Thursday, December 1, 2016

Boswell Staff Top 5 picks for 2016

Best of lists, 100 notable lists and other lists pop up everywhere this time of year. I imagine we all think back to the books, movies and music that influenced our lives in the past year. Every year at this time, I ask our booksellers for their favorite five books of 2016 (I do let them choose one book published before 2016, if they want).  Below are the results of much painful pondering that three of our booksellers went through.

Jane's 2016 Top 5 selections:

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Washington Post Notable Fiction 2016)

"Russian aristocrat, under Bolshevik rule, is sentenced to live out his life under house arrest--moving from a luxury suite in Hotel Metropole to a confining attic room. Encounters through hotel hallways becomes a modern day pilgrims progress."
$27.00 $21.60 in the store.

Miss Jane by Brad Watson (Washington Post Notable Fiction 2016)

"This is a compassionately portrayed story of a young woman born with a rare genital disorder that renders her incapable of fulfilling the early 20th century feminine roles of marriage and motherhood. Though her parents are unable to fully cope with their daughter's condition, it is the steadfastly kind support of the doctor who delivered her that results in giving Jane the strength and freedom she needs to accept her limitations and choose the life she is meant to live. Inspired by the true story of the author's maternal great aunt, Miss Jane is an unforgettable literary heroine whose vivid sense of wonder, undaunted trust and generous love is the essence of this brilliantly written novel."
$25.95 $20.76 in the store.

The Mistletoe Murder by P.D. James

"Four previously uncollected stories, published posthumously, two of which include the infamous Adam Dalgliesch. Clever plotting, witty narration, this is a perfect stocking stuffer!"
$24.00 $19.20 in the store.

Upstream by Mary Oliver

"Blurring lines between poetry and prose, readers will go on a literary journey celebrating both beauty of nature and the written word. A transcending retreat from the hurried life! Treat Yourself."

$26.00 $20.80 in the store.

Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky

"It's a scientific fact: Women rock
A charmingly illustrated and educational book, New York Times best seller Women in Science highlights the contributions of fifty notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from the ancient to the modern world."

Daniel's 2016 Top 5 (make that 6) selections:

And Again by Jessica Chiarella

"So it’s the near future, or maybe it’s even now, and a blind study is going on that’s testing our ability to be literally born again. Four subjects are on death’s door, but with this experimental process, their bodies are cloned and aged to their present age, and then the part of their brain with memories are implanted in the new host. Of course these new shells are missing details that are due to natural use, such as tattoos, muscle strength, or even freckles. But the real fun begins when each has to wrestle with the complications of starting life over; the truth is that a fresh start doesn’t undo their messy lives and bad habits are often hard to break. I found And Again surprisingly engaging and thought provoking for a book that first seemed outside my comfort zone."

Drifter by Nicholas Petrie

"When Peter Ash finds out that his former Marine buddy committed suicide, he shows up at his widow’s house to help with some home repairs. Under the crawl space, he finds a mangy dog and a mysterious suitcase filled with cash. Needless to say, the contents are much desired by another party, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Nicholas Petrie has written a compelling thriller that knows all the right moves, from the loner character to the family in peril to the multiple plot turns, but infuses a fresh twist with Ash, a vet with PTSD manifested in acute claustrophobia. There’s a bit of an Elmore Leonard vibe going on here, only with everyone playing at more contemporary, higher stakes. And as a bonus for locals, the Milwaukee setting is distinct, but not so over-detailed to get in the way of the nail-biting plot."

Evicted by Matthew Desmond (Washington Post Top 10 & New York Times Top 10 books of the year)

"There are so many studies out there about living conditions among the poor, but most apparently focus on public housing and not the private market. Seeing a gap in research, Sociologist Desmond immersed himself in their world, living in a trailer park on the far South Side of Milwaukee and a rooming house on the North Side. He covers the plight of eight families, whose lives are in various states of disrepair, much of which is caused by their inability to get stable housing. Their stories are shocking, and so are the stats; it’s hard to believe what a high percentage of their funds go to housing, and how few people below the poverty line get any subsidy. It’s eye-opening how quickly tenants are evicted, and how much of that comes from government regulation and law enforcement, as opposed to the landlords themselves (though plenty comes from the landlords too), His research alone is a triumph but he also does a tremendous job telling the stories of Arleen, Larraine, Crystal, Scott, and the other folks struggling to survive in Milwaukee. Let’s hope that this book actually helps change policy."
$28.00 $22.40 in the store.

The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Holiday Pick)

"Mary Frances Lombard, alternately Frankie, Francie, Marlene, The Imp, and MF, has spent all her life in the family apple orchards. Her dad Jim owns the farm with his cousin Sherwood and Aunt May Hill, and while Jim’s wife Nellie is a librarian in town, he’s quite dependent on Gloria, whom Mary Frances calls his second wife. I don’t want to set you up for some high drama here – sure the cousins are not always happy with each other and the farm is under development pressure. But Hamilton’s latest is really about a girl confronting change - that her brother will one day need space, that the beloved Gloria who manages the orchard might one day leave, or any number of other things that could upset the delicate balance of her idyllic childhood. Why she might even want a little change herself! The Excellent Lombards is a wonderful coming-of-age story, filled with acute observations, warm memories, and keen wit, reminding me most of Hamilton’s own The Short History of a Prince. So glad it’s finally out - it's been seven years since her last novel!"
$26.00 $20.80 in the store.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Holiday Pick) EVENT ON FEBRUARY 6, 2017!!
"The suicide of Nadia Turner’s mom has left Nadia distraught, to say the least. Her acting out leads to a fling with Luke, the minister’s son, and that leads to Nadia being pregnant. That alone is enough to stir up the Upper Room Church, but when she decides to terminate the pregnancy, that is either much better or way worse, depending on whether you’re talking publicly or privately. Somehow Nadia gets a job at the church office, working for Luke’s mom. And when the quiet and quirkily observant Aubrey shows up, they wind up being friends, well before they know each other well, and certainly long before their relationship gets even more complicated. Bennett’s characters ponder their identities, in terms of race, gender, belief system, all with a distinctive and vibrant San Diego setting and a Greek chorus of church ladies having their say. The Mothers is a passionate and nuanced novel about love, friendship, choices, and of course, mothering." (NBCC John Leonard Prize Finalist for 2016)
$26.00 $20.80 in the store

Summerlost by Ally Condie

"A town with a summer Shakespeare festival is the setting for Condie’s first middle-grade novel, told through the eyes of a girl who has recently lost her father and eldest brother, a kid with special needs, in a car accident. Mom buys a summer home hoping to mend the family. Cedar and her brother Miles sneak off to watch a soap opera with a buried alive heroine. Leo, a neighbor kid, bicycles by in costume and intrigues Cedar, who gets a job handing out programs at the festival, and falls in with Leo when he comes up with a plan to give unauthorized tours that highlight the life of a now-deceased star of the festival. A gentle dew of mourning permeates the story, which also meditates on what it’s like to be different. There’s a little bit of mystery here, but the family drama and budding friendship take center stage. I also got the feeling that there were autobiographical elements to the story, and while the time period of the story isn’t revealed, it feels like the 1990s. But who cares about what part of the story is real and where it was set? This lovely tale feels completely true to me."

Sharon's 2016 Top 5 selections:

Dog Medicine by Julie Barton

"Clinical Depression is one of those diseases that is almost impossible to understand unless you have experienced it. Usually when a depressed person attempts to explain just how they are feeling, a healthy person responds by saying things like ‘It can’t possibly be that bad,’ and ‘Have you tried Yoga?’ The truth is that clinical depression is so unbelievably awful, that you really can’t imagine it unless you have gone through it. Julie Barton’s book Dog Medicine manages to do the impossible. She tells her story with great detail and candor, in a way that allows for a reader who is unfamiliar with this illness to attempt to comprehend it. After she experienced a breakdown in her apartment, she came home to live with her parents, and adopted a dog that changed her life, by allowing her to change his."

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a retelling of Pride and Prejudice must be cleverly written and wickedly funny. Curtis Sittenfeld has accomplished that with her fantastic new novel. The Bennet sisters have been transported to modern day Cincinnati. Jane is a yoga instructor, Liz, a writer for a women’s magazine, Lydia and Kitty do nothing but work out, and Mary spends most of her time in her room. The two older sisters live in New York, but have come home to check on Mr. Bennet, who is recovering from a heart attack. The storyline is one that will be familiar to most Austen readers, but with some extremely funny twists. I thoroughly enjoyed Eligible from start to finish. Even for a confirmed Austen fan like myself, there were some pleasant surprises."
$28.00 $22.40 in the store.

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown

"Eleanor Brown’s latest novel is nothing like The Weird Sisters, but it is every bit as wonderful. Madelaine lives an unhappy life in 1999 Chicago, and her grandmother Margie lives out her dreams in 1920’s Paris. The story moves back and forth between the two characters who are connected by their temperaments and hopes for their lives, as well as by blood. Madelaine is married to Phillip, a rich and controlling man who tells her how to dress, what to eat, and how to behave. Margie is a spinster who is sent to Paris to chaperone a younger cousin with better prospects. When the cousin runs off with a man, Margie decides to stay in Paris and pursue her wish of becoming a writer. Madelaine gets to know her grandmother through her journals, and is inspired to change her own narrow existence for the life that she wants."

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub (Washington Post Notable Fiction 2016)

"Elizabeth and Zoe are best friends. They met in college and were in a band called Kitty’s Mustache, along with Andrew, who is now Elizabeth’s husband. Elizabeth and Andrew have a teenaged son named Harry, and Zoe and her wife, Jane, have a daughter, Ruby, who is a year older than Harry. The original group are all approaching fifty, and discovering that their children are now the cool kids that they once were, having adventures and sex, unbeknownst to their parents. Elizabeth is approached by a Hollywood agent who is making a film about Lydia, the most famous member of Kitty’s Mustache, who went on to a solo career and then died of a heroin overdose. Elizabeth wrote the song that made Lydia’s career. While she is grappling with her feelings about the movie, Andrew is undergoing a midlife crisis, and Zoe and Jane are contemplating divorce. Straub’s characters are spot on, and she perfectly captures both fumbling teenage romance as well as long term friendship and marriage."
$26.00 $20.80 in the store.

Tales of Accidental Genius by Simon Van Booy
This is a new collection of stories by one of my favorite authors. The tales cover such varied subjects as a teenaged boy working in a pet shop, an amateur magician from New Jersey, and a street vendor from Beijing. They all share a common thread that is the lovely and spare prose that Van Booy is a master of.

That's it for this week, next week I will post two sets of Bookseller's Top 5 Books from 2016!

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