Monday, May 10, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 11, 2021

A couple brand new hardcovers plus a handful of paperback releases make this one week of publication we recommend you pay attention to.

First up - Margaret Kennedy recommends Mary Jane, the latest from Jessica Anya Blau, author of novels like Drinking Closer to Home and The Summer of Wonder Bread. Margaret says, "Amidst the clashing viewpoints and lifestyles of 1970s America, one teen girl tries to make sense of it all and find out who she wants to be in Mary Jane. The story opens on a 14-year-old girl from a straight-laced, conservative family whose worldview is shaken when she takes a summer nanny job for a doctor. Expecting a family much like her own, Mary Jane is surprised and strangely delighted when the Cones turn out to be a bohemian, openly amorous, rock n' roll couple with a free-spirited 5-year-old. On top of it all, a rock star and his famous wife are living in the attic as the doctor helps the rocker recover from his drug addiction. Throughout the summer, Mary Jane encounters and embraces new music, new clothes, and a new way of looking at herself and what she wants to be, all while inadvertently helping the Cone family and their guests grow as well. A wonderful read about found families and finding yourself - this is already one of my favorites of the year!"

Then Daniel Goldin writes about one of our upcoming event books: Swimming Back to Trout River, by Linda Rui Feng. Daniel says, "Dawn is an architecture student whose love for Beethoven and classical music proves to have dangerous consequences during China’s Cultural Revolution. Momo is another music lover, but he safely kept to engineering. And as for Cassia, the love of her life was attacked for being the son of a spy, and worse, for liking Western literature. Cassia wound up marrying Momo and mothering Junie, but the parents struggle with June’s disability, and a second pregnancy does not fare better. All three adults wind up in the United States, but the mess of the past isn’t any less messy stateside as it casts a shadow on the present. Linda Rui Feng’s gift is in the descriptions, the little moments, and the internal ruminations. Quietly beautiful!"

That's it for the new-in-hardcover releases. How about some paperback picks:

Rose Camara suggests Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide from Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. Rose says, "Are you a murderino? Written with the flare, straightforward, and comedic tone akin to their hit podcast My Favorite Murder, Karen Kilgarifrf and Georgia Hardstark grace their murderino followers and the rest of their readers with a book that is all memoir with some self-help in the mix. This dual memoir is written with a been-there-done-that attitude that's all at once honest, heartfelt, and hilarious. It’s a memoir of how these women became who they are. I recommend this for true crime lovers, murderinos, and fans of bad-ass women in general. SSDGM."

Conrad Silverberg gives a royal recommendation to The King at the Edge of the World by Arthur Phillips. Conrad says, "For the life of me, I can't figure out why Arthur Phillips isn't a better seller. His stories are diverse, beautifully written, and engaging. His characters are fully realized and complex. He never repeats himself. This is his sixth novel, and it's simply wonderful. We follow a sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and intellectually curious doctor who is forced to leave his home in one of the world's most glittering metropolises and accompany an embassy to one of the world's most depressingly squalid, backwater cities. Mahmoud Ezzedine is a Turkish Muslim who has been betrayed and abandoned in London by an unscrupulous countryman. England nervously awaits the death of Elizabeth I and everyone schemes about her replacement. The main candidate is the Scottish king, James VI, but no one is sure if he's a fellow Protestant, and therefore a safe choice, or a closeted Catholic who might slaughter them all as heretics. Ezzedine finds Christian differences to be unintelligible and bizarre, but he is drawn in anyway and forced to reluctantly play his part."

And finally, this Tuesday is an auspicious one, as it's paperback release day for our in-store hit Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession. We have five (5!!!) in-house reads on this wonderful novel - so how about a few words from all five booksellers? Okay!

Daniel says, "Perfect for fans of  - dare I say it? - A Man Called Ove. It was recommended to me by two customers, and now I’m recommending it to you!"

Chris Lee says, "A little heartwarming, a little depressing, this book throws its dart right in the middle of a cheerful / thoughtful / melancholy Venn diagram. The best thing about L&HP is the sense of calm it leaves behind."

Jane Glaser says, "Generates a sense of wisdom and leaves the reader with a calmness beyond the plot, in a world overrun by uncertainty and endless noise. Will continue to inspire with each re-read."

Jenny Chou says, "After the year we’ve all just had, it’s the book we all deserve."

And Jason Kennedy ends us with, "A heartwarming tale that will cause you to smile and laugh as you read. It did for me."

Need more convincing? Check out the lovely conversation we had with author Hession recently, as he visited us via the internet all the way from Ireland:

What are you waiting for? Grab your copy of each of these books now - that's what I recommend.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 4, 2021

Many, many new books that we've read and loved this week. Let's begin:

Daniel Goldin on Dedicated: The Case for Commitment in an Age of Infinite Browsing, by Pete Davis: "Davis’s work seems to be descended from a number of philosophical thinkers, from Robert Putnam, Jedediah Purdy, Ralph Nader, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Davis’s case, which he’s been making since his law school graduation speech (viewed over 30 million times), advocates towards commitment and away from a culture of infinite browsing. His feeling is that the education system has moved away from attachment to advancement, fraying the bonds of society and has led to things like shareholder value above all else. The idea of early adulthood experimentation and leaving one’s options open has become a life case, abandoning traditions and everyday heroes for fandom. I started this book wondering when Davis would reference Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice. The answer, for those who are wondering, is page 30. The internet has been a laboratory to make this thesis more relevant than ever. Davis argues for a return to commitment, distinguishing between realizing you are wrong about something and continually second guessing yourself. Davis also does a good job showing this is not just a problem of the wealthy and privileged, and taking some of this direction could lead to a happier and more meaningful life and society. There are certainly arguments that counterpoint Davis’s thesis, but I like that Dedicated argues from a perspective of decency and civic engagement."

Kay Wosewick for Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard: "Two recent best sellers relied heavily on research pioneered by Suzanne Simard: Richard Power’s Overstory and Peter Wohlleben’s Hidden Life of Trees. Simard’s research proved that clear-cut logging old forests causes virtually irreversible damage to the land. But far more importantly, her research discovered why: the trees live as a community, acting for the good of the forest as a whole. This is accomplished via vast underground networks of roots and mycorrhiza that direct nutrients from healthy to needy trees, send warning signals of coming infestations and disease so trees can prepare defenses, and so much more. Clear-cut the trees, the network dies, and replacement trees won’t grow. Simard pursued her research despite belittlement, false criticism, and even sabotage of her research by a powerful clique of men with vested interests in maintaining existing logging practices in British Columbia. But her research proved popular among fellow academics and students, and eventually became mainstream. Growing up in a multi-generation logging family in British Columbia, Suzanne’s insatiable curiosity started her down this forest road when she was just six years old. I spent several enchanted evenings with Suzanne in beautiful British Columbia as she described her pioneering journey. Thank you for your tenacity Suzanne."

Jason Kennedy on Sorrowland, a new novel by Rivers Solomon: "Wow - this book sneaks up on you. I thought it was one thing, then the story turns and barges off in another thrilling direction. Vern has fled from Cainland, a commune led by her cultish husband, Reverend Sherman. She is pregnant as she flees into the woods, and she will stay there for the next four years. As long and as far as Vern gets from Cainland, its tentacles have latched onto her and won’t let go. She begins to transform because of her life lived there. She is hunted because of what she might become and fears for her children. It’s enough to get her moving back into civilization to rejoin the world. It’s not easy, as the hunt is quick to pick up again as soon as she leaves her forest home. Rivers Solomon has written a magical novel that is steeped in so much hard history to acknowledge: from American government sanctioning cruel experiments on black citizens to general hatred of the unknown or different. This is a book of transformation and redemption."

Jenny Chou for The Ones We’re Meant to Find, by Joan He: "On an island, somewhere out in the vast ocean, Cee has only one goal: find her sister Kasey. In Joan He’s enthralling, futuristic page-turner, the relationship between two sisters holds the destiny of earth in the balance. As climate change finally ravages our land and oceans, a chosen few take refuge in a levitating city built in the sky. The rest of humanity flounders on the surface, victims of extreme weather and a polluted atmosphere. Kasey may be a teenager, but her intellect leads her to a plan that will allow earth to recover and humans to thrive once again. But first she must solve the mystery of her missing sister, whose love of the ocean and swimming might have cost her life. Kasey’s search leads her to a mysterious boy named Actinium, who is either trying his best to help her or might be her biggest enemy. In a twisty, unpredictable way that’s reminiscent of We Were Liars, nothing is as it seems in this unforgettable book."

And then back to Jason for Firebreak, by Nicole Kornher-Stace: "This book takes the pulse of our world, with corporations trying to eat each other up to make new mega corporations, and then pushes the envelope even further in that direction. Mal is such a person, who looks at the world of Goliath-shaped entities and throws the stone in hopes of making a better world. Not a perfect world, as climate change has warped Mal’s world, but at least it’s a world where friendships matter. Where the small things in life make a difference. Such a fun read!"

Then it's Daniel again for Secrets of Happiness, by Joan Silber: "What I love about Joan Silber’s books is how her novel-stories rocket me through space and time without any fear of crashing. In my opinion, the connecting thread of Secrets of Happiness is Gil, a contractor in the garment business whose work takes him to wherever the costs are cheapest – Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, and most notably Thailand, where he brings back more than just the beautiful scarves he buys as souvenirs for his wife. From there, the story spins out to two of his sons (who don’t know each other), and from there to a documentary filmmaker, a librarian turned cancer patient, a labor organizer in Asia, and more than one soul who are not quite sure what they are doing. They are all searching for the happiness of the title – is it money, vocation, love, spirit, or something else? And how do moral transgressions figure into this equation, large and small, some punished, others excused or even rewarded? Coincidences abound, but it is best to think of them more like connections, vital to both fiction and life. Comparisons to the greats like Alice Munro and Grace Paley abound, and I’d like to add Ann Patchett (also a fan) to the mix. Beautiful!"

Finally, in the brand new, just released section of reviewing, it's Kay, Jenny, and Jason all together to talk up the latest from The Martian author Andy Weir, Project Hail Mary. From Kay: "Andy Weir hits his third consecutive homerun, this time out of the ballpark! Hail Mary brilliantly explores two themes: ‘save planet Earth’ and ‘first alien contact.’ Relationship building and joint creative problem solving among alien and human are portrayed with great humor and tenderness, and there’s still plenty of ‘sci’ for even the geekiest reader. Project Hail Mary is a radiant gem."

From Jason: "The writing is funny and pitch perfect, the science is wildly creative and carefully explained. This is the book I was not expecting to be blown away, by and I loved every second of it."

And from Jenny: " I knew after reading an advance copy of Project Hail Mary on January 10th that I’d found one of my Top 5 Books of 2021. Turn off your phone because you don’t want to talk to anyone until you reach the last page in this thrill ride of a novel. I loved Ryland’s creativity, and he’s a problem-solving genius, but the connections he makes in space give this outstanding novel its delightful punch of emotional depth."

AND NOW! The latest in paperback books, as recommended by the Boswellians, out this week:

The Color of Air
, by Gail Tsukiyama. Jane Glaser says, "Bestselling author Gail Tsukiyama gifts readers with a beautifully rendered story set against the backdrop of 1935 Hawaii as the tremors of the Mauna Loa volcano threaten the community of Hilo whose livelihood depends on fishing and the sugar cane plantations. Tsukiyama creates a remarkably soulful portrait of richly drawn characters who, in the face of uncertain times, shows the strength, wisdom, forgiveness, and enduring love that will embrace the heart of every reader. Destined to be one of my favorite books of 2020!"

A Deadly Education
, by Naomi Novik. 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. The gasp-out-loud last sentence left me desperate for the sequel. A Deadly Education might sound like fun for really brave kids, but trust me, this magical treat is for grown-ups."

The Paris Hours, by Alex George. Daniel says, "The Paris Hours is told in short chapters ending on cliffhanger notes, filled with flashbacks that bring the characters to life, and peppered with historical figures from Josephine Baker to Sylvia Beach. It all comes together in a big finish. Magnifique!"

Pizza Girl, by Jean Kyoung Frazier. Chris Lee says, "Delivers a piping hot and fresh update on the classic slacker novel. Frazier’s penned a sardonic self-help antidote that’s not about fixing-healing-cleansing-improving but about coming to terms with the person you are and figuring out how to live with it." 

And Jen Steele adds, "An emotional, somber look into the life of Pizza Girl. Eighteen years old and pregnant, living with her mom and boyfriend in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Pizza Girl quietly grieves the loss of her father. A provocative novel worthy of your attention."

Providence, by Max Barry. Rachel Copeland 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, in a way that reminded me of The Martian, Ender's Game, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. You won't be able to put this book down!"

And Jason Kennedy adds, "Max Barry's take on a first encounter with aliens is quite brutal but fantastic. This book is a perfect mix of Aliens meets Enders' Game, with a bit of 2001 thrown in for good measure. This is one of the most interesting, philosophical science fiction romps that I've read in a long time!"

Monday, April 26, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of April 27, 2021

 A few books we've read and recommend this week:

Daniel Goldin recommends Frank Lloyd Wright's Forgotten House: How an Omission Transformed the Architect's Legacy, by Nicholas D Hayes. Daniel says, "It was in the early 1910s that Frank Lloyd Wright started a program to bring good design to affordable housing. Wright eventually pulled the plug on the American System Built Homes project, but interest in these homes, many of which were transformed beyond recognition and often in decay, has been strong. On Newton Avenue in Shorewood, the now monikered Elizabeth Murphy House was rediscovered in 2015, despite it being advertised as a Wright home in a real estate ad as late as 1972. Why was its recording erased, and how does that connect to the career of locally prominent architect Russell Barr Williamson (many private homes plus the Eagles Club and Avalon Theater)? How was it found? And what could the new owners do to bring it back to Wright-worthy condition? Like any story about Frank Lloyd Wright, this includes passion, feuding, and a little tweaking of history. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Forgotten House is great for local history buffs and Wright-o-philes alike."

This is our event book in this week's roundup - Hayes will join us for a conversation about this book with Frank Lloyd Wright Scholar Catherine Boldt on Monday, May 17, at 7 pm CDT. Click here and register for that virtual chat. This event's cohosted by The Shorewood Public Library and Shorewood Historical Society, so thanks to them for their efforts!

Kay Wosewick reflects upon her enjoyment of Mirrorland, a new psychological thriller by Carole Johnstone. Kay says, "Cat has been summoned to Edinburgh by her mirror twin’s husband Ross, who tells her El is missing and assumed dead. The twins haven’t spoken since Cat left for California ten years ago; still, Cat doesn’t believe El is dead because she doesn’t feel it. El and Ross live in the house the twins grew up in, shockingly restored and refurnished to replicate the house as it was when they were children. Long-buried memories flood Cat when she arrives. The next day, Cat receives the first of many texts from ‘johnsmith,’ which give clues to a treasure hunt, a game right out of the twin’s childhood. The clues lead Cat to pages from El’s diary, which further awaken Cat’s memories of the fantasy world she and El had lived in, with pirates, cruel tooth fairies, nasty clowns, and more. The treasure hunts and memories alternate with uneasy interactions with Ross, detectives, and local folks. This thriller is a marvelous combination of complex and fascinating stories from the past and present, brilliantly drawn characters, terrific twists and turns, and an end that knocked off my shoes."

One paperback that appears this week with a recommendation from Madi Hill is How to Pronounce Knife: Stories, by Souvankham Thammavongsa, which won the 2020 Giller Prize, which recognizes excellence in Canadian fiction (not to mention offers the biggest purse of any literary award in Canada). Madi says, "In a tumultuous time of xenophobia and class division within the Western world, How to Pronounce Knife exposes the reality of immigrant families’ struggles. Each story in this collection has its own way of making class division painfully apparent as Laotian working class immigrants take jobs barely capable of sustaining a family while trying to integrate into Western culture without completely eradicating their Laotian culture and heritage. This collection is emotionally raw, with many told from a child’s perspective that left me feeling vulnerable yet hopeful. It’s a beautiful collection that I’d highly recommend everyone read, if only to gain some insight of those often belittled or flat out ignored in Western society."

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of April 20, 2021

Our mostly-weekly wrap up of the recommended books as chosen by the Boswellians begins with a couple of recs for books by Wisconsinite authors we're pleased to be hosting this week, and the write-ups come from our proprietor, the one and only Daniel Goldin. Let's dive right in.

First is Daniel's recommendation of the latest from Amy E Reichert, author of books like The Coincidence of Coconut Cake and The Simplicity of Cider. And her latest is The Kindred Spirits Supper Club, releasing on Tuesday as a paperback original. And Daniel says, "Sabrina has moved back to the Wisconsin Dells after being fired from yet another reporter job, her fifth. She wants to move away again, but she is broke, so she takes a job driving one of the Wisconsin Duck boats for tourists. And isn’t it great that her boss is her one-time high school rival-slash-bully? One other thing – the women in her family can see ghosts, who are stuck on Earthly purgatory until they can complete unfinished business. And because this is a romance with a capital R, that kinda cute guy who brings Sabrina a towel when she’s caught in a drink-throwing brawl in the waterpark? He’s taken over the local supper club, a refugee from the big city, so you’re going to see more of him. He also makes a mean brandy old fashioned. The Kindred Spirits Supper Club is a charming story, packed with Wisconsin Dells color and a suitable number of cheese curds references, perfect for a relaxing afternoon on one of those fake beaches for parents while their kids go down water park slides."

Reichert joins our Readings from Oconomowaukee series (hosted with Books & Company of Oconomowoc, authors chat with bookstore proprietors Daniel and Lisa Baudoin) Monday, April 19, 7 pm CDT - more info and registration for that right here.

Next we have the new Dave Cubiak Door County murder mystery from Patricia Skalka: Death Washes Ashore. Daniel says, "Door County isn’t just fish boils and cherries. One day Sherriff Dave Cubiak gets a visit from a local farmer – mostly dairy, some sheep and chickens – with a noise complaint. Are wild parties disturbing the livestock? No, it’s a new LARP (live action roleplay) business, offering immersive programs from King Arthur to cavemen. The only problem? One of the knights is now a dead body. It turns out the victim is no stranger coming to the peninsula, leading to any number of suspects and motives. Jealousy? Revenge? Vigilante justice? The result is a classic whodunit, and don’t worry, you don’t have to have read the earlier entries in the series to enjoy the latest."

And Skalka joins us for a Thrillwaukee event in conversation with Barry Wightman, president of the Wisconsin Writers Association, on Wednesday, April 21, 7 pm CDT - more info and registration here.

Next on the list of recommended new releases is Stalin's War: A New History of World War II by Sean McMeekin, as recommended by Jason Kennedy, who says. "We could learn a lot about the times we live in (while dealing with Russia and Putin) if we took the time to read about Stalin. Stalin was playing the long game in the 1930s and balancing his schemes on what he was seeing in Nazi Germany, France, and Britain. His goal was never to get into a war to just win it, but to gain as much political advantage as he could while forcing the other powers to battle each other. We know about the antisemitism that plagued Germany at this time, however we gloss over how much Stalin purged his own ranks throughout the 30s. Letting Hitler run amok in Europe was, as Sean McMeekin details, allowed by Stalin (or at least Stalin didn’t care to get involved, see the non-aggression pact signed between Hitler and him) to stir up as much turmoil as possible. In the end, it worked. World War II causalities were huge on the Russian population, but Stalin would be fine with that (in fact, he was good at killing his own people in large amounts as well). It helped Stalin secured enough political capital, slave labor and new territories to grow the Soviet Union into a world power."

One high profile paperback release this week is Kiley Reid's breakout novel Such a Fun Age. Daniel's write up follows: "Emira finds that her friends are passing her by in the growing up department, but she’s enjoying babysitting (not even nannying!) for professional influencer Alix (née Alex) Chamberlain and has become particularly attached to daughter Briar. An uncomfortable grocery-store incident with racist overtones seems likely to blow up, but Emira really wants to put this behind her and convinces bystander Kelley, who recorded the incident on his phone, to not release it. When Emira and Kelley meet again, they start dating (even though she doesn’t usually date white guys), but what Emira doesn’t know is that Alix and Kelley have a past that ended poorly and they each have very different takes on it. With a story that bounces between the three viewpoints, Kiley Reid’s debut novel features a wonderfully engaging and wiser-than-she-thinks-she-is heroine and is alternatingly inspired, infuriating, hilarious, and thought-provoking, touching on race, class, gender, friendship, dating, and motherhood, and filled with a whole mess of bad advice from everyone concerned. Lots of bad advice!"

And one more event note - Reid is appearing virtually for a ticketed event hosted by the Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library - she's the virtual guest speaker at their Spring Literary Luncheon this coming Friday, April 23, at Noon. In conversation with Madison-based Chloe Benjamin, author of The ImmortalistsClick here for more information about that and tickets for that.

Another new-in-paperback book comes with a recommendation from Jason: Fire in Paradise: An American Tragedy, by Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano. Jason says, "The fire in Paradise (called the Camp Fire) moved swiftly, and the authors, Gee and Anguiano, made me feel the heat inducing panic of being trapped in a town that had firenados raging through it. This fire was thoroughly devastating to both land and life. A town of 27,000 that was there mere hours before was gone. This book highlights what it means to be in a community- the sadness of loss, the euphoria of saving lives, and the harrowing escapes. My personal gripe is highlighted in this briefly in the aftermath of the destruction. Fires like the Camp Fire are getting more and more common with climate change, and the longer we ignore it the worse it will get. And it’s already a nightmare."

One last paperback release worth mentioning is Valerie Hansen's book The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World - and Globalization Began. Though I don't have his official write-up to share here, this book made Conrad's top 5 best books of 2020 list, which seems reason enough to include it here, right? Right! So, more about this book: Celebrated Yale professor Hansen offers a groundbreaking work of history showing that bold explorations and daring trade missions connected all of the world’s great societies for the first time at the end of the first millennium. For readers of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, this book is an intellectually daring, provocative account that will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about how the modern world came to be. It will also hold up a mirror to the hopes and fears we experience today.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of April 13, 2021

That's right everyone, it's time again for a roundup of recommendations from the Boswellians. Hooray!

This week sees two new brand new books coming out with staff recs - one in hardcover and one paperback original! First, we go hard, with Daniel Goldin for Katherine Heiny's Early Morning Riser.

Daniel says: "When Jane, an elementary school teacher, moves to tiny Boyne City (a real place!), Michigan, she hardly suspects the complications that will ensue when she takes up with Duncan, the older woodworker who moonlights as a locksmith. Let’s just say he has a lot of ex-girlfriends. A lot! But on the guffaw-meter, Early Morning Riser was literally off the charts in the number of times I laughed out loud. If Heiny had stayed in the romantic comedy lane, I would have been perfectly content. But she throws a curveball when Jane gets a happy ending, only not the way she expected, and that turns out to not be the end of the story. Heiny has a rare gift for bringing characters to glorious life, warts and all. Sometimes, in the case of Jane’s mother or her neighbor’s husband Gary, perhaps all warts. I love Jane’s voice and the way she can see the absurdity in the everyday. And I love the way that Heiny plays with all different emotions, not just laughter, to create this story of family and community."

Next, Rachel Copeland recommends Rachel Copeland recommends Second First Impressions, by Sally Thorne, just released as a paperback original. Rachel says, "Ruthie (responsible, hardworking young manager of a retirement community) and Teddy (flaky, hot mess son of the retirement community owner) are opposites. When once-and-future-tattoo-artist Teddy gets trapped into being a personal assistant for two demanding residents of the community, Ruthie is sure Teddy will be gone the next day. Instead, Teddy thrives, working his way into everyone's hearts with his sweet nature and impulsive, fun personality. With his inevitable departure on the horizon, Ruthie just needs to guard her heart long enough to stay safe in her protective bubble of the retirement community forever. I have to say - this one really got to me. I cared so much about each character, and when I was done reading, I immediately flipped back to my favorite parts to enjoy them again. It's rare to find a romance novel that has both heart and sizzle in equal measure, but Sally Thorne makes it seem easy."

Speaking of paperback books, there are four Boswellian recommended books out in paperback this week worth checking out! The first two are Daniel's picks.

All Adults Here
, by Emma Straub. Daniel says, "I have been reading dysfunctional family comedies since my teenage years, and Emma Straub's latest has all the makings of a classic. Astrid, who lives in a picturesque Hudson Valley town, is widowed and has secretly taken up with a new love. Her three kids, Elliot the driven builder, Porter the nurturing goat farmer, and Nick the former actor who may or may not now have a profession, all parents or parents to be, are coping with the repercussions of youthful decisions, which may or may not be the fault of their mother. When Nick’s daughter Cecelia has trouble at her Brooklyn school, the family decides to send her to Clapham to start anew, and that, as well as unexpected death of Astrid’s long-time rival, sets several runaway trains on a collision course. There’s something very circa-2019 about the story – teenage bullying, sexual assault of various stripes, and at least two LGBTQ plotlines. But in the end, the questions raised by the delightful All Adults Here is timeless; can the family come to terms with their past so they can enjoy the present? Since this is a comedy, a positive outcome is likely!"

Daniel's next paperback pick is The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni. He says, "What if you took a DNA test and turned out to be part monster? Alberta “Bert” Monte doesn’t know this when a stranger appears at her door, telling her that she’s the last of Montebiancos, a wealthy family centered in a remote part of the Italian Alps. All she knows is that her grandparents emigrated there to the Hudson Valley, and little was ever spoken of their past, though there are rumors of children disappearing from the village. Bert’s at loose ends – she’s recently separated from her husband after a series of miscarriages – and so goes along, as much to learn the truth about herself as to claim her fortune. The twists and turns of The Ancestor are as tortuous as a ragged mountain pass, and Bert is just the companion for this exciting journey into the land of gothic horror."

Rachel also has a not-new-but-new-in-paperback pick on this week's list: Sin Eater, by Megan Campisi. Rachel says, "To be a sin eater is to take on the sins of the dead and dying through a ritualistic eating of symbolic food. When orphaned and illiterate 14-year-old May is caught stealing bread, she is sentenced to become a sin eater, never to speak to another human being except when conducting final rites. Isolated in every possible way, only May's ingenuity can see her through the tangled web of court intrigue and murder that she becomes embroiled in. By setting this novel in an alternate version of the Elizabethan era, Campisi creates her own playground, with characters based on the Tudors and their various peculiarities but without the obligation to stick to the history books. The result is a uniquely historical dystopian novel that had me guessing until the end."

Finally, how about a new recommender to end us this week? Okay! Jen Steele suggests you pick up the specially rereleased (and specially priced) edition of The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler. Rachel says, "Simon Watson is a librarian living in a run down house on the edge of a cliff. He's just received a very strange & cryptic book that will change everything he thought he knew about his family. Simon's family is no ordinary family. They are mermaids and fortune tellers. They are carnival folk, and their history is contained in this newly acquired tome. While exploring its pages, Simon soon discovers that every woman in his family has mysteriously drowned on July, 24th. Could his sister, Enola, be next? In order to save her, Simon must decipher this book before time runs out. The Book of Speculation is mysterious, dark, magical and very hard to put down."

That's it for this week. Stay tuned for more book recommendations from the Boswellians in the future, please.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Staff Recommendations for the Week of April 6, 2021

What a week! To kick off April we've got NINE (yes, really, that's six upside down, NINE) recommendations from the Boswellians for you. So let's dive right into them:

First, two recommendations from our proprietor Daniel. The first is Gold Diggers, the big debut from Sanjena Sathian. Daniel says, "Stuck at his suburban Atlanta high school, Neeraj (Neil) Narayan simply doesn’t have the drive of his older sister Prachi or the other striving families in his community. But then, through his on-again, off-again friend Anita, he learns the true meaning of the adage, ‘when life gives you lemons…’ Why are little bits of jewelry disappearing from the families of Hammond Creek? And how far can Anita and Neil go in the pursuit of ambition, especially when they settle in the Bay Area, paradise on Earth for the tech striver? I love the way Gold Diggers solders imagery onto the story, whether the tale of the Bombayan prospector Neil is researching or Kanye West’s ‘Gold Digger’ wafting through the high school dance. It reminded me that despite the tension (did I mention this is also a caper novel?)  and the likely heartbreak (we all can’t get what we want), this engaging and insightful novel is a comedy, and there will be a wedding at the end."

Daniel's second recommendation is for Hype: How Scammers, Grifters, and Con Artists Are Taking Over the Internet--And Why We're Following, by Gabrielle Bluestone. Daniel says, "Hype follows the rise and fall and rise and fall of Billy McFarland, the serial entrepreneur/scam artist of Fyre Festival and assorted other shenanigans, including social media app Spling and the Magnises VIP card, which I remember reading about in a not particularly negative story in The New York Times. Using this as a jumping off point, Bluestone touches on business scammers, political scammers, and social media influencer scammers. McFarland is the through line in the story, and it is what Bluestone knows best, as she was Executive Producer of the Fyre documentary for Netflix, but I find it interesting that from what I can see, McFarland's story is downplayed. After Hype, I’m even more apt to question social media and influencers, but as my experience shows, the fabrications documented in this book wind up slipping into traditional media as well. It’s entertaining to read about these foibles if you didn’t fall victim to the scams, but probably a lot more disturbing if you’ve been successfully targeted."

Next we have Jen Steele's write up for Permafrost by Eva Baltasar (translated by Julia Sanches). Jen says, "Narrated by a young woman who’s fixed on suicide, past loves, family, and everything in between. Trying to find her way in life, our protagonist moves to Scotland where she becomes an au pair, reads all day, and starts to hate the color green. Next, she tries her hand at teaching Spanish to businesspeople in Brussels and has a love affair with her client that she must put a stop to once marriage is proposed. I've never read anything like this. Permafrost is sharp, poetic, philosophical, and raw, with many fleeting moments. Eva Baltasar breathes a memorable and discerning character to life!"

Then how about Chris Lee for the latest from Portland housepainter turned prose writer Willy Vlautin: The Night Always Comes. Chris says, "By now, anyone who’s paying attention at all knows what happens to the families on the losing end of gentrification. And if we’re being honest, we don’t care – that’s development, that’s progress, catch up or get left behind. That’s the starting place for Vlautin’s latest. Lynette wakes up before the sun to work shifts at two crappy jobs (plus her sex work side hustle) as she tries to scrape together enough cash to buy the house she lives in with her alcoholic mother and developmentally disabled brother from their absentee landlord. Vlautin brings a razor-sharp eye for detail to his dirty realism version of ‘the night of crime that changes it all.’ This isn’t just what happens when a person is pushed over the edge – Vlautin is unflinching about staring back at the economic, social, and familial pressures can shove a person over the cliff. It’s also a tour of the “before” photo of Portland – definitely the latest & greatest book for those who dig glimpses of the parts of cities that lousy new money hasn’t ruined yet. Also, I’ll say that the vibe of the novel is that of an Eagles song turned into a book by someone who hates the Eagles because they’re too soft. This a compliment. I think I’ll be walking around Vlautin’s Portland in my head for a long time to come."

Kay Wosewick tells us about the newest entry into the Jenny Lawson canon: Broken (in the Best Possible Way). From Kay, "Thank you Jenny (yes, her readers are on a first name basis, so there; read Broken and you can be too!), you have given me at least a couple months’ worth of ab muscle workouts. I’m certain my neighbors secretly wanted in on whatever was happening in my condo the past two nights as I doubled over from long and very loud bouts of laughter, snorts, and whoops. Jenny shares dark times too, including an extended new low, a new treatment with uncertain longevity, and endless battles with a barbarous medical insurance system. But she always delivers the reader back to hilarity. Off with the sun lamp - there’s a fabulous new Jenny Lawson book to devour!!!"

And now, Madi Hill on the newest horror sensation from Quirk Books, Whisper Down the Lane, by Clay Chapman. Madi says, "Whisper Down the Lane is a love letter to the horror classics of the 70s and 80s. An alternating story of six-year-old Sean and his single mother together against the world as they try to establish themselves in a new town and a new school in 1983, and Richard, an elementary school art teacher newly married with a stepson with which he is trying to establish a father-son relationship in 2013. Sean tries to keep his mother happy and ends up embroiled in a school wide scandal about a satanic cult, while thirty years in the future Richard is starting the school year trying to make sense of what seems to be a series of escalating grotesque pranks.  A psychological horror with just enough gore, Chapman crafts the story with twists and turns that keep you gripped. This book perfectly shows how dangerous groupthink can be and shows the similarities between the mindset that allowed the Satanic Panic to flourish, and the dangerous conspiracy theories that lead to real harm today."

Parker Jensen recommends Other People's Children, by RJ Hoffmann. Parker writes, "Gail and Jon Durbin have been trying to have a child for the last four years, only to suffer 3 miscarriages and multiple adoptions that fell through, leading Gail to become desperate to be a mother. 18-year-old Carli got pregnant, and with the father becoming a runaway, her dreams of going to college, and her bad home life, she has made the difficult choice to give the child up for adoption. The two parties become connected and soon the Durbins are on the way to completing their family and reassembling their declining marriage. But things quickly go awry when Marla, Carli's mother, is determined to make sure the Durbins never get her grandchild. Other People's Children is an expertly handled examination of family and what one will do to protect their own. Told in alternating perspectives, readers will find themselves rooting for every character and flipping alliances as they dig into their minds and explore their motives and the familial history that has led them to make the choices that they do. R.J. Hoffmann is able to blend the mundane and the melodramatic into the perfect mix, one that makes for an extremely compelling, shocking but believable read."

Resident romance reader Rachel recommends: To Love and to Loathe, the second book in the Regency Vows series by Martha Waters. Rachel Copeland says, "Diana, Lady Templeton, and Jeremy, Marquess of Willingham, are always at each other's throats - he's an incorrigible rake, and she's a wealthy young widow. When Diana wagers that he'll be married within a year, Jeremy is confident he'll win. But then Jeremy's former mistress gives him negative feedback about his so-called skills, and he realizes he needs an honest review from his toughest critic: Diana. As a longtime reader of Regency-era romance novels, I'm ashamed to say I did not know about this series until the second book. If you read romance for the banter, this one is for you - Waters knows the genre well, and she has aptitude for both winking at tropes and using them sincerely. This book hasn't even been released yet, and I already can't wait to read the next in the series."

And finally, a kids book recommendation from Tim McCarthy - Billy Miller Makes a Wish, the newest middle grade chapter book by the prolific Kevin Henkes. Tim says, "This is a loving family story told by an eight-year-old boy who's just starting his summer vacation, with third grade still far off in the distance. To an adult, it's a sweet and simple book, but it sounds just like a child working through all the normal fears and celebrating the joys of growing up. It's not simple for him. Just before his father leaves on a professional art camp trip, Billy makes a birthday wish that something exciting will happen. Then he faces his own troubling thought that maybe his wish is the reason things have gotten too exciting. He has to cope with losing a neighbor, the endless complications his feisty little sister causes, and some scary house issues. He has a strong and creative family to help him, and the excitement can be great, too! Billy will be just fine. This is a companion novel to The Year of Billy Miller. In an introductory letter to the reader, Kevin Henkes says he had an unusually hard time letting go of Billy and his family after finishing the first book, so he went back to write about them again. I can see why. Give this to a young reader looking for a very relatable fictional friend."

PHEW! Now that is a lotta recommendin'. But, as Chop-o-Matic inventor and Informercial King Ron Pepeil used to say: BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Ok, so just one more - Chris's rec for The Last Taxi Driver, a just-now-in-paperback novel from Lee Durkee, a Southern author who writes wonderful, funny, strange books. Chris says, "Well, if you’ve ever said to yourself, ‘Man, I sure wish Taxicab Confessions was set in Mississippi and the stories were told by a UFO chasing, Shakespeare worshipping Buddhist with anger issues,’ then boy oh boy do I have the book for you. The Last Taxi Driver is one glorious, delirious cruise into the depths of the downtrodden folks of the South as told by your new favorite person, Lou, a cabbie trying desperately to be as compassionate as is reasonably possible and maybe even scrounge up a little truth, all while not getting himself killed by an idiot taking driver’s seat selfies. Crank up the car tunes (skip Skynyrd, opt for David Banner), jump into the back seat, and get ready to have the best time ever riding along for the worst day of Lou’s life."

Friday, April 2, 2021

Tim Accepts the NPR / Kwame Alexander Poetry Challenge

From Tim:

On March 31st, Kwame Alexander, the marvelous children's author and Resident National Public Radio Poet, was on NPR's Morning Edition with a Poetry Challenge. He talked about attacks against Asian Americans. Kwame said, "Let's be clear: Anti-Asian violence and discrimination are not new. But, this racism seems to be heightened, and the onus is not on Asian Americans to figure this out. Frankly, it's on white people, it's on the rest of us - individually, systemically, to talk about it, to pay attention to, advocate against it."

Then he and Morning Edition's Rachel Martin read the "List Poem" (click here to read it for yourself) by Emily Jungmin Yoon and asked us to submit our own List Poems, which he will piece together into a community crowdsource poem. The full conversation and challenge rules are also linked below, but the basics are these:

Your poem doesn't have to rhyme. It just needs to have an ordered list with details that show your state of mind — and must begin with the word "today." Here's my contribution.

Our Sidewalk

outside our bookstore, 
as I pick up the butts and mud-caked lids
exposed by receding snow,
I wonder what other ugliness may come to
this sidewalk in the temperature of their hate.
A slur, an assault?

inside our bookstore,
as I arrange the carefully printed and bound
words of so many voices,
I wonder who will welcome the truth of the 
American frontier offered by the beautifully brave and powerful 
Prairie Lotus Hanna.

near the weight of the world’s ideas,
I see my reflection in our bookstore window, 
and consider which lies that man has too easily received.

I will watch our bookstore sidewalk,
and not shrink from their terror,
or give up on chances for love.

- Tim McCarthy

Tim's poem is inspired in part by the book Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park, one of his favorites from the last few years. Click here to check out the book and read Tim's write-up about it, too.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Staff Recommendation for the Weeks of March 23 and 30

Hope you're well and did not feel too abandoned last week when we neglected to post our (mostly) weekly roundup of staff recommendations. To make up for it, we return with a triple-dose of new books, plus one recently paperback'd pick.

First up we've got Tim McCarthy's recommendation for A Raft of Stars, the debut novel from Wisconsin-native Andrew Graff that came out last week. Here's what Tim has to say: "It’s a small northern Wisconsin town, tucked up against a massive forest, a place where they know Milwaukee folks won’t understand. Sometimes you just shoot coyotes when their numbers cross a line and you start losing cows. It’s a place where two young boys have father problems, and the problems suddenly get big, so the kids run. There’s a young new sheriff in town who had to leave his home, too. He was looking for a quiet place away from his Houston mistakes, maybe a dog, and some distance from complications, but he won’t get that now. The boys are out there alone, and distance doesn’t work anymore. Their stories drew me in right away. Many of the characters seem familiar because they’re like me. Any glimpse of close human connection brings a sense of both need and dread, in equal measure. The suspense works well, too, as lines get drawn and necessarily crossed. The emotions feel true, as an intense fight for survival draws out their full force. I enjoyed the ride!"

If you've enjoyed our virtual events, and you enjoyed this recommendation, then you're going to enjoy knowing that Graff joins us virtually on April 12 - click here (as this is the registration station) to sign up for this event and find out more.

Graff's book also just received this rave in the Boston Globe (paywall warning) from Jeffrey Ann Goudie, who says, "If this exquisitely crafted novel about two 10-year-old boys on the lam on a river raft has echoes of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it is still its own solid self."

Next up is Milwaukee author Erica Ruth Neubauer, who has just released the second installment of her Jane Wunderly historical mystery series, Murder at Wedgefield Manor. This one gets the recommendation treatment from Daniel Goldin: "Jane and her Aunt Millie are resting at an English estate on their way home to America, reunited with Millie’s birth daughter Lillian, who has been adopted by Edward Hughes, who is fortunately wealthy enough that Jane can take some flying lessons on his new-fangled plane. Lillian is flirting with Simon, one of the men working for her father, and when Millie questions the propriety of this, Simon storms off in one of Edward’s vehicles, only the brake line has been cut. And then Lord Edward’s knife is found. It sure seems like he’s trying to kill this man who is trying to court his daughter. But the truth is a lot more complicated than that, and fortunately, there’s a full estate’s worth of suspects, many with mysterious backgrounds. And one more mysterious person shows up at the scene: Redvert, the so-called banker who helped Jane unravel Murder at the Mena House. Neubauer’s sophomore effort is just as sparkling as her debut, filled with dashing adventure, a classic mystery, 1920s glamor, and a touch of romance. Murder at Wedgefield Manor once again updates a classic formula for contemporary audiences. And did I remember to say it was dashing?"

And in case you're reading the blog on Monday the 29th or Tues the 30th before 7 pm CDT, you'll be happy to know you can still catch Neubaer's virtual chat with Tim Hennessy (Editor of Milwaukee Noir) - visit the registration station right here, right now! Unless, of course, you are reading this after 3/30/2021 at 7 pm in the Central Time Zone. In which case, check out our youtube channel right here and perhaps that conversation will be recorded and posted for you to enjoy. Perhaps!

Finally in new release recommending, it's Jen Steele for The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade. And Jen says: "A poignant novel set in New Mexico, The Five Wounds follows the lives of the Padilla family: 33 yr. old Amadeo, his pregnant 15 yr. old daughter, Angel, the family matriarch Yolanda, and Tio Tive, who has initiated Amadeo into the hermandad and casted him to portray Jesus in their reenactment of the crucifixion. Jobless, living with his mother, and estranged from his teenage daughter, Amadeo searches for purpose and perhaps redemption. His daughter Angel has shown up unannounced and eight months pregnant, and Yolanda returns home with a life-altering secret. Amadeo and Angel’s fragile relationship starts to mend as they navigate through daily life and welcome the newest member into the family. Kirstin Valdez Quade tells a captivating story about family, loss, redemption and the power of faith. I could not put this book down! You will laugh, cry, get angry, and want to hug these characters. Masterful storytelling!"

One paperback release that gets love from the Boswellians is Anne Tyler's Redhead by the Side of the Road, which, upon its original release, got these write ups from Daniel and Tim:

Daniel: "If I wrote copy for mass market paperbacks (and Anne Tyler’s books used to be published in that format), I’d say that Micah Mortimer can repair computers, but he can’t figure out the connections of the human heart. His latest girlfriend has just dumped him, but he’s got a new guest, a college student who claims to be his long-lost son. As always, the novel is filled with gentle humor and the deep truth about connection. And don’t be concerned about the shorter length of Tyler’s latest; it might be stripped down to its essentials, but it’s no less enjoyable."

Tim: "Micah Mortimer's family says he's "finicky." He's a man of caution who doesn't like his routine disrupted, but he's got a girlfriend that he keeps at a safe distance by not moving in with her. Too much complication in that. He's also got loving sisters with raucous families, whose clutter he dutifully steps around, and a small Tech Hermit business that keeps him engaged with customers in various stages of techno-frustration. Nothing he can't handle. Still, he sometimes wonders if missing just one "Friday vacuuming" could send his world careening into chaos. Well, life has a way of messing with our best-laid plans, and messy human connections from his past and present life will team up to challenge him on what really matters. This novel is a quick read with sly humor. Tyler's natural writing style and clever take on the state of our day-to-day lives had me smiling to the end."

And, one final note for the paperback fans - if you've been saying, for two and a half long years, "I'll wait for the paperback" of Where the Crawdads Sing, today (well, if you're reading this on Tuesday, March 30th) is your day - wait no more, as you can now snag a paperback copy of WTCS right here.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Tim Once Again Has Gone to Minnesota in His Mind

From Tim: Nobody mentioned it, but I noticed (after the fact) that my first two 'Minnesota in My Mind' blogs were all male authors. Really? I normally read at least as many women writers as men. It was just a quirky trend in Boswell event books I liked, but it bothered me. I checked to see if I’d read any Minnesotan women, with limited success, and then this happened! I was given an advanced copy of Jackie Polzin's new book called Brood. It's a wonderfully quirky and richly human debut novel, and it lit a fire in me to write about Minnesota's women writers.

My advice about Brood is to give it some time. Let the book peck at you for a while, and you’ll be rewarded. I didn’t know that I completely loved it until the last three pages. Then I suddenly knew. Completely. This book is all of life told in the story of four backyard chickens. Our narrator’s voice comes straight at us - a bit sassy, sly, mostly sure-minded - even as she maintains a subtle neighborhood diplomacy. The contrast is wonderful. Chickens help her tell us boldly about loss, and the inescapable hardships of living, but she’s not bitter. She sees the beautiful workings of her simple birds and of people: her chicken-hesitant friend Helen, her staunchly independent mother, her very reasonable husband Percy, the awkward neighbors, and how all of life creates dust. Mix in Minnesota’s climate extremes and a changing neighborhood. You’ll get a growing sense that you’re reading something very special. Let Brood peck at you. There’s nothing quite like it.

triggered the memory of a great book I read years ago called History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. Fourteen-year-old Madeline, called Linda, or "Commie" or "Freak" at school, is growing up in Loose River, Minnesota, the Walleye Capitol of the World, a place where summer tourists crowd a very small one-street town. Her parents and other families came in the early 1980s as a group, trying to create one communal family. Long ago the others gave up, leaving Linda, with her mother and father, living in a tiny cabin. She struggles with isolation but doesn't hesitate to introduce herself to the Gardner family, at their beautiful new house across the lake. Patra and Leo, with their four-year-old son Paul, become the center of Linda's story as she helps to care for Paul. She has a strong, steady voice and a direct honesty that made me proud of her. Even as her story takes a frightening turn in an ever more complicated household, I wanted to stay with her and hear what she had to say. It's an exceptional debut novel.

There are certain writers who deserve a lot more of my time. Louise Erdrich is one. Clearly among America's best, not to mention a beloved bookstore owner herself, she has several titles in my collection for someday. What I have read is The Birchbark House, the beginning of a children's series she wrote to retrace her own Ojibwa family history. It opens with a baby girl found on Lake Superior's Madeline Island, the only person left alive when Smallpox took the rest. Yes, I know the island is not in Minnesota, but those divisions came long after Ojibwa origins, and Erdrich is a Minneapolis icon. As an elementary school teacher, I was always grateful for the beauty of this story and for the confidence I had in its truth. I will certainly keep coming back to Minnesota with this series and with Erdrich's adult novels.

And poetry! Margaret Noodin is a professor of English and American Indian studies at UW-Milwaukee, but she earned two degrees from Minnesota schools, and it’s where she learned the language of the poems in What the Chickadee Knows. They’re written in Anishinaabemowin, side by side with her English translations. It’s “the language of the Odawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe people centered in the Great Lakes region.” I don’t know the language, but the words are visually thrilling. I can begin to imagine their lovely sounds, and I love seeing the continuation of First Nations languages. Their descriptions of the land and life, time and loss, sorrow and celebration have the feel of a natural world we all long for. They're simply stated and beautifully complex. This is one of the most precious book discoveries I've had, and it's very exciting to know that Margaret teaches up the street from Boswell!

(Editor's Note: the differing spellings of Ojibwa / Ojibwe are not typos, but rather the spelling utilized in the two authors' respective books.)

Minnesota in My Mind​
(to the tune of James Taylor's Carolina in My Mind)

In my mind I’m gone to Minnesota.
Can’t you feel the snowfall?
Just leave your boots out in the hall.
Car gets stuck, and then it stalls.
Ya get hit from behind.
Yes, I’m gone to Minnesota in my mind.

Heard some stuff from a Facebook friend who lives there.
When my verse reduced her home to misery in snow.
It’s not a bad place, she said.
For a bit I hung my head.
But held on to a longing for 
this land I’ve never known. 
I’m still gone to Minnesota in my mind. 

Spring’ll come again to Minnesota.
All that ice is bound to crack.
Free us from this bind.
Frozen brains can thaw at last,
with a little heat from northern writers of all kinds.
Oh, I’m back in Minnesota in my mind!

                                             - Sweet Baby Tim