Barbara’s Picks: October 2012, Pt. 4: Alexie, Leon, Morton, Mozingo

Alexie, Sherman. Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories. Grove. Oct. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780802120397. $25. SHORT STORIES
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner and PEN/Malamud awards‚ not to mention a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian‚ Alexie writes sculpted prose that lands like a punch. His stories, especially, are knockouts. So this juicy collection of 15 of his best-known stories (e.g., The Toughest Indian in the World) and 15 new stories (which range in topic from donkey basketball leagues to dangerous wind turbines) should be a winner. With a first serial sold to Harper’s and a 13-city tour to Boston, New York, Washington, DC, Nashville, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Albuquerque, Phoenix, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Bellingham (WA), and Spokane.

Leon, Donna. The Jewels of Paradise. Atlantic Monthly. Oct. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780802120649. $25.95. POP FICTION
No, not another of Leon’s engaging mysteries starring Commissario Guido Brunetti but a stand-alone novel‚ though it’s still set in Venice. An expert on baroque opera, Caterina Pellegrini has returned home to oversee the opening of two just-discovered trunks containing the effects of a baroque composer who once reigned supreme and is now pretty much history. She’s to check the papers and see if there’s a will (already two descendants are fighting), but the trunks could contain much, much more. Lovely to see Leon spread her wings, and she writes persuasively about music; a related CD recorded by a world-famous singer is said to be in the works.

Morton, Kate. The Secret Keeper. Atria: S. & S. Oct. 2012. 480p. ISBN 9781439152805. $29.99. HISTORICAL FICTION
Sounds like classic Morton: escaping from a noisy summer party, 16-year-old Laurel Nicolson sits dreaming away in her childhood tree house when she spies her mother speaking to a man she doesn’t now. Later, she witnesses a terrible crime. But not until 50 years have passed, when she’s attending her mother’s 90th birthday party, she can ask the pertinent questions‚ which leads to a story involving three strangers in wartime London. Morton’s best-selling work is always classy and nuanced; I loved The Distant Hours. Great for reading groups.

Mozingo, Joe. The Fiddler on Pantico Run. Free Pr: S. & S. Oct. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781451627480. $24.99. MEMOIR
Blue-eyed, fair-skinned Mozingo didn’t know the origin of his family name until a colleague told him that it came from the Congo. Doing some digging (not a hard job for a Pulitzer Prize finalist at the Los Angeles Times), Mozingo discovered that Edward Mozingo, probably a prince from the Kingdom of Kon, landed in Jamestown in 1644 as a slave. He eventually won his freedom, then set up a tobacco farm on a Virginia road called Pantico Run and married a white woman, thus launching one of the country’s first mixed-race families. Mozingo continues through the family’s split as some members sought to pass for white, the presence of relatives on both sides during the Civil War, and his grandfather’s move to Hollywood to pursue his own dreams. If this works out right, it will capture the complexities of American history.

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. Karl Helicher says:

    Hi, Barbara, Thanks for the heads-up about the Alexie book. He is one of my partners’ favorite authors: she teaches some of his works in her college English courses. This will be required reading for her, which means I am required to buy the book for her. Best, Karl

  2. Karl Helicher says:

    Whoops, sorry about the grammatical kerfuffle. Contrary to popular opinion, I only have one partner!