Saturday, May 27, 2017

Book Review: Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith (audio)

I do like books about science but occasionally they can be a bit of a slog, so I like them especially on audio. While I might get a little lost, it's just easier to have someone else reading the book to me. This one, however, I found quite compelling.

Mr. Godfrey-Smith uses an octopus to explore neurology, how brains work, what we don't understand about brains and therefore about consciousness, and how much that means we don't understand of ourselves. He is a philosopher and so that's his angle, but I think luckily, he didn't dwell on that and kept the focus mostly on octopuses (not octopi) and brains. And why not as those are two truly fascinating things.

For example, only half of an octopus's brain is in its head. The other half is in its arms. It can think with its arms. How? We don't know. Illustrating how little we actually know about how thinking works. Also, octopuses can change color. They often change color to blend in with their surroundings. But, as far as we can tell, they are color blind. Since they're not magic, obviously we humans don't fully understand how octopuses understand color, showing yet another deficiency in our understanding of how brains and thinking works. If we understand this little about how octopus brains work, might we also maybe not fully understand how human brains work?

It's a truly interesting book filled with bizarre facts (Octopuses have no fixed body shape! Which means they can squeeze through a hole as small as their eyeball. See one do that here.) And a book that really makes you think about... how we think. I mean not the philosophical how but the physical, chemical how.

I downloaded this eaudiobook through by library via Overdrive. This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Book Review: Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

My book club in Charlotte not only moved their meeting by 3 weeks so that I could attend after having moved away last year, but they also knew I'd be under the gun about reading books for my new job, so they super-thoughtfully even picked a Macmillan book newly in paperback! That was so cool of them! I feel very loved. Also, I miss my book club.

Karl is nearly 40, owns a bar in Chicago, and used to be a band, when one day he finds a wormhole in his closet that takes him back in time. He shows it to his friend (and bar regular) Wayne, who connects computers and a generator to it, figures out a way to send people to a particular time and place, and how to get them back with their smart phone. They start a small business sending people back to old rock concerts, so they can experience an idol in person, or relive old glory days. Everything is going swimmingly until Wayne wants to go back to 1980 and prevent John Lennon's murder. They argue, after all, Karl has been dead-set against doing anything to change the past from day one. But Wayne wins the argument and in his frustration and haste, Karl mistypes and sends Wayne to the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 980. Yep, 980. 600 years give or take before the locals set eyes on a white man. Uh oh. Frantic, Karl contacts Lena, a physicist at Northwestern (based on the band T-shirt she's wearing in her faculty picture) to help him get Wayne back. And Lena turns out to be much more than Karl bargained for...

I don't want to give away too much so I'm going to end the plot synopsis there. I found it thoroughly enjoyable, not too science-y (it helps that our protagonist is the bar owner, not the physicist, which also helps the author gloss over a lot of technical and scientific details), with lots of juicy topics to discuss. Alas, when discussing a book for an hour that glosses over details, you do start to see inconsistencies and gaps, however the discussions were very enjoyable and overall, it still held up for me. While reading it, I felt the plot was a little meandering and I'm not sure the author knew where she was going at all times, and yes, some threads were dropped, but I liked Karl so much and felt for his conundrums, so I happily overlooked those flaws. It deals with some issues all time-traveling stories deal with—loops in the time continuum; the ethics of changing the past, even if you think it's for the better; will you like the consequences of something you've changed, even if unintentionally or with the best of intentions? What I found the most intriguing question was, if you can love someone enough to improve things in their past that mean they won't be the same person and likely won't love you again in the present or the future? As another great music novel asks, “What came first—the music or the misery? Did I listen to the music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to the music?" (High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.)

This book is published by my employer, Macmillan.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Book Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, narrated by Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra (audio)

I'm trying not to torture readers by telling you all about books not out for months, but I'm about out of books to review otherwise! But I do have a couple of audiobooks still left, so here is one.

Wow, this book was amazing. At the end, I just couldn't stop listening. I was so scared for Eleanor, and so proud of Park's bravery. I hope I'd be able to do what each of them did, had I been in their shoes.

Eleanor is new at school in the middle of the semester, after her new step-father finally lets her come back to live with her family (she'd been staying on her mother's friend's couch for months). There's no where to sit on the bus until Park finally lets her sit next to him. He thinks she's weird. She just wants to  get through each day. Eventually they start to like each other, bonding over comic books that they share (she starts reading them over his shoulder) and eventually, they are  boyfriend and girlfriend. But all is not good, as Eleanor's step-father is just awful. Her home life is pretty dreadful. There's barely enough food, she only has a few items of clothes, and as a big girl who started school late and is quiet and smart, she's also bullied at school. She does start to make friends, and Park helps immensely, but it's still really bad. Park's home life is pretty normal for the late-1980s. He wants to get his driver's license, and thinks his parents are too overprotective. It's jarring for Eleanor to see someone with a normal, happy home. And makes her home life looks even worse by comparison. Sometimes you don't realize how awful something is when you're in it, but Eleanor does. And then it gets worse.

This is a really powerful, and important book. Like many tragic YA novels, it helps teens mentally cope with an awful situation before they're actually in it and have to face it for real. Because unless you lived a very sheltered life, pretty much all of us had at least one friend who we thought might be being abused at home, right? But what do you do? Do you say something? To whom? What do you say? Will you just make the situation worse?

Ms. Rowell creates here a very believable and beautiful relationship between Park and Eleanor, and a sadly true situation at Eleanor's home. I truly was scared at the end of the book and couldn't stop listening. But it's definitely for older teens, and also it's an excellent book for adults who might have forgotten how rife with trauma and angst, teenagehood was all about. Bonus points if you were yourself a teen in the late '80s.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Book review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, narrated by Rebecca Lowman and Maxwell Caulfield (audio)


This was so great! I think Rainbow Rowell's books are so terrific on audio. I wasn't sure about alternating narrators, but it completely makes sense here. The main narrator is telling the story of Cath, whereas the male British narrator reads her fan fiction that she writes about a Harry Potter-esque school for magical kids, so it really works.

Cath has just started college and she was horrified to discover that her twin sister, Wren, didn't want to live with her. Wren wants to have a more normal college experience and doesn't want to be known as "the twin," and wants to have an easier time distinguishing herself. Cath wants none of these things, but she is stuck with a roommate, Reagan, an angry sophomore whose boyfriend, Levi, is always hanging out (sometimes when Reagan isn't even there.) Cath continues to write her "Simon Snow" fanfiction, partly because that's just who she is, but also partly as a coping method.

This is a wonderful book about how the transition to college can be difficult. It deals with the fact the home life (including home problems) still continue even though you're away, and a search for identity (if reluctant), and how sometimes good things can happen to like friends and--oh my, the last thing Cath expects--even maybe a boyfriend! Cath's voice really rings true, her experiences feel all too real, and it really slingshotted me back in time, to my own college days. Every high school senior should read this. And really, just everyone should because Rainbow Rowell is awesome.

I checked this eaudiobook out of the library via Overdrive.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Monday, May 1, 2017

My Month in Review: April

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

I'm going to start to note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star.

So in March I mostly read Macmillan children's backlist, boning up for my new job as the Mid-Atlantic field sales rep. For April, I jumped into the Fall 2017 list, which is what I started selling this month. On the one hand, I know it's kind of cruel to review books that aren't coming out for months, but on the other hand, you can always add them to your TBR lists! I will make a big effort to do the reviews for published books right away and if I stay behind on my reviewing, I will let it be the Not Yet Published (NYP) books that get delayed. Heck, that will just bring the review a little closer to the actual pub date, so that's not a bad thing, unless I completely forget everything about the book in the mean time! I'm not entirely sure what to do when I start reading Winter 2018 books that aren't even in the Goodreads database yet. I suppose I could add them and then combine them with the real book at a later date, but that's more effort and involves me remembering to do a fairly minor thing months down the road.

Books completed this month:
Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham
*American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater 
The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs by Janet Peery
Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas
Thornhill by Pam Smy
Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast
Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
Bored and Brilliant: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Spacing Out by Manoush Zomorodi
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (audio)
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith (audio)
The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters With Extraordinary People by Susan Orlean
Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
none! Doing better on my budget. Although I did buy some sidelines (non-books) at bookstores. Always dangerous.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Four Coming of Age novels

I'm trying to catch up on my reviews, so today I have four coming-of-age novels.

Rain  Reign by Ann M. Martin

Rose has Asperger's. She lives with her father and her dog, Rain. She has an aide at school to help her with conversations or when she gets upset. She also writes lists of homonyms which calms her down. Things have been difficult since her mother died, but they're functioning, until a horrific storm hits, and Rain is lost. Rose has an uphill battle to find her dog despite washed-out roads, and simply being a ten-year-old which means she doesn't have as many resources. When her father loses his job, the difficulties come to a head. The end has a couple of nice twists. Ann M. Martin is reliable as ever, conveying the difficult emotions of Rose very ably, so at the end I feel I understand a little better what it's like to live with a difference like Asperger's every day.


Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

This is a modern classic of sorts. Set in Jamaica, it covers many years of Annie John's youth, starting when she's about ten, and going through about sixteen. At the beginning, she loves school and loves her parents and life is just pretty much fun, although she's a scamp so she does get into some trouble. But over the years as puberty hits, she gets along less well with her mother, friends come and go, her body begins to develop, and she goes through just a lot of the usual adolescent stages, but with the added bonus of the Jamaican setting, which gives a very different feel to the usual coming-of-age tropes. Annie was a pill at times, so you also have to get past that.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Calpurnia is the only girl in a house full of boys in 1899. Their grandfather lives with him, but all the kids find him fairly scary. Eventually, Calpurnia gets to know him, and they end up working together, collecting specimens, doing experiments, and she even reads Darwin's On the Origin of Species which he loans her. She has to also do her chores, keep up in school, and do the usual things that any girl her age does, but she also wants to help her grandfather discover a new species. But even as she studies how the world changes, she's not happy with the changes happening in her own life, such as her oldest brother courting a young woman. This book was delightful--Calpurnia reminded me a bit of Laura Ingalls, although in a more stable situation (and fifteen years later) as she's got tomboy tendencies but still also a girl of her era, and it's universal how she can appreciate bigger changes in the environment, but doesn't want her home life to change at all. And yet, life does go on and changes are the one guarantee.

Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin

Sasha just turned ten which means he can finally join the Young Pioneers and be a good communist and prove to Stalin how much he loves him. But the night before, his father, who works for the government, is arrested and charged with being a spy. Sasha's mother dies years ago so he is all alone in the world. He doesn't know what to do so he goes to school and tries to pretend everything is okay. He is sure his father's arrest is a mistake and that he'll show up at the Young Pioneers ceremony.

I really liked this book but I found the format somewhat confusing. It's a very graphic book--not a graphic novel per se but a heavily illustrated novel. And the language was also geared towards younger kids, and yet, I wonder what young kids in the 8-10 range would be interested in reading this story? I think if it was given to them, they would, but most of them won't know anything about the USSR or Stalin or Communism (in fact, they might not have even heard of any of these things.)

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

I checked all four of these books out of the library.

All four of these books are published by Macmillan, my employer.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book Review: Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Malone Scott


I don't normally read business books, but over the last few years, I've tried to read about one a year, just so that if I ever get into management, I have some knowledge of what I'm getting into, and also because my years of fanatical reading of AskAManager have given me new insight into the working world from other angles, and has made it much more intriguing to me.

This book has an interesting idea and mostly divides up our interactions into 4 types, one really bad, two mildly bad, and one good. Most of us are familiar sadly with bosses who are too mean and not at all empathetic, but bosses can also be too nice and way too empathetic (they tend not to ever fire anyone no matter how bad at their jobs.) It's not at all good to be yelled at daily but it's also not good to never get any negative feedback that you could work on.

Personally, I feel the subtitle of this book does it a great disservice, because it's not at all just about managing. The last third of the book is, but the majority is about our interactions with others, and I could think of times when I exhibited these tendencies and created these negative interactions with my spouse, and with family. Not only do you not have to be a boss to get benefit from this book, but it also doesn't only have to apply to the workplace. But basically her message is to kindly tell t he truth. Trying to not hurt someone's feelings, or fix things yourself, or saying you're too busy to correct a staff member or colleague, is just as damaging i the long run as is yelling, slamming doors, giving contradictory instructions, having unrealistic expectations, and a load of other obvious behaviors that lead to negative work environments and relationships. Ms. Scott writes without using much business-speak, she is very open about her own failures as a manager (and what she's learned from them and how she should have done things differently), and it's an easy read. Personally, as a non-manager, the last third didn't do much for me, but that's not a big problem overall. I think her message is really important.

I got this book for free from the publisher at Winter Institute. I now work for the publisher although I didn't at the time.