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.

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