John Boyne, Kristin Hannah, T. Geronimo Johnson, & More | Barbara’s Picks, Feb. 2015, Pt. 2

Barnett, LaShonda Katrice. Jam! On the Vine. Grove. Feb. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9780802123343. $24. LITERARY FICTION
While teaching an African American women’s history course at Sarah Lawrence College, jamBarnett found her students stunned by the question how black people managed to survive after slavery. Her answer: “The black press, which became the greatest tool for racial self-help.” So it’s hardly surprising that her debut novel is inspired by the vivid truth-capturing success of the black press and particularly by the life of African American journalist and newspaper editor Ida B. Wells (1862–1931), an early civil rights activist and suffragist. Here, young Ivoe Williams is consumed by a passion for journalism after stealing a newspaper from her mother’s white employer, sinking herself into newsprint as a means of escaping her segregated small-town Texas surroundings. Eventually, she moves to Kansas City, where with lover and former teacher Ona she founds the first female-run African American newspaper, Jam! On the Vine and reports on segregation-based prison brutalities even as the Midwest explodes in race riots. Being compared to Toni Morrison’s Jazz and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, though Barnett’s style is less lyrical than muscularly forthright in a true reporter’s manner; with an 11-city tour to Boston, Providence, New York City, Washington, DC, Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City (MO), Iowa City, Dallas, and Houston.

Boyne, John. A History of Loneliness. Farrar. Feb. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780374171339. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374713027. LITERARY FICTION
The author of eight adult novels and four YA novels variously available in 47 languages, Boyne is boynebest known for the YA novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a No. 1 New York Times best seller that won two Irish Book awards, inspired a film, and sold six million copies worldwide. In his latest adult novel, he takes on the conflagratory topic of the Catholic Church in Ireland today. Forty years after his starry-eyed entry into the priesthood, Odran Yates hesitates to go outside for fear of public hostility; sexual abuse by priests has left parishioners angry, victims devastated, and many of Odran’s colleagues tried or jailed. Now a dark well in Odran’s past is opening up, and he must consider his complicity in the crisis that’s destroying his Church…and his family.

Dickstein, Morris. Why Not Say What Happened: A Sentimental Education. Liveright: Norton. Feb. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9780871404312. $27.95. MEMOIR
Dickstein is currently Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English and Theatre at the CUNY Graduate Center, which doesn’t begin to sum up his influence as a cultural critic and historian, with contributor status to every major intellectual publication of the last 50 years and books ranging from Double Agent: The Critic and Society to Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression. Here he turns that spotlight mind on a subject close to dicksteinhome—himself—as he details his Lower East Side childhood, then breaking away from his close, observant Jewish family as he discovers Beat-imbued New York and the rich literary life at Columbia University. Then it’s on to oh-so-proper Yale and Cambridge and the wild Sixties. Would that we had all had such a “sentimental education,” but at least we can enjoy it vicariously.

Franklin, Ariana & Samantha Norman. The Siege Winter. Morrow. Feb. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780062282569. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062282583. HISTORICAL
Though she worked as a journalist and wrote fiction under her own name, Diana Norman, Franklin caught everyone’s attention (and won a clutch of Crime Writers’ Association daggers) for her series featuring medieval medical examiner Adelia Aguilar—a “mistress of the art of death,” as both the first book in the series and the series itself are called. Franklin died in 2011 just short of completing this manuscript, which has been wrapped up by her writer/critic daughter, and fans will be happy to see her return to 12th-century England even if there’s no Adelia in sight. As cousins King Stephen and the Empress Matilda play tug-of-war with the crown, a red-haired peasant girl named Emma is abducted by a crazed monk and left for dead, then rescued by archer-for-hire Gwyl. Soon, Emma is dressed as a boy and serving as an apprentice to Gwyl, who takes her off on a fortress under siege by hornet-mad Stephen. And what about that monk?

Hannah, Kristin. The Nightingale. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2015. 448p. ISBN 9780312577223. $27.99. HISTORICAL
Recently, leading authors from Anthony Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See) to Kate Mosse (Citadel) to Deborah Lawrenson (The Sea Garden World) have set their novels in War II France. Now it’s mega-best-selling Hannah’s turn. In this tale of two sisters, bolder Isabelle enjoys her life in Paris, while older Viann lives peacefully in the country with husband Antoine. They’re as tight as two sisters can be, but their bond is tested when war comes and their father sends Isabelle to help Viann as Antoine marches off to battle. Red-carpet treatment here with a one-day laydown, a ten-city tour, a reading group guide, reading group promotion, a Goodreads and a library bragsmarketing campaign, and more.

Johnson, T. Geronimo. Welcome to Braggsville. Morrow. Feb. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9780062302120. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062302144. LITERARY FICTION
Johnson got a good start with Hold It ’Til It Hurts, a debut novel from Coffee House about two black brothers that was nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award, and his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and M.A. in Language, Literacy, and Culture from Berkeley are nice backup. Still, this second novel looks like a big, ambitious leap upward. White Georgia country boy D’aron Davenport is out of his depth and pretty lonely at sophisticated, multicultural Berkley until he befriends kung-fu California comedian Louis, earnest social crusader Candice, and inner-city black Chicagoan Charlie. They call themselves the “4 Little Indians,” perhaps harkening to Candice’s presumed Native American roots. Then D’aron casually mentions that his hometown hosts an annual Civil War reenactment, Candice proposes a “performative intervention,” and the four are on the road to Braggsville, GA, where family barbeques and backwoods churches set the stage for one big culture clash. With a 100,000-copy first printing.

Monson, Ander. Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries. Graywolf. Feb. 2015. 160p. ISBN 9781555977061. $22; ebk. ISBN 9781555973384.LITERARY COLLECTIONS/ESSAYS
Monson is a triple-threat author whose distinctively imaginative, tell-it-slant writing routinely gets monsonaward recognition: his novel Other Electricities won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award and was a NYPL Young Lions Award finalist; his poetry collection Vacationland won a Tupelo Press Editors’ Prize; and Vanishing Point was a National Book Critics Circle finalist in criticism. Oh, and he also edits the online literary/arts magazine DIAGRAM. His next foray into criticism examines the physical relationship between book and reader, tapping the marginalia and highlighting, fingerprints and paper slips left behind in books found in a wide range of libraries, from academic institutions to friends’ collections to a KGB prison library. Along the way, Monson investigates how reading and writing shape us, our need to annotate and preserve, and the very nature of libraries. With a five-city author tour.

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.