Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Weeks of October 18 and 25, 2022

I can see it now. It was Tuesday, maybe Wednesday last week. Maybe even Thursday morning. Cup of coffee in one hand, blog reading device in the other. And you navigated your browser to the Boswellians blog only to find - nothing. No update. No new staff recs. Nada. Maybe you refreshed your browser, once, twice. Maybe you set a little alert to ding when a new blog was posted on this page. Yet, still, zip. Your hand, perhaps, quivered. Shook. Your grip loosened on the coffee mug, the handle slipped from your fingers, the porcelain shattered on the floor as the warm coffee seeped into your socks. But you didn't notice. Rather, perhaps you shook that fist in the air, in a rage, cursing at the sky. WHERE!? Where were those sweet, sweet staff recs?

They're here. And, well, sorry, faithful rec readers! We were super busy last week and goofed our posting schedule. But if it's any small consolation, it means you get twice the recs to read this week. Twice the books. Twice the fun. Let's dig in.

We've got a couple books with double recommendations. The first is Signal Fires, the new novel from Inheritance author Dani Shapiro. From Daniel Goldin: "Two families who live across the street from each other in suburban Connecticut are bound together by one tragedy, a fatal car accident involving the Wilf family, and one miracle, in which Ben Wilf facilitates the birth of Alice Shenkman’s child. The story careens back and forth across time, as the strands of connection deepen and spread. I love books like this, from Simon Van Booy’s The Illusion of Separateness to Frederick Reiken’s Day for Night, and the fact that I’m referencing novels from nine and twelve years ago calls attention to how rarely I find books that capture this feeling of awe that I found in Signal Fires. It was clear from reading Inheritance that Shapiro is adept at capturing life’s reversals; I’m so glad to see that this special skill is equally on display in this beautiful and delicate novel."

And Tim McCarthy says: "Dani Shapiro has a gift for showing us how the smallest decisions and quirks of fate change everything. Signal Fires opens with a tragic accident. Lies are told and secrets kept to stop the very bad from becoming unlivable, and the effects reverberate through the lives of two families. It’s a story of the hope and fear of being a parent, and being a child, about the fierce love and smoldering regret, the shame of guilt. The story of life. In the hands of a talented writer we look at characters and understand: Yes. That could be me. It’s also the story of a universal energy binding us all and a way forward to living. The past and the future seem alive in the present. Shapiro is a talented writer. She tells truth with uncommon clarity, and this is beautifully written truth."

The next dual-rec is The Passenger, the first novel in more than a decade from Cormac McCarthy. From Jason Kennedy: "Bobby Western is at a crossroads when we meet him, diving in the Gulf of Mexico and trying to find a sunken airplane. He is haunted by the memories of his sister, who committed suicide some time ago, and whom he harbors some unbrotherly feelings for. Cormac McCarthy introduces us to a plethora ingenious and complex characters that philosophically propel Bobby towards making a decision that he can't bear to consider. This is an amazingly original story that McCarthy weaves together, one that will have me thinking for quite a long time."

And from Conrad Silverberg: "It has been sixteen years since Cormac McCarthy's last novel was published, and for some of us, that is just a ridiculously long time to go without. Has it been worth the wait? Absolutely. This is his best book since Blood Merridian (and that is saying an awful lot!). Every page is filled with the rich, taut, and precise writing for which he is known. Gem after gem of the most exquisite sentences you could ever hope to read. The Passenger is filled with just the kind of sociopathic characters, fixated on philosophy, theology, and their astonishing moral ambiguity, that McCarthy has made his stock in trade. This is vintage McCarthy, perhaps a bit less bloody than his previous books, but shot through with the soaring, almost biblical, flights of storytelling that defines his best work. Join the legions who consider him to be America's finest living novelist."

Now on to Chris Lee for his write-up on one of his top 5 best books of 2022, which comes from poet, essayist, and The Book of Delights author Ross Gay. The book is Inciting Joy: Essays, and Chris says: "Ross Gay has got to be one of the most generous human beings alive, and his essays in this book are beautifully messy, meandering, in-progress things, building onto and into each other as he searches his life for the connective tissue from which joy is made. It’s written the only way it could be while staying an honest exploration of the messy, in-progress thing that is being human. Gay casts a wide net in his search for joy, and the book ends up being about way too much to list, the result of a fierce and roaming intellect that delights in getting down into the nitty-gritty. But, a sample: his essay on masculinity and grief (and football, and fathers, and meditation, and… you get the idea) pretty much rended me completely apart and then, mercifully, rebuilt me again. Here’s a writer at the height of his powers accounting for himself and in turn inviting us join him in this accounting, this search for a gentler, more connected, joyful way to be. I would have finished this book faster except I kept having to take breaks to cry - tears of gratitude, of grief, and yes, most definitely, of joy."

Back to Daniel Goldin for his recommendation of Kaufmann's: The Family That Built Pittsburgh’s Famed Department Store by Marylynne Pitz and Laura Malt Schneiderman. Daniel says: "I have read a lot of books about department stores, Pittsburgh, Jewish culture, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Put them all together and you have Kaufmann’s, a well-researched and engaging history of a store whose main location was once the fourth largest in the country by area. Founded by four brothers, ownership of the store was consolidated by Edgar, the son of Morris, who married Lillian (nee Liliane), daughter of Isaac. Yes, his cousin - illegal in Pennsylvania, but allowable in New York, so that was where they married. As for the rest of the next generation, they were pushed out and helped found Kaufmann & Baer, a down-the-block competitor that eventually became the Pittsburgh branch of Gimbels. Edgar was not just a merchant prince; he was also responsible for two very significant pieces of American architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House. And as for the store, it sold to May Department Stores in 1946, ceased to function as an autonomous division in 2002, and the downtown store, the last survivor of what were once a half dozen large retailers, closed in 2015."

Let's head over to Ogi Ubiparipovic for his take on The Creative Gene: How books, movies, and music inspired the creator of Death Stranding and Metal Gear Solid by Hideo Kojima, translated by Nathan Collins. Ogi says: "I really like learning about the art that inspired the people who inspire me. Hideo Kojima, arguably one of the most important designers in the video game space, writes about some of his favorite works of art and gives us some insight into his life. Read it if you like listening to people talk about the things they love."

And now, Kay Wosewick suggests The Alpha Female Wolf: The Fierce Legacy of Yellowstone's 06 by Rick McIntyre. Kay says: "This is McIntyre’s fourth book documenting the return of wolves to Yellowstone. Female 06 is unusual from the start: she leaves her natal pack when very young, lives alone for several years, and snubs many suitors. Eventually she chooses brothers 754 and 755 to settle down with, another unusual, yet auspicious, decision. Fierce, fast, fair, and famous, 06 is the epitome of a female alpha wolf. You will fall in love. McIntyre’s series is unparalleled. Why? McIntyre went out every single day for 15 consecutive years to document the wolves. WOW. Just WOW."

Jenny Chou takes us to another section of the store - YA Land - with Strike the Zither, a new novel by Joan He, author of Descendent of the Crane and The Ones We're Meant to Find, another Jenny fave. Of this latest, Jenny says: "The 14th century Chinese classic The Three Kingdoms told stories of betrayal, greed, ambition, and plenty of scheming. Joan He reimagines this epic work as a young adult novel with a feminist bent, giving the role of hero to a girl named Zephyr. She’s a strategist with a wily, brilliant mind, who contrives ways to outsmart enemies with a small but loyal army led by a warlordess. From the beginning, Zephyr’s bold, somewhat arrogant voice drew me into her story, and I loved her verbal clashes with Crow, strategist to a rival army. The way the two also speak to each other through music played on a zither is absolutely charming and has all the makings of enemies-to-lovers romance. Not much in a Joan He novel is ever quite what it seems though. The plot twist this time takes the book in a direction I can only describe as equally humorous and heartbreaking, and the cliff-hanger ending has me longing for book two!"

And Jen Steele has two kids recs for us. The first is a graphic novel perfect for middle grade readers called Frizzy by  Claribel A Ortega, illustrated Rose Bousamra. And recommended thusly by Jen: "Every Sunday, Marlene and her mom go to the salon to get their hair straighten. Marlene wants to make her mom happy, but she hates the salon. What Marlene really wants is to embrace her natural curls, but she doesn’t know how to tell her mom. Through some trial and error, Marlene finds a way to get what she wants. Frizzy is a charming graphic novel about speaking your truth and learning that you are absolutely perfect just the way you are."

Jen also recommends the new picture book from Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, Three Billy Goats Gruff. Jen says: "Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen breathe new life into a classic tale: The Three Billy Goats Guff. Entertaining, funny, and adorned with Klassen's signature art, this is sure to be a story time favorite, so do yourself a favor and clip-clop clip-clop on over to get your hands on this delightful new picture book!"

Paperback Zone! For this post's paperback picks, we  first pick a paperback original, as recommended by Kay. Confessions of Keith is a novel by Pauline Holdstock, and of it Kay says: "Vita is a middle-aged woman whose life is falling apart at every seam. Vita’s clipped journaling is sprinkled with droll, often self-deprecating observations. I wanted to shake her, scrub away heaps of denial and make her DEAL WITH IT. Then Vita would make me laugh again, and I’d forgive her. Holdstock has an uncanny gift for matching writing style and content, as she also did with in her prior book Here I Am. I can’t wait for Holdstock’s next twist of magic."

The next paperback pick comes from Daniel Goldin, who just read a book that was released in paper in late September of this year: A Play for the End of the World by Jai Chakrabarti. Daniel says: "If you are knowledgeable about Holocaust history, you probably know the story of Janusz Korczak, the Jewish educator who ran an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto, who despite being offered passage out of the country, chose to say with his charges and face certain death. During this time, he staged a production of Rabindranath Tagore’s The Post Office, a well-known Indian play about an orphaned and sick child. In Chakrabarti’s debut, Janyk Smith, one of the Ghetto orphans who miraculously escaped, is called to India to help with a new production in West Bengal, uprooting the precariously stable life he has created in New York. This powerful novel is a moving story about the legacy of grief and trauma, the healing force of love and connection, and the enduring power of theater."

Well, that's what we've got! Hope to see you next week, folks, and until then, read on.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of October 11, 2022

We return for another week of book recommending. Let's get reading.

Let's start with a couple of event book recommendations. First, from Daniel Goldin, this endorsement of Bad Vibes Only: (And Other Things I Bring to the Table), the latest from author and podcaster Nora McInerny. Daniel says: "This is what you need to know about Nora McInerny. Her first husband died very young, and that was devastating. She’s very tall. Plus, she’s also very funny, and that last quality shines through in her new collection, Bad Vibes Only. Like David Sedaris, Jenny Lawson, and Samantha Irby, she can write about any number of subjects, from bad bosses (I’m already quoting from this essay), messy vacations, parenting, and Catholic school and give them a McInerny spin - wry observation and a healthy dose of ‘mistakes were made.’ Lots on Catholic school - I see her as the 21st century version of John R Powers, who’s Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up was a perennial bestseller in its day. Though she lives now in Phoenix, her Minnesota upbringing included detours to Wisconsin and her Midwest sensitivity still shines through. Her publisher compared her writing to eating cotton candy, but I might compare it more to cranberries – sweet, sure, but also a little bitter. And did I mention I love cranberries?"

Reading this blog before Thursday, October 20, 6:30 pm? Great! Plan to join us on that date and time when McInerny visits the store for a chat about this book. Click here for more info and to register.

Another event book, another great recommendation, this time from Kay Wosewick, who suggests The Rescue Effect: The Key to Saving Life on Earth by Michael Mehta Webster: "Webster wants to help save species intelligently. He describes six ‘rescue’ processes, some which often happen on their own, some we can nudge, others we can aggressively employ to save species. Refreshingly, Webster understands we can’t save everything, and we also need to acknowledge that nature is, always has been, and will continue, changing, with or without us."

And if you're reading this blog before Tuesday, October 25, 7:00 pm, you'll be pleased to know you can still click right here and register right now for Michael Mehta Webster's virtual event conversation with Meenal Atre of the Urban Ecology Center, our event cohost.

And now Tim McCarthy with not one but two staff recs for us! First, Tim writes about Sinister Graves (A Cash Blackbear Mystery #3) by Marcie R Rendon. Tim says: "Cash Blackbear is only 19, but she’s already experienced a hell of a lot, including abuse from a white foster family 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. Now spring floods around Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation have carried an Indian woman’s body into a nearby town, and Sheriff Wheaton asks Cash if she sees anything that can help. She definitely sees something. There’s a darkness following this death. Cash has lived through crazy things in foster homes, but she’s about to see a whole new level of crazy. I like Cash Blackbear a lot, and I feel validated because Louise Erdrich likes Cash Blackbear a lot, too. This is the third book in the series but the first I read. Then I went back and read the first two! I love finding a cool new series."

Tim also recommends Life is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way, a release from last week that Tim just caught up on from Kieran Setiya, the author of Midlife: A Philosophical Guide. From Tim: "'Life, friends, is hard - and we must say so.' So begins a direct and clear exploration of why denying struggle is a mistake. Life is much harder for some than others, but nobody avoids 'sickness, loneliness, failure, and grief.' Attempts to only look at the bright side or justify human suffering by claiming that everything happens for a reason are simply wrong and counterproductive. And happiness is not the ultimate goal. The goal must be to want life in this world as it is, filled with flaws and adversity. Setiya details the many ways we struggle, using research, history, literature and moral philosophy to build a "map to navigate hardship" toward living as well as we can. It's a framework that I find extremely helpful in my battle to want this troubling life. He makes it interesting and easy to read. This is a man that understands me and has a voice that I’ve needed. Perhaps he can help you, too."

Reading this post before Monday, October 17, 6:00 pm? Then bully for you - you can tune into a virtual event featuring Setiya in conversation with Sally Haldorson of Porchlight Book Company, our event cohost. Click here and register for this virtual event.

In paperback releases this week, we begin with a romance rec from Rachel Copeland: The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews. Rachel recommends thusly: "Beauty and the Beast meets Jane Eyre in this sweet historical romance from Mimi Matthews. Shy bluestocking Julia Wychwood only feels confident on her beloved horse's back. Captain Jasper Blunt seems to be her opposite in every way - from his vicious reputation in battle to the rumors of his illegitimate children locked away in his remote ruined castle, complete with a locked tower room. But his intimidating exterior doesn't fool Julia, and their marriage of convenience might just be the love match of the season. My favorite romance novels are the ones where the two main characters are equals - in this case, both equally lost and needing someone to see past rumors and lies. Historical romance enthusiasts will want to keep an eye on this series from Mimi Matthews!"

That's it for this week, dear readers, so read on, and we'll meet you back here next week with more book recs. Happy reading.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of October 4, 2022

Welcome to October! What better way to begin a new month than with a new batch of books? Here are our picks for the week.

First up is Daniel Goldin with an exciting debut novel by British author Joanna Quinn called The Whalebone Theatre. Daniel says: "I love books where the experiences that shaped the characters as children help define their lives as adults. Christabel, Florence, and Digby grow up with absent or negligent parents on a country estate on the southern coast of England that has seen better days. When a dead whale washes onshore, Christa’s dream of mammalian conquest is fulfilled when it turns out that neither the king nor anyone else wants it. How it becomes the bones of a theater is something that’s too complicated to describe here. Let us just say that when war rears its ugly head and special forces comes calling, the Seagraves are already prepared to give the performances of their lives. Already a bestseller in the UK, The Whalebone Theatre offers enough twists on the classics of the genre to stand beside the classics."

Joanna Quinn will be in virtual conversation with Daniel Goldin and Lisa Baudoin for a Virtual Readings from Oconomowaukee Event, Tuesday, October 11, 2 pm. Click here to register for this broadcast.

Next we've got Chris Lee with a seasonally appropriate recommendation: Malice House, a new novel by Megan Shepherd. Chris says: "This is, to me, just the best kind of good, old-fashioned, 80s style (John Saul, anyone?) horror novel. So much fun. A not-very-successful artist (though quite talented horror flick summarizer [this is somehow her job, and yes, I am jealous]) inherits her famous-writer-father’s ramshackle oceanfront estate, complete with his collections of Pulitzer medals, books, booze, and maybe a few demons. Further ingredients include: a strange, secret manuscript, monsters that range from the near-comically warped (Pinchy the ankle-tendon-snapping blob from under the bed, anyone?) to the truly dark, sinister, and all-too-human varieties, and so, so many dark family secrets to be revealed. And Shepherd packs lots more into a book that veers from haunted-house creeper to small-town-power-struggle thriller to gothic-family-curse mind-blower, and she hits the best notes of each horror subgenre along the way. A perfect Halloween-season novel and/or beach read for cool weirdos."

Kay Wosewick has invented this recommendation for Nature's Wild Ideas: How the Natural World Is Inspiring Scientific Innovation by Kristy Hamilton: "Biomimicry is a simple idea: take inspiration from nature to solve human problems. Putting it into action? Well, that’s not so simple. Hamilton describes a baker’s dozen of biomimicry projects, each in a different field of study, each with its unique source of inspiration. Three of the sources are human bones, reptile spit, and pomegranates. Curious? Hamilton’s writing is very accessible, and this book will sate anyone’s curiosity."

Tim McCarthy join us in the recommending with his write-up for the first in a new series that's the latest in YA mystery reboots of beloved 80s/90s cozy whodunits - that's right, it's Murder, She Wrote for a new generation. By the Time You Read This I'll Be Gone is written by Stephanie Kuehn. Tim says: "This is a smart and savvy teen mystery. Beatrice Fletcher is the great-grandniece of Jessica Fletcher, the ageless TV murder-solving hero of Cabot Cove, Maine’s Murder, She Wrote. Bea has serious anxiety issues, but she’s intense and curious enough to face a risk-filled world. Her psychiatrist helps her manage the anxiety, she has a few good high school friends, and her interest in macabre true crime gives her the intensity. Now she’s writing for a start-up web site about the cold-case murder of a Cabot Cove teenage girl. It all comes together in a dangerous way when she posts that her closest friend is missing and that several other Cabot Cove teens have recently disappeared. Both the digital world and her cozy little seaside town soon know that she’s the first one to report him gone. Is she a suspect? Bea is the creation of an author who’s the mother of teens and also a clinical psychologist. It shows. She sounds true to teen reality, and also true to people who keep going despite their fear. This is the first of a series. I’m hooked! Just like I was hooked on the TV show."

Finally, Jen Steele with a middle grade book recommendation: A Rover's Story, the new book from Newbery Honor author Jasmine Warga. Jen says: "I absolutely adored everything about this book! Resilience is a Mars rover who is learning code and preparing for the day NASA will send him to Mars. As Resilience (Res for short) learns his code for the mission, he starts to learn human emotions from the hazmats creating him. Yet the other rover in the lab is not experiencing the same thing - could something be wrong with Res? The day for launch fast approaches, and Res is determined to show he is worthy. A Rover’s Story is a tale of heart and bravery, compassion, and wisdom. Resilience is sure to become a beloved character for all."

Jasmine Warga appears In-Person at Greenfield Public Library, 5310 W Layton Ave, on Wednesday, October 5, 6:30 pm, in conversation with Amanda Zieba. Click here to register for this event. Cosponsored by the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition.

Paperback picks ! Some good books get their paperback release this week. 

Jenny Chou recommends Blue-Skinned Gods, a novel by SJ Sindu. Jenny says: "There are two reasons why a person might be born with blue skin.  They might be the tenth and final reincarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu or, possibly, within their DNA is a rare recessive gene that has a chance of popping up when even distantly related people conceive a child together. Ten-year-old Kalki’s blue skin, his parents insist, comes from being a living god, one who can heal and perform miracles. His father creates a religious retreat in India called an ashram, and he welcomes Westerners interested in meditation and yoga and locals who yearn to be cured of back pain, bad luck, and more. Many simply want a blessing from a god. Secretly, doubts flicker through Kalki’s mind. Is he a healer? What if he is simply casting an illusion over people desperate to believe? Kalki’s journey from a living god in India to the mascot of his American cousin’s rock band, the Blue-Skinned Gods, is full of loss and much soul-searching. Blue-Skinned Gods is such a compelling take on identity written from the vantage of an adult recalling glimpses of his childhood and twenty-something years. This is absolutely the right choice, because this is a book that asks a question that I think needs an adult’s perspective to answer: Does having faith mean believing in a lie? And faith could mean belief in a god or gods, in our parents, or even in our political leaders. Blue-Skinned Gods is a great story, but it’s also a book that I’m still turning over in my mind days after the last page."

Speaking of Jenny, she, Jason, and Kay all are fans of Andy Weir's hit follow-up to The Martian: Project Hail Mary. From Jenny: "I knew after reading an advance copy of Project Hail Mary on January 10th that I’d found one of my Top 5 Books of 2021. Turn off your phone because you don’t want to talk to anyone until you reach the last page in this thrill ride of a novel. When the scientific world heartily rejected his theory on the possibility of life evolving without water, microbiologist Ryland Grace retreated in disgrace to life as a middle school science teacher. As it turned out, he likes teaching kids, and he’s good at it, but just as quickly as he was banished, Ryland is yanked back from obscurity to become earth’s one hope for survival. The beginning finds Ryland waking from a coma without the slightest idea of his name or where he might be. Slowly, he becomes more aware, and he's startled to find himself alone on a spaceship, eons from earth, most likely on an important mission, but without a clue where he’s headed or why. Fascinating doesn’t begin to describe the story from that point, and the plot combines chemistry and math with humor and compassion. I loved Ryland’s creativity, and he’s a problem-solving genius, but the connections he makes in space give this outstanding novel its delightful punch of emotional depth."

From Jason Kennedy: "Did you like Mark Watney? Then, you will absolutely love Ryland Grace. Who is he? Waking up in a strange environment, Ryland can remember little about his life other than his name. He’s in a bed with tubes running into pretty much every bodily opening he has, and the other two other beds have dead people in them. In short order, he figures out that he is humanity’s last hope to save Earth. The writing is funny and pitch perfect, the science is wildly creative and carefully explained. This is the book I was not expecting to be blown away, by and I loved every second of it."

And from Kay: "Andy Weir hits his third consecutive homerun, this time out of the ballpark! Project Hail Mary brilliantly explores two themes: ‘save planet Earth’ and ‘first alien contact.’ Saving the planet entails solving an environmental problem that is entirely new to humans and aliens alike and is a terrific story in itself. But the alien/human encounter (starring Rocky and Grace, respectively) is even more impressive. Neither an aggressive brute nor a spectacularly advanced, intellectual creature, Rocky is much more advanced than humans in some ways, and much less advanced in other ways. Having evolved under very un-Earth-like planetary conditions, Rocky’s physicality and understanding of the universe differs significantly from Grace’s. At the same time, there are enough similarities to enable Rocky and Grace to develop communication, then cooperation, and eventually personal attachment. Relationship building and joint creative problem solving among alien and human are portrayed with great humor and tenderness, and there’s still plenty of ‘sci’ for even the geekiest reader. Project Hail Mary is a radiant gem."

See you next week for more recommeding. Until then, read on.