Shelf Life Blog

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

In When the Emperor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka uses a sparse, lyrical writing style to illuminate the psychological effects of one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history. The novel opens with a portrait of an ordinary woman going about her daily chores in Berkeley, California. While en route to her local library, she sees something troubling: Evacuation Order No. 19. After reading the notice, she abandons her errands and begins preparing for life in an unfamiliar locale.

At first, the sequence of events feels dystopian or apocalyptic – the world is ending and a family is forced to prepare to face the unknown. But this narrative is a dramatization of history, not a speculative tale of the future. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government began to suspect that American citizens of Japanese ancestry might harbor allegiance to Japan. In 1942, these paranoid fantasies lead to the forcible internment of Japanese-Americans announced in Evacuation Order No. 19.  

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

Seventeen-year-old Alex has had a rough time lately in Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick. First her parents tragically pass away in a helicopter accident, and then she is diagnosed with a brain tumor, which she dubs “the monster.” Fed up with managing the monster and all of its side effects like losing her sense of smell, she escapes to a campsite for a few days to think about her options. And then the whole world is turned upside down by an electromagnetic pulse that leaves much of the population dead or changed into flesh-eating zombies.

The Founding Foodies: How Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin Revolutionized American Cuisine by Dave DeWitt

The Founding Foodies: How Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin Revolutionized Ame

The Founding Foodies, by Dave DeWitt, is an easy-going chat on matters historic and gastronomic in the Old Dominion and beyond. DeWitt dismisses some food writers’ contentions that colonial food was poor stuff.  Having attended Mr. Jefferson’s university and being thus familiar with the third president’s many accomplishments, he knew that this common opinion was surely an overgeneralization.  Jefferson, as well as Washington and Franklin, were trend-setters—learned men who easily absorbed and promulgated cultured styles of fashion, philosophy, architecture, and, yes, food, derived European trends, especially their French allies.

Besides these Founding Fathers’ culinary preferences, DeWitt also looks at curious historical periods of Virginia history where food, or lack of same, played a noteworthy role.  At Jamestown, the horrors of spoiled ships’ rations and the colonists’ inexperience with hunting and fishing made them very dependent on the native tribes’ shared knowledge. They did learn to hunt and fish which was well since the supply ship was delayed, nearly resulting in John Smith being hanged.  Desperate to turn a profit in the days before tobacco, the settlers took up fishing on a grand scale—thousands of pounds of salted cod to England and dried fish to Spain.

Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army and Other Diabolical Insects by Amy Stewart

Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army and Other Diabolical Insec
The amateur naturalist in me was piqued when this book came up in my Goodreads list. I was certainly not disappointed. Wicked Bugs is a fascinating presentation of the darker side of our relationship with bugs. Amy Stewart presents a small sampling the most dangerous, painful, destructive and horrible ones that humans have encountered. 
 
Bugs have indeed changed the course of history from the louse that wiped out Napoleon’s army during the French Invasion of Russia to the locust that wiped out crops in the Great Plains. You cannot read this book without developing a deeper respect for nature or learning something new. 

Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist

A relative of one of my customers called me from Hawaii to tell me that I had to read this book. I can always tell it is he when I pick up the phone and hear, "Aloha!!!"  He didn't want to tell me too much about Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist, because he didn't want to spoil anything for me. However, he did want me to call him to discuss the book as soon as I finished it.

After reading it, I have to say that if you like Stephen King, you would enjoy Little Star, which focuses on two girls—one of whom is a sociopath and another who idolizes and wants to be just like her.

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman gives readers a look at America’s past while at the same time encouraging them to take a hard look at its present. The novel centers around a 13-year-old girl named Sophie who lives with her recently divorced mother in New Orleans, Louisiana. The story opens with Sophie being taken to a rural part of Louisiana to spend the summer with her maiden aunt and ailing grandmother at the family’s crumbling plantation house while her mother stays in the city and studies to become an accountant.

If you like Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold

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.  You can browse the book matches here.

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold: "Set against the backdrop of early 20th-century San Francisco during the heyday of such legendary illusionists and escape artists as Harry Houdini, this thoroughly entertaining debut by an amateur magician with an M.F.A. in creative writing is a fanciful pastiche of history, fantasy and romance." (Publisher's Weekly).

If you liked this book's use of historical setting, humor, and interconnected plots, here are some other titles you may enjoy:

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
It's 1939, in New York City. Joe Kavalier, a young artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdiniesque escape, has just pulled off his greatest feat, smuggling himself out of Hitler's Prague. He's looking to make big money, fast, so that he can bring his family to freedom. His cousin, Brooklyn's own Sammy Clay, is looking for a partner in creating the heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit the American dreamscape: the comic book.  (worldcat.org)

 

 

 


 

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
Their friendship compromised by the belief systems of the racially charged 1970s, Dylan Ebdus and Mungus Rude share a series of misadventures based on their mutual obsession with comic book heroes. (worldcat.org)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goldilocks and The Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems

Goldilocks and The Three Dinosaurs

In Goldilocks and The Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems, Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur and another unnamed Dinosaur visiting from Norway just happened to make three big bowls of delicious chocolate pudding and leave them out in the open while they went “someplace else.” Of course these dinosaurs did not know that Goldilocks would be coming around soon, and they certainly weren’t terribly hungry...

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

Australia—a land of kangaroos, koala bears, 12-foot earthworms, killer seashells, and Prime Ministers who disappear in the surf—provides a rich adventure for those who are not afraid to possibly encounter some of the world’s deadliest creatures and forbidding terrain.  Bill Bryson, author of the bestseller A Walk in the Woods, invites us on his treks throughout the Land Down Under from the comfort of our own homes (away from the deadly box jellyfish and toxic caterpillars) in his book, In a Sunburned Country.

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

I’m pretty certain I must have been an explorer—famous or otherwise—in a past life. Reading the globe-trotting adventures of others can entertain me for hours as I practically salivate over the descriptions of the sights, the culture, the food…you name it; hence my interest in Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. Author Susan Jane Gilman details her story of what started as the trip of a lifetime for two recent college graduates, until something went terribly wrong.