Tuesday, January 23, 2018

How did we wind up hosting Sara Blaedel for her new series in Racine, as well as Milwaukee? And how could we not? A two-part post.

We were working on scheduling an event with Sara Blaedel, the Danish crime writer, author of The Undertaker's Daughter, and were having a little trouble making it work. Our initial date had a conflicting event, and while we could have placed the event outside the store, the market for the two events seemed close enough that they'd split the audience. So then it came up that the first day of sale was free and where else to launch the book but in Racine, the setting for the new novel. 

This is a very special book for Blaedel. After several titles in the Louise Rick series, she's started something new. The Rick series has been a huge hit in Denmark. Blaedel, which I think is officially Blædel, was named Denmark's favorite crime writer in four years, and she won the Golden Laurel, a prestigious Danish literary award. But in the United States, it's been a little trickier. The books have been published by Pegasus and Gallery. Several titles in the series have been renamed. And it turns out that the first book, Grønt Støv, has never been translated.

Now that last hurdle is not that unusual. The first Jo Nesbo, The Bat, came out long after later books in the series. Fantastic Fiction addresses the problem by not mentioning it, starting with #2. But I know mystery readers and that's a bit confusing. In addition, the second book is also not currently available as a new title in the U.S. It was called Blue Blood in the United Kingdom. It was called Call Me Princess in its first go-around in the United States. And rumor has it that it will be renamed The Silent Women when it is republished next fall. I'm not a fan of name changes, but I can see the issues with Call Me Princess, because it either sounds like a YA come-uppance story, an update on The Prince and the Pauper, or maybe a cat memoir (as told to).

As I like to say to crime writers (when they'll let me), if you can't unlock the rights to your first book in your current series, it's time to start a new series. I love the way Elmore Leonard's agent years ago came up with a consistent publishing program across multiple publishers, but short of that, it's likely the books will be a mix of mass market, trade paperback, very expensive print on demand, and unavailable. It's harder to get a reader interested.

So Blaedel made the decision to move the United States and go all in on an American series. And where did she set it? Why, Racine, Wisconsin, one of the largest communities in the United States with Danish descendents. In Blaedel's story, Ilka Nichols Jensen inherits a funeral home from her estranged father, who abandoned the family and left them mom with little more than debts. She takes a leave of absence from her exciting job as a school photographer and, but right away on arrival, things are strange. For one thing, she's immediately under pressure to sell to a local competitor, and for another, she's completely untrained but asked to take charge of an unidentified body, told that the funeral homes rotate through this unprofitable service.

At least for now, I'm thinking that the story is going to have what I like to call The Good Wife arc.  You have the relatively simple mystery of this body, which turns out to be connected to a murder of a girl from more than a decade earlier. And then you have this continuing arc, which will connect the story, which might be two books and might be more. What exactly was her father doing in this funeral home and why are not one, but two funeral homes so desperate to buy it out?

While I do read a decent amount of mysteries, I'm not an expert, so I don't know how often the undertaker or funeral home director as hero comes up as a trope. I thought it was a fresh take, as these are folks constantly dealing with death. It also gives the marketing department the ability to compare it to Six Feet Under, yet another acclaimed television show I've never seen, so I have no idea if it's applicable. But I'm going to assume that it is!

Advance reviews are good. Library Journal said "A great start for mystery lovers looking to dip a toe into international intrigue" and Booklist wrote "This series debut has a lighter, cozier (read as "not too much blood") touch than the author's award-winning Louise Rick procedural series, set in Denmark; fortunately, Blaedel's astute storytelling also works outside the Nordic gloom." I think at least one other review felt that there's a lot of setup in this book - I also got the feeling that things are going to get gloomier as the conspiracy unravels. I found Ilsa an intriguingly reluctant heroine, and enjoyed the local touches. I'm hoping somebody eventually eats at Kewpee, which was my go-to for lunch when I would work at Schwartz Bookshop in Racine, which was open for several years in the aughts.

We're working on two events for Blaedel. First up is a launch at the Racine Public Library, 75 Seventh St, on Tuesday, February 6, 6:30 pm (note time). They will have refreshments and I hope some local  undertakers will be in attendance, as Blaedel did get some help from them on the story.

On Wednesday, February 7, 7 pm, Blaedel will be at Boswell in conversation with Ruth Jordan of Crimespree and Murder + Mayhem. Jordan's been championing Blaedel for a while, and between her and Jon (her husband and fellow winner of the Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America), they can tell you about all the undertaker heroes in series.

Up next, a Denmark display.

Monday, January 22, 2018

What's happening, Boswell edition: Benjamin Ludwig (in person) on Tuesday, Alex Prud'homme (by video) on Thursday

Here's what's happening at Boswell this week.

Tuesday, January 23, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Benjamin Ludwig, author of Ginny Moon

Meet Ginny Moon. She's mostly your average teenager: she plays flute in the school band, has weekly basketball practice and reads Robert Frost poems for English class. But Ginny is autistic. What's important to her might seem a bit…different: starting every day with exactly nine grapes for breakfast, singing along to Michael Jackson, taking care of her baby doll…and crafting a secret plan of escape.

Ginny has been in foster care for years and for the first time in her life she has found her forever home. After being traumatically taken from her abusive birth mother and moved around to different homes, she is finally in a place where she'll be safe and protected, with a family who will love and nurture her. This is exactly the kind of home that all foster kids are hoping for. But Ginny has other plans.

Read this HuffPost interview with Stephanie Vanderslice, where she talks to Ludwig about the origin of the book. The voice came first! Vanderslice also name checks Kaye Gibbons's Ellen Foster. How could I not have immediately compared the two books, especially when Jane told me to start thinking of the book as more of an adoption story than a special needs story. Yes, we've been discussing this at length at Boswell.

About the author: A former English teacher and new-teacher mentor, Benjamin Ludwig holds an MAT in English education and an MFA in creative writing. His novella, Sourdough, was the recipient of the 2013 Clay Reynolds Prize for the Novella. Ludwig’s inspiration for Ginny Moon came from his own daughter, and the stories of other parents whom Ludwig met while attending Special Olympics basketball games.

Thursday, January 25, 6:30 pm, at Boswell:
A book club discussion and video chat with Alex Prud’homme, author of The French Chef in America: Julia Child's Second Act

This book club is free and open to all and is sponsored by the Smith College Club of Milwaukee and Seven Sisters Together. There will be a discussion of The French Chef in America, and after attendees get a chance to weigh in, the group will be joined by the author, Alex Prud’homme, via Skype.

Here’s a little more about the book. Julia Child is synonymous with French cooking, but her legacy runs much deeper. Now, her great-nephew Alex Prud’homme, tells the story of the remarkable woman who found her true voice in middle age and profoundly shaped the way we eat today. The French Chef in America uncovers Julia Child beyond her French chef persona and reveals her second act to have been every bit as groundbreaking and adventurous as her first.

This is our first time doing a video chat at Boswell, thought we once partnered with the Milwaukee Public Library on a program with them. And then we once did a Philip Roth program. But I think I'm blocking out another event where we couldn't get the teleonference (it was in a world before Skype) to work, another case where I can think my brain for suppressing a bad memory.

About the author: Alex Prud’homme is Julia Child’s great-nephew and the coauthor of her autobiography, My Life in France, which was one of two books adapted to create the film Julie and Julia. He is also the author of France Is a Feast: The Photographic Journey of Paul and Julia Child. Prud’homme’s journalism has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Annotated Boswell bestsellers for the week ending January 20, 2018, including double listings from Nick Petrie, Chloe Benjamin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Madeleine L'Engle

Here are the annotated Boswell bestseller lists for the week ending January 20, 2018.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin
2. Light It Up, by Nick Petrie (event at WFB library, Tue 1/30, 6:30)
3. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
4. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
5. Munich, by Robert Harris
6. The Maze at Windermere, by Gregory Blake Smith (event 2/8, 7 pm, with Jane Hamilton)
7. Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
8. The Complete Stories, by Kurt Vonnegut
9. The Girls in the Picture, by Melanie Benjamin
10. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, by Denis Johnson

It was a battle between the Putnam authors for the number one spot this week and The Immortalists beat out Light it Up, but Benjamin had national momentum on her side, and Petrie (who is still building nationally) has a couple other area events coming up (one public above, and one private) which could have split the audience. But both attendance and sales for the week were surprisingly close. And yes, we have signed copies of both books.

New this week is Robert Harris's latest novel of espionage, Munich, set during the Munich conference of September 1938. I noticed that if you link to our web page for the book, you can actually listen to the NPR interview with Harris. I've never seen that before seen that from our website, whose nuts and bolts come from the American Booksellers Association. The novel got a nice write up from Anthony Quinn in The Guardian, where I think his take is good, but not his best. He sets the stage: "London, late September 1938. Slit trenches are being dug in Green Park and at home children are fitted with gas masks. Hitler is determined to invade Czechoslovakia in his scheme to reclaim lost German territory. Chamberlain is equally determined to prevent another war. Europe holds its breath as a last chance for peace goes up for grabs at a conference in Munich."

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Fire and Fury, by Michael Wolff
2. Shortcut Your Startup, by Courtney Reum and Carter Reum
3. Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
4. We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
5. The Book of Joy, by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams
6. It's Even Worse Than You Think, by David Cay Johnston
7. How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky
8. Leonardo Da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson
9. Craeft, by Alexander Langlands
10. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Despite the success of We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy and the continuing sales of Between the World and Me, I don't think we've often seen both books in the top ten at the same time. I'm wondering if the surge is in conjunction to the release of Black Panther, the new film from Marvel, based on the comic book character Coates wrote for, that has a wide release on February 16. Here's an interview with Drew Costley in The San Francisco Chronicle, during which Coates notes that he has a few things in common with T'Challa. Costley notes that "the film, which was directed by Oakland-native Ryan Coogler, has already broken the record for pre-sale tickets for a Marvel movie."

Paperback Fiction:
1. The P.S. Wars, by Geoffrey Carter
2. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
3. Call Me by Your Name, by André Aciman (event Mon 2/19, 7 pm, at Boswell)
4. The Anatomy of Dreams, by Chloe Benjamin (In-Store Lit Group discussion 2/5)
5. The Drifter (trade), by Nick Petrie
6. Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
7. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
8. Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly
9. The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict
10. The Women in the Castle, by Jessica Shattuck (In-Store Lit Group discussion 3/5)

The Other Einstein continues to sell well off our front table, and we're hoping that those readers jump to Benedict's new novel, Carnegie's Maid, which just came out this week. Like many books in this genre, Benedict is interested in the unsung women of history. In the case of The Other Einstein, the focus was on Mileva Maric, who also appeared in Judith Claire Mitchell's hybrid historical/contemporary, A Reunion of Ghosts, which we just talked about at Chloe Benjamin's event, as both Jen and I saw a bit of Mitchell's influence in The Immortalists. In Carnegie's Maid, Benedict focuses on the woman who might have led him to his philanthropic pursuits. Short interview here.

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. Waking Up White, by Debby Irving (St. John's on the Lake Reads title)
2. South and West, by Joan Didion
3. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
4. Beer Lover's Wisconsin, by Kathy Flanigan
5. Against the Deportation Terror, by Rachel Ida Buff (event Thu 2/1, 7 pm, at Boswell)
6. Janesville, by Amy Goldstein
7. No Applause, Just Throw Money, by S.D. Trav (a UWM class is reading this)
8. Wisconsin and the Civil War, by Ronald Paul Larson (event Fri 2/2, 7 pm, at Boswell)
9. Magnificent Machines of Milwaukee, by Thomas H. Fehring
10. Kitchen Smarts, from Cooks Illustrated

Just out in paperback for a few weeks, South and West: From a Notebook, is a collection of essays from Joan Didion that in hardcover hit year-end best-of lists from NPR and Harper's Bazaar. From the publisher: "Joan Didion has always kept notebooks--of overheard dialogue, interviews, drafts of essays, copies of articles. South and West gives us two extended excerpts from notebooks she kept in the 1970s; read together, they form a piercing view of the American political and cultural landscape."

Books for Kids:
1. Zenith, by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings
2. Dog Man and Cat Kid, by Dav Pilkey
3. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo
4. Here We Are, by Oliver Jeffers
5. The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black
6. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
7. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle (both paperback jackets)
8. Paddinngton's Pop-Up London, by Michael Bond
9. The Book of Dust, by Philip Pullman
10. A Wrinkle in Time Trilogy, by Madeleine L'Engle

I was looking at Bookscan numbers and saw A Wrinkle in Time racing up the national lists and we've got not one but two appearances, from the book alone and also with its sequels. Time Magazine's Eliza Berman looks at why the book took 54 years to hit the screen and how producer Catherine Hand has been planning for this release since she was ten. From the piece: "As a child, Hand assumed that the power to adapt Wrinkle rested with a single man. But it took a collective of women to finally do it: Hand, who later in life befriended the author; screenwriter Jennifer Lee, best known for writing and co-directing the Disney megahit Frozen; and Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay. Plus DuVernay’s cast. For the all-powerful trio of Mrs., she chose Hollywood’s own all-powerful: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling. And for the young hero at the center of it all, she will introduce moviegoers to Storm Reid."

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins reviews Black No More, "one of four Harlem Renaissance-era novels released this month by Penguin Classics with new introductions from contemporary writers." Higgins notes that Danzy Senna finds this "savage satire of racial relations" "more relevant than ever." Please note that because we are writing about Higgins writing about Senna writing about author George S. Schuyler, I know I'm quoting here but I'm not exactly sure whom. Here's a taste of the plot: "At the onset of the novel, black scientist Junius Crookman reveals he's invented a process that will transform black folks into white people in just three days. His former classmate Max Disher, a dapper Harlem insurance agent, is the first to undergo Black-No-More treatment. While Disher loves the physical result of the process, he finds white society itself a boring letdown..."

Also on the TapBooks page is Mike Fischer's take on The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power from the Freemasons to Facebook. Someone's not a fan of Niall Ferguson's latest: "The Square and the Tower, British historian Niall Ferguson’s latest doorstopper, takes its title from Siena, in which a tower representing secular power overshadows the adjoining marketplace. Ferguson uses that juxtaposition as a metaphor for a sweeping world history identifying a longstanding tension between hierarchies and social networks. In Ferguson’s hands, that disconnect covers everything and therefore explains nothing; his notion of hierarchy is so narrow and his definition of networks is so generic that the distinction between them becomes meaningless - particularly as Ferguson is forced to admit that 'a hierarchy is just a special kind of network.'"

And finally, from USA Today, the Journal Sentinel's sister publication, comes Mark Athitakis covering Ursula K. LeGuin's No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, which collects her blog posts since 2010. He notes: "A blogging octogenarian is the kind of thing we’re trained to see as endearing and cute, the stuff of bromides like 'you’re only as old as you think you are.' But that’s the kind of sentiment Le Guin is eager to swat away in her witty, often deeply observed collection of posts, No Time to Spare." For those who would like something fluffier there are also pieces about soft-boiled eggs and her cat.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Benjamin Ludwig and the Story of Ginny Moon (Ludwig at Boswell on January 23, 7 pm)

It started with a staff rec, as these things so often do. Here is Kay Wosewick talking about the novel Ginny Moon: "Ginny Moon has been adopted as a young teen after nine years with her drug-addled mother and several bad years in foster homes. While she has settled into a fairly comfortable routine with her new parents and with other special needs kids at school, she constantly obsesses about the whereabouts of Baby Doll, who Ginny claims she took care of when she lived with her birth mom. Since no one could locate Baby Doll after Ginny was taken from her mom, her adoptive parents don’t take her obsession with Baby Doll seriously until they are expecting a baby. Serious concerns about the safety of the new baby escalate while Ginny grows more determined to find Baby Doll, and soon Ginny is on the verge of being sent to a home for special needs girls. The author draws equally sympathetic portraits of the distraught parents and the confused daughter, and in the end both move forward as a family in a satisfying, believable way. Great for adults and teens too."

Benjamin Ludwig's debut had great advance buzz. Look at these quotes.

Adriana Trigiani, who visited Milwaukee for a Boswell/Books and* Co. event for her last book: "Fresh, funny, heartbreaking and real, you will love this novel. Sometimes an author comes along who captures the moment in its complexity and fierce detail, illuminating the world in a way that changes readers’ perceptions and opens our hearts to understanding. Ginny Moon brings you inside the experience of autism, revealing the experience of it, not only what it must be like from the outside, but how it must feel from within. Benjamin Ludwig paints in every color with ferocity and ultimately, joy. I was galvanized by this read. You will be too. This is a book to savor and share with everyone you know. I did and I will."

Margot Livesey, who also visited Boswell for her last book: "If I could ask Ginny Moon (editor's note - the person, not the book) one question - and she only does allow one question at a time - it would be what does it feel like to be the heroine of a compulsively readable novel? Benjamin Ludwig does such a wonderful job of conjuring Ginny onto the page and of making us turn those pages at breathless speed. Ginny Moon is a sparkling debut.”

And Rebecca Makkai, who not only visited for her last book, but is also (we're hoping!) coming for her forthcoming novel, The Great Believers: "Ginny Moon had me wrapped around her little finger from the first page, and I’d have stayed under her spell for a book twice as long; it made me late for many appointments, and I was never sorry. This is a thrilling, often hilarious story, as heart-pounding as it is big-hearted." (so no italics, because I think we're talking about the character)

And maybe just one more from Graeme Simsion, who, wait for it, came to Milwaukee for his last book too, a Boswell-Shorewood Public Library cosponsored event: “Ginny Moon is a brilliant debut. In asking us to identify with a developmentally delayed, autistic teenage girl and her peculiar obsession, Ben Ludwig set himself an Olympic degree of difficulty, but he succeeds with the extraordinary Ginny Moon. I was unable to put the book down as I willed her to overcome the obstacles within and around her. Ben Ludwig is a fine observer of human dynamics, and his sometimes dark sense of humor means that the emotional journey, challenging as it is, never becomes wearing. I was mightily impressed - this novel has all the elements for critical and popular success!”

There are others, but it looks like Graeme's quote had the most mileage for publishers, especially on the international front.

As you can see, all kinds of author have lent their name to praising this first novel. Aside from the dialogue, it's all from the voice of Ginny, a adopted kid on the spectrum who keeps running away from her forever home in the hopes that she can go back to her birth mother, not so much because she's attached to the mom, but because she feels like she needs to take care of Baby Doll. Several reviewers have compared the book to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I don't want folks to think it is a carbon copy - Ginny Moon is its own animal, and definitely has more of an American vibe.

The first thing that happened when we were offered this event is that Jane and I both read the book. I started immediately trying to pitch the book to social services organizations, particularly such as the Autism Society, Autism Speaks, and Special Olympics. The publisher highlighted in the author bio that Ludwig was inspired to tell this story from talking with fellow parents when they went to Special Olympics basketball games. I hoped to have a cosponsor but alas, my outreach was for naught - I knew I was working on a shorter time frame than normal, but how could I say no to this story?

After Jane read the book, we discussed it some more and she convinced me that while this has a special needs character, it's more of an adoption story, and she gave me a list of more organizations that would be interested in it. It's fun to have a book you can outreach to in so many directions. We of course added the book to our winter-spring book club flyer, and also made some pitches to area schools, as Ginny Moon has been often named a great YA crossover title. It was named one of School Library Journal's Best adult books for teens for 2017. Hey, maybe it will get a Printz Award!

I'm excited to say that Jenny was able to connect with Elmbrook and Ludwig will be talking to students at Brookfield Central. It's hard to place authors at high schools, despite how rewarding the experience can see. This past week we had Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings (Zenith) at Milwaukee High School of the Arts and after the authors spoke, students shared their own creative writing. While I can't say we would have been able to place Colson Whitehead at an area school (folks asked!) we do have Omar El Akkad coming to Nicolet in February. Contact jenny@boswellbooks.com if you're a high school administrator or teacher and are interested in this program.

There is some interesting backstory to the publishing of this novel. For one thing, before publication the book was titled The Original Ginny Moon, and you can still see traces of that title on the internet. If you read the book, you'll understand what that title means, but I think the publisher correctly figured out that folks who did not read the book were confused by the title. So they shortened it. And I also think that this book was one of the first titles with the Park Row imprint instead of Mira, which was what Harlequin used for books that weren't genre. Now I think Mira is for books that are romance adjacent and Park Row is more for, well I don't like to use the word literary because I think it's a little judgmental and loaded, but let's say, they are books that are review-adjacent.

As regular readers know, I am always fascinated by cover changes between hardcover and paperback and I think in this case, this paperback jacket image is entirely appropriate for this book. A type-heavy and somewhat quirky design for the hardcover gives way for a photograph that indicates to me that at least someone on the art team knew what the book was about. That's not always the case!

Ginny Moon got some nice reviews, such as a write-up in The New York Times Book Review. Yes, we're aware it was part of The Shortlist, but do you understand how much cause for celebration it is when a book from an imprint of Harlequin gets a review? Here's Jan Stuart: "Ludwig’s novel recalls Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (editor's note: as we mentioned before!) in the singular way it filters domestic tensions through the hyper-alert yet skewed viewpoint of a special-needs child. His narrative wheels go flat whenever he uses Ginny’s scrupulously direct psychiatrist as a messenger to relay transpired events, but he displays an acute sensitivity to his protagonist’s deliberate thought processes. He also succeeds in locating a plangent, unpatronizing humor in Ginny’s literalness and deadpan certitude. ('When you hide a dead cat you should never put it under your mattress.') And that’s no small miracle."

Here's a video of Becky Anderson (of Anderson's) interviewing Ludwig.

 I can see this book offering a great discussion and it's really a particularly good choice for folks involved with social services. But most of all, we'd love for you to see Benjamin Ludwig in person and here him talk more about the story, how he was led to write it and the impact it's had on readers. Join us at Boswell Tuesday, January 23, 7 pm. This is event is free and open to the public and it's ok if you already bought a copy of the book. Come meet the author and get it signed!

* Officially this should be with an ampersand, but ampersand's are very difficult to maintain when you're jumping in and out of HTML code. And that fact would be interesting-to-the-blog-adjacent.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

What did the book club think of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go? (If you want to avoid spoilage, don't read this blog and also refrigerate leftovers)

For the second time in three years, we decided to read a book from the Nobel Prize for Literature winner. I still feel bad that we didn't read a Patrick Modiano novel, and perhaps that regret let me to pick Voices from Chernobyl the next year. I'm a little weirded out that according to Ingram, there's no paperback of that book currently available. Seems unlikely. That said, I couldn't bring myself to pick something from Bob Dylan, and that led us to Kazuo Ishiguro. Being that I already read The Remains of the Day, and my thought was that the group had also probably read it, we picked Never Let Me Go. 

It turns out that this novel is, in the wake of the Nobel Prize, selling at a faster clip than Remains. Though it was also the subject of a film treatment, to my knowledge, the film was not a huge success.  Sometimes films curtail book sales, but it seems like an unsuccessful film might be better long-term for a book than a successful one. I spoke to my sales rep Jason about this, and he said that the book is a popular book for high school course adoption.

Never Let Me Go is a first-person narrative of Kathy, who was sent, at a young age, to a boarding school called Hailsham. I thought everyone knew the secret of the book, but go figure, more than half the folks in our In-Store Lit Group did not know what was happening until they realized that Hailsham was a very special boarding school indeed. C. said "What a sweet little book this is!" until she realized it wasn't a sweet book after all. That's the second time we've pulled that trick on her, following Edna O'Brien's switcheroo in The Little Red Chairs. 

Kathy's friends are Ruth and Tommy. It's a classic love triangle. Kathy is sort of in love with Tommy, who is partnered with Ruth. Ruth is a manipulator and convinces Kathy that even if she and Tommy broke up, Tommy would never want her. The story moves through their time at Hailsham, and then for a period after school, before they begin their vocation as carers.

Spoilers below.

The secret is that the three of them are clones who are being raised for their parts. After their education, they make their use in society as carers, helping donors after their operations. At one point a carer turns into a donor. Notice apparently comes by mail. When a donor has given their last donation, they've completed, which struck us as morbid and banal at the same time.

Apparently Hailsham is an experiment, where the students are raised humanely, educated, and encouraged to be creative. They even learn how to safely have sex. Because they are clones, they don't have to worry about pregnancy. The other schools (or maybe they aren't even schools)  are not as nice as Hailsham, but how they are bad are left to our imagination. Several of us were reminded of humanely raised animals vs factory farms.


For some reason, the best of their art projects are taken away for use in a gallery. For what? We're never quite sure, but this is definitely part of the experiment. When Kathy and Tommy locate two of the school officials after it closes, one gets the feeling was the art was to prove a point - but whether the ends was to raise clones humanely or to end clone farming altogether is left for us to decide.

Let's get to the negatives first. N. was one of those people for whom the book was a reach. Sometimes she comes around, but in this case, she stopped reading, and even our enlightening conversation didn't make her want to return to the book. D. is a self-proclaimed hater. He really didn't have much to say, except that he thought the book was juvenile. L1. liked it, but wondered if it was YA. (See comment above that a lot of high schools read it). We are not in agreement here; this was just one - well, two - opinions. J2. enjoyed reading it but was depressed by the end.

G. was in the positive camp. A little confused at the beginning, but hooked by the end. L2 went from hate, but then gave it an eight (out of ten). J2. really liked it. And S. told us this was the third time she read it. I'm a fan as well. I found it hypnotic. I can also see how there was an enthusiasm to turn this into a film and also can see how hard this would be to do. Like Remains of the Day, it could work as a Merchant-Ivory kind of thing but I'm sure there was a temptation to play up the SF elements.

There were questions. What exactly were they donating that they good go through four operations? This led to a discussion of kidney donor waiting lists. We also wondered why they didn't escape. This was not an apocalyptic book with futuristic surveillance. After all, they did love the film, The Great Escape. Had the escape been breeded out of them? Or were they, like the butler in The Remains of the Day, aware of their place in life, no matter what they might have wanted, and honor-bound to follow through?

We also had an interesting discussion of speculative vs. science fiction. The former is used as a literary crossover term and is more encompassing. But there's also this theory that speculative books set up a futuristic or alternate history presence but don't then follow through on the detailed world building and specifically the scientific details that sf fans crave. I do not crave the details, but I was interested in a world that had cloning but still had not gone beyond cassette tapes.

Speaking of which, several folks wondered if the song that captivates Kathy, Never Let Me Go, and its singer, Judy Bridgewater, was real. The answer is no, but they did create a song for the film, which you can listen to here.

Our take: don't expect a uniform response to Ishiguro's novel, but the discussion was lively and even the few folks who didn't like the book enjoyed talking about it. Lots of philosophical musing.

Upcoming In-Store Lit Group discussions:

Monday, February 5, 7 pm: The Anatomy of Dreams, by Chloe Benjamin

Monday, March 5, 7 pm: The Women in the Castle, by Jessica Shattuck.



Sunday, January 14, 2018

Ali Smith's Winter and other Boswell bestsellers for the week ending January 13, plus the Journal Sentinel TapBooks page

Here are our bestsellers for the week ending January 13, 2018.

Hardcover Fiction:
1. The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey
2. The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin
3. Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
4. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
5. The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn
6. Winter, by Ali Smith
7. Devotions, by Mary Oliver
8. Origin, by Dan Brown
9. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
10. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead (event 1/31 for paperback)

We had a great event with Sujata Massey for The Widows of Malabar Hill, edging out sales for The Immortalists, which isn't an event until Jan 18. Massey told us of her early days touring with Laura Lippman by car when they were both reporters at the Baltimore Sun. Massey talked about the two women who were the inspiration for her character Perveen Mistry. And yes, she's already working on #2 in the series. Here's Lisa Levy's write-up with Five Crime Must-Reads in Lit Hub, where she said that Massey's latest is "a compelling look into Indian society through the eyes of a remarkable heroine." And yes, we have signed copies.

Hardcover Nonfiction:
1. Fire and Fury, by Michael Wolff (no, we haven't cleared our special orders yet)
2. The Gray Rhino, by Michele Wucker
3. From Here to Eternity, by Caitlin Doughty
4. Wisconsin's Own, by M. Caren Connolly and Louis Wasserman
5. Castle Kingdom, by Christopher Knowlton
6. We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
7. The Book of Joy, by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams
8. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, by Margareta Magnusson
9. Annotated African American Folktales, by Henry Louis Gates
10. Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah

Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West is said to be a revolutionary appraisal of the historic American West. I'm not sure why the book jumped into our top ten for the first time, so many months after publication, but I can link you to The New York Times Review from Edward Dolnick: "Knowlton, a former staff writer and London bureau chief for Fortune, has a sharp eye for details — in cattle towns, boarding houses featured communal toothbrushes dangling from strings — but his real aim is the big picture. Cattle Kingdom is a cautionary tale of boom and bust. Despite the gunslingers and cowpokes, this lively history evokes the headiest days of the housing bubble of the early 2000s or the tulip mania that hypnotized Holland in the 1600s."

Paperback Fiction:
1. The Sun and Her Flowers, by Rupi Kaur
2. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
3. Call Me by Your Name, by André Aciman (event 2/19)
4. The Women in the Castle, by Jessica Shattuck
5. Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly
6. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
7. Autumn, by Ali Smith
8. The Bear and the Nightingale, by by Katherine Arden
9. Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay
10. The Sleeping Dictionary, by Sujata Massey

Ali Smith pulls off a rare feat with a book each in hardcover fiction (Winter) and paperback fiction (Autumn). The Journal Sentinel's Mike Fischer already raved about both books. Here's his take on Winter: "The stunningly original Smith again breaks every conceivable narrative rule; reflecting her longstanding affinity for Modernism, what she gives us instead is a stylistically innovative cultural bricolage that celebrates the ecstasy of artistic influence. It demands and richly rewards close attention." We should also note the Stephanie Merritt in The Guardian called Winter "luminously beautiful."

Paperback Nonfiction:
1. I Want to See, by Roc O'Connor
2. Evicted, by Matthew Desmond
3. Janesville, by Amy Goldstein
4. Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow
5. The Gift of Failure, by Jessica Lahey (event 2/6 at USM)
6. In the Midst of Our Storms, by Roc O'Connor
7. Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson
8. Gunslinger, by Jeff Pearlman
9. Preservation, by Christina Ward
10. Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X. Keni

I'm noticing that while early adoption of Janesville was more folks interested in journalism and current events, it looks like more and more, the business community it picking it up. Here James Feloni in Business Insider offered his perspective: "In the lead up to and aftermath of the election of President Donald Trump, a flood of reporters from big cities traveled to central and southern states to speak to so-called 'Real Americans' to get help understanding how so many people had totally underestimated Trump's ascension. While some great reporting came out of those trips, there were also stories that seemed to treat these citizens like zoo animals, to be observed and analyzed. Amy Goldstein's Janesville did not take such an approach, and that's part of the reason why it won the Financial Times and McKinsey's award for Business Book of the Year.

Books for Kids:
1. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
2. Dog Man and Cat Kid, by Dav Pilkey
3. The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black
4. The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown
5. Wonder, by R.J. Palacio
6. The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, by Karina Yan Glaser
7. The Book of Dust, by Philip Pullman
8. Here We Are, by Oliver Jeffers
9. The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt, with illustrations by Oliver Jeffers
10. Love, by Matt de la Pena, with illustrations Loren Long

While we're all excited about the release of Holly Black's The Cruel Prince, Bustle is particularly enthusiastic. Do a news search on Google and three of the top five stories are sourced from this website, at least at the moment of writing. Here's the opening of the Bustle review from Cristina Arreola: "Every year when I travel home for the holidays, I pore over the books I accumulated in high school: The battered, dog-eared copies of Pride and Prejudice, the small stack of vampire novels (yes, I read and enjoyed Twilight as a teenager, but I fell hardest for Let the Right One In), and of course, the collection of young adult novels. When I returned to New York after this past Christmas, I brought one book back with me: Holly Black's debut novel Tithe, a gritty faerie fantasy. My copy has a torn cover and cracked spine — physical proof of the re-reads it endured throughout my high school years. I haven't had a chance to re-read it since bringing it back with me, but I did finish Holly Black's new book, The Cruel Prince. And I can honestly say I was as enraptured by her latest faerie novel as I was by her first."

Over at the Journal Sentinel, Jim Higgins reviewed Light It Up. His take on Peter Ash's third adventure, what Higgins coins "a cannabis thriller": "While many states have legalized medical marijuana and some have even approved recreational pot, most federally regulated banks refuse to work with cannabis businesses, for fear of federal sanctions. So big piles of cash are accumulated and moved around. Now add the possibility of dope employees sampling the product, and everything goes up in smoke faster than you can say 'Cheech and Chong.'"

Sharon Peters reviews the newest from Kelly Corrigan, who offers a short course in Corriganese. Her Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say was originally reviewed in USA Today with 3.5 stars. The Peters praise: "The power of Tell Me More is that Corrigan is an excellent writer who knows how to tell a great story while adeptly weaving in conversational approaches that she, and most of us, never fully embraced or maybe lost track of over the years."

Also in the paper is a profile of Jan Brett from Deborah Netburn, which originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times. From Netburn: "It was 8:15 a.m. and Brett and I were in for a treat. The aquarium had invited us to have a tentacles-on interaction with Gilligan in honor of Brett’s latest book, The Mermaid, a traditional Goldilocks tale with a mermaid and three octopuses twist. As long time octopus lovers, we were both excited, but Brett was more prepared. She had been eating fish for the past three weeks, and had deliberately avoided garlic and onions."


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Working overtime! Nick Petrie on Tuesday, Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings on Wednesday, Chloe Benjamin on Thursday, Geoffrey Carter on Friday, and Benjamin Ludwig next Tuesday

I think our friend Margaret P. said it best. Boswell is working overtime this coming week! That's why we're getting out the event blog early.

Tuesday, January 16, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Nick Petrie, author of Light It Up, in conversation with Bonnie North

Nick Petrie’s third Peter Ash thriller launches at Boswell, with the award-winning writer in conversation with Bonnie North, cohost and producer of 89.7 WUWM’s Lake Effect. This event is cosponsored by Crimespree magazine.

Jim Higgins reviews Light It Up in the Journal Sentinel: "In Light It Up, Whitefish Bay writer Petrie drops series hero Peter Ash into Denver's world of marijuana manufacturing. By the time the gun battles, harrowing high-speed escapes and lethal hand-to-hand fights are over, Petrie's hero may be ready for a long soak in a vat of medical THC." Also in the Journal Sentinel, Carole E. Barrowman named Petrie's second novel, Burning Bright, one of her top ten of 2017.

Publishers Weekly writes: "The final hand-to-hand battle between Peter and the psychotic villain, involving a variety of guns, axes, and even a hammer, is a violent piece de resistance. Petrie is a master of orchestrating convincing mayhem."

About the author: Nick Petrie’s debut The Drifter won both the ITW Thriller award and the Barry Award for Best First Novel, and was a finalist for the Edgar and the Hammett awards. More on Petrie and Light it Up in a prior Boswell and Books post.

Wednesday, January 17, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings, author of Zenith, in conversation with Tiernan Bertrand-Essington (The BookTuber)

It started as an ebook. That hit #1 on The New York Times bestseller list. Now it's a book and the first printing has already disappeared. That we had trouble getting additional stock bodes well for Zenith's release on Tuesday. Here's a story in Publishers Weekly about how the book came together.

More about the book! Mirabel Galaxy. To those aboard her glass starship, Marauder, however, she’s just Andi, their friend and fearless leader. But when a routine mission goes awry, the Marauder’s all-girl crew is tested as they find themselves in a treacherous situation - and at the mercy of a sadistic bounty hunter from Andi’s past. Meanwhile, across the galaxy, a ruthless ruler waits in the shadows of the planet Xen Ptera, biding her time to exact revenge for the destruction of her people. The pieces of her deadly plan are about to fall into place, unleashing a plot that will tear Mirabel in two.

Andi and her crew embark on a dangerous, soul-testing journey that could restore order to their ship - or just as easily start a war that will devour worlds. As the Marauder hurtles toward the unknown, and Mirabel hangs in the balance, the only certainty is that in a galaxy run on lies and illusion, no one can be trusted.

About the authors: When Sasha Alsberg is not writing or obsessing over Scotland, she is making YouTube videos on her channel, Abookutopia, which has had more than 36 million views. Lindsey Cummings is also the author of The Murder Complex duology and The Balance Keepers trilogy. And don't forget, first ten preorders who buy the book get an Essie nail polish package.

Thursday, January 18, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Chloe Benjamin, author of The Immortalists, in conversation with Boswell’s Daniel Goldin

January is starting out with a bang! We've been excited about The Immortalists for months, and it's so exciting that the book's time is already here. Add to our many bookseller raves this one from Boswellian Jenny Chou: "The Immortalists slowly ripped pieces of my heart away leaving me as wrung out as I’ve ever been after finishing a novel. So OF COURSE you all have to read it for the emotions Chloe Benjamin conjures up, the brilliant narrative structure, the writing so beautiful you will literally read some sentences twice, and the moments that will make you gasp out loud in surprise. What’s it about? Four siblings visit a fortune teller and each learns the exact day he or she will die. This information haunts them over the course of their lives, particularly after the death of the youngest, Simon. His death struck me the hardest because I could see it coming, knew how it would end for him, and I read on, helpless. The story come to a satisfying conclusion when the oldest, Varya, examines what it means not to simply exist, but to LIVE!"

Here's Moira Macdonald in The Seattle Times: "Benjamin, whose previous novel was the Edna Ferber Fiction Award-winning The Anatomy of Dreams, slips into each of the characters’ heads and lets us live there for a while, writing in a delicate third-person voice that knows everyone’s secrets. There are moments as taut as a thriller, where time disappears as you turn pages; and passages of quiet compassion, as the characters reflect on the bonds of siblinghood, on the idea of home, on how those we have lost can still manage — miraculously and mysteriously — to stay with us, in ways that we can’t always explain."

You can read more about The Immortalists in our sweeping Boswell and Books post!

About the author: Chloe Benjamin is the author of the novel The Anatomy of Dreams, which received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers and was longlisted for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. At right is Benjamin receiving her award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers. I'm there too! #sowemeetagain

Friday, January 19, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Geoffrey Carter, author of The P. S. Wars

Longtime educator Geoffrey Carter offers a fictional indictment against the corporate takeover of public schools in his first novel. The story pits the faculty and students of Custer High against EduNet, a private operator. And leading the charge for Custer is Dave Bell, a veteran teacher, who vows to protect the integrity of public schools from being compromised.

As is the case for many privatization battles, whether the bounty is schools, prisons, roads, or other government services, the community is forced to take sides. The story brings to life many of the challenges that public schools are now facing. And while not every privatization story has a villain that is quite as ruthless as EduNet, it could, with a few tweaks, be pulled from a today’s headlines.

About the author: Geoff Carter grew up attending public schools Milwaukee area, graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in Communication Arts, and has a PhD in English. He has been teaching English in Milwaukee Public Schools for 28 years in both traditional and non-traditional settings, working almost exclusively with at-risk students, and is an active member of MTEA, the local teachers’ union.

Tuesday, January 23, 7:00 pm, at Boswell:
Benjamin Ludwig, author of Ginny Moon

Meet Ginny Moon. She's mostly your average teenager: she plays flute in the school band, has weekly basketball practice and reads Robert Frost poems for English class. But Ginny is autistic. What's important to her might seem a bit…different: starting every day with exactly nine grapes for breakfast, singing along to Michael Jackson, taking care of her baby doll…and crafting a secret plan of escape.

Ginny has been in foster care for years and for the first time in her life she has found her forever home. After being traumatically taken from her abusive birth mother and moved around to different homes, she is finally in a place where she'll be safe and protected, with a family who will love and nurture her. This is exactly the kind of home that all foster kids are hoping for. But Ginny has other plans.

Told in an extraordinary and wholly original voice, Ginny Moon, just named one of the ten best books of the year by Library Journal, is at once quirky, charming, heartbreaking, suspenseful and poignant.

About the author: A former English teacher and new-teacher mentor, Benjamin Ludwig holds an MAT in English education and an MFA in creative writing. His novella, Sourdough, was the recipient of the 2013 Clay Reynolds Prize for the Novella. Ludwig’s inspiration for Ginny Moon came from his own daughter, and the stories of other parents whom Ludwig met while attending Special Olympics basketball games.

More event info here!