Thursday, December 7, 2023

Top 5 Picks, 2023 - Part 3

Another day, another round of wonderful books. Here are more top 5 picks from the Boswellains. Part three, in fact!

The first Boswellian to feature today is Kay Wosewick, one of our most prolific readers and recommenders. Here are here top 5 books of the year.

#1 Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton. Kay says: "This complex, masterfully paced thriller is set in New Zealand, where a group of young adults secretly grow food on other people’s land. An American billionaire's arrival wreaks wide-ranging havoc on land and lives alike. Tension builds from the first chapter thanks to rich inner monologues of key characters."

#2 Ascension by Nicholas Binge. Kay writes: "Ascension glides so effortlessly you won’t realize you haven’t shifted in your chair for hours. It has tentacles in many genres - adventure, thriller, sci-fi, horror, psychology, philosophy, many sciences - plus fabulously eclectic characters. Stunning."

#3 The Endless Vessel by Charles Soule. From Kay: "A dramatically beautiful object - clearly not of this world - is given to the owner of a small company. Employee Lily sees signs of her long-dead father in the innards of the object, setting her on a mission to find where it came from. The story that unfolds is beautiful, magical, hopeful, occasionally frightening, and often inspiring. This story will grip you tightly until it releases you, finger by finger, in the end."

#4 The Full-Moon Whaling Chronicles by Jason Guriel. Kay says: "It’s 2070. Earth is vastly different, but tech innovation has kept the planet mostly livable. YA fiction is wildly popular, especially a book called “The Full-Moon Whaling Chronicles.” Amongst its most fervent fans are some whale-hunting wolves and two humans. Told in delightful rhyming couplets, the wolves’ and humans’ stories alternate and influence each other. There is much to enjoy: the rhyming couplets, self-deprecating, quirky, and often funny characters, plenty of curious tech innovations, and humorous links to the past, such as zubered, ZukTube, ZikZok, zlog, Tesla Trouts, Kia Prawns, Ben Gauzy (an ancient curse), Ganwulf, Wulvia Plath and plenty more."

#5 Alien Worlds: How Insects Conquered the Earth, and Why Their Fate Will Determine Our Future by Steve Nicholls. From Kay: "Nicholls makes learning about insects a joy. With insects representing one quarter of all animals, he justifiably calls them the most successful group of animals on planet earth. Here are some juicy nuggets from this delicious book: Over one million species have been identified, but Nicholls thinks 5 million is a more reasonable count. Very early evolution of bodily diversity coupled with extreme adaptability is what allowed insects to conquer nearly all ends of the planet. As many of us have guessed, insects do, indeed, have greater resistance to extinction than other animals. They obliterate the laws of aviation. Of their two options for successful offspring, laying massive numbers of eggs is the method used by 99% of insects; only about 1% invest time and energy helping offspring survive. Research supports the label of “superorganism” for selected ants and termites. Wow. Nicholls closes with a profound statement: “recent research points to the fact that insect brains possess enough complexity to generate a basic level of consciousness.” Consider that next time you grab a can of Raid."

Keith Rutowski has, well, he has a top one pick this year. Because most of the time, Keith is reading books that are around the same age as the state of Wisconsin. BUT! He did discover one book released this year that he loves, and so we share his thoughts on it here.

#1 A Mountain to the North, a Lake to the South, Paths to the West, a River to the East by László Krasznahorkai, translated by Ottilie Mulzet. Keith opines: "Krasznahorkai is one of my favorite living writers, and this novella is a slim, jewel-like volume of exceptional beauty. In it, the grandson of prince Genji travels to a monastery in Kyoto with the hope of finding a garden that may or may not exist there. His journey throughout the monastery grounds yields splendid, detailed descriptions of living things, built structures, and various phenomena. In many ways, Krasznahorkai’s experimentation with how consciousness can be sculpted into a shape and rhythm makes him a kindred spirit of the great 20th Century modernists. And what sentences he produces! In many of his books, a sentence is an unrelenting torrent that gouges the muddy banks it passes, glides around boulders and other impediments, gathers momentum and cascades from a precipice, falls hundreds of vertical feet, and then continues downstream sweeping up and carrying along all manner of scattered debris before it reaches its natural end many miles - or pages - later. In the case of this particular book, he’s operating with the same technical style, but the emotional effect seems closer to a gentle but steady spring rain falling on the surface of an isolated pond. As is the case with all of his work, A Mountain to the North… is mesmerizing, hypnotic, and utterly alive."

Madi Hill, master of the quirky and quintessential nonfiction pick, has five faves for 2023, and here they are.

#1 Waco: David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and A Legacy of Rage by Jeff Guinn. From Madi: "Waco is recent enough history that many remember it, yet memory can be such a fickle thing. Luckily, Jeff Guinn has tackled the subject in his new book, simply titled Waco, that recounts the history of the Branch Davidians and the infamous Mount Carmel raid in Waco, Texas. For a topic so polarizing, Guinn manages to tell a narrative that does not imply personal bias, but provides as many facts as possible so the truest story can be told. His in-depth research uncovered information even true crime connoisseurs will be surprised to learn about the history of the Branch Davidians and David Koresh, including reflections on the long-lasting impact of the raid on Waco and its contribution to today's radicalization of right-wing groups. A true page turner, Waco is a fantastic read, dare I say likely to be the best book on Waco to be published in time for its 30th anniversary."

#2 The Black Guy Dies First: Black Horror Cinema from Fodder to Oscar by Robin R. Means Coleman and Mark H. Harris. A definitive and surprising exploration of the history of Black horror films, after the rising success of Get Out, Candyman, and Lovecraft Country from creators behind the acclaimed documentary, Horror Noire.

#3 The Guest by Emma Cline. Madi says: "Alex is living it up with her rich, older boyfriend. She has practiced playing the role of perfect girlfriend, but old habits die hard, and there's a reason she is running from her past. Emma Cline has a talent at creating characters that willingly dive headfirst into bad decisions, but in such a way that keeps you reading through the cringe. Cline's sophomore novel crafts a story that keeps you anxious to know what happens next to our protagonist/trainwreck, with a revolving cast of disposable characters she parasitically clings to until they've outlived their usefulness. The Guest is unforgiving but enthralling, an ode to the mistakes of our youth and the devastating consequences when we never learn to grow."

#4 Strong Female Character by Fern Brady. A memoir as funny as it is heartbreaking. Scottish comedian Fern Brady was told she couldn't be autistic because she'd had loads of boyfriends and is good at eye contact. In this frank and surreal memoir, she delivers a sharp and often hilarious portrait of neurodivergence and living unmasked. From the New York Times: “Strong Female Character is a testament to Brady’s quality of said character, her tenacity in the face of a world not yet ready to grapple with all she brings to it."

#5 Raw Dog: The Naked Truth About Hot Dogs by Jamie Loftus. Madi writes: "Hot dog lovers, unite! Jamie Loftus has crafted the hot dog tour across America you never knew you wanted but can't stop reading. Follow the history of the wiener as Loftus, her boyfriend, a cocker spaniel, and a cat traverse the nation to find the best hot dog shops that the country has to offer, all while teaching the history of each spot along the way. Surprisingly heartfelt and educational, Raw Dog does not shy away from how the sausage gets made (literally), but it’s told from such a passionate and well researched perspective that seeing the process does not stop the hot dog craving this book produces in those who read it. For readers who wished Easy Rider was centered around tube meats, this book is for you. Hot diggity!"

Ogi Ubiparipovic has hung up his booksellin' spurs to ride off to greener pastures (to take a job with the city) but he left behind his his top 5 for the year. So one last time for old time's sake, here's Ogi's faves.

#1 The Witch King by Martha Wells. Martha Wells’s first new fantasy novel in over a decade, drawing together her signature ability to create characters we adore and identify with, alongside breathtaking action and adventure, and the wit and charm we’ve come to expect from one of the leading writers of her generation. From the Wall Street Journal: "A wonderfully original world, sympathetic characters and a solid quest make Witch King the satisfying fantasy you yearn for when named swords and cursed rings begin to grow stale."

#2 City of Last Chances by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Winner of the British Science Fiction Association Award for First Novel. A darkly inventive portrait of a city under occupation and on the verge of revolution. Patrick Ness calls it: "Endlessly creative... so much invention peeking around every corner."

#3 Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff, illustrated by Bon Orthwick. From New York Times bestselling author Jay Kristoff, this is the first illustrated volume of an astonishing new dark fantasy saga. Laini Taylor, author of Strange the Dreamer, says: "Brilliant and unputdownable, with tenderness and light bound into the bitterdark of a grim and fascinating world."

#4 The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz. This is a sweeping, uplifting, and illuminating exploration of the future. The Terraformers takes you on a journey spanning thousands of years and exploring the triumphs, strife, and hope that find us wherever we make our home. John Scalzi says: "Fascinating and readable in equal measure, The Terraformers will remake your mind like its cast remakes an entire planet."

#5 The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. Unpredictable, compelling, wickedly funny, and packed with unforgettable characters, this is noir fantasy with a real cutting edge. Jeff VanderMeer says: "Bold and authentically original." And from Scott Lynch, author of The Lies of Locke Lamora, another Ogi favorite: "If you're fond of bloodless, turgid fantasy with characters as thin as newspaper and as boring as plaster saints, Joe Abercrombie is really going to ruin your day. A long career for this guy would be a gift to our genre."

We'll be back soon with more Boswellian faves for the year. Until then, read on

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