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 cristinahenriquezmke.eventbrite.com.

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 xochitlgonzalezmke.eventbrite.com.

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 - boswellbooks.com/upcoming-events.

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 bjhollarsmke.eventbrite.com.

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.

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