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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Book Review: I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

Michelle McNamara was obsessed for years with the Golden State Killer, a serial rapist and murderer who terrorized California for decades. She did an absolute ton of research, diving down the tiniest of rabbit holes, pursuing threads so thin they were gossamer, interviewing retired cops, and relentlessly pestering police precincts for access to old case files. She wrote articles on the subject, was an expert for TV documentaries on the subject, and seemed to be getting close to an answer when she suddenly and unexpectedly died in her sleep.

This book was mostly done, and her husband, Patton Oswalt, and a couple of her researchers and her editor, pieced the rest together. It doesn't feel pieced together except for one or two places where she was planning to do more research and hadn't yet, so there's a gap.

Thank goodness this didn't get set aside after her death, as it's an utterly compelling and creepy read. It's most definitely a can't-put-it-down book, but also it's a can't-read-it-at-night book (I tried, and it nearly became a book I read in one night because there's no way in hell I was going to sleep. Finished it during the day.) This isn't a typical ripped-from-the-tabloids true crime book--instead it belongs to this newer, more literary spin-off of true crime (which I think needs rebranding as the two sides of true crime don't have much overlap). It's beautifully written, convincing, and terrifying. I only wish Michelle could have lived to see its success, and to finish her work. If you have even the tiniest interest in this sort of thing, run out and get this book now.

I got this book for free from a friend who works at the publisher.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Book Review: Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

I feel like most graphic novels have an advantage over non-graphic books in that they don't have to introduce the characters and the setting--you can see them instantly so it's easier to feel immersed right away. Not so with Mr. Drnaso's book. His characters I actually found hard to tell apart, to the point of even sometimes not being able to tell if a character was male or female until much later. So initially I felt held at arms length.

It begins with Sabrina and her sister Sandra at their parents' house where Sabrina is house-sitting. They have a casual conversation about Sabrina's boyfriend and crossword puzzles. Then we jump to an airman, Cal, who works in a cubicle (a lot of people are shocked that the majority of military jobs are in office buildings just like yours and mine, the only real difference being what people are wearing.) He has left work to pick up a friend at the train station. The friend isn't doing too well. It's an old friend, Teddy, and Teddy's girlfriend, Sabrina, went missing one day after work. It's been a month. No one is hopeful. Teddy is obviously despairing and really grieving. Mostly he lies around, half-naked, not eating, not doing anything. Cal is very worried about him, hiding his guns, forcing him to eat, checking on him. But there's a limit to what Cal can do. He says he thinks Teddy came to him because they haven't been close as adults and he needs someone who didn't know Sabrina and where there's some distance. Meanwhile, Cal is trying to figure out what he's going to do when his tour is up--apply for a big promotion he's a shoe-in for but would involve him going undercover, or getting out and moving to Florida to be near his estranged wife and young daughter in hopes of reuniting with them.

I really got sucked in. It's got a lot of text but it wasn't at all a chore to read. The book felt very current as eventually conspiracy theorists, Reddit nuts, and trolls get involved and attack Sabrina's family, Teddy, and Cal, after Sabrina's story takes a dark turn. I found the ending rather sudden and I wish it had wrapped things up more. But that doesn't stop it from having been a really immersive, and very different book. I hadn't read anything like this before, particularly in this format. The vague figures eventually allow you to impose on them your own feelings and thoughts about what's going on. And as I've sat with it throughout the day, the ending is bothering me less and less. I think it's about how life goes on no matter what. It's always one day after another, after another.

This book is published by Drawn & Quarterly, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Book Review: The Devil's Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch

It took me a minute to place the author's very familiar name, especially when I looked him up in Goodreads and found... almost nothing. Just some obscure book about economics. And then it occurred to me--he's on NPR's Marketplace! I love him! (He's actually on leave to focus on his writing which is a bummer. Not the writing part, but why can't he do both?)

In 1799 New York, Justy has just returned from law school in Scotland, where he was also involved in some Scottish skirmishes. Before he left, his father committed suicide, so he returns an orphan, under the financial care of his uncle, a gangster of sorts, even though he desperately doesn't want to be under any obligation to or connection with the underworld. He wants to be upstanding and ethical, like his father. And in fact, he doesn't think his father would ever commit suicide. And as he's thought about it over the last few years, he doesn't believe that he did--he thinks he was murdered and it was staged to look like a suicide. As Justy looks into that, things quickly take a turn, as he angers some important people who want to keep things secret and won't hesitate to shut him up permanently.

A real thrilling page-turner with a cameo by Alexander Hamilton, this was a truly fun read. I think this period in American history, particularly in places like New York, is utterly fascinating and very ripe for stories, so I'm glad to see someone mining that fertile era. It really reads like a movie, very visual, with chase scenes and the like. It predates The Alienist by a century but is similar in some ways, with the old New York feel, but in this book, there's a real lawlessness I normally associate with the Wild West, as there aren't really cops (police haven't exactly been invented yet) and people to a certain extent have to police themselves and can't rely on the good guys to come save the day. Justy has to find out the truth and save himself, all by himself. (Well, with the help of a couple of friends.) Good rollicking fun.

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

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sidelines! Or, some crazy shit I bought last month.

I have been able, over years of practice, to mostly resist books when I am in bookstores. I have a long list of books to buy, an insanely long list of books that I already own that I haven't read yet (over 450), I have dozens of books on my iPad to read for work, and I often can get books I want for free from a publishing friend.

Sidelines, however, are another story. I can't get those for free. I often don't see the same ones from one store to another so I can't think about it and get it at a later visit (unless I'm willing to wait until next season.) Not all stores have strong sidelines departments, but the good ones do. Sidelines have the margin books don't and really help the stores keep their doors open. Ideally, they are good matches to books, and often are even cross-shelved with books mixed in. Often they even have a direct tie-in such as bookmarks, bookends, and reading glasses. My job is great for any gift-giving seasons. And then, I sometimes just can't resist and must buy things!

I did do Mother's Day shopping at one of my stores. Here were a few options (and you'll see books mixed into the display if you look at the sides.)



These were just hilarious/adorable. And really, this was just buying more cat toys for Turkey. The minion with the straw hat already has one fewer foot.


And some of these are just so ludicrous, so delightfully bizarre, that I know Jordan will freak out, and I can't resist that!










These were for me:

So, if you are in need of a gift or want something fun for yourself, think of independent bookstores! They tend to have very fun options.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Book Review: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

I loved summer camp. Really loved it. Now, I only went to sleep away camp once, briefly, but day camp was terrific. And I went to early care and after care (my parents worked after all) and so I was there about 10 hours a day, and it was great. In fact, I've even been known to say that it saved my life as I was being bullied really hard at school, but the fact that I was popular (but not in a bad way!) and had lots of friends over the summer told me the problem was them, not me. In Be Prepared, Vera has this same idea. She doesn't fit in at school, as she has an accent and brings weird food and doesn't dress like the other girls. She hears about this Russian summer camp, and not only does she think this will finally be the place where she fits in, but it's affordable, and her mother is also thrilled with the idea since having the kids away for the summer will allow her to start a new job unencumbered and get some other things dealt with that are hard as a single mom.

So Vera and her little brother head off to camp and... it's nothing like she expected. There are cool girls here too, no amenities, long daily lessons about Russia, in Russian, and she's just as unpopular and miserable as she is at school, although maybe it's actually worse. Her little brother makes friends immediately, while Vera is scorned by the older, popular girls in her tent. There are lots of rules and expectations she didn't know about, coming here. And the summer looks like it's going to be utterly miserable.

Graphic novels can often seem quite short, but this one certainly conveyed the feeling that this was a long summer, made to feel even longer by the miserableness of Vera's experience. I really felt like my old memories of summers when I was a kid that seemed ssssooooooo long. A three week session at camp seemed like forever. And this summer is in the end redeemed. Vera has a good counselor, who, while she probably could have been more proactive, gives Vera good advice that eventually she follows, and she does make a friend towards the end, and the cool girls actually aren't all that cool really when you get to know them. This would be a fantastic companion piece to Real Friends as it shares a lot of the same themes, but in a summer camp setting instead of school, and also with the added not-fitting-in of a second-generation girl who doesn't feel wholly American. Poor Vera--this is based on her own experiences as a preteen, so like Real Friends, it's also basically a memoir. And the realism of her feelings really comes through.

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

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

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Book Review: Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong (audio)


Like all of America, I loved Seinfeld in the 1990s. When I considered moving to New York City to be an editor, I thought of Elaine Benes, and if she could get by in the city, surely I could too. I have thought it odd though that afterward, while I will catch a rerun from time to time and enjoy it, it's not a show I seek out or have rewatched dozens of times, like other sitcoms from the era. I rarely say, "Oooh, a Seinfeld is on!" They both seem really of their time and also without much plot or throughline to hang on to. I watch old episodes of Friends to see if there's any clues in early seasons about Monica and Chandler getting together, things like that. But famously, the Seinfeld characters did not grow or learn, so there's no payoff in the end. Maybe that's why the final episode was such an epic flop. I did make my little brother watch it with me, live, even though he was way too young (12) to understand or care.

But I still have nostalgia for it. When I do run across the reruns, I certainly watch them. And I think, man this show really was funny! Even though I then don't seek them out going forward. The last one I caught was one of my all time favorites with George pretending to be a marine biologist and finding a beached whale which has had its blowhole obstructed by a Titlest golf ball that Kramer had been hitting into the ocean to practice his drives. It was one where all the plots came together beautifully and seamlessly in an unexpected way with a huge payoff.

But how did the show happen? How was NBC persuaded to make a show about nothing? How did this seminal 90s sitcom come to be, maintain quality for so long, and go out on top (barring the last episode)? What was the inspiration? How did the grumpy and angry Larry David stay so involved for so long? How were the actors to work with? Were they like their characters or not? How did they fare after the show? This fun book gets into all of that and more. I kept calling people (I was listening to this while driving) to tell them fun trivia. For example the actors who played Jerry's parents had fascinating back stories: the dad used to be a real cop and got his start in show business as Jackie Gleason's body double, and the mom used to date James Dean! If you're a fan of the show, this book is a delight.

I downloaded this book on Overdrive via my library.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Book Review: How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

I haven't read Jojo Moyes, but I can sure see why the books are being compared. But Ms. Center's book has a happy ending.

Margaret just bought a condo, she's poised to receive a dream job offer, and her Ken-doll boyfriend, Chad, seems about to propose. One thing though that Chad does that rubs Margaret the wrong way is that, despite her near-paralyzing fear of flying (or perhaps because of it), he's determined to become a certified pilot. But if that's his only flaw, everything's pretty great, right? Well, except for the fact that her older (and only) sister is estranged from the family. But surely that will blow over eventually. And so on Valentine's Day, she dresses extra nice, convinced this is The Night. And it is. But Chad wants to propose to Margaret mid-air. And Margaret's worst fears are realized, changing her life forever.

So as to not give away spoilers, this is going to be a short review. The book is juicy, with lots of drama, between her black sheep sister, her lug of a boyfriend, and now an incredibly changed life she didn't ask for or want, Margaret has to rethink everything she's ever known about everything--including who she herself is and what she wants. I started it just meaning to read a couple of pages and then get back to my other book, but next thing I knew I was 50 pages in and there was no stopping! A perfect beach read.

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

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Book Review: Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

Livy and her mom go to Australia to visit her grandmother, who they last saw five years earlier when Livy was just five years old. She is astonished to open her closet door and find a small green creature wearing a ratty old chicken costume, waiting for her, as he promised. Bob is beyond dismayed to discover Livy doesn't remember him. After all, he's been in a closet for 5 years, reading a dictionary and rebuilding a Lego pirate ship hundreds of times, as the only ways to pass the time.

Curious as to what he might be, Livy asks him a lot of questions, and soon they both discover that Bob doesn't know what he is or where he came from. And he realizes he's missing his own mom, who he doesn't remember. So they start to investigate. Bob does remember finding Livy by the well, soaking wet, as his first memory. Livy has a bad idea of why she must have been wet and that Bob likely saved her life. They find a clue in a photograph of an old book of folklore which has a picture of a Bob-creature on the front, but they can't find the book!

Meanwhile, Livy's grandmother is having quiet but fraught conversations with her neighbors and her bank, as there's been a drought on for five years now, and it looks like not only will she lose her farm, but the whole town might go under. And when a nearby little boy goes missing, they all turn out to look for him, even Bob. And he might find more than he bargained for.

This book is very hard to classify. Bob isn't an imaginary friend and he isn't a mythological creature of the kind we're familiar with, and he's not a stuffed animal like Winnie the Pooh. Also the book isn't set up to be a series like that. It has the whimsy of James and the Giant Peach (at a younger level) and the Australian setting is foreign and different. Often with children's stories that have a real timeless feel to them, which you believe might become future classics, it's easy to find parallels to other stories, and I keep trying them out--maybe he's kind of like Paddington the Bear?--but none are quite right. Because Bob is Bob. He doesn't need to be anyone else. Nor does Livy. Their story is pretty unique and I loved it.

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


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

My Month in Review: April

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

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

Books completed this month:
Street Warrior: The True Story of the NYPD’s Most Decorated Detective and the Era That Created Him by Ralph Friedman and Patrick W. Picciarelli
If You're in My Office, It's Already Too Late: A Divorce Lawyer's Guide to Staying Together by James J. Sexton
Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age, and the "powerless" Woman Who Took on Washington by Patricia Miller
Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth (audio)*
The Princess Bride by William Goldman*
Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar
Listen to the Marriage: A Novel by John Jay Osborn
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (audio)*

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin
Impossible Owls: Essays by Brian Phillips

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
I bought lots of sidelines from bookstores in April, including my Mother's Day gifts. But I did also get:
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

Monday, April 30, 2018

Book Review: My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley

A grillion years ago I read and loved The Object of My Affection. I don't remember it super-well but I do very much remember that I loved it. And then, I did n't read anything by Stephen McCauley again. I don't recall ever seeing his book anywhere, or hearing about them when they came out. Turns out that despite the wide and mainstream success of OomA (and movie with Jennifer Aniston), his publisher rally pigeonholed him as a gay writer and only marketed him to that market segment (which I don't belong to.) That is a real bummer because I loved his newest novel, which makes me wonder if I should go back and read the ones I missed.

Julie and her husband are divorcing. She really wants to keep their old, rambly house north of Boston, but she's having a hard time buying him out, so she starts renting rooms on AirBnB. Her daughter, Mandy, is also having trouble with her father's new demanding nature and in order to both throw him off from attacking Julie, and also herself, she claims that she has in fact been working on college applications (she has not) with Julie's ex-husband, David, who is an independent college adviser.

Meanwhile, David's boyfriend has left him for an older man (which is somehow even more insulting than for a younger one.) And to add literal insult to injury, they really love the house where David has been the long-time tenant of the guest house, so they are buying it out from under him and evicting him. David can't afford anything else in the San Francisco area. So when he hears from Mandy and then Julie, he takes them up on their offer for him to come and visit.

Could these three become a new kind of family? Could moving in together solve both David's and Julie's problems? Does David spot problems with Mandy that Julie is too close to notice? Or are there reasons David and Julie broke up in the first place, aside from sexual incompatibility, that still exist?

This book was touching and humorous and had plenty of real-life complications (but not that ridiculous piling-on you sometimes get in novels. Life is difficult enough. Every character doesn't have to be Job.) I really liked the three different points of view, each of which felt like fully-drawn characters, even the teenager, which can be a hard voice for non-YA authors sometimes. It was so relatable that I often caught myself thinking of what I'd do in that particular moment in David's shoes, or Julie's (not so much Mandy's--I was a different kind of teenager. But I did know that kind of teenager.) I think this book is one that nearly everyone can relate to one way or another, and has an easy compassion to it, without any snarkyness or soap opera-y over-the-top plotlines. I don't disagree with the books it's being compared to, but I would add another: Ann Tyler. It has her everydayness with realistic, slightly complicated families, and an added touch of humor. Loved it.

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

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Book Review: Out of the Blue by Sophie Cameron

I normally stay far, far away from YA (or adult) books with a lot of fantastical elements, even in they're not fantasy books. But the exception proves the rule! This book is set a few years in the future, about 2-3 years after the angels started falling from the sky. Initially, as you can imagine, people panicked, they thought the world was coming to an end, so people stopped working, stopped paying rent, there was looting, etc. But, after a couple of years of this, life got more or less back to normal. People resumed their day to day existence with school and work and family, albeit with a lot more cults.. Except every couple of weeks, another angel would fall out of the sky. Where and when they land seems to be random (although some people think they can discern a pattern and predict the next one). But they all die on impact.

Jaya finds the obsession about them annoying. Mostly because, since the angels started falling, her father has become an obsessive. It's obvious to readers (and it's implied that Jaya knows this too) that it's a way for him to channel his undealt-with feelings about his wife's death. But the practical matter for Jaya and her sister is that they get no attention at home, kind of have to fend for themselves, and occasionally get dragged out to a predicted landing. And now their father has had them move to Edinburgh, because he just knows that this is the next place. Jaya would like him to give this all up and start being a father again.

And then an angel falls and lands right in front of Jaya. And her landing is cushioned when she's caught in a tree. And she lives. And as much as Jaya doesn't want to have anything to do with the angels, she can't let this one single live one be caught by the obsessives--or worse, the government who might experiment on her)--who might do horrible things to her. So Jaya hides her.

This was a touching and exciting and inventive story with twists and turns I didn't expect. I really liked the angel (they call her Teacake after her affection for the sweet treats) and Jaya's new friends and her relationship with her sister. It has a post-apocalyptic feel to it, but without all the destruction and chaos and war that normally comes with that (well, a little chaos. But very little in comparison.) And I was also worried if it might be too religious for me, but it wasn't at all. I absolutely think non religious kids can enjoy it, and religious ones certainly will. It is a real breath of fresh air in this genre.

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

This book is published by Roaring Brook Press, a division of Macmillan Publishers, my employer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Book Review: On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks

I have long loved and admired Dr. Sacks, and I wish I had read more of his books about the bizarre and sometimes hilarious ways the human brain can work. Although it's also nice to know I still have several left to read.

To start with, this provocative cover got a lot of people talking and picking up the book who might not have when it first came out. We think of the elderly, gray-bearded doctor we saw on television in the last couple of decades, and of course portrayed by Robin Williams in Awakenings as quiet and retiring. To see him young and buff and wearing leather on a motorcycle was jarring in a delightful way.

He goes through his childhood briefly, and the book really gets started with him going off to school. Both of his parents were also doctors, and his older brother became a doctor, so it was kind of a given, although he wasn't 100% at first--he kept his options open, but it kept coming back. He also has another brother who had mental health problems. He was brilliant, but troubled and lived with their parents for their entire lives. It's easy to attribute Oliver's career to his brother's problems but those in fact came later, after he'd started down his path.

Pretty soon Oliver moves to Canada and then the United States for school. He tells his parents it's temporary and he'll return to England (where he was avoiding post-WWII mandatory military service). But he never does permanently. Although he also never becomes a US citizen. He stays at a YMCA, he gets a job in San Francisco, he rides his motorcycle all around North America. His graduate schooling is somewhat haphazard and yet it also somehow happens. He loses a few jobs over the years as well, sometimes clashing with management, sometimes not getting funding, sometimes being banished for radical ideas. It's crazy to think, with the caliber of standing he had later in life, that in his early career years, he was fired a couple of times. I wonder if the men who fired him ever later looked back on that and thought wow, they really screwed up?

Anyway, he talks about a couple of early loves, including one young man who broke his heart. And after that, Oliver more or less swore off a love life. (He also didn't have time for one.) He was celibate for many decades, but in his 70s he met a wonderful young man, Bill Hayes (who wrote Insomniac City about their relationship.) He was always torn about being gay. I mean, he was okay with it, but he felt severe judgment from his mother, which affected him greatly.

The book was charming and gave great insight into the background of this great mind. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Except, that even if Dr. Sacks wasn't able to do the audiobook himself, they really should have gotten an Englishman as the narrator. It was discombobulating to hear him speak of being British and of England being home, from a man with an American accent. That seemed sloppy to me (even though the narrator was great otherwise.)

I downloaded this book from the library via Cloud Library.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Book Review: Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth, narrated by Nicola Barber (audio)

I forget that these books get into much, much more personal detail about the lives of the people in the neighborhood, and much less into the lives of the nuns and nurses, then the TV show. But I like them just the same. While I do prefer to get to know the recurring characters better than non-recurring ones, I do learn more about the era and the lives of the poor then, by Ms. Worth's deep dives into the backstories of people who grew up in the workhouses and who fought in WWII and that sort of thing, than if I just learned about Jenny and Trixie and Sister Evangelina. For me the one discordant note is how Sister Julienne is portrayed as more flustered, less in control, less impressive in the book than in the TV show. I suppose she's also more "real" in the book, but I really admire her on the show and think she's someone to emulate in times of trouble or difficulty, which in the book she doesn't handle quite as elegantly.

Once again, all of the stories in this book were made into episodes in the first couple of seasons of the TV show and I remembered them vividly. Some took an awful lot of cutting as they must have been 100 pages in the book to boil down to a 1-hour episode. It is good to get the extra detail, and it's frightening to realize that these Dickensian stories are a heck of a lot more recent than Dickens! And it's also important to remember that. It wasn't that long ago, and if we forget how the poor were treated, it's easy to start to regress.

Ms. Barber is a delight as a narrator. There are loads of accents including Cockney and to my American ear, she nailed them all, and really added a ton of flavor and immersion in the atmosphere to the books that's easy to lose in print when you start reading with your own American accent, or can even be hard to understand, if reading phonetically reproduced slang and thick accents. Her men's voices are really impressive--a couple of times I did a double-take and wondered if they hadn't done a switch-up and had a man briefly read a few lines. Her Trixie sounds exactly like the actress in the TV show, and she herself doesn't sound far off from the actress playing Jenny.

Like the show, the book is relaxing and calming, and yet it talks about distressing times during which the British stiff upper lip came very much in handy. But it is not an anxiety-producing book despite that. And I learned a lot, almost like a sociology text. Will listen to book 3 very soon.

I listened to this audiobook via CloudLibrary via my local library.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Book Review: Bad Mermaids Make Waves by Sibéal Pounder

Every once in a while, you need a palate cleanser. Something that is mindless and fun, to break up the other books. And this fit the bill, to be sure.

Three teenage mermaids have been spending time on land, with legs and feet, when they get an emergency letter from the mermaid queen that she needs their help, and in fact they're the only ones who can help, and they have to cut their time on land short. When they return to Hidden Lagoon, they find that the queen is missing, piranhas are keeping tabs on everyone, and a bunch of new rules are in place for seemingly no reason. But of course there is a reason. Someone's trying to usurp the queen, and since Beattie, Mimi, and Zelda were on land, they weren't tagged by the piranhas, and they can travel through the various mermaid lands without being monitored and caught. So it's up to them to figure out what's going on and save their queen!

This was light and fluffy, a perfect book for kids who love those fairy princess books but have grown out of them. It's chunkier with more content, good vocabulary, a variety of characters that cover a gamut of types, not just pretty princess-y mermaids, and a mystery that isn't completely obvious. Is this serious future summer reading material? Definitely not. But kids deserve some beach reads too to intermix with those assigned classics, and this one will certainly be fun.

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 Bloomsbury USA, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Book Review: Street Warrior: The True Story of the NYPD’s Most Decorated Detective and the Era That Created Him by Ralph Friedman, with Patrick W. Picciarelli

Ralph Friedman was a cop in the Bronx in the 1970s, when basically the whole borough was on fire (or might as well have been and no one was going to put it out.) Even Manhattan was in poor shape in that decade, and the Bronx probably had it the worst in terms of crime and poverty.

Ralph had grown up in the Bronx so he was thrilled with his posting when he became a cop. He arrested someone on his first day, and never slowed down. Eventually he became the most decorated cop in the history of the NYPD, and had the most arrests. Which is even more impressive considering that he was sidelined by a major injury and wasn't able to get in his full 20 years. He would frequently arrest people while off-duty. He would arrest multiple people a day. He figured out a way, with the Bronx DA's office, to get his arrestees processed quickly and to get himself in and out of the courthouse fast on court days, as that was most cops' biggest problem if they wanted to have high arrest numbers. (It's also helpful to have a partner who doesn't want arrests--one who has a family and wants to only work 40 hours a week and not get overtime.)

Ralph shot and killed a few people. He saw his partner get shot. He helped track down the bad guys when his little brother, a transit cop, was hurt. He took down mobsters, drug dealers, and lots of general bad-time hoods. He became a detective and was on his way to be one of the most legendary NYC cops of all time when he had the aforementioned injury.

This book is a fun adrenaline rush. Mr. Friedman and I don't see eye to eye politically, and he's very sure about some opinions which I think are more opinion than fact (as he presents them) in terms of how things have changed since the 70s and why. However, that's a pretty small part of the book altogether, and this was a fun read. Would be great for a dad or brother who isn't a big reader, any NYC buffs, or even Law & Order fans.

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

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Book Review: The Lambs: My Father, a Farm, and the Gift of a Flock of Sheep by Carole George

Carole was a bit tired of the legal rat race in Washington DC. She would leaf through the real estate listings, looking at big old farms out in the country (I picture of course the scene in Baby Boom when Diane Keaton does the same thing and ends up moving to Vermont.) She's single and childless, but close to her dad, even though he lives out west. One day, she buys a farm. Then, as she slowly goes about fixing it up and winding down her law firm, she decides to buy some sheep. She ends up with a small flock of Karakul lambs, who she names after historical composers. She doesn't breed them, and of course with only 13, she doesn't get much wool. They're definitely more pets than farm animals. And She adores them. So does her father who comes to visit frequently and for extended periods.

And, as with every single book about animals, they start to age. And they do what every animal in every book about an animal does. Which mirrors also Carole's own ascent into late middle age, and her father's descent in his nineties to the point where he can't come visit anymore as it's too hard for him to travel so far. The sheep (she continues to call them lambs throughout their lives but I'm sorry, I'm not that precious) certainly have distinctive personalities and she even researches the breed extensively and where they are from. Her family is perhaps over-educated, as she and her father wax lyrically about the Caucuses and poetry in a way that would put a lot of college professors to shame. But it's a lovely, lyrical, pastoral memoir of loving animals and being loved by them, and coming to terms with the life expectancy of our loved ones, and therefore of our own.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Book Review: All Summer Long by Hope Larson

Isn't it great when you read a book and your biggest complaint is that it was too short? That's also a problem when reading ebooks on my iPad I find--sometimes the end sneaks up on me.

In this graphic novel, we start at the end of 7th grade, and best friends and next door neighbors Bina and Austin are torn. Austin got in to a prestigious soccer camp at the last minute from the wait list, so they won't be spending the summer together as usual. Bina wants her friend to be happy, and he is a great soccer player, but it's still a huge bummer. I love the idea of the summer fun index they've kept in last years where there was a numerical score for the end of the summer and how much fun they'd had. but they opted to not do that this summer. And that's good because they were, after all, not experiencing the same summer at all.

Bina ends up kind of becoming friends with Austin's scary older sister. She checks out a new band. She starts babysitting. She practices guitar. She goes to visit her older brother and his husband to meet their newly adopted baby. Her summer is pretty scattered and solitary but she learns to entertain herself, to find inner resources, and she gets through it all just fine. At the end of the summer, Austin returns, but he's... weird. Turns out a big reason he was often not returning Bina's texts is because they're at the age where it's weird for boys and girls to be friends, and while kids at their school are okay with it because they've been friends for always, it wasn't something he could explain at camp.

I do wish there'd been more content. It didn't feel like the exhausting, neverending kinds of summer you experience at that age, and waiting for Austin to come home from camp didn't seem like long. Basically, there was one real event for each week. So it felt like the summer was about 12 days long. But really, if my only complaint is that I wanted it to be longer, that's a very nice thing!

Bina felt very real and was easily relatable. It was nice that unlike a lot of middle grade books, Bina is pretty comfortable in her skin, even if she's biracial and tall and sometimes wears knee socks with hamburgers all over them. She isn't being shunned or bullied. (She has no one to hang out with because all of her friends are away for the summer, not only Austin.) It's fantastic to have those books, but sometimes it feels like we may have overcorrected and only have those kinds of stories. Anyway, I loved it.

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 Farrar Straus & Giroux, a division of Macmillan, my employer, so I got it for free.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Book Review: The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein

Who cleans up after a personal disaster? Have you ever been watching Law & Order and think to yourself, yikes, who will be mopping that blood off the ceiling? I also used to love to watch Hoarders but I didn't connect that the two types of cleaners—crime scene and hoarding—are often the same. You might think the crime scenes would be worse but not according to Sandra Pankhurst, who does these cleans—dead people don't argue and don't want to keep garbage. And Sandra is so empathetic that she does really great with those hoarding clients, but it also is emotionally exhausting.

This book claims to be and probably started out as the story of trauma cleaning and who actually does that, but it ends as an uncompromising and compellingly poetic biography of an enigmatic and utterly singular person, in this case, Sandra Pankhurst. A father, a wife, a prostitute, a rape victim, a funeral arranger, a hardware store owner, and finally a trauma cleaner, her life has been defined by dichotomies and oxymorons. She is a transgender woman who had her operation in 1980s Melbourne, Australia, not exactly a very understanding or progressive time. She has been a pioneer in many ways, and while some of her decisions are not what you might have done in her shoes, she's an admirable person just the same.

You certainly do also get the stories of some of the traumatic cleans she's done, and they are fascinating, but Sandra is the center of every story. I know this is a ballsy thing to claim, but in the end, this book reminded me of The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. I dare you to read this book and try to take your eyes off her.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Book Review: If You're in My Office, It's Already Too Late: A Divorce Lawyer's Guide to Staying Together by James J. Sexton

Come for the entertaining stories about divorcing partners, stay for the simple, practical advice for staying together and working things out.

James is a divorce lawyer in New York City. He's one of the rare divorce lawyers who wanted to go into that field from day one (most wannabee lawyers are more idealistic and change their minds partway through or after law school.) He doesn't relish destroying relationships but they're already destroyed before they get to him. And he himself is divorced. At some point it occurred to him that his knowledge of what doesn't work, could be helpful to others. Kind of along the lines of "if you can't be a good example, at least be a horrible warning."

Some of the stories are fascinating in a car-wreck kind of way. Some were a little sad, and a couple were even inspiring (one couple found out while in their lawyers' offices that their child was injured and they immediately put all animosity aside to work together on that problem as a team.) The most practical advice he gives I don't think will work for everyone--which is that when something bothers you, send a brief email about it to your partner right away. Don't let it fester, don't let it grow. He doesn't address the volume of these or choosing your battles, so I can foresee some issues with that particular advice, but I'm sure it would work for some people.

I think this book would be best for people thinking of getting married, or even in the first few years, as being forewarned is forearmed.

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

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Book Review: A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman

I read this book for my new book club. At first I was intrigued as I mistakenly thought it had won the Booker. Instead, it won the Booker International, which is only for translated books, which is a much smaller pool. But I still was glad to read a translated book, and I think it may only be the second book I've read set in Israel. But it was a disappointment. It was interesting and I'm glad I read it for that reason, but I did not enjoy it.

Dov is a comedian and he is onstage doing a set. But really, he's telling his life story. But really, in a long, roundabout, and occasionally tedious or annoying way, he's telling the story of the loss of a parent. Avishai is our narrator. He's in the audience. Dov came to him recently and asked him to come to this show and give him feedback afterwards. They knew each other as children and haven't seen each other in maybe 40 years. Avishai is a recently retired judge.

The story isn't funny at all (with the exception of the joke about the parrot which was hilarious.) Dov is abrasive, rude, and eventually runs off the majority of the audience. I wish at times I'd been able to leave. But I do try to finish my book club books, and it was pretty short (200 pages). I actually did really like the parts where Avishai was telling the story from his point of view, the parts of Dov's life that he remembered. But that was the minority of the novel. I do not have to like the main character of a book in order to enjoy a book, but I desperately did not at all like spending any time with Dov and was counting down the pages. The ending also felt to me dragged out and manipulative (by the author) and unrealistic that no one would tell Dov this super-important detail for SO LONG. I did not hate the book, but it was not for me.

I bought this book at Ivy Bookshop, an independent in Baltimore, MD.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Book Review: A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks

In full disclosure, I should mention I'm friends with the author. Some people are excited to read a book by a friend. But I'm nervous. I'm pretty critical (a recovering editor) and have high standards. And I'm not a very good liar. So I was hugely relieved when I read this book! I liked it! I really liked it!

Jane is a ladies maid in New York City in the 1910s, but the family is new money, so they need more help from their staff, and they are understaffed. Jane is supposed to be the personal maid to the younger of the two daughters but ends up doing both of them much of the time, and even occasionally acting as housekeeper on top of it, but she's very capable and can handle it. Charlotte, the older, impulsive, willful daughter suddenly gets engaged to a scion of Manhattan society, and yet it is initially kept secret (despite her wealth, her family would be seen as a step down for him. Plus, his ex isn't fully out of the picture.) Finally it's due to be publicly announced and there's a great party held for the occasion. And then, the fiance is found dead in the library.

Charlotte is suspected, and a reporter is snooping around. Plus, Jane worries about her old friend who has gotten involved in worker's rights and maybe even with anarchists—and they don't like these families, especially the dead man's father who owns a mine where a terrible explosion killed scores of poor workers. Surely she couldn't have anything to do with it, right? Jane reluctantly teams up with the reporter in hopes of clearing her employer, her friend, and her own conscious. But someone did murder him... if not one of them, then who?

It was a fun murder mystery with a delightful Upstairs Downstairs feel to it, where you both get a taste for what it was like to be wealthy in Manhattan at the end of the Gilded Age, and also what it was like to be a maid for one of these families, at a time when the politics of working the poor nearly to death was no longer as acceptable, and what that meant to the working classes. You can tell Ms. Fredericks did her research, and the book brims with tantalizing details of the upper class at a time when their influence was just about to come crashing down.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

My Month in Review: March

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

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

Books completed this month:
A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler
Check, Please!: # Hockey by Ngozi Ukazu
Thundercluck! And the Kitchen of Destiny by Paul Tillery, Meg Wittwer
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow* OMG I FINISHED!! Only took 3.5 months.
A Shot in the Dark by Lynne Truss
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin
A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman *
Attucks!: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City by Phillip Hoose
If You're in My Office, It's Already Too Late: A Divorce Lawyer's Guide to Staying Together by James J. Sexton
On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden 
I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara *

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War by Joanne Freeman
This Scorched Earth: A Novel of the Civil War by William Gear

Did Not Finish:
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson (audio)*
Like all of Larson's book this was an interesting, and compelling read, but I kept finding myself saying, "Ugh, Nazis!" and turning it off. The ambassador is in over his head and has no idea what he's doing. Especially he seems to have no idea what his adult daughter is doing--actively seeking out Nazis and SS, throwing them parties, and even possibly dating Hitler. I just want to slap her. I don't have to like a book's protagonist, but this combo of the mealy-mouthed milquetoast and the wannabee-collaborator is just a bridge too far.

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
I was better this month and did not buy more books!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Book Review: Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin, narrated by Ray Porter (Audio)

After watching The Post, I was excited when I learned about this YA bio of Daniel Ellsberg because I wanted to know more about him and about the Pentagon  Papers.

As an aside, I've been reading a lot of YA nonfiction in the last year and not only is the quality top-notch, but I love that due to shorter lengths and simpler language/concepts, YA nonfiction can often tackle topics considered too small for an adult book, so I'm learning about fascinating smaller subjects that are really enlightening to history overall.

Anyway, Daniel Ellsberg actually had been a marine. After his service, he went into government, and he eventually spent time in Vietnam as an observer, alongside soldiers. He'd gotten romantically involved with a journalist who was very against the war.  But it was pretty much what he saw first-hand which changed his mind about the war and our place in it and its necessity. He also saw politicians straight-up lying to the American public about our level of involvement, how the war was going, and how many Americans were dying. Eventually he felt he was a duty as an American, to expose to American citizens, the truth behind the lies. He snuck out thousands of Top Secret documents, copied them, and released them to various journalists. They first ran in the New York Times, but they were slapped with a lawsuit and couldn't publish them anymore. The Washington Post then took up the story, until they too were rejoined from publishing. It went to a dozen more newspapers until the story was out and government lawsuits were not having the success they wanted, and only looked like the government was continuing to suppress the truth.

Ellsberg was prosecuted as a traitor, even though he argued (and I agree) that his actions were instead very patriotic. The Nixon administration wanted to ruin him in any way they could, so they got a group of men together to break into Ellsberg's therapist's office, to try to find his notes on Ellsberg which they then planned to leak and publicize. Not only were there no notes, but those bumbling burglars (known as "the plumbers") went on to break into the Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate building, leading directly to Nixon's downfall.

There are a disturbing number of parallels to what's happening in politics today with the president wanting to control news stories and with the importance of journalism as "the fourth estate," providing an additional check on government.

Steve Sheinkin is a truly impressive biographer, even more so with his bios all being aimed at a younger audience. Some moments in history are super confusing. I've read All the President's Men. It was hard to get through, I'm not sure I followed everything, and it was too dense to get through in a short time frame. If you are an adult who wants to learn more about a part of history but haven't had luck, I strongly suggest you look for YA nonfiction about it. It's so accessible and non-complicated, while not dumbing down the content at all. It's a real trick to explain these events clearly and simply, and Sheinkin is the Master.

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. I listened to an audiobook version through Cloud Library via my local library.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Book Review: Zombie Abbey by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

This book is very, very much Downtown Abbey with zombies. A wealthy family in England with three daughters and estate entailed away if the oldest doesn't marry well and quickly, sounds very familiar. Even the personalities are similar. A big difference comes with the servants, who don't seem to bear much resemblance to their Downton-counterparts. And a stableboy plays a big role, who is not featured at all in the TV show.

And just as the whole marriage-plot starts to get off the ground with multiple potential suitors for the oldest daughter up for the weekend, a zombie appears. Of course, they people at the Abbey don't know what's going on a first, and it's only after a third person dies a horrible and dramatic death as a zombie that they finally figure out what's going on, and try to come up with a plan. Meanwhile, the healthy townspeople show up and are also let into the Abbey which is now quite crowded. And then...

Well, apparently there will be a sequel! I am not a fan of reading a book in a series and then having to wait and wait (my memory is terrible, especially for details.) But I've certainly got to read the next book to find out how they get out of this mess (and who each of the daughters will marry.) Just good old silly fun, quite enjoyable, so long as you're not expecting much substance.

This book is published by Entangled Teen, a part of Macmillan Press, my employer.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Book Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer (audio)

Took a long time to get this--the wait list at the library went on for ages! But it was worth it. As usual, a memoir by someone famous especially someone funny. is something I wanted to hear in the author's own voice. And that was the right choice.

Throughout this memoir, Amy is hilarious, honest, funny, forthright, insightful, relatable, and goofy. In more or less chronological order, we hear about her growing up, her father getting sick, her success in stand up and eventually TV, her relationship with her sister, her relationships with men, and just everything. Interspersed throughout are funny lists and sidebars. The parts you probably aren't expecting is hearing about how her first time having sex was essentially date rape. And about having to clean her father up after he pooped himself in public more than once due to his illness. And these stories are great--they're straightforward without any goofing around although with a sense of humor and you really feel they're true.

But one caveat with the audiobook is that they're often followed up with one of those funny lists, and there's no more than a couple of seconds pause between the two, which can lead to some jarring moments. Right after I've heard about someone's rape, I don't want to immediately get a joke. In the print version of the book you can pause yourself for a moment or two to process, which is trickier in an audiobook. That said, it's a minor caveat. I'm still very glad I listened to this book instead of reading it in print.

With Amy you really get the impression that she's a regular girl which I mean in the best possible way--like if you met in real life you could be friends. And like regular people, she's had some problems in her life. And luckily for us, she's chosen to share them in a way that is both healing and also, appropriately, funny. Due to the occasional dark nature, I'd say she's the closest to David Sedaris that I've read. And that's a HUGE compliment.

I downloaded this book on Overdrive via my library.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Book Review: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (audio)

This slight book contains a massive amount of information in the slim pages between its covers. Everyone should read it (after all, it won't take any significant time at all.) And the audio is really great to hear it in Adichie's own words. In fact, I'd even recommend the audio as something for families to listen to. Some of the book might be a little hard on its own for younger kids to get, but in her reading, the slows down for the complicated bits, and her intonation helps a lot with providing context. Also some parts which take place in Africa might need more explanation from adults. But I think this would be a great read for preteens and teenagers.

It's rather simple in a lot of ways. She explains that being a feminist doesn't mean holding women to he higher or better than men, but it does mean that we have a lot of work to do--all of us, men included--to fix problems, make up for past unfairness, and set up society to go forward with to much more even, fair future where girls and women have the same opportunities as men without extra responsibilities, assumptions, or work. This book doesn't need to be longer. Because this is not a difficult or complicated concept. Men and women should be treated the same in the same situations, and that's pretty much it. She gives concrete examples, and tells how and when her own eyes were opened, and some stories about seeing or experiencing sexism. But it really is just simple. We should all be equal. End of story.

I downloaded this book on Cloud Library via my local library.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Book Review: The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton

One day Ray Hinton was mowing his mother's lawn when a police car pulled up. The cops arrested him for murder, and he had not one tiny clue what they were talking about. But he was sure everything would work out--after all, he hadn't done it. In fact, he had an airtight alibi for the time of the murder. But a lovely (and sadly in Alabama for an African-American, common) series of coincidences, incompetence, and racism all came together and Ray was convicted, and spent 30 years on Death Row.

Boy oh boy I wouldn't have been half as sanguine about the situation as Ray is. He's very understanding and calm and forgiving. Perhaps I would have gone mad inside, which he most certainly did not, as his zen-like attitude definitely helped with doing the time.

It's interesting--the men in Death Row in his prison are all on a single side of a hallway, so they never can see each other, even though they can yell to each other. So at one point, after he'd gotten friendly with another inmate, it was shocking for them both to see each other and find out that Ray had become friends with a notorious white supremacist. Ray started a book club on the Row that was inspiring, with all of the men passing around just one copy of the book for weeks so everyone wold read it and then discuss. Life was going on this way with Ray's incompetent/evil attorney exhausting his appeals. And one day, one of the guards gave him Bryan Stevenson's phone number. I have read his excellent book, and I whooped for joy when that happened. But first another attorney was assigned to him, and that dragged things out even more. Finally, when she moved away and Bryan took over, I really had hope, although truly at that point almost every option had been used up. How did Hinton get out? You'll have to read the book! You'll also have to read it to hear his remarkable story of growing up poor and black in Alabama, and through the lens of Bryan's life, we can see the story of impoverished African-Americans in this era and their treatment by society and law enforcement in particular, writ large. It's an inspirational albeit frustrating story.

I got this book for free from the publisher, St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Book Review: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Oh my God I finished! I finished I finished I finished! Now with a preamble like that, you might think this book was torture which is why I'm so happy to be done with it, but it was the complete opposite. I really, thoroughly enjoyed it--it's just that it's really long, and it's already hard for me to squeeze in many non-work books, particularly loooooong ones that are also dense and therefore can't be read in massive chunks and take some serious time to digest.

Of course, if you're familiar with the musical, the biography is easier to read, as you have already gotten the Cliff's Notes version. As this book is the source material, I suppose ideally it ought to be read first, but I suspect that most people will be like me--first hear the musical. (I then read a book about the musical as well.) So like me, people will probably be looking for deviations, and also might get tripped out about which is the real story. It's much easier to believe the first thing you learn is real and deviations from that must be not right, but of course in this situation that's not the case--Miranda had to make adjustments to the facts to fit with a story arc and with songs and to abridge events and to move the action along and compress characters. But I'd say 80% of it is accurate.

What I did take some issue with is that certain events, such as the Reynolds Pamphlet, did not to me come across with the appropriate level of gravity for the situation. I felt like Chernow occasionally was too even-handed and too wedded to being an impartial fact-teller to give more profoundly impactful events in Hamilton's life, more weight in the book. That said, it is a biography, not a narrative, so I do understand his choice. I just worry that if I hadn't been prepped by the musical, I might have skimmed over some of the bigger events in his life without realizing how big they were. And it's not like Chernow never broke that role--he frequently comments on the humor of a situation, on the audacity of an action, or the astonishment he found upon trying to figure out simply HOW Hamilton wrote even half of what he did in the time allotted to him. (I really liked his conclusion that a lot was dictated and that Hamilton had the amazing ability to think and speak in complete sentences and paragraphs, even for hours at a time, extemporaneously.)

The book is very well-written, the historical era doesn't make anything at all hard to understand, and Chernow writes with aplomb and insight. It's not a wild page-turner or a great beach read, but if you're looking for a fascinating and incredibly well-written biography, you just can't go wrong here.

At first I borrowed this book from the library but after I used up all my renewals, I bought it at the new/used independent bookstore in my town.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Book Review: The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater by Alanna Okun

I am not a knitter. I might start next year. I did once knit a very plain scarf that was too short, but I was flummoxed by connecting a new skein of yarn.

Alanna is a knitter. In fact, she's a KNITTER, all caps. She knits forever and always and in every situation. She is in her twenties and moving to New York City and getting a new job and dating. And in these series of memoir-essays, she covers all of this, and knitting. And a few other crafts. Her mother is also crafty, which they put to good use when her mother helps decorate her new Brooklyn apartment.

The title refers to an incident I am familiar with, despite my not knitting. See, I do cross-stitch, which is another old-fashioned fabric craft. And not often, but every once in a blue moon, I would make a cross-stitch picture for the guy I was dating. And I mourn those long-gone works, and hope they still have good homes. In the world of knitting, this is known as a phenomenon where as soon as you knit your boyfriend a sweater, he will break up with you. Now, some of the sweaters in question were worth breaking up over (and frankly, I'm not sure I would have followed through with the gifting is they really turned out terribly sized, but whatever.) But it's a literal through-thread in Alanna's young adulthood--all the usual twenty-something angst, with yarn.

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

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Book Review: As She Fades by Abbi Glines

Vale and her boyfriend, Crawford, were hit by a car on high school graduation night and he's in a coma. They've been together since practically kindergarten, and had their lives together all planned out. She spends all day at the hospital, although Crawford's mother is angry with her and will barely let her see him. While there, she meets Slate, a guy from her older brother's fraternity, who is visiting his dying uncle, and they become friends.

In the fall, she reluctantly decides she needs to start college without him, and move on with her life. At college, everyone is shocked that she's friends with Slate, a notorious man-slut with no female friends, just conquests. And her brother of course keeps his eye on them. And then, there's a massive twist. So I'm done with plot description.

This book I didn't love. I am trying to think back to when I was seventeen and decide if I'd have liked it then, and I think I would have liked it more But I'd have liked to see more dimensionality in the characters, more agency in Vale (although that does improve through the course of the book), much more development of Crawford who remains an enigma throughout. And the fraternity is never, ever called "Kappa Sigma." What a mouthful! It's always, always "Kappa Sig" at every college in the country. I know that's a finicky complaint, but it's minor errors like that that bring the reader out of the story.

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

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

My Month in Review: February

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

I did a lot of driving this month but listened to a ton of podcasts. I also was really busy with work and just didn't have as much time to read, sadly.

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

Books completed this month:
The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain
The Chaos of Now by Erin Jade Lange
Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong (audio)*
Ellie, Engineer: The Next Level by Jackson Pearce
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer (audio)*
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (audio)*

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow*
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson (audio)*
A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
After buying almost no new books in 2017, I went a little nuts this month. With the bittersweet knowledge that I will get to read very, very few of these anytime soon.

Euphoria by Lily King
Kindred by Octavia Butler
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahirii
I Let You Go by Claire Macintosh
Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola
A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman                               
Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey
Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence by Bill James
The Woman's Hour: The Last Furious Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine F. Weiss
Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Book Review: Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan by Ted Scheinman

I am so bummed that this happened in Chapel Hill and I never heard about it before now, even though I lived in Charlotte at the time. I guess that was the year I let my JASNA membership lapse, sigh.

Mr. Scheinman was a grad student at UNC when one of his professors came up with the idea to host what they jokingly refer to as a summer camp for grown ups but what is more of a conference, for academics and laypeople alike, focusing on Jane Austen. It is interesting to mix the two groups. Normally, they don't mix much, aside from the handful of professors who are invited as speakers to JASNA's annual meeting, but they are wildly outnumbered there, and tailoring their topics to a more lay audience, so this did have a different feel. I found one chapter to be too formal in tone, but then Mr. Scheinman settled down and got into the fun of things. Were all the costumes of the people's behavior perfectly accurate to the era? Certainly not. And is he a little full of himself after he's asked to play Mr. Darcy? Yes indeed. But it's easy to forgive these trips as we're all only human, even Austen herself was human, and so at times there are stumbles. However, for a casual Janeite, this was a fun read, and will inspire envy and hope that they'll do it again.

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

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Book Review: In Search Of by Ava Dellaira

Angie never met her father. He died before she was born. Sure, life would have been hard with him too, as her parents were still teens when they got pregnant, and her father was black and her mother is white, but still, she'd give anything to have known him. Her mother won't even talk about him—she gets too upset when he comes up.

When Marilyn met James, she and her mother were crashing at her uncle's crappy LA apartment, as her mother's dreams for Marilyn's future as a famous star were pursued. Her uncle is a drunk, abusive, and sometimes scary, so Marilyn gets out of the house as much as she can. She meets James, a neighbor in the complex, and while her uncle warns her to stay away from him, James's nuclear family with even his grandmother living with them, hot home-cooked meals eaten around the family dinner table, and engaged parents and siblings, seems like the dream family Marilyn never had. She can't stay away.

Angie finds out that she has an uncle she never knew about, her father's brother. She wonders about his whole family who she's never met. In fact, she wonders, if her mother kept his family away, maybe she kept him away too. Maybe she lied about him being dead. So she sets out to LA to find out the truth for herself about Marilyn and James, all those years ago.

The book deals a lot with secrets and lies, and Marilyn and James are compelling characters. Angie is a little less-so, as it's fairly reckless to just decide to take off for California as a teenager, and also a little juvenile to believe her father might still be alive. But teens are prone to that kind of magical thinking. The older narrative had a lot more resonance for me. Maybe it's because that time frame was closer to when I was a teen, but I think those characters were just more fully drawn and more alive than the contemporary ones. Well, in a dual-narrative story, you're always going to like one story better than the other. This was a heart-wrenching story and you'll find yourself rooting for Angie, Marilyn and James, all the way.

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.