Shelf Life Blog

First Light by Rebecca Stead

First Light by Rebecca Stead is a compelling story told by two different narrators. First there is Peter, the only child of two talented scientist parents. His father, a glaciologist, receives a grant to travel to Greenland and study global warming. He takes along Peter and Peter's mother, a molecular biologist, who is writing a book about mitochondrial DNA. Peter, like any normal 7th grader, is excited to leave behind New York City for 6 weeks, but he's worried about his increasingly frequent headaches. Is he going to end up like his mother, whose headaches cause her to simply "check out" for days at a time?

Second, there is Thea, a 14 year-old girl who lives in Gracehope, a community entirely hidden under Greenland's ice. Thea's ancestors fled here a long time ago to escape persecution. Thea has never seen the sun. Her people's population has expanded to the point where resources must be severely rationed and births are limited. Thea feels that her people were meant to return to the surface, but her grandmother, who leads Gracehope, is set against expansion.

Peter and Thea's tales alternate as the plot's tension increases, and they eventually come together in this exciting story that mixes adventure with science and fantasy. Both characters are strong and independent thinkers, trying to make the best decisions with their limited knowledge. The adults in this novel seem strangely paralyzed by the past in many respects, unlike Peter and Thea, who are constantly looking forward to and advocating for the future.

You can read an excerpt from the book here and explore the world of First Light in its own Web site. A similar read is The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. The library owns both the book and audiobook, which our family enjoyed listening to. Recommended for ages 10-14.

The Devil's Company by David Liss

Benjamin Weaver, retired prize fighter and now professional thief-taker, is back in action on the streets of 18th-century London. What seemed a simple job—cheating a card cheat—turns nightmarish when Weaver discovers he’s the one who has been rooked in David Liss' The Devil’s Company. The mysterious and wealthy Mr. Jerome Cobb has a very dangerous plan in which Weaver is an essential player. His physical skills, intelligence, connections, and indeed his very character are necessary to make the plan a success.

No one else will do, and in order to secure his cooperation, Cobb and his cronies have drawn a diabolical net around those Weaver holds dear. The Devil's Company referred to in the title is none other than the terrifically wealthy East India Trading Company. Their near monopoly on imports of tea, fabrics, and other luxury items began more than 100 years before this story opens in 1722, and it is this fortress-like institution that Weaver must infiltrate.
 

Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries & Shakes

I bought my first grill last year and although I've learned how to get the coals going, I'm ashamed to say I haven't actually grilled anything myself.

That's all going to change, and I'm going to use Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries & Shakes to help me get over my grilling jitters. My plan is to master grilling one thing this year, and it's going to be the burger!  Making the same burger over and over again might lose its appeal though, and that's where Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries & Shakes offers real inspiration. I can grill until January and never make the same burger twice!

Flay's burgers range from the elegantly simple "Garlic Butter Burger" (using just butter, garlic, shallots, herbs and pepper) to the Cuban inspired "Miami Burger" (a take on the classic Cuban sandwich with swiss cheese, ham and pickles) to the "Oaxacan Burger" (dressed with a homemade mole sauce which includes chile powder, chocolate and maple syrup). It might be a good idea to give the arteries a break with the "Salmon Burger with Honey Mustard-Dill Sauce" or the "Tuna Burger with Pineapple-Mustard Glase and Green Chile-Pickle Relish." Speaking of being health conscious, each red meat burger recipe states that you can use 90 percent lean ground turkey as an alternative.

It's going to be hard to choose which one to make first!
Maybe the "Crunchburger (AKA The Signature Burger)," which is topped with potato chips and is the house burger at Flay's "Bobby's Burger Palace."

12 Weeks of Hot Summer Reads: Nothing by Janne Teller

This is Week 6 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. Check back each Monday for a new review.

What matters to you? What really, really matters in your life?

What if someone told you that nothing in life matters? NOTHING AT ALL.
"It's all a waste of time ... Everything begins only to end. The moment you were born you began to die. That's how it is with everything." What if they kept saying it over and over again and you couldn't make them shut up?

This is exactly what happens to the students in class 7A at Taering School in Janne Teller's novel Nothing.

Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis

January 30, 1649, was chosen to be King Charles’ death day. Among the sober observers were tall, flaxen-haired Gideon Jukes, musketeer and spy for Cromwell’s New Army, and lovely Juliana Lovell, the still loyal though seemingly abandoned wife of a Cavalier officer.

Juliana has criss-crossed wartorn England and now lives in London on the brink of starvation with her two young boys. She has a lady’s manners but has had to develop cunning to survive her years alone while her husband serves in the King’s army. Her path crosses with Gideon’s when they both flee the Tower in the aftermath of the King's execution.
 
Their lives before the war were so very different. Gideon, rebellious son of a wealthy merchant, nonetheless was cheerfully apprenticed to a printer of many things, including seditious literature. When the call came to join Parliament’s cause with the London trained bands, he quickly volunteered, eager to get away from a strange and unpleasant marriage. Without family and in need of a protector, Juliana had wed a trickster, a lesser noble, who fascinated her and kept her true to him despite their years apart.
 
Rebels and Traitors is a massive novel—nearly 750 pages—set in a time most Americans know little about. But they should and this story is an engrossing way to immerse oneself in a time every bit as exciting and compelling as the American Civil War or the French Revolution. Those who enjoy James Michener’s historical sagas and Bernard Cornwell’s military tales of the British past should find summer solace in this lengthy tale. The pacing fluctuates between battles and sackings of towns--punctuated with periods of domestic normality, friendships, love, and even humor.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

 by Jacob Puckett, an 11 year-old guest reviewer

 
"Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts. Mountains of phrases and sentences and connected ideas. Clever expressions. Jokes. Love songs....
 
...But only in my head.

I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old." (Excerpt from Chapter 1)
 
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is a striking book about a girl named Melody Brooks who has cerebral palsy, a disease that disables you so you can’t walk, can’t control your body movements, and, most frustrating to Melody, can’t talk. Every "normal" kid at school thinks that all the "special" kids are either dumb as dirt, crazy, or both! But most kids don’t know that just because you can’t speak or walk doesn’t mean that you’re not smart.
 
Melody is a genius, but nobody suspects it, except Ms. V, Melody’s sitter. Melody can see and smell different styles of music. For example, classical music appears bright blue and smells like fresh paint to her. Jazz is brown and tan and smells like "fresh dirt." Her favorite music, country, appears yellow and smells like sweet lemons. She also has a photographic memory and can outsmart her doctor, especially since he's not that smart.
 
Melody communicates through word cards, but she wants a more sophisticated way so she can be better understood. Eventually, she is given a special computer that lets her communicate with her thumbs. For me, this is the happiest part of the book.
 
This was not a book that I would have picked up off the shelf to read, but after we read it orally in class, all 26 of us loved it. We were begging our teacher to read more every day. I’ll say that there are some sad parts at the end, so more sensitive readers may want to be ready for some surprises!
 

So Easy: Luscious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Week by Ellie Krieger

I liked this book so much I put it on my Amazon.com wish list. (Use Amazon's "Look Inside" feature for a peek at the book.)

It's always a challenge to come up with new and interesting recipes that are quick, easy, and healthy. So Easy: Luscious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Week by Ellie Krieger is a great resource for fast, nutritious meals, and I can see myself going back again and again to try new recipes or make a favorite. In this clip, featuring some of the recipes from her book, Ellie explains how a pantry stocked with some of her favorite basic ingredients can make a healthy, delicious, quick meal "so easy."

I'm familiar with Ellie Krieger through her "The Good Life" column which appears in each issue of Fine Cooking. I've never seen her Food Network show called "Healthy Appetite," but I'm sure it's good. I love that Ellie embraces the "lusciousness" of food and the enjoyment of eating foremost while gracefully incorporating a nutritonal approach to cooking. 

Finnikin of the Rock

This is Week 5 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. Check back each Monday for a new review.

Finnikin of the Rock, by Melina Marchetta, is a book for readers who don’t mind losing themselves. The land of Skuldenore is not always a pleasant place to be lost – in fact, it is often heartbreakingly dark. But I didn’t mind being lost within it, as long as I was with Finnikin.

Skuldenore is comprised of several countries, such as Osteria, Charyn, and Yutlind. Each country has its own interesting characterization, and there is much that goes into the world-building in this book, which makes it so successful. The country we care most about is Lumatere, Finnikin’s homeland.

Ten years ago, a power-greedy cousin infiltrated Lumatere’s royal castle, slaughtering the king, queen, and princesses. This violence set off another chain of violent events, which ended with the entire country being cursed and sealed off from the rest of the world. Those events are called “the five days of the unspeakable.” The people who escaped during that time roam the other countries, exiled, ignored, and mostly despised. They die from fever, starvation, and at the hands of other countries’ kings. It is not a good time to be Lumateren.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

At 5 o'clock in the morning, a curly-headed toddler went missing from his bed in the spacious mansion in the English countryside, never to be seen alive again.
Young Saville Kent's soon-to-be-discovered vicious murder at the hands of someone who was surely a family member or trusted servant excited the press, the populace, and the authorities and ultimately drew the attention of one of Scotland Yard's first and finest detectives, Jack Whicher. Like the fictional Sherlock Holmes, Detective Whicher had a keen mind and almost sixth sense for uncovering criminals in the most unlikely places. With no forensics lab modern or otherwise to help him discover the identity of Saville's killer, Whicher used reason and intuition when setting about his task.

A Nest for Celeste

 

Celeste, the star of “A Nest for Celeste” by Henry Cole, is a sweet and gentle mouse. She enjoys making beautiful baskets in the safety of her comfy mousehole, which is located within Oakley Plantation in Louisiana. She is occasionally bullied by two nasty, lazy rats, who force her to retrieve food for them from the dining room. The cat is a constant danger in her life, and during one of her food expeditions Celeste is chased away from the safety of her home and must seek refuge in another bedroom.
 
It turns out that this room is occupied by Joseph Mason, a young apprentice to the great wildlife artist John James Audubon (1785–1851). Mason and Celeste form a tender friendship, and Celeste loves riding in Mason’s pocket around the house and watching him paint.