Actress Lauren Graham delivers a delightful debut novel featuring Franny Banks, a struggling actress, in Someday, Someday, Maybe. Graham, familiar to viewers of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood, drew on her own history in sharing the story of a young woman finding her way in New York City. The novel opens in January, 1995 – six months before Franny’s self-imposed deadline to make it as an actress. So far all she has to show for her two and a half years in The Big Apple is a coveted waitress gig and a television commercial for ugly Christmas sweaters. Things are looking grim and all her hopes rest on the upcoming showcase put on by her acting class. Although her performance doesn’t go exactly as planned (think wardrobe malfunction), she does receive two offers from prominent agents and lands a guest spot on a sitcom. Franny’s Filofax is soon packed with auditions, appointments, and dates with James Franklin, her sexy and successful classmate.
All too quickly, the agent stops calling, the auditions dry up, and the sitcom is on hiatus. Her Filofax is now filled with soap opera viewing and cheese doodle consumption. Through the highs and lows, Franny is supported by her father and her roommates, Jane and Dan. When her agent offers her a movie role that involves nudity, Franny comes to a career crossroads. And when Dan starts to feel like more than a roommate and James’ self-absorption grows tiring, she faces a romantic muddle. This is a funny and optimistic coming-of-age story about an audacious young woman fighting for her dreams and overcoming self-doubt. Graham has said that there is a little bit of her in every character and her own experiences as an actor struggling to make it adds an added layer of authenticity.
Housesitting is a rather ambiguous sort of activity. It isn’t really a proper job but it still comes with enough responsibilities to prevent the time spent from ever truly transforming into a vacation. Some people are better at handling this tension between obligation and pleasure than others, and occasionally accidents happen. A crystal glass might become broken, or a nick or two may appear in a previously flawless expanse of plaster. But take a particularly fragile home and add a more-than-usually disorderly house sitter and you don’t just face an accident or two; you court utter disaster. Will Wiles, in his debut novel Care of Wooden Floors, hilariously portrays the panic, guilt, and misery that one such hapless house sitter experiences during the gradual devolution of his friend’s pristine flat into complete chaos.
Wiles’ protagonist, who remains unnamed, is doing a favor for Oskar, an old school chum, by staying in his flat for a few weeks while he travels to LA to finalize his divorce. The house sitter, who is from London, takes an instant dislike to the (also unnamed) Eastern European city that the flat is in and is less than attentive to the many notes that the persnickety Oskar has left regarding the proper care of his two cats, his grand piano, and his precious pale wooden floors. Less than twenty four hours into his stay, Oskar’s meticulously maintained home has already been marred by the faint blush of a tiny wine glass stain, one that Oskar is sure not to miss. And that is just the beginning of a slowly escalating week of mishaps and casual negligence that contains as many surprises as it does calamities. This madcap misadventure is sure to delight fans of Matthew Dicks’ Something Missing, as well as psychological drama aficionados and screwball comedy enthusiasts.
Peter Hoeg has created a delightful novel with a cast of zany characters in his newest book The Elephant Keepers' Children. Fourteen-year-old Peter and his older siblings Tilte and Hans are thrust into a mystery when they are informed that their parents have mysteriously vanished. Hans manages to evade capture, but Peter and Tilte are caught and taken to Big Hill, a home for abandoned children and recovering addicts on the island of Fino. Determined to find their parents, Peter and Title plan and execute an elaborate escape, beginning an adventure that is destined to change their lives forever. They encounter several curious characters along the way, including Count Rickardt Three Lions, a recovering heroin addict and resident of Big Hill, Leonora Ticklepalate, a nun in Fino’s Buddhist community and resident computer scientist and IT specialist, and Lars and Katinka, two police officers who are also star-crossed lovers chasing the children. Not everyone they encounter is out to help the pair. They are also being chased by a hapless bishop and her secretary, and a professor and his wife. Peter and Tilte are aware that their parents are up to something and they believe they are going to a conference in Copenhagen that will gather together great scientific minds and religious leaders of all faiths. Along the way, Peter reflects on his own brand of spiritualty and wonders what is left when you cut through the dogma.
Readers may remember Peter Hoeg from Smilla’s Sense of Snow but will encounter a very different novel with The Elephant Keepers' Children. Peter is an imminently likeable narrator, and the novel is full of humor, adventure, and incredibly memorable characters. There is also a philosophical undercurrent running through the novel that readers who enjoy a second layer will certainly appreciate. The tone and atmosphere are remarkably fun and there are a few great chuckles along the way.
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something explosive? In Love Bomb by Lisa Zeidner, Tess and Gabe’s wedding is hijacked by a rifle-wielding woman wearing a strapless white wedding gown. Her ensemble is completed with an antique gas mask and a small bomb strapped to her arm. Tess and Gabe wanted a simple home wedding with close family and friends. Tess’s mother, Helen, had the usual worries of weather and food that accompany hosting such an important event. And of course, the guest list was a bit tricky as it included bitter exes, jealous girlfriends, and way too many psychiatrists. But those wedding day worries pale in comparison to the hostage drama that unfolds.
As the players in this theater, the wedding guests realize that this woman is seeking revenge for love lost. The guests each wrack their brains to try and seek a connection with the masked woman, and soon are confessing secrets and sins in the hopes of placating the “love terrorist.” Among the confessors are the bride’s thrice-married father, her recently divorced brother, and the groom’s sister’s movie-star boyfriend who is no stranger to stalkers. All of the psychiatrists try to take over the situation and talk to the hostage taker, but it is Helen who creates a bond with her and begins to pick up clues as to the woman’s identity.
The reader learns of Crystal’s (the hostage taker) sad story before the wedding guests, and her motives are almost understandable. Despite the heavy artillery and potential for bloodshed, this is a comedy of manners about love gone horribly wrong. The hostages’ stories about failed love are the centerpiece of this story and are entertaining, depressing, and pathetic. This satirical story about the infinite varieties of passion and heartbreak reaches a tender, satisfying, and surprising conclusion.
Kate Shaw is broke, single, and approaching forty, but she is happy with her job as a freelance magazine writer and her circle of supportive friends. Unfortunately, Kate’s happiness is short lived in The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, by Kim Izzo, when she loses her job and her beloved grandmother dies. Still mourning that loss, Kate learns that the home she shared with her grandmother will have to be sold. Kate finds herself camped out in her sister’s living room, sleeping on a couch when she resolves to take a page from the lives of so many women in her favorite Jane Austen novels and find a rich husband. After all, it’s hard to live on love, but diamonds and Dom Perignon make everything a little brighter.
Her friends rally round by connecting her to other freelance jobs and presenting her with a unique birthday gift – a Scottish title! This title comes in handy for the newly named Lady Kate of Loch Broom. Her first job is to test the theory that to stay afloat in tough economic times a woman should find herself a wealthy man. Kate begins her research in earnest in London, Palm Beach, and St. Moritz where she rubs shoulders with the rich and richer. She is wooed by one wealthy man, but it is the charming bed and breakfast owner who keeps popping up at events and in her head.
Kate’s search for love is an age-old odyssey, but Izzo manages to freshen it up with a memorable cast of supporting characters and some hilariously embarrassing moments. The descriptions of lavish, spectacular parties and couture clothing read like something from The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and add pizzazz to Kate’s quest. Ultimately, underneath the fun and frivolity, this is an honest story of one sympathetic woman looking for money, but finding love instead.
Gretchen Waters had an exciting life, one tragically cut short by a fall down an icy set of library stairs. In Miss Me When I’m Gone by Emily Arsenault, her accidental death turns out to be much more when her best friend, Jamie Madden, begins researching Gretchen’s papers and her past.
This story is a unique blend of southern honky-tonk country and New England mystery. Gretchen’s success had come via a book, Tammyland, which she wrote following her own divorce. A travel memoir of sorts, Gretchen toured the southern states, visiting sites of famous female country music stars and writing about their lives while reflecting on her own. A second book was in the works, and Jamie soon discovers that it is an even more personal investigation into Gretchen’s own life and childhood. As she talks with more people, Jamie senses that Gretchen’s death may not have been simply an accident.
Although a mystery, this book has elements of fun and quirkiness, especially the interspersed biographies on country music singers which are excerpted from the fictitious Tammyland. It’s hard to imagine how one chapter about Tammy Wynette could lead seamlessly into another chapter about a quest to find one’s biological father, but Arsenault makes it work and keeps the story fresh and engaging. This book is an enjoyable read; it may even provide inspiration to visit some country music sites, or at least sing along to a few Dolly Parton tunes!
The best laid plans often go awry and two new takes on the quest for wedded bliss illustrate that with romance and humor. Readers meet the delightful yet jaded Eleanor Bee at various junctures in her life in Harriet Evans’ Happily Ever After. Eleanor is certain that she wants to move to London, become a literary superstar, and be financially secure. She is equally convinced that happy endings don’t exist in real life. Eleanor saw what divorce did to her parents, especially her mum. At twenty-two, she starts ticking items off her checklist when she moves to London and gets a job at a small publishing house. But she also unexpectedly falls in love. Fast forward ten years and Elle’s life has changed completely. She lives in New York where she works as a highly successful editor, but is her belief about no happy endings really going to be her destiny?
Holly McQueen offers the stories of Polly, Bella, and Grace in There Goes the Bride. Polly calls off her wedding with only a week to spare and no explanation to her older sister, Bella or her best friend, Grace. Bella is bossy, but means well as she tries to fix Polly’s problems while dealing with her own frazzled life. Bella is unable to conceive and is starting the adoption process, but her boyfriend is decidedly less invested in the idea. Grace is beautiful and seems to have it all with a husband and two adorable children, but in reality her husband is absent and demeaning. When Grace meets her husband’s handsome boss, their instant attraction soon turns into a full-blown affair. As these three women deal with their respective issues, readers will relish the exploits, friendship, and growth of this dynamic trio.
Bernadette Fox—mother, wife, one-time architectural prodigy—has disappeared, and it’s up to her thirteen year-old daughter Bee Branch to put together the clues as to her whereabouts. Where’d You Go Bernadette is a brash satirical novel, told in a series of emails and other correspondence from various characters that relay the circumstances leading up to Bernadette’s flight.
Bee’s reward for a perfect report card throughout middle school was her own idea: a family trip to Antarctica. (She’d much rather have an expedition than a pony.) But her parents don’t quite share her enthusiasm. Bernadette, the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant at the beginning of her career, suffered a crippling setback when her Twenty Mile House (built from materials sourced within 20 miles of its location) met a vengeful demise. She retreated from the world of architecture, setting up house with her husband Elgin Branch, a techie wunderkind project manager for Microsoft whose TEDTalk is the fourth most viewed video on YouTube. Increasingly antisocial and generally testy, she abhors dealing with her fellow Galer Street School moms, a petty group she refers to as “gnats.” No one in Seattle knows that Bernadette is a genius in self-imposed exile who has hired a virtual assistant in India to deal with the overwhelming details of her life. How can she handle Antarctica? How can Elgin take a vacation when his team is working overtime on Samantha 2, a brain-computer interface?
Author Maria Semple, a former sitcom writer for shows including Arrested Development and Mad About You, has written a wickedly entertaining sendup of over-doting parents, the politics of private schools, the importance of keeping up appearances, the zeitgeist of Microsoft, and all things held sacred by the upper middle class Seattle intelligentsia. But at the heart of this novel are the relationships between a mother and daughter, and a husband and wife who appreciate each other in spite of it all.
Like the heroine of her new novel The Next Best Thing, bestselling author Jennifer Weiner thought that it was a dream come true when she was approached to co-create a sitcom featuring a plus-sized heroine trying to break into show business. Although State of Georgia was short-lived, Weiner used her experiences in the television industry to create her new novel.
Readers first met Ruth Saunders in the short story “Swim” in Weiner’s The Guy Not Taken: Stories. After losing her parents in an accident that permanently scarred her, Ruth was raised by her grandmother. During her recovery from her injuries, Ruth and her grandmother found comfort in their favorite TV shows, like The Golden Girls. After she finished college, Ruth and her grandmother moved to Hollywood to chase Ruth’s dream of writing television shows. Now, Ruth has worked her way from glorified gofer to the creator of her first TV show, The Next Best Thing, a sitcom based loosely on her own life.
Ruth struggles with the process of shooting the pilot and first season of her show. As the show evolves, she watches her heartwarming comedy about an average girl breaking in to the restaurant business with the love and support of her grandmother change into another show entirely. Cady, the famous actress that the network forced Ruth to hire to play the plus-sized heroine, suddenly diets her way to a size 0. Network politics force her to fire actors that she thinks are right for the show, and the character based on her grandmother is rewritten as an oversexed cougar. Is this really the career she has always dreamed of? Weiner’s Hollywood-insider perspective and warm humor make readers cheer for Ruth’s chance to have it all.
Weiner is known for connecting with her readers via social media. Fans can follow her on Twitter (@JenniferWeiner), where she live-tweets reality TV shows like The Bachelor and shares her favorite new books with her readers.
“Albert had come to the conclusion that the key to survival in Old Australia was in picking a criminal element you liked and sticking with it.”
Albert of Adelaide is tired of his life. He is bored by his daily routine, the same meals over and over, the same neighbors arguing and complaining, the same people gawking at him day in and day out. He longs for freedom and adventure, to experience life as it was meant to be lived. He gets his chance when an inattentive staffer fails to lock his cage and Albert the platypus breaks out of the Adelaide Zoo, beginning his journey toward self-discovery.
Following tales and legends, Albert begins his search for “Old Australia,” a place where animals rule themselves and humans do not interfere. Along the way, he makes friends as well as enemies. Even among the animals Albert is a curiosity, which proves to be both an advantage and disadvantage for him. Curiosity soon turns to fear, and Albert must learn the difficult lesson that not everyone nice is inherently good and not every criminal is inherently bad.
Debut novelist Howard Anderson has created a thought-provoking and entertaining story. Comparisons to Watership Down or even Animal Farm are inevitable, but Albert is much more reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Wild West language and shoot ‘em up simplicity of Old Australia draws the reader in, with many laugh-out-loud moments to enjoy. The supporting characters are a literal hoot, namely the pyromaniac wombat and a pair of drunken bandicoots. Albert of Adelaide is recommended for fans of westerns, animal stories, or anyone who likes a good laugh.