Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 30, 2024

It's the last week of January already - where did it go!? Well, if you did things right, it flew by as you were reading all of the great books we've been recommending. Here are some more.

Daniel Goldin starts us off with the new novel by Kiley Reid, author of the hit novel Such a Fun Age. Her new book is Come and Get It, and of it Daniel says: "You can get an idea of how academics feel about the current state of academia by what they put in their novels. Having already recent takes from Nathan Hill and Julie Schumacher, I was primed for Kiley Reid’s Come and Get It. When Millie Cousins, a dorm resident at the University of Arkansas, agrees to find students as source material for Visiting Professor Agatha Paul’s forthcoming book on marriage, nobody realizes quite how messy this is going to be. Told through the perspectives of Millie, Agatha, and Kennedy, one of the students, Reid’s terrific second novel has all of the cringey humor you could hope for, wrapped in a discussion about race, gender, class, power, and a whole lot of wanting stuff."

Greta Borgealt also recommends the latest for Reid. Greta says: "It's 2017, and school is in session at the University of Arkansas in Kiley Reid's sophomore novel. It focuses on a group of undergrads who are the residents and RAs of a scholarship dorm. Another central character is a critically acclaimed writer who starts teaching there. Ethics and class play a crucial role in the lives of these rich characters. The lines of right and wrong look a little blurry at times in their minds. This is evident in the messy entanglement between the professor and one of the RAs. This is just one instance of drama that lives within the pages. Being a few years out of college myself, it was interesting to read about the social circles that were in a college at time so close to my own stay in academia. Like any college, there are sororities, parties, and dorm decorations, but unlike my experience, some of the main characters always seem to have money on their minds. They're either getting more than they should from their parents, or it is a constant weight on their shoulders. I could relate to one of the characters who suffers from loneliness when she transfers to the University. I found that my first year, as it is for many, was often times very lonely. Although I related to her struggle as I reader, I'm not sure I can say that I liked the character. It is complex. There is a lot of character development in the novel, but sometimes the residents of the dorm came across as entitled and privileged, especially in comparison to some of their older peers. They certainly don't have everything figured out, but most people don't at 21 years old. This book is powerful in its ability to entertain the reader while simultaneously critiquing the setting it resides in."

Jason Kennedy suggests you check out Everyone on This Train Is a Suspect, the sequel to the similarly mouthful-titled Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone, by Benjamin Stevenson. Jason writes: "Ernest is back! After the tumultuous and deadly happenings in Everyone in My Family has Killed Someone, Ernest is at an Australian Mystery Writer’s Festival. Which, as the title gives away, is on a train. Not just any train, but a train that cuts through a huge swath of Australia and cuts in and out of cell phone range at various points. And as Ernest tells us, “Seven writers board a train. At the end of the line, five will leave it alive. One will be in cuffs.” Another locked room mystery in which Ernest attempts to teach us the finer points of writing a mystery novel. Highly entertaining and hilarious - I had to race through to know who did it!"

Finally, we go back to Greta for her write-up for Interesting Facts About Space, a new novel from Emily Austin. Greta says: "The marketing really caught my eye for this book and drew me in because it stated this book is for anyone who has ever wondered if they were a terrible person. I don't know if this is a concept that everyone grapples with at a time in their lives, but I could relate. This book is about Enid; she is a lesbian serial dater who is deaf in one ear, obsessed with space and true crime, and is afraid of bald men. Austin uses black comedy to tell this literary story through the main character's stream of consciousness. Enid, she is a character that a certain audience can relate to. She is flawed, but she's still loveable. The messiness of her life can induce a little anxiety in the reader, but overall, it has a hopeful message, and there is great representation of a neurodivergent person. The thing I love most about this book is the Enid's relationship with her mother, because her mother is one of the people Enid has let close enough to understand her, and they truly love each other even though the majority of their conversations in the novel are about space."

Those are our picks for the week! We'll be back next week with more great reads. Until then, read on.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 23, 2024

This week, it's all Chris with all the recs. Here are three picks from Chris (you know, me, the guy who compiles these blogs - yay!).

My first pick is Martyr!, the debut novel from acclaimed poet Kaveh Akbar. As you've probably seen, there are raves all over for this novel - here is my rather breathless addition to the conversation: "I like it, I love it, I want some more of it! A meditation on life, death, and finding meaning somewhere between the two. What part of ourselves must we destroy to transcend the violence of the world? Definitely the early frontrunner, with a large lead, for my favorite book of the year."

Akbar will be at Boswell on Tuesday, February 13, 6:30 pm, in conversation with Nina Ghanbarzadeh. Click here for more info and registration at kavehakbarmke.eventbrite.com.

My next selection is Last Acts, another debut novel, by Alexander Sammartino. My write up: "When Rizzo’s son Nick survives an overdose, Rizzo brings him home with dollar signs in his eyes. Together, they’ll save his overleveraged gun store. But does Nick want to help? Does he even want to live? Sammartino has penned a really funny and honest novel about America’s addictions: to drugs, guns, and money, to salvation and second acts, and to strip malls, get-rich schemes, and advertising. I especially love how Last Acts captures the Southwestern landscape - the whitewash sunlight, the dry, hot winds, and the Waffle House and tract housing sprawl of Phoenix nestled into the valleys between the Sonoran Desert’s mountains. A sharp, observant debut."

And finally, a paperback original entitled Bad Foundations by Brian Allen Carr, whose last novel was Opioid, Indiana, and it was another of which I was a big fan. Of the new one, I say: "Cracks in the foundations, ghosts in the crawlspaces. Cook is sorta stoned on gas station Delta-8 and looking for both across Indiana and Ohio. Carr’s latest is a book about money. It’s about trying to be a decent parent in spite of yourself. And it’s about trying to hang on to some your soul in a world that grinds you to the bone. Most of all, Bad Foundations is the story of all the Midwestern boys who grew up being told, ‘get an education,’ and so they did, only to find out later that nobody really cares about a philosophy degree, or an English degree, or any other degree except the one to which someone is willing to get themselves dirty for a few bucks. It’s funny, and it’s sad, an irreverent, heartbreaking ode to all the unstable foundations upon which so many American lives are built."

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

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 16, 2023

A few suggestions of what to read this week from your friendly neighborhood Boswellians.

Daniel Goldin starts off our recommending this week with an upcoming event book - Amina Gautier's new collection of flash fiction entitled The Best That You Can Do: Stories. Daniel says: "Gautier, who is Professor of English at Marquette, has written three previous award-winning collections of stories. In her fourth, flash fiction pieces (generally two-to-three-page stories) are clustered together (as few as six and as many as 27) to form a powerful larger narrative. One of my favorites is 'Quarter Rican,' which focuses on a woman (and her children and grandchildren), who falls in love with and is then abandoned by her friend’s brother. Another is 'Caretaking' about a homebound woman, her caregiver, and the folks in the greater orbit. Her best stories can be simultaneously humorous, empathetic, and politically pointed - they play with time, place, and perspective, giving the larger narratives an almost three-dimensional quality."

Gautier's will visit Boswell for this book on Thursday, January 25, 6:30 pm. Click right here to register and find out more.

Next up, it's a classic double rec. Kay Wosewick and Jen Steele both suggest you check out The Fury, the new novel from Alex Michaelides. Kay says: "This locked-room thriller (OK, private island thriller) is filled with big personalities, hidden histories, theatrical behaviors, and, of course, a murder. The twists and turns are masterful and almost endless. Michaelides fried my brain again." 

And from Jen: "The Fury is a striking thriller with a cinematic, noir feel - definite Sunset Boulevard vibes. There's an unreliable narrator, a reclusive movie star, and a cast of characters full of secrets and motives. This was one novel I did not want to put down!"

And now, back to Daniel Goldin for another event book - last night's event, in fact (assuming you are reading this blog the day it's published)! The book is True North, the author is Andrew Graff, and the review is this: "It’s the early nineties and Sam Brecht has just bought his uncle’s rafting business in the Wisconsin Northwoods. But what he doesn’t know is that the town has some new slick competition, and on top of that, there’s talk of selling out what turns out to be sacred Native land to out-of-town miners. And what Sam hasn’t told his wife Swami is that his teaching job is on shaky ground – there’s no back-up plan. True North is an adventure novel that keeps you on the edge of your seat rooting for their marriage, their business, non-catastrophic runs, and the wilderness itself. I guess you’d call that quadruple excitement!"

While you may have missed out event with Andrew Graff, it doesn't mean it's gone forever - we recorded his conversation, and you can click the video icon below to watch him chat about this novel of whitewater adventure. Not a bad way to spend an hour on a cold day like today!

Now we go over to Jenny Chou for her write up of Emily Wilde's Map of the Otherlands by Heather Fawcett. Jenny says: "Book One in this delightful series about Emily Wilde, recently tenured professor of Faerie folklore, bookish introvert, quasher of pleasant conversation, and oh-so-clever heroine, made my list of Top Five Books of 2023, so imagine my excitement upon stumbling across (much as Emily Wilde is wont to) an advance copy of Book Two. Her life’s work of assembling an encyclopaedia with an entry on every species of the fae complete, she begins a new project: a map of the realms of Faerie. Meddling in her plans as always is the exiled Faerie king, Wendell Bambleby, who has not given up his hope of coaxing Emily to marry him. This time the meddling isn’t entirely his fault, as one cannot always prevent one’s own attempted murder. His stepmother's poisonous scheme leads Emily back to the Faerie realm in search of a remedy, armed only with her wits, an extensive knowledge of the fae, and Wendell's (un)helpful advice to find his cat. I adored this next installment of the Emily Wilde series for the romance, the witty sparring, and the cleverly built world readers will want to visit again and again. Book Three can’t get here soon enough."

We wrap up the new releases with Oli Schmitz and their recommendation of Most Ardently: A Pride and Prejudice Remix by Gabe Cole Novoa. Oli says: "Most Ardently is the queer and trans Pride and Prejudice retelling of my DREAMS, using the structure of the source text– a tale of moving from misunderstanding to growth and acceptance – to deliver an emotional and ultimately hopeful journey to trans joy. Novoa's new take on the classic Austen novel is beautifully done and engaging all the way through, with changes to the original plot and location (bringing the characters closer to London) that enable a strong connection to real queer history. I think contemporary readers will relate easily to Oliver Bennet, whose resolve to be seen as himself transcends his Regency-era London setting. Gabe Cole Novoa's contribution to the Remixed Classics series is a charming and accessible approach to a classic story, one that can resonate with readers regardless of their familiarity with Pride and Prejudice or their relationships to gender non-conformity. This is the sort of young adult novel that I desperately wish I'd had access to as a teen, and I'm so happy that it exists for readers today."

Over in the paperback department, we've got Kay Wosewick recommending The Dolphin House, a novel by Audrey Schulman. Kay writes: "The inspiration for Schulman's novel is a brief but groundbreaking study conducted on dolphins in the summer of 1965. A young woman is hired to feed four 'research' dolphins who live in a lagoon on St. Thomas. Having grown up around pigs and horses (intelligent animals), Cora is naturally curious. Unlike the scientists, she gets in the water, and is immediately struck by a fascinating variety of sounds. The dolphins flee to the farthest corner, so Cora pretends to be busy and ignores them. Perfect! The dolphins soon come to check her out, and so begins their friendship. In a very short time, Cora devises ways to communicate with the dolphins - a gigantic step in animal research at the time. Scientists and journalist from around the world come to St. Thomas, and soon the world knows that dolphins are highly intelligent creatures. Schulman's story is breathtaking, heartwarming, and heartbreaking, and a must-read for animal lovers."

This week also sees the anticipated paperback release of Horse by Geraldine Brooks. We've got recs from two Boswellians here. First, from Daniel Goldin: "Much like People of the Book chronicled the Sarajevo Haggadah through a contemporary rare books expert, Horse tells the story of Lexington, a legendary horse whose bloodline courses through many a prized thoroughbred, via the investigations of Jess, a White scientist at the Smithsonian bone lab, and Theo, a Black art historian who comes into possession of a once-lost painting. In telling the story of the groom Jarret Lewis, Brooks chronicles how slavery was entwined in the horse breeding and racing, benefitting stakeholders even if they didn’t own slaves themselves, and the legacy of racism that Theo endures. Brooks’s novels celebrate the untold stories that are in the margins of history; she’s done it again with Horse, and the fact that her late husband, beloved writer Tony Horwitz (Confederates in the Attic), helped her with the research, makes her latest novel even more poignant."

And from Tim McCarthy: "Horse is based on the life of a truly great American racehorse in the middle 1800s named Darley, who came to be known as Lexington. It's also the story of Lexington's glory being rediscovered many years later at the Smithsonian, by lovers of animals and paintings. The stallion's history is endearing, and through his courage and grace, Brooks reveals the nature of people and of America, on the brink of Civil War and as we live now. She’s adept at showing the beautiful Kentucky landscape, the personality of the horses, and the spectacle of racing in a society where whites casually own people. All this in stark contrast with the anguish and terror of being owned and used at the owner’s whim. It’s the enslaved young trainer Jarret’s close connection with the horse that fully exposes the single-minded profit motive for possessing them both. Jarret tells us that, in the end, it's only horses who are honest, and in the end a memorable story needs heart and strong characters. This novel has both, in human and equine form."

Tim also recommends Wise Hours: A Journey into the Wild and Secret World of Owls by Miriam Darlington and out in paperback today. Tim says: "When I really like a book, it's usually more about the writing and less about the topic or the themes. In Darlington’s case, the writing is both exciting and graceful, with a very personal touch, as she explains the mythology and symbolism attached to owls while celebrating their natural world. And I love the topic as well. I've been sharing the experience of seeing Great Horned Owls with a six-year-old child, as they nest in our neighborhood and hunt from our trees. His fascination exceeds even mine. Darlington’s fascination began when she and her son were suddenly face to face with a Great Grey Owl as it gripped its owner’s leather glove. That launched a need to write about owls, both wild and in remarkable domestic places. Then her son got very ill, but she decided to carry on and show us glimpses of her own inner world while writing about theirs. By setting out to find all the wild European owl species as she faced her greatest fear, she’s given us a loving tribute to the beauty and struggle of living, in owls and in the people dedicated to their well-being."

And those are the recs of note for this week. We'll see you again soon right back in this digital spot with more great reads for you to read about. Until then, read on.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 9, 2024

This week, the Boswellians bring you two new novels to hunker down with through the winter nights.

First, Daniel recommends You Only Call When You're in Trouble by novelist Stephen McCauley. Daniel says: "Tom is a sixty-something architect whose personal and professional lives are on the ropes; he’s one lost commission and is one argument away from losing his job and his boyfriend. His sister Dorothy’s got an ill-conceived scheme to open a retreat center in Woodstock with a flash-in-the-pan personal growth guru. And his niece Cecily’s teaching gig and relationship are also in trouble, due to a Title IX scandal and the meddling mother of her boyfriend. So, what’s a family to do but gather together for the center’s grand opening? To my thinking, McCauley channels mid-20th Century English women writers, where love is longed for, but friendship is the true source of happiness, and adds a little (though in this case, not much) sexual energy. His latest, a mix of wry humor and emotional connection, poses the question: mistakes were made – now what?"

And Gao suggests The Fetishist by Katherine Min. Gao writes: "It felt as though I was alongside Kathrine Min as she was writing. She felt real; like a childhood friend I once knew but lost ties with. Her voice permeates the book. A friend asked me if the book was 'fun,' and I don't think I would describe it as 'fun.' Rather, The Fetishist is comically cynical with its wit and blunt portrayal of its characters. The characters are the best part of the book. Each one is delightfully entertaining, and no matter what decisions they make, you cannot hate or judge them. You understand their flaws and egos, and as they grow, you as the reader also are forced into introspection. As an Asian American woman dating a white man, I related with Alma and Kyoko. With Alma, it was her self-awareness of how white men perceive Asian women, yet readily accepting that perception because there is some semblance of power that can be found. I empathized with Kyoko's rebellion and her passion for her mother. Her recklessness is her charm, and I found myself rooting for her. In every Asian American woman, I think there is both an Alma and a Kyoko living inside them (Kayla Min, Kathrine's daughter, talked a little about this too during the end notes)."

And how about a paperback pick for the week, too? Okay! Oli Schmitz brings us How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler. Oli writes: "How Far the Light Reaches is a brilliantly executed work of science writing and memoir that highlights the interconnectedness and complexity of ocean life and human experience. In each chapter, journalist Sabrina Imbler relates their own identities, relationships, and experiences to the world of a different fascinating sea creature, with tremendous vulnerability and stunning prose."

And those are the recs. We'll see you next week with more books to keep you reading through the snow and cold. Until then, read on.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of January 2, 2024

The staff rec blog is back, baby! A new year and a whole lotta new books on the way. We start it out with two recommendations this week - one for grown folks, one for kids.

First, from Rachel Ross, a feminist take on Greek mythology, Divine Might: Goddesses in Greek Myth by Natalie Haynes. Rachel says: "Divine Might is an exploration of major female figures in Greek mythology and how they have been represented over time. This was such a thoughtful and fun entry from Haynes as she highlights not only the female Olympians, but also lesser goddesses, the Muses, and the Furies. I particularly liked how Haynes described different pieces of art that these figures have been featured in across the ages, as well as how she highlighted their influence on and representation in contemporary media. Haynes continually urges us to consider how the stories of these feminine figures were overwhelmingly recorded and recounted by men, and how that lens has shaped our perspective of them."

And from Tim McCarthy, Like So, a picture book by Ruth Forman, illustrated by Raissa Figueroa. Tim writes: "This beautiful, warm picture book shows the many ways love shines through the days shared by a little girl and her grandmother. The simple kisses, kitchen hugs, treks under expansive skies filled with butterflies, autumn paths, moonlit waves, and snow dusted constellations all reflect the joy of family and the natural world. Colorful illustrations by Raissa Figueroa express a sweet, energetic way of living just like so..."

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