Julie Otsuka's highly anticipated follow-up novel to When the Emperor Was Divine is a group portrait of Japanese "picture brides" called The Buddha in the Attic. Recently awarded the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award, it is a classic immigrant story: Having traveled by boat to California in the 1900s to marry men they had only corresponded with, these young women struggle to master a new language and culture and raise children who reject old customs, only to face the final indignity of internment during World War II. The women recount their story collectively and with all the power and fury of a Greek chorus ("This is America, we would say to ourselves, there is no need to worry. And we would be wrong").
Korean novelist Kyung-sook Shin's Please Look After Mom sold more than 1 million copies in her native South Korea. The novel, which was translated by Chi-Young Kim, is "marked by a wistful tone and by some precisely rendered scenes of emotional disconnect between a mother and the adult children who've grown apart from her," says Fresh Air's Maureen Corrigan. What's fascinating about it, she adds, is "the message — completely alien to our own therapeutic culture — that if one's mother is miserable, it is indeed the fault of her husband and her ungrateful children."
Publishing has a new unlikely heroine: an unknown author named E.L. James who scored a seven-figure book deal with Vintage Books to publish her erotica trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey, which recently landed at No. 1 on the New York Times paperback best-seller list. Initially self-published in Australia as a free e-book called Master of the Universe, the book emerged from the steamy land of fan fiction, the online community of readers who write unauthorized extensions of their favorite stories — in this case, a retelling of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight with X-rated scenes. That book counted more than 37,000 reader reviews on FanFiction.net before James moved the book to her own site, and eventually removed the Twilight-specific material and repurposed the book as straight erotica. She sold hundreds of thousands of copies of Fifty Shades of Grey before Vintage courted her.
Actress Shirley MacLaine follows up her best-selling memoirs of the late 1980s, Out on a Limb and Dancing in the Light, with I'm Over All That, an explanation of what she is "over" and "not over." The chapters range from very short ("I Can't Get Over My Frustration At Not Being Able To Open Anything I Buy," which is about packaging) to very long ("I Wonder If I Will Be Over The Drama Of 2012," which is about the Mayan calendar and how the magnetic poles are being reversed). Among the book's unpredictable political assertions: MacLaine blames her asthma on George W. Bush, not because of environmental policy but because she says she disliked him so much that she couldn't breathe.
Shania Twain's new memoir, From This Moment On, is not a light read. The hugely successful country music star sounds more like a Loretta Lynn-style mountain-girl survivor than the woman who showed Nashville what a midriff looks like. Twain reveals the abuse she and her mother both suffered at the hands of her stepfather and the dire poverty they endured after leaving him. She also goes into detail about her humiliating divorce from her producer and primary musical collaborator, Robert "Mutt" Lange, who left her for one of her best friends in 2008. But as Twain says near the end of a chat with NPR's Scott Simon, "Music is a great natural high and a great natural escape."
As an adult, writer Wendy McClure was drawn back to the Little House novels by Laura Ingalls, based on Wilder's childhood with her pioneer family, who moved across the Midwest in their covered wagon. She loved them so much that she immersed herself in what she calls "Laura World." She churned her own butter with a crock-and-dash churn she bought on eBay. She actually gnawed on salt pork. And she traveled from one Ingalls family home to another, stopping in Wisconsin, Kansas and South Dakota. In her new book, The Wilder Life, McClure writes about her adventure in a series of entertaining and touching essays that make it essential for Little House fans.
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also leads a weekly chat on books and reading in the digital age every Friday from 4-5 p.m. ET on Twitter. Follow her at @charabbott or check out the #followreader hashtag.