Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Stitch, Sew, and Knit - Rachel's Guide to Threaded Distraction

I'm going to be honest: right now, it's really hard for me to focus on reading (anything but Regency, Edwardian, and Victorian-era romance novels, that is). Aside from reading, my major outlet is making things - my Instagram right now is almost exclusively pictures of works in progress, mostly new garments for my wardrobe. It's rewarding to put time and effort into a usable product, but I definitely would not be making such great strides without some of the books we carry in the store. Here are a few that I can definitely vouch for:

Sew Step by Step by Alison Smith is THE BOOK if you need a veritable sewing encyclopedia. This book has everything (as Stefon would say): sewing equipment; fabrics sorted by wool, silk, cotton, etc; hand and machine stitches; types of finishes; how to make pockets, hems, button loops or button holes, and more; and even decorative techniques if you're feeling fancy. I reach for this book first because it has excellent pictures for every single step of every single technique. My sewing education was mostly by osmosis (thanks mom!), so I knew a few tips and tricks here and there, but there's so much more to learn. Get yourself some pattern tracing paper and go wild!

Another fun way to pass the time is to learn how to embroider. For basic techniques, I turn to my old friends Google and YouTube, but for the patterns, I have two books. One is Stitchcraft by Gayla Partridge and the other is Embroidered Botanicals by Yumiko Higuchi.

Between the two of them, my heart is content: one has all of the beautiful florals you would ever want, and the other has all of the creepy anatomical drawings you would ever need. I haven't gotten far into my first attempt at embroidering a Ouija planchette, but it's so easy and mindless that it's the perfect distraction from all this mayhem.

Occasionally, I do like to knit (I will confess, I have a wool scarf that I started a year before we moved here, and that was almost a year ago now). I wish I had Knit Step by Step by Vikki Haffenden and Frederica Patmore when I first started knitting because, just like Sew Step by Step, it has everything a budding crafter needs to get started. Well, aside from the needles and yarn. This one even has some starter projects to try, as well.

Finally, another really fun skill to learn is weaving. We have Welcome to Weaving by Lindsey Campbell, and just like the Step by Step books, it has excellent pictures that take all of the guesswork out of learning this craft. I bought my 12x12 loom on sale from a crafting store for around $14, and the great thing about a weaving project is that it packs flat and stays put if, say, you need to move 900 miles away.

If you're more into cross-stitch, quilting, or crocheting, we've got you covered - just don't ask me to add another crafting obsession because I already have too many. Happy crafting!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Jen Travels Time Again - Microhistories!

From Jen: I love the idea of reading Microhistories. A small scale investigation that can connect you to something with a larger than life feel. Everyone can find something that interests them. And even if a subject doesn’t interest you right off the bat, you might be surprised. You can explore any topic, from Mark Kurlansky’s Cod to Mary Roach’s Stiff. Any- and everything really!

There’s a new book to add to this wonderful category: The Chile Pepper in China: A Cultural Biography by Brian R Dott. Dott explores how the non-native chile went from obscurity to ubiquity in China, influencing not just cuisine but also medicine, language, and cultural identity. Eugene Anderson, author of The Food of China, says, “This is an absolutely wonderful book. It combines scholarship and good food writing-the enormous amount of effort in compiling the databases is duly and modestly cloaked in good prose.”

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake is another new release getting rave reviews. “True to his name, Merlin takes us on a magical journey deep into the roots of Nature - the mycelial universe that exists under every footstep we take in life. Merlin is an expert storyteller, weaving the tale of our co-evolution with fungi into a scientific adventure. Entangled Life is a must-read for citizen scientists hoping to make a positive difference on this sacred planet we share.” - from Paul Stamets, author of Mycellium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.

If you’re looking for something a bit more mysterious: The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery delves into the emotional and physical world of the octopus a surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature and the remarkable connections it makes with humans. This might just make you see these magnificent sea creatures in a whole new light.

A few years ago Marion Rankine wrote Brolliology: A History of the Umbrella in Life and Literature. Rainy days always make me want to stay inside and curled up with a good book. I can’t think of a more appropriate rainy day microhistory.

Speaking of staying indoors these days. Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life takes readers on a tour of his house, a rural English parsonage, showing how each room has figured in changes in private life. Bill Bryson is a delight, so why not let him take you on an exploration of his home?

Not only will reading microhistory enrich and satisfy any curiosities about a subject but you’ll get to regale
your friends and family with the fascinating new facts you learned! You’re sure to be a hit at trivia night!

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Jenny Chou has Five Questions for Michele Weber Hurwitz

From Jenny: Today on the Blog, I’m happy to welcome middle grade author Michele Weber Hurwitz, author of Hello from Renn Lake, a novel set right here in Wisconsin! Michele was one of a group of authors who visited Milwaukee-area schools virtually this spring when she chatted with a group from the Spanish Immersion School about creative writing, water ecology, and how kids can make a difference in their communities.

The main character in Hello from Renn Lake, twelve-year-old Annalise, lives with her family on a lake where they run the kind of lakeside cabins that families love to rent in the summer. My own family rented a cabin on Long Lake in Phelps, Wisconsin every August for a week of canoeing, sailing, and catching our own fish for dinner. One summer, Annalise’s beloved lake is closed due to a harmful algae bloom - an effect of climate change that can hurt plants, animals, and disrupt entire ecosystems. Kirkus Reviews called Hello from Renn Lake “An earnest and disarming tale of human and environmental caring,” while Publishers Weekly wrote that “Hurwitz’s book intersperses scientific facts about algae blooms and pollution with a story of activism and nature appreciation.”

Jenny Chou: Reading nonfiction about science can be fun and interesting, but I’ve always thought that novels can help us learn by providing an emotional connection to a character readers want to root for. In the case of Hello from Renn Lake, you have what I’d call a truly unique point-of-view character. Since I think you know who I mean, can you tell readers about this character and why you chose to write from this perspective?

Michele Weber Hurwitz: Thanks so much for having me on the blog! I took a leap of faith with this novel and chose to have a lake narrate the story along with Annalise. I loved how Ivan narrated his own story in The One and Only Ivan, although I wasn’t sure if an element of nature could do the same. But the idea took hold and wouldn’t let go, and at some point while I was writing, I realized that the only way to fully tell this story was to include the lake’s perspective.

I kept thinking about the phrase “body of water,” - that lakes, rivers, and oceans are living beings as much as plants and animals. Once I gave Renn Lake a voice, the story flowed (pun intended) from there. I had such a strong scene in my mind for the opening chapter - one moonless night, a baby girl was abandoned near the back garden of a store in a small Wisconsin town, and across the street, an ancient lake that had been part of people’s lives for eons, was the only witness. Because of that experience, the girl and the lake develop a unique, mystical bond, and when Annalise is three years old, she discovers she can sense what Renn is thinking and feeling. To her, it’s the most natural thing, and she’s surprised to learn that not everyone can “hear” a lake. But when the lake has the harmful algae bloom, the connection is gone. Renn’s descriptions of how it feels to be covered with the toxic algae bloom and not being able to breathe could not have been told by any other character.

JC: I think the idea of Renn Lake telling the story along with Annalise is brilliant. And speaking of Annalise, she’s not exactly having the summer she was looking forward to and expected. What sort of challenges does she have going on in her life, and how is she making the best of the sudden changes in her plans?

MWH: Annalise’s supportive parents celebrate “found day” every year - the day she was abandoned - and while their intent is to turn something bad into something positive, the yearly reminder is upsetting to both her and her little sister, Jess. In addition, the local shopkeeper who found Annalise and took care of her before she was adopted has recently died. Annalise is struggling with some unresolved issues - things she should have done and said - and now she doesn’t know how to fix them. And, the algae bloom causes a ripple effect of problems, from cancellations at her family’s lakeside cabins and ensuing financial worries, to a sense of loss and concern that the lake’s viability is in jeopardy. When the authorities decide they should wait to see if the bloom dissipates, Annalise gathers her friends and insists they must find a way to help. She doesn’t want to abandon Renn the way she was abandoned. Her friends Maya and Zach get involved, even as they’re dealing with issues of their own, and there are some big surprises at the end with who comes through for Annalise.

JC: What do you hope readers will take away from Hello From Renn Lake?

MWH: I hope readers will feel inspired to take action on the climate crisis, whether in their communities or on a larger scale. It makes me incredibly sad that our actions are tipping everything out of balance, and I have this weird sense that nature is reacting, almost lashing out in a way, with all the extreme weather events we’re seeing - fires and floods and hurricanes. But I take heart in what has happened during our shelter-in-place. Polluted air in several cities cleared up, and the emissions from China’s factories fell so dramatically, the change could be seen from space. In Hello from Renn Lake, the kids read about an innovative, nature-oriented solution for algae blooms, and then take a risk to implement it. I think kids possess an urgency and passion that adults sometimes lack, and there are some amazing things that happen in this story because of their determination and unwillingness to give up. I believe we will find creative ways to address our climate problems, and nature can help us find answers. This story has an uplifting, positive feel for the current challenging times we’re living in, highlighting the message that if we all work together, we can change things for the better.

JC: I always like to ask authors for some insights into the world of publishing. If you could give your naive and unpublished past self any advice on writing, revising, marketing or any other aspect of being a published author, what would it be?

MWH: One big thing is to trust my instincts, my internal voice, more than anything else. I think the old proverb “too many cooks spoil the broth” is so true. The writing world is filled with advice, much of it terrific and helpful, but when it comes down to it, the best advice is to write your story, your way, the way you envision it and feel it in your heart. I’ve found that when I listen too much to others’ opinions, it takes me out of my head and I begin to question myself. Another piece of advice would be to focus first on the writing and not the publishing. I submitted a couple of manuscripts way too soon (they were all rejected LOL), so I think I would have studied craft more early on. Third, revising is key. Get down that awful first draft, then make it beautiful. Just like molding a lump of clay into something of substance, you need that lump to work with first. And lastly, embrace the joy in writing. It’s something we writers tend to forget as we listen to advice, study craft, and slog through revisions. Always remember why you write in the first place - you have a gorgeous story to tell. 

JC: Let’s imagine you get to be an Indie bookseller for a day! Are there any new releases you’d suggest to middle grade readers?

MWH: The One and Only Bob, by Katherine Applegate, is next on my TBR list, because I loved Ivan so much. I’m also looking forward to reading Every Missing Piece by Melanie Conklin, The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead, and The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane by Kate O’Shaughnessy.

JC: Enjoy The List of Things That Will Not Change! I thought it was a terrific book on creating new families and all the questions and misunderstandings that go along with the joy. Thanks so much for answering my questions, Michele! For book suggestions and all of Michele Weber Hurwitz’s publishing news, follow her on Twitter at @MicheleWHurwitz and on Instagram at @micheleweberhurwitz. Visit her website at

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Jen Time Travels with Lesbian Historical Fiction

When people ask me “what type of books do you like to read?” I have a hard time answering. It’s not an easy question for me when my reading interests can’t fit in any one genre. I’m more likely to answer with what I’m leaning towards at the moment. Lately, I’ve been reading more on the speculative side of fiction, and that could be because of the Boswell Books & Beer Book Club I facilitate. But, I will say I do enjoy historical fiction. I love hearing about history’s untold stories; escaping into another time and experiencing what life was like through the character’s eyes. And a well told historical novel will transport you there like a time machine! And if you’re like me, they will leave you googling past events to see what parts of the book are real. Like all genres, there are many subgenres within historical fiction. One of my favorite historical fiction authors is Sarah Waters, who gets me to thinking about lesbian historical fiction. I haven’t read much, but I do have a few favorites I’d like to share.

Cantoras by Caroline De Robertis took my breath away from the very beginning. Set in Uruguay after the military coup in the seventies, it follows five friends who find a place they can feel free; free from the oppression of life in the city, free from what their fellow countrymen call “The Process.” Over the years the women become a family; they laugh together, they fight, they protect each other, and they will always be there for a shoulder to cry on. This really is a remarkable novel that you will hold dear to your heart. Look out for the paperback release June 2nd!

Who is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht - I should point out book two, Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery, will be released in paperback June 16th. Set in Argentina in 1966, CIA operative Vera Kelly has been betrayed and is now stuck in a country thrown into political chaos. This is the kind of cool, slow-burn spy novel that’s perfect for those humid summer nights.

Never Anyone But You by Rupert Thomson is a stunning and intimate novel that makes you wonder if perhaps he traveled back in time to witness the extraordinary and very real relationship between Suzanne Malherbe and Lucie Schowob, who are well known in the art world as Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore and befriended the likes of Dali and other avant garde artists. They decide to move to their home away from home in the Channel Islands because of the looming threat of Hitler. Soon they are faced with Nazis occupying their picturesque island, forcing the two women to rebel against the occupation.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a contemporary novel, but with so many flashbacks to Old Hollywood, I feel like this could qualify. Ok, I really want it to qualify! After seven husbands and fifty years in the spotlight, Evelyn Hugo has decided to tell her story. The big question being: Who was the love of Evelyn Hugo’s life? There’s scandal, extravagance, leading men, lavender marriages and overbearing studio bosses. This novel will leave you utterly absorbed and wishing Evelyn Hugo was a real-life film star.

And of course I must recommend a novel by Sarah Waters! The Paying Guests is set in the aftermath of World War I, Frances Wray and her mother must rent out rooms in their house due to accumulated losses and mounting debts. Newlyweds Leonard & Lilian Barber are the Wrays’ first tenants. It’s a big adjustment for the Wrays, who have to come to terms with having “paying guests” in their Champion Hill home. 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 which upends their existence and that of everyone they know. Sexy, gripping, and suspenseful, Sarah Waters is in top form.

There are a couple more books that came out earlier this year, which I am looking forward to reading and adding to my subgenre collection.

First is The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. It is set in 1617 Norway. A sudden storm wipes out the men in the village, including every male member of Maren’s family. Three years later, a stranger arrives with his young wife, Ursa in tow. This stranger believes witchcraft was the cause of that storm. Ursa’s eyes are opened to a new way of life when she sees something in the village and independent women living there. Emily Barton of The New York Times Book Review calls The Mercies “among the best novels I’ve read in years. In addition to its beautiful writing, its subject matter is both enduring and timely."

And The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey is about a young woman tasked with safeguarding a natural history collection as it is spirited out of London during World War II. She discovers her new manor home is a place of secrets and terror instead of protection. If you’re in the mood for a gothic read also, I’m told it’s perfect for fans of Sarah Perry.

Happy reading!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Chris on Reading Backwards

As a reader, I am by no means a completist. I tend to jump from book to book and author to author without much thought about it beyond “what’s on top of the closest pile to this seat?” and “am I in the mood for a serious literary exploration of the contemporary milieu or for something with megasharks and meth gators in it?” I think a part of this is that even if I love a book, when I flip to the good old “also by” page in the front, the author’s list of other work starts to look, to me, an awful lot like a required reading assessment sheet. And if there is one thing I cannot do, it’s required reading.

A frequent conversation from my schoolboy years:
“Chris, you were supposed to read the book.”
“Look! I read four other books!”
“But you were supposed to read this book.”

Don’t ask me where this started. Perhaps it’s just a symptom of my suspicion of authority - a think-for-yourself streak that is, semi-ironically enough, generally encouraged by, you know, reading books. I’m incapable of taking any book recommendation that starts with “oh, if you loved book X, then you are going to be crazy about book Y” - because, let’s be honest, I’m never going to love book Y. Instead, I’m going to spend the whole read comparing the two in my head so I can tell you why why book x is far superior. What can I say, I’m competitive in weird ways.

I’ve even managed to skim right past books and writers who are, deservingly, considered classics and all time greats by those in the bookish know. In fact, read this whole post for an ultra-embarrassing literary confession.

But - but but but - every now and then, a book is so good that I have to spend more time with the author. It’s usually a writer’s voice, the kind that grabs me from the first page and weasels its way into my head until I can’t stop hearing it. Or it’s a writer with such an original perspective on the world that I can’t wait to have my mind re-blown. And then that Also By page starts looking a lot less like a chore and a lot more like something to celebrate. Yay, there’s more to read by this freakin’ genius!

And so - how about some of the authors who’ve inspired this sort of backwards reading for me?

First and most recently, the book that inspired this post - if you’ve followed this blog, you know a couple weeks ago I interviewed Rufi Thorpe about her latest novel, The Knockout Queen. It’s my favorite book of the year, and her writing voice is so good - smart, funny, written with uncanny clarity - that I had to read more. And so I just finished her first novel, The Girls from Corona Del Mar. In her interview, Thorpe said this - “For me the novel is kind of philosophy with tables and chairs and fruit and sex in it.” And that couldn’t be more true of her first book, a decades-spanning story of a friendship that asks the big questions about motherhood, responsibility, life, and death, that’s so full of beauty and brutality. It’s another stunner, and Thorpe’s second novel, Dear Fang, With Love, is next up on my stack.

An author I’ve been reading since grad school (ten years ago, yikes!) when I was living in his hometown is Stewart O’Nan, but it wasn’t until his 11th book that I finally got it together to read something by one of Pittsburgh’s literary hometown heroes. Last Night at the Lobster is an unforgettable singe-day-in-the-life-of-a-failing-chain-restaurant-manager novel that crams more life into just over 100 pages than a lot of books cram into three or four hundred pages. I had to read more. I haven’t read every book of his (yet!) but a couple particular favorites of the O’Nan canon (the O’Nanon) are The Night Country (sadly out of print) and Snow Angels, which of course was the novel-turned-film that catapulted O’Nan’s career.

One more book I finished recently was so good I had to share it with my girlfriend, who red it all in a day on our couch intermittently shouting to me, “Mr. Lanksy has written quite a book!” Why was she shouting? I was sitting three feet away! That’s simply how good Sam Lanksy’s Broken People (out June 9) is - so good you have to shout. It’s rangy, searching, and razor-sharply self-critical autofiction about Sam, a broken young writer desperate to be healed via a weekend ayahuasca trip led by a bougie middle-aged white guy shaman. So good, in fact, that I immediately purchased a copy of Lanksy’s first book, a memoir called The Gilded Razor about Lanksy’s youth as an all-star student at an elite New York City prep school whose addiction to prescription pills spirals rapidly out of control. And how good is that? I couldn’t yet tell you - said girlfriend swiped it the moment I bought it into the house and has yet to give it back!
Okay, as promised, my super-embarrassing literary confession. For years - and I mean years - I never read Joan Didion. Oh, I pretended I had for sure, but I never actually got around to it until a few years ago. And now that I’m hiding behind the couch while you chuck things at me, let me explain. It was, again, a part of my knee-jerk reaction that the moment someone starts calling a writer “the voice of a generation,” and “the premier chronicler of America” I start to go, “this sounds like homework.” Obviously a mistake, which I found out a few years back when staying at my father’s house and, too lazy (yes, laziness does, as you’ve notice, influence how my reading selections trend) to go find something else to read, I picked up the copy of The Year of Magical Thinking that was on the bedside table. Blown away. Immediately, I had to read more. I tore through the classics like Slouching Toward Bethlehem and The White Album, but my still-my-favorite no matter what I read is the immerses-you-completely-in-another-place-in-time novel, Play It As It Lays. And now I no longer have to lie about reading Didion.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Five Questions for Pat Zietlow Miller

From Jenny: Today on the blog I’m chatting with New York Times bestselling author Pat Zietlow Miller about My Brother the Duck, her adorable new book about welcoming (or not) a sibling. Pat’s latest is perfect for kids ages 3-7 and guaranteed to cause smiles and laughter in grown up kids of all ages.

Here at Boswell, we all have our favorite picture books, and we all know that outgrowing picture books would be like outgrowing birthday cake. It just doesn’t happen. Picture books help adults remember what it’s like to be a kid and help kids work through problems like not being particularly excited about a baby brother.

“A baby was bad enough,” says Stella Wells, fledgling scientist, at the start of My Brother the Duck. “A duck was unacceptable. Research was obviously required.” How cool is the juxtaposition of a super-smart girl who loves science against the sweet childhood misconception that a person could be related to “waddling, quacking, broad-billed baby duck?" One of my favorite things about picture books is that no concept is too far out there!

Jenny Chou: Welcome, Pat, and thanks for joining me on The Boswellians Blog! I always like to start by finding out more about the main character’s biggest problems. It doesn’t matter if you're writing picture books, middle grade, or literary fiction for adults. Every main character stumbles over some sort of obstacle on her way to the end of the book. Beyond having a brother who might be a duck (which might actually be kind of fun), what are Stella's challenges as she determines if she’s truly related to water fowl or not?

Pat Zietlow Miller: Like all good scientists, Stella is on a quest to discover the truth. She has information﹣ things she’s seen and heard. And, she understands the scientific process﹣form a hypothesis and test it. But, Stella is only a kid, with a kid’s limited view of the world and how it works. So there are clues she misses and information she misinterprets. And, those things get in her way as she does her research. But, she keeps working and trying and is so earnest. She wants to get it right, and that counts for a lot.

JC: What inspired you to tell a story about an inquisitive girl who loves science? If you could be a scientist, what kind would you be?

PZM: I’ve always been fascinated by how kids can hear adults joking and take them very seriously. When one of my daughters was little, she was at a summer art camp. The instructor told her: “If you keep asking questions, I’m going to have to charge you extra!” She came home very concerned that this was true. I had to reassure that the teacher was joking, and she could ask all the questions she wanted, and we wouldn’t be getting an extra bill. So, when Stella hears her dad joking that they must be expecting a baby duck, she takes his statement at face value.

I thought it would be cool if she liked science and was smart enough to know that she should conduct research. Early on, I considered having Stella be a detective with a case to solve, but that seemed a little too close to Nate the Great. As for what kind of scientist I’d be if I could, I think I’d be a geologist. I enjoyed the one geology class I took in college, and I have a rock-loving daughter. (I also have a picture book that’s all about rock love coming out in 2021 from Sourcebooks.)

JC: I can see teachers being excited about your book on rocks! I love the bright colors the illustrator, Daniel Wiseman, used in My Brother the Duck. Seems like just the kind of cheer kids need in their lives right now. And grown-ups, too! Can you tell blog readers how authors and illustrators get matched up in the world of publishing?

PZM: Sure! It’s probably the most frequent question I get. I write the story and focus on making it the best it can be. Then, if I’m lucky, there’s a publisher that wants to buy my story and turn it into a book. Once that happens, the editor and the art director at the publisher look for an illustrator to create the art. They’re looking for a person whose art will be the best match for the text. And because they do this for a living, they have access to talented artists around the world. Quite often, they choose the illustrator and let me know who it is. Sometimes, they send me options and let me weigh in.

Some people are astounded when they hear this. “YOU DON’T GET TO CHOOSE?” they ask. Well, no. And I’m okay with that. I’m a writer, not an artist. I don’t have access to tons of talented people around the world. So I’m happy to pass that off to the folks who know more about it than I do. Once the illustrator is chosen, he or she creates the art. Again, I stay out of it. When I was writing the story, the illustrator wasn’t hanging over my shoulder telling me what to write, so I extend them the same courtesy as they draw or paint. And the final results are always great. I’ve never been disappointed. Good illustrators add more to the story than what’s in my words. They make it deeper, richer and more meaningful.

JC: What’s it like working with an editor to bring a picture book to life? Can you tell us about the revision process? Do you do any more revising after you see the illustrations?

PZM: I love working with editors to make my story the best it can be. Even when an editor loves a story enough to buy it, there always are revisions. Editors are a fresh set of eyes and a wealth of publishing knowledge. I’m always amazed by how a story I thought was finished can become so much better after working with an editor. Once the illustrations are done, there’s often some final tweaking of the text. If the art is showing something clearly, I can often take words out of my story. Doing this helps the final book be as strong as possible.

JC: Let’s imagine you get to be an Indie bookseller for a day! Are there any new picture book releases you’d suggest we all check out?

PZM: Oh, yes! I’ve been buying and reading a lot of books as I shelter in place, and these are some I’ve especially enjoyed recently:

Where'd My Jo Go? by Jill Esbaum and Scott Brundage. This story, written in perfect rhyme, is about a dog temporarily separated from his truck-driving owner. It has humor and so, so much heart. And, it’s inspired by a true story.

Cat Ladies by Susi Schaefer (Abrams Books for Young Readers). This turns the stereotype of one lady owning several cats right on its head. This cat, Princess, owns several ladies, thank you very much. It’s clever and fun.

A Portrait in Poems: The Storied Life of Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas by Evie Robillard and Rachel Katstaller (Kids Can Press). The lovely and engaging writing in this book brings possibly unfamiliar artists - Matisse, Cezanne, Gauguin, Marie Laurencin, Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Picasso - to today’s kids in an accessible manner.

The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story by Tina Cho and Jess X. Snow (Kokila). This doesn’t come out until August, but I can’t wait to get it. It’s a story based on the haenyeo, Korean women who dive off the coast of Jeju Island to harvest mollusks and seaweed from the ocean floor.

Thanks so much for joining me on the Boswellians Blog, Pat! Follow Pat on Instagram @patzmill and Twitter @PatZMiller. Be sure to take a look at My Brother the Duck and all of Pat Zielow Miller’s books, including the New York Times bestselling Be Kind, on the Boswell Books website.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Laffin' with Madi - The Funny Books Blog Post

From Madi: Right now, everyone everywhere is facing a difficult time. Whether you are cooped up at home or still working, almost everything is unfamiliar and a bit frightening. Lately I have been getting a decent number of customers who ask for some escapism, whether that be through a fantasy series or a mystery to engross their attention, or just something funny and light. I usually spend my free time with horror or true crime, but right now even I need something uplifting. So, I decided to revisit some books that really made me laugh- not just a slight chuckle under my breath, but a hearty, out-loud laugh.

Like many, I have been binge watching (and re-watching) Bob’s Burgers. It is one of my favorite shows, and my go to for when I’m in a bad mood or feeling down. Luckily, the voice actor behind the titular lead has a hilarious book: Failure is an Option: An Attempted Memoir by Bob himself, H. Jon Benjamin. This memoir has some of the funniest anecdotes, like Benjamin accidentally letting his neighbor’s house get robbed as a kid, that stick with me to this day.

For another familiar voice, this one from the podcast Two Dope Queens, I recommend Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain. This collection of essays is more insightful than just personal accounts, as many deal with topics like sexism and racism, but it still is full of humor. I started reading this book one morning and finished it later that night. It. Is. That. Good. I could not put it down. Robinson also has a second book, Everything's Trash, But It's Okay, and though I have not read it yet, the good news is if You Can’t Touch My Hair enthralls you like it did me, you have even more material from this comedic queen.

One of my favorite books to come out this year is Cameron Esposito’s Save Yourself! I have long been a fan of Esposito’s stand up; she is always honest about her experiences and has been a voice for feminists and the LGBTQ+ community. The memoir only made me love her more. Her descriptions of her awkward adolescent years and the brutal honesty of coming out as a lesbian while navigating her Catholic faith and upbringing is cemented in my brain. My love and respect for her only grew as I continued reading. It has serious parts, obviously, but this memoir is so funny I was laughing like a madman even when I was reading it on the bus. For a little more detail on this book, you can also check out my full review of it (and others) here on my staff recommendation page!

And now for something completely different. Being in the house with my husband has had me watching more Monty Python than ever in my life. He will randomly put on The Holy Grail or The Life of Brian and giggle himself silly. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy them too - but my husband has been a lifelong fan. That’s why I am including Eric Idle’s book, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. Idle is my husband’s favorite Python, so while John Cleese has written enough to fill a library, it was this memoir that was his preference. From his childhood to his famous friendships to the Python’s last show, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life will give you the giggles and get the song stuck in your head. I’ve only typed it out twice, and already it’s on a loop.

Despite my spouse’s preference for old British comedy, I must include one of my favorite comic’s brand-new book that comes out June 16th. Mike Birbiglia’s The New One is the book adaption of his one man show by the same name. His comedy is less set up/joke/punchline and more in-depth story telling that winds and loops through some truly emotional stuff. This book is no different. It is his coming to terms with fatherhood when he never thought he would have a child. It details the changes to his marriage, how it affected his work life, and the mental toll it took on someone with a sleep disorder that requires he sleep cocooned, so he doesn’t hurt himself or anyone else while sleepwalking. This does not sound funny, but let me be clear: he is hilarious. The one liners littered throughout made me interrupt whatever my husband was doing on multiple occasions so I could read him the quips. It also includes poetry by Birbiglia’s wife, Jen Stein, that gives insight to her perspective on motherhood. Read this snuggled up with your dog like I did, and you too will feel warm and fuzzy.

I hope at least one of these books brings some humor in this hard time. Even if it’s just a closed mouth, through-your-nose snort, it is still something to help lift your spirits. And then, if you’re still following my lead, you can snuggle up under the covers and continue your true crime documentary marathon.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Taking Flight with Tim - Backyard Beauty

Hello from Tim. I sense that we're all working hard to keep our spirits up these days. It's not easy for me. I'm acutely aware of the pain caused by this virus, but I hear a lot of people talking about the stress reduction they get from even simple outdoor moments of relaxation. I'm finding that too, and I'm focused on books about birds to help me along. As a teacher, I got a masters degree in environmental education from UW-Stevens Point and spent a lot of time working with kids as they developed a love of nature and an understanding of ecology. There's something about open land and wooded areas that calmed me, even while I was supervising a lot of very active children. Today I'm retired from teaching, but I still have the joy of seeing and hearing birds with a wonderful four-year-old. And even if I'm only sitting and looking at the beautiful variety of Wisconsin birds pictured in these books, I feel a little better about the world. I wish everyone the best of health, and a bit of serenity every now and then.

Charles Hagner's new Field Guide to Birds of Wisconsin is simple, informative, and beautifully photographed by Brian E Small. Having to cancel Boswell's event for this book with the author at Schlitz Audubon Center was one of the big disappointments of the pandemic fallout for me. There are other great Wisconsin bird books, but the extraordinary photos, the clear organization by species, and the compact and durable design make this guide perfect for use in the field or in a living room. I also like the brief introductory information about Wisconsin landscapes, the parts of a bird, the Wisconsin "birding year," and the American Birding Association's mission and code of ethics. They talk about keeping a respectful distance from the wildlife, and of course it's also important these days to keep that same distance from the other people out enjoying nature.

David Allen Sibley, of the world renowned Sibley Field Guides, has done a remarkable new book called What It's Like to be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing - What Birds Are Doing, and Why. Its large format highlights the more than 300 dramatic new illustrations by Sibley with a clear, appealing organization. A wealth of information on the physical makeup and behavior of a wide variety of birds is presented in a beautiful design. Each double page layout focuses on one species, often with a life-sized illustration, making it a visually exciting book for sharing between kids and adults. The visuals will grab children's attention, while the facts and details about why birds do what they do will fascinate adults. This is a book to savor in your lap as you take time to look out your window.

Taking Flight: A History of Birds and People in the Heart of America by Michael Edmonds. This book captivated me! Edmonds is a wonderful writer and a member of the Wisconsin Historical Society staff. He's done his homework here. The book combines beautiful color illustrations (Audubon Prints, Edward Curtis photos, George Catlin paintings, historic maps, and much more) with exceptionally deep research. He brings together 25 years of personal work to chronicle Midwestern birds and people. His Historical Society connections gave him access to high level expertise in the fields of archaeology, history, ornithology, and American Indian spiritual practices. Edmonds writes with the skill of a historian who loves a story; he's both a birder and an intellectual at heart.

Birds of Wisconsin by Owen J. Gromme - Wisconsin's Owen Gromme has been called "the Dean of U.S. wildlife artists." His spectacular original oil paintings have often been displayed in Milwaukee. Originally published in 1963, this coffee-table sized book has descriptions of species but is mostly just beautiful reproductions of his paintings along with the traditional ranges of each bird. It's wonderful to look at, and perhaps an opportunity to learn more about a man who dedicated his life in many ways to nature.