Monday, January 15, 2018

Book Review: South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby

When I started this job last year, this book jumped out at me, but I didn't have time to read it just then. But when I went to Antarctica myself over the holidays, you better believe I made time!

Cooper is an artist, and she's applied for a position as artist-in-residence at the Scott-Admunsen Station at the South Pole. (Unlike other stations scattered across the continent, this one is actually at the real South Pole. And yes, they have a pole, and yes, they move it every year as the actual south pole shifts.) For this position, not only does your art have to pass muster, but you have to pass a series of psychological tests as it's very important that everyone at the station be well-suited for that unusual kind of environment. It's odd in that you have to be somewhat of a weirdo in order to fit the requirements, but you have to fit in with the other weirdos. (In my defense, all of them are self-proclaimed weirdos.) Cooper is dealing with the recent suicide of her brother, which normally would be a disqualifying event, but her answers persuaded the station's director.

Meanwhile, at the same time a climate-change-denialist "scientist" also appears at the station. Due to political machinations, he has been approved over a number of people's heads, and the scientists on the base all hate the concept of him. Not only is he actively trying to disprove what everyone else is trying to prove, but he's also taking up a very coveted and very limited spot for another "real" scientist. While Cooper fits in with the scientists generally (and one in particular), she's also drawn to the outsider and ends up helping him with some of his research, to her great regret.

After an Event happens, Washington threatens to cut off funding and shut down the station. The scientists and staffers who had planned to winter over revolt. And Cooper somehow seems to be the glue holding everything together.

The story was a little convoluted, had a few too many characters, and seems to have gotten away from the author more than once. But I still really liked it. I think it could have used more tightening, but the scatteredness actually kind of makes sense for where it is. Antarctica is truly so different a place from anywhere on earth that it's hard to even describe, let alone understand by anyone who hasn't been there. The discombobulation one experiences in this book can echo the strange, confusing, unique environment of the South Pole. I am very sad there wasn't even one penguin, but they just don't live in this particular part of the continent. Overall, a faint liking of science helps, and a willingness to put aside preconceptions and to cut the author some slack, but I really liked it.

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

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Book Review: Ellie, Engineer by Jackson Pearce

What a great middle grade read! Ellie wants to be an engineer and in fact, already thinks she is one. She has her own tool belt, which she straps on over her skirt, and gets to work building things. Mostly she builds with her best friend, Kit, and they start off by building a giant slingshot to shoot water balloons in a group of boys in another yard. Ellie makes sure to write detailed explanations of all her projects (and whether or not they were successful) in her notebook (illustrations included in the book).

Kit invents an amazing hair braiding machine for Kit's birthday and they decide to try it out even though it's a week before her actual birthday. And it's a huge disaster. Kit doesn't end up getting any hair cut off, but adults reading the book will all know how close a call that was. Despondent that her gift is a bust, and with not much time left, Ellie comes up with a new idea. She and Kit overheard that Kit is getting a dog from her parents, so Ellie decides to build the best doghouse ever. And because she's got so little time, she needs help. She first enlists one of the neighborhood boys, and then she also gets help from a group of crafty girls for the interior.

But the boys and girls in her neighborhood don't get along. So she isn't exactly honest about each's involvement with the others. When they find out, they're all mad at Ellie, and all abandon her. But in the end, they pull together to give Kit the most amazing present of all time!

My favorite part of the book is when Ellie says that, as her father says, there aren't "boy things" and "girl things." There are "Ellie things" and "Kit things." As someone who used to do shipping & receiving with long, painted nails, in a mini skirt, I will testify that one can both dress like a girl, and yet do more a traditionally masculine job. This is a great book for STEM programs, for crafty girls who might spill into more building-engineering projects, and heck, boys should read about girls interesting in building things, too.

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, January 11, 2018

Book Review: Every Fifteen Minutes by Lisa Scottoline

Lisa Scottoline is hugely popular in my neck of the woods (she's from Philadelphia) and when one of my bookstores has an event with her, they often sell more than 100 books, so I figured I ought to give one a shot.

Eric is a doctor at a hospital outside Philadelphia in the psychiatric unit. One day a fellow doctor from the ER asks him to talk with a teenage boy, Max, whose grandmother is dying, as a favor. Eric decides to see Max in his private practice. Meanwhile, his soon-to-be-ex wife turns out to be selling his house out from under him, is pushing their daughter into sports she won't enjoy, and deciding to ramp the divorce up a notch. Then a student files a sexual assault claim against him. And then the teenage girl that Max was obsessed with turns up dead, and when Eric starts looking into it, he becomes a suspect himself.

The events really spiraled. The book's pace was pretty zippy and it was hard to put down. That said, some of it felt like too much and contrived. The whole book takes place over the course of less than a week which was a pretty short time frame for some of the relationships. And at times, Eric felt a little dumb, when I think the author was using him as a mouthpiece for explaining something technical to readers, but it made it seem like he was stupid (could he really not understand what was meant by something not being in the scope of a search warrant that he had to ask about it multiple times? C'mon buddy, watch some Law & Order.) And for me, I felt like the very ending went off the rails. The book was fun, but the last two chapters got rather eye-rolling and even more contrived and hard to believe. If you can overlook that sort of thing for the sake of a twisty thriller, then this is good stuff. Aside from the ending, it was great when I was seasick and didn't want to think too much or do anything.

I downloaded this eaudiobook from the library via Overdrive. It is published by me employer.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Book Review: Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez

Stella is 8, going on 9, and her best friend is not in her class this year, so she's having trouble speaking up for herself. But over the year she learns to be herself, she gains a friend or two, and learns an awful lot about fish.

This novel is perfect for kids who feel like they don't fit in anywhere--Stella's Spanish has deteriorated so she can't really talk to her Mexican relatives anymore, but she also still has some trouble pronouncing English words due to her first language having been Spanish. Also, she learns she's a resident alien (with a green card) which makes her feel like an outsider in Chicago.

This was a sweet story. Stella is a great character you'll definitely root for. Anyone who's felt shy will love it, anyone who's struggled with making friends, and anyone who loves crafts. Stella's an adorable little girl and I do hope we'll see her again.

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

This book is published by Roaring Brook, a Macmillan publisher, my employer.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Reading Challenges 2018

It won't make quite as much sense for me to do reading challenges this year, with my job, but I do enjoy them, so I'm going to give it a shot and see if I get through them, or if it's just not going to work going forward.

I will start with my overall number, which does not include picture books or early readers. If a book takes less than an hour is generally my cut-off. Last year I managed 135. This year I want to up a little the work books I read, so I'm going to go for at least 140. And since so many are work books, that really limits what challenges I can do, but they're still fun, so here's what I want to do this year:


Challenge Guidelines:

  • January 1, 2018 to January 31, 2019
  • The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it's supposed to be a tour.
  • WHAT COUNTS AS "EUROPE"?: We stick with the same list of 50 sovereign states that fall (at least partially) within the geographic territory of the continent of Europe and/or enjoy membership in international European organizations such as the Council of Europe. THE LIST: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City. NOTE: Even after Brexit, the United Kingdom is still one country, in Europe, that includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. So one book from any one of these four counts as your one book for the United Kingdom.

Carin says: 
Last year I did 5, and 4 of the 5 were easy. So once again I will sign up for:
FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

Full House Reading Challenge

Challenge Guidelines:
  • Challenge will run from Jan 1st to December 31st 2018
  • Books may cross over from other challenges that you are doing. However a different book for each square, one book cannot cover two squares.
  • Each review can only be linked up once in the year.
  • There will be a final post to link in a summary post for the challenge for those who have completed a full house. This will close on the 2nd January 2019  and a winner will be chosen using random.org for one U.S. $40 prize which again can be used to buy books at the Book Depository or be received as an Amazon voucher. 
Carin says:
A couple of these might be hard but I think 75% I'll hit without any effort. I do like these kind of random challenges, It's always interesting to see which ones end up being the tricky ones.

2018 New Release Challenge

The 2018 New Release Challenge is a year-long challenge in which we aim to read books released in 2018

The rules for the 2018 New Release Challenge are simple:
  • Books have to be released and reviewed in 2018.
  • Other challenges can be used as well, if you are participating in the Netgalley / Edelweiss challenge or in the COYER challenge, books can count towards more than one challenge, as long as the ones you use for the 2018 New Release Reading Challenge qualify to the other rules.
  • The minimum length for a book to qualify is 100 pages, it can be in any format though, physical, e-book, ARC or audiobook.
  • The New Book Release Challenge is open from January 1st through December 31st 2018, and sign-ups are open until September 1st 2018.
Carin says:
I managed level 2 pretty easily with 37 books for 2017. My big problem is that for 2/3 of the year I'm actually focusing on next year's books. But I think I can do it again. So:
31-60 books per year – New Release Pro

Reading the Books That I Want Challenge

In 2015 I got frustrated with my reading challenges and my book clubs and other reading obligations. And while looking at my end of year post, I was annoyed that I didn't get to read a couple of books from the rather short list of books I was really looking forward to. And then I had an idea. In 2016 I created my own reading challenge, just for me. In the past I've listed 20 books but that's way too ambitious with my job, so this year I'll list 10, and I'll be pretty happy even if I just get to half of them.:
  1. The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home by Denise Kiernan
  2. Women in the Literary Landscape by Doris Weatherford, Rosalind Reisner, Nancy Rubin Stuart, and Valerie Tomaselli
  3. Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life by Amy E. Herman
  4. Ask a Manager: Clueless Coworkers, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and Other Work Conversations Made Easy by Alison Green
  5. Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder by Nancy Tystad Koupal
  6. No Saints in Kansas by Amy Brashear
  7. Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
  8. Calvin by Martine Leavitt
  9. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson
  10. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Book Review: The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

I don't read a lot of women's thrillers but I do read a few, and this one was perfectly satisfying. I don't want to tell too much of the plot, but there's a very troubled marriage at the center of it, and it has not one giant twist, but a couple of twists (almost three) and they were the great kind--you could possibly see them coming if you were paying more attention than me (I did not see them coming and I was trying to guess!) so they didn't feel like they were out of left field, but not so obvious as to be boring and frustrating. \

The different parts of the book are also very different tonally which was a nice thing for the authors to do--one narrator's sections feel very optimistic and young and naive, another's feel very depressed, almost like she's given up, and a third part is very determined and driven. Again, don't want to say too much, but it was fun, fast, kept me riveted and guessing, and had a nicely satisfying ending.

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

Monday, January 1, 2018

My Month in Review: December

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. I'm actually out of town and off the grid over the New Year so this isn't 100% complete. I will have read a couple more books than this post is showing by January 1. January's post will have the rest.

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

Books completed this month:
I didn't get much read this month due to reading Alexander Hamilton, which is huge and dense. I'm very much enjoying it, and I often end the year with a chunkster, but it does make my last monthly post of the year look kind of lame, compared to my others.
Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dash *
All Summer Long by Hope Larson
Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow *
Man I really tried to finish this before my trip! Well, I am bringing a bunch of work books and I'm not sure which ones I'll end up reading, except that South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby is the one I'm pretty sure I'll read.

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (I had this checked out of the library but it's taking much longer than I'd through and I want to take it on a long overseas vacation so I had to get my own.)
Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly

I am finding it a little ironic that after years of buying books when I couldn't afford them, I finally have a good-paying job, and I've mostly stopped buying books! I can of course get any books from my employer (Macmillan) that I want, that's 95% of what I'm reading these days, and I do get books from the library still (just picked up my next book club book). So this section is occasionally... empty! But that's good because I do still have most of those books I bought and I do have a little debt to pay off so staying in budget is a good thing.

2017: The Year in Review

In 2010 I got this meme, I think from Boston Bibliophile. It was a fun way to summarize the year, so I now do it every year. This year I've added a couple of new categories (how many books for work and how many different publishers). I will be away from computers for the last week of the year so this is through Dec. 19.

How many books read in 2017? 

How many fiction and non fiction? 
88/63. Huh, I thought this was going to be a lot more skewed towards fiction.

Male/Female author ratio? 
42/91. Wow, I've never had my list be so skewed. I don't think even in the year when I was trying to mostly read women writers!

Favorite book of 2017? 
P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy

Least favorite? 
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

Any that you simply couldn't finish and why? 
No DNFs this year.

Oldest book read?  1986, Annie John. I usually have read a classic or two, but this year I only read this modern classic, and otherwise since I was mostly reading for work, very little backlist.
Newest?  Aug 07, 2018. Yep, won't be published for 8 months.

Longest and shortest book titles? (not including subtitles)
Longest:  The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making 66
Shortest:  Rise 4

Longest and shortest books?
Longest: The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati 741 pages
Shortest: Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell 56 pages

How many books from the library? 53, mostly audio.

How many audiobooks? 31, a huge new record.

Any translated books? one

Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author? Rainbow Rowell, I read 4. And what's awesome is that last year I had her listed as a new to me author who I wanted to read the entire works of. I have read all but 1 of hers.

Any re-reads? no. I started listening to A Wrinkle in Time but it expired before I finished it. Ditto for Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.

Favorite character of the year? Sandra Pankhurst from The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein. Sandra was born a man, had one of the first sex reassignment surgeries in Australia, fought to have an abusive customer prosecuted when she was a sex worker, and eventually went into trauma cleaning, because she's just the most empathetic person alive, given what she's been through. She's a real character, funny and quirky and flawed, but also really inspirational and not pitiful at all. This book comes out in April and trust me, Sandra will stay with you for a long time.

Which countries did you go to through the page in your year of reading? The Netherlands, India, Antarctica (does it count as a country if no one lives there permanently and there's no government?), Australia, South Africa, England, Afghanistan, Germany, Soviet Russia, Antigua, and France.

Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation? 
The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati (Jessica)
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Nicole's daugher who is obsessed with Lin-Manuel Miranda)
In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors by Doug Stanton (Jordan)
Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jeremy McCarter and Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (Amy Cherrix of Malaprop's)
This list is so much shorter this year because of all the pre-pub books I'm reading. Instead of getting recommendations, I'm giving them!

Which author was new to you in 2017 that you now want to read the entire works of? Steve Sheinkin. I read 2 of his YA nonfiction books, and 2 that I didn't count because they're basically early readers (I read each of them in under an hour!) I have another YA one on my shelf that I'm dying to get to and a bookseller was recently raving about another. Basically, when it comes to children's nonfiction, he's the best.

Which books are you annoyed you didn’t read? None really. There are a few that I'll be annoyed if I don't manage to read them by this time next year, but I'm not annoyed yet!

How many books did you read for work?
100. Not counting dozens of picture books. I also didn't count the 3 Macmillan books I read purely for fun that I haven't mentioned more than once in a sales call.

How many different publishers (not imprints) did you read?
11. Unimpressive, but when you consider how many books I read for work, and only 2 publishers count there (Macmillan and Bloomsbury), it's not bad.
Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read? 
If "always" means for the last 3-4 years, then:
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

2016 TOP EIGHT Book Events in Carin’s Book Life:
8. Finished my first year as WNBA Immediate Past-President.
7. Read a seriously new record number of books.
6. Visited the oldest bookstore in the United States, Moravian Bookshop in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
5. Finally found a new book club in Montclair!
4. Got my copy of Women in the Literary Landscape, the WNBA book!
3. Celebrated the WNBA's 100th birthday!
2. Met Carla Hayden! (I know, I didn't get a picture with her, but here I am in the background of a picture of her, proving I was there!)
1. Got my new job at Macmillan!