To the end of the world...

Maria Semple's Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a witty, satirical and highly entertaining novel. The story follows the antics of Bernadette Fox – best friend and mother to 15-year-old Bee Branch, opinionated and idiosyncratic wife to Microsoft-guru Elgin Branch, and enemy to all meddling and annoying "gnats" of Seattle private-school society – from the Emerald City to the Great White Continent.

When Bernadette's daughter Bee aces her report card and makes plans to collect her promised reward – a family trip to Antarctica – her mother is forced to face the unthinkable: a three-week trip on a boat full of strangers, across the most treacherous body of water on earth, to an unforgiving land of ice and snow. Days before the trip Bernadette disappears, sending Bee on a journey to find the one person on whom she could always depend.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is told in a flowing collection of emails, FBI documents, letters, faxes, and newspaper article clippings gathered by Bee to tell the tale of how the agoraphobic Bernadette, a once brilliant and revered architect, haunted by the past and unsure of the future, escaped her quickly deteriorating life to find herself – at the end of the world.

A Book with Heart....and Braaains

A girl typically wants to find a guy who is more interested in her brain than her looks… and in Warm Bodies, Julie Grigio finds just that. Unfortunately, the boy is dead. Well, UNDEAD, actually. Isaac Marion’s debut novel is a zombie book with a twist: love.

The narrator, R, wanders around the ravished earth after a global epidemic has robbed him – and hordes of others – of life (and normal dietary needs). Feeding on brains, R experiences his victims' memories, and after dining on the brains of teen Perry Kelvin, R meets Perry’s girlfriend, Julie. R, full of Perry’s memories of Julie, gets to know her and finds that the virus may not have robbed him of everything human after all. Convinced that R is losing his zombie traits and gaining back human qualities, takes him to the city of the living in an effort to nourish his evolution back from the land of the undead.

A perfect read for the zombie-lover for Valentine’s Day, Warm Bodies puts a spin on the traditional views of flesh-eating, soulless zombies, and shows that with love, anything is possible. Check out the movie adaptation of Marion’s, just released on February 1.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on DVD

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows seven retirees who decide to chance their retirement to spending time in a less expensive resort community in India. They arrive expecting lavish amenities, but find that the Marigold Hotel is not quite up to par, and the young, energetic owner does what he can to keep his first guests happy and at the hotel. Many of the guests make the most of it and try to enjoy the life in India, while others yearn to get back home.

The film features an all-star British cast of actors, including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy, as the adventurous group whose lives are forever changed after their visit to India. It's full of laughter, warmth, and touching moments as the characters evolve and grow into new lives. While the film’s goal is to entertain, not necessarily to inspire or awe, it does go to show that life can begin at any age. To quote the young hotel owner, “Everything will be all right in the end and if it's not all right, then it's not yet the end.”

Wonderful New Picture Book: 'Waking Dragons'

When illustrator-author Derek Anderson visited the Malletts Creek Branch of the AADL in October, I watched as Ann Arbor children and adults fell under his spell. Sketching shapes looked like such fun! Anderson even talked a bit about his life and career. Afterwards I was drawn to buy his book, Waking Dragons and to have it signed for my son. I took the book home, read it, and stole it back for myself.

This picture book, written by master storyteller Jane Yolen, is beautiful and magical, and brought to life by Anderson's gold-washed paintings. After the dragons "bumble" and "tumble" out of bed, the determined boy-knight who is in charge of them prepares a delicious breakfast of waffles -- served from a catapult -- in time for the dragons to fly the boy off to Knight School. As you read the rhymes, don't miss the humor, such as the sign on the fire extinguisher, "In Case of Dragon Breath."

Anderson probably is best known for his Little Quack books, but I'm also a fan of Gladys Goes Out to Lunch. For more good reading for adults, go to Derek's web page, and read "In the Studio: A Creative Journal." Fascinating.

A Shining Debut

M.L. Stedman's debut novel, The Light Between Oceans, is at once touching, tragic, and full of hope. After returning from four traumatic years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne takes up the post as lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a remote island off the coast of Australia. On his way to the island he stays in a small coastal town and meets and marries Isabel – vivacious, beautiful and impulsive. Years later, after suffering two miscarriages and a stillbirth, Isabel is lost in grief.

One morning, Isabel hears a baby's cry and she and Tom find a small boat carrying a dead man and a baby girl. Tom wishes to report the boat, but Isabel is reluctant. She convinces Tom to "adopt" the baby as their own daughter. Two years later, the Sherbourne family – Tom, Isabel and little Lucy – return to the mainland to find that Lucy’s birth mother has been searching for her missing husband and daughter since their disappearance.

The Light Between Oceans is a haunting and heartbreaking novel of a couple's struggle for the healing power of family, and a mother's unwavering devotion in a world where one person's fortuitous "find" can mean another person's catastrophic loss.

Middle-School Novel Celebrates Human Kindness

One of the best books I have read recently is Wonder by R.J. Palacio. A recommendation by youth librarians, the book champions kindness in a way that somehow manages not to be preachy. It also reflects the value of loving one's family and not judging people by appearance.

The star of the novel is August ("Auggie") Pullman, age 10, who was born with extreme facial abnormalities. His mother homeschooled him until fifth grade; as the novel opens he is about to enter a private middle school in Manhattan. The novel covers Auggie's turbulent first year, as he struggles to be seen as just another kid. He is gentle and bright, but faces heartbreaking challenges to fit in.

Written for readers in about fourth through seventh grades, the book is entirely believable in its presentation of various personalities and challenges faced by middle-school kids. As the story moves along, the characters develop and grow. Multiple narrators -- Auggie, two new friends at school, Auggie's sister (struggling as she starts high school), and his sister's one-time best friend -- add richness and balance to the story. Auggie's parents are unforgettable, as are his friends, which he does make, one by one.

Moonrise Kingdom, on DVD

Moonrise Kingdom, written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, is director Wes Anderson’s seventh film. Set on an island off the coast of New England in 1965, the film centers around twelve-year-old Sam Shakusky, an orphan who is attending scout camp for the summer. The previous year Sam met fellow twelve-year-old Suzy Bishop and she is heavily in his thoughts this summer. Both outsiders, they exchange letters as they begin to fall in love and eventually make a pact to meet. With Sam armed with camping gear and Suzy armed with a suitcase of stolen library books, the two meet and set off to run away together. Meanwhile, Suzy’s family and Sam’s scout troop are on the hunt to track them down. After many comedic adventures among all involved, a mammoth storm, and many twists and turns, the youths are found, and whimsical drama ensues.

For those familiar with Anderson’s film style, Moonrise Kingdom fits the bill for image, mood, and soundtrack. Other typical Anderson-isms include quirky characters, witty dialog, and a wonderfully charming story. This one piqued my interest because the main protagonists are children, while Anderson’s films usually feature dysfunctional adults. It is a rare treat to see him create the world of these sophisticated children. The film gets bonus points for starring Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, and Frances McDormand.

Life Boats and Tigers and Boys - Oh My!

Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel that follows a young man through a perilous journey – both physically and psychologically – and shows that life, no matter how tragic and hopeless it can seem, is always worth fighting for.

Pi Patel, the title character in Yann Martel's 2001 novel, is not an ordinary teenager. He is a practicing Hindu, Muslim, and Christian, and grew up with his parents and brother in a zoo in Pondicherry, India. When Pi is sixteen years old, his family decides to sell the zoo and move to Canada due to political unrest in India. A few days into the journey the family's ship sinks, and Pi finds himself the sole human survivor on a life boat with an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Soon, Pi is left alone in the life boat with the tiger. The two set out across the Pacific on a journey that explores faith, strength, and the line between the truth and the stories we tell ourselves in order to cope with the tragedies and triumphs of life.

The much-anticipated film version of "Life of Pi" is scheduled for release in late November. Take a look at the film's website.

Author of 'Ungifted' To Visit AADL

In the delightful teen novel Ungifted, by Gordon Korman, Donovan Curtis's devilish prank lands him in boiling water at Hardcastle Middle School. He escapes punishment when administrators accidentally transfer him to the school for gifted students. Braniacs and teachers there sense something is off -- but Donovan also brings a certain unique, welcome spark to the school. Gradually he makes a place for himself on the robotics team, and later offers up his pregnant sister for observation in a human development course. Each chapter of this witty, imaginative story starts with the narrator's name and IQ.

Engaging and entertaining, the novel is a fun read and hard to put down. It was the first book by Korman that I have read, and I was happy to learn he has written more than fifty middle-grade and teen novels, including the bestselling titles The 39 Clues: One False Note and Schooled. When Korman was in seventh grade, his English teacher told the class they could have 45 minutes a day for four months to work on a story of their choice, according to Bowker Author Biography. Korman began This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall, which became his first published book. Gordon Korman will visit the AADL Pittsfield Branch on November 6 at 3 pm in an event for Grades 4-12.

Illusions, Wonders and Nights at the Circus

Lose yourself inside the black-and-white world of Le Cirque des Rêves, the enchanting fantasy world in Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, The Night Circus. Morgenstern weaves a tale of illusion, passion, romance and rivalry between two illusionists set in a 19th century circus. This novel is a feast for the senses, a magical ride for a reader who loves a slowly-unfolding story full of descriptive and elegant prose and detailed imagery.

Le Cirque des Rêves, or The Circus of Dreams, is not an ordinary circus. It arrives in towns without warning, mysteriously, as if appearing out of thin air. It opens at dusk and closes at dawn, and houses within its wrought-iron gates black-and-white tents full of grand illusions and hidden magic.

The circus itself is a remarkable world, but ultimately serves as a performance space for the two key characters, Celia Bowen (the daughter of a famed illusionist, Prospero the Enchanter) and Marco Alisdair (student of the Mysterious Mr. A.H.). The two illusionists are unwillingly – and for a time, unknowingly – pitted against each other in a game of magical talent and ingenuity. The game is simple: the best illusionist wins, the loser pays a terrible price. But when love gets in the way… the price may be higher than Celia or Marco could have anticipated.

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