Chel Recommends!

What book from your childhood had the biggest impact on you as a reader?

   Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events loomed large. I straight up devoured those books. Oh, how I wished to be a Baudelaire – you know, despite the whole orphan situation and constantly being on the run from bad guys. In some ways I related to them, not having had the most pleasant childhood myself. Rooting for them felt like rooting for me.

What was your favorite 'adult' book that you read as a teenager?

   A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess…a book that is arguably intense for any age group lol.

After years spent as a bookseller, what is a hidden gem that you wish more people knew about?

    Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet!! Don’t let those corny covers stop you…I promise they don’t even begin to represent how incredible these books are.

Who is an author that you have just recently discovered?

   Melissa Broder for sure. I haven’t made my way through all her books yet, but so far so good. Milk Fed and Death Valley are up there on my list of fav books of all time.

What is a book that you enjoyed unexpectedly -- whether because of subject matter, genre, style, etc?

    Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. I’m not one to reach for a sci-fi book, but I was very much intrigued by the plot and I’m glad I gave it a chance. The way Vandermeer describes the fantastical ecosystem that serves as the setting of the book was mesmerizing. I have yet to continue the series, but I am intrigued by what might come next.

What was the best book you've read during quarantine, or during the pandemic in general?

    The Neapolitan Quartet takes the cake, again. A friend mailed me the first two books at the height of quarantine and my life was changed forever. Partially because of the pandemic, but I’m telling you guys, don’t sleep on these books!!

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I Want My Hat Back (The Hat Trilogy) By Jon Klassen, Jon Klassen (Illustrator) Cover Image
By Jon Klassen, Jon Klassen (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780763655983
Availability: On Our Shelves Now: Please call ahead to be sure inventory is not being held for other customers.
Published: Candlewick - September 27th, 2011

I didn’t expect a simple book about a bear losing his hat would make me giggle so much, but this book is just too cute! I also really adore Klassen’s distinctive illustrations; they are what drew me to his books to begin with. If you also enjoyed this book, I am happy to report Klassen has many more – even some more about hats!

—Chel, Longfellow Books

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How Can I Help You By Laura Sims Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593543702
Availability: On Our Shelves Now: Please call ahead to be sure inventory is not being held for other customers.
Published: G.P. Putnam's Sons - July 18th, 2023

Blessed by Mona Awad, I had a feeling that How Can I Help You was going to be great, and let me tell you, it was. Actually, it was more than great, it was fantastic.

            These days my attention span has been sorely lacking and I’ve desperately been seeking something to read that I can lose myself in. Like many others, I assume, my life’s been pretty dang stressful, and I’ve needed to spend some time in someone else’s. I am grateful to have chosen this book as my next read and to have properly achieved this.

            The central character, Margo, has found solace at a sleepy, mildew smelling, small town library where she can hide away from her ambiguously dark past – one where she was a (self-described) dutiful nurse named Jane who just happens to have been relocated to hospital after hospital following the “unexplained” deaths of her patients. Eventually getting caught in the act of inappropriate behavior by a coworker, she flees into the night, leaving her nursing career behind.

            Flash forward two years, Margo is content living her simple little life, shelving books, and greeting patrons cheerfully. However, we see her darker side begin to emerge when dealing with difficult regulars, especially once we get Patricia’s (the new reference librarian) perspective.

            When Patricia witnesses a suspicious interaction Margo has with a patron in the downstairs bathroom, she becomes intrigued by Margo and senses that she might have something to hide. Patricia, who had recently given up on her writing career, finds a muse in Margo and begins to write again. Her resurgence influenced me to begin writing again too, which I also desperately needed. Laura, the title of your books asks how you can help me, and I can assure you that you already have.

            If I had to describe the genre of this book I’d say “cozy suspense”. Perhaps a weird way to categorize it, but pick up a copy and you’ll see what I mean.

—Chel, Longfellow Books

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Raw Dog: The Naked Truth About Hot Dogs By Jamie Loftus Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250847744
Availability: On Our Shelves Now: Please call ahead to be sure inventory is not being held for other customers.
Published: Forge Books - May 23rd, 2023

Could there have been a more fitting title for this book? She kind of had to use it, right?

While of course it’s a sexual innuendo, this book is raw for other reasons. Since Loftus is a comedian, I went into reading Raw Dog with the assumption it was going to err on the silly side, and while it has its comical moments, it also provides a no-holds-barred look into the production of hot dogs, and more broadly, the devastating mistreatment of not only animals, but also the workers in the meat packing industry (most notably during the Pandemic). 
             Loftus also describes the origins of hot dogs and their American significance. During the Great Depression they were a cheap and filling food eaten by the lower classes. Fun fact: It’s said that Bonny and Clyde enjoyed a hot dog or two during their infamous escapades.

Flashing forward to the present, Loftus travels the country during the summer of 2021 (which she dubs “Hot Dog Summer”) with her boyfriend, cat, and dog on a quest to seek out the most favorable hot dogs America has to offer, a lot of them, unfortunately, falling short. Loftus is adamant that they need that “snap” and a toasted bun and many of the hot dogs she ingests lack these characteristics.

I personally found the most fascinating part of this book were the chapters about hot dog eating contests. Have you ever watched a video of one, or seen one in person? Unbelievable. One competitor ate 72 hot dogs in 10 minutes. 72 HOT DOGS IN 10 MINUTES.  

Despite their troubling history, Loftus isn’t trying to convince you not to eat hot dogs – if anything this book is more of a critique of capitalism. Could there be a utopia where animals are not inhumanely slaughtered, workers are given a safe place to work, and we can enjoy a hot dog without guilt?? Unfortunately, I don’t have much faith in that being a possibility.

In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy my veggie dogs – and if we’re being honest, isn’t every summer Hot Dog Summer?

—Chel, Longfellow Books

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Lapvona: A Novel By Ottessa Moshfegh Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593300282
Availability: On Our Shelves Now: Please call ahead to be sure inventory is not being held for other customers.
Published: Penguin Books - June 20th, 2023

What would it be like if Ottessa Moshfegh wrote an A24 film? Pick this book up and you might have an idea.

Lapvona is set in medieval times – a setting we don’t see very often these days, but one that works for Moshfegh, given the grotesque nature of that time and her tendency to lean into all things gross and unsettling. I would be remiss if I didn’t offer some trigger warnings. There are multiple depictions of sexual assault, incest, and very detailed descriptions of gore, so please read at your own discretion. 

Moshfegh begins by introducing us to a 13-year-old boy named Marek, an awkward, gawky, redhead with declining self-esteem due to the abuse he endures from his father, Jude, and his “friend” Jacob who is the son of the lord of Lapvona, Villiam (not to be confused with villain, though he is somewhat of one). 

Marek’s mother, who he is told died in childbirth, looms heavy on Marek’s mind as he desperately seeks out maternal love. As a baby, he nursed off the village’s designated wet nurse, Ina, and although he’s now grown up, Marek continues to find comfort in her breasts, despite her inability to produce milk in her old age. 

When an accident occurs that changes the course of Marek’s life (as well as many other characters’) the book shifts into a whiplash induced spiral that blurs the line between wealth and poverty, explores the classic debate of nature vs. nurture (spoiler alert: we need both), and paints a colorful picture of the complexity of family – all while shining a light on the way religion can be used as a form of manipulation.

Lapvona reads as a very dark and disturbing fairy tale chock full of eccentric characters – none that you will like, but isn’t that how her books usually go? 

I’ve now read all Moshfegh’s books, and I will be sitting here, patiently (maybe not patiently), waiting to see what she cooks up next!   

—Chel, Longfellow Books

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Death Valley: A Novel By Melissa Broder Cover Image
ISBN: 9781668024843
Availability: Coming Soon - Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: Scribner - October 3rd, 2023

    Melissa Broder has done it again! Her newly anticipated book, Death Valley, (out October 24, 2023) follows an author struggling with the emotional toll of her father’s admittance to the ICU and her husband’s ongoing health issues that only seem to be getting worse.
    Needing to take a breather, the protagonist flees to the California high desert and holes up in her motel of choice, a Best Western, where the eccentric receptionists point her to a trail in the neighboring desert. Along the trail she stumbles upon a giant cactus. A cactus that has no business being there.
    Upon further inspection, she notices a seam in the side of the cactus. Reaching her hand inside, she is compelled to reach deeper and deeper until her entire body has been consumed. While inside the cactus, she begins to process her fear and grief through a fever-dream-esque hallucination.
    When she returns to the Best Western, she is eager to tell the receptionists about her discovery. They do not believe her. Why would they? The type of cactus she describes (let alone its size) growing on that trail is supposed to be impossible. And besides, the desert is notorious for making people see things that are not there. 
    However, the protagonist is determined to prove to herself she hadn’t imagined it. She ventures back out, and to her surprise, the cactus is nowhere to be found. Thus begins the protagonist’s search through the desert, desperately trying to find the cactus again. Equipped with a couple bottles of water and a measly breakfast provided by the motel, she sets off into the expansive, scorching hot desert.
    Broder’s description of the protagonist’s journey transported me right beside her. As she loses direction and begins to run out of water, I found myself clutching my water bottle, my mouth becoming drier with each page I turned. Huddled on my couch, I was grateful to know where I was.
    Death Valley is magnificently existential and broaches the subject of grief in a creative and compelling way. If you want to feel something, this book is for you.

—Chel, Longfellow Books

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Girl Juice By Benji Nate Cover Image
ISBN: 9781770466630
Availability: On Our Shelves Now: Please call ahead to be sure inventory is not being held for other customers.
Published: Drawn and Quarterly - May 23rd, 2023

I may be biased since Benji is a childhood friend of mine, but wow, this book is an incredibly hilarious and fun read. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Benji’s artistic abilities increasingly getting better and better, and the illustration of this book is no exception.

I’m not one to reach for comics or graphic novels but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. A quick and funny read, Girl Juice gives us an intimate snapshot into the colorful lives of four unique twenty-something year old roommates - Bunny, Tallulah, Sadie, and Nana.

Bunny is introduced to us as the highly sexualized one of the group. She is constantly obsessing over her appearance and using her wiles to seduce every guy she sees – including a potential employer and a priest performing an exorcism. Along with her sidekick (a dog named Britney), she steals the show with her bubbly eccentricity. Some may find her to be a bit much, but I found her to be incredibly endearing – someone who helps you get out of your comfort zone and normalize being confident.

Juxtaposed with Bunny, Tallulah hopes to be a successful youtuber, Sadie (who is dating Tallulah) tries her best to be the voice of reason, and Nana simply just wants a clown to fall in love with (yes, an actual clown).

It's not too surprising how funny this book is, given that Benji also does stand-up comedy on the side. I genuinely laughed out loud multiple times.  I’ve never had roommates before, but I imagine many that have can highly relate. 

Girl Juice made me connect deeply with the femme side of myself. It made me want to dress all in pink, get up to some various shenanigans, and to giggle all night with some gal pals at a sleepover gossiping and stuffing my face with snacks. I highly recommend picking up a copy and having some chuckles. Lord knows we all need some of those.

—Chel, Longfellow Books

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My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels, Book One By Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein Cover Image
ISBN: 9781609450786
Availability: On Our Shelves Now: Please call ahead to be sure inventory is not being held for other customers.
Published: Europa Editions - September 25th, 2012

Get me talking about Elena Ferrante and I will gush for hours. 

My Brilliant Friend is the first volume of Ferrante’s four-part series of novels known collectively as the Neapolitan Quartet. The book begins by introducing the narrator, Elena, as she recounts the story of her life, mainly her relationship with her childhood friend, Lila, and the hardships they both endured in their poor (yet eccentric character filled) neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples beginning in the 1950’s.

From childhood, they are in competition with each other in almost every facet of life. “What you do, I do” young Elena tells young Lila – a statement that entangles them forever.

During the height of the pandemic a friend of mine mailed me the first two books and as I began reading, it quickly became apparent that there was absolutely no way I wasn’t going to continue the series, so I immediately went out and bought books three and four.

After Elena and Lila get ahold of a copy of Little Women, and read it a countless number of times, they set a goal to become successful writers, like the character Jo, and leave the toil of living in their neighborhood behind.

While one of them makes her escape through her privilege of an education, another begins to be absorbed by the neighborhood and follow suit with what is expected of her: marrying a rich man and having children – creating a heartbreaking juxtaposition. 

I could go on, but I encourage you to pick up a copy yourself. And while you’re at it, check out the series on HBO for a full immersive experience.


—Chel, Longfellow Books

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Milk Fed: A Novel By Melissa Broder Cover Image
ISBN: 9781982142506
Availability: On Our Shelves Now: Please call ahead to be sure inventory is not being held for other customers.
Published: Scribner - August 3rd, 2021

By the author of So Sad Today and The PiscesMilk Fed follows a twenty-something-year-old woman named Rachel living in LA, pursuing her goal to become a stand-up comedian, all whilst battling with her food restrictive eating disorder. Due to her mother’s influence on her calorie counting, Rachel’s therapist advises her to take a 60-day detox from her to aid in her recovery.

In order to get through her mundane and unfulfilling job at a talent management agency, Rachel tries her best to find joy in the little things she allows herself to eat. She often treats herself to a fat-free, low-carb, sugar-free frozen yogurt from a shop near her work. It’s dependable and for the most part, being only 45 calories, guilt-free. 

When the young Orthodox boy, who usually rings her up, is replaced by his sister, Miriam, she begins to give Rachel larger portions and extra toppings free of charge. Initially causing Rachel distress, this leads her to begin to explore the connection between food, pleasure, and the desire to be cared for.

As Rachel grows fond of Miriam, she finds herself being pulled into her world where food is freely eaten, and family is supportive and loving – something entirely foreign to her. 

Broder subjects us to the thoughts Rachel experiences that some people may seem taboo and TMI. This openness and authenticity offers comfort to those who feel ashamed and alone in their thoughts.   

This book has a perfect blend of darkness, humor, and discomfort. The pages fly by and before you know it you’ve finished it in one afternoon.

—Chel, Longfellow Books