Monday, May 24, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 25, 2021

Welcome once again to the Boswellians weekly roundup of our staff recommendations! A few new books have grabbed our attention this week, so let's get down to it.

First we have proprietor Daniel Goldin for The Guncle, the new novel by Steven Rowley, author of books like Lily and the Octopus. Of the latest, Daniel says, "Patrick O’Hara, Golden Globe winner of the iconic television comedy The People Upstairs, has been holed up in Palm Springs after the cancellation of his show and the death of his partner. When his college buddy turned sister-in-law also dies, and his brother confronts his addictions by heading to rehab, Patrick agrees to take in his niblings Grant and Maisie for the summer. As Patrick’s disagreeable sister Clara notes, Patrick is no Rosalind Russell, but that doesn’t stop The Guncle from calling to mind Auntie Mame, notably when the ready-made family has a Christmas-in-July party. I’m well aware that quirky children are a shortcut to sympathy – ask any screenwriter – but Maisie and Grant (or Grantelope; nicknames don’t become Maisie) do a particularly good job of forcing Patrick to overcome his grief-fueled-malaise. And like Rowley’s novel, they are also charming and funny."

Next is Jen Steele for Shark Summer, a new graphic novel by Ira Marcks. Officially recommended for ages 9 - 12, I think it's safe to say Jen recommends this for everyone. She says, "It is going to be a busy summer for star pitcher Gayle Briar. Gayle and her mom have moved to Martha’s Vineyard to open an ice cream stand, but the grand opening has been put on hold since Gayle broke her arm in a baseball game. Not to mention the biggest news, Hollywood has descended on Martha's Vineyard! Here to film a shark movie and hold a youth film festival, this small community is overrun with shark talk. When Gayle learns that there is a big cash prize for the winner of the film festival, she gets to work, along with Elijah Jones, future cinematographer, and Maddie Grey, director, who is set on uncovering the islands’ darkest secret. Shark Summer is a lively read with engaging characters and fantastic artwork."

Finally, we've got a two-fer - as in, two booksellers who are going for The Blacktongue Thief, the latest fantasy from beloved writer of horror and adventure Christopher Buehlman. First it's Jason Kennedy, who says this: "Christopher Buehlman hasn’t just written a really good epic fantasy; he has taken the reader and dunked them into a world full of joy, wonder, heartbreak, foulness, horror, and hope. Once I started the book, I couldn’t put it down. The prose! And the dialogue was so perfect, I was laughing out loud from the snark that Kinch Na Shannack narrated his story with, and I was cringing from vicious, nasty goblin attacks or towering giants tossing trees. Kinch owes the Takers Guild for his education, and when they tell him to accompany a knight on her quest, he has no other option – he must go. Know that there is so much to this book; Buehlman will take you down crazy paths that will delight and fright, but I will not say any more about the surprises that are in the book. Go read it now!"

And then a final recommendation from Ogi Ubiparipovic, a former bookseller who's recently moved on to a new job. Ogi leaves behind this glowing write-up: "A cut above most other fantasy books, The Blacktongue Thief is a masterclass in world building, storytelling, and humor.  I can whole-heartedly say that I could spend the next two hours telling you everything I loved about this book, and it still wouldn't be enough to show you how amazing this book really is. The best thing about it? It's the start of a series! We get MORE of this! Thank Fothannon Foxfoot for that."

One paperback release gets the Boswellian treatment this week, and that's the paperback edition of hyper-fun horror author Grady Hendrix: The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires. Chris Lee recommends this one - he says: "I’m a sucker for a good vampire story, especially one that gleefully cribs from Stoker’s Dracula, and this ‘stranger (who’s probably a vampire) comes to town’ tale is tops. Hendrix transplants classic bloodsucker tropes to suburban South Carolina in the 90’s. As much as this is a fun idea book, Hendrix also has hardened horror chops; one rodent infested scene is going to keep my skin crawling forever - and I like rats! He’s not shy about social issues, either. It’s not exactly missing children from the white picket fence side of town who are left out of the news, and the book’s heroine reveals the strength and resolve of a middle class housewife and mom who maybe feels like feminist empowerment has passed her by. For anyone who likes smart, stylish horror that’s soaked in pop culture with a pinch of 90’s nostalgia, you’re going to love sinking your fangs into this book."

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Five Questions for Author Jamie Pacton

I’m thrilled to welcome Wisconsin author Jamie Pacton to the blog today to chat about her delightful new YA novel, Lucky Girl. Fortuna Jane (whose name I adore) has just won $58,000,000 and change in the Wisconsin Mega-Wins lottery. WOW! What could be more exciting! She could take all her friends to Disney World! No worries about college loans or car payments. Well, except for one small problem. She’s seventeen, and it wasn’t exactly legal for her to buy that ticket. Uh oh. 

JENNY CHOU: Welcome to the Boswellians Blog, Jamie, and congratulations on the publication of your second book! Fortuna Jane has a lot going on in Lucky Girl, besides that small matter of being too young to win the lottery by two weeks. 😣 Tell us about her many challenges.

JAMIE PACTON: Thank you so much for having me here-- and for making Lucky Girl a Boswell Staff Pick! Poor Fortuna Jane faces a *lot* of challenges in the book. I think the official copy says it best:

58,643,129. That’s how many dollars seventeen-year-old Fortuna Jane Belleweather just won in the lotto jackpot. It’s also about how many reasons she has for not coming forward to claim her prize.

Problem #1
: Jane is still a minor, and if anyone discovers she bought the ticket underage, she’ll either have to forfeit the ticket, or worse…

Problem #2: Let her hoarder mother cash it. The last thing Jane’s mom needs is millions of dollars to buy more junk. Then…

Problem #3: Jane’s best friend, aspiring journalist Brandon Kim, declares on the news that he’s going to find the lucky winner. It’s one thing to keep her secret from the town, it’s another thing entirely to lie to her best friend. Especially when…

Problem #4: Jane’s ex-boyfriend, Holden, is suddenly back in her life, and he has big ideas about what he’d do with the prize money.

As suspicion and jealousy turn neighbor against neighbor, and no good options for cashing the ticket come forward, Jane begins to wonder: Could this much money actually be a bad thing?

JC: I want to talk a lot about your characters since I want to be best friends with most of them, all the way from her actual best friend, Bran, to her grandma. Before anyone even knows Jane has won the lottery, one character after another wants something from her. Even super sweet Bran, whose determination to find the lottery winner unintentionally exasperates her.  It’s really no wonder she doesn’t want to tell a soul about her jackpot. You did such a great job of keeping all these characters likeable, or at least intriguing in the case of ex-boyfriend Holden. What’s the secret to writing characters we all want to meet for coffee and spend the afternoon catching up with after the book is finished? 

JP: This is a great question, and I’m so glad you liked these characters. I want to hang out with most of them too! (Especially Jane’s grandmother). I’m not sure there’s a secret to character creation; but, for me, creating characters is an unfolding process. As in real life, I can’t know a person deeply with one quick meeting; so too in writing does real knowledge take time. I try to be gentle with my characters as I’m figuring things out, and I also like to dig for small details that might reveal a lot about them. This is a list of some of the things I brainstorm when creating characters:

*Who are they? (Age, family, home life, etc.)
*Small details: What did they eat last? What did they do for their 5th birthday? What would they grab if their house was burning down? Are they a good dancer/ a bad singer/a pet person/someone who hates a certain type of music or movies? What’s on their bedside table?
*What is their biggest wound? What is their biggest misbelief about themselves?
*What are they afraid to do/afraid of? Why?
*Who is their favorite person in the world? Why?
*Who is another person they act completely different around? Why?
*What would they do if they won a million dollars?
*What do they look like? How does their appearance affect their character or how they move through the world? In what ways?

Some of these questions  get answered before I start writing, however, a lot is revealed as the book develops and I get to know the characters better and try to figure out why they’re making the choices they’re making. 

JC: Did you have Lucky Girl planned out from start to finish before you started writing? Did any of your characters suddenly do something of seemingly their own free will that took you by surprise? We’re there any characters whose roles unexpectedly expanded? 

JP: I sold Lucky Girl on proposal, which in this case meant a short pitch, a detailed synopsis, and then the first chapter. Because of that, I had to have this book much more tightly planned and structured than I might normally do before I started writing. (I do love planning books, but I’m also always open to discovery as a writer.) Even with this very detailed plan, however, the characters surprised me. Bran’s motivations for finding the winner changed a lot; Holden went from a sort-of not-great ex-boyfriend, to a cartoonish villain, to the absolute jerk (with a realistic backstory motivating him) that he ended up as in the final version of the book. Figuring out his motivations was quite a journey, and my amazing editor pushed me a lot to get him right. I also learned a lot about Jane’s wounds and misbeliefs as I wrote, which became the heart of the story (especially with things like her not feeling like she was enough for anyone in her life). 

JC: Lucky Girl is set right here in Wisconsin, which is, of course, a great choice! What makes Wisconsin and also a small town the perfect setting? 

Ahhh, I love Wisconsin-- I moved here in the 90’s from East Tennessee to go to Marquette; I met my husband at MU; and, although we moved around a lot in the years between, we keep coming back to this state. I’m always trying to share my love of WI love with others. In Lucky Girl, Jane and Bran take road trips to Madison and Milwaukee; and, in my debut, The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly, there’s also a road trip to Milwaukee. Although I’ve lived in both Madison and Milwaukee, currently, I live in a small town in rural Wisconsin (which is a lot like the small town I grew up in). On the surface, mine is just another slice-of-Americana town with a cute downtown, a little lake, a carnival in the summer + an ice festival in the winter, and dozens of other Rockwellian touches, but underneath that surface, it’s deeply and thoroughly weird. And I love that. In Lucky Girl, I wanted to charm readers with the setting, and then subvert that experience by making the town a bit menacing/odd. On a thematic level, this underscores my point that appearances can be deceiving and it also highlights the complex relationship we can have with a place we love (or a person we loved) which might not be right for us forever. 

I will also add that the fictional town’s Facebook group in Lucky Girl contains some conversations inspired by my own town’s riot of a FB group. (Where, truly, it’s at your own peril to mention the prospect of a municipal swimming pool, turtles crossing the road, or the smell from the chicken farms west of town). 

JC: So, at the end of the book does Jane figure out a way to cash in her lottery ticket and take home $58,000,000? Ha ha. Just kidding. Don’t answer that. The Boswellians do not believe in spoilers. Blog readers, if you’d like to find out if Fortuna Jane gets her jackpot, all you have to do is click this link and a copy of Lucky Girl can be yours! So instead of giving away the ending, let’s imagine you get to be an Indie bookseller for a day! What new or upcoming titles would you recommend? 

JP: Hooray! I’m a voracious reader, and I love recommending books. First, allow me to fling some of my friends’ books your way: 

*For YA I highly recommend Joan He’s sublime, breathtaking new YA SciFi, The Ones We’re Meant to Find. Beautifully written and full of twists, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. (Note from Jenny: I totally agree that this is one of the best books EVER.)

* I’d also recommend M.K. England (writing as Remi K. England)’s forthcoming YA contemporary, The One True Me and You, which is a queer, joyful, hilarious story of a beauty queen and a fanfic writer finding love in a whirlwind weekend.

* I also loved Sheena Boekweg’s forthcoming A Sisterhood of Secret Ambitions, which is a fiercely feminist, inclusive historical revisionist story that’s incredibly smart and engaging. 

On the adult side, I also just finished reading The People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry and I adored every part of it from the crackling banter to the gorgeous sensory writing to the truly loveable, very human characters. 

Please join Boswell Book Company on Zoom on Thursday, May 27th at 7 pm when we host Jamie Pacton in conversation with Elise Bryant, author of Happily Ever Afters. Click right here and register now!

Monday, May 17, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 18, 2021

This week we've got a couple new book recommendations from Kay Wosewick, plus three reads from Boswellians on a memoir we're excited about. Let's dive into Kay's first pick, Day Zero, a novel by C Robert Cargill. Kay says, "Cargill’s Sea of Rust was the first book I read where I genuinely cared about an AI character. Cargill has done it again! Day Zero takes place over about the first 24 hours of war between humans and AIs. All AIs are loaded with Azimov's Three Rules of Robotics, but in the early hours of the war, many received a download disabling the kill switch if they disobeyed any of the laws. Of course, the question that arises is, without the kill switch, will AIs - especially those working and living in homes with humans, such as nannies and domestics - turn against humans or not? Day Zero is a dynamite, read-in-one-sitting book!

Kay's next recommendation is another novel: Phase Six, by Jim Shepard. Kay says, "Most pandemic novels track the pandemic’s spread and focus on the accompanying horror. Shepard’s novel is different. Phase Six focuses on two young and inexperienced women the CDC sends to Greenland to assess the seriousness of a small outbreak. The outbreak rapidly becomes a worldwide pandemic, and the women are tasked to study the pathogen. In virtually constant contact, the women come to care for each other deeply, share personal secrets and battle stories, and build on each other’s theories about the pandemic’s unusual patterns. These conversations lead them to release the first plausible model of the pathogen’s mechanics, including how it spreads - a prerequisite to halting it. In Jim Shepard’s nuanced story, the two women are the heroes, not the pathogen."

Finally, we've got three reads on Punch Me Up to the Gods, the debut memoir by Brian Broome. Chris Lee says, "Generous, fearless, funny, and gentle, Broome chronicles his own story to understand how and where he (along with so many other Black outsiders) doesn’t fit in America. His sentences are pure style, a joy to read, and he slips between as many voices as he has existences: Black, gay, poor, masculine, abused, uncool, scared, addicted, ashamed, angry, proud, and full of joy. And on and on. Yes, that’s a lot of signifiers, but only because this is an awful lot of book. Everything a great memoir should be."

Madi Hill adds, "A completely unique book full of moving parts that each inspire deep feelings from the entirety of the emotional spectrum, Punch Me Up to the Gods deserves recognition, as it is one of the most powerful memoirs I have ever read."

And from Daniel Goldin, "Told in a series of harrowing, heartbreaking, and sometimes outrageous vignettes and framed by a bus ride (which is sort of a journey to self-realization), Punch Me Up to the Gods confronts the racism and homophobia that led to Broome’s crippling addiction and eventual recovery. A triumph!"

And hopefully you're reading this post in time to click right here and register for Broome's virtual event with us on Tuesday, May 35, 7 pm CDT, in conversation with Chris.

Last but not least, we've got one paperback pick for you this week. Chris also recommends Boys of Alabama, the novel by Genevieve Hudson that's out in trade paperback today. Chris says, "Dark, humid, sweet, dirt, football, religion, death, sex, magic - all words that describe Alabama and this book. It’s something like a fable, making the familiar of the deep American South foreign through eyes of a German family in order to question the place’s most deep-rooted beliefs - faith and what’s forbidden. These characters, the foreign boy, his teammates, the Judge, and the witch, are mesmerizing, as is Hudson’s writing; you will be hypnotized."

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Five Questions for Author Joan He

Every fall, Boswell’s adult book buyer, Jason, asks the Boswellians for our Top Five Books of the Year. We can choose from any genre. Even though I read sixty or so books each year, it’s never a problem to narrow them down. I recognize them. Right away. Those top books have a glow about them that just isn’t there for books that are merely an outstanding read. When I turned the last page of author Joan He’s latest, The Ones We’re Meant to Find, I knew I’d found the second of my top five books (in no particular ranking). And interestingly enough, both books have the same publication date (May 4th) and are both sci-fi, which is not my usual genre (though I don’t like to think of myself as predictable when it comes to reading.) 

Today on the Boswellians Blog I’m lucky enough to be chatting with author Joan He - and it's an extra exciting week for He, because The Ones We're Meant to Find just hit the New York Times bestseller list. WOW! Welcome! 

JENNY CHOU: The Ones We’re Meant to Find has two point-of-view characters, Kasey who is a tech genius lacking in social skills and Cee, who is full of longing and determination, and each character has her own set of challenges. Let’s try really hard not to give anything away (though I’m absolutely bursting to talk about all the twists in your book), but in a non-spoilery way, what are Kasey and Cee’s biggest challenges? 

JOAN HE: Thank you so much for having me Jenny! 

Even though Kasey and Cee are very different characters, they face the same biggest challenge: to figure out who they are and what they want for themselves. For Cee, who’s living on an abandoned island, it’s in her nature to want companionship. Throughout the book she wonders if that’s superficial, if it’d be better to have goals independent of other people, but in the end being true to herself means caring for the ones she loves.  Kasey is the complete opposite; to be true to herself, she needs to not care about other people and trust in her own judgment. In that way, neither of the characters really “change” by the end of the book; they instead come to reaffirm the person that they were all along but not confident enough to accept.

JC: I have to say, The Ones We’re Meant to Find is an intriguing title to begin with, but over the course of reading the novel, it becomes clear how truly awesome it is. Was it the title of your book from the start or did you come up with it during the writing process? And what about that gorgeous cover? What can you tell us about the artist and how that particular image was chosen?

JH: Yes, the title was always that from the start and I was a very lucky author to be able to keep it from draft to publication! 

The cover, on the other hand, wasn’t anywhere near this final illustration from the start. The first drafts drew more from digital images and had a futuristic feel, but I suggested we go for an illustrated or more typographical route to highlight the humanity of the story. My publisher was kind enough to take my opinion seriously and brought Aykut Aydoğdu on board. Personally, I’m not actually the biggest fan of people or faces prominently displayed on covers, but if you look at Aykut’s portfolio then I think it’s obvious why we went in the direction of portraying the sisters. He really is so good at rendering people in a way that feels both grounded and surreal. I was adamant that we somehow incorporate the ocean in the cover because it’s almost its own character, and he went above and beyond in doing that too!

JC: Your book is so spectacularly twisty! How do you feel about the inevitable comparison to We Were Liars? And just to be clear, I knew about the comparison to WWL before reading and still gasped out loud every few pages because there was so much I didn’t see coming. 

JH: It’s an honor to be compared to We Were Liars! My debut novel, Descendant of the Crane, also has a really big twist, and in general I’ve been trying to make twists my “brand” since I’m writing across genres and want to try my best to give readers one familiar (or shocking!) thing to expect. I have huge admiration for books that subvert even the most basic of assumptions, and We Were Liars does that. I hope The Ones We're Meant to Find does too.

JC: One of the most chilling parts of The Ones We’re Meant to Find is how people’s social status and the privilege to live in the clean environment of a levitating city built in the sky is based on the actions of their ancestors. Someone whose grandfather invested in oil could find themselves floundering on earth’s surface, a victim of extreme weather, a doomed ocean, and an inhospitable atmosphere. Tell us how you got interested in sustainability and climate change and the research you did to create such a fascinating and potentially realistic world for your book. 

JH: Because I knew the plot of the book from the start, including the pivotal midpoint twist, I also knew that the world needed to be ending for the story to work. That’s when climate change entered the picture: when I sat down to think about what the world could possibly be ending from, climate change seemed like the most plausible cause, and the one that would require readers to suspend the least disbelief.

That said, I hesitate to say that the book is pro-sustainability; I hope it shows, if anything, that you can be among some of the most vulnerable populations and yet also be privileged enough to be able to do something about climate change and to adopt greener practices in your daily life or livelihood. It’d be great if everyone could think about the next generation, or the third, but just as there are many people who only think about themselves because they choose to, for many others, it’s not a matter of choice but of survival.

Overall, I’m much more fascinated by the interplay of choice and consequence, and the way individual freedoms can both amplify our own lives while suffocating others.  When the covid pandemic happened at first, I saw the satellite images of the atmosphere clearing up because people staying home meant fewer transmissions. And obviously, people staying at home was not only good for the environment, it was good for controlling the pandemic! And yet some of the countries with the highest rates of lockdown compliance per capita were able to achieve such results by invading what we over here in the US see as rights. Is this how we should have done things? I don’t actually think there’s an answer. The effectiveness of a system depends on the situation. 

JC: Wouldn’t I just love to ask you all about your brilliant plot twists and THE ENDING. OMG. THE ENDING. But (unfortunately) the Boswellians do not believe in spoilers. So instead, let’s imagine you get to be an Indie bookseller for a day! What new or upcoming titles would you recommend to blog readers? 

I was lucky enough to read an early copy of Jade Fire Gold by June CL Tan and I’m so excited for it to come out this October 12th! Also very excited to dive into The Infinity Courts which is at the top of my TBR.

Joan, thank you for your time, thank you for your words, and thank you for hanging out with me on the blog. Readers, you can follow Joan He on Twitter and Instagram @joanhewrites. 

(And if you read this entire blog post wondering what my other top book of 2021 is that also happens to be sci-fi and published on May 4th? It’s Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. Click the title to read my review.) 

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!"