Shelf Life

Our Shelf Life Blog features the latest recommendations chosen by library staff and volunteers.
07/21/2010 - 4:26pm

Just listen!  Barbara Kingsolver has earned a world-wide reputation for her writing, but who knew she is a fantastic reader as well?  Her performance of her newest novel, The Lacuna, kept me looking for errands to run so that I could hop back in the car to hear more.  The 16 CDs brought the story to life in a way I doubt I would have appreciated in reading the words without her voice in my head.

 The book jacket blurb summarizes the plot:

"BK takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J.Edgar Hoover ... a poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identity."

True enough, but doesn't get at the nuances of character development Kingsolver accomplishes in her extended portrait of protagonist Harrison Shepherd and the people impacting his life.

Harrison Shepherd is a writer, following from boyhood that compulsion common to many writers to chronicle their days. Year in and year out Shepherd fills notebooks comprising a detailed journal of his life.  How we come to read those journals and empathize with the writer and move with him from the "interesting times" he experiences in mid-1950s Asheville, North Carolina, back to his coming of age in Mexico is to acknowledge writer Kingsolver's extraordinary skill in structuring her narrative.  On paper,  the novel is 500 pages long, yet the tension as the story develops keeps the reader [or listener] hooked. As her protagonist says, more than once, "the most important part of the story is the piece of it you don't know" --- until the end!

08/16/2010 - 4:20pm

First Light by Rebecca Stead is a compelling story told by two different narrators. First there is Peter, the only child of two talented scientist parents. His father, a glaciologist, receives a grant to travel to Greenland and study global warming. He takes along Peter and Peter's mother, a molecular biologist, who is writing a book about mitochondrial DNA. Peter, like any normal 7th grader, is excited to leave behind New York City for 6 weeks, but he's worried about his increasingly frequent headaches. Is he going to end up like his mother, whose headaches cause her to simply "check out" for days at a time?

Second, there is Thea, a 14 year-old girl who lives in Gracehope, a community entirely hidden under Greenland's ice. Thea's ancestors fled here a long time ago to escape persecution. Thea has never seen the sun. Her people's population has expanded to the point where resources must be severely rationed and births are limited. Thea feels that her people were meant to return to the surface, but her grandmother, who leads Gracehope, is set against expansion.

Peter and Thea's tales alternate as the plot's tension increases, and they eventually come together in this exciting story that mixes adventure with science and fantasy. Both characters are strong and independent thinkers, trying to make the best decisions with their limited knowledge. The adults in this novel seem strangely paralyzed by the past in many respects, unlike Peter and Thea, who are constantly looking forward to and advocating for the future.

You can read an excerpt from the book here and explore the world of First Light in its own Web site. A similar read is The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. The library owns both the book and audiobook, which our family enjoyed listening to. Recommended for ages 10-14.

07/20/2010 - 11:17am

Benjamin Weaver, retired prize fighter and now professional thief-taker, is back in action on the streets of 18th-century London. What seemed a simple job—cheating a card cheat—turns nightmarish when Weaver discovers he’s the one who has been rooked in David Liss' The Devil’s Company. The mysterious and wealthy Mr. Jerome Cobb has a very dangerous plan in which Weaver is an essential player. His physical skills, intelligence, connections, and indeed his very character are necessary to make the plan a success.

No one else will do, and in order to secure his cooperation, Cobb and his cronies have drawn a diabolical net around those Weaver holds dear. The Devil's Company referred to in the title is none other than the terrifically wealthy East India Trading Company. Their near monopoly on imports of tea, fabrics, and other luxury items began more than 100 years before this story opens in 1722, and it is this fortress-like institution that Weaver must infiltrate.
 
07/20/2010 - 11:18am

I bought my first grill last year and although I've learned how to get the coals going, I'm ashamed to say I haven't actually grilled anything myself.

That's all going to change, and I'm going to use Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries & Shakes to help me get over my grilling jitters. My plan is to master grilling one thing this year, and it's going to be the burger!  Making the same burger over and over again might lose its appeal though, and that's where Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries & Shakes offers real inspiration. I can grill until January and never make the same burger twice!

Flay's burgers range from the elegantly simple "Garlic Butter Burger" (using just butter, garlic, shallots, herbs and pepper) to the Cuban inspired "Miami Burger" (a take on the classic Cuban sandwich with swiss cheese, ham and pickles) to the "Oaxacan Burger" (dressed with a homemade mole sauce which includes chile powder, chocolate and maple syrup). It might be a good idea to give the arteries a break with the "Salmon Burger with Honey Mustard-Dill Sauce" or the "Tuna Burger with Pineapple-Mustard Glase and Green Chile-Pickle Relish." Speaking of being health conscious, each red meat burger recipe states that you can use 90 percent lean ground turkey as an alternative.

It's going to be hard to choose which one to make first!
Maybe the "Crunchburger (AKA The Signature Burger)," which is topped with potato chips and is the house burger at Flay's "Bobby's Burger Palace."

08/23/2010 - 7:30am

This is Week 6 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. Check back each Monday for a new review.

What matters to you? What really, really matters in your life?

What if someone told you that nothing in life matters? NOTHING AT ALL.
"It's all a waste of time ... Everything begins only to end. The moment you were born you began to die. That's how it is with everything." What if they kept saying it over and over again and you couldn't make them shut up?

This is exactly what happens to the students in class 7A at Taering School in Janne Teller's novel Nothing.

07/20/2010 - 11:24am

 by Jacob Puckett, an 11 year-old guest reviewer

 
"Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts. Mountains of phrases and sentences and connected ideas. Clever expressions. Jokes. Love songs....
 
...But only in my head.

I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old." (Excerpt from Chapter 1)
 
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is a striking book about a girl named Melody Brooks who has cerebral palsy, a disease that disables you so you can’t walk, can’t control your body movements, and, most frustrating to Melody, can’t talk. Every "normal" kid at school thinks that all the "special" kids are either dumb as dirt, crazy, or both! But most kids don’t know that just because you can’t speak or walk doesn’t mean that you’re not smart.
 
Melody is a genius, but nobody suspects it, except Ms. V, Melody’s sitter. Melody can see and smell different styles of music. For example, classical music appears bright blue and smells like fresh paint to her. Jazz is brown and tan and smells like "fresh dirt." Her favorite music, country, appears yellow and smells like sweet lemons. She also has a photographic memory and can outsmart her doctor, especially since he's not that smart.
 
Melody communicates through word cards, but she wants a more sophisticated way so she can be better understood. Eventually, she is given a special computer that lets her communicate with her thumbs. For me, this is the happiest part of the book.
 
This was not a book that I would have picked up off the shelf to read, but after we read it orally in class, all 26 of us loved it. We were begging our teacher to read more every day. I’ll say that there are some sad parts at the end, so more sensitive readers may want to be ready for some surprises!