Wayward Women: Most Intriguing Reads Of Summer

Summer's most intriguing reads have controversial heroines, from Craiglist escorts to a sex predator to a silver-screen legend with the mouth of a sailor

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery (Harper, $26)

Without A Trace: Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker (Harper, $26)

In 2010, police discovered the bodies of four young women on a remote Long Island shoreline. Writer Robert Kolker decided to ditch the more sensational serial-killer hunt potboiler for an in-depth look at the lives lost. Amber, Megan, Melissa, Maureen and Shannan (whose body was found in 2011) are all petite, pretty, in their 20s… and escorts. Their disappearances—like those of Robert Pickton’s victims, or the three abducted women recently rescued in Cleveland— barely register with the police and media.

Kolker resurrects them—whether it’s Melissa doodling plans for her future salon, or Megan cannonballing into a hotel pool—via extensive interviews with family and friends. “I hope it helps people understand the worlds these women came from,” he says. Indeed, it’s impossible not to see yourself in their ambitions and struggles. “Rather than surrender their financial fate to a minimum-wage job with no benefits and no future, they decide to go into business for themselves. Prostitution is mainstreaming. More women who lead normal lives are drawn into it because it promises an economic freedom they feel is unavailable to them otherwise.” The investigation was “hobbled from the start because the initial disappearances weren’t taken as seriously as they would have been if these women weren’t written off as prostitutes,” Kolker says. While there’s no satisfying Law & Order–style ending, there’s a different kind of victory. The mothers and sisters of the missing girls become friends and advocates; as with Kolker’s book, they give the lost girls the dignity and attention that eluded them in their too-brief lives.

Alissa Nutting

Alissa Nutting

Hot and Bothered: Tampa by Alissa Nutting (Ecco, $29)

The most salacious book of the season stars a 26-year-old teacher, Celeste, who preys on her 14-year-old male students. “There were certainly moments where I felt like I needed to stop and use hand sanitizer,” nutting says about writing Tampa, which was inspired, in part, by a former classmate turned real-life Celeste: Debra Lafave, charged with lewd battery in 2004. As in Celeste’s case—spoiler alert— Lafave’s lawyer argued that her looks would make her a rape target in prison, one of many double standards in the way we treat male and female sex offenders. You’ll dwell on these disparities (plus the slight unease that comes with a female writer taking the Brett Easton Ellis approach) long after you’ve gotten past Tampa’s XXX bits. —Maureen Halushak

Ava Gardner

Ava Gardner; Photo by Getty Images

How To Talk Like Ava Gardner: Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations (Simon & Schuster, $30)

The star was one of the most famous beauties of her day—and boasted a rather piquant vocabulary. Here’s a glossary.

“Put someone to bed with a shovel” = Kill A Person

“Good into the feathers” = Talented In Bed

“Get your ashes hauled”= Have Sex

“A load of applesauce” = Bullshit

“Saddle the wrong gee-gee” = Choose a useless man

“Call a cab on someone” = Break up with a person

“A lot of booze has flowed under the bridgework” =  It’s been a long time

“Pushing the clouds around” = Dead