About Carol

Carol likes to read for fun. Her reading material tends to be fluffy, funny, and/or frivolous. If she were stranded on an island with only one author's books she would take Dave Barry. Lately she's doing that thing she said she'd never do: reading teen fiction! Authors like Libba Bray, Lauren Morrill, and Gail Carriger keep her coming back for more. She obsessively records what she reads and what she wants to read on GoodReads.

Is Poetry Literature?

Is poetry literature? Should one consider written verse, poems or prose, to be classified as literature? For someone not really big into labels, I am going to give the tie to the runner in this case so that I can cross off yet another of my self-imposed reading resolutions:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature (see below)
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

So, why poetry? Poems are, in a word, transcendent. Badly written verse can make even the most pleasant person go a little mad. But well-written poems can take the reader on a journey into a corner of their soul they haven’t yet seen before.

Pretty crazy, right? Well, not really. Take my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. What makes her my favorite is partly due to the fact that my mom gave me a book of Dickinson verse when I was a teenager. Once I actually started reading Dickinson, however, I did feel a bit transformed. As Thomas Wentworth Higginson once said,

In many cases these verses will seem to the reader like poetry torn up by the roots…flashes of wholly original and profound insight into nature and life.

Who doesn’t crave a little insight? That’s the thing about Dickinson: it’s like she knew me, what was going on inside of me, things I didn’t even know how to express myself. As a teenager, this was my favorite poem:

My friend must be a bird,
Because it flies!
Mortal my friend must be,
Because it dies!
Barbs has it, like a bee.
Ah, curious friend,
Thou puzzlest me!

What teenager has a favorite poem? Apparently, this girl! My love for poetry waned over the years, but I always come back to Dickinson. In January the library acquired The Gorgeous Nothings. The book contains actual scans of Dickinson’s handwriting on the backs of envelopes. This is truly an exciting look at this poet’s process:

Envelope

AnotherEnvelope

These scans really don’t do the book justice. Check it out and behold the genius that was Emily Dickinson’s reclusive scribblings. Hold in your hand a tome of untold wonders. Celebrate National Poetry Month.

Carol

Getting Graphic

We’re heading steadily through March, and I have to say I’m a wee bit proud of myself for continuing to work through my only New Years resolution this year. If you’re a regular reader, you may recall my self-imposed reading challenge which was designed to stretch my mind and read outside of my comfort zone.

Here’s a quick rundown of my 2014 Reading Resolutions:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel (see below)
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

You’ll kindly overlook the fact that I’m skipping around on my list. Sure, it would have been more organized to tackle these in list order, but it turns out I can’t quite ignore that little voice inside my head that still wants to rebel against prescribed reading–even if I am the person who came up with the guidelines! The only way to drown out the voices is to read what I’m in the mood to read. And this month I decided to get graphic.

I’ve always gotten a bit lost trying to read graphic novels. My brain can’t stop looking around at all the images, and comparing and contrasting what I see with what my brain is trying to imagine on its own. Rogue brain. Be silent!

PrestoEnough of my neuroses. Let’s talk about Bandette. Presto! is the first book in the Bandette series by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. Bandette is a teenage thief who calls Paris home. I like to refer to her as a modern-day Nancy Drew meets Robin Hood meets Sherlock Holmes. She always dons her costume, complete with cape and mask, before venturing out to clean up the streets, thwarting the criminal underworld as well as the local police inspector, Belgique. She has a weakness for first editions–her personal library is split between the books she’s purchased with her own money and books she has “liberated,” also known as stolen. And her skills as a thief are only matched by her quick wit and unique sense of humor. Bandette may not take the world so seriously, but is that due to her age or her occupation? Take this line, for example. She’s in the thick of battle and still manages to quip:

Hush, Matadori! The air is already thick with bullets. Do not overcrowd it with drama as well.

Presto! combines the first five issues of the Monkeybrain comic book series Bandette. And while I hadn’t read them until I happened upon this tome in our Young Adult graphic novel collection, I am hesitant to read any more until the next bound volume is published. For one thing, it will build anticipation. It will also allow me to work on other reading challenges in my list. And honestly, reading them bound together with all the little extras in the back (including author interviews and a behind-the-scenes look at the process of writing, drawing, and coloring the comic) is in and of itself a beautiful thing I’d miss out on.

When I started reading Presto!, which can be easily consumed in an afternoon, I knew I would need to take notes on my reading experience for the blog. Here are my reactions, perceptions, and ideas that I recorded during my introduction to Bandette. You can click on each image to make it larger and easier to read.

Notes1 Notes2

Since it’s past my deadline (Bandette wouldn’t follow any but her own deadlines!) I’ll let my handwritten notes above speak for me. You can also take my husband’s word for it, as he devoured Presto! the night I brought it home to read and nagged me about it until I had time to read it myself. I even purchased my own copy, knowing I will re-read it in the future.

Overall I’ve come out of this third reading challenge with a better appreciation for the illustrated novel and a definite plan for Halloween. I’ve also got what I would call a new literary best friend. Bandette, I can’t wait until we meet again in volume two.

I Love Bernie (And So Will You)

This year I decided to give my reading life a little bit of direction and structure. Though I tend to prance through life with copious amounts of chaos, I decided that I could and would cram in some reading goals for 2014. Why not stretch my mind a little? Though I’ll still be reading fun, fluffy, and frivolous books (currently reading a YA spy thriller) I thought if I mapped out my year I could easily shift in some unexpected titles and see how well I do following directions, even if they are from myself. I detested assigned reading in school but I’m hoping that taking orders from myself will go over better.

Yeah, I’m a hot mess.

Let me recap for you what I’m calling my 2014 Reading Resolutions:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book (see below)
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

wheredyougobernadetteThis month I decided to tackle the Everett Reads! book. As Kate mentioned already, Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is what we’re hoping all of Everett will try this month. On February 23rd at 7pm Maria will be at the Performing Arts Center downtown. We’re told she’s a very engaging and entertaining speaker, and those who wish to meet her/have a book signed afterwards will have that opportunity. Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE?!

We’ve been doing this “one book for the whole community to read” type of program for several years now. The first year we read The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I love mysteries, so that year I read the book, discussed it with colleagues, and went to the programs offered. In the intervening years I didn’t really get excited about any of the other titles. That’s not to say they were bad books. They just didn’t capture my interest.

This year everything changed. This year we picked a book that was funny.

I’m not great at summarizing stories without giving anything away. What you should know is that, although everyone told me this book is all about teenager Bee searching for her mother Bernadette who just disappeared, it’s so much more than that. I checked out the eBook edition and Bernadette didn’t disappear until about 2/3 of the way through the book. While many books heavy on exposition and background can be tedious and overbearing, it’s just not the case here. The writing is laugh-out-loud hilarious, the best lines coming straight from Bernadette herself:

Greetings from sunny Seattle, where women are “gals,” people are “folks,” a little bit is a “skosh,” if you’re tired you’re “logy,” if something is slightly off it’s “hinky,” you can’t sit Indian-style but you can sit “crisscross applesauce,” when the sun comes out it’s never called “sun” but always “sunshine,” boyfriends and girlfriends are “partners,” nobody swears but someone occasionally might “drop the f-bomb,” you’re allowed to cough but only into your elbow, and any request, reasonable or unreasonable, is met with “no worries.”

Have I mentioned how much I hate it here?

The whole story is told through varying forms of communication: school memos, emails, faxes, magazine articles, and even a captain’s report from a cruise ship. This structure really held my interest and also provided deep insight into each characters’ motivations, feelings, and personalities. That’s a really tricky thing to do well in a book but Maria Semple pulls it off.

Unfortunately this format can be tricky to follow when listening to the audiobook, as one of my colleagues discovered. So I would suggest if you’re getting lost or losing interest in the audio, grab a hard copy of the book and try that instead. Give Bernie a chance to win your heart like she did mine.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (yes, it bothers me that the official title does not include a question mark) has something for everyone. Bernadette’s husband, Elgie, is an avid cyclist, so this will appeal to my friends who bike to work. Elgie also works at Microsoft, and the book goes into great detail about life on a business campus. I read these parts out loud to my software engineer husband. There’s a lot of coverage of the school Bee attends and the moms Bernadette refers to as “gnats” since they’re annoying but nothing you’d really exert effort over (hello, all my parental friends who have experience in the trenches). Ever been on a cruise? Deal with motion sickness? You’ll be nodding your head (nothing that would trigger that horrible nausea feeling, though). If nothing else, this book is a great fit for anyone who has had a complicated relationship with their parents (who doesn’t?) and, of course, any humor fans.

bernie

I want to hear from you. Are you joining your neighbors in reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette? I’d love to see you all pack the house at the Performing Arts Center on Sunday, February 23rd. The program starts at 7pm but if you want the good seats you’ll want to get there a little early.

If Bee can search the ends of the earth for her mom, surely all of Everett can enjoy the same book.

Reading Resolutions

Back in the day I was a mess. I made resolutions each New Year’s Eve and promptly broke them the following morning. After several years of this self-destructive (and totally pointless) cycle I just stopped making them. I’m still a mess, but I stopped trying to annually catalog my flaws and failures.

This year is different.

This year I’m trying a different approach: reading resolutions. I’m going to read. I’m going to read a lot. Why not give myself some goals to broaden my literary horizons? So dear reader, I give to you my 2014 reading resolutions:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends (see below)
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

Ask anyone who works in a public library and they will agree: everyone gives us book recommendations. All. The. Time. I’ve been working in public libraries for fifteen years. That’s a lot of book recommendations. After a few years of indiscriminate reading suggestions, you stop trying to tell well-meaning folks that you just don’t enjoy reading that type of book or that you already have a ‘to-be-read’ stack taller than yourself. You just sit back, nod, smile, and maybe write the title down for future perusal. There’s no way we can read them all.

Well I got lucky. I got to talking with a patron who frequents both the brick-and-mortar libraries and our Facebook page. After we bonded over our love of Walter the Farting Dog, she gave me a book suggestion that actually sounded like something I would enjoy. She described it as “funny, a Harriet the Spy for grownups.” Who wouldn’t respond to such a description?

TheSpellmanFilesThe Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz definitely lives up to the hype. Izzy Spellman’s family is odd. Her parents are both PIs and she and her siblings grew up learning the family business. As such, they are completely dysfunctional but love each other very much—even if they have some odd ways of showing it to each other: running a complete criminal and financial background check on your date, following you around town for a week straight, bugging your phone. You know, the little things. One day Izzy snaps and wants out of the family business. Her parents give her one final case: a missing person case that’s more than a decade old and so cold it’s freezing.

Told from Izzy’s point of view, the story jumps through time from the present-day to the distant and then not-so-distant past. The reader really learns what it is to be a tight-knit family with trust and privacy issues. A family whose members will truly fight for those they love and solve a lot of cases together to boot.

The patron who recommended this to me said she had some issues with the lax editing (tenses were mixed up at a few points, things like that) as well as an ending she disliked. Knowing that a bad ending can kill an otherwise enjoyable book for me, I rolled the dice and cracked the spine of this book anyway. And I have to say the patron’s assessment was right on the money, but I feel like I enjoyed the book enough to read the entire series. Who knows? Maybe this will be the start of crossing #12 off my reading resolutions list.

So what I have I learned from this? Through all the static that is the volume of book recommendations library staff receives, I was lucky enough to finally have a book recommendation that was right up my literary alley. I’ll be slightly more likely to actually try the book you suggest to me instead of adding it to that “someday” list from now on. And to the person who recommended this book to me: thank you for taking a chance on this jaded reader.

Use the comments section below and tell me what you’d like me to read. I’m feeling lucky.

Carol

Holiday Meal Helper, Part 3: Finishing Flourishes

If you’ve been following my recent posts, you’ll know we’re on a shared journey together. We’re on the quest for a simple, stress-free holiday party. You may not be a master chef but you’ve learned a lot of techniques that enable you to try more complicated recipes and maybe even have some fun as well. Now I give to you the final installment. Today I’ll go over the little extras that will take your holiday party from just a success to an absolutely stellar occasion.

1A Baker’s Field Guide to Christmas Cookies by Dede Wilson contains the number one absolute easiest recipe for cookies ever. You don’t need an oven, but you do need some high-quality alcohol. And let’s be honest: if you’re taking a few nips of the top shelf stuff while prepping cookies (as I assure you is required by law) you really have no business near an oven. Hey, I’m just looking out for you. Chocolate bourbon balls (page 40) combine the best food groups: booze, chocolate and sugar. There are variations where you can substitute other liquors and get an entirely different product. I wonder if anyone has shared this recipe with Hannah Hart of My Drunk Kitchen yet?

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Top 100 Step-By-Step Napkin Folds by Denise Vivaldo is full of simple ways to make any place setting outstanding. Toss aside those napkin rings: you won’t need them this year. I’ll be honest: outside of a cruise I went on last year, I’ve never actually eaten someplace where the napkin has a special fold—except maybe a fan in a wine glass. Who thinks of doing this, anyway? Only the most accomplished hosts and hostesses like you. Bird in flight (pages 26-27), buffet roll (pages 36-37), fir tree (pages 58-59), and shield (pages 90-91) are simple to make but are special enough to add that little bit of flair to your table. Your guests will be surprised and flattered that you took the time to pay such attention to detail…and that you used cloth napkins in the first place.

3The Kitchen Pantry Cookbook by Erin Coopey shows you how to make your own condiments, chips, stocks, and more. What we’re going to care about is in chapter six: dips. There’s nothing I look forward to more at a party than dip—except maybe the drinks. But we’ll get there, so slow it down, champ. If you’re feeling ambitious you can make the potato chips (page 140) or pita chips (page 152) but I confess I’ll just buy some pre-made. The French onion dip (page 146), herb dip (page 148),  and even the spinach dip (page 158) are simple to make and don’t require those seasoning packets you can buy at the store. I guarantee you everyone will be impressed when you tell them that you made these dips. From scratch. I mean, who does that? You do.

4Make Your Own Soda by Anton Nocito has dozens of syrup recipes you can use either with a home carbonating device or simple seltzer water to make your own sodas. And we’re not just talking cola. Guava (page 28), sarsaparilla (page 58), spiced maple (page 68) and hibiscus (page 70) are just a few flavors you can create to delight your unsuspecting guests. There are recipes for egg creams, cocktails, and even warm drinks, like the hot apple toddy (page 139). When I hear “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” I can practically taste a nice, warm hot toddy and smell the cinnamon.

5Cocktails for a Crowd by Kara Newman has over 40 recipes for a good time. Many of my guests enjoy being offered a nicely crafted drink but I do not enjoy spending my time bartending. That’s why this book is so incredible. Your group can enjoy one of several beverages that you can prepare in bulk (can you ever own too many pitchers?) and actually spend time socializing with your guests. Raspberry Bellinis (page 30) serves 16. French 75 punch (page 32) serves 8. Spiked and spiced apple cider (page 42) serves 8. Those all feature flavors that go well with a typical holiday feast. On the other hand, Suffering Bastard (page 77) serves 8 and is more of a summer drink. However, if you are suffering from ‘Too Much Family at the Holidays Syndrome’ you might get a secret thrill by serving these to your family. Quick, someone tell John Green!

Still looking for a little bit of extra polish? Why not whip together a fun holiday playlist? I’ve created a list of holiday tunes that combines the classics with some of today’s more modern spins. If you celebrate Christmas and you actually have your party on December 25, this will be your last chance until next year to hear those carols without someone clobbering you. I say go all-out and don’t turn the music off until bedtime.

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Take my advice. The right mix of fancy napkins, alcohol (or non-alcoholic fizzy beverages), music, and homemade dips will be sure to cement your place as future host or hostess of your family/friends’ annual gathering. Try to stay modest, though. You had help getting where you are today. You can send praise to my boss. It’s performance review time!

Carol

Holiday Meal Helper, Part 2: Planning Perfection

Welcome to the menu portion of my three-part series intended to help you master your holiday host or hostess responsibilities in style. Part I introduced you to the basic cooking skills you need as a foundation for cooking confidence. Today I’ll share delicious and simple recipes guaranteed to bring applause and tears (the good kind, at last!) to your gathering. Or, more realistically, you’ll be sure to stress less and have more fun this holiday season, even if you’re not a pro in the kitchen…yet.

1After Toast: Recipes for Aspiring Cooks by Kate Gibbs appears to be designed for the post-college crowd—but any budding chef can benefit from the recipes inside. I found two great snacks you can scatter in small dishes around your living areas. Guests can nosh on spiced crispy chickpeas (page 175) made with smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, and ground cumin. Sugar-and-spice nuts (page 176) feature walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. The beauty of both recipes? You can make them ahead of time, they’ll make your house smell amazing, and they are as simple as tossing the ingredients together and baking in the oven.

2High Flavor Low Labor by J.M. Hirsch proclaims to “reinvent weeknight cooking.” You just need to know it has decadent appetizers that are perfect for your holiday gathering—or any time. Grilled bacon-wrapped figs with blue cheese (page 9) are simple and make a dramatic presentation. Polenta cakes topped with prosciutto and peppadew slivers (page 11) are so pretty, yet so easy. Half the work is already done for you with ready-made polenta. Fig and manchego puff pastries (page 21) pair the dream team of flavors: sweet and salty. Once you master this recipe it’s easy to switch it up later to make mini pizzas, perfect for movie night. Pesto-drenched tomato wedges (page 35) show off the red and green color combination perfect for the holiday season. Blend ingredients in the food processor and pour over sliced tomatoes. How easy is that?

3Aida Mollenkamp’s Keys to the Kitchen is “the essential reference for becoming a more accomplished, adventurous cook.” While this is indeed a fantastic cooking reference (are you paying attention, Santa?) what it’s bringing to our party is the salad. Butter lettuce salad with tahini-honey dressing (page 200) is a great basic salad to get your palette revved up. I’m not sure why I haven’t made my own dressings before—it’s super easy. Step 1: put stuff in food processor. Step 2: blend. Step 3: let’s eat! Or if you’d like to be more adventurous, try the raw kale salad with heirloom tomatoes and roasted cashews (pages 202-203). Aida swears that making this salad ahead and letting it sit helps wilt and soften the kale. It makes for a fabulous presentation on a serving platter. And your health-fad cousin will love that you used kale, that trendy ingredient.

4Come Home to Supper by Christy Jordan has the dough—meaning there are some terrific bread and roll recipes in here. Cheesy garlic biscuits (page 219) are super-simple to make. And they happen to be my favorite type of biscuit: drop. That means you just mix the ingredients and drop them onto a baking sheet. Ten minutes later you have biscuit nirvana. Need an even quicker recipe? Ten-minute rolls (page 224) utilizes muffin tins and has a secret ingredient: mayonnaise: “The mayonnaise gives them a subtle flavor as a sour cream would, acts as shortening, and produces a tender crumb.” Sometimes the shortcut recipes turn out to be the most rewarding, both in time saved and flavor savored.

5Choosing Sides by Tara Mataraza Desmond contains nothing but recipes for side dishes. I implore you to look beyond the mashed potatoes (pages 201-204) and focus instead on switching up the holiday menu a bit. There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll just be listing the recipe names and pages. Please try not to drool as you read them. Charred asparagus with shaved parmesan (page 84), chimichurri green beans (page 85), crisply roasted garlic potatoes (page 90), sugar snap peas with grana padano crust (page 95), ginger honey carrots (page 101), golden cauliflower with herbed breadcrumbs (page 133), red quinoa with cherries and smoked almonds (page 142), legacy cornbread dressing (page 199), and sugar-glazed sweet potatoes (page 205). Now wipe your chin. Drool is very unbecoming in a host or hostess.

6Christmas Slow Cooking by Dominique DeVito is like the holy grail of holiday cooking. It really does cover every course of the meal and then some, but I like it best for the hassle-free main courses. I don’t know why I’d never considered using my slow-cooker for a holiday roast. Short ribs of beef with rosemary and fennel (page 113) become so tender after ten hours in the slow cooker. Prime rib (page 117) has exactly four ingredients: rib roast, olive oil, salt and pepper but it looks incredible. Turkey, bacon, cranberry bliss (page 125) blends some of my favorite ingredients: just use one turkey breast, bacon, apples, cranberries and spices. Holiday ham (page 131) requires a spiral-cut precooked ham and not a lot of effort. Remember, all of these recipes are made in the slow cooker. Your stress level will automatically lower when making one of these easy recipes.

Layout 1One Bowl Baking by Yvonne Ruperti takes the guesswork out of baking. I’m an okay cook but I’m not a great baker. That’s probably mostly due to the fact that I am impatient and imprecise in the kitchen. But this book makes me wonder why I freak out over baking so much. Pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust (page 186) uses crushed gingersnap cookies in the crust and a can of pumpkin puree in the filling. With those serious flavors taken care of, the rest just seems like child’s play. Deep dish plum pie tart (page 198) is a decadent—and simple—alternative to either making a pie from scratch or buying one of the pre-made frozen variety.

You have just read an incredibly simple road map to Party Successville. Population: you. If you make some things a day ahead (snacks, salad) and use the slow cooker to do your main dish’s heavy lifting, you’ll be free to whip up multiple appetizers and side dishes your whole family will love.

Stay tuned for part 3, where I will share the little details that transform a good holiday party into a great one.

Carol

Holiday Meal Helper, Part 1: Cooking with Confidence

Uh oh. You really did it this time. You have achieved the goal you’ve dreamed of since childhood. You’ve secured the designation of host or hostess for your family’s holiday gathering. Why the long face? You don’t know how to cook, do you? Well never fear—I’ve got your back! The library has tons of great resources to help you pull off the party of the decade. And it all starts with learning the ropes. Get some practice with basic cooking techniques now and you won’t sweat it on opening night.

SeinfeldThe Can’t Cook Book by Jessica Seinfeld is a great place to start choosing some simple recipes that will become your kitchen staples. Seinfeld knows that the number one thing holding most ‘Can’t Cooks’ back is fear of failure—either real or imagined. She takes the guesswork out of buying the right equipment and using it correctly. She also has a fantastic how-to section that literally illustrates important skills step-by-step, from chopping herbs to pitting an avocado and even the best ways to wash different ingredients. The recipes are amazingly simple and have a “don’t panic” tip right off the bat that addresses a part of each recipe that might make a ‘Can’t Cook’ hesitate. There’s also a photo for each recipe. If you’re like me this is one of the most important pieces of a recipe–it illustrates exactly what your finished product should look like. This is usually where I notice that I forgot the carrots because there is orange in the photo. You get the idea. Now get this book!

200 skills200 Skills Every Cook Must Have by Clara Paul and Eric Treuillé is not a cookbook. Let me get that out of the way right now. It is, however, exactly what the title proclaims. There are two hundred skills that the authors illustrate step-by-step. While there are a few recipes, it’s mostly what I would call a great companion book to any cookbook you may be using. I find it an especially handy reference when using an old family recipe that may not be very descriptive in its instructions. Right now I’m working on skill 174: soaking and cooking dried beans. I’m on a mission this winter to discover the best chili recipe and I have a feeling that recipe won’t start with canned beans.

everyoneEveryone’s Time to Cook by Robert L. Blakeslee promises to be “the best starter cookbook you’ll ever need.” It also aims to teach you “how to start a love affair with cooking.” From the ideal kitchen layout to choosing the best bean roast and grind for the perfect coffee, this book is a must-read for anyone hoping to create delicious meals that aren’t too complicated to make. Cooking with dried beans is covered in detail starting on page 214 with recipes following. Did you know you could make refried beans at home without a can? It sounds like a no-brainer but it’s not something I’d ever considered before. After seeing the mouth-watering image of the finished product of “OMG! Refried Beans” I am raring to go!

ATKThe America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook is going on my list for Santa. I’ve always sworn by the ATK to provide well-researched recipes and this book is no different. Like the other books I’ve already mentioned, this one goes in-depth with the techniques required to make each recipe. Also included, in true ATK style, are the reasons why one particular ingredient should be used over another. ATK tests consistency of flavor and texture, so you know you’re getting a crowd-pleasing recipe from them. As an example of how far this book goes, let’s look at the BBQ section. It shows you how to set up both charcoal and gas grills, using wood in a grill for added smoke flavor—and then follows that up with incredible recipes. ATK is not afraid to warn you in advance as to what may go wrong with each recipe. So, like Jessica Seinfeld, ATK is setting you up for success.

BurrellOwn Your Kitchen by Food Network star Anne Burrell was written with the beginner in mind, with “recipes to inspire and empower.” Let me share with you Anne’s ten ways to own your kitchen:

Read a recipe all the way through before you start cooking
Do your mise en place (prep work)
Taste and season as you go
Embrace salt
Salt and pepper are not married, they’re only dating (they don’t always have to be used together)
Fresh herbs rock, dried herbs don’t
Spices are sexy!
Toast your nuts
The right equipment makes cooking fun
Keep your pantry stocked

I have a very difficult time with the first few items, as I am always well-intentioned but not necessarily well-prepared. This can lead to a total meltdown on my part before the oven is even preheated. The recipes in this book aren’t exactly basic, but once you’ve gained some confidence mastering the skills above, you can attempt more. This is the cookbook meant to bridge that gap between beginner and intermediate chef. Wouldn’t you like to try your hand at homemade ricotta cheese? I would! Fried rice made right in your own kitchen? Sign me up! How do I know Anne will steer me in the right direction? She doesn’t use a lot of fancy cooking terms (aside from mise en place) but instead uses wordage more apropos of girl talk. My favorite term? Crud: the delicious brown bits on the bottom of the pan that help develop deep, rich, meaty flavors. Oh, yum!

So there you have it—my five best no-fail cookbooks to bring out the inner Julia Child in you. Julia always reminded me of my maternal grandmother, Helen: she made mistakes but made cooking fun. If I can run my kitchen like Julia or Helen I think I will be doing quite nicely indeed.

Stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll break down the perfect holiday meal that even you can’t mess up.

Carol

History Remembers, History Forgets

Throughout history, there have always been moments that define a generation. For my parents’ generation it was always, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?”

Wait. Stop. This woman is writing about a topic she never experienced? Well, yes and no.

History Will Prove us RightIt may seem disingenuous for someone not even alive in 1963 to write about the importance of that tragic day in November, whose 50th anniversary we remember this year. But no crime in American history has been as hotly debated as the Kennedy assassination. The idea that the government, or anyone else, could weave an elaborate web to kill someone and then successfully cover it up has always fascinated me.

Luckily for you, public libraries have always prided themselves on being a free resource for information to their citizens. As such we try to collect differing opinions and viewpoints on as many topics as we can. The John F. Kennedy assassination is no different. And since this year marks the 50th anniversary, publishers are flooding the market with books and other materials to feed the need for information of the crime and of the man himself. Here are just a few that caught my attention.

Letters of John F. Kennedy provides a look inside the man who would lead a nation to the moon. No autopsy photographs here, it’s simply JFK’s personal correspondence throughout the years. Beginning with a plea to his parents for a raise in his allowance, the letters are interspersed with historical context to help the reader better understand. Glossy photographs, as well as some facsimile handwritten and typed letters, provide the backdrop for understanding the man who created the Peace Corps and led a nation through the most critical hours of the Cold War.

Kennedy Half CenturyThe Kennedy Half Century by Larry J. Sabato gives a good overview of everything JFK, including the assassination. Again, no graphic autopsy photos, but there are photographs of the funerals of both John and Robert Kennedy. The book also talks about how his not-quite-1,000 day presidency has influenced future generations.

History Will Prove Us Right by Howard P. Willens breaks down the Warren Report and shows that there aren’t as many flaws in it as a conspiracy theorist might hope. Willens is the only living member of the three-person supervisory staff of the Warren Commission and a lot of the source materials are his own journals and notes from his time on the Commission. Included are a plethora of citations and resources that Willens used in researching. If you don’t include the postscript about the staff with whom Willens worked and the notes/index, the book is only 339 pages long. For anyone doubting the conclusions of the Warren Report this shouldn’t be too cumbersome a read.

The Day Kennedy Was Shot by Jim Bishop was originally published in 1968. It’s an uncensored minute-by-minute account of the entirety of November 22, 1963. Part of the reason it’s been such a successful bestseller is that it not only breaks down the time frame, but also gives voice to so many different people’s perspectives on that fateful day. Also worth checking out is When the News Went Live, which illuminates the experience of the press in Dallas that day and the ways they covered the story as it unfolded.

When the News Went LiveThey Killed Our President by Jesse Ventura intrigues me, even though he’s not exactly my favorite person. Ventura has sixty-three reasons to believe there was a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy. Told in his signature confrontational style, Ventura does have a significant amount of footnotes backing up his rants, which I love. Remember those missing pieces of evidence and missing witnesses I mentioned? Ventura goes in-depth with each of them, making a pretty strong case for, if not an actual elaborate conspiracy, then a very long trail of coincidences. And who really believes in that many coincidences, anyway?

The Poison Patriarch by Mark Shaw focuses not on why JFK was killed in 1963, but why his brother Robert wasn’t. This book doesn’t hint, but steadily points its accusing finger toward the Mafia, including Jack Ruby’s attorney Melvin Belli and Mafia don Carlos Marcello. Here’s the real reason I selected this book, though:

“Mark Shaw’s book…changed my perspective about the assassination.”
–Bill Alexander, chief prosecutor of Jack Ruby

Still have questions? Stop by the Main Library at 7pm on Wednesday, November 20th where EVCC history professor Jason Ripper will break down the context and significance of the JFK assassination. And the Evergreen Branch Library has a dynamic display at the checkout desk. It features both newly published and perennial favorites on this, one of the most discussed crimes in American history.

JFK Display

There are countless theories of what really happened that day, who was really behind it all, and what might have been done to cover everything up. While I’m not on board with all theories, I am heavily skeptical that so many inconsistencies should be ignored in favor of a preconceived notion that some guy just went crazy and shot the President. But what do I know? I wasn’t even alive then. Thankfully the library can help steer my fevered brain in the right direction.

So, where were you?

Carol

Vampires and Ghosts and Dystopias—Oh, My!

Welcome to Teen Read Week! What is TRW? Here’s a direct quote from the American Library Association’s Young Adult Library Services Administration (ALA’S YALSA):

Teen Read Week™ is a national adolescent literacy initiative created by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). It began in 1998 and is held annually during the third week of October. Its purpose is to encourage teens to be regular readers and library users.

When I was a teen in the 90s, Young Adult (YA) fiction was virtually nonexistent. Judy Blume, Lurlene McDaniel, Joan Lowery Nixon, Christopher Pike, and Cynthia Voigt were pretty much the only options. After trying a few of those I decided to skip YA fiction altogether and progressed immediately to adult paperbacks. Today, options for teens are seemingly infinite. With the popularity of Harry Potter and the Twilight series, it became readily apparent that YA fiction had something to offer adults, too.

For years I resisted the lure of YA fiction, thinking there was no way I could ever identify or even remotely care about these teen protagonists. Turns out I was so very wrong. And series are really where YA fiction shines. Readers get “the feels” for characters, truly caring what happens to them in the story. This is how I got sucked in. To prove it, I’ve prepared a sampling of some of my most favorite YA series. And despite my catchy title, I’m really not into vampires or dystopias, but that doesn’t mean that YA fiction isn’t packed with them.

CroakCroak by Gina Damico
I’ve previously reviewed the first book in this series for the blog, so I suggest you check out that post for a full write-up. Please don’t read the comment, though, as someone posted a spoiler! Basically it’s the story of a teen Grim Reaper named Lex who struggles to not only learn to use her powers but also fit in with her new Reaper community.

So far the series is up to three books (the library is in the process of ordering the third book). I have been patiently–okay, impatiently!–reading each book as it is published. I’ve found that I always remember where the previous book left off and have discovered that I am deeply invested emotionally in everything that happens to our Reapers and their families.

level 2The Memory Chronicles by Lenore Appelhans
Seventeen-year-old Felicia Ward is dead and spending her time in the hive reliving her happy memories. But when Julian, a dark memory from her past, breaks into the hive and demands that she come with him, she discovers that even the afterlife is more complicated and dangerous than she dreamed.

The first book in the series is called Level 2 and I devoured it in a day. Unfortunately the next book, Chasing Before, isn’t set to be published until August 2014. You may want to wait to read Level 2 until you can get your hands on Chasing Before.

ghost and the gothThe Ghost & the Goth by Stacey Kade
It’s the timeless tale of opposites attract. The popular (and snobbish) high school cheerleader/homecoming queen gets hit by a bus and her ghost is stuck in the land of the living. The only person who can see her is a loner Goth kid whom she always thought was a total loser. What happens when the dead and living join forces? Heartwarming humor, of course.

This trilogy has been completed and all books are owned by the library, though I have to admit to feeling a tad unsatisfied at the end of the series. I really want to read more, but alas that’s not meant to be. However, I feel the series is worth reading, especially if you’re as into ghosts and the possibilities of the afterlife as I am.

diviners The Diviners by Libba Bray
Am I obsessed with ghosts and death? Maybe. But The Diviners is a little different. The main character, Evie, is basically shunned from her small Ohio hometown and is sent to live with her uncle in New York City. The year is 1926 and anything is possible for a seventeen year old girl with stars in her eyes and dreams of living the high life in the big city. The author is very faithful to the time period, bringing out elements of the jazz age including the clubs, racism, sexism, muckraking reporting, and most of all, Prohibition that influenced both young and old.

But don’t be confused: this is actually a book that introduces teens with extraordinary supernatural gifts and a great evil that is threatening to take over the world. Remember Voldemort from Harry Potter? It’s like that—only more gruesome, ruthless, and immortal. Unfortunately the next book in the series, Lair of Dreams, won’t be published until—you guessed it—August 2014. That gives us enough time to read and re-read, right?

great and terrible beautyThe Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray
Speaking of Harry Potter, have you met Gemma Doyle? Yes, Libba Bray gets two mentions in this post. A Great and Terrible Beauty, book one in the trilogy, was Libba Bray’s first published book and one I only recently discovered. The trilogy is set in Victorian times at Spence Academy, an all-girls boarding school. Here we meet Gemma, her roommate Ann, as well as fellow students Pippa and Felicity. The girls don’t all get along or fit in—especially Gemma, who was raised in India, where she lived until recently when her mother was killed. Haunted with visions she cannot control, Gemma finds the diary of one of Spence’s former students and consequently stumbles upon a secret world filled with great wonders—and horrors beyond belief. Gemma finds a way to bring herself and her quasi-friends into the world and thus begins a tumultuous journey into the realm of the fairy. Yes—fairy! With such forces at work, what could possibly go wrong?

I quickly read the first two books in the series, but have been waiting until “the right time” to consume the third and final book in the series. Hopefully I’m not leading you astray, since I have no idea how the series ends or what becomes of our protagonists. But based on how much I enjoyed the first two books, I feel confident that you will want to meet Gemma, too.

obsidianThe Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout
I’ve gone on at length about ghosts, the afterlife, and the great beyond. But what about aliens? Turns out I have a fantastic series for you alien-lovers out there. Beginning with Obsidian, we’re introduced to bookaholic Katy, who reviews books on her on book review blog. Gee, can you tell why I liked her from the start? Katy moved with her mom to rural West Virginia to start over after her dad died. Katy’s not impressed with the thick accents and lack of a decent internet connection. But all that changes when she meets her friendly neighbor Dee and her standoffish but totally hot brother Daemon. At first Daemon is antagonistic towards Katy and keeps her at arm’s length. But soon neither can deny their attraction, which leads to—attacking aliens? Yep, Daemon and Dee are aliens and Daemon has inadvertently marked Katy, who becomes a walking beacon for a rival alien race.

Four Lux books have been written and published so far. Jennifer Armentrout is working on writing the fifth book, which will conclude the series when it’s published—you guessed it!—August 2014. I quickly read the first three books in the series but decided to delay reading the rest until the fifth book is published.

So there you have it.  Six stellar series written for teens that adults can love, too. But trust me–I haven’t even scratched the surface. For more recommended teen reads, check out the other YA reviews on this blog. Celebrate Teen Read Week with me, both here and over at the library’s Facebook page. What will you discover? For me, I’ve discovered the need to take some time off to read in August 2014!

Carol

Self-Help and Humor or If I Told You Where the Self-Help Books Are, It Would Defeat the Purpose

Please prepare yourself. I’m going to blow your mind: we at the library love to read. We read everything from fiction to biographies to cookbooks and history. So it should really come as no surprise that we love to talk about books just as much, if not more, than actually reading them.

Occasionally we’ll have a staff meeting focused solely on discussing one type of book. What did we like? What did we not like so much? What’s popular in our community?

This past week we discussed self-help books. In addition to facilitating our discussion, Marge prepared a list of 50 authors to know in the self-help world. She also shared an article by Daniel Lefferts with an overview of the top self-help books to take into 2013.

           

In preparation for this discussion we were asked to think about what self-help books we’d recommend to others. Turns out I don’t really read many of them now, although according to GoodReads I have rated a lot of them in the past. I wondered why this might be. What do I do, in my 30s, that I didn’t in my 20s when I read all those self-help books? The answer slowly appeared, as if from a magic 8 ball: I’m way into stand-up comedy.

That’s right: I worship at the altar of hilarity, where the main dogma is, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Feeling down? Try a stand-up routine! I guarantee it won’t solve the underlying problem you’re currently moping over, but it will lift your spirits and maybe even give you the confidence to face your problem head-on.

My husband, Chris, and I decided this would be the year we’d go out and see some of our favorite comedians up-close and personal. Would the real-life experience stack up to the edited versions we’d heard on CDs, podcasts, and on TV? Turns out that, like most fascinating things you see on TV, the reality is just bigger and more satisfying in person.

Our favorite show so far this year has been finally getting to see Jim Gaffigan. Jim was at the Paramount back in July and we had front-row seats and got to meet him after the show. In case you weren’t aware, his persona centers on the fact that he is very pale. One of my favorite albums is Beyond the Pale, and he co-starred with Conan O’Brien in an animated short series called Pale Force, where their paleness is over-exaggerated for comedic effect. That paleness is also the source of their superpowers.

Anyway, after the show as Jim reached out his arm to shake my hand, he smiled and said, somewhat gleefully, “Oh, you’re pale, like me!”

Day. Made.

All the way to Seattle, and walking to the theater, I had made sure to impress upon Chris that I was going to ask Jim if we could pose in a photo with all of our arms turned out to show how pale we all are. When the time came for us to take a photo, I mentioned my idea, that I would love it if we could all three stick out our arms, etc. etc. This is exactly what he said:

“Oh now, I think I win. And…I didn’t want to win.”

Well we did a visual recount and I think you’ll agree that I am actually the victor. And to the victor, goes the sunscreen. He then asked to take a photo with our faces so we could remember who the palest was.

Gaffigan ArmsGaffigan GroupI didn’t solve any of my problems that night, but I did have a great experience and an amazing time with my husband. We made some memories and laughed until we cried. That kind of emotional release can, I propose, be even more helpful than reading a detailed book about how to organize your life, or lose weight. And let’s be honest: it takes much less time to watch or listen to stand-up than it would take to read the latest self-help tome.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Try some of the comedy your library has to offer. I suggest the following: take two stand-up routines and call me in the morning.

Carol