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.

Modern Cat Lady 2017 Edition

Well hello there, kittens! With the holidays behind us and that calendar somehow saying “December” it’s the purrfect time to do a wrap-up of the best cat books of 2017! Stick with me like fur to black pants as I jump into the list like a cat into an empty cardboard box.

For all you modern cat ladies out there who can’t have a real live cat of your very own, I have some fantastic news! You can make your own lifelike kitty companion if you follow the steps outlined in Needle Felted Kittens by the amazingly talented Hinali. Okay, so this can be more than a little creepy and the techniques are way beyond my less-than-novice needle felting status. However, I can’t help but be fascinated with the eerily lifelike felines in this book. There are step-by-step instructions for everything from making the right shaped head to adding specific color patterns–the tortoise shell cat is especially adorable–and even advanced posing (a movable head and neck! Oh my). I mean, I would even love just a cat head on its own. Seriously! There are some instructions to teach you the basics of felting, like needle techniques and how to blend different colors of wool. My girl Kathy says this is definitely advanced, but beginners might like to see it as something to aspire to. Also, the author taught herself all this, so there’s hope for us all!

Want to make a cat but lack felting skills? If you can knit you’ll definitely want to check out Knitted Cats & Dogs by Sue Stratford. Yes, yes, there are dogs included. But all modern cat ladies should be secure enough in their cat lady-ness that they won’t balk at a couple of canines peppered throughout the book they’re reading. From fuzzy kittens to gorgeous Siamese and even a super cat–complete with superhero outfit, eye mask, and cape–you’re sure to find your next fun knitting project in these pages.

 

For a more sophisticated look at our feline friends, there’s no better place to start than Desmond Morris’s Cats in Art. This book is organized by time period, starting with prehistoric depictions of cats on cave walls in France and continuing through Warren Kimble and beyond. All but two of the 137 illustrations are in full color, which really brings the cats to life. Don’t miss the hidden gem at the back of the book: a three page bibliography full of sources of more kitty information.

 

If quirky is more your speed, you’ll want to pick up Crafting for Cat Ladies by Kat Roberts (OMG even the author’s name is on point!). Inside you’ll find thirty-five different projects using a variety of mediums and techniques. From party bunting to a clay jewelry tray, storage bins (with whiskers, so adorable!) to paw print stamps and bracelets–there really is something for everyone in here. The skill level seems to be low to medium, so for the crafty cat ladies with more enthusiasm than experience, this is the book for us.

Next I’ll briefly list some of the more traditional cat books that published this year. Jackson Galaxy has a new book out with Mikel Delgado, PhD (another cat-named author! How cool!) called Total Cat Mojo: the Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat. It covers the basics of cat ownership, as well as techniques for dealing with common kitty-human conflicts like biting and scratching. The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee also digs into the thoughts and psyche of our cat BFFs. The History of Cats in 101 Objects shows the direct influence cats have had over us (and vice versa) in some truly unexpected ways.

Poetry has been having a modern renaissance lately and I was delighted to find a book of poems focused solely on our relationships with our pets. Reading Darling, I Love You: Poems from the Hearts of our Glorious Mutts and All Our Animal Friends by Daniel Ladinsky and written by Patrick McDonnell is guaranteed to give you the warm fuzzies and maybe even shed a tear or two. This one gets me misty-eyed every time:

 

Gratias:
Food in my bowl
caring sounds
gentle hands

no longer alone
on the street weeping
at times

if you see me
kneeling in
prayer,

repeating
for
days

gratias
gratias, gratias
gratias

never
wonder
why

I’m not crying; you’re crying!

Okay, let’s pep ourselves back up with some fun books about real-life cats who have lived extraordinary lives in one way or another. Bolt and Keel by Kayleen VanderRee & Danielle Gumbley is based on the Instagram account of the same name. Follow these rescue cats as they go on outdoor adventures with their owner in the Pacific Northwest. Bookstore Cats by Brandon Schultz has the absolute best opening line in the introduction: “Confession: I’m a crazy cat person.” Do you really need to know anything other than that?! If cats living in bookstores aren’t quite enough awesomeness for you, check out Distillery Cats by Brad Thomas Parsons. In addition to all the cool cats between these pages, Parsons includes some cocktail recipes, too. Disclaimer: I’m fairly certain all cats survive to the ends of these books, but please read with caution. Nothing makes me sadder than reading about an amazing animal only to have to grieve for them at the end.

And last by not least is my favorite combination of practical nonfiction with an extremely humorous slant. If you’ve ever been accused of equating cat ladyship with being in a cult or religion, I can definitely relate. Some things are just different for us, you know? Thankfully the genius Jeff Lazarus has written Catakism: Bow to the Meow. It’s a funny take on how obsessed we humans can be with cats. While the photographs are downright hilarious and the text can be tongue-in-cheek, don’t miss the actual good advice inside. Covering cat pregnancy and kitten weaning as well as advice for human relationships when one person is pro-cat and the other is…not? Is that A Thing? I suppose I’m lucky I married a modern cat sir, but it’s good to know there’s help out there for those who want to make it work with someone who really isn’t as into cats as you are.

Those were my favorites, but of course there are so many more gems waiting for you to discover them in the stacks. Start at 636.8 (cats as pets) and go from there. And who knows? Maybe someday soon you’ll look like this:

Warm Up with These Cookbooks

The days are getting shorter, the air is moving from crisp to cold, the furnace is kicking on more than I’d like to admit, and I’m staying inside as much as possible. It can be tempting to fall into the gloom of the season, but I’m one of those weirdos who loves the grey, rainy weather we get here in the winter. This is the time of year where I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, trying out new recipes and techniques as well as indulging in family favorites. There’s just something about walking into a warm house that smells like something amazing has been cooking for hours that makes me feel all cozy inside. If you want to bring some of that magic into your own home, I highly recommend giving these cookbooks a whirl.

First, let’s talk techniques. I will pull a good recipe from anywhere: cookbooks, the internet, a cooking show, calling my mom up and having her recite it for me to transcribe–I will go anywhere for a good recipe! However, if I’m trying a new technique I always have questions. Luckily the geniuses at America’s Test Kitchen have put their heads together and published Kitchen Smarts: Questions and Answers to Boost Your Cooking IQ. I absolutely love how the book is laid out. There are two tables of contents. One breaks it down by ingredient/theme: baking, meat, herbs, etc. The other spells out the topics by chef problem: kitchen mythbusters, substitutions, confidence, science, and even a pronunciation guide so you don’t sound like a n00b when you discuss your new skills over dinner. Whether you’re just dabbling in cooking for the first time or you’re already a seasoned chef, you’ll want to ensure this book is as easily accessible as your pepper mill.


Now, on to the cookbooks! I can tell right away that The Winter Table by Lisa Lemke is going to become my go-to for cold weather comfort food. Easy to understand directions and beautiful photography make this one of those rare cookbooks you might be tempted to read cover-to-cover (I know I was!). There are lots of soups, casseroles, one pot meals, and other easy to prepare dishes perfect for long winter evenings. And if you’re looking to try your hand at make-ahead freezer cooking, check out Jane Butel’s Freezer Cookbook. This is an update to her classic cookbook that lead the charge for make-ahead chefs everywhere. What the book lacks in photographs it more than makes up for in quality recipes with instructions that are easy to follow. Freezer meals are great solutions for when you have time only sporadically to prepare meals but can still have something delicious and home-cooked whenever you need it.


If pressure cookers are more your thing, I have books for those, too! Dinner In an Instant by Melissa Clark features thorough recipes for everything from cheeses and yogurt (yes, homemade yogurt is A Thing!), to risotto and even mint crème brûlée. My engineer husband loves making crème brûlée, mainly because he loves the taste but also so he can torch it at the end with literal fire. Then we have The Art of Great Cooking with Your Instant Pot by Emily Sunwell-Vidaurri. Unlike most pressure cooker cookbooks, this one has photographs for every single recipe. When you’re trying something new in the kitchen it’s so helpful to have photographs to guide you during preparation. I’m already drooling over the breakfast recipes in this book, especially the Sausage & Gouda Breakfast Pudding (page 146).


If all else fails it’s time to bring out our old, trusted friend: the slow cooker. It’s difficult to argue that you don’t have time to cook when cooking can mean dumping ingredients into a machine, hitting a button, going to work, and coming home to dinner that’s waiting for you! Here are just a few of the new slow cooker cookbooks that you can try this winter:
Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook (revised & updated) by Phyllis Good
No-Prep Slow Cooker by Chrissy Taylor
The Complete Slow Cooker by America’s Test Kitchen
Fix-It and Forget-It Holiday Favorites by Hope Comerford
Stock the Crock by Phyllis Good

Whether I’m prepping for a holiday get-together or just trying to mix it up mid-week, these cookbooks have just what I need to see myself through these long winter nights. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s some chopping to be done and that butter knife isn’t going to lick itself.

Fall Publishing Season is My Christmas

Oh TBR, oh TBR! Your books just scrape my ceiling.

Some people love Halloween. For others they just can’t wait for Christmas. I’m definitely a fall publishing fanatic and that’s not just because my job is in cataloging. I’m a voracious reader and much like the kid whose eyes are bigger than her stomach (also me) I am constantly checking out, or shelving on Goodreads, more books than I can possibly read. I like to read based on my mood so I can never stick to a prescribed list for long–even if I’m the fool who made the list in the first place! Therefore I give to you (and let’s be honest, this is going to be a blog post so I can bookmark it for myself for later) the books that came out this fall that I haven’t read yet but I really, really want to.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
A collection of short stories about the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies. So many of my reading buddies have been raving over this one. I’ve never gotten into short stories before but I think it’s time I started!

It Devours: a Welcome to Night Vale Novel by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
The weirdest podcast I listen to (and I also listen to a podcast that is literally a family playing Dungeons & Dragons) is Welcome to Night Vale. I read the first novel, aptly named Welcome to Night Vale–or rather I had the podcast’s narrator, Cecil Baldwin, read it to me via audibook. Guess what? The library also has both the print and audio versions of It Devours so I can pick my poison.

Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History by Tori Telfer
You say there aren’t any female serial killers? I say they are, and Lady Killers says there are at least 14. I should probably have tried harder to read this before Halloween but honestly all I have to do is turn out the lights and get out my clip-on book light and no matter what I’m reading will definitely end up with me being creeped out by the darkness alone. Add in some gruesome murder details and I may never sleep again.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
This novel centers around a rape, a group of girls determined to avenge it (even though they didn’t know the person who was raped), and the movement that transforms the lives of everyone around them. This is another book my reading buddies are raving about. Do they hold a secret cool-girl book club without me? If they did I wouldn’t blame them. The way I’m flighty about what to read next, they’d be waiting on me forever. However, after reading Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (review to come!) this seems like an excellent companion novel even though it’s by a completely different author.

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa de la Cruz
Are you a P&P fangirl or fanboy? What if I told you there’s a novel where the roles of Darcy and Bennet are gender swapped, it takes place during Christmastime, and is written by an incredibly talented author? If you’re checking all the boxes, you to need this book in your life. I’ve had my own copy of this on my nightstand for a while but I’m purposefully putting off starting it until closer to Christmas. Because Christmas reads are the best at Christmas.

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
Rupi Kaur’s first book of poetry, Milk and Honey, completely gutted me and put me back together. I’m not sure what to expect from this next book of poetry but it’s one I preordered because I knew I would love it to pieces. I’ll chime in later after I actually read it and let you know how successful I was in determining my pre-adoration!

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
JOHN GREEN PUBLISHED A NEW BOOK FOR THE FIRST TIME IN FIVE YEARS. If you had’t gotten the memo yet, you now have the knowledge so make use of it! I confess I’ve never actually read a John Green novel yet (stop it! I know!) but I absolutely adore all the awesomeness he’s thrown out into the world via the internet and this book in particular, about the search for a millionaire and a girl stuck in a spiral of her own thoughts, speaks to me.

We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True by Gabrielle Union
Oh my goodness, I really love Gabrielle Union! Her book is a collection of essays that cover all kinds of topics that are totally my jam: gender, sexuality, race, feminism, and more. One of my friends compared it to Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, and if that’s even half true I am so totally in.

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence
What better way to wrap up this towering TBR than with a book about books? Annie Spence is a librarian and she’s written an entire book of letters to the books in her life–it’s really meta. I’ve heard it’s absolutely hilarious and I’m morally obligated to read books written by librarians.

There are literally dozens more books in my TBR that’s taller than me, but I’m out of time. What are you reading or looking forward to reading in the (hopefully) near future? Your suggestions will definitely grow my TBR tower but don’t worry; it’s always going to grow and I’d much rather it grow with legitimately good recommendations than just my wandering eye.

Ban This Book

Finally, it’s time for Amy Anne to check out her most favorite book in the whole world from the school library. Her school librarian, Mrs. Jones, has this rule where you can only renew a book twice before it has to be returned and sit on the shelf for five days to give other students the chance to check it out. After waiting those five looooong days, Amy Anne is ready to re-read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. But when she gets to the H-N shelves in the school library the book isn’t there waiting for her. Thinking maybe another student checked it out, Amy Anne asks Mrs. Jones who delivers unbelievable, devastating news: Amy Anne’s favorite book has been banned from the school library.

Thus begins Ban This Book by Alan Gratz.

As Amy Anne learns more about book banning and the potential fate of her most favorite book, she decides for once that she will stand up and use her voice. After all, at the school board meeting where the book banning will become official, someone has to speak up on behalf of the accused. The problem is in the heat of the moment her insecurities and fears about speaking in public and standing up to authority overpower her better judgement and she remains silent.

Her parents are pretty upset about this. They rearranged their entire family’s schedule in order to take her to the school board meeting, but when her father sees her crying in the car on the way home from the meeting he stops off at the bookstore and buys Amy Anne her very own copy of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Amy Anne is happy to have her very own copy, but she knows this is bigger than just one book for one kid. What about all the other kids at her school? Not all the kids know about the book and definitely not all kids have parents who will drive them to the bookstore and buy them their own copy. One single parent on the PTA is denying access to hundreds of kids just because she didn’t want her son to read a particular book!

As she contemplates the implications for her fellow students (and re-reads From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler again) she decides she’ll bring her copy of the book in to school to let her friend borrow it. Another student overhears their exchange and asks if he can borrow it after that. Amy Anne agrees, but that’s not where our story ends.

Soon the PTA parent who demanded From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler be removed from the school library demands another book be removed. And another. And then an entire shelf is missing from the school library and Amy Anne is both confused and upset because she can’t think of a single thing wrong with any of the books being removed from the library.

As the list of removed books grows, so does determination. Amy Anne’s friends have copies of some of the books and Amy Anne buys a few others with money she’d saved from her birthday. Soon she posts a list of the banned books on her locker which is immediately noticed by the school administration, who demands she remove the sign from her locker.

Amy Anne complies but only for appearances. She replaces the list with a school spirit poster that has the books on the reverse side. Here’s where people can see which books are checked out and which are available for them to read. Then they make arrangements with Amy Anne to read it and then pass it on to the next student.

Amy Anne has accidentally started the Banned Books Lending Library from her locker!

The list of banned books grows and Amy Anne gets bold. I won’t tell you what happens next–you’ll have to read it for yourself and find out.

Kids and adults alike will enjoy this book. I highlighted so many passages! Amy Anne is my new favorite champion of the First Amendment.

My favorite part of the story was the banned books themselves. The titles are there for any kid to track down, a veritable bibliography hiding in plain sight. As the author’s note states, all the books that are banned in this book have actually been challenged or banned recently in America. I hope this information, coupled with Amy Anne and the other students’ enjoyment of reading these books in the story, will lead readers to check out these other books and explore perspectives and stories they might never have found on their own.

As libraries across the country celebrate Banned Books Week this week, we celebrate the freedom to read. And what better way than to read a banned book? Here’s the list from Amy Anne’s Banned Books Lending Library. Which one will you read?

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn
It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankeiler by E.L. Konigsburg
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
All the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park
All the Captain Underpants books by Dav Pilkey
All the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine

Real Friends

Some things in life come easy to me. I’m excellent at pattern recognition, reading way past my bedtime, functioning on very little sleep (could these two things be related?) falling up the stairs instead of down (always fall up), and having reflexes that work way faster than my brain. I didn’t have to work too hard at honing these skills and I’ve probably always taken it for granted that I don’t have to think about the process when I’m using them. There’s no concentration involved and things just seem to magically fall into place.

That’s never been the case with making friends. That’s always been something I’ve struggled with. If you met me today you probably wouldn’t guess that I was an extremely shy child. I didn’t approach strangers, would sometimes not even approach extended family members, and preferred to hide in my older brother’s shadow while he made things happen for me. However, he was never able to make friends for me; that was definitely a solo-Carol job, so when I did stumble into a friendship I held fast even if, in hindsight, it was unhealthy.

Reading Real Friends by Shannon Hale slammed me right back to that playground where I made my first friend who also later turned out to be the most unhealthy thing for me.

Real Friends is the story of a young Shannon, who recounts the series of friendships she had growing up and the impacts each made on her life. I was surprised to open the book and discover it’s not a graphic novel but actually a graphic memoir. As Shannon recounts her early school years through a series of friends she had, I was thrown back in time to the mid-late 80s when I was going through the same things Shannon did in the late 70s/early 80s. Some things are just universal. While this book is aimed at middle-grade readers I think anyone can find relatable moments.

I found myself in different friend roles growing up. Sometimes I was an Adrienne. My family would move or I would change schools and I would lose touch with my friends and have to start over again. Sometimes I was a Jen, although I never made people line up and be ranked in the order of who I liked the best (what a cruel thing to do!). Once or twice I’m sure I was a Wendy. I was the only girl in my family and sometimes I just couldn’t take the nonsense and would totally snap and lash out at my brothers. Then there was exactly one time I was a Jenny. To this day I regret acting the way I did, but nothing can change what’s in the past. We can only move forward and learn to choose kind.

But for the majority of my childhood I was a Shannon: shy, quiet, not sure how to make friends but knowing that I really, truly wanted someone to talk to and experience life with. I also made up games and was sometimes bossy or just oblivious when others were bored or left out completely when I became self-absorbed in the creative process.

I realize the name-dropping I’m doing here isn’t very helpful if you haven’t yet read the book, but it does illustrate the vastly different characters, aka real friends from Shannon’s past, that leap off the pages of this book. It’s amazing to me that within just a few panels the reader can get a deep sense of what kind of friend each girl was and the reader has a chance to see a bit of herself (or not) in each, too.

You’re gonna get the feels and if you’re lucky enough to still have a bestie from childhood you’re gonna want to call them as soon as you’ve finished reading.

Reading That Satisfies

There’s still time to complete another summer reading challenge before the August 31st deadline! Today I present to you a bountiful feast of books about food. Most of these are straight-up cookbooks, though some include recipes as more of an aside. Either way they totally count toward your reading challenge and have the added benefit of helping you put fantastic meals on the table.

Just click on the book you like and you’ll be taken to the online catalog where you can drool over a larger cover image and place a hold.

               

If you’d like some more reading suggestions to complete more reading challenges check out this series of blog posts designed to help you read and succeed.

Award-Winning Reads

How is it already August?! In case you’re just joining us, there’s still about a month left to complete 7 of the 8 adult summer reading challenges. If you turn in your entry by August 31st you have a chance of winning a prize. Not enough incentive? How about getting to read 7-8 rad books you may never have read if left to your own devices? Yeah, now we’re talking!

So let’s dip into another reading challenge, shall we? This time I’m focusing on National Book Award winners. The National Book Award is an American literary prize given by the National Book Foundation. The 2017 winners won’t be announced until November, so let’s focus on last year’s winners. The overarching themes in the 2016 winners–racism, civil rights, political violence, and immigration–are timely reminders of how far we’ve come as a society and how very, very far we still have to go.

2016 Fiction Winner:
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Summary: Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. Their first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom. Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey — hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day.

2016 Nonfiction Winner:
Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
Summary: Americans like to insist that we are living in a postracial, color-blind society. In fact, racist thought is alive and well; it has simply become more sophisticated and more insidious. And as award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues, racist ideas in this country have a long and lingering history, one in which nearly every great American thinker is complicit. In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the lives of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W. E. B. Du Bois to legendary anti-prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading proslavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America. As Kendi provocatively illustrates, racist thinking did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Racist ideas were created and popularized in an effort to defend deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and to rationalize the nation’s racial inequities in everything from wealth to health. While racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, they can also be discredited. In shedding much-needed light on the murky history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning offers us the tools we need to expose them–and in the process gives us reason to hope.

2016 Poetry Winner:
The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky
Summary: Daniel Borzutzky’s new collection of poetry draws hemispheric connections between the US and Latin America, specifically touching upon issues relating to border and immigration policies, economic disparity, political violence, and the disturbing rhetoric of capitalism and bureaucracies. To become human is to navigate these borders including those of institutions, the realities of over- and under-development, and the economies of privatization in which humans endure state-sanctioned and systemic abuses.

2016 Young People’s Literature Winner:
March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
Summary: Welcome to the stunning conclusion of the award-winning and best-selling March trilogy. Congressman John Lewis, an American icon and one of the key figures of the civil rights movement, joins co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to bring the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today’s world.

Already read these, or looking for more options? Check out the complete list of past winners at the Award’s website.

Hopefully this series of blog posts is helping you achieve your summer reading goals. For me, it’s definitely making my TBR grow dangerously tall–but who ever said that was a bad thing?