Book of the Week: A Reunion of Ghosts – Judith Claire Mitchell

The three Alter sisters–great granddaughters of the inventor of mustard gas—decide the kill themselves on the last day of the 20th century and bring to a close their story of a family haunted by suicide and the burden of history. The fiction, the story was extensively researched, drawing on the life and legacy of Fritz Haber, the Nobel Prize winner who invented chlorine gas. The result is, as Anthony Doerr says, a “fascinating, funny, and deeply sad 350-page suicide note…a triumphant, beautiful, and devastating novel about coincidences, family, and the sins of our fathers.”

This is a wry, original take on how we live in the face of what has come before us. It’s received two starred advance reviews, is an Indie Next pick, and a bookseller favorite.

Mitchell’s triumphant second novel explores love, identity, and the burdens of history in coruscating, darkly comic prose. As the 20th century closes, Lady, Delph, and Vee Alter decide to kill themselves. The decision is not surprising; the middle-aged sisters embrace the chart of previous family suicides that hangs in their New York apartment….[A] surprising visitation suggests that the family curse is not as defining as it seems. Moving nimbly through time and balancing her weightier themes with the sharply funny, fiercely unsentimental perspectives of her three protagonists—each distinct, yet also, as their name suggests, at ‘different stages of a single life’—Mitchell’s fictional suicide note is poignant and pulsing with life force.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Three middle-aged sisters collaborating on a memoir that’s meant to double as their collective suicide note may not sound like a hilarious premise for a novel, but Mitchell’s masterful family saga is as funny as it is aching…. Moving seamlessly between the past and the present… it captures the agony and ecstasy (but mostly agony) with deep empathy and profound wit.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[The Alter sisters] have written a suicide note together, which is more than a ‘goodbye, world’ note; it’s also a family history….A Reunion of Ghosts is a captivating chronicle of a family and the weight of consequences, which grows heavier with time. It’s the quirky, dark comedy, family saga you’ll want to read!”
— Jennifer Steele, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI

“The three sisters tell the history of their family, beginning with Lorenz, and tell their own individual histories, guiding us through their reactions to the family curse and their separate paths that lead to their mutual decision.  Mitchell braids the present day and historical family strands through the novel as skillfully as she plaits the narrative styles.  Sisterly debate, disappointment, argument, support, care, obligations, and love – all these and more fill the lives of these three very human characters….The Alter family may be cursed (still an ongoing debate.), but we certainly are not.”
— Allen Murphey, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

A Reunion of Ghosts (9780062355881) by Judith Claire Mitchell. $26.99 hardcover. 3/24/15 on sale.

New Fiction: Down Don’t Bother Me – Jason Miller

I picked up this debut mystery for the author. I’d heard of Jason Miller as half of the Miller Brothers, creators of the graphic novel Redball 6. (Full disclosure: Do I read comics? I do not. But I am related to some rabid young fans.) Redball 6 got the kind of review that might well apply to Jason Miller’s novel, too:

This is a real fun series…[Pretty] damn great….The story is all noir by Jason and Ian Miller and well done and fun noir at that…Seek this one out for its imaginative character, strong plot and fantastically devious artwork.”
Ain’t It Cool News

Substitute “scenario” for “artwork” and that’s kind of the way I felt reading Down Don’t Bother Me, a violent, comic rural coal-mining noir that reminded me of the TV series Justified. It plays on and with noir conventions to deliver a vivid, rollicking read.

As you might imagine, the bookseller fan base is strong in Ohio and Kentucky. It’s Joseph-Beth Bookseller’s Book of the Month in Lexington, KY; they call it “hard-boiled detective meets southern grit. Also hilarious.” Among reviewers, Booklist comments that, “Long stretches of this unusual first novel would seem to require guitar accompaniment. The genre conventions-treacherous women, double-crossing friends, greedy moneymen-seem fresh in Miller’s sensory-rich language….Here’s a strong talent just getting under way.”

[A] bluesy, folksy mystery involving the coal mining industry in Southern Illinois with a home-spun hero in Slim, a coal miner turned unwilling detective.  Alternatively funny and shockingly violent, this mystery reads like a brilliant combination of Joe Lansdale and Craig Johnson.  The writing is crisp and reads like front-porch raconteur web-spinning.  When the violence comes, it is shocking and exciting – Miller really knows how to write a fight scene!  The characters are all fully fleshed and vibrantly eccentric, and the mystery is complex and multi-layered.  I really loved this book, especially Miller’s distinct sense of place and time.  You really feel as if you are in the dark coal mines or the mansions of the mine owners.  It enriches an already wonderful story.  Fans of Justified and Longmire take note!”
— Bill Carl, The Booksellers on Fountain Square, Cincinnati, OH

“Jason Miller suddenly appears in the world of mysteries, a neatly wrapped package tucked under his arm, and presents us with the real thing: a well-written, seamlessly-plotted mystery with a likeable, everyday hero in a well-drawn world nearby but foreign to most of us – Little Egypt, the coal fields of southern Illinois….Slim’s investigation pits him against miners, activists, thugs, owners, the sheriff, and his own girlfriend…. Miller tightly integrates the characters and the scenery into Slim’s story – the narrative is never sparse and never laden with unnecessary description. The tale held me from the very beginning, the reading faster than the motorcycle Slim uses to get around the hills…”
— Allen Murphey, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

Down Don’t Bother Me (9780062362193) by Jason Miller. $14.99 trade paper original. 3/24/15 on sale.

Short Take: Narcisa – Jonathan Shaw

This is the first trade edition of a cult classic by son of the jazz great Artie Shaw. Jonathan Shaw is a “world-traveling outlaw artist, gonzo war-correspondent, novelist, blogger, head doctor, anti-folk hero and whorehouse philosopher, [a] legendary tattoo master and notorious creator of trendsetting underground art.” This novel of a scandalous love affair set on an international stage owes much to the legacy of William Burroughs. Johnny Depp picked it up for his Infinitum Nihil literary imprint and writes,

If Hubert Selby Jr., Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Neil Cassady, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, the Marquis de Sade, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Edward Teach, Charley Parker, Iggy Pop, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, R. Crumb, Robert Williams, Joe Coleman, Dashiell Hammett, E.M. Cioran and all of the Three Stooges had all been involved in some greasy, shameful, evil whorehouse orgy, Jonathan Shaw would surely be its diabolical, reprobate spawn.”
— Johnny Depp

“I cannot stop talking about this one. Instant favorite. Even the introduction by Lydia Lunch was perfect. I wanted to scream it from the rooftops. Shaw’s prose is phenomenal. His structure illustrates his narrative. The switches between stream of consciousness, to Narcisa screaming, to his more formal choices blend beautifully into the whole. The comparisons to Thompson, Miller, Burroughs, and Bukowski are accurate, and deserved. Shaw’s voice rings out strong and captivating…. He cuts into the seedy, dark, drugged underground with a deft hand and pulls out the meat of wanting and desire…. Narcisa jumps off the page, walks around your living room and screams until you hate her, love her, want to buy her the world, and simultaneously banish her to the moon. I am just head over heels for this book. It is a masterpiece.”
— Brittany Jackson, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY

“Shaw’s writing is one hell of a wild ride through the bizarre netherworld of his own damaged consciousness. His experiences are real and his language and insights kinetic and brutal… Shaw’s writing certifies him as a subversive and criminal inhabitant of the world of human expression.”
— Jim Jarmusch

Narcisa: Our Lady of Ashes (9780062354990) by Jonathan Shaw. $16.99 trade paper. 3/24/15 on sale.

Short Take: The Precious One – Marisa de los Santos

This one is classic de los Santos territory–an intimate contemporary story of half-sisters coming to terms with each other in the wake of their narcissistic father’s heart attack.

There is a reason that de los Santos’ family dramas are bestsellers. Full of heart, insightful and funny, Kirkus calls her writing “comfort-food” stories. Library Journal expands, “The author writes engagingly and creates complex and lovable characters who carry the story. Readers of character-based fiction with heartwarming, hopeful endings…will love this one, too.” No surprise that this is an Indie Next Pick for March

If the charming, witty characters and more than one ‘love gone wrong’ weren’t enough to carry this novel, then the gorgeous writing would. Navigating the intricacies of family dynamics while crafting beautiful sentences are the hallmark of de los Santos’ writing, and this novel is yet another example of ‘the one you want all of your friends to read Right Now!’ Curl up, keep the tissues handy, and enjoy!”
— Jessilynn Norcross, McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, MI

“The slow fracturing of each sister’s perception of the other and the strong three-dimensional characters are exceptionally well crafted….[the]characters’ journeys are perfectly paced.”
Publishers Weekly

“Emotionally potent, painfully honest, and, at times, delightfully funny, de los Santos’s latest is a must for fans of intelligent, thoughtful women’s fiction.”
Booklist (starred review)

The Precious One (9780061670893) by Marisa de los Santos. $25.99 hardcover. 3/24/15 on sale.

New Young Adult Fiction: Vanishing Girls – Lauren Oliver

The prolific and prolifically talented Oliver is back with a mystery that PW says is “perfect for readers who devoured We Were Liars.” This is realistic fiction with a plot twist at the end that gives it an edge. PW gave it a starred review and covered it with its “Most Anticipated Books of Spring.”

Sisters Dara and Nick had grown up as ‘the Two Musketeers’…but after a serious car accident, the two sisters are irrevocably distanced….The novel alternates between the sisters’ perspectives, both before and after the accident, while news reports, diaries, and blog posts and comments from the community create a narrative full of shades of grey. Oliver is in top form in this psychological family drama that investigates the complicated nature of sisterhood. Perfect for readers who devoured We Were Liars, it’s the sort of novel that readers will race to finish, then return to the beginning to marvel at how it was constructed—and at everything they missed.”
—  Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Oliver’s characterizations and background stories are well-developed and compulsively readable. Recommend to teens looking for a well-written work with a juicy ending. They will not be disappointed.”
— School Library Journal

“Best-selling Oliver weaves a taut mystery interspersed with blog posts about Madeline’s disappearance, and the story is made all the more compelling by Nick and Dara’s close but troubling relationship, marked by both love and intense jealousy.”
— Booklist

Vanishing Girls (9780062224101) by Lauren Oliver. $18.99 hardcover. 3/10/15 on sale.


Movie Tie In: True Story – Michael Finkel

True Story is a ten-year-old memoir and crime story that might have drifted off your backlist. It’s soon to be released as a film; the book itself got terrific reviews in 2005. It’s worth another pass on the paperback displays.

“Astute and hypnotically absorbing . . . there’s a burning sincerity and beautifully modulated writing on every page.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Combines crime and intellectual heft…could well become a classic of the genre.
Washington Post Book World

True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa (9780062339270) by Michael Finkel. $15.99 trade paperback movie tie-in. 3/24/15 on sale.

New On Sale Date: Heretic – Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I’m expecting this provocative argument for a Muslim reformation by the author of the bestseller Infidel to shoot straight to the bestseller list. So you’ll want to be aware that the on sale date has moved up from 4/28/15 to 3/24/15. It remains a strict one-day laydown. Be sure to let receivers know they don’t have to hold it in the backroom till April–but remember that it can’t go out before 3/24/15.

Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now (9780062333933) by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. $27.99 hardcover. 3/24/15 one day laydown.