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December 1, 2015 by Reader's Connection

Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories

That’s the perfect title for bestselling author Audrey Niffenegger‘s new collection of ghost stories. Shocking or Unexpected or Twisty-Turny wouldn’t do, because the reader sometimes has a pretty good idea of what’s coming, but is nevertheless entranced.

I knew, for example, what was going on almost from the first page of Edith Wharton’s story “Pomegranate Seed,” which involved mysterious letters in the mail. But I kept reading, led on expertly by Wharton’s ghostly hand, and in a dream that night I received a strange letter.

The tales begin with Edgar Allan Poe and move through time to include Ray Bradbury and A. S. Byatt and Neil Gaiman. TAKE NOTE: Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein thought that P. G. Wodehouse’s haunted-house story “Honeysuckle Cottage” was the funniest thing he’d ever read; and Niffenegger feels the same way. Who am I to disagree?

Niffenegger illustrated the book, and her pictures are wonderful, even if they let you know ahead of time where some of the stories are headed, just as her micro-introductions to each story are rewarding, even if they sometimes reveal too much. As I say, my supposed sureness about where a tale was going never prevented my being drawn in.

And I had to re-read the stories by Kelly Link and Rebecca Curtis, to figure out where they had gone. Curtis’s story, “The Pink House,” is like Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” with haunted jewelry.

Any ghost-lover on your gift list will want this collection.

Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories is also available as a downloadable e-book, and is on order as an audiobook on CD.

Click the picture to see the Reader’s Connection list of holiday gift suggestions.


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Book Discussions in December

November 27, 2015 by Reader's Connection

If you’re not ready for winter, don’t start fretting about slick streets and bad hair days. Focus on the books that are going to be discussed this month. Notice that Southport’s discussion date has been shifted to avoid the holidays.


Craig Johnson’s Spirit of Steamboat will be discussed at the Warren Library on Thursday, December 3rd at 10:30 a.m.

Spirit of Steamboat

This is Johnson’s tenth book to feature Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire, who is also the basis for the TV show Longmire. Not so much a mystery as the other series titles, this holiday novella is a suspenseful adventure story that flashes back to the Christmas Eve shortly after Longmire is elected sheriff. A terrible snowstorm is raging, and Longmire has to find a way to get a young car accident victim to the Denver Children’s Hospital. Roads are closed, and the Medevac helicopter can’t fly in this weather either. An old World War II bomber plane called Steamboat and Lucian Connally, the former sheriff, are the girl’s only hope for survival. Series fans along with adventure and Western readers will raptly devour the details of the treacherous flight and revel in the history of the bomber and the bucking horse that inspired its name. — Library Journal

Spirit of Steamboat is also available as a downloadable e-book and an audiobook on CD.


As mentioned in the previous blog post, the Shared Reading Group at Spades Park Library is between books, right now. Which makes this a perfect time to join. They will begin reading their next novel in January, but will be reading essays, stories and poems on all the Fridays in December except the 25th.



Click the picture to see Glendale’s Flickr page of photos


Glendale Library‘s Cooking Chats will convene on Monday, December 7th at 6:00 p.m. Cooking and cookbooks, favorite websites, cooking shows, recipes and techniques will be discussed.






Author Robert Snow will be on hand at the Franklin Road Library to lead a discussion of his book Slaughter on North LaSalle on Monday, December 7th at at 6:30 p.m.

Slaughter on North LaSalleOn December 1, 1971, the bodies of Robert Gierse, James Barker, and Robert Hinson were found in their blood-spattered Indianapolis home. All three had reputations as prodigious womanizers, hard-drinking bar fighters, and unscrupulous businessmen–the kind of men with more enemies than friends.

When detectives searched the home and discovered an address book used as a sex contest scorecard, their new suspect list included jilted one-night stands, jealous boyfriends, and husbands–dozens upon dozens of names. Sensational reports and rumors soon overwhelmed the investigation , and real answers eluded the police and the media alike for three decades, until Roy West, a detective with a reputation for cracking “unsolvable” cases, re-opened the files . . . Penguin Putnam


Anna Quindlen’s novel Still Life With Bread Crumbs will be discussed at the Wayne Library on Monday, December 7th at 6:30 p.m.

Still Life With Bread Crumbs

Quindlen’s seventh novel . . . is a detailed exploration of creativity and the need for connection. Rebecca Winter is a 60-year-old photographer, once revered as a feminist icon, whose work isn’t selling as briskly as it used to. She needs a fresh start after her marriage falls apart because her husband trades her in for a younger model (as he does every 10 years). She rents a cabin in the country while subletting her beloved New York City apartment, needing both the money and the space in which to find her creative spark again. Jim Bates, a local roofer who helps her with the challenges of moving into the cottage, becomes a new friend, as does a dog that seems to prefer living with her rather than with its neglectful owner. Rebecca also finds new objects to photograph in the series of homemade wooden crosses she discovers during hikes in the surrounding woods, without realizing their connection to a tragedy in Jim’s life. Quindlen has always excelled at capturing telling details in a story, and she does so again in this quiet, powerful novel, showing the charged emotions that teem beneath the surface of daily life. — Publishers Weekly

Still Life With Bread Crumbs is also available as a downloadable e-book.


The Fountain Square Library will host a discussion of Emily St. John Mandel’s novel Station Eleven on Thursday, December 10th at 1:30 p.m.

Station ElevenMandel’s ambitious, magnificent fourth novel examines the collapse of civilization after a deadly flu wipes out most of the world’s population. Moving gracefully from the first days of the plague to years before it and decades after, Mandel anchors the story to Arthur Leander, a famous actor who dies of a heart attack while playing King Lear on stage. We see glimpses of Arthur’s life years before his passing: his doomed relationship with his first wife, the exploitation of an old friendship, his failings as a father. And then we follow characters whose lives Arthur touched in some way: the paramedic who tried to save him, his second ex-wife and their damaged son, the child actress who joins a traveling theater troupe-cum-orchestra. In this postpandemic time, people live in gas stations and motels, curate museums filled with cell phones and car engines, and treasure tabloids and comic books. One comic book gives the novel its title and encapsulates the longing felt by the survivors for the world they have lost.Mandel’s vision is not only achingly beautiful but also startlingly plausible, exposing the fragile beauty of the world we inhabit. — Booklist

Station Eleven is also available as a downloadable e-book, a downloadable audiobook, and an audiobook on CD.

Readers at the Irvington Library will discuss J. R. R. Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas on Thursday, December 10th at 1:30 p.m.Letters from Father ChristmasEvery December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J.R.R. Tolkien’s children. Inside would be a letter in a strange, spidery handwriting and a beautiful colored drawing or painting. The letters were from Father Christmas. They told wonderful tales of life at the North Pole: how the reindeer got loose and scattered presents all over the place; how the accident-prone North Polar Bear climbed the North Pole and fell through the roof of Father Christmas’s house into the dining room; how he broke the Moon into four pieces and made the Man in it fall into the back garden; how there were wars with the troublesome horde of goblins who lived in the caves beneath the house, and many more.
No reader, young or old, can fail to be charmed by Tolkien’s inventiveness in this classic holiday treat. — Publisher’s noteLetters from Father Christmas is also available as a downloadable e-book.


Debbie Macomber’s Mr. Miracle: A Christmas Novel will be discussed at the Southport Library on Monday, December 14th at 6:30 p.m.

Mr. MiracleMacomber returns to her Christmas angel stories after a break with last year’s Starry Night. Unlike his fellow angels and good friends, Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy, Harry Mills can mingle with humans without their knowing that he is an angel. Harry’s first earthly mission from God requires him to assume the role of professor at a community college in the Pacific Northwest, where he’ll help Addie Folsom realize she’s smarter than she thinks and can succeed at school despite her dyslexia. Harry is also supposed to encourage Addie’s relationship with Erich Simmons. Excited about his assignment and the chance to visit Earth, Harry is surprised at how difficult it is to experience human emotions and nudge Addie and Erich in the right direction. But what would Christmas be without a few miracles? — Library Journal

Mr. Miracle is also available as a downloadable e-book, a downloadable audiobook, an audiobook on CD, and in large print.



The Flanner House Library will host a discussion of Kimberla Lawson Roby’s A Christmas Prayer on Monday, December 14th at 6:30 p.m.

A Christmas Prayer

As Christmas approaches, Alexis Fletcher is feeling depressed about celebrating another holiday without her mother, who died five years earlier. A successful motivational speaker and engaged to the wealthy, gorgeous Chase Dupont, to whom she was introduced to by their pastor, the Reverend Curtis Black, Alexis should be filled with joy; instead, she just wants to sleep the season away. To make matters worse, her future mother-in-law, Geneva, couldn’t be more different from her beloved mother. Geneva doesn’t feel that Alexis is good enough for Chase and will go to shocking lengths to drive Alexis away. Then there’s the drama with Alexis’s broke, irresponsible sister. Our protagonist will need a lot of faith to survive this Christmas. Faith and drama collide as two families learn to drop their facades and open up their hearts to each other. — Library Journal

A Christmas Prayer is also available as a downloadable e-book and a downloadable audiobook, and is on order as an audiobook on CD.





The graphic novel Watchmen, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, will be discussed at the Lawrence Library on Tuesday, December 15th at 10:15 a.m.

Check out the reviews on GoodReads.

Portal, the Indianapolis Science Fiction and Fantasy Discussion Group, will meet at the Glendale Library on Sunday, December 27th at 1:00 p.m. The theme for this program is “Music in SF, Horror or Fantasy.”


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Now is the perfect time to join the Spades Park Shared Reading Group!

November 24, 2015 by Reader's Connection

Why? Because they’re between books.

They have finished reading William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, and for the next few weeks they’ll be reading short stories, essays & poetry, and waiting until January arrives to begin their next novel.

If you’ve been thinking of joining, but didn’t want to enter mid-book, your moment has come.

I attended the shared reading sessions when they first got started. I had to leave after about a year, for careerist reasons, but can testify that reading a book aloud, and hearing others read it, will open a book in new ways for you.

The Portrait of a Lady


Some members have joined since I departed. I envy all of them because, come January, they’ll will be reading The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.

Facilitator Anja Petrakopoulos leads the group, which meets at Spades Park Library on Fridays from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. There are refreshments each week.

And, hey: if you don’t want to read aloud, you don’t have to.



In a recent New York Times interview, author Colm Tóibín (author of the novel Brooklyn, on which the new movie is based) was asked (or asked himself):

Who is your favorite novelist of all time?

Henry James, for the range of his sympathy and the quality of his prose. For the way in which he dramatizes moral issues while all the time attending to sensuous and stylish questions. For his seriousness about form in his fiction and the way in which he refuses to allow the reader to make easy judgments, for his insisting on nuance, half-light and suggestion, and for his deep understanding of the strangeness and the wavering nature of motive and feeling in human relationships.

Oh, man. The strangeness and the wavering nature of motive and feeling in human relationships. Listening to the others read James at Spades Park will be a gas.

Remember: The Portrait of a Lady begins in January. If you show up this Friday at 10:00, they’ll be reading Virginia Woolf’s essay on how to read a book.

Happy Thanksgiving. Happy reading.












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Into the home stretch on the Read Harder Challenge

November 22, 2015 by Reader's Connection

• I have six weeks to go on Book Riot’s 2015 Read Harder Challenge, as created by Rachel Manwill. I doubled the requirement, early on, so the goal for the year is 48 books.

• Oh, wait. I was going to allow re-reads to count, but there were only 2 of them, and I moved them into a category of their own. So that makes 50 books in 2015.



The Red Window, by Adrian Stasiak• Whenever I’ve read the required 2 books for any category, I am stamping that slot with The Red Window. • If I have extra books in a category, I can cut back elsewhere. Example: I have 3 extra translated books (The Red Window + 3), so in 3 other categories I can get away with just one book.

If I add up all the books I haven’t read, and subtract the number of extras I’ve read, I think I have six books to go.

A book written by someone when he or she was under the age of 25 The Opposite of Loneliness, by Marina Keegan
A book written by someone when he or she was over the age of 65 The Book of Sand, by Jorge Luis Borges, and Every Third Thought by John Barth redwindow_thumb
A collection of short stories Get in Trouble, by Kelly Link Ghostly, A Collection of Ghost Stories, edited by Audrey Niffenegger redwindow_thumb
A book published by an indie press Song of the Shank, by Jeffery Renard Allen, published by Graywolf Press Poverty Creek Journal by Thomas Gardner, published by Tupelo Press redwindow_thumb
A book by or about someone who identifies as LGBTQ The Testament of Mary, by Colm Tóibín James Merrill, Life and Art by Langdon Hammer redwindow_thumb
A book by a person whose gender is different from your own The Hearts of Horses, by Molly Gloss Hold Still, by Abby Mann redwindow_thumb
A book that takes place in Asia The Kite Runner & And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. Yes, I know, the characters move around, not everything happens in Afghanistan. But I say: these characters all take Afghanistan with them. redwindow_thumb
A book by an author from Africa The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, by Dinaw Mengestu.
A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture Forty Days Without Shadow, by Olivier Truc, about the Sami of Sápmi The Prophets of Eternal Fjord, by Kim Leine, about the Inuit of Greenland, and their Danish overlords. redwindow_thumb
A microhistory Stay : A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It Microhistories don’t have to be about little things like salt and pepper shakers.
A YA novel The Hybrid Chronicles, by Kat Zhang I had read the first of the trilogy, What’s Left of Me, a few years ago, and I knew I wanted to read the rest to meet the challenge. redwindow_thumb
An SF novel Frederik Pohl’s Gateway and Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, the first two books in his Heechee saga
The Southern Reach Trilogy, by Jeff Vandermeer redwindow_thumb
A romance novel New Uses for Old Boyfriends, by Beth Kendrick Smoke and Fire, by Julie Cannon redwindow_thumb
A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade  A Pulitzer Prize winner is in the pipeline.
A book that is a retelling of a classic story One candidate is  Omeros, a Homerian epic in the Western Hemisphere, by Derek Walcott. And Michael Cunningham has a new book of re-told fairy tales, A Wild Swan, and Other Tales
An audiobook–but I’m unable to listen to audiobooks safely, so I’ve invented a new category: Read a magazine, cover to cover. The May 2015 issue of Poetry And then the June issue
The Sun, November 2015 redwindow_thumb
A collection of poetry Who Said, by Jennifer Michael Hecht Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts, by Lawrence Raab redwindow_thumb
A book that someone else has recommended to you Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe, by Jeremiah P. Ostriker and Simon Mitton, recommended (more or less) in a poem by Ostriker’s wife.
A book that was originally published in another language Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, trans. from the Italian by William Weaver
Elena Ferrante’s 4 Neapolitan Novels, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. redwindow_thumb
A graphic novel, a graphic memoir, or a collection of comics of any kind Justice League 3000. Volume 1, Yesterday Lives
The Graveyard Book (2 volumes) redwindow_thumb
A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure Lament of the Dead: Psychology After Jung’s Red Book Felt guilty because I didn’t think I’d get a blog post out of it. Eventually blogged about it, but the guilt was there while I was reading.
A book published before 1850 Halfway through something. Learning about atomic theory in ancient Rome.
A book published this year The Girl Who Slept with God, by Val Brelinski The Mare, by Mary Gaitskill redwindow_thumb
A self-improvement book I had left this one out, and Chris kindly commented. To be honest, every book I read is a self-help book.
Another challenge I’ve invented: Re-read something you liked in the past, see if you still like it Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto In the Freud Archives, by Janet Malcolm redwindow_thumb

The Red Window appears, as always, courtesy of Adrian Stasiak.


The 2015 National Book Awards

November 18, 2015 by Reader's Connection

At a ceremony on Wednesday evening, the National Book Awards for 2015 were presented.



Adam Johnson, Fortune Smiles: Stories

Fortune Smiles

How do you follow a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel? For Johnson (The Orphan Master’s Son), the answer is a story collection, and the tales within are hefty and memorable. Johnson goes deep (and long–there are only six pieces in this 300 pager) into unknown worlds. In the title story, two North Korean criminals adjust to post-defection life in South Korea; in “Nirvana,” a man deals with his wife’s illness by creating an app that lets people talk to the (fictional) recently assassinated president. Johnson lets us spend time with an East German prison commander whose former office is a tour stop in a “museum of torture”; a man coping with hurricanes Katrina and Rita and an array of personal problems; and, in “Dark Meadow,” the highlight of a very strong collection, a pedophile trying to behave himself in the face of a variety of temptations. What these very different stories have in common is their assurance: the environments Johnson creates, along with the often problematic choices their inhabitants make, are totally believable. Escaping back to North Korea by balloon? Sure. Going to AA meetings because they offer child care? Makes sense if your ex has just dumped a toddler on you in post-Rita Lake Charles. Often funny, even when they’re wrenchingly sad, the stories provide one of the truest satisfactions of reading: the opportunity to sink into worlds we otherwise would know little or nothing about, ones we might even cross the street to avoid. — Publishers Weekly

Fortune Smiles is also available as a downloadable e-book and a downloadable audiobook.



Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Between the World and MeIn this brief book, which takes the form of a letter to the author’s teenage son, Coates, the justly acclaimed author of the family memoir The Beautiful Struggle (2008), comes to grips with what it means to be black in America today. On the basis of his previous writing, Coates is the ideal candidate to even attempt such an ambitious undertaking. He has become an extraordinary essayist; that he succeeds here will rank him securely among his forerunners. The title is from a quotation by Richard Wright; the chief literary influence is James Baldwin; Coates’ personal inspiration is Malcolm X; the crucible of the piece is Howard University; and behind it are the writings and attitudes handed down by Coates’ father, publisher Paul Coates. Like Baldwin, Coates is both furious and judicious. When he took his son to visit Civil War battlefields, he felt as though he was “a nosy accountant conducting an audit and someone was trying to hide the books.” In the days after 9/11, Coates could not help seeing the celebrated police as no different from those who had recently killed a Howard classmate. And he desperately wants his son to know (as his father taught him) that American history too often equates with robbery, and its complacent boosters are hypocritical at best. There is awesome beauty in the power of his prose and vital truth on every page. — Booklist

Between the World and Me is also available as a downloadable e-book, a downloadable audiobook, and an audiobook on CD.


Young People’s Literature

Neal Shusterman, Challenger Deep

Challenger DeepCaden Bosch lives in two worlds. One is his real life with his family, his friends, and high school. There he is paranoid for no reason, thinks people are trying to kill him, and demonstrates obsessive compulsive behaviors. In his other world, he’s part of the crew for a pirate captain on a voyage to the Challenger Deep, the ocean’s deepest trench. There he’s paranoid, wary of the mercurial captain and his mutinous parrot, and tries hard to interpret the mutterings of his fellow shipmates as they sail uncharted waters toward unknown dangers. Slowly, Caden’s fantasy and paranoia begin to take over, until his parents have only one choice left. Shusterman’s latest novel gives readers a look at teen mental illness from inside the mind of Caden Bosch. He is a credible and sympathetic character, and his retreat into his own flawed mind is fascinating, full of riddles and surrealism. Shusterman based the novel on his son’s mental illness, and Brendan’s input regarding his diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and psychiatric care makes the novel ring true. Teens, especially fans of the author’s other novels, will enjoy this book. This affecting deep dive into the mind of a schizophrenic will captivate readers, engender empathy for those with mental illnesses, and offer much fodder for discussion. — School Library Journal

Challenger Deep is also available as a downloadable e-book and a downloadable audiobook.



Robin Coste Lewis, Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems

Voyage of the Sable VenusRobin Coste Lewis’s electrifying collection is a triptych that begins and ends with lyric poems meditating on the roles desire and race play in the construction of the self. In the center of the collection is the title poem, “Voyage of the Sable Venus,” an amazing narrative made up entirely of titles of artworks from ancient times to the present–titles that feature or in some way comment on the black female figure in Western art. Bracketed by Lewis’s own autobiographical poems, “Voyage” is a tender and shocking meditation on the fragmentary mysteries of stereotype, juxtaposing our names for things with what we actually see and know. A new understanding of biography and the self, this collection questions just where, historically, do ideas about the black female figure truly begin–five hundred years ago, five thousand, or even longer? And what role did art play in this ancient, often heinous story? Here we meet a poet who adores her culture and the beauty to be found within it. Yet she is also a cultural critic alert to the nuances of race and desire–how they define us all, including her own sometimes painful history. Lewis’s book is a thrilling aesthetic anthem to the complexity of race–a full embrace of its pleasure and horror, in equal parts. — Publisher’s note

Voyage of the Sable Venus is also available as a downloadable e-book.


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