National Book Award-finalist Sara Zarr is known for her spot-on portrayals of contemporary American teens. In The Lucy Variations, Zarr once again writes teen characters with pitch-perfect voices and concerns. While in her previous work she dealt mostly with middle-class families, this novel is a bit of a departure, looking at the rarefied world of a family of classical music prodigies. As a child and young teen, Lucy was a top concert pianist who was known among this elite group of musicians. But suddenly everything changed, and Lucy stopped playing altogether. Now, will her younger brother Augustus (“Gus”), a pianist prodigy himself, take up the family mantle?
Zarr is a master of plotting and examining family dynamics. Lucy’s grandfather, the patriarch of this musical family, shows utter disappointment and disbelief that his granddaughter with so much promise throws it all away when faced with adversity. Meanwhile, Lucy’s father has to recalibrate his life after having been her de facto manager for so many years. And Lucy and Gus have a supportive, intelligent sibling relationship, a nice change from the often-adversarial portrayal of siblings in books for teens.
Glamorous whirlwind tours of European concert halls, backstage intrigue and grand parties contrast with Lucy's desire to simply be a normal teen. Her friendship with down-to-earth Reyna provides grounding. The possibility of reclaiming her former glory comes in the appearance of Gus’ new piano teacher, who encourages Lucy to sit behind the keys again. Readers will be drawn in to the often unfamiliar world of a teen whose love of classical music is lost and regained.
For most Jewish boys, the event they must prepare for is the Bar Mitzvah at age 13. For 12-year-old Yanek Gruener, his greatest concern is where his next meal is coming from and whether he will live to see another day. In Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz, young Yanek’s life is forever changed when the Nazis invade Krakow, Poland, and force him and his family to live in a ghetto. They face incredible deprivations and the constant threat of deportation to concentration camps, or being shot for no reason. It is a harrowing existence that stretches Yanek to the limits of human endurance as he plays a cat and mouse game of survival with the Nazis.
Based on the true story of Holocaust survivor Jack Gruener, Prisoner B-3087 relates in graphic detail the horrors that Yanek witnesses as he is sent from the ghetto in Krakow to work in such concentration camps as Birkenau, Auschwitz, and Dachau, and even the salt mine at Wieliczka. His family disappears one day when he is coming home from his work detail, and Yanek never hears from them again. Separated from all those he loves, Yanek spends nearly nine years as a captive trying to make sense of why the Nazis treated the Jews and the other ‘undesirables’ (ex., Gypsies, homosexuals) with such unthinkable cruelty. While Yanek’s story is a powerful one, this frank depiction of life in the ghetto and concentration camps may be disturbing to younger or sensitive readers.
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.
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.