Wednesday, November 18, 2009

We've Moved

Please come visit us at

All the posts from this site have been uploaded and archived, so come join the fun!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Rebirth

Several months, one wedding, many tears, and possibly even carpal tunnel syndrome, and finally it's time to unveil the new Shelf Life. Tomorrow I will come back here one last time and post the new URL. The new and improved Shelf Life will have a sparkling new layout, more visually engaging reviews, more non-review articles on books and reading, and yes, even a Twitter feed (you can find me as ShelfLifeBooks). And to top it all off, a regular schedule.

To celebrate, I'll be posting a new review or article each day for a week, and a themed list everyday. Tomorrow don't miss the interview with Philip Freeman, author of The Philosopher and the Druid and St. Patrick of Ireland!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Coming soon to a book blog near you

Well folks, this is it. In just two days, my sweet husband-to-be Nicholas will become my actual husband. As you can imagine, we are pretty excited about moving forward into married life and enjoying a wonderful honeymoon.

Being the book-obsessed bride-to-be that I am, I just had to bring some books along (of course, it also helps to pass the 10 hours we spent in a car on our way to the wedding site). So next week, you can count on seeing reviews for The Fortune Cookie Chronicles (you will love it!), The Savage Garden, Unchristian and A Poisoned Season.

But more importantly, you'll read those reviews on the brand-spankin' new Shelf Life 2.0. It will have tons more things to love, so keep coming back to us! You want a teaser of the greatness to come? How's an interview with the amazing Professor Philip Freeman sound? It's happened, I'm just waiting to post it on the new site.

So while I'm off getting married this weekend, what will you do to fill your Shelf Life void? Well, a good start would be catching up on the fantastic e-book, The Gearheart. You could also stop by The Domestic Scientist next week for some of the inside looks at the details of the wedding (in addition to being a fabulous human being, Renee is also my Matron of Honor). Or you could amuse yourself with books from The Top Shelf.

No matter how you choose to occupy your time without me, dear readers, look for the new and improved Shelf Life to appear after August 17th. See you all then, and as a married woman to boot!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Review: Bento Box in the Heartland

It seems I just can't get enough of food literature, because although today's offering is my third food-memoir this year, I have loved it every bit as much as the others. Savor this review, readers; it is the last before my wedding this weekend and a long honeymoon in the mountains.

nonfiction, food memoir

Plot: When author Linda Furiya was growing up in 1960s rural Indiana, her family was the only group of Asian Americans within 30 miles. Her unusual heritage brought about many struggles, but produced a story of family, culture, and most importantly, the food that shapes our identities.

Structure: Furiya's memoir is very loose; that is, it is organized on thematic rather than chronological lines. At the end of each chapter, to my delight, I found that Furiya chose to include a mouthwatering recipe she mentioned in the chapter.

Execution: There is definitly a Japanese aesthetic at play here. Furiya's stories are not happy, not exactly. There is an undertone of subtle sadness in every page, coloring every memory. Perhaps its because death marked her childhood frequently, and neither she nor her parents enjoyed a happy life. Although her early chapters were beautifully structured and had a nice roundness to them, toward the end they became both longer and more abrupt. One recipe was repeated twice, though through printer error or author's intention I do not know. Also, jumping around chronologically worked in terms of storytelling, but sometimes it left me very confused and aching to fill in the gaps. Overall, it lent a sense of privacy to her memoir I think was unintended, as if she was saying, "I will tell you this much but no more."

Theme: Japanese Americans, World War II, Japanese food, 1960s Americana

Read this if you enjoy Asian food at all, this will leave you itching to break out your sushi mats.

4 out of 5 stars

Other works:
Furiya, a newspaper columnist, also wrote about her time in China in her book How to Cook a Dragon.

If you liked this, you might also like:
Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love
Nicole Mones' The Last Chinese Chef
Katherine Darling's Under the Table

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Review: The Philosopher and the Druid

I truly surprise myself sometimes! I actually did not expect to get another review posted so soon before the wedding, but today's review title was so good I couldn't help but devouring it. Freeman once again combines superb style, history, and storytelling in a wonderfully informative but warm look at the ancient Celts.


Plot Synopsis: Forget what you think you know about the Celts. Freeman is out to prove that most of our connotations concerning this much-loved culture is mostly myth and lore. By rediscovering the Greek explorer Posidonius and his lost History, Freeman weaves primary source material with other historical, linguistic, and archaeological discoveries to create a much better picture of the Celtic/Gallic culture. The result is a dazzling, fascinating work that is both historically sound (in my amateur opinion) and an engaging read. Oh that more history books were like this!

Structure: Freeman, author of the delightful St. Patrick of Ireland, has already proved himself to be a capable historian with a flair for storytelling. The Philosopher and the Druid is no different. Freeman first sets the scene by describing the ancient world Posidonius grew up in, including his philosophical point of view and the steps he would have undertaken to understand the Celts/Gauls (Freeman proves they are actually quite closely related) before venturing among them. He divides his work into several chapters. Then, the next five chapters retell the history of the Celtic cultures throughout Europe, organized by their history in several geographic regions (a chapter on Galatia, a chapter on Massalia, etc.) and the cities Posidonius would have visited on his journey to Gaul.

Finally, Freeman tackles what Posidonius and other ancient authors, such as Strabo, Pliny, and Julius Caesar, tell us about every aspect of Celtic life, including women, tribal authority, feasting, bards, druids, and religion.

Execution: As I have mentioned several times, Freeman is anything but dry and boring. He has a natural knack for pacing and storytelling, and I found his prose compelling but professional. It had just enough polish to keep me interested, but not enough that it did disrespect to his work as a historian.

Freeman also possess a great ability to tell us exactly what we can safely know. He never glosses over a problem or a gap in the historical record, but nevertheless tries to fill in the knowledge as best he can. This sort of open, honest but optimistic approach to history makes him very unique among the authors I have read. His unique subject matter and the way he straddles the popular/academic boundary makes him an author I will keep turning to.

Theme: Greco-Roman history, Greek philosophy, Celtic history and culture, archaeology, linguistics, ancient religion/myth

Read this if you are interested, even slightly, in the Greco-Roman world or Celtic history, because believe me, he will make you thirst for more.

5 out of 5 stars

Other works:
Freeman, a professor of classics at Luther College, has also written:
Julius Caesar: A Biography
St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography

If you liked this, you might also like:
Robert Graves' I, Claudius, based on actual Roman authors like Suetonius, Tacitus and Plutarch, also combines good storytelling with good history

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Review: Till We Have Faces

This review is, for many, many reasons, very difficult to write. To begin with, I should be doing things for my wedding in about a week, and as such I find myself a little distracted. For another, this is my favorite book from my favorite author, and I wonder if I will be able to give it the praise it deserves without being sycophantic. Well, all I can do is give it my best shot, right?


Plot: This is a retelling of the Greek myth Psyche and Cupid, set in a barbaric kingdom called Glome. Lewis tells the story through the eyes of Orual, Psyche's older sister/mother figure, writing a long complaint against the gods for what they have done to her. His chief change to the story, which seems like such a small thing but has such brilliant ramifications to it, is to make Psyche's palace invisible to mortal eyes.

Structure: The book is unequally divided into two parts. In the lengthier Part One, Orual, seething with hatred and wrath for the gods, sets down to write her story once and for all and to show how unjust, how unfair, the gods have been to her. She begins in her early childhood, and carries it all the way to late adulthood, telling of her kingdom, her relationship with her sisters, the great sacrifice of Psyche, and the choices she made in trying to cope with what happened to her and her family.

Part Two is an answer to her initial writing. She receives an answer from the gods, a change in perspective, and writes an amendment to her initial, raging work. Part of my enchantment with this novel is its unusual epistolary structure (which has fallen out of favor in modern literature, much to my dismay), which is a perfect platform for the emotional story Lewis sets out to tell.

Execution: Lewis is a master of the English language, no doubt about it. His prose is perfect, suited exactly for the dark, heavy language of an ancient world and yet full of modern sparkle (where, I think, he vastly improved upon his colleague Tolkien). More than that, he gives touches of allegory. What do I mean by "touches?" I mean that you cannot come at this book straight on and say, "ah, this must be a symbol for this." It's too artless. This is a story that demands to be taken in sideways. You cannot come at it from the front; you have to come at it sideways and see glimpses, parallels, of what he alludes to. This to me is what makes this a supremely good book. Like true theology, clear, rational thinking gets you a little ways.

One of the best things about this work, I think, is that it combines Lewis' rich depth of knowledge, imagination, and deep questions without easy answers (why must holy places be dark?). It marries his fertile imagination with a powerful, emotional story; I think we all see ourselves in Orual, and so she touches us deeply. Her rage, her confusion, her disbelief and frustration are all ours. Her shock when she discovers she is, deep down, dark and ugly and selfish, is ours. And her ultimate redemption gives us hope. The pathos, the empathetic imagining which makes this story so distant and beautiful but also so near and real, that is what makes this a masterpiece.

Theme: Greek myth (Psyche and Cupid), love, sacrifice, allegory, philosophy

Read this if you want the richly imagined world of Tolkien in a lighter prose. This is, I think, also good for those dark nights of the soul when we wonder what God is doing or where he is.

5 out of 5 stars

Other works:
Lewis is a prolific author, but some of his best loved works are:
The Pilgrim's Regress
The Space Trilogy
The Chronicles of Narnia
Mere Christianity
The Screwtape Letters
The Four Loves

If you liked this, you might also like:
Carolyn Parkhurst's The Dogs of Babel - another story of love and loss

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Update on the Lack of Updates

Hey all! Wondering why your favorite place for book reviews is suddenly not looking so fresh anymore?

Well, I have a confession to make readers. Here's what's been hogging my reading hours as of late:

Distraction #1: Video Games

This would be funnier if it weren't also true

Yes, yes, I've been giving into my inner 10 year old lately; I'm playing Super Paper Mario. It's so frustrating at times I could throw the Wiimote (but I won't), but the humor is so good it keeps me coming back again and again.

Also been playing through FFX again with the Nicholas, which is fun if for nothing else than the cosplay jokes:

Distraction #2: Good Sci-Fi

is realy just Shepperd wif boobz

While Stargate Atlantis will always have a place in my heart, Battlestar Galactica is helping me with the withdrawl. Oh, Blockbuster, how I love thy dollar-per-day deals...

Oh, and before ANYONE SPOILS ANYTHING I'm not done with Season 1.

Distraction #3: Epic Cross-stitchery

My ambition is matched only by my Zelda fandom!

Seriously, I've been working on this over a year now, and it's so close to being done I can't help but work at it while watching TV or watching my fiance play with his newest toy, Need for Speed Underground. Oh, and by the way, those of you who thought WindWaker sucked need to go read the article on Destructoid.

Distraction #4: Nearly Newlywed

Nothing says classy like kegstand

There's also this other little thing. I happen to be getting married in 11 days to a wonderfully geeky and goofy man I love dearly. And after the wedding, moving to a new city with my new husband for a new job.

Needless to say, I'll be occupied with other life things for the next few days. But you know, since I'm going through all these major changes, wouldn't it be a perfect time to put Shelf Life through some alterations as well? Yes, yes indeed.

So consider this your "pardon our dust" warning. Reviews may be sparse the next few weeks (I'll try to get in a few before the big day), but rest assured, Shelf Life is far from finished! Soon 2.0 (aka Shelf Life Electric Boogaloo) will debut with...

Well I can't tell you! Otherwise you might not come back! But oh, many awesome things will come, including a new domain. So check back often, entertain your now empty Internet time with The Gearheart Audio Book and The Domestic Scientist, and we'll see you soon!

P.S. the poll from last week was a tie, but I'm halfway through Till We Have Faces.