car travelIt’s the American thing to do – despite the dismal state of the economy and the need to cut back, a lot of people hit the road each summer on vacation. Something about our vast collection of interstate highways, our love of cars, our need to explore – it’s all part of the American character. And seeing more of this beautiful country – mountains, plains, cities – keeps us going around “just one more” corner. Of course, there are stretches of road – Nebraska comes to mind as does, quite frankly, large chunks of Illinois – that you must get across just to get where you’re going. Thank goodness for that super-slick CD player, built right into the car – just the thing to keep you and everyone in the car happily occupied!

Now, what to feed it? Let’s turn to our own librarians for their recommendations.

Lynn reminds us that a lot depends on who’s on the car with you. If you’re traveling with multi-generations, you need to look for something that will engage the kids, but is interesting to adults too. She suggests The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford, the classic (travel!) story of three pets separated from their family. A perilous journey with cute, smart animals and a happy ending – a winner for everyone. She also suggests West with the Night by Beryl Markham (another travel story!), an incredibly beautiful description of Markham’s life in Africa of the 20s and 30s. Although probably not of interest to children, Lynn also loved The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, a poignant story of love and loyalty.

According to Lynn, another thing to consider when choosing a book on tape is the narrator. A good reader can make a so-so book interesting, while a bad reader can ruin even a great book. For this reason she recommends anything read by Audie Award winner Barbara Rosenblat who has narrated a variety of titles including the Amanda Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters and mysteries by Nevada Barr and Lisa Scottoline. Jim Dale, beloved award winner reader of the Harry Potter series is another narrator that makes listening a pleasure.

Ann just listened to The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith, part of the No. 1 Ladies Detective series. Nothing terribly dramatic happens during the course of the book – read these stories for the evocative setting of Botswana, the various characters that you grow to love, the belief that kindness and politeness can improve any situation. This is a slow-paced book – sometimes almost too slow – but that’s also what makes it wonderful – calm and leisurely, leaving the reader/listener feeling the same.

Rita recommends the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlene Harris. They’re funny and fast-paced and you may find yourself believing that vampires really could be walking among us. She also liked Downhill Lie by Carl Hiaasen, a non-fiction account about returning to golf after a long absence. Read by the author, it’s filled with dry humor and great insights for fellow golfers.

Rita also reminds us that you there are hundreds of titles you can download from NetLibrary, a free service that allows you to transfer audio books to your MP3 player (which you can then hook up to the CD player in your car) Sign up for an account at either of the Davenport libraries, then access it from any computer, any time.

With so many great books to listen too, you might be tempted to take the long way home! What about you – do you have any favorite books-on-CD that you’d recommend for a long trip?

July 7

knowingKnowingNicolas Cage, Rose Byrne

A college professor opens a time capsule that has been dug up at his son’s elementary school. In it are some chillingly accurate predictions of disaster: when, where, and how many will die. Most of these events have already happened, but he must uncover the details of the next disasters in hopes of preventing them. If he fails, who knows how many will die? Midwest Tapes

July 21

coralineCoralineDakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher

A young girl walks through a secret door in her new home and discovers an alternate version of her life. This parallel reality is eerily similar to her own life, only much better. When the adventure turns dangerous, Coraline must count on her resourcefulness, determination, and bravery to get back home and save her family. Midwest Tapes

July 28

fastFast and Furious – Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriquez

The gang is back! Dom, now a fugitive on the run, must team up with his onetime friend Brian, now an FBI agent, to find a loved one’s killer. Midwest Tapes



Wildwater Walking ClubThis is the perfect vacation/summer/beach book – light and fun but not too trashy (so you don’t have to be embarrassed to be seen with it) with a fun story line and a simple message – invest in yourself, it’s your most valuable asset.

The Wildwater Walking Club opens with Noreen Kelly taking an early buyout from her company and then discovering that she’s been dumped by her boyfriend the same day. Suddenly, she has time on her hands and has no idea what to do with it. Noreen has always defined herself by her job and her relationships, hardly taking the time to look at the world around her. Sad and lonely, she goes for a walk. Which eventually leads to longer walks, meeting new friends, starting adventures she never would have tried before, finding herself.

This charming story of women’s friendships, loyalty and getting involved will make you happy and hopeful – and it might just inspire you to put on a pair of walking shoes and start walking!

servicesGas is hovering around 2.50 a gallon, not to mention the beast that will get you there needs to be insured, lest some dingdong a quarter car-length away is getting their last driving texts in before the law passes.

The standard entertainment fodder, the motion picture, will set you back ten bucks a head (if you only see one feature while past the ticket kid) and they’ve even raised the matinee prices!

Dark times indeed, recessioneers.

I propose a day built around free entertainment you may have overlooked.  Enjoy your public and city services.

Even if you’re not a ball fan, there is some romantic nostalgia about listening to a sporting event on the radio.  Radio?  Whats that?  It’s something you’re practically issued at birth.  The Windy City and St. Louis has representation on the dial, as well as our own River Bandits.  Radio, incidentally, was the frequency to be on during the Swing marketing regime.  You could still have some civic pride without the embarrassing visual that it was your team in the powder blue and the mascot was a sunglasses-wearing monkey who is an implied jazz enthusiast…or something.

If you flip over to the public radio side, you’re going to find premium music and entertainment programming.  Some of these operas, classical music, news, and comedy/quiz shows cost 5 figures a year to syndicate in this town.  They only ask that you toss them a few shekels during fund drive week.  If you don’t remember when that is, they’ll kindly break into programming like an audio Jerry Lewis every five minutes to remind you.  There’s a lot of great stuff out there floating in the ether if you’ve got a decent command of the weekly program guide.

Most cities, like Davenport, have multiple parks. I have never driven by Vanderveer and not seen people having a good time at any given hour of the day.  If you consider physical fitness a good time, there’s more than enough of that in store if you have a decent pair of running shoes.   Borrow a Frisbee from someone and toss it around in one of the city’s numerous Frisbee golf courses.  In general, most of those outdoorsy types are some pretty mellow cats, so don’t worry about cliques.  And as far as flora and fauna, if you’re over 16, gasp, it may cost you a DOLLAR to gawk at the displays!

I’d be remiss to not mention the greatest entertainment savings of all, your local library.  Preaching to the choir, I know.

“But Froogs, how would I get there,” says the cynic.   Davenport Citibus is free on Green Saturdays.

Fall of the SparrowFresh on the heels of Elizabeth Berg’s visit to the Quad-Cities, comes Robert Hellenga, author of many best selling novels. He is the keynote speaker Thursday, June 25th at Midwest Writing Center’s annual conference. This year, events are held at St. Ambrose University.

My favorite novel by Robert Hellenga is The Fall of the Sparrow, which is partially set at a liberal arts college in Galesburg (the author is a Knox College  literature professor), and partly in Italy.  Though there’s a insider feeling of intimacy when you’re familiar with the local references; the novel resonates with many themes. The main character is a classics professor  and the reader learns about Latin, Greek, Persian rugs, as well as the blues,  and shares Woody’s deep appreciation of Italian culture.

Harry, A HistorySince Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final installment in the seven-part Harry Potter series, was released two years ago this summer, I have been receiving the same question over and over again by those who know I am a Potterhead: “Sooo what will you do now that Harry Potter is over?” And my answer usually is: “Well, the same things that Star Trek fans do.” For a more descriptive answer, I recommend they read Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon by Melissa Anelli.

In Harry, A History, Anelli shares her experiences of how the Harry Potter fandom was born from her “front row seat” as Webmistress of the beloved Harry Potter news site The Leaky Cauldron. Over the years, Anelli’s work as a top fan journalist has resulted in her development of friendships with the key Harry Potter insiders including publishers, editors, musicians, actors, and even the grand authoress herself, J.K. Rowling, who gave Anelli an exclusive interview for the book. Anelli gives new insight into how Harry Potter was created and published, but most of the book focuses on how Harry Potter fans developed their community online, and thus, has played a significant role in the evolution of global commerce and intellectual property rights on the web.

As a die-hard fan, I was already familiar with “potterwar,” the fan-organized boycott against Warner Brothers in response to their attack on Harry Potter fansites, but I was fascinated by the section on how the organized worldwide releases of the later Harry Potter books were due to Americans buying Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second book in the series, from amazon.uk (which displeased both amazon and the U.S. publishers) before it’s release in the United States. Anelli does a wonderful job speaking to a variety of audiences and Harry, A History will appeal to both long-time and new Harry Potter fans alike, in addition to those interested in contemporary culture and the digital generation.

If you are interested in the history of Harry Potter and the Harry Potter fandom, you may also want to check out We are Wizards–a documentary focusing on several fans including Anelli. The film is currently viewable for free on hulu.com. Beware, this film does contain adult content.

free for allIt’s a comfort to read about the daily struggles of your counterpart in another setting. For some, this can serve as occupational therapy. For others, just the pleasure in knowing some scenarios are identical no matter where you go. The social mores of your fellow working-class schlub can lead to a-ha moments of “I know that guy, save for a different name, age, and shirt.” This is the case with mandatory viewing like NBC’s the Office television program, or 1999 cult film Office Space.

That was my impression of Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert. Some of the shocking tales of this Los Angeles Public Library clerk, you’ll be surprised to know, might trump even the mighty DPL’s offerings.

Are there any tales or films about the everyman that resonate with you?

…..better than money will get you through times of no libraries.”

— Henry David Thoreau

Economic downturn getting to you? High gas prices keeping you close to home? Turn to your local public library for free (so long as you return those books on time!) help of all kinds including:

—books on surviving a layoff, writing a resume, learning new skills or learning about saving money by growing your own food, sewing your own clothes, saving energy in your home, even free internet access

—entertainment in the form of DVDs, magazines, newspapers, computer games, music CDs, and – oh yeah – good old books

—keep the kids busy with the multitude of programs at the library – everything from Movie Matinees to puppet workshops – and don’t forget to sign up the whole family (pre-school through adult) for the Summer Reading Program – prizes for everyone!

NBC News ran this story recently about how public libraries are doing all this and more during this recession. What about you – have you turned to the library now more than ever? If so, how? Let us know – and spread the word!

Easy Gluten Free BakingThe diagnosis of a wheat allergy or celiac disease can be devasting for the cook when they realize just how much wheat, wheat-by products and related grains are present in common foods and ingredients. Planning and preparing meals that are flavorful and healthy may seem impossible. If you’re in this boat, we’ve got a lifesaver for you – Easy Gluten-Free Baking by Elizabeth Barbone will make working in the kitchen a pleasure again.

Recipes cover all the favorites – muffins and quick breads, yeast breads, cookies, cakes and pies. There’s even a chapter on “tastes like” so that you can reproduce some of those treats you can no longer eat – Twinkies, Oreos, Ritz crackers and even saltine crackers. Best of all, everyone, whether they are on a gluten-free diet or not, will love the results.

Barbone tested each recipe 40-50 times, so you know there aren’t going to be any surprises and they’ll work every time. There’s lots of information about how to stock your gluten-free kitchen and tips for converting recipes to gluten-free. The ingredients used throughout the book are easy-to-find.

Barbone is also the founder of the popular Web site GlutenFreeBaking where you can find lots more resources and advice for people living gluten free.

fireflies-in-decemberDo you love fireflies?  I do — but I still call them lightning bugs, just as we all did back on the farm.  There’s something magical about them as they brighten up your backyard on a warm summer evening.  Recently, there have been reports that fireflies as a species are disappearing, or at least that their numbers are observably diminished.  Still, I have never seen a firefly in December, and so I was drawn to this title.

In Fireflies in December, a debut novel by Jennifer Erin Valent, we follow 13 year-old Jessilyn Lassiter during the summer of 1932 in southern Virginia.  The opening line, “The summer I turned thirteen, I thought I killed a man” certainly catches your attention.  We discover that Jessilyn’s family has taken in her best friend, Gemma, after Gemma’s parents die in  a tragic fire. Unfortunately, this act is not met with the expected tacit approval.  Gemma is black, and racism is rampant in this rural southern town.  Prejudice escalates as the local Ku Klux Klan violently threatens Jessilyn and her family.  In the end, Jessilyn begins to realize what it means to be a bright light in a dark world.

As this book is a winner of the Christian Writer’s Guild,  there are frequent references to faith and prayer, yet it doesn’t come off as preachy.  Considering the age of the protaganist, this book could be recommended for young adults, especially if their parents prefer more wholesome fare.