New Fiction: The Almost Sisters – Joshilyn Jackson

Here’s another writer who is a master at serving up serious themes inside of confection of wit, pathos and heart. In The Almost Sisters, bestseller Jackson tells the story of a graphic novelist who has a one-night stand with a mysterious Batman she meets at a FanCon. She later discovers that she is pregnant and finds herself looking forward to the prospect of motherhood.

But add that her son will be a biracial boy born into a conventional Old South family, a grandmother with dementia, and a family secret in that has been hidden in her attic since the Civil War–and you’ve something a lot more substantial and satisfying than the typical summer beach read.

If you’re a fan of women’s fiction, you’ll love this story of family and relationships. If you’re not a fan of women’s fiction, come for the humor and insight. As one reviewer said of her work, it’s “Flannery O’Connor meets Dave Barry.”

“Jackson has written another spirited page-turner …There’s a whiff of Southern Gothic here and plenty of sex, lies, and family secrets…. But Jackson is bighearted and, in the end, optimistic. She writes vivid, funny characters, and her voice is distinctive and authentic.… A satisfying, entertaining read from an admired writer who deserves to be a household name.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Jackson has packed in all the drama needed for a fast-paced summer read, but this isn’t your average beach book. Dark secrets and racism plague Grandma Birchie’s seemingly charming southern town, and Leia will soon find that real-life villains aren’t as easy to identify as the ones in her comic books.”
Publishers Weekly

Leia, a self-proclaimed superhero-comics dork, narrates this light-dark Southern story of family, race, and belonging with affection, humor, and well-timed profanity, bound to please fans of the best-selling author’s six previous novels.… Both literary and women’s fiction readers will appreciate Leia’s smart/sassy narrative.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“Joshilyn Jackson is an amazing storyteller who somehow keeps getting better and better with every novel. Unforgettable characters, constant action and a deft hand with social issues makes The Almost Sisters her best yet…. Jackson’s ear for language makes her work sing; her characters’ fierce family loyalties make you cheer for them; and the humor in her work balances her often-dark subject matter. I adored The Almost Sisters!
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books and Music, Okemos, MI

The Almost Sisters (9780062105714) by Joshilyn Jackson. $26.99 hardcover. 7/11/17 on sale.


New Fiction: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows – Balli Kaur Jaswal

This multicultural charmer is a perfect summer read for fans of books like Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. It’s an East-meets-West story of a westernized young Punjabi women who takes a job teaching creative writing at a Sikh community center in London. The women sign up for the class think they have signed up for a literacy class but embrace the spirit of creative writing, especially when one when one brings in a book of sexy stories.

As the women share their own stories, the “literacy class” becomes more and more popular while also drawing the attention of The Brotherhood—a self-styled moral police of conservative young men. Stir in a whodunit about the death of a young wife in the community; add a dollop of romance—and you’ve got a satisfying, sexy entertainment under pinned by some serious themes.

“Jaswal’s charming debut features an engaging protagonist who longs to break free from her more traditional mother’s expectations and who is still smarting from her father’s death, but it’s the portrayal of the women in Nikki’s class that is the highlight: these women are considered invisible, but through their writing they can be seen and their desires and dreams can be acknowledged. It’s a precious gift to give, and one Nikki comes to take very seriously. Additionally, the mystery of a young girl’s death offers an interesting twist at the end. This is a sparkling read, bolstered by a few of the women’s stories sprinkled in throughout.”
Publishers Weekly

By turns erotic, romantic, and mysterious, this novel of women defying patriarchal strictures enchants.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Sometimes books call to you from the shelves. Jaswal’s remarkable, fiery cast of characters — her Punjabi widows of Southall, England — tell a story with a voice that is so sorely needed. The stories of people whose voices often go unheard — women, immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ folks — are invaluable in our nation’s fight for empathy.”
— Tara Bagnola, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows (9780062645128) by Balli Kaur Jaswal. $26.99 hardcover. 6/13/17 on sale.

New Young Adult Fiction: Midnight at the Electric – Jodi Lyn Anderson

One of the most profound and haunting books I ever read was Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days. It initially seemed to be three unrelated novellas but by the end it was clear that the three disparate stories were slowly and structurally wound together through time and with the intention of telling us something profound about what it means to be human.

A bit of the same technique is at work here. Anderson’s story starts in 2065 with Adri, a young woman who has been chosen for a mission to Mars. While visiting an extended family member’s Kansas home, she uncovers clues about the life of a girl who had lived in the family’s home during the Dustbowl of the Great Depression. A final thread winds the story back further back to include young woman preparing the immigrate to America after WWI.

With intertwined voices, the story is told through prose, letters, and diaries–and the result is a lovely and timeless story about the nature of being human: the poignancy of leaving as well as the fear and excitement of an unknown future.

Five starred reviews for this one! Anderson has definitely arrived as one of the more nuanced and accomplished writers writing fiction for teens.

Anderson interweaves the stories of three tenacious young women in this sprawling saga…. Each character’s resilience and independence shines brightly, creating a thread that ties them together even before the intersections of their lives are fully revealed. Anderson’s piercing prose ensures that these remarkable women will leave a lasting mark on readers.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

’Deft, succinct, and ringing with emotion without ever dipping into sentimentality, Anderson’s novel is both intriguing and deeply satisfying.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“With quietly evocative writing, compellingly drawn characters, and captivating secrets to unearth, this thought-provoking, lyrical novel explores the importance of pinning down the past before launching into the mystery of the future.”
Booklist (starred review)

Anderson deftly tackles love, friendship, and grief in this touching exploration of resilience and hope. A must-have for all YA collections.”
School Library Journal (starred review)

“Anderson employ[s] a no-frills style that allows her characters to shine through, with each distinct, nuanced, and memorable.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review)

Midnight at the Electric (9780062393548) by Jodi Lyn Anderson. $17.99 hardcover. 6/13/17 on sale.

Book of the Week: The Magpie Murders – Anthony Horowitz

Horowitz has had bestsellers with both his previous takes on genre mysteries: Moriarty and Trigger Mortis. With Sherlock Holmes and James Bond under his belt, Horowitz this time offers us a delightful homage to Agatha Christie. The bonus of a book-within-a-book structure is icing on the cake.

The story opens with editor Susan Ryeland settling in to read the manuscript of her bestselling author’s latest mystery novel. Alan Conway may be a pill but his creation–Detective Atticus Pünd—is a reliable hit and cash cow for the small publishing house.

So Susan starts reading and we’re treated to a new Pünd novel. And like her, we’re caught up short when we realize the novel is incomplete. Susan arrives at work the next morning to hear that Alan Conway has died and the “real life” mystery is afoot! When Susan realizes that the characters in the new Pünd manuscript might be stand-ins for people in Conway’s life, the author’s suicide suddenly looks like it could be murder.

All in all, a very satisfying clockwork–smart fun and a great beach read handsell for the Indies.

Magpie Murders has been chosen as a Book of the Month pick at several stores I work with and booksellers and librarians have chosen it as the #1 Indie Next and LibraryReads picks for June. There will be major review coverage on sale and the book has already received three starred advance reviews. It will be part of the NYT Summer Reading Feature and NPR will run a Lynn Neary interview with Horowitz.

A preternaturally brainy novel within a novel that’s both a pastiche and a deconstruction of golden-age whodunits…. Fans who still mourn the passing of Agatha Christie, the model who’s evoked here in dozens of telltale details, will welcome this wildly inventive homage/update/commentary as the most fiendishly clever puzzle—make that two puzzles—of the year.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[T]wo mysteries for the price of one, crafting a classic whodunit within a modern mystery… combined, they result in a delightful puzzle. Fans of Agatha Christie and the BBC’s Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War (both written by Horowitz) will relish this double mystery.”
Library Journal (starred review)

A treat for fans of golden age mysteries with this tour de force that both honors and pokes fun at the genre…. Poirot-like sleuth Atticus Pünd, a German concentration camp survivor who has settled in England, tackles an Agatha Christie–like puzzle in 1955 Saxby-on-Avon…. Horowitz throws in several wicked twists as the narrative builds to a highly satisfying explanation of the prologue.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“As a huge fan of 2014’s Moriarty, it didn’t surprise me that Anthony Horowitz managed to create his own, instantly iconic version of an Agatha Christie detective in Magpie Murders. What did surprise me was discovering that novel stuffed, like a Russian nesting doll, into a second novel concerning a book editor convinced that the suicide of her most lucrative client––the arrogant mystery writer responsible for the Christie homage––was really murder. Yes, this have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too approach is awfully, often deliciously clever, but Horowitz knows that the best whodunits are more than puzzles to be solved. I relished every plot twist, but it’s the novel’s insights into fame, privacy, and fiction-making itself that kept me turning pages.”
—  Sam Krowchenko, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

Magpie Murders (9780062645227) by Anthony Horowitz. $27.99 hardcover. 6/6/17 one day laydown.


New Fiction: She Rides Shotgun – Jordan Harper


Screenwriter Harper was well-reviewed for his terrific debut story collection, Love and Other Wounds, inspiring comments like this from PW: “Harper kicks the door of crime fiction off its splintered frame.”

The promise of that collection is realized in this explosive first novel which received three starred advance reviews. The set-up sounds something like Paper Moon blasted against the hyperviolent universe of Breaking Bad. After making enemies with a gang called Aryan Steel, Nate McClusky is released from prison to find his ex-wife dead and the gang looking for his young daughter. Nate scoops up the shy, smart Polly from school and the two go on the run from both Aryan Steel and the police.

Kirkus notes in its starred review that “The novel combines striking images…with disturbingly raw violence.”  But the real surprise here is not the adrenaline-fueled escapades and violence. It’s the way Jordan is able to develop the relationship between this absent father and his young daughter—and his portrayal of a shy kid turning into a strong heroine who has her own sense of grit and honor.

Harper’s writing is not for the faint of heart but this is a rewarding read from an author to watch.

At the start of Harper’s visceral, pulpy, vernacular-filled first novel, introspective 11-year-old Polly McClusky has an unexpected reunion on the steps of her Southern California middle school with her estranged father…. Nate, Polly, and her stuffed bear, who serves to articulate the swirling emotions that Polly hesitates to voice, go on the run, sought by not only the gang but also Det. John Park, who’s investigating the murders. Nate and Polly’s relationship blooms, despite their being in constant crisis-survival mode…. Expert pacing and well-developed characters lift this above the thriller pack.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“From its bravura prologue to its immensely satisfying ending, this first novel comes out with guns blazing and shoots the chambers dry. It’s both a dark, original take on the chase novel and a strangely touching portrait of a father-daughter relationship framed in barbed wire.”
— Booklist (starred review)

“The characters’ loyalty, love, and struggle for redemption grip the reader and don’t let go.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

She Rides Shotgun (9780062394408) by Jordan Harper. $26.99 hardcover. 6/6/17 on sale.

New Fiction: Dragon Teeth – Michael Crichton

Welcome to our first blockbuster of the beach read season!

But isn’t this guy dead? Yes… however unlike authors whose estates license their names after death and hire writers to continue writing books in the author’s style (think Sidney Sheldon, Agatha Christie), two of the last three Crichton novels are completed manuscripts from his archives. (The outlier is Micro, which was completed by science writer Richard Preston).

This new novel returns to two favorite Crichton topics: dinosaurs and adventurers. Drawing on the story of two real-life 19th century paleontologists–Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh—who are in a battle to out-discover each other in the American West. The story follows a Yale student who joins Marsh and enters a world of gold rush towns, warring Indian nations and two obsessed scientists pillaging the fossil history of the West.

Steven Spielberg and Sony are developing the novel into a series for the National Geographic Channel.

“Among all Crichton’s novels, it’s one of his best, a beautifully detailed, scientifically engrossing, absolutely riveting story.”
Booklist (starred review)

“A fast-paced page-turner that showcases Crichton’s singular ability to combine action, science, and history into one fantastic story. Fans will be thrilled, while new readers will discover what makes his books so enthralling.”
Library Journal

“Crichton pays homage, again, to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World in this entertaining historical thriller…in a West made even more perilous in the aftermath of Custer’s Last Stand. Fans of Crichton’s historical suspense books, such as The Great Train Robbery, will be pleased.
Publishers Weekly

“Crichton has always stunned me as a writer of fantastically well-researched science fiction, and while Dragon Teeth is very much a Western, his thorough research and gripping action shines through in a fast-paced novel of science and gun slinging…. [It] delivers all the hallmarks of a classic Crichton, with an experimental twist almost akin to Eaters of the Dead.  For fans of Westerns, it will provide a well-researched novel with a different perspective from typical works of the genre.  For fans of historical fiction, audiences will be captivated by Crichton’s research into the worldviews of various nineteenth-century demographic groups.  For all types of readers, Dragon Teeth will be nearly impossible to put down.  Nearly ten years after moving on, Crichton demonstrates he still has considerable power as a novelist.  Frankly, it makes all us among the living look bad.”
— Dylan Tucker, Joseph-Beth, Crestview Hills, KY

Dragon Teeth (9780062473356) by Michael Crichton. $28.99 hardcover. 5/23/17 one day laydown.


Fiction Short Take: The Himalyan Codex – Bill Schutt and J.R. Finch

If Crichton whets your appetite for science-based speculative fiction steeped in history, you can always turn to James Rollins. For readers who have worked through Rollins, Steve Berry, Preston Child and other established heirs to Crichton, you might want to try this new series from writing partners Schutt and Finch. This is their second book and both have been praised for offering the perfect blend of science, history and suspense rolled out at a page-turning pace.

Kirkus gave their first book, Hell’s Gate, a starred review saying, “[T]hink Indiana Jones. For that matter, this yarn evokes more than a few reminders of Stephen King, Joseph Conrad, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Fast-moving fun for thriller readers who enjoy a bit of horror and seeing bad guys get what’s coming to them.”

PW also gave the first book a starred review, highlighting the balance of science and suspense noting that “Michael Crichton fans will be pleased.”

“[in The Himalayan Codex] Schutt and Finch provide a textbook example of how to make the fantastic easy to buy into with their superior second Crichton-esque thriller…. In 1946, Maj. Pat Hendry visits [zoologist R.J. MacCready] at his offices in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Natural History and shows him jawbones from a dwarf mammoth that suggest the creature had two trunks. Hendry reveals that the bones came from a remote part of Tibet known as the Labyrinth, which may also be the site of an even more amazing discovery—an incomplete codex believed to have been written by Pliny the Elder…that could be ‘the key to shaping life itself.’ … An extended author’s note at the end explains that such speculation is grounded in science.”
—  Publishers Weekly (starred review)

The Himalayan Codex (9780062412553) by Bill Schutt and J.R. Finch. $26.99 hardcover. 6/6/17 on sale.


New Fiction: Black Mad Box – Josh Malerman

Detroit-based indie rocker Malerman became an artistic double-threat with his well-received suspense debut, Bird Box. To me that book recalled the chilly, restrained horror of Shirley Jackson. USA Today thought it was “Hitchcockian. . . A notably strong study of modern psychological terror.” Either way, not bad company for debut author.

With this second book, it’s clear that Malerman is both a genre fan and that he’s not out to write the same book twice. This one starts in post WWII Detroit and follows a band called the Danes, who are all WWII vets. The Army approaches the Danes to track down the source of a mysterious and deadly sound in the desert half a world away. Suspense, conspiracies, supernatural horror—and even romance—ensue. Fans of Stephen King and 1950’s adventure pulp will love it.

In a genre not known for restraint, his uncluttered prose evokes awe and terror, and resonates with the chilling strangeness encountered in the fiction of 20th-century writers Robert Aickman and Shirley Jackson. Readers of weird, atmospheric fiction with a conspiratorial bent will enjoy Malerman’s latest offering.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“[C]ompletely unpredictable and utterly bizarre in all the best ways. Fans of off-the-wall fiction will enjoy this, and horror fans would do well to pick it up for some truly terrifying moments.”

“Malerman’s striking originality can’t be denied. Dark, brooding, and slightly unhinged, Malerman’s unusually compelling second novel is certifiably unlike any you’ll read this year.”

Black Mad Wheel (9780062259684) by Josh Malerman. $26.99 hardcover. 5/23/17 on sale



Paperback Fiction Short Take: What She Saw – Gerard Stembridge

You can recommend this stylish thriller to fans of Chris Pavone. In it, a heroine in the throes of a manic episode takes a trip to Paris, telling herself that as long as she stays on her meds everything is under control. Staying at the historic Hotel Chevalier, she impulsively follows a young woman she has just in the hotel’s bar and sees the young woman being assaulted by an older man who turns out to be a famous French politician. What should have been a vacation turns into a cat-and-mouse game as she tries to uncover the truth behind what she believes she saw. Author Stembridge is also a screenwriter and it shows in the story’s page-turning pace.

Librarians loved this one and singled it out as a LibraryReads pick.

Writer and director Stembridge creates an indefatigable protagonist, emboldened and energized by her mania, in a chase through the vividly portrayed City of Lights. A thoroughly entertaining mix of suspense and setting.”

“A satisfyingly twisty 24-hour thrill ride through the heart of contemporary Paris. Lana Gibson, an American living in Dublin, decides on a whim to fly to Paris…. At the posh Hotel Le Chevalier, she talks to a beautiful woman in the bar. An hour later, the impulsive Lana slips into the hotel’s private elevator, which she knows goes up to a private suite. When the elevator doors open, she spots the woman from the bar resisting the advances of a naked older man… [who] turns out to be…an important French politician…. The secondary viewpoint of a frustrated small player in Fournier’s organization adds complexity and raises the tension.”
Publisher Weekly

What She Saw (9780062568984) by Gerard Stembridge. $15.99 trade paper original. 5/23/17 on sale.


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.