Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Kasey's "Top Five" Favorite Reads of 2013

Read the Printed Word!
Without further ado, my top five recommendations from books I read in 2013....

Room by Emma Donoghue: We read this for book club in February 2013, or else I probably wouldn't have read it, no matter how many great reviews it got. I knew a little bit about the premise – a five year old boy has never left the small efficiency-style apartment where he was born. He lives there with his young mom. For the reader, this sends up all kinds of red flags right away, signifying a situation of abuse, kidnapping, or strange psychoses. I usually can't read this kind of book, especially dealing with children. I have so many people come in to the bookstore asking for Dave Pelzer's books, beginning with A Child Called It. I only got about fifteen pages read of A Child Called It before putting it down in revulsion. So Room was not on my “to read” list. Once I picked it up, however, I was drawn in. The story is told from the boy's perspective. To him, life is pretty good. His mom takes great care of him. There are many games they play together. They read. He watches Dora on TV. He loves his mom and feels safe with her. Sometimes she's sad, though, or worried, and she makes him sleep in a closet when the man comes to visit at night. His world is about to change, and as a reader, you watch with awe and bated breath. A fascinating study in the love between mother and child, the strength and resilience of hostages, and how our brains and bodies can adapt to almost any situation.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: I already did a full review on this incredible book, written for young adults, about women spies and pilots – the OSS/SOE and the ATA/WAAF – during World War II. If you missed that review, here are some highlights. Julia Beaufort-Stuart and Maddie Brodatt are best friends. Though they come from completely different parts of the UK and the opposite ends of the socio-economic class spectrum, they are like long-lost sisters. Working together for the WAAF is the first thing that brings them together, but, as their individual talents begin to shine – Julia's for languages, acting, and bravado, and Maddie's for flying and mechanics – the women are reassigned to Special Operations and the Air Transport Auxiliary, respectively. When the book opens, Julia is writing her “confession” and giving all her knowledge to a high-ranking German officer, in a prison, in Nazi-occupied France. We don't know where Maggie is. As the story rolls forward, we see each girl is worried for the fate of the other, and both are in mortal danger in occupied France. How they got there, and who may get out alive, is a breathtaking, soul-searing thriller full of love, hope, despair, and daring.

In the Woods
and The Likeness by Tana French: I'm counting these books as “one” of my “top five”, because they're by the same author; I read them back to back, which you'll want to do; and though not exactly a series, they deal with the same characters. French is an Irish-American author whose books could technically be called mysteries, in the traditional police procedural vein, but her writing is easily the envy of anyone writing more lyrical, “literary” works. In the Woods garnered rave reviews and great acclaim from the moment it was published in January 2007; the follow-up but not-really-sequel, The Likeness, is even better. I could not put the darn books down. Every day, I longed to come home to race through more chapters to find out what would happen to the characters who had rapidly become beloved to me. Though I wanted desperately to find out the ending, I savored each beautifully-crafted sentence which French seems to effortlessly lay down.

The Cuckoo's Calling
by Robert Galbraith: First of all, surprise!! If you didn't see the news, Robert Galbraith is actually J. K. Rowling in disguise! If you've been living under a rock for a while, J. K. Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter series, and of one adult novel, Casual Vacancy. I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, and was quite impressed by Casual Vacancy, which is, in every way, the yin (darker side with white dot) to the Potterverse's yang (white with dark spot). In the Potter world, though evil exists and bad things happen, people surprise us for the good, are willing to sacrifice themselves for something greater, and ultimately, hope and love triumph. Vacancy, on the other hand, shows how small and petty we can be, where small-town politics and gossip snowball into terrible tragedy. Vacancy, though a different genre and audience for Rowling, is still filled with her voice. The Cuckoo's Calling doesn't sound like her at all. If someone hadn't outed her, I never would have guessed she wrote this traditional, noir, private detective novel which harkens back to Dashiell Hammett, Rex Stout, and Dorothy Sayers. I admit, I read it out of curiosity, not at all sure I'd like it. I was surprised.

Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson: I'd never read anything by Jackson, even though several of her earlier books were highly recommended in BookSense and IndieBound newsletters, and on several bestseller lists. Her newest book is a charming, rich story, full of quirky people who leap right off the pages and into your heart. Southern, contemporary, with hints of Fannie Flagg (Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe), Billie Letts (Where the Heart Is), and Pat Conroy (Beach Music), but with a strong voice all her own, Jackson is a writer to read, enjoy, and watch. In Jackson's November 2013 release, Someone Else's Love Story, William Ashe is a shy, heartbroken, math genius. Shandi is the mother of three year old prodigy, “Natty” Bumpo Price, truly the product of a virgin birth, since Shandi has little to no memory of the scary events surrounding Natty's conception. William and Shandi first meet during a hold-up at a convenience store. If that's not exciting and strange enough to start, wait till you read their entertwining stories and the surprise ending. This book inspired me to go back and read other Jackson books, and all have pleased me.

To paraphrase Sam-I-Am in Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham, “try them, try them, and you'll see; you will like them, same as me!!!”

Monday, January 27, 2014

Of Dice and Men

Kevin Coolidge

The day I met Gimbur, I wasn’t looking for adventure. I was enjoying a hearty ale and minding my own brew. I wasn’t looking for trouble. In my defense, I didn’t start the brawl, not really. It was Bjorn. He always did think he was bard when he was deep in his cups. It was the joke that did it. How many dwarfs does it take to kill a dragon?*… He never saw the mailed fist that struck his gorget.**

Every character has a story and in Dungeon & Dragons the chances are that story starts in a tavern. Even if you’ve never played D&D, you’ve probably heard of it. It’s not a board game, though there are specific rules like Monopoly or Scrabble; it’s drastically different. It takes place in fantasy world created by its players, but inspired by centuries of storytelling.

The setting is conceived in advance by the dungeon master, or DM. It’s his job to create the scenario—such as a dragon has been raiding nearby villages, and the players have to find the lair, slay the dragon, and retrieve the treasure.

The DM sketches out the details, like making a map, deciding where the traps are, and what monsters are lurking in the darkness. This gives the other players an unknown world to explore making each gaming session different from the last.

Most players don’t sit down for a single, self-contained playing session, but instead join a campaign, with the same people who use the same characters, building on past actions. Many of these campaigns go on for months or even years.

Players are both audience and author, and play is cooperative, not competitive. Frodo Baggins needed help, and so will you. Players work within the narrative created by the DM, but rewrite the story with their actions. The result is game play that is more open-ended and can become more like writing a screenplay or novel.

Literature and books--such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy—inspired the first role-playing games. Players control characters in a world that exists in their collective imagination. There can be heroic quests, knights, wizards, and monsters lurking in the dark. There’s a promise of adventure, treasure, and a good story

There’s rarely a winner in D&D campaign. Most campaigns never last long enough to reach their dramatic conclusion. It’s more about the journey than the destination. It’s hard to explain how it works, and even harder to explain just how much fun it can be, but David M. Ewalt, has done a masterful job with his new book, Of Dice and Men.

David began playing D&D when he was ten years old and uses his first person experience to give a sharp analysis of D&Ds impact. Before computer games, before the internet, and before social media, this game influenced one of the first nerd subcultures.

Of Dice and Men is blend of history, journalism, and memoir. David traces the history of the game’s roots from the medieval battlefields of Europe, to chess, miniature war games, and the games’ influence on the modern video game industry.

In the same way Tolkien’s fiction inspired the first role-playing games, D&D provided a model for the first video games--having a character that has resources, encounters obstacles, and develops over time all came from D&D. According to Ian Bogost, a professor of media studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology, “Almost everyone I know in the game design field played Dungeons & Dragons.”

Great characters, interesting situations, plots twists, and storytelling--it’s the storytelling that continues to draw people to the game, and keeps them coming back, even years later. A good campaign is communal storytelling at its finest, and you tell it together. Now, you are in a tavern…

*Dwarfs can’t kill a dragon. The need a halfling to do it for them…

** A piece of armor protecting the throat.

Roll the die? Or a role to die for? Visit From My Shelf Books on Facebook and comment. Miss your saving throw? The well of knowledge is at http//frommyshelf.blogspot.com Drink your fill. You can read about Hobo’s big adventure in “Hobo Finds a Home”

Monday, January 20, 2014

Crack this Book

Kevin Coolidge

School is canceled again. My nephews are ecstatic. It’s the longest Christmas vacation ever. I would have been thrilled at their age too. More time to read. I’ve always loved books, but school was mind-numbingly boring.

My high school history teacher talked in a monotone. He inundated the class with names and dates, editing out the really cool stuff. Maybe he hoped to dampen our energy. Maybe we were easier to control if we were falling asleep. I don’t know, but I do know he lied to us.

History is filled with interesting, quirky stories. Those ancient Greek statues carved of marble? Those pure-white sculptures were actually painted in hot pinks, bright reds and more. Turns out they only look that way because of weathering. Those blank staring eyes? All the pupils were colored.

There’s all type of stuff that you didn’t know, even if you thought you knew a lot. The writers from cracked.com have the antidote to misinformation. It’s time to bring back enthusiasm and feed curiosity with The De-Textbook.

Most of the “facts” crammed in your cranium are simply not true. It’s a cold winter. Your mother said to make sure to wear your hat. After all, you lose most of your body heat through your head. It’s a myth that is based on what might be the most poorly executed studies ever conducted.

In 1951, The U.S. Army placed test subjects in arctic survival gear into the freezing cold, and measured lost body heat. Only problem? They weren’t wearing hats. Surprisingly, the majority of the measured body heat escaped through the uncovered cranium. Who would have thought?

The army proudly published in a survival manual that hats are essential survival gear, and thus gave your mother something to nag you about to this very day. The truth is that an uncovered head loses no more body heat than any other uncovered body part. So, please put on some pants.

Your teacher led you to believe that history may have some dips and plot twists, but it’s accurately plotted out. We know most of the details of major events from the beginning to the end. The truth is, humanity has forgotten, misplaced, and just plain lost some important historical records and records.

Sure we’re pretty certain of the important stuff, but all the historical facts? We have many classic works, but the world may have been a very different place if the Mongols hadn’t sacked Baghdad, which contained The House of Wisdom, basically the Library of Congress of its time.

This ancient library contained some of the oldest, rarest books written across three continents, and the great horde tossed every book in the Tigris River, and the water ran black with ink for months afterwards. All that written history and hard work washed away.

Technology doesn't progress steadily, but wanders around like a drunken sailor. Our ancestors did more than discover fire and the wheel. Man, the naked aped, has been clever for a long time, and not all technological wonder originated in the 20th Century.

The first submarine was devised in 1580 by an English innkeeper. The first battery sometime around 200 B.C., and the first flamethrower was created by a Syrian refugee and used by the Greeks to burn ships in naval warfare, that was sometime around A.D. 672.

Some things happened way more recently that you think. Your grandparents knew people that had to adapt to the doorknob as advanced technology, because the doorknob wasn’t invented until 1878, and the French were still beheading people with the Guillotine until 1981.

The world is an amazing place. Science still can’t tell us why we yawn, why we need sleep, or how bicycles work. Is Pluto a planet? Does it matter? We don’t even know for sure how many planets there are in our solar system*. There’s still more, more mystery, more truth, more than we know…

*Between Mercury and the Sun it’s too bright; beyond Uranus it’s too dark.

School is cool? Or public education makes you drool? Email me @ from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Behind in your studies? Past columns available at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com Hobo, the bookstore cat, is a graduate of the school of life. You can read about his first lessons in “Hobo Finds a Home”

Monday, January 13, 2014

What’s Bugging You?

Kevin Coolidge

It will soon be a new year with new people contributing to new and old problems. The overpopulation situation continues to explode. If this keeps up, it will be standing room only. Hmmm, maybe that will slow things down. Soon the Earth will be filled with Homo sapiens. You know, humans. How will we feed the masses?

Some experts claim that an all vegetarian diet would extend food supplies and still nourish the growing population. Some will never give up meat, and suggest selective cannibalism could cull the teeming hordes. I have another solution. Eat what’s bugging you.

The appropriate insects can be a good source of not only protein, but also fats, vitamins, and minerals. There are some 1,462 recorded species of edible insects. The Survival Guide to Edible Insects catalogs several that are easy to identify and have a long record of human consumption, including cicadas, worms, locusts, ants, and many beetles.

Crickets are high in calcium. Termites are high in iron. Silkworms provide 100% of the daily minimum requirement of copper, zinc, iron, thiamin, and riboflavin. Fred Demara shares helpful tips on identifying safe insects, locating their habitats, harvesting them, and preparing them properly.

These lowly bugs have served as food for most non-European cultures, and have served an important role in the history of human nutrition. Before humans had tools to hunt or farm, insects were an important staple. Insects are easy to catch and live everywhere, which is why they can be essential in a “survival” scenario.

You don’t drink water gathered in the wilds without disinfecting it. Even pristine mountain streams carry the risk of giardia.* Boiling your water or roasting your bugs** isn’t hard, and cooking, particularly roasting, hard-shelled insects can improve the taste.

Insects aren’t just a survival option. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization issued a 200-page report in the spring of 2013 noting that insects are high in protein and minerals and have a relatively low environmental impact.

Earthworms and termites do add to methane emissions, but significantly less than beef. Insects are also more efficient in converting what they eat into something we can eat. A typical insect can convert 4.4 pounds of feed into 2.2 pounds of insect mass. A beef cow requires 17.6 pounds of feed to produce just 2.2 pounds of meat.

If you wish to prepare earthworms at home, you might not want to “purge” them. Wash the worms and put them in cornmeal for a day, and they will trade the gritty contents of their gut for cornmeal. They are tasty deep fried or ground and used much like hamburger. In the wild, you can just grab the worm by the head and squeeze like a tube of toothpaste.

Deep-fried Earthworms

Finely chop an apple and put in with worms for a day. Chill worms. Roll in flour with paprika, salt, and pepper. Deep-fry until crisp. Add a little hot sauce and yum.

Insects are abundant and free for the taking, making them a great asset in a survival situation. They are packed with nutrients and can be tasty if properly cooked. It just may be time to swaps your burgers for bugs…

*giardia is a parasite that can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, gas and nausea

**not all insects are bugs. A bug is an insect that has mouthparts that are modified for piercing and sucking...

To bee or not to bee? Chew it over and email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com Miss a past column? Fly or crawl over to http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com and eat your fill. Hobo, the bookstore cat, is a fan of butterflies. You can read about it in “Hobo Finds a Home”, a children’s book about finding your place in the world, and eating dinner…

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Online Auction for Hobo!!!!

Read the Printed Word!
Hi, Hobo Bookstore Cat fans!! We will be running an online auction of sorts, with all proceeds going to Hobo's care. If we bring in more money than is needed for vet bills, the overflow will benefit the Wellsboro and Galeton Teen Book Clubs. The auctions will be set up through our ebay account, but we will gladly accept serious "bids" through the store and/or facebook and/or email, if you are following the auctions on ebay but do not want to use your info in an online auction. Stay tuned for items to be auctioned!! And thanks again, from the bottom of our hearts, for all your help, support, love, and encouragement.

Current items on auction will include:

*Awesome gift basket from Pure Hart Soaps, with 4 goat milk soaps (Lime Rosemary, Lime Basil, Citrus Splash, and Good Morning Grapefruit) and Citrus Splash goat's milk lotion, and body puff. (a $35+ value)

*SIGNED hardcover, brand new: Seven for a Secret, by Lyndsay Faye (book cover price: $26.95)

*SIGNED hardcover, brand new: The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan (book cover price: $27.95)

*SIGNED hardcover, brand new: The Dark Path, by David Schickler (book cover price: $27.95)

*SIGNED hardcover, brand new: The Bookman's Tale, by Charlie Lovett (book cover price: $27.95)

*SIGNED hardcover, brand new: A Man Without Breath, by Philip Kerr (book cover price: $26.95)

*SIGNED hardcover, brand new: Robert B. Parker's 'Wonderland', by Ace Atkins (signed by Ace Atkins, not Robert Parker, since Parker died over a year ago) ... (book cover price: $26.95)

*SIGNED paperback, brand new: The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff (incidentally, one of Kasey's favorite books), cover price $14.95

*Bacon gift basket, including Mr. Bacon bendable action figure (otherwise known as a "Bacon Buddy"); a package of Bacon Stix snacks; a Bacon swirled lollipop; a tin of Bacon Mints; a tin of Bacon-flavored toothpicks, and maybe one or two other bacon goodies

.... we'll be adding more. We'll post the ebay links as they go live.