Monday, March 30, 2009

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman

"The color red alone was worth kingdoms." - Alice Hoffman, The Ice Queen

The library book group will meet on Friday, April 4 at 10:30 a.m. to talk about The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman. In it, a librarian obsessed with death deals with her ability to make wishes come true and with being struck by lightning.

Spiegel Online has an interesting article on the maladies of lightning strike survivors (lightning only kills its victims about 10% of the time).

Discussion Questions (feel free to add more of your own in the comments):

Do you believe that people can “die” and then come back, like Lazarus Jones or the Dragon? Or do we need to refine our definition of death?

Who was your favorite character, or if you hated the book, your least favorite?

What did the narrator find out towards the end of the book? How would it have changed her life to have known the truth?

Do you think this book itself is a modern fairy tale? Why or why not?

How does Alice Hoffman equate the butterfly effect with fate? Do you agree?

Do you think the last part of the book fits in with what came before?

Some questions from Marilyn:

1. The last line – “I hope it’s you.” – who is the “YOU”? Her mother, brother, Lazarus?

2. Why mention bats so much? Do you think it means something?

3. How did you feel as you read the book? If you enjoyed it, try to decide why. If you had an emotional reaction to it ­ if it made you angry or sad or full of hope, for instance, can you explain why?

4. Did you like the book or not? Did you enjoy it? Is it possible to find a book interesting without 'enjoying' it? If you didn't enjoy it what sort of person do you think would? Do you think you might have enjoyed it more or less if you'd read it when you were younger? Do you think the book jacket synopsis and jacket illustration do a good job of indicating the type of book it is?


I visited the Hershey, Pennsylvania public library this weekend. It was begun, like everything in Hershey, by Milton Hershey, the chocolate industrialist, and this reminded me that I've always wanted to read Hershey by Michael D'Antonio. The problem is, I tend to stick it on a book display whenever I remember it, and because the cover of the book looks like a Hershey chocolate bar, it gets checked out immediately. I think the same principle (but with cupcakes instead of chocolate bars) sells a lot of magazines at the grocery store.

On the subject of chocolate, we also have a new book, Jacques Torres' a Year in Chocolate, in which the pastry chef and chocolatier outlines recipes for holidays and seasons, and the Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook from 2007.

If history is more to your liking, there's the microhistory Chocolate: a Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light by Mort Rosenblum or the corporate history of the Hershey and Mars corporations, The Emperors of Chocolate by Joel Glenn Brenner.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hundreds More Audiobooks for iPods

Yesterday NetLibrary added hundreds of iPod compatible titles to its service for the first time. Still, MP3 titles (the ones that work on iPods) are outnumbered 9 to 1 by Windows Media Audio files (you guessed it: the nemesis of the iPod). Until NetLibrary adds a browsing feature, the best way to find the audiobooks that work on iPods is to search for Recorded Books and limit the format to MP3. I found titles by authors like Joanne Fluke, John Sandford, Jack Higgins, Carl Hiaasen, Randy White, Jan Karon, a lot of classic literature, and the Bible. iPod owners can also download MP3 audiobooks at

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

I just finished A Rule Against Murder by Canadian author, Louise Penny. If you like "cozy" mysteries, try this one. It's the fourth in her Inspector Armand Gamache series featuring the small town of Three Pines in Quebec. It's a lyrical, character-driven mystery with lots of French Canadian atmosphere and food descriptions. You will want to move to Three Pines - or at least visit and stay at the picturesque inn. The Inspector is a fascinating and layered character who quotes poetry and treats crime victims respectfully. Visit the author's website here:

For more good books, sign up for Wowbrary which Ellen posted about just below this review. It is really easy to sign up for and really cool!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wowbrary Wows

Have you ever wanted to poke around the supersecret room at BHPL where all the new stuff is "in process"? Now you can, virtually. BHPL has teamed up with Wowbrary to provide you with a weekly email about all the new books, audiobooks and DVDs that have been added to BHPL's catalog in the past week. It's your chance to put a hold on a book, often before it even hits the shelf. Just click on the title you want in Wowbrary, then click Hold Request. To sign up for the email newsletter, go to the Wowbrary site.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dook versus Tarheels at the Reference Desk

Speaking of March Madness: did you hear the one about two reference librarians who share a desk eight hours a day, one's a Dookie, the other a Tarheel Mom x 2?
Recommended reading: NCAA website
The President's bracket
To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever: A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry by Will Blythe

Audrey the Amaryllis Update

Towering an impressive three feet over the Circulation Desk, the library amaryllis, now named Audrey, has opened three out of four of its flowers since yesterday. Beautiful, but moody, Audrey thinks patrons should pay fines promptly...
Related references: "Feed Me" from the movie the Little Shop of Horrors on YouTube.
The play on Playbill.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Orphan Amaryllis Blooms Again

An amaryllis was left on the library porch over a year ago, a holiday orphan no doubt. It's pretty common to find bags of abandoned books on the library stoop, but plants - not so much. Anyway, Judy brought the Hippeastrum foundling in that cold, winter morning along with the newspapers. She put it in the staff room where it sat on the windowsill until last week. After a year of neglect and very little water, the bulb started to turn green, then a shoot appeared, then the shoot shot up, and up, and ... up. Now the flower at the top of the 27" stalk is just beginning to open.
Here it is on the circulation desk.
A link to an article at the USDA website about "How to Make Your Amaryllis Bloom Again."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Onion Snow and Other Weather Sayings

If you grow up with a certain saying or phrase, you tend to assume it's universal, only to realize later that maybe it isn't. This morning I looked out the window here in mid/slightly north New Jersey to see big soft fluffy snow flakes falling to lightly cover the ground, but melting on the pavement. "Onion snow!" I thought to myself, remembering my grandmother saying that these unexpected spring snowfalls portend onion planting season. But no one at the library had heard that expression. None of the reference collection's American slang books and none of the weather books I looked at mentioned the phrase.The Old Farmer's Almanac even failed to enlighten me about the saying. Googling turned up various results that revealed the saying is mostly used in Pennsylvania, which makes sense. That's where I grew up.
Read more about onion snow here and here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Seattle Post Intelligencer: R.I.P.

Today was the last day of publication for the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Not the first, and unfortunately probably not the last newspaper to cease publication, the Seattle P.I. will exist solely online from now on, another casualty of the internet: losing ad space to the internet, losing readers to the internet and now turning to the internet to live on in another form.
In writing its own obituary, the P.I. notes,
'A number of staff who worked at the P-I went on to national renown: E.B. White, beloved novelist and essayist, who once recalled he was an editor's nightmare, given his inclination for "rising above facts." Novelist Tom Robbins, who sometimes wore a gorilla suit or Mad magazine secret agent mouse mask at his desk, because he could, and who, upon hearing the news about the P-I, likened it to the loss of The Beatles. Frank Herbert, who went on from the P-I to pen "Dune." Timothy Egan, author and columnist for The New York Times.'
I fear that blogs and websites will not produce writers of that ilk. Internet writing tends to recycle the information that real reporters uncover in the first place. And also, for those of us old school types, drinking the first cup of coffee in the morning while staring at a monitor just doesn't have the same feeling as toddling out the driveway and bringing in the paper to read with coffee. Plus toast crumbs wreak havoc on keyboards. I know this because last week every time I typed the letter J, JU appeared on the screen. It was not some strange virus, it was jam sticking the J key and the adjacent U key together.

Librarian Proves Borneo Snake is a Hoax

Tech-savvy librarian Nathan Chadwick eased the fears of Borneo villagers, and other ophidiophobiacs, by proving that the recent photos of a giant river snake are fakes. Referring to the photo search engine TinEye which he used to find the original river photo sans snake, Mr. Chadwick told Scientific American,
"My co-workers and I are always obsessed with new ways of finding information," Chadwick tells This "is merely one of those great tools that is revolutionizing the way we think about retrieving data."

A friend brought this article to my attention, knowing that I like to keep up with any news that boosts the coolness factor of the library profession. Way to go, obsessive, information-gathering computer geek, aka Chadwick the Mythbusting Librarian! I think I speak for many people when I say the world seems much safer without Nabu, the mythical 100 foot river snake of Borneo slithering around. And just in case, I bookmarked, right next to the bookmark for - the well-known virtual slayer of online urban legends.

New Irish Fiction

I forgot to wear green today, and I'm half Irish, so in penance I am posting about some recent fiction BHPL has by authors from Ireland and Northern Ireland. (The descriptions were taken from the books' own cover blurbs or the BHPL catalog's annotations).

The Secret Scriptures by Sebastian Barry
A literary novel that alternates between a 100-year-old mental patient writing about the tragedies of her early life, and the observation journal of her psychiatrist.

The Journey Home by Dermot Bolger
Set in the suburbs of Dublin in the early '80s, The Journey Home portrays a bleak Ireland that offers its youth few options.

The Pig Did It by Joseph Caldwell
A humorous novel about an Irishman returned home from New York after several failed love affairs, whose self-pitying must take a back seat to the pig who begins to follow him around.

Shannon by Frank Delaney
The saga of a young American priest sent to Ireland to recover from injuries received in World War I, and his search for his family's Irish roots.

The Deportees and Other Stories by Roddy Doyle
Almost all of the funny and poignant tales of Roddy Doyle's first-ever collection of stories have one thing in common: someone born in Ireland meets someone who has come to live there.

Yesterday's Weather by Anne Enright. A collection of stories about people struggling to find contentment with one another, and with themselves, in a rapidly changing Ireland.

The Likeness by Tana French
Transferred out of Dublin's Murder Squad at her own request, Cassie vows never to return. That is, until her boyfriend, Detective Sam O'Neill, calls her one beautiful spring morning, urgently asking her to come to a murder scene in the small town of Glenskehy. The dead girl is Cassie's double, and she carries ID identifying her as Alexandra Madison, an alias Cassie herself used years ago when she worked undercover.

Lessons in Heartbreak by Cathy Kelly
Izzie Silver, a warmhearted Irishwoman with a mane of chestnut hair and a zest of life, is a New York success story, a highly successful booking agent at a top-notch modeling agency. But while she dreams of starting an agency for plus-size models, at heart she's still the convent schoolgirl from the exquisite Irish coastal town of Tamarin.

This Charming Man by Marian Keyes
The story of four very different women, one charming man (a rising political star who has dumped them all), and the dark secret that binds them all.

Borderlands by Brian McGilloway
A highly lyrical crime novel that is the first of a new series featuring Inspector Benedict Devlin. When the body of a teenaged girl is found in the borderlands between Ireland and Northern Ireland, two police forces must collaborate.

The Misremembered Man by Christina McKenna
This beautifully rendered portrait of life in rural Ireland charms and delights with its authentic characters and gentle humor. This vivid portrayal of the universal search for love brings with it a darker tale, one that is heartbreaking in its poignancy.

Civil & Strange by Cláir Ní Aonghusa
The story of three residents of Ballindoon, a small Sligo parish: a divorcee, her uncle, and a widow.

An Irish Country Village by Peter Taylor
The sequel to an Irish Country Doctor, which is about a recent medical school graduate who arrives in a rural Irish village to assist an older physician.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

History for Dummies

This month the book display at BHPL is focusing on historical fiction (my preferred way of learning history - sorry, David McCullough fans). Here are just a few of the historical fiction titles on the shelf:

The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander - The story of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Romanov massacre, told by a kitchen boy who worked in the house where the Romanovs were imprisoned.

The Falcons of Montabard by Elizabeth Chadwick - A Scottish knight must accompany an older knight and his daughter on a crusade to the Holy Land as punishment for becoming involved with the king's mistress.

Stealing Athena by Karen Essex - This book alternates between the stories of the countess of Elgin (whose husband took the sculptures from the Parthenon to England) and Aspasia, the lover of Pericles and whose likeness was used for the statue of Athena at the Parthenon.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Danny Boy and Wild Mountain Thyme

. . . will be heard at the library on Saturday (March 14) from 2 to 2:45 p.m. as Heather Mulvey, a professional musician, sings and plays Irish folk songs on the guitar. Participation is encouraged and you'll learn the history behind the songs, too.

Come celebrate St. Patrick's Day a little early!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Q & A with the Reference Desk

Sometimes I think of the reference department as the Reference Desk, which brings to mind images of the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, except our magical Reference Desk would answer reference questions instead. Here are some questions the Reference Desk answered today.

Q: What "unusual developments" happened in Egypt in 1956? Was it a war?
A: Yes, the Suez War. Lisa found this answer in the Encyclopedia Britannica, which has headers in the margins so you don't have to read the entire entry on Egypt to find what you're looking for.

Q: Do you have any books on the division between Protestants and Catholics in Elizabethan England?
A: We found a few books that had a few pages on the topic. The key is to look up Catholicism or Roman Catholics in the indexes of biographies of Elizabeth I or histories of England, and "Elizabeth I" or England in histories and encyclopedias of religion. More promising are a couple of articles found through JerseyClicks, English Catholics in the Reign of Elizabeth, and Elizabethan Catholics and Romans 13.

Q: What is this? [The patron found Presentation Zen in our catalog]. Is it only available online? Can my friend in another town read it?
A: It's an e-book. You can click on the link in the catalog to read the book on your computer screen. Or you can go to the BHPL home page, click on Remote Databases, log in and click on Safari Select, then search for Presentation Zen. Presentation Zen is also a "real" book that you can get through interlibrary loan or buy. Our license only covers Berkeley Heights residents, so your friend will have to buy it or ask his library if they have it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Crow Road by Iain Banks

Tuesday night's book group will discuss Iain Banks' novel, the Crow Road. Published in 1992 in the U.K. and just released in the U.S. last fall, the Crow Road is the wryly observed life and times of the McHoan family of Gallanach, Scotland starting with this memorable opening line:

'It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach's Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.'

The deceased's grandson, twenty something Prentice McHoan, narrates some chapters of the book in a funny, woeful, sometimes clueless youthful tone that reminded me of a less crazy Holden Caulfield. Some chapters are in the third person and the point of view also ranges widely over time and space. Readers may find that style difficult to follow and adamant non-flashbackers will probably give up as the book is rather slow-paced and long at 501 pages.

I loved every page of this book because the characters are eccentric and always surprising, because the McHoan family is especially engaging from the devout atheist father, stuffy Uncle Hamish, mysteriously missing Uncle Rory the travel writer to the outspoken grandmother who, like many McHoans in the book, 'takes the Crow Road' (dies) in an unusual way - falling though the conservatory roof while cleaning gutters.

A conversation at the funeral,

'Was it a heart atttack, aye, Prentice?' 'No,' I said, 'She fell off a ladder.' "I thought she did that last year.' 'She did; off a tree. This time she was cleaning gutters.'

At the end of the funeral in chapter one, Gran's doctor comes speeding up the drive of the funeral home yelling, 'Stop!' because he remembered that Gran still had her pacemaker in. The body explodes in the crematorium just as Dr. Fyfe has a heart attack and an ambulance is called.
Now if you find that funny, and I do, this is the book for you. The writing is terrific, the background of the Scottish Highlands and Glasgow is described in detail from the geology to history and politics.

The story moves from the small town in Argyllshire to nearby Glasgow where Prentice attends the university. There, Prentice proceeds to fall apart, fail his classes, drink too much, become estranged from his father when their opinions on religion diverge. After finding his lost Uncle Rory's diaries, Prentice decides to find out what happened to Rory and so the story is a mystery as well as a coming of age story and family saga.

The time frame of the core story is 1990 - 1991, set against the beginning of the first Gulf War and on that topic, the McHoan family is adamantly against British involvement and rails against the Thatcher government - just ending. The book gives a very specific snapshot of young people, their music, clothes and pub crawling from that time.

The townhouse on Park Circus overlooking Kelvingrove Park and the University of Glasgow's towers on the far hill would look something like this picture.

Above: the University of Glasgow from Kelvingrove Park.

Links: Glasgow City Council website
Iain Banks website

This year's Garden State Teen Book Award 2009 winners:

Fiction Grades 6-8, Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Fiction Grades 9-12, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Nonfiction Grades 6-12, Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement by Ann Bausum

For past awards in these categories, visit the NJLA website.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Escape With a Celebrity Biography

BHPL' s New Books shelves have five celebrity biographies which would provide escapist reading for fans of:

George Hamilton, Don't Mind if I Do

Kathleen Turner, Send Yourself Roses

William Shatner, Up Till Now, the Autobiography

Barbara Walters, Audition, a memoir

Mary Martin, Broadway Legend

The photographs usually found in the middle of biographies are always fun, especially the baby pictures or the pictures of the star as an awkward adolescent. Of these five stars, only Ms. Turner shares pictures of herself at less than gorgeous stages of her life - as a tooth-challenged first grader and as a fairly average-looking eighth grader. The rest of the time, she's a knock-out though. George Hamilton's book shows his first screen test report with the words "His ability to act is marginal." William Shatner notes that when dancing with an Orca whale, "the killer whale always leads." He also tells about recording his latest CD, Has Been, produced by Ben Folds, which got good reviews, much better than the album he made in the 1960's - The Transformed Man, which was so bad, it's good.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

If I had to pick the quintessential "library book", 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff would be it. I'm not going to talk about the plot because everyone has seen the movie, except to say it's the real life correspondence of a NY writer with the purchasing agent of a London bookshop, Marks & Co.

Reason one: 84, Charing Cross Road is about books (though lots of books are) and a person to whom a library was more like a university than a Blockbuster (click here to read the book to which she attributes her education). Helene Hanff wrote, among other things, books that ended up in libraries (BHPL still has her 1969 children's biography of Queen Elizabeth I). But Hanff doesn't get too lovey-dovey about the library: in The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street she is exasperated by a person suggesting that she go to the British Museum's reading room. She had enough of libraries in New York. She'd rather see the places that her favorite writers lived.

Reason two: Try reading 84, Charing Cross Road in paperback once you've read a library copy, a yellowed 1970s hardcover covered in mylar, with its wonderful Monticello font. Helene Hanff only bought books if she had already read and liked them. So you know she'd approve of you checking her book out from the library.

The book group is discussing 84, Charing Cross Road and its sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, on Friday, March 6 at 10:30 a.m. Marilyn from the book group found a great site devoted to the people and history of Marks & Co.

Helene Hanff's obituary in the New York Times has some short, funny passages from the book.

Helene Hanff's second apartment in New York (the one that prevents her trip to London) is now an apartment building called Charing Cross House. It's on 72nd Street between First and Second Avenues.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Get Help

Check out the Get Help button on the BHPL home page. It leads to the New Jersey State Library's GetHelp page with links to state programs that assist New Jerseyans, from food stamps to finding jobs, plus programs that help children, seniors and people with medical needs. One of the sites listed that caught my eye is NJ Helps. This site lets you screen yourself for over 28 programs, from the Property Tax Reimbursement Program for seniors to the Earned Income Tax Credit to food stamps.