Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of November 7, 2023

 So, so, so many books to recommend this week!

Daniel recommends The Core of an Onion: Peeling the Rarest Common Food—Featuring More Than 100 Historical Recipes by Mark Kurlansky: "What makes a person read 200 pages on an onion? Perhaps I’m not one to ask, as my bookshelves have featured books celebrating bananas and orange juice. Kurlansky himself has tackled salt, milk, oysters, and Hank Greenberg (not for consumption). His latest offers a round-the-world tour of the onion, chronicling so many of the ways we have roasted, boiled, sauteed, sauced, and caramelized this variety of allium. Want to reduce tearing? Refrigerate it. It also helps to run the sink while you’re cutting as it redirects the sulfur away from your tear ducts and towards the water. Who knew? As someone who grimaced when his father would bite into an onion like an apple (hey, I’m only second gen!), I could say there was no grimacing here, and no crying either – just tears of delight from reading a thoroughly enjoyable book."

Daniel also recommends Twilight Falls, the latest Shady Hollow mystery from Juneau Black: "A family dispute leads to a tragic event at Twilight Falls and sure enough, reporter Vera Vixen (she’s a fox) happens to be on a picnic date with Chief of Police Orville Braun (he’s a bear). The trouble started with Stacia von Beaverpelt (she’s a beaver, and a wealthy one at that) who fell for Jonah Atwater (an otter) when the Atwaters were contracted for some home repairs. It is hard to believe that two species would not get along in the very special animal kingdom of Shady Hollow, but that’s the case for beavers and otters – they just don’t see nose to nose on damming waterways. And what about Muriel, the new-in-town hedgehog with a mysterious past and a flare for popcorn? The latest from Juneau Black is cozy-rific, with charming characters, delectable treats from The Bamboo Patch and Joe’s Mug, and at the center, a gently humorous mystery that should please all ages."

The Rachels both recommend A Power Unbound by Freya Marske. From Rachel Copeland: "Greedy magicians plot to steal all of Britain's magic, and only a small group of misfits stand in their way. Honestly, it's impossible to summarize the third and final book in the Last Binding trilogy without spoiling it and sounding like a crazy person. It's beyond normal human capacity to encapsulate the enormity of this power struggle, the treasure of this friend group built over the previous two books, and the scorching hot romance between two extremely unlikely people. So do yourself a favor and read all three books, then start a group chat with your friends so you can all-caps scream at each other about how Freya Marske has both ruined and saved your life."

And from Rachel Ross: "Marske masterfully concludes her Last Binding Trilogy with A Power Unbound. Following another shift in character perspective, long-held secrets are finally revealed, relationships are deepened, and all hell breaks loose. It was immensely satisfying to watch all of our underdogs coalesce rather violently into an unstoppable team against the dangers arrayed against them. Somehow, my least favorite character from book one became my favorite of the entire series. Alternating hits of searing spice with tender emotional beats, this is everything you could want from a final volume, leaving you with possibly the worst book hangover of your life (in the best way)."

Rachel Ross and Jen Steele join forces to recommend Bookshops & Bonedust, the new Legends & Lattes book by Travis Baldree. First, from Jen Steele: "Fantasy world? Check. Books? Check. A smart-mouthed Gnome? Check. Adventure, romance, and humor? Check, check, check! Bookshops & Bonedust had everything I didn't know I wanted. A prequel to Legends & Lattes that can be read as a standalone, Travis Baldree packs a punch in this delightfully cozy fantasy."

And from Rachel Ross" "Sidelined by a battle injury, stalwart orc Viv is forced to recuperate in a tiny seaside town. There she meets a mousey bookstore owner, spitfire gnome, dwarven baker, and a literal bag of (reanimated) bones. Baldree’s return to his realm of cozy fantasy is a quiet triumph, conveying beauty in the mundane, the joy of sharing a book together, and the sweet melancholy of how some people who only briefly pass through our lives can nevertheless be carried in our hearts for a lifetime."

Jen also recommends The Magicians, a graphic novel by Blexbolex, translated by Karin Snelson. Jen says: "The Magicians is a fantastical tale of magic and adventure, chaos and control. What would a world look like if there was no magic? An oversized graphic novel that reads like a fable and is packaged in the most dazzling way I’ve ever seen. French illustrator Blexbolex's latest is an impressive work of art that will make for a wonderful gift to be treasured."

Tim has three recs for us this week. First is The Vulnerables by Sigrid Nunez: "It doesn't feel like a novel. It’s more like a memoir or a set of essays. It’s Nunez fulfilling a need for something more real than a traditional novel, powerful bits of life. I like the narrator's voice, quite a lot. She's perceptive, with a sharp wit, the kind that makes me burst out with a sudden, single laugh before she (with me tagging along) quickly moves on to the next bit. She's kind but unforgiving of nonsense, and the absurd COVID times have been full of nonsense. (Weren’t we, aren’t we, all vulnerables?) Love and hope are wonderful, but who's expecting any, and can they possibly prevail? She’s a writer, and her literary references are clever and telling. She’s tough. All good! There is no significant plot, just a woman’s very fascinating commentary and stories about friendships and funerals, lockdown parrot-sitting and our love of animals, an empty pandemic New York cityscape, hippies, Pandora’s Box, and mental health. I truly could not have cared less about plot. I kept listening to that voice as long as she kept telling it like it was."

Next Tim recommends Baumgartner by Paul Auster: "This compact novel of love and loss and the unexpected details of life that come along for the ride is a testament to literary excellence. The astute, funny, and sometimes biting commentary of an aging philosophy professor tells the story. His loving memories of his exuberant wife, his grudging perseverance in continuing to live, and his very natural desire to keep loving in the face of pain all make him fully relatable to me. While I’m on about him being relatable, his middle name is Tecumseh because his “godless militant” father agreed with me that the indigenous Shawnee defender of his people is the greatest American who ever lived! I’m always relieved to find writing of Paul Auster’s caliber. There seems to be so little time in life to accept much less, and I’ve been given the Boswell booksellers’ gift of spending my personal reading time on any book I want that’s available to us. It’s a priceless gift, and I use it to find writing of Auster’s quality every chance I get."

Tim also recommends Deus X, the new August Snow mystery from Stephen Mack Jones: "August Snow doesn't mess around. He'll destroy you if you deserve it. He’s a Detroit ex-cop (didn't end well for the force) and Marine Lieutenant with two tours in Afghanistan. After a disturbing job helping his girlfriend's mother in Norway, the illness of an elderly neighbor has brought him home to a new crisis. He’s a practicing Catholic who says practicing hasn’t made him any better at it, but the church is no shield when it wrongs his people. Scapegoating a friend to hide church abuses doesn’t sit well, and Snow’s inclined to blow through secrets like a blizzard. (Oh, hell yes, I went there!) Still, he’s sophisticated, sort of a renaissance man with a tough, smart, no nonsense style. His commentary is fiendishly funny and highly insightful. His friends and neighbors are often crude but so damn lovable that hanging out with 'em was a joy. I'm far too sensitive for this crew, but hey, they’re fictional. Living in their world for a while is open to all. (Note: The bad language above is a litmus test. Do not read the book if it offends you.)"

Kay has two recommendations this week. Her first is How to Build a Boat by Elaine Feeney: "This is an insightful, sympathetic story about a highly intelligent autistic boy who can’t interact successfully with anyone other than Eoin (his dad) and Marie (grandma). The first day of high school is nearly a disaster, but Jaime is saved by a single attentive teacher. What begins as lunchtime entertainment for her soon becomes a mission to help Jaime learn the basic social skills needed to survive the rest of high school. She is joined by the new woodworking teacher. There are many ups and downs throughout the year, but by the last day of school, Jaime, while still awkward, has won over much of the student body. Cheers!"

Kay also recommends Cross-Stitch by Jazmina Barrera, translated by Christina Macsweeney: "Warning: this review is written by someone who is decidedly unhandy with needle and thread. Three girls become friends partly because of a shared interest in embroidery. They remain friends for a couple decades for many other reasons. When Mila can finally leave her husband and child for an extended time, they plan a trip to Paris. Not long after the trip, Mila and Dalia learn that Citali drowned in Senegal. Mila starts writing about their lives together. The stories are interspersed with excerpts from other authors about needlework, including: if women wrote history, the modern age would begin with the discovery of needle and thread; and, if men did embroidery, it would be considered an art, not a craft. I closed the book with a new respect for needle and thread, and I might even take another stab at using them!"

Jason now has two recommendations, the first of which is City on Mars: Can we settle space, should we settle space, and have we really thought this through? by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith: "The Weinersmiths take a deep dive into the realm of space travel and colonization. They want to pump the breaks on the expectations of leaving a climate-ravaged Earth in hopes of a better future. We have forgotten to consider a couple of points that are necessary. One, space is not full of life, and it wants to kill us. Two, the human race still doesn't know enough to predict what will happen to prolonged living in space; that’s not even consider babies and future generations, though that's a serious issue to consider as well. There's the great emptiness and vacuum of space, solar radiation, inhospitable planets, plus the small living quarters that could lead you to annoying your fellow travelers. And, if that wasn't enough, even if we are able to conquer all the technological and health problems, then we will have to contend with laws and corporations fighting for control of land on these planets – and premium interplanetary land is scarce. This all seems like so much to complete in a short amount of time; it will probably take generations. This book is insightful and hilarious and will easily interest armchair science enthusiasts everywhere in the solar system."

Jason also suggests you check out The Future by Naomi Alderman: "Naomi Alderman writes a world of the near future on the brink of environmental cataclysm. Alderman ties together the good, the bad, and the ugly of social media platforms; the way they can manipulate and change the subconscious of the world at lightning speed is truly frightening. If the heads of those platforms don’t have the best intentions for the world in their ethos, then the world is truly doomed. Which is where this book takes place. At the beginning, three tech giants and their families are alerted that that a cataclysmic event is in the process of happening. They extract themselves and head to one of their bunkers to wait out the end of the world. Alderman then takes us back to show us all the behind-the-scenes action that happened before the lead up. It is a wild ride, and I wish that the outcome could happen to our world as well."

Now it's Greta, who recommends The Happy Couple by Naoise Dolan: "In Dolan's sophomore novel, The Happy Couple, the characters take precedence. It is centered around a newly engaged couple and the people in their wedding party. Celine, the bride, is hyper-fixated on playing the piano, in which she is classically trained. Luke, the groom, can't stop himself from being promiscuous and has slept with everyone in the wedding party. The writing style is similar to that of Sally Rooney (except Dolan uses quotations marks, when there is dialogue, unlike Rooney). Though the main cast of characters is unlikeable, they feel like real people, and they speak to the human condition where some readers might be able to relate to them. You'll want to find out what happens as it leads up to their happy day. The United States is lucky to get a release of this Irish gem."

Finally, Jenny recommends Emmett, a YA retelling of Jane Austen's Emma by LC Rosen: "The wit of the original fills this contemporary and queer YA retelling of Emma, and like Austen's Emma, Emmett’s cluelessness about love makes for an irresistible read. He’s quite earnest in his quest to make the world a better place though, and to Emmett that means volunteering at a soup kitchen, running the winter carnival at his high school, and trying to set up all his friends (and even his current fling) with boyfriends. But for Emmett himself, it’s ‘no thanks’ to love or romance, because that might lead to loss and therefore the misery he’s watching his dad go through. Like Emma, Emmett’s own judgey demeanor is invisible to him, and I both laughed out loud and winced more than once at his conviction that he’s absolutely right about absolutely everything. But who doesn’t love a flawed protagonist? I certainly do, and Emmett, both the book and the boy, completely charmed me."

And one paperback pick comes from Chris, Kay, and Jason! That'd be The Deluge by Stephen Markley. From Chris: "This book is written like a (rising) ocean, wave after wave of moments and years and ideas crashing one after the other, relentlessly eroding the shores. An epic peopled with characters as real as any person you know, who’ll fill you up with hope and heartbreak. A feast of a book."

From Kay: "Anyone interested in climate change fiction covering the near future (~now to 2040) won’t find a more informative, deep-dive novel than The Deluge. Thrilling, terrifying, maddening, and occasionally hopeful, you won’t be quite the same when you finish the book."

And from Jason: "I wish I could call this book a post-apocalyptic or dystopian novel, but unfortunately it’s all too real and grounded in the world we live in. We have climate change and disasters, political strife and corruption, economic disparities, and population displacements. Stephen Markley weaves together about 10 different characters living in the upheaval of America from 2004-2040. Everything we are experiencing now - the wealthy and politicians blocking environmental regulation and carbon impact and beyond - happens in this book. Markley, sadly, quite accurately imagines us handling these very real cataclysmic issues. I found it very true to the nature of humanity, as I believe in the best and the worst of most people, and Markley followed the logical path. Such a gripping and phenomenal read, I absolutely loved it!"

Whoa! That's a lotta books! Hopefully it's plenty to keep you reading until the next blog appears. Until then, read on.

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