In April 1940, John Henry Montagu Manners, the ninth Duke of Rutland, spent his final days working in the small rooms in the servants’ quarters of Belvoir Castle, where his family’s archives were housed. Although he spent most of his life carefully preserving his family’s history, the duke spent the end of his life expunging the family records of three specific time periods from his life. After his death, the duke’s son and heir, Charles, ordered the archive rooms sealed. The rooms and their contents remained untouched until they were reopened in 1999. Historian Catherine Bailey brings this story to light in her captivating new book The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess and a Family Secret.
While Bailey was researching a book on World War I, she came across some curious gaps in the family’s archives and began to question what was missing. Why would someone have removed those specific sections from the family’s otherwise meticulous records? She worked steadfastly, researching and piecing together the scandalous family secrets that John Manners worked so hard to hide. In this case, the truth sounds like the plot of an epic BBC miniseries, and the answers she finds are more dramatic than most fiction. The Secret Rooms is part Downton Abbey, part Gothic mystery and entirely irresistible. This story is narrative nonfiction at its best.
Are some people just born evil? In Sophie Jordan’s Uninvited, the answer is yes. In the not too distant future, advancements in genetic research will enable scientists to preemptively identify violent offenders with a simple blood test for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome. People identified with what gets nicknamed “the kill gene” are then segregated from the rest of the population for everyone’s safety. The public is warned to treat these carriers with extreme caution due to their vicious, unpredictable nature.
Davy Hamilton is the girl everyone envies. She is pretty, popular, has an amazing boyfriend and her gift of music has secured a place for her at Juilliard once she completes her senior year at her exclusive prep school. However, her life and dreams are shattered when she tests positive for HTS. Labeled with the genetic predisposition to kill, Davy watches as all vestiges of her near-perfect life disintegrate. Davy is uninvited to attend her current high school, abandoned by her friends and feared even by her own family. Uninvited chronicles the tragic transformation the HTS label inflicts upon her life and Davy’s fight to survive her new reality.
Treated as the cruel killer society knows she will become, Davy is assigned a new school that has a special class just for HTS carriers. Secured in a room in the basement of the school, with a floor-to-ceiling chain-link fence separating the teacher from the students, she first encounters her new peers. Whereas Davy could never imagine inflicting pain on another, this is not the case for her new classmates. An intimidating and fierce boy advises her of the need to make allies for protection in her new violent world. Conversely, she is shocked when another carrier, a boy branded with an H for violent behavior, intervenes on her behalf when she is cornered by a lecherous teacher.
The question of how the killer gene label alters the environment for the carriers is thought-provoking and profound. While some characters are clearly sociopathic, how society treats the apparently nonaggressive carriers pushes them in the violent direction just to survive. This is an exceptionally well-written story, and accompanying Davy on this journey of self-discovery is as fascinating as it is frightening.
Be careful what you wish for: a reminder that sometimes wishes are fulfilled in a way not quite anticipated. The desire to turn back the clock or proffer up a desperate bargain in order to keep a loved one with us is universal. Two new novels, The Returned by Jason Mott and Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield, explore the consequences of cheating death and getting a second chance.
Lucille and Harold Hargrave are watching a riveting television news story reporting what seems to be an ongoing resurrection of the dead. A knock on the elderly couple’s door reveals a federal agent holding hands with a boy who calls Harold “Daddy.” The child is their eight year old son Jacob who drowned 50 years prior. The Returned explores not only the Hargraves’ reactions to the reappearance of their child, but also the complex societal and governmental responses to this unimaginable and unexplainable global phenomenon. Mott hit the author jackpot with this debut novel. In addition to climbing up The New York Times Best Sellers list, ABC developed the story into a television series entitled Resurrection, which is set to premiere in March.
In Bellman & Black, handsome Will Bellman is viewed as blessed. He’s inherited the family fabric-making factory where he’s introduced the principles and technology of the Industrial Revolution to great success. He adores his wife and young children and is a beneficent country gentleman. A man in black dogs Bellman, however, appearing at the funerals of his friends and family. When a diphtheria-like illness plagues Bellman’s village and takes the lives of his family, Bellman cuts a deal to save the life of his remaining child, Dora. Who is this man in black? Is it wrong to profit from death? Setterfield, who also wrote the popular ghostly story The Thirteenth Tale, delivers another atmospheric story that looks at the price one pays for a deal with the devil.
Scooby-Dooby-Doo! Now young readers can join the gang and help them solve mysteries in the new series You Choose, Scooby-Doo! by multiple authors. With 10 or more possible endings in each book, the reader can help Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy and Scooby solve The Mystery of the Maze Monster, The Secret of the Sea Creature, The Terror of the Bigfoot Beast and The Case of the Cheese Thief. Only one path takes the reader to the mastermind behind it all, but each story is suspenseful and fun – perfect for the new chapter reader. Bonus material includes a glossary and a “You Choose the Punchline” page of jokes.
For fans of the American Girl doll franchise, find your “inner star” with the Innerstar University series of books. The reader joins the girls at boarding school and chooses how to deal with “tweenage” issues. Do you stand up to the bully? Do you stick with your friends? What do you do when you are scared? Encouraging the reader to make tough realistic choices, Innerstar University makes the reader the star of the book. With at least 20 different endings in each book, the reader can choose which way to take the story. The latest in the series, Second Chances, forces the reader to make choices about how to deal with a difficult friend. For a more interactive experience, one path will lead the reader to the Innerstar University website for the conclusion, as well as some additional games and activities.
Emma has always been a good girl—her overprotective father has controlled her every waking moment since her mother overdosed when she was young. After her mother’s death, Emma and her dad moved all over Canada and the United States, never staying very long in one place. Upon arriving in Los Angeles at the start of Ann Redisch Stampler’s new teen novel, Afterparty, Emma quickly finds a new friend in Siobhan. As the two become closer, Emma the Good takes a back seat and Totally Bad Emma takes over.
When Emma starts at the snobby Latimer school she is immediately made fun of by her rich classmates for wearing vintage clothes and not being rich enough to have her own horse. Siobhan rescues her and the two become best friends, and suddenly the opinions of her classmates matter less to Emma, with the exception of Dylan, her new crush. Emma and Siobhan spend hours together drinking, shopping and partying. Siobhan even makes a list of wild things Emma must do in order to stop being Emma the Good. Meanwhile, Emma has to lie to her father at every turn, sneaking out of her window to go out with Siobhan at night. As she becomes less recognizable as Emma the Good, she realizes her friendship with Siobhan might not be as healthy as she once thought.
Afterparty is a book full of scandal, backstabbing and partying, perfect for older teens who are fans of Cecily von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl series or Lauren Conrad’s L.A. Candy novels. Stampler has written a book full of drama that will keep readers interested until the very last page, determined to find out how bad Emma becomes.
In Last of the Blue and Gray: Old Men, Stolen Glory and the Mystery that Outlived the Civil War, Richard Serrano tells the story of the last two survivors of the Civil War. It’s the 1950s and both men are in their 100s, still holding on to life and their past glory. One is a former drummer boy for the Union now living in Duluth, Minnesota and the other lives in Texas, having served with General Hood’s Brigade fighting for the South. They’ve both been alive for various Civil War reunions and each hopes to make it to the upcoming Centennial Celebration set to begin in 1961. However, one of them never served for the United States in any conflict and was a mere boy of 5 years old when the Civil War began. Which one really deserves the accolades, including a federal pension, and which is an imposter?
Serrano’s book is full of details about these men and others who claimed to be former Civil War veterans. What is compelling about this narrative is that many records from the Civil War, particularly those of the South, were lost or destroyed over the years. Some men even served and were discharged without official papers. With painstaking research into the records and archives that do remain, including the 1860 U.S. Census, Serrano is able to write an accurate story of the various frauds who tried to claim the glory that was never due to them.
As Serrano posits, the reasons for their deceptions included poverty (many new pension claims from Civil War vets occurred during the Great Depression), a need for fame and an inability to distinguish fact from fiction. Some of these men had been telling their stories for so long that they began to believe they were true. Serrano points out that even the most well-intentioned fraud detracts from the countless number of men who served during the Civil War and never got their due.
Baltimore author Laura Lippman is a favorite of many BCPL readers. Her new stand-alone novel, After I’m Gone, brings together past and present in a suspenseful, character-driven story about the family of a fugitive living their lives in the wake of scandal. On July 4, 1976, Felix Brewer flees from Baltimore rather than face a jail sentence. He leaves behind his wife, Bambi, his three young daughters and his mistress, Julie. In 2012, Roberto “Sandy” Sanchez, a consultant for the Baltimore Police Department, reopens the cold case file of the murder of Felix’s mistress, Julie. Lippman skillfully weaves the threads of what happens to each of the women in Felix’s life with Sandy’s investigation to bring the reader to the unexpected conclusion.
Lippman recently answered some questions for our Between the Covers readers. She tells us more about the inspiration for this story and a new movie adaptation of one of her novels.
Your husband, David Simon, originally suggested that you write about Julius Salsbury, head of a large gambling operation in Baltimore who disappeared in the 1970s rather than face jail time, but you weren’t initially interested in that story. What changed?
I am pretty resistant to other people’s ideas. It’s a personal thing, writing a novel. It’s a year out of my life. And perhaps I wasn’t listening as closely as I should have because David probably did emphasize that he thought the novel would be about the women affected. But it was when I started thinking about the daughters, saw a story beyond a love triangle, that I saw how I could do it.
Felix’s disappearance frames the story, but it’s quickly apparent that the novel isn’t really about him. It’s about those left behind. What is it about these five women that captured your imagination?
We define ourselves by our relationships. We are wives, girlfriends, daughters, sisters. What if one of those relationships is taken away? Who are we then? How do we adjust? The same would be true of men, by the way. Sandy, the retired cop in the novel, very much identifies himself as a widower, as someone who was married and is now alone, unhappily so.
What kind of research did you do for After I’m Gone?
I mainly tried to make sure the pop culture lined up. I remember being very disappointed to find out that Michelle’s bat mitzvah was just ahead of the introduction of the bubble skirt. I wanted all the Brewer women to be in fashion-forward bubble skirts.
Sandy meets Tess Monaghan near the end of the story, and the two of them talk business. Will readers see Sandy again in the future?
The movie adaptation of Every Secret Thing, starring Diane Lane, Elizabeth Banks and Dakota Fanning, is in post-production. What was it like to see that story come to life on film? When will the movie be released?
The film has been accepted by a major film festival, but that’s not official yet. The hope is it will find national distribution there. The whole experience was wonderfully surreal. It was as if the games I played with my Barbie dolls, all those years ago, had come to life.
Are there any authors on your personal must-read list? What have you read recently that you loved?
My must-read list includes Megan Abbott, Alex Marwood, Alison Gaylin, Rebecca Chance, Ann Hood, Stewart O’Nan, Tom Perrotta, Dennis Lehane, Georgoe Pelecanos, Mark Billingham, Andre Dubus III, Alafair Burke – shall I go on?
I also just had the privilege of guest-editing Best American Mystery Stories , so I’ve been reading amazing short stories – but I can’t say by whom.
Harlem in the early 20th century was home to some of the most successful African-Americans in the country. In Sugar Hill: Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood, Carole Boston Weatherford (born and raised in Baltimore!) takes readers inside a remarkable part of Harlem and introduces its famous residents. Weatherford’s energetic rhymes are perfect for reading aloud and R. Gregory Christie’s bold illustrations capture the excitement of this dynamic community. Single lines of text encapsulate the contributions of the men and women who contributed so much in such an array of fields. Artists, musicians, entertainers, civil rights leaders and lawyers are all represented, including Faith Ringgold, Miles Davis, W.E.B. DuBois and Thurgood Marshall. Biographical blurbs offer further information, but this is really a tribute to an influential community that cherished its artists, dreamers and leaders.
Kristy Dempsey imagines the life of one young Harlem resident in A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream. This lyrical tale told in powerful free verse is narrated by a young girl growing up in 1950s Harlem. Her mother works tirelessly as a seamstress at the Metropolitan Opera House, and while waiting for her to finish up, the narrator dances in the wings. She attracts the attention of the Ballet Master, who invites her to join his class. But this lively little girl still wonders, “Could a colored girl like me / ever become / a prima ballerina?" When she attends the debut performance of Janet Collins, the first African-American prima ballerina, at the Met on November 13, 1951 the young girl realizes her dream can come true. Coretta Scott King Award-winning illustrator Floyd Cooper sumptuously illustrates this story of hope and inspiration and vividly brings to life one young Harlem girl.
Jill Shalvis returns to her bestselling Lucky Harbor series with her new novel Once in a Lifetime. Lucky Harbor fans know that Aubrey Wellington is trouble, but she has decided to give herself a life makeover. She makes a list of wrongs she has committed and sets out to make amends. Ben McDaniel has had no interest in love since he was widowed, but he finds he can’t ignore the electricity between him and Aubrey. As they grow closer, Aubrey worries that one secret item on her list may push him away forever.
Shalvis’s sexy, laugh-out-loud funny romances have made her a star in the contemporary romance genre. The author recently answered some questions about love, life and her new novel.
Between the Covers: What scene did you have the most fun writing?
Jill Shalvis: Oh I have quite a few from this book! When Aubrey throws her drink in Ben’s face, when she runs and hides out in an AA meeting and makes friends with the pastor, when Ben figures out she’s writing a list of people she’s wronged and he wonders that it’s not a lot longer than it is, when Aubrey gets a little tipsy and throws rocks at Ben’s window like a scene right out of the Say Anything movie …
BTC: Describe Aubrey a sentence
JS: Aubrey: her heart’s in the right spot but she doesn’t like to lead with it, if that makes any sense.
BTC: Aubrey inherits a cat named Gus, who has quite the personality—was he inspired by a real life cat?
JS: He was inspired by my own Satan—er, Sadie, who believes she is the queen of all humans.
BTC: Aubrey has some scandalous photos from her college days surface in her ex’s tell-all. Is there are anything from your past you wouldn’t want to see the light of day (but that you’re willing to share with us)?
JS: Alpha Man [Jill’s husband] has a photo on his phone that he snapped just as I was flipping him off. I’m not super proud of that moment, which of course is why he has it as my photo id when I call him…
BTC: What can your fans look forward to next in the Lucky Harbor series?
JS: Next up is a Lucky Harbor trilogy for this coming summer and fall, It’s in His Kiss, He’s So Fine, and Once in a Million, the stories of the three sexy hot guys who run Lucky Harbor Charters.
Alice LaPlante’s latest novel, A Circle of Wives, tells a story of lies, secrets and determination from the perspective of several different women. When Dr. Paul Taylor is discovered dead in his hotel room from an apparent heart attack, everything changes as it becomes clear his death was anything but natural. Married to his wife Deborah for 35 years, Dr. Taylor was a kind-hearted and renowned plastic surgeon who specialized in facial reconstruction for children with birth and medical defects. But his death opens a veritable Pandora’s Box of polygamy and deception when it's revealed that Dr. Taylor had not one, but three wives throughout the state of California.
Detective Samantha Adams is 28 and assigned to her first murder case. She becomes embroiled in the lives of Dr. Taylor’s wives and, while the motive to kill is clear, the question remains as to which wife it could be. They are very different women: the society wife, the hippy accountant and the successful doctor. Two were unaware of their deceased husband’s lies and his “real” wife emerges as the puppet master behind the whole arrangement. Could this make her the most likely suspect?
While LaPlante’s novel initially seems to be a clear cut murder mystery, it quickly evolves into an entirely different story full of psychological suspense, obsession and passion.