First Author, First Book | United for Libraries, ALA 2014

Alsaid, Adi. Let’s Get Lost. Harlequin Teen. Jul. 2014. ISBN 97800373211241. 352p. $17.99. YA FICTION
In Adi Alsaid’s vastly entertaining first novel, Leila’s on a road trip in her bright red car, adialsaidostensibly to see the Northern Lights but actually to lose herself in the unfamiliar; she needs to get her life back for a reason that will surprise you. Along the way, she helps Hudson understand what he really wants, runaway Bree reunite with family, Eliot negotiate a broken heart and a crazy prom, and Sonia understand that after her boyfriend’s death she can love again. And she enters into some wild adventures, like crossing the Canadian border in the trunk of Stoner Timmy’s car. Leila is a bottomless well of kindness, as one character says, and the connective tissue binding together the book’s various stories, each containing a grainy problem that can be appreciated by YA and adult reader alike. As those problems are acknowledged and then ease themselves out, the book delivers a refreshing sense of joy. And Leila learns that finally it’s time to go home.

Elkins, Kimberley. What Is Invisible. Twelve. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781455528967. $25. LITERARY/HISTORICAL FICTION
Imagine losing all your senses but touch, owing to a case of scarlet fever at an early age. That’s what happened to the real-life Laura Bridgman, the first deaf and blind person to learn language, well before Helen Keller. As an older woman, Laura actually met rambunctious young Helen, as shown in Kimberley Elkins’s acute, luminous fictional biography, and we can forgive Laura’s slight asperity on the occasion; she’d been world famous for some time, even meeting an eager Charles Dickens when she was an imperious teenager. In chapters alternating between Laura’s intense interior life and the lives of those around her, we see Laura grow up, emerging as a rounded, fully fleshed, and perhaps sometimes difficult character full of longing; she feels raw jealousy, for instance, when her beloved doctor at the Perkins Institutes in Boston visibledecides to marry. National Magazine Award finalist Elkins delivers an authentic sense of Laura in all her muddy glory, and you’ll leave the book knowing that you’ve just visited with someone extraordinary.

Goodman, Oscar. Being Oscar: From Mob Lawyer to Mayor of Las Vegas—Only in America. Weinstein. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781602861886. $26. pap. ISBN 9781602862333. $16. MEMOIR
Just read that subtitle—From Mob Lawyer to Mayor of Las Vegas; Only in America—and you’re bound to think, “This is going to be a colorful book.” And it is a colorful book, as colorful as Oscar himself, the Haverford grad, son of a lawyer in the district attorney’s office in Philadelphia, who opted to launch his career in a city where he felt he could make his mark—as indeed he has. But if Oscar owns up to loving to drink and to gamble, and if he gives you an entertaining account of how he became a mob lawyer, and if after three terms in office he is now the official spokesperson for Sin City and the namesake for the restaurant Oscar’s Beef, Booze & Broads, he also offers an illuminating and indeed sobering account of bedrock values. (Okay, i: bad word choice in Las Vegas.) Certainly, his book is infused with a passionate regard for the U.S. Constitution, for the practice of criminal law, for upholding his clients’ right in the face of FBI bulldozing, for the city’s live-and-let-live attitude about all kinds of people, and especially for his family. (Hey, his wife is mayor now!) All we can say is, if this is how to sin in Sin City, bring it on, Oscar!

McGinty,Jim. Right To Kill: A Brooklyn Tale. iUniverse. 2012. 242p. ISBN 978-1-47595-955-0. pap. $16.95. POPULAR FICTION
In the “Author’s Comments” at the beginning of the book, Jim McGinty says it best about his first novel, Right To Kill: A Brooklyn Tale: “The primary purpose of this novel is to entertain. It’s also meant to help better understand the late Sixties, perhaps laugh a little, maybe cry, and hopefully gain a new perspective about those who lived through these tough times.” And entertain it does, as it moves from the lovingly and exactingly evoked blue-class neighborhood of Gravesend, Brooklyn, to marine officer training and the battlefields of Vietnam as law student Sean Cercone leaves behind his studies to do what he thinks is right. And whether you’re someone for whom Vietnam remains a touchstone, even if you did not serve, as our author did, or young enough that Vietnam is history, the book does offer a fresh perspective. Sean effectively articulate his reasons for serving, even if he’s leaving behind a girl he’s just met before entering training; there’s a terrible murder back home that Sean seeks to avenge, and he does learn to heal. Throughout, we have a character challenging us, even as we question him, as he makes hard moral choices on the very edge.

Thomas, Will. Fatal Enquiry: A Baker & Llewelyn Novel. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781-250041043. $25.99;
It’s fitting to close this panel with Will Thomas, not only because he’s a librarian with the Tulsa FATALENQCity-County Library System but because he’s the veteran of our “Veteran and Rookies” subtitle. A decade ago, he published Some Danger Involved, first in a series featuring Victorian-era enquiry agent Cyrus Barker, as tough and centered as they come, and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn, former Oxford student and former convict. That book was a Barry and a Shamus award nominee, and the series has continued on its suspenseful and atmospheric way, right up to this year’s Fatal Enquiry. Here, our duo goes up against Barker’s longtime nemesis, the fabulously named Sebastian Nightwine, and we learn something of Barker’s enigmatic past even as Llewelyn stumbles a bit toward romance. So, audience, listen up to learn about another fun ride, and authors, here’s a chance to learn what to do with that next book.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.