Sunday, November 4, 2007


Just finished Ann Patchett's newest book, Run. It begins in sort of a rambling fashion and I was tempted at first not to stay with it. There's some historical context about a statue, stolen from a church, that really doesn't have a lot of bearing on the story. But, stick with it and you will find an insightful story about a Bostonian family that adopts an African American infant whose mother also gives up his 14 month old brother so they can be raised together. Lots of twists and turns throughout the book. I occasionally found the story line hard to follow as Patchett expects her readers to follow carefully the multiple stories that are intermixed and she takes her readers on some jerky (and unneccessary) ups and downs with her writing style. If you don't read carefully, you will miss her only reference to the title.

I also read, The Contractor, by Charles Holdefer this past week. In the wake of the recent controversy over the definition of torture as it does or doesn't apply to waterboarding, this is a read that should be required for every American. It made me think of those men in charge of Nazi camps that went home every night to eat dinner, play with their children, attend the opera and yet returned every morning to the horror of their work.

When I first picked up Life on the Refrigerator Door, I assumed that it would be a "cute little read" with a light-hearted exchange between a mom and her daughter. But it is much more than that. Although the entire book has been written in a minimalist style that one would find on post-it notes, the author, Alice Kuipers, has captured an amazing range of emotions in this little book. At times, I found myself wanting to shout at both the mother and the daughter to stop being so self-absorbed, stop running away, sit down and eat a meal together for Pete's Sake! But, Kuipers manages to capture many of the back and forth exchanges that every mom and daughter can probably match to something from their own relationship.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Custodian of Paradise

Deb from Prairie Lights Book Store in Iowa City recommended this book to me and I must say, it is a page turner! Not in the murder mystery, who done it fashion, but rather in a deeply moving story of the life of a woman in Newfoundland at the turn of the last century. I am only about half way through it and my chores are being neglected because all I really want to do is burrow my way through this book!

Next on my list is Eavesdropping by Steven Kuusisto, who is a blind professor at the U of I. We hope to have him come and speak at the library about his story. I also have Bad Monkeys sitting on my shelf and several other mysteries that have been recommended to me by the folks at HarperCollins--but first, I just HAVE to finish the "Custodian"! More later.


I was lucky enough to get an early copy of Chris Crutcher's newest young adult book, DEADLINE. It's the story of a high school senior who finds out that he has a terminal disease and that he will most likely not live to graduate. Wow! What a wonderful storyteller Crutcher is and although the story line is a bit farfetched as to the main character's ability to play a season football, the emotions and reactions of his friends, family, and teachers make for a great read.

Crutcher has a way of inspiring a reader to look inside oneself to examine one's beliefs. I don't want to ruin the story for anyone--just encourage you to read it. Then come to the library on Wednesday, October 10 at 6:30 PM to meet the author himself.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Little Heathens

I just finished reading Mildred Kalish's book about growing up in Iowa during the depression called Little Heathens. Although I am not of that generation, the book did remind me of so many things from my own childhood. I can certainly relate to Mildred's experiences of butchering chickens! As the youngest kid in the family, my job was cleaning the gravel out of the chickens' gizzards. Actually, it could be sort of a game scattering all those little rocks, if you didn't think about the reality of what you were doing!

Mildred has captured the essence of farm life--from her descriptions to watching kittens play, to the hard work that everyone expected from all members of the family, and the "old folks" reaction to the kids' antics. In my family, rather than little heathens, we kids were often referred to (non-politically correct today) as acting like a bunch of "wild Indidans!'

If you have any connection to Iowa, farm life, or just wish to understand the heroism of the folks that lived through the depression, take time to read Mildred's book. I am thrilled to report that Mildred has agreed to visit Des Moines as part of our 2009 AViD Author Series on April 8!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Rest of Her Life

I received a pre-pub copy of a book by a new young writer named Laura Moriarty. The back cover had recommendations by two of my favorite writers--Jodi Picoult and Jacquelyn Mitchard, so that was enough to make me want to read it. About two chapters into the book, I wasn't sure I wanted to continue reading it because the plot is basically about a family whose world is shattered after their 18 year old daughter hits and kills a young girl. The daughter was talking on her cell phone and ran a stop sign.

As the mother of two girls, 22 and 19, this seemed a bit too close to home. I have a dear friend who lost her daughter at age 16 in a car accident that also killed a man and his two little boys.

But the story goes beyond the tragedy and examines the mom--her life, her childhood, her relationship with her children. I have often said jokingly that I think that a mother's guilt must begin at conception. This book is a touching reminder that every mother deals daily with guilt and with trying to be "a good mother." Young author Laura Moriarty, with a three year old daughter, shares the complex dance of emotions with a surprising wisdom far beyond her years. This is a great book for a discussion group.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Fireworks over Des Moines!

As the Yankee Doodle Pops concert enthralled thousands of people gathered on the lawn of the State Capitol and the fireworks began, we noticed several added bonuses this year-the colorful sparkles were magnifed and reflected in the buildings of the skyline (especially the Ruan building), the American flag was positioned to fly proudly directly in front of where the fireworks were their grandest, and the lines at the Kybo's were short. From the mellow sounds of Jazz in July to the frosty experience of nitro ice cream, Tuesday night's concert was the best place to be on a summer night. The Iowa State Capitol, with its beautifully remodeled front steps and lawn, ranks right up at the top of any tourist "sight" that I have ever seen! Give a rose to everyone involved in a delightful evening that was as American as the sticky caramel apples the vendors carried through the crowd!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

More Authors Coming This Fall

One of the best parts of my job is that I never know what the next phone call is going to bring. This week, I had a call from Kate Blum, a publicist that had sent author Elizabeth Berg to DM a couple of years ago. She was now calling about Lorna Landvik, a Minnesota writer, who is interested in coming to Des Moines. So we have her scheduled for October 24 at 6:30 PM at the Central Library. I called my freind Jean LemMon to tell her and she was thrilled as she had recommended this author to our AViD committee a couple of years ago! All of her books are set in Minnesota. So I have just started reading Tall Pine Polka and it is a fun read. I guess Landvik has been described as Minnesota's answer to Fannie Flagg and I would say that so far, her writing style is similar to Fried Green Tomatoes. Landvik's best known book is Patty Jane's House of Curl.

Last week, a fellow named Jim called me to see about a visit by Jon Gordon who has a new book out called, The Energy Bus. I understand that Gordon has appeared on the Today Show and the forward to his book was written by Ken Blanchard (One Minute Manager), so I read his book and now we have him scheduled to come to Des Moines too! He will be here on July 27 over the lunch hour.

The Energy Bus is a wonderful book on the power of positive thinking--about a poor guy who has a flat tire and is forced to ride a bus to work. His driver is Joy and she, along with the other zany folks riding the bus, helps him learn how to change his life by changing the way that he thinks about it. Simple advice that does seem to work.

Before I read The Energy Bus, I had just finished reading The Secret by Rhonda Byrnes. I had seen an article about it and decided to check it out as it was featured on Oprah and has been having great success. It is also about positive thinking and the energy that it creates! A good read even though it is somewhat simplistic and a tad hard for me to buy into the notion 100%.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Final Gift

After a sleepless night of listening to her bark and whine, I knew it was time. Katie, our almost 15 year-old Springer spaniel, was in her final stage of life. She had been declining health for months but when my oldest daughter left for a year studying in Germany, one of the last things she asked was to make sure Katie was still here when she came home. But that’s more than two months away and I knew she couldn’t live that long.

We picked Katie out of a litter one cold, grey day in December 1992 because she was the puppy that immediately rolled over for a belly scratch when we entered her kennel. She was a fluffy, mellow, black and white playmate for my two daughters (ages 8 and 4) who captured our hearts from the minute we loaded her into our car. Of course, that first night was a little rocky but we followed the dog-training directive and put her in a kennel right from the start. And I think I spent most of that first night with my fingers threaded through the wires of the kennel door resting on her head which seemed to be enough to reassure her that she was not alone.

The kennel quickly became her safe haven--the place she retreated to whenever she needed to flop down in exhaustion after running, fetching, and cuddling with her new human family. Soon we took to leaving the door to her kennel open, as she quickly understood the idea of housetraining.

Her Springer spaniel genes manifested themselves whenever water was involved. She loved to jump into the kids’ wading pool in the back yard and Yes, I admit it, I even bought a wading pool for the dog, long after the kids were too big to fit into it. She would jump into the water, scoop up the water, and bark, savoring the cool wetness as we watched and laughed at her performance. She loved water so much that all I had to do was say, it’s time for a bath and she would head up the steps of our two story house and hop in the tub, waiting impatiently for me to come turn on the water.

She was there through all the ups and downs for my two girls—an ever-present best friend. She was there for a game of tug or fetch. She was there to cuddle when they had a bad day. She was there to take to school for “show and tell”. And she was always ready for a belly scratch; her big brown eyes filling with love and appreciation for reaching that exact spot that made her hind leg scratch in unison with your fingers.

So yesterday, after a night of listening to her whine and helping her stand up and carrying her outside because she could no longer make it up and down the back steps, we knew it was time. Time to give her that final gift. Admitting that it was a difficult part of his work, our vet helped me through it, explaining the procedure, sedating her, and making it as painless as possible, respecting my need to grieve, and allowing us all to respect the gift of Katie’s long and loving life as a member of our family.

This morning, I caught myself glancing at her usual resting place and Tillie, our five year old terrier seemed surprised to have the bowl of dog food all to herself. And now I face the task of explaining to my daughter why her dog won’t meet her at the back door the day she returns. I can only hope that she can understand that Katie’s spirit is still with us—resting in the hole under the maple tree where she always liked to snooze, or drinking from the hose whenever I water the flowers, or sleeping on top of the empty tennis shoes at the foot of Makenzie’s empty bed. And that the best way to honor the loyalty of any dog as beloved as our Katie, is to give her the final gift of a good and painless death--my hand resting lightly on her head, reassuring her that she was not alone.

Des Moines AViD Reader

Okay--I have finally taken the plunge and begun a blog. This has been something I have wanted to do for quite some time so that I could share good books, author recommendations, and other favorite subjects online. goes.......