Reader's Exchange

June 2011 - Posts

Surprising alternative to sand castles*

Earlier this week, a library patron stopped by the reference desk to execute the perfect 30-second book review.  He displayed the actual product, cover facing out (good for us visual learners) and swiftly encapsulated its appeal:  it's a mystery that he'd recommend even to those who don't favor mysteries because it's laden with concepts you likely hadn't thought about before.

The book in question, by Nicholas Kilmer (grandson of "Trees" poet Joyce Kilmer) was Butterfly in Flame, part of the Fred Taylor series.  As an art consultant, Fred gains entrée into all sorts of aesthetic and esoteric situations in the course of crime-solving.   The appreciative customer, who happens to be a painter, was gratified to gain a practical tip from the story:  while oil paintings should be rolled face-in, acrylic works should face out (something about the elasticity--or lack thereof--of the medium).

Who doesn't love to discover serendipitous tidbits like that?  The book I've just finished is full of them --though so light in the Mystery department that it should probably move to Fiction.   Alice Duncan's Hungry Spirits hooked me with its 1921 Pasadena, California, setting and novel protagonist:  Daisy Majesty is a 21-year-old California girl with a personality seemingly destined for Flapperhood.  Foretelling the future

But Daisy's husband has returned from battle severely disabled, a circumstance which prompts young Mrs. Majesty to inventory her talents and set herself up in the lucrative business of telling fortunes and spirit-guiding at séances.  From that vantage point, she blithely narrates the adventures of her extended family, including an aunt who lost a son in the war and who was widowed by the 1918 influenza epidemic.

Like post-World War I America, Daisy's multigenerational clan chooses hopefulness over dreariness.   Casting Daisy as breadwinner is actually an inside joke.  Guilted into giving cooking lessons to war refugees, Daisy has for textbook the dreaded Sixty-Five Delicious Dishes Made with Bread.  An actual 1919 publication available from online stores, this carb-laden culinary guide operates on the belief that everyone can afford bread.  Besides, it goes stale, thus requiring creative repurposing.  Readers witness preparation of snicker-inducing concoctions like *fried-bread "castles" filled with peas and white sauce. 

Back then, carbohydrates were "starch";  macaroni was purchased in long tubes and broken into pieces by hand.  But vintage nutritional trivia wasn't the only reason the story frequently piqued my curiosity.   I made mental notes to learn more about veteran victims of mustard gas, the spiritualism fad in the early twentieth century, Pasadena's history, and some of the books Daisy's family checked out from the Pasadena Public Library in 1921.  Zane Grey and Edgar Rice Burroughs were big even then.

Completely unrelated fun fact from 2011, not 1921:  Adults who return a completed log for Round Rock Public Library's grownup summer reading program July 5 through July 10 will receive a free beverage koozy.   This promotion won't be mentioned anywhere else!

Arriving shortly

Pssssst!  Have I got a reading group tip for you:  at least an hour of animated give-and-take practically guaranteed, and it's less than thirty pages long. 

Leading a discussion for Ryunosuke Akutagawa's short story "Hell Screen" is a dream job.  That text was June's topic for the Baca Center Great Conversations group on Tuesday.  The selection is so rich with intriguing themes that I didn't agonize over my choice of questions, figuring that the group's commentary and participation would be high-quality no matter what--and they were.  Whether you focus on the question of great art requiring sacrifice or one of the other eye-opening facets (which I'll refrain from divulging here), rest assured you won't lack for conversation.

Try a less-than-book-length choice with your reading group sometime.  As with poetry, short stories derive power from conciseness.  And, during an activity-laden summer, who doesn't appreciate brevity for its own sake? 

With convenience in mind, I scanned reviews for new and forthcoming fiction, mining for choice bits (thank you, clever reviewers!) that encapsulate the appeal of these promising--and full-length--titles.  

Please do follow up and consult full reviews online, or come to the library and let us find some for you.  In the meantime...


  • Jen Lancaster, If You Were Here: "snappy"
  • Steve Earle, I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive: "heartfelt"


  • Kate Christensen, The Astral: "satisfying redoing of a man undone"
  • Daniel Wilson, Robopocalypse: "frenetic"
  • Josh Ritter, Bright's Passage: "hard to forget"
  • Erica Bauermeister, Joy for Beginners: "resonating"
  • Gabrielle Donnelly, The Little Women Letters: "beautifully crafted"
  • Elin Hilderbrand, Silver Girl: "sensitive"
  • Karin Slaughter, Fallen: "unrelentingly suspenseful"
  • Steve Martini, Trader of Secrets: "high-octane"
  • Helen Grant, The Glass Demon: "cerebral blend of horror and mystery"


  • Sarah Bird, The Gap Year: "memorably realistic"
  • Amanda Eyre Ward, Close Your Eyes: "elegant" "incisive"
  • Monica Ali, Untold Story: "daring and engrossing"
  • Amor Towles, Rules of Civility: "quotable"
  • Jim Knipfel, The Blow-Off: "morbidly playful"
  • William Dietrich, Blood of the Reich: "diverting"
  • Paul Lawrence, A Plague of Sinners: Being the Second Chronicle of Harry Lytle: "outstanding"
  • Gwendolen Gross, The Orphan Sister: "emotionally charged"
  • Robert Browne, The Paradise Prophecy: "cinematic"
  • Elizabeth Kane Buzzeli, Dead Dogs and Englishmen: "gripping"
  • Diana Rowland, My Life as a White Trash Zombie: "hilarious"
  • Patricia Rice, The Devilish Montague: "endearing"
  • Emily Arsenault, In Search of the Rose Notes: "deeply satisfying"


  • Ernest Cline, Ready Player One: "dazzling"
  • Amy Waldman, The Submission: "frighteningly plausible"
  • Vanessa Diffenbaugh, The Language of Flowers: "enchanting"
  • Jennifer Close, Girls in White Dresses: "artfully spare"


  • Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus: "vibrant"
  • Hector Tobar, The Barbarian Nurseries: "panoramic"


  • Rebecca Coleman, The Kingdom of Childhood: "nicely creepy"
Here, mystery novels are the killer apps

Remember your first visit to Round Rock Public Library?  If it occurred during the summer, you might have wondered, as some folks do, where the "library for grownups" is.   There you are, surrounded by hordes of young folks and their parents, possibly concluding that you wandered into a children's branch by mistake.

Looks like a happy place, you're thinking, but where are your books--and how about your summer reading program?

Come on up to second floor.  We'll provide cardholders with a reading program log, the first step to recording your summer reads and qualifying for the prize drawing.  We can escort you to the fiction section and explain where the DVDs and audios for grownups can be found (mostly downstairs--who knew?) 

This year's adult reading program theme-- Books:  Apps for Your Brain--was chosen for its timely representation of both the mental benefits of library usage and the fun of sharing your latest find.  In that way, it resembles the children's program. 

Here's an essential difference we've noticed, though.  Children appreciate our providing good reasons to read; busy, time-starved adults sometimes need excuses.  We're glad to oblige.  Feel free to use these handy justifications for participating this summer:

  • You can sound high-tech. For your SRP selections, inform everyone that you're "downloading some new apps". Active brain
  • Have you heard about Playaways but have no idea what they are?  Summer is the ideal time to audition one of them.
  • You can count Reference Desk visits or peeks into our "Around the House...." databases on your reading log.
  • Keeping up with library blogs--including this one--counts as reading activity.
  • Your Tax Dollars at Work:  Calculate how much money you're saving by borrowing books and using library databases.
  • For a short-short list of staff picks (three), consult the What I'm Reading Now display at the Reference Desk.
  • Help us maintain a high level of foot traffic by confiding your discovery:  the library's extensive adult fiction collection.  Sounds racier than it is, but we're OK with that.