Lisa See’s new novel, China Dolls, brings to life an element of the 1930′s and 1940′s entertainment world I was not aware of, the Chop-Suey Circuit. Three unlikely Asian friends, Ruby, Helen & Grace, gravitate to the newly introduced Chinese revues in San Francisco for different reasons. Although they are from diverse backgrounds, they form a strong bond and the book follows their lives through happiness and heartache. Woven with a backdrop of the attack on Pearl Harbor, World War II and happier times in the 1940′s, the story brings alive not only the glitz and glamor of the stage, but the personal coming-of-age stories of three women whose lives are, for better or worse, intertwined.
The One Community One Book* selection for 2014 is The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande.
Born in a small town in Guerrero, Mexico, Reyna Grande Rodriquez was two years old when her father left for the U.S. to find work. Her mother followed him north two years later, leaving Reyna (4) her older brother Carlos (7), and her older sister Mago (11) in the care of their paternal grandmother, Abuela Evila (her true name). Already caring for one grandchild who’s mother had left for America, Abuela Evila took in Reyna and her siblings out of a sense of duty, but the mistreatment she heaped on them was kept secret from her son. All the money he sent back for their care was used to buy treats for herself and her other granddaughter, while Reyna, Carlos and Mago suffered severe neglect. Mago tries to care for her brother and sister the best she can.
Four years later, Reyna’s mother Juana returns with a baby daughter, claiming her husband has abused her and left her for another woman. She brings Reyna, Carlos, and Mago to live with her at their maternal grandmother’s, but Juana was not the same caring mother who left years before. Soon Juana moved out, leaving the children with Abuelita Chinta, a kind and caring woman who, though living in extreme poverty, loved her grandchildren dearly.
In 1985, when Reyna was nine years old, her father returned to Mexico with a new wife. He borrowed money to pay a Coyote to help him bring his children back across the border. On their third try they were successful, and Reyna, Carlos and Mago begin life as undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles.
Filled with hope, Reyna soon realizes that life as an immigrant will be very hard. Her father isn’t the man she dreamed about for all those years in Mexico. His dreams for his children were what got them across the border, but his own failure to assimilate into an English speaking world and his alcoholic rage slowly undermine all his hard work and good intentions. Reyna finds solace from a violent home life at school and, with the help of one special teacher, through the Latina voices she beings to read. She turns to writing as a way to make sense of her own life. Her father is eventually able to get himself and his children green cards, and then citizenship. They graduate from High School, and Reyna goes on becomes the first member of her family to graduate from college with degrees in creative writing, film and video from UC Santa Cruz. She earned an MFA in creative writing at Antioch University. The Distance Between Us is her third book.
*The One Community One Book project, coordinated by the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights. The goal of the project is to encourage people in our community to read and discuss the selected book in order to develop a greater community awareness of human rights issues locally, nationally and internationally. For more information go to the One Community One Book Website here.
ICPL will be hosting a Book Discussion Saturday September 20th at 10:30am in Meeting Room E. All are welcome.
Agnes Magnusdottir and Fridrik Sigurdsson were the last people executed in Iceland. It was January 12, 1830. They were both convicted of murdering Natan Ketilsson, a noted herbalist, healer, and farmer, stabbing him to death and setting his house on fire. Agnes worked as a servant to Natan, while Fredrik was the son of a neighboring farmer. The story of this murder, and its resulting execution, continues to capture the imagination of Icelanders. Natan’s workshop and the site of the execution are landmarks. It is the subject of many books and films, all offering different interpretations of both the events and persons involved. The narratives span from Natan being an overbearing master to Agnes as a woman scorned. But, the first I ever heard of these individuals is through Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites.
In Burial Rites, Kent offers her interpretation of Agnes’ final months. Agnes awaits her execution housed with the family of District Officer Jon Jonsson, which understandably causes friction in the household. Jonsson, his wife, and daughters are unhappy about living with a murderess. Agnes, coming to terms with her fate, must navigate all the pitfalls of living in a strange household with people who don’t want you there. In addition, Agnes is visited regularly by Assistant Reverend Toti, who is charged with providing religious counsel and spiritual consolation. And she isn’t exactly receptive. But then Agnes begins to tell the story of her life to Toti, the Jonsson family listening due to the close quarters of the badstofa, and things begin to change.
What I appreciate about the novel is that the murder isn’t the center of the narrative. Rather, Kent writes well about the building of a relationship and the development of trust and understanding between people who already have their minds made up about each other. This growth is stunted by the impending execution, which hangs over the situation like a sword of Damocles. Indeed, an axe is being fashioned. I also enjoyed how Kent used government documents and letters from officials on how to deal with the prisoners and the execution into the narrative. It’s a bleak novel—but it really can’t be anything else.
You told us what you read this summer and we kept track. Click on the cover or title to place one of these on hold.
The most read book this summer, by both teens and adults is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. The story is narrated by a sixteen-year-old named Hazel Grace Lancaster, who has accepted her diagnosis of stage IV thyroid cancer. She is forced by her parents to attend a support group, where she meets and falls in love with the seventeen-year-old Augustus Waters, an ex-basketball player and amputee. Their relationship forces her to rexamine her perspective on love, loss and life.
Divergent, by Veronica Roth is the first book in a dystopian trilogy of the same name. It follows Beatrice “Tris” Prior as she explores her identity within a society that defines its citizens by their affiliation with one of five predetermined factions. Her chose will shock everyone.
Little Wolves, by Thomas Maltman is the All Iowa Reads 2014 title. Set on the Minnesota prairie in the late 1980s during a drought season that’s pushing family farms to the brink, Little Wolves features the intertwining stories of a father searching for answers after his son commits a heinous murder, and a pastor’s wife who has returned to the town for mysterious reasons of her own.
Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. When a beautiful woman goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary, her diary reveals hidden turmoil in her marriage and a mysterious illness; while her husband, desperate to clear himself of suspicion, realizes that something more disturbing than murder may have occurred.
Insurgent by by Vernoica Roth. Book two in the Divergent trilogy finds Tris Prior’s initiation day shattered by Erudite simulation attacks that end the lives of several loved ones and launch a bitter war, compelling Tris to embrace her Divergent nature and make painful sacrifices.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman A modern fantasy about fear, love, magic, and sacrifice in the story of a family at the mercy of dark forces, whose only defense is the three women who live on a farm at the end of the lane. When otherworldly beings are set loose on the world, threatening the life of a little boy, the extraordinary Hempstock women summon all of their courage and cleverness to keep him alive, but soon discover that his survival comes with a high–and deadly–price.
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (the pseudonym for J.K. Rowling) is the second in the series of crime novels starring private investigator Cormoran Strike. When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. As Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives–meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced. When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before.
Allegiant by Veronica Roth. The conclusion to the Divergent trilogy reveals the secrets of the dystopian world and the consequences of a fateful decision.
Top Secret 21 by Janet Evanvich. The 21st Stephanie Plum novel finds Stephanie looking for Trenton, New Jersey’s favorite used-car dealer, Jimmy Poletti who’s on the lamb, and leads are quickly turning into dead ends, and all too frequently into dead bodies. And unfortunately for Stephanie, Randy Briggs may be the clue. To top things off, Ranger has become the target of an assassination plot. Death threats, highly untrained assassins, and Stark Street being overrun by a pack of feral Chihuahuas are all in a day’s work for Stephanie Plum. The real challenge is dealing with her Grandma Mazur’s new bucket list.
Finn Easton believes that he’s trapped in his father’s book. That he’s not living his own life. It all started when a dead horse, destined for a rendering plant, fell from a truck as it crossed a bridge. The horse landed on young Finn and his mother, killing her and injuring him. Years later, Finn suffers from epilepsy because of the accident. Finn’s dad created a character in his popular book, The Lazarus Door, using Finn’s unique scar from the horse incident, his epilepsy and his heterochromatic eyes. Now Finn just wants to figure out who he is. Finn’s best friend, Cade, and his girlfriend, Julia, try to get him to see that he’s much more than the boy in the book.
I have a deep, abiding love of Smith’s writing. Each novel is singular. His teen characters are smart and real. Their voices authentic. Finn measures time in miles traveled by the Earth in orbit–20 miles a second–and muses about the universe as a knackery endlessly reusing atoms. The publishing industry is looking for the next (or another) John Green. Andrew Smith has been here all along, and, honestly, I like him more than Green.
We’re getting ready for our next B.Y.O.Book meet-up, and this time we’re taking a wild ride through the digestive system–top to bottom, so to speak!
Join us August 26 at Trumpet Blossom to discuss Mary Roach’s Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal and indulge in some great drinks, eats, and atmosphere. I’ve already gotten a good start on this book, and it’s incredibly smart, entertaining, and just the right amount of ewww/ick factor that one might expect.
If you need a copy of the book, they are now available at the Info Desk on the second floor of the Library–stop by and sign one out! You can also go here to register for the event.
Is there a difference between a recipe book and a cookbook? If there is, than Mason Jar Salads and more – 50 Layered Lunches to Grab & Go is more of a recipe book. There’s little, if any actual cooking here. Author Julia Mirabella has come up with an ingenious method of preassembling salads, breakfasts and snacks ahead of time for quick meals on the go. It reminds me of the Make-a-mix fad from the 1970′s.
Mirabella has developed a simple layering technique that lets you combine all your ingredients in a Mason jar so that they stay fresh for up to a week while stored in the refrigerator.
The concept is pretty simple. The most problematic ingredient in making any salad ahead of time is the dressing. If you dress your salad greens in advance, they end up wilted and soggy. Using her layering technique, the dressing goes into the jar first. The next layer should be something that is impervious to the dressing – carrots, radishes, peas or the like that acts as a buffer between the dressing and the greens. Continue with your layers, placing the greens at the top. Seal the jar tightly and pop it in the fridge and you have a salad to go. And the same thing applies to the snacks and breakfast ideas too.
More than 60 different recipes are included for salads, breakfasts, smothies, soups, and simple pasta dishes, along with 4 pages of salad dressing recipes.
The one thing missing from this book is nutritional information for each of her recipes. Salads in general are nutritious, but dressings, fruits, nuts and cheeses can be sources of sugar, fats or sneaky calories, so use some common sense when creating your masterpieces. This would be a great addition to any kitchen – especially for someone tired of fast food lunches.
I recently enjoyed two new books on England’s Bloomsbury Group. So much has been written by and about this group of writers, painters, and thinkers, it seems a bit surprising that a new angle could be found. But these two books are a delight, and if you enjoy gardening, cooking, or English history, check them out.
Virginia Woolf’s Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk’s House is written by Caroline Zoob; she and her husband lived as tenants in this National Trust property for more than ten years, nurturing the gardens and taking care of the house. The photographs are by Caroline Arber, and they beautifully present the gardens, paths, and orchard on the property, as well as some interior shots of the house where the Woolfs lived for many years. (I lingered especially over the the pictures of Leonard’s and Virginia’s writing tables.) Mixed in with these current photos are archival pictures of the Woolfs and their guests in the gardens. The text describes the extensive work that the Woolfs (primarily Leonard) did to create garden rooms, develop the orchard, and grow food for their table–which was often shared with guests.
The Bloomsbury Cookbook: Recipes for Life, Love and Art by Jans Ondaatje Rolls is a little more story and a little less recipes, but that’s ok. The book nicely summarizes the chronology and personalities of the Bloomsbury Group through anecdotes and the recipes of its members (and their cooks). You will find the Woolfs here, and Vanessa and Clive Bell, and Lydia Lopokova Keynes, Dora Carrington, and Lytton Strachey, to name just a few. Some of the recipes are more atmospheric than utilitarian (where would I find a calf’s brain?) but some of the vague measurements have been updated and there is a chart at the back that provides temperature conversions from centigrade to Fahrenheit, and imperial measurements to metric. The many illustrations, most of which are paintings by members of the Group, are another highlight of the book.
The word preserve has several meanings: “To keep safe from injury, harm, or destruction…to keep alive, intact, or free from decay… to keep or save from decomposition..to can, pickle or similarly prepare for future use …
The Library has all of these meanings covered! We are offering a program on Wednesday, August 6, that will teach you the latest about canning and food preservation techniques. http://calendar.icpl.org/view.php?did=30856 If you can’t make the program we have many books that share a wide variety of recipes and instructions for preserving food. You fill find these materials on the second floor, ask if you need help.
As to non-food preservation we are protecting and sharing photographs and documents about Johnson County history through our Digital History Project. One of the newest additions to the Project is a small cookbook collection, one of which is The Iowa City Cook Book, 1898: A collection of well tested recipes contributed by the Ladies of Iowa City and Vicinity. http://history.icpl.org/items/browse?collection=9
The cook book is a fascinating look at culture and food in 1898 Iowa City. Among the chapters you will find Pickles and Fruits & Jellies. It might be fun to preserve something from your garden or the farmers’ market that people in Iowa City were standing over steaming kettles on wood burning (gas?) stoves preserving over 100 years ago. Chow-Chow anyone?
I enjoyed reading the recipes in the cook book, but I also enjoyed reading the advertisements (there is an alphabetical list of advertisers in the back). One reads: MESSNER BROS: Dealers in Fresh and Salt Meat, Fish, Game, and Poultry. Cor Iowa Avenue and Dubuque Street. Phone 124, another J.J. CERNY: Dealer in Harness, Saddles, Collars, Robes, Whips, Nets, etc. Repairing on short notice and on reasonable terms, 27 Washington Street. You can also check out The Wide Awake Department Store or the Iowa City Roller Mills adds.
Preserving food or preserving history –the Iowa City Public Library has it covered!
Stop ! Wait a Moment !
D. L. Houser wishes to show you
through his extensive coal yards and
sheds. These are filled with Anthracite,
Virginia Splint, Hocking, Illinois,
and Iowa coals . A new wood yard just
started there should also receive your
attention.The purchase of corn will be
continued as in the past, at the coal
office of D. L. HOUSER,
Corner Washington and Van Buren Streets,
IOWA CITY, IOWA.
Summer is usually a time where I go through many books, at a fairly quick pace, because I’m doing other things that go well with reading…lying on a beach, relaxing in the air conditioning, sitting on a bench downtown having a cold drink–you get the idea. It’s the time of year where I can be reading several books at once; a book I read on my lunch break, a book by my bedside, one in the beachbag, one in my purse. This summer is no different, except that I didn’t finish most of the books I started. I have no good excuse. I promise that I WILL go back and finish them.
The one book I did read in its entirety is Laura McHugh’s The Weight of Blood. This book has two mysteries confronting main character Lucy–the disappearance of her mother when Lucy was just a baby, and the very recent murder and dismembering of her friend. The book is richly atmospheric, with a slightly dark and menacing flavor to it; it’s set in small town Missouri, an area that is only hours away from us geographically, but manages to seem worlds away in how life is lived there. Small town, long memories, big secrets. The characters are unique and in some cases a bit odd, and are well-drawn and feel somewhat familiar to anyone who’s lived in a small or close-knit community. Without giving away too much, the book also has at its center a very modern and urban-feeling crime, in marked to contrast to its setting, which makes seem even more sinister by way of encroachment.
In full disclosure, the books I didn’t finish (yet):
A Dark and Twisted Tide by S.J. Bolton (I came so close to finishing this!)
I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman (beachbook–waiting to go back to the beach)
Love You More by Lisa Gardner (about halfway done)
A Song For the Dying by Stuart MacBride (didn’t even crack it open)