Shelf Awareness for Monday, December 7, 2020

S&S / Marysue Rucci Books: The Night We Lost Him by Laura Dave

Wednesday Books: When Haru Was Here by Dustin Thao

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

Tor Nightfire: Devils Kill Devils by Johnny Compton

Shadow Mountain: Highcliffe House (Proper Romance Regency) by Megan Walker


Wall Street Journal on B&N's Turnaround Strategies, Staff Cuts

James Daunt

A Wall Street Journal article, "Barnes & Noble's New Boss Tries to Save the Chain--and Traditional Bookselling," profiles CEO James Daunt and outlines some of his strategies for revamping B&N, including empowering store managers to make more buying decisions, particularly on reorders; having more faceouts; installing small round tables in the fronts of stores in place of large square or rectangular tables--and cutting a lot of staff.

Concerning the buying changes, Daunt said, "As you let the stores diverge, a quarter will be brilliant and a quarter will be absolutely terrible. A significant number of your stores will become worse, not better. Then you teach and encourage them and, in time, everybody becomes better."

About the layoffs, the Journal said that B&N "in recent months laid off about 5,000 employees, the majority of whom worked part time," and now employs "about 16,500 people, down from 24,000 in April 2019," four months before Daunt became CEO following Elliott Management's purchase of the company. The cuts include "about half of its corporate staff in New York, or roughly 125 people," among them "10 of the chain's 25 corporate buyers.... He also laid off about a third of those who oversaw groups of regional stores and replaced them with more locally based staffers who look after just a handful of stores."

If December sales are strong, B&N sales for 2020 will be down about 20% compared to 2019. Daunt added: "As long as the pandemic doesn't do something completely horrendous to us, we will be profitable."

BINC: Do Good All Year - Click to Donate!

Community Rallies Around N.J. Bookstore After Racist Threats

Since opening the Little Boho Bookshop in Bayonne, N.J., three years ago, owner Sandra Dear, who is Black, has received threatening racist e-mails, letters and phone calls that escalated last month. She contacted the police, who have made an arrest, NBC News reported. The incidents also resulted in a groundswell of support for Dear and her bookstore.

Dear recounted on social media that the first of the notes arrived the day after she opened the store on August 1, 2017, saying, "Get out, we do not want your kind here." Similar messages arrived in the years since, but on November 20, e-mails with racial slurs began arriving 15 minutes apart and were followed by a phone call to the store that threatened her life.

"Shaken, I contacted the authorities, who responded swiftly, assuring me that the matter would be given the utmost attention, and that all steps would be taken to ensure that no harm came to me," Dear recalled.

The next day, after Bayonne police launched an investigation and increased patrols in the area, NBC News said, "several officers on post at the bookshop were approached by a man they would later identify as Qiuewn Zheng, 59. He uttered the same words that were in the e-mails sent to the bookshop, police said. Zheng was arrested and charged with bias intimidation, cyber-harassment and making terroristic threats and is being held without bail at Hudson County Correctional Center."

The day after the arrest, Dear outlined online what had happened, adding, "Last night, a tear finally escaped, but this incident will not change me."

The community responded on Small Business Saturday with what Dear said was the message that "love overcomes hate." They bought online and they came from near and far, standing in long lines in the cold because of Covid-19 limitations on the number of customers who could be in the store. The result was the single largest day of sales the Little Boho Bookshop has ever had, and a day that Dear said she will never forget. Afterward, Dear wrote to customers, "Please know that I saw you, I heard you, was completely moved by you, but mostly I thank you for seeing me."

Dear told NBC News she won't allow the incident last month to distract her from her focus: promoting childhood literacy. She added: "We are all going to go through difficult things. And you can do one of two things: You can cower from it or you can walk through it and learn from it. And this has been a teachable moment."

GLOW: Workman Publishing: Atlas Obscura: Wild Life: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Living Wonders by Cara Giaimo, Joshua Foer, and Atlas Obscura

How Bookstores Are Coping: Busy Start to the Holidays; Hybrid Events

Susanne Blumer, owner of Sassafras on Sutton in Black Mountain, N.C., reported that North Carolina's statewide mandates have "definitely become more strict as time has gone on." At present there is a statewide mask mandate and tight capacity restrictions, with Blumer noting that things continue to get more stringent "every few weeks." Covid cases are still rising across the state, and Blumer said she hopes North Carolina doesn't move back into Phase 1 during the holidays.

The store's espresso cafe is not open, and all indoor seating has been removed. Traffic, however, is very good and sales have been "fabulous." With customers no longer able to stop by and have a cup of coffee, the atmosphere in the store is very different. And with all events canceled for both the store and the town as a whole, "the holidays will look much different this year." The staff remains vigilant with cleaning and mask wearing, and have remained healthy.

Despite all the pandemic restrictions, the store has had steady traffic. The town has been full of tourists, even though all summer camps and work conferences were cancelled this summer, and locals have been very supportive. One big difference that Blumer has noted is that when people leave the store now, they leave with a book. Historically, the store has had a lot of "lookers," but this seems to have shifted.

Sassafras on Sutton expanded in May, effectively doubling in size by adding an entire floor dedicated to children's books and toys. Blumer explained that those plans were in place in January, and she didn't "let the pandemic slow us down." The addition got a great response from customers after the store reopened to browsing in May. Blumer and her team recently launched the Sassafras Gift Box, curated gift boxes that customers can pick up themselves or have the store ship directly to the recipient. Blumer added that the store will "definitely continue" doing those after the pandemic is over.

When it came to buying for the holidays, Blumer said the team approached it as they normally would and, given the expansion, dramatically increased their buying. The store's sales are up and with the toy store, "the holidays are off to a busy start." Most of the store's supply issues have eased, though the store still can't get every last thing. As such, Sassafras on Sutton has been pushing the shop-early message. All told, Blumer expects an "excellent season."


In Summerville, S.C., Main Street Reads has been doing a hybrid of live and Zoom events, reported owner Shari Stauch. A limited number of people will attend the event at the store, while the rest watch remotely via Zoom, and this arrangement "seems to be working well," she said, adding that she will continue providing remote options for all book clubs and events once the pandemic ends. 

The store's "biggest ongoing challenge," Stauch pointed out, is that Summerville has made masks mandatory only in grocery stores and city government buildings. Main Street Reads requires masks at all times, which puts Stauch and her staff in the difficult position of having to argue with customers about masks.

One "wonderful bright spot," she continued, is that despite the lack of tourists and lack of events, which normally account for about 70% of the store's business, sales are up. Stauch attributes this increase to how thoroughly the community has rallied around the store and to the use of

When asked about holiday buying, Stauch said she and her team have been stocking up based on both "RAMP catalog and Indie Next recommendations." She's been taking advantage of promotions from publishers, and "so far so good." And while the store did push the early shopping message, holiday shopping did not really begin in earnest until Thanksgiving weekend. Until the trees light up in town, Stauch explained, "folks don't get as enthusiastic." --Alex Mutter

Weldon Owen: The Gay Icon's Guide to Life by Michael Joosten, Illustrated by Peter Emerich

Obituary Note: Alison Lurie

Alison Lurie

Alison Lurie, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author "whose mordant novels punctured pretension, deflated dogma and illuminated the staggering talent of smart people for self-deception," died December 3, the New York Times reported. She was 94. Author of several novels as well as short story and essay collections, Lurie was also a folklorist and scholar of children's literature.

As a novelist, she "was an anthropologist of contemporary absurdity," the Times wrote, noting that critics praised Lurie for "her crystalline prose, her dry, delicious wit, and her microscopic powers of observation."

Lurie's best known novels were The War Between the Tates (1974) and Foreign Affairs (1984), which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1985. Both were adapted into TV movies. Her other works include Real People (1969), The Last Resort (1998), Only Children (1979), The Truth About Lorin Jones (1988), Love and Friendship (1962), Women and Ghosts (1994), Imaginary Friends (1967), The Language of Clothes (1981) and Familiar Spirits (2001).

"Few writers have shown such a commitment to their characters" as Lurie, the Guardian wrote. "Her 11 works of domestic and academic black comedy are peopled with an interconnecting cast, who move from the sidelines to center stage, often reassessed and redeemed on second appearance, sometimes transferred from childhood to adulthood."

Robert Morgan, the Kappa Alpha Professor of English at Cornell University, where Lurie was Professor Emerita of English, said: "Alison was a dynamic and gifted teacher of writing, children's literature and folklore.... Her novels excel in acute observation of human manners, character, of families, lovers, colleagues. She created unforgettable portraits of our time. Among those who knew her in Ithaca, Alison will also be remembered for her backyard receptions each fall, as well as her Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction and gracious personality."

Nick Skidmore, Vintage Classics senior editor, told the Bookseller that Lurie was "one of the great social satirists of our time.... [Her] sharp, witty, yet excoriating books dramatized her generation’s social ambition and folly in ways that were always thrilling to witness. Be it intellectual one-upmanship, extramarital bed-hopping, or bitter recriminations, Lurie had a wicked eye for the tragic-comic and the perverse human fascination with disaster-in-the-making."

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

December Indie Next List E-Newsletter Delivered

Last Thursday, the American Booksellers Association's e-newsletter edition of the Indie Next List for December was delivered to more than 660,000 of the country's best book readers. The newsletter was sent to customers of 182 independent bookstores, with a combined total of 662,701 subscribers.

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

For a sample of the December newsletter, see this one from Portkey Books, Safety Harbor, Fla.


Image of the Day: Kepler's 'Plein Air Bookstore'

Kepler's Books and Magazines, Menlo Park, Calif., added an open-air shopping option over the weekend, noting on Facebook: "Just when you thought you wouldn't get a vacation to Paris, VOILA! Come over to our plein air bookstore and pretend you are on the banks of Seine!"

"This is going to be really important for the bookstore," Kepler's CEO Praveen Madan told InMenlo, which reported that "selling outdoors will expand shopping options as the store limits the number of customers inside to 20 at a time."

Display Window: The Twig Book Shop

The Twig Book Shop, San Antonio, Tex., shared a photo of the shop's front window display on Facebook, noting: "#DaysOfChristmasJoy. It's Another Lovely December Day in San Antonio--y'all ENJOY IT at The Twig Book Shop.... limited to 10 shoppers at a time... so y'all take turns."

Bookseller Moment: Gramercy Books Bexley

Posted on Facebook by Gramercy Books, Bexley, Ohio: "Have we told you all lately how thankful we are for your continued support? Throughout the pandemic, and from Independent Bookstore Day to Small Business Saturday to our ongoing 4th birthday celebration, you've given us so much to be grateful for. It is an honor to be a part of this community. Keep reading, book lovers."

Personnel Changes at Steerforth Press

Anthony LaSasso has joined Steerforth Press as publicity director. He was formerly associate marketing and publicity manager at Sterling Publishing and earlier worked at Bloomsbury USA. He has more than a decade of experience as a public relations professional. At Steerforth, he will focus on the flagship imprint and the T2P--Truth to Power--imprint, which launched earlier this year.

Steerforth publisher Chip Fleischer said: "I'm very excited about our line-up of titles for 2021 and had been planning for quite some time to seek a dynamic champion to give the list its best shot at success. Recent technology advances enabled us to consider candidates from all over the country, and we feel very fortunate that so many talented applicants responded to our posting. Anthony felt like the best fit for our team, and once the pandemic recedes, I look forward to meeting him in person!"

LaSasso is working from a home office in the New York metropolitan area and can be reached at 908-652-9587 or via e-mail.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Erin Brockovich on the Drew Barrymore Show

Today Show: Kate Andersen Brower, author of Exploring the White House: Inside America's Most Famous Home (Quill Tree Books, $16.99, 9780062906410).

Tonight Show: Dolly Parton, co-author of Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics (Chronicle, $50, 9781797205090).

Late Late Show with James Corden: Matthew McConaughey, author of Greenlights (Crown, $30, 9780593139134).

Good Morning America: Kelly Rippon, author of Parent Up: Inspire Your Child to Be Their Best Self (Sourcebooks, $16.99, 9781728222356).

Today Show: Jen Atkin, author of Blowing My Way to the Top: How to Break the Rules, Find Your Purpose, and Create the Life and Career You Deserve (Harper Wave, $27.99, 9780062940551).

Drew Barrymore Show: 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).

Tamron Hall: Michelle Smith, author of The Whole Smiths Real Food Every Day: Healthy Recipes to Keep Your Family Happy Throughout the Week (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30, 9780358164463).

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: John Dickerson, author of The Hardest Job in the World: The American Presidency (Random House, $30, 9781984854513).

Movies: The Dig

Netflix U.K. has released a "rousing first trailer" for The Dig, based on the novel by John Preston, Deadline reported. Directed by Simon Stone, the film's cast includes Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ben Chaplin, Ken Stott, Archie Barnes and Monica Dolan. Netflix will release The Dig January 15.

Books & Authors

Awards: Center for Fiction Winners

Luster by Raven Leilani (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) has won the Center for Fiction's $15,000 First Novel Prize. Allison Escoto, head librarian and education director at the Center for Fiction, said, "Raven Leilani's unforgettable portrayal of Edie--a young Black woman who finds herself in a series of bizarre, dysfunctional, and darkly funny situations in her ongoing quest to discover herself--is delivered in pitch perfect prose."

Leilani thanked "the librarians and the booksellers and the indie bookstores who have advocated fiercely for this book... Thank you to everyone who came to this book with generosity: it has really meant everything."

The Center for Fiction also presented its On Screen Award to James McBride and Showtime for its original series The Good Lord Bird. McBride said, "The metaphor of The Good Lord Bird [Riverhead] is this: when you let something beautiful die, if it's gorgeous and irreplaceable, it never comes back. Let's banish the evil now, let's not let it come back. Let's let America be what it was supposed to be, and what we know in our hearts it truly is."

Chris Jackson, publisher and editor-in-chief of One World, was the recipient of the Medal for Editorial Excellence, which recognizes an editor, publisher, or agent who has spent a career nurturing and championing writers. Accepting on behalf of the many writers he's worked with, Jackson said, "The publishing industry that serves us all, that helps us better imagine ourselves into each other's lives, better see and understand each other, and create a better world is ours to make."

Book Review

Review: The Wife Upstairs

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins (St. Martin's Press, $27.99 hardcover, 304p., 9781250245496, January 5, 2021)

Rachel Hawkins makes her debut on the adult thriller scene with The Wife Upstairs, a deliciously gothic contemporary retelling of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. Down-on-her-luck Jane is living with an odious young man, saving up for a place of her own and an escape from the horrors of her past, when she catches a break and is hired as a dog-walker by several people in a well-to-do neighborhood in Birmingham, Ala. Jane meets Eddie Rochester in a near-miss as he backs out of his driveway; the charismatic, handsome widower immediately sets to winning her over, even going so far as to adopt a puppy so he can hire her to walk it.

When Jane first learns that not only is Eddie single but also a widower, readers discover the darker side of Jane's desires and ambitions. "The joy that had bloomed in my chest... had been a dark and ugly thing, the sort of emotion I knew I wasn't supposed to feel, but I couldn't really make myself care. He's free, she's gone, and now I have an excuse to see him every week. An excuse to be in that gorgeous home in this gorgeous neighborhood."

Despite glimpses of this darkness, it's easy to root for Jane as her inner monologue describes her hardscrabble life and the ways these wealthy women treat someone they view as less-than, but Hawkins also has Jane swiping the occasional piece of jewelry or bit of cash. Jane is determined to get what she feels she's owed, one way or another.

The relationship between Eddie and Jane develops quickly--a sign to Jane and readers that something isn't right. But Jane weighs her options and chooses material security--a place to live, a seemingly unlimited spending allowance and a surprisingly genuine set of friendships with the same women she stole from just weeks before. Readers familiar with Jane Eyre will be waiting to learn what happened to Eddie's first wife and, sure enough--Mrs. Rochester is alive, held captive by Eddie and narrating her side of the story in occasional chapters.

Despite the similarities, Hawkins (the Hex Hall trilogy, for young adults) doesn't follow the expected narrative, instead building the suspense and keeping readers waiting until the last pages--possibly even longer--for answers. No one is what they seem. If everyone is lying, who is the protagonist and what will they risk for their safety? Is anyone a good person? The Wife Upstairs is a sure bet for anyone looking to curl up with a domestic thriller and stay up far too late. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Shelf Talker: For fans of domestic thrillers, gothic novels or Jane Eyre, Rachel Hawkins's The Wife Upstairs is a compelling retelling that deftly serves up a delicious mystery with a side of biting social commentary.

Deeper Understanding

Audiobooks: AudioFile's Best Audio Titles of 2020

Our friends at AudioFile Magazine present the best audiobooks of the year:

Audiobooks now have eight years of double-digit sales growth, and the average number of books listened to by individuals increased to more than eight per year according to the Audio Publishers Association. This year audiobooks have provided a balm, a diversion, and an escape for countless listeners. Families have found new value and entertainment with shared audiobook listening. Essential workers have put the world aside as they put on their headphones after a long shift. When new data is released, it's likely to show listening at home moving to the top of listening locations, and a jump in the use of home devices.

Top choices for escape of AudioFile's 2020 Best list include Louise Penny's mystery All the Devils Are Here--set in Paris and finely narrated by Robert Bathurst (Macmillan Audio); The Yosemite, John Muir's 1912 journals given a nice reading by Nick McArdle--in a Scottish brogue like Muir's own (Naxos Audiobooks); and Vesper Flights, naturalist Helen Macdonald's essays and observations (Recorded Books).

Audiobooks that illuminate many of today's important topics and cultural conversations are standouts on the list: Jon Meacham's tribute to John Lewis, His Truth Is Marching On, narrated by Golden Voice narrator JD Jackson (Random House Audio); Jason Reynolds's accessible narration of Stamped (Hachette Audio); Caste by Isabel Wilkerson and read by Robin Miles (Random House Audio); and Alistair Gee and Dani Anguiano's remarkable look at individual heroism, fire science, and climate change in Fire in Paradise (Recorded Books).

The audiobook most talked about this month, Barack Obama's A Promised Land, read by President Obama (Random House Audio), is an honorary "best" since our list was compiled before publication, and we were not able to hear the production in advance.

For readers who might want to get their recommendations in a podcast format, Behind the Mic with AudioFile Magazine features narrator guests whose audiobooks were chosen as Best of the Year: Hear Marin Ireland, David Pittu, Frankie Corzo, and Robert Bathurst, among others.

Highlights from the nine subject categories, including fiction, history, contemporary culture, science fiction & fantasy, and young adult, are featured below. All titles are available from

Intimations by Zadie Smith, read by Zadie Smith (Penguin Audio) Listening to award-winning author Zadie Smith read her collection of six personal essays about life in the year 2020 is a transcendent experience. That voice--London-born, smooth, warm, well modulated with a hint of gravel and exquisite articulation. The witty, observant, thoughtful essays touch on the pandemic, womanhood, America, families, work, classism and racism, reading and writing, and what makes life worthwhile.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, read by Marin Ireland (Harper Audio) Marin Ireland narrates a stunning audiobook that explores race, class, family, and global catastrophe. A married couple and their teenage children are on summer vacation at a rented secluded home in the Hamptons. However, the house's owners arrive unexpectedly after fleeing New York City during a mysterious blackout. While the situation is uncomfortable, the two families--one white and middle class, the other Black and wealthy--cohabitate and try to figure out what's happened. Ireland portrays all the characters with pitch-perfect nuances.

The Fragile Earth by David Remnick, Henry Finder, editors, read by Kaleo Griffith, Gabra Zackman, Cat Gould (Harper Audio) Kaleo Griffith, Gabra Zackman, and Cat Gould narrate this timely collection of climate-change nonfiction from the New Yorker with engagement, clarity, and an admirable mix of insistence and calm. Written by many of the magazine's most well-known authors, including Elizabeth Kolbert, Bill McKibben, Burkhard Bilger, Kathryn Schulz, and Ian Frazer, the pieces focus on "how we got here, where we are, and what we can do now."

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, Dirk Maggs, read by Riz Ahmed, Kat Dennings, Taron Egerton, Neil Gaiman, James McAvoy, Samantha Morton, Bebe Neuwirth, Andy Serkis, Michael Sheen, and a Full Cast (Audible) James McAvoy leads an all-star cast in narrating this magnificent audio adaptation of Neil Gaiman's iconic graphic novel series, The Sandman. As listeners are swept up in a saga in which cats talk and nightmares walk, McAvoy's steady characterization reminds them that it's all in a day's work for him. The sound effects are immersive, and there is a wonderful cinematic score. Listeners won't be able to pause once they hit play.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, read by Frankie Corzo (Random House Audio) Frankie Corzo's velvety voice puts listeners under her spell as she narrates this horror audiobook. Noemí Taboada is a clever 22-year-old anthropology student buzzing between parties in 1950s Mexico City. She is quite put out when her father sends her to the countryside to check on her recently married cousin, Catalina. Listeners share Noemí's developing terror as she unravels the many mysteries of High Place and its enigmatic inhabitants. A suspenseful and atmospheric narration makes this an audiobook listeners won't soon forget.

A Most Beautiful Thing by Arshay Cooper, read by Adam Lazarre-White (Macmillan Audio) In the 1990s, Arshay Cooper attends a crew recruiting meeting at his high school for the free pizza. He ends up joining the first Black high school rowing team in the country. Narrator Adam Lazarre-White conveys Cooper's youth and aspirations in a rich, steady voice that suggests emotional authenticity and humor. Cooper and his teammates create something great with the help of a philanthropic businessman and former college rowers. Lazarre-White captures Cooper's developing emotional maturity.

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