Thursday, July 14, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of July 12, 2022

The summer rolls on, and with it, much more good summer reading. Here are the books that we enjoyed and believe you, too, will enjoy reading:

First, our most-praised book of the week, the latest from Dark Matter author Blake Crouch, Upgrade. From Jason Kennedy: "Logan Ramsey is attempting to live a life that makes up for his Mom's ultimate failure, which caused a massive famine and killed millions. Twenty years later, he is part of a government organization that hunts down scientists and others modifying DNA. On a mission to recover an illegal package which they think contains altered DNA of some form, Logan is caught in a bomb blast. The blast introduces a virus into his system that begins changing his DNA. Logan's life is about to turn upside down as he must flee from family and friends for their safety. Blake Crouch uses this novel as a platform to express our collective anxiety of the future of homo sapiens and Earth. The science is fascinating as always with his books, and the dire warnings are completely well researched and accurate. Another blast of a book from Blake Crouch."

From Kay Wosewick: "Crouch has outdone himself. Upgrade is masterful story about a tiny group of people illegally testing massive genetic alterations on a few people - without their knowledge. You’ll fly through this book, gaining insight into faults in our thinking, sensing the elation of having a perfect body, and perhaps vicariously feeling the power of thinking deeply about multiple complex subjects at once. The scope and depth of Crouch’s research is the engine that makes Upgrade feel vividly real."

And from Jenny Chou: "Not only is Upgrade a fast-paced thriller, but author Blake Crouch takes a deep dive into the science of DNA. Since I find our genetic code fascinating, I couldn’t put this novel down. Main character Logan answered for the catastrophic destruction unleashed on our planet by his scientist mother, and he served time in prison following her death. After his release, several decades in our future, he’s a detective investigating labs suspected of modifying DNA, which has become illegal. When a mysterious virus targets him specifically, he recovers to find he’s now an upgraded version of homo sapien, with increased strength and speed and the ability to recall everything he’s ever read and process new information instantly. Who did this to him and why? The answer seems to lie with his sister, who also received an upgrade. They’ve seemingly been handed the task of saving humanity from a decimated planet, but along with these skills comes an ability to think critically without letting emotion guide them. So much of this book is food for thought. Perhaps the biggest question of all: if saving our species means giving up what makes us distinctly human, is it worth the price?"

Event alert! Blake Crouch is In-Person at Boswell on Friday, August 12, 6:30 pm, in conversation with Jon Jordan. Click here for more info and the registration station.

Next, from our proprietor, three new books with his seal of approval. First, Big Girl, a novel by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan. Daniel says: "When Malaya and her family move from a cramped apartment to a Harlem brownstone, the future looks bright, especially with a slot at the prestigious Galton School. But parents Nyela and Percy are working more and communicating less, and Nyela and her mom Ma-Mère are increasingly obsessed with Malaya’s diet. Malaya’s only got a few friends, and then her closest buddy, Shantiece, starts losing weight. Can this childhood be saved? Sullivan does a great job immersing you in 1980s and 1990s New York and Philadelphia and effortlessly balances carefree moments with some very serious observations about race, gender, body image, and gentrification. But whatever the tone, it is Malaya’s high-spirited voice that drives the narrative, and it’s the key to Big Girl’s success."

Next, Daniel's words on The Poet's House by Jean Thompson: "Here’s a quarter-life crisis for you: Carla is a landscaper in Northern California, and one day, she’s sent to do some planting for an almost-mythical poet named Viridian who lives in the woods with assorted hangers-on. Pulled into their orbit, the world of poetry is opened up for Carla, only with one problem – her ADHD makes it very difficult for her to read. As she untangles the stories of the poet’s lives, can she figure out what’s important about poetry and what is surface gloss? And while she’s at it, maybe she can find some legendary poems that have gone missing. Thompson is sometimes called a writer’s writer, which translates to great reviews but modest sales, and perhaps a bit of inaccessibility to the general reader. But in The Poet’s House, a book that’s literally about writing, Thompson has opened the door to all of us in a disarmingly entertaining novel that’s sure to be savored."

Event information! Jean Thompson appears in conversation with Christina Clancy, In-Person at Boswell on Wednesday, July 20, 6:30 pm. Click here to register and find more information.

Thirdly, Daniel recommends Crying in the Bathroom: A Memoir, by Erika L. Sánchez: "Crying in the Bathroom explodes on the page in all its glory, writing about her working-class first-gen upbringing and her academic and personal journey. I love how bookish she is and how her inspirations range from Virginia Woolf and Sandra Cisneros to Lisa Simpson and George Carlin. She can call out racism and patriarchy and lookism and well, many other things, with humor and pull-no-punches frankness. Sex, sexual health, mental health – nothing is off the table. And through it all, comes her rich writing voice, which folks will recognize from her acclaimed novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. To be clear, this is not a YA collection, but I can still imagine many adult fans of that novel luxuriating in this wonderful collection, chanting yes, yes, yes, as they make their way through."

More event info? More event info! Erika L Sánchez appears In-Person at Boswell for the Rose Petranech Lecture, Friday, September 16, 6:30 pm. Click here and register now.

Now, over to Jen Steele for A Prayer for the Crown-Shy: A Monk and Robot Book (Monk and Robot #2, to be precise) by Becky Chambers. Jen says: "Sibling Dex and Mosscap continue their soul-searching quest in A Prayer for the Crown-Shy. Like the first book, A Psalm for the Wild-Built, our beloved characters have unanswered questions. As they journey across Panga, Mosscap is ready to meet humans and find out what they need. There’s a profound calm in reading the Monk & Robot series. Full of humor and quiet thoughtfulness, Becky Chambers exquisitely delivers an elegant philosophical fantasy."

Parker Jensen is next with a recommendation of What Moves the Dead by T Kingfisher. Parker says: "When Alex Easton receives word from one of their childhood friends, Madeline Usher, that she believes she is knocking on death's door, they race to her family's countryside manor. They expect to find a sickly friend, but Easton quickly realizes they may have signed up for more than they bargained for. Madeline looks beyond death and her brother, Roderick, is not faring much better. Not to mention that the manor is decrepit and falling to shambles, its residents are behaving strangely, a mysterious fungus grows around the property, and curiously enough, even the hares in the area are beginning to act peculiar. T. Kingfisher's What Moves the Dead is a modern gothic masterpiece, drawing inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe's classic, The Fall of the House of Usher. Kingfisher masterfully weaves the styles of modern storytelling with that of a gothic classic, as if she had ​channeled Shirley Jackson or Mary Shelley themselves. Perfectly atmospheric, unsettling, and just a bit grotesque, What Moves the Dead is not a scare you want to hide from."

Finally, Rachel Copeland discovers romance in A Lady's Guide to Fortune-Hunting by Sophie Irwin. From Rachel: "For some romance readers, every time we crack open a historical romance, we hope to find a spiritual successor to Pride and Prejudice. I would like to humbly submit that perhaps Sophie Irwin has managed to produce this holy grail: a novel of manners that brings the Regency era to life for a modern audience. After the deaths of her parents, Kitty Talbot has one option to save herself and her four sisters from destitution: she has to marry a man, the richer the better. When a chance encounter lands Kitty and her sister Cecily in the good graces of the de Lacy family, an advantageous match seems inevitable - until the elder de Lacy, Lord Radcliffe, returns to find his younger brother infatuated with a rank upstart. Today's readers can find much to relate to - wealth disparity isn't exactly a thing of the past, after all - while still enjoying nods to a bygone era. Make yourself a cup of tea - this is a story to savor."

And now, books that've just been released in paperback that we recommend.

First, a paperback original that comes with a legacy rec from former Boswellian Caroline Froh. Though Caroline isn't currently bookselling at Boswell, we still think she's got good taste, and she picks The Empire of Dirt by Francesca Manfredi, translated by Ekin Oklap: "In a rural Italian village there is a house set a little way from town, "the blind house," which is said to be cursed and home to three generations of women said to be witches. The summer we meet Valentina, she is teetering on the brink of adolescence: one day she discovers blood in her underwear, and her initial horror only grows when she finds that the crack in the wall of her room is bleeding along with her. The blind house has other secrets that crop up over the course of the novel, burdens that each woman must learn to bear in her own way as she carves out her respective place in the world. At its heart, this is a story about feminine chaos, intimacy, and desire set against the thick claustrophobia of a rural Italian village, all relayed in folksy magical realism. Deeply absorbing, a little unsettling, beautiful."

And what summer-y-er way to wrap this summer week's recommendations than with the paperback release of Wisconsin author Christina Clancy's Shoulder Season? Here's Daniel on the book: "Sherri Taylor is just an ordinary East Troy teenager, recently orphaned, looking for a job. On a whim, her friend Roberta, currently working at the Wooden Nickle in Southridge, suggests they apply for jobs at the Playboy Resort in Lake Geneva. And with that, Sherri is a legendary Playboy Bunny. Though it’s billed as a family friendly resort, the truth is a bit murkier, and Sherri will find herself going places and doing things she never would have expected. Will she follow in the footsteps of Dorothy and find her way back home to Kansas, I mean Wisconsin? This enjoyable story, seeped in the 1980s and with a cast of unforgettable fellow Bunnies, is a hell-and-back story, driven by Sherri’s spirit."

And from Chris Lee: "With her second novel, Christina Clancy is cementing her spot as the bard of heartfelt stories of strong, funky Wisconsin women. As a Playboy bunny picaresque, Shoulder Season delivers – there are peeks behind the scenes (and under the ears) of life as a bunny, including cocktail lists and crazy parties, handsy customers and perverted pool boys, celebrity dalliances and down-to-earth romances, and yes, even a few whiffs of cocaine in the air. It’s a book about escaping to a wonderland – I’ll spare you the ‘down the rabbit hole’ puns – and about what a woman will put herself through to ditch the past and grab onto the allure and glamor of a new life."

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