Fiction Previews, Feb. 2013, Pt. 2: Debut Novels, Including Roger Hobbs’s Frankfurt Hit, Ghostman

Amin, Manisha Jolie. Dancing to the Flute. Atria: S. & S. Feb. 2013. NAp. ISBN 9781451672046. pap. $15. CD/downloadable: S. & S. Audio. POP FICTION
Born in Kenya to Indian parents, Amin grew up in Australia listening to her mother spin out Indian folktales as her father played the flute. So you can tell what inspired this story, which features an abandoned child named Kalu, who gracefully makes himself at home in the Indian village of Hastinapore. Kalu’s life changes forever when he rolls up the leaf of a banyan tree and blows, producing a beautiful note that attracts the attention of a traveling healer. This book got some strong reviews when it as published last April in Australia (e.g., “stunningly written,” Hungry Bookshelf); definitely consider, especially if your readers love fiction set in India.

Bracewell, Patricia. Shadow on the Crown. Viking. Feb. 2013. 432p. ISBN 9780670026395. $27.95. Downloadable: Penguin Audio. HISTORICAL
What did 15-year-old Emma of Normandy expect? In 1002, she is married to King Aethelred of England and immediately finds herself surrounded by conniving courtiers, neglected by her much older husband, and stalked by a rival who wants her crown. Still, she smartly wins over some friends at court and the English people generally—and then falls dangerously in love, even as a Viking invasion threatens. Pitched to the Weir/Gregory crowd but also fans of Ken Follett and George R.R. Martin, which suggests a certain expansiveness. Valuable note: the sales reps are raving.

Conklin, Tara. The House Girl. Morrow. Feb. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780062207395. $25.99. LITERARY
Lawyer–turned–fiction writer Conklin has an intriguing premise, and I’m really hoping she’ll pull it off. Lina Sparrow, a first-year associate at a big Manhattan law firm, has been asked to find someone to serve as the face of a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves. Her famous artist father then mentions a controversy rocking the art world: it’s now suspected that beloved antebellum artist Lu Anne Bell’s empathetic depictions of slaves were actually the work of her own house slave, Josephine. Can Lina find one of Josephine’s descendants to represent the cause? A big push to book clubs; with a 75,000-copy first printing.

Djanikian, Ariel. The Office of Mercy. Viking. Feb. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780670025862. $26.95. DYSTOPIAN
That Djanikian majored in English, philosophy, and chemistry before earning an MFA in fiction writing suggests some interesting possibilities for her first novel, billed as YA crossover dystopian fiction. Here, 24-year-old Natasha Wiley is enjoying the comforts of America-Five, an utterly untroubled high-tech underground colony, when she’s asked to be part of a team that’s heading Outside for the first time. Of course, Natasha finds her allegiance to home and family sorely tested, even as she realizes that she may have put loved ones in danger. The Hunger Games, anyone? Comparisons are also being made to works by Margaret Atwood, Justin Cronin, and Kazuo Ishiguro, and I’ll throw in Julianna Baggott’s “Pure” trilogy (see Picks).

Dubow, Charles. Indiscretion. Morrow. Feb. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780062201058. $24.99. POP FICTION
He’s a National Book Award–winning author. She’s upper crust, kind, and beautiful. They entertain friends at their elegant Manhattan brownstone and East Hampton cottage. But Harry and Madeleine Winslow are heading for trouble when one summer they meet charming young Claire and take her under their wing. Alas, things get obsessive, and the tragic fallout is related by Maddy’s childhood friend, Walter. Great expectations for this work from New-Yorker-to-the-bone Dubow, a founding editor of; with a 100,000-copy first printing.

Hobbs, Roger. Ghostman. Knopf. Feb. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780307959966. $24.95. LITERARY THRILLER
The identity of “ghostman” Jack is so closely guarded that only a few people know he actually exists. When Jack is called in by some bad guys to clean up after a botched Atlantic City casino robbery, he finds himself uncomfortably close to exposure as he’s pursued by the FBI and a shadowy third party. That’s the plot, but the backstory is even better. Written by a freshly minted Reed College grad who names William Burroughs, Bret Easton Ellis, and Lee Child among his favorite authors, this book was bought in partial manuscript about a year ago and caused an uproar a few weeks later at Frankfurt. Rights eventually went to nine countries, and film rights have been sold as well. With a five-city tour to Los Angeles, New York, Portland (OR), San Francisco, and Seattle; don’t miss.

Kibler, Julie. Calling Me Home. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781250014528. $24.99. POP FICTION
Big surprise for Dorrie Curtis, hairdresser and black single mom: her client, Isabelle McAllister, white, 89 years old, and somewhat reticent, asks Dorrie to drive her from her home in Arlington, TX, to a funeral in Cincinnati. The reason isn’t clear, but they need to leave tomorrow. You can expect this road trip to change the lives of both women. Inspired by an event in the life of Kibler’s grandmother, which I won’t give away so as not to spoil the suspense; lots of promotion.

Maxwell, Abi. Lake People. Knopf. Feb. 2012. 224p. ISBN 9780307961655. $24.95. POP FICTION
Abandoned in a Kettleborough, NH, boathouse and raised by a childless young couple, Alice Thornton doesn’t know the family she came from, in particular tough Eleonora Olasson, who was kidnapped from Sweden as a child and eventually made her home on Bear Island, a wild patch of land in the middle of Kettleborough’s lake. As she grows up, Alice seeks desperately for a sense of belonging, and like Eleanora before her is drawn to the dark mysteries of the lake. Pitched to those who love small-town tales and said to be deeply evocative of the misty, craggy New England; Maxwell is assistant librarian at the Gilford Public Library, NH.

Nayeri, Dina. A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Feb. 2013. 432p. ISBN 9781594487040. $26.95. LITERARY
A Truman Capote Fellow and Teaching Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Tehran-born Nayeri sets her first novel in a village in 1980s Iran where 11-year-old Saba lives with her parents and twin sister Mahtab. The sisters dream frantically of going to America as they surreptitiously learn English words, collect copies of LIFE magazine, and acquaint themselves with American television and rock music. Then Mahtab and their father disappear, and Saba believes that they are in America, living the free life that she can only imagine. From the imprint that brought you Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner; the sort of embracing and embraceable culturally far-reaching fiction Riverhead does best.

Rideout, Tanis. Above All Things. Amy Einhorn Bks: Putnam. Feb. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9780399160585. $26.95. CD: Penguin Audio. HISTORICAL
After publishing in various literary journals and getting herself shortlisted for a few awards, e.g., Canada’s Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award, Belgian-born, Toronto-based Rideout launches her career with a novel that reimagines George Mallory’s assault on Everest from the perspective of his wife. In 1924, as Mallory readies his third expedition, leaving behind an England barely recovered from World War I, lovely young Ruth says, “Tell me about this mountain that’s stealing you away from me.” Lots of buzz and this imprint’s big book of the season, debut or not.

Sibley, Priscille. The Promise of Stardust. Morrow. Feb. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9780062194176. pap. $15.99; eISBN 9780062194183. lrg. prnt. POP FICTION
Matt Beaulieu loves Elle, whom he first kissed at age 17 and married at age 33. Now she is brain dead after a terrible accident, and a shattered Matt is about to pull the plug. Then he learns that Elle is pregnant and that, were Elle’s life sustained, the baby might survive. But Matt’s own mother is ready to take Matt to court to assure that Elle is removed from life support, which she says Elle would have wanted. There’s nothing like devastating moral quandary to spark reading, and this trade paperback original would be a great book club choice, so bravo for the extensive book club outreach. With a 100,000-copy first printing.

Sloss, Aria Beth. Autobiography of Us. Holt. Feb. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780805094558. $25. LITERARY
In upper-crust Pasadena, as the Sixties cultural revolution heats up, Rebecca and spirited friend Alex bond over their desire to jump the fence built by restrictive parental expectation. Then, with a single treacherous act on a hot summer night before their senior year in college, their friendship blows up. The narrative is presented as Rebecca’s bittersweet meditation, much later, on what happened. An upmarket women’s friendship novel; big in-house excitement.    

Tanabe, Karin. The List. Washington Square: S. & S. Feb. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9781451695595. pap. $15. POP FICTION
Former Politico reporter Tanabe writes a roman à clef, sort of, as she introduces 28-year-old Wellesley College grad Adrienne Brown, who ditches her stylish Town and Country job for a chance to work at the Capitolist (aka “The List”), a fast-paced, booming media outlet in Washington, DC. Churning out ten stories a day, even on her Blackberry as she commutes, Adrienne sees a chance to get ahead when she learns of a hot affair between her most cut-throat colleague and a high-profile senator. But should she air this dirty linen in public? Possibly for wonks, definitely for those who like juicy reads; let it be known that Tanabe reputedly never wore flats, ever, to her Vassar classes.

Wrinkle, Margaret. Wash. Atlantic Monthly. Feb. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780802120663. $25. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
Having explored current race relations in her hometown, Birmingham, AL, in the award-winning documentary film broken|ground, Wrinkle goes back to the heart of things by investigating slavery in the early 1800s. Here, a disgruntled Revolutionary War veteran named Richardson makes his money by using his young slave Washington as a stud, forcing the two men into a contentious battle of wills. Wash survives by drawing on his West African spiritual heritage and forming a tender relationship with an enslaved healer named Pallas. Undoubtedly uncomfortable reading; pay attention.  




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.