Shelf Life Blog
It's 1933 and President Roosevelt is having a devil of a time finding someone to appoint to the post of ambassador to Germany in Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts. All of the usual picks politely decline the post, as news of Germany’s foreboding political atmosphere drifts to America. Roosevelt eventually settles on William E. Dodd, a historian at the University of Chicago whose primary goal is to finish his multi-volume historical treatise on the antebellum South before he dies. By most accounts, Dodd is an odd pick for ambassador, being neither rich nor well-connected. Most ambassadors entertain lavishly during their appointments, and it is expected that the costs will come from their own coffers. Frugal Dodd immediately made waves by pledging to live solely on his meager income, almost unheard of in cosmopolitan Berlin.
Dodd naively sees the appointment as a respite from the trials of University department chairmanship and a boon of time to work on his project. He, like most Americans, is grossly uninformed about the political machinations happening in Germany, as Hitler, Göring, and Goebbels vie for power and German Jews are increasingly menaced. The entire Dodd family decides to come along to Berlin, ready for a new lark: the professor and his wife, Mattie, their son, William Jr., and their beautiful, flirtatious, 24-year-old daughter, Martha (who happens to also be fleeing the wreckage of a precipitous marriage to a banker).
In Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, 23-year-old veterinary student, Jacob Jankowski, is looking forward to graduating with a degree from Cornell University and joining his father’s veterinary practice. Unfortunately, fate intervenes and Jacob’s parents are killed in an automobile accident. Jacob learns that his parents have no savings and plenty of debt, having bartered for veterinary payments from cash-poor farmers (it is the Depression, after all) and mortgaged their house to the teeth in order to pay his tuition.
Bereft of both parents and financial future, Jacob despairs and jumps a train moving through the town. It happens to belong to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a poor cousin to Ringling Brothers. Once it’s discovered that he has veterinary experience, he is put in charge of the animals, a task that is at once heartwarming, thankless, and distressing. The circus is run by the greedy Uncle Al and the brilliant but mercurial August, the animal trainer who keeps the circus afloat. August, a paranoid schizophrenic, alters between warmly welcoming Jacob and trying to kill him.
Kayla McHenry turned sixteen, and her Mom threw her a huge birthday party. That is what Kayla's mom does for a living --she puts together parties for people. The only problem is that Kayla's mom never asked her what kind of party she wanted or if she even wanted one at all. She didn't. Besides all that, her best friend Nicole has become cute and popular and she is dating the guy Kayla is madly in love with ...Ben McKenzie. In the book You Wish, by Amanda Hubbard, Kayla McHenry is 16 and miserable. After the disappointing birthday party (the one that her best friend completely missed because she was on a date with her boyfriend), Kayla reminisces on the day and cavalierly wishes that all of her birthday wishes that she has ever made would come true. The next morning there is a bright pink pony in her yard. The next day her bedroom is full of gumballs. After that her Raggedy Ann doll comes to life and wants to go everywhere with her, even to school. But wait there is more. Did I mention that Ken shows up to take her out on a date? This brings to mind the phrase "be careful what you wish for."
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 Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck: Though more than sixty years have passed since this remarkable novel won the Pulitzer Prize, it has retained its popularity and become one of the great modern classics. "I can only write what I know, and I know nothing but China, having always lived there," wrote Pearl Buck. In The Good Earth she presents a graphic view of a China when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings for the ordinary people. This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during this century. Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions, its ambitions and rewards.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
This "piercing study of childhood innocence lost" mirrors the growing pains of modern India. Twin sister and brother Rahel and Estha are at the center of a family in crisis and at the heart of this "moving and compactly written book." (Library Journal review) More symbolism, more cultural diversity, another classic! This book won the Booker Prize.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One of the most influential literary works of our time, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a dazzling and original achievement by the masterful Gabriel García Márquez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women -- brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul -- this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction. (product description, Amazon.com) Talk about symbolism! This book is packed with it! Beautifully written, here's a literary classic from yet another culture and continent - the Americas.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s enduring classic, The Little Prince, explores topics of great importance such as art, friendship, space travel, responsibility, proud flowers, and what a boa constrictor looks like after it has eaten an elephant. This cherished fable is narrated by a pilot whose plane crashed in the Sahara. After meeting the little prince in the desert, miles and miles from any inhabited place, our narrator gradually learns about the little prince’s travels and world view.
The little prince comes from Asteroid B-612, a very small planet where he dutifully cleaned out the miniature volcanoes and tended to his beloved flower. His flower had many demands, and her haughty manner made the little prince feel confused and manipulated. As a consequence, he decided to leave his home and go exploring.
Years ago when researchers were in heated debates about whether or not animals can think, I could have told them that they do. When I was first married I had an incredible dog named Doctor. One day when I was young and stupid, I had a knock on my door. There was a man standing outside my door whom I didn’t recognize, so I locked my screen door to keep my dog in and stepped outside to see what this man wanted. He began to ask me some very bizarre questions about the neighborhood. He kept stepping back to draw me away from my front door. Suddenly I found that I had gone into my front yard to talk to this strange young man. Red flags were going off in my brain at this point. He was about to ask me another odd question when he suddenly stopped and said, “I have to go.” He turned around and walked quickly away. I thought, “What a strange man that was!” When I turned around I discovered that Doctor had jumped up, unhooked the screen door, and was sitting behind me with his lips curled back in a silent growl. Evidently, he thought that the man was odd also.
When my husband bought me Alex & Me, by Irene Pepperberg, last year and gently said, “I think that you would like this," I politely thanked him and stubbornly put it on the shelf. A year later I picked it up and now I grudgingly have to admit that he was correct. I do love this book!
When I first saw Tina Fey co-anchor Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update with Jimmy Fallon on some lonely teenage evening, I couldn't stand her. The punchlines were marinated in a sense of overwhelming superiority, with a side of mean-spirited smarminess. Thankfully this is not the version of Tina Fey that came into focus as time passed.
Near Manchester, England, in 1836, Emmeline Roke finished a piece of golden embroidery on a blue silk gown. It wasn’t her gown. Had she enough money for such a dress, she would have used it to buy better food and other small comforts for her family. At fifteen, her sewing work was an important source of income for them. Everyone in her family worked—her beautiful, willful, widowed mother in the fabric mill whilst her beloved little brother, deaf-mute since nearly his birth, also did piece work. Life in the all-too-real world of Linda Holeman’s Search of the Moon King’s Daughter is hard for the Roke family, and it’s about to get harder.
Emmeline remembers that it wasn’t always this way. Not too long ago, they lived in a small cottage attached to the village grocery shop. Her father Jasper Roke may have been destined for greater things, but he gave it up when he met Emmeline’s mother, Catherine. He took the job running the shop, which came with the cottage. If he was a bit lazy and closed down for the afternoon when he felt like taking them all out for a picnic and reading poetry and fairy stories to his family, it was no matter to him. But when he died suddenly, everything came apart. The little family had to move to another town—a mill town—where there was work to be had. It was a hard life, but it was doable—until the day Catherine Roke was hideously injured at her loom.
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.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese--Focusing on the world of medicine, this epic first novel by well-known doctor/author Verghese (My Own Country) follows a man on a mythic quest to find his father. It begins with the dramatic birth of twins slightly joined at the skull, their father serving as surgeon and their mother dying on the table. The horrorstruck father vanishes, and the now separated boys are raised by two Indian doctors living on the grounds of a mission hospital in early 1950s Ethiopia. The boys both gravitate toward medical practice, with Marion the more studious one and Shiva a moody genius and loner. Also living on the hospital grounds is Genet, daughter of one of the maids, who grows up to be a beautiful and mysterious young woman and a source of ruinous competition between the brothers. After Marion is forced to flee the country for political reasons, he begins his medical residency at a poor hospital in New York City, and the past catches up with him.
The medical background is fascinating as the author delves into fairly technical areas of human anatomy and surgical procedure. (Library Journal)
If you like Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, you may like these titles.
Away: a novel by Amy Bloom
"The story begins in Russia in the 1920s. Lillian Leyb survives the massacre of her family and runs away to New York City to live with a cousin. Ever practical, she allows herself to become the mistress of a star of the Jewish theater, and, although she's not happy, life is not so bad. However, when she finds out that her daughter Sophie may still be alive in Siberia, she leaves everything she has and begins the arduous journey home. She rides trains hiding in broom closets and servicing conductors. She climbs on boats and walks the Yukon trail headed for the Bering Strait and probably death. But she has to try." (Booklist Review)
Beneath the Lion's Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
The brutal 1970s civil war in Ethiopia is the dramatic setting in this first novel, told from searing personal viewpoints that humanize the politics from many sides and without slick messages. The author, born in Addis Ababa and now living in New York, tells the story in unforgettable detail: between Emperor Haile Selassi in his lush palace set against the famine outside, captured in the image of a child gnawing on a stone. The focus is on the family of physician Hailu, first before the revolution and then after the brutal regime takes over. His older son tries to lead a quiet life and look the other way, until Hailu is taken and tortured. The younger son joins the mass demonstrations, exhilarated that change has come, then deflated when he confronts the new tyranny. The clear narrative voices also include the women in the family and others on all sides, who experience the graphic violence, both in the old feudal system, where a rich kid regularly rapes a servant, and in the new dictatorship with torture in the name of freedom. (Booklist)
Emily and Navin have just moved into their grandfather's abandoned house with their mother. Their grandfather has been missing for decades, so Emily doesn't think twice about picking up the necklace she finds in his library. What she has awakened though, is a gateway to a bizarre and magical world. Suddenly her mother is swallowed whole by a hideous tentacled creature and it's up to Emily and Navin to get her back. So begins the first book in the Amulet series, The Stonekeeper.
It turns out that the necklace is a powerful amulet that can control and protect any surrounding life force. Emily's grandfather's last wish was for her to take up the stone and help save this strange world, known as Alledia, from an evil elf king. Emily also receives several robots that her grandfather single-handedly constructed to help her with this mission. The first robot we meet is the pink rabbit, Miskit, who wields a stun gun while piloting a giant mechanical exoskeleton.