Riding in a beat-up bus among bald hills and scrub on his way to Namibia, Paul Theroux wondered what was compelling him to take yet another arduous trip. At 72, here he was again: in a parched climate, traveling alone, crossing more borders. In his latest book, The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari, the prolific and highly regarded American writer of travel literature packs his bags for one final journey to Africa and up the little known western coast, where he seeks harmony not just with the continent he has come to love but also himself.
Theroux is no stranger to "the greenest continent." He spent his happiest years in Africa as a young Peace Corps worker almost 50 years ago and has returned several times, writing insightfully along the way. Suggesting this 2011 trip is his last, he dives into the gut of this complicated place. From the slum tourism of Cape Town to the Tsumkwe village crossroads of one of the world's oldest cultures, to being stranded in the Angolan bush, Theroux observes countries slowly sliding into one another. He transports readers smack into the middle of a vividly wrought landscape with his richly detailed, elegant prose, adding his characteristic wry, at times dark, commentary. He is at his best telling stories of the local people he meets while showing no patience for meddling foreigners, like the "trophy hunting for dummies" set or those simply "busybodying.''
With over 40 books behind him, including the classic The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia, Theroux seems to be signaling that this is the end of the line. His aptly titled last chapter is in the form of a question, "What am I Doing Here?" Yes, the Africa he leaves has a plethora of problems, but for fans of this acclaimed literary nomad the answer is simple—bringing us his world.
Actress Lauren Graham delivers a delightful debut novel featuring Franny Banks, a struggling actress, in Someday, Someday, Maybe. Graham, familiar to viewers of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood, drew on her own history in sharing the story of a young woman finding her way in New York City. The novel opens in January, 1995 – six months before Franny’s self-imposed deadline to make it as an actress. So far all she has to show for her two and a half years in The Big Apple is a coveted waitress gig and a television commercial for ugly Christmas sweaters. Things are looking grim and all her hopes rest on the upcoming showcase put on by her acting class. Although her performance doesn’t go exactly as planned (think wardrobe malfunction), she does receive two offers from prominent agents and lands a guest spot on a sitcom. Franny’s Filofax is soon packed with auditions, appointments, and dates with James Franklin, her sexy and successful classmate.
All too quickly, the agent stops calling, the auditions dry up, and the sitcom is on hiatus. Her Filofax is now filled with soap opera viewing and cheese doodle consumption. Through the highs and lows, Franny is supported by her father and her roommates, Jane and Dan. When her agent offers her a movie role that involves nudity, Franny comes to a career crossroads. And when Dan starts to feel like more than a roommate and James’ self-absorption grows tiring, she faces a romantic muddle. This is a funny and optimistic coming-of-age story about an audacious young woman fighting for her dreams and overcoming self-doubt. Graham has said that there is a little bit of her in every character and her own experiences as an actor struggling to make it adds an added layer of authenticity.
Two long-running manga series come to a close this month, but not without captivating final volumes. In Dance in the Vampire Bund, a seinen manga by Nozomu Tamaki, vampires have been secretly living among humans until one day a vampires-only island (the “Bund”) is created off the coast of Japan. Humans and vampires fear what they do not understand about each other, but this separation creates a fragile peace. As the series unfolds, the princess and head of the vampires, Mina, has been kidnapped by a faction of extremists and replaced with an imposter. Her friends, werewolf Akira and once-human Yuki, must free Mina and together retake the Bund from the radicals. Shades of romance and impressive supernatural powers fuel this fourteen-volume series to its climactic conclusion.
A very different shojo series, We Were There, by Yuki Obata, is a contemporary romance in which several older teens age into their twenties as the series progresses. After Yano’s girlfriend dies in a tragic accident, he begins to date Nanami. However, Yano cannot stop thinking about his late love and heads off to help his unstable mother. In the interim, Nanami begins to date Yano’s best friend, and various love triangles and connections among close-knit characters perpetuate through the sixteen volumes in this series. In a fitting close, a reunion at the graveside of their long-gone friend ties loose ends and promises the potential of a happy ending.
Her by Christa Parravani is a powerful memoir that explores sisterhood, the bonds of twins and the nature of grief. Christa Parravani is an identical twin to her sister, Cara. Cara dies a tragic death and Christa nearly destroys herself, in an attempt to follow in her footsteps. Her is the biography of the twins but it also serves as a lovely and unflinchingly honest memorial to Cara.
Cara and Christa did not have an easy childhood. As teens and young adults, their behavior veered toward the destructive, including eating disorders and drug abuse. Both sisters were incredibly creative, with Cara as the writer and Christa, the photographer. Cara and Christa remained close throughout their adulthood and continued to experiment with unhealthy habits. After Cara is raped, she begins a downward spiral and never really recovers.
Her is a fascinating memoir about the highly unique dynamic between identical twins. Parravani addresses all the usual perceptions people have about twins such as “twin language” and “twin ESP.” Given the intense connection between twins, the death of one can nearly destroy the other. This is essentially what happened to Christa after Cara’s untimely death. She tried to follow her into death, taking up her most damaging habits, just to be closer to Cara. Parravani has written a touching, raw new memoir. Her love and grief for her sister is almost palpable. Although Her is a very emotional book, Parravani writes in clear, crisp prose, telling the story in an almost matter-of-fact tone that results in powerful, clear-eyed memorial to her twin, sister and best friend.
Anne Perry is an award-winning, bestselling crime and mystery writer, but few know that nearly 60 years ago, she herself was a defendant in one of New Zealand’s most infamous murder cases. Peter Graham details this case in his book Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century. Born Juliet Hulme, an adolescent Perry and her best friend Pauline Parker shocked the country and the world when they brutally murdered Parker’s mother in 1954. The subsequent trial and conviction of the girls led to prison sentences, after which the two partners in crime went their separate ways. Hulme eventually reinvented herself as Anne Perry and launched a successful writing career, while Parker vanished into obscurity and lives a reclusive life on a Scottish island.
Graham does an amazing job bringing the story of the girls’ friendship and the sheer barbarity of the murder to life. He provides the back stories of Hulme, Parker and their family members without bogging down the writing. Hulme and Parker both suffered from illnesses as children, and as a result spent long stretches of time isolated from family and friends. Although professional opinions differ, it’s hypothesized that because of this isolation, both girls developed vivid imaginations and were drawn to each other when they met as young teenagers at school. The girls created their own complex fantasy world which overtook reality, and when threatened with separation from each other, they plotted to kill the person they saw as responsible.
Interest in the case was renewed in the 1990s, with newly published research and several dramatizations of the murder, most notably the critically acclaimed film Heavenly Creatures. For true crime aficionados, this book will leave questions about the true nature of Anne Perry. When asked in one interview if she ever thought of Parker’s mother, she replied, “No. She was somebody I barely knew”.
Small town life, folklore, Norse mythology and a senseless murder are all threads skillfully woven together into the amazing literary work Little Wolves by Thomas James Maltman. A farming community, inhabited by descendants of the first German families to settle the area, is rocked when a troubled teen murders the town sheriff and then commits suicide. The boy’s father is left devastated and confused; unable to understand what possessed his son to perpetrate such an awful crime.
As the new pastor tries to help his congregation heal, his pregnant wife Clara struggles with the knowledge that she was also an intended victim. She believes herself to be haunted by the boy, who was a student in her English class at the high school. Clara, herself a student of ancient literature, focuses on Old English words and phrases to calm herself in times of stress. As a result, the novel is peppered with interesting vocabulary from a lost era, which adds an almost mystical element.
The mystery of what really brought Clara and her husband to this remote area from the city, as well as the unanswered questions from the shooting, keep the reader captivated. A reoccurring element of the story is the presence of the wolves. Wolves play an omnipresent role in the tales Clara’s father would tell her as a child, now wolves have started coming into the town at night; they haunt her dreams and fill the residents with fear. This is an intriguing novel, beautifully written and full of suspense.
There is said to be a ghostly woman roaming the grounds of Ravenbank Hall in the Lake District of England on Halloween night. Just before the First World War, a woman was murdered; her face bashed in and then covered with a shroud that had frozen to the remains. Thus begins the tale of The Frozen Shroud, by Martin Edwards, a mystery featuring crime historian Daniel Kind.
Years pass since the death of Gertrude Smith, but the story remained of an impassioned love affair and a jealous wife that took her own life after murdering the young woman. In the present day, Ravenbank Hall has a new mistress, an Australian woman who managed to snag and marry the Hall’s elderly and infirm owner. Unfortunately for her, she winds up dead in the same fashion as poor Gertrude. Five years go by, and Daniel Kind is invited to a Halloween party near Ravenbank Hall, faced with many unanswered questions. Both crime cases seemed to be tied up too easily. The more recent murder may have been solved incorrectly. Will Daniel be able to find the solution before the killer strikes again?
The Frozen Shroud will appeal to a wide variety of readers. The chilling atmosphere of a sinister murder set on Halloween will give many readers chills. Written as an intriguing “whodunit”, this novel will please traditional mystery fans. The characters of Daniel Kind and Detective Chief Inspector Hannah Scarlett are also well defined and interesting, so readers who enjoy a strong protagonist will get caught up learning more about the detectives on the case. This novel is the sixth in Edwards’ Lake District mystery series.
Most of us have heard the term sociopath before, but we probably don’t know what it really means. We usually hear it in conjunction with criminal activity. It will probably surprise you to learn that one out of every 25 Americans is a sociopath, which means that it’s highly likely that someone you know fits the definition. Most sociopaths aren’t criminals or serial killers as television shows would lead us to believe. They often live their lives without anyone around them realizing what they are. M. E. Thomas brings the reality of the disorder to readers in her unique new memoir Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight. Thomas (a pseudonym to protect her identity) is a successful attorney and law professor and the voice behind SociopathWorld.com. She teaches Sunday school at her church. She is intelligent, confident, and charming. She is one of the 4% of Americans who are sociopaths.
So what exactly is sociopathy? Sociopaths lack the moral compass that directs the lives of most people. They feel no remorse or empathy. Thomas shows readers the reality of life from a sociopath’s unique point of view. She explains that she is neither crazy nor evil. She does interact with others differently than the average person. Like all sociopaths, Thomas’s interactions with others often involve manipulation. To put it bluntly, she is a predator. She lives behind a mask, mimicking others’ behavior to pass for normal. She freely admits to destroying others’ careers to get ahead in her own and is willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants. Thomas’s story is simultaneously engaging and unsettling. This fascinating first-person narrative may change your view of sociopaths.
Do you know a sociopath? The quiz found here may be both enlightening and unnerving. As Thomas explains, “It is statistically very probable that some people reading this book are sociopaths and have never realized it. If this is you, welcome home.”
Witty Broadway actor and novelist Tim Federle has penned the ultimate book- and drink-lovers' dream in his beverage guide Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist. He includes a short, clear introduction of the best tools (glassware and bar equipment) to use, techniques for making and decorating drinks, and the elements needed to create a well-stocked bar. An easy recipe for grenadine syrup, used in a number of the recipes, is a major improvement over many found on store shelves.
The bulk of the book is then divided into two large sections of recipes: ‘Drinks for Dames’, which focus on sweeter and spicier beverages; and ‘Gulps for Guys’, those that tend to pack more of a punch. Specific drinks meant for book clubs (and other parties) get their own chapter, as do nonalcoholic beverages. There are even a few quick recipes for nibbles to enjoy along with the potables. The real joy of this compilation is the hilarious wordplay that Federle uses in devising the cocktails’ names. A short commentary on each concoction adds a humorous touch. Every recipe is an amusing pun on a famous book’s title, but there are some that really hit the mark. Who can resist trying drinks with names like “Love in the Time of Kahlúa”, “A Rum of One’s Own”, or “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margarita”? Sure to be a popular gift exchanged among the literature and libations set, Tequila Mockingbird is a fun take on classic books and cocktails.
Two new books invite readers to the scintillating world of gourmet dinner parties and secret supper clubs. Foodies will appreciate the mouthwatering menus while others will relish the relationships and romance.
Table for Seven by Whitney Gaskell takes place over the course of one year and twelve delightful dinner parties. Following a successful New Year’s Eve party, the group creates the Table for Seven Dinner Party Club and decides to take turns hosting monthly meals. But what starts as an epicurean excuse for get-togethers evolves into a test of relationships. Married couples Fran and Will and Jamie and Mark deal with lethargy, carping, and infidelity. Young widow Audrey has to move forward, while man-about-town Coop finds himself in love for the first time. Only, Leland, the elderly widower seems steady and at peace with his situation offering counsel to his younger friends.
In The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs by Dana Bate we meet Hannah Sugarman who is in love and living with Adam in D.C.’s hip DuPont Circle. While her personal life is aces, her job at an influential economic think tank is not fulfilling. She has dreams of culinary school and chef’s coats. However, her academic parents and her would-be politico boyfriend think cooking is a nice hobby at best. When Adam dumps her, Hannah seizes the opportunity to create an underground supper club. With the help of her best friend Rachel, the monthly events soon become the hottest ticket in town. But supper clubs are illegal and she’s using her new landlord’s swanky townhome without his permission. This is a delightful romantic comedy featuring the charming Hannah who is looking for love and a meaningful career all while enjoying a cupcake or two along the way.