Saturday, September 21, 2019

Book Review: Pippa by Design: A Story of Ballet and Costumes by Claudia Logan

I took ballet from the age of 5 until my freshman year in college. What I lacked in talent and flexibility, I made up for in stamina and the ability to go on pointe easily and without damage to my feet. However, neither of those things ever came close to making me a good dancer. In one of my last performances, I was in The Nutcracker. I was a snowflake. Yes, most of my friends in the Intermediate II class were the Candy Cane and Chinese Tea and Spanish... something and the wind-up dolls, a few of us were relegated to the corps. Well, someone has to be in the corps! And less than an hour before the performance, someone appeared and said that our snowflake costumes were missing something. She had these pieces of tulle with sequins in the shape of a snowflake. Those were supposed to have been attached to our bodices beforehand but were forgotten. Did anyone know how to sew? Well, I did.

So, while normally anything involving bodies and touching and possible nudity would have been the most squeamish thing to us 13-14-year-olds, there was a show to go on, and we were athletes. So I grabbed the needle and thread and whip-stitched those appliques onto the bodices of my fellow snowflakes--while they were still wearing them (which meant yes, I had one hand down the front of their shirts. And no, you can't wear a bra with this sort of costume.) It was most awkward when trying to do my own which probably ended up being the most poorly attached, but it only had to stay on for 20 minutes or so, it wasn't the most strenuous dance, and it had to look good from 20 feet away or further, so we completely got away with it.

All of this incredibly long explanation goes to show why I was so drawn to this lovely children's book. Pippa's sister takes ballet and is chosen to be one of the children featured in the upcoming professional performance of Sleeping Beauty. Pippa, who has to sit in the hallway waiting with her mother during the interminable practices, amuses herself with sketching. One day she forgets her sketchbook. When they return the next day to retrieve it--it's gone missing. It is returned a week later with a note, which turns out to be from the head of the wardrobe department at Toronto's National Ballet of Canada, who is very impressed with Pippa's fashion sketches. For the entire run of rehearsals leading up to the performance, Pippa is allowed to spend all her time in the wardrobe department, and is eventually named as an intern, learning all the intricacies of costuming for ballet, and in the end even saving the day. It's an utterly fascinating look behind the scenes for any aspiring ballerina, but it was also a lovely look at how both sisters can enjoy different aspects of the same interest. Ballet costumes are crazy complicated! Between sweat and flexibility and the stiff stand-out tutus, and costumes that don't injure the ballerina's male companion as he lifts her or spins her, there's a heck of a lot that goes into these, and it was a riveting read.

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

This book is published by Farrar Straus and Giroux BYR, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Book Review: Born to Fly: The First Women's Air Race Across America by Steve Sheinkin

Can we all agree, Steve Sheinkin is just the best when it comes to kids' nonfiction? I think it's just not even a contest. But this book sure was! It's about the first women's air race!

Amelia Earhart may be the only women from the early days of flight who we can name today but she was by no means the first, the fastest, or the best. Yes, she was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Did you know on that first flight, she was a passenger, not a pilot? She was recruited to do it, and while the pilot was paid $20,000 and the mechanic was paid $5000, she was paid zero. (She did later become the first woman to pilot a plane across the Atlantic also. Those two records are often confused/conflated.)

But this book is about so much more! It's about Marvel Crosson (her real name, not a nickname!) and Louise Thaden and Elinor Smith and a dozen more women pilots of the 1910s and 1920s. This race took place in 1929, in a time when it took 4 days to fly halfway across the country. It started in California and ended in Ohio and the race lasted 9 days. These women were badasses. At a time when flight was still experimental and incredibly dangerous, they faced sexism, some outright laws against them, and they did it all better than the men (not that anyone seemed to notice that! But the number of deaths and injuries was way, way below what it was in men's air races.) Riveting, fascinating, and just plain 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 Roaring Brook, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Book Review: Stargazing by Jen Wang

Wow, this is different from Jen's previous book, The Prince and the Dressmaker!

Christine is a good girl. She does everything her parents want, including taking Chinese lessons after school. When Moon and her mom move into their garage apartment, her parents push her to befriend Moon, who is strange. Soon Moon has introduced Christine to all kinds of fun stuff like painting your nails and K-Pop (a couple of side effects her parents didn't see coming and aren't thrilled about.) But when Moon goes from being the weird girl at school, to becoming popular, Christine gets jealous and does something she regrets. Then Moon has a crisis which changes everything.

I loved this story of two different ways to "be Asian" and about first rebelling as kids get older, and starting to figure out who you are and what you like aside from your parents. It's also about making friends, even if they're weird, and then the odd, hard realization that you need to share your friends.

Finally, there's Moon's health crisis. I was shocked in reading the author's note at the end, to discover the same thing had happened to Ms. Wang. I then was fascinated by her decision to tell the story not through the eyes of Moon, but her friend. For Ms. Wang to have somewhat based this story on her own life--but not to make herself the central character is an interesting decision.

Everything felt very real and relatable, even though I grew up very differently. Some parts of childhood and maturing are universal.

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, September 11, 2019

Book Review: For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity by Liz Plank

I didn't want to read this book. It looked like a feminist polemic, and while I am very much a feminist, I find a lot of the literature didactic, humorless, and strident. But I was asked, for work, to read just the introduction before Sales Conference. I did. And then I stopped and put it away and read a dozen more books.

And yet, I couldn't stop thinking about it. At the very end of the season, I picked it back up and read the whole thing. It's not a fast read. I generally found I couldn't read it several nights in a row. There was just too much to think about, to chew on. I needed several days between chapters. The basic thesis is this: toxic masculinity isn't just terrible for women. It's actually worse for men.

For example, over the last 50ish years, thanks to the women's movement, women's career options have expanded exponentially to include pretty much everything. Men's haven't. As someone married to a man who used to be a teacher and now is a social worker, both women's jobs, I'll tell you it's not always easy on him, both to be in such a women-focused environment (and yet still be perceived as the privileged majority) and also to work in fields where the salary has always been kept low because they're perceived as "women's jobs." Just think if instead of politicians insisting they are going to bring back manufacturing jobs and factory work and coal mines and the like, instead we retrained those unemployed men to work in the health fields, which is a growing area, you can get a job pretty much anywhere, and always be guaranteed of employment. Wouldn't that be a better world? But because of the mindset of toxic masculinity, the men who work in those dying industries would never consider making that kind of change to a touchy-feely girls' job. So men are limited.

Plank talks about a talk she gave when she asked the audience how many of them had daughters. Hands went up. How many of them had told their daughters "you can do anything boys can do." Hands all proudly stayed high up. She then asked how many of them had sons. And how many of them had told their sons, "you can do anything girls can do." All the hands went down.

Toxic masculinity hurts men in every aspect of their lives, from health to relationships to family to work to mental health and well-being. But it will never be addressed and resolved, unless we truly understand the consequences and the price of not doing so. Hopefully this important book is a first step down that road.

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

Monday, September 9, 2019

Book Review: Do You Mind If I Cancel?: (Things That Still Annoy Me) by Gary Janetti

A funny collection of personal essays by a former producer of Will and Grace. They're mostly about him being gay, about his twenties, about figuring himself out, and going through a series of terrible jobs (mostly he could only get terrible jobs because he was terrible.) They are snarky, humorous, very much about being gay, name-droppy, and fun.

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

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Book Review: Trapeze by Leigh Ansell

I'd never read a crowd-sourced book before, and I wasn't sure how it would be. This book is being published by Wattpad, the app where writers can upload manuscript and readers can read, comment, and review them. Wattpad has decided to publish in print the books that are the cream of the crop. I think it's great that for their first list, all of the books are Young Adult. As much as editors try desperately to keep their thumb on the pulse of the zeitgeist, teens also want desperately to keep adults out. Not to mention, the trends and needs just change so darn fast. I think YA books in particular can really benefit from the readers telling us publishers what they want to read, instead of the other way around.

This book took several twists I wasn't expecting. It starts out with Corey doing her usual pre-show routine in a new town: heading to the closest restaurant for dinner. if the food is good, the show goes well. The show meaning, the circus, where she's in the trapeze act. Until Sherwood, California. She meets a cute boy at the restaurant, he highly recommends the fries and he's right--they're amazing. and things seem to be heading towards amazing with the lead trapeze artist promoting Corey into the lead position for the first time, but in the middle of their act, the worst thing happens: fire.

Stop reading now if you don't want some minor spoilers. But I do need to tell you a little more to really explain the book. Because at this point, I was thinking the book was Water for Elephants meets The Circus Fire for teens, but it completely stops being about the circus or the fire at this point. Corey's aunt, who owns the circus, has been raising her since Corey's own mom, who was a teen when she had Corey, was a hot mess when she was a baby. Turns out her mom lives in Sherwood and has gotten her act together. While the investigation happens and various people are hospitalized and the circus itself doesn't have the funds to repair, let alone move on, they're stuck here for now. And it's best for Corey to go live with the mom she's never known. So she'll be attending the local high school (with the cute guy who likes French fries) and she SO doesn't want anyone to know she's from the circus, although her spotty education up to this point might out her. Turns out the cute boy is in her Precal class and is great at math and can tutor her.

At this point I was expecting just a traditional teen romance, but things took yet another turn or two! There's a lot more meat on the bone of this book than I had expected, and I really appreciated that. I do wish Corey had checked in more with the circus and her friends and family there, as it felt very cut off from the beginning of the book and like she didn't care about the circus, but I'm choosing to interpret that as simply her being too overwhelmed by her circumstances, and the natural self-centeredness of teens developmentally. It does circle back around at the end. The book is melodramatic in all the best ways for teens, pretty darn clean in terms of sex (but there is excessive drinking and some violence), and certainly unique in storyline and background. I think teens will eat it up. And that cover is just gorgeous!

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 Wattpad, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Book Review: Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden

Bea has run away. At a gas station, she runs into Lou, an older family friend, who is driving to West Texas to visit family. Bea says she is on her way to West Texas too, and Lou gives her a ride. Bea is angry and volatile, but luckily Lou is both understanding and no-nonsense. As the miles tick away, they rescue a lost cat, and determine to try to return her to her home. Mysterious men in a van start following them, and the town where the cat is from seems to have magical elements. as fantastical things happen, Bea and Lou come to understandings about themselves and their pasts, and what they want for their futures. And the cat.

Lushly drawn, in a Texas I've never seen before full of snow and magic, these two women come to terms with themselves. With the help of a snow-white cat.

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

Sunday, September 1, 2019

My Month in Review: August

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

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

Books completed this month:
Go to Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood by Lucy Knisley
A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner
InvestiGators by John Patrick Green
What Stars Are Made of by Sarah Allen
Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
Chirp by Kate Messner
The Phantom Twin by Lisa Brown
It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood
All Boys Aren't Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson
Catching a Russian Spy: Agent Les Weiser Jr. and the Case of Aldrich Ames by Bryan Denson
The Secret Guests: A Novel by B.W. Black
Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Maris Wicks
A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II
by Sonia Purnell, narrated by Juliet Stevenson (audio) *
The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer
Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer (audio) *

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
You're Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
When Did the Statue of Liberty Turn Green? And 101 Other Questions about New York City by Jean Ashton*
The League of Wives: The Untold Story of the Women Who Took on the U.S. Government to Bring Their Husbands Home by Heath Hardage Lee (audio)

What I acquired this month (non-work books): 
None! I was good!

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Book Review: Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson

Amara grew up outside of Portland, Oregon, which she does love, but she's always been so curious about her dad's hometown of New York, specifically Harlem. After pestering and bothering her parents about this, they finally agree she can accompany her father on a business trip to the city, when she's assigned a project at school about family and where she comes from. This way she can finally meet her grandfather and cousins. Along the way she discovers her father and his father haven't spoken since she was born. And she's horrified to learn her grandmother died the same day that she was born. 
Once in Harlem, her cousins don't turn out to be perfect, and she doesn't understand the city. She does go to see some things she really wants, like The Apollo, and also some more off-the-beaten path attractions like the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. She does get to know her family better, and if she plays her cards right, she might even get her dad and grandfather talking again. She learns a lot about herself, her family's history, and where she comes from both geographically and metaphorically. 

I think the thing I liked the most about this book, is that through Amara's eyes, it will encourage kids to see, perhaps for the first time, that their parents are humans, who once were kids, who might have difficult relationships with their own parents. Kids often idealize and dehumanize their parents into perfect automatons of parenthood, instead of seeing them as flawed, 3-dimensional people. This isn't a front-and-center issue and it's something only adults can appreciate, but I do think it's important, especially today. It was easy to read, compelling, and filled to the brim with new experiences for Amara. She even has a first-time experience of getting into a fight with her cousin and being accused--as a black girl by another black girl--of being privileged. Which she is, although she's never seen her life that way. This is a multilayered 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 Bloomsbury, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Book Review: The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine

Daphne and Laurel are twins obsessed with words. Just a few years older than me, they grew up in the 1970s in Westchester and as soon as they're old enough, they move to Manhattan. A lifelong relationship with an unabridged dictionary, torturing their therapist uncle, and of course their own very personal relationship with each other and with being twins, suffuses every pore of this novel.

I found it fascinating that my sympathies actually shifted throughout the book. Initially, I liked Daphne more. Laurel seemed smug and competitive and almost like she expected Daphne to fail at everything. But when Laurel has a baby and doesn't go back to work, and instead Daphne begins to thrive at her job at an independent newspaper, eventually leading to a column, a book deal, and then a column in The New York Times, my loyalties changed. Laurel seemed more sympathetic, less sure of herself, and Daphne seemed judgmental and--quell horror!--dogmatic in her grammar dictates at the expense of accuracy. (FYI, yes you CAN end a sentence with a preposition and also split an infinitive. Not only are neither wrong, those "rules" were made up just a scant hundred years ago by pedants who wishes English was a Latinate language. It's Germanic. If those are hills you want to die on, you need to know your hills were built on sand.)

This book covers close to 50 years in their lives, as they grow from babies who speak in a language all their own, to adult who don't speak to each other at all, with all the stops along the way. For anyone into language, grammar, literature, and words, this book will amuse immensely. If not, just come along for the relationship between two sisters who couldn't be more alike--and more different.

This book is published by Farrar Straus and Giroux, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Four audiobook reviews

I've just been too busy to review everything I've been reading lately, so I thought I'd combine 4 audiobooks into a single post to try to catch up a bit.

In My Father's House: A New View of How Crime Runs in the Family by Fox Butterfield

As we all now know that true crime works really well on audio, and this is not a salacious account of murders but instead, a sociological look at a single family of criminals, and because most crimes are committed by a tiny percentage of the population, how dealing with families like this could have a major impact on society at large. The book looks at this family's background, the major players, the few who got out unscathed, and the repercussions of their criminal activity in the region and beyond. Fascinating.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, read by Lynn Chen (audio)

I read very, very little fiction on audio. I find it much harder to follow than nonfiction, and also a small distraction can cause the missing of crucial information, ruining the book. But I thought I could manage this one, hvaing seen the movie twice. I knew who the major characters were and could probably mostly keep them straight, and I even knew where the plot was going, although the ending is different (truth be told, I prefer the movie's ending.)

I enjoyed the book very much. There's much more detail of course. But I missed that Peik Lin wasn't as big of a character (I get that's mostly due to Awkwafina's portrayed being so fantastic, they made the part bigger in the movie. But I liked that. I did like getting much more of Astrid's background. And while the portrayal of certain characters was unbalanced compared to their impact on the story, I believe that's because the story goes on in future books and those characters prove more important later.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

Another audiobook that's a half-step removed from true crime, and features a Pulitzer-Prize winner novelist as the main character--this seemed like a no-brainer! Harper Lee's life has been so fascinating, despite a couple of movies (well, the movies were mostly about her best friend Truman Capote and she was a side character) and a biography, we don't know much about the reclusive author of To Kill a Mockingbird, the posthumous release of Go Set a Watchman just confused everyone further, and then when this book came out, claiming to recreate a true-crime book Harper wrote but never published, well, that's pretty much literary gold. The beginning of the book truly is true crime, telling the full story of Willie Maxwell who killed his first two wives, a step-daughter, a cousin, and basically a half-dozen or so family members, then the book dives into Harper's story from her childhood in Alabama to her adulthood in New York City, and finally, when she worked on writing the book that was never published, about Willie. A fascinating look at a messed-up woman and how amazing it is that someone so accomplished still felt like she had something to prove, and yet never did.

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell, read by Juliet Stevenson

Not too shocking, but the best spy in WWII was a woman, and everyone around her tried to deny that for decades.

Virginia Hall was raised to marry well, but instead she was an independent minded young woman from Maryland who tried to join the CIA, then moved to England to join the secret service there instead, who set up the French Resistance, and after she was revealed, escaped by hiking over the Swiss Alps on a moments' notice. Oh, and she had a wooden leg which almost no one knew. England wouldn't put her back in the field, so she quit and went back tot he US, which was in the war finally at this point, and joined the OSS. She deployed back to France and continued to help the Resistance so much that the area she was in, which had been known as a Nazi stronghold, was liberated from the Nazis by the locals two days before the Allies liberated Paris. The intelligence she provided, the sabotage she coordinated, and simply the hope she gave to the French people immensely helped the outcome of WWII, possibly more than any one individual, certainly anyone below the level of world leader or general.

I thoroughly enjoyed all of these audiobooks. None stood out as amazing. But all were great, captivating, kept me listening, and are worth you checking out as well.

I checked out all of these on Libby/Overdrive through my local public library.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Book Review: King of the Mole People by Paul Gilligan

Things are not going well for Doug Underbelly. His family moved into a freaky old house with a cemetery in the back yard. His father makes meals exclusively out of eels. His efforts to fit in at school all fail miserably. He has a back-up bully for when his primary bully is otherwise busy. And he's been made the King of the Mole People. Can it get any worse?

This book is pretty friggin hilarious. I'd have loved a silly book like this when I was a kid. It's all about fitting in, accepting yourself for who you are, helping out your true friends, and maybe caring a little less about what the other kids at school think about you in the meantime. And apparently you can make quite tasty mac & cheese from eels, who knew? Poor Doug will work things out, both above and below ground, although not the way he's expecting, and not in the way he'd like, but things do work out. And I'm pretty psyched to see what the King of the Mole People gets up to next!

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 Henry Holy BYR, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Book Review: Revolution of the Soul: Awaken to Love Through Raw Truth, Radical Healing, and Conscious Action by Seane Corn

I wasn't sure about this book. I'm not really into yoga and yoga celebrities induce eye-rolling in me, and it also seemed like a woo-woo kind of book. But I needed to read it for work, so I did. And I'm glad I did. It wasn't what I was expecting at all.

First of all, it isn't a yoga book at all. It's a book in which Seane talks about yoga a lot, although more as a concept and a belief and lifestyle, rather than a physical events. But it's about the principles and core beliefs of yoga, not the movements or poses. It's not about yoga to lose weight or get healthy or gain flexibility. None of that. If you get into yoga and those things happen, good for you. But yoga is about applying the many underlying principles about how to live a good life, to your own life. You can be yoga without ever touching a mat.

It's also about Seane's personal journey. It starts off as she's a bartender in a sketchy but fun bar in the East Village in the late '80s when it's a very dangerous and rundown place. When her friends at the gay sex bar she works at start dying of AIDS, she starts rethinking her own life and how she can live it better. In her daytime waitressing job, her bosses are vegetarian and do yoga, and she decides to give these things a whirl in order to clean up her act somewhat, never expecting it to completely change her life. But it did. She eventually moves to LA and through yoga--and also therapy and a hilarious life coach--she starts to deal with traumas from her past, her not-great coping methods, and the results of those. After years of working on herself, she starts to give back to the community, with varying results, and also in ways that show her how far she still has to go, to reach perfection. She starts with the Evolution of the soul, and moves to the Revolution.

The book isn't overly preachy (and I was highly sensitive to that going in) and she very much emphasizes finding your own way. It's a tad pedantic when it comes to the principles of yoga, many of which overlap with Buddhism, so I was already familiar (having taken a class in Buddhism in college). Those parts might bog down for people who are baffled by the unfamiliar words and names and concepts. But she's really trying for an accessible introduction to these principles, and an easy-to-understand outline for how you can improve your life--and eventually the world--should you want to make things better. She very much emphasizes that everyone has their own path, although one area in which she's very rigid, is that radical honesty is the only way through--not just to others, but most importantly with ourselves, in seeing our flaws, our prejudices, our assumptions, and our areas for growth.

If you're looking for some help in changing things up and improving your life, Seane Corn can be an excellent guide onto a path. She hopes it will be a good path for you. I do too.

This book is published by Sounds True, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Book Review: The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

I have long wanted to read Ann Cleaves, as she's a maven of the contemporary British mystery, but I hate starting a long series in the middle, and I didn't know which of her two ongoing series I should try first. Then, everything changed. Those series are done and this new one has begun, so it was easy to jump right in.

After a difficult childhood and youth, Matthew's life is finally on track. He's married to a lovely man, promoted to head detective, and living in a beautiful house by the sea. It's in his old hometown, where many of the people in the cult he was raised in still live and shun him, but other than that, it's idyllic. A body turns up at the beach, and during the investigation, his entire life is upended. He has to interact with those people from his past again, including his mother, his husband is falling under some suspicion, and his dedication to his work is called into question. How can a single murder ruin everything so quickly? And can Matthew solve the case and get his life back?

This mystery reads like a long-ago classic while being completely contemporary at the same time (accomplishing that by setting it in the middle of nowhere where it feels like time has stood still, even though it certainly has not.) Ms. Cleeves is certainly a master of the genre, keeping me guessing along the twists and turns of the case, while never making me feel left in the dust or like important clues were being withheld. The ending came naturally and satisfactorily, and I really look forward to the next book in this Two Rivers series.

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

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Book Review: Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl

I have read several Ruth Reichl memoirs, and if you have enjoyed them too, this one won't disappoint.

Tired of life as a restaurant critic, with late nights out, never having dinner with her family, and never even getting just to eat what she wants and purely enjoy it, Ruth is startled but jumps when she's asked to take over the helm of Gourmet magazine, long-respected but perhaps past its prime. She works tirelessly to bring Gourmet into the 21st century, and despite never having worked at a magazine before, she slowly, with a few missteps, manages to do so. And then the rug is pulled out from under her.

With luscious descriptions of food (I really wanted to be at the movie-viewing photo shoot as the meal shot there made me so hungry) and vibrant personalities and the glamour of Conde Nast, this is a wonderful book to get lost in. I listened to the audio but apparently there are a few recipes throughout (which are strange to hear read out loud) if you are more ambitious than I am. Ms. Reichl reads the book herself which is nice as you know the pronunciations are correct. She has a very soothing voice.

I downloaded this eaudiobook from Libby/Overdrive through my local library.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Book Review: Why My Cat Is More Impressive Than Your Baby by Matthew Inman, aka The Oatmeal

I saw this book in a store, neglected to buy it, regretted it, and several days later ran across it in another store and jumped on it. After all, I love my kitties and I have no baby, so this book was a natural for me.

The Oatmeal is a hilarious, well-known cartoon I've run across a few times over the years and always enjoyed when I did. I nearly bought the last book, How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You, except that I assumed it would be a very short book (answer: yes.) In this book, the cat is often plotting to kill the baby. But the cat is so obviously superior to the baby that death isn't warranted--the battle was won before it began. With hysterical cartoons about pyromania, poop, and the vast superiority of cats, this book will be a real winner with pretty much any cat lover, even those odd ones who seem to prefer babies. There's simply no denying their aroma and lack of self-cleaning mode.
Are those the eyes of a killer? Yes.
I discovered this book at Loyalty Bookstore in Washington DC but I bought it at Kramerbooks, also in DC.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Book Review: Carnegie Hill: A Novel by Jonathan Vatner

Pepper is an heiress. She's really never had to work, but she's wanted to, and she's had a variety of jobs, but she's never figured out what she's good at or what she wants to do. She's hoping, after moving into the Chelmsford Arms apartment building in tony Carnegie Hill in Manhattan, that being on the board will help her to feel more like an adult. As will getting married to Rick.

In addition, being on the board means she will meet more people in the building and make friends. They're all much older than her but that's okay, she wants the benefit of their experience. She sees these happy older couples and wants to know what they know--how to be happy.

The book then switches narrators quite a few times (although always circling back to Pepper), and shows us the inside of the marriages of Birdie and George, and Francis and Carol. And things are not as rosy as they seem. In fact, the longer she lives there, the more facades she uncovers and the more Pepper starts to realize that no one is as put-together as they seem, and maybe she should stop striving so hard for that. There is one happy couple in the building--a gay porter and doorman. But they are closeted at work as it's a very conservative building. As Pepper slowly comes to discover what it is she wants in life, and how to claim her happiness, relationships around her shift and change.

I went into this book expecting something light and fluffy, but instead it got fairly dark at times, as life can do, and yet it was ultimately a hopeful novel. It's almost as if, by removing the gilt and showing the grit underneath, we're exposed to something ultimately more beautiful, more real. I know this is a bold thing to say, but this book felt a bit like what Edith Wharton might be writing today (had she ever done multiple-narration.) Mr. Vatner is simultaneously sympathetic to and skewering of the upper classes in a way that makes them feel much more relatable. And this book has kept me thinking, weeks afterward.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Book Review: Every Patient Tells A Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis by Lisa Sanders (audio)

Dr. Sanders writes a weekly column in the New York Times Book Review about strange illnesses and difficult diagnoses, that became the inspiration behind the TV show House (just the unusual diagnoses, not the personality of the doctor, thankfully!) I loved the show and was on the lookout for the book for years. I was surprised to find it available on audio!

The book meanders a bit. She shifts from unusual diagnoses to how we teach doctors (poorly, for the most part), to her own background--a journalist initially, she went to med school quite late--to some unusual doctors she meets along the way. It was all still thoroughly enjoyable for me, but I do understand that some people, looking for a more clearly honed theme, might find it gets off track too much for their taste. However, if you are very much an armchair physician who isn't reading this book to learn about how to diagnose or to learn clinically about unusual medical conditions, you might, like me, enjoy it very much.

It also happened to hit just as I was getting over a rather strange and not easily diagnosed virus myself, so I felt almost like I should be a subject in the book. Some of what she described in terms of the fears of undiagnosed patients, and then the lack of robust information about how to treat more unusual conditions, really hit home. The chapter on the blind doctor was particularly fascinating, and proved something many of us have heard before--all the information is there already. It just needs to be heard. It's easy for all of us, not just doctors, to get too focused on the largest issue, which is perhaps just a symptom, not really the problem.

I bought this audiobook from Libro.fm, through an independent bookstore, Main Street Books in Davidson, NC.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Book Review: Cross Stitch The Golden Girls: 12 Patterns Inspired by Your Favorite Sassy Seniors by Haley Pierson-Cox

I was in one of my accounts, waiting for my buyers to meet me for my appointment, and I was browsing just outside of the room where we meet which is also where the Receiver works. I was looking at candles or soaps when I heard the Receiver say to another employee, "What on earth is this? Cross-Stitch the Golden Girls!?"

My head whipped around and I practically ran into the room. I snatched it out of  her hand and hugged it to my chest. I announced I was buying this right now. She said she actually needed it back to receive it before I could buy it, and I reluctantly peeled my fingers from the cover to let her do her job.

This isn't a book that you read. It's a book that you do. About 40 pages of book are in the front, with a paper over board cover, attached to a box, in which you'll find 2 squares of Aida fabric, an embroidery hoop, a needle, and 7 colors of thread--enough to do 2 of the patterns (but not any two patterns. Two specific patterns.) If you don't know how to cross-stitch, there are instructions.

I did one of the preselected patterns, "As They Say In St. Olaf," and then I broke out my own DMC floss in order to do the cover pattern as well with the four women sitting on the sofa, which uses about 15 colors of thread. Here are my finished (but unframed) products:

I could not be more delighted with this fun booklet of Golden Girls cross-stitch patterns. It actually got me to pick back up the giant cross-stitch I've been working on for ten years but which I have had put away for the last year. My best book purchase this year!

I bought this book at Browseabout Books in Rehobeth Beach, DE.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Book Review: Campusland by Scott Johnston

I am a faculty brat. My father is a now-retired professor of economics at Vanderbilt University. I was born at Vanderbilt Hospital. I practically grew up there. I spent every summer in college (and spring break and fall break and Christmas break) working at the Vanderbilt Bookstore. One of my father's specialty areas is the economics of education. I was his research assistant for many years in my teens and twenties and learned a lot about the high ed system. I kick butt when the "colleges and universities" category comes up on Jeopardy! Needless to say, I very much gravitate to academic novels.

In this book, we are at the fictional Devon University, an Ivy League college about two hours north of Manhattan. Eph is an English professor, specializing in 19th century American lit, on the tenure track. He's dating D'Arcy, the executive assistant to the college president. Everything seems hunky-dory in his life. Until a group of radical students (mostly not enrolled in his class) infiltrate his class, stage a protest over Huck Finn and its language, record a video of the protest, edit it to make Eph look very bad, and post it online. He is cleared eventually, mostly due to Lulu, a first year rich girl from Manhattan, who then proceeds to hit on him. While he politely and firmly rebuffs her, after a night when she stumbles home drunk after falling and giving herself a black eye, her R.A. insists on knowing who assaulted her. After a lot of pressure to name her attacker, she names Eph. Chaos ensues. And I haven't even mentioned the faux-British society, the literal ball-and-chain, the paper mache giant penis, the rapper, the movie star, and other myriad craziness that effectively passes for this not-quite-a-parody of university life today. Will Eph clear his name? Will Lulu figure out what to do with her life (and come clean about Eph)? Will Huck Finn be banned? What has happened to colleges today?

In the vein of Dear Committee Members and Straight Man, this is a very funny academic novel that will have insiders crowing, and most of us laughing at nervously (especially those with college-age kids).

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

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Book Review: Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

I hadn't meant to read Ms. Center's last book, How to Walk Away, but as I thought I was just skimming the first 10 pages, I accidentally read the first 50, and then I was hooked. So I figured this book would similarly be captivating and a fast read, and I was right. Also for anyone who loved that book, the main character in this book is a very minor character in the previous book.

Cassie is a firefighter in Austin. (She pulled Margaret out of the plane in How to Walk Away, which is only mentioned in a single sentence in this book.) As she's getting a prestigious reward for bravery, she realizes the person presenting the award is a Very Bad Guy from her past. She thinks she can grit her teeth and get through this. As he hands her the plaque, he grabs her ass. She beats him up. On stage. In front of the entire fire department.

Because he's not pressing charges and because of her exemplary past record, she's told she can take some time off and then come back. After like a year or so. At the same time, her semi-estranged mother gets in touch to ask Cassie to move to Massachusetts and move in with her to help her out. She has gone blind in one eye and can no longer drive and has issues with going up and down stairs, that sort of thing. It seems like a good coincidence but Cassie fights it, as she still hasn't forgiven her mother for walking out on her and her dad on her sixteenth birthday, for another man. But her father encourages her and her captain can get her a job at a nearby fire station, and she feels backed into a corner.

When she gets there, she and a rookie start on the same day. She reminds the guys that she's a newbie, not a rookie, but they put her through her paces anyway. She's the first female firefighter in the area, and her expertise, commendations, and physical skills aren't winning most of them over. After all, they now have to put their porn away. But the rookie seems nice. And cute. Very cute. And damnit, she's not supposed to be having feelings! Especially not THOSE feelings!

As expected, it was a fast read that I got through in just a couple of days as I kept picking it back up. Everything is wrapped up nicely in a bow at the end, which is why it's labeled as romance-y. But Ms. Center has some interesting ideas along the way about forgiveness and about strength and the past. A few things caught me off guard--it doesn't all go down like you'll predict. It's a fun read that will satisfy her many fans.

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

Friday, August 2, 2019

Book Review: Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule (audio)

I wish I remembered who had suggested I read this. I do believe it was one of my customers. True Crime has been a big trend the last couple of years, and Ann Rule is the doyenne of the genre. However, despite selling truckloads of her books when I was a bookseller, I had always dismissed her as a ripped-from-the-headlines exploiter for the masses of people's tragedies. I underestimated her.

When Ann got a book contract to write about a half dozen missing Seattle girls, she never expected to be part of the story herself. What journalist would? What journalist would think,, oh, the murderer is probably a friend of mine? So this book, I understand, is considerably different from her others. In this one, it's part memoir while also being a true crime story.

Ann had been a cop but had quit to pursue her dream of being a writer. As a former cop, she knew crime, and that's what kept food on her table. I got the impression she fell into this genre more than had a passion for it. Also, this genre didn't exist at this time. The only place for it, besides the local news, was true crime magazines that were considered rather salacious and sold at the checkout counter of grocery stores. As a recent divorcee with several children, Ann didn't seem to have a lot of options either way.

She doesn't get into the story of her marriage at all, but afterwards she did feel compelled to volunteer at a hotline for people who needed assistance dealing with tragedies. A colleague at the hotline was a young college student she got along with. They stayed friends for years after. His name was Ted Bundy.

Talk about riveting. This book was terrifying, visceral, not exploitative of the dead girls, and for a long, long time Ann just couldn't believe Ted did it. It truly took a preponderance of evidence to convince her, which is a good thing. Unlike anyone writing about Ted Bundy now, she went in not knowing for sure that he did any of the crimes. In fact, she went in with more than an open mind--she went in sympathetic and biased towards the suspected killer. And yet, she was convinced. This book created the genre of true crime in books. It set the standard. Because of Ann's unprecedented access to the murderer, it had more information and set a higher bar than nearly anything to come after could achieve. It is the gold standard.

Today it's also extra fascinating in that there are several Afterwards that brought the book up to date through Ted's execution. I do wish there had been at least one since then--I'd love to know, with our current technology, if more murders have been attributed to him, and if more bodies were found, as the suspicion was always that he was much, much more prolific than anyone could ever prove. And Ted, convinced to the end of his ability to charm anyone, stayed in touch with Ann until she could no longer tell him she had even a shard of doubt about his guilt, so her communication with him was unlike any journalist writing about a murderer before or since. Even Truman Capote, as close as he got to his subjects, didn't know them before they were in prison.

If you too have been swept up in True Crime, this is the book for you. The one that started it all. It will make you double check you locked the doors at night.

I listened to this eaudiobook via Libby/Overdrive.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

My Month in Review: July

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

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

Books completed this month:
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (audio)*
The Address Book: The Untold History of the Places Where We Live by Deirdre Mask
Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing by Robert A. Caro (audio)*
Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Go with the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann
Death of an American Beauty by Mariah Fredericks
Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang
The Other Bennet Sister: A Novel by Janice Hadlow
Finding Mr. Better-Than-You by Shani Petroff

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
When Did the Statue of Liberty Turn Green? And 101 Other Questions about New York City by Jean Ashton*

What I acquired this month (non-work books): 
Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner for my book club. I'm so glad I'm in a book club that isn't afraid to read hardcovers! But I did pass it on to another member when I finished reading it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Book Review: When I Was White by Sarah Valentine

When Sarah was 27, she learned her father wasn't her father, and that she is biracial.

With that premise, who can resist picking up this memoir? Not me! Sarah and her family were always asked if she was black, if she was mixed, if she was adopted, if she was Hispanic. She didn't look like her little brothers. Her skin was darker and her hair was frizzy and unruly. Plus her mom was always weird about things, like confiscating her Bell Biv Devoe tape. There was certainly no blatant racism in her house, but whenever Sarah showed any interest in anything overly black, including other children, it was quickly shut down. (There were exceptions for things like Michael Jackson albums, which were mainstream enough to pass muster.)

When Sarah did find out, this massive family secret, it seemed like everyone already knew. But it also was like she already knew. She'd had suspicions for a long time. She eventually just asked her mom. Even though her mother and father had gotten married before she was born, she knew her mom was pregnant when they did. But it's hard to question your paternity when you have photos of your dad in the delivery room. Also, her father, in the summertime, was often darker in skin tone than Sarah was! There were always excuses or explanations. But in the end, something was always... off. And so Sarah asked and she found out.

Well, she kind of found out. Her mother was reluctant to give her details. And what she said, changed. She wouldn't tell her the name of her father, and mostly claimed not to even know who it was. Sarah spends years asking more questions, investigating on her own, and asking around people who knew her parents back then who might know more.

In the meantime she's having to grapple with having been raised white in suburban Pittsburgh, when in fact she's half African-American. She knows next to nothing about her race, and the understanding of who she is is suddenly ripped out from under her. She has no one she can talk to about it, and has to start to try to figure out herself on her own.

As she is a college professor, the book is well written. Very occasionally, she does lapse into a tad too much detail, but it's easy enough to skim those short sections. Overall, it really makes you think about what you would do if you suddenly found out you weren't who you thought you were, and about family secrets--how they can both be so pervasive and so toxic.

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

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Book Review: The Story of the Great British Bake Off by Anita Singh

I adore the TV show The Great British Bake-Off. I've seen all the specials and all the Master Classes. I have read numerous blog posts about the show. I have researched if there's any way for an American to watch the first two seasons which have never been released here. I watch it over and over. I have my favorite bakers, and the one I hate. It's so comforting and reliable and delightful and of course, looks quite yummy. Hasn't inspired me to bake yet, but it's come close. And I haven't baked in years so that's saying something.

I was of course worried for the last two seasons when Mary Berry and the two original hosts all left after a dispute with the BBC, but when I heard the new judge was Prue Leith, I breathed a sigh of relief, and the two new hosts have proven quite amusing as well.

This book is a couple of years old, so it does explain the whole dispute, but ends just before the season with all the new people. I can't believe I didn't hear about this book when it first published, but it's published by a rather obscure publisher. They did a gorgeous job with full-color full bleed pages, beautifully designed, with a paper over board cover that's both gifty and won't get abused like a jacket would. The text explains everything and somehow imitates the faintly snarky but mostly polite and kind feel of the show itself. It's just so very British. I wish it had been twice as long, is my only critique. (It's not short, I just wanted loads more gossip and backstage trivia and tales among the bakers.)

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore, Watchung Booksellers, on Independent Bookstore Day.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Book Review: Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro (audio)

Dani Shapiro did something pretty innocently that felt extremely minor at the time, that changed her life. Her husband was researching his family tree and he was doing the DNA testing at Ancestry.com, and he convinced Dani to do it as well. He sent off the vials of spit, and weeks later the results arrived. As they were packing to go on a trip, Dani looked at her results and got shocking news--her half-sister who had already done the testing herself, wasn't related to her at all. Her father was not her father.

This revelation naturally opened a can of worms and Dani spent months trying to track down the truth. She knew the usual conclusion wasn't the answer here--her mother hadn't had an affair. This was something more complicated. And to make matters more difficult, most everyone involved was dead. Both Dani's parents had already died, her older family members as well, and she was left tracking down ghosts.

I listened to the audio which was so compelling, with Dani reading it herself, that I listened to the entire thing in two days. I'm sure everyone has thought about this sort of thing from time to time--what if I was really adopted? What if secretly, I was the heir to an obscure throne? What if these crazy family members weren't related to me after all? Dani, a blonde-haired blue-eyed girl in a family of Orthodox Jews, had her heritage questions more than most but it never occurred to her before. And now, the rug was pulled out from under her.

I borrowed this eaudiobook from Overdrive/Libby via my local library.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Book Review: Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing by Robert A. Caro

A few years ago I finally tackled The Power Broker, and boy am I glad I did. Robert Moses was a terrifying, powerful, single-minded man who puts one to mind of an evil character from an old cartoon. He's in fact, hard to believe, unless you have the massively thorough research of Robert Caro behind you. I have long wanted to read his Lyndon Johnson books but A) they're awe-inspiringly long and B) he's not done yet with the series. But now, I have to resign myself to the fact that there's no way I can read them until after I retire. Well. They'll still be around then.

In the meantime, Caro gave us this wonderful little amuse-bouche of a memoir of his writing. I call it am amuse-bouche not because it's a tiny book--it's only tiny in comparison to his other books. It's a taste, a hint, an appetite-whetter. And I succumbed--I have added all of the Johnson books to by To Read list even though it will be decades before I can get to them. But that feels appropriate as a theme throughout Working is people asking Caro when his book is going to be finished. And a half-apology even for writing this book at all, as it necessarily must delay the fifth Lyndon Johnson book, even if just by a little, and readers are champing at the bit for it.

This book goes into detail about exactly how he does his research, how he interviews, and how he writes (and rewrites and revises), explaining a heck of a lot of why it seems to take a decade for each book he writes. You just don't get Pulitzer-quality work by rushing. His wife Ina also does the research right alongside him, and he gives her a lot of credit--at first for keeping their heads above water when he was several years overdue on The Power Broker and they were broke, she sold their house to fund another year of writing. And later simply for her diligent, exhaustive research by his side. In fact, when they moved to the Hill Country of Texas (that's how thoroughly he researches his subjects--he moved to where Lyndon Johnson grew up to understand what it was like), it was Ina who learned how to make jam in order to really gain full entree into the homes of their neighbors, and gain their confidence, so they'd speak more openly.

This is a perfect little book to tide you over if you're anxiously awaiting the next Johnson title, or one to try if you've always been curious about the Caro books but aren't sure about the commitment. And I highly recommend the audio, read by the author.

I borrowed this eaudiobook book from my local library via Libby/Overdrive.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Book Review: The Lost Man by Jane Harper, narrated by Stephen Shanahan (audio)

I really can't recommend Jane Harper's books in audio strongly enough. As discussed in the interview with the author at the end, each of her books so far takes place in a very different part of Australia, in which the setting acts like another, perhaps the most important, character in the book. And Stephen Shanahan brings that character to life. His Australian accent is both thick and completely understandable (not always a given, trust me.)

Nathan, the oldest of the three Bright brothers, has been out fixing fences with his son Xander just before Christmas, when he hears on the radio that his middle brother Cam, who has been running the family ranch, has been found dead in the middle of the Outback, in the shade of the tombstone of the Stockman's Grave. Their youngest brother, Bub, is standing watch, waiting for both Nathan and the authorities to make their way there. Nathan has died from dehydration and heat, but why on earth was he out here in the middle of nowhere, when he was supposed to be meeting Bub to fix an antenna, and his SUV--well stocked with water and other supplies--was just a few miles away? Why did he leave the car? With no supplies? Why did he walk out to this forsaken place? No one who grew up on a cattle station in the Outback like them, would ever have done this by mistake. Was it suicide? Or murder?

Nathan, an outcast from the town, can't just accept the police's assumption that it was suicide when there don't seem to be any signs of that, and it doesn't fit with his brother's personality. Even though he's turning up long-past secrets many would prefer to remain in the past, he can't help but keep looking into it, to know what truly happened to his brother.

A twisty turny mystery without a traditional detective, this novel fully immerses you in the life of the Outback, where generators are turned off at night and there's no electricity, where groceries are bought months in advance by the truckload, and where being alone can be a death sentence. Will this family pull together in the face of this adversity, or rip each other apart?

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

I downloaded the eaudiobook from Libby/Overdrive via my public library.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Book Review: Amazing Decisions: The Illustrated Guide to Improving Business Deals and Family Meals by Dan Ariely, illustrated by Matt R. Trower

So, I am the daughter of an economist, so I'm not your typical lay reader of books like this. Plus I have read three of his previous books (and own a fourth) so I am well-versed in his theories and ways of thinking. In fact, I was a little worried about possibly finding this book redundant or too basic. But not at all!

In a nutshell, the book covers the two basic types of motivation: financial and social. I make some decisions for financial considerations, but a lot of others, including some you might think of as financial like how hard I work at my job, turns out to have more of a social motivation. I am friends with most of my accounts, and most of my colleagues. One colleague, Ben, and I work jointly every season on a huge project we have to do before we can go on the road. No one told us or even suggested that we join up and do it as a team--it happened organically, and I really like how we help each other on it. All this is fairly self-evident when you pay attention, but the book gave me a huge insight. My SO had a previous job that was baffling to me. It was not great with a not great boss, but somehow the job was so much worse than that. I've had plenty of those myself in the past, but none of them seemed as soul-sucking as this one. And he kept reporting things that I found really confusing, like how he couldn't get anyone, no matter how much he begged and pleaded, to cover shifts for him when we would go on vacation, despite having covered shifts for all of them in the past. I just found that so weird. Weirder still: this was a job in the helping community at a non-profit, where people supposedly do the job for the love of it, not for the really low pay. So why were all of his colleagues so difficult and uncooperative?

Well it turns out, the way his boss had injected finances into their everyday workplace was the problem! She was daily nickel and diming them on everything. Every minute of every day it seems she was pressuring them to keep costs unreasonably low. And she was miserly with giving them any time to do mandated reporting, for example, as that was a minute they weren't seeing a billable client. By bringing the finances of the company into the day to day workplace, no one was motivated by social factors any longer. As Dan Ariely explained about one study done: when workers were paid more to make more widgets on Monday and Tuesday, while their productivity went up those two days, it went down so hard on Wednesday through Friday, that overall the employees made fewer widgets than previously. When the only reward you ever get is money, and never a "well done" or "great job" or "I so appreciate that," you learn that your employer only thinks of you as a revenue generator, not a human, and eventually you learn to turn that attitude back around on them as well. It's particularly toxic, and was especially bizarre in that environment. But it was nice to suddenly have it all make sense, even if it's bad sense.

This book is a good primer of some real basics of decision-making and the underpinnings of a lot of behavioral economics. It tries hard to not be dry (well, it's economics so you've got to be prepared for a bit of that going in) and I found it overall fun and like an extended, older version of a Schoolhouse Rocks.

This book is published by Hill & Wang, an imprint of FSG, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Book Review: Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman (audio)

I took a fair amount of Art History in high school and college, and my mother and two sisters all majored or have graduate degrees in it, so I thought I knew about Vincent Van Gogh. He's not an obscure or unusual artist, and he has a memorable life story. So I wasn't sure what I'd get from this book--maybe just fleshing out what I knew.

Turns out, a lot of what I thought I knew was inaccurate. Van Gogh did not just sell one painting in his life, to his brother. He sold at least a half dozen paintings. And none of them to Theo exactly--Theo was an art dealer. Theo sold most of the paintings for Vincent. So that's wrong.

And their back story is even more interesting than I'd known. Their father was a minister and while he set them up in their careers (Vincent was also supposed to work as an art dealer), he didn't anticipate that the moral high ground he'd raised them with would result in both brothers, in their twenties, having long-standing relationships with prostitutes. I don't mean they were frequenters of multiple prostitutes. I mean they each met a young woman, fell in love, and thought they could "save her." They lived with these women, and Vincent even helped raise his girlfriend's child. Neither relationship worked out in the long run though.

Theo moved to Paris first and what I found utterly fascinating was how he was writing to Vincent, in words, what the Impressionists' paintings looked like, trying to convince him to use a lighter palette with more color, and so Vincent's very different post-Impressionistic style was largely a result of him trying to be more like the Impressionists, who he'd never seen. (He did later but his style was pretty well set by that point.) Then Vincent started having mental health issues. He seems pretty bipolar but it's hard to diagnose these things after the fact from afar. In Paris he became roommates with Paul Gauguin, and apparently there's an interesting alternate theory about him cutting off his ear, which sounded pretty plausible to me (Gauguin had a bad temper and was a master fencer and brought his swords to their apartment, hmm....) Theo finally married a woman he'd loved for many years who had initially spurned him but unfortunately, his past caught up with him, and he soon fell ill and died. I had hoped, knowing that Vincent died young, that Theo would live a long life promoting his brother's art, alas.

This book really brought this artist and his brother to life. I think the only reasons it's classified as young adult is the length, and the prostitutes. But heck, I think not only can more mature younger kids read it, but adults can most certainly get a lot out of it. I sure did!

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

I listened to this eaudiobook via Overdrive/Libby through my local library. The print book is published by Henry Holt, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Book Review: The Incomplete Book of Running by Peter Sagal (audio)

Peter Sagal loves to run. He didn't always. It came on more slowly for him. But as an adult, he has run and run and run. It has been an obsession at times. At other times, it's been therapy. As he went through a very rough, multi-year divorce (and no, you don't get any details, mind your own business), it particularly was helpful. He's not a great runner or a graceful one, and yet--he thinks you should try it too. Everyone can run. As Jim Fix famously said, all you need are two things--shoes and shorts (socks and shirts being optional in his mind.) He's run marathons, half-marathons, 5Ks and my favorite--a one mile run in his underwear.

As per the title, he doesn't claim to be an expert or to be giving out the be all end all of running advice. He is telling his story of running, giving a few tips along the way in case they're useful, and hoping you'll enjoy the story. He recommends not listening to anything at all while you run (which is crazy! Almost every episode of his NPR show, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, I've listened to as a podcast while walking. I don't run, I walk, including a full marathon.) Twice he's lead blind runners on marathons--famously the first time he did it, they crossed the finish line less than a minute before the bombs went off at the Boston marathon, which then turned into his one appearance on NPR's news.

It's a great book for runners, but more so for any aspiring runners or wannabe runners. Peter won't show you up or criticize your gait or tell you to buy hella expensive shoes. He'll just encourage you to get up and move. And if you want to be listening to him telling you all about it while you run (or walk), I highly recommend that as you probably already know his voice very well. It's both soothing and his enthusiasm really comes through.

I borrowed this eaudiobook from the library via Libby/Overdrive.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Book Review: The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar: Evolution's Most Unbelievable Solutions to Life's Biggest Problems by Matt Simon, narrated by Jonathan Todd Ross (audio)

What a fascinating book! I really want a pet waterbear. They're microbial creatures that you can boil, that can get down to one half degree above absolute zero, blast out into space without a spacesuit, or dry out for 20 years, and they will survive all of these things! How amazing! And the elasticity of the skin of the naked mole rat, means it doesn't get cancer. There's a fish called the pearlyfish that, in order to hide from predators, swims up the butt of sea cucumbers and well... lives there.

This book very much reminded me of the completely delightful Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson which I read a couple of decades ago. While the story of pretty much all creatures great and small does revolve around sex, since any creature's #1 goal is reproduction, Mr. Simon does branch out into unusual habitats, cool ways creatures kill each other, and other bizarre evolutionary traits. Tiger beetles run so fast they temporarily blind themselves and have to occasionally stop and readjust (they don't, as I assumed, have wind blasting into their eyes so fast they dry out, instead light can't enter their eyes fast enough to process sight.) There's a species of fish that, in order to get away from sharks, shoots globs of goop into sharks' gills to suffocate them. There's a shrimp that can snap its claws so fast the friction causes heat as hot as the surface of the sun.

Do you like fun facts? Any interest in science? Better if your interest is superficial as he doesn't dive into deep details about anything, and there is some fairly juvenile humor occasionally. But the narrator sounds a tiny bit like Casey Kasem which I like. (I wish he wouldn't have such long pauses but that's easily overlooked.) I know I missed out on some illustrations with the audio version, and at first I was confused by what appeared to be some repetition, but which I eventually figured out were captions for those illustrations. This is a satanic leaf tailed gecko. That "leaf" is part of the gecko:

Much fun for a very-armchair biologist! And I got a D in high school biology so you really need no interest or aptitude at all. Just tuck in and find out about the zombie ants and the spiders that look like bird poop and how many creatures can regenerate body parts.

I downloaded this eaudiobook from Libro.fm, which supports independent bookstores.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Book review: Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg

Ally Smith lives in an adorable small town in Wisconsin, where she is in with the "in crowd," which is a family that comprises half the town (literally). The boy she likes might actually be into her. And she's pretty sure about her college plans. Until, while filling out applications, her social security number is bounced back as invalid. She goes to her high school counselor to sort it out, and... The FBI shows up. Turns out, she's been kidnapped. By her beloved father, from a mom she never knew, and in fact believed to be dead.

At first, she hopes she can finish out her senior year staying with her friends at her high school, but her mother, who is understandably elated to have found her and baffled by Ally's lack of similar excitement, wants to take Ally home to Florida and her new family. As Ally is under 18 (which she did not know--her dad had changed her birthday too), she has no choice in the matter. She gets to see her father one time after he's locked up, and then she's shipped off.

She is furious at her father but also bereft at his loss. She is annoyed by her new overprotective and overbearing mother. She hates her new school (where, to avoid press, she also has to go by a pseudonym and make up a backstory which is harder than you'd think.) Her new younger half-sister seems to be a total bitch. She can't even have her beloved dog. In a very nice touch, her new step-father is the most understanding and empathetic--but not too much--person in the story, by far. Ally is confused, abandoned, lonely while being overloved, hiding from reporters, trying to meet a huge new family she never knew existed, trying to reconcile her past and her feelings for her father, and in general, just dealing with a new life that seems like a hot mess.

This is a very plot-driven book which plays out a fascinating what-if scenario (and not one as far-fetched as you might think as the vast majority of kidnapping cases, the kidnapper is a family member and they're due to custody battles.) As I am of a certain age, this REALLY reminded me (in plot device, not in storytelling or anything else) of The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney, which I don't remember as being this angsty. But while the character in that book may have had an easier transition, Ally's very difficult situation actually felt more realistic.

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 being published by Bloomsbury, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.