Barbara’s Picks, May 2013, Pt. 4: From Eve Ensler to Claire Messud to Nathaniel Philbrick

Barnhardt, Wilton. Lookaway, Lookaway. St. Martin’s. May 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781250020833. $25.99; eISBN 9781250021502. POP FICTION
Having written several quietly appreciated novels (e.g., Emma Who Saved My Life), Barnhardt bursts forth with a big book that has everyone bustling. Jerene Jarvis Johnston’s efforts to protect the family honor—and her part of Charlotte, NC, high society—are thwarted by her family, from a misbehaving brother to a once-promising husband who’s settled for being a Civil War reenactor to four children all slightly off-kilter in different ways. I suspect that this is poignantly funny; with a national tour, a reading group guide, and big promotion.

Ensler, Eve. In the Body of the World. Metropolitan: Holt. May 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780805095180. $25. CD: Macmillan Audio. MEMOIR/CURRENT EVENTS
Though she has worked hard to combat violence against women, the author of The Vagina Monologues initially felt no connection to her own body owing to her mother’s coldness and father’s sexual abuse when she was a child. Witnessing mass rape in the Congo and dealing with uterine cancer brought her back to her physical self—and let her find her place in the world. Not your standard memoir.

Fowler, Karen Joy. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Putnam. 320p. ISBN 9780399162091. $26.95. Downloadable: Penguin Audio. POP FICTION
A PEN/Faulkner finalist who also makes the New York Times best sellers list, Fowler has crafted an eye-opener. Rosemary Cooke narrates the story of her parents and siblings, paying special attention to sister Fern—“my twin, my funhouse mirror”—who just happens to have been a chimpanzee. Though nastily dubbed “the monkey girl,” Rosemary is devastated when Fern is removed from the family and her brother later implicated in acts of vandalism to free lab animals. Broad appeal; with a reading group guide.

Gaiman, Neil. Make Good Art. Morrow. May 2013. 80p. ISBN 9780062266767. $12.99; eISBN 9780062266828. SELF-HELP/ARTS
No, not another world-class Gaiman fantasy but a book grounded in how he makes world-class fantasy. Gaiman’s 2012 commencement address at the University of the Arts immediately went viral and has already been viewed by more than 500,000 folks on YouTube—and rightly so, because it speaks to everyone. Gaiman’s discussion of the creative process applies to tweets as well as fiction, and it’s meant not just for aspiring artists but anyone trying something new. Pretty elevated self-help.

Messud, Claire. The Woman Upstairs. Knopf. May 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780307596901. $25.95; eISBN 9780307962409. LITERARY
Messud’s work consistently enthralls—her four novels have been either Pen/Faulkner finalists or multiple best book honorees, and all have been New York Times Notable Books. So you can safely bet on her next one, which features an ordinary school teacher in Cambridge, MA, who is first electrified then cruelly betrayed when she becomes involved with the upscale family of a new student, Reza Shahid. With a six-city tour and a reading group guide.

Philbrick. Nathaniel. Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution. Viking. 400p. ISBN 9780670025442. $29.95. CD/downloadable: Penguin Audio. HISTORY
Trust Philbrick, National Book Award winner for In the Heart of the Sea and Pulitzer Prize finalist for Mayflower—among other best sellers—to offer a vivifying account of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Philbrick gives us the backstory and personalities, from rebel leader Joseph Warren, who died in the fighting, to hesitant British general Thomas Gage. With a ten-city tour.

Poitier, Sidney. Montaro Caine. Spiegel & Grau. May 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780385531115; eISBN 9780385531122. $26. POP FICTION/METAPHYSICAL
Another actor who writes—and what an actor! In this first novel, a doctor finds a coin in a newborn’s hand and sends it to an MIT lab, where Montaro Caine determines that it is made from materials unknown on Earth. Decades later, with Caine facing the possible hostile takeover of his company and hostile breakup of his marriage, a couple appears in his office bearing the coin. This novel intends to address issues of faith and race in a suspenseful context as it moves from New York to Europe to the Caribbean; there will be interest.

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.