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.

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