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.

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