5 HOT BOOKS: Churchill and Orwell, a Journalist's Africa Memoir, and More

These are five books people are talking about this week -- or should be:

1. Love, Africa: A Memoir of Romance, War, and Survival by Jeffrey Gettleman (Harper)

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning East Africa bureau chief for the New York Times, one might expect a book of high-end war stories: his kidnapping; his risky reporting from Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, Congo, Kenya, and Burundi; his awe at the region’s magic and beauty.  Instead, Gettleman has written a deeply personal, often profound memoir about his determined struggle to balance his love for East Africa – acquired rather randomly on a high school trip – with his love for his wife, whom he first met in college.  Gettleman resists making himself the hero of his stories about religious and ethnic factions, militias, and warlords.  While he decries failed U.N. and American policies, Gettleman refrains from simple-minded solutions. What emerges from these beautifully written pages is the portrait of a young man, determined to follow his – at times conflicting – dreams.

2. Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin Books)

This pair of 20th century intellectual giants may never have met, but in Churchill and Orwell, Thomas E. Ricks argues that the great World War II Prime Minister and the author of 1984 and Animal Farm had an important shared goal: galvanizing opposition to the twin totalitarian threats of fascism and communism. Ricks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the author of books like Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq -- a Pulitzer Prize finalist on the history and flawed planning of the Iraq War, is an unabashed fan of both men. Churchill and Orwell highlights their wisdom and prescience, and the depth of their shared moral convictions.

3. Salt Houses by Hala Alyan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

“When Salma peers into her daughter’s coffee cup, she knows instantly she must lie,” begins Salt Houses, Alyan’s debut novel. She draws on her talent as a poet and psychologist as she astutely chronicles four generations of a Palestinian family, stretching from Iraq, Kuwait, Palestine, Beirut and Paris, from the beginning of the Six-Day War in 1967 to the present. Over the decades, the Yacoub family disperses around the world, and then Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait forces many of them to uproot again. Alyan elegantly moves back and forth through time, and through multiple points of view, registering the emotional lives of a wide range of characters, from those who wish to assimilate to those who believe in political resistance.

4. The Awkward Age by Francesca Segal (Riverhead)

In her debut novel The Innocents, Segal reimagined Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence in a tightly knit north London Jewish community, with great wit and charm. Her sophomore effort The Awkward Age (not to be confused with the Henry James novel of the same name) is equally beguiling. Segal takes on the “blended family,” with a widowed British piano teacher and a divorced obstetrician from Boston, and the more than vexing relationship emerging between her adolescent daughter and his son. Throw in American-class issues, self-sacrifice and its Siamese twin self-involvement, in-laws and a quirky ex-wife, and the awkwardness of the title is not confined to the adolescents in this sharply observed novel of middle-class manners.

5. Give a Girl a Knife by Amy Thielen (Clarkson Potter)

Park Rapids, Minnesota, near the Iron Range, is far from the tumultuous kitchens of David Bouley and Daniel Boulud, but that is where Thielen began her journey from an icy, rural hometown to the high-end dining world. Give a Girl a Knife is Thielen’s memoir of her tour of the gourmet precincts of New York, followed by a return to her own home kitchen. A James Beard Award winner and host of Heartland Table on the Food Network, Thielen has a warm, wry tone, whether recalling her mother crushing bags of crispy kettle chips or the great Bouley conjuring up AstroTurf-color spinach puree. “To me, time in the kitchen was like a loophole, a bubble, a cure,” Thielen writes. “Once I found it, I crawled inside and told myself I never wanted to leave.”