Shelf Life Blog

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

It's hard not to notice Terra Cooper. She's tall, blond, and has an enviable body. But with one turn of her cheek, all people notice is her unmistakably "flawed" face. In Justina Chen Headley's North of Beautiful, Terra secretly plans to leave her stifling small town in the Northwest and escape to an East Coast college but she gets pushed off course by her controlling father. When a handsome, quirky Goth boy sees her for who she really is Terra is forced in yet another direction.

The red-stained birthmark on Terra’s right cheek isn’t the only challenge she has to overcome. She’s with her insensitive boyfriend for all the wrong reasons. Her malicious father, a mapmaker with a humiliating secret, is critical to the point of verbal abuse. And her family is falling apart. But Terra is a likable girl, who desperately wants to be accepted for who she is – flaws and all. A cast of well-developed characters also make this a fun and touching story.

If You Like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

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.

Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elsbeth Graham

Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elsbeth Graham is based on a centuries-old legend about tea-picking monkeys.  As the story begins, the reader meets Tashi, a young girl who lives alone with her mother, a tea picker, in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains.   Each day Tashi accompanies her mother and aunts who travel to the rolling tea plantations to pick tea. While the adults work in the fields, Tashi plays and shares her lunch with a troupe of monkeys under the shade of an ancient tree.  

Tashi’s life is disrupted when her mother falls ill and is unable to pick the tea that not only provides for their day-to-day needs, but also would pay for a doctor to heal her mother.  Tashi sees this as a problem that goes “around and around, like a snake with its tail in its mouth.” Tashi decides to try and take her mother's place and pick the tea herself. How will a young girl fill a basket full of tea when the basket is taller than she is?

What Is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman

Howard Norman's newest novel takes the reader back to a setting - Nova Scotia - familiar to  fans of his previous works,  and back in time to the 1940s when the Canadian Maritime provinces were vulnerable to German attack and even more remote than they remain today.  I am among the fans of this and two of Norman's earlier novels, The Bird Artist and The Museum Guard, where each offered a compelling mix of interesting characters and unique takes on love, death, and loneliness.

What Is Left the Daughter is structured as a series of letters from Wyatt Hillyer to his long absent daughter. The opening paragraph hints of the drama to be revealed if we read on:

"Marlais, today is March 26, 1967, your twenty-first birthday. I'm writing because I refuse any longer to have my life defined by what I haven't told you. I've waited until now to relate the terrible incident tht I took part in on October 16, 1942, when I was nineteen."

Even in those few words, something of the letter writer's gentle, thoughtful character reveals itself.

I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman

I recently moved to Fredericksburg from Maryland, and as much as I’m enjoying my new life in Virginia, I still miss my old haunts. I can always rely on author Laura Lippman (former Baltimore Sun reporter and wife of David Simon—Homicide and The Wire) to capture Baltimore’s unique flavor.

In I'd Know You Anywhere, fifteen-year-old Elizabeth is abducted by Walter Bowman, a man suspected of raping and murdering a series of young women. Another victim is found dead and Walter is finally apprehended. In contrast to her peers, Elizabeth, who obeyed her captor’s every command, survives the hellish ordeal. Walter is tried, convicted and sentenced to die.
 
Over twenty years later, he holds the distinction for being the longest Death Row survivor in Virginia. But Walter’s time is running out. In a last-ditch attempt to reverse his inevitable fate, he contacts Elizabeth, now Eliza. By manipulating and muddying the facts, can he convince her that he, too, is a victim? Can he persuade her to save his life?

Numbers (Audiobook) by Rachel Ward

Jem stays away from people.  She is a loner and she likes it that way.  Then she meets Spider one day under a bridge in London.  As much as she tries, he won't leave her alone.  She rarely makes eye contact with people and for good reason.  When Jem looks into people's eyes she can see the day they are going to die.  She looks into Spider's eyes.  This is the basis for the story Numbers by Rachel Ward (audiobook version).

Despite Jem's efforts, she and Spider form a friendship, which eventually evolves into something more when they decide to run away together.  This happens after a trip to the London Eye.  Jem looks into the eyes of the people waiting in line to board the attraction and she realizes that they all have the same  death date...that very day.  Jem suddenly realizes that something catastrophic is going to happen and that she and Spider have to get away immediately.  While they are running away a tragic event occurs.  Jem and Spider are safe...but are they? The surveillance cameras capture their escape and suddenly they are wanted by authorities for questioning.  Jem and Spider steal a car and head west across England.   As they continue to outrun the authorities, their relationship grows. 

Fast paced and gritty ...this audio will keep you on the edge of your seat.  The reader is adept at the various accents found throughout England.  The story is touching and engaging.  Jem and Spider provide such compelling characters that you can't help rooting for them. 

The ending was stunning and completey unexpected...at least by me!!!

If You Like "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls...

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.

If you like The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, here are several inspiring memoirs of people who have survived extremely abusive and difficult childhoods, yet who have found success in their adult lives. The stories are grim but inspiring.

All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg.
This haunting, harrowing, and gloriously moving recollection of a life on the American margin tells the story of Rick Bragg, who grew up dirt poor in Alabama, and who became a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for "The New York Times". 
 

A Piece of Cake: A Memoir by Cupcake Brown.
The bestselling memoir of Cupcake Brown's harrowing and inspiring life from the streets to one of the nation's largest law firms The book bedazzles the reader with the amazing change that is possible in one lifetime.

 

 

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

I just read One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. I really, really enjoyed this book. I love historical fiction and am usually attracted to any new historical fiction title that comes through our Children’s area. I’m just sort of magnetically attracted to these books. But with this one, my radar was ringing in my head and alarms were going off… Check me out… Check me out! The book cover is beautifully illustrated and so attractive! It would catch any reader’s eye, even those reluctant to read “History” books. 

The setting is back in the late 1960’s, Oakland, California, during the beginning of the “Black Panther” movement. It was a time of civil distress and upheaval across the country and within the Black community. It was the time of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. and the clash of their two philosophies.
 
Three young sisters are sent to spend the summer with their mother who they have not seen since the youngest sister was born seven years ago. Big Ma, their grandmother, doesn’t want them to go and warns Pa what a bad idea this is. But, Pa says, ”It’s time. They need to know Cecile.”   

The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry

Charlotte Ellison lives a outwardly beatific and genuinely boring existence at her home in the London suburbs. To her mind, her most vexing problems are her father’s refusal to allow her to read his newspapers—a common enough attitude in Victorian England—and her unresolved, unadmitted crush on her brother-in-law Dominic. Anne Perry’s Cater Street Hangman portrays Charlotte’s extremely circumscribed position as one that might have yawningly gone on for years, filled with good works and a suitable marriage, were it not for the gruesome murders of young girls in the environs of her Cater Street home.

The Great Stink by Clare Clark

Clare Clark's The Great Stink brings to life the literal dank and dismal underbelly of Victorian London.

During the summer of 1858 a heat wave gripped London. The water level in the Thames sank from the accompanying drought. Raw sewage flowed into the Thames, spilled over the banks, and caused a stench that filled the city. The powerful machinery of the House of Commons ground to a halt as a hot, fetid miasma enveloped the chambers. Curtains soaked in a solution of chloride of lime did nothing to block the foul air. The Great Stink had arrived.

An outbreak of cholera rapidly followed. Members of Parliament, sick and dizzy from the heat and smell, finally passed legislation to fund a new sanitary sewage system for the city of London. The newly formed Metropolitan Board of Works got busy. Engineers and surveyors were hired. Massive contracts for bricks and supplies and construction were awarded. The potential for profits - and corruption - was enormous.