Cecelia Ahern is the young author of several bestsellers, including PS I Love You which was made into a movie starring Hilary Swank.  Ahern  combines elements of a tear-jerker with humor in the story about a young woman  struggling to get on with her life after the death of her husband. Her eccentric family and  the  letters from her husband Gerry  guide her through the process.

The celebrity of the author nearly outweighs the book. A telegenic 21-year old when she wrote the bestseller, Ahern was also the producer and co-creator of the tv series Samantha Who? And before that, a member of an Irish band. Three more of her books are being made into movies and she is now all of 28.

She is also the daughter of the former prime minister of Ireland, Bertie Ahern. Can’t get much more Irish than that.

Many years ago, one summer evening I was switching channels, trying to find something other than reruns. On IPTV, I came across a charming show about a village in Ireland. It had quirky characters, an English Catholic priest who didn’t want to be there and an feisty Irish lady Barkeep. Thus began my love affair with Ballykissangel. It was a wonderful BBC soap opera, which was broadcast 1996 – 2001. There is humor and sadness. Peter Clifford, ( Stephen Tompkinson) a young Catholic priest from Manchester, is transferred to the village of Ballykissangel, Ireland, and is taken by the dry-humored publican Assumpta Fitzgerald (Dervla Kirwan) who has almost the exact opposite of his good nature and dislikes the organized church. As soap operas, go this one was very good. The third season was the best as Peter and Assumpta declare their love and are going to leave Ballykissangel.

Both Stephen Tompkinson and Dervla Kriwan left the show at the end of the third season. The 4th, 5th and 6th seasons were good, but didn’t compare to the first 3 seasons. During the last 3 seasons a young actor, Col Farrell, joined the show. He is now know as Colin Farrell, star of many major motion pictures. Stephen Tompkinson now stars in a IPTV show called Wild at Heart, which we also own.

Marian Keyes, a native of Ireland, gives American readers a native’s  view of the differences in culture between Londoners and Dubliners.

Sushi for Beginners has some of the elements of a stereotypical chick lit book (a frank, outspoken heroine, a cadre of funny pals, a glamourous profession). But she goes beyond the usual undemanding plots with an extra twist of being set in Dublin, which, apparently, is quite the backwater for the hyper-ambitious boss of our heroine.

Ashling works for Lisa, a ruthless fashionista, who is responsible for a new Irish fashion magazine, Colleen, and makes her subordinates pay dearly for the stress she is under. Jack Devine arrives just in time from the United States; to leaven Lisa’s power and to provide the spark of potential romance. The daily grind of the magazine world is depicted as mostly very hard work, with the occasional perks fought over by Ashling, Lisa and their co-workers.

Keyes is one of the first of the genre and is one of the grittier and more uncensored. She isn’t afraid to address topics like the alcoholism and serious depression of her  characters.

Feeling a bit of cabin fever, but still a little too chilly and damp for an outdoor excursion? Distract yourself from that restless feeling with an afternoon of crafting. With the help of Decorating with Papercraft, you’ll not only have fun, you’ll end up with something beautiful – and it’s ecologically friendly to boot!

This slim craft book contains a treasure-trove of ideas, from papier mache bowls to lamp shades to boxes and journals. You can indulge in some lovely new papers from the craft store (maybe to make the charming cartons shown on the cover of the book) or use materials at hand – yesterday’s newspaper into paper flowers perhaps? The crafts are fun and cheerful – a mobile of airplanes made out of maps, giant, 3-dimensional snowflakes for the mantel – and are useful or decorative (or both). Most of the projects are reasonably doable, with clear instructions and easy-to-find supplies and only require an hour or two to complete. Keeping cabin fever at bay has never been so fun.

Like all boys growing up in Rome during the 1930’s and 40’s, the author was expected to join Balilla, Mussolini’s Fascist Youth Organization in Italy.  An unwilling participant, he counters this activity by becoming a bicycle runner, secretly delivering pamphlets and other materials to members of the Resistance.  Later, near the end of the war, after Italy has surrendered to the Allies but is still controlled by a puppet German government, Romagnoli flees Rome to avoid military conscription.  Hiding in the remote mountainous countryside, he becomes even more dangerously involved in the Resistance, working with both American and British soldiers.

But The Bicycle Runner, which covers his life from ages 14-25, is much more than a war story.  In fact, it reads much more like a coming-of-age novel, full of the usual adolescent angst weaved together with plenty of humorous anecdotes.  Examples include his descriptions of fearful confessions to the local priest (which the entire congregation can hear)  to his first experiences with love and lust.

The author may be better known for co-hosting the first American television program on Italian cooking, The Romagnoli’s Table, for which he  coauthored two companion books.  Though he passed away in December of 2008, the love for his native land and culture comes through strikingly clear;  the subtitle, A Memoir of Love, Loyalty and the Italian Resistance, is perfectly appropriate.

submitted by Georgann

Aptly subtitled “the Ultimate Guidebook,” Hawaii: the Big Island Revealed was a great help to us on our recent trip to The Big Island. Authors Andrew Doughty and Harriett Friedman were terrific “tour guides.” The prose is well-written, humorous and thorough. I was so glad we took this book along!

It can be overwhelming to plan a trip to a far-away place, but the authors told us what to do and what to skip. All the recommendations they made were well worth following. And when we didn’t follow but struck out on our own, our results were less than stellar. I liked how they rated places to see with “Real Gem” or “Not to be Missed” icons.

The authors tell you where to turn by mile marker. I had no idea how extremely helpful that would be until we began driving and realized that there is very little signage along the roads. Businesses are not allowed signs in front, but only can put their names on the buildings themselves, so it is easy to drive right by and miss the place you were looking for. Also, even the highways signs were different, so the mile marker directions were important.

Our guidebook made it safely to The Big Island, was well used while there, and is back on the shelf at the library. If you are planning a trip, take this “Real Gem” along! Even if you aren’t going, it is a fun and interesting read!

After 48 years of marriage, Joseph has asked Betty for a divorce, citing “irreconcilable differences”. This confuses Betty because of course they have “irreconcilable differences” – what did that have to do with divorce? And thus begins a tale of manners and family ties, heartbreak and second chances.

To save money Betty and her two adult daughters – each facing life changing situations of their own – move into a dilapidated cottage on Long Island, loaned to them by an benevolent cousin. It is here that each woman faces her new future, making connections to their neighbors, town and each other that are both unexpected and comforting.

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine is a decidedly modern look at society, inspired by the novels of Jane Austen (you’ll recognize a lot of Sense and Sensibility and a bit of Pride and Prejudice here) Witty, thoughtful, sharply observant, this is a novel of picking up the pieces and starting anew.

One final tip from the latest book, New Frugality.  If you can, buy college in advance.

Between 1982 and 2007 the cost of fees and tuition rose 439 percent.  Even when adjusting for inflation, the increasing cost of college education is greatly outpacing the purchasing power of the dollar.

So, if it is a foregone conclusion that screeching diaper-clad sleep thief will end up in a dorm someday,  you can purchase it down in advance.  Sometimes, you can even lock in today’s price and future proof yourself.

There are 529 plans, which offer tax-free withdrawal on earnings in the account, since the profit is earmarked for a future college education.  Some states also offer prepaid college tuition accounts, where you can lock in semesters today even though they will surely cost ridiculous amounts tomorrow..

On a side note, did you know that Augustana costs around $47,000 a year?

Jason and Whit Fireson keep dying, but they can’t seem to stay dead.

Leaders of the notorious, bank-robbing Firefly Gang, they wake up one day in a small-town morgue with no idea on how they got there. They should be dead – they both sport apparently fatal gunshot wounds – yet miraculously they’ve survived. Slipping away before the authorities realize what’s happened, they race to complete one more big job and to find the women they love.

Set in 1934 with the country mired in the Great Depression, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers follows the adventures – and deaths – of the outlaws as they race across the Midwest, J Edgar Hoover’s fledgling FBI agency hot on their heels. To the common people, the Firefly brothers are seen as daring heroes, striking a blow against a broken system, and the stories of their escapades reach mythic proportions. To the law they’re an embarrassment that must be stopped.

Mullen does an incredible job of evoking the atmosphere of the times from the cars and the slang to the desperation, the fear, the feeling that society itself was breaking down. There’s a little of everything here – kidnapping, gun fights, car chases, narrow escapes, blood and violence.  There’s also loyalty and friendship, family ties that reach across time and distance, love that outlasts death with an ending that leaves plenty of room for discussion.

With the last years’ worth of talk about passenger rail between here and Chicago, there is a vivid battle on our local papers’ comment pages between the “that would be nice” faction and the “they’re just trying to get re-elected, where will the money come from?” team.

Before taking a side, one might wish to peruse this fresh book by James McCommons, Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service.

This one isn’t gathering dust on our shelf.  People are using it no doubt to bolster their arguments.  That being said, how cool would it be for Cubs fans and the 75% of the University of Iowa students from Chicagoland? Or, nationally, anyone spending two hours riding the bus in Los Angeles for lack of infrastructure?