The best new books this month chosen by us and other
independent booksellers across the country.

This Month's #1 Indie Next List Pick...

The Women in the Castle

By Jessica Shattuck

(William Morrow 9780062563668, $26.99)

"Three war widows and their children help each other survive at the end of World War II in this engaging novel filled with rich period details. Their husbands died as members of the resistance, but aside from that common thread, Marianne, Benita, and Ania bring very different backgrounds to their makeshift home in the castle's kitchen. They also face repercussions from past choices and current secrets. Jessica Shattuck brings us into their world and shows us that the rules for love and loyalty are different in wartime."
--Dawn Rennert, The Concord Bookshop, Concord, MA

This Month's #1 Indie Next List Pick Author Interview

photo: Lesley Unruh

Booksellers across the U.S. have chosen Jessica Shattuck's novel The Women in the Castle (William Morrow) as their number one Indie Next List pick for April.

Shattuck's two previous novels, The Hazards of Good Breeding, a New York Times Notable Book and a Winship/PEN Award finalist, and Perfect Life, were published by W.W. Norton. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Believer, and Mother Jones, among other publications.

Here, Shattuck talks about the relevancy of her new book to today's political discourse, the inspiration for her first work of historical fiction, and what she is working on next.

The Women in the Castle grapples with big issues: good versus evil, the power of propaganda and rhetoric, moral accountability and political resistance, and the possibility of redemption. Do the moral questions in your book seem more relevant than ever given the current atmosphere of political upheaval and polarization in the U.S.?

I think these questions are always relevant--sometimes they're writ larger than others, and now is definitely one of those times. There are many scary parallels between 1930s Germany and America today--the feeling of disenfranchisement of many, especially working class voters; the discomfort with an increasingly global world and economy; and the loss of faith in government and institutions, to name a few. The threat of terrorism that Americans feel now is much like the threat of "Bolshevism" (which Hitler falsely defined as "Jewish") that Germans felt in the 1920s and '30s. There were real incidents, such as the communist takeover of Bavaria (which became the Soviet Socialist Republic of Bavaria for a short time in 1918), that Hitler used to stoke fear and inspire nativism, just as various politicians and leaders have used terrorist incidents in America and abroad to the same ends today. The Nazis' assault on truth and their creation of false narratives--concentration camps as benign places for "re-education," Jews and Slavs as "partisans" or "criminal elements"--are certainly something I think we all should study closely.

What inspired your first foray into historical fiction? What kind of research did you do for the book?

I have wanted to write about this time and place (post-World War II Germany) since I was in college and spent a summer on my grandparents' farm in Westphalia interviewing my grandmother about her life. That was, in essence, the first research I did for this book. It just took nearly 20 years until I was ready to write it.

Because of my personal connection to the subject, I have always been a reader of books--fiction and nonfiction--about World War II and post-World War II Germany. When I began writing, I let the story guide me to further research: interviews with family members and others, memoirs like Jost Herman's A Hitler Youth in Poland, historical studies like Alison Owings' Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich, Timothy Snyder's Black Earth, and several visits to Germany.

Each of the widows--Marianne, Ania, and Benita--is very different. What was it like to put yourself in the shoes of each of these diverse characters?

I like to write stories from a variety of characters' points of view. It keeps things fresh and allows for competing understandings, which were particularly vital to this book. I wanted the three women's narratives to conflict at times and to shed light on each other's biases and differences of experience. Marianne sees and interprets the rise of Hitler very differently than Ania does, for example. It allowed me to delve into complicity as well as resistance, culpability as well as innocence, and those places where the lines between become blurred.

Do you think women's stories have been sufficiently represented in the study of WWII and the post-war era? What about the stories of the common German people?

I think the immediate aftermath of the war in Germany is definitely underrepresented in English and even German literature. It was an extreme and desperate time, both in terms of physical hardship (food, housing, coal, etc. were drastically scarce) and in terms of its moral demands; individuals had to reckon with the atrocities that their nation, and in some cases they themselves, had committed. For various reasons (shame, the hardship of day-to-day life), that reckoning took place largely internally, which is, after all, the almost-exclusive province of a novel. Most ordinary citizens who lived through the war and the years immediately after were--and still are--reluctant to talk about that time for fear of being judged or saying the wrong thing, or simply because it was too painful to relive, and this has shrouded the experience of it in relative darkness.

I think the literature about women's experiences of the war tend to be about victims or Allies. The experience of an ordinary Mitläufer (the German term at the time for one who "went along with") is not well-documented. I knew from the start of writing my book that I wanted the women to span the gamut from Nazi enthusiast to resister.

How did you feel when you learned that independent booksellers had selected your title as their top pick for the April Indie Next List? Have independent bookstores influenced your life in other ways?

I was delighted. I've really enjoyed getting to know various booksellers during the pre-publication of this book, and I am a huge fan of independent bookstores. As the mother of small children, I rely on local bookstores (at home and on vacation) to provide not only access to books but also community--story hours, fun children's sections to visit on rainy days, interesting readings and panels to get me, and everyone else who attends, to think about the wider world than the one right under our noses. I feel that independent bookstores are really the purveyors and gardeners of the life of the mind.

Are you working on or thinking about writing anything new at the moment?

I'm working mostly on short stories and essays right now, but I'm starting to think about a concept for a new novel. I won't get into the exact subject, but my work on The Women in the Castle turned me on to historical research and my next book will definitely have a historical element... and may be inspired by another piece of family history. --by Liz Button for Indie Next List

More Indie Next List Great Reads

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

By Hannah Tinti

(The Dial Press 9780812989885, $27)

"Hannah Tinti has accomplished something rare in The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley: she has written a book too exciting to put down, but too well written to race through or, heaven forbid, skim. Her novel, however, is more than just a treat for those of us who love literary thrillers; it is also a provocative exploration of violence and the extremes to which men and women will go to defend those they love. Because Tinti is so good at what she does, it is virtually impossible for us, her readers, not to become complicit in the mayhem and to be left wondering, in the end, what we would do in her characters' places."
--Ezra Goldstein, Community Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY

Spoils

By Brian Van Reet

(Lee Boudreaux Books 9780316316163, $26)

"Borne of his experience fighting in Iraq, Brian Van Reet's Spoils is a clear-eyed, gritty, and tension-filled story of young soldiers caught up in impossible circumstances. At the heart of the story is Cassandra, a 19-year-old machine gunner who is captured by the enemy. Her ordeal as a captive along with two fellow soldiers is harrowing, but also provides insight into the character of soldiers and their captors. Recent and current conflicts have inspired some excellent fiction and Spoils ranks with the best of it."
--Mark Laframboise, Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington, DC

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

By Lisa See

(Scribner 9781501154829, $27)

"This captivating story is set in a remote Yunnan village where, for many years, the Akha people have followed the rituals and cycles of harvesting tea leaves. Slowly, the changes going on in the rest of China begin to reach the area. Li-yan, one of the few educated girls in the village, acts as translator for a stranger seeking a rare tea from Yunnan. When Li-yan gives birth to a baby out of wedlock, she wraps her baby in a blanket along with a package of the rare tea and leaves her in a city where she will be taken to an orphanage. Over the years, mother and daughter dream of finding one another again. Brew yourself a cup of tea and settle down to read this tale of family and the search for answers in different places and cultures."
--Elizabeth Merritt, Titcomb's Bookshop, East Sandwich, MA

American War

By Omar El Akkad

(Knopf 9780451493583, $26.95)

"Omar El Akkad has delivered a stunning debut. He imagines a world in a not-too-distant future where Americans are at war with each other once again. The characters in this story are fully developed and individual, yet their histories--their stories--extend into the histories of all those displaced and affected by the forces of war. The title, American War, is a shape-shifter. At once, it means that America is again at war, but at times reflects the ways in which the true, actual wars that America has perpetrated on Earth have affected the lives of millions of people. This will be one of the most discussed books of the year, and I cannot wait to put it in the hands of all readers looking to be changed."
--Matt Keliher, SubText Books, St. Paul, MN

The River of Kings

By Taylor Brown

(St. Martin's Press 9781250111753, $25.99)

"In his second novel, Taylor Brown takes us on a fascinating trip down the Altamaha River. Also called Georgia's 'Little Amazon,' the river is one of the most remote and wild places in the U.S. This is where the Loggins brothers, Hunter and Lawton, grew up with their abusive father. After he dies under mysterious conditions, they decide to kayak down the river to disperse his ashes and try to discover what really happened. Brown combines the story of the brothers' journey and descriptions of their father's rough life with a narrative of the 1564 French expedition and settlement at the river's mouth. Three stories in which nature takes center stage intertwine to give this superb novel an almost mythical dimension."
--Pierre Camy, Schuler Books, Grand Rapids, MI

Marlena

By Julie Buntin

(Henry Holt & Company 9781627797641, $26)

"I can't believe this is a debut novel: the writing is so assured; the prose so exquisite. Buntin is a master of word choice, and every sentence felt deliberate and precise. I quickly got sucked into this story about a pair of teenage girls, one doomed, one not. It was a quick read, but one I found myself lingering over. I'd recommend Marlena to fans of Megan Abbott's dark, twisty books about girlhood--this is a similarly fierce read!"
--Lauren Peugh, Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, AZ

The Idiot

By Elif Batuman

(Penguin Press 9781594205613, $27)

"Batuman's voice is bitingly original and her protagonist, Selin, brings vitality to the pages through her odd, serious, and slightly sardonic naïveté. The honesty of Selin's self-exploration during her first year at Harvard struck a chord with me. Her frank sense of observation as she navigates first love, friendship, and freshman year are a breath of fresh air. I have not read anything quite like The Idiot and I doubt I will again. I loved it."
--Kisky Holwerda, Astoria Bookshop, Astoria, NY

Mississippi Blood

By Greg Iles

(William Morrow 9780062311153, $28.99)

"Mississippi Blood is the culmination of the Natchez Trilogy, which follows characters who are trying to get to the bottom of brutal Civil Rights-era crimes. Penn Cage watches as the world around him calls into question everything he thinks he knows, including the moral fortitude of his father. Rippling with parallels to our everyday America, Mississippi Blood will, hopefully, push us all to recognize the truths about ourselves and our country."
--Veronica Brooks-Sigler, Octavia Books, New Orleans, LA

The Shadow Land

By Elizabeth Kostova

(Ballantine Books 9780345527868, $28)

"This is one of the most engrossing novels that I've read in a while. It is ultimately a road trip through the beautiful haunted land of Bulgaria. An American woman arrives to teach English and inadvertently picks up the wrong bag while getting into a taxi. The bag holds a beautiful wooden box containing human remains. Her helpful, enigmatic taxi driver takes her into Bulgaria's unsettled present in search of the family that surely wants the urn back. It is the fleshing out (pun intended) of the person embodied by the ashes that makes this work intriguing and heart-wrenching. This novel about self-discovery and historical reconciliation is thrilling, introspective, and very well paced."
--Dianne Patrick, Snowbound Books, Marquette, MI

Our Short History

By Lauren Grodstein

(Algonquin Books 9781616206222, $26.95)

"Our Short History is a letter from a dying woman to her six-year-old son, and it totally shredded me. Yes, it is a sad story. But it is so much more than that. Readers will love the spirit of Karen Neulander. She is smart and thoughtful and fierce, and Jake is squirmy and tough and tender--just like six-year-old boys can be. Lauren Grodstein takes you to the edge of what you can bear, then shows you that strength comes from fragility and that hope still lives in despair."
--Susan Thomas, CoffeeTree Books, Morehead, KY

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage

By Dani Shapiro

(Knopf 9780451494481, $22.95)

"As I consider the themes of memory and marriage in my own life, I realize that Dani Shapiro has reached across time to touch me with her insight and candor, and this is how Hourglass will touch every reader who is lucky enough to find this special little gem of a book. What a particular and original voice she has shared, reflecting on questions like, how are relationships formed? How does love burn and transform you? How does marriage, that age-old subject, play out between creators in the race against time? Through fragments, touching bits of memory, and poetic flights of fancy, this memoir honors the genre and elevates the form. I couldn't put it down and devoured it in one sitting."
--Cristina Nosti, Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL

The Redemption of Galen Pike: Short Stories

By Carys Davies

(Biblioasis 9781771961394, $14.95, trade paper)

"This is the most beautiful collection of short stories I have read in a long time. Each story feels perfect. The writing, the topic, and the resolution all left me completely satisfied. Their connecting theme is solitude or isolation and the struggle to move through it. The collection reminds me of some of Kevin Brockmeier's writing: beautiful, sometimes disturbing, and always memorable."
--Lisa Sharp, Nightbird Books, Fayetteville, AR

What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky: Stories

By Lesley Nneka Arimah

(Riverhead Books 9780735211025, $26)

"Intense, haunting, and exquisitely rendered, the stories in Lesley Nneka Arimah's debut collection exist in a category of their own. They are individual worlds linked together by familiar themes--self-discovery, yearnings to love and be loved, generational divides, and the meanings of home and place--refashioned in a fresh, new light. Arimah shines in this debut, whose magic will surely live with you beyond the final page. Absolutely stunning."
--Purvis Cornish, Square Books, Oxford, MS

Mercies in Disguise: A Story of Hope, a Family's Genetic Destiny, and the Science That Rescued Them

By Gina Kolata

(St. Martin's Press 9781250064349, $25.99)

"This is the tale of a family that has shown remarkable strength in the face of adversity. Kolata does a wonderful job showing us the Baxleys' joy and heartbreak by chronicling their decisions, their doubts, their fears; the decision to be genetically tested for a devastating illness seemed agonizing and the consequences of living with the outcome even more so. The strength shown by Amanda and the Baxley family made this one of the most amazing stories that I have ever had the privilege to read. I thank them for sharing their story with me; it was truly inspirational."
--Austin Wheeling-Goodson, Burry Bookstore, Hartsville, SC

A Little More Human

By Fiona Maazel

(Graywolf Press 9781555977696, $16, trade paper)

"A Little More Human kept me up way past my bedtime. Fiona Maazel's seamless novel draws you in subtly and irresistibly. I just had to know how Phil Snyder (nursing assistant, professional superhero impersonator, and actual mind-reader) ended up on a horse with splashes of blood on his clothes and no memory of how he got there. Uncovering secrets in snippets along with Phil reminded me of his own mind-reading talent and built the suspense beautifully page by page. Another clever literary masterpiece from Fiona Maazel!"
--Anna Thorn, Upshur Street Books, Washington, DC

Girl in Disguise

By Greer Macallister

(Sourcebooks Landmark 9781492635222, $25.99)

" 'I'm a resourceful and strong young woman, there is no other option.' That's the concept behind Greer Macallister's telling of the real, honest-to-goodness life of Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective. Kate is a widow with no money and no honest prospects, and she is desperate. Her unconventional upbringing taught her flexibility, and, spotting Pinkerton's ad, she won't take no for an answer. She is hired as an agent and, having proved her value, is soon hiring and training more female agents and serving as a spy as the U.S. prepares to split apart. Girl in Disguise is a delight: entertaining and a sure nonstop read."
--Becky Milner, Vintage Books, Vancouver, WA

The Day I Died

By Lori Rader-Day

(William Morrow Paperbacks 9780062560292, $14.99, trade paper)

"In this story, the devil is, indeed, in the details. You think you're being distracted, only to learn that Rader-Day is actually building layers of evidence for the reader, connecting a framework of apparent incidentals to reach a pinnacle of suspense. Almost anyone can be guilty, but only one is a villain. You unexpectedly feel sympathy for certain characters, partly because they're so genuine. I neglected things because I HAD to finish this book. You will, too."
--Tracy Aleksy, Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore, Forest Park, IL

Miss You

By Kate Eberlen

(Harper 9780062460226, $25.99)

"Tess and Gus first cross paths in Florence as 18-year-olds with their futures stretching ahead of them. Back in England, they live their lives oblivious to all the near-misses and chances they have to encounter one another again. The meandering way their lives circle each other is charming rather than frustrating, but the heart of this book lies in the choices Tess and Gus make as their lives unfold in ways neither anticipated. Exceptionally poignant and filled with relatable and deeply human characters, this is a thoughtful story about how you can never quite guess what life has in store for you--and maybe that's for the best."
--Kelly O'Sullivan, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, CT

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy

By Anne Lamott

(Riverhead Books 9780735213586, $20)

"Hallelujah Anyway completely consumed me. The world has changed so much in the last year and it seems overwhelming at times. Lamott's new book is the answer to that despair, hopelessness, and futility. It's exactly what the title says--mercy through difficult times, kindness when it's not deserved, and singing hallelujah anyway. Lamott writes with such refreshing honesty. This book is now what I like to refer to as 'well-loved'--underlined, dog-eared, and slightly worn. I suspect I'll revisit my favorite passages for years to come."
--Kristin Beverly, Half Price Books, Dallas, TX

All the Birds in the Sky

By Charlie Jane Anders

(Tor Books 9780765379955, $15.99)

"All the Birds in the Sky reads like an instant classic. In tackling big questions about what is really important in life and how we are all connected, the novel soars through magic and science, good and evil, and all the shades in between; through the struggles of children against clueless parents, teachers, and spiteful kids; and through the struggles of adults against a heedless society, all with a love story at its heart. Deep, dark, funny, and wonderful!"
--Sara Hinckley, Hudson Booksellers, Marietta, GA

All the Light We Cannot See

By Anthony Doerr

(Scribner 9781501173219, $17)

"The French girl cannot see, but she can hear, feel, and explore the world around her like a budding naturalist. The German boy has no parents, but he teaches himself how coils of copper can receive lessons of love and learning. It's World War II, however, and the potential of thousands of children will be unrealized or thwarted. Will a mythical gemstone save them or unite them? Gorgeously written, Doerr's epic tale brings alive the beauty of two souls, their quest for learning, the turbulent times they cannot control, and the rock that mysteriously guides their fate."
--Harriett Logan, Loganberry Books, Shaker Heights, OH

Barkskins

By Annie Proulx

(Scribner 9780743288798, $20)

"This multigenerational saga follows the fortunes of the Sel and Duke families from early Colonial days to the present, spanning centuries and continents as they make their living not only from the bounty of the land but also from the ravaging and destruction of it. As always, Proulx is brilliant at creating a story that flows impeccably, and her nature writing is some of the most beautiful and evocative to be found in modern literature. This novel is an epic work, a fictional Silent Spring that will linger with readers long after completion."
--Bill Cusumano, Square Books, Oxford, MS

Disappearance at Devil's Rock

By Paul Tremblay

(William Morrow Paperbacks 9780062363275, $14.99)

"When a young boy goes missing, his mother and sister begin finding pages from his diary revealing secrets they had never suspected. Where did he go, and why won't his friends tell anyone the truth? Tremblay peels back the layers of a quaint New England town to expose the ugly underbelly of family life in the U.S. Disappearance at Devil's Rock is a shocking, scary, and disturbing read, the result of a powerful storyteller at work, and it solidifies Tremblay's reputation as a master of psychological suspense."
--William Carl, Wellesley Books, Wellesley, MA

Jane Steele

By Lyndsay Faye

(G.P. Putnam's Sons 9780425283202, $16)

"It would be the easy way out for me to describe Jane Steele as an utterly delightful and charmingly murderous retelling of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. However, I am honor-bound to inform readers that Faye has created much more than that: she has spun a snappy, tongue-in-cheek masterpiece that both thrills readers to the bone and expertly plucks their heartstrings in all the right places. One can't help but cheer on the tenacious Steele as she drinks, swears, stabs, and gallops her way through her quest to find love, home, and self, while stepping delicately over the bodies of her tormentors--so as not to ruin her dress--along the way. An absolutely marvelous book!"
--Rebecca Speas, One More Page Books, Arlington, VA

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

By Dominic Smith

(Picador 9781250118325, $16)

"Smith's new novel unfolds slowly, and each moment of illumination offers a glimpse into the true heart of this quiet, captivating tale. Spanning more than three centuries, it is the story of three lives--a female master painter of the Dutch Golden Age, a moneyed New York patent attorney, and an art history student turned one-time art forger--each changed by one haunting painting. Filled with hurt, grief, and deceit, but also layered with love, grace, and regret, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is a wonderful read, beautifully written."
--Heather Duncan, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, CO

Maestra

By L.S. Hilton

(G.P. Putnam's Sons 9780399184277, $16)

"Get ready to tear through this hedonistic and refreshingly sex-positive thriller that hits all the right notes. Hilton sets her amoral heroine, Judith, amidst the shallow elegance of the European art world. While Judith is deeply enamored with the lifestyles of the rich and famous, she is also a razor-sharp critic of bad taste and human softness, sniffing out and exploiting male weakness with gusto. She is utterly void of empathy, yet oddly sympathetic. I'll be recommending this novel to everyone I know with a strong constitution and an appreciation for intensity!"
--Seija Emerson, University Book Store, Seattle, WA

My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir

By Chris Offutt

(Washington Square Press 9781501112478, $16)

"This fascinating memoir of Offutt's difficult relationship with his father is complicated by the realization that his father was a prolific writer of pornography. Author Andrew Offutt was known as a science fiction writer, but, with his death, his son discovers that his family's income was due to the astounding abundance of writing in this other genre. As he catalogs his father's library of writings, drawings, and more, Offutt tries to understand the man that kept his family walking on eggshells. Difficult to read at times, but complex, intriguing, and hard to put down."
--Nona Camuel, CoffeTree Books, Morehead, KY

Sweetbitter

By Stephanie Danler

(Vintage 9781101911860, $16)

"Sweetbitter has bite. Our heroine, Tess, moves from nowhere to New York, where her life is going to officially begin. Yes, she's had a childhood and been to college, but none of that counts. Nothing starts counting until she crosses the river and starts working at a restaurant downtown. While she's there, she falls in love and obsession, she finds a life, and starts to find herself. The writing is sharp, and the story is fierce and electric, like you have to read carefully or you might hurt yourself. Even still, I could not stop."
--Tyler Goodson, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA

Vinegar Girl

By Anne Tyler

(Hogarth 9780804141284, $15)

"Tyler's latest offering is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, in which Shakespeare's works are retold by contemporary authors. In this retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, Kate Battista keeps house for her scientist father and her younger sister, Bunny. When Dr. Battista's lab assistant, Pyotr, is in danger of being deported, a plan is hatched to marry him to Kate so he can stay in the country. The story that follows is a thought-provoking look at the role of women in society, with questions that are just as relevant today as they were more than 400 years ago, all addressed with the same insightful humor that readers have come to expect from Tyler."
--Sharon Nagel, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube

By Blair Braverman

(Ecco 9780062311573, $14.99)

"The brilliant and engaging writing in this memoir belies the author's young age. Braverman offers a taut and honest recounting of a young woman fiercely chasing down her dream and confronting myriad dangers--both natural and man-made--with intelligence and grit. This white-knuckle read left me in awe of Braverman's conviction, and her lyrical rendering of the landscape of Alaska took my breath away."
--Katie McGrath, Arcadia Books, Spring Green, WI

The Woman in Cabin 10

By Ruth Ware

(Gallery/Scout Press 9781501132957, $16)

"When journalist Lo Blacklock sees someone throw a woman's body over the side of a small cruise ship, it should be clear that a crime has been committed. The problem? No one is missing. This is far from the travel magazine assignment that brought Lo on board, but she can't just give up. Something happened and she must find the answer. But can she do so without losing her own life? This is a fun read full of psychological thrills and twists that readers absolutely will not see coming."
--Linda Bond, Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane, WA