Unbridled Books might be a newcomer on the national publishing scene, but the small literary press, headed by the former publishers of Putnam's BlueHen imprint, is making its presence known. Its first release, The Green Age of Asher Witherow by 26-year-old M. Allen Cunningham (Oct. 7), was selected by USA Today as a novel to watch and has garnered strong pre-pub reviews in PW, Library Journaland Booklist. It has also kicked up enough buzz among booksellers to become the number one pick on the October Book Sense list. And that's prompted the house to expand the author's tour from four cities in California to a dozen cities on the West Coast, the South and the Midwest.

The gothic historical novel tells of a boy's coming-of-age in Nortonville, a 19th-century Northern California coal-mining town populated by Welsh immigrants. When young Asher Witherow falls under the spell of an unconventional apprentice minister, the town erupts with suspicion and outrage, exposing the undercurrents of Old World superstition swirling beneath Nortonville's prosperous facade.

"More than any other book since we opened this store last year, I want this book to succeed, to find readers," said Hans Weyandt, co-owner of St. Paul, Minn.'s Micawber Bookstore. "The author is coming to our store October 9. This is the event we're putting on that I'm most excited about." In Lafayette, Calif., the Lafayette Bookstore has even scheduled a hike with the author up nearby Mt. Diablo, where the novel takes place, on October 24. After the first leg of the hike, Cunningham will read selections from the book in the Rose Hill cemetery and, later, at the site of what was once the main street of Nortonville.

Copublisher Greg Michalson, who heads Unbridled Books with Fred Ramey, is gratified that booksellers and pre-pub reviewers have latched onto the new press's offerings so quickly and so enthusiastically. But he isn't too surprised.

"This is the kind of book Fred and I have been known for in the past at MacMurray & Beck and at BlueHen, and we aspire to be known for at Unbridled. Cunningham reminds us of the other authors we've debuted: Susan Vreeland [Girl in Hyacinth Blue], William Gay [The Long Home], Debra Magpie Earling [Perma Red], and Patricia Henley [Hummingbird House].

"All of these were debut novels with a lot of substance from pretty much unknown writers. This book has a lot of the same virtues. It really defines what we want to do with Unbridled Books: find these new, fresh voices that are a little different and can deliver a fascinating read."