Alaska – Halfway Home

So, how is reading about the Great White North going for you – have you found anything that has grabbed your attention or made you want to move to Alaska and begin a life of rugged outdoor adventure?

If you’re looking for rugged, wilderness adventure, but prefer to live near running water and grocery stores, check out some of the great movies about Alaska; many of them will have you on the edge of your seat.

Insomnia stars Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank. It follows an LA police detective trying to solve a murder in a small Alaskan town. Already having difficulty sleeping, the never-setting midnight sun of the Alaskan summer wrecks havoc on his mental state until he has trouble telling what is real and what is not.

Into the Wild, directed by Sean Penn and starring Emile Hirsch is an adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s ground-breaking book, the true story of a privileged young man leaving everything behind to live in the Alaskan wilderness with less than successful results.

The Grey, starring Liam Neeson is about a group of men stranded in the winter in the Alaskan wilderness after their small plane crashes. Relentlessly pursued by rogue wolves and battling the elements and their injuries, this is a brutal and suspenseful story.

If you prefer your entertainment a little less terrifying, try The Proposal, starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Bullock’s character, a high-powered executive, threatened with deportation back to Canada, announces that she is (unknown to him) engaged to her assistant. His price for agreeing is that she travel to his family home in Alaska and see if his relatives accept her. Hilarity ensues. A charming, light-as-air romantic comedy.

Any one of these should help cool you off during this hot Iowa summer. What are you going to watch (or read)?

 

Florence Foster Jenkins on DVD

Florence, possessing a heart of gold and a tin ear, wishes more than anything to be a great opera singer. She is very active in the mid-1940s New York City music scene and rubs elbows with many of the famous including conductor Arturo Toscanini, songwriter Cole Porter and actress Tallulah Bankhead. But while she has many friends and has helped many musicians, her dream remains out-of-reach – until she decides to do something about it.

St. Clair, her beloved husband, knows perfectly well that Florence cannot sing, but he pays her voice coach and new pianist very well to treat her as if she has a lovely voice. When Florence is determined to give a recital, St. Clair makes sure the tickets are sold only to fans and friends and bribes reporters into write glowing reviews. All goes smoothly – well, except for the fact that Florence has a terrible voice – and St. Clair relaxes. Which is, of course, when St. Clair’s well-meaning white lies come around to bite him. Florence, without telling St. Clair, books Carnegie Hall. Oh, and records an album. St. Clair’s carefully constructed safe haven for his wife is about to come crashing down.

Florence Foster Jenkins is simply a lovely movie. Charming, funny but also bittersweet. Starring the always amazing Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant (still so handsome), this is a movie that will make you laugh but it’ll also make you stop and think. It’s about reaching for your dreams, about overcoming the obstacles life throws at you (Florence’s life hasn’t been easy), about finding your true friends and standing with them. It’s about having the courage to follow your passion and never give up.

Now Departing for: Alaska

Hello Fellow Online Challenge Readers!

This month we’re heading north, to Alaska. Just the name conjures up images of a rugged, wild frontier. A land of extremes – in landscape, in weather, in individualism, in wildlife, this beautiful place is full of adventures great and small and has the stories to prove it.

You’ll find a wide range of titles to choose from this month. There are quite a few mysteries set in Alaska, including the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabanow and the Maxie and Stretch series by Sue Henry. There are also a lot of romances, like, a lot. Maybe all that cold weather is good for snuggling? Check out Fire and Ice by Julie Garwood, Northern Lights by Nora Roberts or Darkness by Karen Robards.

For fiction, consider Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union about a (fictional) Jewish state that has been established in Sitka, Alaska after World War II. Protocol Zero by James Abel (also known as Clive Cussler), is a thriller that fans of Michael Crichton will appreciate. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey is historical fiction set in 1885, told through the letters of a young couple. Or try Jodi Picoult’s The Tenth Circle, a story of revenge set the in the Alaskan bush.

If you prefer non-fiction, you’ve got some great books to look at including Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer about a privileged young man who headed into the wilds of Alaska in an attempt to live off the land, or 81 Days Below Zero by Brian Murphy about a young Army pilot that survived brutal conditions after crash landing in the Arctic in 1943.

I am going to read Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey about a childless couple homesteading in Alaska who, after building a figure out of snow, find a little girl in their woods. It sounds like an intriguing mix of history and magical realism. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Now, what about you – what are you reading this month?

 

Now Arriving from: San Francisco

Hello Fellow Reading Fans!

We’re back from the City by the Bay – how was your virtual visit? Did you find a book that gave you a taste of the city?

I hit the jackpot this month and read a great book – Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Set mostly in San Francisco, the story revolves around a mysterious bookstore that is open 24 hours a day and caters to a very particular clientele. More that that it’s an exploration of old vs new, of how pen and paper (and books) mesh with and clash with technology and new ideas.

Stephanie wrote a great review of this book for the blog a couple of years ago which I suggest you check out. It gives you a great description of what the book is about (without spoilers) and why it’s so good. It’s also pretty funny – Clay’s internal dialogue is often hilarious (and very relatable) and while San Francisco isn’t an integral part of the story, it does add a lot of character to the setting. Read it – it’s sooooo good!

Bonus: if you like to judge a book by it’s cover and mostly pick up a book because of its appearance rather than what the blurb says, then you have to check this one out because the cover glows in the dark! Yep. I tested it myself and it really does glow in the dark. Kinda super-awesome.

So, what about you – did you find anything super-awesome to read (or listen to or watch) this month? Tell us!

Question for You : Do You Still Use Traditional Travel Guides?

In this day and age, with technology so ubiquitous and most of us carrying a tiny super computer around in our pocket, is there still the need for paper editions of travel guides? Do you still check out the latest edition of Fodor’s or Rick Steve’s guide books for recommendations on hotels or tips for avoiding long lines?

There’s no doubt that technology has changed the way we gather information, including planning for a trip. GPS guides us, GoogleMaps shows us locations and nearbys, blogs and Instagram are full of inspiration and tips and pretty pictures, every tourist board and Chamber of Commerce has a website promoting their location and there are multiple apps for nearly every city, museum or activity. Why would you still need a more traditional paper guide?

Technology offers a lot of pros. It has the ability to update information quickly and frequently (although, just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s accurate – it pays to do your research!) I find Instagram a great source of reality by following people who live in the city/locations I’m interested in (Paris, London and Amsterdam are my current favorites) Unlike tourist boards who show only perfect pictures of amazing scenes, the people I follow show the less-than-perfect (although, who are we kidding, those cities are still pretty awesome!) – bad weather days, off-the-beaten-track sights, ordinary people, quiet details. They’ll often post about coffee shops or cafes that aren’t in the guidebooks, or tiny shops worth searching for, or street art and local events. I find a lot of creative photography inspiration in these posts and they help give me ideas on what to look for when visiting.

That said, I still like to carry a paper map, partly because I love just looking at them and studying them and partly because they give you an overview of the area – it helps me to get a grasp of the unique geography of where I’m at. And I still look at paper travel guides (my favorite are Rick Steves; they have never steered me wrong) – I do a lot of flipping back and forth through the book as I compare areas of the city/country and what’s available from eating to sleeping to transportation. Rick Steves (and most of the other travel guide companies) also has an active online presence; I take advantage of both. I think, for me, the question can be answered the same as it can be for ebooks vs paper – there’s room for both.

Now, what about you – do you still use paper travel guides? Or have you gone completely online?

Photo Essay: Summer at Eastern

Even though it feels like summer has been here for more than a week already, as of 11:24pm last night it is now officially summer. And that means the prairie meadows at the Eastern library are coming to life.

The tall grass prairie (which originally encompassed Iowa) is incredibly beautiful and complex, full of life and surrounded by birdsong. Rainforest ecosystems get a lot of press and support to preserve and save and while I have no problem with protecting rainforests, don’t forget about the eco-system in our own backyard – the tall grass prairie, which is almost virtually extinct, is just as valuable, complex and beautiful.

Monday night, between rain showers and with dramatic clouds as a backdrop, I took a little time to enjoy these wild gardens along the edge of the Eastern library.

The purple flowers around Eastern’s sign are catmint which is not an Iowa native, but blends well with the wild garden beyond.
Dramatic rain clouds above the Eastern library
Purple coneflowers (echinacea) among the grasses.
As part of the Green City initiative, the city of Davenport has planted and maintains the prairies at Eastern.
Grasses and sky, the simplest definition of the prairie.
Butterfly weed  (asclepias) is popular with bees too.
Sunny black-eyed susan (rudbeckia)
The barn isn’t actually very old (about 3 years old) but fits perfectly in this setting. Living Lands and Water rents it from the city.
A stand of wild yarrow.
Milkweed, a favorite of Monarch butterflies, about to bloom.
A meadowlark visits the edge of the prairie. You’ll see – and hear – lots of birds including redwing blackbirds, plovers, song sparrows and red-tail hawks.
This is blue vervain, a member of the verbena family.
Prairies support lots of beneficial insects like this bumblebee.

Interested in learning more about tallgrass prairies? Check out Last Stand of the Tallgrass Prairie by Aimee Larrabee or Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: the Upper Midwest by Sylvan Runkle. Or grab The Prairie Builders: Reconstructing America’s Lost Grasslands by Sneed Collard which is about the efforts of the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge which is located a few miles east of Des Moines.

I also highly recommend visiting the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge – they have a visitors center with excellent exhibits, offer educational programs about restoring the prairie (it’s much more complicated than throwing out a few seeds), have an easy walking trail for up-close views of flowers and grasses and a scenic drive where you’re likely to spot the Refuge’s bison and elk herds. Even though it’s located just a few miles from I-80, there are a few places in the Refuge where you can stop your car and, if you turn your back to the road, all you see is prairie and sky. No cars, no roads, to telephone wires. You can almost – almost – imagine what it was like before the first pioneers arrived.

All photos by Ann Hetzler, 6/19/2017

Halfway Home : San Francisco

Hello Fellow Readers!

How are you liking our trip to San Francisco so far? Do you have an overwhelming urge to eat Rice-a-Roni? (omg that aged me!) Have you managed to soak up some of the atmosphere and culture and history of this lovely city?

If you’re having trouble settling on a book, you might want to try a movie. Some great classics are set in San Francisco including Dirty Harry with Clint Eastwood and Vertigo with James Stewart. Or check out the award winning Milk starring Sean Penn (who won an Oscar for his performance) about the first openly gay man to hold an elected public office. Or try a TV series set in San Francisco such as Monk starring Tony Shalhoub as a private detective with OCD.

And don’t forget, we have lots of Books on CD, especially nice for a summer road trip. Or check out Overdrive which has both ebooks and audio books – your local library is never far away, no matter where you are in the world!

Now Departing for: San Francisco

San Francisco, the beautiful city of fog and cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge and Victorian “painted ladies” houses. There’s a lot of history here too, from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to the site of the former prison Alcatraz. This month’s reading adventure is sure to be action packed!

As for reading choices, there seems to be a lot – I mean, a huge number – of murder mysteries and private detective stories. You can go with the classic, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (or the film starring Humphrey Bogart) or go contemporary with any of James Patterson’s titles from the Women’s Murder Club series (shelved in Fiction under “Patterson”). Also check out Locked Rooms by Laurie King or the “Nameless Detective” series by Bill Pronzini.

If murder isn’t quite your cup of tea, I’d recommend Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. This is a YA novel, a quick read but thoughtful and charming, and modern San Francisco is woven expertly into the story. (It’s also the follow-up to Anna and the French Kiss so if you read that for our month in Paris, this would be perfect for June!)

This would also be your chance, if you haven’t read it already, to dive into Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, a beautiful book about mothers and daughters, the weight of the past and the struggle to find balance between the old ways and new. Because of the large immigrant populations from China and Japan, there are multiple books that examine this clash of cultures including Lisa See’s China Dolls and Isabel Allende’s The Japanese Lover. Check our displays at all three library buildings for lots more titles.

My choice this month is Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan about a bookstore (duh) that is hiding something larger. It comes highly recommended – I’ll let you know what I think.

Now it’s your turn – what are you going to read this month?