Monday, October 25, 2021

Staff Recs, Week of October 26, 2021

Just a few recs for you this week - don't worry, lots more are coming before the year is out!

All three of the recommendations this week come from the one and only Daniel Goldin. His first is for a brand new middle grade novel that's come out this month: Playing the Cards You're Dealt, by Varian Johnson. Daniel says: "Anthony Johnson has a lot on his plate. The big Spades tournament is coming up at the city park, but his partner Jamal might not be able to play because one of their classmates goaded him into a fight. His new classmate Shirley is pretty good at cards, but how’s Jamal going to feel about Shirley taking his place? I really enjoyed this book – it has a lot to say about making assumptions and the fine line between teasing and bullying. I really appreciated the community Johnson built for the book, where connections run strong (his mom seems to know everybody), or should I say in spades?"

Daniel also offers two recommendations of books getting their paperback releases this week.

The first is Memorial, the debut novel from Bryan Washington. Daniel says: "Benson is a Black, gay, part-time day care instructor alienated from his parents, who are also alienated from each other. Mike is a Japanese cook whose parents are also no longer together. Mike invites his mother Mitsuko to Houston, only to leave for Osaka when he learns his estranged father has cancer. Not only does Ben not know what to do with Mitsuko except eat her food, he’s not even sure what he’s doing with Mike, who’s looking to open up the relationship. And while Ben’s mom has drifted away and can do fine on her own, his dad isn’t exactly healthy. The story moves from Benson to Mike and back again as each navigates the push/pull of family, responsibility, and commitment. Memorial is a sex positive, HIV positive, sort of comedy-love story with a magnetic emotional resonance that exerts its pull just when you least expect it."

He also recommends Elizabeth Berg's memoir I'll Be Seeing You. Daniel says: "As a bookseller, I see a lot of memoirs about caregiving, from established authors to folks who have chosen contract publishing. And why not? Caregiving is an almost universal experience and one that generates a lot of memories and moments. It is hard not to see ourselves in the folks we care for, leading to more than one bout of philosophical musing. But not every writer can get at those small moments like Elizabeth Berg. Her father was a military man, while her mother seemed to accept her role to serve him, as long as she got time for little pleasures, like shopping with her sisters at Herberger’s. But with Art in decline, Jeanne chafes at his constant presence and rebels at leaving her longtime house in St. Paul for assisted living. The story has a diary structure, offering immediacy to the story, and showing Berg’s skill at quickly bringing to life family, friends, and even incidental characters. But most importantly, I’ll Be Seeing You succeeds at what it set out to do, sharing that story that so many of us must face, with all the drama and insight of one of her novels."

Extra! Extra! Late addition! Tim just sent me this rec after I'd gotten the blog edited, but we haven't hit our usual number of reads on this post yet, so for those just tuning in, how about a late addition bonus rec? Okay!

Tim McCarthy is all about Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution, by Fall of Rome and Revolutions podcaster and now author Mike Duncan. Tim says: "I’ve read a lot of history, but rarely have I seen a story as dramatic as Lafayette’s. I knew a little about him from other books - the Frenchman who helped George Washington finally win the American Revolution. I also assumed that Lafayette Hill in Milwaukee is one of the many tributes to him across the United States. But the twists and turns of this man’s life took me by surprise. Raised at the highest levels of aristocracy, he left as a young man to fight for glory and American liberty. Returning to France as a hero, he went from a pivotal role in Paris as the Bastille was stormed to a man hated by both extremes during the French Revolution. He spent years in European prisons, and later returned for a grand parade of love on a tour of every US state. Along the way he saw the hypocrisy of freedom fighters who continued to own slaves and worked to end it. He even tried to convince his father figure Washington to do the right thing. Duncan tells the story with suspense, riveting details, and bold conclusions. This is history at its entertaining finest!"

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Staff Recs, Week of October 19, 2021

And now we're back to our regularly scheduled weekly blogging. Staff recommendations for the week!

New In Hardcover

First up, Chris Lee recommends Go Home, Ricky!, by Gene Kwak. Chris says: "When his heart and his neck both get broken, semi-pro circuit wrestler Ricky sets off on a journey to find his absentee father upon whose Native American heritage Ricky’s identity (not to mention his semi-offensive wrestling persona) is based. This book rules. Ricky’s voice is unforgettable – an internet bro full of swagger, jokes, and pain. And his story, like him, is messy, flawed, and wandering, from the top of the ropes to Omaha’s dive bars, halfway across the country twice then back home again. A wholly original, of-the-moment take on the ways a young man in middle America searches for answers to those eternal questions: who the hell am I, and how am I going to live with it? This is a heck of a good book."

Kay Wosewick recommends Redemption of Wolf 302: From Renegade to Yellowstone Alpha Male, by Rick McIntyre. Kay says: "A couple generations into the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone, could there be anything new to learn after thousands of hours of study? Yes, indeed! Most surprisingly, significant behavioral and personality changes occur over the life of Wolf 302. Happy tears."

Tim McCarthy recommends The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times, by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams. Tim says: "Hope can be tough to come by these days, but Jane Goodall certainly has it. She is truly "a beacon of hope." People from all over the world look to her for it, and it's not wishful thinking. She has very specific and detailed reasons to be hopeful, and she thinks what people see in her is an unflinching honesty about the nightmare scenarios we face on Earth combined with a sincere belief that we can still overcome them. She freely admits there are times when she feels down, but at 87 years old, long after her revolutionary studies of African chimpanzees, she still travels the world working with people and nature, collecting the most amazing stories! She believes that hope is a survival trait which humans have developed, but that it must also be nurtured and reinforced. Her travels give her a fierce belief in "the amazing human intellect, the resilience of nature, the power of young people, and the indomitable human spirit." She discusses each of these reasons for hope in profound dialogues with Douglas Abrams, who wrote The Book of Joy with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This is a book I've badly needed, a renewal of my sense of purpose and possibility from one of our wisest elders!"

Kids & YA

Chris Lee gets a late recommendation in for The Littlest Yak, by Lu Fraser. Chris says: "Gertie the littlest yak is up for big adventure, though it might not come in the shape or size she expects, and she might just learn a huge lesson about her small stature along the way. The perfect read-along picture book this winter."

Kay Wosewick recommends middle grade novel Across the Desert, by Dusti Bowling. Kay says: "Jolene always logs in to watch Addie live-stream her adventures flying an ultralight airplane a few hours from Jolene’s home in Phoenix. One day, Addie crashes. Jolene calls officials near where Addie flies, but no one believes her. Jolene is determined to find Addie, who lives in a difficult-to-reach area that’s experiencing a severe heat wave. This exciting adventure for preteen girls has the added plus of dealing plausibly with family narcotic abuse."

New Paperback Releases

Tim McCarthy recommends The Brief and True Report of Temperance Flowerdew, by Denise Heinze. Tim says: "Temperance Flowerdew came to Jamestown Colony in 1609 and married Virginia's first two Governors, but her life was not recorded. Denise Heinze imagines her world, from surviving the hurricane that nearly wrecked her transatlantic fleet to living a warm family life in harsh conditions. It's a convincing portrait of a strong and optimistic person determined to report for posterity what a woman of her time could not actually write or say. The novel is dedicated to "all the women gone missing from history." Heinze uses period language and well researched details to get the right tone and character voices, making me feel the gravity of a new colony holding off disaster. Temperance may well have been this extraordinary woman of faith who fought to establish a king’s colonial foothold and must hope her children will make amends for her purchase and profitable use of Africans. Still, I can believe that she may also have seen the Powhatan people as more than savage and that she perhaps even stood toe-to-toe with a man like John Smith!"

Kay Wosewick recommends At the Edge of the Haight, by Katherine Seligman. "Some teens have such aversion to their untenable living situation, whether it is with parents, foster homes, other relatives, etc., that running away becomes their only achievable option. With no place of safety to turn to, they become homeless. This book is about a small come-and-go group of runaway teens that sleep in Golden Gate Park and spend most days in the Haight/Ashbury neighborhood, panhandling, goofing around, avoiding the police, getting high or drunk. Seligman paints a vivid picture of the teens’ living conditions (utterly horrible); the incredible range of people they regularly encounter (including police, local businesses and tourists, ranging from very helpful to very nasty – gangs, hopeful saviors, and the like); plus the always-present possibility of an unexpected event that turns their life upside down in mere moments. The kids’ vulnerability resides on nearly every page. Although At the Edge of the Haight is fiction, much of it feels like a series of live reports compiled over time about a tiny group of invisible people. Thank you, Katherine Seligman, for giving this (probably growing) group of kids a voice."

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Great Big Boswellian Blog Staff Recommendation Catch-Up, Part 2: Weeks of October 5 and 12, 2021

Looks like we've got just a little more catch-up to play. Here are this and last week's staff reviews.

Two recommendations for Tales from the Café, by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. First, from Jason Kennedy: "Tales from the Café takes us back to the time traveling of Before the Coffee Gets Cold. Familiar faces bustle about the café, and one in particular still haunts the time traveling chair. Four stories again weave together to further the myth of the café, and so many questions I had at the end of the first one are answered here. There's a bit of calm and patience that permeates the stories, which unfold through various characters’ empathy towards others that they can't connect with in the here and now. Such an amazing story - I really hope the last book will be translated as well."

Kay Wosewick supports this one as well: "This book returns to a small coffee house in Japan where a special chair can take a person back or forward in time for as long as it takes a freshly poured cup of coffee to get cold. While the future cannot be changed, the author crafts very clever stories, all with inspired closure."

Daniel Goldin has a couple adult books to recommend. First is We Are Not Like Them, by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza. Daniel says: "An aspiring television reporter and the wife of a policeman, friends since childhood, find their relationship frayed by the shooting of a young Black man. This powerful story is sure to start a lot of important conversations. The authors do a great job creating sympathetic characters in Riley and Jen (though to my thinking, Riley is the true protagonist), with lots of interesting family dynamics and revelations both past (a lynching in Riley’s family) and present (Jen’s pregnancy complications) move the plot along. There’s some humor too, and even a little romance. I’m not giving anything away by saying there’s no way to have a completely happy ending, but maybe, just maybe, there’ll be at least understanding."

Daniel also recommends Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood, by Mark Oppenheimer. Of this he says: "Director of the Yale Journalism Initiative Mark Oppenheimer goes behind the headlines of the tragic Tree of Life shooting to explore the fascinating community of Squirrel Hill, a walkable Pittsburgh neighborhood that has retained both religious and secular Jews when so many others have scattered to suburbs. Even the Tree of Life building itself was home to three congregations of different denominations. In Oppenheimer’s exhaustive interviews, he found a pathway to healing that doesn’t always happen after other mass shootings – there wasn’t a single post-event suicide connected to the incident, and there were no controversies over how money flowed to victims and their families. But there was a cost too, at least for some, as activism was played down in favor of unity. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed Squirrel Hill, which is much more of an exploration of a community, rather than the crime drama or issue book you might have thought it was. There are so many interesting players in the story, not just the victims and their families, but folks like the Iranian student and his hugely successful fundraising efforts, and the young Christian woman who painted images in the Starbucks windows that became a symbolic center of the neighborhood. My top Hanukkah pick!"

Kay rounds us out with two more picks. In the grown folks section, she's backing Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurers Guide, by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras. Kay says: "Drooling, dumbfounded, queasy, hungry, amazed, and many other feelings and thoughts flowed through me as I read this book - taking a couple of kitchen breaks along the way, of course. If Gastro Obscura doesn’t make you want to hop on a plane tomorrow to eat something amazing, well, I guess I'm dumbfounded again."

Kay also suggests What Storm, What Thunder, by Myriam JA Chancy: "The 2010 Haiti earthquake claimed a quarter-million-plus lives and forever changed millions of others. Chancy paints vivid images of chaos, devastation, horror, confusion, brutality, and regret, but also compassion, tenderness, and hope. Chancy distills extensive interviews into ten captivating, entwined stories that portray how seemingly similar traumatic experiences can have vastly different effects on individuals."

We've also good some books for young readers to suggest this week.

Kathy Herbst recommends The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, by Anne Urso. From Kathy: "A thought-provoking feminist fantasy that drew me in from the first page to the last. 12-year-old Marya has always been told she has no meaningful place in the world - unlike her brother, who is being groomed to become a respected sorcerer. An intended mistake lands Marya in the Dragomir Academy. The bonds she forms with other students, some teachers and eventually her brother lead her to question all she's been told and to ask 'Who does this story serve?'"

Kay and Jenny Chou both recommend Any Sign of Life, by Rae Carson, author of YA hits like Walk on Earth a Stranger. To begin, Kay says: "Quite possibly the only people alive in their hometown, three teens drive toward Sandusky, OH, where a single radio station is still broadcasting. The broadcaster urges everyone to make their way to the station immediately. Great end-of-world construction tossed with touches of horror and humor. The first book in a new series, this will be a chart-topper."

And from Jenny: "Any Sign of Life by one of my long-time favorite YA writers, Rae Carson, is a must-read dystopian-sci-fi mash up that has so many twists and turns that I could not have stopped reading late into the night even if you’d paid me a million dollars. Carson taps into our deepest pandemic fear, not the one where we die but the one where we wake up alone. It’s almost a relief to slowly realize the virus in question wasn’t created here on earth. The sci-fi action kicks in and a battle to save our planet from invaders ensues. Main character Paige is a high school senior with a basketball scholarship to UConn when everything she knows crumbles away, and she’s suddenly stuck in a new reality. She’s a leader, and no doubt she’s brave, but it’s her loyalty and fierce determination not to lose her humanity that will make readers want to take this treacherous journey along with her. The supporting characters are a diverse group, and best of all is Paige’s seriously sweet romance in the midst of chaos. Fans of Neal Shusterman’s Dry will definitely want to move this to the top of their TBR list in October."

Finally, we return to Daniel in this section for Clarice the Brave, by Lisa McMann (the author behind The Unwanted series). Daniel says: "Ship mouse Clarice has already lost her mother and siblings when a crew mutiny sends her over the side of the ship with provisions, leaving her brother Charles Sebastian behind. What’s worse, in this small boat is not just the Captain and his loyalists but also Special Lady, the very ship cat who ate Clarice’s sister Olivia. This is just the beginning of an epic tale of adventure and friendship that already feels like a classic! Clarice must learn to trust Special Lady as she tries to figure out how she can ever get reunited with her baby brother. Almost driving the narrative are the words that Clarice’s mother said to her: ‘It only takes one mouse to believe in you. And that one mouse is me.’ So exciting, so emotional, so many lines I want to quote – Clarice the Brave is a triumph!"

Paper-paper-paperback picks! We got 'em.

First we've got two recommendations for the National Jewish Book Award Winner The Lost Shtetlby Max Gross. From Chris Lee: "It’s a myth, it’s a fable, it’s something like a newly discovered religious text. In a world with a seemingly endless supply of novels about the ends-of-the-earth reaching consequences of WWII and the Holocaust, The Lost Shtetl is a wondrous left turn – the story of one tiny Jewish village in Poland that the Nazis missed and time forgot. Learn along with the villagers of the past horrors they escaped and the present horrors (television, tourists, inflation, and postal codes, yech!) of the world that’s discovered them. With the village itself as a sly, sighing narrator, Gross has written a clever, affecting parable of the ways history, sooner or later, reaches us all."

And from Daniel Goldin: "In The Lost Shtetl, Kreskol, a Jewish settlement in present-day Poland, is discovered when, after a matrimonial fallout, the wife leaves town, the husband follows suit, and the town sends out a search party of one, a mamzer baker’s apprentice whom nobody will miss. When Yankel (the baker) is admitted to a hospital in nearby Smolskie, the cat’s out of the bag, or at least it will be if the medical staff don’t decide he’s either delusional or scamming them. On top of the circuitous paths of Yankel, Pesha, and Ishmael (the estranged couple), the newly discovered town must contend with greed, a tourism boom, an ideological rabbinical battle, and a good dollop of antisemitism. Meanwhile, the runaways must contend with what kind of people (and Jews) they are going to be, now that their reality rug has been pulled out from beneath them. When the copy for a novel name checks Gary Shteyngart, Michael Chabon, and Nathan Englander, what jazzy comparison is left for me? Would it be too much for me to call this philosophical and often hilarious novel the bastard child of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Cynthia Ozick?"

Chris Lee also recommends The Silence by Don Delillo. From Chris: "The American bard of the great collapse has done it again. The Silence is a piercing novella that asks: what will we grasp for when we lose that which anchors us to modernity? As always, Delillo crafts uniquely jarring sentences to capture the quotidian ways in which language alienates us from our animal selves. Moreover, his genius really goes on display as he finds new ideas (and desires and fears!) in themes he’s been exploring for decades - football as war as annihilation, the obsession with the savior figure - even as he deconstructs them. An educated guess says this book was rushed to publication to meet the moment – and, in a rare case, rightly so. Who else could so humanely soothe us during crisis with a balm made from our terrors?"

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Great Big Boswellian Recommendation Catch-Up! Weeks of September 21 and 28, 2021!

Whoops! Looks like we got so caught up selling these great books, we forgot to blog about them. So how about a very big roundup of two weeks of staff recommendations from the Boswellains. 

One way to notice it's 'big release season' is when we start getting more books with multiple staff recs. We've got a few this time around.

The first and most recommended book by a few is the latest from Anthony Doerr: Cloud Cuckoo Land. This one gets four glowing reviews from the Boswellians. Here's an excerpt of each review - to read them in full, click on the book's title to visit the item page on our store website.

Jason Kennedy says: "Doerr intricately weaves together three story lines, scattered throughout time, in a brilliant tapestry of wonder."

Daniel Goldin says: " Whether he is writing about the Siege of Constantinople, a small-town Idaho library under attack, or a rocket’s worth of humanity trying to escape Earth’s devastation, Doerr has a way with compelling characters and a story that is both beautifully written and compulsively readable."

Jenny Chou says: "Cloud Cuckoo Land dances between emotionally wrenching and simply beautiful, and I was left in awe of Anthony Doerr, storyteller."

And Tim McCarthy says: "These characters are beautiful outcasts. Doerr's extraordinary details of living in these places make the characters all the more real as he makes a dramatic case that saving stories may indeed have the power to save us as well."

Next up, recommended by Parker Jensen and Kay Wosewick, is Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki. Parker says: "An absolute gem of a novel: rare, gorgeous, and unique. This novel defies classification as it seamlessly mixes genres to tell a heartfelt story of acceptance, aliens, deals with demons, antique violins, and yes, donuts. The story follows a group of vastly different characters as their fates intersect in unexpected ways. Katrina Nguyen is a young homeless trans girl who has escaped an abusive situation and found herself unsure of where life will take her next. Shizuka Satomi, a.k.a. The Queen of Hell made a deal with the devil, and now she must deliver the souls of seven violin prodigies or face eternal damnation. And then there is Lan Tran, owner of Starrgate Donut and interstellar escapee of the galactic empire. The ways in which these three's fates intertwine will make readers laugh, swoon, and bite their nails in anticipation of discovering how this story wraps up. Unputdownable and gorgeously written, Light from Uncommon Stars is a page turning masterpiece and my personal favorite 2021 release."

Kay Wosewick adds: "This fantastic, genre-bending story includes aliens pretending to be humans running a donut shop, humans making deals with the devil, several LBGQT characters at different stages of self-acceptance, serious foodies, and a crash course in all things violin. Un-put-down-able, loveable, slyly funny, and absolutely unforgettable."

Kay Wosewick also recommends Bewilderment by Richard Powers. She says: "Bewilderment belongs in the hands, head, and heart of every reader. The story is as timely, as wise, and as profound as Power’s Overstory, but Bewilderment is far more tightly packed and decidedly darker. You’ll be pulled into stunningly beautiful as well as haunting applications of cutting edge technologies. You’ll feel the joys and the terrors of parenthood’s rollercoaster. You may or may not anticipate the collapse of the wall of denial, but you’ll surely suffer its soul-crushing aftermath. Richard Powers, you broke my heart. And you will again and again as this book becomes worn from rereading."

Another two-recommender in Naomi Novik's latest, The Last Graduate, the sequel to A Deadly Education. First, from Jenny Chou: "Since I like my magical boarding school fiction delightfully dark, I thoroughly enjoyed A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik and couldn’t wait for this follow-up. Especially after that killer last line! In The Last Graduate, El and Orion (who is not El’s boyfriend, except that he sort of might be) are in their final year at the Scholomance, facing the threat of the graduation massacre. Having friends for the first time in her life shifts El’s outlook toward the future, and I loved watching her grow as a character, becoming more compassionate while remaining as wonderfully prickly as ever. Should all the power and the safety it provides, be hoarded by the enclaves? This theme of social justice runs through the narrative, giving El (and readers) much to think about in worlds both imagined and real. If the mals can be stopped at graduation, it’s clearly El and Orion and their talents for havoc (El) and slaying demons (Orion) that can do it. But it’s what these two characters begin to mean to each other that gives The Last Graduate what I can only describe as a heart-stabbing painful longing full of possibility. And if you thought the first book ended on a cliffhanger? Just wait until you read the last line of The Last Graduate. I literally burst into tears. Book three can’t get here soon enough!"

Rachel Copeland adds: "El, whose magical potential lies more in the 'mass murder' category, just wants to do good and save the senior class - too bad the school doesn't seem to agree. The second entry in the Scholomance trilogy is wave after wave of relentless problems for El and crew - it's so fun! Novik has the peculiar ability to constantly ramp up the tension with compounding narrative issues in such a way that keeps those pages turning. That, combined with her positively evil knack for last-sentence cliffhangers, makes this one a must-read."

One more rec from Daniel Goldin, for Survival of the City: Living and Thriving in an Ager of Isolation, by Edward Glaeser and David Cutler. Daniel says: "Two economics professors from Harvard survey the state of the modern city post-Covid. From perspectives of health, housing, jobs, and education, they note that so many of today’s urban issues have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 epidemic but were already in play beforehand. It’s often a case of insiders vs. outsiders, whether we’re talking about the high costs and inferior results of American healthcare, restrictive zoning, or tiered labor contracts. Much as we’ve seen with environmental issues, governments try to save money in the present by shifting costs to the future. The book can be a little academic in that ‘gonna tell you, am telling you, just told you’ manner, but if that helps get it into hands of fellow academics, I’m all for it. If your taste runs to urban planning, urban studies (two different programs at UWM), public health, or economics, whether in a higher-ed or lay setting, you’ll want to check out Survival of the City."

Jen recommends Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune. She says: "Wallace Price is dead, and he's not happy about it. When his reaper delivers him to the ferryman so he can cross over, a tea shop is the last place he expected. Hugo Freeman, proprietor of Charon's Crossing and ferryman to the dead allows Wallace to stay as he adjusts to life beyond life. Along the way, Wallace learns what it truly means to live and love. TJ Klune delivers a though provoking and utterly charming novel about life and death, love and loss. Make sure you have your favorite tea on hand while read this!"

Conrad Silverberg recommends When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash. He says: "A plane crash-lands at a small town North Carolina airport during the dead of night. All the passengers and crew have disappeared before the sheriff can investigate. The only body he finds is that of a local black man lying nearby, dead from a gunshot wound to the head. The sheriff's investigation is hampered by interference from his main political rival: the scion of old plantation money whose close ties to the Klan and history of good ole boy hellraising threatens to derail finding answers. The deep-seated and virulent racism of the town threads its way through every twist and turn of this gripping novel. A truly can't-put-it-down read."

We've got a handful of paperback originals to recommend to you as well!

Chris Lee recommends the l essay collection titled Inter State, by José Vadi. Chris says: "The essayist as skater / cultural historian - a perfect pairing. I love the way Vadi considers the history attached to spaces – the memories that live in the ground, buried by people like the Mexican immigrants turned Okies who picked California’s Salad Bowl and the skate video heroes who thrashed San Francisco’s Hubba Hideout. As development and erosion erase physical history, Vadi searches for what’s left. He traverses his home state in meandering journeys of insight, winding wander-abouts, point A to point L, then B to Z - free form thoughts carried along by the author’s two feet. And an undercurrent through the essays is a distinctly millennial experience – stretching and searching for any foothold in a world that’s kind of maybe dying. Inter State asks, what does California mean? An impossible question, of course, but as he traces map lines through history, the intersections Vadi discovers are profound, and he illuminates them with wit, intelligence, and verve. My highest recommendation."

Jen has a paperback original to recommend as well - The Moon, The Stars, and Madam Burova by Ruth Hogan. Jen says: "The Moon, the Stars, and Madame Burova is your ‘beach read’ for the fall, with delightful characters and the ever-enchanting Madame Burova, who will surely be your new best friend."

And Rachel Copeland comes with two romantic paperback recommendations. First it's Portrait of a Scotsman by Evie Dunmore. She says: "When artist and banking heiress Hattie Greenfield is found in a compromising position with her father's business rival, intimidating financier Lucian Blackstone, she has no choice but to marry him. As a suffragette and one of the first female scholars admitted to Oxford, Hattie is horrified to lose what little legal autonomy she had to a man she barely knows, even if she is wildly attracted to him. When the two head to Scotland for a business trip instead of a romantic honeymoon, Lucian's taciturn nature and ruthless business tactics start to make sense as she learns of the dire situation of the mining community in her new husband's hometown. There's so much going on in this romance novel, and it's fantastic - Dunmore does the work, setting her characters in the midst of multiple historically accurate legal and moral struggles and touching upon everything from Marx to Sojourner Truth. Oh, and did I mention that this is also a very steamy romance novel? Three books in, Dunmore's ability to balance serious and sexy is verging upon legendary."

Also, she's all about The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling. Rachel says: "Vivienne Jones is just kind of a witch, thank you very much, so when she places a vodka-influenced curse on Rhys Penhallow for breaking her heart, she thinks nothing will come of it. Nine years later, Rhys comes calling and the curse returns with a vengeance, along with all of those feelings she tried to suppress. With strange magical events cropping up all over the town, it's up to Vivi and Rhys to save Graves Glen before it's too late. If you are wanting Practical Magic, Halloweentown, Hocus Pocus vibes with a huge helping of banter and off-the-charts chemistry, this is the one for you. With a cast of side characters that have definite sequel potential, you won't want to miss out on the start of this series."

Lots of kids book recommendations, too!

Tim McCarthy on Black Panther: Spellbound by Ronald L. Smith: "This is my first ever superhero novel; amazing but true. I don’t often read comic books either, but this hero intrigues me. I was also touched by Smith’s book dedication: 'For Chadwick Boseman. Rest easy, my king.' And I like Smith’s writing. The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away is a unique and well written children’s novel. So, here I am in new territory. T’Challa is the 13-year-old Prince of the technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda, where his father is King, the ruling Black Panther. He should be having a relaxed return to America, a vacation with his friends Sheila and Zeke in the small Alabama town where Sheila is visiting her grandmother. T’Challa has been warned by his father to avoid trouble like he had in his last trip, to Chicago where he first met his friends, but he knows trouble can come. He brought his protective suit, after all, and he’ll need it. There’s a strangely talented man in town, and a voice in his dreams, calling him to show he’s worthy. He’ll have to defy his father to protect his friends. Smith has a knack for dialog and characters, the good ones and the truly creepy villains. He’s made me want to go back and read the book where these kids first met."

Next is Pony, the latest from RJ Palacio, which has two recs, the first one from Tim again: "The author of Wonder has changed directions. While Wonder is modern, gripping realism, Pony is historical, a smart western adventure with a mysterious, ghostly air. There are common elements of Wonder and Pony: the exquisite writing and the unusual young characters we simply must follow to the end. Silas Bird's 12-year-old voice is extraordinary. He was nearly killed when lightning struck a tree that he sheltered under, leaving an image of the tree on his back. It seems to have shaped his life. His brilliant father was inspired by the flash of lightning to become a photographer, a sought-after inventor of a new technique for making images from light. And Silas has an unusual childhood friend, a boy named Mittenwool, who it seems nobody else can see or hear. Then there's Pony, the strangely beautiful Arabian horse that escapes from three men who come after father to use him for his special skills. Pony seems to lead the way as Silas desperately searches for his abducted dad. Palacio has built an absorbing story that builds to a grand conclusion using truly unique details. Just as Wonder redefined how we think about beauty, Pony redefines the way we see the world of spirit. Both are unforgettable!"

Jen Steele adds: "This middle grade novel is a sweeping coming of age western. When Silas's father is taken by men with ill intentions, Silas decides to disobey his father's orders to stay home and go after him. With a ghost for a companion and a mysterious Pony, Silas sets out to rescue his father. At times heartbreaking and tenderhearted, Silas's bravery and determination will win you over. RJ Palacio's new novel has an Odyssean quality to it that made it all the more unputdownable!"

It's Tim and Jen again for The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo. Let's start with Jen: "The Beatryce Prophecy is a heartfelt medieval tale of prophecies and courage, friendship and stories, love and loyalty, not to mention the best goat ever! Kate DiCamillo delivers another charming novel with enchanting illustrations by Sophie Blackall. The Beatryce Prophecy deserves a spot on your bookshelf."

And Tim says: "Here two stars have aligned. The first is Kate DiCamillo - a fine storyteller, an original voice in children's literature, a two-time Newbery Medalist. She is not shy. She’ll tell children about the world’s great terrors, then offer characters who rise above their traumas. Sophie Blackall is the second star - a creator of elegant pictures that perfectly suit my eye, a two-time Caldecott Medalist. In this wise and wonderful novel, Beatryce is found, filthy and covered with blood, by a fierce and “uncompromising” goat named Answelica, and by Brother Edik of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. Answelica abides nobody, so when Beatryce is found, near death, clutching the goat's ear, it's clear that she's special. She has no memory of how she came to this place, but there is a King looking for this dangerous girl of whom the prophecy speaks. It’s a clever story, made warm with humor and love, and it’s a tribute to the power of reading, writing, storytelling, and strong women and girls. I gladly align my fragile star with the strength of theirs."

Finally, Tim also recommends Grandmother's Pigeon by Louise Erdrich. Tim says: "National Book Award-winner Louise Erdrich and illustrator Jim LaMarche have given us a great gift, a magical story of family love with words and pictures perfectly orchestrated for suspense and joy. Grandmother is full of surprises, and when she sails away to Greenland on the back of a porpoise, the family thinks she's gone forever. As they finally decide to explore her bedroom, they find the beautiful mysteries are only beginning. Erdrich's dramatic and whimsical storytelling combined with LaMarche's unique perspectives deliver a picture book thrill reminiscent of Chris Van Allsburg's finest work. Just be careful with that stuffed pigeon!"

Friday, October 1, 2021

Jessica Anya Blau Previews Her Virtual Event

We're excited to host author Jessica Anya Blau for a conversation about her latest novel, Mary Jane, a fun coming-of-age story set in among the chic bohemian set in the rock and roll 1970s. It's part of our Readings from Oconomowaukee series, hosted in partnership with Books & Company of Oconomowoc (get it?!), where we have authors join us in virtual conversation with Daniel Goldin and Books & Co owner Lisa Baudoin.

We've got a big Mary Jane fan amongst the Boswellians in Margaret Kennedy, who has a few preview questions for Jessica Anya Blau. Check it out:

Mary Jane takes place over the course of the summer of 1975. What first drew you to setting the story in this time period? Why not the 50s, 60s, 80s?

JAB: It had to be the 70s or earlier for Mary Jane to be as naïve as she is. Fourteen-year-olds have become increasingly more “knowing” with the internet, cable TV, etc. I wanted her to be shocked by things like marijuana, bare breasts and group therapy. Also, I love the 70s. I love the music and the clothes. And I even love the TV shows from then: Mary Tyler Moore, All in the Family, Bob Newhart, The Odd Couple, etc. It was fun to go into that headspace when I was working on the book. And I LOVED listening to 70s music while I was writing. 

Margaret: Jimmy is one of my favorite characters of the book - a recovering drug addict rock star that genuinely seems like a good person despite his mess ups. He's someone I would like to meet - if you could sit down and have dinner with one character from Mary Jane, who would it be and why?

JAB: I love Jimmy, too! I would definitely want to hang out with Jimmy. He’s easy, fun, kind, and sexy. And at some point he might pick up the guitar and sing. I love group singing. I love the sound of a guitar. 

Margaret: You have a Spotify playlist up of songs to go with Mary Jane, and I am loving it! If you had the opportunity to see any concert in history, who would you want to see and when? (i.e. early Beatles in Liverpool, Mozart, Woodstock…)

I am a HUGE Prince fan so I’m embarrassed to say that I never made it to a Prince concert. Actually, I’d love to go to one of those impromptu shows he did in little clubs around the country. After a concert, to unwind, he’d often pop into a club and just play what he wanted - without the lights and choreography. Sometimes, with music, an intimate setting is more moving than a huge production. About a month ago I went to that massive concert in Central Park. It was great before it was evacuated for a storm. But, better than that concert was the soundcheck the day before. Because the concert was in Central Park, anyone in the park could hang out and listen to the sound check. Paul Simon was up on stage just as the sun was setting and the moon was rising. There was only a freckling of people dotted across the The Great Lawn in Central Park listening. Everyone went silent when he played the first few chords to “The Boxer.” Then, people stood and quietly sang along. It was a beautiful, magical, New York moment. 

Margaret: What are you currently reading right now?

I’m usually reading two books. The current ones are Great Expectations and Bob Mortimer’s autobiography. I’d never read Great Expectations and am loving it. It’s hilarious. Mrs. Havisham in that dusty old wedding dress is one of the greatest characters I’ve ever read. Bob Mortimer is an English comedian. I’m in London now and have been watching him on game shows on English TV.  His autobiography happened to come out in the middle of my TV bingeing on him. The Bob book is hardcover and Dickens is digital. So I read Bob in the day and Dickens in bed at night (this way I don’t have to have a light on and can just drop off to sleep without reaching over and turning out a light). 

Join our virtual event with author Jessica Anya Blau on Friday, October 8, 2 pm cdt - click right here for more info and to register today!