Barbara’s Picks, Oct. 2013, Pt. 1: David Finkel, Elizabeth Gilbert, Adam Mansbach, Donna Tartt, Scott Turow, Simon Winchester

Finkel, David. Thank You for Your Service. Sarah Crichton Bks: Farrar. Oct. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780374180669. $27. POLITICAL SCIENCE/INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Head of the Washington Post’s national reporting team and both a Pulitzer Prize winner and a MacArthur Fellow, Finkel did an extraordinary job of explaining the Iraq War to us in The Good Soldiers, a best seller that followed the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion as they slogged through 15 months of the thunderous surge. Now he brings the war home, following many of the same men as they try to figure out how to engage again with both family and society, as if nothing had happened—and generally without the thanks so ironically cited in the title. One hopes that Finkel can wake us up to what we’ve done with a war we’ve kept at arm’s length.

Gilbert, Elizabeth. The Signature of All Things. Viking. Oct. 2013. 512p. ISBN 9780670024858. $28.95. CD: Penguin Audio. LITERARY/HISTORICAL FICTION
After Eat, Pray, Love and its follow-up, Committed—not to mention the NBA/NBCC–nominated biography The Last American—Gilbert returns to fiction, where she first made her mark with the Pushcart Prize–winning story collection, Pilgrims. She also turns her back on contemporary soul-searching for an intriguing-sounding story of love and science in the 1700s and 1800s. Impoverished Englishman Henry Whittaker makes a killing in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia, where daughter Alma is born in 1800. She becomes a distinguished botanist, then falls in love with the dreamy Ambrose, a painter of orchids intent on examining the spiritual side of things. Refreshingly, Gilbert isn’t taking sides, instead capturing the human desire to pull back the veil and grasp existence in all its manifestations. Get ready for the 15-city tour.

Mansbach, Adam. The Dead Run. HarperVoyager: HarperCollins. Oct. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780062199652. $25.99. ebk. ISBN 9780062199676. THRILLER/HORROR
Mansbach has made good use of the fame he gained with his monumental best seller, Go the F**k to Sleep, rushing to catch our attention first with the edgy, intellectual Rage Is Back and now with this edgy scarefest. (Rage got an LJ rave and Amazon Best Book of the Month honors, and back in 2005 Angry Black White Boy was a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book, which proves that Mansbach is not just a one-book wonder.) Here, young women are turning up dead on both sides of America’s border with Mexico, but Sherry Nichols has managed to escape from those who’ve been doing the killing. Meanwhile, the wrongly imprisoned Galvan buys his freedom from a Mexican jail by agreeing to carry a mysterious package across the border. Now they’re both out in the unforgiving desert, and it’s not just the rattlesnakes that are creepy and dangerous. With a 75,000-copy first printing and West Coast appearances; the versatile Mansbach should not be missed.

Tartt, Donna. The Goldfinch. Little, Brown. Oct. 2013. 608p. ISBN 9780316055437. $30. ebk. ISBN 9780316248679. CD: Hachette Audio. LITERARY FICTION
In 1992, Tartt debuted with the The Secret History, a WH Smith Literary Award winner that has sold over five million copies and still draws gasps whenever it’s mentioned to admiring fans. In 2002, she followed up with The Little Friend, another eye-opener that was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. So it’s about time for her third novel, and you can fairly expect something good. After young Theo Decker survives an accident that kills his mother, he is abandoned by his father and lives with the family of a friend. Battling to come to terms with loss, he becomes obsessed with a small painting that reminds him of his mother and is eventually drawn into New York City’s art underworld. With a 250,000-copy first printing, a ten- to 12-city tour, and what’s billed as a social media extravaganza.

Turow, Scott. Identical. Grand Central. Oct. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9781455527205. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781455527212. CD: Hachette Audio. CRIME
Turow has taken us to Kindle County before, though not like this. Here he uses the Greek myth of Castor and Pollux to tell a wrenching story of murder and betrayal while showing just how gullible humans can be. It’s awkward for Paul Giannis, who’s running for mayor of Kindle County, that identical twin Cass is just being released from prison 25 years after pleading guilty to the murder of his girlfriend, Athena Kronon. Athena’s murder is being reinvestigated by Evon Miller, head of security for the Kronon family business, and octogenarian private investigator Tim Brodie. And oh, what that investigation reveals. A 700,000-copy first printing and a big push at BookExpo America.

Winchester, Simon. The Men Who United the States: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible. Harper: HarperCollins. Oct. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9780062079602. $29.99. lrg. prnt. CD: HarperAudio. HISTORY
While this book is billed as history, trust the New York Times best-selling author of books like Krakatoa and The Map That Changed the World (about the geologist William Smith) to couch his understanding of how various New World territories came together to form the United States in terms of scientific endeavor. Winchester looks at explorers like Lewis and Clark, who observed astonishing flora and fauna as they trekked to the Pacific Coast, and the engineers whose building of the transcontinental telegraph and the Interstate Highway System bound the country together. One of the most important science lessons you’ll ever have; with a 150,000-copy first printing and a ten-city tour to New York, Boston, St. Louis, Washington DC, Nashville, Chicago, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.

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.