Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of July 5, 2022

New week, new month, new recommendations. Lots of 'em.

First, a double rec - Chris Lee and Jason Kennedy on the latest from one of horror's hottest scribes, Paul Tremblay - The Pallbearers Club. The perfect freaky beach read. From Chris: "Tremblay’s latest is clearly a personal project for the writer, something like a self-portrait of an imagined self. Startlingly intimate, this book snuck under my skin and left me with the creepy-crawlies for a solid three days. Skittering across three-plus decades, a gangly loser recounts his encounters with the very cool, very terrifying girl who’s attached herself to his life – and in crafty notes in the margins, she replies to his 'memoir.' The Pallbearers Club is page-turning contemporary horror that contemplates poignant questions about storytelling, art, memory, friendship, and dependence, and the result is, pardon the pun, scary good."

And from Jason: "Art Barbara, not the real name of the protagonist, is a bit of an outsider growing up. How much of one? Well, he decides that a good extracurricular activity for his college applications would be to start a community service to help funeral homes with individuals that don't have anyone to mourn them. They will perform the role of the pallbearer. A bit odd. Not getting many other students to join, he almost has to shut it down when Mercy walks in. A friendship forms between them - a bit dysfunctional, also a bit odd - that follows them through their life. While reading Art Barbara's ‘memoir,’ Mercy adds her own notes into the margins that makes the reader question the validity of the memoir itself. This book will give you the creeps and make you question what everybody's reality really adds up to. Who actually witnesses the truth, or is it just our own truth that works for us? Another fantastic book by Paul Tremblay!"

Jason has two more recommendations this week. Next up is France: An Adventure History by Graham Robb. Jason says: "Graham Robb combines decades of experience into this interesting pairing of travelogue with French history. Each chapter in France is a self-contained story, focusing on a region or tale that Robb goes to explore. Some of my favorite sections included the inquisition and a map that details one specific tree. I learned a lot from this book on France that I had not known but found utterly fascinating. A fun read that makes me want to, well, not bike France, but perhaps ride the rails through France."

Thirdly, Jason recommends Hawk Mountain, a novel by Conner Habib. Jason says: "Todd, a high school teacher and single Dad, runs into Jack; his high school bully. Todd is hesitant to interact with him, but his son really takes to Jack. Remembering his high school days, Todd begins to seethe with pent-up emotions and feelings. His ex-wife is attempting to get a hold him (she misses her son and wants to reconnect), Jack reminds him of the humiliations and uncomfortable situations of the past, and his son is bonding with the man who made his life miserable. It's all too much, and what comes next is dark and horrific but only takes a moment. The spiral of the story whips the reader down and down until the final resting place is revealed in all its shocking and damaged depths. Hawk Mountain consumed me with its brutality and wonder."

We'll stick with recommenders with J names and go to Jenny Chou, who recommends Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. Jenny says: "Sadie Green lost her best friend, Sam, at age twelve. Did she betray him unforgivably, or was she just a kid caught up in a situation she didn’t know how to escape from? That question, and the concept of betrayal, haunt Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. Seven years later, Sadie and Sam crash into each other's lives again as college students while standing on a train platform in Boston, and they seamlessly pick up a conversation as if it had never broken off. These are two people who finish each other's sentences. Roommates and partners drift along on the periphery of their lives while Sadie and Sam obsess over the thing that brought them together in the first place: video games. Both are creative geniuses, and the first game they design together propels them from obscurity to fame in the gaming community. The result is messy, at times hilarious, often heartbreaking, and never without emotions that feel so raw they almost bleed off the page. Ultimately, this is a book about connections, the ones we find, the ones we lose, and the ones that nearly do us in. I’m not a gamer (though they’d probably love this book), but it doesn’t matter. Gabrielle Zevin drew me into her world with her flair for telling a powerful story and her mesmerizing take on what it means to love."

Now over to another triple-recommender, Kay Wosewick. Kay suggests Florida Woman by Deb Rogers: "A video gone viral titled 'Florida Woman' shows Jamie stealing dollar bills off the walls of the bar where she works, turning to find a pelican on fire near the door where it knocked over candles, then frantically charging out the door with the pelican in her arms. Jaime disappears for a couple of days. ‘Florida Woman’ indeed. Jaime gets a deal that sounds better than jail: serving her sentence working, ankle-cuffed, at a macaque sanctuary. There are monkey shenanigans, staff who get weirder by the day, and an end that will plaster a big smile on your face. Wacky fun."

Next Kay recommends The Displacements by Bruce Holsinger: "The Displacements is fantastic climate disaster fiction because it intimately portrays how a very well-off family (minus dad) deals with numerous traumas, starting with a last-minute evacuation due to course change of the first-ever category 6 hurricane, Luna. The family drives north with hundreds of thousands other evacuees. They experience the second crisis when they stop for gas and discover mom's purse was left behind - the fault of the young daughter and teenage stepson. No money. No credit cards. No food, fuel, or caffeine. They end up at a FEMA camp, this one a tent city of 10,000 in rural OK. The story reflects the amazing tolerance, flexibility, and resilience of many people."

The third Kay recommendation is a paperback original novel from Tin House entitled Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty: "This debut short story collection by Penobscot Indian Nation author Morgan Talty is soulful and hypnotic. Storylines of two boys/men alternate and flow elegantly over time. The stories are sticky; after closing the book, scenes continue to snap into focus unexpectedly."

Finally, we go to Madi Hill, our true crime connoisseur, for her take on Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World's Most Notorious Diaries by Rick Emerson: "Unmask Alice by Rick Emerson is a debunking of the infamous “real life” diaries that began with Go Ask Alice and the woman that was responsible for their creation. While the title alludes to the more recognizable Alice journal, Emerson spends more attention on its successor, Jay's Journal, that was one of the largest powder kegs to set off the Satanic Panic. After a Utah teen commits suicide, his mother turned to Alice author Beatrice Sparks to spread awareness of teen suicide and the need to focus on mental health, but instead, she created a false diary which became a smear campaign that destroyed the teen's family. This is the true story behind a relentless fraudster who was desperate for recognition and used falsehoods and fear to get it. Unmask Alice is the perfect read for the casual true crime reader that prefers to avoid the gory details. Just remember to check your sources."

And paperback picks? We've got so many of them! Here's our recommendations for what's coming to the paperback table - aka books getting their second life this week.

Chris Lee picks Immediate Family by Ashley Nelson Levy, a book that was a goop book club pick, too! For goopers and non, Chris says: "Ashley Nelson Levy’s language-y, hyper-smart debut is a breathless confessional burst and big-family-questions book all at once. A confessionquestional, if you will. You ever talk to people in your head, imagine conversations and arguments? That’s the whole book. Here’s how it goes: the narrator’s brother begs a last-minute wedding toast of her, which sets her off down memory lane, recounting their life from his adoption in Thailand at 3 years old to the day of his nuptials. Along the way she questions, essays, and debates with herself about adoption, infertility, and cultural histories of both, plus race, addiction, theft, territory and country, motherhood, heritage and genetics, and those eternal biggies: what makes a family? What breaks one? All of it’s explored with the open-hearted intimacy of someone talking in her head to the brother she’s realizing she’s desperate to reconnect with. Lame pun hard sell: if you want a beautiful, intelligent family novel, buy this immediately."

Now Jason Kennedy on Appleseed by Matt Bell: "This story was amazing. Told through three alternating timelines: 1) In the 1790’s with a pair of brothers (one is a faun) trying to make their fortune by planting apple orchards ahead the coming expansion of humanity into the Ohio Valley; 2) one of the founders of a corporation attempting to save the planet from humanity basically cooking it to death, attempting to stop said corporation from playing god; 3) and way in the future, most of North America is covered in ice, there is a lonely person keeping watch and ready to reprint the world. Have we gone too far down the climate change path that our only option is to store up the natural world in computers in hopes of one day being able to repopulate? Have we ignored all the warnings that the world has sent us? I loved the way each of the stories played off the others, thematically and directly. It was pure brilliance. This will be on my list as one of my favorite reads of the year."

Daniel Goldin has three (3!) paperback picks for you this week. First, The Comfort of Monsters by Milwaukee-native Willa C Richards: "Peg felt so close to her sister Dee growing up in Milwaukee. When Dee goes missing, Peg is certain she had the answers, but being that her disappearance coincides with Jeffrey Dahmer’s killing spree in Milwaukee, there’s not much interest in pursuing the case. Come to think of it, there’s not much interest in the Dahmer case either among the police. The story jumps back and forth between 1991 and 2019, with Peg’s anxiety about the long-unsolved case leading to a downward spiral, making The Comfort of Monsters part of a library of Milwaukee novels (Sorry to Disrupt the Peace, A Door Behind a Door) framed as mystery/thrillers that are more existential character studies. I was impressed by how Richards captures the visceral discomfort that permeates the story, as she touches on many moments of violence, from toxic behavior to sexual assault and other horrors. A memorable story that could well cross over to true crime readers."

Next from Daniel, it's The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova. Daniel says: "In the remote town of Four Rivers, the matriarch Orquídea Divina has called the family together one last time, including raised-together cousins Marimar and Rey. They’ve been promised an inheritance, but their grandmother isn’t dead yet. There are complications, likely connected to a deal Orquídea Divina made when she was a young woman with a traveling circus. And then the relatives start dying. Just what is the family secret? And how is connected to the flowers that begin to grow out of their bodies? For the answers, they wind up journeying to Ecuador to unlock their grandmother’s past. This bewitching blend of family drama, adventure (the descriptions of Guayaquil had me contemplating packing a suitcase), and romance, is blended with enough magic to set hearts ablaze.".

What else does Daniel suggest? Yours Cheerfully by AJ Pearce, that's what. He says: "With the departure of Henrietta Bird from Woman’s Friend, intrepid would-be reporter Emmeline Lake (of Dear Mrs. Bird) has the opportunity to work with Mrs. Mahoney to make the advice column truly helpful to readers. But with the war raging on, the magazine is given a mission beyond ration-friendly meals and new looks for old clothes. With men being called to battle, the service magazines are asked to encourage women to take the jobs the men had to leave behind. A chance encounter on a train gives Emmy an in, but how should she act when what’s right for the war conflicts with what’s right for the women? Don’t worry, Emmy’s boyfriend Charles and her best friend Bunty have a role to play too. I’m not usually one for sequels, but Pearce’s combination of wartime drama with lots of historical detail, a dose of wry humor, and most of all, Emmy’s plucky spirit, works for me."

And now Kay Wosewick waves in with The Sound of the Sea: Seashells and the Fate of the Oceans by Cynthia Barnett: "Hints of the earth’s wild history are visible in rock layers embedded with fossilized shells in areas as diverse as Mount Everest and the Canadian Rockies. Remnants of man and seashells dating back many thousands of years can be found together along virtually every coastline worldwide, and often many hundreds of miles inland. Shells have been used as money in cultures as diverse as American tribal nations and Asia countries with sophisticated trade networks. Shells even had their own short-lived equivalent of tulip-mania. Alas, declines in economically and culturally important shell habitats are occurring around the world. Barnett’s portrait of the intertwined world of man and shells is fascinating and lively, even as it adds to the story of our degrading home planet."

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