Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Magic of Christmas

Kevin Coolidge

Our American Christmas has become bright and shiny. Certain attitudes, practices, and beliefs have been trimmed away. It’s the nature of tradition. Some customs survive for centuries and others perish almost as soon as they are born, but if you aren’t afraid, I can show you a deeper, darker season.

It’s a popular belief that Christmas as we know it is essentially a Pagan celebration. It’s true that there are many pagan traditions that have become cherished Christmas favorites, but it’s only a fragment of the story. Some of the creatures introduced in The Old Magic of Christmas written by Linda Raedisch are certainly heathen, while others are from the imagination of Christian minds. The majority are a weird twisting of the two.

If I mention elves, you may think of friendly little creatures in Santa’s workshop, but the elves in this book have no interest in crafting toys. They have, however, always been a part of Christmas, even if their feast was held in October. According to many traditions, it is best to keep on the good side of these mysterious creatures, and that might mean gifts of milk, blood, or even gold.

Today’s children know to start behaving in early December, or they may not receive that one special present. The closer the 25th comes, the lesser the threat of an empty, or coal filled stocking. The truth is that there is little fear in the twenty-first century American Christmas.

Fear has a face for Czech children. It looks like an upright goat, but has the face and hands of a man. His foot-long scarlet tongue prevents you for mistaking him for either. It’s the demon Cert*. In one hand he carries a birch switch, and in the other an empty basket. Naughty children face the possibility of being carried off to Hell.

If you lived in Iceland, you could receive a visit from Jolakottur, the “Yule Cat” This Christmas Cat would begin his prowl in the autumn when everyone was supposed to be involved in the hard work of preparing for the harsh winter. This included spinning and knitting wool that had been shorn in the spring and weaving new garments for everyone in the household.

Anyone who didn’t pitch in would not get their yearly payment of new clothes at Christmas. If you were walking with holes in your trousers on Christmas Day, it marked you as a tasty meal for the Yule Cat. It’s probably not a coincidence that Icelanders put in more overtime than most Europeans.

Enjoy your fancy and modern Christmas, but before you rush headlong into Christmas morning, you might want to approach your stocking with a little extra care. Maybe take a little time to admire the wrapping paper, and the carefully placed bow that lies beneath the sparkling tree.

Was the gift last touched by elves? Does it still pulse with magic? Did you remember to leave milk and cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer**? And what about the old man in red? Just how can he still be so jolly and alive after two thousand years???

*Cert is also known as Krampus in Germany and Austria. What can I say, he’s a demon. He gets around.

** You are not going to believe this, but the origin of Santa’s reindeer is Sleipnir, the offspring of Loki from when he had shape-shifted into a mare and impregnated. He did gift this eight-legged, bastard, war stead to Odin. So, everything turned out great…

Light a candle? Or Curse the darkness? Email me at and let me know. Miss a column? The past is revealed at Hobo, the bookstore cat, wishes all his readers a very, merry Christmas and cat filled New Year, but not Yule Cats, because that’s scary…

Monday, December 16, 2013

Santa's Little Snitch

Kevin Coolidge

He knows when you’ve been sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. That’s more than a little disturbing. How does he know? Satellites? Spyware? Wire tapping? Rats with cameras? The fat boy in red is too lazy to gather intel* himself and has a new weapon to fight the war on naughtiness: its name is Elf on the Shelf.**

The official propaganda is that at the start of each Christmas season, usually around Thanksgiving, this special scout elf is sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus micromanage his naughty and nice lists, but you deserve the truth. This elf squirms his way into the household, often tricking the family into adopting and naming the little imp.

Each evening, when everyone is sleeping, the imposter teleports, using alien technology stolen from the government’s secret base, Area 51. He then narks to that overweight old man what information he gathered. It might be your social security number, your browser history, or where the good liquor is kept. Each morning he returns to a new location and to learn new secrets.

There are rules for the family, though he plays by none. Supposedly, his “magic” is lost if you touch him, and that means no gifts for you. I say: do it! Do you really want a little sneak reporting every little thing you do? Parents are worried. Kids are terrified. I hate him.

He won’t move or speak when anyone is awake. Some master spy. Anyone can be totally ninja if the enemy has to keep his eyes closed. His job is to wait, watch, and listen. You know, to be Santa’s little snitch until it is time to return to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. There he lurks until he infiltrates next year.

I say there’s no reason to make Christmas a terrible season. I won’t lead you astray, or to a dead end. Forget that creepy elf. He’s not your friend. I won’t give you a list of impossible chores. I won’t be preachy or make you mop floors.

I live in your drawer, and I like to have fun. I enjoy hanging out, playing games, and joking around. I was here before that darn elf. I won’t report you to the big guy just because you forgot to make your bed. That smug elf lets his mission go to his head. You don’t need fear to know what’s wrong. I’m going to make everything right.

It’s time you heard the real story. Not the one about the elf and the shelf, but the one about me. I am here all year long. I am always with you, and I deserve to be a new Christmas tradition. I’m The Dwarf in the Drawer***

*Intel is slang for military intelligence, which is an oxymoron if I ever heard one

**Elf on the Shelf is the evil plot of Carol Aebersold and her wicked daughter Chanda Bell.

***The Dwarf in the Drawer: A Mischievous Parody is the counterinsurgency operation devised by L. Van King and illustrated by Chuck Gonzales.

You’ve nothing to hide if you’ve done nothing wrong? Or Snitches get stitches? Email me at and let me know. Been naughty and miss a past column? You can make it all good by visiting Hobo knows three cats can keep a secret if two of them are sleepin, sleeping with the fishes that is, though he prefers chicken to fish…

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dickens isn't Dead

Kevin Coolidge

I just love Dickens of a Christmas in Wellsboro--strolling the streets, viewing wares, getting my pocket buzzed*. Every year it gets a little bigger, a little better. There’s hot food to fill my stomach, and song to warm my heart. I’ve even seen Scrooge himself. This year is the 30th anniversary, and will be the best one yet.

This year Charles Dickens will be there! I’ve finally earned my online degree in necromancy** and will re-animate old Boz for this special occasion. If you are lucky enough to see Mr. Dickens shambling across Main Street, please maintain a five foot perimeter. Keep small children, pets, and corn dogs away from Charles, and please no sudden movements.

Have you ever wondered what would have happened if Tiny Tim was infected with the zombie virus and ended up eating Ebenezer? Then you need to read The Undead that Saved Christmas edited by Lyle Perez Tinics. This heart-chilling anthology is filled with zombie-themed short stories, poems and carols, and comics.

Stories include Santa Claws is Coming to Town by Calvin A. L. Miller, Night of the Frozen Elf by Richard S. Crawford; and The Santa Epidemic by Mandy Tinics and more. There are rich illustrations by Jason Tudor and Chris Williams among others, and also an awesome assortment of comics by Nate Call, Mike Schneider, and many more.

The smell of gingerbread and nutmeg might have been replaced with the reek of spilled blood, and Santa’s helpers aren’t the cute elves from television specials. You can still feel good about feeding your need for a little brain candy. The proceeds from this book go to charity.

Net proceeds from The Undead That Saved Christmas will indeed help save Christmas for the children of Hugs Foster Family Agency. No author or illustrator has taken payment for their literary efforts, but instead they have used their brains to fill the hearts of children.

Zombies and the holidays go together like the colors red and green. Zombies are the perfect fit for the ravenous consumer frenzy that has become Christmas, and anyone who has survived the chaos that is Black Friday can attest to that. So, along with the box of shotgun shells and that new machete, stuff this book in a stocking. Remember the spirit of Christmas isn’t dead; it’s undead…

*Victorian slang for stealing, especially picking pockets. Nothing like a little verisimilitude to deepen the experience.

**Necromancy, a form of magic involving summoning or raising the dead. Don’t worry. I worked my way up from hamsters. There’s almost nothing that can go wrong.

Jack Frost gnawing at your brain? Or It’s a Wonderful Life…with Zombies? Comment and let me know!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Deer Camp

Kevin Coolidge

I love hunting—tramping around the cold, snowy woods, then coming inside and having a bowl of hot soup. Going back out for one more drive, maybe I’ll get a shot at a buck, maybe I won’t. I know someone will get a deer. There will be jerky, chops, burger, or maybe my favorite, tenderloin. I love venison. Nothing is better at the end of a long day than some pan-fried deer meat. I swear I could eat it every day.

I don’t hunt much anymore. People are busy. I’m working all the time. I miss the guys getting together and shooting their mouths off as much as their deer rifles. We never had a fancy lodge with trophy-covered walls, or a massive stone fireplace. We all worked for a living, and a kitchen table with a searing hot woodstove and good friends was good enough, but a man can have a dream.

The Hunting and Fishing Camp Builder’s Guide can help with that dream. This book is illustrated with photographs and informative how-to diagrams. It will provide you with the concepts, plans, and know-how to bring a daydream to life.

The author, Monte Burch, is an architect and a construction expert, as well as an experienced hunter. This guide will show you the design and construction. From a simple, one room construction, or a fancy lodge suitable for several hunting buddies,
The book illustrates how to design and construct standard stick-construction lodges, pole and post-and-beam structures, and log buildings. It also covers fireplaces, wood stoves, insulating, and the foundation. You can even get all fancy like with a deck, porch, or a sunroof, and add that rustic touch with some sapling furniture.

It all starts with the land. Your real estate agent might exclaim that “the hunting is fantastic”, but not really have any idea. Ideally, you should have the opportunity to hunt on the land you are buying, but if it’s out of season, scouting may have to suffice. Well-managed hunting and fishing property will have a higher value than more marginal land, even in the same region.

Your building site is extremely important. Majestic mountains, a scenic lake, you want a great view, but other factors must be considered. If you are building more than a simple cabin, you might want a geological and soil report. Sand, clay, rock? Steep hillsides of clay can be prone to landslides. There are other hazards you should at least consider—such as danger of wildfires, or falling rocks.

You have a plan all picked out, but don’t forget the utilities. Electricity will probably be available in all but the most remote areas. If you plan to build far from the nearest service line, it can become extremely costly. Make sure you understand the maintenance procedures of the power line.

You have your plans, your tools and your friends to get started. Have you considered your needs? How often will you use your camp? Short weekend visits or longer trips? A smaller more economic structure, with “rustic” facilities may be more appropriate for shorter stays, and a more “home-like” structure with “modern conveniences” if you plan on also using your camp as a vacation property.

There’s nothing like the camaraderie of good friends and good times. It might be a prefab shelter with an oil-barrel stove, or it may be a grand hunting lodge with a trophy room. It still has the satisfaction and the pleasure all the same. Good hunting and good luck…

Trophy buck? Or Meat hunter? Email me at Miss a past column? Scout at and read all past columns. Hobo, the cat is a terrible hunter, that’s why he works at the bookstore. It’s a good gig if you can get it.

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Second Hand Cat

Kevin Coolidge

It’s a common misconception that all blue-eyed, white cats are deaf. Though not true, hereditary deafness is a major concern for many domestic white cats, especially those with one or both irises that are blue in color. There is no cure for congenital deafness.

Cats that are deaf from birth can be great pets. I knew such a cat. His meows were a little too loud, but he could tell when someone called him, and where someone was stepping by the vibration of their steps. He just had to be an inside cat where he would be safe from dogs and cars and auditory cues he would never hear.

Phantom is such a cat. He’s all white with one blue eye and one yellow eye, and he is deaf. His life is the inspurration for The Second Hand Cat, written by Vell Sweeny and illustrated by Elizabeth Mifflin Sweeny. This book is dedicated to all homeless cats everywhere and the people who help them.

Phantom was a shelter cat, but he was different than the other cats. He lived in silence. He saw other cats. They never stayed and he did. One day, Phantom saw he saw a note on his cage that terrified him. Was this his last chance to find a family?

This isn’t Old Yeller. There’s a happy ending: Phantom finds a loving home, and has a wonderful life, all because the Sweeny’s took a chance on a second hand cat. I loved this book, the illustrations, and the story. I’m quite familiar with it.
My wife and I have two and half rescue cats—Hobo, the bookstore cat; his ‘bff’ (best feline friend), Gypsy; and tiny little Velvet, the mighty huntress. We took a chance on a cat no one seemed to want. Next time you are considering a feline companion, hopefully, you will too.

Vell Sweeny and her daughter Elizabeth Mifflin Sweeny will be visiting From My Shelf Books & Gifts in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania November 30, 2013 for an author visit and signing. Come by and say hello, scratch Hobo’s ears, and take a chance on a Second Hand Cat…

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Art of War

Kevin Coolidge

“Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” –Sun Tzu, The Art of War

A fine figure of a man astride a great white steed, his visor closed. Roasting, boiling in his armor, his great steel sword heavy. Yet, he does not waver. He does not move. He will not hesitate when the moment comes. Only the finest horses were good enough for the warrior elite. It was important to be seen by friend and foe. Meant to inspire pride and confidence in their followers, and instill fear and disorder to the foe.

Personalization of weapons was a symbol of authority, but machines would come to dominate the art of war. Early in the twentieth century, a new type of warfare would create another class of elite warrior, the fighter pilot, and no pilot would gain more fame than the German ace, Baron von Richthofen, the Red Baron.

By the end of WWI, aircraft were emblazoned with personal names and markings. History doesn’t record the first pinup girl on a warplane, but the biggest, early influence, according to the authors of Boneyard Nose Art, is clearly the “Flying Tigers”, a small group of American pilots fighting in Burma and China in the early days of WWII.

The Flying Tigers displayed a fearsome shark mouth under the noses of their P-40s. Their success against the Japanese soon became major news back home. It was not long before excited, young airmen, eager to stand out, found a place on the nose of their aircraft. Nose art of all styles and sizes took off.

The practice of applying nose art was neither encouraged nor discouraged. Once a crew had been assigned an aircraft, the pilot and crew made the decision. Lt. Robert Morgan wanted to name the aircraft after a special woman in his life, but the other crew members had their own thoughts. It would take some persuasion to make that happen.

The idea to name the B-17 after his girlfriend was not going to fly with everyone else, but a John Wayne movie would solve his dilemma. He was watching the film Lady for a Night, and something caught his eye. Featured in the film was a riverboat called the Memphis Belle. Morgan’s special lady, Margaret Polk, just happened to be from Memphis, Tennessee, and he soon convinced the crew to name their new B-17, the Memphis Belle.

Now that the name was chosen, it was time to choose some special artwork. Pinup art was popular in Europe and America. Alluring images of beautiful, young women were featured in magazines and calendars. The highlight of each Esquire magazine was the “Petty Girl”, drawn by the graphic artist, George Petty.

Lt. Morgan started with a call to the New York office, and began to tell his story. He soon had George’s attention, and he promised to send one of his Petty Girls for the Memphis Belle. He never dreamed of the fame that this artwork would soon achieve.

The 91st Bomb Group and the Memphis Belle flew their first mission on November 7, 1942. By Christmas, after only a few missions, twenty-nine of the thirty-six aircraft were lost and they had yet to fly a mission into Germany. The losses mounted month after month, and the chances of reaching the magic number of twenty-five and returning home was bleak.

The crew and her new captain endured. After completing her missions, the Memphis Belle and crew returned home to begin a nationwide public relations tour from June through August 1943. With all the newspaper, magazine, and newsreel coverage, nose art and the Memphis Belle became part of the American psyche. Her achievements and those brave souls who flew her through those deadly skies still capture our imagination…

A machine of war might take you to the enemy, but it takes a friend to see you home. My thanks to all who serve, may you always find your way home…

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Story Behind the Story: The Elf on the Shelf

Read the Printed Word!
Who is behind the popular new Christmas tradition of “The Elf on the Shelf”? If you thought it was just Santa Claus and the folks at the North Pole, you would be missing an even more inspirational part of the story. The story behind the story of The Elf on the Shelf takes us not to the cold reaches of the Arctic Circle, but to the balmy suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. The magic here lies not in the hands of a jolly, fat man in a red suit, but in the determination of three steel magnolias who can now wear power suits.

In 2004, self-described “empty nester” Carol Aebersold, then in her early sixties, was talking with one of her twin daughters, Chanda Bell, about finding a way to share their family tradition of a little elf who watched over the family during the holiday season. Chanda and Carol decided to write a book about “the elf on the shelf”, a pixie scout elf who would stay with a family from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, flying home to the North Pole each night to talk with Santa. The elf would help Santa maintain his naughty and nice lists, sure, but he would also tell Santa about all the holiday activities going on at the family's house, and share with Santa each family member's Christmas wishes.

After writing the cute book all in rhyme, Chanda and Carol enlisted the help of Chanda's twin sister, Christa Pitts, who had been working as a host on the QVC network. With Christa's experience in PR and marketing, and the space donated by Chanda and Christa's father, who owned a small manufacturing company, the three women set out to find a publisher for their book and a producer for their toy.

No one would take them up on it. According to a Washington Post article in November of 2011, The Elf on the Shelf was “[r]ejected by publishers far and wide.” One publisher told them flatly that their product, if ever produced, was “destined [only] for the damaged goods bin.” Undeterred, the women formed their own company, Creatively Classic Activities and Books, LLC (CCA & B), found a company that would produce the soft elf dolls, and began selling their book-and-elf package in two holiday festivals – one in their home stomping grounds of Marietta, GA, and one in Charlotte, NC. They funded their first year's production by selling Christa's house and by opening one credit card dedicated exclusively to the business.

For their first Christmas season in 2005, they had 5,000 book-and-doll packages, to sell at $30 each, out of a decorated trailer in their two markets. Since they were a company of three women plus a few volunteering friends along for the ride, they couldn't stay long at each location, which actually ended up helping their cause: "Families would experience the Elf on the Shelf; when we left there would be a vacuum," Pitts explained, in a CNN Money article in 2012. Soon, retailers began reaching out to CCA & B, hoping to carry the new product their customers were demanding. By the end of 2005, eighteen storefronts had signed on to sell The Elf on the Shelf.

For the first three years, the proceeds from the past year's sales went straight into business expenses to produce and market the next year's books and elves. Then, suddenly, the Elf hit a tipping point. In 2007, some reporter snapped a photo of popular actress Jennifer Garner, carrying an elf-and-book package. A Dallas affiliate of the Today Show did a segment on the pixie scout elf and its book, and the Today Show ended up running the same segment on their national, prime-time spot. The orders came flooding in. The three woman of CCA & B organized the “EERT” (Elf Emergency Response Team), where friends and family worked with them, without stop, for several days, to meet every order. Pitts believes that if they had failed to respond with those efforts at that point in time, their business would not be where it is today.

Before going into the holiday season 2013, The Elf on the Shelf has sold nearly 3 million packages, for about $20 million in sales. This October, the company launched a birthday package, a birthday elf doll and book to celebrate a child's special day. For the holiday season, new clothes are available for the elf dolls, for boys and girls, who now come in both light and dark skin tones.

The Elf on the Shelf has won numerous awards, as has the company who started it all. Last Christmas, the Elf got his own animated TV special, joining the classics like Frosty the Snowman, and Rudolph the Reindeer. The animated film got quite a bit of criticism, with comments that is was banal; an outsourced production of vague, commercialized Christmas sentiments, but the folks at CCA & B have yet to let naysayers get in their way. However you feel about elves and commercialized Christmas, the story of the women at CCA & B can be an inspiration to us all.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Invasive Species

Kevin Coolidge

Seven billion, give or take a million, 267 being born every minute, that’s almost five every second. The Earth will soon be filled with Homeo sapiens, humans. How will we feed the masses? Some experts claim that an all vegetarian diet will take care of the teeming hordes. So, would cannibalism. I say don’t join them if you can’t beat them, eat ‘em. There’s another solution. Introduce an invasive species.

An ecosystem is a delicate balance. For example, the introduction of snakes in the Hawaiian Islands has resulted in at least nine forest bird extinctions, adding mongoose to take of the snakes, has added to the problem Mongoose are now eating the eggs of sea turtles and birds, including the endangered state bird, the Hawaiian Goose.

Introducing a predator into an environment among prey that has not evolved adaptations and behaviors is going to cause a problem, sometimes, a big problem. Imagine a remote African wilderness. A species has evolved using monkeys as hosts, but any primate will do. What happens when mankind discovers this animal? What will happen when this animal discovers humans?

If you don’t mind losing a little sleep, read Invasive Species by Joseph Wallace. This swarm moves and breeds at a cataclysmic rate. Governments want to downplay the danger. Can an adventurer and a small band of determined scientists find a weapon to stop this menace? Will mankind discover that it’s no longer Earth’s dominant species?

I enjoyed this fast paced apocalyptic novel, and was lucky enough to be able to read it before it’s available to the public. It’s going to be available December 3 at From My Shelf Books for just $9.99 and $7.99 for members. We have several copies on order, but let us know if you want to pre-order this book. Joseph Wallace is an experienced writer, and you will not be disappointed.

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Cow-Pie Chronicles

Kevin Coolidge

Nothing beats a slice of my grandma’s lemon Bundt cake and cold glass of milk. My grandma would send me down to the barn to fill the glass bottle. Nothing beats farm fresh milk.

The dairy farm in Coolidge Hollow has been in the family for five generations. I spent many a Sunday afternoon plinking at rats, making hay forts, and jumping out of hay mows. I enjoyed visiting the cows, and seeing the milk pour into the stainless steel vat. I just had to be careful of the cow-pies.

If you’ve spent time on a farm, chances are you know what a cow pie is. It’s cow poop. When I saw a book called The Cow-Pie Chronicles, I just had to check it out. This book for kids 7 to 9 years old, but I enjoyed how it made me remember parts of my own child hood. I also liked the addition of a glossary with such words such as silo and stubble field defined.

The book follows ten year old Tim Slinger and his sister Dana as they grow up on their family dairy farm. Life on a farm is hard work. There aren’t any days off or milking sessions skipped. If this happened the cows’ udders would get too full and get upset, and stop producing milk.

There are lots of chores to be done. The cows poop everywhere and someone has to shovel it. There are fences to be mended and apples and pears to be picked, but there is fun and adventure too. There’s the sport of cow skiing, and the neighbors bull to tease, and then there’s the rope swing.

Growing up in the country is different than the city. Author James Butler grew up on a farm. He spent the first eleven years in the Midwest on a dairy farm. This book is based on his experiences as a farm boy in the 1960s. Those years were often filled with hard work and adventure, but they served him well…

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Writing Scary Stories

Kevin Coolidge

The Thing at the Foot of the Bed, The Woman with the Golden Arm--I’ve always loved scary stories. A cold, dark night next to a warm fire immersed in a book that made the shadows dance and my skin crawl. I couldn’t get enough of them. I even wrote my own, and you can too.

How do you get ideas for a scary story? When should you introduce your main characters? How do you use dialogue to bring your characters to life? You can get these answers from Writing Stories: Scary Stories published by Heinemann Publishing and written by Anita Ganeri.

Adventure, animal, funny, mystery—there are lots of books in this series, but this book introduces young writers to the dark and creepy world of scary stories, appropriate for those 6 to 9 years of age. If it’s too scary, your young author might not go to bed tonight.

A scary story should have a spooky setting, maybe a haunted house. It should also have frightening characters and be exciting as well as terrifying. You can get ideas from reading stories, watching movies, or from your own imagination. You can write ideas in a notebook when you think of them, so you don’t forget.

Before you start writing, you’ll need to plan your plot. This is what happens in your story. The plot needs a beginning, middle, and an end. Imagine a mountain. The beginning is where you introduce your main characters. The middle is where most of the action happens, and your character gets in trouble. The end is where the problem is solved and the story ends.

Your story is a piece of fiction. It’s about people and places you make up. A good story feels like it could be real. You do this by bringing your characters to life and making them believable. You can do this with dialogue. This is the words people say, and it will bring your readers into the action. Just be sure to put quotation marks around the spoken words.

There are more tips to make your story more dramatic. A writer needs to choose their words carefully, and interesting adjectives will make your writing exciting. You might want to end your story happy or sad, or with a surprise twist, but you can’t do that if you give away too much early in your story.

Read your story over and correct any mistakes. Sometimes it helps to read it out loud. This will help you hear how your characters sound and if they talk the way real people talk. There’s even a spooky story running throughout the book to give you examples of how to use these tips. So, grab your notebook and a pen and prepare to scare…

Spooky stories? Or Funny tales? Email me at and let me know. Miss a past column? Don’t be scared. You can visit and read all past columns. Hobo is a ginger-colored cat that knows a leopard may not be able to change its spots, but he can be anything he dreams of. He’s picturing himself now as a little lion, a mountain lion…

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Prep for Life

Read the Printed Word!
Best-selling, award-winning author John Green wrote his first novel, Looking for Alaska, about teens at a prep school in Alabama. Not your stereotypical setting for a private school for high school students, Culver Creek Boarding School doesn't have particularly beautiful buildings or fancy landscaping, but otherwise offers the same experiences as any highly-regarded prep school. When Miles Halter comes to “the Creek” as a new student, for his junior year, he finds this experience includes challenging classes, professors with doctorates, sharp divisions in social class between the scholarship kids (like himself) and the wealthy kids, dorm rooms full of all kinds of contraband, pranks and angst, typical teen rebellion mixed with striving to reach the bar of high expectations. Lucky for Miles, his roommate, Chip Martin, takes him firmly under his wing, gives him a nickname, introduces Miles to his group of friends, and tells him all the rules that aren't in any handbook.

The relationship between Chip (“The Colonel”) and Miles (“Pudge”, because Miles is super-skinny) reminded me of Phineas and Gene in John Knowles' classic coming-of-age novel, A Separate Peace. Especially in the beginning, Miles, like Gene, is an introvert, uncomfortable in many social situations, preferring to spend time alone, reading. Chip, on the other hand, is the one with a rebellious streak, pushing or circumventing the rules. Chip is “The Colonel” because he is the strategist and mastermind behind the elaborate game of pranks that is part of the tradition and the social structure at “The Creek.” In Green's more contemporary take on the prep school novel, this scene is co-ed. This is where Alaska Young comes in. Alaska provides the spark: she is charisma, the larger-than-life character who, Phineas, draws people to her like moths to a flame. She is beautiful, chaotic, fiercely intelligent, melodramatic, and it would seem she enjoys leaving jealousy, love, frustration, annoyance, inspiration, and tragedy in her wake. As Gene learns at Devon Academy in the 1940s, so Miles learns at Culver Creek in the present: ultimately, the coming-of-age experience is more about the people you meet, and the relationships you have, then the actual setting.

Author Curtis Sittenfeld highlights many of these same themes in her young adult novel, Prep. Lee Fiora leaves her middle-class family in Indiana to study at the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts for her four years of high school. Like Gene in A Separate Peace and Miles in Looking for Alaska, Lee usually views life at Ault feeling like an outsider. She, like Miles and his friends, is a scholarship student, and the money which “was everywhere on campus, but … usually invisible” turns out to be more intimidating and divisive rather than the way it looked charming in the brochures. As a narrator, Lee becomes a keen, wry observer of prep school life – both as the teenage student she was, and as the twenty-something adult looking back on her experiences.

All three of these novels were the first for authors who have gone on to become well-known for their writing. It is interesting to note that all three debut novels focused on the prep school setting as a place to explore teens' first opportunities to wrestle with the complexities of socio-economic class, gender politics, sex, social mores, romantic relationships, friendships, interactions with authority figures and mentors, hope, tragedy, and forgiveness. Each author beautifully guides the main protagonist to a place where he or she can forgive themselves for being young, naïve, ignorant, or scared when faced with the intense situations they encounter at school, on their own for the first time. Each novel, in the capable prose of John Green, John Knowles, and Curtis Sittenfeld, becomes a springboard for discussing larger life truths.

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Halloween is Scary

Kevin Coolidge

Ghosts, witches, monsters—Halloween can be scary. Decorating, carving, planning—Halloween is a time for panicking. It certainly is if you are Scaredy Squirrel. Halloween is dangerous. There are carnivorous plants, haunted houses, and pumpkins! What’s a squirrel to do?

Therefore, Scaredy Squirrel has put together a book of helpful tips* and instructions to help guide you and your child through common Halloween obstacles—such as goblins, dragons, and pumpkin carving.

First, did you wash your hands? There’s dirt, and where there is dirt, there is germs. Are they clean? No sticky fingers. That’s why you read this book before you unwrap your candy. Also, it’s important to use only fingers: this safety guide is not to be handled with tentacles or claws. You might get the pages wet, or tear them, and that might mean you aren’t human, and that would be scary.

You need a danger-proof plan. Do you have a dog? Not a problem. Get a dog house. This will create the illusion that your house is well-guarded. Werewolves will not be a problem, and a scarecrow will scare witches. Garlic will keep those pesky vampires away. Vampires and witches aren’t real, but you can’t be too careful.

Decorating should be fun and not scary. Carving Jack O’ Lanterns is part of the holiday, but be safe. Don’t use your dad’s chainsaw. You can draw a face with marker, or get a grownup to remove the seeds and then you can carve your lantern with a sturdy plastic knife. A flashlight will give it a ghostly glow, and be safer and last longer than a candle.

Picking a Halloween costume is no easy task. Zombie or ghost? Hero or villain? Makeup vs. mask? There are so many choices, so little time. It’s no easy task. You might want to start thinking about it in June. I do!

Crossing the street for candy can be risky. Watch out for flying saucers and cars. You are going to want to look both ways before crossing the street, and avoid bodies of water. There could be sea monsters. Be polite and smile when you knock. It goes a long way and there’s a sweet reward waiting.

You are going to want to know your candy. There’s chocolate, hard candy, sour candy, and then there’s candy corn. Each has pros and cons. Make sure you have a solid plan for your candy transport and have parent or trusted adult give the stamp of approval. A few examples that do not pass inspection: expired candy, or salamanders stuck to your candy corn.

The more you know, the safer you’ll be. Apples are a frightening fruit. Apples have a really bad reputation in fairy tales, and bobbing for apples was made popular by piranhas. Knowledge is power. If you meet the Mummy, just make him turn in circles. He always gets tangled.

Vampires can’t see their own reflection. So, you can just hide behind a mirror. Ghosts are known to be cold. Bring a sweater and stay warm. Remember enjoy the festivities, and don’t forget what I said about the apple bobbing. Now, where is my mask???

*Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween, with a little help from author Melanie Watt

Prepared? or Scared? Email me at and let me know. Miss a past column? You can did up the past at Hobo, Bookstore Cat, has his Halloween costume all picked out. He’s going as a ninja. If you don’t see him, you know he was there. Have a happy, safe Halloween…

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Season of the Witch

Kevin Coolidge

What is a witch? Ask anyone and you’ll be provided with a description. Pointy black hat, big wart, black cloak, flying on a broomstick—you know a witch. From the Wicked Witch of the West to the Salem Witch Trials, it’s clear that witchcraft has left its mark on American culture.

Pennsylvania has many historic accounts of witches and witchcraft. One reason is indirectly tied to the founder of the state, William Penn. Quakers are known for tolerance of religious beliefs. This relative freedom of religion attracted numerous immigrants who were members of both traditional and obscure religious sects.

These immigrants brought a strong tradition of belief in the supernatural and witches. In later years, other settlers came bringing their own traditions and folklore. Many accounts of witchcraft have survived because of Pennsylvania’s long record of preserving its history and folklore.

But who were the witches? Some consider those who use any magic to be a witch, but witchcraft in Pennsylvania exists as part of the larger system of folk healing and supernatural belief. A person labeled a healer in one instance may be labeled a witch in different circumstances. These blurring of lines make the study of witchcraft difficult.

It was difficult to defend against charges of witchcraft. In Europe, witch trials often ended in execution. That was not the case in Pennsylvania. William Penn himself judged Pennsylvania’s only official witchcraft trial.

Historian Thomas White overviews the role of witchcraft and associated folk beliefs in Witches of Pennsylvania, Occult History and Lore. He starts in the colonial period with William Penn’s handling of the state’s first witch trial*.

He also covers the Pennsylvania German traditions of powwow and hex. The belief in folk magic was integrated with their Christian beliefs for most Germans. Occult ideas were more accepted in Germany than England.

There was the practice of Brauche which is more commonly known as powwowing**. Powwowers perform a magical-religious folk healing and claim to draw healing power from God. They provided relief from symptoms, protection from evil, and removal of hexes. They also located lost objects, animals, and people.

There was also the Hexerei, who used dark magic beyond the normal use of a folk healer. This witch would commit acts of supernatural power drawn from dark forces. These hexes would be cast for a price, or out of revenge. For many, the line between witch and powwower was not sharply drawn.

The meaning of the colorful Pennsylvania German barn decorations known as hex signs has long been a source of controversy. Popular opinion holds that these signs are a form of supernatural talisman, though most academics believe that they were purely decorative. It may simply be that some people ascribed supernatural significance to hex signs and some did not.

In the early twentieth century, the practice of witchcraft and powwow came to be viewed as a threat by professionals. Doctors sought to educate citizens and eradicate such practices. Doctors believed such treatments would cause harm.

The rise of American Consumerism after World War II began to blur regional and cultural differences. The witches were tied to the ethnic cultures of their parents, and fewer of the younger generations showed interests in learning the old ways of healing. It seemed out of place in the suburbs.

Still, the practice has not died out and in recent years has made a comeback as interest in the supernatural has grown. For many young people, the witch has entered the realm of urban legend. For some, German magical beliefs are still alive in the modern world…

*It’s said that Penn commented that there was no law against riding a broomstick.

**Not to be confused with the Native American ceremony of the same name.

Which witch is which? Email me at and let me know. Miss a past column? The past is present at Help Hobo the bookstore cat go to the Super Bowl. Visit his Facebook page to find out how…

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Little Monsters

Kevin Coolidge

“Kasey, is Shackleton’s Endurance in memoir or history?”

“It’s in biography and memoir. I just saw it there yesterday.”

“It’s not there. Did you remember to leave out a bowl of milk for the book gnomes?”

“I did right before we closed up last night, but I think Hobo drank it before we left.”

It can be hard to know where every book is in a bookstore. Sometimes there are several right categories to place a book; sometimes a customer will put a book back in the wrong place; and sometimes mischievous creatures will play tricks – no, really.

Everyone knows the story of Rip Van Winkle, the American colonist who is challenged to a drinking game by the “ghosts” of Hendrick Hudson and his crew. Rip drinks some of their liquor and falls asleep for twenty years in the Catskill Mountains.

Washington Irving’s tale was actually based on ancient stories of “fairy abduction” in which the Little People take mortals into the land of Faerie where time flows differently. He based his story on a folktale from the Orkney Islands off Scotland.

Native Americans, however, have similar legends. Perhaps there is more truth to the legends than you believe. The Algonquin speak of the Memegwesi, hairy dwarfs that dwelled on riverbanks. They would only appear to those pure of spirit, which usually meant children. This idea is quite similar to Celtic legends of faeries.

Human beings around the world have stories of a race of naughty little folk who play tricks and sometimes cause injury. There are tales from the Far East, South America, and even Australia. If a legend is so universally believed, could it have basis in fact?

Bruce G. Hallenbeck, author of Monsters of New York, believes the key to this mystery may be connected to more recent stories of alien abductions. There is the “missing time” element that is present in both alien and fairy abductions. There are also similarities in appearance between fairies and aliens.

Faeries are described as diminutive beings with large staring eyes. Some reports of alien abduction include descriptions of small creatures holding “power rods” used to paralyze abductees, just as fairies were thought to carry magic wands.

Fairies often dwell in “fairy mounds” in the forest. UFOs are allegedly often seen sitting on the ground in the woods at night. In fact, author Whitley Strieber’s alien abductions began around his isolated cabin in the Catskill Mountains—the same area that Rip Van Winkle took his twenty year nap.

After reading Monsters of New York, I’m convinced that the Empire State is teeming with monsters, from Bigfoot in the Adirondacks and the Catskills, to sea serpents in the depths of Lake Champlain. There’s alligators in the sewers of New York City, and don’t forget the big cats of unknown origin, and the genetic monstrosity that is the Montauk monster.

I’m just going to put out a fresh bowl of milk and shelve Monsters of New York next to Monsters of Pennsylvania so that I will know just where it is. Hey, there’s The Endurance. Now has anyone seen Hobo? Hobo! What are you doing on the shelf, and why are you tied up in shipping tape???

Bigfoot? Or Little feet? Email me at and let me know. Miss a past column? It’s no secret. You can seek them all at Looking for a cat with big feet? Check out Hobo, the polydactyl, and Wellsboro’s most famous cat…

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Drug Muggers

Kasey Cox

Read the Printed Word!
When I was 19 (I am now 41), I began taking prescription medications that I would continue taking for the rest of my life. At the time, I hated the idea of being “dependent” on medication for my health. Sure, I’d taken prescription medications before – mostly penicillin-type drugs to treat bronchitis and the like – but somehow, this felt different. Strep throat is just an infection that kids get. You take the prescription, and it goes away. Occasionally, the penicillin I’d take would be a little harsh on my stomach, but it was only a week or so, and I’d feel normal again. These new meds, however, were to ‘regulate’ my symptoms, long-term. I was diagnosed with a chronic disease: I would learn to live with it, by moderating it with medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. The need for the medication felt like weakness. It felt like failure.

Now, I thank God all the time that I was born in an era where my combination of medications is readily available to me, and that researchers figured out how they help me. If I had been born even twenty years earlier, none of the meds I take would have been available to me. So many people suffered in silence; self-medicated with all kinds of other substances; lived a shortened life in an institution; or walked into a river with stones in their pockets, to escape the illness that I have daily relief from. So am I grateful for prescription medications? You bet I am! I’m thankful for the anti-seizure medications, the anti-depressants, anxiety meds, blood pressure prescriptions, insulin, synthetic thyroid hormone, blood-thinners, epi-pens, nitrates, and all the other medications which help people with chronic, life-threatening illnesses live fuller, healthier, more comfortable lives.

Nevertheless, none of these medications comes without a cost – and I’m not talking about the monetary figures or amount of time behind the development of these drugs, although they are obviously significant. For this article, I’m focusing on the side effects of medications. Like most people who need prescriptions, choosing which meds I ultimately stay on is a decision based on weighing the side effects against the benefits. For me, coming up with the right “cocktail” combination of medications has been, for the large part, about figuring out which medications give me the results I need to stay healthy with either no noticeable side effects or side effects that I can learn to live with. Often, for mental health meds, it’s difficult to achieve a balance like this: so many people go off their prescriptions because the meds that help can also cause sleepiness, weight gain, acne, hand tremors, excessive thirst, thyroid or liver damage, constipation, and more. Once I found a balance of meds that help my symptoms but bring me few of these side effects I’d experienced before, I felt like my life, and my illness, were finally manageable. I’m really satisfied with my drug regimen, and believe me, that means for me, “You’ve come a long way, baby!”

So, I found myself completely surprised to learn that I still might be missing a large piece of the puzzle. A well-informed friend recently recommended I read Drug Muggers, by respected pharmacist Suzy Cohen, RPh. Cohen is the author of five books, and is known as “America’s Most Trusted Pharmacist”, with her syndicated column, “Dear Pharmacist.” With Drug Muggers, Cohen turns her impressive twenty plus years of experience and research to the problem of how medications, over time, can deplete the body’s ability to make or use certain important nutrients. I’ve kept up with how my meds might affect my thyroid, my kidneys, my liver – the doctor has me monitor this with lab work – but for some reason, I never thought about their interaction with basic vitamin messengers in my body.

For Cohen, it’s just chemistry. Citing extensive studies, Cohen helps the reader understand that, too often in modern society, we feel ill and doctors throw another pill at us. As a pharmacist, Cohen passionately believes in the power of prescriptions to help people. Her focus in Drug Muggers is not to convince people to stop taking medication! Instead, she reminds us that people who regularly take medication need to keep in mind that a new symptom doesn’t necessarily mean a new illness or an untolerable side effect. Many symptoms or “side effects” can be mitigated or even banished by taking a vitamin B supplement, magnesium, vitamin D, or by augmenting certain vitamins through simple diet changes. It’s important to note that “regular medication” doesn’t just mean prescriptions: Cohen explains that constant use of over-the-counters like antacids, Aleve, Ibuprofen, and laxatives can also deplete the body of important nutrients.

Satisfied with your medication regimen? Great, but learn more about your body chemistry with “America’s Most Respected Pharmacist”. Most doctors don’t have to take many credits dealing specifically with nutrition. Unhappy with your medications, because you’re suffering a lot of side effects? Run to your local bookstore or library and check out Drug Muggers. No, it’s not a substitute for a doctor, but it’s a great resource, which ultimately – like the supplements Cohen recommends – can advance your health and well-being.

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Tale Told Plainly

Kevin Coolidge

I enjoy a good story most anytime, but a ghost story should only be told at night. A man named William Stone knew this. He recalls a spooky tale in his autobiography, The Tale of a Plain Man. As a child growing up in Wellsboro, John Ainsley told young William Stone the story of Death’s harbinger, and he never forgot.

There was a man named Richard Duryea who lived alone in a large white house on the Dean road. He had been a sailor and was believed to have been a pirate. He had boxes and relics of the sea, and his profanity was legendary.

You could hear him singing Three Dead Men and a Bottle of Rum on warm summer nights. He never went to church, never mingled with his neighbors, and was thought to be in league with the devil. He was a man to avoid.

One day he fell ill. The old woman that cleaned his house reported his sickness to John Ainsley and Andrew Kriner, who decided to go up to his house and see if they could do anything. They found him close to death, and insisted on a doctor, but Duryea would not have one.

The visitors held vigil as Duryea lay upon his deathbed. It was a warm June night and they sat in a room adjoining his. The door into his bedroom was open, and the door opening to the porch was open. They had dozed off, but awoke as the clock struck twelve.

They were startled when a large black beast with sharp eyes walked into the house, and straight into Duryea’s room. Duryea screamed, and the beast left. Duryea was dead, and Ainsley believed the devil had come to claim his soul…

William Alexis Stone (April 18, 1846 – March 1, 1929) became the 22nd Governor of Pennsylvania, from 1899 to 1903. He was born right here in Tioga County, just outside Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, in Delmar Township. In The Tale of a Plain Man, this man of humble origin writes of his experiences.

His earliest memory was being hustled out of his bed early in the morning by his brothers to see Santa Claus as he galloped over the hill. Santa did not bring him much, just some candy and some doughnuts, but it was enough and he was happy.

He recounts his home life. His family was poor, but honest. His mother made all their clothes. Nothing but tea, coffee, salt and pepper was purchased. The farm furnished their living. His father even cobbled their boots before the old-fashioned fireplace.

His father was a quiet and reserved man, and William only discovered that his house was an Underground Railroad station when his mother told him to keep out of the spare room. He slipped outside and saw his first colored person when he peeked through the window.

Soon after he read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and spent many a night weeping at the wrongs. It made him anxious to answer Lincoln’s call, but he was too young until later in the war. He started his military career as soon as his father would allow him, and quickly rose in rank.

After the war, he decided to get an education, and attended what eventually became Mansfield University, then followed law practice, and public office. I enjoyed how he won over a hard-headed Scotsman on a jury by quoting Robert Burns, and how he broke up a fist fight in Pittsburgh by claiming to be John L. Sullivan, a boxing champion of the time.

The Tale of a Plain Man is a straightforward account of the inspirations and decisions of a modest Pennsylvania leader. He wrote his memoirs at the request of his children, grandchildren, and a friend. Five hundred copies were printed, but there was such a demand that a publisher in Philadelphia published a second edition of this man who strove “not so much to sustain his own prestige as to preserve the public peace, credit and prosperity.”

Plain? Or Fancy? Email me at and let me know. Miss a past column? It’s not hard to catch up, just go to Looking for a book about a cat from Wellsboro? You need go no farther tham “Hobo Finds A Home” about a cat born in Tioga County that went on to become Wellsboro’s most famous cat…

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Reach for a New Hero: Lee Child and Elizabeth George's mysteries

Read the Printed Word!
(originally written for the Gazette in Feb. 2013) by Kasey Cox
In winter, I tend to read a lot of mysteries. Even the most well-written mysteries are still brain candy, a plot meant to engage our minds, a story spun to draw us in. Perhaps this is the reason I love mystery series this time of year: TV doesn’t offer much; Hollywood saves the big blockbuster releases for the holidays and for summer; and I don’t do winter sports, so mysteries take me away, just like Calgon in the 1980s.

I’ve noticed a lot of bookstore customers working their way through a mystery series or two right now, just like I am. This past week, a man asked me for a recommendation from that section of the store, and I asked him if he liked police procedurals. When he said yes, I suggested Elizabeth George’s books about Scotland Yard cases in modern-day England. Honestly, I was a bit taken aback with his response – “No, I don’t want any of those mysteries written for women.” Certainly, there are many authors who write a cross-genre approach with the “romantic suspense” theme, but I would never classify Elizabeth George as one of them. As we talked further about it, I realized this man meant that he didn’t want “all that relationship and psychological stuff”. George’s characters have complicated pasts, elaborate motives, and, yes, intricate relationships with each other. George delves deeply into the psychology of the cast of characters she has created, for both the detectives, the killers and their victims.

Since my best recommendations come from books I’ve read personally, I mentioned that I’d just recently starting reading Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. The customer’s face lit up as he told me he’s read every book. While I couldn’t sell him a Lee Child book, at least I knew we were on the same page.

Lee Child is the yang to Elizabeth George’s yin. As Child explains in his new author’s introduction to his first book, The Killing Floor, Child created his main character, Jack Reacher, to be the anti-hero of his day, the opposite of the sensitive, vulnerable male protagonists who were the height of popularity when Child started writing in 1995. Jack Reacher’s archetype hearkens back to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, a cowboy who rides into town, smashes the heads of the bad guys together, gets the pretty girl, but then, inevitably, must ride off into the sunset. Many readers have called the Jack Reacher books a modern take on the Western, an ironic situation where British writer Lee Child creates the epitome of an American hero. (Elizabeth George, by the way, is an American author who writes so convincingly about England and Scotland Yard that many Brits don’t realize she’s an American.)

Jack Reacher is ex-military, but he’s the perfect example of how you take the man out of the army, but you can’t take the army out of the man. Born on an American military base, carted around the world with his military father’s job, Jack and his brother moved right from being military brats into being military men in their own right. After the Cold War ends, Jack finds himself honorably discharged in a downsizing military, and at loose ends. An American who has hardly spent any time in the United States, Jack decides to carefully spend his pension to travel as far as it will take him. His parents are deceased, he’s estranged from his brother, and he has no ties to any place in particular.

When I say Reacher is ex-military, a cowboy figure who rides into town and cleans up the bad guys he happens to run into, don’t confuse Reacher with Rambo. Reacher doesn’t spit out great one-liners while humping ridiculously huge weapons through the jungle. Though Lee Child’s plot lines are occasionally a little contrived to get Reacher into an exciting situation, his learning curve as a writer is impressive. Each book in this series is more sure-footed, the plot twists more complicated yet less forced, Reacher’s back story slowly but solidly filling in to create a character who really takes up residence in your brain, leaving you wanting more.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Lee Child may be the perfect brain candy for you and readers you love. Hero and protagonist Jack Reacher isn’t sweet, but he is satisfying and that satisfaction lasts through an ongoing series of seventeen books, many of which have won awards in the crowded mystery-and-thriller genre.

Brit or Yank, woman or man? Hobo never tells. Dance the Lynley, or Reach for the gun? Send Hobo your opinion at Watch for Hobo’s new mystery, Paws to Find the Missing Tuna Fish, coming soon to a bookstore near you.

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Summer Reading Selections 2013

Kasey Cox

Read the Printed Word!
When I was a kid, one of the best parts about summer was going to the Green Free Library to check out a bunch of books, and then curling up in bed with them. My parents still made me go to bed at a “reasonable” hour in the summer, but I was allowed to read for a while, as long as I stayed in my bed. (Now I understand this rule a lot better: it was not just for my health. This was for my parents’ health – their mental health, mostly.) Some nights I read while the “heat lightning” illuminated the horizon and thundered boomed way off in the distance; other nights, I listened to the peepers down in the marsh across the road, or listened to big “June bugs” ping off the screens in my bedroom windows. Although those sounds made an impression that lasts in my memory to this day, they were still background noise: all the rest of my attention was sucked into whatever story I was reading.

The trouble with growing up in the 1970s and 1980s was that there wasn’t enough “young adult” literature to satisfy a voracious reader. Certainly, there were many excellent books written for children, stories we think of as “classics”, as well as a long list of Newbery Award winners, but like many bookworms I know, it was still possible to devour everything in the library deemed “appropriate” for my age, and still want more.

Obviously, and thankfully, this is no longer the case. The market is now on fire with children’s books, for both younger “reluctant readers” and for older “young adult” readers. There are so many great stories being written for children and teens that more adults are boldly going into the “children’s section” of both bookstores and libraries. This makes it easier for us adults to be able to recommend books to the kiddos in our lives – now, more than ever, we’ve read the books, too.

I’ve been on a big “young adult” book kick this summer. Most recently, I read and reviewed Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, a meticulously-researched historical fiction about young women in England and France during World War II, and the jobs they did. A month later, I’m still asserting that this is the best damn book I’ve read in at least the last six months. With the new teen book club at the bookstore, I’ve read the book-of-the-month for June and for July – Shatter Me, by Tehereh Mafi, and Love, Aubrey, by Suzanne LaFleur, respectively. Shatter Me is another dystopian novel for young adults, but has some plot devices which set it apart from what has become a crowded field. Love, Aubrey is appropriate for some “middle readers” with mature emotional sensitivities, and is definitely a great read for teens and adults. Eleven year old Aubrey is trying to cope on her own, having recently lost her father and younger sister in a car accident, living with her mother who has broken down in the wake of such a terrible loss. Aubrey goes to live with her grandmother for a while, facing not just her own grief, but a move to a new school, and her mother’s inability to care for her. This tender, intense novel seems like Jodi Picoult for a younger generation, dealing with painful issues with beautifully-drawn characters.

On a whim, I picked up Maureen Johnson’s young adult novel, The Name of the Star, and found myself surprisingly riveted. What I thought would be a lark ended up being a race through the first book, and its sequel, The Madness Beneath, whereupon I now join the group of fans shouting, “No!!!! I can’t believe I have to wait for the next one! How could you leave us here?” The series is named “the Shades of London” for the band of super-secret police agents assigned to deal with ghost-related crimes. Think “Ghostbusters” meets “The X-files”, without the corny ‘80s music, one-liners from Bill Murray, convoluted alien abduction themes, or the Smoking Man. Replace these things with hip teen characters who attend a private London boarding school, an American girl who begins to see ghosts, the legends of Jack the Ripper, and a series of copycat murders stumping the London police. Author Johnson’s friends and contemporaries are award-winning writers such as John Green (The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska), Cassandra Clare (the “Mortal Instruments” series), and Libba Bray (A Great and Terrible Beauty, The Diviners). Now that I’ve read her “Shades” books, I can see how Johnson is “write” at home with these movers and shakers in teen lit. I wish these folks were writing when I was younger, but many of them weren’t even born yet.

No matter that I’m no longer that kid, listening to peepers and reading my library books on long summer nights. The new young adult literature transports me back to good memories from those summers, and keeps me up late reading now, listening to the rain while I’m absorbed in images of rainy London streets.

Teen angst or hipster adventures? Inquiring bookstore cats want to know. June bugs or July showers? Hobo reports the c
urrent conditions, at his facebook page: Looking for a great children’s book? You know which one Hobo recommends! (Cats have no problems with self-confidence or with self-promotion!)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Going Dutch

Kevin Coolidge

Writing, it’s hard work. The best make it look easy. It’s not. There are rules. Elmore “Dutch*” Leonard knew them all. He should. He wrote Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing along with 45 other books, including the best selling novels Get Shorty, Glitz, and 3:10 to Yuma and one children’s book, A Coyote’s in the House.

He died last week. He was 87, and he was still writing. He showed rather than told what was taking place in a story. He also never opened with weather, avoided prologues and exclamation points, and avoided detailed descriptions of characters.

Some writers use pretty language, or sing a song with words. Some just like the sound of their own voice. Leonard wrote in a sparse, slick style that kept him out of the story, and the reader in it. He cut to the essence of character. He made it real.

He was the last of the great pulp novelists. Although he was best knows for his cops and crooks, he began writing fiction while working in advertising. It was the early 1950s, and western fiction was selling. He sold over 30 short stories, even though a literary agent once told him, “Don’t give up your job to write.”

The western genre declined and he turned to crime fiction. It was eight years before he sold his first crime novel, The Big Bounce. Published in 1969 and shortly followed with a Hollywood movie staring Ryan O’Neal, neither was a success. In fact, he never hit the bestseller list until he was 60 years old with Glitz, but he was just getting started.

Many of his novels went on to become bestsellers and successful Hollywood movies, including Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, Out of Sight and Hombre. 3:10 to Yuma, based upon a short story by Leonard, was adapted into a film twice: first in 1957, then again in 2007 starring Russell Crowe, and the movie version of The Switch will be debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

In 2010, the writer with the smart, cool dialogue was hot once again with the television series Justified, starring Timothy Olyphant as the U.S. Marshall. The TV show was first inspired by the novella, Fire in the Hole. The U.S. Marshall who plays by his own rules also appeared in Pronto, Riding the Rap, and Raylan.

He last novel was published in 2012, and debuted at No. 7 on the New York Times Bestseller List. He was 86. He was writing the day that something exploded in his head, the stroke that would ultimately kill him three weeks later. The book was to be called Blue Dreams, and the main character was his guy Raylan Givens, the good guy with an edge.

Writing is hard work, but Leonard made it look easy. All you really have to do is leave out the part readers tend to skip. Sometimes words just get in the way, and if it sounds like writing, rewrite it. Now endings, they aren’t as easy as they look…

*His nickname Dutch was taken in honor of baseball pitcher, Emil “Dutch” Leonard.

Ride the Rap? Or get out of sight? Email me at and let me know. Miss a past column? Go to and catch yourself up. Be sure to look for Hobo’s (bookstore cat) new revisionist Western involving werewolves, death rays, and dancing gophers. Town’s not big enough for the two of us…

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Monday, August 12, 2013

I Could Chew on This

Kevin Coolidge

Fur flies. Wind bites. Eyes sting. I taste the air and swallow freedom. I wish the window were down all the way. Roaming, baying, dreaming—all dogs once were wolves. Wild, wary, nipping at the heels of night, gnawing the edges of dawn, feasting on the flesh of our fear: life was cold and hard and lonely. The fires of men called, and dogs answered.

Canis lupus familiaris, the domestic dog, the family pooch, always makes a great subject for a book. Dogs are loyal, dedicated, well mannered, truly man’s best friend. But anyone who has ever owned and raised a puppy knows that isn’t always so. There’s always a little wild in your hound.

Dogs, like wolves, still have the drive of the pack and demonstrate the need of social interaction with dogs and people. Daily feedings of canned food doesn’t destroy the urge to run down rabbits. Sleeping safely indoors can’t keep him from answering the calls of night. It can be frustrating for the dog living in the world of man.

Luckily, dogs have never been shy about expressing emotions. Your dog will chew your favorite pair of slippers when he’s mad. He’ll wag his tail when he’s happy, and when he’s sad, there’s a slow, mournful sulk. Still, you’ve never truly known what goes on in his mind until now.

Francesco Marciuliano, author of I Could Pee on This, and Other Poems by Cats, brings us I Could Chew on This, and Other Poems by Dogs. Within the heart of every canine, there’s a poet ready to howl. Through the power of poetry, you can experience the wealth of wisdom, the unbreakable bond, and just why dogs keep sniffing, running, and staring.

Your dog is reaching out to you. He wants to show you his world. His desires, his dreams, and just what he thinks of the new kibble. You will come to see why every bark must be answered, why it was necessary to roll in the rotted remains of that woodchuck, and why the neighbor’s cat must be constantly shown where the property line is.

You will learn the true meaning of loyalty. You will feel the optimism and hope a strong breeze can bring, and perhaps come to understand the deep-seated need to sniff every butt. I challenge you to see the world, as he smells it. So read their poems. I double dog dare you…

Canine? Feline? Or do you prefer to decline? Email me at and let me know. Miss a past column? If you’re nosing around the internet, just prowl on over to and devour your fill. Make sure to look for Hobo’s new book set in the wilds of Alaska, “Tramp of the North: the adventures of a carnivorous kitten…

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Monday, August 5, 2013

All's Fair in Love and Re-Telling Tales?

Kasey Cox

Read the Printed Word!
In Carolyn Turgeon’s newest novel, The Fairest of Them All, Rapunzel herself relates her story. In many ways, it is the story we all know and expect, of a young maiden, living in a tower in the forest. Rapunzel’s hair has amazing qualities: it is as strong as iron cables, as gorgeous as a summer field of sunflowers, and long enough that she can dangle it out of her high window in the tower and it will reach the ground. In each story of Rapunzel, the details of the hair, the tower, her circumstances for being there, differ.

In some stories, Rapunzel is actually a princess, an heir to the throne of the kingdom seen off in the distance, and she is in the tower, hidden away for her protection. In other stories, a witch kidnapped Rapunzel as a child, and holds her prisoner in the tower. In Turgeon’s novel, the “witch” is actually a skilled healer and herbalist, who rescued Rapunzel when she was an infant, saving her from her neglectful and abusive parents. The “witch” Mathena was once a favored advisor at court, beloved by the Queen, but opinion turned against her with the arrival of a new, conservative priest, and Mathena exiled herself to the forest with Rapunzel. Here, the two women lead a life of constant work to sustain themselves and help other women who come seeking healing and help with problems. Rapunzel loves her life, in tune with the earth, the garden, the plants, the seasons. She loves to hunt with their falcon and her bow. She and Mathena have little interaction with the people of the palace, except in the occasional gossip of the peasant women who see them, or when a group of men pass near the tower as they hunt in the forest. Innocently, Rapunzel watches these hunting parties from her tower window, occasionally singing to them.

Rapunzel has never even seen a man up close, until one day there is a knock on the door, and she opens it, thinking it to be another woman seeking help. Instead, it is the prince, the heir to the throne, who heard her singing, and enchanted, wanted to find the woman whose voice touched him. He cordially invites Rapunzel and Mathena to a harvest ball, soon to be held at the palace. Mathena is coolly polite, but, as soon as he leaves, she sternly forbids Rapunzel to go. Mathena insists that Rapunzel should never visit the palace, never get involved with the royal court. It is, of course, too late. Rapunzel is as enchanted with the prince as he is with her. As the Rapunzel stories all include, the prince eventually climbs her hair to visit her in the tower. Turgeon’s novel, however, is no Disney fairy tale. There is sensual magic afoot here, and terrible consequences that inevitably follow. The prince’s “visit” to Rapunzel is a Pandora’s box that begins a domino effect of passion and love, secrets and sadness, ruin and redemption.

Even though the prince is betrothed to the princess of another kingdom, in the hope that their marriage will bring peace throughout the lands, the prince cannot forget his passion for Rapunzel. Though Rapunzel stays in the forest with Mathena, the prince never leaves her mind, for he has given her a beautiful, painful reminder of their passion…. The magic around her grows darker and more powerful, the stakes higher, the choices more terrible. The prince becomes the King; he and his beloved, pious new wife have a beautiful daughter, whom they name Snow White. The young Queen dies when Snow White is only seven, and the King chooses Rapunzel to be his new Queen. Thus, in this mash-up of fairy tales, Rapunzel becomes the stepmother of Snow White. And we all know where this story has led in past tellings.

Carolyn Turgeon’s latest play on classic fairy tales is more reminiscent of the old stories from the Brothers Grimm than any sparkly, kid-friendly Hollywood movie version. There is sex and death, blood and betrayal, old magic and tangled love. The Fairest of Them All is not a moralistic tale, but the story provides plenty of food for thought as well as a new way to look at the messages in old stories.

Disney or dread-locks? A heart filled with love, or eat your heart out? Either way, Hobo wishes to remind all his fans that his are the goldest locks of all, and he doesn’t need a mirror to tell him that. Cats, of course, have no problem with self-confidence. Remember, Carolyn Turgeon will be visiting Hobo at From My Shelf Books & Gifts on Friday, August 16th!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Courage or Truth? Code Name Verity and women in WWII

Read the Printed Word!


written by Kasey Cox, June 10, 2013

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, is the best book I’ve read this year.

That’s saying a lot, since we’re currently flying through June 2013 – Laurel Festival will be over by the time you read this, and we’ll all be looking forward to plans for the 4th of July. Obviously, I’m a book fiend who devours as many books a week as I possibly can. Though I’ve been on a big mystery kick these last few months, I’m so glad I finally made some time to read this young adult historical fiction book that’s been on my “to read” list since it was first released in hardcover last May. (It’s available in paperback now!) This is one of those books that made me say, “Why did I wait so long to read this?!?”

Of course, I’m predisposed to fall in love with Code Name Verity, since I am fascinated with the Resistance movements during WWII, especially in France; spies, double agents, and the work of the OSS; early aviators; and the women who fit in these areas of history. It follows that I’ve written reviews on Antoine St.-Exupery, French pilot and author; a factual book written by a woman who worked for and survived the French Resistance, entitled Code Name Christiane Clouet; and Jeff Shaara’s historical fiction To the Last Man, which details the early pilots of WWI, including the Lafayette Escadrille, and the infamous Red Baron. Amelia Earhart was one of my first history girl crushes, and remains a marvel to me. I studied in France, but spent much less time there than I wanted to. So it feels that Elizabeth Wein wrote this book just for me.

However, you don’t need to be a Francophile, an Anglophile, a WWII history buff, or a student of early aviation to enjoy Code Name Verity. This is a story that transcends the time period, with characters that breathe and weep and strain off the pages, and with universal themes that make it a work of great literary fiction. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of fiction books written with a WWII setting – to say nothing of the thousands of nonfiction tomes covering every angle of the War. What makes Code Name Verity stand out from a field of so many choices, many of them excellent?

Without a doubt, Verity is as beautifully written as any WWII book out there, fiction or nonfiction. In the short year since its publication, this writing has been recognized by glowing reviews in everything from The New York Times Book Review to the School Library Journal, and it has won such prestigious awards as the Michael L. Printz Award, the Boston-Globe Horn Book Award, and the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Young Adult Fiction. Wein’s research for the book was a lengthy process, and it shows in every detail of descriptions of the anti-aircraft guns at early British airfields, the new invention of pens that don’t need a nib and an inkwell, and the uniforms worn by the women who worked for the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) in Britain.

To say too much about the actual storyline would be to spoil the pleasure of reading it for yourself, but "Verity" is the code name for one of the two protagonists of this novel: she is a woman spy who has been captured in France not far into her mission. Verity has been given a terrible choice: write her confessions, revealing everything she knows about war preparation in the UK and the secrets of the spy network, or continue to face torture (both subtle and brutal) and eventual execution. In the meantime, Verity worries about her best friend Maggie, the female pilot who ended up flying her into France. Facing damage to their plane from anti-aircraft fire on the flight in, Verity was forced to parachute in while Maggie crash-landed the plane. As Verity weaves her “confession” across pages and pages of random paper, the reader wonders, how much is true (“Verity” = "Verite", for “truth” in French), and how much is stalling for time, so that at least one of the women can be rescued? Wein creates an amazing balance of both deeply intimate moments and a thrilling adventure story, to be savored by adults and teens alike.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Pour Me a Cold One

Kevin Coolidge

So bone-tingling cold, it hurts my teeth. I don’t care. Nothing says summer like an ice-cold beer. Beer is simple. You don’t sniff it. You don’t slosh it around. You don’t hold it up to the light. There’s no need to talk about it. You drink it, and if you feel like it, you drink another. I like beer.

I appreciate a good homebrew beer, which is why I was happy to see that the Tioga County Fair is adding homemade beer and wine to their competitions this year. Best homebrew in show will win $200 cash and will have their beer professionally brewed and put on tap at the Wellsboro House Brewery. If you’ve been told you make the best beer, now is the time to demonstrate your skill.

If you’ve always wanted to brew your own beer, but don’t know where to start, there’s Homebrewing for Dummies by Marty Nachel. Marty is an award-winning homebrewer, a certified beer judge, and has been a beer evaluator at the Beverage Testing Institute and the Great American Beer Festival. He knows and loves beer, and can take you from a simple first batch to the more advanced procedures.

Having the right equipment for brewing your beer is essential, but the items needed at the beginner level are relatively inexpensive. You really only need three tools: a brewpot, a container in which you ferment the beer (the fermenter), and bottles to package the beer.

It sounds simple, but it can get complicated quickly. The fermenter must be airtight, but be able to vent carbon dioxide. The bottles require a bottle cap, which is going to require a bottle-capping device, and your list of needs begins to grow, but don’t panic.

You can set your own level of commitment and pace. Some equipment is required only to produce the more advanced beer styles. Some equipment is for saving time and effort in the process. You’ll probably want it if you continue to brew beer, but you may not need it when you begin.

There are four basic building blocks that make beer—barley, hops, yeast, and water. There’s a chapter devoted to each of these primary ingredients. There are also chapter to discuss miscellaneous additives and flavoring that aren’t the primary ingredients in beer—such as herbs and spices.

You can now begin to brew your first batch with step-by-step procedures from filling your brewpot to illustrating the options you have to package your brew once it’s done fermenting. Bottling beer before it is done fermenting may result in exploding bottles. Make sure to read chapter 13 thoroughly to avoid this nasty mishap.

There’s information on kegging your beer if you wish to avoid cleaning, storing, sanitizing and capping bottles, and of course the fun part of the book—the recipes. Marty over 100 picked for their popularity, usability and great taste. There’s even information on specialty beers, cider and mead. Experiment and enjoy.

Homebrewing is a lot like growing your own vegetables, or baking your own bread. There are few things as gratifying as sipping a cold one you brewed yourself, and sharing with friends and family. Beer has been bringing people together since civilization began, and nothing says fellowship like an ice-cold beer, except maybe two…

Beer is best? Wine is fine? Or maybe a little ‘shine? Drop me email at and let me know. Miss a past column? You can tap past columns at Hobo used to be a country cat, but he prefers his livestock medium well... You can read about his adventures in “Hobo Finds A Home”, a children’s book about a kitten who didn’t want to be stepped on by clumsy cows…

If you'd like to buy this book, why not buy it where you tried it? Simply click on the photo below, or the title, highlighted throughout this post, to purchase the book at From My Shelf Books & Gifts, and to support the writers of this fine blog ;) We thank you!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Check Mate

Kasey Cox

Read the Printed Word!
Of late, the staff at From My Shelf have become huge fans of ABC’s television series, "Castle". Sound counter-intuitive for bookstore folks to love a TV show? Not so much as one might think. Certainly, I could write more than one column about “the crap that’s on television today” and find plenty of evidence from numerous studies, showing how watching TV is “rotting our brains”, but I would be digressing way too far before this column has even begun. For now, let’s discuss the elements of TV that book people enjoy, too, and specifically, what we love about “Castle”.

“Castle” is the story of a bestselling mystery novelist who finagles his way into following some NYPD detectives around, making observations for his writing. The bestselling writer is the eponymous Richard “Rick” Castle, whose first series of thrillers (think James Patterson’s “Alex Cross” series, for example) made him a pile of money, brought him international fame, and connections in high places. Unlike Patterson and his detective Alex Cross, Rick Castle has recently killed off his popular fictional detective, Derrick Storm. Searching for fodder for a new series, Castle’s asked his friend, the New York City mayor, to convince the NYPD that allowing Castle to shadow a team of homicide detectives will bring “good PR” to the city’s men and women in blue.

Thus begins Castle’s tango with Detective Kate Beckett. Though Castle has been quite a playboy, coming out of two divorces only to date any rich, famous, or beautiful woman he wants, the cavalier attitude begins to disappear as Castle’s respect, affection, and—dare we say it?—love for Beckett grows. Despite the ups and downs in their working relationship, and the often unspoken tensions in their complicated personal relationship, Castle starts writing his new series, centered on a sexy, powerful, successful detective – “Nikki Heat”. The other characters in the new “Heat” series are also obviously inspired by other people Castle works with at the precinct, but “Heat" is often too close to Kate Beckett’s real person for her comfort.

What’s fun about this television series is the way ABC broadcasting and Hyperion publishing kicked it up another notch, by publishing real books, supposedly written by “Richard Castle.” Each book features a photo of the actor who plays Castle (Nathan Fillion) and an author bio that describes Rick Castle’s life from the show. The first book, just like in the TV series, is Heat Wave. The second is Naked Heat. Those who follow the show will see the obvious parallels between the character of Kate Beckett on the show, and the protagonist of the books, detective Nikki Heat. The same is true for all the supporting characters, including the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, “Jameson Rook”, who gets permission to shadow Nikki Heat in order to write an article.

Here’s one thing about book people: ultimately, we love a good STORY, no matter what the medium. That’s why you’ll find so many of us also obsessively discussing movies, TV shows, plays, and even certain games, if they are narrative-driven and full of good characters. Castle, the TV series, has provided not only great characters who are both funny and clever, but also believably deeper as their back-stories get filled in. Moreover, there’s the added layer of a story-within-a-story: here’s a series about a writer, (which is already more interesting to us bookish folks), and then add in the fact that you can really read the books the writer has (supposedly) written. The books refer to characters and events in the television show, and the books are often the subject of conversation and events in the TV series, immersing one more in the world of “Castle.”

Most likely, the ghost writers for the “Castle” books aren’t going to be winning any Pulitzers of their own, but they’re solid mystery stories, made more fun by the interplay with the series, as was the intention of the powers that be who are involved. Though bookstore folks can be snobby and/or particular about movies made from books, in the case of the crossover between “Castle” TV and the books “written by Richard Castle”, I encourage you to join the fun!