Book of the Week: The Witches of New York – Ami McKay

Here’s a satisfying sleeper you can put into the hands of fiction lovers who like their genres stirred into a potent, bracing brew—and their escapism underpinned with some substance.

The Witches of New York takes place in a beautifully realized Victorian New York—at a time when both science and spirituality were taking society by storm. The witches of this novel run a small tea shop that helps ladies find cures for many ills—from sleepless nights to bad marriages to unwanted pregnancies. Enter a young girl from the countryside who hires on as a shop girl—a girl who turns out to be a young witch unaware of her latent powers. Add in a powerful demon who works through a culture of men threatened by these self-sufficient, independent women and you have a summer entertainment whose themes couldn’t be more relevant today.

In this weighty, wonderful novel, McKay takes a sidelong glance at misogyny through a veil of witches, ghosts, and other mystical entities in 1880 New York…. McKay seamlessly combines several plots and juggles a large cast with grace. Skillful worldbuilding, fascinating characters, and a suspenseful plot make McKay’s novel an enchanting, can’t-put-down delight. The door is left open for a sequel, and readers will hope McKay takes Adelaide, Eleanor, and Beatrice on further adventures of witchery and self-determination.”
—  Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“With a remarkable cast of characters… McKay has crafted a stunning work that bridges the gap between historical and contemporary women’s issues. The novel is ambitious in its scope yet still delves deep into the thoughts and motivations of characters who normally exist on society’s outskirts—or even beyond the earthly realm…. McKay’s elegant prose bridges the gap between the real world and the spiritual realm with skill and compassion.”
Kirkus (starred review)

The Witches of New York (9780062359926) by Ami KcKay. $15.99 trade paper original. 7/11/17 on sale.

New Trade Paper Fiction: The Crime Writer – Jill Dawson

When customers come to you for a follow up after Magpie Murders, hand them Dawson’s homage to Patricia Highsmith. It’s another suspenseful crime drama that pays homage to an individual writer’s brand of storytelling. And in this case, the alcoholic, lesbian and deeply eccentric Highsmith herself is the protagonist of this most Highsmithian murder tale.

Based in the historical record of a year that Highsmith spent in rural Suffolk and told in the writer’s voice, readers get a feverish, twisted peek into a troubled, talented mind of the writer—as well as a distinct sense of the new kind of crime fiction she intended to write.

Some details were so willfully odd (for instance, that she collected and cultivated snails) that the sent me to Wikipedia where I learned that this novel hews quite closely to Highsmith’s actual life and her opinions on writing.

It’s a dark psychological character study of desire, abuse, rage and paranoia. Near the end of the book the fictional Pat Highsmith offers a comment which is, I think, the key to that Dawson is up to in this book:

“What if the fantasy life is the real one? What if –well, what’s that Virginia Woolf quote about us living two lives at any time and one of them being the life of the mind, the imagination? Who is to say that isn’t the most valid, the most real . . .”

This was a fun read for genre fans who like it dark—a page-turner that’s both smart and pulpy. Dawson has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize and has won the Whitbread. Already out in England, The Crime Writer been well-reviewed; Paula Hawkins called it “brilliant.”

 When acclaimed suspense writer Patricia Highsmith, the antiheroine of this dreamlike, high-tension novel…moves into a Suffolk cottage in 1965, she welcomes the quiet seclusion. She looks forward to working on her new book, collecting snails, and maybe enjoying a weekend with her married lover, Sam Gosforth, who’s ‘everything I’m not.’… Pat has always been fascinated by what moves a person to murder, and she applies fierce resolve to the aftermath of a shocking act of violence that would not have been out of place in her novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. Dawson smoothly marries fact with fiction to capture the famously prickly Highsmith while astutely exploring love, obsession, and the myriad shades of darkness within us all.”
Publishers Weekly

“[I]n a manner that seems deliberately modeled on Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt (filmed recently as Carol), Pat is absolutely unguarded against her love for the upper-class Sam. These two sides come together in a catastrophe that occurs halfway through the novel. It’s a clever conceit, plunging an author into a scenario right out of her own queasy-making fiction, and it’s adroitly handled, forcing Pat to live out her ideas of crime and guilt.”
Kirkus Reviews

Ventriloquy is Dawson’s forte…. This fascinating, skillfully constructed novel builds a convincing picture of Patricia Highsmith, her spiky, awkward intelligence and (in a phrase of her biographer, Joan Schenkar) ‘the low, flat, compellingly psychotic murmur’ of both her life and her prose.”
The Spectator

“Fantastically moody and appealingly unhinged — a piece of sophisticated literary ventriloquism that achieves a wonderful blurring of the lines between fact and fantasy.”
— Sarah Waters in the Guardian

The Crime Writer (9780062669582) by Jill Dawson. $15.99 trade paper original. 6/6/17 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.

New Nonfiction: Sunshine State – Sarah Gerard

Many booksellers have told me that the general essay is seeing a renaissance. Books like The Empathy Exams, The Faraway Nearby and Bad Feminist are finding healthy audiences in Indie bookstores among customers looking for thoughtful, intelligent meditations on modern life.

Add to this burgeoning genre Gerard’s Sunshine State. Like these other collections Gerard uses the lens of personal experience—her life on the Gulf Coast of Florida–to try to make sense of the human condition. Personal stories expand into meditations on larger social concerns—financial misappropriation, date rape, class tensions.

 There’s been a lot of anticipation for this collection. Online it has already been mentioned in Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, The Week and The Millions. Roxane Gay mentioned in EW that it’s what she’s currently reading and PW gave it a starred review. The NYT is already set to review at on sale and it’s an Indie Next Pick.

Brave, keenly observational, and humanitarian, Gerard’s collection of essays illuminates the stark realities of Florida’s Gulf Coast. With a mixture of investigative journalism and firsthand experience, she brings to life outspoken zealots, hopeless romantics, and escapist youth. She describes the hunger of Christian Scientists for earthly and spiritual wellness, Amway members for self-determined success, adolescents for reckless euphoria, testosterone-flooded males for dominance, and the underprivileged for nothing more than adequate housing and shelter. Gerard is a virtuoso of language, which in her hands is precise, unlabored, and quietly wrought with emotion…. Gerard’s collection leaves an indelible impression. Fans of literary nonfiction and dark reverie will welcome it.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Sarah Gerard’s Sunshine State gloriously gutted me—and by that I mean changed me forever as a reader. Using Florida as a lens and the body as a ticket to travel, Gerard weaves her astonishing prose through land and corporeal truth. Sunshine State reminds us of who we really are underneath the skin we live in and the ground we stand on—and mercifully, there is still beauty, in spite of everything.”
— Lidia Yuknavitch

“Combining journalism and memoir, Gerard… brings a sharp eye to recollections of growing up on Florida’s Gulf Coast…. An intimate journey reveals a Florida few visitors would ever discover.”
Kirkus

“Focusing on a single state, Gerard’s scope is nonetheless quite large, and her sensitive, sympathetic writer’s sensitivity for her subjects and interviewees is apparent.”
Booklist

Sunshine State: Essays (9780062434876) by Sarah Gerard. $15.99 trade paper original. 4/11/17 on sale.

New Trade Paper Fiction: Their Finest – Lissa Evans

This one’s already on sale but don’t let it slip past you like I just did–you want this out on display.

From the author of the Indie favorite Crooked Heart comes another charming WWII tale. Their Finest tells the story of a group of misfits pressed into service making propaganda film for the British war effort. Easily as winning as its predecessor, Their Finest also has the same literary cred as the previous book–both were longlisted for the Orange Prize.

Their Finest also releases as a movie in the U.S. on April 7th starring Bill Nighy, Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin. Check out the trailer below; you’ve got customers for this story.

This is a comic novel, but far warmer in tone and broader in scope than that label would suggest…. Gloriously observed…Hilliard is a wonderful creation—and Evans’s recreated propaganda scripts are a total joy. Delicious.”
Times (London)

Their Finest (9780062414915) by Lissa Evans. $15.99 trade paper original. 2/14/17 on sale.

Nonfiction Short Take: Moranifesto – Caitlin Moran

Best known for the hilarious bestseller How to Be a Woman, The NYT calls Moran’s writing “rowdy and fearless… sloppy, big-hearted and alive in all the right ways.” This new book is a collection of her columns from The Times of London. With trademark wit and optimism she covers everything from feminism to race and class…to Benedict Cumberbatch. Bring it with you to the Woman’s March on Washington this January!

“Exuberant….Moran’s wise, bracing observations about politics, pop culture, feminism, and nearly everything else are no-holds-barred, and made easy and fun to digest by her crackling humor.”
Booklist

Moran touches on a wide array of topics, including Daft Punk’s hit song ‘Get Lucky,’ Hillary Clinton, social media, class differences, and abortion. Moran’s endless sense of humor, enthusiasm for punching upward… Readers don’t have to be interested in or knowledgeable about everything she references (such as U.K. politics) to have fun with Moran, but they do need a silly sense of humor.”
Publishers Weekly

“Whether they make me pump my fist and say ‘Yeah,’ or make me angry or sad, Moran’s essays are always thought-provoking and, at their best, inspirational. A feminist with a great sense of humor, Moran writes equally well about social injustice and popular culture. Recommended!”
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books & Music, Okemos, MI

Moranifesto (9780062433756) by Caitlin Moran. $15.99 trade paper original. 11/29/16 on sale.

Nonfiction Short Take: Not Just Jane – Shelley DeWees

Jane Austen fans will enjoy this look at Austen’s time by way of seven “lost” women authors who were her contemporaries. The book explores the social and cultural evolution that enabled them to consider writing while also constraining their possibilities. The research is detailed; the voice is spirited and fun.

“Reveal[s] the interesting lives and strong characters of these oft-forgotten writers….This book succeeds at making readers aware of the gaps in our knowledge of British literature…planting the seed that there are many treasures out there waiting for a second chance.
   — Kirkus Reviews

“Their stories are complex, involving dissolute husbands, illness, opium, and the French Revolution…[DeWees] does important work in challenging the notion of canon, pointing out that the advent of digital libraries has made many of these lesser-known works easily accessible..”
   — Publishers Weekly

“Fun…. Lovers of Austen’s books and film adaptations of her work will find much to enjoy in this informative overview of authors.”
   — Library Journal

“Interweaving the fascinating stories…and the social, cultural, and economic realities of their times, an insightful group portrait of these groundbreaking women emerges. Lively…. An important contribution to the scholarship of women’s literature.”
Booklist

Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature (9780062394620) by Shelley DeWees. $15.99 trade paper original. 10/25/16 on sale.