Book of the Week: The Women in the Castle – Jessica Shattuck

In a season of very good books, I’d argue this is the most important novel we’ll publish this spring. It’s the story of three German women in the impoverished aftermath of WWII, coming to terms with their lives, their country, and what has been done in their names. Haunting, cautionary…a terrific read.

From the day the manuscript started circulating in-house, people were talking about it. And that has continued through the early reads. I’ve rarely gotten so much feedback and so many bookseller nominations for Indie Next. (It’s next month’s #1 pick.)

Part of what makes the novel so compelling is that it’s hard to read The Women in the Castle in 2017 America and not feel a little shiver of familiarity in this story of everyday people being seduced by an authoritarian government that promises greatness again while delivering a great evil in which all are eventually complicit.

Author Jessica Shattuck’s grandparents were Nazis during WWII and she wrote recently about how that experience informed this novel:

My grandmother heard what she wanted from a strong leader who promised simple answers to complicated questions. She chose not to hear and see the monstrous sum those answers added up to. And she lived the rest of her life with the knowledge of her indefensible complicity. But in her willingness to talk about a subject few members of her generation would, she taught me the vital importance of knowing better.”

The book is not a simple polemic, though. Its deep literary satisfaction lies in the personal stories of three women rebuilding their lives after the war. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, author of last year’s blockbuster, The Nest, comments that:

Shattuck’s arresting novel focuses on three very different women who are forced to rely on one another as they attempt to survive the past and reclaim hope. The writing is magnificent, as is Shattuck’s ability to render unimaginable circumstances with tremendous clarity and compassion. A joy to read, this is a beautiful and important book.”

The Women in the Castle is set to be covered everywhere, starting with NPR’s Weekend Edition, NYTBR, Washington Post, USA Today, NY Post, Parade, Boston Globe, Marie Claire and O, The Oprah Magazine. Along with being the #1 Indie Next Pick for April, it is a LibraryReads Pick and Book Page has selected it as its top pick for April.

Don’t miss this one. It’s a beautiful and important book.

“Shattuck explores the lives of three widows at the tail end of World War II in this redemptive tale…. As new chapters in their lives are written, the women come to rely on each other as a makeshift family—much as the entire country, reeling after the horrors of the war, must imagine a new future and forge a new identity. Shattuck’s latest has an intricately woven narrative with frequent plot twists that will shock and please. The quotidian focus of the story, falling on the period just after the war, provides a unique glimpse into what the average German was and was not aware of during World War II’s darkest months. Shattuck’s own German heritage and knack for historical details adds to the realism of the tale. A beautiful story of survival, love, and forgiveness.”
 Publishers Weekly

In this primer about how evil invades then corrupts normal existence, Shattuck delivers simple, stark lessons on personal responsibility and morality… Neither romantic nor heroic, Shattuck’s new novel seems atypical of current World War II fiction but makes sincere, evocative use of family history to explore complicity and the long arc of individual responses to a mass crime.”
Kirkus Reviews

 “The reader is fully immersed in the experiences of these women, the choices they make, and the burdens they carry.  Shattuck has crafted a rich, potent, fluently written tale of endurance and survival.”
 Booklist (starred review)

 “Men wreak the havoc of war and women are left to manage the postwar mayhem…. Jessica Shattuck brilliantly takes on the struggles of three women in postwar Germany, wives of resistors who are brought together to live in a crumbling castle by the well-meaning but imperious Marianne von Lingenfels.   The women Marianne brings to her castle carry dark secrets and dreams for better lives for themselves and their children while struggling to come to terms with what it took to survive the war.
–  Cathy Langer, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, CO

This is a beautifully written and moving book about three very different, strong, flawed women set in Germany before, during, and after World War II. The combined perspectives of Marianne, Benita, and Ania offer a fascinating glimpse into a time and place in history where people’s morals seemed broken, and where forgiveness was desperately needed but hard to come by. I loved every moment of this heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful book!”
–  Stephanie Schindhelm, Boulder Book Store, Boulder, CO

 “[This] will be at the top of my 2017 list of great books.  This is a WWII novel, but it is not about Nazis or concentration camps, rather Germans who couldn’t believe what they were seeing, who endured hardships and watched their families disappear.  Shattuck shows us this unique point of view through three German women of differing backgrounds.  Her prose is wonderful and the variance in voice is outstanding.  I found this moving, engaging and recent parallels chilling and thought provoking.”
 Karin Barker, The Bookworm of Edwards, Edwards, CO

“A gripping, sweeping story about the devastation of war and the resilience of human dignity, Women in the Castle is not to be missed. Jessica Shattuck has created three daring, empathetic, and deeply flawed women who witnessed the rise of the Nazi Party and, in some cases, fell sway to its perverse propaganda. Under the rule of a barbaric regime, and in the painful aftermath after its collapse, Marianne, Benita, and Ania must determine where their loyalties lie, and whether to accept the horrifying truths of Germany’s crimes or hide behind willful ignorance. Full of vivid detail about women’s lives in WWII Germany, I could not stop reading this book.”
  Maggie Kane, Between the Covers, Harbor Springs, MI

“[A] powerful story of how three widows of German war resisters coped in the aftermath of their husbands’ deaths. With a completely unique perspective the author has created an immersive and thought provoking story. I hesitate to say a novel about this difficult time is a really good read…but this one definitely is…. There is a sensitivity and grace to Shattuck’s writing which I found powerful and deeply moving. Ultimately this is a tale of struggle, complicated relationships, loyalty and reconciliation.”
– Sharon Gambin, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

The Women in the Castle (9780062563668) by Jessica Shattuck. $26.99 hardcover. 3/28/17 one day laydown.

Fiction Short Take: No One is Coming to Save Us – Stephanie Powell Watts

Absolutely terrific advance praise for this reinterpretation of The Great Gatsby set in an African American community in North Carolina.

 Along with the great advance reviews, on sale coverage is coming in NYTBR, USA, Today, the AP and Washington Post, O, The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire and Essence. It’s also the cover story of the April issue of BookPage.

“In her patient yet rich first novel, a Great Gatsby reboot, Watts digs deep into the wounds of a down-and-out African-American family in the contemporary South…. [I]t hits home—and hard. Watts powerfully depicts the struggles many Americans face trying to overcome life’s inevitable disappointments. But it’s the compassion she feels for her characters’ vulnerability and desires— J.J.’s belief that he and Ava can work, Ava’s ache for a family, Sylvia’s wish to be seen and loved—that make the story so relevant and memorable.”
Publishers Weekly

The Great Gatsby is revived in an accomplished debut novel. Winner of a Pushcart Prize and other awards for her short fiction, Watts spins a compelling tale of obsessive love and dashed dreams set in a struggling North Carolina town. … Watts creates tender, sympathetic portraits of her two main characters, women enveloped in grief… Watts’ gently told story, like Fitzgerald’s, is only superficially about money but more acutely about the urgent, inexplicable needs that shape a life.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[Stephanie Powell Watts] explores The Great Gatsby’s themes of yearning, loss, hope, and disillusion in her powerhouse debut novel…. Watts’ lyrical writing and seamless floating between characters’ viewpoints make for a harmonious narrative chorus. This feels like an important, largely missing part of our ongoing American story. Ultimately, Watts offers a human tale of resilience and the universally understood drive to hang on and do whatever it takes to save oneself.”
Booklist

“Watts’ retelling is smart, unsettling, at times hilarious, and a wonderful update to this classic American novel.”
Nylon

No One Is Coming to Save Us (9780062472984) by Stephanie Powell Watts. $26.99 hardcover. 4/4/17 on sale.

Fiction Short Take: Mississippi Burning – Greg Iles

This conclusion to Iles’ three-part thriller on race and the American South is such a slam dunk to be yet another bestseller that I almost skipped mentioning it. But watching my wife immerse herself in all three books over the last couple weeks reminded me what a completely compelling experience this story is.

With three stared advance reviews, Mississippi Blood does right be the fans–and there are still plenty of new fans to be found. I recommend displaying it along with the first two books in the series—Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree.

Iles’s terrific conclusion to his Natchez Burning trilogy is a sweeping story that remains intimate. The Double Eagles, a savage KKK splinter group, have declared a personal war on Penn Cage, a former prosecutor who’s now the mayor of Natchez, Miss., necessitating 24-hour security protection for him and his family. The toxic bigotry escalates as Penn’s father, Tom, once a respected physician, goes on trial for the murder of his former nurse and one-time lover, Viola Turner, an African-American who was suffering from terminal cancer…. [R]elentless pacing keeps the story churning, with unexpected brutality erupting on nearly every page. The trial scenes are among the most exciting ever written in the genre.”
Publishers Weekly (boxed starred review)

“Faulkner meets John D. MacDonald, and that’s all to the good. A boisterous, spills-and-chills entertainment from start to finish.”
Kirkus Reviews

“From his opening line, Iles draws you back into Penn Cage’s deep South in this phenomenal trilogy’s final novel…. [A] heart-racing, enthralling thriller.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“This trilogy is destined to become a classic of literary crime fiction.”
Booklist (starred review)

Mississippi Blood (9780062311153) by Greg Iles. $28.99 hardcover. 3/21/17 one day laydown.

New Children’s Picture Book: The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors – Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Adam Rex

This is hands down the most hilarious read-aloud so far this year. Adam Rex’s illustrations give boisterous life to bestseller Daywalt’s smack down tale. Entirely fresh, it looks like another winner from the author of The Day the Crayon’s Quit. Three starred reviews.

Put on your battle pants, indeed.

 “Many challengers enter the storytime arena, but do they have the verbal dexterity, illustrative finesse, and plotline punch to captivate a crowd of voracious toddlers? Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex’s collaborative entrant The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors has all that it takes. Our titled trio each loves a good fight, but their constant wins amongst household foes have dulled the allure of victory. All that changes when rock, paper and scissors cross paths. Put on your battle pants, it’s time for the fight to end all fights! Gorgeously expressive and endlessly quotable, we are indeed entertained.”
— Molly Gillespie, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

Daywalt’s text, set in a range of expressive fonts, combines the heightened verbosity of vintage action comics with the swagger of backyard scuffles (“I hope you’re wearing your battle pants, rock warrior,” warns Scissors), and Rex composes wildly dramatic battle scenes against backdrops of thunderstorms, erupting volcanoes, and missile launches. Forget reading aloud—this story demands bombastic, full-volume performances.”
Publishers Weekly (starred reviews)

“Cheeky humor and prideful asides will have listeners in stitches. A closer-to-perfect pairing couldn’t be imagined. Everyone wins!”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“The earnest gravity of the fighters’ quests paired with the mundane setting and melodramatic tone are perfectly balanced to produce a brand of purely absurd, sidesplitting humor that kids will gobble up.”
Booklist (starred review)

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors (9780062438898) by Drew Daywalt, Drew and Adam Rex. $17.99 hardcover. 4/4/17 on sale.

Publicity: LaRose Wins the NBCC Award

Thirty years after Erdrich won the National Book Critics Circle Award for her debut novel, Love Medicine, she has won it again this year for LaRose, based on a true story she heard about a man who accidentally shot a boy and then gave up his own son to be raised by the grieving parents.

As a result, the paperback publication date has been moved up to 4/18/17.

LaRose (9780062277039) by Louse Erdrich. $15.99 paperback. 4/18/17 on sale.

 

HarperCollins’ 200th Anniversary

mark-twain-caption

It’s my company’s 200th anniversary so we’re doing a little crowing. From its beginning in 1817 as a printing company started by two twenty-something brothers from Long Island to the global presence it is today, HarperCollins has a storied history–and counts among its authors some of the brightest lights in literature including Charlotte Bronte, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Aldous Huxley, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Harper Lee, Louise Erdrich, Ann Patchett and Barbara Kingsolver.

Check out the website below to learn more. It’s fun (and likely to improve your performance at Pub Quiz). 🙂