Monday, June 15, 2015

Event Blog! Ron Legro and Avi Lank Tonight on the Kovac Planetarium, Pam Federbar's Feng Shui Novel Tuesday, Spike Carlsen at the Elm Grove Library Wednesday while Mystery Novelists Michael Harvey and Josh Stephens are at Boswell, Jim Shepard Thursday, Michael Perry and Dean Bakopoulos Friday, Alan Guebert and His Farm Stories Saturday.

Monday, June 15, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Ron Legro and Avi Lank, authors of The Man Who Painted the Universe: The Story of a Planetarium in the Heart of the North Woods.

Here's a case where there's been so much press on the book before our event that we can let others speak for us as to why you should join us for tonight's event.

From the WUWM Lake Effect broadcast on Friday: "In the tiny town of Monico there’s a unique planetarium created by a unique man. It’s the Kovac Planetarium and it is the creation of Frank Kovac, Junior. Kovac and his planetarium are the subject of a new book by Sentinel writers Avi Lank and Ron Legro. Legro and Lank have written The Man Who Painted the Universe: The Story of a Planetarium in the North Woods. Lank describes the Kovac Planetarium as truly one of a kind, built so that when you walk inside "it rotates around you, with the stars painted on it and glowing at you in the dark. It's one of only four of it's type in the world and it's by far the largest," says Lank.

From Allison Garcia's profile/review in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "How did the planetarium end up in northern Wisconsin? Kovac wanted to live somewhere he could see the stars without the distortion of light pollution. Before building the planetarium, Kovac constructed an observatory in honor of his father. The clear skies of the Northwoods were invaluable to him. Legro and Lank also show the impact Kovac had on the community. At one point the city of Crandon next door was considering a new lighting scheme that would have diminished viewers' ability to see the stars. When Kovac asked the chamber of commerce to reconsider, it did, realizing that the unobstructed night sky is a valuable resource to the area.

Tuesday, June 16, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Pam Federbar, author of Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale.

It's always a tricky thing trying to determine a launch date. In the case of The Man Who Painted the Universe, we had the books for close to a month. In the case of Pam Federbar's launch for Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale, we probably won't have them until the event itself. Fortunately we asked for jackets for the book and we created a window display to help promote it.

Here's a little more about the story. Charlotte Nightingale has the worst luck in the world. Her cluttered apartment is the poster child for “shar chi” – poison luck in the realm of feng shui. Her boyfriend’s a jerk, her job sucks, she’s broke and her own family seems to hate her. Every day is a bad hair day. Kwan, a handsome Chinese food delivery man and aspiring feng shui practitioner, takes pity on Charlotte. While Charlotte searches for the money to pay for the Emperor’s cashew chicken Kwan has delivered, he surreptitiously begins to move things around in Charlotte’s apartment in accordance with the ancient art of placement – hoping to improve her life. Charlotte’s luck subsequently appears to change in a big way. It goes from bad to worse – or so it seems.

Pam moved back to Wisconsin after 20 years in Los Angeles where in addition to working as a photographer she directed tv commercials, freelanced as a producer on the advertising agency side, and wrote numerous screenplays, short stories and a novel. While there, she sold the film rights to the novella that became this novel to New Line Cinema. More on her Facebook page.

Oh, and one last thing. Apologies for a format error. We formerly billed this as a paperback original, but Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale is being released in hardcover.

Wednesday, June 17, 6:30 pm, at the Elm Grove Library:
Author of Cabin Lessons: A Nail-By-Nail Tale: Building Our Dream Cottage from 2x4s, Blisters, and Love.

Carpenter Spike Carlsen, his wife, and their recently blended family of five kids set out to build a cabin on the north shore of Lake Superior. Part building guide and part memoir, Cabin Lessons tells the funny, wry, and heartwarming story of their eventful journey -- from buying land on an eroding cliff to (finally) enjoying the hideaway of their dreams. Learning as they go, and learning about themselves and each other along the way, they find in the end that they've built a strong family as well as a sturdy cabin.

It's hard to not return to the Minneapolis Star Tribune review/profile from Tori J. McCormick. Here's a taste: "'Writing ‘Cabin Lessons’ pulled together all the things I love: Writing, building, my wife, our kids and the North Shore (of Lake Superior),' he said. Asked if building a cabin from scratch was more like poetry or prose, he said: 'Designing it was closer to poetry — free verse at that. We stayed fluid during construction to accommodate materials and whims encountered. But looking back you could almost see it as a collection of short stories, each with its own little plot.'"

'Using a smudged piece of graph paper as a blueprint, Carlsen and company finished the 600-square-foot cabin in 2005. Construction took two years, but he’s still 'picking away at it,' he said. However, the book took far longer. It came together in fits and starts over roughly 10 years before it was finally published. 'We didn’t have a set schedule, so that eliminated the pressure lots of people encounter when building or remodeling,' he said of the cabin. 'And doing most of the work ourselves removed a lot of the financial angst. I think we defrayed roughly 50 percent of the cost.'"

My goodness, it can be a bit confusing to lay out quotes within quotes. The Elm Grove Library is located at 13600 Juneau Boulevard, just a few blocks off the center of town. Elm Grove is just north of Bluemound Road and just east of Brookfield. And here's the Trip Advisor list of best Elm Grove restaurants, but note you can also eat in Brookfield or Wauwatosa.

Wednesday, June 17, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Michael Harvey, author of The Governor's Wife
Josh K. Stephens, author of Scratch the Surface.

Michael Harvey returns to the Michael Kelly series, who is Chicago's favorite Ovid-reading, gun-toting private investigator. This time he takes on Illinois’s first family in a blistering thriller that charts the border where ambition ends and evil begins.

Michael Tedesco reviews the book for the San Antonio Express-News: "The latest case begins with a strange email sent to Harvey’s hero in the series, investigator Michael Kelly. An anonymous client offers Kelly $200,000 to find disgraced Illinois governor Raymond Perry, who disappeared just minutes after he was sentenced to 37 years in federal prison for wire fraud and racketeering. The last known sighting of the governor was from security camera footage that showed him entering a courthouse elevator. The elevator descended to the parking garage where his wife was waiting. It was empty."

Appearing with Harvey is Josh K. Stephens is a first-time mystery writer and former bookseller at Read Between the Lynes in Woodstock, Illinois.

On Scratch the Surface: "Deuce Walsh is a former gangster trying to keep his past hidden in the middle of nowhere Midwest. Seven years ago, his colleagues-The Chianti Brothers-made a power play and left him for dead. He survived, but had to leave everything behind and start from scratch with a new identity. But when his brother-in-law Colm, a degenerate gambler and wannabe wiseguy, gets himself into trouble, Deuce is brought back into the life of crime and finds himself helping Colm pay off a debt to the very people who tried to have him killed in the first place."

Thursday, June 18, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Jim Shepard, author of The Book of Aron. Photo credit Barry Goldstein.
This event is co-sponsored by the UWM Sam and Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies.

We've had some good advance sales on The Book of Aron! Here's my rec: "When one family is moved from the Polish countryside into the city of Warsaw, they have no idea of the fate that awaits them and Poland’s Jewish population as Hitler rises to power. Their son Aron, however, is one scrappy boy and is able to avoid any number of gruesome ends. Shepard’s novel is both plain-spoken and poetic, documenting not just the big tragedies, but the mean-spirited pettiness that the Jews faced. Sometimes it’s almost funny, but underlying the humor is always heartbreak. The story itself is apparently inspired by a real-life beloved Polish-Jewish educator and child advocate who refused to abandon the charges in his orphanage. For those who feel they’ve read enough about the Holocaust, let them just try to get through The Book of Aron without the shell around their heart cracking."

Michael Upchurch calls The Book of Aron "a remarkable novel" in The Seattle Times.

Robert Wiersema proclaims Jim Shepard's novel "stunning" in Canada's National Post.

And while I don't normally post negative reviews, this essay from David Herman in the UK's Jewish Chronicle raises the issue of whether we are allowed to have fiction about the Holocaust at all. He has indicated that the only written chronicles should be that of survivors. It's an odd take, considering the breadth and majesty of already published works, to say nothing of all the fiction that has been written of other world tragedies, but if nothing else, it will certainly make a discussion of The Book of Aron a bit more spirited.

Spirited! Here's a reader responding to Geraldine Brooks' assertion in The New York Times Book Review that The Book of Aron should have been written through the eyes of the Janusz Korczak rather than through a young boy. You can also link to the original review that is linked to the piece.

Friday, June 19, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Michael Perry, author of The Jesus Cow
in conversation with
Dean Bakopoulos, author of Summerland.

As I've mentioned before, Dean Bakopoulos may have grown up in Michigan and he may now live in Iowa, but he'll always be an honorary Wisconsinite. Why here's our own Jane Hamilton on Dean's work: "“There is no better guide through a hot summer in the heartland than Dean Bakopoulos.”

Bakopoulos also got a starred review from Booklist, and might I remind you that it is the only one of the advance review organs based in the Midwest, as it is published by the American Library Association. "Tennessee Williams has nothing on Bakopoulos (My American Unhappiness, 2011) when it comes to marital and moral dissipation fueled by the summer's rising temperatures. Yet into this emotional abyss Bakopoulos injects a high degree of coy humor and wry self-deprecation to deliver a heartbreaking and wise novel of false starts and new beginnings. A sure hit with fans of the three Jonathans: Dee, Franzen, and Tropper."

And here's the Kirkus, which I'll say up front is a bit mixed. But the anonymous reviewer offers: "To its credit, the novel stays light on its feet; its breezy chapters are laced with sex and humor, the latter most often in the form of Ruth Manetti, the pot-smoking owner of the manse that becomes the hub for the various machinations. Indeed, between the louche vibe and matriarchal presence, the novel often feels like Armistead Maupin’s San Francisco teleported to the Midwest." Well, I am all for Armistead Maupin in Wisconsin, aren't you?

Just the perfect tone, really, to match Michael Perry's The Jesus Cow, which came out a few weeks ago. Here's Jim Higgins's review in the Journal Sentinel: "Wisconsin essayist-humorist Michael Perry's first novel for adults, The Jesus Cow, is a comedy — and a gentle one at that, with its heavy being a failed, lovelorn developer who listens to overcaffeinated business motivational recordings and sleeps with a CPAP mask on. But in the midst of this comedy, Perry does at least two serious things very well: He chronicles daily life in rural Wisconsin communities, and he writes knowledgeably and respectfully about the ways ordinary people experience, practice and question religious faith. The latter is not always easy to find in mainstream American fiction."

Christine Brunkhorst reviewed The Jesus Cow for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She writes: "After successful memoirs such as Population: 485 and Truck: A Love Story, this is Michael Perry’s first novel for adults, and it’s a good one. The tale, set in the small town of Swivel, Wis., is laugh-out-loud funny and propelled by plot lines that come together in an explosive climax."

So put together these two funny people and I think you've got something special on your hands It's not the first time we've hosted either Bakopoulos or Perry, and I find myself sometimes fretting to play, "can you top this?" I also knew that it would be really great if Perry could do both Boswell and Books and Company, which he's not always able to do. Here was a case where he could do his traditional Milwaukee launch in Oconomowoc and have something equally special later in Milwaukee. It's a win-win for everyone.

I have mentioned before that our old sales rep and dear friend Mark Gates was immortalized in Dean's second novel, My American Unhappiness (as Mack Fences, of course). But you may not know that Mark was the inspiration for the character Harvey Rhodes in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. He's the sales rep whose shoes Amelia Loman has to fill int he opening chapter. But here's another way Dean Bakopoulos is connected to Michael Perry, through Mark. It turns out that Mark, who was already sick when Boswell opened, was only able to attend one of our author events before he passed away, and that was our first Michael Perry event, for the hardcover of Coop.

Saturday, June 20, 12 Noon, at Boelter Superstore:
Stacey Ballis, author of Recipe for Disaster.

Stacey Ballis cooks up a delicious broth of a novel about a woman whose perfect life falls apart in spectacular fashion–leaving her with a house to restore, an antique cookbook (but no cooking talent), and one very unhappy schnauzer. Boelter will have delicious broth or something even more delicious at Ballis's event.

Saturday, June 20, 2 pm, at Boswell:
Alan Guebert and Mary Grace Foxwell: Author and co-author/editor of The Land of Milk and Uncle Honey: Memories from the Farm of My Youth.

From the author, as written in AGWeek: "My great Uncle Honey wasn’t just a paradox; Honey was the perfect paradox. Seated on a tractor, there wasn’t an implement, animal or telephone pole Honey couldn’t bend, bind or break. Machinery dealers loved him; cows and cats feared him. Off a tractor, however, Honey was as peaceful as a June sunrise. He nodded more than talked, smiled more than frowned, and always wore a broad-brimmed hat, never a cap. He was an important, albeit dangerous, part of my wide-eyed youth."

Guebert's heartfelt and humorous reminiscences depict the hard labor and simple pleasures to be found in ennobling work, and show that in life, as in farming, Uncle Honey had it right with his succinct philosophy for overcoming adversity: "the secret's not to stop."

And don't forget Monday, June 22, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Andrew Maraniss, author of Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South.

Madison-bred Maraniss (writing runs in the family, as he is David's son) has chronicled the breaking of the color line by Perry Wallace, the first African American player in the SEC, the conference for Southern colleges and universities.

Bob Minzesheimer writes in The Washington Post: "Maraniss’s biography is a long-overdue tribute to this little-known player. Although Wallace was not the first black athlete to play on a major college basketball team — among his many predecessors was Jackie Robinson of UCLA — his experience demonstrates the difficulties faced by black athletes, even as the civil rights movement was unfolding. Drawing on interviews with Wallace, his former teammates and others, Maraniss offers a portrait of an ugly time: 'He was spit on and pelted with Cokes, ice and coins. At LSU, some Vanderbilt players claimed, a dagger was thrown on the court in Wallace’s direction. . . . In Knoxville, teammates remember, fans dangled a noose near the Vanderbilt bench.'”

And here's a profile from Laura Philpott for the Nashville Tennessean. Philpott also edits the online magazine for Parnassus Books, and this piece was in conjunction with Maraniss's appearance there. From Philpott: "The book takes readers on an enthralling trip back in time and place to the South as it was 50 years ago. Nashville readers will be drawn to the book’s regional subject matter; readers everywhere will appreciate its combination of literary ingredients — humanity, tension, brutally honest reporting, thoughtful storytelling and, yes, sports."

And I should note that Strong Inside was just honored with an RFK Special Recognition Award for Journalism.

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