Monday, July 15, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of July 16, 2024

Another week, another batch of books to recommend. 

Kay Wosewick has a science pick from journalist Brandom Keim entitled Meet the Neighbors: Animal Minds and Life in a More-than-Human World. Kay says: "You will be dazzled, amused, and dumfounded by Keim’s stories of animals obviously displaying self-awareness and consciousness. After this fun, Keim digs into grim history. He describes more than two thousand years of philosophers’ and religions’ near-universal belief that animals were incapable of thinking or feeling. This belief went largely unchallenged until the 1970s when a few voices made news; still, little changed. The 1990s finally brought a small but growing segment of people who know animals are conscious and self-aware, and are advocating change. Keim is convinced the climate crisis can’t be adequately addressed until humanity recognizes the extraordinary value of consciousness that exists everywhere, such as in the forests that are burning right now. Please, educate yourself." (Note: this rec was updated at Kay's request on 7/16.)

Kay also wants us all to read Smothermoss, by Alisa Alering. Kay says: "Alering’s prose brings a poor Appalachian setting vibrantly alive. Sisters Angie and Sheila live with their mother and grandmother in a shack in the woods. The sisters are very different: older Sheila takes care of most household duties quietly and responsibly. Younger Angie bounces from drawing finely detailed cards of powerful, frightening creatures, to combing nearby mountains and valleys for Russian spies. The murder of two city girls just miles away on the Appalachian Trail gives Angie a new target to hunt, while Sheila turns inward as she tries to escape an eerie, growing burden. Vivid images will haunt you until - and well after - you finish the book."

Daniel Goldin hopes you'll dive into The Cliffs, the new novel by J Courtney Sullivan. It's the most recent Reese's Book Club pick, too! Do note, this book was published a couple weeks ago, but this rec slipped off the blogger's radar - we still wanted to make sure to share it with you. Daniel says: "Having possibly destroyed her marriage and her career at a Harvard history museum with her uncontrolled drinking, Jane Flanagan returns to Awadapquit, Maine, where she takes up residence in her late mother’s house, readying it for sale. On arrival, she discovers that the falling down mansion where she would escape in her teens has been, like so much of the town, fixed up beyond recognition by a new summer arrival; Jane, with her job in a holding pattern, is hired to research its story. Like so many folks in The Cliffs, as well as the town itself, that house is hiding a few secrets, which Jane slowly uncovers, spurred on by a local medium, no less. Sullivan takes on a lot here – alcoholism, indigenous history, family legacies, mysticism, historic preservation – and triumphantly puts them all together into an absorbing, philosophical, yet summer vacation-worthy package."

And we've got one legacy recommendation from former Boswellian Gao Her. Though Gao left Boswell earlier this year, she left behind her rec for The White Guy Dies First: 13 Scary Stories of Fear and Power, an anthology of YA horror stories edited by Terry J Benton-Walker. Gao writes: "A perfect entry level horror book for young adults who don't want their socks scared off but would rather have them soaked in wicked fun! Some stories will give you the taste of revenge that we all crave, and some will seep into your brain with their use of cerebral imagery. You'll have such a good time with this read!" Suggested for ages 13 and up.

And those are the recs! We'll be back next week with more books for you to check out. Until then, read on.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of July 9, 2024

Lots of books with lots of recommendations. That's what we've got this week - multiple books with multiple reads from Boswellians, including a few event books.

Our first recommendation of the week is The Anthropologists by Ayşegül Savaş, and it gets raves from Daniel, Chris, and Alex. First, from Alex Jackson: "Small slices of life unfold like stories told by a close friend. The characters are at the age of freedom, the rest of their lives rapidly approaching. Reading closer to a book of poetry, Savaş's The Anthropologists collects vignettes of Asya and Manu as they search for friends, apartments, and the 'why' of life. I found this book extremely affecting, considering the complex beauty of us in both familiar and foreign habitats. This is one I'm certain I'll be thinking about for a long while."

From Daniel Goldin: "Asya and her husband Manu live in an unnamed city, both foreigners from another unnamed country. They hang out with friends, witnessing one’s love triangle and another’s struggle with dementia, get occasional visits from family, and gather stories about visitors to a local park. Their direct goal is simple – to find a better apartment. But to do this, they need to understand who they are as people individually and as a couple together. Despite the lack of specificity, there’s a spirit of the flaneur that runs through the pages. And for a book so spare, Savaş writes with beauty and insight."

And Chris Lee gets the final word on this one: "The Anthropologists is an airy yet thoughtful novel about a married couple living the rotting years of their youth as immigrants in an unnamed European city (that I’m like 97% sure is Paris). While her husband, Manu, and their friend Ravi strive to keep the drinking spirit alive through the nights, filmmaker Aysa records interviews by day in their neighborhood park. She’s trying to triangulate their lives; among cafes, apartments, and alleyways, among neighbors, friends, and strangers, she’s collecting and sifting for a list of sturdy moments upon which they might build. One foot in front of the other, forward motion, one day to the next, will they learn to sink into the aimlessness of ‘real life’? Will they get belligerent? Savaş’s latest is nice – a sort of dreamy, earthy story of a couple searching for their spot."

Next, it's The Heart in Winter, the latest from Irish novelist and short story writer Kevin Barry. This book also gets recs from Daniel and Chris. First, here's Daniel: "When the often-soused Tom Rourke lays eyes on the bewitching Polly Gillespie, you know that nothing good can come of it, especially when she is the new bride of a disturbingly reverent mining captain. But off they go, into the Montana wilderness with a price on their heads, following a storied history of doomed lovers in the Old West. This may be Kevin Barry’s first novel set in the United States, but it’s as if they jumped out of one of Barry’s other books and said, let’s cross the Atlantic on a lark and see what trouble we can get into. The result? Bawdy, debauched, and pure poetry."

Chris again with the last word on a book: "Tom and Polly are just a couple of folks living in the ass end of the world (Butte, Montana, 1891); each sees no better prospect than the other, and both have little enough to lose that a shot at adventure seems like reason enough. Or, hell, could it even be love? It’s America at the end of the Wild West era; the immigrant melting pot boiled over and spilled across wide open, desolate spaces. It’s drunk and doped, profane and perverse, a roughhewn love fable of two who awoke in the gutter and saw nothing but stars. What do they want? What does anyone? To turn their lives into stories. And so desperate, too, for those stories to be good ones, big and wild, with endings to snatch your – their – breath away."

Kevin Barry visits Boswell this week! He'll be here all the way from County Sligo in Ireland for a chat about this very book on Friday, July 12, at 6:30 pm. Find out more and register for this event at

We're so excited about Barry's visit that we couldn't wait until Friday to chat with him. Click the video image below for our short event-preview interview in which Chris asks Barry a few questions about the novel.

Our next book also comes with two recommendations. It's the latest novel from Peng Shepherd, author of The Book of M, entitled All This & More. From Jason Kennedy first: "Marsh's life is not where she thought it would end up. Her marriage has completely collapsed after years and years of erosion, and her career as a lawyer never actually got off the ground. Thankfully, there is a show, All This and More, which takes the latest in quantum theory to let contestants sample many realities and pick the best one. A real-life makeover! Marsh is surprised that she is selected to be a third season contestant. She has the chance to improve her life and have all her dreams become reality. Can and will she find her perfect life? Well, you the reader have a bit to say. Peng Shepherd designs her book so the reader can choose which direction Marsh takes at key moments in the story. It's fun and enlightening to see the different ways that Peng Shepherd saw the book progressing. I loved it and ran through every possibility I could!"

And from Daniel: "Marsh has just been chosen to be the contestant on the third season of All This and More, a game show where you can actually change your life by redoing decisions in your past. Imagine a makeover show powered by the multiverse. What could possibly go wrong? The story is structured as a choose your own adventure, so for folks who are of the age to remember these, there’s an extra kick. For the rest of us, All This & More is an entertaining, fantasy-adjacent, romance-adjacent adventure thriller."

Peng Shepherd will also be at Boswell this week! On Thursday, July 11, 6:30 pm she visits for a conversation about her new book. Click here and register and find more info at

Daniel also recommends Summers End, the latest Shady Hollow mystery from writing team Juneau Black. Daniel says: "When Vera Vixen the fox reporter and Lenore Lee the raven bookseller offer to chaperone a high school group on a trip to see Summers End, a sacred, Stonehenge-like burial ground, they hardly think they will be drawn into investigating a murder. But when the body of one of the academics is found, not only is the field trip thrown into turmoil, but it looks like Lenore’s sister Ligeia is the prime suspect! It’s going to take a village to solve this one, and that’s a good thing, as Summers End is packed with fascinating characters of the fur and feather variety. It may be a cozy, but Juneau Black’s latest is positively pulse pounding, though not so much so that one can’t chuckle too. And I did!"

Tim McCarthy is also a fan. He writes: "The fifth entry in the world of Shady Hollow, a place where the animal community operates in its own perfectly mysterious ways, begins with foxy reporter Vera Vixen being coaxed by her raven bookseller friend Lenore into chaperoning a group of high school creatures on a weeklong trip. It's the lure of their destination that draws Vera into the drama, an ancient archaeological monument called Summers End, where the precise final moment of summer is illuminated on a monument stone. It’s also an important burial site where professors study the ways their unique woodland culture has advanced. It doesn't take long for the trip to go awry. The professors are at odds, and students will be students, after all. Since mystery books always involve the tragic end of more than summers, death is at the monument's door. Happily, Vera's taste for intrigue seems everlasting, and her tenacious sleuthing skills remain undefeated. A few close friends, an energetic intern reporter vole named Thena, and a somewhat shady raccoon cohort named Lefty will uncover more than murder at Summers End!"

We had such a great event last night for this book! Here's a photo of what you may have missed - but be sure to snag a copy of Summers End so you don't miss reading it.

Greta's from last week to drop into this week! A late addition but no less great! Pink Slime by Fernanda Trias gets this rec from Greta: "In this newly translated Uruguayan horror story, the author verbalizes people's fears about the future of the world. A plague has struck, leaving people awaiting death in hospital beds. Meat is no longer a readily available resource. Instead, people have to stomach a highly processed meat substitute. This draws comparison to a material currently sold at a prolific fast-food chain. It follows the main character as she maintains relationships with people who are dependent on her during this turbulent time. There is so much complexity within the world and the relationships between the characters. The relations are almost parasitic in nature but contain an element of tenderness. Trias writes a flawed protagonist who is compassionate to a fault. It begs the question what will be your priority when things fall apart. The prose is titillating and immersive, describing an apocalyptic hellscape that hopefully will never come into being. This book will leave an unsavory taste in your mouth in the best way imaginable."

Speaking of late additions, here's a book from June that Daniel just read and likes, too! Catland: Louis Wain and the Great Cat Mania by Kathryn Hughes is the book, and the recommendation is this: "Louis Wain’s paintings of cats are very recognizable – anthropomorphic, playful, and apparently, weirdly conservative. Hughes chronicles his life, from a troubled home life to an ill-conceived and short-lived early marriage to a peaceful end in an asylum. And yet, despite the success of his artwork, his financial situation was almost always precarious due to bad financial deals and a lot of, dare I say it? Copycatting. Hughes does a great job of connecting Wain’s work to the public’s changing attitude towards domestic felines, detouring to developments like cat breeding and shows. Black-and-white illustrations and color plates bring the tale (tail?) to life, and the book’s extra touches, like printed endpapers, are a treat."

And now for a couple of paperback picks.

Chris Lee recommends The Vegan, the sophomore outing by Andrew Lipstein. Chris says: "I love, love, loved Lipstein’s debut (Last Resort), and all the hallmarks that make his writing as mesmerizing as train wreck videos are back. Hypnotic sentences? Check. The moneyed, millennial milieu of Brooklyn? Check. And a man of his time unravelling in warped, manic behavior impelled by a moral quandary of guilt and deceit? Check, check, and check. The book’s allusions to Dostoyevsky have been noted, though I’d venture that there are glimmers of Poe in there, too; in the sweeping passages of emotional torment and the body-horror, churning-guts depictions of what it is to consume another living creature’s flesh. Can a hedge fund manager really discover moral clarity in the melancholy eyes of his neighbor’s beagle? I have my doubts. But I’m sure of this: The Vegan has secured Andrew Lipstein a spot on my absolute must-read authors list."

And we wrap up with a rec from Jason Kennedy for The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet by Jeff Goodall: "Looking at Texas at this point, I think we can all agree that heat is going to be a real problem for the rest of our lives. Jeff Goodell does a good job of weaving personal stories with digestible explanations of complex systems and topics. This is a warning call for us to prepare now, as the temperature isn’t going down anytime soon. There are ways for us to mitigate dying from the heat without contributing to overall carbon output. I’m naturally pessimistic, and I hate the heat, so this book completely depressed me on the outlook of this world. Goodell highlights the fact that heat will not affect us all equally – it’s the poor, impoverished countries will suffer the most. A sobering, necessary read."

And those are the recs! Until next time, read on.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of July 2, 2024

Welcome to July! Here are our recommendations to keep you reading your way through summer.

Our first pick is a book that's picked up two Boswellian recommendations: The Lion Women of Tehran, a new novel by Marjan Kamali, author of The Stationary Shop. First, from Daniel Goldin: "The sudden death of her father sends Elaheh and her mother from a comfortable 1950s middle-class life to the poor neighborhoods near downtown Tehran. But for Ellie, there is an upside. Not only does she get to go to school, but she meets Homa, a neighbor and classmate who is not just friendly but passionate, idealistic, and fearless. It’s a bond that will be tested in so many ways, both personal and political, but can it withstand the ultimate betrayal? Class, religion, and politics collide in this captivating story about a special friendship that I think would appeal to fans of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels."

Tim McCarthy also recommends Kamali's book. Tim says: "Through the political turmoil and cultural strain of a shifting 20th century Iran, two very young girls begin as friends with a singular attachment and later grow as young women rediscovering their airtight bond. Her father’s death takes Ellie from an elite neighborhood to the bottom of Tehran’s city life and back again, linking her with her first real friend Homa and then tearing her away. Homa's noble battle to reunite them and force change for Iran's women returns her to Ellie's heart, but can they endure? With Tehran redefined by the Shah's coup toppling an elected Prime Minister and then a harsh Islamic revolution deposing the Shah, traditional power confronts the demand for equity and free thought in a society becoming more westernized. The beauty and struggle of a loving friendship drives the story and reveals a vibrant world where our senses are filled with visions of landscapes, flavors of foods, and the emotional floods of fear, rage, love, hope, and ferocious determination in Tehran’s Shir Zan, the lion women."

Kim Christenson is up next with The God of the Woods, a novel by Liz Moore. Kim says: "It's the summer of 1975 and Camp Emerson is in session. Girls and boys from the country's elite families settle in for the summer's activities. The camp's specialty is wilderness survival; campers are taught then tested. When counselor Louise awakens and finds one of her campers missing, she feels a vacuum-like suck that portends big trouble. Barbara, the missing girl, is the daughter of the area's rich and powerful Van Laar family. A missing child is a knife-sharp terror, but for the Van Laars the event means reliving the loss of their never-found son Bear, 14 years ago. The Van Laar men are bankers by trade, opportunistic and cold. Their wives are ornamental, mindless beings, to be envied and entertaining. Their children understand they exist only to fill future roles, but until then they are an irrelevant bother at best. When law enforcement arrives on the scene and the search begins in earnest, each character's story links to the next like puzzle pieces clicked into place to form pictures. Survival - physical, mental, and emotional - is at the crux of this riveting and ingeniously told story that held me in its grasp for hours at a time."

Over in the world of paperback releases, Kay Wosewick recommends The Last Ranger, the latest novel by Peter Heller, now in paperback. Kay says: "Immerse yourself in Yellowstone’s dramatic landscape. where lovers and protectors of wildlife (especially wolves reintroduced in 2006) are newly pitted against locals who skirt laws to hunt prized park denizens. Action, adventure, and mystery keep the plot in high gear. A tender, soulful ranger - unmoored by loss and now rocked by turf battles - is the story’s beating heart."

And those are the recs for the week! Have a great holiday this week - perhaps you can spend some of it in the sun with a book. That's what we'd recommend, anyway, while you're here and taking our advice. We'll be back on July 7th with more recommendations. Until then, read on.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of June 25, 2024

It's the first official recommendation blog of summer. Let's dive into some books.

First up, it's A Taste for More, a Milwaukee-set novel paperback original by Phyllis R Dixon that's recommended by Daniel Goldin, who says: "Margo left behind her Mississippi country past (and her daughter Lana, at least temporarily) for Milwaukee to find a better life. But with the big city comes big problems, and just about anything that could happen to Margo does – family feuds, racism, the riots, crime, double crossing, schemes gone awry, best friend fallouts, fires, and just about every kind of bad relationship you can have. She’s going to do anything she can to overcome the odds and make the Fourth Street Café a success, all for her daughter. But is it worth it? A Taste for More has some enjoyable if over-the-top plotting (everything but the evil twin), but at its heart, A Taste for More is a Black woman’s survival story. And it’s hard not to root for Margo!"

Here's Jason Kennedy with a rec for The Daughters' War, the latest from Christopher Buehlman (aka Christophe the Insultor). Jason says: "The story of Galva is one of loss. And of horrific brutality. Galva lands in a war-torn country that has been ravaged by Goblins and is on the brink of collapse. Since the Goblins have poisoned and rid the world of horses, Galva joins an experimental group that directs magically designed birds called Covids. They are crazy strong and frightening and are the brightest hope to stop a Goblin victory. As they trample and fight their way to breaking the sieges, Galva finds love, heartache, sorrow, and betrayal that bites right down to her core. Christopher Buehlman has added another amazing chapter in this brutal world. I am eagerly anticipating more to follow."

Now here's Kay Wosewick with Fire Escape: How Animals and Plants Survive Wildfires, a book written by Jessica Stremer, with illustrations by Michael Garland. Kay says: "This is a wonderful, comprehensive, brightly illustrated middle-grade dive into all aspects of wildfires, including types of wildfires, their impact on plants, animals and land, descriptions of firefighter jobs and firefighting techniques, prescribed burns, animal helpers (very fun), evolving theories about fire management, and more. There is a helpful glossary, extensive bibliography, and source notes. This is an impressive book. It’s the 9th in the series, with 4 more planned soon."

And it's Jen Steele now with Children of Anguish and Anarchy, the latest novel from Tomi Adeyemi, and the final book in the Legacy of Orïsha series. Jen says: "Zelie is up against a terrifying villain, a king obsessed with becoming a god. And he needs Zelie’s power to become one. With her brother and friends, along with new allies, can she defeat the king and save their homeland? Heart-pounding action, awesome world building, and emotional throughout, Adeyemi's finale in the Legend of Orisha trilogy was well worth the wait!"

And Jen wraps up our month of recommending (the new books, anyway) with The Yellow Bus, a new picture book written and illustrated by Loren Long. Jen says: "The Yellow Bus is a heartfelt picture book about, you guessed it, a yellow bus! I've never felt such emotion for a vehicle the way I do for this forgotten yellow bus. Loren Long delivers an absolutely heartwarming picture book with stunning artwork. At the back of the book, he explains how he got the idea for this book as well as how he created the artwork. A real treat!"

Last Minute Addition! From Jason Kennedy: Hey, Zoe, by Sarah Crossan. Jason says: "When Delores discovers a sex doll in her garage, it begins the decimation of her marriage. Why does he want it and not her? Zoe is the top-of-the-line sex doll crossed with ChapGPT. Zoe doesn't really factor into the ultimate ending of the story, except as a shoulder for Delores to rest her weary head and figure out what happened to her life. A very contemplative novel about relationships and how they are ciphered in a way that even the couples can't always see where they are and where they are going."

We've got a few paperback picks for you this week, too. The first comes from Jane Callanan, who recommends The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession by Michael Finkel. Jane says: "The Art Thief is definitely one of my favorite nonfictions I've ever read! Finkel's descriptions were so immersive and captivating that I genuinely could not put the book down. The story is complex and unique, and it ensures an informative read for all. Filled with some of the art world's most interesting stories, fascinating fun facts, and a high-risk heist, this book will keep you entertained and in awe!"

Jenny Chou recommends Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, the hit novel by Gabrielle Zevin. Jenny says: "Sadie Green lost her best friend, Sam, at age twelve. Did she betray him unforgivably, or was she just a kid caught up in a situation she didn’t know how to escape from? That question, and the concept of betrayal, haunt Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. Seven years later, Sadie and Sam crash into each other's lives again as college students while standing on a train platform in Boston, and they seamlessly pick up a conversation as if it had never broken off. These are two people who finish each other's sentences. Roommates and partners drift along on the periphery of their lives while Sadie and Sam obsess over the thing that brought them together in the first place: video games. Both are creative geniuses, and the first game they design together propels them from obscurity to fame in the gaming community. The result is messy, at times hilarious, often heartbreaking, and never without emotions that feel so raw they almost bleed off the page. Ultimately, this is a book about connections, the ones we find, the ones we lose, and the ones that nearly do us in. I’m not a gamer (though they’d probably love this book), but it doesn’t matter. Gabrielle Zevin drew me into her world with her flair for telling a powerful story and her mesmerizing take on what it means to love."

Chris Lee recommends Dead Eleven, a Wisconsin-set horror novel by Jimmy Juliano that's perfect summer reading. Chris says: "Clifford Island is a fictional (or is it?) speck of land in Lake Michigan off the edge of Door County. And this place is very weird. When I moved to Milwaukee, I thought it was a little weird – just why were all these strangers being so, so very nice? And sure, Wisconsin lags a little behind the times now and then, but it’s nothing compared to Dead Eleven’s stuck-in-'94, technology-hostile inhabitants, living on an island that may or may not have some major demon problems. Visitors wish these people were just Wisconsin nice. Instead, when a man arrives looking for his missing sister, he gets threatened, run around, and finds himself smack in the middle of a plot to keep an ancient, world-disappearing evil at bay. Super weird stuff. In small-screen, high drama, lots-of-jump-cuts style, the book goes a bit all over the place as it tracks several stories – the brothers, the sisters, the lives of several islanders – all the way through to a die or save the world trying conclusion. Quirky, nostalgic summer fun."

Finally, here's Daniel Goldin for Wellness, the latest novel from Nathan Hill. Daniel says: "Jack Baker and Elizabeth Augustine are two people who meet in college in 1990s Wicker Park and fall in love. Thirty years later they are hoping to move with their son to a condo in a wealthy Chicago suburb. That’s a good story in and of itself. But Hill’s second novel, following The Nix, is also about parenting, religion, sex, real estate, Minecraft, placebos, art, controlled Prairie burns, bats, psychology, cleanses, coyotes, conspiracies, and class. Wellness asks the question: do our stories reflect our reality, or do they create said reality? And with all that to cover, 600 pages actually seems a little too short. I loved this novel."

Those are our recommendations of the week! Check back next week for more great books, and until then, read on.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of June 18, 2024

A few picks for your book pile, courtesy of the Boswellians. Here we go.

First up is Sandwich, the new novel from Catherine Newman. It's her follow-up to We All Want Impossible Things. The new novel comes recommended by Daniel Goldin and Chris Lee. First, from Daniel: "One family, one week – that’s the setup for Catherine Newman’s big-hearted brainy beach read. For those of us in the Midwest, I probably need to note that Sandwich is a town on Cape Cod. And Rocky, the heroine, is classic sandwich generation, dealing with her newly adult children, her newly fragile parents, a newly uncontrollably menopausal body, and a whole mess of secrets. Sometimes I find first person narratives claustrophobic, but Rocky’s voice is captivating, alternatingly funny, sad, angry, frustrated, and ten other adjectives you can discover yourself when you read Sandwich."

And from Chris: "Angry, heartbroken, joyous, scarred, melancholic, rueful, bursting with rage and so, so, so full of love. If any narrator has ever reached down their own throat and pulled themselves inside out onto the page, then surely Catherine Newman’s Rocky. On a week’s vacation to their favorite cramped and humble Cape Cod rental cottage, Rocky and her family clog toilets and spill secrets. Salt water clarifies, and Newman captures exactly how a simple, good, old-fashioned beach trip can recalibrate the rest of your life. Sharply written, with a piercing, observant eye, this is a beautiful book."

And we stick with Daniel for the next recommendation, which is the new novel from The Most Fun We Ever Had author Claire Lombardo. The book is Same as It Ever Was, and the rec is this: "A chance encounter with an old neighbor and failed friendship leads to memories of that fateful time, derailing Julia Ames’s carefully controlled life in the time leading up to her daughter heading off to college and her son’s marriage. Quandaries come at Julia like Whac-A-Mole, and while it doesn’t quite seem fair, it’s also hard to completely excuse Julia from some of the troubles - you might have to forgive her more than once before you get through Same As It Ever Was. But I think in the end, readers, like me, will be cheering her on, in this compelling and emotionally satisfying coming of (middle) age novel."

And now it's over to Rachel Copeland for The Runes of Engagement, a new fantasy novel by Tobias Buckell and Dave Klecha. Rachel says: "When rifts opened and spilled out orcs and trolls, suddenly the military organizations that were tasked with keeping monsters at bay needed the expertise of the Tolkien-reading, Dungeons & Dragons-playing crowd. When one platoon of Marines is tasked with retrieving a VIP (Very Important Princess) who could help broker peace, the task becomes increasingly difficult as resources are lost and the team must rely on fictional knowledge for real (or unreal) world problems. As a lifelong fan of both nerdy pursuits and action movies, Runes of Engagement is exactly what I didn't know I needed! The Marines are a fun mix of jarhead and scholar (sometimes both in one), and the various characters they encounter - an artsy troll, a mysterious ranger, a suspiciously helpful child who attracts danger - are absolutely the kind of characters I hope to encounter every time I play D&D. I hope we see more from Klecha and Buckell!"

We've got a few paperback picks coming your way this week, too! First up is The Memory of Animals, a novel by Claire Fuller that comes recommended by Jason Kennedy and Kathy Herbst. First, from Jason: "Claire Fuller gave me PTSD at the very outset of this book as Neffy went into a vaccine trial to combat a pandemic. When virus mutates rapidly (cue more PTSD), and Neffy wakes up from fighting off the virus with the experimental vaccine, the world is gone. But there are other people trapped with her in the medical building, and this is the heart of the story: how they relate to and end up relying on one and other. It's a novel about the human condition during a crisis, but Claire Fuller also looks at the trip Neffy took to get to this point. The future is a frightening place, but we can't live in the past."

And from Kathy: "A mesmerizing book that, in our COVID world, hits uncomfortably close to home. Set in London during a deadly pandemic for which the world is unprepared, Neffy, a disgraced marine biologist, has volunteered for an experimental vaccine trial. When the staff and most of the other volunteers flee the hospital, Neffy is one of five remaining and the only one of the five who received the vaccine. Cut off from society and left to fend for themselves, these strangers are forced to rely on each other to survive. In part a meditation on choices made in order to survive, this is also very much Neffy's story, with chapters dedicated to her life as a marine biologist, her fascination with octopuses, and her complicated family relationships."

We hosted a fun event with Fuller at the store when this novel was originally released in hardcover, and she had a great conversation with Boswellian Jenny Chou. Click the image below this sentence to watch the video recording of that event.

And now we go to Kay Wosewick for a couple of her picks. First, she recommends George: A Magpie Memoir by Frieda Hughes. Kay says: "A nest destroyed by a storm leaves a tiny magpie stranded in Frieda’s garden. How difficult can it be to take care of a little bird until it can live on its own? Frieda decides to find out. Well, it’s very messy, and it takes a surprising amount of time. It adds another level of stress to Frieda’s already fragile marriage, especially as George grows more demanding by the day. George veered Frieda’s life in a new direction. Note: Sylvia Plath fans might find this book of special interest because Frieda Hughes is her daughter."

Kay also suggests Many Things Under a Rock: The Mysteries of Octopuses, written by David Scheel, with illustrations by Laurel "Yoyo" Scheel. Kay says: "This intimate portrayal of octopuses’ daily life is based on 25 years of diving in coastal Alaskan waters. Octopuses spend much of their time privately observing the neighborhood from a safe, hidden home, often under a rock. Hunting and eating habits, mating, predator avoidance, and interactions with other octopuses are described. While most books about octopuses focus on their intelligence, this is the first book I’ve found that paints a full picture of how octopuses live - and die - in the wild."

And those are the recs! Check this space next week for more great book selections from the Boswellians, and until then, read on.

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.