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

Monday, March 15, 2021

Staff Recommendations for the Week of March 16th - Paperback Picks!

While it's a quiet week for hardcover release recommendations from the Boswell bookselling crew, this Tuesday we see a big drop day for paperbacks that we've recommended. Every week we refresh the two new paperback book tables at the front of the store with the latest releases in softcover. Here's a handful that we read and loved.

First up is This Town Sleeps by Dennis E Staples, an author we hosted and whose debut novel we were proud to champion in the before-times. Let me just say - the cover stayed the same, and for good reason. The digital photo here doesn't do it justice - this thing pops! And what's inside is even better. From Chris Lee: "This Town Sleeps might just be the answer to the question: who will write the great gay Ojibwe gothic novel?" And from Tim McCarthy: "Staples gives us a beautifully complex picture of family in its many forms. Ojibwe tradition is blended with modern America and universal humanity. The voices are strong. The stark honesty of Staples’ characters and the grace of his writing make this debut memorable." Just named a Fiction Finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards!

Speaking of events, in the not-so-before-times (the during times?) we hosted a virtual conversation with Adrienne Raphel, whose book Thinking Inside The Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can't Live Without Them is out today in paperback. Here's Daniel on that book: "As a person who is attracted to puzzles but struggles with solving them, I am continually fascinated by the world of crossword puzzles, and it didn’t seem to matter that I’d already seen Wordplay and read Marc Romano’s Crossworld some years ago, I was thoroughly entertained by Thinking Inside the Box. Maybe it’s a memory thing; I hear crossword puzzles are good for helping with that." If you'd like to watch the video of Daniel's conversation with Raphel, check that out right here:

Speaking of books that Daniel loves by authors who visited us virtually for amazing conversations, there's also this week's paperback release of Lakewood, the novel by Megan Giddings that's just been named an LA Times Book Prize Finalist. Here's what Daniel has to say: "Lena Johnson is a college student, struggling with debt, coping with her grandmother’s death and her mother’s disability. She gets the opportunity to participate in a research project in a small town in Michigan, only why would they list the death and dismemberment benefits in the non-disclosure agreement? And the first thing she has to work on is memorizing her pretend work routine while the patient group is effectively tortured, both mentally and even physically. What a fascinating story Lakewood is - a coming-of-age story with a strong dose of social justice-framed psychological horror!" Giddings has been generous enough to join us for a few conversations, both about her own book and others. Check out her recent interview of author Dantiel W Moniz, featuring Moniz's debut story collection Milk Blood Heat. They have a fascinating talk that includes much erudite advice about writing - here it is:

Kay Wosewick recommends The Mountains Sing, a novel by Nguyẽ̂n Phan Qué̂ Mai that hit international bestseller lists and was Winner of the 2020 Lannan Literary Awards Fellowship. Kay's review: "Grandma is the heart, soul, and motor of a large family that, for the most part, survive and even overcome the horrors of 20th century Việt Nam. Honest, generous, hard as nails yet loving, and absolutely pragmatic when faced with seemingly impossible hurdles, Grandma embodies the resilience required to hold families together in the face of cleaving forces. Quế Mai does not skirt dark events, but Grandma's handling of them, such as being forced to abandon her children to complete strangers, leaves the reader with admiration and a strange lightness in place of the obvious alternatives of horror and trauma."

From our adult buyer Jason Kennedy, a novel that's right in his wheelhouse: strange and futuristic, with a lot to say about technology and many layers of social commentary: 88 Names by Matt Ruff, the author of the equally strange and beguiling novel Lovecraft Country. Jason has the following words: "John Chu is for hire - only in the online gaming world of Call to Wizardry. For people who don't want to waste time leveling up characters and doing mundane tasks to create armor and weapons, there's sherpas like John Chu who will do all the hard work on character creation. They just have to pay for it. It's a nice cheat that gamers are always looking for. Matt Ruff is brilliant in the setup of the MMORPG world. At first, I think he's going to explore the VR world that is coming down the pipeline, but then it opens up as a thriller, spy story, and then it pivots again and again. If it leaves you a bit confused and lonely, then Matt Ruff has made his point."

And finally, digging deep into the staff recommendation files and archives for this last one, a legacy recommendation from former Boswellian Kelli O'Malley for the book Docile by KM Szpara. Kelli left behind this recommendation for this book: "'There is no consent under capitalism.' Elisha and his family are drowning in inherited debt. Under the laws of his state, he must either enter a contract with someone who will pay off that debt, or his whole family will face the consequences. Elisha must become a Docile: a human automaton drugged not to feel, remember, or disobey. But when he refuses the drug that will make him compliant, the very core of his being will be obliterated. In this beautifully written novel, Szpara weaves a tale that will strike emotionally hard in unexpected ways. Szpara explores the most intimate of connections between consent, love, pain, and betrayal with clarity and compassion. Readers be warned, this book delves in to dark topics such as rape, violence, and abuse. But there is catharsis, there is hope. This book takes a necessary look at how the very thing that makes us human is stripped away when we no longer have a choice."

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Staff Recommendations for the Week of March 9, 2021

Daniel Goldin begins this week of recommending with the latest from Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro: Klara and the Sun. Daniel says, "Klara is an AF (artificial friend) waiting at the store with her friend Rosa for someone to take her home. Her odds have decreased since a new model has been released. Josie, a young girl, has been browsing the store and has set her eye on Klara, but hasn’t been able to commit. And when she does, Klara will find itself (herself?) plopped into a family drama of an ill girl and divorced parents who disagree on the best course of action. Ishiguro hints at an eerie future of genetically modified elites, professions replaced by robots, and worsening civil breakdowns. If there’s an author where the more you read, the greater the appreciation for the entire body of work, Ishiguro is it. I began Klara and the Sun imagining a connection to Never Let Me Go, noting later that Klara was also the obvious descendent of Stevens, the butler of Remains of the Day, dedicated to service and unmoored by a change. I love how Ishiguro’s heroes are both keenly observant and hobbled by blind spots. For Klara, it could be mistaking the sun for a deity, which makes sense, being solar powered. I’m almost disturbed to say this – Klara is perhaps the most empathetic hero I’ve read about in a long time. So what does this say about me?"

And you'll definitely want to snag a ticket for our upcoming event featuring Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation with Ron Charles, book critic extraordinaire for the Washington Post on Tuesday, March 16, 6 pm- tickets and more info at

Next up we've got Tim McCarthy's recommendation for Brood, the debut novel by Jackie Polzin. Tim says, "Give it some time. That’s my advice about Brood. 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, richly human. Let Brood peck at you. There’s nothing quite like it."

Another event reminder here: The March installment of the Ink/Well virtual event series, featuring authors in conversation with Wisconsin’s own Jane Hamilton and cohosted by InkLink Books of East Troy, features Jackie Polzin on Thursday, March 18, 7 pm. Register right here for that event now!

How about a book that's just gotten its paperback release? Okay! Conrad Silverberg is a big fan of Tyll, the latest novel from German author (and literary shape-shifter) Daniel Kehlmann, and one of Conrad's top 5 books of 2020. Conrad says, "A trickster works his magic through 17th century Germany, fleeing the Thirty Years War and wreaking all sorts of havoc along the way. Is he the Devil? A charlatan? How can you know?! One thing he and this book are for sure: delightful!"

Speaking of Kehlmann, he's one of those authors for whom we might just have to do (in the future, this is just a maybe, no promises) a "Boswell reads" blog post about his work - he's such a wide-ranging author who has toyed with different ideas and styles that he appeals from book to book to so many different readers. In fact, I myself (Chris here) am a HUGE fan of his slim novel that preceded Tyll - You Should Have Left. Here's my rec for that, just for funsies - you get to include these when you're the one who writes the blog post: "Terrifying. Reading Kehlmann's latest novel is like watching a horror movie from the inside. A writer takes his family for a mountain retreat, hoping to escape the city, finish his newest screenplay, and maybe find a bit of serenity. But something in the rented house isn't right. Rooms shift, hallways expand, reflections fade. Brisk and gripping, you'll read this slim novel in one sitting, consumed, disappearing into the book as the writer disappears into the house, stunned as you turn the last page, compelled to check in a mirror to be sure you still exist, then turning back to the first page to immediately begin rereading."

Finally, how about our dual-recommended book by Milwaukee author who just had a wonderful debut celebration event with us Anuradha D Rajurkar? Okay! American Betiya comes with staff recs from Parker Jensen and Jenny Chou. Jenny says, "I would think that being the perfect betiya (daughter), here in America or anywhere else, would be exhausting. But try being perfect while carrying the weight of expectations from one culture when you live surrounded by the temptations of another. And to Rani, an Indian American high school senior, that temptation is a tattooed artist named Oliver who becomes her secret boyfriend. He’s a nuanced character, the true definition of bitter and sweet, and at first, their relationship practically sparkles with heart emojis. But soon his chaotic home life leaves him without empathy for Rani’s uncompromising need to please her parents, while at the same time, he’s just way too focused on traditional Indian culture. I gasped out loud at one incident, a shocking but realistic twist. And l definitely looked inward, as the best books insist that we do, and reworked my own understanding of cultural appropriation. At the same time, the strength of the writing forces readers to acknowledge that Rani hasn’t exactly been the perfect girlfriend either. But the messy lack of perfection from anyone in the novel gives the book its depth and provides for an emotionally charged read that I guarantee you won’t soon forget."

And from Parker: "Rani Kelkar never intended to fall in love. In fact, she was forbidden from doing so by her parents and her best friend. But then she met Oliver at their senior art show, and one thing led to another, and before she knew it, Rani had fallen in love and was doing everything in her power to keep it a secret! But her first relationship might turn out to not exactly be all that she expected or hoped for. American Betiya is a stunning and complex story that kept me hooked and invested. I was astounded by the ways in which Anuradha Rajurkar was able to layer so much so seamlessly into this story. But the shining star of this book is our protagonist Rani. Torn between expectations and desires, Rani is a character I will not soon forget, nor will I forget the lessons she learned on her journey into young adulthood. This book is significant for its portrayal of a young girl trying to figure out where to center herself in the world, and I cannot wait to thrust it into the hands of everyone and anyone looking for their next favorite thing."

Check out the video of our event that took place, as of this writing, just last night! I rushed an edit-and-post job of this one so we could share it with you here today, so I hope you enjoy it. I also hope I didn't leave in any whoopsies in my quick editing.

And that's it! Tune in next week when more books arrive and you find out what we've been reading and loving. Until then, happy reading.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Staff Recommendations for the Week of March 2nd, 2021

Though it may seem a little surprising or disorienting that today is the beginning of the month of March, seeing as how in many ways it seems that last month was also, well, March, we have at least spent many months reading books and have some new titles to recommend to you. So here's a roundup of books coming out on Tuesday, March 2, that Boswellians love! Both new hardcover releases and newly-in-paperback books! First, a couple brand new books coming out this week:

Jen Steele recommends The Lost Apothecary, by Sarah Penner. Jen says, "Reeling from the discovery of her husband's affair, Caroline Parcewell decides to go to London on what was supposed to be an anniversary vacation. One afternoon she takes part in mudlarking and discovers a curious vial which reignites a long-buried passion for history. As Caroline embarks on uncovering the vial’s secrets, she discovers more about herself and her marriage. Meanwhile, in 18th century London, there's a hidden apothecary dealing in poisons. Nella is the heir of the apothecary. What used to be a place where all could go for health and healing is now something more sinister. Nella now works in the shadows, helping women right the wrongs done to them by men. The rules are simple: the poison must never be used to harm another woman, and the names of the murderer and her victim must be cataloged in the apothecary's register. A definite page turner that kept me up late just to find out what happens next!!"

Parker Jensen recommends The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer, by Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan. Parker says, "When Liza Rodman was a child, she and her family summered in Cape Cod. Her mother worked as a maid in a local motel and partied the night away, leaving Liza and her younger sister to be watched by anyone who was willing to take them on, and I mean anyone. Enter Tony Costa, handyman at the same motel as Liza's mother. He would take the young girls for trips in his truck, buying them popsicles and taking them deep into the woods to show them his "secret garden." Liza loved spending time with Tony; she felt that he was the only adult in her life who truly saw her and treated her like she mattered. Then one day in the late 60s, he disappeared. It would take her into adulthood to discover the truth behind Tony's sudden absence - he was a brutal serial killer. The Babysitter is a unique true crime read as we get to examine the serial killer through the eyes of his family but also the eyes of young child who idolized him. I've never read a true crime book quite like this. I will never forget the chills I got while reading the scenes of Tony taking Liza to his "secret garden," a place in which he buried his victims, all young women. Half memoir and half true crime, The Babysitter is a truly chilling read, one that will stick with me for years to come."

There are three books getting their paperback releases this week that we're into, as well.

The first is one followers of this blog should know well - and if you said, "I'll wait for it in paperback," well guess what - your wait is over! Chris Lee's #1 tip top book of 2020, The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe is in softcover now. He says, "The Knockout Queen is an intimate, articulate, violent book about good and bad people and good and bad things and all of them just happening to each other all the time for no reason except that they can. Michael, the drollest teenaged narrator since forever, lives tenuously in an LA suburb with his scraping-by aunt after mom’s gone to jail for stabbing abusive, drunk dad. His only close relationships are the decades-older men he hooks up with on Craigslist and his neighbor Bunny, daughter of the town’s leading real estate shyster. She's an Olympic hopeful, but she's also a teenager trying to navigate high school, loyalty, and boys as a girl who’s 6-foot-3. These are a couple of kids clinging to each other to whom Thorpe gives the enviable, pitiable, beautiful, and ugly depth of real, living, breathing human beings. Are they moral? Who cares - they are ALIVE." Daniel and Tim are also fans. In fact, we all loved this novel so much we invited Thorpe to join us for a virtual conversation last year, and she and Chris had an excellent chat about everything from teenagehood, friendship, and morality to middle-age torture devices. Yes, really. Check out that video right here!

The next new-in-paper novel is Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore, another author who was gracious enough to drop by via technology for a virtual conversation with Daniel Goldin - check that video out here, and then check out Daniel's recommendation, right here: "Odessa, Texas is pretty much the armpit of Texas, or would be if oil gushed out of your armpit. It’s the 1970s and the area is booming. Newcomers are hoping to make their fortune in the oil field, and many are out of control. Gloria, the daughter of Mexican migrants, is savagely assaulted and is only saved by knocking on the door of a young mother several miles away. She begins the story, and it is continued by a series of other women and girls, each struggling to be heard. Particularly affecting is Debra Anna, a young neighbor that befriends a PTSD-stricken vet living in a nearby drainage pipe. These two stories and several others collide in a tense climax, but I think the plot is outshined by the hard-edged writing (no quotes, Cormac style), vibrant characters, and keen sense of place. Desolate? Absolutely. But there’s just enough hope here to keep you reading Valentine, a truly powerful novel." This is another one that got a second rec - yup, from Tim! He adds, "Wetmore's writing is stunning. An absolutely amazing debut. Get ready!"

Finally, how about a little nonfiction that Daniel recommends? Okay then! Try Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker. Daniel says, "I loved this book! Journalist Kolker chronicles the Galvin family, who settled in Colorado Springs with the creation of the Air Force Academy. Don and Mimi wound up having twelve kids, and six of them were eventually diagnosed as schizophrenic. The family history, often from the perspective of Lindsay, the youngest child (non-diagnosed) alternates with a history of the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia. The split between advocates of nurture and nature hypotheses continues since the break between Freud and Jung. I can’t believe how Kolker was able to give such distinct life to the six men who presented their illnesses in such different ways. It’s a tragic story, but it’s also about  the survival story of the six kids who weren’t diagnosed, including one who seems to have skirted by the illness. If you are a fan of Brain on Fire, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, or the recent Boswell pick An Elegant Defense, Hidden Valley Road is for you."