Barbara’s Picks, Jun. 2013. Pt. 3: Brown, Ellis, Gaiman, Min, Irwin, Marshall Thomas, Sullivan, Vachss

Brown, Daniel James. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Viking. Jun. 2013. 432p. ISBN 9780670025817. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781611761696. HISTORY/SPORTS
They weren’t rich lads, like the fancy Eastern and British teams they faced down, but the members of the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew were tough: these sons of loggers, farmers, and shipyard workers pulled a real coup by winning a gold medal in the Olympic games in Berlin in 1936. With that win (beating out a German crew, no less), they transformed the sport. Brown (Under a Flaming Sky) gives the story an emotional center by focusing on crew member Joe Rantz, who had no family and rowed to give his life meaning. Great expectations; rights to nine countries and film rights to the Weinstein Company.

Ellis, Joseph J. Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence. Knopf. Jun. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780307701220. $26.95; eISBN 9780385349628. lrg. prnt. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. HISTORY
Summer, 1776: even as the 13 colonies determine to secede from the British empire, the mother country assembles the biggest armada ever and sends it across the waves to New York Harbor. Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Ellis recaptures the story in a fluid narrative comprising both sides, showing how each cat-and-mouse move led to the next. Can’t miss; with a national tour to Boston (and New England), Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Gaiman, Neil. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Morrow. Jun. 2013. 192p. ISBN 9780062255655. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062255679. FANTASY
The great Gaiman, a perennial best seller and winner of the Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards and the Newbery Medal, here vivifies the roused-evil story with the tale of two children (yay, Coraline fans). Having stirred up some scary creatures beyond imagining when revealing them to a friend, 11-year-old Lettie Hempstock must join with her mother and grandmother to protect him when the creature cross into the known world. The one-day laydown on June 18; 250,000-copy first printing; and 11-city Author Tour to Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC do not surprise.

Irwin, Ron. Flat Water Tuesday. St. Martin’s. Jun. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781250030030. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250030023. LITERARY/COMING OF AGE
Son of a working-class cabinet maker (rather like the unstuffy heroes of Brown’s The Boys in the Boat, previewed above and a good companion read), Rob Carrey shoulders a burden when he comes to the Fenton School on a rowing scholarship; the team has triumphed for generations. As team captain Connor Payne moves from commitment to brutal obsession, there’s tragedy that Rob can confront only years later. This debut is generating the kind of excitement stirred by Amber Dermont’s New York Times best-selling The Starboard Sea—another companion read (about tragedy at boarding school), and wouldn’t you know that Dermont has called Irwin’s book “a world-class champion.”

Min, Anchee. The Cooked Seed: A Memoir. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Jun. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781596916982. $26. MEMOIR
Two decades ago, Min rocked the world with her memoir, Red Azalea, an international best seller that recounted her upbringing during China’s Cultural Revolution. Now she returns with the story we expected next: her immigration to America. Here’s how she learned English from Sesame Street, worked five jobs at once, and married badly, then launched her writing career, saw her daughter through Stanford, and remarried happily ever after. Not surprisingly, there’s a ten- to 15-city tour; one to get.

Marshall Thomas, Elizabeth. A Million Years with You: A Memoir of Life Observed. Houghton Harcourt. Jun. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780547763958. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780547764047. MEMOIR
Though she joined her family on an anthropological expedition to the Kalahari Desert, Marshall Thomas is essentially an autodidact in the sciences. “My parents taught me to enjoy observation,” she explains, and it certainly paid off, resulting in ground-breaking books like The Social Lives of Dogs and The Hidden Life of Deer that have marked her as one of our best and most beloved literary naturalists. Here Marshall Thomas trains her acute eye on herself in what will surely be an in-demand memoir.

Sullivan, J. Courtney. The Engagements. Knopf. Jun. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9780307958716. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307958723. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY/WOMEN’S FICTION
The author of the smart, thoughtful New York Times best sellers Maine and Commencement, which look to be standard women’s fiction and turn out to be something more, Sullivan here paints interlocking portraits of characters variously embedded in the marriage question. Evelyn is content after having traded in one husband for another 40 years ago, for instance, while equally content Kate intends never to marry her partner of ten years. A big tour to Boston; Cape Cod; Chicago; Martha’s Vineyard; New York; Philadelphia; Portland, ME (among other cities in Maine); Portland, OR; San Francisco; Seattle; Washington, DC; and more.

Vachss, Andrew. Aftershock: A Thriller. Pantheon. Jun. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780307907745. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307907752. THRILLER
Dolly was once a nurse with Médecins Sans Frontières, while Dell was a mercenary trained by the French Foreign Legion. Surprisingly, they’ve found each other and have settled peacefully in a little seaside village. All’s well until the star of the girls’ softball team kills the most popular boy in school. Pushed by Dolly, Dell investigates—and discovers that the town’s most vulnerable young women are compelled to undergo a terrifying rite of passage. Soon, the town itself is put on trial, with doubtless explosive results. The opening pages are riveting; you can’t beat Vachss for hard-edged, socially informed chills.

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.