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.

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