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 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

October 6, 2019

New Paperback Novels Tackle Tough Subjects With Strong Storytelling

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult. Known for often tackling tough subjects in her novels, Picoult delivers again by creating a hostage situation in a women's health center to examine the emotionally charged abortion debate.The story takes place in Jackson, Mississippi, over the course of one day and revolves around a gunman seeking revenge for his daughter's abortion. The crazed father takes over the town's clinic and, after killing several staff and patients, holds a group in captivity. Among those trapped are the teenage daughter and the sister of the hostage negotiator on the scene. They are joined by a cast that includes a courageous nurse, an anti-choice protestor disguised as a patient to spy on the center, and a young woman seeking an abortion. In a nifty trick of writing, Picoult tells her narrative from finish to beginning, explaining how and why characters came to the health center and managing to build suspense even though much of the denouement is revealed early on. 
 
In praising the novel for the October 2018 Indie Next list, bookseller Andrea Avantaggio from Maria's Bookshop in Durango, Colorado, wrote: "Once again, Jodi Picoult tackles a highly charged social issue head on with compassion and insight. The characters in A Spark of Light offer readers insight into the varied and complex issues surrounding the pro-choice/pro-life debate. Although I know where I stand on the issue, I finished this novel with a greater understanding of how a person could hold beliefs different from my own. I hope this book becomes required reading for high schools across the country as well as a reading group favorite!"
   
 
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.  A desperate family seeks a new beginning in the near-isolated wilderness of Alaska in the 1970s, only to find that their unpredictable environment is less threatening than the erratic PTSD-fueled behavior of the family patriarch. That's the crux of the new novel from Hannah - one that was on numerous Most Anticipated lists when it was first published. Now, almost two years later, the paperback has been released just in time for book groups looking for good reads for the new year. In addition to producing a compelling (albeit often tough) family portrait, Hannah also makes the state of Alaska one of the novel's most intriguing and dangerous characters.  
 
Here's the bookseller review that appeared in the February 2018 Indie Next list, one that nicely sums up the book's plot: "Kristin Hannah's The Great Alone is a powerful, compelling story of survival - survival of the natural elements and of the human spirit. It's 1974, and 13-year-old Leni Allbright lives with her devoted mother, Cora, and abusive father, Ernt, who was a prisoner of war during Vietnam. America is changing after the war, and Ernt thinks their best chance at a fresh start is to move off the grid, to America's last frontier - Alaska. Grizzlies, wolves, and dropping temperatures are Leni's worries outside of her family's cabin, but as Ernt's battle with his demons rages on, it's no safer inside. The result is a beautifully descriptive, heart-wrenching adventure." 
- Hillary Taylor, Lemuria Bookstore, Jackson, MS
Finding the Right Words To Express Family Feelings
   
The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine. The author of (among others) the Love Letter, The Three Weissmanns of Westport, and the charming, quite funny They May Not Mean To,
But They Do, returns with a new novel about sibling rivalry and the English language. Here's a brief description from the publisher:

"Laurel and Daphne Wolfe, identical, inseparable redheaded twins, share an obsession with words. As adults making their way in 1980s Manhattan, their verbal infatuation begins to push them apart. Their fraying twinship finally shreds completely when the sisters go to war over custody of their most prized family heirloom: Merriam Webster's New International Dictionary, Second Edition."
 
I think Schine's ability to hone in on familial frailties, often with keen wit, is one of her strengths, which Kirkus underscored in its rave review of The Grammarians, noting, " As we've come to expect in 10 previous novels, Schine's warmth and wisdom about how families work and don't work are as reliable as her wry humor, and we often get both together."  
 
Also, kudos for creating one of the more eye-catching covers of the year. 
WHERE TO FIND 
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WHY THE COLUMN?
Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I work as a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, California.

My goal with this newsletter is to keep readers up to date about new books hitting the shelves, share what indie booksellers are recommending in their stores, and pass on occasional news about the book world.

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