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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Book Review: Impossible Owls: Essays by Brian Phillips

This essay collection makes me really regret that I never read Grantland, which is now defunct and so I can't anymore. But I can say that Brian Phillips's essays would all appear right at home in a New Yorker issue.

Like some of my favorite nonfiction essay writers from John McPhee to Chuck Klosterman, Phillips's interests are wide-ranging. He covers topics in this book from the Iditarod to Princess Kate to an eccentric rich old woman in his hometown who disappeared for a decade. I think the essay on the current best sumo wrestler was probably my favorite, but it's hard to pick one. I did enjoy the one about the Russian filmmaker the least, but that may have been colored by my own personal frustration with a man who's been working--and not finishing--one project his entire life. I just want to shake him.

But the other essays were fascinating and kooky and deep enough that I learned a lot but moved on when they needed to so they didn't get bogged down. Thoroughly enjoyable.

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Book Review: The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

This book is a tricky one to tell anything at all about without giving away some serious spoilers. But I will try.

In 1970, Caroline's husband has just been killed in Vietnam. Her one consolation has been her pregnancy--that she will get to love a baby that reminds her of the love of her life forever, even if she can't be with him. But then she gets devastating news. Her daughter who isn't even born yet has a life-threatening condition and doctors can't save her. Caroline leans on her sister and brother-in-law for support. They've all moved out to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, even though her BIL, Hunter, still has to commute in to the Triangle area to work on his research project. Now Hunter comes to Caroline to reveal that there is hope for her daughter--if she'll listen to his crazy story and trust him. And what he tells her gives her real pause because it sounds utterly nuts. But Hunter's always been a good man who has loved her sister and done right by them from the beginning. Could his crazy plan actually work? What does Caroline have left to lose?

What happens next really pushes Caroline's understanding of the world, belief in herself, and her love for her daughter. But she has to do anything, even things that seem crazy or that cause her great pain, for her daughter, right? What does unconditional love really mean? What lengths would you go to for your child?

Ms. Chamberlain has upped her game from her previous book I read, Pretending to Dance. This is a thought-provoking, juicy book that will be perfect for book clubs. I read it in just a couple of days, as the story is really compelling and it's an easy read. Her fans will be thrilled to see her achieving new heights, and if you're curious, you should give it a try, as you'll likely become a fan yourself.

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

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Book Review: Check, Please!: # Hockey by Ngozi Ukazu

Bitty is a former-figure skater-turned-hockey player starting college and doing a vlog about his experiences. This book covers his first two years (I believe there is a planned sequel that presumably will cover the rest of college.) He is gay and he goes to a college that has a good reputation for inclusiveness, even if he's involved in a sport that isn't known for being super gay-friendly. But his teammates are actually very accepting when he finally does come out to them. It probably helps that he's already won them over with his fantastic pies. He is scared of being hit, but otherwise is a great player, which also doesn't hurt. The star player--whose dad was a professional NHL player and has high expectations--helps out with Bitty's weaknesses and he just improves.

College is tough and Bitty is a wonderful stand-in for any teen worrying about what it will be like. Even though he is a white man, he still has a lot of issues with and worries about being accepted, and different people have varying levels of issues with him as a person, some of which are related to his identity but more of which aren't, as with everyone. He struggles with difficult conversations, he worries about crushes, he is told he has to improve his big hockey problem or he'll lose his spot on the team, and he has a relatively normal college life.

I loved this story. Bitty is so endearing and optimistic and tries so hard that you can't help but root hard for him. I do find it fascinating that the author is an African-raised woman, and yet she's written about a white male. But don't worry--my little brother played hockey for at least 13 years and everything hockey struck me as really accurate (she did a ton of research.) The only problem to me was that I wanted the book to keep going! I wish the sequel was out right now! (I hate reading books in a series before they're all available.) The book is sweet and fun and honest and just great.

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.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Book Review: Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar

It's odd that I am squeamish and yet like medical books. I nearly failed high school biology (and to be honest, I should have failed it. I only passed by cheating. Sorry, Mom.) and yet decades later, I wonder about those organs I tried not to look at too closely in my little frog.

I read Dr. Jauhar's first medical memoir, Interned, years ago. (Unfortunately, I missed his second memoir. This is his third.) Like in Atul Gawande's Being Mortal, in this one, Dr. Jauhar is not just the medical expert, but he also becomes a patient in his own arena. He is a cardiologist, and he got his brother (also a cardiologist) to run some tests and found his cardiac arteries were mostly blocked, while he was still on the young side of middle age. His grandfather died of a sudden heart attack, and many members of his family have heart problems.

But it is not just a memoir. It is about how the heart itself functions, including the ludicrous idea still circulating today that it's where "love" is (the first heart transplant patient's wife asked the doctors if he would still love her after the surgery.) It is about the history of the understand of the heart, and the history of cardiology. Even years after we were exploring the brain, the heart was still considered off limits to doctors. And as Dr. Jauhar remembers his training in cardiology and how he learned important facets of his field, he elucidates this vital organ in all its mystery and simplicity.

If you have any interest in the medical field at all, even tangential like mine, this is an excellent book.

This book is published by Farrar Straus and Giroux, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

My Month in Review: August

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

I note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star. This was my last month off from travel, and in fact, it wasn't because the last week in August I was in DC!

Books completed this month:
The Peacock Feast: A Novel by Lisa Gornick
Conan Doyle for the Defense by Margalit Fox (audio)*
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn
An Unexplained Death: The True Story of a Body at the Belvedere by Mikita Brottman
Sadie by Courtney Summers
Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Ellen T. Crenshaw
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
Bloom by Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau
Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story by Peter Bagge

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson*
Good Kids, Bad City: A Story of Race and Wrongful Conviction in America by Kyle Swenson
Ask a Manager: Clueless Coworkers, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and Other Work Conversations Made Easy by Alison Green*

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh, this was given to me for free (an ARC) by an employee of the publisher.

Book Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers

I hadn't wanted to read this book. It's being heavily pushed by my company, but it felt gimmicky to me, and I was selling it in easily, so I didn't feel the need. And then I had two different bookstore buyers in the same day tell me how amazing it was so I gave in.

I never was big into thrillers as a teen and I'm still not, although every once in a while they're fun. Basically, this book is inspired by the first season of the podcast Serial, and half of it is a podcast. a young girl has been found dead, and now her older sister has gone missing. A podcast producer hears about the story and goes to Colorado to investigate. Sadie is sure that she knows who killed her little sister, and she's out for revenge. West McCray doesn't know what happened exactly to Mattie or Sadie, but he knows a good story, and he's determined to find out.

My favorite parts of the story were when West took a wrong turn, or believed someone's lie (that Sadie hadn't believed) or made a wrong assumption. He usually got back on track in the end, but I liked how that demonstrates how no matter how meticulously researched and how many people interviewed, a journalist's story is never the whole truth--just an angle of the truth. And sometimes they can get things wrong.

In other circumstances Sadie could have gone far, so that part is a shame. When bad families happen to good people. But it is important to have books set in poor towns in broken families, so kids see themselves in their reading options. Other kids like Sadie, raising her younger sister alone after her drug-addicted mother disappears, need to know they're not alone. Hopefully their own circumstances don't go as off the rails as hers did, but some probably do. After all, the majority of violence happens in economically depressed areas.

Anyway, it was good fun, not for the faint of heart, and Sadie was a compelling protagonist who would do anything for her sister, even when her sister is no longer here.

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 Wednesday Books, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Book Review: Calypso by David Sedaris

Oh David. I love David Sedaris. I've seen him live 5 times. And it's so important, I think, to hear him read his stories, or you miss half of the jokes. Which means that later, I will probably listen to this on audio. Because as it is, while I adored it, it was one of his less funny books.

Granted, a lot of it has to do with or is informed by, the suicide of his sister. But he's dealt with his mother's death in previous books in ways that end up infused with humor. This time around though, there feels to be a thread of melancholy running through. Is it because of aging? A very unexpected and unprepared for death? He also has an essay about his mother's alcoholism which deals with it in a very frank and honest way, with one of the best, most insightful lines on alcoholism I have ever read. After looking back and seeing what perhaps drove the escalation of her drinking, he nevertheless concludes that she was lonely because her kids grew up and left, but she drank because she was an alcoholic. I very much appreciated the lack of excuse and the lack of blame on anything but the alcoholism.

I would love to go to his new North Carolina beach house, the Sea Section (great name!) I have read in reviews that others find his father to be strict and uncompromising but I see none of that--I find his father to be a man stuck in his ways (who among us isn't already, or won't be by the time we're 90) but who genuinely likes spending time with his adult kids and who seems pretty genial if quirky. And I am super impressed that he goes to spin class every day when he's at home. At half his age, I couldn't do that!

What I can do is compete with David's FitBit obsession. I am still annoyed that I chose not to wear it on my wedding day, five years ago. I also wish I could somehow go back in time and own a FitBit (had they been invented yet?) when I walked my full marathon back in 2011. FitBit thinks I've only walked one 35K day in my life (May 11, 2015) but I did that at least 5 times while training for the marathon. I do think obsessed is very much the right word for David's relationship with FitBit, as he paces around an airport despite an intestinal illness. But I wish I could be his FitBit friend. Even if he would kick my ass in any Challenge.

As per usual, David manages to tackle issues both giant and infinitesimal in his trademark humorous way, finding the amusement in even very depressing topics, and finding hilarity in the absurd. My life would be a dream if he would only publish a book every month. I would read them all.

I bought this book at Watchung Booksellers, the independent bookstore in my town.