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. She obsessively records what she reads and what she wants to read on GoodReads.

Resolutions, Library-Style

Resolutions at Your LibraryEveryone makes them, even if we don’t always admit to it. Resolutions are as ingrained in most people’s New Year’s activities as lasagna and movies at home champagne and midnight kisses. If you made some resolutions you’re not sure you can stick with, you should really take another look at your local library. Here’s a handy guide to some of the big ones:

I want to lose weight. Browsing the stacks in the 613.25 (diet), 613.7 (exercise), and 641.5635 (cooking for weight loss) areas will give you a plethora of support and ideas to help you shed the pounds. Unfortunately, just reading the books isn’t enough (wah wah). You actually have to follow through. Luckily we also have workout DVDs to keep you moving through our gloomy winter days. You can also learn about the obesity epidemic in Snohomish County at the Evergreen Branch Library on January 13th and at the downtown library on January 19th.

I want to read more/differently/with others. If you feel like you’re stuck in a reading rut, I think the best thing to do is to talk to other people about what they read, and joining a book club is a great way to branch out right away. You get to meet new people who also love books, and you get an added bonus of having a shared reading experience. Who could ask for more? Thankfully here at EPL more is what you’ll get. Our Main Library discussion group meets monthly. Their January pick, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, will be discussed January 25th. On the other end of town, the Southside Book Club meets every other month at the Evergreen Branch. Their next selection, Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, will be discussed February 9th. And if you want to delve into Northwest history you should check out the NW Room’s quarterly book group. They’ll be meeting March 28th at the Main Library and discussing Skull Wars by David Hurst Thomas. Can’t make a book club commitment but still want to discover great books? If this blog isn’t enough for you, check out Novelist. You can easily slip down this rabbit hole of book recommendations, read-alikes, and more.

I want to start a new hobby. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to knit or crochet, my girl Linda has got you covered! She hosts regular meetings of the Crochet & Knit Club at the Evergreen Branch Library a couple of times a month. Beginners just need to bring a ball or skein of plain 3 or 4-ply yarn (not the fuzzy stuff) and a J or H crochet hook size 8, 9, or 10 knitting needles. I have no idea what any of that means, but Linda is a pro and has the patience of a saint. You’ll find in her a fabulous instructor as you learn your knits from your perls.

I want to learn to appreciate a wide range of cinema. You’re in luck, my friend! We screen two different films each month, one downtown and one in South Everett. The downtown library has a monthly screening and the focus is usually an indie or foreign film, usually ones I have never heard of but once I see the promotional materials I get really excited to see them. January 24th we’ll screen the 2013 Italian film Salvo. And our Evergreen Branch is still rolling strong with the Evergreen Cinema Society film series the last Wednesday of the month. Each year has a new theme, and there’s always a lively discussion. They’ve shown comedies, Hitchcock films, and more. This year it’s a lot of love for indie films, starting January 27th with The Squid and the Whale.

I want to learn a new language. What do ESL/ELL, Mandarin Chinese, and Pirate have in common? You can learn all of these languages and more than 60 others with Mango. Access is free, navigation is intuitive, and there’s even a mobile app to take your language learning with you on the go. So really what I’m saying is there’s no excuse to start learning, like, right now.

I want to research my roots. You’ve probably heard of Ancestry.com, but did you know that through the library you can access it for free? This always makes me giddy, telling people that this fascinating, yet typically pricey, resource is ours for the taking. When you’re logged in you have access to over 4,000 databases and 1.5 billion names. One caveat: you can only access Ancestry.com while inside the library. But once you’re here you’re going to want to find a cozy seat so you can get lost in the journey of building your family tree. Did you find some new fourth cousins? Then click over to ReferenceUSA and search out those addresses!

I want to start using this new e-reader/tablet. Through services like 3M Cloud Library and OverDrive you have access to literally thousands of eBooks and eAudiobooks, including some of the biggest bestsellers. If the queue for the print book is overly long, chances are the digital holds list is much shorter, and possibly nonexistent. You also have access to free digital magazines, too, through Flipster. Whether you’re stuck in a waiting room or taking a vacation, you can load up reading material 24/7 with just a few clicks.

I want to learn new tech skills. Microsoft Imagine (formerly Microsoft IT Academy) is where it’s at. Once you create an account you’ll have access to all kinds of classes and resources to improve your computing prowess. Courses cover all sorts of skills and levels of tech-savviness on the user’s part. You can learn the ins and outs of the Windows 10 operating system and Microsoft Office 2010, 2013, or 2016. Or for the more advanced, there are courses for learning HTML5 app development and SQL Server database fundamentals. So really what I’m saying is there’s something for everyone, and who knows? Maybe you’ll impress your boss, get a raise, and be a corporate star. It’s the New Year, baby, and when it comes to dreams the sky’s the limit!

EPL staff aren’t immune to change, either. We’ve come up with our own resolutions specifically related to the library. If you click a photo below you’ll be taken to their original resolution posts on Facebook. I’m the scared-looking one sitting next to a couple of giant stacks of books. That I own. And have never actually read…yet.

sarahs library resolutionlisas library resolutionleslies library resolutionmichelles library resolutioncarols library resolutioneileens library resolution

There’s no denying the appeal of a fresh start in the new year. No matter your resolutions, there’s help among the stacks and servers at your local library. As for me, holy cow. I have a lot of reading to do!

Imagine a Blogger’s Holiday

books for bloggers‘Tis the season for giving, and as you may have seen here on A Reading Life, we love the idea of giving friends and family books, books, and more books for the holidays. Leslie wrote about book-gifting traditions in her family, and we bombarded you with our staff members’ favorite books, music, and movies of 2015.

I’m here today to offer a different perspective. I’d like you to close your eyes (well, after you read this part first!) and imagine a holiday made especially for bloggers, specifically those here on A Reading Life. Do you hear each blogger’s distinctive voice? The types of books or music they usually enjoy? Okay, somehow you need to know to open your eyes now, even if you’re not reading this because I told you to close your eyes and you’re obviously an excellent listener. Are you back? Great! I’ve been thinking a lot about my fellow bloggers and have decided to share with you and with them the books I would give them if I had a pile of cash at the ready. The good news is that all of these books are available at the library, and I happen to know they all frequent it.

Heartwood
Heartwood, you post about books that may have skipped our radar the first go-round and new translations of epic reads. You have a firm grasp of worldwide literary fiction, but I have something more localized in mind. I offer you Writing America: Literary Landmarks from Walden Pond to Wounded Knee by Shelley Fisher Fishkin. This book straddles the line between fiction and nonfiction–those good ole 800s. It takes the reader on a journey throughout the lower 48 and offers deep insight into the places that birthed America’s greatest words, from The Paul Laurence Dunbar House in Dayton, Ohio to Angel Island in San Francisco. There’s even a chapter featuring the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library, where the Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture resides. You will love this book about books featuring a library!

Jennifer
Girl, you read all the books I am too afraid to even pick up, let alone read! But I finally found something we can both agree on: Charles Bukowski on Cats edited by Abel Debritto. Sure, there’s a black cat on the cover, its back arched and ready to pounce. But what else could this book shelved in the poetry section have to offer? I’ll tell you: filthy, hilarious poems about cats and their undermining ways, and excerpts of prose that tell you just what is going on in those feline minds. At 3 am. In the alley below. Nonstop. There are also some very heavy words, but I know you’re good for it.

Leslie
If there’s one thing I learned early on in my career it’s this: never recommend a picture book to a children’s librarian. Either they’ve already read it and loved it, or they’ve already read it and hated it. This goes doubly true for you, the librarian who buys those picture books for the library! But I’m going out on a limb here to bring you How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour and illustrated by Rebecca Ashdown. The message is solid: you don’t need a man to get things done for you. But it’s delivered in a way that is compelling for storytelling purposes. The text is conversational, and the illustrations are humorous and action-packed. If you can’t use it for preschool storytime, you could totally read it with your granddaughters at home!

Linda
You write these amazing Did You Know? posts for the blog, and I always learn something new! But you also run the successful and fun Crochet & Knit Club at the Evergreen Branch, so this book speaks to those creative fiber urges I know you have. Knitless: 50 No-Knit, Stash-Busting Yarn Projects by Laura McFadden has a plethora of ideas for you to use up those remnants I know every crafty lady has. There’s a huge range of project difficulty, as well as different uses–wearables, home goods, gifts, and more. No matter what color or type of yarn you have leftover from a project, there’s something in here that will speak to you!

Lisa
Although you’ve been focused on blogging about music this year, I know you have an adventurous palate and love to cook. I confess I couldn’t pick just one book for you, so you are getting two! My Life on a Plate: Recipes from Around the World by Kelis marries a little bit of musical memoir with recipes and an obvious talent for cooking. I had no idea that Kelis became a chef via Le Cordon Bleu, but paging through this cookbook made it obvious that girl is talented no matter what she does. And if you want to get a little more focused in your culinary adventures, Fermented by Charlotte Pike is just what you need. It covers kimchi, yogurt, labneh, miso soup, and more. You can also learn to make drinks like mead, kombucha, and lassi, though I know you will still prefer Priscilla’s lassi the best!

Margo
Not only have you founded and successfully run the overwhelmingly awesome Southside Book Club, but you also have a love of food and cooking. Therefore I give to you the gift of Simply Scratch: 120 Wholesome Homemade Recipes Made Easy by Laurie McNamara. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Laurie’s blog, but the Simply Scratch book follows in the footsteps of the Simply Scratch blog. Laurie doesn’t take premade shortcuts, preferring instead whole food options I know you’ll appreciate. I think you’ll find a lot to love about Simply Scratch, and maybe even find a recipe to bring to the next Southside Book Club meeting in February.

Richard
Science is your thing, and it’s definitely an area where you know more than I do! However, I know you really liked 2014’s What If?, so I now give to you Randall Munroe’s newest tome of amazingness, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words. Munroe is a genius, this we know. He proves it yet again with this book, where he uses only the “ten hundred most common words” to explain very complicated processes. Everything from toilets to car engines, microwaves to space exploration. Of course Mr. xkcd illustrates throughout, so we get simple words and basic pictures to help us along. This book is also ginormously tall, so it can be used for other things besides reading: flattening posters, shooing the dog off the couch, or knocking something off a tall shelf.

Ron
Like Lisa, this year you dedicated a lot of blogging to music. I’m really happy you both do this, as I am no good at explaining what music sounds like and why it would appeal to anyone other than me! You’re also into some out-there fiction, a lot of it touching on Science Fiction. Therefore you get Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong. Down below I’m going to post a quote from the dust jacket and you’re going to see why I might think this would appeal to the guy who can dig into Science Fiction and loves seeing an absurd plot travel along at light speed.

From the disturbed imagination of New York Times bestselling author David Wong, and all-new darkly hilarious adventure. Nightmarish villains with superhuman enhancements. An all-seeing social network that tracks your every move. Mysterious, smooth-talking power players who lurk behind the scenes. A young woman from the trailer park. And her very smelly cat. Together, they will decide the future of mankind.

In case that doesn’t hook you, on the back cover there’s also a life-size photograph of a cyborg hand (I assume–it has metal joints sticking through the skin) flipping you the bird. And did I mention the sidekick slash familiar c-a-t? You need this book in your life!

Just in case Santa is reading this, here are some books I wouldn’t mind finding under the tree:

carol wants

Nerdy Nummies: Sweet Treats for the Geek in All of Us by Rosanna Pansino
I am a nerd! I am a geek! And I love to make and eat sugary treats! Rosanna is behind the incredibly popular web series Nerdy Nummies and all of her talents translate perfectly into this book. The book starts off with teaching you the basic building blocks for the recipes that follow. And OMG, the things I could make with this book! D20 cookies! Motherboard cake! Mana and health potions! Can we just call this the gift that keeps on giving? Because it totally will be.

Notorious RBG: the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I am awed and inspired by this woman, and this book goes deep into her life while still being entertaining. The Tumblr of the same name is simply incredible, but if I had this book on my shelf I could get my RBG fix even when the power is out and I’m forced to read by candlelight.

Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy by Vesa Lehtimäki
I love LEGOs. I love Star Wars. And I love a great mash-up! Vesa originally created this book as a birthday gift to his son. Using the snowy scenes inspired both by his native Finland and the planet Hoth, Vesa composed photographs that became a sort of retelling of the space saga I love. Not only are the photos incredibly detailed and fun to look at, but I could get some serious macro photography inspiration, too.

So there you have it. Unfortunately, I don’t have a bucket of money to buy you bloggers these incredible books, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Happy holidays!

Best of 2015 Redux Pt. 3: YA and Children’s

YA and kids

If you’ve been following the blog this week you know we’ve been topping off our 2015 staff picks list with all the gems that didn’t make it into the printed booklet we’ve had out at both libraries.Today we have reached the end of our journey, but these are by no means our least favorite. In fact, depending on your literary persuasion, today’s chunk of awesomeness might be what you’ve been looking forward to all week. To save you tons of clicking (and save ourselves all that hyperlinking) we’ve compiled today’s goodies into one giant list.

YA!

The Nightmare Charade by Mindee Arnett
Summary: Dusty is a magical being who feeds on human dreams. She’s the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and with an old foe back to seek revenge, she’ll need all her strength to defeat him and save her friends.
Why Carol liked it: This wrapped up the trilogy I’ve been loving for the past few years. While I’m sad to leave Dusty & Eli behind, I am completely satisfied with this ending.

One by Sarah Crossan
Summary: Grace and Tippi are sisters of a very rare kind: they are conjoined twins. For their first 16 years of life they have been home schooled and kept away from curious and cruel gawkers. Now they must attend school, make friends, and face a huge life change.
Why Elizabeth liked it: A fascinating topic (I felt guilty for being one of the gawkers at times!) which was handled with great care. I read One every chance I could – I had to know what happened! Crossan gives information at the book’s end about her research on conjoined twins.

Infandous by Elana Arnold
Summary: Artistic Sephora lives with her beautiful but distracted mother in a run-down neighborhood of Venice Beach filled with ugly apartments and lacking in opportunities. Something very dark is gnawing at Sephora and she uses her art to express her pain.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Sephora is not the usual teen novel character nor is this a typical story. I especially liked the scenes in which she is composing her art. The addition of troubling ‘fairy tales’ interspersed with the chapters, increase the mystery.

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brokenbrough
Summary: It is 1937 in Seattle. Henry loves forbidden Flora; Ethan is struggling with being in love with forbidden Love. Death wears the identity of a young cousin, and Love the local homeless shanty town mayor as they struggle over whether Flora will live or die.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Highly original and compelling, this book portrays love and death as characters that have fought over individuals’ fate for eternity. In the end you are left asking whether you are making the utmost of your precious life, an important question for all.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
Summary: Spacy, dreamy Finn, a high school senior living in small town Bone Gap, is troubled by bullies, a difficult relationship with his brother, and the disappearance of a young woman. Meanwhile, Roza’s story of immigration and abduction is slowly revealed.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Original characters, a touch of magic realism, a love story, and a growing sense of foreboding about Roza all make for an exciting read. I also liked the spare but dynamic writing style and atmospheric imagery that worked perfectly with Finn’s story.

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley
Summary: Fifteen year old Aza Ray Boyle has been gasping for air as long as she can remember due to a very rare disease which has impaired her lungs badly. Things get suddenly worse and Aza tragically succumbs in an ambulance … or does she?
Why Elizabeth liked it: This is a highly original and somewhat bizarre book filled with ships in the sky, bird-like shape shifters, singing that can win wars, and birds that inhabit human lungs. I could never guess what was coming next!

One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart
Summary: Nadia and family are staying in Florence, Italy so her father can write a book, when Nadia begins to experience problems communicating: It’s as though the words won’t come to her. She also begins to steal objects and enters into a creative frenzy.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Beautifully written, with wonderful imagery of Florence, this is a quick read that you won’t want to put down. Nadia’s spare, poetic voice works well to describe the terror of losing her mind. Luckily, a glimmer of hope illuminates the ambiguous ending.

No Such Person by Caroline B. Cooney
Summary: Sisters Lander and Miranda have lived privileged and active lives. Relaxing summers at their rustic beloved cottage on the lake have been a high point, but when Lander meets Jason, her carefully constructed world implodes.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I’ve enjoyed other books by Cooney and No Such Person may be my favorite yet. It is suspenseful, surprising, and fast paced. The striking difference between the sisters and the history between them, adds to the tension.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Summary: Madeline has been housebound for all of her 18 years due to a life-threatening allergy to everything. Olly moves in next door with his dysfunctional family and immediately catches her eye. Her carefully constructed contentment begins to crumble.
Why Elizabeth liked it: A fast read that is interspersed with David Yoon’s charming illustrations which you will not want to put down. Madeline is used to being obedient and following her doctor mother’s rules, but when Olly is added to the mix she finds her wings.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
Summary: Sixth grader Jack has grown up on a farm with two loving parents when Joseph enters his life as a foster brother. Joseph is 14, has been in trouble, and has a 3 month old daughter who he has never seen. He is also deeply scarred by past events.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I have been a fan of Gary D. Schmidt since I heard him speak very eloquently about writing, the state of the world for kids today, and how to reach out to them. This is a short, quick read but packs a powerful punch. You won’t forget it.

CHILDREN’S!

The Boy & the Book: a Wordless Story by David Michael Slater
Summary: In this cautionary tale a young boy carelessly mishandles a library book, while the other increasingly distressed books try to rescue their friend.
Why Alan liked it: A natural for library staff, this will also teach children (of any age) how to properly handle a book. And, truly, what’s cuter than a stressed-out book with glasses?

What Pet Should I Get? by Dr. Seuss
Summary: A boy wants all of the pets in a pet store but he and his sister can choose only one. End notes discuss Dr. Seuss’s pets, his creative process, and the discovery of the manuscript and illustrations for What Pet Should I Get?
Why Alan liked it: It’s Dr. Seuss. Unfinished Seuss is still Seuss. And while it’s not one of his masterpieces, it’s still very pleasing. And a literary event we can proudly promote.

The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt
Summary: One day, Duncan is happily coloring with his crayons when a stack of postcards arrives in the mail from his former crayons, each of which has run away or been left behind, and all of which want to come home.
Why Alan liked it: The sequel to the wildly popular The Day the Crayons Quit, which involved anthropomorphized crayons writing letters of complaint is almost too cute; we now see those rascals issuing a series of (often hilariously ironic) postcards detailing their travels.

I Will Take a Nap! by Mo Willems
Summary: Gerald is tired and cranky and wants to take a nap, but Piggie is not helping.
Why Alan liked it: Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books are not only as enjoyable to parents as they are to kids, but teach great lessons in a toddler’s voice.

Marvels by Brian Selznick
Summary: In Selznick’s most recent masterpiece, we follow the tale of a shipwrecked boy who spawned a theatrical legacy. 100 years later, his distant offspring tries to piece together the story.
Why Alan liked it: Much like Selznick’s prior works The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, Marvels’ gorgeous black and white illustration mirrors the detail, insight, and precise prose of the factually-based story.

So there you have it. Another fab year in books and music, all wrapped up for you with one giant metaphorical bow. I don’t know about you, but my TBR is now taller than I am–and I couldn’t be happier.

Happy holidays from all of us at the Everett Public Library!

Best of 2015 Redux Pt. 2: Music and Graphic Novels

Music and graphic novels

Library staff have a unique, and I would say coveted, opportunity: we get to see stuff that might not be on your radar, just because it comes across our desks in the course of our workdays. Because of this, our 2015 staff favorites list was just too long to publish in one piece. So this week we’re bringing you even more goodies that we adored. To help cut down on your clicking (and our painstaking hyperlinking) we’ve provided one giant set for you to click through the music and graphic novels described below. Are you ready? Here comes the awesome!

MUSIC!

Ego Death by The Internet
Summary: Singer-songwriter Syd tha Kyd packs this album full of fun and sometimes blush-worthy lyrics taking you through the turmoil of love and sex, like the inner monologue of a turbulent relationship.
Why Lisa liked it: This release has plenty of jazzy, funky soul to go around.

House Masters: Frankie Knuckles by Frankie Knuckles
Summary: For anyone interested in the roots of today’s EDM, this retrospective of the late, great Frankie Knuckles is an absolute must.
Why Lisa liked it: This collection takes you on a trip back to the Warehouse days of Chicago, when house music was brand new, and had yet to become a global music phenomena that spawned countless genres of dance music.

In Another Life by Bilal
Summary: A solid soul album with a little bit of funk to make things more interesting.
Why Lisa liked it: Though Bilal is an established artist in his own right, you can appreciate the influence that iconic artists like Prince and Stevie Wonder have had on his music. This isn’t to say that Bilal is imitating anyone – his style is refreshingly original.

Angélique Kidjo Sings by Angélique Kidjo
Summary: This album is a delightful fusion of Kidjo’s bold and distinctive vocals with a full orchestral backing.
Why Lisa liked it: Listeners journey through a rich musical landscape that can be dramatic, dreamy, or festive depending on the track.

To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
Summary: Jazz, hip-hop, funk, spoken word, slam poetry – an entire spectrum of art forms are covered.
Why Lisa liked it: At times thought-provoking and at others just entertaining; To Pimp a Butterfly is packed full of powerful tracks and is sure to become a classic.

War on Women by War on Women
Summary: Loud, gritty, hardcore punk with a healthy dose of righteous feminist fury.
Why Lisa liked it: I love this album when I need a little extra energy for my run.

El Que Sabe, Sabe by Tego Calderón
Summary: El Que Sabe lives in our Latin Pop section, but listeners will find a mix of reggaeton, hip-hop, reggae, electronica, bomba, and more.
Why Lisa liked it: While the overall tone is dark but dancy, there are a couple lighter, more laid-back cuts. La Media was a standout track for me; it reminded me of mid-90s hip-hop, to be enjoyed in the sun.

Down on Deptford Broadway by Skinny Lister
Summary: Skinny Lister’s music features ethereal Celtic folk melodies melding gracefully with rollicking rock and roll. As a reference point think of Dexy’s Midnight Runners at their best, and then think a bit better.
Why Ron liked it: Fun, fun, fun and great musicianship.

Hollywood Vampires by Hollywood Vampires
Summary: Hard rocking covers played by Alice Cooper and a plethora of musical all-stars.
Why Ron liked it: This album surprised me. Covers can be boring or weird, but Hollywood Vampires found ways to make the songs their own.

Danger in the Club by Palma Violets
Summary: 60s garage rock re-imagined in the 21st century. Sloppy, familiar, well-done.
Why Ron liked it: My decade of origin is evoked in footstomping, gear-changing, up-tempo rock and roll. Yeah baby!

GRAPHIC NOVELS!

Doodle Diary of a New Mom: an Illustrated Journey Through One Mommy’s First Year by Lucy Scott
Summary: The title summarizes it well. All the ups and downs of a full year in that adventure we call parenting.
Why Alan liked it: Works even if you’ve never been a mom; very, very funny. Kind of disgusting. Filled with love. A fast read, deceptively overloaded with insight and charm.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: the (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua
Summary: Presents a rollicking alternate reality in which Lovelace and Babbage do build the Difference Engine and then use it to build runaway economic models, battle the scourge of spelling errors, explore the wilder realms of mathematics, and, fight crime.
Why Carol liked it: Alternate histories and science are married in this engrossing graphic novel. Includes footnotes and diagrams for the history buff in all of us.

Snowden by Ted Rall
Summary: Rall delves into Snowden’s early life and work experience, his personality, and the larger issues of privacy, new surveillance technologies, and the recent history of government intrusion.
Why Carol liked it: If you ever wanted to learn more about Edward Snowden but didn’t think you had the time to read a lengthy biography, here’s your chance to get the skinny in a short time frame.

Stay tuned as we wrap up our absolute final best-of list in the next post!

Best of 2015 Redux Pt. 1: Fiction and Nonfiction for Adults

Fiction

Did you get a chance to read our 2015 staff favorites? Turns out there’s more! All this week we’re bringing you the books and music we loved–but had to be cut due to space limitations. To save us time linking (and save you time endlessly clicking) we’ve compiled all of these gems into one giant list for you to pick through. Today we’ll start with fiction and nonfiction for grownups like you & (sometimes) me.

FICTION!

Lucky Alan by Jonathan Lethem
Summary: Major literary fiction figure (Motherless Brooklyn, Fortress of Solitude) Jonathan Lethem returns with a collection of 9 short stories.
Why Alan liked it: Ranging from almost unreadably quirky to painfully awkward and bizarre, Lethem writes with precision and insight about each of these microcosms. Like Raymond Carver, Lethem has an eye for tragedy and an ear to the human in a dehumanizing world.

Green Hell by Ken Bruen
Summary: Another dark novel following Irish anti-hero Jack Taylor. In this one, he befriends a Rhodes scholar who changes his thesis from Beckett to Taylor and begins to help him try and take down a criminal passing as a respected professor.
Why Alan liked it: The dark side of human nature is there; I like to experience it vicariously through art. The winner of many awards, Bruen’s writing is sharp, funny, insightful, and the book is ironic to the tone and subject matter, a heck of a lot of fun to read.

Boo by Neil Smith
Summary: Thirteen year old Oliver Dalrymple, aka “Boo” due to his pasty white complexion and fragile health, dies in front of his school locker under mysterious circumstances, goes to heaven, investigates his own death, and learns the meaning of forgiveness.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Neil Smith’s Heaven is not at all the typical vision of pearly gates and puffy clouds! The residents of “Town” are all 13 and from the U.S., there’s a group called Gommers (Getting Over Murder), and the supplies are second hand. Very original and funny!

The Marauders by Tom Cooper
Summary: In alternating chapters we follow the eventually colliding stories of shrimpers dealing with oil spill tainted waters, an obsessive treasure hunter, community service workers gone awry, and violent brothers growing marijuana in the Louisiana bayou.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I loved this book despite the lack of female protagonists. Funny, sad, suspenseful, and masterful, I really did not want it to end. Each flawed character was an original and had me alternating between cheering them on and wishing for their demise!

Aquarium by David Vann
Summary: Caitlyn visits the Seattle Aquarium every day after school while her mother works long hours. There she meets a friendly older man who seems unusually interested in her life and thoughts. His attention propels Caitlyn’s life into an unexpected direction.
Why Elizabeth liked it: The dreamy, magical aquarium life, protected yet trapped, provide a striking contrast to the sequence of events that unfold and threaten to unravel lives completely. Seattle in the drear of winter adds to the claustrophobic tension.

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh
Summary: In 1989 a 15 year old girl named Lindy is raped at dusk in a quiet Baton Rouge neighborhood. There are several suspects, including our teen narrator, who idolizes Lindy to the point of obsession. Years pass and the crime remains unsolved.
Why Elizabeth liked it: This is an engrossing and thoughtful book that examines what it means to be young, inexperienced, and in love (or in lust). We are reminded that the mistakes we make while trying to figure out who we are can have lasting consequences.

The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter
Summary: William Avery, a young soldier in the East India Company, is stagnating and in debt when he accepts an assignment to accompany knowledgeable but rebellious Jem Blake in a search to find missing and much maligned author Xavier Mountstuart.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Full of excitement, vivid scenery, lots of fighting, and suspense, this is not my usual fare but I sure enjoyed it. Tigers, thugs, sweltering heat, monsoon rains, and deep dark jungle set the scene. It’s a downright swashbuckling adventure!

Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link
Summary: This collection of short stories all have an element of fantasy, yet are told in such an ordinary way, that the fantastical comes as a total surprise until you get in sync with Link’s wild imagination. Each story is read masterfully by a different actor.
Why Elizabeth liked it: These wonderfully quirky stories have a lasting quality and real depth. My favorite, Secret Identity, is about a teen girl who sneaks off to a NYC hotel to meet her 32-year-old online boyfriend amidst a superhero convention.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Summary: A companion piece (as Atkinson states in the afterword) to Life After Life (2013), A God in Ruins follows Ursula’s brother Teddy’s story through his various roles as RAF pilot, father, and spouse, and travels through his young adulthood to old age.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I listened to the audiobook and thought Alex Jennings, with his lovely accent, did excellent job capturing Teddy and setting the mood. At 16 hours, this is a lot of listening, but like Life After Life I never tired of Atkinson’s superb storytelling.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
Summary: Residents of Elizabeth, New Jersey are devastated by a plane crash right in the town, which kills several residents. Little do they know, it is only the beginning. Fifteen year old Miri and her extended family and friends struggle to regain their lives.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Real people, a variety of problems, family love and warmth, tragedy, and a rather unusual series of events made for a really engaging book. The short sections told in alternating voices make this a quick read which you won’t want to end.

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
Summary: Bride, whose very dark skin made her mother unable to truly love her, reinvents herself into a striking beauty with a prestigious career. Things start to go wrong for her when a woman she helped convict is released from prison.
Why Elizabeth liked it: The story is intense, original, and engrossing but even if it weren’t, Toni Morrison’s wondrous voice could carry it along. No one could have read it better. Without being overly dramatic she can express such feeling, depth, and truth.

The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
Summary: Half-sisters Taisy and Willow have had no contact due to a long ago falling out between the first and second families. When their father becomes ill, they finally meet. Neither understands the other’s past or current struggles.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I loved listening to this book. Two readers do an excellent job portraying the two sisters in alternating chapters. I especially enjoyed Taisy’s voice. Funny, heartfelt, and very entertaining, it made me want to read more by the author.

The Tuner House by Angela Flournoy
Summary: The Turner family lived on Yarrow Street in Detroit long enough for 13 children plus multiple grandchildren to grow up. Now the sad old empty house is worth much less than is owed, and the adult children must decide what to do with it.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Through the varied experienced of the Turner children, I learned about devastated Detroit, gambling addiction, and even southern ”haints”, but what stayed with me was the story of a family pulling together despite decades of hardship.

Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb
Summary: Todd is autistic and now in his 50s. At the Payton Living Center where he’s been living for the past 40 years, he’s a respected citizen and comfortable, but when a sinister new aide starts working at Payton, painful memories start to invade Todd’s life.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I have read several books about autism but never fiction told from the viewpoint of an autistic person. Gottlieb really seems to grasp the complexities of being autistic, and Todd is completely believable. Simply written but hard to put down!

Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos
Summary: Charles teaches English at a prestigious, private, Seattle school. His wife and he have divorced, after difficulties raising their autistic son, Cody.
Why Sarah liked it: 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.

NONFICTION!

Simple Sabotage: a Modern Field Manual for Detecting and Rooting Out Everyday Behaviors that Undermine Your Workplace by Robert M. Galford, Bob Frisch, and Cary Greene
Summary: Inspired by the Simple Sabotage Field Manual released by the Office of Strategic Services in 1944 to train European resistors, this is the essential handbook to help stamp out unintentional sabotage in any working group.
Why Carol liked it: Don’t let the quirk fool you; there are some serious communication tips in here to help you work better. I’m already applying what I’ve learned!

The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today by The Gang (writers and cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia)
Summary: The Gang from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia attempts its most ill-conceived, get-rich-quick scheme yet: publishing a self-help book to hilarious, sometimes dangerous, and often revolting, results.
Why Carol liked it: Ever since I stumbled upon this raunchy and hilarious TV show I have been obsessed with The Gang. There’s a good variety of formats (open letters, a therapy session, guidebook, etc.) to keep you interested–in case the raunch wasn’t enough on its own!

Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove
Summary: A firsthand account of the lives of captive killer whales by one of SeaWorld’s most experienced orca trainers.
Why Leslie liked it: This is an interesting memoir about a controversial subject.

Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
Summary: This book presents a chronicle of the sinking of the Lusitania and discusses the factors that led to the tragedy.
Why Leslie liked it: Larson is one of the few authors who can make history positively come alive.

The Oregon Trail: a New American Journey by Rinker Buck
Summary: Buck tells the story of making a modern-day 2,500 mile trip with a mule driven covered wagon along the path of the Oregon Trail. He relates: the history of the Oregon Trail, Mormons in the West, and of mules. Fascinating!
Why Leslie liked it: This is currently my favorite book! This book is hilarious while being thoughtful and packed full of history.
Editor’s note: Leslie wrote a full blog post about this earlier in the year. Check it out!

My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl
Summary: Good News! Ruth Reichl has a new memoir chock full of recipes. It chronicles her difficult time after Gourmet magazine folded and she found herself again through cooking.
Why Leslie liked it: This is a beautiful cookbook with ideas to change the way you cook and celebrate.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Summary: Krakauer examined years of mishandling of rape cases at the University of Montana. The university is home to a beloved football team, and when some of its players were accused of rape, the community was split.
Why Sarah liked it: Krakauer does an excellent job looking at the root causes of what went wrong, and sheds light on the victim’s predictaments, as their cases are dismissed.

Stay tuned for more all week long!

NaNoWriMo 2015

NaNoWriMo headerNational Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to those in the know, happens every November. It’s a time of creativity and encouragement aimed at budding authors. If you ever wanted to write that book you’ve been dreaming of, NaNoWriMo is the time to do it! This year we asked you to share what you were writing for NaNoWriMo and promised we would share it. So without further ado, here are some of our favorites!

Author’s Name or Handle: Elizabeth Ratcliff
Novel Title: The Answer Within
A short story about three girls who start out in junior high. One goes to New York, one goes to Hattiesburg, Mississippi and the third is shot and arrives at the hospital with no blood pressure and no pulse.

Author’s Name or Handle: Susan Shatzka Maass
Novel Title: Alice’s Garden
I am working on a historical novel based on the lives of my great-great-grandparents.

Author’s Name or Handle: Steve Garriott
Novel Title: Tripping the Con Fantastic
A lawyer-vampire and her jinni partner use their skills to con other fantastic creatures out of their ill-gotten gains. But when the pair pull the con on the wrong creature, their lives are on the line.

Author’s Name or Handle: Curtismith
Novel Title: Annasophia
A woman who experiences her day with curious wonder through childlike simplicity, is arrested for disrupting the peace.

Author’s Name or Handle: Mark R. Weirich
Novel Title: The Gods of Toberi
An inter-steller probe shows life forms on another planet.
A manned exploration finds the life forms destroyed by an earth virus on the probe. Plants turn out to be the intelligent life forms heard from on the way. A war ensues. After the war, one of the plant life-forms adopts an orphaned child born on the way. Thus begins the journey of M’ness D’pree and his human ward Tamara Mattier.

Author’s Name or Handle: Staci Nichole
Novel Title: Angel Armies
It began as a youth project acknowledging the worthwhile qualities and attributes of others every day for two weeks. It became a revolution.

Author’s Name or Handle: @patbreyes
Novel Title: An American Classroom
A collection of short stories about a 4th grade southern California classroom and the students’ very different home lives. Some have the nuclear family experience, most are happy to have a break from their day-to-day realities.

Author’s Name or Handle: Diana Dovgopolaya
Novel Title: Fairy Dust Sprinkled Over Darkness
A short story with a dark twist on the love tragedy of Peter Pan, and a gender swap of Wendy and Pan.

Author’s Name or Handle: Marissa Dummel
Novel Title: The Dragon Guard Chronicles Book #1: The Guard’s Awakening
Being a teenager is difficult enough. Now add in being an ancient guardian descended from one of the Knights of the Round Table and you’ve got poor Marina. Marina is your average fifteen year old Washingtonian girl- she is a junior, plays clarinet in band, loves her family and has boy problems. She is invited to school in the United Kingdom, where she discovers a hidden world.
This world was created by King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table with the help of the dragons, of course. Though, on day one, Marina manages to make an enemy of the most popular girl in school, find out she’s one of the Dragon Guard- descended from Sir Tristan himself- and has discovered she is half of the star crossed lover’s of the Guard. The other half? Just the most popular boy in school.
Along with going through junior year, Marina has to also learn how to control her power over Water, balance school politics, and figure out her relationship with Arthur who is the Fire to her Water. Not to mention they also have to find their Dragon Partners and, oh you know, save the world from the descendants of Mordred and Lady Morgana.
Will Marina master her powers? Will she figure out her relationship with Arthur? Will she pass junior year? Read “The Dragon Guard Chronicles Book #1:
The Guard’s Awakening” and join the Guard in their journey into the Dragon World to find out!

Author’s Name or Handle: Diana McGowan
Novel Title: Everything Before Us
A short story about the events that eventually lead up to the forming of a young couple’s relationship.

And finally…I’m not playing favorites, but seriously—writing 5 books?! Genius!

Author’s Name or Handle: Zanzibar 7. Schwarznegger (on NaNoWriMo: Trilleth)
Book 1:Novel Title: Purple Text Talk (older children’s novel)
Aria has everything: a best friend she spends most of her time with, a mostly-great family, and a cell phone she treasures just a little too much. When her dad loses his job, can she make the adjustments to a new life or will she be too caught up in the old one?

Book 2: Novel Title: The Annals of Bobian (YA Humor)
The Bobian has gone without ice cream for far too long.
Will his quest for ice cream continue to land him in (mis)adventures, or can he finally get to that sweet finish at the end of the tunnel?

Book 3: Novel Title: Spaghetti Theory and Other Chaos Permutations (YA SF)
In the midst of a world decimated by a two-fold plague that leads to strict social rules and even stricter medical laws, Zipad is conceived with not one but both Variants of the virus. Will an experimental procedure save his life or will he die upon birth, remembered as one of the greatest mass murderers of the twenty-first century?

Book 4: Novel Title: The Wicked Witch of Whatever (YA Humor)
Andrew has it all: social standing, good grades, and a pretty cheerleader on his arm. But when a chance encounter with a psychic medium reveals he is fated for so much more, will his girlfriend Cass take things too far?

Book 5: Novel Title: Beta Beware! – book 2 of the Figments series (fantasy humor)
DJ is in desperate need of beta readers for her finished manuscript. When Christopher Collum agrees to read hers if she’ll read his, she thinks the worst part will be keeping her eyes open long enough critique the formulaic rewrite. But when a plot bunny drags her into a game world where she is just a pawn, DJ learns just how real Christopher’s world can be… and how dangerous. Bridge games, backwards prophecies, and a snarky game narrator will keep DJ on her feet to the very end– if she survives that long.

So I guess now you can officially say you’re a published author. You’re totally welcome, by the way. Just be sure to give me a shout-out in your book’s acknowledgements.

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?