Shelf Life Blog

The Distant Hours, by Kate Morton

The Distant Hours, by Kate Morton

Australian author Kate Morton has made a study of Gothic fiction, and her book, The Distant Hours, is a "Gothic Delight." Her writing, a mixture of Gothic, romance and mystery genres, plus her addition of original fairy tales, has sold millions of novels all over the world.

"The ancient walls sing the distant hours..." at Milderhurst Castle in Kent, home of the literary Blythe family. Only the decaying castle--and the careful reader--know all the secrets hidden within its walls and moat. Kate Morton carefully paces her novel--you don't want to miss a page or you will miss out on the clues to piece together the secrets.

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, by Julia Alvarez

How the Garcial Girls Lost Their Accents

In a reverse chronological sequence of events, Julia Alvarez takes her readers through the immigration experience of the four Garcia sisters: Carla, Sandra, Yolanda and Sofia in How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Leaving behind a life of privilege surrounded by their large extended family, the four girls move with their Papi and Mami to New York City, and begin the long, never-ending process of assimilating into American culture. The story is as much a coming of age tale as it is a feminist, Latino perspective on American culture, beautifully conveyed with a sprinkling of Spanish vocabulary here and there.

The sisters are adults at the beginning of the book, and going back in time, the reader experiences their divorces, marriages, college years, teenage angst and confusion, and efforts to learn English while attending American public schools. Their father’s involvement in a plot against the dictator, the subsequent investigations by the authorities, and the escape with the help of friends and family are all experienced by the reader alongside Carla, Sandra, Yolanda and Sofia. Alvarez did a good job of keeping me hooked. The why’s and the how’s unfold further and further the closer the reader gets to the end of the book--which is actually the beginning of the story. 

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

In 2008, Nya, a young woman who lives in Sudan, walks two hours one way to get water for her family.  She does this twice a day.  She does not have shoes.  In her book A Long Walk to Water,  Newbery medalist Linda Sue Park, introduces us to Nya.  She also introduces us to Salva, a young man living in Sudan in 1985.

Their stories are told in alternating tales.  Salva is a young student in Sudan in 1985.  His country has been going through a civil war for decades.  One day while Salva is at school, a group of rebels attack his village.  The teacher tells all the students to run away to escape the attack by the rebels.  Salva does as instructed but soon finds himself alone and far from his home.  He certainly does not feel safe.  He is lost and disoriented.  He meets up with a group of refugees who are leaving Sudan and heading to Kenya.  Salva joins the group though they are reluctant to accept him because he is a child and may become a burden.    Salva walks with them, hoping to find safety in Kenya and hoping to be reunited with his family.

If you like The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

If you like The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

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 Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd "explores a young girl's search for the truth about her mother; her courage to tear down racial barriers; and her joy as she claims her place within a community of women." If you like The Secret Life of Bees, you may also like these suggestions:

Bean TreesThe Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
"Feisty Marietta Greer changes her name to "Taylor'' when her car runs out of gas in Taylorville, Ill. By the time she reaches Oklahoma, this strong-willed young Kentucky native with a quick tongue and an open mind is catapulted into a surprising new life. Taylor leaves home in a beat-up '55 Volkswagen bug, on her way to nowhere in particular, savoring her freedom. But when a forlorn Cherokee woman drops a baby in Taylor's passenger seat and asks her to take it, she does. (Publishers Weekly)

 

CloverClover by Dori Sanders
"After her father dies within hours of being married to a white woman, a ten-year-old black girl learns with her new mother to overcome grief and to adjust to a new place in their rural black South Carolina community."
(Catalog Summary)


 

The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands

The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands

It is 1941, and the German Army occupies The Netherlands.  A young Dutch boy named Piet has been given the task of escorting two neighborhood children to safety in Brussels.  The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands, by Louise Borden, is the exciting story of Piet Janssen.  He live in the town of Sluis in the Netherlands.  His town is on the border between The Netherlands and Brussels.  During the winters there, it is so cold that the canals freeze and the ice is thick enough to skate on.  In fact, skating is a form of transportation for many people in the Netherlands.

Piet loves to skate.  He also idolizes a skater named Pim Mulier who once skated through eleven towns.  Many Dutch have skated through towns, but the route that Pim took has its own name, the Elfstedentocht (the Eleven Towns Race).  Piet has been training to duplicate this race and finish just like his idol Pim Mulier.  But in December of 1941, many of the Dutch were concerned with much more than a race along the canals.  Their country was occupied by Germany.  Because of the war, many fathers were gone.  They had joined the Allied forces in England. 

Grendel, by John Gardner

Grendel, by John Gardner

Lurking in the shadows of the Dark Ages is the howling form of Grendel. He is the monster of midnight, the bone-gnasher, the ardent hunter of warriors who strews their bones and howls his fury to the world as he wreaks havoc on the safety of civilization. No hall fire burning brightly, no line of armed men can keep him back when he desires destruction. But as John Gardner tells of Grendel, this was not always so. For the bane of the Hrothgar’s hall has a soul much tormented by his desire for good and fellowship with the humans even as his demonic appearance frightens them into violent action. To them, he is a thing, and so he becomes what they believe him to be--an adversary whose fame has spanned the centuries.

The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard

The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard

Occasionally you’re lucky enough to find a book you just can’t put down. Its gripping plot grabs hold of you and, chapter by chapter, propels you along. Equally compelling is that rare title where the action isn’t paramount, but the key players are so real you find yourself reading into the wee hours. The Good Daughters, by Joyce Maynard, falls into the second category with its unforgettable characters. 

Two girls, Dana Dickerson and Ruth Plank, are born on the same day in the same hospital to neighbors. Despite their proximity, the families couldn’t be more different. The Dickersons are like seeds that can’t seem to take hold. Often ignoring her two children, Val is consumed with art projects, while husband George constantly leaves home to chase yet another “get rich” scheme. Edwin and Connie Plank, on the other hand, live a stable, God-fearing (and some might say boring) life providing for their five daughters on a farm passed down the family tree for generations.

Cupid: A Tale of Love and Desire, by Julius Lester

Cupid by Julius Lester

Just in time for Valentine's Day, here is Cupid, by Julius Lester.  In this retelling from Greek mythology, we are introduced to Psyche.  She is the daughter of a king and so beautiful that every time she walks outside people stopped and stared.  They even stopped working.  In fact, it was getting so bad that it was affecting the infrastructure of her community--and not in a good way.  Her father, the king, felt  it was in the best interest of his kingdom and his subjects to restrict  Psyche from her daily walks.  He decreed that she could only walk outside the castle gates once a month.

Word quickly reached Mount Olympus about the young beauty and the effect she was having on the other humans.  Venus, the goddess of love, was not pleased at all when she learned of this young woman, She viewed her as a threat and decided to dispatch her son, Cupid, to do away with her.  Never one to disappont his mother, Cupid quickly plans how he will get rid of this pesky human.  However, when Cupid lays his eyes on Psyche, he is immediately stunned by her beauty, and he falls in love with her himself.  He vows that she will become his wife, but he is reluctant to let his mother in on his little plan as she is a formidable force with which to be reckoned. 

If you like books by Robert Heinlein

Books by Robert Heinlein

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.

Robert Heinlein is a fantastic "old" master of hard science fiction whose famous books include Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers. If you like his books, you may also like these selections:

cosmCOSM / Gregory Benford
On an otherwise ordinary day not long from now, inside a massive installation of ultra-high-energy scientific equipment, something goes wrong with a brilliant young physicist's most ambitious experiment. But this is not a calamity. It will soon be seen as one of the most significant breakthroughs in history. For the explosion has left something behind: a wondrous sphere the size of a basketball, made of nothing known to science. Before long, it will be clear that this object has opened a vista on an entirely different universe - a newborn cosmos whose existence will rock this world and test one woman to the limit as she comes face-to-face with fame and terror. That woman is the physicist who has ignited this thrilling adventure. (catalog summary)

Earth / David Brin
Brin uses the escape of a manmade black hole that is eating away at the Earth's core and a plausible future of sophisticated, instant universal and global computer data linkage and retrieval to reexamine, explore, and expand upon the themes regarding genetic creation and advancement begun in Star tide Rising (1983) and The Uplift War (1987). There is an element of suspense and intrigue as the characters scramble to define, find, and solve the black hole damage before each other and before it's too late. Although less engaging than the previously mentioned books, this is timely in its investigation of current ecological issues…(Joan Lewis Reynolds, School Library Journal)

Mad at Mommy by Komako Sakai

Mad at Mommy by Komako Sakai

"I am so mad at you," the little rabbit says to his mother.  Mad at Mommy by Komako Sakai is the story of a little rabbit who is very angry at his mother.  The story continues with the little rabbit listing the reasons for his anger.  For instance, Mommy says that she cannot marry little rabbit even when he gets bigger.  Little rabbit goes on to inform his mother that when he gets bigger he "will do whatever he wants."

Komako Sakai is the author and illustrator of this tender story.  The illustrations are gentle and quiet as they juxtapose a tranquility against the ire of the little rabbit.  The muted tones beautifully capture the story while sparse text expresses the universal sentiment of children at one point or another during their childhood.  Every parent will recognize themselves as a child and will chuckle at the familiar words used by the little rabbit.  They may even recognize their own children.  In particular, the page where the little rabbit expresses his anger and turns his nose up into the air captured the moment beautifully.  I know that I have seen that expression myself.   This story is great to read aloud or for the emerging reader to ponder over after a particularly difficult day. 

In the end, the little rabbit announces that he is going away.  You can almost hear the "huff" as he leaves.   He walks out of the room only to quickly return and ask his mother if she missed him.   In the end the little rabbit and the mother are reconciled and everyone is happy.