Monday, February 29, 2016

Events This Week: Matthew Desmond, Loung Ung, Mary Rickert, Doug Bradley and Craig Werner, Peter Hatch, Plus Juan Felipe Herrera at UWM and Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee Next Week.

Monday, February 29, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Doug Bradley and Craig Werner, authors of We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War.

You must forgive me if I sometimes wrote that Bradley and Werner were the editors of We Gotta Get Out of This Place. In fact, their achievement is a modern hybrid, a book they wrote that nonetheless has featured contributors. So really, they truly should be listed as writers and editors of this book.

In a sense, this book came out of a course that Bradley and Werner teach together at University of Wisconsin-Madison called "The Vietnam Era: Music, Media and Mayhem.” They place popular music at the heart of the American experience in Vietnam, exploring how and why the troops turned to music as a way of connecting to each other and the world back home. As the publisher notes, they demonstrate that music was important for every group of Vietnam veterans - black and white, Latino and Native American, men and women, offers and grunts.

You may remember that Doug Bradley last appeared at Boswell for his collection of short stories, Deros Vietnam: Dispatches from the Air-Conditioned Jungle. He is a lecturer for the Department of Integrated Liberal Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Craig Werner is part of the Department of African American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of A Change Is Gonna Come: Music, Race & the Soul of America and Higher Ground: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and the Rise and Fall of American Soul.

For this event, Bradley and Werner will be joined by "solo act" Bill Christofferson, whose work appeared in We Gotta Get Out of This Place.

Tuesday, March 1, 7 pm, at University School of Milwaukee:
Loung Ung, author of First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, as well as her subsequent memoirs Lucky Child and Lulu in the Sky. Ung will appear at the Virginia Henes Young Theater, 2100 W. Fairy Chasm Rd., just north of Brown Deer Rd. in River Hills.

Ung is appearing in conjunction with USM's Global Fest, which also involves a day of visits with students at the school. This event is free and open to the public, but reservations are requested. One of the complications of helping other folks publicize events is that we're not always aware of changes - at first we were told that reservations weren't necessary. I totally understand this desire for registration, especially when we're in a situation like Desmond where we may reach capacity. But in years past, we've also run into problems with free registrations where a large percentage of the folks who registered did not show up, after the event was "sold out." Hey, you can register here and do a good deed for the folks gauging attendance at this powerful event.

When the book first came out in 2000, it received wonderful reviews and recommendations. For example, Queen Noor of Jordan wrote: "This book left me gasping for air. Loung Ung plunges her readers into a Kafkaesque world—her childhood robbed by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge—and forces them to experience the mass murder, starvation, and disease that claimed half her beloved family. In the end, the horror of the Cambodian genocide is matched only by the author’s indomitable spirit.”

And the late Iris Chang wrote: "This book left me gasping for air. Loung Ung plunges her readers into a Kafkaesque world—her childhood robbed by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge—and forces them to experience the mass murder, starvation, and disease that claimed half her beloved family. In the end, the horror of the Cambodian genocide is matched only by the author’s indomitable spirit.”

We should also note that that Ung's memoir is still slated for adaptation to the big screen by Angelina Jolie Pitt.

Tuesday, March 1, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.
This event is free. We'll close to the public if we reach capacity until after the talk; I would come early. Also please note that Desmond's conversation with Mike Gousha is sold out. Our event is cosponsored by Community Advocates Public Policy Forum.

Speaking of Madison (see Bradley and Werner above), Matthew Desmond was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison when he started this assive project to document the relationship between private housing and the poor. He noticed that studies focused on public housing, but most poor people don't live in public housing. So for his fieldwork, he set up to live in a South Side Milwaukee trailer park and a North Side rooming house. From there, he met the folks whose lives are profiled in Evicted.

Here's the opening of Barbara Ehrenreich's review in The New York Times Book Review: "Lamar, his sons and some other adolescent boys from their Milwaukee neighborhood are sitting around, playing cards and smoking blunts, when there is a loud and confident knock on the door, which could be 'a landlord’s knock, or a sheriff’s.' Mercifully it is only Colin, a young white man from their church, who has come to read them passages from the Bible, most of which Lamar knows by heart. The subject wanders off to God and the Devil, with Lamar adding, 'And Earth is hell.' 'Well,' Colin corrects him, 'not quite hell.' An awkward silence falls. The burden of Evicted, Matthew Desmond’s astonishing book, is to show that the world Lamar inhabits is indeed hell, or as close an approximation as you are likely to find in a 21st-century American city."

It was in Ehrenreich's review that I learned that Desmond had a previous work called On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters, which came out in 2009. It's net priced and thus will not be at our event.

From Jim Higgins in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Evicted should provoke extensive public policy discussions. It is a magnificent, richly textured book with a Tolstoyan approach: telling it like it is but with underlying compassion and a respect for the humanity of each character, major or minor. Desmond presents the two landlords, whom he calls Sherrena and Tobin, as hard-nosed entrepreneurs pursuing profit, but he doesn't demonize them, just as he refrains from airbrushing the tenants, who sometimes make their lives even more difficult through impulsive acts or poor choices."

I second Higgins completely! But the thing to note here is that there are good sociologists and good storytellers, and it's a rare person who can do both. Desmond is that person. I should also note that if you're wondering whether this is another case of the East Coast bashing Milwaukee, Evicted makes it clear that the numbers that support his stories are comparable for many cities around the country.

Wednesday, March 2, 7 pm, at Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Center:
Peter Hatch, author of A Rich Spot of Earth: Thomas Jefferson's Revolutionary Garden at Monticello.
The Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum is located at 2220 N Terrace Ave, just south of North Ave.
Tickets are $25, $20 for Friends of Villa Terrace members.

Peter Hatch is the Emeritus Director of Gardens and Grounds where for over 35 years he oversaw the restoration, maintenance, and interpertation of Thomas Jefferson's gardens and 2400-acre landscape. Hatch has lectured in 37 states on Monticello and the history of garden plants, and is the author of four books, including A Rich Spot of Earth, an award winning study of Jefferson's vegtable garden at Monticello. He is also a White House garden consultant.

Of the book, the Monticello website notes: "Graced with nearly 200 full-color illustrations, A Rich Spot of Earth is the first book devoted to all aspects of the Monticello vegetable garden. Hatch guides us from the asparagus and artichokes first planted in 1770 through the horticultural experiments of Jefferson’s retirement years (1809–1826). The author explores topics ranging from labor in the garden, garden pests of the time, and seed saving practices to contemporary African American gardens. He also discusses Jefferson’s favorite vegetables and the hundreds of varieties he grew, the half-Virginian half-French cuisine he developed, and the gardening traditions he adapted from many other countries."

The Friends of Villa Terrace are in the midst of their Spring Garden Lecture Series. If you're interested, upcoming talks include Mark Dwyer's talk on Roatoy Botanic Gardens Past, Present, and Future on March 16, Craig Bermann and Russell Bulata's From Idea to Reality on March 30, and Bonsai: Myth Explained and Secrets Revealed, a talk by Ron Formann on April 6. All lectures start at 7, and the price is $25, $20 for FOVT members.

Wednesday, March 2, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Mary Rickert, author of You Have Never Been Here: New and Selected Stories.

Many of us believe that ghosts and witches are among us. Though some still debate this, what we do know for sure is that world class speculative writers are definitely living among us. Mary Rickert, for example, received the World Fantasy Award and Crawford award for her 2007 collection, Map of Dreams, which is, according to Ingram, out of print. She's also been nominated for several World Fantasy and Locus awards. Them's big-time honors!

Time will tell whether You Have Never Been Here will follow in her predecessors' footsteps, but it does seem likely. Kirkus Reviews writes: "Short stories about people haunted by loss and transformed by grief. Ghosts walk through this collection. Witches are rumored. People collect bones, sprout wings, watch their feet turn into hooves. Above all, people tell stories]stories that cast spells, stories that change the world." And the Booklist reviewer noted: "Rickert's latest collection contains haunting tales of death, love, and loss. In stories that are imbued with mythology, beasts, and fantastical transformations, Rickert captures the fanciful quality of regret and longing" and compared her work to the great Angela Carter.

Rickert is published by Kelly Link's Small Beer Press. If you're a fan of Link's collection, Get in Trouble, Mary Rickert, who is also known as M. Rickert when she's being gender incognito, might be for you. Hey, the paperback of Link's collection is just out!

It's not our event, but don't forget about Juan Felipe Herrera's appearance at the UWM Union on March 3 7 pm. More on the UWM website.

Next week preview: Monday, March 7, 6:30 pm, at Oak Creek Public Library:
Alison McGhee and Kathi Appelt, co-authors of Maybe a Fox.
The Oak Creek Public Library is located at 8040 S. 6th Street, Oak Creek, just off Drexel Ave.

When Sylvie runs to the river she and her sister Jules are not supposed to go anywhere near to throw a wish rock just before the school bus comes on a snowy morning, she runs so fast that no one sees what happens ... and no one ever sees her again. Jules is devastated, but she refuses to believe what all the others believe, that--like their mother--her sister is gone forever. At the very same time, in the shadow world, a shadow fox is born--half of the spirit world, half of the animal world--and she senses something is very wrong.

Though Appelt and McGhee have many adult fans, Booklist (but note that this link may not work), in their starred review, recommends the book for grades four through seven. Just a bit of the praise: "Neither author is a stranger to writing poignant animal stories that tackle weighty themes, as Appelt proved in her Newbery Honor Book, The Underneath, and McGhee showed in Firefly Hollow. Together, they create a delicate world that effortlessly impresses itself upon the reader. It is a world where bad things can happen for no good reason, where catching sight of a fox means luck, where love transcends all boundaries, and maybe death doesn't have to be an ending"

From Kathy Kirchoefer, in School Library Journal: "There are some heavy elements in this beautifully written middle grade novel: the death of Sylvie and Jules’s mother several years before the story begins, the devastating disappearance/death of Sylvie, and the grieving of a neighbor who was deployed with his best friend to Afghanistan. But despite these sad events, the descriptions of rural Vermont, the sense of caring within Jules’s community, and the relationship between the two girls and their father make for a book that is both raw and hopeful and one that readers won’t soon forget."

And if you like events for kids, don't forget that Lauren Tarshis will be at Greenfield Public Library on March 10 for her I Survived series, and Markus Zusak will be at Milwaukee Public Library's Centennial Hall for the tenth anniversary tour of The Book Thief. Wow! All three library events start at 6:30 pm.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Boswell Bestsellers for the Week Ending February 27, 2016

I have to decide once and for all whether to keep the commas in between title and author on our lists. The New York Times does it, and that's why I started doing it many years ago, but I cannot find other examples, and the two grammar websites I checked with thought it was unnecessary. That said, The New York Times uses quotes for book titles, as does the Journal Sentinel, but I've found enough examples of italics from other journalistic enterprises that I'm not even on the fence here.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout
2. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
3. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
4. The Drifter, by Nicholas Petrie
5. What Belongs to You, by Garth Greenwell
6. Elantris Tenth Anniversary Edition, by Brandon Sanderson
7. Mistborn: The Shadows of Self V5, by Brandon Sanderson
8. Mistborn: The Bands of Mourning V6, by Brandon Sanderson
9. The Ancient Minstrel, by Jim Harrison
10. Pride and Prejudice (Clothbound Classics edition), by Jane Austen

As you'll see below, our big sales this week were from kids events, but there was some adult sales that came out of them, most notably the Brandon Sanderson backlist. Regarding our pop for Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You, this story about an American teacher in Bulgaria who becomes involved in a complicated relationship with a hustler has gotten great reviews. Dwight Garner in The New York Times wrote: "The later sections of What Belongs to You may lack the thrilling darkness of the long beginning, but Mr. Greenwell remains a writer who opens chasms rather than builds substandard bridges. He is a subtle observer of human interactions. He underscores the way expressions of love are nearly always, in part, performance." It's possible that Greenwell may eventually come to town, as he attended the Iowa Writers Workshop with an FOB (Friend of Boswell).

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Eniac in Action, by Thomas Haigh
2. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
3. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
4. Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande
5. In Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri
6. Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods, by John Gurda
7. The Rise and Fall of American Growth, by Robert Gordon
8. The Black Presidency, by Michael Eric Dyson
9. The Givenness of Things, by Marilynne Robinson
10. Saving Captialism, by Robert B. Reich

Michael Eric Dyson's The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America has spun off into a New Republic cover story (on why Hillary Clinton might do more for black people than Obama could) and this Salon piece, which followed a Cornel West assessment last summer. David Daley writes: "It’s a brilliant and complicated portrait of a brilliant and complicated president. Dyson has been an Obama supporter, and remains close enough that he was granted an Oval Office interview for this book. Where he disagrees with Obama, even vehemently, Dyson remains deeply respectful of the man and with the profound circumstances and forces he wrestles with every day. Dyson’s analysis differs from his former professor Cornel West — Dyson laid out his thoughts on West’s more frustrated and radical disappointment with Obama in a New Republic piece last summer, and in this great interview with Joan Walsh in Salon after that."

Paperback Fiction:
1. Aftermath, by LeVar Burton
2. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman (event 5/14, 2 pm, at Boswell)
3. Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes
4. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, by Katarina Bivald (even 5/19, 7 pm, at Boswell)
5. My Brilliant Friend V1, by Elena Ferrante
6. The Stormlight Archive: The Way of Kings V1, by Brandon Sanderson
7. Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy
8. The Slow and Painful Awakening of Herr Wilhelm Neiman, by Kenneth M. Kapp
9. The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion, by Fannie Flagg
10. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

I will be on Kathleen Dunn's Wisconsin Public Radio show at 2 pm tomorrow (2/29) with a focus on film adaptations, in lieu of the Oscars tonight. We have no idea how the movie is going to be but it's said that the trailer for Me Before You was so compelling that it propelled the book back to #1 on The New York Times bestseller list. The tie-in edition hasn't even gone on sale yet for this one - it's due April 26. The book's already been a huge success, a Gone Girl with weeping instead of screaming. Boswellian Sharon called it "unexpectedly touching" in her 2013 recommendation.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. And Goodnight to All the Beautiful Young Women, by Joel Kriofske
2. Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson (event 3/9, 1:30 at MATC. Tix still available, but you must register)
3. We Gotta Get Out of This Place, by Craig Werner and Doug Bradley (event 2/29, 7 pm, at Boswell)
4. The Emotional Life of Your Brain, by Richard J. Davidson
5. First They Killed My Father, by Loung Ung (event 3/1, at USM in River Hills. Free event - please register!)
6. You are a Badass, by Jen Sincero
7. Grace and Style, by Grace Helbig
8. Doctor Who Coloring Book, from Price Stern Sloan
9. The Lucky Child, by Loung Ung
10. World War II Milwaukee, by Meg Jones

It's time to check in on Jen Sincero's You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. Last summer the folks at Boulder Book Store told us they had sold well over a thousand copies of this book and convinced us to commit to it - we'd sold 10 in its first two years of release. We're now closing in on 100 copies, part of word-of-mouth momentum that got the book onto national bestseller lists. Last time I went to Urban Outfitters, it was one of their best represented books. If you're an independent bookstore that has another lead for me, I'm happy to share what works for us. Hey, I'm doing it right now!

Books for Kids:
1. Masterminds V1, by Gordon Korman
2. The Reckoners: Calamity V3, by Brandon Sanderson
3. Masterminds: Criminal Destiny V2, by Gordon Korman
4. Ungifted, by Gordon Korman
5. The Thickety: A Path Begins V1, by J.A. White
6. The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, by LeVar Burton
7. The Thickety: Well of Witches V3, by J.A. White
8. The Thickety: The Whispering Trees V2, by J.A. White
9. Pax, by Sara Pennypacker, with illustrations by Jon Klassen
10. The Reckoners: Firefight V2, by Brandon Sanderson
11. The Reckoners: Steelheart V1, by Brandon Sanderson
12. The Hypnotists: Dragonfly V3, by Gordon Korman
13. Geography from A to Z, by Jack Knowlton
14. Two Friends, by Dean Robbins
15. Alcatraz Vs. the Evil Librarians V1, by Brandon Sanderson

Rankings can be misleading! We sold a lot more copies of LeVar Burton's kids book, The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm (and no, we do not have signed copies left over on this one) than we did for his old science fiction mass market that was a facsimile print on demand title, including ads for other 1990s titles from what was then Warner Books, but the competition in kids was fierce. Between Sanderson, Jerry White, and the last round of Gordon Korman, it was hard for Sara Pennypacker's Pax to get into the top ten, whereas in a non-event, non-Christmas season week, I suspect the book would be our #1 bestseller.

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins profiles Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the New American City. Expect this to be #1 on our nonfiction bestseller list next week. Higgins writes: "Evicted should provoke extensive public policy discussions. It is a magnificent, richly textured book with a Tolstoyan approach: telling it like it is but with underlying compassion and a respect for the humanity of each character, major or minor. Desmond presents the two landlords, whom he calls Sherrena and Tobin, as hard-nosed entrepreneurs pursuing profit, but he doesn't demonize them, just as he refrains from airbrushing the tenants, who sometimes make their lives even more difficult through impulsive acts or poor choices."

Evicted was also the subject of a Journal Sentinel profile by John Schmid. He notes: "Desmond's research, which grew into a massive, multiyear data-gathering effort, lays bare a phenomenon that is stunning in its everyday commonality." Higgins continues: "In an interview, Desmond said he had expected the loss of a job to be a primary driver for an eventual eviction. 'But eviction is a bigger cause of job loss than the other way around.' Evictions, in other words, not only perpetuate existing poverty, but also create new poverty along with a class of displaced urban nomads."

Also at the Journal Sentinel, Mike Fischer takes on Blackass, a first novel from a Nigerian writer and wait till you catch the title reference. From Fischer: "Invoking the opening of Kafka's Metamorphosis, A. Igoni Barrett begins Blackass — his smart and provocative debut novel — with his protagonist waking from sleep to discover that he's been utterly transformed. Having dreamed of being white, 33-year-old Furo rises from his bed in Lagos as a white man.

And finally, Jim Higgins talks up Juan Felipe Hererra's visit at the UWM Union on Thursday, March 3, 7 pm. I did not know this but Hererra is also appearing at a craft talk at Bolton Hall at 2 pm.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Events This Week: Brandon Sanderson, Joel Kriofske, J.A. White, Plus Info About Thomas Haigh and LeVar Burton at UWM, Plus a Preview of Doug Bradley and Craig Werner Next Week.

Tuesday, February 23, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Brandon Sanderson, author of Calamity.

Join us at Boswell as we welcome back Brandon Sanderson, talking about and signing copies of the exciting conclusion of the Reckoners series, Calamity. Mr. Sanderson will be speaking and taking questions, followed by a signing. We'll start giving out line letters at 5 pm, but please note, you must buy a copy of Calamity to get in the signing line.

If you don't know much about Sanderson, read this profile from Frannie Jackson in Paste Magazine that came out in 2014. It chronicles how Sanderson wasn't a reader until a teacher gave him a Barbara Hambly novel in eighth grade teacher. We learn that Sanderson, when he started writing, learned that your first five books are generally terrible, so his goal was to write six of them very quickly. But most of all, it explains Sanderson's three laws of magic. As Sanderson notes, "Superman is not his powers; Superman is his weaknesses."

 We'll see you on Tuesday, February 23, 7 pm, for our talk and signing with Brandon Sanderson. And don't forget, you must buy Calamity to get on the signing line. (Photo credit Nazrilof)

Tuesday, February 23, 2:45 pm, at Greene Hall, 3347 N Downer Ave:
Thomas Haigh, author of Eniac in Action: Making and Remaking the Modern Computer.

Unveiled seventy years ago, ENIAC was the first general-purpose programmable electronic computer. ENIAC plotted the trajectories of bombs and shells, simulated nuclear explosions, and ran the first numerical weather simulations. ENIAC in Action tells the whole story for the first time, from ENIACʼs design, construction, testing, and use to its afterlife as part of computing folklore. We view ENIAC from diverse perspectives—as a machine of war, as the “first computer,” as a material artifact constantly remade by its users, and as a subject of contradictory historical narratives. We integrate the history of the machine and its applications, describing the mathematicians, scientists, and engineers who proposed and designed ENIAC as well as the men—and particularly the women who—built, programmed, and operated it

This event is sponsored by UWM Geek Week and does require registration.

Wednesday, February 24, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Joel Kriofske, author of And Good Night to All the Beautiful Young Women: A Tale of Episodic Dementia—The Parent Becomes the Child.

Please join us in welcoming Marquette graduate and veteran journalist Joel Kriofske, who will talk about and sign copies of his new memoir, And Good Night to All the Beautiful Young Women, a tale of storm-ridden, dementia-challenged parent care told with laugh-provoking humor that makes for a great starting point for discussion about how we’d like to be cared for in our golden years.

A poignant look at what may await many of us: the care of an elderly parent with dementia. The author, in later middle age, cares for his father, a former FBI Special Agent with an extravagant sense of humor, but too often angry and combative. The book explores the relationship the two had as the author was growing up, a relationship clouded by his sense that he could never please his father, even into adulthood.

Joel Kriofske discusses his story on WTMJ's Morning Blend. And you can hear more from Kriofske on Wednesday, February 24, 7 pm, at Boswell.

Wednesday, February 24, 7 pm, at UWM Wisconsin Room:
LeVar Burton, who among other things, wrote a Reading Rainbow book called The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm.

Also part of UWM Geek Week is a visit from LeVar Burton. Tickets are $14 for the general public, $12 for UWM faculty and staff, $10 for non-UWM students, with a $2 discount for buying tickets in advance. UWM students are free. But if I wanted to see Burton and I wasn't a UWM student, I would get my tickets right now. Start the ball rolling by by calling 414.229.5780 or emailing

Thursday, February 25, 6:30 pm, at Boswell:
J.A. White, author of The Thickety: Well of Witches.

We're having a pizza party with Jerry White, featuring pizza from Ians. We'll have plain, pepperoni, and mac and cheese. There's no charge but we request you register at Brown Paper Tickets.

It's always tricky promoting the third book in a series for those who haven't yet started the series. And that's why we're using this space to talk up the first installment, The Thickety. We've had a lot of great reads on this book from Boswellians, and can vouch that many kids have felt the same way.

From Todd: "A scary opening comparable to Gaiman's The Graveyard Book thrusts Kara Westfall into questioning her sheltered island-world. Community members come to believe she is a witch, like her mother before her, and her future is divided into terrible choices: should she hate what her mother may have been? Hate what she may become? Head for the forbidden forest? Adventure and suspense await any reader!"

From Jen: "It all starts when Kara is woken up in the night and taken to the village square where she witnesses her mother being sentenced for the worse crime of all...witchcraft! Seven years later, the villagers are still wary and cruel to Kara and her family. They fear Kara is a witch just like her mother. On the outskirts of the village is The Thickety, a magical forest that is home to strange and ferocious beasts and full of secrets, like the book Kara finds there, which may or may not be her mother's grimoire. This book had me in its grips from the very beginning. I can't wait for the sequel!

From Mel: "Imagine Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow crossed with Arthur Miller's The Crucible and you've got J. A. White's debut middle grade fantasy thriller...Readers will be sucked into the world of The Thickety, which feels at once completely original and instantly familiar."

From Pam: "Well-rounded characters populate this dark and intriguing tale, and the interesting twists kept me guessing. I’d recommend this book for ages 10 and up."

From Conrad: "This is eerie and creepy and utterly compelling reading. It's not often that I race through a 689 page book in, essentially, one sitting!"

Register here!

And coming up next week:
Monday, February 29, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Doug Bradley and Craig Werner, authors of We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack to the Vietnam War.

Please join us at Boswell as we welcome Doug Bradley and Craig Werner, authors of, and Bill Christofferson, contributor to the best music book of 2015 according to Rolling Stone magazine, We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War, which places popular music at the heart of the American experience in Vietnam, exploring how and why U.S. troops turned to music as a way of connecting to each other and the World back home as well as coping with the complexities of the war they’d been sent to fight.

For a Kentucky rifleman who spent his tour trudging through Vietnam’s Central Highlands, it was Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.” For a tunnel rat who blew smoke into the Viet Cong’s underground tunnels, it was Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” For a black marine distraught over the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., it was Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.” And for countless other Vietnam vets, it was “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” or the song that gives this book its title. Demonstrating that music was important for every group of Vietnam veterans - black and white, Latino and Native American, men and women, officers and “grunts” - whose personal reflections drive the book’s narrative, many of the voices are those of ordinary soldiers, airmen, seamen, and marines.

But there are also solo pieces by veterans whose writings have shaped our understanding of the war - Karl Marlantes, Alfredo Vea, Yusef Komunyakaa, Bill Ehrhart, Arthur Flowers - as well as songwriters and performers whose music influenced soldiers’ lives, including Eric Burdon, James Brown, Bruce Springsteen, Country Joe McDonald, and John Fogerty. Together their testimony taps into memories - individual and cultural—that capture a central if often overlooked component of the American war in Vietnam.

From Steve Nathans-Kelly in Paste Magazine, which has apparently become our go-to source for quotes: "Fascinatingly, Bradley and Werner investigate the mechanics of how music featured so prominently in the soldiers’ experience in Vietnam, and how music sometimes united and often exposed deep and contentious divisions between soldiers of different racial and regional backgrounds. Perhaps most fascinatingly of all, We Gotta Get Out of This Place demonstrates how the music that found its way into the lives of the men and women who fought the war changed as the war dragged on, reflecting the dramatic changes 'back in the world.'”

Doug Bradley and Craig Werner will be joined by Bill Christofferson, who contributes one of the solo pieces. Join us Monday, February 29, 7 pm.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Boswell Bestsellers, Week Ending February 20, 2016

Here's what sold at Boswell last week!

Hardcover Fiction:
1. My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout
2. The Ancient Minstrel, by Jim Harrison
3. Cometh the Hour, by Jeffery Archer
4. The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
5. Breaking Wild, by Diane Les Becquets
6. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
7. Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff
8. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
9. Midnight Sun, by Jo Nesbo
10. Georgia, by Dawn Tripp

It's Jim Harrison's second week on our top ten for The Ancient Minstrel and as I search for trade reviews, I keep coming up with Bernard Quetchenbach at the Billings Gazette. Am I really quoting a newspaper from Montana? Why not - perhaps someone in Montana is right now quoting the Journal Sentinel! Quetchenbach notes: "the three novellas in the collection are linked thematically, each one pitting an aging protagonist against the sense that his or her life ultimately hasn’t amounted to much" He has some caveats in his enthusiasm for this new collection, but overall "Harrison remains an engaging, competent and at times profound storyteller. Overall, The Ancient Minstrel, though not completely satisfying, offers a welcome return to an often-neglected genre and an addition to the oeuvre of one of Montana’s most distinguished contemporary authors."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
2. The In$ane Chicago Way, by John Hagedorn
3. Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods, by John Gurda
4. Dark Money, by Jane Mayer
5. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
6. Originals, by Adam M. Grant
7. Pretty Happy, by Kate Hudson
8. In Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri
9. Alive Alive Oh!, by Diana Athill
10. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

It's soapbox time! Why is Adam Grant's Originals a nonfiction book but Amy Cuddy's Presence advice? Both are professors at business schools, Grant at Wharton and Cuddy at Harvard. The New York Times itself says that Grant "offers suggestions." Isn't that advice? And Cuddy has plenty of studies that don't necessarily tell you what to do? I mentioned this to our buyer Jason and he brought up similar arbitrary examples. To take a snippet from The Financial Times review from Andrew Hill: "Even hereditary traits are malleable. Later-born children are more rebellious than older siblings. However, 'by adopting the parenting practices that are typically applied primarily to younger children, we can raise any child to become more original,' Grant writes. Isn't this advice? And please note, this is no knock on Grant's book.

Paperback Fiction:
1. My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante
2. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, by Katarina Bivald (event 5/19, 7 pm)
3. The Slow and Painful Awakening of Herr Wilhelm Neimann, by Kennth M. Kapp
4. The Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman (event 5/14, 2 pm, at Boswell)
5. The Life of Elves, by Muriel Barbery
6. Nora Webster, by Colm Tóibín
7. Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín
8. Lois Looking for Love, Kenneth M. Kapp
9. A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
10. We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas

After a long wait, the true follow-up to The Elegance of the Hedgehog is out from Muriel Barbery. I say true follow up as a previous novel was released in the wake of this hit. The Life of Elves. Alexander Alter writes in The New York Times: "Now she has surprised readers and critics by delivering an enigmatic and beguiling fairy tale, unicorns and all. The story centers on two 12-year-old girls: Maria, a charmed orphan with supernatural powers who is taken in by villagers in France, and Clara, a clairvoyant piano prodigy in Italy, who begins having visions of Maria and realizes their fates are intertwined. The girls never meet, but they are drawn together in an epic supernatural battle between the world of elves, a land of swirling mists, shape-shifting creatures and celestial music and art, and an evil elf faction seeking the end of humanity."

I should note here that two of our bestselling paperback fiction titles are by Swedish novelists, and while we've had big fiction bestsellers in the past (Astrid and Veronika comes to mind), most of them have been in the crime genre. Even more exciting is that both authors are visiting Boswell in May.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor
2. The Mafia in Italian Lives and Literature, by Robin Pickering-Iazzi
3. Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson (correction! Tix still available)
4. First They Killed My Father, by Loung Ung (event 3/1, 7 pm, at University School)
5. World War II Milwaukee, by Meg Jones (event at Milwaukee Public Library in April)
6. H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald (ticketed event at Schlitz Audubon 4/12)
7. Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow
8. The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
9. White Dresses, by Mary Pflum Peterson (event 2/29, 7 pm, at Boswell)
10. 17 Carnations, by Andrew Morton

What an unusual situation in that fully half of our top ten nonfiction paperbacks are tied into upcoming events. One isn't quite booked yet (Meg Jones) and another is sold out (Bryan Stephenson) but hey, that's still three choices for readers! One author who is not coming is Andrew Morton, whose new book 17 Carnations: The Royals, the Nazis, and the Biggest Cover-Up in History. Frances Wilson wrote in The Guardian: "Twenty-three years ago, Andrew Morton’s first bestseller, Diana: Her True Story, turned biography into an incendiary device...After Diana he spilt the secrets of Madonna, Tom Cruise, Posh and Becks and Angelina Jolie in salacious biographies they all complained about. It’s a wonder, given his radar for a seedy story, that it took him so long to get round to the business of the Windsors and their Nazi friends."

Books for Kids:
1. Cupcake Cousins V1, by Kate Hannigan
2. The Detective's Assistant, by Kate Hannigan
3. Two Friends, by Dean Robbins
4. Summer Showers V2, by Kate Hannigan
5. Pax, by Sara Pennypacker
6. I Am a Bunny, by Ole Rison with illustrations by Richard Scarry
7. Dog Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant
8. The Monster at the End of This Book, from Sesame Street
9. The Day the Crayons Came Home, by Drew Daywalt, with illustrations from Oliver Jeffers
10. Calamity V3, by Brandon Sanderson (event 2/23, 7 pm, at Boswell)

Wow! Pax is a hit, both at Boswell and nationally, where the book jumped to #1 on The New York Times. Kirkus Reviews writes: "Twelve-year-old Peter found his loyal companion, Pax, as an orphaned kit while still grieving his own mother’s death. Peter’s difficult and often harsh father said he could keep the fox “for now” but five years later insists the boy leave Pax by the road when he takes Peter to his grandfather’s house, hundreds of miles away. Peter’s journey back to Pax and Pax’s steadfastness in waiting for Peter’s return result in a tale of survival, intrinsic connection, and redemption." And Boswellian Barbara calls Pax "compulsive reading."

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Mike Fischer reviews Piece of Mind, by Michelle Adelman. It's about a New York woman who has had a traumatic brain injury since she's been three. Raised in a protective household, she winds up moving in with her brother. Fischer writes: "Piece of Mind is no A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but there's some fine passages on the unique bond between siblings, including one culminating in the little brother who'd once looked up to Lucy realizing he can now do things his sister cannot." Fischer's take is that Adelman's novel "meanders as much as Lucy herself, frequently lighting up with good writing and astute observation, while simultaneously pocked with flat stretches in which Lucy's unique voice gets held hostage by the plot."

It's time for Carole E. Barrowman's monthly roundup of mysteries! First up is a police procedural set in Atlanta called Out of the Blues. Trudy Nan Boyce captures a place that is the intersection of Old and New South featuring Sarah Alt, a newbie homicide detective. From Barrowman: "I figured authenticity would thrum from the dialogue, reality would pulse from the plot and the blues would be the narrative's soundtrack. I was correct on all counts."

South of Nowhere, by Minerva Koenig features reformed criminal Julia Kalas investigating a body that shows up in an old house she's renovating. Oh, and she has PTSD. That's two connections to The Drifter - maybe someone will review them together. Per Barrowman, Kalas is "caught up in the collateral damage of drug cartels, domestic terrorism and a group of factious American Indian women" with the results being "wild and weird."

Barrowman also gives a shout out to indie Polis books, with two new mysteries of note. Dave White's An Empty Hell features Jackson Donne, a former New Jersey narc cop hiding out in Vermont, but one of his old enemies hires a bounty hunter to bring him back to the police. She calls this "a compulsive redemption story that speeds to a confrontation in a high school gym and takes the series to a place rich with possibilities."

And finally there is City of Rose by Rob Hart. The Rose City is of course Portland and follows the first Ash McKenna mystery, New Yorked. McKenna decamps the big apple to be a bouncer at a strip club, but when he agrees to find a missing child, he is himself abducted. Book two is "hard-boiled with a soft heart and packed with the kind of patter and adrenaline-fueled plotting," says Barrowman.

A bonus feature for the print edition has Connie Ogle in the Miami Herald profiling Alafair Burke, who chronicles the family move from Miami to "safer" Wichita, only to learn of the existence of the BTK killer. Oh, and don't forget the father changing jobs in this case was classic crime writer James Lee Burke. She credits that terrible case, and not the tradition of children of post office employees being more likely to take jobs at the post office, as her route to writing 13 crime novels. She's also a law professor. There are also details about her new novel, The Ex.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Boswell Display Tour, February 2016 Edition.

1. The elections have seemingly been in full force for the last year, but it seemed time to put our Primary Reading table up, which replaced the Iowa Book Caucus table, which featured books set in Iowa. We were only about 10 blocks from the recent Democratic debate at UWM but it appears that nobody of note came into the store.

In addition to an assortment of books highlighting various candidates or alternately championing of condemning the political process, FOB (friend of Boswell) Adam Borut came in with his newest project, cans of Political Nonscents. They are available in Democratic and Republican versions, and look a bit like tuna, but inside is something that is distinctly not tuna. Each has rather an amusing label, including a warning that the scent may linger for 4+ years. For more information, visit the Political Nonscents website.

2. Some traditional displays we put up just about every year while others come and go. Winter and spring traditions curry more favor than summer and fall, mostly because we have two large tables to fill that in other parts of the year are filled with calendars. We've got an African American history table up right now, for example, which would promote the Bryan Stevenson event at MATC, only it's sold out.

There's a St. Patrick's Day table too, but this year we're promoting an event with it. Sara Baume, a Cork novelist, is coming to Boswell on Thursday, March 10 for her first novel, Spill Simmer Falter Wither. Boswellian Anne is absolutely in love with the book and it comes with quite the pedigree, including being nominated for the Guardian First Novel Prize and winning the Rooney Prize for Irish literature.

3. Speaking of nominations, we've got the National Book Critics Circle Award nominee table up and as it happens, we snagged events with two of the nominees for best memoir. George Hodgman's Bettyville was the subject of an event on February 10, and Helen Macdonald appears at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center on April 12. It's a ticketed event but you have your choice of getting H is for Hawk in paperback or Shaler's Fish in hardcover.

4. By tomorrow, we should have up our nominee table for the Edgars. They announce so far in advance that I like to wait a little before putting it up. As it was for the NBCC, we have two nominees in one category, which in this case is best first novel. Already appearing was Rebecca Scherm for Unbecoming. On April 19, 7 pm, we'll be featuring Jessica Knoll, author of The Luckiest Girl Alive, in conversation with Carole E. Barrowman.

And of course we have signed copies of Bettyville and Unbecoming available for sale.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

What Did the Book Club Think of "Voices from Chernobyl"? I Think They Liked It - I Was Stranded at an Airport at the Time.

So there's nothing like writing up a book club discussion when you didn't attend. It wasn't my intention to miss our discussion for Voice from Chernobyl; The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster. I'd made plans like this before, coming home from a trip in the early afternoon and going to Boswell for a meeting in the evening. And I knew that one day I would do this and my plane would be delayed five hours, and our number finally came up.

The book in question was the most popular book in English by the recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Svetlana Alexievich. In fact, I only knew of one other book that had come out in the United States, Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War, and only Voices from Chernobyl was currently available when the prize was announced. It came out from the uber-independent Dalkey Archive Press, with rights sold to Picador. Somewhere in there it won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

There was much cheering from some circles when Alexievich won the Nobel, as a writer best known for nonfiction had not been awarded the prize in many years. Some call her a journalist but Alexievich doesn't use that term. All her books are in the form of oral histories, and unlike some oral historians, she really likes to let the voices stand alone.

That said, her subjects give a vivid picture of the Chernobyl disaster, not just the horrors of the event itself, but the repercussions, the cover ups, the lies soldiers were told when they were sent in to clean up. She reveals that at the same time officials were downplaying the situation, they were taking iodine pills and evacuating their children. And she also talks to the people who willingly repatriated the territory - they had nowhere else to go.

There's so much in the news that I was reminded of when I read Alexievich's Chernobyl stories, not
just the failed disaster relief programs around the world, but also the Flint water crisis right here in the United States. And it's also not a bad book to bring up when you're discussing nuclear energy. If someone says that it couldn't happen here one can look at America's infrastructure problems and beg to differ.

Here's a note on the translator, Keith Gessen. He is the author of one novel, All the Sad Young Literary Men, which I almost read, but didn't, and is the editor of N+1, an influential journal that has also led to several book anthologies. We've done pretty well with City by City: Dispatches from the American Metropolis.

I can't say I loved Voices from Chernobyl - it can be a little repetitive and unstructured and a lot of depressing. But I'm so glad I read it and I'm excited to see other book clubs choosing it as well.

Regarding the meeting itself, I knew were were in good hands. Joyce, one of our regular attendees, had taught a class on Chernobyl. I asked around and the consensus seemed to be...that it was a good evening. Here's what Callista wrote to me afterwards:

"It was certainly a harrowing read at times and raises multiple issues about safety and governments and what is known and not given out as information to ordinary citizens, both in terms of physical disasters and how societies are managed.

"I also thought about the role of the whistle blowers and how they are then treated by governments and society aka the media."

Up next we're discussing Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption on Monday, March 7, 7 pm. The book was awarded the Andrew Carnegie medal for nonfiction and Dayton Peace Prize, also for nonfiction. Stevenson is in Milwaukee on March 9 at MATC. Note that tickets are still available to this event.

On Monday, April 4, 7 pm, we'll be discussing A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman's breakout novel. Our event with Backman is Saturday, May 14, 2 pm. We are very excited about this one!

Monday, February 15, 2016

This Week's Events! Robin Pickering-Iazzi, Kenneth Kapp, and John Hagedorn, Plus a Head Start on Brandon Sanderson Next Week.

Here's what is going on this week! And if you like your event calendar seasoned with some book recommendations and heads up on other things going on around town, check out our most recent email newsletter, which went out today. Oh, and Happy President's Day.

Wednesday, February 17, 7 pm, at Boswell
Robin Pickering-Iazzi, author of The Mafia in Italian Lives and Literature: Life Sentences and Their Geographies.

Please join us at Boswell Books as Robin Pickering-Iazzi, professor in the Department of French, Italian, and Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and editor of Mafia and Outlaw Stories from Italian Life and Literature, presents her latest book, which draws on a wide variety of documents and texts from 1990 to the present to measure the size of the mafia’s real-life impact and how Italian and Sicilian culture are depicted in popular culture.

Published by the University of Toronto Press, it's interesting to see that sometimes the press matters more than author, as the book has gotten more pickup in Canada than you'd normally expect for a Whitefish Bay writer. For example, here's Jack Batten writing about the book in the Toronto Star: "In this absorbing collection of tales about the Mafia in Sicily, most taken from Italian fiction but a significant few from the personal experiences of real people, "life" emerges as the winner over "literature." Measured in drama and in acts of remarkable bravery, the stories told in their own words by a handful of Sicilian women who dared to resist the Mafia are far more compelling and tragic than anything dreamed up by the novelists and short story writers."

We obviously have an unofficial organized crime week emerging.

Thursday, February 18, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Kenneth Kapp, author of The Slow and Painful Awakening of Herr Wilhelm Neimann: A Morality Story.

Over the years, Kenneth M. Kapp has worked in turns as a researcher and teacher of mathematics, an artist, and as an industry professional at IBM. These days he is a writer and yoga instructor in Shorewood. Here's a little more about the book.

Wilhelm Neimann returned from the eastern front in 1944 shattered on many levels. He was a hero but the medals could not make up for the life he had planned as a teenager, the university position he had hoped for was now beyond his reach. He teaches history in a gymnasium in Schweinfort, a small village in southwestern Germany. As he becomes part of this small community -- one where Jews always found refuge and rescue -- he must find his own final solution.

He and the villagers are challenged by a small group of students, the Jugendknote. One of them is convinced that the ashes from the crematoria have entered into the food chain making all Germans Jewish -- from the inside out. Two others are determined to find the SS officer that killed their uncle during the war. Schweinfort has its own stories going back centuries

Friday, February 19, 7 pm, at Boswell:
John Hagedorn, author of The In$ane Chicago Way: The Daring Plan by Chicago Gangs to Create a Spanish Mafia.

This Glendale writer has been covering the sociology of gangs for many years, having previously written People and Folks: Gangs, Crime and the Underclass in a Rustbelt City and A World of Gangs: Armed Young Men and Gangsta Culture. Now he turns his attention to Chicago, and the attempt by Latino gangs in the 1990s to build a modern Chicago-based organization that would reduce the violence between gangs and help "business."

As Hagedorn tells Annette Elliot in the Chicago Reader, his source about the building of Spanish Growth and Development (SGD) was the unnamed "Sal Martino," which you should all understand is an alias. Elliot notes that "The Insane Chicago Way posits that the Mafia exerts a larger influence on contemporary gangs than law enforcement believes, mostly through a complex network of 'associates' who act as middlemen between the two criminal organizations." So the structural similarities were more than homage.

Our original event was postponed due to a conflict with a community policing meeting, but second time's the charm. And there won't be a snow emergency either - we're expected to reach fifty degrees on Friday.

Coming next week:

Tuesday February 23, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Brandon Sanderson, author of Calamity, the third novel in The Reckoners, a #1 New York Times bestselling series. I should also note that fans of Mistborn series are celebrating the release of both the fifth and sixth books, most recently The Bands of Mourningjust released on January 26.

Sanderson will be speaking and taking questions, followed by a signing. We'll start giving out line letters at 5 pm. He'll personalize up to three books, and will sign memorabilia and pose for photos. Please note, you must buy a copy of Calamity to get other books signed.

Here's Mel Morrow's recommendation for Steelheart, the first book in the series. Being rather linear, I like to recommend that folks begin at the beginning:

Steelheart rec: "Never before has the post-apocalyptic struggle for human survival been so riveting or uplifting. Sanderson has unparalleled gifts of fantastic world-building and the creation of complex, believable characters. He brings these gifts to Newcago, the setting of his new novel Steelheart, where the sun never rises and the super-human Steelheart holds the entire city of humans and super-humans hostage. All over the post-Calamity world, humans bow to Epics, allowing them to pillage, kill, and destroy at their leisure...until The Reckoners decide to take the power back. Can six humans defeat a hundred invincible villains? Is there any good left in the hearts of super-humans? Follow 18-year-old David through the steel catacombs of Newcago and into the fray as The Reckoners tip the scales in an anti-Epic battle for the fate of humanity. Sparks, Steelheart is a fun read!" (Mel Morrow)

We should also note that tickets are still available for the LeVar Burton talk at the UWM Union on February 24. Tickets are $10 for non-UWM students, $12 for UWM faculty and staff, and $14 for the general public, with a $2 discount for purchasing early, but they are free for UWM students so you might want to lock your ticket in now. Alas, no online sales for this one.