• Check out Mary Alice Monroe’s new book, Time is a River.time-is-a-river4
  • Take one recent breast cancer survivor (Mia Landan)
  • Add one cheating husband who files for divorce
  • Locate in a remote, dilapidated fishing cabin in the mountains of North Carolina
  • Sift in mysterious, scandalous details about the former owner (legendary fly-fisher Kate Watkins)
  • Temper Mia’s quest for the truth about Kate with her friend’s command to not dig up the ruinous past
  • Add prescribed tall and handsome love interest
  • Simmer for 369 pages
  • Top with predictable (convenient but still ultimately satisfying) plot line
  • Note: This is a quick and easy recipe. Not for the gourmand, but perfect for reading at the beach (or in a little fishing cabin in the woods!) End result: another popular novel by a New York Time’s bestselling author. Serves multitudes. Bon appétit!

chicago

In Chicago, truth is truly stranger than fiction, but the fiction is awfully good, too!

Scott Simon’s Windy City: A Novel of Politics was published in a very timely manner, this last year. The comic novel involves a poisoned mayor and the exploits of the 50 Chicago alderman who want to determine the next mayor. Simon grew up in Chicago and is a long time National Public Radio host.

“I think politics is a local specialty in Chicago, the way that blues and improvisational comedy is a local specialty,” Simon says.

Scott Turow is generally acknowledged as the best legal fiction writer in the business. Presumed Innocent was one of the first really big legal blockbusters and is a classic in the genre. Turow’s Kindle County is a thinly disguised Cook County, As s a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, he’s had first hand knowledge of fraud and corruption. If you want insight into the Chicago way of doing politics check him out.

Sara Paretsky‘s books immerse the reader in the South Side setting. The heroine, V.I. Warshawski, is a whiskey-drinking private eye who grew up among the steel mills.She first appeared in 1982, and was groundbreaking as a tough female p.i., in a male dominated genre.

soloist1This is an unusual true story of a Los Angeles Times columnist who one day takes notice of a violin playing homeless man. Unusual is the music this homeless person manages to produce from a beat up violin with two strings missing. Even the columnist, who has little music knowledge, can tell that this raggedy seemingly eccentric individual must have had some classical training and education. Shortly after approaching Nathaniel, Lopez discovers that he is a former Juilliard student, living on the streets suffering from untreated schizophrenia. The homeless musician stirs something unshakable in the columnist. As Lopez begins to try and improve Nathaniel’s life -by getting him off the streets and back on medication – he finds that Nathaniel has irrevocably changed his.

I was listening to Yo-Yo Ma who was a guest on Garrison Keillor’s radio show last week. I stopped to really listen to this world renowned cellist and was able to imagine Nathaniel Ayers playing in the same orchestra with him over 30 years ago. The Soloist had the potential to be a very depressing read. Instead, it was a hugely wonderful story.

re-one-of-themYou know what it’s like when you just can’t put a book down? Well, this widely acclaimed book was one I actually had to put down. I just needed to take a break from all the suffering and violence. Still, it’s a book I’m recommending. In fact, I really think that it should be required reading for most adult Americans. Why? Because how many of us are acutely aware of what is really happening in Africa? Sure, you may have heard it on the news, but this book will affect how you feel about those happenings.

The author, Uwem Akpan, is a Jesuit priest who was born in Nigeria and later educated in Michigan. He chooses to tell most of these short stories (a few quite long) through the eyes of children. This, in my view, makes them all the more tragic. For example, in the last story, “In my Parents’ Bedroom,” the young narrator, Monique, can’t understand why the ceiling is bleeding. For me, this was the most powerful story, reminding me of the movie Hotel Rwanda. Monique is the daughter of a Tutsi mother and a Hutu father and the title, Say You’re One of Them, is based upon the advice her mother gives her shortly before the machete-wielding mob arrives.

In the story, “An Ex-Mas Feast,” a 12- year old girl works as a prostitute in order to feed her starving family. And, in “Fattening for Gabon,” two children are sent to live with their slave-trading uncle as their parents die of AIDS. So, no, this is not a pleasant book, but it is an important one. For all those literally starving children in Africa, please at least give it a try.

Puns aside, could you the good reader provide me with a definitive answer as to when chili season begins? I once thought it coincided with flannel and football. I’ve heard it is once temperatures drop below freezing at night.

cheeleeRegardless, we’re clearly mired in the best time of year for the crock pot/stock pot dish. A new book just came out on the subject.

It has infinite possibilities outside the loosely-structured base ingredients. Ever had mushroom chili…white chili? Ever made a pot on Sunday and coasted through the week on the stuff?

While you’re pondering your ingredient list for your next batch, stew (wocka wocka) on these fun chili facts:

1) competition chili does not permit the addition of beans

2) Cedar Rapids, IA has a chili festival every year with hundreds of entries. I’d like a commitment to that as my “Davenport Promise”

One of the (many) great things about living in the Quad Cities is the Mississippi River – its beauty, its recreational opportunities and its wildlife. January and February are prime time for eagle watching. A lot of Americans have never or only rarely seen a bald eagle in it’s natural habitat, yet for Quad Citians they’re a common sight in the winter. Attracted to the open water of the river near the dams, hundreds of these magnificent birds congregate along the river during the coldest months.

Fight off cabin fever and take advantage of some of the great programs and viewing opportunities including Bald Eagle Days (today through Sunday) at the QC Expo Center, eagle watches at the Mississippi River Visitors Center on Arsenal Island (reservations required) through February, and the LeClaire Eagle Watch, January 24-25.

For more information about bald eagle events and watching, including a list of the best viewing areas in the Quad Cities, be sure to visit the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau website.

Want more? Check out these books from the library:

The Bald Eagle: Haunts and Habitats of a Wilderness Monarch by Jonathan Gerrard

Raptors of North American: Natural History and Conservation by Noel Snyder

The American Eagle: a Photographic Portrait by John Pezzenti

Return of the Eagle: how America Saved its National Symbol by Greg Breining


house-of-daughters1Ready for an escape this winter? How about a little literary trip to a champagne vineyard in France? Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? And yes, I realize it still gets cold there, but you have to admit, the idea of it is pretty romantic.

In House of Daughters by Sarah-Kate Lynch, the story revolves around Clementine, the daughter and rightful heir to the House of Peine, a vineyard that has been in the family for generations. However, after her father dies, Clementine soon discovers that she must share her inheritance with a half-sister she’s only met once and with another she didn’t even know existed! Needless to say, all is not happy in the Peine household. The sisters struggle not only with each other but with trying to keep the vineyard afloat financially. Secrets, scandals and long lost loves all keep this story bubbly and upbeat, but robust enough to savor long into the night. Share a toast to sisterhood and celebrate this read with your own bottle of champagne. C’est la vie!

taxesNow that I have your attention, it’s tax season. Hey, don’t kill the messenger.

Davenport Public Library tries to accommodate taxpayers that are e-file friendly, as well as those that need paper forms. For the record, the feds would greatly prefer that you do so electronically. 58% did so last year, resulting in faster filings and quicker returns… according to the IRS.

On the paper side, the Davenport Public library buildings are one of the few places which still distribute tax forms and publications you can use to prepare your return. The post office stopped this service in 2006. Though not a federal agency like the post office, we got a pallet of 50 cases last week. If the form you need is not one of the standard issue we stock in our displays at Main and Fairmount, one of the crack reference staff can help you locate it on the IRS’s labyrinthine site.

Most employers will be giving you your W2’s this month, if they haven’t already. Put it on the corner of your desk, but unlike last year, don’t wait until April 15th.

frugallibrarianIf I could time the market, I’d probably be a millionaire and not working here. Or, living out of a cardboard box because I got cocky. Depends on how you look at it.

But this much I’ve read is certain…refinancing your mortgage can save you a whole bunch of money. The adage is that if a mortgage rate is 1% lower than your current rate, it is advantageous to pay the closing costs (around $1500) to have them rework your loan with the new rate.

With the economy, mortgages are at 37-year-lows. You are going to be hard-pressed to find a more competitive rate at another time. Plus, since the fed cut the short term lending rate yet again, this should move over into the mortgage market in the coming weeks, making things even more interesting.

Only a fool would feel pressured to make such a snap decision, but in the coming weeks this could be a bird in hand for your wallet. It only takes a minute to compute your scenario online. You may very well find that a cut from 6.375% to 4.5% is like someone handing you a couple hundred bucks each month. Yes please.

Here are the rates from some local lenders:

Ascentra Credit Union
IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union
Wells Fargo Bank

s1 It’s that time of year again! The end of the old — the start of a new one — with all of the guilt and good intentions that go into making us think about New Year’s resolutions. Notice I said “think about,” which is not necessarily the same thing as “make.” For those of us of a certain vintage — say past puberty — we may have long ago given up on New Year’s resolutions. We know, empirically at least, that we can make dramatic changes in our lives at any time of year — it doesn’t have to be the first of the year or the first of a week. We just have to decide and then DO! Still, I’m a sucker for any kind of “should” so I usually end up vowing to magically “be better” in the upcoming year. And typically, I always have the same three resolutions: Lose weight, get organized and save money. Hmmph, I don’t really like what that says about me, but when you think about it, those are probably the top three resolutions world-wide. So, assuming I’m not alone, here’s a few titles that can help out quite a few of us:

Resolution #1: Lose Weight!never-say-diet

Never Say Diet: Make Five Decisions and Break the Fat Habit for Good by Chantel Hobbs. This one sounds perfect for me. Somehow, it seems that whenever I say “I’m on a diet,” I automatically get hungry. And if this book isn’t up your alley, there’s a plethora of specific diet books on our shelves, including Bob Greene’s The Best Life Diet and WeightWatcher’s Start Living, Start Losing: Inspirational Stories That Will Motivate You Now.

Resolution #2: Get Organized!clutter

With all the Christmas packaging to dispose of and all the decorations to put away, this is a great time to really get your whole house in order. A saver by nature, sometimes it’s hard for me to let go of things. One great book I found is The Clutter Cure: Three Steps to Letting Go of Stuff, Organizing Your Space & Creating the Home of Your Dreams by Judi Culbertson. Her three easy steps (identify, assess and take action) are realistic and easy enough for most anyone to follow. Another title, Real Simple: the Organized Home by Ken Cronstrom, is just very refreshing. It’s filled with lots of colored photographs that make me wish my house looked that way!

Resolution # 3: Save Money!idiot

With the economy pretty shaky these days, saving money just makes sense. For a colorful take on a ticklish subject, try How Come That Idiot’s Rich and I’m Not? by Robert Sherman. This book is organized by 8 simple secrets — sounds easy enough to actually try! Another approach, depending where you are on your financial path, there’s Seven Years to Seven Figures by Michael Masterson. It’s subtitle is The Fast-Track Plan to Becoming a Millionaire, which is appealing to just about everybody.

Well, good luck to those of you who are actually making New Year’s Resolutions.  Check out our displays on all three of these resolutions for other reading suggestions.  As for me, next year at this time, I’m going to be thin, organized  and rich — just like I was going to be this year!