Hands down, Keke Palmer was one of the most refreshing presences at the 2015 Essence Festival. Whether playing the Dating Game or moderating a panel, the actress and singer was self-possessed and uncannily charming. She brings these two qualities to her book, I Don't Belong to You: Quiet the Noise and Find Your Voice (North Star Way, $24.99). This is perfect for any young woman in your life who finds living in a social media age both liberating and, at times, a bit frightening. Keke knows about that.
#2 - ATLANTA SHADE TREE
"Don't call it a comeback; call it a takeover," is the tagline Shereé Whitfield has on The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Fans of the show know that the fashion-loving fitness fanatic has been working on a roman à clef. It's here in the fun guise of Wives, Fiancées, and Side-Chicks of Hotlanta (Dafina, $15). Whitfield's fictional self is Sasha Wellington, a budding fashionista who lands in the Big Peach. Ms. Wellington settles in among Hotlanta's social set in this juicy cocktail of a debut novel filled with sweet tea.
#3 - THE ENERGY CURE
You start your day with the best of intentions, right? You want to have a solid breakfast, perhaps take a walk or jog to get your body moving, and then it's off to work. You have lunch and then by three o'clock your body is crashing. Have you been there? Actually I live there, which is one of the reasons I thoroughly dived into a revelatory read from venerable writer Bonnie St. John and leadership expert Allen P. Haines. Micro-Resilience: Minor Shifts for Major Boosts in Focus, Drive, and Energy (Center Street, $22) offers many simple, doable tips that will help you put the pep back in your step and keep a smile—a real one at that—on your face.
#4 - LOVE TRUMPS HATE
Contrary to the haters and naysayers in conservative media, the Black Lives Matter movement continues to inspire and empower our young people. Take novelist Angie Thomas, for instance. In The Hate U Give (Balzer + Bray, $17.99; ages 14 and up), she creates a realistic champion in 16-year-old Starr Carter. Weaving back and forth between her struggling neighborhood and the well-scrubbed suburb where she attends school, Starr has a life that seems unsettled. The moments she feels at peace are with Khalil, her childhood best friend. When her unarmed friend is murdered by a police officer, Starr is at the center of a national nightmare. This one is a must-read.
Photo by Anissa Hidouk
#5 - THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY IS MY ACQUAINTANCE
Sadeqa Johnson continues to find her groove inventing characters that we know. From the second you jump into And Then There Was Me: A Novel of Friendship, Secrets and Lies (Thomas Dunne, $26.99), you will recognize Bea and Awilda. As folks say, they have been through some things. Sassy Awilda balances shy Bea and connects her with Lonnie, Bea's future husband. Ah, if only we could have a crystal ball to see into the future. Had Awilda set up her best friend with a skirt chaser and pathological liar? And is Bea living a lie along with him? Ensconced in a tony New Jersey suburb, Bea sees that she's resenting a life she never wanted. After learning that she is having a third child, Bea realizes that she is trapped and desperately seeks to get out of her unhappy marriage. Will Awilda be there to help Bea put her life back together? You just may be surprised.