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 Française 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.

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