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