Monday, June 5, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of June 6, 2023

The first week of the month always means many new books. There are several we'd like to recommend.

Daniel Goldin has five (FIVE!)recommendations to start out this June. His first is a book that three of us love - All the Sinners Bleed, the latest novel from rising crime fiction star SA Cosby. Daniel says: "For once, Cosby’s hero is neither a current nor reformed outlaw, but a sheriff. Not just a sheriff, but the first Black sheriff of Charon County, an area where the troubled past is still simmering. Concerned that his biggest problem is a march by Christian Nationalists, Sheriff Titus Crown is blindsided by a school shooting, where the victim is a beloved teacher, and in addition, the shooter, killed by a trigger-fingered officer. This does nothing to ingratiate Crown with the formerly supportive Black community, led by an activist minister. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg; before this story is fully told, there will be plenty of secrets revealed and, as promised in the title, shed blood. Edge of your seat thrills, masterful storytelling, and what a voice – another winner from SA Cosby!"

Rachel Copeland offers rec #2 for Cosby's book. She says "The South is haunted, and so is Titus Crown. A former FBI agent turned first Black sheriff of his hometown of Charon County, Titus's days are filled with white supremacists, holier-than-thou church leaders, and bureaucratic blowhards, but it's the memories that keep him up at night. And then a school shooting uncovers a serial killer in their midst, and nobody in Charon County will be the same. For most people, the prospect of a tightly-plotted narrative with a truly horrifying killer is enough. But the real staying power comes from SA Cosby's voice and the undeniable truth of life in a small Southern town. If you assumed everyone in a small town knows each other, All the Sinners Bleed is here to disabuse you of that notion."

And Chris Lee has the final word (on this book, anyway). He adds: "Phew! Crime fiction kingpin SA Cosby grabs the police procedural by the throat and dunks it into the murkiest depths of the Chesapeake Bay. This book is very seriously not playing around and gets about as dark as a moonshine blackout. Cosby and his hero (the first black sheriff in a rural, Eastern Virginia county) stare straight into the heart of the South’s (let’s be honest, America’s) worst bugaboos - race, religion, good ol’ boy politics, fanaticism, and violence - the blackest parts of broken men’s hearts. Yet what makes this one special are the sparks of kindness between characters that Cosby clings too – both calloused-hand country tough love and the tender care that passes between father and son – it’s a reminder of what grace can be. Oh, and that voice! Cosby bends language to his will and coins more than a couple delightful new Southernisms along the way. As long as the creek don’t rise and the good Lord’s willing, I’ll keep reading Cosby’s excellent books."

Want to meet the author of this marvelous mystery? Great! SA Cosby appears at Boswell on Thursday, June 15, 6:30 pm for a conversation with the above recommender Chris Lee. Click here to get more information and register right now!

Next up, Daniel recommends Relentless Melt, a paperback original novel by Jeremy P Bushnell. Daniel says: "It is 1909 Boston and Artie Quick is working the counter at Filene’s Basement Store. To foster her interest in solving crimes, she disguises herself for the men-only criminal investigation class at the YMCA. When the class is cancelled, Artie suspects it might be connected to a couple of other suspicious events that are on her radar, and with the help of her wealthy and somewhat eccentric acquaintance Theodore, she decides to investigate. The clues lead to a crime more unexpected than first imagined; suffice it to say that her friend’s interest in magic will come in handy. Disturbing yes, but also a nice combination of thrills and philosophical pondering, like a period X-Files."

Next Daniel recommends Hedge by Jane Delury. He says: "Maud is a garden historian who has taken a job helping renovate a Hudson Valley estate, a continent away from her husband. She’s leaving him; he just doesn’t know that yet. A friendship with an archeologist on the property soon turns into something more, only when her daughters arrive for the summer, it makes things initially more complicated, and soon enough, impossible. Can a novel be both serene and turbulent at the same time? In the case of Hedge, yes, as it counterpoints a woman and family in crisis with the serene tranquility of nature. Can Maud come out of this without destroying herself? That is the question in this provocative, passionate, and philosophical novel."

Thirdly, Daniel suggests Farrell Covington and the Limits of Style by Paul Rudnick. Of this, Daniel says: "When uber-rich Yalie Farrell Covington spots middle-class New Jersey freshman Nate Reminger across a crowded theater club, it’s the beginning of a crazy relationship that spans decades and continents. No one can keep them apart, only many try, from Covington’s villainous Wichita family, to Hollywood, and AIDS. I really enjoyed how Rudnick included elements of his own life into the story, reflected through a funhouse mirror. Sister Act becomes Habit Forming; see if you can spot them all! Farrell Covington and the Limits of Style veers into madcap and perhaps far-fetchedness, but it is always entertaining, ultimately moving, and much like Rudnick’s play Jeffrey (translates to I Dare You in this novel), uncompromising."

Daniel turns to nonfiction for his final choice: Game of Edges: The Analytics Revolution and the Future of Professional Sports by Bruce Schoenfeld. Daniels says: "If you read Moneyball and were wondering what happened afterward, Game of Edges has the answer – the data revolution is here. It has overtaken baseball, where home runs, walks, and strikeouts now dominate the game. It’s hit the NBA, where the three-pointer is the shot of choice. And as Schoenfeld shows, it’s making inroads in other sports too, where data analysists are stats obsessed. Much of his book chronicles the American takeover of undervalued English soccer teams It’s not just the rise of technology that is driving this but also the greater valuation of sports teams and the rise of venture capitalists and tech billionaires as owners. And there’s no question that these changes have also led to the explosion of sports gambling too. And there are downside too – these teams may win more, but alternate leadership styles are marginalized, even if they are successful. And more than that, it's made the games more boring. In just one example, the stats suggest pulling pitchers after two times through the lineup. Who’s going to pitch a no-hitter with that philosophy? So, teams may win more, but fans are watching less. The thing is, trends turn on a dime – I’ve been told that the NBA is moving away from safe stat-based shots back to superstar ball at the net. The story isn’t over yet! Hey, nobody’s going to take sports advice from me, but I do know a good story, and take my word, Schoenfeld knows how to tell one. 

Daniel's not the only one with four recommendations this week. Kay Wosewick matches him with her four! Her first is for At the Edge of the Woods by Kathryn Bromwich. Kay writes: "Bromwich has crafted a lovely, quiet, and haunting tale of a woman who escapes a luxurious but miserable life to live alone in a tiny cottage outside a small village. Laura becomes a creature of the forest but still depends on the village for small jobs to buy necessities. The villagers’ trust is necessary to get and retain work and be safe in her isolation. Can Laura throw off her once-lofty status to become a member of a tiny, rough-edged community? Gritty and very satisfying."

Kay's next pick is The Endless Vessel by Charles Soule. Kay says: "A dramatically beautiful object - clearly not of this world - is given to the owner of a small company. Employee Lily sees signs of her long-dead father in the innards of the object, setting her on a mission to find where it came from. The story that unfolds is beautiful, magical, hopeful, occasionally frightening, and often inspiring. This story will grip you tightly until it releases you, finger by finger, in the end."

Thirdly, Kay suggests Thing: Inside the Struggle for Animal Personhood, by Samuel Machado, Cynthia Sousa, and Steven M Wise. Kay writes: "Happy the Asian elephant made news in 2022 when an appeals court denied her habeas corpus (personhood). This book presents scientific and philosophical reasons why elephants, great apes, and many whales qualify for personhood. Not a diatribe, this book calmly explains why humanity must finally dismantle its false sense of superiority over animals."

Kay's fourth recommendation is Open Throat by Henry Hoke. Kay says: "There’s not an extraneous word in this one-of-a-kind, remarkable story narrated by a lonely lion living beneath LA’s HOLLYWOOD sign. I LOVE THIS BOOK!!"

Jason Kennedy brings us the next recommendation, for The Memory of Animals by Claire Fuller, author of novels such as Bitter Orange and Swimming Lessons. Of this latest novel, Jason writes: "Claire Fuller gave me PTSD at the very outset of this book as Neffy went into a vaccine trial to combat a pandemic. When virus mutates rapidly (cue more PTSD), and Neffy wakes up from fighting off the virus with the experimental vaccine, the world is gone. But there are other people trapped with her in the medical building, and this is the heart of the story: how they relate to and end up relying on one and other. It's a novel about the human condition during a crisis, but Claire Fuller also looks at the trip Neffy took to get to this point. The future is a frightening place, but we can't live in the past."

And how about a new picture book recommendation from our kids buyer Jen Steele?! She suggests We Are Going to Be Pals! by author and illustrator Mark Teague. Jen says: "We Are Going to Be Pals! is a delightful novel about friendship between a talkative egret and a silent rhinoceros.  Teague’s bright and fun illustrations bring to life a day between the seemingly unlikely duo. A clever read that’s sure to be a hit!"

And how about some paperback picks? We've got two write-ups for Slenderman: Online Obsession, Mental Illness, and the Violent Crime of Two Midwestern Girls by Kathleen Hale. First, from Chris Lee: "Slenderman is a perfect example of true crime writing at its best – throughout a detailed account of Waukesha’s Slenderman stabbing and years of legal fallout, Hale searches for the places where the legal system fails us and where we, as people, fail each other. What is justice, really, and how can it be better served? The facts of the case are not in dispute, though widely misreported. Case in point: the single crime’s only victim survived, yet the incident is still often known as the ‘Slenderman murders.’ And key elements were all but ignored by a tough-on-crime judge hellbent on trying the girls as adults according to an outdated, illogical Wisconsin law enacted out fear of the superpredator myth. The facts are: two 12-year-old girls, one suffering from severe early-onset schizophrenia and one with pathological attachment issues, misunderstood online YA horror fiction as reality and then plotted and attempted to murder their classmate. A native Wisconsinite with a sensitive and fact-oriented eye, Hale cuts through the slogans attached to the case (Internet Evil! Adult Crime, Adult Time!) to understand the ties between mental illness, Midwestern stoicism, violence, and reactionary impulses. It’s a horrible incident, yes, but Hale well makes the case for the necessity of talking honestly about hard things to shine some light into the dark."

And from Parker Jensen: "The Waukesha Slenderman stabbing, often mistakenly referred to as the ‘Slenderman Murders’, left many shocked and morbidly intrigued. Because the true facts of the case were blurred, fumbled, and outright ignored, the idea of two 12-year-old girls committing such a violent crime all in the name of an internet boogeyman is confusing and downright disconcerting. But that was never the full story. Kathleen Hale's telling of the tale is extremely comprehensive, well researched, and compellingly written. Told with facts and not sensationalism in mind, Slenderman is the best true crime book I've read in years. I was glued to the pages as Hale pulled back the layers of this complicated story, exploring the ways in which a young girl's ignored mental health crisis, backward judicial and mental health services systems, and Midwestern attitudes came together to create a truly tragic scenario. It's a hard story in which no one wins, but you'll have to decide for yourself if justice was served. Thankfully, Hale is willing to have that conversation. I haven't stopped thinking about this case or the three girls since I closed the book, leaving me to wonder, what does justice look like, and how we as a society can do better?"

Jenny Chou recommends Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Jenny says: "Phoebe Oppenheimer arrived in the world seventeen years after her triplet siblings, but as she likes to point out, she’s exactly the same age. Sally, Harrison, Lewyn, and Phoebe started as four embryos in a petri dish, three implanted, and one sent off to be frozen and just about forgotten. The triplets don’t exactly create the loving, close family their mother Johanna envisioned, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that they can’t stand each other by the time they leave for college. In addition, their dad has checked out of their lives, supposedly (but only partially) due to his obsession with his art collection. Johanna, still hoping to create the blissful, loving family of her dreams, makes what feels like an impulsive decision, but actually did take quite a bit of planning. She hires a surrogate to carry the embryo that becomes Phoebe, the child nobody really wanted (including Johanna), but perhaps the one they all needed. Her wise and slightly cynical voice carries the novel from beginning to end, catching the reader up on all the many things she missed out on through her arrival seventeen years too late. She’s one of the few people you won’t want to strangle by the end of the book, but if you like messy family dynamics, then this one is a winner!"

It wouldn't be a staff rec blog without a Tim McCarthy rec. And he sneaks into the paperback releases this week with his words on Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe by David Maraniss. Tim writes: "Swedish King Gustav V apparently told Jim Thorpe, as he handed him a gold medal at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, that he was “the most wonderful athlete in the world.” Thorpe was certainly admired and sought after worldwide for his unmatched athleticism and talent. Everyone wanted to see him, wherever he went. He was on World Series teams, he was there at the inception of the NFL, and later he had many small Hollywood film roles, befriending the biggest stars of the day. Thorpe was often used as a novelty as well, a drawing card constantly subject to racial stereotypes, and as time passed he became more actively involved with indigenous people’s rights. As a man, Jim Thorpe had serious human flaws and struggled constantly to succeed, but he was personally kind and generous, offering a huge smile to all. He never seemed inclined to pity himself or stop chasing his dreams. The extraordinary details of his life, including many connections to Wisconsin and Milwaukee, are endlessly fascinating, and Maraniss makes them exceptionally smooth reading. He wraps Thorpe's life into the story of America, and he’s blunt about our cruel contradictions in such an intelligent way that my progressive anger feels completely validated. This is a top-flight history lesson that separates the truth from the myth of a legendary and iconic American!"

Now it's back to Daniel Goldin for Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks from Patrick Radden Keefe. Daniel says: "While I have a subscription to The New Yorker, I don’t read every long-form article. In fact, I consider it a triumph if I can get through the cartoons, Talk of the Town, at least one review, and at least one article.  But even when I did read some of the pieces collected in Rogues, I found it fascinating to revisit them as part of a collection. Rogues, particularly if you exclude the closing profile of Anthony Bourdain, reads as a collection of true crime short stories, being that they have the vibrancy of the best fiction. I love the way traditional crime subjects like drug cartels and arms dealers are mixed with the corporate misdeeds of unscrupulous hedge fund managers, look-the-other-way bankers, and unrepentant television producers, leading me to wonder if we should reshelve some of those corporate narrative books that are currently in our business section. Whether you want to read more Patrick Radden Keefe or are just hungering for juicy narrative nonfiction, this should satisfy you 12-fold."

Let's stick with Daniel for The Two Lives of Sara by Catherine Adel West. Daniel says: "It’s early 1960s Memphis, and Sara King, on the run from trouble in Chicago, has taken a job at a boarding house run by Mama Sugar, the aunt of her close friend. There she finds a new community of friends, found family, and even a possible beau, but there’s trouble too, in the form of Mama Sugar’s errant son and the even shadier type after him to repay a loan. Steeped in Memphis’s Civil Rights struggles and packed with a treasure trove of references great Black writers, musicians, and artists, West’s second novel is a powerful and emotional story of a woman trying to find her place in a world. And while the book works completely on its own, readers of Saving Ruby King will savor West bringing one of the secondary characters of that novel to vivid life."

Kathy Herbst also recommends this novel! She says: "An intensely moving and brilliantly written story of pain and loss and the search for love and forgiveness. Sara moves from Chicago to Memphis to escape a troubled past. There, in Mama Sugar's boarding house, her son is born, and she begins to find her way to the promise of a better life. But dealing with past trauma on a personal level as well as the larger issues of racism and segregation makes her journey difficult. There are no easy answers and no fairy tale endings in this story, but following Sara on her journey is worth every minute spent reading this heartfelt book."

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