Shelf Awareness for Monday, January 11, 2021

William Morrow & Company: The Midnight Feast by Lucy Foley

Shadow Mountain: The Witch in the Woods: Volume 1 (Grimmworld) by Michaelbrent Collings

Hell's Hundred: Blood Like Mine by Stuart Neville

Delacorte Press: Last One to Die by Cynthia Murphy

Margaret Ferguson Books: Not a Smiley Guy by Polly Horvath, Illustrated by Boris Kulikov

Indiana University Press: The Grim Reader: A Pharmacist's Guide to Putting Your Characters in Peril by Miffie Seideman

St. Martin's Press: Lenny Marks Gets Away with Murder by Kerryn Mayne

Quotation of the Day

'Booksellers, You Took Everything That 2020 Threw at You'

"Will you indulge me a moment's enthusiasm during this dark time? Because this deserves to be shouted from on high: You did it. You took everything that 2020 threw at you, and you're still standing. What you all accomplished last year was nothing short of incredible--from the business model pivot to the crash course in public health statutes to the alphabet soup of government loans and grants--your creativity, innovation, and grit were awe inspiring (and motivating for us here in the NEIBA office).

"While circumstances are still hugely challenging, with the arrival of the new year (and the vaccine) there's a sense that we can at least start to think about what it might mean to possibly, maybe, exhale. To think about gathering in person again. To think about moving our businesses forward instead of feeling like we're swimming as fast as we can just to keep our heads above water."

--Beth Ineson, executive director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association, in a letter to bookstore members

Harper: Our Kind of Game by Johanna Copeland


How Bookstores Are Coping: Remarkably Successful Season; Record Book Sales

Stephen Sparks, co-owner of Point Reyes Books in Point Reyes Station, Calif., reported that the store closed out 2020 with its strongest December ever. Surprisingly, the bookstore was up  12%-15% over December 2019, which had previously been the store's best month ever. 

Normally the shop sees strong sales between Christmas and New Years Day, when a lot of tourists come to visit. Sales during that period were down in 2020, Sparks noted, but the first half of the month was so robust that December still set records. Online sales peaked around December 15, but the single highest grossing day of the season was the Friday before Christmas. Daily sales throughout December were more uniform than in years past, and sales didn't spike right before Christmas Eve.

While foot traffic was down in December (and the majority of 2020, for that matter), this was offset by large-ticket sales and by orders from across California and the country. The store relies heavily on tourist traffic, and Sparks said it was "wonderful" to see how widely the bookstore's community extends. It truly seemed that shoppers were making a concerted effort to buy from indies, he said.

Store bestsellers for the month included Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which was the single strongest seller, combining the paperback and anniversary edition; The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris; Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake; Caste by Isabel Wilkerson; The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen; and A Promised Land by Barack Obama. On the subject of A Promised Land, Sparks added that the store came within four copies of selling out its big initial order.

Stock issues and delays this year, Sparks said, were "the worst I've ever seen." Some publishers were better than others, and despite being unable to get some titles that "we really wanted to have," customers "seemed to understand that the situation was beyond anyone's control this year." Many customers were open to recommendations for substitutes.

December sales were also helped by a few big events. Normally the store is reluctant to host events in December, but with everything moving online, Sparks and the team had some unexpected flexibility in that regard. It also helps that online events broaden the audience pool.

Despite obstacles, including in-store capacity being reduced to about 20% of normal, many sought-after books being unavailable and some major shipping delays, it was a "remarkably successful" holiday season, he said.


In Greensboro, N.C., Scuppernong Books had its "best December ever" in terms of book sales, owner Brian Lampkin reported. The overall picture, however, is a "little trickier," as the store is also a wine bar and that side of the business has been closed, so the "relatively high mark-up end of the business" is gone. 

With in-store capacity reduced, Scuppernong did not have the usual late-season rush before Christmas Eve. About 50% of the store's sales were online, which made up for the lower in-store numbers. Lampkin added that it seemed customers bought more books per visit, since there was "no guarantee that they'd be able to come back." Customers in Greensboro seemed to have a heightened sense of the importance of local shopping, and they "want us to be here for the new times."

Many of the store's biggest titles, Lampkin continued, were major national releases like The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline, Caste, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and of course A Promised Land ("Thanks, Obama!"). Scuppernong also sold plenty of titles by North Carolina authors, as well as some very local titles, such as Jews, Palestinians, and Friends by Richie Zweigenhaft and 27 Views of Greensboro, published by Eno Publishers.

Lampkin said there were some "terribly long" shipping delays, but customers were for the most part incredibly understanding. He noted that Greensboro happens to be the home of the "disastrous" Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, which "only seemed to exacerbate problems in Greensboro's package delivery."

Like many in the industry, Lampkin had worried going into the holiday season that stock shortages would "devastate" holiday sales. Those shortages, however, "never did materialize." There were some big disappearances, such as A Wealth of Pigeons by Steve Martin and Harry Bliss, but not the "large-scale absences" about which he'd worried.

Reflecting on the past year, Lampkin said he thought "hard times can bind communities," and it feels that the store and Greensboro are "in it together" and "our success reflects on the city in some meaningful way." He and his team are trying hard to "live up to our end of this social contract," which seems especially important these days. --Alex Mutter

Chronicle Books: Life Wants You Dead: A Calm, Rational, and Totally Legit Guide to Scaring Yourself Safe by Evan Waite, Illustrated by Paula Searing

Brandeis U.P. Sole Owner of University Press of New England

Brandeis University Press has acquired and is now sole owner of all titles and copyrights of the University Press of New England. It had shared management of the UPNE list with Dartmouth College Press, which will now focus on the Dartmouth College Press imprint.

Brandeis University Press was an early member of the UPNE consortium, which was founded in 1970 and at one time included 10 institutions. In 2018, when UPNE was dissolved, Brandeis University Press split ownership of UPNE with Dartmouth College. Brandeis University Press will now manage the entire list, reprint books, promote titles, and sell rights.

The University of Chicago Press's Chicago Distribution Center will continue to handle marketing, sales and distribution for both Brandeis University Press and the UPNE catalog. Among titles originally published by UPNE reissued by Brandeis University Press are Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life by Roxana Robinson, Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech, and Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird by Katie Fallon.

Sue Ramin, director of Brandeis University Press, said, "The titles we acquired will dovetail well with BUP's current titles and our expertise. I am grateful to Dartmouth College for their excellent past stewardship and for working so cooperatively with us as we worked on this acquisition.

"UPNE has a wonderful deep backlist and we are thankful to the UPNE leadership, editors, and staff who created this excellent list of books. We hope to keep many of these titles in print and look forward to actively promoting and reissuing them."

GLOW: Tundra Books: We Are Definitely Human by X. Fang

HarperCollins Christian, Focus Create Two Sales Teams for Indies

HarperCollins Christian Publishing and HarperCollins Focus are creating two sales teams for independent retail channels, one to manage Christian-oriented independent retail accounts and the other for the general market, or American Booksellers Association, bookstores.

LaTasha Estelle, who has spent more than 20 years in sales at HarperCollins, has been promoted to sales director for the ABA team. Previously she was the key accounts manager for bricks-and-mortar retail, working with Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Hobby Lobby and Ingram, among others.

Shawn LeBar is joining the company on January 24 as sales director, CBA indies. He is a sales veteran with more than 25 years of experience, most recently at Christian Art Gifts as sales manager.

Senior v-p of sales Dan Van Gorp said, "HarperCollins Focus is a fast-growing business with a positive market response. We must be able to accommodate the needs of our retail channels in unique ways, ensuring that we are tailoring how we communicate and present titles. Readers will continue to shop and remain loyal to both; however, the consumer experience at a Christian indie bookstore is very different from a general market indie."

He added that Estelle and LeBar "both have exceptional sales experience and a deep understanding of the retail market. They will work alongside one another to ensure that our independent retailers remain critical in our community and to all of bookselling."

Harper: Sandwich by Catherine Newman

Carrie Bloxson Joins Hachette Book Group as V-P, Diversity and Inclusion

Carrie Bloxson

Carrie Bloxson is joining Hachette Book Group as v-p, diversity and inclusion, and will become a member of the executive management board, all effective February 1. She has been interim CEO and chief marketing officer at, a social impact organization. Earlier she was v-p of marketing at HarperCollins and has more than 20 years' experience as a marketing strategist. She is also co-founder of CMOs for Good, an organization of marketing leaders who oversee social impact.

Bloxson will lead Hachette's diversity and inclusion programs and strategy, helping it create "a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable company with increased representation of people of color in HBG's leadership, workplaces, and publishing programs," the company said. "She will also support and amplify the work the company is doing in the areas of talent development, recruitment, retention, training, office culture, business processes, marketing, and communications."

Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch said Bloxson "brings a powerful combination of skills--extensive experience in diversity and inclusion and a demonstrated ability to inspire colleagues and lead transformative programs. Her knowledge of the publishing landscape and of book marketing will be especially valuable as she challenges us to move beyond past practices and achieve measurable and lasting change."

Bloxson said, "I'm thrilled to return to publishing and work with the team at Hachette. This is a rare opportunity where my core values align with what I believe HBG wants to accomplish: to be a publisher that values diversity and inclusion, and one that understands how essential books are to promoting healthy discourse in our society. I look forward to creating positive and meaningful change while promoting and embodying the values of equity and inclusion, as well as respect, integrity and excellence."

Inkyard Press Launches Middle Grade Publishing Program

Inkyard Press, the Harlequin YA imprint focused on commercial fiction, is launching a middle grade publishing program in 2022. The list will consist of, Inkyard said, "action-packed, thoughtful books with ongoing series and brand potential in the humor, fantasy, and adventure categories, with a commitment to including stories centered on marginalized characters."

Inaugural titles include The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei by debut novelist Christina Matula; The Supernatural Society by Rex Ogle; The Gingerbread Witch by Alexandra Overy, author of These Feathered Flames; and How to Heal a Gryphon by Meg Cannistra.

Bess Braswell, publishing director of Inkyard Press, said, "We are thrilled to be expanding our program to reach more young readers. Our editors are passionate about middle grade storytelling, and much of my marketing experience has been in launching middle grade series, like Dork Diaries, Wings of Fire, and Whatever After."

Loriana Sacilotto, executive v-p and publisher of Harlequin Trade Publishing, added: "I am so excited about this natural extension of the Inkyard Press publishing program into Middle Grade and am impressed by the creators on our list so far and their stories."

Obituary Note: Neil Sheehan

Neil Sheehan
(photo: Ron Blunt)

Neil Sheehan, best known for helping to publish a secret government history of the Vietnam War and for his own history of the war, died on January 7. He was 84. Those works were the Pentagon Papers, the internal Defense Department history of the war that revealed the government's duplicity about the war, and A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, which won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize in 1989.

As the New York Times recalled, Sheehan covered the Vietnam War from 1962 to 1966 for United Press International and the Times. "Intense and driven, Mr. Sheehan arrived in Vietnam at age 25, a believer in the American mission," the newspaper wrote. "He left, four years later, disillusioned and anguished."

In 1966, he wrote in the New York Times Magazine: "I simply cannot help worrying that, in the process of waging this war, we are corrupting ourselves. I wonder, when I look at the bombed-out peasant hamlets, the orphans begging and stealing on the streets of Saigon and the women and children with napalm burns lying on the hospital cots, whether the United States or any nation has the right to inflict this suffering and degradation on another people for its own ends."

In 1971, Sheehan was approached by Daniel Ellsberg, the former Defense Department analyst who had turned against the war and worked on the Pentagon Papers, the secret government history of the war that showed the U.S. leaders of the war had doubts about it from the beginning and misled the American public.

As was revealed only after Sheehan's death, Ellsberg was so conflicted about releasing the Pentagon Papers that Sheehan and his wife, Susan Sheehan, copied the material without Ellsberg realizing it--Ellsberg had given Sheehan permission only to read the documents. Once copies were made, Sheehan and a team at the Times began analyzing the 7,000 pages, which was "the largest disclosure of classified documents in American history up to that point."

After the Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers and its analysis, the Nixon administration obtained a temporary injunction blocking further publication. Seventeen days later, the Supreme Court ruled to allow publication to resume, which was taken "as a statement that prior restraint on freedom of the press is rarely justified," the Times wrote. The Times won a Pulitzer for public service for its coverage.

The following year, Sheehan took a book leave from the Times to write A Bright Shining Lie, centered on John Paul Vann, "a charismatic, idealistic former Army officer and outspoken dissenter on the war, whom Mr. Sheehan had known in Vietnam," the Times recounted. The book took 16 years to write.

Sheehan wrote several other books, including After the War Was Over: Hanoi and Saigon, based on a trip to Vietnam in 1989, and A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon (2009), a history of the arms race and the story of the Air Force general responsible for the creation of the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile system.


Image of the Day: Honoring Educators at Copperfield's

For a display honoring educators, Copperfield's Books in Petaluma, Calif., surveyed hundreds of local teachers and librarians about their favorite children's and adult books. They responded with a range of choices, from The Giving Tree to What Is the What, and all are now displayed in the store's window, noting the teacher's name and school.

Personnel Changes at Vintage/Anchor

In the Vintage/Anchor publicity department:

Julie Ertl has been promoted to senior publicity manager. She joined Vintage/Anchor in 2017 after working at Little, Brown.

Sarah Nisbet has been promoted to publicist. She joined Vintage/Anchor as publicity assistant in 2018 and last year was promoted to associate publicist.

Alexandra Dos Santos has been promoted to associate publicist. She joined Vintage/Anchor as publicity assistant in 2019.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: James Comey on Today, Colbert's Late Show

Ellen: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, author of Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age (Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781501166730).

Kelly Clarkson Show: Syd McGee and Shea McGee, author of Make Life Beautiful (Harper Horizon, $26.99, 9780785233879).

Late Night with Seth Meyers: Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar, authors of You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism (Grand Central, $28, 9781538719367).

Good Morning America: Bevy Smith, author of Bevelations: Lessons from a Mutha, Auntie, Bestie (Andy Cohen Books, $24.99, 9781250311788).

Today Show: James Comey, author of Saving Justice: Truth, Transparency, and Trust (Flatiron, $29.99, 9781250799128). He will also be on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Live with Kelly and Ryan: Dr. Jennifer Ashton, author of The New Normal: A Roadmap to Resilience in the Pandemic Era (Morrow, $26.99, 9780063083233).

Movies: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

The cast has been rounded out for The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, based on the book by Jennifer E. Smith. The Hollywood Reporter noted that Ben Hardy will play the lead opposite Haley Lu Richardson, joining a cast that includes Ben Hardy, Dexter Fletcher Rob Delaney, Sally Phillips and Jameela Jami.

Vanessa Caswill (PBS's Little Women miniseries) is directing the film, which is currently in production in London. Matt Kaplan will produce via ACE Entertainment. Katie Lovejoy, who worked with ACE on To All the Boys: Always and Forever, Lara Jean, wrote the screenplay. ACE "is now in post on an adaption of another novel by Smith,  Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between," THR wrote.

Books & Authors

Awards: Blackwell's Book of the Year

Elle McNicoll's children's book A Kind of Spark was named Blackwell's Book of the Year for 2020. According to the Bookseller, McNicoll is "a Scottish and neurodivergent author who wrote the book, her debut, after growing tired of the lack of inclusivity in the industry. The novel features two autistic young women as lead characters. McNicoll has recently signed a second deal with Knights Of for a middle-grade novel coming in March."

The shortlist, which included Boy Parts by Eliza Clark, Humankind by Rutger Bregman and Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan, was voted for by Blackwell's booksellers across the U.K., and the winner selected by a panel of five Blackwell's booksellers. 

"I got so much out of A Kind of Spark--perspective, empathy, joy," said Mirjam Coenraads, one of the judges. "It is a book that will live with me for a very long time. I feel passionately that I would love to put a copy into the hands of every customer that passes through our doors."

Book Review

Review: Let Me Tell You What I Mean

Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion (Knopf, $23 hardcover, 192p., 9780593318485, January 26, 2021)

Joan Didion's literary career has spanned more than half a century and has earned her justifiable acclaim. But long before she produced award-winning works like The Year of Magical Thinking, she was delivering articles to publications that included the Saturday Evening Post and the New York Times Magazine. Let Me Tell You What I Mean features 12 of those previously uncollected pieces that together foreshadow Didion's distinctive style and the considerable range of her interests.

The collection's entries blend reportage, profiles (in the form of a pair of introductions to books by director Tony Richardson and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe), personal essays and even a bit of literary criticism. Half were published in the turbulent year of 1968, and all but one appeared before the beginning of the 21st century. Despite its brevity, Let Me Tell You What I Mean hints at some of the subjects that would preoccupy Didion, including life in her native California and the craft of writing itself.

Among the most appealing of Didion's personal essays are "On Being Unchosen by the College of One's Choice," the story of her rejection by Stanford University in 1952, and "Telling Stories," an account of her fitful effort to write short stories and its abrupt, early end. "A Trip to Xanadu" is an elegiac description of her visits to San Simeon, the "phantasmagoric barony" built by William Randolph Hearst on the California coast, and his vision of a "kingdom where nobody dies."

Didion the reporter casts a skeptical eye on a meeting of Gamblers Anonymous, spends an awkward few hours shadowing then-California first lady Nancy Reagan ("a woman who seems to be playing out some middle-class American woman's daydream, circa 1948") and, at the height of the Vietnam War, attends a reunion of World War II's heroic 101st Airborne Division. It's difficult to suppress a smile while reading the profile of Martha Stewart shortly after the initial public offering for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in 1999, while recalling Stewart's conviction in 2004 on charges related to insider trading, as Didion alludes to the IPO's risk factors, among them damage to Stewart's reputation. 

"The peculiarity of being a writer is that the entire enterprise involves the mortal humiliation of seeing one's own words in print," Didion writes in "Last Words," her homage to Ernest Hemingway, a writer, she says, who "made the English language new." For all the discomfort she may feel reading her own work, she undoubtedly helped do something similar for the craft of literary journalism. These examples of her early work clearly foreshadow that. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: This slim collection of mostly early pieces from Joan Didion provides a window into the work of her long, much-admired career.

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