Barbara’s Picks, Jul. 2013, Pt. 4: Bass, Bohjalian, Dunant, Housh, Mankell, Rakoff, Sapienza

Bass, Rick. All the Land to Hold Us. Houghton Harcourt. Jul. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780547687124. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780547687438. LITERARY FICTION
It’s not surprising that exemplary nature writer Bass’s fourth novel, set in Texas, features salt miners and oil and gas wildcatters. But you’ll also meet Baptists, high school football players, a local beauty, a widower, and a lone Mormon schoolteacher. Bass weaves together their stories over three generations, and I’m betting he will create a real panorama, as he did with Where the Sea Used to Be, the stunning work that introduced me to his fiction.

Bohjalian, Chris. The Light in the Ruins. Doubleday. Jul. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780385534819. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385534826. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. HISTORICAL FICTION
Cocooned within their ancient Tuscan villa, the noble Rosatis try to deny that World War II is raging in the world beyond. Then two soldiers arrive, interested in the family graveyard, even as 18-year-old Cristina Rosati finds herself involved with a German. A decade later, police investigator Serafina Bettini tracks a vicious killer who’s after the Rosatis—for reasons that seem evident, but let’s find out. Trust New York Times best-selling author Bohjalian, who’s adept at both intimate portrait and broad canvas, to make something gorgeous of love and war and revenge.

Dunant, Sarah. Blood & Beauty: The Borgias. Random. Jul. 2013. 576p. ISBN 9781400069293. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780679603863. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. HISTORICAL FICTION
Dunant is celebrated for absorbing historicals like The Birth of Venus, set mostly in Italy and luxuriating in its arts and culture, but she has also won a silver dagger for her crime fiction. So she seems a natural to tell the story of the bloody Borgias. Here, while limning Cesare, Machiavelli’s model prince, she focuses on Lucrezia’s journey from innocence to world-weary political savvy. Conveniently available just as fans are coming off the third season of Showtime’s The Borgias.

Housh, Gregg. Unmasked: My Life Inside Anonymous, the Internet’s Most Powerful Collective. New Harvest: Houghton Harcourt. Jul. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780547893402. $24.99. CURRENT EVENTS/TECHNOLOGY
“A loose and nebulous confederation of Internet users…[with] a militant, fundamentalist view on the freedom of information, censorship, and corruption, especially with respect to governments or organizations leveraging governments.” That’s how our government describes Anonymous, a movement forged in 2011 by social media users and self-styled hacker-activists who have struck at U.S. governmental agencies, foreign governments, corporations, and more. Housh, a former criminal hacker frequently profiled in the media, tracks the movement’s rise. Poignant, given Aaron Swartz’s suicide; with a 50,000-copy first printing.

Mankell, Henning. A Treacherous Paradise. Knopf. Jul. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780307961228. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307961235. lrg prnt. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. HISTORICAL FICTION
Not another Kurt Wallender tale but graced with the same sense of cool urgency and an abiding social concern, this work opens in 1905 as desperately poor Hanna Renström abandons Sweden for Australia. After being widowed twice, she ends up as the owner of a bordello in Mozambique, isolated from other white colonialists by her profession and from the bordello’s women by her skin color. Hanna is tough, though, and finds a way to survive this “treacherous paradise.”

Rakoff, David. Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish. Doubleday. Jul. 2013. 128p. ISBN 9780385535212. $26.95. LITERARY FICTION
A self-proclaimed gay, Jewish, Canadian–turned–New Yorker, recently deceased at age 47, Rakoff wrote bitingly funny essays that appeared both in print and on the air. This novel in verse sweeps through 20th-century America, with characters ranging from a daughter of Irish slaughterhouse workers in early 1900s Chicago, a young woman whose 1950s Manhattan offices reeks of sexism, friends and lovers dying of AIDS, and, as the new century opens, a man who finds peace in an old photograph. This will be much-discussed by smart readers.

Sapienza, Goliarda. The Art of Joy. Farrar. Jul. 2013. 704p. tr. from Italian by Anne Milano Appel. ISBN 9780374106140. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780374708948. LITERARY FICTION
Rejected by a string of publishers and left abandoned for 20 years, this work is just seeing the light of day and is being called a masterpiece. The story of Modesta, a Sicilian woman born on January 1, 1900, who grows up poor but through character and intelligence manages to marry an aristocrat without subverting her own strong sense of self, this work is in fact a fictionalized memoir. Sapienza died in 1996, a decade before the French publication of this book put it on the road to international renown. Not just for the cognoscenti.


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.