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Saturday, September 14, 2019

Book Review: Stargazing by Jen Wang

Wow, this is different from Jen's previous book, The Prince and the Dressmaker!

Christine is a good girl. She does everything her parents want, including taking Chinese lessons after school. When Moon and her mom move into their garage apartment, her parents push her to befriend Moon, who is strange. Soon Moon has introduced Christine to all kinds of fun stuff like painting your nails and K-Pop (a couple of side effects her parents didn't see coming and aren't thrilled about.) But when Moon goes from being the weird girl at school, to becoming popular, Christine gets jealous and does something she regrets. Then Moon has a crisis which changes everything.

I loved this story of two different ways to "be Asian" and about first rebelling as kids get older, and starting to figure out who you are and what you like aside from your parents. It's also about making friends, even if they're weird, and then the odd, hard realization that you need to share your friends.

Finally, there's Moon's health crisis. I was shocked in reading the author's note at the end, to discover the same thing had happened to Ms. Wang. I then was fascinated by her decision to tell the story not through the eyes of Moon, but her friend. For Ms. Wang to have somewhat based this story on her own life--but not to make herself the central character is an interesting decision.

Everything felt very real and relatable, even though I grew up very differently. Some parts of childhood and maturing are universal.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Book Review: For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity by Liz Plank

I didn't want to read this book. It looked like a feminist polemic, and while I am very much a feminist, I find a lot of the literature didactic, humorless, and strident. But I was asked, for work, to read just the introduction before Sales Conference. I did. And then I stopped and put it away and read a dozen more books.

And yet, I couldn't stop thinking about it. At the very end of the season, I picked it back up and read the whole thing. It's not a fast read. I generally found I couldn't read it several nights in a row. There was just too much to think about, to chew on. I needed several days between chapters. The basic thesis is this: toxic masculinity isn't just terrible for women. It's actually worse for men.

For example, over the last 50ish years, thanks to the women's movement, women's career options have expanded exponentially to include pretty much everything. Men's haven't. As someone married to a man who used to be a teacher and now is a social worker, both women's jobs, I'll tell you it's not always easy on him, both to be in such a women-focused environment (and yet still be perceived as the privileged majority) and also to work in fields where the salary has always been kept low because they're perceived as "women's jobs." Just think if instead of politicians insisting they are going to bring back manufacturing jobs and factory work and coal mines and the like, instead we retrained those unemployed men to work in the health fields, which is a growing area, you can get a job pretty much anywhere, and always be guaranteed of employment. Wouldn't that be a better world? But because of the mindset of toxic masculinity, the men who work in those dying industries would never consider making that kind of change to a touchy-feely girls' job. So men are limited.

Plank talks about a talk she gave when she asked the audience how many of them had daughters. Hands went up. How many of them had told their daughters "you can do anything boys can do." Hands all proudly stayed high up. She then asked how many of them had sons. And how many of them had told their sons, "you can do anything girls can do." All the hands went down.

Toxic masculinity hurts men in every aspect of their lives, from health to relationships to family to work to mental health and well-being. But it will never be addressed and resolved, unless we truly understand the consequences and the price of not doing so. Hopefully this important book is a first step down that road.

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

Monday, September 9, 2019

Book Review: Do You Mind If I Cancel?: (Things That Still Annoy Me) by Gary Janetti

A funny collection of personal essays by a former producer of Will and Grace. They're mostly about him being gay, about his twenties, about figuring himself out, and going through a series of terrible jobs (mostly he could only get terrible jobs because he was terrible.) They are snarky, humorous, very much about being gay, name-droppy, and fun.

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

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Book Review: Trapeze by Leigh Ansell

I'd never read a crowd-sourced book before, and I wasn't sure how it would be. This book is being published by Wattpad, the app where writers can upload manuscript and readers can read, comment, and review them. Wattpad has decided to publish in print the books that are the cream of the crop. I think it's great that for their first list, all of the books are Young Adult. As much as editors try desperately to keep their thumb on the pulse of the zeitgeist, teens also want desperately to keep adults out. Not to mention, the trends and needs just change so darn fast. I think YA books in particular can really benefit from the readers telling us publishers what they want to read, instead of the other way around.

This book took several twists I wasn't expecting. It starts out with Corey doing her usual pre-show routine in a new town: heading to the closest restaurant for dinner. if the food is good, the show goes well. The show meaning, the circus, where she's in the trapeze act. Until Sherwood, California. She meets a cute boy at the restaurant, he highly recommends the fries and he's right--they're amazing. and things seem to be heading towards amazing with the lead trapeze artist promoting Corey into the lead position for the first time, but in the middle of their act, the worst thing happens: fire.

Stop reading now if you don't want some minor spoilers. But I do need to tell you a little more to really explain the book. Because at this point, I was thinking the book was Water for Elephants meets The Circus Fire for teens, but it completely stops being about the circus or the fire at this point. Corey's aunt, who owns the circus, has been raising her since Corey's own mom, who was a teen when she had Corey, was a hot mess when she was a baby. Turns out her mom lives in Sherwood and has gotten her act together. While the investigation happens and various people are hospitalized and the circus itself doesn't have the funds to repair, let alone move on, they're stuck here for now. And it's best for Corey to go live with the mom she's never known. So she'll be attending the local high school (with the cute guy who likes French fries) and she SO doesn't want anyone to know she's from the circus, although her spotty education up to this point might out her. Turns out the cute boy is in her Precal class and is great at math and can tutor her.

At this point I was expecting just a traditional teen romance, but things took yet another turn or two! There's a lot more meat on the bone of this book than I had expected, and I really appreciated that. I do wish Corey had checked in more with the circus and her friends and family there, as it felt very cut off from the beginning of the book and like she didn't care about the circus, but I'm choosing to interpret that as simply her being too overwhelmed by her circumstances, and the natural self-centeredness of teens developmentally. It does circle back around at the end. The book is melodramatic in all the best ways for teens, pretty darn clean in terms of sex (but there is excessive drinking and some violence), and certainly unique in storyline and background. I think teens will eat it up. And that cover is just gorgeous!

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

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

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Book Review: Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden

Bea has run away. At a gas station, she runs into Lou, an older family friend, who is driving to West Texas to visit family. Bea says she is on her way to West Texas too, and Lou gives her a ride. Bea is angry and volatile, but luckily Lou is both understanding and no-nonsense. As the miles tick away, they rescue a lost cat, and determine to try to return her to her home. Mysterious men in a van start following them, and the town where the cat is from seems to have magical elements. as fantastical things happen, Bea and Lou come to understandings about themselves and their pasts, and what they want for their futures. And the cat.

Lushly drawn, in a Texas I've never seen before full of snow and magic, these two women come to terms with themselves. With the help of a snow-white cat.

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

Sunday, September 1, 2019

My Month in Review: August

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:
Go to Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood by Lucy Knisley
A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner
InvestiGators by John Patrick Green
What Stars Are Made of by Sarah Allen
Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
Chirp by Kate Messner
The Phantom Twin by Lisa Brown
It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood
All Boys Aren't Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson
Catching a Russian Spy: Agent Les Weiser Jr. and the Case of Aldrich Ames by Bryan Denson
The Secret Guests: A Novel by B.W. Black
Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Maris Wicks
A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II
by Sonia Purnell, narrated by Juliet Stevenson (audio) *
The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer
Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer (audio) *

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
You're Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
When Did the Statue of Liberty Turn Green? And 101 Other Questions about New York City by Jean Ashton*
The League of Wives: The Untold Story of the Women Who Took on the U.S. Government to Bring Their Husbands Home by Heath Hardage Lee (audio)

What I acquired this month (non-work books): 
None! I was good!

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Book Review: Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson


Amara grew up outside of Portland, Oregon, which she does love, but she's always been so curious about her dad's hometown of New York, specifically Harlem. After pestering and bothering her parents about this, they finally agree she can accompany her father on a business trip to the city, when she's assigned a project at school about family and where she comes from. This way she can finally meet her grandfather and cousins. Along the way she discovers her father and his father haven't spoken since she was born. And she's horrified to learn her grandmother died the same day that she was born. 
Once in Harlem, her cousins don't turn out to be perfect, and she doesn't understand the city. She does go to see some things she really wants, like The Apollo, and also some more off-the-beaten path attractions like the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. She does get to know her family better, and if she plays her cards right, she might even get her dad and grandfather talking again. She learns a lot about herself, her family's history, and where she comes from both geographically and metaphorically. 

I think the thing I liked the most about this book, is that through Amara's eyes, it will encourage kids to see, perhaps for the first time, that their parents are humans, who once were kids, who might have difficult relationships with their own parents. Kids often idealize and dehumanize their parents into perfect automatons of parenthood, instead of seeing them as flawed, 3-dimensional people. This isn't a front-and-center issue and it's something only adults can appreciate, but I do think it's important, especially today. It was easy to read, compelling, and filled to the brim with new experiences for Amara. She even has a first-time experience of getting into a fight with her cousin and being accused--as a black girl by another black girl--of being privileged. Which she is, although she's never seen her life that way. This is a multilayered book.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

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