Shelf Awareness for Thursday, May 14, 2020

 Kokila: Everything We Never Had by Randy Ribay

Nancy Paulsen Books: Sync by Ellen Hopkins

Running Press Adult: Cat People by Hannah Hillam

Beaming Books: Must-Have Autumn Reads for Your Shelf!

Dial Press: Like Mother, Like Mother by Susan Rieger

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

Forge: My Three Dogs by Bruce W Cameron


Remembering Carolyn Reidy

Among the many heartfelt notes we've received about the death of Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, this one from John Campbell is wonderfully representative and includes some information we hadn't seen before:

Carolyn Reidy

Your "In Memoriam" to our beloved friend Carolyn Reidy is so beautiful, so shining with Carolyn's energy that I've read it several times to soothe the ache of losing her.

Carolyn was my longest, dearest friend in publishing. We've known each other since 1983 and became very close friends, way beyond our mutual roles in publishing. When I decided, three years ago, to write a big new book on Jim Morrison, she was one of my biggest supporters and spoke often with me about Morrison's poetry, his final days in Paris, and various thoughts that came to her that she thought I should explore.

We were both doing our graduate work in the Midwest--Carolyn at Indiana University, and I at Wisconsin-Madison. She was several years ahead of me, though I completed my Ph.D. a few years before she was able to, given her busy career in publishing as she was also writing her dissertation. I doubt many people in publishing know that her doctoral dissertation was: "The Reader as Character in the High Victorian Novel: Studies of the Reader-Writer Relationship in Vanity Fair, The Way We Live Now, Middlemarch, and The Egoist."

Thank you so much for writing the most beautiful of all the tributes to Carolyn. Our shared broken hearts will be the only way to find peace and acceptance of this shocking loss.

G.P. Putnam's Sons: The Restaurant of Lost Recipes (A Kamogawa Food Detectives Novel) by Hisashi Kashiwai, Translated by Jesse Kirkwood


#ReadIndieForward Launches

Shelf Awareness and Sourcebooks have teamed up to launch #ReadIndieForward, a pay-it-forward campaign to support indie bookstores and share the joys of reading. Like a chain letter for books, #ReadIndieForward encourages readers to buy one book a week from indies for as many as eight to 10 weeks, send those books to family and friends, and ask recipients to pay it forward with their friends and families--and mention the gift and bookstore on social media. Readers can purchase books directly from their favorite independent bookstore, or, which has a special page for #ReadIndieForward.

Shelf Awareness publisher Jenn Risko said, "While indies experience what we know is one of their most challenging times ever, #ReadIndieForward is a great reminder to readers that the best way to help their local bookstore is to simply buy a book from them. As our industry continues to quarantine in place, we all know there's nothing like the excitement of getting a new book that takes us on a journey of the mind. Leave it to Dominique Raccah to come up with this simple yet powerful idea. We're grateful that she chose to partner with us on it."

Sourcebooks publisher and CEO Dominique Raccah said, "We have seen an amazing outpouring of generosity from authors and readers during the Covid-19 pandemic through initiatives like Save Indie Bookstores. #ReadIndieForward is another way for book lovers to share their love of reading and provide support to the independent bookstore community."

American Booksellers Association CEO Allison Hill said, "ABA is grateful to Sourcebooks and Shelf Awareness for creating an opportunity for book lovers to celebrate books, support independent bookstores, and connect with one another in a meaningful way during this crisis. #ReadIndieForward is exactly what we all need right now: Something to connect us, and something to look forward to."

Booksellers and publishers can join the campaign by visiting, which features downloadable social media assets that can be personalized with their logo, as well as ads to promote #ReadIndieForward to their communities, staff, authors and readers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Harpervia: Only Here, Only Now by Tom Newlands

ABA Holding Virtual Annual and Town Meetings on June 11

The American Booksellers Association is holding a virtual version of its annual membership meeting and town hall on Thursday, June 11, from 2-3 p.m. and 3-4 p.m., Eastern, respectively. The meetings are usually held during BookExpo.

For the town hall, which provides booksellers a chance to speak on a range of issues with ABA board members and staff in a less formal setting than the annual meeting, booksellers can submit questions or comments ahead of time via e-mail or speak during the meeting.

How Bookstores Are Coping: Reopenings Spark Hope, Uncertainty, Caution

As North Carolina launches its three-phase plan to lift Covid-19 restrictions and restart the economy, Swannanoa Valley business owners are "welcoming patrons, but many are unsure what to expect," the Valley Echo reported.

Among those owners are Susanne and Cole Blumer of Sassafras on Sutton in Black Mountain, who expected April to be a big month. In February, they had announced plans for an expansion that would include the top floor of their historic building. The new space finally made its debut last Saturday.

"We had just gotten all of our merchandise delivered when the quarantine happened," Susanne Blumer said. "But the positive thing is that it gave me time to make it perfect. The timing could have been better, but it looks amazing now and we're excited for everyone to see it."

Although Sassafras had to furlough its staff when stay-at-home orders went into effect March 26, about 80% of employees are returning to work, and Blumer said reopening brings a mixture of "excitement and apprehension.... There are a lot of unknowns, but we are going to try to mitigate the risks the best we can. Luckily, we have a lot of space so we can practice social distancing fairly easily. We will limit the number of people in our store, but not to the extent we're allowed. We can have up to 100 people in here based on the regulations, but we won't have that many."

Sassafras has been scheduling customer appointments to limit the number of people in the building at one time, but will accommodate walk-in patrons as well, the Valley Echo noted. A table with hand sanitizer is set up in front of the Cherry Street entrance, while the Sutton Avenue entrance will remain closed.

"I have a feeling downtown will be kind of busy," Blumer said. "People are ready to get out of their homes, but I expect things will slow down next week. Until Phase III kicks in, I don't think we'll be consistently busy and it's hard for me to imagine things getting back to normal until next year."


The new Bookloft in progress

Pamela Pescosolido, who purchased the Bookloft, Great Barrington, Mass., in 2016 and was in the process of relocating to a new space this spring before the Covid-19 pandemic interfered with that plan, chronicled her experiences getting to this point--along with her vision for the way forward--in a column for the Berkshire Edge.

"Construction was slated for completion at the beginning of April," she recalled. "Our lease at the Plaza was ending on April 30. We planned to move the store and be ready to reopen in the last days of April. And then the pandemic occurred.... 

"I am trying to plan for what it may be like to reopen after we are allowed to. I wonder how a bookstore--a place where nearly every customer picks up and puts down a multitude of books and other items during the course of browsing--will feel for people suddenly acutely wary of the virus and of other people. I think we will have to require masks or face coverings for all customers, and we will require that hand sanitizer be used upon entering the store.

"I have been thinking that at first we may be open by appointment only, allowing maybe 15 customers in each hour so that social distancing can be maintained. If at first we are allowed to only open for curbside pickup, it will be manageable for a time, but a large portion of our normal sales come from people browsing and finding books they didn't know they wanted. If people cannot come in and browse and discover new things.... I don't know. For that reason I hope we will be able to get back to some semblance of our normal retail operation in the not too distant future. Don't hold me to this, because of course it depends upon government mandate (as well as final approval by the building inspector!), but I hope we will be able to open for Memorial Day weekend in some capacity."


Hello hello books, Rockland, Maine, has relaunched curbside pickup of books and merchandise ordered online and improved its system for pickups to make it more flexible for customers.

Owner Lacy Simons noted that "we know restrictions on retail in specific Maine counties were lifted a bit at the end of last week, and that we're technically allowed to be open again, with obvious guidelines. But that will not be happening for awhile yet. Though I'm proud of the work our Governor has been doing, and how invested in and informed by science she has been, I'm not at all comfortable with the idea that a low infection rate in some counties (just as we're starting to see an influx of visitors, and hearing so many tales of those visitors completely ignoring self-quarantine rules after they enter the state) means we're safe to dive back in. I'm making some plans I'll get into a bit more next week, but I wanted to communicate how seriously we're still taking this. We've been relatively lucky in Maine, and I don't want to see that change."

Around the Regionals

Calvin Crosby, executive director of the California Independent Booksellers Alliance, reported that member bookstores are expressing both concern and cautious optimism as the state begins a gradual reopening process. Some booksellers have worried that shoppers will misinterpret last week's limited reopening as stores being fully open for business and will push back against the social-distancing restrictions still in place.

Crosby said his own worry is that there won't be a level playing field throughout the reopening process, as some counties and municipalities may keep retailers shut down for much longer than others. He added: "The urban stores will be held to a different standard for the most part, especially in the Bay Area and L.A." Some stores that can now start selling current inventory again, Crosby continued, are cautiously optimistic that things will be okay.

CALIBA is still hosting weekly town hall calls over Zoom. Occasionally the alliance has invited a California author to join, and last week a public health nurse practitioner joined to report on what he's been seeing, answer questions about curbside pick-up and talk about what a return to limited browsing might entail. In addition, stores that have been allowed to do some version of curbside pick-up during quarantine were invited to share best practices.

More virtual programming for booksellers is in the works, including a conversation this week with children's author Marla Frazee and her longtime publisher, as well as calls with editors and some pre-pub author visits.


As states throughout New England reopen, the New England Independent Booksellers Association has focused on facilitating store-to-store communication, reported executive director Beth Ineson. There are daily Zoom calls open to the entire membership and regular state-by-state "Shop Talk" sessions. Ineson said those have proven beneficial as stores approach the reopening process. The association also has a private Facebook group for member booksellers, where the topic has been widely discussed. 

As is so often the case with independent bookstores, Ineson continued, "Ask a different booksellers, get a different answer." Whether or not to reopen for browsing is turning out to be a "very personal decision" for booksellers, regardless of state mandates. 

What Ineson has heard from member stores runs the gamut from booksellers staying closed entirely to opening by appointment only to reopening while laying out traffic patterns in store and putting in place other social-distancing methods. Some booksellers have also floated ideas like opening up the front of the store only for "micro-browsing," so the rest of the store can be kept clean, and not allowing children in the store for the foreseeable future.


The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, meanwhile, has been sharing CDC guidelines and other information disseminated by the ABA to member stores in the process of reopening, said assistant executive director Linda-Marie Barrett. SIBA has solicited information from member stores about regional sources for masks and gloves and shared that information with the wider membership. 

SIBA's virtual office hours have become a "lively forum for idea-sharing" among stores in varying stages of the reopening process. Booksellers are sharing information about the changes they've made, such as installing sneeze guards, placing hand sanitizer at the front door and limiting the number of customers allowed in at any one time.

When it comes to protocols like having all staff members wear masks and gloves, or requiring cusomters to wear masks, opinions vary, Barrett reported. She and the SIBA team have noticed that even in the same community, some stores have chosen to reopen for browsing while others are sticking with curbside pick-up and home delivery.

"The conversation has been very supportive of whichever way a store decides to approach reopening," said Barrett, "with an understanding that this is a very difficult decision to make."

The Blind Pig in Paris, Tex., Closes

The Blind Pig, a bookstore, wine bar and cafe in Paris, Tex., has closed after being in business for a little over a year

In late March, after restaurants and bars were barred from offering dine-in service due to the coronavirus pandemic, owner Cristy Burns and manager Chris Meek decided to close temporarily until restrictions were lifted. Although the store is now able to reopen at 25% capacity, Burns realized it would not be enough to recover from the financial toll of being closed for so long, and she decided to close the store.

Burns said the Blind Pig could be considered a "casualty of Covid-19," and as a business barely over a year old she did not have money in reserve to cover operating expenses.

"It is sad and very unfortunate," lamented Burns. "We were a destination. A place to gather and have fun. We served food but people came for the atmosphere."

The store briefly reopened last weekend for a going out of business sale. Books were $1 a piece or $5 for a bag, with most of the store's inventory being purchased by Remember When Collectibles, a locally-owned vintage store located nearby. Burns added that on moving day, the store's regular customers came out and helped her fill the U-Haul free of charge.

"That's how loved the Pig was," she continued. "I still have the dream. My heart goes out to all small business owners. But the Pig made its mark on Paris, Tex., and I think it will not soon be forgotten. And that makes me happy."


Senior Moment: Vault of Midnight

Vault of Midnight, a comic book shop in downtown Ann Arbor, Mich., with locations in Grand Rapids and Detroit, had a frequent customer who wanted to take her senior pictures at the shop, and figured out a way to make it happen during the pandemic. The store posted a pic on Facebook, noting: "We weren't gonna let quarantine get in the way Vault fan Ava's senior picture request. We scrubbed, separated, cleaned, and coordinated, humbly, as your local comic shop. Thank you for thinking of us, we couldn't be more honored."

Front Door Communication: Buxton Village Books

Gee Gee Rosell, owner of Buxton Village Books, Buxton, N.C., shared a photo of the bookshop's entrance during the time of coronavirus, adding: "Here's what my front door looks like right now. As restrictions are being lifted, I'm trying to thread the needle of customer safety and staff safety. So I've taken a page from the restaurant industry. I just did not want to put the word 'closed' out there. And I'm not ready to throw the doors open yet either. So...."

Artbook | D.A.P. to Distribute DelMonico Books

Effective September 1, Artbook | D.A.P. will distribute DelMonico Books's frontlist and future titles.

Formerly an imprint of Prestel, DelMonico Books publishes books on art, photography, design, architecture, fashion and culture and since its founding in 2008 has partnered with more than 65 museums. The imprint was founded by Mary DelMonico, a museum-publishing consultant and former director of publications and new media at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Fall 2020 titles include 50 Artists: Highlights of the Broad Collection; Carolina Caycedo, a monograph on the Colombian artist, published in collaboration with MCA Chicago; and The New Woman Behind the Camera, focused on the many ways women helped shape modern photography from the 1920s to the 1950s, distributed for the National Gallery of Art to accompany the exhibition that will also travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Personnel Changes at Macmillan Children's Publishing

Morgan Kane has been promoted to assistant director, publicity, from publicity manager at the Macmillan Children's Publishing Group.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: John M. Barry on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: John M. Barry, author of the 2004 book The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (Penguin Books, $19, 9780143036494).

NPR's Science Friday: Jeremy Umansky and Rich Shih, authors of Koji Alchemy: Rediscovering the Magic of Mold-Based Fermentation (Chelsea Green, $34.95, 9781603588683).

This Weekend on Book TV: Erik Larson

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 16
1:30 p.m. Amber McReynolds, co-author of When Women Vote (Alden-Swain Press, $14.95, 9781732537774), and Jesse Wegman, author of Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College (St. Martin's Press, $27.99, 9781250221971) discuss mail-in voting for the 2020 presidential election.

4:20 p.m. Eric Nusbaum, author of Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught in Between (PublicAffairs, $28, 9781541742215), at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif.

5:50 p.m. Lawrence Wright, author of The End of October (Knopf, $27.95, 9780525658658). (Re-airs Monday at 2 a.m.)

6:50 p.m. An interview with Janet Webster Jones and Alyson Jones Tuner, owners of Source Booksellers in Detroit, about the impact of Covid-19 on bookstores. (Re-airs Sunday at 3 p.m.)

7:20 p.m. Erik Larson, author of The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz (Crown, $32, 9780385348713). (Re-airs Monday at 1 a.m.)

8:20 p.m. Arundhati Roy, author of My Seditious Heart: Collected Nonfiction (Haymarket, $31.95, 9781608466733). (Re-airs Sunday at 4 a.m.)

11 p.m. Book TV explores the works of political satirist P.J. O'Rourke. (Re-airs Sunday at 7:30 p.m.)

Sunday, May 17
12:30 a.m. Alina Das, author of No Justice in the Shadows: How America Criminalizes Immigrants (Bold Type Books, $28, 9781568589466), at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C.

1:30 a.m. Bettye Kearse, author of The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President's Black Family (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, 9781328604392). (Re-airs Sunday at 10 p.m.)

2:15 a.m. Larry Diamond, author of Ill Winds: Saving Democracy from Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency (Penguin Press, $28, 9780525560623). (Re-airs Sunday at 2:15 p.m.)

3 a.m. Peniel Joseph, author of The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. (Basic Books, $30, 9781541617865), at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, Calif. (Re-airs Sunday at 6:30 p.m.)

10:45 p.m. Frank Wilderson, author of Afropessimism (Liveright, $29.95, 9781631496141).

Books & Authors

Awards: Sami Rohr Winner; Miles Franklin Longlist; Jeanne Córdova Winner

Benjamin Balint, author of Kafka's Last Trial: The Case of a Literary Legacy (Norton), has won the $100,000 2020 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. The prize is given annually, for nonfiction and fiction in alternating years, to "an emerging writer who demonstrates the potential for continued contribution to the world of Jewish literature."

Organizers commented: "In a gripping account of the controversial trial that determined the fate of Kafka's manuscripts, Balint captures a drama brimming with legal, ethical and political dilemmas. Deeply informed and with a remarkable evocation of time and place, Balint's book is at once a brilliant portrayal of a modern master and the complex story of the fight for the right to claim his literary legacy."

Finalists for the prize, each of whom receives $5,000, are:

Mikhal Dekel, author of Tehran Children: A Holocaust Refugee Odyssey (Norton)

Sarah Hurwitz, author of Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life--in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There) (Spiegel & Grau)

Yaakov Katz, author of Shadow Strike: Inside Israel's Secret Mission to Eliminate Syrian Nuclear Power (St. Martin's Press)


The longlist for the A$60,000 (about US$38,915) 2020 Miles Franklin Award, which "celebrates novels of the highest literary merit that tell stories about Australian life," consists of:

The White Girl by Tony Birch
Room for a Stranger by Melanie Cheng
Islands by Peggy Frew
No One by John Hughes
Act of Grace by Anna Krien
A Season on Earth by Gerald Murnane
The Returns by Philip Salom
Exploded View by Carrie Tiffany
The Yield by Tara June Winch
The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

The shortlist will be announced June 17, and the winner on July 16.


Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha has won the 2020 Jeanne Córdova Prize for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction, sponsored by Lambda Literary and honoring "lesbian/queer-identified women and trans/gender non-conforming nonfiction authors" whose work "captures the depth and complexity of lesbian/queer life, culture and/or history."

Piepzna-Samarasinha's books include Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home, Bodymap, Love Cake and ​Consensual Genocide.

Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, May 19:

The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes by Zachary D. Carter (Random House, $35, 9780525509035) is a biography of the economist.

Modern Family: The Untold Oral History of One of Television's Groundbreaking Sitcoms by Marc Freeman (St. Martin's Press, $29.99, 9781250260031) explores the history of the popular TV show.

Rodham: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld (Random House, $28, 9780399590917) imagines if Hillary Clinton hadn't married Bill.

A Week at the Shore: A Novel by Barbara Delinsky (St. Martin's Press, $27.99, 9781250119513) reunites three sisters at their family's Rhode Island beach house.

Parasite: A Graphic Novel in Storyboards by Bong Joon Ho (Hachette, $30, 9781538753255) is a companion to the first foreign film to win an Oscar for Best Picture.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press, $27.99, 9781338635171) is a prequel to the Hunger Games series.

Coral by Molly Idle (Little, Brown, $17.99, 9780316465717) is the Caldecott honoree's second picture book featuring mermaids.

The New Girl: A Novel by Harriet Walker (Ballantine, $17, 9781984819970).

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:

Hardcover: An Indies Introduce Title
Braised Pork: A Novel by An Yu (Grove Press, $25, 9780802148711). "An astonishing look at a new widow's attempt to make sense of her husband's death and her newfound independence, through which she rediscovers her love of painting, forms new and profound bonds, rekindles previously dormant familial relationships, and ultimately finds peace in uncertainty. Set in Beijing and Tibet, Braised Pork is a poetic reflection on life and all of its meandering, unpredictable messiness." --Jake Cumsky-Whitlock, Solid State Books, Washington, D.C.

Pretty Things: A Novel by Janelle Brown (Random House, $28, 9780525479123). "Nina Ross is a grifter, just like her mom. She didn't have a lot growing up, and they were always on the move. Vanessa, heiress of a family fortune, is a famous Instagram influencer. Everyone loves her, but her smile hides a past filled with tragedy. Nina and Vanessa's lives become intertwined as part of a long con. Pretty Things is excellently written, with an intricate plot full of twists. I loved absolutely everything about this book. I highly recommend it." --Rebecca Minnock, Murder by the Book, Houston, Tex.

Cat Person and Other Stories by Kristen Roupenian (Gallery/Scout Press, $16, 9781982101640). "I was completely enthralled with Kristen Roupenian's 'Cat Person' story in the New Yorker and couldn't wait to pick up her collection. Like 'Cat Person,' each story pushes boundaries, holding a magnifying glass up to social norms and what our society accepts. The writing is fantastic, and the cadence of each story is strikingly unique. This book will delight fans of Roupenian's viral story and will start many more conversations in its wake." --Courtney Flynn, Trident Booksellers & Café, Boston, Mass.

For Ages 4 to 8
This Way, Charlie by Caron Levis, illus. by Charles Santoso (Abrams, $17.99, 9781419742064). "A beautifully illustrated story inspired by a real animal friendship! Jack the goat needs his own space, until he meets up with Charlie the horse at an animal rescue ranch, where they discover that together they can overcome their fears and challenges. Readers will identify with the themes of friendship and cooperation." --Janice Penner, Watermark Books & Café, Wichita, Kan.

For Ages 9 to 12
A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat (Candlewick, $17.99, 9781536204940). "In a world where light is a commodity, Pong has grown up seeking a way out of the darkness. A desperate escape from the prison where he was born leads him to a life on the run, and he will need the help of old friends, new enemies, a generous monk, and all the inner strength he can muster to find his way home. This incandescent novel will fulfill the wishes of many a middle-grade reader seeking something new and wonderful." --Melissa Posten, The Novel Neighbor, Webster Groves, Mo.

For Teen Readers: An Indies Introduce Title
The Silence of Bones by June Hur (Feiwel & Friends, $17.99, 9781250229557). "I was struck by the depth of this gripping story. Seol's quest for answers about her past is a fascinating counterpoint to her investigation into a grisly murder. The meditative quality of the narration of this historical mystery felt perfectly suited to the Korean setting and the backdrop of political and religious struggles. Seol's courage, curiosity, and dedication make her a character I can't get enough of. Let's hope this is the start of a series." --Tegan Tigani, Queen Anne Book Company, Seattle, Wash.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]

Book Review

Review: Friends and Strangers

Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan (Knopf, $27.95 hardcover, 416p., 9780525520597, June 30, 2020)

Friends and Strangers is set in a college town in upstate New York and centers on a pair of Brooklynites who have just relocated with their baby, whose care they entrust part-time to a college student. It's fertile ground for a novel, but readers should jettison any expectation they have for the book--fish-out-of-water story, manipulative-nanny chiller, send-up of campus culture. J. Courtney Sullivan's (Saints for All Occasions) fifth novel offers something more interesting.

The perspective in Friends and Strangers is evenly split between new mom Elisabeth Ronson and college senior Samantha O'Connell, who attends the nearby all-women's school. Sam is Elisabeth's salvation: she provides childcare three days a week, giving Elisabeth, a journalist and an author, time to work--or at least pretend to work--on the book that she owes her publisher. Sam also fills the friendship void created when Elisabeth left Brooklyn. The two women become confidantes, although Elisabeth won't tell even Sam the secret that she's keeping from her husband, Andrew. To prevent her irresponsible sister from accepting money from their wealthy but unscrupulous father, Elisabeth has lent her the cash that she and Andrew have set aside in case nothing comes of the solar-powered grill that he's working on through a fellowship at a local college.

Sam could have used that money. She's the first person in her family to attend a private college and realistically anticipates a lifetime of student loan debt. Sam is feeling the pressure to nail down her post-graduation plans: although she dreams of getting a job in New York, she's leaning toward going to London and getting hitched to a British man she met during her junior year abroad. Whereas Sam finds Elisabeth's settled life alluring, Elisabeth considers Sam "naïve enough to see marriage as an ending, an achievement, instead of the start of something so much harder and more complicated than what came before."

Friends and Strangers is about whether the unfairness of privilege can ever be sufficiently offset by good deeds. And what of bad deeds: Are they forgiven if they result from good intentions? Sam watches Elisabeth meddle without compunction, but when Sam takes a principled stance at one point, it backfires spectacularly. Sullivan massages her themes in scenes as barbed as they are funny, by way of characters as infuriating as they are heartbreaking. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Shelf Talker: J. Courtney Sullivan's engrossing fifth novel covers her favorite ground--marriage, women's friendship, college life--but wraps everything in a question about the responsibilities of the privileged.

Powered by: Xtenit