Saturday, July 24, 2010


So you think you don't believe in ghosts? Ive always considered them fun, scary characters for mystery writers.
After reading HAUNTED IOWA, however, I am beginning to wonder.
In the first section, Kathleen Vyn describes sound and photography equipment and other accessories used by two teams of investigators: Iowa Paranormal Advanced Research Team, and Des Moines Iowa Extreme Paranormal Advanced Research Team. Results of cases described in this section sound the most valid.
The second section describes places believed to be haunted, some of them more legendary than verifiable.
Part three presents ghostly Iowa people such as Brad Steiger.
This thoroughly enjoyable read has one puzzling characteristic: cases are reported from all areas of Iowa except Cedar Rapids/Marion! We don't have old mansions haunted by past residents who experienced unfortunate lives--or deaths? Anyone have a ghost story that needs investigating?


The title of this book caught my eye as I browsed in a bookstore. It won a place on our IOWA bibliography because it is set in Des Moines, where author Michael J. White lived for several years. I suspect those were his teen years, because narrator George Flynn begins his tale as a junior at St. Pius High School.
WEEPING UNDERWATER is one of the most creatively-written novels I've read in a long time. It's a story of first love, the search for personal identity, and coming to terms with an accidental death. It could be considered a twenty-first century CATCHER IN THE RYE in that it dramatizes teenage activities and angst of the era, even though the action occurs in the 1990s.
Readers familiar with Des Moines will enjoy the sense of locale and will long remember this first novel. Highly recommended for those not offended by some tastefully written descriptions of sexual activity.


Here's a book for lovers of architecture and history. Marilyn Setzler, Carroll county native and curator of the local historical museum, became interested in accounts of local church history. The oldest wood-frame church is First Presbyterian in Arcadia (1879) and is still in use. The oldest brick church is St. Bernard in Breda (1888).
She discovered records of the cost and sources of building materials and labor--even, in some cases, the number of horse hours devoted to building a church.
Setzler also discusses the history of each Carroll County church and records present-day structures, windows, and sanctuaries in glowing color. This is a beautiful book to be enjoyed for the photographs alone.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

At our last Club Read meeting June 29...

The Club Read Discussion Group enjoyed another wide-ranging evening of talking about books from this year's bibliography "Reading in Our Own Backyard: Books By and About Iowans." Ten members reviewed the books they read since our last meeting--here are some highlights.

Connie had started The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship by Jeffrey Zaslow. While she found it slow-going in the beginning, she appreciated Zaslow's insights into female friendships and how they differ from male friendships. Liz and Deb assured her if she stuck with it, she would get caught up into the story of the women's friendships and how they enriched each one's life. Connie also re-read The Book Thief and highly recommends it--a tale told by Death during WW2 about a girl who stole books.

Margaret learned about the Amish practice of shunning a person who left the Amish community and lifestyle in the fictional book Christmas Traditions: An Amish Love Story by Fay Risner. Deb reported that she enjoyed the narrative poems of Mary Swander in two books--driving the body back and Heaven-and-Earth House. She also just finished the side-splitting Stephanie Plum bail bondswoman mystery, Finger Lickin' Fifteen, by Janet Evanovich, and wants to read the rest of the series.

Teresa read Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane after seeing the movie with Leonardo DeCaprio and becoming intrigued. Her Iowa book was Little Heathens by Mildred Kalish, which she enjoyed. Liz also recommended that one.

Kay read two Karen Roth fictional novels: Found on 16th Avenue, a love story set in the Czech Village of Cedar Rapids, and My Portion Forever, which continues the story of the characters from the first book.

Betty shared her impressions of three books. She enjoyed The Horizontal Word: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere by Debra K. Marquart, a biography telling about Marquart's early life as a girl and young woman in North Dakota. Marquart is an English professor at ISU. Betty also read a Jones County history searching for information about her famly and Bob Artley's Seasons on the Farm, the cartoonist's biographical collection of his memories and his artwork with an agricultural theme.

Liz read Little Heathens, Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl by Carol Bodensteiner, and Ted Kooser's autobiographical poems in Lights on a Ground of Darness: An Evocation of a Place and Time, and you can read her review of these in other posts on this blog. Liz highly recommended Gladys Black: The Legacy of Iowa's Bird Lady by Larry Stone as the story of a woman who was an independent and fierce warrior for the environment and the Iowa birds she so dearly loved. Liz also ventured out of her comfort zone by reading a romance by Arianna Snow, a CR author who has a series of books available at the Marion Library. Liz read Snow's Patience, My Dear, and was intrigued enough to check out the next book in the series to find out what happens to the characters.

Debbie enjoyed the tales of the Amish at Kalona in Visits with the Amish: Impressions of the Plain Life by Linda Egenes. Because she and her daughter used to walk on 8th Avenue in Marion, she also liked The Pucker Street District Revised by Judith Yarger Hull. And off the Iowa list, Debbie read House Rules by Jodi Piccoult, the story of a boy with Asperger's Syndrome.

Pat invoked Cedar Rapids history with her review of When We Went First Class by Ellen Williamson, a granddaughter of the Douglas family that founded Quaker Oats and lived at Brucemore. The tales of how a wealthy family lived during the Depression was a startling contrast to what the rest of the country was experiencing.

Voanne read the fictional book Boy Scouts, Bullies, and Indian Creek by BillyD (Bill Page), a Marion native who fictionalized his boyhood adventures. She went back to her collection of Ruth Suckow books and started reading The Folks, which was a 1934 Literary Guild selection. Suckow was from Belmond, Iowa, and was a very famous author in her era.

That's what the Club Read discussion group has been reading. What have you been reading? Leave us a comment about it!


Monday, June 28, 2010


For some reason I really like prose written by poets. Ted Kooser was a Poet Laureate who won the Pulitzer Prize, and he writes beautiful, lyrical prose that never detracts from his subject matter.
Kooser describes and pays tribute to his ancestors and other relatives, most of whom settled in the Turkey Valley near Osterdock and Guttenberg. He brings them to life in a sweet little book that is so tiny it is hard to spot on the library shelf.
Do search for it: he has made me want to visit that area to see the terrain his ancestors from Switzerland chose to settle in because it reminded them of home.


Now here's a woman who is one of a kind! One of the joys of exploring books about Iowa is meeting memorable people. I'm so glad I read this book about Gladys Black. I only wish I could have met her in real life.
Gladys was a crusty, outspoken character--a lover and protector of wildlife, especially birds.
Among her many accomplishments, she lobbied to prevent Mourning Dove hunting and the use of DDT, and she helped establish the Chickadee Checkoff which allows taxpayers to designate funds for support of non-game wildlife programs.
In their discussion of her life, the authors quote many people whom Gladys influenced. She especially impressed school children with her walks and talks about birds. Some of them eventually pursued professions related to conservation of wildlife. And she tenderly rehabilitated injured birds--sometimes even in her house.
Although Gladys was self-taught, her knowledge was deep and accurate. She won many local, state, and national awards. I'd like to visit some of the memorial gardens and refuges which have been established in her name.
Gladys Black was her own person, unconcerned about the appearance of her house or her clothes.
I just wish I had the nerve to write to legislators as she did to whose who disagreed with her, beginning her letters: "Dear Knucklehead".

Saturday, June 26, 2010

driving the body back

driving the body back, poems by Mary Swander.

I thoroughly enjoyed this evocative book of narrative poems, which catalog the lives of "Jim, George, Julia, Phil, Nell, Maud, Doc, Ed, and Grandma," relatives (real, fictional?) of the poet. The poems portrayed the prickley personalities of these people, their relationships with others, and the rural/farm/small town landscape they lived in. The word portraits made me think of the Depression era and stories my grandparents told of life on the farm. I recommend this book, even if you're not a poetry fan, because the pictures it paints are so real.