Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of April 16, 2024

Welcome back to the staff rec blog. Here are this week's picks from the Boswellians - heavy-hitting history and then it's heavy on the kids books.

Tim McCarthy takes us back in time with After 1177 B.C.: The Survival of Civilizations by Eric H. Cline. Tim writes: "Cline's first book on this topic detailed the rapid collapse of late Bronze Age civilizations surrounding the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean Seas, including the homelands of the Mycenaean Greeks described in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Egyptian Pharaohs, Mesopotamians, and Canaanites. Historians have called the resulting time, after 1177 B.C., a Dark Age, and its multifaceted causes, including climate change, drought, famine, conflict, and disease, have strong similarities to the threats we face now. In this sequel, Cline examines what happened after the collapse. Did cultures disappear, or were there transformations leading to advancement and reconnection? He looks at the nuances of this Dark Age, calling it instead the Iron Age, while describing the fundamentals of resilience in the aftermath of collapse and the innovation needed to thrive under stress. He considers potential lessons for our future by using modern "resilience theory" to help us better understand the past. Can we be better prepared to avoid societal collapse than they were? For me, it's all unfamiliar territory, as I knew so little about these ancient people, but I enjoyed learning from Cline. His work is vital, and I intend to read him again."

Jenny Chou has a rather exasperated middle grade novel for us that asks, This Again? It's written by Adam Borba, and Jenny says: "If your middle school self traveled in time just to tell you how to turn the worst day of your life into the best day of your life, would you take their advice? Noah is trying to win class president, just like his older brother did, and he’s torn between his best friends and their favorite sport, bowling (uncool), and new friendships with the super-cool basketball players. And can he pass pre-algebra without actually putting in any work? When his future self shows up, Future Noah is full of ideas for getting their life on track, but in the end, who is the real Noah? This Again? is LOL funny but also a great reflection on being a good friend and doing what makes you happy rather than trying to meet what you think are other people’s expectations. A great lesson for middle grade readers and grownups." Suggested for ages 8 and up.

Kay Wosewick wants all the wolf she can get her hands on. Lucky for her, there's more in The Unlikely Hero: The Story of Wolf 8 (Young Readers' Edition) by Rick McIntyre and David A. Poulsen. Kay says: "Wolf 8 is a pup in one of the first wolf packs reintroduced to Yellowstone, and this story is about how he became leader of one of the largest, most successful wolf packs in the park. Wolf 8 is the runt of the litter and is bullied his three brothers. He eventually wanders from the pack and soon finds eight young wolf pups. He plays with them, and they are having fun when mom cautiously joins them. The father of her pups had recently been killed, and she needs an adult male. Wolf 8 likes her, and she likes him. The story that follows is almost magical - especially because it is based on first-hand observations." Do note, as the title suggests, this is the young readers' edition, suitable for ages 8 and up.

This week has lots of paperback picks hitting our new paperback tables (you know, those tables full of recently-released and popular paperbacks that greet you when you first walk in our doors). Here they are!

Daniel Goldin and Rachel Ross are fans of the most recent novel from bard of the Midwest J Ryan Stradal, Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club. First, from Daniel: "Mariel is heir to a classic supper club with its classic fish fry and Saturday night prime rib special. Her husband Ned and his family own Jorby’s, a once charming diner that has morphed into a ubiquitous chain restaurant that, despite its mediocre food and service, has put many a family gathering spot out of business. The legacies of both family businesses run deep, and Stradal’s story is packed with love and betrayal, sacrifice and greed, joy and tragedy. If The Lager Queen of Minnesota was a story about siblings, Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club chronicles parents and children and all the baggage that entails. I love the way that the story points forward to a more inclusive world, while maintaining that though things may change, Minnesota Nice will still conquer all. If you loved Stradal’s previous novels, you will not be disappointed. And if you’re new to his work, you’re in for a treat; mix yourself a Brandy Old Fashioned and start reading."

And from Ross: "Settle in for an ode to the Midwest that is equal parts heart-wrenching and heartwarming. Join three generations of women as they navigate their relationships with their families and communities against the backdrop of the Lakeside Supper Club, which is so much more than a family restaurant. Stradal tackles family legacy, Midwestern culture, the depths of grief, and the relief of forgiveness. You’ll want to grab a brandy old-fashioned for this one."

Next up we have Greta Borgealt and her write-up for The Postcard, a novel by Anne Berest, translated from the French by Tina Kover. Greta says: "This book has already garnered much literary acclaim, but I'm here to tell you that it is worth the fanfare. Recently translated from its original French, writer Anne Berest lets readers into the private lives of a family that has been deeply wounded by the horrors of the Holocaust. When a mysterious postcard arrives with the names of the family members who perished in the camps written on it, the family is forced to face their tragic history. It also has a theme of self-discovery as the main character, who acts as a self-insert for the author, grapples with realizing her Jewish identity. It is both a historical and contemporary novel, as it switches back and forth from the past and the present. It is heart wrenching at times. Berest does a beautiful job of immortalizing members of her real-life family, giving them a chance to live on and not disappear completely. When people tell tales of the past, especially when referring to the Holocaust, they don't want the public to forget that it has occurred, because they do not want history to repeat itself. It is relevant, as extremism appears to be once again on the rise. This work is a labor of love for the author, and it shows in her writing."

We had a fabulous event featuring Anne Berest at Boswell last fall - check out the video below. Berest chats with Flora Fuller, a French teacher at Alliance Fran├žaise de Milwaukee.

Speaking of books in translation, Jason Kennedy suggests you check out The Book Censor's Library, a novel by bestselling Kuwaiti author Bothayna Al-Essa and translated from Arabic by Ranya Abdelrahman and Sawad Hussain. Jason says: "Throw in some 1984, add a dash of Fahrenheit 45, and put in a whole bunch of original Big Brother content that has flowed from Bothayna Al-Essa's imagination, and you have the magic that is The Book Censor's Library. The unnamed protagonist works as a book censor at a bureau that attempts to kill all creativeness and imagination in the books that get published. Obviously, this is only one aspect of a society where the ruling elite attempt to suppress the population. When he is charged with reading and listing all the wrongs in a newly translated copy of Zorba the Greek, he starts to awaken to the power and beauty of reading actual books. He falls down the rabbit hole and starts helping to smuggle books doomed to be burned to safety. His family suffers for his choices, even though his daughter has needed these stories and her imagination to be used. A surprising, haunting, twisty ending left me flabbergasted and wanting the story to continue."

Finally, Madi takes us to Texas with her pick: Waco: David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and A Legacy of Rage by Jeff Guinn. Madi says: "Waco is recent enough history that many remember it, yet memory can be such a fickle thing. Luckily, Jeff Guinn has tackled the subject in his new book, simply titled Waco, that recounts the history of the Branch Davidians and the infamous Mount Carmel raid in Waco, Texas. For a topic so polarizing, Guinn manages to tell a narrative that does not imply personal bias, but provides as many facts as possible so the truest story can be told. His in-depth research uncovered information even true crime connoisseurs will be surprised to learn about the history of the Branch Davidians and David Koresh, including reflections on the long-lasting impact of the raid on Waco and its contribution to today's radicalization of right-wing groups. A true page turner, Waco is a fantastic read, dare I say likely to be the best book on Waco to be published in time for its 30th anniversary."

Those are the recs and we're sticking to 'em. See you back in this corner of the internet next week with more book recommendations from the Boswellians. Until then, read on.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of April 9, 2024

This week brings new releases and new recs, as new weeks tend to do. A couple books from Rachel Copeland's stack are on the docket this time around.

Our first rec is for Ghost Station, the new novel by SA Barnes. Rachel says: "Dr. Ophelia Bray has a specific reason for dedicating her life to preventing ERS, a condition associated with space travel that can result in mass murder, and she'd rather not talk about it. At the first opportunity to study the condition and avoid controversy at home, she runs - straight to a crew that's suspicious of her motives, cagey about the death of a team member, and uninterested in her attempts at therapy. As the crew's mission to establish residency on an abandoned planet is imperiled by another death and devolves into horror and distrust, Ophelia and team have to work together to get the hell off the planet in one piece. The choice to place a psychologist in the middle of a psychological horror is just brilliant - watching Ophelia talk herself past fear was a treat. Take the cosmic horror of Leviathan Wakes and the claustrophobic helplessness of Doctor Who's "The Waters of Mars" and you have a book that will keep you guessing and quaking in your space boots all the way through. "

This week also sees the release of a paperback edition of The Tumbling Girl, the first book in Bridget Walsh's mystery series, which has a couple of Boswellian recommenders. First, from Rachel C: "While the rest of London in 1876 is quivering at the thought of the Hairpin Killer, Minnie Ward is more concerned with who killed her best friend and got away with it. Staged as a suicide, only Minnie seems to care that the rope burns on her wrists couldn't possibly be from her acrobatics routine. When she hires private detective Albert Easterbrook, she intends to get justice for her friend - only to uncover a dark criminal conspiracy that preys on the lower classes. As Minnie herself becomes a target, the two have to decide how far they can go before it's too late. This one is, in a word, spine-tingling, with some of the more gruesome scenes I've seen in a while. Walsh leaves the reader with the distinct feeling that, much like Holmes and Watson, Ward and Easterbrook have many more grisly murders to solve, and there might even be a Moriarty-esque character waiting in the wings. As a fan of Deanna Raybourne's long running Veronica Speedwell series, I'm ecstatic find a comparable series at its start."

Kathy Herbst chimes in: "The first book in this historical mystery series set in Victorian London was a real page-turner! Encompassing the worlds of music halls, high class clubs, and the city's gritty underbelly, Minnie Ward, a feisty and courageous music hall script writer, sets out to solve the murder of her best friend with the help of former police officer private investigator Albert Easterbrook (think Miss Scarlett and the Duke). Dark and compelling, with humor and wit walking side by side with violence and danger. If you are a fan of Sarah Waters novels, I think you'll like this one!"

And fyi, Tim is a fan of this series, too. Those are the recs! We'll be back here next week with more books that we love. Until then, read on.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Staff Recommendations - Leif Enger Edition

This week saw the release of Leif Enger's new novel, I Cheerfully Refuse. This is the first book in nearly six years from the author of beloved books like Virgil Wander and Peace Like a River. And much like his last book, I Cheerfully Refuse has been a hit among the Boswellians. Here are three glowing reviews from Tim, Daniel, and Kay.

Tim says: "I met Leif Enger at Milwaukee’s Oriental Theatre on his tour for Virgil Wander, which is still one of my top five favorite books ever. I felt like I already knew him. The writing matched the man. He has a rare combination of warmth and intelligence, a reverential and brilliant awareness of humanity, and here he brings these qualities back to a familiar Lake Superior setting. This time it’s a story told by a man named Rainier, after the mountain. It got shortened to Rainy, fitting his life on the shore of a stormy lake in a very edgy near future where survival is always uncertain. Rainy’s tongue-in-cheek (crossing into smart-ass) observations and the joy and perseverance of fellow travelers are enough to make me believe that “pathways to beauty and color” can survive our impending chaos. The novel turns to wicked suspense, as Enger shows us with creative clarity a struggling world that seems entirely possible. Rainy must navigate Lake Superior to escape a supremely clever and powerful man in the aftermath of a horrifying crime. I wasn’t sure I could finish the book. It’s relentless at times, with the only comfort being the rhythm of Rainy’s Fender Jazz bass guitar, but we all try to get home somehow. I trusted Leif Enger to lead me and the book home. He didn’t let me down. Even if he had, his characters understand that 'sometimes no right ending can be found.' Maybe what matters is only that people like Enger keep searching for majestic human stories."

From Daniel: "Rainy has cobbled together a life with his beloved partner, a resourceful bookseller in a post-publishing world, living in an Enger-esque Minnesota town on the banks of Lake Superior. His fragile existence is upended by the appearance of a squelette, an indentured runaway on the run from his captors. No good can come of this, and catastrophe follows. Among the losses is a collection of essays that gives this novel its title, written by the legendary Molly Thorn, whose body of work is so vivid I can’t believe that folks won’t be searching for it. Rainy’s escape leads to a series of Odyssey/Gulliver like scrapes, and the despite the help of some sympathetic folks he meets along the way and one young resourceful girl, also sort of indentured (Rainy can’t help but help), a climactic confrontation is inevitable. So much tension! And desperation! But because this is still a Leif Enger book, there are some things that don’t change – his faith in community, a narrator you can’t help but love despite his flaws, and the joy that radiates from talking about things he loves - in this case sailing and music and books. Plus, the worldbuilding is fascinating."

And from Kay: "The not-too-distant future is physically and psychically damaged. A wealthy ruling class oversees much of the world, and commoners are merely slave labor. A few corners of the world are mostly ignored, including the area around Lake Superior, where Rainy and his wife get by. Tragedy sets Rainy off on his sailboat alone, his bass guitar and Lake Superior his only company. Moody Lake Superior offers endless thrills, horror in human form feels as if it’s around the next stretch of land, and Rainy is just trying to get through one day at a time. This is a grand adventure story set in scary times."

Don't just read this book - meet the author, too! Leif Enger will be at Boswell on Monday, April 15, 6:30 pm, for a conversation with Tim (yes, Boswellian Tim, the reviewer above) - and this special event is also Boswell's 15th anniversary bash. So click here and visit leifengermke.eventbrite.com to register right now.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of April 2, 2024

These are great books, and that's no foolin'! Okay, so yes, I know, April Fools' Day was yesterday, but what's a staff recommendation blog without a bit of slightly-out-of-date holiday humor? It's preferable, you say? Okay, okay, fine then, on to the recs.

Daniel Goldin is first with two event books. The first of those is The Sicilian Inheritance, a new novel by Jo Piazza, of which Daniel says: "With a failed marriage and failed restaurant in her rearview mirror, Sara Marsala gets surprising news on the death of a relative - the will stipulates a trip to Sicily to spread Great Aunt Rosie’s ashes. But that’s not all, as Sara has also inherited a plot of land that was originally owned by her namesake relative Serafina. But wait, there’s more – the family story, that Serafina died of an illness before she could join her husband Gio in the United States, doesn’t ring true. Was she murdered? The Sicilian Inheritance alternates between the two timelines, keeping up the suspense and offering intriguing parallels. The result is a deliciously satisfying, action packed mystery, full of strong woman characters, some forbidden romance, and lots of Sicilian lore."

Jo Piazza appears at Boswell on Thursday, May 30, 6:30 pm for an event featuring this book as a special Festa Italiana event. Click here for more info and to register at jopiazzamke.eventbrite.com.

Next, Daniel recommends Relative Strangers by AH Kim. Daniel says: "Amelia has returned to her family, her hair shorn and her career and love life in tatters after a high-flying restaurant venture crashed. Her mother and sister, both widowed, have decamped to a San Francisco-area cancer retreat after the family home is mired in probate after the discovery of their father’s son from another woman. There are any number of interesting folks helping out at the retreat, but wouldn’t you know it – everyone has a secret, and that includes the Bae-Wood sisters. In this sister story, a charming, funny contemporary take on Sense and Sensibility, romance is just around the corner, but what will it mean if the family bonds aren’t mended?" 

AH Kim visits Boswell on Wednesday, April 24, 6:30 pm for a conversation with Jenny Lee. This event is cohosted by the AAPI Coalition of Wisconsin, and you can find more info and register at ahkimmke.eventbrite.com.

Now over to Kay Wosewick, for her clear and consice words on Clear, a novel by Welsh author Carys Davies: "This quiet story deeply tugged my heartstrings. I fought racing to the denouement with enjoying every precious moment in which a new connection sprouted between two very different men. The burning question is: will they find a way to move forward, together?"

Kathy Herbst is next with a recommendation for The Cemetery of Untold Stories by Julia Alvarez. Kathy says: "Everything on earth stops me and whispers to me, and what they tell me is their story." So says Alma, a celebrated author, struggling to complete her final stories. When she inherits a plot of land in the Dominican Republic, her homeland, she decides to create a cemetery and, literally, bury these stories. The protagonists of the stories, however, are not content to end up buried. Instead, they tell their "true" narratives to Filomena, a local woman hired to maintain the cemetery. Inventive and compelling, this book weaves together many threads. But at its heart, it's about storytelling: Whose story gets told and whose doesn't? And, ultimately, are the stories that are told complete and true?"

Now it's time for Tim McCarthy, who recommends Table for Two: Fictions by Amor Towles. Tim says: "While introducing the book to readers, Towles refers to himself as a fabulist. I’m not a reader of fables myself, but I would say that these stories fit the bill. Life’s ironies and the twisted fallout from characters' decisions take center stage, all the while whimsical narrators (with a touch of cynicism) elaborate on people’s mindsets and the workings of humanity. Schemes backfire. Lessons are learned (or avoided). Kindness and generosity often have karmic effect. Aside from a dramatic, extended novella about his Rules of Civility character Evelyn Ross, the tales all connect to New York City, including a story of Lenin-loving peasants who flourish in post-revolutionary Moscow and one of a young man who dreams of becoming a novelist but lacks the needed life experiences, until... It's a clever and entertaining collection. Now, I must offer a difficult confession: Before this, I had never read Amor Towles. Not once. (Your outraged gasp is noted for the record.) This was a satisfying start, and I feel confident that experienced Towles readers will welcome Table for Two and find it most endearing."

A couple of recommendations of books for kids have come in this week, too. First, from Jen Steele, a few words on Oh, Are You Awake?, the latest picture book written by Bob Shea, illustrated by Jarvis. Jen says: "Oh, Are You Awake? is a silly-laugh-out-loud bedtime story. Penguin is tired and wants to sleep, but Lion is not ready to go to sleep. Lion wants a story, and Penguin wants to dream their dreams! A relatable picture books for parents and siblings." Suggested for ages 3 and up.

And now it's Tim time again - here's his recommendation for Leila and the Blue Fox by Kiran Millwood Hargrave: "Leila's mother is a climate scientist. She left their London home for a job in Tromso, Norway, a place so far north that the land of the midnight summer sun is a reality. Six years later, Leila is finally able to follow her mother. It's her second life-altering shift, after she was born in Damascus, Syria and had a frightening immigration to London at five years old. Now she's twelve, and it's impossible to hide the fear and anger caused by the long separation. Little does she know that her mother's research on the unprecedented migration of a young arctic fox will change everything again. This quiet, strong, beautiful novel shows the capacity of all creatures to adapt, including a twelve-year-old girl. It's a story that alternates between people and the real-life Arctic Circle journey of a fox that scientists called Anna. It’s a story that offers us real-world hope. There’s so much life in it—whales, bears, seals, narwhals, friends, and family. The dramatic illustrations by Tom de Freston also give it a special look, a living warmth in the bitter cold." Suggested for ages 10 and up.

This week in paperback releases, we've got two recs for one book. Kay Wosewick and Daniel Goldin are both fans of The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry. First, from Kay: "You will fall in love with a wonderful cast of mostly honorable characters, and you’ll thoroughly enjoy the magical “Whisperwood” world created by 14-year-old Hazel to comfort her young sister Flora during WWII in England. You’ll be torn apart by tragedy, and you’ll be challenged by a great mystery: how did Hazel’s imaginary “Whisperwood” become a book titled “Whisperwood,” written by an American author 20 years after the war? Henry's writing is silky smooth. You WILL rack your head trying to solve the mystery. And finally, I dare say this is destined to become a book club favorite."

And from Daniel: "On her last day working at an antiquarian bookstore, before moving on to a more prestigious job, Hazel receives an autographed children’s book that has become a hot commodity in the States, along with some original illustrations. Intrigued, she soon realizes that this novel is based on the stories she used to tell her younger sister Flora when they were sent away to the country during the London Blitz. How could this be? Her sister drowned and Hazel never told these stories to anyone else. The novel jumps from ‘present-day’ 1960 back to the 1940s, when the mystery unfolded. All the elements come together - World War II fiction, an amateur detective story, a bookish historical – for an entertaining, thoughtful, and heart-warming read. Now wonder it has become an indie bookstore phenomenon."

Stop back next week for more recommendations, and until then, read on.