Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, February 12, 2020

William Morrow & Company: Polostan: Volume One of Bomb Light by Neal Stephenson

Shadow Mountain: The Legend of the Last Library by Frank L Cole

Atlantic Monthly Press: The Elements of Marie Curie: How the Glow of Radium Lit a Path for Women in Science by Dava Sobel

Ace Books: Dungeon Crawler Carl by Matt Dinniman

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: The Millicent Quibb School of Etiquette for Young Ladies of Mad Science by Kate McKinnon

Annick Press: Bog Myrtle by Sid Sharp

Minotaur Books: Betrayal at Blackthorn Park: A Mystery (Evelyne Redfern #2) by Julia Kelly


Waterstones' 2019 Results: Profit Jumps 39%

Waterstones recorded a profit of £22.7 million (about $29.7 million) in its last fiscal year, ended April 27, 2019, up 39% compared to 2018, the Bookseller reported. Managing director James Daunt said sales increased 1.8% during a "moment of extraordinary change" for the company, including the acquisition of Foyles in September 2018 and U.S. hedge fund Elliott Advisors purchase of Waterstones in April 2018.

Waterstones reported sales for the year of £392.8 million (about $513.5 million), compared to £385.7 million ($504.1 million) in 2018, "in a period of absent of significant bestselling titles," as sales on non-book items continued to grow. Four new shops opened in the period and five closed, bringing the total to 278 stores.

"It was one of those years. We had Michelle Obama and it was a pretty strong year, and then the waters parted and some of the books that might have come in--Barack Obama and Hilary Mantel--didn't and we had to rely on ourselves," Daunt said. "Sales are up in a very difficult trading environment with a lot of things going on and it's been a moment of extraordinary change, and Barnes & Noble followed shortly after. We are in the hands of a very ambitious owner who is pushing the business on and that's quite exciting."

Daunt, who is also CEO of Barnes & Noble, added that B&N "is very much back to Waterstones in 2011/2012. I'm hoping for the same recipe--devolving responsibility to local booksellers, improving the book offer and booksellers trying to get their shops right for the community."

Foyles, which operates seven bookshops in the U.K. and filed its results separately, had a pre-tax loss of £257,000 (about $335,965) as sales dipped to £22.6 million (about $29.5 million), down 13% from 2018. The retailer cited trading conditions that were "challenging due to a relative lack of good publishing during the year." The Bookseller noted that a deeper look at the "figures suggest that Foyles has moved into profit since being acquired, albeit only based on part-year accounts."

Running Press Kids: Your Magical Life: A Young Witch's Guide to Becoming Happy, Confident, and Powerful by Amanda Lovelace

Amazon Roundup: Banished Books?; First Iowa Facility; Frontline Report; New FTC Investigation

In an article headlined "In Amazon's Bookstore, No Second Chances for the Third Reich," the New York Times reported that over the past 18 months, "the retailer has removed two books by David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, as well as several titles by George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party. Amazon has also prohibited volumes like The Ruling Elite: The Zionist Seizure of World Power and A History of Central Banking and the Enslavement of Mankind."

The increasing number of banished titles "has set off concern among some of the third-party booksellers who stock Amazon's vast virtual shelves. Amazon, they said, seems to operate under vague or nonexistent rules," the Times wrote, adding that a recent removal notice the company sent to a bookseller read: "Amazon reserves the right to determine whether content provides an acceptable experience."

Declining to provide a list of prohibited books, explain how they were chosen or even discuss the topic, Amazon issued this statement: "Booksellers make decisions every day about what selection of books they choose to offer."

"I'm not going to argue for the wider distribution of Nazi material," said Danny Caine, owner of the Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kan., and author of How to Resist Amazon and Why. "But I still don't trust Amazon to be the arbiters of free speech. What if Amazon decided to pull books representing a less despicable political viewpoint? Or books critical of Amazon's practices?"

Caine was prescient. On Monday, the Raven Bookstore tweeted: "A New York Times article mentioned Raven owner @MisterCaine's HOW TO RESIST AMAZON AND WHY zine by linking to Amazon. Then the zine's page on Amazon *somehow* lost its 'Ships from and sold by Amazon' button. Here's a thread weighing what that might mean."


Amazon plans to open its first Iowa fulfillment center in Bondurant later this year. At the new 645,000-square-foot facility, "employees will work alongside Amazon robotics to pick, pack and ship small items to customers such as books, electronics and toys," the company said.

Alicia Boler Davis, Amazon's v-p of global customer fulfillment, noted that the "site will help us continue to serve customers with great delivery options and we appreciate the strong support from local and state leaders."

Calling the announcement "jet-fuel for Iowa's future," State Senator Zach Nunn (R.-Bondurant) commented: "Bondurant's partnership with Amazon's fulfillment center will spark growth for Main Street entrepreneurs, builds on Iowa's high standard of living, and will improve hometown quality of life for families across Iowa."


Next Tuesday, February 18, PBS Frontline will air the two-hour documentary Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos. Noting that Bezos "is not only one of the richest men in the world, he has built a business empire that is without precedent in the history of American capitalism," Frontline said the film explores how his "power to shape everything from the future of work to the future of commerce to the future of technology is unrivaled. As politicians and regulators around the world start to consider the global impact of Amazon--and how to rein in Bezos' power--Frontline investigates how he executed a plan to build one of the most influential economic and cultural forces in the world."


Federal regulators have "opened a new front in their investigation of big tech companies, seeking to determine whether the industry's giants acquired smaller rivals in ways that harmed competition, hurt consumers and evaded regulatory scrutiny," the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Federal Trade Commission ordered Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google owner Alphabet to provide information about their acquisitions of smaller companies during the past 10 years. Many of these acquisitions did not have to be reviewed for antitrust problems because their value was below a threshold that varies and is currently at about $94 million.

As the Journal explained, "Critics contend acquisitions by big tech firms show a pattern of establishing 'kill zones' around themselves to prevent upstart rivals from posing a competitive threat, and say this can discourage innovation and investment.

"Defenders of the tech giants say a small startup's prospect of being taken over by a major company--and the big payoff that can result--is a spur to investment and innovation. Many tech entrepreneurs start companies with the specific goal of being bought by one of the giants."

Some observers have pointed out, too, that some of the acquisitions are to buy specific technology or staff, and lately many deals are focused on artificial intelligence.

The FTC is also looking at deals that don't involve takeovers, such as minority investments, data acquisitions and licensing arrangements.

G.P. Putnam's Sons: William by Mason Coile

Phoenix's All About Books and Comics Closing

All About Books and Comics in Phoenix, Ariz., will close in April after 38 years in business. Owners Alan and Marsha Giroux have decided to retire and will close the bricks-and-mortar side of their business. 

"When we purchased our business, known as A Little Bookstore, in December of 1981, we were youngsters looking for a new venture," they wrote in a message announcing their retirement plans. "And brother, has it been an adventure for the last 38 years! Fun and rewarding, it has been a great ride, and an amazing place to raise our children, but now it is time to say goodbye to the brick and mortar side of our business."

The store will continue to carry new releases of comics, trade paperbacks and merchandise through March 25, and from now until the store's closure there will be major discounts. After April, the Girouxs will continue to sell back issues through mail order and eBay.

"We want all of you to know that this isn't a 'going out of business' scenario, but a Celebration of Retirement!" they wrote. "Comic books are still a valuable and viable entertainment form and we will miss it greatly, but as stated in the beginning of this missive, it's time."

After almost four decades in the business, they explained, they felt they needed a little less retail responsibility and more time for traveling and their new grandchild, due in June.

They added: "There will always be a comic book market, so for anyone that has always wanted to own their own comic book business, from Millennials to Generation Y'ers to Z'ers, then live your dream. Just do it."

Canadian Book Market: Audio, Physical Store Sales Up Slightly

During a year in which the Canadian book market remained largely flat overall, online sales were down slightly in 2019, from 52.5% to 51%, reported BookNet Canada, based on a survey of English-speaking adult book buyers. Sales in physical channels, meanwhile, were slightly up, from 47% to 49%. 

Audiobook sales rose from 3.6% to 5%; hardcover sales fell slightly from 25.9% to 24%; and paperbacks and e-books both held steady at 49% and 17%, respectively. BookNet Canada did note, however, that the number of audiobook sales may actually be underreported due to approximately 26% of audiobook sales coming through subscription services.

On the subject of genre, 52% of purchases were for fiction books, 35% were for nonfiction, and 13% for young adult/juvenile.

A report on sales data in 2019 will come from BookNet Canada later this winter.

Polly Powell Named CEO of Quarto UK

Polly Powell has been appointed CEO of Quarto's U.K. operations and made an executive director of the company. A former publisher at Pavilion Books, Powell joined the firm late last year as an advisor to Group CEO C.K. Lau "following a period of boardroom upheaval at the publishing house," the Bookseller reported, adding that she "had been tasked with help Lau shape the creative direction of its U.K. business."

Powell's appointment comes after the Quarto Group raised £13.9 million (about $18.2 million) in a share offer last week, the Bookseller wrote, noting that 57.4% of the shares on offer were taken up by shareholders, with the rest going to Lau and the Giunti famiy. Andrea Giunti Lombardo has been named as a non-executive director of the company.

Powell, who has more than 30 years of experience in nonfiction publishing, will continue to serve on the board of Pavilion--the company she became sole owner of in 2012.

Quarto also announced that Michael Mousley has stepped down as non-executive director of the company.


Image of the Day: Local Authors at Magers & Quinn

Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Minneapolis, Minn., hosted the launch of Minneapolis author Kathleen West's (left) debut novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes (Berkley). She appeared in conversation with fellow Twin Cities novelist Gretchen Anthony (Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners, Park Row).


Colossal Switches from Amazon to Bookshop to Support Indies

In a decision that could augur a gradual move by others away from automatically linking book titles to Amazon, Colossal, the "international platform for contemporary art and visual expression that explores a vast range of creative disciplines," has removed nearly every link to Amazon from previous posts and replaced them with links "in order to give to artists, writers and small booksellers more directly."

Colossal said that during the past decade it "has supplemented a small fraction of revenue through occasional affiliate marketing that provides us with a percentage of sales through retailers like Amazon, Etsy, and Society6." Now, however, its ongoing collection of texts in categories like photography, art and history will be featured on Bookshop. "Head to Bookshop and see what we've been paging through," Colossal advised.

Personnel Changes at Chronicle Books

Bebe Barrow has joined Chronicle Books as sales operations coordinator.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Jill Wine-Banks on Fresh Air

Fresh Air: Jill Wine-Banks, author of The Watergate Girl: My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President (Holt, $27.99, 9781250244321).


The Real: Karamo Brown, author of Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope (Gallery, $16, 9781982111984).

Movies: The French Dispatch

Searchlight Pictures has shared a first look at Wes Anderson's upcoming film The French Dispatch, "about the doings of a fictional weekly magazine that looks an awful lot like--and was, in fact, inspired by--the New Yorker," which featured several photos (some also appearing on IndieWire) from the highly anticipated movie.

The editor and writers, as well as the stories it publishes--three of which are dramatized in the film--are also loosely inspired by the real magazine. Not coincidentally, Anderson "has been a New Yorker devotee since he was a teenager, and has even amassed a vast collection of bound volumes of the magazine, going back to the 1940s."

The cast includes Bill Murray as Arthur Howitzer, Jr., the French Dispatch's editor (inspired by Harold Ross), Owen Wilson as Herbsaint Sazerac, "a writer whose low-life beat mirrors Joseph Mitchell’s," Elisabeth Moss, Tilda Swinton, Fisher Stevens, Griffin Dunne, Adrien Brody, Lois Smith, Henry Winkler and Bob Balaban.

The movie's New Yorker cartoon-inspired first poster "is like a Where's Wally for the American filmmaker's most reliable contributors," Yahoo noted, adding that other cast members highlighted on the poster include Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Benicio Del Toro, Léa Seydoux, Lyna Khoudri, Stephen Park and Mathieu Amalric. The French Dispatch hits theaters July 24.

Books & Authors

Awards: Reed Environmental Writing Winners

Margaret Renkl's Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss (Milkweed Editions) was the book category winner of the 2020 Phillip D. Reed Environmental Writing Awards, presented by the Southern Environmental Law Center. In the journalism category, Megan Mayhew Bergman was recognized for "Climate Changed," a series on southern attitudes toward climate change published by the Guardian. The winners will be honored during the Virginia Festival of the Book in March.

Reading with... Elena Favilli

photo: Colin Young-Wolff

Elena Favilli is the co-founder and CEO of Rebel Girls, which works to empower girls and women all over the world. She has worked for Colors magazine, McSweeney's, RAI, Il Post and La Repubblica, and managed digital newsrooms on both sides of the Atlantic. Favilli co-wrote, with Francesca Cavallo, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, which broke fund-raising records on Kickstarter. Ada Lovelace Cracks the Code and Madam C.J. Walker Builds a Business are now available from Rebel Girls. Favilli lives in Los Angeles with her dog Lafayette, a Bracco Italiano.

On your nightstand now:

I'm quickly making my way through Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, recommended to me by multiple people. There's something very comforting about considering human evolution before sleeping. And Harari does a wonderful job explaining complex subjects--it truly reads like fiction.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Growing up in Tuscany, I read The Adventures of Pinocchio all the time. In fact, the author, Carlo Collodi, is originally from the same region. I was the only child in the small village I grew up in, so I relied on books to guide my adventures.

Your top five authors:

Cesare Pavese, a pillar of Italian contemporary culture. Joan Didion, because her writing made me more American and more adult. J.K. Rowling, for capturing the original magic of classic fairytales. Jane Austen for being a Rebel Girl and leader in female independence. And, lastly, Toni Morrison. I can hardly think of something more powerful than her writing.

Book you've faked reading:

À la Recherche du Temps Perdu by Marcel Proust. I've been told time and time again that it's a masterpiece, but it's a difficult, unsettling read. Perhaps one day I will conquer it!

Book you're an evangelist for:

Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, which pays homage to the natural, fierce, good forces that women hold. Reading this book, I was reminded of all the reasons I wrote Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls in the first place. It's a reminder of what it means to be a woman, how animalistic we once were, that society has slowly but surely redefined womanhood. I wrote Rebel Girls to encourage girls to explore wildly. Estés echoes this same thought.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I bought Turtles All the Way Down by John Green solely for the cover. It's loud and the script is bold, but it's also ambiguous. Looking at it had me both transfixed and perplexed. Turns out there weren't any turtles involved!

Book you hid from your parents:

Stalking the Soul by Marie-France Hirigoyen. Hirigoyen explores emotional abuse and comes to determine that it is pervasive through most families and marriages. It's a personal, emotional read, and I preferred my parents didn't find me reading it.

Book that changed your life:

The Odyssey by Homer, because it's a pillar of Western society and explores archetypes that our culture continues to analyze by way of art. One could easily argue that all storytelling can be traced back to elements in The Odyssey. For writers homing in on their narrative, it's crucial.

Favorite line from a book:

"I am living at the Villa Borghese. There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, nor a chair misplaced. We are all alone here and we are dead." --from The Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

Five books you'll never part with:

Moral Letters to Lucilius by Lucio Anneo Seneca; Walden by Henry David Thoreau; The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud; The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri; and Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto.

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

I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed) by Alessandro Manzoni, another piece of classic Italian literature. The first time I read it, I remember becoming completely entranced by the story. The themes it questions, love and power are the basis on which humanity sits. I was left contemplating these subjects months after reading.

Book Review

YA Review: Mermaid Moon

Mermaid Moon by Susann Cokal (Candlewick Press, $22.99 hardcover, 496p., ages 14-up, 9781536209594, March 3, 2020)

In her version of "The Little Mermaid," Susann Cokal uses lush, lyrical writing and multiple perspectives to tell a lasting story of darkness and beauty.

Sanna always knew she was different from the rest of her "seavish" people, the "marreminde"--her "motherline was a bound secret" because "the witch of [her] flok worked a magic of forgetting" on the night Sanna was born. It wasn't until age 14 that she learned her mother was "landish" and not marreminde at all. Sanna then began to apprentice with the witch Sjældent to learn magic that would allow her to walk on land and find her mother.  

Now 16 and finally ready to embark on her quest, Sanna arrives at Baroness Thyrla's castle on the Thirty-Seven Dark Islands, where Sjældent said she'd find a woman who could help her. Sanna makes quite the entrance, tumbling into a wall of white roses; the thorns prick her, spilling her blood and releasing the magic within, permanently dyeing the petals red. The desperate townspeople think it's a miracle, but Sanna knows it was "merely an accident, a misstep from legs not used to... being legs." The baroness, who is able to harvest the lives of people weaker than her to grow stronger and live longer, is intrigued (and threatened) by Sanna's power. She demands that Sanna do a spell so she can evaluate the strength of her magic. Satisfied with Sanna's skills, the baroness betroths her 17-year-old son, Peder, to Sanna, as no life harvest brings greater yield than a child whose parents are a witch and a son of a witch. The strength of Peder and Sanna's future child could make the baroness "the most powerful witch of all time." Stuck in this unfamiliar place with foreign people, Sanna must overcome the baroness's trickery before she's trapped forever.

In Mermaid Moon, Susann Cokal (The Kingdom of Little Wounds) takes her time unveiling Sanna's story, revealing details and background information in a nonlinear fashion, then backtracking in subsequent chapters to fill in the blanks. For example, Sanna's arrival on land, the miracle and her betrothal all take place before readers have a full understanding of what she's doing on the island and, more importantly, why it matters that she find her mother. Cokal uses several perspectives, including Sanna's, the baroness's, members of Sanna's flok and various villagers, to deliver these moments. This variety gives breadth to her storytelling and allows for discussions of faith, beauty and feminism to emerge naturally. Cokal's descriptive language further enhances the story: "the tide of red washes through the flowers of the ancient vine that has suckled on the courtyard stone"; "it gleams... like the shimmer inside a new-opened shell or the light on the sea during a good dawn." Mermaid Moon is a beautifully told, immersive story that layers fairy-tale elements with more modern themes, allowing for a different experience with every reread. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Shelf Talker: In this YA interpretation of a classic fairy tale, a mermaid leaves her matriarchal society to find her landish mother and gets caught in the crosshairs of a powerful, immortality-obsessed baroness.

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