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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).

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Book Review: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis, narrated by Dylan Baker (audio)

I rarely pay attention to the narrator for an audiobook unless they are really wrong for the book, and I didn't know who narrated this one, however, I recognized his voice and a few hours in (I was on a very long car ride) I finally put a face to the voice and Dylan Baker was perfect for this book. He has the right amount of practicality and everymanness that you imagine Michael Lewis to have.

Because, as in all of Mr. Lewis's books, he is not an insider (yes, he very briefly in his twenties did work in a trading company but really, he's not one of them) and instead is someone just like you and me, but who can explain really, really complicated financial transactions in a way that is clear and understandable, and even at times fun.

Here he explains the flash crash that happened in 2010, how flash trading became so important, how flash trading works, and why it really isn't a good thing for the market at all—it's just a small group of traders who are siphoning money off the top and contributing nothing. They make trading more expensive for everyone, so they can get rich. He also follows a group of men from the Royal Bank of Canada (initially) who figure this out, decide it's unethical, and set out to create a fair trading market that the flash traders can't scam. Boy, I hope they win. This is a battle still continuing to this day.

Riveting as usual, with insights and perspectives that only an outsider with insider knowledge can have, like with all of Mr. Lewis's financial books, we all ought to read them, as the less we know about financial markets, the more those in the know can scam them, making trading costs higher for our 401(k)s and pension plans, even if you don't consider yourself someone who is in the market.

I downloaded this eaudiobook from Overdrive via my library.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Book Review: Real Friends by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Ugh, middle school. Ugh, cliques. Ugh, complicated friendships. This book hits all of these rife topics on the head. Ms. Hale really recaptures what it felt like to be navigating the uber-complicated world of junior high (as it was called in the 1980s) and how, to quote Heathers, "Sometimes I don't really like my friends." And Shannon's friends certainly are mostly frenemies, so who can blame her?

But as the book goes on, she does find a new group of friends who are not mean girls and don't exclude people or make fun or every quirk and nuance about them that doesn't conform. It's awesome. That rarely happens in real life and I hope those two girls who were the defacto leaders of that trend know how awesome they are. It's also rough when you go home and your home life is no respite from the trauma of school. Shannon's sister Wendy is also a terror, meaning Shannon has no refuge.

Sadly, I've found friendship difficulties can even happen in adulthood. So this is a great book that pretty much every kid ought to read. Friendships mean a ton therefore there are fraught. And it's best to try to figure out how to navigate them before they get poisonous, and while there's still room to maneuver around. This book felt very real, and hopeful.

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.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Book Review: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (audio)

This is a book I've owned for several years, however, I finally figured I was unlikely to ever get around to reading it, so I got the audio.

I love history books, especially ones that explain things I've never understood. Just as I still don't really understand how the assassination in Sarajevo started WWI, I also never understood why the sinking of the Lusitania was cause for the United States to join the war. Basically, it was the blatant disregard for the fact that it was a passenger ship, not a military ship, that although British, was carrying a lot of Americans, and the Germans knew that, so it felt like it was a middle finger to America and basically a way to force them in from public outcry. And that's precisely what happened.

Thanks to the sinking of the Titanic a year or so earlier, the Lusitania did have enough life boats. But they overcorrected and got new fancy life jackets which no one knew how to put on (they were complicated) and many bodies were found in a life jacket, floating upside down. The only drills that were done were for staff only, not for passengers. And the worst thing was that just before this happened, the Germans had torpedoed a military ship, and then waited and torpedoed the two other ships that came to the rescue of the first ship. Therefore, the new policy was not to come to the rescue of a torpedoed ship as it might be a trap. Also the captain got varied and conflicting direction about evasive maneuvers and timing. And he was sailing short-handed with an inexperienced crew, and all experienced seamen were conscripted into the navy. The really sad thing was that the boat was not traveling anywhere near at her full speed, despite being the fastest commercial ship in existence, because the company wanted to save money on fuel. If that directive hadn't been given, it would very likely have not been torpedoed.

But then, if the US hadn't entered the war, if might have lasted much longer and more soldiers would have been killed. So maybe in the long run, it was actually for the best? Feels creepy to talk about human lives that way but at times it's true that a small loss of life can forestall a larger one.

The book was clear, in-depth, gave real human faces to the tragedy (including to President Wilson who was courting the woman he would marry after his first wife's death), and thoroughly explained how the ship and the U-boat ended up there at that moment, and why this led to the Americans entering the war. Excellent armchair history.

I borrowed this eaudiobook via Overdrive through my library.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Book Review: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore, narrated by Angela Brazil (audio)

Sometimes history makes me mad. Probably the best kinds of history does that. History that killed people, and changed laws.

In the 1910s and 1920s, women in New Jersey (not far at all from where I live) and Illinois painted dials for watches and airplanes and other military instruments, with radium, to make them glow in the dark. Radium is highly radioactive, and the women were instructed to lick the paintbrushes to "point" them to make them more accurate. So they were licking radium at work all day. To no contemporary reader's shock, they all started to get sick, in strange and weird ways, pretty quickly. (The younger women were more susceptible.) Their teeth started falling out and not healing. Their jawbones started falling out. They developed enormous, frightening tumors. Their legs started shrinking. They suffered terribly, through amputations, disfigurement, and unfailing pain. What had initially been a glamorous job with a funny side benefit of making these "girls" seem to shine, quickly became death sentences for many of them.

And a few of them decided to fight back. First, no one knew what was wrong with them at all. Radium was thought to not only not be harmful, but to be healthful. People drank radium drinks for their health. When it was finally figured out what was going on, the statute of limitation for suing the company had expired. When they got around that, the law covering worker's compensation did not cover poisonings. The law was amended, and then the company argued it wasn't poisoning after all. The lead plaintiff in the final suit, Catherine, was at the end only 61 pounds, missing most of her teeth, with a tumor the size of a grapefruit on her hip, and she testified from her home as she wasn't able to continue to attend the trial. (She'd collapsed in the courtroom after she found out for the first time from a doctor testifying, that her condition was terminal and she didn't have long to live.)

Their lawsuits changed the laws. OSHA was founded as a result. Worker's compensation laws were strengthened. I shudder to think what would have been the lax working conditions of the (mostly women) workers who were dealing with polonium and other radioactive substances just a few years later in WWII in Oak Ridge and Los Alamos, if it weren't for these strong, brave women. Most of them, like Catherine towards the end, knew there was no hope, no cure, but fought on anyway for their friends and colleagues, and their families.

A compelling story, powerfully told, about unsung American victims who fought to become heroes in their own life stories. Should be a must-read.

I downloaded this eaudiobook through my library via Cloud Library.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

My Month in Review: May

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

I'm noting the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star.

My original plan in May was to start reading Winter 2018 books. But, due to travel and book club (although they were so nice to pick a Macmillan book for me!), I didn't get much of a start on 2018 yet. It's a weird thing to not even be halfway through the year but really be wondering if I'll be reading any more 2017 books. Audio will be the one area where I can keep up with current books.

Books completed this month:
*Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (audio)
* Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis (audio)
Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau
A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks
Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling by Michael Cannell (audio)
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
The Kevin Show: Love, Mania, and the Olympics by Mary Pilon

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
*Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris
*The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore (audio)
Prairie Fires: The Life and Times of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser (I should have finished this a while ago but the editor is still working on the final chapters with the author, so I am anxiously waiting for the end of the book.)
The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters With Extraordinary People by Susan Orlean
Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
On Independent Bookstore Day (which I suppose was technically in April but I didn't get organized enough to add it to my list until a couple of days later), I got Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam M. Grant. Funnily, my husband picked this up, and had no idea who Sheryl Sandberg was or anything. I've read and loved Lean In. So this was a joint purchase.
I also ran out and bought Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris the day it went on sale. This is one of the few non-Macmillan books I guarantee you I'm going to read this year.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Book Review: Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling by Michael Cannell

Why has everyone forgotten about the Mad Bomber? He planted dozens and dozens of bombs all about New York City from the 1930s through the 1950s (although as a patriotic American--and a vet himself--he paused for WWII) from Grand Central Station to the New York Public Library to Radio City Music Hall. It's amazing how much of history is lost to the wind until an enterprising author puts pen to paper.

This bomber was truly outwitting the NYPD, even though he made calls and sent notes about his bombs (he didn't really want to hurt people.) It took absolutely forever to figure out who it was. Finally what did it was the lead detective going to a psychiatrist for a profile, which was so not done in those days that they didn't even have a word for it, and a tabloid newspaper reaching for a headline and trying to engage the bomber.

The profiling didn't have as much impact on the case as the subtitle would have you believe, even though it was uncanny how accurate it was. But the newspaper's open letter that got a response, and the back-and-forth that finally lead the bomber to admit an important date when he was injured at Con Edison (he was clear from the beginning that ConEd was who he was mad at for an injury and their subsequent treatment of him.) That date allowed ConEd to find his file (even though earlier they'd sworn up and down to the police that they had no records going back to the 1930s), and put a name with the face.

Who was he? Well, you'll have to read it and find out! I'm not going to give it away! A real-life Law and Order episode from the near past.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book. This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

Book Review: Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

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

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

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

This book is published by my employer, Macmillan.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

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


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

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

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

I checked this eaudiobook out of the library via Overdrive.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Monday, May 1, 2017

My Month in Review: April

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Four Coming of Age novels

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

Rain  Reign by Ann M. Martin

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


Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

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

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

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

Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Book Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang and Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

These are two middle grade-YA graphic novels about not feeling American and not fitting in.

American Born Chinese was awesome. Initially I was confused as there are 3 storylines that at first, really seem like they're not going to come together. Heck, they're in three different styles. One tells the straightforward story of our main character, a Chinese-American boy, Jin, in a new grade school, trying desperately to fit in and make friends. Then there's the story of the Monkey God. Finally, there's the story of Danny, an American boy, whose Chinese-caricature of a cousin comes to visit and humiliates him at every turn. In the end, they do in fact all come together and make sense and make the main story line (Jin) much richer, although one is a folktale and one is a farce/fantasy. I can see why this book has won so many awards and why it's so popular. I made a big impact on me and I want to read Yang's other books.

I didn't know anything going into Anya's Ghost and I was a little surprised to find it was another story of an outsider perspective (Anya emigrated from Russia when she was little). Anya has been fitting in, mostly, although she's embarrassed by her mother and the food she cooks and she's impatient with her mother not understanding that Anya's style (despite her school uniform) is very American and that she's purposeful in her short skirts and thigh-high tights. Then one day Anya's in the woods and she falls into a deep hole. Down there, she meets a ghost, Emily, who keeps Anya's hopes up in the two days it takes before she manages her way out. Emily comes with Anya, and is her new secret friend, who can help Anya on tests and find out what cute boys are saying. Then, things start to take a scary twist... and I won't tell you any more!

I think graphic novels are wonderful for school-age kids, partly because it's just wonderful to have the combination of words AND picture to enrich the storytelling. But also because some people are just naturally much more visual than textual, and so these books not only don't leave them out, but for once they might even have an edge. They're an especially effective format for books about different races/cultures because when you're just reading words on a page, it's possible to forget the main character is from another country or looks different from you. That's much harder to forget with constant visual clues. Both excellent books, highly recommend.

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

I checked both of these books out of the library.

Both of these books are published by Macmillan, my employer.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Book Review: Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh, narrated by J.P. Barclay

I love medical memoirs, and when this book first came out I had suggested it to my mother as a possible good read for her husband, a retired heart surgeon. It's the memoir of Dr. Henry Marsh, a now-retired British neurosurgeon.

Henry jumps back and forth between his current job, training young doctors at a teaching hospital, and periodically travelling to the Ukraine to perform surgeries in rather difficult conditions, and his early days as a young neurosurgeon, learning the trade himself. The British medical terminology takes a little getting used to, but I think that's one time when an audio has an advantage, as you don't have to wonder how on earth to pronounce technical terms, Brit-isms, or difficult Ukrainian names. His frustration comes through quite a bit, as he is irritated by the hospital administration, by young doctors who won't speak up or own up to problems, and by mistakes made by others and by himself, and yet he moves past those fairly quickly (except the administration. That irritation is constant. I love that one solution was that he planted a rouge garden that is now the favorite spot of all the patients and staff at the hospital.) I really though loved the parts of the book when he became a patient himself. He has a big problem with his eyes at one point, which could imperil his career, an outcome many of us would not face in the same situation. And true to form, as a doctor, he doesn't make for a very good patient. It does though seem to increase his already robust empathy for his own patients.

Because of that, I am really looking forward to his second memoir, which I understand is even more about his life as a patient, as he's already in the twilight of his career in this book and the second book continues in his life as he gets older. And we all have more health problems as we age, no matter what. Thoroughly enjoyable.

I downloaded this eaudiobook from the library via Overdrive.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer, although they were not yet my employer when I read it.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Book Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente


This is a wildly imaginative middle-grade long chapter book set in Fairyland, which most 9-12-year-old kids would love. September is a girl from Omaha in an orange dress who goes to fairyland. Her father is off at war and her mother is off making airplanes and she is mostly home alone, bored, and fairyland will prove much more interesting. She befriends the Green Wind, a flying tiger, a Wyvern whose father is a library, and a blue boy named Saturday. She has to defeat the wicked Marquess who has taken over fairyland and imposed rules that means the Wyvern (like a dragon but not) has to walk everywhere because he's not allowed to fly, making their journey much more difficult. (At one point they travel by September managing to catch a wild bicycle in a herd of wild bicycles travelling to their mating ground.) She needs to return a witch's spoon, rescue some imprisoned friends, and all along the way a magical key is trying to catch up with her. She meets a girl made of soap, loses her shadow, and gains a heart. Wild adventures ensue.

I think at this age, when I read every single Wizard of Oz book, I would have just adored September. It's a longer and harder book than a lot of books for kids this age (like the Oz books), really allowing a child to get fully lost and immersed in fairyland, as it this is not an easy book to zip through in a couple of hours. Like all fairytales the book is deceptively superficial but of course it's all a metaphor for the angst September is experiencing with her father off fighting and her mother rarely home. It probably isn't a good book for a struggling reader, but for a reader who needs a challenge, it's perfect. It isn't overly difficult, but it isn't at all a simple book either. But very enjoyable and a great escape.

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

I checked this book out of the library.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Book Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

I was skeptical of this book's premise. I don't especially like books with magical realism, and it didn't seem to fit with the other Rainbow Rowell book I'd previously read, which was very realistic, and that was one thing I liked about it. But I did like it very much so I thought I'd give this one a try, and see if she managed the magical realism part without being annoying, and she totally did!

Georgie is a TV writer, and right before the holidays, she gets an amazing deal, where the spec script she and her writing partners wrote years ago, their dream project, gets picked up, but only if they can write a half-dozen scripts in less than a week, and deliver them on December 26. Georgie knows this will royally tick off her husband Neal, who's been the house-husband and who finds her writing partner irritating. And it might break her kids' hearts. But she just can't turn her back on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So Neal packs up the kids and goes to his parents'. Has he left her? Or has he just taken the kids to visit their grandparents for the holidays? Why won't he return any of Georgie's calls or texts? The anxiety needles Georgie so much that she ends up not getting much work done herself, defeating the whole purpose of ruining Christmas. She goes to her mother's house, mostly to not be alone (although it's also closer to her work.) And she tries calling Neal again, but this time on an ancient landline phone in her childhood bedroom. And she reaches him, finally. But... she reaches him in college. Over the Christmas break which starts with a fight and ends up with him showing up unexpectedly and proposing. So she is talking to a Neal from about 15 years ago.

Is she supposed to be? Is that why he showed up and proposed? Or will she mess that up if she keeps talking to him? Does it even matter if she can't manage to talk to him in the present day? Is it worth possibly ruining her marriage over this career opportunity, if she squanders it away, being too exhausted to work on the scripts after staying up all night long to talk to her husband-in-the-past?

I didn't love this book as much as Attachments, but that was a high bar, and I still liked it very much. She did totally pull off the magical realism without annoying me. It was a pretty realistic picture of a relationship. About 10 pages from the end I didn't know how she was going to wrap it all up but she does. It really does make you think about how the past shapes events today, how the person you thought you met long ago impacts your relationship with that person today, even if neither of you are the same person, and how to decide about competing priorities--when does career trump family and when should family trump career? Really easy to read and issues that most of us can relate to.

I checked this book out of the library.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer, although they were not yet my employer when I read it.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Book Review: American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin, narrated by Paul Michael (audio)


I don't get to read a lot of non-Macmillan books these days but the selection of available audiobooks is much smaller than print or even ebooks, so that's where I am giving myself some flexibility. And I thought this book sounded fascinating when I heard about it in the fall. I have heard about Patty Hearst my whole life but I didn't really know much at all except that she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), and later joined them or possibly had Stockholm Syndrome, and participated in or was forced into participating in a bank robbery. That was 100% of my knowledge.

First of all, a real basic that no one seems to know: she didn't even go by Patty. Her father was the only person who called her that and because he used that nickname in press conferences, the media latched onto it. She was 20-years-old, engaged to a man who used to be her high school teacher (ew. He was only in his 20s though, but still. Ew), a college student. She was wealthy, sure, but William Randolph Hearst did not trust his silver-spoon kids with either his money or his media empire, and so no one had as much money in this family as was commonly assumed.

The SLA was a small ground of radicals who I believe possibly also had some mental dysfunction and/or had a small-scale version of mass hysteria a la Jim Jones. They were lead by Cinque, one of only two African-Americans in the group, and they presented themselves as a division of a large worldwide army. There weren't even 10 of them. Before the kidnapping, they murdered a school board leader in San Francisco, which was pretty awful. Two of their members got picked up after that, and the original plan was to trade Patricia for their two imprisoned members, and barring that, they wanted to use her to ensure their imprisoned members would get decent treatment, saying they'd treat her as they heard their "comrades" were being treated.

What I also didn't know was that it was 19 months before Patricia was rescued/captured/found. I had no idea this went on for so long!

Mr. Toobin lays out a strong argument that Patricia was not intentionally brainwashed or coerced. But that she was naive, inexperienced, and always fell hard for figures of authority. Not to mention, that it was the rational thing to do--to go along with the kidnappers. So he does give her more agency than the brainwashing contingent, but also argues that she wasn't evil or a radical or anything like that, but that she made expedient decisions based on her situation. which she did again after being found when she reverted back to being a dutiful Hearst heiress (even falling in love with and eventually marrying one of her bodyguards, a police officer.) Would you or I have reacted in the same way she did? Likely not as we are different people, but it's hard to say we'd have done "better" or that we would have been harder to  convert to the SLA way of thinking. It's difficult to understand why Patricia made the decisions she did, but it's not difficult to empathize with the horrible circumstances she found herself in, kidnapped by a group of heavily-armed, unstable individuals.

Overall, the reporting felt thorough, even-handed, and gave good context to the times when all this happened. It was eye-opening to a seminal American event that in some ways defined a generation. Mr. Toobin brought his legal expertise without drowning the narrative in legalese. In fact, it was very readable. The audio was excellent, although you do have to overlook the very deep male narrative voice that often had to speak Patricia's words, in a light, simpering tone. But that sort of thing is inevitable in any audiobook.

I downloaded this eaudiobook from Overdrive via my library.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Book Review: Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, narrated by Robin Miles

This is one of those stories from history that is so incredible that we didn't already know this. And yes, I was completely inspired by the movie (which I loved) to read this book. And I'm so glad I was! These woman are so inspiring, aspirational, and impressive. What's sad is that I don't see women in these numbers excelling in math and science-based careers today, let alone women of color, and opportunities ought to be so much more expansive today than in the 1940s (when this book begins), let alone the 1960s (when the space race reached its pinnacle.)

In case you've been living under a rock, this books follows three women of color (primarily--a dozen other women are featured less prominently) who worked at NACA—late NASA—as "computers" and who proved instrumental in both pushing forward the rights of women and people of color, and also in forwarding the cause of NASA. I think the most impressive was Katherine whose calculations were so unfailingly inaccurate that John Glenn asked her to double-check the electronic computers, which he didn't trust, for things like his reentry trajectory. But Dorothy's story spoke to me the most, as a woman who rose in the ran ks and was a supervisor at a time when it was hard for any woman of any color to hit that level, but then finally when the color barrier was removed and the two units of white and black computers were merged, lost her position. That's a side effect of different rights' movements that is rarely focused on—the setbacks along the way even in the wake of—and sometimes as a direct result of—progress.

I also didn't realize until partway into this book that not only were these African-American women working in Jim Crow-era Virginia, but they were in Prince Edward County. In 2015 I read the book Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County by Kristen Green about the horrific racial tensions in that county which led to the complete defunding of the public school system for several years in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education enforcement, and which resulted in segregated schools until 1986. That's not a typo! So the political and social environment surrounding these women was even worse than I think either the book or the movie let on.

Their accomplishments were towering. The environment in which they excelled made those accomplishments even more impressive, if that's possible. Thank you, Ms. Shetterly, for uncovering this story and writing about it so well that everyone wants to read about it (as they well should.) I'm very excited to hear what her next book will be about! I hear she's been meeting with publishers and the contract is expected to be a well-deserved large one!

I downloaded this eaudiobook from my library via Overdrive.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

My month in review: March

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

My reading has been weird this month. First I went to Sales Conference for a week which meant that even though I was surrounded by publishers talking about books for 14 hours a day, I read almost nothing. A little on the plane, but I was pretty brain dead during the very little free time. Then I got home and I dove into a backlist promotion as I could get those books instantly from the library. As you'll see, I mostly am focusing on children's books for this. I don't count anything below solid middle-grade books as read books. (In addition to what I have listed below, I have read 18 picture books/beginner readers/early chapter books this month).

Finally I got my access to the Macmillan warehouses so I placed several large orders for ARCs and finished books. Lastly, I got my iPad so I can also read downloaded books even earlier than I can get ARCs. (I can even get early audio books!) And I built a new bookcase. I mean, duh, you saw that coming, right? Next month I will be reading books coming up in the fall, so you'll be getting a sneak peek, although I am way behind in my reviews as well.

Books completed this month:
Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson (audio)
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (audio)
Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town by Brian Alexander
Toys!: Amazing Stories Behind Some Great Inventions by Don L. Wulffson
Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol
A Night to Remember by Walter Lord
Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Malone Scott
Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson (audio)
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly (audio)
Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin (audio)
The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters With Extraordinary People by Susan Orlean
Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder edited by William Anderson

Review of Two Middle-Grade Nonfiction Books

Okay, I should just read kids' nonfiction books all the time. Well no, not really, but they'e sure chock-full of fun, mostly random facts, presented in a fun way, so they're right up my alley!

Toys!: Amazing Stories Behind Some Great Inventions by Don L. Wulffson, Laurie Keller (Illustrations)

This book, naturally, is about toys. Very few toys were invented by someone who just said "I want to think of a toy!" In fact some have some rather unusual background like the Slinky and Silly Putty, both of which were developed for use in the military (which neither product was good at). Some took a while to take off. Others were instant hits. Some have changed a bit over the years, such as Mr. Potato Head didn't used to come with a potato—you would use a potato out of your own vegetable bin (which also meant the accessories had very sharp spikes on them to get them in the potato, not like today's dull plastic nibs.)

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg, Kevin O'Malley (Illustrator)

One nice thing about this book is that the author manages to die all these famous people together, even though if you look at the table of contents you'll wonder how (and in the endnotes she has a chart showing exactly how everyone is tied together.) The book is mildly gross, perfect for middle grade kids, and the famous people are famous enough that they should have heard of them (Cleopatra, Napoleon, Albert Einstein). It treats the subject lightly, but not irreverently to be disrespectful. But always with the perfect tone for the audience in mind.


I know kids this age often have trouble finding good nonfiction books for reports or for reading assignments, but these would both be excellent choices. And if you are an adult assisting a struggling reader, know that you will enjoy these books as well.

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

Both of these books I checked out of the library. 

Both of these books are published by Macmillan, my employer.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Book Review: Schadenfreude, A Love Story: Me, the Germans, and 20 Years of Attempted Transformations, Unfortunate Miscommunications, and Humiliating Situations That Only They Have Words For by Rebecca Schuman

In college after I squeaked out of my final German class with a D, my father apologized for passing along the Siegfried-can't-learn-languages gene. I had taken German because A) it was in my blood and B) English is a Germanic-based language which I thought meant some parts of it would be easier and C) it might be the only class where I wouldn't have to explain how to pronounce my last name. Mostly C. (And B is completely true and when I later took Chaucer in college, my background in German was super-helpful in understanding Middle English.)

Rebecca took German for an equally stupid reason, although her decision had much bigger ramifications than mine: a cute boy she liked took German. Well, that's as good as reason as any in high school! She just wasn't expecting it to stick. She went to Germany for a year in college, where she mostly partied, pissed off her host family, and learned as little as possible. And yet, it still didn't leave her. Later, after futzing around for a bit, she finally decided to go to grad school in German. And now she teaches it. She never had an "Aha!" moment when she discovered a love for it, but it just got into her blood and wouldn't let go.

The first half of the book when she was partying and rejecting all learning, wasn't really speaking to me (although it may well have when I was that age.) The end of the book when she was finally pursuing her life's goal and making a career, was when I really fell in love with the book. Now I can't blame her for the early half—I might not have done things that way in my twenties, but we've all made terrible choices/decisions out of ignorance/naivete, and the important thing is to learn from it. But I really identified with her not knowing what to do with her life, even though it seemed to be staring her in the face, and her fitful starts and stops along the way. I was almost proud when she finally got her life on track, as if I had something to do with it. Even if you aren't interested in German, this book is totally relatable to anyone who's ever felt adrift, not understood where their life was headed, and maybe didn't step out of college and onto the career ladder instantly. If you are a language aficionado, even better!

I checked this book out of the library.

This book is publisher by MacMillan, my employer.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Book Review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, narrated by Samia Mounts (audio)

I don't listen to a lot of fiction on audio but I've been trying it a little more lately. And this was a highly superior audiobook! In fact, I'd venture that it might be better than the print version (although since you can only read a book one way—at least the first time—one can never really know.)

Amanda has moved in with her Dad after a bad bullying incident at her last high school where she lived with her Mom. They're in the stretch of Georgia between Atlanta and Tennessee, which isn't known for being the most open-minded. Which is a concern because, you see, Amanda is a trans girl. And her identity is part of what led to her parents' divorce. But hopefully that won't be a problem as much this time, as her transition is complete, and as no one in this new town knows about her past.

Right off the bat she makes friends: an arty girl, and a group of three cooler girls. They're even cooler than they first appear because they're not purely mean girl caricatures at all. They're popular without being mean. And she meets a boy she likes, who likes her.

And that's all I'm going to say about the plot because I want you to know as little going into it as I did. Some plot twists you can guess, although you don't necessarily know when or where or how they happen. And others might surprise you.

I was very impressed with the narration. As a Southerner myself, I often hate the way Southerners are portrayed in the media with accents as thick as hominy, to the point where they often are purposefully made to sound ignorant. Luckily, the editor of this novel (who I happen to know, caveat), is also Southern so the book wasn't written that way in the first place. But the narrator also had just the right touch of Southern but not too Southern in her accent. More importantly, the emotion that came through in her voice was spot-on, and impressive. Not only at times did I feel you could hear the hitch in her voice, like Amanda was trying very hard not to cry, but other times I swear I could hear her smiling. I will look for more books narrated by her!

And I will look forward to move novels by this author! It felt very true and honest and open. I know, as she says in a note at the end, that she idealized Amanda's transition in an unrealistic way in order to make a point about society rather than about the technical details about transitioning, but the emotions behind it were entirely honest, so that one blurring of the lines didn't matter. In fact, I agree with her because in these situations, the technical details often overwhelm the emotions, when it should be the other way around.

I downloaded this eaudiobook from my library via OverDrive.

This book is published my Macmillan, my employer.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Book Review: Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton

This book began as a blog of a photojournalism essay. The author/photographer Mr. Stanton, takes pictures of people in New York. Sometimes they're kind of staged, where he finds a cool place, like an abandoned lot, and he asks passersby if they'll stand in the space for him to take a picture. But that's it. Initially, he didn't know much of anything about the people but later he started talking to them and their brief stories, of their life, their love, what got them to this place (good and bad), are riveting. These vignettes truly are slices of life, and of New York City. Most of these people could be in any big city, and many of them could be anywhere. He may have taken them all in NYC, but it's their universality that speaks to the reader/viewer.

I checked this book out of the library.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Children's book reviews round-up

I've been reading a lot of children's books lately and given my rate of reviewing, I thought I could better tackle several of the middle-grade books in a single post. So here they are:

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

A cute chapter book about a girl who finds a weird thing which transports her friend... elsewhere, probably another planet. Zita goes after him to save him, and meets several odd, cute, endearing friends along the way. She manages to send him home but she's stuck, so she has to get home the old-fashioned way--flying home through space. Teaches the meaning of friendship, about loyalty, and about not giving up. All great lessons, in a fun, inventive new setting, with a girl as a space explorer which I love.

My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian

This slightly older chapter book would be perfect for boys that are reluctant readers. Throughout the story, the main character draws little stick figures of his vocabulary words in the margins (drawn by the author's teenage son!) which makes the margins very fat, so the book reads even faster. Derek wants to have fun all summer but he is thwarted by his mom who wants him to go to learning camp. He wants to visit his friend who h as gone to the East Coast for the summer, but again is thwarted. In the end his parents agree to go to Martha's Vineyard to visit his grandmother, which means Derek will have an opportunity to investigate a newspaper clipping he saw that his mom hid, about a teenage girl who died on Martha's Vineyard when Derek was a baby.

The Worm Whisperer by Betty Hicks

Ellis has to help out around the house in his rural North Carolina town. His father hurt his back and can't work, so his mother has three jobs and Ellis does everything he can (and being excellent example to kids about doing their chores). He wants to win the $1000 annual Wooly Worm race at the Wooly Worm festival and he thinks he has found the perfect Wooly Worm. Meanwhile he figures out that his classmates actually like him for him, not just because he's funny, he stands up to the bully, and he does help his family, just not in the way he thinks.

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

All three of these books I checked out of the library.

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

Book Review: Brief Histories of Everyday Objects by Andy Warner

I think all readers of my reviews probably know by now that one of my favorite things about reading is learning new, hopefully bizarre or truly odd, facts. Which means that books like this are always right up my alley as they're chock-full of them.

The illustrations were fun and of course, made the reading easy, and distracting enough that those who aren't as fond of learning might not even notice how much they are in fact learning. However, the learning is of limited usefulness, as it's about how items like the toothbrush, the Slinky, and the coffee filter came to be invented (or reinvented in a few cases.) It's organized by room/use and then within each chapter there is a final list of additional related random facts that didn't fit into the narrative (which I often found to be the most interesting part.)

The book is listed in my library as YA, and I suppose the topic and the writing would be great for a teen who might struggle with reading. But there's no reason it can't also be a quick, fun read for an adult. When I was done, my husband swiped it and also read it, which doesn't happen often. It's a thoroughly entertaining read.

I checked this book out of the library.

This book is published by MacMillan, my employer.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Book Review: Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson (audio)

See! Not everything I read is a Macmillan book!

So after loving Jenny Lawson's second memoir, Furiously Happy, I went back to read (listen to) her first one. And it was truly hilarious, of course! I was laughing out loud more than once, and I probably looked pretty silly walked back from the gym, bent over with laughter, but I don't care. Naturally, the story that introduced me to Jenny as The Bloggess, about Beyonce the giant metal chicken, was one of the out-loud laughing stories, but I also loved the story right after that one almost even more. This one really focuses on Jenny's childhood, on her meeting Victor, their relationship, her difficult pregnancies (and yes, she does only have one child, hint hint), and the beginnings of her health issues. She sounds more mentally healthy in this book, but that might be more about what she's omitted rather than an actual higher level of mental health, I'm not sure. But it was more about taxidermy, her crazy father, moving houses, working in human resources, and her daughter, than it was about battling depression and her myriad other issues. It is lighter than the second book which made it a more enjoyable experience, if also more lightweight. I truly do see her as a new David Sedaris, who can mine her bat-shit crazy childhood and life for a dozen memoirs for a decade to come. Which makes me really excited!

A note on the audio. It was both better than and less than the book. Like the previous one, if we audio listeners were missing a photo (inevitably), Jenny would describe it to us. And we got a bonus chapter (although with the caveat that it didn't make the cut for the printed book so don't expect too much, although I enjoyed it.) And at first I enjoyed that there were some odd/random sound effects at the chapter intros along with Jenny singing the chapter titles. The sound effects at times got to me a bit much and while I enjoyed the first few, towards the end of the book I was over them. There was also 15 minutes of outtakes/random Jenny thoughts at the end that would have been cute at 5 minutes but 15 minutes was way too long for bizarre stream-of-consciousness about how the recording studio smells like cat pee, or is it her tea that smells like that, and does Lady Gaga also record there and if so, does she smell like cat pee? That would have been better left on the cutting room floor.

These caveats shouldn't at all stop you from picking this book up! They might bring it down from an A++ to an A+. Jenny is awesome.

I checked this eaudiobook out of the library via Overdrive.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Book review: A Night to Remember by Walter Lord


My library has this book listed as a YA but I'm not sure why exactly. There's no YA angle, it's not written in a simplistic way. I think it's just because, as an older title the language is a less complicated than an adult book of today might be, and that it's short.

But this book is the definitive account of the sinking of the Titanic. It was published in 1955, when some of the survivors were still alive. The author interviewed around 60 of them. He breaks down the sinking minute by minute, and you see it from multiple perspectives. He really did his homework, even trying to find out what happened to the steerage passengers and to the staff of the ship. The restaurant staff was particularly hard to track down as only one survived, they weren't considered real staff (they were contracted out) or passengers, The obvious big problem was not enough boats, although as fast as the ship was sinking, they were still trying to free the last two collapsible boats when the ship went down (they were freed and people were saved by them--one half collapsed and the other upside down.) The not-obvious bigger problem was a ship only 10 miles away ignored the first distress calls, then shut their telegraph down for the night. They saw the Morse code lights (and tried to signal back unsuccessfully) and they pondered the meaning behind the 10 rockets the ship set off without actually doing a single thing to find out more or look into the distress calls. The Carpathian that did rescue everyone was 50 miles away. The Californian could have gotten to the ship within minutes of its sinking if they had responded to the first distress call, saving hundreds of additional lives.

The action moves along very fast. The descriptions are rich with detail, and the research was super-thorough. I do hate that all of the women are referred to as "Mrs. John James Astor" although that is accurate to the time the ship went down, and was still quite common in formal language at the time of the writing. And it is confusing in the end when he is talking about the aftereffects of the trauma on people decades later, and many of the women's names seem to have 100% changed due to them getting married. But that is a small detail. This is a riveting read.

I checked this book out of the library.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Book Review: This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki (Illustrator)

Wow.

I don't read many graphic novels. And that's an understatement (until last week I never truly had--the only graphic books I'd read were all nonfiction). And this one blew me away.

Rose and her parents go to the beach every summer for a week. Another kid a bit younger than her. Windy, is always in a nearby cottage and that's true this summer again. The old friends hang out, swim, rent movies, and speculate about the teenagers who work at and hang out at the little village store. And it sounds lovely and all, and it somewhat is, but there's an undercurrent running through the book that eventually comes to the forefront: Rose's mother is sad. Very sad. She's been sad for a long time. She wanted a second child for a long time, and they tried for a long time, and they recently gave up, although she doesn't seem like she did entirely. Rose resents that she isn't enough, that her mother can't just snap out of it, and the implications of the fact that Windy is adopted, and it seems one of the teenagers in town is pregnant and being blown off by her boyfriend, the main store employee. Finally, Rose's mother can't entirely hold it together anymore, she and Rose's father get in a big fight and he goes back to town for a few days "to work." But Rose overhears things. She's very perceptive. Adults talk and they don't always realize that little pitchers have big ears.

Even though Rose is fairly young, and Windy even younger, these preteens are mature for their age (not inappropriately so) and the book deals with some heavy issues that kept making me think it was more YA. It's not for a faint-hearted or very naive 10-year-old. But it's perfect for a more mature, thoughtful preteen who, like me at that age, wants to know more about the cruddy things that can happen in life so that she's prepared. The images were evocative and beautiful, with a limited palette that eloquently conveys the tone and emotions.

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

I checked this book out of the library.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Book Review: Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson


Okay, so Jenny Lawson is a new favorite author of mine.

I have loved her for years. I didn't follow her blog, but someone linked me to her post about Beyonce the Giant Metal Chicken and I have never laughed so hard in my life. Once a year or so I'd return to it. Then a couple of years ago a college student I was mentoring had a super shitty week, and I read her that post as a cheer-you-up moment. She later gifted me with a mug featuring Beyonce herself.

This is exactly the kind of memoir I love—a mix of heavy stuff with hilarious crap. Jenny is uproariously funny. I was listening to this (she reads it herself and her high-pitched voice just increases the humor) and there were times when I barked out loud with laughter.

In this book Jenny tackles her many mental and physical health problems (mostly mental health) with aplomb! She starts off coming out of a real depressive funk. It goaded her for quite some time, and it's jarring but also awesome to really gain understanding when she describes how this illness is so sick, that it's actually trying to trick her brain into killing her. That was an eye-opening explanation. She decides afterwards, to be "furiously happy" as a middle finger to the world in general and her depression in particular. So she embarks on continued adventures with taxidermy, and eventually a trip to Australia. In between, she spend time in therapy, she takes a lot of prescription drugs, and she does other things like go to a sleep clinic. She has such a light touch that my husband unfortunately assumed I was listening to a really fluffy, silly book. It was hard to convince him otherwise until I told him about Jenny's coda at the end where she talks about how many people have reached out to her via her blog and told of how she literally saved their life or the life of someone they love who was suicidal, until they read Jenny's radically honest stories of her own battles. Usually when I say that books can save a life, I mean something more amorphous and metaphorical, but it's impressive (and chill-creating) to realize that Jenny Lawson has literally saved lives. Kudos! That's quite impressive.

I am so looking forward to her first book and I'm definitely going to listen to that one too. (There was a bonus chapter on the audiobook, BTW, for you Jenny Lawson completists.) She reminds me of David Sedaris. And if you know me, you know that is sky-high praise!

I checked this eaudiobook out of the library via Overdrive.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.