When a middle school teacher’s best friend dies in a one-car accident, her world begins to fall apart.
Isabel Applebaum Moore and Josie Abrams have been inseparable since Izzy’s first day at Rhodes Avenue Middle School, keeping each other sane through the principal’s inane speeches and the younger teachers’ aggressive perkiness—not to mention the students’ hormonal moods. Josie even married Mark, Izzy’s friend since kindergarten, where they were seated next to each other, “two little alphabetized Jews, dark haired and slightly lost in a forest of Midwestern consonant clusters, all those strapping, blond Schultzes and Metzgers and Hrubys and Przybylskis—strapping even in kindergarten, if memory serves.” What happens following Josie’s death isn’t all that unusual: Isabel starts spending most of her time in her ratty old sweatpants, “which Josie used to call a blend of cotton and self-loathing”; her overwhelming sadness deals the fatal blow to her already rocky marriage to the good-hearted Chris; her 11-year-old daughter, Hannah, who also loved Josie, struggles with her changing family; her mother, Helene, a Holocaust survivor, coaxes her into attending a support group for “relationships in transition,” where she tentatively bonds with a good-looking older man named Cal by cracking jokes—just the way she bonded with Josie at their first staff meeting at Rhodes Avenue. Josie pushes Chris away and tries to pull him closer; she does the same with Cal and even with her old friend Mark. She thinks back on her relationship with Josie and gradually reveals the secrets they shared. What makes the book so special is Isabel’s smart, acerbic voice and her way of seeing everything from a sharp angle. Fox (Friends Like Us, 2012, etc.) studs Izzy's narration with surprising metaphors, turning ordinary domestic items into dangerous beasts (“the herd of wild minivans”) and Josie’s fatal accident into something almost domestic (“Her rusty 11-year-old Toyota skidded off the slick road like a can of soup rolling across a supermarket aisle”). Isabel (and Fox) has such an offbeat way of looking at things that you’ll eagerly keep reading just to see what she’s going to say next.
Read it for the magnetic voice and Fox's ever interesting perspective on work, love, friendship, and parenthood—because, really, what else is there?
In this biography of Robert Bunch, the British consul in Charleston, South Carolina, at the beginning of the Civil War, Daily Beast foreign editor Dickey (Securing the City: Inside America's Best Counterterror Force—The NYPD, 2010, etc.) illustrates how an outside observer can understand more about a situation than the parties involved.
The years leading up to the war were vitally important for the British to understand the feelings and actions of that hotbed of secession and slavery. The British and Americans banned the slave trade in 1807, but the Americans added a proviso of a 20-year delay. Bunch’s great talent was in convincing Charlestonians to see him as being on a friendly mission. They revealed their plots, plans, and hopes to him, which he used to compose invaluable dispatches to Britain’s virulently anti-slavery government. The author thoroughly understands the point of view of the South regarding the slave trade. Cotton was king, and England was its largest customer. While the production had grown 3,000 percent, the slave population increased only by 150 percent. As new states entered the Union, hopefully as slave states, even more workers would be needed for the labor-intensive industry. Virginia and Maryland, states where cotton had depleted the soil, now bred and sold slaves to the new markets, and some argued that the price of long-standing slaves had grown so much that new “stock” would devalue them. Dickey’s comprehension of the mindset of the area, coupled with the enlightening missives from Bunch, provides a rich background to understanding the time period. Bunch’s work in Charleston helped guide Britain’s decisions regarding the cotton-export ban, the blockade, and whether to recognize the Confederacy.
A great book explaining the workings of what Dickey calls an erratic, cobbled-together coalition of ferociously independent states. It should be in the library of any student of diplomacy, as well as Civil War buffs.
Booze, drugs, porn, snuff videos, chat rooms, pedophiles: what one British 15-year-old did over spring break.
Published in England in 2013, Lolito is the fifth novel from 23-year-old prodigy Brooks (Grow Up, 2012, etc.). It's the story of Etgar Allison, who's been left home with the dog over Easter by his parents and his girlfriend, Alice. "I climb back into bed and turn on my computer. I meet Alice. We say hellos....She says they've been sunbathing and swimming. I say that sounds great. We watch a video of two men being killed. The men are members of a drug cartel." One is beheaded with a chain saw, the other is killed with a bowie knife. "That one was good," says Alice, but then she has to go to dinner. Etgar and Alice have been together for three years. They make blanket castles and watch Parks and Recreation and Judd Apatow movies; they rub in each other's acne medication. When that gets boring, they try stuff they've seen on the Internet, like golden showers and fisting. They've been through two abortions and Alice's mother's death; they took ketamine at the funeral. When Etgar learns that Alice has cheated on him with another boy at a party, his adolescent heart is utterly broken. Drinking for days, he ends up in a chat room where he meets a 46-year-old teacher named Macy, eventually arranging to see her at a hotel in London. While not wholesome or romantic, this relationship is portrayed with a certain tenderness. As are Etgar's parents, who come home and help their son get back to normal. You know, normal. "I stare at my feet. I watch a video of a severely disabled person covering a Katy Perry song. I run a bath."
A shocking, funny, touching book; a young writer with potential to burn.
Claire’s parents are keeping secrets that could kill her.
Sixteen-year-old Claire Takata is a spirited, inquisitive amateur locksmith and sleuth. Claire and her brothers have always believed their father died of a heart attack 10 years ago and that their mother met their stepdad after he died. But when Claire finds an old letter in her father’s journal and pictures locked away in her stepdad’s desk that reveal otherwise, she is determined to find out the truth. Why have her mom and stepdad lied to her? Why does her mom never want to talk about her father? And what really happened to him? Through letters Claire has written to him over the decade since his death, Claire’s father has served as her confidant, an outlet for her grief, frustrations, and longings. The author also makes smart use of these letters, interspersing them between chapters to deliver important back story. Claire’s grief and sense of loss are compounded when she eventually discovers that her father had been a member of the yakuza, transnational Japanese organized crime syndicates—and then her sleuthing attracts the attention of someone tied to her father's past....The romantic tension between Claire and her best friend, Forrest, plays out authentically in a subplot, and the novel’s twists and turns will keep readers riveted and guessing even after they finish the book.
This fantastic debut packs a highly suspenseful blend of action, intrigue, and teen romance.
(Thriller. 12 & up)
Kwan (Crazy Rich Asians,2013) returns with an equally good-natured, catty-as-hell sequel to his bestselling roman à clef about China’s new and old money dynasties.
For those not cued in, Kwan’s tone is breakneck and utterly disarming—part Oscar Wilde, part Judith Krantz, part Arthur Frommer—as he reintroduces his jet-setting ensemble of socialites and social climbers. They include: Nick and Rachel (star-crossed Asian-American lovers who are searching for her father while avoiding his meddlesome Singaporean mom); Mrs. Bernard Tai (aka Kitty Pong, former mainland soap-opera star, who must temper her nouveau urges if she hopes to impress members of Hong Kong’s exclusive dining clubs); Astrid Leong (married “beneath” her rank, wears off-the-rack dresses that, on her, pass for designer; her jewelry and class are the real deal, however); plus a circle of spoiled-rich 20-somethings who think they’re re-enacting TheFast and Furious. Whenever a character drops a salty Hokkien, Cantonese, or Mandarin phrase or an unfamiliar reference, Kwan translates in a wry footnote (a device he used to great effect in his previous book). Occasionally the sendups of squillionaire excess fall a little flat: “Look—it’s a koi pond,” gasps Rachel as she absorbs the décor of her Shanghai host’s private jet. “God, you scared me. For a moment I thought something was wrong,” answers her fiance, Nick, who stands to inherit one of China’s great fortunes but prefers teaching undergrads at NYU. “You don’t think anything’s wrong?” Rachel presses. No wonder Nick’s mom, the not-to-be-bested Eleanor Young, tries her utmost to topple their engagement! (Until she stumbles onto the true identity of Rachel’s birth father—and is now using it to reel her son home to face up to his privileged heritage, with unanticipated results.) Most hilarious when he’s parodying uber-rich Chinese aunties who’d “rather camp out six to a room or sleep on the floor than spend money on hotels” and professional image consultants who help clients “take [their] most embarrassing biographical details and turn them into assets,” Kwan keeps more than a few plot resolutions in the air but delivers at least one priceless declaration of love: “The bathroom [renovation] is fully funded….Now please pick out a dress.”
Over-the-top and hard to stop. A third installment is promised.
Twenty-four years after a traumatic disappearance tore a Georgia family apart, Slaughter’s scorching stand-alone picks them up and shreds them all over again.
The Carrolls have never been the same since 19-year-old Julia vanished. After years of fruitlessly pestering the police, her veterinarian father, Sam, killed himself; her librarian mother, Helen, still keeps the girl's bedroom untouched, just in case. Julia’s sisters have been equally scarred. Lydia Delgado has sold herself for drugs countless times, though she’s been clean for years now; Claire Scott has just been paroled after knee-capping her tennis partner for a thoughtless remark. The evening that Claire’s ankle bracelet comes off, her architect husband, Paul, is callously murdered before her eyes and, without a moment's letup, she stumbles on a mountainous cache of snuff porn. Paul’s business partner, Adam Quinn, demands information from Claire and threatens her with dire consequences if she doesn’t deliver. The Dunwoody police prove as ineffectual as ever. FBI agent Fred Nolan is more suavely menacing than helpful. So Lydia and Claire, who’ve grown so far apart that they’re virtual strangers, are unwillingly thrown back on each other for help. Once she’s plunged you into this maelstrom, Slaughter shreds your own nerves along with those of the sisters, not simply by a parade of gruesome revelations—though she supplies them in abundance—but by peeling back layer after layer from beloved family members Claire and Lydia thought they knew. The results are harrowing.
Slaughter (Cop Town, 2014, etc.) is so uncompromising in following her blood trails to the darkest places imaginable that she makes most of her high-wire competition look pallid, formulaic, or just plain fake.
A razor-sharp memoir that reveals the woman behind the wine glass.
Addiction’s death grip and the addict’s struggle to escape it is an old story, but in Salon personal essays editor Hepola’s hands, it’s modern, raw, and painfully real—and even hilarious. As much as readers will cry over the author’s boozy misadventures—bruising falls down marble staircases, grim encounters with strangers in hotel rooms, entire evenings’ escapades missing from memory—they will laugh as Hepola laughs at herself, at the wrongheaded logic of the active alcoholic who rationalizes it all as an excuse for one more drink. This is a drinking memoir, yes, and fans of Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story (1996) will recognize similar themes, but Hepola moves beyond the analysis of her addiction, making this the story of every woman’s fight to be seen for who she really is. Generation X women, in particular, will recognize an adolescence spent puzzling over the rash of parental divorces and counting calories as a way to stay in control of a changing world. Hepola strews pop-culture guideposts throughout, so any woman who remembers both Tiger Beat magazine and the beginning of the war on drugs will find herself right at home. It was an age when girls understood that they weren’t destined to be housewives but were not so clear on the alternatives, and it’s no wonder the pressure led many to seek the distance that drinking promised. Promises, of course, can lead to all sorts of trouble, and Hepola tells the naked truth of just how much trouble she got into and how difficult it was to pull herself out. Her honesty, and her ultimate success, will inspire anyone who knows a change is needed but thinks it may be impossible.
A treasure trove of hard truths mined from a life soaked in booze.
A biracial girl brought up by her black grandparents sets off on a quest to find her long-lost Jewish father in Ross’ brilliant and biting satire.
Helen "Honeychile" Clark and Samuel Schwartz met, married (over the mutual disapproval of their parents), and divorced before their daughter Oreo’s second birthday. With Helen, a pianist, away on perpetual tour and Samuel generally absent, Oreo (real name: Christine) and her brother, Jimmie C. (real name: Moishe), are raised by their maternal grandparents in Philadelphia. But while Oreo’s father has disappeared almost entirely from his daughter’s life (“he’s a schmuck,” Helen explains, when Oreo asks), he’s left behind one thing: a note, delivered to Helen and intended for the future Christine. When she “is old enough to decipher the clues written on this piece of paper,” he says, “send her to me and I will reveal to her the secret of her birth.” And so, after a precocious childhood, during which she's steeped in language—Yiddish from her grandfather (a committed anti-Semite, his business is selling outrageously overpriced mail-order schlock to Jews); English from her tutor, a “renowned linguist and blood donor”; and “Louise-ese,” the distinct dialect of her grandmother, to name a few—Oreo leaves home, lunch packed, to embark upon her mission: find her father, learn the secret. Transforming the myth of Theseus and the Labyrinth into a feminist picaresque, Ross sends Oreo into the heart of New York City, where, in a series of absurd, unsettling, and hilarious encounters—no one is safe from Ross’ razor-sharp deconstruction—she inches ever closer to her own origin story. Oreo’s identity is always in flux, as she performs various personas to suit her situations, switching between registers with superhuman skill. First published in 1974 and now reissued in paperback, Ross’ novel, with its Joycean language games and keen social critique, is as playful as it is profound.
A fiercely realized teen uses astrological skills to solve a heartbreaking mystery.
Joanne Crowe, an astrologer so accurate and empathetic that clients became obsessed with her, knew her days were numbered. She’d always insisted on the truth of her impending “eventuality” to her daughter, Avicenna, but when Joanne goes missing, it’s still a shock. As Avicenna embraces her own ability to read destinies in the stars and planets to unravel the mystery of her beloved mother’s disappearance, her skills introduce her to both unlikely allies and revolting, violent foes across Melbourne’s most luxurious and down-at-the-heels neighborhoods. Avicenna is a revelation: prickly and brilliant—she’s the first student in years to ace the entrance exam at a highly competitive magnet high school—she pursues the truth doggedly even as the likelihood of her mother’s death forces her to re-experience the physical and emotional trauma of the fire that took her father’s life 10 years prior. Lim throws class differences into high relief and highlights the casual, cruel racism multiracial people still face in modern Australia. Her taut, assured thriller weaves together astrology and mythology, poetry and poverty, and several generations of mothers whose love can’t protect their children from humanity’s ugliest tendencies.
Teen and adult readers who like their mysteries gritty and literary, with a touch of magic: seek this one out.
(Mystery. 15 & up)