Barbara’s Pick
Barnes, Julian. Pulse: Stories. Knopf. May 2011. 240p. ISBN 9780307595263. $25. eISBN 9780307595997.
Apparently, there’s a lot of good, sharp conversation in this third collection from the witty and incisive Barnes (he’s done 14 books in all). For one thing, the characters can be seen gathering over dinner to share insights‚ and maybe some salacious gossip. While the settings range from 18th-century imperial Europe to the 21st-century English seaside, the characters are typically in transition, often unable to move on. A widower returning to a spot he and his wife once loved cannot escape his grief; a newly divorced man infringes on his new girlfriend’s privacy, unable to understand his own thoughtlessness. From Flaubert’s Parrot to Arthur & George, Barnes is a delicious read; he excels in the short form. Fun for all.

Bauer, Belinda. Darkside. S. & S. May 2011. 256p. ISBN 9781451612752. pap. $15.
Following up a particularly successful debut (see Publisher’s Perspective), British author Bauer offers another tale of intense and sharply rendered psychological suspense. In a small English town, the murder of an elderly woman sets off a string of like killings. But policeman Jonas Holly, who’s been forced to settle here owing to his wife’s illness, is oddly steered off the case. Bauer is powerful; recommend to all thriller fans.

Cleage, Pearl. Just Wanna Testify. One World: Ballantine. May 2011. 272p. ISBN 9780345506368. $25. eISBN 978-0-345-52624-3.
First introduced in Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do, Blue Hamilton is the putative godfather of West End, Atlanta, a fictional neighborhood found in many of Pearl’s novels. Now he’s upset; a bunch of models called the Too Fine Five have dropped in for no discernable reason. When their purpose becomes clear, Blue must fight to protect West End. Cleage received Author of the Year kudos from the Go On Girl! Book Club and just won the 2010 BeBe Moore Campbell Memorial Award at the National Book Club Conference. Clearly, there’s reading group potential here.

Figueras, Marcelo. Kamchatka. Black Cat: Grove. May 2011. NAp. ISBN 9780802170873. pap. $14.95.
Buenos Aires, 1976. The military has staged a coup, and people are beginning to disappear. A ten-year-old and his brother are yanked from school and told that they are going on a family trip, but like any smart ten-year-old the boy understands that they are going into hiding. This novel has won praise worldwide, and I’m advised that I’ll love it‚ which I’m thinking I will.

Gee, Darien. Friendship Bread. Ballantine. May 2011. 400p. ISBN 9780345525345. $25. eISBN 978-0-345-52536-9. CD: Random.
This book has been on my radar since the publicist started raving about it a few weeks back. Its heroine is Julia Everts, still mourning the death of her son, who finds a loaf of Friendship Bread and some extra starter on her front porch. Baking the bread helps Julia reconnect with her bereaved family and might even set things straight with her estranged sister, Livvy, who figured in the tragic death. Bought in a two-book deal at a hotly contested auction, this novel is being pushed for fans of Kristin Hannah and Kate Jacobs’s The Friday Night Knitting Club. Rights have been sold to eight countries, and Gee’s Friendship Bread Kitchen Facebook page flourishes. I’m betting this will do well.

Just, Ward. Rodin’s Debutante. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2011. 272p. ISBN 9780547504193. $26.
I’m late on this, but I can’t let a Just novel go by. A Chicago robber baron’s refusal to commission a bust of his wife from Rodin (he’d rather endow a boy’s school) has consequences years later for a young man named Lee, whose decision to become a sculptor might have something to do with a sculpture called Rodin’s Debutante in the school library. Meeting up with a childhood friend who cannot recall a brutal assault forces Lee to recognize how memory frames our lives.

McArdle, Patricia. Farishta. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). May 2011. NAp. ISBN 9781594487965. $24.95.
A widowed American diplomat who lost her husband in a Beirut bombing is posted to a remote corner of Afghanistan, where she must wrestle with her grief. McArdle, herself a retired diplomat, should give this resonance. This Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award winner will be given a big publicity push; watch.

Miéville, China. Embassytown. Del Rey: Ballantine. May 2011. 208p. ISBN 9780345524492. $25. eISBN 9780345521859.
On a distant planet in the distant future, humans and aliens regard each other suspiciously but manage to coexist without bloodshed. Then a new group of humans drop in. Billed as an author of literary sf, Miéville has won the British Fantasy Award (twice), the Arthur C. Clarke Award (three times), and the Locus Award (four times) and has been nominated many times for the Nebula and Hugo awards. Now I want to read this, and I don’t even read sf. With a five-city tour to New York, Washington, DC, Boston, Seattle, and Portland.

Nesbø, Jo. The Snowman. Knopf. May 2011. 400p. ISBN 978030759586-7. lrg. prnt. $25.95. eISBN 978-0-307-59957- 5. CD: Random Audio.
After his mother disappears, young Jonas finds a snowman on the lawn with her pink scarf about its neck. Other women vanish into Oslo’s frigid air, and police investigator Harry Hole finds himself driven to the brink by a particularly dexterous and menacing killer. A Glass Key award winner who has helped put Scandinavian crime fiction on top (five million copies of his books have been sold worldwide), Nesbø here switches to a new American publisher‚ the very one that gave us Stieg Larsson. Essential for thriller collections; with a six-city tour to Boston, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Parker, Robert B. Sixkill. Putnam. May 2011. NAp. ISBN 9780399157264. $26.95.
Alas for fans, this is Spenser’s final outing, as Parker died last January. Spenser is up against a wall when he’s asked to investigate accusations that movie star Jumbo Nelson raped and murdered a young woman; Nelson has a well-deserved bad-boy reputation. But things get clearer‚ and nastier‚ after Spenser hooks up with Nelson’s bodyguard, a former football player and Native American named Zebulon Sixkill. Huge interest, no doubt, with readers lining up to say good-bye.

Sandford, John. Buried Prey. Putnam. May 2011. NAp. ISBN 9780399157387. $27.95.
Back in 1985, two girls disappeared, and fledgling cop Lucas Davenport couldn’t get over it, even when his boss declared the case closed. Now a house has been torn down, the bodies of two girls wrapped in plastic have been found, and Davenport is back on the case. Best seller Sandford is relentless.

Self, Will. Walking to Hollywood: Memories Before the Fall. Grove. May 2011. NAp. ISBN 9780802119728. $24.95.
Why is a slightly deranged British writer named Will Self charging along L.A.’s freeways? Having met up with an old friend who makes self-sculptures that are either teeny or monstrous, Will has lost all sense of proportion; he’s convinced that someone has killed the movies, and he needs to investigate. Jonathan Swift’s Struldbruggs manage to get into the action. Okay, it sounds nutty‚ and also like classic Self, witty, outrageous, and astute. For your sharper readers.

Shaara, Jeff. The Final Storm: A Novel of World War II in the Pacific. Ballantine. May 2011. 448p. ISBN 9780345497949. $28. eISBN 9780345526434. CD: Random Audio.
Shaara wrapped up the Civil War trilogy his father had launched with the Pulitzer Prize‚ winning The Killer Angels, then went on to his own series about World War II‚ all best sellers as well. Now that series is itself wrapping up with this fourth title, which takes us to the Pacific Theater and the flight of the Enola Gay. Buy wherever Shaara has fans; with a five-city tour to Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City.

Spiegelman, Peter. Circus Time. Knopf. May 2011. 320p. ISBN 9780307263179. $24.95. eISBN 9780307596802.
Spiegelman’s new thriller caught my eye because all his works‚ Black Maps, which won the Shamus Award for Best First P.I. Novel, plus Death’s Little Helpers and Red Cat‚ got the highly recommended stamp of approval from LJ‘s reviewers. Here, a former CIA agent who’s gone bad plans the heist of the century; diamonds and money laundering are involved, not to mention exotic locales like the Grand Cayman Islands. But little things start going wrong. Thriller fans should investigate.

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.


  1. Curious about breakthrough novel contest tag, don’t see it mentioned in article, which author is it? thanks.

  2. Thanks, I will check it Farishta. I read PrePub Alert among other things from you all, would love to see something about CATCHER, CAUGHT and other AmazonEncore novels, since AE is the new traditional publisher on the block, with online and ebook marketing savvy that’s cutting edge, a big help to regional authors whose writing is deserving of national attention.