Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Best of the Rest of the Boswellian Holiday Selections

Heading into the home stretch of this holiday season, I have a grab-bag of books left from the Boswellians selections that could interest one two folks on your Holiday Shopping List. In this first group, I have put the books that have a bit fantastical invention scattered throughout their plots:

The String Diaries by  Stephen Lloyd Jones
"This haunting and thrilling book, set in late 1800s Hungary, 1970s Oxford, and the present day, starts with Hannah on the run; her husband is near death while their daughter lies asleep in the back seat of the car unawares. Just what or who exactly are they escaping from? The demon is a shape shifter who’s been haunting the women in Hannah’s family for generations. Now Hannah has to find a way to stop this creature before it’s too late. I don’t even know how to categorize this book. Thriller? Mystery? Historical fiction? Fantasy? No matter, I’ll just say it was great." --Jen Steele
This was also one of my top picks of the year, as well Jim Higgins at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel!

 The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

"I've been eagerly devouring The Book of Life, the final volume of The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. She is an historian like her protagonist, Diana Bishop, and weaves a spell that enthralls readers and never lets up. A wonderful blend of magic, history, and science combined with witches and vampires, this fantasy will keep you reading well into the night. I loved the all secondary characters which are well developed and the magical world built here appears realistic. I love this trilogy and hope you pick it up on your next trip to Boswell." --Pam Stilp

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness 
"A story about a beautiful, loving crane and a violent, greedy volcano. Or a story about George, the crane he saves and Kumiko, the mysterious woman George falls in love with. Or a story that starts at the beginning of another story's ending. In his storytelling, Patrick Ness has taken a Japanese myth, mixed it with The Decemberists song "The Crane Wife 1 & 2" and created a beautiful tapestry. It’s an ancient story magically woven into a modern setting full of primal human emotions, a story that does not truly end." --Jen Steele

The Queen of Tearling by Erika Johansen 
"19-year old Kelsea, raised in isolation, is on her way back home to ascend her throne, trailed by many who wish her killed. Her only protection is the loyal Queen’s guard, headed by stoic Lazarus, as well as the Tearling Sapphire, a powerful, magical jewel. Kelsea was educated during her exile, but kept in the dark about the state of her kingdom and the devil’s bargain her ineffectual mother, the Queen, made with the neighboring Mortmesne. Upon her arrival, a rash decision brings down the wrath of the powerful Sorceress, the Red Queen of Mortmesne. Set in world with discordant elements of a medieval past and dystopian future, I really enjoyed this novel featuring a young but determined female character who doesn’t know whom she can trust. It is filled with political intrigue, magic, adventure, and a very useful map." --Pam Stilp

If those didn't help cross off any names on your list, perhaps this next group of books will. These have a bit of the horrors we can find in the world and in the people around us: 

An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay
"While visiting her wealthy parents in Port-au-Prince, Mireille Jameson is kidnapped in front of her family. Her father, a prominent citizen, has a strict policy of not paying ransoms. The story moves back and forth between the horror that Mireille undergoes at the hands of her captors, and her personal history, both as a daughter of Haiti, and as a wife and mother. What happens to her while she is held prisoner is only part of the story. When she is released, she must regain her sense of person, and conquer the fear that engulfs her. An Untamed State is a bold and unvarnished novel that will open the reader’s eyes to a part of the world that they may not be familiar with. I highly recommend it." --Sharon Nagel
The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh
"An absolute page-turner of a mystery! Taking place in an eerie Ozarks small town, a grotesque murder is the hot topic, which jumpstarts the revisiting of a peculiar incident that happened years earlier in the same town; an odd disappearance of a young woman, and new mother. Both mysterious events challenge the trust and meaning of blood ties for a particular family. Twisted and chilling!" --Carly Lenz

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld 
"Death Row isn’t exactly the place you might expect to find hope, but this book is all about small miracles in peculiar places. In the darkest of prison cells and the darkest of hearts, there is light. Denfield finds that light, coaxes it out, and encourages it to glow even brighter. This book is beautiful." --Greg Bruce

This next selection of titles all deal with the known & the unknown (and perhaps the known unknowns or unknown knowns, or whatever that was).  Characters in these books have something missing from their lives that they would love to have solved. Though, for the third title down, is about discovering a group of people who make some tough decisions for all of us 

"Tsukuru, now 36, is forced by a potential new love interest to reevaluate events from sixteen years ago, when a group of friends banished him from their circle. He is a self-proclaimed colorless, empty shell with nothing to offer. Can Tsukuru delve back into all the depressing events of his life, the missed opportunities and misconstrued circumstances, as he follows the trail of lost camaraderie? I loved the melancholic atmosphere that Tsukuru had to fight through on his journey--this is classic Murakami gold." --Jason Kennedy

 After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey

"After Michael Hainey's father dies, the then 6 year old is given no explanation. That lack of explanation leaves a gaping hole inside the author that leads him on a journey of self-discovery, no matter the pain it might cause his family. Part memoir, part detective story-this is a haunting, fascinating and elegiac story." --Jannis Mindel

The Tastemakers by David Sax
"From a chef trying to breakout Peruvian cuisine to the chia seeds’ attempt to be the next health savior, the author of Save the Deli captures the world of food fads. The narrative jumps from specialty food award shows to bacon festivals to the art of food forecasting. The Tastemakers looks at the how long-term trends (healthy eating cocooning, authenticity, convenience) combine with marketing (from turning chefs on to black rice to convincing supermarkets to stock a new branded apple) to create the next phenomenon, and how the internet and social media has speeded up trend lifecycles. I personally think the subtitle overemphasizes the cupcake narrative, whose slow rise (about ten years) is contrasted with the lightning speed mainstreaming of the croissant style donut. The more interesting question is why hasn’t completely flatlined, compared, say, with the quick rise and fall of the açai berry. Sax tries to be neutral on most issues: he likes chefs and local sourcing and environmental trends, but he also is fascinated by stage five of food trends, which is when corporative mass market initiatives swoop in for the kill, often killing the trend in the process, or at least returning it to niche status. Greek yogurt-flavored cereal, anyone? David Sax has written a fascinating cultural narrative that will appeal to foodies and business buffs alike." --Daniel Goldin

And if none of those above have crossed names out on your list, here are some of the stragglers. They are all great, I just did not have the right grouping for these, other than they are all fantastic! Happy Holidays and enjoy all the books you get this season!
A Long Way Home by Louise Penny

"I had been looking forward to returning to Three Pines and Inspector Gamache and company ever since I finished the last page of How the Light Gets In. Penny creates such a fantastic sense of place that the reader is fully prepared to pack his bags and book a flight to Quebec. Louise Penny’s tenth novel shows us a different side of Armand Gamache. He has retired from the Surete, and he and his wife have moved to Three Pines so he can recover both mentally and physically. Not one to be without a mystery to solve for long, Gamache agrees to investigate the disappearance of Peter Morrow, a neighbor and friend. Once again, the author provides an intriguing puzzle but more importantly, another installment in the lives of those characters that I and countless other readers have come to love so well."--Sharon Nagel

The Storied Life of A.J. Fickry by Gabrielle Zevin

"I was drawn in to this lovely book by the wonderful chapter headings and compelled to stay by the wonderful characters and world of books. Connection with life and other people is everything, and it is beautiful to watch A.J.Fikry learn the truth of that."--Anne McMahon

I think this book deserves a double blast:
"Most people think that the life of a bookseller involves sitting around and reading all day. This could not be farther from the truth. A.J. Fikry runs Island Books on Alice Island, a ferry ride away from the rest of the world. He is a curmudgeonly man, who has recently lost his wife, and doesn’t see much happiness in his future. His valuable manuscript of Tamerlane has been stolen and he’s drinking a little too much. Things begin to turn around for A.J. when he meets Amelia, a publishing rep, and when a baby is abandoned in the bookstore. This story is a testament to the power of literature and bookstores; how they can bring people together and change their lives. Gabrielle Zevin has created a celebration of books and readers, where the bookstore in a community is almost a character itself." --Sharon Nagel

The Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
"I picked up Roxane Gay’s fantastic novel, An Untamed State, on a whim a few months ago. Having just finished her new book of essays, I have now progressed to being a full-fledged fan, and will yammer about her to anyone who will stand still long enough. Her funny and discerning collection of essays runs the gamut from playing Scrabble competitively, to watching Girls, to discussing current issues like abortion and women’s reproductive rights. She has the uncanny ability to state things in both an articulate and relatable way that will cause the reader to shake her head and say, ‘Yes, that is exactly how I feel too.’ I look forward to reading whatever this talented author produces in the future."--Sharon Nagel

 Lila by Marilynne Robinson

"Lila’s early life was terribly hard, her upbringing almost feral, but she knew she was loved by Doll, the woman who rescued her from the nightmare of her natural home. Years later, grown and alone, she seeks shelter from a storm in a church in Gilead. She meets John Ames; their discussions cause her to re-evaluate and struggle to reconcile the disparate stages of her life. A very moving story, told in a fascinating voice, one that challenges the reader to the same honesty."--Anne K. McMahon

Last, but not least, one of the hottest selliing books of the season. A brillant look at becoming organized. I am sure Mel would tell you that my desk needs this book, but it would just get lost on it.

"I LOVE this book. Marie Kondo is in the tidying business. She's paid to help people learn how to organize their stuff. Her appointment waiting list is three months long! But Marie Kondo is really a magician whose vocation is guiding people to the happiness in their lives. Thanks to this glorious little book, you don't have to fly to Japan and wait for a private lessons to discover her secrets. The how-to is very simple: you are to sort through your possessions one by one, asking (and answering!) for each item ‘does this bring me joy?’ And you must start with your socks! It seems very hocus-pocus and new-age-y, but I found Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up inspirational and motivational. Her voice is gracious and firm, kind and resolute. The results are instantaneous (try her unique folding technique and vertical storage methods); the change is permanent. But don't take it from me--take it from the tiny drawer that I fit every single one of my heavy wool sweaters into!!" --Mel Morrow

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Far, Far From Home

Installment number three, takes books that feature the main character(s) and puts them in foreign environments, whether being deployed on a mission to Iraq, or getting R&R from being in Afghanistan at an imaginary Island that is not so plesant, or going to Mallorca on vacation, or going back home to Nigeria after a long absence, or even being left behind on the red dust planet of Mars. All these books feature environments that haunt them or bring out buried secrets causing rifts between characters.

The Martian describes a manned mission to Mars, in the very best of Hollywood sense, as catastrophe happens on page two and one of the crew is left behind. Oh the horrors (oh wait, that is a future post)! It is so Hollywood that the movie version is slated to come out next November. Read the novel first, and here’s Greg’s rec to convince you that it's a must read:
"Mark Watney, a member of a six-man mission to Mars, is struck by debris in a freak accident on the surface of the red planet and is assumed dead by his team. Grieving for their lost comrade, the remaining astronauts reluctantly depart for home, leaving the unconscious-but-very-much-alive Watney behind to fend for himself. Left with only his wits, some potatoes, and the remaining tools and machinery from the mission, Watney resolves to survive being marooned. Andy Weir manages to bridge the gap between NASA-grade technobabble and conventional language, portraying Watney's stark plight with both humor and warmth, giving life to a story about a man trapped on a lifeless world." --Greg Bruce 
In The Vacationers by Emma Straub, a family goes on vacation to Mallorca to celebrate their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. Things go well, until they don’t, and families hold many, many secrets. Sharon is a big fan of this novel and perhaps it will help you warm up during this last polar vortex:
"There is nothing quite like a family vacation. Trapped in a hotel or a rented house with the same people you usually go out of your way to avoid. Everyone can relate to this, whether you are vacationing down the shore, or on the exotic island of Mallorca, like the Post family in Emma Straub's witty and fun new novel. Franny and Jim Post are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary. They are spending two weeks in Mallorca with Sylvia, their daughter, who is soon to be leaving for Brown, Bobby, their 28 year old son, Carmen, his 40 year old girlfriend, and Lawrence and Charles, a married gay couple who are trying to adopt a baby. Add to this mix the fact that Jim has had an affair with a 23 year old intern, and has lost his job and his wife's trust in one fell swoop. I read this book at the beginning of February in a vain attempt to feel warmer in the frozen snow globe that is Milwaukee at this time of year. I did, however, spend enjoyable hours with Emma Straub's extremely knowable characters, and enjoyed a story of family, love, and loss that we can all connect with."--Sharon Nagel
Teju Cole is quickly emerging as one of the great African writers that have taken America by storm. His last book, Open City, won the PEN/Hemingway award; and now, this book, which was published in Nigeria back 2007, has been released outside of Africa. Mixed with photography the story revolves around a young Nigerian, who is back from being in New York City for the last fifteen years.  The changes to himself and to his country are at the heart of this. This was one of Terrail’s favorite books of the year:
EveryDay Is For The Thief is an ethnographic narrative that delves into the unique Nigerian experience with both poignancy and candid social commentary. Enjoy!—Terrail Easley
I could talk about how war is horrible and mind-numbing to the soldiers as related to our next book, but Mel’s rec below is says it all:
"Brian Turner's singular war memoir takes place in a fragmented dreamscape narrated by a man whose soul keens from the brink of sanity. Turner shares the unshakeable images of his life before, during, and after his combat service with deft, poetic prose, channeling veterans from centuries of war and linking their stories to his experiences in battles abroad and at home. My Life as a Foreign Country proves that "leave" is a misnomer and shows how combat zones become liminal, haunted crypts for deployed soldiers. In his capable hands, readers march through an emotionally charged landscape that reflects Turner's intense introspection. If you or someone you love has served: read this book." --Mel Morrow
This next book, Tigerman, is a nice bridge from the last one. And, I found my quote I sent in all those months ago, so here it is:
"Lester Ferris, sergeant of the British Army, is in need of rest--in the worst way possible. They pack him off to an island called Mancreu that is doomed to be bombed into oblivion, due to an environmental disaster. So, he is the last British citizen left in the colony, and has been told to cast a blind eye on all the illegal activity going on. However, when a friend ends up getting murdered, Lester feels he needs to help out somehow to catch the killer. There is one person there, a comic-book-reading nerd of a boy who helps Lester find himself, and whom Lester wants to protect and perhaps adopt when the island goes off for the final time in a mushroom cloud. This book hits all the notes of a great novel; there are hilarious moments, followed by some somber tones, followed by a thrill ride action event, and then just keep repeating till the end. Now the hard part comes--waiting for another Nick Harkaway novel." --Jason Kennedy
Last but not least, a second offering from Boswellian Greg. It is The Troop by Nick Cutter. It follows a group of Boy Scouts off on a trip:
"Five kids and the Scoutmaster camp out on an isolated island. A gaunt, ravenous stranger lands upon the same island. Just like that, the scene is set for one of the most horrifying novels I’ve ever read. This is old school, vintage Stephen King-style scary. Come with iron will and a strong stomach." --Greg Bruce

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Back, Back in Time We Go

Here is part two of the favorite books of the year by the Boswellians; the topic this week is: Back, back in Time We Go. No, it is not a time travel post, but it is about  books that look back at different  historical periods, be it in novel form or other. Without further ado, here is the first listing brought to you by Boswellian, Sharon.  She was excited about the Sue Monk Kidd novel, The Inventtion of Wings that came out much earlier in the year(we had a great author event with Sue!). It has captured many reader’s imaginations and it will continue to capture more:  

"This is the story of Sarah Grimke, a child of privilege born into a slave owning Charleston family. On her 11tth birthday, her parents give her a handmaid, a slave of her own, 10 year old Hetty. Horrified, Sarah tries to free her that very night. Her parents let her know that this is not an option. Sarah Grimke was an actual person who became a well-known abolitionist and suffragette. Sue Monk Kidd has woven a fictional story around the facts of Sarah’s life, casting light on a fascinating woman that I had never read about. The story moves back and forth, with events being described from Sarah’s and then Hetty’s point of view. These two girls essentially grew up together, although they were separated by the wide gulf of race, privilege, and opportunity. A masterful story, told in the vein of one of my favorite authors, Geraldine Brooks. If you haven’t checked in with Sue Monk Kidd since The Secret Life of Bees, it’s time to change that." --Sharon Nagel

The next book, The Paying Guest by Sarah Waters, was a huge staff favorite, as I had three fantastic reviews to choose from.  Sharon, Carly, and Jen were able to conduct an interview with Sarah about her new book. You can access that here. The novel starts off in 1922, it is post-war and work is scarce for all the returning servicemen. One family in South London has lodgers come to stay with them. Here is Jen’s review of the Paying Guest: 

"In the aftermath of World War I, Frances Wray and her mother must rent out rooms in their house, due to their accumulated losses and mounting debts. Newlyweds Leonard & Lillian Barber are the Wray’s first tenants in their home up on Champion Hill. It's a big adjustment for the Wrays, who come to terms with having "paying guests." Along the way, Frances & Lillian get to know each other, and what begins as a friendship blossoms into something more. Then one day a catastrophe strikes that upends their existence and that of everyone they know. Sexy, gripping, and suspenseful, Sarah Waters is in top form." --Jen Steele

One of Josh’s favorite books of the year was Mad as Hell by Dave Itzkoff. Without an actual review to reference, I think I can gleam why Josh picked this behind-the-scenes look at the movie Network. First off, Josh loves popular culture, especially if it is in movie or music format. Mad as Hell tells the story of how an improbable movie was able to make it to the screen in the first place. Starting with the story of the screenwriter, who would not change his vision and was able to change the way people would forever look at the news and television. Dave Itzkoff interviewed current broadcasters to see what influence the 1976 movie Network had them, and you will be amazed to see the line-up of broadcasters he was able to get, some of the greats that everybody knows today.  The next reason that Josh probably loved this book is for one of the greatest movie lines uttered by the character Howard Beale: "I'm Mad as Hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" And, if neither of those are the reason Josh Davis loved this book, I’m sure his opinion on it can be learned on any given Wednesday.  
Keeping with true stuff, well mostly, is the historical biography of Stonewall Jackson. Rebel Yell by S.C. Gwynne was tremendous. I have read a lot of history in my day, I have a degree in it that I use quite often (insert nervous laugh), but I have never been one to read about the Civil War. Not sure why, it has never interested me highly. That is until now. S.C. Gwynne writing is welcoming like a stream that quickly becomes a raging river, and I was sucked into it all the way up to my neck. It was amazing to think that Stonewall Jackson needed the Civil War. He was doomed to just be another teacher in a military academy without the it. He had an uncanny ability to see to the heart of situations, he understood that the war was going to have to bloody and merciless years before any other general came to that conclusion. He thought that the Confedrates should have an all-out march on Washington and leave no prisoner behind. In his thinking, this would actually save lives in the long run. This was a one-of-kind historical biography, and my favorite book I have read all year!—Jason Kennedy

The Novel by Michael Schmidt, is an exhausted look at the English novel. It covers large areas, geographically and culturally. The book clocks in over 1100 pages, though Jane tells me that you can dip into the book and read a bit from time to time.  She is very enthusiastic about this book, and here is her blurb:  
“Insightful journey through 700 years of literature’s most celebrated writing accomplished, in partnership with authors commenting on authors and authors reaching out to readers! Engaging! Enlightening! Enjoyable!”—Jane Glaser
Carly Lenz loved One Summer by Bill Bryson that came out late last year, but she is a new Boswellian and was taken by this tale and the hordes of readers who read the book.  It is the story of the summer of 1927 and all the amazing accomplishments that happened to America during that time. From Charles Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic and Babe Ruth setting the home run record to talking pictures, jazz and gangsters, Bill Bryson weaves a tableau of American fabric into a spellbinding tale of our past.

Back for one more title? Good, this one has been a huge success for us and for many other booksellers this year, from loving the book to selling the book we love. This book popped up on three different booksellers top 5 books of the year, namely Conrad, Sharon, and Todd's lists. It is Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See. It could very easily be our best selling #1 hardcover fiction title published in 2014 that does not include having an event with the author, which could be different next year when the paperback will be released (stay tuned to our monthly newsletters and e-mail newsletters for more possible information).  It is the tale of two people, from different parts of life, attempting to survive the hand they have been dealt in the midst of a world war.  Here are two blurbs for the book: 
"Anthony Doerr crafts hundreds of trim scenes of 1) a french girl who is blind fleeing World War II and 2) a boy with technical prowess becoming a nazi. What is the light neither sees?"--Todd Wellman
"Doerr spent almost a decade writing this beautiful novel, and it shows! In the hands of a lesser writer, this could easily have devolved into mawkish tripe."--Conrad Silverberg 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Heading into the end of 2014, all of the Bookswellians have been compiling a list of their favorite books of the year. It's one of the easiest ways for me to find out what to really highlight in our Holiday Newsletter, which you should see coming around the beginning of December. So, I figured I would give everybody snippets of what they will see featured at Boswell this season. It is a rather large list, so I have attempted to break it up into subtopics--this week's subtopic, Other Worlds Rather Than Our Own. I am a little loosey-goosey with the strict definitions, but this should be fun, so here we go:

First up, brought to you by one of our newer Boswellians, Todd, is a big pharma novel, Does Not Love by James Tadd Adcox. It takes place in a alternative version of Indianapolis:

"This novel explores how and why we name and treat conditions. When once someone was just brokenhearted, perhaps she now has relationship adverse trauma syndrome and could use a prescription to help her recover. Set in an Indianapolis similar to the Indianapolis you may know and love, the book follows Robert and Viola, husband and wife, through disappoints, diagnoses, and treatments on a polluted journey in search of the fulfillment promised by money, modern pharmaceuticals, and romance. Taunting FBI agents, underground drug safety trials, and odd ailments frequent the characters until they, at least for a moment, accept that what they have will never be what myths of marriage promise." --Todd Wellman

An author that defies being pigeon-holed in a genre, David Mitchell’s novels hold a special place in the hearts and minds of his many fans. And with this new novel, he has given everybody the threads that interconnect his entire oeuvre of novels. Here Conrad shares his love for reading The Bone Clocks:
 "Why do I love David Mitchell? Because he teaches me words like "insufflation" (think cocaine). Because he fearlessly uses compound contractions like "I'd've" or "can't've". Because he opens with: "Welsh rain gods piss onto the roofs, festival tents and umbrellas of Hay-on-Wye and also on Crispin Hershey, as he strides along a gutter-noisy lane, into the Old Cinema Bookshop and makes his way down to its deepest bowel where he rips this week’s Piccadilly Review into confetti." (And that's his opening for the fourth section! A little ditty most authors would kill for as an opening sentence for their entire book.) Because Mitchell can capture the self-absorbed, tatty slang of a British teenager yearning to break free from parental constraints and dash heedlessly into the world; the alcohol fueled banter of fourth year Cambridge students one-upping each other's studied insults with their buddies in a cozy bar in the dead of night; the world weary self-deprecating musings of a washed up novelist who has failed to live up to the promise of his first book. In short, Mitchell is one of the finest English novelists at work today and is to be greedily anticipated. This delivers the goods." --Conrad Silverberg

This world is hidden behind doors, and in cold places. Places we do not normally want to know about, but Caitlin Doughty brings us into her world brilliantly. Here is Mel’s review:

"Thanks to Caitlin Doughty’s well-written debut, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory, death is the new sex! Similar to the arguments of sex and body positivists in the past, Doughty calls for a revolution in our death-denying, consumption-obsessed country, demanding honesty from medical and death industry professionals while detailing the boons of having the spaces and conversations that would allow people in the US to embrace the "good death" by taking back their power during death rituals and practices. Her personal experiences in the death industry are interspersed with historical and cultural anecdotes both educational and entertaining. This is one of the most important books I've read this year--I hope it helps incite the revolution in the death industry that Doughty feels is warranted and long overdue in this country." --Mel Morrow

Here the author, Amanda Petrusich, reports on a world that she gets sucked into and away from ours. Josh would love to go there:

"DoNot Sell at Any Price is a great look into the world of the most collectible records on Earth (pre-war 78s of country blues artists like Charley Patton and Robert Johnson) as well as record collecting overall. Petrusich clearly illustrates the effect of the collecting bug by catching it herself, and her quest leads her from North Carolina flea markets to the bottom of the Milwaukee River. She even delves into such unexpected issues as gender and psychology with ease. It’s a slim volume that won’t trouble you, but if you match it with the list of suggested listening in the back pages, you may find yourself lusting after some very expensive records!" --Josh Davis

Back to fictional worlds, and none-to-soon, as Emily St. John Mandel’s world is a post-apocalyptic version of our own. We have many fans on staff of this gorgeous novel, but I am going to provide you with Daniel’s review:

"In this powerful new novel, the end of civilization might not come via nuclear war or environmental catastrophe, but by a flu virus so lethal that there is simply nobody around to keep civilization going. By the time we’re in shape to recover, it’s too late to stop out-of-control fires, or contain lawlessness, let alone turn back on electricity, the internet, or gas pumps. In this post-apocalyptic world, small outposts remain, congregated around abandoned fast food restaurants and airplane terminals with little to bring joy and beauty to their lives aside from a periodic visit from the Traveling Symphony, a group of Shakespeare-performing classical musicians. One day, the Symphony comes to St. Deborah by the Water, only to find that the village has been taken over by a cult, and things turn particularly dangerous when one of the villagers becomes a stowaway. And then one of the performers, Kirsten, slowly learns that she and the ruthless cult leader might have more in common than she imagined. And in fact almost all the characters in this story are connected by an unlikely source—an actor named Arthur Leander, whose on-stage death opened the story. Station Eleven is an entrancing thriller/fantasy epic/comic satire/domestic drama, and while the setup might have reminded you of The Hunger Games, the result is more A Visit from the Goon Squad." --Daniel Goldin

A long continuing story about a woman who ends up being cast back in time and the people she meets. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon takes readers to a world, where they can’t possible go; unless you invent the time machine next week:

"This is the 8th book in the Outlander series, the epic love story between Claire, a 20th century nurse, and Jamie, a Scottish laird from the 1700's. Claire is known as an outlander, one who travels outside of her own time. She passed through Druid stones, and ended up 200 years before her own time. This book takes place during the American Revolution, and Claire is in a unique position, as she knows how things will turn out. I have been a fan of this series since the mid-1990's, and I would recommend that you start with the first book. There is way too much going on to start in the middle."--Sharon Nagel

One of the most unique and favorite books that I have read this year would have to be Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy. Jeff VanderMeer has written a maddening masterpiece of a creepy part of the world cut off from humanity. The three parts that make up Area X were published in quick succession of each other, and now, capitalizing on the success of the series, FSG has published them all in one volume. The first two books introduce the weirdness that surrounds the event that cut separates them from a large piece of land that is now more other world. They send in expeditions to see how the environment has changed. Some of those expeditions never come back, some of them come back, only mad or not as themselves at all. Like peeling an onion, Jeff VanderMeer slowly reveals the strangeness, wonder and deadliness of this new world. Without writing any spoilers, I will stop here and say this is one book not to miss.--Jason Kennedy
How do you make it when you are shut off from the only world you have ever known? What do you reach for, if not Shakespeare Saved My Life by Laura Bates, to discover how one woman used the great bard to reach inmates in prison. Here Anne reviews one of her favorite, if not her absolute favorite book of the last couple of years:
"If anyone needs proof that literature can change lives, here it is. This is an amazing story, beautifully told, of the impact Shakespeare's work had on one remarkable man, imprisoned for life, and his teacher. This must read is one of the most important books I have read in a long time; I'm still reeling from the power of the ending." --Anne McMahon



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

2014 Holiday Shopping Guide: Top Fifteen Kids' Picture Book Staff Picks

Day Dreamers, by Emily Martin
“In this charming follow up to 2013’s Dream Animals, children find their imagination taking flight. A boy lies in the grass watching the clouds form into a dragon, only to find himself taking a ride on that very dragon on the next double-page spread. Two friends walk through the halls of a museum past a medieval tapestry of a unicorn, then chase each other on black and white unicorns through the forest. Day Dreamers is a richly illustrated children’s book, and a wonderful ode to the power of children's fantasies and dreams.” —Jannis Mindel

“This picture book has it all. A boy and his dragon! Beautiful splashes of color among black and white pages! Hidden pictures! Counting different items on each page! Follow along and help find the lost dragon. Great fun for everyone! A book to be shared!” —Jen Steele

“This fabulous sequel to last year’s Journey, is sure to spark imaginations.  A wonderful rainy day book, the friends made at the end of Journey embark on a quest to save a kingdom. Their mission takes them under the ocean and through Mayan ruins, all the while using quick thinking and imagination to draw their way through the adventure.” —Amie Mechler-Hickson

“From early September through late November, when the snow finally settles on her secret world, a young girl quietly observes and sketches from a special perch in a tree the changing seasons and animals as they prepare for winter. I love this wonderful celebration of the natural world as autumn turns to winter, and the beautiful illustrations by Jim LaMarche that accompany the lyrical text. This book would make a wonderful introduction to the natural world for children, and encourage them to observe and create a record of their own.” —Pam Stilp

“In this wondrous wordless picture book a young child sets out from a tent with just a flashlight for a little nighttime exploring, while the flashlight illuminates something new on each page, the fun also lies in the many things happening in the dark as well. A gentle nighttime book with a fun twist there is something new to be seen with each viewing.” —Amie Mechler-Hickson

“I love this romp of a fairy tale with rhyming text and a refreshing, modern-day twist. The Rapunzel in this picture book pines away in an inner-city high rise where she ignores all visitors including the mailman, baker, and even her aunt who brings her food. Nothing seems to interest her--not even the Prince who shows up bearing flowers and chocolates. But then a letter arrives that brings a smile to her face because it offers her a job at the Library. She is transformed by the stimulating ideas and exciting opportunities she discovers in the books she finds there. The illustrations by Rebecca Ashdown include amusing details to pore over and picture this: Rapunzel with an appealing abundance of unruly auburn locks. I hope you will share this celebration of books and libraries, which includes the portrayal of a smart independent Princess, with all the young ones you know.” —Pam Stilp

“Nothing captures joyous noise like this new picture book about a little girl in the park with her mom. Every one of her senses speaks to the rhythm that she hears from the neighborhood drummers and a nearby boom box. Her infectious happiness leads to a diverse group of neighborhood kids, and even the adults, breaking out in dance. This is a great book for read aloud, both because of its song-like cadence, and because kids can chime along with our young heroine as she blinks, sniffs, claps, and shakes to the music. Oh, and the illustrations are just as happy!” —Daniel Goldin

“This book presents an ideal world run by kids and contains important lessons for all of us. It discusses kindness, caring for others, bullying and a hope for a peaceful world. Written and illustrated by the award winning team of Leo and Diane Dillon and is, in fact, the last book by them before Leo passed away. I love the multicultural aspect presented here and although some will find it a bit saccharine, it makes an ideal introduction to volunteerism for parents and teachers. The Afterward discusses many ideas for activities where children can work together to improve their world. it also includes ‘The four essential freedoms’ and other ideas from FDR’s Second Bill of Rights.” —Pam Stilp

“As a farmer works in his field he watches a circus train going by. Just as the train hits a bump he sees someone fly off the back. When the farmer goes to investigate he finds a small child dressed as a clown sitting in the field. In this beautifully illustrated wordless picture book, Frazee tells the touching story of friendship and kindness as the farmer welcomes the boy into his home to feed and bathe him. All ends well as the boy rejoins his clown family, but not before someone else from the circus is left behind to follow the farmer home!” —Jannis Mindel

“From the author of Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (with a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) comes Roller Derby Rivals, a classic roller derby story starring babyface Gerry Murray and heel Toughie Brasuhn. It’s 1948 and the New York 69th Regiment Armory is packed with people excited to see how the feud between Murray and Toughie will pan out before them in the banked track’s circular confines. It’s all textbook until Toughie goes for her final point pass against Murray, who sends Toughie sailing over the rail. This upbeat historic picture book is great for kids of all ages and will make you want to lace up your skates and hit the track with your favorite rival!” —Mel Morrow

“Sam and Dave decide to dig a hole with their dog alongside them. They won't stop digging until they find ‘something spectacular.’ Needless to say they tire themselves out and run out of food before they find anything. But their trusty dog doesn't stop digging and therein lies the adventure. Caldecott award winners Barnett and Klassen have created a deceptively simple book filled with clever clues that children will enjoy discovering as they read this unique adventure story.” —Jannis Mindel

“Little Elliot—a little polka-dot elephant—will win readers hearts! Being small and overlooked is no fun, and by helping a tiny mouse, Elliot’s life changes. Spectacular illustrations and a heart-warming story make this a book that will be read again and again!” —Barb

“The story opens with a beautiful sunny sky over a house by a lake. But soon a thunderstorm rolls in that doesn’t seem as if it's ever going to stop until just as suddenly it does, and the sun come beaming out from the clouds. Beth Krommes’ rich, woodcut-like illustrations are a perfect match for the simple rhyming text. This gorgeous book is a great addition for storytime or the classroom.” —Jannis Mindel

President Taft is Stuck in the Bath, is filled to the rim with Mac Barnett's comical characters whose suggestions of dairy, diets, and dynamite for removal, are ignored for a more sensible (giggle producing) solution. Presidential modesty is maintained with Chris Van Dusen's clever illustrations and some very well placed bubbles. A fabulously funny read for all and a few facts to boot!” —Amie Mechler-Hickson

Rhoda's Rock Hunt, by Molly Beth Griffin
“This is the charming tale of Rhoda—amateur geologist and avid rock hound—on her first field camp! Rhoda finds SO many lovely rocks—and quickly learns that difficult lesson that rocks jocks pay a heavy price when they insist on bringing EVERY rock home with them!” —Mel Morrow