Shelf Life Blog

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.

I Slept With Joey Ramone by Mickey Leigh and Legs McNeil

I Slept With Joey Ramone

How’s that for a title that gets your attention? No, this isn’t one of those glamorous, tell-all, rock star groupie memoirs. In fact, I cannot imagine any of the members of the punk rock pioneers, the Ramones, even using the word “glamorous” in a sentence…except perhaps to describe a pizza.

I Slept with Joey Ramone is the affectionate account of lead singer Joey Ramone’s complicated relationship with his kid brother Mickey, who also wrote and played music, but lived in Joey’s shadow.

The sections relating the brothers’ childhood in Queens were especially informative, and had the same sense of deep camaraderie that I loved in Frank McCourt’s first memoir Angela’s Ashes, with just a couple of brothers looking out for each other in the big bad city. You learn about their fascination and burgeoning love of rock music, thanks to the Beatles and Phil Spector’s wall of sound.

The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Dateline: Hampstead, London, 1851

Twenty-something drawing master William Hartright was passing a pleasant evening en route to his next assignment as a live-in tutor for two young ladies at Limmeridge House when he was accosted by a young woman oddly garbed all in white who begged for his help. She refused to tell him her name, from whence she came or to where she was going. Being a gentleman, he escorted her, as was her design, to the nearest cab stand. Along the way, they chatted—The Woman in White, oddly intense and excitable, and he, curious to find out what he could about this very determined lady in distress.
 
What he did discover was that she knew the family who had hired him but, warm as her feelings seemed to be to the Fairlies, she was sufficiently troubled by another horror to bolt into the procured cab and race off towards her unstated destination. A few minutes later, Mr. Hartright saw another carriage driving recklessly and pulling up short near a policeman. The men in the carriage shouted to the officer—had he seen a woman in white? She had just escaped from their private insane asylum.

The King of Ithaka by Tracy Barrett

The King of Ithaka by Tracy Barrett

Telemachos, the son of Odysseus, must go in search of his father whom he has never met.  In the book The King of Ithaka by Tracy Barrett, we join Telemachos on his journey.  He was just a baby when his father left the island of Ithaka, but lately the residents have decided that Odysseus must be dead and it is time to find a new king. They want to decide who that will be.  This would also mean that the queen Penelopeia (his mother) would have to marry that person. Telemachos decides that he will set sail to find his long-missing father. There are a few obstacles that he will have to overcome. One is that he hates the sea. The other is that he has no idea where to begin searching. In order to find the right direction to go in search of his father he must consult Daisy.  Daisy is old...really old and, oh, yeah...she has three heads.  She is also really mean, and, when you go to see her, you run the risk that she will kill you.

Telemachos has to be very careful in his approach to Daisy. He decides that he will bring an offering to Daisy in an order to appease her. He brings a basket of eggs and tiny baby rats. Despite the stench of decay, Telemachos finds Daisy and asks her counsel on how to find his father the King. Daisy tells him  to "return to the place that is not on the day that is not bearing the thing that is not." With that cryptic message, he sets sail with his best friend Brax, who is a Centaur, despite his mother's protestations that Brax will eat all the food. After having set sail for a day or so Telemachos and Brax discover that they are not alone on the ship. Hopefully, the food holds out.

If You Like The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

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. See other book matches here.

"The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the great literary adventures; indeed, William Thackeray was so enthralled he began reading `at six one morning and never stopped till eleven at night'. The hero is Edmond Dantes, a young sailor who, falsely accused of treason, is arrested on his wedding day and imprisoned in the island fortress of Chateau d'If. After staging a dramatic escape he sets out to discover the fabulous treasure of Monte Cristo and catch up with his enemies. A novel of enormous tension and excitement, Monte Cristo is also a tale of obsession and revenge, with Dantes, believing himself to be an `Angel of Providence', pursuing his vengeance to the bitter end before realizing that he himself is a victim of fate." (Book Summary)

If you liked The Count of Monte Cristo, then you may also like these titles and authors.

Captain Alatriste by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Hooded figures, apparently acting on the behalf of Fray Emilio Bocanegra, "president of the Holy Tribunal of the Inquisition," hire famed soldier Capt. Diego Alatriste to murder two Englishmen who have come to Madrid. One of the hooded figures, however, begs Alatriste (out of earshot of the others) only to wound the pair. When Alatriste and his fellow assassin, an ill-humored Italian, surprise the British, the captain is impressed by the fighting spirit they show, and he prevents the assassination from taking place. (The Italian, infuriated, swears eternal revenge.) When the Englishmen turn out to be on an important mission, Alatriste suddenly finds himself caught between a number of warring factions, Spanish and otherwise. (from Publishers Weekly)

The Eight by Katherine Neville
Catherine Velis, a computer expert banished to Algeria by her accounting firm, gets caught up in a search for a legendary chess set once owned by Charlemagne. An antique dealer, a Soviet chess master, KGB agents and a fortune-teller who warns Catherine she's in big trouble all covet the fabled chess pieces, because the chess service, buried for 1000 years in a French abbey, supplies the key to a magic formula tied to numerology, alchemy, the Druids, Freemasonry, cosmic powers. (from Publishers Weekly)

Car Science: An Under-the-Hood, Behind-the-Dash Look at How Cars Work by Richard Hammond

Car Science by Richard Hammond

Kids who like car books soon outgrow the ones with nice pictures and simple diagrams—and then what? What do you give a car-crazy kid who – might – be drawn into the fascinating world of science and engineering if he had the right teacher? Most car books for older kids are chock full of dull details and have no excitement whatsoever. They drone. They drag. They discourage with their very verbiage. We’ve got a cure for that.  Richard Hammond, star of the BBC’s Top Gear and past host of Brainiac: Science Abuse, has teamed with picture-mad DK publishing to bring off Car Science: An Under-the-Hood, Behind-the-Dash Look at How Cars Work.

The book is divided into four very fun, very illustrated sections: Power, Speed, Handling, and Technology. There’s never a dull moment as Mr. Hammond divulges details of “…everything you need to know to be a real driving expert. How a turbocharger works, how gasoline is made; we’ll look inside gearboxes and learn why a Formula 1 car’s brakes glow pink when it’s stopping. And, at the end, we’ll look at the kind of cars that we might be driving in the future.”