In 1930, Agatha Christie married her second husband, Max Mallowan, an archeologist, and spent many happy seasons accompanying him on his archeological digs in the Middle East. Her experiences with the people and the environment then became inspirations for many of her most famous novels including Death on the Nile, Murder in Mesopotamia, and Murder on the Orient Express. Agatha Christie wrote Come, Tell Me How You Live as response to the many people who asked her what it was like to travel around the cradle of civilization on her husband’s expeditions in Syria, Iraq and many other places.

I ADORE this book. From lamenting over her husband shoving books into her carefully packed crate at the last minute to becoming tongue-tied with feeling inferior while chatting with their architect to running out of her bedroom screaming due to being covered in mice and cockroaches (her husband recommended that she just go to sleep and then she wouldn’t notice them crawling over her…yeah right), I just found Agatha to be so lovely and Britishy and wonderful! She manages to be both neurotic yet brave, awkward yet charming, silly yet shrewd, much like a heroine in a Sophie Kinsella or Katie Fforde novel. Come, Tell Me How You Live is the perfect mixture of personal memoir and travel adventure and a fascinating snapshot of the relationship between European archeologists and the Middle Eastern peoples during the years between the wars. This little known book is a fun read for all armchair travelers and Agatha Christie fans.

Thank goodness authors and actors and artists keep using Jane Austen as a muse to keep us Janeites busy. Here is a list of a few recent Austen-related items I’ve enjoyed:

From Prada or Nada: I have been a fan of actress Camilla Belle since her Disney Channel days, so I checked out this movie for some fun and silliness. My first shock was that despite the girly title and DVD image, this film has more drama than comedy. Then my second shock came at the end of the movie when I realized I had been watching a pretty direct retelling of Sense and Sensibility! (The girls are even named Nora and Mary–I was so embarrassed it took me so long to register the plot.) The movie follows two sisters as they deal with their father’s death and moving from his wealthy home to live with their Mexican Grandmother and extended family in a poor neighborhood in East LA. The film did a fantastic job of keeping true to Austen’s story while also staying accurate to today’s society and the lives of Mexican-Americans.

Austenland by Shannon Hale: Although I tend to love films that do an Austen retelling, I am always hesitant of books that attempt the same. The exception to the rule is those self-aware books where a modern Janeite finds herself living as an Austenian Heroine in her own life. In Austenland, Jane Hayes has been given a trip to stay at Pembrook Park, one of England’s Regency Era resorts that caters to those with Jane Austen fantasies. Although at first she is hesitant to play along with the staff and actors, Jane eventually convinces herself that she will never let go of her Mr. Darcy obsession unless she fully allows herself to participate in the romantic experience. Unfortunately, her love life just gets more complicated as she begins to confuse reality and Austen fantasy. Shannon Hale just wrote a companion book called Midnight in Austenland that sets a murder mystery in Pembrook Park.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: This popular youtube series is one of my favorite new things! As you may have gathered from this post (and my other Jane Austen posts), I love Jane Austen with a modern twist, and the Lizzie Bennet Diaries add a twist that I have never seen before: they are telling the story of Pride and Prejudice in real-time! Yup, Jane started her web diaries back in April when she first found out that a young doctor, Bing Lee, bought the mansion near her parents’ home and her mother was becoming insane about it. Her and her bf, Charlotte, (along with occasional help from her sisters, Jane and Lydia, and Bing’s sister, Caroline) produce two videos a week that are usually about 3-5 minutes each. Right now, Lizzie and Jane are staying over with Bing while their mother is remodeling their home (in case they have to sell it). The actors are fantastic, the scripts are fresh, and the whole shebang is produced by youtube superstars Bernie Su and Hank Green. You can catch up on the videos directly from the LBD youtube channel: or find out more about the whole project at:

You may have heard about the recent controversy surrounding the author John Lehrer and his book Imagine: How Creativity Works in which he has recently admitted to being creative with a few of the quotes attributed to Bob Dylan. Publisher Houghton Mifflin has stopped shipping the book and has asked bookstores to pull it from the shelves. However, the book is still available for check-out at the library if you would like to take a look and see what the fuss is about. Here is my review of the book which I wrote just a few weeks before the controversy broke:

Yup, a bathroom is the key to all great creative achievements. According to Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer, Steve Jobs specifically designed the Pixar Building with one central restroom location so that all employees would find themselves in unexpected interactions throughout the day, and it is these random and often irrelevant conversations that occasionally led to the breakthroughs that have made Pixar one of the most creative and successful animation studios of all time.

Of course, there is much much more to Pixar’s creativity and success than just a bathroom, and there is much more to say about creativity than just Pixar’s way of achieving it. In Imagine, Jonah Lehrer divides his research into two parts: creative individuals and creative groups. I had chosen to read the book with hopes that the first part would inspire me to pick up my paintbrushes that I haven’t touched since college, but it was actually the second part of the book that really shook up my brains and excited me about the possibility of enacting on new creative practices in the library. A creative person can write a play, but a creative environment can create a William Shakespeare. (Lehrer’s section on how William Shakespeare never could have produced his work if he had been born in any other time or place, due to the support of theater and lax copyright enforcement, is absolutely fascinating.)

Overall, the book constantly enforces that every person is creative, but it can sometimes take drugs, mood changes, travel or even disease to get our creativity to bubble up and show itself. I highly recommend Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer to artists, writers, crafters, inventors, managers, business owners, and everyone interested in the science and magic behind mankind’s creative spirit.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's JourneyBeing Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey is the fantastic new film that celebrates the determination and talent of puppeteer Kevin Clash, aka, the man who turned a furry red monster into the loving & curious Elmo and then into an International Icon. While the rest of us were watching Sesame Street to learn our colors and letters, Kevin was studying the Muppets and how they were made. One day, he snuck into his parents’ room and ripped out his dad’s furry raincoat lining to make a monkey puppet. From that moment on, puppetry became his passion and working for the Muppet studios became his goal. How driven was Kevin? Well, he was invited to play Cookie Monster in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade while he was still in High School! Whaaaat? That’s crazy! And yet, Kevin Clash’s genius is very humbled. He still sounds slightly awestruck as he gives the cameras a tour of the Muppet Studios (despite currently being the Sesame Street’s Senior Puppet Coordinator and Muppet Captain as well as Sesame Workshop’s Senior Creative Consultant) and tells a great story about repeatedly forgetting his line while working on his first project with Frank Oz and Jim Henson. He is also not afraid to be honest about how his demanding job has affected his family life and time spent with his teenage daughter. I just really want to give him and everyone else a hug now.

Now, I know some people roll their eyes when they hear the voice of little sweet Elmo and so the thought of watching a whole documentary about Elmo is making them cringe. But I am feeling pretty confident that anyone who watches this movie will develop at least a little soft spot for the lovable red monster after watching Kevin hang out with Make-a-Wish kids and explain his reasoning behind why Elmo gives so many hugs. This is an amazing film for all ages of Muppet fans, but also for any fans of the creative, hardworking human spirit. And remember: Elmo loves you!

Like many people, I have been watching a lot of NatGeo’s new show, Doomsday Preppers and have quickly come to realize that my education is sadly lacking in food preservation methods and bug-out techniques. I am no Katniss Everdeen!

For those unfamiliar with this ridiculously awesome show, each episode of Doomsday Preppers features several different people (or families) who are prepping for a variety of end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenarios such as an economic collapse, volcano eruption, global climate change, etc. The preppers take us through all the details of their plan and then NatGeo’s disaster experts give a critique on how well they would actually cope in such a disaster situation. I was sold on the show after seeing a gourmet cook train the women in her community on self-defense techniques (since history has shown that violence against women increases during disaster situations) and then invite them back to her suburban home where she cooked them all a fancy meal including 8+ month old eggs (to preserve her fresh eggs, she just rubs each one with mineral oil). I feel so unprepared! Thankfully the library has plenty of resources to help with food preservation & production, self-defense, and living off the grid which seem to the top three concerns for most of the Preppers. Here is just a small offering of books available in our libraries’ collections:

Food Production & Preservation:
How to grow organic vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers Stocking up : the third edition of the classic preserving guideEdible Plants

Self Defense:
Real World Self-DefenseBruce Lee's Fighting MethodModern Swordsman

Energy Needs:
Living off the gridrenewable energy for your homeEnergy Independence

And handy homesteading books usually cover a bit of everything:
HomesteadingModern Homestead

Good luck with your prep!

Hey, Arrested Development fans! Ever wondered what would happen if Tobias Fünke had a brother who was accidentally mistaken for a shrewd businessman and gets sent to England by a strung-out Gob Bluth to sell a toxic energy drink with the help of a sweet cafe owner and a cheeky young bloke? Me, too! Thank goodness David Cross answered our pleas and created The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret starring himself and Will Arnett.

Hey, people who love both American and BBC comedies! Ever wondered what it would be like if a TV show combined the American sensibility for outrageousness with snarky British dialogue? Me, too! I absolutely adore fish-out-of-water stories, especially when they compare the differences between Americans and Britons. (Remember in Downton Abbey when Lord Grantham told Lady Cora “If you’re turning American on me, I’ll go downstairs” while arguing their daughter’s marriage? I giggled for days over that.) The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret manages to perfectly blend the cross Atlantic comedic styles so that I cannot decide if the show is more a British show starring an American or an American show set in Great Britain.

Hey, viewers who like shows with short seasons so they aren’t that big of a commitment! The first season of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret is only 6 episodes long. However, there is a giant cliffhanger at the end, so be prepared to have to wait for the release of season 2 on DVD.

Due to some mature language/situations and offbeat humor, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret isn’t a show for everyone, but I recommend giving it a chance if you are looking for some familiar funny faces in a fresh setting.

On February 7, 1964 the Beatles arrived at New York’s Kennedy Airport to thousands of screaming fans. It was awesome. Or so I’ve heard.

Luckily, for those of us who were too young to experience Beatlemania first-hand (and have yet to be invited by a certain Time Lord to accompany him in his TARDIS), the Beatles continue to be hot topics for books and film. Here are a couple of recent items that celebrate two people who didn’t live to see Beatlemania and yet had a distinct effect on the Beatles becoming The Beatles: original bass player, Stuart Sutcliffe, and John Lennon’s mother, Julia.

Baby's in Black Baby’s in black : the story of Astrid Kirchherr & Stuart Sutcliffe by Arne Bellstorf tells the epic love story between Stuart and Astrid during the era of the Beatles early Hamburg gigs. Although the names were all familiar to me, as was the tragic ending, I knew very little about Astrid and Stu’s life together nor Stuart’s passion for painting. The heavy, stark drawings by Bellstroff manage to evoke and complement both the mod existentialist world of Astrid and the moody rock & roll environment of the Beatles and Stu.

Nowhere BoyNowhere Boy, a film directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, takes place before John Lennon formed the Beatles, before Stuart met Astrid and before John had even met Stuart. Nowhere Boy takes place in the mid 1950’s when John Lennon was in his early teens and struggling to maintain relationships with both his strict and caring guardian, his Aunt Mimi, and his musically-talented, free-spirited mother, Julia, who had just recently reappeared in his life. This story also ends sadly, but there is some fun along the way as we get to see John form his first group, The Quarrymen, and invite Paul McCartney and then George Harrison to join him. Actor Aaron Johnson (the star of two of my favorite films, Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging and Kick-Ass) is absolutely amazing as a cheeky & insecure young John Lennon.

And, just to throw in a book with happier vibes, here is one of my all-time favorite Beatles-related books:

Postcards from the Boys by Ringo Starr showcases some of the cards Ringo has received from John, Paul, and George (and their families) from the 1960’s to now. Each card is shown both front and back and includes a bit of commentary from Ringo. No other way to describe this book, but absolutely DELIGHTFUL.

Workaholics, which just finished it’s second season on Comedy Central, is a quirky comedy about three recent college grads named Blake, Adam, and Anders who live together and work together (literally in the same cubicle) at a ho-hum telemarketing firm.

And it is super funny.
Like really really really funny.
There is Wizard Rap.
Basically, I love it a lot.

By combining the quirkiness of The Office and the outrageousness of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Workaholics manages to be both audacious and sweet. These guys may scam their way out of the office drug test or lead a strike when they aren’t allowed to take a day off for Half-Christmas, but they really do care about each other and their coworkers (Their goofy friendship with their nerdy coworker, Jillian, is so adorable).

However, what I find most notable about Workaholics is the show’s constant references to Rugrats, Home Alone, and Darkwing Duck. Yes, we Generation Y-ers have finally come of age and have made it not only into the workforce, but also into the writers’ chairs of cable television. Yippy Skippy! (The show has yet to make a Muppet Babies reference, but I’m sure it is coming..) I highly recommend checking out Workaholics to those fans of South Park, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Nickelodeon’s All That (the original era).

Sign me up for Irish Dancing lessons because after watching the documentary, Jig, I am pretty sure that kicking up one’s heels must be the funnest thing EVER.

Jig, a film by Sue Bourne, follows several dancers and dancing teams from all over the world as they prepare for and compete in the 2010 Irish Dancing World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. Every one of the featured competitors’ stories is fascinating, but I was especially charmed by the young girl from Ireland who lovingly displayed the dress that her grandmother bought her to compete in right before she passed away. I knew she was my favorite when the camera zoomed in on the calendar in her bedroom and you could see where she had written in the birthday of Disney channel star, Emily Osment, write next to her goal to win the world championships. She may be a highly focused performer, but she apparently still finds time to watch Hannah Montana!

What I liked most about this film was how HAPPY I felt while watching it. Yes, there are emotional moments such as when a young dancer clutches his stuffed animal and discusses being bullied or when members of the underdog Russian women’s team are refused visas into Scotland. But overall, Jig absolutely sparkles with passion and joy and left me feeling that skipping may just be the best way to travel.

I had long been attracted to the fun and stylish covers of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series, and finally decided to give them a try when the Davenport Public Library’s new Youth Services Librarian, Liza Gilbert, told me they were some of her all-time favorite books. There was just one thing I needed to know before I curled up with the mystery series: how oh how do I pronounce the heroine’s first name?! A quick search online and I learned that “Phryne, rhymes with Briney” which is now stored safely in the corner of my brain right next to “Rowling, rhymes with Bowling.”

Phryne Fisher is the classic 1920’s saucy heroine; she has style, confidence, cleverness and unlimited funds to do with as she pleases, and apparently what she pleases to do is fly planes, outwit lovers, and investigate crimes. In Cocaine Blues, the first in her series, Phryne arrives in Melbourne, Australia to check on the condition of an English aristocrat’s daughter who had been writing worrisome letters home to her parents. Although she assumed her Melbourne visit would mostly involve watching a neglectful husband and testing the girl’s food for poison, Phryne quickly finds herself searching out heavyweight cocaine dealers and criminal abortionists (who are assaulting their patients and depositing them in taxicabs to die).

Despite the gritty, heavy subjects of these investigations, Miss Fisher still manages to wear fabulous gowns, make snarky conversation and have a sexy romp or two. Hurrah! My absolute favorite part about Kerry Greenwood’s writing was the fascinating setting of the growing city of Melbourne, Australia during the 1920’s. Since most of my favorite Twenties novels seem to take place in New York, Chicago or London, it hadn’t even occurred to me that other exciting locales were also having a roaring good time. I highly recommend the Phryne Fisher series to those readers who can’t get enough of bobbed haircuts, silk stockings and smart female characters.