Monday, August 30, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 31, 2021

Ending the month with a handful of great books, including two doubly-rec'd books.

First up is My Heart is a Chainsaw, the latest novel from horror hero Stephen Graham Jones. This one gets the recommendation treatment from Chris Lee and Jason Kennedy.

Chris says, "Horror and social commentary go together like peanut butter and jelly, like pizza and sushi, like outcast teenagers from broken homes and a closet full of old slasher tapes (that’s our heroine, Jade). The vampire, the zombie, Godzilla, even Michael Meyers and Freddy Krueger are most powerful as symbols of our bigger fears: of the dark, of ourselves, of the atomic bomb and the rot at heart of suburbia. Stephen Graham Jones leans hard into this tried and true formula in his latest, with a bit of a twist. When the richy-riches show up to develop a busted old mountain town into a lakeside vacation idyll, Graham Jones takes the opportunity to explore questions like who really is an outsider and who in a community of mostly poor and Indigenous people is going to get screwed by change (hint: it’s probably not the richy-riches). He knows he has the credentials to lean into all the ugliest parts of this story, and fair warning, he does so pretty unsparingly. Still, at its heart, this book is a love letter to slashers and us weirdos who love ‘em, and it grabs your attention like a speed boat rip-roaring across a quiet mountain lake. Watch out for that propeller!"

And Jason adds, "Okay, so Stephen Graham Jones has written his love story to slasher films. This has it all: gore, suspense, red herrings, and a Final Girl. However, this book has more in it than just another horror novel - it has underlining message about trust. Who is safe to trust? Are they trustworthy? Is there anyone to open up to and trust? Because trust has been shattered and is never able to be reformed. Jade is a half-Indigenous girl of 17 who is obsessed with slasher films. She knows them all, knows their individual story arcs. And now she feels like she is living in one and knows who the Final Girl is. Her job is to prepare her for the bloodbath that is destined to come. Perhaps. I've come late to the Stephen Graham Jones game, but his last two books have been real gems."

Next book getting the two-rec treatment is Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke. This one is lauded by Madi Hill and Margaret Kennedy.

Madi says, "Several People Are Typing is the kind of book you get someone else read with you just so you have a person to text "WHAT JUST HAPPENED" after every chapter. I am a bit leery when it comes to AI, and this nightmarish set up had me giggling and gasping at every hilarious twist. Perhaps it is from familiarity with Slack and mundane office work, but for a novel about a man trapped in a professional instant messaging program and told through the very same media, I myself was ensnared. Read this as a commentary on capitalism and the toxic praise that comes from not taking a break and working yourself into oblivion (in this case, literally), or just enjoy it as a humorous science fiction mix up - either way, it is an enjoyable foray into a very weird book."

And Margaret adds, "Surrealist humor meets monotonous office life in the new book Several People Are Typing. Written in the form of instant messenger conversations, this book had me laughing in disbelief at the absurd and unexplained happenings at this company. Each employee has their own problems, ranging from the mundane to the hilariously insane, but none more so than Gerald - who accidentally uploaded his consciousness into the firm's slack server. But who cares, because his productivity is suddenly through the roof now that he doesn't need to eat or sleep, so does he really have it that bad? With constant, sourceless howling, frighteningly illegible emoji conversations, missing briefs, and a growing sentience in the app's help Bot, Kasulke exaggerates the average American office to seem as crazy as it sometimes feels like in this wonderfully deranged novel."

Proprietor Daniel Goldin offers up his praise for The Secret History of Food: Strange but True Stories About the Origins of Everything We Eat, by Matt Siegel. He says, "Vanilla ice cream, breakfast cereal, corn, tomatoes, and several other foods become the jumping-off point for Matt Siegel’s meandering and quirky food history. Why is British pie crust traditionally inedible? How is honey kosher if most samples likely have traces of unkosher insects? And while we’re on the subject, why do vegans eschew honey, but not all the foods that bees pollinate? Why did Nathan’s Famous employ college students who dress like doctors? Could it possibly be true that the USDA is responsible for open-faced sandwiches, but the FDA monitors closed-faced ones? So much food ephemera! Best of all, there are often interesting points to be made about human nature slathered between the easily transportable iceberg lettuce and tasteless-but-great looking tomato. Be warned that The Secret History of Food pretty much uses all secondary sources (over 40 pages of notes!), but what other kind of book are you going to write during COVID?  A multi-course feast of delights!"

Finally, on the hardcover adult books side of things, Parker Jensen recommends A Slow Fire Burning, by The Girl on the Train author Paula Hawkins. Parker says, "After Daniel Sutherland is found brutally murdered on his boat, the lives of several seemingly unconnected women will collide in unimaginable ways. Laura has been struggling to stay afloat and keep her head down ever since an accident as a child left her with scars she wishes she could forget. Miriam knows an outsider when she sees one - it takes one to know one. So, when she discovers Daniel's body and realizes Laura was the last known person to see him alive, she takes it upon herself to help Laura, while possibly getting the revenge she has been longing for all these years. Meanwhile, Carla is spiraling - it was only a few months ago that her sister died suddenly and tragically. Now her nephew has been murdered. But with even more tragedy littering her past, she might do anything to find peace. All three women are harboring painful memories and secrets that threaten to pull them apart. What would they do to finally be able to move on? Not for the faintest of heart, Paula Hawkins’s latest is a dark and brutal story that kept me in my favorite chair reading from the first page to the very last."

Jen Steele has a YA recommendation for us this week: Call Me Athena: Girl from Detroit, by Colby Cedar Smith. She says, "Mary, the daughter of French and Greek immigrants, has the weight of her parent's expectations on her shoulders. As Mary struggles to find her voice and claim her life for herself, she discovers old letters that her parents wrote during World War I; letters so beautiful and heartbreaking she may come to see her parents in a new light. Loosely based on the authors grandmother, Call Me Athena: Girl from Detroit is a profoundly beautiful historical YA novel in verse that will stay with you long after you finish."

Finally, let's get a picture book in the mix. Jenny Chou recommends The Missing Pairs, by Yvonne Ivinson. Jenny says, "The Missing Pairs is a fun read aloud that will leave everyone laughing. As happens to many of us, there’s one missing sock, a boot without its twin, and that never-ending winter problem: the missing mitten. The forest animals put up signs, and Bear is sure he knows where to find the pairs. After a speedy ride up a mountain in a homemade wagon, Bear leads them right to... his favorite snack! Oh no! It’s a pair/pear mix-up. Delightful illustrations evoke a chill in the air and the coming of fall weather, while the text offers some seriously hilarious homophone humor, and who doesn’t love that?"

And we've got one paperback pick for you this week, too.

Oli Schmitz recommends the latest Night Vale-related novel, Alice Isn't Dead, by Joseph Fink. Oli says, ""This isn't a story. It's a road trip." Keisha's search for her long-lost (missing, not dead) wife, Alice, propels her to the center of a conspiracy of mysterious organizations and inhuman things that stalk the long roads of America. Fink's writing will transport you to Keisha's passenger seat, experiencing her encounters, feeling her anxiety, witnessing her determination and fierce love in every chapter. Well-paced and engrossing, this book speaks truths on anxiety, love, America, and the space between places. There are oracles on these roads. Enjoy the journey."

See you next week, folks!

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