Shelf Life Blog
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.
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.
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
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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?
Mouse came to help, but what could she do?
Mouse was so small, what could she do?"
There are many fantasy books that lead you to other places filled with wizards, royalty, and magical creatures. They provide an escape for their readers. But what if the characters wanted to escape? The Great Good Thing, by Roderick Townley, is about a princess who wants something more out of her fairy tale life—if only she can get the chance.
For ages and ages, no one had opened the book. Just as Sylvia sat weeping in boredom by the edge of the lake, pleading for something to happen, a fan of light began opening in a corner of the sky, sending flashes of color across the water. "Rawwwk! Reader!" screamed an orange bird. "Boooook open! Ooopen! Boook open!" groaned a bullfrog.
After a valiant struggle, Carmen’s husband, Jobe, succumbs to leukemia. Although she admired Jobe, and bore and raised three children with him, Carmen felt little passion for her husband while he was alive and occasionally strayed outside of her marriage to savor that missing ingredient. In The Forever Marriage, by Ann Bauer, Carmen has daydreamed for years about being a “free” woman, but the reality of Jobe’s death affects her in unexpected ways as she looks back on their life together.
While wandering through Europe after her junior year, Carmen—beautiful, worldly, and untamed—was mortified when she accidentally spilled hot tea on a stranger in London’s Kensington Gardens. It’s through this encounter that she met ungainly Jobe, who was pursuing his PhD in mathematics at Oxford. Never was there a more mismatched couple. But despite their differences, Jobe always seemed available to rescue Carmen when her future was most uncertain.