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Okay, so yes, I know, April Fools' Day was yesterday, but what's a staff recommendation blog without a bit of slightly-out-of-date holiday humor?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.

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