Shelf Awareness for Thursday, January 16, 2020

University of Texas Press: Grief Is a Sneaky Bitch: An Uncensored Guide to Navigating Loss by Lisa Keefauver

Berkley Books: Hair-raising horror to sink your teeth into!

Berkley Books: The Hitchcock Hotel by Stephanie Wrobel

Queen Mab Media: Get Our Brand Toolkit

Ballantine Books: Gather Me: A Memoir in Praise of the Books That Saved Me by Glory Edim

Ace Books: Rewitched by Lucy Jane Wood

Graywolf Press: We're Alone: Essays by Edwidge Danticat

St. Martin's Press: Runaway Train: Or, the Story of My Life So Far by Erin Roberts with Sam Kashner


McNally Jackson's Downtown Brooklyn Store Opening Next Month

City Point in downtown Brooklyn will soon include a new McNally Jackson.

McNally Jackson's second location in Brooklyn, N.Y., is preparing to open in February on the ground floor of the City Point development at 445 Albee Square in a 5,300-square-foot space occupying two stories, Brownstoner reported.

Last month on Instagram, McNally Jackson posted: "A delivery at dawn. 40,000 pounds of bookshelves for our upcoming City Point store. It will be our biggest store, I can't believe how many books we will fit in there. We're going to go deep."

Brownstoner noted that the new store "opens at a time when bookstores are booming in Brooklyn."

In addition to McNally Jackson's Williamsburg store, which opened in 2018, the bookseller also operates two Manhattan locations.

BINC: Click to Apply to the Macmillan Booksellers Professional Development Scholarships

Destinations Booksellers Closing in New Albany, Ind.

Destinations Booksellers in New Albany, Ind., which has been in business since 2004, will close and liquidate its assets over the next few weeks. 

"Good things end," said owner Randy Smith. "Our city had gone without a generalist new books store for 57 years when we came here, and we had a great run."

In 2009, Smith added a restaurant to the bookstore, and at one time ran a publishing operation called Flood Crest Press. During the bookstore's peak, Smith employed 25 people, but had to downsize over the years. He attributed the closure to the "ebbing small-business economy."

In the coming weeks, Smith will sell off the store's inventory and fixtures, including bookshelves and coffee-shop equipment. A local restaurant will take the bookstore's place beginning in March.

Smith said he hopes to maintain a presence in the book business while exploring opportunities in media, small-business consulting and travel.

Watkins Publishing: Fall Into Folklore! ARCS Available On Request

Booked, Evanston, Ill., Adds New Owner

Booked, the children's bookstore in Evanston, Ill., that opened in 2018, has added Rachel Round as a co-owner. 

Round, whose background is in academia and was an assistant professor of Education, Disability Studies and School Psychology, will join co-owner and founder Chelsea Elward in running the store. Her focus will be on school and community partnerships.

While Round has never worked in the book business before, owning a bookstore has "always been a dream" of hers.

NAIBA Launching Bookseller Professional Certification Program

Working with the ABA and other regional booksellers associations, the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association is creating a formal nationwide certification program for the bookselling industry that will have two components. Graduates will be designated Certified Professional Bookseller.

One certification program has five modules: Basic Bookselling, Staff & Human Resources, Store & Operations Management, Event Management and Inventory Management. Upon completion of each module, a bookseller will receive certification in that topic. When booksellers complete all five modules, they will receive the designation of Certified Professional Bookseller.

For seasoned booksellers, there's a stand-alone module, Career Bookseller Fast Track, which encompasses the information in the individual modules. Upon completion of the Fast Track, a bookseller will receive the designation of Certified Professional Bookseller.

Each course will have a dean, multiple instructors, assessment tools, exercises and homework, and required online and in-person courses. In-person instruction will take place at regional and national conferences.

NAIBA plans to launch the Event Management module this year, followed by the Career Bookseller Fast Track module. There will be course fees for each module, along with scholarships.

"For years, booksellers across the country have been asking for a 'career path' in bookselling," said Billy Reilly, co-owner of river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y., and president of NAIBA. "I believe that NAIBA's Professional Bookselling Certification will provide an important first step along this path."

"I've been in the industry for almost 40 years, and professionalism and training have always been a driving force behind national and regional programs," Eileen Dengler, executive director of NAIBA, added. "People have been asking for some recognition for bookselling skills, and now NAIBA will make it happen."

Any bookseller interested in becoming an instructor in any of the modules should contact Eileen Dengler via e-mail.

Board, Staff Changes at the Binc Foundation

The Book Industry Charitable Foundation has made several board and staff changes, including the addition of Chris Morrow, co-owner of the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., and Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to the board of directors.

Executive committee roles have changed, too. Matthew Gildea of Arcadia Publishing is now the board president; Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books, Mystic, Conn., and Savoy Bookshop & Café, Westerly, R.I., is v-p; Christie Roehl of Duluth Trading Co. is treasurer; and Julia Cowlishaw of Vroman's, Pasadena, Calif., is secretary.

Binc's board and staff expressed gratitude to Lori Tucker-Sullivan, the immediate past-president, "for serving for an incredible seven years as board president. She has deftly guided the foundation on to a path of sustainability and growth, allowing the foundation to help more booksellers every year of her presidency." Tucker-Sullivan will continue working on behalf of the booksellers' safety net and to serve on the board of directors as past president.

Mary Richards and Kate McCune concluded their terms as board members at the end of 2019. Binc said it "is grateful for the time, dedication to the foundation's mission, and thoughtfulness demonstrated by both board members."

In other changes, Joan Noricks has retired as Binc's office coordinator. She will be succeeded by Mary Baker, who has spent the majority of her career in management consulting, most recently as a senior manager at Deloitte Consulting.

New Interim Head at AJC Decatur Book Festival

Joy Pope

Joy Pope has been promoted from program director to interim executive director of the AJC Decatur Book Festival, Decatur, Ga. Julie Wilson has stepped down to spend more time with her family, the Festival said.

Jim Diedrick, immediate past president of the festival board, praised Pope's "creativity and resourcefulness [and] her exemplary work as program director."

He also said that Wilson had helped "bring a greater degree of professionalism and strategic planning to the festival and board, so Joy is building on a strong foundation."

At the same time, Mathwon Howard, associate vice-president for development programs at Emory University, is becoming festival president, and two people are joining the board: attorney Henry Parkman and Jeff Steely, Dean of Libraries at Georgia State University.

Founded in 2006, the festival will launch a search for a permanent executive director in the spring.

Oren Teicher: 'I Loved Every Day That I Worked for ABA'

Shelf Awareness recently spoke at length with Oren Teicher, whose 30-year tenure with the American Booksellers Association ended November 1 and who is slowly getting used to a new, less-consuming life (although, he says, "I hardly miss those 5 a.m. trips to LGA to catch an early flight somewhere"). He's been helping in the transition with Allison Hill, who becomes CEO March 1, and says, "ABA is in excellent hands." He calls his retirement "the right decision for me and for the ABA. There is a shelf life associated with my kind of job." Still, he adds, "I loved every day that I worked for ABA and simply cannot imagine my life without some ongoing connection. Who knows--maybe by next Christmas I'll be working at my own store!" For the many of us who are exceedingly appreciative of all he did at the ABA, be sure not to miss the tribute to Teicher at Winter Institute next Tuesday night at 10 p.m.

Oren Teicher is characteristically generous--and a bit modest, especially for someone who has achieved so much for independent bookselling--in recounting some of the many accomplishments of the ABA, particularly during the past decade when he was CEO.

"I've been incredibly fortunate to have been CEO when things have gotten a lot better for independent booksellers," he says. He thanks the association's volunteer leadership on the board and its presidents. ("They've been nothing short of extraordinary.") He thanks the ABA staff, for whom their work is "so much more than a job... their passion, dedication, creativity and resourcefulness has been pretty remarkable." He praises booksellers ("Most new owners today are businesspeople," in addition to being passionate about books, "and are far better prepared for how to deal with business in the 21st century"). And he thanks publishers, who have come to realize that although indie bookstores represent "a relatively small piece of the overall business... that small piece drives the market" and thus have been partnering more with bookstores to help grow the business.

But, of course, the ABA that he led for the last decade has been a key part of the resurgence of independent bookstores. "I like to think a lot of we did at the ABA contributed to that," Teicher says. For sure! He points to the decision some 15 years ago by the ABA board to focus on education to create "better-trained and prepared booksellers" as an "extraordinarily important" decision. The association implemented the new priority with all kinds of educational panels and programs, forums, "bookseller boot camps" and, perhaps most important, the wildly popular and successful Winter Institute. Now he says, "We have a lot more resources for new owners and staff to operate their stores. I'm particularly proud of the results."

The ABA has also been involved in other areas that have contributed to the indie resurgence. One is the growth of the localism movement, which the association promoted and participated in. "Clearly it has worked to our advantage," Teicher observes.

He also highlights the role of technology in helping indie booksellers, another thing the ABA has promoted in a variety of ways. "Tech changed both by becoming less expensive and more accessible for smaller businesses to use," and indie booksellers have "embraced technology," he says. "It's not the enemy. They've learned to make it work for them," from using it for point-of-sale and inventory to payroll management to communicating with customers via e-mail and social media.

As for publishers, Teicher describes the "adversarial role" of the past as "what the times called for," but "having been through that, developing a more cooperative and less adversarial relationship has served us and publishers well."

He emphasizes that decades ago, the ABA told publishers that it was "not looking for handouts or charity but rather way in which we could build and grow the business together. We said, 'Help not because we're nice people but because we can sell more books.' " And happily, he emphasizes, "we've proved it," with more than a decade of sales data that show how many units indies sell every week. He adds that besides offering "an early warning system" for fast-selling titles, indies "tend to sell a lot of titles others can't"--and they are often more profitable titles for publishers. Just two examples of books that "indies helped make" are Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

There's "a lot more" publishers can do to support indie booksellers, Teicher continues, but "definitely a healthier dialogue exists today."

He's also particularly proud of the ABA's accomplishments in fighting for a level playing field vis-à-vis Amazon. That's included spearheading the effort to require Amazon to collect state sales taxes, which it does on its own sales ("it was pretty lonely at times"), as well as working with others to involve the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and the European Union to recognize that "the concentration of power in the hands of one company is not good for competition and ultimately not good for consumers." He has no idea, he says, what the remedy will be, but Amazon will be under increasing scrutiny in the future because "the whole landscape of antitrust enforcement is about to change."

Teicher with Shelf Awareness's Jenn Risko and John Mutter

Of course, "despite the good news there remain some fundamental challenges in the business," Teicher continues. Among those challenges is a business model in which the suggested retail price is printed on the product. "What other business does that exist in?" he asks. Every other business can pass higher costs such as increased minimum wages on to customers simply by raising the price. "The book business will have to take a close look at the pricing model."

In general, profitability levels at bookstores is a problem at many stores. "The good news is that a lot of stores are making a good living for the owner, can pay employees well and make extraordinary contributions to the community," he says. "The troubling news is that a lot of stores are on edge."

Another challenge involves business cycles. Despite "a number of years of growth and success, it's disingenuous to think the business isn't cyclical," Teicher says. "It can't grow indefinitely forever. In the normal ebb and flow of business, in the next few years there's likely to be an ebb." Thankfully, he stresses, most ABA members are "far stronger than 15 years ago," just before the financial crisis and resulting recession. "They're better businesspeople and paying a lot more attention to the business than to just the books so it's highly unlikely that an economic tsunami will wipe out a lot of stores."

Another challenge is that 2020 is a national election year, and "historically indie bookselling has had slightly off seasons at such times because a lot of our members' best customers pay attention to politics." And this year, he notes dryly, "it's almost inevitable that there'll be a heightened interest in politics."

Competition for people's leisure time is another major challenge now that most people, through their smart phones alone, have "instant access to every form of entertainment and information under the sun." A major challenge for booksellers and the book business is making "reading fun, interesting, challenging and compelling." One hopeful sign, Teicher says: data shows that millennials and Generation Xers "look to books and reading as an antidote" to an otherwise all-encompassing digital life. "There's nothing like getting caught up in a book that will take you wherever you want to go for hours," he says.

In his 30 years at the ABA, Teicher adds, "we've faced so many potential tsunamis." The malling of America hit its height in the 1970s, and there was a Walden and Dalton in every one of the 1,500 enclosed malls. ("That's when I became involved and everyone wondered how we were ever going to compete," Teicher says.) Then came the rise of superstores and mass merchandisers, warehouse clubs, specialty stores, Amazon and e-books. "Every few years some new wave was going to wipe us out," he adds. "Some stores did close, but we're still here."

The latest threat--digital books--has abated. "There's a fundamental difference in the experience of a reader browsing bookstore and library shelves, picking up books, reading dust jackets, flipping pages that can't be replicated online."

Teicher emphasizes that "if there's anything I can point to with consistency, it's that everything changes. There's not an iota of doubt that in four or five years, at the center of a conversation like this will be something we don't know about now."

Still, he has "a lot of optimism," in part because the enthusiasm of young readers as well as the generational shift at many indies. "It's so encouraging."

And overall, Teicher is exceedingly grateful. "I've had an extraordinary career," he says. "I've never not wanted to go to work. I can't imagine having done anything more rewarding and exciting than what I've done over the last 30 years." He calls bookselling a special kind of business: "I never had to swallow what I did or said or think I wasn't doing what was right. In professional business lives, that's a pretty good place to be." --John Mutter


Image of the Day: Getting The Old Truck Started

BookPeople in Austin, Tex., hosted the launch of brothers Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey's debut picture book, The Old Truck (Norton Books for Young Readers). Since the art for the book was created with special stamps, the event included a fun stamp activity for kids.

Booksellers on TV: Tombolo Books

Tombolo Books, St. Petersburg, Fla., which opened its permanent store location in November after two years as a pop-up shop, was featured this week on Tampa Bay's Morning Blend, where co-owner Alsace Walentine talked "about what 'Tombolo' means and why indie bookstores are beating the digital trend odds."

"The physical book is a lasting technology," Walentine said. "Having a space where you can go to meet up with other people who love books and being able to browse a highly curated selection of books is a really special experience."

Personnel Changes at Melville House; Chronicle; Hudson

At Melville House, Tim McCall has been promoted to v-p, associate publisher from v-p, sales and business development. He earlier held senior positions at Penguin Random House, where he was v-p, online sales and marketing for the Penguin Group, and at LSC, where he was global trade sales director for its publishing division.

"Tim McCall's invaluable expertise has had a tremendous impact on our sales program, and his roll-up-your-sleeves attitude is an absolute pleasure to work with," Melville House co-publisher Dennis Johnson said. "Melville House has had three New York Times bestsellers since he's been on-board--and that's not a coincidence. It was only natural to give him a title more fitting to his work."


Christina Loff has been promoted to senior director of marketing, adult trade, at Chronicle Books. Previously she was director of marketing, adult trade.


At Hudson's book team, a division of the sales and marketing department:

Dellarom Afzal has been promoted to buyer, responsible for buying some small publishers and university presses, buying for the vinyl records category and managing the book department's new store openings. She joined Hudson as an assistant buyer in 2016.

Rebecca Harkenrider has been promoted to buyer, responsible for book buying for some small publishers and graphic novel publishers and for managing the book department's master data and sales reporting. She joined Hudson as an intern in 2014, worked part-time in 2015, and was hired as a full-time assistant buyer in 2016.

IPG Distributing KiCam Projects

Independent Publishers Group is now distributing worldwide all print and digital titles of KiCam Projects.

Founded by Lori Highlander in 2015, KiCam Projects has been dedicated to "changing the world one great story at a time by bringing to life true stories of survival and recovery that will inspire and empower audiences."

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Martha Stewart on Dr. Oz

Dr. Oz: Martha Stewart, author of Martha Stewart's Organizing: The Manual for Bringing Order to Your Life, Home & Routines (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30, 9781328508256).

This Weekend on Book TV: Rana Foroohar on Don't Be Evil

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this weekend from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.

Saturday, January 18
3:55 p.m. Matthew Schuerman, author of Newcomers: Gentrification and Its Discontents (University of Chicago Press, $30, 9780226476261), at City Lit Books in Chicago, Ill.

7 p.m. A look back at archived footage about books by the 2020 Democratic primary candidates. (Re-airs Sunday at 1 p.m.)

10 p.m. Rana Foroohar, author of Don't Be Evil: How Big Tech Betrayed Its Founding Principles--and All of Us (Currency, $28, 9781984823984). (Re-airs Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.)

11 p.m. Charlton McIlwain, author of Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, from the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter (Oxford University Press, $24.95, 9780190863845), at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, Calif.

Sunday, January 19
1 a.m. Ganesh Sitaraman, author of The Great Democracy: How to Fix Our Politics, Unrig the Economy, and Unite America (Basic Books, $28, 9781541618114), at Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C.

8:05 p.m. Marcia Chatelain, author of Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America (Liveright, $28.95, 9781631493942).

11:15 p.m. Harvey Solomon, author of Such Splendid Prisons: Diplomatic Detainment in America during World War II (Potomac Books, $34.95, 9781640120846), at Politics and Prose.

Books & Authors

Awards: National Jewish Book Winners

The winners of the Jewish Book Council's 2019 National Jewish Book Awards have been announced. The Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award was given to Pamela S. Nadell for America's Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today (Norton). Robert Alter won the Lifetime Achievement Award for The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (Norton). Alice Hoffman won the Miller Family Book Club Award in Memory of Helen Dunn Weinstein and June Keit Miller for The World That We Know (Simon & Schuster), and Fly Already: Stories by Etgar Keret (Riverhead Books) won the JJ Greenberg Memorial Award for Fiction.

Other winners and finalists in several categories can be seen here. The winners will be honored on March 17 in New York City.

Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, January 21:

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (Flatiron, $27.99, 9781250209764) follows a Mexican bookseller fleeing north from a vengeful cartel leader.

A Long Petal of the Sea: A Novel by Isabel Allende (Ballantine, $28, 9781984820150) follows two people fleeing the Spanish Civil War.

Fight of the Century: Writers Reflect on 100 Years of Landmark ACLU Cases, edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman (Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, $27, 9781501190407) collects essays about landmark ACLU cases from major authors.

Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America's Public Schools by Diane Ravitch (Knopf, $27.95, 9780525655374) looks at efforts to stop billionaires from privatizing education.

A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump's Testing of America by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig (Penguin Press, $30, 9781984877499) chronicles the Trump presidency.

Agency by William Gibson (Berkley, $28, 9781101986936) takes place in a current and future timeline, where Earth's fate hinges on a sneaky AI assistant.

Devil Darling Spy by Matt Killeen (Viking, $19.99, 9780451479259) is the sequel to Orphan Monster Spy.

House on Fire: A Novel by Joseph Finder (Dutton, $28, 9781101985847) is a thriller about a PI working against a family-owned, opiate-producing pharmaceutical company.

The Best of Iggy by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sam Ricks (Putnam, $13.99, 9781984813305) is a new middle-grade series from the author of Ivy + Bean.

Country Strong: A Novel by Linda Lael Miller (HQN, $8.99, 9781335474599).

The Turning, based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, opens January 24. A governess looking after two orphans encounters a dark presence in a country house. A movie tie-in edition (Penguin Books, $15, 9780143135708) is available.

IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:

Twenty-one Truths About Love: A Novel by Matthew Dicks (St. Martin's Press, $26.99, 9781250103482). "Matthew Dicks returns to the page with the most phenomenally entertaining and clever novel of the year. Written entirely in the form of lists, this poignant and hilarious novel follows protagonist Daniel Mayrock as he records his hopes, failures, frustrations, and loves. The lists portray a man hurt by loss and yearning for a success to make him feel worthy of his wife's love. Daniel will make the reader fall in love with him as he exposes his foibles. Grab a Little Debbie snack cake (or four) and curl up with what is sure to be a singular sensation in the literary world." --Pamela Klinger-Horn, Excelsior Bay Books, Excelsior, Minn.

The Ship of Dreams: The Sinking of the Titanic and the End of the Edwardian Era by Gareth Russell (Atria, $30, 9781501176722). "The Ship of Dreams recounts the Titanic epic largely from the perspective of six of her first-class passengers, including the naval architect who designed the ship; a movie star; a vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad and his 17-year-old son, Isidor Strauss, who founded Macy's Department Store; and Lucy Noël Martha Leslie, the Countess of Rothes. This incisive and engrossing account of the ship's evolution and tragic loss injects an intelligent light into an event that is as much enshrouded in legend as the Titanic's remains are in the deep, dark ocean. This story is both a paean to the genius of the age that gave birth to the Titanic and a eulogy for the hubris that doomed her." --Alden Graves, Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, Vt.

The Clergyman's Wife: A Pride & Prejudice Novel by Molly Greeley (Morrow, $15.99, 9780062942913). "In Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Lucas chooses with her eyes wide open to marry Mr. Collins, the unctuous clergyman who has nothing to recommend him but the ability to provide her with a household of her own. In The Clergyman's Wife, Molly Greeley pauses to consider the backstory and consequences of this choice. This is a gentle story, notable for the author's clear, lyrical writing and consideration of the real financial challenges facing women in Jane Austen's day, as well as her empathy for the characters--especially, and perhaps surprisingly, Mr. Collins--without letting them off the hook for their moral choices. With a light touch, wisdom, and care, Greeley explores questions that provide a richer understanding of history and of our own lives." --Rebecca Mattis, Phoenix Books, Rutland, Vt.

For Ages 4 to 8
A Is for Audra: Broadway's Leading Ladies From A to Z by John Robert Allman, illustrated by Peter Emmerich (Doubleday, $18.99, 9780525645405). "I love everything about this book and so will all my MTK friends! That's showbiz-speak for 'Musical Theater Kids.' A great representation of the varied women who made (and are still making) their mark on Broadway. I love the vibrant illustrations!" --Kathleen Carey, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

For Ages 9 to 12
The Ghost in Apartment 2R by Denis Markell (Delacorte, $16.99, 9780525645719). "The Ghost in Apartment 2R confidently straddles the line between spooky and funny, spine-chilling and heart-warming. I got goosebumps! Multiple times! But they were always offset by the arrival of dawn and the charming shenanigans of Danny's parents and friends. Just as Danny's life is inextricably tied to the history of his diverse Brooklyn neighborhood--which is slowly being transformed by encroaching gentrification--the ghost's terror and trauma are tied to this earthly place. Markell writes about Brooklyn, its history, and its people with the warmth and affection only a native could achieve, while also crafting a stellar ghost story that kept me hooked from beginning to end. I can't wait to start shoving this book in readers' hands." --Abby Rauscher, Books Are Magic, Brooklyn, N.Y.

For Teen Reader
The How & the Why by Cynthia Hand (HarperTeen, $17.99, 9780062693167). "Cass McMurtrey has always known she was adopted, but upon turning 18, she wants to know who she is--not just who her adopted parents raised her to be, but her roots deep down. On a journey surrounded by her fun-loving and caring support system, Cass learns about her family's past through letters written by her biological mother. A heart-wrenching novel, The How & the Why will leave you wanting more of Cynthia Hand's talented writing." --Kelsi Roberts, Story on the Square, McDonough, Ga.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]

Book Review

Review: The Aosawa Murders

The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda, trans. by Alison Watts (Bitter Lemon Press, $14.95 paperback, 346p., 9781912242245, February 18, 2020)

What should have been a serendipitous event--a lavish birthday celebration for three generations in 1973--turns horrific, leaving 17 family and friends dead. Decades after the tragedy, The Aosawa Murders might be a closed case, but award-winning Japanese novelist Riku Onda has plenty more scintillating details to reveal. Onda's English debut is seamlessly translated by Alison Watts.

In their seaside city of K--, the Aosawas are a prominent family--professionally respected for running the town's medical clinic and personally admired because of their longstanding wealth and privilege. On that fateful birthday, a commemorative gift delivery of sake and spirits ushers in violent deaths, leaving a single Aosawa survivor. The only daughter, Hisako, was in the midst of it all, but being blind prevented her from definitively identifying any suspects. The perpetrator--although seemingly unknown and unconnected to the Aosawas--allegedly confesses before hanging himself, but his suicide never quite absolves lovely, untouchable Hisako of being somehow involved.

Eleven years later, Makiko Saiga, who was a neighborhood child when the murders occurred, publishes The Forgotten Festival. Despite its ironic title, the fictionalized adaptation--composed from extensive research on-site and delicate interviews about that grievous time--began as Makiko's university thesis and morphs into a runaway bestseller. Despite the furor the book provokes, Makiko never writes again. Two additional decades pass and, suddenly, an unnamed interviewer has started asking questions. Even after all this time, those directly--but also remotely--involved have memories to resurrect, theories to ponder, maybe even a few secrets to divulge finally.

In Rashomon-esque style, Onda judiciously presents multiple viewpoints: a transcript of a police interview with survivor Hisako; seemingly casual conversations with Makiko, her research assistant and her estranged brother; an excerpt from Makiko's too-true novel; and dialogues with the daughter of the Aosawas' late housekeeper, who was serving at the fateful fête, and the now-retired detective who substituted his chain-smoking with folding origami cranes. With sophisticated precision, Onda meticulously imparts both whodunnit and whydunnit clues throughout, adroitly manipulating readers in a cat-and-mouse game of discovering what really happened.

Originally published in 2005 as Eugenia, Aosawa is Onda's debut crime novel, for which she earned the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Fiction in 2006. As Onda joins fellow internationally acclaimed Japanese crime novelists-in-translation--like prodigious Keigo Higashino (Under the Midnight Sun), disturbing Natsuo Kirino (Real World) and riveting Kanae Minato (Penance)--the imminent success of The Aosawa Murders should inspire Stateside demand for more Onda titles. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Shelf Talker: Three decades after the gruesome murder of 17 birthday party guests, unanswered questions inspire a Rashomon-esque reveal in Riku Onda's The Aosawa Murders.

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