Sunday, June 6, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of June 8, 2021

A new week has arrived, and with it, many more staff recommendations. If you didn't know it before, you do after the last two weeks - June begins summer reading time in the eyes of the book world, which means many great releases! 

Let's begin this week's roundup with the most-recommended book of the week. That's ¡Hola Papi! : How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons by John Paul Brammer, which clocks three Boswellians backing it! Jen Steele starts us off: "LGBTQ advice columnist John Paul Brammer delivers an earnest and quick-witted memoir with stories about his life, from growing up in rural Oklahoma and being bullied in middle school to moving to New York City and finding his voice. ¡Hola Papi! has that fresh memoir experience where each chapter is a response to a reader's question. Reading this was like being invited in and staying a while; there was a connectedness I felt while reading about JP’s experiences, whether it was being able to relate to growing up mixed race and not speaking Spanish or commiserating with him as meets “the one.” Do yourself a favor and luxuriate in the warmth of each chapter."

Parker Jensen chimes in: "John Paul Brammer's voice is everything I've been looking for in the many essay collections I've picked up in the last couple of years. Simply put, Brammer's voice is fantastic. He is self-aware in a rare way that allows for the wittiest and most truthful of observations on life, relationships, one's own history, and the world, without crossing into the self-indulgent or self-deprecating. Although, I think he'd say I was giving him too much credit (but I'd wholeheartedly disagree). The essays in ¡Hola Papi! come together to compose a glimpse into the many different phases of Brammer's life, stitching together his coming of age as a gay Mexican boy growing up in rural Oklahoma to the many triumphs and tribulations of life as a gay man across the country and world. As a reader I felt like I was growing up alongside Brammer as he came to reckon with his self, his identities, his past, and his own actions. His own acceptance of the many parts of himself, the many experiences that culminate to make him who he is today, gives me hope and faith. I had to keep sticky notes next to me while I was reading, something I rarely do, to make sure I was saving passages to come back to. Passages that so concisely put into words things I've felt and thought, but so much more beautifully than I could have imagined saying myself. And passages that will stick with me and encourage me to grow. And what marks a better read that something that fundamentally changes the way you think, makes you want to grow, and excites you to see how you too will change and develop in the years to come?"

And Kay Wosewick rounds it out: "Each chapter of ¡Hola Papi! begins with John Paul (JP) asking an important question, followed by a story that describes his personal path to an answer. This is fitting given that JP stumbled into writing an advice column, and quickly surprised himself by giving solid advice drawn from years of irrepressible self-examination. Growing up in small-town Oklahoma at the bottom of the pecking order gave him empathy for outsiders. High school in a larger town proved he could build his identity from inside-out instead, instead of having it defined from outside-in. In college he stumbled through awkward and uncomfortable gay experiences before finding successful ways to move easily through the gay world. JP found a large, needy audience ready to gobble up his advice on such issues. Alas, PJ’s memoir also depicts a society that still contains a staunchly anti-LGBTQ faction. While there is progress, the US sadly has a long way to go to achieve full acceptance and integration of LGBTQ individuals."

Whoa! But, you ask, are there other books the Boswellians like this week? There are! Like Rabbits by Terry Miles, which Jason Kennedy recommends: "K is fascinated about coincidences and random facts that continually pop up. Enter Rabbits - a game you only know you are playing when you are already neck deep into it. K meets the legendary, Alan Scarpio, who is reported to have won the sixth iteration of the game. Why? He tells K the game is broken and needs to be fixed before the next iteration starts or there could be deadly consequences. Before more can be discussed, Alan ends up missing and K starts finding clues everywhere. When the game begins, people start disappearing and dying all over the world. The world, the human civilization depends on this game, even though nobody knows who started it or how old it really is. A brilliant idea that kept me plowing through the book looking for clues trying to see how or if K could save the world. So many twists and mind games going on in this one, I feel like the Terry Miles really can surprise everyone who reads this."

Jenny Chou keeps us going with a recommendation for All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O'Donoghue. Jenny says: "If you like your YA spooky and magical, All Our Hidden Gifts is the book for you! Main character Maeve’s voice is one of the highlights. She veers between sharp and cynical and laugh-out-loud hilarious. Two years earlier, before the story begins, Maeve dumped her best friend Lily on the way from the depths of unpopularity to a shaky position in a clique a few rungs higher. Lonely and uncertain, she’s not even sure she likes her supposed new friends. When Maeve finds a pack of tarot cards in the dusty basement of her private Catholic school, an unexpected talent for divination wins her a bit more social status, until a reading goes horribly wrong and Lily disappears. Her relationship with Lily’s gender-fluid sibling Roe turns from aloof into a delightful mixture of friction and electricity when the two of them pair up to bring Lily back from... wherever she disappeared to. All Our Hidden Gifts is an emotionally rich novel of loneliness, friendship, and sacrifice. I liked the unpredictability of the story, and the characters absolutely won my heart."

Kay Wosewick's second recommendation of the blog post is for Legends of the North Cascades, by Jonathan Evison. Kay says, "Dave has sustained significant psychological damage from three tours in Iraq. When his wife dies in a car accident, he has few options to support himself and a seven-year-old daughter. Unable to retain a job and about to lose his home, Dave decides to apply the many outdoor skills he learned, and loved, as a child. He and Bella move to a cave in the North Cascades wilderness. Life goes reasonably well until winter approaches, when family and individual rights are pitted against society’s expectations and laws. I closed the book with a deeper understanding of people who live at the very edges of society, where life is fragile because so few viable options exist. This is a wonderful adventure story spiked with relevant social issues."

Finally, our fearless proprietor Daniel Goldin recommends Night Came with Many Stars by Simon Van Booy, author of the Boswell bestseller The Illusion of Separateness. Of Van Booy's latest, Daniel says: "After her mother dies, a young Kentucky girl falls prey to her abusive father, forever known only as Carol’s Daddy, who winds up using her as stakes in a poker game. Fifty years later, Samuel and Eddie are forever bonded by a shop class accident. How the stories connect, and how seemingly small acts can resonate over generations, drives the latest novel from the author of the Boswell favorite, The Illusion of Separateness.  Van Booy loves bonds, he loves repercussions, he loves large characters on a small stage, and most of all, he loves grace. Is it sentimental? Unabashedly, but it’s counterpointed by a spare style, where often what’s unsaid is as important as what is. There’s no speculative element to the story, and yet, in its contemplativeness, I’d recommend it to folks liking Matt Haig’s books. Affecting and wondrous!"

Tim McCarthy just read a book that came out last week - but let's recommend it now! It is The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu, by Tom Lin, and Tim says: "In some ways it has a classic western feel: the tough towns always primed for violence, death in an instant, or more slowly if water isn't found soon, the clanging of rail spikes as the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific hammer toward their convergence. In other ways it surprises: the "miracles" revealed by the Ringmaster of a traveling magic show, the wisdom of a prophet with no memory who knows what's on the horizon, the truly amazing quality of the writing. Ming Tsu is a Chinese American orphan, raised by the white killer-for-hire who trained him. "For a long time it had ceased to trouble him to kill." He married a white woman after her father laughed at his proposal and was beaten for it, then convicted of miscegenation and sentenced to work the railroad line. Now he's got scores to settle and a wife to find, even though a judge ruled they were never married. He's wanted, but whites likely wouldn't know he's coming except that he's "bigger than them Chinese normally is." Oh, he's coming, and just pray he’s not coming for you! The novel has a mysterious air about the fleeting aspects of memory, what we try to hang on to and what we try to get back. These characters often frightened me and always filled me with wonder. Remarkable!"

And this week brings with it three new picks for paperback releases, as well! 

First it's Chris Lee for Filthy Beasts, the memoir from Kirkland Hamill. Chris says: "Filthy Beasts is a chronicle of family wounds accrued during a childhood lived between extremes – the crustiest of upper crust New York and exile from elite society to an alcoholic mother’s native Bermuda. Hamill is that rare beast, a most generous kind of memoirist who opens up his entire world to you, without hedging or over-explanation, and trusts you to understand it. Particularly sensitive is Hamill’s writing about brotherhood and the childhood traumas which resulted from necessary self-preservation yet delayed his own self-discovery. An honest, elegantly bold book."

Then we have Tim McCarthy for Wisconsin-based writer Larry Watson's The Lives of Edie Pritchard. Tim says: "To see the pattern of Edie Pritchard’s relationship with the men in her lives is to also see a primary reason why our country has been so deeply troubled for so long. These men seem to think only about what they want. They insist on getting what they want. Often the women join them, as they fall in line with generations of harsh cultural training. Edie manages them at times, in order to avoid a crisis, or gets away when she must, but ultimately I’m left wondering about the possibility of connection and change. We see her for decades before she wonders who she really is outside of other people’s projections, sometimes complicit by giving in to men’s pressures. The moments when she fiercely stands her ground are memorable, and her ultimate independence is admirable. There’s a little room for redemption too, as characters keep learning about themselves and others, but societal change is slow and people pretty much remain who they are. Watson is an expert at detailing the feel of American western traditions confronting a modern world, one long hard-scrabble day at a time. He’s a strong writer, and maybe his greatest asset is that he won’t budge on stubborn truths for the sake of comforting outcomes, which gives him ultimate credibility but leaves my jury still out on the question of hope."

Finally, a big deal paperback with three recommendations! Wisconsinite Christina Clancy's debut novel, perhaps the perfect vacation read, is now available in paperback - The Second Home

From Daniel: "Beyond Cape Cod, Clancy’s debut is also a love letter to Milwaukee, and how can I not love that? Truly The Second Home is a top-notch work of smart escapism, an adroitly written, emotional rollercoaster, and perfect for summer or whenever you vacation."

From Chris: "Like the summer you learned to surf, this novel’s glow will stay with you for a long time to come."

And from Jane Glaser: "The Second Home, Christina Clancy's heartfelt novel, raises so many ideas in a book that’s positioned for summer escapism, making it perhaps the perfect book for reading group discussions."

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