Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of September 19, 2023

Chris Lee kicks of this week's recommending with The Book of (More) Delights by Ross Gay, a follow up to his essay collections Inciting Joy and, naturally, The Book of Delights. Chris says: "A new Ross Gay book is always, yes, I'm going to say it - a delight. Each essay is a little gift - an invitation to join the poet in moments when delight (and I can't say enough how important - how necessary - it is that he generally uses delight as an active word, as a verb) changes his relationship with the world around him - and maybe makes us reconsider our own, too. Man, this dude is a real one, and this book is an earthy, bare hands digging in the dirt kind of balm for alienation. Read it and live better."

Next up is Tim McCarthy, who  recommends This Indian Kid: A Native American Memoir by Eddie Chuculate. Tim says: "Eddie Chuculate offers us the story of an indigenous boy’s day-to-day life, but he was a boy who never lived on a reservation and wasn’t part of America’s distant past. He was a modern kid who lived in racially mixed towns during the 1970s and 80s, and he thinks that makes his story a bit different from the indigenous books he’s read. I do, too. He and I think a lot alike. I’m only six years older than Eddie. We had the exact same old-fashioned shows on our family television sets as kids. We saw the same sports stars play. We both won vinyl records by obsessively calling into radio stations; his was Jimmy Buffett and mine was an entire Led Zeppelin library! He was a better student, and the trouble he got into wasn’t like mine. But the most fascinating difference is that he grew up in rural Oklahoma (where his distant ancestors were forced to go), and my suburban Milwaukee childhood was much further removed from the land and in some ways much more protected. I wasn’t about to hunt rabbits alone with a ten-year-old shotgun-toting friend. Our stark similarities walk side by side with our stark differences, making this memoir of a full childhood mind-bending for me. Eddie tells it with a voice just like he’s a kid back in Oklahoma, a warm, sincere tone that I think will fascinate today’s young people just like it did me."

And now it's over to Rachel Copeland for Starter Villain, the latest from John Scalzi. Of it, Rachel says: "Divorced substitute teacher Charlie Fitzer doesn't expect anything when his estranged uncle Jake dies - even if he was a billionaire. So when he inherits what turns out to be his uncle's supervillain empire, he's more than a little nonplussed. And that's before he finds out that the admin department is composed of sentient cats. Throw in a volcano lair, a few powerful enemies, and some truly foulmouthed dolphins, and Charlie's got himself in quite the pickle. It's hard to explain how delightful Starter Villain is, as so much of it is dependent on Scalzi's uniquely understated comedic je ne sais quoi. Charlie is the perfect everyman, with the best quality of all: knowing when to shut up and listen to the cats. You won't have more fun this year than the time it takes you to read this gem."

How about we go to now to Jen Steele for her take on Red Rabbit, the latest novel by Alex Grecian. Jen says: "Witches and ghouls and demons, oh my! Red Rabbit is a thrilling and atmospheric western with a wide cast of characters, both human and otherworldly. There's a bounty on the witch Sadie Grace and everyone wants to collect. Hell will rain down on a small town in Kansas, and Sadie Grace is ready for it. Amongst the bounty seekers is a ragtag group heading Sadie's way, and everyone's life will change, for better or worse. I thought this was a really fun read! A great mix of the wild west, horror, magic, and mayhem."

And finally, we hear from Greta Borgealt about Pockets: An Intimate History of How We Keep Things Close by Hannah Calrson. Greta says: "Have you ever asked yourself, why are women's pockets generally smaller than men's pockets? In the book Pockets, by Hannah Carlson, the author will answer this question and more. This book goes all the way back to the beginning. Surprisingly, this account of history has a feminist lens. It is more interesting than one would think, and you don't have to be very knowledgeable about fashion to be able to enjoy this book."

That is a great to-read stack, isn't it? We'll be back next week with more recs, but these selections should keep you busy in the interim. Until next time, read on, dear readers, read on.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of September 12, 2023

Another week, another great bunch of books to add to the ol' to-read stack. Here are the recs.

Both Chris and Jason recommend Rouge, the latest novel from Bunny and All's Well author Mona Awad. First, from Chris: "Mona Awad's mesmerizing new novel is a dark fairy tale of grief, love, obsession, memory, and the shadows we find in the mirror. Of Tom Cruise, secret worlds, and skin care. Rouge asks this heart-rending question: how does a mother's love both protect and break someone? A gripping book about the ways we'll destroy ourselves for a dream (a nightmare) of beauty."

And Jason adds: "At the heart of this cerebral, hallucinogenic, and haunting new novel lies a relationship story of Mother and Daughter. And beauty and beauty products. Belle comes home to bury her mother, who accidentally fell into the ocean. It all begins innocently enough, but when Belle begins to pack up her mother's things, her mother's pair of red heels seem to guide her to an opulent, strange spa called Rouge. Trust in Mona Awad to take you on a bizarre, fairy-tale story that has seriously horrible things to say about the beauty industry. It’s also a wonderful story about miscommunications and missed moments between parent and child. Rouge never let me go - this is Mona Awad's best yet!"

Kay jumps into the recommeding pool next with Crossings: How Road Ecology is Shaping the Future of Our Planet by science writer Ben Goldfarb. Kay says: "I am so excited to discover a new (at least for me) subject in ecology/environmental studies: road ecology. Road ecology is the study of how life changes for plants and animals near roads and traffic. One of the biggest road ecology issues is all too familiar: roadkill. US drivers kill one million animals every day! Wow. Remedial action is uncommon. Of projects completed, many were initiated by individuals or small groups to fix massive, ongoing roadkill in a specific location. The design of overpasses and underpasses that successfully draw targeted animals across is surprisingly challenging, but there is progress. Other issues under this umbrella include noise and light pollution; excess heat generation; and runoff of salt, oil, exhaust, and other poisons. Road ecology is a young field, so it is rarely considered when new roads are planned. Since every major new road comes with thousands of other new roads built to and from it, road ecology must be incorporated into the planning process. Get involved when possible! A final note: one of the most environmentally impactful road ecology actions is to remove roads from national and state lands, especially forests. Every little unpaved road negatively affects the environment. Let’s get to work!"

Kathy now recommends a new short story collection, this one by Kate Atkinson, who is also author of Life After Life and Shrines of Gaiety. The book is Normal Rules Don't Apply, and of it Kathy says: "An imaginative and engaging book of short stories that are full of wit, humor, and unexpected connections. The characters and the situations they face are delightfully inventive, with spot on observations about human nature and relationships. Couldn't put it down, so I read one after another, though I usually pace myself with a book of short stories!"

Next, Jen recommends Godkiller, the first book of a new fantastical series by Hannah Kaner. Jen says: "This book gave me chills just from the prologue! Hannah Kaner has created a fantastical world full of wild gods, political intrigue, and danger around every corner. Can a godkiller, a knight, and a young noble girl with a god of white lies entwined within her soul work together, let alone trust each other? Godkiller is a captivating fantasy that will have you hooked from the start!"

And Daniel recommends a new board book by Elise Gravel called I'm Hungry. Daniel says: "Elise Gravel, beloved (at least by me) for her collection of message monster customizable postage stamps, also has a series of board books, a contemporary take on the classic Mr Men and Miss children’s books. In I’m Hungry, a monster eats a slice of pizza, followed by the plate, the pizza box, and more. That monster is hungry! Giggles aplenty, all the way to the surprise ending."

Onto the paperback picks. We'll stick with Daniel for his words for Lucy by the Sea, a novel by the one and only Elizabeth Strout. Daniel says: "Starting moments after the close of Oh William!, Elizabeth Strout’s latest finds Lucy Barton in lockdown with her first husband William in a small town in Maine. The joy of Lucy is in her astute observations; the peril is that her heightened sensitivity and sometimes passive nature can lead her into many a fraught relationship. I loved the way Strout showed that Lucy is a citizen of Strout’s Yoknapatawpha, with appearances not just by Bob Burgess, but also Olive Kitteridge’s aide at the assisted living center. Reading Lucy by the Sea recaptures every small memory of early COVID, from the panic about surfaces and the desire to escape urban environments to the eventual politicization of the virus, so beautifully that I was willing to relive them."

Oli Schmitz is next to sing the praises of Nona the Ninth. Oli says: "This third installment in The Locked Tomb series feels like the beginning of the end, with a story that had me under its thrall from beginning to end. Muir's humor and incredibly distinct character voices shine through as usual, but Nona is decidedly brighter than the previous two books' narrative styles. Even through Nona's sunny eyes, readers will see signs of a coming apocalypse around every turn: chaos and uncertainty surrounding her as she goes to school, pets a very good dog named Noodle, and plans a party. And just as pressing as the chaotic present is the unraveling of the past, chapters which I had to hold myself back from skipping to in order to find out how the path of humanity veered toward a future of Necromancers in space 10,000 years from now. Where many dystopian and sci-fi books fail when it comes to a “how we got here” storyline, Muir handles it as expertly as the character dynamics and truly, perfectly unhinged humor. Now is the perfect time to dive into The Locked Tomb series!"

And Chris Lee recommends the memoir Stay True by Hua Hsu, which was both one of Chris's top 5 books of last year and a Pulitzer Prize winner! Chris says: "This memoir is so many things: a time capsule of 90s America from a West Coast outsider, a dissection of friendship through lenses of philosophy and language theory, a lived account of Asian diaspora in America. It’s road trips, cigarette breaks, mixtapes, and late nights goofing off. It’s the tone of nostalgia from a Smashing Pumpkins song. It’s the core-deep impact a friend can have, and it’s the tragedy of an early, senseless, violent loss. This book tore me completely apart. For anyone who’s ever found a friend who let them find themselves, for anyone who’s ever lost a friend who took a chunk of you with them, this book is going to destroy you then put you back together again, a little wiser and a little more tender."

That's it for this week's recs. We'll catch you right back here next week with more books for your stack(s). Until then, read on.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of September 5, 2023

Happy September. How about some book recommendations? 
Here are our favorite books that kick off the month's new releases.

We begin with three recommendations from Daniel Goldin. The first is While You Were Out: An Intimate Family Portrait of Mental Illness in an Era of Silence by Meg Kissinger. Daniel says: "In this engrossing memoir, long-time journalist Kissinger chronicles life in an old-school Catholic family in the Chicago and Milwaukee suburbs. Kissinger grew up with seven siblings, about four or five more than her mom could handle. With both parents self-medicating, it’s no wonder mental illness manifested in many of the next generation, to sometimes heartbreaking effect. If you loved Hidden Valley Road but wondered what it would have been like to hear the story from one of the children, While You Were Out is the book for you."

And if you are reading this on or before release day, guess what - you can see Kissinger celebrate the release of the book at Milwaukee Public Library's Centennial Hall. This event is Tuesday, September 5, 6:30 pm, Centennial Hall is at 733 N Eighth St, and you can register for this event right here until an hour before the event.

Next, Daniel recommends The Cursed Moon, a middle grade novel by Angela Cervantes. Daniel says: "Rafael loves to tell scary stories, but when his eccentric neighbor tells him to avoid doing this on the night of the blood moon, it’s hard to pay attention. For one thing, his mom’s coming home from prison, plus one of his classmates got him bumped from a school camp-out at the local park, and he’s not happy about that. So, he does make up a story, one about a ghost girl who lures kids into the pond at that very park, and wouldn’t you know it, all signs point to the story coming true.  Another plus - while the story was focused on Rafa and his family issues, the story was set in a vibrant Midwestern Hispanic community with characters of many different socio-economic backgrounds. But the big selling point is the scary stories - The Cursed Moon surely is one, perfect for kids who are just a little too young for Stephen King."

Daniel's last recommendation is Maid for It, a middle grade novel by Jamie Sumner. Daniel says: "After her mother is in a car accident, Franny decides to keep her mother’s house cleaning jobs, blackmailing her one-time bully to help out. Her fear is that her mom might lose the gigs, especially because she’s been struggling with addiction issues for so long and might well relapse. I really enjoyed this book, said to be inspired by Stephanie Land’s Maid. The book’s ten-and-up recommendation is for some of the tough subjects covered." 

Rachel Copeland steps in with a cozy mystery recommendations, the first book in a new series by Maggie Baily called Seams Deadly (A Measure Twice Sewing Mystery). Rachel says: "Recently divorced Lydia Barnes is making a new start in a small town, working at a quilting shop by day and sewing her own clothing by night. After an awkward first date with her neighbor ends in a fist bump, she brings him some brownies, only to find him dead at his desk, fabric shears sticking out of his neck. With police suspicion on her, it's up to Lydia to find the culprit amongst her new neighbors before she's the next victim. What a fun, cozy read, and a promising start to a fabric arts-themed series! The story is peppered with names of indie pattern companies and patterns they produce, as well as descriptions of sewing techniques and supplies, which made me extremely happy as a fellow sewist. By the end of this book, I was ready to start solving murders, but only after I finished sewing a murder-solving dress."

And Kay Wosewick recommends The Future, a paperback original book in translation by Catherine LeRoux, translated by Susan Ouriou. Kay says: "The Future is set in an alternative ‘French’ Détroit, a city with few jobs and businesses, almost no government or social services, and destroyed or damaged infrastructure. Remaining residents skew old, young, or criminal. After learning of her daughter’s death, Gloria comes to Parc Détroit to find her two granddaughters. Via her daughter’s neighbor and other acquaintances, Gloria obtains useful information; of particular hope is the large group of abandoned and troubled kids who live together in Parc Rouge. The Parc kids function as a weakly cohesive group. Some individuals behave with reckless abandon, but most are solid, intelligent kids. Gloria’s search, of course, doesn’t end at the Parc. This dystopian setting is fascinating, and as dark as Parc Détroit sounds, the novel closes with signs of environmental revival and with genuine hope for the city’s inhabitants - both young and old, and sometimes together!"

Speaking of paperbacks, we have one book getting its paperback release this week to recommend. That would be the novel How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz, and it comes recommended by Jen Steele, who says: "Cara Romero wants to work. After being laid off at the factory, Cara meets with a job counselor to help her find a new job. Told through 12 counseling sessions, Cara shares her life's story: from the Dominican Republic to Washington Heights, through marriage and motherhood, family, friends, lovers, and faith. Insightful, heartwarming, and laugh-out-loud funny, How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water is a new favorite! Grab your favorite café and settle in, Cara Romero is a character you will not forget."

We'll be back next week with more recommendations for you. Until then, read on.