history is to narrate events as accurately as one can. The purpose of  historical fiction is to enable a reader through the perspective of characters in the story to feel that she or he is present at the events. Such a goal obviously requires some modification of the events.
          -Andrew M. Greeley
I prefer an actual person and a mix of verified events with enough icing to make the story flow more smoothly.  I like Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank and Under the Wide and Starry Sky.  Not to proceed too far down the path of a strong woman behind every man, I also enjoyed The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin.  In The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor, the author uses a fictional character to take a definite position on the innocence of Ethel Rosenberg.  Susan Elia McNeil’s book series featuring Maggie Hope is a good example of a fictional character tying historic events together.  Her titles include Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, and Princess Elizabeth’s Spy.  

Last questions – does time travel count?  Did you learn anything new about JFK’s assassination by reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63?

-S. Bakos

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Short stories abound

Do you love to read but often find you don’t have the time? Keep falling asleep in the middle of a chapter? Do you put down a book only to finally be able to return to it 2 weeks later and you have forgotten the premise? Try reading short stories. Whether you like to laugh-out-loud, cringe or catch up on a classic the library has several short story collections worth placing by your bedside table, in the console of your car, or in your big bag/briefcase for those few stolen moments when you can sit and read.

I started with a fairly new release American Housewife by Helen Ellis. I found many laugh-out-loud worthy stories that made me think of Nora Ephron and Erma Bombeck. “The Wainscoting War” takes place with a series of emails that start off cordial but end... well, you’ll see. Reality TV show viewers will appreciate the tongue in cheek of “The Dumpster Diving with the Stars” story featuring John Lithgow and Mario Batali.

Like memoirs? Then David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim may be right for you. Sedaris regales us with tales of growing up in the 70’s with 4 sisters and a brother. He speaks of their love of Halloween candy, snow storms that last forever in Binghamton, the family move to North Carolina and the biggest question facing all families ... which child will get married first and have children?!?

If all this reading has left you little time to shop and cook for dinner then take the advice of Bailey White in her collection Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Other Dangers of Southern Living . White’s mom chooses her main course by what she finds on the side of the road in “Dead on the Road”. Her dinner guests didn’t mind and neither should yours. Southern charm comes through in her writing and allows the reader to enjoy the Georgia warmth and hospitality ... just be wary of the main course that kinda tastes like chicken(?). White’s “The Buzzard”, less than 20 sentences long, had to be read twice and then I sat and reflected upon those eye-opening words.

Of course, reading about birds reminded me of Edgar Allen Poe. “The Raven”, although a poem, is longer than the last short story I read. Our copy of Poe short stories has the bonus of select poems including “The Raven”. The master of terrifying has many famous short stories including “The Tell-Tale Heart” which never fails to get my heart racing but I found myself gravitating to his lesser known works like “The Power of Words” and “The Oval Portrait”, a sad tale of passion.

Check out the short stories listed here or others in our collection so at the end of your reading time you too can say “This it is and nothing more.” ~ Poe, the Raven.

~ Ann-Marie Sieczka

Monday, March 21, 2016


I am considering starting a Conundrum of the Week Club.  No, I won’t volunteer to be president or secretary.  Last week I was puzzled by mystery readers and the great divide between preferring British or American authors.  
This week my confusion started with a weeding report of books, fiction and romance, which haven’t circulated for several years.  I want to know why these books have fallen from the public eye.  Have the authors overstayed their welcome in the publishing world?  Although I consider weeding the collection as necessary as weeding my flower garden – it provides space for growth and the general good health of the plants - weeding fiction is fraught with anxiety and must be approached more cautiously than uprooting dandelions.  Weeding non-fiction can be as easy as removing books which are no longer relevant or, in the case of science and medicine, contain inaccurate information.  Weeding fiction is more subjective and quickly veers into emotion and nostalgia.  Sometimes I look at a book and remember a vacation.  I remember the pleasure of reading an author for the first time and anxiously waiting for the next book.  Pat Conroy’s recent death made me think fondly of The Great Santini and The Water is Wide.  These two titles were not his most popular or best selling, but they were my favorites.

Random observations:
Fern Michaels has been popular for many years, but 17 of her titles have not circulated since 2012 and before.  Several titles were checked out over 25 times each before gaining wallflower status.  The sheer volume of her writing makes me think of LaVyrle Spencer, an extremely popular writer in the 1980s and 90s.  She had been very honest that she would stop writing  romances when she had earned $ 1,000,000.  A worthy goal!

Several books by Joyce Carol Oates are on the chopping block.  Years ago at a conference a member of the audience asked her how many books she had written.  She didn’t know.  I am not sure that she has a fan base of readers at BHPL who automatically reach for her next book. Philip Roth is slipping into the same category.

Perri O’Shaughnessy had been popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  The titles are now being re-released in audio format, but the hardcover books have been benchwarmers since 2010.  In a similar legal vein, Robert Tanenbaum’s early books are sitting on the shelf and he is not attracting new readers willing to go back and start reading from the beginning.

David Rosenfelt is a popular New Jersey author, but departed from a popular series with Don’t Tell a Soul.  The book only circulated 2 times before people realized that Tara, the world’s most brilliant dog, was not included.  Being tied to a book series must be as frustrating for authors as actors being identified by only one role played years ago in a TV series.

Burning questions:  how has Sue Grafton lasted from A to X and Janet Evanovich from one to twenty-three?  Do they each have a devoted audience and/or do they attract new readers?  Why do people read James Patterson when his books are co-authored?  I must go now and find my garden gloves.

-S. Bakos

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Mystery of Mysteries

One of the great puzzles in my library life is the divide between mystery readers who prefer British authors and those, including me, who stick closer to home.  Last week I tried a vaguely worded Google search and came away with the impression that British mysteries tend to be more cerebral and less gritty than American.  Also, that no respectable British writer would dilute a mystery with humor, romance or niche market appeal (scrapbook, quilt store, coffee shop, etc.).  I suspect that the entries I read originated across the pond.  Don’t misunderstand me – everyone should read everything and anything.  I just prefer Margret Maron and Julia Keller to Ruth Rendell and Martha Grimes.  This could all change by next month.  I could also develop a liking for pistachio ice cream.
I have recently discovered two new series.  The first, by New Jersey author Dave White, features Jackson Donne.  Donne has left the New Brunswick Police Department and is working as a private detective.  He burned all of his bridges when he left the PD and has enrolled at Rutgers.  The books (When One Man Dies, The Evil that Men Do, Not Even Past, and An Empty Hell) are set in familiar New Jersey locations and readers, especially those who attended Rutgers, will recognize the neighborhoods and restaurants.  It is best to read the books in order - advice I should have followed.  The stories are sufficiently convoluted, the action zips along, and the dialogue is reminiscent of hard-boiled detectives from the past. No words are wasted.  It does take a page or two to understand the punctuation.
The second series, by Janey Mack, is Jersey-like.  In Time’s Up Maisie McGrane has been booted from the Chicago Police Academy and ends up a Traffic Enforcement Agent, a.k.a. meter maid.  She thinks she is a complete disappointment to her large and very vocal family of policemen and attorneys.  Maisie will remind you of a well dressed and accessorized Stephanie Plum.  The meter maid job and uniform are good for laughs until a dead body appears.  Like Ms. Plum, Maisie is being romantically pursued by a policeman and an ex-army ranger with a dangerous and highly questionable career.  The second book, Choked Up, is much darker, steamier, and more violent. The third book will be a make or break for me to continue reading the series.  The important thing is that Maisie remains well dressed and accessorized as she plays both ends against the middle.   
An even greater to puzzle to me, aside from the British/American schism, is people who don’t read any mysteries.  That is a mystery.

-S. Bakos