Also published on this date: Monday, September 26, 2022: Maximum Shelf: Maame

Shelf Awareness for Monday, September 26, 2022

Algonquin Young Readers: The House on Sunrise Lagoon series by Nicole Melleby

Forge: Mrs. Plansky's Revenge by Spencer Quinn

Dial Press: On Our Best Behavior: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Price Women Pay to Be Good by Elise Loehnen

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr): Team Chu and the Epic Hero Quest (Team Chu #2) by Julie C. Dao

Graphix: 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones: A Graphic Novel (39 Clues Graphic Novel #1) by Rick Riordan, adapted and illustrated by Ethan Young

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: I Am the Walrus (The N.O.A.H Files #1) by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman

Sourcebooks Young Readers: Global: One Fragile World. an Epic Fight for Survival. by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano

Forge: Mr Katō Plays Family by Milena Michiko Flašar, translated by Caroline Froh


NEIBA Fall Conference: Celebrating Books, Authors, Being Together Again

In many ways, the New England Independent Booksellers Association fall conference picked up where it left off before the pandemic in 2019, a well-run, energetic show that introduced and re-introduced a range of authors to eager booksellers. But this year, most attendees were in a special mood of celebration at finally gathering in person again and seeing old friends and making the random kind of new connections and friends that happens at conferences.

First-time NEIBA attendees Derek McCormack (The Provincetown Bookshop, Provincetown, Mass.), Emma Dale and Cora Kelly (both from Bear Pond Books, Montpelier, Vt.) at Thursday evening's awards banquet cocktail party.

Gratitude was an informal theme of the conference--for being able to meet in person, for the work that NEIBA and so many did in the past two and a half years to make it possible for stores and booksellers to survive and in many cases thrive during the pandemic, for the sense of community that helped members cope, for publisher support during the difficult times.

Gratitude was also a large part of the annual meeting (see more below), where staff and board members spent more time than usual expressing their thanks and appreciation of everyone's work, particularly to NEIBA executive director Beth Ineson, marketing manager Ali Schmelzle and president Beth Wagner of Phoenix Books, Essex Junction, Vt., who Ineson called "our wartime president." (Wagner's two-year term was extended a year because of the pandemic, and Friday's annual meeting was her first and last in-person annual meeting as president.)

John Mendelson, head of the newly founded U.S. branch of Nosy Crow, with Katrina Kruse of Hachette Book Group, Nosy Crow's distributor.

For the association, there was a lot of good news. Total attendance at the show was 484, which was down from 2019 by 24%, but which "exceeded my wildest expectations," Ineson said. "I expected maybe half." There were a sizable group who registered on location, making "game-day decisions," and many attendees were first timers.

She added that NEIBA was delighted with how it all went, especially considering that logistics in planning such events have been "extraordinarily difficult in these times. It seemed like a miracle to pull it off." She praised booksellers and publisher partners alike for their enthusiasm and support.

From l.: Ruth Liebmann, v-p, account marketing at Penguin Random House; Sam Kaas and Emma Nichols, owners of the Norwich Bookstore, Norwich, Vt.; Ingram sales rep Stacie Williams; and Shelf Awareness partnership program manager Kristianne Huntsberger.

At the annual meeting, Beth Wagner reported that NEIBA welcomed 27 new member stores in past fiscal year.

NEIBA's finances are "strong and stable," treasurer and clerk Meghan Hayden of River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury, Conn., reported. The association had net income in the last fiscal year of slightly over $70,000, which exceeded the original budget "by a huge margin." She attributed some of the gain to the successes of the holiday catalogue, the summer reading campaign, the spring forum and advertising programs.

The association aims to use the revenue to invest in a variety of things, including upgrading office laptops, buying equipment to broadcast more events live, provide members "more and more varied" in-person events and replacing some money taken from the association savings account in 2020 when membership dues were suspended. NEIBA is also considering hiring someone to handle some back-office, logistical matters like invoicing.

Welcome!: Chris Kerr of Parson Weems Publisher Services, which celebrated its 25th anniversary at the conference.

NEIBA also plans to offer a bookseller boot camp at next year's spring forum, reintroduce shop talk meetings by state in the region's six states, create a new strategic plan and continue exploring the idea of being able to give bookstore grants (which is difficult for a trade association to do).

Several times it was noted that next year is NEIBA's 50th anniversary. Ineson said the association plans to celebrate at the 2023 fall conference, possibly by adding an extra day and expanding the space it takes and events. It'll be "a monster event," she said.

Odyssey Bookshop (South Hadley, Mass.) booksellers Robin Glossner, Jesse Hassinger, Laura Colodner and Joan Grenier with HarperCollins field representative Anne DeCourcey (second from left).

In board changes, Emily Russo of Print: A Bookstore, Portland, Maine, is becoming president; Kelsy April of Bank Square Books, Mystic, Conn., Savoy Bookshop & Cafe, Westerly, R.I., and Title IX, New London, Conn., becomes v-p; and Meghan Hayden is becoming secretary and treasurer. New board members are Liz Whitelam, Whitelam Books, Reading, Mass., and David Sandberg of Porter Square Books, Cambridge and Boston, Mass.

In a poignant overview, Beth Wagner said, "It still feels like a miracle being with you, in person... And I do mean miracle. I often marvel at the sheer number of people involved in getting books into the hands of readers. The authors, the illustrators, the agents and editors, the designers and printers, the packers and the shippers, the sales reps, the buyers, the frontline booksellers. It takes countless acts of cooperation to produce and sell every single title. These days it's understandable to focus on what goes wrong. The last two and a half years have thrown a lot of improbable situations at us. We've weathered illness, paper shortages, labor disputes, cargo ships sinking, shipping delays. The list goes on. Things that shocked us pre-pandemic are barely worthy of a raised eyebrow now. And yet, here we are, tired yet ever hopeful, because we, the New England bookselling community, have decided that we're better together, that when we share our experience and our expertise, all of us benefit... We created our own miracle." --John Mutter

G.P. Putnam's Sons: Beware the Woman by Megan Abbott

NECBA: Children's Author and Illustrator Breakfast

This past Friday, the New England Children's Bookseller's Advisory Council (NECBA) held its fall children's and illustrator breakfast in Providence, R.I. NECBA co-chair Read Davidson introduced the event to large applause, a response that repeated frequently throughout the morning.

Bryan Collier and Tami Charles

First to speak were Tami Charles and Bryan Collier about their picture book We Are Here (Orchard Books, January 3, 2023). Charles began, "I am so excited to be here, but I am more excited to be standing next to the most dapper dude in kid lit." Charles's first picture book with Collier, All Because You Matter, was written as a love letter to her son. We Are Here, she said, was written for her daughter, Grace. "Once upon a time," Charles said, "I had a daughter." But Grace didn't "make it to this side." We Are Here is a story for her and "the legacy of greatness from which she comes--for the joy and the wonder of who she could have been." Collier explained, "As the illustrator, it is my job to illuminate the words and take you on a journey that is parallel to the text. I have a point of view," he continued, "But I'll never alienate what Tami is writing." Instead, he uses it. Collier knew that this book was for Grace and included on every page a pink balloon: "It's as if Grace is there, floating throughout. She is always here and always present throughout all the storylines." In the way that Collier used Charles's son as a model for All Because You Matter, he used his own daughter--as well as several people he knows and loves--to model characters in We Are Here. "This," he said, "is the evidence that we are here."

Gale Galligan

Gale Galligan, author/illustrator of the graphic novel Freestyle (Graphix, October 18, 2022), took the stage next. "Thanks for all the cool stuff you're doing in your communities," they began, "I admire that so, so much." Sometime in 2014, they said, "Otherwise known as a decade ago--sorry, sorry, sorry--I was browsing the Internet. And then I stumbled across a video from a yo-yo competition.... I was enthralled." They bought a yo-yo and dove right in. "I was hitting myself in the face a lot." But when they joined a yo-yo club, they started getting better. "Listen, I'm still very bad at yo-yo," they admitted. But "with Freestyle, I really wanted to show that feeling of getting so so so excited about something and then finding people to share it with--finding a community. And for me, there was no way better to do that than to make a comic about it."

Chloe Gong made her debut "during the pandemic." Foul Lady Fortune (Margaret K. McElderry Books) is her third title and connects to but stands alone from her two previous books. As Gong wrote the Romeo and Juliet-inspired These Violent Delights duology, one character kept "nudging" her: Rosalind. She was intrigued by how readers fell in love with Juliette but hated Rosalind, who made many of the same personal choices as Juliette. Though Gong grew up loving "the brave heroines," she wanted to write a female character with a "kind of messiness" to her. And so, she let Rosalind's nudging pull her to Foul Lady Fortune, in which the young woman is "stuck in a frozen state of who she was when she made a huge mistake." The book is, in Gong's words, "Shakespeare's As You Like It meets a quintessential civil war era Chinese drama about politics and spies in 1930s Shanghai with the tone and sci-fi elements of a Marvel movie."

Malinda Lo

Malinda Lo's first words from the podium were, "I want to take a moment to thank you for all the support that you gave me and my books over the last few years." Booksellers sold her National Book Award-winning Last Night at the Telegraph Club, "during the pandemic when people weren't really going to bookstores. You put it on the indie bestseller list for 20 straight weeks." Lo described her new book, A Scatter of Light (Dutton Books for Young Readers, October 4), as a description of the "complex and messy experience of first love." It is "about identity and how it changes. About family, connections art and creativity." The book, she said, is set in 2013 because that's when she first started writing it. Scatter went on submission in 2014 and "was rejected by nearly two dozen editors. Some editors said they liked the writing but had problems with the sexuality. Some of the rejections I got did feel homophobic. It made me really angry. But one editor was interested in working with me." That editor couldn't buy Scatter, though, so the two discussed other possibilities. A Line in the Dark was born. Then, when her publisher picked up Telegraph, they also offered to buy Scatter. When Lo returned to Scatter, she said, "I knew that in the six years that had passed I had become a better writer." But "almost all of the book's intimate scenes are the same--word for word--as they were in 2013. I am so glad we are now in a time when this book can be published."

The final speaker was Brian Selznick. The idea for Big Tree (Scholastic, April 4, 2023) came from a project Selznick had been working on with Steven Spielberg. The director spoke with Selznick about writing a movie from a plant's-eye view in the time before dinosaurs. This would be a terrible idea, Selznick noted, because the only plants were ferns. He suggested the Cretaceous period. "When the pandemic hit, it became clear for various reasons that the movie was never going to happen" and Selznick was "able to make the story as I saw it." He decided that "nothing can happen in this book that isn't scientifically based and scientifically accurate." Which means it's "a 600-page book about characters that have no faces." In the world of Big Tree, "only plants can communicate. So, they believe that nothing else in the world is able to communicate." Selznick, who "started off as a bookseller," also told the crowd that, while working at Eeyore's in New York City, he realized "this was the community of people I want to be around." Now, he said, "Every time I sit down to write, every time I sit down to draw, it is [being a bookseller] that informs my work." --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Sourcebooks Landmark: The House of Lincoln by Nancy Horan

B&N Opening Two New Stores Near Boston

Barnes & Noble is opening two new bookstores near Boston, Mass., in shopping malls that used to house Amazon Books locations, WCVB5 reported. The stores will open in the Legacy Place mall in Dedham, southwest of Boston, and in the MarketStreet mall in Lynnfield, northeast of Boston, later this fall.

In June B&N closed its store in Boston's Prudential Center, and in March Amazon chose to close all Amazon Books locations.

AuthorBuzz for the Week of 02.06.23

PNBA BuzzBook Winner: Where Rivers Change Direction

Where Rivers Change Direction by L. Bundrock (Blue Cactus Press) was selected by attendees as the winning title in the BuzzBooks contest at the 2022 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Tradeshow, held September 18-20, in Tacoma, Wash.

Blue Cactus Press described Where Rivers Change Direction, published in July, this way: "Tana, a white woman, falls in love with Colette Little Crow. Her coming out as a late-blooming Gay woman is messy, painful, and full of fumbles. Tana's love with Collette ultimately cleaves her heart in two and she must decide whether to piece it back together in Montana, her home, or cross geographic and cultural divides to start over in Seattle."

Under voting procedures, punch cards were handed out to booksellers and librarians as they entered the show floor. They then visited exhibitors for publisher quick-pitches on eight participating titles across a variety of genres. Attendee booth stops were verified with a stamp from the attending reps and, once all stamps were tallied, participants voted for the book they were most excited to recommend to their customers and patrons.

Three of the voters won $100 cash prizes:

Christine Longmuir, Two Rivers Books, Portland, Ore.
Anne Brangwin, North Central Washington Libraries, Wenatchee, Wash.
Erin Chervenock, Village Books, Bellingham, Wash.

Carolrhoda Lab (R): The Weight of Everything by Marcia Argueta Mickelson

PPG's Portfolio Launches Thesis Imprint

Penguin Publishing Group imprint Portfolio has launched a new imprint called Thesis. Starting in spring 2023, Thesis will publish "idea-driven nonfiction by thought leaders, journalists and experts with a strong point of view."

Bria Sandford, editorial director of Portfolio's Sentinal imprint, and Niki Papadopoulos, editor-in-chief of Portfolio, will lead Thesis. Adrian Zackheim will be the new imprint's publisher and Helen Healey will serve as editor for Thesis, Sentinel and Portfolio.

"There's a big need right now for writers who make counter-consensus arguments without falling into reflexive contrarianism," said Sandford. "I'm excited for Thesis to publish those thinkers who can stand outside the currents of the moment and help us see and think differently."

The imprint will launch its first title, Struggle Sessions by Nellie Bowles, next spring, with Take Down by Laila Mickelwait following in fall 2023. Thesis will also publish the work of journalist Matt Taibbi, Sharon McMahon and evolutionary psychologist Diana Fleischman.

Papadopoulos said: "We've discovered an audience hungry for ideas that don’t fall into ideologically neat buckets, and which challenge the status quo on both sides of the political aisle. Our goal with Thesis is to carve out a dedicated space for these books, and to move the conversation forward around the pressing social issues of our time.”

Zackheim added: "Our strength historically has been in helping authors with big ideas in the business and political spaces sharpen their message and grow their tribe, and we're excited to bring this skillset to bear on new and adjacent categories."

William Morrow & Company: Ink Blood Sister Scribe by Emma Törzs

Obituary Note: Joan Fusco

Joan Fusco, a retired longtime staff member at Abrams, died on September 14 following a stroke. She was 83.

The former manager of remainders & overstocks, Fusco joined Abrams following its acquisition of Stewart, Tabori & Chang in 2000. As the company recalled, "She handled a number of responsibilities in the sales department during her tenure. Prior to STC, she worked at US Media Holdings and Smithmark. Although her job was in sales, she naturally played the role of company 'den mother,' always supportive, caring, and ready to listen, and so proud of all the life and professional achievements of the Abrams staff. Joan was the life of any party she attended as well as a caring, supportive, attentive and generous friend to many she worked with and stayed in touch with after her retirement in early 2019. She will be deeply missed."

Charitable donations in Fusco's memory can be sent to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. A memorial mass wll be held on Friday, October 14, at 11 a.m. at St. Brigid’s Church, 85 Post Avenue, Westbury, N.Y. 11590.


Personnel Changes at St. Martin's Publishing Group; Simon & Schuster

Rebecca Lang has been promoted to associate director of publicity for the St. Martin's Publishing Group.

Mary Moates has been promoted to senior publicity manager for the St. Martin's Publishing Group/Wednesday Books.


At Simon & Schuster:

Melissa Posten has joined the independent sales team as telemarketing account manager for the Southern region. She was previously children's book buyer and director of inventory at The Novel Neighbor bookstore.

Brandi Stewart has joined the independent sales team as telesales account manager for the Western region. She was previously children's buyer at Changing Hands bookstore.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: John Vercher on Fresh Air

CBS Mornings: Chloe Gong, author of Foul Lady Fortune (S&S/McElderry, $21.99, 9781665905589).

Good Morning America: Melanie Chisholm, author of The Sporty One: My Life as a Spice Girl (Grand Central, $29, 9781538740293). She will also appear tomorrow on the View.

Also on GMA: Jenny Mollen, author of Dictator Lunches: Inspired Meals That Will Compel Even the Toughest of (Tyrants) Children (Harvest, $27.99, 9780063242647).

Today Show: Josh Flagg, author of The Deal: Secrets for Mastering the Art of Negotiation (HarperCollins, $27.99, 9781400230433).

Fresh Air: John Vercher, author of After the Lights Go Out (Soho Press, $26, 9781641293310).

CBS Mornings: Anita Hill, author of Believing: Our Thirty-Year Journey to End Gender Violence (Penguin Books, $18, 9780593298312).

Also on CBS Mornings: Kelly Ripa, author of Live Wire: Long-Winded Short Stories (Dey Street, $28.99, 9780063073302).

Today Show: Eric Thomas, author of You Owe You: Ignite Your Power, Your Purpose, and Your Why (Rodale, $27, 9780593234983).

Also on Today: Molly Yeh, author of Home Is Where the Eggs Are (Morrow, $32.50, 9780063052413).

Good Morning America: Idina Menzel and Cara Mentzel, authors of Loud Mouse (Disney-Hyperion, $17.99, 9781368078061).

Also on GMA: Steve Case, author of The Rise of the Rest: How Entrepreneurs in Surprising Places are Building the New American Dream (Avid Reader Press, $28, 9781982191849).

Rachael Ray: Jacques Pépin, author of Art of the Chicken: A Master Chef's Paintings, Stories, and Recipes of the Humble Bird (Harvest, $30, 9780358654513).

Late Night with Seth Meyers: Dick Ebersol, author of From Saturday Night to Sunday Night: My Forty Years of Laughter, Tears, and Touchdowns in TV (Simon & Schuster, $28.99, 9781982194468).

Also on Late Night: Stephen "Steve-O" Glover, author of A Hard Kick in the Nuts: What I've Learned from a Lifetime of Terrible Decisions (Hachette Books, $28, 9780306826757).

Books & Authors

More Tributes for Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel

Tributes continued to pour in over the weekend for the beloved, award-winning author Hilary Mantel, who died September 22. 

"The word 'genius' appeared often on Twitter, but 'generous' wasn't far behind," the Washington Post reported. "It was clear that Mantel left a lasting impression on not just readers but on journalists who interviewed her and authors who received her support. Hillary Kelly, for example, recalled the experience of losing an entire interview with Mantel to a 'faulty recorder,' only to have Mantel volunteer to have the whole conversation again. The novelist Stephen May was one of several writers who recalled Mantel getting in touch to offer encouragement about their work. 'She leaves a powerful legacy in her writing,' May wrote, 'but also she led an emblematic writer's life. Do the work, focus on that and help others when you can.' "

At Octavia Books, New Orleans, La.

In the Irish Times, author Anne Enright wrote: "An outsider reared in poverty, she would own, in prose, the central myth of Tudor England. 'By writing a novel one performs a revolutionary act.' Dame Hilary Mantel was wary of nationalism in all its forms. Britain 'can be used as a geographical term, but it has no definable cultural meaning' she wrote. 'As for calling me "an English writer"--it is simply what I am not.' "

"I am so very saddened to hear the news of the death of Dame Hilary Mantel," historical novelist Philippa Gregory posted on Facebook. "Her contribution to the literary world was outstanding and I, like many of you, hugely admired her work. We met several times--most notably for the (then) Duchess of Cornwall's book club, when we talked unstoppably about our approach to history and to fiction, the overlaps of the two disciplines, and our own rules of writing--until the camera crew insisted we stop! She was an enthusiastic historian and a gifted writer. Over the years we have both steadfastly refused to rise to bait of rivalry--instead we enjoyed a mutual respect and admiration for each other. I'm sorry our plans to meet again are delayed--she, of all people, would see death as little more than a delay to eternal planning! My thoughts are with her family."

At Innisfree Bookshop, Meredith, N.H.

The Guardian noted that "writers, journalists and editors said she was a joy to work with and supportive of other writers," including columnist and author Caitlin Moran, who said: "Hilary Mantel's mind was one of the most powerful and magic machines on Earth. We were lucky she wrote as much as she did, but holy hell, it's devastating that we've collectively lost something so astonishing."
Author Sam Knight tweeted: "Hilary Mantel was the only person who ever sent me an e-mail that left me in tears, when she liked my book. She was my favourite writer: the one I was most afraid of reading, because what was point, given her sentences, her soul and her mind. What a wonderful ghost she will be."

In a New Yorker magazine tribute, Larissa MacFarquhar observed: "If Britain were as grateful for her as it ought to be, there would be another funeral next week, as magnificent as the one for the Queen this week, though it would be attended by different people because Mantel could be rude about royalty. There are not many writers who, like prophets, seize, melt down, and reshape the archetypal stories of their people.

"The death of Mantel is not the same as the deaths of most people, because she has been there already. She spent much of her life in the past with the dead.... She pursued that line of inquiry all her life, and so I picture her now in the next world, meeting face to face at last the historical figures she mourned when they died in her books, asking them to tell her what actually happened at those crucial moments when the archival record failed her. She was always able to see into the next world, and told us what she saw there, but most of us cannot, so in losing her we have lost that channel. We can only reread her books, and say to people born in the future that we were alive at the time of Hilary Mantel."

Awards: Cundill Shortlist

The shortlist for the $75,000 2022 Cundill History Prize, administered by McGill University and recognizing the book that most "embodies historical scholarship, originality, literary quality and broad appeal," have been selected. Finalists will be announced in mid-October and the winner during the Cundill History Prize Festival November 30-December 1. The shortlist:

In the Forest of No Joy: The Congo-Océan Railroad and the Tragedy of French Colonialism by J.P. Daughton (Norton)
Cuba: An American History by Ada Ferrer (Scribner)
The Perils of Interpreting: The Extraordinary Lives of Two Translators Between Qing China and the British Empire by Henrietta Harrison (Princeton University Press)
Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich by Harald Jähner, translated by Shaun Whiteside (Ebury, PRH)
All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley's Sack, a Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles (Random House)
The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics by Mae Ngai (Norton)
Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate by M.E. Sarotte (Yale University Press)
Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union by Vladislav M. Zubok (Yale University Press)

Top Library Recommended Titles for October

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

Top Pick
Mad Honey: A Novel by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan (‎Ballantine, $29.99, 9781984818386). "First love between golden boy Asher and intriguing new girl Lily ends with one teen dead and the other under suspicion of murder. This stellar collaboration is more layered, surprising, and emotional than any story has a right to be--and readers should eagerly devour every page. For fans of: The Bad Daughter, and Defending Jacob." --Sharon Layburn, South Huntington Public Library, Huntington Station, N.Y.

Anywhere You Run: A Novel by Wanda M. Morris (Morrow, $28.99, 9780063271821). "This fast-paced heart stopper is set in Jim Crow Mississippi, where two sisters are on the run after a murder in their town. And as they run, their secrets follow. With pulse-pounding suspense that's also filled with empathy and hope, give this to fans of historical thrillers such as Lady in the Lake and American Spy." --Carol Ann Tack, Merrick Library, Merrick, N.Y.

Demon Copperhead: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper, $32.50, 9780063251922). "From abusive foster homes to the collapse of the coal and tobacco industry and rise of the opioid epidemic, this masterpiece follows one of the most unforgettable characters in recent literary history, who comes-of-age in an Appalachian Virginia community filled with people of extraordinary character. For fans of Dopesick and Raising Lazarus." --Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier Public Library, Warrenton, Va.

The Family Game: A Novel by Catherine Steadman (‎Ballantine, $28, 9780593158067). "Novelist Harriet 'Harry' Reed is blissfully engaged to the scion of the Holbeck family, a clan with the money and power to hide the darkest secrets. Harry knows something about secrets herself, but when she embarks on a mysterious game with the Holbecks, she realizes they're stranger, and more dangerous, than fiction. For fans of Ruth Ware." --Jenifer French, Shreve Memorial Library, Shreveport, La.

Hester: A Novel by Laurie Lico Albanese (St. Martin's Press, $27.99, 9781250278555). "This darkly bewitching reimagining of The Scarlet Letter centers Isobel Gamble as Hester. Estranged from her poppy-addled husband, Isobel works as a talented seamstress in puritanical Salem. A friendship with Nat Hathorne blooms into forbidden intimacy, highlighting America's cruel and dangerous double standards. Try The Daughter of Dr. Moreau or other new takes on classics." --Lori Hench, Baltimore County Public Library, Towson, Md.

Jackal: A Novel by Erin E. Adams (Bantam, $27, 9780593499306). "Liz goes back to her small hometown for a wedding, but then Caroline, her friend's biracial daughter, goes missing. Liz discovers that black girls go missing yearly, but the police don't care, so she hopes to uncover this serial killer. This is a well-written suspense novel with supernatural elements. The plot was well-paced, and there were enough twists." --Claire Sherman, Clearwater Countryside Library, Clearwater, Fla.

Lavender House: A Novel by Lev AC Rosen (Forge Books, $26.99, 9781250834225). "This mystery, just a step past cozy, is set in 1950s San Francisco, where a P.I. is hired by a woman who needs to know the truth about the death of her wife. When he discovers their home is a protective haven for a found family of queer couples, it opens his eyes. This is an absorbing, locked-room mystery that works in commentary." --Rebecca Swanson, Fitchburg Public Library, Fitchburg, Wis.

Mistakes Were Made: A Novel by Meryl Wilsner (St. Martin's Griffin, $16.99, 9781250841001). "Cassie and Erin hook up at a bar, but then unexpectedly meet again the next morning at breakfast with Parker, Erin's daughter and Cassie's friend. This affecting romance is steamy. The tension is from their 'forbidden' relationship--and it's because they're lying to Parker, not because they're bi or the age gap. For fans of Alexandria Bellefleur." --Cari Dubiel, Twinsburg Public Library, Twinsburg, Ohio

Our Missing Hearts: A Novel by Celeste Ng (‎Penguin Press, $29, 9780593492543). "Can a book shout quietly? This one does. In a dystopian society desperately seeking scapegoats, young Bird's missing mother is deemed 'un-American.' He traverses a perilous landscape in search of her: What's left when a country sells its soul for a semblance of security? Unforgettable and heartbreakingly beautiful. For fans of Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler." --Beth Mills, New Rochelle Library, New Rochelle, N.Y.

Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty (Ace, $17, 9780593098110). "A science fiction murder mystery that was a blast to read, cinematically written with amazing characters. Lafferty introduces new aliens and their culture slowly enough to take in the details. The plot is Murder She Wrote meets sentient Deep Space Nine. It's all over the place but comes together satisfyingly." --Carri Genovese Indianapolis Public Library, Indianapolis, Ind.

Book Review

Review: Ghost Town

Ghost Town by Kevin Chen, trans. by Darryl Sterk (Europa Editions, $27 hardcover, 384p., 9781609457983, October 25, 2022)

Former actor turned award-winning writer Kevin Chen's Ghost Town is certainly cinematic, populated with unforgettable characters--living, dead and in between.

Welcome to Yongjing, "a rural backwater in central Taiwan," just as Ghost Month looms. The Chen clan is about to experience an unexpected reunion, drawn together by the prodigal appearance of the clan's youngest, Keith. Years earlier, a six-month writing residency in Berlin enabled Keith's escape from their abusive mother and homophobic community. He found love with T, which led to a registered partnership ("Germany did not have gay marriage yet in those days"). Then suddenly T was dead, and Keith was imprisoned for murder. When Keith is released 10 years later, he returns to Yongjing, and what's left of his family.

Cliff and Cicada married on their third meeting and had five daughters--Beverly, Betty, Belinda, Barbie and Plenty--trying to birth a son, then came Heath and finally Keith. Beverly left as a teen for factory work in a bigger town but returned home pregnant and married her lover, who proved himself a gambling, philandering, orchid whisperer. Betty, known as Household Registrar Chen, chose a "conservative" husband and had two children; her every day was "boring and predictable" until a manipulated video went viral, maligning her as a hater of seeing-eye dogs. Belinda is "the 'perfect' news anchor's wife"--beaten and trapped when not being paraded in public. Barbie is a total shut-in ensconced in an excessive mansion her business mogul husband built originally for her sister Plenty, who succeeded in killing herself after six previous attempts. First-born son Heath became the town's mayor, winning in a landslide, until he ended up in jail. Into that maelstrom, with nowhere else to go, Keith arrives, with so many family secrets left to be bared and shared.

If the family's name is not a hint of autobiographical inspiration, Chen's (Three Ways to Get Rid of Allergies) afterword affirms plenty of additional overlaps: his Yongjing youth, his many sisters, his gay identity, his town's homophobia, his current Berlin home. Professor Darryl Sterk translates, his unconventional choices--replacing Chinese names with English equivalents-of-a-sort--adroitly explained in his ending note. Chen divulges key events in his fiction--T's mysterious murder, the black dog's execution, Plenty's and neighbor Nut Wang's suicides--in multi-voiced, circular repetition, each time adding a little more information, as if to increase the circumference and take up more space. With each iterative reveal, Chen gloriously resurrects the dead--and emboldens the living. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Shelf Talker: A cinematic, sprawling family epic unfurls with exceptionally crafted characters--living, dead and in between.

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