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.

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