Monday, June 10, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of June 11, 2024

This week is a classic summer book dump type of week - lots and lots of great new releases hitting the shelves this Tuesday, and lots of them come with recommendations from your pals, the Boswellians. What more could you want to do than read the summer away?

Our first pick this week has three Boswellians - two current, one former - to convince you to take it home to your own shelf. The book is Running Close to the Wind, the author is Alexandra Rowland, and the recommendations come from Rachel Copeland, Rachel Ross, and Oli Schmitz.

First, from Copeland: "Imagine, if you will, pirates. Now imagine: a ratty little man (not a pirate) with supernaturally good luck, a grumpy pirate captain with supernaturally bad luck, and an extremely attractive monk (he's so... shoulders) with an inconvenient vow of celibacy. Also, there's plot: a stolen secret, sea serpent mating season, and the most intense cake competition ever seen. Alexandra Rowland has been possessed by the spirit of Terry Pratchett writing an episode of Our Flag Means Death, and we are simply the benefactors of their supreme comedic talents. Looking for a book stacked with quotable lines? Look no further."

From Ross: "This incredible book is not so much a loving serenade to Terry Pratchett as it is a power ballad tribute to him, blasted via loudspeakers from the backs of giant turtles as absurd pirates wreak absolute havoc on everything in their path. Rowdy, bawdy, and raunchy, this story begins with a miraculously lucky man with some sensitive intel rejoining his (former) peevish pirate captain and their crew, including a recent addition: an intolerably handsome monk with an irksome vow of celibacy. Featuring suspiciously knowledgeable tarot cards, huge turtle islands, violently moody sea serpents, glowing dogs, and a cake competition that beggars belief, the absurdity and hilarity of this tale escalate with every page turned. I can only describe this as a spectacle of comedic storytelling, and I’ll never look at a seagull or a cake the same way again."

And from Oli: "Running Close to the Wind is an incandescently funny queer pirate adventure set in the serpent-infested seas of an expansive fantasy world, delivering an epic answer to the question, “what if the real treasure was the friends we flirted with along the way?” Its unforgettable cast of characters includes a pitiful but incredibly (magically!) lucky main character you can’t help but adore; his ex, a gloriously competent but prickly pirate captain; a monk with excellent shoulders and alchemical smarts; and a crew that can take on just about anything. Alexandra Rowland weaves tender insights and perfect absurdity into their characters’ escapades, filling this fantastic comedy with truly iconic moments and all the flirty/dirty banter you could ever ask for. Heartfelt, hilarious, and an utter delight."

Next up, it's two recs from Chris Lee. The first is the latest novel from Rufi Thorpe, who is author of The Knockout Queen, which was a Boswell hit. Her new novel is Margo's Got Money Troubles, and it's one of Chris's favorite books of the year so far! He says: "Finally, the Onlyfans novel we’ve all been waiting for! Margo’s Got Money Troubles is the perfect book to let a lot more people in on a too-well-kept secret: Rufi Thorpe is one of the best novelists in America. She works her magic and crams a whole world of ideas and then some into this book. It’s a beautiful, angry, tenderhearted tale of love, sex, motherhood, money, family, professional wrestling, the internet, agency, and artifice. It’s about all the ugly, horrible ways people try to control someone else’s life just to justify how unhappy they are with their own. Margo may be strapped for cash, but she’s savvy, sexy, and about to make her own way in a world that pretends to love but probably actually loathes single moms. You can’t help but fall in love a little and root for her all the way."

Chris's next rec is for the new Paul Tremblay novel - you know him for books like The Pallbearers Club and Cabin at the End of the World. His latest is Horror Movie, and of it Chris says: "Tremblay makes his entry into the burgeoning field of new horror novels about old horror movies, and it’s a barn burner - we’re jumping back and forth in time, reading screenplay sides, and racing through the making and remaking of a strange and doomed indie horror flick to find out just how cursed everyone winds up being. Even more impressive? From start to finish, Tremblay weaves in a subtle but unexpectedly affecting contemplation of the secret darknesses people carry deep inside. Is it better to self-destruct or to become a monster? If, like the Highlander, there can be only one horror novel about a horror movie for you, Tremblay’s Horror Movie is a pretty good choice."

Jason Kennedy is a fan of this one, too! He says: "A cursed movie filmed in the early 90s yet never completed is rebooted by a major studio. Told from the point of view of the actor who played the original movie’s ‘monster' (dubbed the Thin Kid in the script), Tremblay moves us through shifting narratives, from the screen play that was shot at the time, to the story of a producer and director trying to connect with the Thin Kid in the present, and finally, to the Thin Kid’s life after the movie became cursed. This book really messed with my head, and I loved every minute of it."

Now it's back to Rachel Copeland for her second rec of the week: The Rom-Commers, the newest book from Katherine Center (author of Hello, Stranger and lots of others). Rachel writes: "Romantic comedies are just stories, and yet award-winning screenwriter Charlie Yates has just turned in the world's worst rom com, with neither romance or comedy on the page. When his manager sends the script to Emma Wheeler, the task is simple - make the script not terrible. After a decade of caring for her father, Emma no longer has aspirations of making it as a screenwriter, but she knows stories, and she's not afraid to offend Charlie even if he's written all of her favorite movies. With scant weeks to rehabilitate the script, the two will have to make words into reality, and if they fall in love along the way... well, that's just how stories work. Did I cry? Duh, it's a Katherine Center book. There's so much to love (namely, a plethora of side characters and storylines) that's impossible to summarize, and it really drives home that there is a certain magic to rom coms that is simply indefinable yet wonderful when done right. One thing is for sure - Center makes it look easy!"

And yes, both Horror Story and The Rom-Commers come in fancy special editions with stained edges, but those are limited!

Tim McCarthy takes us down a different path now with The Great River: The Making and Unmaking of the Mississippi, a new work of nonfiction by Boyce Upholt. Tim says: "Boyce Upholt grew up in suburban Connecticut and somehow landed in rural Mississippi, where a side job as a magazine writer launched an obsession. He was doing a profile of a river guide when he tagged along on an expedition. It revealed the mighty Mississippi River's double nature as an untamable wilderness which people make extreme efforts to control for commerce and human habitation. Upholt spent the next ten years fascinated with the vast range of the river’s story, from its tumultuous ancient formation to its ever-changing, climate-altered present day. A full 40 percent of the continental United States (plus a bit of Canada) sheds water from opposite mountain ranges down to this lowest ribbon of land at the center of our turbulent nation. Upholt revels in the collective power. This is not traditional history. It feels like a long-term act of personal discovery and expression, with revealing observations, diligent research, and storytelling that flows like water. He’s honest about inequities without sounding angry, while using key details and unique conclusions to reshape my thinking in surprising ways, just as the river suddenly and continuously reshapes the surrounding land."

Kim Christenson has a couple of recommendations for you this week. Her first is Familiaris by David Wroblewski, and she is very, very high on this book. Kim says: "At nearly 1000 pages, this book might be considered daunting, but by page 25 it had me in its grasp and took me on the long ride home. This tale of John Sawtelle is magnificent in its blended details that track his life in full. Prepare to be fully immersed in the most catastrophic event Mother Nature can muster. Be fearful in the company of myth and her time-bending reversals and shields. Now sit at the Elbow-made table with John's beloved wife and their ordinary, extraordinary friends as they work to find their purposes through trials, truths, and traumas. And then, there are the Sawtelle dogs. A multitude of Canis Familiaris in whose generational genes phenomenal charms and aptitudes reside. Upon finishing this novel, I held its weight in my hands and thought how easy it would be to read it again. This is my book of the year."

And here is Jen Steele with Moonbound by Robin Sloane. Jen says: "Moonbound gave me 80s fantasy movie vibes (in a good way!). There's an epic quest, dragons, talking creatures, evil wizards, and our narrator is a sentient fungus-esq being. Oh, and this all takes place 13,000 years into the future. This book was so much fun! A sci fi fantasy for bibliophiles!"

And here's a paperback pick for you this week: Jason Kennedy suggests you read The Parrot and the Igloo: Climate and the Science of Denial by David Lipskey. Jason says: "David Lipsky chronicles climate change, from the beginning of our awareness of it all the way to the screeching of its deniers. With humor (I laugh because it hurts to cry after reading some of these sections) and exhaustive research, Lipsky does not hide the fact that he is a strong believer in human-caused climate change. He points out how climate change (and denialism) became very, very political. Deniers took their lead from the tobacco industry (they lost, right? but I still see people smoking) and repeated the phrase, 'We need more research on this.' Even though climate change has been talked about since the 1880s, we still need more research. Right? Our newspapers from earlier in the 20th century heralded climate change in our future - yet fast-forward a few decades to find them backtracking as special interest groups took control. As Lipsky points out more than once in this book, 19 of the 20 hottest years have happened since 2000. Sobering, but still not enough for the deniers."

And Oli Schmitz recommends The Weaver and the Witch Queen by Genevieve Gornichec: "Powerful bonds of sworn sisterhood are tested in this immersive journey through tenth-century Norway. In childhood, sisters Oddny and Signy take a blood oath with their friend Gunnhild, swearing to always help each other. After years apart, Gunnhild reunites with Oddny to search for a kidnapped Signy. This is a story of love and power: from chosen family to tender care and enemies-to-lovers slow burn romance; from political intrigue and tough choices to resilience and self-determination. The landscape of this pivotal era in Norse history is infused with magic and folklore, brought to life in Gornichec's enchanting voice. Complex characters and a captivating plot make this one of my favorite books of 2023. The Weaver and the Witch Queen is an excellent fit for readers who loved Circe and historical fiction that humanizes figures of myth, spinning new meaning from their stories."

And those are the recs for this week! Check this page again next week, once you've finished tearing through all ten of these books. What, you do read them all, right? Until our next blog, read on.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of June 4, 2024

Happy June, everyone! What better way to start a new month than with a new addition or two to the old to-be-read stack? Here are our faves of the week.

The first pick of the week is Fire Exit, the first novel by Morgan Talty, who is author of the breakout short story collection, Night of the Living Rez. Fire Exit comes with recommendations from Kay Wosewick and Tim McCarthy. First, from Kay: "Charles is haunted by the missing pieces of his history, his emotionally absent mother, his adoring father who he couldn't save, and his daughter who he can't speak with. He decides to write the story of his (known) life for his daughter; he's convinced she needs it to make her own history complete. The complexities of reservation life add a sharp edge to an otherwise earnest and tender tale."

And from Tim: "I am a fan of beautifully crafted prose, but sometimes it's a huge relief to read a story told straight at me. Morgan Talty is especially good at it, saying just what's needed and only when it's necessary. He tells us a direct story, narrated by a white man named Charles. For decades, Charles is conflicted by a girl growing up across the river from his house. She lives on the Penobscot Nation’s land. He does not. He doesn’t have the indigenous blood to live there. She does, but she also has his blood. She’s never known that he’s her biological father. At the same time, his own father has died, and his ill mother is forgetting who he is. The odd circumstances of family can silence the most basic truths, and yet some things demand to be said, even at great risk. Doesn’t truth always matter? Indigenous suffering is clear in Fire Exit, but Talty says the book is not 'seeking truth about colonialism. It is a story about us, all of us. We are nothing without each other.' Love to you, Morgan Talty!"

Next, Kim recommends Tell Me Who You Are, a new thriller by Louisa Luna. Kim says: "Dr. Caroline Strange is a New York City psychotherapist - brilliant, posh, and dressed head-to-toe in white. She goes by Dr. Caroline, for obvious reasons, she thinks. Her patients are irksome and varied, so much so that she likes to give them unflattering nicknames. They watch her face soften into an empathetic gaze, not knowing that just under the surface is the sandy grit of indifference. When her new patient, a young man named Nelson, admits he has plans to kill someone, her reaction is muted. But when he says that he knows who she really is, the echo-like words roar. Who is she really? She grew up in an average Midwestern suburb. Lived next door to her best friend Savannah Strong and her family. And during a sleepover at their house, she woke to find the family dead. She has experience with murder. Just hours after Nelson leaves, police detectives arrive to question her about the disappearance of a local reporter who wrote a scathing review of her practice. Dr. Caroline becomes a suspect, and Nelson's confession becomes very real. Tell Me Who You Are will appeal to fans of Alex Michaelides's The Silent Patient, with a bit of gore and horror. It is Hitchcockian in its telling, I have no doubt Norman Bates would approve."

Now it's over to Kathy Herbst for the latest Maisie Dobbs novel from Jacqueline Winspear, The Comfort of Ghosts. Kathy writes: "The Comfort of Ghosts completes Jacqueline Winspear's bestselling Maisie Dobb's series. Set in1945 in a London of bombed out buildings, homeless people, and traumatized soldiers and civilians, Dobbs, a psychologist and investigator, puts her skills to work to help four homeless teenagers and her assistant Billy's son, who suffered horribly in a prison camp. Maisie, as always, is tenacious and compassionate in her quest to uncover truth and find justice and healing. Filled with characters we've come to know and love - Billy and Doreen, Maisie's father and stepmother, and her dear friend Priscilla - this book does not disappoint."

And now it's over to Jen Steele for another of her great kids book recs. This week she's suggesting They Call Me No Sam!, a riotously funny new middle grade novel by Drew Daywalt, with illustrations by Mike Lowery. Jen says: "They Call Me No Sam! had me laughing out loud and wanting to share No Sam's unique perspective of things with whoever was nearby. Told in diary format from the point of view of a heroic pug named “No Sam!,” we learn how this “human being” came to protect a family of naked monkey things. With Lowery's illustrations and Daywalt's humor, this early middle grade read is a smash hit!"

Lots of books are out in paperback this week, and we've got a handful of them to recommend.

Three of our paperback recs come from Tim McCarthy. He first suggests What What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World's Most Enigmatic Birds. Tim says: "I’m not an active birder, but they fascinate me and comfort me and somehow make me believe that surviving our maddening times is possible. I've read several books about birds lately, especially owls, because seven-year-old Landon and I shared the experience of Great Horned Owls nesting and hunting in our neighborhood. The Merlin Bird ID app also has me identifying bird species by photos and sound recordings from my phone. Landon intuitively questions me about disrupting their lives while gathering information. Smart boy! Together we watched the Boswell virtual event with Miriam Darlington and Schlitz Audubon Raptor Director Lindsay Obermeier for Darlington's lovely owl memoir The Wise Hours. Lindsay brought out all of the center’s owls, and the conversation was magical - check it out on our virtual event archive. Now Ackerman details the latest owl science and the stories behind the science. She explains our growing understanding of owl species diversity and the dedicated worldwide fight for their preservation. Her writing is energetic and thorough, a missing piece of my developing owl puzzle, and I kept hoping the book and the birds would continue forever."

Tim's next paperback rec is Crook Manifesto, Colson Whitehead's sequel to Harlem Shuffle. Tim says: "I don’t like to repeat myself with recommendations, but Whitehead makes it tough to avoid. I said in an earlier review for Harlem Shuffle that I met Colson Whitehead at a Boswell Book Company event once and saw the genius in his eyes, the sly humor, and the sincerity. I added that he's the new King of American Historical Fiction, the new voice as powerful as E. L. Doctorow’s. Is he still a genius? You bet. Still King? Absolutely! (Two Pulitzer Prizes do say a lot.) So, what’s left to say? Just that this is the sequel to Harlem Shuffle (with a third book in the works), and Ray Carney is doing his best to be straight. He was once only “slightly bent when it came to being crooked,” fencing stolen goods from his furniture store. Then his cousin Freddie drew him into a heavy heist. Now, a decade later, he’s just a smart business owner and loving family man with a little sentiment for his past crooked days, but 1971 Harlem is churning with upheaval and “bent hates straight.” Ray’s not one of the city’s many villains, but the churn has him back in the game, a game that inflicts real pain on the losers. I’ll go ahead and repeat that past review one last time. This is greatness! I took my sweet time, savoring every literary morsel."

Tim's third rec is for Timothy Egan's A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them. Tim says: "This is essentially the story of human failure focused on one sadistic, brutal man, but Egan turns it into an encompassing and oddly surprising portrait of 1920s America. David C. Stephenson boldly set out to reinvent himself and create a country where the heights of power would be reached by white people considered racially pure. In the process, he successfully spread the KKK much wider and grew it much stronger than I knew, into my own back yard, while making himself rich. It’s stunning. How did I not know about this? Egan did essential homework and conveys it with dramatic style. The connections and references he weaves had me doing triple-takes, and frankly they got me through the moments when these violent predators terrified me. The bigger problem is, I open my news apps today and see people saying the same racist things and committing extreme acts of violence exactly 100 years later. Progress is not progressive enough, and I don’t have long-term patience. Still, I needed to know this story, and Egan makes it spellbinding. I was determined to see how it ended, and I was rewarded with an inspiring conclusion."

Daniel Goldin also recommends Egan's book. He says: "National Book Award and Pulitzer winner (the latter for his newspaper work) Timothy Egan takes on the second (and probably not last) coming of the Klu Klux Klan in America. In the 1920s, a combination of factors, including the migration of Confederate sympathizers and a White population scared by new waves of immigration, emboldened by the success of Prohibition, led to a resurgence of this organization that was most profound not in the South, but in the Midwest and West. Egan focuses on Indiana, a state that had perhaps the most KKK domination (though one should not exclude Ohio, Colorado, and Oregon, which have their own stories) and in particular, on D.C. Stephenson, who wound up having much of Indiana under his control. A ruthless criminal, a sexual predator, and a charlatan, Steve, as he was known, was seemingly unstoppable, until maybe he wasn’t. Egan’s meticulous research and lively storytelling combine for a powerful work with obvious contemporary parallels. I’m definitely going to be reading more Egan!"

We stick with Daniel for the next paperback pick, Good Night, Irene, the most recent novel from Luis Alberto Urrea. Daniel says: "Irene Woodward and Dorothy Dunford bond in training when both join the Red Cross to support the troops by running a coffee wagon. They are supposed to work in teams of three, but they just can’t seem to keep a third – maybe it’s because their friendship is so strong that there just isn’t room for one more in the truck. Outside the truck, their lives are filled with vibrant characters, some romance, and of course, the horrors of war. Urrea’s new novel is classic historical fiction, a change of style, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to fans – his prose has veered from journalism to magical realism to domestic dramedy. And I don’t really want to give anything away here, but I kept thinking it will all be worthwhile if Urrea stuck the landing, and I’m happy to say he sure did!"

Jen Steele comes in with our last paperback recommendation of the week: Lucky Red, a novel by Claudia Cravens. Jen says: "Set in Dodge City in the late 1800s, a young woman is caught up in other people's expectations and wants. But what does Bridget want, and how will she make it happen? Lucky Red is about carving your own way in a world that wants to keep you under its thumb. A thrilling western full of grit, passion, and whiskey!"

That's a whole bunch of good books. Until next week, read on.