Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver. (Harper Perennial) In the mountains of southern Appalachia, Dellarobia Turnbow, the restless farm wife at the center of Kingsolver’s novel, is stopped in her tracks by a valley blazing “with its own internal flame”: a colony of monarch butterflies, its flight pattern thrown off by chaotic weather patterns. To religious-minded residents, the mass migration signals the divine, but entomologists see something disturbing about the state of the Earth.
Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist, by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst. (Belknap/Harvard University) Concentrating on Dickens’ early career, this sharp-eyed biography takes us through the 1830s and the completion of “Oliver Twist,” his second novel – and the first whose title page bears his own name rather than the alias under which he wrote “Sketches by Boz” and “The Pickwick Papers.”
A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers. (Vintage) One of the Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2012, Eggers’ tightly controlled parable of America’s international standing continues the worldly outlook of “Zeitoun” and “What Is the What.” In a rising city in Saudi Arabia, a middle-aged American businessman waits day after day to close the deal he hopes will redeem his forlorn life.
Eisenhower in War and Peace, by Jean Edward Smith. (Random House) Smith carefully traces Dwight D. Eisenhower’s distinguished military career and preparation for the presidency, and claims that, apart from Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ike was “the most successful president of the 20th century.”
The Second World War, by Antony Beevor. (Back Bay/Little, Brown) Beevor’s powerful narrative stresses battles and diplomacy, and – as he has in previous books like “Stalingrad” and “D-Day” – uses eyewitness testimony to deliver haunting particulars.
Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain: Stories, by Lucia Perillo. (Norton) With bleak whimsy and sweet sadness, Perillo’s poetry – a body of work spanning more than 20 years – celebrates a world that often hurts her. This first story collection echoes versions of her history, as a variety of flawed but enduring characters in a small town in the Pacific Northwest struggle against the confines of their lives.
Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer, by Susan Gubar. (Norton) In 2008, Gubar, the co-author of a seminal feminist text, “The Madwoman in the Attic,” received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. In a voice both straightforward and brave, she attempts to share and make sense of her frightening experience. This book is at once a memoir, a review of sobering medical facts, and a compilation of cancer reminiscences and descriptions of illness in literature and art.
The Headmaster’s Wager, by Vincent Lam. (Hogarth) Percival Chen, the Chinese protagonist of Lam’s first novel, runs the most prestigious English-language school in 1966 Saigon. With Vietnamese nationalism shifting into high gear, the shrewd Chen remains culturally and politically aloof, but he gets a rude awakening when his only son runs afoul of the Vietnamese authorities.
New York Times