On any hot, humid August day, what better way to cool down than by reading about cold? Real, icy 40-below cold.  Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places may send shivers down your spine as it easily entertains and educates about all aspects of this little four-letter word.  Author Bill Streever uses a loosely organized style — almost blog-like — to share all sorts of trivia, including stories from doomed Arctic expeditions as well as amusing anecdotes and easily understandable scientific explanations. Whether you’re curious about seals or snowflakes, igloos or icebergs, hibernation or helium, you’ll likely discover some new tibdit of information with which you can regale your friends. 

To give just one example of these rather obscure tidbits, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was written in 1816, in what was known as the “Year Without Summer.”  She and other guests were staying at Lord Byron’s Geneva retreat, but the weather was so bad, the guests were forced to stay indoors, so Lord Byron challenged them all to come up with ghost stories.  Her novel, published two years later, actually starts with letters from an Arctic explorer and ends with the creature drifting away on an Arctic ice floe. 

Each chapter in Cold is a different month of the year, each with its own location and corresponding temperature.  July is the opening chapter, with a temperature of 51 degrees, as he describes his five-minute experience in the 35-degree water of Prudhoe Bay, located 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  September finds him climbing Scotland’s highest peak, and January finds him back in Anchorage, where he lives and serves as the chair of the North Slope Science Initiative’s Science Technical Advisory Panel.  For people like me, who most likely will never get to the Arctic Circle, this book provides an insight — and yes, even an appreciation of — all things cold.

Hot enough for you? Try cooling off with books and movies set in cold climes and cold countries. This week some of our blogging librarians recommend their favorite reads for cooling off.

Set on the coldest continent – high temperatures in Antarctica rarely get above freezing  – Elizabeth Arthur’s lyrical Antarctic Navigation is a heady mix of history, anthropology, environmental responsibility, science, human relationships and feminism all packed into one weighty tome. It’s also the adventure story of a lifetime.

Long fascinated by the lure of Antarctica, Morgan Lamont decides to bring attention the careless destruction of the environment by recreating the Robert Scott’s failed 1910 expedition to the South Pole. She assembles a talented team of scientists and researchers, outfits them with gear and equipment (including sled dogs) and researches Scott’s route and experiences. Even the best laid plans, however, can’t prepare Morgan for the human interactions and entanglements; when tragedy strikes these loyalties and ties are put to the test under the most difficult conditions imaginable.

In addition to the fascinating details of exactly how much work and planning is required to undertake such a mission, there is a lot of reflection on Scott’s historic trip. Scott is considered a hero, especially in England, despite the fact that he failed to be the first to reach the South Pole and ultimately died within a days walk of home camp. His bravery and his dedication to doing the right thing created an iconic figure, something that Morgan examines and tests in her own expedition.

It’s not all philosophy though – there are nail-biting action sequences and many interesting characters in the team Morgan assembles.  Throughout the book, however,  the real star is Antarctica herself – fascinating, distant, ferocious and beautiful, a a haunting land of dreams and sorrows.

By now, if you planted a garden this spring (perhaps with a bit of help and advice from the library), your kitchen counters are beginning to overflow with tomatoes and zucchini. Even if you didn’t put in a garden (or had some bad luck with the weather or pests), the Freight House Farmer’s Market is a treasure trove of gorgeous, fresh, local fruits and vegetables. Here are some new cookbooks to help you get the most out of the harvest.

Homegrown by Marta Teegen. This charming book is loaded with lots of information, clearly and concisely presented. Not sure when to pick the eggplant? Wondering what to do with all that Swiss chard? Reach for this book. Recipes and practical growing tips make this a winner.

More Vegetables Please! by Elson Haas and Patty James. Squeezing more vegetables into your diet can be fun and delicious. You’ll find lots of kid-friendly recipes here that are packed with nutrition and flavor.

Seasonal Fruit Desserts by Deborah Madison. OK, maybe your tangerine tree hasn’t started producing yet, but the Farmer’s Market is filled with the summer bounty of peaches, raspberries, melons and apples. Fruits of all kind take center stage in dozens of tempting recipes.

Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner tells a story that seems all too familiar right now:  a politician is caught cheating on his loyal wife of three decades.  Sylvie, the wronged and distraught wife, isn’t sure what to do with herself, since her life has been solely about helping her husband with his political career for their entire marriage.  This book tells the story of how she, along with her daughters Diana and Lizzie, cope with the senator’s indescretions.  Sylvie finds solace, and unexpected company, when she decides to cope at her family’s old summer house in Connecticut.  The story gets complicated, since Sylvie’s daughters are going through troubles of their own when the scandal breaks:  Lizzie has just gotten through with another stint in rehab, and Diana is stuck in a loveless marriage and has responded by carrying on her own extramarital affair.

What I love about Jennifer Weiner’s books is that the characters are real and relatable.  They are flawed, and they remind you of people you know.  This is the case with this book.  It feels like a scandal ripped from the headlines, but with enough personality and emotion that you feel like you know Sylvie and want nothing more than to comfort her and tell her to be strong.  But my favorite character had to be Lizzie.  Though she struggled through a lot, she worked hard to overcome her demons and make a good life for herself and anyone else who surprisingly came along….

If you haven’t read them yet, I highly recommend checking out some of Jennifer Weiner’s other books, including In Her Shoes, which was later adapted into a hit movie starring Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz as sisters Rose and Maggie.  But my personal favorite of Jennifer Weiner’s works (and the favorite of so many other women I know) is Good In Bed.  The book is about a plus-sized woman who finds out her boyfriend is writing about her and her size in his column (titled Good In Bed) in a Cosmo-like magazine.  The book is both witty and emotional, and I kind of wanted to be Cannie’s best friend by the end.  Pick up any one of Jennifer Weiner’s books, and I bet you won’t be disappointed.

Here are a few more ways to save significant amounts of money from the new book by Jeff Yeager called Cheapskate Next Door.

-Cut pieces of foam insulating board to fit windows in the winter and put them in at night or when you’re away to save a fortune on heat.

-Save big money on a car rental by helping auto transport companies relocate vehicles.  Lay down a deposit and they’ll provide a vehicle and tank of gas for approved drivers.

-Over a lifetime you’ll save about 5,000 gallons of gas and $30,000 or more by driving only cars with manual transmissions.

-Dry cleaning is a $9 billion a year business in the United States, loaded with toxic chemicals.  According to an article in Consumer Reports, “Dry-cleaning isn’t the only way to safely clean garments labeled dry-clean only, and other methods might even do a better job.”

Every Iowan needs to take a trip to West Branch to learn about the humanitarian who was our 31st president. Before and after his presidency, he used his management skills and financial resources to help people around the world.

Before he was president, Hoover was chairman of the American Commission for Relief in Belgium. In 1915, he reported, “All Belgium is now on a ration of 10 ounces of bread per day, rich and poor alike, …” (from the Historical New York Times, available through the PrairieCat catalog under the Find Articles tab). Because Hoover was able to get food shipped to Belgium in time to save millions from starvation, he is regarding as a hero there today. Streets and plazas have been named after him. According to a NPR report, “Hoovermania in Belgium,” he organized feeding “more than nine million people every day for four long years . ” He was an “international symbol of American generosity and practical idealism. ”

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum displays give you insight into the depths of gratitude felt by Belgians during and after World War 1. The Belgians embroidered flour sacks with expressions of thanks to Hoover.

The taped interviews also make you understand a little bit of the horrors of  the widespread starvation felt by Europeans.  One man tells of the wonder of getting a bread roll, dubbed “Hoover rolls.”

So, celebrate Hoover’s birthday with a trip to West Branch and learn a little more about a truly fascinating man.

The final installment of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, was released at the beginning of the summer to rave reviews along with a bit of sadness that this is the final book in the series due to Larsson’s death in 2004, shortly before this book was published.

The book begins immediately after the epic battle from the last pages of the previous book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, which leaves Lisbeth Salander recovering from her injuries hospitalized in critical condition.  Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who has been teaming up with Salander throughout the series, is working tirelessly on her behalf and is determined to get to the bottom of the intricate web of corruption within the Swedish government which runs deep and rampant.  

Blomkvist’s detective work  – exposing those who are trying to send Salander to prison for life by framing her for a variety of crimes – is fascinating and intricately detailed.  The book ends in a thrilling wrap-up of all the carefully interlaced story lines throughout the books. The Milenium Trilogy books are some of the best I have read in quite awhile – I am tempted to go on at length about the book but don’t want to reveal too much to anyone who may pick up the trilogy in the future.  In addition to complex and interesting characters, Larsson gives a vivid account of modern day Sweden.

Of course, there’s nothing new about going to flea markets and thrift stores to find treasures to decorate your house, but the current emphasis on recycling and green lifestyle make the old hobby of shopping secondhand seem hip again. Restore Recycle Repurpose by Randy Florke is just the book to inspire you.

Arranged by area (entryways, kitchens, home office, bathroom, outdoor) Florke gives you tips on what to look for – how to determine the quality of a piece and whether it might be salvageable as well as fun and unique ways to use items in new ways. While the majority of the rooms would be considered “country” or “cottage”, they are all refreshingly open and clutter-free; it is not hard to imagine the same rustic pitcher or chair fitting in comfortably in many modern or eclectic rooms. Throughout, Florke effortlessly combines practicality, comfort, eco-friendly options all while honoring the past.

After his Father’s death, Shen Tai leaves the glittering and sophisticated world of  Xianan, the capital city, and travels to the far western borders of the civilized world to Kuala Nor, the site of an epic battle where thousands died. There, in homage to his father, Tai begins to bury the dead. At night Tai can hear the ghosts of the dead howl and cry in sorrow and pain; sometimes, when one voice falls silent, he knows he has laid that ghost to rest.

Unexpectedly, two years into his mission a foreign princess gives him an unimaginable gift for his efforts – 250 rare and valuable Sardian horses. It is a gift that could change the course of empires, and it will change Tai’s life in unforeseen and unexpected ways.

Loosely based on ancient Chinese history and legend, Under Heaven is an epic novel of an ordinary man being swept into history’s current, how he adapts and how his actions change the course of his country’s path. Melding the experiences of the ordinary and the powerful, Under Heaven creates a complex and layered story of a turbulent era.

Here are a few belt-tightening culinary tips from the new book The Cheapskate Next Door by Jeff Yeager:

-Order only tap water with your meal when you go out to eat. Beverages are typically marked up 300 to 600 percent. Ordering water only will save you about $800 a year.

-Put box-wine into premium label bottles and no one will know the difference. Check AccidentalWine.com for for up to a 40% discount on premium bottles with cosmetic packaging imperfections.

-If you use a crock-pot once a week for eight hours, it will only use 30 cents of electricity a month, making cheap, tough cuts of meat fork-tender.

-Choose to host brunch, giving everyone their own quart-size ziplock bag and a serving tray of tasteful omelet ingredients.  Add a couple of eggs and boil all for fourteen minutes for perfect custom omelets, saving you $100 over a sit down dinner.

CouponMom.com proposes “cutting your grocery bill in half” with downloadable coupons and a state-by-state grocery coupon database. Owner Stephanie Nelson estimates her regular site users save $2,000 per year.