Brow Beat

When Stars Align

Every film that receives theatrical release can expect some kind of mainstream media attention—at the very least a capsule review. But the situation is different for books. Publishers in the United States release on the order of 170,000 new titles annually —including about 23,000 just from large general trade houses —making it simply impossible for critics to review everything. To narrow the field, assignment editors rely on four trade magazines: Publishers Weekly , Kirkus , Booklist , and Library Journal , each of which offers short reviews of many thousands of titles. Of particular interest to editors are books that receive a “star” for unusual merit.

It stands to reason that titles receiving stars from multiple trades have a better shot at success than those that don’t. Certainly it’s of great interest to publicists, who—on such occasions—send out e-mail blitzes proclaiming a “trifecta.” To give Slate readers a behind-the-scenes look at what’s going on in the world of books, we’re launching a regular blog feature that will highlight new titles with at least three stars. The books you see listed here are likely to do well in sales or receive major review attention, or both.

Our inaugural list includes two mysteries, a debut novel, and a nonfiction account of the 1969 moon landing.

First among victors is Craig Johnson’s The Dark Horse —the only new title we came across to receive stars from all four trades. When Wade Barsad locked his wife’s horses in a barn and burned them alive, she retaliated by shooting him in the head six times. Or did she? Sheriff Walt Longmire investigates. Booklist warns that Longmire’s friend Henry Standing Bear “feels like a tag-along” but assures readers that “Longmire’s shoulders are more than broad enough to carry a book.”
Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly

Peter Murphy’s John the Revelator . John Devine’s stuck in small-town Southeast Ireland with his single, chain-smoking, bible-quoting mom. Everything changes when a “Rimbaudian” boy comes to town. Kirkus promises “lascivious anecdotes” from said boy.
Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly

Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Missing Servant . A fancy lawyer who asks New Delhi detective Vish Puri to find his missing servant is subsequently arrested for her murder. Library Journal notes that there’s an “expletives-included” glossary.
Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal

Craig Nelson’s Rocket Men . Story of Apollo 11 . Nelson, says Publishers Weekly , ” moves seamlessly between Apollo 11 astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, their nervous families and the equally nervous NASA ground crew.”
Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly