Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Margaret K. McElderry Books: Tender Beasts by Liselle Sambury

Scholastic Press: Heroes: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Alan Gratz

Flatiron Books: Anita de Monte Laughs Last by Xochitl Gonzalez

Peachtree Publishers: King & Kayla and the Case of the Downstairs Ghost (King & Kayla) by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers

Doubleday Books: The Husbands by Holly Gramazio


HarperCollins Completes Purchase of HMH Books & Media

Yesterday, HarperCollins's parent company, News Corporation, completed its acquisition of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's trade book division, HMH Books & Media. The sale, announced in March, was for $349 million in cash.

HarperCollins said that "in order to ensure a smooth transition," Ed Spade, HMH interim president, will report to Brian Murray, HarperCollins's president and CEO. Deb Brody, v-p & publisher, HMH Adult Trade, will report to Liate Stehlik, president and publisher of the Morrow Group. Cat Onder, senior v-p & publisher, HMH Books for Young Readers, will report to Suzanne Murphy, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books. All sales reps, customer support, order processing, etc., will remain the same for the time being.

News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson said, "We welcome the talented team at HMH Books & Media to HarperCollins, especially at a time when so many people in so many places are reading and listening to books. With the addition of the compelling Books & Media backlist and frontlist, as well as its expertise and creativity in digital development, HarperCollins will be even better positioned to serve authors and audiences around the world."

Brian Murray said, "We are happy to welcome HMH Books & Media employees, authors, and illustrators to the HarperCollins family. Uniting two publishing companies, each with more than 200 years of literary history, will be the focus of our combined teams. We look forward to new and exciting opportunities as we chart a stronger future together."

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt had put the HMH Books & Media division up for sale last November and said that the divestiture will allow it "to focus singularly on K-12 education and accelerate growth momentum in digital sales, annual recurring revenue and free cash flow while paying down a significant portion of its debt."

Last year overall sales at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt fell 25.8%, to $1.031 billion, and the net loss more than doubled, to $480 million, but trade division sales rose 6.5%, to $191.7 million.

HMH Books & Media has published a range of novels, nonfiction, cookbooks and children's books, including titles by J.R.R. Tolkien, George Orwell and Philip Roth, the Best American series, the Peterson Field Guides, Martha Stewart titles, CliffsNotes, cookbook brands such as Instant Pot Miracle and the How to Cook Everything series, and cookbook titles by Jacques Pépin, Mark Bittman and Priya Krishna, as well as children's books and characters Curious George, Little Blue Truck, The Polar Express, Jumanji and The Giver. Its backlist includes more than 7,000 titles. The division also includes HMH Productions, which produces TV, film and interactive media, including Carmen Sandiego (an original Netflix series and film) and more.

Holiday House: The Five Impossible Tasks of Eden Smith by Tom Llewellyn; The Selkie's Daughter by Linda Crotta Brennan

Lucian Books and Wine to Open in Atlanta

Jordan Smelt (l.) and Katie Barringer

Lucian Books and Wine, Atlanta, Ga., featuring "beautiful books, smart wines and thoughtful food," will be opening soon in Buckhead's new Modera apartment building at 3005 Peachtree Road, according to the Buckhead Reporter. Katie Barringer, who founded Cover Books in 2015 and closed it in 2018, and sommelier Jordan Smelt are the co-owners.

The new venture is inspired by British artist Lucian Freud and reflects the owners' "fervent interests." Barringer said the bookstore will showcase "nonfiction books with a strong emphasis on art architecture, design and photography. There will be a great collection of cookbooks and wine and cocktail-related books, with a balance of classic, recognizable names as well as small production artist books that you've never seen before, and everything in between. There will also be a smaller selection of magazines with a focus on international titles on similar subjects."

Smelt added: "Katie is doing a mixture of known with unknown and I think that perfectly sums up an aspect of the wine program as well. Some household names will be on the wine list, but also a lot of small production wines that are absolutely fabulous that folks may not recognize but hopefully will come to love as much as we do."

"Our favorite part of what we get to do is that process of introducing something and watching that process of discovery, and expanding their experience," Barringer noted.

Smelt observed that "it's more fun to introduce a new wine or new beverage to someone that hasn't tried it before and just see their face light up. Whether it's a wine or a book, the feeling is the same." 

Chef Brian Hendrickson will create "wine-friendly food options on the menu throughout the day, with larger, shareable dishes served at dinner," Eater Atlanta reported. "Hendrickson worked with Smelt at Cakes and Ale and will create food easily paired with the mostly European-leaning wine list at Lucian. Barringer and Smelt also plan to offer a special takeout option on Fridays and Saturdays called 'At Home with Lucian,' which comes with a book from the shop."

Amistad Press: The Survivors of the Clotilda: The Lost Stories of the Last Captives of the American Slave Trade by Hannah Durkin

Opening of Poe's New & Used Bookstore in Pa.: 'Something that Needed to Happen'

Sarah Ockershausen-Delp, who launched Poe's New and Used bookstore at 428 Market St. in New Berlin, Pa., last October, told the Daily Item that it had been a "very inopportune time" to open during the Covid-19 pandemic, but "it was something that needed to happen" because the borough needed a small bookstore.

"As Neil Gaiman says, a town is not a town without a book store," said Delp. "New Berlin really needed to have a place for people to come and get away from everyday life, and find a little bit of fantasy or mystery to solve. It was something the community needed.... People needed something to rally behind and hope for, and see something new."

Delp and her husband, Jason, live across the street from a former yoga center that closed in 2019. When the price dropped low enough last year, they purchased the building and worked through the summer to renovate it, the Daily Item wrote. She chose the name Poe because Edgar Allan Poe was "an amazing, influential author. He's easily recognizable to all sorts of people." 

The building also has space for local artists and crafters to sell their products, the Daily Item noted, adding that the "goal is to have events such as poetry nights, literary events and fun community events."

How Bookstores Are Coping: Moving in the Right Direction; 'Very Lucky'

Lisa Baudoin, co-owner of Books & Company in Oconomowoc, Wis., reported that the "bones of operations" are still in place at her store, though everything is functioning "slower and with less range of motion." Stress is a "constant buzz," the team's brains "aren't 100%," and they are all "time- and focus-challenged." 

That said, Baudoin continued, they are "rocking it pretty good at 60%-70%." Masks are still required even though there isn't a state or local mandate to that effect and occupancy is still limited, but customers are feeling more comfortable shopping and weekends are getting busier with more families stopping by. The store is "heading back into a familiar zone," she said, and things feel "normal enough."

The store ultimately was down by 14% in 2020, which wasn't as bad as Baudoin had anticipated. Asked about any bright spots, she said her booksellers have been awesome. She's watched them grow and support each other in "such kind and wonderful ways," and the team has been able to pull off some fun promotions and events in very short periods of time. The bookstore planned its Independent Bookstore Day 2021 festivities in just five days, Baudoin remarked, and sales were just shy of IBD 2019. The store's customers have also been very supportive and are thankful that Books & Company is still there.

Baudoin and her team have partnered with Daniel Goldin and Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, Wis., to create an event series called Readings from Oconomowaukee, which has been another bright spot. She called working with Goldin and having great conversations with authors "a delight." The stores have co-hosted events in the past, and the new event series has helped maintain those connections and build a stronger community.

So far in 2021, things "seem to be moving in the right direction." Sales are getting better and the team is busy figuring out what's next. Hours may expand in June, but in-person events aren't on the near horizon. The latter is something they'd like to do, but there are too many unresolved issues around it. At the moment they are focusing on improving operations and changing the store's inventory mix by adding some basic art supplies and more stationery. So much has changed or been shuffled around because of the pandemic that the store has had to build things back up.

Altogether, Baudoin said, the team is functioning, "sometimes with a sparkle and sometimes just pushing through the fog." Things aren't as bad as they were a year ago, but it's almost as if there is a "hangover from a year of abundant stress." The staff will be fully vaccinated by mid-June, and they are planning to "gather for dinner, to sit back and relax together."


In Kew Gardens, Queens, N.Y., things at Kew & Willow Books are not completely back to normal, reported co-owners Vina Castillo and Holly Nikodem, but the store is now open six days per week and for longer hours on Fridays and Saturdays. The shop continues to operate by appointment, but walk-ins are welcome so long as there are no more than five customers in at a time. And while events are still being held virtually, the store recently tried hosting an outdoor open mic outside of the store that "went really well."

All told, 2020 was actually the store's best year to date, with Nikodem and Castillo noting that since the store is owner-operated they "didn't have to panic" over compensating staff. At the same time the store's website was up and running before the shutdown, so customers knew where to find them. They remarked: "We count ourselves very lucky!"

The pandemic also forced Castillo and Nikodem to rethink the layout of the store, and they're pleased with how they opened things up and made it more accessible. On the subject of other surprising bright spots, they said it "made our year" when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave them a shoutout on social media, and they added that Sunny Hostin from The View has also been very supportive of the bookstore.

Looking ahead in 2021, the pair is feeling cautiously optimistic. They'll both be fully vaccinated by the end of May, though they'll continue to host online events through at least the rest of the spring and summer. --Alex Mutter

Obituary Note: Kate Jennings

Kate Jennings, the Australian poet, author and "pioneering feminist," died on May 1, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. She was 72.

In 1970, Jennings gave a rousing speech at a Vietnam moratorium rally held at Sydney University which was "credited with helping spark the start of the second wave of feminism in Australia." That speech, along with her work as an activist, which included helping set up Australia's first refuge for victims of domestic violence, made her a prominent figure. In a 2010 profile, Jennings described that speech as a "shot across the bow" that helped women's lib meetings "spread like wildfire" throughout the country.

Writing in The Age, author Elliot Perlman said Jennings "occupied an important position in Australian writing." Whether she was writing essays, novels or poems, her work was "sharp, piercing, intellectually rigorous and scrupulously honest." She championed women's writing "at a time when this was a pretty courageous undertaking," and fought for many social causes along with women's rights.

Jennings moved to New York in 1979, where she wrote for magazines and newspapers. In 1987, she married photographer and graphic designer Bob Cato, who created album cover art for artists like Bob Dylan and Miles Davis. In 1996, she published the novel Snake, based on her upbringing in rural New South Wales in the 1950s. 

She published Moral Hazard, a novel about a woman forced to take a job as a corporate speech writer after her husband is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, in 2002. This book, too, was autobiographical--Jennings became a speech writer for a Wall Street firm to pay for the increasingly immense costs of her husband's medical treatment. Perlman called Moral Hazard "perhaps the pinnacle of her career" and one of the greatest Australian novels of the last 50 years.


Reading Group Choices' Most Popular April Books

The two most popular books in April at Reading Group Choices were The Girls in the Stilt House by Kelly Mustian (Sourcebooks Landmark) and A Hundred Suns by Karin Tanabe (St. Martin's Griffin).

Personnel Changes at Astra House

Tiffany Gonzalez has joined Astra House as marketing & publicity coordinator.

Book Trailer of the Day: More Than Sunny

More Than Sunny by Shelley Johannes (Abrams Books for Young Readers), a trailer that features the author's son as narrator.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Francisco Goldman on Fresh Air

CBS This Morning: Stacey Abrams, author of While Justice Sleeps: A Novel (Doubleday, $28, 9780385546577).

NPR's Here & Now: Brian Skerry, author of Secrets of the Whales (National Geographic, $35, 9781426221873).

Fresh Air: Francisco Goldman, author of Monkey Boy (Grove Press, $27, 9780802157676).

Kelly Clarkson Show: Seth Rogen, author of Yearbook (Crown, $28, 9781984825407).

Live with Kelly and Ryan: Scott Keyes, author of Take More Vacations: How to Search Better, Book Cheaper, and Travel the World (Harper Wave, $16.99, 9780062993540).

Late Late Show with James Corden: Sharon Stone, author of The Beauty of Living Twice (Knopf, $27.95, 9780525656760).

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: Senator Elizabeth Warren, author of Persist (Metropolitan Books, $27.99, 9781250799241).

Movies: The Railway Children

More than 50 years after the original movie, The Railway Children, based on the classic novel by Edith Nesbit, is getting a sequel, "with original cast member Jenny Agutter returning," Deadline reported. The cast also includes Sheridan Smith, Tom Courtenay "and a new generation of the titular 'railway children.' "

Directed by Morgan Matthews (X+Y), the film is being produced by Jemma Rodgers for Studiocanal, which owns the rights to the original. Danny Brocklehurst (Brassic) has written the screenplay.

Deadline noted that the sequel "will follow a group of children who are evacuated to a Yorkshire village during the Second World War, where they encounter a young soldier who, like them, is far away from home." Filming has begun, with an anticipated theatrical release in the U.K. on April 1, 2022.

Books & Authors

Awards: YA Book Prize Winner

Loveless by Alice Oseman won the £2,000 (about $2,775) YA Book Prize, which is run by the Bookseller in partnership with the Hay Festival "to celebrate great books for teenagers and young adults from the U.K. and Ireland." 

Prize chair Caroline Carpenter said: "As well as shining a light on a topic that is rarely covered in fiction, I've no doubt that this book will resonate with all teenagers who are trying to find themselves. In my opinion, Alice is one of the most exciting young creatives working in the U.K. today, and Loveless, with its important messages about self-acceptance and friendship, is a very worthy winner of this year's prize."

In addition, the YA Book Prize also granted a Special Achievement Award to Malorie Blackman, to mark 20 years since the publication of the first novel in her bestselling YA series, Noughts & Crosses. 

Book Review

Review: Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 hardcover, 288p., 9780374280468, June 8, 2021)

As she demonstrated in her 2014 short story collection, American Innovations, Rivka Galchen has a taste for the fantastic. She puts that talent to good use in her second adult novel, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch, a vibrant, provocative story based on real events that astutely holds up life in a small town in 17th-century Europe as a mirror for the present day.

Galchen's novel is set in the duchy of Württemburg, then part of the Holy Roman Empire, just as the Thirty Years War is beginning. Most of its action takes place in the town of Leonberg, near Stuttgart, and focuses on the prosecution of Katharina Kepler, mother of famed mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler, for witchcraft. When she's not tending to her cow, Chamomile, Katharina is a well-known presence in the community, noteworthy for her interest in herbal remedies and sometimes cantankerous personality.

A claim by fellow townswoman Ursula Reinbold that Katharina served her a poisoned cup of wine provokes Katharina to file a slander suit that's soon met by a formal accusation of witchcraft against her. What follows is a Kafkaesque legal proceeding that at one point lands Katharina in prison, where she must pay the guards hired to watch her. To describe the ordeal, Galchen employs various narrative techniques, including an account dictated by the illiterate Katharina to her neighbor and friend, Simon Satler, and excerpts from the depositions of a motley collection of witnesses--chiefly her accusers--who are prodded to cast even her most benign conduct in a sinister light. Johannes eventually intervenes, in eloquent letters to the Duke of Württemburg pleading his mother's case.

Like Maggie O'Farrell's prize-winning novel Hamnet, Galchen's story succeeds in infusing a work of historical fiction with a completely modern sensibility, all without sacrificing any of the story's fidelity to its source material. She summons just enough of the details of life in Frau Kepler's time to create feeling of realism, without smothering the story in a surfeit of information to prove the thoroughness of her research.

Though it's chronologically remote, in the story of Katarina Kepler one can reflect on contemporary issues that include feminism, social class, ageism and the ways in which people demonize those who don't conform to society's norms, while at the same time pondering the alien atmosphere of a world drenched in religious fervor and a pervasive belief in the supernatural. There's nothing diabolical about it, but Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch is a consistently entertaining novel that casts its own memorable spell. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: This story of a witchcraft trial in the 17th century is vibrant and entertaining, with a decidedly modern tone.

The Bestsellers

Top-Selling Self-Published Titles

The bestselling self-published books last week as compiled by

1. The Crown of Gilded Bones by Jennifer L. Armentrout
2. Could Have Been Us by Corinne Michaels
3. 22 Talk SHIFTs by Krister Ungerböck
4. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki with Sharon L. Lechter
5. From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout
6. Framed Shadows by Kathleen Brooks
7. Smoke (Guardian Security Shadow World Book 6) by Kris Michaels
8. A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire by Jennifer L. Armentrout
9. The Farmhouse by Elizabeth Bromke
10. Diamond in the Dust (Lost Kings MC Book 18) by Autumn Jones Lake

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