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!"

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