Monday, February 28, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of March 1, 2022

Here are the Boswellian's picks of the books released this week. Read on, dear readers.

Let's begin with Rachel Copeland, who has a recommendation for the paperback original (and event book!) By Any Other Name by Lauren Kate. We're super excited about this book, as we're hosting a special, virtual launch party in collaboration with our pals at Anderson's Bookshops of Illinois. Kate will be in conversation with our own excellent interviewer and romance book club creator Rachel along with Anderson's Danielle Dresser, who writes under the name Danielle Jackson. Here's Rachel's review: "Lanie Bloom has a great life - her dream job as an editor and a fiancĂ© who fits every requirement on Lanie's 99-item list, inspired by the works of beloved and reclusive writer Noa Callaway. No one has ever seen her, but Lanie and Noa have corresponded professionally for years. But when Lanie finally learns the truth about her favorite author, everything she thinks she knows is called into question. This book gave me all the good 80s and 90s Meg Ryan rom com vibes, and like a lot of reviewers out there, I actually did read it in one sitting - it's just that addictive. Lanie is a winning protagonist - at times frustratingly impulsive and stubborn, but with an outstanding capacity to reflect and redirect herself in a way that feels both relatable and aspirational. This book left me wanting more in the best way possible - like the best romance novels, I just wanted to spend more time with this story."

Released last week but recommended this week is Satisfaction Guaranteed: How Zingerman's Built a Corner Deli into a Global Food Community by Micheline Maynard. And Daniel's take: "Over the years, I’ve visited various Zingerman’s operations, read one of their books, bought their products by mail order and at Plum Market, and even attended a bookstore-specific version of the Zing Train. And yet I never fail to be impressed and a little surprised by how Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig were able to grow their business without doing the obvious expansion plan – chaining and franchising delis across the country. Instead, they made the conscious decision to center all expansion in Ann Arbor and nearby environs, venturing into new businesses in a way that leveraged employee talent, but would be unlikely to get bank loan approval. If I had a caveat about Satisfaction Guaranteed, it would be that there are a lot of implied exclamation points here - not every new idea has worked. And yet there is much inspiring in Maynard’s telling for entrepreneurs and corporate types alike - to contemplate growth not by what it should do, but what it could do."

Next we have Kay Wosewick for Jo Harkin's latest novel, Tell Me An Ending. Kay offers these words: "It has been well documented that memories change subtly each time we retrieve them. Imagine the complications that arise when scientists think they’ve devised a method to erase painful memories. And then they figure out how to retrieve those erased memories and feel morally obligated to offer everyone the opportunity to regain those memories, including people who pre-chose not to remember having their memory erased. This fast-paced, twisty story is populated with a wonderfully diverse cast of characters plus great surprises. The concept is brilliant, and the telling is first-rate. Bravo to Jo Harkin."

Jen Steele has two new recs for kids books this week. The first is for Elephant Island by author / illustrator Leo Timmers. Jen says of this picture book: "Elephants are my favorite animal, so naturally I had to read Elephant Island, and I'm so glad I did! Arnold is a sea-faring elephant who has always considered the sea his friend. One day Arnold's boat sinks during a storm. Ever resourceful, Arnold manages to make due and make friends on his tiny island. Charming illustrations and a creative way to find the silver lining make Elephant Island a wonderful picture book addition to your library."

Jen also has a write-up for the new Dan Santat graphic novel for kids, The Aquanaut. Of this, Jen writes: "Dan Santat has done it again! Another delightfully illustrated book with a moving story told in graphic novel form. Sophia's father, a brilliant marine biologist, was lost at sea during a research project. His research was saved, and Sophia is now in the care of her uncle who is continuing her father's project. While her uncle is hard at work, Sophia roams around Aqualand, a Sea World-esque park that may not be all it seems to be. Soon, Sophia comes across a most unusual creature - the aquanaut, which turns out to be a rag tag crew of underwater creatures are manning the aquanaut suit! It's a race against time for Sophia and her new friends to save the captive sea creatures in Aqualand."

In the realm of books getting their paperback release this week, we've got two recs for Klara and the Sun by Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro. First, from Daniel Goldin: "Klara is an AF (artificial friend) waiting at the store with her friend Rosa for someone to take her home. Her odds have decreased since a new model has been released. Josie, a young girl, has been browsing the store and has set her eye on Klara, but hasn’t been able to commit. And when she does, Klara will find itself (herself?) plopped into a family drama of an ill girl and divorced parents who disagree on the best course of action. Ishiguro hints at an eerie future of genetically modified elites, professions replaced by robots, and worsening civil breakdowns. If there’s an author where the more you read, the greater the appreciation for the entire body of work, Ishiguro is it. I began Klara and the Sun imagining a connection to Never Let Me Go, noting later that Klara was also the obvious descendent of Stevens, the butler of Remains of the Day, dedicated to service and unmoored by a change. I love how Ishiguro’s heroes are both keenly observant and hobbled by blind spots. For Klara, it could be mistaking the sun for a deity, which makes sense, being solar powered. I’m almost disturbed to say this – Klara is perhaps the most empathetic hero I’ve read about in a long time. So what does this say about me?"

Tim McCarthy also weighs in: "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!"

Monday, February 21, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of February 22, 2022

Great staff recommendations are coming your way this week. 

First it's Jason Kennedy for The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart. Jason says: "January Cole works at the Paradox Hotel across the way from a time terminal. Yes, the super-rich can now travel back in time (though not to the future, for various reasons). January used to monitor the timeline to make sure that nobody tried anything disruptive, like maybe trying to kill or help Hitler. Or bring dinosaurs back. She had to stop when she began displaying symptoms of becoming 'unstuck,' meaning at random times she would be thrown back into her own timeline to relive random events. So now she runs security at the hotel, while the government is trying to sell it. Sadly, her disease ramping up, she thinks there is a dead body that only she can see. So many moving parts, this was one fantastic time travel mystery."

Daniel Goldin for The Family Chao, by Lan Samantha Chang. "In a Chinese restaurant in Haven, Wisconsin (maybe standing in for Appleton?), a family prepares for a grand celebration. The oldest son, Dagou, has returned to town, tail between his legs (though still with two women fighting over him), to work at the family restaurant. His brothers Ming, a successful tech executive, and James, a medical student, are on their way home, too. The family is already on edge because of their parent’s separation, but when Leo reneges on a deal to give Dagou a piece of the restaurant and a recently discovered cache of money disappears, the family explodes. You absolutely don’t have to have read the inspirational source for this sharp-witted and passionate tale to enjoy it, but if you aren’t fluent in Dostoevsky, you might want to read The Brothers Karamazov Wikipedia entry afterwards."

Chris Lee for Off the Edge: Flat Earthers, Conspiracy Culture, and Why People Will Believe Anything, by Kelly Weill. Chris says: "It’s weird! It’s wild! It’s full of cranks and cooks, utopians and grifters (and recently, Nazis. Yikes.). It’s the flat earth movement, and it’s back, baby! Kelly Weill’s fantastic book traces the history of flat earth, from utopian English communes to a cabin in the California desert to its resurgence online, and it’s totally not what you think it is. An example: if you ever said, “that’s back when people still thought the earth was flat,” you were probably wrong – we’ve known the world is round for well more than two millennia. Flat earth is a surprisingly young movement, as timelines for conceptions of basic facts go, surviving in fits and starts over just two centuries. So how then, in the last decade, has such an absurdly stupid, baldly false idea become a pet cause of pro athletes, white supremacists, and a fast-growing number of otherwise average normies? As American society further atomizes, the fringe is no longer the fringe. Weill offers an insightful examination of the way conspiracies, from flat earth to QAnon, untether believers from the reality. She details the sad necessity of methods for breaking believers away from conspiratorial ideologies, be they heinous and hateful or just plain dumb. Cult rescue specialists are involved. What a great book - a fascinating hidden history story and an investigation of a subset that sheds eye-opening light on the ways fringe ideas can take hold of entire cultures."

And let's wrap with up Parker Jensen for Delilah Green Doesn't Care by Ashley Herring Blake. Parker says: "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."

Like our paperback picks? We've got one for you!

Jen Steele recommends The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner. Jen says: "Reeling from the discovery of her husband's affair, Caroline Parcewell decides to go to London on what was supposed to be an anniversary vacation. One afternoon she takes part in mudlarking and discovers a curious vial which reignites a long-buried passion for history. As Caroline embarks on uncovering the vial’s secrets, she discovers more about herself and her marriage. Meanwhile, in 18th century London, there's a hidden apothecary dealing in poisons. Nella is the heir of the apothecary. What used to be a place where all could go for health and healing is now something more sinister. Nella now works in the shadows, helping women right the wrongs done to them by men. The rules are simple: the poison must never be used to harm another woman, and the names of the murderer and her victim must be cataloged in the apothecary's register. A definite page turner that kept me up late just to find out what happens next!!"

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of February 15, 2022

This week our new book recommendations are all Kay, all the time! Which is great. Kay's probably our most prolific reader, and you've surely noticed she's been our biggest rec writer as of late. She's great at finding fantastic books off the beaten path for readers who want something new. Let's dive in.

First up, Kay recommends New Animal, a new novel (a paperback original from Two Dollar Radio) from debut Australian author and bespoke death shroud crafter Ella Baxter. Here's Kay's rec: "Ella's prose will grab you and not let go. This debut novel is vivid, raw, smart, darkly comic and genuinely unforgettable. Tightly wrought images will haunt you long after you close the book (really). Plus, you likely will have a newly discerning eye for viewing bodies in coffins."

Kay's next recommendation is for another debut, this one a fable-esque novel that's getting lots of buzz: The Boy with a Bird in His Chest by Emme Lund. Kay says: "Owen, the boy, and Gail, the bird in Owen's chest, are a remarkably lovable pair. At Owen's mother's behest, they endure isolation until they are fourteen, when all hell breaks loose. Their journey is fraught with more danger than delight, but eventually Owen and Gail find a place to call home. Lund has penned a stunning debut."

No recommendations for once-hardcover books getting their paperback releases this week, but how about a new paperback release notice / bookseller-run book club informational crossover note? Okay!

, the third novel by Anna North, comes out in paperback this week. It's also going to be the March book club pick for our Books and Beer book club, run by Jen. A Reese's Book Club pick and a Washington Post best book of the year selection, this is a terrifying, wise, tender, and thrilling adventure story of a fugitive girl, a mysterious gang of robbers, and their dangerous mission to transform the Wild West. Click right here to find out more about this book club meeting and our other bookseller-run book clubs, too.

And that's what we've got! See you next week with more staff recommendations.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of February 8, 2022

 Lots of new books this week, and we have a lot of recommending to do, too.

Kay Wosewick, our most prolific recommender, has three new books she loves to tell you about this week. The first is The Music Game, by Canadian author Stéfanie Clermont, translated from French by JC Sutcliffe. Kay's take: "The Music Game is a delicious sneak peek into a generation (Millennials, of course) that acknowledges few boundaries, alternates between excess and emptiness, repeatedly taste-tests and spits out adulthood, and ebbs and flows within the cacophony that surrounds them. Yeah, a bit scary. But also exciting."

Next, Kay on Clean Air, by Sarah Blake: "Clean Air’s climate disaster scenario is inventive and frightening, but my favorite aspect is it, in effect, invokes Earth goddess Gaia. Blake takes the story into thriller territory with the first murders since the ‘Turning’ crisis ten years earlier. Clean Air is a wonderful addition to climate change fiction."

And here's Kay on The Adventurists, by Richard Butner: "This astonishing story collection stars protagonists with special gifts such as telepathy, time travel, and traversing parallel worlds. A few other stories employ fantastic futuristic technologies to great effect. Butner stretched my brain this way and that and quite possibly reactivated some long-unused circuits. I see a second reading in my not-too-distant future."

For something completely different, now, we've got Chris Lee with a write-up for the latest from Chuck Klosterman - The Nineties: A Book. Chris says: "Maybe it’s no surprise that a guy born smack in the middle of the Gen X years, whose salad days align pretty much exactly within the confines of 90s, is a little persnickety at the swell of nostalgia for the decade. Klosterman would like to set the record straight. Fortunately, he’s mostly uninterested in retrospective reevaluation and generally steers clear of ‘you couldn’t do that today!’ finger wagging, though he has his moments. What’s great about this book is how Klosterman surveys the years past to understand how we understood the world at the time. And yes, that’s the generic, generalized ‘we’ – were, he asks, the 90s the last era of American monoculture? 

Klosterman is most insightful when he’s going back to view things through the eyes of people as they lived through it – the Seinfeld finale, the siege in Waco, The Real World, OJ’s white Bronco, Nirvana’s earth-shaking pep rally - this is how it felt as it happened. And yeah, he gets a little lost in the swirl of his own ideas here and there, but what honest pontificating 90s slacker doesn’t? It’s all the more forgivable, because, really, he does a pretty darn good job at an impossible task. How can you expect to capture a whole decade in a few hundred pages? Especially as Klosterman’s central argument is that it was during the 90s when time, memory, and our understanding of world events collapsed into something of a sloppily mediated metanarrative. Do I just like reading about the staples of my (elder Millennial) childhood? Maybe – I do really miss Hollywood Video. But, honestly, for anyone who’s interested in recent history written with wit, a bit of contrarian snarl, and an eye for connections both subtle and weird (how did a change in credit card laws lead to the rise of indie filmmaking?), you will want to relive The Nineties."

Let's go to the kids section, where we've got a recommendation from Tim McCarthy for Loyalty, a new middle grade novel by Avi. The Tim take: "It's 1774 in Massachusetts, the eve of the American Revolution. Thirteen-year-old Noah Cope has just watched his minister father get tarred and feathered because he's loyal to the Church of England and to the King. His father will die from the burns within days. Noah's hatred for the rebel Sons of Liberty and his loyalty to his father's memory are powerful, but events on the horizon will challenge all of that. He'll need to work for his family, and he has a lot to learn. He'll get help from his boss, a young freed Black man who becomes a true friend, and he'll learn about the hypocrisy of both sides as they talk about Liberty while acting like tyrants and keeping slaves. Will he ever find someone worthy of his loyalty? Avi has written about early America and great moral dilemmas many times (The Fighting Ground, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Something Upstairs), but the struggle over what loyalty means to us has never seemed more timely. His ability to show us American crisis so deeply and clearly through the eyes of a boy becoming a man proves once again what I’ve long believed. Avi is among our most gifted writers for kids."

And in new paperback releases: Terry Miles's novel Rabbits gets this write-up from Jason Kennedy: "K is fascinated about coincidences and random facts that continually pop up. Enter Rabbits - a game you only know you are playing when you are already neck deep into it. K meets the legendary, Alan Scarpio, who is reported to have won the sixth iteration of the game. Why? He tells K the game is broken and needs to be fixed before the next iteration starts or there could be deadly consequences. Before more can be discussed, Alan ends up missing and K starts finding clues everywhere. When the game begins, people start disappearing and dying all over the world. The world, the human civilization depends on this game even though nobody knows who started it or how old it really is. A brilliant idea that kept me plowing through the book looking for clues trying to see how or if K could save the world. So many twists and mind games going on in this one, I feel like the Terry Miles really can surprise everyone who reads this."

And that's what we've got! See you next week with more books we love.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of February 1, 2022

This week we'll all be celebrating Groundhog Day, but that doesn't mean our recommendations are going to be the same books over, and over, and over, and...

Okay, okay, enough strained, references. Here are the new staff recs.

First up is Don't Cry for Me, the novel by Daniel Black that has two recommendations from the Boswellains. The first comes from Chris Lee: "Alone and dying, a father writes his life story in letters, trying to explain to his estranged son the harsh understanding of manhood he once thought necessary to survive as a Black man in America. Daniel Black welcomes you to rural Arkansas with a detailed portrait of country life and Black boyhood in the mid-20th century. Particularly well captured is the whiplash of how much time and change can pass in the span of just one life. Don’t Cry for Me immerses you in another time and place and lets you breathe, smell, taste, and feel another man’s life as he reckons with the good and bad that he’s done to the people he loves."

And from Tim McCarthy: "Daniel Black tells the story of a father and his son. As the opening author's note explains, Daniel is the son, writing what he imagines his dying father might have said to explain himself in the aftermath of a troubled and broken family. As his father asks Death to allow him time, he writes to Daniel on days when he's not too sick: about being raised by a harsh grandfather who taught him that love was showing respect without emotion; about wanting to prepare Daniel for the cruel realities of being a Black man by making him tough; and about the fear and bitterness he felt over not getting the type of son he wanted and expected. I'll admit it. This book messed me up. I mean, really, how many times can a man can say, 'I almost... I wish I had... I should have... found a way to show my love and acceptance?' It's too damn personal, but I might just read it again. Because the writing is exquisite. The father's voice rings true and clear with a sincere emotion that he's never before expressed. And because it beautifully raises the question that matters to a damaged child: are there things a parent can do, or not do, which are unforgivable?"

Next is Kay Wosewick, who nearly always appears on our weekly recommendation round up. This week she suggests Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu. Kay says: "Monsters of the 21st century include technologies containing inherent absurdity, faulty human decision-making, new modes of thrill seeking, new horrors, and more. This collection will tickle, taunt, and haunt you. And perhaps you’ll unknowingly read a sneak preview of YOUR future amongst Fu's clever stories!" FYI, this one is a paperback original.

Finally, Daniel Goldin recommends an event book from Tessa Hadley titled Free Love. Daniel says: "When idealist (or is it nihilistic?) young journalist Nicky Knight is invited over to the home of Roger and Phyllis Fischer, several complicated lives that were wound up tight burst open like a series of jack in the boxes. Hadley chronicles a woman’s awakening in 1960s London, which she vividly brings to life, particularly in Ladbroke Grove where much of the story takes place. The anything-goes sensibility is undercut with the awareness that this will all one day be torn down for a freeway. Sex certainly drives the narrative, but for demure readers like me, I should note that it’s hardly graphic. With Hadley’s understanding characterizations and exquisite writing, my test is how to bring her gifts to more readers, and I thought, if Hilary Mantel was writing more contemporary fiction, this is how it would read. Hope that tempts you!"

Hadley joins us for the Readings from Oconomowaukee virtual series on Thursday, February 10, 2 pm. Click here for more information and to register, please.

Paperbacks getting released this week? You got it!

First it's American Dirt, the controversial novel by Jeanine Cummins. Our Jen Steele liked it: "This book put me through the heart pounding, adrenaline rushing, emotional ringer! A poignant and dynamic novel about humanity, sacrifice, and hope. When Lydia and her son Luca survive a brutal massacre, Lydia knows that they must leave everything behind and endure the brutal journey north. Trying to stay alert for every waking moment, trying to outthink the man that wants to see them dead takes a toll; Lydia will do everything in her power to ensure her son lives. As they make this arduous crossing, pushing themselves to the brink, Lydia and Luca will encounter people of all walks of life, many who seek to do harm and many more who will shine a hopeful light helping them see the good in people. Jeanine Cummins delivers a powerful glimpse into the lives of people seeking a better life, a safe life with dignity and grace. American Dirt is one of those books that will stay with you forever."

Tim McCarthy recommends Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It by Ethan Kross. Tim's take: "I haven’t read many books from the self-help section of our store, but I’m truly glad I read this one! Kross is a smooth and entertaining writer, blending top-flight brain research with compelling real-life stories to give us a fast-paced manual for using our inner voice in ways that reduce stress. The book fascinated me, and it actually helped me. As the director of the Emotion and Self Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan, Kross is always looking for better scientific understandings of the human brain. He respects the mindfulness movement, but he also understands that consciousness is the greatest adaptation we've developed, allowing us to look at ourselves in order to create and plan and problem solve. The trouble is, for many of us, that chatter too often takes control. Ruminating, negative "thought spirals" drag us down. Kross is very open about how this sometimes happens to him, and he tells great stories about people we know from popular culture. The graceful mix of amazing research studies and anecdotes comes together in a toolbox for controlling the conversations we have with ourselves, and now he's piloting a promising curriculum for children based on his work. Thank you, Ethan Kross!"

Rachel Copeland has a write-up for Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. Here it is! "We split in two sometimes: move to a new city, change a hairstyle, gain a new nickname. The other half vanishes, unused, like a dream, or perhaps a box of pictures in the attic. Desiree Vignes lost her other half years ago, when her twin sister Stella decided to pass as white, leave her family behind, never return. Some people can do that. What they don't realize is that the vanishing halves have a way of returning, spotting you across the room, looking you in the face and seeing the real you, the one you left behind. From start to finish, Brit Bennett's follow-up to The Mothers is a revelation. This is a novel you want to savor, even as it unfolds so naturally and beautifully that you can't help but devour it. If her first novel made her a new author to look out for, this one proves that Brit Bennett is here to stay."

See you next week!