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.

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