Shelf Life Blog

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

In the dark of night, a monster approaches Conor’s bedroom window. The massive, human-like gnarl of branches with its thunderous voice fails to frighten the boy. You see, Conor has already glimpsed the source of his personal terror. It lives in his nightmares.

A Monster Calls was written after Patrick Ness used outlines and ideas from the British writer Siobhan Dowd, a Carnegie Medal-winning author who died of cancer in 2007. The final product is a taut, suspenseful reflection on losing a loved one, accompanied by the message to be honest with one’s self.

If you like Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

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.

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin: New York City is subsumed in arctic winds, dark nights, and white lights, its life unfolds, for it is an extraordinary hive of the imagination, the greatest house ever built, and nothing exists that can check its vitality. One night in winter, Peter Lake--orphan and master-mechanic, attempts to rob a fortress-like mansion on the Upper West Side. Though he thinks the house is empty, the daughter of the house is home. Thus begins the love between Peter Lake, a middle-aged Irish burglar, and Beverly Penn, a young girl, who is dying. Peter Lake, a simple, uneducated man, because of a love that, at first he does not fully understand, is driven to stop time and bring back the dead. His great struggle, in a city ever alight with its own energy and beseiged by unprecedented winters, is one of the most beautiful and extraordinary stories of American literature.

If you enjoyed "Winter's Tale" by Mark Helprin, you may enjoy these titles for the great writing, the philosophical undertones and a dash of romance:

The Chess Garden by Brooks Hansen
"In the fall of 1900, Dr. Gustav Uyterhoeven left the chess garden that he and his wife, Sonja, had created together in Dayton, Ohio, and journeyed to South Africa to serve as a doctor in the British concentration camps of the Boer War. Over the next ten months he sent twelve chess pieces and twelve letters back to Sonja. She set out her husband's gifts as they arrived and welcomed all the most faithful guests of the garden to come and hear what he had written - letters which told nothing of his experience of the camps but described an imagined land called the Antipodes, where all the game pieces that cluttered the sets and drawers of the garden collection came to life to guide the doctor through his fateful and wondrous last adventure."-catalog summary

Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres
"Extravagant, inventive, emotionally sweeping, 'Corelli's Mandolin' is the story of a timeless place that one day wakes up to find itself in the jaws of history. The place is the Greek island of Cephallonia, where gods once dabbled in the affairs of men and the local saint periodically rises from his sarcophagus to cure the mad.  Then the tide of World War II rolls onto the island's shores in the form of the conquering Italian army.  Caught in the occupation are Pelagia, a willful, beautiful young woman, and the two suitors vying for her love: Mandras, a gentle fisherman turned ruthless guerilla, and the charming, mandolin-playing Captain Corelli, a reluctant officer of the Italian garrison on the island.  Rich with loyalties and betrayals, and set against a landscape where the factual blends seamlessly with the fantastic, 'Corelli's Mandolin' is a passionate novel as rich in ideas as it is genuinely moving."-catalog summary

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver

Liesl and Po

"Coincidences; mix-ups; harmless mistakes and switches.  And so a story is born."  Imagine Cinderella with a really, really wicked stepmother and a lonely, yet helpful ghost. 

In Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver, 11- year-old Liesl is confined to a tiny attic bedroom, locked away and totally isolated by her cruel stepmother while her father falls ill and dies.  Her only friends are the shadows and the mice -- until one night two shadows move and speak.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die." -Cersei Lannister

I think epic fantasy literature offers the best kind of escape. In a well-constructed fantasy you can lose yourself in mastering the intricacies of plotlines, character charts, and the physical environment of the world. George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, the first in the Song of Fire and Ice series, is the perfect book to hook you and then submerge you in its rich, imaginative prose peppered with bravery, cowardice, betrayal, loyalty, violence, lust, and death. In other words, it's great fun all around.

A Game of Thrones follows three main storylines, each populated with a complex number of characters and sub-plots. In the Seven Kingdoms we have the plotting Lannisters, ever eager for power and riches; and the duty-bound, severe Starks, proud to the last. Along the Wall in the north there is John Snow, Eddard Stark’s illegitimate son and part of the Brotherhood of the Knights Watch, who guards the Seven Kingdoms from the savage barbarians, undead, and beasts in the wild beyond the Wall. And in the East there is young Daenerys Targaryen, an exiled princess now wed to a Dothraki horse lord, dreaming of reclaiming the Iron Throne.

The Children of Men by P.D. James

The Children of Men by P.D. James

T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” ends with a description of anticlimactic destruction: “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.” In The Children of Men, the world is facing a similarly unspectacular, silent annihilation. P.D. James’s novel explores a dystopia that is not dominated by a totalitarian regime. The sky has not been blackened, nor has nuclear fallout rendered the world unlivable. The collapse of human society is being expedited by the simple fact that a child has not been born in 25 years.

Tropical Secrets by Margarita Engel

Tropical Secrets by Margarita Engel

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarita Engel is a historical novel in verse about holocaust refugees in Cuba. Daniel is a thirteen year old Jewish boy. His parents can only afford one ticket out of Germany and they give it to their child in hope that he will be able to escape Nazi Germany. They send him on a ship out of Germany, hoping that they will be able to meet him in New York City one day once they have saved enough money to pay for their tickets.

Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan

Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan

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.

Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan is a collection of five stories set in various African countries that reveal the harsh consequences for children of life in Africa.

If you liked Say You're One of Them for the chance to stand in another person' shoes, you may enjoy these titles:
 

A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn
"Jacob's Rest, a tiny town on the border between South Africa and Mozambique, 1952. An Afrikaner police officer is found dead. Detective Emmanuel Cooper, a man of uncertain parentage in a country that demands racial purity, follows a trail of clues that lead him to uncover a shocking forbidden love and the imperfect life of one Captain Pretorius."-catalog summary


 

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
A spare and haunting, wise and beautiful novel about the endurance of the human spirit and the subtle ways individuals reclaim their humanity in a city ravaged by war. In a city under siege, four people whose lives have been upended are ultimately reminded of what it is to be human.
From his window, a musician sees twenty-two of his friends and neighbors waiting in a breadline. Then, in a flash, they are killed by a mortar attack. In an act of defiance, the man picks up his cello and decides to play at the site of the shelling for twenty-two days, honoring their memory. Elsewhere, a young man leaves home to collect drinking water for his family and, in the face of danger, must weigh the value of generosity against selfish survivalism. A third man, older, sets off in search of bread and distraction and instead runs into a long-ago friend who reminds him of the city he thought he had lost, and the man he once was. As both men are drawn into the orbit of cello music, a fourth character-a young woman, a sniper-holds the fate of the cellist in her hands. As she protects him with her life, her own army prepares to challenge the kind of person she has become. A novel of great intensity and power, and inspired by a true story, 'The Cellist of Sarajevo', poignantly explores how war can change one's definition of humanity, the effect of music on our emotional endurance, and how a romance with the rituals of daily life can itself be a form of resistance. (catalog summary)

Ida B--And Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan

Ida B--And Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the Wo

Ida B. Applewood's perfect life is crushed when she is forced to go to public school during her fourth grade year--where fun is scarce and the teacher gets to decide the entire plan for the day. Having been homeschooled, she has always been a planner in that she decides at the beginning of the day just how she will complete all of her tasks to ensure ample time for fun. Fourth grade in public school is not for Ida B., and she has a plan for how she can escape the unpleasant, joyless constraints of Ernest B. Lawson Elementary School. Ida B, by Katherine Hannigan, is the story of a girl's strong will to maintain her happy, fun-filled lifestyle.  

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

The plot and characters in The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, are full of surprises. Grown-up siblings Annie and Buster Fang end up back home with their parents when both their lives implode in creative ways. Buster, while writing for a macho magazine, was shot with a potato gun, doing serious injury to his face. Actress Annie shed some extra clothes on a movie set and got blacklisted. Adrift and in need, they naturally return home.

But coming home for them is no staid Norman Rockwell gathering. Annie and Buster Fang grew up being conduits for their parents’ eccentric artistic visions. Chapters describe parents Caleb and Camille Fang’s disturbing performance art events with their children, stage-named Child A and Child B.  The elder Fangs tightly tangled their family and their art, and, not surprisingly, the children are “messed up.”   Funny, thoughtful and disturbing, this novel tests the boundaries of how most of us define art and family.  

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

A nubile co-ed is missing from the same small, rural Mississippi town where another young woman had disappeared twenty-five years earlier—the mystery unsolved, her body never found. So begins Tom Franklin’s stellar novel, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.

Socially-awkward Larry Ott was 16 years old when Cindy Walker, both beautiful and popular, asked him out on a date. That momentous occasion—at least through Larry’s eyes—was the point when his young life began a downward slide from which it would not recover. Walker was never seen again. Although no evidence was ever found connecting him to the girl’s disappearance, the townspeople unanimously convicted Larry without the benefit of any trial. Shunned and taunted, he became the local pariah.