Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 30, 2022

We end August on a nice note here at the Boswellians blog - recommending to you some books that we love, one of our favorite things to do. Picks to help you find a great endcap to this year's summer reading list.

First, a double-rec, from Rachel Copeland and Jenny Chou, of Alexandra Rowland's novel A Taste of Gold and Iron. First, from Rachel: "Following an altercation with the body-father of his sister's newborn child, Prince Kadou must prove his loyalty to his sister, the sultan, and figure out who is behind the counterfeit currency plot that could ruin their country of Arasht. Crippled with anxiety, Kadou finds himself stuck with a terse new bodyguard, Evemer, who doesn't seem to like Kadou all that much. After a series of incidents in which Kadou improbably proves himself more canny, dutiful, and capable than Evemer thought possible, an undying loyalty and trust grows between them - and evolves into something more. In every way, this is the romance I've been waiting for. The slow build between Kadou and Evemer was so well done that I often flipped back to reread passages just for fun. Also, every (non-evil) character in this book is iconic, and Rowland had me cackling, blushing, and screaming at multiple points. Rowland's worldbuilding encompasses not only the touch-taste of precious metals that drives the plot, but also a fully realized system of genders, pronouns, orientations, even degrees of paternity. I finished this work wanting - maybe needing - to revisit it immediately to recapture the feeling of pure joy that infuses every page."

And from Jenny: "Alexandra Rowland’s latest novel is a lush fantasy, with a setting evoking the Ottoman Empire and a plot filled with palace intrigue, betrayal, and a glorious enemies-to-lovers romance. All that is plenty to draw me in, but the main character, Prince Kadou, really stole my heart. He’s a complicated bundle of anxiety, terrified of losing his sister, the reigning sultan, and scared his actions might cause pain to another person. One of the few people he’s not overly protective of is himself, which leads to clashes with his new bodyguard, Evemer. He finds the prince’s behavior self-indulgent and heartless. Prince Kadou has a rare talent, a magical ability to detect the purity of metal, and he and Evemer become drawn into an investigation of counterfeit currency circulating through the kingdom. Their hasty judgments of each other's character begins to shift as each questions the loyalties of everyone around them. Watching Prince Kadou and Evemer navigate what they truly mean to one another is really the soul of this delightful novel. You’ll be glad you met these two as you think about them long after turning the last page!"

Now let's go to Jen for the latest from Taylor Jenkins Reid, author of Malibu Rising, Daisy Jones & The Six, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn HugoCarrie Soto is Back. Jen says: "A riveting, fast-paced, and enthusiastic look at the world of tennis through the eyes of Carrie Soto, the world's finest athlete. It's been five years since Carrie Soto retired as the reigning champion of women's tennis, and it's all about to be taken away by powerhouse Nicki Chan. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Carrie decides to step back onto the court to remind everyone who the world's greatest player is. Taylor Jenkins Reid delivers a gripping comeback novel with a fierce character you will be rooting for until the very last page. A must read!"

And now a Daniel Goldin rec: A Game Maker’s Life: A Hall of Fame Game Inventor and Executive Tells the Inside Story of the Toy Industry by Jeffrey Breslow with Cynthia Beebe. Daniel says: "If you are curious about the world of toys and games, this book is for you. Breslow, a long-time idea person at Marvin Glass Associates and Big Monster Toys, gives the inside story on Operation, Simon, Ants in the Pants, SSP Racers (gyroscope powered!), and more. I love some of his tricks of the trade – like start with a cliché and work backwards. You might think brand extensions are a recent trend, but that was Marvin’s philosophy since day one. If Moody Mutt (1953) was a hit, could Swimming Puppy and Robo the Robot Dog be far behind? Please note that despite the subject matter, this book is not for kids and needs a warning even to adult readers; Breslow was the survivor of a mass shooting at his office, and he takes a chapter to discuss the incident. But that aside, it’s mostly fascinating anecdotes about hits like Polly Pocket and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and bombs like the Clone video game, which they hoped would be the next Pac Man. It wasn’t!"

Event alert: Jeffrey Breslow visits Boswell In-Peron on Wednesday, September 14, 6:30 pm. Click here to register and find more info.

Now, a paperback original recommendation from Parker Jensen: Suburban Hell by Maureen Kilmer. Parker says: "Amy, Melissa, Liz, and Jess don't fit in with the rest of the PTA moms in their suburb; they'd rather keep up their close-knit friendship and monthly wine nights than worry about whose lawn is the greenest or who will manage the ice cream bar at the school carnival. Their friendship is an escape from the hectic lives they lead, so when Liz suggests building a She Shed in her backyard, they are eager to jump onboard. But after construction begins on their clubhouse, the ladies begin receiving strange burn marks, household objects become possessed, and worst of all, Liz begins to change from her positive loving self into something, or someone, much more sinister. Amy, Melissa, and Jess will need to confront whatever spirit is haunting their neighborhood if they are going to save themselves and Liz. Desperate Housewives meets The Exorcist in this bonkers and hilarious lite-horror comedy. I had a blast reading Suburban Hell, there was never a boring moment as the book juggled comedy, scares, and a touching story of friendship and grief."

Parker also recommends Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney. Parker says: "Daisy Darker's family has spent years avoiding being in the same room all together. Each of them has their reasons, and secrets, for staying as far apart as possible, but they cannot deny Nana one last family reunion on her 80th birthday. Besides, once they all gather on the secluded island she resides on, Nana will finally be sharing what is in her will. What none of them expect is at the stroke of midnight when they find Nana murdered in the Kitchen. With a storm raging and the tide too high to cross for the next 8 hours, the Darker family will be forced to confront the misdeeds of their past before it is too late, because someone is beginning to pick them off one by one. The Darker family is full of some of the wickedest and most despicable people I have had the pleasure of reading about. I couldn't get enough of their endless drama, secrets, and tragedies. And some secrets are worth killing over. Daisy Darker is a thrilling ride filled with numerous twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the end."

Over we go to Sarah Clancy for her latest rec: Dead Flip by Sara Farizan. Sarah says: "We've all said things that we've regretted to those we love. Things not meant to be said outside of our own heads. Sometimes we apologize and, if we're lucky, sometimes we're forgiven. Cori and Maz never got their chance for forgiveness when their friend Sam disappeared one Halloween night. Years later, they have both dealt with the loss of their friend poorly. Cori, lost in the expectations of those around her, struggles to find herself. Maz, unable to leave the guilt behind, slowly self-destructs to forget the pain. In an apparent miracle, Sam returns just as he was, but something isn't quite right. Farizan brings life to these characters and their trials in a heartfelt way and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout."

Finally, Jen Steele ends the month with a middle grade pick: Lily and the Night Creatures by Nick Lake, with illustrations by Emily Gravett. Jen says: "Lily is not happy about getting a new sibling. She's chronically ill and feels like her parents are replacing her with a 'perfect' baby. When the big day arrives, Lily is sent to stay with her grandmother overnight. Realizing she forgot to bring her favorite stuffed animal, Lily decides to go home and get it before her grandmother notices she's gone. And then things get spooky. Her parents are home with no baby, and they are not what they seem. Aided by the night creatures, Lily must defeat these 'not-parents' and save her home. Nick Lake delivers a big-hearted novel filled with humor and chills."

And now, books getting their paperback release this week that we are fond of. 

Daniel Goldin recommends The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang: "In a Chinese restaurant in Haven, Wisconsin (maybe standing in for Appleton?), a family prepares for a grand celebration. The oldest son, Dagou, has returned to town, tail between his legs (though still with two women fighting over him), to work at the family restaurant. His brothers Ming, a successful tech executive, and James, a medical student, are on their way home, too. The family is already on edge because of their parent’s separation, but when Leo reneges on a deal to give Dagou a piece of the restaurant and a recently discovered cache of money disappears, the family explodes. You absolutely don’t have to have read the inspirational source for this sharp-witted and passionate tale to enjoy it, but if you aren’t fluent in Dostoevsky, you might want to read The Brothers Karamazov Wikipedia entry afterwards."

Along with our pals at Books & Company, we hosted an extra-special event for this book when it was first released - check out the video below of Lan Samantha Chang in conversation with the one and only Chang-rae Lee. Wow!

We also hosted an event with Mary Roach for Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law, cohosted by Schlitz Audubon Nature center, and have two recs on that book (event video below). First, from Daniel "Can a cougar go to jail? They can in India, where there is a three-strikes rule for putting down an attacking animal. Prior to that, they’ll be put in cages with limited free time in a facility that is not open to a public. What does that sound like to you? Intrepid (and often amusing) science journalist Mary Roach travels the world looking at how we handle conflicts between humans in nature, from bear attacks to falling trees. Elephants, stoats, monkeys, bears, gulls, and more fight with humans for habitats, invasive species (also generally thanks to humans) compete with indigenous ones, and NIMBY-ism runs rampant – we want to protect animals, except when they are bothering us. A fascinating read! And don’t skip the footnotes, or you’ll miss some of the funniest lines and asides."

And from Kay Wosewick: "Human encounters with wildlife - bears, blackbirds, backyard poisonous plants, and so much more - are increasing as land development shrinks wildlife habitat. Roach recounts dangerous engagements, some head-shaking practices, and plenty of laugh-out-loud turf wars. "

That's it for this week, we'll see you in September with more recommendations, dear readers - read on!

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 23, 2022

New week, new books, new recs. Here we go, readers.

We've got two Tim McCarthy recs this week. First is his write-up for the latest from Midwestern favorite William Kent Krueger: Fox Creek. Tim says: "This is the 19th volume in the Cork O'Connor mystery series, featuring the Northern Minnesota PI with both Irish and Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) heritage. In Fox Creek, Krueger brings the focus back to Henry Meloux, a beloved Ojibwe friend and mentor to Cork who is well over 100 years old. A woman has come to Henry for help, not knowing that she’s been followed to his doorstep. He’ll need every ounce of his skill, vision, and enormous heart to lead her and the people he loves away from the forces on their trail. It may not be enough. Henry knows that one way or another his time to leave this life is near. When Krueger did a Boswell author event a few years back he told us that his indigenous fans say 'not bad for a white man' about the way he develops Ojibwe characters. I laughed and felt relieved to hear validation of my true fondness for these fictional people. I’m a fan!"

Tim takes a turn to the romantic side of things with his next write-up, which is for Bianca Marais's new novel, a paperback original called The Witches of Moonshyne Manor: A Witchy Rom-Com Novel. Tim says: "Oh, man! By that I mean oh, how does a man review a book like this!? Let's start (and end) with the fact that I loved every minute. I loved the characters, and the plot twists, and the very verbal crow. Most of all, I loved the sense that Marais was having as much fun writing as I was reading about a sisterhood of glorious old witches with a long history in a town that’s been mostly ok with them, until something changes. Now their manor and their popular distillery are being attacked by a mob of irrational townsmen (go figure), and reliving their own tragic past could offer them either salvation or destruction. They’re not sure which. Enter the Mayor’s spiky-haired teenage daughter and her dog named Ruth Bader Ginsburg and you’ve got the setup for a lovely riot. So take a break from our very strange real world and pour yourself into this spellbound concoction of laughter and full-blown feminist power, mixed with suspense and dashes of potent wisdom likely to fly into my thoughts forevermore."

Next it's Rachel Copeland with a duo of recs for paperback original novels. The first is for The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna. Rachel says: "Mika Moon is lonely; it's the reality of being a modern witch. When she's invited to a mysterious place called Nowhere House to tutor three young witches, she should refuse, but she doesn't. In a house run by a housekeeper, a groundskeeper and his retired actor husband, and a grumpy (and gorgeous) librarian for an absentee archeologist who fosters the girls, Mika is the only person who can help the girls control their magic. Now all Mika has to do is keep the girls' feet on the ground (literally!) and her heart guarded from something she shouldn't want - to love and be loved. Finally, a witch book that really nails it! The magic in this book is that perfect balance of wicca-ish and Sabrina the Teenage Witch silliness, but the real winner is the human element of found family. Mandanna's writing is relentlessly charming - mark me down as devotee!"

Event alert: Sangu Mandanna appears virtually for a Saturday Morning Special conversation with Rachel on Saturday, September 10, 11 am. Click here to register and learn more.

Rachel also recommends Love on the Brain, the latest from The Love Hypothesis author Ali Hazelweood. Rachel says: Purple-haired scientist Bee Königswasser's big opportunity at NASA comes with one problem in the form of her project's co-lead, the man who hates her the most: Levi Ward. But when she confronts him about missing supplies and lack of email access, suddenly Levi is... nice? Helpful? Supportive? Surely this is some sort of bizarro world where Levi never hated Bee to begin with. I just need to know… how does Ali Hazelwood do it? By the end of the first page, I knew Love on the Brain would be one of my favorite reads of the year. Every page is a delight, every character is wonderful - you just have to read this for yourself."

And now, we move to Chris Lee who suggests the fun for kids and their grown-ups picture book Ghosts Are People Too by Peter Ricq. Chris says: "This is Edward Gorey by way of Nickelodeon; spooky, charming sketches of a ghost child who just wants to be your friend. Fair warning is due – a few of the illustrations could be a little much for more sensitive kids, but on the flip side of that, the book gets across a 'they’re just as afraid of you as you are of them' message. With bonus chapters on ghost detection and true tales of human/ghost interactions, this book is a great starting place for kids who are paranormal-curious."

And how about a paperback pick to wrap us up? Okay! You may like to know that as opposed to the paperback originals above, this is a previously-released-in-hardcover book just today getting its paperback release. 

From Kay Wosewick, it's a recommendation of What Storm, What Thunder, a novel by Myriam J A Chancy. Kay says: "The 2010 Haiti earthquake claimed a quarter-million-plus lives and forever changed millions of others. Chancy paints vivid images of chaos, devastation, horror, confusion, brutality, and regret, but also compassion, tenderness, and hope. Chancy distills extensive interviews into ten captivating, entwined stories that portray how seemingly similar traumatic experiences can have vastly different effects on individuals."

Thanks for once again entrusting us with your weekly reading. See you next week, and until then, read on dear readers.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Rachel Reads Romance for Bookstore Romance Day

My introduction to romance novels is fairly standard: at the age of sixteen, a friend put a book in my hand and said something like "you have to read this." And I swear this isn't apocryphal - I'm fairly certain it was a book from the Bridgerton series (a series I love to this day!). You can imagine my surprise and delight when the Netflix adaptation brought about a resurgence of appreciation for romance novels, especially historical romance. Those who are in the know have been passing around mass market romances, whispering "this one's so good!" with a wink, for what seems like ages. I'm in my thirties, and the friend who introduced me to mass market historicals was from a three-generations-deep romance-reading family. So for some of us, the proliferation of romance in the cultural zeitgeist inspires a "glad you're finally catching up" feeling. 

Contemporary rom-coms have been dominant more recently, and I've certainly enjoyed my share. Book Lovers was my first Emily Henry book after much resistance ("she can't be THAT good..."), but she really is at the top for a reason. Her characters are next-level good; I swear she just follows people around and transcribes their dialogue. Another book I just can't stop talking about is Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood, out on 8/23. Our Random rep sent me the galley a while ago, and I've been dying to chat with customers about it because it's so funny - I was texting fellow bookseller Parker about it during the entire reading process. If you loved the Love Hypothesis, you're going to flip for this one. I can't wait to see what Ali Hazelwood does next. 

Speaking of Parker, they're the reason I read A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland (out on 8/30). They had the galley and thought I might be interested - cut to me reading it within 24 hours and making Parker, Oli, and Jenny read and love it as well. It's a fantasy in the sense that there's a bit of magic built into the story, but to be honest, it's just a fabulous romance between two adorable sweeties that made me coo in delight. It's one of those books where you want to just push the main characters together and say "now kiss!" It was a delight to see this title appear on the Indie Next list for September because it means booksellers all over the country also enjoyed the heck out of it. Since reading A Taste of Gold and Iron in May, I've gone on to read a ton of queer fantasy/sci-fi books because there are so many romance-adjacent books to discover! Other ones of note are A Marvellous Light and A Strange and Stubborn Endurance - all of the best queer fantasy romances start with A, apparently. 

Rom-coms tend to have distinctively cartoon-y covers, as opposed to the "shirtless man and barely clothed woman in the throes of passion" covers that made historical romances somewhat embarrassing to read in public. Some more recently published books are historical romances disguised as rom-coms - Martha Waters and Evie Dunmore are my favorites. I adore Martha Waters; it was a thrill to chat with her about the first two books in her series, To Have and to Hoax and To Love and to Loathe. I'm very much looking forward to the fourth in the series, To Swoon and to Spar, out on 4/11/23. And Evie Dunmore's books are so meticulously researched that her author notes at the end are an education of their own. My personal favorite of the series is the third, called Portrait of a Scotsman. I always recommend both of these series first when customers ask for historical romance recommendations, but I'm happy to say that I have more titles to add to my list. 

When the Milwaukee Public Library approached us and asked me to participate in this event with Emily Sullivan, I was nervous because I haven't read a true-blue historical romance in a long time. The great news is, I loved the series! The series is set in the Victorian period, so think shirtwaists, bustles, and truly ridiculous hats. All of the men are or were spies for the Crown, and they just can't help but fall in love with these feisty ladies. My favorite part of the books is how socially conscious these women are - they're not interested in sitting around and looking pretty because they have voting rights to win and factories to reform. Beth Gabriel of MPL and I will be chatting with the author about the most recent release, The Hellion and the Hero, and I'm so ready to talk about spies and the troublemaking women who love them. The virtual event takes place on Tuesday, August 23, 6 pm. There's still time to register - see you there! 

This year has been great for romance, and I'm so thrilled that I get to discuss my favorites with the authors. Coming up, we have an event with Sangu Mandanna for another of my top 5 books of the year, The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches. This book is just wonderful from start to finish - perfect for those of you who love a witchy romance with a healthy serving of found family. Baked into this world where witches exist is a palpable sense of loneliness - magic is a secret to keep, and Mika Moon can't make meaningful connections because of this. I really felt for Mika, and I rooted for her as she made her way toward accepting and giving love to the residents of Nowhere House. So yes, it's a romance, but it's really so much more. If you'd like to hear more, please consider registering for this virtual event on Saturday, September 10th at 11 am. 

The last book I'd like to discuss is Ocean's Echo, a shared-universe sequel-but-not-really to a fabulous book that my book club read earlier this year called Winter's Orbit. Fellow bookseller Margaret raved about Winter's Orbit for so long that I knew I had to read it - we shelve it in our space opera subsection, but it's definitely equally a romance. A Tor book that originated on Archive of Our Own, it has all the fun tropes - arranged marriage! only one bed! slow burn! - but what really stood out was the queernormed society that Maxwell establishes. Pronouns are respected, and love is love, period. I love it there. The new book, Ocean's Echo, is set in the same galaxy and is much more of a space opera, but the heart of the book is the relationship between Tennal and Surit. We'll host the author for a virtual event on Saturday, November 12 at 11 am, and joining me is Oli Schmitz, one of our youngest Boswellians who, conversely, has worked at Boswell longer than most of us. They're an endless fountain of enthusiasm for books of all sorts, so we will just be fawning over the author for the event. Come watch us be dorks! 

If you're ever in the store and want to chat romance, feel free to find me because I love recommending books and hearing your recommendations! I can't read every book, but I can certainly try. Happy bookstore romance day, all - I know what my plans will be. 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 16, 2022

Welcome to a new week! This week is a bit lighter in the number-of-newly-released-books category, but fear not, the Boswellians are still reading away and writing up their thoughts on the latest and greatest books. So let's get to reading - 

From the Milwaukee-adjacent area comes Kathleen Hale, and from her comes a new book that both Chris Lee and Parker Jensen recommend: Slenderman: Online Obsession, Mental Illness, and the Violent Crime of Two Midwestern Girls

First, from Chris: "Slenderman is a perfect example of true crime writing at its best – throughout a detailed account of Waukesha’s Slenderman stabbing and years of legal fallout, Hale searches for the places where the legal system fails us and where we, as people, fail each other. What is justice, really, and how can it be better served? The facts of the case are not in dispute, though widely misreported. Case in point: the single crime’s only victim survived, yet the incident is still often known as the ‘Slenderman murders.’ And key elements were all but ignored by a tough-on-crime judge hellbent on trying the girls as adults according to an outdated, illogical Wisconsin law enacted out fear of the superpredator myth. The facts are: two 12-year-old girls, one suffering from severe early-onset schizophrenia and one with pathological attachment issues, misunderstood online YA horror fiction as reality and then plotted and attempted to murder their classmate. A native Wisconsinite with a sensitive and fact-oriented eye, Hale cuts through the slogans attached to the case (Internet Evil! Adult Crime, Adult Time!) to understand the ties between mental illness, Midwestern stoicism, violence, and reactionary impulses. It’s a horrible incident, yes, but Hale well makes the case for the necessity of talking honestly about hard things to shine some light into the dark."

And now, from Parker: "The Waukesha Slenderman stabbing, often mistakenly referred to as the ‘Slenderman Murders’, left many shocked and morbidly intrigued. Because the true facts of the case were blurred, fumbled, and outright ignored, the idea of two 12-year-old girls committing such a violent crime all in the name of an internet boogeyman is confusing and downright disconcerting. But that was never the full story. Kathleen Hale's telling of the tale is extremely comprehensive, well researched, and compellingly written. Told with facts and not sensationalism in mind, Slenderman is the best true crime book I've read in years. I was glued to the pages as Hale pulled back the layers of this complicated story, exploring the ways in which a young girl's ignored mental health crisis, backward judicial and mental health services systems, and Midwestern attitudes came together to create a truly tragic scenario. It's a hard story in which no one wins, but you'll have to decide for yourself if justice was served. Thankfully, Hale is willing to have that conversation. I haven't stopped thinking about this case or the three girls since I closed the book, leaving me to wonder, what does justice look like, and how we as a society can do better?"

Event Alert! Kathleen Hale appears at Boswell to talk about Slenderman on Thursday, October 13, 6:30 pm. Click here to register and find out more.

We continue on with Parker, who has two recommendations this week. Their next pick? The Last Housewife by Ashley Winstead. Parker says: "Shay Evans is tormented by her past, one in which she and her best friend, Laurel, escaped from a dangerous man. But Shay has built a life all these years later, one she is almost content with, and one that will all crumble before her with one piece of news. Laurel is dead. Her favorite true crime podcast breaks the news, and Shay finds herself thrust back into a world she feared she'd never be able to outrun. Was Laurel's death truly a suicide as the police claim or the proof that a dangerous man and his colleagues are back and more powerful than ever? To find out, Shay must team up with the host of the podcast that sent her spiraling and slip into a world of cults, abuse, and twisted ideology that will push her to her breaking point. Last year's In My Dreams I Hold A Knife was the juiciest and most exciting thriller I'd read in years, and now Ashley Winstead is back with the darkest and most heart-wrenching thriller I've read yet. The Last Housewife pulls no punches so be warned that it's a tough read that will leave you breathless, but it is worth every moment. I inhaled this book in a matter of hours, frantically turning the pages as Shay found herself in increasing danger and all her darkest secrets were thrust into the light. This story unpacks the truths about the traumas women face in contemporary America, from sexism to abuse to the ways in which the world forces ownership of their bodies. I can't recommend this one enough (but do make sure to check the content warning in the start of the book!). All the stars. All the awards. All the praise. Ashley Winstead has proven herself to be one of the greatest thriller writers of the time."

And out in paperback this week - 

We return to Chris and his recommendation for the long-awaited (seriously, the hardcover came out 3 and a half years ago!) paperback release of The Book of Delights: Essays by Ross Gay. Chris says: "I laughed, I cried, it moved me. (And yes, it’s better than Cats.) Seriously - this is Chicken Soup for the Soul for smart people, which I mean in the best way possible. This book will make you feel better about being alive. Ross Gay kept a Delight Diary for a year, chronicling his daily experiences of delight. Delight, not joy; a subtle difference, yeah, but it’s there - Gay’s moments of delight seem more self-aware, more grounded, maybe, than pure joy, and yet, simultaneously, more spontaneous, likely to catch him by surprise. He also drifts back and forth between delight as noun and verb, significant for the agency it gives the delighter. Whittled down to just over 100 entries, Gay uses a poet’s formula (brevity + depth = truth nuggets) to live an examined life in moments. Throughout, he’s bold enough to deep-dive into the messy reality of life’s bits of levity, to remain open-eyed and honest, historically and contextually aware. Recurring themes are race, the complications of the black male body in space, mortality, the personal and communal tragedies that separate and unite us, and the reached-out fingertips that occasionally manage to brush each other across that divide. I could talk about how impossibly uplifting this book is forever, but what I should really do is just put it in your hands and hope it has even a fraction of the effect on you that it’s had on me, because that would truly be a delight."

Another Chris rec? ANOTHER CHRIS REC! This time for Paradise: One Town's Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire, a nonfiction entry from journalist Lizzie Johnson. Chris says: "Intense, exhaustive, definitive - this is long form journalism at its finest. Johnson's account of the Camp Fire that leveled Paradise, CA and left fifty-eight dead is a harrowing reading experience. The precision with which a single, terrible day is rendered is breathtaking - there were moments I felt like I, too, was choking on black smoke and gasping for air. And the book sweeps through layers of the events: Pacific Gas & Electric’s failures and culpability at the corporate levels and on the ground; Paradise’s civic leaders’ efforts to save businesses, buildings, and lives; the firefighter’s desperate battle against the blaze; and the townspeople who lost their homes and everything in them as they ran to escape the flames any way they could. By the end of Paradise, you’ll know this town as if you’d lived there and mourn it like you’ve lost it, too."

And that's all the recommending we have for you this week! Chris, Parker, and all the rest of the Boswellians will see you next week. Until then, read on, dear readers.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 9. 2022

Time for new books that the Boswellians dig. 

First, Daniel Goldin on A Map for the Missing by Belinda Huijuan Tang: "Belinda Huijuan Tang’s excellent debut, inspired by her father’s upbringing in Anhui province, opens in early 1990s California. Yitian is called back to his hometown when his mother reports his father missing. While Yitian has hardly adapted to America, the return stirs up its own haunted memories, a tortured life with his father, a lost bond with his brother Yishou, and an unfinished longing for his onetime-girlfriend Hanwen. Though framed as a missing person mystery, Yitian’s journey helps him unlock deeper questions of his family and perhaps one day understand his father. The Cultural Revolution is one of repression and loss that affected generations. In making the political personal, Tang brings this period to vibrant life."

Jen Steele keeps it quick and quippy in her recommendation of High Times in the Low Parliament by Kelly Robson: "High Times in the Low Parliament is an entertaining lesbian, stoner, buddy romp with political intrigue and angry fairies. War may be inevitable, but so are mushrooms!"

Next it's Tim McCarthy with not one but two new histories for you to read. First it's the new Rinker Buck book, Life on the Mississippi: An Epic American Adventure. Tim says: "Winning the American Revolution fully opened land west of the Appalachian Mountains to settlers, and the way forward was the rivers. A great migration built fast-growing towns like Pittsburgh, where flatboats (and later steamboats) were made for moving surplus farm products down the Ohio and Mississippi. Many thousands of young farmers and rivermen floated to southern states each year, creating a unique river culture. Buck studied this history and decided he had to try the same flatboat trip himself in our age of massive river barge traffic, a crazy notion for an amateur on the water. Lots of river dwellers told him he'd die. He helped build his own flatboat, and the 2,000 mile adventure with a crew full of characters turned out to be awe-inspiring. The book ties his very personal journey to our past and to the ever-changing United States, as it’s seen from the rivers today. While Buck writes with strong and sincere words about the 'profoundly tragic' role of American slavery and the devastation of indigenous nations, this is mostly a story of our constant expansion, rough independence, and ingenuity. Buck uses a lively blend of historian’s love of research and storyteller’s blunt humor to describe how he revels in the challenges and meets people of all kinds. I confess that along with my intense anger over America’s brutal history, I have a soft spot for the romance and marvelous details in this story. I enjoyed every bit of Rinker Buck’s wild river ride!"

Next, Tim recommends the latest from multi-Pulitzer-winner David Maraniss, Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe. Tim writes: "Swedish King Gustav V apparently told Jim Thorpe, as he handed him a gold medal at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, that he was 'the most wonderful athlete in the world.' Thorpe was certainly admired and sought after worldwide for his unmatched athleticism and talent. Everyone wanted to see him, wherever he went. He was on World Series teams, he was there at the inception of the NFL, and later he had many small Hollywood film roles, befriending the biggest stars of the day. Thorpe was often used as a novelty as well, a drawing card constantly subject to racial stereotypes, and as time passed he became more actively involved with indigenous people’s rights. As a man, Jim Thorpe had serious human flaws and struggled constantly to succeed, but he was personally kind and generous, offering a huge smile to all. He never seemed inclined to pity himself or stop chasing his dreams. The extraordinary details of his life, including many connections to Wisconsin and Milwaukee, are endlessly fascinating, and Maraniss makes them exceptionally smooth reading. He wraps Thorpe's life into the story of America, and he’s blunt about our cruel contradictions in such an intelligent way that my progressive anger feels completely validated. This is a top-flight history lesson that separates the truth from the myth of a legendary and iconic American!"

And now, paperback picks.

Tim keeps it rolling into paperback land with his glowing (so bright as to be near nuclear) review of Colson Whitehead's novel Harlem Shuffle: "Whitehead starkly defines his characters' world as he unwraps their stories with a direct, graceful style and unique symbolism. I met him once at a Boswell Book Company event. I saw the genius in his eyes; the sincerity, too. And he’s funny! Once again, he drops us into another time. Harlem, 1959, was a much harder place than the one where I was born (that same year). Ray Carney is a loving family man with a small furniture company and modest ambitions for upward movement. He stays at the edges of the hustles all around him, but everything heavy pulls at the edges. He “was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked" until his beloved cousin Freddie draws him into a heist. I like Ray, and in Whitehead’s masterful hands he becomes real. I haven’t read a better American novelist, living or dead. He stands with James Baldwin, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, and E. L. Doctorow. Back-to-back Pulitzers ain’t bad. By giving us the past, Whitehead leads us toward the future. He's the new King of American historical fiction, the new voice as powerful as Doctorow’s. The torch of greatness has been passed."

Now back over to Daniel for Kal Penn's memoir You Can't Be Serious: "I have always been intrigued by Kal Penn, not just for his acting, but for his detour into civil service, which unlike other celebrities, did not involve running for office. While You Can’t Be Serious doesn’t have a coming out chapter, its revelation that Penn is engaged to a Nascar-loving Mississippian named Josh earned headlines upon the book’s publication. I was also very interested in reading about Penn’s struggles finding good roles as a South Asian and why Harold and Kumar go to White Castle was so groundbreaking. For every celebrity memoir I read, there are five others I put down within 25 pages. I need to like the voice, I want some interesting stories, the author must have something of substance to say, and if I’m promised humor, I better be laughing out loud. You Can’t Be Serious has all of that!"

Until next week, when we return with more recommendations, read on dear readers.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 2, 2022

New week, new month, new Tuesday, new books! Lots of them. Let's get to the recommendations.

First Daniel Goldin on a Milwaukee-set debut novel by Sarah Thankam Matthews, All This Could Be Different. Daniel says: "All Sneha really wants when she relocates to Milwaukee is a circle of friends, a special someone, and a steady income, but even those goals turn out to be a harder to achieve in this debut novel. She’s got a few friends and a possible love interest, though most of them are struggling with goals and money, plus both her contractor boss and the flat manager turn out to be, well, two pieces of work. Plus, contract work kind of sucks - you’re in the company (it’s obvious to any Milwaukeean where she works, but it’s never spelled out in the story), but not really of the company, much the way that Sneha must navigate her life in Milwaukee as a queer South Asian woman. There’s almost a chaotic feel to the narrative - will Thom forgive Sneha, will things with Martina work out, can Tig get her commune together, and just how much money is Amit going to spend trying to save a drug-addicted friend? – but to me, that’s just the way things feel during the kind of quarter-life crisis that Sneha is experiencing.  And props for getting the Milwaukee details right circa 2016, considering Mathews never lived here, though she went to school in Madison. Milwaukee is usually used as a no-place-in-particular setting, but here, Mathews plays off oddly Edenic history of socialist mayors that is meaningful to some millennials, even if the contemporary city struggles with prejudice and crime. Even the name-checked restaurants reinforce the narrative – not necessarily fancy, but a little too expensive for the unsteady paychecks of most of this crew, particularly Tig, who generally orders the most expensive thing on the menu. In the end, everything’s going to work out. Right?"

We host a virtual event with Sarah Thankam Matthews in conversation with Dawnie Walton for a virtual event on Thursday, August 11, 7 pm. Click here to register.

Next it's The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty, as recommended by Chris Lee: "Wow. The Rabbit Hutch is wonderful, insane, and brilliant, and I love, love, love it. Rust belt, Indiana. The denizens of a crumbling apartment building are desperate to transcend their crumbling lives; to transcend trauma, forgottenness, and fame, to transcend the emptiness of material circumstances. To transcend the body. This book is ALIVE. The lives within it pop, scream, and bleed off the page."

Tess Gunty appears In-Person at Boswell on Wednesday, August 10, 6:30 pm in conversation with Chris Lee. Click here to register. We did a great little 5-minute mini-interview with Gunty, too - click here and watch that video now.

Now, Rachel Copeland on The Proposition by Madeleine Roux: "Clemency Fry thought her fears of marriage were unfounded when she became engaged to a man who appreciated her rebellious spirit - until she finds out that her fiancée has a dark past with multiple victims in his wake. When the mysterious Audric Ferrand comes into town on the hunt for her fiancée, Clemency has no choice but to participate in Audric's plan to bring the scoundrel down. This is my first time reading Madeleine Roux, but I wasn't surprised to find that she usually writes in the horror and science fiction genres. The Proposition has a sinister edge to it that kept me turning the pages. The real standout is the prose - Roux fits right in with Austen and the Brontës."

Now we have Jenny Chou on Hummingbird by Natalie Lloyd. Jenny's take: "Olive is one of those lively middle grade narrators whose voice pulls readers right into her story. She’s creative and funny and determined to live a life full of adventure. At age twelve, her brittle bone disease, osteogenesis imperfecta, has kept her home from school, but she dreams of attending Macklemore Middle School and finding a BFF. Olive may be fragile, but that doesn’t mean she’s not capable. Even so, convincing her protective parents that it's time to let go turns out to be easier than actually fitting in once she gets her chance. Hummingbird is a terrific novel of friendship and sacrifice, and I loved this story for the characters that captured my imagination. But the believable way the author weaves magic into the story makes this book a real gem."

Back to Daniel we go for his take on Cyclorama, the latest novel from Adam Langer. Daniel says: "Since you asked, cyclorama is a theater backdrop and not a velodrome, as I first thought. And what a theater novel this is! The story centers on the North Shore Magnet High School production of Anne Frank, helmed by a very inappropriate drama teacher, with a cast of ten extraordinary students, in which events are set in motion during the rehearsals that have repercussions thirty-some years later. Langer’s latest harkens back to his over the top, Chicago-centric epics filled with intricate plotting, an unforgettable cast, and lots of humor. Muley Wills from the much-loved Crossing California even gets a cameo. The story can be cringe-funny in a Tom Perrotta way, but also exuberant in a Gary Shteyngart way, and powerful in a, well, Anne Frank way. A joy!"

Kay Wosewick gets in on the recommending with her write-up of a new Tin House paperback original, The Wild Hunt by Emma Seckel. Kay says: "The setting is dark: an isolated Scottish island whose residents are deeply haunted by WWII losses. Residents enact a ritual every October 1st to pacify a massive population of crows who terrorize the island for exactly one month. The ritual goes awry this year. Perfectly drawn moments of horror are eventually redeemed by genuine healing of the residents. Your heart will race, it will break, and it will finally rejoice."

Finally, Tim McCarthy wraps up our new book recommending with a great new middle grade novel called My Life Begins, a posthumous release from Patricia MacLachlan. Tim says: "Jacob Black's life begins at nine years old, when the “Trips” are born: his identical triplet sisters. He wanted puppies instead. They're cuter. He was actually lonely, but the babies will be his parents’, not his. He studies them for a school research project. They change every day, becoming individual selves. When Lizzie stops crying to look at him, he picks her up, and she suddenly smiles straight at him. That’s it. Life begins again! I absolutely love Jacob's voice. He's honest in a calm, matter-of-fact way. He's funny. He's wise. He's the creation of a talented, Newbery Medal-winning author, and he'll be a joy for any reader near his age! It’s a loving story of friends and family and new beginnings."

But wait, that's not all! We've got four paperback picks for you this week. These books were released once before, but now their cover is soft and light, perfect for toting about.

Our first two paperback picks come from Daniel. The first is All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle. Daniel says: "Hubert Bird is an 84-year-old widower living in Bromley. Every week his daughter Rose calls from Australia, and he entertains her with stories of his friends. Only one problem – he’s lying. So when Rose tells him she’s coming to visit, he realizes he’s got a limited time to make some real friends, perhaps starting with the new neighbor, a single woman, and her daughter. The story jumps back and forth and time, where we learn that he once had a wife named Joyce, a best friend named Gus, and a son named David in his life. What happened to them? And what will happen to Hubert as he’s slowly roped into a town-wide anti-loneliness crusade. This story, equal parts sad, happy, and funny, also shines a light on the indignities that a Jamaican immigrant would have suffered in London. Hubert’s spirit, despite numerous incidents that would break another person, is what keeps him going, the same spirit that makes All the Lonely People compelling reading."

Our Readings from Oconomowaukee series of virtual events hosted Gayle when this book came out, visiting all the way from England. Check out that video right here.

Daniel also offers this write-up for We Are Not Like Them, the novel cowritten by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza: "An aspiring television reporter and the wife of a policeman, friends since childhood, find their relationship frayed by the shooting of a young Black man. This powerful story is sure to start a lot of important conversations. The authors do a great job creating sympathetic characters in Riley and Jen (though to my thinking, Riley is the true protagonist), with lots of interesting family dynamics and revelations both past (a lynching in Riley’s family) and present (Jen’s pregnancy complications) move the plot along. There’s some humor too, and even a little romance. I’m not giving anything away by saying there’s no way to have a completely happy ending, but maybe, just maybe, there’ll be at least understanding."

We were able to host a virtual event featuring authors Pride and Piazza for this book upon its hardcover release. Click here and watch the video of their great chat.

Now over to Jason Kennedy for his recommendation of All's Well, the second novel from Bunny author Mona Awad: "Miranda’s brilliant career as a stage actor was halted by a fall that broke her hip.  After surgeries and therapy, she is still in chronic pain. Hobbled, she has become a teacher for a theater department, and they put on a Shakespeare play every year. Everyone seems to have written off Miranda’s pain as in her head, and they (her ex-husband, her best friend, and her physical therapist) can barely hide their disbelief that she has any pain. After a mutiny lead by student who wants a different Shakespeare play, Miranda is distraught and in pain. She drowns her sorrows at the pub, where she meets three mysterious men who know all about her and her pain. After a golden drink, Miranda is able to start transferring her pain to others, and her life takes on a new light. Much like Mona Awad’s Bunny, All’s Well starts to get more and more surreal and fantastical. I loved every minute of this crazy, amazing novel - Mona Awad is madly creative and inventive. Bravo."

And now we return to Chris for his thoughts on Out of Mesopotamia by Salar Abdoh: "In what should well become an essential portrait of the fight against the Islamic State, Salar Abdoh’s novel reinvigorates the way we write about war. Saleh, an Iranian journalist and reluctant drama-as-propaganda television writer, travels between the urbane art world of Tehran and the battlefields near the northern border of Syria and Iraq, where he’s gotten more involved than a reporter is supposed to be. The novel digs into Saleh’s meditations and struggle to understand: why do we choose to bloody our hands? The answers are many, uneasy and contradictory, but as Abdoh riffs on the Western canon of war – the adrift disillusionment of Hemingway, the absurdity and commerce of Catch-22Out of Mesopotamia is nothing less than profound."

We were so lucky to host Salar Abdoh for a virtual event when this book first came out in hardcover, in conversation with the sadly now late Meg Jones. What a fantastic, special conversation they had! Click here to watch the video.

Until next week, read on dear readers.