Shelf Awareness for Thursday, March 22, 2018

Margaret K. McElderry Books: Tender Beasts by Liselle Sambury

Scholastic Press: Heroes: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Alan Gratz

Flatiron Books: Anita de Monte Laughs Last by Xochitl Gonzalez

Peachtree Publishers: King & Kayla and the Case of the Downstairs Ghost (King & Kayla) by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers

Doubleday Books: The Husbands by Holly Gramazio


Chronicle Rushing John Oliver's Surprise Hit to Indies

Late Sunday night, John Oliver  made a surprise announcement on HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: he was publishing a children's picture book called A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo that day. The result has been a heartening burst of sales as well as consternation, particularly among independent booksellers, most of whom haven't been able to get copies of the book.

Oliver's book was released a day before Marlon Bundo's A Day in the Life of the Vice President, a picture book about the family's rabbit written by Charlotte Pence, Vice President Mike Pence's daughter, and illustrated by his wife, Karen Pence. It's published by Regnery Kids.

Rather than being about the vice president (and his day), John Oliver's book--penned by show writer Jill Twiss and illustrated by EG Keller--focuses on Marlon Bundo, the Bunny of the United States (BOTUS), and how he falls in love with another bunny, Wesley. The two decide to wed, only to be told by the Stink Bug in charge that same-sex marriage is not allowed. When Marlon, Wesley and their supportive animal community realize that they can choose who is in charge of their society, they vote out the Stink Bug and the couple is married, surrounded by their friends.

Published by Chronicle Books in collaboration with Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo has a message of tolerance, marriage equality and democracy, and will benefit the Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention service to LGBTQ young people, and AIDS United, which aims to end the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. It's heartening and inspiring.

But there've been several problems with the publication: when announcing the surprise book, John Oliver urged viewers to buy it from Amazon. (Several indies have lamented that Oliver didn't follow the example of Stephen Colbert who, during the Amazon-Hachette battle in 2014, promoted Edan Lepucki's California and urged viewers to buy it at Also, because of the secrecy that HBO and Last Week Tonight demanded, Chronicle couldn't notify any accounts about the book beforehand. HBO and Last Week Tonight insisted that Amazon have the book in stock so viewers could purchase it immediately (propelling it to the top of Amazon's bestsellers list). A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo had a first printing of only 40,000 copies (of which Amazon took 20%), in part because Chronicle and its partners were unsure of demand. As became apparent almost immediately, demand was huge, so much so that Amazon was sold out in less than an hour after John Oliver's announcement.

"We've gone back to press for 400,000 copies," Chronicle president Tyrrell Mahoney said, emphasizing that the company and its distributor, Hachette, have been "working really hard to get all the orders through so accounts get books this weekend, with indie booksellers being the priority."

She stressed, too, that the company had been aware of the pitfalls of publishing a book this way and had unsuccessfully urged some different approaches, but HBO and the show were worried about publication being derailed in some way, and Oliver's program has a tradition of unveiling surprise projects--although never a book before. For Chronicle, Mahoney continued, the deciding factor was the value of the book. "It's amazing in terms of its message and what it tells," she said.

Holiday House: The Five Impossible Tasks of Eden Smith by Tom Llewellyn; The Selkie's Daughter by Linda Crotta Brennan

The Re-Find Reader to Open in North Platte, Neb.

Kelly and Erik Sheets will open the Re-Find Reader, a new and used independent bookstore, in the Platte River Mall in North Platte, Neb., this April, the North Platte Telegraph reported. The Sheets are also the owners of a coffee shop in North Platte called Rockabilly Roasters, and will be opening their new store in a mall that once housed a Waldenbooks.

Ariel Simkins, the Sheets' daughter, will manage the store, and they plan to integrate Re-Find Reader with Rockabilly Roasters in some interesting ways: there will be a tablet in the bookstore allowing customers to order drinks from the coffee shop, which will then be delivered. And currently, with Re-Find Reader yet to open, they are accepting used book trade-ins for cash or store credit at Rockabilly Roasters.

As for non-book items, the Sheets and Simkins said they want to feature local art. Their event plans include monthly events for poetry readings, live music and speeches. A grand opening celebration is scheduled for April 21.

Amistad Press: The Survivors of the Clotilda: The Lost Stories of the Last Captives of the American Slave Trade by Hannah Durkin

Amazon Books Opening in Boise, Idaho

Amazon will open an Amazon Books book and electronics store in Boise, Idaho, in the Village at Meridian, according to BoiseDev, which has seen plans for the store. Amazon didn't comment. The company has opened 15 stores and has confirmed plans to open three more.

The Boise store, which will have 4,172 square feet of space, is the first Amazon Books location not in a major metropolitan area. As BoiseDev observed, "A store in Meridian could give Amazon the ability to test a smaller market just a stone's throw (and quick flight) from its headquarters in Seattle."

The Village at Meridian is a mall featuring, it says, "upscale apparel and specialty retail, fine restaurants and cafes, Village Cinemas, and luxury office space. Designed with European style architecture, the buildings and tree lined village streets surround a park setting complete with a children's play area and world class show fountain with hourly shows choreographed to lights and music."

Welcome Back, Stand Up Comics and Adan Jimenez!

With this issue, Shelf Awareness is happy to welcome back the Stand Up Comics column (see below) and its author, Adan Jimenez, who is once again writing about comics in general and highlighting great comics that booksellers can handsell to customers.

Born in California the son of Mexican immigrant parents, Adan became an immigrant himself when he moved to Singapore after completing his studies at New York University. He has worked for comic book stores, bookstores, and gaming stores--and loves comics. Also, with his wife, Felicia Low-Jimenez, he is author, under the joint pen name of A.J. Low, of the Sherlock Sam series, published in the U.S. by Andrews McMeel. The books are an update of the classic Sherlock Holmes detective stories and feature Sherlock, a 10-year-old boy living in Singapore, and his trusty robot companion, Watson.

Adan is happy to receive information about and e-galleys of comics of all kinds--all genres, all age groups, all publishers and all authors. Please note that Shelf Awareness Pro and Shelf Awareness for Readers review department also continues to run reviews of comics and graphic novels; review copies for those should continue to be sent to our Seattle office.

Walter Dean Myers Awards Honor Diverse Books

Winners (l.-r.) Eric Velasquez, Carole Boston Weatherford, Sara Luce Look, Jason Reynolds, Francisco X. Stork, Mitali Perkins and Margarita Engle (photo: E.R. Anderson)

We Need Diverse Books and the Library of Congress hosted the third annual Walter Dean Myers Awards for Outstanding Children's Literature on March 16. This year's awards expanded to encompass two categories: Teen (ages 13-18) and Younger Readers (ages 9-13). The winners are Jason Reynolds for Long Way Down (Teen Category) and Carole Boston Weatherford and Eric Velasquez for Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library (Younger Readers). The honorees are Mitali Perkins for You Bring the Distant Near (Teen Category), Francisco X. Stork for Disappeared (Teen) and Margarita Engle for Forest World (Younger Readers). 

2018 Walter Award winner Jason Reynolds (left) with Jacqueline Woodson. ​​(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Sara Luce Look, co-owner of Charis Books and More, Atlanta. Ga., was honored with the first #WeNeedDiverseBooks Bookseller of the Year Award at the ceremony. Introducing the award, Jacqueline Woodson, the newest National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, who emceed the event, said, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that every diverse book is in need of a bookseller to handsell it. Of all the gatekeepers in the publishing industry, booksellers may be the most important, as people who both curate collections, and get books into the hands of readers who will purchase them. They have the power to create bestsellers. But more vitally, they have the power to represent--meaning that children can go to their stores and either search in vain for books that reflect their world, or smile when they see themselves on the shelf."

The event was held at the James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress. The ceremony was preceded by a symposium on diversity in children's literature, "Seen and Heard: The Power of Books," moderated by Newbery medalist Linda Sue Park. (Watch the livestream here.)

WNDB will donate a minimum of 2,000 copies each of the 2018 Walter Award-winning titles, Long Way Down and Schomburg, to schools with limited budgets across the U.S.


Image of the Day: 'Authors on the Map'

Following the PNBA/ABA Spring Forum, which featured the education session "A Year of Bookstore Profitability," held at Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash., on Monday, Baker & Taylor sponsored an "Authors on the Map" reception at Queer/Bar. Pictured: Jonathan Evison, author of Lawn Boy (Algonquin), Jenny Cole, owner of Page 2 Books, Burien, Wash., and lead bookseller Lauren Rafanelli.

Bookshop Chalkboard of the Day: Otto Book Store

"Patience is a virtue. Happy Spring," Otto Book Store, Williamsport, Pa., posted on Facebook Tuesday in anticipation of yet another Nor'easter just in time for the new season. On the shop's sidewalk chalkboard, an Archibald MacLeish quote offered perspective:

"Spring has many American faces. There are cities where it will come and go in a day and counties where it hangs around and never quite gets there. Summer is drawn blinds in Louisiana, long winds in Wyoming, shade of elms and maples in New England."


IPS Distributing Rough Guides in North America

As of March 5, Rough Guides are now distributed in North America by Ingram Publisher Services. The move follows the purchase late last year of Rough Guides by APA Publications, which also publishes Insight Guides and Berlitz Guides.

Founded in 1982, Rough Guides has sold more than 30 million books, and the list includes more than 260 travel guides to more than 120 destinations, e-books, country and city guides, pocket guides and a website.

APA Publications CEO René Frey said, "Our rebuild and re-launch of Insight Guides has demonstrated our commitment to APA's heritage, and today we take responsibility for the revitalization of Rough Guides with even greater confidence. [The purchase of Rough Guides] truly cements our position as a dedicated specialist in the travel publishing arena."

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Chris Hayes on Real Time with Bill Maher

HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher: Chris Hayes, author of A Colony in a Nation (Norton, $15.95, 9780393355420).

Also on Real Time: Mitch Landrieu, author of In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History (Viking, $25, 9780525559443).

Late Show with Stephen Colbert repeat: Tom Brady, author of The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance (Simon & Schuster, $29.99, 9781501180736).

This Weekend on Book TV: Mitch Landrieu on In the Shadow of Statues

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, March 24
4:30 p.m. Richard L. Hasen, author of The Justice of Contradictions: Antonin Scalia and the Politics of Disruption (Yale University Press, $30, 9780300228649).

8 p.m. Mitch Landrieu, author of In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History (Viking, $25, 9780525559443), at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Re-airs Sunday at 2 p.m.)

9 p.m. Mark Weinberg, author of Movie Nights with the Reagans: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781501133992). (Re-airs Sunday at 4:30 p.m.)

10 p.m. Sarah McBride, author of Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality (Crown Archetype, $26, 9781524761479). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.)

11 p.m. Coverage of the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Awards. (Re-airs Sunday at 5:30 p.m.)

Sunday, March 25
12:30 a.m. Matthew Kroenig, author of The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy: Why Strategic Superiority Matters (Oxford University Press, $29.95, 9780190849184). (Re-airs Sunday at 1 p.m.)

1:30 a.m. Vicki Huddleston, author of Our Woman in Havana: A Diplomat's Chronicle of America's Long Struggle with Castro's Cuba (The Overlook Press, $29.95, 9781468315790), at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C.

7 p.m. Joshua Zeitz, author of Building the Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson's White House (Viking, $30, 9780525428787).

8:10 p.m. Jerry Z. Muller, author of The Tyranny of Metrics (Princeton University Press, $24.95, 9780691174952).

10 p.m. Ryan Holiday, author of Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue (Portfolio, $28, 9780735217645).

11 p.m. Ian Buruma, author of A Tokyo Romance: A Memoir (Penguin Press, $26, 9781101981412).

Books & Authors

Stand Up Comics: Return of the Mack

Shelf Awareness is happy to welcome back Stand Up Comics and its author, Adan Jimenez, who is once again highlighting great comics that you can handsell to your customers. Since this is the first column in a while, he's focusing on some other recent returns in comics--concepts, characters, and creators--but none that require any foreknowledge to enjoy. So, without further ado, read the column, then read some Stand Up Comics!

Champions v1: Change the World by Mark Waid, Humberto Ramos, and Victor Olazaba (Marvel Comics, $15.99, 9781302906184)
The Champions originally premiered in 1975 with members previously from the X-Men and the Avengers. It ran for less than three years and was plagued by an erratic publishing schedule and an incredibly high turnover of creative teams (12 teams in only 17 issues). The Champions ended in January 1978, and the team popped up only three times in the next 40 or so years. Then Mark Waid rebooted the concept in 2016.

In this new version, the Champions are some the most popular teenage heroes Marvel is currently publishing: Ms Marvel, Nova, Miles Morales Spider-Man, Viv Vision, Amadeus Cho Hulk and the young time-displaced Cyclops. As we're seeing in real life, these teens are fed up with how adult heroes are dealing with various problems in the world, especially after the second superhero civil war disillusions them. But instead of just fighting bad guys, these Champions attempt to fight for justice and deal with some realistic problems that have nothing to do with super-villains, including taking down a sex trafficker, helping girls in South Asia fight against fundamentalist zealots who would rather kill them than let them learn, and exposing a corrupt, racist sheriff in small-town America.

This is a series that especially needs a boost as the vagaries of corporate superhero publishing may not give it enough time to find its audience.

Handselling opportunities: Fans of the more diverse and inclusive Marvel heroes from recent times, and fans of stories with causes.

Doom Patrol v1: Brick by Brick by Gerard Way, Nick Derington, Tom Fowler and Tamra Bonvillain (Young Animal/DC Comics, $16.99, 9781401269791)
The last time we saw Gerard Way, frontman of My Chemical Romance, in the comics world, he was penning the completely unexpected Umbrella Academy. I say unexpected because almost every other time musicians tried their hand at making comics, we got nonsense like Glenn Danzig's Satanika or Gene Simmons's House of Horrors (though M.F. Grimm's Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm was pretty amazing). But Umbrella Academy was stunning, surreal and sublime (and is now being made into a TV series by Netflix).

Way finally returned to comics in a big way, being given his own imprint at DC Comics, Young Animal, which is being heralded as the new Vertigo. He currently runs four series under that imprint, two of which he writes: Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye with Michael Avon Oeming, and Doom Patrol, a series making its own triumphant return.

There have been six Doom Patrol series total, but arguably the best runs were by Grant Morrison and Rachel Pollack's from the late '80s and early '90s, and that's exactly what Way mines for his new series. Robotman, Negative Man, Jane Morris, Danny the Ambulance (né the Street) and Flex Mentallo are all returning members, and Way draws very clear throughlines from Morrison and Pollack's work to his own, from the absurdity of the Doom Patrol's adventures to the creepiness of Niles Caulder (yes, he's back, too). But what really shines in this new Doom Patrol is new character Casey Brinke, who acts as the audience surrogate upon entering this weird and wacky world but acclimates much faster than the rest of us. Still, it's the weirdness of it all that makes me very excited to see what comes next.

Handselling opportunities: Fans of Way's Umbrella Academy collections and Morrison's Doom Patrol, of course, but also fans of the surrealism of David Lynch and Salvador Dalí.

The Wild Storm v1 by Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt (DC Comics, $16.99, 9781401274184)
Jim Lee sold his WildStorm imprint to DC Comics in 1998, and debuted Warren Ellis's excellent Authority and Planetary, and Joe Casey's underrated Wildcats. A few years after that, the "Eye of the Storm" initiative cemented WildStorm as a mature readers imprint with a new Gen13 series by Chris Claremont, Ed Brubaker's acclaimed Sleeper, Joe Casey's Wildcats 3.0 and Micah Ian Wright's unfinished but excellent Stormwatch: Team Achilles. Then "Worldstorm" happened, which attempted to bring the imprint's characters back to their superhero roots, then "World's End" happened, which took the concepts to an apocalypse and beyond--and then the imprint sputtered out.

When DC relaunched its entire universe as the New52, WildStorm properties were all folded into the main superhero continuity alongside Superman, Wonder Woman and the Batman. But they never quite gelled, and many of the WildStorm characters that had initially been such an important part of the new universe mostly faded away and disappeared (except for the Midnighter, who had an excellent series penned by Steve Orlando and often guest-starred in Tom King's equally excellent Grayson).

Now, Ellis has come back to the properties that made him a household name. In The Wild Storm, Ellis is using many of the core WildStorm concepts and characters, but reimagining them for the present day. Ellis has been given a similar mandate as Way with Young Animal and will be creating multiple series for his new WildStorm universe. In this first title, we are given a glimpse of the shadowy new world: Miles Craven's International Operations secretly runs the Earth, while Henry Bendix's Skywatch secretly runs outer space. Jacob Marlowe's HALO Corporation sits between them, attempting secretly to bootstrap the human race into the future as quickly and safely as possible. When I/O engineer Angela Spica saves Marlowe with technology she stole from I/O, she inadvertently reveals that the technology was originally stolen from Skywatch and sets in motion a series of events that will bring everything into the light. Ellis is a favorite writer of mine, and I can't wait to see where he goes from here (and how many other characters he folds in; Ben Santini already got a mention!).

Handselling opportunities: Fans of "Eye of the Storm"-era WildStorm titles, and fans of Warren Ellis in general, who is in top form here.

Awards: Whiting, Stone Winners

The winners of the $50,000 Whiting Awards, sponsored by the Whiting Foundation and given to emerging writers, poets and playwrights, are:

Anne Boyer (poetry and nonfiction)
Patty Yumi Cottrell (fiction)
Nathan Alan Davis (drama)
Hansol Jung (drama)
Rickey Laurentiis (poetry)
Antoinette Nwandu (drama)
Tommy Pico (poetry)
Brontez Purnell (fiction)
Esmé Weijun Wang (nonfiction)
Weike Wang (fiction)


Colson Whitehead is the 2019 recipient of Oregon State University's Stone Award for Literary Achievement, which is presented to "a major American author who has created a body of critically acclaimed work and has mentored young writers."

Whitehead is the author of six novels, including The Underground Railroad, which won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Carnegie Medal for Fiction, the Heartland Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Hurston/Wright Fiction Award.

Whitehead will visit Oregon in spring 2019 to accept the $20,000 award and read from his work, a visit that will coincide with the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference, which will be held in Portland.

Larry Rodgers, dean of OSU's College of Liberal Arts, commented: "As one of America's pre-eminent novelists of the 21st century, Colson Whitehead is an audacious experimentalist as original as he is prophetic. We are thrilled to have him on campus next year, where he will give a performance open to the public."

Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, March 27:

Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World by Jennifer Palmieri (Grand Central, $20, 9781538713457) is by the former communications director for Hillary Clinton.

Faith: A Journey for All by Jimmy Carter (Simon & Schuster, $25.99, 9781501184413) looks at the former president's spiritual life.

Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian (Simon & Schuster, $30, 9781501126420) is a biography of the famous golfer.

Red Alert by James Patterson and Marshall Karp (Little, Brown, $30, 9780316395564) is the fifth NYPD Red mystery. (March 26)

Sociable: A Novel by Rebecca Harrington (Doubleday, $24.95, 9780385542821) follows an aspiring journalist who ends up writing clickbait articles.

Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter (Scholastic Press, $18.99, 9781338134148) strands a girl alone in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness as an assassin draws near.

Double Vision: The Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John de Menil by William Middleton (Knopf, $40, 9780375415432) explores the lives of an art collecting couple.

Just in Time by Marie Bostwick (Kensington, $15.95, 9781496709233).

Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the sci-fi novel by Ernest Cline, opens March 30. Tye Sheridan stars as a player in a virtual reality world hunting for clues left by the game's founder.

IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

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

The Sea Beast Takes a Lover: Stories by Michael Andreasen (Dutton, $25, 9781101986615). "It is a rare thing when a collection of short stories absolutely blows your mind, and Andreasen's collection packs a wallop. His uncanny world-building, using animals and strange mythologies to describe a world so much and slightly unlike our own, gives him the gift of nailing such deep concepts and providing such profound insights into the human character. How can we explain to aliens the difference between 'having relations' and 'having a relationship?' When an ideal exists that we all strive for, what will our lives be like if we actually achieve it? Magnificent, enchanting, and full of literary verve." --Raul Chapa, BookPeople, Austin, Tex.

I Found My Tribe: A Memoir by Ruth Fitzmaurice (Bloomsbury, $25, 9781635571585). "Life's journey is not fair. It isn't. But you cope, as Ruth Fitzmaurice did and does. The book's short vignettes read like fables--as if the author is above, looking in on herself, her life. Reminiscent of the humor of Anne Lamott and the candor of Joan Didion, I Found My Tribe is a memoir about a resilient woman who finds ways to cope with her husband's debilitating disease: daydream, become a superhero, swim in the frigid waters of Ireland, and, of course, find her tribe in family and friends." --Mindy Ostrow, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Tomb Song: A Novel by Julián Herbert (Graywolf Press, $16, 9781555977993). "Julián Herbert's English-language debut is a stunner. Meshing memoir and essay, Tomb Song is the rough, darkly comic tale of a writer finding his voice while coming to terms with his mother dying. Switching between the past and the present, the author reflects on a childhood spent in poverty and a decade lost to drug use. A rare glimpse into the lower ranks of Mexican society without hyperbole or stereotypes of narco traffickers, Tomb Song is vibrant with humor, passion, and the realization of a family's profound importance." --Mark Haber, Brazos Bookstore, Houston, Tex.

For Ages 4 to 8
Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad (HarperCollins, $17.99, 9780062447616). "Bloom explores Elsa Schiaparelli's lifelong interest in fashion design, an art that is often dismissed as frivolous. However, Maclear takes her protagonist's artistic journey seriously, even when that art is playful and spontaneous. Watch her create dresses with lobster prints and hats that look like shoes! Through bright, vigorous color and beautifully stylized illustrations, the book readily draws us into young Elsa's perspective. Maclear and Morstad have the rare gift of presenting a biography that truly feels alive." --Sarah Sorensen, Bookbug, Kalamazoo, Mich.

For Ages 9 to 12
Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans by Russell Ginns, illustrated by Barbara Fisinger (Delacorte, $16.99, 9781524720001). "Samantha Spinner feels somewhat slighted when from her (now missing) uncle her sister receives $2,400,000,000, her brother is given the New York Yankees, and all Samantha gets is a ratty, rusty, red umbrella. But when the umbrella is revealed to contain a map with secret passageways throughout the entire world, Samantha feels very, very lucky, indeed. Clever, smart, and sometimes a bit silly, this fun mystery from game designer Russell Ginns also includes a few extra secrets for the especially inquisitive mind." --Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, N.C.

For Teen readers
Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston (Balzer + Bray, $17.99, 9780062652850). "The perfect way to sum up this action-packed, heart-wrenching, and humorous book that came out of Ashley Poston's dark and dastardly brain is Anastasia meets Firefly. From the first page, there is action and adventure, with plenty of laughs, gasps, and sighs mixed in. By the end of the book, you will want--and need--more. Seriously." --Renee Becher, Old Firehouse Books, Fort Collins, Colo.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]

Book Review

Review: Cenzontle

Cenzontle by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo (BOA Editions, $16 trade paper, 112p., 9781942683537, April 10, 2018)

To enter Marcelo Hernandez Castillo's first collection of poems is to cross that vague border between realism and surrealism where images and sounds pile up to create a world unto itself. A once undocumented immigrant, the son and grandson of undocumented Mexicans, Castillo wears his race and origin pinned to his chest. Married to a naturalized citizen, he finally received a green card in 2014. Cenzontle is a highly personal trip into the often conflicted and confused heart of a man forced to subsist in the shadows of citizenship, race and sexuality where, like the mockingbird of its title, his poems replicate the songs already ringing around him and are shaped by "the echo/ and its echo."

Castillo's work takes many forms and touches many moments of memory and passion. "Musical in Which You and I Play All the Roles," for example, is broken by half pages of white space as if to shift scenes. Centered on erotic romance, the narrator plays his "roles," including lusting after the "shy boys in the dark" where he imagines "trying to peel off all their tattoos with my tongue." The erotic pulse continues to beat in "Sub-Erotica Papers," as the narrator reflects: "Neither of us knew/ what we wanted/ but would do anything/ to have it." It appears again in "Fifteen Elegies" with the observation: "Kissing was sometimes like that--/ when it had nothing to do with mouths."

Eroticism, maternal love, paternal abuse, immigration, politics--they all find a place in Castillo's world. He speaks of farmworker deaths by exposure to pesticides and the bodies of those crossing to the other side afloat in the Rio Bravo. In "Sugar," a boy endures a father's whipping with a belt nicknamed Daisy: "And after it's over, we know we have both become men./ Him for the beating,/ and me for taking his beating." Stringing this diverse collection together is the striking surreal imagery throughout, like that in "Wetback," where a bullied young Mexican immigrant narrator admits: "I wanted to dance by myself in a dark room/ filled with the wingless bodies of bees."

A translator, essayist, and co-founder of the activist Undocupoets group, Castillo references his poetry to that of modernists like Larry Levis, W.S. Merwin and Tomas Tranströmer in an afterword. Cenzontle is a rewarding, immersive experience into the mind and heart of an American immigrant who isn't afraid to sing the songs he hears--discordant and off-key as they often seem. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Shelf Talker: The first poetry collection of once undocumented immigrant Marcelo Hernandez Castillo embraces the imagery and sounds of a life snipped from its roots.

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