Barbara’s Picks, November 2012, Pt. 1: Kimmel, Kingsolver, McEwan, Bailyn, Russo

Kimmel, James, Jr. The Trial of Fallen Angels. Amy Einhorn: Penguin Group (USA). Nov. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780399159695. $25.95. THRILLER
Brek Cuttler walks into a store with her daughter‚ and suddenly finds herself on a deserted train platform, with only arrivals indicated on the timetable board. What’s more, she’s drenched in blood. Brek soon learns that she has died and, as a crack lawyer, has been assigned to the special team that prosecutes and defends the souls of the dead on Judgment Day. Her very first case teaches her some awful secrets about her life, her death, and what she can expect for all eternity. Word has it that this debut by a lawyer specializing in the intersection of law and spirituality is unlike anything you have ever read. With foreign rights sold to eight countries and a reading group guide.

Kingsolver, Barbara. Flight Behavior. Harper: HarperCollins. Nov. 2012. 448p. ISBN 9780062124265. $28.99; eISBN 9780062124289. lrg. prnt. CD: Harper Audio. LITERARY FICTION
Always beloved, Kingsolver shot into the heavens with her last novel, The Lacuna, a booming best seller that also won the Orange Prize. Said to be her most accessible work (but aren’t they all?), this new novel features Dellarobia Turnbow, who dreamed of going beyond Feathertown, TN, but married young and is now stuck raising kids on a hardscrabble farm. On the way to a rendezvous‚ her first break with life as it is‚ Dellarobia comes upon a forested glen filled with silent red fire. Fundamentalists, climate scientists, politicians, and the media mob‚ all come to weigh in fervently on the cause and meaning of this phenomenon, as Dellarobia and her neighbors fend off the invasion. Exciting; with a one-day laydown on November 11, a 500,000-copy first printing, a reading group guide, and an eight-city tour to Asheville (NC), Boston, Nashville, New York, Portland (OR), San Francisco, Tucson, and Washington, DC.

McEwan, Ian. Sweet Tooth. Nan A. Talese: Doubleday. Nov. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780385536820. $26.95; eISBN 9780385536837. LITERARY THRILLER
Since this is coming from the acute and masterly author of Atonement, don’t expect a standard thriller but a study of love, betrayal, and the compromising forces of history. In 1972, beautiful Serena Frome is finishing her maths degree at Cambridge when she is tapped by M15 for Operation Sweet Tooth, which aims to fund artists and writers whose political views M15 would like to nurture. For her first assignment, she’s supposed to charm upcoming writer Tom Healey but instead falls in love with him and prepares to tell him the truth when her cover is blown. The thrills here will come not simply from watching the M15 house of cards fall but from figuring out who caused the ruckus‚ and why.

Bailyn, Bernard. The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600‚ 1675. Knopf. Nov. 2012. 656p. ISBN 9780394515700. $35. HISTORY
A historian with clout (his shelves groan with a Bancroft Prize, a National Book Award, and two Pulitzer Prizes), Bailyn shows that the settlement of British North America was not one of humanity’s more glorious moments. As folks poured in from Britain, the Continent, and Africa, bringing with them the culture and class structure of their particular regions, violence often resulted‚ not simply between indigenous peoples and settlers or settlers and those they enslaved but between various groups of settlers themselves. An eye-opener that might disturb a few readers; I’m jumping on this one.

Russo, Richard. Elsewhere: A Memoir. Knopf. Nov. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780307959539. $25.95; eISBN 9780307959546. CD/Downloadable: Random House Audio. MEMOIR
One can certainly imagine the pleasures of reading a memoir by the Pulitzer Prize‚ winning author of Empire Falls, who’s ever attentive to the details of time and place, character and struggle. Russo recounts his upbringing in 1950s Gloversville, NY, a tannery town (as its name suggests) much like the locales that make his fiction so memorable. But what should make this work truly arresting is his account of his mother, who wanted something better for herself and her son, even as the folks around them sank into poverty and despair with the closing of the tannery.


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.