Sugar is a spunky 10-year-old living on the Wills’ River Road Plantation in Reconstruction Mississippi. She is named after the cane she toils in and despises. Her father was sold when she was a baby, and her mother died two years earlier after years of brutal labor finally took its toll. It is 1870, and while slavery has been abolished for five years, questions and economic concerns remain for these freed men, women and children. Coretta Scott King Honor Winner Jewell Parker Rhodes brings this tenuous time to life in Sugar.
The Beales, fellow sugar workers, have become her surrogate grandparents, and the other workers are protective of Sugar as the only child in their midst, yet barely tolerant of her rambunctious ways. As the community dwindles in number, Mr. Wills, the owner, needs more help and brings laborers in from China which initially concerns Sugar and her friends. But Sugar is quickly intrigued by these men and longs to make new friends from a foreign land outside of River Road.
As Sugar develops friendships with Billy Wills, the owner’s son, and the Chinese workers, she is exposed to worlds far different from her own. Billy lives a life of luxury, but is just a boy looking for adventures and a friend in Sugar. The Chinese men work hard but also share their traditional tales, food and toys. Rhodes deftly describes all of Sugar’s sensory experiences, while offering a realistic portrait of her hard realities and the unique cross-cultural community created for a time on this Mississippi plantation. Sugar is a most appealing and memorable heroine who manages to muster enough courage to step away from the only world she’s ever known in an effort to live her mother’s dying words of: Do. See. Feel.
Eleven-year-old Fin is an orphan placed in the guardianship of his glamorous 24-year-old half sister, Lady. Cathleen Schine’s delightfully urbane comedy of manners, Fin & Lady, is set in 1964 as the unlikely duo becomes a family and moves to a brownstone in Greenwich Village. Fin’s only memory of Lady is from a trip to Capri six years earlier where he traveled with his parents to bring Lady home following her turn as a runaway bride.
Lady is long on charm and personality, but short on peace and quiet. Her days are never quiet (unless she is hung over), and she embraces a wide array of activities such as entertaining lavishly, cheering on the Mets and participating in burgeoning political movements. While she is obsessed with retaining her freedom, she still has a compelling desire to be loved and a traditional need to marry. To that end, she tasks Fin with the job of finding her a husband. Lady’s trio of ardent suitors includes Tyler, the lawyer she left at the altar, Jack, a preppy jock and Fin’s favorite — Biffi, a Hungarian immigrant. Lady keeps them each in her life, but none captures her heart.
As Fin adapts to life in the big city and living with his sometimes ditzy, but always devoted sister, it becomes less clear which of the two siblings is truly taking care of the other. Schine has once again created a humorous and heartwarming story with this tale of a brother and sister struggling with life and love. The identity of the narrator is artfully concealed, and that disclosure puts the finishing touches on the family’s remarkable history. This is a nostalgic coming-of-age story set during a tumultuous time amidst the vivid backdrops of bustling New York City and romantic Capri.
The Week Before the Wedding by Beth Kendrick shares the story of Emily McKellips, whose dreams are all about to come true. Her career is in place, she lives in a beautiful home and she has one week until she marries the man of her dreams. But anything can happen in seven days, especially when Emily’s ex-husband becomes a member of the wedding festivities.
The bride, groom and their families converge on a resort in picturesque Valentine, Vermont, customary locale for weddings in Grant’s traditional family. Emily’s family is a little less apple pie. Her mom has been married multiple times and her former stepsister is a happy-go-lucky free spirit. Both are trying to loosen Emily up and add some spice to the celebrations. Emily’s mother and Grant’s mother are at odds almost immediately, and when Ryan, Emily’s first husband, enters the picture, things go from bad to worse.
Emily and Ryan were passionately in love and married young. But the realities of life got in the way and Emily couldn’t deal with the financial instability. She left Ryan and transformed herself from party girl to career woman. Ryan, now a big-time Hollywood director, claims he is scouting locations for his next horror movie and that his appearance in Valentine is a mere coincidence. Grant’s job calls him away until the wedding day, and Ryan and Emily are thrown together with increasing frequency in the days leading up to the aisle walking. Emily was jittery when she arrived in Valentine and by week’s end her nerves are shot as she finds herself questioning her feelings for Grant and Ryan. Readers will discover seven days is a long time when true love is at stake in this entertaining romantic comedy complete with charming characters and laugh-out-loud moments.
Colin Firth will always be treasured by legions of devoted fans that cherish his portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the BBC miniseries production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. For those who can’t get enough of the fabulous Firth, he is prominently featured in two charming books.
Three women are hoping for a meeting with the man behind Mr. Darcy in Finding Colin Firth by Mia March. The quaint tourist town of Boothbay Harbor, Maine is abuzz with the rumor that Colin Firth is coming to film. Three female residents are each determined to meet the man. Gemma lost her job and left her husband, but becomes convinced that an interview with Colin Firth will put her life back on track. Twenty-two year old Bea just learned that she was adopted as a baby and travels to Maine to spy on her biological mother. That woman, Veronica, is a waitress and local legend known for her healing pies. As their stories unfold in alternating chapters, readers will enjoy the quest for Colin and the dramatic life changes experienced by each of these delightful women.
In Austenland by Shannon Hale, Jane Hayes is single, with a dead end job, and a past littered with hapless boyfriends. Part of the problem is her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by the inimitable Colin Firth. When she is bequeathed at trip to Pembrook Park, a fantasy camp for Austen fans, she jumps at the chance to spend three weeks as a Regency lady. She enjoys the garb and manners, as well as flirtations with both a gentleman and the gardener. Will she finally find a Mr. Darcy of her very own? Readers will be thrilled to know that Jane’s story will soon be on the big screen starring Keri Russell, and that Pembrook Park is the setting for Hale’s follow-up, Midnight in Austenland, featuring another fun and feisty fan of Austen.
Charlie Davis is a political reporter for the Los Angeles Times, but becomes an investigator in search of his wife when she goes missing. Out of Range by Hank Steinberg is an action-packed adventure that leads Charlie and readers to Uzbekistan, the country where Charlie and his wife Julie fell in love. Six years ago, the young couple lived happily in Uzbekistan where he worked as a reporter and they were awaiting the birth of their first child. But tragedy soon struck as they were caught up in a massacre which wounded them both and took the life of their friends’ young son. Following that brush with death, Charlie resolved to keep his family safe. They returned to the security of the States and Charlie began his staid job at the Times.
Fast forward six years and the danger has resurfaced. While on a trip to Disneyland with their two children, Julie is forced from her car and vanishes. Following Julie’s kidnapping, Charlie becomes the police’s primary focus. Since the cops aren’t on the right trail, Charlie is determined to find out who took his wife. While investigating Julie’s days leading up to the disappearance, he finds clues indicating that perhaps Julie wasn’t the happy stay-at-home mom he thought she was. She’s been hiding secrets which now threaten her entire family. All roads lead Charlie back to Uzbekistan, and while attempting to rescue his wife, he must thwart a terrorist plot, outsmart his own kidnappers, and deal with MI6.
This debut thriller is from the creator of the television series Without a Trace. Steinberg illustrates the dangerous world of international espionage in a fast-paced tale that is full of twists and turns with an intriguing cast of characters.
Travel to the Jersey Shore as three childhood friends reunite in All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue. The young women are supposed to be meeting in Vegas for a bachelorette weekend, but when Kate, the bride-to-be, is dumped by her fiancé, the three regroup and head to the familiar comfort of Avalon and its stretches of glorious beaches. Kate, Dani, and Vanessa spent memorable childhood summers together down the shore. While they have remained in touch since graduating from college, the bonds forged during those special seasons have loosened. Each still harbors feelings of loss, guilt, and grief from the fateful night eight years earlier when Kate’s twin brother Colin drowned. Between that tragedy and adult responsibilities, the connection between the three twenty-somethings is not as strong. But what the three don’t know is that each harbors secrets that could impact the others’ lives. And each is at a crossroads in her life.
It turns out that the day Kate got dumped was also the day she found out she was pregnant. Vanessa, the beautiful stay-at-home mom, has been conflicted for months since finding out her husband almost cheated on her. Her anger cannot be quenched and she has been tracking a former flame on the internet. Dani, the free spirit and wannabe writer, has just been fired from another job and is unable to control her alcohol or pill intake. This fast-paced tale features three realistic women facing their pasts and making decisions about their futures. It is a fabulous beach read with an authentic beach town setting. This girls’ weekend is all about forgiveness, with a little flirting thrown in for good measure.
Baltimore is front and center in Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks That Saved the Nation by Steve Vogel. Vogel, a Washington Post military reporter and Pulitzer Prize finalist, focuses on a six week period during the War of 1812 – specifically, the British attacks on Washington and Baltimore.
Vogel’s experience is evident in this fast-paced military account peppered with characters essential to the story. The book opens in the summer of 1814 (two years after America invaded Canada) and the British forces are looking for payback. None is more focused on destroying the upstart nation than Rear Admiral George Cockburn. Cockburn would quickly become America’s chief nemesis with his priority of destroying Washington D.C. He eventually advanced on the nation’s capital and ordered the burning of the city’s public buildings, including the White House and the Capitol. Not content with that successful conflagration, he and his troops turned their attention to Baltimore.
In recounting the remarkable events that led to the last stand in Baltimore, other principals are introduced and their impact duly noted. In addition to the well-known actors in this drama such as James Madison and James Monroe, readers also learn more about Dolley Madison, who rescued so many White House artifacts and Mary Pickersgill, the seamstress responsible for crafting the flag. And a book about the Battle of Baltimore wouldn’t be complete without Francis Scott Key, an innocent prisoner of the British troops and witness to the brutal destruction during the defense of Fort McHenry that inspired him to write "The Star Spangled Banner". This is a colorful presentation of both sides of the story filled with details that complement the narrative of military events. The victory at Baltimore remains a turning point in American history that changed both the outcome of the war and the fate of our fledgling nation.
Two new picture books illustrate the joy of play with the simplest of toys. In Peanut & Fifi Have a Ball by Randall de Seve, Peanut has a new ball and older sister Fifi wants it. Fifi tries to entice Peanut to share with a variety of imaginative games, but Peanut remains uninterested. It is not until Fifi comes up with an irresistible adventure involving a seal and outer space, that Peanut is willing to share. The spare graphic illustrations complement the simplicity of the story while capturing the boldness of Fifi’s imagination. This delightful tale offers a gentle lesson about sharing, sibling interaction, and the power of imagination. Seeing an older sibling not always getting her way is also a welcome twist!
In Ball by Mary Sullivan, readers meet a most expressive and exuberant canine. The day in the life of a dog wanting to play ball is told mainly using panel illustrations with just the title word repeated throughout the story. Upon first waking, the playful pup and his girl start to play ball. But she soon leaves for school, and despite his best efforts, the dog is unable to find any other playmates – not even the cat. His sadness, wistfulness, desperation, and excitement are perfectly depicted in the expressive illustrations. The dog finally dozes off and even then his brain is focused on one thing only. The outlandish dream sequence unfolds in full-page drawings which match the supersized doggy dreams. When the girl’s seemingly interminable school day is over, readers will be almost as thrilled as the dog as they reunite and he can finally play fetch.
Two years ago, sisters Margot and Gwen’s lives were dramatically changed by the departures of their husbands. In The View from Penthouse B, Elinor Lipman shares the story of these sisters whose marital situations were altered by wildly different circumstances. Gwen’s husband Edwin died suddenly but peacefully in his sleep. Despite the best intentions of family and friends, Gwen has not felt the need or desire to start dating. Margot’s husband, Charles, an OB/GYN, might as well have died when he was arrested and jailed for fraud. His crime: providing infertility treatments the old-fashioned way. Margot immediately divorced Charles, but managed to secure a good deal of his money. She bought a beautiful Village penthouse and started living the high life. Then Bernie Madoff happened, and with it came Margot’s reversal of fortune. Younger and bossier sister Betsy took one look at her two floundering sisters and recommended they share the penthouse. This cohabitation would provide companionship and also made good financial sense.
Margot and Gwen are compatible roommates, but their ever-tightening wallets dictate the need for a third roomie. Margot finds Anthony, an unemployed financial analyst, single, gay, and in his twenties. He’s a breath of fresh air in their stagnant lives, and boy does he bake fabulous cupcakes! Gwen finally decides to venture back into the dating scene and places online personal ads. The responses she receives from prospective suitors headline subsequent chapters and are just one example of Lipman’s sharp wit. At the same time, Charles is paroled and moves into an efficiency downstairs for the sole purpose of winning Margot back. The sisters’ lives are finally getting interesting with dates, dinners with Charles, and an introduction to Chaz, the son from his scandalous “treatment.” Lipman creates another comedic and poignant gem with this sister story about love, forgiveness, and renewal in middle age. Once again, Lipman makes it clear why so many have dubbed her our modern Jane Austen.