The literary world has never lacked for crime-solving heroines who cleverly and genteelly solve all manner of conundrum. There is, however, a new breed of women in town and they are also cracking cases but in a decidedly angry, messy, and bloody way. Meet Vanessa Michael Munroe in The Doll by Taylor Stevens, and Frieda Klein in Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French.
Raised in Africa by her American missionary parents, Munroe is tough. She likes to go on missions disguised as a man, has an amazing facility for languages, relishes physical combat, and harbors a rage which drives her to tackle the seamy international underworld of human trafficking. In The Doll, she is working for the independent security firm Capstone when she is abducted by minions of the creepy Doll Man. She must match wits with him in order to save herself and the next “doll.” Author Stevens was raised in the Children of God cult, infamous for its alleged sexual practices involving the children in the group’s care. This is her third book in the fast-paced Munroe series.
British psychotherapist Frieda Klein finds herself working with the police once again in Tuesday’s Gone. Called in to analyze both a bizarre crime scene and the nearly catatonic probable perpetrator of the murder, Klein believes the solution isn’t as easy and obvious as the chief of police would like it to be and is drawn into the investigation. French (actually a husband/wife writing duo) is skilled at creating complex psychological thrillers, and as Klein works to untangle the clues and prove one suspect innocent, she can’t shake the feeling that she is being watched and manipulated. Look for Klein to make repeat appearances in this days-of-the-week series which began with Blue Monday.
The Smart One by Jennifer Close deals with grown children moving home with their parents after college, an occurrence becoming more common lately. The Coffey family encounters this when all three of their grown children move back home. Close’s novel is sure to hit close to home for twenty-somethings and their parents.
Claire, the middle Coffey child, is happily living in New York City with her fiancé until their engagement falls apart. After racking up mounds of credit card debt, she is unable to afford her apartment anymore and begrudgingly moves back to Pennsylvania with her family. Once there, she takes a job with a temp agency while she reconnects with friends from high school. The oldest daughter, Martha’s anxieties get the better of her, pushing her to give up her dream of being a nurse just months into her first nursing job. Instead, she moves back home and takes a job at J. Crew folding sweaters, seeming content to give up her ambitions and live in her childhood bedroom for the rest of her life. Max, the youngest of the three siblings, is still in college and has a wonderful girlfriend. Everything seems to be going well in his life until one of life’s surprises brings him home too.
Meanwhile, Wheezy, the Coffey matriarch, tries to keep peace amongst the family while she secretly continues to plan Claire’s cancelled wedding. Her husband, Will, stays wrapped up in his job, doing his best to avoid the increasing familial mess. As the family learns to live with each other as adults, readers become engrossed in this quirky family’s many dramas. The Smart One is a great follow-up to Close’s 2011 novel, Girls in White Dresses, and is perfect for readers who enjoy family stories.
John Grisham’s fans were surprised and delighted by the recent announcement that Sycamore Row, his next novel for adults, will be a sequel to his debut novel A Time to Kill. When it was first published in 1989, A Time to Kill was not successful. The novel was re-released after The Firm and The Pelican Brief became bestsellers, and it became a bestseller in its own right. It has long been the favorite of many Grisham fans, and Grisham also admits that it’s his favorite of his novels. The book was later made into a movie starring Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sandra Bullock.
A Time to Kill is the story of a young lawyer named Jake Brigance who defends a man on trial for taking the law into his own hands and killing the men who raped his young daughter. As the trial progresses, the small town of Clanton, Mississippi, is torn apart by the conflict. In Sycamore Row, Jake Brigance will again fight for justice in Clanton, Mississippi. Last year, Grisham teased audiences in a Today interview with Matt Lauer when he said that he had never considered writing a sequel to one of his novels until recently. He said that over the years he had waited for the next great trial for Jake Brigance to tackle. Grisham said that he finally had the story in mind. Sycamore Row will be published in October.
Sheri Booker brings her unique story to readers in her new memoir Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home. Booker began working evenings at Albert P. Wylie Funeral Home on Gilmor Street in West Baltimore when she was 15. Over the nine years that she worked there, she saw families in the most difficult times of their lives as they mourned the loss of loved ones to old age, suicide, disease, and, all too often, street violence. Booker writes that she eventually had to let go of her own feelings to continue to work with their grief-stricken customers every day. In Nine Years Under, she brings their stories to life along with her own.
Readers see the behind-the-scenes world of the funeral home, shedding a new light on a business that is largely unknown to most of us. Although death and grief are constantly present, Booker also brings humor to her story. Some of the stories from her job are too bizarre for most of us to imagine—like the day that she hit a pole at a McDonald’s drive-through while she was transporting a body in the funeral home’s van. Booker’s dark sense of humor and distinctive voice make this memoir one that you won’t want miss.
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.