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…

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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!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Left Behind, or Gone for Good? Under the Dome, or Survival of the Flies?

Kasey Cox

Read the Printed Word!


Readers across the spectrum enjoy survival stories, although a lot of bibliophiles may not even realize how many books they read that carry a strong survival theme. Without a doubt, certain survival stories are obvious, in part because they are the true accounts of people in extreme situations: tales of trapped rock climbers (Between a Rock and a Hard Place); escaping alive from one of the worst disasters on Mount Everest (Into Thin Air); young boys climbing down a frozen mountain after a plane crash above the treeline (Crazy for the Storm).

Even if extreme mountaineering isn’t the chosen subject, certainly history remains one of the most popular genres of books, and most history books include stories of our ancestors surviving any number of terrible hardships: soldiers who made it through plane crashes, shark-infested waters, and POW camps (Unbroken); the rigors of settling the American prairie (Little House on the Prairie); the grueling, soul-crushing effort of the Civil War (Cold Mountain); the terrors and triumphs of living through a ‘Day of Infamy’ and other dark days in American history (I Survived Pearl Harbor; I Survived Hurricane Katrina).

In addition to the myriad of true stories – in biography, history, nature writing, travel writing, and more – there is an equally large amount of fiction which allows the reader to wrestle, alongside the characters, with how he or she might behave in a difficult situation. In fiction, the reader can ‘watch’ how characters respond to tragedy, extreme change, hunger, violence, and other threats. We, as readers, often find ourselves ‘sucked in’ to a story because we identify with certain characters. We see ourselves there; we wonder how we would respond.

Michael Grant’s young adult series, the “Gone” novels, puts characters in all kinds of dramatic survival situations. Kids are suddenly forced into a world that is at once the same place they’ve always been and also completely, frighteningly changed. One morning in late fall, in a little town on the coast of California, in the blink of an eye, everyone over the age of 15 disappears.

To make matters worse, as the kids explore, they find a ‘barrier’ – electric to the touch – which extends all the way around their area, 20 miles in any direction from the nuclear power plant just outside the main streets of little Perdido Beach.

With this first book, it’s like Stephen King’s Under the Dome meets Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” series. Now add in a big dose of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, since certain kids step up to try to take on the adult responsibilities – such as caring for the youngest children, and doing first aid – while other kids relish the chance to bully those more scared or weak than they. Then ramp up the excitement by throwing in some of the “X-men”, as kids begin to develop strange powers, and animals begin to mutate in scary, dangerous ways. With the “Gone” series, Michael Grant has created a fantastic recipe for compelling, stay-up-late-for-just-one-more-chapter reading.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Take Two, and Submit to Me in the Morning

Dr. Faustus

The universe strives for balance. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I should know. I’m a man of science. I’m not angry. I’m not even mad. I am, however, a little miffed about certain stereotypes.

I don’t spend all my time dilation in a secret laboratory, hidden away from the continuum. I enjoy taking evening constitutionals through the Whitechapel district circa 1888, and observing Deimos and Phobos struggling against the dark embrace of night. The iron oxide in the atmosphere makes for a gorgeous sunset.

I regularly partake of a hyperborean, fermented beverage after I’ve programmed the ‘bot to shear the sward, and I enjoy socializing with colleagues. One never knows what new, neural synapses will spark when in such stimulating company.

After all, I’m not married to my career: I do have a wife. She makes an excellent omelet as well as having a Ph.D. in particle physics. My, what that femina can do with tomato, Brie, bacon, a little basil and a cyclotron. We even have a pet feline named Schrödinger, though he’s been augmented with titanium claws and we let him out whenever he wishes.

I’m completely sane. I swear. I’ve chosen my career path carefully. Science is sacrifice. I’m doing this for the good of humanity. I’m just misunderstood. Scientists with SCGPD* have it tough, and no one knows this as well as editor John Joseph Adams.

He’s gathered twenty-two nefarious and all-conquering tales in The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination. You can now delve into those malicious minds with the help from such authors as Diana Gibaldon, Austin Grossman, Naomi Novik, Neil Gaiman, and other evil geniuses. Some names have been changed to protect the guilty.

What is visible radiation without the penumbra? The best heroes are defined by their nemesis. Behind every spandex covered superhero lurks a diabolical villain in a ratty lab coat to give him purpose. Who is more vital? The passive and boring hero or the dashing villain who sets the plot in motion? Who has the most fun?

It’s just not fair. I’m besieged by those who stand against progress. The horde of gargantuan, mutated chipmunks armed with Gauss riffles? Vaporized! They were for your protection. The army of genetically engineered velociraptors with X-ray vision? Eviscerated! It was simply to see if you were paying attention. Why must you challenge my every move for world domination?

Captain Sparrow has hindered me not once, not twice, but enough times to fill several issues of comic books, with potential of a spin-off series, a graphic novel or three, and a motion picture trilogy filmed in 3D IMAX, and surround smell. Humanity’s hero has risen. It’s my job to see he flies too close to the sun. Relax, my good captain, you’ll only feel a pinch. After all, I’m doing this for your own good…
*Schizotypal Creative Genius Personality Disorder. It’s a bona fide psychological disorder, really.

Get irked? Or get parallel? Comment and let me know. Miscalculate and miss a past data cache? You can get previous results at Would you prefer to peruse a delightful tale of a brave young kit that yearned to solve the universal equation? Pick up a autographed edition of “Hobo Finds A Home”, and solve all your problems…

Monday, July 1, 2013

Fearless Felines

Kevin Coolidge

What a surprise, the dog-centric media is once again focusing on canines. I’m tired of reading about these hero mutts. There’s Katrina, the black Labrador, who saved a man from drowning before rising waters claimed his life. Jump into water voluntarily? Then there’s Rocky, a Colorado police dog: he took a bullet while chasing down a burglar. Why run? No one was chasing him. Seems smarter to be where the gun isn’t. Dogs are such stupid butt sniffers.

Cats can be heroic too. There’s Sam, the Unsinkable. Sam started out catching rats aboard the German warship, the Bismarck. The captain went down with the ship, but not the cat. A British destroyer, the HMS Cossack, found him among the flotsam* and rescued him. Five months later a German submarine sank the Cossack, but not Sam.

Sam simply transferred to another British Navy vessel, the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. Within a couple weeks, that ship was torpedoed and sunk by the Germans. Sam was starting to be considered unlucky, and his royal majesty realized this cat needed to stay away from boats. Sam was transplanted to the governor’s office in Gibraltar, where he became a landlubber, never to sail the deadly seas again.

Cats are capable of police work as well. A stray cat, named Rusik, strutted into a police station in Russia. He had the uncanny ability to sniff out sturgeon. Smugglers would attempt to sneak through the fish, the source of expensive caviar, but no matter how ingenious, Rusik would find the poached fish. He quickly replaced the specially trained and expensive sturgeon-sniffing dog.

Rusik became internationally famous. The BBC did a news story on him. The public loved him; the criminal underground hated him. While Rusik was inspecting a car, the vehicle pulled forward and crushed him. He was killed in the line of duty. The Russian mob had put a contract on a cat.

Cats will even run into a burning building. On March 29th, 1996 an abandoned building burst into flames. Firefighter rushed to the scene in order to keep the fire from spreading. A fireman noticed a cat fleeing, and carrying a kitten. She limped over to a pile of four more, nudged each one, and passed out.

The mother cat had been raising her litter of five kittens inside the building. She could only carry one kitten at a time, which means she braved the inferno five times. Her ears were burned. Her feet scorched. Her hair was singed. Her eyes had swollen shut from the intense heat. How did she even know where she was going? Eileen Spinelli was inspired to write Hero Cat after reading Scarlett’s story.

The mother cat was later named Scarlett because of her red, burned skin. She was rescued by firefighter, David Giannelli, and rushed to a nearby shelter along with her five kittens, four of which survived. The kittens were adopted, and Scarlett found a home where she was spoiled rotten and lived comfortably for twelve years.
The Scarlett Award for Animal Heroism was named in her honor. It is given out by the North Shore Animal League of America, recognizing animals who risk their lives to save others, even dogs…

*Flotsam is floating wreckage of a ship or its cargo. Jetsam is part of the ship, its equipment or cargo that is purposely cast overboard to lighten the load in times of distress. Please note the difference in your notes. There will be a quiz.

Martyrs? Heroes? Survivors? Email me at and tell me what you think. Miss a past column? to the rescue. Past columns have been saved. In times of need, a hero will rise. Hobo is such a fearless feline. He’s the lionhearted protagonist of “Hobo Finds a Home” about a cat who got when the getting was good…