Monday, June 10, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of June 11, 2024

 
This week is a classic summer book dump type of week - lots and lots of great new releases hitting the shelves this Tuesday, and lots of them come with recommendations from your pals, the Boswellians. What more could you want to do than read the summer away?

Our first pick this week has three Boswellians - two current, one former - to convince you to take it home to your own shelf. The book is Running Close to the Wind, the author is Alexandra Rowland, and the recommendations come from Rachel Copeland, Rachel Ross, and Oli Schmitz.

First, from Copeland: "Imagine, if you will, pirates. Now imagine: a ratty little man (not a pirate) with supernaturally good luck, a grumpy pirate captain with supernaturally bad luck, and an extremely attractive monk (he's so... shoulders) with an inconvenient vow of celibacy. Also, there's plot: a stolen secret, sea serpent mating season, and the most intense cake competition ever seen. Alexandra Rowland has been possessed by the spirit of Terry Pratchett writing an episode of Our Flag Means Death, and we are simply the benefactors of their supreme comedic talents. Looking for a book stacked with quotable lines? Look no further."

From Ross: "This incredible book is not so much a loving serenade to Terry Pratchett as it is a power ballad tribute to him, blasted via loudspeakers from the backs of giant turtles as absurd pirates wreak absolute havoc on everything in their path. Rowdy, bawdy, and raunchy, this story begins with a miraculously lucky man with some sensitive intel rejoining his (former) peevish pirate captain and their crew, including a recent addition: an intolerably handsome monk with an irksome vow of celibacy. Featuring suspiciously knowledgeable tarot cards, huge turtle islands, violently moody sea serpents, glowing dogs, and a cake competition that beggars belief, the absurdity and hilarity of this tale escalate with every page turned. I can only describe this as a spectacle of comedic storytelling, and I’ll never look at a seagull or a cake the same way again."

And from Oli: "Running Close to the Wind is an incandescently funny queer pirate adventure set in the serpent-infested seas of an expansive fantasy world, delivering an epic answer to the question, “what if the real treasure was the friends we flirted with along the way?” Its unforgettable cast of characters includes a pitiful but incredibly (magically!) lucky main character you can’t help but adore; his ex, a gloriously competent but prickly pirate captain; a monk with excellent shoulders and alchemical smarts; and a crew that can take on just about anything. Alexandra Rowland weaves tender insights and perfect absurdity into their characters’ escapades, filling this fantastic comedy with truly iconic moments and all the flirty/dirty banter you could ever ask for. Heartfelt, hilarious, and an utter delight."

Next up, it's two recs from Chris Lee. The first is the latest novel from Rufi Thorpe, who is author of The Knockout Queen, which was a Boswell hit. Her new novel is Margo's Got Money Troubles, and it's one of Chris's favorite books of the year so far! He says: "Finally, the Onlyfans novel we’ve all been waiting for! Margo’s Got Money Troubles is the perfect book to let a lot more people in on a too-well-kept secret: Rufi Thorpe is one of the best novelists in America. She works her magic and crams a whole world of ideas and then some into this book. It’s a beautiful, angry, tenderhearted tale of love, sex, motherhood, money, family, professional wrestling, the internet, agency, and artifice. It’s about all the ugly, horrible ways people try to control someone else’s life just to justify how unhappy they are with their own. Margo may be strapped for cash, but she’s savvy, sexy, and about to make her own way in a world that pretends to love but probably actually loathes single moms. You can’t help but fall in love a little and root for her all the way."

Chris's next rec is for the new Paul Tremblay novel - you know him for books like The Pallbearers Club and Cabin at the End of the World. His latest is Horror Movie, and of it Chris says: "Tremblay makes his entry into the burgeoning field of new horror novels about old horror movies, and it’s a barn burner - we’re jumping back and forth in time, reading screenplay sides, and racing through the making and remaking of a strange and doomed indie horror flick to find out just how cursed everyone winds up being. Even more impressive? From start to finish, Tremblay weaves in a subtle but unexpectedly affecting contemplation of the secret darknesses people carry deep inside. Is it better to self-destruct or to become a monster? If, like the Highlander, there can be only one horror novel about a horror movie for you, Tremblay’s Horror Movie is a pretty good choice."

Jason Kennedy is a fan of this one, too! He says: "A cursed movie filmed in the early 90s yet never completed is rebooted by a major studio. Told from the point of view of the actor who played the original movie’s ‘monster' (dubbed the Thin Kid in the script), Tremblay moves us through shifting narratives, from the screen play that was shot at the time, to the story of a producer and director trying to connect with the Thin Kid in the present, and finally, to the Thin Kid’s life after the movie became cursed. This book really messed with my head, and I loved every minute of it."

Now it's back to Rachel Copeland for her second rec of the week: The Rom-Commers, the newest book from Katherine Center (author of Hello, Stranger and lots of others). Rachel writes: "Romantic comedies are just stories, and yet award-winning screenwriter Charlie Yates has just turned in the world's worst rom com, with neither romance or comedy on the page. When his manager sends the script to Emma Wheeler, the task is simple - make the script not terrible. After a decade of caring for her father, Emma no longer has aspirations of making it as a screenwriter, but she knows stories, and she's not afraid to offend Charlie even if he's written all of her favorite movies. With scant weeks to rehabilitate the script, the two will have to make words into reality, and if they fall in love along the way... well, that's just how stories work. Did I cry? Duh, it's a Katherine Center book. There's so much to love (namely, a plethora of side characters and storylines) that's impossible to summarize, and it really drives home that there is a certain magic to rom coms that is simply indefinable yet wonderful when done right. One thing is for sure - Center makes it look easy!"

And yes, both Horror Story and The Rom-Commers come in fancy special editions with stained edges, but those are limited!

Tim McCarthy takes us down a different path now with The Great River: The Making and Unmaking of the Mississippi, a new work of nonfiction by Boyce Upholt. Tim says: "Boyce Upholt grew up in suburban Connecticut and somehow landed in rural Mississippi, where a side job as a magazine writer launched an obsession. He was doing a profile of a river guide when he tagged along on an expedition. It revealed the mighty Mississippi River's double nature as an untamable wilderness which people make extreme efforts to control for commerce and human habitation. Upholt spent the next ten years fascinated with the vast range of the river’s story, from its tumultuous ancient formation to its ever-changing, climate-altered present day. A full 40 percent of the continental United States (plus a bit of Canada) sheds water from opposite mountain ranges down to this lowest ribbon of land at the center of our turbulent nation. Upholt revels in the collective power. This is not traditional history. It feels like a long-term act of personal discovery and expression, with revealing observations, diligent research, and storytelling that flows like water. He’s honest about inequities without sounding angry, while using key details and unique conclusions to reshape my thinking in surprising ways, just as the river suddenly and continuously reshapes the surrounding land."

Kim Christenson has a couple of recommendations for you this week. Her first is Familiaris by David Wroblewski, and she is very, very high on this book. Kim says: "At nearly 1000 pages, this book might be considered daunting, but by page 25 it had me in its grasp and took me on the long ride home. This tale of John Sawtelle is magnificent in its blended details that track his life in full. Prepare to be fully immersed in the most catastrophic event Mother Nature can muster. Be fearful in the company of myth and her time-bending reversals and shields. Now sit at the Elbow-made table with John's beloved wife and their ordinary, extraordinary friends as they work to find their purposes through trials, truths, and traumas. And then, there are the Sawtelle dogs. A multitude of Canis Familiaris in whose generational genes phenomenal charms and aptitudes reside. Upon finishing this novel, I held its weight in my hands and thought how easy it would be to read it again. This is my book of the year."

And here is Jen Steele with Moonbound by Robin Sloane. Jen says: "Moonbound gave me 80s fantasy movie vibes (in a good way!). There's an epic quest, dragons, talking creatures, evil wizards, and our narrator is a sentient fungus-esq being. Oh, and this all takes place 13,000 years into the future. This book was so much fun! A sci fi fantasy for bibliophiles!"

And here's a paperback pick for you this week: Jason Kennedy suggests you read The Parrot and the Igloo: Climate and the Science of Denial by David Lipskey. Jason says: "David Lipsky chronicles climate change, from the beginning of our awareness of it all the way to the screeching of its deniers. With humor (I laugh because it hurts to cry after reading some of these sections) and exhaustive research, Lipsky does not hide the fact that he is a strong believer in human-caused climate change. He points out how climate change (and denialism) became very, very political. Deniers took their lead from the tobacco industry (they lost, right? but I still see people smoking) and repeated the phrase, 'We need more research on this.' Even though climate change has been talked about since the 1880s, we still need more research. Right? Our newspapers from earlier in the 20th century heralded climate change in our future - yet fast-forward a few decades to find them backtracking as special interest groups took control. As Lipsky points out more than once in this book, 19 of the 20 hottest years have happened since 2000. Sobering, but still not enough for the deniers."

And Oli Schmitz recommends The Weaver and the Witch Queen by Genevieve Gornichec: "Powerful bonds of sworn sisterhood are tested in this immersive journey through tenth-century Norway. In childhood, sisters Oddny and Signy take a blood oath with their friend Gunnhild, swearing to always help each other. After years apart, Gunnhild reunites with Oddny to search for a kidnapped Signy. This is a story of love and power: from chosen family to tender care and enemies-to-lovers slow burn romance; from political intrigue and tough choices to resilience and self-determination. The landscape of this pivotal era in Norse history is infused with magic and folklore, brought to life in Gornichec's enchanting voice. Complex characters and a captivating plot make this one of my favorite books of 2023. The Weaver and the Witch Queen is an excellent fit for readers who loved Circe and historical fiction that humanizes figures of myth, spinning new meaning from their stories."

And those are the recs for this week! Check this page again next week, once you've finished tearing through all ten of these books. What, you do read them all, right? Until our next blog, read on.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of June 4, 2024

 
Happy June, everyone! What better way to start a new month than with a new addition or two to the old to-be-read stack? Here are our faves of the week.

The first pick of the week is Fire Exit, the first novel by Morgan Talty, who is author of the breakout short story collection, Night of the Living Rez. Fire Exit comes with recommendations from Kay Wosewick and Tim McCarthy. First, from Kay: "Charles is haunted by the missing pieces of his history, his emotionally absent mother, his adoring father who he couldn't save, and his daughter who he can't speak with. He decides to write the story of his (known) life for his daughter; he's convinced she needs it to make her own history complete. The complexities of reservation life add a sharp edge to an otherwise earnest and tender tale."

And from Tim: "I am a fan of beautifully crafted prose, but sometimes it's a huge relief to read a story told straight at me. Morgan Talty is especially good at it, saying just what's needed and only when it's necessary. He tells us a direct story, narrated by a white man named Charles. For decades, Charles is conflicted by a girl growing up across the river from his house. She lives on the Penobscot Nation’s land. He does not. He doesn’t have the indigenous blood to live there. She does, but she also has his blood. She’s never known that he’s her biological father. At the same time, his own father has died, and his ill mother is forgetting who he is. The odd circumstances of family can silence the most basic truths, and yet some things demand to be said, even at great risk. Doesn’t truth always matter? Indigenous suffering is clear in Fire Exit, but Talty says the book is not 'seeking truth about colonialism. It is a story about us, all of us. We are nothing without each other.' Love to you, Morgan Talty!"

Next, Kim recommends Tell Me Who You Are, a new thriller by Louisa Luna. Kim says: "Dr. Caroline Strange is a New York City psychotherapist - brilliant, posh, and dressed head-to-toe in white. She goes by Dr. Caroline, for obvious reasons, she thinks. Her patients are irksome and varied, so much so that she likes to give them unflattering nicknames. They watch her face soften into an empathetic gaze, not knowing that just under the surface is the sandy grit of indifference. When her new patient, a young man named Nelson, admits he has plans to kill someone, her reaction is muted. But when he says that he knows who she really is, the echo-like words roar. Who is she really? She grew up in an average Midwestern suburb. Lived next door to her best friend Savannah Strong and her family. And during a sleepover at their house, she woke to find the family dead. She has experience with murder. Just hours after Nelson leaves, police detectives arrive to question her about the disappearance of a local reporter who wrote a scathing review of her practice. Dr. Caroline becomes a suspect, and Nelson's confession becomes very real. Tell Me Who You Are will appeal to fans of Alex Michaelides's The Silent Patient, with a bit of gore and horror. It is Hitchcockian in its telling, I have no doubt Norman Bates would approve."

Now it's over to Kathy Herbst for the latest Maisie Dobbs novel from Jacqueline Winspear, The Comfort of Ghosts. Kathy writes: "The Comfort of Ghosts completes Jacqueline Winspear's bestselling Maisie Dobb's series. Set in1945 in a London of bombed out buildings, homeless people, and traumatized soldiers and civilians, Dobbs, a psychologist and investigator, puts her skills to work to help four homeless teenagers and her assistant Billy's son, who suffered horribly in a prison camp. Maisie, as always, is tenacious and compassionate in her quest to uncover truth and find justice and healing. Filled with characters we've come to know and love - Billy and Doreen, Maisie's father and stepmother, and her dear friend Priscilla - this book does not disappoint."

And now it's over to Jen Steele for another of her great kids book recs. This week she's suggesting They Call Me No Sam!, a riotously funny new middle grade novel by Drew Daywalt, with illustrations by Mike Lowery. Jen says: "They Call Me No Sam! had me laughing out loud and wanting to share No Sam's unique perspective of things with whoever was nearby. Told in diary format from the point of view of a heroic pug named “No Sam!,” we learn how this “human being” came to protect a family of naked monkey things. With Lowery's illustrations and Daywalt's humor, this early middle grade read is a smash hit!"

Lots of books are out in paperback this week, and we've got a handful of them to recommend.

Three of our paperback recs come from Tim McCarthy. He first suggests What What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World's Most Enigmatic Birds. Tim says: "I’m not an active birder, but they fascinate me and comfort me and somehow make me believe that surviving our maddening times is possible. I've read several books about birds lately, especially owls, because seven-year-old Landon and I shared the experience of Great Horned Owls nesting and hunting in our neighborhood. The Merlin Bird ID app also has me identifying bird species by photos and sound recordings from my phone. Landon intuitively questions me about disrupting their lives while gathering information. Smart boy! Together we watched the Boswell virtual event with Miriam Darlington and Schlitz Audubon Raptor Director Lindsay Obermeier for Darlington's lovely owl memoir The Wise Hours. Lindsay brought out all of the center’s owls, and the conversation was magical - check it out on our virtual event archive. Now Ackerman details the latest owl science and the stories behind the science. She explains our growing understanding of owl species diversity and the dedicated worldwide fight for their preservation. Her writing is energetic and thorough, a missing piece of my developing owl puzzle, and I kept hoping the book and the birds would continue forever."

Tim's next paperback rec is Crook Manifesto, Colson Whitehead's sequel to Harlem Shuffle. Tim says: "I don’t like to repeat myself with recommendations, but Whitehead makes it tough to avoid. I said in an earlier review for Harlem Shuffle that I met Colson Whitehead at a Boswell Book Company event once and saw the genius in his eyes, the sly humor, and the sincerity. I added that he's the new King of American Historical Fiction, the new voice as powerful as E. L. Doctorow’s. Is he still a genius? You bet. Still King? Absolutely! (Two Pulitzer Prizes do say a lot.) So, what’s left to say? Just that this is the sequel to Harlem Shuffle (with a third book in the works), and Ray Carney is doing his best to be straight. He was once only “slightly bent when it came to being crooked,” fencing stolen goods from his furniture store. Then his cousin Freddie drew him into a heavy heist. Now, a decade later, he’s just a smart business owner and loving family man with a little sentiment for his past crooked days, but 1971 Harlem is churning with upheaval and “bent hates straight.” Ray’s not one of the city’s many villains, but the churn has him back in the game, a game that inflicts real pain on the losers. I’ll go ahead and repeat that past review one last time. This is greatness! I took my sweet time, savoring every literary morsel."

Tim's third rec is for Timothy Egan's A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them. Tim says: "This is essentially the story of human failure focused on one sadistic, brutal man, but Egan turns it into an encompassing and oddly surprising portrait of 1920s America. David C. Stephenson boldly set out to reinvent himself and create a country where the heights of power would be reached by white people considered racially pure. In the process, he successfully spread the KKK much wider and grew it much stronger than I knew, into my own back yard, while making himself rich. It’s stunning. How did I not know about this? Egan did essential homework and conveys it with dramatic style. The connections and references he weaves had me doing triple-takes, and frankly they got me through the moments when these violent predators terrified me. The bigger problem is, I open my news apps today and see people saying the same racist things and committing extreme acts of violence exactly 100 years later. Progress is not progressive enough, and I don’t have long-term patience. Still, I needed to know this story, and Egan makes it spellbinding. I was determined to see how it ended, and I was rewarded with an inspiring conclusion."

Daniel Goldin also recommends Egan's book. He says: "National Book Award and Pulitzer winner (the latter for his newspaper work) Timothy Egan takes on the second (and probably not last) coming of the Klu Klux Klan in America. In the 1920s, a combination of factors, including the migration of Confederate sympathizers and a White population scared by new waves of immigration, emboldened by the success of Prohibition, led to a resurgence of this organization that was most profound not in the South, but in the Midwest and West. Egan focuses on Indiana, a state that had perhaps the most KKK domination (though one should not exclude Ohio, Colorado, and Oregon, which have their own stories) and in particular, on D.C. Stephenson, who wound up having much of Indiana under his control. A ruthless criminal, a sexual predator, and a charlatan, Steve, as he was known, was seemingly unstoppable, until maybe he wasn’t. Egan’s meticulous research and lively storytelling combine for a powerful work with obvious contemporary parallels. I’m definitely going to be reading more Egan!"

We stick with Daniel for the next paperback pick, Good Night, Irene, the most recent novel from Luis Alberto Urrea. Daniel says: "Irene Woodward and Dorothy Dunford bond in training when both join the Red Cross to support the troops by running a coffee wagon. They are supposed to work in teams of three, but they just can’t seem to keep a third – maybe it’s because their friendship is so strong that there just isn’t room for one more in the truck. Outside the truck, their lives are filled with vibrant characters, some romance, and of course, the horrors of war. Urrea’s new novel is classic historical fiction, a change of style, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to fans – his prose has veered from journalism to magical realism to domestic dramedy. And I don’t really want to give anything away here, but I kept thinking it will all be worthwhile if Urrea stuck the landing, and I’m happy to say he sure did!"

Jen Steele comes in with our last paperback recommendation of the week: Lucky Red, a novel by Claudia Cravens. Jen says: "Set in Dodge City in the late 1800s, a young woman is caught up in other people's expectations and wants. But what does Bridget want, and how will she make it happen? Lucky Red is about carving your own way in a world that wants to keep you under its thumb. A thrilling western full of grit, passion, and whiskey!"

That's a whole bunch of good books. Until next week, read on.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 28, 2024


May ends, but our recommendations keep on coming. Here are our picks for the new releases this week.

Chris Lee starts us off with the new novel, almost a decade in the making, from City on Fire author Garth Risk Hallberg. The book is The Second Coming, and the rec is this: "If it's true that one person can never completely know another (stuck in each other’s stories though we may be), then Garth Risk Hallberg’s The Second Coming is a testament to all the desperate, beautiful ways we try anyway to bridge our divides. It’s a book about addiction and family, the bottomless black holes into which we spend our lives pouring love. It's about depression; the chasms between us and the chasms within us. But I would like to believe, and I think this book does, too, that there still might be moments when two souls collide."

Does Jen Steele continue her streak of picture book recommendations this week? Yes! Jen recommends Emergency Quarters, written by Carlos Matias and illustrated by Gracey Zhang. Jen says: "Emergency Quarters is about a time in Matias's childhood when his mother would give him a quarter to use for emergency pay phone calls. I loved the nostalgic feel of this book, and Zhang's striking illustrations give it a feel of a classic, yet it will still resonate with young readers today. This may even be a picture book kids should gift to their parents; either way it makes for a great story time."

Jen keeps it going with another great picture book recommendation - The Squish, written and illustrated by Breanna Carzoo. Jen says: "The Squish is a witty and charming picture book about a sandcastle who keeps getting squished over and over until it learns to dust itself off and try again. Carzoo's illustrations are simply delightful in this picture book about resiliency and helping others." Detail-oriented blog followers will note that this title and recommendation was original published in and then removed from last week's blog. The book was originally slated for a 5/21 release but then pushed to this week, and I, your humble blog compiler, did not catch this change until it was too late. Thank you in advance for your forgiveness for this oversight.

Over in the paperback releases, we've got Rachel Copeland for Hello Stranger by Katherine Center. Rachel says: "After a seizure leads to brain surgery to repair the same congenital condition that killed her mother, portrait artist Sadie Montgomery can no longer see faces. The pieces are there, but they no longer make sense - she can't recognize her best friend, her evil stepsister, her probably handsome veterinarian, or even her probably cute and definitely helpful neighbor - and she has scant weeks to paint a portrait in time for a portrait competition worth ten thousand dollars. Katherine Center does it again! She takes a condition that a surprising number of people cope with every day and turns it into a meditation on how we truly relate to each other - how do you recognize somebody, how can you trust your own instincts, when one major sense is taken away? You'll cry, you'll laugh, you might do a ton of research on prosopagnosia, and it's worth every minute."

Rachel liked this book so much she invited Center for a virtual event. Check out their fabulous conversation by clicking the video link below.


Speaking of Rachels - Jenny Chou is a big fan of The Rachel Incident, a novel by Caroline O'Donoghue. Jenny says: "Rachel is a college student, uncertain about love and friendship, and with a desperate need to be taken seriously. Her best friend is her bookstore coworker. He’s gay, which everyone around him seems to know, even in closeted 2009 Ireland. When a married English professor turns both their lives upside down, the results are messy and surprising, and the repercussions span years. The Irish setting makes the book feel timely in 2023 America regarding the social justice chaos we’re currently facing. How is it that Ireland has moved forward on issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights while we’re backtracking? The Rachel Incident is the laugh-out-loud, clever, and sometimes cringe-inducing book we all needed in our early twenties to let us know that life would have its ups and downs during that long slog to becoming a grownup, but we’d end up mostly okay."

And those are our recommendations for the last week of May. We'll be back next week with new recs to kick off June. Until then, read on.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 21, 2024


A couple new recs coming your way courtesy of the Boswellians to keep you reading through this third week of May. Here we go.

First up, Daniel Goldin recommends What a Fool Believes: A Memoir by Michael McDonald with Paul Reiser. Daniel says: "McDonald grew up in St Louis, the son of a streetcar operator and itinerant musician. Mike (a fellow musician renamed him Michael) followed that inherited passion, jamming in a number of bands in the bi-state area before relocating to California. I tend to enjoy the journeyman stories, not just before fame, but after it too. Paul Reiser (Really!), who wrote the book with McDonald, chronicles life with Steely Dan (or The Dan), the Doobie Brothers, the solo career, and the many collaborations, though I don’t think we really get the true story of the Doobie demise. That’s for another book to tell. But there’s another story here too. For many of his years, McDonald’s life was controlled by drugs and alcohol. His success may have been the result of talent, but the fact that he survived? That’s surely luck as much as anything."

Next up, Chris Lee recommends Shae, the new novel by fellow West Virginian Mesha Maren: "It’s an old story, sad, harrowing, and way too familiar, about the way addiction strips away everything – everything – from a person, and pushes them to the ragged edges of being alive. Mesha Maren tells it with fresh eyes, clear yet tender. A botched caesarean, a script of oxy, and soon Shae, a queer teenage mother, is slipping away from her own taciturn mother, her transitioning lover, from even her infant daughter. Is she losing or becoming herself? As Shae is untethered from the places she loves, Maren writes the mythic, earthy beauty of West Virginia’s mountains; gutters overflowing with red pine needles, riverbanks swollen with muddy water, everything too full and still hungry. This is a book about outsiders and shame, pain, fear, and relief, love and escape. Shae is a bracing, powerful novel by one of Appalachia’s rising stars."

Paperback pick alert! We've got one paperback pick from Jenny Chou this week, and that's The Deep Sky by Yume Kitasei. Jenny says: "The set up for The Deep Sky, the debut sci-fi novel by biracial Japanese and American author Yume Kitasei, is as creative as it is disturbing. Main character Asuka left behind a planet earth embroiled in war and catastrophic climate change. Along with a crew of eighty, she’s aboard the Phoenix, a spaceship crossing the universe to settle Planet X, when a bomb explodes and jeopardizes the first trip beyond our galaxy. The captain and two others are dead, and the loyalties of the remaining seventy-seven are constantly shifting as they search for the person responsible. No one knows who to trust, and if the flight pattern can’t be corrected in a matter of days, all aboard will drift endlessly in the wrong direction until all the oxygen is used up. On top of all this, many of the crew members are pregnant, as being capable of carrying a child was a prerequisite for the trip. As the last selected for the mission, Asuka feels like an imposter, but during the extensive years of training she proved capable of puzzling her way out of realistic simulations of worst-case scenarios. I found the sci-fi tech exciting and plausible, and The Deep Sky works as a thrilling page-turner. But the novel also becomes extremely thought-provoking when the motivation behind the sabotage is revealed. You’ll think about this one long after turning the last page."

And those are our recommendations for the week. We'll be back here in roughly 7 days with a new batch of books. Until then, read on.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 14, 2024

 
A little late this week, but no less great. Here are the Boswellians picks among the new releases and paperback drops.

Chris Lee starts us off with Blue Ruin, the latest novel from Hari Kunzru, author of White Tears and Red Pill. His new novel is the third in this loosely connected thematic trilogy. But fear not, it's the first Kunzru novel Chris has read, and he assures everyone that you can pick this one up on its own, no problemo. Chris's review: "It’s a paranoid pandemic story, it’s a tale of artistic self-destruction, and it’s the memory of doomed love. The writing is precise, visceral, immediate, superb. Washed-out and undocumented, a once-acclaimed artist lives in his car in upstate New York. It’s the pandemic’s early days, and he’s sick. By chance, while delivering groceries, he comes face to face with his past lover on a fortified estate. She takes him in and hides him so he might convalesce on the grounds, and as he does, their past together washes over him like a fever dream. And now he must confront what he’s become. His art was once about crossing state-imposed borders, yet recounting his story becomes an act of crossing borders of his own, the boxes he’s put himself in and the lines he’s drawn to shape his life into a meaningful act of art and to be subsumed by the artistic act. And now he must ask, does an aesthetic life preclude the ability to love? To see oneself or another fully? Can aesthetic purity exist in a capitalist mode? I love that Kunzru doesn’t just ask these questions in his novel – he answers them, with brutal and breathtaking consequences for his characters and for the reader. A brilliant novel of what must be sacrificed in order to create an artistic act that cannot be bought or sold."

Kay Wosewick is next with a new novel in translation. Woodworm is written by Spanish author Layla Martinez, and was translated into English by Sophie Hughes and Annie McDermott. Kay says: "This delightful horror story stars three generations of women living in a house permanently haunted by annoying, noisy, sleepless ghosts. An obnoxiously wealthy family lives next door. They flaunt their wealth and are nasty to the women; in fact, the family's social standing in town seems largely built on continuous mistreatment of the women. The women are finally motivated to trade fortunes with their neighbors. Fun!"

Kay also recommends a nonfiction title, The Internet of Animals: Discovering the Collective Intelligence of Life on Earth by Martin Wikelski. Kay writes: "In 1967, two Illinois teens built a receiver to track Sputnik as it crossed the US. They modified it to track migrating birds, but the system wasn’t scalable. Author Wikelski took a professorship at U Illinois in Urbana-Champagne in 1998 expressly to work with the one still-living inventor; his goal was to build an effective, scalable system to track animals of all kinds, anywhere. The book traces Wikelski’s 20+ years of tenaciously following every opportunity to build his “internet of animals.” Failures were legion. But today, the system is slowly going online around the world, and the applications are jaw-dropping. One use of the system - to save individual members of a group of endangered species, (e.g. from poachers) - alone makes the author’s tenacity priceless. Inspiring."

Now it's over to Rachel Copeland for her notes on Locked in Pursuit, the latest Electra McDonnell historical mystery from Ashley Weaver. Rachel C says: "It's been months since reformed thief and safecracker Electra McDonnell has seen Major Ramsey, months since he nearly died to save her, and in the meantime the bombs have continued to fall on London in 1941. When Ellie's sense for illegal deeds brings an article about a simple house robbery to the Major's desk, the two once again become embroiled in a mission to stop a valuable asset from falling into Nazi hands. Meanwhile, simmering in the background is a question Ellie can't bear to ask - with her own past as a thief and her parents' tragic endings possibly hiding something worse, something treasonous, will she ever be good enough for the Major? Prepare yourself to enter a reading fugue state with this latest thrilling installment from Weaver - this was a one-day, "I don't want this to end but I can't stop reading" kind of book. Ashley Weaver said, "I see your piddling 'slow burn, will-they-won't-they' and I raise you an 'I could love you, but I don't think I can trust you, and also we have to defeat Nazis'" - and I will never get enough of it."

Rachel Ross's last recommendation of her tenure as a Boswellian arrives this week - I'm Afraid You've Got Dragons by Peter S Beagle gets this Ross recommendation: "Every once in a while, we are presented with one of those lovely and rare gems of fantasy: a new story that evokes the wondrous feeling of a classic fairy tale. Akin to Gaiman’s Stardust or Goldman’s The Princess Bride, I’m Afraid You’ve Got Dragons is one such treasure. We follow a batch of young characters who are feeling woefully miscast in their own lives. This includes Robert Thrax, a dragon exterminator who secretly loves the creatures he’s hired to eliminate, Princess Cerise, who is determined to make herself useful yet finds herself inundated by preening suitors, and Prince Reginald, who desperately longs to escape his princely duties and hit the road. The three of them must (reluctantly) join forces to face a chaotic evil surfacing in their land. While the book is glimmering with witty and sardonic humor, it also harbors a sinister edge. It’s about bravery, breaking away from family expectations, young love, and following your dreams. Oh, and there's plenty of dragons. A truly charming tale from a master storyteller."

And in new picture books, our kids buyer Jen Steele brings us an adorable entry entitled Ursula Upside Down, written and illustrated by Corey R Tabor. Jen says: "Corey Tabor's picture books are so delightful and his latest, Ursula Upside Down, does not disappoint! It's a wonderful picture book about being yourself and how we all see the world differently, told by Ursula, the most adorable upside-down catfish you'll meet."

We've got one Daniel rec among this week's paperback releases, for Paper Names by Susie Luo. Daniel says: "Two families, two economic trajectories, entwined by fate. Despite being a successful engineer in Dalian, Tony/Tongheng Zhang dreams of a better life in the United States, even after realizing that he’ll have to start over from the bottom. While working as a doorman in Manhattan, Tony bonds with Oliver, a young lawyer who lives in the building, who agrees to give Tony’s daughter Tammy piano lessons. The friendship winds up being a rung on the economic ladder from Flushing to Scarsdale; if only the worst thing they had to deal with was the uncomfortableness of a mentor relationship that veers into, how to put this? Tammy really likes playing Celine Dion songs. Like Tony, Oliver has also reinvented himself, distancing himself from his grandfather’s criminal past, but it might be difficult to outrun. I really liked the dual nature of the story – the multiple identities and reinvention, the parent/child expectations and disappointments. A captivating family drama!"

Those are the recs! We'll be back here next week with more faves. Until then, read on.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 7, 2024

 
It is the first week of May, which means it is time a for a whole lot of new books to be released. And that means a whole lot of new recs from the Boswellians. Let's go.

Daniel Goldin recommends four books this week. First, he recommends The Ministry of Time by Kaliane Bradley: "When our narrator gets her new charge, he’s likely to have a bit of trouble acclimating. As far as he knew, Graham Gore was just stranded while looking for the Northwest Passage. The other time expats call him 47, referring to the year he was pulled from history. You can view this as an entertaining time travel, romance-adjacent fantasy worthy of Matt Haig or Jasper Fforde. But there’s also some contemporary ruminations here: How does the daughter of a Cambodian refugee handle this survivor of the Franklin expedition who is at once a colonialist explorer and is yet a refugee in time himself? There’s a lot of setup to this novel, but don’t worry, it all comes together in a revelation-and-action-packed finale."

Jason Kennedy is also a fan! He adds: "The U.K. government has harnessed the power of time travel. Oddly, they are experimenting by bringing people from the past to the present. They are grabbing individuals just before they are supposed to historically perish. The main character is the 'bridge' for one of these individuals, and her historical person is Commander Graham Gore, who was brought forward from an ill-fated Franklin expedition. The leap in time is quite something to get used to. I really enjoyed how Kaliane Bradley handled the rules of time travel and the consequences of using it, plus the musings of Gore and his other historical anomalies really paint a picture of what seems off to them about our time. They're not wrong! There's a lot of debating and talking, some behind the scenes intrigue, and a very exciting ending that Bradley whips up at a fantastic rate. Can't wait to see what else she has coming in the future!"

Next, Daniel recommends Sipsworth, the new novel from Simon Van Booy: "Having lost her long-time husband and her adult son, Helen Cartwright has returned home to the town where she grew up, with no plans beyond dying there. But this end game is interrupted by the arrival of a mouse. As she figures out what to do, her solitary life is punctured by the folks she must consult to solve the problem – a hardware store owner, a librarian, a doctor. Imagine the twists of Fredrik Backman, the philosophy of Matt Haig, and the animal bonding of Shelby Van Pelt, all told in a playful yet heartfelt style that is recognizably Simon Van Booy’s."

Daniel's third rec is for Look Away: A True Story of Murders, Bombings, and a Far-Right Campaign to Rid Germany of Immigrants by Jacob Kushner. Daniel says: "Jacob Kushner, a Milwaukee-raised international journalist, chronicles the crimes of two young men and a woman who, over the course of a more than a decade, brutally murdered Muslim immigrants. To support themselves and their killing spree, they would hold up banks, wearing only Halloween masks and getting away on mountain bikes. How could they have not been caught for so long? Despite Germany being a country so aware of its past and, for many years, so open to immigration, it’s not surprising that White supremacy continued to hold sway with a percentage of the populace. But Look Away also notes that the National Socialists continued to thrive not just because of donors and law enforcement sympathies, but because of a misguided attempt to rely on informants, a shocking source of government funding for these groups. If, having devoured Killers of the Flower Moon and A Fever in the Heartland, you are looking for a book that puts outrageous criminal acts in the context of history, I have got one for you!"

Kushner appears for this book at Boswell on Thursday, May 16, 6:30 pm. He'll be in conversation with Pablo Muirhead and the event is cohosted by Voces De La Frontera. Click here for more and to register.

And here is Daniel's fourth recommendation: How to Read a Book by Monica Wood. Daniel says: "Violet has been recently released from prison after serving time for manslaughter. Harriet is the coordinator of the prison book club. Frank is a recently retired bookstore handyman but is also the husband of the woman who died in Violet’s car crash. Their lives collide at Wadsworth Books - a bit of a coincidence, but Portland, Maine isn’t that big a city. Violet’s family has abandoned her, and while Harriet has the support of her kids and niece, they are all planning to move away. And Frank is dealing with the complicated grief of widowhood. So, there it is - a story of found family, which I love, and a lot of book reading and discussion, which I love too. But it gets better – Violet gets a job in a Parrot lab at the local university, and it turns out they are both smarter than you know and an important part of the story. Dare I say it? If you’ve been looking for a book that captures all the joys of Remarkably Bright Creatures, I think you’ve got it here."

Kathy Herbst agrees with Daniel on this one. She says: "A deeply moving novel about forgiveness, second chances, and the power of books to change our lives. The story revolves around three people and how their lives intersect: Violet, a 22-year-old released just from prison after serving two years for a drunk-driving incident that took the life of a kindergarten teacher; Harriet, a retired teacher who runs a book club for inmates in a women's prison; and Frank, a retired machinist trying to find his way after the death of his wife. The author tackles difficult questions of taking responsibility for one's actions, living with mistakes made, and how and when to forgive others and oneself. Questions that lead me to pause and ponder: what would I do/feel/think in this situation? And, do I really know the answer to that question?"

Kay Wosewick now on Not a River by Selva Almada, which was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize: "The jungle-like air is thick and stifling when three friends arrive at their favorite weekend getaway: camping, drinking, and fishing on a fairly remote island surrounded by a slow, lazy river. The men are wound up and careless. One of the island's village leaders is strung tight even before the fishermen arrive. Two terse encounters between the visitors and residents build palpable tension, which finally explodes at an evening dance in the village. Almada's slim novels pack wicked, well-earned earned punches at men behaving badly. This is her best work yet."

Kay also recommends Brother. Do. You. Love. Me. by Manni Coe, with illustrations by Reuben Coe. Kay says: "This unusual love story is between two brothers. The older brother dedicates six months to his beloved younger brother, doing nothing but working to bring him back from a very dark place. I fell in love with both of these remarkable brothers. The entire book is beautiful and uplifting, but the end is truly spectacular."

Rachel Ross suggests Can't Spell Treason without Tea, the first book in a new series from Rebecca Thorne: "Rebecca Thorne is a welcome addition to the cozy fantasy par-tea recently kick-started by Travis Baldree. Reyna, a former Queensguard, and Kianthe, the strongest mage in the realm, have decided they’ve had quite enough of all this nonsense and run away together to follow their shared dream: opening a combination bookshop/tea parlor.  What follows is the sweet journey of a couple learning who they are outside their jobs, how to cohabitate, and how to navigate conflicts as a team. They quickly become part of a small town communi-tea and work together with some quali-tea new friends to solve problems and investigate a long-forgotten mystery. This is a cute sapphic fantasy that wears its heart on its sleeve while pelting you with tea puns."

Jen Steele has a handful of kids book recommendations for us this week, starting with a new middle grade graphic novel - Tryouts by Sarah Sax. Jen says: "Al lives and breathes baseball. Baseball is everything to her, and when Al makes the all-boy team, the pressure is on. Not only is the team hoping to win the championship for the tenth straight year, but they have a new coach, and last year's star players have all graduated. When the local news runs a story on Al and not the team, morale starts to dip, and games are lost. Al has what it takes to be the best and just wants to play the game for as long as she's allowed. Tryouts is a funny middle grade graphic novel about learning what it means to be part of team and staying true to yourself."

And now we've got a whole bunch of picture book recs! First is Chloe and Maude by beloved kids book creator Sandra Boynton, as recommended by Tim McCarthy. He says: "I sometimes wonder what my life would be like without Sandra Boynton's irrepressible creatures. I'm thrilled that I don't have to find out. With her calendar on my wall and her books everywhere, life is just brighter. These two cat friends named Chloe and Maude are my latest discovery, and I welcome them to my world! The three stories in this book about their challenging and creative adventures made me gasp, grin, and giggle with gratitude. Boynton is the best!"

And now, you guessed it, it's back to Jen for more picture books. Her first pick is Dalmartian: A Mars Rover's Story, written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins. Jen keeps it brief and too the point: "Dalmartian is a completely adorable and fun read aloud picture book about a boy and his dog… from outer space!"

Jen stays in the stars with The Spaceman, a picture book authored and illustrated by Randy Cecil. Jen says: "The Spaceman is a sweet and whimsical picture book about a spaceman arriving to a new planet and seeing the beauty in the ordinary. I really enjoyed the musings of the tiny spaceman, and I hope you do too!"

Jen's last picture book pick is The Bicycle: How an Act of Kindness Changed a Young Refugee's Life, written by Patricia McCormick and Mevan Babakar, illustrated by Yas Imamura. Here's Jen's take: "The Bicycle is based on the true story of a young girl and her family fleeing their country and finding a new and safe home. With each new move, the girl feels smaller and smaller and grows shy and hesitant in her new surroundings. It takes one small act of kindness from a neighbor to change everything for her. A heartwarming picture book and a lovely reminder that it is not hard to be kind to others."

And in paperback releases this week:

Greta Borgealt recommends Death Valley by Melissa Broder: "Melissa Broder fans rejoice. She has given us another gift with her newest novel. Death Valley puts you in the mind of a middle-aged, sober writer who is in midst of grieving for her father who is critical condition. Her husband is also suffering from a worsening chronic illness. She takes refuge in a Best Western near the desert. Broder's voice is sarcastic and celebrates the thoughts that most people have had but don't want to admit. She tends to write these unlikeable female characters, women consumed with desires and overwhelming feelings. They sometimes make destructive or selfish decisions, but as a reader, I find them very interesting. As the novel progresses, she proceeds to venture deeper into the Californian desert. It is in the desert landscape where the novel shifts from literary fiction to magical realism. The presence of a surreal magical cactus that only she can see is what makes this novel great. It gives a playful eccentricity to a story that is very bleak at times in subject matter and setting. It quickly escalates to a survival story when she can no longer go back the way she has come."

Jason Kennedy recommends The Ferryman by Justin Cronin: "Proctor is a Ferryman, an individual who helps citizens ‘retire’ to a mysterious island when their time comes. On the island, they become reborn as a younger version of themselves, ready to join the world anew. The first day we meet Proctor, he is called in to help his father ‘retire,’ and things pretty much going bonkers afterwards. Justin Cronin has crafted a strange world that has connections to our own (both historically and philosophically), but then he veers off into a dystopian/utopian world hidden behind leagues and leagues of brilliant blue ocean. This is by far my absolute favorite book by Cronin, from the surprises he unleashes, the trippy sequences that he lulls you into, to the frenetic, anxiety-driven ghost chases."

Madi Hill recommends The Guest by Emma Cline: "Alex is living it up with her rich, older boyfriend. She has practiced playing the role of perfect girlfriend, but old habits die hard, and there's a reason she is running from her past. Emma Cline has a talent at creating characters that willingly dive headfirst into bad decisions, but in such a way that keeps you reading through the cringe. Cline's sophomore novel crafts a story that keeps you anxious to know what happens next to our protagonist/trainwreck, with a revolving cast of disposable characters she parasitically clings to until they've outlived their usefulness. The Guest is unforgiving but enthralling, an ode to the mistakes of our youth and the devastating consequences when we never learn to grow."

Oli Schmitz recommends Killingly by Milwaukee-based author Katharine Beutner: "Suspicions rise and secrets are uncovered in this novel based on the real unsolved disappearance of Bertha Mellish, a student at Mount Holyoke College in 1897. The story is told through the eyes of those who knew Bertha - her closest friend, her sister, the family doctor, and a hired detective brought on to aid in the search, each driven by their own agenda. Each character has a piece of Bertha's story, and most have something to hide. Beutner builds the mystery to its shattering revelations with great attention to detail along the way, particularly in representing the social conditions of late-19th-century New England. Those looking for a dark and immersive historical novel will find themselves entirely captivated by Killingly!"

Daniel Goldin recommends Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World by Henry Grabar: "I’ve read books before on the problems of parking before, but those mostly focused on the primacy of the automobile over other modes of transportation. Grabar considers how the costs of cars and parking are subsidized by non-drivers and how a focus on parking is directly responsible for our shortage of affordable housing. Heavily referenced and highly readable, here’s hoping Paved Paradise becomes required reading for planners, developers, and civil engineers.

Rachel Ross also recommends Paved Paradise: "Paved Paradise is filled to the brim with engaging stories and intelligent insights into how parking impacts architecture, transit, community, and the climate. Grabar recounts how designing our lives around housing cars has molded American civic life over the last century. This book altered my perception of all things 'Parkitecture.'"

Kathy Herbst recommends Owner of a Lonely Heart: A Memoir of Motherhood and Absence by Beth Nguyen: "In 1975, Nguyen, who was 8 months old, fled Saigon with her family to the United States. Her mother, however, remained in Viet Nam, and, in large part, Nguyen's book focuses on her struggle to make sense of this absence and, later in her life, build a relationship with the mother she really didn't know. This touching memoir is an exploration of loss and loneliness, absence and acceptance, and what it means to be a refugee and to struggle to fit in."

And so does Daniel Goldin! He says: "What’s the nonfiction equivalent of a novel in stories? Why, it’s a memoir in essays! I am actually a big fan of this format, with all the detours that the structure allows, often preferring it to the straightforward memoir itself. Beth Nguyen’s Owner of a Lonely Heart is a great example of the genre, swirling around the mother-daughter relationship between two refugees in America, separated by distance, misunderstanding, and time. It’s only when Nguyen has her own children that she can truly revisit the relationship to make sense of this complicated relationship. This is a special memoir to be treasured."

Jason, Chris, and Greta all recommend Rouge by Mona Award. From Jason: "At the heart of this cerebral, hallucinogenic, and haunting new novel lies a relationship story of Mother and Daughter. And beauty and beauty products. Belle comes home to bury her mother, who accidentally fell into the ocean. It all begins innocently enough, but when Belle begins to pack up her mother's things, her mother's pair of red heels seem to guide her to an opulent, strange spa called Rouge. Trust in Mona Awad to take you on a bizarre, fairy-tale story that has seriously horrible things to say about the beauty industry. It’s also a wonderful story about miscommunications and missed moments between parent and child. Rouge never let me go - this is Mona Awad's best yet!"

From Chris: "Mona Awad's mesmerizing new novel is a dark fairy tale of grief, love, obsession, memory, and the shadows we find in the mirror. Of Tom Cruise, secret worlds, and skin care. Rouge asks this heart-rending question: how does a mother's love both protect and break someone? A gripping book about the ways we'll destroy ourselves for a dream (a nightmare) of beauty."

From Greta: "This book stretches like a dream you can't wake up from. It centers around a woman who is grieving the death of her mother, with whom she had a very complex relationship. Both women share an obsession with beauty and skin care. The main character comes to California to manage her mother's remaining estate and large debts when she discovers that her mother was a part of very exclusive spa that promises advance treatments. Although it delves into topics that are feminine in nature such as beauty standards, this is largely a horror novel, and I would not recommend it to those who are very faint of heart. In her writing, there is a certain sinister energy, but it is as intriguing as it is devilish. This world Awad has created has many layers, and nothing is as it first seems to appear. It is revolutionary in its satire of the beauty industry, achieving what lesser books only scrape the surface of."

Kay Wosewick recommends Swamp Story by Dave Barry: "Bad day? Pick up Swamp Story and it won’t take long before you start cracking up with laughter. Great medicine, great entertainment. Dave Barry needs to write more “Florida Man” fiction; he’s a master."

Phew, and those are ALL the recs! Stop into the blog next week, assuming you can manage to finish your new to-be-read stack by then. We'll be here with more recommendations. Until then, read on.