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.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 29, 2023

The last book rec blog of August? Wowee. Time flies. Might as well spend it reading a good book, right? Here are this week's picks.

Harlem After Midnight
by Louise Hare gets the Rachel Copeland recommendation treatment this week. Rachel says: "Lena Aldridge has made it to New York City, but she certainly hasn't made it big, not after the disaster that was her recent voyage across the Atlantic. With death in her wake, she looks for insights into her late father's past, only to find even more secrets, and more death. If that weren't enough, her only friend in Harlem, Will Goodman, has secrets of his own, and one of them might be deadly enough to put a target on Lena's back. Little does she know, in a few days' time, someone is going to fall from a third-story window clutching Lena's passport. Wow - I won't dare tell you what I love about this sophomore Canary Club mystery because it's just too good! All I can say is that Hare juggles three timelines with aplomb, and just as she lulled me into a false sense of security - surely she can't pull off another wild twist! - well, there goes the rug under my feet."

Next up, Jen Steele with a recommendation for The Lost Library by Rebecca Stead & Wendy Mass. Jen says: "Rebecca Stead & Wendy Mass weave a tale of ghosts, secrets, a diligent guardian cat, and the power of books. Evan's town does not have a library; it mysteriously went up in flames a long time ago. One day, a little free library (guarded by a large orange cat, no less) suddenly appears, so Evan decides to take two books. This decision will set Evan and his best friend, Rafe, on a course to solve some mysteries. Unfortunately, no one wants to answer their questions. Told through alternate points of views between Evan, the cat, and a ghost, I found The Lost Library to be one of the most charming middle grade books I've read this year!"

And those are the recs! We'll be back in this same little corner of the internet next week with more great books. Until then, read on.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 22, 2023

Welcome to another wonderful week of book recommendations from your friendly neighborhood Boswellians. Here are the books that we think you'll enjoy.

First, a book that actually came out last week but was originally slated to be released next week - at least that's what I wrote down when Jen originally wrote about it a couple months ago. So I'll split the difference and hit you with it today. Jen Steele recommends Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas. Jen says: "I loved this book! Isabel Cañas writes with such historical detail that it feels like you are right there with Nena and Néstor. Set in 1840s Mexico, Vampires of El Norte is powerful historical fiction with a supernatural twist! It’s a world of vaqueros and vampires, hacendados and healers, war and lost love. Put this novel at the top of your summer reading list."

We stick with Jen for our next rec, a middle-grade graphic novel called Barb and the Battle for Bailiwick by Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson. It's the third installment in the Barb the Last Berzerker series. And of if, Jen says: "Our favorite Zerk is back! It’s time for the big showdown between Barb and Witch Head. Will Barb prevail? Probably my favorite new middle grade graphic novel series. Full of action, humor, and lots of heart. Barb & Porkchop are the new dynamic duo!"

As for paperback picks, our first is a major favorite of the Boswellians - Lark Ascending by Silas House, a book that has four Boswellian recommendations. We love, love, love, love it! First, from Daniel Goldin: In the not-too-distant future, fires have ravaged much of the world, and America, like much of the world, has been taken over by extremists. Even the isolated Maine woods have become too dangerous. The only option is for Lark and his family to escape to Ireland, the only country still open to refugees. But during the harrowing voyage, not only does tragedy strike at every turn, but hopes for a peaceful resettlement are dashed. Can Lark, with the help of two newfound companions (one canine) find peace in the legendary settlement of Glendalough? I’m not generally a dystopian reader, but Lark Ascending’s beautiful language and imagery, combined with the emotional heft of the story, drew me in from the first paragraph."

Next, from Chris Lee, who picked Lark Ascending for his 2022 top 5: "If, like me, you have a less-than-sunny outlook on the prospect of avoiding simultaneous civil collapse and climate catastrophe in your lifetime, then you may find it counterintuitive when I tell you this novel of a young man running from the aftermath of those very events is the most comforting thing I’ve read all year. A dark book for dark times, Lark Ascending is, all the same, written so beautifully, full of honesty and compassion. In his old age, Lark recalls his harrowing journey to escape an America ruled by fundamentalist and swept by massive fires, sail across a stormy Atlantic, and trek across Ireland to a thin place that may offer sanctuary. House offers something necessary - hope that through all the violence, hatred, death, scarcity, and destruction of the impending collapse, a glimmer of humanity might remain."

We hosted House for an event for this book, but it wasn't one we recorded. But why don't we share with you this one, from our pals of Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis, who hosted House on the same tour?

Tim McCarthy chimes in: "It's Lark's clear voice that carries us through many terrifying moments. As an old man, he's asked to write the “whole particulars” of how he came to be in Ireland, starting with the ocean crossing after America became a war-torn, burning wasteland, and then looking further back to the way his family survived and escaped North America. They headed for the one place Lark’s parents thought they could be safe. All the while, he insists on living. There’s so much regret inside the grief, but ascend he does. And he has reasons: the people he loves who told him not to give up, and the sudden appearance of a dog. Protecting a dog is surely enough reason to live. Ascension defines the novel. The writing ascends to uncommon heights of beauty while affirming life as the refusal to submit, even when the desire to quit is relentless. Lark Ascending is brave in a way we desperately need, brave enough to see beauty through enormous pain. It’s also a warning. House makes us feel that this could easily happen to us, and soon."

And Kay Wosewick ties it all together: "Lark grows up as climate-driven wars pit gun-toting fanatics intent on complete control against loosely formed bands of resisters. While most of Lark's early life is spent idyllically at a distance, he is finally forced to travel a long distance through war zones. Lark recounts times of bliss and harrowing moments of horror with equally affecting and lovely prose."

Now we go back to Chris we go for another paperback release: Malice House Megan Shepherd. Chris says: "This is, to me, just the best kind of good, old-fashioned, 80s style (John Saul, anyone?) horror novel. So much fun. A not-very-successful artist (though quite talented horror flick summarizer [this is somehow her job, and yes, I am jealous]) inherits her famous-writer-father’s ramshackle oceanfront estate, complete with his collections of Pulitzer medals, books, booze, and maybe a few demons. Further ingredients include: a strange, secret manuscript, monsters that range from the near-comically warped (Pinchy the ankle-tendon-snapping blob from under the bed, anyone?) to the truly dark, sinister, and all-too-human varieties, and so, so many dark family secrets to be revealed. And Shepherd packs lots more into a book that veers from haunted-house creeper to small-town-power-struggle thriller to gothic-family-curse mind-blower, and she hits the best notes of each horror subgenre along the way. A perfect Halloween-season novel and/or beach read for cool weirdos."

Kathy Herbst recommends Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng. Kathy says: "Another well-written, emotionally moving book from Ng. This one weaving the stories of America's past, present, and, possibly, its future. 12 -year- old Bird searches for the mother who left him years ago in order to understand why she left and what connection she might have to a series of small acts of rebellion. Ng's novel encompasses grief as well as hope for an America living under an oppressive regime, ongoing police brutality, racial violence, and economic inequality."

And those are the recs! We'll be back next week with more great recommended books from the Boswellians. Until then, read on.

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.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 8, 2023

The summer's flying by. Make sure to slow down and read the books, okay? This week's crop of recommendations is an eclectic mix. 

First, from Tim McCarthy, we have Prophet by Helen MacDonald and Sin Blaché. Tim says: "How did these writers make a science fiction thriller with a military bent so much fun? I think it’s the freaky X-Files-style mystery that immediately jumps into play, combined with super-smart, snarky dialogue between convincing, entertaining characters. One operative is British (by way of India), and the other is American. They’re reminiscent of Odd Couple roommates with a complicated past who both love and hate each other in equal measure. They have very unusual, essential skills, and the top dogs need their contrasting personalities side by side again. This time they’re confronting a powerful network of forces while looking for answers to what seems out of this world. Indeed! What in the world is Prophet? The authors say they hope we’ll “have a blast” with their book. Done deal! It’s a blast, and it’s also a deep relationship study with beautiful, tender humanity. After reading a bit of Helen Macdonald’s earlier writing, I’m surprised that she’s doing something so different. What doesn’t surprise me is the high level of intelligence. I’ve seen that before from her, and this bright collaboration with Blaché is every bit as impressive!"

Next, from Gao Her, it's Tomb Sweeping by Alexandra Change. Gao says: "A beautiful collection of short stories that express the various emotional experiences between human beings. I found myself doing everything from reevaluating my own relationships ('A Visit') to silently weeping in my car ('Li Fang'). It was as if all of my most inner thoughts were captured in this book, and while reading, those same thoughts were regurgitated onto the forefront of my mind. A little tip: when you finish reading the story 'Li Fang,' go back and reread it, but this time, read it from the end to the beginning."

Now, from Oli Schmitz, a recommendation for the latest installment in the manga adaptation of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, illustrated by Gabi Nam, Fangirl, the Manga: Vol 3. Oli writes: "Fangirl is so true to the experience of being a fan - to having a story you hold so close to your heart, it's sacred. The story follows Cath, a college freshman who writes a popular fanfic (she's a fan with fans of her own!) and is still devoted to the books she and her twin sister grew up loving. Cath faces roommate strangeness, new and familiar anxieties, family issues, and potential romance, all while trying to hold on to the characters who've become sacred to her, the stories she writes, and the sister she used to share these things with. Rowell's story has been expertly captured in this graphic novelization of a story I've loved since 2013!"

And from Jen Steele, a middle grade book recommendation for Dear Brother, written by Alison McGhee and illustrated by Tuan Nini. Jen says: "Being a little sister is tough, especially when you feel your big brother gets his way all the time. McGhee’s Dear Brother is a tender and funny epistolary middle grade novel told from the little sister’s point of view. Fast paced with great illustrations!"

In new paperback releases (our paperback picks, if you will), Daniel Goldin recommends A Map for the Missing by Belinda Huijuan Tang. Daniel writes: "Belinda Huijuan Tang’s excellent debut, inspired by her father’s upbringing in Anhui province, opens in early 1990s California. Yitian is called back to his hometown when his mother reports his father missing. While Yitian has hardly adapted to America, the return stirs up its own haunted memories, a tortured life with his father, a lost bond with his brother Yishou, and an unfinished longing for his onetime-girlfriend Hanwen. Though framed as a missing person mystery, Yitian’s journey helps him unlock deeper questions of his family and perhaps one day understand his father. The Cultural Revolution is one of repression and loss that affected generations. In making the political personal, Tang brings this period to vibrant life."

And it's back to Oli Schmitz for their take on Megan Gidding's novel The Women Could Fly. Oli writes: "In this strange, lovely, and beautifully told novel, a bi and biracial woman confronts difficult choices and a complicated family history. Giddings seamlessly weaves social commentary into the narrative as she contends with the history of persecution for witchcraft - with power and otherness - and brings it into a contemporary speculative-fictional world. The Upper Midwest setting is part of an America that mirrors our own in its patterns of oppression. The existence of witches and the fictional state's regulation of women for fear of witchcraft offer a fascinating way to examine how fear drives marginalization in our reality. A novel of learning to exist in (and apart from) the world in which you find yourself."

And those are the recs! See you next week with more staff recommendations. Until then, read on.

Monday, July 31, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of August 1, 2023

 Welcome to a new month! Which must mean new books, right? Right! Here are our favorites for week one of the month.

Daniel Goldin recommends Tom Lake by Ann Patchett: "For every Jane Fonda or Rita Moreno, famous actresses into their eighties, there is a Kim Novak, who married an equine veterinarian and lived a quiet life in the countryside. Imagine if you had an acting career and then didn’t, but someone you know (the acclaimed Peter Duke) went on to a glorious career. Your family knows the story, but they don’t exactly have it quite right. More than that, each of your children has created their own mythology of the story. With the world locked down, Lara and Joe and their daughters Emily, Maisie, and Nell, are brought together to the family farm to unpack that story, set at a season of summer stock at Tom Lake, Michigan. I love how Lara’s career jump starts with a small production of Our Town, and that Thornton Wilder resonates through the rest of the story. And I love the way Patchett can write about the complications of families, even loving ones like the Nelsons. The story may be quiet, but it will stick with me for a long time."

Next, Jen Steele recommends The Apology by Jimin Han: "The Apology is a remarkable story and Jeonga Cha is an unforgettable character! The youngest of 4, 105-year-old Jeonga Cha receives a letter from a relative in Ohio which sets off a series of unexpected events and revelations. Most notably, 10 days after receiving the letter, Jeonga will die. Having to solve family problems in the afterlife just got a lot more complicated. Jimin Han delivers a thoughtful and emotional novel - I enjoyed every chapter."

And now to Kay Wosewick with three recs! Kay first recommends The Last Ranger by Peter Heller: "Immerse yourself in Yellowstone’s dramatic landscape. where lovers and protectors of wildlife (especially wolves reintroduced in 2006) are newly pitted against locals who skirt laws to hunt prized park denizens. Action, adventure, and mystery keep the plot in high gear. A tender, soulful ranger - unmoored by loss and now rocked by turf battles - is the story’s beating heart."

Kay also recommends The Full-Moon Whaling Chronicles by Jason Guriel: "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."

Kay thirdly recommends Alien Worlds: How Insects Conquered the Earth and Why Their Fate Will Determine Our Future by Steve Nicholls: "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."

Paperback news! 

Jason Kennedy recommends Hawk Mountain, a novel by Connor Habib: "Todd, a high school teacher and single Dad, runs into Jack; his high school bully. Todd is hesitant to interact with him, but his son really takes to Jack. Remembering his high school days, Todd begins to seethe with pent-up emotions and feelings. His ex-wife is attempting to get a hold him (she misses her son and wants to reconnect), Jack reminds him of the humiliations and uncomfortable situations of the past, and his son is bonding with the man who made his life miserable. It's all too much, and what comes next is dark and horrific but only takes a moment. The spiral of the story whips the reader down and down until the final resting place is revealed in all its shocking and damaged depths. Hawk Mountain consumed me with its brutality and wonder."

And Daniel Goldin recommends All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews: "All Sneha really wants when she relocates to Milwaukee is a circle of friends, a special someone, and a steady income, but even those goals turn out to be a harder to achieve in this debut novel. She’s got a few friends and a possible love interest, though most of them are struggling with goals and money, plus both her contractor boss and the flat manager turn out to be, well, two pieces of work. Plus, contract work kind of sucks - you’re in the company (it’s obvious to any Milwaukeean where she works, but it’s never spelled out in the story), but not really of the company, much the way that Sneha must navigate her life in Milwaukee as a queer South Asian woman. There’s almost a chaotic feel to the narrative - will Thom forgive Sneha, will things with Martina work out, can Tig get her commune together, and just how much money is Amit going to spend trying to save a drug-addicted friend? – but to me, that’s just the way things feel during the kind of quarter-life crisis that Sneha is experiencing.  And props for getting the Milwaukee details right circa 2016, considering Mathews never lived here, though she went to school in Madison. Milwaukee is usually used as a no-place-in-particular setting, but here, Mathews plays off oddly Edenic history of socialist mayors that is meaningful to some millennials, even if the contemporary city struggles with prejudice and crime. Even the name-checked restaurants reinforce the narrative – not necessarily fancy, but a little too expensive for the unsteady paychecks of most of this crew, particularly Tig, who generally orders the most expensive thing on the menu. In the end, everything’s going to work out. Right?"

Thankam Mathews will be at Boswell on Wednesday, September 20, 6:30 pm for a special event featuring this book - it's the Rose Petranech Lecture this year. Click here to register and get more info.

And those are the recs! We'll meet you back here next week for more book recommending, and until then, read on.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of July 25, 2023

It's all paperback picks this week from the Boswellians. Great for totin', foldin', and summertime readin'.

First on the list is A Death in Door County by Wisconsin author Annelise Ryan, which has recommendations from both Daniel and Tim. Daniel says: "In this adventure cozy, Morgan Carter owns Odds and Ends Bookstore in Sister Bay, where the mystery section is next to a Ouija Board and a fine collection of skulls. Having taken the mantle of bookseller from her deceased parents, she’s also inherited their love of cryptozoology. When two seemingly unrelated bodies are discovered with unexplained bite marks, the talk turns to a possible Nessie-esque monster in Lake Michigan, and Carter’s hired to investigate. And what is an adventure cozy, you ask? Imagine Indiana Jones crossed with Miss Marple - a mystery at the center, perhaps a little more gore than in a standard cozy, the requisite humor, and a touch of romance in the background. Lots of Door County details too!"

And from Tim: "There’s nothing quite like an adventurous, cozy murder mystery set in a place where I’ve personally loved doing summer vacations. Of course, it helps that I didn’t die there, or I wouldn’t feel quite so much love for the place, right? But I didn’t, and this mystery involves a very quirky bookstore, a lovable dog… and a monster search. Morgan Carter, owner of a mystery bookstore that sells mysterious objects far beyond books, is a cryptozoologist whose cryptid fascination essentially began at birth. She was born on a boat in the middle of Loch Ness during her parents’ search for Nessie. She also has multiple college degrees and considers herself a professional skeptic who requires actual proof of monsters. The combination makes her perfect for helping Washington Island’s police chief, as he investigates the drowning of two men with large and unusual bite marks on their bodies. I’m not sure how 'cozy' and 'murder' ended up in the same universe, but they often seem to get along nicely, and I enjoyed their partnership here. The characters are endearing, and the boating to remote places that I’ve never seen had me using Google Earth to check out the landscapes. This was a nice literary summer vacation."

There are two events in the coming months featuring Ryan, too! First, on Wednesday, August 23, 6:30 pm, Annelise Ryan appears at at Whitefish Bay Public Library, 5420 N Marlborough Dr for a conversation with author and former Boswellian Sharon Nagel, one half of Juneau Black. Click here for more info and registration.

Later this year, on Thursday, December 14, 6:30 pm, Ryan appears at Boswell for Death in the Dark Woods, the sequel to A Death in Door County. She'll chat with Patricia Skalka. Click here to register and get more info about this event.

Is that the only Wisconsin author with a book getting a paperback release this week that we recommend? Nope! Daniel also recommends Lost in Summerland, the essay collection by Barrett Swanson. Daniel says: "If you start a copy of Lost in Summerland and find yourself in a nondescript Fort Lauderdale apartment complex, keep reading, as that story was featured in Best American Travel Writing. And if you want something a little more adventurous, don’t worry, as Swanson will take you to Jacques Fresco’s crumbling Venus utopia, the new age mecca of Lily Dale, the Disaster City training compound, a men’s retreat, a farm for anti-war veterans, and a convention of West Wing fans. Several essays focus on Swanson’s older brother, who was punched into a coma and later developed what appeared to be psychic powers. And whether they are farther afield or centered in Wisconsin (the author grew up in Brookfield and played football at Waukesha’s Catholic Memorial High, the jump-off point for another essay), most offer more than one philosophical detour. I had just been telling a colleague that I so enjoyed writing about new-to-me subcultures; I was almost surprised when the next book I picked up was exactly what I wanted. It was almost like Barrett’s brother was willing me to read this great collection. Thanks, bruh!"

Click the wee video icon below to check out our great event with Swanson, in which he is interviewed about this very book by none other than Madison author Steven Wright, author of The Coyotes of Carthage, another of our faves!

Next up is Kathy with her recommendation of Briefly, A Delicious Life, a novel by British author Nell Stevens. Kathy says: "A terrifically engaging and beautifully written story. Imagine combining historical fiction with a love story with a ghost story, and you have this marvelous book. Blanca, whose life becomes intertwined with George Sand, her two children, and Chopin, has been dead for centuries, her spirit haunting the monastery rented by Sand on Mallorca. Blanca's observations of Sand and her family along with the abilities she's developed to enter into the lives of people and to communicate with them are sometimes witty, sometimes humorous, and often full of pathos."

Another novel, another British author. Daniel recommends The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn. Daniel says: "I love books where the experiences that shaped the characters as children help define their lives as adults. Christabel, Florence, and Digby grow up with absent or negligent parents on a country estate on the southern coast of England that has seen better days. When a dead whale washes onshore, Christa’s dream of mammalian conquest is fulfilled when it turns out that neither the king nor anyone else wants it. How it becomes the bones of a theater is something that’s too complicated to describe here. Let us just say that when war rears its ugly head and special forces comes calling, the Seagraves are already prepared to give the performances of their lives. Already a bestseller in the UK, The Whalebone Theatre offers enough twists on the classics of the genre to stand beside the classics."

We hosted a fantastic virtual event featuring Quinn for this novel when it first arrived in hardcover last year - the October edition of our Readings from Oconomowaukee event series that we cohost with our pals of Books & Company in Oconomowoc. Click the video icon below this paragraph to watch that great conversation.

And those are the recs of the week! We'll be back next week with more books, as is our way. Until then, read on.