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ICPL Staff Top Picks for 2013: Non-Fiction

by on December 20th, 2013
ICPL Staff Top Picks for 2013: Non-Fiction Cover Image

Do you ever go on genre binges, where you only read books in a specific genre? Apparently, many Library employees were on a non-fiction reading binge in 2013, because our list of Best Non-Fiction Books of 2013 exceeds our fiction list. Make sure you stop by the Library’s second floor on your next visit to check out our vast collection!


  • Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan
  • The Unforgettable Photograph: 228 Ideas, Tips, and Secrets for Taking the Best Pictures of Your Life by George Lange
  • Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey by Simon Armitage
  • Riddle of the Labyrinth:  The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code by Margalit Fox
  • Confronting the Classics:  Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations by Mary Beard
  • The Real Jane Austen:  A Life in Small Thing, by Paula Byrne
  • How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon
  • Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
  • Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
  • The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti
  • Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
  • Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
  • Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile by Nate Jackson
  • Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater by Michael Sokolove

ICPL Staff Top Picks for 2013: Fiction

by on December 18th, 2013
ICPL Staff Top Picks for 2013: Fiction Cover Image

Once again, Library staff were happy to share their favorite reads of 2013 for our annual ICPL Best of 2013.

Employees were asked to submit the titles they read and loved this year with all nominations divided into six categories: fiction, kids, young adult, mystery/science fiction, biography, and non-fiction. Any book that was nominated by more than one staff member made our 2013 Best of the Best list.

We’ll share our Best of the Best list on the last day of 2013. Until then, here are the Library’s top fiction books for 2013. Keep checking back to see what made the cut in our other categories.


  • The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy
  • The Twelve by Justin Cronin
  • Longbourn by Jo Baker
  • Orkney by Amy Sackville
  • Long Division by Kiese Laymon
  • The Hope Factory: A Novel by Lavanya Sankaran
  • The Wednesday Daughters: A Novel by Meg Waite Clayton
  • The Rosie Project: A Novel by Graeme Simsion
  • The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
  • Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman
  • Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders
  • The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
  • TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
  • Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell
  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
  • The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Hauser

What was your favorite fiction read of 2013?

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

by on December 17th, 2013
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion Cover Image

I love when friends pass along good book recommendations. Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project was a lot of fun and aided in my continued procrastination this holiday season.

Don Tillman is a lovable but socially awkward professor of genetics in Australia who lives an orderly, routine, logical, evidence-based life. Because Don is lonely, he decides to create “The Wife Project” to help him find a partner. Being a scientist, he approaches this project the only way he knows how: Don identifies all characteristics he would expect in a compatible partner and creates a questionnaire that would have a high statistical probability of identifying Ms. Right. What Don doesn’t expect is to be drawn to someone who demonstrates a high probability of incompatibility.

Speaking of incompatibility, Don meets Rosie and abandons “The Wife Project” because Rosie needs help with her “Father Project.” Suddenly Don’s life is turned upside down and he’s not sure if he can fit flexibility, change and disorder into his life. But after some time with Rosie, he’s willing to give it a try.

The characters are quirky but lovable, the plot moves quickly, and Don’s social inadequacies are endearing. This is a fun read that is highly recommended. ~Enjoy~


Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

by on December 12th, 2013
Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan Cover Image

Thanks to a friend I received an Advance Reader Copy of Nancy Horan’s new book, Under the Wide and Starry Sky. Nancy Horan is the author of Loving Frank, a fictionalized story about architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Because Loving Frank is on my list of all-time favorite books, I was delighted to have a sneak-peek at Horan’s new book due out January 7, 2014.

Horan’s new novel begins in 1875 and focuses on Fanny van de Grift Osbourne, an independent American woman who flees her life with a philandering husband in San Francisco and moves with her children to Belgium. After a personal tragedy, she moves to an artist colony in France where she can retreat and refocus her life. While in France, Fanny meets a young Scot who instantly falls in love with her. The Scotsman, Robert Louis Stevenson, is an unhealthy attorney, plagued with lung ailments, who yearns to devote his life to writing. Stevenson’s love for Fanny is not a popular decision with his family and friends; however, he is determined to forge ahead. After Stevenson achieves fame, Fanny must strike a balance between her independence, desire to also be a writer, and support for Stevenson.

I enjoy reading Historical Fiction and learning about a well-known person in a new way. Stevenson is best known for his novels Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; however, despite his writing success, health and personal issues plagued him during his lifetime and readers will come to appreciate the partnership Fanny and Stevenson shared that enabled his life as an author. From France to Scotland, California, England, Switzerland and Samoa, each place offered challenges and triumphs.  The book is on order, so put your hold in now for this great new novel. ~Enjoy~

An R&B Christmas

by on December 11th, 2013

Are you sick of the same tired Christmas interpretations? Try something from this collection of CDs for an R&B Christmas.
"Best Man Holiday" CD art Soundtrack to the new Malcolm D. Lee film “The Best Man Holiday” featuring contemporary R&B artists such as: Jordin Sparks, Fantasia, R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, John Legend, and Ne-Yo.

"Funky Christmas" coverA holiday compilation of Atlantic Records’ Cotillion imprint featuring performances by 1970s R&B/Soul singers including a young Luther Vandross.

MaryChristmasA new Verve Christmas release of classics from Mary J. Blige called, “A Mary Christmas” (we see what you did there).

Christmas with a little New jack swing, it’s “Christmas With Babyface.”

Christmas soul originals with James Brown, it’s no Sex Machine but it’s still funky.

Despite the ridiculous cover, this CeeLo Christmas album, “Cee Lo’s Magic Moment,” is the real deal.

Many of the songs included on the Jackson 5 “Ultimate Christmas Collection” have become modern Christmas classics.

A Motown Christmas” collects songs from Motown legends from 1965 through the early 1970s including tracks by: Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, and Diana Ross & the Supremes.

Video Staff Picks – with Kara

by on November 27th, 2013


ICPL staff celebrate National Picture Book Month

by on November 27th, 2013

When you ask a Librarian to name his or her favorite picture book, you’ll get one of two reactions.

They will be able to name their title and author in less than five seconds.


They will panic, say there’s no way they can possibly choose just one, and ask for more time to make their decision. And even when they’ve selected a title, they’ll go on and on about all the other picture books they love.

To paraphrase Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail, the books you read as a child – or the books you read to children – become a part of your identity. I fell in love with New York City because of Kay Thompson’s Eloise. It didn’t matter that years would pass before my first visit; I knew I’d love New York because of the adventures she had at The Plaza.

National Picture Book Month was launched in November 2010 to celebrate the print picture book on an international level. Libraries, schools, booksellers and book lovers of all ages have participated with story times, coloring pages, and puppet shows. The National Picture Book website ( features essays from leaders in the children’s literature community sharing why picture books are important.

Iowa City Public Library staff celebrated National Picture Book Month by sharing their favorite picture book with our Facebook fans. Each person selected a title and a few words about why that book stood out from all the other fantastic picture books in the Library’s collection. It was fun to see how varied staff tastes are, from classics like The Lorax to the word-free Chalk. If you didn’t get a chance to view the posts on Facebook, their selections are below.

Morgan: Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
“This is one of my favorites because it is the best story of a life I’ve wanted to emulate since I was little. I want to travel the world. I want to live by the sea. I want to make the world a more beautiful place.”

Paul: Chalk by Bill Thomson
“I love wordless picture books. To do a story effectively, you have to have a lot more going on and the way he captures the children’s expressions is just priceless. It’s always on the top of my recommendation list for wordless picture books.”

Katherine: No, David! by David Shannon
“This is one of my all-time favorite picture books because the David in this story is just like my son, Brent, who is now 30 and a successful lawyer in the U.S. Army. He was always tracking in mud and he would play baseball in the house. Brent, I’m sorry to say, still plays with his food, just like David. This book has a very special place in my heart.”

Mara: Corduroy by Don Freeman
“It’s a story about a bear who is all alone and all he wants is to be adopted, and then he finds a little girl and gets his wish. That theme always appealed to me. Now, as an adult, I have a lot of adopted animals.”

Vickie: Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban
“It’s a sweet story about a loving family and a common childhood concern. I wish I was as wise as Frances’ parents.”

Bond: The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
“I probably read this book 50,000 times. I think it was the first book that made me understand that a book could be more than just pretty pictures. It can be about big ideas.”

Pete the Cat: Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses by James Dean (Yes, he played, too.)
He tells us he recommends all of his books, but his newest is a fun read for days when you’re feeling grumpy.

Nancy: King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood
“I just think it’s a terrific book. It has a funny, appealing story with lavish illustrations. My best memory is reading it to my daughter’s kindergarten class in 1986.”

Jen: Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
“I just like that she learns to love herself for who she is – again.”

Kara: The Napping House Wakes Up by Audrey Wood
“My children loved pop-up books when they were younger and we spent many happy hours reading this book.”

Jason: Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers
“First of all, the artwork is very bright and playful, and it has a penguin, which is adorable. It’s a simple story about making new friends – a classic theme for children’s books – but it’s written in a whimsical and silly way.”

Maeve: Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag
“This is my favorite book from my childhood. All you need to know about it is the last line of the story: ‘I ought to know, for I’ve seen – Hundreds of cats, Thousands of cats, Millions and billions and trillions of cats – and not one was as pretty as this one.’”

Elyse: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett
“It is my favorite because my nephew, who just went to college in September, had a secret reader program in kindergarten. This was in New York. I arranged a secret reader visit from afar and came home to surprise him. When I walked in, Matthew said ‘That’s my Aunt Elyse!’”

Beth: Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner“This is the best book series ever! The writing is hilarious, whether you’re an adult or a kid. And you have to respect a kitten who thinks he’s a Chihuahua.”

Lynn: Blueberries for Sal and One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey
“I love these two McCloskey books in particular because they remind me of a certain period when my daughter, Kate, was around 2 or 3. We both loved the illustrations, the kinds that evoke a certain delicious feeling every time you open the cover, of a world you want to step into. A close friend of ours, Marnie, spent every summer of her childhood in Maine, so they have that association as well, since those summers, and Maine, had a special significance for her. Marnie gave Kate both of these books on her birthday one year. She’d carefully gone through and replaced the characters’ names with ‘Marnie’ and ‘Kate.’ I can only look at the name ‘Sal’ now and think it must be a misprint.”

Anna: Winter Days in the Big Woods (My First Little House Books) by Laura Ingalls Wilder
“I loved how the Ingalls family spent so much time together – working hard, helping around the yard and home, cooking and eating together as a family, reading stories and dancing while Pa played the fiddle. My mom often says she thinks I was born in the wrong generation.”

Susan: A Bedtime for Bear by Bonny Becker
“Bear and Mouse are very different characters, and yet they have this strong friendship, and they learn how to accommodate each other. This book is part of a series, so you can follow their adventures through several books.”

Talya: Every Thing on It by Shel Silverstein
“I have three copies of ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends,’ so when this was released after Shel Silverstein’s death, I was so excited I was like a little kid at Christmas, squealing and stuff. This collection contains new poems and illustrations that were never published before.”

Anne: Chicken Soup with Rice: A Book on Months by Maurice Sendak
“My mom used to take my sister and me to storytime every Thursday at the Berkshire Athenaeum (in Pittsfield, Mass.) and they used to play this video called ‘Chicken Soup with Rice,’ and I found that very exciting. We owned a copy of the book, which we’d go home and read every week. My sister and I still have it memorized.”

Orion: Who Needs Donuts? By Mark Alan Stamaty
“For a long time, I had forgotten about this book, but I’ve loved donuts my entire life. Then I rediscovered this book, and I think it’s where my love of reading, learning and donuts began.”

Hannah: Oh, the Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Seuss
“I love this book because it’s not just for kids. My two favorite teachers gave me a copy as a high school graduation gift, and even now as a grad student I sometimes turn to it for encouragement and inspiration. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to be stressed out with Dr. Seuss’s uplifting message and beautiful, vibrant drawings.”

Heidi: The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
“‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ is the first book I remember reading — that is to say, looking at the pictures. I pretended that my favorite stuffed animal — a dog — was a sick Peter Rabbit and would put him to bed under a little blanket. Beatrix Potter remains one of my favorite authors; I especially admire the land conservation work she did to protect the farms and hills in the Lake District in England.”

Tom: Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? By Dr. Seuss
“The narrator is an old man bearing a sunny sweet smile whose tales’ victims suffer fear, tedium, bizarre absurdities – all much worse than having to eat green beans or having just one story at bedtime instead of two. It could be worse is the idea. My kids need to hear this and I do, too. We adults have books about war, depression, addiction, and deceit not only to educate and inform, but to accomplish this task as well. I don’t know about you, but sometimes Professor de Breeze teaching Irish ducks Jivvanese just goes down easier.”

Judy: The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes and The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
“I remember reading both of these books when I was a child. It was a happy surprise when a patron brought The Hundred Dresses to the Help Desk to be checked out. Luckily the library had two copies so I could reread it that night. The story carried a much deeper meaning than I had originally understood. As for Ferdinand, who wouldn’t love Ferdinand? The cover alone should be framed and hung on the wall.”

Karen: Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr
“This Caldecott Medal book is a sentimental story about a father and his daughter who go owling on a cold night. It has great imagery and the words are written in such a soothing way, because when you go owling, you have to be quiet. As a parent, this story reminds me of the night hikes I used to take my children on when we lived in Vermont. It’s just a special time to share with your kids; something you’ll never forget.”

Todd: Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton
“This is a book I read several times a day to my sons when they were younger. It’s a fun story with great character development for the turkey.”

Lindsey: Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown
“My favorite picture book is ‘Goodnight Moon’ by Margaret Wise Brown because it’s the first book my mother ever read to me. I actually bought her a new copy of it a few years ago and did a front-cover inscription as a Mother’s Day gift!”

Casey: Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
“I’ve been a fan of Lane Smith ever since ‘The Stinky Cheese Man.’ The first time I read ‘Grandpa Green,’ it made me cry. This book came out 10 years after my grandfather died and it reminds me of him. It’s the perfect Grandparent’s Day book.”

Debb: What! Cried Granny by Kate Lum
“It’s a book I just love. I read it for storytime and it’s just fun – no matter the audience. I love funny stories and this one is so goofy. The first time I say ‘What?’ in Granny’s voice, the kids laugh. Every time after that, they say it with me.”

And, because they couldn’t choose just one title, a couple of bonus picks from Vickie and Katherine:

Vickie: Jamberry by Bruce Degen
“It is filled with exuberance and rhythm and creativity and, honestly, who doesn’t like berries?”

Katherine: Mop Top by Don Freeman
“Originally published in 1955, this is a story of a little boy who never wanted to get a haircut. I had four brothers and our dad cut their hair, and they never wanted to get a haircut, either. This story reminds me of my childhood.”

I volunteer to forgo sleep

by on November 22nd, 2013

Standing in line at the movie theater last night, I had two thoughts:

  • A lot of these kids are going to be tired at school tomorrow.
  • I’m going to be tired at work tomorrow.

Some things, however, are worth the sacrifice – and I was willing to forgo a few hours of sleep to be among the first to watch the latest installment of The Hunger Games trilogy: Catching Fire. After all, I lost plenty of sleep reading the books.

Movie adaptations are hit-or-miss in my world. There are some I love (Harry Potter franchise, for example – I loved learning how to finally pronounce Hermione’s name) and others that nearly make me hate a book I once loved (The Time Traveler’s Wife and One for the Money). Because I nearly always read the book before I see the movie, I can take comfort in telling myself “The book was better” when the movie falls short. Unfortunately, some people only watch the movie and, if it’s really bad, they’ll probably never read the book.

Fortunately, Catching Fire is one of those rare adaptations that stays true to the book. I had few complaints after watching The Hunger Games, but halfway through Catching Fire, I knew this movie was superior to its predecessor. Favorite characters return – Katniss and Peeta, of course, plus Haymitch and Effie – but we also get to meet previous tributes and have a better look at what life is like for a victor.

It’s not good. As Haymitch tells Katniss during the Victory Tour, she’ll never get off the train. As a victor, she’s now a mentor for future tributes. Her life is no longer her own, but The Capitol’s. She’s a pawn in a dangerous game. One wrong move … well, we all know how imposing Donald Sutherland can be in real life. As President Snow, he gives new meaning to evil. Part of me wishes the movie – and the book, for that matter – had explored the victor life further, but Snow has a world to run, so let’s announce the Quarter Quell and get to the action.

And it is action-packed. Unlike the first movie, we don’t see the tributes in the training center for long. Once the games start, it’s go-go-go until the end – and what an ending! I don’t know how I’m going to make it until the first part of Mockingjay is released on Nov. 21, 2014.

It’s going to be a long 364 days.

How to Survive a Plague

by on November 14th, 2013

There is no shortage of well made films dealing with issues surrounding the AIDS epidemic. We Were Here from 2011 talks about San Francisco in the 80s and 90s. The Frontline film The Age of Aids took a comprehensive look at the history of the disease from beginning to end. Certainly many fictional films have addressed the topic as well.

When How to Survive a Plague came out last year, I almost didn’t watch it. I thought I had seen all I needed to see and wouldn’t find anything new or surprising in this story.  I watched it anyway, and I’m so glad I did. Though it definitely was sad (kleenexes required!) it has notes of hope that other films about AIDS usually don’t share.

It opens at the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the US, and it follows the group ACT UP, who organized and protested while struggling to get the US government and pharmaceutical companies to develop and research new medications for the disease. It features a large amount of archival footage as well. The film was nominated for an Academy Award in 2012 and also was nominated for and won many other awards.

This story was compelling, affecting, and ultimately a beautiful portrait of a horrible situation.

If you’re still not convinced, here’s the trailer for the film.

The Wednesday Daughters

by on November 8th, 2013
The Wednesday Daughters Cover Image

One of my favorite books from the past decade is The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. The Wednesday Sisters is a “coming of age” novel, set against a backdrop of the late 1960s, Civil Rights, Women’s Movement, and Vietnam War protests, that chronicles the friendship of five women who live in California. Fast forward nearly thirty years and The Wednesday Daughters continues the story with the next generation of friends.

The first chapter of the book was like meeting an old friend and I remembered why I loved The Wednesday Sisters years ago:

“We Wednesday Daughters weren’t born on Wednesdays, and we aren’t blood relations. We don’t gather to write at picnic tables like our mothers did.  We’re just daughters of friends who’ve called themselves “Wednesday Sisters” since before I was born, daughters who became friends ourselves the way girls who grow up together sometimes do, whether they have much in common or not.”

Set in the Lake District of the United Kingdom, Hope, Anna Page and Julie travel to the UK to retreat after the death of Hope’s mother and other collective and individual sorrows.  The sisters have learned life is not easy and sometimes retreats and friendships are needed in order to face an uncertain future.  Meg Waite Clayton weaves a compelling story with solid characters, a strong sense of place, and a meandering storyline perfect for cold winter nights.  There is also a side story about the author Beatrix Potter I initially found distracting, but once I was immersed into the story, I enjoyed it.

As winter settles in, it is nice to settle into a good book and rekindle friendships with beloved characters from the past.



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