Leon & Shipstead in Fiction, Caldwell & Ehrenreich in Nonfiction | Barbara’s Picks, Apr. 2014, Pt. 4

Caldwell, Gail. New Life, No Instructions: A Memoir. Random. Apr. 2014. 176p. ISBN 9781400069545. $22; ebk. ISBN 9780679604426. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. MEMOIR
Highly regarded when she served as chief book critic for the Boston Globe—she won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism—Caldwell has since made her mark with the thoughtful and beautifully wrought memoirs Let’s Take the Long Way Home and A Strong West Wind. Here she relates how, after losing in quick succession her best friend, her mother, and her dog—that is, her most essential companions—she also developed a painful limp as a result of having had polio in infancy. Then a simple surgery she learned about during a routine doctor’s visit restored her walk—and her sense of self.

Calvino, Italo. The Complete Cosmicomics. Houghton Harcourt. Apr. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9780544146440. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780544231931. CLASSIC
Listen up, literati: here’s your chance to read all of revered 20th-century Italian author Calvino’s cosmicomics, short stories that play brilliantly with science fiction themes as they consider the vast universe. On the moon, for instance, primordial beings shoot marbles with atoms while watching Earth’s bright dawn. Following the well-received 2009 U.K. edition, this complete work includes pieces never before translated; the Internet is already buzzing with interest.

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Living with a Wild God: A Memoir. Twelve. Apr. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781455501762. $26. Downloadable: Hachette Audio. MEMOIR
A New York Times best-selling author perhaps best known for Nickeled and Dimed, Ehrenreich set out to reconstruct a quest she made as an adolescent, laid out in an old journal she discovered. Her youthful goal of understanding the truth of the universe—ambitious plan—took her through the study of science and several heightened experiences she has come to regard as mystical. The adult Ehrenreich, an atheist and rationalist, was brought to the edge by this consideration of her adolescent self and shares her tumbled thoughts in a book that is part memoir and part philosophical musing. Read it to watch her mind work; with a 50,000-copy first printing.

Gall, Carlotta. The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001–2014. Houghton Harcourt. Apr. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780544046696. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780544045682. CURRENT EVENTS
Just in time for our final withdrawal from Afghanistan, here’s a thoroughgoing report from New York Times reporter Gall, based in Afghanistan and Pakistan throughout most of the American invasion and occupation. Gall reveals the suffering of the Afghan people while arguing that much of the trouble can be attributed to Pakistan’s double dealing. Featured in the Academy Award–winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side (about the death of a taxi driver in U.S. military custody) and having survived live-fire zones, assault by Pakistani intelligence agents, and visits to the Taliban, Gall incontrovertibly knows her stuff. With a 50,000-copy first printing.

Hoffman, Cara. Be Safe I Love You. S. & S. Apr. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781451641318. $26. LITERARY
So Much Pretty, Hoffman’s debut novel about teen violence in a rural setting, came in for considerable praise from some impressive venues (the New York Times called it “fearless,” and it was a Books Pick at The New Yorker). So it’s hardly surprising that her second novel has such a germane and startling premise. Though the family and friends of Lauren Clay are happy to see her back from Iraq, they can’t help noticing that she seems not quite right. Her decision to take younger brother Danny to visit their mother in upstate New York is welcomed, but then she leads him into the icy Canadian wilderness, intent on teaching him survival skills for reasons only she understands. Literary with a thriller edge.

Leon, Donna. By Its Cover. Atlantic Monthly. Apr. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780802122643. $26. MYSTERY
CWA Macallan Silver Dagger winner Leon has amassed a long line of internationally best-selling titles in her Commissario Guido Brunetti series, which appeals for its precise evocation of the water-lit city even as it sets up taut mysteries within the context of urgent political and social issues. Brunetti starts off his 23rd case by looking into the theft of pages from rare books at a renowned Venetian library, with the main suspect a visiting American professor. But further investigation shows that there’s no such person, and then a gentle theologian who has frequented the library ends up dead.

Moore, Christopher. The Serpent of Venice. Morrow. Apr. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780061779763 $26.99. lrg. prnt. CD: HarperAudio. MYSTERY/HUMOROUS
New York Times best-selling author Moore returns with another tale along the lines of such witty and outrageous delights as You Suck and Sacré Bleu. Several centuries ago in Venice, a rapscallion named Fool Pocket, envoy of France and Britain and widower of the murdered Queen Cordelia, is lured to a dungeon by the merchant Antonio, the senator Montressor Brabantio, and the naval officer Iago. (Sound familiar?) They promise wine and debauchery but intend murder, a change of plans Fool Pocket heartily resists. With a one-day laydown on April 22 and a 250,000-copy first printing.

Saunders, George. Congratulations, By the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness. Random. Apr. 2014. 48p. ISBN 9780812996272. $14. CD: Random Audio. SELF-HELP
Always a fine writer, Saunders has been on everyone’s mind since the January 2013 publication of Tenth of December, a much-praised New York Times best-selling story collection. This book expands on an eight-minute convocation address Saunders gave at Syracuse University, which was subsequently posted on the New York Times website and drew over one million page views.

Shipstead, Maggie. Astonish Me. Knopf. Apr. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780307962904. $25.95. CD: Random Audio. POP FICTION
Having debuted on the New York Times extended best sellers list, as well as the PW and Indie Next lists, former Stegner fellow Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements went on to win the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for first fiction. So pay attention to this second novel—especially you, balletomanes. Renowned dancer Arslan Ruskov is helped to defect from the Soviet Union by Joan, a ballerina whose career slowly grinds to a halt. She marries a longtime admirer and has a son whose own skyrocketing dance career reintroduces Joan to Arslan. The result? Some explosive secrets come out.

Waldman, Ayelet. Love and Treasure. Knopf. Apr. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780385533546. $26.95. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
The author of novels like Red Hook Road, essay collections like Bad Mother, and the “Mommy-Track Mystery” series breaks out with an ambitious and affecting novel that looks at moral responsibility in the face of momentous crime. A New York Jew, Lt. Jack Wiseman is tasked with guarding a train waylaid by Allied soldiers outside of Salzburg, its cargo including purloined jewelry, fur coats, silver picture frames, and Shabbat candlesticks. His job gets more difficult when he meets the fiercely determined Ilona, a Hungarian Jew left completely bereft by the Holocaust. Seventy years later, Jack gives his granddaughter a necklace and asks her to track down the woman whose portrait it holds. During World War II, there really was a Hungarian Gold Train, which inspired Waldman’s novel.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @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.