Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s LabyrinthVisually stunning, chillingly frightening yet finishing with a ray of hope, the memory of this Spanish foreign language film will linger with you long after you’ve seen it.

Set after the bloody Spanish Civil War in 1944, Spain is being decimated by Fascists who brutally crush the Resistance. A particularly cruel and ruthless General brings his heavily pregnant wife and step-daughter Ofelia to the countryside to await the birth of his son. Left on her own, Ofelia explores the area surrounding the old farmhouse and explores a walled garden where a labyrinth leads her to Pan. This mysterious figure promises her that if she completes three difficult tasks she will save her mother and her problems will end. Suddenly Ofelia is caught in a battle between good and evil and the line between reality and fantasy blurs.

Beautiful, horrific, brutal, sometimes terrifying, this is a fairytale for adults about the power of the imagination and hope for the hero in each of us.

The library has many foreign language films available for check-out as well as many “independent” films that may not have shown locally. Be sure to browse our collection for amazing films from around the world.

Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart

Flower ConfidentialFor all their beauty and association with romance, flowers are part of a huge business, generating world-wide sales of more than $40 billion yearly. Yet the industry barely registers with most consumers beyond picking up the occasional bouquet or arrangement. Stewart’s fascinating book takes a look at many aspects of the industry including:

-The quest for new and “improved” flowers that will last longer in the vase, or bloom in unusual colors or shapes. However, this has come at a cost as fragrance is often sacrificed (most notably in roses)

-How large quantities of flowers are grown in greenhouses which allow the grower to control weather, insects and diseases and stretch or completely alter the natural growing season. Many flowers never touch soil, but are grown hydroponically.

-How flowers are sold. The majority of flowers for sale in the United States are grown in South America and funneled through the Miami airport for inspection. Before a flower reaches your vase it may have been out of water and traveling for 5 to 7 days.

-The impact this industry has on countries such as Ecuador and Columbia. Rainforests have been destroyed to make room for greenhouses, pesticide regulations are lax and workers rarely have the same protections and benefits as in the United States.

-The emergence and growth of the organic flower market. Still relatively difficult to find, the popularity of organic flowers is increasing.

Filled with interesting stories and great insights, Stewart’s book will open your eyes to the work behind the beauty.

Armchair Traveler – Florida

FloridaSkin Tight by Carl Hiaasen

The author is the father of the eccentric Floridian mystery, with overtones of environmental rage – and no one does it better. Skin Tight is classic Hiaasen – an incompetent plastic surgeon, an equally inept hitman and a tv reporter who is prone to getting beat up populate the novel. Together, they produce moments so bizarre yet acceptable within the logic of the novel, that they make perfect sense. If these scenes don’t make you laugh, nothing will.

Skinny-Dipping by Claire Matturro

Now a series, this mystery introduces Lily Cleary, who is a Sarasota-based lawyer, specializing in medical malpractice. She has odd and likable sidekicks, family members and colleagues; she herself has plenty of quirks of her own (she has many obsessions involving cleanliness and food). Through it all, Lily maintains a wickedly funny sense of humor.

The Britt Montero series by Edna Buchanan

A police beat reporter herself, Buchanan writes with authenticity about her lead character, Britt Montero, who also covers the police department for a Miami newspaper. Through hurricanes, riots, sweltering humidity and Cuban-American politics, the reader is immersed in the culture and heat of Miami. Through nine novels, we see Britt’s work and romantic life go through many ups and downs.

Solomon Vs Lord by Paul Levine

Both lawyers, Steve Solomon is the wisecracking, risk taking, fast talking rule breaker and Victoria Lord is his patrician, by-the-book adversary. Their relationship and that of Steve’s autisic savant nephew provide plenty of room for sparks and emotion. Florida is once portrayed once again as a haven for peculiar, yet charming characters.

Bloody Waters by Carolina Garcia -Aquilera

Lupe Solano is a private investigator from a privileged Cuban-American background – giving the reader a glimpse of both worlds. She struggles with her family’s expectations and her own love of the good life, while she navigates in a hardboiled seamy underworld.

Next time, the Armchair Traveler explores our northern neighbor Minnesota, site of the Public Library Association convention later this month. Watch for a series of reports about the convention from our dude with the ‘tude, DPL’s own reporter/guy-brarian extraordinaire -Bill.

Too many books, too little time? No problem…

Tin Roof Blowdown audio bookValue added activities, isn’t that the current cliche? Well, this one works for me. I listen to books. I admit it, I’m practically obsessed with it. It doesn’t feel right if I turn on my car and there’s not someone telling me a story. Right now I’m listening to a Tami Hoag romance, Straight From the Heart. It’s one of those windows-closed books, you know, the steamy parts always seem to happen at stoplights. People look at you funny when they hear some of the things that come out of books. It’s one of the duties that comes with being a responsible listener, pay attention to what’s going on around you. Including who may be listening in.

I use audio books to broaden my reading list. I enjoy listening to my favorite authors being read, but I also will listen to a book that I would never take the time to read. Like a new title that everyone’s talking about but that is outside my usual choice. This has led me to find things I would have skipped over. I tried to read Wicked (by Gregory Maquire) twice and just couldn’t do it. I listened to it and loved it. It’s probably one of my favorite stories. I would have missed out on it if not for the Book on CD.

I especially like it when an audio book adds to the depth of a book. The reader’s are so important in this aspect of the genre. I have stopped listening because I just didn’t like the reader. But when they get it right, it’s magic. Jim Dale has become famous for his presentation of the Harry Potter books. C.J. Critt really nails Stephanie Plum’s character in the Janet Evanovich mysteries. But my favorites to listen to are James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux mysteries. Most are read by Will Patton, but all of the readers really set the mood for the sultry Louisiana scenes.

I listen other times, too, like while painting my living room. There’s no chore or long drive that an audio book can’t make better!

Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann

Three Bags Full by Leonie SwannWhen George doesn’t appear as usual, Miss Maple knows something is wrong. It’s not long before George is found dead with a spade in his chest and it’s left to Miss Maple and her collegues to find his killer. The problem is, Miss Maple and friends are sheep and George was their shepherd. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Miss Maple (considered the smartest sheep in Glennkill, Ireland) works on solving the mystery using observation and a keen understanding of human nature to track and find the killer. Laugh-out-loud funny, the flock never loses their sheepy personalities. This brilliant first novel will keep you laughing and might make you look at sheep a little differently.

The Armchair Traveler – New York Stories

New York storiesNew Yorkers by Cathleen Schine

The novel centers around the inhabitants of a block in New York. Dogs connect the protagonists and are nearly as well realized characters as their owners. You get real insight into urban, yet small town neighborhood life. Sad and funny and poignant.

Quality of Life Report by Meghan Daum

New York City tv producer moves to a midwest town to do a story and ends up staying. A reversal of the usual Midwesterner comes to New York theme.

Smith and Wetzon” mystery series by Annette Meyers

New York is a vital part of these books – the shops, neighborhoods and characters that make up the city, as well as the culture of Wall Street, where the two partners work as headhunters.

Gone to New York by Ian Frazier

Essays about leaving the Midwest and living in New York. “Out of Ohio” will resonate with Iowans, and “In the Stacks” will speak to library users. Stories about bags in trees, the history of typewriters and the Holland tunnel are fascinating in their accessible research.

Through the Children’s Gate by Adam Gopnik

Bittersweet and philosophical essays about how the city has changed and how it is adapting to families and children who make New York their home.

Tolstoy Lied by Rachel Kadish

Tracy is a professor at a New York university, working on a thesis that the literary establishment rejects positive themes. Academic politics and trends in literature are vividly brought to life. Elements of mystery and romance enliven what sounds like a dry plot.

Next time, The Armchair Traveler visits Florida.

The Return of Jonah Gray by Heather Cochran

The Return of Jonah GrayEven tax auditors need love. Sasha Gardener has always been good at her job – strictly professional and attentive to detail, she has been an exemplary IRS employee. But then the unthinkable happens – she falls in love with one of the people she is scheduled to audit. From the strange phone calls at work to her “slightly OCD” boyfriend to her father’s terminal illness, this story is by turns funny, sad and poignant and is filled with quirky, likable characters. You’ll root for Sasha as she struggles with changes in her family and gathers the courage to make some changes in her own life.

The Book or the Movie?

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa GregoryIt’s a question without a simple answer – which is better, the book or the movie? With so many movies adapted from or “inspired by” a book, it’s a question that comes up often. I think it’s important to remember that books and movies are two very different experiences and it’s not reasonable to expect a movie to be an exact replica of a book. The best movie adaptations recreate the same impressions as the book did while offering a visual treat and sometimes a new perspective to the story.

The Other Boleyn Girl is now in theaters, starring Scarlet Johannsen, Natalie Portman and Eric Bana. It has been adapted from the book by the same title written by Philippa Gregory. This is the story of Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary and their lives in the court of King Henry VIII. The movie is beautifully photographed (the intricate costumes alone are worth seeing), but the timeline of the story has been compressed and many of the nuances found in the book – the discussions of power and ambition, the battle between politics and religion – which give the book so much richness and explain the motivations of so many of the characters is mostly lost. The book vividly recreates the grandeur and claustrophobia of court and is peopled with complex, believable characters that bring Tudor England to life. It is also can’t-put-down dramatic. Gregory has written a follow-up to this story called The Boleyn Inheritance which follows the fates of the rest of Henry’s queens. It is as good if not better than the first book.

In this case, although the movie is worth seeing, I think the book is better.

What do you think, what movies have you seen that were better than the book?

The Armchair Traveler – Italy

Armchair TravelerEscape with the Armchair Traveler to beautiful Italy. These are not all “travel” books per se, but they will transport you from the frigid Midwest to warmer climes.

Without Reservations: the Travels of An Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach

Steinbach immerses herself in the neighborhoods and culture of European cities she travels to, but she is at her best when describing the thrills, hardships and annoyances of traveling alone.

As the Romans Do: The Delights, Dramas, and Daily Diversions of Life in the Eternal City by Alan Epstein

Again, Europe is seen through the eyes of an American, so the smallest of details of daily life are recorded and celebrated. Epstein describes the communal lifestyle of Rome (hanging out in the piazzas and raising children as a community) He revels in the elegant and beautiful art of conversation and sense of style that is particular to Romans.

Italian Journey by Jean GionoVenice

Written right after WWII, this is an elegant and elegiac view of northern Italy, and Venice, in particular.

An Italian Affair by Laura Fraser

Suddenly single, the author decides to take a trip to Italy where she begins a romance and a journey through Italy. An unsentimental but sensuous memoir.

The Fall of the Sparrow by Robert Hellenga

This novel merges the midwest and Italy, as a classics professor travels to Italy to attend the trial of terrorists responsible for his daughter’s death. (the author teaches at Knox College in Galesburg).

The Dark Heart of Italy by Tobias Jones

Jones balances his love for Italy with the realities of political corruption, Italy’s obsession with soccer and beauty, and Silvio Berlusconi

Next week: the Armchair Traveler visits New York City.

In Defense of Food

In Defense of FoodIs your head spinning from all the conflicting studies about what you should or shouldn’t eat? Michael Pollan makes a case for eating simply in this, his follow up book to The Omnivore’s Dilemma. He isn’t concerned with calorie counting or faddish lists of do’s and don’ts, but rather promotes a balanced, reasonable and pleasurable approach to food. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. With so many “edible foodlike substances” on the market, Pollan advocates eating whole foods our grandmothers would recognize rather than the processed foods that claim to be nutritious. Fellow foodies will find this a refreshing book by a man who clearly loves good, real food. This is a great read to inspire lots of shopping at the local Farmer’s Markets this spring.

Also check out Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life for more ideas about how to eat local and fresh.

Take a listen to Michael Pollan’s talk given in Iowa City on WSUI radio’s Live from Prairie Lights