Monday, July 15, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of July 16, 2024


Another week, another batch of books to recommend. 

Kay Wosewick has a science pick from journalist Brandom Keim entitled Meet the Neighbors: Animal Minds and Life in a More-than-Human World. Kay says: "You will be dazzled, amused, and dumfounded by Keim’s stories of animals obviously displaying self-awareness and consciousness. After this fun, Keim digs into grim history. He describes more than two thousand years of philosophers’ and religions’ near-universal belief that animals were incapable of thinking or feeling. This belief went largely unchallenged until the 1970s when a few voices made news; still, little changed. The 1990s finally brought a small but growing segment of people who know animals are conscious and self-aware, and are advocating change. Keim is convinced the climate crisis can’t be adequately addressed until humanity recognizes the extraordinary value of consciousness that exists everywhere, such as in the forests that are burning right now. Please, educate yourself." (Note: this rec was updated at Kay's request on 7/16.)

Kay also wants us all to read Smothermoss, by Alisa Alering. Kay says: "Alering’s prose brings a poor Appalachian setting vibrantly alive. Sisters Angie and Sheila live with their mother and grandmother in a shack in the woods. The sisters are very different: older Sheila takes care of most household duties quietly and responsibly. Younger Angie bounces from drawing finely detailed cards of powerful, frightening creatures, to combing nearby mountains and valleys for Russian spies. The murder of two city girls just miles away on the Appalachian Trail gives Angie a new target to hunt, while Sheila turns inward as she tries to escape an eerie, growing burden. Vivid images will haunt you until - and well after - you finish the book."

Daniel Goldin hopes you'll dive into The Cliffs, the new novel by J Courtney Sullivan. It's the most recent Reese's Book Club pick, too! Do note, this book was published a couple weeks ago, but this rec slipped off the blogger's radar - we still wanted to make sure to share it with you. Daniel says: "Having possibly destroyed her marriage and her career at a Harvard history museum with her uncontrolled drinking, Jane Flanagan returns to Awadapquit, Maine, where she takes up residence in her late mother’s house, readying it for sale. On arrival, she discovers that the falling down mansion where she would escape in her teens has been, like so much of the town, fixed up beyond recognition by a new summer arrival; Jane, with her job in a holding pattern, is hired to research its story. Like so many folks in The Cliffs, as well as the town itself, that house is hiding a few secrets, which Jane slowly uncovers, spurred on by a local medium, no less. Sullivan takes on a lot here – alcoholism, indigenous history, family legacies, mysticism, historic preservation – and triumphantly puts them all together into an absorbing, philosophical, yet summer vacation-worthy package."

And we've got one legacy recommendation from former Boswellian Gao Her. Though Gao left Boswell earlier this year, she left behind her rec for The White Guy Dies First: 13 Scary Stories of Fear and Power, an anthology of YA horror stories edited by Terry J Benton-Walker. Gao writes: "A perfect entry level horror book for young adults who don't want their socks scared off but would rather have them soaked in wicked fun! Some stories will give you the taste of revenge that we all crave, and some will seep into your brain with their use of cerebral imagery. You'll have such a good time with this read!" Suggested for ages 13 and up.

And those are the recs! We'll be back next week with more books for you to check out. Until then, read on.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of July 9, 2024

 
Lots of books with lots of recommendations. That's what we've got this week - multiple books with multiple reads from Boswellians, including a few event books.

Our first recommendation of the week is The Anthropologists by Ayşegül Savaş, and it gets raves from Daniel, Chris, and Alex. First, from Alex Jackson: "Small slices of life unfold like stories told by a close friend. The characters are at the age of freedom, the rest of their lives rapidly approaching. Reading closer to a book of poetry, Savaş's The Anthropologists collects vignettes of Asya and Manu as they search for friends, apartments, and the 'why' of life. I found this book extremely affecting, considering the complex beauty of us in both familiar and foreign habitats. This is one I'm certain I'll be thinking about for a long while."

From Daniel Goldin: "Asya and her husband Manu live in an unnamed city, both foreigners from another unnamed country. They hang out with friends, witnessing one’s love triangle and another’s struggle with dementia, get occasional visits from family, and gather stories about visitors to a local park. Their direct goal is simple – to find a better apartment. But to do this, they need to understand who they are as people individually and as a couple together. Despite the lack of specificity, there’s a spirit of the flaneur that runs through the pages. And for a book so spare, Savaş writes with beauty and insight."

And Chris Lee gets the final word on this one: "The Anthropologists is an airy yet thoughtful novel about a married couple living the rotting years of their youth as immigrants in an unnamed European city (that I’m like 97% sure is Paris). While her husband, Manu, and their friend Ravi strive to keep the drinking spirit alive through the nights, filmmaker Aysa records interviews by day in their neighborhood park. She’s trying to triangulate their lives; among cafes, apartments, and alleyways, among neighbors, friends, and strangers, she’s collecting and sifting for a list of sturdy moments upon which they might build. One foot in front of the other, forward motion, one day to the next, will they learn to sink into the aimlessness of ‘real life’? Will they get belligerent? Savaş’s latest is nice – a sort of dreamy, earthy story of a couple searching for their spot."

Next, it's The Heart in Winter, the latest from Irish novelist and short story writer Kevin Barry. This book also gets recs from Daniel and Chris. First, here's Daniel: "When the often-soused Tom Rourke lays eyes on the bewitching Polly Gillespie, you know that nothing good can come of it, especially when she is the new bride of a disturbingly reverent mining captain. But off they go, into the Montana wilderness with a price on their heads, following a storied history of doomed lovers in the Old West. This may be Kevin Barry’s first novel set in the United States, but it’s as if they jumped out of one of Barry’s other books and said, let’s cross the Atlantic on a lark and see what trouble we can get into. The result? Bawdy, debauched, and pure poetry."

Chris again with the last word on a book: "Tom and Polly are just a couple of folks living in the ass end of the world (Butte, Montana, 1891); each sees no better prospect than the other, and both have little enough to lose that a shot at adventure seems like reason enough. Or, hell, could it even be love? It’s America at the end of the Wild West era; the immigrant melting pot boiled over and spilled across wide open, desolate spaces. It’s drunk and doped, profane and perverse, a roughhewn love fable of two who awoke in the gutter and saw nothing but stars. What do they want? What does anyone? To turn their lives into stories. And so desperate, too, for those stories to be good ones, big and wild, with endings to snatch your – their – breath away."

Kevin Barry visits Boswell this week! He'll be here all the way from County Sligo in Ireland for a chat about this very book on Friday, July 12, at 6:30 pm. Find out more and register for this event at kevinbarrymke.eventbrite.com.

We're so excited about Barry's visit that we couldn't wait until Friday to chat with him. Click the video image below for our short event-preview interview in which Chris asks Barry a few questions about the novel.



Our next book also comes with two recommendations. It's the latest novel from Peng Shepherd, author of The Book of M, entitled All This & More. From Jason Kennedy first: "Marsh's life is not where she thought it would end up. Her marriage has completely collapsed after years and years of erosion, and her career as a lawyer never actually got off the ground. Thankfully, there is a show, All This and More, which takes the latest in quantum theory to let contestants sample many realities and pick the best one. A real-life makeover! Marsh is surprised that she is selected to be a third season contestant. She has the chance to improve her life and have all her dreams become reality. Can and will she find her perfect life? Well, you the reader have a bit to say. Peng Shepherd designs her book so the reader can choose which direction Marsh takes at key moments in the story. It's fun and enlightening to see the different ways that Peng Shepherd saw the book progressing. I loved it and ran through every possibility I could!"

And from Daniel: "Marsh has just been chosen to be the contestant on the third season of All This and More, a game show where you can actually change your life by redoing decisions in your past. Imagine a makeover show powered by the multiverse. What could possibly go wrong? The story is structured as a choose your own adventure, so for folks who are of the age to remember these, there’s an extra kick. For the rest of us, All This & More is an entertaining, fantasy-adjacent, romance-adjacent adventure thriller."

Peng Shepherd will also be at Boswell this week! On Thursday, July 11, 6:30 pm she visits for a conversation about her new book. Click here and register and find more info at pengshepherdmke.eventbrite.com.

Daniel also recommends Summers End, the latest Shady Hollow mystery from writing team Juneau Black. Daniel says: "When Vera Vixen the fox reporter and Lenore Lee the raven bookseller offer to chaperone a high school group on a trip to see Summers End, a sacred, Stonehenge-like burial ground, they hardly think they will be drawn into investigating a murder. But when the body of one of the academics is found, not only is the field trip thrown into turmoil, but it looks like Lenore’s sister Ligeia is the prime suspect! It’s going to take a village to solve this one, and that’s a good thing, as Summers End is packed with fascinating characters of the fur and feather variety. It may be a cozy, but Juneau Black’s latest is positively pulse pounding, though not so much so that one can’t chuckle too. And I did!"

Tim McCarthy is also a fan. He writes: "The fifth entry in the world of Shady Hollow, a place where the animal community operates in its own perfectly mysterious ways, begins with foxy reporter Vera Vixen being coaxed by her raven bookseller friend Lenore into chaperoning a group of high school creatures on a weeklong trip. It's the lure of their destination that draws Vera into the drama, an ancient archaeological monument called Summers End, where the precise final moment of summer is illuminated on a monument stone. It’s also an important burial site where professors study the ways their unique woodland culture has advanced. It doesn't take long for the trip to go awry. The professors are at odds, and students will be students, after all. Since mystery books always involve the tragic end of more than summers, death is at the monument's door. Happily, Vera's taste for intrigue seems everlasting, and her tenacious sleuthing skills remain undefeated. A few close friends, an energetic intern reporter vole named Thena, and a somewhat shady raccoon cohort named Lefty will uncover more than murder at Summers End!"

We had such a great event last night for this book! Here's a photo of what you may have missed - but be sure to snag a copy of Summers End so you don't miss reading it.



Greta's from last week to drop into this week! A late addition but no less great! Pink Slime by Fernanda Trias gets this rec from Greta: "In this newly translated Uruguayan horror story, the author verbalizes people's fears about the future of the world. A plague has struck, leaving people awaiting death in hospital beds. Meat is no longer a readily available resource. Instead, people have to stomach a highly processed meat substitute. This draws comparison to a material currently sold at a prolific fast-food chain. It follows the main character as she maintains relationships with people who are dependent on her during this turbulent time. There is so much complexity within the world and the relationships between the characters. The relations are almost parasitic in nature but contain an element of tenderness. Trias writes a flawed protagonist who is compassionate to a fault. It begs the question what will be your priority when things fall apart. The prose is titillating and immersive, describing an apocalyptic hellscape that hopefully will never come into being. This book will leave an unsavory taste in your mouth in the best way imaginable."

Speaking of late additions, here's a book from June that Daniel just read and likes, too! Catland: Louis Wain and the Great Cat Mania by Kathryn Hughes is the book, and the recommendation is this: "Louis Wain’s paintings of cats are very recognizable – anthropomorphic, playful, and apparently, weirdly conservative. Hughes chronicles his life, from a troubled home life to an ill-conceived and short-lived early marriage to a peaceful end in an asylum. And yet, despite the success of his artwork, his financial situation was almost always precarious due to bad financial deals and a lot of, dare I say it? Copycatting. Hughes does a great job of connecting Wain’s work to the public’s changing attitude towards domestic felines, detouring to developments like cat breeding and shows. Black-and-white illustrations and color plates bring the tale (tail?) to life, and the book’s extra touches, like printed endpapers, are a treat."

And now for a couple of paperback picks.

Chris Lee recommends The Vegan, the sophomore outing by Andrew Lipstein. Chris says: "I love, love, loved Lipstein’s debut (Last Resort), and all the hallmarks that make his writing as mesmerizing as train wreck videos are back. Hypnotic sentences? Check. The moneyed, millennial milieu of Brooklyn? Check. And a man of his time unravelling in warped, manic behavior impelled by a moral quandary of guilt and deceit? Check, check, and check. The book’s allusions to Dostoyevsky have been noted, though I’d venture that there are glimmers of Poe in there, too; in the sweeping passages of emotional torment and the body-horror, churning-guts depictions of what it is to consume another living creature’s flesh. Can a hedge fund manager really discover moral clarity in the melancholy eyes of his neighbor’s beagle? I have my doubts. But I’m sure of this: The Vegan has secured Andrew Lipstein a spot on my absolute must-read authors list."

And we wrap up with a rec from Jason Kennedy for The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet by Jeff Goodall: "Looking at Texas at this point, I think we can all agree that heat is going to be a real problem for the rest of our lives. Jeff Goodell does a good job of weaving personal stories with digestible explanations of complex systems and topics. This is a warning call for us to prepare now, as the temperature isn’t going down anytime soon. There are ways for us to mitigate dying from the heat without contributing to overall carbon output. I’m naturally pessimistic, and I hate the heat, so this book completely depressed me on the outlook of this world. Goodell highlights the fact that heat will not affect us all equally – it’s the poor, impoverished countries will suffer the most. A sobering, necessary read."

And those are the recs! Until next time, read on.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of July 2, 2024

Welcome to July! Here are our recommendations to keep you reading your way through summer.

Our first pick is a book that's picked up two Boswellian recommendations: The Lion Women of Tehran, a new novel by Marjan Kamali, author of The Stationary Shop. First, from Daniel Goldin: "The sudden death of her father sends Elaheh and her mother from a comfortable 1950s middle-class life to the poor neighborhoods near downtown Tehran. But for Ellie, there is an upside. Not only does she get to go to school, but she meets Homa, a neighbor and classmate who is not just friendly but passionate, idealistic, and fearless. It’s a bond that will be tested in so many ways, both personal and political, but can it withstand the ultimate betrayal? Class, religion, and politics collide in this captivating story about a special friendship that I think would appeal to fans of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels."

Tim McCarthy also recommends Kamali's book. Tim says: "Through the political turmoil and cultural strain of a shifting 20th century Iran, two very young girls begin as friends with a singular attachment and later grow as young women rediscovering their airtight bond. Her father’s death takes Ellie from an elite neighborhood to the bottom of Tehran’s city life and back again, linking her with her first real friend Homa and then tearing her away. Homa's noble battle to reunite them and force change for Iran's women returns her to Ellie's heart, but can they endure? With Tehran redefined by the Shah's coup toppling an elected Prime Minister and then a harsh Islamic revolution deposing the Shah, traditional power confronts the demand for equity and free thought in a society becoming more westernized. The beauty and struggle of a loving friendship drives the story and reveals a vibrant world where our senses are filled with visions of landscapes, flavors of foods, and the emotional floods of fear, rage, love, hope, and ferocious determination in Tehran’s Shir Zan, the lion women."

Kim Christenson is up next with The God of the Woods, a novel by Liz Moore. Kim says: "It's the summer of 1975 and Camp Emerson is in session. Girls and boys from the country's elite families settle in for the summer's activities. The camp's specialty is wilderness survival; campers are taught then tested. When counselor Louise awakens and finds one of her campers missing, she feels a vacuum-like suck that portends big trouble. Barbara, the missing girl, is the daughter of the area's rich and powerful Van Laar family. A missing child is a knife-sharp terror, but for the Van Laars the event means reliving the loss of their never-found son Bear, 14 years ago. The Van Laar men are bankers by trade, opportunistic and cold. Their wives are ornamental, mindless beings, to be envied and entertaining. Their children understand they exist only to fill future roles, but until then they are an irrelevant bother at best. When law enforcement arrives on the scene and the search begins in earnest, each character's story links to the next like puzzle pieces clicked into place to form pictures. Survival - physical, mental, and emotional - is at the crux of this riveting and ingeniously told story that held me in its grasp for hours at a time."

Over in the world of paperback releases, Kay Wosewick recommends The Last Ranger, the latest novel by Peter Heller, now in paperback. Kay says: "Immerse yourself in Yellowstone’s dramatic landscape. where lovers and protectors of wildlife (especially wolves reintroduced in 2006) are newly pitted against locals who skirt laws to hunt prized park denizens. Action, adventure, and mystery keep the plot in high gear. A tender, soulful ranger - unmoored by loss and now rocked by turf battles - is the story’s beating heart."

And those are the recs for the week! Have a great holiday this week - perhaps you can spend some of it in the sun with a book. That's what we'd recommend, anyway, while you're here and taking our advice. We'll be back on July 7th with more recommendations. Until then, read on.