Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Bookseller Top 5 of 2021 - Part 5

 We're almost to the end of the month, and we've almost run out of top 5 choice - BUT NOT YET! 

Oli Schmitz starts us off with their picks for the year!

#1 Any Way the Wind Blows, the third book in a trilogy from Rainbow Rowell. Oli says: "Rowell has written a Young Adult fantasy series that expertly transitions into a very real adult story in its final volume. Book three is a beautiful exploration of what it takes to stay in love, to fight for relationships, and to accept love and care from those close to you in the aftermath of trauma. Cute and funny moments and stellar character writing abound! This is a story I needed."

#2 Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. A #1 New York Times bestseller and the highly anticipated sequel to the critically acclaimed, multiple award-winning novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is an achingly romantic, tender tale sure to captivate fans of Adam Silvera and Mary H.K. Choi. Two boys in a border town fell in love. Now, they must discover what it means to stay in love and build a relationship in a world that seems to challenge their very existence. From the starred Booklist review: "Sáenz himself is something of a cartographer, drawing an intricate map of the human heart. The result is a brilliant, character-driven novel that challenges its readers themselves to think about life while falling in love with those two unforgettable characters, Aristotle and Dante."

#3 The Girl from the Sea, a graphic novel by Molly Knox Ostertag. Oli's rec: "This queer summer romance draws on Selkie (human-seal shapeshifter) mythology in a modern setting, on an island off the shore of a coastal Canadian tourist town. Keltie may be the magical sea creature, but island-dweller Morgan also hides parts of herself. This graphic novel tackles issues of family, friendships, identity, and sacrifice, all with compassion and splendid illustrations."

#4 Mystical Stitches: Embroidery for Personal Empowerment and Magical Embellishment by Christi Johnson. Oli's rec: "In addition to serving as a fantastic resource on embroidery techniques, this book will also teach you to stitch meaning into your clothes, create talisman patches with intentional symbolism, and add threadcrafting rituals to your art/magic/self-care practice. Mystical Stitches thoroughly appeals to my craft-witch sensibilities!"

#5 You Feel It Just Below the Ribs by Jeffrey Cranor (cowriter of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast series, of which I believe it's safe to say Oli is a megafan) and Janina Matthewson (who cowrites the Within the Wires podcast with Cranor). A haunting, provocative novel, You Feel It Just Below the Ribs is a fictional autobiography in an alternate twentieth century that chronicles one woman’s unusual life, including the price she pays to survive and the cost her choices hold for the society she is trying to save.

Parker Jensen offers up their top 5 selections next.

#1 The Empress of Salt and Fortune (The Singing Hills Cycle #1) by Nghi Vo. A Hugo, Locus, and Ignyte Award finalist, this book is, according to NPR, "Dangerous, subtle, unexpected and familiar, angry and ferocious and hopeful... The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a remarkable accomplishment of storytelling." With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama, Nghi Vo's novel is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women.

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

#3 Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki. Parker's rec for this one: "Ryka Aoki's Light from Uncommon Stars is 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."

#4 One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston. Another bookseller pick for this one! It's a magical, sexy, big-hearted romance where the impossible becomes possible as August does everything in her power to save the girl lost in time. For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures. But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

#5 Thisty Mermaids by Kat Leyh. The raucous and literal fishes-out-of-water graphic novel from prolific comic artist and writer Kat Leyh, creator of the acclaimed Snapdragon and coauthor of the Eisner and GLAAD Award–winning series Lumberjanes (a series with fans here at Boswell, too). Fresh out of shipwreck wine, three tipsy mermaids decide to magically masquerade as humans and sneak onto land to indulge in much more drinking and a whole lot of fun in the heart of a local seaside tourist trap. But the good times abruptly end the next morning as, through the haze of killer hangovers, the trio realizes they never actually learned how to break the spell, and are now stuck on land for the foreseeable future.

Rachel Copeland is our next Boswellian with favorites of the year to announce. Here they are!

#1 The Ex Hex, by Erin Sterling. From Rachel: "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."

#2 The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang. Rachel's rec: "After her boyfriend declares that they should try an open relationship, YouTube-famous violinist Anna Sun decides to use this as an opportunity to break out of her rut. But her first attempt at a one-night stand with Quan Diep isn't successful, or the second or third, because they both have serious issues to overcome. When Anna's lifechanging diagnosis coincides with a family tragedy, Quan is the only one she can turn to - but can they work past their issues and fight for each other? Wow - I didn't think I could love Helen Hoang and her writing more, but this one blew me away. Anna and Quan's struggles are incredibly relatable and so important to discuss and understand. This is the romance novel to shove in people's hands if they dare say romance novels are too fluffy or sentimental."

#3 Leviathan Wakes - Special 10th Anniversary Edition by James SA Corey. This special hardcover edition celebrates Corey’s modern masterwork of science fiction. From New York Times-bestselling and Hugo award-winning author James S. A. Corey comes the first book in the genre-defining space opera series, The Expanse, introducing a captain, his crew, and a detective as they unravel a horrifying solar system wide conspiracy that begins with a single missing girl. George R. R. Martin calls it "Interplanetary adventure the way it ought to be written."

#4 Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne. Rachel's rec: "Ruthie (responsible, hardworking young manager of a retirement community) and Teddy (flaky, hot mess son of the retirement community owner) are opposites. When once-and-future-tattoo-artist Teddy gets trapped into being a personal assistant for two demanding residents of the community, Ruthie is sure Teddy will be gone the next day. Instead, Teddy thrives, working his way into everyone's hearts with his sweet nature and impulsive, fun personality. With his inevitable departure on the horizon, Ruthie just needs to guard her heart long enough to stay safe in her protective bubble of the retirement community forever. I have to say - this one really got to me. I cared so much about each character, and when I was done reading, I immediately flipped back to my favorite parts to enjoy them again. It's rare to find a romance novel that has both heart and sizzle in equal measure, but Sally Thorne makes it seem easy."

#5 To Love and to Loathe by Martha Waters.  Rachel recommends it thusly: "Diana, Lady Templeton, and Jeremy, Marquess of Willingham, are always at each other's throats - he's an incorrigible rake, and she's a wealthy young widow. When Diana wagers that he'll be married within a year, Jeremy is confident he'll win. But then Jeremy's former mistress gives him negative feedback about his so-called skills, and he realizes he needs an honest review from his toughest critic: Diana. As a longtime reader of Regency-era romance novels, I'm ashamed to say I did not know about this series until the second book. If you read romance for the banter, this one is for you - Waters knows the genre well, and she has aptitude for both winking at tropes and using them sincerely. I can't wait to read the next in the series."

Rachel sat down for a virtual interview with Waters this year - click here to watch their great conversation.

More top 5 picks tomorrow!

Monday, November 29, 2021

Bookseller Top 5 of 2021 - Part 4

 Another day, another wonderful trip to the top 5 pick station!

Kay Wosewick is probably our most prolific reader on staff. She claims this is because she doesn't have a television. The rest of us are far too hooked on British baking shows and cooking competitions to give up our boob tubes and find out how much our reading will increase. BUT! When Kay picks a book for her top 5, you can be assured it's because it's great and has beaten out a great many other books she's read.

#1 Bewilderment by Richard Powers, the Pulitzer-winning author of The Overstory. Kay recommends the new Powers novel thusly: "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."

#2 Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard. Kay loves this one. I have seen her handselling it at least once a day since it appeared on our shelves, and many satisfied customers have thanked her for the rec! Kay says: "Two recent best sellers relied heavily on research pioneered by Suzanne Simard: Richard Power’s Overstory and Peter Wohlleben’s Hidden Life of Trees. Simard’s research proved that clear-cut logging old forests causes virtually irreversible damage to the land. But far more importantly, her research discovered why: the trees live as a community, acting for the good of the forest as a whole. This is accomplished via vast underground networks of roots and mycorrhiza that direct nutrients from healthy to needy trees, send warning signals of coming infestations and disease so trees can prepare defenses, and so much more. Clear-cut the trees, the network dies, and replacement trees won’t grow. Simard pursued her research despite belittlement, false criticism, and even sabotage of her research by a powerful clique of men with vested interests in maintaining existing logging practices in British Columbia. But her research proved popular among fellow academics and students, and eventually became mainstream. Growing up in a multi-generation logging family in British Columbia, Suzanne’s insatiable curiosity started her down this forest road when she was just six years old. I spent several enchanted evenings with Suzanne in beautiful British Columbia as she described her pioneering journey. Thank you for your tenacity Suzanne."

#3 Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki. Kay says of this one: "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."

#4 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir by Ai WeiWei. Kay has his to say: "Ai Weiwei’s only known artistic influences as a young child living in labor camps were hearing bits of his father’s poetry and pouring over his father’s art books while his father worked nearby. Ai Qing was released from labor camps after Mao died, just as Ai Weiwei was old enough to attend junior high school. He enrolled in numerous art schools and art programs abroad throughout his young adult years, only to drop out soon after starting. His early artistic output thus appears to be mostly self-directed, often evolving dramatically with little apparent reason. When he returned to China, ancient, odd artifacts captured his attention, but it wasn’t long before his art became almost completely politically driven. Since he and his father rarely spoke, Ai Weiwei’s fierce morality seems largely based on observation of his father. Ai Weiwei’s autonomy, brilliance and passion shine throughout his memoir, with minimal presence of ego. Beloved worldwide, this book convincingly depicts how he earned this lofty status."

#5 LA Weather by María Amparo Escandón. Kay has this recommendation of this book: "This LA-set story will quickly set its ​​​​​claws and pull you through a manic year in the lives of a well-off Mexican American family. Father, mother, and all three daughters have crises that vary from much ado about nothing to much-delayed ados about everything. You will smile gleefully as the family completes the eventful year with stronger bonds than ever." We hosted the author of this book for a great virtual conversation this year - click right here to check out the recording of that chat!

Madi Hill's top five is next! 

#1 The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix. Madi offers up this recommendation for her top pick of the year: "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."

#2 You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism, by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar. Writer and performer on Late Night with Seth Meyers Amber Ruffin writes with her sister Lacey Lamar with humor and heart to share absurd anecdotes about everyday experiences of racism. From being mistaken for a prostitute to being mistaken for Harriet Tubman, Lacey's life in Nebraska is a lightning rod for hilariously ridiculous yet all-too-real anecdotes. People magazine says, "The book is a portrait of one person’s struggle to maintain dignity, strength and self-respect when faced with injustices small and large—all told with Ruffin’s irreverent, sardonic style."

#3 Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, a nonfiction graphic novel by Derf Backderf, the bestselling author of My Friend Dahmer, who recounts the tragic and unforgettable story of the Kent State shootings​. A 2021 Eisner Award winner, this book recounts the day in 1970 when America turned guns on its own children. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls the book an "expertly crafted chronicle of this defining moment in U.S. history serves as a deeply moving elegy for the victims. Readers may also draw from it sobering parallels to the deep divisions of contemporary times, again dangerously rife with media noise and misinformation muddying the waters."

#4 Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W Moniz. This collection of short stories is one of the most exciting discoveries in today's literary landscape which depicts the sultry lives of Floridians in intergenerational tales that contemplate human connection, race, womanhood, inheritance, and the elemental darkness in us all. This one was named to many book-pick lists across the media landscape, including Time, Elle, and Entertainment Weekly, and it was also a Roxanne Gay Audacious Book Club pick this year.

#5 Tacky: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer by Rax King, one of our Gift Guide Paperback Pick selections. An irreverent and charming collection of deeply personal essays about the joys of low pop culture and bad taste, exploring coming of age in the 2000s in the age of Hot Topic, Creed, and frosted lip gloss from the James Beard Award-nominated writer. Madi's rec: "I first picked up Tacky by Rax King because I have a tattoo of a green olive on my ankle, and it matched the cover so well it seemed kismet. Then I started reading through each nostalgia-rich essay, and it was like I time traveled back to the ‘00s in all of their cringing glory. King is unapologetically open about her connection and enjoyment about the things that even in their prime were considered "tacky." Her use of culture that we now recall with groans like Jersey Shore and places as Hot Topic are jumping off points for deeply personal stories about how such sneered-at things had a lasting impact in shaping her life. King's snaking journey to discovering and embracing her sexuality and past mistakes is courageous and admirable. A feminist, sex positive, at times philosophical collection of essays, Tacky lets readers reclaim those interests that are brushed aside as guilty pleasures and embrace them in all their gaudy delight."

Margaret Kennedy (no relation to Jason) is our next Boswellian who offers up these five selections.

#1 Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau. Margaret's rec: "Amidst the clashing viewpoints and lifestyles of 1970s America one teen girl tries to make sense of it all and find out who she wants to be in Mary Jane. The story opens on a 14-year-old girl from a straight-laced, conservative family whose worldview is shaken when she takes a summer nanny job for a doctor. Expecting a family much like her own, Mary Jane is surprised and strangely delighted when the Cones turn out to be a bohemian, openly amorous, rock n' roll couple with a free-spirited 5-year-old. On top of it all, a rock star and his famous wife are living in the attic as the doctor helps the rocker recover from his drug addiction. Throughout the summer, Mary Jane encounters and embraces new music, new clothes, and a new way of looking at herself and what she wants to be, all while inadvertently helping the Cone family and their guests grow as well. A wonderful read about found families and finding yourself - this is already one of my favorites of the year!"

#2 One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston. Margaret says: "For all the romance fans that fell head over heels for Red White and Royal Blue, get ready - Casey McQuiston's latest will have you in love all over again. One Last Stop follows August, a practical college student new to NYC with no patience for the 'magic' the city has to offer. That all changes when she meets the mysterious Jane on the subway. Jane is an outgoing, music loving, gay lib punk that acts like she walked straight out of the 1970s - which is not far from the truth. August's subway crush turns out to be trapped in time on the Q train, unable to step off and removed from her original decade. With a menagerie of new friends, including a frog bone sculptor, a hipster psychic, and an army of Brooklyn's finest drag queens, August finds herself breaking out of her shell as she works to get Jane home - but how can she say goodbye to the girl that has her heart? Filled with witty dialogue, beautifully detailed scenes, and music that will have you dancing on the table, Casey McQuiston once again gives us a couple to root for and a book to read again and again."

#3 Several People Are Typing by Calvin Casulke. Margaret says: "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."

#4 Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir. This one got glowing marks from four of our booksellers this year, including Margaret. From the author of The Martian comes a new tale of  a lone astronaut must save the earth from disaster. And how about this write-up from Brandon Sanderson, the New York Times bestselling author of the Stormlight Archive series: "I loved The Martian, but I actually find Project Hail Mary to be Mr. Weir’s finest work to date. It’s somehow both exciting, yet also personal. I’m constantly amazed by how well Mr. Weir continues to write wonderfully accessible science fiction without compromising either the science or the fiction."

#5 The Adventure Zone Vol. 4: The Crystal Kingdom, by Clint McElroy, Carey Pietsch (Illustrator), Carey Pietsch, Griffin McElroy, Travis McElroy, and Justin McElroy. Based on the blockbuster podcast where the McElroy brothers and their dad play a tabletop RPG and illustrated by cartooning powerhouse Carey Pietsch, The Adventure Zone: The Crystal Kingdom takes this #1 New York Times bestselling series to haunting new heights. A desperate call for help interrupts holiday celebrations at the Bureau of Balance, and sends Taako, Magnus and Merle on a high-stakes mission to find and Reclaim a fourth deadly relic: a powerful transmutation stone, hidden somewhere in the depths of a floating arcane laboratory that’s home to the Doctors Maureen and Lucas Miller. An unknown menace has seized control of the stone, and is using it to transform the lab into a virulent pink crystal that spreads to everything it touches.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Bookseller Top 5 of 2021 - Part 3

 More top 5 picks? More top 5 picks!

Jen Steele took over our kids buying this year, but she still reads lots of grown folks novels, too! Here are her picks for 2021:

#1 The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade. Jen's rec: "A poignant novel set in New Mexico, The Five Wounds follows the lives of the Padilla family: 33 yr. old Amadeo, his pregnant 15 yr. old daughter, Angel, the family matriarch Yolanda, and Tio Tive, who has initiated Amadeo into the hermandad and casted him to portray Jesus in their reenactment of the crucifixion. Jobless, living with his mother, and estranged from his teenage daughter, Amadeo searches for purpose and perhaps redemption. His daughter Angel has shown up unannounced and eight months pregnant, and Yolanda returns home with a life-altering secret. Amadeo and Angel’s fragile relationship starts to mend as they navigate through daily life and welcome the newest member into the family. Kirstin Valdez Quade tells a captivating story about family, loss, redemption and the power of faith. I could not put this book down! You will laugh, cry, get angry, and want to hug these characters. Masterful storytelling!"

#2 Maiden Voyages: Magnificent Ocean Liners and the Women Who Traveled and Worked Aboard Them by Siân Evans. And Jen says: "What marvelous book! An exquisite blend of history and biography, Maiden Voyages takes you on a cruise to a part of women's history that is not often discussed. Sian Evans highlights the unsung sheroes of the day as well as giving the reader a truly informative book."

#3 Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Ried. Jen's rec is: "Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit are the children of the world-famous crooner Mick Riva. However, they may know him best through celebrity magazines. Raised by their mother June, the siblings grow up in Malibu and bond over surfing. Told in two parts, we learn the family's history from the mid-fifties to late seventies and then of the day of the Riva's annual end-of-summer party in 1983. Each chapter reveals a new heartbreak, all leading up to the most explosive party the siblings have ever hosted. Taylor Jenkins Reid sets the scene for family drama and manages to transport you to Malibu's past effortlessly. I was mesmerized by the Rivas, my heart breaking with them at one turn, and laughing out loud at the next, especially at Kit's astute observations. Make an 80's surfing playlist and add this to your summer read pile!"

#4 Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers. Jen's rec follows: "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!"

And #5 Velvet was the Night by  Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Jen's note of recommendation: "Maite is a lowly secretary at a law firm. Her romance comic books and music collection are what keep her warm at night. When her beautiful next-door neighbor, Leonora, knocks on her door one night, Maite does not know what to expect and finds herself taking care of Leonora’s cat while Leonora is out of town. When Leonora does not return, Maite sets out to find her with the hope that she can finally get paid for her pet sitting. However, Maite will soon realize she has become entangled in something she has no business to be involved in. Enter Elvis - his boss wants him to find Leonora at all costs. It turns out Leonora is a radical activist with incriminating photos of a powerful politician. Elvis and his crew are not the only players in town, either - there are other government agents involved, and everyone is coming for the last person to see Leonora alive: Maite. 1970’s Mexico City is volatile, and you can either keep your head down and stay small, or you can light the match. Silvia Moreno-Garcia delivers a first-rate, red-hot noir based on historical facts, and I loved every moment!

Who's next? That would be Jenny Chou, our school event coordinator extraordinaire! Here are her favorites of the year:

#1 Any Sign of Life by Rae Carson. A sign Jenny likes a book? She writes a rec like this: "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 next October."

#2 Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. Jenny says: "Readers will carry Doerr’s latest story in their thoughts as they go about their day, checking watches or phones, waiting for the minute they can return to his world and his characters. The book is a breathtaking tribute to the art and power of storytelling and a reminder of the wondrous places libraries are to those of us who love them. An ancient Greek manuscript is at the center of the story, and its passage through time connects children (and the adults they become). Anna, in 1453, is a clumsy seamstress by day and a stealthy thief by night. She unearths the manuscript, and the story within, and goes on to protect it with her life during the siege of Constantinople. On a snowy night in Idaho, centuries later, a small library hosting a play based on the manuscript becomes the accidental stage for a teenager’s burst of righteous anger. And generations into the future, after humans have managed to ravage our home planet, a spaceship carrying our hope for survival as a species speeds through space. Onboard is fourteen-year-old Konstance, whose fascinating use of the latest library technology binds all the stories together. Cloud Cuckoo Land dances between emotionally wrenching and simply beautiful, and I was left in awe of Anthony Doerr, storyteller."

#3 The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik. Jenny's words: "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!"

#4 The Ones We're Meant to Find by Joan He. Jenny's rec: "On an island, somewhere out in the vast ocean, Cee has only one goal: find her sister Kasey. In Joan He’s enthralling, futuristic page-turner, the relationship between two sisters holds the destiny of earth in the balance. As climate change finally ravages our land and oceans, a chosen few take refuge in a levitating city built in the sky. The rest of humanity flounders on the surface, victims of extreme weather and a polluted atmosphere. Kasey may be a teenager, but her intellect leads her to a plan that will allow earth to recover and humans to thrive once again. But first she must solve the mystery of her missing sister, whose love of the ocean and swimming might have cost her life. Kasey’s search leads her to a mysterious boy named Actinium, who is either trying his best to help her or might be her biggest enemy. In a twisty, unpredictable way that’s reminiscent of We Were Liars, nothing is as it seems in this unforgettable book."

#5 Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. Jenny rounds us out with this glowing wrap of this book: "I knew after reading an advance copy of Project Hail Mary on January 10th that I’d found one of my Top 5 Books of 2021. Turn off your phone because you don’t want to talk to anyone until you reach the last page in this thrill ride of a novel. When the scientific world heartily rejected his theory on the possibility of life evolving without water, microbiologist Ryland Grace retreated in disgrace to life as a middle school science teacher. As it turned out, he likes teaching kids, and he’s good at it, but just as quickly as he was banished, Ryland is yanked back from obscurity to become earth’s one hope for survival. The beginning finds Ryland waking from a coma without the slightest idea of his name or where he might be. Slowly, he becomes more aware, and he's startled to find himself alone on a spaceship, eons from earth, most likely on an important mission, but without a clue where he’s headed or why. Fascinating doesn’t begin to describe the story from that point, and the plot combines chemistry and math with humor and compassion. I loved Ryland’s creativity, and he’s a problem-solving genius, but the connections he makes in space give this outstanding novel its delightful punch of emotional depth."

Another of our newest booksellers, we welcome Kathy Herbst to the blog for her favorites of 2021.

#1 Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women by Annabel Abs. This is Kathy's top pick of the year, which made it into our gift guide. It's also got a recommendation from Kay Wosewick and was named a Pick of the Month by Apple Books and a Best Book of Fall by Powell's and The Story Exchange.  In captivating and elegant prose, Abbs follows in the footsteps of women who boldly reclaimed wild landscapes for themselves, including Georgia O’Keeffe in the empty plains of Texas and New Mexico, Nan Shepherd in the mountains of Scotland, Gwen John following the French River Garonne, Daphne du Maurier along the River Rhône, and Simone de Beauvoir - who walked as much as twenty-five miles a day in a dress and espadrilles - through the mountains and forests of France.

#2 Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu. Kathy wrote this rec: "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?"

#3 Send for Me by local whiz Lauren Fox. The book is a Read with Jenna Today Show book club pick and was an instant New York Times bestseller. An achingly beautiful work of historical fiction that moves between Germany on the eve of World War II and present-day Wisconsin, unspooling a thread of love, longing, and the powerful bonds of family. From Minneapolis Star Tribune: "An artfully constructed and richly absorbing novel that shows how love is strengthened, not weakened, over distance and time."

#4 The Ones We're Meant to Find by Joan He makes a second appearance on a top 5 list! I did not note above that it was also an instant NYTimes Bestseller and a bestseller at Indies across the country. Perfect for fans of Marie Lu and E Lockhart. From School Library Journal: "At turns whimsical and gut-wrenching... He grafts deep moral and ethical questions to a page-turning premise, making this sci-fi standalone an excellent book club selection."

#5 The Invisible Life of Addie Larue (Special Edition!) by VE Schwab. Kathy's recommendation of Schwab's book goes a little something like this: "Addie, born in France at the end of the 17th Century, makes a deal with the devil to escape a life she doesn't want. The price she pays for immortality is to be instantly forgotten by everyone she meets. Addie’s story unfolds between her life in present-day New York City and flashbacks of her experiences traveling the world and witnessing historical events. Extraordinary writing infuses this engrossing and moving book."

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Bookseller Top 5 of 2021 - Part 2

 We continue our daily roundup of the Boswellian's top five books of 2021!

Conrad Silverberg, our special orders guru.

#1 Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice 1967-1975 by Richard Thompson with Scott Timberg. Conrad says: "Is there anything Richard Thompson can't do (hasn't done)? He is one of the finest guitarists to emerge from the late-Sixties stew of London and distinguished himself further by being one of the most sophisticated and clever songwriters. I'm not a big fan of biographies, especially those narcissistic, overblown ones ageing rock stars have been churning out of late. I make the exception here because Thompson is the exception. This is the goods!"

#2 The Bookseller of Florence: The Story of the Manuscripts That Illuminated the Renaissance by Ross King. Conrad's staff rec: "Continues King's long fascination and study of that great city, this time with a topic near and dear to our own hearts - books! This is a meaty tome to indulge in while curled up in your most comfy reading chair, casting your mind back 500-plus years to an age when such activities were the exclusive province of the aristocratic elite. A technological innovation was about to change all that, and Florence was at the heart of the revolution."

#3 Colombiana: A Rediscovery of Recipes and Rituals from the Soul of Colombia by Mariana Velásquez. Conrad is one of our few regular cookbook reviewers, and his adventurous palate finds lots of great books! This one is no exception. Conrad's rec: "Looking for an esoteric and unexpected cuisine that the cooking aficionado on your list almost certainly does not have in their collection (or has even thought of)? Try Colombian! You've had your Korean bulgogis, your Moroccan tagines, your Szechuan spare ribs, your Mexican moles... now take a deep dive into a heady Colombian arepa or two or three! These recipes are tried and tested and stand up to the best the world offers."

#4 Talk to Me by TC Boyle. Conrad's write-up: "Unknotting topical issues that raise complex ethical questions is Boyle's specialty. So are crafting hysterically flawed and self-deluded characters who think that they rise above and are the best ones to take on such dilemmas. Here Boyle confronts the unethical treatment of animals with the plight of a chimpanzee being taught sign-language. Everything is fine as long as the chimp remains young and cute, but once adolescence hits, his future becomes increasingly bleak as he grows larger and stronger and wilder. His handlers want to save him, but their motivations are selfish and self-serving, especially when they think they are most altruistic. Can he be saved?"

#5 When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash. From Conrad: "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."

Our proprietor, Daniel Goldin, narrows down his picks this year into a tip-top 5 list. 
#1 The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade. Daniel says: "The story opens with Amadeo, a struggling, chronically unemployed man being chosen for the part of Jesus in the Penitente ritual during Holy Week in a small New Mexico town. It doesn’t go well. And over the course of the year, the Padilla family confronts one setback after another - matriarch Yolanda’s cancer, Amadeo’s daughter Angel’s struggles at the education center for teenage moms, and any number of slights over the years that have divided husband from wife, parent from child, and brother from sister. The slights and betrayals keep coming, leaving no time for Yolanda to reveal her diagnosis. The thing about Kirstin Valdez Quade’s debut novel, though, is that the characters are suffused with such grace (and the writing is so beautiful) that it’s impossible not to keep going, as I hoped that somehow the characters would break through the barriers not just of misunderstanding, but of everything stacked against them. Like maybe that window repair kit would actually work. It’s hard to conceive that The Five Wounds won’t be one of my favorite books of 2021."
#2 Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian. Daniel's rec: "Stuck at his suburban Atlanta high school, Neeraj (Neil) Narayan simply doesn’t have the drive of his older sister Prachi or the other striving families in his community. But then, through his on-again, off-again friend Anita, he learns the true meaning of the adage, ‘when life gives you lemons…’ Why are little bits of jewelry disappearing from the families of Hammond Creek? And how far can Anita and Neil go in the pursuit of ambition, especially when they settle in the Bay Area, paradise on Earth for the tech striver? I love the way Gold Diggers solders imagery onto the story, whether the tale of the Bombayan prospector Neil is researching or Kanye West’s ‘Gold Digger’ wafting through the high school dance. It reminded me that despite the tension (did I mention this is also a caper novel?)  and the likely heartbreak (we all can’t get what we want), this engaging and insightful novel is a comedy, and there will be a wedding at the end."
#3 Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood by Mark Oppenheimer. Another book about Pittsburgh, a place which we hold dearly in our hearts here at Boswell. Staff rec from Daniel: "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!"
#4 The Secret History of Food: Strange but True Stories About the Origins of Everything We Eat by Matt Siegel. Daniel recommends this tasty book: "Vanilla ice cream, breakfast cereal, corn, tomatoes, and several other foods become the jumping-off point for Matt Seigel’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! "
#5 Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng. Daniel's staff rec: "Dawn is an architecture student whose love for Beethoven and classical music proves to have dangerous consequences during China’s Cultural Revolution. Momo is another music lover, but he safely kept to engineering. And as for Cassia, the love of her life was attacked for being the son of a spy, and worse, for liking Western literature. Cassia wound up marrying Momo and mothering Junie, but the parents struggle with June’s disability, and a second pregnancy does not fare better. All three adults wind up in the United States, but the mess of the past isn’t any less messy stateside as it casts a shadow on the present. Linda Rui Feng’s gift is in the descriptions, the little moments, and the internal ruminations. Quietly beautiful!"
And Daniel would also like to update last year's top five / augment this years with a "published last year but fell between the cracks until this year when it became one of his favorites and one of our bigger hits of the year" picks - Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession. His recommendation: "Hungry Paul wants a job. No, that’s a lie, he’s got one, a once-weekly substitute mail carrier gig. It’s actually his sister Grace who wants him to get a full-time job, so he’ll finally move out from his parents’ house. Leonard lived with his mom too, but she just passed away. Leonard has a job, ghost-writing copy for children’s reference books. He also has a dream, to write his own children’s book.  And maybe to go on a date with Shelley, with whom he shares office space. Hungry Paul also has a dream – to win a local contest coming up with a better way to close correspondence. ‘Sincerely yours’ just doesn’t cut it. Leonard and Hungry Paul is a delightful book with a gentle sense of humor - and sometimes not-so-gentle - I laughed out loud more than once. Leonard and Hungry Paul is perfect for fans of  - dare I say it? - A Man Called Ove. It was recommended to me by two customers, and now I’m recommending it to you!"
Jason Kennedy (no relation to Margaret) is our fearless buyer of books for adults and leader of the Sci Fi Book club. He loves these books.

#1 All's Well by Mona Awad. Jason says: "Miranda’s brilliant career as a stage actor was halted by a fall that broke her hip.  After surgeries and therapy, she is still in chronic pain. Hobbled, she has become a teacher for a theater department, and they put on a Shakespeare play every year. Everyone seems to have written off Miranda’s pain as in her head, and they (her ex-husband, her best friend, and her physical therapist) can barely hide their disbelief that she has any pain. After a mutiny lead by student who wants a different Shakespeare play, Miranda is distraught and in pain. She drowns her sorrows at the pub, where she meets three mysterious men who know all about her and her pain. After a golden drink, Miranda is able to start transferring her pain to others, and her life takes on a new light. Much like Mona Awad’s Bunny, All’s Well starts to get more and more surreal and fantastical. I loved every minute of this crazy, amazing novel - Mona Awad is madly creative and inventive. Bravo."

#2 The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina. The international bestselling novel sold in 21 countries, about grief, mourning, and the joy of survival, inspired by a real phone booth in Japan with its disconnected 'wind' phone, a place of pilgrimage and solace since the 2011 tsunami. When Yui loses both her mother and her daughter in the tsunami, she begins to mark the passage of time from that date onward: Everything is relative to March 11, 2011, the day the tsunami tore Japan apart, and when grief took hold of her life. Yui struggles to continue on, alone with her pain. Then, one day she hears about a man who has an old disused telephone booth in his garden. There, those who have lost loved ones find the strength to speak to them and begin to come to terms with their grief. As news of the phone booth spreads, people travel to it from miles around.

#3 The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman. Jason's recommendation: "Christopher Buehlman hasn’t just written a really good epic fantasy; he has taken the reader and dunked them into a world full of joy, wonder, heartbreak, foulness, horror, and hope. Once I started the book, I couldn’t put it down. The prose! And the dialogue was so perfect, I was laughing out loud from the snark that Kinch Na Shannack narrated his story with, and I was cringing from vicious, nasty goblin attacks or towering giants tossing trees. Kinch owes the Takers Guild for his education, and when they tell him to accompany a knight on her quest, he has no other option – he must go. Know that there is so much to this book; Buehlman will take you down crazy paths that will delight and fright, but I will not say any more about the surprises that are in the book. Go read it now!"

#4 Bubbleball: Inside the NBA's Fight to Save a Season by Ben Golliver. A captivating account of the NBA’s strangest season ever, from shutdown to championship, from a prominent national basketball writer living inside the bubble. Golliver, national NBA writer for the The Washington Post, was allowed access, and Bubbleball is his account of the season and life inside, telling the story of how basketball bounced back from its shutdown, how players staged headline-grabbing social justice protests, and how Lakers star LeBron James chased his fourth ring in unconventional and unforgettable circumstances. Based on months of reporting in the exclusive, confined environment, this is an entertaining record of an extraordinary season.

#5 The Last Winter: The Scientists, Adventurers, Journeymen, and Mavericks Trying to Save the World by Porter Fox. A pick from this year's gift guide. Jason's rec: "An entertaining yet sobering look at how climate change has affected our world - not in some coming-soon-to-you preview, but how people, animals and environments are forever changing right now. More than once, the book left me feeling very dejected and terrified at what we face in the coming decades. This is not a new argument; this is not something that has snuck up on civilization, and we are past the time for turning away from the stark realization that we are losing glaciers and snow (and the important melt that comes from snow that keeps areas from drought in the coming summer). Porter Fox introduces the reader to some amazing people, some of whom have lived through horrible experiences like wild fires, and some who are trying to geoengineer the earth (think floating sea walls) to help protect our shores. Is it too late - will we completely lose our winters? Only if we don’t at least try to help those on the front lines deal with climate change."

More top 5's to come!