Cunningham, Doerr, Hemmings, Kendal, Levitt/Dubner, McCullough Jr. | Barbara’s Picks, May 2014, Pt. 2

Cunningham, Michael. The Snow Queen. Farrar. May 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780374266325. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374710347. CD: Macmillan Audio. LITERARY FICTION
Lovelorn yet again, Barrett Meeks looks to the sky as he wanders through New York’s Central Park and is transfixed by a luminous white light that beams down on him angelically, inducing a religious conversion of sorts. Meanwhile, Barrett’s musician brother, Tyler, could use some heavenly help. He’s trying to write a wedding song that testifies to his abiding love for his fiancée, Beth, who’s mortally ill, and he’s both frustrated with his efforts and increasingly convinced that drugs will give him the vision he seeks. Once more, Pulitzer Prize winner Cunningham delicately tears apart our innermost emotions and brings us to the light.

Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See. Scribner. May 2014. 448p. ISBN 9781476746586. $27. LITERARY FICTION
Blind since six, Marie-Laure is compelled to flee Paris with her father when the Germans march in during World War II; they end up living with Marie-Laure’s great-uncle in Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast. Meanwhile, orphaned German boy Werner proves to be a whiz with radios, which leads him to an exclusive military school and, eventually, to tracking the Resistance. It’s not long before he lands in Saint-Malo, crossing wires with Marie-Laure. Doerr has been publishing faultlessly crafted fiction since the release of The Shell Collector over a decade ago, and he’s got multiple prizes (including the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award) to prove it. Another prize winner?

Hemmings, Kaui Hart. The Possibilities. S. & S. May 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781476725796. $25. POP FICTION
Readers who loved Hemmings’s The Descendants—and that’s a lot of readers—will be thrilled to see her back with another fiercely dry-eyed story of family complications. Devastated by the death of her son in an avalanche near their home in Breckenridge, CO, single mother Sarah St. John moves slowly through the stages of grief, barely able to listen to the well-meaning advice of her problematic father and newly divorced best friend. Then a young woman named Kit comes calling, and she’s carrying Cully’s child.

Kendal, Claire. The Book of You. Harper. May 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780062297600. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062297624. lrg. prnt. THRILLER
University administrator Clarissa will forever regret the drunken night she spent with her colleague Rafe, who specializes in dark fairytales. Even as she sits on jury duty, trying to fathom the details of the violent crime she must assess, she realizes that she’s the victim of another kind of violence as Rafe stalks her, determined to possess her at all costs. Kendal’s debut must be good; it’s appearing in a dozen languages and will have a 100,000-copy first printing.

Levitt, Steven D. & Stephen J. Dubner. Think Like a Freak. Morrow. May 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780062218339. $29.99. CD: HarperAudio. lrg. prnt. SOCIAL SCIENCE
Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics, which argued that you can solve a lot of problems by thinking counterintuitively, sold five million copies and spawned both Freakonomics Radio (No. 1 on iTunes) and the Freakonomics blog and website (which boasts two million page views per month). So the authors will likely do well with this book on thinking like a freak—that is, looking at the world in a different way to understand it better. With a one-day laydown on May 13 and a 500,000-copy first printing.

McCullough, David, Jr. You Are Not Special and Other Encouragements. Ecco. May 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780062257345. $21.99. CD: HarperAudio. EDUCATION/FAMILY
Given how pushed today’s students are to overachieve and how desperate many parents are to make sure that they do, you would expect stern resistance to McCullough’s 2012 commencement speech at Wellesley High School, where he teaches English. He admonished graduating students that they weren’t that special: “even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you.” But the speech went viral on YouTube, having been seen by more than two million people, and soon venues like Time, Newsweek, the NBC Nightly News, CBS This Morning, and NPR’s “All Things Considered” were asking for McCullough’s input. In fact, McCullough wanted his young listeners to dump the standard definition of success as too restrictive and take a few risks to find out what’s really important. Here he expands on that idea, skewering everything from helicopter parents to expensive college prep. With a 100,000-copy first printing; making his famous historian dad proud.

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.