Is your makeup trying to kill you? Some days it may seem like it. The blusher quits working, the foundation is flat, the lipstick has turned into Clown Red but the label says “Blushing Bride Pink.”

Perry Romanowski and the collective of cosmetic scientists behind The Beauty Brains understand the science and tech behind the beauty biz and know how to explain it in simple terms. Think of them as the Dear Abby of the cosmetic counter. They’ll answer any question, no matter how absurd.

And they have some silly ones in their book Can You Get Hooked on Lip Balm?* While the questions may seem silly, the answers are serious. The Beauty Brains speak openly about name-brand hair care products and such products’ claims to body-enhancing magic. Newsflash: The cosmetics industry is in it to make a buck, but they can’t lie about what their products do. Read between the lines of the fine print. But there’s some solid advice and science in this book, too.

For starters, the BBs talk about the biological components of hair and how to keep it healthy and shiny. The upshot? Don’t put stuff on it: chemicals, heat, pressure. This means go easy on the coloring, flat irons, and hair extensions. But if you can’t, they offer practical guidance for keeping hair as healthy as possible under these adverse conditions.

Textile and needlecrafts are among the oldest crafts in human history. Along with the ability to craft rudimentary tools came the use of those tools to fashion draped skins and other natural fibers for protection from the elements. Humans are the only animal on Earth to wear clothing.

It might be argued that to both clothe oneself and one’s loved ones, as well as creatively and culturally express oneself through fashion choices, is a time-honored endeavor that reaches into the very roots of what it means to be human.

I suspect that it is no accident that as mass-produced clothing now overflows on department store racks across much of the industrialized world, a renaissance has taken place with a renewed enthusiasm for handcrafting in the textile and needlecraft arts. In addition, shows like Project Runway have spurred interest in the creative art of fashion design.

The Kansas City Public Library has a huge selection of books and videos to help you get started or expand your abilities in textiles and needlecrafts. So great is this selection, scattered throughout our Consortium system, (a Catalog search yielded more than one thousand titles on “quilting” alone), that I can only touch on some of the many materials available. But let’s survey some of the categories, along with some of the items available.

May never comes but I think of May Day (May 1) and the no-longer-vibrant Communist Party with its call, “Workers of the World, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.” What to read this month of May? 

Kapital seemed too long. The Communist Manifesto seemed too short. Quotations from Chairman Mao seemed just right. 

The book is an unusual one for a classic. It is a collection of quotations, much like Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, but with all quotations coming from one source: Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and its leader for another quarter century or so. There are a total of 427 quotations on 33 topics taken from speeches and writings by Mao from 1927 through 1964.

The book was first published in 1965, and published in translation in 1966. During the first decade of its existence, it was expected that every man and woman in China have a copy of the Quotations and that they consult and study it on a regular basis. Because of China’s large population, the book had one of the largest circulations of any book in its day. Take that, John Grisham!

Following Mao’s death in 1976, the book waned in popularity, though Quotations still has some hold on the generation that came of age in the 1950s and 1960s. 

On a bright spring day last week at the Central Library, 18 fifth graders from Trailwoods Elementary pressed their palms to the glass and peered out the fourth-floor windows. To the north, the Renaissance Revival brownstone towers of the 120-year-old New York Life Building loomed majestically.

It was the first installment of the Library's High Five History: Inside and Out tour series, and the little-known view of Kansas City's earliest skyscraper was only one of quite a few oooh-inducing sights.

Other wonders: the view overlooking 10th and Main from the Rooftop Terrace, the Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault's 35-ton bank vault door, and the elegant Missouri Valley Room, where Special Collections Librarian Jeremy Drouin gave a talk on researching primary sources (a theme throughout the tour).

It was in Special Collections, too, that Library Director Crosby Kemper III treated the students to an impromptu visit with local author, professor, and former Kansas City Chiefs player Pellom McDaniels, who had brought his son to research a book project

In her latest collection of personal observations, truisms, and experiences, I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections, author Nora Ephron assembles more life lessons cloaked in pithy, relatable text.

Nora obviously had a few more things to get off her chest after her book I Feel Bad About My Neck. Being a big believer in a refreshing, recuperative rant every now and then, I gleefully listened for her latest editorials. Nora masterfully and lovingly rants about the things we would all rant about if we had the enormous platform or audience to listen.

While there ain’t no rant like an adorable Nora rant, the book’s title is what really drew me in. I have a morosely poor memory, and I was eager to hear what she had to say on the topic—so I could then promptly forget it.

Concerning her own fading memory, Nora concedes, “On some level, my life has been wasted on me. After all, if I can’t remember it, who can?”

(Preach it, sister!)

Nora produces a long list of celebrity encounters that she confesses she can’t recall anything about — like Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. She also admits that the sole thing she recalls about her trip to the White House the evening Richard Nixon resigned was her stolen wallet.

(Hey, I’m not here to judge.)

In today's 24/7 news cycle, it's impossible to imagine President Obama boarding a yacht to undergo major surgery, disappearing for two days, and spending weeks recovering on a fishing trip with no explanation beyond a case of rheumatism, a toothache, and a much-needed vacation.

But in the summer of 1893, that's exactly what Grover Cleveland did. And even then, he barely got away with it.

In his new book, The President Is a Sick Man, Matthew Algeo, author of Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure, recounts the story of how Cleveland pulled the wool over the public's eyes regarding his debilitating health problems – and then vilified the reporter who had the gall to tell the real story.

Algeo gives a free presentation about his new book – the first full account of this relatively forgotten but culturally revealing period in our nation's history – on Tuesday, May 3, 2011, at the Central Library, at 6:30 p.m. (RSVP to attend.)

Every reader loves discovering a first novel no one has read yet and passing it on to other readers who will share the delights of a brand new voice. Look what happened with Sara Gruen and Water for Elephants, Kathryn Stockett and The Help, or Garth Stein and The Art of Racing in the Rain. All became big word-of-mouth titles.

But how about those dusty gems languishing on the bookshelf that didn’t get the big publicity push? They are no less satisfying, delightful and thought-provoking. Readers interested in giving a second life to a first novel may find something worth passing on from these debuts that should have put their authors on the reading map.

Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine by Ann Hood

Everyone loves old family photos. Whether laughing at Uncle Mark’s 1976 baby-blue prom tuxedo or imagining the life of your great-great grandfather as you gaze at an image of him in a Civil War uniform, we connect with times past and pass along our traditions and memories to future generations through photographs.

With the advent of digital photography and the accessibility of affordable camera equipment, many of us have begun stockpiling photos on our computers. As with physical photos, these digital images are subject to loss and decay over time.

In order to make sure our descendants continue to have opportunities to learn about our lives, action needs to be taken today to preserve and protect the memories we capture using digital media.

Two things were certain about Georgia Bottoms.  She was the undisputed belle of Six Points, Alabama, and the only thing she loved more than her appearance was her divine reputation. 

Georgia’s “chicken-fried” charm and “sweet-tea” hospitality also made her the natural choice as Six Points’ unofficial town hostess and goodwill ambassador, until one Sunday in church when the lid was blown off of her entire “gravy and grits” facade.

The seventh novel by Alabama native Mark Childress, Georgia Bottoms, focuses on a 30-something Southern belle who is trying to pretend, for herself and an entire town, that the old-fashioned ways of the aristocratic South still exist in god-fearing, gossip-spreading Six Points, Alabama. 

Just published in February of this year, Georgia Bottoms combines a group of stereotypical southern characters into a tale of crazy situations, sexual misconduct and deceit at its finest.  Georgia appears to be a well-off single woman from a family of old money. She faithfully occupies her pew at the Baptist church every Sunday, dotingly cares for her elderly mother with Alzheimer’s, and selflessly spends hours creating beautiful quilts which she sells at a local store for a bargain price. 

Jackson County Juvenile Center has its share of discipline issues. But none of them occurred while Nick Holmes visited once a week last summer to read books to the young men incarcerated there.

"I gave all of them my respect, and I got it back," Holmes says.

Orlando (not his real name), a towering, 17-year-old "alpha dog," was especially a fan of the reading and discussion sessions.

"Orlando had never had a library card, had never checked out a book in his life," Holmes says. "I helped him check out his first library book in his name."

In the summer of 2010 while working part-time for the Kansas City Public Library, Holmes also visited four other locations as part of a grant-funded outreach effort developed by children’s, teen, and outreach services librarians for the Summer Reading program.

In all, Holmes signed up more than 500 kids – it's what Building a Community of Readers is all about.

Putting books in people's hands is a fundamental part of what the Library does.But with the launch of an unprecedented and ambitious campaign, the Library is becoming even more focused on making KC a city that reads.

A Happier Community

When I first started using Twitter I followed @kcweather, a few people I knew, and a few librarians. As I got more daring, I branched out and started following authors. The first few I followed were people like @neilhimself (Neil Gaiman), @longshotauthor (Jim Butcher), and Warren Ellis @warrenellis and while they were entertaining they had too many followers to be able to interact with their fans in any meaningful way.

Sarah Vowell is obsessed with history. Also: death. Where does a person with these two intertwined fascinations go on vacation? The answer to that question turns out to be some pretty surprising places.

Vowell's sense of humor and wit keep her travelogue Assassination Vacation from reading like a college textbook on the subject of Presidential assassinations

Part travel memoir, part history, and with a keen eye for the ridiculous (including a self-awareness of her own almost religious zeal for the subject), Vowel's book manages to look into the history of the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley in such a way that keeps you on your toes.

Vowell is a native of Montana, but you’d never know it the way she clings to the East Coast. She doesn’t drive (phobia), so she considers one of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth’s greater faults to be “that he did not have the decency to die within walking distance of a metro stop.” In many ways, Vowell is herself a character as interesting to read about as the historical figures she portrays with such detail. 

The school year’s winding down, and pressure to nail those grades is going up. As always, the Kansas City Public Library’s here to help. Whether you’re sweating that English paper or gearing up for a long night of calculus crunching, Brainfuse can hook you up with free online homework help from expert tutors any day of the week. All you need is a Library card.

Brainfuse is a suite of online tutoring services designed to help you master an academic skill, prepare for a test, or just get through a difficult homework problem by connecting you with certified online tutors offering a wide array of interactive, state-aligned activities for grades K-12. Tutoring help is also available in Spanish.

Brainfuse provides one-on-one homework help every day from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. Access is available online on the Library homework help page. You must log in to Brainfuse using a Kansas City Public Library card and your PIN. (Forgot your PIN?) You can use Brainfuse from home, but you must first access it through the Library’s website.

Chat with a Tutor

Brainfuse has a lot of features. But if you want to start working with a live tutor right away, begin with Homework Help or Live Skills Building.

The Kansas City Public Library encouraged patrons to get creative in celebration of National Library Week (April 10-16), and a lot of readers heard the call. Check out a gallery of crafty book spine poems sent in by members of the community, and get ideas for making your own.

'Til Morning Light is the third novel in the Gracelin O'Malley series by Ann Moore. This historical fiction series follows heroine Gracelin as she travels from Ireland to New York to San Francisco in the mid-1800s. 'Til Morning Light concludes Gracelin's journey as she struggles to balance her own personal happiness with the best life possible for her two young children.

Gracelin is planning to marry Captain Reinders as she waits in San Francisco, working as a cook in a house for a local doctor. But many surprises are waiting for Gracelin in San Francisco – a headstrong housekeeper, her own brother hidden in Chinatown, and her one true love.

Gracelin is an extremely strong female character who survived a great deal of turmoil in Ireland before escaping to America. I was surprised at her openness and her ability to adapt to her surroundings.

I also enjoyed the debates on morality and other issues between Gracelin and Dr. Wakefield. I felt that the author was able to delicately handle sensitive issues that did not interfere with the story. I also noticed an appreciation for faith throughout the book, but it was essential to the story and I did not feel as though the author was preaching to me.

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