Friday, May 17, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of May 14, 2024

A little late this week, but no less great. Here are the Boswellians picks among the new releases and paperback drops.

Chris Lee starts us off with Blue Ruin, the latest novel from Hari Kunzru, author of White Tears and Red Pill. His new novel is the third in this loosely connected thematic trilogy. But fear not, it's the first Kunzru novel Chris has read, and he assures everyone that you can pick this one up on its own, no problemo. Chris's review: "It’s a paranoid pandemic story, it’s a tale of artistic self-destruction, and it’s the memory of doomed love. The writing is precise, visceral, immediate, superb. Washed-out and undocumented, a once-acclaimed artist lives in his car in upstate New York. It’s the pandemic’s early days, and he’s sick. By chance, while delivering groceries, he comes face to face with his past lover on a fortified estate. She takes him in and hides him so he might convalesce on the grounds, and as he does, their past together washes over him like a fever dream. And now he must confront what he’s become. His art was once about crossing state-imposed borders, yet recounting his story becomes an act of crossing borders of his own, the boxes he’s put himself in and the lines he’s drawn to shape his life into a meaningful act of art and to be subsumed by the artistic act. And now he must ask, does an aesthetic life preclude the ability to love? To see oneself or another fully? Can aesthetic purity exist in a capitalist mode? I love that Kunzru doesn’t just ask these questions in his novel – he answers them, with brutal and breathtaking consequences for his characters and for the reader. A brilliant novel of what must be sacrificed in order to create an artistic act that cannot be bought or sold."

Kay Wosewick is next with a new novel in translation. Woodworm is written by Spanish author Layla Martinez, and was translated into English by Sophie Hughes and Annie McDermott. Kay says: "This delightful horror story stars three generations of women living in a house permanently haunted by annoying, noisy, sleepless ghosts. An obnoxiously wealthy family lives next door. They flaunt their wealth and are nasty to the women; in fact, the family's social standing in town seems largely built on continuous mistreatment of the women. The women are finally motivated to trade fortunes with their neighbors. Fun!"

Kay also recommends a nonfiction title, The Internet of Animals: Discovering the Collective Intelligence of Life on Earth by Martin Wikelski. Kay writes: "In 1967, two Illinois teens built a receiver to track Sputnik as it crossed the US. They modified it to track migrating birds, but the system wasn’t scalable. Author Wikelski took a professorship at U Illinois in Urbana-Champagne in 1998 expressly to work with the one still-living inventor; his goal was to build an effective, scalable system to track animals of all kinds, anywhere. The book traces Wikelski’s 20+ years of tenaciously following every opportunity to build his “internet of animals.” Failures were legion. But today, the system is slowly going online around the world, and the applications are jaw-dropping. One use of the system - to save individual members of a group of endangered species, (e.g. from poachers) - alone makes the author’s tenacity priceless. Inspiring."

Now it's over to Rachel Copeland for her notes on Locked in Pursuit, the latest Electra McDonnell historical mystery from Ashley Weaver. Rachel C says: "It's been months since reformed thief and safecracker Electra McDonnell has seen Major Ramsey, months since he nearly died to save her, and in the meantime the bombs have continued to fall on London in 1941. When Ellie's sense for illegal deeds brings an article about a simple house robbery to the Major's desk, the two once again become embroiled in a mission to stop a valuable asset from falling into Nazi hands. Meanwhile, simmering in the background is a question Ellie can't bear to ask - with her own past as a thief and her parents' tragic endings possibly hiding something worse, something treasonous, will she ever be good enough for the Major? Prepare yourself to enter a reading fugue state with this latest thrilling installment from Weaver - this was a one-day, "I don't want this to end but I can't stop reading" kind of book. Ashley Weaver said, "I see your piddling 'slow burn, will-they-won't-they' and I raise you an 'I could love you, but I don't think I can trust you, and also we have to defeat Nazis'" - and I will never get enough of it."

Rachel Ross's last recommendation of her tenure as a Boswellian arrives this week - I'm Afraid You've Got Dragons by Peter S Beagle gets this Ross recommendation: "Every once in a while, we are presented with one of those lovely and rare gems of fantasy: a new story that evokes the wondrous feeling of a classic fairy tale. Akin to Gaiman’s Stardust or Goldman’s The Princess Bride, I’m Afraid You’ve Got Dragons is one such treasure. We follow a batch of young characters who are feeling woefully miscast in their own lives. This includes Robert Thrax, a dragon exterminator who secretly loves the creatures he’s hired to eliminate, Princess Cerise, who is determined to make herself useful yet finds herself inundated by preening suitors, and Prince Reginald, who desperately longs to escape his princely duties and hit the road. The three of them must (reluctantly) join forces to face a chaotic evil surfacing in their land. While the book is glimmering with witty and sardonic humor, it also harbors a sinister edge. It’s about bravery, breaking away from family expectations, young love, and following your dreams. Oh, and there's plenty of dragons. A truly charming tale from a master storyteller."

And in new picture books, our kids buyer Jen Steele brings us an adorable entry entitled Ursula Upside Down, written and illustrated by Corey R Tabor. Jen says: "Corey Tabor's picture books are so delightful and his latest, Ursula Upside Down, does not disappoint! It's a wonderful picture book about being yourself and how we all see the world differently, told by Ursula, the most adorable upside-down catfish you'll meet."

We've got one Daniel rec among this week's paperback releases, for Paper Names by Susie Luo. Daniel says: "Two families, two economic trajectories, entwined by fate. Despite being a successful engineer in Dalian, Tony/Tongheng Zhang dreams of a better life in the United States, even after realizing that he’ll have to start over from the bottom. While working as a doorman in Manhattan, Tony bonds with Oliver, a young lawyer who lives in the building, who agrees to give Tony’s daughter Tammy piano lessons. The friendship winds up being a rung on the economic ladder from Flushing to Scarsdale; if only the worst thing they had to deal with was the uncomfortableness of a mentor relationship that veers into, how to put this? Tammy really likes playing Celine Dion songs. Like Tony, Oliver has also reinvented himself, distancing himself from his grandfather’s criminal past, but it might be difficult to outrun. I really liked the dual nature of the story – the multiple identities and reinvention, the parent/child expectations and disappointments. A captivating family drama!"

Those are the recs! We'll be back here next week with more faves. Until then, read on.

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