Shelf Life Blog

A Trace of Smoke

A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell

Berlin, 1931. A grim police station hallway, lined with photographs of unidentified victims of murder, accidental or unattended deaths. This is the Hall of the Unnamed Dead, and where crime reporter Hannah Vogel is horrified to discover a picture of her brother, Ernst. Delving into his murder, Hannah discovers that her cross-dressing, cabaret singer brother had a complicated and secret life involving high-level Nazis, stolen treasures – and a 5-year-old orphan who insists that Hannah is his mother.

A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell reads like a black and white movie, but explores every shade of gray. Trains and fog and endless cigarettes cast a pall of smoke over everything. It evokes the shifting loyalties, fears and grim weariness of every day Germans trying to keep their heads down as the Nazis rise to power.

As Hannah digs deeper into her brother's death, she is pulled into a web of lies, deceit, and deadly secrets.

If You Like The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

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 Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: "The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them all they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it - from garden seeds to Scripture - is calamitously transformed on African soil. This tale of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction, over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa, is set against history's most dramatic political parables."

If you liked The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, you may also like these selections:

I would recommend that you read all of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels. They all have interesting stories that illuminate relationships within families, relationships between individuals and the very important relationship we all have with our environment.

The antelope wife: a novel by Louise Erdrich
"Family stories repeat themselves in patterns and waves, generation to generation, across blood and time." Erdrich embroiders this theme in a sensuous novel that brings her back to the material she knows best, the emotionally dislocated lives of Native Americans who try to adhere to the tribal ways while yielding to the lure of the general culture. In a beautifully articulated tale of intertwined relationships among succeeding generations, she tells the story of the Roy and the Shawano families and their "colliding histories and destinies." (Publishers Weekly)
 

At Play in the Fields of the Lord by Peter Matthiessen
Set in the South American jungle, this thriller follows the clash between two misplaced gringos--one who has come to convert the Indians to Christianity, and one who has been hired to kill them.

Cry, the beloved country by Alan Paton
Cry, the Beloved Country is a beautifully told and profoundly compassionate story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom, set in the troubled and changing South Africa of the 1940s. The book is written with such keen empathy and understanding that to read it is to share fully in the gravity of the characters' situations. It both touches your heart deeply and inspires a renewed faith in the dignity of mankind. Cry, the Beloved Country is a classic tale, passionately African, timeless and universal, and beyond all, selfless. (catalog summary)

A Pirate's Guide to First Grade by James Preller and illustrated by Greg Ruth

A Pirate's Guide to First Grade

School is almost out, but pirates are most definitely still in, which is why it is wonderful to come across a picture book like A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade. In it, a young boy gets ready for his first day of school, accompanied by all of his imaginary pirate friends. He awakens to his scurvy dog happily licking his face, but there’s no time to wait! Ye must set sheets to the wind and sail!

The text, all in pirate talk, might be a bit distancing at first, but with a glossary in the back and the clear illustrations, I think most young first mates will be able to figure out what’s going on. A parent could even make up a game with their child, figuring out what “Gangway me hearties!” could possibly mean.

 

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

The Peach Keeper

I am a hopeless romantic, so of course I fell in love with Sarah Addison Allen’s charming books. She writes adult fairy tales where love is worth the risks. Pack her four novels in your beach bag and enjoy. The books are magical. The Peach Keeper, her latest work, is about what happens when secrets come out in the open. Walls of Water, North Carolina, has strange breezes that sound like whispers of secrets. Regret haunts the main characters and smells like lemons. 

Twins Colin and Paxton Osgood, Willa Jackson, and Sebastian Rogers all went to high school together. They were known as the Princess, the Stick Man, the Joker and the Freak.  Happiness has eluded all of them.  Paxton Osgood is thirty years old, unmarried, and living at home, and president of the Women’s Society Club. Colin has run away from Walls of Water, his rigid ways, and his heritage. Willa has settled for a quiet life running a sporting goods store and doing laundry regularly every Friday night. Sebastian, now a dentist, has come back home but must face his difficult past.

The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafòn

The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafòn

David Martìn, a young writer living in 1920’s Barcelona, has a troubled past in The Angel's Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafòn. His mother deserted the family and his father came back from the war in the Philippines a changed man. After his father is murdered, Martìn must find his way in the world. Starting out working for a newspaper, he eventually begins writing sensational novels for a Barcelona publishing house. His novels attract the attention of a mysterious French publisher who offers Martìn the opportunity of a lifetime. If he writes the book the publisher requests, he will be a wealthy man. Who is this publisher and what ultimately are his plans for Martìn?

Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Rot & Ruin

In the book Rot & Ruin, Jonathan Maberry has created a post apocalyptic zombie infested world.  Benny Imura and his brother Tom live in a safe zone that is separated from the zombies by a fence.  They are constantly under threat of attack by the zombies.  Benny is fifteen and it is time for him to find an occupation.  After several failed attempts at employment he decides to learn his brother's trade which is bounty hunter.  Benny eventually learns that his brother is not a typical bounty hunter.  He does search for zombies but he is hired by family members with a special request.  Benny and Tom head out together beyond the safety of the fence.

Benny never knew his parents.  The night of the zombie apocalypse, Benny's father is infected and becomes a zombie.  His mother who has been injured, hands the baby Benny off to his older brother Tom and tells him to run. That is the last that they see of their parents.  Benny has believed for years that his brother is a coward.  That happened fourteen years ago.  Tom has been raising Benny ever since but their relationship is very strained.  As they work and travel together Benny learns more about his brother and the reality of that night. 

If You Like Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha

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.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden: "Presented as the memoirs of a celebrated Japanese geisha, Golden's first novel follows a poor youngster from her humble origins in a rural fishing village to her later years spent in luxurious surroundings in New York City's Waldorf-Astoria. In 1929, nine-year-old Sayuri is sold to an okiya in Kyoto by her desperate father, where she is slated to be trained as a geisha. The intensive courses require her to learn how to dance, play a musical instrument, gracefully wear the heavy, layered costumes, apply elaborate makeup, and, most especially, beguile powerful men. Initially stymied by the jealous, vindictive Hatsumomo, the okiya's top earner, Sayuri is eventually taken under the wing of one of Hatsumomo's chief rivals, Mameha. She proves to be such an astute businesswoman that her campaign to make Sayuri a success results in Sayuri's setting a new record when two wealthy men get into a bidding war over who will be the one to claim her virginity. "

If you like Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, you may likese these selections: 
 

Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn
Set in an imaginary, ancient Japanese society dominated by warring clans, Across the Nightingale Floor is a story of a boy who is suddenly plucked from his life in a remote and peaceful village to find himself a pawn in a political scheme, filled with treacherous warlords, rivalry-and the intensity of first love. This is the first in a trilogy.



 

The binding chair, or, A visit from the Foot Emancipation Society : a novel by Kathryn Harrison
In poised and elegant prose, Kathryn Harrison weaves a stunning story of women, travel, and flight; of love, revenge, and fear; of the search for home and the need to escape it. Set in alluring Shanghai at the turn of the century, The Binding Chair intertwines the destinies of a Chinese woman determined to forget her past and a Western girl focused on the promises of the future. (amazon.com)


Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis

One sign of a good book is that you come to the last page and want to start all over again. Connie Willis’s Blackout and All Clear – which should really be read straight through as one – made me wish for leisurely hours in a hammock, where I could go back and savor every plot twist, every character and every word.

In 2060 Oxford, historians have figured out how to travel back in time, allowing them to conduct first-hand research on everything from St. Paul to the French Revolution. Blackout begins with three of these historians dropped into England during the Blitz: Michael is planning to take part in the Dunkirk evacuation, Merope is in a country house taking care of evacuee children, and Polly has a job in a London department store. Each has come equipped with background information (such as when and where bombs exploded) and enough money, clothes and background knowledge to blend in with the “contemps.” But their scheduled returns go awry, and all three find themselves stuck in the past.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Paris retains an eternal allure for the creative. And the gifted expatriates who flocked to the City of Lights in the 1920s often felt the hallowed pursuit of their individual muses justified unconventional personal behavior. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain chronicles the courtship and subsequent marriage of Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway—a relationship strained and eventually damaged by their friends’ hedonistic lifestyles.

Hadley, who was seven years his senior, met her future husband in Chicago. Although quite the ladies’ man, Hemingway was immediately drawn to her wholesome beauty, even temperament, and courage. Hadley’s unconditional support bolstered Hemingway, a man already plagued by multiple demons, and gave him the companionship he needed to wholeheartedly pursue his writing.

The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolson

The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolson

In The Freak Observer, by Blythe Woolston, Loa Lindgren is not your typical 16-year-old and yet she is a quintessential one. Her life is certainly not the ideal. In the past year her family has fallen apart, having lost the one thing that their lives revolved around: her little sister, Asta, named for the stars. Born with Rett’s syndrome, she stopped growing after a few months and was destined to remain infantile her entire life, until she suddenly died. Without the constant need to care for Asta, Loa and her family are like planets without a star to revolve around, cut loose to wander the universe. They are, of course, also stricken with grief, each one reacting in their own way. Her father has fits of violence. Loa wakes screaming from nightmares--just one terrifying symptom of a case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

With everything else that has gone on in Loa’s life recently, from a friend’s hit and run death to a strange relationship exposed on the Internet, she is dealing with more than her share of sorrow and shame. She also has an after-school job that deepens her exhaustion but is a vital part of their family’s pitiful income.