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.

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