Diplomas – check. Now what? The familiar dilemmas facing recent college graduates are played out in Gemma Burgess’ fresh new series, Brooklyn Girls, also the title of the first book. While the focus is on Pia, Burgess carefully introduces readers to her roommates Angie, Julia, Coco and Madeleine, who all share a brownstone in Brooklyn.
Pia is stylish and fun, but likes to party and is unsure of her future. When she finds herself unemployed following a night of heavy drinking and an ill-advised Facebook photo, Pia is at a crossroads. Her parents cut off her allowance and insist that she return home. But after years of boarding school and college, Brooklyn finally feels like home. If she wants to stay, she needs a job fast. Waitressing is an epic failure, and her art history degree is useless. She jumps at the chance to purchase a food truck knowing there is a market for cheap and healthy breakfast and lunch alternatives. Thus, Skinny Wheels is born. The business booms and Pia also finds love, or at least like. She has always avoided relationships following a bad break-up, but when Aidan enters her life she is instantly smitten. Her life is full of ups and downs, and Pia is soon faced with roommate issues and the nice man who loanded her start-up money. Turns out he is a not-so-nice loan shark complete with menacing thugs.
Gemma Burgess has successfully recreated the emotional roller coaster that is the hallmark of post-college life with humor and honesty. Burgess wrote this series to capture the bonds of friendship during the tumultuous 20s, when you’re broke but having too much fun to care. Viewers who enjoy Lena Dunham’s HBO series, Girls, should appreciate this less gritty, but still realistic look at five young women getting ready to start real life. Look for the next installment featuring Angie in the spring.
If you’re looking for a bold new page-turner, Koren Zailckas, memoirist of Smashed and Fury, delivers with her shocking fiction debut Mother, Mother. This physiological thriller provides two alternating narrators: that of the volatile younger sister, Violet, and the delicate yet determined mamma’s boy, William.
The plot has already thickened at the beginning of the novel when it’s revealed that the eldest and most cherished child, Rose, has fled the family for an undisclosed location. The remaining and less “perfect” children, Violet and Will, are left under the calculated and cunning reign of the matriarch, Josephine. And then there’s distracted and weak-willed father.
From an outsider’s view, the Hurst family has achieved all upper middle class aspirations. However, when an unexpected act of violence takes place in the picturesque home, the secrets surrounding the absentee Rose steadily unravel through Violet and Will’s dueling accounts; the effects of which rival the circular layers of an onion being stripped away. As tensions build, the book gets creepier and creepier. As Josephine’s tight control begins to slip, small daily activities at home prove that her and William’s relationship makes for one of the most unnerving mother and son pairs in recent history.
For those who cannot get enough of the current trope of Mother as Narcissist, as seen in Wendy Lawless’ Chanel Bonfire: A Memoir and in Cate Blanchett’s performance in the film Blue Jasmine. When you start this book, make sure you have enough time to finish it because you won’t be able to put it down.
In the eyes of society, five young women were lost even before they went physically missing and found dead. In Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery, Robert Kolker vividly details not only a modern-day true crime case but also the stories of these women who slipped through the cracks of American society. Melissa Barthelemy. Maureen Brainard-Barnes. Shannan Gilbert. Amber Lynn Overstreet Costello. Megan Waterman. None of these became household names like Laci Peterson or Natalee Holloway did when they were reported missing. In fact, for several of them, their relatives had trouble being taken seriously by law enforcement. Yet all five women had personal histories, albeit with many common threads. They all grew up in towns without a lot of economic opportunities, they all had troubled family backgrounds, and several had children of their own they struggled to support. They all turned to prostitution as a way to make ends meet. And all of their bodies were discovered in the Oak Beach, NY area, a sparsely populated strip of land off the coast of Long Island.
Kolker masterfully interweaves the histories of these five women with suspenseful and frustrating elements of the crime investigation, including questionable detective work and an uncooperative beach town with secrets of its own. Ultimately, this is still a cold case, with speculation about whether all five died at the hands of the same person(s). Kolker also traces the evolution of prostitution, with women now being able to find clients through sites like Craigslist. This Internet business model belies the dangers that still exist in this line of work and has made it all the easier for those in desperate situations to sell themselves. For true crime fans, this is a book to read not only for the unsolved murders but for what it reveals about overlooked pockets of American life today.
Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project is an irresistible, laugh-out-loud funny love story that begs to be read aloud and shared with friends. Don Tillman is a brilliant geneticist whose life is built around logic and order. The story is told from his perspective, and it quickly becomes clear to the reader that Don doesn’t process the world in quite the same way that most of us do. Don decides that he wants to find his perfect mate, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. He designs a questionnaire that he believes will help him weed out unsuitable candidates as efficiently as possible. His criteria are very specific, and he won’t consider a woman who doesn’t meet them. Don begins trying to meet women at parties, on dating websites and on one memorable occasion, at a speed-dating event. He asks the women he meets to complete his survey and return it at their convenience, a request that produces mixed results because of his inability to read social cues.
Don’s best friend Gene sends a woman named Rosie to Don’s office as a joke. Don misunderstands and thinks that she is a wife candidate. Rosie is immediately eliminated because of her obvious incompatibility. She smokes and drinks. She works as a bartender and is chronically tardy. In other words, everything about Rosie is contrary to Don’s requirements. Don eventually agrees to help Rosie search for her biological father, and he soon finds himself spending more time on the Father Project than the Wife Project. As he and Rosie track down the potential candidates and obtain DNA samples to test, he finds himself in some unexpected and amusing circumstances.
Although Don often fails to understand the social subtext of the situation, the reader does not, and Simsion’s use of humor is pitch-perfect. Fans of The Big Bang Theory’s Dr. Sheldon Cooper will love seeing the world through Don’s eyes. The Rosie Project is my favorite book being published this Fall. Don’t miss this charming and hilarious new novel!
Yoshiki Tonogai’s acclaimed manga horror series Judge has made its way to this side of the Pacific. In the first volume, the time-honored story of unrequited love gets a twisted twist. Longtime platonic friends Hiro and Hikari are Christmas shopping together with Hiro’s older brother Atsuya, who is also Hikari’s boyfriend. But Hiro has a crush on Hikari, and when he attempts to derail Hikari and Atsuya’s date, an unexpected tragedy occurs. Two years later, Hiro wakes up chained in an unfamiliar place. He is wracked with guilt over causing the tragic incident, but even more incredulous of his fate.
Tonogai’s art is as integral to Judge as the fascinating story line. Those facing judgment like Hiro are caricatured with giant animal heads that insinuate the deadly sin for which they have received their castigation. The quick pace of the story is mimicked in the line art that is both page-turning and sometimes jarring. Scenes that are meant to put the reader ill at ease are drawn with the same effectiveness as unsteady camerawork in film. How each of the sinners finds his or her judgment is reminiscent of how contestants are culled on reality shows, but with a much more harrowing end. Those who enjoyed the Saw film series will likely find Judge appealing.
New to the library shelves are two memoirs, both written by young and accomplished African-American authors, which reflect on the challenges of growing up black in the United States. MK Asante draws on his experiences as a child and teen in urban Philadelphia in his book Buck. Men We Reaped, by Jesmyn Ward, recounts her family life based mainly in the poor rural South. Each writer, however, portrays the same pain and difficulty of coming of age in communities which are reeling from the dual legacies of racism and the drug culture.
For generations, Ward’s extended family has lived along the Gulf Coast in Mississippi and it is “home” for her no matter where she currently resides. Men We Reaped refers to her brother and four friends, all of whom died within a span of a few years from what Ward originally thinks are disparate causes: drug overdose, suicide, car accident, murder. Instead, as she tells each of their stories she finds the common thread is the desperation of being a young black male living in a region meting out race-based criminal justice, few economic prospects and the attendant breakdown of a once strong family and neighborhood structure. Ward, a 2011 National Book Award winner, is a gifted writer whose graceful style shines throughout her narrative of tragedy.
Asante’s Buck starts at a different place. Asante’s family is well-educated and middle-class. His father is a prominent professor, and he has an older brother whom he adores. By Asante’s teen years, his rebellious brother is incarcerated in Arizona, his parents’ marriage is in tatters and his mother is severely depressed. Asante finds a substitute family on the streets of North Philadelphia and begins a downward spiral. His mother enrolls him in an alternative school, which another student characterizes as “the island of misfit toys,” where Asante thrives. It is here where he determines he wants to write. Laced with quotes from Tupac to Orwell to Asante’s own hip-hop work and including excerpts from his mother’s journal, Buck is edgy, literary and blunt. Asante, a professor at Morgan State University, is also a filmmaker who previews his book here.
Showtime’s pulse-pounding series Homeland, starring Damian Lewis and Claire Danes, is incredibly popular with both audiences and critics. Andrew Kaplan’s new prequel novel Homeland: Carrie’s Run is the perfect thing to tide Homeland’s legion of fans over until the blockbuster show’s third season premieres on September 29.
In 2006, CIA intelligence officer Carrie Mathison’s meeting in Beirut with a new contact code-named Nightingale turns out to be an ambush. Carrie is sent back to Langley when she voices her suspicions that security was compromised. Back in the US, Carrie uncovers what she believes to be a terrorist plot. The stakes are high, and true to form, Carrie risks her career to expose evidence proving that Nightingale is connected to Iraqi Al Qaeda-leader Abu Nazir. Homeland: Carrie’s Run takes readers into the fascinating world of espionage and counterterrorism. The same exciting plot twists and turns that make the show such a hit make this page-turning novel a fast, fun read that will give fans more of Carrie’s backstory.
Homeland has garnered numerous industry awards and nominations, including a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series. There’s still time for viewers new to the show to catch up on all of the action. The first two seasons of Homeland are available on DVD.
Three starlets share very different stories of life during Hollywood’s Golden Age. In Rita Moreno: a Memoir, the actress recalls her childhood move from lush Puerto Rico to gritty New York City where she found her passion for singing and dancing. She made her Broadway debut at 13 and eventually headed to Hollywood where she changed her name and coped with constant typecasting. Moreno shares the details behind her relationships with some of Tinseltown’s heaviest hitters, including Elvis Presley, Howard Hughes, and Marlon Brando. Eventually, Moreno found happiness in marriage and motherhood and she remains one of the few performers, and the only Hispanic, to win two Emmys, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony.
Two years before her death in 1990, Ava Gardner was strapped for cash and didn’t want to part with her jewels so she decided to sell her unvarnished story. She had a change of heart when she felt the conversations exposed her as too vulgar. Her ghost writer Peter Evans unearthed those bawdy recollections and with permission of her estate shares them in Ava Gardner: the Secret Conversations. Readers will savor the particulars of her marriages to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra, as well as her flings with George C. Scott and Howard Hughes (again!). Gardner, one of the great beauties to grace the silver screen, is no-nonsense and her stories are indeed salty, but she is also funny, frank and reflective.
Dolores Hart catapulted to fame when she starred opposite Elvis Presley in her 1957 film debut, Loving You. Nine films, a Broadway appearance, and several television roles later, Hart stunned the world when she turned away from Hollywood and her fiancé, and took the vows of a contemplative Benedictine nun. In The Ear of the Heart: An Actresses’ Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows, Hart and co-author Richard DeNeut, share her insider’s perspectives of such wildly different worlds and her serenity shines through the pages. Check out God is the Bigger Elvis, the Oscar winning short film for more on the remarkable Mother Hart.
Two novels explore the impact sudden death has on loved ones left behind, particularly the wives. Despite the weighty premise, both authors offer portraits of realistic women dealing with grief, coping with untenable situations and finding the courage to begin again.
Georgia Silver-Waltz’s life is turned upside down following her husband’s sudden death. The Widow Waltz by Sally Koslow explores the grief, betrayal, hope and renewal experienced by the newly widowed Georgia and her daughters, Cola and Luey. Georgia and Ben’s marriage was perfect. They lived in a lux apartment in Manhattan and enjoyed a vacation home in the Hamptons. Georgia was happy. And then Ben was gone. And with him went the money. Georgia takes charge of her life, finds a job, starts selling everything, and slowly steps into the dating pool. Cola and Luey are both forced to grow up as each deal with life-changing decisions. Koslow beautifully writes of a changing family dynamic and three women made stronger and brought closer despite their loss.
“It occurs to me that you and your two children have been living with your mother for two whole years, and I’m writing to see if you’d like to be rescued.” Upon receipt of that letter, Libby Moran leaps at the opportunity to turn her life around in The Lost Husband by Katherine Center. The past two years were spent working a dead-end job and living with her narcissistic mother. The move to Aunt Jean’s goat farm means a job, a change of scenery and perhaps a taste of bliss for Libby and her children. Life on Aunt Jean’s goat farm means hard work, but it’s also peaceful and the handsome farm manager is a nice diversion. As Libby slowly sheds her mantle of grief, she realizes that she has created a happy home for her family. This is a heartwarming story of love, family and forgiveness in a country setting complete with quirky small-town characters.
The Ludwig Conspiracy by Oliver Pötzsch is a fascinating voyage through time to the historic death of King Ludwig II. King Ludwig II, also known as the Fairy Tale King, the Swan King or Mad King Ludwig, was the King of Bavaria starting in 1864. His fairy tale castles have inspired many, and one is even the inspiration for the Walt Disney World logo. Ludwig’s death was under extremely suspicious circumstances and, to this day, sparks debates among theorists.
Pötzsch mixes fact with fiction in this novel that, though set in modern day Munich, depicts the final months of the king and unravels a story about what may have happened that led to his downfall and death. Steven Lukas is an antique book seller who stumbles upon a treasure chest containing photos, a lock of hair and, most importantly, the diary of Theodore Marot. Marot is the assistant to the king’s personal physician and friend to the king himself. Marot’s account of Ludwig’s final months is highly sought after, and Lukas finds himself rushing to uncover the diary’s secrets before he meets a fate similar to the king.
This novel is a race against time to discover the truth and rewrite history. The tale will motivate you to do your own research to find out where the fiction ends and the truth begins. If you liked Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series you will not want to miss this stand-alone book by Pötzsch.