Shelf Life Blog
"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.
The universe has declared war on itself and everyone is choosing one of two sides. It all started when the species on a planet tried to conquer a species on its own moon. The destuction knows no end, but amongst the slaughter, within the dismal senselessness of bloodshed, there is a child born. She is the daughter of Alana and Marko, who are supposed to be enemies. Now all three are on the run. Saga: Volume One is the beginning of their story.
Boot & Shoe, by Marla Frazee, is the story of two dogs who are the best of friends and a trouble-making squirrel. Boot and Shoe are littermates and are mostly inseparable, living in the same house, eating from the same bowl and even sleeping in the same bed. But Boot is a back porch kind of dog while Shoe prefers to spend his time on the front porch. One day a squirrel arrives, determined to cause trouble. What follows is an epic chase all around the house and yard that will have readers chuckling.
By the mid-1800s, American middle class women frequently turned to Godey’s Lady’s Book for household advice, sewing patterns, and recipes. Although founded by Louis Godey, from 1837 to 1877, it was led by Editor Sarah Josepha Hale and under her leadership, circulation rose dramatically. In Civil War Recipes, Lily May and John Spaulding have done a very nice job of selecting recipes from the first part of the 1860s run of the magazine and presenting them along with enough culinary history to make for an interesting read.
"Don't you love it, Mother? We can shut our eyes and pretend we live in a candy house. All candy. Everywhere."
The Ugly One in The Magic Circle by Donna Jo Napoli remembered how her child loved sweets. Asa was beautiful, and her mother tried to give her all the beauty she could though they were poor.
She worked as a midwife in the village where she was accepted for her healing gifts. She took simple things in exchange for her services: some food, a bit of wool, or perhaps a lovely ribbon for Asa's hair.
The hunchbacked woman was simply good, happy knowing that her talents were used to help others. Yet her neighbor Bala knew they would be rich if she could persuade the Ugly One to drive the demons from the burgermeister's son. The Ugly One protested. She was a midwife, an herbal healer sometimes, nothing more than God wished her to be. But when she saw the boy, yellowed and dying from a tormenting demon, she believed that God had given her another path.