Shelf Life Blog

01/09/2013 - 3:31am
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

In its first chapters, Sweet Tooth begins like Dickens’ David Copperfield.  Serena Frome (rhymes with Plume) tells of her unremarkable childhood and how she ends up working as a spy for Britain’s MI5. With her blonde and beautiful looks, she is a bit of a Bond Girl and wreaks havoc on the men around her.

A good all-around student, Serena devours novels and wants to do an English degree in a small university, but her housewife mother, in an uncharacteristic fit of feminism, tells her she has a chance of making something of herself by going to Cambridge and doing “maths.” 

01/08/2013 - 2:02pm
The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

What's wrong with this story:

A father tells the authorities his daughter can do impossible things AND the authorities believe him. 
A soon-to-be bride promises to give her future baby away to a TROLL. 
Said bride agrees to marry the man who's threatened to kill her if she can't keep doing the impossible. 
What would a troll do with a baby anyhow, and why would he give her all that spun gold for a tiny ring? 
Why doesn't the heroine do ANYTHING to get herself out of this predicament?!

This old fairy tale is such a ridiculous story that the author wanted to fix it. So Vivian Vande Velde set out to do so six different ways in The Rumpelstiltskin Problem. The characters never come out the same in these retellings. The troll in "A Fairy Tale in Bad Taste" has gruesome appetites. "Straw Into Gold" has our beauty and her father resorting to an elaborate con game to keep from starving to death in the days before Social Security or insurance.

01/08/2013 - 2:12pm
Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation

Tom Bissell's Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creations represents the best of what an essay collection can offer: incisive observations about a wide range of intriguing topics, intelligent social commentary that refrains from didacticism, and a good sense of comedic timing. Bissell's essays are characterized by impressive eclecticism. He discusses established cultural figures like Ernest Hemingway, David Foster Wallace, and Werner Herzog, as well as less conventional subjects, such as Tommy Wiseau (the auteur responsible for the cult film The Room), the Underground Literary Alliance, and Jennifer Hale, “the Queen of Video-game Voice-over.” While these topics might seem incurably disparate, Bissell's interest in the process and consequences of creation provides a framework which links them together.

01/04/2013 - 3:31am
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

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.

The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien: Bilbo Baggins, a respectable, well-to-do hobbit, lives comfortably in his hobbit-hole until the day the wandering wizard Gandalf chooses him to take part in an adventure from which he may never return.

If you liked The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again, you may also like these titles (for adults):

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
A slightly disorganized and somewhat naive interplanetary tourist named Twoflower joins up with a bumbling wizard and embarks on a chaotic voyage through a world filled with monsters and dragons, heroes and knaves. (worldcat.org) First of the Discworld series.
 
 
 
 
Includes thirteen stories in the order that they were originally written. Conan the pirate, the swordsman, the army commander, and the thief are all here along with a map of the Hyborian World, drawn by Howard himself. Also included are other synopsis and story fragments (many that were completed by others), a poem, and notes on the original texts. (worldcat.org)
 
 
 
01/03/2013 - 3:33am
Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl is Ben Hatke's second comic book about a gutsy gal who just happens to be lost in the universe. Zita has already saved the planet Scriptorus and is now on a publicity tour, hopping from world to world to shake hands and answer questions from all sorts of alien beings.

01/02/2013 - 8:42am
How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman

Have you ever wanted to become a writer and brave the strange and confusing world of trying to sell your work to the publishing industry? Do you feel you might need a refresher course in creating a marketable thriller or romance novel?  If you are curious about improving your writing technique to make your work more compelling, concise, or appealing to publishers, you may benefit from How Not to Write a Novel, a writing guide from Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman.  This guide is a compilation of examples of common writing mistakes that can make novels confusing, boring, or unappealing to read.  Humorous and well-organized, this book is both a great educational resource and a good comedic read.

12/31/2012 - 3:31am
Legend by Marie Lu
Following The Hunger Games is a tall order, but many authors are jumping onto the dystopic bandwagon these days with some spectacular results. As this is the first book in a planned trilogy (with movie rights!) and #3 on the 2012 YALSA Teens' Top Ten list, Legend by Marie Lu is a must-read that both guys and girls will enjoy.
 
Author Lu takes us to a future where the U.S. has been torn apart. A western portion of the country, the Republic, has broken away and battles for independence from the Colonies. The Republic is essentially a dictatorship, with sharp distinctions between the haves and have-nots and frequent outbreaks of the plague. Meanwhile, all teens in the Republic must endure a Trial. If they pass, they are trained to enter the military and support the war effort. If they fail, they enter "labor camps," which turn out to be something even more horrible.
12/27/2012 - 3:32am
Blackout by John Rocco

A young boy just wants to play a board game, going from family member to family member without any luck. But when all the distractions are gone, that game looks pretty tempting.

The power outage that affected the northeast United States and Canada in August 2003 was thankfully a peaceful one, especially in New York City. Blackout by John Rocco, revolves around how that lack of electricity affects one family who are all normally just too busy.

Phone calls, dinner, and work on the computer are all more important than a mere board game...until the lights go out Without power, what will everyone do?

12/26/2012 - 3:31am
Baby's in Black by Arne Bellstorf

Baby's in Black drops you into a smoke-filled club in Hamburg. Despite the German locale, the band on stage is wailing in English about doing the "hippy hippy shake". Everyone's moving except for the bassist, who looks cooler than James Dean.

The band has been playing for hours, and they will continue for several hours more, as per their contract. They pop pills to stay awake for that long. The group is the Beatles. The year is 1960. The bassist is Stu Sutcliffe.

08/14/2014 - 2:16pm
How Music Works by David Byrne

How Music Works offers many answers to a question that I had never even asked. Now that I've read it I wonder, "How could I have gone so long without this information?" Musician and writer David Byrne crafts such an enticing collection of essays, dropping factoids and anecdotes along the way, that I was equally informed and entertained.

More of a blend of personal experience and hypothesis than a hard-line course in objective facts, Byrne tackles nearly every conceivable aspect of the art form: venues throughout history; the creative process; collaboration; recording; and business.

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