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!

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