Shelf Life Blog

WWW: Wake by Robert Sawyer

For science fiction aficionados, the premise of WWW: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer initially sounds, well, perhaps a bit contrived (even beyond the normal contrivances of science fiction).  But keep reading: the protagonist, Caitlin Dector, is a young blind millennial who has never known a world without the Internet, a world she can navigate with ease through the use of assistive technologies.  Caitlin becomes the subject of an experimental procedure to restore sight.  However, when her vision is "switched on" she does not see the physical world, but an abstract representation of the World Wide Web.  While exploring her strange new ability, she discovers a growing intelligence emerging from within the Web . . .   see what I mean?  My first thought after hearing this description was, "That sounds like the plot of a bad 90s Outer Limits episode."  After cracking the book open however, I found WWW: Wake tells a fascinating story, blending the best of both science fiction and hard science as well as cyberculture, blind culture, information theory, epidemiology, world politics, family dynamics, pedagogical theory, teenage culture, and probably a few other things I'm not thinking of.  All of that in one book.  And it's really, really good. 

A Painted House by John Grisham

Rural 1950s Arkansas is the setting for John Grisham’s Southern thriller, A Painted House. It’s the beginning of a summer full of sweltering days, acres of cotton to pick, dangerous desire, and deadly secrets to keep. 

This season--at its start the same as every other--finds the Chandler family on the road in their dusty pick-up looking for migrant workers to hire. Young Lucas is certain from what he has observed in his short life that once the season’s work is done, his family will go back to its quiet ways, sitting through another winter, readying for another spring planting with Grandpa, “Pappy” Chandler, heading the household.
 
Lucas’ family has worked the land for generations, and this summer’s batches of migrant help—Mexicans and hill people--will work alongside them to bring in the crop before the weather destroys their chance to make a little profit on the farm or at least get further out of debt. Lucas expects the workers to come stay for a few months, do their assigned work, and then go their way—never leaving a lasting impression on his family and their way of life.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

This is Week 10 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. Check back each Monday for a new review.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is a page-turning story of star-crossed teenage love with a Southern gothic twist and a side of magic.

In the town of Gatlin, South Carolina, everyone knows everybody's business and nothing exciting ever happens, unless you count the annual re-enactment of a local Civil War battle. Unbeknownst to the residents of Gatlin (at least most residents) beneath the thick Southern accents and Spanish moss lurks a whole other magical world, one of hidden underground libraries, voodoo and deadly family curses.

Lena Duchannes and Ethan Wate bridge the gap between these two worlds - two worlds that were never meant to meet.

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold

"Now we see in a glass dimly, but then face to face."

Long before C.S. Lewis created the land of Narnia and wrote his many books exploring Christian faith, he was fascinated with Greek mythology. Till We Have Faces is Lewis’ reworked story of the Cupid and Psyche myth, which has come down to us in modern times as Beauty and the Beast. It was a story he began as an undergraduate and was to become his favorite work when he completed it years later.

Here Come the ABCs by They Might Be Giants

It's almost impossible to find a CD that all the kids in our family car - ages 11, 9, 6, and 4 - will listen to. I know, however, that the kids will always be entranced by one of They Might Be Giants' (TMBG) kids CDs.  TMBG provides a great alternative for kids who are searching for something to listen to besides Radio Disney, Kidz Bop, and Hannah Montanna. Their album "Here Come the ABCs" may sound like it's only geared toward the pre-school set, but the songs are lyrically sophisticated and really catchy.

One of our favorite songs, "E Eats Everything" is a hilarious trip through the alphabet via letters with various food issues. "A" hardly has an appetite, "D" is disinterested in anything you've got, "F" is far too fussy and only eats with fancy wine, and H burns his food horribly. The song goes through the alphabet until we get to the letter z, where there's a big surprise. A song like this works on so many different levels - the older kids appreciate the humor of poor "I" always doomed to inhale H's smoke, while the younger ones are thrilled to repeat the refrain "E eats Everything." Other favorite songs are "Alphabet of Nations," "Clap Your Hands," and "Flying V." Check it out today!

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

With one voice, the critics have proclaimed Tom Rachman's debut novel, The Imperfectionists, a zinger. Christopher Buckley, in his cover piece in the New York Times Book Review (April 29, 2010) says it was "so good I had to read it twice simply to figure out how [he] pulled it off."

The book's story is essentially the 50-year history of an unnamed small English-language daily newspaper published in Rome. True to where the world of print journalism is headed, there is not a happy ending. The cast of characters --- the journalists, writers, publishers staffing the paper during its final days --- is paraded out in discreet chapters that could work as stand-alone short stories but that are neatly interwoven under often satiric banner headlines emblematic of each subject. (Obit writer Arthur Gopal's chapter heading is "World's Oldest Liar Dies at 126"). The portraits are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, frequently very sad, often ironic and always tightly constructed with description and dialog that bring each character to life. The arc of the newspaper's life is chronicled in chapters separating the staff portraits, functioning as a common backdrop against which the journalists' individual stories are acted out. Each of the stories and, indeed, the overarching tracing of the newspaper's demise touches in some way on death, loss, or grieving for happier days. Each of the staffers' stories is told in the present tense, tellingly  juxtaposed against the newspaper sections - - past tense, history.

Reversible Knitting: 50 Brand-New Groundbreaking Stitch Patterns

Reversible Knitting by Lynne Barr offers 50 new reversible stitch patterns and 20 projects by Lynne Barr and top designers like Norah Gaughan, Pam Allen and Wenlan Chia. Each project creates a garment that can be worn from either side or inside-out, so you get 2 garments for the work of one!

In the first half of the book Lynne illustrates the 50 stitch patterns, which are grouped into six different chapters based on a shared or similar technique. The second half of the book is devoted to reversible patterns for scarves, sweaters, dresses and more.

Although there were only a few patterns that struck me as immediately doable as a beginning knitter, I really enjoyed browsing the stitch patterns and projects, which range from creative and fresh to high-fashion chic to timelessly classic. If you like the idea of creating reversible knits, you should also check out Iris Schreier's Reversible Knits: Creative Techniques for Knitting Both Sides. Happy knitting!

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver opens during one particularly brutal winter, when the wolves in Mercy Falls, Minnesota are starving. Desperate to eat, they pull an eleven-year-old girl off of her tire swing in her back yard. As they begin to pull at her clothes, she catches the beautiful, golden eyes of one of the wolves and they both connect in an inexplicable way. The golden-eyed wolf saves her life, defending her from the pack.

Fast forward to the present, and that same girl, Grace Brisbane, is now in high school. She has a few good friends at school and a pair of scatterbrained, distracted parents. What particularly grounds her is watching “her wolf” who lives in the forest behind her house. What Grace doesn’t know is that the wolf is named Sam, and he turns human in the warm weather and stays a wolf during the cold.  Sam and Grace’s worlds collide when a local boy is believed to have been killed by the wolves, and the town launches into a full-scale wolf-hunt. The tension is heightened by the fact that each time Sam changes into a wolf it becomes less likely that he will change back into a human. He has to struggle after each change to throw off the wildness, the dreams of howling and blood on his lips.
 

Folly du Jour

The streets of 1920s Paris are teeming with tourists and tramps, fine artists and con artists. Also killers. Knife fights at cafés and corpses floating along the Seine are all part of the daily parade. But now something newly wicked is in the air—murder with style. A day at the Louvre might reveal a fresh body among the dusty corpses of Egyptian nobles. Josephine Baker’s dazzling performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées could be the scene of an unexpectedly dramatic tragedy. Passionate Paris is indeed a perilous place in Barbara Cleverly’s recent mystery, Folly du Jour.

Mister Monday by Garth Nix

Arthur Penhaligon, star of Garth Nix's Mister Monday, thinks he's a normal 7th grader who has enough problems to deal with, like starting a brand new school and controlling his asthma. After the first day of school, though, his life gets a lot weirder. During a serious asthma attack, while he's gasping for breath on the ground, he sees a strange man in a wheelchair appear in blinding light with an attendant. He thrusts a "blade" into Arthur's hands and mutters some strange things about a Will, the Key, and suitable Heir. Although it makes no sense to him at the time, Arthur has just been given an instrument of power called the Key and named the Heir to the Will by Mister Monday. Arthur's life will never be the same.