Monday, February 26, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of February 27, 2024

The leap year means there's an extra day for reading all these great new books. How excellent. Here are the recs.

First, Tim McCarthy recommends Wandering Stars, the new book by Pulitzer finalist Tommy Orange. Tim says: "Tommy Orange takes us on a winding road with Jude Star and Victor Bear Shield, two men who survive the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, and then with their descendants, leading us to characters living in the aftermath of the Big Oakland Powwow from There There. He brings the story full circle and beyond. The tone of the novel is mostly level, even as events become stunning and disturbing. I tried to see what the level voice was, and I thought at first it was resignation, a forced acceptance of the violent indignities suffered by indigenous people (and others). Then a character says he’s “so tired of enduring,” and I thought I knew. The tone is endurance. Keep moving, stay alive, find ways to feel comfort and escape, sometimes have a belief in survival, a hope for purpose and stability, a sense of home. It’s the full and true revelation of pain and endurance that makes Tommy Orange’s writing unique. It’s important, and there's a there at the end. My heart grew. Orange wrapped me in the sound of creative, perceptive, genuine truth, and I felt unexpected warmth."

Next, Daniel Goldin recommends Burn Book: A Tech Love Story by Kara Swisher. Daniel writes: "Burn Book is part memoir and part history of tech over the past thirty years. Swisher has had as much inside contact as anyone, and she’s quite opinionated, pointing out the heroes, villains, and sadly, heroes-turned-villains. In addition to reporting, she’s been vocal about diversifying the tech field. It appears that yesterday’s nerds are today’s frat bros. But she still has hope for tomorrow. Maybe the field will handle AI better than they did social media. You think? Entertaining and often insightful."

And Greta Borgealt recommends Piglet, a novel by Lottie Hazel. Greta opines: "Here’s a book that quietly takes on the unhealthy and unrealistic expectations that society places on women. It follows Piglet, a woman who has everything that society has told us we should strive for as modern women - a sleek, elegant job as a cookbook editor, a loving and loyal best friend, and she's getting married to an adoring man named Kit. Piglet has some of the most vivid food writing. It will leave you salivating in its precise description. This idea of idealized perfection comes to a screeching halt when Kit reveals a betrayal two weeks before the wedding. This novel shines a light on the shame and embarrassment people feel when they stay with partners who have cheated on them. It begs the question, can we really have everything we want, or in our pursuit of this will we lose more than we originally bargained?"

And those are the recs! See you back here next week (next month, wowee!) for more picks from the Boswellians. Until then, read on.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of February 20, 2024, plus Catch Up Recs

This week we've got one rec for a brand new book, plus a handful of recommendations that have come in post-publication date from Boswellians that we want to catch you up on.

The first recommendation of the week is for a book that's just this week out in English. From Chris Lee, a recommendation for About Uncle, the first novel from Swiss author Rebecca Gisler, translated into English by Jordan Stump. Chris writes: "Gisler’s short, hypnotic novel, set in a coastal village on the outskirts of France, chronicles Uncle’s life on the outskirts of society. It’s a portrait of the tender, strange, and disgusting obligations of familial love. As Uncle retreats further and further from the world, he retreats into an animal self. Niece and nephew care for him almost as if he’s a pet. The story meanders through the family’s history, charting all the ways their lives have bent and deformed to grown around immovable Uncle. What a mesmerizing book!"

Now onto a few catch-up recs. Tim McCarthy offers up the second Boswellian rave for Kaveh Akbar's breakout hit novel, Martyr!. Tim says: "Cyrus understands suffering all too well. He's sober. He stopped drinking and taking drugs, but recovery isn't enough to calm the sense of dread. Neither are his friends or his art, his poetry. They’re not enough. Cyrus doesn’t remember his mom, who was shot down in an Iranian commercial airliner by a US warship when he was just months old (yes, a real event, July 3rd, 1988). Soon afterward, his father left Tehran for Indiana with him and little else. Even as a baby, Cyrus resisted sleep. Now, decades later, it’s up to him to figure out what he truly wants. If only he had the faith and conviction of a martyr! No, he doesn’t want to kill people, just believe in something so deeply he would die for it, a death with meaning, requiring a life with meaning. It's a smart novel from a powerful writer about fear, shame, loss, ego, addiction, and the possibility of arriving at moments of genesis. The thinking is uncommon, somehow both fresh and sophisticated, while the entwined histories of Iran and America make it vital. This book more than matters to me. This book understands me!"

We hosted a marvelous event with Akbar last week - click the play button below to watch the video of Akbar's conversation with Milwaukee-based artist Nina Ghanbarzadeh.

Oli Schmitz offers their words for I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself, another January release, written by Marisa Crane: "This outstanding speculative fiction debut follows a sharp, wry-voiced narrator doing her best to raise a child in a near-future dystopian surveillance state. Through a subversive story of queer parenthood in the face of loss and marginalization, Crane crafts an intimate portrait of love, shame, and persistence. Timely social commentary, dark humor, and deeply human writing make I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself an essential read of the 2020s."

And now we have three recent recs from Greta Borgealt. Greta's first pick is Greta & Valdin by Rebecca K Reilly - we can only guess what drove her to pick up this novel. Greta writes: "Greta & Valdin is the debut novel of Rebecca K Reilly and found massive success in New Zealand, where it was first published. It is a beautiful story about love overcoming hardships among siblings. The title characters are both adult siblings who live with queer identities as well as being biracial. The representation of the characters is both nuanced and humanizing. It is a literary fiction novel that is comparative with the works of Sally Rooney. It is very humorous and has the heart of a romantic comedy. The family at the center of the novel is slightly dysfunctional, but love is woven within and that seems very reminiscent of real families. This book also does an excellent job of writing queer joy in the canister of colorful emotions that the characters experience."

Greta's next selection is Rabbit Hole by Kate Brody: "A literary thriller that puts you behind the eyes of a woman whose mind has been twisted by the wicked hands of grief since her father has taken his own life on the anniversary of her sister's disappearance. It is a wild ride as she pursues the case with the help of a teenage girl who has a strange connection to her family. The author critiques the culture of true crime and the toxicity of the internet. Much of the dialogue and discoveries the characters make take place in chat rooms and a pseudo-Reddit, which adds an interesting layer to the reading experience. Although the subject matter is very dark, the text is extremely engrossing. It is like seeing a car accident, and as much as you may want to, you find yourself unable to look away."

Finally, Greta suggests Sex With A Brain Injury: On Concussion and Recovery by Annie Liontas. Greta calls this book: "A transformative memoir told in essays about a topic isn't largely discussed. It is personal to the author as she has suffered from three concussions in her lifetime. These injuries have severely affected her life and wellbeing. Liontas weaves a beautiful web of a book, telling her story as well as blending it with history and interviews with others who have suffered from similar afflictions. I felt as though the book was very expansive in giving context to head injuries, and for that I'm grateful to the author. 

Paperback pick alert! Rebecca Makkai's latest novel, I Have Some Questions for You, gets its paperback release this week. Daniel Goldin is a fan: "Bodie Kane arrives back at Granby, the New Hampshire prep school of her youth, to teach a short class on podcasting, and one of her students asks to take as a project the case of a student death where she posits that the wrong person is in prison. And being that Bodie was her former roommate, this unearths a torrent of memories, while at the same time confronting a #metoo case focusing on her separated husband. As the story unfolds, a panoply of sexism emerges, from microaggressions (who's watching your kids?) to abuse and assault, leading Bodie to question her entire school experience while also trying to figure out exactly what happened in this case. This a twisty and sophisticated take on psychological suspense - I dare you to stop reading!"

Kathy Herbst has a paperback pick for us as well this week: Independence, a novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Kathy says: "This powerful work of historical fiction is compassionate and compelling in its exploration of a family struggling to survive in a nation torn apart by internal conflict. During the Partition of India, both Muslims and Hindus were grateful to be free of British rule. Unfortunately, the anger and tension between two groups who once lived peacefully side by side caused unspeakable violence. A Hindu family in Bengal whose husband and father is murdered while attending to wounded from both sides of the conflict finds their world turned upside down. The wife and daughters try desperately to understand and support each other. One dreams of becoming a doctor like her father, one falls in love with a Muslim man and is banished from the family, and one struggles to find her voice and significance in the family constellation. Inspiring and gripping, with fascinating characters whose lives are woven together in often heartbreaking ways."

And those are the recommendations for the week! Lots of great stuff to read until we see you again in 7(ish) days. Until then, read on.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of February 13, 2024

What better way to spend Galentines aka Palentines, aka, uh, Bro-entines (?) day (the day before Valentine's Day, dedicated by many to celebrating platonic friendships rather than romances) than buddying up with a new book? We've got recommendations to help you meet you next best-book-friend.

First, from Jason Kennedy, it's Plastic by Scott Guild: "Erin is made of plastic, living in a world made up of plastic, living people, people who look like waffles, and many others that float through the story. Her life has been radically exposed to tragedy during various eco-terrorist attacks. When her job at Tablet Town is bombed, she helps and befriends another survivor who has lost someone. Can she move on? Can she reconcile her past with her future hopes and dreams? The more foreign Scott Guild makes Erin's world, the more familiar it feels."

Next up, Kay Wosewick suggests The Book of Doors by Gareth Brown: "Booklovers are bound (ha ha) to love this novel about magic books. One evening near closing time, a regular customer leaves behind a tiny magic book inscribed to the last bookseller in the store. Great adventures begin!!"

And now we have Rachel Ross, who recommends The Fox Wife by Yangsze Choo: "The Fox Wife is a beautiful wintry read from Yangsze Choo set in Manchurian China in 1908. Combining elements of folktale and mystery, we follow the shapeshifting fox spirit Snow as she seeks revenge for her lost child. Although she’s a supernatural creature, Snow runs up against plenty of challenges in human society since she takes the form of a young woman. While she seeks her target, the investigator Bao shadows her footsteps. Bao’s life was mysteriously touched by foxes in his youth, and now he’s determined to follow the rumors and illuminate the enigma of foxes for himself. At its heart, this is a character driven novel about how love and loss intertwine throughout life. Quietly touching and magical, pick this up to read on a snowy day."

We'll be right back here next week with more books for you to fall in love with. Until then, read on.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of February 6, 2024

Now that everyone has spent a full weekend of fun celebrating Groundhog Day (this is what everyone did this weekend, right?), it's time for some more reading. Here are the weekly recommendations, courtesy of the Boswellians.

Milwaukee hometown hero Nick Petrie returns to the shelves with the latest Peter Ash thriller, #8 in this most excellent series, The Price You Pay. Two Boswellians weigh in - first, Daniel Goldin: "I’m guessing when Nick Petrie talks to fans, a lot of them want to know when we’re going to read more about Lewis’s backstory. Well, here it is! Lewis’s former buddy Teddy has been living in the Northwoods, trying to achieve a normal life. But wouldn’t you know it, his therapist-lover blabs to another guy she’s sleeping with, and wouldn’t you know it, he has ties to a crime syndicate that knows that Teddy’s stories of the Ghost Killers, who are so legendary that there’s a quarter-million-dollar bounty on bringing the gang in alive. The Ghost Killers do indeed kill, but they have a code not unlike Dexter, the serial killer of serial killers – only the extreme baddies, only when necessary. This endangers the life not just of Lewis and the gang, but everyone they love, and that includes Peter Ash and June, once they decide to help out, which of course they do. This is one of the more brutal entries in the series, and though I consider myself to have a delicate stomach for these sorts of things, I couldn’t stop reading!"

And from Chris Lee: "Here’s something I love: a good, thriller-y crime novel with the speed, the swagger, and the vibes of a 90s action flick. Petrie does it right! The setup: reluctant solver-of-problems-that-no-one-else-can-solve Peter Ash and his best bud and (often literal but sometimes just metaphorical) partner in crime Lewis are trying to hunker down all quiet and warm with their families in their cozy Milwaukee neighborhood during a freezing Midwestern February. But when a crime syndicate threatens to air out Lewis’s dirty laundry from his ‘bad old days’ as the ringleader of the country’s former foremost crew of murderers-of-murderers, well, plans change. Houses explode. Computers are hacked. Doors are kicked in. The bullets (and knockout darts!) fly. Along the way, our heroes have to ask themselves some tough questions – does their moral code really make them different from the baddies they’re chasing? Can doing bad things for good reasons ever really be right, or are we perhaps just grasping for rationalizations? Here’s one thing that’s sure: Petrie’s books are best when he writes his heroes into lousy weather. There’s just something about that classic man vs the elements vs teams of hired killers story that Petrie has perfected. This one’s a high-tension page turner where the fists are flying fast as the ice and snow."

The blog posted a day early this week just so we can alert our faithful readers that Nick Petrie will be at Boswell for a special day-before-the-official-release-date celebration of The Price You Pay. The event is Monday, Feb. 5, 6:30 pm at Boswell. Click here to register at Petrie will be in conversation with Bill Schweigart, author of novels such as The Guilty One.

The next rec is from Kay Wosewick, who suggest you read The Women, the latest novel by Kristin Hannah. Kay says: "The Women is a gorgeous, intimate, long overdue ode to Vietnam’s women vets. Hannah’s hero eventually finds some peace, but many women did not return home or returned home too broken to live well. Thanks to Kristin, this novel will surely bring long-overdue recognition of and thankfulness for the brave women who served in Vietnam."

Next up, we go back to Chris for his take on the academic literary world send-up, Set for Life, the debut novel by Andrew Ewell. Chris writes: "His marriage, his friendships, his novel, his career, his ego – just how fast can one man sabotage them all? I want to give a copy of this to every writer I know. It’s at once a riotous sendup of academic creative writing culture and a sincere portrait of a writer bumbling his way toward something like honesty in his art and in his life. It’s a darn good book."

And now, another event book joins the fray, with recommendations from Daniel and Kathy Herbst. That would be The Road from Belhaven by Margo Livesey. Daniel says: "When Lizzie’s parents die and her grandparents take custody of her, it slowly becomes clear that she’s meant to inherit the family farm, with only a few complications. One, the boy she’s interested in has big-city plans. Two, Lizzie discovers she has an older sister. And three, Lizzie’s somewhat uncontrollable second sight predicts more complications. Yet despite not being able to control this gift, she can still make her own choices. Set in nineteenth century Scotland, Lizzie’s hardscrabble coming-of-age story is inspired by Livesey’s own grandmother. A compelling story, beautifully told (my favorite Livesey novel to date!), and likely appeal to fans of Claire Keegan and Jeannette Walls."

And Kathy adds: "Growing up on her grandparents' farm in 19th century Scotland, Lizzie is still a child when she begins having glimpses into the future. She doesn't see everything, and she has to accept the reality that she has no control over what she sees. The life she has known changes dramatically when a sister she didn't know she had comes to live on the farm, and Lizzie begins to question what she believed to be true about her family and what she kind of life she wants for herself. An absorbing story that takes us on a journey with Lizzie as she leaves the farm and moves to Glasgow to follow a young man she is in love with and to create a different life for herself. What happens to Lizzie, how her life evolves, and the sometimes difficult the choices she has to make are at the center of this heartfelt book. Written with compassion for a flawed but still engaging young woman."

Livesey joins us at Boswell for a conversation with Milwaukee author Liam Callanan on Wednesday, February 21, at 6:30 pm. Click here to register and more at

Finally, we wrap up the new book recommending by heading back to Kay for her words about Your Shadow Half Remains by Sunny Moraine. Kay says: "A brutal plague of sorts spreads rapidly - mere eye contact with someone immediately makes both enraged and deranged; usually they kill each other. Dead bodies are on the street, in homes, in stores - everywhere. Riley thinks she might be safe at her grandparents’ home in the country. She finds their messy remains, cleans up, and moves in. Living alone for an extended period of time is, well, not mentally healthy, especially on top of PSTD.  Enjoy a dose of quiet horror in a tiny package."

Now onto the picks in the paperback realm. We've got one book to recommend that's getting its second life as a softcover this week.

Jason Kennedy recommends Lone Women by Victor LaValle: "I can barely contain myself when a Victor LaValle book is announced, and Lone Women doesn't disappoint at all. Adelaide is running away from a horrifying situation in California; she treks to Montana with a secret and a big, locked trunk. Montana is a huge land with few people, and Adelaide hopes that she can hide her secret away, until the secret escapes to terrifying consequences. She meets people who aren't who they say they are and don't have her best interests at heart. Who can she trust? Does she really understand her burden that she has been saddled with? This brilliant historic, horror novel will bring questions like these into focus."

Those are the recs and we're sticking to 'em. Until next week, read on!