Shelf Life Blog

03/21/2013 - 3:31am
Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

On a Southern farm during the Civil War, a young girl finds a runaway slave hiding in the family's barn. She is frightened but must make a difficult decision. What does she owe to the runaway with frightened eyes? Unspoken, by Henry Cole, is the story of a choice she makes and the bond that forms between the two of them.

Throughout the book, the reader never sees the runaway slave's face, just an eye peering fearfully from among the stored corn stalks. The girl and the slave never speak. In fact, there are no words in the book. But though all communication is unspoken, the message remains powerful. Detailed graphite drawings convey the tension and emotions, as well as the strong connection that grows between the girl and the runaway.

03/20/2013 - 3:31am
Roman Blood by Steven Saylor

In Steven Saylor’s debut hard-boiled historical mystery, Roman Blood, Gordianus the Finder is an intrepid soul, living in a seedy section of long-ago Rome. All roads lead here and all the up-and-coming politicians--along with displaced, often enslaved people from war-torn lands--make for a sea of trouble in an atmosphere that is by turns torrid, glittering, and dangerous.

03/19/2013 - 3:31am
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

What was it that defined the 1960s and made it one of the most important decades of the 20th century?  This question is often asked, even by those who lived through its tumultuous events. Many classic novels portrayed and influenced the counterculture of the 1960s, including Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Another classic novel indelibly linked the culture of the 1960s was The Crying of Lot 49, one of Thomas Pynchon’s earliest works.  Supposedly the story of a woman seeking to sort out the estate of her dead boyfriend’s will, The Crying of Lot 49 is a kaleidoscopic narrative that ventures through centuries-spanning conspiracies, bizarre characters, and an American rock band desperately pretending to be part of the British Invasion.  One of Pynchon’s earliest and shortest novels, The Crying of Lot 49 is a surreal whirlwind of 1960s literature.

03/18/2013 - 3:30am
Cover image of Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I have been planning to write a review of Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, since I first read it several months ago. But I kept putting it off. I think I'm afraid that I won't do justice to this amazing book. 

In Seraphina's world, humans and dragons live in an uneasy truce. Fear and distrust runs high on both sides, and interaction between the two is strictly limited. Seraphina is a half-breed who will never belong in either world. In fact, dragons find the very idea of her existence disgusting, and humans would kill her if they discovered her secret. Though she lives in fear of discovery, she refuses to hide away. A talented musician, she becomes the assistant to the court composer shortly before the arrival of the dragons' leader for a state visit celebrating the 40th anniversary of the peace treaty.

03/15/2013 - 3:30am
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton: During a party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the road and sees her mother speak to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy.

The Secret Keeper is historical, slightly creepy and mysterious, and shows how secrets can reverberate across generations in families.

Some other books that have similar themes include:

The Alphabet Sisters by Monica McInerney
As girls growing up in Clare Valley, Australia, Anna, Bett, and Carrie Quinlan were childhood singing stars known as The Alphabet Sisters. The unbridled enthusiasm of their flamboyant grandmother Lola was the glue that held them together. As adults, though, the women haven't spoken in years.



Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris
When Framboise Simon returns to a small village on the banks of the
Loire, the locals do not recognize her as the daughter of the infamous
woman they hold responsible for a tragedy during the German occupation
years ago.


07/22/2015 - 4:34pm
Chu's Day by Neil Gaiman and Illustrated by Adam Rex

Chu's Day, the new picture book by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Adam Rex, must have found some of its inspiration from the YouTube video in which a baby panda sneezes so explosively that its poor mother is absolutely shocked.

Chu is a young panda who has bad things happen when he sneezes. With this fact begins the suspenseful build towards the big event. Just how destructively massive will Chu's sneeze be? We go to a library with dusty books. Chu is able to restrain himself. We go to a diner with pepper in the air. Chu manages to hold back, but trouble begins to brew at the circus. 

07/06/2015 - 2:48pm
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

"Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying.”

Will Schwalbe comes from a family where everyone is always reading—and sharing their opinions about—a book. So asking his mother, “What are you reading?” was a fairly commonplace sort of question. Except that it was posed in the waiting room of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and his mother, Mary Anne, was about to start chemotherapy for advanced pancreatic cancer. During Mary Anne’s treatments and while she is convalescing at home, Will finds that discussing books strengthens the connection between them and allows them to safely explore such sensitive topics as regret, dying, and faith. His book, The End of Your Life Book Club, is both an amazing tribute to his mother and to the books they both cherished.

07/22/2015 - 4:35pm
Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel

Sailor Twain is a graphic novel that is heavy on the novel half of that term. The book draws from the romantic authors of the nineteenth century, from the sirens of the Odyssey, and from the emotional and carnal explorations of modernist literature.

On a riverboat churning through the Hudson, we meet two very different men. One is the serious, contemplative Captain Twain. The other is the more freewheeling boat owner Lafayette. They are about to become ravaged by the same obsession: mermaids.

07/22/2015 - 4:37pm
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Alina Starkov has never felt like she belonged. Orphaned and adopted by a duke, Alina meets an equally parentless boy named Mal. The two are inseparable, referred to by the duke's servants as melenchki, little ghosts, as they giggle  throughout the vast house. Of course, such things cannot always stay the same.

Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo, is set in an alternate version of pre-revolution Russia. In this nation, known as Ravka, the new world is starting to infringe on the old. It used to be the Grisha who maintained order. The Grisha are powerful beings who can manipulate living things, the elements, and metals as if using magic. New weaponry and a multiple-front war are changing all of that though.

03/07/2013 - 11:22am
Oh, No! by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann

In Oh, No! the animals of the jungle are having a bad day. Tiger is on the prowl, and frog has fallen into a deep, deep hole. "Oh, no!" Mouse tries to help, only to fall in herself. One by one, more animals fall in, joining the group trapped in the hole. "Oh, no!" Finally tiger slinks over, licking his teeth and smiling as he offers to help the other animals out. "Oh, no!"

"Mouse came along, but what could she do?
Pippa-eeek! Pippa-eeek!
Mouse came to help, but what could she do?
Mouse was so small, what could she do?"


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