Friday, November 21, 2014

Notice Anything Different When You Walk Into Boswell? Two Hints: It's Orange and Bouncy.

Over the five and a half years we've been open, the changes to Boswell have been, shall we say, incremental. There were some big tasks at the beginning, like painting and switching out some of the interior bookcases, but since then, we've taken our time. We've added some display tables, and replaced a couch. One might say the biggest change was when Starbucks took some of our space for their expansion.

So folks have been pretty surprised last week to see some new carpenting. Not the whole store of course--that would have been crazy, plus we do still have some replacement carpet squares. But we didn't have any replacements for the max-usage squares at the front of the store and many of the squares were completely worn through. The foyer and area in front of the register were actually a different color, a reddish gray, the color was so muddy that it was hard to notice a difference.

But last week customers walked in to see an orange entryway, with the high usage squares expanded all the way to both entrances and both registers. Amie and I bought the sample book back to the store, and the color choice was so unanimous that it was a bit shocking and there's really been nothing but love since it was installed. We forgot that carpet has padding--there's a bounce to our step when we walk across the newly lain floor.

Oh, and the color is clay pot, if you are wondering.

We wound up using nearby Kashou Carpets on Farwell Avenue. They are also in Local First Milwaukee and we got numerous recommendation from our customers. And they were great--fast and efficient, and Bob Kashou himself came out to inspect the work. It's time you knew about Kashou, as they say. They didn't pay me to say that. In fact, I paid them to say it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Newish November Novels! María Dueña, Shawn Lawrence Otto, Patricia Cornwell, David Baldacci, and Thomas Hauser

Atria launched María Dueñas in the United States with The Time In Between two years ago with a lot of enthusiasm and now here is the follow-up, The Heart Has Its Reason (Misión Olvido), which comes out today. I've learned that the first novel became a mini-series that was nicknamed the Spanish Downton Abbey . And for those who were intimidated by the first novel's size, this one comes in at just under 400 pages. It's about a college professor whose husband leaves her for a younger woman. Here is a nice profile in El Pais, the largest circulation newspaper in Madrid. It's in Spanish, but you're a reader with many talents, so I've linked to it anyway. Here is also the Kirkus review, which is in English.

From Milkweed, Shawn Lawrence Otto's new novel is Sins of Our Fathers. You may not know him, but he wrote the screenplay for House of Sand and Fog and that is probably a good comparison. JW is a banker who teaches other bankers near small-town reservations how to profit from Indian casino deposits. But his life goes awry and he finds himself trying to right himself (addictions, his wife's depression, and so forth) by sabotaging a Native American competitor. Publisher's Weekly's starred review compares the work to the best of William Kent Krueger.

Interestingly enough, the releases in November tend to skew nonfiction and the fiction that does come out tends to skew branded thrillers. For example, last week marked the release of Patricia Cornwell's Flesh and Blood, the newest Kay Scarpetta installment. It's also the first release from the William Morrow division of HarperCollins and finds KS investigating a series of sniper killings, perfect shots all but with the victims seemingly unrelated. Marilyn Stasio finds unexpected pleasures in her mystery column review in The New York Times.

Out today is the newest from David Baldacci, who started off with mostly stand-alones, but is now a series guy, with The Escape (Grand Central) being the newest featuring John Puller, a special agent who has his toughtest foe yet, his own brother! Payback for being a brat or just another sociopath with a mission--you be the judge. And needless to say, the partner assigned to John, might not be as trustworthy as one would like in these situations. Publishers Weekly writes "Baldacci handles the complex plot with consummate ease as the Pullers navigate nearly endless surprises." 

A sleeper historical with a thriller angle is The Final Recollections of Charles Dickens (Counterpoint), by Thomas Hauser. The setup is that Dickens hasn't yet found acclaim as a writer and is still working as a London journalist. He's set up to profile a wealthy investor, only to discover that his profile isn't going to be a glowing as he hoped--this fellow might even be a murderer, and it doesn't help that most of the police force is thoroughly corrupted. The starred Publishers Weekly review is glowing: "Hauser delivers a crisp, colorful narrative with vivid pictures of London's rich and poor, as well as a suspenseful, perilous drama in the style of Dickens." The Kirkus reviewer (both are anonymous) has seemingly read a completely different book. That's the only explanation I can come up with.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday Event Post: David Bezmozgis, Kim Wilson, Kathleen Ernst

Monday, November 17, 7 pm, at Boswell:
David Bezmozgis, author of The Betrayers.
This event is co-sponsored by UWM Stahl Center for Jewish Studies and the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center.

Yes, it's a Daniel pick. Here's my rec: "Baruch Kotler didn’t expect his affair with his young assistant to hit the front page of the papers, but that was only after her refused to back down from his stand on West Bank occupation. He took Leora and headed to Crimea, land of his childhood vacations, where he could leave his old family and his problems behind. And so what if his wife spent her life campaigning for his release back when he was a world-famous Russian dissident? But when their reservation is lost and they agree to take a room in someone’s house, the one person whom he most fears seeing turns up. The Betrayers is a darkly comic drawing room novel, a character study with a bit of the thriller, a historical what-if, and a philosophical puzzle too, all told with grace, insight and wit."

Just don't take my word for it. This from Aleksandar Hemon: "The Betrayers is a moral thriller in the tradition of Bernard Malamud, but the generosity, grace, and wisdom of the writing belong entirely to David Bezmozgis. The magic of fiction is that it makes the reader care deeply about imaginary strangers, and Bezmozgis is a magician."

From Canadian novelist Barbara Gowdy (you do remember we're finishing out Canada week, right?): "An intensely penetrating, transcendent novel... with characters that are absolutely themselves, their flaws, strengths and desires so tenderly and truthfully imagined as they move through the startling turns of a story that rises out of the deep center of Bezmozgis's fine intelligence. Extraordinary."

Francine Prose is a fan, which should not be a surprise, since she was one of the three judges for the Giller Prize, for which the book was shortlist: "Dazzling, hilarious, and hugely compassionate narratives [written with] freshness and precision ... Readers will find themselves laughing out loud, then gasping as Bezmozgis brings these fictions to the searing, startling, and perfectly pitched conclusions that remind us that, as Babel said, 'no iron can stab the heart so powerfully as a period put in exactly in the right place.'"

If you've been paying attention, you'll note that I seem driven to these novels that are more character and theme than plot, at least of late. The Betrayers reminds me a lot of a stage play. I've been thinking a lot about its theatrical possibilities.

Tuesday, November 18, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Kim Wilson, author of At Home with Jane Austen.
This event is co-sponsored by JASNA, Wisconsin chapter.

From her youth in a country rectory in Steventon, a small village in Hampshire, England—where she wrote her first stories for her friends, Volume the First, Volume the Second, and Volume the Third—to the fashionable spa town of Bath, to the seaport of Southampton, to her final years in her last settled home at peaceful Chawton Cottage, where she penned her most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s life was hardly that of a shut in. A regular visitor to London, to the seashore for holidays, and to the estates of friends and relatives, Jane carried her own notion of home with her wherever she went and drew inspiration for her brilliantly witty novels from every new experience. She wrote most everywhere she traveled, accompanied by her portable writing desk.

With gorgeous photography and illustrations, At Home with Jane Austen explores Austen’s world, her physical surroundings, and the journeys the popular author took during her lifetime. Author Kim Wilson ties Austen’s novels to places where she lived, visited, and even attended school, ending with her final months in temporary lodgings in Winchester, England. Jane Austen’s enduring legacy is the final chapter of this beautiful and eye-opening book.

JASNA member Wilson is also the author of Tea with Jane Austen and In the Garden with Jane Austen. And since you're wondering, here's how to get to Jane Austen's house, on Trip Advisor.

Wednesday, November 19, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Kathleen Ernst, author of Tradition of Deceit.

Curator and occasional sleuth Chloe Ellefson is off to Minneapolis to help her friend Ariel with a monumental task. Ariel must write a proposal for a controversial and expensive restoration project: convert an abandoned flour mill, currently used as shelter by homeless people, into a museum. When a dead body is found stuffed into a grain chute, Chloe's attention turns from milling to murder.

Back in Milwaukee, Chloe's love interest Roelke has been slammed with the news that a fellow police officer (his best friend) was shot and killed while on duty.

Sifting through clues from both past and present, Chloe and Roelke discover dangerous secrets that put their lives—and their trust in each other—at risk. This is the fifth book in the Chloe Ellefson series, but that's not the only reason you know Kathleen Ernst. She's also the author of the Caroline Abbott books from American Girl. Who knew that many of the original characters have been archived?.

You can hear Kathleen Ernst talk about her previous novel on Lake Effect here.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Amiably Annotated Boswell Bestsellers, Week Ending November 15, 2014, Plus Links to Journal Sentinel Book Reviews.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews
2. Remember Me Like This, by Bret Anthony Johnston
3. All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
4. The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell
5. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan
6. Lila, by Marilynne Robinson
7. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami
8. The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss
9. Family Furnishings, by Alice Munro
10. Revival, by Stephen King

Why knew that Alice Munro's Selected Stories only went through 1994? The new volume, Family Furnishings, is a companion, collecting stories from 1995 to 2014. Now I don't want you to think this is even remotely complete. We'll see how large that volume is someday. Unlike the first volume, where many of the early stories were overlooked by critics, by 1995 Munro was getting fairly comprehensive coverage, but David Ulin revisits them anyway in his Los Angeles Times review. He writes: "In many ways, this is the driver of Munro's writing — to portray people not at the crossroads exactly but for whom life is a series of crossroads or more accurately a narrowing."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. You are Here, by Chris Hadfield
2. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield
3. Fizz, by Ted Wright
4. The Motivation Manifesto, by Brandon Burchard
5. Moving the Needle, by Joe Sweeney
6. Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande
7. Small Victories, by Anne Lamott
8. The Flavor Bible, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg
9. Not That Kind of Girl, by Lena Dunham
10. The Art of Asking, by Amanda Palmer

Crowdfunding musician Amanda Palmer, whose group The Dresden Dolls was categorized as punk-cabaret released her new book, The Art of Asking, through Grand Central, instead of doing it herself. Fortuitously it came out as the Amazon-Hachette dispute was being settled. I'm sure she's quite happy that she's only a few lines away from her spouse, Neil Gaiman. First of all, a note from her biography: "She currently avoids living in places including Boston, New York, and Melbourne with her husband, author Neil Gaiman, who is easily embarrassed." Alas, Gaiman has officially knocked Wisconsin off his list of residences.(Additional note: Mr. Gaiman confirmed that this official bio I picked up is not quite right...he still includes Wisconsin as one of his residences and does not include Melbourne.)

Paperback Fiction:
1. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
2. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
3. Missing Person, by Patrick Modiano
4. The Illusion of Separateness, by Simon Van Booy
5. The Massive: Black Pacific, by Brian Wood, Kristian Donaldson, Garry Brown, Dave Stewart
6. The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert
7. Suspended Sentence, by Patrick Modiano
8. Dubliners, by James Joyce
9. Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon
10. An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay

The Nobel sales really kick in as we now are stocked on four different titles for Patrick Modiano, and both Missing Persons and Suspended Sentence are among our bestsellers. Josephine Livingstone, culture gabfest intern in Slate magazine, puts Missing Persons among her three starter works, though admittedly Suspended Sentence was not available in English previously. The Guardian agrees that Missing Persons is probably his best known work, having won the Prix Goncourt.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. India's Organic Farming Revolution, by Sapna Thottathil
2. Milwaukee at Water's Edge, by Tom Pilarzyk
3. Eat Bacon, Don't Jog, by Grant Petersen
4. Milwaukee Bucket List, by Barbara Ali
5. Shakespeare Saved my Life, by Laura Bates
6. No Struggle, No Progress, by Howard Fuller
7. Wild Braid, by Stanley Kunitz
8. Zealot, by Reza Aslan
9. The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
10. Visiting Tom, by Michael Perry

Mel is a big fan of Eat Bacon, Don't Jog, a primer from the man who visited Boswell for Just Ride. This primer upends many years of conventional wisdom about health and exercise. Per Petersen, jogging "just makes you hungry and trains muscle to tolerate more jogging while raising stressors like cortisol." His basic nutrition advice sounds, at least at first browse, Atkinsy. The book doesn't have many reviews yet (he's clearly being censored by the health police) but Fox News quotes him on this piece on butter benefits. 

Books for Kids:
1. The Long Haul Volume 9, by Jeff Kinney
2. Waiting is not Easy, by Mo Willems
3. The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani
4. The Blood of Olympus Volume 5, by Rick Riordan
5. Winter is Coming, by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim Lamarche
6. We Were Liars, by E. Lockhardt
7. Pat the Bunny, by Dorothy Kunhardt
8. Animals Around the World, by Wade Cooper
9. Before After, by Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Arégui
10. The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie, by Chris Van Allsburg

Elephant and Piggie return in Waiting is Not Easy. You can find out more about the Willems' doings here. And he taped Ask Me Another on November 5. Watch for that episode soon. The current show features aforementioned Neil Gaiman. Meanwhile Winter is (indeed) Coming in Tony Johnston and Jim Lamarche's picture book. I can't argue, as we shoveled snow this morning. Here's the starred review from Kirkus.

Over in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel book section, it's been a busy week for Carole E. Barrowman. First off she reviews Stephen King's Revival, featured above in our top ten fiction list. She starts off pondering if the new novel King's "most personal novel to date." And yes, the title plays off the religious aspects of Revival as well as references to Frankenstein.

Barrowman also does her monthly mystery column, this time featuring a reissue Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon, number three in a series of legendary novels, the first of which became Get Carter, a 1970s film. Barrowman is struck by "the influence Lewis' novels have had on so many current hard-boiled writers," noting Lee Child's Jack Reacher as a case in point.

Up next is Colby Marshall's Color Blind, where the protagonist, Dr. Jenna Ramey (a forensic psychologist, the mos popular specialty of medical thrillers) has synesthesia, where she colors, much like Barrowman does herself. This single mom in Florida investigates a theme park killing spree and realizes the accused was not working along and may be connected to other killings, and did we mention that Ramey's mother was a serial killer? Intriguing!

Finally there is Chris Knopf's A Billion Ways to Die, is the second in the series, featuring Arthur Cathcart, a slightly brain-damaged,tech freak researcher and the blackjack dealing psychologist who takes off with his girlfriend to the Caribbean, only to be pursued by a multinational engineering company "after something the multis think Arthur knows but that Arthur doesn't know he knows." She praises the witty banter and terrifying themes.

And finally from Jim Higgins comes the new Everyman's Library collection edited by Diana Secker Tesdell, Stories of Art and Artists. His take?: "I've long admired Tesdell's Everyman's Pocket Classic thematic anthologies for their judicious story selections. Like some of the artists depicted in this one, she creates works that are pleasing, beautiful and surprising."

Friday, November 14, 2014

Advice from Booksellers to Booksellers. Boswell: Move Your Thrillers!

Recently I had a visit from some booksellers, which of course is always a joyous thing. Needless to say, I was very self-conscious about the store, and made sure all our signage was updated, while Amie cleaned the cobwebs from some dark corners. Then they arrived.

They were gracious, of course.

But one of them pointed our something rather odd about our layout. Our mystery section transitioned to some specialty sections like legal thrillers and espionage, and then jumped to fiction. But somewhere around author beginning with "G," a light green case jutted out from the wall, filled with thrillers.

"Why do you have a thiller case," one asked?

"I wanted to have a home for books that are not quite mysteries, but are sort of those series-driven authors who might sell better if they were together. Conceptually they are more about the chase than the puzzle. I saw the idea at Library Ltd., a fine bookstore in the St. Louis suburbs, and it stuck with me." I am paraphrasing.

"Yes, but why is it over there? Wouldn't it make more sense to have a thriller bay after mystery and before fiction and have your fiction books wrap around through the green case?"

"Why yes, it would. I never thought of that."

Last week we moved them. Thank you, fellow booksellers!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Guest Blogger Jenny Chou Interviews Maggie Stiefvater for Her Just Released "Blue Lily, Lily Blue" in the Raven Boys Cycle.

Last summer we were lucky enough to co-sponsor a stop on Maggie Stiefvater's driving tour through the Midwest for Sinner, the fourth book in the Wolves of Mercy Falls (starting with Shiver) trilogy. For all you math majors out there, it's actually more of spin-off novel, as a opposed to a chapter in the saga. We had a great time at the Franklin Public Library, with a great crowd, that came from all over the Milwaukee metro, and from far away as Janesville.

I asked former bookseller (once a bookseller, sort of always a bookseller) and current writer, and huge Maggie Stiefvater fan Jenny Chou if she'd be interested in meeting up with Stiefvater to write a guest post for the blog. We met together in the library's kitchen and Chou followed things up with more questions.

Jenny: Several of your characters in the Shiver series are musicians. Can you talk about the importance of music in your life? Also, do you really play the bagpipes?

Maggie: I play six musical instruments. 

Jenny: For those keeping track,  Maggie plays the tin whistle, the drums, the guitar, the Celtic harp, the piano and yes, the bagpipes. 

Daniel: If I'd known that, I would have asked you to bring your bagpipes on tour. (Stiefvater  on the bagpipes.)

Maggie: In college I played the bagpipes competitively. I once had a choice of buying a house or a piano and I bought a piano. Each book I’ve written has a playlist because I have to have music playing non-stop while I write.

Jenny: In the Shiver trilogy Grace and Sam are very sympathetic characters and very easy to root for, but Cole St. Claire less so. How difficult was it to transform him into a protagonist for Sinner?

Maggie: I think I'd already done the heavy lifting of transforming him into a protagonist half way through Linger, the second book in the Shiver trilogy, and definitely by Forever. Although he was still quite self-involved — or at least pretended to be — he was making a lot of heroic choices. I think that's really the key right there. Cole St. Clair blows a lot of hot air about being all about Cole St. Clair, but his actions betray him. He's a reader favorite in that series, and I think it's because all that hair gel isn't fooling anyone.

Jenny: I found it so interesting that you chose to put Cole in the center of a reality TV show. Certainly not one of your other characters would have agreed to such a thing! Did you watch a lot of reality TV as research?

Maggie: I feel as if it is part of the American condition: reality TV. We all end up watching it even when we never put it on ourselves. It plays at airports and in the dentists' waiting room and across the tabloids and magazines at the grocery store. Moreover, that sort of "reality" has filtered out of TV shows and into everyday life. What is Instagram culture but people starring in their own lives, filtered and cut into something more curated? I'm fascinated by the differences between who we are and who we tell others we are, and Cole St. Clair — who has such a disconnect between the two — was a perfect character to explore with.

Jenny: What are you working on now?

Maggie: The fourth and final book in the Raven Boys series. (The third book, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, was released on October 21st!)

Jenny's note to Daniel: Daniel, make sure you insert the gorgeous cover.

Jenny: Regarding the Raven Boys series, one of the main characters, Gansey, is on a search to find a lost king of Wales, Glendower, who mysteriously disappeared along a ley line leading from Wales to Virginia. (A ley line is a line of energy, also called a corpse road, connecting magical sites across the globe.) What brought about your interest in ley lines?

Maggie: The idea of ley lines came from an interest in Welsh history and mythology. (Maggie was a history major in college after having been told she didn’t have the talent for writing, art or music. She is now a writer, an artist and a musician!) During research for the Raven Boys series I discovered there really is a ley line connecting Wales and Virginia.

Kirkus called The Raven Boys cycle "a one of a kind series" with that reviewer expected it to come to a thundering close. Here's the trailer.

Thank you to both author and guest blogger!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

New Books! Sarah Thornton on Art, Bush II on Bush I, Tracy Borman and Others on Cromwell, Brandon Garrett on Corporate Culpability, Harold Holzer on Lincoln (Again), and Karen Armstrong on Religious History (Again).

I was very excited about the release of 33 Artists in 3 Acts (Norton), the new book by Sarah Thornton, author of Seven Days in the Art World. I even found a few partners to put something together, but in the end, the competition was too great to host. If you live near Los Angeles, Washington DC, Brooklyn, or Detroit, you might want to visit this site for more information about the tail end of her tour. For the rest of us, Thornton, formerly an art critic for The Economist, shows us how an artist works in today's world. Alas, MiChelle Jones in the Dallas Morning News finds the profiles banal. Ouch.

Speaking of numbers, yesterday was the release date for 41: A Portrait of My Father (Crown), by George W. Bush. Following his presidential memoir, Decision Points, George W. Bush has penned a portrait of his father, the first father-son presidential legacy since John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Dana Perino on Fox News writes: "Throughout the book, there is a theme of prioritization — faith, family, country and hard work - and in that order, always. These are the lenses through which 41 lived his life, and what he taught his children. What are we here for if not to respond to God’s calling and accept His grace; to build, support and enjoy our families; to serve our country or give back to it in some way; and to do our part to leave a mark on the world - to say, I was here, and I contributed? Throughout the book, I was constantly reminded that if you have your priorities straight, things fall into place."

It's been out for a bit, but I've been remiss in talking up Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII's Most Faithful Servant (Atlantic Monthly), by Tracy Borman, author of five previous histories and currently chief executive of the Heritage Education Trust. Alison Weir's cover rec: "An exceptional and compelling biography about one of the Tudor age's most complex and controversial figures." Folks reading Hilary Mantel's novels probably want to know more about this figure; Suzannah Lipscomb in the New Republic points out there are no less than four recent biographies. She writes: "Borman writes admirably; her prose trips along merrily and is full of intriguing titbits."

Moving to more contemporary matters, Brandon L. Garrett looks at why corporations are not held accountable when criminal charges are brought to them in Too Big to Jail: How Prescutors Compromise with Corporations (Belknap). "Presenting detailed data from more than a decade of federal cases, Brandon Garrett reveals a pattern of negotiation and settlement  in which prosecutors demand admissions of wrongdoing, impose penalties, and require structural reforms." Alas, the reforms are vaguely defined, most companies pay no fine, and payments are often reduced, plus high-level employees usually face no punishment. Some might say it's almost funny, like Kyrie O'Connor in a recent "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell me."

One can always count on Harold Holzer to write a good Abraham Lincoln book and his newest is Lincoln and The Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion (Simon and Schuster) Did you jnow that at one point, Lincoln "authorized the most widespread censorship in the nation's history, closing down papers that were disloyal, even jailing or exiling editors who opposed enlistment or sympathized with secession."?  David C. Reynolds in The New York Times Book Review offers: "Full of fresh information and superb analysis, Holzer’s engaging, deeply researched book is destined to be recognized as a classic account of Civil War-era journalism and the president who both swayed it and came under its sway."

And finally there is Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (Knopf), from Karen Armstrong, the religious scholar who keeps coming up with insightful topics, this time about the connection between religion and violence. Interesting enough, a caller on Wisconsin Public Radio recently noted this correlation, but Armstrong's premise is that while these wars might look religious in nature, when you really get to the heart of the conflict, it is usually politics at the core. From Graydon Royce in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: "Armstrong freely criticizes reactionary and violent movements that distort faith traditions. Yet, eliminating religion from the ideological pantheon would not dissolve aggression, she said. The wars of the 20th century and the brutality of totalitarian regimes testify to that point." And she also notes that modernity and secularism, as well as nationalism, have become their own religions.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Author of the Acclaimed Memoir "Blood, Bones and Butter" Finally Has a Cookbook: On Gabrielle Hamilton's "Prune," The Basis for a Dinner at Bacchus on November 17.

When it comes to these cookbook dinners that we periodically co-host, it's apparently feast or famine. Our last collaboration with Bartolotta was last fall, and now we've got two events just ten days apart, and not just any events, but two events celebrating among the higher-profile cookbook releases. Our evening with Dorie Greenspan was delightful, and  I'm excited to say that Baking Chez Moi just made The New York Times extended list. And what competition! Fully a third of the advice list is cookbooks this time of year.

Last week another major cookbook was released, Gabrielle Hamilton's Prune, and I'm thinking that it also has a good chance of making the top 20. Her memoir, Blood, Bone, and Butter was a major bestseller, getting all the way to #2 on The New York Times bestseller list. She's a double James Beard winner too, once for her writing and once for her restaurant, for which she was awarded best chef, New York City (five boroughs).

In anticipating of the Bacchus event on November 17 (to my knowledge, not quite yet sold out), I wound up finally reading Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, long on my must-read list*. Hamilton grew up in the countryside on the Delaware-New Jersey border, just as suburban subdivisions were beginning to pop up but before they pushed out the working farms. Mom was French and imbued Hamtilton with a love for simple and delicious foods. Dad was an artist. Unfortunately a messy divorce split the family, and that loss of stability seems to permeate the rest of Hamilton's narrative.

She does it all - waitressing, dishwashing, catering, summer camps, traveling through Europe where she spent months at a family crperie/bar/tabac - just about everything but culinary school. She did grad school, alright, only it was University of Michigan's MFA program, and there was an education there too, only it wasn't exactly on the syllabus. And eventually she sort of fell into this opportunity to open a 30-seat restaurant in the East Village.

Blood is her childhood, bones are the building blocks of her life as a chef, and butter? I guess that is family, most notably her marriage, but while the butter represented by her mother-in-law is sweet and rich, the relationship with her now ex-husband might be a little rancid.

I've been waiting a long time to do a quote roundup of Blood, Bones and Butter. There's a lot of enthusiasm out there for Hamilton's memoir. Joe Yonan, food editor of The Washington Post . On the comparisons to Anthony Bourdain: "Hamilton, chef-owner of the tiny Greenwich Village restaurant Prune, shares two of Bourdain's traits: a wicked, sometimes obscene sense of humor and a past checkered with drug use and crime. But as he admits in his jacket testimonial, she's the superior writer by a mile. "

Here's Michael Ruhlman writing in The Wall Street Journal: "And while this is a memoir and Ms. Hamilton is a chef, Blood, Bones and Butter is not the usual 'chef memoir' in our era of sex-in-dry-storage and testosterone-fueled cooking tell-alls. It is instead a minutely observed, artfully structured, fluidly written account of how a tough, eccentric woman navigates her way through a wayward youth and New York kitchens to become a renowned chef and respected author—and still manages to be uncertain about it all. "

Daniel Maurer in New York Magazine: "Hamilton writes about her formative food experiences lyrically even something like Coca-Cola is so tannic and sweet and achingly cold that it makes my eyes tear up. But the book also has its share of Bourdain-esque bravado."

This is a writer who connects with the serious food critics. From The New York Times, the former restaurant critic who wrote his own food memoir (Born Round) takes on Blood, Bones and Butter. His critique had a few more caveats, mostly noting that the story needed more connecting of the dots, but for my part, I think her MFA experience led her to leave that to the reader. From Bruni: "In many places the book cries out for connective tissue that’s missing, and there are specific omissions that throw a reader off balance. Although elated by her entry into that graduate program, Hamilton doesn’t say what she writes there — even as she’s being caustically dismissive of her classmates’ efforts. And when her mother reappears in the book after a long absence, Hamilton vents a fury at her that she hasn’t set the stage for. "

There are lots of interviews out there. Guy Raz in Weekend All Things Considered interviewed her at the restaurant. Hamilton discusses her parents' divorce, which in many ways drives the narrative, and mentions her first restaurant experience in New York, where she was busted at Lone Star Cafe** for not reporting sales. Being that it seemed that the whole restaurant staff had an angle, it seemed like bad luck that she was the one caught. But maybe that was due to inexperience - she wasn't even 18 at the time, which turned out to be a lucky break. The response?: "By the skin of my chinny chin chin I got out of that one, and now I'm honest Abe!"

There's no question that Blood, Bones and Butter left her readers a bit hungry. For one thing, Hamilton does an amazing job recreating the hunger that drives her in life, the set up that left her unable to do anything else but run her restaurant. But for food memoir readers like myself, one is left wanting more food. I think the Prune cookbook will sate those fans who want more on the food. Here's Jane Black in The Washington Post on its release: "Hamilton wrote the book as if she were speaking to her own line cooks. It has no inspirational or scene-setting headnotes. Its annotations, which are written in Hamilton’s own neat hand, are a mixture of warnings, advice and encouragement for those cooks. The conceit is sometimes discomfiting but stunningly original. In the blizzard of aspirational, look-alike cookbooks, Prune, like its namesake, stands apart."

And here's Julia Moskin in The New York Times: "It is the closest thing to the bulging loose-leaf binder, stuck in a corner of almost every restaurant kitchen, ever to be printed and bound between cloth covers. (These happen to be a beautiful deep, dark magenta.) Additional notes from Ms. Hamilton in black Sharpie are scribbled on most pages; instructions appear to be written on masking tape and pasted in. Written as if it were a manual to the sous-chefs in her kitchen, the book is fresh, fascinating and, occasionally, maddening."

So you're probably wondering, are you going to be served sardines*** on Triscuits? If you read Blood, Bones and Butter, you'll know that Hamilton survived on canned sardines, a deli egg sandwich, and happy hours that first year in New York before she had a job. I can tell you, having seen the menu, that no, Bacchus has not chosen to go that route, but honestly, I think it would be a great amuse-bouche! I'll just mention one of the dishes, pan-fried trout, braised green cabbage and anchovies and garlic, in buter vinaigrette. Oh, and maybe I should also mention the short ribs braised in pho broth with condiment. Now who's hungry?

The Gabrielle Hamilton Prune dinner is Monday, November 17, 6:30 pm, at Bacchus. $95 includes four course, wine pairings, a copy of Prune. Tax and gratuity extra. Reservations required. Call (414) 765-1166.

Oh, and to Prune the restaurant, happy 15th anniversary!

*I bought the hardcover at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park (outside Seattle) and it has been sitting on my must-read pile for three years. Thank you, Miss Hamilton, for coming so I could move it to the top. Note that I've also agreed to help launch a foodie book club being organized by a customer, and I suggested this be the first selection. I hoped to give details here, but when I saw Jessie yesterday (at Sapna Thottathil's talk on organic farming in India), the details were not quite there yet. 

**I used to walk by The Lone Star Cafe constantly in the 1980s, but not only did I not have the money to go in, I really didn't want to. I was about not exactly an urban cowboy type.

***When I was very young, my father used to make his lunch every day for work. His rotation? Tuna salad, salmon (canned, of course) salad, and sardine salad. He loved mayonnaise so much he'd like the spoon. We had canned sardines stockpiled in the basement, never less than a dozen tins. And then one day he stopped eating them, and I never quite understood why. Like many folks of that time, he started avoiding fat,, so maybe it was the oil they were packed in.