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

Today,
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?

Today,
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.

Today,
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.

Today,
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.