Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of April 16, 2024

Welcome back to the staff rec blog. Here are this week's picks from the Boswellians - heavy-hitting history and then it's heavy on the kids books.

Tim McCarthy takes us back in time with After 1177 B.C.: The Survival of Civilizations by Eric H. Cline. Tim writes: "Cline's first book on this topic detailed the rapid collapse of late Bronze Age civilizations surrounding the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean Seas, including the homelands of the Mycenaean Greeks described in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Egyptian Pharaohs, Mesopotamians, and Canaanites. Historians have called the resulting time, after 1177 B.C., a Dark Age, and its multifaceted causes, including climate change, drought, famine, conflict, and disease, have strong similarities to the threats we face now. In this sequel, Cline examines what happened after the collapse. Did cultures disappear, or were there transformations leading to advancement and reconnection? He looks at the nuances of this Dark Age, calling it instead the Iron Age, while describing the fundamentals of resilience in the aftermath of collapse and the innovation needed to thrive under stress. He considers potential lessons for our future by using modern "resilience theory" to help us better understand the past. Can we be better prepared to avoid societal collapse than they were? For me, it's all unfamiliar territory, as I knew so little about these ancient people, but I enjoyed learning from Cline. His work is vital, and I intend to read him again."

Jenny Chou has a rather exasperated middle grade novel for us that asks, This Again? It's written by Adam Borba, and Jenny says: "If your middle school self traveled in time just to tell you how to turn the worst day of your life into the best day of your life, would you take their advice? Noah is trying to win class president, just like his older brother did, and he’s torn between his best friends and their favorite sport, bowling (uncool), and new friendships with the super-cool basketball players. And can he pass pre-algebra without actually putting in any work? When his future self shows up, Future Noah is full of ideas for getting their life on track, but in the end, who is the real Noah? This Again? is LOL funny but also a great reflection on being a good friend and doing what makes you happy rather than trying to meet what you think are other people’s expectations. A great lesson for middle grade readers and grownups." Suggested for ages 8 and up.

Kay Wosewick wants all the wolf she can get her hands on. Lucky for her, there's more in The Unlikely Hero: The Story of Wolf 8 (Young Readers' Edition) by Rick McIntyre and David A. Poulsen. Kay says: "Wolf 8 is a pup in one of the first wolf packs reintroduced to Yellowstone, and this story is about how he became leader of one of the largest, most successful wolf packs in the park. Wolf 8 is the runt of the litter and is bullied his three brothers. He eventually wanders from the pack and soon finds eight young wolf pups. He plays with them, and they are having fun when mom cautiously joins them. The father of her pups had recently been killed, and she needs an adult male. Wolf 8 likes her, and she likes him. The story that follows is almost magical - especially because it is based on first-hand observations." Do note, as the title suggests, this is the young readers' edition, suitable for ages 8 and up.

This week has lots of paperback picks hitting our new paperback tables (you know, those tables full of recently-released and popular paperbacks that greet you when you first walk in our doors). Here they are!

Daniel Goldin and Rachel Ross are fans of the most recent novel from bard of the Midwest J Ryan Stradal, Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club. First, from Daniel: "Mariel is heir to a classic supper club with its classic fish fry and Saturday night prime rib special. Her husband Ned and his family own Jorby’s, a once charming diner that has morphed into a ubiquitous chain restaurant that, despite its mediocre food and service, has put many a family gathering spot out of business. The legacies of both family businesses run deep, and Stradal’s story is packed with love and betrayal, sacrifice and greed, joy and tragedy. If The Lager Queen of Minnesota was a story about siblings, Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club chronicles parents and children and all the baggage that entails. I love the way that the story points forward to a more inclusive world, while maintaining that though things may change, Minnesota Nice will still conquer all. If you loved Stradal’s previous novels, you will not be disappointed. And if you’re new to his work, you’re in for a treat; mix yourself a Brandy Old Fashioned and start reading."

And from Ross: "Settle in for an ode to the Midwest that is equal parts heart-wrenching and heartwarming. Join three generations of women as they navigate their relationships with their families and communities against the backdrop of the Lakeside Supper Club, which is so much more than a family restaurant. Stradal tackles family legacy, Midwestern culture, the depths of grief, and the relief of forgiveness. You’ll want to grab a brandy old-fashioned for this one."

Next up we have Greta Borgealt and her write-up for The Postcard, a novel by Anne Berest, translated from the French by Tina Kover. Greta says: "This book has already garnered much literary acclaim, but I'm here to tell you that it is worth the fanfare. Recently translated from its original French, writer Anne Berest lets readers into the private lives of a family that has been deeply wounded by the horrors of the Holocaust. When a mysterious postcard arrives with the names of the family members who perished in the camps written on it, the family is forced to face their tragic history. It also has a theme of self-discovery as the main character, who acts as a self-insert for the author, grapples with realizing her Jewish identity. It is both a historical and contemporary novel, as it switches back and forth from the past and the present. It is heart wrenching at times. Berest does a beautiful job of immortalizing members of her real-life family, giving them a chance to live on and not disappear completely. When people tell tales of the past, especially when referring to the Holocaust, they don't want the public to forget that it has occurred, because they do not want history to repeat itself. It is relevant, as extremism appears to be once again on the rise. This work is a labor of love for the author, and it shows in her writing."

We had a fabulous event featuring Anne Berest at Boswell last fall - check out the video below. Berest chats with Flora Fuller, a French teacher at Alliance Française de Milwaukee.

Speaking of books in translation, Jason Kennedy suggests you check out The Book Censor's Library, a novel by bestselling Kuwaiti author Bothayna Al-Essa and translated from Arabic by Ranya Abdelrahman and Sawad Hussain. Jason says: "Throw in some 1984, add a dash of Fahrenheit 45, and put in a whole bunch of original Big Brother content that has flowed from Bothayna Al-Essa's imagination, and you have the magic that is The Book Censor's Library. The unnamed protagonist works as a book censor at a bureau that attempts to kill all creativeness and imagination in the books that get published. Obviously, this is only one aspect of a society where the ruling elite attempt to suppress the population. When he is charged with reading and listing all the wrongs in a newly translated copy of Zorba the Greek, he starts to awaken to the power and beauty of reading actual books. He falls down the rabbit hole and starts helping to smuggle books doomed to be burned to safety. His family suffers for his choices, even though his daughter has needed these stories and her imagination to be used. A surprising, haunting, twisty ending left me flabbergasted and wanting the story to continue."

Finally, Madi takes us to Texas with her pick: Waco: David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and A Legacy of Rage by Jeff Guinn. Madi says: "Waco is recent enough history that many remember it, yet memory can be such a fickle thing. Luckily, Jeff Guinn has tackled the subject in his new book, simply titled Waco, that recounts the history of the Branch Davidians and the infamous Mount Carmel raid in Waco, Texas. For a topic so polarizing, Guinn manages to tell a narrative that does not imply personal bias, but provides as many facts as possible so the truest story can be told. His in-depth research uncovered information even true crime connoisseurs will be surprised to learn about the history of the Branch Davidians and David Koresh, including reflections on the long-lasting impact of the raid on Waco and its contribution to today's radicalization of right-wing groups. A true page turner, Waco is a fantastic read, dare I say likely to be the best book on Waco to be published in time for its 30th anniversary."

Those are the recs and we're sticking to 'em. See you back in this corner of the internet next week with more book recommendations from the Boswellians. Until then, read on.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of April 9, 2024

This week brings new releases and new recs, as new weeks tend to do. A couple books from Rachel Copeland's stack are on the docket this time around.

Our first rec is for Ghost Station, the new novel by SA Barnes. Rachel says: "Dr. Ophelia Bray has a specific reason for dedicating her life to preventing ERS, a condition associated with space travel that can result in mass murder, and she'd rather not talk about it. At the first opportunity to study the condition and avoid controversy at home, she runs - straight to a crew that's suspicious of her motives, cagey about the death of a team member, and uninterested in her attempts at therapy. As the crew's mission to establish residency on an abandoned planet is imperiled by another death and devolves into horror and distrust, Ophelia and team have to work together to get the hell off the planet in one piece. The choice to place a psychologist in the middle of a psychological horror is just brilliant - watching Ophelia talk herself past fear was a treat. Take the cosmic horror of Leviathan Wakes and the claustrophobic helplessness of Doctor Who's "The Waters of Mars" and you have a book that will keep you guessing and quaking in your space boots all the way through. "

This week also sees the release of a paperback edition of The Tumbling Girl, the first book in Bridget Walsh's mystery series, which has a couple of Boswellian recommenders. First, from Rachel C: "While the rest of London in 1876 is quivering at the thought of the Hairpin Killer, Minnie Ward is more concerned with who killed her best friend and got away with it. Staged as a suicide, only Minnie seems to care that the rope burns on her wrists couldn't possibly be from her acrobatics routine. When she hires private detective Albert Easterbrook, she intends to get justice for her friend - only to uncover a dark criminal conspiracy that preys on the lower classes. As Minnie herself becomes a target, the two have to decide how far they can go before it's too late. This one is, in a word, spine-tingling, with some of the more gruesome scenes I've seen in a while. Walsh leaves the reader with the distinct feeling that, much like Holmes and Watson, Ward and Easterbrook have many more grisly murders to solve, and there might even be a Moriarty-esque character waiting in the wings. As a fan of Deanna Raybourne's long running Veronica Speedwell series, I'm ecstatic find a comparable series at its start."

Kathy Herbst chimes in: "The first book in this historical mystery series set in Victorian London was a real page-turner! Encompassing the worlds of music halls, high class clubs, and the city's gritty underbelly, Minnie Ward, a feisty and courageous music hall script writer, sets out to solve the murder of her best friend with the help of former police officer private investigator Albert Easterbrook (think Miss Scarlett and the Duke). Dark and compelling, with humor and wit walking side by side with violence and danger. If you are a fan of Sarah Waters novels, I think you'll like this one!"

And fyi, Tim is a fan of this series, too. Those are the recs! We'll be back here next week with more books that we love. Until then, read on.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Staff Recommendations - Leif Enger Edition

This week saw the release of Leif Enger's new novel, I Cheerfully Refuse. This is the first book in nearly six years from the author of beloved books like Virgil Wander and Peace Like a River. And much like his last book, I Cheerfully Refuse has been a hit among the Boswellians. Here are three glowing reviews from Tim, Daniel, and Kay.

Tim says: "I met Leif Enger at Milwaukee’s Oriental Theatre on his tour for Virgil Wander, which is still one of my top five favorite books ever. I felt like I already knew him. The writing matched the man. He has a rare combination of warmth and intelligence, a reverential and brilliant awareness of humanity, and here he brings these qualities back to a familiar Lake Superior setting. This time it’s a story told by a man named Rainier, after the mountain. It got shortened to Rainy, fitting his life on the shore of a stormy lake in a very edgy near future where survival is always uncertain. Rainy’s tongue-in-cheek (crossing into smart-ass) observations and the joy and perseverance of fellow travelers are enough to make me believe that “pathways to beauty and color” can survive our impending chaos. The novel turns to wicked suspense, as Enger shows us with creative clarity a struggling world that seems entirely possible. Rainy must navigate Lake Superior to escape a supremely clever and powerful man in the aftermath of a horrifying crime. I wasn’t sure I could finish the book. It’s relentless at times, with the only comfort being the rhythm of Rainy’s Fender Jazz bass guitar, but we all try to get home somehow. I trusted Leif Enger to lead me and the book home. He didn’t let me down. Even if he had, his characters understand that 'sometimes no right ending can be found.' Maybe what matters is only that people like Enger keep searching for majestic human stories."

From Daniel: "Rainy has cobbled together a life with his beloved partner, a resourceful bookseller in a post-publishing world, living in an Enger-esque Minnesota town on the banks of Lake Superior. His fragile existence is upended by the appearance of a squelette, an indentured runaway on the run from his captors. No good can come of this, and catastrophe follows. Among the losses is a collection of essays that gives this novel its title, written by the legendary Molly Thorn, whose body of work is so vivid I can’t believe that folks won’t be searching for it. Rainy’s escape leads to a series of Odyssey/Gulliver like scrapes, and the despite the help of some sympathetic folks he meets along the way and one young resourceful girl, also sort of indentured (Rainy can’t help but help), a climactic confrontation is inevitable. So much tension! And desperation! But because this is still a Leif Enger book, there are some things that don’t change – his faith in community, a narrator you can’t help but love despite his flaws, and the joy that radiates from talking about things he loves - in this case sailing and music and books. Plus, the worldbuilding is fascinating."

And from Kay: "The not-too-distant future is physically and psychically damaged. A wealthy ruling class oversees much of the world, and commoners are merely slave labor. A few corners of the world are mostly ignored, including the area around Lake Superior, where Rainy and his wife get by. Tragedy sets Rainy off on his sailboat alone, his bass guitar and Lake Superior his only company. Moody Lake Superior offers endless thrills, horror in human form feels as if it’s around the next stretch of land, and Rainy is just trying to get through one day at a time. This is a grand adventure story set in scary times."

Don't just read this book - meet the author, too! Leif Enger will be at Boswell on Monday, April 15, 6:30 pm, for a conversation with Tim (yes, Boswellian Tim, the reviewer above) - and this special event is also Boswell's 15th anniversary bash. So click here and visit leifengermke.eventbrite.com to register right now.

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.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of March 26, 2023

New books, new recs! Lots of great reading for you this week, courtesy of the Boswellians.

First it's Jason Kennedy with Monsters We Have Made, the second novel (a paperback original!) by Milwaukee native Lindsay Starck. Jason says: "Nine-year-old Faye and her best friend attack their babysitter and leave her bleeding with several knife wounds in the woods. When unraveled, her parents and the community find out that the girls were attempting to appease and gain the favor of the Kingman. Think of the Kingman as Slenderman, and the crimes are somewhat the same. Ten years later, a knock on Sylvia's door. Sylvia, Faye's mother, delivers a granddaughter and reports that her daughter is missing. Sylvia sets off to find her, which brings back the Kingman dilemma from so long ago. Fearing that something awful will occur again, she strikes out and tracks down the people from the past, who sometimes have a difficult time helping, as they would rather forget about everything from before. The power of a story to change a life, for good or for ill, lays at the heart of this family's desire to heal from a past they can't move on from nor forget.  Lindsay Starck has crafted a masterful and suspenseful novel of love and fear and family, both estranged and new."

Starck will be at Boswell for an event featuring this book on Friday, April 19, 6:30 pm. To register and find more info about this event, click right here and visit lindsaystarckmke.eventbrite.com.

Next up, it's another event book - Hang the Moon by Jeannette Walls comes out in paperback this week, and Daniel Goldin has this to say about it: "For Sallie Kincaid, life should be easy. She’s the daughter of Duke, the top dog in Claiborne County, Virginia. He’s got any number of businesses going, including the beloved Emporium. The truth, however, is that it’s really moonshine sales that are supporting the family’s big-for-a-small-town lifestyle – it is the prohibition era, after all. But when Duke brings home a new wife who gives him a son, Sallie is exiled to her Aunt Faye after a terrible accident. But don’t count her out! Hang the Moon chronicles Sallie’s slow rise to power through any number of reversals that make a soap opera seem sluggish in comparison. Nobody can write about young women overcoming adversity like Walls, whether in novels like Half Broke Horses or her own story in The Glass Castle, and Hang the Moon is no exception. You might call this a coming-of-age novel, but it’s also a high-octane, action-packed Southern Gothic!"

Another paperback original that gets the Boswellian treatment this week is The Innocents by Bridget Walsh, recommended by Tim McCarthy. Of it, Tim says: "Minnie Ward is a writer for shows at the Variety Palace Music Hall, a 19th century London theatre with a quirky set of acts. She’s also the unofficial assistant manager and a talented past performer who has reasons for never going back on stage. In this Variety Palace Mystery sequel, closely tied to its debut The Tumbling Girl, Minnie is again working with Albert Easterbrook, a private investigator rejected by his privileged parents for becoming a common crime solver. They’re on tragic new cases while coping with the aftermath of horrifying past murders, including that of Minnie’s closest friend. Walsh's thrillers are a bloody (literally) joy to read. Victorian London gets very rough, but the writing is clean, well sequenced, and expertly paced, with fascinating, convincing characters. The British humor of the times makes me chuckle, even before I look up the words, and the recognizable places lure this Euro-novice into the story rather than intimidate me out. I’d normally say charming sounds a bit trite, but being charmed and thrilled at once leads to quite a lovely surprise: Horrid deaths can yield happy endings."

Jenny Chou recommends Expiration Date by Rebecca Serle. Those keeping up with the publication dates of each rec will notice this book came out last week, but alas, I mistakenly excluded Jenny's rec from last week's blog. So, here it is now, just as great as it was a week ago. Jenny says: "I love Rebecca Serle’s books for the mix of romance with a slight touch of magic. This time, main character Daphne Bell gets a slip of paper at the start of each relationship letting her know exactly when it will end. Will she ever find true love that lasts? Cute, funny, and enjoyable from page one!"

Back to Daniel we go for Olivetti by Allie Millington. Daniel writes: "The Brindle family isn’t doing too well. Mother Beatrice has disappeared and so has Olivetti, the family typewriter. Young Ernest, the family loner, is the first to learn the secret – Olivetti has been pawned. Only the machine may hold the secret of what’s happened, but he’ll need the help of young Quinn at the pawn shop to help him. Like many under-represented voices in literature (I’m thinking of trees and space-exploring robots and octopi), Olivetti is simultaneously philosophical and wry, and the story itself is heartfelt and a good conversation starter. Who knew what typewriters hold in their barrels?"

Elizabeth Berg's novel Earth's the Right Place for Love gets its paperback release this week, and here's Daniel's rec: "Elizabeth Berg's latest is a prequel set during the teen years of Arthur Moses, who you might know better as Arthur Truluv. At 16, he’s got a crush on a schoolmate, but she only has eyes for Arthur’s older brother Frank. But Frank, on top of battling with his alcoholic father, also has a secret, and that doesn’t leave him time for teenage crushes. Yes, there’s drama, but it’s really the small moments that are the most special; Arthur has a gift for finding wisdom and kindness in the most unusual places. You don’t have to have read the other novels in the Mason, Missouri cycle first, but after you read Earth’s the Right Place for Love, you’ll probably won’t be able to resist."

Pulitzer winner Mathew Desmond's follow up book to Evicted also gets its paperback release this week. The book is Poverty, by America, and the recs come from Daniel and Kathy Herbst. First, from Daniel: "For those of you who loved Evicted, our best-selling book of 2016, I should note that Poverty, by America is not set in Milwaukee, though Desmond does return to folks he encountered here to make some of his points. But what he does do is try to answer the question, why have we not been able to move the needle on poverty, and what can we do about it? So many people are willing to talk sacrifice, as long as they aren’t the ones doing the sacrificing. Desmond offers a road map to success in eradicating poverty, with the caveat that there are an awful lot of potholes to fill."

From Kathy: "Poverty, by America addresses important questions about financial inequities in our country.  Why hasn't the level of poverty changed in spite of calls for reform?  Who benefits from poverty (his answers may or may not surprise you) and from government programs set up to address it?  And where does much of the money designated to help poor families really end up? Desmond makes a compelling argument that the gross inequality and financial insecurity in America is no accident. Nor is it the 'fault' of the poor who many need to believe are poor because they are lazy and unwilling to work. Citing numerous studies and statistics, Desmond dispels many of the myths we hold and suggests solutions through systemic reform, the election of people willing to make changes, and all of us understanding how we benefit from a permanent underclass."

Curtis Sittenfeld's Romantic Comedy also gets a paperback version this week and a rec from Rachel Copeland, who says: "Sally Milz is perfectly happy with her job as writer for the famous late night live comedy show The Night Owls, but she has noticed an annoying trend: her ordinary-to-schlubby male colleagues have a tendency to become (improbably) romantically involved with top-tier Hollywood starlets. Then, as she is literally writing a sketch lampooning the trend, she meets singer/songwriter Noah Brewster, that week's host and musical guest. And he seems to find her interesting and attractive... but surely this isn't the start of her own romantic comedy, right? It's a bold move to name your book Romantic Comedy, but I couldn't think of a more apt title for the latest from Curtis Sittenfeld. Sally's dry humor surprised laughs out of me from start to finish, and the relationship between Sally and Noah continued to delight me until the end. How that relationship develops is the real surprise - but I won't spoil it for you! All I can say is that I'll never look at Mad Libs the same way again."

Charles Frazier's book The Trackers is next, and for the rec we go back to Tim: "Don't be fooled by the name Valentine Montgomery Welch III. Val is a fairly simple working man who paints pictures very well. The Depression has its grip on America, and he's been given an important New Deal job. Make art for the people. Create a mural in a small-town Wyoming post office to inspire generations. Detail the glory of their world on a familiar wall and have them say they watched it being built. He's lucky to have the job, and he'd better do it right; draw the people to the process. When a wealthy rancher offers room and board, characters come alive: the polished, art-loving rancher and his young wife on the verge of political stardom, the head ranch hand with a storied past, the townspeople getting mail and asking questions, the very young girl suddenly climbing the scaffold to help him paint. I loved the art, the political era, the landscape, the rolling narrative plot becoming a powerful mystery. This is romantic Americana with teeth, with Frazier's ability to show raw struggle and beauty. He makes the ideas resonate, and I want to keep knowing the characters. It’s pure entertainment!"

And those are our recommendations of the week. We'll be back in this little corner of the internet with more book suggestions to kick off April - until then, read on.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Staff Recommendations, Week of March 19, 2024

Lots of great books coming out this week. Let's jump right into the staff recs.

We'll start off with Tim McCarthy, who recommends James, the new novel from Percival Everett that reconsiders and reconceives Mark Twain's classic novel: "James is Jim’s story, the enslaved man from Huckleberry Finn. It's told by Jim himself. Before reading it, I went back and read the original Mark Twain. I wanted to understand how Everett’s James began, and I have to say that Twain severely disappointed me. Even though Huck learns to better understand and care about Jim, so much of the book feels like a comedy, with family feuds, con men tricking naive river people, and Tom Sawyer endangering Jim's escape by adding foolish extra steps to the plan, all for a sense of glory and for his own entertainment. He almost gets them killed, which gets Jim caught again, and for nothing! Tom already knew that Jim’s owner had freed him. Huck just goes along with whatever Tom wants. It’s infuriating, this comedy (which never made me laugh) about using owned people. Jim shows strength and emotion in the novel, but often he's an afterthought or just a manipulated prop to drive the plot. Was it all meant by Twain to be ironic or satirical, designed to enrage me? Perhaps, but Everett refuses to let it stand. He knows the original novel completely and expands it to go far beyond a friendship between James and Huck. He shows us a slave’s stunning reality and the easy excuses people find to grab power and hate. He’s not a bit shy about it, and from the opening scene he also made me laugh! Out loud! After 140 years, Jim becomes James, and I say, with gratitude, that it’s about damn time this man emerged, so boldly, so beautifully, and so brilliantly! I already miss James."

Now it's over to Chris Lee for his take on The Blues Brothers: An Epic Friendship, the Rise of Improv, and the Making of an American Film Classic by Daniel de Visé: "John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s Blues Brothers started as an is-it-funny-or-what-is-it? bit that Lorne Michaels kept cutting out of early Saturday Night Live broadcasts. But the bit was unstoppable, and in just a few years it grew into an out-of-control blockbuster production that ultimately saved the careers of some of America’s greatest musical voices. de Visé captures it all in his worthy tome on the making of a classic comedy capstone. I love how the book takes a deep dive into the two personalities that made up the brothers. Sure, you may know Belushi as the gregarious son of Albanian immigrants with a voracious appetite for drugs. But do you know how the embarrassment of growing up an outsider filled him with endless ambition that drove him to ceaselessly improve as a performer? And perhaps you adore that quirky Canadian Aykroyd for his singularly strange dry wit. But have you considered how his obsessive personality and encyclopedic memory were the dual engines driving his ‘mission from God’: to reintroduce America to one of its own original art forms, the blues? It’s a wild, improbable, tragic, inspiring story of two friends who loved (and frustrated) each other, who pushed each other to create something bold and new from the old and forgotten, and in the process changed the landscape of pop culture. Comedy fans, music fans, anybody who was ‘there’ (or wishes they were) in the days when SNL was a weekly event, you’re going to love this book"

Event alert! If you are reading this early in the week, then perhaps you'll be glad to know that on Wednesday, March 20, Daniel de Visé will be at Boswell (6:30 pm) for an event featuring this book! Click here for registration and more info - danieldevisemke.eventbrite.com.

Now a book with not one but two Rachels who are fans. Both Rachel Copeland and Rachel Ross recommend Cascade Failure, the debut novel (and first book in a new series) by LM Sagas. Rachel Copeland says: "Out in the depths of space, three groups hold all the power - and they're hiding something big. When the ragtag group aboard the Ambit respond to a distress call, they find a planet full of dead bodies, one grateful programmer, and a whole lot of trouble. Who knew trouble could be so fun and heartwarming? This crew is so charming and full of life that it's easy to forget that one of them is the AI that captains the ship. If you like your action and adventure with a side of creative nicknames, knitting, and pancakes (AKA if you're always chasing that Firefly feeling), this is the book for you."

Rachel Ross says: "LM Sagas bursts out of the gate with her debut novel, Cascade Failure. This is a nonstop space western romp set in a galaxy where corporate powers clash relentlessly with both the workers who fuel development and the guild preventing everyone from tearing each other to shreds. In the wake of these forces, Sagas grounds us in the Ambit, a ship helmed by a curious AI who has collected a crew of human misfits. Sagas writes like a boxer, alternating punches of action-soaked adventure with genuinely heartfelt character scenes. Each character has motivations that propel them through the narrative and personalities that make them a joy to ride along with. Simply put, this is one hell of a crew fighting to make a difference in their largely hostile capitalist world, and it’s time for some thrillin’ heroics. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel as soon as possible!" 

Jen Steele is also a Cascade Failure (and Firefly) fan! Jen says: "Cascade Failure is a wild space adventure full of action, humor and lovable characters. If you miss Firefly, then this is the book for you!"

Let's stick with Rachel Ross for one more - Floating Hotel by Grace Curtis: "Welcome to the Grand Abeona Hotel, the finest luxury spaceship hotel the galaxy has to offer. As the Abeona coasts through space serving grand food, gorgeous views, and relaxing experiences, the staff work in a flurry to keep the whole thing from falling apart. Meanwhile, there is a mystery wrapped up in the heart of the Abeona that threatens the livelihoods of everyone on board. Curtis threads her narrative neatly through a wide cast of characters as if they are each a bead on a string, tying the ends of the story together neatly with Carl, the longtime manager (and one-time stowaway) who holds the ship together. Floating Hotel really captures both the brain-curdling frustration and giddy camaraderie that comes from working in hospitality, and as we step from character to character we learn about their previous lives and current relationships while catching glimpses of the capitalist hellscape they inhabit. In some way or another, they’re all seeking connection and a place to belong, no matter how transitory that place may ultimately be."

Oli Schmitz is next up with The Mars House by Natasha Pulley: "Near-impossible to put down, Pulley’s first sci-fi novel imagines a future in which Earth’s climate refugees are sent to an established colony on Mars, where differences in language, social constructs, and physical existence create tension between the “Earthstrong” new arrivals and the majority population of naturalized residents, who’ve been genetically modified over generations to adapt to the planet’s gravity and harsh conditions. This immersive story follows an Earthstronger named January (formerly of the London Royal Ballet, now relegated to factory work and poor treatment on Mars) who chooses a political marriage contract to escape bleak circumstances. I blew through the book in one day, hooked by every element of the story – its strong notes of mystery, a dash of psychological horror, a sprinkling of discussions on linguistics, and even a herd of mammoths – and rooting for January the whole way through. The Mars House has moments of tenderness and humor, points of hope and desperation, a contentious and high-stakes world, perfectly executed use of footnotes... and did I mention the mammoths? (I'm a little obsessed with the mammoths.) Fans of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books and Winter's Orbit alike will thoroughly enjoy this one!"

Oli keeps it going with their rec for The Woods All Black by Lee Mandelo: "This novella must be haunting me, because weeks after finishing The Woods All Black, I still think about it on the daily. From the perspective of a worldly queer narrator visiting on behalf of the Frontier Nursing Service, Lee Mandelo immerses the reader in a small and insular Appalachian town in the 1920s, with a cadence and language that fit the setting so precisely, it feels like reading something actually written in the era it describes. A very unsettling, big gender, and ultimately very satisfying historical folk horror read."

Jason Kennedy now joins the fray with The Day Tripper by James Goodhand: "It’s way back in 1998, and Alex Dean is having the perfect day (and first date!) with Holly. Then, as he’s crossing the bar with drinks in his hands, he sees a person he had trouble with when he was younger. A fight ensues, and Alex is dumped in the Thames river. Cut to 2014, when Alex awakens, confused by everything. His body is recovering from a drunken night, and he doesn't recognize his environment. He has no idea how or why, but his life has become unstuck - he jumps around every day to a new part of his life. Things doesn't end up the way he believed they would: homeless, alcoholic, and spurned by his family as a deadbeat. On top of all that, no Holly. Alex must attempt to correct what went wrong, hoping that time isn't written in stone and that we all have some agency over our future."

Kay Wosewick gets in on the recommending with Secrets of the Octopus by Sy Montgomery amd Warren K Carlyle, IV: "If you are not already head-over-heels in love with octopuses, Montgomery’s new book will seduce you. For those already in love, new research will fill you with more love. Some truly strange new species have been found and are delightfully described. Of course, recent experiments have discovered new aspects of octopus intelligence. Perhaps most interesting are stories about funny, weird, and (apparently) intense emotional human-octopus relationships. Bonus: the book is filled with gorgeous photographs."

And we've got one kids book rec from Jen Steele, specifically the new Middle Grade novel from John Schu, Louder than Hunger: "Louder Than Hunger is a middle grade novel told in verse and based on the author's experience with anorexia. I read this in one sitting - it was intense and emotional and hard to put down! Heartbreaking and hopeful, I'm thankful to John Schu for writing such an important novel that is sure to spark conversations and shed light on a topic many young people struggle with."

And we've got one paperback pick for you this week, a recommendation from our proprietor Daniel Goldin. He suggests In Memoriam, a novel that gets quite a redesign in its paperback edition, written by Alice Winn: "Despite the age requirement of 19 to be a British army solider, there is much pressure at In Memoriam’s boarding school to enlist earlier, what with the rah-rah nature of the student newspaper and the shaming words of the white feather girls. So enlist they do -  and war’s horrors await. In addition to focusing on the quasi-closeted nature of the special friendship at the center of the novel, Winn touches on the race and class tensions of the time, as well as the growing awareness that the British empire may not withstand the confrontation, whether they win or lose. It’s hard to believe that a novel could be so brutal and so romantic at the same time, but that’s the case for Alice Winn’s passionate debut."

And those are the recs for the week! Until next week, when we'll be back here with more great books, read on.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Paperback Picks from the Boswellians!

Here's the last couple weeks of paperback picks, courtesy of the Boswellians. These are books that got their paperback releases over the last couple of weeks.

Daniel Goldin has a few recs for this list! First up is a good friend of the store, Milwaukee author Liam Callanan, whose latest novel is getting a paperback release this week. When in Rome is the title, and here is the Daniel Goldin write-up: "I love traditional family stories and also ones about found family, and one thing that’s great about When in Rome is that I get both in one. Another thing I love is that Callanan, in this story about a real estate agent whose midlife crisis leads her to try to save a convent, can write about the joys of faith and vocation in an accessible way. But most of all, there’s that setting. There’s a joke about Paris that meanders through bookstore culture - slap an Eiffel Tower on the jacket and we won’t be able to keep it in stock - just one reason for the success of Paris by the Book. That literary pixie dust doesn’t always extend to the Eternal City, but after reading When in Rome, I can’t imagine someone not wanting to book a flight to Italy posthaste. Callanan brings the city to sparkling life, not just the well-known buildings (ruin or otherwise), statues, and fountains, but equally the lesser-known streets and neighborhoods. Even graffiti becomes romantic. It’s the perfect setting for this engaging and heartfelt novel."

Next, Daniel recommends Künstlers in Paradise by Cathleen Schine. Daniel says: "In 1939, the Künstler family, a modernist composer and an upcoming actor, the grandfather and their young daughter Mamie, are able to leave Vienna and cross the ocean on the last voyage of the Ile de France to become part of the (often but not always Jewish) émigré community in Los Angeles, including Greta Garbo and composer Arnold Schoenberg. Just over eighty years later, Mamie is exiled again during the COVID lockdown, with only her grandson Julian and her housekeeper Agatha for company. For Mamie, this is an opportunity to take stock of her past, pass some of her stories down, and reveal some carefully hidden secrets. For Julian, it’s the chance to find meaning in his own life. And for readers, Kunstlers in Paradise is a witty, wise, and moving story with an intergenerational friendship at its core."  

Next from Daniel is Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson. Daniel writes: "Ever since Edith Wharton, great novelists have been writing about the vagaries of life among the moneyed classes of New York. But it’s always Manhattan. Surely there’s a novel about old Brooklyn money? Indeed, there is, and what a delicious tale Pineapple Street is! The three Stockton siblings have more money than most of us can imagine, but that doesn’t mean they make better decisions than the rest of us. Darley? She invoked the generation skipping trust when she wouldn’t have her husband sign the prenup. Georgina? She finally meets Mr. Right, only he might be Mr. Wrong. And Cord? He might have committed the worst sin of all, marrying a middle-class woman who is mistaken for the caterer. It is she, Sasha, who guides us into the world of money, the Tom Townsend of the group, for those who obsess over the film Metropolitan. But by the end of the story, our sympathies have extended quite a bit further, with lots of laugh-out-loud moments along the way. Someone compared Jackson’s first novel to The Nest (or rather, everyone has) and I have to say, it’s about the best comparison I can come up with, too. And I loved The Nest, so connect the dots."

Here's Kay Wosewick with words for Birnam Wood, a novel by Eleanor Catton that was picked as a New York Times, NPR, New Yorker, Washington Post, Atlantic... (the list goes on and on) book of the year. Here's Kay's take: "This complex, masterfully paced thriller is set in New Zealand, where a group of young adults secretly grow food on other people’s land. An American billionaire's arrival wreaks wide-ranging havoc on land and lives alike. Tension builds from the first chapter thanks to rich inner monologues of key characters."

Rachel Copeland swoons for the next book on the list: Happy Place by Emily Henry. Rachel opines: "Harriet and Wyn were each other's happy place until five months ago, when their years-long relationship suddenly, and secretly, ended. Now, at one last annual getaway with their four best friends, they have to grit their teeth and pretend everything's fine - and that they're not still madly in love with each other. This is Emily Henry at her most mature - capturing that real, enduring love that goes beyond the spark and the declarations, to the aches and pains of a life lived uncertainly, the façades we build to avoid causing a fuss. Harriet and Wyn broke my heart and then put it back together in that wonderfully bittersweet way that only a god-tier writer can achieve. It's a story to keep you up past your bed time, to make you cry, to make you say 'damn you Emily Henry' with not just love but gratitude in your heart."

Finally, it's Kathy Herbst with notes on Margaret Atwood's latest story collection, Old Babes in the Wood. Here's what Kathy has to say: "Old Babes is Atwood's first collection of short stories since 2014, and they are engrossing. With a nod to her interest in sci-fi and post-apocalyptic writing, these stories focus on the nature of human relationships and how they influence us over time; who we keep close to us in spite of differences and how we move on when the person most important to us dies. Often touching, sometimes funny, they are worth a read."

And at last, our recommending for this week is done. Check back here next week for more great book suggestions. And until then, read on.