Shelf Life

Our Shelf Life Blog features the latest recommendations chosen by library staff and volunteers.
12/23/2010 - 3:09pm

The Chateau Marmont is an opulent hotel in Hollywood where the rich and famous go to misbehave. In Last Night at the Chateau Marmont by Lauren Weisberger, Brooke is dressing for the Grammys with her newly famous husband, wearing her first Valentino gown, her own plain gold wedding band replaced by a diamond the size of a macaroon when she finds out her “Rock Star” husband was at the Chateau Marmont with another woman—there are pictures just published in the tabloids—and then her boss calls from the hospital where she works as a nutritionist and fires her for missing too much time for following her husband to his gigs. Her Cinderella moment turns into a nightmare.

12/21/2010 - 4:31am

There’s no understating the dangers of life in Africa: malaria, spitting cobras, poisonous spiders, intestinal parasites and worms, landmines, terrorists, corrupt government officials, and its many wars.  In Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood Alexandra Fuller - nicknamed Bobo - chronicles her childhood in Rhodesia during the tulmultuous Rhodesian Civil War, which culminated in the end of white rule. It was not an easy, carefree childhood. Three of Bobo’s siblings died in infancy or early childhood, and Bobo herself had a few close scrapes with death. She learned at an early age to load guns and not to startle her parents during the night for fear that they may accidentally shoot her.

Bobo’s parents are the most profound characters in this memoir, especially her mother. Mum could drink all night, sitting “yoga-cross-legged,” and still be awake in the morning to greet the dawn with “stupefied wonder.” She can round up cattle all day like the toughest ranch hand, and yet she can also minister to the farm workers’ ailments with mercy. She could spend the day quietly reading books with Bobo on the bed and listening to radio programs, and the night singing at the “club” with a bottle in her hand. With the death of each child Mum goes into a steeper downward spiral.

12/20/2010 - 10:13am

"Beneath heaven is hell.  Beneath hell is furnace."  That is the description by 14-year-old Alex of Furnace, a prison one mile below the surface of the earth.  When you are sentenced to Furnace you are sentenced for life.  This gripping tale is Lockdown: Escape from Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith.  In this story we meet Alex, who is arrested after he and a friend are caught during a burglary.  However, the police are not your typical law-enforcement officers, as they are clothed all in black.  Without any of the requisite procedures, during the arrest they shoot Alex's friend dead in front of him.  Alex is taken to court and found guilty of murder.  Despite his and his parents' pleas for an appeal he is sentenced to life in prison with no parole.  Not just any prison but Furnace, where there are no visitors and no chance of ever getting out.

Alex arrives to find a tough world where survival is a daily concern.  He quickly learns that friendships are not part of the Furnace world, and it is every man for himself.  Gangs abound, the food is disgusting,  and guard dogs tear the inmates apart.  Alex quickly learns from his street-smart roommate to keep a low profile and not to draw attention to himself.  This is especially the case when, during the night, evil guards manuever through the prison and randomly select the next victim.  The victims are taken away and return as killing machines.  Alex decides he wants out.  So he and his roommate devise a clever escape plan.  But it is very risky.

12/17/2010 - 9:12am

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids. 

If you liked "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, you might enjoy these other titles that also offer lots of plot twists and turns and a sprinkling of history:

Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
This book is set in the Sri Lankan Civil War of the 1980s and 1990s. Anil Tissera is a native Sri Lankan who left her home at 18 and returned 15 years later as a forensic anthropologist working with an international human rights fact-finding mission. Although she had done similar work digging up victims of the killing squads in the Guatemalan Civil War, Anil finds that the work is quite different when it is in her own country.
 

Atonement by Ian McEwan
Set in 1935 England at the dysfunctional country estate of the Tallis family, it is the story of love, loss, and lies. Thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis lets her formidable imagination and creative talent wander in the wrong direction and must later live with her guilt and attempt to atone for her sins. Plenty of World War II history. Also excellent on audio book.

 

12/16/2010 - 4:40pm

Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly, written by Carolyn Parkhust and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, is a culinary blast of imagination as two siblings present a cooking show. Henry is your host, and two-year-old Eleanor (Elliebelly is definitely a snappier stage name) helps out…sort of. They’ve got spatulas, they’ve got a theme song, and they know what they are cooking today. Henry instructs his viewers with a cool professional expertise that you just don’t always see on the Food Network: “There are two ways you can make barbecued banana bacon: you can start with bacon and add bananas, or you can start with bananas and add bacon. It’s really up to you.”

Elliebelly gets on Henry’s nerves at times, but for the most part he is incredibly flexible with this sister’s demands. When she insists that they wear pirate hats instead of chef hats, Henry agrees for the sake the show. Only when she throws her doll into the bowl (“Baby Anne go swimming!”) does Henry really lose his cool.
 
The children’s interpretation of television is satirical, but lacks any sort of cynicism due to Henry and Elliebelly’s positive energy. When it comes time for the commercials, they offer a rapid-fire sales pitch, hawking cars, giraffes, rockets, and pudding. Elliebelly demands that viewers buy these items, “Nownownownownow!!!”
12/15/2010 - 4:31am

If you enjoy character-driven novels, you will like Ruth Rendell’s Portobello. Fifty-year-old bachelor Eugene Wren finds an envelope with a large amount of cash in it in London’s Notting Hill area. Instead of keeping it or turning it over to the police, he decides to find the owner himself. This decision puts Wren and his long-time girl friend, Ella Cotswold, on a collision course with a cast of characters each with their own problems and obsessions.

There is Lance who is attempting to start a life of crime by getting information from his Uncle Gilbert, a reformed criminal, and Joel who has a dark secret that has caused him to be estranged from his father for years. Wren, dealing with his own obsessions and fears, must make decisions about his own life and his relationship with Ella. All of these characters come together in a fascinating novel that will keep you turning the pages.