My Picks: January 2012, Pt. 4: Halverson, Lescroart, Umrigar, Ghonim, Hendley

Halverson, Seré Prince. The Underside of Joy. Dutton. Jan. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780525952596. $25.95. Downloadable: Penguin Audio. POP FICTION
Ella Beene is devastated by husband Joe’s death‚ and even more devastated when his ex-wife, Paige, shows up at the funeral to reclaim the children Ella has been tenderly stepmothering for several years. As Ella battles for custody, she also tries to understand what scarred Joe and Paige’s marriage irreparably, uncovering dark secrets that include postpartum psychosis and Italian internment camps during World War II. Subject to a bidding war, sold to 13 territories, and pitched at BEA’s Editors Buzz Panel, this debut would seem to be a hot commodity for January. Lots of stepmothers out there; nice to have a novel that doesn’t make us evil but addresses the complexity of our situation.

Lescroart, John. The Hunter. Dutton. Jan. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9780525952565. $26.95. THRILLER
So many thrillers, but the premise of this one really caught my attention. Raised devotedly by adoptive parents, San Francisco private investigator Wyatt Hunt is understandably unsettled to receive the text How did ur mother die? Murder, apparently, but Child Protective Services knows nothing, Wyatt’s twice-tried biological father is in hiding, and the texter remains anonymous. As Wyatt hunts down the killer, dark family secrets tumble out of the closet. Lescroart, a consistent New York Times best-selling author, takes a break from Dismas Hardy with this third Wyatt Hunt title, evidently filled with an up-close and intimate sense of danger. Technology can be scary‚ and so can family.

Umrigar, Thrity. The World We Found. Harper: HarperCollins. Jan. 2012. 320p. 9780061938344. $25.99. lrg. prnt. LITERARY
Four women, all friends during their heady 1970s university days, have drifted apart but reunite because one of them is ill. Standard story, perhaps, but there’s a tellingly different detail; these women are from Mumbai, and three are traveling from India to America to see their dying friend. Another difference; Umrigar, author of critically acclaimed books like The Space Between Us, a San Francisco Chronicle best seller, No. 1 BookSense Pick, and Washington Post Best Book, writes with exceptional clarity and depth of understanding. Given what I know of her previous works, I’m happily recommending this one‚ and not just for lovers of India-centric writing.

Ghonim, Wael. Revolution 2.0: A Memoir and Call to Action. Houghton Harcourt. Jan. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780547773988. $26. MEMOIR/CURRENT EVENTS
In fall 2010, Cairo-based Google executive Ghonim anonymously launched a Facebook page to challenge the death of an Egyptian man at the hands of the security police. Online protest by a crowd of followers soon led to public gatherings, and a revolution was announced for January 25. Yes, it happened, even though Ghonim was arrested and harshly interrogated for 11 days. Four days after his release, Mubarak was out of the picture. No matter how closely we followed this extraordinary exercise of human rights in the news‚ or on Facebook‚ Ghonim’s there-at-the-creation memoir should be revelatory.

Hendley, Doc. Wine to Water: A Bartender’s Quest To Bring Clean Water to the World. Avery: Penguin Group. Jan. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9781583334621. $26. CURRENT EVENTS/PHILANTROPY
Back in 2004, small-town bartender Hendley held several wine tastings to raise funds for clean-water projects. Instead of working through traditional channels, he ended up bringing the proceeds directly to Darfur, where he saw how Janjaweed terrorists effected genocide by shooting up or contaminating water sources. Without enough money to build new wells, he decided to launch a program that helps locals in places as diverse as Darfur, Cambodia, and Haiti repair and maintain their water-containment systems. It’s always good to hear about one individual making a difference, and the example of Darfur‚ not to mention the quiet urgency of the freshwater crisis, still under-addressed‚ makes this an especially interesting and affecting choice. Lots of in-house excitement, too.

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.