Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 10, 2023

The second week of January brings with it a number of new releases the Boswellians have read, like, and hope you will also enjoy. Here are the recs!

We begin this blog with our first double rec of the year: The Deluge by Stephen Markley. 
Recommender #1 is Chris, who says: "This book is written like a (rising) ocean, wave after wave of moments and years and ideas crashing one after the other, relentlessly eroding the shores. An epic peopled with characters as real as any person you know, who’ll fill you up with hope and heartbreak. A feast of a book."

And from Kay: "Anyone interested in climate change fiction covering the near future (~now to 2040) won’t find a more informative, deep-dive novel than The Deluge. Thrilling, terrifying, maddening, and occasionally hopeful, you won’t be quite the same when you finish the book."

Next, here's Daniel with his recommendation of Sam by Allegra Goodman: "Even if you’ve read Allegra Goodman before, you’ve never read a novel like Sam. It’s told completely from her perspective, keeping just the amount of distance you might expect from an adolescent who values her privacy. With any number of childhood setbacks, Sam’s seminal years leave her insecure at best and entering adulthood with any number of missteps. It’s rock climbing that gives her a sense of purpose, and while it doesn’t take her where she wants to go, it does lead to unseen paths - she just needs to find the right footholds. Quiet but powerful."

Next it's Jason for Bad Cree by Jessica Johns: "In Bad Cree, horror and grief are bound together; the duality of meanings of seemingly benign objects can both frighten and soothe. Mackenzie has moved away from her family and all the loss she has endured, however her past won't leave her alone. Nightmares begin to impact her life, forcing her to return home for help. Other members of her family are experiencing the same hauntings that are getting more and more serious. This book will have you believing that sleep is overrated. A brilliant and scary debut!"

Tim recommends A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for My Cousin and Best Friend, Emmett Till by Reverend Wheeler Parker, Jr., with Christopher Benson: "This book is stunning, frightening, essential, and exceptionally well written. More than anything else, it has urgency. I felt a constant need to see what came next. Would there ever be some degree of justice for Emmett Till and his family? If so, what would justice look like almost seven decades after “Bobo” Till was brutally executed? The naive fourteen-year-old Chicago kid who didn't understand the Jim Crow American South had a cousin who saw it all begin. Reverend Parker was there that day in 1955 Mississippi, at the store where the young woman worked, the one whose lies caused Emmett’s death. Parker was also in the house, several nights later, where the killers came first to his bedroom before finding and taking Emmett at gunpoint. Parker thought he’d die that night, and he tells us about the lifelong survivor’s guilt. As they marched him to his death, wasn’t Bobo asking himself why his family couldn’t stop them? Wasn’t he pleading for help? Yes. He was. Can Parker ever forgive himself for getting away from Mississippi and going back home without Bobo? This is the story of the endless, twisted struggle to make some justice happen, long after the killers who got away with it have themselves died. And it tells so much more, about the nation, then and now. I feel like it’s my turn to preach, in honor of Reverend Parker. Black people know all about how the Emmett Tills of the world fall, and this country might be better if everybody understood his family’s story."

Now over to Jenny for a great YA rec of Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett: "The publisher’s marketing had me at ‘dark fae magic,’ but add in a bookish introvert researching fairies and her mysterious, insufferably charismatic colleague, and I knew I’d started a delightful, can’t-put-it-down novel. Emily Wilde’s life’s work is the compilation of an encyclopaedia with an entry on every species of fairy. In 1909, she sets out from Cambridge University where she taught to do field work on the never-seen fairies of a country much like Iceland. Professor Wendell Bambleby follows her, probably to take credit for her findings. He charms the grim assortment of locals, who Emily has already insulted, though she can’t figure out why or when. The longer Wendell stays, the deeper the mystery surrounding him and his link to the fae becomes. Emily is a clever heroine, kinder than she gives herself credit for, and I loved watching the connections she makes as the novel progresses, especially when it comes to the equally dashing and irritating Wendell. You’ll be glad you met these two as you think about them long after turning the last page! Luckily, this is the start of a series."

Speaking of books for kids, let's head back to Tim for a middle grade recommendation of What Happened to Rachel Riley? by Wisconsinite Claire Swinarski: "Through a series of emails, passed notes, posts, recordings, texts and traditional narrative, Swinarski tells the story of a new girl at East Middle School who’s trying to solve a mystery. Her teacher gave the class a semester-long un-essay project on any social issue of their choice. Forget recycling. Anna Hunt has a more important social question. How did a girl who was thoughtful enough to help a lost new kid on the first school day go from being super popular to being completely shut out? Nobody will talk about it, and people keep asking why Anna cares. After all, her questions are limiting any hope that she'll find new friends for herself. So, why care? Well, she just does. A nice person like Rachel Riley shouldn’t face dead silence when the principal reads her name on the day's list of Birthdays. I enjoyed this story very much. It has the feel of a good mystery, as Swinarski rolls out a compelling, nuanced plot. Best of all, the beautifully developed characters confront issues and have messages that matter to me. A lot! Oh, and the book is set in Madison. Swinarski is a lifelong Wisconsinite."

How about paperback releases, you ask? We've got a couple to suggest.

Chris and Tim recommend Don't Cry for Me by Daniel Black. Chris says: "Alone and dying, a father writes his life story in letters, trying to explain to his estranged son the harsh understanding of manhood he once thought necessary to survive as a Black man in America. Daniel Black welcomes you to rural Arkansas with a detailed portrait of country life and Black boyhood in the mid-20th century. Particularly well captured is the whiplash of how much time and change can pass in the span of just one life. Don’t Cry for Me immerses you in another time and place and lets you breathe, smell, taste, and feel another man’s life as he reckons with the good and bad that he’s done to the people he loves."

And from Tim: "Daniel Black tells the story of a father and his son. As the opening author's note explains, Daniel is the son, writing what he imagines his dying father might have said to explain himself in the aftermath of a troubled and broken family. As his father asks Death to allow him time, he writes to Daniel on days when he's not too sick: about being raised by a harsh grandfather who taught him that love was showing respect without emotion; about wanting to prepare Daniel for the cruel realities of being a Black man by making him tough; and about the fear and bitterness he felt over not getting the type of son he wanted and expected. I'll admit it. This book messed me up. I mean, really, how many times can a man can say, 'I almost... I wish I had... I should have... found a way to show my love and acceptance?' It's too damn personal, but I might just read it again. Because the writing is exquisite. The father's voice rings true and clear with a sincere emotion that he's never before expressed. And because it beautifully raises the question that matters to a damaged child: are there things a parent can do, or not do, which are unforgivable?"

Kay and Daniel recommend Small World by Jonathan Evison. From Kay: "Small World is a brilliant tale of 1850s Americans and their descendants in 2019. He follows two Irish twins orphaned on their journey across the Atlantic, an escaped slave, a ‘fresh off-the-boat’ Chinese man who’s landed in unfriendly San Francisco, and two wandering American Indians who joined forces on a whim. Descendants of all are on the same train heading north in Oregon during a snowstorm in 2019. As Evison shifts between characters in the 1850s and 2019, Small World reads like a seamless masterpiece."

From Daniel: "If you liked West of Here, Evison’s grand epic of Washington State from a decade ago, you’re likely to love Small World, which has a similar dual narrative, only on a more national scale. Four families' lives - Black, Irish, Chinese, and Indigenous - are tied together throughout the settlement of the West, by the building of the railroads in the past and one fateful journey of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight line in the present. Does fortune favor the bold, or is there way more randomness involved in the process, leaving (and I’m just preparing you here) not every soul with the happiest of endings? I really enjoyed the twists, and while coincidence abounds, I wouldn’t expect anything less from a novel on such a grand scale; it is a Small World after all."

Happy reading!

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