Shelf Life Blog

The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn

The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn

What if one pill gave you the ability to read four books in a single evening and remember every word? What if you could learn a language in an afternoon, or write a book in a week? Could you walk away from a drug that would basically give you superpowers? While some of us might ask ourselves these questions to make a traffic snarl less agonizing, in The Dark Fields, Alan Glynn constructs a captivating scenario in which they are anything but abstract.  

Before his chemical reinvention, Eddie Spinola was a fallen man. After limping through a life characterized by failure and disappointment, Eddie settled into a slovenly, lackluster pattern. Instead of becoming a successful writer, he struggles as a freelance copy editor and perpetually blocked writer in New York City.  

The Tears of the Salamander by Peter Dickinson

The Tears of the Salamander, by Peter Dickinson

Peter Dickinson’s The Tears of the Salamander begins with a simple gift and ends with a magical legacy. When his seldom-seen, rich Uncle Giorgio gives young Alfredo a strange present on his name day, his parents aren’t sure they want him to have it. The golden chain doesn’t have the expected cross on it—from it dangles the golden image of a strange animal—a little lizard with splayed feet and other peculiar features. Alfredo’s older brother is very jealous. He sees nothing special in Alfredo. Sure, he can sing like an angel, but that’s not much use to a baker’s boy, is it?

The local priests see Alfredo’s gift differently. They want him in their boys’ choir, and he is happy to be there for he loves to sing—but he also loves baking and hopes to follow his father into the trade. When catastrophe strikes leaving Alfredo alone and friendless, the priests urge him to join the choir permanently, and he would have done so even though it would have meant giving up a normal life. But just at the crucial moment, his Uncle Giorgio comes to take him away to reclaim his birthright—the birthright his father refused by choosing instead to become a simple village baker.

If you like Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Let the Great World Spin

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.

"Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann: A rich vision of the pain, loveliness, mystery, and promise of New York City in the 1970s. A radical young Irish monk struggles with his own demons as he lives among the prostitutes in the middle of the burning Bronx. A group of mothers gathers in a Park Avenue apartment to mourn their sons who died in Vietnam, only to discover just how much divides them even in grief. A young artist finds herself at the scene of a hit-and-run that sends her own life careening sideways. A 38-year-old grandmother turns tricks alongside her teenage daughter, determined not only to take care of her family but to prove her own worth. Weaving together these and other seemingly disparate lives, McCann's allegory comes alive in the voices of the city's people, unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the "artistic crime of the century"--a mysterious tightrope walker dancing between the Twin Towers.

If you enjoyed "Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann for the writing, the family story and the setting, you may enjoy these titles:

American Rust by Philipp Meyer
Left alone to care for his aging father after his mother commits suicide and his sister escapes to Yale, Isaac English longs for a life beyond his hometown. But when he finally sets out to leave for good, accompanied by his temperamental best friend, former high school football star Billy Poe, they are caught up in a terrible act of violence that changes their lives forever.-catalog summary


 

Falling Man by Don DeLillo
There is September 11 and then there are the days after, and finally the years. 'Falling Man' is a magnificent, essential novel about the event that defines turn-of-the-century America. It begins in the smoke and ash of the burning towers and tracks the aftermath of this global tremor in the intimate lives of a few people. First, there is Keith, walking out of the rubble into a life that he'd always imagined belonged to everyone but him. Then Lianne, his estranged wife, memory-haunted, trying to reconcile two versions of the same shadowy man. And their small son Justin, standing at the window, scanning the sky for more planes. These are lives choreographed by loss, grief and the enormous force of history. Brave and brilliant, 'Falling Man' traces the way the events of September 11 have reconfigured our emotional landscape, our memory and our perception of the world. It is cathartic, beautiful, heartbreaking. 

Happy Birthday, Monster! by Scott Beck

Happy Birthday, Monster!

There's a lot more to Happy Birthday, Monster! than just monsters. Sure, there is a mummy, a skeleton, a vampire, and a ghost involved, but there's an alien and a robot too. That is not a problem. Diversity is great, especially when dealing with guys and gals like these.

This bunch is just looking to have a good time at their friend Doris' (a lizard creature of sorts) birthday. Devilish Ben is throwing the bash, and early on we see him brushing and flossing his teeth... and then brushing and flossing his horns.

The fun of Scott Beck's book is seeing how each of these very different characters interact with each other.  The book explores what happens when the ghost slow dances ("You're very light on your feet.") or when the robot falls in love with an ordinary houselamp.

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Thomas E. Sniegoski

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse

Recently, I found myself running around a hotel and trying to hide so that I could just finish my book and no one would see me crying. Last week my son got married, and even though I am not very emotional my family kept saying “You are going to cry when he gets married. I know you will.” I kept saying, “I am not. I am going to remain calm and collected.” When a friend called to recommend a book, “A Kiss Before the Apocalypse,” I decided to take it with me to the wedding. It is about an angel, Remiel or Remy Chandler who decides to come to earth along with a few other angels to pretend to be one of God’s most beloved creations – Man.

However, while he is here he falls in love with a woman named Madeline and they marry. Since angels do not age and humans do, the book begins with Remy visiting his elderly wife who is dying of cancer in a nursing home. Everyone who works there believes that Madeline is his mother, but the reader soon becomes part of a magical love story of a woman and an angel.

The Centurion’s Wife by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke

The Centurion's Wife, by Bunn and Oke

The first time I read one of Janette Oke’s books I was around twelve years old, and since then, whenever I pick up a book written or co-written by her, I know I am in for a captivating story that has a good plot, romance, and an uplifting message. The Centurion’s Wife, which Oke co-wrote with Davis Bunn, is no exception.

The story takes place in Jerusalem and in the surrounding Judean provinces immediately after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and during its controversial aftermath: his burial, resurrection, and appearances before his disciples. The reader experiences all this through the perspectives of two people: Leah and Alban.

Entwined by Heather Dixon

Entwined, by Heather Dixon

Entwined, by Heather Dixon, is a new take on the fairytale of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” The twelve sisters live in the kingdom of Eathesbury where their father the king rules with a firm and practical hand. Their mother loves to dance, and her joy and optimism are passed down to her eldest daughter, Azalea. On the eve of her death, their mother makes Azalea promise upon a silver handkerchief that she will take care of her sisters; and Azalea does just that, with the fulfillment of her promise being enforced by the magic of the silver handkerchief.

If you like The Pact by Jodi Picoult

The Pact by Jodi Picoult

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.

The Pact: A Love Story: The Golds and the Hartes, neighbors for eighteen years, have always been inseparable. So have their children-and it's no surprise that in high school Chris and Emily's friendship blossoms into something more. But the bonds of family, friendship, and passion-which had seemed so indestructible -- suddenly threaten to unravel in the wake of unexpected tragedy. When midnight calls from the hospital come in, no one is ready for the truth. Emily is dead at seventeen from a gunshot wound to the head. There's a single unspent bullet in the gun that Chris pilfered from his father's cabinet-a bullet that Chris tells police he intended for himself. But a local detective has doubts about the suicide pact that Chris describes. 

If you enjoyed The Pact: A Love Story by Jodi Picoult, you may enjoy these titles:

Before You Know KindnessBefore You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian
"For ten summers, the Seton family - all three generations - met at their country home in New England ... In the eleventh summer, everything changed. A hunting rifle with a single cartridge left in the chamber wound up in exactly the wrong hands at exactly the wrong time, and led to a nightmarish accident that put to the test the values that unite the family - and the convictions that just may pull it apart."-catalog summary


 

Cavedweller by Dorothy Allison
"When Delia Byrd packs her car and begins the long trip home from Los Angeles-from the glamour of the rock 'n roll business, her passion for singing and songwriting, and the darker days of whisky and violence and too much belief in the promises of a man she loved-she heads to Cairo, Georgia, and her own unresolved past. Ten years earlier, Delia left the husband who turned on her, abandoned her two daughters, one an infant, and fled to California. But Delia is pulled back to Georgia: to a world of convenience stores and biscuit factories, kudzu and deep-rooted Baptism-to make a deal with the man she paid a high price to leave. She brings her third daughter, Cissy, with her. And as the lives of Delia, Cissy, Amanda, and Dede converge, Delia's past uncoils into the present with a ferocity that brings all four women to terms with themselves and with one another.  -catalog summary

Shark vs. Train, by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Shark vs. Train

The unlikeliest foes of all time are put to a series of tests. One is a fearsome predator, the other a powerful example of human innovation. Contests, races, and video games are all necessary when trying to figure out who is better. It's teeth vs. wheels. It's beast vs. machine! It’s Shark vs. Train!
 
What starts as two boys’ simple search through a toy box spirals into the possibilities of pitting these very different opponents against each other and predicting what might happen. Now I know what you are thinking: there are a million differences between a shark and a train, and that is part of the fun. This book is the extreme equivalent of comparing apples to oranges.

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

In An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishiguro gracefully explores the experiences and memories of a disgraced artist living in post-war Japan. The novel is seductive and haunting, but I was also impressed by its substance and depth.

Mansuji Ono, the novel’s protagonist, was once a great artist whose paintings commanded respect throughout Japan. Following the end of World War II, however, Ono experiences a surreal displacement. From Ono’s perspective, the former order he was a part of has not only been abandoned, it has been rejected and renounced as the epitome of disaster. Instead of enjoying the power and prestige that accompanied his former reputation, Ono finds himself adrift, an aging man who wanders through a crumbling house, where all traces of his past life have been “tidied away.”