Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Book Review: 30 Before 30 by Marina Shifrin

I love a list. If it's a list where I can already cross off a whole bunch of things and feel accomplished for having done nothing more than read a list, all the better! So while it might seem a little unusual for a 43 year old to read a book about 30 things to do before you're 30, I figured this sounds like a list where I can check everything off!

Of course not. That's not how a book like this goes. If it's all boring, everyday stuff that most everyone has done, it's not a book. Yes, I've done a few (donate hair) and I could do others if I felt like it (ride a bike across the Brooklyn Bridge) but a lot fell in the category of I didn't want to do them, but it was fun watching someone else (Become Internet Famous.) That one in particular crossed off two things, because it was her epic viral video in which she quit her job that made her famous, so I give Marina big points for that.

For the past several years, stomping on Millennials has felt like a sport, one that is rather mean-spirited and unfair (I'd guess 70% of the things we Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers claim are Millennials being entitled are simply things everyone--including us Gen-Xers and Boomers who apparently have really terrible memories--did ourselves when we were early 20-somethings not because of our generation, but just because of the lack of real-work experience that age dictates. Don't believe me? Rewatch Reality Bites and Friends and the first three seasons of The Real World and get back to me. I'll wait.) I super-appreciate that while Marina's book is an obvious push-back to that attitude, she never names it. Instead, she's happy to let it die a quiet death. Meanwhile, she will try to be positive and uplifting, without being cloying or peppy or annoying, which is a great attitude to have.

Sure, some of the things she does like move to another country where she doesn't know the language, are things I do not aspire to, but hey, I've done things she probably wouldn't enjoy either, and we each get to pick our own life lists. Overall, it was a series of essays that ended up being a memoir, about a 20-something working hard to figure out this Real World and her place in it and how to make a go at it without falling on her ass. That's what most of us were trying to do at that same age, with varying levels of success, and I think other 20-somethings will really identify with her and find her journey inspiring. I found that it reassured my faith in this younger generation who are finding their way through some rather rough terrain.

This book is published by my employer.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Book Review: Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick, narrated by Scott Brick (audio)

I've been trying to bone up on my Revolutionary War knowledge since moving to New Jersey two years ago. Our first apartment here was on a block where George Washington had stayed in a temporary headquarters during the war, briefly, as our town has a good view of Manhattan. And a few months ago I stopped at Valley Forge and walked around. I just don't know much about the war itself, and it's fascinating when I read about it to hear of towns I've been to or driven past, which really brings it home and makes it more real.

Most Americans have heard of Benedict Arnold and know he was a world-class traitor, perhaps the best one that ever lived (at least in this country) what most Americans won't know or even puzzle through is that he was also a world-class general. Don't believe me? Well, think about it: how could he have been in such a position to betray our country on such a level, if he weren't very high up in the military?

He was bad playing politics. And I don't mean in the governing of a country sort of way--I mean playing the politics of sucking up to the powers that be to get promotions, that sort of thing. His social skills were seriously lacking. He was blunt and off-putting. Therefore, despite some really spectacular feats on the battlefields, he often didn't get the promotions and seniority that he rightly deserved (also this was because the Continental Congress got to make promotions in the military, not the military higher-ups. Washington did want him to get promoted.) So over time, he fell behind his peers, and especially he fell behind men who had made major military blunders, who had publicly proven their cowardice, and who were just incompetent. And he was a spendthrift, so he really needed the extra income that came with promotions.

Then he met Peggy Shippen. Mr. Philbrick doesn't outright claim that she was the brains behind his betrayal, but it's heavily implied. Peggy and Benedict got married. And Peggy then introduced him to a British officer, Andre, and Andre and Arnold plotted for Arnold to gain command of West Point (at that time a fort, not a military school) and turn it over to the British. The plot was foiled by Andre's stupid behavior upon attempting to return to the British lines, and he was caught with a letter from Arnold on him revealing the plot. Arnold became a high-ranking British officer. Andre was hanged by the Americans. And I hope Arnold was very happy with Peggy for the rest of his life. America lost a great general, although one who by that point, due to multiple on-field injuries, was not as useful as previously.

And then Mr. Philbrick makes a great conclusion which I never thought of before but heartily agree with: America at this point in time, was distracted, factionalized, and really needed a rallying point for everyone to get behind. And Benedict Arnold turned out to be that thing. King George, as not-awesome as he was, was not an inspiring villain. But Benedict Arnold was! His betrayal really became a rallying point that all Americans could agree on. And it helped coalesce various factions into a single nation. So the rather unusual conclusion is that America needed Benedict Arnold to be a traitor. He couldn't have done a bigger favor for our country.

I borrowed this audiobook from the library via Overdrive.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Book Review: Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Suzette lives with her husband and daughter in their stunning, custom-built home in Pittsburgh, dealing with her irregular health, and her weird, possibly murderous child. She's been h ome-schooling Hanna since she gets expelled from every school, but she can't keep that up much longer and maintain her own sanity. Her husband just doesn't get it since Hannah acts like an angel when he's around, but soon Hannah's dangerous predilections for harming Suzette are undeniable.

Hanna is a creepy, creepy little girl. She reminded me a lot of My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier or The Bad Seed (although I haven't read that, but I know enough about it thanks to the cultural zeitgeist.) But I'm starting to feel that little psychopathic girls are becoming a trope and they needs to be expanded upon before they firmly meld into a cliche. Particularly since according to psychological studies, the vast majority of psychopaths are male.

The narrative switches back and forth between Suzette and Hannah. The Hannah parts felt kind of weird to me, stilted and not like the real voice of a child (always tricky to pull off.) And Suzette's medical issues are presented as a serious problem in the beginning of the book, so much so that you expect them to come back and have some important role in the end, but they don't. For me, the level of tension in the book didn't payoff, but I did like the ending as one that's actually realistic in this situation. However, thrillers about psychopathic kids aren't usually noted for their realistic endings, so I am not sure that's effective. It was a fun read, but uneven, and with some gaps.

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

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Book Review: Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (audio)

What a glorious book! Made all the better by hearing Bruce himself read it on audio.

He had a close, loving, but unstructured childhood, where he often stayed up until all hours and didn't go to school, even as a quite young kid. His family was poor but because his father was a fix-it man, they were the first on their block to have a TV. He never felt truly deprived. His grandmother raised him more than his mother. And then at one point, he decided he really wanted a guitar. His mother bought him one that cost way more than they could afford, but also was a bad guitar, and yet he was determined to make it work. Eventually someone clued him in that he was playing a base as a guitar, and that's why it never was quite right.

One of his first bands had trouble finding a lead singer. They decided everyone in the band should try to sing, and Bruce was rejected instantly for his terrible voice. In fact they made fun of him for years for his bad voice. Like most bands, initially they were a cover band. But then Bruce wrote a song. And another song. It's actually not too surprising that he's a decent writer in this memoir, considering that he's been writing since he was about 16. Occasionally, there was a line where, to my amusement, I could hear the cringe in his voice. He's obviously thought it was really clever when he wrote it, I imagine it's a line that his editor flagged as being twee or eye-rolling or pretentious but he stuck to his guns. And now that he had to say it out loud, I could hear the embarrassment and regret in his voice. (Hint for aspiring writers: read everything you write out loud. You will find tons to fix with that method and catch loads of typos.) I feel smug on his editor's behalf.

Anyway, you hear about what it's like to tour, about his father's tricky mental health, about his first short marriage, about finally getting fame and recognition 20 years after he started playing, about his second happy marriage, about his long-time friendships with bandmates like Clarence Clemmons, about touring some more, about his kids, about being inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, and finally about some of his own mental health issues (which, unlike his father, he gets help for. He both sees a therapist and is on medications.) He really wants to be open about those issues as he wants to destigmatize it so more people, like his father, will get help.

The book was fascinating, fun, well-written, occasionally poetic, and really made me understand what it's like to be a working musician, where this is a job, not a hobby or a lark or a treat. It's a job. And he's the CEO. And he has employees who count on him for their livelihoods. It is a different side of the industry than most people see. And he's had a truly fascinating life. I do wish there had been photos though. That feels like a big loss. I was so excited that I had both the print and audiobooks because I thought, for once I won't be stiffed on the photo insert! But alas, no photos.

My husband bought me the hardcover as a gift at an airport store, and I listened to the audiobook from my local library via Overdrive.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Book Review: Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence by Bill James

In my interview for this job, my now-boss brought up the subject of the genre of True Crime, and how it probably needs to be rebranded. I agree wholeheartedly. But I think that it needs to be broken in half, and that's what needs to be rebranded. In the year and a half since then, I've thought of this a lot. My Mother-in-law reads a lot of true crime, and I read a modest amount, but until this book, the Venn Diagram of our true crime reads had no overlap at all. She tends to read the ripped-from-the-headlines, commercial, tabloid-esque variety (not that there's anything wrong with that!) such as Jaycee Dugard's tell-all and books co-written by People Magazine journalists (really, no judgment. I subscribe to People and I love it.) Whereas the books I read that fall within the True Crime genre are more like The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science, about a nineteenth-century French serial killer. My boss was discussing this because the more literary side of this genre has been on a big upswing, but the books can be hard to sell as the phrase "true crime" has a salacious ring to it that doesn't resonate with literary readers, even if they're missing out.

A few months ago I was at one of my accounts and I mentioned my MIL's birthday was coming up and she liked True Crime, and the buyer immediately went to this title. I knew who Bill James was instantly, having eaten up Moneyball when it was first published. I jumped on it and bought it for her right away. Then I thought, this looks so fascinating, I ought to get one for myself. And when I went to add it to Goodreads, I saw that I already had added it. Hm. (This is why I am religious about my Goodreads or I would own dozens of duplicate copies of books.) And I thought, this could be interesting if my MIL and I both like it. We could actually finally have a book in the middle of the Venn Diagram! So I sat down and read it.

Chunkster as it is, I read it very quickly. James is making the argument that while the intelligentsia looks down on true crime aficionados as exploitative and low-brow, this fascination has been going on for centuries, has been beloved by plenty of the high-brow, and actually has a purpose or two. It helps us to NOT become inured to the horrific goings-on around us, it can actually be a welcome distraction from awful news that is more difficult to mentally and emotionally deal with, and heck, publicizing serial crimes can often lead to arrests and heightened public awareness. He goes back and looks at dozens of "crimes of the century" over the last 200 years in America. He looks at patterns in the coverage of crimes. He looks at how in a few cases like JonBenet Ramsey, the public scrutiny of course screwed up the way the case was handled by the police, irreparably. He does give his opinion of who committed certain "unsolved" murders. He shows how American culture has been influenced by crime, and how crime has influence American culture. He gives his opinions on how and what could help reduce crime and in what ways we're actually exacerbating it. If you are a pop culture junky like I am, and have even a passing interest in the O.J. Simpson case or any of the classics like The Boston Strangler or Ted Bundy, this is a must-read. It is a few years old (2011) so don't expect the high-profile crimes of the last few years to be included. Personally, I was annoyed by a sprinkling of typos throughout, but it happens. And it didn't take away from the masterful synthesis of two centuries of "popular crime" in America.

I bought this book at Solid State, an independent bookstore in Washington DC. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

My Month in Review: June

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

I note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star. I am home for a couple of months before I start traveling for work again, so I should be able to catch up on reading, but this weekend it's supposed to be mind-blisteringly hot which is not great for reading, so we'll see.

Books completed this month:
I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O'Farrell (audio) *
Maybe a Mermaid by Josephine Cameron
Ruby in the Sky by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo
Girls on the Verge by Sharon Biggs Waller
The Astonishing Maybe by Shaunta Grimes
Educated by Tara Westover, narrated by Julia Whelan (audio) *
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate (audio)
Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart
Calypso by David Sedaris *
Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home by Denise Kiernan *
Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story by Peter Bagge
News of the World by Paulette Jiles *

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen
Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly
I bought these two at Park Road Books in Charlotte when I was in town for the Women's National Book Association annual national board meeting.

A friend at the publisher got me a gratis copy of Ask a Manager: Clueless Coworkers, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and Other Work Conversations Made Easy by Alison Green, which is based on my favorite blog.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Book Review: Educated by Tara Westover, narrated by Julia Whelan (audio)

This was a harrowing but compulsive listen. Tara grew up in a fundamentalist Mormon household in Idaho, and somehow, despite no education at all, no support, abuse at the hands of her older brother, and insane indoctrination about the Illuminati, went on to her her Ph.D. from Cambridge. It's obviously fascinating how someone could get from that particular Point A to that Point B, and provides an educated, informed view into a closed-off community. It also provides interesting insights into the mind of someone who has been physically and emotionally abused, and why people keep going back. It had a lot of, "Oh Honey" moments in it, where I wanted to hug her and then lightly smack some sense into her.

Tara's mind must be an amazing place. To have her astonishing intellect, her impressive insights, and her deep understanding of a world most intellectuals dismiss, is to see with new eyes a situation one might assume they superficially understand, but in fact don't at all once you get beneath the top layer. I think most of us, who have not experienced abuse, have really and truly wondered why the abused don't just leave (especially if they're adults--Tara was still a child when her brother started to hurt her, and of course the emotional abuse at her father's hands started well before that.) And for me that was the more interesting and more impactful revelation in this memoir, rather than how did a woman without even a rudimentary home education go to college and on to prestigious graduate schools.

To me, the seminal scene was when she first arrived in Cambridge for a study abroad program as an undergrad and all the faculty and the other students, even the other BYU exchange students, seemed to sophisticated and worldly and confidant--until they were at a chapel where people could climb out of a window onto the roof. Then Tara was the only one who could boldly walk across with utter confidence, as her classmates and professors nervously skittered sideways like terrified crabs. When her professor asked her how she could stand in the strong wind, she pointed out that she could do it exactly as she would do it on the ground. No one ever asks you that on solid ground, no matter how windy it is. It's only the fear or falling that makes the wind seem treacherous. Her incredible perspective was eye-opening.

I get the comparisons to The Glass Castle, but this book completely stands on its own. Tara's story is riveting, educational, and inspirational. The audio version really got me fully immersed. If you are baffled about how, in a family of 6 children who were not even home-schooled, three managed to get Ph.D.s, while the other 3 couldn't even manage to get GEDs, you've got to read this book.

I bought this audiobook from libro.fm, which I subscribe to through Main Street Books in Davidson, NC.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Book Review: The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal

I try to read a little bit of everything, but there are always genres that fall at the bottom of my priority list, and of which I think I don't like an awful lot of the books they contain. A couple at the very bottom are alternative history and science fiction. But, the exception proves the rule! This particular book is both, and I LOVED it!

Elma, a physicist, was a WASP in WWII. It is now 1951 and she and her husband, an engineer for NACA (the precursor to NASA), have left DC for the Poconos for the weekend. As he is getting another log for the fire, they see the brightest flash in the world outside. After less than a minute's discussion, thanks to their informed knowledge, they correctly presume it is a meteorite, and get the heck out of there while they still can. It has hit in Chesapeake Bay. Delaware is gone. Washington DC is gone. Most of Maryland is gone. Everything from New York City to Charleston is on fire. They flew in Elma's 2-seater to the cabin, so they are able to fly out, despite chunks of things falling from the sky unpredictably, and the closest airfield they can find to land at is Wright-Patterson in Dayton, Ohio. There, and later in Kansas City, the country attempts to put itself back together again. Luckily the Secretary of Agriculture was giving a lecture in the Midwest as he is the only surviving member of any of the three branches of government. But some people are whispering in his ear that the Russians must have had something to do with this. Elma's husband asks her to calculate the size of the meteorite and the force it would have taken to shift it off its course. In addition, she comes to a terrifying conclusion. In case it hasn't already occurred to you to think about the last time a meteorite hit earth (dinosaur extinction), she plots out the average temperature over the next few years, and when she gets to the point, around 10 years in the future, when the ocean starts to boil, the conclusion is inescapable: we have to get off this planet. Now.

As you can guess from the name of the series, Elma wants to be one of the first "Lady Astronauts." The desperation and also the fact that NACA (and DC) were wiped off the planet, means there are more opportunities for women and for minorities. But it is still the 1950s.

The book is so much fun! It's based on a short story that won a Hugo award, and when I read than, when I finished it, I felt in physical pain that it was over (I hate short stories and that one proved me right--just as I get into it and get to know the characters and their dilemma, boom, it's over. Wonderful short story. I just wanted it to be 300 pages longer.) It will be a wonderful beach read that is still very smart and one that rockets forward at great speed. And if, like me, when you get to the last page you howl "Nooooooo!", you're in so much luck! The sequel comes out in just SIX WEEKS! Also, these are trade paperback originals, so they're at the less expensive price right out of the gate.

You must go get this book now!

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

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Book Review: Chadwick's Epic Revenge by Lisa Doan

Chadwick has been teased and bullied by Terry, who he likes to call "Nile Crocodile" (hoping that will catch on as a nickname), so he's thrilled when over the summer, he hears that Terry flunked and won't be in his grade next year. He puts a plan into action to try to slowly infiltrate the group of kids at the pool that includes the girl he likes. He doesn't move fast but by the end of the summer, the girl seems to sometimes know who he is, and he considers that a huge success. But then, he gets knocked two steps back when school starts and... Terry is there! Turns out Terry started the rumor himself, in order to fool Chadwick, who he knew would be shocked on seeing him on the first day.

Chadwick is determined to get revenge. He was going to have the best year ever and now Terry is ruining it! Terry starts rumors about Chadwick that stick, and somehow Terry is even becoming popular and even, oh no, does the cute girl like him too? It's the worst! And Chadwick can't stand for it!

With the help of his best friend he comes up with a plan. And it's epic. He'd just better hope it doesn't blow up in his face. And maybe he might also learn that bullying a bully just makes you... a bully. Is that really the best revenge?

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

I got this book for free from my work, as it is published by Roaring Brook, a division of Macmillan.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Book Review: So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y’all Don’t Even Know by Retta

Like an awful lot of celebrities, especially ones in the performing arts, Retta didn't start out fabulous. But I was surprised by her background. Her parents are immigrants from Africa, and she's a first-generation American. She grew up in Northern New Jersey, not far from where I live now. And she worked very hard in school, and despite things being strict at home (and despite there being at times a LOT of relatives there), she was pretty well-liked, well-rounded (she was a cheerleader and did shot-put), and she was certain she was going to be a surgeon one day. Many people were skeptical of her choosing to go to Duke, as it was far away and in the South, but she was pretty happy there. So happy in fact, that she decided to try stand-up one night. After all, everyone said she was funny. And it went great. And she did it again. And eventually she was hosting the open-mic night at the comedy club. And she never went to medical school.

She took risks, she moved away with pretty much just what she had in her car (which was then repossessed!), she pursued a career that no one in her family understood, and she is a bigger African-American woman, so there were a lot of obstacles in her path. At one point, an HBO developer wrote a role for her on a series, but then she had to audition for it which was weird, and then SHE DIDN'T GET IT AND THEY WANTED TO STILL KEEP THE CHARACTER'S NAME "RETTA." (eventually they did change it and the show never got picked up anyway.) But seriously, not getting a role that is written for you and based on you, is a real blow. So when she got the part of Donna on Parks and Recreation, everything seemed pretty hunky-dory. And it pretty much was, although more than once Amy Poehler had to go to bat for her and Jim O'Heir (Jerry), who weren't considered "regulars" until Season 3. Even then, Amy really had to pull weight to get them included on an Entertainment Weekly cover with all the rest of the cast (and Jim was obscured by the title). Still, it was a great thing overall. But you get the feeling that great things are still very much in Retta's future. While it was awesome portraying an African-American woman who flew in the face of many stereotypes, Donna was still a minor character. Retta is a leading lady. You can feel it radiating off every page. Her confidence and insouciance and her just plain old hilarity are screaming for their own sitcom. C'mon Hollywood, you can do it. In the meantime, we can read her quite funny book including amusing footnotes and lists (which she says her publisher insisted she had to include) about her purse addiction and how she's clawed her way up, but never forgot who she is or where she's from.

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

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Book Review: Cottons: The Secret of the Wind by Jim Pascoe

I broke one of my own rules and I regretted it. I try not to read series until they are all available. I hate waiting between books, I have a terrible memory, and then sometimes, like with this one, the book really feels incomplete and like a preamble.

In Cottons, a warren of rabbits go to work every day in a mine, mining carrots which are then made into this magical substance which can do anything. But some rabbits are artists and make other things. And then one rabbit discovers a secret object, like an amulet, which can do real magic. And just as the world-building wraps up, the book is over. And the character-building and the plot have just scraped the surface. I have a feeling that one day when all volumes are available (preferably published as an omnibus), this will be great, but in the meantime, it's just frustrating for me, although with intriguing and beautiful artwork. I can tell a great story is being set up, but I want to read it all nooooooooow!

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.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Book Review: How to Argue with a Cat: A Human's Guide to the Art of Persuasion by Jay Heinrichs

We have two cats, Doozy and Turkey. They are both extremely persuasive in their own ways. Turkey has learned that even though he is almost six, if he makes a tiny kitten meow, he's more likely to get what he wants. Doozy will actually put a paw out towards a food we have that she wants, as if to help direct us. And if you have a cat or six, you'll know what I mean. Do you feed the cats on your schedule, or on their schedule? Do you pet them (and more importantly, stop petting them) when you want to, or when they want you to? Have you ever stopped doing work in order to throw a ball or a mouse or shake a feathery thing? Did you really think, I want to take a break from work right now, or did your cat bring you that mouse and drop it at your feet?

Not only are cats very persuasive, but they are very difficult to persuade. I have been unable to persuade Turkey to stop eating our clothes, so all closets must be kept tightly closed. When I need to lock him in my office for a while, such as when the exterminator was here spraying for ants, he will not be persuaded to relax and chill and hang out. Instead he will spend four hours staring at the door pensively.

If you can persuade a cat to do things, you can persuade anyone. And who better to learn lessons of persuasion from, then your cat? Does he ever argue you into submission? Considering his lack of human language, I'll bet that's a big no. And yet, when I'm cleaning up the grass he has vomited on the carpet after he convinced me for the umpteenth time to let him go out in the yard and eat grass, and somehow he told me, don't worry, this time I won't throw up. I know he's the master of this skill and I am not.

Mr. Heinrichs has written a serious, successful book about the art of persuasion. And here he has taken the same subject, and run with the metaphor, to make for a very accessible, highly entertaining book about silly cats and their ridiculous way (paired with hilarious drawings) which will in the end teach you how to be a more persuasive human, even if your cat will still always win arguments. But maybe now you can at least convince other humans to do what you want. Even if you can never convince cats.

This book is published by Rodale Books, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Book Review: The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman

I don't know about you, but I like my history with a healthy dose of murder. I also like my science with a healthy dose of history and murder (science goes down harder so it needs two spoonfuls of sugar.) Added bonus for all involved if there's also mystery and snark. If all of this is sounding intriguing, you must read The Royal Art of Poison.

It's not a silly book. The author really has done her homework. And she has pulled together lots of historical documents along with modern medical analysis and the occasional modern exhumation to try to piece together which royals may have been poisoned, which may have been poisoned accidentally (perhaps by their own hand through makeup, accidentally when people just didn't know certain things were poisonous, or even purposefully by well-meaning doctors trying to cure the royal of a preceding poisoning or other malady), and which may have died by some other medical issue, such as disease, that may have mimicked some symptoms of poison. Turns out to be a lot of all of the above. A lot of royals were accidentally poisoned one way or another. And some thought to have been poisoned weren't.

Along the way you'll learn some fun science, about for example how the lead in makeup in the Elizabethan era would destroy your skin, forcing you to wear more and more makeup to cover your ravaged skin, creating a hideous cycle. And also how it may have contributed to Elizabeth's volatile temper in her later years. Ah, vanity. And boy, being a royal taster was a bad job. Not to mention ineffectual as most poisons are not fast-acting. I also liked the creativity of some poisons, some of which were laughable (like opening the envelope of a letter that had been poisoned with a poisonous perfume, supposedly could kill with a couple of whiffs. Nope.)

This was a thoroughly enjoyable history of poisonings, attempted poisonings, accidental poisonings, and assumed poisonings. Much fun!

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

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Book Review: Dear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner

Brynn is assigned to write a letter to someone she admires, so she picks Rachel Maddow. To her utter shock, Rachel writes back! Now her teacher wants her to respond. Brynn's not so cool with that (especially because the teacher-suggested topics are dorky/bleh.) I mean, she does write back to Rachel Maddow--hundreds of letters--but she just saves them in her drafts folder and uses that format kind of like a journal. And through writing to Rachel, she starts to deal with her brother's death from a drug overdose last year, her subsequent banishment to a basement classroom for remedial students (she could not keep her grades up after his death), being dumped by her first girlfriend, and her terrible situation at home with her super-jerk of an abusive step-father.

She's pretty  wrung out by everything she's dealing with, and then one day, her ex comes along with one of the school jerks to ask Brynn to sign a petition. It seems that the school board is actually allowing a student representative to help pick the next superintendent, and the petition is to make sure the representative is the best possible, and therefore is an honors student. That's the last straw for Brynn. She decides she wants to beat him and if that means she has to run against him, she will, with the help of her friends in the basement, a new smart girlfriend, and possibly even Rachel Maddow (at least the Rachel Maddow in Brynn's head). Will this help Brynn pull her life back together? Will her life ever stop being a dumpster fire? Will she ever get her grades up enough to get back on the school newspaper?

Things don't go exactly where you think they're going to go and they don't resolve in the way you'd predict, but they still resolve in a very satisfying and true-to-the-characters way, which I actually liked better than the predictable version in my mind at the beginning of the book. Brynn is profane, tries to be hard-hearted, and is in the end very endearing, and I think despite the setbacks she's had, she's setting herself up to live a full and satisfying life, and one where maybe Rachel Maddow is her penpal.

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.

Friday, June 1, 2018

My Month in Review: May

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

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

Since I am at the end of a season, I have allowed myself a little  break to read some non-Macmillan books. I also bought a couple of books, which I rarely do these days.

Books completed this month:
Glass Houses by Louise Penny (audio)
Impossible Owls: Essays by Brian Phillips
Death of a New American: A Mystery by Mariah Fredericks
The Breakdown by B.A. Paris (audio)
Miracle Submarine: A Novel by Angie Kim
The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis (audio) *
Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence by Bill James *

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home by Denise Kiernan *
Calypso by David Sedaris *

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
My Brother Moochie: Regaining Dignity in the Face of Crime, Poverty, and Racism in the American South by Issac J. Bailey
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse
Calypso by David Sedaris

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Book Review: Because I Come from a Crazy Family: The Making of a Psychiatrist by Edward M. Hallowell

When I first ran across this book, I saw he'd also written Driven to Distraction, and I asked my husband, and yep, we have a copy of that on his bookcases somewhere. It's interesting to hear what background brings someone to psychiatry, to be sure, but even more so when it's someone famous.

In his adult life, Dr. Halloweell brought ADD and ADHD into the public awareness, wrote a half a dozen bestselling books, and has been on probably hundreds of TV shows talking about these issues. But he got interested in all of this because, as he says, he himself came from a crazy family.

And it's true. There was a lot of instability in his immediate family. Luckily, he had a strong and robust support system in more extended family, but they couldn't help as much when he moved away. He jokes about how his family has the usual WASP problems of drinking and mental health issues and an unwillingness to deal with any of these problems. His step-father was pretty awful, and after all of the uncertainty, abuse, and alcoholism in his life, as an adult, he wanted to help people like his own father, who lived in a mental hospital for years. (In fact he was conceived one day when his father escaped from the hospital. It was a pretty harrowing description.)

The read felt a little old-school, more in the vein of telling me about his childhood, rather than showing. It was still fascinating, but keeps the reader at arm's length, and never allows you to fully be immersed in the story. But it is a great example of resilience, and how some people just have that trait naturally and can get through horrible experiences relatively unscathed.

This book is published by Bloomsbury USA, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Book Review: How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson

I read I Don't Know How She Does It back when it came out in the early 2000s. While I didn't personally identify with it (I don't have kids), I did thoroughly enjoy it, and looking back now, and looking at my friends with kids, I truly don't know how they do it. It's hard enough to keep up with my life and I do think I'd collapse in a puddle if I had more people to be responsible for. I don't have any additional bandwidth in my life, and it's kind of amazing that the majority of people think they do. Or at least, get by on little sleep, little money, and lots of stress, and somehow stay functional.

At the time the book was also groundbreaking, because it was squarely aimed at the "chick lit" crowd, even though the protagonist was married with children, instead of single and dating. That was the usual trope after all. This broke new ground with still having a funny main character who got into sticky situations, with quirky friends, a difficult job, and even a bit of romance (a flirtation and possible affair!) It was probably the book that for a lot of young women, along with L'Divorce, showed us there was a wider world that we could still identify with and enjoy, beyond The Devil Wears Prada and Confessions of a Shopaholic.

And she's back! Not just Allison Pearson, but Kate Reddy! It's roughly 15 years later, and her kids are in junior high/high school, her husband is embarking on a second career (well, he's in grad school), her beautiful historical home is crumbling, parents are becoming slightly addled and need help, and most importantly, she must return to work, thanks to aforementioned husband quitting his job to get a Master's degree. (Nothing against that to be sure, as my husband did the same just a few years ago, but it really caught my attention that he just up and did it, without ever talking to Kate and without it being a mutual decision.) Anyway, she's not just been out of the world of work for 15ish years which is hard for most women to hurdle, but also she works in high finance, where it's much, much harder. In the world of investment funds, young is considered better, there's a fair amount of ageism which would have impacted her even if she'd stayed in, which makes it a doubly difficult obstacle to overcome. She does get a job, albeit with her old fund. Not just her old company, but at a fund that she founded and got off the ground and managed spectacularly well. (It's not doing as well these days she noted smugly, but also a little sadly.) Given the penchant for youth, the entire department has turned over, so no one remembers her from the old days, so she can lie about her age. But it's also a tad embarrassing to return to a much more junior job than what she once had. Oh well. She can work her way back up, right?

Meanwhile, her kids are getting into all kinds of trouble, starting off with her daughter having a picture of her butt circulated on social media, and going downhill from there. Her husband is completely useless as he's pretty much not around. The handyman working on her house is terrific but often disappears. She has a cadre of good old friends, and some new ones from a support group for older women returning to work, who act as a bit of a Greek chorus of humor. And then, also, her old flirtation returns! How she has time to get anything done in all this chaos is beyond me. But I sure do enjoy reading about it! It's as hilarious (although the problems are naturally more serious so maybe not at the exact same level) as the first book and if you remember that one fondly, you'll love this long-awaited sequel.

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

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.