Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sweet Tooth

Serena Frome wants to study English at university however she bows to parental pressure and goes to Cambridge to study mathematics. In her final year she has a brief affair with an older man who encourages her to apply for a job at MI5. Ian McEwan has set the book in the early 1970s at the end of the Cold War. It is also the time of IRA bombings, petrol shortages, an economic crisis and industrial unrest in Britain. Serena, who has maintained her interest in reading, particularly modern literature, is seconded to the project, Sweet Tooth, where her mission is to encourage a young novelist to accept a grant from a literary agency funded by MI5. It is believed that the writings of the targeted novelist along with other authors in the program will promote the MI5 message.

Books and writing are a major thread of the book. It is the short stories of Tom Haley that have brought him to the attention of MI5 and some of these are included throughout the book along with literary discussion between Tom and Serena. Serena soon discovers that working undercover is not always easy, especially as her relationship with Tom develops. Should she tell him about her real role and risk losing her job and his love or should she continue with the situation as it it in the hope that he will not discover the truth. The book, although set within a spy agency, is not a thriller but  is about truth, trust and betrayal. It also investigates the relationship between authors and readers.

Bury your dead

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his wife are on holiday in Quebec visiting Emile Comeau, the former police officer who had been the initial supervisor of Gamache and who had greatly influenced the future decision making of the young policeman. A recent event had resulted in the death of four officers and serious injuries to others including Gamache and his friend and fellow officer, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. Memories that haunt both Gamache and Beauvoir reveal the details of the past horrors as the two men are investigating two other incidents. While Armand is in Quebec there is a murder at the Literary and Historical Society library, the organisation that he frequently visits to research early Canadian history, and reluctantly he agrees to act as a consultant on the case. Meanwhile Inspector Gamache has asked Beauvoir to go back to Three Pines on holiday but in reality to reinvestigate a previous murder investigation as doubts have arisen about the guilt of the man arrested.

Burying the dead, by Louise Penny, therefore contains three interwoven plots to intrigue the reader. The author also provides an insite into the history of the city and its founders resulting in the tensions between the English and French that can surface in Quebec - a city with many cultures. Throughout the book the feelings of guilt about decisions made in his attempts to save his kidnapped officer haunt Gamarche and it is not until the end that he finally comes to terms with the realisation that he and his team need to 'bury their dead'.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel has just won the 2012 Man Booker prize for her novel, Bring up the bodies. She won the same award for her first novel in this trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall, in 2009. Short reviews for both these books appear in this blog. Now we await the third volume in the series.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Say you're sorry

Clinical psychologist Joe O'Loughlin, in Oxford to give a lecture at a conference, becomes involved in the investigation of double murder that occurred at a near-by farmhouse. On the the same day the body of a young woman is found frozen in the lake. As it becomes obvious that the deaths are related, the unravelling of the story is conveyed by Joe and also by Piper Hadley, one of two girls kidnapped three years earlier, who keeps notes of her experiences. Joe convinces the police that they are not only investigating a murder but also need to discover the fate of the missing Bingham girls. Australian author, Michael Robotham, provides the reader with a well written psychological crime novel that is difficult to put down.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bones are forever

Dr Temperance Brennan is asked to investigate the the discovery of the bodies of three babies found in the room of a house in Quebec. The quest to locate the mother leads Brennan and Andrew Ryan, along with Ollie Hastie, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, to Yellowknife, a diamond mining community near the Arctic Circle. I did not know about diamond mining in Canada but as the plot unwinds and is finally resolve, Kathy Reichs provides a detailed description of the area where the book is set including the history and issues affecting this far-flung region of Canada. The relationship between Temperance and Andrew has also been under strain with the resulting tension between them acting as an underlying feature of the book. Another exciting Temperance Brennan book.

The 26-storey treehouse

In March this year children's author,  Andy Griffiths,  visited Nunawading Library where he entertained  200 children. His latest book is The 26-storey treehouse, a follow up to an earlier work, The 13-storey treehouse. Illustrated by Terry Denton the reader is invited to explore the treehouse's  recent extensions including the dodgem car rink, a skate ramp with a crocodile-pit hazard, a mud fighting arena, an anti-gravity chamber etc., etc. You get the picture. When their publisher wants to know when the next book will be ready, a young Andy and Terry describe how they met and recount adventures with the pirate, Captain Woodenhead. A mix of text and pictures encourages young readers to explore and enjoy these humorous tales. Of course, this is not the end of the tree house. When last seen, Andy and Terry were adding another 13 stories to their creation.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Assessing library displays

The final display for Front Line was to be tried and assessed over a period of three weeks. Each Monday the display shelves were filled with selected books and a note was kept of the titles on display. Over the week, when books were borrowed, additional books were added by staff but notes of items added to the display were not kept. The sample used for the assessment was therefore the original books on display at the beginning of each week.
The books chosen were those that may be of interest to older users of the library - Baby Boomers and older.
Depending on the size of the books there were usually twelve or thirteen titles in a display.
Nine (9) of the original books in Display no. 1 were borrowed during the week. The books in this display were  only non-fiction titles.

Eight (8) of the original books in Display no. 2 were borrowed during the week. The books in this display were primarily non-fiction with a few fiction titles.

Eleven (11) of the original books in Display no. 3 were borrowed during the week. The books on display were a mixture of fiction and non-fiction titles.

The types of books borrowed from the display can be divided into the following categories:
·     using computers, the Internet including Picasa, Office 2010 and digital photography (7)

·     recreation books (8) including playing golf and fishing and also knitting (2 each) as well as genealogy and writing a memoir (2)

·    lifestyle books (5) including health, aging and finance (one each) plus two travel books

·    fiction titles (7) (mixture of large print and general fiction) plus one memoir made up the rest of the books
A check of the borrower information for items borrowed showed that the items were primarily borrowed by members of the target group.

The experiment was continued into a fourth week but this time only three rows of shelves were used as it was considered that the bottom shelf was too low. The display was extended to end of an adjoining bay as well. The end of one bay contained nine (9) non-fiction books while the end of the other bay held nine (9) fiction titles. Hopefully these two bays will routinely be used to display a mixture of fiction and non-fiction items of interest to older readers.
Displaying selected titles from the general non-fiction collection in an area where fiction books are primarily located would appear, from this experiment, to be a useful way of broadening selection choices for library users.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Experimenting with displays

The final execise in Front Line was to prepare a display for a catagory of library users. This display was prepared generally for Baby Boomers (and older readers).

The First Display showing general location within the library. 
The books were displayed at the end of a bay in the Large Print section of the library.
It was in an area passed by people (including grandparents) taking children to the Children's area.
It was also close to the Non-Fiction section.

Second and third versions of the display.

Books were on display for three weeks.

Many of the books in these displays were non-fiction to highlight a number of library collections.

The focus was on recreational reading.

 For the final experiment the fourth shelf was removed 
so only three shelves were used.
Displays were on the end of two bays - one fiction and one non-fiction.
In future I would be inclined to have a
 mixture of fiction and non-fiction in each display.

Displaying books in libraries

The display of books and items in public library collections not only provides library users the opportunity to discover the range of collections and items held in the library but also the opportunity to extend their use of the library by expanding the range of material or authors they normally borrow.

The Front Line course encourages librarians to look at the range of material in their collections, discover links between collection items and promote items in an interesting and eye-catching way. The emphasis of the exercise is books but the same principles could be extended to other collection media.

One exercise encourages the librarian to take a selection of books, from different collections within the library, that may be linked by a theme and then display the collection in a prominent space in the library. Over a week the uptake of books in the display is recorded noting additional browsing of books in the display area as well as the borrowing of the material.

One experiment was selecting books from different parts of the non-fiction collection including the music scores plus a small selection of fiction. The link in this exercise was the covers - primarily red and white with a little black on some. The result was a dramatic display which caught the attention of patrons when they entered the library. As it was in the non-fiction area it may have encouraged some patrons to explore a little further into the building that they might normally do.

Thinking laterally a variety of theme related displays could be created using books from different collections to entice readers to try something new. Although fiction books in libraries are often classified in broad genres, each genre can usually be subdivided with patrons normally reading different sub genres of books. Crime fiction is one example. Crime fiction can be police procedurals with the plot unfolding with the investigation of the crime. A popular sub genre has been detective based - private or amateur detectives as well as those in the police force who may not follow strict procedures. Contemporary crime fiction is often based around the work of pathologists and other medical or scientific investigative staff. Another trend in contemporary crime writing is the story being revealed by providing viewpoints from a variety of characters - often the perpetrator, the victim, other suspects as well as the person solving the crime. Crime novels can be graphically violent with suspense a key element. In contrast another sub genre has been referred to a 'cozies' where violence is minimised and the writing tends on the humorous. In most crime novels the plot is usually the focal point of the book with the development of the characters being a minor aspect. It may be a stand alone book or form part of a series. Series of crime books usually place more emphasis on the characters in the book and in some the crime is the vehicle for continuing the story of the main characters. Crime fiction can also be subdivided by the country or part of the world where it was written - Australian crime fiction, Scandinavian crime fiction, British crime fiction. Crime novels gained popularity in the nineteenth century and to some extent can also be sub divided according to the period in which it was written.

Part of the course has been not just been to investigate the type of books people consider a good read but the reasons why patrons choose books. A patron may choose crime novels because of the suspense but there can also be suspense in some historical novels, or science fiction or fantasy titles.

We know that crime fiction is a popular genre and the library has many books in the category in the spinners devoted to paperback crime fiction, crime fiction shelved on the A-Z Adult Fiction shelves as well as many crime titles in the Bestsellers section. However in the non-fiction there is also a section for 'true' crime and a selection of books from all these areas could be used as well as books in the the literature section on crime writing, including novelists and also books about films with a crime theme.

Similarly romance books are located in the spinners devoted to paperback romance fiction, romance fiction shelved on the A-Z Adult Fiction shelves as well as many romance titles in the Bestsellers section. In the non- fiction collection many biographies and some books in the history section may be of interest to readers of romance. Books have also been written about writing romance novels as well as romance themes in books on film and music.

One of the aims of this course has been to encourage librarians to consider the way in which they display the material held in the library, including linking material from different collections within the library, thereby encouraging readers to experiment and discover new forms of reading material and / or different authors.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Brutal Telling

The fifth book in the Armand Garmarche series by Louise Penny returns us to the village of Three Pines where a body has been found lying on the floor of the Bistro. Inspector Gamarche and his team encounter a web of secrets as they attempt to discover the name of the victim, how long he had lived in the area, how his body came to be in the Bistro as well as who murdered him. Early indications implicate Olivier and the police and his friends have to work very hard to try and clear his name. Part of the plot is revealed to the reader before the police begin their investigations and this helps add to the intrigue as the layers of the story unravel. Meanwhile other characters continue their lives in the village, especially Ruth with her duck, Rosa and Peter and Clara as they continue to gain recognition as artists. Another intriguing mystery novel continuing the saga of Three Pines.

The festival by the sea

A month before the Shelly Beach Arts Festival is due to open, Gina discovers that she is the new director when Adrian's work commitments prevent him from finishing the task.  This sequel to The Shelly Beach Writers' Group by June Loves reunites us with the busy and capable members of the small Shelly Beach community. The challenges faced are many but Gina, with the assistance of Dog and her many resourceful friends, manages to find creative solutions to ensure the smooth running of the festival. Meanwhile Gina must decide whether to leave Shelly Beach to take a job in the city or perhaps work full time in the local library. Her relationship issues with Adrian need also to be resolved.

Tales of Provincial Life

I recently received a message from Abe Books promoting the new book by J K Rowling - The Casual Vacancy - and also providing a list of 25 novels depicting British Provincial Life.

Titles include:
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell [Jason is 13 and lives in a dull village in a dull county. This novel follows 13 months of his life.]

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson [Edgecombe St. Mary is a packed with characters including Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired).]

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald [A kind-hearted widow risks everything to open a bookshop in a town that doesn’t want a bookshop]

Emma by Jane Austen [Emma Woodhouse attempts to orchestrate romance in a small English town.]

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie [Lymstock seems quiet but then the poison-pen letters start arriving. Miss Marple to the rescue.]

Blott on the Landscape by Tom Sharpe [Property developer Sir Giles Lynchwood wants a new motorway built but opposition grows.]       

Middlemarch by George Eliot [Art, religion, science, politics, society, relationships – the best ever novel on provincial life?]    

The Brandons by Angela Thirkell [Misunderstandings and mishaps galore in a fictional county.]       

A Few Green Leaves by Barbara Pym [An anthropologist moves to a quiet Oxfordshire village to write a book about the inhabitants.]

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy [Never read it? A must-read for any man who has sold his wife & baby daughter at a country fair.]

The Orchard on Fire by Shena Mackay [Set in the 1950s the story of the Harlencys who leave their London pub for rural Kent.]

South Riding by Winifred Holtby [Lives, loves and sorrows in Yorkshire of headmistress Sarah Burton and many others.]

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell [A comic portrait of a Victorian village and its genteel inhabitants.]    

Mrs. Ames by E.F. Benson [Mrs Ames revels in her position of superiority in the the merry-go-round of dinner parties.]

Lark Rise to Candlefor by Flora Thompson [Based on Thompson’s own experiences of childhood and youth.]

Mrs. Tim of the Regiment by D. E. Stevenson [Written as a diary of an army officer’s wife in the 1930s, who moves to Scotland.]

Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker [An 83-year-old woman is invented and causes havoc in a sleepy Buckinghamshire town.]       

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons [Flora Poste, orphaned at 20, goes to live with her relatives who live in utter chaos.]

On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin [The tale of identical twin brothers who toil on the family farm in Wales.]

Scenes from Provincial Life by William Cooper [Set in 1939, this novel tackles the life of a grammar school physics teacher.]

Waterland by Graham Swift [Murder, incest, guilt and insanity in the Fens of East Anglia – the story spans 240 years.]

Saville by David Story [Colin Saville grows up in a Yorkshire mining village against the background of war and industrialization.]

Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield [The fictional journal of an upper-middle class woman in a Devon village during the 1930s.]
One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes [First published in 1947, this subtle novel presents a memorable portrait of post-war England.]               

Deadfolk by Charlie Williams [A small-town bouncer’s courage is questioned and he decides to prove himself.]       

Monday, October 1, 2012


Morris Gleitzman's novels for teenagers, Once, Then and Now, recounted the story of Felix, a young Jewish boy from Poland, who survived the terrors of the holocaust to eventually arrive in Australia. The fourth novel, After, is set at the end of the Second World War. Felix is now 13 and has been looked after by Gabriek for two years, hidden in a hole beneath the barn. When the farmhouse is destroyed by the Nazis Felix and Gabriek join the partisans who operate from the nearby forest. The story follows their existence in this new environment and also describes events that occur towards the end of the war as the Nazis realise that defeat is near.

These books are works of fiction but are based on events that occurred during World War II. On his website Morris Gleitzman includes information providing a background to the writing of the novels and also references for further reading - Once, Then Now - the real life stories.

Dead Cold, The Cruelest Month and A Rule Against Murder

Dead Cold, The Cruelest Month and A Rule Against Murder are the follow up volumes to Still Life - a series of detective novels - written by Louise Penny. In each volume there is a murder for Inspector Armand Gamache and his team to solve but the books also have another story evolving in the background. In Still Life a sub plot concerned an event that had occurred in the police force some years previously. In the next two books this sub plot is further developed as the reader becomes aware that someone in the police hierarchy is determined to destroy the career of Inspector Gamache. It also becomes obvious that a member of his team is spying on the inspector. In A Rule Against Murder the sub plot concerns the actions of the father of Inspector Gamache during the war.

The books are set in picturesque locations in Canada. The first three books are set in the village of Three Pines while the action of the fourth is centred at a hotel in the next valley. The author introduces the reader to a range of interesting and often quirky characters, some of whom appear in more than one book. As the series progresses more is learned about the main character, Armand Gamache, and his wife with whom he discusses his cases. In some cases this relationship is reminiscent of the relationship of Commissario Guido Brunetti and his wife in the Donna Leon novels of crime set in Venice. In both series of books the location of the plot is important in the telling of the story. In the Louise Penny novels French words and phrases, without English translation, flow easily throughout the text, adding to the atmosphere of the special setting portrayed.

I look forward to reading the next four volumes in the series to reacquaint myself with the world of Armand Gamanche and his team.