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!

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