Shelf Life Blog
Michael Lee West’s Mermaids in the Basement finds screenwriter Renata DeChavannes grieving from the recent loss of her mother and stepfather in an airplane crash. She retreats to her family home in the Outer Banks where she eats uncontrollably. While she is buying her movie-producer boyfriend a sweater in a little clothing store, she happens to see the tabloid article telling that her absent love is rumored to be dating his latest movie’s star in faraway Dublin.
Devastated, her drinking, too, begins to get out of control. One night, a drunken Renata has a beach bonfire and burns her manuscript. When she wakes up not knowing what she has done, she looks through all of her drawers to find it but instead discovers a letter from her mother instructing her to contact her paternal grandmother in order to find out the stories of her mother’s “dirty deeds.”
Chuck Palahniuk’s Lullaby will not comfort you, or soothe you, or ease you into a restful slumber. It will most likely disturb and haunt you, though. Palahniuk is a master of modern horror, as clearly demonstrated by the fact that this novel’s title refers to a sweet song which has the power to obliterate humankind.
Lullaby is narrated by Carl Streator, a bitter misanthrope who works as a journalist. When Streator is assigned to investigate a series of crib deaths, he fixates on the minute details associated with each case. This strategy allows Streator to keep thoughts of his deceased wife and child from overwhelming him, but it also brings him closer to a terrible revelation. Each time he visits another stricken home and memorizes another tragic scene, he gets closer to identifying the pattern lurking within these seemingly random deaths.
Fiction authors sometimes begin historical narratives by announcing the discovery of a long-forgotten strong box in a dusty attic containing purportedly true accounts of times passed handily preserved for the modern reader’s enjoyment. T.O. Madden, Jr.'s We Were Always Free starts with just such a scenario, but unlike historical fiction, this is no ploy. The history unearthed is real and traces back to colonial Virginia when Mary Madden, an Irish woman, gave birth to a child of mixed race on August 4, 1758 in Spotsylvania County.
Because of the laws of the time, just as the mother was free so would Mary’s child, Sarah, be considered free, as would all of Sarah’s descendents. Mary and her newborn were first tended at the Collins farm in Spotsylvania, and the church vestry paid the Collins for their year of upkeep with 600 pounds of tobacco taken in tithes from the parishioners. In 1759, still being paupers, Mary was sent along with her baby, to the local workhouse where the poor labored to support themselves.
We are all very familiar with the atrocities engineered by Adolph Hitler, but less is heard about the atrocities that occurred at the direction of Joseph Stalin. Twenty million people were murdered under his leadership. In the book Between the Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys gives a very compelling account of the Soviet invasion of the country of Lithuania in 1941. Lists of people who were considered enemies of the state were compliled, and these people were removed from their homes and workplaces. These people were often professors, teachers, writers, artists, and librarians. The men were sent to prison and the women and children to forced labor camps--some of which were located in Siberia and the Arctic Circle. These individuals were separated from family members and forced to live under extremely harsh conditions with none of the comforts of home. They were not given food or medical attention. The women and children were shoved into railroad cars and sent away without ever being told where they were going.
The main character in this book is named Lina. She, her mother, and her younger brother are removed by force from their home and sent to Siberia. In Siberia, which is harsh enough to begin with, they have to scrounge for anything to eat. Even one potato becomes a luxury for the prisoners. Beets become a treat. The prisoners are forced to dig with shovels which have no handles, and they sleep on the freezing cold floor of a shack.
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.
Jude Deveraux's A Knight in Shining Armor: "Vacationing in England with her lover, Robert, and his spoiled teenage daughter, heroine Dougless Montgomery is abandoned by them in a remote country churchyard near the tomb of Nicholas Stafford, an earl who died in 1564. Almost immediately, an armor-clad swashbuckler materializes--Nicholas himself, reincarnated in the 20th century to clear his reputation, having been unjustly convicted of treason. Intrigued by his plight, Dougless agrees to help Nicholas learn his accuser's identity and restore his good name. They become lovers, and their adventures briefly lead Dougless back to the 1560s, allowing Deveraux to portray that period from a contemporary woman's perspective, as well as 1988 through the eyes of a confounded Elizabethan nobleman."
If you like Jude Deveraux's A Knight in Shining Armor, you may also like these suggestions:
Beyond the Highland Mist, by Karen Marie Moning
"He would sell his warrior soul to possess her...An alluring laird... He was known throughout the kingdom as Hawk, legendary predator of the battlefield and the boudoir. No woman could refuse his touch, but no woman ever stirred his heart-until a vengeful fairy tumbled Adrienne de Simone out of modern-day Seattle and into medieval Scotland. Captive in a century not her own, entirely too bold, too outspoken, she was an irresistible challenge to the sixteenth-century rogue. Coerced into a marriage with Hawk, Adrienne vowed to keep him at arm's length-but his sweet seduction played havoc with her resolve. A prisoner in time... She had a perfect "no" on her perfect lips for the notorious laird, but Hawk swore she would whisper his name with desire, begging for the passion he longed to ignite within her. Not even the barriers of time and space would keep him from winning her love. Despite her uncertainty about following the promptings of her own passionate heart, Adrienne's reservations were no match for Hawk's determination to keep her by his side. (catalog summary)
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
This is the "Bible" of all historical romance time travel novels, and the best thing about it? There are sequels! "Absorbing and heartwarming, this first novel lavishly evokes the land and lore of Scotland, quickening both with realistic characters and a feisty, likable heroine.
English nurse Claire Beauchamp Randall and husband Frank take a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands in 1945. When Claire walks through a cleft stone in an ancient henge, she's somehow transported to 1743. She encounters Frank's evil ancestor, British captain Jonathan ``Black Jack'' Randall, and is adopted by another clan. Claire nurses young soldier James Fraser, a gallant, merry redhead, and the two begin a romance, seeing each other through many perilous, swashbuckling adventures involving Black Jack. Scenes of the Highlanders' daily life blend poignant emotions with Scottish wit and humor. Eventually Sassenach (outlander) Claire finds a chance to return to 1945, and must choose between distant memories of Frank and her happy, uncomplicated existence with Jamie. Claire's resourcefulness and intelligent sensitivity make the love-conquers-all, happily-ever-after ending seem a just reward." (Publishers Weekly)
Ann Patchett's new bestselling novel, State of Wonder, is about "a researcher at a pharmaceutical company, Marina Singh [who] journeys into the heart of the Amazonian delta to check on a field team that has been silent for two years--a dangerous assignment that forces Marina to confront the ghosts of her past."
In this video, watch Ann Patchett discuss the background for State of Wonder, including her own trip to the Amazon.
Whether you’re “nuts about the coconut,” or think the Japanese Cedar is “ex-seed-ingly fine,” you’ll be drawn into this amazingly creative celebration of trees. I have to say that the statement on the cover was right – I loved this book “tree-mendously!”
Be prepared to have your ideas of books and poetry turned sideways! Poetrees by Douglas Florian is formatted to take advantage of the height created when opened. I’ll go out on a limb and say it is the best combination of words, layout and art I’ve seen in a long time. Whether it is the words of “The Seed” printed in the form of an infinity symbol to show how the life of trees is a cycle or the words in “Roots” that cascade down the page, much like roots sink into the soil, the arrangement of text on the pages adds another layer of meaning to the already strong combination of vivid imagery of the poems and the inspired illustrations. Poetrees is just an amazingly beautiful and effective book.
If you are a fan of House, MD and are tired of the summer’s reruns, give Doc Martin a try. This BBC series has a British version of a neurotic and tortured physician. He’s rude, socially awkward, and funny-looking – yet still lovable.
April 9, 1975, and Carol Braithwaite, a known prostitute, has been savagely murdered. And if that crime isn't heinous enough, her emaciated four-year-old son had been locked in with the dead body for an estimated three weeks. In Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog, the Braithwaite case remains unsolved, but over 30 years later promises to disrupt any number of disparate lives.
There’s Tracy Waterhouse. She and her partner discovered Carol’s body and her traumatized son in 1975. Tracy always felt that certain details of the case didn’t make sense. Why was the house locked from the outside? Who had had the key? Why did Carol’s son simply vanish into thin air? And, why wasn’t the police department more actively investigating the case? Tracy, now retired from the police department and never married, witnesses a young child being mistreated by a street addict and, on a whim, buys the girl with money saved for house renovations.
On April 15, 1912, the supposedly unsinkable Titanic struck an iceberg, cracked in two and plunged fathoms deep into the icy North Atlantic. Some passengers were saved, but more than a thousand souls were lost that night, and each one had a rich, full life leading up to either those final moments or desperate rescues. Such was the case for one special family in Suzanne Weyn’s Distant Waves.
Jane and her four sisters were very young when their mother, widowed and alone, decided to move the lot of them to Spirit Vale, a place where ghosts gathered around the psychics, real and fake, who were the principal citizens of the place. Their mother could have chosen to stay with her mother-in-law—a woman whose grudging wealth and the security it provided did not make up for her cold, insulting ways. Spirit Vale seemed the answer to their mother’s dreams, as she had the Sight, and so did several of her daughters.