Shelf Life Blog

08/21/2012 - 8:47am
White Heat by M. J. McGrath

White Heat, an intriguing and well-researched book about life on an island near the cold, cold, cold Arctic Circle, has been a real treat this summer for this reader who doesn’t like enduring 100-degree temperatures. Thank you, M. J. McGrath! I appreciated the icy coolness and the great story.

The star of this excellently-plotted mystery is Edie Kiglaluk, a divorced, recovering alcoholic who hires out as a hunting guide to those from the “south” who want the experience of roughing it in a tough terrain. Edie is a tenacious young Inuit woman who just can’t seem to be a go-along sort of person in her community. Her closest friend is her stepson, Joe.

08/20/2012 - 3:30am
Fire Bringer by David Clement-Davies

In 1972, Richard Adams’ classic fantasy novel Watership Down was first published. This exciting adventure follows the travels of a group of rabbits seeking a new home after the destruction of their warren.  Evocatively written and imaginatively plotted, this novel excelled in portraying the world we humans perceive as mundane as a place filled with danger and mystery, and also excelled in its depiction of the primitive religion and folklore the rabbits created to explain the natural environment.  After I finished reading Watership Down a couple of months ago, I searched for a similar fantasy told from the perspective of animals, but finding a novel of its caliber proved difficult.  Many of the other animal-centered fantasy stories I found were either too deliberately whimsical or too childish to live up to Adams’ novel. Eventually I found David Clement-Davies’ Fire Bringer and decided to give it a try based on the recommendation by Adams on the back cover.  Filled with adventure, suspense, and gripping depictions of the natural world, this novel lived up to my lofty expectations.

08/16/2012 - 3:31am
Thistle and Thyme: Tales and Legends from Scotland by Sorche Nic Leodhas

In the far-off days when the Picts and the Scots were dividing the ancient land of Scotland and fighting amongst themselves to decide who could get hold of the most of it, there came good men from over the seas to settle the land.

--“The Drowned Bells of the Abbey”

Firelight and drumbeat were the original backdrop for these tales, true and added to and some imagined altogether, that are retold in Sorche Nic Leodhas’ award-winning book, Thistle and Thyme.

08/15/2012 - 3:31am
Happy Stitch by Jodie Rackley

Local Fredericksburg author and crafter Jodie Rackley helps you stitch up a smile with her book,  Happy Stitch. She stitches her fun designs in her home studio in Fredericksburg, which she shares with her pets, Captain Nibbles and Sleepy Kitty.  The 30 charming and colorful felt and fabric projects in her book are uber cute.

Take some time this summer and stitch up a Monster Face Computer Cover or doodle on a denim skirt.  If your older children are complaining of boredom, try one of the projects with them; for example, the Anytime Ornaments have simple cutting and stitching instructions that an older child can follow with a little guidance. Her instructions are clear, and she uses simple techniques. 

08/14/2012 - 3:31am
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman

She never knew her father the farmer.  But in Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks, Kim is determined to do something to connect with him, though he died before she was born in far-off Vietnam.  Her mother and sisters remember him with incense and candles on the anniversary of his death.  However, that’s not enough for Kim. She has something else in mind even though the prospect of carrying it through is unnerving.  The Cleveland neighborhood her family can afford to live in is scary. But outside the apartment building is vacant lot. Well, it’s not exactly vacant. It’s filled with junk—an old couch, tires, all kinds of trash—a real haven for rats. But it’s ground that’s not spoken for. And Kim has a plan.

08/17/2012 - 4:50pm
I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag cover

I picked up I Never Promised you a Goodie Bag, by Jennifer Gilbert, thinking that it would be full of hilarious mishaps that occurred at weddings and events that the Save the Date’s CEO had experienced. However, I soon found that it was something more. It is the memoir of a young woman who started out life being fiercely independent, the daughter of wealthy parents who had an import business and were frequently overseas. Jennifer traveled all over without a care in the world until at 22 years old she was attacked in the hallway of her best friends’ apartment. Her friends were too frightened or too selfish to come out, even though Jennifer was screaming for help. The girls in the apartment did call some boyfriends and they came over with baseball bats and drove the attacker away.  

08/09/2012 - 8:14am
The Pirate of Kindergarten by George Ella Lyon

When my son was in kindergarten, he was diagnosed with a "lazy eye."  I do not know if that is still the appropriate term to use, but the result was that he had to wear a patch over one eye (the stronger one) to force the other eye to work harder and to strengthen.  In the book The Pirate of Kindergarten, by George Ella Lyon, the main character, Ginny, receives a similar diagnosis when she does not pass a routine vision screening at school.  Ginny has difficulty seeing.  She runs into things in the classroom, and some of her classmates laugh at her.  Ginny loves reading but when she reads she has trouble seeing the letters, and she has to get very close to the page.  The imagery of the letters hopping "around like popcorn" and the number 2 looking more like a swan help bring the reader into Ginny's world.

08/08/2012 - 8:17am
The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan

Maybe it’s just me or possibly it’s a baby boomer thing, but does anyone else agree there’s something about our culture that dictates we be the best at whatever we try—parenting, our profession, chosen hobbies, etc.? Mediocrity just doesn’t cut it. Imagine then, the pressure to excel if you’ve graduated from an Ivy League school. In Deborah Copaken Kogan’s latest offering, The Red Book, Harvard alumni come together for their 20th reunion, a gathering which portends to be an event to remember.

Published every five years, The Red Book is a much-anticipated volume, updating former Harvard classmates with coveted facts about fellow alumni—mates, offspring, jobs, accomplishments, etc. The book provides not only information, but also a means for comparing oneself to one’s peers. With those facts in hand, graduates arrive at the reunion either solo or with families in tow. Let the games begin.

08/07/2012 - 6:26am
Redshirts by John Scalzi

Oh, John Scalzi, how I love you (~swoons~).  Your likeable characters, intricate but uncomplicated plots, your passion for science fiction. . .   you COMPLETE me.  And your latest offering, Redshirts, does not disappoint.  I knew the moment I read the title oh, so many months ago, that the Trekkie in me would melt at the book's first words.  I was not mistaken.  

Growing up in a military family, Star Trek's flaws were constantly pointed out to me.  That preposterous notion that the entire senior staff would be sent time and again on dangerous missions with no one with any real command experience left in charge.  I didn't care.  Star Trek was cool, like bow ties, fezes, and Stetsons.  But I'm ashamed to say I never did notice the disturbingly high mortality rate of the red-shirted junior officer on away missions.  It wasn't until years later that I heard the term "redshirt" that it occurred to me, oh yeah, those guys were always toast, weren't they?  Still, I never really gave them much thought, save for when I heard someone use the term I could go "Hey, I understood that reference! Yeah, those guys died, like, A LOT, didn't they?"

08/06/2012 - 8:39am
Switched by Amanda Hocking

On Wendy Everly’s 6th birthday, her mother tried to kill her with a butcher knife in Switched, by Amanda Hocking. This was after claiming that little Wendy was a monster and baby murderer...sentiments that didn't win her the Mother of the Year award but landed her in a mental hospital. After that, Wendy and her protective brother, Matt, went to live with their loving Aunt Maggie. Unfortunately, things didn’t get much easier for Wendy. She was kicked out of almost every school she attended, and school administrators and kids alike seemed equally hostile to her. At 17 years of age, Wendy still feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere, and she has difficulty even eating food that most kids seemed to love, like cake and pizza.

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