Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Simon & Schuster: The Lightning Bottles by Marissa Stapley

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

Soho Crime: Exposure (A Rita Todacheene Novel) by Ramona Emerson

Wednesday Books: When Haru Was Here by Dustin Thao

Tommy Nelson: Up Toward the Light by Granger Smith, Illustrated by Laura Watkins

Tor Nightfire: Devils Kill Devils by Johnny Compton

Quotation of the Day

'How Not to Always Be Working'

"Last January, not long after (what now feels to be a distant, intense) holiday season, I gathered around a table with other small bookstore owners and made a plea for an educational gathering around a theme for owners on 'how not to always be working' because though we are a bright, innovative, and capable group, we fail miserably at (and are up against a cultural, economic, and practical calendar that does not allow for) Taking a Break.

"I've encountered some who assume that many bookstores, restaurants, and others who have (at any point in 2020): shut their doors, shifted operations, redirected services, and/or pivoted towards sources of help--have received this 'break,' this year. The opposite is, of course, true, and though the theme/plea I proposed last January fell entirely out of possibility both as educational topic and functional practice, I think of it still--and ALL small business owners--often. I did this week, especially, as I granted myself grace from posting daily, responding to each e-mail, and getting *as* on top of a New Beautiful Year of bookselling as I 'should.' Thanks to those who understand this pause and may be working 7 days a week (as business owners, teachers, health care providers, service industry workers) and know--and need to let others know--that this schedule never, actually, truly, works. *breathe*be*economy*"

--Joanna Parzakonis, owner of this is a bookstore & Bookbug, Kalamazoo, Mich., in a Facebook post

BINC: Do Good All Year - Click to Donate!


How Bookstores Are Coping: 'Pretty Pleased'; Trying Everything

In Phoenixville, Pa., holiday sales for Reads & Company Bookshop were slightly up from 2019, reported co-owner Jason Hafer, but 2019 was the store's first holiday season. Still, Hafer continued, he and co-owner Robb Cadigan are "pretty pleased" with that sales increase, given the circumstances.

While holiday sales still peaked the week before Christmas, shopping was much more evenly spread throughout the fourth quarter. There was a noticeable increase in holiday buying in both October and November, and curbside pickup and special orders were "driving forces." Hafer said he and Cadigan were "very aggressive" about their safety precautions, with a strict occupancy limit and a "bookseller bouncer" stationed outside the store on Saturdays and Sundays.

Though Hafer and the team initially were concerned about customers becoming impatient or frustrated because of these measures, people were mostly appreciative. And to make waiting a little easier, the bookstore set up tables on the sidewalk so customers could browse while they waited.

Some of the store's bestselling titles were Untamed by Glennon Doyle, A Promised Land by Barack Obama, Me & Mr. Cigar by Gibby Haynes, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, and The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. Hafer pointed out that for Untamed and Me & Mr. Cigar, the store worked with their respective publishers on special promotions. Another store bestseller was Phoenixville Rising, a novel written by the store's co-owner based on local history.

Hafer said "shipping delays were real" during the holiday season, but ultimately "didn't affect us too badly." The store ordered directly from publishers that could turn orders around quickly, and then relied heavily on Ingram for most everything else. When it came to fulfilling customer orders, the store used the post office, which was "terribly slow," sometimes taking weeks, and he said there are still people waiting for books they ordered in November. As Christmas approached, Hafer upgraded many orders to UPS to help them reach customers in time.

The store stayed in "pretty good shape" as far as inventory goes. Hafer and the team made large initial orders and watched stock levels closely. The store didn't really run out of anything for more than a day or two at a time, except special orders where Ingram or the publisher were out of stock. That was more of a challenge, but Hafer found that most customers were understanding of the difficulties.


David Enyeart, store manager at Next Chapter Booksellers in St. Paul, Minn., said he and his team "threw everything at the wall" in 2020, including virtual events, online sales, home delivery, phone ordering, curbside pick-up and limited in-store browsing. He and his staff "ran ourselves ragged" trying to figure out what worked best, and in the end "no single strategy was an outstanding success." Sales were down for the holiday season, as they were for the entire year.

Despite a concerted effort on the part of Enyeart and his team to drive holiday preorders in October and November, December was still the biggest month of the year for sales. In fact, Enyeart said, it was "even more pronounced this year, adding that he had "no idea why." The store's single biggest title was, "far and away," A Promised Land. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and Perestroika in Paris by Jane Smiley all did very well at Next Chapter, and the poetry collection Shelter by "local stalwart" Margaret Hasse was a "powerhouse."

The Best of Me by David Sedaris, Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, The 99% Invisible City by Kurt Kohlstedt and Roman Mars and Owls of the Eastern Ice by Jonathan C. Slaght also managed to rack up "steady, solid sales" throughout the season. The titles that suffered this year, though, were midlist titles. Without customers browsing the shelves, there were fewer opportunities for them to discover lesser-known titles. The store also saw a "huge rise" in online orders for deep backlist.

While certain titles were hard to get in at times, it seemed there were fewer big books this year that were out of stock for long periods of time. Enyeart attributed this to a combination of the store's aggressive holiday buying and "slightly sluggish demand." Overall, it was an easier than average season for the store to stock highly sought-after titles.

Looking ahead, Enyeart brought up concerns about a "predictably slow winter" following a mediocre holiday season, and noted that "extended terms and delayed collection have a direct and important benefit to bookstores." --Alex Mutter

Graphic Universe (Tm): Hotelitor: Luxury-Class Defense and Hospitality Unit by Josh Hicks

International Update: Christmas Season Sales Up in U.K.; Yearly Numbers Down in Germany

Gulliver's Bookshop, Wimborne Minster, England

The majority of independent bookshops surveyed in the U.K and Ireland saw increased sales during the 2020 Christmas season. Of the 32 shops responding to the Bookseller, 41% reported "excellent" Christmas sales compared to the previous year, 44% "very good," 12.5%  "average" and 3% "disappointing." Several said their sales were up by as much as 50%, with one recording a 100% increase over December 2019, though "others reported a downturn of 30%, with many citing the move to Tier 4 Covid restrictions a week before Christmas as the main reason for the loss of valuable last-minute shopping," the Bookseller noted.

In a separate survey, a Booksellers Association poll of 245 bookshops found that 57.7% reported trading was up compared to Christmas 2019, while 22.7% were down. That survey also found participating booksellers earned an average of £1,647 (about $2,235) through over the holidays.

At the beginning of the year, only 14% of indies surveyed had a transactional website in operation, compared with 39.7% at the close of 2020, the BA noted, adding that 15% had no website at the beginning of 2020, a number that decreased to 7.7% by December. Footfall was down for 51.4% of indies. Orders placed by phone, e-mail and social media were up 90.6%, according to the BA, while just under 40% of respondents reported the average spend per customer was up "a little" on last year. Though sales at 57.7% of respondents were up last year, 22.7% said they were down significantly.


More than 50 new bookshops opened in the U.K. and Ireland during 2020, raising the Booksellers Association's membership to 967 stores, up from 890 in 2019, 883 in 2018 and 868 in 2017. The Guardian noted that the "latter figure marked the end of a decline that started in 1995, when 1,894 indie bookshops were recorded."

"It is extraordinary. Can you imagine, if you've been planning to open a bookshop for a year and then you open it into this pandemic?" said BA managing director Meryl Halls. "I'm wondering if the opening of bookshops by new entrants will be quite a thing in 2021, because there are so many people who are taking stock of their lives in the pandemic. Running a bookshop has always been an attractive proposition for a certain kind of person, so I do think that people who are looking to change their life might try to make it work."

Jenny McCann, who launched Bear Bookshop in Bearwood, England, just as the November lockdown ended, said, "When we did finally open, I was overwhelmed by how many people walked in and said, 'I’m so glad you’re here.' "

Although 50 bookshops launched in 2020, 44 closed and "the rest of the net increase is due to an influx of existing shops joining the BA for the first time, probably in order to get support during the pandemic," the Guardian wrote, adding that 967 is still the highest number of independent bookshops recorded since 2013.

"We've not seen mass closures yet because shops have all been fighting for survival. Mainly, they've survived," said Halls. "I would like to think that our numbers might hold steady for 2021. But I'm anticipating that we're going to lose a slew of businesses that are, maybe for other reasons, feeling unviable. However, 2020 proved the resilience, resourcefulness and dedication of booksellers. We will do everything we can to support them as they look ahead and plan for a post-pandemic future."


The German book market was down 2.3% across all channels in sales volume and 5.3% in units for 2020 "after being hit by two Covid lockdowns, the second of which began in mid-December during the height of the Christmas season, when sales were on the brink of breaking even year-on-year," the Bookseller reported.

According to Media Control, by the end of November the drop in sales had been cut to -1.8%, compared to -13% for the four months to April. During the first two weeks of December, overall sales were up 45%, but once the second lockdown started, book sales plummeted. Bricks-and-mortar bookstores ended December down 19.6% and the year with a decline of 8.7%. Across all channels, including book chains and independent bookstores as well as e-commerce and other retailers, December sales dropped 5.1%.

Noting that "enthusiasm for reading has been high and demand for books was strong for most of the year," Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, head of the Börsenverein, the German book trade association, said the industry's mood is one of deep anxiety, describing the prospects for publishers and booksellers as "uncertain" and expecting 2021 to start with a "massive" decline in sales. --Robert Gray

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Obituary Note: Ved Mehta

Ved Mehta, longtime writer for the New Yorker and author of a 12-part autobiography that also explored the history of modern India, died on Saturday in New York City at the age of 86, the New York Times reported. The cause of death was complications of Parkinson's disease.

Born in 1934 in British India, in what is now Pakistan, Mehta lost his eyesight at the age of three due to cerebrospinal meningitis. He composed all of his work through dictation, including the many articles he wrote for the New Yorker as well as the more than two dozen books he published throughout his career. He joined the staff of the New Yorker in 1961 and wrote for the magazine until 1994.

Mehta published Daddyji, the first volume of his 12-part memoir entitled Continents of Exile, in 1972. The Red Letters, the final volume of Continents of Exile, was released in 2004, when Mehta was 70. His first book, published in 1957, was Face to Face, about his childhood in India and early education at a school for the blind in Arkansas. His other books include the nonfiction The New Theologian and the collected essays John Is Easy to Please, along with the comic novel Delinquent Chacha.

After leaving the New Yorker, Mehta taught at Yale, Vassar and New York University. In 1982 he received a MacArthur grant.

Mehta's writing was known for its elegance, clarity and the richness of its visual descriptions. So much so that, the Times said, some critics, like the late Norman Mailer, contended that Mehta couldn't possibly be completely blind. Mehta, however, credited his careful reporting and a "determination to write as if I could see," as Mehta himself wrote in Walking the Indian Streets. He also did not allow publishers to mention his blindness in promotional materials.

January Indie Next List E-Newsletter Delivered

Last Thursday, the American Booksellers Association's e-newsletter edition of the Indie Next List for January was delivered to more than 660,000 of the country's best book readers. The newsletter was sent to customers of 183 independent bookstores, with a combined total of 668,824 subscribers.

The e-newsletter, powered by Shelf Awareness, features all of the month's Indie Next List titles, with bookseller quotes and "buy now" buttons that lead directly to the purchase page for the title on the sending store's website. The newsletter, which is branded with each store's logo, also includes an interview (from Bookselling This Week) with the author whose book was chosen by booksellers as the number-one Indie Next List pick for the month, in this case The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. (Putnam).

For a sample of the January newsletter, see this one from Commonplace Reader, Yardley, Pa.


Sidewalk Chalkboard: The Village Bookstore

The Village Bookstore, Pleasantville, N.Y., shared a photo of its "New Year's Resolution to Read" sidewalk chalkboard message:

"Did you know reading…
*reduces stress
*lowers blood pressure + heart rate
*improves cognitive function + brain connectivity
*exposes you to new places, perspectives + ideas
*is fun!
There's more but I'm outa space!" 

Personnel Changes at Hachette Speakers Bureau; Catapult/Counterpoint/Soft Skull

Jayme Boucher is joining Hachette Book Group as director of Hachette Speakers Bureau. She has been with the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau for 10 years, as a founding member and senior leader.

Hachette Speakers Bureau, which was established in 2009 in partnership with Greater Talent Network, will re-launch this year as an in-house venture under Boucher's leadership. The Bureau will operate in collaboration with Hachette publishing divisions and provide paid speaking events, both virtual and in-person, for all of Hachette Book Group's imprints.


Selihah White has joined Catapult, Counterpoint, and Soft Skull Press as publicist.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Adam Jentleson on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Adam Jentleson, author of Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy (Liveright, $26.95, 9781631497773).

Tamron Hall: Rachel Hollis, author of Didn't See That Coming: Putting Life Back Together When Your World Falls Apart (Dey Street, $20, 9780063010529).

Movies: Keeper of the Lost Cities

Disney is in development on a film based on the bestselling book series Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger, with Ben Affleck attached to direct, Deadline reported, noting that there are more than 2.5 million books in print in the series. The most recent title, Unlocked, was released in November.

Affleck will also produce the film through his Pearl Street banner and adapt the script with Kate Gritmon. Madison Ainley is executive producing. 

Books & Authors

Awards: One Dublin One Book

Dublin City Council announced that Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession is the One Dublin One Book choice for 2021. A new One Dublin One Book edition of the novel will be available and online events are being scheduled in April to accompany the reading initiative, which is led by Dublin City Libraries.

Dublin City Librarian Mairead Owens said that Leonard and Hungry Paul "reminds us all that life is precious and that there are many challenges facing us as we negotiate daily life. The book is uplifting and positive and gives comfort at this time. The book is a treasure and will hopefully encourage many more readers to seek refuge and sustenance from reading."

Rónán Hession observed: "I was born in Dublin and have lived and worked here all my life, so this means a lot to me. And of course, I have spent countless happy hours firing my imagination with the books I have borrowed from the wonderful libraries we have throughout Dublin. Leonard and Hungry Paul is a gentle book about two friends learning to engage with the world without becoming overwhelmed by it. I hope my fellow Dubliners find it a source of peace and enjoyment in the year ahead."

Book Review

Review: Two Truths and a Lie: A Murder, a Private Investigator, and Her Search for Justice

Two Truths and a Lie: A Murder, a Private Investigator, and Her Search for Justice by Ellen McGarrahan (Random House, $28 hardcover, 368p., 9780812998665, February 2, 2021)

Ellen McGarrahan used to believe in an objective reality. That changed when she devoted a year of her life to learning the truth about the 1976 crime that led to the execution of Jesse Tafero. While researching the riveting Two Truths and a Lie: A Murder, a Private Investigator, and Her Search for Justice, McGarrahan found herself bombarded with self-serving, conflicting testimonies. As a prosecutor put it to McGarrahan, "Murders don't usually happen in front of a busload of bishops."

The murders at the center of Two Truths and a Lie occurred on February 20, 1976, when a Florida state trooper and his Canadian-constable friend approached a Camaro parked at a rest stop 15 miles north of Fort Lauderdale. Inside the car were Tafero, a drug dealer and fugitive convicted rapist; his girlfriend, Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs, and her two children; and Walter Rhodes, who was on parole for armed robbery. After Trooper Black and Constable Irwin engaged with the Camaro's occupants, an altercation broke out that left both officers dead.

In 1990, when McGarrahan was a staff writer at the Miami Herald, she volunteered to be present at the execution of Tafero, who, like Jacobs, had been convicted of murdering the officers. (By testifying against Tafero and Jacobs, Rhodes was spared a death sentence.) "My beat assignment included the Department of Corrections," McGarrahan writes, "so it seemed to me that witnessing was part of my job as a reporter." She spent the ensuing years, during which much mystery swirled around the case, haunted by the memory of watching Tafero die in the electric chair.

In January 2015, by which point McGarrahan had left journalism to become a private investigator, she began to delve into what happened at that Florida rest stop in 1976. She even went to Ireland to track down Jacobs, who, after the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned her conviction in 1992, became a figurehead of the anti-death-penalty movement.

Readers of Two Truths and a Lie shouldn't expect a polemic against capital punishment, although it's possible to read the book as a slow-build evisceration of the American justice system's classism. Nor should readers expect McGarrahan's lucidly written deep dive to produce crystalline clarity about the case. McGarrahan would come to realize that this wasn't the point. "I'm writing a book about Jesse Tafero" was her opening gambit when reaching out to an interview subject, but Two Truths and a Lie is equally about Ellen McGarrahan. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Shelf Talker: In this gut-wrenchingly good deep dive, a private investigator examines the 1976 crime that may have led to the wrongful execution of a man she watched die in the electric chair.

The Bestsellers

Top-Selling Self-Published Titles

The bestselling self-published books last week as compiled by

1. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki with Sharon L. Lechter
2. Forsaken Trail (Runaway Book 4) by Devney Perry
3. From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout
4. My Gifts at Christmas by Alanea Alder
5. WolfeSword by Kathryn Le Veque
6. Can't Hurt Me by David Goggins
7. A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire by Jennifer L. Armentrout
8. Egomaniac by Vi Keeland
9. The Villain: A Billionaire Romance by L.J. Shen
10. Rejected (Shadow Beast Shifters Book 1) by Jaymin Eve

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