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.
Sara Grant’s Half Lives begins on what seems like any other day, but readers quickly discover that the world is never going to be the same. Icie receives a 911 text from her parents, and hurries home to find the family’s bags packed and her parents ready to head to the airport. Working for the government, they have intercepted information about a bioterrorist attack set to happen in the coming days. They plan to fly to Las Vegas to hide in an unused nuclear waste bunker just outside the city. With little time to explain the situation to Icie, the family travels straight to the airport, where they separate to avoid raising suspicions. When Icie arrives in Las Vegas, she can’t find her parents, but follows through on their plans to travel to the bunker, hoping that they’ll meet her there. Along the way, she meets Marissa, Tate and Chaske who join her in the bunker as the effects of the attack begin.
Meanwhile, sometime in the future, a group of people living on a mountain are in the middle of a religious ceremony. This group follows The Great I AM, a religion filled with “Just Sayings,” and its own set of unique rules. They refuse to leave their mountain as they fear the terrorists who destroyed life “out there.” The action begins when a group of outsiders from nearby Vega comes to the mountain and a power struggle ensues.
Grant’s Half Lives switches between Icie’s attempts to survive the end of the world and the post-apocalyptic story on the mountain. Readers will be anxious to find out how these two fast-paced, intense stories work together. This novel is a thrilling read for fans of dystopian novels.
The Earth has been horrifically damaged by the Seven Stages War. Water supplies are contaminated by nuclear waste, vegetation obliterated and mutations of animals and humans roam the wild charred remains of North America. There are 18 colonies of survivors throughout the land who are governed by the United Commonwealth, with the mission of regenerating the Earth and improving the quality of life. Their method for choosing the future leaders of the land is simple, selecting only the very brightest students from each colony, they offer this elite group an opportunity for The Testing. If successful, they go on to University where they will learn skills to continue improving their world. The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau chronicles these challenges as faced by Cia Vale, and her specifically chosen peers.
Cia has always tried her best in school in the hope that she may qualify for The Testing, and a University education just like her father. When she learns she has been picked to go to Tosu City she is overjoyed, although her father’s reaction is much more reserved. He tells her about terrible nightmares of events he thinks may have taken place, but because of the mandatory mind wipe he has never been certain what was real. The only words of advice he can offer are “trust no one.” 120 students have been selected for Testing, yet only 20 will be offered coveted positions at the University, and failure in any of the four stages has severe consequences. Cia quickly learns that more is on the line than her future education, her very life is in danger.
Readers who enjoyed The Hunger Games will not want to miss this debut book from Charbonneau, which is also the first of a trilogy. The Testing requires more than intelligence and instinct to survive, and some of the students will do whatever it takes in improve their odds. Cia’s optimism and altruistic values in the face of the United Commonwealth’s sinister methods are also endangered. Will she ultimately sacrifice her humanity in order to pass The Testing?
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.
There is much to be afraid of in the dark. Michael wakes to screams and discovers that his little brother is not in the Pokémon sleeping bag next to him. He must be sleepwalking again, but there is more than one dark shape moving around their camp, and the screams do not sound human; at least not living humans. Thus begins the nonstop action in The End Games by debut novelist T. Michael Martin, a zombie apocalypse thrill ride with a strong brotherly bond at its center.
On Halloween the world as we know it came to an end. What replaced it was something that 17-year-old Michael calls "The Game." Survivors play by a series of rules laid down from the “Game Master” in order to reach the safe zone. Michael and his 5-year-old brother, Patrick, have now been playing The Game for weeks, battling strange zombie-like monsters called “Bellows,” in hopes of reaching safety and reuniting with their mother. Unfortunately, The Game is starting to change, and there are other players who don't play by the rules.
Yes, there are zombies. Yes, there is thrilling action. Yes, there are evil villains and multiple plot twists and turns. But the heart of this story is the love between the brothers. Michael’s only thoughts are to protect Patrick morning and night, day after day, until the end. Martin gives enough glimpses into the past, before The Game, for the reader to understand the very special and unique relationship between the boys even then. Their struggle to survive is a heart-wrenching one, so keep a tissue handy. Recommended for fans of zombie fiction, action-adventure or stories of unique sibling bonds.
At its heart, Sara Farizan's contemporary coming of age novel If You Could Be Mine is a love story about the romantic relationship between two teenage girls from Iran and the complex decisions they face. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, there are no public displays of affection between the sexes, no Facebook, no women in football stadiums. But for best friends Sahar and Nasrin, it never mattered. They had their stolen kisses and untested promises. They had each other. Since they were small, Sahar never doubted she wanted to marry her best friend, Nasrin.
Unfortunately, relationships like Sahar and Nasrin’s must be kept secret in a country where any one gay is an enemy of the state. So, when 18-year-old Nasrin decides to do what society expects and marry a young male doctor because "he makes sense," Sahar can hardly breathe. She searches for a way they can be together openly. She believes she has found it with sexual reassignment surgery, a legal option in Iran. The problem is that Sahar is not even sure she wants to be a man. "She needs to know this isn't a game. It isn't something you just try on," a transgender acquaintance she meets through her cousin explains.
Farizan, an Iranian American who was born in the U.S., exposes in her simple writing style the absence of choices for young women while weaving in historical perspective. She does not condemn Iranian culture. "I respect a woman's decision to cover up as long as it is the woman's decision," Sahar says. It shows the naïveté, impulsiveness and self-deprecating humor that define youths who are still defining themselves. Mature teens and adults alike will find a tender yet compelling read in this fresh debut.
Welcome back to the hilariously fractured fairy tale realm of Christopher Healy’s Thirteen Kingdoms. A good deal has happened since the adventures encountered in The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom and the four lovable Princes Charming are back for another caper in The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle. When last we left the princes – Gustav, Liam, Duncan and Frederic – our noble heroes had just formed the League of Princes and had finally gained some recognition beyond the Prince Charming moniker. Now disaster once again looms on the horizon, and it’s up to the league to prevent a certain magical jewel from falling into villainous hands.
Despite having set the bar high with Saving Your Kingdom, Healy’s return to the Thirteen Kingdoms is as triumphant an extension of the story started in its predecessor as one could hope. The characters first introduced in Saving Your Kingdom begin to come into their own in this second helping of heroism. While the fast paced, catchy dialogue and imaginative scenarios still evoke plenty of chortles, the real strength of Storming the Castle lies in the progressive character development of the princes and their famed princess counterparts. Not without their flaws, each of these heroes and heroines have obstacles to overcome and a lot to learn about themselves along the way. Their distinctive personalities and developing friendships will leave the reader eager for the next in the series: The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw, coming in spring 2014. Recommended for middle grade readers and above.
Detective Rick Zengo is a rookie working on his first case with a new partner. What starts out as a seemingly simple missing person case turns into a mystery involving organized crime and some high-ranking government officials. Writer Jarrett J. Krosoczka has put together an interesting cast of characters in The Frog Who Croaked, his first offering in the Platypus Police Squad series. Krosoczka is best known for his Lunch Lady graphic novels, and this book is full of his amusing illustrations. Anthropomorphic animals abound in this intriguing story with plenty of humor to appeal to both young and mature readers.
Zengo, who still lives with his parents, is trying to prove himself both to his fellow cops and to his family. He is the grandson of one of the most revered detectives in Platypus Police Squad, so he feels a lot of pressure to do his best. He wants to be taken seriously as a good cop on his own merit, but it takes a hard lesson from his more seasoned partner Corey O’Malley before Zengo can do so. The dynamic between Zengo and O’Malley may remind some readers of many cop show partners including Starsky and Hutch or Friday and Gannon. Krosoczka lays the groundwork in The Frog Who Croaked for more good-natured bickering and interesting adventures with this pair of detecting platypuses.