Tim has a long history with the bookstore. As a loving Schwartz Books customer and a complete author event geek, Tim has met many authors and had them sign his books. His first ever author event was with Mickey Mantle, back when Schwartz had a store on the corner of Water Street and Wisconsin Avenue. That event had a line all the way around an entire city block - and Mickey stayed until he met every last customer! Tim retired from the School District of Waukesha after teaching elementary school children for 30 years, and now he gets to work at those events and still talk to kids about books. His interests include all types of children's literature, nature, art, mysteries, sports, and lots of fiction authors for adults such as Joyce Carol Oates, Colson Whitehead, Toni Morrison, E. L. Doctorow, Emily St. John Mandel, and David Mitchell.
Ferris is starting fifth grade at the end of the summer. It's a grade that I personally taught for most of my career, and I remember just how young they look at the beginning, before they start a time of wonderful change. For Ferris, that change is coming fast. Her strong grandmother doesn’t feel well and has started seeing a ghost in the house. Boomer the dog sees it too, and Uncle Ted has left Aunt Shirley to live with them while painting the entire history of the world on a single canvas. As for little sister Pinky, oh my! Oh! My! She’s planning to be an outlaw, and she’s off to a great start. Ferris’s lifelong friend Billy Jackson is the only one who truly understands. DiCamillo’s trademark style is back, with uplifting warmth and sly, smart humor. It’s full of special friendship and love, and as Grandma Charisse likes to say, every good story is a love story. I like to say that there’s nothing inKate DiCamillo’s delightful voice. Her wise, hilarious observations of people (and dogs) come wrapped in thrilling tales of childhood.
This is the second installment in a smart and savvy teen mystery series. Beatrice Fletcher is the great-grandniece of Jessica Fletcher, the ageless TV crime-solving hero of Cabot Cove, Maine’s Murder, She Wrote. Bea has serious anxiety issues, but she’s intense and curious enough to face a risk-filled world. Her psychiatrist helps her, “Aunt Jess” is still around to offer wise counsel, and her obsessive interest in the truth about crimes gives her the intensity. She’s been writing for a start-up web site about cold-case murders around Cabot Cove and has helped solve some cases. Now she's spending time with friends she met in the first book from the elite Broadmoor Academy. They play a cryptic century-old Broadmoor game known as tenace that promises a wonderous unknown prize but could be tied to the death of a former student who was close to them all. The terrifying death threats Bea’s getting make everything more bizarre. Bea is the creation of an author with teen children who's also a clinical psychologist. It shows. She sounds true to teen reality, and she’s also true to people who keep going despite their fear. I’m hooked on the series! Just like I was hooked on the TV show.
Lucy Chance’s father is a minor league baseball pitcher trying to reach the majors. He throws a knuckleball, the odd, floating, diving pitch that only a handful of major leaguers have ever used successfully. Lucy’s mother paints beautiful pictures, sometimes of the players who create the drama on the field. They all “paint the game.” As for Lucy, she and her friends play baseball, but pitching is her dad’s thing. Being up on that mound is maybe too scary. She’s working on courage. I’ve been around baseball most of my life, and this is a good baseball story. It’s full of the game’s wisdom, history, and charming, funny quotes from people you may recognize. It’s also a great family story; another MacLachlan masterpiece that’s easy to love, perfect for fourth or fifth graders. And it has goats!
The Little One is a small creature who asks if Poppy needs anything. Little One learns that and are everything they need... but perhaps a few additions would be nice, even useful. A soft pillow is essential, and a roof, with walls, surely water, and a bathtub. A garden would be lovely, and how about books? A toilet! Let's not forget chocolate. But when all of those extras are lost in a storm, love remains... and a really soft pillow can take many forms. This collaboration with his son Henry has added another marvelously clever and wise picture book to Peter Reynolds' magnificent body of work.
It started as a quest to buy his father a high quality globe for his 80th birthday. Bellerby searched around the world to find one and failed. It took years after that to be financially ready and get the right help to actually make them himself. It's a process of stunning complexity, building spheres covered with updated cartography for a planet that’s not quite round and then making them beautiful. Today these hand-painted and individually built globes are sold through the company’s website. It's a remarkable story, and this attractive book is nicely organized with inserted information. We learn about geography (with border disputes), astronomy, and exploration, beginning with the first philosophers and mathematicians who understood the Earth was round and estimated its size. We're taught about the first globes and maps and why they were made, and we’re given truly amazing details about the planet Earth itself. It’s fascinating. I’m a bit short of the money needed to buy one of Bellerby’s treasures, but just knowing that they are still being created today is a thrill for a retired teacher. I’ve watched children become entranced by spinning globes for most of my life.
August Snow doesn't mess around. He'll destroy you if you deserve it. He’s a Detroit ex-cop (didn't end well for the force) and Marine Lieutenant with in Afghanistan. After a disturbing job helping his girlfriend's mother in Norway, the illness of an elderly neighbor has brought him home to a new crisis. He’s a practicing Catholic who says practicing hasn’t made him any better at it, but the church is no shield when it wrongs his people. Scapegoating a friend to hide church abuses doesn’t sit well, and Snow’s inclined to blow through secrets like a blizzard. (Oh, hell yes, I went there!) Still, he’s sophisticated, sort of a renaissance man with a tough, smart, no nonsense style. His commentary is fiendishly funny and highly insightful. His friends and neighbors are often crude but so damn lovable that hanging out with 'em was a joy. I'm far too sensitive for this crew, but hey, they’re fictional. Living in their world for a while is open to all. (Note: The bad language above is a litmus test. Do not read the book if it offends you.)
Morgan Carter is back! She's the Door County owner of Odds and Ends, a shop that sells very odd artifacts from around the world along with mystery books in which people always meet their end. She’s also a cryptozoologist with multiple college degrees who loves searching for legendary creatures while insisting that proof is necessary before she’ll believe they exist. Last time, she and her very cool dog Newt helped a local sheriff figure out why two dead men had strange bite marks suggesting the possibility of a Nessie-like creature in the waters of Wisconsin. Now law enforcement needs her again, in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, across the Green Bay, where a hunter and a fisherman were viciously killed, apparently by something huge and furry that moved upright on two feet. Could it possibly be? You’ll find out, and for me there’s nothing better than a cozy but deadly autumn adventure set in places where I’ve loved to vacation and then drove away again, fully alive. I’d just say watch your back up north on that next lovely leaf season hike.
At the same time an adult coyote takes a pup on his first hunt, a human grandfather takes his granddaughter on their first camping trip into an Appalachian forest. The lessons learned by the young coyote and the child about survival and the natural world show a deep understanding of ecosystems, explained clearly with a conversational style. Naturalists Lily and her mother Barbara Kingsolver give us a fine story, and the illustrations by Paul Mirocha are amazing: colorful, vibrant, and realistic without humanizing the forest animals. As an environmental educator myself, I think this picture book will thrill kids who care about nature and want to understand how it works.
This compact novel of love and loss and the unexpected details of life that come along for the ride is a testament to literary excellence. The astute, funny, and sometimes biting commentary of an aging philosophy professor tells the story. His loving memories of his exuberant wife, his grudging perseverance in continuing to live, and his very natural desire to keep loving
I won’t call Tim Johnston an outstanding writer of thrillers. He’s an outstanding writer. No qualifications are needed, and thriller fans reap the rewards. I've heard that Descent is great, I know that The Current is exceptional, and now Distant Sons joins the list. The dialogue feels true, the settings are finely developed, and the immersive story is intense without trying to be spectacular. Perfect for me. The characters bring their world to us fully and show the humanity we see in ourselves. Three young boys disappeared with barely a clue in the middle 1970s from a single Wisconsin town near the Mississippi River, and the suspicion about one young man back then lives on now into his old age. Forty years after the boys went missing, Sean Courtland and Dan Young are two skilled tradesmen on the road finding work and getting away from their own past lives. In this small river town, they’re about to find more than work… and that more is resolved but still haunting me.
Omid was born in Tucson, Arizona, after his parents left Iran just before the 1979 revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini and American hostages. The revolution devastated his parents’ families. Now, two decades later, his grandparents have finally come to live near them in Tucson, and his American relatives are gathering to celebrate. His world is becoming more whole but also more complex, with English and Farsi mixing in endless variations, ancient Persian traditions finding new life, and memories of his past taking on new meaning. As if being a high school sophomore wasn’t awkward enough! And being Iranian can make someone an instant target of angry racist suspicion. Omid is a smart, promising kid with good friends and family, but he’s never quite able to fully express exactly what he feels about the difficulties of growing up. We hear him, though. His warm, perceptive, creative voice comes through beautifully, and it drew me into his story, a place I wanted to stay. I like how Shahi plays with the form of written ideas, and I love how the result is concrete, brilliant, universal human truth.
I’m not an active birder, but they fascinate me and comfort me and somehow make me believe that surviving our maddening times is possible. I've read several books about birds lately, especially owls, because seven-year-old Landon and I shared the experience of Great Horned Owls nesting and hunting in our neighborhood. The Merlin Bird ID app also has me identifying bird species by photos my phone. Landon intuitively questions me about disrupting their lives while gathering information. Smart boy! Together we watched the Boswell virtual event with Miriam Darlington and Schlitz Audubon Raptor Director Lindsay Obermeier for Darlington's lovely owl memoir The Wise Hours. Lindsay brought out all of the center’s owls, and the conversation was magical - check it out on our virtual event archive. Now Ackerman details the latest owl science and the stories behind the science. She explains our growing understanding of owl species diversity and the dedicated worldwide fight for their preservation. Her writing is energetic and thorough, a missing piece of my developing owl puzzle, and I kept hoping the book and the birds would continue forever.
I don’t like to repeat myself with recommendations, but Whitehead makes it tough to avoid. I said in an earlier review for Harlem Shuffle that I met Colson Whitehead at a Boswell Book Company event once and saw the genius in his eyes, the sly humor, and the sincerity. I added that he's the new King of American Historical Fiction, the new voice as powerful as E. L. Doctorow’s. Is he still a genius? You bet. Still King? Absolutely! (Two Pulitzer Prizes do say a lot.) So, what’s left to say? Just that this is the sequel to Harlem Shuffle (with a third book in the works), and Ray Carney is doing his best to be straight. He was once only “slightly bent when it came to being crooked,” fencing stolen goods from his furniture store. Then his cousin Freddie drew him into a heavy heist. Now, a decade later, he’s just a smart business owner and loving family man with a little sentiment for his past crooked days, but 1971 Harlem is churning with upheaval and “bent hates straight.” Ray’s not one of the city’s many villains, but the churn has him back in the game, a game that inflicts real pain on the losers. I’ll go ahead and repeat that past review one last time. This is greatness! I took my sweet time, savoring every literary morsel.
Dan Egan is a great storyteller, and this is the full story of phosphorus, an essential ingredient to all life on Earth. From the opening page when a Florida man almost dies of the effects of too much phosphorus, to the contrasting crisis over the depletion of this limited natural resource, Egan describes the broken natural cycle of what many people know simply as fertilizer. Personally, I’m deeply committed to the topic, having spent years teaching children about the environment, and yet I confess that I was not expecting Egan to captivate me with phosphorus. He did. The plain-spoken and dramatic way he conveys information is what works the magic. Well, that and amazing tales of alchemy, battlefield scavenging, the human population explosion, soap bubbles, algae blooms, and so much more. Ok, so here’s my second confession in a row. I haven’t read Dan Egan’s The Death and Life of the Great Lakes. That mistake will soon be corrected!
When I really like a book, it's usually more about the writing and less about the topic or the themes. In Darlington’s case, the writing is both exciting and graceful, with a very personal touch, as she explains the mythology and symbolism attached to owls while celebrating their natural world. And I love the topic as well. I've been sharing the experience of seeing Great Horned Owls with a six-year-old child, as they nest in our neighborhood and hunt from our trees. His fascination exceeds even mine. Darlington’s fascination began when she and her son were suddenly face to face with a Great Grey Owl as it gripped its owner’s leather glove. That launched a need to write about owls, both wild and in remarkable domestic places. Then her son got very ill, but she decided to carry on and show us glimpses of her own inner world while writing about theirs. By setting out to find all the wild European owl species as she faced her greatest fear, she’s given us a loving tribute to the beauty and struggle of living, in owls and in the people dedicated to their well-being.
After her parents' divorce, everything's changing for eleven-year-old Mia, including her home. Dad has a new wife and baby. Now mom and her boyfriend want a new house for a new start. It's a relief that she can spend a month in a place where change never seems to arrive. Grandma’s familiar, quiet seaside Maine house will be the perfect spot to talk about fears and uncertainties while Mom and Scott finish selling the only place she's ever lived. If only change will stay away from her one safe home away from home. Lord does skilled work with characters and a grand natural setting to show how the old and the troubling new can inspire wisdom and growth. The lifebeautifully drawn, and the storyline is suspenseful, with ethical issues about birding, animals keeping their natural homes, and social media. It’s a warm and uniquely satisfying novel. I’ve been learning to cry (with little progress) my whole life. For this book, I shed wonderful tears.
Ziggy is a sweet 6th grade kid. He's also sad and confused. He knows he’s complicated. He gets help with intense anxiety from a therapist and from friends, but nothing much helps with distraction because his mom is always on his mind. She disappeared when he was a baby and never came back. Ziggy knows that many indigenous women disappear, but he can't give up, as it seems his father and older sister Moon have. He imagines them all living together in the past, before Andrew Jackson forced his Cherokee people to face a trail of tears. He imagines a secret New Mexico desert cave holding clues to finding her. He’ll be guided on a nighttime journey that he simply calls “weird,” full of spirits and animal messengers, pretenders and protectors, villains and visionaries, full of powerful stories, all moving him toward a new understanding of living. It’s a new understanding of Mom. She loved birds, and so much more. It’s exhilarating!
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Oh, man! By that I mean oh, how does a man review a book like this!? Let's start (and end) with the fact that I loved every minute. I loved the characters, and the plot twists, and the very verbal crow. Most of all, I loved the sense that Marais was having as much fun writing as I was reading about a sisterhood of glorious old witches with a long history in a town that’s been mostly ok with them, until something changes. Now their manor and their popular distillery are being attacked by a mob of irrational townsmen (go figure), and reliving their own tragic past could offer them either salvation or destruction. They’re not sure which. Enter the Mayor’s spiky-haired teenage daughter and her dog named Ruth Bader Ginsburg and you’ve got the setup for a lovely riot. So take a break from our very strange real world and pour yourself into this spellbound concoction of laughter and full-blown feminist power, mixed with suspense and dashes of potent wisdom likely to fly into my thoughts forevermore.
Blackhawk adds to a series of highly praised recent books on indigenous history by going beyond cultural perspectives to offer an objective and encompassing new look at America. He’s focused on how original communities have both shaped and been shaped by the newcomers to this land throughout U.S. development. Past portrayals of European arrivals leading glorified national progress have been incomplete at best and a continuation of indigenous elimination at worst. Here we have a new foundation for history, showing how all aspects of America have been influenced by its complex Native-newcomer interface. Beginning with the Spanish arrival in the southwest and ending with late 20th century activism to renew self-determination, Blackhawk (Western Shoshone) shows us the work he’s doing as a Yale history professor and faculty coordinator of the Yale Group for the Study of Native America. Meanwhile, I’m the grateful retired teacher who’s forever waking up to the ways our past defines our present. Blackhawk’s advanced scholarship and interpretation are enormous contributions to my quest. His elaborately documented accuracy satisfies beyond anything I’ve read in a career of teaching young children about American history.
Through a series of emails, passed notes, posts, recordings, texts and traditional narrative, Swinarski tells the story of a new girl at East Middle School who’s trying to solve a mystery. Her teacher gave the class a semester-long un-essay project on any social issue of their choice. Forget recycling. Anna Hunt has a more important social question. How did a girl who was thoughtful enough to help a lost new kid on the first school day go from being super popular to being completely shut out? Nobody will talk about it, and people keep asking why Anna cares. After all, her questions are limiting any hope that she'll find new friends for herself. So, why care? Well, she just does. A nice person like Rachel Riley shouldn’t face dead silence when the principal reads her name on the day's list of Birthdays. I enjoyed this story very much. It has the feel of a good mystery, as Swinarski rolls out a compelling, nuanced plot. Best of all, the beautifully developed characters confront issues and have messages that matter to me. A lot! Oh, and the book is set in Madison. Swinarski is a lifelong Wisconsinite.
This book is stunning, frightening, essential, and exceptionally well written. More than anything else, it has urgency. I felt a constant need to see what came next. Would there ever be some degree of justice for Emmett Till and his family? If so, what would justice look like almost seven decades after “Bobo” Till was brutally executed? The naive fourteen-year-old Chicago kid who didn't understand the Jim Crow American South had a cousin who saw it all begin. Reverend Parker was there that day in 1955 Mississippi, at the store where the young woman worked, the one whose lies caused Emmett’s death. Parker was also in the house, several nights later, where the killers came first to his bedroom before finding and taking Emmett at gunpoint. Parker thought he’d die that night, and he tells us about the lifelong survivor’s guilt. As they marched him to his death, wasn’t Bobo asking himself why his family couldn’t stop them? Wasn’t he pleading for help? Yes. He was. Can Parker ever forgive himself for getting away from Mississippi and going back home without Bobo? This is the story of the endless, twisted struggle to make some justice happen, long after the killers who got away with it have themselves died. And it tells so much more, about the nation, then and now. I feel like it’s my turn to preach, in honor of Reverend Parker. Black people know all about how the Emmett Tills of the world fall, and this country might be better if everybody understood his family’s story.
Crash Robertson spent five years studying political science at Georgetown, and she's figured out how to put it to work. She was the Sanders intern hopeful carrying the best bottle of maple syrup to her interview. She's also whip smart and a Vermont native. Now she's Bernie's only assistant at a harvest festival in her very own hometown. It's a weird set of circumstances because she hasn't been home in years and showed no sign of wanting to go back. Then things get really interesting. A floating body shows up in Lake Champlain, and so does a billionaire who's buying out struggling maple syrup businesses and making a cheap imitation with… that’s right, high fructose corn syrup. Can you say MINO!? (Maple In Name Only). Bernie will never stand for this, but really, how much drama can a cute little town like Eagle Creek stand? Oh, you’d be surprised. I enjoyed this every bit as much as Schaffer’s Obama-Biden mysteries, and… there are recipes involved. So Happy Holidays! Take a break. Read the book. Feel the Bern!
Joy Harjo offers us this lifetime of poetry, 50 years of listening to her own voice and sharing it with the world. It’s a unique book of poems because she tells us, in detailed notes, her thoughts about each one and how it came to be. It also opens with a loving and revealing forward from Sandra Cisneros, beginning with their early time together at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and moving through a lifelong friendship. I don’t have the knowledge or the desire to analyze these poems. I just listen. And what I hear is exceptionally beautiful and telling, as important as words can be. I give my wholehearted thanks for this gift, for being allowed to hear Joy Harjo, our three-term Poet Laureate, open herself to us fully.
Milman gives us a vision of Earth devastated by insect loss, and perhaps we're already on the verge. Many recent studies show dramatic declines in insect species and in the populations of those remaining. Land development, pesticides, and climate change seem to be the key culprits. It may be tempting to say, "Great! Less ants and flies in the kitchen. Less mosquito bites and bee stings. Maybe less disease." Tempting, but insects aren't 75% of all animal life for nothing. They're essential to everything. They pollinate much of our food, they decompose dead plants and animals into soil and soil nutrients for new life, and they feed birds, frogs and endless other creatures we love. Life as we know it collapses without insect biodiversity. It's not a pretty picture, but this is an exceptional book, Milman kept me fascinated with mind boggling numbers and descriptions of extraordinary habitats and insect attributes. He's a compelling, bold writer with a vital wake-up call to change our behavior and adjust our attitudes about what makes life beautiful. Right now.
Cash Blackbear is only 19, but she’s already experienced a hell of a lot, including abuse from a white foster family that called her a heathen. Just before foster care, a county sheriff pulled her impaired mother’s car out of a ditch. He watches out for her and got her into college classes, and Cash has been helping him with his cases. In dreams she sometimes sees things before they happen and finds out things she shouldn’t know. She’s just beginning to learn about it and just starting to live her own life. Now spring floods around Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation have carried an Indian woman’s body into a nearby town, and Sheriff Wheaton asks Cash if she sees anything that can help. She definitely sees something. There’s a darkness following this death. Cash has lived through crazy things in foster homes, but she’s about to see a whole new level of crazy. I like Cash Blackbear a lot, and I feel validated because Louise Erdrich likes Cash Blackbear a lot, too. This is the third book in the series but the first that I’ve read. I just bought myself a copy of number one. I love finding a cool new series.
Swedish King Gustav V apparently told Jim Thorpe, as he handed him a gold medal at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, that he was “the most wonderful athlete in the world.” Thorpe was certainly admired and sought after worldwide for his unmatched athleticism and talent. Everyone wanted to see him, wherever he went. He was on World Series teams, he was there at the inception of the NFL, and later he had many small Hollywood film roles, befriending the biggest stars of the day. Thorpe was often used as a novelty as well, a drawing card constantly subject to racial stereotypes, and as time passed he became more actively involved with indigenous people’s rights. As a man, Jim Thorpe had serious human flaws and struggled constantly to succeed, but he was personally kind and generous, offering a huge smile to all. He never seemed inclined to pity himself or stop chasing his dreams. The extraordinary details of his life, including many connections to Wisconsin and Milwaukee, are endlessly fascinating, and Maraniss makes them exceptionally smooth reading. He wraps Thorpe's life into the story of America, and he’s blunt about our cruel contradictions in such an intelligent way that my progressive anger feels completely validated. This is a top-flight history lesson that separates the truth from the myth of a legendary and iconic American!
Lawrence is worried. The young fox is the only animal who doesn't have any type of collection to share for show-and-tell at school, but Papa fox has a solution. A beautiful, mysterious, and just a little bit frightening trip through the forest will give Lawrence the perfect collection for a special fox like him, and sharing it will start a new adventure with his classmates. Farina and Salati have created a warm combination of story and pictures about the important theme of growing personally in the face of fear. With details highlighting the love of family, the natural world, exploration, and classroom friends, this picture book is a true delight!
Oh, this picture book is brilliant! What if each emotion was a little creature? What would it do? This compendium of feelings for kids offers an answer that illuminates who we are as people. The clever, wise, sweet, fun book had me thinking and touched my heart. Among my favorite pages: "patience keeps a lovely garden; trust builds bridges; fear pretends it isn't there; hope makes a sandwich for the road." Loving and lovely!
Once again, David Sedaris lovingly, and with full frontal honesty, embraces the strange ironies of being human: the cold pandemic realities, the oddly positive final days of a tough relationship with his father, America demanding that Black Lives Matter, the fortress of love he’s built with his sisters and with Hugh. The shopping! The best thing about reading Happy-Go-Lucky is that it flows so fast. This is a credit to marvelous writing and storytelling. It's like canoeing a river and immediately knowing you won’t need the paddle. The current carries you, and if you don't run full speed into all the worldly snags and boulders put in your way, then you're just not on the right trip. So enjoy the ride and throw the paddle overboard. That endangered turtle you just cruised past will make better use of it.
I'm trying to understand why Mandel's writing casts a spell on me. I don’t have a complete answer, but I’ve decided on this: her style is steady and beautiful, she’s smart without sounding pretentious, and her characters feel true. There's a flesh and blood intimacy about them that makes me feel safe in their world, even as we’re brought to the edge of catastrophe. When tragedy comes, I want to face it with these fictional people. This novel builds on The Glass Hotel (which I loved!) and Station Eleven (which I now must read!). It brings the past and future together as if connections across time are waiting to be discovered. It throws our reality into doubt by questioning how we came to be, and it shows us that technology will never hide our humanity. I’ll forgo the summary and just say that Mandel has created a dazzling story with humble simplicity, then tied it tight with a perfect ending.
Families are held together in such unusual ways, and Johannes Bargaard has a family stretched so thin he hasn’t seen his beloved brother Anton for decades. Ski jumping is the one thread from their glory days that’s unbroken, but time is running out for Jon and Anton to do more than hide the frightening secrets that pushed them apart. Jon’s been told he has younger-onset Alzheimer’s and doesn’t know how long he’ll be able to trust his own mind or if he can finish writing one last successful novel. Their father’s funeral may be the only time left to fully uncover the bitter past. Geye gets the little details right as he brings his characters’ world to life, and his spectacular winter scenes of ski jumpers taking flight, from Chicago and throughout Minnesota to Madison and Lake Placid, surrounded me with a beautiful literary warmth. The Ski Jumpers, just as Northernmost did before it, will surely have me looking for Geye’s next book!
They didn’t call it Bronzeville in the 1920s, 30s or 40s, back when the women and men interviewed for this book were born. They all agree on that. It was just where they lived, a tightly-knit community of hard-working people with a variety of backgrounds and income levels, arrivals from Europe, and African Americans who’d moved north. Children played on the sidewalks and at Lapham Park. They started working very young and knew that any trouble they got into would mean neighbors giving a full report to their parents. Look out then! I’m grateful to Dr. Jones for this warm story of strong people. She tells us about successes of the earliest Black people in Wisconsin and Milwaukee, and she shares detailed stories from a thriving community that’s come to be lovingly known as Bronzeville. She also explains the injustices of housing restrictions and loss from freeways built through the heart of a neighborhood still remembered, then shows us how Milwaukee African Americans continue today to “make a way out of no way.” It’s a story that this life-long Milwaukee area resident did not know and one I needed to know. Thank you, Dr. Jones!
The Sentence is both hilarious and deadly serious, sly and sincere. It's hard-edged and beautifully tender, with biting humor as a balm for life’s wounds. Erdrich is a national treasure, but you probably knew that. What I knew of her was limited to her Birchbark House children's writing. I also knew that her flowing autograph is a signed book nerd’s dream, and her beautiful jacket photos take my breath away. I'm a shameful book collector who’s picky about his crushes. Oh yes, the story. If I tell you very much, I’ll ruin good surprises. So, I’ll just say it’s a ghost story, an exploration of the spirit world inside our own. It happens in Erdrich’s very own book store, Birchbark Books, with Louise as a subtle character. And the ghost is an annoying, complex, recently dead regular customer. Above all, we get to see into the heart of a Minneapolis bookstore during the pandemic and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. This book is priceless American truth! And it's about people who love books.
In some ways it has a classic western feel: the tough towns always primed for violence, death in an instant, or more slowly if water isn't found soon, the clanging of rail spikes as the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific hammer toward their convergence. In other ways it surprises: the "miracles" revealed by the Ringmaster of a traveling magic show, the wisdom of a prophet with no memory who knows what's on the horizon, the truly amazing quality of the writing. Ming Tsu is a Chinese American orphan, raised by the white killer-for-hire who trained him. "For a long time it had ceased to trouble him to kill." He married a white woman after her father laughed at his proposal and was beaten for it, then convicted of miscegenation and sentenced to work the railroad line. Now he's got scores to settle and a wife to find, even though a judge ruled they were never married. He's wanted, but whites likely wouldn't know he's coming except that he's "bigger than them Chinese normally is." Oh, he's coming, and just pray he’s not coming for you! The novel has a mysterious air about the fleeting aspects of memory, what we try to hang on to and what we try to get back. These characters often frightened me and always filled me with wonder. Remarkable!
This book is easy to read, and not because it's simple. Ishiguro creates tremendous emotional depth with a graceful narrative flow. That must be how you win a Nobel Prize: expertly crafting writing that sounds so natural. Klara observes the world and its people with open curiosity, at first untainted by her limited experience, but she’s always learning. Her ability to analyze human behavior with sincerity, consideration, and objectivity is something I would love to possess, but Klara isn't human. She's a machine, waiting for a future with a human family who would buy her as their child's Artificial Friend. She looks forward to being displayed in the storefront window, where nourishment from the sun will make her stronger, and she can see more of the city's intensity. Then there’s a wider world out there, where her status will be friend, family, and possession. Klara feels the effects. She has her own intentions, and her personal story has an unmistakable living warmth. Can Klara love and be loved? Is she ultimately being used for her owners' needs alone, or do they care for her as they would care for a person? One thing I can say without hesitation is that I wish Klara was my friend!
Virgil Wander’s name is ironic because he’s been in one place for a long time, a beautiful but rugged Lake Superior town that’s well past its best days. Then Rune arrives, a magnetic man with a talent for making and flying wonderfully unusual kites, a man closely tied to everyone’s past, and a sign of their future. As he meets Rune, Virgil is recovering from a concussive near-death crash into the lake. It’s changed him; he’s more direct, more openly emotional, a little irreverent. He’s told to “watch out.” Maybe his name is a calling. It’s easy to like Enger’s characters. Their intelligence and sincerity make a winter setting feel warm and open to unlikely renewal. And the story is engaging, expertly crafted for anticipation and suspense. If you want a great holiday read, and a welcome reprieve from negativity, Virgil Wander is perfect!
With Prairie Lotus, Newbery Medal winner Linda Sue Park has written a gem of American historical fiction for middle grade readers. In her author's note, Park says it's a story she's been writing nearly all her life. "It is an attempt to reconcile my childhood love of the Little House books with my adult knowledge of their painful shortcomings." To reconcile the attitudes of Laura Ingalls Wilder's characters toward people of color while honoring the books, Park gives us 14-year-old Hanna, the half Asian daughter of a white father and a mother who was both Chinese and Korean. After her mother's tragic illness and death, Hanna and her father leave California in 1880 for the Dakota Territory, where four Little House books were also set. Hanna will need all the loving wisdom Mama gave her in order to be strong in the face of challenges and injustices from people who have never lived around a Chinese person and react very badly. The things Hanna and Mama wanted for her - going to school, designing beautiful dresses, even walking safely in town - can seem impossible, but it's the details of meeting these problems on a frontier that make the book so textured and meaningful. Hanna is a strong, determined girl who will search for ways to treat everyone justly, and to find just treatment for herself. This is richly developed Americana, and I am deeply grateful!
How in the world did this decades-long murderous conspiracy fall from American history's collective memory? The extended ‘Reign of Terror’ carried out in early 1900s Oklahoma has so many spectacular and infamous connections to pieces of our American identity that it doesn't seem possible to have missed hearing about it. When the Osage Nation acquired what seemed to be relatively useless Oklahoma land from the Cherokee, they just wanted a quiet place to live; but when large underground tracks of oil were discovered there, everything about their lives changed forever. The terrifying, sad story is expertly told by David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z, whose ability to keep diverse characters fresh and create compelling suspense is truly impressive. Grann weaves together a story that includes very carefully researched history about: the West and U.S. expansion; the Texas Rangers, and how one former Ranger became the heroic lead investigator of these crimes during the earliest days of J Edgar Hoover's five decades in leading the FBI; the nation's first uses of careful evidence gathering and fingerprinting; and the ridiculous willingness of many white Americans to throw away lives considered less important than their own, for the sake of greed. Reading this book was like watching a train wreck - I couldn't have been at once more horrified and also transfixed.