Barbara’s Picks: Last of the August 2012 Titles, All Looking Good

Dean, Rebecca. The Shadow Queen: A Novel of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. Crown. Aug. 2012. 448p. ISBN 9780767930574. pap. $15. HISTORICAL FICTION
Author of historical fiction like The Palace Circle, Dean offers a fictionalized life of Wallis Simpson, the poor American girl taken in by rich relatives who set her sights on British society and then the soon-to-be king. In the process, she digs into the rumors swirling around Simpson, e.g., that she was a lesbian or a KGB agent. Lots of interest in Simpson right now (is it the royal wedding furor?); this May, noted historian Juliet Nicholson, granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West, is publishing a novel called Abdication that also features the duchess.

Evison, Jonathan. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving. Algonquin. Aug. 2012. NAp. ISBN 9781616200398. $24.95. POP FICTION
No word yet on the plot of this latest from the author of the award-winning All About Lulu and its well-regarded follow-up, West of Here, but as this essay of the same title suggests, it will deal with caregiving quandaries in a sharp-tongued and forthright way.

Kang, Jay Caspian. The Dead Do Not Improve. Hogarth: Crown. Aug. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9780307953889. $25; eISBN 9780307953902. Download: Random Audio. LITERARY THRILLER
This debut, another book from the recently launched Hogarth Press, which has been doing some very good stuff indeed, features recent MFA grad Philip Kim. His own in-your-face work can’t compare with the trouble he sees when his next-door neighbor is murdered and he finds himself in a suddenly scary San Francisco loaded with aggressive surfers, angry creative writing students, silent cops, and folks who patronize trendy quinoa cafes. Deputy editor of Bill Simmons’s online pop-culture magazine,, Kang is building his reputation; calls this 2012’s novel to anticipate. So you should, at least for smart, in-the-know readers.

Moran, Michelle. The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon’s Court. Crown. Aug. 2012. 448p. ISBN 9780307953032. $25; eISBN 9780307953056. Downloadable: Random Audio. HISTORICAL FICTION
With last year’s Madame Tussaud, the author of saga favorites like The Heretic Queen seems to have left behind Egypt for revolutionary France and beyond. This book is not a sequel to Moran’s popular portrait of the celebrated wax sculptor but a re-creation of Napoleon’s famously bawdy court, focusing on three women: Napoleon’s stepdaughter, Hortense Beauharnais; his sister Pauline, who bedded everyone, including, quite likely, her brother; and his wife, Marie-Louise, eager to be quit of her capricious husband. Moran draws extensively on the liberal documentation all three women left behind; lots of publicity and Moran’s previous success will make this popular.

Motion, Andrew. Silver: Return to Treasure Island. Crown. Aug. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780307884879. $24. HISTORICAL FICTION
Formerly British Poet Laureate, editor of the Poetry Review, and editorial director of Chatto & Windus, as well as a cofounder of the Poetry Archive and biographer of John Keats and Philip Larkin, Motion brings a lot of literary firepower to this sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s beloved Treasure Island. It’s now 1802, and with the help of his son, a grown-up Jim Hawkins is tending his inn (called‚ surprise!‚ the Hispaniola) when the waiflike Natty arrives with a request from her father, Long John Silver. And they’re all off again to Treasure Island. Ahoy, mates; if you think you’ll like this, also consider John Drake’s 2009 Flint and Silver: Treasure Island: The Prequel and Sara Levine’s recent Treasure Island!!!, a novel about reading Stevenson’s novel.

Ratner, Vaddey. In the Shadow of the Banyan. S. & S. Aug. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9781451657708. $25. LITERARY FICTION
Starvation. Forced labor. The loss of family members. And the past extinguished. Ratner’s tale of what happens to seven-year-old Raami when the Khmer Rouge take over Cambodia is based on personal experience; she remembers it vividly, though she herself was only five at the time, eventually arriving in America as a refugee in 1981. A huge in-house favorite.

Thalasinos, Andrea. An Echo Through the Snow. Forge: Tor. Aug. 2012. NAp. ISBN 9780765330369. $23.99. POP FICTION
As in so many canine tales, this book features a rescued dog to the rescue. Rosalie MacKenzie grew up on the rez and finds her life at a dead end until she comes across a neglected Siberian Husky named Smokey. Soon they’re the newest team on the competitive dogsled racing circuit, with somberly gorgeous Wisconsin as background. Flashbacks tell the story of the Chukchi of Siberia, who lost not only their homes to Stalin’s Red Army but often their beloved Huskies as well, considered guardians of their culture. Sociologist Thalasinos has rescued two Huskies (so far); this book is already slated as the publisher’s galley giveaway at BEA.

Thomas, Michael. The Broken King: A Memoir. Grove. Jun. 2012. 448p. ISBN 9780802120144. $25. MEMOIR
Winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his debut novel, Man Gone Down, also named one of the Ten Best Books of 2008 by the New York Times, Thomas here considers his own life in the context of American history, from Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement. He takes his title from a line in T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding: If you came at night like a broken king. Those broken in his family range from his grandfather, who trained as a pharmacist but could never find work, to his own wayward brother. A book to anticipate; with a ten-city tour to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Toronto and a reading group guide.

Thomason, Dustin. 12.21. Dial: Random. Aug. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780385341400. $27; eISBN 9780679644286. THRILLER
All things considered, it’s good that this novel, which draws on the ancient Maya belief that the world will come to an end on December 21, 2012, is publishing several months before then. At its heart is Dr. Gabriel Stanton, attending an anonymous patient afflicted with a rare disease depriving victims of their sleep, who possesses a centuries-old codex that explains why the Maya civilization collapsed. That collapse, a young Guatemalan American scholar soon realizes, is tied to the disease, and soon she and the good doctor are in a race against time to keep the whole world from hitting the skids. With Ian Caldwell, Thomason wrote the mega-best-selling thriller The Rule of Four, which, along with the popularity of doomsday beliefs, should create lots of demand.

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. Stan Ulrich says:

    “Thomason, Dustin. … this novel, which draws on the ancient Maya belief that the world will come to an end on December 21, 2012,” Well, not so, really, but why let facts get in the way of a good story!

  2. Joneser says:

    Juliet Nicolson is a granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West; her father is Nigel Nicolson.