Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring at the Berkeley Heights Public Library

Winter into Spring, 

a slide show made with Animoto's free video maker app for iPad.

Just a few weeks ago, the Berkeley Heights Public Library, and most of New Jersey, was covered in snow. Now spring is beginning to appear as a few intrepid daffodil shoots poke up through the bare, muddy ground. The days are getting a little longer and a little warmer.
I searched our 'Columbia Granger's World of Poetry' database for a poem to express the feeling of relief that the winter of 2013 - 2014 is over. I found hundreds of poems about spring and April. Willliam Leighton's 'April' tells it like it is, don't you think?

'Gusty March is dead and gone!
 April heard his parting sighs,
 Smiling through her tearful eyes
At the sweet days coming on.'

There's more to this poem. To find this and other poems by first line, last line, subject or poet, search the Granger's Poetry database from our  'Databases and Articles' webpage. Type in your Berkeley Heights Library barcode number at the prompt.

Leighton, William. “April.” Columbia Granger's World of Poetry Online. 2014. Columbia University Press. 4 Apr. 2014.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Not So Fast - It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Not So Fast – It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

by Robert J. Daniher

How many times have you tried to write a story, novel, poem, article and given up after a few days because things weren’t going the way you thought they would?  The plot wasn’t working out, the characters didn’t come alive, or maybe you just got…bored.  After all, this writing thing is supposed to happen overnight – right?  I mean, who has time to wait around for an idea to develop on the page?  Didn’t Steinbeck write “The Grapes of Wrath” in just a few months?
Some time ago I had the pleasure of meeting one of my favorite short story writers, Robert Lopresti.  A prolific award-winning writer, Mr. Lopresti’s fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies.  He also reviews short fiction on his weekly blog: .  But most importantly, he began his illustrious career as a page at the Berkeley Heights Public Library.  One of his shining moments while at the library was surviving a nasty run-in with a falling bookcase of Biographies.  There’s a nasty rumor going around that he accidentally pulled it down himself, but you didn’t hear that from me.  In late 2012 Mr. Lopresti was passing through NJ on his way to receive the Black Orchid Novella Award from the Nero Wolfe Society and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine when I met him for the first time. 
“You have such a prolific body of work.  How long does it take you to finish a story?” I asked, expecting him to say a week or a month.
“Oh, sometimes years,” he said.
Years?  Could that be?  I think he was half-joking, but there is some truth to that.  Sometimes, you need to put a draft away for a little while so you can come back to it with fresh eyes to revise.  Junot Diaz spent 7 years on “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Woa”, and that won the Pulitzer.  French poet, Paul Valery said, “A poem’s never finished, only abandoned.”  So, if your idea is taking a little longer than expected to germinate into the novel of your dreams, don’t rush it.  Think of writing as a marathon, not a sprint.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Just Do It - the Writing Life

Just Do It

by Robert J. Daniher

I am a procrastinator.  There…I said it.  The secret’s out.  I procrastinate, as my absence from contributing to this blog has proven.  Like most people (especially writers), I allow life to get in the way of things I truly enjoy doing.  And when it comes to writing there are tons of excuses to stay away from that keyboard.  Maybe it’s about the fear of failure, or not knowing how to begin, or even fear of success.  Fill in the blank.  But when you get right down to the nitty gritty, it’s really just about laziness.  And there’s only one way to overcome that.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see author Brad Parks at one of the NJ signings for his latest crime novel, “The Player”.  If you haven’t seen this guy speak, he’s a real cut-up.  A one-man-show, he sings, tells jokes, and acts out scenes from his novels in Oscar-worthy fashion.  We met a year ago at the Deadly Ink Mystery Conference in NJ and became fast friends.  Since then he’s offered some wonderful insight into the world of writing and shared an unlimited amount of zany stories to put the writing life into perspective.  After the crowd thinned out and the event began to wrap up I asked him about his writing schedule and he told me the same thing he always tells me.  “Just sit your butt down in the chair and type!”  It might seem like a minimalist approach to writing but, when you really think about it -- that’s all it takes.  Before you can worry about developing your voice, or style, or schedule, you first have to sit down in that chair and type.  That night I finally took his advice and sat down to write this very post you’re reading right now.  And guess what?  It worked!


Brad Parks links:

 I am happy to welcome back Bob Daniher to our blog. I especially like his observation:
" Like most people (especially writers), I allow life to get in the way of things I truly enjoy doing."
So true, and I hope to follow his lead and get going on some projects of my own. To see more of Bob's posts on the blog, click here 
or type 'Daniher' into the search box at the top right of the blog. Thanks, Bob and welcome back.
- Anne


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How do you call your children home for dinner?

Because I'm leaving for a few days to see my grown children who live out-of-state, I thought I would post a few old blog posts. My children and I talk and text by cell phone, we use 'Facetime' (video by cell phone or computer), we share online calendars, and follow each other on 'Facebook' and 'Twitter', but I just can't remember how I got them to come home for dinner when they were young. Probably a prearranged time and/or the old land-line telephone. But here's how it was when my friends and I were growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Excerpt from an old post about Bill Bryson's books

"My online book group just finished reading and discussing Bryson's latest book, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, a memoir. Everyone in this group is part of the baby boomer generation, born in the early fifties. His recollections of growing up in the fifties in DesMoines, Iowa rang a bell for all of us. Literally, we had quite a discussion of what kind of bells and whistles our parents used to get us home by dinner after a day of unsupervised outdoor play in the neighborhood.
Here are some of our memories:
" kids [were more] independent and less scheduled. My father had an old US Army gong, probably WWI vintage, God knows where he got it, that he used to clang to get us all home for dinner. It was kind of embarrassing."
"My father (ex-marine) had a bosun's pipe, a form of whistle, that was very distinctive and also very embarassing! By age 10 or 11 my friends and I had a "roaming radius" of about a mile and a half in any direction from our houses, by foot or by bike."
"My mother had a two-tone whistle she did – and she could do it today and we would all come running. Our next door neighbor had a simple whistle which she blew in different codes depending on which kid she wanted. We all knew each others parent calls – and we all knew who needed to go home. "
" in Gladwyne our lunch and dinner call was the firehouse siren at noon and 6 pm. In Ardmore, we had to be home by the time the church bells finished ringing at 6 pm."
"We had an honest to god boater's FOG HORN to bring us home! It looked like a New Year's horn only was made of metal that my mother painted blue and made a much louder noise! One toot - time to come home. Two toots - hurry Three toots all at once - emergency, get home at once. I think my brother has the fog horn but I can't imagine any kid being far enough away to need one now."
That's the problem, no one would need any of these bells, whistles, horns or church bells these days. Kids are scheduled, tracked and on the electronic leash known as a cell

Confession: that was my father who had the Army gong and the bosun's whistle family lived nearby, but we knew the difference and it was only years later that I met the bosun's whistle person and realized we had lived near each other. We must have all been like well-trained dogs, just a-waitin' that sound to call us home. And of course, at the end of dinner, our ears were perked for the sound of the ice-cream truck bell. And school was controlled by bells that told us when to go from class to class. I think some schools have dispensed with the bell system. Why am I feeling like Andy Rooney now? Are my eyebrows growing?

Who Wants Your Old Books - revisited

One of our favorite posts, our statistics tell us, is the one about how to get rid of your old books. This is a common question in most libraries and a question not easily answered. Or at least, not easily answered in the way that people would like to hear. Sadly, most old books are just unwanted, unloved and worth very little, but no one wants to just throw them out. Here is what we wrote:

Disposing of Old Books

Who wants your old books? Have you tried in vain to sell them at a yard sale or give them to your local library, school, college or thrift store only to be sent away not empty-handed? Have you been told that old library books circulate poorly, old encyclopedias and textbooks become obsolete quickly, college book stores pay a pittance for expensive, almost-new textbooks? Are you reluctant to sell books on Ebay because it is a time-consuming activity? Furthermore the cost of shipping books to third world countries is prohibitive. Used and rare book dealers can be very picky about what they will take or even deign to look at. Storing books takes up space and space in libraries and book stores and your house is at a premium.
What can be done with old books? Book lovers just want to feel that their books have found a better place than the recycling bin, but sadly, that's where many books end their lives. Most people seem to think that all books have some intrinsic value but if you examine that common assumption, it isn't true. Since the advent of the paperback, the information and publication explosion, cheaper printing technology, online databases and texts, a culture that generally likes the new and shiny and disposes with the old, books do not have as much actual (monetary) value as they do sentimental value. And if they have been in the attic, cellar or garage for years, they are probably worthless. Not always, but usually.
Nevertheless, here are some possibilities for disposing of old books:

Book Sales in New Jersey

Harvest Books

But you should know that the following rules about what kinds of books are acceptable applies to every library sale, booktrade website, thrift store or other bookish entity that I have ever seen or dealt with:
from the Harvest Books site
"There are some books we cannot use. Since books we cannot use must be recycled at some expense, we do not accept these types of materials even as a donation:
Books that have been wet or are moldy.
Books without covers.
Books that are in poor condition relative to their vintage. Obviously older books will sometimes show their age. This does not mean they are not valuable. But torn, yellowed or creased copies of last year’s romances or thriller novel will not do us any good.
Encyclopedias -- general reference encyclopedias, such as Britannica, are NOT of any use, even to schools --it’s all available on the computer these days.
Readers’ Digest Condensed Books.
Older editions of travel guides or other books that come out with new editions each year.
Textbooks more than two years old.
No newspapers or magazines, please!"

Essentially, if you don't recycle your old books that are unusable, unsalable, unwanted, obsolete; you are passing on the job to someone else who will recycle them.

Learn Languages on Your Smart Phone

Berkeley Heights Public Library Book Blog: Learn Languages on Your Smart Phone:   The Berkeley Heights Public Library offers free online language tutorials from Mango Languages. Patrons with smart phones (iPhones or Android..)

Click here for the rest of the post about our Mango Language Learning online software program - available to Berkeley Heights Public Library patrons.

Original post:

Friday, March 7, 2014

College Guidance Online with Library Databases

The Berkeley Heights Public Library subscribes to Infobase (formerly Facts on File) databases which include history, science, and literature materials for students as well as a  career and college guidance information which can be found in Infobase's  Ferguson's Career Guidance Center.
Ferguson's Career Guidance Center includes a database of more than 4,000 undergraduate institutions and a wealth of valuable new career information.
BHPL patrons may search the database for schools based on a number of factors--such as admissions difficulty, curriculum offerings, housing options, location and setting, student body, and tuition--to identify ones that best match their career aspirations, educational needs, and personal preferences. All schools included have full accreditation or are pre-accredited and grant degrees at the associate's and/or bachelor's level. College data is provided by Peterson's, a leading producer of educational databases and planning information.

All databases should be accessed through the library's "Databases & Articles" link where you will be prompted to enter your library barcode number and pin. Choose Ferguson's or Infobase from the list of databases to find college and career information.

The library also has college guidance books to check out and in the Reference Collection, such as Peterson's, College Board, and Barron's guide books. The Dewey Decimal number is 378.73.

College and Financial Aid searchable database available from the library

Financial Aid resources searchable database available from the library


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Re-reading Classic Mysteries

Having wallowed through the darkest winter months reading light, fluffy, predictable cozy mysteries, I decided to up my game just a bit. The very addictive formula for the cozies I had been reading goes like this:
Amateur woman detective who is very nosy and...
Owns a small business...
Or is retired...
And involved or married to a policeman,
Has lots of friends who drop by her cottage or business (herbs, tea, knitting, antiques...)
In her small town or village or small part of a larger city (town within a town)
Somehow gets involved in a murder and decides to solve it herself because:
She is a suspect, or,
Her friend is a suspect and
She doesn't think the police are taking the investigation seriously.
So she annoys the police by interfering and
Puts herself in danger at the end of the book
And stumbles onto a solution and figures out whodunnit by almost getting murdered herself.
These amateur sleuths are not exactly Miss Marple who calmly observes and knows who did it almost from the beginning. These amateurs just stumble around like the unsuspecting teens in the horror films who always go down to the basement in the middle of the night unarmed to investigate the strange noise; we know how that turns out.

This fluffy genre of cozy mysteries is very popular, but after a while I felt like I had dined on dessert one time too many, so I decided to re-read the classic mysteries of the past that these new ones are descended from. What better mystery writer than Dame Agatha Christie herself? I just re-read 'The Murder of Roger Ackroyd' and even though I remembered the plot twist at the end when the murderer is revealed, I enjoyed this even more the second time around. The clues (or 'clews' as it is spelled in the book) are all reported along the way for observant readers; the characters are introduced in a list at the beginning of the book; a diagram of the scene of the crime is included. The whole exposition of the crime moves along at a nice pace with no extraneous dialogue, descriptions or digressions. Hercule Poirot is a professional detective, not an amateur, and is always several steps ahead of the reader in his observations and conclusions about the crime. M. Poirot never blindly wanders around aimlessly looking for clues. The amateur sleuths may be more easy to relate to for many readers than Poirot or Miss Marple, but the reader can aspire to figure out the mystery and compete with the keen intelligence of Christie's detectives.

Related websites:
Cozy Mystery List
Cozy Mysteries Unlimited
Mystery Cozy
Agatha Christie
'The Top Ten Agatha Christie mysteries' article in the Guardian

In a Dry Season

If you like the PBS television show 'DCI Banks,' read the series it is based on by Peter Robinson. 'In a Dry Season' is the tenth in the series and the first I've read. Alan Banks has been relegated to boring desk jobs for insubordination and is assigned to a cold case when a skeleton is found in an abandoned village which is revealed when the summer drought dries up the reservoir that had covered the town for fifty years. The book alternates between the story of the village during WWII and the current investigation into what appears to have been an unreported murder there. This book is a great depiction of the deprivations and tragedies of WWII in the U.K., interwoven with a believable present-day police procedural. The suspense lasts until the last chapter.
Recommended for fans of Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series and Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley series.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Orphan Master's Son

The library's Tuesday evening book group will discuss Adam Johnson's much lauded and Pulitzer Prize-winning 'The Orphan Master's Son' tonight at 7:30 in the reading room.

'Here's a chance to visit sealed-off North Korea. Johnson's protagonist is an orphan who starts out as a tunnel soldier and rises through the military ranks until he's set to challenge Kim Jong-Il himself. Along the way, we encounter what one character calls "the greatest North Korean love story ever told." Evidently a blend of personal story and political revelation, with thriller overtones thrown in for fun, this work is being positioned as a breakout for Johnson.' - from the publisher's blurb on our catalog.

The question is, can readers stomach visiting North Korea which is depicted as soul-suckingly depressing, deprived and and dehumanizing? Some readers will dive right in and follow this picaresque tale of Pak Jun Do whose adventures make Candide's look like a walk in the park. Other readers, more squeamish ones, may find this story where hard luck follows bad luck with very little breathing room for optimism, hard going.

New York Times review 
in which reviewer Michiko Kakutani rightly calls the book's tone 'harrowing,' and goes on to say that after years of research and travel to North Korea, Mr. Johnson was able to,
'transform that research into an operatic if somewhat long-winded tale that is at once satiric and melancholy, blackly comic and sadly elegiac.'

The Pulitzer Prizes website

The Miami Herald interview with Adam Johnson
in which the author acknowledges that his fictional story cannot be entirely truthful because of the blackout of information coming from North Korea, but he based his book on stories from defectors, extensive research and a visit to the country.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Flavia de Luce series: where is it going?

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches, the 6th in Alan Bradley's 'Flavia de Luce' series seems to be a bridge between the series as it was and whatever it will become from now on. Flavia is an almost 12 year old girl living in a small village in England after WWII (1951 in this book). She lives in a crumbling old estate with her emotionally distant father, two older sisters who dislike her and a small household staff. She loves chemistry and solving crimes. In this book, the mystery of what happened to her mother, missing for ten years, is solved. Harriet de Luce's body is discovered in the Himalayas and shipped home to her family. The mysteries that remain unsolved are: what was Flavia's mother really doing in the Himalayas? Why is the family involved in British intelligence work and in what way? At the end, Flavia's father tells her that she will be sent to boarding school in Canada, so in addition to a change of venue, the series seems to be taking a turn toward Flavia as international spy in training, but we will have to wait for the next installment to find some answers and to find out if the series improves once it makes some major changes. I enjoyed the earlier books in this series and hopes it regains its footing now that this book has sent it into a new direction as Flavia matures.

Reviews of the Flavia de Luce series and similar mysteries on this blog can be found here.

Interview with author Alan Bradley

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Tuesday Library Book Group 2013

The Second Tuesday of the Month evening book group read the following titles in 2013. Library blog reviews are linked to titles when available.

January – Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
February  – How it all Began by Penelope Lively   
March  – The Light of Day by Graham Swift
April  – Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
May  – Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
June – Kitchen House by Kathleen Grisson
July – The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
*No meeting in August
September  – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
October  – Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
November – The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin and Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
December  – Defending Jacob by William Landay

Our first book, translated from the French, 'Elegance of the Hedgehog' was not generally liked by the group. I think the criticism was that it was a bit preachy and wordy. Rather than really developing the characters or plot, the characters pontificated about philosophy at length. Is it possible that an American audience would prefer to be shown, not told?

'The Night Circus' divided the group firmly into those who loved it and came dressed in black and white with touches of red  (fans are called 'reveurs') and those of us who just don't like fantasy and wished the plot or characters were a little more developed. As Ellen noted in her review, the descriptions of the circus are beautiful and imaginative, but for some readers, that's just not enough to carry the book.

Most of the reading group members seemed to like 'The Language of Flowers' and found it easy to read and to finish, which is not always the case with reading group books.

'Gone Girl', a huge bestseller and book club pick across the country, usually provokes strong reactions in readers. I remember hearing patrons discussing it heatedly at the Circulation Desk. Some readers so dislike the characters, that they choose not to finish the book . Most of our book group members found 'Gone Girl' engrossing even though none of the principal characters is at all sympathetic and the plot beggars belief at times.

The discussion of 'Defending Jacob' was snowed out twice, so we will discuss that at our January meeting.

Leave a comment with your thoughts about these books or email me at and I will post your comment for you.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Friday Library Book Group 2013

The library's First Friday of the Month book group is a self-guided group that picks their own titles and discusses without having a discussion leader. In 2013 they read:
January  – Moloka’i by Alan Brenner
February  - Far to Go by Alison Pick
March  - Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
April  – The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje
May  – The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak
June  – Canada by Richard Ford
July  – The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
*No meeting in August
September – Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
October  – Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick
November  – Still Alice by Lisa Genova
December  – Istanbul, Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk

My Year of Reading 2013, July - December

As promised in the last post, My Year of Reading 2013, here is a list of my favorite books read in 2013 from July through December.
July was a good reading month with several favorites. Silent Voices, a Vera Stanhope mystery by Ann Cleeves, a British mystery series that always delivers,  is a bit of a departure from the usual 'cozy' style mysteries that I read for pure comfort and escapism. The hard-drinking, brooding Vera Stanhope character and her homicide cases and the cold, Northumberland landscape are portrayed true to the books in the PBS series Vera.
Also in July, I enjoyed Sue Grafton's Kinsey and Me, which includes some previously unpublished short stories and autobiographical essays. My review can be read on the blog here.
For August, let's pick some Jersey shore beach reading: Mad Mouse by Chris Grabenstein, which finds Iraq war veteran John Cepak solving  a murder on the amusement ride at a fictional Jersey shore town that sounds a lot like Seaside Heights. Read any of these mysteries based 'down the shore' as we allegedly say in 'Joisey' for a fun escape to the boardwalk.  Stephanie's review of summer reading including the John Cepak series can be read here.
From the dark, brooding U.K. mysteries to the light, sunny American ones, September's pick is humorous essays by Quinn Cummings, Pet Sounds, stories about her household devoted to nurturing eccentric pets that pet lovers everywhere will appreciate. Read my review here and be sure to read Ms. Cummings Notes from the Underwire if you enjoy here comic style.
In October, I discovered a new mystery series: Sydney Chamber and the Shadow of Death, the Grantchester mysteries by James Runcie. This series of two so far is set in an English village near Cambridge in the early 1950's. The review and related recommendations can be read here. A book that goes well with the Grantchester mysteries, a memoir set in 1950's U.K.: Sunlight on the Lawn, the third in the 'Merry Hall' series, is my other pick for October. Recommended for gardening enthusiasts and possible even the legions of Downton Abbey addicts looking for period pieces about living in grand houses in England of bygone days.

In November, the publishing world came forth with something I've been waiting for forty years to read: a new Bertie and Jeeves adventure. True, it's not by the master himself, P.G. Wodehouse, but Sebastian Faulks was picked by the great man's heirs to carry on the tradition and I think he did a really good job with Jeeves and the Wedding Bells. All of Plum's fans will want to read this and I hope you agree it's great to be back in the world of Bertie's bumbling and Jeeves saving the day with his fish-powered brain. Terrific.

Finally, in December I generally read nothing but very light, escapist, funny mysteries. So I revisited the 'Peculiar Crimes Unit' series and it didn't disappoint. The Invisible Code by Christopher Fowler has the usual crazy mix of London history and eccentric police detectives from the PCU. I just reviewed that right after Christmas right before tidying up my book journal for another year.
Happy reading in 2014 everyone!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My Year of Reading 2013

My book journal lists 70 books read in 2013. Here are my favorites from January to June. The second half of the year will appear in the next post.

January: The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje was quirky and nostalgic and beautifully written. I recommended it to the library Friday book group where feelings were decidedly mixed about this semi-autobiographical novel by the author of The English Patient. If you liked Ondaatje's autobiography, Running in the Family, definitely read The Cat's Table. Here is my blog post review of The Cat's Table.
My other January favorite was Safehouse, the first stand-alone novel by Chris Ewan, author of 'The Good Thief's Guide to...' mystery series. Mr. Ewan may feel as though I am stalking him as my posts and tweets and Facebook likes of his work are piling up and he often politely responds. But when you need a diverting, page-turning, entertaining, funny mystery or a good spy yarn to read or to recommend to a patron, you can rely on Chris Ewan's writing. Read my review of the spy thriller Safe House here.

Continuing with the English spy/thriller genre in February,  Secret Asset by Stella Rimington about Liz Carlyle, an MI5 agent, is my top pick. I would recommend it to fans of the British spy genre and to fans of the TV show Covert Affairs, which is about a young American woman/CIA agent.

March has two favorites, both falling in the quirky/one-of-a-kind category. The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson and Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. In fact, I reviewed them together under the heading Two Quirky Books. Both books featured old men who are old enough to defy convention and expectations, a cliche perhaps, but well-done with humor and mysterious plots that move at a good clip.

April's favorite was Dave Barry's Insane City. Laugh out loud funny, of course, and, I should mention, kind of 'course' too in places. Be warned, his descriptions of South Florida thugs are pretty disgusting, but funny, disgustingly funny.

May's choice is When the Devil Drives, by Christopher Brookmyre, a noir thriller set in Glasgow, Scotland. My review of the author's first book in the series, Where the Bodies are Buried , can be read here.

In June, I discovered the Walt Longmire western mysteries by Craig Johnson. Cold Dish was my first read and favorite of the month. Read my review of the series and TV show here.