What’s the first image that comes to mind when you think of Queen Victoria? I bet it’s of a photograph of her as an old woman, dressed in black widow’s weeds with a glum look on her face. With that indelible image, it’s easy to forget that she was once a young woman of 17 who loved to dance and was falling in love. The Young Victoria brings the early years of Queen Victoria’s life – just before and after her coronation – brilliantly alive.

Kept isolated and under tight control throughout her childhood by her mother, Victoria was poorly prepared to rule what was then the richest country in the world. Her mother’s adviser, Sir John Conroy, tried to force Victoria to sign a regency document allowing him to rule through her, but Victoria, showing surprising spunk and determination, refused. Just six weeks after her 18th birthday, King William died and she became Queen. Now dependent on various politicians for guidance, she found herself turning more and more to her cousin Albert.

Planned by their uncle that they should eventually marry since they were babies, Victoria and Albert did the nearly unthinkable and fell in love. They made a nearly perfect team, complimenting each others strengths, and together ruled England for 20 years until Alberts death. Victoria mourned him for another 40 years.

The Young Victoria is a sumptuous production with superb acting, beautiful settings and gorgeous costumes (which won numerous awards including an Oscar) While the screenplay fudges on some historical details, it is overall accurate, and it is especially evocative of one of the great romances of all time.

This sequel to Adriana Trigiani’s Very Valentine continues to follow custom shoemaker Valentine Roncalli and her vibrant Italian family.  Brava, Valentine opens with the romantic wedding of her 80-year-old grandmother in Tuscany, then segues back to their shop in Greenwich Village where Valentine must learn how to deal with her brother as a freshly-ordained business partner.

The most interesting scenes, however, take place in Buenos Aires, where Valentine discovers a long lost cousin who coincidentally operates a similar business.  At first cousin Roberta appears reticent and a bit defensive, actions which appear reasonable once the full, scandalous story is told.  Plus, Buenos Aires is where she passionately reunites with sexy Italian tanner, Gianluca.  True to Trigiani’s usual form, this new novel is both heartwarming and humorous.

The author, earlier known for her Big Stone Gap series, has also written an entertaining cookbook, Cooking with My Sisters, which includes many memorable anecdotes and photos of her colorful family.

Are you on your way to a dinner party where you know people will be dropping the names of hot new authors? And you barely have time to skim the newspaper, let alone devour big, fat sagas the way you used to do?

Well, look no further than www.earlyword.com. It’ll give you quick reviews of popular and notorious books, movies based on books, books featured on Oprah, Comedy Central, etc.  It even forecasts “Major Titles on Sale in the Coming Week,” (no one can blame you for not reading what hasn’t even hit the shelves yet!)

A favorite of librarians, Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust reviews are featured prominently.

In the Book Group link, you’ll find information about authors available for book group discussions by phone.

Can’t remember the book everyone is suddenly talking about? You can quickly check the New York Times Bestsller lists.

*Motto of Newsweek’s book reviewer. “You love reading newsy nonfiction, but you just don’t have the time. We get it, and we’re here to help. Give us five minutes, and we’ll give you the whole book—the big ideas, the best bits, the buzziest details. And you’ll get hours of your life back…”

“Remarkable” can describe many things in this novel – the remarkable time period (the early 1800s) when the pursuit of science became the rage, the remarkable fossils being discovered and studied, and the two remarkable women – based on real people – who did so much to uncover the fossils that challenged the beliefs of the time.

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier is set in Lyme-Regis, on the southwest coast of England. Spinster Elizabeth Philpot and her two sisters have been forced by reduced circumstances to leave their comfortable life in London and move to a smaller, less expensive house. Their new location suits Elizabeth; she has no hope of suitors and soon becomes addicted to searching for the fossils that can be found along the sandy beaches. It is here that she runs into Mary Anning and a friendship, spanning social status, age and circumstance is quickly forged. Mary has a gift for finding the half-hidden fossils – sometimes complete skeletons – and these remarkable discoveries eventually attract the attention of the scientific community at large. The attention brings much needed income and (some) credit to the women, but it also causes tension, misunderstandings and finally a falling out. This remarkable friendship, with it’s ebbs and flows and eventual  renewal, form the core of this fascinating story.

As expected, Chevalier does a wonderful job of setting the time period and creating a believable atmosphere. Her characters are also carefully drawn, each with their own complex motivations, from the various scientists that visit them to the townspeople who snub them, and she brings this fascinating story of the past alive again.

One man’s junk…can still be that dude’s junk.  But oh, it can be repurposed into something functional and amazing!

-As of June 2008, there have been more than 1 billion personal computers distributed worldwide.
-The average American goes through a cell phone every 12 to 18 months, leaving 700 million sitting in desk drawers for a rainy day.

Those are just the appliances you’ve used recently.  How about your rotary phone, external modem, parallel port scanner, etc?

Enter the new book 62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer (and Other Discarded Electronics) by Randy Sarafan and you can construct an iMac terrarium, RAM money clip,  and a scanner compost bin among many useful inventions.  I mean, what else were you planning to do with that stuff?

If you’re a fan of television it’s probably happened to you – and probably more than once. You start watching a new show, you really enjoy it and start to follow it and then – BAM! – it gets canceled, usually before an important story line is finished. A lot of these shows are critical darlings, but never found a large audience, or they’re the victim of being moved to different nights and times too often. The Hollywood writer’s strike two years ago was devastating for several shows. While we can’t fire up production again on some of these beloved shows, thanks to DVDs the library can give you a chance to go back and re-live many shows, even those with too short of a run to go to syndication. Here’s just a sampling of what we have available:

Veronica Mars (victim of network tinkering, the first season is outstanding, 2nd and 3rd seasons go progressively downhill)

Firefly (yanked by FOX despite rabid fan following; those fans helped push the making of the feature film, Serenity)

Better Off Ted (funnier than The Office, this corporate snark-fest was big on laughs, low on viewers partly because it’s schedule changed constantly)

Eli Stone (creative thinking outside the box and the writer’s strike spelled doom for this fun drama)

Pushing Daisies (nothing else quite like it on tv – funny, romantic, silly, profound, and colorful with pies! – the writer’s strike prevented it from picking up the audience it deserved)

What about you? Any short-lived tv series you’d love to see again?

It’s that time of year again – great weather and important events have arrived! Graduations, weddings, reunions, holidays, vacations – they’re just around the corner.  Time to brush up on your photography skills so you can capture all those special moments.

There’s no better place to start than BetterPhoto Basics by Jim Miotke – whether you’re an enthusiastic amateur or an absolute beginner you’ll find lots of inspiration. The great thing about this book is that the majority of tips and ideas work with virtually any camera – Miotke even talks about using the camera on your iPhone! (proving once again that the best camera is the one you have with you) Tips are simple but effective – making the best use of available light, fill your frame with your subject, using the rule of thirds to compose a shot, checking the background. Throughout Miotke encourages creativity and experimenting – often simply looking at your world from a different angle can produce amazing shots. A series of simple photo assignments will help you apply these ideas. There’s even a chapter on easy fixes you can do with your photos on your computer.

Now there’s no more excuses for blurry, uninteresting photos – this book will fix those problems and make capturing memories fun!

Beautiful, wealthy and secure in her place in society, Emma Woodhouse rules her tiny part of England with a sunny disposition. Emma occupies herself with somewhat clumsy if well-meaning attempts at matchmaking, yet she completely misses seeing her own true love until it is almost too late. The latest adaptation of the beloved Jane Austen novel (first shown on PBS), this version of Emma succeeds in every way.

As you would expect from a BBC production, every detail is exquisite. Costumes, scenery, settings, props all help to bring this version of Emma beautifully to life. The film reflects the bright and sunny personality of the heroine with lush gardens, elegant homes, lively conversation and charming villages. Beautifully adapted and acted, you will not be disappointed.

There are many film versions of all of Austen’s books; one of the great advantages of the mini-series versus a feature film is that there is much more room for the story to grow and develop; side stories that add interest and atmosphere need not be cut and the main characters can shine as they should. All of this comes together here making it a pleasure to slip into the sharp and witty world of Austen.

Heavenly indeed. Rose Beranbaum’s newest book, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes will send anyone who loves cake (and really, who doesn’t love cake?) into raptures of delight. Watch out – just looking at the pictures might cause you to gain weight!

Recently named the Cookbook of the Year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes covers cakes of all kinds, from simple to complicated. Arrangement is by type of cake – butter and oil, sponge, flourless and cheesecakes, baby cakes (cupcakes and individual cakes) and wedding cakes. They run the gamut from traditional – angel food cake, trifle, triamisu – to the complex – Miette’s Tomboy, Golden Dream Wedding Cake – to the spectacular – such as the Apple Caramel Charlotte or the Holiday Pinecone Cake.

Recipes are presented in Beranbaum’s signature style – ingredients listed in a chart, special equipment and techniques explained, detailed instructions on creating the cake, tips and suggestions for success. While many of the cakes may seem to be only for the professional or the experienced baker, Beranbaum’s friendly, can-do style and excellent instructions offer plenty of encouragement for anyone. If you’d like to start with something a little less ambitious, there are plenty of simple, mouthwatering cakes too. And after a taste of success and you’re ready to stretch your baking wings, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes will be your guide.

Planning a trip to a National Park this summer? or Want to enjoy some of the natural beauty from afar? Check out University of Iowa Digital Library’s collection of thousands of images of U.S. National Parks taken by University of Iowa Geosciences Department (http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/geoscience/). You can browse the entire collection or search for a specific park, landmark, or natural formation. Here are a few of my favorites I found by searching for flowers and lake respectively:

Avalanche Lilies at Olympic National Park (Wash.); The University of Iowa

Avalanche Lilies at Olympic National Park (Wash.); The University of Iowa Department of Geoscience

Fishing from Trail Creek dock, Southeast Arm, Yellowstone Lake, at sunset; Photograph taken by Richard G. Baker of The University of Iowa Department of Geoscience

Fishing from Trail Creek dock, Southeast Arm, Yellowstone Lake, at sunset; Photograph taken by Richard G. Baker of The University of Iowa Department of Geoscience