Sunday, May 28, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 30, 2023

The last week of May, can you believe it? Well, you'd better believe we've got staff recommendations for you this week. Here are some books we loved to kick off your summer reading.

Daniel Goldin recommends Good Night, Irene, the latest novel from Pulitzer finalist Luis Alberto Urrea, author of books such as The House of Broken Angels and The Devil's Highway. Of this new book, Daniel says: "Irene Woodward and Dorothy Dunford bond in training when both join the Red Cross to support the troops by running a coffee wagon. They are supposed to work in teams of three, but they just can’t seem to keep a third – maybe it’s because their friendship is so strong that there just isn’t room for one more in the truck. Outside the truck, their lives are filled with vibrant characters, some romance, and of course, the horrors of war. Urrea’s new novel is classic historical fiction, a change of style, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to fans – his prose has veered from journalism to magical realism to domestic dramedy. And I don’t really want to give anything away here, but I kept thinking it will all be worthwhile if Urrea stuck the landing, and I’m happy to say he sure did!"

Now we go to Kay Wosewick for her words on Tracking Giants: Big Trees, Tiny Triumphs, and Misadventures in the Forest, the new book by big-tree tracker (yes, that's a real thing, and yes, it's as neat as it sounds) Amanda Lewis. Kay says: "Amanda is chatty, full of energy, and funny. Intelligent? Initially, I’m doubtful. Amanda moves to Vancouver and, at the suggestion of a friend, takes up a quest to see every Champion tree (the largest of its species) in British Columbia. She heads off with no plant identification experience, either a lousy ID book or complete inability to use it, no measuring tools, and location guides often 10 to 20+ years old with wrong or missing reference points and/or badly written directions. At first, Amanda is happy to cross a tree off her list even if she’s not certain it’s a match; it might not be big enough, or maybe it’s an entirely different tree. As she gains ID skills and brings proper tools, she finds some Champions, but also discovers others have fallen or been damaged and therefore no longer count. Her enthusiasm seems about to wane just as she finds fun, skilled tree people to go Champion hunting with; ironically, by now she seems happy just hiking. Join this very intelligent woman on her adventures!"

And finally, a final recommendation from Margaret Kennedy, a Boswellian who after this week will leave the shop to move onto her next opportunity - and we wish her all the luck in the world! But before she goes, she says you should read Witch King, the latest novel and a new direction from Murderbot creator Martha Wells. Margaret says: "Enter a fantastical new world of witches, wars, and demons of Martha Wells’ creation in the riveting new epic Witch King. Kai is a body-possessing demon prince, war hero, and Witch King, but he wasn’t always as infamous as he is now. When the war of generations passed was just starting, he was a simple nomad of the grassland people. Told in alternating chapters, the story follows Kai in the present as he unravels a conspiracy against him and the peace of the new coalition, and Kai in the past as he finds himself starting a rebellion against the power-hungry Hierarchs with the Prince Bashasa, and inadvertently changing the world. With witty dialogue and fast paced action, you will finish this book and be begging Wells for another set in this intricately layered world!"

Paperback picks? Yes indeed!

First up, Kay Wosewick suggests Florida Woman by Deb Rogers. Kay says: "A video gone viral titled 'Florida Woman' shows Jamie stealing dollar bills off the walls of the bar where she works, turning to find a pelican on fire near the door where it knocked over candles, then frantically charging out the door with the pelican in her arms. Jaime disappears for a couple of days. ‘Florida Woman’ indeed. Jaime gets a deal that sounds better than jail: serving her sentence working, ankle-cuffed, at a macaque sanctuary. There are monkey shenanigans, staff who get weirder by the day, and an end that will plaster a big smile on your face. Wacky fun."

David Sedaris's latest collection of personal essays, Happy-Go-Lucky, gets two Boswell recs. From Jen Steele: "David Sedaris offers a heartfelt and earnest new collection of essays that left me laughing one minute, agreeing with his astute observations and contemplative the next. If you have the chance, I recommend listening to the audiobook. It's like being at one of Sedaris's show, which is a completely unique experience."

And from Tim McCarthy: "Once again, David Sedaris lovingly, and with full frontal honesty, embraces the strange ironies of being human: the cold pandemic realities, the oddly positive final days of a tough relationship with his father, America demanding that Black Lives Matter, the fortress of love he’s built with his sisters and with Hugh. The shopping! The best thing about reading Happy-Go-Lucky is that it flows so fast. This is a credit to marvelous writing and storytelling. It's like canoeing a river and immediately knowing you won’t need the paddle. The current carries you, and if you don't run full speed into all the worldly snags and boulders put in your way, then you're just not on the right trip. So enjoy the ride and throw the paddle overboard. That endangered turtle you just cruised past will make better use of it."

Another Kay rec is next - Metropolis by BA Shapiro. Kay writes: "This clever, engaging, and twisty story is set in a gothic storage warehouse in Cambridge, MA. The book opens with news of a serious injury after someone falls down an elevator shaft. The warehouse is fascinating: two people live in their units, another uses it as an office, and a fourth moved the contents of her children's bedrooms there after the father unilaterally sent them to school in Switzerland. The residents' lives are entwined at the time of the accident and become more-so in the aftermath. As with Shapiro’s other books, there is a strong art/artist thread. The setting is picture-perfect for a thrilling story."

And those are the recs! We'll be back next week (next month, ay yi yi!) with more great books that we love. Until then, read on.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 23, 2023

We've got a couple great new books to recommend this week!

First up, Chris Lee recommends The Late Americans by Brandon Taylor. Chris says: "Brandon Taylor’s novel invites us into the world of Iowa City’s fledgling writers, dancers, and artists as they squabble, scrap, hope, love, and fight their way toward self-knowledge in a country that doesn’t have much more to offer them than, at best, indifference and economic insecurity. Art and sex, full hearts and empty wallets. A perfectly titled novel (each character so late to so many different parties) that deeply understands the roiling emotional landscape of lives of ideas as they’re lived in precarity. Truly impressive."

Next, Madi Hill suggests Raw Dog: The Naked Truth About Hot Dogs by Jamie Loftus. Madi says: "Hot dog lovers, unite! Jamie Loftus has crafted the hot dog tour across America you never knew you wanted but can't stop reading. Follow the history of the wiener as Loftus, her boyfriend, a cocker spaniel, and a cat traverse the nation to find the best hot dog shops that the country has to offer, all while teaching the history of each spot along the way. Surprisingly heartfelt and educational, Raw Dog does not shy away from how the sausage gets made (literally), but it’s told from such a passionate and well researched perspective that seeing the process does not stop the hot dog craving this book produces in those who read it. For readers who wished Easy Rider was centered around tube meats, this book is for you. Hot diggity!"

We've also got a couple of paperback picks this week, both from Jason Kennedy. The first one Sleepwalk by Dan Chaon. Of this novel, Jason says: "Bill Bear lives in a future that has gone through several Covids and Ukraine War-like instances. The US is a bit of a disaster, and Bill makes a living as a courier. He mostly moves people and objects and does the odd cleanup and assassinations if called upon. He is a master of living on the fringes, outside the system, a ghost with no real identity. So, when he is in the middle of a contract job and one of his burner phones goes off, it freaks him out. Nobody should have any of the numbers of his phone at this point, but that's when more of them go off, with a very insistent person on the other end about to change Bill's outlook on life and royally piss off Bill’s employer. Dan Chaon provides a road novel, a rundown, and a harsh future world. While I don't want to live there, I loved reading this bleak future of ours."

And Jason also suggests River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile by Candice Millward. Jason says: "Candace Millard delves into the history of the expeditions of Burton and Speke as they try to discover the source of the White Nile. The logistics were mind-boggling, and the amount of supplies and the number of people it took to make the trek seemed like overkill - until it wasn't. And then the food began to run out. The amount of illness and its severity visited upon everyone made me wonder what form of insanity these explorers had to have suffered. The individual personalities and vistas are fascinating. Candace Millard follows the fortunes of these two British fellows along with Sidi Mubarak Bombay, who was brought in to handle working with local African groups. Bombay is the real reason this expedition didn't fail spectacularly as the two Europeans worked against each other. Another great historical adventure that opens our eyes to an era that I just don't understand anymore but found amazing."

Like Porky Pig says, that's all folks. See you next week with more suggested reading, and until then, read on.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 16, 2023

Welcome to our weekly roundup of what we've read and loved this week.

First up is Madi Hill with her recommendation of the latest from Emma Cline, author of books like The Girls. The new novel is The Guest, and the word from Madi is this: "Alex is living it up with her rich, older boyfriend. She has practiced playing the role of perfect girlfriend, but old habits die hard, and there's a reason she is running from her past. Emma Cline has a talent at creating characters that willingly dive headfirst into bad decisions, but in such a way that keeps you reading through the cringe. Cline's sophomore novel crafts a story that keeps you anxious to know what happens next to our protagonist/trainwreck, with a revolving cast of disposable characters she parasitically clings to until they've outlived their usefulness. The Guest is unforgiving but enthralling, an ode to the mistakes of our youth and the devastating consequences when we never learn to grow."

Next is a novel with write-ups from two Boswellians. Yellowface is the new book from RF Kuang, who has written The Poppy War series as well as Babel. The first rec for her latest book comes from Parker Jensen, who says: "June Hayward's writing career has gone, well, haywire. Her first and only book was a flop, her job sucks, and she hates her only friend, Athena Liu. Athena seems to have it all. Several bestselling books, a Netflix deal, and a stacked bank account. So when Athena chokes to death on pancakes in front of June, what's a girl to do but steal her dead friend’s manuscript and publish it as her own? The only problem? The book is about the forgotten history of Chinese laborers in World War I and June is white. Her solution? Change her name to Junie Song, take some racially ambiguous author photos, and play it off as a tribute to her fallen friend. What could go wrong? RF Kuang creates a compulsively readable tale that examines modern questions on authorship, American-Asian erasure, and angry Twitter mobs. Yellowface will delight and nauseate anyone familiar with the dramas, scandals, and shenanigans of the book world."

Oli Schmitz chimes in with their rec: "Everyone needs to read this satire of the publishing industry, cultural appropriation, and internet backlash. I truly could not put this down - I read it in one sitting! Kuang nails the narrator's voice of white privilege and self-victimization, which begs for sympathy for condemnable, cringe-worthy behavior through absurd justifications. This incredible contemporary novel asks important questions about who gets to tell what stories or cross what lines (and oh, does this main character cross 'em). This is THE book of the summer for me."

Finally, we wrap the new-release recommending with Jason Kennedy and The Amazing Camel Toe, a graphic novel by Claire Duplan. Jason writes: "I know I'm not the target audience for this book, but on a whim, I opened up Claire Duplan's graphic novel because I thought the artwork had an interesting, DIY punk vibe that looked like something from the nineties. Who is this for? Twenty-something feminists with a strong bent toward political and social consciousness who still hope for radical change in our world. Especially on a personal level, Constance has some reservations about taking her own feelings and pleasures into account over her boyfriends or other male-aggressive types. On the surface, this book has a message that I think will ring true with a lot of other people, but the art style is what really drew me into the story and helps land the message better."

In paperback picks this week, first we've got two recs for This Time Tomorrow, the latest novel from Emma Straub. Jenny Chou says: "2022 is shaping up to be an excellent year for time travel novels. Literally one super-star read after another, and as I write this, it's only February. In This Time Tomorrow, Emma Straub's take on the time-travel twist, we don’t need to understand the science behind main character Alice’s journeys to her past, just her motivations for going back to age sixteen - first accidentally and then on purpose. At the start of the book, she’s forty, and it’s apparent that Alice is not living her best life. Her father, the most important person in her life, is dying, and everyone else is caught up in the chaos of their own life or is just dull background noise in Alice’s. So, when the opportunity arises, Alice tries to rearrange her present-day life over and over again from the springboard of her sixteenth birthday. Fixing certain problems often leads to bigger problems and lots of laughs for the reader, but the heartbeat of the novel is Alice’s relationship with her dad. Her longing to somehow adjust his path by changing her actions gives This Time Tomorrow a sense of poignancy and tenderness. Trust me, you’re going to fall in love with Alice and the people who stumble in and out of her life over the course of this absolutely delightful book."

And from Daniel Goldin: "On her fortieth birthday, with her life in a holding pattern, Alice Stern inadvertently spends the night in the guard house of her father’s Upper West Side co-op and finds herself back at the age of 16 with so many of her life decisions ahead of her. Most notably, her father, author of the legendary Time Brothers novel, is alive and well and no longer facing the end of his life in a hospital bed. Can Alice change her own life’s trajectory in 24 hours? Should she? After reading this alternatingly whimsical and poignant but always delightful story, I am convinced that every writer, whatever their chosen genre, should write a time travel novel. The reading world will be better for it!"

Next it's Tim McCarthy with a classically Tim-esque recommendation: Life on the Mississippi: An Epic American Adventure by Rinker Buck. Tim writes: "Winning the American Revolution fully opened land west of the Appalachian Mountains to settlers, and the way forward was the rivers. A great migration built fast-growing towns like Pittsburgh, where flatboats (and later steamboats) were made for moving surplus farm products down the Ohio and Mississippi. Many thousands of young farmers and rivermen floated to southern states each year, creating a unique river culture. Buck studied this history and decided he had to try the same flatboat trip himself in our age of massive river barge traffic, a crazy notion for an amateur on the water. Lots of river dwellers told him he'd die. He helped build his own flatboat, and the 2,000 mile adventure with a crew full of characters turned out to be awe-inspiring. The book ties his very personal journey to our past and to the ever-changing United States, as it’s seen from the rivers today. While Buck writes with strong and sincere words about the 'profoundly tragic' role of American slavery and the devastation of indigenous nations, this is mostly a story of our constant expansion, rough independence, and ingenuity. Buck uses a lively blend of historian’s love of research and storyteller’s blunt humor to describe how he revels in the challenges and meets people of all kinds. I confess that along with my intense anger over America’s brutal history, I have a soft spot for the romance and marvelous details in this story. I enjoyed every bit of Rinker Buck’s wild river ride!"

Finally, it's Kathy Herbst with a write-up of When Women Were Dragons, the adult novel from middle-grade master Kelly Barnhill. Kathy writes: "It's the 1950s and a mass dragooning takes place. Women shed their human selves and turn into dragons, a reality that is denied by the powers that be. Alex is 8 when her aunt transforms, leaving her daughter, Beatrice, to be cared for by Alex's mother. Forbidden to speak of her aunt or dragons, Alex struggles to find her place in a world that denies her incredible mathematical skills. When Beatrice's fascination with dragons becomes evident, Alex fears losing the person she is closest to. A heartfelt book of women finding their strength in a world that denies their intelligence and abilities."

That's our recommendations this week - drop by the blog next week for more great books. And until then, read on.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 9, 2023

The second week of May may mean more staff recommendations. In fact, it does. Here they are.

First up, Rachel Copeland, with two recommendations for us. First, The Boyfriend Candidate by Ashley Winstead. Rachel writes: "When meek middle school librarian Alexis Stone puts on her sexiest dress and walks into the hottest bar in town, she never expected to actually make a connection with someone. But Logan is her total opposite - foul-mouthed, opinionated, outspoken - in the most thrilling way. Except, it turns out he's an infamous gubernatorial candidate with a playboy rep, and to prevent damage to his campaign after photos leak of the two of them partially unclothed, Alexis has to pretend she's been his girlfriend all along. But that's okay, because Alexis is completely not going to fall for Logan, and Logan is totally not actually head over heels for Alexis. Right? Right. Political romance novels should be so difficult to write, but Ashley Winstead manages to make it look easy. And I'm allergic to politics! The journey toward Alexis finding her voice, and the obvious admiration and support from Logan even as the stress of campaigning takes over, is just so perfectly played. I was clapping with glee, yelling 'just kiss already!' randomly, gesticulating wildly to make well thought-out points to fictional characters who couldn't possibly see me, and it was so much fun."

Rachel loves this book so much she's going to chat about it with the author - you can tune in and watch that chat, too, because it's for a virtual event on Tuesday, May 30, 2 pm. Click here for more info and to register.

Rachel also recommends Playing It Safe, the new Electra McDonnell novel by Ashley Weaver. Yes, this week Rachel's reading is all Ashleys, all the time. Of this book, Rachel says: "Once again, former safecracking thief Ellie McDonnell takes on an undercover mission in the name of king and country at the request of Major Ramsey, this time in the seaside town of Sunderland. Though instructed to simply await further instructions, when an otherwise perfectly healthy man suddenly dies in the street, Ellie has no choice but to dive into the investigation. With cyanide poisonings and a counterfeiting conspiracy backed by German spies, it's up to Ellie and Major Ramsey to stop the spies before either of them is the next target. Ashley Weaver has really turned up the heat in this third installment, in more ways than one. The constant threat of discovery and death hangs over every interaction, yet Ellie's ingenuity and street smarts never fails to impress. Then there's the slow-simmering something between Ellie and the major - will those two patriots ever get their chance? Weaver has me hooked."

Next, Daniel Goldin and Tim McCarthy both have write-ups to share for Pieces of Blue by Holly Goldberg Sloan. First, from Daniel: "When Lindsey’s husband dies in a skiing accident, she uses the insurance money to buy a rickety motel and moves her three kids from Portland to a small Hawaiian town. They’re not just running from father Paul’s death, but a bit of shame too – the family fortunes quickly veered from easy money to financial struggles when Dad’s tech startup collapsed. Overcoming grief, adapting to change, fitting in – these are classic themes of middle-grade fiction and that’s not surprise, coming from the author of the beloved Counting by 7s. To be clear, there is far more adult perspective and enough unnerving twists to keep this out of eight-year-old hands. And yet, there is a classic kids’ book at the heart of the story, and for someone like me who likes classic kids’ books, this hit the mark. A compelling, heartwarming treat!"

And what does Tim have to add? This! "Lindsey Hill and her three children have just arrived at Honolulu’s Daniel K Inouye International Airport, the first step to a completely new life. The death of her husband, the kids' father Paul, led to a radical plan. Buy a six-acre oceanfront property and take over an old, fading motel business from the eighty-something Hawaiian owners. Lindsey had her reasons for the unlikely leap, but the world-class sunsets come with a large dose of culture shock. The Hills are also clueless about running and maintaining a motel. It’s eight cottages and an office full of figure-it-out. While I’m no expert on perfect summer reads, I think this endearing novel surely qualifies. The characters are lovely and nicely unpredictable. I hoped and cheered for them each and every uncertain step of the way. It’s also a convincing, heartwarming, smile-inducing look at their grief and their renewal, with a slowly dawning and very mysterious turn. It drew me in and never let me go."

If you liked our last bit of virtual event news, then boy howdy do we have more good info for you - Holly Goldberg Sloan joins us virtually for the May edition of Readings from Oconomowaukee on Wednesday, May 24, 2 pm. Click here to register and get more info about that one.

And in recommendations for books released last week that came in the day the book came out and hence a day late to be added to the book recommendation blog, we have Chris Lee for the latest from Hannah Pittard, a memoir entitled We Are Too Many: A Memoir [Kind of]. Chris says: "In a memoir composed of conversations real and imagined along with fragments of memory, Hannah Pittard tells the tale of her marriage and divorce, beginning with the moment she discovered her husband sleeping with her best friend. Her immediate reaction: house, car, dog – call a lawyer. But this isn’t a book about revenge or reconciliation. Instead, think of it as an extended practice in radical honesty. And I mean bracingly honest – Pittard eviscerates her own story to get to some kind of truth or understanding of infidelity, secrets, love, hate, marriage, family, friendship, rivalry, trust, connection, addiction, fear, and dysphoria. It’s a read-it-all-at-once-and-sit-there-gasping-for-breath-when-it’s-done kind of book. Add Pittard to the list of authors who’ve written books so good I now must go back and read everything else they’ve ever written."
Another week-late-but-still-great rec comes from Jenny Chou, and she has a good excuse - there were no advance copies of this book around to read! The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese gets her seal of approval now. Jenny says: "A breathtaking, multigenerational saga with a family secret at its center. You’ll keep telling yourself, 'Just one more page…' Worth the twelve-year wait! I loved it just as much as Cutting for Stone."

Let's head over to our kids book buyer Jen Steele for a few great recommendations of books for kids (and kids book fans, too). First, Jen recommends Simon and the Better Bone, a picture book written and illustrated by Corey R Tabor. Jen says: "Tabor reimagines Aesop’s 'The Dog and His Reflection.' Simon and the Better Bone is a lovely picture book about a dog named Simon who meets another dog at the pond.  Absolutely charming!"

Jen also recommends Have You Seen My Invisible Dinosaur? a picture book written and illustrated by Helen Yoon. Of this book, Jen says: "A young girl has lost her invisible dinosaur, how will she ever find him? Follow along in this simply adorable picture book to see if the friends will be reunited."

And finally, Jen (along with Tim McCarthy) recommends the latest middle grade novel from Dave Eggers, which we have autorgraphed copies of, a fact we've previously advertised in our weekly email newsletter. But the book has its official publication date this week, so let's officially include it in the blog now. The book is The Eyes & The Impossible, and of it Jen writes: "Dave Eggers’s latest middle grade novel is so pure and wonderful! Johannes is a free dog living in a park on an island. He’s the eyes for the bison who rule and keep the park in harmony. Strange things are happening in the park and Johannes has a big idea. A touching and thought-provoking novel with an irresistible character. The Eyes and the Impossible is truly a delight, I loved seeing the world through Johannes’ eyes."

Note that the link for this book is for the deluxe, wood-cut McSweeney's edition, which is the edition of which we have signed copies for sale in limited quantity.

Tim chimes in: "Johannes is a free dog, refusing to let himself be kept as a pet the way other dogs do, and he’s a keen observer. He has to be, with his senses trained on everything needed to survive in a huge urban park. He’s the Eyes, and other animals act as his Assistant Eyes. Together they watch for any changes that upset their park Equilibrium, and they report directly to the bison who have long lived as kept animals. Some of the people in the park are a stable and likable part of the Equilibrium. Others pose a threat, and human threats become harrowing in a flash. Young readers will be drawn to the original thinking, wisdom, and sly humor of the animals, as they comment on the strange behaviors of people without seeming human themselves. We get a marvelous look inside a world easily overlooked in our daily lives. We get a spine-tingling, profound conclusion, and we’re treated to a uniquely beautiful book. The artwork, the paper quality, the gilded edges, and the carved wooden cover all make this a book lovers dream!"

Here are the recs of books coming out in paperback this week.

Daniel recommends Bad Vibes Only (and Other Things I Bring to the Table) by 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?"

Both Daniel and Kay Wosewick recommend our next paperback pick. That's Don't Trust Your Gut: Using Data to Get What You Really Want in Life by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. Daniel says: "For those of you who loved Everybody Lies, the always entertaining Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has written a self-help book that uses not psychological theory, not meditation, nor endless arbitrary stories, but data to help you get what you want. Whether you want to pick the best partner, get the most fulfilling job, raise the best children (including pushing them into sports with the best scholarship payback), Don’t Trust Your Gut is the book for you. If you’re dating, it turns out you might look better in glasses. Check the data! My only beef? In rating which activities make you the happiest, reading does very poorly, but I noticed that the data does not distinguish between reading for work or school and reading for pleasure. Ridiculous! But I believe everything else."

Kay adds: "Gigantic databases and analytical techniques that didn’t exist 10+ years ago (internet usage data, iPhone-based research, artificial intelligence algorithms) are now providing surprising, non-intuitive conclusions about ourselves. Subjects include online dating success, marital satisfaction, nature vs nurture in parenting, athletic success, drivers of wealth, and what makes us happy. A must-read for online daters, couples on the verge of marriage, and folks thinking of opening a business. And strongly recommended for everyone else!"

Those two take care of  your paperback nonfic fix. On to Jason Kennedy for a floppy-covered fiction title: Just Like Mother by Anne Heltzel. Jason says: "Anne Heltzel has put a disturbing ring to the term Mother in this book. Maeve is born into a cult called The Mother Collective, which has extreme views on motherhood. Maeve’s best friend is her cousin, Andrea, who makes Maeve promise she will never leave. When Maeve is caught in a tight spot, she flees and enters foster care. Years later, Andrea reaches out to reconnect with Maeve, and that is when some real creepiness reintroduces itself. There are some very graphic scenes that left me squeamish, but Heltzel does an amazingly dark job of weaving a perfect trap for her character and not triggering it until Maeve is almost too far inside. Really looking forward to what twisted ideas she can come up with for what should be normal, comforting life experiences. Mother will never mean the same thing to me."

That's it for now - see you next week. Until then, read on.

Monday, May 1, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 2, 2023

Hello faithful readers. Once again, we have a selection of brand new books coming out this week that we have read and love and want you to enjoy, too. Let's get right to business.

Daniel Goldin is first with Paper Names by Susie Luo. Daniel says: "Two families, two economic trajectories, entwined by fate. Despite being a successful engineer in Dalian, Tony/Tongheng Zhang dreams of a better life in the United States, even after realizing that he’ll have to start over from the bottom. While working as a doorman in Manhattan, Tony bonds with Oliver, a young lawyer who lives in the building, who agrees to give Tony’s daughter Tammy piano lessons. The friendship winds up being a rung on the economic ladder from Flushing to Scarsdale; if only the worst thing they had to deal with was the uncomfortableness of a mentor relationship that veers into, how to put this? Tammy really likes playing Celine Dion songs. Like Tony, Oliver has also reinvented himself, distancing himself from his grandfather’s criminal past, but it might be difficult to outrun. I really liked the dual nature of the story – the multiple identities and reinvention, the parent/child expectations and disappointments. A captivating family drama!" 

Next up is Jason Kennedy for The Ferryman by Justin Cronin. Jason says: "Proctor is a Ferryman, an individual who helps citizens ‘retire’ to a mysterious island when their time comes. On the island, they become reborn as a younger version of themselves, ready to join the world anew. The first day we meet Proctor, he is called in to help his father ‘retire,’ and things pretty much go bonkers afterwards. Justin Cronin has crafted a strange world that has connections to our own (both historically and philosophically), but then he veers off into a dystopian/utopian world hidden behind leagues and leagues of brilliant blue ocean. This is by far my absolute favorite book by Cronin, from the surprises he unleashes, the trippy sequences that he lulls you into, to the frenetic, anxiety-driven ghost chases."

Does regular recommender Kay Wosewick have a book to add this week? No, she has two! First, it's Swamp Story by Dave Barry. Kay says: "Bad day? Pick up Swamp Story and it won’t take long before you start cracking up with laughter. Great medicine, great entertainment. Dave Barry needs to write more 'Florida Man' fiction; he’s a master."

Next, Kay suggests The Power of Trees: How Ancient Forests Can Save Us if We Let Them by Peter Wohlleben. Kay says of this book: "Wohlleben has taken off his gloves and has named the enemy: foresters, and associated players like government agencies, lumber companies, lobbyists, and the heavy machinery that kills soil for centuries (think of still-visible Roman roads). New, non-green careers for all (OK, that's my personal contribution). Next steps: 1) In unforested areas, plant pioneer species such as birch and aspen, which in time will shade and nurse the beech, oak, maple, etc. that will grow into ancient forests. 2) Leave existing forests to rehabilitate themselves as needed or to manage themselves if intact. 3) Pay forest owners for carbon they sequester; collect carbon tax for tree removal; find replacements for wood-based products. This is the third book 'save the forests' book I’ve recently read, but Wohlleben has nailed the solution in just a few strokes. FABULOUS!!!"

Let's go to Jen Steele next for her brief but pithy mention of Hula by Jasmin Iolani Hakes. Jen says: "A family saga set in Hilo, Hawai’i, Hula follows the women of the legendary Naupaka family. Narrated by a chorus, Hakes delivers a nuanced novel about family, home, and healing. A dynamic read!"

And now, over to Rachel Copeland for her take on Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros. Rachel says: "Violet Sorrengail comes from a family of military excellence, so when her mother forces her into the dragon rider program, she has no choice but to succeed or die trying. It doesn't help that the war college conscripts the children of rebels executed in the recent uprising, and her mother was the executioner. With fellow cadets looking for any opportunity to kill her and a body that breaks more easily than most, Violet has to rely on her wits to make it through the deadly program. And that's just the beginning! The thing with a new fantasy series is that you just have to dive in and trust that the writer knows what they're doing, and you're in good hands with Yarros. Hands down, this is one of the strongest openings to a fantasy series I've read in years. Violet is a character for us book nerds out there, one who makes you think it's possible to will your way into badassery through sheer determination, and honestly - we love to see it."

Tim McCarthy jumps in with his recommendation of the latest One and Only middle grade novel from Katherine Applegate, The One and Only Ruby. Tim says: "Just as delightful and touching as the first two books in this series, The One and Only Ruby is such a welcome continuation of the stories about Ivan and Bob. Applegate gives human voices to animals in a way that makes us laugh and cry, warms our hearts, and reveals a sense of truth about their lives. She teaches us, through them, about love and family and loss and hope and courage. The young elephant Ruby was born in Africa but lived with the gorilla Ivan and the small dog Bob at an American shopping mall zoo that degraded them for customer entertainment. Now they all have some dignity and safety in a park sanctuary, where Ruby is the littlest elephant, just getting her tusks as she navigates the responsibilities of growing up among her herd. Illustrator Patricia Castelao treats us to charming pictures that emphasize the body language of these beautiful creatures. The stories are based on true events, and Applegate offers us ways to help real elephants. This series is as unique and entertaining as children’s literature can be."

And in picture book recommendations, we have Jenny Chou for When You Can Swim, written and illustrated by Jack Wong. Jenny says: "My favorite vacation adventure took place off the coast of Hawaii, on a dolphin-watching cruise with my extended family of children, siblings, nieces, and nephews. Far from the shore we jumped into the ocean and dove down, down, experiencing the joy of swimming. When You Can Swim celebrates that feeling of confidence in the water, of holding your breath and opening your eyes to the wonder of oceans, lakes, and swimming pools. But it also celebrates learning to swim with a diverse group of kids and grownups and individual experiences with swimming. Readers will experience ‘a pond at dusk when the fish awaken,’ a sandy beach, and a flowing river along with the animals who inhabit the water and shorelines. The water welcomes all, spanning abilities from the wary to the confident. Beautiful illustrations and lovely prose make this a read-aloud to enjoy over and over. In a touching afterword, the author describes the changing attitudes towards swimming over the course of three generations of his family."

And those are the recs! We'll be back next week with more great books. Until then, read on.