Shelf Awareness for Thursday, June 1, 2017


Chooseco: Chimera (Weregirl #2) by C.D. Bell

Riverhead Books: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Barron's Educational Series: Dear Dinosaur: With Real Letters to Read! by Chae Strathie, illustrated by Nicola O'Byrne

Timber Press: Saving Tarboo Creek: One Family's Quest to Heal the Land by Scott Freeman

HarperCollins: Laura's Album: A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson

News

Gulliver's Bookstore in Fairbanks, Alaska, for Sale

Gulliver's Books, Fairbanks, Alaska, is for sale and has closed its Second Story Café, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Owners Bryan and Christy Wiskeman, who bought the store in 2012, told the newspaper that the café business "has been fading over the past year as more jobs are cut" at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "With the increase in outdoor eateries our summer business has slowed beyond a point at which we can maintain our staff. As far as future plans go, we are exploring various options."


Avery Publishing Group: The End of Alzheimer's: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline by Dale Bredesen


Indigo Fiscal Year: Revenue Up 2.6%, Net Earnings Dip

In the fiscal year ended April 1, total revenue at Indigo Books & Music rose 2.6%, to $1.02 billion (about US$755 million), and net earnings were $20.9 million (about US$15.5 million) compared to $28.6 million (US$21.2 million) last year.

Total comparable sales, including both online sales and comparable store sales, increased 4.1%.

The company said that sales grew primarily because of "continued double-digit growth in general merchandise, most notably lifestyle products and toys. Book sales remained solid as sales for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child partially offset the declining trend for adult colouring books."

Indigo said the fall in net earnings "is explained by a primarily non cash income tax expense of $8.1 million [US$6 million] in the current period compared to an income tax recovery of $6.5 million [US$4.8 million] last year. Indigo ended the year in a very strong financial position with cash and short-term investment balance of $230 million [US$170.1 million] and no debt."

CEO Heather Reisman commented, "We are delighted to report our highest revenues ever in what was a tough year for many retailers. We believe this is a direct result of Indigo's efforts to innovate and to provide our customers with exceptional products and an inspiring shopping experience both in our stores and online. Our focus, as always, is to continue to improve; and the Indigo team remains energized to keep up the momentum of the last few years."

In other news, Indigo has appointed Hugues Simard executive v-p and CFO. He was formerly senior v-p and CFO of Videotron.


Soho Teen: No Saints in Kansas by Amy Brashear


Remembering Carla Gray

Such sad news as BookExpo started yesterday: Carla Gray, executive marketing director at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and beloved by so many in the industry, died unexpectedly on Tuesday. She was 52.

On social media, many of her friends and colleagues posted heartfelt, sad and funny tributes. And last night, one of Carla's dear friends, Craig Popelars, organized an impromptu party in her memory at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, site of many a Hellfire party that he, Carla, Patty Berg and Ruth Liebmann had hosted during past BEAs. Last night's reunion featured Carla Gray Gin Gimlets and many hugs, tears and laughs. Craig said in part, "I hope we can honor her not just tonight but in everything that we do while we're in this business."

Patty Berg said Carla "would bring us together and there was always something that we would laugh at... it really is a testament to why we're in this business because we get to hang out with people who love the same things that we do, whether it's about books or music or cocktails or horses or whatever.... Carla is with everybody."

She grew up in Washington, Conn., went to Trinity College and began her career in publishing as a bookseller at several stores in New England, including the Little Book Room and Reading International. Some 20 years ago, she joined Houghton Mifflin as a telephone sales rep, eventually becoming executive director of marketing. Throughout her career at HMH, Carla was known and loved for the passion, creativity and enthusiasm she brought to her work, as well as for her ability to bring people together wherever she went.

Bruce Nichols, senior v-p and publisher of HMH, reflected: "The world has lost a great champion of the written word, a tireless advocate for authors, and a dear friend of booksellers across the country. HMH has lost a beloved colleague of 20 years. We will miss Carla every day."

Marilyn Dahl, editor emerita of Shelf Awareness for Readers, remembered: "If the book world had a flag, it would be flying half-mast today.

"Professionally, Carla was tops--she was a tireless and creative promoter, a great mentor, and a discerning reader. If Carla said 'Read it!' I did, immediately. Personally, Carla was... well, make a list of everything you'd want in a friend. She was exuberant, witty, silly, loyal, passionate, warm, welcoming and very cool. She could tell a story. It's not an exaggeration to say she could make any day a holiday (especially Derby Day) and any event a celebration.

"Have a cocktail, eat some raw oysters, play a horse and salute a wonderful woman. Godspeed, Carla."

Steve Fischer, executive director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association, noted that Carla served on NEIBA's Advisory Council from 2012-2014 and said, "She brought to NEIBA the same professional enthusiasm, book smarts and humor that she brought to the entire bookselling community. We're going to miss her so much, especially in New England."

Gregory Henry, who worked with Carla at HMH from 2008 to 2009, wrote: "I'm 2,000 miles away from her in my new office, sobbing. I'm in L.A., and I feel so far away from her and the people I know who love her on the East Coast. I guess this is one of the great things about publishing--that you'll inevitably meet people like Carla, who'll welcome you, entertain you, make you feel seen and sane. My love to all who knew her."

Taryn Roeder wrote: "I've known her for 13 years, and have shared an office wall with her for probably 11 of those. So much damn time together talking books, work, family, friends, life--but not nearly enough time. How can it be that just last week we were planning our fun in NYC for tonight? Carla was vibrant and excited for the weekend and thrilled for her plans of the week. With her typical, generous spirit, she invited me to go out: she always wanted to share the good things, whether they were friends or stories or cocktails. Over the years she introduced me to so much of and so many in the industry. She loved books and she loved book people and she loved it all fiercely and we all loved her back."

And Eugenia Pakalik expressed how many felt when she said about Carla, "I miss you and I am a much better human for having had you in my life."


She Writes Press: Things Unsaid by Diana Y. Paul


BookExpo2017: The 'Elena Ferrante' Model

"I'm very happy that at one of the first conference sessions of the show this year, we are able to discuss something that would have been very, very unlikely just a few years ago. And that is how many of the most successful international translations of literary fiction over the past years have come out of independent publishing houses," moderator Ruediger Wischenbart, BookExpo's director of international affairs, said to open Wednesday's Global Market Forum session titled "The 'Elena Ferrante' Model: How Independent Publishers Excel in Promoting International Literature."

Panelists included Michael Reynolds, editor-in-chief of Europa Editions; Stephanie Valdez, co-owner of Brooklyn's Community Bookstore; and translator Esther Allen.

"I think that the number of independent publishers in America who are publishing works in translation has grown," Reynolds observed. "Over the past 10-12 years since Europa was established, there have been a great number of publishers founded that are devoted to works in translation.... Repeatedly we've seen successes at these houses."

Where does the next Ferrante come from? "It's a big world out there," Reynolds said. "There's a lot of writing; there are a lot of stories. There's quality in all genres.... I think one of the great paradoxes of the publishing industry is that successes are sui generis. They tend to be exceptional. They seem to come out of nowhere. At the same time, while every success is a success unto itself, we are very attached to the idea of trying to replicate that success. And it's one of the great tensions in the industry.... Going forward, successes are always going to seem like something new and they're always going to seem like they came out of nowhere and that they weren't based on any particular model or formula. It wouldn't be any fun if there were a formula or secret recipe."

The translator has become a more "pro-active figure in this whole equation that we're talking about, which is not an image of the translator's role that would have been in evidence even 25 years ago," Allen said. "We can't really talk about what's happening in this burgeoning translation market without mentioning a kind of new role that has emerged for the translator as the person who goes out and seeks work that is necessary to be translated.... Increasingly we have a population of translators who are genuinely motivated by a sense of vocation; who are out there in the world looking for these things and who understand the power that a translation into English can have."

Noting that her booksellers handsell translated works as they would any books they love, Valdez said, "I think things really change for us when we have probably three or more booksellers read and support a book.... The conversation becomes more exciting. When we get behind the book as a store, that's when sales really change. And that's where we start changing our language from 'Oh, you might like this' to 'We love this book and it's a must-read.' That's what turned the tide, for instance, for Ferrante, where we've sold almost 2,000 copies, which for us is quite a lot."

Citing the increased popularity of translated genre fiction as an example of the market's health and range, Reynolds expressed hope that, "in a certain sense, the reception to works in translation is normalized as much as possible. I'm very keen on that coming to pass in this market--that we eventually stop having panels like this and just talk about good books that are out there and that come from abroad." --Robert Gray


DK Publishing: Star Wars Coding Projects by Jon Woodcock


Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards Celebrate 50th Anniversary

Kwame Alexander and Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton, editor-in-chief of the Horn Book, and Newbery Medal-winning author Kwame Alexander (The Crossover; Out of Wonder; Animal Ark) presented the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards at the School Library Journal Day of Dialog yesterday in New York City.

The award was established in 1967 by Paul and Ethel Heins, former editors of the Horn Book. The winners are chosen annually by an independent panel of three judges. This year's awards will be presented on October 6 at Simmons College, followed the next day by the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium. The honored and winning books are:

Nonfiction: Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman (Holt)

Nonfiction honor:
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook)
Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Picture book: Freedom over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan (Caitlin Dlouhy/Atheneum)

Picture book honor:
Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell (Feiwel and Friends)
Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illust. Sydney Smith (Groundwood)

Fiction: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray)

Fiction honor:
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes (Bloomsbury)
The Best Man by Richard Peck (Dial)


Berkley Books: The French Girl by Lexie Elliott


Notes

Images of the Day: Up on the Roof

Rooftops proved a popular venue for BookExpo parties on a lovely early summer evening in New York City.

At a party hosted by the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC), director of development Kathy Bartson (far left) and executive director Pam French (far right) with supporters (l.-r.) Andy Hunter of Catapult; Meredith Hutchins and Richard Hunt of AdventureKEEN; and John Rubin of Above the Treeline/Edelweiss.

Terri Akers (Other Press) and Michael Reynolds (Europa Editions) at Other Press's rooftop party.


New Yorker on Amazon Books: 'Not Built for People Who Actually Read'

Among the myriad articles discussing Amazon's new bookstore in the Time Warner Center in New York City, Jia Tolentino's thoughtful, amusing piece in the New Yorker stood out for many. Tolentino called Amazon's seven brick-and-mortar stores "not built for people who actually read" and likened the Columbus Circle store to an airport bookshop--"big enough to be enticing from the outside but extremely limited once you're inside." She said some of the store's sections, especially nonfiction, felt as if they were "organized like an ill-advised dinner party," and noted that in the entire store only two authors, John Steinbeck and W. Bruce Cameron, have three titles in stock. In the store's inventory she said she found "no wild cards, no deep cuts, no oddballs--just books that were already best-sellers," and left "without feeling a single unexpected thrill." Tolentino reports that she departed the Amazon store to head downtown to McNally Jackson Books, where she found two hardcovers and "had the brief thought I could have saved some money by buying them from Amazon. Then I paid for them happily anyway."


PGW Distributing Canongate Books

Publishers Group West is now distributing Canongate Books in the U.S. and Canada, starting with the fall season. That list includes Darke by Rick Gekoski, The Art of Losing Control by Jules Evans, To the River by Olivia Laing, Insanely Gifted and Undying by Jamie Catto and Michel Faber's first volume of poetry.

Canongate CEO Jamie Byng commented: "To be reunited with PGW, with whom we had a long and happy relationship through our partnership with Grove Atlantic, is a huge thrill. The fact that they are now part of Ingram makes them an even more formidable sales and distribution partner, and we feel bullish about what we can achieve together with our eclectic and exciting list in North America. It feels like a perfect match in all respects."


Personnel Changes at Beacon Press; Quarto Group; Cave Henricks; Scribner

Sanj Kharbanda has been named director of sales and marketing at Beacon Press, effective June 5. He has been a member of Beacon's board of advisors since 2014.

He was most recently senior v-p, digital markets, at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, where he worked for 11 years. Earlier he was a bookseller and store manager at WordsWorth Books, Cambridge, Mass.

At the same time, Beacon Press associate publisher Tom Hallock is going to start working part-time so that he can have more time to pursue interests in political and electoral organizing. Hallock will continue as associate publisher and hand over many of his sales and marketing responsibilities to Kharbanda. He will increasingly focus on special projects, including the migration of the press to a new title management system, enhancing the backlist and audio lines, and developing new business opportunities for the press.

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Wendy Friedman has been appointed v-p, director of international sales, for the Quarto Group, where she will be responsible for growing English-language international sales around the world. She will join the company in the summer and work from its New York City office. She has more than 30 years of experience in sales, marketing and senior executive roles in publishing and joins Quarto from Parragon, where she was president, CCO Parragon Global. Earlier she was v-p, sales and marketing, at Modern Publishing and at Smithmark Publishing.

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Jessica Krakoski has been promoted to v-p, managing director, of Cave Henricks Communications, the public relations firm for books and authors. She joined the company in 2010 as a senior publicist, after working at Simon & Schuster and Basic Books.

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Effective June 19, Josh Glickman is joining Scribner as a publicist. He was formerly a publicist at Oxford University Press.



Media and Movies

TV: The Happiness Machine

"In a competitive situation," IM Global Television has optioned Katie Williams's (The Space Between Trees, Absent) upcoming sci-fi novel The Happiness Machine (Riverhead Books) to develop as a TV series, Deadline reported. Screenwriter Patrick Tobin (Cake) will write the adaptation.

"Katie Williams' book is a quietly intense and emotional page-turner which explores, with even-handed aplomb, the complexities of our search for contentment and our twisted relationship with the technologies that serve us and that we serve," said IM Global Television president Mark Stern. "In Patrick Tobin, we've found the perfect writer to adapt this provocative material for television."


This Weekend on Book TV: In-Depth with Matt Taibbi

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this weekend from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.

Saturday, June 3
12 p.m. Book TV's "Local Content Vehicles" tour historical and literary sites in Eugene, Ore. (Re-airs Sunday at 9:30 a.m.)

2:30 p.m. Guy Laron, author of The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East (Yale University Press, $28, 9780300222708). (Re-airs Monday at 6:30 a.m.)

4 p.m. John Pfaff, author of Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration--and How to Achieve Real Reform (Basic Books, $27.99, 9780465096916). (Re-airs Sunday at 8 a.m.)

7 p.m. Hillary Clinton discusses her upcoming books, among other topics, at BookExpo in New York City. (Re-airs Sunday at 10:45 p.m.)

8 p.m. Mark Moyar, author of Oppose Any Foe: The Rise of America’s Special Operations Forces (Basic Books, $30, 9780465053933). (Re-airs Monday at 4 a.m.)

9 p.m. Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens, authors of Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech (St. Martin's Press, $26.99, 9781250112262). (Re-airs Sunday at 5 p.m.)

10 p.m. Senator Ben Sasse, author of The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis--and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance (St. Martin's Press, $27.99, 9781250114402). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 3 a.m.)

11:30 p.m. Author and journalist Masha Gessen gives the 2017 Arthur Miller Lecture at the PEN World Voices Festival. (Re-airs Sunday at 4 p.m.)

Sunday, June 4
1:30 a.m. Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (Liveright, $27.95, 9781631492853). (Re-airs Sunday at 7:30 p.m.)

12 p.m. Live In-Depth q&a with Matt Taibbi, author of Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus (Spiegel & Grau, $26, 9780399592461). (Re-airs Monday at 12 a.m.)


Books & Authors

Awards: Children's Choice; MPIBA's Reading the West

Every Child a Reader, a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring a love of reading in children and teens, has announced the winners of the 10th annual Children's & Teen Choice Book Awards.

The announcement took place yesterday at BookExpo, in a ceremony hosted by the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Gene Luen Yang.

The 2017 winners are:

K-2nd Grade Book of the Year: Madeline Finn and the Library Dog by Lisa Papp (Peachtree)

3rd-4th Grade Book of the Year: Once Upon an Elephant by Linda Stanek, illus. by Shennen Bersani (Arbordale Publishing)

5th-6th Grade Book of the Year: The Misadventures of Max Crumbly 1: Locker Hero by Rachel Renée Russell, with Nikki and Erin Russell (Aladdin/S&S)

Teen Book of the Year: The Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo (Holt)

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The winners of this year's Reading the West Book Awards, sponsored by the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association, have been announced. They will be recognized in October at MPIBA's Fall Discovery Show. The winning titles are: 

Adult fiction: News of the World by Paulette Jiles (Morrow)
Adult nonfiction: The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams (Sarah Crichton Books/FSG)
Children's: Runs with Courage by Joan M. Wolf (Sleeping Bear Press)


Attainment: New Titles Appearing Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, June 6:

Camino Island: A Novel by John Grisham (Doubleday, $28.95, 9780385543026) is Grisham's 30th novel, in which a writer infiltrates a black market for stolen rare books.

Defectors: A Novel by Joseph Kanon (Atria, $27, 9781501121395) is an espionage thriller about a family divided in the early Cold War.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: A Novel by Arundhati Roy (Knopf, $28.95, 9781524733155) is the latest novel from the author of The God of Small Things.

You Belong to Me: A Novel by Colin Harrison (Sarah Crichton, $27, 9780374299477) follows a New York immigration lawyer with a passion for collecting maps.

The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder (Flatiron, $25.99, 9781250095206) follows an estranged family gathering for a sibling's wedding.

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, 9780544866461) switches between two London women, one in the 1660s and the other in the early 21st century.

I Can't Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss (Atria/37 INK, $26.99, 9781501155567) is the comedian's memoir.

The Long Haul: A Trucker's Tales of Life on the Road by Finn Murphy (Norton, $26.95, 9780393608717) shares stories from a long-haul trucker's 30 years of driving.

Called to Rise: A Life in Faithful Service to the Community That Made Me by David O. Brown and Michelle Burford (Ballantine, $28, 9781524796549) is the memoir of a Dallas police chief.

Bill O'Reilly's Legends and Lies: The Civil War by David Fisher (Holt, $35, 9781250109842) is the companion to a Fox News series.

Wildman by J.C. Geiger (Disney/Hyperion, $17.99, 9781484749579) is a YA novel about a high-achieving teen whose well-planned life is shaken up like a snow globe when his car breaks down in a small, nowheresville town.

The Girl with the Ghost Machine by Lauren DeStefano (Bloomsbury, $16.99, 9781681194448) is a middle grade novel about loss, life and a girl whose father is building a contraption he hopes will bring back her dead mother.

Paperback:
Wonder Woman: The Official Movie Novelization by Nancy Holder (Titan Books, $7.99, 9781785653780).

Movie:
My Cousin Rachel, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, opens June 9. Rachel Weisz stars as the mysterious cousin of an Englishman who suspects her of murder. A movie tie-in edition (Sourcebooks Landmark, $16.99, 9781492660637) is available.


IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at IndieBound.org, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:

Hardcover
Ginny Moon: A Novel by Benjamin Ludwig (Park Row Books, $26.99, 9780778330165). "In a novel both heartwarming and heartbreaking, Benjamin Ludwig draws you into Ginny Moon's world and has you holding your breath until the last page. Told from Ginny's perspective, the story gives readers the unique advantage of seeing the world in all its confusion through the eyes and mind of a 13-year-old autistic girl. Taken from an abusive mother when she was nine, Ginny has struggled within the foster care system for several years, finally ending up with her current 'forever family.' Ginny is lovable yet frustrating, and totally unforgettable!" --Maxwell Gregory, Lake Forest Book Store, Lake Forest, Ill.

'Round Midnight: A Novel by Laura McBride (Touchstone, $25.99, 9781501157783). "Four women, five decades, and one Las Vegas nightclub come together in a powerful story of lust, grief, and family ties. Laura McBride spins a richly evocative tale of the glory days of Las Vegas and the women who inhabit this world. Their stories are intertwined both with and without their knowledge, and together they forge a future that none of them could foresee. Taking readers from the depths of grief and then sending them soaring with emotion, 'Round Midnight is an awe-inspiring novel that deserves to be on the bookshelf of every avid reader." --Pamela Klinger-Horn, Excelsior Bay Books, Excelsior, Minn.

Paperback
The Garden of Small Beginnings: A Novel by Abbi Waxman (Berkley, $16, 9780399583582). "Lilian Girvan is a young widow going through the motions: mother of two, newly unemployed, and navigating life's daily aggravations. When she grudgingly signs up for a weekly gardening class, she's surprised to find support, wisdom, and the possibility of a new relationship. Lilian is a funny, sassy everywoman who will make you laugh out loud, cry a little, and cheer as she takes tentative steps toward her own small beginnings of happiness. Abbi Waxman's debut novel will be enjoyed by fans of The School of Essential Ingredients and anyone who believes that happiness can be a choice regardless of what life brings." --Cindy Pauldine, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

For Ages 4 to 8
Bunny's Book Club by Annie Silvestro, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss (Doubleday, $17.99, 9780553537581). "Bunny's Book Club is an absolutely adorable book about a bunny who loves books. He sneaks into the library and borrows some books, but soon his friends wonder what he is up to. The book is full of fun illustrations and encourages a love of reading." --Debbie Buck, Vintage Books, Vancouver, Wash.

For Ages 9 to 12
The Wingsnatchers: Carmer and Grit, Book One by Sarah Jean Horwitz (Algonquin, $17.95, 9781616206635). "The world needs more middle-grade steampunk, and The Wingsnatchers: Carmer and Grit fits that bill perfectly. It blends fantasy and technology in an intriguing mesh of automatons, faeries, and magic shows. Human boy Carmer and faerie girl Grit are quite the pair, and their friendship blossoms beautifully as the story unfolds. This is an excellent debut you can really sink your teeth into." --Emily Hall, Main Street Books, St. Charles, Mo.

For Teen Readers
Geekerella: A Fangirl Fairy Tale by Ashley Poston (Quirk Books, $18.99, 9781594749476). "Meet devoted Starfield fangirl Elle: part-time worker at the Magic Pumpkin food truck, full-time slave to her stepmother and stepsisters. Then there's popular, airbrushed celebrity Darien: first choice to play Starfield Federation prince in the new remake, closet geek whom fame forced into the role of teen heartthrob. And finally, one beloved sci-fi TV series that is the focus of ExcelsiCon, the brainchild of Elle's late father. Nerd sparks fly when ExcelsiCon announces a cosplay contest and masked ball. The rest is a delight to discover as Elle and Darien realize what they want and go after it in true fandom fashion." --Maggie Hills, La Playa Books, San Diego, Calif.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]


Book Review

Review: South Pole Station

South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby (Picador, $26 hardcover, 368p., 9781250112828, July 3, 2017)

The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station Guide welcomes Cooper Gosling, an artist in residence, with the fact that the average annual temperature is -56.7 degrees Fahrenheit. She'd already been vetted for a grant: subjected to an exam ("True or false: I prefer flowers to trucks"), questioned about why she wants to paint in Antarctica and treated to a trust-building exercise involving Tabasco and 7UP. In Ashley Shelby's witty and affecting debut novel, South Pole Station, Cooper joins a group of eccentrics on the ice for a slide into the surreal. There is Sal, an astrophysicist with one year left to prove his cosmological theory; Pavano, a helioseismologist in the pay of big oil and global warming deniers; Pearl, a cook with culinary ambitions; Bozer, the construction chief who sports a Confederate bandanna; Tucker, the calm and cool African American area director; and various other "margin-dwellers" for whom the Pole is the only place they feel at home.

South Pole Station, told from various viewpoints, always circles around Cooper, who was raised, along with her brother, on tales of Polar exploration. After his suicide, she feels drawn to Antarctica. Tucker intuits that Cooper was "coming from a place of strength. She wanted to go to the Pole for the reason he had gone: to avoid becoming a tragic figure." The tension in the novel, aside from extreme weather conditions and personal interactions, comes from the opposition to Pavano. The scientists go out of their way to thwart him, which ultimately results in an accident involving Cooper, and the threat by several congressmen to withdraw funding.

Shelby makes serious statements about scientific quests, climate change, politics and people in extremis, but it's the "Polies" who undergird the story. In months of perpetual night, they live in a miniature parallel universe, a place where "the water swishing around in the station toilets might be made from snow that had fallen in the fifteenth century." There's also plenty to catch Shelby's satiric eye besides politics: the literary novelist whose "work deals with the cartographic imperative" or the dancer who hopes to choreograph a show "based on the mating rituals of the hydrocarbon seep tubeworm," but runs into difficulties interpreting its vascular plume.

Cooper says, "I like it here because this isn't the world. It's somewhere else." But the world inevitably intrudes, and as things begin to fall apart, the Polies band together and take a stand. She thinks of what Apsley Cherry-Garrard (of the ill-fated Scott party) wrote: "If you are a brave man you will do nothing; if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards have need to prove their bravery." As Cooper becomes a true Polie, she realizes another truth, voiced by Bozer: "We're all here because of some s**t. Everyone's got it, but you ain't got to be alone in it." With South Pole Station's satire, science, wry wit and warmth, Ashley Shelby has written one of the best novels of the year. --Marilyn Dahl

Shelf Talker: A blocked artist gets a grant to paint in Antarctica, and finds both inspiration and family among the "margin-dwellers" who call the ice their home.


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