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: 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.

Nonfiction Short Take: Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy – Nicholas Reynolds

Just when you thought every dark nook and cranny of Hemingway’s life had been explored, military historian Nicholas Reynolds arrives with new information that suggests Hemingway worked as a spy during WWII—both for OSS and the NKVD (a precursor of the KGB)!

Reynolds has spent his career in military intelligence, including a decade as curator of the CIA Museum where he first discovered clues that suggested Hemingway’s WWII activities included some spycraft.

[An] engrossing story of Hemingway’s disillusionment with American politics, his sympathy with communism, and his attraction to adventure and subversion.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Drawing on his intelligence background, Reynolds uncovers a trove of documents that point to American novelist Ernest Hemingway’s recruitment in 1940 by the NKVD. … Reynolds ably researches Hemingway’s World War II adventures, both in Cuba and Europe, including clandestine activities supporting America’s war effort. … An intriguing study highlighting the tension between Hemingway’s Soviet sympathies and his identity as a U.S. patriot. … Recommended for Hemingway enthusiasts and for readers interested in the history of Soviet espionage.”
   — Library Journal

Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961 (9780062440136) by Nicholas Reynolds. $27.99 hardcover. 3/14/17 on sale.

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.

 

Fiction Short Take: Garden of Lamentations – Deborah Crombie

This follow-up to 2014’s To Dwell in Darkness is much awaited—at least if my bookseller fans are any indication. A few books ago Crombie finally started hitting the bestseller lists, propelled there by readers who admire elegant, character-driven, old school police procedurals. She is often compared to Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes. The Washington Post adds two more first-rate comparisons, saying, “Crombie has laid claim to the literary territory of moody psychological suspense owned by P. D. James and Barbara Vine.”

This is a January Library Reads Pick and arrives with a starred advance review.

“Det. Supt. Duncan Kincaid is still smarting from an unexplained reassignment and demotion, in bestseller Crombie’s absorbing 17th novel featuring Kincaid and his wife, Det. Insp. Gemma James (after 2014’s To Dwell in Darkness). He’s also troubled by loose ends after a grenade attack and devastating fire at London’s St. Pancras station and the cryptic utterances of his former boss, Chief Supt. Denis Childs. When Childs is attacked and sinks into a coma, Kincaid glimpses larger forces at work….Meanwhile, Gemma looks into the case of a nanny murdered in a Notting Hill garden, which affects the lives of one of Gemma’s friends .Through several points of view, this multifaceted novel provides a sobering cautionary tale about the exploitation of idealism and the abuse of power.
Publishers Weekly

The strength of this series is in its characterizations, particularly those of James and Kincaid, as they balance the demanding work that they love and their family life. Another winner in a series that goes from one high point to another.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Densely plotted and with a balanced interplay between the domestic sphere and the intrigue of police internal affairs. Contemporary and propulsive.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Deborah Crombie’s latest Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid novel is her finest yet, tying together many threads from previous books in a spellbinding tour de force. Gemma is investigating the death of a young nanny and trying to keep it together at home, despite Duncan’s distant and mystifying behavior. Duncan is unable to let go of the apparent suicide of a young officer at the conclusion of his previous case, and is torn between the need to uncover possible corruption at the highest levels of the police force, and his concern that doing so may put himself and everyone he cares about at risk. Crombie is at the top of her form as a character-driven suspense writer, with a nonstop nail-biter of a plot. Highly recommended!
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books and Music, Okemos, MI

Garden of Lamentations (9780062271631) by Deborah Crombie. $26.99 hardcover. 2/7/17 on sale.

Suspense Fiction Short Take: Her Every Fear – Peter Swanson

Swanson is a house favorite. He writes elegant, old fashioned commercial suspense that draws from the Hitchcock and Highsmith playbook. Marked by surprising twists and turns, this new one starts as an updated take on Rear Window but adds Swanson’s signature 21st century style that Booklist says has “[h]igh tension, lightning-fast pacing and psychological drama in spades.”

Two starred reviews, Indie Next and Library Reads picks, and raves already landing in the national press.

“Chapter by chapter, the text peels back layers to reveal a pathological relationship between Kate’s cousin and a long-ago acquaintance that’s reminiscent of a folie à deux out of Patricia Highsmith… By then, readers, privy to much Kate doesn’t know, may be experiencing their own anxiety.”
Wall Street Journal

 “Most readers won’t anticipate the Hitchcockian twists and turns in this standout suspense tale.”
  — Washington Post

Swanson established a reputation for complex psychological thrillers with his previous novels…, but here he introduces a delicious monster-under-the-bed creepiness to the expected top-notch characterization and steadily mounting anxiety.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Psychological thriller devotees should block time to read Swanson’s novel in one sitting, preferably in the daylight. Readers can expect the hairs on their necks to stand straight up as they are consumed with a full-blown case of heebie-jeebies.”
Library Journal (starred review)

Her Every Fear (9780062427021) by Peter Swanson. $26.99 hardcover. 1/10/17 on sale.

 

Publicity: The Little Book of Hygge – Meik Wiking

Last week a store buyer and I were talking about the unexpected popularity of last year’s The Nordic Theory of Everything and concluded that it might have foreshadowed the popularity of the current wave of books on hygge. If fact we wondered if hygge might be the next “tidy.”

Not familiar? Dip into this NYT Style piece: “Move Over, Marie Kondo: Make Room for the Hygge Hordes.”  You want to get this book out on display…

Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah, like a football cheer in a Scandinavian accent) is the Danish word for cozy. It is also a national manifesto, nay, an obsession expressed in the constant pursuit of homespun pleasures involving candlelight, fires, fuzzy knitted socks, porridge, coffee, cake and other people….Hygge is already such a thing in Britain that the Collins Dictionary proclaimed it one of the top 10 words of 2016, along with Brexit and Trumpism.”

Illustration 5

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living (9780062658807) by Meik Wiking. $19.99 hardcover. 1/17/17 on sale.