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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Book Review: The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

I have long wanted to read Ann Cleaves, as she's a maven of the contemporary British mystery, but I hate starting a long series in the middle, and I didn't know which of her two ongoing series I should try first. Then, everything changed. Those series are done and this new one has begun, so it was easy to jump right in.

After a difficult childhood and youth, Matthew's life is finally on track. He's married to a lovely man, promoted to head detective, and living in a beautiful house by the sea. It's in his old hometown, where many of the people in the cult he was raised in still live and shun him, but other than that, it's idyllic. A body turns up at the beach, and during the investigation, his entire life is upended. He has to interact with those people from his past again, including his mother, his husband is falling under some suspicion, and his dedication to his work is called into question. How can a single murder ruin everything so quickly? And can Matthew solve the case and get his life back?

This mystery reads like a long-ago classic while being completely contemporary at the same time (accomplishing that by setting it in the middle of nowhere where it feels like time has stood still, even though it certainly has not.) Ms. Cleeves is certainly a master of the genre, keeping me guessing along the twists and turns of the case, while never making me feel left in the dust or like important clues were being withheld. The ending came naturally and satisfactorily, and I really look forward to the next book in this Two Rivers series.

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

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Book Review: Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl

I have read several Ruth Reichl memoirs, and if you have enjoyed them too, this one won't disappoint.

Tired of life as a restaurant critic, with late nights out, never having dinner with her family, and never even getting just to eat what she wants and purely enjoy it, Ruth is startled but jumps when she's asked to take over the helm of Gourmet magazine, long-respected but perhaps past its prime. She works tirelessly to bring Gourmet into the 21st century, and despite never having worked at a magazine before, she slowly, with a few missteps, manages to do so. And then the rug is pulled out from under her.

With luscious descriptions of food (I really wanted to be at the movie-viewing photo shoot as the meal shot there made me so hungry) and vibrant personalities and the glamour of Conde Nast, this is a wonderful book to get lost in. I listened to the audio but apparently there are a few recipes throughout (which are strange to hear read out loud) if you are more ambitious than I am. Ms. Reichl reads the book herself which is nice as you know the pronunciations are correct. She has a very soothing voice.

I downloaded this eaudiobook from Libby/Overdrive through my local library.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Book Review: Why My Cat Is More Impressive Than Your Baby by Matthew Inman, aka The Oatmeal

I saw this book in a store, neglected to buy it, regretted it, and several days later ran across it in another store and jumped on it. After all, I love my kitties and I have no baby, so this book was a natural for me.

The Oatmeal is a hilarious, well-known cartoon I've run across a few times over the years and always enjoyed when I did. I nearly bought the last book, How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You, except that I assumed it would be a very short book (answer: yes.) In this book, the cat is often plotting to kill the baby. But the cat is so obviously superior to the baby that death isn't warranted--the battle was won before it began. With hysterical cartoons about pyromania, poop, and the vast superiority of cats, this book will be a real winner with pretty much any cat lover, even those odd ones who seem to prefer babies. There's simply no denying their aroma and lack of self-cleaning mode.
Are those the eyes of a killer? Yes.
I discovered this book at Loyalty Bookstore in Washington DC but I bought it at Kramerbooks, also in DC.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Book Review: Carnegie Hill: A Novel by Jonathan Vatner

Pepper is an heiress. She's really never had to work, but she's wanted to, and she's had a variety of jobs, but she's never figured out what she's good at or what she wants to do. She's hoping, after moving into the Chelmsford Arms apartment building in tony Carnegie Hill in Manhattan, that being on the board will help her to feel more like an adult. As will getting married to Rick.

In addition, being on the board means she will meet more people in the building and make friends. They're all much older than her but that's okay, she wants the benefit of their experience. She sees these happy older couples and wants to know what they know--how to be happy.

The book then switches narrators quite a few times (although always circling back to Pepper), and shows us the inside of the marriages of Birdie and George, and Francis and Carol. And things are not as rosy as they seem. In fact, the longer she lives there, the more facades she uncovers and the more Pepper starts to realize that no one is as put-together as they seem, and maybe she should stop striving so hard for that. There is one happy couple in the building--a gay porter and doorman. But they are closeted at work as it's a very conservative building. As Pepper slowly comes to discover what it is she wants in life, and how to claim her happiness, relationships around her shift and change.

I went into this book expecting something light and fluffy, but instead it got fairly dark at times, as life can do, and yet it was ultimately a hopeful novel. It's almost as if, by removing the gilt and showing the grit underneath, we're exposed to something ultimately more beautiful, more real. I know this is a bold thing to say, but this book felt a bit like what Edith Wharton might be writing today (had she ever done multiple-narration.) Mr. Vatner is simultaneously sympathetic to and skewering of the upper classes in a way that makes them feel much more relatable. And this book has kept me thinking, weeks afterward.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Book Review: Every Patient Tells A Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis by Lisa Sanders (audio)

Dr. Sanders writes a weekly column in the New York Times Book Review about strange illnesses and difficult diagnoses, that became the inspiration behind the TV show House (just the unusual diagnoses, not the personality of the doctor, thankfully!) I loved the show and was on the lookout for the book for years. I was surprised to find it available on audio!

The book meanders a bit. She shifts from unusual diagnoses to how we teach doctors (poorly, for the most part), to her own background--a journalist initially, she went to med school quite late--to some unusual doctors she meets along the way. It was all still thoroughly enjoyable for me, but I do understand that some people, looking for a more clearly honed theme, might find it gets off track too much for their taste. However, if you are very much an armchair physician who isn't reading this book to learn about how to diagnose or to learn clinically about unusual medical conditions, you might, like me, enjoy it very much.

It also happened to hit just as I was getting over a rather strange and not easily diagnosed virus myself, so I felt almost like I should be a subject in the book. Some of what she described in terms of the fears of undiagnosed patients, and then the lack of robust information about how to treat more unusual conditions, really hit home. The chapter on the blind doctor was particularly fascinating, and proved something many of us have heard before--all the information is there already. It just needs to be heard. It's easy for all of us, not just doctors, to get too focused on the largest issue, which is perhaps just a symptom, not really the problem.

I bought this audiobook from Libro.fm, through an independent bookstore, Main Street Books in Davidson, NC.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Book Review: Cross Stitch The Golden Girls: 12 Patterns Inspired by Your Favorite Sassy Seniors by Haley Pierson-Cox

I was in one of my accounts, waiting for my buyers to meet me for my appointment, and I was browsing just outside of the room where we meet which is also where the Receiver works. I was looking at candles or soaps when I heard the Receiver say to another employee, "What on earth is this? Cross-Stitch the Golden Girls!?"

My head whipped around and I practically ran into the room. I snatched it out of  her hand and hugged it to my chest. I announced I was buying this right now. She said she actually needed it back to receive it before I could buy it, and I reluctantly peeled my fingers from the cover to let her do her job.

This isn't a book that you read. It's a book that you do. About 40 pages of book are in the front, with a paper over board cover, attached to a box, in which you'll find 2 squares of Aida fabric, an embroidery hoop, a needle, and 7 colors of thread--enough to do 2 of the patterns (but not any two patterns. Two specific patterns.) If you don't know how to cross-stitch, there are instructions.

I did one of the preselected patterns, "As They Say In St. Olaf," and then I broke out my own DMC floss in order to do the cover pattern as well with the four women sitting on the sofa, which uses about 15 colors of thread. Here are my finished (but unframed) products:



I could not be more delighted with this fun booklet of Golden Girls cross-stitch patterns. It actually got me to pick back up the giant cross-stitch I've been working on for ten years but which I have had put away for the last year. My best book purchase this year!

I bought this book at Browseabout Books in Rehobeth Beach, DE.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Book Review: Campusland by Scott Johnston

I am a faculty brat. My father is a now-retired professor of economics at Vanderbilt University. I was born at Vanderbilt Hospital. I practically grew up there. I spent every summer in college (and spring break and fall break and Christmas break) working at the Vanderbilt Bookstore. One of my father's specialty areas is the economics of education. I was his research assistant for many years in my teens and twenties and learned a lot about the high ed system. I kick butt when the "colleges and universities" category comes up on Jeopardy! Needless to say, I very much gravitate to academic novels.

In this book, we are at the fictional Devon University, an Ivy League college about two hours north of Manhattan. Eph is an English professor, specializing in 19th century American lit, on the tenure track. He's dating D'Arcy, the executive assistant to the college president. Everything seems hunky-dory in his life. Until a group of radical students (mostly not enrolled in his class) infiltrate his class, stage a protest over Huck Finn and its language, record a video of the protest, edit it to make Eph look very bad, and post it online. He is cleared eventually, mostly due to Lulu, a first year rich girl from Manhattan, who then proceeds to hit on him. While he politely and firmly rebuffs her, after a night when she stumbles home drunk after falling and giving herself a black eye, her R.A. insists on knowing who assaulted her. After a lot of pressure to name her attacker, she names Eph. Chaos ensues. And I haven't even mentioned the faux-British society, the literal ball-and-chain, the paper mache giant penis, the rapper, the movie star, and other myriad craziness that effectively passes for this not-quite-a-parody of university life today. Will Eph clear his name? Will Lulu figure out what to do with her life (and come clean about Eph)? Will Huck Finn be banned? What has happened to colleges today?

In the vein of Dear Committee Members and Straight Man, this is a very funny academic novel that will have insiders crowing, and most of us laughing at nervously (especially those with college-age kids).

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