Okay, gang. We’re here. It is Valentine’s Day, and some of us might just be in the mood for some Romance … novels, that is!
Others of us are surely not in that sort of mood, which, of course, is perfectly fine. You can wait for the next blog, or just sub in your genre of choice as I go through some recommendations for how to find a book you’ll like.
Some folks think that librarians have an encyclopedic knowledge of books in every genre, that we carry an index in our heads, ready to whip out the perfect recommendation at a moment’s notice. And honestly, I have known some Superlibrarians who do seem to have that skill, but the truth is that nobody knows every book or every genre. Even professional librarians and booksellers who make a point of keeping up with publishing trends and bestseller lists have gaps in their knowledge. And to me, that is where a librarian’s real superpowers come into play. As I said to the little girl whose mother pointed to me and said, “Ask the Librarian. She knows everything.” — we don’t know everything, but we know how to find out!
Let’s pretend I hadn’t read any Romance novels (this is not the case), and a library patron came up to me and asked for recommendations. I couldn’t draw on my own knowledge, and even if I could, there’s no guarantee that our tastes would match up. Romance novels can take place in any setting, any time, and incorporate conventions from any genre. There’s Historical Romance, Contemporary Romance, Paranormal Romance, and more. If someone came in asking for a Paranormal Historical Western Mystery Romance, we could probably track one down for them. There are no limits on imagination.
But there are limits on what a librarian can keep in their head all the time, so when we’re faced with a stumper, we turn to our toolkit. And today, I want to share a few of those tools with you.
There are a number of good websites you can visit for book recommendations, and for Romance specifically, I recommend All About Romance. It is a site run by people who love Romance novels and want to share their enthusiasm through blogs and reviews. They even have a handy Sensuality Rating Guide their reviewers use to give readers a heads-up about how spicy a book will be. Generalist sites, like Fantastic Fiction and Book Riot, can help you find new recommendations or ensure that you’ve read everything available from a favorite author. Those sites do contain things like advertisements and affiliate links, so you’ll need to navigate around those when you use them.
With your library card, you can access book recommendation tools that won’t try to sell you anything. A good starting place is the Book Advice page on the JCLS website. Here you’ll see links to our JCLS Discovery service where you can request a personalized list of book suggestions, lists available through the library catalog, a collection of book lists from outside experts, and links to our two Reader’s Advisory Databases. Reader’s Advisory (or RA) is librarian language for making book suggestions, based on a conversation about a patron’s current interests, and these databases were created to help with that process.
Those RA databases are Books and Authors and NoveList. Unless you’re in one of our library branches, you’ll need to enter your library card number to access the database. Once you do, you’ll find a pair of treasure troves of highly browsable book descriptions and suggestions to help you zero in on the book you want to read next. Like any database, there’s more to these than I could cover in a blog post, so I encourage you to experiment with them while I point out my favorite ways to use them.
Books and Authors does a great job of breaking down genres and subgenres for browsing. From the database’s home page, you can select a genre from the list on the left. When I pick “Popular Romances,” it gives me a page of suggestions and a long list of subgenres to choose from – 29 subgenres of Historical Romance alone! If I see a title I like, I can click on it for a summary, professional reviews, and some similar titles. If I find an author I’d like to explore further, I can click on their name for a list of their works and information about their life and career.
The NoveList database starts you off on a page with a search box across the top, a list of book categories down the left-hand side, and groups of suggested titles in the center of the page. If you type some keywords into the search box (such as Paranormal Historical Western Mystery Romance) it will give you options for titles with those words in their descriptions. I tried that rather specific search and only got three returns. Broadening it out to “Paranormal Historical Romance” brought back 558 titles. NoveList also has a list of genres and subgenres to choose from, though the subgenres are not as granular as those in Books and Authors.
The thing I use NoveList for most often is their Read-Alike lists. Remember that search bar at the top? Let’s say that you really enjoyed Talia Hibbert’s novel Get a Life, Chloe Brown, and you’d like more titles along those lines. You can enter that title in the search bar and take a look at a description of the book, including a breakdown of the book’s attributes to help you put into words what about it you liked.
To the right of the page, you’ll see a column with the heading “Read-Alikes.” This is the gold mine, a clickable list of titles with similar attributes. You can go down a serious rabbit hole by clicking on a title that seems appealing, then looking it its Read-Alikes list and on and on. If you click the “View All” link in the Read-Alikes list it brings you to a nice, printable list of titles, along with a few words about what they have in common. Those are usually setting, plot, characters, pacing — that sort of thing, so you can make informed decisions about your next read.
Whichever of these tools you use, once you find a few books that look like good matches for your mood, then you can check our catalog to see if they’re in the JCLS collection, and you’re all set. While the library does not guarantee that these bookish matchmaking tools will lead everyone to a guaranteed happily-ever-after, they’re certainly a good place to start looking for the next book with which you’d like to spend a cozy night in, on Valentine’s Day or any day.