Friday, January 1, 2016

Reminiscing with Historical Romance

My grandmother was an avid fan of the mystery author Jill Churchill, and when I was in high school, she got me and my cousin both hooked on her Jane Jeffries series. These were quirky, tongue in cheek cozy mysteries with pun filled titles like War and Peas and Silence of the Hams. Together we'd anticipate each release, which my grandmother would gift us for Christmas or for our birthdays.

Prior to her mysteries, the author wrote a number of historical romance novels under her real name, Janice Young Brooks. My grandmother had duplicate copies of a few of them - some even signed by Janice. All of these titles went out of print by the late 90's, and because my grandmother was such a fan, I tasked myself with tracking down each one.

There was this perfect used bookstore in Mission, Kansas - an hour's drive from where I lived. Hidden around the corner of a strip of shops, the store was a maze of book shelves with hardcovers and paperbacks stacked in lines along the aisles. Definitely not a fire marshal's ideal, but a bookworm's dream. One of those places you could get lost in.

Monthly, I would make the drive out there just to see if they had any of Janice's books. Each time, I'd ask at the front counter, and the owner - knowing they were out of print and rare - would pull them from a shelf behind the counter and gruffly hand them to me. With the rise of the Internet, I was able to discover the full list of Janice's titles, and even found ones that my grandmother didn't know existed. When she passed about 10 years ago, I inherited a number of her books, and I've held on to them since.

In memory of my grandmother, I chose to re-read one of my favorites of Janice's historical novels as my last read of 2016: Still the Mighty Waters. Set in the 1800's along the Mississippi river, the novel follows the daughters of a once respected lawyer as they relocate to the Midwest after his downfall and death. Honore and Lisette Legarde and their brother Paul set out on a not so pleasant boat ride down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers for St. Louis where, they were told, their cousins own and operate a hotel.

Now don't let the cover mislead you - there are only about three or four steamy scenes in the 492 pages. Though Honore's relationships are central to the plot, you learn a bit about the fur trade, a bit about the rise of steamboat technology, and a lot about what it took to survive and even succeed in the Midwest during the early 19th century.

On their trip to St. Louis, tragedy strikes when an earthquake - based on an actual event that caused the Mississippi to run backwards - leaves Honore and Lisette with no money and no way to travel further. On top of that, Lisette comes down with a debilitating fever. They are saved by the dashing fur trader, Bastille DuChamps, who delivers them to safety on a rickety raft. Bastille quickly falls for Honore, but after a brief moment of passion, remembers some emotional baggage from his past and escapes back to the wild.

Honore and Lisette eventually make it to St. Louis, where they find the situation not quite as they expected. Honore adapts to a different lifestyle, working hard at the tavern owned by their cousin by marriage, Hildy. Then Matthew Leigh, a businessman they met on the trip from New England, offers to house the three of them and hire Honore as his son's governess at the imposing manor he's built on an island in mighty waters of the Mississipi.

Honore eventually accepts a marriage proposal from Matthew after hearing the rumored death of Bastille, on whom she had her heart set. Thus begins the complications between Matthew and Honore, as she tries to get along with his son and becomes more and more involved in his riverboat business. Lies, drama, explosions and fires ensue - keeping this historical romance a definite page turning affair.

The last quarter of the book turns focus to Honore's daughter, Celeste, who inherits half of Matthew's business and finds herself in a battle with his son, Lewis. This was only the second time I've read the book, but as you can tell from the photo above, my copy - not new when I purchased it - has been well used. I gave it five out of five stars over on Goodreads.

I don't when or if I'll get to re-reading the rest of the historical novels or even the mysteries, but I'm really glad that my grandmother introduced me to Janice/Jill. I'll always think of her when I see them on my bookshelves and feel her with me when I do pick one up.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

On Going Full Circle in 2015

I always seem to remember to post on 31st of December! A quarter of a year has passed since my last update, and now - looking all the way back to January - everything from the first half of the year seems to blur together. In some ways I've come full circle - but I'm looking forward to the new year and what it brings.

One of the best experiences of that first half of 2015 was hosting a foreign exchange student. Giovanni (who we all called Giovi, because we couldn't quite pronounce his name correctly) was one of the best students we could have asked for - kind, outgoing, did extremely well in school, and we got along really well. He taught us a lot about his home country, Germany, and I hope we helped him have a great American experience. It also gave my husband Nate and I an idea of how we could work together as parents - if we ever are fortunate enough to adopt. We obviously weren't perfect - but we survived and learned much about each other as well. It was hard to say goodbye when the time came in May!

Exciting things at the Oskaloosa Public Library this year included another round of Teen Tech Week, a fun program on prohibition that included a beer tasting at the library thanks to a partnership with the fantastic Cellar Peanut Pub, and the planning and execution of the summer reading program. One of my proudest moments was the kick-off party for the summer program - we had nearly 400 people from the community in attendance! Free hot dogs from the Oskaloosa Summer Lunch Program and free snow cones from SnoBiz were a draw - but it was still nice to see so many people excited about reading and going to the library.

In June, Nate accepted a position at the University of Kansas Libraries, and moved back to Lawrence, Kansas. It was a tough couple of months apart while I hunted for positions in the area and submitted my letter of resignation to Oskaloosa. It was tough leaving the Oskaloosa Public Library - I really enjoyed working with the kind, dedicated staff and the community. I'll miss developing programs and working with the teens and so much. But Nate and I were itching for more than Oskaloosa - the city - was offering us...

Nate and I then spent two weeks in Europe in August and September. Each new trip we take, we'll probably say it's the best one we've done yet - but it truly was a great experience. We visited many historical and touristy sites in London and the surrounding area, including the British National Library, King's Cross station, Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey), the Harry Potter Film Studios, and Stonehenge. Then we took the Eurostar over to Paris where we saw the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the gardens of Versailles, and had a memorable dining experience at Dans le Nior - a restaurant where you eat in total darkness and are served by the visually impared.

In September, I also returned to the now renovated Lawrence Public Library - this time as a part-time Readers' Services assistant. After applying for a number of positions in the area, this was the first opportunity offered to me, and I just wanted to be able to make the transition to Lawrence with Nate. It's been an adjustment going from a full time administrative position to nearly entry level position, as anyone could imagine, but I'm still loving what I do. I'm in a brand new department totally dedicated to helping readers find their next books, and I've been challenged to improve my readers' advisory skills.

Swanky new LPL headshot!

Way back in May or so, I was invited to give the closing key note presentation at the joint Kansas and Missouri Library Association conference in Kansas City, Missouri the first weekend of October. Definitely another highlight of my year, I got to share Librarian Problems with about 400 librarians! The somewhat well-known tumblr I created nearly four years ago has gained over 20,000 followers and more than 15,000 likes on Facebook. I had tons of fun sharing and laughing with the crowd!

Though I'm kind of back where I began in libraries and in Lawrence, Nate and I are really glad to be here. We really love the city, and there's much more going on for us - restaurants, cultural events, a larger university, etc. In order to help make ends meet, I also took on a part time job at a local grocer - but that didn't last too long. Between worrying about scheduling conflicts to working with (sometimes) impatient customers to freaking out about my drawer being short, I felt it was too much stress and that I could spend my time doing much more productive things. Like writing. 

So perhaps you'll see more posts from me in 2016? Who knows! Thanks for reading - and I hope you have a happy and festive New Year!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I Need a Library Job: The Struggle is Real

Sometimes you have to take a risk and hope for the best. I’ve shared this news with my friends, family and the community already, but I’ve officially turned in my resignation to the Oskaloosa Public Library – my last day will be September 11. My husband was offered and accepted a really great position with KU Libraries in June, and I’ll be moving back to Lawrence, Kansas to join him. Thus, I’ve been in job search mode for the past couple of months. And the struggle is real.

I feel I was pretty fortunate in getting my past two positions. My first library job was the result of a library school project, and with my second, connections and good references really helped. Honestly, I don’t feel like it was as tough as I’m experiencing now. But I haven’t given up hope yet. Here are a few things I’ve had to learn or remind myself in my new job search:

Don’t let one rejection (or five!) discourage you.
There are a lot of fish in the sea, and there are a lot of librarians in the field. Jobless librarians. Experienced librarians. When there are fifty applicants for one position, there’s a good chance that you may not measure up when compared to the others. But that doesn’t mean you’ll never measure up. The list of available library jobs may be small, but take the time and patience to apply, apply, apply!

Apply, apply, apply!
The more applications you put in, the more you can improve your resume, cover letter and interview skills and the better the chance you’ll have at getting a job. You may think there’s a perfect job at the one perfect library, and you won’t be happy anywhere else, but the time you spend waiting for that job to open at that one library is time you could be spending gaining experience elsewhere.

Learn how to sell yourself.
You may think you have a reputation that precedes you. You may have great connections and references. However, just because you have volunteered or worked for a library before and have done a wonderful job doesn’t mean you’re a shoe-in. Each interview – even if it’s with the same hiring supervisors over and over again – is a new one. You’ve got a new crowd of applicants to compete against. Learn how to translate your skills and abilities to fit the position, and be confident! You don’t have to embellish, but explain how your years of serving tables or selling retail demonstrate your customer service skills, etc.

Be patient.
Waiting to hear back on an application is the toughest part. I know. Some hiring processes are much slower than others – especially when there are 50 applications to dig through. If you’re concerned that they may not have received your application, it’s okay to check in on it, but you don’t have to call in every three days asking for an update. That’s bugging. If you’ve sold yourself well enough in your cover letter, they’ll contact you.

Be grateful – and show it!
Hiring supervisors are busy, and the hiring process takes a lot of their time. If they give you an interview, close it by expressing your gratitude for their time and consideration. Sending a quick thank you letter or email afterward is also nice too. It shows that you care enough about the position and that you’re professional and considerate of their time. If you don’t get this particular job, they may remember you for the next.

You may not get the job you really, really want. I didn't, and it’s been tough. But like I said, I’m not letting it discourage me. Some of my trouble may be because I’m hyper-localizing, but I know there’s a job out there for me, and I’m working really hard for it. To anyone who’s in the same position – keep at it! We’ll get there! Good luck!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Book Review - Anything Could Happen

Tretch lives in a very small town where everybody's in everybody else's business. Which makes it hard for him to be in love with his straight best friend. For his part, Matt is completely oblivious to the way Tretch feels – and Tretch can’t tell whether that makes it better or worse.

The problem with living a lie is that the lie can slowly become your life. For Tretch, the problem isn’t just with Matt. His family has no idea who he really is and what he’s really thinking. The girl at the local bookstore has no clue how off-base her crush on him is. And the guy at school who’s a thorn in Tretch’s side doesn’t realize how close to the truth he’s hitting.

Tretch has spent a lot of time dancing alone in his room, but now he’s got to step outside his comfort zone and into the wider world. Because like love, a true self can rarely be contained. 

-Summary from

There’s much to appreciate about Will Walton’s debut novel, but a lot going on too. Anything could happen for Tretch Farm, and a lot certainly does during his winter break.

Tretch is in love with his straight best friend, Matt, who has two dads. His straight best friend is in love with a girl who may or may not like him back. Tretch tries to avoid a pretentious, yet clueless girl who works in book shop. He struggles with coming out. Then there’s the bully who called him out on his crush. And a grandparent dying of cancer. On top of all that, Tretch learns that his best friend is moving away, which causes him to attempt suicide, but not really. Oh, and a cow gives birth to a breached calf.

That’s only some of it. I appreciate that, underneath all that’s going on for Tretch, Walton’s novel is another coming of age coming out story. I like that he presents Matt’s dads as decent parents who raise a well-adjusted child. Tretch’s feelings for his best friend are honest and realistic. I felt, though, that his maturity was inconsistent. Tretch reads classics and has mature, sexual thoughts about his best friend, but then narrates about fearing and avoiding a black cat because of bad luck. 

I would still recommend this book to anyone who may be struggling with coming out. Walton shows that it’s okay to take that risk and that the results may not be as bad as you expect. Overall, I gave Anything Could Happen 3 out of 5 stars.

You can find Anything Could Happen at a local library by clicking here.

This review also posted on

Friday, August 7, 2015

Book Review - The Book of Unknown Americans

After their daughter Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident, the Riveras leave México and come to America. But upon settling at Redwood Apartments, a two-story cinderblock complex just off a highway in Delaware, they discover that Maribel's recovery--the piece of the American Dream on which they've pinned all their hopes--will not be easy. Every task seems to confront them with language, racial, and cultural obstacles.

At Redwood also lives Mayor Toro, a high school sophomore whose family arrived from Panamà fifteen years ago. Mayor sees in Maribel something others do not: that beyond her lovely face, and beneath the damage she's sustained, is a gentle, funny, and wise spirit. But as the two grow closer, violence casts a shadow over all their futures in America.

-Summary from
The Book of Unknown Americans is a powerful, eye opening portrait of what it's like to be a Latino immigrant in the United States. Henríquez tells the story of the Riveras and the Toros, alternating between Maribel's mother Alma and Mayor. In between their chapters, short vignettes detail the experiences of a number of other Latino immigrants.

What I really liked about the book was how real the characters seemed to me. Alma is fiercely protective of Maribel, especially since she comes to blame herself for Maribel's accident and condition. Her husband, Arturo, devotes himself to keeping a job and staying out of trouble so they can stay in the United States so their daughter can receive the help she needs. Mayor is a freshman in high school who lives under the shadow of an athletically gifted older brother and can't quite live up to his father's expectations.

A neighborhood troublemaker, Garrett, is at the center of the events that lead to the climax of the story. He begins to stalk and pursue Maribel, and it's his interactions with both Mayor and Alma that lead the reader to fear for the girl's safety. What also concerned me, though, was how quickly Mayor's feelings for Maribel developed and how far he takes them. They talk a few times and suddenly he's in love with her and feeling her up.

Overall, though, the story was moving and heartbreaking. I would recommend this book to anyone who needs a clearer picture of how hard some immigrants do work to get into this country and how dedicated they are to doing the right thing.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Passive Program: Coloring Pages for Adults

With the recent popularity of adult coloring books that many libraries are taking advantage of for programs, I decided to cash in at my library as well. I had considered purchasing copies of the books that are available, but then was concerned they would come back...well, colored.

To see if there's actually an interest in my community, I've decided to try out a passive program first. This takes very little staff time, and if the coloring sheets disappear, I know I can take it further. I love the idea of a "coloring and cocktails" program!

I found a list of free adult coloring pages available on the web, printed a few off, copied them and now have them out in the reading room with colored pencils, a pencil sharpener and signage explaining the deal. We already have a number of patrons who frequent the room to work on puzzles we set out, so I'm thinking it may go over pretty well!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Book Review - God Help the Child

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child—the first novel by Toni Morrison to be set in our current moment—weaves a tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult.

At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love. 
There is Booker, the man Bride loves, and loses to anger. Rain, the mysterious white child with whom she crosses paths. And finally, Bride’s mother herself, Sweetness, who takes a lifetime to come to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.” description
Ever since I took a seminar class on Toni Morrison in college, I’ve been a big fan of her work, and I was excited to pick up God Help the Child. Morrison’s characters come to life, and though we may only meet briefly in the pages of her books, you come to feel like you’ve known them for years. Her wisdom and experience exude from her stories, and I always learn a lot.

Even though the description says the novel is set in our current moment, I really felt that the story was timeless. Besides a few mentions of modern technology, I could easily believe if it said 1920’s or 1950’s or the 1960’s. The focal point is on the characters, and technology and modern society doesn’t play too much of a role in the plot.

Anger, pity, jealousy – Morrison develops her characters through their personal experiences and makes you feel something for them. Gold Help the Child is told through multiple perspectives, which is common with a number of Morrison’s novels. Child abuse – psychological, physical, and sexual – is a key theme in the novel and the development of the character’s experiences as adults.

Born with dark, blue-black skin, the central character Bride was raised by Sweetness, a mother who couldn’t bear to event touch her and whose affection stopped short of neglect. However, Bride grows to become a successful career woman in the cosmetics industry, and, with the help of a fashion consultant, learns to love herself through accentuating what her mother found so detestable.

Unexpectedly, Booker, the man she’s been seeing, skips town; his last words, “You not the woman I want.” This leads Bride to a trip through the country to Whiskey, Booker’s hometown. On the way, she wrecks her car and ends up spending six weeks recovering with a rural couple and Rain, the pale skinned girl they’ve taken in. This is where I would have liked to have seen a bit more development. Bride and Rain connect in a way, but their relationship clearly isn’t that important to the main plot.

After Bride recovers, she continues on her path to Whiskey where she plans to confront Booker. Along the way, we learn an important incident in Bride’s childhood that led to a series of events that came between the lovers. The novel closes with Sweetness reflecting on the lasting affect parents have on their children’s lives.

I appreciated this novel like many of Morrison’s, but I put it down wanting more. Perhaps it’s because it’s under 200 pages? I wanted to see more of the relationship between Bride and Rain, as they story only hinted at a connection, but, as in real life, sometimes those connections are fleeting. Overall, I thought God Help the Child was another of Morrison’s inspiring stories.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Prohibition & Free Beer at the Library

This past Monday we had a first for the Oskaloosa Public Library: a free beer tasting! What made it greater, though, was the fact that we paired it with a presentation on prohibition. Local author, Linda Betsinger McCann, shared about her book Prohibition in Eastern Iowa, and afterward the awesome folks from The Cellar Peanut Pub provided samples of four Iowa craft beers.

Linda was a great presenter and storyteller. She shared about her research process and her interactions with the people she interviewed about prohibition in Iowa. It was interesting to learn that Al Capone - who I only ever associated with Chicago - had a presence and influence in Iowa during the 13 year span of prohibition.

I could tell that Linda is passionate about history and about sharing the past with younger generations. What I really appreciated was her effort to research police records from the local paper to share with the audience. She cautioned everyone that they may learn something about someone they know, as she experienced at other presentations!

Following Linda's presentation, I invited the owner of The Cellar Peanut Pub and his pubtender to talk a little bit about the four craft beers they brought for samples. They included beers from Lion Bridge Brewing Company out of Cedar Rapids, Exile Brewing Co. out of Des Moines, and Peace Tree Brewing Co. out of Knoxville.

I'm very grateful that the The Pub was willing to donate the sampling, and hope that they got further business after giving people a taste of what they offer. The owner and pubtender were great, and it seemed like the people sampling the beers really enjoyed them.

Because Oskaloosa tends toward the conservative side, I was prepared to hear some negative feedback about having alcohol in the library; however, I haven't yet. I did, though, do a bit of investigation beforehand to make sure it was all legal. First, I spoke with the state's bureau of alcoholic beverages who said that if the samples were under and ounce and served only to patrons 21 years or older, it wouldn't violate any state ordinances.

Next I checked with the city attorney and the public works director, and they couldn't find anything in zoning ordinances or the city code that prohibited the sampling. Then I checked with the city's insurance to make sure it would be covered under general liability. Finally, I made sure it was cool with the city manager. He even said he spoke to a couple of city council members, and they liked that I was doing new and different things to bring people into the library.

The event brought 40 people to the library, which I felt for a Monday evening was really good. Some of them even revealed on the program survey I handed out that it was the first program they had ever attended at the library. Everyone had positive comments too!