Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of July 27, 2021

Why hello there. We're back again with the Boswellian's favorite books of the week.

First, we've got Tim McCarthy for the latest from Wisconsin author Nickolas Butler: Godspeed. Tim says: "True Triangle Construction is just three guys who've managed the modest step of starting their own company with three matching trucks. They don't even have a website. So why would a wealthy, worldly, beautiful San Francisco lawyer pick them to build the majestic house she plans to tuck perfectly into the Wyoming Tetons, next to hot springs and a cold, pure river? How did Gretchen Connors even find them? These are the questions they ask as they start to dream of all the ways a project like this will change their business, and their individual lives. There’s all that money and a shiny new reputation, but can they do it, and at what price? Gretchen’s expectations are so high, and the timeline! Why? Butler has given us a study in desire, where it comes from and the damage it can cause. It’s a fascinating and very intense ride, and the best part is that we see both sides of the story in the detailed lives of characters, the rich woman and the men struggling with a transformation that’s making regular guys like them feel less at home in their own town. I felt compelled to stay with them, and I felt rewarded for seeing them through to the end."

Next it's Daniel for the latest from another Wisconsinite - Jennifer Chiaverini and her novel The Women's March: A Novel of the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession. Daniel says: "Chiaverini brings to life a seminal moment in American history. Channeling the story through three of the players, Alice Paul, Maud Malone, and Ida B Wells, the event, which seems like it was successful in building momentum for a Constitutional amendment, at the time seemed like it was anything but. I enjoyed the detailed research that clearly goes into Chiaverini’s stories; you can feel Paul’s anxiety trying to follow contradictory commands, the determination of Wells to march in the Illinois contingent and not in a segregated squad, and the exhaustion Malone must have felt marching from New York to Washington before the main event even started, only to be faced by a huge angry mob that almost derailed the event. While the three strands of storytelling never quite mesh except in the march itself, this decision allows The Women’s March to highlight the achievements of Black and working-class women who have been previously overlooked in the movement’s progress and history. "

And that's what we've got! See you next week.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of July 20, 2021

Jen Steele and Kay Wosewick are our recommenders of new books this week. And so along with them, away we go!

First on Jen's list is She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan, a new release by Tor, the imprint that's quickly becoming one of Jen's most-recommended publishers. Jen says: "She Who Became the Sun is a captivating rags-to-riches tale of war and vengeance, power and fate, love and identity. Set in 14th century China, this historical fantasy follows a girl fated to nothingness. After bandits have killed her father, the girl is determined to avoid her fate and will do what it takes to not just survive but to reach greatness; her name will be known for the next ten thousand years. She takes her brother’s identity and joins a monastery to escape starvation and poverty. From monkhood to commander of the Red Turban rebellion against the Mongols, Zhu’s path to power is brutal and emotional. Shelley Parker-Chan debuts an epic queer reimagining of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty in glittering and magnificent proportions!"

Let's go to Kay for our next pick. That's The Council of Animals, by Nick McDonell. Kay says: "This fable is a creative and thoughtful resolution to the dark trajectory of life on earth today. An elite council of animals votes barely in favor of killing and eating the last humans on earth because they caused the Calamity that ruined much of the planet. Told through voices of several animals and one human, the end feels profoundly just."

Back to Jen for her second pick, which is, you guessed it, from Tor.com! The Past is Red, by Catherynne Valente - Jen says: "A long time ago the world flooded. Cities have drowned, money is a thing of the past, and the only "land" to live on is a floating mass of garbage. According to Tetley Abednego, it is the most wonderful and magical place to be. You could say she is hopelessly optimistic, or perhaps she is the only one who truly gets it. Either way, Tetley is the most hated girl in Garbagetown when she decides to destroy something for the greater good. If only the people of her beloved home could see what she sees. Tetley Abednego truly is the most loved girl in Garbagetown! The Past is Red is an insightful, heart-rending, and hopeful novella; there is so much packed into it, and Tetley is just the character to guide you through - imagine if Pollyanna lived in a post-apocalyptic world."

And Kay wraps up our new release recommending with Intimacies, by Katie Kitamura. Kay says, "I love Kitamura’s writing. She writes quietly about powerful people and intense situations. Intimacies portrays an employee at The Hague who is translating for an African dictator accused of atrocities. The dictator seems to have taken a liking to his translator. Meanwhile, the translator’s relationships with both her best friend and her boyfriend run afoul. Even drastic situations come off almost gently through Kitamura’s unique voice. You’ll barely know you’ve been punched!"

And how about a couple paperback picks, too? Okay!

Daniel Goldin love love loves Crooked Hallelujah, the novel (novel-in-stories, if you like) by Kelli Jo Ford! Here's his take: "The complicated bonds of three generations of Cherokee women are explored in Ford’s striking debut, a chapter of which won the Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize. At the start, Justine is a teenager rebelling against Lula, her strict Holy Roller mom. A decade later, Justine is raising her own daughter, hoping that she can give Reney a better future. Both Justine and Reney struggle with abusive men as mom and daughter move away from their Oklahoma reservation and back again, toward dreams and away from reality. Eventually the elements rebel and the family must confront tornadoes, fires, and more. Crooked Hallelujah is not quite a novel and not quite not a novel as Ford plays with style, chronology, and perspective (a heads up to you plot obsessives). One particular piece follows a lesbian couple that moves to rural Texas and have a life-threatening test; it’s a great story, but seemed ancillary to the rest of the plotline. But I actually enjoyed that chapter a lot, so I can see how the decision was made to include it – just too good to let go! Come to think of it, that’s my feeling about the whole book – I didn’t want it to end"

Kelli Jo Ford was kind enough to join us virtually for a conversation when the hardcover edition of this book was released - check that out here!

Tim McCarthy recs CH too! He says: "This is the story of four generations of Cherokee women and their men in Oklahoma and Texas. The words are uncomplicated, all the more beautiful for their graceful, plain-spoken style. The writing is easy to love, and so are the people. We feel their strength and sorrow, the excited warmth of new romance and the hot anger of losing it. Everyone is confused about the reasons everyone else does things. Welcome to humanity, but the simplest human joys are right there for you, for anyone who can see them and try to hold on. The book is just as gorgeous as the awe-inspiring mess of being alive. It grows and deepens like life itself. Justine says, “You’ve got to keep moving, whatever you do,” and in less than 300 pages we’re moved through rich details of full people, daily survival, and love no matter what else comes. An exceptional debut!"

Speaking of Tim McCarthy, he also recommends the newly-in-paperback novel Northernmost by Peter Geye. Tim says: "There's a humanity to this novel that runs deeper than most, a gradual but constant movement through the earthy details of life and love. It's powerful, like the glaciers that form a vital part of the setting, and the longer I read the more it overtook me. We see the members of one family, several generations apart, and find the connections between a man who becomes a legendary survivor in 1890s Norway and a woman looking for the meaning of family and happiness in present-day Minnesota. Their struggles are timeless and universal. We know the descendants will continue, their blood crossing generations in defiance of personal isolation and beautiful but treacherous landscapes. I wondered at times how they did it. So did they, but their love is the greatest answer to how and why. I understand Geye's characters, and I think they would understand me. What greater compliment could I give a novelist?"

Did Peter Geye also decide to join us for a virtual conversation about his novel? YES HE DID! Check that out right here:

And that's it! Until next week, hope you enjoy a good read or three!

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of July 13, 2021

It's that time again - time for staff recommendations from the friendly Boswellians.

We start with a duo of Daniel Goldin's recommendations, two books by authors we're hosting this month. First up is All the Lonely People, by Mike Gayle. Daniel says, "Hubert Bird is an 84-year-old widower living in Bromley. Every week his daughter Rose calls from Australia, and he entertains her with stories of his friends. Only one problem – he’s lying. So when Rose tells him she’s coming to visit, he realizes he’s got a limited time to make some real friends, perhaps starting with the new neighbor, a single woman, and her daughter. The story jumps back and forth and time, where we learn that he once had a wife named Joyce, a best friend named Gus, and a son named David in his life. What happened to them? And what will happen to Hubert as he’s slowly roped into a town-wide anti-loneliness crusade. This story, equal parts sad, happy, and funny, also shines a light on the indignities that a Jamaican immigrant would have suffered in London. Hubert’s spirit, despite numerous incidents that would break another person, is what keeps him going, the same spirit that makes All the Lonely People compelling reading."

And find info about our July 22 Readings from Oconomowaukee event with Mike Gayle right here.

The second Daniel rec is for The Comfort of Monsters, by Willa C Richards. He says, "Peg felt so close to her sister Dee growing up in Milwaukee. When Dee goes missing, Peg is certain she had the answers, but being that her disappearance coincides with Jeffrey Dahmer’s killing spree in Milwaukee, there’s not much interest in pursuing the case. Come to think of it, there’s not much interest in the Dahmer case either among the police. The story jumps back and forth between 1991 and 2019, with Peg’s anxiety about the long-unsolved case leading to a downward spiral, making The Comfort of Monsters part of a library of Milwaukee novels (Sorry to Disrupt the Peace, A Door Behind a Door) framed as mystery/thrillers that are more existential character studies. I was impressed by how Richards captures the visceral discomfort that permeates the story, as she touches on many moments of violence, from toxic behavior to sexual assault and other horrors. A memorable story that could well cross over to true crime readers."

This event is tonight! That is, assuming you're reading this post the day I'm posting it - Wed, July 14. Click here for registration information. If you're reading at a later date, perhaps I'll come back and edit this post with the video recording of the event in the future. Who knows?! 

Next we have Jen Steele with a recommendation: A Psalm for the Wild-Built: A Monk & Robot Book, by Becky Chambers. Jen says, "An agender tea monk looking for solace as they go on a soul-searching quest and a robot who has never met a human before become unlikely travel companions as they ponder questions that humans have been asking since the beginning of time. A Psalm for the Wild-Built is a welcome change from the doom and gloom of post-apocalyptic novels. Like a warm summer breeze, Becky Chambers gently eases the reader into an optimistic sci-fi fable. Make your favorite cup of tea and settle into the beauty of this book!"

Madi Hill suggests the latest from Grady Hendrix, author of famously fun horror fiction: The Final Girl Support Group. Madi says, "Lynette just wants to be safe. That's why the only time she leaves her overly secure apartment is to meet with the five other final girls (the women who are left alive after defeating their killer. Think: Laurie Strode in Halloween) and their therapist in a church basement. But when it seems like their monsters are coming back to kill, she is forced to leave her hiding place to figure out why someone is going after final girls again. This was my first-time reading Grady Hendrix's work, and I am already hooked. Imagining classic horror films as if they were the result of tragic realities is done in an extremely original way that leaves you wondering where the story will lead, while trying to match each final girl to the correct classic horror heroine. Hendrix's style is so much fun but surprisingly tense, perfect for the horror fan who doesn't take themselves too seriously."

And last for the new releases (but certainly not least!) it's Jason Kennedy on Appleseed, by Matt Bell. Jason says, "This story was amazing. Told through three alternating timelines: 1) In the 1790’s with a pair of brothers (one is a faun) trying to make their fortune by planting apple orchards ahead the coming expansion of humanity into the Ohio Valley; 2) one of the founders of a corporation attempting to save the planet from humanity basically cooking it to death, attempting to stop said corporation from playing god; 3) and way in the future, most of North America is covered in ice, there is a lonely person keeping watch and ready to reprint the world. Have we gone too far down the climate change path that our only option is to store up the natural world in computers in hopes of one day being able to repopulate? Have we ignored all the warnings that the world has sent us? I loved the way each of the stories played off the others, thematically and directly. It was pure brilliance. This will be on my list as one of my favorite reads of the year."

We also have one write-up for a book that just made its paperback appearance. Tim McCarthy recommends Vesper Flights by nature-writing powerhouse Helen MacDonald. Tim says, "Macdonald hopes this collection of essays, both old and new, will convey her sense of wonder at the curiosities of the natural world. In a time of frightening environmental loss, she tells us that we need more than science. Science can define and help mitigate the current great extinction humans are causing, but we need literature as well, to communicate what the losses mean, the value of those things disappearing, 'so that more of us might fight to save them.' Her objective is beautifully met. These essays have me more in love with nature and more ready to fight for it than ever. She’s even convinced me to hope, and given me comfort by revealing mysteries beyond understanding. Her prose moves quickly and gracefully from the concrete science to the emotions we feel and their moral and political implications. She sees in marvelous detail the love and heartbreak of sharing the world with other creatures and their habitats. (An autistic boy dances in complete harmony with a parrot.) She examines how we attach our own personal meaning to their lives. (A massive flock of cranes reflects the movement of refugees searching for safe rest.) Her unique perspectives open worlds I never would have imagined. (A skyscraper raises her into immense airspace filled with flying and floating life.) And they close the gaps between us. (A total solar eclipse erases the differences between all watchers.) The broad range of topics, the wit alongside intellect, and the stunning depth of wisdom all left me awed, and gratefully surprised! Best of all, Macdonald openly show us herself, a complex person with an inspirational passion for life, a force of nature in her own right. Humanity needs this book."

Monday, July 5, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of July 6, 2021

It's a new summer month, and that means lots of new books!

Proprietor Daniel Goldin has three recommendations this week. 

#1 is Shoulder Season, the latest novel from Wisconsinite Christina Clancy, author of The Second Home. Daniel says: "Sherri Taylor is just an ordinary East Troy teenager, recently orphaned, looking for a job. On a whim, her friend Roberta, currently working at the Wooden Nickle in Southridge, suggests they apply for jobs at the Playboy Resort in Lake Geneva. And with that, Sherri is a legendary Playboy Bunny. Though it’s billed as a family friendly resort, the truth is a bit murkier, and Sherri will find herself going places and doing things she never would have expected. Will she follow in the footsteps of Dorothy and find her way back home to Kansas, I mean Wisconsin? This enjoyable story, seeped in the 1980s and with a cast of unforgettable fellow Bunnies, is a hell-and-back story, driven by Sherri’s spirit."

Chris Lee endorses Shoulder Season, too: "With her second novel, Christina Clancy is cementing her spot as the bard of heartfelt stories of strong, funky Wisconsin women. As a Playboy bunny picaresque, Shoulder Season delivers – there are peeks behind the scenes (and under the ears) of life as a bunny, including cocktail lists and crazy parties, handsy customers and perverted pool boys, celebrity dalliances and down-to-earth romances, and yes, even a few whiffs of cocaine in the air. It’s a book about escaping to a wonderland – I’ll spare you the ‘down the rabbit hole’ puns – and about what a woman will put herself through to ditch the past and grab onto the allure and glamor of a new life."

Daniels #2 is Razorblade Tears by SA Cosby. Daniel says: "Cosby follows up the award-winning Blacktop Wasteland with another stand-alone, a revenge thriller featuring two ex-cons, Ike (Black) and Buddy Lee (White), on a quest to find the killers of their sons. Isaiah and Derek were gunned down in front of a restaurant on their anniversary. Their dads are both ex-cons with some violent history, and both had trouble coming to terms with their sons’ identities, but in their grief, they find each other and hope to figure out what happened. Why such a brutal slaying for these two, one a chef and the other a journalist at a small LGBTQ paper, by what appears to be a biker gang, no less? I like the way Cosby plays with buddy-comedy thriller tropes - Ike’s the put-together serious fellow, while Buddy Lee is the unemployed trailer park jokester. Razorblade Tears also needs a little warning – lots of bloodshed and some slurs from the villains that still might not sit with some readers. But if you can handle that, it’s edge-of-your-seat tension all the way."

And #3 is Stories to Tell: A Memoir by Richard Marx. Daniel's rec: "This is what you want in a music memoir – the story behind the songs, interesting details about recording sessions, crazy tour stories, a whole mess of name dropping (Luther Vandross telling Marx to take his hands off the cashmere walls? A feud with Kenny Loggins? Barbara Streisand rejected ‘Right Here Waiting’ because she doesn’t wait for anyone? All that and plenty more is in there), and the sense that the musician you’re reading about is basically a good egg.  I’ve always been curious about how Marx’s breakout first single was about how the music business chews you up and spits you out; now that I know that he was pitching his songs and singing backing vocals for years before his first single, it makes sense. When Lionel Richie sang ‘All Night Long,’ who was responding with ‘All night’? That’s right, Richard Marx."

Kay Wosewick also offers up a trio of recommendations. #1 for her is from one of her favorites, Michael Pollan, whose latest is This is Your Mind on Plants. Kay says: "Pollan takes us on three journeys: one with opium, one with caffeine, and one with mescaline. The opium and mescaline journeys are likely new for most readers, but who doesn’t know all about caffeine? YOU, ME and ALMOST EVERYONE ELSE!! Caffeine is by far the most widely used drug in the world (~90% of humans use it), yet few of us think much about it. As he always does so well, let Pollan enlighten you."

#2 is The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue. From Kay: "Who can resist the fraught relationships and guaranteed misbehaviors at a run-down Catholic all-girls boarding school that houses a handful of ‘scholarship’ students amongst a wealthy group of goodie-goodie students bent on making those few other girls uncomfortable? Add one well-off eccentric girl who befriends one of the scholarship girls plus one handsome, charismatic male art teacher who isn’t afraid of pushing boundaries, and you have the ingredients for an entertaining evening or two trying to solve a mystery presented early in the story. I confess I failed to solve the mystery but enjoyed trip."

And #3 - The Sound of the Sea: Seashells and the Fate of the Oceans by Cynthia Barnett. Kay's take: "Hints of the earth’s wild history are visible in rock layers embedded with fossilized shells in areas as diverse as Mount Everest and the Canadian Rockies. Remnants of man and seashells dating back many thousands of years can be found together along virtually every coastline worldwide, and often many hundreds of miles inland. Shells have been used as money in cultures as diverse as American tribal nations and Asia countries with sophisticated trade networks. Shells even had their own short-lived equivalent of tulip-mania. Alas, declines in economically and culturally important shell habitats are occurring around the world. Barnett’s portrait of the intertwined world of man and shells is fascinating and lively, even as it adds to the story of our degrading home planet."

Paperback releases with seals of approval from Boswellians are numerous.

Anxious People
by Fredrik Backman has a legacy recommendation. Kira McGrigg has left us for the west, but this recommendation remains: "Anxious People is an onion of a novel that's kind of about a bank robbery gone wrong, kind of about a father and son, and kind of about all sorts of anxious, endearing characters who are really just trying to find their footing in the world. These pages are full of layers and unassuming at first, but there's a good chance it'll make you shed a tear or two, and you won't regret it even a little bit. I always start out a Backman novel thinking it's a little cheesy, and yet he always ends up proving me wrong. His ability to really put into writing all of the facets of human nature, and to weave together a story that's at once multifaceted, compelling, laugh-out-loud funny, and utterly relatable is a gift, and I'm thankful to experience it. Anxious People and all of the ridiculous, complex characters within hold that truly perfect blend of depth and levity that Backman has perfected in his novels - I can't think of a better book coming out in 2020, and I can't wait to make all of my friends read it too."

The Aunt who Wouldn't Die
by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, as recommended by Jen Steele: "Three generations of women, and one of them won't die! Newlywed Somlata has married into a once wealthy family that is unwilling to accept the fact that someone needs to get a job. When Pishima, the matriarch of the family dies, she decides to stay on this earthly plane in order to torture her ungrateful family. Soon Somlata is visited by the mischievous ghost of Pishima who wants Somlata to do her bidding. As Somlata tries to ignore the ghost and focus on convincing her husband to work, Somlata's role in the family becomes appreciated. Boshon is a modern young woman who does not believe in love and instead wants the freedom to go and do as she pleases. When a childhood crush returns to the village, Boshon may have to contend with matters of the heart. The Aunt Who Wouldn't Die is a cheery family drama filled with love, fearlessness, and gold."

The Party Upstairs
by Lee Conell gets a recommendation from Chris Lee: "This is the kind of first novel that’s so good it makes me, as a writer, super-duper jealous. Conell takes on an upstairs-downstairs-in-NYC premise that has every bit of potential to fall into clich├ęs, but her aim is true – even that title is layered with extra dashes of evocation, reference, and resonance. The drive of the story is the brewing fight between back-at-home-swimming-in-liberal-arts-education-debt Ruby, her meditating-birdwatching-trying-to-avoid-a-mental-breakdown-building-super father Martin, and her grew-up-in-the-penthouse-but-definitely-doesn’t-think-she’s-better-than-you oldest friend Caroline. The voice of the building’s last rent controlled Marxist Grandma figure even drops in from time to time with gently reminders that strife in work, relationships, meditation, and birdwatching is all a quite natural byproduct of the structures of capitalism. You don’t say? It’s definitely a big ideas novel about the tense intersections where money, class, and power become personal, but it’s the way Conell puts the pressure on character’s hearts as much as their wallets that make The Party Upstairs one you won’t soon forget."

In case you missed it, Chris interviewed Conell in the blog about this book when it came out last year - check that out right here.

Paul Tremblay brings the summer thrills and horrific chills with Survivor Song, which Chris Lee and Jason Kennedy both recommend. From Chris: "An epidemic super-rabies sweeps across New England, turning the infected, animals and people alike, into raging, violent, biting (don’t call them the Z-word!) dangers to themselves and everyone else. The whole book takes place over just a few hours, and you can’t put it down, experiencing this desperate race to stay alive in real time. Tremblay does what he does best, taking a classic high horror concept and executing it with intimate, frightening, this-is-all-too-real surgical precision."

Jason adds: "Paul Tremblay has delivered another pulse-pounding, jet-fueled story that whips by in a blur and left me out of breath."

Finally, in paperback news, The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata gets a facelift and a whole lot of love from three booksellers.

Chris Lee says: "Michael Zapata’s debut is one spectacular, swirling, sci-fi scented literary wonder, a love letter to storytelling, heritage, and theoretical physics. It’s a stunner, a book of survival, aftermaths, and the history that we inherit and pass on, telling and retelling the stories that create the world."

Jen Steele says: "A mesmerizing and stirring novel.  I really enjoyed the many layers of this novel. With captivating characters and the stories they tell, Michael Zapata gives us a passionate love letter to storytelling and the joys of science fiction. At the heart of this novel is the refugee - and we are all refugees here. An enlightening read for sure!"

Margaret Kennedy says: "A little bit of sci-fi, a little bit of history, and a lot of love for stories is what makes The Lost Book of Adana Moreau a truly amazing novel. Zapata weaves a tale of intertwining lives, from New Orleans to Argentina to Israel to Russia and back, all centered around the people that brought Adana Moreau’s words to life."

Phew! That's a lot of recommending. Which means you have much reading to do. Enjoy!