shanghai-girls1In 1937 Shanghai, Pearl and her sister May are living a glamorous, sophisticated life, modeling as “beautiful girls” for the painters of magazine covers and calendar pages. Their sheltered, privileged world comes to a shattering halt when their Father loses everything and he must sell them into marriage. At first they are able to escape this fate, but when the war begins and the Japanese attack their beloved city, they must flee for their lives.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See follows the harrowing journey that the sisters must undertake – the hardship, the pain and the betrayals as they try to escape the Japanese and find a safe haven first in Hong Kong, then in San Francisco. Throughout it all the sisters remain each others staunchest supporters through good times and bad, through arranged marriages, lost children and oppressive discrimination. Their triumph is that, not only do they emerge from their trials as stronger people, they come through it together.

See also wrote the wildly popular Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, also set in China, and has done extensive research to fill her story with authentic detail. Her story gives us unique views of the past – the Japanese invasion of China and the suffering of the Chinese people at their conquerors hands, the discrimination against the Chinese in America and the Red Scare fear of communist threat that created suspicion against the Chinese in America in the 1950s.

While the trails and suffering that Pearl and May must endure sometimes seem almost endless, the author has left us with a cliffhanger ending, promising a possible sequel and future hope for the beautiful girls from Shanghai.

dreaming-greenInterested in making your home more “green” and eco-friendly? Afraid that that means that you’ll have to live in a cave or a tiny, windowless shack far from civilization? Then you need to turn to Dreaming Green by Lisa Sharkey and Paul Gleicher – you’ll be amazed at just how beautiful, modern and stylish being ecologically responsible can be!

The 15 featured houses range in location from urban to suburban to rural,  and are scattered throughout the country. While the house styles are mostly modern, they also include a cozy farmhouse, a traditional southern manor and a classic saltbox with a twist. While all of the houses are gorgeous, they are not merely for show – these are family homes that are loved and lived in.

While many of these homes are new-built, many are also renovations showing that being eco-friendly doesn’t require starting from scratch. Beautifully photographed, each house includes a list of “green features” that will inspire you on just how much can be done and there is an extensive list of resources at the back of the book to help you with your own quest for green. There is an emphasis on details – small changes can make a big difference – and going local both with labor and materials. All of the homes take advantage of location and make strong connections to the outside environment. All of it is beautifully done, with style and sophistication.

loving_frankFrank Lloyd Wright led a very interesting life.  When I first picked up this fictionalized account, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan,  I assumed it would be about his third wife, Olgivanna, and their stay at Taliesin West in Arizona.  I was surprised to discover that it actually covered his affair with Mamah (pronounced May-muh) Borthwick Cheney of Oak Park, Illinois that occurred between 1907-1914.  Both left their spouses and children, spent time in Europe together and became frequent fodder for scandalous stories in the press.  Writing a novel about real people must be challenging, but particularly so when most of what was available as historical record was yellow journalism.

The author does an excellent job of protraying Mamah, providing plausible motivations for her actions, while still framing them within the social contraints and criticisms of that time.  This is not just some sentimental romance, but a thought-provoking story about society, freedoms and consequences.  Add to that an early and violent death, and you have the makings for your next  book-discussion group title.

home-powerWhat’s cool about magazines is that they teach you how to do really useful and practical things, but in a painless and fun way. The Main Street  library has two new titles that do just that.

Food Network Magazine is chuck full of recipes: check out the best burger in each state with Bobby Flay (in Iowa it’s the Famous Garbage Burger in Ames), peruse the recipes for “50 Summer Drinks,” and plan a Father’s Day cookout.

Learn how to save energy by browsing through Home Power Magazine. Recent articles tell you how to buy a wind generator, smarter power strips, energy saving digital TV converter boxes and investing in solar electricity.

woman-with-birthmarkIf you liked the Inspector Wallender programs on PBS Masterpiece Mystery (the DVD is coming out next month!) immerse yourself in another Swedish police procedural.

Woman with Birthmark by Hakan Nesser stars an extremely cranky Chief Inspector Van Veeteren. This time he is placed in charge of an investigation into a series of homicides. Men are shot at close range above (and below) the belt. The reader knows who the killer is, but not the motivation. Nesser is a master at creating an atmosphere of tension and subtle dread. The violence and dialogue is never overstated and is all the more effective for that.

Both Henning Mankell (author of the Kurt Wallender mysteries) and Nesser illustrate why the mysteries of Sweden, Iceland, and Norway are so popular right now.

bergBarnes & Noble and the Moline Public Library snagged a pretty big fish; the Quad-Cities should be proud! Berg read from Home Safe and answered wide-ranging questions from a full house at the Moline Public Library Tuesday afternoon.

We learned that both daughters are writers (one professionally and one potentially), she’d like to serve tea to E.B. White and have a drink (vodka) with Marilyn Monroe (this in response to a question about who Berg would most  like to have tea with). She said she’d be too nervous to drink tea with White, so would rather serve him and a guest.

We learned also that the Oakbrook, IL author was a nurse before she was an author, was involved in a Second-City type of drama group in the Twin Cities, and likes to quilt but doesn’t think she is good at it.  The book she recently recommended to NPR was Beat That by Ann Hodgman – a cookbook that is just fun to read.

She talked about how devastating her experience with writer’s block was and how this led to her current book. Her daily routine of writing all morning (she normally writes till early afternoon in her pajamas and said her Fedex man must think she had a very long-lasting case of flu). She talked about her dry spell with her daughter, who suggested that she write about it. Home Safe is about Helen, a well-known novelist, who is unable to write after husband of many years dies suddenly. Helen gradually “fills her well” with life experience, such as teaching a writing class of disparate individuals (a high point of the novel). All of Elizabeth Berg’s  fans are grateful that her daughter’s suggestion was successful.

2207162644_bf88558cb2Those two cups nobody wanted from this morning have lost their aroma and flavor as a straight beverage. They’re not good for anything except tomorrow’s 6AM supercharge, with the characteristic post-slurp wince.

This neat tip from the May 2009 Consumer Reports’ Shop Smart magazine: “Coffee is a great flavoring, says chef Steve Petusevsky, of Roundy’s Supermarkets.”

-Freeze leftovers in ice-cube trays and add to iced coffee. This trick keeps your iced coffee from getting watery as the cubes melt.

-Substitute coffee for the water in brownie or chocolate cake mixes. It imbues a richer flavor.

-Replace part of the liquid in stews or barbecue sauce with strong coffee. Again, the coffee adds to the flavor, and you can save your wine for drinking!

-Substitute coffee for water in your favorite baked-beans recipe or add a litle when heating canned baked beans.

-Use coffee as a meat marinade. it imparts a subtle flavor, its acidity helps break down tougher cuts of beef or pork, and it adds a nice earthy flavor to poultry.

dday1D-Day was June 6th, 1944.  This year marks its 65th anniversary.  For those who served so long ago, let us take a moment to remember them.  As members of that generation die out, we lose those incredibly precious first-hand accounts.  For those of us born later, we can always rely on the history that has been faithfully recorded  in books and videos.

Check out D-Day:Reflections of Courage, a DVD put out by BBC Video. Shot on location and told from the various point-of-views of American, British, French and German participants, it is an excellent overview of this historic day.

ten-days-to-d-day1If you prefer a written version, try Ten Days to D-Day by David Stafford. The Normandy invasion was the largest single-day amphibious invasion of all time, landing 160,000 troops on that fateful day in June. An operation that large, involving several different governments and armies required unprecedented planning. Told from several points-of-view, from the Generals and Presidents to the soldiers and civilians, this is a gripping story of courage and sacrifice.

the-longest-dayYou might also want to take a look at The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan, the acknowledged classic of the invasion. Ryan interviewed participants shortly after the war while memories were still fresh and skillfully weaves their personal stories into the overall history. A must-read for history buffs.

And watch for the ongoing Honor Flights, now being conducted throughout the country (Davenport just sent a group in April; another is scheduled for October) Volunteers fly veterans of World War II to Washington D.C. to visit the recently built World War II Memorial. All expenses for the veterans are paid by contributions – a small return to these everyday heroes from a grateful nation.

Of course the record labels all want artists in their stables to be the big summer hit on every car stereo.   I can’t speak to which ones they’ll crow about,  but these are a few new titles we’re getting of interest.



Tinted Windows – Tinted Windows I don’t know what to make from this Frankenstein band composed of various rock pop acts from the last 30 years.  I’m curious to find out what happens when  you mix in the drummer from Cheap Trick, the guitar player from Smashing Pumpkins, the bass player from Fountains of Wayne and the singer from Hanson….that’s what I said…Hanson.

Beck – One Foot in the Grave This is a re-release of Beck’s second album from 1994, prior to Mellow Gold and the hit track, Loser.  Apparently a more acoustic feel, and, included in the re-release are 13 previously unreleased tracks.


Crystal Method – Divided by Night Looking forward to this one. Everything they turn out has a few bassy floor busters on it that take the drudgery out of house chores or risk giving you a speeding ticket

Yusuf Islam – Roadsinger The politically-embattled artist formerly known as Cat Stevens comes out of musical hiding for the first time in decades.  Lets hope it works out better for him than it did for Guns and Roses.


Moby — Wait for Me Multiinstrumentalist and electronic pioneer Moby is sure to have a disc worth at least one spin of your time.  It’s hard to predict what old gospel blues refrains he’ll sample in to a layered composition.  If his past works are any indication, it will be painstakingly crafted, sell millions, and possibly take home Grammys.

Dave Matthews Band – Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King I’m not a fan at all of this world/funk/acoustic outfit, but there is no denying that this dude’s ensemble sells out stadiums…fast  This album dedicated to saxophone player LeRoi Moore who  passed away last year.


Brad Paisley — American Saturday Night A contemporary artist with a traditional country sound,  cuts off this forthcoming album are sure to feature this frontman’s signature fast-picking guitar licks.

Black Eyed Peas – E.N.D. Reunited after Fergie and’s solo work, this fifth studio album will be supplemented by opening for U2 on the road

Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown Their adolescent punk anthems of my teenage years have given way to more political tones and concept albums recently.  According to one review I’ve read, this is a rock opera that follows a couple living in the American Dystopia.  I’m thinking little ditties about Jack and Diane, who are all in all just Bricks in the Wall.  One guarantor of success is Butch Vig (Nirvana – Nevermind, Smashing Pumpkins –  Siamese Dream) behind the mixing console.  Now if only I could find a way to fight the feeling to apply for AARP every time I see a tween in the library with a Green Day shirt.

Be a frequent checker of our Forthcoming CD’s section of the website.  You can get your copy reserved before they even hit our shelf.

sweetness-at-the-bottom-of-the-pieFlavia deLuce is one of the most winning heroines to come along in a long time – wickedly funny, whip smart with a passion for chemistry (especially poisons) – and all of eleven-years-old. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie delivers this unique and charming voice in one of the best mysteries of the year.

It’s 1950 in England where Flavia, her Father the Colonel and her two older sisters live at Buckshaw, their decaying family mansion. The family, in the tradition of English novels, is full of eccentrics with the Colonel proccupied with his stamp collecting, and Flavia’s sisters having little time (or regard) for her. Flavia keeps busy in her well-stocked chemistry lab, plotting revenge.

When a murder is committed in the cucumber patch at Buckshaw, Flavia believes it is “by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life”. When her father is arrested for the crime, Flavia leaps to action.  Riding her trusty steed (bicycle) Gladys, she asks questions, investigates clues and begins to put together the web of intrigue. She’s daring, resourceful and perceptive and gets to the answer quicker than anyone else. After all, who better than a young girl to find the answers – children are mostly unseen and their intelligence is usually underestimated, allowing Flavia more freedom then adults.

Readers will be happy to know that this is the first of a planned series of six books with the next title due early next year, where we can follow Flavia in another unique predicament.