Wednesday, December 14, 2022

The Boswellians' Top 5 Books of 2022 - Part Six

It is the last post of our top 5 roundups. Wow! We've recapped a lot of books so far. Here are a handful more, from Ogi and Oli, giving us a strong finish.

Ogi almost always has a great go-to rec for fantasy fans - both those just starting to get into the whole swords and dragons thing and readers who have long been living in other worlds on the page. In his top 5 this year, he branches out with some interesting selections.

#1 The Emperors of Byzantium by Kevin Lygo. Here's what Ogi says: "My favorite book of 2022 wasn't a fantasy book? Shocking. This book catalogs every single Emperor of the Byzantine Empire from beginning to end, giving us the general view of their reign. I found myself thinking "Eh, one more Emperor and then bedtime" all the way to 3am! Quick, snappy, and visually appealing, this book reads at a break neck pace. What other history books can say that? "

#2 The Creative Gene: How books, movies, and music inspired the creator of Death Stranding and Metal Gear Solid by Hideo Kojima, translated by Nathan Collins. Ogi's notes: "I really like learning about the art that inspired the people who inspire me. Hideo Kojima, arguably one of the most important designers in the video game space, writes about some of his favorite works of art and gives us some insight into his life. Read it if you like listening to people talk about the things they love."

#3 Adventurer: The Life and Times of Giacomo Casanova by Leo Damrosch. Here are Ogi's words on the book: "I've fallen down the Giacomo Casanova Wikipedia hole too many times to count. The nonsense this man got up to was baffling, even escaping the Doge's prison at one point. Leo Damrosch's writing gives this book the feeling of a slow burn television drama. I absolutely love it!"

#4 The First Binding by RR Virdi. And Ogi sums it up like this: "The Kingkiller Chroniclers meets the Silk Road! A stunning tale of amazing feats imbued with South Asian mythology. Styled in a similar sense, any fans of The Name of the Wind are sure to love this book, too!"

With his last pick, Ogi goes for an older book - we at Boswell believe in backlist, so we let each bookseller pick one older book for their top five, if they so wish.

#5 The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Ogi writes: "Since reading this book in the summer of 2021, I have thought about it every single day since. Forget being one of my favorite books, this is one of my favorite pieces of entertainment! It's books like this that remind me why I'm so in love with reading; it's books like this that inspire me to write. If you're even moderately interested in the fantasy or heist genres, you won't be able to put this book down!"

And now we go to Oli Schmitz for their top 5 picks of the year, and we get a good bit of book magic.

#1 Ocean's Echo by Everina Maxwell. Maxwell's book makes its second appearance on the top 5 blogs. Oli says: "Set in the same universe as Winter's Orbit, but with an entirely standalone story and new cast of characters, Ocean's Echo is an adventure in space, minds, and galactic politics that truly stands out. As a fan of Maxwell's previous book, I love that Ocean's Echo is another character-forward space opera, with a story that illustrates very real mental health and relational issues and centers themes of building trust and selfhood. Surit is an architect who can "write" commands into the minds of others; Tennal is a powerful "reader" who can pick up on thoughts and intentions. When the military tries to force Surit to sync with Tennal, they realize that neither has signed up for this, but they must work together to protect their autonomy. The narrative is a split point-of-view between these two characters, and I loved their distinct voices and the dynamic they have together. You can trust Maxwell to carry you safely through to the end, even as the characters navigate a charged military-political landscape and dangerous, mind-bending bits of chaotic space. I found myself rooting for the characters, hooked even more by every twist, and all-around captivated by the story."

#2 The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri. Oli writes: "Under a plot of reclaiming what has been taken - from family to power and an entire kingdom - this epic, Sapphic fantasy truly has it all. Secret pasts! Conflicting motives! A vengeful princess imprisoned in exile, a ruined temple that once housed ancient, magical waters, a priestess, one of only a few survivors of the temple's destruction, hiding in plain sight, and oh so much more! Alongside the exciting world and complicated characters, this first installment in The Burning Kingdoms trilogy has a story that confronts imperialism, religion, resistance, morality, and reclaiming what has been taken - whether that be one's power, past, family, or an entire kingdom. (And did I mention the queer romance?) One of the best books I've read this year, and definitely a series worth starting."

As maybe you've noticed, that last one is Oli's "earlier than 2022" pick of the year. We stand by it still!

#3 The Women Could Fly by Megan Giddings. Oli's notes: "In this strange, lovely, and beautifully told novel, a bi and biracial woman confronts difficult choices and a complicated family history. Giddings seamlessly weaves social commentary into the narrative as she contends with the history of persecution for witchcraft - with power and otherness - and brings it into a contemporary speculative-fictional world. The Upper Midwest setting is part of an America that mirrors our own in its patterns of oppression. The existence of witches and the fictional state's regulation of women for fear of witchcraft offer a fascinating way to examine how fear drives marginalization in our reality. A novel of learning to exist in (and apart from) the world in which you find yourself."

#4 Her Majesty's Royal Coven by Juno Dawson. Oli writes: "Brilliant, timely, magical, thoughtful, and fun: Her Majesty's Royal Coven kicks off a new urban fantasy series that you won't want to miss. Book 1 follows a once tight-knit childhood friend group of young witches whose adult lives have been shaped by the Coven establishment and a recent magical war, and whose different paths and pasts have complicated their relationships to each other in adulthood. When one sees an ideological threat to the Coven and all magic where another sees a teenager in need of support, a fight for survival and inclusion ensues, forcing the characters to confront what's worth taking a stand on. HMRC is full of magic, chosen family, and fierce, protective love. I adored so many of the characters; split-perspective between these different witches brought so much to the story, especially to the ending - what a twist! This book is for anyone who's had someone they admire go too far over the wrong things, for those who understand otherness, and for those who want moments of coziness and friendship alongside a story of demonic entities and awesome witches."

#5 Legends & Lattes: A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes by Travis Baldree. Here's what Oli says: "Legends and Lattes: A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes is the perfect comfort read, with a story as sweet as Thimble's cinnamon rolls, as warm as a fresh cup of coffee, with a subtle dash of queer romance. In a Dungeons and Dragons-type world, Viv the battle-weary orc hangs up her sword for good, intending to settle down and open a coffee shop. What follows is a cozy adventure about creating a home and building a new life, one of found family and formed community. Rarely do I find myself exclaiming aloud while reading, but I couldn't contain an "aww" here and there - and some scenes were so cute that I nearly cried. I want to join the regulars at Viv's coffee shop, with its promise of coffee, conversation, and the sense of things falling into place. This book is so cozy!"

What a year. What a bunch of great books. Thanks for reading the top 5 blogs. We hope you found some books to read that you'll love as much as we've loved them. And until next time, read on.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The Boswellians' Top 5 Books of 2022 - Part Five

A new day in December, a new set of top 5 picks from your favorite Boswellians. Let's go!

Rachel Copeland brings the romance with her book club and her book picks. Here are her favorites of the year.

#1 Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood. Rachel writes: "Purple-haired scientist Bee K√∂nigswasser's big opportunity at NASA comes with one problem in the form of her project's co-lead, the man who hates her the most: Levi Ward. But when she confronts him about missing supplies and lack of email access, suddenly Levi is... nice? Helpful? Supportive? Surely this is some sort of bizarro world where Levi never hated Bee to begin with. I just need to know… how does Ali Hazelwood do it? By the end of the first page, I knew Love on the Brain would be one of my favorite reads of the year. Every page is a delight, every character is wonderful - you just have to read this for yourself."

#2 Ocean's Echo by Everina Maxwell. Rachel writes: "Tennal Halkana can't escape the truth of his existence no matter where he runs, who he sleeps with, or how many drugs he takes - he's a mind reader, the result of illegal neuromodification experiments. Out of options, he's conscripted into the military, forced to sync with Surit Yeni, an architect capable of controlling a mind as wild and chaotic as Tennal's. Yet Surit won't sync an unwilling reader, so they fake the sync and plan Tennal's escape. What follows is a fight they never anticipated - for autonomy, for justice, and for each other. Maxwell deepens the worldbuilding established in Winter's Orbit with a focus on the mysterious alien remnants that seem to have endless horrifying possibilities. I don't know how it's possible in a story that engages in difficult topics such as coercion and mental health issues, but Ocean's Echo left me with a distinctly warm feeling. Can one feel hugged by a space opera? Asking for a friend."

#3 Making its third appearance on the top 5 blogs, it's Alexandra Rowland's A Taste of Gold and Iron. Here's Rachel's take on this one: "Following an altercation with the body-father of his sister's newborn child, Prince Kadou must prove his loyalty to his sister, the sultan, and figure out who is behind the counterfeit currency plot that could ruin their country of Arasht. Crippled with anxiety, Kadou finds himself stuck with a terse new bodyguard, Evemer, who doesn't seem to like Kadou all that much. After a series of incidents in which Kadou improbably proves himself more canny, dutiful, and capable than Evemer thought possible, an undying loyalty and trust grows between them - and evolves into something more. In every way, this is the romance I've been waiting for. The slow build between Kadou and Evemer was so well done that I often flipped back to reread passages just for fun. Also, every (non-evil) character in this book is iconic, and Rowland had me cackling, blushing, and screaming at multiple points. Rowland's worldbuilding encompasses not only the touch-taste of precious metals that drives the plot, but also a fully realized system of genders, pronouns, orientations, even degrees of paternity. I finished this work wanting - maybe needing - to revisit it immediately to recapture the feeling of pure joy that infuses every page."

#4 The Bodyguard by Katherine Center. Rachel writes: "Hannah looks like an ordinary young woman, which is a great advantage in her profession as a bodyguard. Dumped by her boyfriend/coworker the day after her mother's funeral, she's determined stay professional and prove herself to her boss - but then she gets assigned to Jack Stapleton. You know him, of course - twice voted sexiest man alive, blockbuster movie actor, and recently the subject of a death threat or two. With his mother's health in question, Hannah has no choice but to pretend to be Jack's girlfriend in order both keep him safe and not worry his family. Now she just has to do her job... and guard her heart. What a thoroughly charming book this is! Hannah's matter-of-fact voice is so funny that I could listen to her talk about security and guns all day, and Jack is so wonderfully quirky (always misses when throwing away trash, does tricks on horseback) that I couldn't help but fall for him along with Hannah. Center's writing style is super charming and adorably weird (there's a character named Dog House!); I was laughing the whole time."

#5 The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna. Rachel says: "Mika Moon is lonely; it's the reality of being a modern witch. When she's invited to a mysterious place called Nowhere House to tutor three young witches, she should refuse, but she doesn't. In a house run by a housekeeper, a groundskeeper and his retired actor husband, and a grumpy (and gorgeous) librarian for an absentee archeologist who fosters the girls, Mika is the only person who can help the girls control their magic. Now all Mika has to do is keep the girls' feet on the ground (literally!) and her heart guarded from something she shouldn't want - to love and be loved. Finally, a witch book that really nails it! The magic in this book is that perfect balance of wicca-ish and Sabrina the Teenage Witch silliness, but the real winner is the human element of found family. Mandanna's writing is relentlessly charming - mark me down as devotee!"

Next it's Conrad Silverberg, who takes us all over the world with his selections.

#1 Musical Revolutions: How the Sounds of the Western World Changed by Stuart Isacoff. Conrad says: "If you are able to get past its fixation on the West, you will find this a highly informative joyride through the twists, turns, and sudden surges of innovation that have characterized the evolution of 2000 years of Western music. Isacoff's voice is a steady and confident guide, and his observations are consistently perceptive and eye-opening. He brings the music to life on the page. No easy feat. Musical Revolutions is a wonderful accomplishment that will be thoroughly enjoyed and revisited for years to come."

#2 & #3 - The Passenger and Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy. Seems like these should be gathered together, since they have been in this box set

Of The Passenger, Conrad writes: "It has been sixteen years since Cormac McCarthy's last novel was published, and for some of us, that is just a ridiculously long time to go without. Has it been worth the wait? Absolutely. This is his best book since Blood Merridian (and that is saying an awful lot!). Every page is filled with the rich, taut, and precise writing for which he is known. Gem after gem of the most exquisite sentences you could ever hope to read. The Passenger is filled with just the kind of sociopathic characters, fixated on philosophy, theology, and their astonishing moral ambiguity, that McCarthy has made his stock in trade. This is vintage McCarthy, perhaps a bit less bloody than his previous books, but shot through with the soaring, almost biblical, flights of storytelling that defines his best work. Join the legions who consider him to be America's finest living novelist."

Conrad's Stella Maris write-up includes footnotes, which I appreciate. Here it is: "Stella Maris is the second book, a coda if you will, of Cormac McCarthy's duology* that began with The Passenger. From what I had heard, I was expecting a kind of Rashomon**-like experience with different characters recasting themselves in the lead role, shoehorning themselves into the center of events, whose perspectives contradict and utterly supersede those of all others. But, that's not quite it. More like McCarthy was so enthralled with the backstory of one of The Passenger's major characters (if, for the most part, an off-stage character - a sort of Fifth Business***), he couldn't help but bring them to the fore and flesh out their story. We can only be grateful that he did. We come to know one of the most richly layered, intricately developed, deeply flawed yet completely compelling characters you'd ever hope to meet in fiction. The sister of The Passenger's protagonist is very much the lynchpin that ties everything together, and so maybe Fifth Business after all.

*Like a trilogy, but with two books - I suppose that's better than calling it a bi-ology.
**The book of short stories by the Japanese master Ryuno Akutagwa, perhaps better known from the 1950 film adaptation by the great Akira Kurasawa.
***The role in a play or opera that is neither hero nor heroine, villain nor confidante, but is absolutely essential to bringing about the story's denouement - like some doddering old nurse who absentmindedly switched two babies at birth only to reveal all at the end."

#4 Horizons: The Global Origins of Modern Science by James Poskett. Conrad says: "This is decidedly not overly focused on the West. Science has its origins from all over the world, and this book helps bring a refreshingly global perspective to the history of how we have come to know what we know. The growth of science has always been predicated on the free exchange of ideas. We forget that many of the great European scientists throughout the ages explicitly quoted from and were inspired by earlier writings from China, Persia, Egypt, India, and Arabia. This is as true today as it has ever been."

#5 Atlas of Forgotten Places: Journey to Abandoned Destinations from Around the Globe by Travis Elborough. Conrad says: "All over the world, the landscape is dotted with ghostly enigmas: places formerly the homes and monuments of their inhabitants but now deserted, abandoned to slowly crumble into dust. These are sometimes-otherworldly sites, forsaken for a variety of reasons, and often surreally appealing in their ruin. Here's your chance to decipher their mysteries and relearn their secrets. Maybe they'll inspire your next vacation!"

And we conclude today's top five-ificiations with Jenny Chou who offers up a delightfully dreamy set of books.

#1 The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik. Jenny writes: "If you are anything like me, the last line of Naomi Novik’s book The Last Graduate destroyed you in that astonishing way that only the best fiction can. After declaring his love, Orion shoved El out of the graduation hall and stayed to fight the maw-mouth on his own. Since no one survives a maw-mouth attack (except El herself), she needs to get back into the Scholomance and save the life of that “bag of jumbled screws,” Orion Lake, and not for the first time; she’s keeping score. While this quest propels the story forward at a don’t-bother-me-I’m-reading pace, Novik’s social justice theme brings the real depth to this brilliant conclusion to the Scholomance series. When El discovers the hideous secret that allowed the enclaves to create their structure of safety and advantages, Novik forces readers to contemplate the damage inflicted on the weakest among us. The emotional journey taken by El, Orion, and their many enemies and few friends made for a series I’m sorry to see the end of, but I couldn’t have imagined a more fulfilling conclusion."

#2 See You Yesterday by Rachel Lynn Solomon. This one gets us into Jenny's recent love of trim travel books that go beyond the old sci-fi tropes. Jenny writes: "Signing up for physics her freshman year of college was a mistake that becomes clear the moment Barrett sits down next to the unbearably annoying Miles, a know-it-all who puts her on the spot in front of the class and the professor for absolutely no reason. She’s never seen Miles before in her life, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know each other. It doesn’t take long for Barrett to figure out she’s become stuck in a time loop of endless Wednesday the 21st of Septembers. And caught there with her? Ugh. Miles. What ensues is hilarious and very nearly broke my heart (not unexpected for a Rachel Lynn Solomon novel). Writing a book set almost entirely in just one day is challenging, but Solomon’s creativity makes for a real page turner. Barrett’s combination of outspoken and insecure land her in trouble with every repeat, while Miles pretty much has to be dragged out of the physics library, where he’s determined to find the scientific solution to reaching Thursday, September 22nd. Barrett’s sense of adventure doesn’t mesh with Miles’s cautious personality, so watching the two learn to understand each other makes for a charming read. I’m not giving anything away to tell you that my favorite enemies-to-lovers trope is well played here, but the path to Thursday, September 22nd leads through an unexpected and epic twist that fans of YA romance won’t want to miss."

#3 This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub. Another time travelling and heartstring-tugging tale. Jenny says: "2022 is shaping up to be an excellent year for time travel novels. Literally one super-star read after another, and as I write this, it's only February. In This Time Tomorrow, Emma Straub's take on the time-travel twist, we don’t need to understand the science behind main character Alice’s journeys to her past, just her motivations for going back to age sixteen - first accidentally and then on purpose. At the start of the book, she’s forty, and it’s apparent that Alice is not living her best life. Her father, the most important person in her life, is dying, and everyone else is caught up in the chaos of their own life or is just dull background noise in Alice’s. So, when the opportunity arises, Alice tries to rearrange her present-day life over and over again from the springboard of her sixteenth birthday. Fixing certain problems often leads to bigger problems and lots of laughs for the reader, but the heartbeat of the novel is Alice’s relationship with her dad. Her longing to somehow adjust his path by changing her actions gives This Time Tomorrow a sense of poignancy and tenderness. Trust me, you’re going to fall in love with Alice and the people who stumble in and out of her life over the course of this absolutely delightful book."

#4 Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternack. In this historical fantasy novel, Ziva will do anything to save her twin brother Pesah from his illness, even if it means down the Angel of Death himself. This one earned four (four!) starred reviews, including this from PW: "Pasternack shows how Ziva’s love of justice drives her, while depicting a world in which spirits are manifest, healers come in many forms, and a bold girl can literally bargain with the Angel of Death. Tenderly rendering Ziva’s feelings of responsibility - including around Pesah’s physical care and amputating his infected fingers and toes - Pasternack imagines a rich, omen-filled journey that powerfully shows love and its limits."

#5 Book of Night by Holly Black. Jenny writes: "If you, like me, are waiting not-so-patiently for Leigh Bardugo to write the sequel to her adult novel, The Ninth House, here’s something to keep you busy in the meantime. Holly Black’s first foray into writing for grown-ups is an urban fantasy with a stunning mix of magic, horror, heists, and the perfect amount of impossible romance. There is nothing I love better than an author who creates a believable twist on magic, and Black’s world building is outstanding. Every page feels overcast and dark, and no wonder; human shadows are infused with power to be sold or traded and even killed for. Additionally, her characters are nuanced and sharply portrayed. Main character Charlie tries to keep a low-profile as a bartender, hiding from her past as a thief, but as in all the best novels, that past just won’t leave her alone. Her sister and seemingly perfectly nice boyfriend struck me as not to be trusted from the beginning. Were my instincts right? Find out for yourself on May 3rd! But here’s a warning for you, clear your schedule before you turn to page one, because you won’t put Book of Night down until you reach the gasp-out-loud last page."

Only one more top 5 post to go - you can hardly wait, right? Until tomorrow, read on, dear readers.

Monday, December 12, 2022

The Boswellians' Top 5 Books of 2022 - Part Four

So many top 5 picks!

Margaret Kennedy brings us romance and adventure for the holidays.

#1 Portrait of a Thief by Grace D Li. Margaret writes: "Compelling and personal, Grace D Li’s Portrait of a Thief tells the tale of five Chinese American college students as they confront the meaning of identity and attempt to pull off a heist that will shake the world. Will Chen, an art history major at Harvard, and four of his friends are offered a dangerous opportunity from a wealthy Chinese businesswoman - steal back art that was stolen from China, which western museums refuse to return. Li keeps the action rolling as the heist is pulled off and yet is able to explore each of the five friends’ motivations for agreeing to this lucrative deal. The characters are motivated by their place in the Chinese American diaspora, yet each has their own complicated relationship with their heritage. As the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves, they grapple between what is expected of them and what they want as the try to do the impossible and shape history in the process."

#2 A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland makes its second appearance on the Boswell top 5 blogs. Margaret doesn't have a write-up for us, so let's go with the Indie Next bookseller quote, from Katie Elms, Bookbug, Kalamazoo, MI: "A sizzling romance that had me on the edge of my seat! Kadou and Evemer are compelling and their world is full of delightful intrigue. Themes of fealty, forgiveness, and the true value of things make this an unforgettable adventure."

#3 A Lady's Guide to Fortune Hunting by Sophie Irwin. From People magazine: "Bridgerton fans will swoon over this entertaining romp through Britain’s Regency-era high society." Yes, I also have noticed how often I've found myself using pull quotes from People in the past year. Kudos to their book reviewing staff writers, who are really, really good and writing snappy one-liners about books. This debut follows the adventures of an entirely unconventional heroine who throws herself into the London Season to find a wealthy husband.  But the last thing she expects is to find love.

#4 Red, White & Royal Blue: Collector's Edition by Casey McQuiston. We do, indeed, allow top 5 throwbacks for special editions, and this one is particularly special to Margaret. The special hardcover edition of McQuiston's beloved New York Times bestselling novel, featuring illustrated endpapers, an all new Henry-POV chapter, and more. When the book was originally released in 2019, it was selected as a best book by: Vogue, Vanity Fair, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, BookPage, Kirkus, Library Journal, Shelf Awareness, and She Reads. Wow, right?

#5 A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall. This is lush, sweeping queer historical romance that's perfect for Bridgerton fans. From the starred PW review: "The period banter is unparalleled as Hall pulls his characters out of the drawing room and into far closer quarters. He explores difficult subjects with a sharpness matched only by the tenderness underpinning the relationship between Viola and Gracewood. Fans of Lisa Kleypas and anyone looking for romance centering trans characters owe it to themselves to check this out."

Next bookseller on the list is Kay Wosewick, one of our most prolific book recommenders. 

#1 The Alpha Female Wolf: The Fierce Legacy of Yellowstone's 06  by  Rick McIntyre. Kay writes: "This is McIntyre’s fourth book documenting the return of wolves to Yellowstone. Female 06 is unusual from the start: she leaves her natal pack when very young, lives alone for several years, and snubs many suitors. Eventually she chooses brothers 754 and 755 to settle down with, another unusual, yet auspicious, decision. Fierce, fast, fair, and famous, 06 is the epitome of a female alpha wolf. You will fall in love. McIntyre’s series is unparalleled. Why? McIntyre went out every single day for 15 consecutive years to document the wolves. WOW. Just WOW."

#2 What We Fed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri. Kay says: "Each story in this collection is a unique gem. Told from animals’ points-of-view, the narrators include a donkey, tiger, vulture, and fox, a rhino keeper’s dog, a sled dog, whale, wolf, and a pigeon. Joy, fear, curiosity, confusion, willfulness, and denial are among the feelings and thoughts revealed by the narrators. Read the stories one at a time. You might find yourself inside another creature’s mind… all on your own."

#3 Nature's Wild Ideas: How the Natural World Is Inspiring Scientific Innovation by Kristy Hamilton. Here's Kay's take: "Biomimicry is a simple idea: take inspiration from nature to solve human problems. Putting it into action? Well, that’s not so simple. Hamilton describes a baker’s dozen of biomimicry projects, each in a different field of study, each with its unique source of inspiration. Three of the sources are human bones, reptile spit, and pomegranates. Curious? Hamilton’s writing is very accessible, and this book will sate anyone’s curiosity."

#4 The Dolphin House by Audrey Schulman. Kay's recommendation: "The inspiration for Schulman's novel is a brief but groundbreaking study conducted on dolphins in the summer of 1965. A young woman is hired to feed four 'research' dolphins who live in a lagoon on St. Thomas. Having grown up around pigs and horses (intelligent animals), Cora is naturally curious. Unlike the scientists, she gets in the water, and is immediately struck by a fascinating variety of sounds. The dolphins flee to the farthest corner, so Cora pretends to be busy and ignores them. Perfect! The dolphins soon come to check her out, and so begins their friendship. In a very short time, Cora devises ways to communicate with the dolphins - a gigantic step in animal research at the time. Scientists and journalist from around the world come to St. Thomas, and soon the world knows that dolphins are highly intelligent creatures. Schulman's story is breathtaking, heartwarming, and heartbreaking, and a must-read for animal lovers."

#5 Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty. Its second appearance in the top 5s. Kay says: "Gunty’s daring, bold, and brilliant debut will shake you, shock you, make you laugh, maybe make you cry, and keep you riveted to the very last page. It takes place in a once-thriving, now decaying industrial Midwestern town. Most residents are decaying with the town, but Blandine’s internal volcano is about to erupt and shake the town. Stunning."

We wrap up today's top 5-ing with Madi Hill.

#1 Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World's Most Notorious Diaries by Rick Emerson. Madi writes: "Unmask Alice by Rick Emerson is a debunking of the infamous “real life” diaries that began with Go Ask Alice and the woman that was responsible for their creation. While the title alludes to the more recognizable Alice journal, Emerson spends more attention on its successor, Jay's Journal, that was one of the largest powder kegs to set off the Satanic Panic. After a Utah teen commits suicide, his mother turned to Alice author Beatrice Sparks to spread awareness of teen suicide and the need to focus on mental health, but instead, she created a false diary which became a smear campaign that destroyed the teen's family. This is the true story behind a relentless fraudster who was desperate for recognition and used falsehoods and fear to get it. Unmask Alice is the perfect read for the casual true crime reader that prefers to avoid the gory details. Just remember to check your sources."

#2 Acne: A Memoir by Laura Chinn. Madi says: "Acne is Chinn's story of growing up with divorced Scientologist parents, practically raising herself while heavily smoking and drinking her way through her late adolescence and teens. Through the divorce, relocating to Clearwater, Florida where she struggled with her biracial identity, understanding her class standing, a near-mute alcoholic step father, and her older brother's brain cancer, Chinn has one concern above all else: her cystic acne. There is so much going on in this memoir that Chinn's obsession over her skin condition seems to be one of the only things grounding her in the swirling chaos of the rest of her life. Chinn's writing is witty, smart, and heartbreaking, and will especially resonate with those who know the agony that comes with chronic acne."

#3 Noodle and the No Bones Day by Jonathan Graziano, illustrated by Dan Tavis. This sweet and entertaining picture book comes from the creator of the viral 'Bones or No Bones' TikTok videos. The book version follows Noodle the pug and his human as they navigate Noodle’s first No Bones Day - a day for being kind to yourself. More than just entertaining, Noodle's book and videos present an opportunity to equip kids with an accessible vocabulary to engage with lessons around self-care, motivation, and emotional intelligence that's never been more necessary than during the last two years of pandemic burnout.

#4 Ghost Eaters by Clay Chapman gets this recommendation from Madi: "How far would you go to see a loved one that had passed? Ghost Eaters imagines a world in which it’s possible but at a very steep price. After the overdose death of her ex-boyfriend and best friend Silas, Erin and her friends have to navigate their grief while trying to establish their post-college adult lives. When one of the friends reveals he and Silas found a magic mushroom that allows the living to speak to the dead, the friends try to find Silas, but encounter much more of the spirit world than intended. Though supernatural, Chapman uses this horror story to explore how people cope with mourning and addiction, especially in an already difficult transitory time for these early twenty-something characters. His exploration of an abusive relationship beyond the dead is creepy but gripping. Ghost Eaters explores how history is never truly in the past, and the impact the dead still have on the living."

#5 Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor by Kim Kelly. This is a revelatory, inclusive history of the American labor movement, from independent journalist and labor columnist Kim Kelly. From Amazon’s warehouses to Starbucks cafes, Appalachian coal mines to the sex workers of Portland’s Stripper Strike, interest in organized labor is at a fever pitch not seen since the early 1960s. Inspirational, intersectional, and full of crucial lessons from the past, Fight Like Hell shows what is possible when the working class demands the dignity it has always deserved.

More top 5 lists coming tomorrow! Hooray!

Sunday, December 11, 2022

The Boswellians' Top 5 Books of 2022 - Part Three

Another day, another handful of top 5 books. What a wonderful thing!
These three booksellers off up a wide variety of great reads.

Tim McCarthy is one of our more prolific book recommenders. With more than 100 recs on his staff rec page, you know that he's drawing up his top 5 from a long list of great books. Here are his faves this year.

#1 Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel. Tim writes: "I'm trying to understand why Mandel's writing casts a spell on me. I don’t have a complete answer, but I’ve decided on this: her style is steady and beautiful, she’s smart without sounding pretentious, and her characters feel true. There's a flesh and blood intimacy about them that makes me feel safe in their world, even as we’re brought to the edge of catastrophe. When tragedy comes, I want to face it with these fictional people. This novel builds on The Glass Hotel (which I loved!) and Station Eleven (which I now must read!). It brings the past and future together as if connections across time are waiting to be discovered. It throws our reality into doubt by questioning how we came to be, and it shows us that technology will never hide our humanity. I’ll forgo the summary and just say that Mandel has created a dazzling story with humble simplicity, then tied it tight with a perfect ending."

#2 Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe by David Maraniss. Tim writes: "Swedish King Gustav V apparently told Jim Thorpe, as he handed him a gold medal at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, that he was “the most wonderful athlete in the world.” Thorpe was certainly admired and sought after worldwide for his unmatched athleticism and talent. Everyone wanted to see him, wherever he went. He was on World Series teams, he was there at the inception of the NFL, and later he had many small Hollywood film roles, befriending the biggest stars of the day. Thorpe was often used as a novelty as well, a drawing card constantly subject to racial stereotypes, and as time passed he became more actively involved with indigenous people’s rights. As a man, Jim Thorpe had serious human flaws and struggled constantly to succeed, but he was personally kind and generous, offering a huge smile to all. He never seemed inclined to pity himself or stop chasing his dreams. The extraordinary details of his life, including many connections to Wisconsin and Milwaukee, are endlessly fascinating, and Maraniss makes them exceptionally smooth reading. He wraps Thorpe's life into the story of America, and he’s blunt about our cruel contradictions in such an intelligent way that my progressive anger feels completely validated. This is a top-flight history lesson that separates the truth from the myth of a legendary and iconic American!"

#3 The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais. Tim's write-up: "Oh, man! By that I mean oh, how does a man review a book like this!? Let's start (and end) with the fact that I loved every minute. I loved the characters, and the plot twists, and the very verbal crow. Most of all, I loved the sense that Marais was having as much fun writing as I was reading about a sisterhood of glorious old witches with a long history in a town that’s been mostly ok with them, until something changes. Now their manor and their popular distillery are being attacked by a mob of irrational townsmen (go figure), and reliving their own tragic past could offer them either salvation or destruction. They’re not sure which. Enter the Mayor’s spiky-haired teenage daughter and her dog named Ruth Bader Ginsburg and you’ve got the setup for a lovely riot. So take a break from our very strange real world and pour yourself into this spellbound concoction of laughter and full-blown feminist power, mixed with suspense and dashes of potent wisdom likely to fly into my thoughts forevermore."

#4 Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice a graphic novel by Tommie Smith, with Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile. Tim says: "I was eight years old in October of 1968 as I watched Tommie Smith and John Carlos receive their Summer Olympic medals with raised, black-gloved fists. I didn't notice they were also shoeless and wearing black socks to represent poverty, or see the beads and scarf representing lynchings. I admit that the moment scared and confused me. This suburban white kid didn't understand how a great victory would make these men look so sad. It was perhaps the first time I really wondered what was wrong with America, and it remains one of my life’s strongest visual memories. Now I've been given a chance to learn Tommie Smith's life story directly from him. He was also young when he started wondering what was wrong, why his large, loving, hard-working, faithful family of Texas sharecroppers had so much less than whites, despite tireless, honest effort. The story of his path from childhood to the moment they took a stand for human rights and a better nation is inspiration from an American hero, for which I’m deeply grateful. With exquisite illustrations by Dawud Anyabwile, this graphic novel answers questions that began in my eight-year-old thoughts fifty-four years ago. Now that’s extraordinary!"

#5 The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill is a middle grade novel of which Tim writes: "It’s an elaborate story, woven in great detail with dragons and ogres and loving orphans, animals who converse with people, heroes alongside a treacherous villain, and a town which, once very lovely, has fallen apart. The demise of Stone-in-the-Glen began with a fire that destroyed perhaps the most beautiful library imaginable. Everything started to crumble from there, including the will of most citizens to support and believe in one another. They do have a polished and beloved Mayor, a world renowned dragon slayer, who tells them he can fix it all, while also telling them to suspect everyone else. Most of the townspeople have become reclusive and have no desire to understand the remarkable Ogress nearby, but the struggling orphans and the Ogress will meet. Perhaps there is magic in the world, and there certainly is magic in Barnhill’s beautiful words and her thoughtful perceptions of life."

And now on to Parker Jensen! They've got recommendations that take you all over the literary map.

#1 A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland (you'll see this one again in this blog, and soon!). Parker has left us without a write-up for this one, but here's a bit more about the book. The Goblin Emperor meets "Magnificent Century" when a queer central romance unfolds in a fantasy world reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire. From the starred PW review: "Rowland delivers a breathtakingly intimate narrative in this gorgeous fantasy, in which the political intrigue of a kingdom serves as backdrop to a romance between the softest of hearts... In exploring what monarchs owe their people, and what individuals owe each other, this achingly tender fantasy wows."

#2 Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samathan Allen. This was also one of NPR's best books of the year. When the final four women in competition for an aloof, somewhat sleazy bachelor's heart arrive on a mysterious island in the Pacific Northwest, they prepare themselves for another week of extreme sleep deprivation, invasive interviews, and, of course, the salacious drama eager viewers nationwide tune in to devour. Enter Patricia, a temperamental and woefully misunderstood local living alone in the dark, verdant woods, and desperate for connection. Through twists as unexpected as they are wildly entertaining, the self-absorbed cast and jaded crew each make her acquaintance atop the island's tallest and most desolate peak, finding themselves at the center of an action-packed thriller that is far from scripted. 

#3 Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh, her follow-up to Death in Her Hands. This review in The Atlantic pretty much sums it up: "Lapvona flips all the conventions of familial and parental relations, putting hatred where love should be or a negotiation where grief should be... Through a mix of witchery, deception, murder, abuse, grand delusion, ludicrous conversations, and cringeworthy moments of bodily disgust, Moshfegh creates a world that you definitely don’t want to live in, but from which you can’t look away."

#4 Delilah Green Doesn't Care by Ashley Herring Blake. Parker writes: "Delilah Green wants nothing to do with Bright Falls, the town she grew up in. She doesn't care for the small-town people, the businesses that close at 6pm sharp, and she certainly is not interested in seeing her step mother. Or her recently engaged step sister, Astrid, for that matter. But after finding herself short on cash, she finds it impossible to say no to a good paying job doing the photography at Astrid's wedding - plus her Dad would have wanted her to go. All Claire wants in her life is a little extra stability, as she has been dealing with an unreliable ex, the father of her daughter, for years, while managing the bookstore she has taken over for her mother. So, the last thing she needs is unpredictable Delilah Green strutting into her life with her beautifully tattooed arms, tight black jeans, and gorgeous unruly hair. Not to mention, she has never been there for her best friend Astrid! But, as Claire and Delilah begin to know each other during the wedding events, the sparks are undeniable, and maybe neither of them are who the other thinks. Ashley Herring Blake delivers a rom-com full of life about the meaning of forgiveness, women's friendships, and how to let go of the past (not to mention grin worthy flirtatious banter!). I fell head over heels for this book, all of the characters were loveable and the story was the kind of multilayered romance I love. Delilah Green Doesn't Care is a heartfelt queer romance perfect for fans of Casey McQuistion."

#5 The Last Housewife by Ashley Winstead. Parker writes: "Shay Evans is tormented by her past, one in which she and her best friend, Laurel, escaped from a dangerous man. But Shay has built a life all these years later, one she is almost content with, and one that will all crumble before her with one piece of news. Laurel is dead. Her favorite true crime podcast breaks the news, and Shay finds herself thrust back into a world she feared she'd never be able to outrun. Was Laurel's death truly a suicide as the police claim or the proof that a dangerous man and his colleagues are back and more powerful than ever? To find out, Shay must team up with the host of the podcast that sent her spiraling and slip into a world of cults, abuse, and twisted ideology that will push her to her breaking point. Last year's In My Dreams I Hold A Knife was the juiciest and most exciting thriller I'd read in years, and now Ashley Winstead is back with the darkest and most heart-wrenching thriller I've read yet. The Last Housewife pulls no punches so be warned that it's a tough read that will leave you breathless, but it is worth every moment. I inhaled this book in a matter of hours, frantically turning the pages as Shay found herself in increasing danger and all her darkest secrets were thrust into the light. This story unpacks the truths about the traumas women face in contemporary America, from sexism to abuse to the ways in which the world forces ownership of their bodies. I can't recommend this one enough (but do make sure to check the content warning in the start of the book!). All the stars. All the awards. All the praise. Ahsley Winstead has proven herself to be one of the greatest thriller writers of the time."

Kathy Herbst has a nifty collection of books to offer up this year!

#1 When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill, making her second appearance in this very blog post! This is her first novel for adults. Kathy writes: "It's the 1950s and a mass dragooning takes place. Women shed their human selves and turn into dragons, a reality that is denied by the powers that be. Alex is 8 when her aunt transforms, leaving her daughter, Beatrice, to be cared for by Alex's mother. Forbidden to speak of her aunt or dragons, Alex struggles to find her place in a world that denies her incredible mathematical skills. When Beatrice's fascination with dragons becomes evident, Alex fears losing the person she is closest to. A heartfelt book of women finding their strength in a world that denies their intelligence and abilities."

#2 Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. This book makes its second appearance in the top 5 blogs. This instant NYTimes bestseller was a Read with Jenna book club pick and was named a best book of summer by Chicago Tribune, The View, Southern Living, and USA Today. From Washington Post: "an ultimately feel-good but deceptively sensitive debut... Memorable and tender." And from Elle: "Infused with heartfelt humor, Van Pelt’s elegant portrait of a widowed woman who finds understanding and connection with a clever octopus is refreshingly, if surprisingly, relatable. Despite the unorthodox relationship at its core, the debut novel offers a wholly original meditation on grief and the bonds that keep us afloat."

# 3 The Last Confessions of Sylvia P by Lee Kravetz. This novel bridges fact and fiction to imagine the life of a revered writer. Kathy writes: "Kravetz’s book is a beautifully written novel blending fact and fiction, past and present, to create a story at the heart of which is Plath's novel, The Bell Jar. Told through the distinct voices of three fictional characters, Kravetz draws us into Plath's life - her lifelong battle with depression, her overwhelming need to express herself through words, and her struggle to be taken seriously as a poet and writer."

#4 Gallant by VE Schwab Kathy writes: "Another gripping, can't-put-it-down novel by Schwab; a story of parallel worlds, haunted houses, ghouls, and ominous family secrets. Tenacious 16-year-old Olivia, who is mute, longs for a home and family but has only her mother's journal. When she is invited by her uncle to return to the family home, she finds family is not as simple a concept as she thought and ultimately must decide where she belongs. And if the writing isn't compelling enough, the amazing illustrations will surely draw you in."

#5  The Ways We Hide by Kristina McMorris. The Queen's Gambit meets The Alice Network in this epic, action-packed novel of family, loss, and one woman's journey to save all she holds dear. It's a sweeping World War II tale of an illusionist whose recruitment by British intelligence sets her on a perilous, heartrending path. Inspired by stunning true accounts,  a gripping story of love and loss, the wars we fight, on the battlefields and within ourselves, and the courage found in unexpected places.

That's it for this post! More top 5's on the way tomorrow, so keep reading, dear readers.