Shelf Awareness for Monday, April 20, 2020


Workman Publishing: So Embarrassing: Awkward Moments and How to Get Through Them by Charise Mericle Harper

Candlewick Press: Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

Scholastic Press: Illegal: A Disappeared Novel, Volume 2 by Francisco X. Stork

Tor Books: Rhythm of War (Stormlight Archive, 4) by Brandon Sanderson

Disney-Hyperion: The Mirror Broken Wish (Mirror #1) by Julie C. Dao

Quotation of the Day

News

Abrams Raises $200K for Binc

Abrams, which launched the #HELPABOOKSELLER challenge last month to raise $100,000 for the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) to help booksellers, said it has not only reached that goal but doubled it, to $200,000.

The publisher and its authors, artists, partners, employees and friends have been among the contributors, along with the McEvoy Group--which includes Chronicle Books, Princeton Architectural Press and Galison--which last week with their employees gave contributions for the total to reach $200,000.

Abrams president and CEO Michael Jacobs said, "When we started this campaign on March 24, we were hoping to meet our original $100,000 goal, and we were so happy to have exceeded it right out of the gate by more than 150%. Thanks to the efforts of our company and friends, most especially the people who work at Abrams and support our business, we decided to 'double down' our goal.

"The McEvoy Group, longtime friends and colleagues and with whom we have a great partnership in Abrams & Chronicle Books in London, generously came through for us and for Binc by joining the cause and getting us 'over the top.' All of us believe that this effort shows our appreciation and support for the people that we rely on so greatly--frontline booksellers."

Jack Jensen, president of McEvoy Group, said, "Chronicle Books, Princeton Architectural Press and Galison have long admired and supported Binc and its mission to provide assistance to the independent bookselling community. We are pleased we can pledge additional funds from our companies, along with individual contributions from our employees and extended community to help our bookseller partners during this unprecedented time."

Pamela French, executive director of Binc, commented: "Michael Jacobs and Abrams' generosity, philanthropic vision and leadership has inspired the McEvoy Group, Chronicle and countless others to step forward with their hands raised saying they can also help. We are honored to have these publishing partners, and their care for booksellers are what allows Binc to help every qualifying bookseller who comes to us."

Among Abrams authors who contributed to the campaign are Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), Henry Winkler (Alien Superstar), Andrea Beaty (The Questioneers series including Rosie Revere, Engineer), Rachael Allen (A Taxonomy of Love), Diana Harmon Asher (Sidetracked), Tom Angleberger (Didi Dodo, Future Spy series), Cece Bell (El Deafo), Tom Lennon (Ronan Boyle and the Swamp of Certain Death), Lin Oliver (Alien Superstar), Gaby Dalkin (What's Gaby Cooking: Eat What You Want), Laura Prepon (You & I, as Mothers) and Chris Santella (Fifty Places series).


Milkweed Editions: The Shame by Makenna Goodman


International Update: Amazon's Missing U.K. Buy Buttons

Amazon removed the buy buttons from a number of titles on its U.K. site late last week "as it continues to face supply shortages in the book chain," the Bookseller reported. Although still being offered via third-party suppliers, unavailable bestsellers included David Walliams's Slime and the recently released paperback edition of Blue Moon by Lee Child. Pre-order buy buttons had been removed from Amazon for two days last month as the retailer emphasized essential items during the pandemic.

"Books are very important to us and our customers, and we are working hard to offer books to customers in all formats," said an Amazon UK spokesperson. "At the present time, we believe that the prioritization of certain products is in our customers' best interests. When print options are temporarily limited, customers will always have the option to purchase e-books and download audiobooks where available."

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In China, about 30 bookstores in Shanghai have joined with Alibaba-backed delivery platform Eleme to boost sales, CGTN reported, adding that some consider the partnership to be "a forced choice. Hit hard by the pandemic, the book market saw a 15.9% decline in sales for the first quarter, compared to the same period last year. Nationwide, bookstore sales went down by over 50% as many suspended business."

Due to distance limits and other factors, sales from the online initiative have not been as high as stores would hope. Shanghai's Zhongban Bookstore has received only about 10 orders since it registered on Eleme two weeks ago. Cui Junyou, Shanghai Zhongban Book Corporation's deputy manager, said, "At present the new mode hasn't hugely affected book sales. But the collaboration helps promote branding and make the surrounding communities aware of the bookstore."

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Bookstores across Iran have been allowed to resume activities after a nearly two-month shutdown due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but booksellers must obtain the Health Ministry's permission beforehand and respect health protocols, the Tehran Times reported. Any bookstore lacking permission will be prosecuted.

The shutdown of bookstores "pushed many people into using online stores offering audiobooks and e-books," the Tehran Times wrote, adding that FIDIBO, a major online Iranian store for audio and electronic books, said in early April the number of registered e-book readers was four times higher than before the Covid-19 epidemic began in the country in February.

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Turkish readers have been primarily buying novels since a partial lockdown began March 16, Hürriyet Daily News reported. According to data shared by the Istanbul Statistics Office, one of the newly established departments of the municipality, nearly 67% of the online orders--100,000 books--for Istanbul Bookstore came from Istanbul and 33% came from outside the city.


University of California Press: The Koreas: The Birth of Two Nations Divided by Theodore Jun Yoo


How Bookstores Are Coping: Planning Ahead, Working Together

"It has been a really rough month for everyone," Kristina Heaton, owner of Once Upon a Thyme Bookshop, Beavercreek, Ohio, wrote in her latest e-newsletter. Because "normal life" has shifted so dramatically due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, her business has had to adapt as well, including the closure of its storefront.

"The good news is that I'm not going anywhere," she noted. "The concept of the cookbook store may be going through some changes, but I still believe in it to its core. I will still be selling online, I will be keeping my social media pages open, along with my website. I'll still be ordering books and will do my best to serve you, my wonderful customers. Thank you for your support that you've given this store, my dream, over the last two years. We've grown into an incredible community and friendships have formed that I will cherish forever.

"The planning doesn't stop here. I'm going back to the drawing board and to figure out where Once Upon a Thyme Bookshop goes from here and what it becomes next. Please, continue to support us.  Stay tuned for our next chapter. I hope you'll be part of it! Stay safe and healthy my friends!"

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Noting that the most popular lament she hears from fellow indie booksellers throughout the southeast is, "I'm working three times as hard for a fraction of sales," Shari Stauch, owner of Main Street Reads, Summerville, S.C., shared her thoughts about the current situation with her customers in the store's e-newsletter: "Besides our store usually being a magnet for out-of-town visitors, we really, like most indie bookstores, thrive on community. Our clubs and events serve the community. We do off-site events at libraries and school fairs. We donate books to schools and hospitals. We cater to the Saturday farmer's market crowd and the Sunday after-church crowd and the daily lunch and post-work crowds. To have all that on hiatus, well (enter expletive here!).

"And while we're delighted and oh-so-grateful to embrace taking your orders for curbside pickup and home deliveries (thank you!); and seeing your orders on our online Bookshop (thank you!); and looking forward to the day when you'll be in to browse selections for those gift cards (thank you!), it's soooo quiet here. The square is empty, save the occasional jogger or walker taking a bench break. The sidewalks are eager to welcome the daily visit from the mail person and the rare dog walker.

"Sometimes, when we want to wallow in despair, the comfort we can take (besides knowing that this IS temporary) is that WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. If you get sad and are tired of Siri's jokes, or just want to tell us about a book you loved or hated, we're here.... Meanwhile, stay home, stay safe, and please join us at the upcoming virtual events below. We're embracing these chances to meet authors and see other readers online--we sincerely hope you will, too!"

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Joelle Herr, owner of the Bookshop, East Nashville, Tenn., noted: "I used to consider myself a tidy and orderly person. Ha--not so much these days, since the shop turned into a #bookbundle factory. Thank you so, so much for all of your orders. I posted a couple new bundles earlier today, and more are coming soon. Don't forget about our @bookshop_org page, too--lots of themed lists over there, and you can order just about any (in print) book you're looking for!"

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A month into the shift to doing business exclusively online, Book Revue, Huntington, N.Y., expressed gratitude to customers for their support and said that recently "we've been talking and planning for the future. We are thinking about what re-opening will look like and what shape our town and our business will take as we move forward in a world that is quite different from what it was the last time we opened our doors. We know it won't all be easy, but we are committed to coming back strong and serving our community in every way we can, with books, events, and a place to be.

"So, we are taking a deep breath. We are figuring out the best ways to continue to get everyone puzzles and books and a little bit of respite over the coming month. We are working on some virtual author events we will announce soon, to bring us all together right in our own homes. We are reaching out to organizations in our community to see how we can use our resources to help raise money or donate books. We are sitting in deep gratitude for your support and in solidarity with our community. We will get through this.

"We're sending strength and sympathy to everyone who has lost a loved one or is struggling with the virus themselves. Thank you to everyone on the front lines in hospitals and care facilities, to everyone performing essential roles to keep us all safe and to save lives right now. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay home, everyone. Let's keep taking care of each other."


Berkley Books: The Ballad of Hattie Taylor by Susan Anderson


More Indie Crowdfunding Campaigns

Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, Vineyard Haven, Mass., has launched a GoFundMe campaign with a $50,000 goal and has already raised nearly $25,000. Owner Dawn Braasch noted that the store has been closed to the public for about a month, and "while we have every intention of reopening once it's safe to do so, we know that this summer is going to be unlike any that any of us have ever seen." Calling the temporary closure "our biggest challenge yet," Braasch expressed uncertainty about the future, but said, "I am so grateful to live on an island that appreciates the intrinsic value of an independent bookstore, an island that understands what a different community we would be without one."

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Eyeseeme Children's Bookstore, an African American children's bookstore in University City, Mo., is asking donors for $25,000. So far, store co-owners Jeffrey and Pamela Blair have raised more than  $21,000 in 10 days. The ongoing coronavirus crisis has caused the store to close to the public, and all of its book fairs have been canceled. And while the store has adjusted to the new "no gathering" world by doing online orders, free delivery, curbside pickup and more, those things are not enough to sustain the bookstore.

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Marcus Books in Oakland, Calif., the oldest independent Black bookstore in the country, launched a GoFundMe campaign on April 8 with a goal of $50,000. The store has raised more than $60,000 since, and the money will help Marcus Books stay afloat so the store can reopen "with confidence and security once it is safe to do so." Founded in 1960, Marcus Books is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and is owned and operated by Karen Johnson, Blanche Richardson and Billy Richardson, children of founders Dr. Raye Richardson and Dr. Julian Richardson.

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In just over a week, David Hutchinson, owner of The Book Tavern in Augusta, Ga., has raised nearly $8,000 for his store. With the store shuttered due to a shelter-in-place order that will go until at least the end of April, Hutchinson hopes to bring in a total of $25,000. He explained that even with curbside pickup and free home delivery, current sales are not enough to keep the store going. Donated money will go towards paying employees as well as covering rent and utilities.

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The Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood, Calif., has launched a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of $100,000. In five days, the new and used bookstore has brought in more than $31,000. Specializing in books about theater and film, the bookstore was founded in 1938 and moved to Hollywood Boulevard in the 1950s. Proprietor Jeffrey Mantor wrote that despite taking orders by phone and e-mail, the store is not meeting its basic operating expenses. Money raised through the campaign will go to keeping the business afloat and developing the bookshop's online store, which has become a paramount need.


'Permanently' Closed, Minn.'s Boneshaker Books to Reopen

Boneshaker Books, the radical collective bookstore in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minn., that closed in early March for financial reasons, is reopening with a new group of volunteers, the Star Tribune reported. The bookstore will open first online via Bookshop.org, then, depending on the course of the pandemic, in its original location.

After the store announced it was closing permanently, several former members of the collective and members of the community formed a new collective and began an Indiegogo campaign that has raised some $22,000, more than double its goal of $10,000. (One of the perks is an "Amazon is evil" T-shirt--for donations of $50 or more.)

The campaign aims to raise enough money so that Boneshaker Books "remains healthy and vital in our community for years to come, and to expand our collection of books, zines, artwork, and more." Some of the money will go to "paying down debt owed to publishers and distributors and freeing up our line of credit" and "reinstating our insurance policy with a provider that will allow us to continue bicycle deliveries." (Since its founding, Boneshaker Books has provided bicycle delivery services to customers.)

The store offers titles that it says reflect "the experiences and ideas borne from radical and progressive movements, marginalized communities, and local and international voices. We also house a free event space that has been occupied by hundreds of activists, community members, artists, and literati over the years."

The new Boneshaker Books is starting two virtual book clubs--the Politics of Pandemics and Anything But Pandemics, which focuses on utopian fiction.


Robert Devens New University of Texas Press Director

Robert Devens has been named director of the University of Texas Press. He joined the press in 2013 as assistant editor-in-chief, becoming editor-in-chief in 2014 and assistant director in 2018. Before joining the University of Texas Press, he was an editor at the University of Chicago Press for 13 years, where he acquired trade and scholarly books in American studies, history, and urban studies and was the founding acquisitions editor for the American Beginnings and Chicago Visions & Revisions series.

Maurie McInnis, executive vice-president and provost at the University of Texas at Austin, said that Devens's "deep knowledge of academic publishing, his experience at UT Press, and his collaborative relationships with the scholarly community at UT Austin are tremendous assets. During his time at UT, he has served as a visible, public ambassador for the Press by articulating the critical role of university presses in supporting faculty scholarship, and research."

The press said that since joining the press, he has led the establishment of new series in fields ranging from Latinx studies to film studies, to more extensive general interest offerings in areas such as biography and music. He has also served as the press's editor in architecture, American studies, and U.S. history. He was the founding acquisitions editor for the Lateral Exchanges series in architecture and has been instrumental in the development of both the Texas Bookshelf and the Katrina Bookshelf.


Obituary Note: Merv Binns

Merv Binns, a former bookseller and a major figure in Australia's science fiction community, died on April 7 at the age of 85, Locus Mag reported.

A life-long lover of science fiction, Binns helped found the Melbourne Science Fiction Club in 1952 and in 1971 opened Space Age Books, Australia's first science fiction bookstore, which he owned and operated until its closure in 1985. He also published the fanzine Australian SF News, which won the 1985 Ditmar Award for Best Australian Fanzine.

Throughout his life and long career Binns was guest of honor at many conventions, including the Ninth Australian Natcon in 1970 and the 44th Australian Natcon in 2005. He also received numerous awards and honors, such as the A. Betram Chandler Award in 1993, the Infinity Award in 2012 and the Peter McNamara Achievement Award in 2015.


G.L.O.W. - Galley Love of the Week
Be the first to have an advance copy!
The Midnight Bargain
by C.L. Polk

Erewhon: The Midnight Bargain by C.L. PolkIn a world where a woman's magic is taken away from her upon marriage, sorceress Beatrice Clayborn attempts to forge a future containing both magic and love in C.L. Polk's The Midnight Bargain, a feminist fantasy that uses classic romance tropes to deliver a timely message about social, racial and gender justice. Erewhon Books editor Sarah Guan calls the novel a "gorgeous confection" and notes that she acquired the title for Erewhon's launch season because of its cleverness, which turns the "trappings of romance and fantasy worldbuilding on their heads and invites readers to question them." Guan is absolutely right--Polk's worldbuilding is whip-smart and her characters are pitch-perfect, making The Midnight Bargain a must-read for anyone who appreciates the genre's ability to make us view the real world with new eyes. --Kerry McHugh

(Erewhon, $25.95 hardcover, 9781645660071, October 13, 2020)

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Notes

Pandemicwear

Many bookstores have created T-shirts encouraging people, in various ways, to stay home and read. A sampling: (l.-r., top to bottom) shirts from Print Bookstore, Portland, Maine, Malaprop's, Asheville, N.C.; WORD Bookstores, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Jersey City, N.J.; Green Apple Books, San Francisco, Calif.; Third Place Books, Seattle, Wash.; Buffalo Street Books, Ithaca, N.Y.; Diesel, a Bookstore, Brentwood and Del Mar, Calif.; RiverRun Bookstore, Portsmouth, N.H.; and Madison Street Books, Chicago. These and many others are available through Bonfire.com or directly from the bookstores.


Road Trip: Indies Pick TItles to 'Go on a Literary Escape' With

"These days, the old saying, 'The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page,' can apply to reading at home," Forbes noted in a piece headlined "Go on a Literary Escape with These Suggestions from Independent Bookstores."

Global travel is on hold because of the Covid-19 pandemic, so "a book can provide a literal escape, with genres covering just about any facet of travel. As independent bookstores across the U.S. have turned to self-pick up or mail delivery in keeping their businesses open, Forbes has asked them for suggestions on travel-related titles that provide a getaway through storytelling."



Media and Movies

Media Heat: Governor Larry Hogan on the View

Today:
The View: Governor Larry Hogan, co-author of Still Standing: Surviving Cancer, Riots, and the Toxic Politics that Divide America (BenBella, $26.95, 9781950665044).

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: Trevor Noah, author of It's Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Adapted for Young Readers) (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 9780525582168). He will also appear on Ellen.

Tomorrow:
Good Morning America: Ginger Zee, author of Chasing Helicity Through the Storm (Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, 9781368002189).

The Real: Blair Underwood, co-author of Olympic Pride, American Prejudice: The Untold Story of 18 African Americans Who Defied Jim Crow and Adolf Hitler to Compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics (Atria, $28, 9781501162152).


Movies: Artemis Fowl

Disney+ has set June 12 as the premiere date for Artemis Fowl, based on Eoin Colfer's YA novel. Deadline reported that the film "was meant to be released in theaters post-Memorial Day weekend, but was moved to the streaming service amid the coronavirus crisis."

The project stars Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Josh McGuire, Nikesh Patel, Adrian Scarborough, Colin Farrell and Judi Dench. Kenneth Branagh directs and produces with Judy Hofflund, with Angus More Gordon and Matthew Jenkins executive producing. Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl wrote the screenplay.


Books & Authors

Awards: Los Angeles Times Book Winners

The winners of the 40th annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes are:

Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction: Namwali Serpell, for The Old Drift: A Novel (Hogarth)
Biography: George Packer, for Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century (Knopf)
Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose: Emily Bernard, for Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine (Knopf)
Current Interest: Emily Bazelon, for Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration (Random House)
Fiction: Ben Lerner, for The Topeka School: A Novel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Graphic Novel/Comics: Eleanor Davis, for The Hard Tomorrow (Drawn & Quarterly)
History: Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, for They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South (Yale University Press)
Mystery/Thriller: Steph Cha, for Your House Will Pay: A Novel (Ecco)
Poetry: Ilya Kaminsky, for Deaf Republic: Poems (Graywolf Press)
Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction, Fantasy & Speculative Fiction: Marlon James, for Black Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy Book 1) (Riverhead)
Science & Technology: Maria Popova, for Figuring (Knopf)
Young Adult Literature: Malla Nunn, for When the Ground Is Hard (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers)


Top Library Recommended Titles for May

LibraryReads, the nationwide library staff-picks list, offers the top 10 May titles public library staff across the country love:

Favorite
Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner (Berkley, $15.99, 9780593102527). "Jo, a successful producer and screenwriter, asks her assistant Emma to attend the SAG awards with her as a buffer to field questions. But after a red carpet photograph, rumors start spreading about their romantic involvement. A sweet, slow burn romance that gets steamy at the end between two people who obviously respect and value the other, despite various communication issues that arise. Give to readers who liked Girl Gone Viral (Rai), The Hating Game (Thorne), and Red, White & Royal Blue (McQuiston)." --Julie Graham, Yakima Valley Libraries, Yakima, Wash.

All Adults Here: A Novel by Emma Straub (Riverhead, $27, 9781594634697). "The ripple effects of choices linger for years and ultimately shape matriarch Astrid and her children. As several generations grapple with their own truths, an opportunity to begin again ultimately draws them all closer. This book asks the question, 'Who is truth ultimately for, who benefits from it, and who does it hurt?' For fans of Clock Dance (Tyler) and The Most Fun We Ever Had (Lombardo)." --Jesica Sweedler DeHart, Neill Public Library, Pullman, Wash.

Beach Read by Emily Henry (Berkley, $16, 9781984806734). "Hooray for smart, emotional, well-written romance! Two old enemies meet by chance and decide to solve their writer's block by swapping genres: Literary writer Augustus will trade his cynicism for a happily ever after, while January will try a 'serious' novel where everyone ends up realistically miserable. What could go wrong? For readers who like Susan Mallery and Jennifer Crusie." --Sharon Layburn, South Huntington Public Library, Huntington Station, N.Y.

Big Summer: A Novel by Jennifer Weiner (Atria, $28, 9781501133510). "Daphne is a plus-size Instagram influencer who is lovable, funny, and honest. She is surprised when her former best friend--rich, beautiful, mean girl Drue--asks her to be in her summer wedding on Cape Cod. Readers of modern romance, women's fiction, mystery, and beachy chic-lit will all find something here to ponder. Perfect for fans of Marian Keyes and Emily Giffin." --Kathleen Redfearn, Attleboro Public Library, Attleboro, Mass.

A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight (Harper, $27.99, 9780062367686). "In Park Slope, everyone has a 'good marriage.' Yet after an annual party that often involves partner swapping, one wife ends up dead. Her husband might not be the best spouse, but he claims he didn’t kill his wife. If being a bad husband doesn't make you a murderer, then who in this idyllic community is responsible? Liane Moriarty fans will love this one." --Selena Swink, Lake Public Library, Lake, Miss.

Happy and You Know It by Laura Hankin (Berkley, $26, 9781984806239). "Claire is a musician whose former band became famous without her. She takes a gig singing nursery rhymes for a playgroup, and her life takes a couple of sharp lefts from there! For fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Elizabeth Berg." --Danielle Hansard, Westland Public Library, Westland, Mich.

The Jane Austen Society: A Novel by Natalie Jenner (St. Martin's Press, $26.99, 9781250248732). "Set in the small village of Chawton where Jane Austen lived at the end of her life, just after World War II. Add in a small farmer, the local doctor, a heart-broken widow, a movie actress and other assorted characters, all of who love Jane Austen. For readers who enjoyed The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler." --Claudia Silk, Fairfield Public Library, Fairfield, Conn.

Network Effect: A Murderbot Novel by Martha Wells (Tor, $26.99, 9781250229861). "For the unfamiliar, the Murderbot Diaries is an action-packed, smart science fiction series about a self-hacking robot searching for the meaning of life. This is the first full-length standalone in the series. Given time to develop characters, the peril was even more suspenseful. More than any of the other titles, this one has me hoping for a sequel. For fans of Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie." --April Lammers, Huntington Beach Public Library, Huntington Beach, Calif.

Recipe for Persuasion: A Novel by Sonali Dev (Morrow, $15.99, 9780062839077). "Ashna is trying to keep her father's restaurant, Curried Dreams, from failing. An opportunity is presented to her to be a chef on a reality show, paired with a celebrity. Little does she know that the celebrity, Rico, a soccer star, maneuvered on the show to be paired with her. For fans of Jasmine Guillory." --Ellen Firer, Merrick Library, Merrick, N.Y.

The Wife Stalker: A Novel by Liv Constantine (Harper, $27.99, 9780062967282). "Piper Reynard has moved to Connecticut to start over. She meets Leo, a handsome and successful lawyer who is married to Joanna, who has been waiting for Leo to start focusing on her and the kids again for quite some time. Joanna is determined to find the truth out about Piper, but no one wants to believe what she uncovers. For fans of B.A. Paris and A.J. Finn." --Laura Sanders, LaFourche Parish Library, Thibodaux, La.

Book Review

Review: The Shapeless Unease: A Year of Not Sleeping

The Shapeless Unease: A Year of Not Sleeping by Samantha Harvey (Grove Press, $24 hardcover, 192p., 9780802148827, May 12, 2020)

Sleep won't be much of an option when pondering the questions and images novelist Samantha Harvey raises in her profound, earthshaking memoir The Shapeless Unease: A Year of Not Sleeping.

Harvey (The Western Wind) has been compared by the Telegraph with Virginia Woolf. The comparison holds up. She is a writer of both sparkling effusions and dark, twisted inquiry. The Shapeless Unease defies linear genre and offers a varied look at the somber affliction of insomnia. In 2016, Harvey couldn't sleep. She talked to her doctor, tried various remedies, but all to no avail. She captures her experience of that year in stream-of-consciousness interior monologues--reminiscent of Woolf--and more essay-like probing into the heart of her distress. She's a shapeshifter, in that the point-of-view changes constantly. She writes in first-person then shifts to third-person. Some of her passages are short stories she wrote during that time. Some are dialogues with people trying to help. What's constant is the restless energy propelling the prose: fervent, searching, luminous at times.

The first few sections are a sobering meditation on death. It is a subject that preoccupies the author throughout the sleepless nights. Her cousin died, and she can't reconcile the times they spent together as children with the image of the corpse rotting in the ground. In unflinching detail, she takes us through the stages of decomposition and how humans disappear from the surface of the earth. "It was only ever your vehemence to survive that prevented all that," she writes, describing how bacteria always present in the body finally consume the body upon death.

And from this eternal crisis spring a thousand worries. She is writing during Brexit, and this political crisis keeps her up. She wonders about the future of humanity. She dissects science and religion, and wishes she could be an ardent believer in either. She curses the uncertainty and panic that run beneath her thoughts. She analyzes her interactions with her doctor, the power relation between patient and doctor that often puts the patient at a disadvantage, especially when suffering from something that can be dismissed as neuroses.

The best part of The Shapeless Unease, though, is the author's exploration of writing. The act of writing saves her in the night, and she delves into what constitutes the miraculous phenomenon known as the written word. "Writing is dreaming," she explains. "It is lucid dreaming--the work of the subconscious that has a toe in the conscious, just enough to harness the dream's waywardness." Writing uncovers the ineffable, she insists. And as if to prove her point, the book offers one incredible metaphor after another, limning the sublime. "The self can find a way out," she concludes, "which I think is what love is--the escape of the self from the self."

This memoir churns deep in the soul. Here is a talented writer plumbing her personal experience as deeply as she can. The results are staggeringly beautiful. The Shapeless Unease belongs on the nightstand of every literary-minded insomniac. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Shelf Talker: Novelist Samantha Harvey grapples with her insomnia and life's biggest questions in this brilliant, genre-bending memoir.


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