What does the future hold for three young girls when their father dies expectantly? Well if the year is 1878 and you are living an impoverished neighborhood on the lower slope of Montmartre in Paris, the answer would be despair. These are the circumstances framing the setting of The Painted Girls, the newest novel by Cathy Marie Buchanan. In this story we meet the van Goethem sisters and follow their struggles as they put their childhood behind them and are forced to earn a wage to prevent being thrown penniless into the streets. The main role of caregiver is taken on by Antoinette, the eldest sister, filling in for their mother who is more interested in drinking absinthe than raising the children. Middle sister Marie abandons her education to join the Paris Opera with her youngest sister Charlotte. Training for the ballet pays seventeen francs a week, though it is still barely enough to put food on the table. Once she is discovered by Edgar Degas, Marie starts on a journey that will culminate in one of the artist’s most famous creations, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.
This is an absorbing story based on the lives of individuals during this period of history. The author’s attention to detail paints the dire circumstances the girls find themselves in as well as the dark and seedy elements that threaten to engulf them. By observing how the sisters grow throughout the story and the importance of their love for each other, Buchanan creates a remarkable novel, as captivating as it is enlightening.
Fans of Sophie Kinsella’s novels can always expect a charismatic, slightly flighty heroine winding up in madcap situations. In Wedding Night, the reader will be delighted to find two heroines, sisters, relaying the adventure in alternating chapters. Lottie is fully expecting her boyfriend Richard to propose to her during a romantic dinner. When he fails to do so, she is inconsolable. Her sister Fliss worries that Lottie is about to make another one of her “unfortunate choices”. This choice comes in the form of Ben, an old boyfriend she had spent some time with in Greece. Ben is also unmarried, and he and Lottie decide to tie the knot. Fliss is going through a horrible divorce and is fully aware of how disastrous a rushed marriage can be. Ben’s friend and work colleague Lorcan also desperately needs to talk to Ben about some important business matters. This prompts Fliss, Lorcan, Fliss’s son Noah and Lottie’s ex-boyfriend Richard to head en masse to a high-class resort hotel on a romantic Greek island in the hopes of preventing an almost inevitable honeymoon baby.
Sophie Kinsella is a true queen of chick lit, and this stand-alone novel is sure to please her fans. Known for her Shopaholic series, fans will recognize that character slightly in Lottie, the more flustered and impetuous sister. But Kinsella also creates a more serious, thoughtful heroine in Fliss, the wiser, more careful sister who will do almost anything to protect her sibling. The characters form a nice balance and make a great story that is also comes complete with Kinsella’s signature humor.
America’s most famous family feuders are surely the Hatfields and McCoys. Memorialized in cartoons, movies, and recently the subject of a television mini-series, the two clans have become an Appalachian cultural reference. In The Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys: The True Story, author Dean King presents a factual history of the warring families and lays to rest some of the myths perpetuated around the deadly quarrelling which spanned decades.
The Tug River runs between what is now West Virginia and Kentucky. Mountainous and forested, the valley’s inhabitants scratched out a living hunting, timbering, sometimes brewing moonshine. "Devil" Anse Hatfield and Randolph McCoy were each a patriarch with thirteen or more children apiece and a sprawling network of relatives. Hatfields and McCoys lived on both sides of the river and sometimes chose spouses from the other’s clan. Their peaceful co-existence was challenged with the advent of the Civil War; just as Kentucky became a Union state and Virginia chose the confederacy, family members also chose sides and hard feelings developed with the ensuing home guard executions of "traitors" in both states.
King outlines other incidents which intensified the animosity between the families, including the theft of a branded pig, a dispute over timber rights, and the infamous ill-fated romance between Johnse Hatfield and Rosanna McCoy. He thoroughly traces the roots of the hostilities and follows the brutal beatings, home burnings, armed battles, and a court ordered hanging which would eventually claim the lives of well over a dozen people. King uncovered previously overlooked documentary evidence, reviewed legal records and contemporary newspaper accounts, and interviewed descendants of the families, all of which make this book and its fascinating photographs an encompassing study of this deadly vendetta fueled by pride and profit.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is a delightful treat for readers of all ages. This fast-paced, quirky puzzler by Chris Grabenstein is nothing but fun. Kyle Keeley is a 12-year-old boy used to the challenge of competing with his two older brothers. Friendly and popular, if not the most studious of students, Kyle is discouraged to realize that the essay contest he blew off will be judged by his hero, billionaire game designer, Luigi Lemoncello. Mr. Lemoncello has funded the building of a brand new, state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line, newer-than-new library for the town, which has not had one for twelve years. The winners of the essay contest will be the first to get their new library cards and will win a lock-in (a sleepover in the library) as well as a $500 gift certificate to Mr. Lemoncello’s store. Using a little bit of creativity and initiative, Kyle submits an improved entry and is one of twelve lucky 12-year-olds to win the prize.
The action really starts when it is announced that those who wish to, may stay for another night and participate in a scavenger hunt to escape from the library. Using clues, holographic librarians, emergency help from the outside and all their wits, the young contestants work together, and against each other, to find the exit. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library lightly touches on themes of responsibility, teamwork and bullying, without getting preachy. It also showcases the increasing popularity of libraries as more than just a book repository. Mr. Lemoncellos’s library has a board game room, a café and an Electronic Learning Center with 12 plasma televisions hooked into a catalog of educational video games. Fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or The Gollywhopper Games will love this book.
Astrid Krieger is not your average teenager. For starters, she lives in a rocket ship prototype in the backyard of her parents' mansion. Then there's the fact that her family is rich, and she's been kicked out of multiple fancy, private schools for various pranks and other school code infractions. When David Iserson’s teen novel Firecracker begins, Astrid has just been kicked out of her latest school, Bristol Academy, after she’s caught in a cheating scandal. As punishment, her parents inform her that she’s being sent to public school, not another ritzy boarding school. Astrid, who has been raised thinking she’ll always get what she wants, is shocked when they follow through on their plan and she ends up going to the local high school.
Once she’s at the public school, she ends up begrudgingly making friends, and demands their help in her grand quest for revenge. Astrid knows that someone turned her in for cheating at Bristol Academy, so she becomes determined to find out who did it and seek vengeance. Her scheming nature, which she learned from her grandfather (the head of the family company and the only person Astrid really likes), keeps her going even when things don’t go according to her plan. David Iserson, who writes for the television show New Girl, delivers a snarky new comedy with Firecracker, which older teens will enjoy. Astrid may seem like a shallow character at first, but she ends up learning a lot about herself throughout the novel, and keeps readers laughing until the very last page.
Travel to the Jersey Shore as three childhood friends reunite in All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue. The young women are supposed to be meeting in Vegas for a bachelorette weekend, but when Kate, the bride-to-be, is dumped by her fiancé, the three regroup and head to the familiar comfort of Avalon and its stretches of glorious beaches. Kate, Dani, and Vanessa spent memorable childhood summers together down the shore. While they have remained in touch since graduating from college, the bonds forged during those special seasons have loosened. Each still harbors feelings of loss, guilt, and grief from the fateful night eight years earlier when Kate’s twin brother Colin drowned. Between that tragedy and adult responsibilities, the connection between the three twenty-somethings is not as strong. But what the three don’t know is that each harbors secrets that could impact the others’ lives. And each is at a crossroads in her life.
It turns out that the day Kate got dumped was also the day she found out she was pregnant. Vanessa, the beautiful stay-at-home mom, has been conflicted for months since finding out her husband almost cheated on her. Her anger cannot be quenched and she has been tracking a former flame on the internet. Dani, the free spirit and wannabe writer, has just been fired from another job and is unable to control her alcohol or pill intake. This fast-paced tale features three realistic women facing their pasts and making decisions about their futures. It is a fabulous beach read with an authentic beach town setting. This girls’ weekend is all about forgiveness, with a little flirting thrown in for good measure.
Romance writers and readers are grieving the loss of a beloved author this week. Francis Ray, who wrote more than 50 contemporary romances, recently passed away. Her books have often appeared on the New York Times, USA Today, and Essence bestsellers lists. Throughout her long career, Ray won several awards including a Romantic Times Career Achievement award.
Two new books by Ray were published this summer. After the Dawn, the third book in her Family Affair series, brings together two unlikely characters to save a family business. Samantha Collins is shocked when her grandfather leaves her in charge of Collins Industry and also asks Dillon Montgomery, the man Samantha has been in love with for most of her life, to help her. Years ago, Samantha’s grandfather fired Dillon and cut ties with him, and Sam and Dillon haven’t been in contact since an awkward encounter years ago. Can the two of them make this work? All That I Need is the latest entry in Ray’s long running Grayson Friends series, which remains a fan favorite. This story features Lance Saxton and Fallon Marshall, two people who live very different lives. Both are forced to reexamine their priorities when they meet and fall in love.
German author Charlotte Link creates a gripping mystery with The Other Child, her first novel translated for an English audience. In a small town nestled on the coast of Yorkshire, a young woman finishes a babysitting job and heads home. The lighted path ahead is blocked, forcing her to choose a darker and more desolate route. She never returns home. Meanwhile, a group of characters gather to celebrate the pending engagement of Gwen Beckett and Dave Tanner. Gwen, painfully shy and living at home with her father, is not the average blushing bride. Her friends and family fear that Tanner is only interested in procuring her hand to gain access to the farm and fulfill his plan to turn the farm into a bustling hotel. Fiona Barnes, an old matriarch and a close family friend, rails against the pending marriage and creates a scene at a dinner party. It is not long before Fiona is also found dead with her head smashed in, much like the young woman that was discovered earlier that week. Enter Detective Valerie Almond, a nervous detective who is unsure of her place in the police force and her ability to solve a crime. Will she be able to piece together the clues before the killer strikes again?
Link creates a great atmospheric thriller with psychological intensity. She also incorporates a story within a story as Fiona recounts a situation that happened long ago during the height of World War II. Many of the characters are tremendously flawed and the cast of suspects will keep the reader engaged in solving the mystery. Fans of Ruth Rendell and P.D. James will easily gravitate to this novel and look forward to the next one.
Elizabeth L. Silver’s debut novel The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is the kind of book that leaves the reader thinking about it long after finishing the last page. As the story begins, Noa is on death row awaiting X-Day, the day of her execution, when Marlene Dixon, the mother of her victim Sarah, approaches her. Marlene is a prominent Philadelphia attorney who tells Noa that she has changed her stance on the death penalty. Marlene says that she has formed a new nonprofit organization called Mothers Against Death, and she offers to petition for clemency on Noa’s behalf. What she really wants is for Noa to explain why she shot Sarah. During her trial and sentencing, Noa did not speak to defend herself. She did not offer any explanation for Sarah’s death.
The story is told through narratives written by Noa as X-Day approaches and letters that Marlene writes to Sarah at the same time. The truth is a murky thing that Silver slowly reveals over the course of the novel. The idea that both guilt and innocence exist on a spectrum is at the heart of the story. Neither of the women is what she seems to be in the beginning, and both share the burden of guilt to some degree. As Noa’s execution draws near, the reader realizes the complexity of the situation and must consider the difference between moral guilt and legal guilt. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is a complex, character-driven psychological thriller that will yield heated discussions at your next book club meeting.
Best-known for her teen books, Cecil Castellucci teams up with noted graphic novelist Sara Varon to create Odd Duck, an amusing tale of belonging and acceptance. A sort of graphic novel without panels, it tells the story of Theodora, a very proper duck who has her daily routine down pat. It includes wingspan exercises, quacking in a perfect tone, and swimming across the pond in back of her immaculately clean home with a cup of rose hip tea on her head (in order to maintain perfect posture). Then one day her world is turned upside-down with the arrival of Chad, a very different kind of duck, who moves into the vacant house next door to Theodora. Chad is an artist, a musician, a layabout with dyed feathers! Will Theodora be able to endure a neighbor like Chad?
Varon's accessible, anthropomorphic pen-and-ink pastel illustrations of the ducks and their surroundings match the loose, casual style of the text. Fun vocabulary is introduced to young readers throughout the pages, which include a few speech balloons and a lot of side commentary (with arrows) by an omniniscent narrator. Odd Duck is a wonderful introduction for kids who are bridging the picture book, beginning reader, and graphic novel formats. Readers will enjoy making their own determinations as to whether Theodora or Chad is the odd duck, and what differences between friends really matter .