Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of November 29, 2022

Another light week for staff recs. But light can be fun, right?!

In new books, Oli suggests you check out this fun graphic novel for middle grade and older readers - Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Club: Roll Call, written by Molly Knox Ostertag, and illustrated by Xanthe Bouma. Oli says: "Best friends Jess and Olivia have played Dungeons and Dragons together for ages, creating stories together as Jess plays a character and Olivia conjures dungeons to explore and monsters to fight. When a new school year begins and Olivia wants to invite more people into their campaign, Jess doesn't understand why it can't just be the two of them, like always. This is a fun and meaningful graphic novel about friendship, inclusion, and (of course) battling monsters. I especially liked the D&D stats showing up next to people they encounter at middle school, showing bullying potential and humor in the same way that moral alignment and special attacks are displayed for monsters in their campaign. D&D fans and newcomers alike can dive into this tale of middle school social worlds and high fantasy adventures."

You're looking at the cover photo to the left and you're thinking, that is not a new book. But! It is a book recommended by one of our newest booksellers, Keith. So we welcome him to the blog with his write-up for Herman Melville's classic Moby-Dick, one of his all-time faves. Keith says: "The sheer verve of Melville’s prose will knock you sideways. He had a virtuosic command of the English language, and Moby-Dick features some of the most imaginative, electrifying, rapturous passages you could ever hope to read. It’s also an astoundingly capacious and wise book, brimming with natural history and insightful meditations on the inherent equality of all people, the eternal conflict between personal will and human destiny, and the all-consuming fire of revenge. In short, this is the result of a genius applying his talents to the most enduring of raw materials. I stand in awe of this novel."

Kathy also has a staff rec this week, for the recently released book Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese. Kathy says: "An engrossing book that imagines a back story for Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter. Isobel (a proxy for Hester Prynne) is a skilled seamstress who has synesthesia, causing her mind to link letters on a page and words people speak to particular colors and hues. She emigrates to Salem from Scotland with her husband and is soon on her own, struggling to make a living and build relationships with people in the town who are suspicious of newcomers. A chance meeting with Nat Hathorne (later Hawthorne) leads to unintended consequences, and Isobel must turn to her new friends for help. Isobel's synesthesia is used to wonderful effect throughout, as is the history of the Salem witch trials and of the underground railroad."

And let's wrap up with one from Chris, who wants you to read My Pinup, the recent book by essayist Hilton Als. Chris says: "What a moving, soulful, rangy little book. Als’s mini-memoir begins with meditations on Prince as queer Black icon, and from there he explores the artist’s performances (and obliterations) of dichotomies between masculinity and femininity, black and white, the sacred and profane. The way Prince made all of us fall in love with him. In his writing for The New Yorker, Als is especially adept at understanding the drives, desires, and wounds that shape an artist’s personality, how they influence her work, and in turn, how that work shapes and influences the culture at large. In this book, he doubles his gaze back (and forth and back and forth) from Prince to himself to contemplate how the artist’s transformations influenced his own becoming. My Pinup is an elegant ode to one of America’s greatest artists and a deeply personal account of the love that artist allowed a writer to crack open in himself."

And that's it! Roll your way into Boswell to check these books out. And keep an eye on this blog, as we'll soon start posting our yearly roundups of Boswellian Top 5 picks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Staff Recommendation, Week of November 22, 2023

A very happy Thanksgiving week to you and yours from the Boswellians. We have but one staff rec for you this week, from Daniel Goldin. 

The Hero of This Book
by Elizabeth McCracken. Daniel says: "This is not a memoir, the narrator assures the reader. To be clear, McCracken is married with children, and the narrator is neither of these things. And that clerk at the London inn who checks the narrator in? He’s completely imaginary. The story takes place on one London trip after the death of the narrator’s mother, revisiting the places they went together several years earlier, with each stop a jumping off point to a free-ranging collage of memories and reflections. Autofiction, you ask?! No way, answers the narrator. But however you wish to categorize it, the results are glorious – and perfect for Elizabeth Strout fans."

We sure do hope this tides you over until next week, when we'll be back with more books! Until then, enjoy the holiday, which hopefully means bonus book time for you, and read on.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of November 15, 2022

Welcome to another wonderful week of book recommendations from the Boswellians. Here's what we've been reading lately.

Lots of great books in this year's gift guide (coming soon!) - like The Boy and the Dog, a novel by Seishu Hase, translated by Alison Watts, and recommended by Jason Kennedy, who says: "In this novel, we follow Tamon, a dog displaced by the earthquake and resulting Tsunami that hit Japan in 2013. Each section he has a new person who needs to help Tamon and also needs Tamon's help. Seishu Hase has written a tale about the hard journey it takes to come back from tragedy, the sacrifice and will, and the knowledge that what’s happened will never be erased, but family helps."

We've also got a book recommendation by Daniel Goldin to share for The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal the History of Pop Music by Stereogum editor Tom Breihan. Daniel says: "I am completely obsessed with Tom Breihan’s ‘Number Ones’ column in Stereogum. He’s been telling the story behind every Billboard chart-topper since the list started in 1958, and what started as capsule summaries have now turned into essays that almost always have something interesting to say about pop music and popular culture in general. But was this enough to make a book? You bet it was! Breihan looks at 20 particularly influential songs and the artists that created them and offers original-to-this-book essays that dig even deeper than his column. I’m sure there will be arguments about who made the cut, who was left out, and when it came to some of the artists, whether this was their move-the-needle #1, or was it another cut? And there’s always the problem of those groundbreakers, like Bob Dylan, who never got higher than #2 on the singles chart. The key here is that it doesn’t matter if you know the songs or not, especially now that you can listen to just about anything almost instantly. No less than enthralling!"

Sounds great, right? Even better, catch Daniel interviewing Tom Breihan for a virtual event on Tuesday, November 29, 7 pm. Click here to register.

Next, Tim McCarthy considers the history of the universe along with Brian Thomas Swimme, author of Cosmogenesis: An Unveiling of the Expanding Universe. Tim says: "The universe has evolved a consciousness (in us, and perhaps others out there) that thinks it basically understands how everything developed, over the last 14 billion years. It’s a mind-blowing watershed in time, when awareness of the universe has emerged from the creative workings of the universe itself. Swimme believes this understanding must include more than math and science. The story of universal evolution involves the story of people like him, whose ideas are built on Pythagoras, Einstein, Hubble and Lemaitre; writers like Ursula Le Guin and philosophers like Emerson were also immersed in cosmology. He thinks our view must be autobiographical, an “auto-cosmology,” with ourselves as a developing part of a newly emerging whole. I was just looking for a small bit of knowledge and some inspiration when I found this book. I wanted a connection with forces greater than COVID and control of Congress, and that’s what I got. It’s an introduction to the people who have tracked our universal origins, wrapped into Swimme’s own story. The sense of wonder rising from his personal discoveries is compelling and unique. He’s looking for a new way of seeing the world."

Kay Wosewick wants you peruse a book called On Browsing by Jason Guriel. Kay says: "Guriel muses about the superior, open-ended experience of browsing, whether it be in bookstores, record shops, or the rare video store. Memories flooded back of visits to favorite shops in distant cities, spending hours lost in stacks or bins, finally leaving with heavy bags to discover daylight had vanished or weather had changed. Unparalleled joy!! On Browsing also speaks to the satisfaction of enjoying these media the old-fashioned way: a book in hand, and music or a movie selected from your own curated library. Come to think of it, it’s time to watch The Shining again…"

Parker Jensen recommends you don't forget to check out Have I Told You This Already?: Stories I Don't Want to Forget to Remember by Lauren Graham. Parker says: "Iconic Gilmore Girls star Lauren Graham is back with her second collection of essays, and they are just as witty and insightful as last time. In Have I Told You This Already? Graham lets readers behind the scenes to explore the ins and outs of Hollywood, from the unspoken rules of social hierarchy to what a day in the life of an actor looks like. But she also reveals truths about her family and herself that have shaped her experiences in the world and how she moves through it. From her humble beginnings as a struggling actress slash sales associate at Barney's to growing up in a family historically notorious for being forgetful. Through it all she shows us the importance of storytelling, listening, and cherishing those around you. I ate these stories up and would happily wave a hand at Graham to say, 'So what, tell it to me again!'"

Over in the land of paperback releases, we've got a couple of recommendations. The first is New York, My Village, a novel by Uwem Akpan, a book that gets the dual-recommendation treatment from Jenny Chou and Daniel Goldin. First, Jenny says: "It is the rare work of literary fiction that leaves readers wondering if the war against those stealthy little insects known as bed bugs can ever really be won. After finishing Uwem Akpan’s shrewd, heartfelt, and ultimately delightful novel, I turned that question over in my mind for a while before shifting my thoughts to war in general and the scars left behind even if the battles end and a victor is declared. Ekong Udousoro, a Nigerian editor and publisher, receives a fellowship to work alongside an American publisher in Manhattan while he edits a collection of stories about the Biafran War, also known as the Nigerian Civil War. The novel weaves seamlessly between Ekong’s life in the present day to accounts of the war from his collection of stories and from his friends and family. These sections are painful to read but eye-opening about the ramifications of colonialism, especially for those of us who were only vaguely aware that the war even took place. Between his work colleagues, the other renters in his building, and the congregation at a New Jersey church he visits, both micro and macro aggressions abound. The biggest insults are the racist attacks on the Nigerian food he loves, particularly since Ekong finds so much joy in trying all the American and ethnic food to be found around New York. Ekong is a keen observer of everything, from New Yorkers to bed bugs, and his observations are often filled with humor. And it’s those bed bugs who journey with him throughout his time in New York, always a step ahead, causing misery that reaches out to touch every part of his life, a small but mighty symbol for the war that his country may never recover from."

Daniel adds: "Ekong Udousoro is a Nigerian editor is sent to New York on a program where he’ll guest edit a collection on the Biafran Civil War for Andrew & Thompson, an independent but still significant publisher. His troubles begin at the border, where they won’t let him in, and continue most notably at the editorial pitch meetings, where seemingly friendly faces betray racism and ignorance. That said, some of Ekong’s negative assumptions about others wind up being off base, leading to happier outcomes, albeit after heated discussions. I particularly loved the New York observations, making this a satisfyingly place-y novel."

Jason Kennedy has a nonfiction book for us as well, and that's The Last Winter: The Scientists, Adventurers, Journeymen, and Mavericks Trying to Save the World by Porter Fox. Jason says: "An entertaining yet sobering look at how climate change has affected our world - not in some coming-soon-to-you preview, but how people, animals and environments are forever changing right now. More than once, the book left me feeling very dejected and terrified at what we face in the coming decades. This is not a new argument; this is not something that has snuck up on civilization, and we are past the time for turning away from the stark realization that we are losing glaciers and snow (and the important melt that comes from snow that keeps areas from drought in the coming summer). Porter Fox introduces the reader to some amazing people, some of whom have lived through horrible experiences like wild fires, and some who are trying to geoengineer the earth (think floating sea walls) to help protect our shores. Is it too late - will we completely lose our winters? Only if we don’t at least try to help those on the front lines deal with climate change."

Whether you're in holiday shopping mode or in avoid-all-things-holiday-shopping-related mode, or somewhere in between, we hope these recommendations offer a bit of gentle guidance for your book buying, reading, and enjoying. Until next week, read on.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of November 8, 2022

Evening comes earlier and the days are only getting shorter. Which means it's time to spend more time cozied up by a lamp with a good book. Here are our recommendations.

Jen Steele rings in the end of daylight savings time with supernatural noir from CL Polk entitled Even Though I Knew the End. She says: "Helen Brandt’s time is almost up. Instead of heading west with her gal, she’s pulled into one last case, a mystery only she can solve. The White City Vampire is striking fear into the hearts of Chicagoans and Helen may have to make a deal with a devil. Even Though I Knew the End is a clever, supernatural, and suspenseful noir making you wish you didn’t know the end!"

Cold weather is also arriving, which means it's probably time for reading about Vikings. Right? Jason Kennedy has just the remedy: The Wolf Age: The Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons and the Battle for the North Sea Empire by Tore Skeie, translated by Alison McCullough. He says: "This a bloody and violent history of the struggle of power in Scandinavia and England around the 10th century. This period has few actual records that are completely trustworthy, yet Tore Skeie brilliantly uses the poems of the Skalds to help craft his tale. This is a page-turning burner of a history tale that will reshape your understanding of this time period."

Oli Schmitz gives us a glowing review of Scattered Showers: Stories, the new short story collection from Rainbow Rowell. They say: "I’ve been waiting for this book since I knew it existed, and each short story was well worth the wait. It’s time! Scattered Showers is here for you! For best friends and fans and breakups and falling in love and complicated family Christmases (two, and they’re my favorite stories of the bunch). I will go on about the short story that takes place in the Simon Snow universe ('Snow for Christmas') to anyone who’ll listen, but this book is more than just one story. New characters and some familiar favorites take the stage in a short story collection made for all the feelings. There’s plenty of the expert humor and dialogue that fans of any Rainbow Rowell novel will recognize, with storytelling that invites any reader to connect with the characters, different as they are, wherever they are in their lives."

Rowell fans rejoice (at least if you're reading this before Saturday!) - Rainbow Rowell appears in-person at Boswell this coming Saturday, November 12, 7 pm central. Tickets for this event cost $19.99 plus tax and fee and include admission to the event and a copy of Scattered Showers. Click here to purchase tickets for this In-Person event now. Masks required at this event.

Even though this book came out in October, Jason Kennedy just snuck in a recommendation, so let's show it some love. You Are My Sunshine: A Story of Love, Promises, and a Really Long Bike Ride by Sean Dietrich. Jason says: "At the start of Covid, Sean and his wife are battling both a health scare (the math teacher, as Sean calls her often, was in recovery from breast cancer) and lack of jobs. Jamie (her actual name) gets it into her head to bike the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Towpath Trail. Sean steadfastly refuses, yet he still ends up in Pittsburgh on his trike looking for the start of the journey. Told with great humor that will have you laughing out loud, Sean also has a way of making himself the butt of his own jokes."

Oli also recommends a paperback original entitled Legends & Lattes: A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes by Travis Baldree: "Legends and Lattes is the perfect comfort read, with a story as sweet as Thimble's cinnamon rolls, as warm as a fresh cup of coffee, with a subtle dash of queer romance. In a Dungeons and Dragons-type world, Viv the battle-weary orc hangs up her sword for good, intending to settle down and open a coffee shop. What follows is a cozy adventure about creating a home and building a new life, one of found family and formed community. Rarely do I find myself exclaiming aloud while reading, but I couldn't contain an "aww" here and there - and some scenes were so cute that I nearly cried. I want to join the regulars at Viv's coffee shop, with its promise of coffee, conversation, and the sense of things falling into place. This book is so cozy!"

In books getting their second life as paperback releases today, we have a recommendation from Daniel Goldin for the first novel by Milwaukee native Rachel Kapelke-Dale - The Ballerinas. Daniel says: "Delphine, Lindsay, and Marqaux were inseparable friends and fellow dancers at the Paris Opera Ballet. Now Delphine is back as a guest choreographer, hoping to make Lindsay the star dancer in her new work about Rasputin and the Tsarina Alexandra. But there are a lot of stumbling blocks to this show’s success, like Delphine’s old beaus Jock and Dmitri, Lindsay’s husband Daniel, and Natalie, the head of the company, who wants to push Delphine in a more feminist and modernist direction. So many secrets! So many betrayals! The Ballerinas is a page-turning story of friendship dynamics with an interesting take on the physical tolls and psychological abuses borne by women dancers. Sometimes the author blurbs seem out of left field, but in this case, the Jessica Knoll comparison and the Andrea Bartz recommendation lead readers in the right direction."

Kay Wosewick impatiently yet passionately recommends Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson: "Termination Shock is set about two decades out, when climate change is wreaking havoc in nearly all corners of the world. Someone must take action ASAP, right?! Politics are messy, technology is clever, and the characters are an eclectic lot. This is top-notch Stephenson, though he leaves us hanging. Speed it up Neal!!"

That's all for this week folks. Stay warm, keep the sun lamps going, and check in next week for more great reading. Until then, (vote, then) read on!

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Staff Recommendations, Week of November 1, 2022

Halloween has come and gone. It is November. We're now deep into fall. The end of the year approaches swiftly. What does it all mean? Nothing! Time is but a construct. How about some staff recs?

Let's start with Ocean's Echo by Everina Maxwell, which has recommendations from Rachel Copeland and Oli Schmitz. First, from Rachel: "Tennal Halkana can't escape the truth of his existence no matter where he runs, who he sleeps with, or how many drugs he takes - he's a mind reader, the result of illegal neuromodification experiments. Out of options, he's conscripted into the military, forced to sync with Surit Yeni, an architect capable of controlling a mind as wild and chaotic as Tennal's. Yet Surit won't sync an unwilling reader, so they fake the sync and plan Tennal's escape. What follows is a fight they never anticipated - for autonomy, for justice, and for each other. Maxwell deepens the worldbuilding established in Winter's Orbit with a focus on the mysterious alien remnants that seem to have endless horrifying possibilities. I don't know how it's possible in a story that engages in difficult topics such as coercion and mental health issues, but Ocean's Echo left me with a distinctly warm feeling. Can one feel hugged by a space opera? Asking for a friend."

And now from Oli: "Set in the same universe as Winter's Orbit, but with an entirely standalone story and new cast of characters, Ocean's Echo is an adventure in space, minds, and galactic politics that truly stands out. As a fan of Maxwell's previous book, I love that Ocean's Echo is another character-forward space opera, with a story that illustrates very real mental health and relational issues and centers themes of building trust and selfhood. Surit is an architect who can "write" commands into the minds of others; Tennal is a powerful "reader" who can pick up on thoughts and intentions. When the military tries to force Surit to sync with Tennal, they realize that neither has signed up for this, but they must work together to protect their autonomy. The narrative is a split point-of-view between these two characters, and I loved their distinct voices and the dynamic they have together. You can trust Maxwell to carry you safely through to the end, even as the characters navigate a charged military-political landscape and dangerous, mind-bending bits of chaotic space. I found myself rooting for the characters, hooked even more by every twist, and all-around captivated by the story."

Rachel and Oli so love this book that we will host a virtual event featuring Everina Maxwell in conversation with them on Saturday, November 12, 11 am. Click here to register

Let's stick with Rachel for her rec of A Restless Truth, the second book of The Last Binding series by Freya Marske. Rachel says: "Maud Blyth has a mission: pose as a lady's maid on board an ocean liner to escort an old lady who has key information in the fight against a magical conspiracy to steal power from every magician in England. And then the old lady gets murdered. Armed with a notebook filled with her brother Robin's visions of the future, a scandalous actress, a bored lord, a surprisingly helpful thief, and a foulmouthed bird, Maud has to find the murderer before she becomes the next victim. The second book in the Last Binding trilogy manages to capture the same energy of the first book while being almost entirely different - and no matter what, I'm here for the Edwardian clothing, the cat's cradle-esque magic, and the queer romances. One gets the feeling she could take the world established in this trilogy and spin it into a few more series - or maybe that's my wishful thinking. To say I'm ready for the next book would be an understatement - I'm slamming my fists on the desk screaming WANT. BOOK. NOW. Respectfully."

Now on to Tim McCarthy for some poetry. Tim recommends Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light: Fifty Poems for Fifty Years by Joy Harjo. Tim says: "Joy Harjo offers us this lifetime of poetry, 50 years of listening to her own voice and sharing it with the world. It’s a unique book of poems because she tells us, in detailed notes, her thoughts about each one and how it came to be. It also opens with a loving and revealing forward from Sandra Cisneros, beginning with their early time together at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and moving through a lifelong friendship. I don’t have the knowledge or the desire to analyze these poems. I just listen. And what I hear is exceptionally beautiful and telling, as important as words can be. I give my wholehearted thanks for this gift, for being allowed to hear Joy Harjo, our three-term United States Poet Laureate, open herself to us fully."

A legacy rec is next - from former Boswellian (now onto other things-ian) Sarah Clancy, who suggests Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Sarah says: "Playing on our very real concerns about the future of armed conflict, Dogs of War explores what happens when our weapons can question the morality of what they're being commanded to do. Told from the perspective of Rex, a combat Bioform built from a dog, and those around him, Adrian Tchaikovsky applies his expert eye for extrapolation to the best and worst of modern humanity, painting a picture equally terrifying and optimistic. Dogs of War reminds us that there are plenty of good people and sentient beings in our world, and they are worth fighting for. Rex, as it turns out, is a very good dog."

Picture book time! Jen Steele recommends the adorable Will We Always Hold Hands? by Christopher Cheng, illustrated by Stephen Michael King (no, not that one, hence the middle name). Jen says: "No matter what Rat asks his friend, Bear is quick to respond that he will be there for Rat. Together. Always. Holding hands. Will We Always Hold Hands? is a perfect ‘I love you’ picture book gift that’s sure to make you smile and your heart sing!"

From Oli Schmitz, Butterfly Child by Marc Majewski. Oli says: "A father helps his child regain confidence in this beautiful story about the joy of self-expression. I adore Marc Majewski's vibrant illustrations, which are a perfect fit for the book's themes of support and embracing creativity."

Now onto the paperback picks. We begin with Kay Wosewick who suggests Bewilderment by Richard Powers. Kay says: "Bewilderment belongs in the hands, head, and heart of every reader. The story is as timely, as wise, and as profound as Power’s Overstory, but Bewilderment is far more tightly packed and decidedly darker. You’ll be pulled into stunningly beautiful as well as haunting applications of cutting edge technologies. You’ll feel the joys and the terrors of parenthood’s rollercoaster. You may or may not anticipate the collapse of the wall of denial, but you’ll surely suffer its soul-crushing aftermath. Richard Powers, you broke my heart. And you will again and again as this book becomes worn from rereading."

And Ann Patchett's essay collection These Precious Days also comes out in paperback. Here's Daniel Goldin's take: "At first, I thought this book was a follow-up to This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, and why not? Patchett wrote this was the case in her introduction, which laid out why, when an author writes essays, they don’t worry about dying in the middle of writing them the way many do with novels. Sure enough, there are meditations on knitting, flying (or rather her husband flying and Patchett passengering), writing (of course), and my personal favorite, a salute to Snoopy. Speaking of flying, it’s hard for Patchett to fly under the radar; what book lover hasn’t read her appreciation of Kate Di Camillo, which first appeared in The New York Times? But the more I read, the more I see two themes took root: the value of friendship and the transience of life, which come together in the also well-known title essay. And in that way, the book started reminding me more of Patchett’s first nonfiction book, Truth and Beauty, about her friendship with the poet Lucy Grealey. And that’s a good thing – the result is a powerful, heartfelt collection."

We will see you in 7 days time, dear readers. Until then, read on.