Barbara’s Picks, September 2012, Pt. 4: From Kozol to Moore to Newcomer Powers

Moore, Susanna. The Life of Objects. Knopf. Sept. 2012. 256p. 9780307268433. $24.95; eISBN: 9780307961037. LITERARY
A bracing author whose name should be better known, Moore works effectively in any era. Here she introduces us to an Irish Protestant lace maker named Beatrice, who leaves behind her ordinary existence when she’s asked to join the elegant and aristocratic Metzenburg household in Berlin. Lucky Beatrice‚ except that this is the 1930s, and as the family retreats to its country estate amid rising Nazi terror, Jewish deportations, and floods of refugees, she finds that she’s not living a fairytale but bearing witness to atrocity. With a 30,000-copy first printing and a reading group guide; I’m feeling enthusiastic.

Novak, Chase. Breed. Mulholland Bks: Little, Brown. Sept. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780316198561. $25.99. THRILLER
Now this sounds truly spooky. Polished-to-a-shine Upper East Siders Alex and Leslie Twisden have everything they want‚ except a child. So they travel to Slovenia and submit to some ungodly procedures that give them what they want‚ but for a price. Ten years later, twins Adam and Alice cower as they hear the progressively louder and more violent noises issuing from their parents’ room each night. Time for the awful truth to come out. Chase Novak is actually a pseudonym for Scott Spencer, who’s had his moments of darkness in reflective relationship novels like A Ship Made of Paper‚ but nothing like this!

Osborne, Lawrence. The Forgiven. Hogarth: Crown. Sept. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780307889034. $25. LITERARY
Bored with life in London, Dr. David Henniger and his wife, Jo, a children’s book author, jump at the chance to spend a sybaritic weekend at the home of friends in the Moroccan desert. Alas, while driving there David swerves and accidentally kills one of two young men who have emerged from the roadside to peddle goods. And that’s only one secret clouding the party at the kasbah, where the divide between East and West, Muslim and non-Muslim, gapes wide open. London-born Osborne, who’s published several well-received novels, often with a foreign setting, and who has won awards for his travel writing, has lived in Morocco, so the atmosphere should feel real.

Powers, Kevin. The Yellow Birds. Little, Brown. Sept. 2012. 192p. ISBN 9780316219365. $24.99. CD: Hachette Audio. LITERARY
Starkly, relentlessly absorbing (at first glance), this debut comes from a veteran who joined the army at 17, serving as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar, Iraq. Now he’s a Michener Fellow at the University of Texas, Austin, where he’s getting an MFA. His protagonists, 21-year-old Private Bartle and 18-year-old Private Murphy, are sustained by their friendship through basic training, but the war they were never really prepared to fight changes them both. No doubt a humbling book to read in our easy chairs; a big push from the publisher.

Kozol, Jonathan. Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America. Crown. Sept. 2012. 368p. ISBN 9781400052462. $27. SOCIAL SCIENCE
Since the publication of his National Book Award‚ winning Death at an Early Age, Kozol has been rightly hounding us about educational inequity in this country, which sees rich children getting vastly more support in schools (financial and otherwise) than poor ones. Here he wraps up coverage begun with Rachel and Her Children and Amazing Grace, as he follows a group of inner-city children into adulthood. More than a reporter, he’s a companion and mentor to these children, many of whom have triumphed over adversity (and some who have not). As one in four children under 18 now lives in poverty, this book remains (alas) painfully relevant. With a tour to St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Portland, and Milwaukee and by request; look for the galley at BEA.

Neitzel, Soenke & Harald Welzer. Soldaten: Protocols of Fighting, Killing, and Dying. Knopf. Sept. 2012. 496p. ISBN 9780307958129. $30; eISBN 9780307958150. HISTORY
A professor of modern history at the University of Glasgow, Neitzel made a startling discovery while visiting the British National Archives in 2001: pages and pages of conversations among German POWS that had been secretly recorded and transcribed and had been declassified only recently. Later he discovered even more material in the National Archives in Washington, DC. These conversations made one thing clear: despite avowals of ignorance, Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe soldiers knew everything there was to know about front-line activity and particularly the Holocaust, and their casual brutality in discussing the killings is said to be shocking. Welzer, head of the Center for Interdisciplinary Memory Research at the KWI Essen, adds context. Important if painful reading; why were these archives sealed for so long? With a 40,000-copy first printing.

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.