Don't forget to check out our staff picks for kids!
March 3, 2014
Where’d You Go, Bernadette
by Semple, Maria
The first thing I do when I finish a book that I really liked is check to see who bought the movie rights. With Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, I was sorely disappointed to discover it wasn’t Wes Anderson. The movie would need someone who can match the author’s ability to get you emotionally invested in a story that manages to take itself seriously, in spite of the fantastical absurdity of its plot and the suspension of disbelief required to relate to characters whose genius and neurosis are both larger than life. This is at once a heartwarming mother-daughter story, and a cutting satire of Seattle’s One-Percenters: the earth-conscious Subaru-driving helicopter parents who send their children to private Montessori schools with the kind of money that only a top-ranking Microsoft visionary and world-renowned pop-architect could bring in.
The book is rich with the self-aware comedy of suburbia taken to its extreme, exemplified by two wealthy and culturally ignorant mothers fighting a vicious proxy-war over each other’s lawns through a hapless landscaper, a remote virtual administrative assistant from India, and a volley of passive-aggressive letters to the PTA. There’s also a hearty helping of tech-industry humor, as the book exposes the secret life of TED Talk socialites, and the high intrigue involved in choosing the right seat at the lecture.
The story is told through a collection of documents put together by Bernadette’s daughter, Bee, as she scrambles to track down her eccentric agoraphobic mother who has mysteriously disappeared. They range from cheeky school news bulletins, e-mails from Bernadette to her remote assistant (and impromptu therapist) Manjula, back-and-forth letters from the local henhouse of “concerned mothers”, and as the story starts to really pick up, police investigation reports and Antarctic ship captain’s logs. This allows for the narrative to bounce through perspectives at a manically hilarious pace.
The satire angle starts to get thinner towards the last quarter of the book, but hopefully by then, you’ll be too curious about Bernadette’s fate to do anything but rip through the rest of the story with desperate hope that things will turn out all right for her and Bee. It’s hard not to spoil the ending, because I’m the kind of person who bails out of a book when I sense it’s going to leave me in pieces at the tragic end. All I can say is that the journey was worth it.
— Recommended by Daniel Perez, East 38th Street Library
February 24, 2014
A Perfect Proposal
by Fforde, Katie
A Perfect Proposal is an excellent, fun, fast read. Quirky, resourceful, kind-hearted Sophie is unappreciated by her academic family. This family, in an effort to get into wealthy, evil Uncle Eric's will, sends Sophie to to be his housekeeper for 2 weeks. Uncle Eric turns out to be charming, and he considers helping Sophie fund her plan to take a tailoring course and then start her own business.
Sophie has an opportunity to leave England and visit a friend and be a nanny for 3 weeks in New York. The job falls through, leaving Sophie with a lot of free time and not much cash. While attending an art opening, Sophie keeps Matilda, a society matron, from fainting. Matilda is a war bride whose fondest childhood memories took place in a house somewhere on the Cornish coast; and she is charmed by Sophie, who reminds her of home. She asks Sophie to find that house in Cornwall.
Luke, Matilda's grandson, is wary of Sophie and does his best to keep the two separated. Matilda sends Luke over to England on business, because she thinks Sophie and Luke are made for each other. Naturally, they are resistant, and it’s fun watching them come around to Matilda’s way of thinking.
--Recommended by Debbie Overshiner, Eagle Library
February 17, 2014
Miles, the Autobiography
by Davis, Miles
780.91 Davis, Miles DAV
Miles Davis's autobiography is more than a who's who of music. It’s a detailed history of a talented St. Louis dentist's son, the powerful influence of a teacher, and his phenomenal drive and talent at a young age that led him to attend but choose to leave Juillard. Davis in later life was a friend of Jean Paul Sartre. Cicely Tyson fans may want to skim some parts, but overall, other than his frequent use of profanity, I was even more amazed after reading this at Davis' talent and continual quest for growth. After reading this, it’s time to go check out more of his CDs again... it’s a good thing he finished this before his 1991 death.
--Recommended by Diane Palguta, College Avenue Library
February 10, 2014
Bellman & Black
by Setterfield, Diane
A long-awaited second novel by the author of The Thirteenth Tale, Bellman & Black is that very rare article: a second book that’s better than the first.
Will Bellman is ten years old when, out playing with his friends, he boasts that he can hit a rook with his slingshot. None of the boys seriously believe he’ll accomplish this feat - but they all watch the stone as it arcs through the sky, then falls and kills the bird. Will is extremely disturbed by his deed, but the incident soon fades from memory. The first half of the book follows his life: through childhood and then working his uncle's mill, through marriage and fatherhood. William Bellman is an ambitious man and it seems all he touches turns to gold. He lives an apparently charmed life - a successful business, loving marriage and four healthy and happy children. Yet, there is a price to be paid for this success. A dark shadow hangs over this seemingly ideal existence in the form of a sinister, mysterious man in black who appears whenever William attends the funeral of a loved one (in Victorian England, funerals occur with alarming frequency). When the funerals become more personal for William, he is forced to strike a bargain with the man in black to save the only precious thing left in his life. A new business venture is born: Bellman & Black.
This is a dark, atmospheric and strange Victorian tale depicting a man's glorious rise and tragic fall. Though it’s billed as a ghost story, it’s more accurately described as the story of a haunted man. Atmospheric, lyrical, and brilliantly written, it will haunt the reader for a long time.
— Recommended by Emily Talbott, Nora Library
February 3, 2014
King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village
by Bartels, Peggielene and Eleanor Herman
B Bartels, Peggielene BAR
In August 2008, on the cusp of the Presidential election for what would be the first Black President of the United States, Peggielene Bartels receives a phone call at 4am that changes her life. She is told that she has been selected to be the next King of Otuam, a small village on the western coast of Africa near the Atlantic Ocean. A list was drafted with 25 possible candidate names to become the successor to the throne. The successor had to be related to the former King, have characteristics of a great king and be approved through a sacred ritual of pouring libations to ensure that the chosen candidate was not only approved by the Council of Elders but also approved by ancestor spirits. Peggy possessed both relationship and characteristics of a king. She was unanimously approved by the ancestor spirits.
Peggy is beside herself with excitement and doubt. After all, she already has a job as the Secretary to the Ghana embassy in Washington D.C. How would she figure out how to be King of an African Village?
This book shares the journey that Peggielene Bartels encounters on her road to becoming King of Otuam. She chronicles many challenges such as learning the workings of being a king, working with her stubborn, chauvinistic Council of Elders, figuring out how to obtain running water, healthcare and education to make Otuam a sustainable and economically sound village, and finding out the mystery behind the former king’s death. This is King Peggy’s inspiring story of hard work and dedication to the people of Otuam and her goal to make Otuam a respected village in Ghana.
— Recommended by Kim Jones, African-American History Committee