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An Insider’s Look at the Biggest Book Conference of the Year—BookExpo!

by  | June 19

By Friday, May 31, I’ve been on my feet for three days straight. The show floor is quieting down. It’s almost 3:00 pm. Soon, this madness will be over, and while at the moment, I want nothing more than to never see the inside of the Javits Center again, I also know that, in six months, I’ll be happily starting this whole thing all over again.

At Simon & Schuster, I serve as the BookExpo aficionado for the adult trade books side of the company. Beginning in January of each year, BookExpo slowly consumes my life. It starts with one email, followed by another, followed by another, followed by meetings, followed by a trip to our warehouse to count and label boxes, followed, five months later, by one Tuesday unpacking boxes on the show floor, followed by three days of wonderful organized chaos. And I love every minute of it. It gives me the opportunity to learn about amazing advanced titles, meet our wonderful authors, and talk about books with incredible booksellers and librarians. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend the first week of summer—well, other than at the beach, but I digress. (Might I suggest BookExpo: Waikiki?)

BookExpo 2019 for Simon & Schuster was three days of ARC and swag giveaways, author signings, and panels. Here are some of my personal highlights:

Day 1: Wednesday, May 29

  • On Wednesday, editor extraordinaire Jonathan Cox presented the incredible memoir How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones (on sale 10/8/19) during the Buzz Panel. The Buzz Panel is the place to learn about the biggest upcoming titles for Fall 2019, and having read How We Fight for Our Lives, I’m telling you, you need to preorder it right now. It is the truly haunting story of Saeed Jones’s journey as a black, gay man from the South fighting to carve out a place for himself in a world where many black, gay men die young.
  • Also on Wednesday, the Gallery Books team showed up with Mike Rowe, of Dirty Jobs fame, to promote his upcoming memoir, The Way I Heard It (on sale 10/15/19). Over the next three days, Mike and I became good friends. While he might seem a bit flat at times, he’s really a great guy.

Okay, so I didn’t meet the real Mike Rowe, but the standee served as a great addition to our booth staff.

Day 2: Thursday, May 30

  • On Thursday, we gave away Joy of Cooking aprons (the 90th anniversary edition of the book goes on sale 11/12/19). I ended up without one for myself. Also, the Scribner tote bags were gorgeous, and I didn’t get one of those either. They went SO fast. This is really the downside of working in the booth. You have to give all the cool things away…I want one of each!

 

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  • Academy Award–winning actress Lupita Nyong’o and artist and filmmaker Vashti Harrison signed prints from their new children’s picture book, Sulwe (on sale 10/1/19). The star power in our booth was quite high at the time, and they both are just as stunning in person as one would expect.
  • Alice Hoffman signed copies of her upcoming novel The World That We Knew (on sale 9/24/19), drawing such a long line that we had to cap it in fear of running out of books. (We started with 300 copies.) This was another of my favorite books in our booth this year. It combines Alice Hoffman’s signature magical realism (think Rules of Magic) with the harrowing backdrop of Nazi Germany during World War II (think Lilac Girls). And it is spectacular.
  • We introduced Avid Reader Press’s first book to the world! Avid Reader Press is our newest imprint here at Simon & Schuster, and the author of its first book, Lisa Taddeo, was in the booth signing her book Three Women (on sale 7/9/19). If you’re launching an imprint, Three Women is a great book to lead with. It chronicles the lives of three American women and their sexual desires as told by a reporter who followed them for eight years. If you preorder only one book of feminist nonfiction this year, make it this one.
  • We had balloon animal dogs for Jessie Sima’s picture book Spencer’s New Pet (on sale 8/27/19)!

Day 3: Friday, May 31

  • We gave away 300 copies each of Lisa Jewell’s newest thriller, The Family Upstairs (on sale 10/29/19), and Christina Lauren’s latest romance, Twice in a Blue Moon (on sale 10/22/19), within eight minutes of the show floor opening on Friday, setting a new S&S record! I was slightly worried a few of my staff members were going to lose arms in the process.

Of course, if I were to go into detail about every amazing author in the booth, this post would be much too long, but I’ll drop some names just the same. I met Jennifer Weiner (Mrs. Everything, on sale now); Jason Reynolds (Look Both Ways, on sale 10/8/19); Nelson and Alex DeMille (The Deserter, on sale 10/22/19); Philippa Gregory (Tidelands, on sale 8/20/19); William Kent Krueger (This Tender Land, on sale 9/3/19); Mary Beth Keane (Ask Again, Yes, on sale now), and Frank Miller (Cursed, on sale 10/1/19).

To say the least, it was a star-studded week, and while my feet may take a while to recover from the time I spent on that show floor, I can also say I’ll happily be back in the booth next year. Come late May, if you work in any area of the publishing industry, BookExpo is the place to be, and I love being one of the ringleaders in the middle of the action.

How We Fight for Our Lives

How We Fight for Our Lives

by Saeed Jones

“People don’t just happen,” writes Saeed Jones. “We sacrifice former versions of ourselves. We sacrifice the people who dared to raise us. The ‘I’ it seems doesn’t exist until we are able to say, ‘I am no longer yours.’ ”

Haunted and haunting, Jones’s memoir tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his mother and grandmother, into passing flings with lovers, friends and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves.

Blending poetry and prose, Jones has developed a style that is equal parts sensual, beautiful, and powerful—a voice that’s by turns a river, a blues, and a nightscape set ablaze. How We Fight for Our Lives is a one of a kind memoir and a book that cements Saeed Jones as an essential writer for our time.

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The Way I Heard It

The Way I Heard It

by Mike Rowe

Mike Rowe’s The Way I Heard It collects thirty-five fascinating stories “for the curious mind with a short attention span.” Five-minute mysteries about people you know, filled with facts that you didn’t. Movie stars, presidents, Nazis, and bloody do-gooders—they’re all here, waiting to shake your hand, hoping you’ll remember them. Delivered with Mike’s signature blend of charm, wit, and ingenuity, their stories are part of a larger mosaic—a memoir crammed with recollections, insights, and intimate, behind-the-scenes moments drawn from Mike’s own remarkable life and career.

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Ask Again, Yes

Ask Again, Yes

by Mary Beth Keane

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are two NYPD rookies assigned to the same Bronx precinct in 1973. They aren’t close friends on the job, but end up living next door to each other outside the city. What goes on behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the stunning events to come.

Ask Again, Yes by award-winning author Mary Beth Keane, is a beautifully moving exploration of the friendship and love that blossoms between Francis’s youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian’s son, Peter, who are born six months apart. In the spring of Kate and Peter’s eighth grade year a violent event divides the neighbors, the Stanhopes are forced to move away, and the children are forbidden to have any further contact.

But Kate and Peter find a way back to each other, and their relationship is tested by the echoes from their past. Ask Again, Yes reveals how the events of childhood look different when reexamined from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.

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Sulwe

Sulwe

by Lupita Nyong'o

Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.

In this stunning debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.

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The World That We Knew

The World That We Knew

by Alice Hoffman

In Berlin, at the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. She finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope of salvation when she creates a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.

Lea and Ava travel from Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, to a convent in western France known for its silver roses; from a school in a mountaintop village where three thousand Jews were saved. Meanwhile, Ettie is in hiding, waiting to become the fighter she’s destined to be.

What does it mean to lose your mother? How much can one person sacrifice for love? In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, the fantastical and the mortal, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never ending.

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Cursed

Cursed

by Frank Miller

Whosoever wields the Sword of Power shall be the one true King.

But what if the Sword has chosen a Queen?

Nimue grew up an outcast. Her connection to dark magic made her something to be feared in her Druid village, and that made her desperate to leave…

That is, until her entire village is slaughtered by Red Paladins, and Nimue’s fate is forever altered. Charged by her dying mother to reunite an ancient sword with a legendary sorcerer, Nimue is now her people’s only hope. Her mission leaves little room for revenge, but the growing power within her can think of little else.

Nimue teams up with a charming mercenary named Arthur and refugee Fey Folk from across England. She wields a sword meant for the one true king, battling paladins and the armies of a corrupt king. She struggles to unite her people, avenge her family, and discover the truth about her destiny.

But perhaps the one thing that can change Destiny itself is found at the edge of a blade.

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Mrs. Everything

Mrs. Everything

by Jennifer Weiner

Do we change or does the world change us?

Jo and Bethie Kaufman were born into a world full of promise.

Growing up in 1950s Detroit, they live in a perfect “Dick and Jane” house, where their roles in the family are clearly defined. Jo is the tomboy, the bookish rebel with a passion to make the world more fair; Bethie is the pretty, feminine good girl, a would-be star who enjoys the power her beauty confers and dreams of a traditional life.

But the truth ends up looking different from what the girls imagined. Jo and Bethie survive traumas and tragedies. As their lives unfold against the background of free love and Vietnam, Woodstock and women’s lib, Bethie becomes an adventure-loving wild child who dives headlong into the counterculture and is up for anything (except settling down). Meanwhile, Jo becomes a proper young mother in Connecticut, a witness to the changing world instead of a participant. Neither woman inhabits the world she dreams of, nor has a life that feels authentic or brings her joy. Is it too late for the women to finally stake a claim on happily ever after?

In her most ambitious novel yet, Jennifer Weiner tells a story of two sisters who, with their different dreams and different paths, offer answers to the question: How should a woman be in the world?

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Three Women

Three Women

by Lisa Taddeo

It thrills us and torments us. It controls our thoughts, destroys our lives, and it’s all we live for. Yet we almost never speak of it. And as a buried force in our lives, desire remains largely unexplored—until now. Over the past eight years, journalist Lisa Taddeo has driven across the country six times to embed herself with ordinary women from different regions and backgrounds. The result, Three Women, is the deepest nonfiction portrait of desire ever written and one of the most anticipated books of the year.

We begin in suburban Indiana with Lina, a homemaker and mother of two whose marriage, after a decade, has lost its passion. She passes her days cooking and cleaning for a man who refuses to kiss her on the mouth, protesting that “the sensation offends” him. To Lina’s horror, even her marriage counselor says her husband’s position is valid. Starved for affection, Lina battles daily panic attacks. When she reconnects with an old flame through social media, she embarks on an affair that quickly becomes all-consuming.

In North Dakota we meet Maggie, a seventeen-year-old high school student who finds a confidant in her handsome, married English teacher. By Maggie’s account, supportive nightly texts and phone calls evolve into a clandestine physical relationship, and he promises that they’ll skip school on her eighteenth birthday and make love all day. Instead, he breaks up with her on the morning he turns thirty. A few years later, Maggie has no degree, no career, and no dreams to live for. When she learns that this man has been named North Dakota’s Teacher of the Year, she steps forward with her story, turning their quiet community upside down.

Finally, in an exclusive enclave of the Northeast, we meet Sloane—a gorgeous, successful, and refined restaurant owner—who is happily married to a man who likes to watch her have sex with other men and women. He picks out partners for her alone or for a threesome, and she ensures that everyone’s needs are satisfied. For years, Sloane has been asking herself where her husband’s desire ends and hers begins. One day, they invite a new man into their bed—but he brings a secret with him that will finally force Sloane to confront the uneven power dynamics that fuel their lifestyle.

Based on years of immersive reporting, and told with astonishing frankness and immediacy, Three Women is a groundbreaking portrait of erotic longing in today’s America, exposing the fragility, complexity, and inequality of female desire with unprecedented depth and emotional power. It is both a feat of journalism and a triumph of storytelling, brimming with nuance and empathy, that introduces us to three unforgettable women—and one remarkable writer—whose experiences remind us that we are not alone.

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Spencer's New Pet

Spencer's New Pet

by Jessie Sima

When Spencer gets a new pet, he’s excited to do all the things that pets do—taking walks in the park, going to the vet, and attending parties together.

There’s just one hitch: Spencer’s new pet is a balloon.

And that means No. Sharp. Objects.

No drooling dogs at the park. No prickly porcupines at the vet. And absolutely no pinning tails on any donkeys!

Spencer’s New Pet is a story of pure fun about a boy, his dog, and a friendship that endures life’s sharpest...and most unexpected twists.

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The Family Upstairs

The Family Upstairs

by Lisa Jewell

Be careful who you let in.

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.

She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

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Twice in a Blue Moon

Twice in a Blue Moon

by Christina Lauren

Sam Brandis was Tate Jones’s first: Her first love. Her first everything. Including her first heartbreak.

During a whirlwind two-week vacation abroad, Sam and Tate fell for each other in only the way that first loves do: sharing all of their hopes, dreams, and deepest secrets along the way. Sam was the first, and only, person that Tate—the long-lost daughter of one of the world’s biggest film stars—ever revealed her identity to. So when it became clear her trust was misplaced, her world shattered for good.

Fourteen years later, Tate, now an up-and-coming actress, only thinks about her first love every once in a blue moon. When she steps onto the set of her first big break, he’s the last person she expects to see. Yet here Sam is, the same charming, confident man she knew, but even more alluring than she remembered. Forced to confront the man who betrayed her, Tate must ask herself if it’s possible to do the wrong thing for the right reason… and whether “once in a lifetime” can come around twice.

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This Tender Land

This Tender Land

by William Kent Krueger

1932, Minnesota—the Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O’Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee, he and his brother Albert, their best friend Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own.

Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphans will journey into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. With the feel of a modern classic, This Tender Land is an en­thralling, big-hearted epic that shows how the magnificent American landscape connects us all, haunts our dreams, and makes us whole.

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The Deserter

The Deserter

by Nelson DeMille

When Captain Kyle Mercer of the Army’s elite Delta Force disappeared from his post in Afghanistan, a video released by his Taliban captors made international headlines. But circumstances were murky: Did Mercer desert before he was captured? Then a second video sent to Mercer’s Army commanders leaves no doubt: the trained assassin and keeper of classified Army intelligence has willfully disappeared.

When, a year later, Mercer is spotted in Caracas, Venezuela by an old army buddy, top military brass task Scott Brodie and Maggie Taylor of the Criminal Investigation Division fly to Venezuela and bring Mercer back to America—preferably alive. Brodie knows this is a difficult mission, made more difficult by his new partner’s inexperience, by their undeniable chemistry, and by Brodie's suspicion that Maggie is reporting to the CIA.

With ripped-from-the-headlines appeal, an exotic and dangerous locale, and the hairpin twists and inimitable humor that are signature DeMille, The Deserter is the first in a timely and thrilling new series from an unbeatable team of true masters: the #1 New York Times bestseller Nelson DeMille and his son, award-winning screenwriter Alex DeMille.

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Tidelands

Tidelands

by Philippa Gregory

Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, England is in the grip of a civil war between renegade king and rebellious parliament. The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even the remote tidelands —the marshy landscape of the south coast.

Alinor, a descendant of wisewomen, trapped in poverty and superstition, waits in the graveyard under the full moon for a ghost who will declare her free from her abusive husband. Instead, she meets James, a young man on the run, and shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marsh, not knowing that she is leading disaster into the heart of her life.

Suspected of possessing dark secrets in superstitious times, Alinor’s ambition and determination mark her out from her neighbors. This is the time of witch mania, and Alinor, a woman without a husband, skilled with herbs, suddenly enriched, arouses envy in her rivals and fear among the villagers, who are ready to take lethal action into their own hands.

It is dangerous for a woman to be different.

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