Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of September 14, 2021

The staff reading and recommending doesn't slow down this week, as we've hit the fall's favorite book release month. Let's begin:

One of the most anticipated releases this fall is from back-to-back Pulitzer winner Colson Whitehead. Tim McCarthy recommends Harlem Shuffle. Tim says: "Whitehead starkly defines his characters' world as he unwraps their stories with a direct, graceful style and unique symbolism. I met him once at a Boswell Book Company event. I saw the genius in his eyes; the sincerity, too. And he’s funny! Once again, he drops us into another time. Harlem, 1959, was a much harder place than the one where I was born (that same year). Ray Carney is a loving family man with a small furniture company and modest ambitions for upward movement. He stays at the edges of the hustles all around him, but everything that spins fast pulls at the edges. He “was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked" until his beloved cousin Freddie draws him into a heist. I like Ray, and in Whitehead’s masterful hands he becomes real. I haven’t read a better American novelist, living or dead. He stands with James Baldwin, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, and E. L. Doctorow. Back-to-back Pulitzers ain’t bad. By giving us the past, Whitehead leads us toward the future. He's the new King of American historical fiction, the new voice as powerful as Doctorow’s. The torch of greatness has been passed."

Mary Roach's newest sciencey extravaganza gets two recommendations this week. Of Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law, Daniel Goldin says: "Can a cougar go to jail? They can in India, where there is a three-strikes rule for putting down an attacking animal. Prior to that, they’ll be put in cages with limited free time in a facility that is not open to a public. What does that sound like to you? Intrepid (and often amusing) science journalist Mary Roach travels the world looking at how we handle conflicts between humans in nature, from bear attacks to falling trees. Elephants, stoats, monkeys, bears, gulls, and more fight with humans for habitats, invasive species (also generally thanks to humans) compete with indigenous ones, and NIMBY-ism runs rampant – we want to protect animals, except when they are bothering us. A fascinating read! And don’t skip the footnotes, or you’ll miss some of the funniest lines and asides."

And Kay Wosewick adds: "Human encounters with wildlife - bears, blackbirds, backyard poisonous plants, and so much more - are increasing as land development shrinks wildlife habitat. Roach recounts dangerous engagements, some head-shaking practices, and plenty of laugh-out-loud turf wars."

Roach joins us for a virtual event in conversation with Roman Mars on Monday, 9/27 - click here for more info about that.

One of Conrad Silverberg's favorite writers returns with a new novel - it's TC Boyle with Talk to Me. Conrad says: "Unknotting topical issues that raise complex ethical questions is Boyle's specialty. So are crafting hysterically flawed and self-deluded characters who think that they rise above and are the best ones to take on such dilemmas. Here Boyle confronts the unethical treatment of animals with the plight of a chimpanzee being taught sign-language. Everything is fine as long as the chimp remains young and cute, but once adolescence hits, his future becomes increasingly bleak as he grows larger and stronger and wilder. His handlers want to save him, but their motivations are selfish and self-serving, especially when they think they are most altruistic. Can he be saved?"

James Kennedy gets three recommendations for his new book, Dare to Know. Jason Kennedy (no relation) says: "James Kennedy bent my brain into odd shapes with his stellar novel, Dare to Know. The protagonist works for a company that can tell you when you are going to die. Down to the minute. It takes a lot of math and an understanding of physics, particularly of thanatons, a particle that is present when each person dies. The big no-no in the company is looking up your own time of death – but when the protagonist is stuck in a situation where he thinks he has the potential to die, he runs the assessment to find his death date, only to find out that he already passed it and died minutes ago. Which can’t happen; the math is never wrong. Except that it is. This knowledge leads the reader down the rabbit hole of how this death-telling business came to be. We follow the protagonist through his life in flashbacks, from his summer with Renard in science camp to his girlfriend, Julia, in college, and on to his early days at the company. They have puzzling, bizarre effects on him as he makes his way through a new non-death world. I couldn’t put this book down, and I had to reread the end twice to figure out the mind melting conclusion that the author spun."

Jenny Chou adds: "Once the top salesperson for a phenomenally successful tech company called Dare to Know, the unnamed narrator’s career has crashed and burned, leaving him short on funds and desperate to close a deal. Dare to Know sells death dates. That’s right, their formula will predict with 100% accuracy exactly when their client’s time is up. Stealing their potential clients is a company that will predict not only when, but also how. Yikes! Are people really interested? You bet they are! After a nightmare sales call and a spinout into a snowbank during a blizzard, our embittered narrator violates the very first rule of Dare to Know: he calculates his own time of death. What follows becomes an unnerving slide into chaos, because the formula is never wrong, and it predicts that he died twenty-three minutes ago. And while there is someone from his past smart enough that she might be able to make sense of all this, well, unfortunately, he broke her heart decades earlier, lending a whole lot of self-realization and regret to our narrator’s current mess. Twisty, thought provoking, and delightfully quirky doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of this wild thrill ride of a novel. Set aside a day and the better part of a night, because putting your copy of Dare to Know aside won’t be an option."

And Kay Wosewick rounds it out with: "Once flying high at Dare to Know, a company that calculates a person’s precise time of death, the narrator is still pedaling the product after an upstart started selling a person's time AND method of death. Depressed after he botches a sale he badly needs, the narrator calculates his own death, an act strictly forbidden by company policy. He learns he’s been dead for almost half an hour. In a panic, he flies to San Francisco, home of corporate headquarters and the woman he once loved and stupidly lost. The story becomes mind bending, mythic, and full of rabbit holes. After about 30 minutes of rereading, I think I get it! Kennedy pulls off a wonderful trick. Then again, I could be totally wrong..."

Onto our recommendations for YA and Kids books, which begins with a two-recommender.

Veera Hiranandani has written YA novel 
How to Find What You’re Not Looking For, and of it Jenny Chou says: "It’s 1967, and interracial marriage has just become legal in all fifty states. Ariel Goldberg’s big sister elopes with a grad student of Indian descent (he’s an American) and her parents freak out! No one will tell her where Leah is, and Ariel is devastated when her sister doesn’t call or write. On top of all that, her teacher thinks Ariel has a learning disability. Ariel’s narration is spot-on eleven-year-old, and I love the poetry she writes to make sense of her life. While not excusing racist behavior, Veera Hiranandani sensitively portrays Ariel’s parent’s feelings about her sister’s marriage and the importance of their Jewish faith following the Holocaust. How to Find What You’re Not Looking For is semi-autobiographical. Hiranandani has a white, Jewish mom and her dad’s family immigrated from India. I can see this book starting important discussions about faith and identity in a way that appeals to kids because the characters are so engaging and relatable, and the author blends in just the right touch of humor. An excellent follow-up to the Newbery Honor-winning Night Diary that will definitely have a place on my staff rec shelf!"

Daniel Goldin adds: "Ariel Goldberg’s family lives in suburban Connecticut, where they run a not good but not particularly successful Jewish bakery in a not particularly Jewish town. She’s struggling with school, what with her chicken scratch handwriting that might indicate a learning disability, as well as harassment from a class bully. But her troubles threaten to be overwhelmed by her older sister Leah’s secret: that her new boyfriend is Raj, a young Hindu man who works at the local record store, and they are planning to elope. The timing of the story is essential, just after the Loving v. Virginia case. And I love how this lovely novel is suffused with Sergeant Pepper and other 1968 references, bakery treats, and Ariel's poetry."

We've got a touch of fantasy from Brigid Kemmerer's Defy the Night, with this rec from Jenny Chou: "Tessa Cade, the heroine in Brigid Kemmerer’s exciting new fantasy series, is full of rage but also just enough hope to throw herself into danger for the survival of her country. Though she feels the weight of responsibility that a ruler should have, she’s actually an apothecary in a land whose citizens are dying of a plague. And the real rulers are hoarding the Moonflower leaves that offer an antidote for a few lucky citizens in the upper classes, leaving the poor to struggle and die. Helping Tessa is the fearless Weston Lark, a mysterious Robin Hood-like character, who appears at night. Together they make perilous trips to the royal lands to steal whatever Moonflower leaves they can find. Weston is keeping one really big secret though, one that changes everything when Tessa finds out. Defy the Night has plenty of adventure and heart-wrenching romance, but it’s the courage that both Tessa and Weston show when faced with deceit that really keep the pages turning."

Rachel Copeland recommends Kemmerer's book, too: "In the kingdom of Kandala, people are dying, and Tessa Cade is risking her own safety to bring medicine to those who need it. With King Harristan and his brother, Cruel Corrick, in power, it seems as though only the elite will have a chance of surviving the strange sickness that's persisting throughout the kingdom. But all is not as it seems, and the enemy in the shadows might be the key to saving a kingdom. I thoroughly enjoyed this one! Kemmerer deftly balances the perspectives of her main characters while giving the right amount of weight to the issues of illness, poverty, and the improper use of power and authority. I will be waiting impatiently for the next book in this series."

That's another one where we've got an event coming - this Friday, September 17, a Hybrid event, to be exact. More info here on the Boswell Book Company website.

Kay Wosewick recommends Paradise on Fire by Jewell Parker Rhodes: "Six New York City kids spend a couple weeks at a ranch deep in the California mountains. The ranch owner and two college-age counselors push the kids to take on more difficult challenges each day, in preparation for a final 3-night camping trip with the counselors. On the first night of the trip, the smell of smoke awakens a camper; soon they are all groggily watching a forest fire advance toward them. As the group argues about the best escape route, fire separates three kids from the others. Both scary and exciting, Rhodes has penned a blazingly good story."

And Jen Steele offers up picture book praise for Bear Is a Bear by Dan Sanat: "Bear Is a Bear is the most heartfelt picture book I've read this year! A tender story about childhood with your most treasured toy with gorgeous illustrations by Dan Santat. This is a picture book for all ages, guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings. Grab your teddy bear or favorite stuffed animal and read this at once."

Jen also has a recommendation for a book that came out last week, but we want to be sure to include it. Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt. Jen says: "Once Upon a Camel is a heartwarming story about Zada, the last camel in Texas. When a big storm hits the desert, Zada is charged with watching two baby kestrels until they can be reunited with their parents. To pass the time and to keep everyone calm, Zada begins to tell the little ones stories of her life, and as Zada says, "even storytellers need stories." Once Upon a Camel is a soothing balm for story time and Zada is a character you're unlikely to forget.

And a paperback pick? Okay, how about one!

Becky Cooper's Ivy League true crime tale, We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence, gets this recommendation from Madi Hill: "As a true crime reader, I can be hesitant to read a book about an unsolved case. Naturally you wonder - how will this end? There is no need for such hesitation in We Keep the Dead Close. Becky Cooper takes a case that has turned into Harvard myth and brought the investigation the victim deserved to fruition. Cooper, a Harvard alumna herself, details her time at the Ivy League school and her personal growth following graduation as it evolves into the study of Jane Britton’s murder in 1969. Her reexamination brings attention to Britton’s life, not just as a victim but as a woman with personality and accomplishments. This deep dive into a cold case reads as a slow burn, but I really enjoyed how Cooper handled her investigation with grace and dignity while still being incredibly thorough. We Keep the Dead Close is an extremely worthwhile read."

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of September 7, 2021

A new month means new releases, especially September, the first month of the last quarter. Let's get to it.

Margaret Kennedy starts us with Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian. Margaret says, "Suspenseful and intriguing, Never Saw Me Coming had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Usually in horror stories, the psychopaths are the ones we run away from, the ones waving the knife. It’s true for this book too, but with a twist – the unfeeling villains are in fact the narrators. The main story follows Chloe Sevre, certified psychopath getting a free ride to college by participating in a psychology study on people like her. It's a stroke of luck for Chloe, because the college hosting the program is the same college that the boy she is planning to kill attends. As Chloe plots “the accident,” however, someone else is plotting murder, too - and Chloe and her fellow psychopaths are the intended victims. The narrators aren’t exactly the good guys here, but as the book goes on and plot twists abound, you find yourself rooting for them anyways. A thriller of a different kind that kept me hooked!"
Kathy Herbst recommends Matrix, the latest novel by Lauren Groff. Kathy says, "In this engaging work of historical fiction, Groff creates a story for real life poet Marie de France, who was cast out of the French court of Eleanor of Aquitaine and sent to an ailing abbey to be its prioress. Angry and resentful at first, Marie slowly takes charge, transforming the abbey and empowering the women who live and work there. Wonderful blend of historical people and events and the author's vivid imagination."

Julio Garcia recommends Brothers on Three: A True Story of Family, Resistance, and Hope on a Reservation in Montana by Abe Streep. Julio says, "In 2018, a small basketball team of Indigenous high school students from the Flathead Reservation powered their way to the Montana State Championship, which they won despite being out-manned and out-muscled. Despite the success of this team, Abe Streep goes and tries to answer the question that looms for the team: What's next? Through following members of the team, Streep gives an in-depth and personal account on what this championship means for the community of Arlee, what the next step for the players are, and tries to answer the question: What are the Arlee Warriors playing for? This is a book of heartbreak, joy, and a new perspective on the coming-of-age tale."

Kay Wosewick and Daniel Goldin recommend L.A. Weather, by María Amparo Escandón. Kay says, "This LA-set story will quickly set its claws and pull you through a manic year in the lives of a well-off Mexican American family. Father, mother, and all three daughters have crises that vary from much ado about nothing to much-delayed ados about everything. You will smile gleefully as the family completes the eventful year with stronger bonds than ever."

And Daniel says, "Keila has been married to Oscar for nearly forty years, so when she sits down with her three daughters and tells them she’s getting divorced, her girls, Claudia, Olivia, and Patricia, are shocked and angry. And then, over the course of one year, the three of them see their own marriages self-destruct. But that just scratches the surface of what happens to this family, which has more secrets than you can imagine. I so enjoyed the author’s vision of Los Angeles and personally appreciated the Jewish references sprinkled in the story – Keila is the daughter of Holocaust survivors who resettled in Mexico City. Yes, L.A. Weather’s outrageous plot twists have a telenovela quality, as the Alvarados contend with just about every complication a family can face, except for maybe locusts. But they make it through (mostly), a little wiser for the journey, and it’s hard not to fall in love with them and all their messiness."

Kay also recommends Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women by Annabel Abbs. Kay says, "The absence of books about women recounting their walking adventures incited Abbs to hunt down some trailblazing women and replicate their walks as closely as possible. You will love hiking under often appalling conditions with fiercely determined and highly creative women and their accomplices. Along the way you will gain a fresh perspective of some famous women."

You want a third Kay Wosewick rec? You got it! Things Are Against Us by Lucy Ellmann, illustrated by Diana Hope. Of this, Kay says, "Lucy Ellmann’s witty, snap-crackle-pop essays drew gales of laughter (and a few tears) from me. Every essay is a singular joy. The title essay is a grand THING. The second essay worthily challenges eyeballs by employing a very clever form. The last two essays close with somber notes mixed with their humor. Ellmann uses a sharp knife to cut through society’s apparently ironclad skin to reveal a maelstrom rumbling inside: near-universal control subversively sustained by men, but with signs of tottering, and deeply buried denial maintained by women, perhaps on the verge of surfacing. WAKE UP WOMEN! Bonus: sketches accompany each essay to further enlighten and amuse."

Yes, Kay has been reading a lot. Which means we've got a FOURTH staff rec from one of our voracious-est readers - this one for Peter Heller's The Guide, which came out last week but gets its recommendation badge today. Kay says, "A very exclusive, very private lodge in the Colorado Rockies has pristine creeks chockfull of trout, and very wealthy clients. Jack takes a fishing guide job late in the season, replacing someone who left suddenly. Bad vibes hit Jack almost immediately upon arrival, but melt away as he enjoys an exquisitely relaxing day fishing with his charming client. Unfortunately, neither of them can ignore increasingly visible oddities suggesting the lodge is a cover for something else. Something sinister. Both are compelled to discover what's really going on; they do, and it's a nasty surprise. Prepare for lovely highs and grim lows, an increasingly common combination for Peter Heller, one of my favorite authors."

Daniel also has multiple releases to recommend this week. His next is Karachi Vice: Life and Death in a Contested City by Samira Shackle. Daniel says, "Journalist Shackle spent several years following Karachi residents, including a crime reporter, an ambulance driver, an educator and social activist, another advocate who maps the city’s resources and helps get things like sewers installed, and a young woman from a rural village watching a project for the wealthy encroach on their land. The Partition and other localized conflicts have created a megacity where Pashtuns, Sindhis, Baloch, and Mohajirs (Punjabis are a force in Pakistan, but not so much in Karachi) fight for land and resources, where each ethnic group has a political party which shares power with a criminal element. Underfunded police are almost incentivized to corruption. Social services are often underfunded or altogether absent; ambulances are run by a charity. Media channels are in fierce competition for viewers - with journalists putting themselves in great danger to get the best story. All this and The Taliban, too. Shackle’s detailed and sympathetic portrayal of life in this city of 20 million people is fascinating reading, always insightful, plus she’s a great storyteller. If you are one of the millions of people who loved Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, this book is for you."

Does Daniel three-peat this week? Yes indeed! The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina, by Zoraida Córdova. Daniel says, "In the remote town of Four Rivers, the matriarch Orquídea Divina has called the family together one last time, including raised-together cousins Marimar and Rey. They’ve been promised an inheritance, but their grandmother isn’t dead yet. There are complications, likely connected to a deal Orquídea Divina made when she was a young woman with a traveling circus. And then the relatives start dying. Just what is the family secret? And how is connected to the flowers that begin to grow out of their bodies? For the answers, they wind up journeying to Ecuador to unlock their grandmother’s past. This bewitching blend of family drama, adventure (the descriptions of Guayaquil had me contemplating packing a suitcase), and romance, is blended with enough magic to set hearts ablaze."

How about a couple of picture book recommendations, too!

First it's Jen Steele for Mister Fairy by Morgane de Cadier. Jen says, "A charming picture book about finding your truth and accepting the uniqueness of you. The world would be a little less bright without Mister Fairy! I hope you enjoy this whimsical and clever picture book as much as I did."

Then Chris Lee says you must read Norman Didn’t Do It! (Yes, He Did) by Ryan Higgins. His rec: "When his best friend (Mildred, a tree) makes a new friend (a nearby tree sprout), Norman the porcupine learns a tough lesson about friendship, jealousy, growth, and tree-napping. The story is quirky and inventive yet still flows organically, and the almost comic-strip style artwork is bold, full of colors and contrasts, and quite friendly. I’ve never wanted to hug a porcupine so much!"

And a paperback pick? You know it - from our fair city's very own Lauren Fox, it's the paperback release of her New York Times bestselling novel Send for Me, and it's recommendation comes from Daniel, who says, "In Lauren Fox’s first work of historical fiction, Annelise is a young woman working at her parents’ bakery in 1930s Feldenheim. Life is fairly normal – school, work, friends, dating – but every day there are more restrictions on Jews. Christian friends and neighbors who were once friendly have turned cold. It’s possible Annelise can escape, but what will happen to her parents? Fox has a way of taking minute details and infusing them with life, from the highs of first love to the lows of increasing desperation. The story is told with glimpses into the future, with Annelise’s granddaughter Clare, under very different circumstances, also contemplating a separation from her parents. Fox has a deft touch bringing small details to flower, and while her humor is more restrained than in previous novels, there are moments where her quirky writerly charm comes to the fore. Contemplative, heartbreaking, beautiful."

Whoa! That is a great big list of great books. See you next week - you'd better get to reading in the meantime!

Monday, August 30, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 31, 2021

Ending the month with a handful of great books, including two doubly-rec'd books.

First up is My Heart is a Chainsaw, the latest novel from horror hero Stephen Graham Jones. This one gets the recommendation treatment from Chris Lee and Jason Kennedy.

Chris says, "Horror and social commentary go together like peanut butter and jelly, like pizza and sushi, like outcast teenagers from broken homes and a closet full of old slasher tapes (that’s our heroine, Jade). The vampire, the zombie, Godzilla, even Michael Meyers and Freddy Krueger are most powerful as symbols of our bigger fears: of the dark, of ourselves, of the atomic bomb and the rot at heart of suburbia. Stephen Graham Jones leans hard into this tried and true formula in his latest, with a bit of a twist. When the richy-riches show up to develop a busted old mountain town into a lakeside vacation idyll, Graham Jones takes the opportunity to explore questions like who really is an outsider and who in a community of mostly poor and Indigenous people is going to get screwed by change (hint: it’s probably not the richy-riches). He knows he has the credentials to lean into all the ugliest parts of this story, and fair warning, he does so pretty unsparingly. Still, at its heart, this book is a love letter to slashers and us weirdos who love ‘em, and it grabs your attention like a speed boat rip-roaring across a quiet mountain lake. Watch out for that propeller!"

And Jason adds, "Okay, so Stephen Graham Jones has written his love story to slasher films. This has it all: gore, suspense, red herrings, and a Final Girl. However, this book has more in it than just another horror novel - it has underlining message about trust. Who is safe to trust? Are they trustworthy? Is there anyone to open up to and trust? Because trust has been shattered and is never able to be reformed. Jade is a half-Indigenous girl of 17 who is obsessed with slasher films. She knows them all, knows their individual story arcs. And now she feels like she is living in one and knows who the Final Girl is. Her job is to prepare her for the bloodbath that is destined to come. Perhaps. I've come late to the Stephen Graham Jones game, but his last two books have been real gems."

Next book getting the two-rec treatment is Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke. This one is lauded by Madi Hill and Margaret Kennedy.

Madi says, "Several People Are Typing is the kind of book you get someone else read with you just so you have a person to text "WHAT JUST HAPPENED" after every chapter. I am a bit leery when it comes to AI, and this nightmarish set up had me giggling and gasping at every hilarious twist. Perhaps it is from familiarity with Slack and mundane office work, but for a novel about a man trapped in a professional instant messaging program and told through the very same media, I myself was ensnared. Read this as a commentary on capitalism and the toxic praise that comes from not taking a break and working yourself into oblivion (in this case, literally), or just enjoy it as a humorous science fiction mix up - either way, it is an enjoyable foray into a very weird book."

And Margaret adds, "Surrealist humor meets monotonous office life in the new book Several People Are Typing. Written in the form of instant messenger conversations, this book had me laughing in disbelief at the absurd and unexplained happenings at this company. Each employee has their own problems, ranging from the mundane to the hilariously insane, but none more so than Gerald - who accidentally uploaded his consciousness into the firm's slack server. But who cares, because his productivity is suddenly through the roof now that he doesn't need to eat or sleep, so does he really have it that bad? With constant, sourceless howling, frighteningly illegible emoji conversations, missing briefs, and a growing sentience in the app's help Bot, Kasulke exaggerates the average American office to seem as crazy as it sometimes feels like in this wonderfully deranged novel."

Proprietor Daniel Goldin offers up his praise for The Secret History of Food: Strange but True Stories About the Origins of Everything We Eat, by Matt Siegel. He says, "Vanilla ice cream, breakfast cereal, corn, tomatoes, and several other foods become the jumping-off point for Matt Siegel’s meandering and quirky food history. Why is British pie crust traditionally inedible? How is honey kosher if most samples likely have traces of unkosher insects? And while we’re on the subject, why do vegans eschew honey, but not all the foods that bees pollinate? Why did Nathan’s Famous employ college students who dress like doctors? Could it possibly be true that the USDA is responsible for open-faced sandwiches, but the FDA monitors closed-faced ones? So much food ephemera! Best of all, there are often interesting points to be made about human nature slathered between the easily transportable iceberg lettuce and tasteless-but-great looking tomato. Be warned that The Secret History of Food pretty much uses all secondary sources (over 40 pages of notes!), but what other kind of book are you going to write during COVID?  A multi-course feast of delights!"

Finally, on the hardcover adult books side of things, Parker Jensen recommends A Slow Fire Burning, by The Girl on the Train author Paula Hawkins. Parker says, "After Daniel Sutherland is found brutally murdered on his boat, the lives of several seemingly unconnected women will collide in unimaginable ways. Laura has been struggling to stay afloat and keep her head down ever since an accident as a child left her with scars she wishes she could forget. Miriam knows an outsider when she sees one - it takes one to know one. So, when she discovers Daniel's body and realizes Laura was the last known person to see him alive, she takes it upon herself to help Laura, while possibly getting the revenge she has been longing for all these years. Meanwhile, Carla is spiraling - it was only a few months ago that her sister died suddenly and tragically. Now her nephew has been murdered. But with even more tragedy littering her past, she might do anything to find peace. All three women are harboring painful memories and secrets that threaten to pull them apart. What would they do to finally be able to move on? Not for the faintest of heart, Paula Hawkins’s latest is a dark and brutal story that kept me in my favorite chair reading from the first page to the very last."

Jen Steele has a YA recommendation for us this week: Call Me Athena: Girl from Detroit, by Colby Cedar Smith. She says, "Mary, the daughter of French and Greek immigrants, has the weight of her parent's expectations on her shoulders. As Mary struggles to find her voice and claim her life for herself, she discovers old letters that her parents wrote during World War I; letters so beautiful and heartbreaking she may come to see her parents in a new light. Loosely based on the authors grandmother, Call Me Athena: Girl from Detroit is a profoundly beautiful historical YA novel in verse that will stay with you long after you finish."

Finally, let's get a picture book in the mix. Jenny Chou recommends The Missing Pairs, by Yvonne Ivinson. Jenny says, "The Missing Pairs is a fun read aloud that will leave everyone laughing. As happens to many of us, there’s one missing sock, a boot without its twin, and that never-ending winter problem: the missing mitten. The forest animals put up signs, and Bear is sure he knows where to find the pairs. After a speedy ride up a mountain in a homemade wagon, Bear leads them right to... his favorite snack! Oh no! It’s a pair/pear mix-up. Delightful illustrations evoke a chill in the air and the coming of fall weather, while the text offers some seriously hilarious homophone humor, and who doesn’t love that?"

And we've got one paperback pick for you this week, too.

Oli Schmitz recommends the latest Night Vale-related novel, Alice Isn't Dead, by Joseph Fink. Oli says, ""This isn't a story. It's a road trip." Keisha's search for her long-lost (missing, not dead) wife, Alice, propels her to the center of a conspiracy of mysterious organizations and inhuman things that stalk the long roads of America. Fink's writing will transport you to Keisha's passenger seat, experiencing her encounters, feeling her anxiety, witnessing her determination and fierce love in every chapter. Well-paced and engrossing, this book speaks truths on anxiety, love, America, and the space between places. There are oracles on these roads. Enjoy the journey."

See you next week, folks!

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 24, 2021

Chris Lee gets in a recommendation for new nonfiction - Paradise: One Town's Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire by Lizzie Johnson. Chris says, "Intense, exhaustive, definitive - this is long form journalism at its finest. Johnson's account of the Camp Fire that leveled Paradise, CA and left fifty-eight dead is a harrowing reading experience. The precision with which a single, terrible day is rendered is breathtaking - there were moments I felt like I, too, was choking on black smoke and gasping for air. And the book sweeps through layers of the events: Pacific Gas & Electric’s failures and culpability at the corporate levels and on the ground; Paradise’s civic leaders’ efforts to save businesses, buildings, and lives; the firefighter’s desperate battle against the blaze; and the townspeople who lost their homes and everything in them as they ran to escape the flames any way they could. By the end of Paradise, you’ll know this town as if you’d lived there and mourn it like you’ve lost it, too."

Tim McCarthy recommends Lightning Strike, the new Cork O'Connor mystery (a prequel to the series!) from William Kent Krueger. Tim says, "This is Krueger's latest in the mystery series featuring Sheriff Cork O'Connor, a man with both Irish and Ojibwe heritage. It's entertaining for the storytelling and fascinating for the cultural complexity. The series features Cork as a law man with Indigenous family and friends, as well as a white Irish police lineage going back to Chicago city cops. This entry is special, because we meet Cork at the beginning, as a 12-year-old boy whose father Liam is the Sheriff of a county including Minnesota Boundary Waters and the Iron Lake Reservation. Cork and his friend find a haunting scene in a sacred place called Lightning Strike. It’s the body of a respected Ojibwe man who is a family friend. Is there a killer out there, or did he take his own life? Krueger does two things extremely well here. The first is developing a political and cultural context to show the impact of the 1956 Indian Relocation Act on indigenous people and communities, after the law encouraged them to move off reservations and into large cities. The second, as he also did in his stand alone novel This Tender Land, is creating great characters who face tough social stress. The children in both books are extraordinary. Cork is a kid with heart, relentless curiosity, and the knack for investigation skills that he’ll need as a Sheriff throughout the series. I enjoyed every last minute!"

Do note that we have a virtual event (on a rescheduled date and time - check your calendar!) coming up with William Kent Krueger in support of this book on Thursday, September 2, 7 pm - click here for more details.

Jen Steele recommends a new picture book this week - Chez Bob by Bob Shea. Jen says, "Exciting news, birdies! Chez Bob restaurant has just opened up and the only thing on the menu is bird seed, yummy. Oh, and did I mention that Bob is an alligator, and the restaurant is on top of his nose?! What starts out as a devious plan by a lazy but hungry alligator soon turns into a story of friendship and trust. Bob Shea's latest is sure to be a family favorite."

Important Blog Editor's Note: It has been brought to my attention that Chez Bob has had its publication date bumped to September 7th of this year. If you've placed an order, we will keep it as a preorder and notify you as soon as these babies arrive. Thanks for your understanding and patience, and thanks for reading the blog!

And that's all, folks! See you next week with more recommendations from the Boswellians.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 17, 2021 (Sort Of)

This week is a fairly slow one for staff recommendations from the Boswellians. We've got no recommendations for brand new hardcover releases that come out on Tuesday the 17th. That said, we've got a one book getting its paperback release this week, plus a few "maybe you missed it" recommendations that haven't made it to the blog this year.

So, in a flip of the traditional blog order, let's begin with the book beginning its second act in paperback this week: Nine Shiny Objects by Brian Castleberry, as recommended by Chris Lee. Chris says, "Castleberry’s debut is an American original, an epic told in tangents. The book doesn’t just begin from the understanding that each event in history has fractured reverberations that ripple throughout the rest of time - it’s an embodiment of that reality. Beginning with the (real) 1947 Kenneth Arnold UFO sighting over the Cascade mountains - admittedly, why I picked up the book - the story shoots off just like Arnold’s flying pie tins into nine wildly different directions. A utopian commune gathers out west, seeking a vision from another world, and from there we check in each five years with another person whose life has been nudged one way or another by histories micro and marcro. One of things to really savor is the way each section bristles against the general ideas and shared memory of each era’s vibe. And Castleberry is so good at crafting sentences packed with delight and surprise that you'll barely notice until he end that he’s just swept you through a half century of America history in a dauntingly creative formal invention of a novel. Yowza."

The following three books were released earlier this year, and we like 'em! So how about we tell you about them now.

Jonathan Lee's new novel The Great Mistake came out this summer and gets the seal of approval from Chris Lee (no relations, at least as far as he knows). Chris says, "Wow. If you want a classic, capital N, The Novel kind of book, you couldn’t do much better than The Great Mistake. As a stylist, Lee is top shelf; he so obviously delights in the English language, and each of his sentences is a masterclass in wonder, humor, and precision – even the shapes and sounds of his lines are full of surprises. You want more than style? You got it. Lee tracks the life of Andrew Haswell Green (the mostly forgotten Father of Greater New York) through the 19th century, creating a remarkably full measure of the man’s life, public and private. In doing so, the book offers a window into the life of America’s greatest city as it came into its modern form. Honestly, the best comparison I can think of is that this is the novel Charles Dickens might write if he’d recently crawled out of the grave."

Conrad Silverberg has a couple books to recommend this week. First up is a release from this spring: The Bookseller of Florence: The Story of the Manuscripts That Illuminated the Renaissance by Ross King. Conrad says, "This book continues King's long fascination and study of that great city, this time with a topic near and dear to our own hearts - books! This is a meaty tome to indulge in while curled up in your most comfy reading chair, casting your mind back 500-plus years to an age when such activities were the exclusive province of the aristocratic elite. A technological innovation was about to change all that, and Florence was at the heart of the revolution."

Conrad also recommends Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice, 1967-1975, by musician Richard Thompson (with Scott Timberg). Conrad says, "Is there anything Richard Thompson can't do (hasn't done)? He is one of the finest guitarists to emerge from the late-Sixties stew of London and distinguished himself further by being one of the most sophisticated and clever songwriters. I'm not a big fan of biographies, especially those narcissistic, overblown ones ageing rock stars have been churning out of late. I make the exception here because Thompson is the exception. This is the goods!"

Monday, August 9, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 10, 2021

How about we tell you about the books coming out this week that we've read and loved? Okay? Okay!

Let's start things off with the big reading week from our proprietor Daniel Goldin who has six (count 'em, 6!) staff recommendations to share this week. First up is the second novel from AJ Pearce, a sequel to her beloved Dear Mrs. Bird - Yours Cheerfully. Daniel says: "With the departure of Henrietta Bird from Woman’s Friend, intrepid would-be reporter Emmeline Lake (of Dear Mrs. Bird) has the opportunity to work with Mrs. Mahoney to make the advice column truly helpful to readers. But with the war raging on, the magazine is given a mission beyond ration-friendly meals and new looks for old clothes. With men being called to battle, the service magazines are asked to encourage women to take the jobs the men had to leave behind. A chance encounter on a train gives Emmy an in, but how should she act when what’s right for the war conflicts with what’s right for the women? Don’t worry, Emmy’s boyfriend Charles and her best friend Bunty have a role to play too. I’m not usually one for sequels, but Pearce’s combination of wartime drama with lots of historical detail, a dose of wry humor, and most of all, Emmy’s plucky spirit, works for me."

We've got an event with Pearce coming up next week - Wednesday, 8/18, at 7 pm. Click here for more details.

Daniel's next recommendation is Refugee High: Coming of Age in America, by Elly Fishman. Daniel says: "Chronicling a year in the life of Sullivan High, which has aimed to become the go-to public high school for refugees in the Chicago area, journalist Elly Fishman looks at the highs and lows of teaching kids from 35 different countries who speak 38 different languages. As she follows students from Myanmar, Iraq, Syria, Guatemala, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as their school principal and several teachers and administrative staff, Fishman does a great job bringing the players to life and documenting the pressures from families to marry early, gangs to affiliate, and jobs that provide financial security but eat up study time. Some students will succeed while others will struggle, mirroring the program itself, which is under pressure from a reduction of refugees allowed into the country as part of a former president’s policies. Refugee High is an enlightening and valuable reading experience."

Fishman is visiting the store for an in person event on August 31. More details about that here.

Daniel recommendation #3 is The State Must Provide: Why America’s Colleges Have Always Been Unequal – And How to Set Them Right, by Adam Harris. Of this he says: "Harris, a staff writer at The Atlantic, looks at how colleges and universities have (or in many cases have not) educated Black Americans. Many Historically Black Colleges and Universities were founded because of the lack of opportunity at traditional institutions. Others were set up by states to avoid integrating existing land grant schools, particularly after the separate-but-equal doctrine became standard. And with the rise of the abolitionist educators, schools like Oberlin and Berea made concerted efforts to education both Black and White students, only to find their missions subverted, either by school leadership or the law itself. As to how to address these wrongs, that’s still being worked out, with one concept, quotas, struck down by courts. But if the solutions aren’t quite there, The State Must Provide sheds light on a long-time problem and highlights the continuing importance of HBCUs."

Finally, #4, Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP by Mirin Fader. Daniel's words: "Journalist Mirin Fader documents the rise of an unlikely superstar, the child of Nigerian migrants who lived a hardscrabble life in Sepolia, Greece, until eventually being discovered. And he didn’t even want to play basketball – he originally wanted to follow his father into soccer. Fader does a great job of not only tell Antetokounmpo’s story, but also trying to get to the heart of what makes Giannis tick and why he is so beloved, particularly in Milwaukee. So much research and so many interviews enhance the narrative. Several are person-on-the-street variety – that could have been you, Bucks fan! While I hope nobody would take advice from me about sports books – I read them occasionally but any time the author starts getting into the nuts and bolts of actual play, I zone out – I can vouch that our buyer, a sometime Bucks season ticket holder, also loves the book."

Not only are we hosting Fader's launch event for this book on Tuesday, August 10 - details right here, click click clickaroo! - but we've got a second recommendation for this book from Jason Kennedy.

Jason says: "Mirin Fader lays out the unlikely, hollywood-esque story of the rise of Giannis, from living in poverty in Greece to the top of the NBA as a two-time MVP of the league. This is a look at how Giannis is Giannis. How Milwaukee was the perfect city to fit his blue collar work ethic and humbleness. It's about how family is the most important thing to him, and where you come from doesn't define you but can be a spring board to fight for a better life. Mirin Fader did hundreds of interviews, far and wide, to cast the largest possible net. Reading some sections of the games Giannis played, I remember being there, sitting in my seat, cheering and watching it unfold. Now, though, I have more perspective. I am even more in awe of Giannis and his family. At the end of it all, one major takeaway for me from this book is that nothing else matters if your family is not there supporting you and you lifting them up, too."

Sticking with J names, we've got Jen Steele with her recommendation for Maiden Voyages: Magnificent Ocean Liners and the Women Who Traveled and Worked Aboard Them, by Sian Evans. Jen says: "What marvelous book! An exquisite blend of history and biography, Maiden Voyages takes you on a cruise to a part of women's history that is not often discussed. Sian Evans highlights the unsung sheroes of the day as well as giving the reader a truly informative book."

Finally, to wrap up our new-in-hardcover recommendations, it's Kay Wosewick for The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us, by Meg Lowman. Kay says: "Meg Lowman is a scientific powerhouse and innovator. She is a pioneer in researching the top of forests where there is a great diversity of life that has barely begun to be recognized. Many natural areas around the world have followed Lowman’s lead and have built systems to convey visitors to treetops to observe entirely new habitats. Lowman’s leadership and creativity have led to significant leaps in understanding this previously overlooked habitat, which she calls the Eighth Continent. Lowman’s introduction to this overlooked habitat is fascinating."

Next up? You know it - Paperback Picks!

You counted above and said, "wait, that's only four Daniel picks, I know these are book people but surely they can count to six." We can! Usually. Daniel's recommending continues in the paperbacks, first with - This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire by Nick Flynn. Daniel says: "Poet and memoirist Flynn (you may remember Another Bullsh*t Night in Suck City) returns to a seminal moment in his life – when he was a child growing up in Scituate, Massachusetts, his sometimes-married mother tried to burn the house down, with him in it. After years of multiple jobs and a hardscrabble life, this could have been her big break, what with the insurance money. But, and I hope I’m not giving anything away here, it wasn’t. Now years later, Flynn’s daughter is the age he was when this happened, and he tries to give her a handle on what he went through, while at the same time dealing with his own marriage crisis. The short one-to-two-page chapters form a prose poem, returning to incidents again and again, from different angles, dancing with imagery, and shooting off iridescent sparks of beauty and sadness."

You'll note much of Daniel's reading is event-driven. And often our events are Daniel's-reading-driven, too! And so, our event with Nick Flynn (featuring him in conversation with former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, wow!) is on Monday, 8/16, at 5 pm - more details when you click here.

Next it's Chris Lee for If I Had Two Wings, the final story collection from the late author Randall Kenan. Chris says: "This book is truly something special. Kenan so well captures the atmosphere of Down East North Carolina that you’ll feel the thick inland air close on your skin as you read. Each story is a masterclass in subtle surprise, full of the gentlest delight and horror, and each life – those being lived and those long past being resurrected – is rendered so fully that once you close the pages you’ll feel you’ve also spent a lifetime in Tims Creek. You won’t want to leave."

Guess what? Daniel recommends this one, too! Yes, that's number six. He says: "Kenan’s stories are both classic and modern, folk-infused and of the moment, exploring race, gender, and identity. It’s been almost thirty years since Let the Dead Bury the Dead, which I still own in hardcover; Kenan’s been busy teaching and focusing on his nonfiction writing, including several books on James Baldwin. The wait was worth it!"

We were lucky enough to host a virtual event with Kenan in the summer when this book came out, before he passed. Here's the recording of that wonderful conversation with Wisconsin author Kim Suhr.

Lastly, to end our day of recommending - he's not a Boswellian anymore, but there's nothing wrong with a legacy recommendation now and then. Former Boswellian Ogi Ubiparipovi for Axiom's End by Lindsay Ellis: "I don't think I've ever given the science fiction genre its due. I've always leaned more towards fantasy. I guess it made more sense to me in a way, you know? Swords are swords, magic is magic; what the heck is an “Alderson disk” or “Clarke's Three Laws?” My point is, a lot of the science fiction I've tried reading is more “sci” than “fi,” too obsessed with its own mechanics to get me into the actual story. Axiom's End is an easy sci-fi read because it's approachable. It's a story that revolves around communication and miscommunication, all pushed forward by interesting and eccentric characters. If you're looking for an easy introduction into Sci-Fi, this book is a good place to start!"

Friday, August 6, 2021

Tim's Fourth Return Trip to Minnesota in His Mind

This is my fourth "Minnesota in My Mind" blog. Even though I’ve only been to that great state once, and very briefly, I somehow end up reading a lot of books either set in Minnesota or written by Minnesota authors, many for upcoming Bo
swell events. It occurred to me last year that I keep going back there in my mind through books, as James Taylor goes back home in his song, "Carolina in My Mind."  After writing the first Minnesota blog, I sent our Marketing Man Chris an email joke with the first verse of the tongue-in-cheek version of Taylor's song that you see down below. I never thought he’d add it to the blog (ed. note: of course I was going to!) When I suggested a second Minnesota books post, he liked the idea… as long as I added a second verse. I thought it was all done with post #3 this spring, when hope was high for relief from a tough year. But now I’ve got a new reason for Minnesota inspiration, and I’m still working on that springtime brain-thaw renewal from my song. So, here we go again, with a little side trip into Michigan this time! The latest additions I made to the song are the bridge and the ending. Both are variations of a live Taylor performance.

My new Northland inspiration is a novel from William Kent Krueger, who made an appearance in the first Minnesota blog. Lightning Strike is the latest in his mystery series featuring Sheriff Cork O'Connor, a man with both Irish and Ojibwe heritage. It's entertaining for the storytelling and fascinating for the cultural complexity. Cork is a law man with Indigenous family and friends, as well as a white Irish police lineage going back to Chicago city cops. This entry is special, because we meet Cork at the beginning, as a 12-year-old boy whose father Liam is the Sheriff of a county including Minnesota Boundary Waters and the Iron Lake Reservation. Cork and his friend find a haunting scene in a sacred place called Lightning Strike. It’s the body of a respected Ojibwe man, a family friend. Is there a killer out there, or did he take his own life? Krueger does a fine job of showing us the political and cultural tension between indigenous and white communities, and he develops extraordinary children as characters. Cork is a kid with heart, relentless curiosity, and an early knack for investigation skills that he’ll need as a Sheriff throughout the series. I enjoyed every last minute!

My side trip into Michigan is for a teen thriller called Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley. Although it takes place in Sault Ste Marie, the connection to Lightening Strike is clear. Like Cork, 19-year-old Daunis Fontaine has both white and Ojibwe parents. We know it's a thriller on the first page, when we’re given a glimpse of what’s to come - a revolver pointed at our narrator's face - but it doesn't happen at break-neck speed. Daunis tells a very personal story. She was born a scandal, but her wealthy, white, sixteen-year-old mother insisted on keeping her close to her Ojibwe father’s family. Daunis balances two worlds, loved by both and never completely fitting with either. Now she’s ready for college, looking to be a doctor in the safe world her money and light skin allow her, but things aren't going as planned. Her community needs help now to solve a dangerous problem. Daunis will fight through traumatic losses and walk straight into danger to protect her people, all while pretending she's not falling in love. She's impressive. It’s a powerful, eye-opening novel, with deep cultural lessons and great suspense. Boulley was the Director of the US Office of Indian Education. She took ten years to write this book, and it shows. A beautifully developed novel, certain to be one of my top book picks of 2021! 

Quickly, back to Minnesota! Margaret Noodin was an Ojibwe language consultant for Firekeeper's Daughter. She earned MFA and Doctoral degrees at the University of Minnesota. Now she teaches the language of the Odawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe People (Anishinaabemowin) at UW-Milwaukee, where she directs the Electa Quinney Institute for American Indian Education. Margaret's beautiful poetry in What the Chickadee Knows is conceived and written in Anishinaabemowin, then offered on the facing pages in English. Finding such profound inspiration is a literary gift, and it warms my heart to know that her daughter did the cover art.

I'm heading out again. Thanks for reading!

"Minnesota in My Mind​"
(to the tune of James Taylor's "Carolina in My Mind")

In my mind I’m gone to Minnesota.
Can’t you feel the snowfall?
Just leave your boots out in the hall.
Car gets stuck, and then it stalls.
Ya get hit from behind.
Yes, I’m gone to Minnesota in my mind.

Heard some stuff from a Facebook friend who lives there.
When my verse reduced her home to misery in snow.
It’s not a bad place, she said.
For a bit I hung my head.
But held on to a longing for 
this land I’ve never known. 
I’m still gone to Minnesota in my mind. 

With walls of gifted authors all around me, 
still I’m on the dark side of the moon.
And this year of heartache feels 
more like forever.
You must forgive me, if I’m up and gone 
to Minnesota in my mind.

Spring’ll come again to Minnesota.
All that ice is bound to crack.
Free us from this bind.
Frozen brains can thaw at last,
with a little heat from northern writers of all kinds.
Oh, I’m back in Minnesota in my mind.

Once again, it’s Minnesota in my mind…
Say nice things about me ‘cause I’m gone,
gone… gone.
Carry on without me because I’m gone.
I’m… gone.
Gone to Minnesota in my mind.

                                             - Sweet Baby Tim