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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Book Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Are you looking for an excellent quiet, lovely, thoughtful escapist read right now? Well, most people are, and I've found it for you!

Linus Baker is a case worker for DICOMY, the Department in Charge of Magical Youths. He travels to various orphanages and evaluates their ability to thoughtfully care for the orphaned magical children in their charge. That is, when he isn't at his unadorned desk in a windowless room, filling out paperwork. Because of his dedication to his job and his diligence in his forms, he is chosen by Extremely Upper Management to travel out to a house on an island what houses the most... interesting magical children.

Linus has always dreamed of seeing the ocean. His mouse pad is the only thing on his desk that is truly his, and it's a beautiful picture of the sea, and it says, "Don't you wish you were here?" He's going to the ocean for the first time in his life. And also for the first time Linus, who is used to dealing with small witches and vampires and other creatures, will be meeting more unique children than he ever has before: a female gnome, a wood sprite, a were-Pomeranian, a wyvern, an unidentifiable blob, and the anti-Christ (but don't call him that please! He's Lucy, short for Lucifer.) And Mr. Parnassus, the headmaster. Who makes Linus feel very warm.

He's there to do his job--to evaluate the home and see if it's appropriate and safe. But part of his job is to remain objective. What if he just can't do that anymore?

This book was everything I needed right now. Fun and silly and yet also a metaphor for racism as the nearby town reacts to the magical youths, it was easy to become fully immersed in this world, and it was also reassuring and kind and made me wish I could live in a rambly old house on an island by the sea... with a wyvern. I would be sure to give my wyvern all the coins and buttons he wants for his hoard. I never knew why I always save those extra buttons that come with a new shirt or coat, and now I know.

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Book Review: Historically Inaccurate by Shay Bravo

Sol is a first-generation freshman in college, and despite having a full courseload, a part-time job in the library, a vibrant social life, and a crazy club she's in, she now is adding a boyfriend. But that's what college students do, right? Anyway she met him through the crazy club (it's The History Club but that seems to be more of a front, like the happy hour group I used to be in called The Book Club.) when, for her initiation, she was required to break in to (well, they had a key) his grandparents' house (he lives with them) and he caught her. So she explains (later) and not only does he understand, but he then joins the club too.

Meanwhile, Sol is jugging a lot, including keeping up with her mother, who was "voluntarily" deported and is living in Mexico. Her relationship with her father is sweet, too. But her membership in the club starts to become fraught as if she gets in legal trouble, it could cause bigger problems for her family. As the story goes on, the club gets busted for their exploits, and some past secrets come to light. It was a light college-based rom-com YA.

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

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Book Review: Dancing with the Octopus: A Memoir of a Crime by Debora Harding

This is a memoir about Debora's kidnapping and rape. And horrifyingly, that's not the worst thing in this book.

She was living a typical 1970s middle class childhood in the middle of America, but no one knew how her mother abused her and her sisters. They adored her father, and he adored their mother. Sometimes it seemed as if he didn't see what was going on, was essentially willfully blind, and other times it seemed like he knew but he just couldn't bring himself to do anything about it--either out of a feeling of helplessness, or inertia--it's hard to say. But Debora's mother was pretty awful to her on a more or less daily basis. Her sisters were a bit more able (or willing) to avoid her wrath through compliance, toadiness, and lack of rebelling. But Debora wouldn't buckle under, leading to her suffering the worst of their mother's abuse.

One day there was a snowstorm and school let out early. She had church choir practice that evening so she waited around after, going to the mall with a friend. When it was finally time, she headed over to the church in her thin jacket with a broken zipper, and found choir cancelled and the church locked. As she pondered how she'd get home, a boy just a few years older than her grabbed her and forced her into his van. As he drove around for hours, Debora was able to keep her wits about her, engage him in conversation, and she probably saved her life by fully appearing to him as a real person. And she was most likely able to do that, because throughout it all, it wasn't quite as bad at what she'd suffered at her mother's hand for years. She'd become inured to pain, threats, and insults. She knew how best to manipulate the situation so that she's survive.

Years and years later, as an adult, she found out about a program which introduced convicted criminals and their victims, and worked towards honesty, and if, possible, forgiveness. She wanted to participate. Would he? Would this be a good idea? Would she get resolution?

Wow, talk about riveting. This true crime memoir was white-knuckle anxiety-producing from beginning to end. Even though you knew she survived, she was able to produce real feelings of anticipation and worry throughout. And also a hypnotizing curiosity about her mother--how did that situation come to be, especially when her father was so nice, and how did it resolve itself? I couldn't look away.

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Book Review: Good Morning, Monster: Five Heroic Journeys to Emotional Recovery by Catherine Gildiner

Dr. Gildiner is a psychologist and had a thriving practice for decades in Canada. Now, she's looked back on her patients and collected here the five cases that most stood out to her as "heroes."

Each of these five clients went through horrible, awful times, and fought like mad to come out the other side. Often they'd done a majority of the hard fighting before they ever came to her--they all on the outside appeared to be functioning adults with careers and personal lives. However, each of them had massive childhood trauma--abuse, neglect, and I don't even know how to classify the First Nations man who was taken from his parents, beaten if he spoke his language, sexually assaulted by teachers he trusted, and eventually couldn't even communicate with his own parents. There needs to be a whole new word for that. And that childhood trauma is what they need to work through and process with Dr. Gildiner in order to have a happy and fulfilled life.

The main draw for a book like this, naturally, is voyeurism. However, I believe for most people that's just the reason they pick the book up. Upon reading it though, it normalizes therapy, shows it's not a traumatic experience, and hopefully it makes the whole process less scary. But also, wow, some people's lives are much worse than yours!

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

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Book Review: Murderbot Diaries #2-3-4 by Martha Wells

So I can't stop reading these books. Over Labor Day weekend, I read the first 4 Murderbot novellas in 4 days. These are:
All Systems Red #1
Artificial Condition #2
Rogue Protocol #3
Exit Strategy #4
Now, before you're super impressed, these are mostly under 100 pages (except for the last one). But also, do be impressed, because these books are AMAZING and I could not put them down!

As you may know, I am not a big sci-fi reader, but the exception proves the rule, and these books have blown me away. Murderbot is about half robot and half human, but as it explains in the first book, that doesn't mean it has two halves inside itself, fighting and misunderstanding each other. It is a single, whole being. I like to think of it as the way we full humans have two halves of our brains which don't always communicate well or have the same goals. And as it's also explained, it means SecUnits like Murderbot can think and have autonomy and personality, it also means they can experience pain and emotions, and that is the downside. But for us readers, that's the upside. Because Murderbot is funny and sarcastic and thinks humans are dumb and keep trying to (accidentally or purposefully) kill ourselves and Murderbot is surprisingly vulnerable and very protective. When Murderbot says sometimes that it just needs to look at a blank wall for a while, my heart breaks a little bit (that means it's completely overwhelmed by unfamiliar emotions--often gratitude or friendship.)

And who doesn't identify with Murderbot's love of soap operas and how it wants to have the familiar ones droning on in the background. Is it any different than when I watch The Great British Bake-Off for the hundredth time? Or Big Bang Theory or Friends? Boy do I envy Murderbot's multi- multi- multi-tasking capabilities!

Each of these four novellas is a discrete story but together, the four have an overarching plot, particularly as in book 4, the characters from book 1 all resurface. Books 2 and 3 do each have an internal story arc, but together, they are much more powerful. I just knew the Book 1 characters had to come back, although my favorite character of all has to be ART, the transport from Book 2. I was pleasantly baffled at first in that book when the initial third is just Murderbot on ART, traveling to a transit hub. They have fascinating conversations, ART is a bit of an asshole (which is what the A stands for in ART) and I really liked how Murderbot pointed out how ART is highly skilled at asking questions that get the human or SecUnit its communicating with go to the conclusion ART wants without ART forcing it (but still kind of forcing it, with the skillful questions. I bet it works a lot better on humans as we are, as Murderbot correctly points out, kind of dumb.)

I love Murderbot! I hope it gets lots of time to watch media to its heart's content at the end of all of this. And yes, I am already halfway through book 5. You should go read these! Right now! They are the perfect distraction during pandemic times.

These books are published by Tordotcom, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Book Review: Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai

Henry flies from Australia to Singapore to visit his dad every break. But when his big sister needs to stay home to focus on university applications, that means Henry can't go either. But Henry's sick and tired of always being treated like a baby! And he's twelve--the age kids can fly solo. So he hatches a plan.

Yep, he buys a plane ticket with his mom's credit card, sneaks his passport out of the house, and heads to the airport. He's arranged his former best friend to cover for him with his overly protective family during the 8 hours or so it will take for him to get there, and then he'll have proven to everyone how he's responsible and capable! Or will he?

Meanwhile, on his flight is a boy from him class who's kind of been his nemesis this year. Plus, Henry thinks the boy saw him uploading a satirical cartoon he draws about his school, under the moniker Fly on the Wall, and could out him. When Henry's notebook goes missing, it makes him all the more determined to figure out if that boy is behind it. Another plan!

This is such a clever story. It's all hand-drawn although most pages are just writing on notebook paper (Henry's notebook) but there are plenty of drawings mixed in. I especially liked how he showed his ability to draw in a very different style than his usual style, which is why no one has pegged him for Fly on the Wall yet. It's also very interesting to see a book for kids that takes place entirely in one day. There were great lessons about friendship, about consequences, and about what growing up and maturity really means. Henry doesn't always see how his actions and decisions affect--and occasionally even hurt--others. He has some growing up to do, while also proving that he has come a long way.

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

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Book Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Damn Murderbot! Where have you been all my life?
Big shout-out to Jessica who has tried to get me to read these books for at least a year. She was right.

Last night I looked at all the books I've downloaded onto my iPad and I didn't want to read any of them. But I had just been working on Tor books for work, including the upcoming latest Murderbot novel, and it jumped into my head as a book that wouldn't be depressing, wouldn't be about anything relevant to today, and it's short. So I downloaded it (it's published by Tor, part of my employer. I am supposed to be reading books coming out in "winter 2021" aka Jan-April which the latest book is but not the first book.) And damn!

I read the whole thing at once. It's a short novella (86 pages) so that's very do-able. And I immediately downloaded the second book. I am in love!

Murderbot is a SecBot (security bot) and it is half robot, half human. Although as it explains, it isn't a half-and-half, it's a full entity that has struggled. (Also, it's an it. It has no gender identifiers of any kind as it's not a sexbot.) Murderbot has hacked its OS, in particular it's regulator system. It is assigned to a crew of scientists who have traveled to a distant planet and are taking samples. Murderbot does a half-assed job, which is usually fine, as all Murderbot really wants is to watch its soap-operas. Then a giant creature comes out of the ground and tried to eat two of the scientists. Murderbot saves them, but then it's obvious that the information the crew got about this planet is incorrect--who deleted the information about the giant dangerous creatures and why?

Sure, this book could have been the length of a regular novel with a lot of backstory to the scientists and Murderbot, but I'm glad it wasn't. We don't need all that backstory. It was exactly perfect. There wasn't a single extra or wasted word. 

I will be reading ALL of the Murderbot Diaries in the next few weeks. So excited I still have 2 novellas and 2 full-length novels to go.