Monday, January 24, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 25, 2022

Is it that time once again? 

It is that time once again! Your favorite Boswellians return with their staff recommendations for books coming out this week. We loved 'em, and we hope you will, too. Let's get to it.

We begin with Daniel Goldin, who has a new write up for the new version of former Boswellians Sharon Nagel and Jocelyn Cole's novel Shady Hollow, written under the penname Juneau Black. Daniel says: "What is Shady Hollow? It’s Watership Down meets Jane Marple, where the investigative reporter is a fox, the bookstore owner is a raven, the bears run the police, and the restauranteurs include a moose and a panda. In this first installment, a cranky toad is found in a nearby pond, stabbed in the back. Who would want to see him dead, besides just about everybody? I’ve been championing this book since its original limited publication, and I’m thrilled to see it released by Vintage Crime. It’s got everything a cozy mystery series should have except the recipes - a engaging cast of characters, sparkling wit, a clever story, and a hint of romance. And honestly, I wouldn’t mind getting the lowdown on those delicious blueberry muffins."

Kay Wosewick has a YA recommendation for us: At the End of Everything, by Marieke Nijkamp. Kay says: "When a deadly pandemic spreads rapidly through the US, who cares about troubled teens in a remote treatment center? Not the warden, the guards, or the mental health specialists; not a single employee. Left alone, the teens quickly divide into two camps: those who head out to escape their Arkansas ‘prison,’ and those feel safer staying at the center. Nijkamp has crafted a suspenseful story of teens who rise to new challenges and others who sink to new lows."

And our recommendations for a book getting its paperback release this week:

Daniel Goldin returns with his recommendation of The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade, one of our favorite books of last year, now in trade paper. 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." (Editors note: it was one of his favorites!)

This one also gets the Jen Steele treatment. Here's her 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! 

And if you'd like something to occupy an hour while you hide inside from the snow and cold, check out The Five Wounds author Kirstin Valdez Quade's virtual visit to Boswell from last year - it's great!

Monday, January 17, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 18, 2022

Both Daniel Goldin and Chris Lee have recommendations for The Runaway, the latest Peter Ash thriller from Shorewood author Nick Petrie. Let's start with Daniel: "There are Nick Petrie thrillers that have complicated plots and lots of players, but The Runaway is pretty straightforward - Peter tries to help a young woman who escaped from an abusive convenience store owner into the arms of the trucker, only to find her savior is a sociopath robbing second homes. The violence is a little more graphic than in some of the other adventures, which could be a plus or minus, depending on the reader. And for those who need to catch their breath, there’ll be no such thing this time out - it’s edge of the seat, all the way through!"

And from Chris: "The latest Peter Ash thriller is Nick Petrie’s take on a Western shoot ‘em up, complete with daring river escapes, chases across the plains, and a big shootout finale. Ash stops to help a stranded woman on a dirt road in Nebraska, a task which quickly becomes absurdly arduous. The novel has long, tense drives interspersed with pit stops for crime and violence that remind me of the long hauls that tied together some of James Crumley’s legendary books. And where Petrie started the series focused on a visceral depiction of Ash’s PTSD, he’s expanded in the recent books to the minds of the baddies, poking around dark corners to discover from whence violence and evil springs. Lucky for us (and the bystanders who get caught up in his adventures), the only thing Peter Ash hates more than the indiscriminate killing that follows him around like a Charlie Brown rain cloud of death is letting bad men get away with abusive, evil acts. The Runaway is a series highlight, a stripped down and lean action movie on the page."

Jason Kennedy has a staff rec for Red Milk, the new novel by Icelandic author Sjón. Jason says: "I never know what I’ll get when reading a Sjón novel, and this was no exception - a perfect book for our political times. Sjón starts at the end, with Gunnar Kampen, founder of the New-Nazi movement, dead on a train. Looking back at Gunnar’s life, we can see how his life opened him up to such horrible and dangerous ideals. The banality of evil lures Gunnar in and completely envelops him. Sjón doesn’t hammer you over the head with his themes, but he quietly demonstrates how insidious fascism can be and how it lures people to its cause. A perfect read."

And one recommendation for a book getting its paperback release this week:

Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World
, by Simon Winchester. This one gets the Daniel Goldin treatment: "Inspired by the purchase of his own tract of land in The Oblong, a part of the Berkshires once claimed by Connecticut but now part of New York State, Winchester’s latest is not so much a narrative history as a survey. Land looks at the development of mapping (including the International Map of the World project, whose archives wound up at UWM), and how the fight for land has affected development and cultural change, most notably, what would happen when Europeans collided with Natives in the Americas, Africa, Australia, and elsewhere. Chapters focus on the Partition of India, the creation of Israel, America’s Trail of Tears, and Northern Ireland. He looks at the very different ways countries look at trespassing, how Holland created a province out of the sea, and Scotland’s shift away from landed gentry and towards community ownership. Land is a fascinating story, and as always, Winchester’s telling is both elegant and accessible. If we had a geography section at the bookstore, this would be a core title!"

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 11, 2022

Welcome to the weekly roundup of what we've been reading and recommending over here on Downer Avenue. Let's get right to it.

This week starts by being Jonathan Evison week. We've got two recommendations for his new novel, Small World. The first comes from Daniel Goldin, who says: "If you liked West of Here, Evison’s grand epic of Washington State from a decade ago, you’re likely to love Small World, which has a similar dual narrative, only on a more national scale. Four families' lives - Black, Italian, Chinese, and Indigenous - are tied together throughout the settlement of the West, by the building of the railroads in the past and one fateful journey of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight line in the present. Does fortune favor the bold, or is there way more randomness involved in the process, leaving (and I’m just preparing you here) not every soul with the happiest of endings? I really enjoyed the twists, and while coincidence abounds, I wouldn’t expect anything less from a novel on such a grand scale; it is a Small World after all."

Kay Wosewick offers this rec of Evison's novel: "Small World is a brilliant tale of 1850s Americans and their descendants in 2019. He follows two Irish twins orphaned on their journey across the Atlantic, an escaped slave, a ‘fresh off-the-boat’ Chinese man who’s landed in unfriendly San Francisco, and two wandering American Indians who joined forces on a whim. Descendants of all are on the same train heading north in Oregon during a snowstorm in 2019. As Evison shifts between characters in the 1850s and 2019, Small World reads like a seamless masterpiece."

We've got an event coming up with Evison this month, too! Wednesday, January 26, 7 pm for our Readings from Oconomowaukee series hosted jointly with our pals over at Books & Company of Oconomowoc. Click here for more info & to register.

Kay also recommended Evison's last book, which is out in paperback today - that's Legends of the North Cascades, and here's what Kay says about it: "Dave has sustained significant psychological damage from three tours in Iraq. When his wife dies in a car accident, he has few options to support himself and a seven-year-old daughter. Unable to retain a job and about to lose his home, Dave decides to apply the many outdoor skills he learned, and loved, as a child. He and Bella move to a cave in the North Cascades wilderness. Life goes reasonably well until winter approaches, when family and individual rights are pitted against society’s expectations and laws. I closed the book with a deeper understanding of people who live at the very edges of society, where life is fragile because so few viable options exist. This is a wonderful adventure story spiked with relevant social issues."

Did we do an event for that book? We did! Check out the video of that right here.

But Evison isn't the only person with a new book out this week! We've got a couple YA recommendations as well as a new picture book to tout.

Kay Wosewick keeps us rolling with here recommendation of Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves, by Meg Long. Kay says: "Sena is a tough loner on a rough planet. Reduced to living as a petty thief, she crosses the wrong gangster. She’ll live only if she can heal his prize fighter wolf Iska. Hop on for a freezing cold, terrifying ride with a blazingly warm, you-can-breathe-now end."

Tim McCarthy jumps in with a couple of recommendations now, the first for the new book from America's National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jason Reynolds, Ain't Burned All the Bright. Tim says: "With long strings of memorable words built into dramatic, thought-inspiring illustrations, Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin show us how hard and how wonderful it can be to breathe through these frightening times. Mother's news story that never changes, Father's incessant cough heard from his isolation, Brother's endless video gaming, and Sister's protest preparations. A family suffocating. An oxygen mask must be around here somewhere! It is, but not to be found in a box. It's in all the tiny and monumental signs of love that sometimes get overpowered and overlooked. This is a desperate and gorgeous word-picture of whole life rising in the face of despair. Something to savor again and again. Do this just for you. Come and get the book!"

Tim also recommends the latest picture book from author Jacqueline Woodson and illustrator Rafael López, The Year We Learned to Fly. Tim says: "This is the story of four seasons in the life of a young girl and her brother, encouraged by a loving grandmother to lift their arms and fly above the world's obstacles. Springtime storms may trap them indoors. Summer conflicts can hold them in silence. Dark autumn skies make their room much too quiet. Winter brings a move away from neighbors and friends. Lift your arms, close your eyes. Fly, and imagine what can be! It's the second lyrical, sweet picture book from Woodson and illustrator Rafael Lopez, and it's inspired by a monumental book about enslaved people "lifting up and flying away home": The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, written by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo and Dianne Dillon, which is among the greatest of children's books. Here, Woodson and Lopez have beautifully honored and extended their work!"

And let's wrap up with a couple more trade paperback edition releases of note from two Wisconsin-linked authors.

The first is a book that was popular at Boswell and throughout the Midwest - Raft of Stars by Andrew J Graff. This one also was lucky enough to get the Tim McCarthy treatment - here's his rec: "It’s a small northern Wisconsin town, tucked up against a massive forest, a place where they know Milwaukee folks won’t understand. Sometimes you just shoot coyotes when their numbers cross a line and you start losing cows. It’s a place where two young boys have father problems, and the problems suddenly get big, so the kids run. There’s a young new sheriff in town who had to leave his home, too. He was looking for a quiet place away from his Houston mistakes, maybe a dog, and some distance from complications, but he won’t get that now. The boys are out there alone, and distance doesn’t work anymore. Their stories drew me in right away. Many of the characters seem familiar because they’re like me. Any glimpse of close human connection brings a sense of both need and dread, in equal measure. The suspense works well, too, as lines get drawn and necessarily crossed. The emotions feel true, as an intense fight for survival draws out their full force. I enjoyed the ride!"

Did we have a virtual event with Graff? You bet we did! Click here to see him in conversation with fellow former Midwesterner J Ryan Stradal.

Finally, just because I'm cruising through our backlog of event videos, here's one more event video for a book getting its trade paper release today - Claire Holroyde chats about her debut novel The Effort, a sci fi disaster adventure about the all-too-real possibility of a deadly comet approaching earth, with JS Dewes, author of The Last Watch.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 4, 2022

A new year brings new books, and with them come new recommendations from you friendly Boswellians.

First it's Boswell Book Company proprietor Daniel Goldin for How We Eat: The Brave New World of Food and Drink, by Paco Underhill. Daniel says: "Paco Underhill’s techniques, adopted from urban planning research, led to Why We Buy, a book that has shaped the behavior of many retailers, including mine. In How We Eat, he turns to food retailing, but the authorly stroll through the average supermarket morphs to an image of an abandoned shopping cart, what with so much of retail moving online. Throughout, How We Eat ponders ethical questions of always-in-season produce, growing concern about animal processing, consumption, and ultra-processed foods, albeit with a light touch. There is more pondering and interviewing of experts here and less findings from Envirosell studies. When we did get consumer behavior insight, like the supermarket chain that found that doing some cleaning during the day instead of when the store was closed improved customer ratings, I savored it. All told, lots of interesting ideas to digest here!"

Next, two recs from Kay Wosewick. Her first is for The Next Civil War by Stephen Marche. Kay says: "Traffic invariably slows near car accidents as people gawk at the scene. The Next Civil War evoked a similar response in me. I had to look. I had to read the book. I knew it would be ugly, but still… I read it. Most everyone agrees that we, Americans, are largely divided into two distinct groups that hold opposing opinions on many very important subjects, such as immigration, race, immunization, gun rights, abortion, the voting process, the meaning of personal freedom. Marche argues that these differences will likely tip the US into civil war. It may be easy to pick holes in the 5 scenarios Marche has drawn of possible triggers of war. But damn, I can’t pick a hole in his premise: unless substantial reconciliation begins post-haste, one day a spark will irretrievably divide us."

Kay also suggests The High House by Jessie Greengrass. Kay says: "The High House is poised at the edge of a seasonal resort town, where its residents are little affected by worldly issues nine months of the year. Declining seasonal visitors hint at problems in the cities, but folks in High House ignore signs of climate change until their town is empty and finally hit by devastating storms. This intimate, quiet portrayal of self-reliant folks in denial until the sea knocks on their front door may be a quiet warning to all of us."

Jen Steele wraps up the new recs in the books for adults category with Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez. Jen says: "The Acevedos are a complex family just like any other; secrets, rivalries, loss, love, and healing are at the heart of this novel. Olga Dies Dreaming is a stirring family saga that kept me invested in the characters until the very last page!"

We've also got two teen / YA recommendations for you this week. The first comes from Parker Jensen, for When You Get the Chance by Emma Lord. Parker says: "Millie Price is determined to follow her dreams and achieve her goal of becoming a Broadway star by any means necessary. Even if that means lying to her dad and secretly applying to a school on the other side of the country. But when her scheme is discovered and simultaneously squandered, Millie needs plan B. When she accidentally stumbles onto her dad's old LiveJournal from 2003, now Millie might have discovered a plan B, one that just might involve the mother she never got to meet. The only problem is, she could be one of several women. It looks like Millie might just have a real-life Mamma Mia! on her hands. Not to mention the fact that she is currently being forced to work all summer long with her sworn mortal enemy, Oliver, who might be just a tad cute if you look at him at the right angle. When You Get the Chance is jam-packed with Emma Lord's signature style of wit and whimsy, fantastic banter, and colorful characters you won't soon forget. Lord perfectly balances humor and heart while building a story that centers around friendship, family, love, and self-acceptance. Don't miss When You Get the Chance, because you won't get the chance to read anything as charming as Emma Lord's work anytime soon!"

Rachel Copeland wraps up the brand new book recommending with One True Loves by Elise Bryant. Rachel says: "Seventeen-year-old Lenore's family is the definition of Black excellence - a lawyer, nonprofit business owner, a pre-law student, and an actual 10-year-old genius. So why can't she commit to a major? The summer cruise along the coast of Europe with her family is supposed to be a getaway, perhaps complete with whirlwind romance, but instead the pressure is on to figure out her whole life plan or face the disappointment of her family. Then sweet, helpful Alex Lee with his ten-year med school plan shows up to ruin her whole summer - and steal her heart in the process. This book is so sweet. I really felt for Lenore - not everyone can, or should, figure out their whole life by seventeen! - and I rooted for her as she figured out ways to open up about her struggles with her loved ones. I look forward to more from Elise Bryant!"

And do we have a just-released-in-paperback type of recommendation as well? We do, we do!

Kay Wosewick suggests A Crooked Tree, the novel by Una Mannion. Kay says: "Libby - the 15-year-old narrator of A Crooked Tree - and her four siblings are wound up as they head home in the family station wagon after the last day of school for summer. Ellen, 12, is really annoying her mother, who suddenly pulls over and orders Ellen to get out of the car and walk home, a roughly 6-mile hike in rural Pennsylvania. The tone for the entire summer has just been set. Trauma, revenge, sibling rivalry, absentee parenting, affairs, class differences, friendship grievances, betrayals, plus an older neighbor's unwanted intrusion into the young narrator’s life, all propel the story forward at breakneck speed. Poor decisions, made one atop another, feed the reader’s anticipation of inevitable disaster. Set in the 1970s, this coming-of-age story boldly takes on societal issues that still resonate today. Mannion’s first novel is incisive, riveting and impossible to put down."

Monday, January 3, 2022

Timmesota - Tim McCarthy on Louise Erdrich

Happy New Year everyone! It's been an exciting holiday season. I'm grateful to have talked with so many customers about my favorite 2021 books, so thank you for being here! I'm hoping for some kind of lighter and better world during 2022, and it helps to complete unfinished business. So, here goes. 

In one of my Minnesota in My Mind blogs, I referred to Minneapolis author and bookstore owner Louise Erdrich as one of America's best, and someone who deserves a lot more of my time. I'm happy to say that I recently gave her just that, and I’m thrilled to say that the two books I’ve just read from her are so different! Both are unique, but one is an adult novel and the other a child’s picture book.

Her latest adult novel, The Sentence, is both hilarious and deadly serious, sly and sincere. It's hard-edged and beautifully tender, with biting humor as a balm for life’s wounds. Erdrich is a national treasure, but you probably knew that. What I knew of her was limited to her Birchbark House children's writing, so it’s tough to admit that this is the first of her adult novels I’ve ever read! (Please don’t tell.) I also knew that her flowing autograph is a signed book nerd’s dream, and her beautiful jacket photos take my breath away. I'm a shameful book collector who’s picky about his crushes. Oh yes, the story. If I tell you very much, I’ll ruin good surprises. So, I’ll just say it’s a ghost story, an exploration of the spirit world inside our own. It happens in Erdrich’s very own book store, Birchbark Books, with Louise as a subtle character. And the ghost is an annoying, complex, recently dead regular customer. Above all, we get to see into the heart of a Minneapolis bookstore during the pandemic and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. This is priceless American truth! And it's about people who love books. 

Her picture book, Grandmother's Pigeon, is being republished after many years by the University of Minnesota Press. It's perfectly illustrated by Jim LaMarche. Together, they've given us a great gift, a quirky, magical tale of family love, told by Erdrich with a clever wisdom and wit. LaMarche's pictures accomplish what great illustrators do: add to the story's suspense and joy. Grandmother is full of surprises, and when she sails away to Greenland on the back of a porpoise, the family thinks she's gone forever. As they finally decide to explore her bedroom, they find the beautiful mysteries are only beginning. Erdrich's dramatic and whimsical storytelling combined with LaMarche's unique perspectives deliver a thrill reminiscent of Chris Van Allsburg's finest work. Just be careful with that stuffed pigeon!  

All the best to all of us this year! See you soon!