Barbara's Picks, April 2012, Pt. 3: From 1500s Venice to Brits in the Wild West

O’Melveny, Regina. The Book of Madness and Cures. Little, Brown. Apr. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780316195836. $25.99. CD/downloadable: Hachette Audio. HISTORICAL
Like real-life Early Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, affectingly portrayed in Susan Vreeland’s The Passion of Artemisia, and Ariana Franklin’s Adelia Aguilar (e.g., Mistress of the Art of Death), Gabriella Mondini is a woman ahead of her time. She’s the lone female practicing medicine (with her father’s sponsorship) in 16th-century Venice. Then her father vanishes, and she spends years traveling from Italy to Scotland to Morocco and more to find him, teased along by the occasional letter he’s sent. Seems that he’s on a treasure hunt of sorts, though the real treasure may be this debut from poet O’Melveny (didn’t I tell you I love it when poets write novels). The author draws on her Italian artist mother’s memories of Venice and her own father’s disappearance when she was young to create a story of real longing. I’m betting on this one.

Pavone, Chris. The Expats. Crown. Mar. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780307885289. $26. THRILLER
Sunny days spent over morning coffee in quaint Luxembourg, weekends in Paris and skiing in the Alps. Expat wife Kate Moore would seem to have it all, but she suspects an American husband and wife in her circle of hiding who they really are, and her own husband is acting odd as well. So Kate starts to investigate and discovers that sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Pavone spent 20 years in the publishing industry before heading abroad because of his wife’s job in‚ where else?‚ Luxembourg, where he became a real Mr. Mom of Europe while starting to ask the questions that led him to write this book. Lots of in-house enthusiasm, lots of promotion (from Shelf Awareness giveaways to LibraryThing et al, pitches), lots of foreign rights sales, a film deal‚ and who doesn’t dream of moving to Europe? With a four-city tour to New York, Houston, Phoenix, and Minneapolis.

Rogan, Charlotte. The Lifeboat. Little, Brown. Apr. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780316185905. $24.99. CD/downloadable: Hachette Audio. POP FICTION
An explosion on an ocean liner gliding across the Atlantic has dire consequences for 22-year-old newlywed Grace Winter. Suddenly, she’s a widow, and because the lifeboats had been filled to overflowing, with people fighting (sometimes unsuccessfully) to climb aboard and stay there, she’s also on trial for murder. Inspired by a childhood spent sailing and a case involving shipwreck she found in one of her husband’s criminal law texts, first novelist Rogan crafts a chilling story that smartly asks, What would you do? A great book club pick‚ and just in time for the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic.

Kadri, Sadakat. A Journey Through Shari’a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia to the Streets of the Modern Muslim World. Farrar. Apr. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9780374168728. $28. RELIGION
Shari’a. The code of conduct in Islam and a word that many non-Muslim Westerners react to strongly, even defiantly. But do we understand what it really means? A legal historian and civil rights lawyer, Kadri takes the time to explain how legal ideas gradually emerged in Islam, drawn on the thousands of sayings of Mohammad, and how in the last decades shari’a has been appropriated by extremists‚ to the detriment of everyone. He then travels through a half-dozen countries to show how shari’a is practiced in different settings, moving from the grave of his ancient Sufi mystic ancestor in India to Cairo’s City of the Dead. A journey both actual (appropriately enough for a winner of the Shiva Naipaul Travel Writing Prize) and intellectual, this should be an informative and absorbing book.

Pagnamenta, Peter. Prairie Fever: British Aristocrats in the American West 1830‚ 1890. Norton. Apr. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780393072396. $27.95. HISTORY
In the 19th century, British aristocrats‚ primarily second sons who would not be inheriting‚ crossed the Atlantic to enjoy the rough and tumble of the American West. Interestingly, they were lured by the literature of James Fennimore Cooper and Washington Irving, two gentlemen who hardly made it across the Hudson, much less the Mississippi. These new British colonists hunted game and chatted up saloon keepers while often building replicas of the little English villages they left behind, and Americans tended to regard them with anxiety‚ or resentment. Confession: at first I wondered whether this subject might be too specific for some readers, but the more I though about it the more intrigued I became. I’ve seen nothing on this subject before, and it sound like just too good a tale. Enjoy.

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.