Saturday, October 14, 2017

Book Review: The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

This is a powerful, horrifying, important true story that everyone—not just teenagers—should read.

Two high school students were on a city bus in Oakland, heading home. Sasha, who is agender and prefers the pronoun "they," was napping. Richard, an African-American boy from public school, was messing around with a couple of friends. One boy dared him to set Sasha's skirt on fire, which he did. Stupid, absolutely. But he had no idea that some fabrics would whoosh up into a ball of flame as if Sasha had been dowsed in gasoline (he had thought it would be a small little fire that Sasha would pat out with their hands, and then be mad at Richard, but that would be the end of it.) Sasha was very badly burned and Richard was brought up on hate crimes charges, facing life in prison.

Ms. Slater does an excellent job of fully telling both sides of the story, who Sasha and Richard truly were, what their backgrounds were, how they grew up, and how they both came to be on that bus that fateful afternoon. She is non-judgmental and has empathy for everyone involved. Like the books The Other Wes Moore and The Short Tragic Life of Robert Peace, this book shows how sometimes it's a fine line, a single small thing, that can turn someone's life completely upside down for the worse. I'm not excusing Richard's behavior at all but it wasn't maliciously intended—it was meant to be a (very, very stupid) prank.

Everyone should read this powerful and amazing book. It is being published as a young adult book, but all adults ought to read it as well. It's beautifully written, compelling and page-turning, as Ms. Slater had great access to everyone involved. I even think this should be (and will be) taught in schools. Teenagers, without fully developed frontal cortexes, don't always foresee the consequences of their actions, and sometimes those consequences can be devastating.

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

I got this book for free from my work because it is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Book Review: The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris

I like science books and I like medical books, but at times, they can be a slog. Not this one though! I think Ms. Fitzharris's book is the most readable science/medical book I've ever read. I breezed through it.

In grade school we all spent about one day learning about germ theory and, as kids, we dismiss it as it's crazy to think that people didn't understand that germs caused illnesses. And then in high school we get one paragraph in history class about how President Garfield died not from being shot, but from dozens of doctors (and others) sticking their dirty, unwashed fingers into his gunshot wound unnecessarily, giving him a raving infection which did kill him. But that's pretty much it for most of us. If you're lucky, you'll know that Listerine is named after a Doctor Lister, but that's it.

Turns out Dr. Lister was an important and fascinating man. He came of age and went to medical school at a time before germ theory was widely known and accepted, when the best skill a surgeon could have is speed. He studied under a Dr. Liston whose claim to fame was that he could take off a leg in under a minute. Sawing through a femur is really hard, so that was a real feat. Hundreds of people would pack into the surgical theaters to watch his prowess with the saw. But Lister saw the theory in Pasteur's research into germs and understood that it was correct and it was what was killing people. It took a very, very long time to catch on. (Garfield dies decades after Lister had been publishing his findings.) He developed a bath of acid to use to clean all the instruments and everything in the operating room, including the hands of the surgeons and assistants, and his death rates went down. To us, it's a no-brainer, but he had to argue against men who had been wearing the same unwashed surgical coat (sometimes even passed down from multiple other doctors--still unwashed) as a point of pride for decades. It was an uphill battle. Thankfully, he did eventually win over hearts and minds, but it took a horrifically long time.

Steeped in Victorian medicine and history, this biography is so smoothly and eloquently written, that it flies by. I zipped through it in short order, and learned a lot along the way.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Book Review: Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas

Charlotte and her family move a lot, but she's tired of it, and she likes living in Kentucky where they know which church in their neighborhood has the spaghetti supper and which church has a big Sunday brunch. So when her mother announces they're moving to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, so that she can continue her burgeoning children's writing career in a place infused with the spirit of Laura Ingalls, Charlotte feels Laura Ingalls is ruining her life. So when they arrive and she's assigned an essay at school about Laura Ingalls, that's what she titles it.

Normally she's okay with moving but this time, she was sick when school started so her twin brother Freddy started without her, and when she arrived, she found to her shock that he'd made friends for the first time and she felt left out. They'd always been a team. Now she has to hang out with her younger half-sister Rose instead and also with the girl upstairs (they rent the basement from her grandparents) who she doesn't really like. And over the course of the year, eventually Charlotte starts to fit in, make friends, and understand Walnut Grove.

On the surface, this is a great book for 11-year-olds about moving and making friends and fitting in. However, there's a lot more meat to it for more mature kids (or for adults). Kids not ready for the more mature material won't really notice much of it, such as that in Kentucky it was really important that they knew which church had which free meal on which day, because these kids are poorer than they realize and are getting the majority of their meals this way. Their mom is doing the best she can but she has a bad track record with men (see the missing fathers of her kids) and it's hard to chase your dreams while raising three kids solo.

You certainly don't need to have read the Little House books to enjoy this book (although there are Easter eggs in it for those of us who have). It's helpful to know the books exist, but anything else you need to know is well covered.

This book is poignant, at times worrisome although with a hopeful ending, and some very real kids who leap off the page with personality and emotions. I absolutely loved it. She left the door open for a possible sequel which I would leap on eagerly. I think any middle school age kid would enjoy it, and Laura Ingalls Wilder fans will devour it.

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

I got this book for free from the publisher, my employer, Macmillan.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

My Month in Review: September

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'm starting to slow down a little bit. Couldn't keep up that breakneck speed. Also, I moved last month, and I'm in my travel season, so I have a lot on my plate. Six seems like not very much though. But it was nice to take a small break and read a few non-Macmillan books.

Books completed this month: 
Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller*
How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson
Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard (audio)*
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (audio)
The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman
The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough (audio)*

Books I am currently reading/listening to: 
Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life by Amy E. Herman. This is the first book an account has talked me into at a store.

At SIBA I got:
Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy
The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro
It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree by A.J. Jacobs
The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home by Denise Kiernan

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Book Review: Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Priyanka is teased by school (where she wants to just go by "Pri," which is easier and less easy to make fun of), her favorite uncle has had a new baby which makes her feel neglected, and her mother won't tell her anything about India, her father, or why she emigrated to America. Then, in an old suitcase in a closet, Pri finds a beautiful pashmina, which, when Pri wears it, seems to take her to India, where a peacock and an elephant show her around to all of the amazing and wondrous sights. Pri wins $500 in a comics contest and, frustrated by her mother's reluctance to tell her anything about herself, she insists upon going to India. At first her mother says no, but that same day Pri's aunt calls, and the two sister who haven't spoken in the 16 years since Pri's mother left, agree that Pri can go and stay with her aunt.

When Pri gets to India, she discovers the pashmina stops working for her. Also, India isn't quite as gorgeous and amazing as the images she'd seen--the elephant and peacock had left out the dirt, the poverty, and the lower classes. But Pri's aunt, who teaches school to the lowest caste of children, is game to show Pri the real India. They end up going on a quest to find the maker of the pashmina. Along the way, Pri learns a lot about herself. And she gains a real respect for her heritage, shown most simply when she says, upon her return, that she wants to go by Priyanka again.

The magic of the pashmina is an interesting vehicle to hang the story on, as it both incites Priyanka's real interest in India, and yet gives her a sanitized version of it, and it also seems to show other people their future—is that just a future, or is it the future? The illustrations are pretty much just two-tone except for the ones when the pashmina's magic is in full force. It has the effect of going to Oz and switching from black and white to color, but it also in a way felt like it diminished the everyday, real life of Pri and her family. I liked what the artist was going for there, but I wish somehow the everyday life had ended up more vibrant. That said, it's a wonderful and touching coming-of-age story, not just for the children of immigrants, although that's certainly something nearly everyone can identify with if you go back far enough (certainly in this country), but also just for the appreciation of different cultures and for our ancestors, no matter who we or they might be.

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 Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Book Review: Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast

I vividly remember my first trip to New York City as an adult, visiting my friend Mary. I remember her explaining the subway system to me, although I found it pretty intuitive and could quickly get around on my own, using just a tiny credit-card sized map I pilfered from a hotel room. I remember after I moved to New York, figuring out that Q buses go to Queens and M buses go to Manhattan, and figuring out that the street/avenue numbering system in Queens and Brooklyn is 90 degrees turned from Manhattan. When you figure these things out, a very daunting and frightening place like New York, quickly becomes manageable. So long as an address isn't way downtown where the streets have names, I can find it without a map. Ideally, you'd know the cross street, which is something locals know to ask, and which Roz Chast explains to her daughter in this book.

Ms. Chast wrote/drew this book for her daughter when she was preparing to go to college in Manhattan. Roz had grown up in Brooklyn and lived in Manhattan for many years, before moving to the Connecticut suburbs to raise her kids. Going to college is scary no matter where you're going. I went to a tiny town in North Carolina, and I was scared I wouldn't find my way around the campus and wouldn't be able to figure out a class schedule and all sorts of things like that. This book is one you certainly don't have to be a New Yorker to enjoy--most every big city has this moment. In April, I finally figured out the way the Metro in DC works. I'd ridden it at least a half a dozen times previously, and on that trip I nevertheless ended up going the wrong way once, and missing my stop another time, but I have figured it out! It's such a feeling of mastery, and you gain so much confidence with each nugget of knowledge gained about how to navigate our large and confusing world. Ms. Chast's unique illustration style goes perfectly with the frenetic and anxious city that she both loves and yet doesn't want to live in.

I got this book for free from the publisher, my employer, Macmillan.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Book Review: The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs by Janet Peery

I love contemporary family stories by the likes of Anne Tyler and Jane Smiley, and this book falls squarely in that arena. Its' the author's second novel, twenty-five years after her first one (which was a National Book Award finalist.) And it's a story most everyone can relate to (or if you can't, just look at your parents' lives, or just wait): adult children dealing with their aging parents. It's something I've seen my own parents deal with in the previous decade, which certainly has made me think about when that stage will come for me and my siblings. In fact, we've already more or less divvied up our parents in terms of who gets primary responsibility for each one. And that's not a terrible idea as five disparate siblings trying to agree on tactics in Ms. Peery's book, does not go well.

It doesn't help that all of the siblings are also dealing with their own issues, and most of them have an addiction problem or two (it does tend to run in families after all.) This family has a lot of the usual stereotypes: the one who went to college and escaped the midwest for Boston, the flamboyant gay one with AIDS, the troubled son who's been in and out of jail, and so on. We see the story from the different perspectives of these three of the five siblings, as well as from their mother's. We go through roughly a year, with medical, emotional, mental, physical, and financial troubles along the way. On the one hand, not a lot happens. On the other hand, it's a very accurate portrayal of real life, with flawed characters that can hit close to home.

I got this book for free from my work because it is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Book Review: The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry by David Carlson, illustrations by Landis Blair

This reads like a memoir and it is nonfiction, but it took me a while to figure out how the authors were related to the story--The main character, Charlie, is a friend of the author's, and told him this crazy story about his father, and Mr. Carlson ran with it and did a lot of research to find out the truth behind it all.

Charlie's mother died and he had to move in with his father in Chicago. His grandmother had always told him is father was no good but, aside from being blind, his father actually seemed like a pretty good guy. It was a little time-consuming for Charlie to have to read to his father the types manuscripts of his stories for proofreading, but in all, so not bad, that Charlie started to wonder why his mother took him and left so suddenly, and why his grandmother hated his father so much. When Charlie gets into trouble after hanging out with some hoodlums, his father finally breaks down and tells him why he really wants Charlie to straighten up his life--he doesn't want Charlie to go through what he did, when he served several years in prison for armed robbery.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg of this story. When Matt, Charlie's Dad, went to prison as a newly-blind teenager, he had special housing. And the other prisoner at Statesville Prison in special housing, and therefore his cellmate, was Nathan Leopold. Of Leopold & Loeb. Of the murderers who tried to commit the perfect crime! (It was one of the many "crimes of the century" in the 20th century and worth looking up if you don't know about it. They explain enough that you don't need to know for reading the book, but it's still fascinating.) Leopold initially wasn't at all happy with having to babysit Matt, but eventually, he took it upon himself to educate Matt. By assigning him to read The Divine Comedy by Dante.

Are you still not intrigued? You are hopeless and I give up. For those of you who are intrigued, the illustrations really lend weight to the story, the stark pen and ink images giving a real sense of the bleakness of prison and also help with understanding Matt's blindness. It is a riveting story which I read in one day, and will stay with me for a while to come.

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Book Review: Bored and Brilliant: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Spacing Out by Manoush Zomorodi

This book grew out of the podcast, "Notes to Self" from WNYC. T here are essentially two premises: we no longer allow ourselves to be bored which means we are losing our creativity, and a corollary of that, we need to be much more aware of how much we're using our electronic devices. Personally, I found the corollary more interesting than the main point.

Now, that might be because I don't work in a creative job myself (although it is very much creative-adjacent.) Although one crucial aspect of creativity for everyone includes creative problem-solving, which is harder when your brain has no time to rest,

I did find it fascinating that when I started reading this book, my sister commented that her job as a guard at the Cleveland Museum of Art actually is super-boring and that she and her fellow guards (most of whom are artists) all carry notepads because of the great ideas they get at work. (Two chapters after she mentioned this, museum guards were given as an example, in the book! Weird.)

In order to be more bored, we've got to put down our iPhones, laptops, and iPads. Of course, that's a heck of a lot harder to do than say. And Ms. Zomorodi has a series of tactics or exercises which can open your eyes about how much, how often, how long, and how unproductively our phone use might actually be. And knowledge is power as, after doing these exercises, pretty much everyone reduces their screen time (albeit, not by much.) She also points out the inherent irony of parents limiting their kids' screen time while playing Candy Crush all day themselves. The irony isn't the problem of course—it's the behavior modelling.

So if either of these are issues that concern you--the growing lack of creativity in our lives, or the ever-presence of electronic devices, this book is for you. It won't fix the problem, but awareness is the first step.

I got this book for free from the publisher, my employer, Macmillan.

Friday, September 1, 2017

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.

I have crossed the 100 books mark! I've only done that a couple of times in my life and NEVER in August, always in December. So how high will I go? It's kind of daunting/scary to think about it. Who knew that I could read this many books? Granted, I am reading a lot of YA and Middle grade (and in fact, I'm even reading a lot of Early Readers and Picture books, but I'm not counting those in my number.) But I've always read some children's books. And the number of audiobooks (also already a new record) is additionally upping my overall number. I had a goal this season that between May-Aug I would read 75 books on my Winter 2018 list (and that number does include both picture books and early readers) and I DID IT!

Books completed this month:
Come Sundown by Nora Roberts
Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer (audio) *
It's All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan by Tristan Donovan
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
Hazy Bloom and the Tomorrow Power by Jennifer Hamburg
The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater by Alanna Okun
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (audio) *
The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (audio) *

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller *
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan (audio) *

What I acquired this month (non-work books): 
It's a little ironic that when I finally got a decent job, and when I spend half my working days in bookstores, I no longer need to buy books. Of course that's mostly because I no longer have time to read non-work books and I can get any book I want from the 5th largest publisher for free. But I think in a year or so I'll go back to supporting bookstores better.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Book Review: Sourdough by Robin Sloan

In this quirky and sweet second novel by the author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, we meet Lois, a computer programmer, who moves from Detroit to San Francisco to work programming robot arms. However, she doesn't find this life to be fulfilling or interesting. It's just completely filled to the brim with work. One night, she orders take-out, and the man who delivers the soup and sourdough bread really makes her sit up and pay attention. As does the food. She's never eaten anything so nourishing, so delicious. She orders it every day for weeks. And then one day, the brothers who make the food have to move away. They did not get their visa renewals and they are not American (they are members of a country-less seemingly Eastern-European group that lives permanently abroad.) They bestow their sourdough starter on Lois and leave.

So Lois makes bread. And more bread. It's amazing bread. It might have a face in it. The starter might sing. And Lois applies to be part of a new food market opening up where technology is embraced instead of the trendy 18th-century ways of the other farmer's markets around town. Lois brings a robot arm with her to stir her dough.

Who is the mysterious benefactor behind the new food market? Is the sourdough starter magical? Where did it really come from? Will the brother bakers ever return? What will Lois do with her life?

This delightful book answers all these questions and more. It's a feel-good, sweet, but creative and fun story that takes unexpected twists and turns to get to its amusing conclusion. I felt like in Mr. Penumbra, the plot got a little away from Mr. Sloan, and this time around, he's simplified, very much for the better. It's a tighter story, with concise plotting, a shorter list of characters, but once again his trademark blending of new technology with artisinal products. If you're looking for a cheery book without any great trauma, this is perfect. And the cover glows in the dark.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Book Review: Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

So, as any regular readers of my reviews can guess, I am not a big fan of romance novels, or genre novels in general. I normally skip over the Nora Roberts books in my path, even though she's a huge seller. But this one intrigued me when it was named an Indie Next pick by independent bookstores, as they normally pick fairly highbrow books. I figured this was the one to check out.

It's set at a ranch in Montana, which over the years has turned most of itself into a dude ranch and spa sort of vacation spot, although the Bodine/Longbow family have also kept part of it as a working ranch. Bodine Longbow, the great-granddaughter, runs the resort, where an old family friend has recently been hired, Cal, who's not only a good horseman but also looks good doing it (Sundown is his horse.) Her brother has his eye on her new events coordinator, and baby brother likes the looks of the assistant, and everyone seems ready to pair off and live happily ever after. Which would be light on plot even for a romance novel. But there's a completely different side to this novel as well.

Back in the 1970s, Alice ran away from home after her sister Maureen's wedding, long before Maureen's daughter Bodine was born. The family first was angry, then worried, and finally mostly resigned. But what they don't know is that after a couple of years away, Alice was on her way home, in fact was very close to home, when she took a ride from a stranger that went horribly, horribly wrong. The very bad man who picked her up thought she'd make a good wife for breeding, and he kidnaps her and holds her prisoner.

Naturally, these two storylines eventually come together, and it really makes for an interesting dual-plot to have one side be rather sunny and happy, and the other story be very dark and even sadistic. It's a nice relief from the dark storyline, and honestly life does go on and people do fall in love even when horrible things are happening elsewhere. It's not an easy balance, but Ms. Roberts does pull it off. If you like a romance with a little more meat on the bones, this is a great book, and if you're skeptical of romances in general, this is a good meld of genres that shows how the romance side can bring optimism and sunshine to an otherwise potentially depressing story.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Book Review: Thornhill by Pam Smy

This book starts off with two stories, one in contemporaneous, set in 2007, and is told entirely through pictures. The other is set in the 1980s and is told through diary entries from Mary, one of the last orphans to live at Thornhill, before it is to be torn down to make way for a new development. But we can see in 2007 that never happened, as Ella moves in behind Thornhill after her mother dies, and her bedroom looks into the abandoned, boarded-up old mansion. Ella sees a girl her age over there from time to time. And she starts to find these old dolls, which turn out to be marionettes, which she fixes up. We learn those were originally made by Mary, more than 30 years ago.

The other girls go away, one by one, as they find other placements or even foster homes. Eventually Mary is left with the bully of Thornhill, who has been tormenting her for years. When it's just the two of them and almost no staff left, things go very south very quickly. And 30+ years later, Ella is drawn to the desolate and lonely girl she sees in that foreboding landscape. Has she found a new friend?

This book is pretty dark. Not scary, but certainly not for the faint of heart or for younger kids at all. It's definitely for teens. The format is clever, the story is compelling, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Sometimes it's fun to read a dark, creepy book with an ending that makes you go "Whoa!"

I got this book for free from the publisher, my employer, Macmillan.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Book Review: Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer, narrated by Scott Brick (audio)

This book is so frustrating. Don't get me wrong--that's Mr. Krakauer's goal and he's very successful. Nevertheless, there are moments where you just wish you could reach in to the book and shake people. In particular, the members of his own company who didn't follow protocol and who didn't listen when they were told to stop firing. Argh.

You probably know, as I did, that Pat Tillman was a NFL player who joined the Army Rangers after 9/11 and was killed by friendly fire. I also sort of knew there was a cover-up, but I wasn't sure how much of that was an actual cover-up, and how much of that was sensationalism by the media for headlines. And that's the grand total of what I knew going into this book. Well that, and Mr. Krakauer never picks a dull subject.

Turns out Pat Tillman was a pretty unusual guy, very thoughtful and introspective, rather unique in the NFL and in the Army (how many other men were reading The Odyssey while in Afghanistan? I'll bet zero.) He had one bad incident as a teenager which had a very good impact on his life, and he was a very moral, very intelligent, very esoteric man. At the same time, he was a huge and successful football player who did triathlons in the off-season. He did not fit any mold, and yet he usually fit in and was well-liked. He signed up at the end of the season after Sept. 11, 2001, along with his younger brother (a baseball player) and they trained to become Rangers. On their second tour, which was when Afghanistan was already an afterthought with no funding, after Bush declared it "Mission accomplished." And the day he was killed several things went wrong. And a lot of them were stupid. And those weren't the stupidest things that went wrong either--Mr. Kraukauer also explains how Jessica Lynch's convoy never should have been where they were to get ambushed a few months earlier (they'd taken not one but two wrong turns) and that in the rescue, 17 of the 18 Americans killed were killed by, that's right, you guessed it, Americans! Yes, our own Air Force was firing on our ground troops. So what happened to Pat was by no means an isolated or unexpected incident. What I did not expect is that unlike in the Jessica Lynch rescue situation, these were guys from his own company. He knew them! (It was not malicious.) And his brother was in the same company, too.

And yes, it was very much covered up. The army hastily conferred posthumous medals on Pat that he didn't deserve and wouldn't have wanted (if deserved, fine, but he'd never want credit for something he didn't do. He was not that kind of man.) The Army repeatedly said that they didn't tell the Tillmans the truth, because they didn't want to accidentally tell them something untrue. So instead they knowingly told them untruths for quite some time, in order to not tell them the truth. Hm. Very fishy in my book and I am very glad Pat's mother was so dogged in her search for the truth. The truth was destined to get out, considering how many people knew what had really happened, and who were no only friends of Pat's but of Kevin's, his brother, and I feel confidant someone would have told him eventually. I know they were just following orders, but I do wish at least one of them had let his ethics supplant those orders earlier. And the cover-up seems to have gone all the way to the top. If not Bush himself, certainly his speechwriters knew, as his multiple public statements about Pat were expertly crafted so as to not say anything demonstrably wrong, while also not saying the truth.

I think this book would have been hard to read when it first came out, when the war was still going on, before Osama bin Laden was killed. From this distance now of 10+ years, it's still maddening, and yet it's also easier to view with some equanimity.

I checked this eaudiobook out of the library via Overdrive.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Book Purge

It might seem strange that in a year when I'm definitely going to set a new reading record--by a lot--and when I have a job where reading is a large part of it and where I can get any book I want from the fifth largest publisher, that I should be thinking so much about purging books. After all, I did buy a new bookcase! But, that bookcase is 80% filled with sales materials that I'm going to get rid of over the next few months. I do have one shelf of Macmillan books that are by no means required reading (they're all backlist! The horror!) but the rest are last season's ARCs, this season's ARCs (two shelves), and marketing materials.

Still, why should I be getting rid of books? And yet I am. We had a yard sale last month, and I shipped out two large boxes of books to friends. And I have been buying next to nothing.

Well, partly it really is that whole thing where I have access to any books I want from Macmillan's publishers. Yes, it's work, but when your company publishes around 3500 books a year, it isn't at all hard to find 100-150 you'd really, truly enjoy. Having to read books for work is no chore at all. And the reading of these books will only make me better at my job, make it easier, and hopefully get me more in bonuses! So that's lots of incentives. And that means I really am enjoying all the Macmillan reading I'm doing. I have motivation to do it coming at me from all sides. Is there an occasional dud? Inevitably. But that's true no matter what I'm reading--book club books, or just plain fun. Without the bad ones, we'd lose the scale to remind us how good the good ones are.

So I am looking suddenly at reading almost nothing from my shelves. For the foreseeable future. Seriously, if I read 5 non-Macmillan books from my shelves between now and the end of the year, not counting audiobooks (those often are kind of random and not exactly what I'd choose if I had access to every single book as an audiobook), I'd be surprised. Which means, the 500+ unread books in my house that I often joke about, go from being 5 years' worth of reading material, to 100 years' worth. Yeah, I'm not going to get to them all. So I should pass some of them along to people who can read them and enjoy them, and make a little space in my life (and so I don't feel so guilty.)

And it feels good. I can't read all the books in the world. I can't even read all the books in my house! But now the ones I have are a tiny bit more reasonable.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Book Review: In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors by Doug Stanton

I had declared a WWII moratorium almost exactly two years ago, after reading All the Light We Cannot See. Now don't get me wrong, I did like that book. But I was so tired of WWII. It was just everpresent. With Life After Life and The Boys in the Boat and everyone pushing me to read The Nightingale, and I just couldn't take it anymore. I was so oversaturated that I was prone to dislike an otherwise good book, just because it was set in WWII. So I gave away The Nightingale and happily declared my moratorium and didn't miss them at all. I thought the moratorium would only last a year but it was instead almost two. It started to sneak back in in small doses, through The Radium Girls and Hidden Figures, which are not about WWII but do in a small part take place during the war. Technically The Port Chicago 50 is the first real WWII book I read this year, except it entirely takes place on US soil and the men involved weren't allowed to fight in the war, despite it taking pace in 1944. So I will declare Bomb to be the first real WWII book to break the fast. And then right after reading that book, I saw the movie Dunkirk, and then I just had to read this book, In Harm's Way, that my husband had recently read, and which I had seen praised highly on at least two different book lists last week of books about sharks (since it was Shark Week.)

The USS Indianapolis gets a solid mention in Bomb as it was the ship that delivered the components of the atomic bombs to the Enola Gay to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the book about the atomic bomb, the fate of the Indianapolis then merits just a passing aside. But my god, what a fate! After dropping off the bombs, it headed out for its next port, and was torpedoed by a Japanese sub and sank. Due to a terrible policy, some poor handling of various messages, fear of Japanese fake messages to lure Allies into traps, and so on, the sailors and marine who survived the initial two torpedoes and explosions, who didn't die right away but instead managed to find a life jacket or life boat and get away, then had to endure nearly 5 days at sea, without food or water or shelter, most just in the water not in a life raft, and of course, surrounded by sharks. When they were finally spotted--by accident as still no one was looking for them!--a fraction of the men who had survived the first day were still alive.

Boy, this book had a forward propulsion like few I've read. For a nonfiction, history book, it read so fast, and was absolutely unputdownable. It wasn't a short book but I read it in two days. In the end, I think the navy made a lot more mistakes and errors than they ever took responsibility for, and seriously mislaid the blame. The author also takes a half dozen men (who obviously survived as he'd obviously been able to talk to them) and uses their experiences--in different groups, in different levels of injury and danger--to demonstrate the situation for all the men, and to humanize the tale in a very effective way. This is a top-notch work of history about an often overlooked (the news of the sinking finally broke the same day Japan admitted defeat so it was inevitably lost in the brouhaha) but horrifying and gut-wrenching part of history. These men made the end of the war possible, and then were forgotten as their own lives were imperiled.

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

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What My New Job Is Like, Part III

I am getting ready to head back out on the road! This season I am hoping to drive slightly fewer than the 5000+ miles I did last season as I have a lot less 1-store days and I think I've planned my trip smarter. We'll see. I know the planning part would annoy most people but to me, it's like a puzzle. I actually enjoy trying to figure out how to fit everyone in, in the most efficient way possible. Now, the most efficient way almost never works out. This season I had to plan my travel schedule around 2 trade shows (one is nearby but the other is in New Orleans, very far from home and my territory), 2 (now 3) family visiting me trips, 2 public holidays (yes, Columbus Day isn't a big deal in most of my territory but the further north I get, the more likely it is a factor), my anniversary, my husband's birthday, and of course trying to get it all done before the next Sales Conference. I have a couple of beach stores I can't visit until after Labor Day, and a couple of college stores when I need to avoid back-to-school time. Theoretically, with roughly 40 accounts to visit, if I can do 2 a day, that's 20 days so I should be able to do it in a month. It never works out that way, though. A few stores are just too far away (Norfolk, VA; Sylva, NC) from anything else, and some are too big to do more than the one in a day. And sometimes the store managers have conflicts. It will all get sorted of course, but it can be tricky to manage. Luckily, I really like puzzles.

I also had to get together all the materials I need. The most important thing I bring along is ARCs. It's true that I don't have to bring them at all—stores can make requests and I will order the ARCs to be sent directly from our warehouse. But they might not request a book they're borderline about. And they get ARCs from scores of publishers. It's easy for the buyers to get bogged down. But if we just talked about a book and I got them excited about it, and then I hand it to them, it's a lot more likely that they'll read it (hopefully starting that day!) Some books also really need a visual aid, whether it's a heavily illustrated adult book, or a kids' book with flaps and windows and other features that are more easily shown than described. So I have two boxes in my trunk, one of adult books and one of children's. I try to be paperless, but some things just work better in hard copy, so I print off the stock offers (those are extra discounts for a certain time frame) and a list of all the displays and signed books this season, and for this season only also a list of all the books that our publishers are promoting in the regional holiday catalogs that stores will be handing out to customers this fall. I used to have to also print off all my maps for each week and I'm sure glad that task is no longer necessary. I have to stock up on my audiobooks. I have several CDs from work, but I also like to listen to downloaded ones, especially for my week in DC where I'm traveling by foot and public transit, and not in my car. About half of the audiobooks are work-related, and then, since options are limited, I also give myself a break and listen to some from other publishers.

When I pack, my toiletry kit needs to be fully stocked. Long ago I just got two of everything (except my prescriptions) and I treated myself this spring to a whole new toiletry kit. I need pretty but practical shoes (sometimes I have to walk a bit. In fact, even when parking is readily available, I always try to park further back, leaving the good spaces for paying customers.) Band-aids and other possible first-aid items. I need an umbrella and a jacket and workout clothes (although I have a knee injury so I am not able to work out much right now.) Again, all this packing and planning really appeals to the hyper-efficient side of my personality. I blame the Germans. I've also been to the dentist and optometrist, picked up my prescriptions, gotten a haircut, and scheduled my next doctor's appointment. These are all things i need to schedule in between travel seasons. I do still need to plan my main outfits and be sure nothing needs to be dry-cleaned.

I do wish on the road that I had time to visit some of the attractions. One of these days in DC I at least want to visit the museum shops I sell to (I sell to the buyers in their corporate offices, not at the stores.) But I figure I've got plenty of time for that. I really wish I could come up with some snacks that aren't candy or other low-health high-calorie foods that can live in the car. Yes, I eat nuts (and those are high in calories) but when I look up low-cal snacks, it's entirely stuff that needs to be refrigerated/heated/prepared immediately before eating. Nothing I can just grab a handful of and munch on while stuck on the Garden State Parkway. And no, I'm not going to get a cooler for my car. That's just not practical.

I do love to travel, thankfully! I won't like it as much in two months, but then I'll get a break again. This is the life of a sales rep!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Book Review: Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, narrated by Roy Samuelson

I haven't read much (if any) YA nonfiction, so I thought I'd give this one a go and see what it's like. I wasn't in fact, very sure what the difference was. And while I still am not 100% sure why this is listed as YA, instead of adult, I guess it is laid out in a more straightforward way and might use slightly simpler language. But for listening, those two things both improve the experience. The only moment when I was aware that I was listening to a book geared younger, was when who General MacArthur was explained. Most adult books just assume you know who that is (and in fact, it was jarring to me, to have that little appositive explaining him. Not bad, just startling.)

The book begins with the story of a spy who gave away American secrets about the atomic bomb, and then goes back to give us the entire history of the bomb. It begins with the scientific discovery of fission, of physicists' realization of what that meant (it's not many steps to get to a bomb given the amount of power given off by a minuscule amount of fission-able matter). It quickly gets to Robert Oppenheimer and Los Alamos. And as they worked away, the German were also racing to make a bomb, and we were racing to prevent it. They were using a different method involving something called "heavy water" and Allied spies thought they could set the German back years if they could get to their source of heavy water.

Meanwhile the Soviets were recruiting spies among the physicists. (Funnily enough, one Brit later arrested was given a much lighter sentence because, at the time, the USSR was our ally, not our enemy. American laws however were not as forgiving.) And then after Fat Man and Short Boy were dropped on Japan, the Soviets became our enemy, and the spy recruitment intensified during the Cold War.

We'll never know what the outcome of WWII would have been if either the Germans had gotten the bomb before we did, or if we hadn't dropped it on Japan, but we work with the history we have, and the scientific and intelligence race to outwit our enemies (and occasional friends) is an awfully fascinating story.

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 Macmillan, my employer, but I listened to the audiobook which is published by Listening Library. I downloaded the eaudiobook from my library via Overdrive.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

I don't read a lot of contemporary women's thrillers, even though they're really hot right now, but I read a few, and I've read the big ones. This novel falls squarely in that wheelhouse. One night two teenage sisters disappear. Five years later, only one of them returns. Where is Emma? What has happened to her?

This book takes place  over the course of one week (although with a ton of flashbacks) after Cass reappears, alternating between Cass telling the story of what happened (through her trauma she's got memory issues, which is why is takes a week for the family to figure out where Emma is), and the female FBI profiler on the case, Dr. Winter. Emma was a typical teenager, rebellious but also striving, who made have gotten into trouble. How did she disappear that night, how did Cass end up disappearing with her, where have they been for the last five years, and why has only Cass returned? I don't want to tell any more because all of these are important questions. The job does a good job of holding the tension taut, giving away only the parts you need to know, and keeping the reader guessing until the end. It's also a little more literary, in my opinion, than a typical thriller, mostly due to the psychologist's perspectives. Not much gets by her, although we readers don't always get her take on the story until later. It's a fun read, with twists and turns that kept me fully entertained.

I got this book for free from the publisher, which is my employer, Macmillan.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

My Month in Review: July

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

This was a big reading month for me as I prepare to head out on the road next month again. I had set myself a quota of 75 books this season, including books I'd already read (which were now coming out in paperback), picture books, on up. I have 9 left. Then I'll let myself read whatever I want... until the end of August. Sept. 1 I will then switch over to reading for the next season (Spring/Summer 2018) through the end of the year. And I think my goal will be 75 books again. Once I've been in the job for a year, and more of the paperbacks will be books I've already read, then I will take it up to 100. I have read a few books this season which are in paperback, so those won't help me next year, but only a few. So most of what I'm reading are 2018 books.

I note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star.

Books completed this month:
Zombie Abbey by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary
Raffie on the Run by Jacqueline Resnick
The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein
Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell
The Forgotten Book by Mechthild Gläser
The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin (audio)
The Kings of Big Spring: God, Oil, and One Family's Search for the American Dream by Bryan Mealer
Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (audio)
The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry by David L. Carlson and Landis Blair
In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors by Doug Stanton

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Come Sundown by Nora Roberts
Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer (audio) *

What I acquired this month (non-work books): 
Hm, none. My husband bought one, and we went to the local bookstore where we also bought a puzzle (for me) and a fancy set of playing cards (for him). But with my really ambitious reading schedule and with my access to everything Macmillan, and my limited budget (I'm finally making decent money after many years of just scraping by, which means I can finally start paying down debt.)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Book Review: Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

I have now read all of Ms. Rowell's books but one. And yes, this is just a short novella, but it was still delightful and I enjoyed it very much.

Elena loves Star Wars. But only the original three (now numbers 4-6). When she was a kid, that's all her father would let her watch, because they were the originals and because the others weren't the same. Even after her father left, she still didn't watch them, as a way to honor his wishes. So it's unusual that she'd decided to camp out for seats to the seventh movie (you don't even have to camp out for tickets anymore as you can buy those online in advance.) She thought it would be a fun, exciting party, but she finds there are only two guys there... and that's it (until the last day). But she decides to stick it out. So she spends most of a week with a real Star Wars nut, and a quiet guy about her age who just reads. It could be worse. They're actually both relatively nice. Although she's worried they'll find out she's only watched 3 of the 6 movies. Even if she is freezing and they don't have a bathroom at night, it's kind of fun. Eventually, the quiet guy, Gabe, starts talking and it turns out, he's a really nice guy. Doesn't she maybe know him from somewhere?

And that's all I'm going to say, because it is a really short book after all. It has Ms. Rowell's characteristically quirky and introverted characters who you can't help but root for. And Star Wars!

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer, and it was produced for Independent Bookstore Day.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Book Review: Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham

I love me an agony memoir. I have loved (and sobbed over) An Exact Figment of My Imagination, Comfort, and What I Thought I Knew. So when I got this book, it seemed right up my alley except... the title seemed off. Happiness? That doesn't sound like an agony memoir, although the set-up sure does. What was going on with that?

Heather was happily in a serious relationship, living in New York, and making progress with her writing. The one down side was that her boyfriend was adamant about not wanting kids. And Heather was pretty sure she did want them. But she thought she could postpone that difficult conversation for another day. Until... she was pregnant. (Yes, someone this adamant should have done something more permanent or at least been rigorous about their birth control but that's not the point here.). And he was serious. Because he broke up with her.

Despondent, pregnant and alone, she decided to move back to the West Coast where she grew up. Her mother's tenant was about to move out of her guest house and Heather could live there rent-free while she sorted through the pieces of the life that had been so happy just a few weeks earlier. She was shattered by the sudden and dramatic end of her relationship, but she didn't wallow in her despair. She decided she had to get over it and move on, for the sake of the baby. And she was making progress in that area when the baby, Grace, was born, and had severe health issues right away. Within the first 24 hours she was med-evaced to a bigger hospital as she needed an immediate blood transfusion. Heather was shocked as nothing had ever hinted at any problems with Grace beforehand, so she was utterly unprepared. And now the doctors can't figure out what's wrong with her. But she needs another transfusion. And another.

I don't want to give more away, but suffice it to say that her positive and one-foot-in-front-of-the-other attitude was refreshing. Not that I think the authors of the previous agony memoirs I've read handling things poorly--when horrible thing happen, not all of us have the support of fortitude to proceed with such a positive outlook. And Heather is no Pollyanna either. But it still was refreshing to me to read a different take on how to handle things when everything goes in the shitter.

I got this book from free at work, because it is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Book Review: The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin, narrated by Dominic Hoffman (audio)

This book is for middle grade readers, so it is rather short, but boy, it's so well-written, that if I didn't know it was geared towards kids, I wouldn't have known. (One other clue was at the very end, when putting this incident in the bigger context of the civil Rights Movement to come, the author explained who a few people were—Martin  Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks—who an adult author would have just assumed we knew.) And on the plus side, because it was geared towards children, it was very clear and straightforward, which I really appreciated.

During World War II, while minorities were allowed to join the armed services, they served in segregated units. And the few that didn't, were still relegated to lowly, menial, and hard-labor jobs. Most of the African-American young men signing up for the navy had no idea that meant they'd never be going to sea. The navy believed that in the confined space of a ship, any disruption could become dangerous and they didn't want to risk it. In Port Chicago, the African-Americans had to unload and load the munitions, with no training, and do it as fast as possible. In fact, often the white officers in charge would bet each other whose crew would work faster, and you can believe that if a white officer lost money because his crew of African American sailors wasn't working as hard as he thought they should, there'd be hell to pay. Additionally, there were the usual privations that came along with segregation, of shoddy quarters, eating cold leftovers, and not even being able to see movies in the local theater in their off hours.

One night there was an explosion. Of the 300+ men killed, 3/4 of them were African-American. The men from that loading unit who survived, were transferred, and told to start loading munitions again. They refused. And they were court-martialled under mutiny, which came with the death penalty. Eventually Thurgood Marshall took up the appeal. This case, now long-forgotten, was pivotal in kicking off the Civil Rights Movement and was critical in gaining unprecedented rights for African-Americans in the armed forces, even if it didn't end well for the 50 men involved.

I do think this deserves an adult full-length exploration from someone like Erik Larson or Hampton Sides, who can really dig into what happened in the explosion itself, which was not solved at the time, and therefore was glossed over in the book. (Surely we have more resources and technology today and can have more than a guess now.) But I loved this book in this version. There were an awful lot of people involved and with a cast of characters that size, and the scope of this event, it would be so easy to get very confusing. However, since this book was written for middle grade kids, it wasn't at all. It was so easy to follow, and it was nice to have the ramifications spelled out. The narrator also was great. I'd highly recommend this for any kid but also, it would be a terrific listen for the whole family, as trust me—the parents will learn just as much!

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

The print version of this book is published by Macmillan, my employer, but I listened to the audiobook, which is published by Random House. I downloaded this eaudiobook from my library via Overdrive.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Book Review: Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris

I have rarely not just dived into a David Sedaris book and read the whole thing in one gulp. But this time, I couldn't. I had a ton of work reading to do, and also this was his largest book by far. But it was delightful instead to spend a few minutes with David, every night for several weeks. I do love getting enveloped by a book and reading it whole, but it is nice sometimes to parcel out a treat in small amounts to make it last longer. It's just when it comes to David Sedaris, I don't normally have the discipline. And I think he'd appreciate that. I should also mention I've seen him in person four times.

For people who aren't already familiar with Mr. Sedaris, I'm not sure I'd suggest you start with this book. In fact, I think I'd read his books in order mostly. Because with this book, one of the coolest things, is knowing where he's going (bestselling author) and seeing how he gets there. And seeing his sister Amy's career get off the ground. And reading about notable moments, such as when he first meets Hugh, that HE doesn't know yet are notable moments. You catch glimpses and clues along the way about his family and his career path. But as this is exactly what it says it is--his own diaries (lightly edited but he leaves the crazy and juicy stuff in), if you don't know the context of the bigger picture, I can't imagine these would do a lot for you. But with that bigger picture, it's a real treat. In particular I liked the crazy things with his sister Amy, and I loved seeing the morsels that later became big juicy stories such as all the source material for Me Talk Pretty Someday. My only annoyance was that they ended. Obviously, we're totally set up for a volume 2. I just wish I didn't have to wait! This was the shortest 500 page book I've ever read. It flew by.

I bought this book from my local independent bookstore, Watchung Booksellers.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Book Review: In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary

Books like the Little House on the Prairie series, I think make all kids wonder about the authors of their books. We know what Laura Ingalls's life was like—who else had interesting lives? Are their stories inspired by their lives? Do they live in a garret doing nothing but write? Do they live glamorous lives? Maybe I just wondered those things because I was destined to work in book publishing (or vice versa). Regardless, it was a real treat to get to read this biography of Margaret Wise Brown, the author of hundreds of children's books, most famously, Goodnight, Moon, although my personal favorite is Runaway Bunny.

And I was not prepared for how interesting a like Brown's turned out to be! Wealthy, she went to prep schools and on to Hollins College where her grades initially would have likely gotten her turned out if the Depression hadn't hit and taken a toll on all colleges' enrollment. Afterwards, Margaret moved to New York City and got a job at Bank Street, the educational pioneer. She quickly transitioned from teaching to their publishing arm, working on textbooks in a very new style that emphasized children's experiences, multi-sensory experiences, and being sure not to talk down to kids. She never did anything by halves. She threw herself into this job, and into her own writing, and into her relationships. She was interested in a Carnegie in college but he married her friend. After a brief engagement to an Armistead , she later embarked on a long, tumultuous relationship with John Barrymore's ex-wife, Michael. And at the end of her life, she was engaged to a Rockefeller. She never married, never had kids, never achieved the literary success she'd long dreamed of, in terms of writing important, adult literature. But boy, did she leave a huge impact on children's literature. She didn't just write her books and textbooks, she helped a fledgling publisher as an editor for many years, discovering and encouraging many of the premier children's book illustrators of that era, including Clement Hurd who illustrated Goodnight, Moon.

Amy Gary had unprecedented access to Brown's journals and papers. At Margaret's sister's house, she found a trunk completely full of papers including dozens of unpublished manuscripts. (Gary is now the archivist for Brown's works.) Thanks to Brown's journals, this book feels so complete and whole, and you get her inner thoughts without the feeling that Gary is guessing at what Brown was feeling. It nearly has the feel of a third-person memoir.

Her life was fascinating, and this biography should not only be read by children's literature aficionados. It reads smoothly and trips along through the myriad adventures and books and homes and loves of Margaret Wise Brown's life, never feeling voyeuristic, but instead feeling like an unfurling of a rose, with more and more layers of petals.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What My New Job is Like Part II

So I realized that when I posted last month about what my job as a field sales rep is like, I really only talked about half of the job. Each season (and book publishing only has 3 seasons, not 4), I am on the road for about two months, but that means I am in my home office for about two months. What am I doing during those two months?

Well it all begins with Sales Conference. I went to my first one just 4 days after starting my new job. It was in Nashville (my hometown!) and it was kind of fun, although also completely overwhelming. But I was still in the stage where I didn't know what I didn't know yet, so I wasn't very anxious. I just tried to pay attention and hoped I was writing down the right things and I asked a lot of questions (not in the presentations but to my colleagues) and it was fine. I have some very nice, very helpful colleagues, thankfully, and I felt like I got up to speed fast.

This season, I was kind of scared of Sales Conference. After all, it was virtual. Which meant instead of sitting next to Anne and Ben and asking them questions, I was in my home office, on 6-hour conference calls for 4 days. Compounding that difficulty, my landlord is moving a carriage house from behind my house to next door. They were digging and pouring a foundation literally 8 feet from my office that week. But it was not bad at all, considering! It was a bummer that I couldn't speak up thanks to the construction noise, instead I had to type all my comments into the chat box, but that's not a big burden. Did I mention that PSE&G has also been jackhammering the street in front of my house off and on for the last month? So much fun. I did end up consulting a children's picture book to find out the names of all the construction vehicles, so now I know a back-hoe digger from an excavator.

In Sales Conference, the publishers present their bigger books, or books that could use more attention, and hopefully they tell us some interesting things about the books that we can then use to sell the books to our accounts. So throughout the presentations, we're all frantically typing notes into Edelweiss for every book. They're not in the same order, Edelweiss has some issues sometimes and doesn't always cooperate, and on the last day I had some problems with the presentation software and couldn't see the PowerPoint for most of the morning. But it was still much better and smoother than I had imagined.

Afterward, we then take about a month or six weeks to prepare to hit the road. Usually, the last season (Fall 2017) still has some mopping-up—I still had a couple of sales calls over the phone, and I had a half a dozen orders to enter. I had some huge expense reports to submit. I also had a ton of emails to address as while I was on the road, mostly I was only able to put out fires and everything else had to wait. And to prep for the next season, I have to plot out my calendar for when to go where (which is harder than you'd think, especially trying to squeeze in a 2-week trip to NC and VA around Labor Day, Columbus Day, two family visits, my anniversary and my husband's birthday, SIBA and NAIBA's fall trade shows, and get it all in before the next sales conference. I can't go to my college stores in VA and NC in mid-August because of back to school, and I can't go to my beach stores in DE until after Labor Day.) Then I have to send emails and try to schedule 38 appointments. Once I get those set, I have to book all my hotels, and I have to make a flow chart for where my F&Gs will go. F&Gs are Fold & Gathers, or the ARCs for picture books. They used to be just printed pages that were literally folded (not bound in any way) and just gathered together. Today they do tend to be stapled. I don't get 38 of them. I get 7. We like to be kind to the environment, stores don't like to have to figure out what to do with all of these from all publishers at the end of a season, and it is a cost savings that helps us do more for stores. So Store #1 needs to send their F&Gs on to store #8. Store #2 has to send theirs to Store #9, etc. I have to figure out the flow chart, and print UPS call tags for every shipment along the way, which I bring to the sales call, so the stores don't incur the shipping cost. I also send ARCs to my stores that I think they will like (and stores make a ton of requests which is so nice as then I know they will really want what they're getting!) Finally, I have to get back to Edelweiss and finish making my notes. See, even in four days, my publishers can't possibly present 1200 books to us. Not by a long shot. So I have to go back to book 1 and I look over the tip sheet and launch sheet (which ought to be attached) and listen to the audio presentation (these are cool—the editors talking about the books, hopefully not just rereading their copy I already have, but talking about why they bought the book, what the author is like, what inspired the story, etc.), and the catalog copy. I then distill that down and I write a 1-2 sentence description followed by 2-5 bullets of selling points for the accounts. Some accounts really only look at my mark-up notes when making their decisions, so I put a lot of effort into them. My predecessor wrote really funny ones, and I can't compete on that, but I do add fun facts and personal anecdotes and a couple of gifs. I can do 80 on a good day, but that's balanced with 10 on a bad day (when the emails don't stop coming). I pretty much max out at about 250/week. A couple of my colleagues share theirs (as do I) so I can sometimes crib from them and that can help (although it can also hurt as I won't be as familiar with those books when it comes time to sell.)

Oh, and the last thing that I do? Read. Read read read. I have a goal this season to read 75 books. Now, a bunch of those are picture books so it's not as crazy as it sounds. I managed to read about 25 of those in 2 days. I've read 53.5 so far. So 21.5 left. I am hoping the children's department will upload more of the picture books, but I'm feeling pretty good with how I'm doing. I started reading Winter 2018 books in May, and I'm giving myself through August before switching to Spring/Summer 2018 books. It's funny—I might not make my Challenge to read 31 2017 books but it's not because I'm not reading new books—it's because I'm reading even newer books than that!

So that's the other part of my job, which is just as big and important as the part where I drive around and visit stores.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Book Review: A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids by Shelley Tougas

Shelley Tougas writes such believable kids, it's impressive and yet, because she' so great at it, I think it's an overlooked skill. The most highly skilled people make the hard work look easy.

No one believes that Mary's cousin Eden is getting married, but Mary's not going to look an offer to be a junior bridesmaid in the mouth! Not to mention, it distracts from her being disciplined at school for hitting a boy, Brent. Not that her mother needs a lot of distracting lately--with her father having moved to North Dakota for work and her mother hanging on as a single parent with a low-paying job so Mary and her brother can finish out the school year, she's pretty distracted most of the time. But it finally is the end of the school year and Mary and her brother are going to live with their Grandmother and Eden, while their mom heads to North Dakota to look for a job and a place for them to all live.

Mary throws herself into being a good bridesmaid. And one of the first thing she learns is that her job is to make the bride's life easier. And considering that Eden has crippling social anxiety (as does her fiance, which is how they met--in a support group), Mary knows that trying to help mitigate the giant, fancy wedding their grandmother is planning that Eden doesn't want, should be her number one goal. But she doesn't want to hurt their grandmother's feelings either, and she's a very formidable woman who basically always gets her way. Mary has found praying to Patron Saints a lot easier lately, but she can't find a patron saint for junior bridesmaids, so she's having to navigate a lot of tricky waters with her family (not to mention the cute boy down the street), solo.

This is a great middle grade book because it's not chock-filled with Big Issues. Don't get me wrong--it's not a light fluffy novel with nothing at all bad, it's just not dark or depressing and things work out in the end. The reason that Mary punched the boy in her class, and the aftermath of that, is by far the most compelling story, although it's by no means the main storyline. It's really nice to see Eden, dealing with her anxiety in productive ways and actively working to get better, and it's nice to see a positive and empowering story with that particular issue. Mary has a close, loving family, whose biggest problem is that they tell white lies to spare each others' feelings, and there's a bit of an internal fight/joke about whether Irish or German food is better. I especially liked the neighborhood boy who is a love interest that never really gets off the ground, but as a Unitarian, opens Mary's eyes a bit to her own Catholic faith and to the wider world around her.

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 Roaring Brook, a part of Macmillan Publishers, my employer.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

My Month in Review: June

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 month was Sales Conference, so I had to read in preparation for that, but also coming out of that I had a lot of books I was really interested in reading. I'm starting to realize that I'm going to have a problem with how I currently list my reviews. Since I'm reading so far in advance, I'm holding most of my reviews until about a week before the book publishes. I don't think it's nice or fair to tease about a book that isn't coming out for six months or longer. Not to mention, you'll have completely forgotten about it by then. But that means that a lot of books I'm reading in 2017, I won't publish the reviews for until 2018. Hmm. Not ideal. Maybe I should change my "Books Read" list to "Books Reviewed?" But I often look up a book on Goodreads to see what year I read it, in order to find t he review on my blog easily, so that will mess things up if I do that. I can post them all to my "Books Read 2017" list retroactively, in 2018. I'll have to ponder this issue a bit. If anyone has suggestions, I'm all ears!

Also, it's now exactly six months into the year. According to Goodreads, not including picture books and the like, I've read 85 books. So I'm on track to set a new record, by a long, long way. My previous record was 103 in 2011. I should pass that in another month or two. Granted, I've been reading a lot more children's books than I have in past years, but I only count them if they're substantial--more than 100 pages, a chapter book with some substance. Middle grade is my cutoff, but I don't even count all of the middle grade books, if it feels too goofy or just doesn't have enough content. Counting the books below that really feels like padding. Now, between all the audiobook (20! A new record! It's weird to set a record so early in the year.) and the children's books, my total number of pages is running closer to par at two-thirds of my previously highest year.

Books completed this month:
Prairie Fires: The Life and Times of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser
Real Friends by Shannon Hale
*The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore (audio)
P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy
In Search Of by Ava Dellaira
The Lambs: My Father, a Farm, and the Gift of a Flock of Sheep by Carole George
As She Fades by Abbi Glines
*Killers of the Flower Moon: Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (audio)
Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children by Sara Zaske
Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir by Dawn Davies
*Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris
A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids by Shelley Tougas
Ellie, Engineer by Jackson Pearce
Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez
Snow Lane by Josie Angelini
#Prettyboy Must Die by Kimberly Reid
Plus thirty-two picture books that I've read for work.

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Zombie Abbey by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters With Extraordinary People by Susan Orlean
Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell
You know, I don't know when, if ever, I'll finish these two books given my current work, so I'm going to stop listing the Orlean and the Mitchell every single month. Rest assured they continue to live on my bedside table and haven't been forgotten.

What I acquired this month (non-work books): 
I was thrilled to get these books at BEA!
Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder edited by Nancy Tystad Koupal
Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller
D'Arc by Robert Repino
Don't know when I will ever get to read them, but I have hope!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Book Review: Killers of the Flower Moon: Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann, narrated by Will Patton, Ann Marie Lee, and Danny Campbell (audio)

This audiobook did something different than others I've listened to and I liked it: it had three narrators. Now, I've had audiobooks where one voice was read by a different narrator, but this book was divided into three sections, and each section had a different focus or "main character," and the three narrators of those three sections were obviously chosen to represent those three narrations, which was very effective.

The book starts off with the story of Mollie Burkhart, an Osage Indian woman, who watched as her sisters and mother were killed off, one by one, by various means: shot, poisoned, and one's house was blown up. She absolutely had to be terrified that she was next. And her diabetes did get dramatically, and suspiciously worse for a while, until she was removed from the care of the local doctors. But her family were not the only ones being targeted and killed for their "head rights," or their rights to the oil under the Oklahoma reservation. In the 1920s, at least two dozen Osage were murdered. That kind of killing spree ought to still be in our cultural consciousness, but it isn't. It also ought to be because these investigations lead to the founding of the FBI.

That's the second half of the story, told by a gravely-voiced Westerner. The newly formed Bureau of Investigation had no power of arrest, and its members weren't allowed to carry guns. They were solely supposed to investigate. Some members went undercover to try to infiltrate the local society. Most though went in as lawmen, questioning and interviewing and doing the usual legwork. Unfortunately, most people weren't talking. It seems like everyone knew more than they were saying, but they were all awfully scared of someone.

Finally, in the third part of the book, the author David Grann, becomes part of the story as he investigates on the murders that was never solved. When the BI does "solve," them, they assume the bad guy(s) they've fingered is/are good for all of the murders, and basically just stop investigating all of them. One family gets in touch with Grann and he goes back through all of the original material in archives and pieces together the larger puzzle, uncovering some brand-new revelations along the way.

The story is riveting. It's wretched that this happened, and we make it worse by forgetting, what was one of the largest mass murders in American history. It's interesting to hear about how the BI (FBI) was changing at this time and how Hoover went out of his way to deny identifying the bureau agents who were instrumental in solving the case, as they didn't fit his desired look of an agent: young, Ivy League-educated, clean-cut. Of course that type of agent wouldn't have been able to make much headway in Osage County, Oklahoma, and these men did. Laws were changed after these murders, allowing the Osage more control over their own money, and preventing the situation that made murder so attractive for a while in this area. It's a fascinating sliver of history, and one even more important to know about as it was so impactful on the Osage people.

I downloaded this eaudiobook through my library via Cloud Library.

Friday, June 16, 2017

What My New Job is Like

I know, I've been fairly absent from my blog this month, but I've had a very good excuse. Over the last two months I've been traveling like crazy to visit all my accounts, mostly independent bookstores, and my territory is rather large: Southern NJ and Eastern PA, on down through NC. And since I like numbers and fun facts, I thought I'd pull some together for you all.

States visited: 6 plus 1 district plus drove through 1 additional state.
Miles Driven: 5641
Audiobooks listened to: 6
Times car in shop: 2 (oil change and brake light, flat tire)
Bookstores visited: 38
Additional bookstores I visited in this timeframe that aren't even my accounts: 2
What I bought at those bookstores: 1 Wonder Woman mug, 4 literary tea towels, 2 jigsaw puzzles, 1 notepad, 1 giant (joke) highlighter, 1 leather cat keychain. (Yes, I am a sucker for sidelines.)
Funniest book I saw at a store: How To Talk To Your Cat About Gun Safety
Panera Breads visited: 11
Number of Macmillan titles to review for every order for Fall 2017: 1232
Oldest bookstore: Moravian Books in Pennsylvania (it's the oldest bookstore in the U.S.!) Founded 1745.
Youngest bookstore: East City Books in D.C. It was 364 days old when I visited, one day shy of its first birthday!

So what I do is I go to bookstores and we review their order, which hopefully they've already pulled together on the website where online catalogs live. Otherwise, we will go through the whole thing instead of just the books I want to review, and we can then take a 1 hour appointment and make it into 3. As I'm sure you can imagine, going over 1232 books is daunting and time-consuming. Luckily a lot of the books are also fun or awesome or awe-inspiring, so it's like little treats are sprinkled throughout this task. I managed to read 12 books on the list plus 40 picture books. Next season I plan to read more. I've already read 14 2018 books! Sales Conference ended yesterday so it's time to switch gears to Winter 2018 (January-April).