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Midnight in Peking

by Andrea on April 29th, 2012
Midnight in Peking Cover Image

In 1937, everybody in Beijing was on edge. Except Pamela Werner. The nineteen-year-old daughter of a former British consul, Pamela had grown up comfortably, but largely unsupervised in Armour Factory Alley, outside the Legation Quarter where most foreigners in Beijing lived at the time. She confidently travelled between both worlds boldly declaring “I am not afraid of anything.” Unfortunately her confidence was misplaced.

In Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China, Paul French uses the investigation of the vicious murder of Pamela Werner to highlight the tensions between the Chinese

Armour Factory Alley Today

and the privileged foreign residents of the Legation Quarter and the fear that both felt with the impending Japanese occupation of the city. The detection work is restricted by the requirement that Col. Han Shih-ching work alongside British Detective Chief Inspector Richard Dennis with Col. Han discouraged from questioning foreigners and DCI Dennis restricted to investigation inside the Legation Quarter. Ultimately, her murder would be declared unsolved as the Japanese occupation took priority. Her father’s relentless quest to solve his daughter’s murder provided many of the resources Paul French calls upon to finally piece the puzzle together.

Fox Tower Where Pamela's Body Was Found

While this book is recommended for any fan of detective fiction or Chinese history, it was especially engaging if you are familiar with or planning a trip to Beijing. Using the the map and audio tour at the book’s website, plan a walk along Pamela’s route from her house, through the Badlands and into the Legation Quarter. Kuijiachang Hutong where Pamela and her widowed father lived on Armour Factor Alley is suitably spooky while the Tartar Wall near the Fox Tower (where her body was found) is magical at night – filled with people dancing in the park and, in spring, the scent of cherry blossoms. The hulking embassy buildings with their distinctive architecture make a striking end to the trek, but don’t stop there. Keep going past the official walk to swanky Capital M (just south of Tiananmen Square) for drinks overlooking Zheng Yang Gate.

Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson

by Anne on April 3rd, 2012
Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson Cover Image

I admit it: I like celebrating anniversaries. Whether it’s for Dickens’ 200th birthday or the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I mark the dates with a book or a documentary.  However, due to a certain film by a certain director, I wasn’t interested in the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic (April 15th). As far as I was concerned, the Titanic was at the bottom of the ocean.  End of story. After stumbling upon Andrew Wilson’s Shadow of the Titanic, I’ve changed my mind.

Rather than providing an account of the sinking of the Titanic or a history of its building and demise, Wilson focuses on the people who survived the disaster and how the event was a turning point in their lives.  Some, like Renee Harris, Madeleine Astor, and Marian Thayer, lost their husbands; J. Bruce Ismay and Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon lost their reputations. Silent film actress Dorothy Gibson survived the sinking, but had to relive the whole experience when she starred in Saved from the Titanic, a film made days after the disaster by Jules Brulatour, who also happened to be Gibson’s lover.  (That relationship didn’t last long.)  What is fascinating is how some used the experience to change their lives and work for something, while others found the Titanic a black mark that they couldn’t escape. Of course, all the stories are noticeably those of first-class women.

There are times when I wish Wilson held back.  He would often surmise what individuals were thinking or what their priorities were with little evidence, making harsh judgments on certain survivors.  However, it is an interesting and surprising approach to the Titanic‘s history.

You can mark the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic by picking up Shadow of the Titanic (or the thirty other books we own).  The library is also showing A Night to Remember (1958) on Thursday, April 12th at 7 pm in Meeting Room A.

Little Rock Girl 1957 – Shelley Tougas

by Jason on March 8th, 2012
Little Rock Girl 1957 – Shelley Tougas Cover Image

This nonfiction book, primarily aimed at upper elementary and junior high students, gives a quick, readable overview of the iconic American civil rights photograph of Elizabeth Eckford and the attempted integration of Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

Tougas uses the first chapter to give a riveting account, with primary source dialogue, of what was to be 15-year-old Elizabeth’s first day of school at the newly integrated Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas.  She and eight other African-American students (now known as the Little Rock Nine) were to begin classes on September 4th, 1957, but when Elizabeth arrived she was alone and faced an angry mob of hundreds of protestors and armed National Guardsmen who barred her entrance.  The photo spreads and personal accounts are shocking albeit a bit emotionally distant due to the succinct text.

Being part of the Compass Point Books “Captured History” series, the book features large photos depicting the events of that day and the aftermath of this Civil Rights Movement struggle.  There is quite a bit of discussion about the iconic photograph taken by photographer Will Counts of white student, Hazel Bryan, shouting racial abuse at Elizabeth.  Readers will learn about the impact photojournalism has on the world and what it can feel like to be defined not only by your skin color but by a single photograph.

Short chapters with simple, effective sentences also allow tweens and teens to easily follow the developments of the integration battle in Little Rock, give a basic history of the Civil Rights Movement, and provide a “where are they now” of Will Counts and the Little Rock Nine students.  Tougas’ book gives us a good introduction to the topic and includes a list of further reading to help students know where to go for more detailed information.

All Iowa Reads 2012 Selects Kidder

by Susan on February 10th, 2012
All Iowa Reads 2012 Selects Kidder Cover Image

The 2012 All Iowa Reads title is Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains, only the second nonfiction book in the program’s nine year history.  Strength in What Remains tells the story of Deogratis, or Deo, who as a 22 year old medical student barely escapes the Hutu slaughter of Tutsis in Burundi.  He finds himself in New York City in 1994 with no English skills and $200.  The story moves back and forth in time and place — from Africa to New York.  And. although the horror of events in Africa is almost undescribable, living poor on the streets of New York as a young black man with no money is not an easy life either.  Deo is helped by remarkable, generous people — but, the personal courage and fortitude needed to prevail is his.  As a member of the All Iowa Reads Committee I recently did a program on this book with Kirkwood instructor, George Minot.  He said the key to good nonfiction writing is to “make what is true believable.”  Everyone should read this inspiring story from a great author who succeeds in that goal.

Destiny of the Republic

by Anne on December 14th, 2011
Destiny of the Republic Cover Image

Primum non nocere. When Dr. Doctor W. Bliss (yes, his first name was “Doctor”) responded to the news that President James Garfield was shot at the Baltimore and Potomac Station, he should have heeded the “first, do no harm” principle.  Instead, he was determined to save the President.  He poked and prodded the wound with his fingers and metal instruments trying to locate the bullet.  Not only was he unable to find the bullet, his actions created an infection.  Fighting blood poisoning, Garfield suffered for two whole months before succumbing to the infection. Bliss is only one of the cast of characters in Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic: a tale of madness, medicine, and the murder of a president.

Millard’s book tells the story of the individuals involved with Garfield’s assassination: President James Garfield, Charles Guiteau, his assassin, Dr. Bliss, the attending surgeon, Senator Roscoe Conkling, his political rival, and Alexander Graham Bell, who was racing to create a device that would locate the bullet.  The assassination and its aftermath are fascinating subjects on their own, but Millard also covers post-Civil War politics, civil service reform, mental illness, technological innovation, and changes in the medical field. It is well-written with interesting asides and facts (like Dr. Doctor Bliss). It is a pleasure to read. If you are interested in 19th century US history, the history of medicine, or the history of inventions, please pick up this book.  It will not disappoint.


MetaMaus is coming soon!

by Debb Green on September 22nd, 2011
MetaMaus is coming soon! Cover Image


It’s hard to believe. But it’s been 25 years since the first volume of Maus: a Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman was published. A ground-breaking graphic narrative, it told the story of the cartoonist’s father Vladek, and his survival during the Holocaust by portraying Jews as mice and Nazi Germans as cats. All the while juxtaposing this with contemporary portrayals of their family life and father/son issues in the 1970′s & 80′s.

Spiegelman first told his father’s story in 1972 as a cartoon strip in an underground comic called (oddly enough) Funny Animals. He then expanded it with a series of interviews and family stories published in separate volumes – one in 1986 and the second in 1991 (Maus II: a Survivor’s Tale.) In 1992 it became the only graphic novel to win a special Pulitzer Award.

Next month, the world will again be intrigued and inspired when Spiegelman’s newest addition to the Maus saga debuts. MetaMaus will share his thoughts about his unique and prize-winning graphic work. Plus talk about the difficulty of treating the Holocaust in comic form and the structure of memory that unifies the whole work. It will also include a DVD digitized copy of the Maus books with supplementary audio/visual files, documents, and commentary.

For graphic novel and manga fans, this book is a “must read”. But it also deserves a place on everyone’s “should read” list. Here’s a good book trailer video to peak your interest. Be sure to place your hold on MetaMaus soon!

MetaMaus Youtube Video:



72 Hours to Kickoff!

by Kara on August 31st, 2011
72 Hours to Kickoff! Cover Image

The Iowa Hawkeyes football season kicks off this Saturday September 3 at 11:00 AM at Kinnick Stadium.  The Hawkeyes face Tennessee Tech and the game is televised on the Big Ten Network.

There’s always a preseason buzz in the air.  Personally I don’t go to the football games (you’ll find me at the Library on kickoff day!) but I do enjoy the anticipation leading up to the football games.  I also have an appreciation of the Hawkeye legacy and enjoy the food at the tailgaters I attend.

The Library has many wonderful resources to help you prepare for the football season.  If you are interested in exciting moments in Hawkeye sports, search the Library’s catalog (click on the Word/Phrase Tab) for “Iowa Sports History.”  Or check out the “Go Hawkeyes” sound recording to listen to the Iowa Fightsong and other great moments in Hawkeye History.

If you want to watch an interview with the legendary Hayden Fry, navigate to the Library’s streaming video collection and select the entry for Hayden Fry.  Or if you need some ideas to plan for an awesome tailgate food spread, search Catalog Pro for “Tailgate Parties.”

If your idea of a perfect Hawkeye Football Saturday is to escape from the chaos with a great book or a trip out of town, we can help you with that too ;)

Count on the Iowa City Public Library to help you prepare for football season.  Go Hawkeyes!

In The Garden Of Beasts: Love Terror And An American Family In Hitlers Berlin

by John on August 18th, 2011
In The Garden Of Beasts: Love Terror And An American Family In Hitlers Berlin Cover Image

Best-selling non-fiction ace Erik Larson (who spoke here May 18) has another winner on his hands.  William Dodd was a scholar, whose only ambition was to finish his four-volume history of the South, but when Franklin Roosevelt offered him the ambassadorship to Germany in 1933,  Dodd was too vain to turn it down.

Hitler was accruing power, and Dodd was singularly ill-fitted to deal with this.  He strove for a moderate stance, meaning that when storm troopers beat up US citizens, Dodd helped cover it up.  He urged Jewish leaders in the US to damp down their protests, even while complaining about the number of Jews on his own staff.  To be fair, his views evolved, tho he was never able to convince the State Department of the danger Hitler represented.

Larson’s trump card in this book is Dodd’s daughter Martha.  Young, smart, pretty, and a congenital flirt, she carried on affairs with several Nazis, before her own attitudes evolved, and she fell in love with a Soviet agent, an amazingly dangerous thing to do.

Quite a story, and extensively documented.

Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

by Maeve on August 15th, 2011
Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff Cover Image

Lost in Shangri-la : a true story of survival, adventure, and the most incredible rescue mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff is a fantastic story of survival in the jungles of Dutch New Guinea during World War II.   This is the second work of nonfiction I read this summer that was so compelling the I didn’t want to put it down. (The first was In the Garden of Beasts by Eric Larson.)  While the story takes in 1945 with the war still waging in the Pacific it isn’t about a battle.  Instead it is the tale of a sight-seeing trip to an uncharted location gone wildly awry.   The flight, carrying 24 passengers, hit a mountain, and only 3 survived.   John McCollum, Kenneth Decker, and a beautiful blonde petite Woman’s Air Corps member named Margaret Hastings were injured – Decker and Hastings were severely burned  and although McCollum had no great physical injuries, his twin brother was killed in the crash. Lost in Shangri-La is the griping story of three survivors, the native people and the rescue mission. And it is also  recounts the first contact of Westerners with a previously untouched band of people.

Zuckoff  uses declassified U.S. Army documents, personal photos and mementos, a survivor’s diary, a rescuer’s journal, and original film footage in telling the story of how the trio was rescued.  He tracks down survivors and  also visits the Baliem Valley to interview the as many of the original group as he could find. Lost in Shangri-La is well worth reading, not only as a story of survival in extremely harsh conditions but also what happens when two cultures collide.

ICPL Most Popular Large Print

by Kara on July 13th, 2011
ICPL Most Popular Large Print Cover Image

It’s been a great year for the Large Print collection! Located on the Library’s first floor, the Large Print collection draws many readers of all ages.  Personally I love reading Large Print.  The books give my eyes a rest and I can read without my glasses!

Below are two lists of the most popular Large Print titles – Fiction first and then Nonfiction.  These books are also available in other formats including regular print, audio, and eBook.  As always, Library staff would be happy to help you find a great book!


Author Title
Steig Larsson The Girl Who Played with Fire
Steig Larsson The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Katherine Stockett The Help
James Patterson Private
Janet Evanovich Wicked Appetite
Steig Larsson The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Sara Gruen Water for Elephants
Kathy Reichs Spider Bones
Michael Connelly The Reversal
Tess Gerritsen Ice Cold


Author Title
Rebecca Skloot The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rhoda Janzen Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
Nora Ephron I Remember Nothing
Lisa Scottoline My Nest Isn’t Empty: It Just Has More Closet Space
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