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Wolf Hall

by John on July 27th, 2012
Wolf Hall Cover Image

This won the Man Booker Prize in 2009, but it was all the subsequent references to it in reviews that convinced me to give it a try.   It’s become something of a landmark.
Wolf Hall tells a great story all the more fascinating for being true. It traces the rise of Thomas Cromwell as an advisor to Henry VIII, and encompasses Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, which led to the establishment of the Church of England. It’s a well-known story, but fleshed out in human terms, if by human we mean impossibly witty banter, jaw-dropping hypocrisy,  and astonishing accomplishment which changed the course of western civilization.

Henry and Cromwell made the argument (apparently with straight faces) that Katherine, whom Henry had married, lived with for 20 years and had a child with, was not, in fact, his wife.  She had been married briefly to his brother, and so was actually his sister.  While 20 years of incest was regrettable, a merciful God could forgive that, and Henry could marry Anne Boleyn, who was more likely to provide a male heir.

Nearly as bizarre, this argument took place in the context of the Reformation.  While Henry’s regime was burning heretics, he was himself moving toward a schism with the Catholic Church.  Hilary Mantel’s achievement is to show Cromwell making such paradoxical arguments in good faith, with a fair degree of intellectual and moral rigor.
It will be fun to rewatch A Man for All Seasons after this, which tells the story of Thomas More, a heroic martyr in the movie, a fanatical torturer in Wolf Hall.
I’m  struck by how much of this went over my head.  Whence the title, for instance?  Very little of the action takes place at Wolf Hall.  The place names are just names to me, but the characters know them and react to a place’s characteristics.

A connection to Wikipedia filled me in on many details I didn’t know. That shy, awkward girl attending the queen,  to whom Cromwell nearly proposes marriage?  Turns out Jane Seymour becomes Henry’s next wife, and learning this added layers of meaning and irony to her every appearance.

The sequel to Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies has just been published and longlisted for the Booker.  I’m in line.

The End of the Wasp Season

by Susan on June 4th, 2012
The End of the Wasp Season Cover Image

Scottish author Denise Mina is a favorite of mine — not always easy to follow, but then, people are more her thing than a plot.  Both the plot and the people in this second title featuring DS Alexandra Morrow are grim indeed.  The story skips back and forth between two deaths — bad boy millionaire banker Lars Anderson hangs himself from a tree on his palatial estate, Sarah Erroll is kicked and beaten to death by home invaders.  Dysfunction doesn’t even begin to describe both of these people and their families as Alex, five months pregnant with twins, discovers links between the two.  Alex has her own dynamics to deal with after the death of her father, issues with her delinquent nephew and the appeareance of an old friend linked to one of the victims.  Family is the overall theme — what people will (and won’t) do for flesh and blood.  It’s a long, dense story and at times my attention wavered, but then I would get pulled back in by the complex characters.

The Irresistible Henry House

by Susan on May 28th, 2012
The Irresistible Henry House Cover Image

Henry House was born in 1946 and spent his first year as “practice baby” in a college home economics program designed to teach young women how to be mothers. (Yes, this was really a common practice across the country).  Typically babies were orphans and were put up for adoption after one year.  Henry, however, steals the heart of the program director, Martha Gaines, and stays on, moving upstairs with her and seeing a succession of practice babies come and go.  What he learns is not a good lesson — how to make a variety of women think they’re his favorite.  At the age of 10 Henry learns who his biological mother is and loses his trust in Martha.  Baby boomers will enjoy the side characters in Henry’s story — Benjamin Spock, Walt Disney, the Beatles– as he wanders from college towns to New York,  Los Angeles, and London before returning to Wilton College.  Henry is an engaging character and the mid-twentieth century setting is fun in this coming of age story.

UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day Booktalk Lunch

by Barb on April 23rd, 2012

Booktalk lunches returned to Iowa City Public Library today when City of Literature USA and Iowa City Public Library partnered to celebrate World Book and Copyright Day.  If you were in attendance, you heard how books inspired notable people in our community.  If you missed it but would like to check out the books they introduced, what follows is a list of the speakers and the books they introduced.  Links are provided for each title to the Library’s catalog.  Many are also available as audiobooks or eBooks so if one of these formats is your preference, search the catalog by title.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

introduced by Nancy Quellhorst, President of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce

Here Lies Linc by Delia Ray

introduced by businessman and City Councilor, Terry Dickens

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

introduced by Nate Kaeding, former West High and Hawkeye football player, now with the San Diego Chargers

The Time of Our Lives by Tom Brokaw

introduced by Mary Ferentz, community volunteer

Pranks! by V. Vale  (the Library owns Pranks 2!)

introduced by Kembrew McLeod, UI Associate Professor of Communication Studies

Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith

introduced by Prairie Light’s book buyer, Paul Ingram

The Miracle of St. Anthony by Adrian Wojnarowski

introduced by Charlie Funk, President of Midwest One Bank

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

by Susan on March 30th, 2012
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett Cover Image

This intriguing novel starts in Minnesota, at a big pharmaceutical research lab, where Marina Singh has worked for several years.  Dr Singh’s colleague, Anders Eckman, went to the Amazon area to get a progress report from veteran researcher, Dr Annick Swenson, who has not been forthcoming on the outcome of her studies and the corporate funders are growing anxious.   A brief report of Anders death arrives in Minnesota and Marina is sent to find out the details by her married lover, and boss, Mr Fox.  The contrast between Minnesota and the Amazon region where the Lakashi tribe lives could not be more stark.  Marina finds herself cut off from the world she knows, even wearing native attire after her clothes are stolen, as she tries to learn more about Anders’ death and the status of Dr Swenson’s research into the fertility of women of the tribe who routinely gnaw the bark of a certain species of trees and continue to have babies well into their 70′s.  As Annika observes, what 70 year old woman wants to have babies?  Good question, and one that this novel explores along with many others including the place of commercialism in medicine, culture and identity, good and evil.  It’s a real tale, well told.

420 Characters by Lou Beach

by Maeve on March 1st, 2012
420 Characters by Lou Beach Cover Image

420 Characters began its life as a collection of Facebook updates back in the day when they were limited to just 420 characters.   Lou Beach is an acclaimed artist and illustrator and 420 includes several fantastical collages.  One of my favorite stories is from page 8.

Mouse and I lie on our stomachs on the warm and weathered planks. The little bridge spans the stream two feat below and the sun lays its hands on our backs.  We drop pebbles into the creek and startle the water striders, add to the trove of shining rocks and stones. Preteen bombadiers, we laugh at splashes.  Twenty feet away, in another world, our parents and their friends sit on blankets, eat sandwiches and drink beer.

The stories are fanciful, clever and short.

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.

Killed at the Whim of a Hat

by Susan on November 18th, 2011
Killed at the Whim of a Hat Cover Image

Colin Cotterrill is the author of the popular Dr Siri mysteries.  I have never read any of them, but when a title as intriguing as this came a long I had to give it a try.  Killed at the Whim of a Hat starts a new series, also set in Thailand.  Jimm Juree is on a path to become a big city crime reporter when her mother suddenly sells a family business and buys a run down resort in a tiny village in southern Thailand.  Jimm is concerned about her mother’s mental state and follows her, along with her bodybuilder brother, Arny, and Granddad Jah, but she is bored and unhappy in her new environment.  Things start looking up when two human skeletons are found in a Volkswagen van and an abbot is stabbed to death at  a local monastery.  With articles to write and two mysteries to solve Jimm enlists the aid of her grandfather, a former traffic cop, her brother and her transgendered sibling, an internet whiz who stayed behind in the big city, and assorted local characters to help her.  About half way through the book the meaning of the title as well as the quotes from   George W. Bush that begin each chapter is revealed.  There is alot of humor, a fascinating look at a culture most Americans are unfamiliar with, and a good mystery here.

Crime fiction set in Africa

by Maeve on September 11th, 2011
Crime fiction set in Africa Cover Image

Is Alexander McCall Smith the only writer of crime fiction set in Africa?  No, there are more and many of them show a  much more grimmer view of sub-Saharan Africa.   In the August 29, 2011 “Publishers Weekly” Leslie Picker offers more for the reader than Precious Ramotswe, the main detective at the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Michael Stanley,  (writers Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip) has just published the third title in the David “Kubu” Bengu series.  The series is set in contemporary Botswana and the most recent title, Death of Mantis,  interweaves the prejudice against the Bushmen into the murder mystery.   Ghanaian author, Kwei Quartey, sets his two book series in Accra.  His third book,  Men of the Rig, will be out next year.

Crime fiction from South Africa predominates as the publishing industry there is the most robust in Africa.  The October Killings by Wessel Ebersohn, is set in late 2oth century South Africa.  The protagonist is lawyer Abby Bukula, the grown daughter of parents killed during an anti-apartheid protest.  This is the first book in a projected series.    Malla Nunn, has two books featuring Emmanuel Cooper, a detective working the 1950s apartheid South Africa.  Deon Meyer, who writes in Afrikaans, won the 2010 Martin Beck Award for the best crime novel in translation for Devil’s Peak,  another mystery set in South Africa. Picker even throws in Zoo City, a science fiction/fantasy crime novel by Lauren Beukes. Beukes’ book also takes place in South Africa.

If McCall Smith is the only crime writer from Africa you have read expand your horizons.  Or if you have tired of Scandinavia,  try a title from much farther south.

Where’s Waldo Now? In Boulder apparently…

by Debb Green on July 29th, 2011
Where’s Waldo Now? In Boulder apparently… Cover Image

Believe it or not, stealth Waldo’s are making mysterious appearances on the streets and buildings of Boulder, Colorado. And this city’s officials are not what you’d call amused. Even though many residents actually are enjoying the surprise graffiti.Threatening legal action should perpetrators be found, the city of Boulder plans to remove them soon. See more about the story below:

Waldo, an iconic children’s picture book character, first made his American appearance in 1987. Martin Handford, a British author, originally called his character Wally. But changed it Waldo when the first book was published in Canada and the United States. This book and those that followed were a huge hit worldwide, selling millions of copies. They also spawned a television series, comic strip, magazine, video games, and even cereal box puzzles and prizes.

The fascination that generations of children have had with Waldo books is due to the use of picture puzzle imagery. Though there’s a slight storyline, the emphasis is upon tiny illustrations with thousands of details spread over double page spreads. There are usually a dozen scenes with Waldo hidden in them. In addition, each book has additional hidden objects and/or characters in each scene specific to that book. Reader aren’t told about some until the end of the book so that they’ll have to go through the pages again. Since the 80′s, the original books have been revised several times to refresh the series, thus finding new audiences.

There are many fine picture puzzle books in the library’s collection. If you and your children enjoy solving mysteries or finding hidden objects while reading be sure to check out these authors’/illustrators’ works:

Delfine ChedruSpot It!; and Spot It Again!

Martin HandfordWhere’s Waldo?; Where’s Waldo Now?; Where’s Waldo? In Hollywood; Where’s Waldo? the Fantastic Journey; Where’s Waldo? the Great Picture Hunt; and Where’s Waldo? the Wonder Book

Laura LjungkvistFollow the Line; Follow the Line Through the House; Follow the Line Around the World; and Follow the Line to School

Dan MarzolloI Spy: a Book of Picture Riddles; I Spy Fun House; I Spy Mystery; I Spy Spooky Night; I Spy FantasyI Spy School Days; I Spy Super Challenger; I Spy Christmas; I Spy Year-Round Challenger; I Spy Spectacular; and I Spy A to Z

Joan SteinerLook-Alikes; Look-Alikes Jr.; Look-Alikes Christmas; and Look-Alikes Around the World

Walter WickCan You See What I See? Picture Puzzles; Can You See What I See? Dream Machine; Can You See What I See? Seymour Makes New Friends; Can You See What I See? Once Upon a Time; Can You See What I See? On a Scary, Scary Night; and Can You See What I See? Seymour and the Juice Box Boat

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