My Picks, January 2012, Pt. 1: Ellis Avery, Stef Penney, Paula Broadwell, William Gibson

Avery, Ellis. The Nude. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Jan. 2011. 320p. ISBN 9781594488139. $25.95. LITERARY
An American in 1927 Paris, Rafaela Fano is so desperate that she’s about to stoop to prostitution when she meets Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka, for whom she agrees to serve as model. Rafaela soon finds herself the lover of the ravishing and ravenous de Lempicka, a Polish aristocrat dispossessed by the Russian Revolution who has a dark past and a powerful sense of control. More enduring than their affair, de Lempicka’s images of Rafaela come to embody the entire spirit of the new age‚ until the market crashes and clouds of war start to gather. Two things make this book especially promising: it’s based on authentic and obviously engrossing truth, and it’s written by the author of the beautiful The Teahouse Fire.

Penney, Stef. The Invisible Ones. Putnam. Jan. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9780399157714. $25.95. CD: Penguin Audio. LITERARY/MYSTERY
Among my absolutely favorite novels (let alone debuts) of the last few years is Penney’s The Tenderness of Wolves, an edge-of-civilization epic as magisterial, tender, and bristling as they come. (The Costa folks agreed, giving it the Book of the Year award in 2007.) So I’m already hitting up the publisher for this book. Admirably, Penney does something different here, departing from the 19th-century Canadian setting of Wolves for 1980s rural England, as small-potatoes private investigator Ray Lovell wrestles with a troublesome case. He’s been asked to find Rose Janko, daughter-in-law in a Gypsy family and missing for seven years. But the Jankos stonewall him fiercely‚ are they resigned or hiding something?‚ and he ends up in hospital. Get this one; I promise that it will be good.

Broadwell, Paula with Vernon Loeb. All In: The Education of General David Petraeus. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Jan. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9781594203183. $29.95. CD: Penguin Audio. BIOGRAPHY/MILITARY AFFAIRS
Relying on hundreds of hours of exclusive interviews with Petraeus and his top officers and soldiers, Broadwell tells the story of one of the top military leaders of our time. She’s got the background, having graduated with honors from the United States Military Academy; coauthor Loeb, the Washington Post‘s Metro editor, was embedded with the 101st Airborne Division under Petraeus’s command in 2003. Given how Petraeus has served this country (in El Salvador and Iraq before Afghanistan, and now as head of the CIA), this book should be of interest to all readers following current events.

Gibson, William. Distrust That Particular Flavor. Putnam. Jan. 2012. 240p. ISBN 9780399158438. $26.95. ESSAYS
From Neuromancer, his edgy opener over 25 years ago, to last year’s techno-insightful Zero History, Gibson has written arresting fiction. Perhaps less well known but just as arresting is his nonfiction. Gibson’s pieces have appeared in multitudinous venues, from Wired (drug trafficking in Singapore) to the New York Times Magazine (what’s wrong with the Internet); he turned heads with his speech on the writer-reader relationship at BookExpo America in 2010. This volume collects 30 years’ worth of journalism, including pieces that were never published, appeared only online, or graced magazines that no longer exist. A kaleidoscope likely to interest anyone interested in current culture.

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.