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.

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