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June 2009 Staff Book Reviews

Stack of booksIt's Summer Reading season! And you know what that means?

Kids will be coming to the hometown libraries en masse to experience the joy of reading and free summertime entertainment. Since Summer Reading programming is normally thought to be primarily for kids (although we have lots of programs for all ages) we decided to highlight a few adult reads for June.

So sit back, grab a tall glass of lemonade and enjoy these staff recommendations for June


Bertie JacketThe World According to Bertie by Alexander McCall Smith
four stars
Genre: Adult Fiction
Reviewer: Beth Lyle, Tecumseh Public Library

This is the fourth installment in the humorous and charming 44 Scotland Street series. As usual, McCall Smith offers many pithy insights into human nature, sly pokes at our politically correct world, and plenty of hilarious moment. Bertie, a precocious six year old boy, who generally speaks the truth - but is not always believed - must survive the trials inherent to those with a domineering mother and hesitant father. His classmates Tofu and Olive make school difficult, but his teacher, Miss Elspeth Harmony is quite nice. Besides Bertie the child prodigy (who only wants to be a normal little boy), the series revolves around various neighboring inhabitants of the building at number 44 and their friends including a shy art dealer, a globe trotting anthropologist, an artist and his dog, and Big Lou, who dispenses coffee and advice to those who are willing to listen. If you want an insider's look at Scotland, and a read that will leave a smile on your face, The World According to Bertie is just the ticket!


Valentine jacketVery Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
five stars
Genre: Adult Fiction
Reviewer: Julie Kreft, Moore Public Library

Valentine Roncalli is in love . . . with making shoes. At 33, she is comfortable being the only unmarried sibling (mostly), and is following her passion in the family shoe business. She works every day perfecting her craft under the careful eye of her grandmother and mentor, Teodora Angelini. However, her life changes when Gram announces that the family business is struggling and deep in debt. As she struggles to save the business, her brother Alfred see dollar signs in the Greenwich Village building that houses both the business and Valentina and Teodora. Now Valentine must make her dream a profitable reality before Alfred sells it out from under her. To complicate matters further, a budding romance with a sexy but unpredictable chef is enough of a distraction to make Valentine almost forget her passion for the art of shoe making. Full of Trigiani's customary exquisite detail and romantic cynicism, this book includes luscious meals, theatrical family fights, and a sensual tour of the Italian countryside. It is a sensory indulgence tucked within a great story.


City JacketCity of God: A novel of passion and wonder in old New York by Beverly Swerling
five stars
Genre: Adult Fiction
Reviewer: Susan Gregory, Pioneer Library System

City of God is the latest installment in Beverly Swerling's series of wonderfully imagined stories of life in old New York. this is historical fiction at its best: full of familiar names and figures, intriguing facts and a tense, passionate narrative involving characters whose dilemmas are fascinating. Nicholas Turner is the latest of a long line of the Turner men to become doctors in the growing metropolis of New York City in the 1840's. His first professional post is at the notorious, rotting cesspool known as Bellevue Almshouse Hospital. While there, he pioneers the use of ether for painless surgeries and soon earns the suspicion of both the Catholic Church community in New York and the contempt of his medical colleagues.

He encounters and falls in love with Carolina, who is unhappily married to the abusive, wealthy bigamist, Sam Devrey, and he meets the brilliant Jewish medical intern, Ben Klein, who becomes his research assistant and partner. Carolina's situation is further complicated by the fact that her husband, Sam, is living openly with his Chinese "wife" and their daughter but refuses to give her a divorce. Underlying all of these domestic dramas is the drumbeat of the approaching Civil War. Woven into the story are the issues of slavery, women's rights and Southern culture's clash with Northern values. Will Nick Turner find happiness and build a family with his soul mate despite her foul, hopeless marital situation? How does Carolina become a force to reckon with on the Underground Railroad? Will the daughter of Dam Devrey and his Chinese child bride escape her own dangerous marriage to join the Sisters of Charity or will she marry her own beloved? Beverly Swerling is a skilled amateur historian and her love of history shows through in the artful, addictive story that she weaves.

If you're interested in pre-Civil War American history, this will be a worthwhile and entertaining read for you. You'll come away knowing more about the history of anesthesia, the torture of Chinese foot binding, the introduction of opium in New York City, the design of clipper ships, the gangs of Five Points and the appearance of nuns on American streets for the first time. This is the third in Beverly Swerling's saga of the Turner Family: City of Glory and City of Dreams are the equally fascinating and worthy novels that offer the background to City of God. All three novels are highly recommended.


Home JacketHome Safe by Elizabeth Berg
five stars
Genre: Adult Fiction
Reviewer: Julia Harmon, Shawnee Public Library

Elizabeth Berg has been one of my favorite authors for years. When a favorite author dies, as some of mine have lately, it's like losing a friend. I'm happy to report that Berg is alive and well in Chicago and, if her photograph is a recent one, should be contributing to my addiction to good fiction for years to come. Berg's latest novel (her eighteenth) is about an author whose husband has recently died. Helen Ames is caught up in her grief to a point that she is no longer able to write. Instead, she spends much of her time hovering over her twenty-seven-year-old daughter, Tessa, and coming to grips with the fact that her husband had protected her from the inconveniences of life. Her inability with numbers and finance had been an acceptable reality for the couple and she is shocked to find the the considerable amount of money that she understood was being saved for their retirement had been drawn out of their accounts. Her initial fear that her husband has been living a double life, possibly with another woman, proves to be unfounded, but she is faced with new possibilities for her life, thanks to a generous and beautiful surprise her husband was preparing for her.

Home Safe is a story of expectations of those we love and our own self-expectations, about hanging on and letting go, and about reaching out and in doing so, finding ourselves. Another Berg book provides an enjoyable introduction to her work. The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted and Other Small Acts of Liberation is a collection of short stories. One favorite in the collection has the same title as the book; another story is "The Day I Ate Nothing I Even Remotely Wanted." These two stories paint an honest and often hilarious picture of the hurdles that those of us counting calories must face, including an appraisal of Weight Watchers meetings, a comparison of Dunkin' Donuts and Cinnabon, and the fortitude it takes to not eat the crispy skin from fried chicken.

Not all of the stories are about food, of course, but those that do illustrate Berg's talent for situational description and acceptance of the human condition, ours and her own. Try one or both of these titles. The good news is, if you enjoy them, you'll have months of good reading ahead of you as you dive into Berg's earlier books. Happy Reading!


Wordy JacketThe Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
five stars
Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Reviewer: Tiffany Criswell, Public Information Intern

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowel tells the story of the Puritans that settled in and around Boston after the Plymouth settlement and before the infamous trials in Salem. This slice of history may seem esoteric at first, but Vowell makes the events of 17th century New England as exciting as modern-day news. The Massachusetts colonists escaped the shaky political and religious atmosphere of England, only to found colonies fraught with scandals, banishments, battles with the elements, political clashes, and shifting alliances between the colonies and native tribes. All of this was balanced with the Puritans' constant struggle to be pious and good in the eyes of God. Each settler was in a daily battle for survival, as well as salvation.

Vowell shows that the Puritans were not repressed and uptight as they have come to be stereotyped; they were free-thinking people brimming with life, hope, and a constant desire for knowledge and justice. In this book, the author shows off her deep passion for American history - especially how that history relates to Americans today. Using extensive first-hand accounts from early settler's journals and letters, Vowell uses her signature wit and humor to show that the Puritans' story is worth telling.

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