Monday, April 25, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of April 26, 2022

Lots of great new releases this week. Let's get down to book business.

It's a great week for event books (that's bookseller parlance for books by authors we'll feature for events, fyi) getting staff recommendations this week. Let's start with Don Lee's The Partition, his first short story collection since his acclaimed book Yellow - Boswellians agree: Don's still got it!

Let's start with Chris Lee: "Don Lee writes about Asian American experiences with such individuality, depth, and razor-sharply defined details as to dash away any notion of a monolithic 'they.' The Partition is a collection of longer stories in which characters have room to reflect and remember, room to breathe. Lee patiently plots out not just moments but entire lives, then brings them to a breaking point. It’s a difficult story structure to work with, and he does so with insight and grace, finding for each character the place where the momentum and weight of their personal history meets and presses against the weight of the world’s expectations. These are grown up, heavy duty, seriously satisfying short stories."

Tim McCarthy says: "I like honesty, direct but gracefully written, especially when characters can't help telling the truth and then wonder if they're wrong. Lee's collection of stories has exactly that. The main characters are Asian Americans of many ethnicities and experiences. They talk about their lives (and the nasty treatment they face routinely) with a confidence and wry humor that grabbed my attention. I wasn't in tune with the places and foods and some of the jargon, but it didn't matter. Lee made me believe in the people. I trusted him with the film director, college professor, chef, restaurant owners, TV news crew, and the man we meet during three stages of his life, from Tokyo teenager to B movie semi-star to later-life tea shop chain owner. Lee brings suspense and sudden, quirky surprises to their days and makes them true. I'm grateful for these flesh and blood nuances of living that lay stereotypes to waste. I enjoyed every minute!"

And from Boswell proprietor Daniel Goldin: "In the shockingly never-released-in-paperback Lonesome Lies Before Us, Don Lee wrote the anti-ethnic ethnic novel, where only a plate of food might hint at a character’s brownness. So in an about face, The Partition’s stories are packed with hapa haoles, gen 1.5s, and lots of where-are-you-from inquisitions. I loved the story 'Late in the Day' in which a filmmaker’s labor of love (itself an anti-ethnic ethnic film) is called out for using a biracial actor and instead takes a mercenary job as director of a short vanity film, only to see it picked up by PBS. Another of my favorites is 'UFOs,' where a television reporter takes two lovers, a married White guy and an earnest Korean American doctor who can spot her plastic surgery. Just about every story turns messy, and why should it be otherwise? The way these stories span decades and the tone of melancholy punctuated with humor make The Partition’s stories almost Alice Munro-esque. A worthy bookend to Lee’s first collection, Yellow, and here’s hoping it will be seen as similarly groundbreaking."

Don Lee visits for a virtual conversation with Milwaukee's Liam Callanan on Tues, May 3, 7 pm. Click here for more info.

Daniel offers up a couple more staff recs of event books. Next it's Search by Michelle Huneven, and Daniel says: "Restaurant reviewer Dana Potowski is asked to be on the committee to pick the new minister for her Unitarian Universalist congregation and decides to write a memoir about the experience, but how is she going to do that when she’s agreed to confidentiality? The committee, a varied lot of big personalities, seems to be on the same page regarding generalities, but when it comes to the specifics, conflicts arise, factions take hold, and Dana’s not exactly the only committee member keeping a few secrets.  If you had asked me for a shortlist of compelling plots for a novel, I would not have come up with this one, but I would have been dead wrong, and not just because whenever I describe it to someone, I often get the response: I would read that! Search is a wonderful novel filled with vibrant characters, essential philosophical questions (most notably, what do we want from life?), and a cornucopia of foodie delights."

Huneven visits Boswell In-Person for on Wednesday, May 4, 6:30 pm. More info and registration here.

Daniel also also recommends Marrying the Ketchups from Jennifer Close. Daniel says: "The Sullivans have run their family restaurant in Oak Park for three generations, but three unexpected occurrences send the family into disarray - the 2016 election, the Cubs World Series victory, and the sudden death of Bud, the family patriarch. Then there are the setbacks that should have been expected, given the ill-chosen life partners of the Sullivan third generation, Gretchen, Jane, and Teddy. The story is centered on them, two sisters and a cousin, with special appearances by Teddy’s younger half-sister Riley, as their lives spin out of control, sending them back to Sullivan’s. But family is not the best place to avoid drama. This first-rate fractured family free-for-all is Chicago-infused and food forward, from sandwich loafs to sliders. So glad I finally read a Jennifer Close novel - I can’t wait to read another!"

And Jennifer Close is In-Person at Boswell, in conversation with Send for Me author Lauren Fox, on Friday, April 29, 6:30 pm. More info and registration at this link.

No events, but no less love for these next few books!

Kay Wosewick has two recommendations to share. First, Kay suggests Forest Walking: Discovering the Trees and Woodlands of North America, by  Peter Wohlleben and Jane Billinghurst. Kay says: "Forest Walking describes dozens of creative ways to enrich your walks through forests. Examples include noticing smells (chemical messages!), analyzing what forces could make a tree grow crooked, gaining awareness of parasitic plants all around us, exploring the enormous variety of life in a fallen log, plus special ideas for kids, for night walking, and for enjoying seasonal variations. This is a must-own book for nature lovers."

Kay also recommends (you'll perhaps notice a theme this week form Kay) A Trillion Trees: Restoring Our Forests by Trusting in Nature by Fred Pearce. Kay says: "The second book I've read in the past month about forests' critical role in fighting climate change covers some new ground. Pearce describes how forests create rainstorms and weather patterns and how world-wide weather patterns will shift if forest destruction continues. He feels hope in the discovery of forest areas that are rewilding themselves. But the authors of both books agree that as long as illegal encroachment runs rampant in forests around the world, climate change will proceed apace."

Finally, Jenny Chou jumps in with a middle grade novel: Zia Erases the World, by Bree Barton. Jenny says: "Sixth-grader Zia Angelis loves words, and when she doesn’t have the exact word to express what she means, she makes one up. The shadows and darkness inside her chest that make her want to curl up in a ball become the Shadoom, a feeling giving her countless worries and isolating her from her former best friends. Despite her many fears, Zia is a lively storyteller and her observations about the world around her lead to laugh-out-loud moments for the reader. When her difficult and unhappy grandmother, who is sliding into dementia, moves in with Zia and her single mom, she brings along an old family dictionary with an odd accessory - an eraser shaped like an evil eye. Imagine you could erase everything that scared you from the world by erasing the word from the dictionary! That’s just what Zia learns to do, and the results are both hilarious and heartbreaking. Do pain and fear have a place in the world, along with the dreaded audition? This heartfelt book both asks and answers that question in a way that gently guides young people towards a recognition of depression in both themselves, their classmates, and their families. Not to be missed by middle-grade readers or their grown-ups."

Daniel also has one recommendation for a book getting its second life in paperback this week - The Music of Bees by Eileen Garvin. Daniel says: "Alice Holtzman works at a dead-end county job, grieving the loss of her husband, with only her bees for solace. Into her life comes Jake and Harry, two young men who are nothing alike but are both struggling with setbacks – an accident has left Jake a paraplegic while Harry is a recently released ex-con who has just lost his elderly uncle. What’s worse, a pesticide company’s product seems to be killing the bees, and the folks running the county don’t even seem to care. If we had a section called “found family/second chances,” this book would be shelved there - it’s an uplifting story with memorable and likeable protagonists and a very strong sense of place. If you haven’t been to Oregon’s Hood River Valley, you’ll want to plan a trip there after reading The Music of Bees."

AND FINALLY! A note to our faithful blog readers. As there have been some changes to the Feedburner subscription service tie in to blogger, we may have some changes coming in the near future. We'll keep you updated! Just keep an eye on this space to make sure you continue getting updates from your favorite Boswellians. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of April 19, 2022

A few recommendations to keep you reading this week. Let's dive in.

First, new and in hardcover and recommended by Jason Kennedy, is End of the World House, the new novel from Adrienne Celt, author of books like Invitation to a Bonfire. From Jason: "After terrorist attacks quiet and travel bans are lifted, Bertie and Kate take a trip to Paris to see the Louvre. They meet a stranger who tells them he can get them into the Louvre on a day that it is closed. So they enter the museum and are soon stuck in a time loop. They lose each other, but only Bertie realizes it. This is a quiet and disturbing view of how relationships change, happen, and end. A really brilliant novel."

And recommendations for books getting their paperback releases today:

Kay Wosewick, reader of varied books and finder of unexpected gems, recommends The Interim, by Wolfgang Hilbig, and translated by Isabel Fargo Cole. Kay says: "Beware, Hilbig’s gut-wrenching prose may haunt you for days. C. and fellow countrymen living in the German Democratic Republic after WW2 are expected to agreeably do their assigned jobs; after all, only those who experienced the Holocaust have legitimate reason to complain. Assigned to a prestigious factory job requiring almost no real work, C. fails, spectacularly. Demoted to lowly jobs, he finds time to write and publish poetry. C.’s poetry gains international recognition, and he is allowed to spend several years in Berlin and elsewhere doing poetry readings. He often returns the GDR to visit his girlfriend and mother, but whether he’s there or in Germany, he relentlessly tells himself he is worthless. Frequent heavy drinking exacerbates C.’s self-denigration. Eventually facing the choice of life in Berlin with one woman or life in the GDR with another, C. is paralyzed and confused, taking trains from one city to another, and finally in circles. The Interim is a dark novel by a famous German author, perfectly befitting dark times."

And three recommendations for books getting their paperback releases today:

Featuring a recommendation from Conrad Silverberg, it's The Bookseller of Florence: The Story of the Manuscripts That Illuminated the Renaissance, by Ross King. Here's what Conrad thinks: "Continues King's long fascination and study of that great city, this time with a topic near and dear to our own hearts - books! This is a meaty tome to indulge in while curled up in your most comfy reading chair, casting your mind back 500-plus years to an age when such activities were the exclusive province of the aristocratic elite. A technological innovation was about to change all that, and Florence was at the heart of the revolution."

Boswell proprietor Daniel Goldin suggests Early Morning Riser, the latest novel from Katherine Heiny. Daniel says: "When Jane, an elementary school teacher, moves to tiny Boyne City (a real place!), Michigan, she hardly suspects the complications that will ensue when she takes up with Duncan, the older woodworker who moonlights as a locksmith. Let’s just say he has a lot of ex-girlfriends. A lot! But on the guffaw-meter, Early Morning Riser was literally off the charts in the number of times I laughed out loud. If Heiny had stayed in the romantic comedy lane, I would have been perfectly content. But she throws a curveball when Jane gets a happy ending, only not the way she expected, and that turns out to not be the end of the story. Heiny has a rare gift for bringing characters to glorious life, warts and all. Sometimes, in the case of Jane’s mother or her neighbor’s husband Gary, perhaps all warts. I love Jane’s voice and the way she can see the absurdity in the everyday. And I love the way that Heiny plays with all different emotions, not just laughter, to create this story of family and community."

Sanjena Sathian's debut novel, Gold Diggers also gets a Daniel recommendation: "Stuck at his suburban Atlanta high school, Neeraj (Neil) Narayan simply doesn’t have the drive of his older sister Prachi or the other striving families in his community. But then, through his on-again, off-again friend Anita, he learns the true meaning of the adage, ‘when life gives you lemons…’ Why are little bits of jewelry disappearing from the families of Hammond Creek? And how far can Anita and Neil go in the pursuit of ambition, especially when they settle in the Bay Area, paradise on Earth for the tech striver? I love the way Gold Diggers solders imagery onto the story, whether the tale of the Bombayan prospector Neil is researching or Kanye West’s ‘Gold Digger’ wafting through the high school dance. It reminded me that despite the tension (did I mention this is also a caper novel?)  and the likely heartbreak (we all can’t get what we want), this engaging and insightful novel is a comedy, and there will be a wedding at the end."

Happy reading - we'll catch you next week with more recommendations!

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of April 12, 2022

A new week brings new books, and with them come recommendations. This week, in the realm of brand new releases, we've got three Kays, a Jason, and a Daniel. So let's get into it.

Kay Wosewick starts us off with the novel At the Edge of the Woods by Masatsugu Ono, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter. Kay says: "Ono stealthily darkens the lives of a family who recently moved to a foreign country. They live in a house at the edge of a forest. The few locals they meet tell frightening stories about the woods. When the wife becomes pregnant, she returns home to have the baby in a safer setting. Left alone, father and son turn inward and become unable to have a conversation, much less draw comfort from each other. Fear and isolation give way to paranoia, then loss of touch with reality. This is a perfect book for readers of psychological horror."

Next is Kay for All Is Not Lost: 20 Ways to Revolutionize Disaster by Alex Zamalin. Kay says: "Zamalin's pocket-sized handbook is well-timed. Twenty strategies that have been successfully used to shift political and social tides - mostly in the United States during the past two centuries - are succinctly described. Zamalin also relates each to recent events, making it easy to understand their relevance today. I closed the book grieving that I did not adequately take advantage of strategy #3, 'Take Back the Streets,' when the Black Lives Matter protests were underway in 2020. No more excuses."

Kay's final rec of the week is for Nobody Gets Out Alive, a story collection by Leigh Newman. Kay's write up: "Newman's debut will convince you - if you didn't already know - that Alaskans are, ah, 'different' from people in the 'lower 48.' Does the landscape birth and magnify angst, twisted wit, and weirdness? Whatever the case, Newman's characters embody these traits, and the result is a spectacular collection of stories that alternately daze, dazzle, and dumbfound. I look forward to Newman's next work."

Now Jason Kennedy chimes in with his enthusiasm for Woman, Eating, a new novel by Clarie Kohda. Jason says: "Claire Kohda has written a coming-of-age story, but it's about a vampire. Lydia is a young vampire living on her own for the first time, having just put her mother in home for her signs of dementia. Lydia doesn't know any vampires except her mother, so that is where all instruction has come from. Her mother taught her the vampire side of them was evil and needed to be suppressed. Their food of choice: pigs blood, never human. Out into the world, by herself for the first time, Lydia navigates a new job at the Otter, a new studio that she has all to herself. She befriends new people awkwardly. As it becomes harder to source her food, and her job becomes less interesting than hoped for, Lydia struggles with her human half versus her vampire half; her constant hunger versus social conventions. A brilliant book about an outsider trying to fit into a community that doesn't exactly fit who they are or who they hope to become."

And finally, Daniel Goldin sings this to the tune of the old Louis Armstrong song, as is probably the author's wont: Hello, Molly!: A Memoir by Molly Shannon with Sean Wilsey. Daniel says: "Unlike many fans, I wasn’t aware of the defining moment of Molly Shannon’s childhood - when her father, drinking and driving, crashed the family car, killing Shannon’s mom, younger sister, and cousin. Raised by her prone-to-rage, still-struggling-with-addiction, yet loving and shockingly permissive father, along with extended family and Dad’s drinking buddies, Molly grew to become a good girl who nonetheless broke a lot of rules, even stowing away with her best friend on a plane when she was 13. I was surprised and excited to see that Shannon’s cowriter was Sean Wilsey, author of the Daniel-favorite Oh the Glory of It All.  It’s an inspired collaboration. Shannon focuses a lot on the years of struggle, and not so much on the post-SNL roles, even though her work on Will and Grace led to an Emmy. But this was the right decision, giving Hello, Molly! a satisfying narrative arc for this autobiography. And hey, there can always be a sequel."

And as is our wont, we end with the paperback releases - this week, we've got one paperback pick from, you guessed it, Kay Wosewick! She recommends The Reign of Wolf 21: The Saga of Yellowstone's Legendary Druid Pack, the second book about the wolves of Yellowstone national park by  Rick McIntyre. Kay says: "I was skeptical that McIntyre could write a second book as beguiling and insightful as his first about the wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone. Wow, was I wrong. This book is equally captivating as The Rise of Wolf 8 (which you must read before 21)." Guess what - both books are in paperback, so you can snag Wolf 8 and Wolf 21 for a perfect spring reading pairing. 

Monday, April 4, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of April 5, 2022

This is an absolutely jam-packed book release week, and we've got the staff recs to guide you through it.

Alphabetically by bookseller's first name, we begin with Caroline, who recommends The Unwritten Book: An Investigation by Samantha Hunt. Caroline says: "Hunt's earlier work (The Seas, The Dark Dark, Mr. Splitfoot) has already proven her to be a master of the ghost story. The Unwritten Book is no different. But then, it's also entirely different. Technically nonfiction, this reads like a collection of essays orbiting around chunks of a novel - her late father's, which she unearthed after he died. His words become a means for Hunt to reflect on his life, on their relationship, alcohol ('spirits' themselves), clues, and memory, but also so much more than what any of those words contain. Hunt is interested in vastness and possibility, in the undefinable, in patterns and coincidence, in connection, 'madness,' and motherhood. At its core, this is a story about all the things that haunt us: books, objects, houses, place, violence, and of course, the dead. A word of advice: this is a book that asks you to surrender to it completely, to read it as it asks to be read. Hunt won't lead you astray. Or then again, maybe she will."

Next we have Chris for a new work of nonfiction by French investigative journalist Valentin Gendrot,  translated by Frank Wynne. The book is Cop: A Journalist Infiltrates the Police, and Chris says: "It is an ugly, cold comfort to say, “at least they have the same problems in France,” but here we are. Gendrot’s pulled off two major feats with this book. The first, of course, is spending two years undercover as a journalist in the Parisian police force without getting himself killed. The second is capturing on the page the crushing frustration of the central Catch-22 of changing policing: To fix the problem, you have to admit there’s a problem, but if you admit there’s a problem, now you’re the problem. In clean, clear-eyed reportage, Gendrot is unflinching but evenhanded about what he documents – the daily, casual acts of racism, violence, and misogyny of some fellow officers, the code of silence adopted by the rest, the lack of resources, support, and training for the front-line, and the disconnect between politicians and the brass from what’s happening in the streets. It’s farcically optimistic to think this book is going to be the catalyst for serious police reform. In fact, it begs the pessimistic question: are these problems actually problems or part of the design of how we police in the Western hemisphere? Still, Gendrot’s book is important, a necessary document of and confrontation with the current reality and its toll on those doing the policing and those being policed."

Next up we have Daniel, who has three recommendations to share. First it's In Praise of Good Bookstores by Jeff Deutsch, the Director of Chicago's Seminary Coop Bookstores. Daniel says: "Jeff Deutsch meditates on what makes a bookstore special, using as a model the legendary Seminary Co-op on the campus of the University of Chicago. Deutsch uses voices from literary history to make a point that the experience of book browsing and discovery is important well beyond its mercantile nature. And he draws on his Jewish background to show how a culture can celebrate learning for learning’s sake. With economic pressures compounded by the rise of Amazon, stores like Seminary are searching for a new model, with the idea that taking out the profit incentive will allow bookstores to focus more on what they should sell and less on what they have to sell. In Praise of Good Bookstores is not just a work to inspire, but also functions as a catalog for recommended reading."

We'll host Jeff Deutsch for an In-Store event on Monday, April 25, 6:30 pm. Click here for more information and to register.

Daniel's next recommendation is for Let's Not Do That Again, a new novel by Grant Ginder. Daniel says: "Nancy Harrison is running for Senator, with her television star opponent neck and neck. So it’s not a good look when her daughter Greta is captured breaking the window of an elegant restaurant during a French protest. Nancy’s son Nick, late of politics and now teaching writing while working on his Joan Didion musical, is dispatched to bring Greta home, but it turns out the situation is even more complicated than could be imagined. I’d like to call it a rollercoaster of a novel, one moment cutting satire, the next a poignant family story, but perhaps a carousel is the more appropriate carnival allusion, with everyone chasing after some sort of brass ring - power, love, revenge, and for at least one player, a contract with Fox News."

Finally Daniel, along with Tim and Jenny, recommend Sea of Tranquility, the latest novel from Emily St John Mandel. Daniel says: "After reading Sea of Tranquility, a novel that veers from a hundred years in the past to almost 300 in the future, I wondered if a new reader to Emily St John Mandel would love it as much as I did. I decided they would, with a caveat that they might have to stop everything and read the author’s previous novels. But for folks who’ve read Station Eleven and The Great Hotel, with both references that tie the story together and laugh-out-loud meta-commentary (you’ll know it when you get to it), the rewards are mind-blowing."

Jenny chimes in: "As humans, what do we really want in life? You can probably think of lots of things, but I’m going to guess that connections with others are definitely in the top three. Besides her brilliantly crafted sentences, the sometimes significant, sometimes small ways her characters and her books connect to each other make Emily St. John Mandel’s books unforgettable and so compelling. The Sea of Tranquility is her best yet for tying together some loose ends that I didn’t even realize were loose. I loved revisiting characters from previous books in timelines that sometimes cross one another but often run in parallel universes. It’s not a spoiler for either book to say that Mandel’s novel Station Eleven appears in Sea of Tranquility as a novel written by one of the characters. The most significant connection of this fictional author’s life is made on a book tour to promote it. And if you are like me, the beauty of the ending will make you cry. All that said, these connections are bits of joy implanted in the book. You don’t need to have read previous titles. Sea of Tranquility will keep you up reading late into night, and you’ll carry the story in your thoughts as you go about your day, constantly checking the time, waiting for the minute you can return to Emily St. John Mandel’s exquisitely built world."

And Tim brings us home: "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."

Jen joins the fray with a middle grade book recommendation - Catch that Dog! by Will Taylor. Jen says: "Catch that Dog! is a wholehearted delight of a novel. Based on a true story, Masterpiece (the world's most valuable dog) is missing! To this day it is still an unsolved mystery, but author Will Taylor has imagined what might have been. Walking to her parents’ shop after school, 10-year-old Joanie Dayton finds a cat stuck under some crates in alley. Rescuing the poor animal, Joanie takes it home, cleans it up, and discovers she’s rescued a tiny dog! After some careful negotiation with her parents, Joanie is allowed to keep it and names him Lucky. Joanie shares all her hopes and dreams with Lucky. It’s Joanie who feels she’s the lucky, one until one day, when she sees an article in the paper - there’s a picture of a dog named Masterpiece who’s been dognapped. Masterpiece looks an awful lot like Lucky, and and Joanie has a big decision to make. Catch that Dog! Is full of warmth and humor, and the bond between Lucky & Joanie will melt your heart."

Kathy is next, and she recommends another middle grade title: When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle. Kathy says: "Set in a British town during WWII, this emotionally gripping work of historical fiction tells the story of 12-year-old Joseph, who’s sent to live with a stranger, Mrs. F, when his father goes off to war. Joseph, angry and unhappy, immediately clashes with Mrs. F, not particularly fond of children and struggling with her own secrets and scars, who loves only the run-down zoo she oversees and its silverback gorilla, Adonis. The intersection of these three lives forms the heart of a compassionate story of war, loss, and finding redemption in unlikely places."

Kay suggest The Dolphin House by Audrey Schulman. Kay says: "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."

And then we have Margaret with a recommendation for Portrait of a Thief by Grace D Li. Margaret says: "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.

And Tim brings us home with a write up for Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist by Frans de Waal. Tim says: "It's a pleasure (and a relief!) to find a non-fiction writer who’s concise and plain-spoken, one who gets straight to the point. Frans de Waal is that writer, and his points are extraordinary. He has hard-earned insights into gender and sex among hominid apes (yes, that's us and our close genetic family). He’s a self-proclaimed feminist who’s not interested in condemning chimpanzee societies for being male dominated, admiring bonobos for female domination, or dismissing the individual variations found in members of every species. A naturalist just wonders why life works the way it does, and his wondering comes with tested science about nature and nurture related topics like sexual pleasure and reproduction, social organizations and group hierarchies, the toys genders choose, our emotional tendencies, nurturing young, competition and cooperation, altruism, friendship, and all types of violence. There is a wide variety of research discussed, including studies done in captivity (zoos and primate centers), which always makes me uncomfortable, but by looking at human sex, gender and society related to other primates and animals in general, de Waal blasts needed light through the murky debate over what people see as right and wrong. I’m personally very grateful."

Paperback picks, too? You betcha. We've got four.

From Daniel, Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead. Daniel says: "Marian Graves is a pilot who disappeared on a groundbreaking flight. Hadley Baxter is the actress, tarnished by scandal, who hopes an important role playing Marian in a biopic will burnish her reputation. With alternating voices, Great Circle ponders, can you really know someone’s story? Historical fiction of the highest order!"

Daniel also recommends The Guncle by Steven Rowley. Daniel's rec: "Patrick O’Hara, Golden Globe winner of the iconic television comedy The People Upstairs, has been holed up in Palm Springs after the cancellation of his show and the death of his partner. When his college buddy turned sister-in-law also dies, and his brother confronts his addictions by heading to rehab, Patrick agrees to take in his niblings Grant and Maisie for the summer. As Patrick’s disagreeable sister Clara notes, Patrick is no Rosalind Russell, but that doesn’t stop The Guncle from calling to mind Auntie Mame, notably when the ready-made family has a Christmas-in-July party. I’m well aware that quirky children are a shortcut to sympathy - ask any screenwriter - but Maisie and Grant (or Grantelope; nicknames don’t become Maisie) do a particularly good job of forcing Patrick to overcome his grief-fueled-malaise. And like Rowley’s novel, they are also charming and funny."

Margaret is next with her recommendation of Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau. She says: "Amidst the clashing viewpoints and lifestyles of 1970s America one teen girl tries to make sense of it all and find out who she wants to be in Mary Jane. The story opens on a 14-year-old girl from a straight-laced, conservative family whose worldview is shaken when she takes a summer nanny job for a doctor. Expecting a family much like her own, Mary Jane is surprised and strangely delighted when the Cones turn out to be a bohemian, openly amorous, rock n' roll couple with a free-spirited 5-year-old. On top of it all, a rock star and his famous wife are living in the attic as the doctor helps the rocker recover from his drug addiction. Throughout the summer, Mary Jane encounters and embraces new music, new clothes, and a new way of looking at herself and what she wants to be, all while inadvertently helping the Cone family and their guests grow as well. A wonderful read about found families and finding yourself - this is already one of my favorites of the year!"

Does Daniel chime in here too? You know he does! "Baltimore, 1975. For 14-year-old Mary Jane, life is Roland Park Country Day School, lemonades at the Elkridge Country Club, and cooking and cleaning with her mom. A summer nanny job offers a surprising twist - a rock star and his actress wife are in hiding at the house, being treated for addiction. That’s one crazy summer. Jessica Anya Blau does a great job of capturing that moment when you realize that life could be more than what you’ve been offered. For all the sex, drugs, and rock and roll, Mary Jane only occasionally veers into raciness. Mostly it’s smart and funny and charming."

And finally, Madi Hill recommends Whisper Down the Lane by Clay Chapman: "Whisper Down the Lane is a love letter to the horror classics of the 70s and 80s. An alternating story of six-year-old Sean and his single mother together against the world as they try to establish themselves in a new town and a new school in 1983, and Richard, an elementary school art teacher newly married with a stepson with which he is trying to establish a father-son relationship in 2013. Sean tries to keep his mother happy and ends up embroiled in a school wide scandal about a satanic cult, while thirty years in the future Richard is starting the school year trying to make sense of what seems to be a series of escalating grotesque pranks.  A psychological horror with just enough gore, Chapman crafts the story with twists and turns that keep you gripped. This book perfectly shows how dangerous groupthink can be and shows the similarities between the mindset that allowed the Satanic Panic to flourish, and the dangerous conspiracy theories that lead to real harm today."