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Historical Fiction -Book Annotation

3 May

Title: The Rebel Wife

Author: Taylor M. Polites

Publication Date: 2012 by Simon & Schuster

Genre: Historical Fiction

Number of Pages: 294

In her husband (Eli)’s death, Augusta “Gus” Branson unlocks a world of financial secrets, unexplained debt, and unfinished business. As she is left to face her newfound reality, she has to determine who to trust in order to preserve the life of her son, herself, and her husband’s indentured servants. True to the genre, this story unfolds at a leisurely pace peeking into the mind of Gus as she grapples with these changes, on a journey to find answers to the many questions Eli left unanswered.

Central Character:

  • Augusta “Gus” Branson

Other significant Characters (as they appear in the story):

  • Eli Branson (Augusta’s Husband)
  • Simon (servant of Eli)
  • John and Rachel (servants of Eli)
  • Judge Heppert (Augusta’s Cousin)

Geographical Setting: Alabama, United States

Time Period: The South in the late 1800s

Plot Summary:

This story follows the life of Augusta “Gus” Branson, as she tries to bury her husband by unearthing the many secrets he left behind. Her husband, Eli Branson, sought refuge for colored people during a time when the idea was unpopular. Gus faces challenges when her husband of 10 years falls sick and dies from a mysterious blood plague. This marks the beginning of a downpour of mysterious happenings, leaving Gus with more questions than answers. Each unanswered question begins to pull at the thread of her security in her finances and her future. Not knowing who to believe, she receives mixed messages about Eli’s business affairs from Judge Heppert, her white cousin, and Simon, her husbands’ colored servant. It quickly turns into a battle of wills. The people she least expects, become the key characters to help her uncover the ugly truth about a man she thought she knew.

Subject Headings:

  • Alabama Fiction
  • Social and Moral Issues


  • Historically Accurate Customs and Beliefs
  • Character Driven Plot (with a deeply reflective protagonist)
  • Leisurely Unfolding

Similar Authors and Works:

  • Jonathan Odell focuses on life in the pre-Civil War South, a domestic battle of wills, and the power of healing through storytelling, in the novel The Healing.
  • Barry Unsworth focuses on the story of a passionate advocate of the poor and powerless, in the novel The Quality of Mercy.
  • Kathy Hepinstall focuses on a spirited woman, impossible love, and an undeniable call to freedom during the Civil War, in the novel Blue Asylum.

-A Teaching Librarian


GLBT Fiction -Book Annotation

29 Apr

Title: Stone Butch Blues

Author: Leslie Feinberg

Publication Date: 2003 by Alyson Books

Genre: GLBT Fiction

Number of Pages: 301

A relatable story about growing up different, wanting to fit in, and searching for the people who share, and appreciate, those differences. Before the Stonewall Riots, the main character becomes aware of her differences, and begins searching for the best way to come out to her family, her friends, and herself. Throughout the story she struggles with people asking the question,”is that a Woman or a Man?” As the story unfolds, we watch this question begin to shape the way she interacts with others and the perception she has of herself.

Central Character:

  • Jess Goldberg

Other significant Characters (as they appear in the story):

  • Butch Al and Jacqueline (First mentor couple)
  • Toni and Betty (Second mentor couple)
  • Theresa (Love interest)
  • Grant (Friend)
  • Angie (Friend)

Geographical Setting: Buffalo

Time Period: 1950s, Pre-Stonewall Riots

Plot Summary:

Jess Goldberg takes us on her personal journey of finding herself, finding love, and learning to trust in a world of disingenuous people. Growing up butch in the projects of Buffalo, New York during the 1950s, she finds herself constantly on the run and fighting to survive. Jess leaves her unsupportive family and attaches herself to different lesbian couples that help her to develop her new found identity. Jess is challenged to remain her sweet and hopeful self as she suffers through the sexual violence, fickle friendships, and social exile that awaits her on the path ahead. Feinberg gives us a peek into the vibrant lives of Butch and Femme as they endure the hardships of love, a love lost, and grapple with a harsh reality from which they are unable to protect themselves or each other.

Subject Headings:

  • Coming out (Sexual orientation) -Fiction
  • Transsexuals -Fiction
  • Lesbians -Fiction


  • Lesbian Characters
  • Character Driven Plot
  • Unhurried Pace

Similar Authors and Works:

  • Ann Aldrich focuses on character driven narratives to illustrate lesbian subcultures in and around New York, in the novel We, Too, Must Love.
  • Jessica Casavant focuses on a lesbian character living in self-imposed exile, in the novel Walking Wounded.
  • Rita Mae Brown focuses on the journey of growing up lesbian in America, in the novel Rubyfruit Jungle.

-A Teaching Librarian

Science Fiction -Book Annotation

29 Apr

Title: That Hideous Strength: a modern fairy-tale for grown-ups

Author: C. S. Lewis

Publication Date: 1996 by Scribner Classics

Genre: Science Fiction

Number of Pages: 380

A story about the interior struggle of a married couple where the wife finds that she is more important than she imagined, and the husband is lured into a business hidden behind smokescreen illusions. They both are separated by circumstance, and take separate journeys to understand themselves in relation to the changing world around them. Testing the theory that”science can take over the human race if given a free hand” by attempting to annihilate all humanity, the National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E.) uses technical and scientific detail to frame the setting of a new world order. Mark approached the N.I.C.E. organization an honest man, and Jane approached the company at St. Anne’s a troubled woman with simple night terrors. Little did they know, the organizations had a different plans in mind than what either of them could have ever imagined. Both Mark and Jane are forced to choose the organization to which they want to pledge their allegiance. 

Central Character:

  • Mark Studdock
  • Jane Studdock

Other significant Characters (as they appear in the story):

  • Miss Ironwood (Docotor at St. Annes)
  • Fariy Hardcastle (N.I.C.E. police official)

Geographical Setting: in England on Planet Earth. Belbury and Bracton College

Time Period: After the War

Plot Summary:

This story takes place on earth in a post-war, dystopian England. A sense of urgency advances the plot, as each character watches the world around them crumble at their feet. The protagonists’, Mark and Jane Studdock, marriage gets rocky after Jane falls sick and Mark is called away for an extended period at work. Mark sends home letters for a while, but the letters soon taper-off. Eventually, Jane meets a doctor at St. Anne’s that can make use of her alleged sickness, and Mark is allured by the many luxuries that come with being part of the N.I.C.E. organization. The N.I.C.E. represents a group of humans who are looking for something better than human society. The company at St. Anne’s represents a direct opponent of the N.I.C.E., this invokes a battle of loyalty that ignites conflict between the characters. Mark and Jane grow worlds apart as supporting characters help them assimilate into their new social circles. As Jane and Mark spiral deeper into these organizations, they find comfort, support, and the power of purpose. They are intentionally separated for the rest of the story. But will they meet again? If so, how will they interact with each other and their new found values?

Subject Headings:

  • Dystopia
  • Science
  • Supernatural – Spiritual Warfare


  • Character Driven Plot
  • End of the world plot
  • Philosophical Emphasis

Series: Book three of the C. S. Lewis Space Trilogy

Similar Authors and Works:

  • Frank Peretti focuses on the limitations of science, spiritual warfare and playing God, in the novel Illusion.
  • Arthur C. Clarke takes a philosophical focus on a mid twentieth century earth, run by mysterious superiors, as mankind submits to the proposed fate of the earth, in the novel Childhood’s End.
  • H. G. Wells focuses on new world order through global dictatorship, the collapse of government and economic degradation of all fighting countries during a world war, in the novel The Shape of Things to Come.

-A Teaching Librarian

Romantic Suspense -Book Annotation

26 Mar

Title: The Third Victim

Author: Lisa Gardner

Publication Date: 2001 by Bantam Books

Genre: Romantic Suspense

Number of Pages: 302

What makes this story authentic to the genre is the increasing tension between characters, the mystery driven plot, and the threatened heroine faced with a dilemma concerning the hero. Written during a time when school shootings were growing rampant, this story shows how one tug at a loose thread can cause a once quiet town to unravel in disaster. Beyond a “romance with an element of danger,” this story introduces violence early on. As word spreads about the shooting, the characters are shocked and in fear of the pure evil that would do something like this. The story is unique in that it references real cases and compares story characters to real criminal profiles. Gardner invites the reader into the minds of the investigation team, as they are forced to face their own demons in order to solve the case.

Central character:

  • Officer Lorraine ‘Rainie’ Conner

Other significant characters (as they appear in the story):

  • Sheriff Shep O’Grady (Suspect’s father)
  • Danny O’Grady (Suspect)
  • Sandy O’Grady (Suspect’s mother)
  • Becky O’Grady (Suspect’s younger sister)
  • Abe Sanders (Detective)
  • Pierce Quincy (FBI)
  • the Man (Mysterious character)
  • Alice (Victim)
  • Sally (Victim)
  • Ms. Avalon (Victim)

Geographical Setting: Bakersville, Oregon.

Time Period: Post December 20, 1999 Columbine school shooting.

Plot Summary: The story takes place in year 2000, a time when school shootings started happening across the U.S. In the small, friendly town of Bakersville, Oregon a 3-officer police department is faced with the biggest and most heinous crime it has ever seen. The town Sherriff has to choose sides when he learns that his son is the primary suspect in the case of a school shooting. Rainie, his lead officer, is the first to report to the crime scene but has no experience with such major cases and accidently contaminates most of the evidence. The characters face a great deal of difficulty solving the case because the evidence is destroyed and the eyewitnesses are keeping silent. Discrepancies in the case lead Rainie to believe that Danny, the prime suspect, could be innocent. Rainie finds herself torn between doing her job with integrity and proving her loyalty to the family and boss who gave her everything.

Series: #2 in Gardner’s FBI Profiler series

Subject Headings:

  • Mystery and detective stories
  • School stories


  • Fast Pacing
  • Threatened Heroine
  • Uneasy Mood

Similar Authors and Works:

  • Sandra Brown focuses on strong heroines and heroes, atmosphere, and complex plot, in the novel Ricochet.
  • Kay Hooper focuses on threatened heroines point of view, sense of uneasiness, and a graphically detailed story line, in the novel After Caroline.
  • Lisa Jackson focuses on dysfunctional family, fast pacing, and explicit sexual description, in the novel Running Scared.

-A Teaching Librarian

A Kirkus-Style Review

28 Feb

Title: Smokin’ Seventeen

Author: Janet Evanovich

Genre: Mystery

Publication Date: 2011

Number of Pages: 308


Unsure of which direction her life is headed in, Stephanie Plum barely juggles a clumsy love affair with three men, a plummeting career in bounty hunting, and an almost certain date with death. Although those things give the book potential of being interesting, Evanovich completely ruins it with over-exaggerated characters written in attempts to validate Plum’s social awkwardness by stereotyping the roles and behaviors of everyone around her. Lula, Connie, Vinnie, and Mooner are portrayed as not having a clue, although the business seems to stay afloat. Regina Bugle, Dave, Nick Alpha, and the mysterious “killer” are portrayed as stalkers from which she cannot seem to protect herself. Morelli and Ranger are portrayed as accomplished lovers to which she shows no allegiance. Given Plum’s quirks, it is hard to believe that she is the most sensible character in the book, and dumbing the other characters down is a less than witty way of illustrating that concept. I can accept that Evanovich was trying to lighten the read by incorporating elements of humor, but it was more insulting than funny and poorly done. She makes it difficult to get lost in the mystery because every few pages the reader is jarred out of the story by the bizarre and overdone characters that surround the protagonist.

The title “Smokin’ Seventeen” implies this book will be stimulating and hard to put down. This one barely fizzed.

My Secret Shopper Assignment

9 Feb

Setting the Stage:

The reference interview took place in a public library on the Westside of Indianapolis, at the end of the workweek, 45 minutes after opening for the day. The library seats two reference desks next to each other (one male librarian and one female librarian) with their back to a shelf full of ready reference materials. On the desk is a computer monitor, some printed takeaways and some books waiting to be shelved. When I walked in, the female reference librarian was arranging the Black History Month book display and the male reference librarian was taking a phone call and conducting a search on the computer. I locked in on male reference librarian and pretended to browse the collection until he was done with the phone call and available for Readers’ Advisory (RA) service.

Initiating the RA interview:

I approached the desk shortly after he hung up the phone. I specifically wanted the male librarian because he was behind the desk and it would be interesting to see how he would handle a query about fiction books on women’s lives and relationships and nonfiction books on emotional self-help. I must have set my expectations too high because when I approached the desk to greet him he looked up, extended his arm and offered me an internet pass. Fumble! When did reference librarians become mind readers? I am not sure if I was more troubled by his assumption that I was only there for the free internet use, or to know that he really wasn’t listening to me. I responded with “No, thank you. I actually have a question.” After hearing that, he put the internet pass back on the desk and asked me to hold on while he finishes something on the computer. I was fine with waiting another moment, so I went to browse materials on a book cart nearby. I wanted to stay near enough that he wouldn’t forget about me but far enough away that I wasn’t hovering over him. After about 7 minutes, I returned to the desk to try again, and you wouldn’t believe what he did -he offered me the internet pass all over again! It took him a minute to realize that we’ve danced this dance before, and just as I was about to ask my RA question the female reference librarian intercepted and asked if there was anything she could help with.

Finding text appeal:

With the way the previous RA interview was going, I was relieved to receive anyone’s help at that point. And he seemed relieved to pass me off to her, so I gladly accepted. She began the interview by asking if there was something specific that I was looking for. I offered the vague response, “a good book to read,” then she drummed up a series of investigative questions to figure out what that meant to me.

I appreciated her cheerful disposition and eagerness to help me. I also appreciated the fact that she was roving the floor instead of hiding behind a desk or a computer screen. As she was asking the questions, she walked me through the collection, pulled titles off the shelf, and flipped through the pages to let me see excerpts from the book. She was very attentive. I could tell when I said something to trigger a new search, because she had me follow her to another section of the collection and pulled titles again.

During RA interview, I exhibited interest in both fiction and nonfiction materials. Once I saw she was comfortable with suggesting fiction novels, I asked for nonfiction “self help” materials. I was intentionally vague about what I wanted and only answered the questions she asked me. Our entire interview was conducted on the floor, as we browsed the collection for a “good book.”

What she covered:

The librarian asked me if I was interested in reading a fiction novel or nonfiction, then took me to a section that was organized by genre and browsed with me; pointing out authors that most people enjoy.

I believe that because I asked for a “good book” she only showed me materials in book format. Although she did mention that the book I recently read comes from a series of 18 titles and the very first title was made into a movie that is now playing in the box office.

She suggested authors who used the same writing style as the writer of the book I just read. She noticed that the book I read most recently was part of a series and that the author used consistent characters throughout the series and a play on numerical order for the titles. From that information, she showed me an author who uses a similar style and titles each book in her series with a letter of the alphabet. When she realized that didn’t appeal to me, she moved on to something else.

I told her that I enjoyed how the story was told from the main character’s point of view, so she showed me other books in that genre that exhibited that point of view.

She asked me if I liked how the main character was solving a mystery and I told her that I was more into the relationships she maintained throughout the story.

It was interesting the way the reference librarian used mood when searching the nonfiction materials. When I asked her about finding self-help materials in the collection, she asked me what type of self-help I was looking for. She asked if I was looking for something inspirational or psychological. By inspirational she meant religions and once I told her that I didn’t want religious based books, she showed me to the books written by psychologists.

She asked if there was a particular type of self-help, I was looking for. I told her the name of an author someone suggested I look up. I could tell “self-help” was a genre that she was not as familiar with, so we went back to the reference desks and she did a catalog search on the computer. She found two titles from that author in the system and took me to the section where the books were. She flipped through the book to see if it was something I liked, and pulled other titles that were in close proximity. She suggested that I take a moment to look through the books we collected so far, showed me to the seating area, and told me to tell her if I want her to look for more.

What didn’t she cover:

I was a little disappointed that she didn’t ask my level of comfort with the violence and sexuality in a book. She may have assumed that I was fine with it since I didn’t complain about how much sex and violence was in the novel I recently read.

She didn’t mention book length during our interview. Nor did she ask how I felt about the pacing. Had she asked, I would have told her that I enjoyed the way the fiction author lingered on the thoughts and feelings of the main character throughout the story. I felt like sharing that would have opened up the interview to more suggested books, but I really wanted her to get me to say that.

My Observation:

Compared with the “TO-DO and NOT-TO-DO LIST for READERS’ ADVISERS” chart in Ross’s article, “The Readers’ Advisory Interview,” this librarian did fairly well with the interview. She did not refer me to the OPAC, or start with the OPAC to answer my questions. She knew her collection well enough to make suggestions before resorting to an RA tool. I was impressed with how she took time to flip through the book with me, rather than do a title search and hope for the best! When introducing a new author she asked questions like “have you read…” and “would you like to read more about…”. I felt like she was really listening to my responses. It was helpful to have her talk to me while she searched for more. The moment I reveled a little more information, she was prepared to move to another set of books. She told me what other readers, of books like the ones she showed me, also read. And most of all she did not assume that she couldn’t help me with nonfiction self-help. I could tell the query slowed her down a little bit and caused her to use the RA tools, but she was just as eager and helpful as she was with the fiction materials.

I noticed that she asked many questions about the book I recently read. Although I’ve never read books by the authors she suggested, I look forward to exploring those materials. Due to the nature of the assignment, I did not checkout any of the books we found that morning. However, I was quite satisfied with the materials this Readers’ Advisor was able to produce during my secret shopping adventure.


-A Teaching Librarian

My Personal Reading Profile

26 Jan

A professor once said, “any good book should be both a mirror and a window.”

I took that to mean, a “mirror” because I can see something about myself reflected in the story and a “window” because it takes me to a new place or idea. The concept was intriguing, so I wanted to identify the things I look for in books.

When I look at the collection of books I’ve recently read, I find that they are mostly faith-based and about redirecting a path in life. I look to this type of book for affirmation that the decisions I have made in my life are taking me in the right direction. In this type of book, I can find:

  • Inspiration
  • Humor through real life scenarios
  • A fresh perspective
  • Guidance through a difficult time
  • A list of realistic expectations to set while trying to get through
  • An anecdote on how the author dealt with getting through a difficult time
  • Chapters that help me to reflect on and re-evaluate my decisions

Books that I recently read and enjoyed:

  1. Joyce Meyer “Never Give Up”
  2. Joel Osteen “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential”
  3. Joel Osteen “Every Day a Friday: How to be Happier 7 Days a Week”

I’m not sure where my love of non-fiction reading material started. I really enjoy reading about people who have overcome seemingly impossible circumstances. It makes me think and helps me to understand myself as I relate to the rest of the world. Something about reading why people do the things that they do intrigues me. I am sometimes able to connect with their experiences or reasoning and for me that makes it a fun read.

I can’t think of the last time I sat down with a fiction novel and read it cover to cover. Although, I have noticed that fiction novels inspired many of the films and TV shows that I truly enjoy. I would be open to reading novels with (a) similar:

Storyline to “Source Code,” “The Lincoln Lawyer,” “Drive Angry,” “Red,” and “The Adjustment Bureau” -These films are action-oriented and have many twists that make the ending anything but predictable.

Characters to those in “The Game,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Modern Family,”“Secret Life of the American Teenager,” and “Parenthood” -The characters in these TV shows represent the dysfunctional fabric of a family that somehow manages to survive day to day. I enjoy watching their experience unfold because I can relate to these characters.

Mood to “Family Guy” -It’s fun to see ourselves in cartoon animation and laugh at the things we say and do.

Relationships to those in “Crash” -I enjoy watching the way relationships are depicted in this film. I like to think about how living my life the way I do (directly and indirectly) affects others.

I would be open to reading a novel that exhibits or addresses violence, sexuality, profanity, and/or unpopular ideas. I could also appreciate a book with language that is straightforward and direct. I don’t want to be dazzled with the authors words, I want to understand and digest what the author is saying. With respect to setting, I like things to be hidden in plain sight where a person has to rework the setting to expose its existence. That is important to me because it shows how more information/experience was needed in order for that thing to become relevant (similar to the TV show “CSI”). I have never really considered how I feel about a novel using an authentic vs. an inaccurate depiction of time and place; although, I would be open to reading multiple things that play at both ends of that spectrum.

The Book Annotations assignment I am working on this semester will serve as a book buffet. I was advised to read books from 5 genres that are outside of my comfort zone. Over the next few months, I plan to put the non-fiction back on the shelf and dive into a few genres that I haven’t taken the time to explore. You will get to read all about them in my Book Annotation blogs that are coming soon.

Join me as I travel into uncharted territory and stretch my imagination through reading. And who knows… I may even like it.

-A Teaching Librarian