Monday, October 22, 2012

Best Books I've Read this Year

(Disclosure: A couple of them have yet to be read, but you might like them)

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline (2011)
·         In a futuristic dystopia, Wade Watts spends most of his time in a virtual reality game, with most of his relationships in a virtual world, too. If he can overcome the hurdles to solve the puzzles that the genius creator of this world has planted, he’ll be a millionaire. Great references to the beginning of gaming.

Crossfire Trilogy, Sylvia Day (Bared to You, Reflected in You) (2012)
 Erotic Romance, appeals to Fifty Shades of Grey readers. Obsession, passion, and “damaged” inside.

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn (2012)
Amy Dunne disappears from her home on her 5th wedding anniversary. The author interweaves Amy’s diary with her husband Nick’s recounting of his efforts to find her. Where is she, and who do you trust?

The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach (2011)
·         Story of a group of college baseball players, and so much more. Five wonderfully drawn and endearing characters have lives that are entwined in complex ways. Sweet and sad, funny and serious, all at once.

Farishta, Patricia McArdle (2011)
·         Farishta is fiction, but based primarily on the author’s real experiences, with real people. Farishta, or Angela, is an American diplomat stationed in Afghanistan in 2005, in a military compound with military personnel from our country, and others. The author visited with us using Skype as we discussed the book, and she is a wonderful storyteller.

Secret Keeper, Kate Morgan (2012)
·         1959 England. Laurel Nicolson is sixteen years old, dreaming alone in her childhood tree house. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and then observes her mother, Dorothy, speaking to him. And then she witnesses a crime. Fifty years later, Laurel is overwhelmed by memories and questions.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern (2011)
·         Imagine following a circus that appears suddenly after dark, and disappears just as suddenly some morning. Imagine a fantastical competition somehow just outside the boundaries of reality. This is a nice love story, with just a touch of subtle magic.

1Q84, Haruki Murakami (2011)
·         Aomame jumps out of a taxi during a traffic jam, and inadvertently enters an alternate reality. Her world wraps around Tengo’s, who is a writer. This dystopian adventure/suspense/love story slowly & gracefully converges their stories.

The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje (2011)

·         In the early 1950’s, an 11-year-old boy is put on a huge ocean liner headed for England. He teams up with a few other boys, some eccentric grown-ups, and has quite a journey on one level. On another, the contrast between innocence and awareness are illustrated with great storytelling.

The Year We Left Home, Jean Thompson (2011)
·         Spanning four decades, an Iowa family’s lives contain tragedy, joy, heartbreaks, and triumphs. All Iowa Reads choice for 2013.
Mad River, John Sandford (2012)
Virgil Flowers, detective up in the Twin Cities. Sandford combines a good mystery with dark humor.

Rules of Civility, Amor Towles (2011)
·         On NYE, 1937, Katey Kontent has a chance meeting with wealthy Tinker Grey. She goes from the secretarial pool to the offices of publisher Conde Nast. She begins to realize “how our most promising choices lay the groundwork for our regrets.”

Before I Go to Sleep, S.J. Watson (2011)
·         Christine wakes up every morning with no memory. She’s been in an accident, and her amnesia restarts every day. She finds a journal that she has devised to help remember her hunt to recover her life. And the first page of that journal tells her to not trust her husband. Great suspense.


Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand (2010)
·         Louis Zamperini, mischievous boy turned Olympic runner turned POW. An inspiring story on many levels.

Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson (2011)
·         Much, much more than a biography of the man who founded Apple. Humanitarianism meets creativity and science, with drive and brilliance. Computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing were all revolutionized by Jobs.

Killing Kennedy, Bill O’Reilly
·         A story about how an assassination not only killed the president, but changed the course of American history. Includes the events that led up to the crime of the 20th century, this book also chronicles both the heroism and deceit of Camelot.

The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe. (2012)
·         “What are you reading” are words that many of us ask each other all the time. Imagine a son starting a book club with his terminally ill mother, and all of the opportunities for talk that are opened up.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Jail Outreach

The library world is all about outreach. We should not sit at our desks and wait for people to find us and our services. So whenever we can, we go outside our walls to tell the library story. Although there never seem to be enough hours in the day to just do the basics that keep our building running, we squeeze out the hours to visit farmers markets, service groups, summer school and other school programs when we think the audience will benefit from our presence.

This morning I was invited by Ruby Abebe to visit the Black Hawk County Jail, and tell a Life Skills class about what the library has to offer them once they are released. We listened to their backgrounds, their future plans, and their frustrations. I was surprised to know that with some services, I was preaching to the choir. I talked about free computer use to create resumes, cover letters and business plans. Some asked questions about grant sources and non-profit status. I told them about the Learning Center staff, who can help them locate those resources online. Some were discouraged about their lack of high school diplomas, so I told them that GED students frequently stop in for a little help on paper-writing and math brush-up. All have dreams of what they want to do when they get out, and are realistic about the brick wall that went up because of their jail time.

Many raised their hands when I asked if they had ever been to the library, and when I started talking about the free movies, several guys jumped in and gave information about our movies before I had a chance to. Class was held in the jail library, so I had a chance to scan the shelves. About ten years ago, another librarian and I organized their collection, ordering hundreds of paperbacks to replace old titles. If the same books are sitting on the shelves today, they’ve been well-read and are due for replacement. The guys suggested some authors for the next round. I enjoyed my visit today. It was very satisfying to visit with this group of library patrons.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Pinterest and Ready Player One

I remember the first time I saw an actual image on the internet, back in the nineties, right down to where I was sitting. It was like magic, and not just because it was the Disney website. Almost twenty years later, my expectations of the internet are pretty demanding. It should answer my every search instantly. Its eagerness to please has jaded me. Until Pinterest invited me to browse.

If you don’t know Pinterest, it begins like “bookmarks” or “favorites.” I pin an image from a website to one of the bulletin boards I’ve created. I pin from websites that contain recipes, home ideas, funny cat pictures and the like. Nothing new there, I’ve created hundreds of bookmarks. But with Pinterest, I’m creating a collage of memory-jogging images. And, I’m adding the magic of sharing them with both Facebook friends and random people. In return (and here’s the magic) I get to see theirs.

I pinned a chocolate peanut butter cake recipe one evening, and by the time I logged back on the next morning, 85 people had repinned that recipe to their boards. Storage ideas, book reviews, fabric, recipes, book art, Downton Abbey and so much more stream through my Pinterest.

When I learned about Pinterest, I felt like the internet had been hiding something from me. How do you learn about exciting new sites? The public library is a great place to explore. Technology classes on ereaders, digital pictures, travel arrangements, Google +, and so much more happen on a regular basis. They’re fun, and they’re free. Visit our website, call or stop by to sign up.

My favorite book this month is Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Winner of the ALA Alex Award, this young adult novel’s movie rights have been purchased by Warner. Set in a poverty and hunger stricken 2044, the line between real and virtual lives has been blurred. The hunt for a billion dollar treasure is launched, enticing every gamer in the world. Cut-throat competition keeps the reader turning pages, while 1980’s trivia is blended nicely into the clues. While intended for teens, I think it reads well for adults, too. It’s just one of thousands of great new books, so we hope to see you soon at the public library.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Although I’m fascinated with the escalating availability and versatility of electronic gadgets, I keep a pretty simple inventory. Recently I added an ereader to the stable, and it took me about 3 pages to realize I have a new addiction.

I took my little ereader on a date of sorts to a local bookstore. Its face lit up when I took it out of the case, and it realized it was among friends. Even though I plan to borrow most of my ebooks, I had to buy just one (well, two) to see what it felt like. I have to admit, it felt good, the ease of getting it, the lightness of holding it while I read, and knowing I won’t have to dust it on my shelf. I just can’t lend it to friends. I could lend them my entire ereader, but then I’d have to buy another, since I’m not sure I can be without it. Publishers of electronic books want to make sure that we can’t send their books willy-nilly through cyberspace, and I understand they are entitled to a sound economic model.

Digital rights management is a controversial debate, and libraries are part of it. Some publishers refuse to publish books electronically, even though I have yet to meet anyone who’s figured out how to share them illegally. I’m sure there’s someone out there, but there always have been those who pirated, and the publishing economy has survived. We may need to develop a new model to work with ebooks, and I applaud the publishers who are trying to make this happen. I applaud even louder for the SOPA protestors who demonstrated what happens when we overreact to online piracy.

In the meantime, enjoy those who do provide electronic access by using your local public libraries’ collections of downloadable ebooks. No snow, no traffic, and no searching the shelves. Directly from our e-stacks to your home, downloadable books are environmentally friendly, convenient, and fun.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Harry Potter @ the CFPL

This morning a colleague asked me about a management book I highly recommended back in 2008. I can’t remember a single word from that book. But ask me about Harry Potter’s first days at Hogwarts, I will immediately relive mental images of fantastic interiors, murky classrooms, piles of gold, streets bustling with wizards, and woods full of unpleasant surprises. The fantasy world of Harry Potter has been so well-loved that it will be with some of us for life.

Those scenes are somewhat the creation of my imagination, but not entirely. Warner Bros. pulled out all the stops in creating sets for the visual telling of these tales, but on December 29, the DVDs go into the vault (Gringotts, I presume) and new copies will no longer be made available for sale. Because of current technologies, I doubt this will be as devastating as when Disney used this same marketing technique that made parents of my generation quickly buy every Disney classic on VHS, but it’s still noteworthy.

The UNI Rod Library, the Waterloo and Cedar Falls Public Libraries are hosting a series of Harry Potter events this fall for all ages. In December the public libraries will create our own Diagon Alley, and it will be accessible not only to wizards, but also to families of local muggles. After we explore the shops, we’ll settle in to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Other happenings, including a traveling exhibit titled “Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic & Medicine, Horcrux Hunts, and author Amy Stewart discussing her book “Wicked Plants” will also give us another chance to experience the Potter magic . What better way to celebrate this fantasy world that we’ve followed for almost fifteen years? Visit our websites at and for more information.

Friday, October 14, 2011

New Overdrive Titles

Two of the most unpleasant phrases I’ve had to utter over the last few years have been “but not for Kindles” and “they’re really popular, I’m so sorry they’re all checked out.” This always happens after I speak to a local organization, and encourage them to check out downloadable ebooks and audiobooks from the library.

I will retire those phrases, because now library downloadables DO work with Kindles, along with Nooks and hundreds of other devices. In addition, the Cedar Falls and Waterloo Public Libraries launched a new consortium this week, making many more titles available to you.

A few years ago, most people said “I still need to feel that paper book in my hands, and smell the ink.” That feeling is not as prevalent now. Over the last year, over 7500 downloadable books were checked out from our two libraries. This is another advantage of everyone pooling a few of their tax dollars to purchase library materials. It’s not unusual to pay $20.00 for a downloadable book, which means the library provided $150,000 of downloadable books for a tiny fraction of that amount. You don’t get to keep the book on your ereader forever, but would you really read it again? If you would, you can download it a second time from the library.

Go to our websites, and and check it out. If you need help stop by and ask our staff to help you. There are also some great videos on the Overdrive site.

Recently I finished The Man in the Wooden Hat, by Jane Gardam. Companion novel to Old Filth, it is an intriguing mix of an intimate glimpse into the lives of Edward Feathers and his wife Betty, and yet just elusive enough to make you long for more. Beautifully written, fantastic characters, this story of a British lawyer working in Hong Kong will stay with me for a long time.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Books You May Have Missed

I know that too often when I have my heart set on reading a particular book, someone else beat me to the shelf. I can place a reserve on it, but I don’t want to go home empty-handed. There are still thousands of great books on the shelves, no longer new, but still just as good as they were when released. None of us has time to read everything that’s new, so here are a few recommendations by library staff that may be a little older, but you won’t want to miss them.

If you liked The Thirteenth Tale, try The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman. Journeying to the luxurious Bosco estate, a writer's retreat, in upstate New York to work on a book based on the troubled events that took place there in the summer of 1893, novelist Ellis Brooks uncovers the dark secrets of the wealthy Latham family. If you’re an adult who loved Twilight, try Casting Spells by Barbara Bretton. Chloe Hobbs, a sorcerer's daughter and owner of Sticks & String, a knitting shop in Sugar Maple, a Vermont town populated by warlocks, vampires, witches, and other paranormal inhabitants, believes that she has finally found Mr. Right, Luke MacKenzie, the all-too-human cop investigating the town's first homicide.

In New England White by Stephen L. Carter, Lemaster Carlyle, president of an elite New England university, and his wife, Julia, the divinity school dean, discover the body of a professor who was once Julia's lover, and their teenage daughter may have been involved. Julia struggles to protect her entire family while doggedly pursuing the truth, even if the cost is her peace of mind.

Before he became a best-selling author, Don Winslow spent over 15 years as an arson investigator and his expert knowledge shows in this riveting thriller, California Fire and Life. Investigator Jack Wade sorts through the remains of a L.A. mansion where a young mother was killed. Southern California is captured with all its quirks.

Sherlock Holmes has never been portrayed in a better light in the first book of a series about Mary Russell, a 15-year-old American girl who apprentices herself to the great detective in the early years of World War I. In The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie King has created a fitting partner for Holmes who equals him in intelligence.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle follows the family struggles of the Sawtelle family, who raise a special breed of dog on their Wisconsin farm. David Wroblewski's retelling of a classic piece of Shakespeare is often sad, but the beautiful writing and nuanced cast of characters keeps one reading even when any chance of a happy ending seems elusive. It's a story that manages to pack an emotional whirlwind -- love, family, betrayal, revenge, jealously, loyalty, loss and hope are all to be found in Edgar's story -- but rarely bogs down or becomes unbelievable. If you didn't pick it up when it first came out, it's well worth the read now.