Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Summer of Chris

I declare this the summer of Chris! No, I'm not just sitting at home in my velvet pajamas all day, calling the store to ask Daniel what's happening. Not yet, anyway. Rather, I've been at home reading through a stack of this summer's new releases. This summer, this is me:
Now Boswell's New and Noteworthy shelves are loaded with my summer recommendations. So here's a guide to the Summer of Chris reading list:
City of Secrets by Stewart O'Nan
Just after World War II, holocaust survivor Brand lives in hiding in Jerusalem's walled Old City and becomes reluctantly involved in the violent resistance to British colonial rule. The novel is disguised as a historic thriller, and it exposed me to a troubling chapter in Great Britain's history, but the real story is that of a man's conflicted heart. O'Nan is particularly adept at delving deep into his characters' internal conflicts, and explores how much a man can lose and still fight for life, and how much of his own moral code a man is willing to break for a larger cause.
Nitro Mountain by Lee Clay Johnson
Welcome to "the lost dog capital of the world." This novel, which reads like a hard, classic country song come to life, follows the doomed-just-for-living lives of two broke country musicians, one moonshiner full of rage and white lightning, and the mountain woman who loves them all. The novel is set in the foothills of Appalachia, the region where I grew up, and comes as close as any book I've ever read to capturing what we call "Appalachian fatalism" - the bone deep, born knowledge that if something bad can happen to you, sooner or later it probably will.
Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend
Based on the real life of Frances Conway, a quiet woman turned international spy in the Galapagos Island during World War II. A beguiling novel of island life and espionage, friendship, love, and betrayal, Amend's third novel is a exciting step forward for her career, all of her talents coalescing into a book that shows a writer coming into her full storytelling powers.
The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson
A man with a life that's average at best is surprised to discover he's officially the happiest man in the world. He's even more surprised when he's told that happiness isn't free. Riffing on Kafka but taking things in a new direction, Sweden's most popular TV-star-turned-bestselling-author has written a quirky book that's at turns dark and hilarious, anxious and rambunctious, an oddball affirmation of being alive.
Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
The stories behind the stories of one very, very bad man, a terrible dancer, a pathetic loser, and a hipster doofus. A fascinating history of America's most famous sitcom, from its seat-of-the-pants inception to its culture-shifting influence, this book is so well written that it will give even the most hopeless George at least one conceivable reason to get up in the morning. This book glitters!
The Voyeur's Motel by Gay Talese
A disturbing and controversial book by one of America's preeminent journalists, Talese reconstructs the story of a Colorado motel owner who spent decades spying on his guests through secret vents in his motel rooms' ceilings. Along with the obvious, disturbing implications for the motel industry and its customers, the book raises uncomfortable questions about the writer's ethical, not to mention legal, obligations to the voyeur's victims. Yet even as these questions remain unanswered, the book persists in being compelling, a glimpse into the mind of a man driven by obsession that is at once repulsive and riveting.
After all that reading, this is pretty much me for the rest of this summer:

Friday, July 22, 2016

It's a toy! It's a puzzle! It's a playset!

 New from Crocodile Creek are the Vehicle Puzzle & Play. Each Vehicle contains a 24 piece puzzle and 5 stand up figures. Perfect for ages 4 and up. Did I mention that the box doubles as a vehicle too?! For ages 4 and up.

Stop by Boswell to discover new and exciting puzzles and games for kids!
And while you're at it, meet the Creetures: Max the Monster, Zeke the Alien and Spike the Robot! Each Creeture contains a 48 piece puzzle and 1 stand up figure. Complete the puzzle and then use it as a play mat. For ages 4 and up.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Secondhand News - Boswell's Spectacular Secondhand Summer of Sports

As summer begins in Milwaukee, Boswell's faithful are wrapping up their spring cleaning, which means Boswell's secondhand crew is busy sorting through some fantastic collections of secondhand books. We're especially excited about the collection making its way onto our shelves now which we're calling the "Spectacular Secondhand Summer of Sports." These books are the perfect sunny day, back porch reading while you wait for the Brewers game to start, or before you hit the putting green. Maybe a little something to get your basketball fix in the off season? Or maybe you're like me, and you need something to hold you over until the first kickoff of fall.
In addition to all this great summer reading, some collectors' favorites have just hit the Recent Fiction Secondhand shelves, including:
- A gorgeous, near mint condition Library of America box set of John Updike's Collected Stories. I'm quite jealous of whoever gets to add this to his or her shelves!
- A few Modern Library Classics Paperback editions, including Vanity Fair and Uncle Tom's Cabin
- Several Oxford Paperback editions.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Independent Bookstore Day

Independent Bookstore Day
On Saturday, April 30, Boswell Book Company will be celebrating the second annual Independent Bookstore Day.
In addition to the wonderfully unique items available for sale on Saturday only, we are having a Literary Quiz Bowl. Last year we featured Authors vs. Critics, but this year will be a little bit different. This will be a pub-style quiz bowl requiring audience participation. For this to be successful, we will need an audience. The quiz bowl starts around 2:00 tomorrow afternoon. There will be three rounds, so that you don’t have to stay for the whole thing if you don’t have time. There will also be prizes – Boswell, Pizza Man, and Café Hollander gift cards. You may play with a team, but the prizes are awarded per winning answer sheet, not per team. That means you have to share, people.
Last year, this glorious new holiday fell on the first truly perfect (weather-wise) Saturday of the year. Everyone wanted to be outside and who could blame them? Thus, attendance was a little sparse. This year promises to be chilly and rainy; the ideal conditions to seek shelter in your favorite independent bookstore.
Pictured above are just a few of the exclusive items available for sale at Boswell on this special day only. There are no holds, no phone orders, and only one each of an item per customer. You will have to show up and get them in person. Once you are in the store, we hope that you will stay and enjoy the celebration with us.
Thanks to Boswellian Todd, who will be our host for the quiz bowl, and to Boswellian Chris who assisted me with the trivia questions. I’m looking forward to seeing many of you tomorrow.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Middle Grade Mania!

Recently Boswellian Tim had the pleasure of accompanying authors to a school event in Waukesha. Booksellers do this all the time, but it was a uniquely different experience to him, and this post explains why.

The three authors comprising Middle Grade Mania offered 4th and 5th graders a fascinating variety of literary genres and a heartfelt look at their personal lives. As a fifth grade teacher who has brought several authors to my school, I enjoyed their personal engagement with our children, all accomplished without the use of any technology. The kids were focused on and entertained by the writers’ stories of their home lives and of the inspirations for their writing. As a new bookseller with Boswell, I watched from the other side of an author event, with admiration for the way these skilled writers opened themselves to the students’ excitement!

G. (Greg) Neri opened the event by discussing his contact with alligators near his Florida “jungle” home. The children’s attention never wandered from that moment on, staying tuned to his explanation of Tru and Nelle, his southern style, character driven novel based on the real 1930’s Mississippi childhood friendship between Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee. These two diametrically opposed children, Capote the fastidious intellectual in a white sailor suit and Lee the barefoot tomboy in torn bibs, find their love of Sherlock Holmes and their small town boredom to be the right combination for launching mystery solving in their own town.

Elana K. Arnold explained the personal basis for her novel Far From Fair by recounting the experience of her family selling their home and deciding to live on the road in an RV. Odette, the narrator of the book, comes to terms with the result: selling her possessions, losing her home, missing her friends, and facing the grave illness of her grandmother far from her own known world. The novel’s emotions are true, the descriptions of nature are beautiful, and Odette’s discovery that every door which closes has new life on the other side is convincing and warm.

Beth Fantaskey then captured us all by describing her extended research for Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter, a fast paced murder mystery set in 1920s gangland Chicago, where Capone is king and very few women reporters cover the crime beat. Young Izzy, who sells Tribunes on the street corner, wants to be one; and when an adult woman customer (and friend) is accused of a crime which Isabel almost literally stumbles over in an alley, she enlists her crime reporter hero and a skeptical police detective to help her clear the case. Fantaskey’s historical note describes the lives of early Chicago women crime reporters and completes the sense that we were really there!

Teachers and children left touched by an event which seemed to have something for every type of book lover!

If you're an enthusiastic educator in metro Milwaukee, contact Todd Wellman about how you can bring an author (or authors) to your school through Boswell.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Four Great YA Reads - Bon Voyage Recommendations from Phoebe.

It’s the last hurrah for Phoebe at Boswell as she ventures off to New York to conquer the world of children’s publishing. Before she goes, here are her four last recommendations for books coming out this spring.

First up is The Hunt, by Megan Shepherd, Balzer and Bray. Phoebe’s take: “After being deceived so thoroughly, Cora wants nothing to do with Cassian or the rest of the Kindred. Problem is, she doesn't have a choice. She has been reassigned to a menagerie known as "The Hunt" and Cassian is training her to complete the Gauntlet. If she succeeds, humans will be elevated to intelligent status. But there are some who don't want that to ever happen, and Cora will have to battle them and her inner turmoil in order to survive the Hunt and pass the Gauntlet. Meghan Shepherd delivers an explosive sequel to The Cage that had me flipping pages as fast as possible. The characters continue to evolve as they are thrust into their new environments. I still love the POV switches. The story reads like a sci-fi political thriller and Cora's character adds the dystopian element of a reluctant, desperate, and selfless heroine. This book is awesome!” It's out in May!

Emily Henry's The Love that Split the World is per Phoebe, one of a kind: "Natalie Cleary knows she has three months to save him, at least that's what Grandmother told her the last time she appeared in her room. The only problem is that she has no idea who this mysterious "him" is. Then she meets Beau, a captivating boy who lives in her small town in Kentucky, but also doesn't. Unraveling the mystery of what connects them leads Natalie to truths that will change her world and her life forever. Oh my goodness, this book. I loved it in a way that is tough to put to words. Henry weaves folklore, parallel worlds, questions of identity, and powerful romance together into a beautiful story. This book is poignant, and magnificent, and one of a kind." This novel comes out at the end of January.

Coming February 16 is The Shadow Queen, by C.J. Redwine, Balzer and Bray. The Phoebe facts: "Irina, the wicked queen of Ravenspire, is a mardushka with magic that is slowly destroying the land from the inside out. Lorelai, the rightful heir to the throne, is a mardushka herself and has been on the run ever since Irina killed her father. With her people and the land dying, Lorelai has to decide what she is willing to risk to save her kingdom. This is a standalone fairy tale retelling/ fantasy. Yes, a standalone! And it's wonderful. The world is fully fleshed out, the characters are very original spins on the standard fairy tale characters (especially the Huntsman), and the pacing of the book is spot on. This book is a stellar example of a retelling done right and a satisfying and gripping fantasy that perfectly fits inside of one book."

You'll have to wait until May for The Last Star, the final book in Rick Yancey's Fifth Wave series. "Perfect" is Phoebe's take on this one: "Cassie, Ringer, Zombie, Evan, and the others in their group are nearing the inevitable conclusion to what started with the 1st wave and is now ending with the 5th. Either the others go, or humanity does. Wow doesn't even begin to cover it. After the greatness of the first book, I admit the second one let me down a bit. I was worried about this book, excited to read it, but worried. I shouldn't have been worried. This conclusion to the trilogy matches and then surpasses the brilliance of the first book. From the first page to the last, it blew me away. It's so humanly, heart-wrenchingly, edge-of-your-seat good."

Soon enough, Phoebe will be talking up these publisher's books from the inside. All the best to her!

Friday, December 18, 2015

My Top 10 Books for 2015

I find top 10 lists hard to put together. Mostly, because I know I didn't all the books in my pile for the year. One of these years, I might compile a top 10 books I am mad that I didn't read for that particular year. I have at least 5 for this year.

Lists are always subject to what the writer has had time to read. Did they read the right books? Why did they read those books? Could they have been in a reading groove with  certain subjects and just gravitated towards them? You can see the difference in reviews from different newspapers, as the New York Times Top 10 differs greatly from the Washington Post's Top 10 books of the 2015. So many books, so little time. It is good that these lists have differing opinions on what was the best books of 2015 (you can usually figure out what was a universal pick by seeing what overlaps from list to list to list), it gives us, the potential readers, a chance to find a book we may not have heard of or seen (or, perhaps, simply forgotten about).

Below is my list of Top 10 books I read this year. I only picked books out that were published in 2015, older books were excluded, as were future books. You should easily figure out where my reading interests gravitated towards this year.

Adam Briggle really takes a deep look at fracking as it embeds itself in Denton, Texas, where he made his home and living. Realizing that most people have no idea of what fracking really entails, he begins to ask a ton of questions that any field philosopher would ask. He looks at the environmental and health impact as well as the economical one. He would like to offer a system to fix fracking, to make it as beneficial for all concerned parties. He is ignored. He leads a citizens group with local activists as they lead a fight to stop the fracking that is causing all kinds of problems. It is a hard won fight. Having never lived anywhere near fracking, reading this has made me glad that there are groups out there willing to take on the big oil and gas companies and fight for what seems logical and right.

This could well be Neal Stephenson's best work to date, equal parts Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World. An event occurs that leaves humanity on the brink of extinction with very little time on the clock to attempt to survive. Most writers would start well after the event and leave out all the important how parts, the parts readers want to know, like how does civilization continue or barring that, humanity. The leaders of Earth hatch a harsh plan to save humanity; nothing is easy and survival is not assured, but there is true heroism in the early pages of this novel as humanity has to learn to live in a foreign environment without the cozy confines of atmosphere or terra firma. To say this was a great novel does not do it justice; Stephenson creates a breathtaking take on the catastrophic ending of the world and the saving of the human race. Then he brings it full circle, leaving me completely in awe.

Paolo Bacigalupi writes some bleak futures in his novels. First in, The Windup Girl, and now in his new intense, water-deprived world of The Water Knife, we come to see the many different ways our civilization and ecosystems could go terribly wrong. This is an intense and violent cli-fi (climate fiction) novel that follows Angel Velasquez and Lucy Monroe on a hunt for an ancient water deed that could change the southwest water rights. Can they trust each other? Is finding the deed going to solve the water problem or lead to a bigger ill for most everybody? Characters are multidimensional and you can never peg somebody as always being the good person or the bad, and that is how Paolo sucker punches you time again as the plot unfurls. Brilliant novel, if a bit too close to reality sometimes, but that could be what we need.

Bennett Omalu was the right person at the right time to discover CTE in football players. He was an outsider from Nigeria, he battled anxiety and depression, he was considered a bit too smart to be tough, and he was born to a very amazing family. Discovering the disease in Mike Webster completely surprised and shocked Bennett, but not enough to silence him. He started publishing papers. The NFL started slandering his name and reputation. He has never had much of the credit for being the first to look and find CTE, however he was instrumental to the NFL slowly changing their ways and stop ignoring an epidemic problem among his players. Jeanne Marie Laskas has woven Bennett's tale with thoroughness and careful consideration to his entire life, because it was not just one thing that put him on the path to helping so many, it was a series of hard and serious problems that made Bennett Omalu the person he was to be able to accomplish this heroic task.

This is a brilliant collection by Jesse Eisenberg, who is better known for his roles in The Social Network and Zombieland. Though, if he keeps this up, then he is going to be heralded as a great writer as well. The stories are soaked and riddled with characters anxieties and quirks. The first story, and possible my favorite,  is from the point of view of a nine-year-old, who has become a restaurant critic, because his Dad will pay for any meals that his Mother goes on with him, since the two are separated. He rates his experiences on a scale of one to 2000 stars. The best is when he has to endure a vegan Thanksgiving!

This Napoleon book stands out from others I have read in the last couple of years. Patrice Gueniffey takes Napolean from his days in Corsica to the declaration of Consulate for Life in 1802. Not only does Patrice demonstrate how Napoleon was "born in war," but he also shows how, after witnessing the Revolution, he comes down on the side of centralized authority. There are great passages of his courting Josephine de Beauharnais to secure his French nationality. In this first volume, in which there will be a second companion volume covering the second half of Napoleon's life, we see his single minded, tireless and creative approach to raising his future self to the highest his brilliant mind could fling him.

If you didn't have pleasure of coming to hear Mary Doria Russell talk about Epitaph earlier earlier in the year here at Boswell, then you should find her on her paperback tour and go. She is a dynamo when talking about what drove her to write this and Doc. This remarkable historical novel does what readers like me want, to take an event we think know about and give us an angle we have been blind to or blocked from. In this case, it is the O.K. Corral and one of the most famous gunfights in Old West history. Just read it, the prose will have you, the characters will have you and Mary will not let you go.

This was one amazing read - the language was lush and beautiful and the reality of the world that Marguerite Reed created was brutal and harsh. On the planet of Ubastis, Vashti is one of the original offworlders to settler here. The planet has been on lock down from more colonists coming, with the Earth dying and that last world that was colonized and brutalized, Vashti is part of a group that is attempting to preserve this world. There is so much going on in this book, so many dual meanings and dual stories entwining around Vashti and her Beast, a bio-engineered human (who she thinks of as non-human and her enemy). The next book can't come soon enough!

This is a novel of tragedy and love told on the landscape of World War I. The McCoshes have four daughters and they are neighbors to an American family called the Pendennis and their three sons. One of the sons proposes to Rosie McCosh before he enlists in the war, along with all his brothers. To say very little, the tragedy strike particularly hard on both families. This is a war like no other before it and the scenes depicting the horrors of war are frightening. Not only are the soldiers in the trenches of France, who are constantly wet, cold and dirty, but the wives and mothers at home in England are shown to be living in a blackish world of death and loss. Louis de Bernieres is a brilliant storyteller, mixing up the characters who tell the story and giving us detailed historical detail of the period, but not too much. Now, I have to somehow wait for another story from him

Johannes Fried doesn't focus so much on the kings and emperors of the Middle Ages, instead he is interested in the 'thinkers' like Thomas Aquinas, Dante Alighieri and William of Ockham. It is the revolution of thought through the Middle Ages that Johannes Fried wants to trace. In another scholar's hands this book could be dry and dull, but Fried has the ability to capture the readers attention at this monumental evolution of thought, which is counter of what we think of the Middle Ages as being. He successfully argues, at least I think, that there was more diverse, creative and mature reason than we think they had. Here is a history book for the holidays that can go to people who love history for a good story or for those who want their history to argue new points of view. A great read.