My Picks: January 2012, Pt. 2: From First Novelist Ayad Akhtar to Thriller Champion Val McDermid

Akhtar, Ayad. American Dervish. Little, Brown. Jan. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780316183314. $24.99. CD: Hachette Audio. LITERARY
After 9/11, faith took on new meaning for Muslim Americans. But what was life like for believers before 9/11? In this first novel, Pakistan American youngster Hayat Shah is thrilled when his mother’s unassailably smart, beautiful, and devout friend Mina comes to America to live with his family. She introduces him to the joys of the Quran, bringing him peace and appreciation. But when her attentions move beyond the family, Hayat becomes jealous and falls prey to his community’s anti-Semitism. Film writer/director Akhtar, who won awards for his work when he studied at Columbia, has a partly cinematic style; it’s visual and acute but not cut-to-the-chase. This looks to be an issue-rich book ripe for discussion; fortunately, there’s an interfaith reading group guide. With rights sold to 19 countries; seven-city tour to New York, Milwaukee, Chicago, Portland (OR), Seattle, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.

Albinia, Alice. Leela’s Book. Norton. Jan. 2011. 400p. ISBN 9780393082708. $25.95. LITERARY
When the unsettlingly alluring Leela arrives in Delhi from New York to attend the wedding of self-satisfied Vyasa, who once seduced her sister, she upsets everyone. In the end, though, it’s not Leela but the elephant-headed god Ganesh running the show. Albinia, who here hints at the Mahabharata, one of the major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, won a passel of awards for Empires of the Indus (e.g., the Somerset Maugham Award). So I’m expecting the writing here to be both richly and authentically detailed, and the weave between past and present, myth and messy contemporary reality should prove fascinating. Plus, who doesn’t love books about India?

McDermid, Val. The Retribution. Atlantic Monthly. Jan. 2012. 416p. ISBN 9780802120175. $25. THRILLER
Folks at the Grove Atlantic dinner in New Orleans oohed and ahhed when they heard that McDermid had just signed with this publisher. And why not? McDermid’s an intentionally best-selling author with ten million copies to her name and a Cartier Diamond Dagger Award (among others) in her pocket. Here, clinical psychologist Tony Hill and police detective Carol Jordan are back, rightly worried when serial killer Jacko Vance‚ former celebrity and current sociopath‚ breaks out of the jail cell where they’ve put him. Okay, standard revenge scenario, but the excerpt I read is totally, tightly, brilliantly bone-crunching. Essential.

Phillips, Gin. Come In and Cover Me. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Jan. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9781594488443. $26.95. LITERARY
Phillips follows up her debut novel, The Well and the Mine, winner of the 2008 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Fiction Award, with a new work that sounds equally arresting. When Ren was 12, her brother died, but she still communes with him in sunlight, shadows, and songs. Her sensitivity to ghosts makes her an especially gifted archaeologist, intent on reimagining the world she is digging up. She’s also interested in a fellow archaeologist, who may be her last chance to move beyond her brother’s death. Not really a paranormal and more than a love story, this book should sweetly show us how we’re enfolded in the past yet pull to go beyond. Especially good for book clubs, so the reading group guide is a plus.

Badinter, Elisabeth. The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. Holt. Jan. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780805094145. $25. SOC SCI
A long-time battler for women’s equality who teaches philosophy at the √âcole Polytechnique in Paris (which absolutely blows this Francophile philosophy major’s mind), Badinter has written any number of groundbreakers (e.g., Man Woman the One Is the Other). Here she’s likely to raise hackles by arguing that progressive motherhood, with its emphasis on attachment parenting, breastfeeding, and the like, is actually detrimental to women’s efforts to achieve parity. There should be juicy good ideas here to discuss, and I say that as the biggest attachment mom around. Important and challenging ideas, whatever you think.

Scott-Heron, Gil. The Last Holiday. Grove. Jan. 2012. 382p. ISBN 9780802129017. $25. MEMOIR
This isn’t just a memoir of Scott-Heron’s being raised by his grandmother in Jackson, TN, and eventually becoming a preeminent musician/songwriter, often called the godfather of rap. (He released 20 albums and numerous key singles over five decades while also writing fiction and poetry.) More important, it’s also about his joining a 41-city tour in fall 1980, organized by Stevie Wonder and ending in Washington, DC, in 1981, that aimed to build momentum for the creation of a national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Alas, Scott-Heron died in May 2011; his book remains important testimony to a life lived in‚ and beyond‚ music.

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. Barbara Hoffert says:

    thanks! I was really pushing on this one.