Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 31, 2022

The end of the month brings lots of new releases. Let us help you start your summer reading off well with these books.

Chris Lee recommends We Had to Remove This Post by Hanna Bervoets: "Get through the work day, and don’t let the work get to you. That’s the goal of everyone who labors, at least to some degree. And, of course, it’s impossible. Manual work breaks down your body, the service industry eats away your personhood. And in her crisp, quick new novel, Hanna Bervoets tells the story of one woman’s year spent in the latest temple to soul-sucking drudgery: a social media company’s content moderation facility. The question is begged (I admit, I wondered, too): what’s the worst thing you ever saw? And boy oh boy are there ever some eye-watering answers. But there’s fun here, too, particularly that old dirtbag pleasure of getting away with as much as you can on the clock – loafing, drinking, smoking dope, even screwing. We Had to Remove This Post is a very now working class novel that asks age-old and essential questions of life under capitalism: what does our work do to us? How much of ourselves will we give away for money? The answers Bervoets finds are disquieting at best, and the longer you think about them (and you’re going to keep thinking about them, trust me), the more your skin crawls. I really like this book."

Chris also recommends The Coward by Jarred McGinnis: "The Coward is a spectacular dirtbag bildungsroman. Jarred is paralyzed after a car accident that killed a woman, and he blames himself for her death. In fact, blames himself for a lot of things; classic King Midas in reverse syndrome. Maybe the only person he blames more is his estranged, alcoholic father, under whose roof he’s now stuck living. Alas, Jarred can barely push himself down the block before he’s out of breath, so his tried and true method of running away from his problems is no longer a particularly viable option. Some soul-searching and past-confronting may be in order, as quick wit and anger are only going to carry him so far. Is he destined to spend the rest of his life as a living, breathing (and annoyed) cautionary tale / inspirational token to the able-bodied? How long can he dodge medical bill collectors? Could the barista at the fancy coffee shop actually be interested in him, like, that way? And can he reconcile with his father, finally mourn his mother, and learn not run out on the people who care about him? The Coward will probably not be the book for everybody – the voice is callous, sarcastic, and comes with quite the chip on the shoulder – but if your interest is piqued, I can promise this book will lend your heart some serious warmth by the end."

Margaret Kennedy recommends A Little Bit Country by Brian D Kennedy (no relation): "From debut author Brian D Kennedy, A Little Bit Country not only gives us a sweet-as-can-be love story that will rival any ballad on the radio but also a much-needed look into what it means to love country. The book is set in Wanda World, a country music theme park owned by one of the biggest superstars in the industry. Emmett, an openly gay country singer is working there for the summer in the hopes that he will leave with a record deal. Luke, who comes from a struggling home with bad ties to country music, is only there for the paycheck. When the two meet, sparks will fly, and unexpected family secrets will come out of the closet. The characters are well written - they care for and accept the other even when they are unable to relate and struggle to make good decisions despite the tough situations they are put in. With an ending that left me elated and wondering how I didn't see that coming, I couldn't put this book down. To all those who are gay and love country music, an industry that doesn't always love you back for that, A Little Bit Country gives a nice sense of hope for the future."

Jenny Chou recommends The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz: "Phoebe Oppenheimer arrived in the world seventeen years after her triplet siblings, but as she likes to point out, she’s exactly the same age. Sally, Harrison, Lewyn, and Phoebe started as four embryos in a petri dish, three implanted, and one sent off to be frozen and just about forgotten. The triplets don’t exactly create the loving, close family their mother Johanna envisioned, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that they can’t stand each other by the time they leave for college. In addition, their dad has checked out of their lives, supposedly (but only partially) due to his obsession with his art collection. Johanna, still hoping to create the blissful, loving family of her dreams, makes what feels like an impulsive decision, but actually did take quite a bit of planning. She hires a surrogate to carry the embryo that becomes Phoebe, the child nobody really wanted (including Johanna), but perhaps the one they all needed. Her wise and slightly cynical voice carries the novel from beginning to end, catching the reader up on all the many things she missed out on through her arrival seventeen years too late. She’s one of the few people you won’t want to strangle by the end of the book, but if you like messy family dynamics, then this one is a winner!"

Jen Steele recommends Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris: "David Sedaris offers a heartfelt and earnest new collection of essays that left me laughing one minute, agreeing with his astute observations and contemplative the next. If you have the chance, I recommend listening to the audiobook. It's like being at one of Sedaris's show, which is a completely unique experience."

Speaking of Sedaris shows - David Sedaris appears in-person at Boswell on Friday, June 17, 2 pm, for a ticketed talk which will be followed by a free and open-to-everyone signing. For more information, click here.

Jen also recommends Barb and the Ghost Blade (Barb the Last Berzerker #2), written and illustrated by Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson: "Our favorite Zerk is back! Barb and her friends are on a quest to save the world from the sinister Witch Head. To do that, Barb must enlist the Wise Wizards to join her. Finding a Wizard might be tricky, and Barb will need to go undercover in a monster city that doesn't take too kindly to humans - what could go wrong? Barb and the Ghost Blade is full of humor, heart, and nonstop action! This is fast becoming my new favorite graphic novel series."

Jen also recommends (go, Jen, go!) Together We Burn by Isabel Ibañez "Imagine a medieval Spain with dragons instead of bulls and matadors. Isabel Ibanez vividly brings to life a world full of danger and intrigue; you can feel the heat of the dragons and the flair of flamenco on every page. Together We Burn is a great mix of fantasy, romance, and mystery. I felt transported to another land."

That's it for this week of recommending, so happy reading to you for the rest of this week, and we'll see you back here for the start of June with more recommendations.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Staff Recommendation Catch-Up (Week of May 24, 2022 Post)

This week's recommendation post is something of a catch-up blog - a good thing for it to be, I suppose, since it's also a bit late this week. But hey, plenty of great stuff for a long weekend of reading. We have one brand new book, a couple of picture book recommendations for great books that came out in May, and a romance paperback original that Rachel just discovered. Read on!

Jason Kennedy starts us off with his recommendation for Sleepwalk by Dan Chaon, just released today. Jason says: "Bill Bear lives in a future that has gone through several Covids and Ukraine War-like instances. The US is a bit of a disaster, and Bill makes a living as a courier. He mostly moves people and objects and does the odd cleanup and assassinations if called upon. He is a master of living on the fringes, outside the system, a ghost with no real identity. So, when he is in the middle of a contract job and one of his burner phones goes off, it freaks him out. Nobody should have any of the numbers of his phone at this point, but that's when more of them go off, with a very insistent person on the other end about to change Bill's outlook on life and royally piss off Bill’s employer. Dan Chaon provides a road novel, a rundown, and a harsh future world. While I don't want to live there, I loved reading this bleak future of ours."

Jason also just finished River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile, the latest history from Candice Millard. Jason says: "Candace Millard delves into the history of the expeditions of Burton and Speke as they try to discover the source of the White Nile. The logistics were mind-boggling, and the amount of supplies and the number of people it took to make the trek seemed like overkill - until it wasn't. And then the food began to run out. The amount of illness and its severity visited upon everyone made me wonder what form of insanity these explorers had to have suffered. The individual personalities and vistas are fascinating. Candace Millard follows the fortunes of these two British fellows along with Sidi Mubarak Bombay, who was brought in to handle working with local African groups. Bombay is the real reason this expedition didn't fail spectacularly as the two Europeans worked against each other. Another great historical adventure that opens our eyes to an era that I just don't understand anymore but found amazing."

Rachel Copeland recommends Set on You, by Amy Lea. Rachel says: "Fitness influencer Crystal Chen made a name for herself by ignoring the haters - she's curvy and her followers love her body positivity message. When an offensively hot new gym patron steals her squat rack, she takes it upon herself to teach him a few things about gym etiquette. The last person she expects to see at her grandmother's engagement party is Squat Rack Thief - but of course he's the fiancé's grandson. Look, I'm completely allergic to the concept of exercise, but I loved Set on You anyway. Amy Lea captures the stress of being a one-woman social media force and the difficulty of balancing a private life with a public persona. I also enjoyed how, once Crystal and Scott called a truce, the two became best friends in a way that felt so organic. I'm 100% on board to hear more from Amy Lea."

And now, new kids book recommendations from Tim McCarthy. First, The World Belonged to Us by Jacqueline Woodson. Tim says: "This just became my definitive summer picture book! School empties and the children are "free as the sun." Just imagine everything a group of kids could do to live their joy on a Brooklyn city street, on a day that lasts forever. Yes, of course there's an open fire hydrant, and a stickball game, an ice-cream truck, and a big kid helping with scraped knees, and... I think they even snuck in an image of Woodson herself writing Another Brooklyn. I have vivid memories of the sun finally going down against my own exhausted body on summer days that almost didn't end, and I'll never get enough of Woodson's gorgeous storytelling or enough images of childhood summer joy!"

Tim also recommends Lizzy and the Cloud by The Fan Brothers. Tim says: "The Fan Brothers have amazed me again! Several of their picture books are among my favorite combinations of story and illustration. Lizzy is the latest gem, about a girl who walks to the park with her parents and runs straight to the cloud seller. His clouds are in the shapes of many animals, but Lizzy wants an ordinary one. She learns to follow the Caring for Your Cloud instructions exactly, and the result is a lesson in love beyond anything she had imagined. The beautiful pictures enhance the unique and tender-hearted storytelling in a way that must be seen to be understood."

And then Tim takes us for a walk with Hot Dog by Doug Salati. Tim says: "Salati's picture book is an instant summer classic. The baking-hot, crazy-complicated city sidewalk is no place for a little dog who just wants a curious sniff. It's all 'too close! too loud! too much!' When the frustrated pup finally refuses to budge, the person at the other end of the leash takes them both on a fabulous journey to the beach. Being a hound lover, my first reaction was that this dog is such a... dog. And there's so much more here to admire. Facial expressions throughout are beautifully telling and fun. The illustrations are unique and dramatic, with details offering sweet surprises big and small. The poetic story is told with subtle strength, and this gift to the heart is wrapped in a perfect ending. Come and get one for the children you love, and perhaps another for your own life-tested soul."

And do we have any paperback picks this week?

Jason also suggest Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin, just now out in paperback. Jason says: "Morningside Heights chronicles a family’s attempt to make their life work through an unexpected curveball. There is real love between the parents, Spence and Pru, and their child Sarah, and even for Arlo, Spence’s child from a previous, short-lived marriage. When Spence is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, everyone’s life is turned upside down. While this story centers around Spence’s decline, it really is Pru who shines. She loves her husband, though she never conceived of becoming a caregiver and slowly dissolves into his disease. It’s heartbreaking and uplifting all at once. A great testament that life continues to evolve and rebuild in the face of adversity."

Daniel Goldin recommends Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else, by UW-Madison's Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Mathematics Jordan Ellenberg. Daniel says: "Shape is the perfect title for this book, which shows that geometry is about more than proving whether two of the angles of an isosceles triangle are congruent. (They are!) Geometry is mapping and game theory and cryptography and artificial intelligence and predicting epidemics. I love Ellenberg's voice. He's such a good storyteller, and no lie, I have already laughed out loud many more times than I have in many a so-called comic novel. Did I sometimes get a little lost reading the book? I did! But it's kind of like falling into a body of water with a life preserver - even if you're only an okay swimmer, you don't have to worry about drowning."

Thanks for checking in with us this week. Happy reading.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Make No Mistake: You Should Be Reading Jonathan Lee's THE GREAT MISTAKE

The reason I read The Great Mistake Jonathan Lee is probably not the reason you should read The Great Mistake, but trust me (or, hey, make no mistake…), you should definitely read The Great Mistake.

So, why, you may or may not ask, did I read The Great Mistake? Because its authors surname is Lee, just like mine, and I like to read at least one book by another Lee every year. This habit started some years ago when someone I met told me, “oh, Lee, that’s the most common surname in the world,” which is actually not even close to true, it only even hovers in the top five if you include varied spellings like ‘Li,’ but whatever, I didn’t know that at the time, I just immediately thought, I bet there are a lot of other Lees who’ve written books. You know, like Harper Lee, Laurie Lee (ask a British friend), and Min Jin Lee, and hey, the great Don Lee, with whom we just had a virtual event for his new story collection, The Partition, which is my Lee book for 2022. Is this a dumb way to choose books? Probably, but also probably not the dumbest. Besides, I have my own writerly aspirations, and wouldn’t it be nice to be able to look at my own book on a store shelf one day and see all its Lee friends around it and have read them, too? Of course that is the aspiration that I cling to even if it’s a little embarrassing to admit!

Last year, I was in a reading slump – you know how it goes, for whatever reason every book you pick up is just a total slog, and besides, there’s all this great TV and napping to catch up on – and I was casting around for something to get me into reading again. I had an advance copy of The Great Mistake on my stack, and grabbed it, thinking, “well at least I’ll get my Lee read for the year,” and dove in. And whoa.

Within three pages, I could tell the Lee book trick had worked again. (In fact, it pretty much always has worked for me, obviously because [note to big time, big money agents and editors out there] all Lees are fantastic writers.) But boy oh boy, this time the trick really worked.

And so here we come to the reasons non-Lees should also read this book:

THE HISTORY! Go ahead, google Andrew Haswell Green, the central figure of The Great Mistake, and see what comes up – you’ll find that he’s the ‘unsung hero of Central Park,’ the ‘Father of Greater New York City,’ and also was murdered in his old age. He is, very simply, a fascinating dude. And the book uses him to travel back in time and relive the city as it grew into the Gilded Age. From life on a poverty-stricken farm upstate to the private libraries and halls of power, the book offers a glimpse into the history of the city, not as a survey class or set of factoids, but how it actually felt to live in.

THE MYSTERY! The book jumps back and forth between the life story of Green and the police investigator who is at once trying to suss out why on earth someone would shoot dead an old man and at the same time trying very hard not to succumb to consumption. This is very fun to read.

THE PROSE! And I know, this feels like something somebody says about a novel when they just don’t know what else to say, it’s all, “oh, the prose, it’s just so, you know, prose-y,” but I promise this is not the case with this book. Jonathan Lee is very, very obviously obsessed with language and crafting delightful paragraphs. Now, I think a part of this must be his British heritage – as a friend pointed out to me, the Brits have superior vocabularies to us. And his is not only excellent, but he uses it the way (terrible but apt metaphor alert) Chagall used color. Every page is full of sentences and paragraphs crafted with the precision and care of obscenely expensive Swiss watches. And the best part of them -

THE SURPRISES! I often stopped to reread pages throughout the book as I was going along because so often Lee is able to just completely blindside you with where he’s going and what he’s about to say. Really. If half the fun of reading is finding out “what comes next,” this book is a feast of delights, because from page to page, from even the beginning of each sentence to its end, you never know where Lee is going to take you.

THE HEART! For all this, there’s one thing you’ve gotta have in any book to really care about it, right? A bit of heart. Well, for all of the amazing writing about the city and the murder mystery and the past, The Great Mistake has at its beating heart the story of a restless, creative man determined to shape history while at the same time being bound by the moral code of his day. Here is a man who wants so much and the only real question is, what will he decide he wants the most?

The greatest mistake of all would obviously be not reading this book.

If you are reading this on or before May 24, you can attend this virtual event live by registering on Zoom here. And if it's after May 24, there's a good chance we'll have a link to the recording.

Photo credit: Tanja Kernweiss

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 17, 2022

Welcome to another week of staff recommendations from your favorite Boswellians. 

First it's Jenny and Daniel for This Time Tomorrow, the latest novel from the beloved Emma Straub. Jenny says: "2022 is shaping up to be an excellent year for time travel novels. Literally one super-star read after another, and as I write this, it's only February. In This Time Tomorrow, Emma Straub's take on the time-travel twist, we don’t need to understand the science behind main character Alice’s journeys to her past, just her motivations for going back to age sixteen - first accidentally and then on purpose. At the start of the book, she’s forty, and it’s apparent that Alice is not living her best life. Her father, the most important person in her life, is dying, and everyone else is caught up in the chaos of their own life or is just dull background noise in Alice’s. So, when the opportunity arises, Alice tries to rearrange her present-day life over and over again from the springboard of her sixteenth birthday. Fixing certain problems often leads to bigger problems and lots of laughs for the reader, but the heartbeat of the novel is Alice’s relationship with her dad. Her longing to somehow adjust his path by changing her actions gives This Time Tomorrow a sense of poignancy and tenderness. Trust me, you’re going to fall in love with Alice and the people who stumble in and out of her life over the course of this absolutely delightful book."

And from Daniel: "On her fortieth birthday, with her life in a holding pattern, Alice Stern inadvertently spends the night in the guard house of her father’s Upper West Side co-op and finds herself back at the age of 16 with so many of her life decisions ahead of her. Most notably, her father, author of the legendary Time Brothers novel, is alive and well and no longer facing the end of his life in a hospital bed. Can Alice change her own life’s trajectory in 24 hours? Should she? After reading this alternatingly whimsical and poignant but always delightful story, I am convinced that every writer, whatever their chosen genre, should write a time travel novel. The reading world will be better for it!"

Want to see Straub in person? Great news! Emma Straub will be in conversation with Noah Weckwerth at the Elm Grove Women’s Club, 13885 Watertown Plank Road, Thursday, May 26, 2022, 7 pm. Tickets cost $28 plus tax and fee and include a copy of the book. Click here to purchase tickets.

Let's stick with Jenny for See You Yesterday, the newest book from Rachel Lynne Solomon. Jenny says: "Signing up for physics her freshman year of college was a mistake that becomes clear the moment Barrett sits down next to the unbearably annoying Miles, a know-it-all who puts her on the spot in front of the class and the professor for absolutely no reason. She’s never seen Miles before in her life, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know each other. It doesn’t take long for Barrett to figure out she’s become stuck in a time loop of endless Wednesday the 21st of Septembers. And caught there with her? Ugh. Miles. What ensues is hilarious and very nearly broke my heart (not unexpected for a Rachel Lynn Solomon novel). Writing a book set almost entirely in just one day is challenging, but Solomon’s creativity makes for a real page turner. Barrett’s combination of outspoken and insecure land her in trouble with every repeat, while Miles pretty much has to be dragged out of the physics library, where he’s determined to find the scientific solution to reaching Thursday, September 22nd. Barrett’s sense of adventure doesn’t mesh with Miles’s cautious personality, so watching the two learn to understand each other makes for a charming read. I’m not giving anything away to tell you that my favorite enemies-to-lovers trope is well played here, but the path to Thursday, September 22nd leads through an unexpected and epic twist that fans of YA romance won’t want to miss."

And now, over to Jason for his take on Just Like Mother, the debut book-for-adults from Anne Heltzel. Jason says: "Anne Heltzel has put a disturbing ring to the term Mother in this book. Maeve is born into a cult called The Mother Collective, which has extreme views on motherhood. Maeve’s best friend is her cousin, Andrea, who makes Maeve promise she will never leave. When Maeve is caught in a tight spot, she flees and enters foster care. Years later, Andrea reaches out to reconnect with Maeve, and that is when some real creepiness reintroduces itself. There are some very graphic scenes that left me squeamish, but Heltzel does an amazingly dark job of weaving a perfect trap for her character and not triggering it until Maeve is almost too far inside. Really looking forward to what twisted ideas she can come up with for what should be normal, comforting life experiences. Mother will never mean the same thing to me."

And now, as is often the case here on the staff rec roundup, two from Kay! First, Kay recommends Family Album by By Gabriela Alemán and team translated by Dick Cluster and Mary Ellen Fieweger. Kay says: "Alemán’s eclectic short stories left traces that unexpectedly popped up and demanded my attention again: why this, how that? The stories meander around Ecuador to places where mysteries may be solved or deepened, where curiosity may be rewarded and lack of curiosity punished, and where characters range from kind to cruel, outlandish to simple, but always one-of-a-kind."

Kay also suggests Metropolis, the latest from BA Shapiro. Kay says: "This clever, engaging, and twisty story is set in a gothic storage warehouse in Cambridge, MA. The book opens with news of a serious injury after someone falls down an elevator shaft. The warehouse is fascinating: two people live in their units, another uses it as an office, and a fourth moved the contents of her children's bedrooms there after the father unilaterally sent them to school in Switzerland. The residents' lives are entwined at the time of the accident and become more-so in the aftermath. As with Shapiro’s other books, there is a strong art/artist thread. The setting is picture-perfect for a thrilling story."

And now, out in paperback today, guess what? It's ANOTHER Kay rec. Woohoo! The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us by Meg Lowman is the book, and Kay says: "Meg Lowman is a scientific powerhouse and innovator. She is a pioneer in researching the top of forests where there is a great diversity of life that has barely begun to be recognized. Many natural areas around the world have followed Lowman’s lead and have built systems to convey visitors to treetops to observe entirely new habitats. Lowman’s leadership and creativity have led to significant leaps in understanding this previously overlooked habitat, which she calls the Eighth Continent. Lowman’s introduction to this overlooked habitat is fascinating."

The latest out in paperback from Taylor Jenkins Reid is Malibu Rising, and here's Jen with recommending duties: "Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit are the children of the world-famous crooner Mick Riva. However, they may know him best through celebrity magazines. Raised by their mother June, the siblings grow up in Malibu and bond over surfing. Told in two parts, we learn the family's history from the mid-fifties to late seventies and then of the day of the Riva's annual end-of-summer party in 1983. Each chapter reveals a new heartbreak, all leading up to the most explosive party the siblings have ever hosted. Taylor Jenkins Reid sets the scene for family drama and manages to transport you to Malibu's past effortlessly. I was mesmerized by the Rivas, my heart breaking with them at one turn, and laughing out loud at the next, especially at Kit's astute observations. Make an 80's surfing playlist and add this to your summer read pile!"

Next up, Chris has mucho praise for The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin: "By now, anyone who’s paying attention at all knows what happens to the families on the losing end of gentrification. And if we’re being honest, we don’t care – that’s development, that’s progress, catch up or get left behind. That’s the starting place for Vlautin’s latest. Lynette wakes up before the sun to work shifts at two crappy jobs (plus her sex work side hustle) as she tries to scrape together enough cash to buy the house she lives in with her alcoholic mother and developmentally disabled brother from their absentee landlord. Vlautin brings a razor-sharp eye for detail to his dirty realism version of ‘the night of crime that changes it all.’ This isn’t just what happens when a person is pushed over the edge – Vlautin is unflinching about staring back at the economic, social, and familial pressures can shove a person over the cliff. It’s also a tour of the “before” photo of Portland – definitely the latest & greatest book for those who dig glimpses of the parts of cities that lousy new money hasn’t ruined yet. Also, I’ll say that the vibe of the novel is that of an Eagles song turned into a book by someone who hates the Eagles because they’re too soft. This a compliment. I think I’ll be walking around Vlautin’s Portland in my head for a long time to come."

Now, back to Daniel to wrap things up with Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng: "Dawn is an architecture student whose love for Beethoven and classical music proves to have dangerous consequences during China’s Cultural Revolution. Momo is another music lover, but he safely kept to engineering. And as for Cassia, the love of her life was attacked for being the son of a spy, and worse, for liking Western literature. Cassia wound up marrying Momo and mothering Junie, but the parents struggle with June’s disability, and a second pregnancy does not fare better. All three adults wind up in the United States, but the mess of the past isn’t any less messy stateside as it casts a shadow on the present. Linda Rui Feng’s gift is in the descriptions, the little moments, and the internal ruminations. Quietly beautiful!"

We hosted a great event featuring Linda Rui Feng last year when this book came out in hardcover - click here to check out the video evidence of her fantastic conversation!

Finally, Chris raves about The Great Mistake, a novel by Jonathan Lee (no relation): "Wow. If you want a classic, capital N, The Novel kind of book, you couldn’t do much better than The Great Mistake. As a stylist, Lee is top shelf; he so obviously delights in the English language, and each of his sentences is a masterclass in wonder, humor, and precision – even the shapes and sounds of his lines are full of surprises. You want more than style? You got it. Lee tracks the life of Andrew Haswell Green (the mostly forgotten Father of Greater New York) through the 19th century, creating a remarkably full measure of the man’s life, public and private. In doing so, the book offers a window into the life of America’s greatest city as it came into its modern form. Honestly, the best comparison I can think of is that this is the novel Charles Dickens might write if he’d recently crawled out of the grave."

Tim chimes in for this one: "The last attempt on Andrew Haswell Green's life, the one that succeeded, came in November of 1903. It was Friday the 13th. This we're told on page one, and with the end of his remarkable life a new mystery began. Did the people of New York really know the man they credited with the very existence of Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Public Library, and a unified Greater New York City? Jonathan Lee gives us a novel of this renowned and yet somehow obscure historical figure. With a unique talent for using words and phrases, Lee unwinds the details of a life and a death. He opens a window into the heart of someone who knew mayors, governors and presidents, but was so often alone. It’s possible that over a century later we feel closer to him than people of his time, so who cared enough to kill 'the father of Greater New York' on his own Park Avenue doorstep? The Great Mistake is beautifully crafted and thought-provoking historical fiction, a novel of substance and style for lovers of literary intrigue."

Jonathan Lee joins us this coming Tuesday, May 24, 7 pm for a conversation with Chris about this fantastic book, and we hope you'll join us as well - click here to register and get more info now!

Read on, dear readers. We'll see you next week with another armful of great books.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 10, 2022

A new week means new books means new recommendations from the Boswellians to our favorite readers (you!). Read on.

For fans of Michael Crighton, we first we have Kay Wosewick for Child Zero, a new novel by molecular biologist turned Anthony Award-winning author Chris Holm. Kay says: "Holm takes our experiences with COVID and blasts it into an ugly near future where an infection is deliberately released in NYC, eventually wiping out most of humanity’s resistance to infections. The US creates an invasive Department of Biological Security (DBS) to monitor, control, and prevent new infections. Add mercenaries looking for the holy grail to make a fortune, Endtimers who want everyone to die, a couple of cops forced to take time off, and a boy who may be the holy grail. The result is a rip-roaring thriller."

Next, it's Don't Trust Your Gut: Using Data to Get What You Really Want in Life by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. Kay also recommends this one! She says: "Gigantic databases and analytical techniques that didn’t exist 10+ years ago (internet usage data, iPhone-based research, artificial intelligence algorithms) are now providing surprising, non-intuitive conclusions about ourselves. Subjects include online dating success, marital satisfaction, nature vs nurture in parenting, athletic success, drivers of wealth, and what makes us happy. A must-read for online daters, couples on the verge of marriage, and folks thinking of opening a business. And strongly recommended for everyone else!"

Daniel Goldin also recommends this book: "For those of you who loved Everybody Lies, the always entertaining Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has written a self-help book that uses not psychological theory, not meditation, nor endless arbitrary stories, but data to help you get what you want. Whether you want to pick the best partner, get the most fulfilling job, raise the best children (including pushing them into sports with the best scholarship payback), Don’t Trust Your Gut is the book for you. If you’re dating, it turns out you might look better in glasses. Check the data! My only beef? In rating which activities make you the happiest, reading does very poorly, but I noticed that the data does not distinguish between reading for work or school and reading for pleasure. Ridiculous! But I believe everything else."

Daniel offers up our next two recommendations, both for book by authors we'll be hosting for events this spring! First, Siren Queen by Nghi Vo: "Nghi Vo’s latest is a dark fantasy set in an alternate, glamorous Hollywood, just after the transition to talking pictures, and only a few years after Vo’s Gatsby-inspired novel, The Chosen and the Beautiful. As in that novel, this is a world that mirrors history – a studio system with artists under contract, an aversion to non-White actors, a gossip mill that threatens to expose the sexuality of the players. But that old Hollywood magic is real magic, the studio heads are monsters willing to sacrifice an actor for Halloween, and the studio system can have literal shackles for at least one actor brought over in chains. At its center is Luli Wei, a Queer Chinese woman from plain old Hungarian Hill who dreams of becoming an actor. Vo chose to avoid the trope of peppering her fantasy with real names from Hollywood’s past; Siren Queen is her own unique creation - dreamlike, haunting, and ultimately triumphant."

Nghi Vo will be In-Person at Milwaukee Public Library East Branch, 2320 N Cramer St, Wednesday, May 11, 2022, 5:30 pm. Click here to register.

Next Daniel recommends The Shore by Katie Runde (Editor's Note: out on May 24, but added to this blog post because of a filing error, but will stay because we like it so just preorder it and have something to look forward to, okay?!): "Margot runs vacation rentals on the Jersey Shore with her husband Brian, but when he develops a glioblastoma multiforme tumor, their world is torn apart. With Brian becoming toddler, zombie, jerk, and Rain Man (to quote a character), the family alternates taking care of Brian while daughters Liz and Evy attempt to have the semblance of a normal summer, with all the teenage drama that entails.  Mom latches onto an online support network for caregiving spouses, and just to get some sort of connection, Evy catfishes her. The Shore is a poignant story of processing grief in the face of impending loss, but it’s the little moments that take the story to another level, like Liz’s ‘hey’ text to a guy and its many interpretations. Just beautiful!"

Katie Runde, in Conversation with CJ Hribal and Liam Callanan for a Virtual Event, Thursday, June 2, 2022, 7 pm. Click here to register.

Out today in paperback! 

We go back to Kay for The Guide by Peter Heller. Kay says: "A very exclusive, very private lodge in the Colorado Rockies has pristine creeks chockfull of trout, and very wealthy clients. Jack takes a fishing guide job late in the season, replacing someone who left suddenly. Bad vibes hit Jack almost immediately upon arrival, but melt away as he enjoys an exquisitely relaxing day fishing with his charming client. Unfortunately, neither of them can ignore increasingly visible oddities suggesting the lodge is a cover for something else. Something sinister. Both are compelled to discover what's really going on; they do, and it's a nasty surprise. Prepare for lovely highs and grim lows, an increasingly common combination for Peter Heller, one of my favorite authors."

Jason Kennedy jumps in with his recommendation for I Will Die in a Forgeign Land by Kalani Pickhart. Jason says: "Not an easy read, especially right now. Kalani Pickhart tells the devasting story of Russia's last incursion into Ukraine in 2014. Alternating between four characters in a non-linear fashion, we experience the tragic history that Russia has influenced over Ukraine. What's lost in all the madness of history are the stories of the individuals lost to events bigger than themselves; Pickhart has given us a glimpse into these four fictional characters that represent their lost voices. Lyrical and haunting, I learned so much reading this amazing novel."

And Daniel Goldin chimes in once again with his recommendation of Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark by Cecelia Watson: "We once treated punctuation as an art, but much the way the prescriptives triumphed over the descriptives in dictionaries, the grammar police created absolute rules for semicolons, and in that way, made them almost as rare as the iterrobang. Watson, historian, philosopher of science, and faculty member of Bard College’s Language and Thinking program, argues for the mark’s comeback, referencing the work of great semicolon users such as Herman Melville, Raymond Chandler, and Rebecca Solnit, and showing how artistic license can lead to a more joyfully nuanced reading life."

And those are the books we recommend! Read on, dear readers, we'll see ya next week.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 3, 2022

A new week, a new month, and new books. Here's what we recommend.

First, Kay Wosewick with two new books. The first is Poguemahone, an epic-in-verse from Irish author Patrick McCabe, whose 40+ years of novels include titles such as The Butcher Boy and The Big Yaroo. Kay says: "Stream-of-consciousness writing whips back and forth in time, recounting a lifetime of thoughts and experiences of an Ireland-born brother and sister who make their way to London. Written in poetic form, large swaths of empty space on the page seem to aid digestion of often-intense content. Poguemahone is a creative monster and a mighty head-spinner."

Next, Kay recommends Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. Kay says: "This debut will lead you through a gamut of emotions including heartbreak, but you won’t regret, or forget, the time you spend with Marcellus, a Giant Pacific Octopus who lives in an aquarium in a small town. He knows the locals and just met a new resident. He’s pulled many tricks before, but there’s one more trick he must do before he dies, which he knows will be soon. Marcellus narrates some chapters. You will fall in love."

Proprietor Daniel Goldin recommends this one as well. He says: "If you can say one thing about widowed aquarium cleaner Tova Sullivan, the once-again-jobless Cameron Passmore, and star-aquarium-attraction Marcellus the Octopus, it’s that they’ve all had their share of misfortune. Yes, this is a story of grief, of losses both recent and in the past. But it’s also a story of found family, of hope, and of purpose. Van Pelt infuses all her characters with grace, not just the protagonists but the members of Tova’s Knit-Wit social group, Cameron’s Aunt Jeanne (who raised him after his mom disappeared), and even the elusive developer who Cameron suspects is his father. But the star of the show is probably Marcellus, whose dexterity and wisdom never fails to inspire. Why haven’t I read Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus? And while I’m asking, why haven’t you read Remarkably Bright Creatures?"

Van Pelt  is In-Person at Boswell Book Company, Friday, May 13, 2022, 6:30 pm. Click here to register.

Speaking of Daniel, he has two other recs for us. The next is Fly Girl, the new memoir by Ann Hood. Daniel says: "Waiter, truck driver, cocktail pianist – I like a well-done job memoir, and Fly Girl soars. Several books have featured flight attendants over the years, though the most famous (Coffee, Tea, or Me?) was actually written by a male airline executive. Last year there was a round of publicity with lots of great flight attendant stories, but it turned out the book itself (Falling) was not an insider memoir but a thriller. Acclaimed novelist and memoirist Ann Hood started when flying was still glamorous, when first class TWA passengers had carved chateaubriand and even coach had a choice of entrees, but folks in these positions had to confront unruly passengers, not-so-friendly crews, less-than-desirable schedules, endemic industry sexism, a long decline in quality due to deregulation, and in TWA’s case, the nightmare that was Carl Icahn. But for someone with the travel bug, you probably couldn’t have a better life, with the exception, perhaps, of being a writer, and the nice thing is, Hood was able to do that as well."

Ann Hood, joins us for a virtual event Thursday, June 16, 2022, 7 pm. Click here to register.

Daniel recommends a non-event book, too! It's One Day I Shall Astonish the World by Nina Stibbe, and Daniel says: "Susan and Nina may have met working at Nina’s parents’ shop, but their lives veer in drastically different directions when Susan leaves school to have a child with her Roy. They both wind up at the University of Rutland, only Nina is an academic poet with a taste for inappropriate older academics, while Susan becomes, through a series of promotions, her driver. If you haven’t already guessed, their relationship by this point becomes rather warped. Can this friendship ever resolve itself? Should it? Best known here for her epistolary memoir Love, Nina (adapted for the BBC by Nick Hornby!) and as a finalist for several humor prizes, Stibbe’s latest is her take on an Elena Ferrante novel, channeling Barbara Pym with a bit of Maria Bamford. Funny, wise, and just a little weird!" 

Let's go to Rachel Copeland for Book Lovers by Emily Henry, who has fans from her last novel, Beach Read. Of this new book, Rachel says: "Highly competent literary agent Nora Stephens is tired of being the evil shrew girlfriend in the “romantic hero falls for plucky small-town heroine” trope - after the fourth breakup, enough is enough. When her pregnant sister proposes a small-town getaway to embrace romance novel tropes and clock some sister bonding time, Nora begrudgingly agrees. Now if only she could escape the company of her editor nemesis, Charlie Lastra, who's popping up all over the same small town. I really appreciate this book not only for the steamy romance and the meta-commentary on romance novel tropes, but also the representation of people who are not warm and cuddly. There's someone out there for everyone! Emily Henry has such a great facility with making characters who feel real, and Book Lovers might be her best work yet."

Jenny Chou wants you to read all night with the first novel for adults from Holly Black: Book of Night. Jenny says: "If you, like me, are waiting not-so-patiently for Leigh Bardugo to write the sequel to her adult novel, The Ninth House, here’s something to keep you busy in the meantime. Holly Black’s first foray into writing for grown-ups is an urban fantasy with a stunning mix of magic, horror, heists, and the perfect amount of impossible romance. There is nothing I love better than an author who creates a believable twist on magic, and Black’s world building is outstanding. Every page feels overcast and dark, and no wonder; human shadows are infused with power to be sold or traded and even killed for. Additionally, her characters are nuanced and sharply portrayed. Main character Charlie tries to keep a low-profile as a bartender, hiding from her past as a thief, but as in all the best novels, that past just won’t leave her alone. Her sister and seemingly perfectly nice boyfriend struck me as not to be trusted from the beginning. Were my instincts right? Find out for yourself on May 3rd! But here’s a warning for you, clear your schedule before you turn to page one, because you won’t put Book of Night down until you reach the gasp-out-loud last page."

Jen Steele picks I Kissed Shara Wheeler, the latest from the bestselling author of One Last Stop and Red, White & Royal Blue (that's Casey McQuiston, fyi). Jen says it all succinctly: "If you’re looking for a great YA beach read, then look no further. Full of humor, heart and snark, I Kissed Shara Wheeler is the kind of fun, queer romcom you've been waiting for!"

Paperback Picks? Sure!

Kay on Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson: "Damnation Spring is a must-read for fans of Overstory. Whereas Overstory speaks of the stunning ecology of old-growth forests and the environmentalists who champion them, Damnation Spring transports you directly into the lives and homes of third and fourth generation loggers and their families - people who rely on old-growth forests to maintain very modest lives in small communities dependent on logging. Damnation Spring thrust me into the shoes of loggers, and I stepped out of those shoes with a big dose of empathy injected into my environmentalism. Davidson has written a gritty, humbling, remarkable first book."

Kay on Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy: "Twins Inti and Aggie are very different, yet they are inseparable. McConaghy’s themes of nature versus nurture as well trauma’s varied legacy apply to the twins as well as to many people they come to know well. Much of the story takes place in Scotland’s wildest lands, where Inti is leading the reintroduction of wolves, much to the consternation of local sheep farmers. Hefty doses of conflict of may raise your blood pressure, but in the end, McConaghy will win your heart. This is a wonderful book."

And Kathy on the same: "A heartfelt and heart-wrenching novel that tells the story of biologist Inti Flynn, in Scotland with her team of biologists to reintroduce wolves to the remote Highlands in the hope that they can help to heal a dying landscape. Accompanying her is her twin, Aggie, who has been emotionally damaged by events in her past that are revealed in stages throughout the book. Facing anger and resentment from people in the town, Inti struggles to persuade them to care about the wolves as she tries to help her sister heal. The narrative weaves together past and present to explore both environmental issues and the effects of trauma."

Chris Lee on Punch Me Up to the Gods by Brian Broome, which won the Kirkus Nonfiction Prize: "Generous, fearless, funny, and gentle, Broome chronicles his own story to understand how and where he (along with so many other Black outsiders) doesn’t fit in America. His sentences are pure style, a joy to read, and he slips between as many voices as he has existences: Black, gay, poor, masculine, abused, uncool, scared, addicted, ashamed, angry, proud, and full of joy. And on and on. Yes, that’s a lot of signifiers, but only because this is an awful lot of book. Where do you live when every space you inhabit is an intersection of tensions? How does a man who’s spent his life being choked finally learn to breathe? Broome interrogates the world with the rigor and tenacity of the greats, and Punch Me Up to the Gods is everything a great memoir should be."

Madi Hill on the same: "Brian Broome's Punch Me Up to the Gods is a love letter to James Baldwin while being a painfully honest memoir in its own right. Outlined by Gwendolyn Brooks' poem "We Real Cool," this memoir recounts the challenges Broome faced as a Black, gay man while growing up in a small working-class town in Ohio through his move to Pittsburgh where he is hopeful to find acceptance but spirals with addiction. Broome beautifully captures the conflicts he faced, from being seen as not masculine enough for the Black community to being fetishized for his skin color and assumed masculinity in the gay community, while using drugs to dull his pain for not fitting these prescribed niches. The chapter interludes in which Broome observes a toddler on the bus with his father allow him to recollect on the life lessons of his past as he travels through different neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, each evoking a different memory. A completely unique book full of moving parts that each inspire deep feelings from the entirety of the emotional spectrum, Punch Me Up to the Gods deserves recognition, as it is one of the most powerful memoirs I have ever read."

And Daniel on the same, too: "Growing up Black and gay in a declining Ohio steel town was not easy for Brian Broome. The White kids ignored him (when they didn’t encourage his minstrelry), and the Black boys shamed him. And with his parents divorced, his father’s decline, and his mother taking on multiple part-time jobs, there was hardly a parental role model to be had. A move to Pittsburgh turned out not to be the hoped-for panacea. Told in a series of harrowing, heartbreaking, and sometimes outrageous vignettes and framed by a bus ride (which is sort of a journey to self-realization), Punch Me Up to the Gods confronts the racism and homophobia that led to Broome’s crippling addiction and eventual recovery. A triumph!"

Jen Steele for Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: "Maite is a lowly secretary at a law firm. Her romance comic books and music collection are what keep her warm at night. When her beautiful next-door neighbor, Leonora, knocks on her door one night, Maite does not know what to expect and finds herself taking care of Leonora’s cat while Leonora is out of town. When Leonora does not return, Maite sets out to find her with the hope that she can finally get paid for her pet sitting. However, Maite will soon realize she has become entangled in something she has no business to be involved in. Enter Elvis - his boss wants him to find Leonora at all costs. It turns out Leonora is a radical activist with incriminating photos of a powerful politician. Elvis and his crew are not the only players in town, either - there are other government agents involved, and everyone is coming for the last person to see Leonora alive: Maite. 1970’s Mexico City is volatile, and you can either keep your head down and stay small, or you can light the match. Silvia Moreno-Garcia delivers a first-rate, red-hot noir based on historical facts, and I loved every moment!"

Phew! That's a lot of books! Hope you can read them all by next week's blog - see you then, dear readers.