Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of July 19, 2022

Have new books been published this week that the Boswellians recommend? Resoundingly: YES.

The first is a two-rec'er called Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons by Milwaukee author Ben Riggs. First, a recommendation from Jason Kennedy: "A good portion of my youth was spent playing D&D and reading Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels. I went to Gen Con and ate up all that was RPG culture at the time. Before reading this book, all I ever knew of TSR was their initials on the spines of their products. Ben Riggs has done a deep and extensive dive into TSR history, charting their beginnings in Gary Gygax's basement all the way to Wizards of the Coast rescuing their legacy with an epic buyout. He discovered that it was not just one mistake or symptom that caused the unraveling of the Lake Geneva gaming company but a series of them that over time trapped them in a corner with no way to free themselves. First, though, Riggs tells the story of the rise of TSR, how they broke ground and started something that people desperately wanted. Then TSR doubled down on their ingenuity to start a publishing book line to help deepen the lore of their products, which brought us some of the greatest writers in their genre and era. That small town in Wisconsin housed some of the greatest creatives and artists working in the gaming industry. Riggs does an amazing job of highlighting both the success and failure of one of the great iconic gaming companies."

And if you want a non-D&D'ers perspective, here's Daniel Goldin's endorsement: "So here’s the thing. I’ve never played a game of Dungeons & Dragons in my life. And I’ve also already read Of Dice and Men, the D&D history that is the jumping-off point for this work, which promises to uncover some of the less-known dealings of Lake-Geneva-based TSR’s downfall. And yet I found Slaying the Dragon thoroughly enjoyable, partly because of the near-local setting, and partly because Riggs is a good storyteller who also highlights the corporate missteps in a way that I think will appeal to folks who read business narratives. And to think, Milwaukee finally has enough hotel rooms to keep GenCon, only 19 years too late."

And the next book also comes with dual recommendations. The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, the author of Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night. First, from Jen Steele: "Silvia Moreno-Garcia does it again! This time we're transported to 19th century Mexico, in the lush Yucatan peninsula. You feel the suffocating heat of the land, the burn of the alcohol, the desire of a getaway, and the chill on the back of your neck that something is not right. The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is the captivating historical fiction read that you need this summer!"

And further convincing from Kay Wosewick: "Moreno-Garcia imagines a somewhat kinder Island of Dr. Moreau set in 19th century Yucatán. A wealthy Mexican landowner finances an estate, labs, and materials for Dr. Moreau, whose job is to create hybrid human/animals to replace unruly Mayan laborers. Twenty years later, Dr. Moreau has two modestly successful hybrids who are his daughter’s playmates and best friends; all other hybrids are seriously defective and unable to work. Moreau’s financer loses his patience just as Carlota turns 18, throwing everyone on the estate into jeopardy. This fascinating, fast paced, genre-defying novel will appeal to readers of thrillers, horror, gothic fiction, romance, and even sci-fi."

Next it's Chris Lee with a recommendation of a writer from across the Atlantic Ocean - Jem Calder, who debuts with the story collection Reward System. Chris says: "Jem Calder’s Reward System chronicles the deadened existence of the new lost generation. Pleasantly moment-to-moment, the stories meander through the current ordeals of being alive: The commodification of interactions and the inescapability of capitalism within even our most intimate relationships. The banal horror and ever-growing number of existential crises of background concern. Roommates, coworkers, university chums. Bad luck, mental health, diminishing momentum. Smartphones. Smartphones. Screens. Smartphones. Trajectorial prospects. The earning potential of adults under forty. And a question: exactly how futile is it now, today, right now, to try to start over? These are excellent stories, written with surgically precise language, that will fundamentally shift your understanding of how we do and don’t understand ourselves."

Madi Hill on a memoir by Laura Chinn: Acne. Madi says: "Acne is Chinn's story of growing up with divorced Scientologist parents, practically raising herself while heavily smoking and drinking her way through her late adolescence and teens. Through the divorce, relocating to Clearwater, Florida where she struggled with her biracial identity, understanding her class standing, a near-mute alcoholic step father, and her older brother's brain cancer, Chinn has one concern above all else: her cystic acne. There is so much going on in this memoir that Chinn's obsession over her skin condition seems to be one of the only things grounding her in the swirling chaos of the rest of her life. Chinn's writing is witty, smart, and heartbreaking, and will especially resonate with those who know the agony that comes with chronic acne."

And a bit of romance, courtesy of Rachel Copeland, who suggests The Bodyguard by Katherine Center. Rachel says: "Hannah looks like an ordinary young woman, which is a great advantage in her profession as a bodyguard. Dumped by her boyfriend/coworker the day after her mother's funeral, she's determined stay professional and prove herself to her boss - but then she gets assigned to Jack Stapleton. You know him, of course - twice voted sexiest man alive, blockbuster movie actor, and recently the subject of a death threat or two. With his mother's health in question, Hannah has no choice but to pretend to be Jack's girlfriend in order both keep him safe and not worry his family. Now she just has to do her job... and guard her heart. What a thoroughly charming book this is! Hannah's matter-of-fact voice is so funny that I could listen to her talk about security and guns all day, and Jack is so wonderfully quirky (always misses when throwing away trash, does tricks on horseback) that I couldn't help but fall for him along with Hannah. Center's writing style is super charming and adorably weird (there's a character named Dog House!); I was laughing the whole time."

In paperback this week, there's  Katie Kitamura's novel Intimacies, which gets a Kay Wosewick rec: "I love Kitamura’s writing. She writes quietly about powerful people and intense situations. Intimacies portrays an employee at The Hague who is translating for an African dictator accused of atrocities. The dictator seems to have taken a liking to his translator. Meanwhile, the translator’s relationships with both her best friend and her boyfriend run afoul. Even drastic situations come off almost gently through Kitamura’s unique voice. You’ll barely know you’ve been punched!"

Kay also recommends the out-now-in-paperback book This Is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan: "Pollan takes us on three journeys: one with opium, one with caffeine, and one with mescaline. The opium and mescaline journeys are likely new for most readers, but who doesn’t know all about caffeine? YOU, ME and ALMOST EVERYONE ELSE!! Caffeine is by far the most widely used drug in the world (~90% of humans use it), yet few of us think much about it. As he always does so well, let Pollan enlighten you."

Until next week, read on, dear readers.

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