File - Capstone Portfolio

A Review of Selected Genre
Deborah Bluestein
This paper is submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for
ILS 593 (S70) Readers’ Advisory Services
Southern Connecticut State University
School of Graduate Studies
Elsie Okobi, Ph.D.
Department of Information and Library Science
April 14, 2014
Table of Contents
The Defining Aspects of Genre and Appeal....................................................................................3
In-Depth Reviews of Three Genres
Genre 1, Romance................................................................................................................5
Genre 2, Chick Lit………………………………………….…………………………….11
Genre 3, Crime….………………………………………….…………………………….16
Reviews of Four Additional Genres
Genre 4, Historical Fiction ...………………………...…….…………………………….25
Genre 5, Fantasy.……….………………………………….…………………………….29
Genre 6, Adventure - Spy/Espionage - Political Intrigue…………….………………….32
Genre 7, Nonfiction – Historical and Biography…………………….…………………..36
Limitations of the Reviews and Opportunities for Further Study.................................................41
Appendix …………………...........................................................................................................42
A Review of Selected Genre
Popular fiction and non-fiction books in this course were found to be identifiable and
organized through groups of genre and subgenre that had common characteristics of style, theme,
and appeal, and constituted the primary focus of readers’ advisory services to leisure readers
(Maatta, 2010).
This paper reviewed in-depth some of the defining aspects found in the
literature for the three fiction genres of romance, Chick Lit, and crime. These in-depth studies
were then followed by brief reviews of four additional genres: historical fiction, fantasy fiction,
adventure fiction, and a nonfiction history/biography genre blend. Each review was written from
the perspective of one particular title that was selected and read in anticipation that it would be
representative of the genre, a premise that in some instances became complicated due to the
discovery of genre mixing and crossovers. Sections of this paper and related annotations were
individually submitted during the course, and subsequently consolidated and expanded to form
this final document. The annotations were placed in the Appendix.
The Defining Aspects of Genre and Appeal
During the course it was found that both the fiction and nonfiction used in readers’
advisory had stories to tell, but they had a fundamental underlying difference: The information
conveyed in nonfiction was by definition, factually true. Alpert noted, “The Nonfiction element
means that the story is based on fact, not on the realm of imagination” (2008, p. 26).
Whether fiction or nonfiction, it was found that aspects of genre and elements of appeal
defined both the attraction for readers and how advisors located material. This was important
because the public was using fewer library reference resources and turning to convenient
electronic resources, while simultaneously increasing the circulation of fiction and nonfiction;
and this subsequently allowed librarians to transfer their attentions to other services that included
a renewed focus on advisory (Saricks, 2005).
Genre fiction has been a major driver of increased fiction circulation, and was identified
by Maatta as popular fiction intended for leisure reading and entertainment, as opposed to
literary fiction that sought to explored the deeper facets of the human condition (2010, p. 118).
Although the number of principal fiction genre categories listed by scholars sometimes varied,
those commonly used appeared to be based on succeeding versions of the volume, Genreflecting,
most recently authored and updated by Diana Tixier Herald (2005). These categories generally
included historical fiction, westerns, crime, adventure, romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror,
Christian fiction, and emerging genres (Herald, 2005).
For nonfiction, the narrative style has been a major driver of increased circulation, the
term “narrative” referring to forms written in a style taken from techniques used in fiction, such
as scene setting, multidimensional characters, and a compelling voice (Alpert, 2006, p. 26).
Subject headings have long been the traditional approach to identifying nonfiction
material. But the development and growth of narrative nonfiction, led by popular works such as
Silent Spring (Carson, 1962) and In Cold Blood (Capote, 1965), created a need for the elements
of appeal that were used in fiction readers’ advisory and discussed below, to then be applied to
nonfiction advisory as well (Alpert, 2008). To use appeal in this way required an alternate
method of identifying nonfiction categories: by genre and subgenre. These coexisted with major
subject headings, but in a manner that allowed the necessary appeal elements to characterize a
narrative. The identification of genre categories was applied to nonfiction by Saricks (2005) and
others, such as Amy Alpert (2006), who recognized a list of nonfiction genres in common use
that included in part: biography/autobiography; essays/short true stories; humor; travel; survival,
exploration, and adventure; animals and nature; science/technology; medicine; self-help, and
inspirational; business; lifestyle and entertainment; religion; sports; true crime; history; and
journalistic exposes, current affairs, and politics.
The appeal attraction for readers consisted of those elements of a piece of material (such
as a book, audio tape, or film) to which a user related and responded; and in the practice of
reader’s advisory, appeal was ascertained by the advisor in order to suggest books to patrons that
coincided with what they would like to read. Joyce Saricks called this process “identifying the
“feel” so that we can work better with readers” (2005, p. 42). She listed the main appeal
elements as pacing (both the speed of reading and revealing of plot and characters);
characterization (point of view, number and familiarity); storyline (plot, action level, intent, and
complexity); frame and tone (time, atmosphere, detail, and mood); and the author’s writing style
(such as direct or conversational, simplistic or flamboyant) (p. 66). These elements of appeal
were applicable to both fiction and nonfiction (p. 69).
In-Depth Reviews of Three Genres
Genre 1, Romance: The Sins of the Mother, by Danielle Steel (2012)
Romance fiction was described as a work “celebrating the emotional development of a
love relationship”, which concluded by overcoming the obstacles keeping two people apart
(Adkins, 2005, p. 253). This happy ending requirement was clarified even further by Joyce
Saricks, who emphasized that the lead characters must “recognize and affirm their love”;
otherwise, the book may be romantic, but it “is not a Romance” (2009, p. 135).
Review of the literature regarding the basic requirements for this genre indicated the
strength of other romance characteristics may vary, particularly within some subgenres or in
works that contain aspects of crossover into other genres. But romances generally included an
emphasis on relationships more than plot, an emotional tone that caused the reader to feel they
are participating in the story, an empowered and validated woman as the lead character, a hero
who learns to acknowledge his feelings and need for the heroine, and a predictable and satisfying
conclusion (Saricks, 2009, p. 135; Herald, 2005, p. 172).
Appeal components may also have varied, but in Saricks (2009, pp. 132-138) romances
were described as usually having an upbeat, optimistic tone (particularly at the end); the writing
may be fast paced, yet readers could be interrupted and resume reading without losing track of
the story; and the books were usually quickly and easily read. Saricks continued that the primary
characters were revealed from a third person perspective and seemed familiar to the reader.
Women were smart, independent, and articulate; men strong but often distant, and each were
being compelled to change.
Secondary characters might be quirky and carry underlying,
subordinate story lines. The main plot, also subordinate to the emphasis on relationships, might
provide a backdrop of business or social issues, and a woman’s struggle to succeed. There were
usually interesting framing details about time and place, although romance style usually
employed character conversation more than description (2009).
Readers responding to the appeals of romance were primarily women interested in the
positive images of a strong female lead character striving to overcome adversity, and also in the
male characters who were caring and eventually able to love and express that love (Herald, 2005,
pp. 254-255).
Women readers were also drawn by the reassurance of predictable, happy
outcomes and validation of female roles and values.
There were many subgenres within the romance category, and each of these had
additional subdivisions with unique features. Although the number and defining characteristics
might vary somewhat by theorist, subgenre lists predominantly included those listed by Herald
(2005, pp. 261-307), who described them as follows.
Contemporary romance – These novels were set in a post-World War II period
with characters usually in their twenties or thirties who faced obstacles found in
contemporary life and familiar to the reader. Books now considered classics
might have been contemporary in their time (such as the works of Samuel
Richardson or Jane Austin). Subdivisions of this genre included sensuous novels
(describing erotic intimate details), and sweet (no sexual activity).
Romantic suspense – Realistic stories with aspects of mystery, the subcategories
were derived from settings that were contemporary, historical, paranormal
(futuristic), or gothic.
Historical romance – Written at least fifty years after the portrayed period, the
plot basis or backdrop was founded in historic characters or events described with
a sense of authenticity.
Subdivisions included general historical, which had
unique settings; frontier and western (rugged outdoors); Native American;
medieval (castles and knights); and Scotland (18th century adventure set in rugged
highlands, with fights between clans or the English). Another subdivision was
regency, set in early 19th century England’s formal, fashionable society. The saga
subcategory depicted succeeding family generations and was often in series, with
multiple themes and plots that frequently did not have happy endings. Lastly
there were the hot historicals, which had a sexual focus and were further divided
into sweet-and-savage (sexual fantasies about a seduced or sexually abused
heroine, often in exotic settings), and spicy (less violence and stronger heroines).
Paranormal romance – Set in futuristic or timeless periods, there were characters
such as vampires, ghosts, and psychic or magic abilities. Subcategories included
fantasy (faerie or supernatural); time-travel; paranormal beings (vampires and
werewolves); and futuristic themes (from science fiction, virtual reality, space
travel, and aliens).
Ethnic romance – Characters and settings were tailored to particular groups of
readers; subcategories included African American, Latina, and Native American
(western settings).
Danielle Steel’s novel, The Sins of the Mother (2012), fell primarily into the subgenre of
contemporary romance (an annotation that included a summary of the plot for the book was
placed in the Appendix).
Olivia was the main protagonist, but the marriages and love
relationships of her children received almost more focus in this novel than those of Olivia
herself. In this story there were multiple characters overcoming the expected obstacles in the
emotional development of a love relationship, and as the primary matriarch, Olivia’s own love
developed as much in relationships with her children as it did with the man in her life.
Other hallmarks of romance were fully demonstrated: Olivia was a strong female lead
character; her sons and her daughters’ lovers were men who grew to see beyond appearances,
and acknowledge and surrender to a need for the women. There was affirmation that obstacles
could be overcome and end happily for everyone (even the death of Olivia’s mother occurred in
The story was set in the same time period as the reader and presented current daily life
challenges, which made it a contemporary romance (Herald, 2005, p. 264). But there were some
aspects of other primary and subgenre here as well. The protagonist was mature, with grown
children, which was found in women’s fiction; and the woman was coping with keeping a
balance between a career and her relationships, which was also a feature of Chick Lit (Herald,
2005, p. 493-494).
Critical reviews of the Steel book were mixed.
Additional information and some
interesting perspectives on this author, genre, or other romance titles were found in the following
resources (see references for publisher information).
A reviewer for called it “...classic Danielle Steel at her
best...allows readers to journey across the world without ever leaving their easy
chairs and provides a feel-good read that will leave them with a smile on their
faces” (Taylor, 2012).
The Fresh Fiction reviewer said it was “an exceptional story of the rights
and wrongs within a family and the road to unforgettable novel that
pulls at the heartstrings!” (Quintin, 2012).
But Kirkus Media (2012a) had a different view, “… this feels more like a
factory product than a book as such—competent enough, and resembling a book
in form, but with a certain emptiness at its heart. Still, if you care about the
tribulations of the very rich, this is your book.”
Additional information and some interesting perspectives on this author, genre, or other
romance titles were found in the following resources (see references for publisher information).
The Lives of Danielle Steel: The Unauthorized Biography of America's #1
Best-Selling Author, by Vickie L. Bane and Lorenzo Benet (Steel’s third exhusband, 1995). An unauthorized biography presented the author’s life as having
a strong resemblance to those of many women and upheavals in Steel’s novels. A
brief opposing view was found in a San Francisco Chronicle article where Steel
claimed that the biography ruined her fourth marriage (Carroll, 1997).
Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre (Genreflecting Advisory Series),
by Kristin Ramsdell (2012). This was a comprehensive text on the romance genre
by the romance columnist for Library Journal.
Rethinking the Romance Genre: Global Intimacies in Contemporary
Literary and Visual Culture, by Emily S. Davis (2013). The author took a look at
print and media romance fiction through its interaction with global issues in areas
of politics, feminism, and sexuality.
Romance Writers of America (RWA) was found to be a non-profit
organization of authors that promoted the genre, offers awards and scholarships,
and sponsors workshops and events. Their website was
All About Romance. This blog site had an archive of over 7,000 reviews,
along with author articles, conference reports (RWA), and message boards.
Blogging for a Good Book - Romance. Booklists and reviews were found
with reader ratings, some readalikes, and links to other sites.
The site was
provided by the Williamsburg (VA) Regional Library.
Goodreads – Romance Book Lists. This comprehensive, up to date listing
of popular romance books was divided by different attributes such as subgenre,
appeal, and series. Site also had reviews, recommendations, and user tagging.
Kirkus – Romance Book Reviews.
This website carried synopsis and
reviews of current selected titles, in addition to blogs and author information.
The Romance Reader.
This website of volunteer reviewers offered
monthly summaries of nearly 100 new romance releases by subgenre. The site
was simple, easy to navigate, did not allow industry advertisers, and prided itself
in candid book reviews. URL:
One of the most intriguing aspects of the romance genre and all genres in general, was
that they had not remained static. Danielle Steel’s mixing of a few genres and subgenre elements
in the novel examined here was an example of that fluidity. And as authors continued to produce
crossover and new subgenres through innovative storylines, characters, and settings, the resulting
dynamic appeared to hold the interest of readers, expanded their selection options, and
broadened the focus and profession of readers’ advisory.
Genre 2, Chick Lit: Someday, Someday, Maybe, by Lauren Graham (2013)
As a genre, Chick Lit was found to be a relatively recent addition that began in the late
1990’s with the novel Bridget Jones’s Diary, and provided fiction that was youthful and vibrant
in its outlook, characters, and audience (Maatta, 2010). It also had the contemporary and
realistic aspect of another genre considered to be “emerging”, women’s fiction (Herald, 2005),
and some of the literature treated Chick Lit as a subgenre within that category (Maatta, 2010;
Saricks, 2009). Both genres had careers and relationships vying for the heroine’s focus. But
Chick Lit was set apart by its witty, gossipy dialog and the unconventional approaches to daily
travails carried out by the genre’s often twenty-something female lead characters (Herald, 2005).
The largest group of Chick Lit readers were generally women in their twenties and
thirties (Herald, 2005) drawn by the genre’s distinct appeal qualities. The novels might feel fastpaced, and the characters could be quirky as they rapidly changed their focus (Maatta, 2010)
from one activity, or thought, to the next. The storylines were character based and involved their
relationships, although careers were usually a primary concern for the main protagonists, and
Maatta noted that the settings were usually urban and in a contemporary frame, with a lot of
references to pop culture, a preoccupation with name brands, and a tone that was upbeat and
humorous (2010).
Although primary sources such as Herald, Maatta, and Saricks did not provide a complete
list of Chick Lit subgenres, they did mention a few, such as Mommy Lit (young mothers) and
Hen Lit, that featured women over forty (Maatta, 2010); multicultural forms such as those
featuring Asian Americans; inspirational versions (Saricks, 2009); and some crossovers into
mystery and the paranormal (Herald, 2005). Online resources, such as Chick Lit Books (2013),
itemized many more categories, which appeared to generally rely on ethnicity, values, setting, or
career status as the basis for their designation: Jewish Chick Lit, Christian Chick Lit, Glamor Lit
(famous or rich women), Single City Girl Lit (city-specific), Wedding Lit, and Working Girl Lit
(revolving mostly around careers). If one were to accept this breakout, a novel such as Someday,
Someday, Maybe would likely be categorized as Single City Girl Lit.
Some of the expansion in Chick Lit subgenres stemmed from the maturation of the
original authors and audience, who were facing new circumstances as they progressed from
singles to the balancing of career and family (Maatta, 2010). But the resulting Mommy Lit and
Hen Lit novels maintained the same breezy writing style of the original genre (2010).
As with women’s fiction, relationships were a primary ingredient of Chick Lit, and lead
characters had mutually supportive female friends who sustained them (Maatta, 2010). Men, and
the romance they brought to the story, were important to the character, but Lauren Graham’s
Someday, Someday, Maybe (2013), demonstrated that male characters might be overshadowed in
the writing by a focus on the female lead’s reactions to them, and the effect of those reactions on
other aspects of her life and career. Thus, in this novel the male characters were detailed
primarily for those attributes that impacted the heroine.
Someday, Someday, Maybe also remained true to many of the other expected appeal
characteristics of Chick Lit (an annotation that includes a summary of the plot for the book can
be found in the Appendix). The pace of the story seemed quicker than it actually was in the
number of pages turned, because the thoughts of the heroine, Franny, were constantly jumping
away from the immediate action that surrounded her, and wandering off to speculate about what
others were thinking, or to ruminate on what brought her to this scene, or to drift into musings
about seemingly unrelated activities scheduled on her Filofax. A cultural icon representing the
stereotypical career woman, Filofax pages appeared interspersed between chapters, and by
varying the number and content of the pages, the author was able to summarize, compress or
extend time, and move the reading along at the desired pace. The Filofax device also alerted the
reader to important changes in Franny’s predicaments, as when it was replaced by a sheet from a
television program’s crew call schedule to signal the possibility of an important breakthrough in
her career.
First person narrative was often a key mechanism of Chick Lit when exploring “all about
attitude and relationships” (Herald, 2005, p. 499). Through a stream of consciousness writing
style, the main character, Franny, stood fully revealed in her difficulties with focusing on the
moment, and her uncertainties about how others perceived and reacted to her. In confidential
and witty exchanges with a much wiser Jane, the two women discussed Fanny’s often muddled
and chaotic search for the right choices in hair and clothes, her agents, auditions, and lovers.
And so this gentle, sometimes a bit sexy story proceeded at a steady pace through the
days of its familiar, if a little quirky lead character, and the amusing, yet insightful details about
the difficulties of love, and of finding and keeping acting work in the entertainment business.
The reception by reviewers was generally enthusiastic, and focused on the humor and
authenticity of the novel’s “backstage” look at the entertainment business:
“Descriptions of the indignities suffered by struggling actresses feel
hilariously, and poignantly, authentic.” J. Kaufman (2013) in The Wall Street
“Franny's struggles are so real, so relatable, and at times so familiar that
one wonders just how much of this first novel is autobiographical. Recommended
for all aspiring actors and for any reader who has ever wondered about the life of
an actor before she becomes a star.” Jennifer Beach (2013) in Library Journal
“…a funny and charming debut about finding yourself, finding love, and,
most difficult of all, finding an acting job.” Goodreads (n.d.)
For additional information about this author, genre, or other Chick Lit titles, the
following resources provided interesting insight (see references for publisher information).
Lauren Graham On Writing, Procrastinating, and Her
Favorite Authors, by Emma Chastain (2013). This was a brief interview, but the
author gave some serious responses and insight into her academic background,
interest in literature, and approach to writing.
Chick Lit: The New Woman’s Fiction, by Suzanne Ferriss (2005). This
genre guide in fourteen essays provided chapters on the early background
(beginning with Jane Austin) and seminal works of Chick Lit, the various
subgenres, and its role within women’s literature in a world of postfeminism.
Chick Lit and Postfeminism (Cultural Frames, Framing Culture series), by
Stephanie Harzewski (2011). The book included the author’s exploration of the
historical framework and social conditions surrounding the development of Chick
Lit; how the genre and its reception by fans and critics illuminated a consumer
culture, gender relations and the struggles between the women’s movement and
postfeminism; and how it fit into the traditions of fiction and narrative.
Novelicious: Chick Lit Author Websites.
This resource carried links to
nearly 50 blogs and websites of the most popular Chick Lit authors. URL:
Chloe's Chick Lit Reviews.
This website carried reviews, author
interviews, and booklists. This site also had a special version for mobile.
The Best Chick Lit. In addition to reviews and booklists, this blog site
included guest blogs, author interviews, and author tour information.
Chick Lit Club. This site had book lists with brief reviews and ratings by
title and by author, and also listed chick films with reviews, and some author
interviews. URL:
Goodreads: Genres – Women’s’ Fiction – Chick Lit.
A list of recent
Chic Lit books was found, with access to reviews, recommendations, and user
tagging. URL:
As a recent growing and evolving part of genre, Chick Lit offered new energy and vitality
to the fiction shelves of the library. It attracted a young audience and broadened that portion of
the community exposed to learning about and valuing the contribution that their local library
could make to their leisure reading.
Genre 3, Crime: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (2012)
Both Herald (2005) and Maatta (2010) referred to “crime” and “mysteries” as
synonymous before progressing into subgenre headings that might include use of the words
separately in conjunction with other descriptives, such as “cozy mystery”. In general, all types
of crime/mystery books featured characters with a puzzle or problem to solve, sometimes a
secondary character that helped in the investigation, and some form of tension during the process
of seeking a resolution (Saricks, 2009). Pacing was usually relentless and always compelling;
and although storylines centered on solving the puzzle, characterization was important and
focused on the protagonist and critical secondary characters (good and bad), who might reappear
if the book was part of a series (2009). Other characteristics and elements of appeal, such as
frame, tone, and style might vary widely by author and within subgenres.
For many readers of crime/mystery, detectives appearing in series were a major appeal of
the genre. Saricks (2009) noted that they followed detectives and other characters they liked
from book to book, reading them in serial order and not being too particular about how the books
were regarded in reviews. Inexpensive paperback crime serials appearing only in paperback
were found to be a problem for libraries, however, because if lost or damaged they could not be
replaced, frustrating future readers who might become interested in a series but then be unable to
find some books on the shelf (2009).
Crime/mystery readers were also found to have subgenre preferences, such as police or
private investigators, and many favored particular types of locations and frames, such as urban
settings or art-related stories (Saricks, 2009, p. 218).
As described by Herald (2005), the mystery/crime genre was broad and each subgenre
contained many other subdivisions.
One area of criminal activity not included under
mystery/crime, however, was the thriller. With the one exception of legal thrillers, that subgenre
appeared with adventure novels because they generally involved spies, espionage, and terrorism.
For mystery/crime, Genreflecting provided the following information unless otherwise noted.
Cozy (classical) mysteries were described by Erin Smith (in Herald, 2005, p. 137)
as occurring in a particular community, with interesting lead characters who used
observation, deduction, and logic. Maatta (2010) pointed out that the stories
revolved around solving crimes perpetrated by individuals, and appealed to the
reader’s sense of justice and a desire to solve the author’s puzzle along with the
protagonist. Readers looking for readalikes often wanted sleuths who exhibited
similar behaviors.
Maatta continued that these books were complex (which
controlled the pace), might incorporate social issues and location details important
to the reader, and varied from the dark to humorous.
Detective Stories had several subordinate levels of subgenre, and were described
as being based in a modern, complex society in which detectives specialized in
solving crimes, and were favored by readers based on how closely readers
believed the detective resembled themselves (Saricks, 2009). Plots often ended
up being secondary in the reader’s memory, although the structure and complexity
of the plot might subliminally influence enjoyment, but settings and secondary
focus, such as protagonist temperament, hobbies, and pets might become very
important to the reader, particularly in series (Herald, 2005).
Some of the
detective subgenres under detective stories were the following.
o Professionals - Police Detective stories were described by Saricks (2009)
as involving entire departments or individual investigators that had
multiple cases in various stages of resolution. Details about department
procedures, forensics, and locations might be critical, and investigators
were often in physical danger, with stories that could be dark and bleak,
and contain graphic sex and violence (particularly in urban settings).
o Professionals - Private Investigators were professionals hired to pursue a
single case almost invariably associated with murder (Saricks, 2009). The
setting was urban, the frame was contemporary, the tone was generally
dark, and the protagonists usually related the story in first person, with
characterizing details that often showed them to be flawed loners who
sometimes worked outside the laws of a deficient legal system (2009).
o Professionals – Ex-cops gave crime authors the opportunity to display
knowledge of police procedure, while having the flexibility of not being
confined by agency rules and limitations. Stories could be helped by the
detective’s insider access to officials, and extended (perhaps in series) by
viewing a detective first as an officer and later in the private sector.
o Unofficial detectives - Hard-boiled, were described by Herald (2005) as
featuring no detective backgrounds, but merely regular people somehow
drawn in to a situation of solving a particular crime. A bleak mood,
violence, and dark situations characterized this subgenre.
o Unofficial detectives - Amateur detectives were described by Saricks
(2009) as being usually presented in a lighter, sometimes humorous tone.
They became interested in a puzzle encountered through normal activities
or a hobby, and used intuition and observations to unofficially solve the
mystery, although they might have a relationship with police, who usually
took a disparaging view toward them (2009).
o Diversity Detection included gay and lesbian professional and
nonprofessional detectives, and also ethnic minority detectives, who added
a strikingly different dimension to storylines and characters (Herald, 2005,
p. 173). It was also noted that women were no longer part of this subgenre
because novels featuring female detectives had grown to nearly half of the
detective category (2005).
o Subjects/Themes presented crimes in a particular setting, or involving a
particular profession, interest, or hobby. Some listed themes were sports,
cooking, bibliomysteries (such as librarians), and the art world (Herald,
o Genreblends included historical settings, with the caveat that many
nineteenth century detectives were contemporary at the time of publication
(such as Sherlock Holmes).
Other subdivisions included futuristic
mysteries and bizarre blends (such as vampire detectives) (Herald, 2005).
Suspense was also treated by Herald (2005) as a subgenre of crime/mystery, but
this type focused primarily on the psychology of a criminal who might already be
identified for the reader. Although suspense was not found to be unique to crime
novels, Saricks (2009) noted that within that genre it evolved around the unknown
of what would happen next inside a contemporary and narrow time frame, and
around finding out why the crime was committed.
The tone was dark and
menacing, the pace was relentless, the villain’s thoughts were sometimes known
to the reader (but not the protagonist), and there might be explicit crime scene
Authors might include a prolog device to setup the story, and the
protagonist was developed to draw the empathy of the reader as the story
proceeded to a confrontation where he/she must figure out how to escape the
villain (2009).
o Serial Killers and Psychopaths – This aspect of madness added to
suspense elements usually portrayed a woman as the victim (Herald,
Saricks noted that serial killers were becoming particularly
popular, while violence had become more graphic and “protagonists more
damaged” (2009, p. 69).
o Romance/Suspense Writers was a subdivision that consisted of many
authors who had migrated from romance into the suspense genre and
began blending appeal elements of the two forms together (Herald, 2005).
Crime/caper presented many rogue protagonists as career criminals, but regardless
of their background, all of the protagonists exhibited cunning as their major trait
(Herald, 2005). The mood for these books varied from humorous to dark.
Legal thrillers - Thrillers generally differed from suspense in that the reader did
not know the thoughts of the killer (Maatta, 2010, p. 134). Instead, there was an
insider’s view of chasing down criminals by a particular profession. Saricks
(2009) described the subgenre as having professional details in technical jargon;
strong but sometimes flawed protagonists; a breakneck pace; a dark and gritty
tone; frequent violence; and complex conspiratorial plots and twists often drawn
from contemporary headlines and moral debates. Herald (2005) narrowed the
scope of thrillers that fell under the genre of crime to legal thrillers, and observed
that the professionals were usually lawyers. Saricks also pointed out that in crime
thrillers, the protagonist might turn out to be the villain (2009, p. 78).
In addition to the appeal elements of crime/mystery, Gone Girl (Flynn, 2012) contained
many aspects of suspense and its subcategory, serial killers and psychopaths (an annotation that
includes a summary of the plot for the book can be found in the Appendix). These included the
identification of the criminal through a good portion of the novel and the uncertainty of Nick’s
escape. But the greatest impact came from Amy’s madness, which was revealed to the reader
slowly through the discoveries of her husband, Nick, and then later through her own voice.
Together, Nick and Amy consumed most of the narrative focus, and secondary characters, even
Nick’s supportive twin sister, his naïve girlfriend, Amy’s worried parents, and the investigators,
participated only briefly as needed to further the reader’s view of Nick’s predicament. The
settings provided were small Missouri towns, but they really could have been be anywhere,
because the relevant settings were within the isolated thoughts of Nick and Amy.
In the mechanism of the first person narrative of a diary, Amy was seen as her husband
first believed her to be, and then as she wished to be known to the police so that her crime would
succeed. The time frame, over a period of seven days, built in suspense as Nick’s daily events
alternated with Amy’s diary passages beginning more than five years earlier. Then the diary
stopped, and the current voice of Amy began, mad, but amused, and menacing. The tone was
desperate for Nick, although his own lies did not make him a terribly sympathetic figure.
Finally, abruptly, Amy’s reappearance reset both the clock and the tone. The relentless pace for
the reader fell away, even as the story skipped forward first half a week and paused, skipped
again a month, and then to other months, lingering a moment at each one. The tone for Amy
grew triumphant, but for Nick became first despairing, then resigned, and finally slipped into
madness all his own.
Reviewers were very enthusiastic about Gone Girl, particularly the plot twists that
evolved as the story progresses:
“...they had the kinds of fights, infidelity, money troubles and other noirstyle problems that witnesses will remember now that Amy’s gone…Perhaps
these sound like standard-issue crime story machinations. They’re not. They’re
only the opening moves for the game Ms. Flynn has in mind, which is a two-sided
contest in which Nick and Amy tell conflicting stories. Each addresses the reader:
Nick in the present tense, and Amy by way of an italics-filled, giddily emotional
diary about the marriage. Both Nick and Amy are extremely adept liars, and they
lied to each other a lot. Now they will lie to you...Ms. Flynn’s dazzling
breakthrough. It is wily, mercurial, subtly layered and populated by characters so
well imagined that they’re hard to part with..." Janet Maslin (2012) in The New
York Times
“Interspersing the mystery of Amy’s disappearance with flashbacks from
her diary, Flynn shows the marriage lumbering toward collapse—and prepares the
first of several foreseeable but highly effective twists. One of those rare thrillers
whose revelations actually intensify its suspense instead of dissipating it. The
final pages are chilling...” Kirkus Reviews (2012b)
“…Nick and Amy, both unreliable narrators in their own ways. The reader
comes to discover their layers of deceit through a process similar to that at work
in the imploding relationship. Compulsively readable, creepily unforgettable, this
is a must read for any fan of bad girls and good writing.” Publishers Weekly
There was additional information about this author, genre, or other crime titles in the
following resources (see references for publisher information).
Best of 2012 (behind the scenes): Gillian Flynn on Gone Girl Twists "it's fine with me if people don't like the ending", by Stephan Lee (2012). In this
interview the author discussed the novel's reception; antiheroes, justice and happy
endings; open ended books that inspired her; and the types of plot lines that
engaged her.
The Readers' Advisory Guide to Mystery, by J. Charles, et al (2012). This
handbook provided information on the history and appeal of mysteries. Several
chapters explored individual subgenres in detail, such as amateur sleuths, private
investigators, police procedurals, and genre-blended mysteries.
The scope
included annotated lists of mystery resources and bibliographies, and advice
building and marketing the library mystery collection.
There was also a
discussion of readers' advisory interviews tailored to mystery patrons, such as
special questions regarding their interest in stand-alone stories versus series, and
their sensitivity to graphic violence. This text was one in a series of readers'
advisory guides from the American Library Association.
The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing (1999). This book
provided a collection of extensive articles and essays on authors and their works,
the development of the genre, its subgenres and schools of writing, and the
components of mystery writing.
The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime: Forgotten Cops and
Private Eyes from the Time of Sherlock Holmes (2011). A collection of short
stories or individual chapters, this book also contained related discussions and
biographical sketches on authors and their forgotten cops and private eyes from
the time of Sherlock Holmes
Stop, You're Killing Me! This website of mystery, crime, and suspense
had pages showing monthly additions to their archive, new releases by media
type, book reviews, readalikes, genre lists, author and series character lists,
character employment lists (!), story location lists, awards lists, and a site search
engine. The site was easy to follow and appeared to be up to date and well
maintained. URL:
NPR Books - Mysteries, Thrillers & Crime.
National Public Radio
sponsored this site, which carried mystery book reviews of recent releases and
news about the books and authors.
Blogging for a Good Book. A site from the Williamsburg, PA Regional
Library, this resource had three archives for crime subgenres: high suspense,
mysteries, and crime, in addition to reviews for each genre and booklists. URL:
Goodreads – Listopia: Crime Book Lists. As with other genre at this site,
there were divisions by different attributes such as subgenre, appeal, and series,
along with reviews and recommendations.
Because there was such a wide variety of crime/mystery genres and appeal factors, it
appeared that there should be a book that could garner the interest of any fiction reader. The
combination of suspense, pacing, characterization, and frequent use of a serial format by some of
the most popular authors in the genre kept it fresh and allowed librarians to continually introduce
new, exciting material to their readers.
Reviews of Four Additional Genres
Genre 4, Historical Fiction: Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, by Jennifer Chiaverini (2013)
The skill of combining history with an interesting story helped successful authors in this
genre bring the reader into the lives and motivations of people that might be otherwise unknown.
Maatta (2010) noted that the reader assumed the author was being reasonably accurate about how
people of the period and culture were likely to have lived, and had conducted thorough research
in preparation for writing the book. Thus, background detail and accurate depiction of characters
were major factors in historical fiction’s appeal, and helped to give substance to the drama that
took place in the story (Kelly, 2005). Other appeal factors for this genre were a slow to moderate
pacing, but with writing that retained the reader’s interest and evoked an emotional response to
the people and periods portrayed (2005).
Readers of this type of fiction were often trying to understand their own roots, discover
historical facts, and learn about the people and events that shaped the world in which they live
(Maatta, 2010). Kelly also indicated that readers were perhaps reading to escape into a different
time and place, or to try and experience what the author indicated was happening during events
in the text (2005).
Storylines might be portrayed in any particular time before the mid-20th Century, and
placed in any geographic area. Historical fiction was often written in the form of sagas (covering
decades or centuries), epics (spanning centuries or millennia), and chronicles, and provided the
reader with a sense of how events might impact the characters over time (Maatta, 2010, and
Herald, 2005). It was also easily mixed with other genres such as women’s fiction, romance,
adventure, and mystery (Maatta). In addition to sagas, as listed in Herald, subgenres of historical
fiction were period-based and include prehistoric, ancient civilizations, middle ages, exploration
and the Renaissance, exotic locations, the Americas (including subgenres of the Colonial period
and Civil War), and the 20th Century.
In Mrs. Lincoln’s Seamstress, the Civil War was the driving force in the lives of all the
characters (an annotation that includes a summary of the plot for the book can be found in the
Appendix). The protagonist, Elizabeth, like most of the other main characters, was a factual
person, and she personified the freed former slave of the period. Her relationships with the
women she served demonstrated the differences of race and class that made life difficult at the
time; and also related how people reached around those boundaries in order to meet their wants
and needs. The author described many examples of the constant fear that people of color
endured in maintaining their free status, such as concern for the places where they walked that
might pose physical danger, taking care in how they conducted themselves to the white ruling
class, and even how they interacted with one another. Although the author did not take the
reader directly into such emotions, the underlying terror of the age was understood by the reader.
Much emphasis in the reviews was placed on the historical persona of the main character,
Elizabeth, and her relationship to the Lincolns and the war.
“Mrs. Keckley’s rise from slave to independent businesswoman for the
elite would be fascinating had she landed in the White House next to Chester
Arthur. That she was privy to the halls of power during the most fateful moments
in the Union’s history makes her that much more compelling.” John Williams
(2013) in The New York Times
“Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker vividly imagines how the Civil War touched
daily life in Washington.” John Wilwol (2013) in Washingtonian
“…an interesting perspective for viewing the cultural and social turmoil of
the times.” Kirkus Reviews (2012)
Additional information about this genre and other historical fiction titles was found in the
following resources (see references for publisher information).
Defining the Genre: What are the rules for historical fiction? by Sarah
Johnson (2002). A discussion of what makes a novel historical, and some of the
differences in how publishers view categorizing the historical novels they publish.
Read On - Historical Fiction: Reading Lists for Every Taste, by Brad
Hooper was an annotated bibliography of recent and classical fiction categorized
according to appeal, topics, and themes.
Popular Genre Historical Fiction Books. From Goodreads, this site listed
reviews, ratings, booklists, and recommendations for historical fiction.
Historical Novel Review. This web blog carried book reviews, book lists,
and author interviews.
There were breakouts by period, country, topic, and
subgenre. URL:
Historical Fiction: A Guide to the Genre, by Sarah Johnson. Part of the
Genreflecting guide series, this was a comprehensive look at each subgenre,
including some classifications that were broken out in ways other than by time
period, such as Christian historical fiction and adventure historical novels.
Historical listed over 5,000 historical novels by subgenre
including period and geographic location. The site also carried some reviews for
listed novels. URL:
Historical Fiction Daily was a daily news-style format of historical fiction
related news stories, photos, videos, education and arts, all contributed by blog
followers and participants. URL:
Provo City Library Historical Fiction Blog provided booklists by genre,
suggested readings, readalike authors, and reviews by Provo librarians. URL:
Although this was a fictionalized account of the life of a historical figure, it was apparent
the author had done considerable research of on Elizabeth and concerns of contemporary African
Americans, the Lincolns and leading members of Washington society, particular military events
that affected the Washington area, and the atmosphere following the assassination. That made
the book an informative read of what it felt like to live in that time and place and demonstrated
why this was such a popular genre.
Genre 5, Fantasy: The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker (2013)
To varying degrees fantasy was found to be comprised of several basic traits: a story that
created a believable world with an urgent plot and a formidable conflict; characters that were
generally like common people, but naïve, willing to engage in adventure, and able to evolve and
grow; another world similar to our own, where the reader could immediately enter and live; a
conflict between good and evil; a quest that was a spiritual, serious, life and death struggle that
had to be surmounted; and a joyful ending (Herald, 2005). Genreflecting listed many subgenre
of fantasy including classics; epic/sword and sorcery (a series of deeds over time in a quest);
saga, myth and legend (based on historical myths e.g., Arthurian); fairy tales (drawn from
traditional folktales); humor (satire and parody); bestiary (animal fables, dragons); faerie
(humans versus elven); urban fantasy (faerie mixed with street violence); alternate and parallel
worlds with their own history; shared worlds (settings borrowed from other authors); dark
(magic between good and evil); and romantic, which was blended with fairy tales and
paranormal (Herald, 2005).
Of these, the characters of the golem and the jinni were primarily drawn from traditional
European and Middle Eastern legends (an annotation that includes a summary of the plot for the
book can be found in the Appendix). Bringing them into a fairly recent historical setting created
a crossover, but the basic fantasy traits were still there. The plight of each character was a life
and death urgency; the two were somewhat naïve about themselves and their surroundings; there
was a serious spiritual conflict between good and evil with a satisfying ending; and the reader
could immediately enter their familiar world. The background detail and accurate depiction of
characters were major factors in historical fiction’s appeal, and in this novel it helped to give
substance to the drama that took place in the story (Kelly, 2005). The book also had some of the
slower pacing of a historical novel. Maatta reported that readers of fantasy fiction expected to
encounter books with deep backgrounds and believable stories about the struggles of good and
evil, which were developed over time, optimistic about the future, densely written with
considerable detail, and often extended over a series of books (2010).
In The Golem and the Jinni the struggle between good and evil took place not only
between characters, but also within the two protagonists themselves. Both were slaves to their
masters and to their own inherent natures. Because of this, they had to consciously exert all their
effort to overcome their natural tendencies to destructively and instinctively react to events and
other characters. Not a lot was found to be written thus far about the author’s use of creatures
from Muslim and Jewish legends that ultimately end up joining forces and working together to
understand one another and themselves. Should the popularity of the book endure, this theme
might be expected to garner serious consideration and perhaps inspire other similar books.
Meanwhile, the author’s underlying irony was so obvious as to be clearly detected by any reader.
The reception to this fantasy novel was highly favorable from a very wide range of
standard sources.
“The interplay of loyalties and the struggle to assert reason over emotion
keep the pages flipping ...there’s a satisfyingly neat complexity to what must be
accomplished, and free will does come into play when virtually everyone from
scholar to golem to bakery worker must decide whether and how much to submit
to another.” Susann Cokal (2013) in The New York Times Sunday Book Review
“...a treasure of a debut that demands attention, and deserves to be spoken
of with reverence. It’s my pleasure to recommend it unreservedly.”
Alexander (2013) at
“…skillfully, nicely evoking the layers of alienness that fall upon
strangers in a strange land.” Kirkus Reviews (2013)
For additional information about this author, genre, or other Fantasy titles, the following
resources provided interesting materials (see references for publisher information).
Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire,
from A Game of Thrones to A Dance with Drago, by James Lowder, et al. (2012).
Bestselling authors and acclaimed critics offered up thought-provoking essays and
compelling insights.
Of Sex and Faerie: Further Essays on Genre Fiction, by J. Lennard
This book contained studies on contemporary paranormal romance,
fanfiction, and an extensive bibliography of genre and criticism.
NPR Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books. This web site listed
NPR audience picks for their favorite SciFi and Fantasy.
Abe Books Best Fantasy Books Series had a bookseller's list of popular
fantasy series with links to extensive book reviews on each.
Booklist Online Archive for Science Fiction/Fantasy carried reviews,
booklists, blogs, site search engine, and webinar notices for historical fiction and
other print. URL:
Macmillan Books - Fantasy, Futuristic, and Ghosts was a site with
Publisher’s lists of new fantasy releases which could be sorted by title, author,
and publication date. URL:
Random House Science Fiction and Fantasy was an industry website with
lists of the latest releases and synopsis.
The wonderful thing enjoyed about fantasy fiction was that authors could create their
own boundaries of possibilities for the powers their characters wield, unfettered by the demands
of science and human vulnerabilities. That boundaries were set, however, gave the genre its
believability, and allowed the reader to escape into a little more freedom between the pages of
the text.
Genre 6, Adventure-Spy/Espionage-Pol. Intrigue: The English Girl, by Daniel Silva
Adventure novels were characterized by fast pacing, frequent action, and resourceful
protagonists who were in extreme or dangerous circumstances and had to overcome a threatening
situation or a more powerful adversary (Maatta, 2010). Herald described the purest form of this
genre as having a hero or heroine who overcame “dangers to complete a journey or task” (2005,
p. 207). But regardless of the type of adventure, whether a journey or mission, a natural disaster
or war, or fending off a vengeful villain or spy, the hero would survive. There were many types
of adventure subgenres, and each of these also had multiple layers. Herald’s subgenres include
thrillers (ciphers, Nazis, technothrillers, financial intrigue, and biothrillers), spy/espionage (spy
novels, female spies, political intrigue and terrorism); survival (lone survivor and disaster);
perhaps the oldest form, the male romance (wild frontiers/exotic lands, soldier of fortune, male
action-adventure); and military and naval adventures that were historical or set in the 20th
century (2005).
In addition to the fast pace of moving from one suspenseful danger to another, appeal
included plot twists; a virtuous and skillful protagonist who was either turned from a normal
person into a hero, or professionally performed heroic deeds; detailed and exotic settings, often
in foreign locales; special details, including maps or a particular area of expertise (such as art); a
dark or threatening mood; and a conversational presentation with some professional jargon
(Saricks, 2009). In the action-filled life-or-death storyline there was a happy ending and the bad
thing was defeated, although in some cases it had to be assumed the “ends justify the means”
(Herald, 2005, p. 209). All of these characteristics were expected by readers of the genre, who
enjoyed a story told in an exciting way and also appreciated some humor, a puzzling plot to
solve, and details on story items such as battle plans and weaponry (Saricks, 2009).
In one aspect, The English Girl had characteristics of the thriller subgenre (an
annotation that includes a summary of the plot for the book can be found in the Appendix). In a
thriller, the hero had to thwart the plans of an enemy, rather than solve a crime that had already
happened, but in this book the hero, Allon, did both. Typically, thrillers also occurred on a grand
scale: The crimes that had to be prevented were serial or mass murder, terrorism, assassination,
or the overthrow of governments, and that was the situation for this book, which involved the
British Prime Minister and a geographic span across much of Europe, the Mediterranean, and the
Middle East. Jeopardy and violent confrontations found in the book were also standard plot
elements of the thriller, as was the climax when Allon finally defeated the villain, saving his own
life and the lives of others.
However, what made The English Girl primarily an adventure was the point of view.
Unlike the thriller, which took the reader into the mind of the villain, or even a suspense novel,
which might give both the hero’s and villain’s points of view, this book only considered the
protagonist’s viewpoint. Though he is not the narrator, only Allon’s point of view was revealed,
and at several crucial points near the end, Allon’s thoughts were not known at all until he spoke.
In that way, the story was very much like watching a film or television program.
The reception to this book was very favorable, and reviewers seemed to be taken with the
exotic locations.
“…a well-detailed and expansive landscape—the action moves between
Israel, England, Corsica, France, and Russia and comes to life in each location;
and finally, wonderful secondary characters…” Neal Wyatt (2013) in Library
“As usual, Silva takes the reader hostage from page one with his canny
mix of spy craft and suspense...Le Carre-like texture with high-energy
plotting...chalk up another one.” Connie Fletcher (2013), Booklist Online.
“Silva's plot and action don't strain believability, and his accomplished
character sketches of players new and old are captivating...lacing the narrative
with historical factoids and geographical minutia...Literate, top-notch action....”
Kirkus Reviews (2013)
For additional information about this genre or other Adventure titles, the following
resources provided some interesting information (see references for publisher information).
Encyclopedia of Adventure Fiction, by Don D'Ammassa (2009).
Discussions included classic adventure fiction, authors, characters and subgenres
in novels and short stories. Part of the Literary Movements series.
Adventure/Suspense Fiction, by Michael B. Gannon (2004). This comprehensive
guide for readers' advisory included genre history, definitions, criticism, booklists
from 1941 to 2004, annotations, books that became films. Indices by author, title,
subject, main character, page-turner, and film.
The Novel and the Sea, by Margaret Cohen (2010). This book examined
two centuries of the novel's rise from the perspective of the ship's deck and the
allure of the oceans in the modern cultural imagination, overseas exploration and
work at sea, transatlantic history of the adventures and risks of the maritime
frontier through the best-selling nautical literature of the time by dramatizing
remarkable conditions, from the wonders of unknown lands to storms,
shipwrecks, and pirates.
The Literary Encyclopedia had brief biographical sketched of classic
adventure authors, with more information on books, authors and scholarly articles
available to members.
NPR Books: Mysteries, Thrillers, & Crime. This web site provided a
brief synopsis and listed reviews for the latest in these genres, and also had its
own best seller list.
Double 00 Section was a blog that had news and reviews of all things
espionage - movies, books, comics, TV shows, DVDs, and “anything else that
comes up!” URL:
Goodreads Genres Fiction - Thriller. This review, readalike, and booklist
site’s breakouts for thrillers included legal, psychological, and spy thrillers.
At a time when Russia and its leadership were once again in the headlines and behaving
in a dangerous and provocative way, it was more unnerving than usual to reflect on this book.
And in some ways it clarified the idea that although the imagination of a good adventure author
may not be very different from national news coverage, they can at least provide the escape of a
positive ending that would not be attainable in the real world.
Genre 7, Nonfiction – Historical and Biography: George Washington’s Secret Six: The
Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger (2014)
As discussed at the beginning of this paper, readers’ advisors found that they needed to
respond to circulation growth in nonfiction genres and subgenres that were written in narrative
style, meaning the writing resembled fiction in terms of a book’s appeal. Saricks (2005) and
Alpert (2006) listed the nonfiction genre designations in common use that included in part,
biography and history. Appeal elements could be applied because nonfiction authors were setting
scenes, developing multidimensional characters, and telling stories in a way that drew in a reader
and produced responses and feelings about the material.
In some instances genres such as science or medicine, might have appeal based primarily
on the author’s writing style. But in other cases the elements of appeal in a nonfiction book
could be similar to those in a fictional counterpart, such as in true crime or history. The Culper
(secret six) spy ring was a good example of this (an annotation that includes a summary of the
plot for the book can be found in the Appendix). The book fit into the nonfiction genre list as a
mix of blend of history and biography, but because it was about espionage, it also borrowed
much appeal from that fictional genre as well.
Thus, rather than the measured pacing of
historical fiction or nonfiction, the tensions of possible capture quickened the pace as spymaster
Washington and his assistant, Benjamin Tallmadge pressed ringleader, Abraham Woodhull (code
name Culper) and the frightened but most critical spy, Robert Townsend for desperately needed
Characterizations retained the complexity and intriguing secondary characters
found in both fictional and nonfiction history, such as the brash and taunting sea captain Caleb
Brewster, and the equally daring newspaper owner and bibliophile, James Rivington. But the
storyline had enough complex action, danger, and layered plot twists to keep the story in focus.
Despite the colonial time period, the frame and tone of the book were not nostalgic because the
primitive nature of parts of Long Island and Manhattan at that time made it somewhat exotic in
comparison to today. The tone was suspenseful, just as a fictional spy story would be.
The story was a good one, and well worth learning about. But the experience of reading
the book was also marred by character conversations portrayed as verbatim that seemed
immediately unlikely and out of place. And it was in the act of writing fiction as “fact” that
“George Washington’s Secret Six” created controversy around the book. For although it was
sold and cataloged as non-fiction biography (OCLC, 2014), an Authors’ Note following the table
of contents stated that, “Much of the dialogue contained in this book is fictional, but it is based
on conversations that did take place and wherever possible, incorporates actual phrases used by
the speaker” (Kilmeade and Yaeger, 2013). Further, the book jacket indicated that one author,
Mr. Kilmeade, was cohost of a television program on the politically conservative Fox News
organization, bringing in issues of nonfiction objectivity.
This then formed the basis for several ethical questions outside the scope of this review,
but perhaps due some consideration in the future. Should libraries be cataloging and issuing this
book to patrons as nonfiction or fiction? Or, should books with obvious issues of fact be
cataloged and shelved in a different way, with patrons left to decide for themselves whether the
works are fiction or nonfiction? Should issues regarding fiction or nonfiction be pointed out in
annotations (as was chosen above) published in library catalogs and websites? These questions
might prove similar to others considered by librarians, such as whether to shelve conservative
science books that deny evolution, as science or religion.
Perhaps it was the narrative style of writing that helped to enable this type of debate, in
the spirit of a growing “crossover” genre mixing underway in fiction, and a popularization of
fictionalized history in the media (such as Oliver Stone’s controversial 1991 film, JFK). As can
be seen in the following, this discussion carried over into reviews of the book.
The reception to this book was mixed, with enthusiastic responses from conservative
resources and more critical comments from independent and academic resources. And yet
despite the differences over fictionalized dialog, most considered this book to be a good read. A
sampling of critical commentary follows.
“There are long stretches of dialogue, some stretching for more than a
page. An authors’ note acknowledges that “much of the dialogue contained in this
book is fictional, but it is based on conversations that did take place, and
whenever possible, incorporates actual phrases used by the speaker.” Well,
perhaps, but history purists will not be satisfied. These flaws aside, “George
Washington’s Secret Six” is a tale of patriotism and daring that will make an
excellent stocking stuffer.” Joseph C. Goulden (2013), in the Washington Times
“It’s unquestionably a story that needs to be told, but Brian Kilmeade and
Don Yaeger are not David McCullough, Thomas Fleming, or Harlow Giles
Unger...Essentially, if the actual word-for-word conversation wasn’t related in a
document then liberties were taken for the sake of drama and narrative progress.
To contrive conversations regarding action or intention within a fictional context
smacks of a drama unworthy of the true history surrounding it. More pointedly,
some of the dialogue feels removed from the 18th century, another dismaying
concern for authenticity hounds. Reservations aside, for American history buffs
George Washington’s Secret Six is worthwhile reading. George Washington is
well known as a “spy master,” but the ring he helped create and its profound
effect upon the outcome of the Revolutionary War are often not given their due.
Their contributions to the American cause deserve every consideration we can
bestow.” J. W. Nicklaus (2014), New York Journal of Books.
“While Kilmeade and Yaeger don’t provide deep analysis, the narrative
should please enthusiastic fans of the upheaval surrounding the founding of the
United States…In a slim, quick-moving book, the authors bring attention to a
group that exerted an enormous influence over events during the Revolutionary
War.” Kirkus Reviews (2013)
For additional information about this author, genre (including the debate on fictionalized
nonfiction), or other nonfiction titles, the following resources provided interesting insight (see
references for publisher information).
Dinah Lenney interviews Judith Kitchen, David Biespiel, Scott Nadelson
and Sven Birkerts (2013). This article continued the debate among interviewer
and authors regarding fictionalized portions of nonfiction books such as
biographies. Retrieved from Los Angeles Review of Books:
The Creative Nonfiction Foundation.
This was an educational and
publishing organization that promoted nonfiction through Creative Nonfiction
magazine and an associated website. The website carried their current booklists
and synopsis. URL:
AllReaders. The Steve Gordon search engine on this website included
nonfiction reviews searchable by title, author, plot, characters, setting, topic, or
style. There were plot synopses and author lists for some categories, such as
biography and history, and the website also had some book-to-movie reviews.
NPR Books: Nonfiction. This web site provided a brief synopsis and lists
reviews for the latest in nonfiction, with any recent news on the book or author.
New York Journal of Books. This review resource focused heavily on
nonfiction releases, and provided in-depth analysis of many books it reviews.
Books in the narrative nonfiction style appeared to provide an enjoyable way to explore
an almost endless variety of topics. But as this book demonstrated, the reader must be sure they
are aware of how much credibility they place in those portions of their reading materials that are
not actually factual.
Limitations of the Reviews and Opportunities for Further Study
Despite the ample number of texts and amount of materials provided for this course, to
fully explore the current literature on the expanding role of readers’ advisory would require far
more time and resources than could be read and absorbed over a three month period in a single
course. Also, there appeared to be limited amounts of scholarly materials yet produced in the
field for some aspects of genre and appeal studies, particularly in the area of nonfiction.
Further study could be done to fully explore the resources already provided or accessible
in libraries and on the web. And in a broader consideration, research could be done on the levels
of success libraries are experiencing in establishing universal standards for the categories of
nonfiction genre, and for the fiction and nonfiction elements of appeal; and the progress in
establishing those standards into library cataloging.
The following pages carry annotations that contain plot summaries and also lists of
authors who may be considered as having similarities to the writer of the work reviewed, either
because they are a leading author of the genre, have similar writing style or appeal elements,
focus on similar subjects, or (such as for Chick Lit) place their stories in similar location settings.
The annotation format used is adapted as assigned from J. Saricks, (2009), Readers Advisory
Service in the Public Library, (p. 110), Figure 5.3 Book Notes Format.
Annotation – Genre 1, Romance
AUTHOR: Danielle Steel
DATE READ: February 8, 2014
TITLE: The Sins of the Mother
PUB DATE: 2012
GENRE: Romance
PAGES: 354
PACING: Easy, deliberate.
CHARACTERIZATIONS: Familiar, quirky, multiple points of view
STORY LINE: Character centered, domestic, multiple plotlines, resolved ending.
Geographical Settings: Primary: New York City and Northern Mediterranean.
Secondary: Bedford, NY; Connecticut countryside; Princeton, NJ; Southeastern
France (Provence).
Time Period: Present day.
FRAME AND TONE: Contemporary, exotic, psychological, melodramatic.
PLOT SUMMARY: Olivia Grayson is a woman ruing her past as an absentee mother. Her
approaching seventieth birthday, and the annual two week vacation she sponsors for her middle
aged children and grown grandchildren, force Olivia to face their resentments toward her early
choice of career travel over a daily presence at home. Leaving care of two sons and two
daughters to a loving, now deceased husband and Maribelle, her own beloved and devoted
mother, Olivia had built the business empire that supported and sustained them. Now, as the
family yachts through an idyllic Mediterranean, each person undertakes a simultaneous journey
through the group’s relationships. Afterword, the story continues as they return to the routine of
home life; but the vacation has set each of them on a course for change and acceptance, some in
love, others in their marriages or careers, but all to a better understanding of their mother, their
siblings, and themselves.
Barbara Taylor Bradford
Jackie Collins
Tami Hoag
Judith Krantz
Debbie Macomber
Lucy Monroe
Chantelle Shaw
Businesswomen - Fiction
Cancer - Fiction
Domestic - Fiction
Annotation – Genre 2, Chick Lit
AUTHOR: Lauren Graham
DATE READ: February 15, 2014
TITLE: Someday, Someday, Maybe
PUB DATE: 2013
GENRE: Chick Lit
PAGES: 352
PACING: Easy, steady pace.
CHARACTERIZATIONS: Familiar, detailed, quirky, single point of view
STORY LINE: Character centered, career oriented, resolved ending.
Geographical Settings: Brooklyn, Manhattan, Connecticut, Los Angeles.
Time Period: 1995.
FRAME AND TONE: Contemporary, urban, breezy, humorous, psychological, upbeat.
PLOT SUMMARY: Struggling actress Franny Banks is unwilling to give up her dream, but has
trouble mastering basic steps that will help her succeed - such as getting out of bed, and
preparing for auditions. Worries are piling up for this young woman in her mid-twenties, and
most pressing is the self-imposed three year deadline she set for launching a career, which is due
to expire soon after her scheduled performance before New York agents and critics at an acting
class showcase. Then, there are those calls from her anxious Dad and her own memories of a
former life that are gently tugging her back to a more conventional path. But Fanny is resisting
the urge to abandon her Brooklyn apartment and roommates, the equally unsuccessful
screenwriter Dan, and her best friend, Jane, an assistant producer. As she waivers, Fanny
reaches out to a more experienced classmate, James. But is he really interested in Franny as she
is, or just living out scenes from his acting roles? With humorous self-analysis and ever hopeful
of getting her big break, Franny puts her heart into deciphering and developing those traits of her
persona that attract the decision makers in her business and the men in her life, and finds that
success in both acting and love begins with understanding herself.
Leslie Carroll
Jennifer Close
Laurie Graff
Sophie Kinsella
Robyn Sisman
Lauren Weisberger
Actresses -- New York (State)
-- New York -- Fiction
Self-realization in women -- Fiction
Humor - Fiction
Annotation – Genre 3, Crime
AUTHOR: Gillian Flynn
DATE READ: February 22, 2014
TITLE: Gone Girl
PUB DATE: 2012
GENRE: Crime
PAGES: 419
PACING: Fast, compelling.
CHARACTERIZATIONS: Dramatic, eccentric, vivid, two points of view
STORY LINE: Domestic backdrop, complex, character driven, plot centered, plot
twists, action oriented, open ended.
Geographical Settings: Carthage, MO.
Time Period: 2005-2012.
FRAME AND TONE: Contemporary, suspenseful, edgy, menacing, dark, psychological.
PLOT SUMMARY: He knows his marriage isn't going well, but when Nick's wife disappears
and her diary is discovered, he finds out just how bad it really was - because Amy’s diary is a
complete lie. He also knows that, after losing his job and moving from New York City to open a
bar with his twin sister in his Missouri hometown, his wife Amy had no longer seemed like the
woman he married, or her namesake in her idolizing parents’ books. But now he is in a race
against time and the police, who are finding that Nick has a few unsavory and incriminating lies
of his own. As Nick searches for his wife and digs through her past, he discovers the truth
doesn’t help him much either. And as everyone follows the clues she has left for them, Amy
opens her thoughts to the reader, and considers her options. No one can save Nick except his
missing wife. Can Nick convince her to do that in time? This psychological drama chillingly
depicts a cunning psychopathic mind that has years to plan and toy with the unsuspecting, and
how madness can be found as easily as slipping back into bed.
Linwood Barclay
Deb Caletti
Sabine Durrant
Louise Doughty
A. S. A. Harrison
Lisa Unger
Lucie Whitehouse
Husbands -- Fiction
Married people -- Fiction
Wives -- Crimes against -- Fiction
Mystery fiction
Annotation – Genre 4, Historical Fiction
AUTHOR: Jennifer Chiaverini
DATE READ: March 1, 2014
TITLE: Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker
PUB DATE: 2013
GENRE: Historical Fiction
PAGES: 352
PACING: Measured, sometimes slow.
CHARACTERIZATIONS: Detailed, recognizable, single point of view.
STORY LINE: Domestic, layered, character driven, issue oriented, resolved ending.
Geographical Settings: Washington, D.C.; New York City; Chicago; Xenia, OH.
Time Period: 1860-1901.
FRAME AND TONE: Bittersweet, evocative, historical background, details of
political events, philosophical.
PLOT SUMMARY: Elizabeth has already purchased freedom for herself and her son through
her skills a seamstress, and the reader meets Elizabeth soon after her arrival to Washington D.C.,
just before the Civil War. There, she creates and sews dresses for the Washington elite, but finds
that many of her customers, wives of Southern politicians, are moving their families down into
the Confederacy, and a new President is entering the White House. Elizabeth is called to be the
seamstress for the First Lady, and garners a first-hand look at the daily life of Lincoln and his
family during the war. As a servant and often confidant of Mary Lincoln, Elizabeth is witness to
the frenzied spending habits that scandalize the Capital, the tragic deaths of both a Lincoln son
and also her own, and eventually the overwhelming consequences of Lincoln’s assassination that
engulf the family when they leave Washington. In the confusion, Elizabeth attempts to help the
family out of their reduced circumstances by writing a sympathetic memoir, but she gains only
notoriety and forever loses Mary’s friendship. The author’s interpretation of Elizabeth’s long
life is a poignant and revealing look at the very personal relationships that evolved across racial
and class boundaries during the war and in the post-war years of the 19th Century.
Tracy Chevalier
Tara Conklin
Robert Hicks
Jean M. Humez
David Margolick
Molly Peacock
Keckley, Elizabeth, 1818-1907 — Fiction
Lincoln, Mary Todd, 1818-1882 — Fiction
Presidents' Spouses — Fiction
Women Dressmakers — Fiction
Female Friendship — Fiction
Historical Fiction
Annotation – Genre 5, Fantasy
AUTHOR: Helene Wecker
DATE READ: March 8, 2014
TITLE: The Golem and the Jinni
PUB DATE: 2013
GENRE: Fantasy
PAGES: 486
PACING: Measured, sometimes slow.
CHARACTERIZATIONS: Detailed, recognizable, multiple points of view.
STORY LINE: Character centered, layered, complex, resolved ending.
Geographical Settings: New York City; Syrian Desert; Eastern Europe.
Time Period: 1899, with flashbacks to the Middle Ages.
FRAME AND TONE: Suspenseful, complex, historical background, detailed
settings, philosophical.
PLOT SUMMARY: The golem and the jinni are slaves brought to New York, the golem by her
master and the jinni by circumstance. Both are unexpectedly released, the jinni from centuries of
imprisonment in a vase where he has lost memory, and the golem by the death of her master.
Both must learn to survive in the slums of lower Manhattan. Despite his freedom, the jinni has
not been released from doing the bidding of the evil wizard who captured him, and the golem
awaits any new master who can claim possession of her. That may be the shadowy Shaalman
who created her from clay. Both protagonists try to harness their supernatural abilities and
eventually they meet and are able to share the secrets of their powers to discover their pasts and
survive into the future. Through this story, the author presents a sympathetic look at some of the
very real difficulties that immigrants faced in coming to America at the end of the 19th Century.
Susanna Clarke
Eowyn Ivey
Erin Morgenstern
Anna Lawrence Pietroni
Rhonda Riley
Golem — Fiction
Jinn — Fiction
Friendship — Fiction
Rabbis — Fiction
Jewish mythology — Fiction
Mythology, Arab — Fiction
New York (N.Y.) — History
— 19th century — Fiction.
Fantasy — Fiction
Historical fiction
Annotation – Genre 6, Adventure - Spy/Espionage - Political Intrigue
AUTHOR: Daniel Silva
DATE READ: March 15, 2014
TITLE: The English Girl
PUB DATE: 2013
GENRE: Adventure - Spy/Espionage
- Political Intrigue
PAGES: 496
PACING: Fast, engrossing.
CHARACTERIZATIONS: Detailed, intriguing secondary characters, recognizable.
STORY LINE: Character centered, plot focused, layered, action based, engrossing, plot
twists, complex, geopolitical and art references, resolved ending
Geographical Settings: Jerusalem, Corsica, Marseilles, Provence, London,
Time Period: Present day.
FRAME AND TONE: Detailed Corsica settings, contemporary, complex, historical and
political backgrounds, details of art, suspenseful, foreboding.
Series: Gabriel Allon, Number 13
PLOT SUMMARY: Madeline, the mistress of the British Prime Minister, has been kidnapped
and has only seven days to live unless the kidnappers' demands are met. To avoid any leaks
outside 10 Downing Street, Gabriel Allon of Israeli intelligence is recruited to find the girl and
those responsible. Because it first appears that organized crime is behind the abduction, Allon
begins his search on Corsica and makes contact with the leading Don and his master assassin,
English expatriate Christopher Keller. With Keller by his side, Allon hunts the country side of
Southern France, only to discover that the captors will not keep to their deadline and that he must
go to Moscow to follow a connection to oil interests now run by former KGB operatives linked
to the Putin Kremlin. Allon has an unpleasant history with Moscow, so he faces the threat that
he will also be captured before he can exact revenge on his targets.
Alex Berenson
Lee Child
Tom Clancy
Charles Cumming
Thriller fiction
Suspense Fiction
Spy Stories
Missing persons — Fiction
SIMILAR AUTHORS (continued):
Alan Furst
Graham Greene
Joseph Kanon
John Le Carre
Olen Steinhauer
Murder - Investigation — Fiction
Intelligence officers — Fiction
Young women - Crimes against — Fiction
Corsica (France) — Fiction
Prime ministers - Great Britain — Fiction
Art restorers — Fiction
British — Crimes against - Fiction
Allon, Gabriel (Fictitious character)
— Fiction
Annotation – Genre 7, Nonfiction – Historical and Biography
AUTHOR: Brian Kilmeade and
Don Yaeger
DATE READ: March 22, 2014
TITLE: George Washington’s Secret Six:
The Spy Ring that Saved
the American Revolution
PUB DATE: 2013
GENRE: Nonfiction – Historical and
PAGES: 235
Biography, with fictionalized
PACING: Fast, engrossing.
CHARACTERIZATIONS: Detailed, dramatic, intriguing secondary characters, realistic,
STORYLINE: Character centered, plot focused, engrossing, complex, thought
provoking, resolved ending.
Geographical Settings: Long Island, New York City, Connecticut, New Jersey
Time Period: 1776-1790.
FRAME AND TONE: Detailed settings, complex, dramatic, suspenseful, historical and
political details, embellished style.
PLOT SUMMARY: At the outbreak of the American Revolution, retaining occupation of New
York City was pivotal for those who would control the progress of the war. After the unexpected
British capture and hanging of Nathan Hale, George Washington worked through intermediaries
to recruit a group of spies who would not be known to him or his staff by name until after the
war, and in some cases were never identified. This group kept Washington informed of troop
and ship movements in New York and Long Island throughout the revolution in the hope that
Washington would somehow retake the City, and the group was instrumental in detecting and
foiling Benedict Arnold’s plot to surrender West Point to the British. In this group of spies, only
one, a woman, was ever captured, and because her identity was never revealed to anyone other
than her recruiter, her ultimate fate is unknown. Most of the other spies in the group lived out
the remainder of their lives in obscurity, and were never publicly recognized for their service
during their lifetimes. Although this book is generally considered to be nonfiction history and
biography, the authors note that they fictionalized the conversations related in the text.
SIMILAR AUTHORS (in subject):
Richard Archer
Howard Brinkley
Charles Cerami
Bruce Chadwick
Thomas Fleming
Michael Lanning
Tony Williams
Townsend, Robert, 1753-1838
Washington, George, 1732-1799 — Friends
and Associates
New York (State) — History — Revolution,
1775-1783 — Secret Service
United States — History — Revolution,
1775-1783 — Secret Service
Spies — New York (State) — History —
18th Century
Spies — United States — History — 18th
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