Sunday, March 24, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of March 26, 2023

New books, new recs! Lots of great reading for you this week, courtesy of the Boswellians.

First it's Jason Kennedy with Monsters We Have Made, the second novel (a paperback original!) by Milwaukee native Lindsay Starck. Jason says: "Nine-year-old Faye and her best friend attack their babysitter and leave her bleeding with several knife wounds in the woods. When unraveled, her parents and the community find out that the girls were attempting to appease and gain the favor of the Kingman. Think of the Kingman as Slenderman, and the crimes are somewhat the same. Ten years later, a knock on Sylvia's door. Sylvia, Faye's mother, delivers a granddaughter and reports that her daughter is missing. Sylvia sets off to find her, which brings back the Kingman dilemma from so long ago. Fearing that something awful will occur again, she strikes out and tracks down the people from the past, who sometimes have a difficult time helping, as they would rather forget about everything from before. The power of a story to change a life, for good or for ill, lays at the heart of this family's desire to heal from a past they can't move on from nor forget.  Lindsay Starck has crafted a masterful and suspenseful novel of love and fear and family, both estranged and new."

Starck will be at Boswell for an event featuring this book on Friday, April 19, 6:30 pm. To register and find more info about this event, click right here and visit

Next up, it's another event book - Hang the Moon by Jeannette Walls comes out in paperback this week, and Daniel Goldin has this to say about it: "For Sallie Kincaid, life should be easy. She’s the daughter of Duke, the top dog in Claiborne County, Virginia. He’s got any number of businesses going, including the beloved Emporium. The truth, however, is that it’s really moonshine sales that are supporting the family’s big-for-a-small-town lifestyle – it is the prohibition era, after all. But when Duke brings home a new wife who gives him a son, Sallie is exiled to her Aunt Faye after a terrible accident. But don’t count her out! Hang the Moon chronicles Sallie’s slow rise to power through any number of reversals that make a soap opera seem sluggish in comparison. Nobody can write about young women overcoming adversity like Walls, whether in novels like Half Broke Horses or her own story in The Glass Castle, and Hang the Moon is no exception. You might call this a coming-of-age novel, but it’s also a high-octane, action-packed Southern Gothic!"

Another paperback original that gets the Boswellian treatment this week is The Innocents by Bridget Walsh, recommended by Tim McCarthy. Of it, Tim says: "Minnie Ward is a writer for shows at the Variety Palace Music Hall, a 19th century London theatre with a quirky set of acts. She’s also the unofficial assistant manager and a talented past performer who has reasons for never going back on stage. In this Variety Palace Mystery sequel, closely tied to its debut The Tumbling Girl, Minnie is again working with Albert Easterbrook, a private investigator rejected by his privileged parents for becoming a common crime solver. They’re on tragic new cases while coping with the aftermath of horrifying past murders, including that of Minnie’s closest friend. Walsh's thrillers are a bloody (literally) joy to read. Victorian London gets very rough, but the writing is clean, well sequenced, and expertly paced, with fascinating, convincing characters. The British humor of the times makes me chuckle, even before I look up the words, and the recognizable places lure this Euro-novice into the story rather than intimidate me out. I’d normally say charming sounds a bit trite, but being charmed and thrilled at once leads to quite a lovely surprise: Horrid deaths can yield happy endings."

Jenny Chou recommends Expiration Date by Rebecca Serle. Those keeping up with the publication dates of each rec will notice this book came out last week, but alas, I mistakenly excluded Jenny's rec from last week's blog. So, here it is now, just as great as it was a week ago. Jenny says: "I love Rebecca Serle’s books for the mix of romance with a slight touch of magic. This time, main character Daphne Bell gets a slip of paper at the start of each relationship letting her know exactly when it will end. Will she ever find true love that lasts? Cute, funny, and enjoyable from page one!"

Back to Daniel we go for Olivetti by Allie Millington. Daniel writes: "The Brindle family isn’t doing too well. Mother Beatrice has disappeared and so has Olivetti, the family typewriter. Young Ernest, the family loner, is the first to learn the secret – Olivetti has been pawned. Only the machine may hold the secret of what’s happened, but he’ll need the help of young Quinn at the pawn shop to help him. Like many under-represented voices in literature (I’m thinking of trees and space-exploring robots and octopi), Olivetti is simultaneously philosophical and wry, and the story itself is heartfelt and a good conversation starter. Who knew what typewriters hold in their barrels?"

Elizabeth Berg's novel Earth's the Right Place for Love gets its paperback release this week, and here's Daniel's rec: "Elizabeth Berg's latest is a prequel set during the teen years of Arthur Moses, who you might know better as Arthur Truluv. At 16, he’s got a crush on a schoolmate, but she only has eyes for Arthur’s older brother Frank. But Frank, on top of battling with his alcoholic father, also has a secret, and that doesn’t leave him time for teenage crushes. Yes, there’s drama, but it’s really the small moments that are the most special; Arthur has a gift for finding wisdom and kindness in the most unusual places. You don’t have to have read the other novels in the Mason, Missouri cycle first, but after you read Earth’s the Right Place for Love, you’ll probably won’t be able to resist."

Pulitzer winner Mathew Desmond's follow up book to Evicted also gets its paperback release this week. The book is Poverty, by America, and the recs come from Daniel and Kathy Herbst. First, from Daniel: "For those of you who loved Evicted, our best-selling book of 2016, I should note that Poverty, by America is not set in Milwaukee, though Desmond does return to folks he encountered here to make some of his points. But what he does do is try to answer the question, why have we not been able to move the needle on poverty, and what can we do about it? So many people are willing to talk sacrifice, as long as they aren’t the ones doing the sacrificing. Desmond offers a road map to success in eradicating poverty, with the caveat that there are an awful lot of potholes to fill."

From Kathy: "Poverty, by America addresses important questions about financial inequities in our country.  Why hasn't the level of poverty changed in spite of calls for reform?  Who benefits from poverty (his answers may or may not surprise you) and from government programs set up to address it?  And where does much of the money designated to help poor families really end up? Desmond makes a compelling argument that the gross inequality and financial insecurity in America is no accident. Nor is it the 'fault' of the poor who many need to believe are poor because they are lazy and unwilling to work. Citing numerous studies and statistics, Desmond dispels many of the myths we hold and suggests solutions through systemic reform, the election of people willing to make changes, and all of us understanding how we benefit from a permanent underclass."

Curtis Sittenfeld's Romantic Comedy also gets a paperback version this week and a rec from Rachel Copeland, who says: "Sally Milz is perfectly happy with her job as writer for the famous late night live comedy show The Night Owls, but she has noticed an annoying trend: her ordinary-to-schlubby male colleagues have a tendency to become (improbably) romantically involved with top-tier Hollywood starlets. Then, as she is literally writing a sketch lampooning the trend, she meets singer/songwriter Noah Brewster, that week's host and musical guest. And he seems to find her interesting and attractive... but surely this isn't the start of her own romantic comedy, right? It's a bold move to name your book Romantic Comedy, but I couldn't think of a more apt title for the latest from Curtis Sittenfeld. Sally's dry humor surprised laughs out of me from start to finish, and the relationship between Sally and Noah continued to delight me until the end. How that relationship develops is the real surprise - but I won't spoil it for you! All I can say is that I'll never look at Mad Libs the same way again."

Charles Frazier's book The Trackers is next, and for the rec we go back to Tim: "Don't be fooled by the name Valentine Montgomery Welch III. Val is a fairly simple working man who paints pictures very well. The Depression has its grip on America, and he's been given an important New Deal job. Make art for the people. Create a mural in a small-town Wyoming post office to inspire generations. Detail the glory of their world on a familiar wall and have them say they watched it being built. He's lucky to have the job, and he'd better do it right; draw the people to the process. When a wealthy rancher offers room and board, characters come alive: the polished, art-loving rancher and his young wife on the verge of political stardom, the head ranch hand with a storied past, the townspeople getting mail and asking questions, the very young girl suddenly climbing the scaffold to help him paint. I loved the art, the political era, the landscape, the rolling narrative plot becoming a powerful mystery. This is romantic Americana with teeth, with Frazier's ability to show raw struggle and beauty. He makes the ideas resonate, and I want to keep knowing the characters. It’s pure entertainment!"

And those are our recommendations of the week. We'll be back in this little corner of the internet with more book suggestions to kick off April - until then, read on.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of March 19, 2024

Lots of great books coming out this week. Let's jump right into the staff recs.

We'll start off with Tim McCarthy, who recommends James, the new novel from Percival Everett that reconsiders and reconceives Mark Twain's classic novel: "James is Jim’s story, the enslaved man from Huckleberry Finn. It's told by Jim himself. Before reading it, I went back and read the original Mark Twain. I wanted to understand how Everett’s James began, and I have to say that Twain severely disappointed me. Even though Huck learns to better understand and care about Jim, so much of the book feels like a comedy, with family feuds, con men tricking naive river people, and Tom Sawyer endangering Jim's escape by adding foolish extra steps to the plan, all for a sense of glory and for his own entertainment. He almost gets them killed, which gets Jim caught again, and for nothing! Tom already knew that Jim’s owner had freed him. Huck just goes along with whatever Tom wants. It’s infuriating, this comedy (which never made me laugh) about using owned people. Jim shows strength and emotion in the novel, but often he's an afterthought or just a manipulated prop to drive the plot. Was it all meant by Twain to be ironic or satirical, designed to enrage me? Perhaps, but Everett refuses to let it stand. He knows the original novel completely and expands it to go far beyond a friendship between James and Huck. He shows us a slave’s stunning reality and the easy excuses people find to grab power and hate. He’s not a bit shy about it, and from the opening scene he also made me laugh! Out loud! After 140 years, Jim becomes James, and I say, with gratitude, that it’s about damn time this man emerged, so boldly, so beautifully, and so brilliantly! I already miss James."

Now it's over to Chris Lee for his take on The Blues Brothers: An Epic Friendship, the Rise of Improv, and the Making of an American Film Classic by Daniel de Visé: "John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s Blues Brothers started as an is-it-funny-or-what-is-it? bit that Lorne Michaels kept cutting out of early Saturday Night Live broadcasts. But the bit was unstoppable, and in just a few years it grew into an out-of-control blockbuster production that ultimately saved the careers of some of America’s greatest musical voices. de Visé captures it all in his worthy tome on the making of a classic comedy capstone. I love how the book takes a deep dive into the two personalities that made up the brothers. Sure, you may know Belushi as the gregarious son of Albanian immigrants with a voracious appetite for drugs. But do you know how the embarrassment of growing up an outsider filled him with endless ambition that drove him to ceaselessly improve as a performer? And perhaps you adore that quirky Canadian Aykroyd for his singularly strange dry wit. But have you considered how his obsessive personality and encyclopedic memory were the dual engines driving his ‘mission from God’: to reintroduce America to one of its own original art forms, the blues? It’s a wild, improbable, tragic, inspiring story of two friends who loved (and frustrated) each other, who pushed each other to create something bold and new from the old and forgotten, and in the process changed the landscape of pop culture. Comedy fans, music fans, anybody who was ‘there’ (or wishes they were) in the days when SNL was a weekly event, you’re going to love this book"

Event alert! If you are reading this early in the week, then perhaps you'll be glad to know that on Wednesday, March 20, Daniel de Visé will be at Boswell (6:30 pm) for an event featuring this book! Click here for registration and more info -

Now a book with not one but two Rachels who are fans. Both Rachel Copeland and Rachel Ross recommend Cascade Failure, the debut novel (and first book in a new series) by LM Sagas. Rachel Copeland says: "Out in the depths of space, three groups hold all the power - and they're hiding something big. When the ragtag group aboard the Ambit respond to a distress call, they find a planet full of dead bodies, one grateful programmer, and a whole lot of trouble. Who knew trouble could be so fun and heartwarming? This crew is so charming and full of life that it's easy to forget that one of them is the AI that captains the ship. If you like your action and adventure with a side of creative nicknames, knitting, and pancakes (AKA if you're always chasing that Firefly feeling), this is the book for you."

Rachel Ross says: "LM Sagas bursts out of the gate with her debut novel, Cascade Failure. This is a nonstop space western romp set in a galaxy where corporate powers clash relentlessly with both the workers who fuel development and the guild preventing everyone from tearing each other to shreds. In the wake of these forces, Sagas grounds us in the Ambit, a ship helmed by a curious AI who has collected a crew of human misfits. Sagas writes like a boxer, alternating punches of action-soaked adventure with genuinely heartfelt character scenes. Each character has motivations that propel them through the narrative and personalities that make them a joy to ride along with. Simply put, this is one hell of a crew fighting to make a difference in their largely hostile capitalist world, and it’s time for some thrillin’ heroics. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel as soon as possible!" 

Jen Steele is also a Cascade Failure (and Firefly) fan! Jen says: "Cascade Failure is a wild space adventure full of action, humor and lovable characters. If you miss Firefly, then this is the book for you!"

Let's stick with Rachel Ross for one more - Floating Hotel by Grace Curtis: "Welcome to the Grand Abeona Hotel, the finest luxury spaceship hotel the galaxy has to offer. As the Abeona coasts through space serving grand food, gorgeous views, and relaxing experiences, the staff work in a flurry to keep the whole thing from falling apart. Meanwhile, there is a mystery wrapped up in the heart of the Abeona that threatens the livelihoods of everyone on board. Curtis threads her narrative neatly through a wide cast of characters as if they are each a bead on a string, tying the ends of the story together neatly with Carl, the longtime manager (and one-time stowaway) who holds the ship together. Floating Hotel really captures both the brain-curdling frustration and giddy camaraderie that comes from working in hospitality, and as we step from character to character we learn about their previous lives and current relationships while catching glimpses of the capitalist hellscape they inhabit. In some way or another, they’re all seeking connection and a place to belong, no matter how transitory that place may ultimately be."

Oli Schmitz is next up with The Mars House by Natasha Pulley: "Near-impossible to put down, Pulley’s first sci-fi novel imagines a future in which Earth’s climate refugees are sent to an established colony on Mars, where differences in language, social constructs, and physical existence create tension between the “Earthstrong” new arrivals and the majority population of naturalized residents, who’ve been genetically modified over generations to adapt to the planet’s gravity and harsh conditions. This immersive story follows an Earthstronger named January (formerly of the London Royal Ballet, now relegated to factory work and poor treatment on Mars) who chooses a political marriage contract to escape bleak circumstances. I blew through the book in one day, hooked by every element of the story – its strong notes of mystery, a dash of psychological horror, a sprinkling of discussions on linguistics, and even a herd of mammoths – and rooting for January the whole way through. The Mars House has moments of tenderness and humor, points of hope and desperation, a contentious and high-stakes world, perfectly executed use of footnotes... and did I mention the mammoths? (I'm a little obsessed with the mammoths.) Fans of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books and Winter's Orbit alike will thoroughly enjoy this one!"

Oli keeps it going with their rec for The Woods All Black by Lee Mandelo: "This novella must be haunting me, because weeks after finishing The Woods All Black, I still think about it on the daily. From the perspective of a worldly queer narrator visiting on behalf of the Frontier Nursing Service, Lee Mandelo immerses the reader in a small and insular Appalachian town in the 1920s, with a cadence and language that fit the setting so precisely, it feels like reading something actually written in the era it describes. A very unsettling, big gender, and ultimately very satisfying historical folk horror read."

Jason Kennedy now joins the fray with The Day Tripper by James Goodhand: "It’s way back in 1998, and Alex Dean is having the perfect day (and first date!) with Holly. Then, as he’s crossing the bar with drinks in his hands, he sees a person he had trouble with when he was younger. A fight ensues, and Alex is dumped in the Thames river. Cut to 2014, when Alex awakens, confused by everything. His body is recovering from a drunken night, and he doesn't recognize his environment. He has no idea how or why, but his life has become unstuck - he jumps around every day to a new part of his life. Things doesn't end up the way he believed they would: homeless, alcoholic, and spurned by his family as a deadbeat. On top of all that, no Holly. Alex must attempt to correct what went wrong, hoping that time isn't written in stone and that we all have some agency over our future."

Kay Wosewick gets in on the recommending with Secrets of the Octopus by Sy Montgomery amd Warren K Carlyle, IV: "If you are not already head-over-heels in love with octopuses, Montgomery’s new book will seduce you. For those already in love, new research will fill you with more love. Some truly strange new species have been found and are delightfully described. Of course, recent experiments have discovered new aspects of octopus intelligence. Perhaps most interesting are stories about funny, weird, and (apparently) intense emotional human-octopus relationships. Bonus: the book is filled with gorgeous photographs."

And we've got one kids book rec from Jen Steele, specifically the new Middle Grade novel from John Schu, Louder than Hunger: "Louder Than Hunger is a middle grade novel told in verse and based on the author's experience with anorexia. I read this in one sitting - it was intense and emotional and hard to put down! Heartbreaking and hopeful, I'm thankful to John Schu for writing such an important novel that is sure to spark conversations and shed light on a topic many young people struggle with."

And we've got one paperback pick for you this week, a recommendation from our proprietor Daniel Goldin. He suggests In Memoriam, a novel that gets quite a redesign in its paperback edition, written by Alice Winn: "Despite the age requirement of 19 to be a British army solider, there is much pressure at In Memoriam’s boarding school to enlist earlier, what with the rah-rah nature of the student newspaper and the shaming words of the white feather girls. So enlist they do -  and war’s horrors await. In addition to focusing on the quasi-closeted nature of the special friendship at the center of the novel, Winn touches on the race and class tensions of the time, as well as the growing awareness that the British empire may not withstand the confrontation, whether they win or lose. It’s hard to believe that a novel could be so brutal and so romantic at the same time, but that’s the case for Alice Winn’s passionate debut."

And those are the recs for the week! Until next week, when we'll be back here with more great books, read on.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Paperback Picks from the Boswellians!

Here's the last couple weeks of paperback picks, courtesy of the Boswellians. These are books that got their paperback releases over the last couple of weeks.

Daniel Goldin has a few recs for this list! First up is a good friend of the store, Milwaukee author Liam Callanan, whose latest novel is getting a paperback release this week. When in Rome is the title, and here is the Daniel Goldin write-up: "I love traditional family stories and also ones about found family, and one thing that’s great about When in Rome is that I get both in one. Another thing I love is that Callanan, in this story about a real estate agent whose midlife crisis leads her to try to save a convent, can write about the joys of faith and vocation in an accessible way. But most of all, there’s that setting. There’s a joke about Paris that meanders through bookstore culture - slap an Eiffel Tower on the jacket and we won’t be able to keep it in stock - just one reason for the success of Paris by the Book. That literary pixie dust doesn’t always extend to the Eternal City, but after reading When in Rome, I can’t imagine someone not wanting to book a flight to Italy posthaste. Callanan brings the city to sparkling life, not just the well-known buildings (ruin or otherwise), statues, and fountains, but equally the lesser-known streets and neighborhoods. Even graffiti becomes romantic. It’s the perfect setting for this engaging and heartfelt novel."

Next, Daniel recommends Künstlers in Paradise by Cathleen Schine. Daniel says: "In 1939, the Künstler family, a modernist composer and an upcoming actor, the grandfather and their young daughter Mamie, are able to leave Vienna and cross the ocean on the last voyage of the Ile de France to become part of the (often but not always Jewish) émigré community in Los Angeles, including Greta Garbo and composer Arnold Schoenberg. Just over eighty years later, Mamie is exiled again during the COVID lockdown, with only her grandson Julian and her housekeeper Agatha for company. For Mamie, this is an opportunity to take stock of her past, pass some of her stories down, and reveal some carefully hidden secrets. For Julian, it’s the chance to find meaning in his own life. And for readers, Kunstlers in Paradise is a witty, wise, and moving story with an intergenerational friendship at its core."  

Next from Daniel is Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson. Daniel writes: "Ever since Edith Wharton, great novelists have been writing about the vagaries of life among the moneyed classes of New York. But it’s always Manhattan. Surely there’s a novel about old Brooklyn money? Indeed, there is, and what a delicious tale Pineapple Street is! The three Stockton siblings have more money than most of us can imagine, but that doesn’t mean they make better decisions than the rest of us. Darley? She invoked the generation skipping trust when she wouldn’t have her husband sign the prenup. Georgina? She finally meets Mr. Right, only he might be Mr. Wrong. And Cord? He might have committed the worst sin of all, marrying a middle-class woman who is mistaken for the caterer. It is she, Sasha, who guides us into the world of money, the Tom Townsend of the group, for those who obsess over the film Metropolitan. But by the end of the story, our sympathies have extended quite a bit further, with lots of laugh-out-loud moments along the way. Someone compared Jackson’s first novel to The Nest (or rather, everyone has) and I have to say, it’s about the best comparison I can come up with, too. And I loved The Nest, so connect the dots."

Here's Kay Wosewick with words for Birnam Wood, a novel by Eleanor Catton that was picked as a New York Times, NPR, New Yorker, Washington Post, Atlantic... (the list goes on and on) book of the year. Here's Kay's take: "This complex, masterfully paced thriller is set in New Zealand, where a group of young adults secretly grow food on other people’s land. An American billionaire's arrival wreaks wide-ranging havoc on land and lives alike. Tension builds from the first chapter thanks to rich inner monologues of key characters."

Rachel Copeland swoons for the next book on the list: Happy Place by Emily Henry. Rachel opines: "Harriet and Wyn were each other's happy place until five months ago, when their years-long relationship suddenly, and secretly, ended. Now, at one last annual getaway with their four best friends, they have to grit their teeth and pretend everything's fine - and that they're not still madly in love with each other. This is Emily Henry at her most mature - capturing that real, enduring love that goes beyond the spark and the declarations, to the aches and pains of a life lived uncertainly, the façades we build to avoid causing a fuss. Harriet and Wyn broke my heart and then put it back together in that wonderfully bittersweet way that only a god-tier writer can achieve. It's a story to keep you up past your bed time, to make you cry, to make you say 'damn you Emily Henry' with not just love but gratitude in your heart."

Finally, it's Kathy Herbst with notes on Margaret Atwood's latest story collection, Old Babes in the Wood. Here's what Kathy has to say: "Old Babes is Atwood's first collection of short stories since 2014, and they are engrossing. With a nod to her interest in sci-fi and post-apocalyptic writing, these stories focus on the nature of human relationships and how they influence us over time; who we keep close to us in spite of differences and how we move on when the person most important to us dies. Often touching, sometimes funny, they are worth a read."

And at last, our recommending for this week is done. Check back here next week for more great book suggestions. And until then, read on.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Weeks of March 5 and 12, 2024

One blog, two weeks of recommendations. Playing a bit of catch-up here, this blog has our staff recs for the last two weeks. And there are lots of 'em! Let's dive right in.

First, the March 5th releases:

Tim and Daniel both recommend The Great Divide by Cristina Henríquez. From Daniel: "As Henríquez did in The Book of Unknown Americans, a chorus of voices come together to paint a larger narrative, this time about the building of the Panama Canal. Migrants from Barbados looking to better their lives, natives whose villages are due to be destroyed by flooding, a scientist hoping to eliminate malaria – The Great Divide gives voice to folks who aren’t always represented in history books while acknowledging the engineering marvel that is the Canal. A story filled with passion, humor, heartbreak, and romance."

And from Tim: "It's early in the 20th century, and people come from across the Americas to one spot, where massive energy is focused on realizing a four-hundred-year-old dream: a water passage between two great oceans. Dig through the Cordillera Mountains of Panama to sail ships through the ancient isthmus Balboa had crossed in 1513. A husband and wife arrive from Tennessee with the goal of defeating malaria; Omar Aquino, a seventeen-year-old fisherman's son, one of the Panamanians whose life is forever changed, finds grueling work with a pick and shovel; a bitter foreman forces laborers to power through the tropical heat and wet, slimy rocks that vibrate with deafening sound; and sixteen-year-old Ada Bunting from Barbados steals aboard a ship searching for work to pay for her sister’s surgery. In the end, it’s cutting through our great human divisions that sets up the ultimate challenge. The novel’s graceful, intimate descriptions and direct storytelling kept me hoping for connections. I felt history being made as if it happened in real time, through flesh and blood, substance far beyond a history book explanation."

Event note! Cristina Henríquez will be at Boswell on Thursday, March 21, 6:30 pm. More info and registration at

Daniel also recommends Anita de Monte Laughs Last by Xochitl Gonzalez: "While Olga Dies Dreaming used the form of romantic comedy to tell its story, Xochitl Gonzalez merges the forms of historical fiction and magical realism to document the life of an artist (fictionalized but based on a real person) whose legacy is obscured by racism, sexism, and murder. Anita de Monte is making a name for herself in the mid-1980s when she hooks up with the modernist sculptor Jack Martin. Only 15 years later, Raquel Toro, Brown undergrad, whose mother toiled in the MOMA cafeteria so her daughter could achieve her dreams, now has one in a RISD fellowship, where she will be studying the work of that very artist, while navigating the major and minor aggressions a Brown girl must face in a White-run system. She certainly doesn’t know that her true mission is to right the wrong of de Monte’s literal and figurative disappearance. But can she avoid treading the same dangerous ground when she falls for a wealthy White artist? Gonzalez does a great job of immersing Raquel’s story in the student hip hop culture of the late 1990s, particularly through the lens of her radio station. And I love that the story is partly told through de Monte’s ghost, who can sometimes take the form of a bat." 

Event note! Xochitl Gonzalez is at Milwaukee Artist Resource Network, 191 N Broadway on Wednesday, March 13, 6:30 pm. Cohosted by La Revo Books. More info / registration at

Jason recommends Murder Road, the latest from Simone St James. Jason writes: "Michigan, 1995: a married couple traveling to a modest honeymoon take a wrong turn and drive down Atticus Line toward Cold Lake Falls. This a stretch of highway has seen numerous hitchhikers killed and dumped over the last 20ish years. Soon they find a woman hobbling down the road. They offer her a ride into town, though the couple really have no idea where they are. As they drive to town, the woman says she needs a hospital. Before they get there, the woman dies, and it's revealed she was stabbed. From here, Simone St. James takes us on a roller coaster of creepy and sinister situations. Everything is more connected than it seems, and the couple attempts to discover what has really been happening on Attic Line so they can clear their names. Could they be the next victims? Such a spooky read!"

Gao recommends Women of Good Fortune by Sophie Wan. Goa says: "This book has been nothing but pure delight. From the glamorous elites of Shanghai to the hole-in-the wall restaurants you frequent for a taste of home, Sophie Wan does a masterful job at weaving the lives of three different women into an exciting and heartfelt debut novel. It is a love letter to female friendships, dreams, and femininity."

And from Kim, a write-up of the latest Tana French novel, The Hunter: "It's been 2 years since Cal Hooper, former Chicago detective, made Ardnakelty, a small town in the mountains of Ireland, his home and began the complicated task of becoming an accepted member of this tightly closed community. Trust gains heft in slow motion. So aside from his girlfriend Lena, Trey, a 15-year-old girl and a bone-deep cynic, leery for a multitude of indisputable reasons, and Hooper’s neighbor Mart, his guide and diviner of all things Ardnakelty, each day includes braided challenges of being a blow-in American. When Trey's abusive and long-truant father returns home with a get-rich-quick plan and a posh Englishman in tow, the town is once again turned sideways. Cooper's detective hackles rise, and the reflex response is to protect Trey at any cost. Trey, however, has other ideas. The time and opportunity for her to make right the murderous wrongs this community has committed against her have arrived. Like all of French's books (& I consider myself a super fan!), I'm drawn in by the complexity of her characters, truly feeling that I really know them and can, without fail, guess their next move. Alas, I am always wrong, and the truth makes me gasp. The Hunter’s flash point will leave you blinded."

Kids books from 3/5 include Ferris by Kate DiCamillo, which Tim and Jen both recommend. From Jen: "Ferris Wilkey’s summer is shaping up to be a busy one. Her grandmother says there’s a ghost visiting her, her sister Pinky plans on being a supervillain, and her uncle Ted is staying in the basement and trying to paint the history of the world. Funny and heartwarming, these characters jumped off the page for me and captured my heart. Another charming middle grade novel from Kate DiCamillo." 

From Tim: "Ferris is starting fifth grade at the end of the summer. It's a grade that I personally taught for most of my career, and I remember just how young they look at the beginning, before they start a time of wonderful change. For Ferris, that change is coming fast. Her strong grandmother doesn’t feel well and has started seeing a ghost in the house. Boomer the dog sees it too, and Uncle Ted has left Aunt Shirley to live with them while painting the entire history of the world on a single canvas. As for little sister Pinky, oh my! Oh! My! She’s planning to be an outlaw, and she’s off to a great start. Ferris’s lifelong friend Billy Jackson is the only one who truly understands. DiCamillo’s trademark style is back, with uplifting warmth and sly, smart humor. It’s full of special friendship and love, and as Grandma Charisse likes to say, every good story is a love story. I like to say that there’s nothing in children’s literature better than Kate DiCamillo’s delightful voice. Her wise, hilarious observations of people (and dogs) come wrapped in thrilling tales of childhood."

And then there's Lights Out: A Movement to Help Migrating Birds by Jessica Stremer, recommended by Kay: "Lights Out begins on a sad note, explaining how birds get very confused by city lights when they migrate in spring and fall. But there is hope! The author describes how locally led educational programs are persuading more and more cities around the world to turn off lights during migration. The book ends with great ideas to help kids start programs in their own city. Bonus: Milwaukee is a perfect place for Lights Out because Lake Michigan's coastline is a major migration route."

Event alert! Stremer appears at at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, 1111 E Brown Deer Rd on Saturday, April 27, 10 am. Registration coming soon. Check the Boswell upcoming events page for more info -

Jen recommends The First State of Being by Erin Entrada Kelly. Jen says: "I don't read many time travel books, so I'm not sure on all the rules of time travel, but I loved the way Kelly wove time travel and historical fiction together. It's late summer in 1999, and everyone has Y2K on the brain. Michael Rosario is worried about how he and his mom will survive it - will there be enough food? When a time traveler from 200 years into the future arrives, Michael learns to enjoy the small moments and maybe even try to make new friends. Kelly's latest middle grade novel is a fantastic voyage to the past and the future!"

And now on to the March 12th releases:

First up for this week's releases, it's Tim with Wisconsin for Kennedy: The Primary That Launched a President and Changed the Course of History by BJ Hollars. Tim says: "Hollars is an excellent narrative nonfiction writer. He grabbed me from the start. It happened partly because Kennedy delivered a vital speech in Milwaukee exactly two weeks before the day I was born here, and it also quickly became clear that many of the politicians I knew vaguely as a child had vibrant roles in the story. Beyond that, Hollars uses "creative nonfiction" techniques, such as point-of-view shifts, to build on extensive primary sources in capturing the drama of a campaign and the depth of the people involved. Kennedy's genuine ability to charm diverse crowds while impressing them with his "encyclopedic political knowledge" is portrayed beautifully. Wisconsin legends such as Patrick Lucey, Vel Phillips, and Bill Proxmire (as well as the villain Joseph McCarthy) are joined by a fascinating cast of little-known characters. The book’s layout, amazing photography, and apt quotations are all highly effective. Hollars makes the case that the entire Kennedy family became focused on winning Wisconsin, and their complex White House launch strategy was born here, exactly when and where I was. It's exhilarating! And just two days before my fourth birthday, President Kennedy’s funeral was held in Washington DC. I’m already handing customers this book with unrestrained enthusiasm, while trying to avoid sounding nerdy about it."

Event alarm! Ding ding! BJ Hollars will be at Boswell on Tuesday, March 19, 6:30 pm to chat about this very book. Click here to register and get more info at

Next, Daniel takes us to nonfiction town with Selling the Dream: The Billion-Dollar Industry Bankrupting Americans by Jane Marie. Daniel writes: "Based on The Dream podcast, Jane Marie’s look at multi-level marketing captures the highs (Avon, maybe?), the lows (too numerous to mention), and everything in between. MLM is officially any business where the focus of the business is on building a network rather than selling a product, so we’re talking Amway, Mary Kay, Herbalife, Tupperware, NXIVM, the company with busily-patterned leggings. Sometime there isn’t even a product – you might be selling leadership training or NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), which, along with conservative values and girl-boss culture (most companies recruit heavily female, though that’s not so much at the top), seem to be joined at the hip to many MLM companies. Marie also follows the dogged but ineffective attempts to rein in many of these companies, often to little success. Entertaining, education, and a little disturbing."

Rachel Ross recommends Sunbringer by Hannah Kaner. Ross says: "Hannah Kaner  has crafted a remarkable sequel with Sunbringer, the follow-up to Godkiller. No time is wasted as Kaner pulls on her existing story threads and starts weaving in new elements to build a bigger picture for readers. Secrets come to light, relationships fracture and are reset, and characters struggle to cope with the ramifications of all they’ve been through. In this world, you may be able to kill gods, but that doesn’t mean you can destroy the faith that creates them. Will the humans and gods of Middren be able to break the cycle of violence they’re trapped in? I am eagerly awaiting the final volume of this outstanding series."

Rachel Copeland recommends A Grave Robbery by Deanna Raybourn. Copeland says: "Freshly home after another invigorating brush with death, amateur sleuths Veronica Speedwell and Stoker Templeton-Vane are content working on their usual scientific endeavors. When Stoker receives a commission to install a mechanical breathing mechanism into a wax figure, he makes a grim discovery: the figure is a perfectly preserved corpse. Determined to put the mystery woman to rest with dignity, the two scientists set out to find out why she died, and more importantly, who would go to such lengths to preserve the body - and for what purpose. Sleeping Beauty meets Frankenstein in the ninth Veronica Speedwell mystery, and it's positively ghoulish in the best way. It's particularly enjoyable to see how far Veronica and Stoker have come, both professionally and personally (and that she can still make him blush after all this time). Sometimes a series can flag in quality by this point, but not in the hands of Queen Deanna - she continues to slay, in every sense of the word." 

Finally, it's over to Kay for Through the Night Like a Snake: Latin American Horror Stories, an anthology edited by Sarah Coolidge. Kay says: "This book contains ten short horror stories written by Latin American authors. Most striking is the role the terrain itself plays in setting the tone of horror in many of the stories. One story is set in a mountainous, bug-ridden jungle shack where new occupants repeatedly find tiny, finely carved animals made of bone. Another is set alongside a busy road outside a town in the Córdoba Pampass - a flat, pesticide drenched, dusty countryside. Yet another is in Chile during Pinochet’s rule, in a commune protected by the military. Perhaps extreme geographies and brutal histories both past and recent help make horror a fitting genre for Latin American writers."

And those are the recs. A bunch of 'em! Check back here for more recs soon. Until then, read on.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Boswellian Kim Reads Whalefall by Daniel Kraus

Boswellian Kim reads and reacts to Whalefall, a novel by Daniel Kraus:

 "If you can't know what's right in front of you, you can't know what's beyond you."  

Monterey, California. At 17, Jay has been at odds with his ocean-salt crusty, dogmatic, and dictatorial father since he can remember. Mitt perpetually pushes Jay to be more like him: an open water approach to life, a relentless need to be one with the ocean and a no holds barred mindset to diving that is absolute. But Jay cannot and runs away; not far, just across town. It's been a year of estrangement when Mitt is diagnosed with a butchering lung cancer, and the end is near. But Jay stands his ground; no visits or goodbyes. So, Mitt dies by his own hands in the ocean he loved above all. Jay's mother and sisters are crushed and angry, and the Monterey dive community turns against Jay.  

Jay, tired of being misunderstood, decides he'll make a dive to retrieve Mitt's bones, bringing closure and peace to himself and those he loves. The dive is dangerous. At 90 feet, on the edge of the sea cliff that sinks to infinite depths, a giant squid appears. Then TAK, TAK, TAK.  The stunning, sledgehammer echolocation of a sperm whale targeting its prey. But the prey includes Jay! Beast and boy are sucked into the mouth of the whale. The search is over, and the battle for life begins.

Whalefall is an extraordinary story of a father and son. Of a boy's ability to use every bit of once-thought-useless teachings to solve problems in the belly of a sea mammoth. Mitt is with him, whispering and shouting puzzle-like thoughts. Jay needs to come to terms with his father, whose ghost may very well save his life. It is the exchange of information and emotion between the two that made this story an emotional ordeal and a hold-your-breath pleasure for me. Breath sleepy as you read it.

Kim isn't the only Whalefall-fan (Whalefan?) among the Boswellians. From Kay Wosewick: "WOW! Whalefall is poignant, brainy, fascinating, and unputdownable. Did I mention unique? When I finished reading and closed the book, I was so dumbstruck that I was glued to my chair for over thirty minutes."

Event note! On Monday, April 8, 6:30 pm, Whalefall author Daniel Kraus will be at Boswell. Please click here to visit to register for this event. You can also order your copy of Whalefall now. Call the store, stop by and ask a bookseller to guide you to a copy, or hey, here's the link to purchase on our website

Also, book club add-on appearance note! Kraus will join the April meeting of the Boswell-run Sci-fi Book Club - it's the same evening of the event. The book club meets at 5:30 pm (once again, that's on Monday, April 8) to start the conversation, and then Kraus will join the conversation at 6 pm to answer questions - and yes, during the book club portion of the evening, you're welcome to ask questions that contain spoilers! Visit our book club page right here for more book club info.