Doyle, Figes, McCracken, Simpson, Vaill, Wilson | Barbara’s Picks, Apr. 2014, Pt. 2

Doyle, Brian. The Plover. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Apr. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781250034779. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250034786. LITERARY FICTION
Editor of Portland Magazine, Doyle has written 13 books of fiction, poetry, and essays but came to my attention only with the original and wittily lyrical 2010 novel Mink River—which actually caught the attention of plenty of readers, becoming an Indie Next Pick and selling well nationally. At first glance, this new work looks to be of the same high caliber. Declan O Donnell aims to escape his tired life by sailing west from Oregon into the Pacific on his boat, The Plover. Instead of finding peace and quiet, though he encounters a crew whose various members each have their own issues. It’s all about expecting the unexpected, and I expect this to be good.

Figes, Orlando. Revolutionary Russia, 1891–1991: A History. Metropolitan: Holt. Apr. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780805091311. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780805095982. HISTORY
A highly regarded expert on Russian history (he’s won the Wolfson and Los Angeles Book prizes, for instance), Figes returns with a title that puts the Russian Revolution in larger context. He sees the revolution not as a single cataclysmic event taking place around 1917 but as a continuous saga sweeping from the 1891 famines to the implosion of the Soviet regime in 1991. Though he shows how that saga embraced three generations—Bolshevik, Stalinist, and post-Stalinist—he sees them as consistently animated by the same ideal. Bracing stuff for all those smart readers.

McCracken, Elizabeth. Thunderstruck & Other Stories. Dial. Apr. 2014. 240p. ISBN 9780385335775. $26. SHORT STORIES
You can’t go wrong with former librarian McCracken’s newest story collection. She’s proved herself with two award-worthy novels, The Giant’s House, a National Book Award finalist, and Niagara Falls All Over Again, winner of the L.L. Winship/PEN New England award—not to mention a well-received memoir. Her first short fiction since debuting two decades ago with Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry includes two never-before-published pieces; the remainder, which have appeared in places like Granta and Zoetrope, have all been reworked.

Simpson, Mona. The Casebook. Knopf. Apr. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780385351416. $25.95. LITERARY FICTION
Having won honors ranging from a Whiting Writer’s Award to an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts, the beloved Simpson shows up here with a young protagonist named Miles Adler-Rich who’s compelled by the recent separation of his parents to spy on them with the help of friend Hector. The boys are particularly intrigued by Miles’s mother (“pretty for a mathematician”), rifling through her diary and dresser drawers and finding evidence that puts them on the trail of a mysterious stranger. Thereafter they uncover secrets that shake the family’s foundations and receive their first real lesson in good and evil.

Vaill, Amanda. Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War. Farrar. Apr. 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780374172992. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780374712037. HISTORY
Vaill here does for 1930s Spain what she did for 1920s Paris in Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy—A Lost Generation Love Story. She illuminates a cataclysmic time and place through the lives of intriguing individuals. As civil war rocks Spain, Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn look to each other for love, even as he seeks to reinvigorate his career and she seeks to jumpstart hers. Meanwhile, Robert Capa and Gerda Taro go about inventing photojournalism, and Arturo Barea, chief of Madrid’s loyalist foreign press office, and his Austrian deputy, Ilsa Kulcsar, walk the fine line between honest reporting and loyalty to a cause. History lovers will melt.

Wilson, E.O. A Window on Eternity: A Biologist’s Walk Through Gorongosa National Park. S. & S. Apr. 2014. 228p. ISBN 9781476747415. $30. NATURE/CONSERVATION
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and distinguished scientist Wilson takes us to Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park for a story at once devastating and hopeful. The 1,500-square-mile park, once a rich patch of land packed with animals large and small, was nearly destroyed by the 1978–92 civil war, which gutted the ecosystem and wiped out 90 percent of some large animal populations. But the park is now approaching its former glory owing to the conservation efforts of an American entrepreneur. Wilson uses this story to clarify the importance of biodiversity. With 50 four-color photographs and a crucial message.

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.