Friday, December 18, 2015

My Top 10 Books for 2015

I find top 10 lists hard to put together. Mostly, because I know I didn't all the books in my pile for the year. One of these years, I might compile a top 10 books I am mad that I didn't read for that particular year. I have at least 5 for this year.

Lists are always subject to what the writer has had time to read. Did they read the right books? Why did they read those books? Could they have been in a reading groove with  certain subjects and just gravitated towards them? You can see the difference in reviews from different newspapers, as the New York Times Top 10 differs greatly from the Washington Post's Top 10 books of the 2015. So many books, so little time. It is good that these lists have differing opinions on what was the best books of 2015 (you can usually figure out what was a universal pick by seeing what overlaps from list to list to list), it gives us, the potential readers, a chance to find a book we may not have heard of or seen (or, perhaps, simply forgotten about).

Below is my list of Top 10 books I read this year. I only picked books out that were published in 2015, older books were excluded, as were future books. You should easily figure out where my reading interests gravitated towards this year.

Adam Briggle really takes a deep look at fracking as it embeds itself in Denton, Texas, where he made his home and living. Realizing that most people have no idea of what fracking really entails, he begins to ask a ton of questions that any field philosopher would ask. He looks at the environmental and health impact as well as the economical one. He would like to offer a system to fix fracking, to make it as beneficial for all concerned parties. He is ignored. He leads a citizens group with local activists as they lead a fight to stop the fracking that is causing all kinds of problems. It is a hard won fight. Having never lived anywhere near fracking, reading this has made me glad that there are groups out there willing to take on the big oil and gas companies and fight for what seems logical and right.

This could well be Neal Stephenson's best work to date, equal parts Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World. An event occurs that leaves humanity on the brink of extinction with very little time on the clock to attempt to survive. Most writers would start well after the event and leave out all the important how parts, the parts readers want to know, like how does civilization continue or barring that, humanity. The leaders of Earth hatch a harsh plan to save humanity; nothing is easy and survival is not assured, but there is true heroism in the early pages of this novel as humanity has to learn to live in a foreign environment without the cozy confines of atmosphere or terra firma. To say this was a great novel does not do it justice; Stephenson creates a breathtaking take on the catastrophic ending of the world and the saving of the human race. Then he brings it full circle, leaving me completely in awe.

Paolo Bacigalupi writes some bleak futures in his novels. First in, The Windup Girl, and now in his new intense, water-deprived world of The Water Knife, we come to see the many different ways our civilization and ecosystems could go terribly wrong. This is an intense and violent cli-fi (climate fiction) novel that follows Angel Velasquez and Lucy Monroe on a hunt for an ancient water deed that could change the southwest water rights. Can they trust each other? Is finding the deed going to solve the water problem or lead to a bigger ill for most everybody? Characters are multidimensional and you can never peg somebody as always being the good person or the bad, and that is how Paolo sucker punches you time again as the plot unfurls. Brilliant novel, if a bit too close to reality sometimes, but that could be what we need.

Bennett Omalu was the right person at the right time to discover CTE in football players. He was an outsider from Nigeria, he battled anxiety and depression, he was considered a bit too smart to be tough, and he was born to a very amazing family. Discovering the disease in Mike Webster completely surprised and shocked Bennett, but not enough to silence him. He started publishing papers. The NFL started slandering his name and reputation. He has never had much of the credit for being the first to look and find CTE, however he was instrumental to the NFL slowly changing their ways and stop ignoring an epidemic problem among his players. Jeanne Marie Laskas has woven Bennett's tale with thoroughness and careful consideration to his entire life, because it was not just one thing that put him on the path to helping so many, it was a series of hard and serious problems that made Bennett Omalu the person he was to be able to accomplish this heroic task.

This is a brilliant collection by Jesse Eisenberg, who is better known for his roles in The Social Network and Zombieland. Though, if he keeps this up, then he is going to be heralded as a great writer as well. The stories are soaked and riddled with characters anxieties and quirks. The first story, and possible my favorite,  is from the point of view of a nine-year-old, who has become a restaurant critic, because his Dad will pay for any meals that his Mother goes on with him, since the two are separated. He rates his experiences on a scale of one to 2000 stars. The best is when he has to endure a vegan Thanksgiving!

This Napoleon book stands out from others I have read in the last couple of years. Patrice Gueniffey takes Napolean from his days in Corsica to the declaration of Consulate for Life in 1802. Not only does Patrice demonstrate how Napoleon was "born in war," but he also shows how, after witnessing the Revolution, he comes down on the side of centralized authority. There are great passages of his courting Josephine de Beauharnais to secure his French nationality. In this first volume, in which there will be a second companion volume covering the second half of Napoleon's life, we see his single minded, tireless and creative approach to raising his future self to the highest his brilliant mind could fling him.

If you didn't have pleasure of coming to hear Mary Doria Russell talk about Epitaph earlier earlier in the year here at Boswell, then you should find her on her paperback tour and go. She is a dynamo when talking about what drove her to write this and Doc. This remarkable historical novel does what readers like me want, to take an event we think know about and give us an angle we have been blind to or blocked from. In this case, it is the O.K. Corral and one of the most famous gunfights in Old West history. Just read it, the prose will have you, the characters will have you and Mary will not let you go.

This was one amazing read - the language was lush and beautiful and the reality of the world that Marguerite Reed created was brutal and harsh. On the planet of Ubastis, Vashti is one of the original offworlders to settler here. The planet has been on lock down from more colonists coming, with the Earth dying and that last world that was colonized and brutalized, Vashti is part of a group that is attempting to preserve this world. There is so much going on in this book, so many dual meanings and dual stories entwining around Vashti and her Beast, a bio-engineered human (who she thinks of as non-human and her enemy). The next book can't come soon enough!

This is a novel of tragedy and love told on the landscape of World War I. The McCoshes have four daughters and they are neighbors to an American family called the Pendennis and their three sons. One of the sons proposes to Rosie McCosh before he enlists in the war, along with all his brothers. To say very little, the tragedy strike particularly hard on both families. This is a war like no other before it and the scenes depicting the horrors of war are frightening. Not only are the soldiers in the trenches of France, who are constantly wet, cold and dirty, but the wives and mothers at home in England are shown to be living in a blackish world of death and loss. Louis de Bernieres is a brilliant storyteller, mixing up the characters who tell the story and giving us detailed historical detail of the period, but not too much. Now, I have to somehow wait for another story from him

Johannes Fried doesn't focus so much on the kings and emperors of the Middle Ages, instead he is interested in the 'thinkers' like Thomas Aquinas, Dante Alighieri and William of Ockham. It is the revolution of thought through the Middle Ages that Johannes Fried wants to trace. In another scholar's hands this book could be dry and dull, but Fried has the ability to capture the readers attention at this monumental evolution of thought, which is counter of what we think of the Middle Ages as being. He successfully argues, at least I think, that there was more diverse, creative and mature reason than we think they had. Here is a history book for the holidays that can go to people who love history for a good story or for those who want their history to argue new points of view. A great read.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Next Sci-fi Read in Your Summer Stack: Time Salvager

Wesley Chu has been on my radar for a couple of years. I had heard that The Lives of Tao was roller coaster ride of a read. Being in the book business, occasionally you let authors earlier works slip by, and in sci-fi it makes it hard to go back and pick them up as the one book becomes a series. When I learned of Wesley Chu coming for an event on July 21st, I decided this was my time to make up some ground. To find out that the book was the beginning of a new series made it so much easier to jump in feet first.

In Time Salvager, Wesley Chu has built a pretty bleak existence in the 26th Century. There was a golden age at some point between where we are and where Time Salvager goes, and something went horrible wrong. Humanity is running out of resources, energy, food--the Earth's oceans have a solid layer of dead brown muck on top of it and most cities are vast wastelands of abandoned and crumbling buildings. At times, this book reminded me of some of the best of the dreariest sci-fi ever, something akin to a Philip K. Dick or Paola Bacigalupi story. Having a lack of resources and with the world tumbling ever downward, the only hope humanity has is to look to the past.

Enter James Griffin-Mars, a chronman. His job is to pillage the past and bring back resources for the present. It is not an easy job. There are laws governing time travel and what can be taken from out of the past. ChronoCom controls all time jumps and sets up where and when a chronman will go and take his target. The target can be an energy source, a valuable item that was destroyed, or something else that is about to leave existence as to ensure that the time line does not become compromised. This reminded me a bit of the sci-fi b-movie Millennium, where the time travelers would replace airplane passengers with dead bodies just before a plane crash was to happen.

Long story short, James brings back a scientist from one of his missions, which is the biggest time law that he could break. If ChronoCom finds him, it will mean the execution of Elise Kim, the scientist, and it could mean his indentured servitude for the rest of his days. Of course, ChronoCom monitors all time travel activity and are wise to James law breaking. He and Elise go on the run and attempt to evade the corporations hunting them down.

There are a lot of neat story lines and concepts circling around in here. First, there is the concept of time travel, I really like the ethical dilemma that Chu puts the chronmen through. How would they react to always going  back to humanities greatest tragedies of death and destruction, how would that mess with their psyche? Next is the idea that humanity has gone to the stars but only made it to our closest neighbors. James was born on a colony on Mars. What stalled them or prevented the technology from being invented to move further? Then, there is how corporations really rule the future and are willing to do anything to keep it that way. I never witnessed any government actions in this book, it was all corporate controlled interests moving humanity forward or standing still in perpetual stagnation. Finally, the history that Chu creates feels so well thought out. There is a definitive set of events that leads to the 26th Century and humanities bleak existence.

You can think of all that as you read, or you can just read it as a thrill ride that is and hold on. The action starts off quick and goes by in a flurry. I am positive that I will sign up for more adventures in this universe. There has been some great reviews out for his new book, one of them is from SF Signal which I attempt to read daily and find out all the great things happening in the SF world.

Do yourself a favor if you are a sci-fi fan and come to the event on July 21st. And, if you are like me, start reading his early books. The Lives of Tao (full disclosure, I had my sci-fi book club read this book for July so I could sneak in two Chu novels in one month) is a brilliant amount of kick-butt fun. My book club agrees that it is worth the time to read this martial arts body snatching book!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

All Hail the King of the Seas!


With Shark Week starting July 5th, our shark-obsessed Boswellian Phoebe pushed for a Shark Week table to showcase all of the shark-related literature we have in the store. Due to her enthusiasm, Boswell has officially become part of one of the summer's biggest pop culture phenomena with the inaugural Shark Week table! As someone who is both terrified and fascinated by sharks, and who has been watching Shark Week for most of her 23 years, Phoebe is uniquely equipped to recommend books about sharks. Here are some of her favorites from the table with their corresponding shark species. Thoughts from Phoebe:


The Peter Benchley Collection is a must for any Shark Week table. We don't have a regular old copy of Jaws, but who would want that when this collection filled with multiple sea beasts is available? Plus, it's a bargain book, which means it's $5. I would be hard-pressed to find any shark and book lover who wouldn't pay that amount for this collection of books. The only drawback to this book is that the shark on the cover is not a Great White; it's an Oceanic White Tip.  I am trying my best to get over it (and failing)--but it remains the Tiger Shark of the Shark Week table. Tiger Sharks are indiscriminate in their eating habits, and this book is indiscriminate in its audience because anyone of any age (maybe not those under 8 who don't want to fear the ocean forever) would enjoy it.


Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart have a pop-up book called Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Sharks and Other Sea Monsters. This one is pretty self-explanatory. I mean, it has sharks that pop out at you. Robert Sabuda is a master of paper pop-outs, and this book doesn't disappoint. (There are other creatures included as well, although sharks are clearly the best.) This book is the Sand Tiger Shark of the Shark Week table because just like you can't look away from the ragged teeth of that shark in the tank, you can't help but look at the wonderful pop-ups in this book.


Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy is indisputably the best book ever. And no, I do not mean the best book about sharks, I mean best overall book in the history of creation. Beautiful watercolors of the Great Whites hunting off the coast of the Farallon Islands in California grace the cover and the first few pages of this incredible book. Even better, the book includes tons of facts about sharks, their eating habits, and their oceanic ecosystem. Any bookseller in the store can tell you how obsessed I am with this book. It's beautiful and informative, and it includes conservation efforts. Neighborhood Sharks also earned a Robert F. Sibert honor for being one of the best illustrated nonfiction books of 2014. I am 23 years old, and I would be ecstatic if someone bought me this book because it is awesome. This book is the Great White Shark--the apex predator--of the Shark Week table because, just like the Great White stealth-attacks its prey, this book stealth-attacks your attention with its cover and you never see it coming.


So there you have it! Phoebe's top picks off the Shark Week table. Come check out Boswell's first ever Shark Week table for more books to sink your teeth into--and let us know what your favorite books about sharks are.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Heroines Break the Mold!

How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis inspired Boswellians Jane and Jen to spark some conversation among their coworkers and customers. They created a display featuring fellow booksellers' favorite literary Heroines, and a raffle that enabled customers to submit their selections for a chance to win Ellis's book. Winners were drawn during Boswell's June 10th Book Club event. Congratulations to Rebecca G. and one of the event's audience members, who now own a copy of the book! Jane Eyre's title character and Pride & Prejudice's Lizzie Bennett tied for most nominated Heroines. The other nominated Heroines were quite diverse and included Scout from Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, Iris Griffen from Margaret Atwood's Blind Assassin and Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett's Carpe Jugulum.  There were also great Heroines submitted from our favorite children's books, from L M Montgomery's Ann Shirley to Rick Riordan's Annabeth and many in between!

What is a Heroine? Customer nominations indicated that a Heroine is spunky, resilient, honest, witty, thoughtful, fearless, gorgeous (one entrant's observation of Scarlett O'Hara) and so much more. 

Who is your Heroine?  And what makes her so? Stop by and pick up  a copy of How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis, to find out what it takes. Or even try a new book and discover your next Heroine.


Need a recommendation? Our staff picks were:

Daniel-Geraldine Colshares from Goodbye Without Leaving by Laurie Colwin
Amie - Lyra from The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Anne - Dana from Kindred by Octavia Butler

Carly - Clarice Starling from Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Conrad - Thursday Next from The Eyre Affair by Jasper FForde

Eric- Clora from Family by J. California Cooper

Jane - Alexandra Bergson from O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

Jannis - Franny from Franny & Zoey by J D Salinger

Jen - Pippi from Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lingren

Mel - Leila from Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Pam - Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Phoebe - Celaena Sardothien from Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas

Sarah - Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre

Sharon - Jo from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Todd - Eponine from Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Boswellian #WordsOfLizdom

The Bloggess Jenny Lawson's book, Let's Pretend this Never Happened, is BYUCKing Boswellian Carly UP!!
Greetings from the Boswelliansphere

As you can see, we're all about punctuationally-motivated experimentation and novelomenclature--making up words!--in preparation for Wordy Weekend at Boswell:

Lizzie Skurnick is an author, columnist, blogger, and the founder and editor of Lizzie Skurnick Books, a publishing imprint that brings back stunning editions of 20th century young adult and teen classics. For this special event, she will lead the audience in a unique verbal wordplay game in the spirit of That Should Be a Word, her trenchantly witty compendium of indispensable new words derived from the popular New York Times Magazine feature of the same name. With 244 of Skurnick's wittiest wordplays arranged in ingenious diagrams detailing their interrelationships, That Should Be a Word features words that cover issues from the profound financial anxiety of a post-recession society ("bangst") to the hyper-vain celebrity circle that abstains from anything of import ("celebracy"), delving into all the most humorous--and maddening--aspects of life in the 21st century. 

Mary Norris draws from over three decades in The New Yorker's copy department for her debut Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, which includes wide-ranging and hilariously rendered examples (Henry James, Emily Dickinson, Moby-Dick, and The Simpsons) to address topics as diverse as gendered pronouns, the hierarchy of punctuation, and the diminishing power of the apostrophe, explaining why it's always "between you and me." Joining her in conversation about Between You & Me, lauded by Boswellian Daniel as "an education, an intellectual romance, and a delight, to go all Oxford comma on you," and Boswellian Todd as "a collection of writing-related ruminations...unstuffy, conversational while being correct," is beloved local legend Bonnie North of WUWM's Lake Effect

*          *          *
No need to PRE-ARDOR: That Should Be a Word and Between You & Me are on Boswell's shelves right now!!
In the Book Candy section of the January 6, 2015 edition, Shelf Awareness ran a link to an article posted in BuzzFeed the previous day (written by staff writer Alex Alvarez), titled "23 Words for Book Lovers That Really Should Exist." Captivated by this idea, your brave and stalwart Boswellians sought to come up with words for some of them...and quickly turned to expert Lizzie Skurnick for help, choosing our favorites, riffing on some from the article in BuzzFeed, even coming up with a book-related phenomenon or two of our own! And Lizzie, creative sort that she is, came up with words for all of them!! 

Fifty shades of "What Did You Say?!" à lBINDAGE.
To give you a taste of what Wordy Weekend at Boswell will be like, here's our list and a few of the #WordsOfLizdom--as cleverly crafted and lovingly rendered GIF images of your very own Boswellians!!--that Lizzie Skurnick came up with for Boswell.

  • A word for dropping food on your book
  • A word for when someone insists that you read a book
  • A word for when you feel like the characters of the book are members of your family
  • A word for books that ALWAYS bring you to tears
  • "A word for the smell of a new book" (#1 from BuzzFeed)
  • "A word for the smell of an old book" (#2 from BuzzFeed)
  • "A word for not remembering whether something in a book happened to you...or you read it in a book" (#10 from BuzzFeed)
  • "A word for the totally unnecessary annoyed feeling you get when seeing a book you love reissued with a movie poster on it's cover" (#11 from BuzzFeed)
  • "A word for feeling such close kinship with an author that you feel they're writing just for you" (#14 from BuzzFeed)
Tweet your own witty wordplay to us (@boswellbooks--and don't forget @lizzieskurnick, @MaryNorrisTNY, and @Workmanpub) using the hashtag #WordsOfLizdom!! 

Dear Lizzie: Boswellian Mel is picking up what you're putting down here at Jezebel: she and Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond are totally * SCROLLMATES.

* For this one, Lizzie also thinks KINDREAD would work just fine!