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 recently retired from the School District of Waukesha after teaching elementary school children for 30 years, and now he gets to work at those author events. His interests include all types of children's literature, nature, art, sports, and lots of favorite authors for adults such as Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, E. L. Doctorow, Nevada Barr, David Mitchell, and Sherman Alexie.
One of Tommy Orange's characters, Dene Oxendene, explains that Gertrude Stein once wrote about the place of her Oakland, California childhood, about going back there and seeing so much development that there was no there there anymore. Dene tells us that this is what happened to Native people across the Americas, ancestral land buried by "glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory." And yet Urban Indians have made cities their own. "Being Indian has never been about returning to the land." The novel has 12 characters who eventually come together at the Big Oakland Powwow, people so diverse and also deeply intertwined, sometimes in ways they don't even know; but Dene seems central. He's won a project grant to document long ignored stories from Oakland Indians on video, with no director's agenda, just letting the "content control the vision;" and that's exactly how I see this novel, as the characters' stories, told forcefully. They are often frightening and confusing, but with moments of revelation and clarity and power. They feel true, not crafted to turn out the way you or I would want. The people sometimes survive, sometimes don't, and for some we're not even sure at the end. This book is a brilliantly written, unflinching look at life as it is and the constant battle to find a sense of place.
Warlight is set in England, just after the end of World War II, with streets still in rubble and unused. A boy and his sister are left by their parents, supposedly for important work in Singapore, put in the hands of apparent strangers for protection in a disrupted and still dangerous post-war world. None of it makes sense to the teenagers. The narrator, Nathaniel, asks questions without clear answers about his fragmented history. He tries to, as he says, "order" his life by collecting pieces of a hidden past as he finds them, about who he is, who his family has been, and what family really means, which he understands can never be fully revealed. Ondaatje's prose isn't sparse but clean, detailed without the unnecessary, which nicely balances the novel's mysterious feel. He paces the book with a consistent movement, never hurried, building the story like an unsteady march through an ambiguous landscape. The result is a complicated wisdom about being human. I'm left thinking I was in the hands of a truly remarkable writer in full control of his craft.
Sedaris has a unique style, very bold and still unassuming and natural. He plainly talks about the most harrowing and awkward aspects of life as if they were absurd curiosities. He can write about the endless contradictions in his family and give me a group hug feeling - thank you for being at least as weird as us! He writes about insults from a judgmental world with a sly but biting sense of humor that often brings a growing smile rather than a lol guffaw. And his odd but beautiful attempts at relationships with wild animals are fascinating. A fox named Carol befriends him, and he fed WHAT to a snapping turtle with a giant tumor on its head!? Last year he was at Boswell for a 7:00 event and showed up by 4:30 to start signing books and having long conversations with the very first fans who arrived. How can you not love this guy?
This is American history at its best, a wealth of details from primary sources, yet written so smoothly and with such style that it becomes a captivating story. Joseph was respected, even admired, by everyone who met him - soldiers and army officers, traders and settlers, a wide public following and U.S. Presidents. Howard, a Civil War general, fought with Sherman and went on to direct the Freedmen's Bureau, becoming responsible for the progress of millions of former slaves during Reconstruction. He founded Howard University with the ideal of educating blacks and whites together, and then led the violent campaign to force Joseph to the reservation. Sharfstein's words draw portraits of fascinating individuals over decades of their lives, as well as the rugged and beautiful Northwest landscapes of Washington, Idaho, a new Yellowstone National Park, Montana, and Alaska. The book's scope of time, from the early 1800's to the mid 1900's, is impressive!
With Varina, Frazier returns to the south in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, also the setting for his National Book Award winning Cold Mountain, to tell a story of the strong, intelligent, and graceful wife of Confederate States President Jefferson Davis. It begins in 1906, with the elderly Varina receiving a visit from an African American teacher named James Blake, who has read a book about her and is sure that he's one of the children it describes. And so they are reunited, the First Lady of the Confederacy with the slave boy she rescued from a beating in the street and raised side by side with her own children. The heart of the story is Varina's attempted escape with some of Jeff's closest aides from Richmond, the Confederate Capitol, once it was clear that the war was lost; but it tells of her life from where she lived in childhood, overlooking the Mississippi River, to her places in Europe after the war. James wants to understand who he was to her, and the most fascinating elements of the novel are about these odd relationships: Jeff's close confidence with a man he owned, a man who served him and yet talks with him like a friend; Varina's apparent disappointment that a former slave doesn't think more of her than, "She was ok, nice enough." Yet Varina is cool, assertive, always humane under the most difficult circumstances and is herself something of a rebel to the south for her action in saving James and for her sadness and anger with the violent human loss caused by her husband refusing to accept that slavery was a dying institution. Frazier writes this dramatic story with style and deep empathy, an exciting, revealing tale of a complex and impressive woman.
I was only six years old when the Braves left Milwaukee, but I felt the anger, even from some of my young friends. Then the Brewers arrived, and I lived across the street from Dave Bristol, their first field manager, for three incredible summers. It was amazing, playing on the County Stadium field and in the dugout and bullpen with his children. I've always wondered why that terrible and wonderful transition happened; this book gave me everything I needed. It's the political and economic story of the joy and early success that surrounded the Braves' arrival in 1953, and the rage over their bitter departure in 1966. More than that, the book explains how the Braves' move was the beginning of great change in Major League Baseball, with shifting franchises and expansion extending the league coast to coast, and with frustrated fans in many cities seeing their teams move in large part due of broadcast revenues with the advent of television. Steele's research into the actions and reactions from the entire spectrum of Milwaukee's community, and nationwide, is excellent. A fascinating read!
Tom, just one of his many names, is different. As an alba, he does age, but at a rate much slower than most humans. An alba (short for albatross, a bird known to live longer than most) may well live a thousand years or more, and the implications are stunning, often heart wrenching, and always dangerous. The people he comes to know, including the actor and playwright William Shakespeare, are fascinating and well developed by Haig. Accusations of witchcraft are common in Tom's early years, during the 1500s and beyond, forcing him to continually move and change identities to avoid constant suspicion. He fears being used by people with complicated motivations. The revelations of Tom's life and the wisdom he gathers about time, loss, and the need to insulate himself from painful human connections are drawn beautifully in sequences and identities ranging from deep into the past to the future. Haig is not writing science fiction here, but rather making us believe that this could actually be happening. I don't typically compare authors, but I felt changed by this book in ways similar to reading David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Bone Clocks, and Slade House. This is an excellent novel!
Combining beautiful color illustrations (Audubon Prints, Edward Curtis photos, George Catlin paintings, historic maps, and much more) with exceptionally deep research, Edmonds brings together 25 years of work to chronicle Midwestern birds and people. As a staff member at the Wisconsin Historical Society, he had access to high level expertise in the fields of archaeology, history, ornithology and American Indian spiritual practices; he also understands (and offers us) the latest avenues for electronic research, as well as good old fashioned digging into library collections and museums. Edmonds' discussions of the ways people have worshiped, thought about, studied, and used birds for food, profit, enlightenment, and healing over thousands of years explore our human perceptions of nature and our cultural tendencies. Fascinating stories about conflicting viewpoints, sometimes with real conflict, between conservationists and frontier hunters, Native American and Christian religions, university academics and folklore believers make this an engaging reading experience. Edmonds writes with the skill of a historian who loves a story; he's both a birder and an intellectual at heart.
Fish Girl is the creation of a powerhouse author/illustrator team, the first graphic novel for either of them; and it surely lives up to my expectations. David Wiesner is a three-time winner of the Caldecott Medal for the year's best illustrated children's book. His medal winners--Tuesday, The Three Pigs, and Flotsam--are all unique in their ideas and beautifully designed. Napoli is a respected linguistics professor who has written dozens of children's books, including the middle grade novel Three Days, perhaps the most intense, suspenseful, and unique children's novel that I've ever read.
Fish Girl is the story of a developing friendship between a young mermaid and the human girl who becomes her friend. Fish Girl has been kept at a theme park named Ocean Wonders by Neptune himself, the god of the seas! He controls this building full of aquariums with sea creatures from around the world, and he shows his power to crowds of spectators, for money. As Fish Girl begins to struggle with her past and her hopes for the future, she starts to discover what it means to be a mermaid in the heart of a human world. Simply told and yet strongly emotional, this is a lovely graphic novel of innocence and wisdom for upper elementary age kids.
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.
Christina Baker Kline's Orphan Train Girl, an adaptation of her NYT Bestselling adult novel Orphan Train, is a well researched portrayal of the sometimes agonizing situations endured by more than 150,000 "orphaned, abandoned, and homeless" children between 1854 and 1929, before the time of foster care programs, as they were taken by train from the American east coast to the Midwest in hope of finding new lives with new families. The story is told through the awkward, developing relationship between a struggling modern day foster child named Molly, who badly needs another chance, and a rich old woman named Vivian who seems to understand this girl in ways that nobody else can. Molly tries to survive with her current, frustrated foster parents after she's caught stealing a ragged library book, and her restitution is to complete a "service project" by helping Vivian clean out the attic of her large, beautiful home. The narrative moves between their story and the life of Niamh, a young Irish immigrant girl arriving at Ellis Island in 1929 who has felt more heartache from tragedy than any child ever should. She continues with such resilience, like Molly, having no other choice than to live on, and proving that as long as we're here humanity and love will find us, whether we want it to or not. This is a beautiful, deeply effecting book, so well tailored to children.
Kline opens the book with a brief prologue, including a statement from the novel's narrator Christina Olson that painter Andrew Wyeth was actually afraid to show her the finished painting Christina's World, which he'd created from inside her home. She explains that Wyeth's 1948 masterwork is not a portrait of her at all. It's wrong in nearly every way, except for the feeling that it captures of her relationship to this house, built by her ancestors, the home in Maine which was the focus of her entire life. An inserted print of the painting, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, closes the book.
This novel is Christina's story, told by her, imagined by Kline, of the tremendously brave and desperate life she led, and how it culminated in an iconic painting by a man I think of as the American art world's John Steinbeck. Like Steinbeck, Wyeth shows us both the pain and beauty of hope and survival, in unmatched detail. Kline's brilliance is that her words carry the intense sorrow and fierce pride which make humanity both terrifying and spectacular. Her book is noble, and so important to understanding American culture. This is a great piece of deeply researched historical fiction.
Fourteen-year-old Madeline, who is called Linda, or Commie, or Freak at school, has grown up in Loose River, Minnesota, the Walleye Capitol of the World, a place where the summer tourists crowd a very small one street town. Her parents and several other families arrived in the early 1980's as a group, in a failed attempt to create a communal family. Long ago the others have given up, leaving Linda, her mother and father living in a tiny cabin, where Linda sleeps under the loft rafters. Only the new teacher tries to call her Mattie; and without hesitation she introduces herself as Linda to the new Gardner family, who have built a beautiful house across the lake.
Linda's layers of isolation become clear, from kids at school, from her own parents, and even within a comforting and beloved land saturated with forests and lakes. It's her new, and increasingly troubling, strange interactions with the teacher and the Gardners which confuse and transform her. The new family--Patra, her four-year-old son Paul, and her husband Leo--are the center of Linda's story. Fridlund has given her main character a strong, steady voice as she moves through her teenage life one step at a time. Linda has the recognizable thoughts of a teenager, with a direct honesty that made me feel proud of her. I wanted to hear what she had to say, even as her story began to make me afraid and sad.
Fridlund has a remarkable ability to show how the smallest details and changes in people and places can cause sudden, unexpected emotional shifts; and she folds events from different points in Linda's life, ranging from a very young girl to a women in her thirties, into a narrative somehow made clearer by the time changes rather than confusing. History of Wolves was as compelling as the best books I've read this year. Fridlund's debut as a writer is exceptional.
With books such as Newberry Award winner Maniac Magee, Wringer, Loser, Stargirl, and many others, Jerry Spinelli writes the voices of children who don't quite fit a social mold. He writes fluidly and with a talent for dialog which makes his characters' personal tension seem real. In The Warden's Daughter, twelve year old Cammie is one of these desperate characters. She is permanently linked with tragedy as a baby, and she becomes an angry girl who can't resolve what happened to her mother. Although she has a loving father, who happens to run a small prison where they live, and friends she's starting to believe are true, Cammie wants a mother; and her only candidates are both women inmates. The story is told by the adult Cammie, looking back from years in the future, and the turns her young life takes are sometimes shocking, and always profound. Another important book from Spinelli!
Having great respect and admiration for Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates and others, I still don't believe there is a voice in American literature more powerful than E.L. Doctorow's. His historical fiction ranges in time from the crisis of the Civil War to the complexity of modern life in New York, with books such as Ragtime, Billy Bathgate, World's Fair and others receiving the highest awards given to a novelist.
I heard Doctorow speak, and even got a bit of help from him during the signing, at the Newberry Library in Chicago on his tour for The March. The book imagines General Sherman's raging assault through the heart of the Civil War South. Someone asked him if he'd read Sherman's personal memoir. He said that he had, but that he mostly studied photographs taken with the newly developed cameras of that era, suggesting that the truth in these pictures was the most essential guide to the details of any historical period. It made me realize that Doctorow's fiction has that same effect on me, giving me a highly detailed and moving picture of the people and places he interprets.
This collection of stories, all published previously in other collections, were placed in sequence for the book by the author himself, apparently as his last contribution to his work's publication before he died on July 21st, 2015. I had read most of these stories, but what a thrill to reread them in the order he chose! We lost one of the greatest when he died.
In his unique new addition to the tradition of Sherlock Holmes stories, Ridley Pearson has imagined Sherlock and his arch rival, James Moriarty, meeting for the first time as teenage roommates at Baskerville Academy. The story, for young adult readers, is told by Moriarty's sister, Moria, who is surprised and scared by the changes in her brother James during their time at the Academy. As Moria speaks directly to the reader, it becomes clear that she is also falling in love with her brother's roommate, Sherlock. Baskerville Academy has drawn them all into a series of mysterious, dangerous secrets involving the Holmes and Moriarty family histories. Pearson's characters are smart, and emotionally engaging as people. I was drawn into Moria's eyewitness account of the beginnings of this legendary struggle between masterminds, and I'm eager to read the next book in this original series.
American Revolutions is a highly engaging, extremely well documented history of our nation's formative years. Taylor continues the brilliant work he began with American Colonies as he details the complex, sometimes shocking upheavals caused by shifting alliances among ‘American Indians,’ Europeans, and Africans. The struggle for control of North American land and people's lives was often brutal, and the Revolutionary War itself ‘embroiled everyone, including women and children,’ as loyalties changed and American families divided, Patriot vs. Loyalist. Taylor's clear, concise writing style allows him to quickly discuss overriding ideas, which he supports with uncommon details. As an example, Benjamin Franklin helped to lead the Patriot cause, all the while his brother remained the Royal Governor of New Jersey. Lovers of North American history rejoice!
Seventeen-year-old Justyce is a smart, strong, and also very confused young man attending a mostly white, elite high school Academy and working toward the Ivy League. He is disturbed and amazed that he's constantly judged by the color of his skin rather than the content of his character. It invades everything that happens in his world, even when his actions are genuinely heroic; and racial profiling quickly leads to personal trauma. Even the people closest to him, a very wise teacher and his best friends Manny and Sarah Jane, don't fully understand. So he begins writing letters to someone who would. Dr. King, of course, can't answer him, but it's the questions that matter. What would you do in my situation, Martin? How was it possible that you stayed so steady in your beliefs? How can I live the way you did? Justyce is in crisis, and maybe the letters to Martin just aren't enough. This is a very well written, quickly moving novel with dialog that felt so real I thought I was looking out the window at our troubled American life. An exceptionally important and highly recommended teen novel!
Yes, we can all use some truth, especially now. The teens in this novel live on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation, where the author grew up, just outside of Niagara Falls, New York. They're looking for truth in a lot of ways, about family struggles, love, first relationships, and the sometimes hostile white world just outside their borders. The story is told in well-structured alternating chapters by Carson Mastic and Magpi (Maggi) Bokoni, teens who use the biting humor that Carson describes as a characteristic way of coping with Reservation life struggles. Carson's brother Derek pulls a dangerous stunt in protest of a diner called Custard's Last Stand that keeps a No Indians sign on the counter, and the response from both worlds is a true test for everyone involved. The characters are all looking for a future, and the teens form a band, trying to earn the battle of the bands grand prize of $1,000 and a trip to New York City. Carson's friend and bandmate, Lewis, loves The Beatles, who get wrapped into the art and music themes of the book, especially John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who stood for treaty rights and trigger the book's climax that happens in 1980. I liked this novel from the beginning, and loved it by the end.
Hiaasen is one of my favorite writers for kids and adults. His characters and plots are always funny, a little weird, and often environmentally charged. The main characters go after people who disregard and damage nature, using bold and sometime shady tactics. Hiaasen has been reporting on Florida development for decades, so the stories are usually set there. In this case, teenage Billy's mother loves eagles and moves the family to follow different nests. Meanwhile, his father left them for Montana and a new life with a wife and daughter from the Crow Nation. Dad is elusive, maybe has a secret government job, but Billy finds him. The rest is a race involving Billy's love of snakes, grizzly bears near Yellowstone, a Florida panther, and a rich guy trying to trophy hunt large endangered animals. Billy's family is brave and determined. Hiaasen's writing is smooth and natural, a fast, fun middle grade read!
Woodson was recently named our National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and she's a perfect choice! I was extremely impressed with her last adult novel, Another Brooklyn, and I'm reminded now of how amazed I was then at the power of her simple, direct, graceful style. Her characters have experiences and conversations that suddenly trigger in me the deep emotions which they feel. In this case a small group of 6th grade "special" students in New York are left by their teacher for a single hour a week in a room by themselves, just to talk about anything they choose. Gradually, almost unwilling, they become one group, true friends, who trust each other with their stories. The book's narrator, Haley, has been raised by a loving uncle since she was three years old, when her mother died and her father went to prison. Now dad is coming home. Esteban's father has been taken away by immigration authorities. I think you'll quickly admire these six children as much as I did; they'll tell you, straight out, about the beauty of multiple languages, and exactly what America should really look and sound like. This novel was a profound experience for me. Woodson tore my heart out and then gave me most of it back.