Did You Know? (Marshmallow Edition)

sweetThat the world’s first marshmallows were made in the year 2000 B.C.? They were made from honey and the root sap of the mallow plant.

I found this information on page 6 in the book Sweet! by Ann Love and Jane Drake. It also tells about some of the different kinds of candy and ingredients used in candy making throughout history and around the world.

marshmallowmadnessMarshmallows by Tim Kinnaird and Marshmallow Madness by Shauna Sever are two really good marshmallow cookbooks. They look a lot easier to make than I had thought, and they have flavor ideas I wouldn’t have ever thought of! I can’t wait to try a few of these recipes myself.

candymakingBut, why stop at making marshmallows? In the DVD Candymaking Sharyn Pak shows you how to make all kinds of different candies: dipped, drizzled, and molded chocolates, peanut brittle and lollipops too! It is an excellent show to see if you plan to make candy because she shows the proper way to heat sugars, use a candy thermometer, dipping the chocolates and much more. All this same information is available in the book The Complete Photo Guide to Candy Making by Autumn Carpenter as well as printed recipes for many yummy goodies.

deathmakesaholidayAccording to the book Death Makes A Holiday by David J. Skal, the history of giving out candy on Halloween began as a way to buy off the kids to prevent them from being tricksters. The first known packaging of Halloween candy was in 1920 for Ze Jumbo Jelly Beans out of Portland Oregon with the prominent message “Stop Halloween Pranksters”.

On page 12 of Sweet it says that Americans spend more than $125 million dollars a year on Marshmallows, and half of all marshmallows sold in the summer are toasted over campfires!

Campout the Ultimate Kids Guide by Lynn Brunelle teaches all that you need to know to begin your camping fun and has the directions for making s’mores so you can start enjoying your toasted marshmallows right away.

Sarah’s Selections

sarahlanguageartsInterested in a great novel or inspiration for finally building your home away from home? If so, check out Sarah’s latest reading adventures. For more of Sarah’s reviews, and lots of other great stuff, head over to our Facebook page.

Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos

Charles teaches English at a prestigious, private, Seattle school. His wife and he have divorced, after difficulties raising their autistic son, Cody. They are in the process of converting an older home into a private group home for Cody and some of his fellow classmates. Charles devotes much of his spare time writing letters to his younger daughter, Emmy, who’s away at college, and reminiscing about his own childhood. In Charles’ youth, he befriended a boy, Dana McGucken, who’s mysterious behavior was unnamed at the time, but now would be recognized on the autistic spectrum. Charles remembers how unhappy his parents were in their marriage, and recounts his relationship with his 4th grade Language Arts teacher, a woman who emphasized the Palmer method of penmanship. Charles makes revelations between his relationship with Dana, and the strained relationship he now has with his son. Charles’s life is focused on language and prose, and yet he can’t communicate with his son. A dramatic plot twist at the end cements the story, and unites the characters together. Kallos doesn’t publish very often, but I’m always happy when she does. She’s a talented storyteller, and her conviction for her characters is strong.

cabinpornCabin Porn: Inspiration for Your Quiet Place Somewhere
by Zachery Klein

Cabin Porn began as an online collection of photos to inspire a group of friends embarking on homebuilding. Readers around the world submitted shots of various structures to get ideas and brainstorm. The snapshots are mainly of exteriors, and many are tucked away in nature’s nooks and crannies. Some of the more oddball structures include a renovated grain silo, and an underground bunker built into a hillside. Rustic charm is illustrated throughout, and if you’re looking for inspiration for solitude this is it. It’s time to start saving up the cabin fund.

rocktheshackRock the Shack: Architecture of Cabins, Cocoons and Hide-outs: The Architecture of Cabins, Cocoons and Hide-Outs
by Sven Ehmann

Tired of city living? Are your neighbors driving you crazy? This collection of architectural gems will inspire you to get away from it all. Structures range from simple huts and teahouses to glamorous cabins with modern lines. Many of the submissions are from Europe and Japan, and the architectural designs will inspire you to downsize and escape. These quirky and unique dwellings showcase the human desire to create a sense of home.

Check Under the Bed….And in the Closet. Just Check the Whole House.

Don’t you roll your eyes at me because this trio of books I’m going to talk about seemingly belongs in the area of ‘To Be Read By Children.’ By the age of 13 I was already reading Stephen King and Clive Barker. Not because I was precocious but because my brother left Stephen King’s Pet Sematary on the arm of the couch one day and it had a kitty on it and anything with a kitty on it had to be pretty good. If you know anything about that book (or about any Stephen King book in general) you know I was traumatized for months. But in a good way. Yes, there is good trauma. I think.

So when I first laid eyes on Alvin Schwartz’s first book for kids called Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark I thought ‘Oh, please! That’s supposed to scare me? Bring it.’

Scary_Stories_to_Tell_in_the_Dark_coverOh, it brought the scares. It brought them in droves. I bought the book because the picture on the cover made me uneasy, a man with his arms flung to the skies, his mouth stretched open in agony. Okay, cool picture. And then I began to read the stories inside. Hooked is not a strong enough word to describe what that first book did to me. I would read a story and then rush to read it to my mom. Schwartz relies on folklore and urban myth in many of the stories and he gives a background description of each story at the end of the book.

But it’s the stories wedded to Stephen Gammell’s illustrations that made the books for me when they first came out. These are horrifying pictures. I came across my copies of the books (one of them so often read that I repaired the spine with black electrician’s tape) about a year ago and I flipped through it, shuddering at the illustrations. Other illustrators were brought in for the newer editions of these books which the library owns, but Gammell’s illustrations are the ones that haunt me.

Part of me wants to warn parents that the books are a little too scary for small children to read. But another part of me thinks what the hell; read them to your little boogers and keep them in line. Tell them all about that thing waiting under the bed counting down the minutes until the lights are turned off.


Book One is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Even the titles of the stories are terrifying: “What Do You Come For,” “The Hearse Song,” “Old Woman All Skin and Bone.” My favorite out of this first book is a very short story called “The Slithery-Dee”: The Slithery-Dee. He lives in the sea. He saw all the others. But he didn’t see me. That quote creeps me out for reasons I still don’t understand.

Book Two, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, amps up the frights even more with story titles like “Wonderful Sausage,” “Cat in a Shopping Bag,” “The Man in the Middle” and my favorite from this book,”The Bed By the Window.”

The third book is Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones (Oh God, I just read a few of the story titles and had major flashbacks. I think I should sleep with the lights on tonight.) Titles in this volume include: “Just Delicious,” “The Dead Hand,” “The Red Spot” (I’m still afraid of this story actually being true and happening to me) and “It’s Him.”

These are just a smattering of titles from each book. You can read them in any order but study the illustrations closely. They, along with the stories themselves, will help your nightmares find you.

Modern Cat Lady: 2015 Edition

Modern Cat Lady 2015

Adorable cat top by ModCloth.

Last year I wrote a little piece about the struggles of the modern cat lady, and how we should totally embrace the stereotype and wear our fur-dotted-clothes with pride. There was a much larger positive response than I’m used to here on A Reading Life, so I thought this year I would bring it back. A lot has happened in the world of cats and cat ladies, and I can’t wait to share with you all the new stuff you may have missed this year.

You Need More Sleep: Advice from Cats by Francesco Marciuliano
Okay, you’ve gotta love adorable photographs of cats or you wouldn’t be reading this right now. This humorous quick read is packed with cute feline faces and advice that will probably get you fired, dumped, or even arrested. My favorite nugget of wisdom has got to be from page 92. Just because others can’t see it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t chase it:

Love. Friendship. Success. Ghost mice. If you can picture it in your head then you should pursue it with all your might, sometimes at speeds achieving sonic booms. Sure, others may exclaim, “There’s nothing there!” or, “How many times can you run into a wall and still remember your name?” But no one ever achieved anything by waiting…unless it’s to stare up close at a blank wall. Because when that wall finally does do something, oh, man, it’s so gonna be worth those three days you sat still without blinking.

Cats Galore: a Compendium of Cultured Cats by Susan Herbert
Have you ever visited an art museum or gallery, stood still pondering the beauty before you, and wondered to yourself, ‘Yeah, but what would this look like if cats stood in for all the people?’ Well, wonder no more! The posthumous publication of this compilation of Susan Herbert’s artistic genius is not-to-be-missed by the modern cat lady. Whether it’s opera (Aida), film (Singin’ in the Rain), or art (Mona Lisa), nothing is safe from Herbert’s interpretations.

Shake Cats by Carli Davidson
Speaking of art, I’ve always thought of photography as one of the more difficult artistic mediums, mainly because there are so many varying factors that are outside the artist’s control. Lighting, weather, and most of all, the subject’s temperament can change drastically from one instant to the next. I think that’s why I love Shake Cats so much. Sure, the concept is simple: get some cats wet and photograph the resulting magic. But as any modern cat lady worth her catnip knows, cats generally hate water and will instantly let you know their displeasure. Davidson captures the magic in the split second before the claws come out, and thus the best coffee table book of them all was born.

Modern Cat Lady 2015 part 2

97 Ways to Make a Cat Like You by Carol Kaufmann
Modern cat ladies like yourself may not be inclined to look twice at this book on the shelf, but I’m here to sell it to you in a different light. You have at least one friend, significant other, or child in your life who could totally use this book. Packed with actual proven behavior-based tips, someone in your life will thank you for this book. You’ll make your ‘fraidy-cat pal comfortable and happy in your home and subsequently send good vibes to your kitties. What could be better than that sort of harmony?

Catster Magazine
Formerly Cat Fancy, Catster puts a modern cat lady spin on a classic periodical. I will confess I was never much for Cat Fancy, mostly because the title totally turned me off. Now that it has been re-dubbed something modern and catchy, I’m more likely to be seen out and about with it (see photo above for proof of my approval).

The Maine Coon’s Haiku: and Other Poems for Cat Lovers by Michael J. Rosen
Set the youth in your life on the right path to modern cat ladyhood and give them this book of haikus appropriate for kids and the young-at-heart. Whether it’s singing the praises of the Manx or extolling the virtues of the American Shorthair, there’s plenty of poetry to make your heart fuzzy. Young readers and those still considered novice cat ladies will appreciate the glossary of cat breeds tucked into the back of the book.

Catify to Satisfy: Simple Solutions for Creating a Cat-Friendly Home by Jackson Galaxy
And finally I want to tell you about this forthcoming book from my new best friend, Jackson Galaxy. Last year I said I had no idea who he was, and it was true. But after reading his book Catification, I realized this was a modern cat fella after my own heart. I haven’t had a chance to see this one yet, as it doesn’t come out until Tuesday, but getting to hear about a book before it’s even delivered to the cataloging department is a rare thing to share with someone. And you modern cat ladies are definitely worthy of this hot tip.

So that wraps up this year’s modern cat lady highlights. As for me, I still have three adorably insane cats at home and I’ve started getting interested in wearing cat-themed fashions, like the top in the photo above. I’m here to tell you that declaring yourself as a modern cat lady and wearing that badge with pride is a freeing and fulfilling thing. It also has a side effect of outing other cat ladies who aren’t yet ready to step into the tantalizing beam of sunshine where our cats like to nap.

Meow, what were your favorites of 2015?

Fangirl, Carry On, and the World of Simon Snow

Enjoy this great post from our spectacular substitute librarian, Amanda:

The bestselling, award-winning author, Rainbow Rowell is perhaps best known for her book Eleanor & Park. That book, a young adult novel about a teenage romance in the 80’s, quickly became one of my favorite books of all time. I have since read many other books that Ms. Rowell has put out including Attachments and Landline, her adult fiction novels, and her other young adult novel Fangirl.

fangirlLet me take a moment to explain to you the brilliance that is Fangirl. This book is about twin sisters that go off to college. One sister is super excited about typical college life experiences and the idea of creating her own identity and the other… well the other is Cath. Cath has no interest in developing a new social life and has anxiety when her sister decides not to be her roommate in college. She has to meet new people!? She would rather just stay indoors and write her Simon Snow fan fiction. Simon Snow is a book much like the Harry Potter Series. An orphan boy goes to a magical school and he must defeat an evil called the Humdrum. As an obsessed teen, I too wrote fanfiction. I, too, was a little uneasy my first year away at college. This book spoke to me and it was one of those rare books I actually read twice in a row. Needless to say, the announcement of Carry On made me extremely excited.

carryonWhat is Carry On, exactly? This masterpiece is the very Simon Snow fanfiction that Cath wrote in Fangirl. Cath has a huge following in the book of other fans who read her story called Carry On, Simon. This story is meant to be the fanfiction version of the last Simon Snow book. She writes it before the real final book is released and posted it online. In her story, Simon and his arch nemesis at school, Basil, fall in love. The ACTUAL book that Rainbow Rowell wrote is that fanfiction from the Fangirl universe. Mind = blown.

Carry On was all I hoped it would be. It was funny, smart, and heartwarming. It made me remember fondly the days of reading Harry Potter and yet… and yet, it is its own thing. Rainbow Rowell has managed to create a beautifully unique world that actually fixes a lot of problems I had with the Harry Potter series. The characters are very real and flawed; much like in Rowell’s other realistic fiction. I also loved the idea that magic has to come from somewhere and keep in balance. It reads like fanfiction, which is not a bad thing. The story ends in a way that you won’t predict, but that you will love just the same.

You can probably read Carry On without reading Fangirl. Even so, I would recommend them as a pair so you can appreciate the story on a deeper level. I cannot recommend these books or others by Rainbow Rowell enough. Must reads, all of them!

Punk 101

When rock and roll began to coalesce in the 1950s, it was a dangerous music, unsuitable for respectable persons. Over time, the sharp edge of menace grew dull and was replaced by a thin gruel of antiseptic multi-tracking and endless guitar/keyboard/drum solos.

Or something like that.

The point being, popular music was ripe for revolution. Enter punk rock.


There are as many shades of punk as there are of (wait for the semi-literary reference) grey. My first exposure to the music was in the late 70s/early 80s, which is right about when punk was transforming from one thing to another. Early punk, which traces its roots back to the late 60s in the music of The Stooges and MC5, was a clear outgrowth of early rock and roll: three chords, simple songs, repetitive. Perhaps most importantly, it embodied a do-it-yourself revolution. Anyone could pick up an instrument (although drum sets should be left on the floor) and create music. This was a far cry from progressive rock which required instrumental virtuosity. Punk was soon to move to hardcore which was faster, louder, often angry, and to me remote from the roots of rock and roll.


Here’s an interesting fact about me. Well, a fact at any rate. For the past 35 years I’ve been certain that I don’t like punk rock. Oh sure, I’ve seen the Dead Kennedys twice, X, Iggy Pop, and The Clash; I own every Ramones album; Buzzcocks are one of my favorite groups; I played in a punk band… Why Mr. Burger, the answer is evident: Our author is a punk! The truth is, I don’t think of the groups I love as punk. Early 80s hardcore groups like Minor Threat, extremely aggressive and, at least in my mind, unquenchably angry, defined the one and only brand of punk. Anything similar that I liked I thought of as new wave or some other safe label.

But guess what? Punk comes in many flavors.


Any of these bands are a good start for your introduction to punk, but today we’ll look at the amazing debut album of the Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. This San Francisco band remains unique in the world of American punk, featuring musicians who are equally at home playing vicious vitriolic anthems, riffing on jazzy chord progressions or tying Elvis Presley songs to the rooftop rack of a nitro burning dragster. Led by the indescribable Jello Biafra, these four lads exploded on the punk scene in a napalm-encased conflagration of politics, disturbing imagery, humor and top-notch musicianship. Biafra’s voice is immediately recognizable and his performances are steeped in a teapot of dramatics.

Perhaps one of the most endearing qualities of the band is the combination of serious political lyrics and disturbing imagery with happy-go-lucky music. Take this excerpt from Let’s Lynch the Landlord, backed by some of the happiest music you’ll ever hear:

I tell him, “Turn on the water!”
I tell ‘im, “Turn on the heat!”
Tells me, “All you ever do is complain, yeah.”
Then they search the place when I’m not here
But we can, you know we can
Let’s lynch the landlord man

Guitarist East Bay Ray, a clear influence on my own playing, remains one of my favorites. His lines fit the DK’s songs perfectly while taking unexpected wanderings into deep, dark cobweb-obscured corners, corners revealed only by Ray’s brain-tingling, ice-pick-toting guitar licks. Not typical punk guitaristing.

So there you have it, Punk 101. Take a chance and check out one of the library’s offerings. And look for more punk albums to join the collection in the future. If the punks are united, they will never be divided.

Listen Up! New Music Arrivals for November


Fall in love with some of our latest arrivals (see what I did there?).

Pentatonix – Pentatonix (RCA Records) – Sometimes you have to take the word of an enthusiastic teenager to find new music. When one teen patron saw this disc on my desk for review she was so excited that I couldn’t resist giving it a listen. This album is fun and a bit amazing, considering it’s all acapella. Beats are made via vocals, beatboxing, and body percussion, so there were many moments where I had to turn things way up to realize I wasn’t listening to something mechanically produced. Aside from the ‘wow, how did they do that?’ factor, the tracks are refreshingly upbeat and dangerously prone to becoming ear-worms.

City and ColourCity and Colour – If I Should Go Before You (Dine Alone Music) – Sometimes an album shows up when you most need it; that was the case with this one. It came across my desk after a busy, stressful morning, and this set the mellow vibe I needed to get through the afternoon. I think fans of Jeff Buckley and You Me & Apollo would like this release. Think low-key rock with a great vocalist and dreamy guitar jams.

Melanie MartinezMelanie Martinez – Crybaby (Atlantic) – Super-saccharine pop melodies with fun, often eye-brow-raising lyrics. Martinez confronts listeners like a foul-mouthed Lesley Gore. It’s a catchy collection of bubblegum that strays from the usual themes of boys and partying for more challenging subject matter such as modern beauty standards, sexual consent, and mental illness. Sounds like an odd combination? It is, but that’s what makes it stand out.

Andra DayAndra Day – Cheers to the Fall (Warner Bros./Buskin) – Day possesses a beautiful, powerful voice that fills up the room with neo-soul melodies. Her style has hints of doo-wop, soul, and mo-town, with a throwback sound similar to Nikki Jean, Amy Winehouse, and Adele.

Dornik Cover ImageDornik – Dornik (PMR Records) – This self-titled debut album is packed with a full lineup of beautifully-produced slowjams and RnB cuts. Dornik seems to possess the kind of musical perfectionism that helped rocket Michael Jackson and Prince to critical acclaim. His sound is airy, jazzy, and immensely enjoyable.

Banda do Mar Cover ImageBanda do Mar – Banda do Mar – These Latin Grammy nominees have a great ‘bossa nova meets surf rock’ sound. Check them out if you’re in the mood to kick back to some smooth vocals and sleepy melodies.

Daptone IIVarious – Daptone Gold Volume II – A deeply satisfying compilation of hits and deep RnB cuts from Daptone.

Place your holds now!