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.

No comments:

Post a Comment