Shelf Awareness for Thursday, October 1, 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


Powell's Books Names New CEO

Patrick Bassett

Powell's Books, Portland, Ore., has hired as its new CEO Patrick Bassett, a "veteran business consultant" who has been working as an adviser to Powell's for several months, the Oregonian reported. A Portland native and graduate of the University of Oregon, Bassett was a finance executive and business consultant in Boston beginning in 2010, then moved back to Oregon last year.

Bassett told the newspaper that Powell's must accept that it will be dealing with the pandemic indefinitely. "I don't think we're in crisis anymore," he explained. "I think this is the new normal, the new reality. We're going to be in this environment for an extended period of time. So if we're managing it like we're in a crisis, we're going to exhaust ourselves and burn out."

After shutting its stores in March, Powell's has fully reopened only one location--in Beaverton. The flagship store downtown opened partially and the Southeast Hawthorne store is closed. In July, Powell's permanently closed its store at Portland's airport.

Powell's owner Emily Powell, who had been CEO and continues as president, said she hopes to have all three stores open in time for the holiday season, but with many safety limitations. "I don't know when we're coming out of it," she said. "I don't exactly know how. We're going to feel our way through the trees and find our way out."

One of the store's priorities is focusing on improving its long-popular website, which is all the more important as an increasing amount of books sales are made online during the pandemic. "If we don't have a compelling website, we won't exist in five more years," Powell said. "That's just the reality of the world we live in."

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

Fla.'s Writer's Block Bookstore Opening Second Location

Writer's Block in Winter Park

Writer's Block Bookstore, Winter Park, Fla., plans to open a second location, in downtown Winter Garden, November 1, the Orange Observer reported.

The Winter Garden City Commission has approved "a targeted retail grant for $50,000--$25,000 from the city and $25,000 from the Community Redevelopment Agency--to assist with interior alterations and buildout costs associated with getting the space ready to open in the fall."

City Manager Mike Bollhoefer said he initially resisted the grant, because it is something the city had not done before, but warmed up to the idea and described bookstores as "anchorettes," the paper wrote, noting their importance to a downtown area.

Writer's Block owner Lauren Zimmerman told the newspaper that because bookstores succeed by becoming a destination, "areas with walkable shopping and restaurants--much like downtown Winter Garden and Winter Park--are good locations for independent bookstores."

Zimmerman added, "You just get really creative about having community engagement. We're going to be trying to bring authors in, which will be really exciting. We're doing really well with our author events....

"Independent bookstores curate a different selection than most big-box stores. We work strongly with publishers on selecting--literally hand-picking--every book that's in there. Every big box has the next John Green book, but we get to know the community, what they're reading and what they like buying."

Zimmerman opened Writer's Block in 2014.

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

That Bookstore in Wethersfield, Conn., Closing

That Book Store in Wethersfield, Conn., which opened in 2018, is closing permanently, the Hartford Courant reported. Owner Karen Opper said that the decision came from being unable to serve wine, beer and hard cider "to shoppers and groups that used the venue for events," the newspaper wrote. "If I would have been able to sell alcohol, I would not be closing," she said.

When the store closed to the public because of the pandemic, it offered curbside service and a delivery option for books. Opper was able to reopen the doors in May, and business was "pretty good," she said, slipping in mid-summer but picking up again in September.

However, as she told the Courant, "I was counting on the governor to open Phase 3," when bars could reopen. (Because That Book Store doesn't serve food, it's considered a bar.) Phase 3 is coming next week, but bars will continue to remain closed because they've been a hot spot for spreading the coronavirus.

She considered adding food, she said, but the costs--including an upgraded state license--were too much.

The newspaper wrote that Opper said "she will miss many things about the bookstore, from the joy she saw on kids' faces when the latest Dog Man book came out to getting her mother to become a regular reader and meeting her favorite authors at book signings." She added: "I'm a huge book nerd and they're like my superstars."

Wiley's Brian Napack New AAP Chairman

Brian Napack

The board of directors of the Association of American Publishers has elected Brian Napack, president and CEO of John Wiley & Sons, as chairman. He replaces John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan Publishers, who resigned as AAP chairman on September 17, when it was announced he would be leaving Macmillan. Napack has been on the AAP board since 2017, and has been vice chairman since the beginning of the year.

AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante called Napack "a forward-thinking publishing executive, running an American success story that is more than 200 years old. His vision, experience, and skill will be invaluable to AAP as we carry on the important work of advancing authorship, science, and education, and as we advocate for the copyright and free expression protections that are essential to the global publishing industry."

Napack added: "A vibrant, independent publishing industry is simply essential to the health of our nation, and to the advancement of society worldwide. This is as true today as it was when Wiley was founded in 1807. I am very proud to have the opportunity to help AAP pursue its critical mission, one that enables creative expression, knowledge creation and impactful education."

In other recent changes at the AAP, incoming Macmillan CEO Don Weisberg has joined the board for Macmillan Publishers. Jonathan Karp, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, has replaced Carolyn Reidy, following her death in May. And Julia Reidhead, chairman and president of Norton, has joined the board after being voted into an at-large seat by AAP's membership in June.

Kevin Young to Head Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History & Culture

Kevin Young

Kevin Young, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City, will become the new director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., effective Jan. 11, 2021. He succeeds the founding director, Lonnie G. Bunch III, who is now the Secretary of the Smithsonian.

Young has written 11 books of poetry, two works of nonfiction and is the editor of 10 other works, including the upcoming African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song. He has been the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research division of the New York Public Library, since 2016 and is also currently the poetry editor at the New Yorker magazine.

"Kevin will bring an exciting mix of scholarship, technological savvy and bold vision that builds on the foundational work of the many people who built the museum," Bunch said. "As a poet, he understands how the museum fulfilled the dreams of many Americans, and under his leadership the museum will shape the hopes of future generations."

Young said he looks forward to directing the museum "in this next phase of leadership, after its founding, opening and dynamic exhibitions and events. Having visited the museum myself with my family, I know what a powerful place it is, transforming visitors both in-person and online, and revealing the centrality of African American culture to the American experience. I am eager to engage further directions in the museum's mission, embracing our digital present and future while furthering conversations around Black history, art, liberation and joy."

Ken Chenault, chair of the museum's council, added: "At this moment in our nation's history, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is exactly what America needs. Since opening, the museum has been a place for people to come together, find inspiration and foster reconciliation. Kevin's reputation as an innovative leader makes him the ideal person to lead the museum into its next chapter and help us grapple with our racial history."

How Bookstores Are Coping: Daily Book Recommendations; Making up Ground

In St. Francesville, La., Conundrum Books & Puzzles has fully reopened for walk-in traffic. Owner Missy Couhig reported that there is hand sanitizer available both right outside and directly inside of the front door, and customers are asked to clean their hands before entering and to wear masks while they are in the store.

The vast majority of customers have worn masks, as it is mandated by the state, but there was one person who claimed they could not use hand sanitizer and left. Couhig has also noticed that while most everyone is wearing masks, not everyone is wearing them correctly. Some people leave their noses exposed, others pull the mask up when entering and then let it slide down while browsing and or put it on only while talking.

Couhig and her team have not resumed doing events yet, though technically she could start hosting small gatherings per the state's reopening guidelines. Couhig explained that at this point, she's simply not sure how many people would come and if authors would be interested.

At Conundrum, bookstore dog Lady is ready to greet customers.

The real change for the store, she continued, is that tourism has come to a complete halt. St. Francesville is on the Mississippi River, and usually riverboat tourism brings plenty of visitors every summer. Before the pandemic, 127 boats were scheduled to dock in St. Francesville between April 1 and the end of the year. So far, none of those boats have come and only five docking days remain scheduled until 2021.

Between the lack of tourism and cancelled events, including literary festivals, gardening festivals and Christmas marketplaces, store sales are down by about 20%. Couhig credited the fact that they aren't down even further to how quickly she and her team pivoted to online sales. Before the state officially locked down, she was already posting book recommendations each day. This helped ensure pick-up and shipping sales during the lockdown and has widened the store's social media following. Couhig added that because she's sourcing books for those daily recommendations (she's nearly at day 200 now), the store is much better stocked than it normally would be at this time of year.

Couhig noted that just a week before the state shutdown, a large order of puzzles arrived that would normally have lasted at least four or five months. The store sold out of that order in just 10 days.


Jill Miner, owner of Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, Mich., reported that her store reopened for browsing on June 15, with a limit of six customers at one time. Masks are required and there are hand sanitizer stations at each of the store's three entrances. There are wood-framed plexiglass barriers at each cash wrap, and before reopening in June, Miner and her team cleaned and sanitized the shop from "top to bottom." Every Wednesday morning the store is reserved for the elderly and other at-risk groups until noon, and the store is still offering curbside pick-up. 

Miner said that for the most part, everyone has been appreciative of the store's efforts to keep staff and customers safe, and many people have gone out of their way to thank them. There have been a few disgruntled anti-maskers, however, and she noted that the store is connected to a coffee shop that doesn't require masks. There have been people who try to enter the bookstore through the coffee shop without a mask on, and need to be reminded to put on their mask. Masks are provided to those who haven't brought their own.

Saturn's political books display: "Buy the one you came in for, get the opposing viewpoint half off."

When people have given her team grief, Miner continued, staff members try to explain patiently that books are still available to pick up curbside, or can be delivered to customers' homes via web order. One "memorable gentleman," Miner recalled, picked up a hand sanitizer bottle after being asked to spritz his hands and sprayed his underarms, before finishing with a "rude gesture" to staff. Remarked Miner: "We rather hope that never comes out of his shirt."

Sales have been down about 14.5% since March 23, when the store originally shut down. Since the store reopened on June 15, however, sales have been down 9.6%, Miner said, "so we've made up a little ground." The brightest spot was how quickly customers transitioned to placing orders through the store's website once Saturn Booksellers closed for browsing.

Grants from the Book Industry Charitable Foundation and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, along with a PPP loan, have helped Miner retain her whole staff and restock her store over the last several months. She has been trying to keep expenses in check with streamlined hours, more online marketing, smarter buys and prompter returns, and so far she's been able to reward her employees for their hard work and adaptability with raises and a bonus as sales began to pick up.

On the subject of the protests that began nationwide in response to the murder of George Floyd, Miner said she's been pleasantly surprised by how well the titles in the store's various Black Lives Matter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and political displays have sold, given that the area is "overwhelmingly conservative." --Alex Mutter

Amazon's Rescheduled Prime Day Set for Mid-October

Amazon's Prime Day has been scheduled for October 13-14. The annual shopping promotion, usually held in July, was postponed this year because of increased demands Covid-19 put on the company’s warehouses due to a surge in panic-buying.

Announcing the new dates, Amazon attempted to frame Prime Day as a boost for small businesses--at least those with a direct connection to the online retailer--that were hit hard by the novel coronavirus. "Amazon is increasing its commitment to small business selling partners by designing Prime Day to support them with our biggest small business promotion yet," the company said, adding that it would spend "more than $100 million on new promotional activities to help small businesses around the world increase their sales and reach new customers. This has been a challenging year for many small businesses, and selling in Amazon's stores has enabled hundreds of thousands of smaller companies to sustain and even grow their sales despite the Covid-19 crisis and beyond."

Jeff Wilke, Amazon CEO of worldwide consumer, commented: "In the midst of an unprecedented year, we're committed to making this the most successful Prime Day ever for our small businesses and excited for Prime members worldwide to discover new ways to support local entrepreneurs and save big on everything they need and love."


Bookshop Santa Cruz: 'Who Do We Love? Our Publishing Partners!'

"Who do we love? Our publishing partners!" Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, Calif., posted on Facebook, noting: "One of Bookshop's favorite publishers, Simon & Schuster, donated over 200 books to give to children who lost their homes in the fires as part of our Keep Kids Reading Fire Relief Fund. They include Keepers of the Lost Cities, Olivia, Spy School, You Matter, The Big Umbrella, Look Both Ways, Angelina Ballerina, Henry Heckelbeck and Dork Diaries. We will be distributing these to our school partners to give to the children directly. Thank you Simon & Schuster for helping our community!"

Chicago Distribution Center Adds/Expands Services for Five Publishers

The University of Chicago Press and the Chicago Distribution Center have added and expanded services for a variety of publishers:

Two presses have shifted from CDC distribution-only clients to combined distribution and marketing services, effective July 1:

The Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (ACMRS) Press, which is the publications division of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Arizona State University in Tempe. Its mission is to publish, disseminate, and promote the most forward-looking, vanguard research in medieval and renaissance studies.

Hong Kong University Press, which was established in 1956 as part of one of Asia's most prominent English-speaking universities. Its list builds on its position in Asia, and works published by the Press examine, critique, and celebrate Asia's place in the world.

In addition, three presses have joined as distribution and marketing client publishers:

Koç University Press, which was founded in 2010 and aims to fill the gaps in academic publishing in Turkey and the intellectual world at large. Its list includes series on the geography of the Middle East, finance and economics, Turkish fiction, and books for the general reader in science and the humanities.

Iter, meaning journey or path in Latin, is a not-for-profit partnership dedicated to the advancement of learning in the study and teaching of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (400-1700) through the development and distribution of publication resources.

EPFL Press (formerly PPUR), is located at the Federal Polytechnic of Lausanne, Switzerland, and promotes the teaching and research of the university while publishing reliable, high-quality scientific and educational works.

Chicago will represent ACMRS and Iter books throughout the world; Hong Kong University Press in North America; Koç University Press throughout the world, except Turkey; and EPFL throughout the world, except Switzerland.

Personnel Changes at HarperCollins; Little, Brown

At HarperCollins Christian Publishing and HarperCollins Focus, Tom Knight is retiring as senior v-p of sales at the end of the year and will be succeeded by Dan Van Gorp, currently director of independent retail sales.

Van Gorp began his career with Zondervan in 2003 as an account executive and was promoted to manager of independent retail sales for HCCP when the company integrated with Thomas Nelson in 2012.


Christie Michel has been promoted to school & library marketing manager at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. She was formerly school & library marketing coordinator.

Media and Movies

This Weekend on Book TV: Jane Fonda and Erin Brockovich

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, October 3
2:45 p.m. W. Joseph Campbell, author of Lost in a Gallup: Polling Failure in U.S. Presidential Elections (University of California Press, $29.95, 9780520300965).

3:45 p.m. Jennet Conant, author of The Great Secret: The Classified World War II Disaster that Launched the War on Cancer (Norton, $27.95, 9781324002505). (Re-airs Sunday at 9:05 a.m.)

4:50 p.m. Stephen Farnsworth, co-author of Late Night with Trump: Political Humor and the American Presidency (Routledge, $29.95, 9781138370654). (Re-airs Monday at 4 a.m.)

5:55 p.m. William Howell and Terry Moe, authors of Presidents, Populism, and the Crisis of Democracy (University of Chicago Press, $18, 9780226763170), at Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago, Ill.

7 p.m. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings discusses We're Better Than This: My Fight for the Future of Our Democracy by Elijah Cummings and James Dale (Harper, $28.99, 9780062992260), at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C. (Re-airs Sunday at 10:10 a.m.)

8 p.m. P.J. O'Rourke, author of A Cry from the Far Middle: Dispatches from a Divided Land (Atlantic Monthly Press, $26, 9780802157737). (Re-airs Sunday at 4 p.m.)

9 p.m. Jane Fonda, author of What Can I Do?: My Path from Climate Despair to Action (Penguin Press, $30, 9780593296226), at Politics and Prose. (Re-airs Monday at 1 a.m.)

11 p.m. Erin Brockovich, author of Superman's Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It (Pantheon, $28.95, 9781524746964).

Sunday, October 4
1:05 a.m. Mychal Denzel Smith, author of Stakes Is High: Life After the American Dream (Bold Type Books, $26, 9781568588735).

12 p.m. In-Depth q&a with Jill Lepore, author of If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future (Liveright, $28.95, 9781631496103). (Re-airs Sunday at 10 p.m.)

5 p.m. Jonathan Sacks, author of Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times (Basic Books, $30, 9781541675315), at Malaprops Bookstore and Cafe in Asheville, N.C. (Re-airs Monday at 6 a.m.)

6 p.m. Sarah Chayes, author of On Corruption in America: And What Is at Stake (Knopf, $28.95, 9780525654858), at Magic City Books in Tulsa, Okla.

8 p.m. Carl Hoffman, author of Liar's Circus: A Strange and Terrifying Journey Into the Upside-Down World of Trump's MAGA Rallies (Custom House, $26.99, 9780063009769).

Books & Authors

Awards: Hilary Weston Nonfiction Finalists; William Mills Winner

The Writers' Trust of Canada has announced finalists for this year's C$60,000 (about US$44,860) Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction, which honors works published in Canada that demonstrate "a distinctive voice, as well as a persuasive and compelling command of tone, narrative, style and technique." Each finalist receives C$5,000 (about US$3,740). The winner will be named November 18 in a digital presentation to be hosted on the Writers' Trust's website. This year's shortlisted titles are:

Through the Garden: A Love Story (with Cats) by Lorna Crozier
Reaching Mithymna: Among the Volunteers and Refugees on Lesvos by Steven Heighton
Two Trees Make a Forest: Travels Among Taiwan's Mountains & Coasts in Search of My Family's Past by Jessica J. Lee
Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging by Tessa McWatt 
The Way Home by David A. Neel


Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait by Bathsheba Demuth (Norton) has won the 2020 William Mills Prize for Non-Fiction Polar Books, sponsored by the Polar Libraries Colloquy.

Honorary Mentions:
White Fox and Icy Seas in the Western Arctic: The Fur Trade, Transportation, and Change in the Early Twentieth Century by John Bockstoce (Yale University Press)
Adventures in Polar Reading: The Book Cultures of High Latitudes by David H. Stam, with the Assistance of Deirdre C. Stam (The Grolier Club).

Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, October 6:

Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld (Simon & Schuster, $35, 9781982112691) contains five decades of comedy material.

Trust: America's Best Chance by Pete Buttigieg (Liveright, $23.95, 9781631498770) prescribes trust as the solution to America's problems.

Be Antiracist: A Journal for Awareness, Reflection, and Action by Ibram X. Kendi (One World, $15.99, 9780593233009) is a guided journal about combating racism.

Undaunted: My Fight Against America's Enemies, At Home and Abroad by John O. Brennan (Celadon Books, $30, 9781250241771) is the memoir of the former CIA director.

Eleanor by David Michaelis (Simon & Schuster, $35, 9781439192016) is a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt.

What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era by Carlos Lozada (Simon & Schuster, $28, 9781982145620) is a book critic's study of books about Trump.

The Ministry for the Future: A Novel by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit, $28, 9780316300131) posits a possible future for an Earth unsettled by climate change.

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman (Simon & Schuster, $27.99, 9781982108847) is the prequel to Practical Magic.

The Searcher: A Novel by Tana French (Viking, $27, 9780735224650) is a thriller about a cop retiring to a small Irish town.

Pale Morning Light with Violet Swan: A Novel of a Life in Art by Deborah Reed (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $15.99, 9780544817364) unravels the life of an elderly abstract painter.

The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30, 9780358126607) is based on the architecture podcast 99% Invisible.

Becoming Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander, illus. by Dawud Anyabwile (Little, Brown/Patterson and HMH, $16.99, 9780316498166), is a middle-grade author and publisher collaborative novelization of Muhammad Ali's childhood. (October 5.)

The Mirror: Broken Wish by Julie C. Dao (Disney-Hyperion, $18.99, 9781368046381) is the first book in a four-part YA fantasy series that follows one family over many generations and is written by four different authors.

The Tower of Nero by Rick Riordan (Disney-Hyperion, $19.99, 9781484746455) is the fifth and final book in the Trials of Apollo series.

Spoiler Alert: A Novel by Olivia Dade (Avon, $15.99, 9780063005549).

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:

Winter Counts: A Novel by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Ecco, $27.99, 9780062968944). "Weiden's book is a thriller with an important social and political message. Following a Lakota 'enforcer' who enacts extrajudicial punishment to fill the gaps in the legal system, Winter Counts is a twisty new addition to the growing Indigenous literature canon. While some of the action may fall into somewhat predictable territory, Weiden's exploration of the injustices of reservation life are vital." --Ashley Baeckmann, Briars & Brambles Books, Windham, N.Y.

World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, illus. by Fumi Nakamura (Milkweed Editions, $25, 9781571313652). "Aimee didn't know it at the time (or maybe she did in her mystical way), but this book was written for me and all the other brown-skinned, nature-loving, quiet-questers in the world. This beautiful package asks the reader to pick it up and go for a walk down memory lane, where you will find essays on a diversity of flora and fauna, from the dragon fruit to the narwhal, and from the corpse flower to the axolotl--all of which are gorgeously illustrated inside. Her writing asks everyone to find beauty and connection to the wonders that are nature's stories." --Jessica Palacios, Once Upon a Time, Montrose, Calif.

A Madness of Sunshine: A Novel by Nalini Singh (Berkley, $9.99, 9780593099094). "Singh brings us into the wild side of New Zealand, to a tiny village where the new cop knows everybody by name and really cares about protecting them. Maya has returned to find her old school friends greatly changed--and one may be a serial killer. This thriller is compelling; the characters are fresh and exciting but realistic. The tension builds with every page turned, right up to the finale--wow!" --Karen Bakshoian, Letterpress Books, Portland, Me.

For Ages 4 to 8
Fern and Otto: A Story About Two Best Friends by Stephanie Graegin (Schwartz & Wade, $17.99, 9780593121306). "Fern and Otto is a beautiful celebration of discovery, adventure, and friendship. It is a charming reminder that all of life's experiences are more exciting when shared with friends! A sweet story that will resonate with kids of all ages." --Anderson McKean, Page and Palette, Fairhope, Ala.

For Ages 9 to 12
One Time by Sharon Creech (HarperCollins, $16.99, 9780062570741). "This is a truly beautiful story. The writing is like colors painting pictures of Gina's life in my mind and I love it. One Time is a story about imagination, childhood, friendship, growing up, and still being a child inside. The characters are wonderful, and the story is heartwarming and relatable to anyone who has ever felt like the odd one out. Everyone should read this book." --Marielle Orff, Towne Book Center and Wine Bar, Collegeville, Pa.

For Teen Readers
Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera (Bloomsbury YA, $18.99, 9781547603732). "In this fresh remix, Lilliam Rivera deftly combines original details with contemporary Afro-Latinx life in the Bronx, from the flirty bounce of bachata to the weight of Hurricane Maria and its impact on island communities and diaspora. I love how this character-driven romance humanizes Pheus and Eury--they are accessible, complex teens distinctly of our time who face an ancient and destructive threat with equal parts assuredness and fearful trepidation. A satisfyingly feminist ending rounds out this myth retextured for our modern moment. Immersive and intense, Never Look Back will make you want Rivera to retell all of your favorite classics." --Niki Marion, Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, Wash.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]

Book Review

Review: Plain Bad Heroines

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth, illus. by Sara Lautman (Morrow, $27.99 hardcover, 640p., 9780062942852, October 20, 2020)

In her adult horror debut, Emily M. Danforth (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) offers an indulgent greenhouse of grotesqueries shadowed by gothic elements and pepped up with metafiction and mystery. Traveling from past to present and boarding house to Hollywood, the story is illustrated with deliciously unsettling black-and-white line drawings by cartoonist Sara Lautman, whose work has appeared in the New Yorker and the New York Times.

In 1902, at Brookhants School for Girls in Rhode Island, student Clara Broward falls into a vast subterranean nest of eastern yellow jackets while fleeing from her cousin and toward her sweetheart Flo Hartshorn. The insects sting both girls to death. Their deaths mark the beginning of a disastrous time for Brookhants, as a malignant force, tied to a red-bound book, targets students and tears at the already strained bond between principal Libbie Brookhants and her life partner, Alexandra "Alex" Trills. 

In the present day, Brookhants is known as one of the U.S.'s most haunted sites. High-profile horror film The Happenings at Brookhants is set to begin production at the old school, starring current it-girl "Harper Harper--indie-film-darling turned celesbian-megastar-influencer" and "even more normcore Anna Kendrick" Audrey Wells. Merritt Emmons, the "rapidly aging wunderkind writer" of the film's source material, is invited to join the preproduction team. Sparks of romance and conflict fly among the three 20-somethings right away, their chemistry intense and volatile. Each woman has her own dreams and her own agenda. Strange occurrences befall each of them, and the buzzing of yellow jackets follows them to Brookhants, where a labyrinth of suspicion, betrayal and malevolence awaits.

Danforth delivers her narrative in an urbane, droll voice akin to a Victorian novelist writing for BuzzFeed. Her diverse, largely gay and lesbian cast takes a large, glorious step forward for LGBTQ representation in the horror genre. The plot acknowledges early 20th-century constraints on American women; Brookhants may be "Planet Lady Love," but the outside world is not. Danforth thoughtfully shows the façade even a wealthy lesbian couple had to keep up during the Victorian period in the U.S., then dives headlong into the complications of 21st-century dating with authority. The relentless, multilayered curse lends psychological and body horror elements, but the brooding atmosphere and careful characterization make Plain Bad Heroines an easily cultivated obsession.

Reader, devour it. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Shelf Talker: In Danforth's chilling adult debut, a curse that destroyed a boarding school over a century ago returns to bedevil three young women involved in a movie about the school's haunted history.

Powered by: Xtenit