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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Book Review: The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

I can't say too much about this book or I will give away spoilers for the first book, The Calculating Stars. Suffice it to say that I was sick as a dog but I stayed up until 1:00 AM to finish it. I was about to reluctantly put it down with about 40 pages left when Something Shocking Happened and then I was in it to the end. It's a great sequel and I was super bummed to find out there will not be any more Lady Astronaut books (there is a short story which won the Hugo Award, which was published first but which takes place after the two books.) The book doesn't end in a way that precludes the store going on and on. There could be way more books. And I really wish there were!

Once again, like the first book, this is by no means just for Sci Fi lovers, and while it's alternative history, that's a genre that normally makes me itchy but this is the exception that proves the rule. These books are so much fun, easy to read but they make you feel smart, with tons to discuss for book clubs, and anyone who read Hidden Figures would love them. They're the best summer reads I've read in many years. It's early in the year yet (even earlier when I read them in January) and I am pretty sure they're going to end up being my favorites of the year. So I don't care if you don't usually like this kind of book. Read them anyway. You'll thank me.

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

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Book Review: Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

36315374This book turns the typical thriller setup on its head. Georgina--Geo--is a successful young executive at a pharmaceutical company run by her future father-in-law, and everything in her life looks near-perfect on the outside. Until one day when the police arrest her for murder. And not just any police officer--the arresting detective was a friend of Geo's in high school. The victim she's accused of murdering? Was her best friend.

Well, okay, not exactly accused of murdering, but of covering up the murder, done by her boyfriend. He was older, a bad boy, abusive, and quickly taking Geo down a bad path. And now that the past has been uncovered, Geo takes her punishment. She serves her time (a few chapters read a lot like Orange is the new Black) and is released. Upon release, all she has is her car, which her father has kept for her. She moves in with him, and his house is repeatedly vandalized. She can't get a job in their small town, and is ostracized by everyone.

But while she accepted her fate and her role, her ex-boyfriend disappeared halfway through the trial, jumping bail. He is still on the loose. And now, new murders are happening. And they resemble that old murder of her old best friend. Is he after her now? Can she get away? Or is there an even darker secret in Geo's past that's now coming back to haunt her?

I read this book in just a day and half, just ripped right through it. It's a fun, easy read, and is twisty in just the right ways.

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

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Book Review: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I came to this book through the movie, not even knowing it was a book at first. Although it is the most meta of books, as even in the movie it is a book, being read to a sick grandchild by his grandfather. What I didn't expect is for the book to be so similar--including interruptions and skimming and--ew--kissing parts. It was a delight! If you love the movie, you will adore the book. The movie was also written by William Goldman (an award-winning screenwriter whose other credits include All the President's Men). So it does track VERY closely to the book. There are stretches of multiple pages which feel verbatim.

Necessarily there are changes. There are shortenings. Most notably the secret underground "zoo" was cut altogether, and the beginning when Buttercup is introduced and later when she is picked to be the Prince's bride, is much more brief in the movie. Also there are extensive bits back and forth about Mr. Golding's publisher, and about his efforts to track down other manuscripts by "S. Morgenstern" such as "Buttercup's Baby," a chapter of which is included at the back, which are all highly entertaining but made sense to cut.

I was worried that a book with so many asides, which purported to be a history of Gilder and Florin, would bog down, but it was a fun, rollicking story that whipped along. Despite being a rather long book, I whipped through it in just a couple of days. Much fun!

I bought this at Montclair Book Center, a mostly used (but this was new) independent bookstore in my town.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Book Review: Wish Upon a Sleepover by Suzanne Selfors


Leilani wants to have more friends. She has a best friend, Autumn, but she's out of town visiting her father every other weekend, leaving Leilani to only be able to hang out with her grandmother. There's a group of 6 girls named Hailey (some variation of spelling) in their class who are popular and seem like they're always having fun. One Hailey lives in the building next door to Leilani's in Seattle. Leilani comes up with a great idea: she'll plan a sleepover for the Haileys and Autumn, and it will be awesome and afterwards they'll all be friends. While planning her sleepover (theme: luau!), a few kids annoy her and she makes not only an Invite list but also a Do Not Invite list (admittedly, a not nice thing to do, but she never meant for this to be seen by anyone other than her.) Her grandmother then "accidentally" send her invites to the Do Not Invite list, argh! So she has three kids she doesn't especially like (and Autumn) come over. While she can see the Haileys at their own sleepover in the next building. 

Her grandmother then tells Leilani about a Hawaiian tradition of Sleepover Soup which she starts. Each person must contribute an ingredient that means something to them and is from somewhere important. Then they all drink the soup together under the moon, and good things will happen. If you caught on that this is a variant of the "stone soup" story, congratulations, you are correct!

Naturally, by the end of the evening, the scavenger hunt for ingredients brings the kids together, they reveal personal things about themselves and end up liking each other and forging bonds. (They also have a run-in with the Haileys and the main one is quite bitchy, although another Hailey would like to be invited to their party next time, showing they're not all obnoxious.) And in the end, did her grandmother do much much more than she claimed, for Leilani to gain some new, better friends? A sweet story without being cloying, fun without being frenetic, and with lessons learned but not heavy-handed, this was a thoroughly enjoyable 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 Imprint, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

My Month in Review: July

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

I note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star. I am home for a couple of months before I start traveling for work again, so I have been able to catch up on reading. Now, to get ahead! Luckily lots of rain predicted this week. But that was true last week also, while on vacation, and the rain was underwhelming.

Books completed this month:
News of the World by Paulette Jiles*
Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution
by Nathaniel Philbrick, narrated by Scott Brick* (audio)
Love Saves the Day by Gwen Cooper*
Tito the Bonecrusher by Melissa Thomson
Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos by Lucy Knisley
Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sergeant Isaac Woodard and the Igniting of the Modern Civil Rights Movement by Richard Gergel
Strangers Assume My Girlfriend Is My Nurse by Shane Burcaw
Manfried the Man by Caitlin Major and Kelly Bastow*
Force of Nature by Jane Harper (audio)
The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot Against George Washington by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
The Breakaways by Cathy G. Johnson

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Peacock Feast: A Novel by Lisa Gornick
Conan Doyle for the Defence by Margalit Fox (audio)*
Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story by Peter Bagge

What I gave up on:
The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home by Denise Kiernan *
This seemed to have a lot of potential but it turns out the Vanderbilt who built the Biltmore didn't do anything else interesting.

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Vox by Christina Dalcher--the publisher sent this to me.
Meaty by Samantha Irby I bought this at the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, VT

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Book Review: Nothing Good Can Come from This: Essays by Kristi Coulter

This is a memoir told in essays, which can feel disjointed, but for me it did come together in the end. Kristi is a successful businesswoman with a drinking problem. This is not a story commonly told. Pretty much all of the addiction memoirs I've run across have felt like a competition to who can achieve a new low. Which is a dreadful thing to aspire to, as many people die on their way down. Also, the vast majority of people with drinking problems do not have the horrific consequences described in those books. A lot of people are able to deny their problems, and also aren't able to find help they feel is appropriate because it's all geared to much more severe versions of the problem. But I really admire Kristi for acknowledging that it was a problem and figuring it all out for her, before she had terrible consequences. I think more people might see themselves in Kristi than in Sarah Hepola.

Anyway, I thought she was very forthright and straightforward. Her life seems fairly normal, with a loving husband she sometimes squabbles with, a house that sometimes breaks down, a very demanding job with a lot of travel, and a level of income that means she can eat out at super-fancy restaurants regularly, and developing a palate and considering herself a "foodie" came with an awful lot of wine. Soon she was drinking a bottle of wine every night. And when she tried not to, she found she couldn't. She'd really, really try, and she still couldn't.

What seemed to be key for her eventual success, after being a functional alcoholic for ten years, was when she stopped hoping that one day she's want to quit. And instead she just quit. It was waiting for the wanting, certain one day it would appear and provide her with unlimited fortitude and strength, that held her back.

It wasn't easy. And she didn't do it alone. Well, she did for the first year, white-knuckling it. But then she went to AA. She writes in a fun, breezy style, that's also refreshing for an addiction memoir. I really enjoyed it. It's short and can be read in just a few hours.

I got this book for free from my employer. It is published by FSG, a division of Macmillan.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Reading By Publisher Take 3

So in 2016 I started tracking what publishers I was reading in my year-end stats and last year, while job hunting, I started a project (never finished because of job getting) to purposefully diversify my reading by publisher. Since the job getting, the opposite has happened to me.

I was initially concerned about reading books from just one publisher, based on my unhappy experience reading only Knopf books (while interviewing for a job in case you're tracking variations on this theme). Of course that's reading a single imprint, not one publisher, and I've worked at Macmillan before (at St. Martin's Press, so in a single division) so I knew I did/do like a lot of their books. But still. It feels limiting.

And yet, I've found it to be so much fun! After all, Macmillan (and her distribution lines) publish 3000-4000 books a year. And they're super diverse in subject matter and literary ilk and even age range, since I sell children's books as well as adult. There definitely are publishers where I would struggle, as my interests diverge a lot from their genres, to find books to interest me, and I would feel much more forced into reading, which sucks. Or I might just not read a whole heck of a lot of their books. That's a choice, and I do know a couple of my fellow Macmillan reps make that choice, but to me, that would make my job harder and also I'd get a lot of side-eye in the office, especially from my boss, so that feels like a questionable decision if you can find some books in the mix that you do like. And at the 5th largest US publisher, that shouldn't be hard to do.

And it isn't! So far every season I have not managed to read all the books I wanted to at the beginning of the season. That's a very good thing. Sometimes it's due to those books not being available until too late (I give myself 4 months to read books for each season and then I have to move on to the next season), sometimes I'm distracted by other books, and sometimes I have heard things throughout the season that make me less excited about a book than I initially was. But this has actually, so far, been a good problem to have, at least on this side.

But it does create another problem. What about all of the non-Macmillan books I want to read?

Argh. Well, I now have to aggressively prioritize. Non-work books can absolutely wedge themselves into my reading agenda the minute they come out (see: David Sedaris). And of course, I prioritize my book club books (which is why when one sucks, nowadays that's an even bigger bummer than before.) But in reality, most of my non-work books are audiobooks. And that really skews what I read for a couple of reasons. For one, a small fraction of books are available on audio in the first place. Tons of books that I want to read just aren't made into audiobooks for a variety of reasons. Second, it's what's available. I don't want to listen to an audiobook on CD, because then I can ONLY listen in my car (no longer own a CD player in my house). Downloadable is the way to go. Thanks to my awesome library system, I have 2 ways I can log into 2 systems: Overdrive/Libby and CloudLibrary. But what I can download depends on what books my library has purchased (leased) on audio from that service. We don't actually have access to the entire library of available audiobooks at these services. I did recently sign up for Libro.fm as well (which is not free; it's like Audible, but
for indies.) That opens up a whole new list of options. But the biggest limitation for me is that there are a bunch of books that I don't want to listen to on audio. I know the experience won't be enjoyable, and I might end up disliking a book that I would have liked in print. Fiction, especially of the literary type, fares less well on audio in my brain. I really prefer nonfiction, and the few novels on audio I listen to tend towards thrillers. I either need something I don't have to 100% listen to and occasionally can be distracted from without missing a crucial element (nonfiction) and/or something compelling that sucks me in which will grab my attention and hang on to it like a vacuum (thriller).

So far this year, I've read 69 books. We are just past the halfway point in the year. Of those 69, 22 are non-Macmillan titles, or 31%. 10 of those were in print so 12 on audio (a much more even split than I was expecting) and 3 (all print) were book club selections. This is not including all of the picture books and early reader books that I read for work, which is roughly 40-50/season, which would really skew my numbers pro-Macmillan.)

I suppose I could cut out those 22 books and read exclusively Macmillan, but I'm not going to do that. Not only because of the David Sedarises in the world, but because it helps me keep up with the market more generally, actually makes my bookstores trust my recommendations more when I occasionally suggest another publisher's book, and it makes me feel more free and not oppressed by what I have to read for work. I've long known that as soon as a book is assigned to me, I don't want to read it, EVEN IF I'M THE ONE WHO ASSIGNED IT (for example, if I suggested it for book club).

With more than a year of mostly reading one publisher, this is my conclusion: it's not bad! I can keep this up. Not sure if my numbers will always look like this, but for now, it's do-able. I do wish more (all?) books were available on audio though.