Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Three Rockin' Teen Books

In anticipation of our event with Len Vlahos, author of The Scar Boys, on February 13th at 7 pm at Boswell, I decided to feature three rockin' teen books I've recently read and thoroughly enjoyed.  The Scar Boys takes us back to the days of punk at CBGBs.  Five Flavors of Dumb reminds us of Seattle's musical legacies.  This Song will Save Your Life speaks to the life-changing power of good music.
I have a personal love for books and movies where music is an important character.  Most of my favorite movies from adolescence were seriously music heavy:  Velvet Goldmine, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Moulin Rouge, Labyrinth, Run Lola Run and later Empire Records.  I give music a lot of credit for helping me survive the general awfulness of teen-hood (thank you Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, No Doubt, Third Eye Blind, and the soundtracks of the movies previously listed).  I review these three books because I appreciate how they have captured music's saving-grace-emotional-outlet-anyone-can-be-badass-when-singing-along. 
Here are my reviews:

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
Piper just agreed to manage the new rock band at her school.  She's deaf, but the bigger challenge is dealing with the out-of-control personalities in the band.  Can she land them a paying gig?  Great for music lovers who want a good story.

This Song will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
No matter how hard Elise tries to fit in, she can't.  She doesn't have that magical quality that the popular girls seem to naturally possess.  Then, during one of her insomniac-fueled nighttime walks through town, she stumbles across an underground dance club.  This is a world where her love of music can open doors and make her friends.  What will she have to sacrifice to finally belong?

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos
Harry gets scarred by lightning at an early age.  In middle school, he's bullied, lonely, and friendless, until a classmate, Johnny, befriends him.  Johnny and Harry decide to start a punk rock band because why not?  It's the eighties and punk is IN!  Music gives Harry an outlet, an identity, and all of the teenage band drama anyone would expect.  If you don't want to pick up an instrument and rock out at the end of this book, then you're not reading hard enough!
Read Daniel's blog for more music-related books.  See you on the 13th! 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Meet Your Boswellians: Jen Steele

Hi Everyone! 

We have some new faces this year and (as always) new things to say at The Boswellians Blog and around Boswell Book Company, so stay tuned. We're kicking off with a reboot of Introducing Your Boswellians introducing you to our January featured bookseller. Without further ado:  

Meet Jen Steele

1. What do you love about working at Boswell Book Company?
Working for Boswell is everything a former Barnes & Noble bookslave could hope for. I love the sense of community Boswell has created here. I enjoy meeting all sorts of people involved in the book world. Everyone has been so welcoming. I even got to meet Simon Winchester! WOW!

2. What’s your absolute most favorite of all the things in Boswell right now?
That Patrick Ness will be here this month!! Or do you mean something I can take home with me? Well then that would be the greeting cards! I'm always buying cards. You never know when you'll need one in a pinch.

3. What’s your absolute most favorite of all the books ever?
Shadow of the Wind and Lonesome Dove. ( Did you really think a bookseller could pick just one??)

4. What’s on your staff rec shelf?
Glad you asked! My rec shelf will be going through some changes once the books I want to add are released. In the meantime I have Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, Y the Last Man, Book One by Brian K. Vaughan, Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, and The Idiot Girl's Action-Adventure Club by Laurie Notaro.

5. For which writer—living or dead—would you take a bullet?
A bullet? Well this is probably gonna be sappy but it would have to be my partner. She writes the best lunch notes for me! Oh and probably Neil Gaiman...if I'm wearing a bullet proof vest?

6. With which fictional character can you most relate and why?
She's not fictional, but I totally relate to Laurie Notaro in her book The Idiot Girl's Action-Adventure Club. She's clumsy and always finding herself in awkward situations just like me!

7. Someone wrote your biography – what is the title?
Jen Steele is MORE than a superhero name!

8. If you were a super hero/ine, what would be your name and what’s your power?
Red Ale Woman. Fighting Beer Barons and their bad Beer. Pissy yellow beer is thy enemy!

9. Which band or artist would you drop everything to party with?
Rolling Stones! Do they still party?...can they still party?

10. What’s your spirit animal?

11. Forget “you are what you eat.” We’re talking dranks—what beverage are you?
I'm probably lemonade. Don't know why, just feeling it right now.

12. Now we’re talking…dreams. What’s yours?
I want to spend two weeks hiking and photographing Milford Sound and the Fiordlands in New Zealand!


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Last Rec Shelf

It is with sadness and a feeling of surreality that I type these words, having turned in my key to the front door of this lovely bookstore on Downer Avenue. A job with Harper Collins awaits, however, and it's one that allows me to keep doing what I love, but on a broader level. The bookselling community is near and dear to my heart and I'm looking forward to helping booksellers across the country read great books and then put those books into the hands of readers.

At the same time, it will be hard to leave the selling floor, after 8.5 years of guessing what that book it is that you heard on the radio, or recommending a new mystery series for your mom that isn't too gruesome, or introducing yet another guest author to audiences large and small. It's especially hard to leave all those customers whose names I know, whose smiles light up my workday, whose children I've watched grow up. And compared to some booksellers at Boswell, and at Schwartz, I've not been here that long. Passionate, well-read co-workers are a big part of what makes a bookseller good at what he or she does. I've had the pleasure of working with so many, and you all have the pleasure of having several of them, still. Plus, there is the wonderful Daniel Goldin, who is brilliant and wild and funny and has an enormous heart and has taught me so much. Milwaukee has a treasure with Boswell (just as it had with Harry W. Schwartz for 82 years), and I hope that everyone continues to see and nurture the readership and literary community that exists here.

Since I won't be able to accost you personally in the store as these titles come out, or have a shelf stocked with them at the front, I'm using the quasi-permanence of the internet as a way to tout some the books that are coming out soon which I would be foisting upon readers in the new year.

Recent discoveries in the science of dog behavior merge with practical training approaches in this simple, direct guide for owners and caretakers of all experience levels. A variety of experts explain and illustrate in easy-to-read chapters topics such as: why dominance-based techniques are dangerous and based on long dis-proven theories, the fact that dogs don't actually misbehave out of spite or revenge, how aggression often stems more from fear than anything else; as well as a host of basics like selection, socializing, housetraining, exercise, and more. Understanding why our canine companions do what they do allows us to create relationships with our pets that are more authentic, less problematic and which can, ultimately, save the lives of many dogs.(Jan)

Caleb Daniels was supposed to be on the helicopter that took the lives of sixteen men, including seven of his comrades and his best friend. When he returns home, however, the dead men follow him, just as they seem to follow so many men and women coming back from war. In the years that come after, Caleb seeks solace from this "Black Thing" that haunts him, the search eventually bringing him to Portal, Georgia, where deliverance from spiritual demons is a near-daily occurrence. Percy weaves together personal stories of other soldiers, psychological insight into the lasting effects of trauma, and even alludes to experiences of her own that do not take over the narrative but inform it, allowing the reader to understand why she was able to gain the trust of wary survivors and how her insights into such terrors can feel so crisp and true. This is an extraordinary, important book rendered with a deft, empathic cradling and told in the clear, haltingly spare voice that a story such as this requires. Hypnotic and devastating, it will haunt the reader for a long time to it should. (Jan. 7)

It's easy to think that the plot construct of a young boy trying to live a normal life while his recently deceased mother rests in her bed, is a gruesome storytelling experiment. Yet the experience of our intrepid young hero sadly mirrors that of many children whose parents, although not dead, might as well be. Luca represents a wide swath of kids who are virtually raising themselves. Just like those metaphorical siblings, he must go to school, look after the family pet, find his next meal, all while keeping the truth secret from neighbors, teachers, and even best friends. An intensely stark, yet moving tale that illuminates what it's like to have to become an adult, far sooner than nature intended. (Jan. 21)

Eight people disappear from a small town in Japan, a playing card found on the doorsteps of their homes, and a written confession is delivered to the local police station. The man who signed the confession is taken in for questioning, but he refuses to speak. Years later a journalist by the name of Jesse Ball goes to Japan to investigate. We are walked through the case by Ball through transcripts of interviews with those closest to the case, trial notes, unearthed documents, and personal commentary and analysis . The result is a riveting and heartbreaking morality play of unanswerable questions: Is there such a thing as truth? Can we ever recognize it? And, how do we live if the answer to both of these questions is "No."? (Jan. 28)

These spare, yet tightly focused stories are unsettling, in a subtle and necessary way, resulting in surprising visceral reactions. The humor drenching a terse story about a man who converts to Buddhism but doesn't quite understand why, soon converts to shock as it things take a darker turn. A rumination on the end of a relationship remains quietly sorrowful as it explores the mundane day-to-day experiences of a young divorcee. And, an unusually large tomato brings together three men in a moment of tenderness that softly clarifies what these stories are really about: whispy moments in time that carry the weighty ability to transform us in enormous, lasting ways. (Feb. 4)

Denfeld's debut novel (though not her debut book) proves that it's possible to create a mosaic of horror and wonder that fractures the light of our preconceived notions into tiny, bloody pieces. Set mostly on death row, moving outside the prison walls only to give more brushstrokes to the portraits of those living and working in that dank place, The Enchanted features characters both named and nameless who embody the worst and best mankind has to offer. A mute killer with books as his only connection to life outside his cell's shadows, observes (and imagines) the lives of those around him: an excommunicated priest whose past is murky, the female death penalty investigator assigned to a man approaching his final breath who doesn't want the appeal opportunity being offered, a young man freshly jailed who accidentally facilitates backroom dealings... How a novel can be this devastatingly sad and so damn beautiful, I simply cannot say. (Mar. 4)

What is empathy? How can we experience the world as it is seen and lived in by another, without bringing our own judgments into it? If science disproves the existence of a disease, but the raw scars on the skin of the person suffering prove it is real, who are we to believe?  In this collection of riveting essays by Graywolf Nonfiction Prizewinner Leslie Jamison, we are challenged to explore wide-ranging personal experiences in scrutinizing, yet intensely personal, ways. There are no answers given to readers on these pages, only emotional reminders that the only way we can begin to understand one another is to ask questions and when asked, give honest answers. A powerful, mind-opening work worth returning to again and again. (Apr. 10)

Thank you all--the spirits of Harry and David Schwartz, Team Awesome, Boswellians, sales reps, authors, customers--for being a huge part of the best years of my life. May our paths cross again and may the words, "You have to read this!", be always something that precedes wonder, laughter, knowledge, or even something that may save your life.