Sittenfeld’s Summer Read: ‘Sisterland’ gets off to a hot start

Sittenfeld took center stage in 2005 with her wildly successful debut, Prep, set at an elite boarding school near Boston with a protagonist from South Bend, Ind. And while reviews were mixed, they didn’t affect sales; Prep, which was originally sent to 15 publishers, 14 of whom turned it down, has sold over 500,000 copies to date. Back in the Midwest for her fourth novel, set, to be specific, in St. Louis, Mo. (where Sittenfeld now lives with her husband and two young daughters), Sisterland, which appears on our Hardcover Fiction list in its first week at #16, with sales of 6,523, is the story of identical twin sisters with ESP, and an impending natural disaster. Sittenfeld’s had an enviable career. She followed that first novel with the dreaded sophomore effort only one year later: The Man of My Dreams, a coming-of-age tale of a young woman from Philadelphia (Sittenfeld lived in that city for awhile). Typically, and unfortunately, her second book did not live up to expectations, reaching less than a fifth of its predecessor’s numbers. But then An American Wife, published in 2008, took Sittenfeld back to the top; sales of American Wife did not reach those of Prep, but were close enough to establish her as a writer who readers were ready to embrace. That the American wife of Sittenfeld’s novel, Alice Blackwell, whose husband becomes president of the United States, channels Laura Bush, was a wise move. A 2010 Guardian interview said Sittenfeld “smartens up literary genres that are traditionally somewhat limited.” With Sisterland, Sittenfeld stays the course. A PW Pick, Sisterland is lauded in our review as delivering “delicious insights into sisterhood and motherhood.” According to Maria Braeckel at Random House, Sittenfeld had twins vet the book and enlisted native St. Louisan friends to ensure the accuracy of the city locales. Sisterland launched in St. Louis, at an event at the Central Library hosted by Left Bank Books. The tour, which started in late June, is covering the country from New York to D.C. to Chicago and out to San Francisco and Portland, Ore. Braeckel says Sisterland is a perfect beach read, and has been recommended in over 20 summer roundups.—Louisa Ermelino

Long Flight: McCann’s big book loses altitude in hardcover

Colum McCann’s much-anticipated novel TransAtlantic appears poised to drop off our Hardcover Fiction in only its fourth week. With sales last week of less than 5,000 copies, it sits at #25. Reviews generally have been warmish, with qualifications—among them, that the book might have been too ambitious. Still, let’s not forget that McCann’s biggest success, Let the Great World Spin, sold only about 45,000 in cloth, but has gone on to sell nearly half a million in trade paper (and it’s still moving: nearly 2,000 sold last week). So it could turn out to be true that TransAtlantic takes flight in another format.—Michael Coffey

James Rollins Rolls On

James Rollins, a pen name of former veterinarian James Paul Czajkowski, returns with the ninth installment of his SIGMA Force spy-thriller series, The Eye of God, which debuts at #7 on this week’s Hardcover Fiction list, having sold nearly 15,000 copies. The SIGMA Force is a fictional division of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and is responsible for sensitive covert operations. Rollins has released a series title every year since 2004, and the plots generally combine themes of advanced military technology, ancient history, and obscure religious secrets. This time around, two American military satellites crash on the China-Mongolia border, a mysterious package containing relics of Genghis Khan arrives at the Vatican, and historians in partnership with SIGMA attempt to uncover a mystery of the fall of the Roman Empire.

Besides the SIGMA series, the prolific Czajkowski has written a number of stand-alone adventure novels (including the novelization of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) under the Rollins pseudonym, and, as James Clemens, has produced two fantasy series: The Banned and the Banished and The Godslayer. As Rollins he also co-authors the Order of the Sanguines series with Rebecca Cantrell, and the Tucker Wayne series, co-authored with Grant Blackwood, which is set to debut in 2014.—Alex Crowley

The Gone Girl: We say goodbye after more than a year on our list

Sharp Objects and Dark Places are two titles unlikely, perhaps, to be written by the daughter of two community college professors. But Gillian Flynn’s first novel, a literary mystery, turned out to be sharp indeed: an Edgar Award finalist and winner of two of Britain’s Dagger Awards. Her second book received further kudos, including being named a PW Best Book of 2009. Novel three, released in June 2012, set the publishing world on its ear—Gone Girl garnered stellar notices from critics who reveled in Flynn’s scathing brilliance. Janet Maslin of the New York Times called the book “Ms. Flynn’s dazzling breakthrough,” “ice-pick sharp,” “spectacularly sneaky,” and more. Time’s Lev Grossman summed it up: “A thoroughbred thriller about the nature of identity and the terrible secrets that can survive and thrive in even the most intimate relationships.” (We especially like author Adam Ross’s succinct comparison: “like Scenes from a Marriage remade by Alfred Hitchcock.)

Now Flynn’s wildly lauded suspenser is about to be gone from these Nielsen BookScan lists, where it’s resided happily (andcreepily) for more than a year—it’s currently #12 in its 56th week, with total sales of 980,420. It is by virture of a technicality that it will disappear next week—for Nielsen’s purpose, a book published more than a year ago is not longer considered “frontlist.” It is certainly not by virture of slumping sales, as it is still selling close to 8,000 copies a week. Gone will return—in trade paperack, via Broadway Books, at a date as yet unannounced.—Dick Donahue