Shelf Awareness for Friday, November 20, 2020

Flatiron Books: The Courting of Bristol Keats: [Limited Stenciled Edge Edition] by Mary E Pearson

Forge: My Three Dogs by Bruce W Cameron

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

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

Doubleday Books: Death at the Sign of the Rook: A Jackson Brodie Book by Kate Atkinson

Groundwood Books: Who We Are in Real Life by Victoria Koops

Agate Bolden: 54 Miles by Leonard Pitts Jr.


Rofhiwa Book Café to Open in East Durham, N.C.

Rofhiwa Book Café will open next year at the corner of Driver St. and Angier Ave. in East Durham, N.C., WRAL reported, adding that the new business "will have a special focus on Black culture and literature." Plans call for launching an online bookstore in December, then construction will start on the building in late January with the goal of a soft opening for the store in March 2021.

Rofhiwa's future location

Owner Beh Mahkubele said Rofhiwa, which translates to "we are given," means to use what you have and try to create something remarkable out of it. "I didn't know where I was going to do it, but I moved to east Durham in 2018 and it felt like just the place," said Makhubele, who grew up in South Africa during a time when access to Black literature in schools was almost nonexistent. "What does it mean for people to write you into their stories? It means that you can imagine yourself into a future. You can dream differently for yourself."

WRAL noted that as she became a book collector over the years, her passion for a bricks-and-mortar space where people could collaborate and cultivate grew stronger.

Curator Naledia Yaziyo observed: "I was like, Oh my God, this is a space that can possibly be somewhere where people can access fiction from across the Black world. What is new and exciting, what is perhaps challenging and controversial."

Makhubele and Yaziyo hope the shop will become a safe space for open dialogue. "It's important to have spaces where people can gather, and to think, and to ponder, and to process and to cry, and to read and to imagine because we are in something tough," said Mahkubele. "Also a space where people will be engaged in the global conversation that's happening."

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Belle Books Boutique & More Opens in Oklahoma City

Kenyetta Richard and Courtney Strickland have opened Belle Books Boutique & More in Oklahoma City, Okla., the Oklahoman reported. The independent, Black-owned bookstore carries titles by Black authors in a variety of genres and for all age groups.

The store initially opened in September in northeast Oklahoma City. It grew out of Belle Publishing, which Richard and Strickland, who are cousins, founded earlier in the year. They had leased an office for the publishing house but, after realizing that they wanted to display their authors' work, quickly ran out of space. Just a few months later they opened the bookstore, which sells masks, sunglasses, hats, T-shirts and other clothing, along with books.

"We're hoping that during the pandemic, people will want to read more," Richard told the Oklahoman. "Snuggling up with a book is good for the soul."

Since opening, Strickland and Richard have partnered with the Ralph Ellison Foundation to create the Ellison's Young Readers Club, which is a free storytime program that features books by Black authors with themes of positive self-esteem and affirmation, Black history, social justice, education and community empowerment. It takes place on the third Saturday of each month, and each child receives a copy of the book and a snack.

This Sunday, the store will be hosting a drive-thru Thanksgiving food giveaway. Those in need will be able to pick up free turkeys as well as canned goods, rolls and fixings for desserts. 

Dan Rather Is This Year's Indies First Spokesperson

Author, journalist and former national evening news anchor Dan Rather is this year's official Indies First spokesperson, the American Booksellers Association announced, noting: "In recent weeks, legendary news anchor Rather has been promoting independent bookstores via his Twitter account. In a range of social media assets and accompanying text created to promote Indies First, Rather encourages everyone to visit their local indie bookstores on November 28 in honor of Indies First/Small Business Saturday. Rather will be tweeting in the days leading up to the celebration as well as throughout the day on Small Business Saturday."

In response, Rather tweeted: "I am extremely proud to support INDIE BOOKSTORES. Whether you're buying #WhatUnitesUs or any other title, please support these vital local institutions. #IndiesFirst. Spread the word and maybe share a shout out in the comments to your favorite local bookstore."

Annysa Polanco Named Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at PRH

Annysa Polanco

Annysa Polanco has been promoted to director of diversity, equity & inclusion at Penguin Random House U.S., effective immediately, the company announced yesterday. 

Polanco joined the company three years ago, filling the newly created role of manager of diversity and inclusion coordination and career outreach. In November 2019, she was promoted to associate director of diversity, equity & inclusion.

During her time at PRH, she established the company's employee research group, led the planning and rollout of an internal cultural assessment survey as well as the diversity & inclusion strategic plan that followed, and has helped in the development of various internal workshops and other initiatives. 

In a memo to staff announcing Polanco's promotion, PRH CEO Madeline McIntosh and human resources director Paige McInerney wrote: "[Annysa] has become not just a valued partner to those groups, but an indispensable resource and advisor to countless employees and leaders throughout the organization.... Importantly, she is an empathetic leader who has facilitated programs, events, and conversations which have allowed many of our colleagues to feel truly seen for perhaps the first time in their professional careers. She is a cheerleader and a champion who sets high standards for herself, others, and the company, and we learn from her continuously."

In the same memo, McIntosh and McInerney noted that many of the PRH employees participating in various diversity & inclusion projects and committees are doing so on top of their other responsibilities. To help ease the strain on employees, there will be more fully dedicated diversity, equity & inclusion positions as well as other resources made available to staff. The company will also add a board-level DE&I position, and Polanco will report to that person once the position is filled.

How Bookstores Are Coping: Huge Preorder Campaigns; Holding Down the Fort

In Nashville, Tenn., Parnassus Books reopened for browsing around four weeks ago, co-owner Karen Hayes reported. She explained that the primary reason for waiting so long to reopen was that she and the team were completely flooded with online orders, and they were too busy operating as a fulfillment center to welcome customers back inside.

In the early summer, Hayes continued, they were scrambling to keep up with the influx of orders of anti-racist titles. Then there was a series of preorder campaigns for books by various celebrities, podcasters and influencers that "just knocked us for a loop." The largest of those campaigns was for The Good Fight by Jana Kramer and Michael Caussin. The couple, who host the Whine Down podcast, live near Nashville, and Parnassus received "thousands of orders" for their newest book.

It took a lot of time and a lot of work to coordinate getting those books delivered, signed and shipped to customers, Hayes said. And while The Good Fight was the largest campaign of the summer, there were also significant campaigns for books by Jessie James Decker, Lauren Akins and others.

Parnassus' in-store shipping center

After things "died down" a bit, the store was able to get enough things in line to reopen. No more than 10 people are allowed inside at a time, masks are required and a staff member takes customers' temperatures at the door. She noted that most everyone has been great about following safety protocols, though there was a group last week that "was a little bit of a problem."

Hayes said that while the store obviously hopes to get back to in-person events eventually, they've been successful with virtual events, and she hopes that there is "always space for virtual events" in the future, especially for distant authors or authors who have stopped traveling in general. Over the course of the pandemic Parnassus has also gained a lot of new customers from out of state, and she doesn't think that shipping will completely stop. It will present an eventual problem, though, of trying to figure out how to accommodate the space needed for shipping and fulfillment when events are happening and the store can be open to full capacity.

Trying to adjust to the pandemic has taught the Parnassus team a great deal about processing online orders. It used to be that the one person on staff dedicated to online order processing would occasionally have another bookseller help them out. Now all full-time booksellers are able to process orders as needed and can answer customer service questions themselves. Hayes also praised the ABA for "really stepping up" their education about IndieCommerce and tweaking a lot of things to make it easier to process orders and receive payments.

When it came to ordering for the holidays, Hayes said the store started cutting buys early in the year while keeping an eye on certain things for the fall. They've tried to "beef up" orders on titles they know will be sure-fire hits, though they unfortunately "didn't take as many chances" on more marginal books. Parnassus is encouraging shoppers to buy early, and the store released its holiday catalog much earlier than normal. The catalog is online and the titles in it are flexible, so the team can add or take out books based on availability.


Lane Jacobson, owner of Paulina Springs Books in Sisters, Ore., reported that he and his team are still allowing no more than eight customers in-store at a time, although that is about a quarter of the mandated safe limit. Previously, they had the store's front door serving as an entrance and used the side door as an exit, but they've switched that around with the onset of cold weather. Now, if customers have to wait to enter the side door, they have an awning over their heads. 

Jacobson noted that in some ways, business is entirely normal--sales are decent; they're seeing many of their regular customers; and inventory is still coming and going. But it doesn't feel that way. There is a sense of coziness that is missing, and customers are no longer able to browse and meander as they'd like. Everything feels a bit more "transactional" than normal, though Jacobson emphasized that having customers in-store is still the highlight of his team's day.

During the pandemic Paulina Springs Books "finally" launched Reads & Roasts, a monthly book & coffee subscription curated by the store, which Jacobson said has been a hit. Like most stores, they've increased their online presence, and earlier this summer Jacobson partnered with two other Pacific Northwest bookstores to create the Books in Common NW event series. There have been at least two events per week for a while now, and it has been "more successful than I think any of us had hoped." Most of the team's energy, though, has gone into "holding down the fort" and keeping things running smoothly.

Jacobson said he didn't much change his approach to holiday buying, other than stocking up on more puzzles and board games than normal. With so many things up in the air, he continued, it's hard to have confidence in any plan. He pointed out that during the past year, every time he tried to get "clever" about his approach to something, it would inevitably "bite him in the butt" one way or another. So he's opted for a "pretty standard approach" and will take things day by day.

On the subject of whether Oregon's new Covid restrictions have affected his plans for the holiday season, Jacobson explained that he and his team are doing everything they can to be prepared for any new developments in terms of safety measures. But for operations, they are just taking it day to day. The store was fortunate to have a strong finish to the summer season and a busier-than-normal start to the fall, so Paulina Springs Books is in a good place headed into the holidays. --Alex Mutter

International Update: Bologna Children's Book Fair Rescheduled, Beirut's Booksellers Adapt

The Bologna Children's Book Fair in Italy has changed its 2021 dates to June 14-17 and appointed Jacks Thomas, formerly of the London Book Fair, as guest director of a new general publishing conference, the Bookseller reported. The fair, which was cancelled this year due to the pandemic, had originally been scheduled for next April.

"We continue to work in exceptional times and the book industry has once again proved itself to be hugely resilient," said director Elena Pasoli. "The children's book market is arguably more important than ever before and we are delighted to be able to offer this date change in 2021, to give us the valuable opportunity to meet again as an industry, prior to moving back to our usual time-frame of April."

The next event will also feature BolognaBookPlus, a move into the adult publishing market, with Thomas appointing a U.K.-based team to create it, the Bookseller noted. It will include a one-day conference and three-day exhibition running alongside the usual fair.

"I feel immensely privileged to have the opportunity of working with the brilliant team at BCBF and the BolognaFiere on BolognaBookPlus," Thomas said. "Children's publishing is the launchpad of so much and the gateway to so many avenues of innovation and audiences."


Months after the devastating Beirut Port explosion in Lebanon last summer, the restoration of Aaliya's Books' Gemmayzeh location is almost complete and the bookstore and coffee shop are expected to re-open "after a second government-ordered lockdown to combat rising Covid-19 cases that has forced all stores to close until November 30," the Daily Star reported.

"As long as we could find the means to do it, I knew that we would rebuild," said co-owner Niamh Fleming-Farrell. "My partners and I still have energy left for that." Aaliya's Books plans to focus on selling secondhand books at affordable rates rather than importing new books.

Dar Bistro & Books in Wardiyyeh closed its bookstore permanently, while Papercup and Librairie Antoine's store in Beirut Souks were badly damaged and require extensive renovation.

The Little Bookshop's location and heavy metal doors protected it from the physical impact of the port explosion, but not the downturn in demand that followed. The bookstore continues to import books, but on a much smaller scale. "I have not yet gone into the second-hand market yet in any serious fashion, though in the future, if things stay the way they are, I might have to," Rahhal said.

"In past years, it was expected that the internet and high rents would bring about the demise of the hardcopy book and the brick-and-mortar bookstore," the Daily Star wrote. "The challenges that bookstore owners could not have anticipated were economic and financial crises, a pandemic and a catastrophic port blast."


Cool Idea of the Day: The Australian Booksellers Association highlighted writer Imbi Neeme's Bookshop Bingo campaign "to get people out supporting bookshops in Victoria." The FAQ section includes these two gems:

Does it have to be nine different bookshops?
If you can! We want to make sure as many of Victoria's bookshops as possible feel the love.

How many books is too many books?
Sorry, we don't understand that question.


Anjula Gogia of Another Story Bookshop in Toronto was featured in BookNet Canada's "5 Questions" series. Among our favorite responses:

What attracted you to bookselling?
Bookselling was an accidental career. I spent my teenage years working at a library shelving books, as well as at my mother's Indian food business. When a job came up at the Toronto Women's Bookstore in 1995, I thought I would spend a year working there until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life... that turned into a 25-year labor of love. I consider myself an activist bookseller, and I have been fortunate to combine my passion for books, commitment to social justice, and community with a knack for business.

What is the most pressing issue facing bookselling today?
Surviving the pandemic. Surviving Amazon. Reaching out to customers who are saturated with social media. How do independent bookstores, who for the most part have small stores, sell enough books with limited customers browsing in the store? --Robert Gray

BingeBooks Goes Live

BingeBooks, an online community and book discovery hub focused on fiction, launched yesterday. The website is self-funded by some 125 founding authors, and carries the full catalog of fiction titles from Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette and Macmillan, as well as more than 7,000 books from independent authors.

Readers can purchase titles through buy button/affiliate relationships with several retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books and Google Play. While it is not available yet, buying through will soon be an option. Audio, digital and print versions of many titles are available to buy, and readers can peruse plenty of print and audio excerpts.

"As authors, we've heard from readers that they want a new, more modern book discovery experience," said Alessandra Torre, BingeBooks CEO. "So our startup brought together bestselling authors and readers to collaborate on a new platform where book lovers can discover, recommend and talk about great books. Our catalog offers a wide mix of bestsellers from familiar household names as well as great under-the-radar reads from emerging authors."

BingeBooks also allows users to interact with authors, leave comments and share recommendations. They can create custom lists of past reads, and get updates on forthcoming tiles.


Image of the Day: Rakestraw's Impressive Food Bank Deposit

Owner Michael Barnard (l.) at Rakestraw Books in Danvers, Calif., reported, "Our customers are huge Barefoot Contessa fans, so when Random House offered us signed copies of her new book, Modern Comfort Food, we jumped at the chance. They sent 60. We sold them for $50 each--rather than $35 at list. We donated the extra $15, plus $5 of our own, to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. The Food Bank tells us that every dollar allows them to provide two meals."

PRHPS to Distribute Seven Seas Entertainment

Penguin Random House Publisher Services will sell and distribute the entire frontlist and backlist of Seven Seas Entertainment across all sales channels worldwide, effective July 1, 2021.

Founded in 2004, Seven Seas Entertainment publishes hundreds of manga, light novels, original comics and more annually under four imprints--Seven Seas, Ghost Ship, Waves of Color, and Airship. Titles range from Monster Musume and The Ancient Magus Bride, to the Harvey Award-winning manga My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and the Eisner-nominated sci-fi romance orange, to hardcover editions of classics like Devilman, Captain Harlock, Cutie Honey, and Space Battleship Yamato.

Seven Seas publisher and founder Jason DeAngelis commented: "The growth of Seven Seas and the growth of the manga industry have been meteoric. We are thrilled to partner with PRHPS as the next stage in our growth, and with their support, look forward to bringing our ever-expanding catalog to an even broader audience."

Jeff Abraham, president of Penguin Random House Publisher Services, said, "Jason and the entire Seven Seas team have done a remarkable job of discovering unique manga properties with incredible potential and publishing and marketing them successfully. We've all been admirers of the program for years and we are invigorated to bring the full complement of PRHPS and Penguin Random House resources to bring their books to even more readers throughout the world."

IPG's Holiday Sales & Marketing Specials for Bookstores, Readers

Independent Publishers Group is launching several marketing campaigns and sales specials to support bookstores and readers during the holiday shopping season.

In connection with the American Booksellers Association's Indies First and Small Business Saturday campaigns, IPG will offer a 50% discount on trade titles to booksellers who place orders directly through or their IPG independent rep, using prom code IPGF20. The special applies to frontlist and backlist titles, and can be used on three separate orders above $100 before the end of the year.

On the direct-to-consumer side, IPG is launching the "Give Books This Holiday Season!" campaign on its website, with a 40% discount on all orders, valid now through December 31, with promo code IPGHOLIDAY40. This discount is available to orders of any size, on all formats, and across all IPG lines.

In addition, IPG's publishing division, comprised of Chicago Review Press and Triumph Books, is offering a 50% discount on all titles through their websites and, with promo codes SEASONSGREETINGS and HOLIDAYCHEER, respectively. These discounts are across titles and formats, and available now through December 31.

For e-books, IPG is running a Holiday Reading Mega Sale across publishers with titles selling for $3.99 and under at major retailers including Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, Amazon, and others. These sales are focused on holiday and winter themed titles, cooking, entertaining, crafting, and fiction, and the sales run through December 31, 2020.

"For nearly 50 years, IPG has prided itself on serving and being a part of the independent bookseller and publishing communities," IPG CEO Joe Matthews said. "This year has not been easy on any of us in the publishing industry, and we are hoping that with these sales and programs we can help readers and bookstores in what will hopefully be the best months of 2020."

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Stephen Kinzer on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Stephen Kinzer, author of Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control (St. Martin's Griffin, $18.99, 9781250762627).

Movies: Unreasonable Behavior

Angelina Jolie (Unbroken) will direct Unreasonable Behavior, based on the autobiography of legendary British war photographer Don McCullin, Deadline reported. The film is being produced by Tom Hardy and Dean Baker under their Hardy Son & Baker banner, alongside Working Title Films' Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner. McCullin and Mark George are exec producing. Casting has not been announced yet. BAFTA-nominated screenwriter Gregory Burke ('71) is writing the screenplay.

"I am humbled to have a chance to bring Don McCullin's life to film," said Jolie. "I was drawn to his unique combination of fearlessness and humanity--his absolute commitment to witnessing the truth of war, and his empathy and respect for those who suffer its consequences. We hope to make a film that is as uncompromising as Don's photography, about the extraordinary people and events he witnessed, and the rise and fall of a unique era in journalism."

McCullin added: "Having viewed Angelina's last film on Cambodia (and having spent so much time during the war there) I was very impressed at how she made such a powerful and accurate representation of the place at that time. I feel as if I am in safe, capable and professional hands with her."

Books & Authors

Douglas Stuart Wins Booker Prize

Scottish author Douglas Stuart won the £50,000 (about $66,195) Booker Prize for Fiction for his debut novel, Shuggie Bain (Grove Press). The winner was announced during a star-studded "ceremony without walls" from London's Roundhouse, and was broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Front Row, BBC iPlayer and BBC Arts Digital. Stuart delivered an acceptance speech.

"Shuggie Bain is destined to be a classic--a moving, immersive and nuanced portrait of a tight-knit social world, its people and its values," said chair of judges Margaret Busby. "The heart-wrenching story tells of the unconditional love between Agnes Bain--set on a descent into alcoholism by the tough circumstances life has dealt her--and her youngest son. Shuggie struggles with responsibilities beyond his years to save his mother from herself, at the same time as dealing with burgeoning feelings and questions about his own otherness. Gracefully and powerfully written, this is a novel that has impact because of its many emotional registers and its compassionately realized characters. The poetry in Douglas Stuart's descriptions and the precision of his observations stand out: nothing is wasted."

Reading with... Heid E. Erdrich

photo: Chris Felver

Heid E. Erdrich is the author of seven collections of poetry. She grew up in Wahpeton, N.Dak., and is Ojibwe enrolled at Turtle Mountain. Her writing has won fellowships and awards from the National Poetry Series, Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Minnesota State Arts Board, Bush Foundation, Loft Literary Center, First People's Fund and other honors. She has twice won a Minnesota Book Award for poetry, and edited the 2018 anthology New Poets of Native Nations from Graywolf Press. Erdrich's new poetry collection is Little Big Bully (Penguin, October 6, 2020).

On your nightstand now:

New poetry, including Kimberley Blaeser's Copper Yearnings and When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry, edited by Joy Harjo, LeAnne Howe and Jennifer Elise Foerster.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Well, Heidi by Johanna Spyri, of course. I loved any nature-child main character in any book I could find. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George was a particular favorite, because it's about a kid living in a tree with friendly animals. One book that was a huge influence was John Tanner's Narrative, a journal of a 19th-century white man who lived with Ojibwe people in the same communities as my ancestors at the same time. It's republished from Penguin as The Falcon with an introduction by Louise Erdrich--it's a family obsession.

Your top five authors:

Joy Harjo, Louise Glück, Louise Erdrich, Gordon Henry, Natalie Diaz. Unranked. These are the poets whose names pop into my head most often, but there are so many more. Other genres, other favorites.

Book you've faked reading:

Hmm, I guess I fake that I've read a lot of books because I don't finish many novels I start, but I'll offer an opinion nonetheless. Often, I'll say that I am unfamiliar with a book someone recommends, then I pick it up and eventually find I already have a copy that I've read, so another kind of faking.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Catrachos by Roy G. Guzmán. This is their first book and I keep finding new depth in their poems of Guatemalan diaspora. Roy is the inventor of the "queerdactyl." I'm also a big cheerleader for the bilingual Ojibwe language poetry of Margaret Noodin whose new book is What the Chickadee Knows.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Most of them--but especially the lapis blue ones and the vintage green ones. If I did not already love her work, I would have bought Tacey M. Atsitty's Rain Scald for the remarkable cover image by photographer Cara Romero.

Book you hid from your parents:

Our Bodies, Ourselves, the original edition! I hope I find it where I hid it in our parent's house one day. It scared the hell out of me. I was 12. It belonged to one of my elder sisters.

Book that changed your life:

Star Quilt by Roberta Hill was the first book of poems by a Native American writer that I ever read. It's full of the beauty of the Northern Plains and intertribal relationships, which made me homesick in a good way.

Favorite line from a book:

Right now, my favorite is from "Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings" by Joy Harjo from the book of the same title:

When we made it back home, back over those curved roads
that wind through the city of peace, we stopped at the
doorway of dusk as it opened to our homelands.
We gave thanks for the story, for all parts of the story
because it was by the light of those challenges we knew
We asked for forgiveness.
We laid down our burdens next to each other.

Five books you'll never part with:

It so depends upon why I have to make a choice--whether I am going in a spaceship or to an island or to jail or whether all other books will cease to exist. But I think I'd grab Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by U.S. Poet Laurate Joy Harjo. Something by Percival Everett, probably Watershed. Two of my sister Louise's books, one poetry, Baptism of Desire, one novel--probably Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, because I make myself forget the plot, so it would seem new to me each time.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Fools Crow by James Welch. The point of view (Indigenous people who have not yet encountered Europeans) made my head work in such a new and pleasurable way. It's also one of those fight-for-survival books like those I loved in childhood.

Books do you most identify with as an adult:

I identify with books by poets with an Ojibwe background, like Mark Turcotte's Exploding Chippewas; Denise Sweet's Palominos Near Tuba City and The Failure of Certain Charms by Gordon Henry. And I still like books of survival, like Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer and Educated by Tara Westover. I guess that's because I'm an anxious person and my thoughts tend toward catastrophe. Reading about people surviving desperate situations is oddly soothing.

Book Review

Review: The Frozen Crown

The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly (Harper Voyager, $26.99 hardcover, 384p., 9780062956958, January 12, 2021)

Packed with deadly intrigue, fierce and powerful women, and high stakes, Greta Kelly's fantasy-adventure debut, The Frozen Crown, is an exciting and intricate series opener.

Princess Askia, warrior and rightful heir to the realm of Seravesh, needs an army to take back her kingdom from the forces of Radovan, the mad emperor of Rovan. Her best hope lies with Emperor Armaan of Vishir, "so I would do my barbarian best to catch his interest from a thousand miles away." An appeal to Armaan's handsome, naive son, Prince Iskander, gains Askia passage to Vishir, though it takes seeing a razed village to convince him.

Once in Vishir, Askia finds herself ill-equipped to navigate court politics. Plain-spoken and with no grasp on Vishiri etiquette, she quickly makes enemies. Even Iskander's support causes trouble for her; meeting the prince unchaperoned earns her the initial disdain of his mother, Queen Ozura, Armaan's principal wife. Askia's one offer of protection comes from the Shazir, a priesthood of witch-hunting zealots who once tortured her and murdered her parents, and she could not accept it if she wanted to. Askia is secretly a death witch, able to see and speak with ghosts, and the Shazir would want her dead if they knew.

When she stumbles across the Vishiri witches' guild, Askia begins training her magic under the order's head and learns that the danger she faces from Radovan is more horrifying and personal than she imagined. Surrounded by strangers and enemies, Askia must weigh her options carefully as time runs out for her people. 

Borrowing the young adult fantasy genre's staple of a young woman shouldering great responsibility while coming into her power, Kelly's series should have crossover appeal to YA readers as well as adult fantasy readers. Fans of Sarah J. Maas and Mary E. Pearson should make sure to snap it up. Though she's a formidable fighter, Askia's fish-out-of-water status makes her a sympathetic underdog much of the time. Kelly leaves some world-building details for later installments, but still creates a rich political dynamic of nobles jockeying for power while magic users dodge religious fanatics whose influence is growing. Askia has no shortage of love interests, and her choices will likely inspire plenty of anguished sighs as she weighs her heart against the best interests of her nation. Ending on an explosive cliffhanger, The Frozen Crown has the hallmarks of a successful series. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Shelf Talker: The first in a fantasy series, Kelly's debut features strong women, plenty of political intrigue and a magical world ripe for future exploration.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Reimagining Renato!

I first encountered Eugene Mirabelli's work as a bookseller in the mid-'90s, when I picked up a novel called The World at Noon because of the cover design, then stayed for the words. In 2016, I had the chance to meet the author and his publisher, Bruce McPherson of McPherson & Co., during a launch event for Renato After Alba at the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, N.Y.

Since then, a reimagining of Mirabelli's three Renato novels--The Goddess in Love with a Horse; Renato, the Painter; Renato After Elba--has occurred in the form of a recently published work, Renato! In his introduction, Douglas Glover writes: "It's rare to find a book, especially in our time, that so emphatically says yes to life, to the world as it comes."

I agree. Wanting to know more about this ambitious project that has been, quite literally, a lifetime in the making, I asked the people who made it happen.

McPherson noted that Mirabelli had published three well-received novels with major New York houses between 1959 and 1970, but wasn't making a living and began teaching at SUNY Albany. "When he found time to dedicate to writing fiction again in the '80s, he changed both his writing style and direction. Having a large, extended family of recent Italian/Sicilian immigrants in greater Boston, he could draw upon a endless fund of larger-than-life stories and eccentric relatives for inspiration; so he decided to write an ambitious cycle of books that would reflect and refract the experience of being born into and embracing one culture (America) while infused with another (Sicilian, Calabrian)."

The fictional Cavallù clan initially came to life in the novels The Language Nobody Speaks, The Passion of Terri Heart and The Goddess in Love with a Horse, published by Spring Harbor Press, which had been founded by Mirabelli and his late wife, Margaret.

Eugene Mirabelli

"Each novel had major or minor characters related to characters in the other works," Mirabelli observed. "At the same time, I didn't want to impose on readers the necessity to read this or that earlier publication in order to make sense of whatever book they had in hand. So, though the characters in one novel may be related by friendship, marriage or blood, to characters in a different work, each of these is a stand-alone novel."

McPherson noted that the composition of Mirabelli's Renato novels over two decades "strikes me as highly unusual. For one thing, the difficulty of maintaining a single narrator's voice across an extended time period while composing non-sequentially is something of a high wire act. Renato's voice, by the way, is itself a work of genius--it sounds perfectly natural, psychologically complex, both revealing and possessing depth, and never forced or false. The impetus for writing each book was contained within the larger design of the interconnected cycle."

Bruce McPherson

Although his novels are stand-alones, Mirabelli said The Goddess in Love with a Horse has been "slightly re-written and reconfigured and used in Renato! as the way into Renato, the Painter, it has become Renato's genealogy. I never wrote it or intended it to be read that way. I conceived of it as the genealogy of a host of characters, not merely Renato.

"When Bruce suggested publishing in one volume the three novels that now compose Renato! I was astonished. It had never occurred to me to think of any of my novels actually bound between covers with any other of my works. I had been writing for years with the sense that this world of close or distantly related figures was complete in itself as it was. It seemed unnecessary to bring the stories together. Now, of course, I'm sorry that I can't get all the fictions together into one volume."

McPherson had thought The Goddess and Renato, the Painter "formed a perfect pair," but his "concern in 2011-12 was merely to publish the latter, and I assumed that that would be my sole involvement. What happened next is that Gene--who told me insistently in 2011 that his writing days were over--found himself working on a new book in 2012, one that would connect Renato's story to his own life through a particular life event, the death of one's spouse. But it is not autobiographical. So, sometime in 2015 Gene sent me a new manuscript, Renato After Alba, which is a short but very powerful narrative of loss and grief and triumph of the spirit. This, too, was designed both to be a narrative continuation of Renato, the Painter, and publishable as a stand-alone. This I published in 2016.

"Since the three Renato texts had grown out of each other, and were intended to be read together, the next step was to unite them physically in the new volume Renato! I wanted to issue a paperback that would be affordable for a broader audience, especially because it's nearly 600 pages. Although the texts already dovetailed, Gene needed to make various revisions, most of which involved eliminating redundancies and correcting some details. Once read in this form--a unified, complex novel--each of the individual parts of the book contributes a deep consequentiality to the one following and/or preceeding; and the result is a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Personally, I think it's a masterpiece of American life and a celebration of Everyman (and -woman)."

--Robert Gray, editor

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