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.