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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Book Review: Hawking by Jim Ottaviani with illustrations by Leland Myrick

As an English major, I have gaps in my knowledge of the world. I did take physics in high school but a lot of it went over my head. I still feel I have a stronger grasp on science than a lot of my fellow English majors, but certainly much less than my younger sister who was a physics major. I went into this book thinking it would either be a light overview of Hawking's life for the English-major set, or a graphic novelization of the movie from a few years ago. Neither is at all the case. It is a deep dive into his life, fully covering all of the physics, astrophysics, and cosmology.

Most of you probably know the back story. He was a super-smart but slightly bratty teen at college when he started having some issues with walking and balance and was eventually diagnosed with ALS. He was given just a year or two to live, and then lived another 50+, changing the face of these scientific arenas along the way. He was a brilliant scientist but perhaps trying to live with, eventually marrying a couple of times. He didn't take himself super-seriously, sometimes tweaking fellow scientists, and even appearing in pop culture TV shows late in life.

The science is well done and accessible for lay people, but it does make the book very dense (haha--I don't mean in a physical way although I bet given the length and the type of paper used that it also is heavy. I read a digital version.) I very much enjoyed it, but it wasn't a book I could plot through in just a couple of hours. It took several days as I'd read for a while and then have to take a mental break to absorb. That said, I do think I understood 70% of the science which is way better than I did in my actual physics class, and the visualizations of a lot of his theories really helped immensely. You might not think that a man who was more or less all mind and useless body for most of his life, would present itself well for a very graphic format, but the illustrations of his theories went a long way towards my understanding. I'm sure I'll lose this pretty soon, but immediately after reading it, I feel smarter!

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

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Book Review: The Pennypackers Go on Vacation by Lisa Doan

Charlie Pennypacker has always wanted to go on a real vacation but like with everything else in his life, his super-cheap dad has always managed to ruin it. He's made them camp in the back yard and pretend they were somewhere else, and called that a vacation. Argh. So when his dad announces they're going on a Disney cruise, Charlie can't believe it!

And he shouldn't have. Because they're not going on a Disney cruise. They're on a Wisney cruise. With his super-obnoxious little sister (of course) and his ex-best-friend-turned nemesis Gunter. Charlie goes along with "Cinderalla" and "Mickey Mouser" but why are those two men in suits chasing the boat from port to port and what is the captain hiding? Maybe if Charlie can get Gunter to agree to a truce, they can figure out what's really going on. And have some fun in the process.

This is a fun middle grade book that could be good for kids whose families are facing tighter budgets (although Charlie's mom is not a tightwad like his dad and in fact is a lawyer and they have a decent income.) Or who find their families awful and embarrassing. It's also just plain funny. And it's nice that unlike in Ms. Doan's last book, there's not a true enemy. As an ex-best-friend, you figure pretty early on that Charlie and Gunter might work through their issues. A light, fun early middle grade book for anyone with a really irritating little sister who never got to go on the summer vacation of their dreams.

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 Roaring Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Book Review: Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

One thing I love most about flying is that it's a long uninterrupted stretch of time that is internet-free, when I can really get some great reading done. Therefore I am always a little anxious about what books I choose to bring on the plane? Nowadays, thanks to my job, I always have a couple dozen options on my iPad, so I'm not stuck if my selection turns out to be poor. Still, it's such a great reading opportunity, I hate to waste it on a mediocre book.

To my delight, as my plane pushed back on Newark, en route to O'Hare, this book already proved fantastic! Three women work as lawyers at the largest sports brand in the world (I was thinking of Nike), and they're also friends: Sloane, Ardie, and Grace. A new young woman starts in the department, and their boss, Ames, takes a disturbing interest in her. All the more disturbing as he's next in line to take over after the CEO dropped dead in the shower. And these women aren't basing this on rumors--at least one of them knows first-hand about Ames's behavior. They try the usual tactics--warning the new hire, inviting themselves along when Ames invites her out for drinks after work, lightly warning him to back off (after all, he's their boss too so it's risky to be too direct.)

Meanwhile, the action is interspersed with depositions of these women, letting us in pretty quickly on the fact that soon enough, something Very Bad will happen. Not sure what at first, and then we're not sure who, but that really keeps the tension high. Not that it needed much more tension! Just knowing that this young woman is likely to be sexually assaulted by her own boss at any moment was tension enough for me! But it really works.

I've simplified things here and getting towards the end, the storyline makes a couple of turns I wasn't expecting. It doesn't proceed along the usual route for this kind of story, and is much more interesting than any novel on this topic I've ever seen before. It was compelling and I was glad my brother was running late to pick me up at the airport. In fact, I was even a little annoyed when he arrived! I loved this very good, very important, and very timely novel.

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

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Book Review: This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

Every year, Ben's town has a celebration for Autumn during which they release hundreds of lanterns to float down the river. This year, Ben and his friends are determined to find out where the lanterns end up. Nathaniel, who is only friends with Ben, not the rest of the group, tags along. Which is annoying at first, but when the other friends drop out despite their pact, it turns out to be a good thing. Then the book starts to take on a fantastical tone. As the two boys encounter a fisherbear, a little witch, and the history behind the lantern tradition, the world gets more and more amazing. But when they get lost and can't find their way back to the river on their own, they have to rely on each other (which Ben sometimes resents) and more importantly, trust.

This is a beautiful graphic novel that didn't at all go where I thought it was going to go. It starts off feeling like Stand By Me, but ends up in a bizarrely awesome fantasy land. I especially liked the fisherbear.

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.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Book Review: All of Me by Chris Baron

There are so few books out there about overweight boys. I gravitated towards this one right away due to the meed for the topic. Realized immediately that the book is "in verse" which I'm putting in quotation marks for a reason, but I overlooked that style that I don't normally like. And I"m so glad I did as this book was really powerful. (To me the "in verse" didn't feel like verse at all. No meter, no rhythm, it just felt like each sentence was on it's own line. That's a style choice as well, but it doesn't make it a novel in verse, in my opinion, like some others I've read, which certainly hew more in the direction of poetry than this one.)

Ari moved to the San Francisco area with his parents, away from all their family and friends in New York. He's overweight and pretty bullied at school. After his first year he starts to make a few friends. His mother really encourages those friendships, and he's able to take two of his friends out to the beach for the summer, where his mother, an artist, is working for the summer. His mother eventually figures out how troubled he is about his weight and gives him a diet book (seems like Dr. Atkins.) Although she doesn't know how badly he has been bullied. His dad is basically not around at this point which is never addressed with Ari. And he doesn't ask.

But over the summer, with his friends, with art, with hiking and swimming and biking and the diet, he starts to feel better about himself. Not because he's losing weight--although he is--but because he starts to be more independent and come into himself more. He family may be falling apart, but he is coming together.

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 Feiwel & Friends, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Book Review: Kingdom of Lies: Unnerving Adventures in the World of Cybercrime by Kate Fazzini

Cybercrime is something that sounds foreign, and yet it affects us every day. When you have to go get your credit card to type in the security code from the back, when you have to enter your zip code at the gas pump, or when you have to remember any of your seventy-thousand increasingly-bizarre passwords, you are attempting to thwart cybercrime. Every time you chuckle over a spam email, roll your eyes over a phishing email, or scream in frustration when your third attempt to log in to your Target account results in being locked out, do you ever wonder how we got here? And who is behind it?

Kate Fazzini used to work in the world of anti-cybercrime for a major bank. Now she is a reporter in the field, and so she is perfectly poised to take you through the terrifying new world of cybercrime. We're introduced to a few individual players as examples of the larger crime scene, including a young Romanian woman who starts off in customer service of a crime ring (yes, they have customer service reps!) and soon rises to the number two position thanks to her deft hand in expanding their randsomware reach. Along with a Russian man in New Jersey, a Chinese man, and a couple of others, Ms. Fazzini shows us how this world functions, through these examples, and it's pretty terrifying, while at the same time being reassuringly boring, in how like the real above-board world most of these organizations are.

A fast read for fans of Michael Lewis, that will make you want to lock down all your accounts and finally sign up for that password manager you've been meaning to get around to.

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

Monday, June 3, 2019

Book Review: Honestly, We Meant Well by Grant Ginder

Sue Ellen is a classics professor, traveling to Greece to give lectures for a tour group, remembering her first love on the island of Aegina, thinking if this is what her life is meant to be.

Dean is her husband, a bestselling author and a lecturer in creative writing, juggling an affair with a student and his own writers block.

Will is their son, just graduated from college, flailing in life, uncertain what to do next besides trolling Grindr for a hookup.

In Greece each of the three of them will reevaluate their decisions and how they have gotten where they are and if this is where they want to be. Like the ruins surrounding them, their lives seem to be in pieces, but maybe there's a tragic beauty in that.

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