Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 24, 2023


We've a few new books to recommend to you this week. 

Let's begin with Kay, who has two recs for us this week. His first is The Red-Headed Pilgrim by Kevin Maloney. Tim says: "Kevin is a teen-turning-adult in the 90s, but his journey is classic 1960s/70s: a highly intelligent soul searches for truth and beauty with the aid of various drugs, a deep appreciation of nature and simplicity, openness to spontaneous travel, and strong avoidance of 9-5 jobs. Kevin carelessly becomes a father and husband, and parenthood skyrockets his tendency toward denial. Divorce eventually forces him back home to a 9-5 job. A raucous trip!"

Kay's second rec is for Critical Mass, the sequel to Daniel Suarez's Delta-v. Kay says: "Critical Mass is a worthy sequel to Delta-V. No spoilers; I’ll just say that, like the first book, this is packed with new leaps in technology, and you will be cheering on the central characters and their mission.

Madi Hill recommends Waco: David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and A Legacy of Rage by Jeff Guin. Madi says: "Waco is recent enough history that many remember it, yet memory can be such a fickle thing. Luckily, Jeff Guinn has tackled the subject in his new book, simply titled Waco, that recounts the history of the Branch Davidians and the infamous Mount Carmel raid in Waco, Texas. For a topic so polarizing, Guinn manages to tell a narrative that does not imply personal bias, but provides as many facts as possible so the truest story can be told. His in-depth research uncovered information even true crime connoisseurs will be surprised to learn about the history of the Branch Davidians and David Koresh, including reflections on the long-lasting impact of the raid on Waco and its contribution to today's radicalization of right-wing groups. A true page turner, Waco is a fantastic read, dare I say likely to be the best book on Waco to be published in time for its 30th anniversary."

And then it's over to Tim for Stanley's Secret, a picture book by John Sullivan, illustrated by Zach Manbeck. Tim says: "Stanley was a quiet boy who spoke softly and kept to himself, all the while tapping his feet. His love for tap dance was known only by Squeaker and Nibbles, his pet mice, and perhaps the janitor he helped while dancing through empty rooms. When his principal caught him, she was shocked by his skill and insisted he sign up for the talent show. Can Stanley find the strength to reveal himself and prove Principal Reynolds right, that talent should be shared? I just love the storytelling and the vibrant pastel illustrations by Zach Manbeck, which seem at once relatively simple and so magically detailed. They have an irresistible energy. 'Shuffle. Heel. Flap. Stomp. Riff!'"

See you next week, readers. Read on.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 17, 2023

 
A light week of recommending, with just one new book for you to consider. Hopefully you've got a book or two from last week's big release day to tide you over and keep you reading along with this rec!

Daniel Goldin suggests you check out the first novel from Slate editor and podcaster (and former Milwaukee-area bookseller!) Dan Kois - Vintage Contemporaries. Daniel says: "After moving from Wisconsin to New York, Emily takes a job as an assistant in a literary agency and finds herself in two transformative friendships, with an older, overlooked writer (Lucy) and a hyper-charged wannabe theater director (also named Emily). The first thing local readers need to know is that this author and Slate editor was once a bookseller in Milwaukee - that semi-familiar minor character’s name is not an accident, and yes, at one point, lunch on a family trip back home is served at the legendary Coffee Trader. The other thing to keep in mind is that this book is packed with inside-publishing ephemera that shouldn’t irritate casual readers but make the story extra fun if you’ve been there, including homages to beloved authors (Lucy is a take on one of my favorite writers) and cover designers (an alternate universe take on the famed VC designer Lorraine Louie) and lots of only-in-New-York detail, like a deep dive into the Lower East Side squatter wars. But that’s still all icing - the cake is a moving story about friendship, purpose, and finding yourself."

We're hosting a virtual event featuring Kois this week, too! In partnership with Flyleaf Books of Chapel Hill, NC, we present Dan Kois in conversation with author Jami Attenberg on Thursday, 1/19, at 6 pm central. Click here for more info and to register to tune in.

We'll meet you back here next week with more books. Until then, read on.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 10, 2023

 
The second week of January brings with it a number of new releases the Boswellians have read, like, and hope you will also enjoy. Here are the recs!

We begin this blog with our first double rec of the year: The Deluge by Stephen Markley. 
Recommender #1 is Chris, who says: "This book is written like a (rising) ocean, wave after wave of moments and years and ideas crashing one after the other, relentlessly eroding the shores. An epic peopled with characters as real as any person you know, who’ll fill you up with hope and heartbreak. A feast of a book."

And from Kay: "Anyone interested in climate change fiction covering the near future (~now to 2040) won’t find a more informative, deep-dive novel than The Deluge. Thrilling, terrifying, maddening, and occasionally hopeful, you won’t be quite the same when you finish the book."

Next, here's Daniel with his recommendation of Sam by Allegra Goodman: "Even if you’ve read Allegra Goodman before, you’ve never read a novel like Sam. It’s told completely from her perspective, keeping just the amount of distance you might expect from an adolescent who values her privacy. With any number of childhood setbacks, Sam’s seminal years leave her insecure at best and entering adulthood with any number of missteps. It’s rock climbing that gives her a sense of purpose, and while it doesn’t take her where she wants to go, it does lead to unseen paths - she just needs to find the right footholds. Quiet but powerful."

Next it's Jason for Bad Cree by Jessica Johns: "In Bad Cree, horror and grief are bound together; the duality of meanings of seemingly benign objects can both frighten and soothe. Mackenzie has moved away from her family and all the loss she has endured, however her past won't leave her alone. Nightmares begin to impact her life, forcing her to return home for help. Other members of her family are experiencing the same hauntings that are getting more and more serious. This book will have you believing that sleep is overrated. A brilliant and scary debut!"

Tim recommends A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for My Cousin and Best Friend, Emmett Till by Reverend Wheeler Parker, Jr., with Christopher Benson: "This book is stunning, frightening, essential, and exceptionally well written. More than anything else, it has urgency. I felt a constant need to see what came next. Would there ever be some degree of justice for Emmett Till and his family? If so, what would justice look like almost seven decades after “Bobo” Till was brutally executed? The naive fourteen-year-old Chicago kid who didn't understand the Jim Crow American South had a cousin who saw it all begin. Reverend Parker was there that day in 1955 Mississippi, at the store where the young woman worked, the one whose lies caused Emmett’s death. Parker was also in the house, several nights later, where the killers came first to his bedroom before finding and taking Emmett at gunpoint. Parker thought he’d die that night, and he tells us about the lifelong survivor’s guilt. As they marched him to his death, wasn’t Bobo asking himself why his family couldn’t stop them? Wasn’t he pleading for help? Yes. He was. Can Parker ever forgive himself for getting away from Mississippi and going back home without Bobo? This is the story of the endless, twisted struggle to make some justice happen, long after the killers who got away with it have themselves died. And it tells so much more, about the nation, then and now. I feel like it’s my turn to preach, in honor of Reverend Parker. Black people know all about how the Emmett Tills of the world fall, and this country might be better if everybody understood his family’s story."

Now over to Jenny for a great YA rec of Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett: "The publisher’s marketing had me at ‘dark fae magic,’ but add in a bookish introvert researching fairies and her mysterious, insufferably charismatic colleague, and I knew I’d started a delightful, can’t-put-it-down novel. Emily Wilde’s life’s work is the compilation of an encyclopaedia with an entry on every species of fairy. In 1909, she sets out from Cambridge University where she taught to do field work on the never-seen fairies of a country much like Iceland. Professor Wendell Bambleby follows her, probably to take credit for her findings. He charms the grim assortment of locals, who Emily has already insulted, though she can’t figure out why or when. The longer Wendell stays, the deeper the mystery surrounding him and his link to the fae becomes. Emily is a clever heroine, kinder than she gives herself credit for, and I loved watching the connections she makes as the novel progresses, especially when it comes to the equally dashing and irritating Wendell. You’ll be glad you met these two as you think about them long after turning the last page! Luckily, this is the start of a series."

Speaking of books for kids, let's head back to Tim for a middle grade recommendation of What Happened to Rachel Riley? by Wisconsinite Claire Swinarski: "Through a series of emails, passed notes, posts, recordings, texts and traditional narrative, Swinarski tells the story of a new girl at East Middle School who’s trying to solve a mystery. Her teacher gave the class a semester-long un-essay project on any social issue of their choice. Forget recycling. Anna Hunt has a more important social question. How did a girl who was thoughtful enough to help a lost new kid on the first school day go from being super popular to being completely shut out? Nobody will talk about it, and people keep asking why Anna cares. After all, her questions are limiting any hope that she'll find new friends for herself. So, why care? Well, she just does. A nice person like Rachel Riley shouldn’t face dead silence when the principal reads her name on the day's list of Birthdays. I enjoyed this story very much. It has the feel of a good mystery, as Swinarski rolls out a compelling, nuanced plot. Best of all, the beautifully developed characters confront issues and have messages that matter to me. A lot! Oh, and the book is set in Madison. Swinarski is a lifelong Wisconsinite."

How about paperback releases, you ask? We've got a couple to suggest.

Chris and Tim recommend Don't Cry for Me by Daniel Black. Chris says: "Alone and dying, a father writes his life story in letters, trying to explain to his estranged son the harsh understanding of manhood he once thought necessary to survive as a Black man in America. Daniel Black welcomes you to rural Arkansas with a detailed portrait of country life and Black boyhood in the mid-20th century. Particularly well captured is the whiplash of how much time and change can pass in the span of just one life. Don’t Cry for Me immerses you in another time and place and lets you breathe, smell, taste, and feel another man’s life as he reckons with the good and bad that he’s done to the people he loves."

And from Tim: "Daniel Black tells the story of a father and his son. As the opening author's note explains, Daniel is the son, writing what he imagines his dying father might have said to explain himself in the aftermath of a troubled and broken family. As his father asks Death to allow him time, he writes to Daniel on days when he's not too sick: about being raised by a harsh grandfather who taught him that love was showing respect without emotion; about wanting to prepare Daniel for the cruel realities of being a Black man by making him tough; and about the fear and bitterness he felt over not getting the type of son he wanted and expected. I'll admit it. This book messed me up. I mean, really, how many times can a man can say, 'I almost... I wish I had... I should have... found a way to show my love and acceptance?' It's too damn personal, but I might just read it again. Because the writing is exquisite. The father's voice rings true and clear with a sincere emotion that he's never before expressed. And because it beautifully raises the question that matters to a damaged child: are there things a parent can do, or not do, which are unforgivable?"

Kay and Daniel recommend Small World by Jonathan Evison. From Kay: "Small World is a brilliant tale of 1850s Americans and their descendants in 2019. He follows two Irish twins orphaned on their journey across the Atlantic, an escaped slave, a ‘fresh off-the-boat’ Chinese man who’s landed in unfriendly San Francisco, and two wandering American Indians who joined forces on a whim. Descendants of all are on the same train heading north in Oregon during a snowstorm in 2019. As Evison shifts between characters in the 1850s and 2019, Small World reads like a seamless masterpiece."

From Daniel: "If you liked West of Here, Evison’s grand epic of Washington State from a decade ago, you’re likely to love Small World, which has a similar dual narrative, only on a more national scale. Four families' lives - Black, Irish, Chinese, and Indigenous - are tied together throughout the settlement of the West, by the building of the railroads in the past and one fateful journey of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight line in the present. Does fortune favor the bold, or is there way more randomness involved in the process, leaving (and I’m just preparing you here) not every soul with the happiest of endings? I really enjoyed the twists, and while coincidence abounds, I wouldn’t expect anything less from a novel on such a grand scale; it is a Small World after all."

Happy reading!

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 3, 2023

 
New Year, New Books, New Recommendations!

Happy new year, all. Here are a couple of recent books the Boswellians recommend you begin your year with.

First, Kay Wosewick for The Blackhouse, a novel by Carole Johnstone. Kay says: "Tightly bound Scottish island inhabitants are very unhappy when Maggie McKay returns. She arrived with her mother as a six-year-old decades earlier, convinced she was Andrew MacNeil (reincarnated), and someone named Robert had been murdered. Run off the island then, she's back to find the truth. Twists come as quickly and unexpectedly as the fierce storms that engulf the island."

Daniel recommends Ms. Demeanor, the new novel from beloved author Elinor Lipman, which technically came out last week, but since we didn't post a rec blog last week, let's celebrate it today. Daniel says: "When is a COVID novel not a COVID novel? When it’s about a lawyer under house arrest for having sex on a private rooftop, only to be spotted by a snoopy neighbor. Yes, it’s all the claustrophobia and sourdough starter with none of the public health panic - probably best for a romantic comedy. Fortunately, Jane Morgan finds something to keep her busy, or rather two things - a series of TikTok cooking segments featuring vintage-and-probably-left-that-way recipe demos that are both confessional and meant to subtly promote her sister’s dermatology practice. Oh, and as long as Jane’s making all this food, she might as well feed her neighbor, also under house arrest for his own private Teapot Dome scandal. Plus, there also might be a murder. I love that Lipman has taken the classic English drawing room novel and morphed it onto the modern Manhattanite. I laughed out loud while I was reading Ms. Demeanor and sighed when it was over."

Meet Lipman at Boswell! Elinor Lipman will be at Boswell in support of this book on Tuesday, January 17, 6:30 pm, in conversation with Daniel and former Schwatz bookseller (and current book enthusiast) Nancy Quinn. Click here to register and get more info.

Kay also has a paperback pick for us this week: The Boy With a Bird in His Chest by Emme Lund. Kay says: "Owen, the boy, and Gail, the bird in Owen's chest, are a remarkably lovable pair. At Owen's mother's behest, they endure isolation until they are fourteen, when all hell breaks loose. Their journey is fraught with more danger than delight, but eventually Owen and Gail find a place to call home. Lund has penned a stunning debut."

That's it! We'll see you next week with many more recommendations. Until then, enjoy kicking off this new year of reading, may all your book dreams come true, and read on.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

The Boswellians' Top 5 Books of 2022 - Part Six

 
It is the last post of our top 5 roundups. Wow! We've recapped a lot of books so far. Here are a handful more, from Ogi and Oli, giving us a strong finish.

Ogi almost always has a great go-to rec for fantasy fans - both those just starting to get into the whole swords and dragons thing and readers who have long been living in other worlds on the page. In his top 5 this year, he branches out with some interesting selections.

#1 The Emperors of Byzantium by Kevin Lygo. Here's what Ogi says: "My favorite book of 2022 wasn't a fantasy book? Shocking. This book catalogs every single Emperor of the Byzantine Empire from beginning to end, giving us the general view of their reign. I found myself thinking "Eh, one more Emperor and then bedtime" all the way to 3am! Quick, snappy, and visually appealing, this book reads at a break neck pace. What other history books can say that? "

#2 The Creative Gene: How books, movies, and music inspired the creator of Death Stranding and Metal Gear Solid by Hideo Kojima, translated by Nathan Collins. Ogi's notes: "I really like learning about the art that inspired the people who inspire me. Hideo Kojima, arguably one of the most important designers in the video game space, writes about some of his favorite works of art and gives us some insight into his life. Read it if you like listening to people talk about the things they love."

#3 Adventurer: The Life and Times of Giacomo Casanova by Leo Damrosch. Here are Ogi's words on the book: "I've fallen down the Giacomo Casanova Wikipedia hole too many times to count. The nonsense this man got up to was baffling, even escaping the Doge's prison at one point. Leo Damrosch's writing gives this book the feeling of a slow burn television drama. I absolutely love it!"

#4 The First Binding by RR Virdi. And Ogi sums it up like this: "The Kingkiller Chroniclers meets the Silk Road! A stunning tale of amazing feats imbued with South Asian mythology. Styled in a similar sense, any fans of The Name of the Wind are sure to love this book, too!"

With his last pick, Ogi goes for an older book - we at Boswell believe in backlist, so we let each bookseller pick one older book for their top five, if they so wish.

#5 The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Ogi writes: "Since reading this book in the summer of 2021, I have thought about it every single day since. Forget being one of my favorite books, this is one of my favorite pieces of entertainment! It's books like this that remind me why I'm so in love with reading; it's books like this that inspire me to write. If you're even moderately interested in the fantasy or heist genres, you won't be able to put this book down!"

And now we go to Oli Schmitz for their top 5 picks of the year, and we get a good bit of book magic.

#1 Ocean's Echo by Everina Maxwell. Maxwell's book makes its second appearance on the top 5 blogs. Oli says: "Set in the same universe as Winter's Orbit, but with an entirely standalone story and new cast of characters, Ocean's Echo is an adventure in space, minds, and galactic politics that truly stands out. As a fan of Maxwell's previous book, I love that Ocean's Echo is another character-forward space opera, with a story that illustrates very real mental health and relational issues and centers themes of building trust and selfhood. Surit is an architect who can "write" commands into the minds of others; Tennal is a powerful "reader" who can pick up on thoughts and intentions. When the military tries to force Surit to sync with Tennal, they realize that neither has signed up for this, but they must work together to protect their autonomy. The narrative is a split point-of-view between these two characters, and I loved their distinct voices and the dynamic they have together. You can trust Maxwell to carry you safely through to the end, even as the characters navigate a charged military-political landscape and dangerous, mind-bending bits of chaotic space. I found myself rooting for the characters, hooked even more by every twist, and all-around captivated by the story."

#2 The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri. Oli writes: "Under a plot of reclaiming what has been taken - from family to power and an entire kingdom - this epic, Sapphic fantasy truly has it all. Secret pasts! Conflicting motives! A vengeful princess imprisoned in exile, a ruined temple that once housed ancient, magical waters, a priestess, one of only a few survivors of the temple's destruction, hiding in plain sight, and oh so much more! Alongside the exciting world and complicated characters, this first installment in The Burning Kingdoms trilogy has a story that confronts imperialism, religion, resistance, morality, and reclaiming what has been taken - whether that be one's power, past, family, or an entire kingdom. (And did I mention the queer romance?) One of the best books I've read this year, and definitely a series worth starting."

As maybe you've noticed, that last one is Oli's "earlier than 2022" pick of the year. We stand by it still!

#3 The Women Could Fly by Megan Giddings. Oli's notes: "In this strange, lovely, and beautifully told novel, a bi and biracial woman confronts difficult choices and a complicated family history. Giddings seamlessly weaves social commentary into the narrative as she contends with the history of persecution for witchcraft - with power and otherness - and brings it into a contemporary speculative-fictional world. The Upper Midwest setting is part of an America that mirrors our own in its patterns of oppression. The existence of witches and the fictional state's regulation of women for fear of witchcraft offer a fascinating way to examine how fear drives marginalization in our reality. A novel of learning to exist in (and apart from) the world in which you find yourself."

#4 Her Majesty's Royal Coven by Juno Dawson. Oli writes: "Brilliant, timely, magical, thoughtful, and fun: Her Majesty's Royal Coven kicks off a new urban fantasy series that you won't want to miss. Book 1 follows a once tight-knit childhood friend group of young witches whose adult lives have been shaped by the Coven establishment and a recent magical war, and whose different paths and pasts have complicated their relationships to each other in adulthood. When one sees an ideological threat to the Coven and all magic where another sees a teenager in need of support, a fight for survival and inclusion ensues, forcing the characters to confront what's worth taking a stand on. HMRC is full of magic, chosen family, and fierce, protective love. I adored so many of the characters; split-perspective between these different witches brought so much to the story, especially to the ending - what a twist! This book is for anyone who's had someone they admire go too far over the wrong things, for those who understand otherness, and for those who want moments of coziness and friendship alongside a story of demonic entities and awesome witches."

#5 Legends & Lattes: A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes by Travis Baldree. Here's what Oli says: "Legends and Lattes: A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes is the perfect comfort read, with a story as sweet as Thimble's cinnamon rolls, as warm as a fresh cup of coffee, with a subtle dash of queer romance. In a Dungeons and Dragons-type world, Viv the battle-weary orc hangs up her sword for good, intending to settle down and open a coffee shop. What follows is a cozy adventure about creating a home and building a new life, one of found family and formed community. Rarely do I find myself exclaiming aloud while reading, but I couldn't contain an "aww" here and there - and some scenes were so cute that I nearly cried. I want to join the regulars at Viv's coffee shop, with its promise of coffee, conversation, and the sense of things falling into place. This book is so cozy!"

What a year. What a bunch of great books. Thanks for reading the top 5 blogs. We hope you found some books to read that you'll love as much as we've loved them. And until next time, read on.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The Boswellians' Top 5 Books of 2022 - Part Five

 
A new day in December, a new set of top 5 picks from your favorite Boswellians. Let's go!

Rachel Copeland brings the romance with her book club and her book picks. Here are her favorites of the year.

#1 Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood. Rachel writes: "Purple-haired scientist Bee K√∂nigswasser's big opportunity at NASA comes with one problem in the form of her project's co-lead, the man who hates her the most: Levi Ward. But when she confronts him about missing supplies and lack of email access, suddenly Levi is... nice? Helpful? Supportive? Surely this is some sort of bizarro world where Levi never hated Bee to begin with. I just need to know… how does Ali Hazelwood do it? By the end of the first page, I knew Love on the Brain would be one of my favorite reads of the year. Every page is a delight, every character is wonderful - you just have to read this for yourself."

#2 Ocean's Echo by Everina Maxwell. Rachel writes: "Tennal Halkana can't escape the truth of his existence no matter where he runs, who he sleeps with, or how many drugs he takes - he's a mind reader, the result of illegal neuromodification experiments. Out of options, he's conscripted into the military, forced to sync with Surit Yeni, an architect capable of controlling a mind as wild and chaotic as Tennal's. Yet Surit won't sync an unwilling reader, so they fake the sync and plan Tennal's escape. What follows is a fight they never anticipated - for autonomy, for justice, and for each other. Maxwell deepens the worldbuilding established in Winter's Orbit with a focus on the mysterious alien remnants that seem to have endless horrifying possibilities. I don't know how it's possible in a story that engages in difficult topics such as coercion and mental health issues, but Ocean's Echo left me with a distinctly warm feeling. Can one feel hugged by a space opera? Asking for a friend."

#3 Making its third appearance on the top 5 blogs, it's Alexandra Rowland's A Taste of Gold and Iron. Here's Rachel's take on this one: "Following an altercation with the body-father of his sister's newborn child, Prince Kadou must prove his loyalty to his sister, the sultan, and figure out who is behind the counterfeit currency plot that could ruin their country of Arasht. Crippled with anxiety, Kadou finds himself stuck with a terse new bodyguard, Evemer, who doesn't seem to like Kadou all that much. After a series of incidents in which Kadou improbably proves himself more canny, dutiful, and capable than Evemer thought possible, an undying loyalty and trust grows between them - and evolves into something more. In every way, this is the romance I've been waiting for. The slow build between Kadou and Evemer was so well done that I often flipped back to reread passages just for fun. Also, every (non-evil) character in this book is iconic, and Rowland had me cackling, blushing, and screaming at multiple points. Rowland's worldbuilding encompasses not only the touch-taste of precious metals that drives the plot, but also a fully realized system of genders, pronouns, orientations, even degrees of paternity. I finished this work wanting - maybe needing - to revisit it immediately to recapture the feeling of pure joy that infuses every page."

#4 The Bodyguard by Katherine Center. Rachel writes: "Hannah looks like an ordinary young woman, which is a great advantage in her profession as a bodyguard. Dumped by her boyfriend/coworker the day after her mother's funeral, she's determined stay professional and prove herself to her boss - but then she gets assigned to Jack Stapleton. You know him, of course - twice voted sexiest man alive, blockbuster movie actor, and recently the subject of a death threat or two. With his mother's health in question, Hannah has no choice but to pretend to be Jack's girlfriend in order both keep him safe and not worry his family. Now she just has to do her job... and guard her heart. What a thoroughly charming book this is! Hannah's matter-of-fact voice is so funny that I could listen to her talk about security and guns all day, and Jack is so wonderfully quirky (always misses when throwing away trash, does tricks on horseback) that I couldn't help but fall for him along with Hannah. Center's writing style is super charming and adorably weird (there's a character named Dog House!); I was laughing the whole time."

#5 The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna. Rachel says: "Mika Moon is lonely; it's the reality of being a modern witch. When she's invited to a mysterious place called Nowhere House to tutor three young witches, she should refuse, but she doesn't. In a house run by a housekeeper, a groundskeeper and his retired actor husband, and a grumpy (and gorgeous) librarian for an absentee archeologist who fosters the girls, Mika is the only person who can help the girls control their magic. Now all Mika has to do is keep the girls' feet on the ground (literally!) and her heart guarded from something she shouldn't want - to love and be loved. Finally, a witch book that really nails it! The magic in this book is that perfect balance of wicca-ish and Sabrina the Teenage Witch silliness, but the real winner is the human element of found family. Mandanna's writing is relentlessly charming - mark me down as devotee!"

Next it's Conrad Silverberg, who takes us all over the world with his selections.

#1 Musical Revolutions: How the Sounds of the Western World Changed by Stuart Isacoff. Conrad says: "If you are able to get past its fixation on the West, you will find this a highly informative joyride through the twists, turns, and sudden surges of innovation that have characterized the evolution of 2000 years of Western music. Isacoff's voice is a steady and confident guide, and his observations are consistently perceptive and eye-opening. He brings the music to life on the page. No easy feat. Musical Revolutions is a wonderful accomplishment that will be thoroughly enjoyed and revisited for years to come."

#2 & #3 - The Passenger and Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy. Seems like these should be gathered together, since they have been in this box set

Of The Passenger, Conrad writes: "It has been sixteen years since Cormac McCarthy's last novel was published, and for some of us, that is just a ridiculously long time to go without. Has it been worth the wait? Absolutely. This is his best book since Blood Merridian (and that is saying an awful lot!). Every page is filled with the rich, taut, and precise writing for which he is known. Gem after gem of the most exquisite sentences you could ever hope to read. The Passenger is filled with just the kind of sociopathic characters, fixated on philosophy, theology, and their astonishing moral ambiguity, that McCarthy has made his stock in trade. This is vintage McCarthy, perhaps a bit less bloody than his previous books, but shot through with the soaring, almost biblical, flights of storytelling that defines his best work. Join the legions who consider him to be America's finest living novelist."

Conrad's Stella Maris write-up includes footnotes, which I appreciate. Here it is: "Stella Maris is the second book, a coda if you will, of Cormac McCarthy's duology* that began with The Passenger. From what I had heard, I was expecting a kind of Rashomon**-like experience with different characters recasting themselves in the lead role, shoehorning themselves into the center of events, whose perspectives contradict and utterly supersede those of all others. But, that's not quite it. More like McCarthy was so enthralled with the backstory of one of The Passenger's major characters (if, for the most part, an off-stage character - a sort of Fifth Business***), he couldn't help but bring them to the fore and flesh out their story. We can only be grateful that he did. We come to know one of the most richly layered, intricately developed, deeply flawed yet completely compelling characters you'd ever hope to meet in fiction. The sister of The Passenger's protagonist is very much the lynchpin that ties everything together, and so maybe Fifth Business after all.

Notes:
*Like a trilogy, but with two books - I suppose that's better than calling it a bi-ology.
**The book of short stories by the Japanese master Ryuno Akutagwa, perhaps better known from the 1950 film adaptation by the great Akira Kurasawa.
***The role in a play or opera that is neither hero nor heroine, villain nor confidante, but is absolutely essential to bringing about the story's denouement - like some doddering old nurse who absentmindedly switched two babies at birth only to reveal all at the end."

#4 Horizons: The Global Origins of Modern Science by James Poskett. Conrad says: "This is decidedly not overly focused on the West. Science has its origins from all over the world, and this book helps bring a refreshingly global perspective to the history of how we have come to know what we know. The growth of science has always been predicated on the free exchange of ideas. We forget that many of the great European scientists throughout the ages explicitly quoted from and were inspired by earlier writings from China, Persia, Egypt, India, and Arabia. This is as true today as it has ever been."

#5 Atlas of Forgotten Places: Journey to Abandoned Destinations from Around the Globe by Travis Elborough. Conrad says: "All over the world, the landscape is dotted with ghostly enigmas: places formerly the homes and monuments of their inhabitants but now deserted, abandoned to slowly crumble into dust. These are sometimes-otherworldly sites, forsaken for a variety of reasons, and often surreally appealing in their ruin. Here's your chance to decipher their mysteries and relearn their secrets. Maybe they'll inspire your next vacation!"

And we conclude today's top five-ificiations with Jenny Chou who offers up a delightfully dreamy set of books.

#1 The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik. Jenny writes: "If you are anything like me, the last line of Naomi Novik’s book The Last Graduate destroyed you in that astonishing way that only the best fiction can. After declaring his love, Orion shoved El out of the graduation hall and stayed to fight the maw-mouth on his own. Since no one survives a maw-mouth attack (except El herself), she needs to get back into the Scholomance and save the life of that “bag of jumbled screws,” Orion Lake, and not for the first time; she’s keeping score. While this quest propels the story forward at a don’t-bother-me-I’m-reading pace, Novik’s social justice theme brings the real depth to this brilliant conclusion to the Scholomance series. When El discovers the hideous secret that allowed the enclaves to create their structure of safety and advantages, Novik forces readers to contemplate the damage inflicted on the weakest among us. The emotional journey taken by El, Orion, and their many enemies and few friends made for a series I’m sorry to see the end of, but I couldn’t have imagined a more fulfilling conclusion."

#2 See You Yesterday by Rachel Lynn Solomon. This one gets us into Jenny's recent love of trim travel books that go beyond the old sci-fi tropes. Jenny writes: "Signing up for physics her freshman year of college was a mistake that becomes clear the moment Barrett sits down next to the unbearably annoying Miles, a know-it-all who puts her on the spot in front of the class and the professor for absolutely no reason. She’s never seen Miles before in her life, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know each other. It doesn’t take long for Barrett to figure out she’s become stuck in a time loop of endless Wednesday the 21st of Septembers. And caught there with her? Ugh. Miles. What ensues is hilarious and very nearly broke my heart (not unexpected for a Rachel Lynn Solomon novel). Writing a book set almost entirely in just one day is challenging, but Solomon’s creativity makes for a real page turner. Barrett’s combination of outspoken and insecure land her in trouble with every repeat, while Miles pretty much has to be dragged out of the physics library, where he’s determined to find the scientific solution to reaching Thursday, September 22nd. Barrett’s sense of adventure doesn’t mesh with Miles’s cautious personality, so watching the two learn to understand each other makes for a charming read. I’m not giving anything away to tell you that my favorite enemies-to-lovers trope is well played here, but the path to Thursday, September 22nd leads through an unexpected and epic twist that fans of YA romance won’t want to miss."

#3 This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub. Another time travelling and heartstring-tugging tale. Jenny says: "2022 is shaping up to be an excellent year for time travel novels. Literally one super-star read after another, and as I write this, it's only February. In This Time Tomorrow, Emma Straub's take on the time-travel twist, we don’t need to understand the science behind main character Alice’s journeys to her past, just her motivations for going back to age sixteen - first accidentally and then on purpose. At the start of the book, she’s forty, and it’s apparent that Alice is not living her best life. Her father, the most important person in her life, is dying, and everyone else is caught up in the chaos of their own life or is just dull background noise in Alice’s. So, when the opportunity arises, Alice tries to rearrange her present-day life over and over again from the springboard of her sixteenth birthday. Fixing certain problems often leads to bigger problems and lots of laughs for the reader, but the heartbeat of the novel is Alice’s relationship with her dad. Her longing to somehow adjust his path by changing her actions gives This Time Tomorrow a sense of poignancy and tenderness. Trust me, you’re going to fall in love with Alice and the people who stumble in and out of her life over the course of this absolutely delightful book."

#4 Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternack. In this historical fantasy novel, Ziva will do anything to save her twin brother Pesah from his illness, even if it means down the Angel of Death himself. This one earned four (four!) starred reviews, including this from PW: "Pasternack shows how Ziva’s love of justice drives her, while depicting a world in which spirits are manifest, healers come in many forms, and a bold girl can literally bargain with the Angel of Death. Tenderly rendering Ziva’s feelings of responsibility - including around Pesah’s physical care and amputating his infected fingers and toes - Pasternack imagines a rich, omen-filled journey that powerfully shows love and its limits."

#5 Book of Night by Holly Black. Jenny writes: "If you, like me, are waiting not-so-patiently for Leigh Bardugo to write the sequel to her adult novel, The Ninth House, here’s something to keep you busy in the meantime. Holly Black’s first foray into writing for grown-ups is an urban fantasy with a stunning mix of magic, horror, heists, and the perfect amount of impossible romance. There is nothing I love better than an author who creates a believable twist on magic, and Black’s world building is outstanding. Every page feels overcast and dark, and no wonder; human shadows are infused with power to be sold or traded and even killed for. Additionally, her characters are nuanced and sharply portrayed. Main character Charlie tries to keep a low-profile as a bartender, hiding from her past as a thief, but as in all the best novels, that past just won’t leave her alone. Her sister and seemingly perfectly nice boyfriend struck me as not to be trusted from the beginning. Were my instincts right? Find out for yourself on May 3rd! But here’s a warning for you, clear your schedule before you turn to page one, because you won’t put Book of Night down until you reach the gasp-out-loud last page."

Only one more top 5 post to go - you can hardly wait, right? Until tomorrow, read on, dear readers.

Monday, December 12, 2022

The Boswellians' Top 5 Books of 2022 - Part Four


 
So many top 5 picks!

Margaret Kennedy brings us romance and adventure for the holidays.

#1 Portrait of a Thief by Grace D Li. Margaret writes: "Compelling and personal, Grace D Li’s Portrait of a Thief tells the tale of five Chinese American college students as they confront the meaning of identity and attempt to pull off a heist that will shake the world. Will Chen, an art history major at Harvard, and four of his friends are offered a dangerous opportunity from a wealthy Chinese businesswoman - steal back art that was stolen from China, which western museums refuse to return. Li keeps the action rolling as the heist is pulled off and yet is able to explore each of the five friends’ motivations for agreeing to this lucrative deal. The characters are motivated by their place in the Chinese American diaspora, yet each has their own complicated relationship with their heritage. As the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves, they grapple between what is expected of them and what they want as the try to do the impossible and shape history in the process."

#2 A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland makes its second appearance on the Boswell top 5 blogs. Margaret doesn't have a write-up for us, so let's go with the Indie Next bookseller quote, from Katie Elms, Bookbug, Kalamazoo, MI: "A sizzling romance that had me on the edge of my seat! Kadou and Evemer are compelling and their world is full of delightful intrigue. Themes of fealty, forgiveness, and the true value of things make this an unforgettable adventure."

#3 A Lady's Guide to Fortune Hunting by Sophie Irwin. From People magazine: "Bridgerton fans will swoon over this entertaining romp through Britain’s Regency-era high society." Yes, I also have noticed how often I've found myself using pull quotes from People in the past year. Kudos to their book reviewing staff writers, who are really, really good and writing snappy one-liners about books. This debut follows the adventures of an entirely unconventional heroine who throws herself into the London Season to find a wealthy husband.  But the last thing she expects is to find love.

#4 Red, White & Royal Blue: Collector's Edition by Casey McQuiston. We do, indeed, allow top 5 throwbacks for special editions, and this one is particularly special to Margaret. The special hardcover edition of McQuiston's beloved New York Times bestselling novel, featuring illustrated endpapers, an all new Henry-POV chapter, and more. When the book was originally released in 2019, it was selected as a best book by: Vogue, Vanity Fair, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, BookPage, Kirkus, Library Journal, Shelf Awareness, and She Reads. Wow, right?

#5 A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall. This is lush, sweeping queer historical romance that's perfect for Bridgerton fans. From the starred PW review: "The period banter is unparalleled as Hall pulls his characters out of the drawing room and into far closer quarters. He explores difficult subjects with a sharpness matched only by the tenderness underpinning the relationship between Viola and Gracewood. Fans of Lisa Kleypas and anyone looking for romance centering trans characters owe it to themselves to check this out."

Next bookseller on the list is Kay Wosewick, one of our most prolific book recommenders. 

#1 The Alpha Female Wolf: The Fierce Legacy of Yellowstone's 06  by  Rick McIntyre. Kay writes: "This is McIntyre’s fourth book documenting the return of wolves to Yellowstone. Female 06 is unusual from the start: she leaves her natal pack when very young, lives alone for several years, and snubs many suitors. Eventually she chooses brothers 754 and 755 to settle down with, another unusual, yet auspicious, decision. Fierce, fast, fair, and famous, 06 is the epitome of a female alpha wolf. You will fall in love. McIntyre’s series is unparalleled. Why? McIntyre went out every single day for 15 consecutive years to document the wolves. WOW. Just WOW."

#2 What We Fed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri. Kay says: "Each story in this collection is a unique gem. Told from animals’ points-of-view, the narrators include a donkey, tiger, vulture, and fox, a rhino keeper’s dog, a sled dog, whale, wolf, and a pigeon. Joy, fear, curiosity, confusion, willfulness, and denial are among the feelings and thoughts revealed by the narrators. Read the stories one at a time. You might find yourself inside another creature’s mind… all on your own."

#3 Nature's Wild Ideas: How the Natural World Is Inspiring Scientific Innovation by Kristy Hamilton. Here's Kay's take: "Biomimicry is a simple idea: take inspiration from nature to solve human problems. Putting it into action? Well, that’s not so simple. Hamilton describes a baker’s dozen of biomimicry projects, each in a different field of study, each with its unique source of inspiration. Three of the sources are human bones, reptile spit, and pomegranates. Curious? Hamilton’s writing is very accessible, and this book will sate anyone’s curiosity."

#4 The Dolphin House by Audrey Schulman. Kay's recommendation: "The inspiration for Schulman's novel is a brief but groundbreaking study conducted on dolphins in the summer of 1965. A young woman is hired to feed four 'research' dolphins who live in a lagoon on St. Thomas. Having grown up around pigs and horses (intelligent animals), Cora is naturally curious. Unlike the scientists, she gets in the water, and is immediately struck by a fascinating variety of sounds. The dolphins flee to the farthest corner, so Cora pretends to be busy and ignores them. Perfect! The dolphins soon come to check her out, and so begins their friendship. In a very short time, Cora devises ways to communicate with the dolphins - a gigantic step in animal research at the time. Scientists and journalist from around the world come to St. Thomas, and soon the world knows that dolphins are highly intelligent creatures. Schulman's story is breathtaking, heartwarming, and heartbreaking, and a must-read for animal lovers."

#5 Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty. Its second appearance in the top 5s. Kay says: "Gunty’s daring, bold, and brilliant debut will shake you, shock you, make you laugh, maybe make you cry, and keep you riveted to the very last page. It takes place in a once-thriving, now decaying industrial Midwestern town. Most residents are decaying with the town, but Blandine’s internal volcano is about to erupt and shake the town. Stunning."

We wrap up today's top 5-ing with Madi Hill.

#1 Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World's Most Notorious Diaries by Rick Emerson. Madi writes: "Unmask Alice by Rick Emerson is a debunking of the infamous “real life” diaries that began with Go Ask Alice and the woman that was responsible for their creation. While the title alludes to the more recognizable Alice journal, Emerson spends more attention on its successor, Jay's Journal, that was one of the largest powder kegs to set off the Satanic Panic. After a Utah teen commits suicide, his mother turned to Alice author Beatrice Sparks to spread awareness of teen suicide and the need to focus on mental health, but instead, she created a false diary which became a smear campaign that destroyed the teen's family. This is the true story behind a relentless fraudster who was desperate for recognition and used falsehoods and fear to get it. Unmask Alice is the perfect read for the casual true crime reader that prefers to avoid the gory details. Just remember to check your sources."

#2 Acne: A Memoir by Laura Chinn. Madi says: "Acne is Chinn's story of growing up with divorced Scientologist parents, practically raising herself while heavily smoking and drinking her way through her late adolescence and teens. Through the divorce, relocating to Clearwater, Florida where she struggled with her biracial identity, understanding her class standing, a near-mute alcoholic step father, and her older brother's brain cancer, Chinn has one concern above all else: her cystic acne. There is so much going on in this memoir that Chinn's obsession over her skin condition seems to be one of the only things grounding her in the swirling chaos of the rest of her life. Chinn's writing is witty, smart, and heartbreaking, and will especially resonate with those who know the agony that comes with chronic acne."

#3 Noodle and the No Bones Day by Jonathan Graziano, illustrated by Dan Tavis. This sweet and entertaining picture book comes from the creator of the viral 'Bones or No Bones' TikTok videos. The book version follows Noodle the pug and his human as they navigate Noodle’s first No Bones Day - a day for being kind to yourself. More than just entertaining, Noodle's book and videos present an opportunity to equip kids with an accessible vocabulary to engage with lessons around self-care, motivation, and emotional intelligence that's never been more necessary than during the last two years of pandemic burnout.

#4 Ghost Eaters by Clay Chapman gets this recommendation from Madi: "How far would you go to see a loved one that had passed? Ghost Eaters imagines a world in which it’s possible but at a very steep price. After the overdose death of her ex-boyfriend and best friend Silas, Erin and her friends have to navigate their grief while trying to establish their post-college adult lives. When one of the friends reveals he and Silas found a magic mushroom that allows the living to speak to the dead, the friends try to find Silas, but encounter much more of the spirit world than intended. Though supernatural, Chapman uses this horror story to explore how people cope with mourning and addiction, especially in an already difficult transitory time for these early twenty-something characters. His exploration of an abusive relationship beyond the dead is creepy but gripping. Ghost Eaters explores how history is never truly in the past, and the impact the dead still have on the living."

#5 Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor by Kim Kelly. This is a revelatory, inclusive history of the American labor movement, from independent journalist and labor columnist Kim Kelly. From Amazon’s warehouses to Starbucks cafes, Appalachian coal mines to the sex workers of Portland’s Stripper Strike, interest in organized labor is at a fever pitch not seen since the early 1960s. Inspirational, intersectional, and full of crucial lessons from the past, Fight Like Hell shows what is possible when the working class demands the dignity it has always deserved.

More top 5 lists coming tomorrow! Hooray!