Shelf Awareness for Thursday, May 16, 2019

Viking: The Bookshop: A History of the American Bookstore by Evan Friss

Pixel+ink: Missy and Mason 1: Missy Wants a Mammoth

Bramble: The Stars Are Dying: Special Edition (Nytefall Trilogy #1) by Chloe C Peñaranda

Blue Box Press: A Soul of Ash and Blood: A Blood and Ash Novel by Jennifer L Armentrout

Charlesbridge Publishing: The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow by Elaine Dimopoulos, Illustrated by Doug Salati

Minotaur Books: The Dark Wives: A Vera Stanhope Novel (Vera Stanhope #11) by Ann Cleeves


Bookstore Sales Down 7% in March

Bookstore sales in March fell 7%, to $645 million, according to preliminary estimates from the Census Bureau. For the first three months of the year, bookstore sales fell 9.1%, to $2.36 billion.

By comparison, independent bookstores have done better than the Census Bureau average. Through April 18, slightly longer than the three-month period as measured by the Census Bureau, sales at ABA member stores, as reported to the weekly bestseller lists, are even with 2018.

Total retail sales in March rose 1.6%, to $520 billion. In the first three months of the year, total retail sales rose 2.3%, to $1.4 trillion.

Note: under Census Bureau definitions, the bookstore category consists of "establishments primarily engaged in retailing new books."

BINC: Do Good All Year - Click to Donate!

S&S Launches Indie Quick Start Program

In response to the decision by Baker & Taylor to cease serving retail booksellers, Simon & Schuster has launched Indie Quick Start, designed to make it easier for indie stores that do not have accounts with S&S to set up accounts. The program is valid for all S&S titles, as well as titles from its many distribution clients, which include Andrews McMeel, Baen, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Gallup, Hazelden Publishing, Inner Traditions, Insight Editions, Kaplan Publishing, little bee books, North South, Open Road, Post Hill Press, Regan Arts, Reader's Digest, Ripley Publishing, Skyhorse, Viz Media, WeldonOwen and the World Almanac, among others.

As part of the program, S&S is offering to independent bookstores without a current account, or accounts that have been inactive for a year: expedited application and credit approval process; quick initial order processing and no minimum for new customer initial orders; and its previously announced promotional terms for new store openings. The new or renewed account and first order must be set up and made by August 30.

"Simon & Schuster values and is committed to our independent bookstore partners and the overall health of the retail marketplace," said Gary Urda, senior v-p, sales. "With this Indie Quick Start program we hope to both ease and speed the path to direct ordering for new customers, creating and building new relationships in this important bookselling channel. We are also working closely with all of our demand wholesale partners to insure that they, too, are fully prepared to supply this important marketplace with our titles. In short, we are open for business, ready to welcome new indie accounts, and look forward to providing them with our world-class customer service."

S&S has assigned a dedicated customer service representative to handle the Indie Quick Start process, and has set up a dedicated phone line and email inbox. For more information, booksellers should contact 800-976-1725 or

GLOW: Milkweed Editions: Becoming Little Shell: Returning Home to the Landless Indians of Montana by Chris La Tray

New Owner of Curious George Will Emphasize Interactivity

Curious George will be moving next month.

The new owner of the Curious George Store in Cambridge, Mass., is Astra Titus, who will soon be living in upstate New York and will shuttle regularly between her home and the store, according to the Boston Business Journal.

Adam Hirsch, who had bought the store in 2011, said last week that he had sold the store but declined to name the new owner. Since then, Titus contacted the Journal to say that she is the new owner.

The store is leaving its longtime location in Harvard Square by the end of June. Hirsch said it is moving to Central Square, but Titus said she is looking for a site and for investors.

Titus told the Journal that the store will continue to sell books and merchandise related to Curious George but that she also "plans to have free games and activities geared towards building early reading and math skills. Titus said that in wake of threats to independent bookstores over the past 20 years--first from Barnes & Noble, and then stores that have thrived are those with interactive features. 'We're really incorporating interactive experience and making it a destination site,' she said." She hopes to attract a café and create a "hangout" for neighborhood mothers.

Titus also told the Journal that she met Hirsch while she was working as a consultant for a childhood literacy project. He will be on her advisory board.

Titus has worked in policy development; this is her first retail position.

G.P. Putnam's Sons: Four Weekends and a Funeral by Ellie Palmer

McFarland Launching New Imprint

Publisher McFarland & Co. has launched a new imprint called Toplight Books, which will focus on body, mind and spirit. The imprint's first titles are planned for release in fall 2019 and will feature subjects such as migrating for access to medical marijuana, effective communication alternatives for people with autism and minimizing injuries while running.

Natalie Foreman, Toplight's acquiring editor, said: "We hope to offer a wide array of books that explore these basic, essential components of being human that in the pace and pressure of modern life are too often relegated to the periphery of our consciousness."

The first three titles will be: Migrating for Medical Marijuana by Tracy Ferrell, Communication Alternatives for Autism and The Durable Runner by Alison Heilig. Foreman plans to publish books on subjects as wide-ranging as reincarnation and the soul to explorations of neurodiversity and nature's relationship to well-being.

Obituary Note: Tommy Donbavand

British writer Tommy Donbavand, author of more than 90 books for children--including the popular Scream Street series--and the comic strip "The Beano," died of cancer May 14, his friend Barry Hutchinson announced on the Tommy V Cancer website: "It saddens me enormously to say that Tommy passed away in hospital this morning. My kind, funny, courageous, ridiculous friend is no longer with us." He was 53.

Donbavand "began blogging about the disease soon after his diagnosis and in 2017 published his entries in a book, Tommy v Cancer: One Man's Battle Against the Big C," the Bookseller reported, adding that in addition to the Scream Street series for Walker, he also wrote for several other publishers, including Macmillan, Barrington Stoke and Badger Learning, among others.

"I was saddened to hear that the incredibly talented and much loved Tommy Donbavand passed away yesterday morning," said Danny Pearson, publisher and senior editor at Badger Learning. "He was a pleasure to work with and one of my favorite authors. He worked on series such as Snow-Man, Time Trek, Once Upon Another Time..., Dark Reads, Between the Lines and Teen Reads. His book, Raven, won Badger its first ever book award. He was one of a kind."

Librarian Dawn Finch tweeted: "Very sad news. The world of children's books has lost one of the good guys. Tommy was an amazing writer and an inspiration. His messages of hope and positivity throughout his battle with cancer were very powerful. Farewell Tommy, much love to your family."

In a tribute posted on downthetubes, John Freeman wrote: "Our sympathies at this time to Tommy's wife and sons. A writer who was determined to fight his illness to the very end, an author who once described sleep as a waste of good writing time, we are so very, very sorry that such an extraordinarily talent is now, through no choice of his own, at rest."

Seattle Indies Deal With the Rising Minimum Wage, Part 1

In June 2014, the City Council of Seattle, Wash., voted to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2021. Depending on the number of employees they have, what sorts of benefits they provide and whether they accept tips, Seattle businesses have been on various schedules to reach $15 per hour. But as of the beginning of this year, small employers--those with 500 or fewer employees in the United States--who pay at least $3 per hour toward an individual employee's medical benefits must pay $12 per hour. Small employers that do not provide health care or do not accept tips must pay $15 per hour.

In the years since Seattle's former mayor signed the minimum wage increase into law, the city's independent booksellers have taken a variety of steps to get ahead of the scheduled wage increases. Some of these methods have included bringing in higher-margin sidelines, diversifying business models and more carefully managing staff and employee hours. At the same time, many indies have expressed concern not only with the city's position on small businesses but also with the explosive growth Seattle has seen in the last decade.

To get a better sense of how indies have fared in the past few years and how other booksellers facing similar rising minimum wage laws can plan for the future, Shelf Awareness has talked to several booksellers responsible for stores of varying sizes throughout Seattle.

While the current minimum wage in Seattle for small employers that offer health insurance is $12 per hour, Elliott Bay Book Company made the decision late last year to bring all of their employees up to at least $15 per hour, starting in 2019. Tracy Taylor, Elliott Bay's general manager, reported that the decision, which she made with store owner Peter Aaron, came about largely because of a provision in the minimum wage law that she said is often overlooked.

If the company both offers health insurance and if the employee chooses the health insurance plan, Taylor explained, the minimum wage is $12. But if the company does not offer health insurance, or if the employee chooses to opt out of it, the wage is $15. In 2018, Taylor continued, the gap between the minimum wage for those choosing health insurance and those who opted out of it widened considerably, and as a result she began to see a large increase in the number of booksellers choosing to forgo health insurance.

"Given how hard we work--and always have worked--to provide insurance, that really became a concern," said Taylor. "We want our staff to be insured. We have a lot of young and healthy staff, but it was hard to see people make that choice."

Taylor noted that while it was impossible to tell in every case whether a bookseller opting out of insurance had coverage elsewhere thanks to a parent's or partner's insurance plan, the increase in staff members opting out was stark. Taylor recalled that prior to making this decision, she and Aaron had gone into December 2018 thinking they had a set plan for how they would tackle 2019. Around mid-December, they decided to change course drastically and "solve this for the next three years." The result was raising the store's starting salary to $15 per hour.

"It was a decision based on where we needed to get to for 2021, the fact that we were seeing staff opt out of health insurance in favor of a higher minimum starting wage, and we just felt the business was at a point where we could do that," said Taylor. "Given our increased sales each year since our move and the strong economy, we decided to make the leap."

According to Taylor, although the decision was "not ideal for everyone," she sat down one-on-one with every bookseller to discuss what this would look like and what it would mean for them. Despite it resulting in everybody on staff being "closer together in wage," she and Aaron heard "resounding support." Taylor added that once the policy came into effect, most staff either saw an increase in their wages or now had the option to sign up for insurance without having to make a choice against their wage.

Over the past few years, Taylor said, the only inventory decision that the store has made in direct response to the rising minimum wage was the decision to focus on higher-margin sidelines. While Elliott Bay didn't increase the size of its sidelines inventory, Taylor continued, its make-up changed, and in recent years the store has carried many more letterpress and artisanal cards, as well as games and puzzles.

As for business-to-business sales, Taylor said that Elliott Bay has pursued more corporate clients in recent years, but emphasized that it was "not at all" tied to the minimum wage. "We're always looking at the bottom line," she said. "That's just part of running a business."

Despite payroll costs continuing to rise, Elliott Bay Book Company has not changed its staffing procedures. Aside from a few support staff who are part time, almost all of the bookstore's employees are full time. Taylor and other senior colleagues have not scheduled any differently, and have actually increased the size of the store's staff, in part because business has continued to grow every year since the store moved from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill in 2009.

"Contrary to what one might think, we haven't reduced or trimmed around the edges," Taylor said. "We're a customer service-based industry and we don't want to diminish that."

On the subject of the move from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill, Taylor recalled that back then, many of her staff members were very excited about the move because many of them lived in that neighborhood. Now, roughly a decade later, hardly any of the store's staff can afford to live in the neighborhood.

"Some don't even live in the city anymore," Taylor said. "The minimum wage has gone up but cost of living has skyrocketed." --Alex Mutter


Image of the Day: First Dottir

Feminist publisher Dottir Press launched its first novel, Please Read This Leaflet Carefully by Karen Havelin, with a reading at McNally Jackson, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, N.Y. Pictured (l.-r.): Havelin, moderator Kira von Eichel and Dottir Press publisher Jennifer Baumgardner.

Irish Bookseller: 'It Is Very Hard to Do Anything Else'

The Irish Examiner featured a q&a with Louisa Cameron, owner of Raven Books in Blackrock, a suburb of Dublin. Among our favorite exchanges:

How did you become a bookseller?
A few years before that, I had taken what was going to be a year out in the States, and went to Vermont. I went into a bookshop to buy a journal, ended up with a job and stayed for four years. Once books get under your skin, it is very hard to do anything else. I would probably be unemployable in any other area at this point.

You are fairly active on social media?
Yeah, I do like Twitter, and it is very good for business. It reaches the local community and a broader geographical spread of people as well, which is really nice. And other bookshops--there is a lovely bookshop community on Twitter which is very supportive of each other and it is really nice to be part of it.

Sidewalk Chalkboard of the Day: Bookmarks

Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, N.C., shared a photo of its Fight Club-inspired sidewalk chalkboard sign, which reads: "Welcome to Bookmarks. The first rule of Bookmarks is to talk about Bookmarks. The second rule of Bookmarks is to talk about Bookmarks. So... Give us a shout out, like, or follow on social media."

Personnel Changes at Community Bookstore; Greenlight Bookstores

At Community Bookstore, Brooklyn, N.Y.:

Hal Hlavinka has rejoined the store as event director, off-site programming. He was most recently account marketing manager at Penguin Random House and will work from Colorado, focusing on the planning of events while co-owner Stephanie Valdez will continue to host events.

Helen Zuckerman is being promoted to event coordinator, in-store programming, focusing on in-store events and marketing and social media efforts.


Matt Stowe is becoming frontlist buyer, adult, at Greenlight Bookstores, Brooklyn, N.Y., effective with the fall sales season. He spent four years at the Book Castle, Springfield, Mo., before joining Greenlight in 2011, where he oversaw the store's Brooklyn Academy of Music kiosks. Two years ago, he shifted to the buying department.

Greenlight co-owner Rebecca Fitting will continue to buy non-book items and children's frontlist and, as head buyer, will also continue to "oversee, review, weigh in, and direct inventory [and] maintain close contact with all of our reps to talk about what books are coming, but also to talk about business and the big picture of both Greenlight and the publishing industry at large."

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Jonathan M. Metzl on Real Time with Bill Maher

Fresh Air: Katherine Eban, author of Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom (Ecco, $28.99, 9780062338785).

CBS This Morning: Scott Pelley, author of Truth Worth Telling: A Reporter's Search for Meaning in the Stories of Our Times (Hanover Square Press, $26.99, 9781335999146).

Dr. Oz: Kim Russo, author of Your Soul Purpose: Learn How to Access the Light Within (HarperOne, $25.99, 9780062854858).

HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher: Jonathan M. Metzl, author of Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland (Basic Books, $32, 9781541644984).

This Weekend on Book TV: The Gaithersburg Book Festival

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, May 18
10:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. Live coverage of the 10th annual Gaithersburg Book Festival in Gaithersburg, Md. (Re-airs Sunday at 12 a.m.) Highlights include:

  • 10:15 a.m. Rob Scheer, co-author of A Forever Family: Fostering Change One Child at a Time (Gallery/Jeter Publishing, $25, 9781501196638).
  • 11:15 p.m. Vince Houghton, author of Nuking the Moon: And Other Intelligence Schemes and Military Plots Left on the Drawing Board (Penguin Books, $26, 9780525505174).
  • 12:15 p.m. Chris Wilson, co-author of The Master Plan: My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose (Putnam, $27, 9780735215580).
  • 1:15 p.m. Etan Thomas, author of We Matter: Athletes and Activism (Edge of Sports, $16.95, 9781617755910).
  • 2:15 p.m. Lorene Cary, author of Ladysitting: My Year with Nana at the End of Her Century (Norton, $25.95, 9780393635881).
  • 3:15 p.m. Damon Young, author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays (Ecco, $27.99, 9780062684301).
  • 4:15 p.m. Susan Page, author of The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty (Twelve, $32.50, 9781538713648).

7:10 p.m. Memorial service for former Librarian of Congress James Billington. (Re-airs Monday at 1 a.m.)

8:30 p.m. Michael Brendan Dougherty, author of My Father Left Me Ireland: An American Son's Search For Home (Sentinel, $24, 9780525538653). (Re-airs Sunday at 2:10 p.m.)

10 p.m. Anuradha Bhagwati, author of Unbecoming: A Memoir of Disobedience (Atria, $27, 9781501162541). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.)

11 p.m. Myron Magnet, author of Clarence Thomas and the Lost Constitution (Encounter Books, $23.99, 9781641770521). (Re-airs Sunday at 6:20 p.m.)

Sunday, May 19
8:50 a.m. Jill Biden, author of Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself (Flatiron, $27, 9781250182326). (Re-airs Sunday at 10 p.m.)

12:55 p.m. Dani McClain, author of We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood (Bold Type Books, $26, 978568588544).

4:40 p.m. Monica Smith, author of Cities: The First 6,000 Years (Viking, $30, 9780735223677). (Re-airs Sunday at 2:25 a.m.)

7:25 p.m. Rucker Johnon, co-author of Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works (Basic Books, $30, 9781541672703).

11:05 p.m. Sarah Rose, author of D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II (Crown, $28, 9780451495082).

Books & Authors

Awards: Best Translated Book; Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing; Innovations in Reading

Finalists in both poetry and fiction categories have been selected for the 2019 Best Translated Book Award, sponsored by Three Percent, the Millions reported. Winners from both categories will be announced May 29 as part of the New York Rights Fair. Winning authors and translators each receive $5,000. This year's BTBA finalists are:

Congo Inc.: Bismarck's Testament by In Koli Jean Bofane, translated from the French by Marjolijn de Jager (Democratic Republic of Congo, Indiana University Press)
The Hospital by Ahmed Bouanani, translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud (Morocco, New Directions)
Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale (Martinique, New Press)
Pretty Things by Virginie Despentes, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan, (France, Feminist Press)
Moon Brow by Shahriar Mandanipour, translated from the Persian by Khalili Sara (Iran, Restless Books)
Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer, translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire (Germany, Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori (Japan, Grove)
The Governesses by Anne Serre, translated from the French by Mark Hutchinson (France, New Directions)
Öræfï by Ófeigur Sigurðsson, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith (Iceland, Deep Vellum)
Fox by Dubravka Ugresic, translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac and David Williams (Croatia, Open Letter)

The Future Has an Appointment with the Dawn by Tenella Boni, translated from the French by Todd Fredson (Cote D'Ivoire, University of Nebraska)
Moss & Silver by Jure Detela, translated from the Slovenian by Raymond Miller and Tatjana Jamnik (Slovenia, Ugly Duckling)
Of Death. Minimal Odes by Hilda Hilst, translated from the Portuguese by Laura Cesarco Eglin (Brazil, co-im-press)
Autobiography of Death by Kim Hysesoon, translated from the Korean by Don Mee Choi (Korea, New Directions)
Negative Space by Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated from the Albanian by Ani Gjika (Albania, New Directions)


A shortlist has been released for the £15,000 (about $19,280) Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize for best published novel, presented by the Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation. The winner will be honored during a ceremony September 12 in London. This year's shortlisted titles are:

Sleeper: The Red Storm by J D Fennell
The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar
The Firefly by Henry Porter
The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell
Preservation by Jock Serong
To the Lions by Holly Watt

In its fourth year, the prize now is partnering with national charity the Reading Agency to make the award "as much about readers as it about the writers." As part of this partnership, each author on the shortlist and the prize's judging panel have been invited to work with the foundation to support a new generation of young people to become readers. Working in further education colleges across the U.K., as part of the Reading Ahead program, the partnership "will provide a stepping stone for many young people to continue their reading journeys through adventure," the foundation said.


The West Philadelphia Alliance for Children has won the National Book Foundation's $10,000 Innovations in Reading Prize, awarded annually to an organization or individual that has "developed an innovative project that creates and sustains a lifelong love of reading in the community they serve."

WePAC formed in 2004 as a response to the City of Philadelphia closing its school libraries. With the help of hundreds of volunteers, the organization coordinates the reopening and operation, including staffing, stocking and programming, of area libraries. All told, these libraries serve more than 5,000 students in Philadelphia. WePAC aims to support literacy development, foster the joy of reading and close the resource gap between under-served public schools and those in neighboring districts.

Honorable mentions were Oakland International High School and Word Up Community Bookshop, which will both receive $1,500.

Reading Group Choices' Most Popular April Books

The two most popular books in April at Reading Group Choices were Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and Women Talking: A Novel by Miriam Toews (Bloomsbury Publishing).

Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, May 21:

Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense: The Courtroom Battle to Save His Legacy by Dan Abrams and David Fisher (Hanover Square Press, $27.99, 9781335016447) chronicles a libel case brought on former President Theodore Roosevelt by the leader of the Republican party.

Medical Medium Celery Juice: The Most Powerful Medicine of Our Time Healing Millions Worldwide by Anthony William (Hay House, $19.99, 9781401957650) gives spiritual advice about celery juice.

The Summoning by Heather Graham (MIRA, $27.99, 9780778369912) is the 27th book in the supernatural Krewe of Hunters series.

The Scent Keeper: A Novel by Erica Bauermeister (St. Martin's Press, $26.99, 9781250200136) follows a girl raised on a remote island where her father stores mysterious scents.

Before We Were Yours: A Novel by Lisa Wingate (Ballantine, $17, 9780425284704).

The Clockmaker's Daughter: A Novel by Kate Morton (Washington Square Press, $17, 9781451649413).

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:

Miracle Creek: A Novel by Angie Kim (Sarah Crichton, $27, 9780374156022). "Miracle Creek is a courtroom drama with impeccable pacing, an original plot, and stellar writing. It’s also a remarkably empathetic book, exploring the ripple effects of causality and the urgent need to do right by each other in big and small ways, recognizing that even the best of us will fail once in a while. It is a lovely reminder that even when doing the right thing feels like swimming upstream, we never know what harm may be prevented and what good might come from our actions. A great read that deserves broad success." --Sara Hinckley, Hudson Booksellers, Marietta, Ga.

Courting Mr. Lincoln: A Novel by Louis Bayard (Algonquin, $27.95, 9781616208479). "This is a beautifully rendered, historically compelling exploration of the idea that the powerful and unseen gravitational force acting on what we know to have been a complicated courtship between Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd was Lincoln's ambiguous friendship with Joshua Speed. Bayard's complex characters live believably on these pages, reminding us that love is not--and never has been, even for the iconic figures of history--a this-or-that thing, but instead takes on many forms, depending on its circumstances. A great book club selection!" --Nina Barrett, Bookends & Beginnings, Evanston, Ill.

Tin Man: A Novel by Sarah Winman (Putnam, $14, 9780735218765). "Michael loves Ellis, Ellis loves Annie, and Annie loves them both. Yet Sarah Winman's blistering novel Tin Man is anything but the usual love triangle. Instead, Winman asks us to consider what remains of love after its object is gone. She crowds this spare little book, set in London, Oxford, and the south of France, with vivid portraits of loss and mourning. At once terse and expansive, Tin Man is a firework flashing in the night--gone too soon but burned forever into the reader's memory." --David Enyeart, Common Good Books, St. Paul, Minn.

For Ages 4 to 8
Ida and the Whale by Rebecca Gugger, illustrated by Simon Röthlisberger (NorthSouth, $17.95, 9780735843417). "Dwell on the dreamy watercolors as Ida goes for a whale ride that takes her away from the world but at the same time allows her to really understand it. Reassuring text creates the perfect opportunity to ponder big questions together with a small child." --Jamie McCauley, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Conn.

For Ages 9 to 12
The Rambling by Jimmy Cajoleas (HarperCollins, $16.99, 9780062498786). "This adventure story is about a boy searching for his wayward--then kidnapped--father. It's an intriguing tale featuring a card game called Parsnit, which is overseen by a witch and played in the nearby swamplands. In this increasingly magical world, Cajoleas highlights the complex relationship between a father, his adoring son, and the truth. The Rambling is an engaging book for middle-grade readers." --Lia Lent, WordsWorth Books, Little Rock, Ark.

For Teen Readers
Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell (Simon Pulse, $19.99, 9781534410633). "Far into the future, humans have left earth and now inhabit The System Divine, with French colonists living on the planet Laterre, where citizens starve under the watch of an indifferent ruling class. But revolution is brewing, and three teens are drawn in as a terrorist group threatens to tear apart their home. Should they be fighting to save such a broken system, or should they be working to help the spark catch? Each must decide for themselves in this thrilling sci-fi retelling of Les Misérables." --Madeline Dorman, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Tex.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]

Book Review

Review: The History of Living Forever

The History of Living Forever by Jake Wolff (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 hardcover, 384p., 9780374170660, June 11, 2019)

The culture-crossing, time-spanning quest for the elixir of life has always told us more about human nature than about chemistry. Eternal youth and immortality remain as desirable as they are elusive--and the tales of our relentless pursuit of them, whether they're grounded in mythology or scientific inquiry, often turn out to be great conduits for stories about longing, grief and love.

Jake Wolff joins this canon with his debut novel, The History of Living Forever. It contains many stories in one, but at its heart is 16-year-old Conrad Aybinder, a sensitive high school student who has received a terrible shock: his chemistry teacher, Sammy, who was also his lover, has just ended his life. And, confusingly, he seems to have done it as part of a lifelong quest to concoct a mixture that would guarantee immortality.

Conrad inherits Sammy's notebooks, which document his 20 years of research and self-experimentation. They're full of clues that may lead to the definitive recipe for the elixir of life--as well as to the man Sammy truly was.

Having known a great deal of grief in his short life, Conrad is determined to complete Sammy's work and save himself from further loss. But as Conrad races to obtain the necessary ingredients, both the mixture and the man become increasingly obscured. And it turns out that there are others who want Sammy's recipe--and their intentions may be less pure than Conrad's.

True to its title, The History of Living Forever sprawls across time and space. Conrad's quest is paired with "case histories" of the many before him who have sought immortality for themselves or for the ones they love, tenderly demonstrating that Conrad isn't alone in his grief and desperation (though he may feel like it). At the same time, Wolff also tells Sammy's story, which turns out to be even more complicated and heartbreaking than his notebooks suggest.

With uncommon perceptiveness and a vivid imagination, Wolff has crafted a story that is both highly unusual and, in its way, universal. The History of Living Forever is not only another entry on the long list of stories about the quest for eternal life, but part of another grand storytelling tradition: the coming-of-age tale. --Hannah Calkins, writer and editor

Shelf Talker: A grieving teenage boy sets out on a quest for the elixir of life--and learns some unexpected lessons about what poisons us and what sustains us.

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