Spring 2013: It’s On!

Have you been waiting with bated breath to hear about the future of Book Buzz?  Well, I have good news for you: Book Buzz WILL continue this spring! Once the weather breaks, we’ll be meeting in more neighborhoods and partnering with more awesome local businesses, to talk about even more awesome books.  Some of the plans are still a little nebulous, but here’s what we know so far:

CLP – Lawrenceville will be hosting Book Buzz: Book Pairings.  Much like fine wines and great food, some books just fit together naturally.  Each month we’ll discuss a classic title at our 115-year-old classic Library.  Then, two weeks later, we’ll discuss a related but more contemporary book.  I’ll be revealing the dates, titles and locations early next week, so stay tuned for more info!

CLP – South Side is jumping on the Book Buzz wagon.  The estimable Suzy Waldo will be bringing a group together for Happy Hour at some of her favorite watering holes to discuss some amazing titles. She told me what they are yesterday, but I’ll let her post them here herself.  Be prepared to be amazed!

CLP – Squirrel Hill is already doing a great genre book club, and they’ll be talking about a couple of my favorite titles this winter and spring. If you need something to tide you over until March, check out their discussion of Going Bovine on February 20th.  But, they’ll also be joining us in Book Buzzing soon!  Hoorah!

CLP – East Liberty will be holding a monthly book discussion, and CLP – Mt. Washington and CLP – Beechview are currently planning quarterly discussion out on the other side of the rivers.  Stay tuned for more information about those programs, too.

Aaaaand…drum roll please…Book Buzz is moving BEYOND book discussions.  For 2013 we’re looking at Bad Craft Nights (because crafts aren’t just for the crafty) and, if we can pull it off, an epic Book Speed Dating Night sometime in the fall.

What do you think? Yinz excited?



Tonight, 12/18/2012, we will be discussing Sister Souljah’s classic street lit title, “Coldest Winter Ever.”  The location for this discussion has changed.  Meet us at the CLP Pop-Up in Allentown, 1206 Arlington Ave.

Wide Awake by David Levithan

Wide Awake by David Levithan is the Book Buzz selection for November.  David Levithan is an award-winning author and editor of books for teens and young adults.  He is a publisher and editor at Scholastic and the founding editor of the PUSH imprint.  Along with Wide Awake, he is the author of Boy Meets Boy, The Realm of Possibility, Nick & Norah’s infinite Playlist (with Rachel Cohn), Love is the Higher Law, The Lover’s Dictionary, Every Day, and many more.  So, to whet your appetite, here is a sample of great lines and funny words from Wide Awake by David Levithan.

“Because words mattered.  Winning the words was a good part of the battle.” (p7)

“School is its own country.” (p7)

” ‘The personal is political’ Jimmy said to me one of the first nights I sneaked over to his house, ‘and the political is personal.  We vote every time we make a choice.  We vote with our lives’.” (p21)

“I also wanted to give him something he could hold in his hand.  It didn’t have to be expensive, only valuable.”  (p43)

“It’s not the end of the world until it’s the end of the world.” (p50)

“Even my voice had seen.” (p57)

“I thought I might change my mind about changing my mind.” (p88)

“I knew he was going to think less of me, but I hoped to minimize the lessness.”  (p90)

“Scorn.  I hit the vein of scorn.” (p91)

“I’ve seen facts get harder and harder to hide–and easier and easier to manipulate.”  (p102)

“My voice was a bare whisper, a pencil mark in the air.”  (p107)

“There was an ounce of further caution in our comfort.”  (p119)

“I knew right away he was rainbow spinkles and he hasn’t proven me wrong yet.”  (p129)

“Most were Stein/Martinez supporters experiencing the power of arrival.” (p134)

“Bodies and banners and signs, clothes of all colors, faces of all ages.”  (p140)

“Once again it felt like history.  But this time our piece was even bigger.”  (p140)

“It was if the air became so saturated with our voices that we were breathing sound.”  (p158)

“It was something beyond a standing ovation–it was a living ovation.”  (p158)

“To add to the thereness of the moment.  To say we would not be moved.”  (p160)

“We’d watched as its first leaves turned the yellow of raincoats.”  (p174)

“She looked like her thoughts hadn’t slept at all since she left.”  (p189)

“I was there.  Just one young gay Jew in a sea of people.  Just one lone voice in an enormous body of sound,  Just one unique person at one unique moment, there to witness something monumental.  I was part of history.  We are all part of history.”  (p221)

Funny Words

sniggering  (p33)

happy zoom  (p40)

thrumping  (p53)

gnashed  (p71)

chainmarts  (p133)

foolio  (p140)

gripple (p150)

hinky jinky  (p181)


Political Fiction…

…and I don’t mean the kind that they write about here.

I’ll admit that, on the sunny, 80 degree day on which we selected David Levithan’s Wide Awake as our November Book Buzz selection, we probably didn’t appreciate how tired of electoral politics many of our readers might be by now.  But if you’re feeling like the girl in this video, you may be in just the right mood to pick up a political novel.

The way I see it, fiction has a wonderful way of putting things into perspective and elevating us above the day-to-day noise.  Because in a great book like the ones below, you won’t find any charts, five point plans, or analysis of body language during a debate.  Instead, you’ll find people — sometimes key power players (didn’t you ever wonder what they’re thinking?), and sometimes the people affected by the policies enacted by the fictional politicians.

So let’s all take a deep breath, step back from the campaigns for a little bit, and dig into some great political fiction!

For starters, now is a good time to introduce our book club book, David Levithan’s Wide Awake.  Talk about the political becoming personal — in a sort-of-but-not-quite-familiar near future, a high school student finds that he has to push away from his family to embrace his political identity.  Do you ever have a hard time making the connection between the political world you see in the news and real, live, personal convictions?  Levithan makes the (hypothetical) political personal in this book, and after reading it, you may find yourself politically energized!


If you want a straight-up classic, try Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men.  Winner of the 1947 Pulitzer Prize, this is the harrowing story of a Louisiana politician’s rise and fall in the 1930’s.  (Also a great movie.)  Supposedly based on the career of Huey Long, with whom I will forever associate the word demagogue because of what must have been a very effective 6th grade history lesson.


Gore Vidal brings the man on the penny to life in Lincoln, his biographical-fictional take on the Great Emancipator.  This is an interesting read — the facts are facts, but Vidal speculates what Lincoln’s experience must have been like.  Fascinating stuff.


Follow three generations of a fictional political dynasty in Ward Just’s Echo House.  Watch the Behl’s peddle influence in the best tradition of cynical, power hungry, backroom politics.

Alan Drury’s Advise and Consent, another Pulitzer winner, could also be called “How the Sausage is Made.”  Watch a fictional (based on reality, as always) Congress push and pull behind the scenes.

You may never meet a shrewder political operative than Tracy Flick, the high school go-getter and student council presidential hopeful in Tom Perrotta’s Election.  This hilarious send-up of electoral politics is highly recommended for anyone ready to check out of election coverage.  (Also a great movie.)

Do you have a favorite political title?  What do you even consider political writing?  I would actually argue that Dune is my favorite political book of all time, but that’s a subject for another post…


Magic and Boarding School and Books, Oh My!

Small but dedicated groups of book buzzers met earlier this month at Tazza d’Oro in Highland Park and at https://www.facebook.com/brewonbroadway in Beechview to discuss Lev Grossman’s literary fantasy novel, The Magicians.  Some people really, really liked it, and other people really, really didn’t — but that’s what makes for a good discussion!  And at both discussion, we started talking about what books it reminded us of, and what other kinds of books we like.

Library staff and customers gather at Tazza d’Oro for great coffee and great conversation.

Some comparisons are obvious — we’re not the first to see major similarities between this title and the Harry Potter books, and the parallels between The Magicians and the Chronicles of Narnia are even more apparent in the sequel, The Magician King.  Grossman was raised on Narnia, and he talks a lot about it in this interview.  But what else is there?

Well, while we were chatting I mentioned that I knew this book was for me because it fits into one of my favorite sub-sub-genres: magical school stories.  And people there asked me what else there was.  And…I drew a complete and utter blank.  How embarassing!  But I promised that I’d pull together a list of some favorites and put it on the blog…and here it is!

Note:  this are NOT true read-alikes for The Magicians.  These are just books that I personally like that combine school stories with fantasy elements.  Your mileage may vary.

Mercedes Lackey goes at the top of this list.  Not all of her books are magical school stories, but many of them are.  A couple to get you started:

Legacies: Spirit White is an orphan, her entire family killed in a devastating accident.  As soon as Spirit is released from the hospital, she’s whisked away to a boarding school unlike any she’s ever heard of.  There she learns that she’s a “legacy” — her parents both attended the school as well.  And apparently the school does more than just teach English and math: it teaches magic.

Foundation: In Book One of the Collegium Chronicles, we meet Mags.  A neglected and abused child slave in a gem mine, Mags is soon rescued by a Companion who carries him into Valdemar, and straight up to the Collegium to be trained to use his heraldic powers.



Tamora Pierce is another of my personal favorites who has several series that might fit the bill.  Although her characters don’t go to school to learn their magic, magic plays a very large part in their life at school.  Alanna’s stories, beginning with Alanna: The First Adventure are the first of the Tortall tales.


Not enough for you? Okay, there’s more!

Bray, Libba.  A Great and Terrible Beauty.

It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls-and their foray into the spiritual world-lead to?

Le Guin, Ursula K. A Wizard of Earthsea.

When Sparrowhawk, a young student at the School for Wizards, becomes overanxious and tries his dangerous powers too soon, he unleashes a terrible evil throughout the land.


Putney, Mary Jo. Dark Mirror.

Lady Victoria Mansfield, youngest daughter of the earl and countess of Fairmount, is destined for a charmed life. Soon she will be presented during the London season, where she can choose a mate worthy of her status. Yet Tory has a shameful secret – a secret so powerful that, if exposed, it could strip her of her position and disgrace her family forever. Tory’s blood is tainted . . . by magic. When a shocking accident forces Tory to demonstrate her despised skill, the secret she’s fought so hard to hide is revealed for all to see. She is immediately exiled to Lackland Abbey, a reform school for young men and women in her position. There she will learn to suppress her deplorable talents and maybe, if she’s one of the lucky ones, be able to return to society. But Tory’s life is about to change forever.

Sabin, E. Rose. A School for Sorcery.

Nothing could have been more unexpected – or exciting – than the letter that arrives in the mail informing Tria Tesserel that she has been accepted at the prestigious Lesley Simonton School for the Magically Gifted. Tria has known since she was a child that she had special gifts. Now she will be able to master her craft among peers as powerful as she. But Tria is crestfallen to discover the school is…well…a bit less grand than advertised. The shock of her dismal, tumbledown surroundings, however, is nothing compared to the surprise that awaits her: her roommate, Lina Mueller.


There are more…lots, lots more…as well as another fantastic sub-sub-genre: books about schools that teach teenagers how to be SPIES.  But that’s another list, for another day.





Coming Soon!

We decided to continue the Book Buzz Book Discussions for at least three more months, and we’re going to expand into parts of the city we haven’t touched before.  I’ll be posting more detailed information soon, but just in case you come to our website before I get around to it, here are our future dates, places and titles:

October: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

October 15, 2012, 7pm, Tazza D’Oro – Highland Park

October 16, 2012, 6pm, Brew on Broadway – Beechview

November: Wide Awake by David Levithan

November 19, 2012, 7pm, Eclilpse – Lawrenceville

November 20, 2012, 7pm, Shiloh Grill – Mt. Washington

December: Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah

December 17, 2012, 7pm, Penn Brewery – Troy Hill

December 18, 2012, 7pm, Cafe Retro – Allentown

Zombies: Here, there and everywhere!

There are few things I like better about my job than suggesting books to people.  The best? Suggesting ZOMBIE books to people.  I love zombie books. I love finding read-alikes. And I REALLY love writing a read-alike list that I don’t even have to think about. So, without any further ado, have a list of books to read if you want to read more about zombies (and a few without zombies that you might like anyway, just because).

A “*” indicates a book that I haven’t read yet, but is WAY at the top of my to-read list.

The Year of the Flood / Margaret Atwood

The times and species have been changing at a rapid rate, and the social compact is wearing as thin as environmental stability. Adam One, the kindly leader of the God’s Gardeners–a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, as well as the preservation of all plant and animal life–has long predicted a natural disaster that will alter Earth as we know it. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have survived: Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked inside the high-end sex club Scales and Tails, and Toby, a God’s Gardener barricaded inside a luxurious spa where many of the treatments are edible. Have others survived?

Note: No zombies in this one, but if you liked the before/after nature of World War Z, you might enjoy this book.

Devil’s Wake / Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due

What happens when an unprecedented infection sweeps the world, leaving the earth on the brink of the Apocalypse? But this infection goes far beyond disease. Beyond even the nightmare images of walking dead or flesh-eating ghouls. The infected are turning into creatures unlike anything ever dreamed of . . . more complex, more mysterious, and more deadly. Trapped in the northwestern United States as winter begins to fall, Terry and Kendra have only one choice: they and their friends must cross a thousand miles of no-man’s-land in a rickety school bus, battling ravenous hordes, human raiders, and their own fears

*The Reapers are the Angels / Alden Bell

Zombies have infested a fallen America. A young girl named Temple is on the run. Haunted by her past and pursued by a killer, Temple is surrounded by death and danger, hoping to be set free. For twenty-five years, civilization has survived in meager enclaves, guarded against a plague of the dead. Temple wanders this blighted landscape, keeping to herself and keeping her demons inside her heart. She can’t remember a time before the zombies, but she does remember an old man who took her in and the younger brother she cared for until the tragedy that set her on a personal journey toward redemption. Moving back and forth between the insulated remnants of society and the brutal frontier beyond, Temple must decide where ultimately to make a home and find the salvation she seeks.

The Zombie Survival Guide / Max Brooks

The Zombie Survival Guide is your key to survival against the hordes of undead who may be stalking you right now. Fully illustrated and exhaustively comprehensive, this book covers everything you need to know, including how to understand zombie physiology and behavior, the most effective defense tactics and weaponry, ways to outfit your home for a long siege, and how to survive and adapt in any territory or terrain.

The Passage / Justin Cronin

The Passage is the story of Amy–abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape–but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.

Note: no zombies, but something almost as good. Trust me.

Feed / Mira Grant

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beat the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED. NOW, twenty years after the Rising, Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives-the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will out, even if it kills them.

Note: If you read no other books on this list, read this one. Please.

The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor / Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

In the Walking Dead universe, there is no greater villain than The Governor. The despot who runs the walled-off town of Woodbury, he has his own sick sense of justice: whether it’s forcing prisoners to battle zombies in an arena for the townspeople’s amusement, or chopping off the appendages of those who cross him.

*Dead of Night / Jonathan Maberry

A prison doctor injects a condemned serial killer with a formula designed to keep his consciousness awake while his body rots in the grave. But all drugs have unforeseen side-effects. Before he could be buried, the killer wakes up. Hungry. Infected. Contagious. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang – but a bite.

Zone One / Colson Whitehead

The plague has sorted humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead. Now the plague is receding, and Americans are busy rebuild­ing civilization under orders from the provisional govern­ment based in Buffalo. Their top mission: the resettlement of Manhattan. Armed forces have successfully reclaimed the island south of Canal Street–aka Zone One–but pockets of plague-ridden squatters remain. While the army has eliminated the most dangerous of the infected, teams of civilian volunteers are tasked with clearing out a more innocuous variety–the “malfunctioning” stragglers, who exist in a catatonic state, transfixed by their former lives. Mark Spitz is a member of one of the civilian teams work­ing in lower Manhattan. Alternating between flashbacks of Spitz’s desperate fight for survival during the worst of the outbreak and his present narrative, the novel unfolds over three surreal days, as it depicts the mundane mission of straggler removal, the rigors of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, and the impossible job of coming to grips with the fallen world.