the-piano-teacherWhat would you do, what choices would you make if a war arrived in your once peaceful life? Who would you save and who would you betray? Your friends, your family, your country – even yourself – to save yourself? And one day, when the war is over and you return to some semblence of your life, how would you live with those choices? Can you ever escape the past?

The Piano Teacher by Janet Lee explores those questions in the exotic world of Hong Kong before, during and after World War II. Arriving in Hong Kong ten years after the war, Claire Pendleton soon begins an affair with Will Truesdale, the English driver of a powerful Hong Kong family. Gradually she learns that Will hides many secrets – his love affair with the Eurasian heiress Trudy Liang before the war, his experiences as a prisoner-of-war, his current plan to right past wrongs. Almost without her knowledge, she’s swept up into a story that was set in motion years in the past.

Lee writes beautifully, evoking the glamour and glitz of pre-war Hong Kong and the horrors and suffering of the war years with equal clarity. This is an eye-opening look at a lesser known arena of the war and at how people struggled to survive. It’s richly populated with interesting characters and their stories, not the least of which is Hong Kong herself, exotic and mysterious and full of secrets.

latinoCinco de Mayo is only the beginning!  The entire month of May has been designated as Latino Books Month by the Association of American Publishers.  Simply put, it’s an effort to encourage people to read books by and for Latinos.  What’s great is that you can choose to read many titles in either English or Spanish.

If you read Spanish, you’ll be able to check out some books that, in English, never seem to be on the shelf!  For example,  Luna Nueva by Stephanie Meyer.

If you prefer Latino authors, try Carlos Ruiz Zafon and his El Juego del Angel or Para Salvar el Mundo by Julia Alvarez.  Can’t read Spanish?  No problem, we have the English versions of those titles as well.  Hint:  Look for The Angel’s Game and Saving the World.

Also, in the children’s section, we feature many bi-lingual editions as well as clever videos.  Did you know that exposing children to another language at a young age can really help their fluency in later years?   Why not give it a try?

animals-make-us-human“Creating the Best Life for Animals” is the subtitle to Animals Make Us Human. Temple Grandin, the author of Animals Make Us Human, is autistic and she feels it has given her a special gift in relating to animals.

She emphasizes the importance of play and seeking activities for all animals. To have a rich life, pets need to use their brains – and they do this by trying to satisfy their intense curiosity and by playing. Owners are responsible for ensuring that they get these opportunities. Especially fascinating is her description of the evolution of the domestic dog from the wolf.

Beware Cesar Millan fans; she has fundamental philosophical differences regarding owner dominance and pack behavior. (She doesn’t think the pack leader theory is useful in most households).

Grandin also cites evidence that cats can be trained – by using rewards, rather than negative reinforcement. (This is true with all pets, but especially cats). Cats are still more on the “wild” end of the continuum of wildness to domesticity. Wild animals just run when punished; they don’t learn anything from being punished, other than to fear the punisher.

Grandin’s theories resonant with all species  (including our own).

s-brunch“Brunch” always means something special – a celebration or gathering. Now you can make any occassion – like “it’s the weekend” – special with the help of  Gale Gand’s Brunch.

Gale includes the standards – eggs, pancakes, scones and muffins – but she also throws in some unexpected entries such as potstickers, lemony wheatberry salad and pretzles. Basic recipes for classic brunch dishes – omelets, waffles, pancakes, crepes, strata, quiche – are outlined, then fun and interesting variations for each are suggested. Recipes are straightforward and simple – because who wants to spend time in the kitchen during brunch? There’s  something for every taste from Peanut Butter and Jelly Turnovers to Almond Ciabatta French Toast to Apricot Chicken Salad. Now any day – and any meal – can be special.

frugallibrarianWhile the Frugal Librarian, or as we affectionately call him, “Froogs”, is psyched about the release of Window’s Vista’s successor, Windows 7, later this year, there is a very good and super-affordable alternative called Ubuntu to tide you over.  You may have heard words like “open-source” and “Linux” get tossed about by your bespectacled acquaintances.  The benevolent nerds of the world in the spirit of competition put together very sophisticated quality pieces of software that benefit you for absolutely no cost.  Sometimes they rival packages that cost hundreds.  Though the 2010 census may prove me wrong, there are more Homo Sapien Nerdicuses in the world than there are Microsoft employees.   Ubuntu is such an innovation.

Ubuntu is an operating system that you can install on your computer instead of a release of Windows.  ESPECIALLY Windows Vista.  You’ll find it outperforms its competitors, is user friendly, and most hacker attacks are pretty much jokes, since they’re designed to affect everyone except you.  There are dozens of such Linux operating systems, but Ubuntu is considered the easiest to adopt.

If you’ve got a computer lying around, install it on there just for kicks.  If you use the internet, check email, and print like the vast majority of people, you are going to be fine, save a hundred bucks, and not wrestle with license keys.

We’ve got several books at the library on how to navigate this transition.  They’re circulating more than they used to.  If you can’t download the install disc, some of these books at the library have an install CD in the back flap.  Ideally you’ll want to download this week’s latest release of Version 9.04 “Jaunty Jackalope” to compare notes at the water cooler with your newfound friends.  If you do, don’t be surprised if you’re invited to join their Warcraft guild.

love-you-momMother’s Day is quickly approaching — May 10th, in fact.  No doubt most of you have already planned your brunches and  bouquets in celebration of dear old Mom, and those are always appreciated.  Still, when I think back over the years, the mother’s day gifts that I most loved were those which were homemade: the cards with crayon pictures, the lilacs picked fresh from the garden, the attempts at breakfast in bed.  Still, one thing I never did for my own mom s-daughter1(or mother-in-law) was to write a thank you letter.  Now that they are both gone, I’m wishing I had.  Wishing that I’d worried less about fixing  a fancy meal with the good china and the white tablecloth in the dining room, wishing I’d spent less time looking for some sentimental card at the Hallmark store, and wishing instead that I had taken a few moments to write down in my own words how I felt.  To say thank you, to share a funny story, even, perhaps, to tease a little, but just doing it would show I cared.

If you think you might like to write your own letter to Mom, here are some books that might  give you some inspiration:

I Love You, Mom! A Celebration of our Mothers and Their Gifts to Us. This includes essays from celebrities like Larry King and Daisy Fuentes.

I Am My Mother’s Daughter: Making Peace with Mom Before it’s Too Late by Iris Krasnow.

pet-projectsThey never snicker behind your back about that unfortunate outfit you wore, or comment on the couple of extra pounds you put on over the holidays; they’re always happy to see you, even if you’ve only been gone 20 minutes. The pets in our lives give so much and ask so little – why not make something special for them?

Pet Projects: the Animal Knits Bible by Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne is packed with all kinds of ideas for special gifts for your pets. They run the gamat from practical (dog coats and collars) to fanciful (a tent for your turtle) Dogs get the most attention, but there are toys and pillows for cats, a blanket for your prized horse, even a tiny (adorable) knitted house for your hamster. Most patterns are for knitting or crocheting, but there is also some embroidery and a section on re-purposing old sweaters into dog coats. All of the projects have a touch of humor, for instance there is a rug for your cat except instead of a bearskin, it’s shaped like a mouse-skin as if your mighty hunter had slayed a giant rodent. Or take a look at the “Anti-Firework Dog Balaclava”, a snood-like hat with extra earmuff protection to muffle loud, scary noises.

It’s all charming, adorable and whimsical – much like your favorite four-legged friend.


I actually heard this book being recommended by Dr. Phil (not that I’m not a regular viewer). How ironic and fortunate that myself and a coworker were able to attend and hear University of Iowa professor Dr. Durham speak about her book this past February to The Women’s Connection.

The Lolita Effect, as the subtitle states, addresses the media sexualization of young girls. Dr. Durham provides many illustrations of how our culture is obsessed with these very detrimental representations (one of my favorites: major chain stores that sell junior panties that read “who needs credit cards…”). The Lolita Effect identifies and evaluates several harmful myths such as: “if you’ve got it flaunt it” and that “violence is sexy”.  Dr. Durham  presents realistic strategies for dealing with these media myths and depictions. As one reviewer stated she approaches her topic without being too “puritanical or permissive”.lolita4

While reading the Lolita Effect, I began to wonder when and how the term “Lolita” became  equivalent to the “sexy girl”. I certainly tried my best to read Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 complete and unabridged novel, Lolita. Those Russian poets are a challenge. Middle aged Paris born Humbert Humbert (yes there are two) tells the story of his obsession with a particular type of young girl that he refers to as “nymphets”. In today’s world we call folks like this pedophiles. H.H. becomes fixated on his twelve year old stepdaughter Lolita. A very intense relationship ensues. The book was met with much controversy and has been critiqued both as –  “Old Europe debauching young America, and as Young America debauching Old Europe”.

Although the namesake and topic of “sexy young girl” is the subject in both books, they are worlds apart. Durham’s book is fresh scholarly research while  Nabokov’s  is a tragicomedy still possessing classic literary status. I should get class credit!

dollardayYou say you want to make your money go further, but how much conviction do you have to go through with it?  Doubtfully not as much as these people.

In case you hadn’t heard, these two dietary extremists decided a few months ago to get by for thirty days on $1 worth of food per day. They used the power of bulk buying and have the math and recipes to prove it. The fellow lost a bunch of weight, they were weak and tired all the time, and they had to blow what little surplus they had on Tang to avoid scurvy.

All of this to illuminate the fact millions of people subsist on this food budget around the world.

There are some ingredient ideas, however, that you could work into your own routine to relax your waistline and wallet.

For their hardship the two are semi-famous world travelers and have a book deal in the works.  A nice trade off don’t you think?

bbqJust in time for warmer temps (really, one of these days – it’s going to get warm, maybe even hot) the month of May is a great time to plan your barbecue strategy. There are lots of big reasons to fire up the grill this summer – Father’s Day, 4th of July, family reunions, graduations – but you don’t really need an excuse to get cooking. If you’re looking for tips or fresh ideas, stop by the library – we have more barbecue/grilling/outdoor cooking books than you can shake a barbecue brush at.

Serious Barbecue: Smoke, Char, Baste and Brush Your Way to Great Outdoor Cooking by Adam Perry Lang

Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book by Chris Lilly

Wood-fired Cooking: Techniques and Recipes for the Grill, Backyard Oven, Fireplace and Campfire by Mary Karlin

500 Barbecue Dishes: the Only Barbecue Compendium You’ll Ever Need by Paul Kirk

Bobby Flay’s Grill It by Bobby Flay

Jerk from Jamaica: Barbecue Caribbean Style by Helen Willinsky

Barbecue Nation: 350 Hot-off-the-Grill, Tried-and-True Recipes from America’s Backyard by Fred Thompson