Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Staff Recommendation, Week of December 28, 2021

Here it is, the last staff recommendation of the year!

Boswellian Kay Wosewick recommends Once Upon a Time We Ate Animals: The Future of Food, by Roanne van Voorst, translated by Scott Emblen-Jarrett. And Kay says: "Partially written as if from the future, Van Voorst imagines a world of vegans who cannot believe humans ever ate meat. The environmental reasons for being vegan are compelling: the use of animal meat, dairy, and eggs are responsible for more greenhouse gases than all modes of transportation combined. These industries also use and pollute more water than any other industry and account for almost one-half of land use. Meat-like vegan foods are rapidly coming on the market and are usually reasonably easy to prepare. Choose two nights a week to eat vegan, and you will, indeed, make an important difference."

See you next year, readers! Hope you had a great year of books, and here's to more good reading in 2022.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Top 10 Books of 2021- a New Decade

It's that time of year...the end of the year best-of lists. Everyone has Top 10 books of the year, from New York Times to the Washington Post! Obama even gave us a long list of books that he enjoyed this year. I have so many books that I loved that only 10 is difficult, especially in 2021. 2021, the year that publishing overflowed with great works due to books being delayed due to Covid to books being written because writers had nothing to do buy write during Covid. 

It is one of the only good things to come out of 2020 for me (that and curbside pickup at grocery stores--I am not a fan of shopping). There are a lot of books on this list I wish were here, and a lot of books I wished I had read that would be consider for this list. Anyway, here is my imperfect, but very in the moment, top 10 books of 2021:

10) Outlawed by Anna North
A reworked Western novel that mixes equal parts alt-history and feminism into a stellar story. With no future at home Ada has to escape and make it on her own. She meets up with the Hole in the Wall Gang, and the rest is brilliant.   

9)  Hitler and Stalin by Laurence Rees

My only history book that truly came out this year that I finished. I'm partway through so many others. This book examines how Hitler and Stalin compared to each other leading up to World War II, during the war and afterward. It's a sobering look at absolute power. 

8) Tales from the Café by Toshiikazu Kawaguchi

The second book in Before the Coffee Gets Cold series, where we follow four new customers that want to use the café to time travel. At first I was nervous that this would be more of the same and not very unique, but I was wrong. Questions are answered that left off in the previous book and the individual stories are very emotional. Supposedly, there is a third one out in the world waiting for translation, and I can't wait to get my hands on it. 

7) Appleseed by Matt Bell

Here is my eco-fiction title for the season, narrowly beating out Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson. This book is spread out through time: the first section follows a pair of brothers in eighteenth-century Ohio planting apple trees in the path of colonization of the new territories; the second part takes place fifty years in our future, where climate change has ravished the earth; the third part takes place a thousand years from now, where North America is covered by ice sheets and a lonely being is attempting to find life on the bleak planet. Loved this book! 

6) When the Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash
Wiley Cash comes up with ideas like no other. In a quiet east coast town, a plane crashes and starts off a startling series of events. The novel is like an onion, peeling away the story and the community which each layer, until the startling ending comes rushing out of nowhere. 

5) The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina

A heart breaking novel based on true events. After the 2011 tsunami in Japan, a phone booth appeared in which loved ones could make calls to those they've lost. Their messages thrown into the wind. Yui hears about the pilgrimages of of the grief stricken and mourning going to the 'wind phone,' for a bit of closure. Yui lost both her mother and daughter to the tsunami and has been in anguish ever since. The phone booth appears as a beacon of hope that she must confront. 


4) The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier

One ordinary day, a plane appears on the radar. Okay so far, however, upon further inspection, ground control recognizes the plane as one that had already landed three months beforehand. A completely identical plane, including passengers. It's a bit like the TV show Manifest crossed with the book Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I've reread this book twice, two thumbs way up.

3) Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

This is the best Science Fiction novel I read all year. It's a SF novel that has many tropes of the genre: first contact, space exploration, extinction level events, alien languages. Andy Weir only does it better. So much science exists in this book, and Andy Weir makes it understandable and easy to follow in a funny, entertaining way. An unputdownable book!

2) The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman 

This is the best Fantasy novel I read all year. I've loved everything Christopher Buehlman has written, which has been mostly horror before this book. Don't think he gave up on the horror though, there a nightmares that walk in this book. The Blacktongue Thief has everything you want in fantasy novel: a conflicted hero, a quest, a well-built world full of wonders, villains and monsters. Many, many monsters. You will not be able to put this book down! 

1) All's Well by Mona Awad

I thought Mona Awad's follow up to Bunny wouldn't be nearly as good. I was so wrong. It's just as great, no easy feat. Miranda is a washed up stage actor teaching at a university theater department. She's hooked on painkillers from chronic pain due to a fall she took in a play. She's alienated everyone, her fellow teachers and students, and they rebel against her in a myriad of ways. One night, Miranda meets three mysterious strangers at the local pub, who make her an offer to take her pain away. The rest of the book gets more surreal and fantastical as we follow her on a euphoric journey away from her pain. My favorite book of the year!  


Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of December 7, 2021

One blog post, one staff rec!

Out today, and with a write-up from our proprietor Daniel Goldin, it's a debut novel from Milwaukee native (current Paris resident) Rachel Kapelke-Dale: The Ballerinas. Here's Daniel's rec: "Delphine, Lindsay, and Marqaux were inseparable friends and fellow dancers at the Paris Opera Ballet. Now Delphine is back as a guest choreographer, hoping to make Lindsay the star dancer in her new work about Rasputin and the Tsarina Alexandra. But there are a lot of stumbling blocks to this show’s success, like Delphine’s old beaus Jock and Dmitri, Lindsay’s husband Daniel, and Natalie, the head of the company, who wants to push Delphine in a more feminist and modernist direction. So many secrets! So many betrayals! The Ballerinas is a page-turning story of friendship dynamics with an interesting take on the physical tolls and psychological abuses borne by women dancers. Sometimes the author blurbs seem out of left field, but in this case, the Jessica Knoll comparison and the Andrea Bartz recommendation lead readers in the right direction."

Author Kapelke-Dale will join us at Boswell for a hybrid event next week, too - Wednesday, December 15 - click here to visit the Boswell upcoming events page for more info about this event and registration links.

Staff recs are a bit sporadic through the end of the year as we focus on gift book shopping. But keep your eyes on the blog, and we'll keep you updated when we read something we love!

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Bookseller Top 5 of 2021 - Part 6

Our final day of top 5 blogging has come. We hope you have enjoyed it. And we super duper hope you've found a book or two or seven or twenty for yourself and maybe even someone else to love or like or just tolerate. We close out the day with our last two booksellers in alphabetical order (surely you noticed that we did this in alpha-order for fairness, right?!) - Thom and Tim.

Thom Clancy opens us today with his top 5 picks.

#1 Shards of Earth (The Final Architecture #1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The Arthur C Clarke award-winning author of Children of Time offers up an extraordinary space opera about humanity on the brink of extinction, and how one man's discovery will save or destroy us all. Authors weight in: from Stephen Baxter: "If Homer had written space opera... Enthralling, epic, immersive and hugely intelligent. This might be Tchaikovsky's best so far, and that's saying something." And from Christopher Paolini: "Adrian Tchaikovsky: king of the spiders, master worldbuilder, and asker of intriguing questions. His books are packed with thought-provoking ideas (as well as lots of spiders; did I mention the spiders?). One of the most interesting and accomplished writers in speculative fiction."

#2 Red Hands by Christopher Golden. When a mysterious and devastating bioweapon causes its victims to develop Red Hands, the touch of death, weird science expert Ben Walker is called to investigate. From The Washington Post: "Tautly written, Red Hands - the third in a series starring Walker - excels not just because of its scare factor (which is high), but also its humane depiction of grief, isolation and fear, growing mistrust of government and even one’s own neighbors." And from the starred Booklist review: "The neck-whipping action and shifting points of view give the reader a wide-angle perspective...invoking maximum terror on every page.. .For fans of horror-thriller series like those by Jonathan Maberry and Mira Grant."

#3 A Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers. Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers's delightful new entry in the Monk and Robot series gives us hope for the future. It's been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and laid down their tools; centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again; centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend. One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of "what do people need?" is answered. NPR says, "A Psalm for the Wild-Built begins a series that looks optimistic and hopeful, pursuing stories that arise from abundance instead of scarcity, kindness instead of cruelty, and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here."

#4 Fugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries #6) by Martha Wells. Thom loves Murderbot and that's no lie! The  security droid with a heart (though it wouldn't admit it!) is back. When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people - who knew?). Hope you like these notes from NPR, because here's some more: "Martha Wells' newest entry in her award-winning, nerd-charming, trope-bending Murderbot series, Fugitive Telemetry, is a lot of things that you probably don't expect. It is an unadorned whodunit. A cozy mystery garlanded with plasma cannons and spaceships... One of Wells' superpowers has long been her ability to pack an epic's worth of material into a very small package."

#5 The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman. Set in a world of goblin wars, stag-sized battle ravens, and assassins who kill with deadly tattoos, Buehlman's latest begins a dazzling fantasy adventure unlike any other. We've still (as of this posting) got a few signed copies, too! As well as two other fans in the shop - Ogi and Jason - of this one. From Library Journal's starred review: "Readers of epic fantasy novelists, like Tolkien or Brandon Sanderson, will enjoy this journey, which is by turns fun, magical, or terrifying for the travelers... this title is transporting."

And now, we finish our top 5 picking with Tim McCarthy's favorites of the year.

#1 Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead. Tim's rec: "Whitehead starkly defines his characters' world as he unwraps their stories with a direct, graceful style and unique symbolism. I met him once at a Boswell Book Company event. I saw the genius in his eyes; the sincerity, too. And he’s funny! Once again, he drops us into another time. Harlem, 1959, was a much harder place than the one where I was born (that same year). Ray Carney is a loving family man with a small furniture company and modest ambitions for upward movement. He stays at the edges of the hustles all around him, but everything heavy pulls at the edges. He “was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked" until his beloved cousin Freddie draws him into a heist. I like Ray, and in Whitehead’s masterful hands he becomes real. I haven’t read a better American novelist, living or dead. He stands with James Baldwin, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, and E. L. Doctorow. Back-to-back Pulitzers ain’t bad. By giving us the past, Whitehead leads us toward the future. He's the new King of American historical fiction, the new voice as powerful as Doctorow’s. The torch of greatness has been passed."

#2 The Beatryce Prophecy by  Kate DiCamillo, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Tim's rec: "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."

#3 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!"

#4 Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley. Tim's write up goes a bit like this: "Firekeeper's Daughter is a thriller. We know on the first page, when we’re given a glimpse of what’s to come - a revolver pointed at our narrator's face, but the novel doesn't happen at break-neck speed. It's the very personal story of Daunis Fontaine just after her high school graduation. It's deliberate, like her talent for science, and strong, like her ability to play varsity hockey with the boys. She was born a scandal, but her wealthy, white, sixteen-year-old mother insisted on keeping her Ojibwe father’s family in her life. Daunis balances two worlds, loved by both and never completely fitting with either. Now she’s ready for college, looking to be a doctor in the safe world her money and light skin allow her. It's a life her father's Firekeeper family wouldn't expect to have, and things aren't going as planned. Daunis will fight through traumatic losses and walk straight into danger to protect her people, all while pretending she's not falling in love. She's an impressive character, with a toughness and raw honesty that I wish I had. It’s a powerful teen novel, an eye-opening experience, and I learned so many cultural lessons as I was being drawn into the suspense. This is sure to be one of my top books of 2021!"

#5 Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. Tim recommends this book like so: "This book is easy to read, and not because it's simple. Ishiguro creates tremendous emotional depth with a graceful narrative flow. That must be how you win a Nobel Prize: expertly crafting writing that sounds so natural. Klara observes the world and its people with open curiosity, at first untainted by her limited experience, but she’s always learning. Her ability to analyze human behavior with sincerity, consideration, and objectivity is something I would love to possess, but Klara isn't human. She's a machine, waiting for a future with a human family who would buy her as their child's Artificial Friend. She looks forward to being displayed in the storefront window, where nourishment from the sun will make her stronger, and she can see more of the city's intensity. Then there’s a wider world out there, where her status will be friend, family, and possession. Klara feels the effects. She has her own intentions, and her personal story has an unmistakable living warmth. Can Klara love and be loved? Is she ultimately being used for her owners' needs alone, or do they care for her as they would care for a person? One thing I can say without hesitation is that I wish Klara was my friend!"

We sincerely hope you've enjoyed our notes on our favorite books of 2021. Until next year's roundup-list-making-time, happy reading to all of you.