In the News: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig

Like so many young people coming of age in the 1970’s this book was hugely influential to me. Thirty years later I learned it wasn’t just a relic of time and place when my 20-year-old nephew found his way to it and we bonded over the still perplexing issues the book takes on– clashing technological and spiritual worlds and cultural divides every bit as deep today as they were a generation ago.

You know by now of author Robert M. Pirsig’s passing. The obituaries have done a great job of contextualizing this uniquely American novel which explores fundamental questions of how to live one’s life.

As USA Today noted in one of last week’s many pieces, “The book was praised as a unique and masterful blend of narrative and philosophy and was compared to Moby Dick by New Yorker critic George Steiner, who wrote that Pirsig’s story ‘lodges in the mind as few recent novels have.’”

Two generations of McCunes are here to agree. Booksellers, now is the right time to give this one another tour on the front tables.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (9780060839871) by Robert M. Pirsig. $16.99 trade paper. Available.

Book of the Week: Ginny Moon – Benjamin Ludwig

This debut novel is the winsome and poignant story of an autistic foster child who has found her “forever family” after three placements in five years. When her forever parents become pregnant, a complicated time for the family is made more difficult by the unexpected resurfacing of Ginny’s abusive birth mother who wants to reconnect with the girl. Told from Ginny’s point of view, this tale of an unusual girl finding her path to love and safety will like appeal to fan of books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Rosie Project.

Ginny Moon launches Harlequin’s new indie-friendly imprint Park Row Books. It marks a great start and is shaping up to be a bestseller with three starred advance reviews, both an Indie Next and LibraryReads pick, and authors like Graham Simsion and Dan Chaon in its corner.

Ludwig’s excellent debut is both a unique coming-of-age tale and a powerful affirmation of the fragility and strength of families. We meet 14-year-old Ginny, who has autism, as she settles into life with a new “forever family” and unexpectedly reconnects with Gloria, the abusive, drug-addicted mother from whom she was taken away at the age of nine—and Rick, the father she never knew. The rediscovery unsettles the tentative bond Ginny’s forged with adoptive parents Maura and Brian, exacerbates the teen’s heartbreaking fears for the “baby doll” she left behind, and ultimately triggers a wildly heroic, secret plan to run away to Canada with Gloria and Rick. Ludwig brilliantly depicts the literal-minded and inventive Ginny—whose horrifying past and valiant hope for the future are slowly unveiled—and the alternately selfish, sympathetic, and compassionate adults who would do anything to get Ginny to choose their love….”
—  Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“This stunning debut novel grabs readers by the heart and doesn’t let go.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“[E]nlightening…compelling…remarkably engaging…A heartwarming and unforgettable page-turner.”
Booklist (starred review)

“In telling the tale from Ginny’s perspective, Ludwig captures the carefully constructed, sometimes-claustrophobic world Ginny inhabits…. By turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, Ginny’s quest for a safe home leads her to discover her own strong voice.
 Kirkus Reviews

“Ginny Moon isn’t like most other 14-year-olds. She is a Forever Girl, living in a loving Forever Home, but she’s desperate enough to get back to her Baby Doll that she plots to have her dangerous, irresponsible birth mom kidnap her. Ginny’s story was completely gripping right from the start with a looming sense of dread at all the ways her tale might become a tragedy. Her voice was pervasive…and I loved being in her head and seeing the world the way she does. Likewise, the adults are all made both simpler and more complex seen through Ginny’s eyes, and I marveled both at the ways they understood her and in the ways they sometimes failed her. Even though I was terrified for her, it was a joy spending time with clever, focused, brave Ginny.”
— Danielle Borsch, Vroman’s Bookstore, Pasadena, CA

Ginny Moon (9780778330165) by Benjamin Ludwig. $26.99 hardcover. 5/2/17 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.

Mystery Short Take: Black Fall – Andrew Mayne

In addition to performing professionally, Mayne is a magician who has starred in his own reality show and now uses magic to teach critical thinking to kids on PBS. This is his third thriller featuring Jessica Blackwood, an FBI agent who comes from a family of magicians.

“Thriller Award–finalist Mayne’s enthralling third Jessica Blackwood novel finds the FBI agent on a stakeout of a serial killer in a Washington, D.C [when] an earthquake rocks the area. Jessica and her team learn of a videotape featuring Nobel Prize–winning physicist Peter Devon, who seems to have predicted the earthquake and warned about the coming of something called Black Fall—but Devon has been dead for eight years…. [M]ore frightening predictions roll in and riots rock the city…. The author, a professional magician, makes the impossible seem probable in this twisty, clever treat.”
Publishers Weekly

Black Fall: A Jessica Blackwood Novel (9780062491985) by Andrew Mayne. $15.99 trade paper original. 3/21/17 on sale.

 

Fiction Short Take: The Wrong Dead Guy – Richard Kadrey

This is volume two in Kadrey’s new series and takes this acclaimed urban fantasist into Christopher Moore territory. In fact, Moore himself called the first volume, The Everything Box, “A rolling bouncy-house of a caper tale…quick-witted characters, snarky dialogue, and surreal analogies. If you haven’t sampled Richard Kadrey’s take on fantasy yet, this is a great place to start.”

“[I]nveterate thief Coop is a fast-talking criminal making his way through a supernatural substratum of society. Last time around, he saved the world and has now reluctantly been seconded to the Department of Peculiar Science….Coop’s boss, Woolrich, orders his team on a new mission: ‘A simple theft. A local museum has a mummy on display. We’d like to have it instead of them.’ What sounds like a simple heist quickly becomes mortal danger when they accidentally awaken Harkhuf, an evil mummy imbued with dark magic, which is totally the worst kind of magic, apparently….A goofy, flamboyant, and breathless horror adventure by one of the genre’s sharpest creators.”
Kirkus

“Cross Donald Westlake’s John Dortmunder with Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr, add a layer of supernatural shenanigans, and if you are as talented a writer as Richard Kadrey, you end up with Coop, thief protagonist of The Everything Box….Richard Kadrey is a master of paranormal suspense and relatable antiheroes with a strong dose of dark humor, and The Wrong Dead Guy is a delight from beginning to end. Highly recommended.”
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books & Music, Okemos, MI

The Wrong Dead Guy (9780062389572) by Richard Kadrey. $24.99 hardcover. 2/28/17 on sale.

New Fiction: A Piece of the World – Christine Baker Kline

The author of the blockbuster novel Orphan Train delivers another insightful look into American life, in this case reimagining the life of Christina Olson, the subject of Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting Christina’s World.

That painting has been called “an American Mona Lisa.” In it Christina Olson’s enigmatic pose hints at the inner life which Kline’s novel illuminates. Born to a farm family in Maine, Olson hopes to become a teacher but is kept home by her family to work on the farm. And the pose she strikes in the painting takes on a special poignancy when the reader learns that the Christina in the picture has been crippled by polio. That disability became part of her bond with the younger Wyeth who had difficulty walking.

The advance reviews are very strong. That the book is both an Indie Next Pick and a LibraryReads pick prefigures much wider consumer support at on sale. Parade.com has already done a cover reveal and offered a sneak-peak excerpt.

People named it Book  of the Week, calling “beautifully observed.” Other reviews at on sale are scheduled in USA Today and the NYTBR.

“[T]old from Christina’s point of view, from the moment she reflects on the painting; it then goes back and forth through her history, from her childhood through the time that Wyeth painted at her family farm, using its environs and Christina and her brother as subjects. First encountering Christina as a middle-aged woman, Wyeth saw something in her that others did not. Their shared bond of physical infirmity (she had undiagnosed polio; he had a damaged right foot and bad hip) enables her to open up about her family and her difficult life, primarily as a shut-in, caring for her family, cooking, cleaning, sewing, and doing laundry….Through it all, the author’s insightful, evocative prose brings Christina’s singular perspective and indomitable spirit to life.”
Publishers Weekly

The figure at the center of Andrew Wyeth’s celebrated painting Christina’s World has her back to the viewer, but Kline turns her to face the reader, simultaneously equipping her with a back story and a lyrical voice….Born in 1893, Christina is a clever schoolgirl whose opportunity to train as a teacher will be obstructed by her parents, who need her to work at home. The progressive bone disease which makes mobility difficult and brings constant pain scarcely reduces her ceaseless domestic workload….Kline lovingly evokes the restricted life of a sensitive woman forced to renounce the norms of intimacy and self-advancement while using her as a lens to capture the simple beauty of the American farming landscape…Kline’s reading group–friendly novel delivers a character portrait that is painterly, sensuous, and sympathetic.”
Kirkus

 A piece of the World is a graceful, moving and powerful demonstration of what can happen when a fearless literary imagination combines with an inexhaustible curiosity about the past and the human heart: a feat of time travel, a bravura improvisation on the theme of art history, a wonderful story that seems to have been waiting, all this time, for Christina Baker Kline to come along and tell it.”
— Michael Chabon

“This is a novel that does what Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting does: it renders a whole universe of love and longing inside a seemingly simple scene. By focusing on this one particular piece of the world, Christina Baker Kline has accomplished something grand. This is a gorgeous novel, both heartbreaking and life-affirming.”
— Nathan Hill

A Piece of the World (9780062356260) by Christina Baker Kline. $27.99 hardcover. 2/21/17 one day laydown.

New Fiction: The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan

Here’s a story that is charming, whimsical, poignant and ultimately life affirming…. Aimee Bender territory. It is the story of a writer who carelessly loses a keepsake of his beloved fiancée’s on the day she dies. And it’s the story of a young editor who finds the keepsake on the street and keeps it. Over the course of the next forty years the writer seeks consolation by rescuing the things that other people lose and writing about them. Where life takes the writer, the editor, the lost things and the people they belonged to makes for a lovely journey.

Praise starts with Helen Simonson, whose plucky, good-hearted characters in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand still warm my heart:

From the attention-grabbing opening paragraph, to the joyful conclusion, Ruth Hogan has stirred together a charming fairytale in which the people may be more lost than the things; and generosity and compassion may be the key to finding a way home. Also there are dogs. Delightful.”

“Hogan’s writing has the soothing warmth of the cups of cocoa and tea her characters regularly dispense…old-fashioned storytelling with a sprinkling of magic.”
— Kirkus

“Hogan’s first novel reveals how even discarded items have significance and seemingly random objects, people, and places are all interconnected.”
— Booklist

“You already know Laura. She’s the friend who wears her heart on her sleeve, who is true to her word, and who could really use a lucky break. But Laura’s lucky break comes with strings attached. She inherits a house, but also the things in it. Anthony is a kind-hearted man who collects ‘lost things’ everywhere he goes. A cup and saucer, a red gemstone, a lone puzzle piece. Anthony can’t help but imagine the lives of the people who’ve lost these things. After all, he lost the most important thing he could ever imagine: Therese and her medallion. Through the years, Anthony has become The Keeper of Lost Things, he made a habit of collecting things he found in gutters, on streets, or blown into driveways. The only thing he didn’t get to do before he died was to get around to finding the people the lost things belonged to. Can Laura live up to the task that Anthony himself could never complete? And how in the world will she do it? This is a novel full of grace, kindness, and forgiveness. It’s perfectly lovely gem from start to finish.”
— Jessilynn Norcross from McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, MI

The Keeper of Lost Things (9780062473530) by Ruth Hogan. $26.99 hardcover. 2/12/17 on sale.