Monday, March 28, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of March 29, 2022

Well here's a list of books that's better than a slap in the face! 
Seriously, we hope you enjoy these as much as we did.

Let's start with Daniel Goldin, Rachel Copeland, and Chris Lee for our triple-threat, triple-rec of Danger on the Atlantic, the latest Jane Wunderly mystery from Milwaukee author Erica Ruth Neubauer. Daniel says: "Jane Wunderly actually gets to help out on a case that she didn’t stumble into in the third outing from the author of Murder at the Mena House. Her beau Redvers has been assigned to find a spy on board a trans-Atlantic voyage, and he’s asked Jane to accompany him, posing as his wife. In their attempts to root out the foreign agent, Jane stumbles upon another mystery – a socialite who claims her husband has disappeared. Could they somehow be connected?  Figuring it out is just one of the delights of Neubauer’s latest, a mystery laced with espionage, humor, and romance."

Rachel chimes in with the following: "There's a spy aboard the RMS Olympic in 1926, and Jane Wunderly is on the case with Redvers, posing as his wife as they look for the suspect. But what starts out as a search for a spy becomes more complicated when a passenger's husband goes missing, yet his existence is disputed by all but the wife and Jane herself. With everyone else doubting the flighty socialite's claims, it's up to Jane to prove her investigative talents. Three books in, this series delivers! I love all of the historical detail so much, and I especially love that Jane flouts societal standards with quiet confidence. Much like Redvers, I would trust Jane's instincts any day."

And Chris brings us home: "German spies, disappearing husbands, and gin rickeys abound aboard an Atlantic Ocean Liner in the 1920s, and globetrotting amateur detective Jane Wunderly and her cosleuthing faux-beau must sort it all out before the ship reaches shore or they find themselves overboard. If you’ve read the Wunder-ful previous installments, then you’re going to love how this book pays off on what’s come before. If you haven’t, who cares? Danger on the Atlantic is still guaranteed to delight. In fact, if you saw Death on the Nile and thought, “give me more of that,” then good news – Neubauer’s novel has the perfect vibes for you. A winner!"

Next up, it's Margaret Kennedy for So This Is Ever After, by the award winning author of adult and YA fiction, FT Lukens. Margaret says: "A cute, funny new rom com in a high fantasy world inspired by D&D is here in the form of So This is Ever After, by FT Lukens. You ever wonder what happens directly after the villain is defeated and the screen fades to black? Our hero hadn’t thought that far ahead either. But now the evil king is dead, the prophecy fulfilled, and Arek the farm boy is suddenly in charge of ruling a kingdom. To make things even more ridiculous (due to a fine print spell that came with taking the throne) Arek now has three months to fall in love and create a soul-bond with a co-ruler. Or die. With adorable attempted-wooing and giggle-inducing jabs at high fantasy tropes, I sped through this book in one sitting. Not only is it a romance for the ages, but the secondary plotlines of the side characters and the actual politics and infrastructural fixing of the kingdom were a pleasant surprise that made the book all the better. This is one rom com I will forever keep on my bookshelf and lend out to the next friend who throws their scholarly textbook tome on the ground and says, “oh my god, I just want something fun!"

And Kay Wosewick brings us a bit of nonfiction with her recommendation of Ever Green: Saving Big Forests to Save the Planet, coauthored by conservationist John W Reid and biologist Thomas E Lovejoy. Reader-ist Kay says: "Reid and Lovejoy describe the only realistic path to achieve CO2 reductions sufficient to meet the scientific community's 2030 line-in-the-sand to prevent probable climate catastrophe. A worldwide program is essential to preserve and restore the earth's five megaforests: the Amazon, Congo, New Guinea, North American boreal, and Taiga boreal (mostly Russia). This is not about reforesting; it is about preventing ANY further destruction of intact forests and rehabilitating fragmented areas (basically, road removal). Resources must swiftly be refocused and escalated. This book belongs in the hands of every politician, policy maker, scientist, school teacher, college student, business leader, thought leader, and thinker! In every country! In every corner of every country! The Megaforest Revolution is about to launch!"

Kathy Herbst recommends Gallant, the latest from VE Schwab. Kathy's rec: "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."

And finally, a picture book recommendation from Tim McCarthy: Chester Van Chime Who Forgot How to Rhyme, by Avery Monsen. Here's what Tim says: "Chester woke up one morning to a confusing new life. He had always loved playing with words, in poems and songs, but today? No matter the time, Chester Van Chime just could not... match words with corresponding sounds at the end! "He tried not to panic. He played it real cool and picked up his backpack and walked to his... learning place with teachers and stuff." His friends tried to help him, but nothing was done until Chester remembered that words should be... fun! These pictures and the story are clever and silly enough to make an old bookseller giggle. That's tough to do!"

How about a paperback pick, too? Okay!

First, from Conrad Silverberg, a write-up on Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice 1967-1975, by British rocker Richard Thompson, with an assist from Scott Timberg. Conrad says: "Is there anything Richard Thompson can't do (hasn't done)? He is one of the finest guitarists to emerge from the late-Sixties stew of London and distinguished himself further by being one of the most sophisticated and clever songwriters. I'm not a big fan of biographies, especially those narcissistic, overblown ones ageing rock stars have been churning out of late. I make the exception here because Thompson is the exception. This is the goods!"

That's it for this week - see you next week, readers!

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of March 22, 2022

Another week, another great batch of books! Here's what's new that we are recommending.

Daniel has a "brag-rec" written up for French Braid, the latest book from acclaimed novelist Anne Tyler. Daniel says: "Some Anne Tyler novels are hyper focused, with one character in the spotlight or a very compact time frame. Others have the scale of epics, following multiple characters over generations. French Braid is one of the latter, following the Garrett family over the course of 60-odd years. The way Tyler sees it, sometimes you don’t get the kid you would expect, but maybe your sibling will. Together, you’ll still look like a family tree - or should I say rug? Tyler’s canvas broadens a bit here. One character actually shops at Giant instead of Eddie’s, and by the end of the story, hardly anyone lives in Baltimore! This may be Tyler’s 24th novel, but nobody can say she’s coasting. Did I mention I’ve read all 24? Is this brag-reviewing? It’s not necessarily the quirkiest of her novels (we’re talking about a plumbing supply business here), but it’s as eloquent, heartfelt, and quietly humorous as she gets, with several scenes that stopped me in my tracks. Happy reading!"

Jenny is up next with a pair of recommendations. Her first is for Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou (no relation). Jenny says: "Ingrid Yang doesn’t want to write a PhD dissertation; she wants to have written one. Waiting for her on the other side of the inconvenient dissertation is an (almost) guaranteed tenured position at a small, Northeastern college and therefore a lifetime of the one thing she wants above all else: security. If only she could motivate herself to actually like the poetry of Xiao-Wen Chou, a Chinese-American poet as beloved to high school English teachers as Robert Frost. Or find one single original angle on his writing. That would work too. Or maybe she should just become an accountant (though she’s not entirely certain what they do). Then a handwritten note appears in an archive box she’s looked through a thousand times. And that note changes everything. Uncharacteristic sleuthing and social justice protests follow as the plot twists, allowing Ingrid to begin to grow into the person she’s meant to be. Elaine Hsieh Chou takes on cultural appropriation in her own unique way in this devilishly clever novel. I read it with the words “Are you kidding me?” on a never-ending loop through my brain, but the truth is, no, she isn’t kidding. Because both the author and the character have experiences I can’t comprehend, from racist jokes at their expense to the ache of having what is rightfully theirs usurped by a person from a non-Asian background. So while the hilarious portrait of Ingrid’s many struggles made me laugh, the writing also made me imagine life outside my own skin, and both these make Disorientation a must-read."

Jenny also recommends The Impossible Us, a new novel by Sarah Lotz. Here's Jenny's take: "No question, Bee and Nick are soulmates. They share a sense of humor and live by the rule that you can never have too much David Bowie in your life. Both are in a dark place when it comes to romance, and they can’t believe their luck when a misdirected email brings them together. So what if things sometimes feel a bit… off? Like Bee thinking the currency in England is pounds, not euros, and Nick having no idea what the word 'app' means? Their decision to meet in real life has disastrous consequences that threaten to keep them apart forever. Because it isn’t just their pop culture references and currencies that don’t line up perfectly; neither, as it turns out, do their universes. This parallel universe romance sucked me in from page one and never let go. I loved reading the story from two points of view on opposite sides of the mesh separating Bee and Nick. Particularly interesting were the different trajectories taken by the characters. But the real pulse pounding thrill came from wondering how it could ever work out for them. No spoilers here. Let’s just say that if you like your sci-fi romances nice and twisty, this is the book for you."

Paperback picks! These books just got their paperback release, and we love them still.

Kay Wosewick recommends Day Zero by C Robert Cargill. Kay's words: "Cargill’s Sea of Rust was the first book I read where I genuinely cared about an AI character. Cargill has done it again! Day Zero takes place over about the first 24 hours of war between humans and AIs. All AIs are loaded with Azimov's Three Rules of Robotics, but in the early hours of the war, many received a download disabling the kill switch if they disobeyed any of the laws. Of course, the question that arises is, without the kill switch, will AIs - especially those working and living in homes with humans, such as nannies and domestics - turn against humans or not? Day Zero is a dynamite, read-in-one-sitting book!"

Next we have Madi Hill for the paperback release of Save Yourself by comedian Carmen Esposito. Madi says: "Cameron Esposito's Save Yourself is the perfect bundle of female empowerment, gay pride, and comedy wrapped in one. Though she has spoken of her childhood in her stand up, I was not prepared for the depth of this memoir or the complicated issues addressed, from struggles within Catholicism to eating disorders to coming to terms as well as coming out with her own sexuality. This memoir is wonderfully written, emotional, and hilarious. It is an essential reminder that women and LGBTQ+ people can and will carve out their own space to thrive among a society that too often tries to ignore, or worse, silence them."

See you next week, book people!

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of March 15, 2022

Lots of great books come out today and we've got a bevy of staff recommendations to share, so let's get right down to writing about the books we've loved reading.

First up, a few books we dig written by authors we're lucky enough to be hosting for virtual events this spring. 

The first is Ocean State, the 20th novel (and more than 20th book, wowee) by Last Night at the Lobster and Wish You Were Here author Stewart O'Nan. Chris Lee recommends this one thusly: "Stewart O’Nan writes novels that are can’t-look-away captivating, full of gorgeous prose, and just unrelentingly real. In Ocean State, teenage love goes terribly wrong in a little-to-lose, blue collar town on the East Coast. O’Nan gets so close to these people they feel like your family as he zooms in on the overlooked moments that nudge a young woman along from desperately in love to just plain desperate."

And Daniel Goldin also writes about this one: "Two working class families on the Rhode Island shoreline are torn apart by a high school love triangle - two young women in love with a manipulative and entitled wannabe musician. O’Nan tells us at once about the tragedy that’s about to unfold, but the beauty of this novel is in graceful way that it approaches the inevitable, using several family members to bring the story to life. Wrenchingly beautiful."

Speaking of Daniel, he also recommends a 20th book - the 20th installment of Cara Black's beloved  Aimée Leduc Investigation series, Murder at the Porte de Versailles. Daniel says: "When Aimée’s friend Boris makes a quick trip to the police lab where he works to pick up young Sophie’s birthday present, nobody can imagine that he’ll be the victim of a bombing. Or is he a suspect - there are traces of Semtex on his skin. It’s November 2001, and with Paris skittish about more 9-11 style terrorism, the leads (including a note left at the crime scene) point to an anarchist group from the 1980s. But there are many other strange goings on, with the lab in chaos, an unexplained suicide, and at least one of Leduc’s late father’s enemies on the case. Black’s mysteries have generally had time stamps on the chapters, but it appears to me that her latest has sections that are shorter and punchier, sometimes just one or two pages, ratcheting up the thrills, while still providing the Parisian flair and Leduc family drama that Cara Black fans adore."

Finally, among the event books, we've got Jason Kennedy and Kay Wosewick for The Cartographers, the second novel from The Book of M author Peng Shepherd. Jason says: "Nell followed in her parents’ footsteps and became a cartographer. The love of maps is her obsession, especially since her mother died in a tragic fire accident when she was young. Estranged from her father after the junk-box incident seven years ago, Nell is informed that he has passed away. Could it be foul play? The only proof is the map that cost her a job, her father, and her boyfriend. As she digs into the history of the map and why some shadowy entity known as The Cartographers will possibly kill for it, the discoveries she makes could change maps and her understanding of her own family history. A fun and twisty read!"

And from Kay: "The Cartographers is set alternately in New York Public Library's spectacular and slightly mysterious cartography room and in a rural New York home about 20 years ago where a tight knit group of PhD cartography students spent a summer working on what they were certain would be a mapping masterpiece. A fire and a death ended their project and scattered the students. Now, one of them - a cartographer at the NYPL - has died at work under suspicious circumstances, and his daughter is obsessed with learning why an old NY state road map was the only item in her father's special hiding place. As both stories move forward, old mysteries are revealed and new mysteries arise. Sharp characters, eerie settings, and many twists add up to a very satisfying thriller."

And out last week but just this week recommended by Kathy Herbst, it's The Last Confessions of Sylvia P. by Lee Kravetz. And here's Kathy's take: "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."

And now, some books we don't have events for, but love all the same.

Jason and Kay also recommend The Kaiju Preservation Society, the new novel by John Scalzi, with an assist from Thom Clancy, whose rec we'll start with. From Thom: "Even in the midst of a pandemic, John Scalzi shows us there is still hope and something to smile about with The Kaiju Preservation Society. Starting in a world just like ours, things quickly change as the curtain is lifted and the parallel world of the Kaiju, giant walking ecosystems, and the people that study and protect them is revealed. Why do giant monsters need protecting? Same reason the rest of the animal kingdom needs protecting: humans exist. This book is a fun and wild rollercoaster ride that left me smiling for days after I finished it."

Jason says: "This book was thrilling, crazy, and pure fun. Using COVID as the starting point, we follow Jamie Gray as he’s ousted from his tech job only to become a delivery person for that same company. Then he delivers to an old friend who offers him a job of a lifetime - a dangerous and unbelievable job. An easy choice for Jamie; he takes it! I couldn't put this book down - it was exactly the book I needed right now."

And from Kay: "This is a perfect book to take our minds off COVID. A parallel earth was 'discovered' in the 1950s when nuclear testing was rampant. Numerous crossover locations were created around the world to 'manage' and research the very different earth. Innovative science, multitudes of terrifying creatures, brilliant and funny good guys, and one great, big asshole make for a fantastic day reading of on the sofa."

And from the kids department it's Knight Owl, by author/illustrator Christopher Denise. Jen Steele recommends this book this way: "My new favorite Owl! Knight Owl is a delightful picture book about a brave owl who wants to become a Knight. His first task is to guard the castle from dragons! Is Owl clever enough to outsmart the dragons? Can he be brave enough to face them alone? Superb illustrations from the author as well as a story that is sure to be a bedtime favorite!"

And now, a book that's just gotten its paperback release and comes with a recommendation from Tim McCarthy: Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America's First Frontier by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin. Tim says: "Battles for the land just west of the Appalachian Mountains were as vicious and unforgiving as they were complicated. The places that became Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, and Indiana sustained the lives of many First Nations long before they were claimed by the French, taken by the British, and finally flooded by Americans. In the heart of this storm was Daniel Boone, a man who became legendary by helping colonists and land speculators struggle through the mountains. As a "long hunter" who spent months at a time hunting and trapping for furs, Boone's knowledge of the land, his calm under pressure, and his determination in the face of any hardship made him the right man to defy the Indian fight against encroachment. It's a fascinating and disturbing story of constant westward expansion despite horrific costs on all sides. Boone has a daughter briefly kidnapped, two sons and other relatives violently killed, and is himself captured and adopted into a powerful Shawnee warrior's family before a harrowing escape. I've read a lot about the forces colliding on this continent, and these authors have done exceptional work. The storyline is crisp. The extensive details are riveting. The occasional fearless use of cheeky statements does nothing to detract from the authors' academic commitment and fair-minded approach. If you like to know about the very hard truths of American history, you want this book. Though I'll caution you: the brutality described here can be terrifying. You may not want these images in your head.

And those are the books that we recommend! See you next week, book blog fans.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of March 8, 2022

A few books we want to draw your attention to this week.

First, Daniel Goldin for Booth, the latest novel by celebrated author Karen Joy Fowler. Daniel says: "The first thing you should know about Karen Joy Fowler is that she’s not one to repeat herself. Coming off We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, still well known for The Jane Austen Book Club, and nominated for several Nebula short story awards earlier in her career (and winner in 2004), you probably wouldn’t have expected a historical novel that chronicles the family of John Wilkes Booth and his family, but that’s what we have. Expertly researched (including details about George Putnam, the namesake of this very novel’s imprint) but still packed with Fowler’s creative imagination to fill in the gaps with undocumented details, Booth ponders how relationships and experiences shape beliefs, and small acts, some positive, some not, can have big consequences. It’s also hard not to see parallels with the modern world. As one would say in the world of theater, bravo!"

We have a virtual event coming up this week with Fowler - Friday, March 11, 7 pm - she's in conversation with Wisconsin author Jane Hamilton. Click here for info & registration, please.

And now a couple of recommendations of middle grade books.

First, Kelly Barnhill's new novel, The Ogress and the Orphans, as recommended by Tim McCarthy: "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."

We'll host author Barnhill In-Store on Wednesday, March 9, at 6:30 pm for our first kid-focused in-person event in more than two years, and we couldn't be happier that its Barnhill getting us back in action. Click here to register / get more info.

And Jen Steele on The Sheep, the Rooster, and the Duck, written and illustrated by Matt Phelan. Jen says: "Villains beware! The Sheep, the Rooster, and the Duck are sure to foil your outrageous plans. When Benjamin Franklin and other notable geniuses are kidnapped, it's up to France's superheroes to save the day. With the help of two precocious children, our heroes uncover multiple secret societies and a most heinous plot to take over the world. Matt Phelan has done it again with another lively novel and wonderful illustrations throughout."

See you next week with more new books!

Friday, March 4, 2022

The Bonus Staff Rec Post!

We've had a few staff recommendations slip through the cracks that I want to highlight today in this super bonus extra staff recommendations post. 

I also want to highlight these recommendations because we've got virtual events coming up with each of these authors, and it would be no good at all if you were to skip an event because you didn't know how great the book is. So here's to letting you know - these books are great!

On Tuesday Oliver Milman's new book about bugs was released, and it tells us about insects place in our world and where we'd be without them. The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World. Here's Tim's review: "Milman gives us a vision of Earth devastated by insect loss, and perhaps we're already on the verge. Many recent studies show dramatic declines in insect species and in the populations of those remaining. Land development, pesticides, and climate change seem to be the key culprits. It may be tempting to say, "Great! Less ants and flies in the kitchen. Less mosquito bites and bee stings. Maybe less disease." Tempting, but insects aren't 75% of all animal life for nothing. They're essential to everything. They pollinate much of our food, they decompose dead plants and animals into soil and soil nutrients for new life, and they feed birds, frogs and endless other creatures we love. Life as we know it collapses without insect biodiversity. It's not a pretty picture, but this is an exceptional book, Milman kept me fascinated with mind boggling numbers and descriptions of extraordinary habitats and insect attributes. He's a compelling, bold writer with a vital wake-up call to change our behavior and adjust our attitudes about what makes life beautiful. Right now."

The event is cohosted by our pals over at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center and takes place on Wednesday, March 16, 2 pm. Click here for more info & registration.

Next we've got a book that we've mentioned before, but since then Madi Hill has read and loved it, so let's mention it again: Off the Edge: Flat Earthers, Conspiracy Culture, and Why People Will Believe Anything by Kelly Weill. Here's Madi's take: "We are living in an unprecedented time of conspiracy theories. For the average American, those knee-deep in these fringe theories like flat earth are unstable people to be avoided. However, Off the Edge brings back humanity to the conspiratorially minded. Weill starts at the beginning, with the first instance of flat earth theory in the nineteenth century and how it was handled by both believers and the scientific community of the time, then goes through today's flat earthers and how they intersect with other alternate beliefs. Weill's hands-on journalism, from going to flat earth conventions to maintaining friendships with some of the less extreme believers, makes the book not a condescending work, but a more realistic approach to those with different opinions. From the casual flat earther to those involved in more dangerous, violence-prone conspiracies, Weill offers a glimpse into a world most people would have to see to believe."

Weill will be with us virtually on Tuesday, March 15, 7 pm, and that event is cohosted by our friends of Wisconsin Public Radio. For more info & registration, please click this sentence now.

Finally, Jen Steele wants you to try a most delicious book: Love & Saffron by Kim Fay. Jen says: "Love & Saffron is a delicious novel that warms the heart and feeds your soul. Told in epistolary form, we see how the bonds of friendship grow over time and recipes. Settle in and read this in one sitting; be warned - you should have your favorite snacks on hand!"

And Kim Fay joins us virtually on Wednesday, April 6, 7 pm for our Readings from Oconomwaukee series, cohosted by Books & Company of Oconomowoc. Click right here to get more info & to register for this event