Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of November 21, 2023

It's a quiet week for Boswellian-recommended new releases, so this blog will be a bit of a roundup of a couple of newer paperback releases and a few other recs that have slipped through the cracks.

The first book of note getting a paperback release this week is Milwaukee writer and educator Ben Riggs's Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons, which comes with two endorsments. First, from Jason Kennedy: "A good portion of my youth was spent playing D&D and reading Dragonlance and Forgetten Realms novels. I went to Gen Con and ate up all that was RPG culture at the time. Before reading this book, all I ever knew of TSR was their initials on the spines of their products. Ben Riggs has done a deep and extensive dive into TSR history, charting their beginnings in Gary Gygax's basement all the way to Wizards of the Coast rescuing their legacy with an epic buyout. He discovered that it was not just one mistake or symptom that caused the unraveling of the Lake Geneva gaming company but a series of them that over time trapped them in a corner with no way to free themselves. First, though, Riggs tells the story of the rise of TSR, how they broke ground and started something that people desperately wanted. Then TSR doubled down on their ingenuity to start a publishing book line to help deepen the lore of their products, which brought us some of the greatest writers in their genre and era. That small town in Wisconsin housed some of the greatest creatives and artists working in the gaming industry. Riggs does an amazing job of highlighting both the success and failure of one of the great iconic gaming companies."

And from non-gamer Daniel Goldin: "So here’s the thing. I’ve never played a game of Dungeons & Dragons in my life. And I’ve also already read Of Dice and Men, the D&D history that is the jumping-off point for this work, which promises to uncover some of the less-known dealings of Lake-Geneva-based TSR’s downfall. And yet I found Slaying the Dragon thoroughly enjoyable, partly because of the near-local setting, and partly because Riggs is a good storyteller who also highlights the corporate missteps in a way that I think will appeal to folks who read business narratives. And to think, Milwaukee finally has enough hotel rooms to keep GenCon, only 19 years too late."

The paperback of Minnesota writer Peter Geye's latest novel came out last week. It's called The Ski Jumpers, and it's recommended by Tim McCarthy, who says: "Families are held together in such unusual ways, and Johannes Bargaard has a family stretched so thin he hasn’t seen his beloved brother Anton for decades. Ski jumping is the one thread from their glory days that’s unbroken, but time is running out for Jon and Anton to do more than hide the frightening secrets that pushed them apart. Jon’s been told he has younger-onset Alzheimer’s and doesn’t know how long he’ll be able to trust his own mind or if he can finish writing one last successful novel. Their father’s funeral may be the only time left to fully uncover the bitter past. Geye gets the little details right as he brings his characters’ world to life, and his spectacular winter scenes of ski jumpers taking flight, from Chicago and throughout Minnesota to Madison and Lake Placid, surrounded me with a beautiful literary warmth. The Ski Jumpers, just as Northernmost did before it, will surely have me looking for Geye’s next book!"

Tim also recommends a YA book entitled Murder, She Wrote: Carry My Secret To Your Grave by Stephanie Kuehn. Tim says: "This is the second installment in a smart and savvy teen mystery series. Beatrice Fletcher is the great-grandniece of Jessica Fletcher, the ageless TV crime-solving hero of Cabot Cove, Maine’s Murder, She Wrote. Bea has serious anxiety issues, but she’s intense and curious enough to face a risk-filled world. Her psychiatrist helps her, “Aunt Jess” is still around to offer wise counsel, and her obsessive interest in the truth about crimes gives her the intensity. She’s been writing for a start-up web site about cold-case murders around Cabot Cove and has helped solve some cases. Now she's spending time with friends she met in the first book from the elite Broadmoor Academy. They play a cryptic century-old Broadmoor game known as tenace that promises a wonderous unknown prize but could be tied to the death of a former student who was close to them all. The terrifying death threats Bea’s getting make everything more bizarre. Bea is the creation of an author with teen children who's also a clinical psychologist. It shows. She sounds true to teen reality, and she’s also true to people who keep going despite their fear. I’m hooked on the series! Just like I was hooked on the TV show."

One more recommendation has come in for the latest Freya Marske novel, A Power Unbound, this one from Oli Schmitz, who says: "In this glorious finale to the Last Binding trilogy, Freya Marske expertly expands on the threads of story, beloved characters, and intricacies of magic established in the first two books. Your favorite characters from A Marvellous Light and A Restless Truth have their moments to shine, and the two new POV characters will steal your heart all over again. While swept up in the larger plot of thwarting a conspiracy that threatens all the magicians of England, Alan and Jack must also confront their complicated histories… and the truly scorching romance that emerges between them. This series blew me away with its vivid, beautiful prose; an immersive third-person narrative voice that provides moments of deep emotion and wry humor by turns (and sometimes at once); and the flawless execution of a mixed-genre work of historical fantasy, queer romance, and mystery novel in each installment. I think this series will forever be a favorite of mine, and I highly recommend giving it the chance to become one of yours: meet Robin, Edwin, and Adelaide in A Marvellous Light; follow Violet and Maude as the plot thickens in A Restless Truth; and finish the story with heists, found family, and an epic conclusion in A Power Unbound."

Speaking of Oli, here's their rec for The Moth Keeper, a graphic novel by K O'Neill that came out this spring but gets the recommendation treatment now. Oli says: "The Moth Keeper is a lovely and magical graphic novel with a meaningful story of responsibility, community, and support. Young Anya takes on an important job in her community and must learn to accept help from others when it begins to take a toll on her. O’Neill’s beautiful illustrations highlight the stunning natural beauty of the desert, and the heartwarming comfort of a village where folks care for one another."

The last recommendation comes from Kathy Herbst, who suggests a story collection released earlier this fall by Yiyun Li. The collection is Wednesday's Child and the word from Kathy is this: "Beautifully written short stories of people experiencing heartbreaking loss and struggling to move through grief to acceptance. In each story, Li 's underlying message is the importance of connections between and among people and the surprising places and ways those connections are found."

And those are the recs! We do hope you've found something to keep you reading through the Thanksgiving break. So then - read on!

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