Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of September 27, 2022

The last week of September. Wait, WHAT?! The last week of September? Where does the time go? Well, if you're doing it right, a good chunk of the time goes right by as you're reading books. Why not spend some time with our favorite new releases?

First, a fourfer! That's a word I just made up for books that get four recommendations from Boswellians. That is a lot of recommendations - probably because this is a very good book: Lark Ascending by Silas House has topped two Boswellian year-end lists, too (yes, we're already working on those, yeesh!) - it's one of Chris's top 5 books of the year and one of Daniel's top 10s. Onto the recs.

Chris Lee says: "If, like me, you have a less-than-sunny outlook on the prospect of avoiding simultaneous civil collapse and climate catastrophe in your lifetime, then you may find it counterintuitive when I tell you this novel of a young man running from the aftermath of those very events is the most comforting thing I’ve read all year. A dark book for dark times, Lark Ascending is, all the same, written so beautifully, full of honesty and compassion. In his old age, Lark recalls his harrowing journey to escape an America ruled by fundamentalist and swept by massive fires, sail across a stormy Atlantic, and trek across Ireland to a thin place that may offer sanctuary. House offers something necessary - hope that through all the violence, hatred, death, scarcity, and destruction of the impending collapse, a glimmer of humanity might remain."

From Daniel Goldin: "In the not-too-distant future, fires have ravaged much of the world, and America, like much of the world, has been taken over by extremists. Even the isolated Maine woods have become too dangerous. The only option is for Lark and his family to escape to Ireland, the only country still open to refugees. But during the harrowing voyage, not only does tragedy strike at every turn, but hopes for a peaceful resettlement are dashed. Can Lark, with the help of two newfound companions (one canine) find peace in the legendary settlement of Glendalough? I’m not generally a dystopian reader, but Lark Ascending’s beautiful language and imagery, combined with the emotional heft of the story, drew me in from the first paragraph."

Tim McCarthy adds: "It's Lark's clear voice that carries us through many terrifying moments. As an old man, he's asked to write the “whole particulars” of how he came to be in Ireland, starting with the ocean crossing after America became a war-torn, burning wasteland, and then looking further back to the way his family survived and escaped North America. They headed for the one place Lark’s parents thought they could be safe. All the while, he insists on living. There’s so much regret inside the grief, but ascend he does. And he has reasons: the people he loves who told him not to give up, and the sudden appearance of a dog. Protecting a dog is surely enough reason to live. Ascension defines the novel. The writing ascends to uncommon heights of beauty while affirming life as the refusal to submit, even when the desire to quit is relentless. Lark Ascending is brave in a way we desperately need, brave enough to see beauty through enormous pain. It’s also a warning. House makes us feel that this could easily happen to us, and soon."

And Kay Wosewick rounds it all out: "Lark grows up as climate-driven wars pit gun-toting fanatics intent on complete control against loosely formed bands of resisters. While most of Lark's early life is spent idyllically at a distance, he is finally forced to travel a long distance through war zones. Lark recounts times of bliss and harrowing moments of horror with equally affecting and lovely prose."

WHOA WHATTA BOOK! Surely if we were lucky enough to host the author of this masterpiece, you'd want to come meet him, right? WELL GUESS WHAT - Silas House appears at Boswell on Thursday, October 6, 6:30 pm central. Click here for more info and to reserve your spot for this event right this instant!

Let's stick with Chris, because this is a very good week of books for him. Yet another of his top 5 picks for the year comes out today: Stay True: A Memoir by New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu. Here's what Chris says about this one: "This memoir is so many things: a time capsule of 90s America from a West Coast outsider, a dissection of friendship through lenses of philosophy and language theory, a lived account of Asian diaspora in America. It’s road trips, cigarette breaks, mixtapes, and late nights goofing off. It’s the tone of nostalgia from a Smashing Pumpkins song. It’s the core-deep impact a friend can have, and it’s the tragedy of an early, senseless, violent loss. This book tore me completely apart. For anyone who’s ever found a friend who let them find themselves, for anyone who’s ever lost a friend who took a chunk of you with them, this book is going to destroy you then put you back together again, a little wiser and a little more tender."

We now go to a twofer YA novel, the latest from Kwame Alexander: The Door of No Return. From Jen Steele: "The Door of No Return is one of the most poignant books I've ever read! Told in verse and set in 1800's Africa, this emotional story follows Kofi, a young boy who loves and is loved, who will endure unimaginable heartbreak and faces an unknowable future. Kwame Alexander has delivered what is sure to be a modern-day classic!"

And from Tim McCarthy: "This is the fictional story of Kofi Offin. He's on the verge of manhood. It’s based on the real lives of people in an 1860 West African Asante village, in the nation now known as Ghana. Kofi lives a loving family life. He's 'smitten' with a young woman, who also likes him. He's bullied by a cousin and must find a way to defeat him. He struggles with school, where a teacher refuses his traditional language. He knows the history of warfare between two villages that once lived as one, and he will soon learn that greed and power and revenge can usurp family love. How will he keep any comfort or integrity or hope in the face of brutality? Kwame's introductory note says that this was a hard story to write, but it needed to be told. He needed to open a door, and his lyrical, graceful, powerful writing does just that. Now we must walk through, with 'eyes unshut' and our 'heart unlocked.' It's an intensely profound walk. Do join me."

Jen Steele also has a quick note on The Flamingo, a graphic novel chapter book by Guojing. Jen says: "The Flamingo is a breathtaking graphic novel full of wonder and love. I was absolutely charmed by everything about this!" That says it all!

Tim also has a graphic novel suggestion for us: Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes, and Dawud Anyabwile. Tim says: "I was eight years old in October of 1968 as I watched Tommie Smith and John Carlos receive their Summer Olympic medals with raised, black-gloved fists. I didn't notice they were also shoeless and wearing black socks to represent poverty, or see the beads and scarf representing lynchings. I admit that the moment scared and confused me. This suburban white kid didn't understand how a great victory would make these men look so sad. It was perhaps the first time I really wondered what was wrong with America, and it remains one of my life’s strongest visual memories. Now I've been given a chance to learn Tommie Smith's life story directly from him. He was also young when he started wondering what was wrong, why his large, loving, hard-working, faithful family of Texas sharecroppers had so much less than whites, despite tireless, honest effort. The story of his path from childhood to the moment they took a stand for human rights and a better nation is inspiration from an American hero, for which I’m deeply grateful. With exquisite illustrations by Dawud Anyabwile, this graphic novel answers questions that began in my eight-year-old thoughts fifty-four years ago. Now that’s extraordinary!"

And Tim (oh, Tim) has yet another staff rec for us, Oh, Sal, the new middle grade book from beloved Wisconsin creator of books for children, Kevin Henkes. Tim says: "Kevin Henkes has come back to writing about the Miller family. He couldn't let go of eight-year-old Billy and his little sister Sal, especially when COVID made him want the comfort of their familiar world. A beautifully warm world it is, with a new addition! Four-year-old Sal has a tiny baby sister who doesn't even have a name yet, and being between Billy and the baby has left her feeling left out. At first the baby made Sal’s heart bell ring, but now so much seems to be about everyone else. How will she find her place? While the first two Miller family books were told in Billy’s voice, this one gives us a smart, strong, and sometimes sad and angry little girl finding her way, with lots of loving help. I personally still need comfort in these terribly unstable times, and I was thrilled to be back in the Miller's world. Thank you, Kevin Henkes!"

Now here's Jenny Chou with a rec for a much-anticipated trilogy finale from Naomi Novik, The Golden Enclaves. Jenny says: "If you are anything like me, the last line of Naomi Novik’s book The Last Graduate destroyed you in that astonishing way that only the best fiction can. After declaring his love, Orion shoved El out of the graduation hall and stayed to fight the maw-mouth on his own. Since no one survives a maw-mouth attack (except El herself), she needs to get back into the Scholomance and save the life of that “bag of jumbled screws,” Orion Lake, and not for the first time; she’s keeping score. While this quest propels the story forward at a don’t-bother-me-I’m-reading pace, Novik’s social justice theme brings the real depth to this brilliant conclusion to the Scholomance series. When El discovers the hideous secret that allowed the enclaves to create their structure of safety and advantages, Novik forces readers to contemplate the damage inflicted on the weakest among us. The emotional journey taken by El, Orion, and their many enemies and few friends made for a series I’m sorry to see the end of, but I couldn’t have imagined a more fulfilling conclusion."

How about this for a paperback release: Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anthony Doerr's follow-up to his Pulitzer-winning novel All The Light We Cannot See comes out in paperback today. Is this book also a fourfer? It is! Am I going to reprint all four staff recs for it right here? I am! From Jason Kennedy: "Anthony Doerr intricately weaves together three story lines, scattered throughout time, in a brilliant tapestry of wonder. What holds this all together is an ancient Greek text that should’ve been lost to time. As we bob in and out of the different characters’ stories, we see how the text moves and influences their decisions and actions. We see the power of a written text and how people will devote resources and lives to the discovery and protection of the written word. There is so much to talk about in this book; please read it so I can discuss it with you. An amazing, epic novel!"

From Daniel Goldin: "An ancient Greek text ties together three stories in this long-awaited follow-up to All the Light We Cannot See. Whether he is writing about the Siege of Constantinople, a small-town Idaho library under attack, or a rocket’s worth of humanity trying to escape Earth’s devastation, Anthony Doerr has a way with compelling characters and a story that is both beautifully written and compulsively readable through its short chapters bursting with tension. Together, Cloud Cuckoo Land becomes a triumphant ode to storytelling and a heartfelt celebration of libraries."

From Jenny Chou: "Readers will carry Doerr’s latest story in their thoughts as they go about their day, checking watches or phones, waiting for the minute they can return to his world and his characters. The book is a breathtaking tribute to the art and power of storytelling and a reminder of the wondrous places libraries are to those of us who love them. An ancient Greek manuscript is at the center of the story, and its passage through time connects children (and the adults they become). Anna, in 1453, is a clumsy seamstress by day and a stealthy thief by night. She unearths the manuscript, and the story within, and goes on to protect it with her life during the siege of Constantinople. On a snowy night in Idaho, centuries later, a small library hosting a play based on the manuscript becomes the accidental stage for a teenager’s burst of righteous anger. And generations into the future, after humans have managed to ravage our home planet, a spaceship carrying our hope for survival as a species speeds through space. Onboard is fourteen-year-old Konstance, whose fascinating use of the latest library technology binds all the stories together. Cloud Cuckoo Land dances between emotionally wrenching and simply beautiful, and I was left in awe of Anthony Doerr, storyteller."

And from, yep, you guessed it, Tim McCarthy: "These characters are beautiful outcasts, different in ways too clear to miss, ways that push them out. They're beautiful for how they fight to keep what’s best about the Earth, and life, in spite of the most painful circumstances. They focus on the people, objects, natural places, and stories that stand side by side with the indignities of humanity. In the brutal siege of 15th century Constantinople, in a beloved and threatened 20th century Idaho forest, in a harsh Chinese prisoner of war camp, and in the containment of a ship blazing through future space, they dream of possibilities. From the opening it seems the time to save a healthy Earth has past. This is the story of saving an ancient piece of tattered writing, an ancient story rescued from the decay of time by these outcasts, as they fight for hope. Doerr's extraordinary details of living in these places make the characters all the more real as he makes a dramatic case that saving stories may indeed have the power to save us as well."

One of Margaret Kennedy's 2021 top 5 picks gets a new cover in paperback this week: Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke. Margaret says: "Surrealist humor meets monotonous office life in the new book Several People Are Typing. Written in the form of instant messenger conversations, this book had me laughing in disbelief at the absurd and unexplained happenings at this company. Each employee has their own problems, ranging from the mundane to the hilariously insane, but none more so than Gerald - who accidentally uploaded his consciousness into the firm's slack server. But who cares, because his productivity is suddenly through the roof now that he doesn't need to eat or sleep, so does he really have it that bad? With constant, sourceless howling, frighteningly illegible emoji conversations, missing briefs, and a growing sentience in the app's help Bot, Kasulke exaggerates the average American office to seem as crazy as it sometimes feels like in this wonderfully deranged novel."

Madi Hill adds: "Several People Are Typing is the kind of book you get someone else read with you just so you have a person to text "WHAT JUST HAPPENED" after every chapter. I am a bit leery when it comes to AI, and this nightmarish set up had me giggling and gasping at every hilarious twist. Perhaps it is from familiarity with Slack and mundane office work, but for a novel about a man trapped in a professional instant messaging program and told through the very same media, I myself was ensnared. Read this as a commentary on capitalism and the toxic praise that comes from not taking a break and working yourself into oblivion (in this case, literally), or just enjoy it as a humorous science fiction mix up - either way, it is an enjoyable foray into a very weird book."

One of Conrad Silverberg's top 5 of '21 also gets its paperback release today: When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash. Conrad says: "A plane crash-lands at a small town North Carolina airport during the dead of night. All the passengers and crew have disappeared before the sheriff can investigate. The only body he finds is that of a local black man lying nearby, dead from a gunshot wound to the head. The sheriff's investigation is hampered by interference from his main political rival: the scion of old plantation money whose close ties to the Klan and history of good ole boy hellraising threatens to derail finding answers. The deep-seated and virulent racism of the town threads its way through every twist and turn of this gripping novel. A truly can't-put-it-down read."

And from Jason Kennedy: "Winston Barnes, Sheriff of a tiny North Carolina community, is awoken one night in 1984 to news of an unknown airplane coming in at the local airport. Upon investigating, he finds the plane is empty, barely contained to the runway, and there’s a dead body near it. Wiley Cash spins his tale out from this tight moment in time to explore everything from racial tensions to drug smuggling to families being upended by tragedies. This is more than just a mystery or whodunit, it’s a story about relationships between fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, and brothers and sisters. This seven-layer salad of a novel surprises with each unfolding scene, and the last layer has the punch to your gut that will leave you mute. I am such a fan of Wiley Cash, and you should be too."

That's a lot of recommending! See you next week, and until then, read on.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of September 20, 2022

New week means new recommendations, right? RIGHT! Here they are.

Daniel Goldin starts us off with the latest Elizabeth Strout novel, Lucy by the Sea. Daniel says: "Starting moments after the close of Oh William!, Elizabeth Strout’s latest finds Lucy Barton in lockdown with her first husband William in a small town in Maine. The joy of Lucy is in her astute observations; the peril is that her heightened sensitivity and sometimes passive nature can lead her into many a fraught relationship. I loved the way Strout showed that Lucy is a citizen of Strout’s Yoknapatawpha, with appearances not just by Bob Burgess, but also Olive Kitteridge’s aide at the assisted living center. Reading Lucy by the Sea recaptures every small memory of early COVID, from the panic about surfaces and the desire to escape urban environments to the eventual politicization of the virus, so beautifully that I was willing to relive them."

Next it's both Jason Kennedy and Madi Hill singing the praises of Ghost Eaters, the latest from Clay McLeod Chapman. From Jason: "Erin's on-again-off-again boyfriend Silas finds a drug that allows him to see the dead. When he suddenly dies one day, Erin and her friends attempt to contact him. Clay McLeod Chapman amps up the anxiety and suspense in this drug-fueled horror novel about love and loss. Both Erin's friends and the Richmond scenery that they inhabit have storied pasts with sins in abundance. When the end came, it leveled me - such a great book!"

Madi says: "How far would you go to see a loved one that had passed? Ghost Eaters imagines a world in which it’s possible but at a very steep price. After the overdose death of her ex-boyfriend and best friend Silas, Erin and her friends have to navigate their grief while trying to establish their post-college adult lives. When one of the friends reveals he and Silas found a magic mushroom that allows the living to speak to the dead, the friends try to find Silas, but encounter much more of the spirit world than intended. Though supernatural, Chapman uses this horror story to explore how people cope with mourning and addiction, especially in an already difficult transitory time for these early twenty-something characters. His exploration of an abusive relationship beyond the dead is creepy but gripping. Ghost Eaters explores how history is never truly in the past, and the impact the dead still have on the living."

Sticking with Madi, she also suggests you read Cryptid Club, the new book of comics from Sarah's Scribbles creator Sarah Anderson. Madi's rec: "Cryptid Club is a collection of web comics by Sarah Anderson that are the cutest cryptids you will ever see, and not just because they're impossible to photograph. You don't have to be a believer to enjoy the trials and tribulations of the likes of Mothman, Slenderman, and the Loch Ness Monster, among other creepy creatures. Anderson takes the horror out of the horrific and makes them a very lovable bunch with very human problems, like dating and the struggles of high-waisted pants. Cryptid Club will make you want to believe."

Let's go now to Jen Steele for Legendary Creatures: Mythical Beasts and Spirits from Around the World by Adam Auerbach. Jen says: "Legendary Creatures is a first-rate collection of mythical beasts and folklore. Not only does it give the reader an enjoyable glimpse into the otherworldly, but Adam Auerbach also illustrated these astonishing creatures. A perfect jumping off point for any kid interested in learning more about mythology."

And we stay with Jen, because she also recommends Wildoak by CC Harrington. And of this, Jen says: "Set in early 60s Cornwall, Maggie, a young girl with a stutter is sent to stay with her grandfather for a few weeks. Maggie spends most of her days in Wildoak, a beautiful forest near her grandfather’s place that’s under threat of destruction. It is in Wildoak that Maggie discovers Rumpus, a lost snow leopard who needs her help. CC Harrington delivers an engaging novel about what connects us all. I was absolutely charmed by these characters, and I know you will be too!"

How about a paperback pick with Wisconsin ties? Daniel Goldin brings us The Family Chao, a novel by Lan Samantha Chang, with this rec: "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."

Thanks for navigating our way again this week, dear readers, and until next time, read on.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of September 14, 2022

So many staff recommendations this week it took an extra day to get the blog published. Whew! It's still September, which means there are still lots and lots of new books arriving each week. Here are our suggestions.

We start with Daniel Goldin, who as three books for us this week. First it's Painting Beyond Walls, by David Rhodes. Daniel says: "In a sort of prelude to the main narrative, August Helm (last seen at the age of 10 in Jewelweed) is working as a graduate student at the University of Chicago when two significant events occur – he falls in love with a wealthy and beautiful corporate executive, and he interrupts his boss having sex with a student. Both do not end well. With his tail between his legs, he returns to Words, Wisconsin in the Driftless region, where familiar friends and family await. But things are different – folks have aged, relationships have formed, and most notably, a compound of super-wealthy city dwellers have carved out a private space where they live a luxurious life a bit in fear of the locals – kind of a rural gentrification. Can August navigate this new life without repeating his past mistakes? And can David Rhodes continue his conversation about community and culture while weaving in class conflict, the roots of power, the biology of attraction, and some speculative elements? It’s a tall order, but I think he succeeds mightily, as long as you accept and even savor the philosophical digressions and a completely unexpected resolution."

Next from Daniel, words on Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions: A Novel in Interlocking Stories by Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi: "Ogunyemi’s powerful stories center on a moment in the 1980s when four young women led a protest at their school, ending in tragedy. The stories dart forwards and backwards, to the United States and back to Nigeria, as Nonso, Remi, and Aisha navigate love, careers, racism, and the pull of Christianity and Islam against traditional Nigerian spirituality and religion. Connections are so important to this book, not just in the subtle ways that the stories fit together, making me feel like a literary detective, but in the strong bonds of friendship that connect these wonderful women."

And lastly for Daniel, along with Chris Lee, he recommends Sugar Street by Jonathan Dee. Daniel says: "We don’t know who he is, and we don’t know what he’s done, but what we do know about the hero (??) of Dee’s compulsively readable Sugar Street is that he’s on the run from something and desperate to not be caught. In prose that is at once taut and richly nuanced, Dee ratchets up the tension while pondering contemporary society, from race, class, and gender to technology’s stranglehold on freedom and privacy. Coiled like a spring and ready to snap!"

And from Chris Lee: "This is a sort of dangerous book, with the potential to become a manifesto that people rewrite their lives around - a blueprint for dropping out and a logic for bad action. That said, it’s also a gritted-teeth honest and gutsy exploration of whiteness and masculinity - of exceptionalism, savior complex, and class tourism. One guy has a lot of stolen cash and a strong desire to disappear from his old life and the surveillance state. Even as things go entirely off the rails, the writing is so compelling and clear that you can’t help but to tear through this novel and spend days afterwards attempting to triangulate the lines between good and bad actions and good and bad reasons. This is a bold one."

Now we go to Jen Steele for her take on the new Angie Cruz novel How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water: Cara Romero wants to work. After being laid off at the factory, Cara meets with a job counselor to help her find a new job. Told through 12 counseling sessions, Cara shares her life's story: from the Dominican Republic to Washington Heights, through marriage and motherhood, family, friends, lovers, and faith. Insightful, heartwarming, and laugh-out-loud funny, How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water is a new favorite! Grab your favorite cafe and settle in, Cara Romero is a character you will not forget."

Jen also has some nonfiction to recommend - the new memoir from Betty Gilpin called All the Women in my Brain: And Other Concerns. Jen's take: "I haven't read such an honest, chaotic, no-holds-barred kind of a memoir in a long time. Betty Gilpin lays it all out there - the good, the bad, and the holy hell did that really happen. All the Women in My Brain: And Other Concerns is a must-read this fall!"

Oli Schmitz is next with Tamsyn Muir's Nona the Ninth: "This third installment in The Locked Tomb series feels like the beginning of the end, with a story that had me under its thrall from beginning to end. Muir's humor and incredibly distinct character voices shine through as usual, but Nona is decidedly brighter than the previous two books' narrative styles. Even through Nona's sunny eyes, readers will see signs of a coming apocalypse around every turn: chaos and uncertainty surrounding her as she goes to school, pets a very good dog named Noodle, and plans a party. And just as pressing as the chaotic present is the unraveling of the past, chapters which I had to hold myself back from skipping to in order to find out how the path of humanity veered toward a future of Necromancers in space 10,000 years from now. Where many dystopian and sci-fi books fail when it comes to a “how we got here” storyline, Muir handles it as expertly as the character dynamics and truly, perfectly unhinged humor. Now is the perfect time to dive into The Locked Tomb series!"

Does Rachel Copeland have romance for us this week? Yes! That'd be Lucy on the Wild Side, a paperback original by Kerry Rea of which Rachel says: "Lucy loves nothing more than gorillas and her job as a zookeeper, so she's thrilled that her zoo will be featured on a hit nature docuseries... until she's asked to be part of the filming process. Lucy and cameras do not mix, and what's worse is that the show's gorgeous and popular host, Kai Bridges, overhears her complaining about his overblown ego and lack of brains. But if she wants a promotion to senior keeper, she has to play nice - on camera and with her new nemesis. Kerry Rea had me both cackling and crying in this book, which is not an easy thing to do! I enjoyed Lucy's initial pettiness toward Kai quite a bit (maybe more than I should have), and their banter was top tier. This book has a ton of heart, and it left me wanting more in the best way."

And what kind of week would it be without a recommendation from Tim McCarthy? An empty one indeed. Fortunately, this week he suggests the latest from Minnesotan Peter Geye, The Ski Jumpers: "Families are held together in such unusual ways, and Johannes Bargaard has a family stretched so thin he hasn’t seen his beloved brother Anton for decades. Ski jumping is the one thread from their glory days that’s unbroken, but time is running out for Jon and Anton to do more than hide the frightening secrets that pushed them apart. Jon’s been told he has younger-onset Alzheimer’s and doesn’t know how long he’ll be able to trust his own mind or if he can finish writing one last successful novel. Their father’s funeral may be the only time left to fully uncover the bitter past. Geye gets the little details right as he brings his characters’ world to life, and his spectacular winter scenes of ski jumpers taking flight, from Chicago and throughout Minnesota to Madison and Lake Placid, surrounded me with a beautiful literary warmth. The Ski Jumpers, just as Northernmost did before it, will surely have me looking for Geye’s next book!"

Lots of great book recs for the youngsters today, too. From Jen Steele, a write-up for Adventuregame Comics: Leviathan by Jason Shiga: "There’s a giant sea creature wreaking havoc in your village. Your quest, if you so choose, is to find the old wizard and find a way to defeat this menacing creature. Can you find your way through the maze? Jason Shiga delivers an entertaining and crafty choose-your-own-path graphic novel with endless possibilities."

Jen also recommends the picture Farmhouse by author and illustrator Sophie Blackall. Here's here take: "Sophie Blackall pays tribute to a farmhouse and the lives lived inside. A thoughtful picture book about the lives of twelve children who grew up in a farmhouse over a hill, at the end of a road, by a glittering stream. A wistful and loving book to add to family story time."

Tim loves this one, too! Here's what he says: "What we see at first to be a gorgeous, romantic, clever look at a classic American farm family also becomes a breathtaking personal experience for two-time Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall. I absolutely love her work, and this latest picture book is stunning! Blackall imagines the life of 12 children, their parents, and a very patient cat, living and working on the land. The depth of the artistic perspectives and details absorbed me and immediately grabbed my six-year-old buddy Landon's attention, too. The poetry of her storytelling rolls off the tongue, revealing Blackall's skill as both author and illustrator extraordinaire. Then the story turns, as the dozen children grow older, and we finally learn that Blackall herself bought an abandoned farmhouse that was being reclaimed by nature, with relics still inside of the family's lives. This is her story of how she honored the Swantak's farmhouse by using their past to reinvent their world. A brilliant, bold, beautiful, and essential celebration of America's bygone days by one of today's children's book masters!"

Kay Wosewick brings a middle grade novel by Lynne Rae Perkins entitled Violet and Jobie in the Wild. Kay says: "This tender tale stars brother and sister mice who are abruptly removed from the human home they grew up in. The humans capture and dump them in an unfamiliar wilderness. The brother and sister meet other mice and adapt quickly, but then they face an unexpected rupture in their brother/sister relationship. The story has fun surprises to balance the family crises. Best of all, it has an unexpected and perfectly lovely ending that will leave young readers smiling."

Paperback picks! Paperback picks? We've got one.

Let's go right back to Kay Wosewick for the first now-in-paperback recommendation: 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir by Ai Weiwei, translated by Allan H Barr. Kay says "Ai Weiwei’s only known artistic influences as a young child living in labor camps were hearing bits of his father’s poetry and pouring over his father’s art books while his father worked nearby. Ai Qing was released from labor camps after Mao died, just as Ai Weiwei was old enough to attend junior high school. He enrolled in numerous art schools and art programs abroad throughout his young adult years, only to drop out soon after starting. His early artistic output thus appears to be mostly self-directed, often evolving dramatically with little apparent reason. When he returned to China, ancient, odd artifacts captured his attention, but it wasn’t long before his art became almost completely politically driven. Since he and his father rarely spoke, Ai Weiwei’s fierce morality seems largely based on observation of his father. Ai Weiwei’s autonomy, brilliance and passion shine throughout his memoir, with minimal presence of ego. Beloved worldwide, this book convincingly depicts how he earned this lofty status."

That's a lot of reading! We'll see you on the other side of this stack of books next week, dear readers. Until then, read on.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Chris's Tour of LA's Underbelly - West Coast Noir Favorites!

If you like classic noir like I do, then chances are good you've probably made a few return visits, via the pages of a book at least, to the mean streets of the City of Angels. This isn't Randy Newman's city of sunshine and happy-as-can-be bums (yes, I know it's satire). Since Raymond Chandler imported a touch of Dashiell Hammett's style down the California coast, Los Angeles has been a go-to city for crime novelists to explore. And at 502 square miles (and nearly five thousand square miles to LA County!), there's been a lot of ground to cover over the past few years. Here are some of my all-time favorites.

Of course you can't talk about LA and hard boiled detective novels without mentioning Raymond Chandler, one of the old masters of the genre. Chandler's The Big Sleep was my introduction to reading "the good old stuff" years and years ago, but after reading all of the Philip Marlowe novels, my all-time favorite has got to be The Long Goodbye. If you want dark, if you want moody, this novel is the best. What I love about it is, to me, this is perhaps the book where Chandler digs deepest into what I see as one of his major themes - questions left unanswered, or, perhaps worse, questions to which the answers are unsatisfactory at best and leave you wondering, why, why, why?! This is the Chandler novel I return to over and over and have been wondering about for years. It's also got one of the best Chandler adaptations to make it to film, the one movie that I feel really gets the questioning, ground-ever-shifting-under-your-feet mood of the book right is the 1973 Robert Altman version, with Elliot Gould's pitch-perfect Marlowe.

Another classic noir era novelist who's maybe now a little less commonly known, at least outside of crime-fanatic circles, is Ross Macdonald, a writer whose work I admit to just coming to recently, in the form of a copy the Library of America collection of his novels of the 1950s (which is, alas, currently on backorder from the publisher). Macdonald, if the introductory material in this tomb is to be believed, was an heir apparent to Chandler, and reading these novels, it's not hard to see why. My favorite so far is LA region (particularly capturing some coastline locales) The Barbarous Coast. Pool clubs and movie producers and down and out ex-boxers and, of course, pretty young blondes with Hollywood dreams - this book has it all. I'd say Macdonald's writing is even moodier than Chandler and some other 'classic' writers, if that's possible - reading his sentences, you get razor-sharp descriptions that are, all the same, like looking at a scene through a room full of smoke. If you find one of his books, do yourself a favor, and snag it!

Of course you can't talk about Hollywood novels of crime without mentioning Elmore Leonard's riotous classic, Get Shorty. Now, that link will take you to the currently-available-to-order copy, but you'll note the cover is different the the one pictured at left. Which is because that's a picture of the mass-market (my love of the mass market style of book is another blog post, or perhaps an entire pocket-sized book, of its own for another day) copy that I toted around with me and read on a visit to LA some years ago. The perfect companion for a drive up into the Hollywood hills, I can confirm. And the ending of this one is one of the all-time best funny/violent gotchas in crime novel history, as far as I'm concerned. 

What's next on my LA crime tour? The more recent novel Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha is right at the top, which won, appropriately, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Here's the publisher copy: "A powerful and taut novel about racial tensions in Los Angeles, following two families, one Korean-American, one African-American, grappling with the effects of a decades-old crime." But what convinced me to snag a copy for my to-read stack? Probably this quote from Walter Mosley (whose Devil in a Blue Dress is a LA crime classic of note, too!): "Steph Cha fearlessly explores the duality of LA’s promise and betrayal, its vision of new beginnings and the brutal divisions that cut between race and class.  Cha takes her place as one of the city’s most eloquent storytellers in this soul-searching illumination." And if that's not enough, I also have our buyer Jason Kennedy in my ear about this book, as he loved it. He says: "The events that take place in Your House Will Pay will haunt me for some time come, as it follows the fallout to the murder of a fifteen-year-old girl in the nineties."

And what was the reason I sat down to write all of this anyway? Why, it's the fact that I want to declare a new addition to the list of classic Los Angeles noir: the Happy Doll series by author and showrunner Jonathan Ames. Only on its second book, The Wheel of Doll, this series is already off and running, and I LOVE it! 

The first book, A Man Named Doll, was one of my favorite books of last year - when it came out, I wrote this staff rec: "Just an odd fellow, his beloved dog, and a whole lot of dead bodies. This is crime fiction the way it was meant to be: sly, sad, and a little weird. And I love it. It’s also a Jonathan Ames book that feels like it was written by a Jonathan Ames character – read it as the book Ames’s Bored to Death alter ego broke out with. But then, don’t, because it’s not just a goof or some literary lark. Ames captures the soul of classic American noir with a perfect balance of violence, money, and irreverence. His Los Angeles is heir to the City of Angels as penned by Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard. The kind of book that reminds me why I fell in love with detective novels."

I'm reading The Wheel of Doll right now, and let me say two things: #1, this book is even better than the first one, something I didn't thing was possible, but Ames has leaned all the way into one of the things that classic noir does best, to examine the dark sides of life, the underbellies of cities and societies, without passing judgement or casting aside people whose lives have veered into territories that most of us can only hope we don't find ourselves visiting. And he does it with such compassion! Seriously, did you ever think you'd find yourself heartbroken over a suicidal, one-legged ex-stripper? Because you're about to. This book is at once darker, stranger, and even bigger-hearted than the first one.

And thing #2, I CANNOT WAIT to interview Jonathan Ames this coming Monday at the store. Lucky me, as I have many questions about these books and noir and LA and even a couple about how Happy Doll might be connected to his beloved HBO series Bored to Death. And lucky you, you can come meet him as well and dive into this absolutely bonkers and brilliant series with me. So consider this your personal invitation to join this event, In-Person at Boswell on Monday, September 12, 6:30 pm central. Click here for more information and to register, which I hope you'll do, like, RIGHT NOW.

Editor's note: The Boswell Book Company LA Noir Canon continues, too! On Thursday, November 10, 6:30 pm, we host Robert Crais, author of Racing the Light, in conversation with Milwaukee author Nick Petrie. This is the latest installment in Crais's beloved Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series, set in, you guessed it, Los Angeles! Click here to register and find out more.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Tim Returns to Minnesota in His Mind (vol. 4)

Hello from Tim once again!

Over the past few years, I've been blogging about reading a lot of Minnesota books, even though I've barely been to that great state. Going to Minnesota in my mind has helped me through our COVID-crazy days, and lately I'm seeing more clearly that life, beginning with 2020, has been seriously hard. So, I've joked in my blogs, including a song that I made up as I added a new verse with each blog (reprinted below, because it still makes me smile). If you've read any of them, thank you! The truth is that I just got excited about those Minnesota books, and many of the authors have done Boswell events. The books keep coming, so here I go... off to Minnesota in my mind.

My first adventure is with an author that’s new to me. Sinister Graves is the third volume in a murder mystery series by Marcie R Rendon, featuring Renee (Cash) Blackbear, a strong 19-year-old woman from Minnesota’s White Earth Ojibwe Reservation who lives across the Red River in Fargo, North Dakota. She’s already experienced a hell of a lot, including abuse from white foster families that called her a heathen. Just before foster care, a county sheriff pulled her impaired mother’s car out of a ditch. He watches out for her and got her into college classes, and Cash has been helping him with his cases. In dreams she sometimes sees things before they happen and finds out things she shouldn’t know. She’s just beginning to learn about it and just starting to live her own life. I like Cash Blackbear a lot, and I feel validated because Louise Erdrich likes Cash Blackbear a lot, too. Rendon is an enrolled member of the White Earth Nation and the truth she delivers from her characters and the landscape is gripping. I started with the third book, but now I’ve already gone back and read the first two. I love finding a cool new series!

My second neighbor-state escape is volume 19 in a series I’ve already grown to love, by William Kent Krueger, a Cork O'Connor mystery with a Northern Minnesota PI who’s got 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, and not just of Cork O’Connor. Krueger’s This Tender Land is one of the more beautiful novels I’ve ever read. Krueger will be back at Boswell on September 17th, 4 pm central (click here for more info), and I’ll be there working!

Finally, I’ve developed a great respect, after only two books, for a Minnesota writer name Peter Geye. People seem to know his Wintering novel best. I was very impressed with Northernmost and now equally so with The Ski Jumpers. Families are held together in such strange ways, and Johannes Bargaard has a family stretched so thin he hasn’t seen his beloved brother Anton for decades. Ski jumping is the one thread from their glory days that’s unbroken, but time is running out for Jon and Anton to do more than hide the frightening secrets that pushed them apart. Jon’s been told he has younger-onset Alzheimer’s and doesn’t know how long he’ll be able to trust his own mind or if he can finish writing one last successful novel. Their father’s funeral may be the only time left to fully uncover the bitter past. Geye gets the little details right as he brings his characters’ world to life, and his spectacular winter scenes of ski jumpers taking flight, from Chicago and throughout Minnesota to Madison and Lake Placid, surrounded me with a beautiful literary warmth. Geye will be at Boswell too, on September 25th, 2 pm central (more info here, clicky-click), and I will most certainly be looking for his next book! 

I’m wishing you all the very best as we try to recapture some sense of Earthly sanity (if that ever really existed), and I hope to see you at Boswell soon!

Minnesota in My Mind​
(to the tune of James Taylor's Carolina in My Mind)

In my mind I’m gone to Minnesota.
Can’t you feel the snowfall?
Just leave your boots out in the hall.
Car gets stuck, and then it stalls.
Ya get hit from behind.
Yes, I’m gone to Minnesota in my mind.

Heard some stuff from a Facebook friend who lives there.
When my verse reduced her home to misery in snow.
It’s not a bad place, she said.
For a bit I hung my head.
But held on to a longing for 
this land I’ve never known. 
I’m still gone to Minnesota in my mind. 

With walls of gifted authors all around me, 
still I’m on the dark side of the moon.
And this year of heartache feels 
more like forever.
You must forgive me, if I’m up and gone 
to Minnesota in my mind.

Spring’ll come again to Minnesota.
All that ice is bound to crack.
Free us from this bind.
Frozen brains can thaw at last,
with a little heat from northern writers of all kinds.
Oh, I’m back in Minnesota in my mind.

Once again, it’s Minnesota in my mind…
Say nice things about me ‘cause I’m gone,
gone… gone.
Carry on without me because I’m gone.
I’m… gone.
Gone to Minnesota in my mind.

                                             - Sweet Baby Tim

Oh, and here's the real Sweet Baby James doing the real Carolina in London!

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of September 6, 2022

September has begun, and that means many, many new releases are on the way. Welcome to fall, folks. We offer this week yet another humble blog of staff recommendations that might offer you guidance as you make those oh-so-important reading stack decisions.

First, from Boswell proprietor Daniel Goldin: The Two Lives of Sara by Catherine Adel West: "It’s early 1960s Memphis, and Sara King, on the run from trouble in Chicago, has taken a job at a boarding house run by Mama Sugar, the aunt of her close friend. There she finds a new community of friends, found family, and even a possible beau, but there’s trouble too, in the form of Mama Sugar’s errant son and the even shadier type after him to repay a loan. Steeped in Memphis’s Civil Rights struggles and packed with a treasure trove of references great Black writers, musicians, and artists, West’s second novel is a powerful and emotional story of a woman trying to find her place in a world. And while the book works completely on its own, readers of Saving Ruby King will savor West bringing one of the secondary characters of that novel to vivid life."

Next, Jen Steele on Ithaca by Claire North: "How do I even begin to write a rec?! Simply put, Ithaca is one of the best Greek myth retellings I have ever read! Hera, Mother Goddess, Goddess of Queens tells the story that only women tell and poets will ignore, the story of Penelope, Queen of Ithaca. Watch the mortals cry, grieve, rage, and love along with Hera. Penelope is so much more than what the poets have told us; she is strength, grace, brilliance, and cunning. Claire North delivers an elegant novel of epic proportions that will take your breath away."

Jen also has a picture book recommendation to share: The Sea in the Way by author/illustrator Sophie Gilmore: "Badger misses her friend Bear terribly. What do you do when your best friend lives all the way on the other side of the sea? If you’re Badger, you grumble to the sea that it is in the way. And when the sea finally agrees to let Badger cross, it is on three conditions. What starts out as a quest for Badger to see Bear ends up being something much more. The Sea in the Way is a delightful picture book with charming illustrations about friendships and new experiences."

Chris Lee is also a fan of Gilmore's picture book, and adds: "What a beautifully illustrated and heartfelt ode to friendship at any distance and the ways we can help each other learn to grow. I love it!"

Now, from Kay Wosewick, words on The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World by Max Fisher. From Kay: "If you had any doubts about social media’s predominant role in driving divisiveness and rage in societies worldwide, The Chaos Machine will erase them. Fisher’s many impeccable sources have documented (time after time) how algorithms, especially YouTube’s and Facebook’s, have radicalized hundreds of millions people worldwide. Companies know how to undo some of this, but they won’t because user time - and then revenue - would quickly drop. Frightening."

Kay also recommends the story collection What We Fed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri: "Each story in this collection is a unique gem. Told from animals’ points-of-view, the narrators include a donkey, tiger, vulture, and fox, a rhino keeper’s dog, a sled dog, whale, wolf, and a pigeon. Joy, fear, curiosity, confusion, willfulness, and denial are among the feelings and thoughts revealed by the narrators. Read the stories one at a time. You might find yourself inside another creature’s mind… all on your own."

And now over to Parker Jensen for their take on YA thriller The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D Jackson: "Madison Washington was always an outsider and an easy target for bullies. But what no one realized was that Maddy was harboring a secret, one she was forced to keep. But that all changed when an unexpected rainstorm revealed to everyone in school that Maddy is biracial and had been passing for white her entire life at the demand of her father. The reveal of Maddy's long kept secret will unleash a chain of events that will leave all but two members of the school's senior class dead and the rest of the world scrambling to understand what happened. Tiffany D Jackson's The Weight of Blood is a multilayered retelling of Stephen King's Carrie inspired by the true stories of modern-day segregated proms. Filled the brim with layered and flawed characters, a looming sense of dread, and important conversations handled with care, you won't be able to put this one down. I know I found myself compelled to stay awake long into the night turning the pages as each new event and aggression led the story closer to the infamous prom."

And now we go to Cage of Souls, a paperback original from Adrian Tchaikovsky, as recommended by Sarah Clancy: "Set against an inescapable prison in an earthly yet alien jungle, this is the firsthand account of the end of the world as told by historian-turned-political-prisoner Stefan Advani. As the world around him rapidly adapts to the changes wrought by previous generations of humanity, the human world stagnates as it refuses to save itself. Despite the stark setting, this is a book about determination and hope and the will to survive and thrive with those we hold most dear. The last moments left me with a deep sensation of hope and awe that I will not soon forget."

And let's not forget the books getting their paperback release today.

Tim McCarthy likes Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution by Mike Duncan. From Tim: "I’ve read a lot of history, but rarely have I seen a story as dramatic as Lafayette’s. I knew a little about him from other books - the Frenchman who helped George Washington finally win the American Revolution. I also assumed that Lafayette Hill in Milwaukee is one of the many tributes to him across the United States. But the twists and turns of this man’s life took me by surprise. Raised at the highest levels of aristocracy, he left as a young man to fight for glory and American liberty. Returning to France as a hero, he went from a pivotal role in Paris as the Bastille was stormed to a man hated by both extremes during the French Revolution. He spent years in European prisons, and later returned for a grand parade of love on a tour of every US state. Along the way he saw the hypocrisy of freedom fighters who continued to own slaves and worked to end it. He even tried to convince his father figure Washington to do the right thing. Duncan tells the story with suspense, riveting details, and bold conclusions. This is history at its entertaining finest!"

Both Daniel Goldin and Kay Wosewick have write-ups for L.A. Weather by María Amparo Escandón. From Kay: "This LA-set story will quickly set its ​​​​​claws and pull you through a manic year in the lives of a well-off Mexican American family. Father, mother, and all three daughters have crises that vary from much ado about nothing to much-delayed ados about everything. You will smile gleefully as the family completes the eventful year with stronger bonds than ever."

From Daniel: "Keila has been married to Oscar for nearly forty years, so when she sits down with her three daughters and tells them she’s getting divorced, her girls, Claudia, Olivia, and Patricia, are shocked and angry. And then, over the course of one year, the three of them see their own marriages self-destruct. But that just scratches the surface of what happens to this family, which has more secrets than you can imagine. I so enjoyed the author’s vision of Los Angeles and personally appreciated the Jewish references sprinkled in the story – Keila is the daughter of Holocaust survivors who resettled in Mexico City. Yes, L.A. Weather’s outrageous plot twists have a telenovela quality, as the Alvarados contend with just about every complication a family can face, except for maybe locusts. But they make it through (mostly), a little wiser for the journey, and it’s hard not to fall in love with them and all their messiness."

Kathy Herbst on Matrix by Lauren Groff: "In this engaging work of historical fiction, Groff creates a story for real life poet Marie de France, who was cast out of the French court of Eleanor of Aquitaine and sent to an ailing abbey to be its prioress. Angry and resentful at first, Marie slowly takes charge, transforming the abbey and empowering the women who live and work there. Wonderful blend of historical people and events and the author's vivid imagination."

Kay Wosewick and Chris Lee now recommend Our Country Friends, the pandemic-inspired novel by Gary Shteyngart. From Chris: "Extraordinary. I love every word Shteyngart’s ever written, and this is his best novel by an upstate country mile. I said I never wanted to read a 2020 pandemic novel, but I was wrong. I needed to read one – this one."

And from Kay: "An aging Russian emigre writer facing the collapse of his career gathers a few friends to ride-out COVID in his Hudson Valley estate, complete with cabins for his guests. The story is generously sprinkled with farce and self-absorption, heady, funny, and occasionally cruel mealtime conversations, both self-inflicted and other-inflicted pain, and yes, joy. Gorgeous writing will leave images of Our Country Friends dancing in your head for days."

Over to Tim McCarthy we go again for The Sentence from Louise Erdrich: "The Sentence is both hilarious and deadly serious, sly and sincere. It's hard-edged and beautifully tender, with biting humor as a balm for life’s wounds. Erdrich is a national treasure, but you probably knew that. What I knew of her was limited to her Birchbark House children's writing. I also knew that her flowing autograph is a signed book nerd’s dream, and her beautiful jacket photos take my breath away. I'm a shameful book collector who’s picky about his crushes. Oh yes, the story. If I tell you very much, I’ll ruin good surprises. So, I’ll just say it’s a ghost story, an exploration of the spirit world inside our own. It happens in Erdrich’s very own book store, Birchbark Books, with Louise as a subtle character. And the ghost is an annoying, complex, recently dead regular customer. Above all, we get to see into the heart of a Minneapolis bookstore during the pandemic and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. This book is priceless American truth! And it's about people who love books."

Phew, that's a lot of books! Good news for you quick readers - there will be many more next week, too. So we'll see you then. Read on.