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Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way

by Anne Mangano on November 6th, 2015
Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way Cover Image

Nothing cheers up a room or warms the heart (and hands) like a crackling fire. And the chopping of wood, the stacking of a woodpile, and the building of a fire all bring one a great sense of accomplishment. But you are probably doing it all wrong, and just in time for fireplace season, Norway is here to help.

Lars Mytting’s Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way was recently translated into English. This is the definitive firewood book in Norway, spending almost two years on the nation’s bestseller list and inspiring a television program, “National Firewood Night.” Of course, this book is filled with practical information: the best trees for firewood, the correct age of a tree for felling, as well as different splitting techniques. But there is also the philosophical, such as thoughts on the relationship between man and fire and if your woodpile says something about your character. The whole book, such length on such a topic as firewood, seems a little particular. But it is also sort of beautiful too. Mytting is passionate about fires and this book is definitely a labor of love. And why wouldn’t Norwegians take firewood seriously? In Lillehammer, the average temperature in January is 16 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mytting writes, “Here it comes. The cold time. The great time…Winter’s here.” Norwegians are not the only ones who experience “the cold time.” Remember, on December 1st of last year, there was a high of 15 degrees. But we get through it. And if you would like to build the perfect fire to help you through “the great time,” Norwegian Wood will coach you through it from the right tree to the best wood stove. Norwegian Wood will also help you through any winter, as any of Murakami’s novels are good company for trying times.

Veterans Day reading suggestions

by Nancy Holland on November 6th, 2015

As Veterans Day approaches, I’m thinking back on some of the children’s chapter books I’ve  read about World War I. I’m old enough to have a grandfather who actually enlisted to serve in World War I. Fortunately for me and his other descendants, he came down with influenza right away and didn’t recover until the fighting was over.

Jacket.aspxDescribing any war to children is a difficult task. Last year John Boyne published Stay Where You Are & Then Leave. It’s the story of nine-year-old Alfie Summerfield who remembers that it was on his fifth birthday when the fighting started, and the war still shows no sign of coming to an end. Living in London, Alfie is a resourceful young boy who finds a way to make money to help the family. He also finds clues to the fate of his soldier father who he has not heard from in a long time. This book deals with some complicated themes of war, but in a story suited for upper elementary readers. A neighborhood friend is a conscientious objector to the war, and Alfie finally finds his father  in a mental hospital suffering from shell shock. I think the author does a good job of showing the effect of war on a variety of people. Maybe things work out a little too smoothly in the end for adults to easily accept, but it could happen that way.

Animals played an important role in combat in World War I and several children’s books celebrate their service. Soldier Dog by Sam Angus  follows the story of soldier dogthirteen-year-old Stanley who runs away from home to join a weary army in 1917.  He is assigned to the new Messenger Dog Training School and soon forms a bond with a difficult but courageous Great Dane. Dogs continue to serve in the armed forces and young readers can find quite a few other fiction and nonfiction books on this topic.

war horseMy favorite  book about World War I is War Horse by Michael Morpurgo.  This is a powerful story about war told from the point of view of the horse, Joey.  The pointlessness of war is a main theme of this compelling narrative. This book is also great to listen to on audio or a family film that stays true to the book.

Uproariously funny and irreverent take on modern pregnancy and parenting

by Melody Dworak on November 3rd, 2015
Uproariously funny and irreverent take on modern pregnancy and parenting Cover Image

Emily Flake’s Mama Tried: Dispatches from the Seamy Underbelly of Modern Parenting hilariously pokes fun at experiences of expectant and first-time parents, particularly those of women who established careers and were fully independent thinkers before deciding to start a family.

At eight months pregnant myself, I peeled through the first third of her book, howling with laughter every few pages or so. I can identify with dealing with “swole” feet and eating cookies to make the baby kick (and just to eat cookies). This book was much needed comic relief for my final stretch as a pregnant lady.

Read the rest of this entry »

What it’s like to read Janet Evanovich for the first time

by Melody Dworak on October 30th, 2015
What it’s like to read Janet Evanovich for the first time Cover Image

Okay, I’m using the term “read” here liberally as I’m really listening to her audiobooks. But the sentiment is the same: after a long aversion to mainstream romance and mystery, what do Janet Evanovich’s stories have for me?

Caving in to one of OverDrive’s auto-generated recommendation that I should try out Wicked Business, I listened to a sample of the book and discovered a familiar voice. Lorelei King, talented performer of my beloved Mercy Thompson series, reads Evanovich’s Wicked books too. I have really enjoyed King’s tender interpretation of the Mercy Thompson books–she has whisked me up in wistfulness before–so I was tickled to find that her voice narrates more stories in our collection. (You never think to search by reader, do you?)  Read the rest of this entry »

Haunting Tales

by Mimi Blankenship Coupland on October 29th, 2015

Nowadays, it seems like horror equals gratuitous gore, especially in movies.  These stories, to me, are the ones that are truly horrible.  They strike to the primal core and are remembered decades after reading.

Cask cover.phpLet’s start with my favorite from the master of macabre, Edgar Allan Poe:  The Cask of Amontillado (1846).  It’s a short story of revenge mixed with wine – one that rarely ends well.  It’s told from the viewpoint of the “villain” who is specific with many details except for a definitive reason for his grievance.  The ending is not nice but what really gives me the chills are the false displays of friendship.

Beach cover.phpI first read on On the Beach (1957) by Nevil Shute when I was a teenager.  It was still the Cold War and as a fan of Tom Clancy, I thought “Aha!  Here’s what happens if Jack Ryan does not save the day.”  After World War III, the radioactive fallout has not yet reached Australia but it’s on the way.  The survivors know they only have months to live and act accordingly.  I highly recommend this book as own it and have read it multiple times since then.

Lottery cover.phpThe Lottery (1948) by Shirley Jackson takes place in the center of a tiny village.  It’s small enough that everyone knows each other’s name and most of their business as well, very much like where I grew up.  This short story develops quickly, interspersing character introduction with descriptions how the lottery works.  By the time the winner is revealed, it’s completely different from the idyllic beginning.

Algernon cover.phpI read Flowers for Algernon (1959) by Daniel Keyes once long ago and never again.  That’s not because the novel is awful (it’s brilliant!) – it’s because the story line is so plausible and that is terrifying.  It’s written in diary form by Charlie Gordon, a man with low IQ, as progress reports for Dr. Strauss.  The doctor performs an experimental operation on Charlie to increase his intelligence like Algernon, the lab mouse.  The changes are gradual, yet noticeable, and Charlie shares them all with the reader.

Game cover.phpLastly, you know that short story about that guy on an island that hunts other guys?  Most people say yes but can’t remember the title or author.  Thanks to the magic of the internet, I plugged the above phrase into a search engine and voila:  The Most Dangerous Game (1924) by Richard Connell.  That plot may not seem like much but consider that it was written almost 100 years ago and is still a popular basis for both books and movies.

Thanks for letting me share some scary stories with you.  Happy Halloween!

I’m so over Star Wars Episode VII, let’s talk about Episode VIII…

by Brian Visser on October 23rd, 2015

Looper_posterJust kidding, I’m so excited for The Force Awakens that there’s a tingling sensation in my extremities (maybe I should go see a doctor about that…).  Anyway, J.J.’s take on Star Wars in December kicks off annual movie releases for the beloved franchise.  This is something that I still have trouble wrapping my mind around: We’re going to get a new Star Wars movie EVERY YEAR.  In 2016, “Rogue One,” the first spin-off film, directed by Gareth Edwards, will be in cinemas.  “Star Wars: Episode VIII will arrive on May 26, 2017, with Rian Johnson as the writer and director.  When Rian Johnson’s involvement was first announced, I couldn’t believe it.  It seemed too perfect, and I kept waiting for Disney to say, “nope, never mind, you don’t get nice things.”  Why am I so happy about Johnson directing a Star Wars movie?  Because he wrote and directed one of my favorite films of the last five years, “Looper,” and the fantastic neo-noir “Brick.”

Set in the somewhat near future, “Looper” is a time travel movie.  In it, organized crime types send people who they want to disappear back in time to get whacked.  Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is one of the guys who does the whacking. Things get complicated, though, when an older version of Joe, played by Bruce Willis, is the person sent back.  Sounds great, right?  The movie also plays with the idea of the fluidity and malleability of time.  It’s intelligent sci-fi that’s sometimes hard to come by.  Also, I looooooove time travel movies.

Brick” is a stylish, mystery that takes place at a high school.  Brendan (also Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a loner.  When the girl he loves turns up dead, he will do whatever is takes to figure out who is responsible.  If that sounds like the most basic noir set-up out there, that’s because it is.  Seriously, this movie is so hard-boiled that in my memory it’s shot in black and white.  It’s not, but I had to check to make sure.  But Johnson hits it out of the park with smart and tight writing which Gordon-Levitt nails.   Brendan gets mixed-up and roughed up, and it’s definitely worth a watch.

I encourage you to watch either or both of these great movies to get a taste of what Star Wars: Episode VIII might be like.  And now that I think about it, does this mean Joseph Gordon-Levitt is going to be in the movie?!?  I can only hope.

In Search of the Best Paleo Cookbooks

by Heidi Kuchta on October 21st, 2015

As I have perused the masses of so-called Paleo (read: veggie and meat based, no-to-little grain and dairy) cookbooks here at ICPL, I have had to be brutally honest with myself. Am I really going to use a mandoline slicer (which I don’t own) to cut zucchini into long, thin slices that can be used like noodles? No. Might I benefit from a new coleslaw recipe or two (or three?) Heck yes. Might I substitute mashed sweet potatoes for the less nutritious white potatoes in a shepherd’s pie? Sure. Does a grain-free coconut-based “oatmeal” sound like an amazing make ahead breakfast? Yeah! OK – onward.

One thing I have learned and had to accept is that most paleo cookbook authors have differing opinions on certain foods. Some people swear that white potatoes are fine – “nutrient rich” even, others claim that they’re trash. Eggs and so-called “nightshade vegetables” like tomatoes and peppers are ingredients that some laud and others eschew. At the end of the day, it’s a lot for me to just give up grains, so I have welcomed cookbooks with strict and less strict sensibilities alike.

So, here’s my fave paleo cookbPaleo Lunchesooks (so far)

1. I have used this cookbook the longest and can vouch for the deliciousness of many recipes herein! I love the egg muffin recipe for making ahead for quick breakfasts. My favorite salad recipe in this book is the Wild Tuna, Orange, and Parsley Salad. Runner up favorite recipe is the simple and amazing Chicken, Celeriac, and Mustard Salad Wrap. I had never previously eaten celeriac (celery root), and now I consider it my favorite slaw veggie! The coconut crepe recipe in the cookbook is an amazing Naan substitute for Indian food or a good wrHomegrown Paleoap-maker.

Also check out Diana Rodgers’ most recent collection of recipes, The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook!


2. TheZenbelly Cookbook Zenbelly Cookbook By Simone Miller is so much fun to read, and the recipes are mostly pretty simple. I’ve never cooked a whole chicken or made my own broth: after reading this book I now feel confident enough to do both. Also, the photography is a visual gift: Before each recipe is a photo of all the ingredients needed to make it. This visual guide is so helpful to figuring out at a glance whether I have what I need for a recipe or not. Recipe highlights include Pork Chops with Stone Fruit Slaw, Jicama Slaw (because I am slaw-obsessed), Cauliflower ‘Rice’, Sesame Shitake Broccoli, and Moroccan Shepherd’s Pie.

3. One-Pot Paleo by Jenny Castaneda: One Pot PaleoYES! The concept of this cookbook is perfect for me, a woman sans dishwasher. It is also full of flavorful and fun ideas: Plantain Chilaquiles, Loaded Spanish Tortillas, Brussels Sprouts Favorite, Honey Dijon Salmon Steaks and many other good-looking seafood recipes.

4. Nourish by Rachael Bryant is another visually pleasing cookbook, like Zenbelly. I enjoyed its recipe for Coconut Oatmeal IMNourishMENSELY. Other good recipes from here include Butternut Squash Skillet with Leeks and Spinach, Pork Belly Carnitas (cuz duh, Carnitas), and Bison Chili.

a Title for Adult and Teenage Girls

by Frances Owens on October 19th, 2015
a Title for Adult and Teenage Girls Cover Image

I don’t have very much time for reading what with balancing work, school, and the rest of life, so lately I have turned to graphic novels to stimulate my love of the printed word.  This has led to me finally reading Saga by Brian Vaughn, reacquainting myself with childhood (and local) favorite Bloom County, and of course the Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner which is the subject of this particular blog post.

I will grant that I am a little tardy to the party on this book as it originally came out back in 2002, but it was recently adapted into a film directed by Marielle Heller starring Bel Powley in the titular role, but also Kristin Wiig and Alexander Skarsgard.  Besides being excited for the movie because it was playing at Iowa City’s own FilmScene, the director of the movie AND the author of the book were interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air.  Being the library worker such that I am I figured I must read the book first.

I was quite glad that I did as I found it to be one of the most honest portrayals of life as a teenage girl just as the title suggests.  It was painfully honest even.  Warning to those that maybe more sensitive than others: this book is pretty scandalous on every front.  Language, sex, drugs are all present along with a healthy dose of what is often termed “age inappropriate content”.  Another of Gloeckner’s graphic novels, A Child’s Life and Other Stories, was banned from the public library in Stockton, CA in fact.  However in belated celebration of banned books week I recommend checking out the Diary of a Teenage Girl.  It is truly an unforgettable read!

As to the visual content, this book really is more of a novel than a graphic novel, but what art there is reminds the reader of one of Gloeckner’s big influences, R. Crumb.

Baba Yaga’s Assistant

by Casey Maynard on October 15th, 2015

Baba Yaga 1Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll’s new graphic novel, Baba Yaga’s Assistant, is absolutely stunning.  McCoola’s debut is part fan fiction, part retelling, taking pieces from the traditional tale and spinning well known characters and tropes into an entirely new story. Emily Carroll, per usual, delivers fantastic illustrations to accompany McCoola’s devourable text.

Baba Yaga is everything a reader could want in a spin off. Featuring strong female characters, Baba Yaga has just the right amount of spookiness to keep the pages turning yet ends up surprisingly heartfelt and uplifting.

This is definitely a must read for anyone who likes fairy tales, or who is a fan of Emily Carroll’s graphic novel,  Through the Woods. Marika McCoola is an author to watch, and I am hoping to see this team pair up again for more retellings in the future.



baba yaga 3


For more information on Marika McCoola please visit her website

Emily Carroll’s online comics may be found at


Fall at the Farmer’s Market

by Kara Logsden on October 13th, 2015
Fall at the Farmer’s Market Cover Image

2015 DoughnutIt’s fall at the Iowa City Farmer’s Market. Pumpkins and gourds are for sale, the air is crisp, apples are fresh, and we’re starting to think about frost.

This time of year I start making my “just one more” list …

Just one more order of breakfast tacos …

Just one more cup of delicious coffee enjoyed while sitting on a curb watching people …

Just one more Farmer’s Market pie …

Just one more (well … 2 more) spring rolls for my lunch …

Just one more pint of jalapenos for Poppers …

And my favorite … Just one more CIDER DONUT … (How will I live without them?)

The good news is there are a few more weeks of Farmer’s Market remaining and time to check off the items on my “just one more” list.

When I was a child my Mom used to make homemade donuts. I remember dough fried in oil in a cast iron skilled, flipped over with a fork, drained on a paper towel and then tossed in powdered sugar. Yummy! We didn’t have donuts often, but when we did it was a treat. I’ve never made donuts for my family – crepes are our go-to weekend morning treat. The Library has a few books about donuts, though, and I may give them a try. To find these books, navigate to the Library’s catalog (, select the SUBJECT tab, and type in DOUGHNUT. You can type in DONUT but it will refer you to the formal spelling. The book that caught my eye was A baker’s field guide to doughnuts : more than 60 warm and fresh homemade treats. :)