Sunday, November 22, 2020

2020 Top 5 Picks - Part Three

More top five picks you say? More top five picks you get! Today, we see the selections of Rachel, Jenny, and Tim!

Starting with Rachel, who brings us an eclectic mix of books with her top 5. Let's dive right in:

#1 on Rachel's list is the #1 New York Times bestselling novel The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. Rachel isn't the only one who loves this novel - it's been named a best of the year by many a magazine, like EW, GQ, Vanity Faire, and the list goes on. By why take their word for it, when Rachel says, "We split in two sometimes: move to a new city, change a hairstyle, gain a new nickname. The other half vanishes, unused, like a dream, or perhaps a box of pictures in the attic. Desiree Vignes lost her other half years ago, when her twin sister Stella decided to pass as white, leave her family behind, never return. From start to finish, Brit Bennett's follow-up to The Mothers is a revelation. This is a novel you want to savor, even as it unfolds so naturally and beautifully that you can't help but devour it."

#2 Omni Vol. 1: The Doctor Is In, from writer Devin Grayson and illustrator Alitha E. Martinez. This is the first trade collection (generally five monthlies gathered together into one paperback volume) of the comic book that asks that age-old question, what would you do if you could think faster than the speed of light? Rachel says, "It's crazy how much Grayson and Martinez pack into these first four volumes of this new series, incorporating weighty subjects like climate change, microaggressions, detention centers, and disenfranchisement of veterans into a superhero narrative in a way that feels timely and oh-so-relevant."

#3 takes us in a completely different direction (told you these were eclectic picks!) with Dress Coded, a powerful middle-grade debut novel by Carrie Firestone. Rachel says, "In her crusade to eliminate the school dress code, Molly and her friends discover what true friendship is all about. What an incredibly timely and important book! Despite the fact that the book has a clear rhetorical purpose, the characters and the situation feel all too real. Firestone perfectly captures the problems of enforcing a strict dress code on young people, from stressing over the expense of school-appropriate clothing to being targeted for wearing normal clothes while having a developed body. This should be required reading in schools."

#4 is Providence by Max Barry. Rachel takes a turn to sci-fi horror crossover town with this one - a favorite of Boswellian Jason Kennedy, too - from the author of Jennifer Government and Lexicon. Of Barry's latest, Rachel says, "Having been a Max Barry fan for a while now, I have to say - I love this book even more than I hoped I would. It's way more science fiction than his previous novels. Four people on a battle-ready spaceship run by AI, hunting down murderous alien lifeforms - what could go wrong? Besides being a space adventure, the book also highlights relevant topics, such as replacing human intelligence with AI, developing military at the expense of civilian life, and using media to create a narrative. You won't be able to put this book down!"

#5 Shorefall, book number 2 in the The Founders Trilogy, by Robert Jackson Bennett. Rachel sums up the immense questions asked in this epic fantasy installment: "What is reality, when symbols can divorce body and mind, when the death of thousands can make endless midnight, when love can rip whole civilizations apart? This book broke my heart in the best way possible; this series is a must-read!"

Our next Boswellian on the list is Jenny! Jenny is one of our YA heros - in fact, she's not just reader, she's a YA writer herself. That doesn't keep her from reading widely, though, so check out her top 5 selections for a bit of YA, a bit of magic school for grown ups, and even a bit of accidental time travel.

#1 on Jenny's list is The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Scwhab, an instant bestseller on just about every list that declares books to be so, along with being named a best book of the year by oh so many publications. Scwhab's genre-bending novel begins in France, 1714, when in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

#2 Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon is something like The Hating Game meets Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Jenny says, "High school rivals Neil (valedictorian) and Rowan (salutatorian) have no idea how adorable they are together (or that everyone assumes they’re hooking up). The two go all out to best each other one last time before college in an all-night journey of self-discovery, non-stop bickering, and something that might be simmering passion (or just close proximity in too many dark places) as they race through the streets of Seattle to win a senior class scavenger-hunt known as Howl. Rich with a complexity of emotions and cleverly written, laugh-out-loud banter, Solomon’s new book is a gem." Speaking of people named Rachel, Boswellian Rachel is a fan of this one, too.

#3 Legendborn by Tracy Deonn is a contemporary YA fantasy that offers up a modern-day twist on a classic legend with a lot of Southern Black Girl Magic. Jenny says, "Legendborn twists and turns at a non-stop pace from page one! Not only are the magic system and the world building beautifully detailed, but Bree herself is insightful and smart, and the chemistry between her and Nick makes for lots (but never enough) swoony kissing. Are you ready for your next obsession? Because this is it!"

#4 Continuing with school is Naomi Novik's A Deadly Education, the first installment in her new Scholomance series. Jenny says, "If you like your magical boarding school fiction delightfully dark and scary (and who doesn’t?), then I have a book for you. El Higgins has survived the killer (literally) breakfasts and ominous monsters who feed on students to begin her second-to-last year at the Scholomance, a school that instructs students in the art of magic. Always wrecking her plans is the infuriatingly nice Orion Lake, who quest to save as many students as possible is stupid and hopeless, but maybe a little endearing too. The constant bickering between El and Orion create lots of laugh-out-loud moments in this creative mix of scorching humor and horror. Naomi Novik has a talent for creating fantastical settings, but the heartfelt way she develops prickly El into a character to root for proves her genius as a writer."

#5 Oona Out of Order is a top 5 pick for two of our booksellers (Kay loves it, too!), so you'll see more on it in a later post, but right now, Jenny gets the first word on Margarita Montimore's novel. Jenny says, "I enjoyed thinking about, as Oona learns to, what it really means to live in the moment, with consequences delayed for future Oona, who might be much more adept at solving her problems - certainly much better than past Oona! For anyone who’s been waiting seventeen years for a novel as engrossing as The Time Traveler’s Wife, this is the book for you!"

Finally, we'll end today's Top 5-ing with Boswellian Tim. A former fifth-grade teacher, a current history book buff, and a lifetime collector of autographed books and author event obsessive, Tim suggests five books that bring the history and others' experiences to life for readers young and old.

#1 Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford made the front page of our gift guide this year (browse the whole thing online right here - you didn't think you'd make it through a whole post without a gift guide link, did you?!) thanks to it being a Daniel Goldin pick - but Tim love, love, loves this beautifully written novel-in-stories, too! Tim says, "This is the story of four generations of Cherokee women and their men in Oklahoma and Texas. The words are uncomplicated, all the more beautiful for their graceful, plain-spoken style. The writing is easy to love, and so are the people. We feel their strength and sorrow, the excited warmth of new romance and the hot anger of losing it. Everyone is confused about the reasons everyone else does things. Welcome to humanity, but the simplest human joys are right there for you, for anyone who can see them and try to hold on. The book is just as gorgeous as the awe-inspiring mess of being alive."

#2 Prairie Lotus, the middle-grade novel by Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park. Tim calls her latest "a gem of American historical fiction for middle grade readers. To reconcile the attitudes of Laura Ingalls Wilder's characters toward people of color while honoring the books, Park gives us 14-year-old Hanna, the half Asian daughter of a white father and a mother who was both Chinese and Korean. Hanna is a strong, determined girl who will search for ways to treat everyone justly, and to find just treatment for herself. This is richly developed Americana, and I am deeply grateful!"

#3 is Dear Justyce, Nic Stone's sequel to her smash success Dear Martin. Tim calls this one "flat out the best and most important teen novel I've ever read.  Vernell LaQuan Banks Jr. is just trying to survive juvenile detention after working so hard to be a good kid, while everyone around him seemed to want him to fail.  I think Stone wrote their story like nobody else could. The voices are urgent and real. Masterful writing, compelling, suspenseful, and vital reading for the urgency of now!"
#4 Overground Railroad: The Green Book & Roots of Black Travel in America by Candacy Taylor. Tim says, "Taylor has done America a great service by documenting the history of The Green Book and what remains today of the locations it listed. Taylor’s details about the development and use of the book are fascinating, but her work entails so much more. She's created an impressive history of the African American economic progress which grew from having and working with automobiles, and from the increasing mobility and business opportunities they afforded. This book is a smart and deeply affecting look at black people's long and agonizing struggle to get basic respect and justice. It's a powerful book. I'm already eager to read it again."

#5 is the graphic novel adaptation of EO Wilson's Naturalist by Jim Ottaviani and illustrator CM Butzer. Tim says, "Wilson is highly intellectual and wise, one of the world’s premier scientists and writers. His lifetime body of Harvard research on ants and the evolution of species as they spread across continents is as revered as the body of books he's written about life on Earth. The graphic format is perfect for that man, who never grew out of his childhood 'bug period.' It's a beautiful book about a literally wonderful man!"

This is the third installment of our Top 5 picks blog posts - check out post #1 here, and post #2 right here. And you can browse all of the Boswellian's top 5 picks right here on our website.

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