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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Book Review: Calypso by David Sedaris

Oh David. I love David Sedaris. I've seen him live 5 times. And it's so important, I think, to hear him read his stories, or you miss half of the jokes. Which means that later, I will probably listen to this on audio. Because as it is, while I adored it, it was one of his less funny books.

Granted, a lot of it has to do with or is informed by, the suicide of his sister. But he's dealt with his mother's death in previous books in ways that end up infused with humor. This time around though, there feels to be a thread of melancholy running through. Is it because of aging? A very unexpected and unprepared for death? He also has an essay about his mother's alcoholism which deals with it in a very frank and honest way, with one of the best, most insightful lines on alcoholism I have ever read. After looking back and seeing what perhaps drove the escalation of her drinking, he nevertheless concludes that she was lonely because her kids grew up and left, but she drank because she was an alcoholic. I very much appreciated the lack of excuse and the lack of blame on anything but the alcoholism.

I would love to go to his new North Carolina beach house, the Sea Section (great name!) I have read in reviews that others find his father to be strict and uncompromising but I see none of that--I find his father to be a man stuck in his ways (who among us isn't already, or won't be by the time we're 90) but who genuinely likes spending time with his adult kids and who seems pretty genial if quirky. And I am super impressed that he goes to spin class every day when he's at home. At half his age, I couldn't do that!

What I can do is compete with David's FitBit obsession. I am still annoyed that I chose not to wear it on my wedding day, five years ago. I also wish I could somehow go back in time and own a FitBit (had they been invented yet?) when I walked my full marathon back in 2011. FitBit thinks I've only walked one 35K day in my life (May 11, 2015) but I did that at least 5 times while training for the marathon. I do think obsessed is very much the right word for David's relationship with FitBit, as he paces around an airport despite an intestinal illness. But I wish I could be his FitBit friend. Even if he would kick my ass in any Challenge.

As per usual, David manages to tackle issues both giant and infinitesimal in his trademark humorous way, finding the amusement in even very depressing topics, and finding hilarity in the absurd. My life would be a dream if he would only publish a book every month. I would read them all.

I bought this book at Watchung Booksellers, the independent bookstore in my town.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Book Review: Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin

I had heard of Jim Thorpe before. I knew he was a Native American and a great athlete. And it turns out, that's pretty much all I knew.

Jim Thorpe was, like a lot of Native American kids, sent away to a boarding school run by whites that was designed to get the Indian out of these kids and basically make them as white as possible. It didn't work. Even the students who assimilated 100% still couldn't find jobs in the white community afterwards due to racism and prejudice, so even if it worked perfectly, it didn't work. But the Carlisle Indian School did have one thing that worked: their football team.

This was in football's infancy. Players didn't wear helmets, the forward pass was illegal, and most players played both offense and defense. Jim Thorpe was on Carlisle's track and field team and he was amazing. The coach, Pop Warner (yes, the guy that kiddie football leagues are named after to this day--I didn't know he was a real guy!), didn't think Jim was big enough. But it turns out you don't have to be big if you can outrun everyone. And break every tackle. If eleven men can't drag you down. Warner let Thorpe join the team.

This was also before conferences, right around the time of the formation of the NCAA, and teams made their own schedules. Warner wanted to prove how great his team was, so every year he tried to schedule games against The Big Four: Princeton, Yale, UPenn, and Harvard. Oh, these were all away games for Carlisle, too, making them even more underdogs.

And yet, they usually won. They beat the pants off other schools. And they did it all playing more than fair--from the beginning they knew the prejudice they were up against would end poorly with them, if they resorted to slugging or other illegal but largely ignored tactics that other teams did regularly, so they played extra-clean. And really, while some of them were older, they were mostly a high school team, playing against colleges. And his last year, the biggest game of all was against Army. The player in the same position as Thorpe on the other team was Ike Eisenhower.

Oh, and one summer Jim went to the Olympics and beat the pants off everyone there. His competitors all said he was the best athlete ever. Several news articles including the New York Times repeatedly compared him to Greek gods, and in a memorable comparison said he would have been far better than Goliath and other famous strong men of lore, because he wasn't just strong, but also fast and agile. But also he technically wasn't a US citizen when he competed for the US, because at that time, no American Indians were given citizenship, as ironically, the US government didn't consider them lawfully here.

Jim Thorpe's story is impressive, inspirational, frustrating, and one that all Americans should know. While this book is written for teens, it's not dumbed-down at all, and adults can also read it and enjoy it with ease. Filled with amazing photos throughout.

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, my employer.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Book Review: I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O'Farrell (audio)

I love a good memoir on audio, and if it has to do with medical issues, even better! So when this one came along, I know I'd read it sooner rather than later, and then when I saw it was also pretty short, it rocketed to the top of my list.

Maggie has structured this memoir around moments in her life when she almost died. Some of them terrible accidents resulting in a trip to the hospital. Others a near miss, like when the creepy guy who harassed her on a hike killed someone on that same trail a few days later, or when a brain misfunction caused her to nearly drown in front of her friends. A couple of them she was even too young to remember.

It makes a reader wonder about her own life--have I had 17 near-misses? That seems like an exceptionally high number. I remember going off the high dive at the pool and landing on my back, getting the breath knocked out of my and feeling paralyzed as I sank toward the bottom of the pool (18 feet), watching the daylight get dimmer and dimmer. But then that temporary paralysis wore off and I swam to the top without anyone noticing anything had happened. (I never went off the high dive again.) So that's one.  But 17? Now, one reason Maggie has had so many was a terrible childhood illness that at first they thought she wouldn't survive, and when she did, she had to relearn how to walk and she never regained her body's spacial knowledge, and to this day she can't do two things at once. Walking and chewing gum is a literal impossibility for her. And then in her twenties, that created an impetus to travel broadly and singly, in a death-defying manner, in countries that were dangerous, and to go solo in places where it wasn't smart. Now granted, I think we all did some pretty stupid things in that decade, and most of us just would never know if that creepy guy on the subway went on to be a murderer, or how close we came to being a victim on any given night, stumbling home very late and rather drunk. Perhaps much closer than we realize. And Ms. O'Farrell's book makes us look at our own lives and reevaluate our memories through a much more precarious and dangerous lens.

I listened to this book on Libby via my public library.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Book Review: The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

I can't say too much about this book or I will give away spoilers for the first book, The Calculating Stars. Suffice it to say that I was sick as a dog but I stayed up until 1:00 AM to finish it. I was about to reluctantly put it down with about 40 pages left when Something Shocking Happened and then I was in it to the end. It's a great sequel and I was super bummed to find out there will not be any more Lady Astronaut books (there is a short story which won the Hugo Award, which was published first but which takes place after the two books.) The book doesn't end in a way that precludes the store going on and on. There could be way more books. And I really wish there were!

Once again, like the first book, this is by no means just for Sci Fi lovers, and while it's alternative history, that's a genre that normally makes me itchy but this is the exception that proves the rule. These books are so much fun, easy to read but they make you feel smart, with tons to discuss for book clubs, and anyone who read Hidden Figures would love them. They're the best summer reads I've read in many years. It's early in the year yet (even earlier when I read them in January) and I am pretty sure they're going to end up being my favorites of the year. So I don't care if you don't usually like this kind of book. Read them anyway. You'll thank me.

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

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Book Review: Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

36315374This book turns the typical thriller setup on its head. Georgina--Geo--is a successful young executive at a pharmaceutical company run by her future father-in-law, and everything in her life looks near-perfect on the outside. Until one day when the police arrest her for murder. And not just any police officer--the arresting detective was a friend of Geo's in high school. The victim she's accused of murdering? Was her best friend.

Well, okay, not exactly accused of murdering, but of covering up the murder, done by her boyfriend. He was older, a bad boy, abusive, and quickly taking Geo down a bad path. And now that the past has been uncovered, Geo takes her punishment. She serves her time (a few chapters read a lot like Orange is the new Black) and is released. Upon release, all she has is her car, which her father has kept for her. She moves in with him, and his house is repeatedly vandalized. She can't get a job in their small town, and is ostracized by everyone.

But while she accepted her fate and her role, her ex-boyfriend disappeared halfway through the trial, jumping bail. He is still on the loose. And now, new murders are happening. And they resemble that old murder of her old best friend. Is he after her now? Can she get away? Or is there an even darker secret in Geo's past that's now coming back to haunt her?

I read this book in just a day and half, just ripped right through it. It's a fun, easy read, and is twisty in just the right ways.

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

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Book Review: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I came to this book through the movie, not even knowing it was a book at first. Although it is the most meta of books, as even in the movie it is a book, being read to a sick grandchild by his grandfather. What I didn't expect is for the book to be so similar--including interruptions and skimming and--ew--kissing parts. It was a delight! If you love the movie, you will adore the book. The movie was also written by William Goldman (an award-winning screenwriter whose other credits include All the President's Men). So it does track VERY closely to the book. There are stretches of multiple pages which feel verbatim.

Necessarily there are changes. There are shortenings. Most notably the secret underground "zoo" was cut altogether, and the beginning when Buttercup is introduced and later when she is picked to be the Prince's bride, is much more brief in the movie. Also there are extensive bits back and forth about Mr. Golding's publisher, and about his efforts to track down other manuscripts by "S. Morgenstern" such as "Buttercup's Baby," a chapter of which is included at the back, which are all highly entertaining but made sense to cut.

I was worried that a book with so many asides, which purported to be a history of Gilder and Florin, would bog down, but it was a fun, rollicking story that whipped along. Despite being a rather long book, I whipped through it in just a couple of days. Much fun!

I bought this at Montclair Book Center, a mostly used (but this was new) independent bookstore in my town.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Book Review: Wish Upon a Sleepover by Suzanne Selfors


Leilani wants to have more friends. She has a best friend, Autumn, but she's out of town visiting her father every other weekend, leaving Leilani to only be able to hang out with her grandmother. There's a group of 6 girls named Hailey (some variation of spelling) in their class who are popular and seem like they're always having fun. One Hailey lives in the building next door to Leilani's in Seattle. Leilani comes up with a great idea: she'll plan a sleepover for the Haileys and Autumn, and it will be awesome and afterwards they'll all be friends. While planning her sleepover (theme: luau!), a few kids annoy her and she makes not only an Invite list but also a Do Not Invite list (admittedly, a not nice thing to do, but she never meant for this to be seen by anyone other than her.) Her grandmother then "accidentally" send her invites to the Do Not Invite list, argh! So she has three kids she doesn't especially like (and Autumn) come over. While she can see the Haileys at their own sleepover in the next building. 

Her grandmother then tells Leilani about a Hawaiian tradition of Sleepover Soup which she starts. Each person must contribute an ingredient that means something to them and is from somewhere important. Then they all drink the soup together under the moon, and good things will happen. If you caught on that this is a variant of the "stone soup" story, congratulations, you are correct!

Naturally, by the end of the evening, the scavenger hunt for ingredients brings the kids together, they reveal personal things about themselves and end up liking each other and forging bonds. (They also have a run-in with the Haileys and the main one is quite bitchy, although another Hailey would like to be invited to their party next time, showing they're not all obnoxious.) And in the end, did her grandmother do much much more than she claimed, for Leilani to gain some new, better friends? A sweet story without being cloying, fun without being frenetic, and with lessons learned but not heavy-handed, this was a thoroughly enjoyable book.

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 Imprint, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

My Month in Review: July

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 have been able to catch up on reading. Now, to get ahead! Luckily lots of rain predicted this week. But that was true last week also, while on vacation, and the rain was underwhelming.

Books completed this month:
News of the World by Paulette Jiles*
Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution
by Nathaniel Philbrick, narrated by Scott Brick* (audio)
Love Saves the Day by Gwen Cooper*
Tito the Bonecrusher by Melissa Thomson
Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos by Lucy Knisley
Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sergeant Isaac Woodard and the Igniting of the Modern Civil Rights Movement by Richard Gergel
Strangers Assume My Girlfriend Is My Nurse by Shane Burcaw
Manfried the Man by Caitlin Major and Kelly Bastow*
Force of Nature by Jane Harper (audio)
The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot Against George Washington by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
The Breakaways by Cathy G. Johnson

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Peacock Feast: A Novel by Lisa Gornick
Conan Doyle for the Defence by Margalit Fox (audio)*
Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story by Peter Bagge

What I gave up on:
The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home by Denise Kiernan *
This seemed to have a lot of potential but it turns out the Vanderbilt who built the Biltmore didn't do anything else interesting.

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Vox by Christina Dalcher--the publisher sent this to me.
Meaty by Samantha Irby I bought this at the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, VT