Barbara’s Picks, Apr. 2013, Pt. 4: Kate Atkinson, Philip Kerr, Michael Pollan

Atkinson, Kate. Life After Life. Reagan Arthur Bks: Little, Brown. Apr. 2013. 544p. ISBN 9780316176484. $27.99. LITERARY THRILLER
Every time she writes, Atkinson writes something exciting and important. Her debut, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award; best sellers like Started Early, Took My Dog give a whole new meaning to the idea of smart suspense. Here, on a cold, snow-blown night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife and promptly dies. But wait, Ursula Todd is born in 1910 and lives, growing, living, dying, and living over and over again as events move toward World War II. Perhaps those multiple lives could allow her to redirect a fraught and dangerous century.

Kerr, Philip. Man Without Breath. Marian Wood Bks: Putnam. Apr. 2013. NAp. ISBN 9780399160790. $26.95. HISTORICAL THRILLER
Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series is certainly brave, bold, and daring; it’s set during World War II and features a German police detective. This latest in the series is the most pointed of the lot, as Bernie, now a member of the War Crimes Bureau, is asked to investigate a mass gravesite in the Katyn Forest containing the bodies of Polish army officers, bound and shot. The aim is to blame the Soviets, but Bernie suspects that he’s the one on the line. What makes this book really fascinating (and authentic): while doing his research, Kerr found a map of Smolensk made by SS cartographers in 1942, with all the streets renamed by Germany after it conquered Poland. And important: the rights to the first three Bernie Gunther novels, called the “Berlin Noir” trilogy, have been purchased by Tom Hanks’s production company in tandem with HBO; production starts in 2013.

Pollan, Michael. Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Apr. 2013. 464p. ISBN 9781594204210. $27.95. SOCIAL SCIENCE/AGRICULTURE & FOOD
Trust Pollan, the New York Times best-selling author of books like Omnivore’s Dilemma, who was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2010, to turn a discussion of cooking into something both magical and profound. To explain how the products of nature become yummy things to eat and drink, he calls forth the classical four elements—fire, water, earth, and air. Fire grills meat, for instance (he takes us to a North Carolina barbecue pit for the specifics), and air turns that glob of flour and water into sweet-smelling bread. When we don’t cook for ourselves, turning food preparation over to the corporations, we not only get stuck with mega doses of salt, sugar, and fat but we both cut ourselves off from nature and eliminate the pleasure of cooking and feasting as a social tool. So go home and bake that pie!

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. Sarah says:

    Wow – a lot of time sli/travel/parallel narratives etc. coming out in April.