Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 29, 2023

The last book rec blog of August? Wowee. Time flies. Might as well spend it reading a good book, right? Here are this week's picks.

Harlem After Midnight
by Louise Hare gets the Rachel Copeland recommendation treatment this week. Rachel says: "Lena Aldridge has made it to New York City, but she certainly hasn't made it big, not after the disaster that was her recent voyage across the Atlantic. With death in her wake, she looks for insights into her late father's past, only to find even more secrets, and more death. If that weren't enough, her only friend in Harlem, Will Goodman, has secrets of his own, and one of them might be deadly enough to put a target on Lena's back. Little does she know, in a few days' time, someone is going to fall from a third-story window clutching Lena's passport. Wow - I won't dare tell you what I love about this sophomore Canary Club mystery because it's just too good! All I can say is that Hare juggles three timelines with aplomb, and just as she lulled me into a false sense of security - surely she can't pull off another wild twist! - well, there goes the rug under my feet."

Next up, Jen Steele with a recommendation for The Lost Library by Rebecca Stead & Wendy Mass. Jen says: "Rebecca Stead & Wendy Mass weave a tale of ghosts, secrets, a diligent guardian cat, and the power of books. Evan's town does not have a library; it mysteriously went up in flames a long time ago. One day, a little free library (guarded by a large orange cat, no less) suddenly appears, so Evan decides to take two books. This decision will set Evan and his best friend, Rafe, on a course to solve some mysteries. Unfortunately, no one wants to answer their questions. Told through alternate points of views between Evan, the cat, and a ghost, I found The Lost Library to be one of the most charming middle grade books I've read this year!"

And those are the recs! We'll be back in this same little corner of the internet next week with more great books. Until then, read on.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 22, 2023

Welcome to another wonderful week of book recommendations from your friendly neighborhood Boswellians. Here are the books that we think you'll enjoy.

First, a book that actually came out last week but was originally slated to be released next week - at least that's what I wrote down when Jen originally wrote about it a couple months ago. So I'll split the difference and hit you with it today. Jen Steele recommends Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas. Jen says: "I loved this book! Isabel Cañas writes with such historical detail that it feels like you are right there with Nena and Néstor. Set in 1840s Mexico, Vampires of El Norte is powerful historical fiction with a supernatural twist! It’s a world of vaqueros and vampires, hacendados and healers, war and lost love. Put this novel at the top of your summer reading list."

We stick with Jen for our next rec, a middle-grade graphic novel called Barb and the Battle for Bailiwick by Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson. It's the third installment in the Barb the Last Berzerker series. And of if, Jen says: "Our favorite Zerk is back! It’s time for the big showdown between Barb and Witch Head. Will Barb prevail? Probably my favorite new middle grade graphic novel series. Full of action, humor, and lots of heart. Barb & Porkchop are the new dynamic duo!"

As for paperback picks, our first is a major favorite of the Boswellians - Lark Ascending by Silas House, a book that has four Boswellian recommendations. We love, love, love, love it! First, from Daniel Goldin: In the not-too-distant future, fires have ravaged much of the world, and America, like much of the world, has been taken over by extremists. Even the isolated Maine woods have become too dangerous. The only option is for Lark and his family to escape to Ireland, the only country still open to refugees. But during the harrowing voyage, not only does tragedy strike at every turn, but hopes for a peaceful resettlement are dashed. Can Lark, with the help of two newfound companions (one canine) find peace in the legendary settlement of Glendalough? I’m not generally a dystopian reader, but Lark Ascending’s beautiful language and imagery, combined with the emotional heft of the story, drew me in from the first paragraph."

Next, from Chris Lee, who picked Lark Ascending for his 2022 top 5: "If, like me, you have a less-than-sunny outlook on the prospect of avoiding simultaneous civil collapse and climate catastrophe in your lifetime, then you may find it counterintuitive when I tell you this novel of a young man running from the aftermath of those very events is the most comforting thing I’ve read all year. A dark book for dark times, Lark Ascending is, all the same, written so beautifully, full of honesty and compassion. In his old age, Lark recalls his harrowing journey to escape an America ruled by fundamentalist and swept by massive fires, sail across a stormy Atlantic, and trek across Ireland to a thin place that may offer sanctuary. House offers something necessary - hope that through all the violence, hatred, death, scarcity, and destruction of the impending collapse, a glimmer of humanity might remain."

We hosted House for an event for this book, but it wasn't one we recorded. But why don't we share with you this one, from our pals of Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis, who hosted House on the same tour?

Tim McCarthy chimes in: "It's Lark's clear voice that carries us through many terrifying moments. As an old man, he's asked to write the “whole particulars” of how he came to be in Ireland, starting with the ocean crossing after America became a war-torn, burning wasteland, and then looking further back to the way his family survived and escaped North America. They headed for the one place Lark’s parents thought they could be safe. All the while, he insists on living. There’s so much regret inside the grief, but ascend he does. And he has reasons: the people he loves who told him not to give up, and the sudden appearance of a dog. Protecting a dog is surely enough reason to live. Ascension defines the novel. The writing ascends to uncommon heights of beauty while affirming life as the refusal to submit, even when the desire to quit is relentless. Lark Ascending is brave in a way we desperately need, brave enough to see beauty through enormous pain. It’s also a warning. House makes us feel that this could easily happen to us, and soon."

And Kay Wosewick ties it all together: "Lark grows up as climate-driven wars pit gun-toting fanatics intent on complete control against loosely formed bands of resisters. While most of Lark's early life is spent idyllically at a distance, he is finally forced to travel a long distance through war zones. Lark recounts times of bliss and harrowing moments of horror with equally affecting and lovely prose."

Now we go back to Chris we go for another paperback release: Malice House Megan Shepherd. Chris says: "This is, to me, just the best kind of good, old-fashioned, 80s style (John Saul, anyone?) horror novel. So much fun. A not-very-successful artist (though quite talented horror flick summarizer [this is somehow her job, and yes, I am jealous]) inherits her famous-writer-father’s ramshackle oceanfront estate, complete with his collections of Pulitzer medals, books, booze, and maybe a few demons. Further ingredients include: a strange, secret manuscript, monsters that range from the near-comically warped (Pinchy the ankle-tendon-snapping blob from under the bed, anyone?) to the truly dark, sinister, and all-too-human varieties, and so, so many dark family secrets to be revealed. And Shepherd packs lots more into a book that veers from haunted-house creeper to small-town-power-struggle thriller to gothic-family-curse mind-blower, and she hits the best notes of each horror subgenre along the way. A perfect Halloween-season novel and/or beach read for cool weirdos."

Kathy Herbst recommends Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng. Kathy says: "Another well-written, emotionally moving book from Ng. This one weaving the stories of America's past, present, and, possibly, its future. 12 -year- old Bird searches for the mother who left him years ago in order to understand why she left and what connection she might have to a series of small acts of rebellion. Ng's novel encompasses grief as well as hope for an America living under an oppressive regime, ongoing police brutality, racial violence, and economic inequality."

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

Monday, August 14, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 15, 2023

Halfway through August - what!? Console yourself by sitting in the sun with a new book. Here's what we recommend this week.

Take a back-to-school trip with The English Experience by Julie Schumacher, which gets the Boswellian treatment by both Daniel Goldin and Rachel Copeland.

First, Daniel says: "For those of you who loved Dear Committee Members, the classic epistolary novel told in letters of recommendation, beleaguered English Professor Fitger of the chronically underfunded Payne University is back, and this time, he’s been asked to lead a study abroad program in England. There’s a reason he was the director’s last choice! And while we don’t have the letters this time, we do get to read the students’ daily assignments, which tend towards the offbeat, perhaps due to one student’s offhand comment to classmates that Fitger likes his papers experimental. At equal turns poignant and hilarious, The English Experience shows that despite ridiculous odds, we will do whatever it takes for human connection."

And from Rachel: "When professionally tired English department chair Jason Fitger is pressganged into chaperoning the idiotically named Experience: Abroad winterim program, it's just another indignity in a long career of them. Resigned to revisiting a place he never liked in the first place (England, ironically), it's up to Fitger to keep eleven youths alive and academically engaged for three whole weeks, even if it kills him. The latest from Schumacher completes a trilogy focusing on Fitger and his foibles, but it holds up on its own as an exploration of a specific undergrad experience: the study abroad program. And let me tell you, it's painfully, hilariously accurate. The tours, the essays, the misuse of grammar and idioms, the students ranging from distracted to drunk to far too intense - if you were lucky (or unlucky) enough to experience a study abroad program, whether as a student or teacher, The English Experience will have you howling."

Schumacher appears at Boswell for this book on Wednesday, August 30, 6:30 pm, in conversation with area author Lauren Fox. Click here to register and find more info.

Next, Kay Wosewick recommends In the Lobby of the Dream Hotel by Genevieve Plunkett. Kay says: "Portia floats through life, as if behind a lightly warped glass that keeps her one step from reality. Curiously, she marries a lawyer whose view of the world is starkly different from hers. Portia's pregnancy compels Nathan to begin questioning Portia's tenuous, foggy connection to the world. Nathan’s criticism becomes relentless. In quiet rebellion, Portia stops her bipolar meds and engages in an emotionally intense but physically unconsummated affair. Her confession ignites Nathan's wrath; Portia fights, but Nathan has superior stamina for debate. Portia relents and enters institutional confinement. Nathan wins. Might this a be cautionary tale?"

And now over to Jen Steele for Make a Move, Sunny Park! by Jessica Kim. Jen says: "Make a Move, Sunny Park! is a delightful middle grade novel about Sunny Park, a seventh grader with social anxiety who loves to dance, loves K-Pop, and is navigating her first friendship breakup. Jessica Kim does a great job exploring the ups and downs of friendships and how to navigate and recognize healthy as well as unhealthy relationships. This is a companion to Stand Up, Yumi Chung! but can read as a standalone. I look forward to Kim's next novel in this universe!"

Back to Kay again for her take on Dust by the appropriately named author Dusti Bowling. Kay says: "The arrival of a new boy in school coincides with Clear Canyon City’s first recorded dust storm. Adam stumbles as he walks to his desk and brushes against Avalyn. Instantly, it feels as if all the air has been sucked out of her body. This isn’t the first time Avalyn has felt as if she absorbed someone else’s emotions, much like X-Men’s Empath does. Dust storms continue to coincide with Avalyn and Adam touching briefly. What is happening? You’ll race through the book to find a dark answer. Dust bravely depicts a type of child abuse that, tragically, is not uncommon. Tenderly and effectively, Bowling describes reasonably easy steps a child can take, whether they are abused, or suspect someone else is abused."

And now, Jenny Chou chimes in with a book that came out last week but is just as good today. That would be Unnecessary Drama by Nina Kenwood. Jenny says: "At the start of her first year of college, Brooke moves into a house with two roommates and only one house rule: no unnecessary drama. Brooke’s anxiety makes her more of the rules in a color-coded binder (or possibly a spreadsheet) type, but she’s trying to disguise herself as chill and fun. But that all goes out the window when one of her two roommates turns out to be Jesse, the high school friend she awkwardly kissed at a party four years earlier. His clumsy and very public denial that he might actually like her romantically left a scar so painful that Brooke never spoke to him again. To keep their no-drama roommate Harper from kicking them out, they pretend to get along in front of her which leads to laugh-out-loud moments of misunderstandings and even some fake-dating. The enemies-to-lovers trope is well played here, and the side characters are a delightful bunch, including an ex-boyfriend, a failed blind date, and Brooke’s wild older sister, the cheerful one who everyone loves. Brooke is such a relatable character that I found myself thinking over and over, 'Yeah, that would totally happen to me.' Teens will love Brooke and her gang of friends, but don’t miss out on the hilarity and drama just because you’re a grown-up!"

And over in the world of paperback picks, we have Jenny Chou for Book of Night by Holly Black. Jenny says: "If you, like me, are waiting not-so-patiently for Leigh Bardugo to write the sequel to her adult novel, The Ninth House, here’s something to keep you busy in the meantime. Holly Black’s first foray into writing for grown-ups is an urban fantasy with a stunning mix of magic, horror, heists, and the perfect amount of impossible romance. There is nothing I love better than an author who creates a believable twist on magic, and Black’s world building is outstanding. Every page feels overcast and dark, and no wonder; human shadows are infused with power to be sold or traded and even killed for. Additionally, her characters are nuanced and sharply portrayed. Main character Charlie tries to keep a low-profile as a bartender, hiding from her past as a thief, but as in all the best novels, that past just won’t leave her alone. Her sister and seemingly perfectly nice boyfriend struck me as not to be trusted from the beginning. Were my instincts right? Find out for yourself on May 3rd! But here’s a warning for you, clear your schedule before you turn to page one, because you won’t put Book of Night down until you reach the gasp-out-loud last page."

And those are our picks for you this week! We'll see you again next week with more recommendations. Until then, read on.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 8, 2023

The summer's flying by. Make sure to slow down and read the books, okay? This week's crop of recommendations is an eclectic mix. 

First, from Tim McCarthy, we have Prophet by Helen MacDonald and Sin Blaché. Tim says: "How did these writers make a science fiction thriller with a military bent so much fun? I think it’s the freaky X-Files-style mystery that immediately jumps into play, combined with super-smart, snarky dialogue between convincing, entertaining characters. One operative is British (by way of India), and the other is American. They’re reminiscent of Odd Couple roommates with a complicated past who both love and hate each other in equal measure. They have very unusual, essential skills, and the top dogs need their contrasting personalities side by side again. This time they’re confronting a powerful network of forces while looking for answers to what seems out of this world. Indeed! What in the world is Prophet? The authors say they hope we’ll “have a blast” with their book. Done deal! It’s a blast, and it’s also a deep relationship study with beautiful, tender humanity. After reading a bit of Helen Macdonald’s earlier writing, I’m surprised that she’s doing something so different. What doesn’t surprise me is the high level of intelligence. I’ve seen that before from her, and this bright collaboration with Blaché is every bit as impressive!"

Next, from Gao Her, it's Tomb Sweeping by Alexandra Change. Gao says: "A beautiful collection of short stories that express the various emotional experiences between human beings. I found myself doing everything from reevaluating my own relationships ('A Visit') to silently weeping in my car ('Li Fang'). It was as if all of my most inner thoughts were captured in this book, and while reading, those same thoughts were regurgitated onto the forefront of my mind. A little tip: when you finish reading the story 'Li Fang,' go back and reread it, but this time, read it from the end to the beginning."

Now, from Oli Schmitz, a recommendation for the latest installment in the manga adaptation of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, illustrated by Gabi Nam, Fangirl, the Manga: Vol 3. Oli writes: "Fangirl is so true to the experience of being a fan - to having a story you hold so close to your heart, it's sacred. The story follows Cath, a college freshman who writes a popular fanfic (she's a fan with fans of her own!) and is still devoted to the books she and her twin sister grew up loving. Cath faces roommate strangeness, new and familiar anxieties, family issues, and potential romance, all while trying to hold on to the characters who've become sacred to her, the stories she writes, and the sister she used to share these things with. Rowell's story has been expertly captured in this graphic novelization of a story I've loved since 2013!"

And from Jen Steele, a middle grade book recommendation for Dear Brother, written by Alison McGhee and illustrated by Tuan Nini. Jen says: "Being a little sister is tough, especially when you feel your big brother gets his way all the time. McGhee’s Dear Brother is a tender and funny epistolary middle grade novel told from the little sister’s point of view. Fast paced with great illustrations!"

In new paperback releases (our paperback picks, if you will), Daniel Goldin recommends A Map for the Missing by Belinda Huijuan Tang. Daniel writes: "Belinda Huijuan Tang’s excellent debut, inspired by her father’s upbringing in Anhui province, opens in early 1990s California. Yitian is called back to his hometown when his mother reports his father missing. While Yitian has hardly adapted to America, the return stirs up its own haunted memories, a tortured life with his father, a lost bond with his brother Yishou, and an unfinished longing for his onetime-girlfriend Hanwen. Though framed as a missing person mystery, Yitian’s journey helps him unlock deeper questions of his family and perhaps one day understand his father. The Cultural Revolution is one of repression and loss that affected generations. In making the political personal, Tang brings this period to vibrant life."

And it's back to Oli Schmitz for their take on Megan Gidding's novel The Women Could Fly. Oli writes: "In this strange, lovely, and beautifully told novel, a bi and biracial woman confronts difficult choices and a complicated family history. Giddings seamlessly weaves social commentary into the narrative as she contends with the history of persecution for witchcraft - with power and otherness - and brings it into a contemporary speculative-fictional world. The Upper Midwest setting is part of an America that mirrors our own in its patterns of oppression. The existence of witches and the fictional state's regulation of women for fear of witchcraft offer a fascinating way to examine how fear drives marginalization in our reality. A novel of learning to exist in (and apart from) the world in which you find yourself."

And those are the recs! See you next week with more staff recommendations. Until then, read on.