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Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

by on February 10th, 2014
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith Cover Image

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith is about the end of the world as told by 16-year-old Austin Szerba.  Austin is confused:  He’s in love with his girlfriend Shann, but he’s also in love with Robby, his gay best friend.  Austin is preoccupied with history, and he points out that history chews up sexual confused young men.

Austin’s narration meanders and repeats itself.  He gives us history lessons about his Polish ancestors as well as telling us the unlikely series of events that led to unstoppable, giant, man-eating praying mantises being unleashed on the fictional town of Ealing, Iowa.  Yes, you read that right:  Giant, man-eating praying mantises.

Grasshopper Jungle is a brutally honest work.  Smith is an amazing writer.  He has expertly tapped into the adolescent male mind.  A word of warning: This book is awesome, and it also contains copious profanity, sexual situations and people being eaten by giant bugs.  I recommend it to readers looking for a highly original YA book.

Belly Up & Poached by Stuart Gibbs

by on February 7th, 2014
Belly Up & Poached by Stuart Gibbs Cover Image

If you are looking for a fun kids mystery to drive away the winter blues, look no further. Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs is a middle grade romp set against the backdrop of FunJungle, a brand new mega zoo in Texas. When Henry the Hippo, the beloved mascot of FunJungle, turns up dead, 12 year-old Teddy Fitzroy suspects foul play. He soon discovers Henry was not as popular with some of the zoo staff as he was with the adoring public. Teddy’s search for clues takes readers behind the scenes at the zoo, into exhibits and sometimes into danger. As his suspect list grows, it seems like the only people he can really trust are his parents, who support him and believe him, even when other adults dismiss him as just a kid. Help from a new friend and an apparent betrayal leads to a chaotic but satisfying conclusion. Can you figure out whodunit before Teddy?

Poached, a sequel to be released in April, finds Teddy starting the school year as the new kid, with few friends and a knack for getting into trouble. Getting on the wrong side of the school bully seems bad  but when the newest animal to FunJungle is koala-napped, Teddy finds himself in real trouble as all the evidence points to him. He’ll need all the help he can get from his friends and parents if he is going to clear his name and catch the real criminal. These mysteries are as funny as they are full of interesting facts about animals and zoos.

Reviewed: Constellation of Vital Phenomena

by on February 5th, 2014
Reviewed: Constellation of Vital Phenomena Cover Image

Constellation of Vital Phenomena

A Novel

Anthony Marra, graduate of Iowa Writers’ Workshop


The recommendation came to me from a book group I had been invited to attend, and it happened to be perfect timing. I had just finished Jess Walters’s Beautiful Ruins and wasn’t yet tempted by the fill-my-head-with-applicable-knowledge nonfiction books I have checked out. So there I was, putting off what I *have* to read for what I *want* to read. What I had heard about the book: it’s sad. You’ll like it if you like the gut-wrenching ones. What I now know about the book: my recommender was right. Read the rest of this entry »

Armchair Travel: Take Me Somewhere Warm!

by on January 30th, 2014

January is almost over, but does knowing we have at least 7 more weeks of winter make you want learn to hibernate?  Does watching yet another snowstorm blow through give you the winter blues?  ICPL has the cure!

Check out the new Arm Chair Travel display on the 2nd floor.  You’ll find all sorts of great travel guides guaranteed to make forget about the snow:

Pocket Phuket, 3rd edition.  A guide to the island province off the south western coast of Thailand.  Phuket, along with much of the Western coast of Thailand was seriously damaged by the December 2004 Tsunami, and the government and people of Thailand have made a fantastic recovery.   This guide, with wonderful pictures and maps, also has lots of lists.  Lists of places to visit, things to see, places to eat and places to stay.  Just flipping through its pages will get you lost in this amazing country.

Lonely Planet – Australia, 16th ed.  It’s hard to cover an entire country in one book, but the Lonely Planet people have created a great introductory guide to travel in Australia.  From places to visit, sights to see and things to do the Lonely Planet guides are fun to read.  This guide will have you wanting to find koalas or kookaburras in their natural habitat, hiking through the Blue Mountains National Park, or just laying on the sand at Bondi Beach.

Moon Handbook: Tahiti  If you’ve ever wanted to run away to the French Polynesian islands, this guidebook is for you.  With beautiful maps and lists of things to see, places to go as well as where to eat and where to stay,  this book will have you dreaming about mountains and rainforests and black sand beaches.

Stop by the display or the Non Fiction collections for more travel guides in print or on DVD.

That Tree: An iPhone journal documenting a year in the life of a lonely bur oak by Mark Hirsch

by on January 28th, 2014

Where can a challenge take you?  For Mark Hirsch, a photojournalist, it can take you to a familiar location or in his case, to a very familiar tree, and change the way you look at everything.  For 19 years Mark drove by a the same farm field near Plattville, Wisconsin and looked at the same bur oak tree.  A friend texted him to try out the camera in his new iPhone, he did and he posted it on Facebook.

“At the time I never even considered using the iPhone camera for anything more than a passing snapshot,” recalls Hirsch. “As a result of her text though, I stopped and trudged through a crazy snowstorm to make a picture of the tree… A friend posted a note to me on my Facebook page saying ‘Dude, what’s with you and that tree, you should do a photo a day with it.’ On his challenge, I officially started the project on March 24, 2012.”

Hirsch spent the next year photographing That Tree every day, documenting the changing of seasons and sharing the tree’s hidden world with a growing Facebook following.”   Hirsch,  now has nearly 36,000 followers and published a magnificent book, “That Tree”. For everyone who enjoys fine photography and  the beauty of the nature, Mark Hirsch’s book is one to be savored and returned to again and again.   Perhaps the best way to describe the That Tree project is from Hirsch’s introduction to his book, “My relationship with That Tree has awakened a newfound vision, and appreciation for the fragility of our world and the interdependence of even the smallest of its creatures. In turn, this fresh insight has inspired my commitment to share my photos and encourage others to embrace land stewardship as a means toward a more sustainable use of our resources.”

“That Tree” might serve as an inspiration to you, maybe not to take a photograph of a tree everyday for a year, but to open your eyes to the natural world around you.

Spring is on the way.

by on January 23rd, 2014
Spring is on the way. Cover Image

It’s official: Spring is coming! How do I know this? I found my first seed catalogs in my mailbox this week!  I had to knock the snow off the mailbox to open it, but the catalogs were there waiting for me.

Yes, I admit it.  Rather than bleed black and gold like many in Iowa City, I have mud in my veins. I’m a gardener, and I’m ready for winter to be over and done so I can get back to playing in the dirt!

But for now I’ll be content with my new seed catalogs and the new gardening books at ICPL. So far this one is my favorite:

Midwest Gardener’s Handbook: Your Complete Guide by Melinda Myers.  Nicely organized and illustrated, this guide to Midwestern gardening is just that – a general guide.   It covers a bit of everything: annuals, bulbs, groundcovers & vines, lawns, perennials, roses, shrubs, trees and vegetables & herbs.  It sounds like a lot to cover in a 256 page book, but Myers does it well.

Each of the nine sections of the book are laid out the same, beginning with a discussion of things to think about – from soil prep to choosing seeds or established plants, proper planting techniques and pest management.  Then there are page after page of suggested plants – including a short but thorough descriptions of each plant (hardiness, bloom period etc), a “Why it’s Special” description of why the plant was included in the list, and “How to Plant & Grow” and “Care & Problems” sections.   Each chapter ends with a month by month calendar that includes things that need to be done each month of the year (including the winter months).

The last 20 pages of the book are so packed with information they should be their own book.  The 10 page appendix includes charts on how much mulch, soil or how many plants to buy given your space, four pages on proper pruning, pages on creating beds or designing and building raised beds, dealing with tree roots, and twelve state zone maps showing individual counties.  A glossary, bibliography, common name and Latin /botanical name indexes follow.    Myers book is definitely worth a look if you’re new to gardening, new to the Midwest, or someone who just likes concise, well written basic gardening books.

Wedding Planning with Melody – Video Staff Picks

by on January 22nd, 2014

Are you planning a wedding? We’ve got you covered. In this video, Melody talks about books and magazines in our collection that will give you some great ideas.
Items mentioned include

Planning a Wedding to Remember
by Beverly Clark

Martha Stewart’s Encyclopedia of Crafts

Michaels Book of Wedding Crafts

Creating Vintage Cards
by Jill Haglund

Paper to Petal
by Rebecca Fuss & Patrick Farrell

Flower Style
by Diane Wagner

Bouquets: A Year of Flowers for the Bride
by Marsha Heckman

BRIDES Magazine

Digital Magazines available online at

Wedding books are available at
call number 395

Crafts books are available at
call number 745

Drew: The Man Behind The Poster

by on January 21st, 2014
Drew: The Man Behind The Poster Cover Image

You may not know his name, but you know his work.  He has created some of the most iconic movie posters of all time including Back to the Future, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  His paintings seem to effortlessly evoke the spirit of each movie that he works on.  He’s Drew Struzan, and he was profiled in the insightful, entertaining documentary, “Drew: The Man Behind the Poster.”

I realized that I knew very little about Drew.  I was pleased to see that he’s a very down-to-earth, humble guy.  He speaks candidly about his life and his work, and an all star line up of directors and actors gush about Drew’s posters including George Lucas, Frank Darabont, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford.  Drew is now semi-retired from movie work and is focusing his own original art.

A lot of the documentaries that I watch are, in some way, about movies.  If you can say the same thing about yourself, then I wholeheartedly recommend ”Drew: The Man Behind the Poster.”

Reading Masterpiece Theatre

by on January 13th, 2014
Reading Masterpiece Theatre Cover Image

Making Masterpiece:  25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! On PBS by Rebecca Eaton is a fun read for anyone who has enjoyed the many BBC television series and films brought to US viewers by WGBH, the Boston affiliate of PBS.

Eaton has been the executive producer of Masterpiece since 1985, and has great stories to tell about the hosts, actors, writers and directors who are in and behind the productions on Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery!.    Why did it take so long to replace Alistair Cooke as host of Masterpiece Theatre?  With what esteemed actress was Daniel Radcliffe’s first semi-nude scene?  How happy is Rebecca Eaton that, after turning down the series when it was first offered, she got a second chance to accept Downton Abbey?  There are behind-the-scenes peeks at popular shows like Inspector Morse, Prime Suspect, Cranford, Sherlock, and Downton Abbey.  And you quickly will be on a first-name basis with Helen Mirren, Kenneth Branagh, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Masterpiece Theatre began in the early 1970s, with the express purpose of showing British serial dramas from great literature and history.  Early on, a second show, Mystery!, was added.  Efforts to introduce American drama to the mix have been somewhat successful, and the author’s musings on the differences between British and American theater, film and how actors are trained is one of the most interesting parts of the book.

As popular as these two shows have been, it requires constant effort to attract funding and audiences.  Eaton describes the rebranding effort that shortened the title of the series to Masterpiece and the use of social media to reach younger viewers.  What has stayed the same, though, is the appreciation for “costume drama” and bringing favorite, classic stories to life on the screen.

ICPL has many of these Masterpiece and Mystery! television series and movies in our DVD collection.  I look forward to watching my favorites again, now that I know some of the back stories.

Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

by on January 9th, 2014
Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy Cover Image

Maeve Binchy finished her final novel, A Week in Winter, just before she died in July 2012.  This is a bittersweet review for me, because I have been a Maeve Binchy fan for over 20 years.  I saved reading her last book for nearly a year, not wanting to face our final journey together.

I first discovered Maeve Binchy when I was commuting between DeWitt, Iowa and Moline, Illinois in my first job after graduate school. The DeWitt Library had a great audiobook collection and I loved the Irish narration and stories.  I fell in love the the strong sense of place, good character development, and the feeling of escape to Ireland I felt while listening on my commutes.

Fast forward over 20 years and I’m still enjoying Maeve Binchy.  A Week In Winter is set in small town on the west coast or Ireland.  This is place where there are long & desolate beaches, pounding waves, fierce winds, welcoming pubs, warming sunshine, and a strong community.  There are two groups of people – the first is led by Chicky Starr who decides to buy a rundown house and turn it into a restful inn by the sea.  She enlists help from friends and family to bring her dream to reality.  The second group is the guests who stay at the Inn the first week it is open.

Characters develop, acquaintances become friends, problems are sorted out, delicious food is served & enjoyed, music is shared, and pubs are visited.  Maeve Binchy weaves the story of each character with her signature warmth and humor.  During our recent Polar Vortex, I knew it was the perfect time to read this book and enjoy one last Maeve Binchy escape.

Cheers to Maeve Binchy and thank you for the hours of reading pleasure we’ve shared over the last two decades!

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