Shelf Life Blog
In Grandpa Green, Lane Smith tells the story of one man's life through his passion. Topiary gardeners shape bushes and trees into fantastic sculptures of whatever they desire. We meet Grandpa Green as a gigantic bushy baby, sprinkling tears with the words, "He was born a really long time ago," beneath.
We go on to explore Grandpa's life through the garden, with different sculptures illustrating each step in his life. He grows up on a farm, escapes into the wonder of tales like The Wizard of Oz, goes to war, and starts a family. Smith combines the lush greens of the topiary scultpures with very thin black lines for tree trunks, branches, animals in the garden, and the great-grandson who narrates the story. That choice allows the sculptures to pop off the page like a vibrant special effect.
I am an addict...and my addiction is popular music. I adore it. Who doesn't? We all have our favorite songs, artists, genres. The right track at the right moment can hit us emotionally or physically, make us weep or dance. What I like almost as much as music are all of the details and stories that lead up to the making of some of my most cherished albums. That's where the 33 1/3 series comes in.
Started in 2003 by editor David Barker, 33 1/3 is a collection where each volume examines the allure of a particular album as well as the artist who recorded it. Named after the number of revolutions on an LP record, the series spans rock, hip-hop, folk, metal, pop, country, dance, punk, electronica, and world. There is something here for everyone.
H.G. Wells’ classic, The Time Machine, tells the story of a man who travels through time into the far distant future to find that humanity has evolved into two distinct species: the complacent, placid Eloi and the predatory, cunning Morlocks. Falling in love with one of the Eloi, the protagonist is successful in recovering his Time Machine and using it to escape back to Victorian England. But he feels lovesick and depressed without her, and finally uses the Time Machine to travel back to the future to rejoin her and help the Eloi create a new golden age free of the Morlocks’ terror…or so H.G. Wells assumed.
With its intentional emulation of a Victorian writing-style and elaborate machines recalling the dawn of science fiction, Morlock Night, K.W. Jeter’s sequel to The Time Machine, was the novel for which the phrase “steampunk” was invented. Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction rooted in the speculative fiction of the nineteenth century and is distinguished by its use of Victorian-era settings, steam-powered technology, and stylistic elements influenced by nineteenth century writing. Morlock Night’s combination of science fiction and alternate history proved to be a major stylistic influence that codified many aspects of the steampunk genre. Shorter and more action oriented than Wells’ novel, it is dominated by an atmosphere of darkness and suspense and an ironic, knowing wit.
While I was complaining to my parents about having to leave Los Angeles, a chemist in China was narrowly escaping arrest, and a Hungarian physicist was perfecting the ability to freeze time. I was drawn, through Benjamin and his father, into the web of what they have created.
What author Maile Meloy has created in The Apothecary is the incredibly enchanting adventure of Janie Scott. It is 1952, and Cold War paranoia has infiltrated Hollywood where Janie's folks have been accused of having Communist ties. Once Janie notices the men in dark suits following her home from school, it is not long before she and her parents have fled America for London.
Jeremy Draws a Monster never gets too scary. The beast in question has some horns and is a bit of a snaggletooth, but his eyes are too tiny to be that threatening. Still, this monster is this one rude dude. Jeremy seemed to just want a friend to play with. He stays inside while other children play soccer. So he takes a fancy pen and draws this creature creation.
Nina Sankovitch is an avid reader as is her whole family. They have turned to books for generations for joy and comfort. When her sister Ann-Marie dies from cancer, Nina goes into a depression until she decides to take steps to get her life back in order by giving up her job as a lawyer and reading a book a day for a year. This memoir is the progression that she makes from grief to joy over the course of the year. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is so eloquent, so beautifully written that it has become one of my favorite books. Nina shares so much wisdom that it is the kind of book that you would like to keep to read over and over again. There were many times that I wanted to stop reading long enough to yell out, “Yes, Nina!! You are so wonderful!”
Many early science fiction “space operas” were simple narratives of good vs. evil, with clean-cut heroes, dastardly villains, and no more ambition than seeing the hero fly off to another adventure at the end. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, with its sprawling narrative, morally ambiguous characters, and realistic interpretation of both social and mathematical science, changed the course of science fiction forever. Asimov’s masterpiece presents an intriguing story of the fall of civilization, and the many people from varying walks of life who attempt to restore it. With Asimov’s meticulous attention to detail and a vibrant, chaotic universe, this novel will satisfy any fan of thoughtful, socially-aware science fiction.
Foundation is the story of the planet Terminus, a resource-poor planet at the edge of the galaxy that becomes the seed of a movement to save civilization after the fall of the Galactic Empire. The novel begins as the renowned “psychohistorian” Hari Seldon, having developed a mathematical model for the behavior of human beings on a mass scale, has foreseen the doom of the Empire and gathers up a group of scholars to create an encyclopedia of knowledge to aid humanity in the coming Dark Age.
Imagine a future where teens rent their bodies to senior citizens who want to relive the moments of their youth. In Starters by Lissa Price, this is exactly what happens. A genocide spore killed everyone who wasn't vaccinated in time. Left behind are the very young and the very old. Many children are left without parents or caretakers. They must survive in an unfriendly world where they are viewed as unattended minors and are forced to resort to any means possible in order to survive. If a teen agrees to rent out their body to a senior, they are paid a substantial sum of money. It is very enticing to a starving and homeless teenager.
Bears have much in common with people. We're both mammals. We're both omnivores. We are protective of our young. Also, if a bear happens to lose something very important, they will search for it. Especially if that something is their hat.
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen is a clear-cut observation of a bear in his natural habitat, asking other animals if they have seen his missing prized possession.
What that description did not tell you is how unbelievably charming and oddball Klassen has made this story. Bear, standing upright, interrogates a different animal. Nearly every conversation is alike. No one has seen his hat and bear retorts, "OK. Thank you anyway." before he goes on to the next creature. The whole thing reads like a classic comedy bit.
C.S. Friedman has long been one of my favorite fantasy writers or, really, writers in general. Having written two trilogies and four stand-alone novels in the past two decades, she's not the most prolific writer in the fantasy world, but when she chooses to publish, her work is always brilliant. I was first introduced to her stories in high school by a friend who was in the middle of reading her Coldfire Trilogy. I've always been loathe to accept recommendations from friends who say, "You've gotta read this book!" but I'm glad I did. And now with her second series, the Magister Trilogy, I've just finished and thoroughly enjoyed Feast of Souls.
This first book takes place in a world that is practically medieval, with tales of small, squalid villages, deeply-forested trails, and grand, opulent capital cities and castles. Friedman takes great care to emphasize the disparity between the peasants--dirty, uneducated, and willing to sell themselves and their families to stay afloat--while the rich go about their lives oblivious to those "below" them. There are three main categories of persons in this book: the morati, regular mortal people, no matter their walk of life; the witches, natural magicians who must draw upon their own life-force to perform their work and who, consequently, are rather short-lived; and the magisters, mysterious sorcerers who act as political counselors and power brokers who do not die. The secret to magisters' immortality is known only to them.