Shelf Life Blog

03/27/2013 - 8:30am
Cover of Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman is the story of Rory Dawn Hendrix, a girl growing up on the Calle de las Flores, a trailer park on the outskirts of Reno, Nevada. The Calle is a neighborhood where people live from government check to government check. It is a place where a mother must take the night and weekend shifts because the tips are better and they need the money to survive, even though there is no such thing as reliable child care. It is a world where a mother's determination to spare her daughter the abuse she suffered as a child isn't enough to give her the skills to identify the true risks to that girlchild.

03/26/2013 - 8:18am
The Grimm Reader by Maria Tatar

Modernized versions of traditional fairy tales have become popular in recent years, with television series such as ABC’s Once Upon a Time and graphic novels such as Bill Willingham’s Fables providing creative and original narratives utilizing characters and concepts from old folk tales. Although popular, these newer variations on older fairy tales have created controversy for altering the traditional characterizations and stories that many people grew up with. This exposes a major flaw in many people’s understanding of fairy tales and traditional folk culture—which versions are the “most correct” version of the story, and why? Maria Tatar’s The Grimm Reader is a collection of many of the traditional fairy tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm, providing an English translation of some of the oldest written versions of these stories.  Notable for being far more violent than the “traditional” versions of the fairy tales popularized in the Victorian period (and later, by Disney films), the typical Grimm story is a combination of children in jeopardy, adults that range from neglectful to destructive, and flat narrative that is driven by plot rather than by characterization.

03/25/2013 - 3:31am
I heard the Owl Call my Name cover

My favorite book when I was in high school was I Heard the Owl Call my Name, by Margaret Craven, so I decided to reread it to see how I related to the book now.  Even though it is almost 50 years old, the book is still just as timely and beautifully-written as it was in the 60’s. Perhaps its message is even more important in today’s world.  It is about a young Vicar, Mark Brian, who has been diagnosed with only a few years to live.  His Bishop has been told his diagnosis, but the Vicar has not. 

When the Bishop learns of the young Vicar’s diagnosis he says, “So short a time to learn so much? It leaves me with no choice. I shall send him to my hardest parish. I shall send him to Kingcome on patrol of the Indian Villages.”

03/21/2013 - 3:31am
Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

On a Southern farm during the Civil War, a young girl finds a runaway slave hiding in the family's barn. She is frightened but must make a difficult decision. What does she owe to the runaway with frightened eyes? Unspoken, by Henry Cole, is the story of a choice she makes and the bond that forms between the two of them.

Throughout the book, the reader never sees the runaway slave's face, just an eye peering fearfully from among the stored corn stalks. The girl and the slave never speak. In fact, there are no words in the book. But though all communication is unspoken, the message remains powerful. Detailed graphite drawings convey the tension and emotions, as well as the strong connection that grows between the girl and the runaway.

03/20/2013 - 3:31am
Roman Blood by Steven Saylor

In Steven Saylor’s debut hard-boiled historical mystery, Roman Blood, Gordianus the Finder is an intrepid soul, living in a seedy section of long-ago Rome. All roads lead here and all the up-and-coming politicians--along with displaced, often enslaved people from war-torn lands--make for a sea of trouble in an atmosphere that is by turns torrid, glittering, and dangerous.

03/19/2013 - 3:31am
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

What was it that defined the 1960s and made it one of the most important decades of the 20th century?  This question is often asked, even by those who lived through its tumultuous events. Many classic novels portrayed and influenced the counterculture of the 1960s, including Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Another classic novel indelibly linked the culture of the 1960s was The Crying of Lot 49, one of Thomas Pynchon’s earliest works.  Supposedly the story of a woman seeking to sort out the estate of her dead boyfriend’s will, The Crying of Lot 49 is a kaleidoscopic narrative that ventures through centuries-spanning conspiracies, bizarre characters, and an American rock band desperately pretending to be part of the British Invasion.  One of Pynchon’s earliest and shortest novels, The Crying of Lot 49 is a surreal whirlwind of 1960s literature.

03/18/2013 - 3:30am
Cover image of Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I have been planning to write a review of Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, since I first read it several months ago. But I kept putting it off. I think I'm afraid that I won't do justice to this amazing book. 

In Seraphina's world, humans and dragons live in an uneasy truce. Fear and distrust runs high on both sides, and interaction between the two is strictly limited. Seraphina is a half-breed who will never belong in either world. In fact, dragons find the very idea of her existence disgusting, and humans would kill her if they discovered her secret. Though she lives in fear of discovery, she refuses to hide away. A talented musician, she becomes the assistant to the court composer shortly before the arrival of the dragons' leader for a state visit celebrating the 40th anniversary of the peace treaty.

07/22/2015 - 4:34pm
Chu's Day by Neil Gaiman and Illustrated by Adam Rex

Chu's Day, the new picture book by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Adam Rex, must have found some of its inspiration from the YouTube video in which a baby panda sneezes so explosively that its poor mother is absolutely shocked.

Chu is a young panda who has bad things happen when he sneezes. With this fact begins the suspenseful build towards the big event. Just how destructively massive will Chu's sneeze be? We go to a library with dusty books. Chu is able to restrain himself. We go to a diner with pepper in the air. Chu manages to hold back, but trouble begins to brew at the circus. 

07/06/2015 - 2:48pm
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

"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.

07/22/2015 - 4:35pm
Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel

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.

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