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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.