Monday, November 23, 2020

Book Review: In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero, with Michelle Burford

You may know Diane Guerrero from her work on Orange is the New Black or Jane the Virgin. But what I'll bet you don't know is that her parents were illegal immigrants to the US. And one day, when she was a teenager, she came home from school to find them both gone. No one ever checked up on her, no social worker ever arrived. Instead Diane had to fend for herself when she was fourteen.

Luckily, she had some good family friends who took her in. But then they moved and she had to find another family willing to take her in. She was able to visit both of her parents in the prisons they were sent to before their final deportation, which was incredibly traumatic. And as a US citizen, when she was older and when their family had scraped together some money, she was able to visit them in Colombia. But they can never even visit her again. 

She had to figure out her life, alone. She never felt comfortable--always felt like an imposing guest. Luckily the year before she'd gotten into a prestigious performing arts school, and the teachers there as well as her fellow students, encouraged her to go to college (in fact it was pretty much assumed that she would.) She had to figure out how to do that on her own too. And while the college itself part was figure-out-able, what was tricky was what to do with herself over college breaks when she had no home to go to, she wasn't a foreign student so she didn't have a host family, and again she felt like a giant imposition if she went back to the families who'd already put her up for so long in high school.

Obviously, she did eventually figure things out. And she eventually was a successful actor, appearing on two hit shows simultaneously. But she gives us a window into the real consequences of the deportations of illegal immigrants. If she'd just had a tiny bit less support, if just one or two things had gone wrong, she'd have ended up with a tragically different adult life. I found the book eye-opening.

This book is published by Henry Holt, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Book Review: American Hippo by Sarah Gailey

 I don't know about you, but currently I don't feel like reading anything about the here and now. A friend recently mentioned this as a reason why she's been reading a lot of historical fiction, but in my opinion that only takes care of one of the two issues--the now. But not the here. I have never been a big reader of speculative fiction... until now. And now I want nothing more than to escape. Completely. Maybe to another solar system, maybe to a magical world, and maybe to an alternate history of the United States where the Wild West took place in the swamps that used to be the Mississippi river Delta, but now are completely overrun with murdering feral hippos.

Not sound up your alley? Well give it a chance! I can count on one hand the number of alternate history books I've ever read, and this one was a delight.

This almost could have happened. A couple of decades after this book takes place, in the real world, it was proposed that we import hippos into the Mississippi to help with control of plant life, and as a great food source. This suggestion was taken very seriously and made its way far up the federal government before it was very wisely squashed, given that hippos are super murdery. This book takes that wacky idea, puts it in a more fun time frame, and plays out what likely would have happened. Just like with pretty much every other invasive species, while we'd say we'd keep it completely under control, we've never managed to do that, so it's safe to assume some hippos would get loose and go feral. 

Here we have a band of outlaws who have come together for a big--and legal!--score. They've been hired to destroy the dams keeping the majority of the hippos in the swamp, which hopefully means they'll all be swept out to sea and life in the region can more or less go back to the way it was before. Each of the outlaws have different skill sets and suffice it to say, none of them trust each other. Except for the ones who would kill for each other. So we have a fun western with better diversity than you've ever seen in that genre before, and lots of action. It was so much fun and an excellent distraction! So saddle up your hippo, and let's go!

This book is published by Tor, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Book Review: Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten

I did take a class in Imperial Russian History in college, but I do not remember learning about Catherine I of Russia before, the first Tsarina of that country. Previously, in fact during the childhood of her husband Peter the Great, there had been women ruling as Regent, but Catherine I wasn't regent--she was full-on Tsarina in her own right, paving a path that would lead to Catherine the Great.

Marta grew up incredibly poor in the countryside, her family were serfs. As a teen, she was sold to a wealthy merchant as a house servant. After a rape, she killed him and escaped. She made it to a nearby town where she was nearly sold to a whorehouse, but she escaped yet again, and was found by a local minister's family who took her in (this is where the real history begins. To Ms. Alpsten's credit, I noticed no real shift in the writing and in fact, I had no idea what was fictional and what was historical until the author's note at the end.) I did start to wonder when she was ever going to get around to meeting the Tsar, Peter the Great, but that's not due to any lag in the story. It is a long book, but it's a Russian novel! Of course it is! Would you trust a Russian novel of 250 pages? I think not!

And meet him she eventually does, winning him over not through any manipulations or machinations, but by being her true self, strong and brave and open. She becomes Tsaritsa Catherine, and her life is complicated, exciting, unnerving, more than a little crazy, and all her own. It's a fascinating story that's impossible to put down.

This book is published by St. Martin's Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Book Review: Murder by Milk Bottle by Lynne Truss

I started reading the Constable Twitten series because I loved Ms. Truss's grammar book and I loved old British mysteries and this felt like a lovely combo of the two. I keep reading them for the characters. The mystery itself, while well done with appropriate red herrings and twists and turns, is not my compulsion. How will the incredibly well-meaning, over-educated, and slightly naive young Constable Twitten put his foot in it this time? What evil and brilliant scheme will Mrs. Groynes pull off right under the noses of the police? How will Inspector Steine prove his utter dunderheadedness this time? What undercover shenanigans will Sergeant Brunswick get into? (Sadly, this time no undercover work for him.)

Yes, this particular book has The Milk Girl, an ice circus, and a meeting of the various heads of nefarious gangs from all around Britain, but as delightful as those all are (oh, and of course three people killed by actual milk bottle!), the characters are the real winners here. Will Twitten ever notice any of the various beautiful young women who fall in love with him? Will Brunswick ever ask out a woman he has a shot with? Will the town Brighton really never notice what an idiot Steine is? How long can Groynes keep up her criminal ways undetected? And in this book in particular, how long will Twitten not realize there's a police locker room and commissary? And how mad will he be that Brunswick never told him?

Pick up the book for the mystery, love it for the fully realized and hilarious characters.

This book is published by Bloomsbury which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

My Month in Review: October 2020

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

I note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star.

Books completed this month:
Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley
American Hippo by Sarah Gailey
In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero
Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh
The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary
Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century: Unabridged Selections edited by Alice Wong (audio)
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah 

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Nice Girls Still Don't Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel
If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future by Jill Lepore

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh
Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad by Mike Birbiglia
Nice Girls Still Don't Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel
You Will Be Able to Crochet by the End of This Book by Zoe Bateman
The Diagnostic Manual Version-5

I bought these books from Main Street Books in Davidson, NC, along with 2 jigsaw puzzles, a candle, and a bunch of cards. Luckily, that last (giant!) book is for my husband, not me.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Three Audiobook Reviews

I've gotten way behind in my reviews so here's a trio of my most recent audiobook listens. 

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein, narrated by Adam Grupper

Talk about a book right up my alley! Random facts, history, AND legal stuff all wrapped into one. And the facts and history are the kind that make you repeat them to friends and family later because they're just so infuriating. Basically, this book explains the history behind the lower rates of minority home ownership in America and how laws have prevented Black Americans from growing familial wealth in this way. From redlining to government-backed mortgages being only for whites, to white ownership IN PERPETUITY being written into deeds that exist TO THIS DAY, Black people wanting to buy houses have always been thwarted in this country and it's not because they're poor or have bad credit or any other reason. It's because it's enshrined in our laws and our government. This is wrong and horrid and awful and has for decades and centuries worked to keep systemic poverty in place and prevent black and brown Americans from owning property. (It was a little bit dry though.)

Race Against Time by Jerry Mitchell

Jerry moved to Mississippi for his journalism career, having no idea where it would lead. But after watching a preview of the movie Mississippi Burning, a stray comment about the fact that those men were all still alive--and free, lead him down a path in history. Through research he found that yes, the men who killed those three civil rights workers were in fact still around and had not been prosecuted. And sure, it had been decades but he figured that could work to his advantage--people wouldn't be as loyal, wouldn't worry as much about retaliation, and might even see the error of their ways. He tracked down witnesses and records and eventually his dogged determination did lead to arrests and a trial! Several people threatened him along the way but he not only didn't give up, he figured if this worked once, why not again? So he dove back into the archives and started making phone calls again, until he also cracked the cases of the assassination of Medgar Evers, the firebombing of Vernon Dahmer, and the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham. At the end of this road, too many witnesses and perpetrators were dying to go on. But it was a valiant effort to bring to task some of the worst racists who committed the most heinous crimes of the twentieth century. I wish more people did similar work.

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century: Unabridged Selections edited by Alice Wong, narrated by Alejandra Ospina 

So now to change from African-American topics to another minority: people with disabilities. This is a series of short first-person essays written by a wide variety of people from all sorts of backgrounds and histories, but who all share disabilities. Not all the disabilities are visible, some people have multiple disabilities, and some are disabled and also belong to other marginalized groups. But all of them have experienced their disability causing them to disappear in society. They want their issues, and their personhood, stood front and center, where they can no longer be ignored, overlooked, othered, and shunted aside. Unlike most other classifications of minority, "disabled" is a classification that might affect all of us one day if we live long enough. And it can hit some of us while young, and some temporarily. It's also the largest minority group, which is interesting as it seems to be the one fewest people have awareness of. These stories were eye-opening, harrowing, heartbreaking, and empowering. Not for the faint of heart and yet, should be required reading for all Americans.

Each of these I listened to as a downloadable eaudiobook from Libby/Overdrive via my local library. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Book Review: Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh


I just adored Allie's first book, and I had this on my To Buy list for years. Eventually, I deleted it because it seemed like it would never be published. So I was thrilled when it did finally come out, yay! And I bought it and read it right away! It's less linear than her last one, and the stories pull more from her childhood, and are more metaphorical. I didn't dislike those stories at all (in fact the one about her as a very small child repeatedly sneaking into her neighbor's house through the doggie door and leaving "gifts," was hysterical. Allie obviously was a bit off the beaten path from a very young age.)

I do know that she went through some very traumatic things the last few years--a divorce, surgery, remarriage--and she only barely mentions them, and that made me sad. I'm not sure if she was more open just because she was younger or because her life's things weren't quite as dramatic, but I did miss her openness and honestly from the first book. But that's such a minor complaint--I wanted the book to have more! And it's already huge! Seriously, it's over 500 pages. And it's printed on fancy art paper due to all the illustrations and it weighs a TON. Resting it on my lap while reading sometimes was uncomfortable. Again, a super minor complaint! 

Overall, Allie is a delight. She's bonkers and bizarre and also seems to attract like. For example, her new cat also seems overly strange (in a fantastic way) Her drawings are also hilarious and oddball and fun. Like the first book, this is neither a traditional graphic memoir, nor a memoir with illustrations--it's her own unique category. And boy does she make all of us feel like it's okay to be weird. And she shows how to find the humor in that. 

I bought this book from Main Street Books in Davidson, North Carolina, an independent bookstore.