Shelf Awareness for Monday, May 18, 2015

Hampton Roads Publishing Company: Becoming Baba Yaga: Trickster, Feminist, and Witch of the Woods by Kris Spisak, Foreword by Gennarose Nethercott

Dial Press: Like Mother, Like Mother by Susan Rieger

Severn House: A Messy Murder (Main) (The Decluttering Mysteries #4) by Simon Brett

Forge: My Three Dogs by Bruce W Cameron

Running Press Adult: Scam Goddess: Lessons from a Life of Cons, Grifts, and Schemes by Laci Mosley

Chronicle Books: Taste in Music: Eating on Tour with Indie Musicians by Luke Pyenson and Alex Beeker

Quotation of the Day

Steve Bercu: 'Great News' About Indies


"My time as president has been a wonderful experience. It has coincided with our continued resurgence as a channel and has seen the implementation of many of the things we have talked about for years. We have been able to see the results of rapid replenishment as it spreads to more and more of our publishing partners. We are seeing simplified co-op also spreading among our publishing partners. We are benefiting from extended dating and special offers that complement Small Business Saturday, Indies First and other seasonal selling periods. We are witnessing net increases in the number of indie stores, locations and new ownerships for existing stores that were just not happening five or more years ago. And sales are increasing in our stores and, of course, as a share of our publishing partners' business. All of that is great news, and news that I am happy to have been a part of in some way."

--Steve Bercu, co-owner of BookPeople, Austin, Tex., from his final letter as outgoing ABA president

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The Reading Room to Open in Watertown, N.Y.

Local authors display at Rags 'n Reads.

Rags 'n Reads books and clothing store in Adams, N.Y., will close at the end of the month, and owner LuAnne E. Rowsam plans to open the Reading Room, a discount bookstore, this July in Watertown at the Salmon Run Mall. The Daily Times reported that Rowsam's current business, "which sells a combination of children's books and discount apparel, could not draw enough customer traffic to be successful."

"We tried everything but just couldn't get people in the door," she said, adding:  "The book side was very successful, and I sold more books than clothes." A representative from Salmon Run Mall contacted her to discuss launching a bookstore there. "He came to us because of the books."

Rowsam said the new store's overstock books, to be purchased from a wholesaler in Canada, will be sold at 25% off cover prices. "We want to carry the kind of books all people want to read, whether it's nonfiction, religion and spirituality, sports, horror, romance or crime stories," she noted, adding that a section devoted to authors from the North Country also will be featured.

GLOW: Sourcebooks Landmark: A Forty Year Kiss by Nickolas Butler

Go Celebrate a Watchman

With the headline "Booksellers Heap Promotions on New Harper Lee Novel," the Wall Street Journal heaped attention on how some booksellers are making the July 14 publication of Go Set a Watchman into an event reminiscent of Harry Potter book launches. For example, on the evening before Go Set a Watchman's pub date, Northshire Bookstore, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., will co-host a screening of To Kill a Mockingbird and a dinner at a restaurant featuring Southern food--and at midnight, participants will receive a copy of the book.

Barnes & Noble, which is already promoting Go Set a Watchman with window posters in all stores, will open at 7 a.m. on July 14 and give early birds a free cup of coffee with each purchase. The chain hosted discussions of To Kill a Mockingbird in all of its stores last week and plans a read-a-thon of the book and discussions of the film.

Several booksellers expressed notes of caution, particularly since the book is more heavily embargoed than most "embargoed" books. Jan Weissmiller, co-owner of Prairie Lights Bookstore, Iowa City, Iowa, which has ordered 75 copies of Go Set a Watchman, told the Journal, "People are curious, but there isn't a lot of sense that it's going to be another To Kill a Mockingbird."

And Bradley Graham, co-owner of Politics & Prose, Washington, D.C., said, "We're in the dark as to what's in it. All this fuss being made about it gives me some pause about its real worth. But it's going to hit with a huge splash."

Sigurdardóttir Wins 'Best Scandinavian Crime Novel'

The Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir has won the 2015 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year, the Bookseller reported. The novel, which will be published in the U.S. by Minotaur in February 2016, is the latest in the Thora Gudmundsdottir series.

Runners up were:
The Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto
The Hunting Dogs by Jørn Lier Horst
Reykjavik Nights by Arnaldur Indridason
The Human Flies by Hans Olav Lahlum
Falling Freely as if in a Dream by Leif G.W. Persson

In a special touch, the Petrona trophy was presented to Sigurdardóttir at a gala dinner at CrimeFest in Bristol, England, by Maj Sjöwall, co-author with the late Per Wahlöö of the Martin Beck series, the touchstone for modern Scandinavian crime fiction.

Obituary Note: Franz Wright

Franz Wright, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet "whose work illuminated his passage from abiding despair to religious transcendence," died Thursday, the New York Times reported. He was 62. His books include F, Kindertotenwald, Wheeling Motel, God's Silence, The Beforelife and Walking to Martha's Vineyard, which won the Pulitzer in 2004.  

Wright's style "is characterized by hushed, spare, often fragmented language, as if bespeaking the fragility and atomization of the human condition," the Times observed, adding that his "anguished themes were second-generation concerns: His father, James Wright, also a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet [Collected Poems in 1972], had endured many of the same torments."

From Franz Wright's poem "Fathers":   

Homeless in Manhattan
the winter of your dying

I didn't have a lot of time
to think about it, trying to stay alive

To me

it was just the next interesting thing you would do--that is
how cold it was

and how often I walked to the edge of the actual river to join

Deborah Garrison, his longtime editor at Knopf, told the Los Angeles Times: "Franz wrote fearlessly about mental illness, addiction and loneliness as well as about faith and the unending beauty of his world, no matter how broken; he never wrote a line that wasn't fiercely important to him, musical, as witty as it was deadly serious. Franz lived for poetry--at times it seemed it kept him alive--and he managed to write poems in which the choice to live feels continually renewed, not just an urgent daily requirement for the poet but a call to arms that includes every single reader."

Adult Coloring Books: Filling in the Blanks

Call it nostalgia, stress relief or meditation--for whatever reason, coloring books for adults are suddenly filling in the blanks of a previously untapped market. The most popular title far and away is Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford (Laurence King, distributed in North America by Chronicle), which has sold 1.5 million copies in 28 countries since its publication in 2013. The book is so popular that the publisher is currently out of stock, and many booksellers say they could sell huge amounts if they could get copies. Basford's second adult coloring book, Enchanted Forest (Laurence King, Feb. 2015), has already sold more than 220,000 copies. More titles by Basford are on the way: on May 7, Penguin Random House announced its acquisition of Basford's next two books, with the first, Lost Ocean, to be published October 27, 2015.

The boom in adult coloring books began in Europe. Lisa Trudeau, U.S. publicity and marketing representative for Jacqui Small (the eponymous imprint of Quarto), said that early last year, when Jacqui Small pitched her idea for the Art Therapy series, Small "saw that adult coloring books were all the rage among French women. They were, at that time, outselling all other nonfiction instructional books, even cooking. Women were proudly posting their coloring accomplishments on Pinterest boards, many claiming that the therapeutic effects of coloring were more effective than yoga, meditation, or even antidepressants."

Social media appears to have played a central role in expanding adult coloring book sales. Sales of Secret Garden exploded in South Korea when Korean pop star Kim Ki-bum posted a colored-in page of Basford's book to 1.8 million Instagram followers. Actress Zooey Deschanel also posted about Secret Garden on her Facebook page. Still, the wild popularity of adult coloring books didn't translate across the Atlantic immediately.

"When Jacqui first brought her Art Therapy books to the U.S., sales were disappointingly slow," Trudeau said. "We were told that they were too expensive, too 'European'--then something changed. Suddenly we were selling out of our first titles, and pre-orders began piling up for forthcoming releases. We have not done any advertising for these books, and very little marketing. Honestly, our expectations were low. Demand and interest has grown organically, much to our delight and surprise."

The appeal of adult coloring books is multihued. Tami Furlong, owner of Fundamentals Children's Books and More, Delaware, Ohio, said, "One customer told me coloring helped her get through the dark days after her husband passed away. I always suggest a coloring book and colored pencils or crayons for every get well package, whether for kids or adults."

Lacy Mucklow, author of Race Point Publishing's Color Me Calm and Color Me Happy (illustrated by Angela Porter) and an art therapist with the military and families of the military, has found coloring books important in her work. "Lacy has received some heart-warming messages from readers and artists who have benefited from using the books--a veteran struggling with PTSD (who reluctantly tried the books after a concerned family member gave them the book), a mother coping with her child's illness, and a bedridden patient who needed something to pass the time," said Angela Corpus, senior marketing manager with Quarto.

Beyond the therapeutic value of adult coloring books, the simple fun of coloring has encouraged the creation of adult coloring groups, which often involve alcohol. "We hosted a Coloring & Cocktails event featuring Johanna Basford's adult coloring books," said Janis Herbert, assistant manager at Face in a Book bookstore, El Dorado Hills, Calif. "The evening was a huge hit--a ladies' night out for some, who brought their friends along, and, for others, a chance to do something different and to meet new friends. The overflow crowd spent a happy hour-and-a-half coloring and talking. We sold dozens of books from our display in the weeks prior to the event and dozens more that evening."

One bookstore gave the drinking and coloring trend its own twist. For Independent Bookstore Day, Brazos Bookstore, Houston, Tex., created Hemingwasted: A Loving Look at Literary Lushes, a 16-page coloring book pairing famous authors with boozy quotes (like Ogden Nash's "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker"). Brazos made the book available to other bookstores participating in IBD for $5 a copy.

Adult coloring books also cater to spirituality and mindfulness. Mandalas, the ritual geometric symbols used in Buddhism and Hinduism, appear in many titles. One current example: last week, HarperElixer announced the October 6 publication of Sacred Nature and Sacred Symbols, marketed as "coloring books for the soul."

It remains to be seen whether the adult coloring book trend is written in permanent marker or sidewalk chalk. Either way, publishers are rushing to fill the demand. The following is a partial list of titles already out and coming soon. --Tobias Mutter

The Experiment: The Mindfulness Coloring Book: Anti-Stress Art Therapy for Busy People by Emma Farrarons (June 2, 2015), already popular in the U.K. The Experiment will give away 500 copies during BEA.

Watson-Guptill: The Time Garden: A Magical Journey and Coloring Book by Daria Song (Sept. 1, 2015) to be followed by The Time Chamber (Oct. 13, 2015). The Time Garden has already sold more than 65,000 copies in Korea.

Cider Mill Press: Dr. Seymour Kindbud's Stoner Smoke & Sketch (2012). Using the included pencil, the black coating disappears to reveal gleaming, tie-dye colors beneath. The publisher said this book will appeal to "hipsters, the growing medical marijuana community, and tokers who didn't grow up with this cool scratch-and-sketch concept."

Running Press: Color Therapy: An Anti-Stress Coloring Book by Cindy Wilde, Laura-Kate Chapman and Richard Merritt and Creative Therapy by Hannah Davies and Richard Merritt (both May 26, 2015). Calming Therapy: An Anti-Stress Coloring Book will appear Nov. 3. During BEA, the Running Press booth (738) will have easels with coloring book sheets for attendees to use.

Quirk Books: Color Me Fierce! by Nike Desis (2008), a satirical skewering of the fashion world.

Countryman Press: The Mindala Coloring Book: Artistic Designs for Fun and Meditation by Cher Kaufmann (July 6, 2015), an introductory take on this ancient tradition.

Perigee: Outside the Lines: An Artists' Coloring Book for Giant Imaginations by Souris Hong-Porretta (2013), Color Me Crazy: Insanely Detailed Creations to Challenge Your Skills and Blow Your Mind by Peter Deligdisch (July 7, 2015), Outside the Lines, Too: An Inspired and Inventive Coloring Book by Creative Masterminds by Souris Hong (Sept. 1, 2015), and the YA coloring series Color Me Swoon (2013) and Color Me Girl Crush (2014) by Mel Elliott.

Peter Pauper Press: Studio Series Artist's Coloring Books, a series of eight 31-page coloring books, including Joyful Designs by Joy Ting (2014), whose art was selected for its calming intricacy.

Barron's Educational Series: the Just Add Color series, the Color Magic series, the Copycat Coloring series and Color Yourself Calm: A Mindfulness Coloring Book by Tiddy Rowan, illustrated by Paul Heussenstamm (June 1, 2015).

PM Press: Girls Are Not Chicks Coloring Book by Jacinta Bunnell and Julie Novak (2009), Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away with Another Spoon Coloring Book by Jacinta Bunnell and Nat Kusinitz (2010), and The Big Gay Alphabet Coloring Book by Jacinta Bunnell and Leela Corman (June 1, 2015).

Ulysses Press: Coloring Animal Mandalas (2014) and Coloring Flower Mandalas (May 12, 2015) by Wendy Piersall, whose success (thanks in part to a viral Huffington Post feature) prompted the forthcoming Coloring Dream Mandalas (Winter 2016). Ulysses also has two pop-culture coloring books, The 1990s Coloring Book by James Grange (2013) and Hillary: The Coloring Book by Valentin Ramon (2014).

Ammo Books: A coloring series based on art by Charley Harper (1922-2007), an American Modernist who depicted animals and nature.

Skyhorse Publishing: 12 coloring books that are coming out between June and October this year with designs inspired by Mandalas, Paisleys, Art Nouveau, Whimsical Patterns, Zen Patterns and Mehndi, each with an edition for artists and for everyday colorers. Bill Wolfsthal, executive director of sales & marketing, commented, "Adult coloring books are definitely a huge category for 2015, and we expect great sales for the holidays. We’ve already gone back to press on our first four titles Paisleys: Coloring for Everyone, Paisleys: Coloring for Artists, Mandalas: Coloring for Everyone, Mandalas: Coloring for Artists."

Plume: Coloring for Grown-Ups: The Adult Activity Book by Ryan Hunter and Taige Jensen (2012), an early success with 75,000 copies in print. Sales spiked after an April 2015 post on Reddit recommended the book. Also available: Coloring for Grown-Ups Holiday Fun Book (2013) and Coloring for Grown-Ups College Companion (2014). An omnibus of the Coloring for Grown Ups series comes out in October along with Extreme Coloring: The Ultimate Search and Find Coloring Book by Kerby Rosanes.

Chronicle Books: Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Amazing Places Real and Imagined by Steve McDonald (Aug. 11, 2015), which includes illustrated aerial views--bird's-eye perspectives of visually arresting cities from around the world and a selection of immersive architectural mandalas created from his cityscapes.

Andrews McMeel Publishing: the Posh Coloring Book series and a 2016 coloring calendar based on it (Aug. 4, 2015), an extension of the publisher's popular Posh line.

Last Gasp: a mix of "adult" adult coloring books, including The C*nt Coloring Book (1995), The Gangsta Rap Coloring Book (2004), a cannabis-inspired series and the Fetish Coloring Book (2014).

Printers Row Publishing Group: the Nature and Vintage Coloring series, the Querkles series, the 3D coloring series and the 1000 Dot-to-Dot series.

Coppervale Press: James A. Owen offers a coloring book version of images from his YA series the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica called All the Colors of Magic--A Coloring Book for All Ages, funded via Kickstarter.

St. Martin's Griffin: Four Seasons: A Coloring Book by Aiko Fukawa (Sept. 29, 2015) with images for each season and How to Draw Everything by Gillian Johnson (Sept. 1, 2015) with easy projects and whimsical illustrations that teach the user how to draw.

Beyond Words: The Big Girl's Little Coloring Book by Carol Omer (June 2015), which aims to awaken the user's creative brain and serves as an open eye meditation. The book features mandalas and will have perforated pages allowing the work to be framed.

Little, Brown: Splendid Cities by Rosie Goodwin and Alice Chadwick, Secret Paris by Zoe de Las Cases (both June 9, 2015), and Secret New York and Secret Tokyo by Zoe de Las Cases (both Oct. 6, 2015), all of which are subtitled Color Your Way to Calm. These books combine the elaborate, abstract "zentangle" patterns that have been shown to lower stress with pictorial narratives that immerse readers in the cultural fabric of cities all over the world.

Sounds True: The Shakti Coloring Book: Goddesses, Mandalas, and the Power of Sacred Geometry by Ekabhumi Charles Ellik (July 1, 2015).

Sterling Publishing: Animal Kingdom: Color Me, Draw Me by Millie Marotta (2014), a U.K. bestseller with more than a million copies in print worldwide. Marotta's Tropical World: A Coloring Book Adventure comes out Sept. 8, 2015. Other Sterling coloring books coming this fall include The Hipster Coloring Book by Charlotte Farmer and Mandala Meditation Coloring Book (both Oct. 6).

Design Originals, a Fox Chapel Publishing imprint: 16 coloring books in print, including Creative Coloring Inspirations by Valentina Harper (2014), and another 27 coming in fall 2015. Some of its titles have sold well in alternative markets, including an animals coloring book sold by a major pet retailer.

Singing Dragon, a Jessica Kingsley Publishers imprint: The Acupuncture Points Functions Colouring Book by Rainy Hutchinson (June 21, 2015).


Image of the Day: Penguin Bookshop's Writerhead

The Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley, Pa., kicked off the Penguin Bookshop Writers Series (PBWS) last week. "The goal of PBWS," said store owner Susan O'Connor, "is to unite published writers with aspiring writers, aspiring writers with publishing professionals and curious readers interested in the author's craft with professional writers."

The first event was a workshop entitled "Writerhead," led by Kristin Bair O'Keeffe, author of The Art of Floating (Berkley Books, 2014), who asked participants to define their own state of writerhead in words and images. More than 20 individuals shared how they get into a good state for writing, drawing everything from a blank piece of paper to to Alice's rabbit hole.

"Being a writer is one of the toughest things," said O'Keeffe as she wrapped up the workshop. "You just have to be strong and believe in yourself."

Cool Idea of the Day: Dungeons & Dating Quiz Night

"Trivial to whom?: Nerd is the word at bookstore's 'Dungeons & Dating' quiz night" was the headline for a New Orleans Advocate piece on the recent Nerd Love NOLA's "Dungeons & Dating" event at Tubby & Coo's Mid-City Book Shop.

Organizers Eris Walsh and Brian Guillory "are business partners who decided they wanted to create a 'safe space' for people who prefer Dr. Who over Drew Brees or a Star Wars marathon over drinking on Bourbon Street." This led to the creation of Nerd Loves NOLA and a trivia night called Dungeons & Dating.

Tubby & Coo's awarded books as prizes, while Mid-City's Monkey Monkey Coffee "poured java and Izzybelly sent over a plate of cupcakes shaped like the face of a comic book character called Deadpool (if you were a geek, you'd know)," the Advocate noted.

"Nerdy people aren't always comfortable going to bars to meet people," said Candice Huber, owner of Tubby & Coo's, "and if you're not in college anymore and you don't want to go to a bar, there's really not a lot of places you can go to meet people."

The event drew twice as many attendees (40) as expected, though men outnumbered women six to one. Organizers weren't surprised. "It was a fear that we had from the very beginning," said Walsh, who noted that there are plans to make Nerd Loves NOLA events more interesting to women in the future.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: The Rise of Robots on Fresh Air

This morning on the Today Show: George Brescia, author of Change Your Clothes, Change Your Life: Because You Can't Go Naked (Gallery, $21.99, 9781476748733).


Today on Fresh Air: Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (Basic, $28.99, 9780465059997).


Today on Diane Rehm: Jeffrey Brown, author of The News: Poems (Copper Canyon Press, $16, 9781556594809).


Today on Hannity: Jay Sekulow, author of Undemocratic: How Unelected, Unaccountable Bureaucrats Are Stealing Your Liberty and Freedom (Howard, $26.99, 9781476795676). He will appear tomorrow morning on Fox & Friends, too.

Also on Hannity: Michelle Malkin, author of Who Built That: Awe-Inspiring Stories of American Tinkerpreneurs (Mercury Ink, $28, 9781476784946).


Today on Dr. Oz: Mark Schatzker, author of The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor (Simon & Schuster, $27, 9781476724218).


Tonight on the Tonight Show: Nick Offerman, author of Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America's Gutsiest Troublemakers (Dutton, $26.95, 9780525954675).


Tomorrow on the View: Chris Harrison, author of The Perfect Letter: A Novel (Dey Street, $23.99, 9780062305220). He will also appear on Watch What Happens Live.


Tomorrow on Diane Rehm: Helen Castor, author of Helen Castor (Harper, $27.99, 9780062384393).

TV: A Place of Greater Safety

The BBC is adapting A Place of Greater Safety, Hilary Mantel's novel about the French Revolution, for the small screen, following the success of its adaptation of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the Bookseller reported. The project will be written by Richard Warlow (Ripper Street), and produced by DNA TV Limited, a joint venture between film producer DNA Films and Fox Networks.

Movies: A Tale of Love and Darkness; Macbeth

A clip is out from A Tale of Love and Darkness based on Amos Oz's international bestseller and directed by Natalie Portman. reported that the film, which made its world premiere Saturday at Cannes, is "very personal for the Oscar-winning actress, who was born in Israel. A Tale of Love And Darkness follows Oz's childhood with his troubled mother, who killed herself when the author was 12 years old. The pic is set during the end of the British Mandate for Palestine and the early years of the State of Israel. Portman optioned the rights eight years ago after meeting with Oz and took it upon herself to write the screenplay. The film was shot on location in Jerusalem over 40 days."


"You can pretty much reveal Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as the leads of any movie and most audiences are likely pre-buying tickets," Indiewire noted in featuring a clip from Macbeth, directed by Justin Kurzel (Snowtown Murders). The cast also features Sean Harris, Paddy Considine, Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby), David Thewlis and Jack Reynor. The Weinstein Company is expected to release the film later this fall.

Books & Authors

Awards: New England Society; Maine Literary

The winners of the 2015 New England Society Book Awards, sponsored by the New England Society in the City of New York and honoring books of merit that celebrate New England and its culture, are:

Fiction: The Bird Skinner by Alice Greenway (Grove Press)
Contemporary Nonfiction: Wide and Deep: Tales and Recollections from a Master Maine Fishing Guide by Randy Spencer (Skyhorse Publishing)
History & Biography: The Map Thief by Michael Blanding (Gotham Books)
Specialty Title: The New England Kitchen: Fresh Takes on Seasonal Recipes by Jeremy Sewall, photography by Michael Harlan Turkell (Rizzoli New York)

The winning authors will be honored at a luncheon on June 3 at the Grolier Club in New York City.


The Maine Writers & Publishing Alliance has announced the finalists in 17 categories for the 2015 Maine Literary Awards. See them here.

Christopher Awards Gala in New York City

L.-r.: Katy Betz, illustrator, I Forgive You; Mary Ellen Robinson, v-p, COO, the Christophers; Father James Martin, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage; Tony Rossi, communications director, the Christophers, Nicole Lataif, author, I Forgive You.

At a gala last week in New York City, the 66th annual Christopher Awards, which recognize writers, producers, directors, authors and illustrators whose work "affirms the highest values of the human spirit," were presented. Winners in the book categories this year are:

Fully Alive: Discovering What Matters Most by Timothy Shriver (Sarah Crichton Books/FSG)
Haatchi & Little B: The Inspiring True Story of One Boy and His Dog by Wendy Holden (Thomas Dunne)
The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War by Yochi Dreazen (Crown)
Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin, S.J. (Harper One)
A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley (Putnam)
Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned, and Keep Your Day Job by Kerry Weber (Loyola Press)

Young People
Preschool & up: I Forgive You by Nicole Lataif, illustrated by Katy Betz (Pauline Books & Media)
Kindergarten & up: Maddi's Fridge by Lois Brandt, illustrated by Vin Vogel (Flashlight Press)
Ages 6 & up: Here's Hank: Bookmarks Are People Too! by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver (Grosset & Dunlap)
Ages 8 & up: Hope Springs by Eric Walters, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes (Tundra Books)
Ages 10 & up: Eliza Bing Is (Not) a Big, Fat Quitter by Carmella Van Vleet  (Holiday House)

Book Review

Review: Our Souls at Night

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (Knopf, $24 hardcover, 9781101875896, May 26, 2015)

Kent Haruf's final novel begins with a startling proposition: a 70-year-old widow approaches a widower who lives down the street in the small town of Holt, Colo., and asks whether he would "consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me." Though it's hardly a subtle opening, Haruf's not looking to shock or titillate. Instead, in a novel that shares with its predecessors Plainsong, Eventide and Benediction not only its setting, but also a meditative mood and acute sensitivity to character, Haruf has simply and effectively let us know we are in the hands of a master storyteller.

In the late-night conversations that ensue, Louis Waters and Addie Moore quietly exchange the stories of losses and regrets that have marred their lives. In Louis's case, it's a long-ago affair with a fellow teacher--one his marriage survived, through to his wife's death from cancer--that dogs him with the feeling that he had "failed my spirit or something." Addie describes her daughter's death at age 11 in a traffic accident, and recalls the premature death of her husband at a Sunday church service. "So life hasn't turned out right for either of us, not the way we expected," Louis observes. And yet, as Haruf portrays them here, they are good and generous people who understand why, in spite of these tragedies and disappointments, they must persevere.

The plot's main complication involves the arrival of Addie's six-year-old grandson, Jamie, whose father, struggling to avoid financial ruin and save his marriage, leaves the boy to spend the summer with her. Haruf elegantly portrays how Louis painstakingly overcomes the boy's reticence and suspicion to form an ineradicable bond. The events that build their relationship are undramatic but revelatory: a camping trip, a visit to the Holt County Fair, an elderly man teaching a young boy who'd rather play games on his smartphone how to care for a rescue dog.

Haruf's ability to evoke the people and atmosphere of Colorado's High Plains in a few well-chosen words of description or a brief scene remains undiminished. He even pokes some good-natured fun at himself with a metafictional reference to the other Holt novels. And the resolution of the novel's plot, with the pain it inflicts on characters readers have come to care about deeply, has all the hallmarks of emotional truth.

One has a sense reading this novel that, had he lived, Kent Haruf could have drawn from an inexhaustible well of material to continue producing beautiful Holt novels. That there will be no more enhances our appreciation of his talent and our gratitude for the gift of these unforgettable stories. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: Kent Haruf's final novel returns to Holt, Colo., for the story of a man and woman whose companionship provides a bulwark against loss in old age.

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