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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Book Review: The Address Book: The Untold History of the Places Where We Live by Deirdre Mask

What does your street address say about you? For most of my adult life, especially with apartments, I've felt like I've had needlessly complicated addresses. My name is long and trying to also fit the address in the return-address part of an envelope has sometimes been very frustrating. It can also be difficult to get other people to understand and spell your address. When I first moved to Montclair, I lived on Claremont Ave. It's like Montclair--but the two parts of the word are reversed. And "Clair/Clare" is spelled differently. The address seemed simple at first but it was less fun as time went on. When I lived in NYC, Manhattanites found Queens confusing when I didn't think it was at all. Take the grid system and turn it 90 degrees. Then the first few digits before the hyphen are the closest cross street. So if I lived at 19-40 45th Street. I was on the block between 19th and 20th Ave. That made so much sense to me!

Having learned my way around 3 new cities as an adult, and now working in a dozen more as a field rep, I appreciate regular systems so much. But there are exceptions to every rule. In Queens, those exceptions mean that in addition to Streets and Avenues, there are Roads and Crescents. They also follow rules, but sometimes there are exceptions that have to be made. In my hometown of Nashville, when I worked at Vanderbilt, I usually would park on Lyle Street. Which doesn't seem strange at all except that it came after 25th Street. It went 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th, Lyle. Huh? Later when I worked at a B&N, we would constantly get phone calls from lost customers looking for the store. We always knew what the problem was. They were on Harding Lane. We were on Harding Road. Across town.

So who named all these streets? And do you think naming streets is probably pretty simple? (If so, you've never driven in Boston, shudder.) Would you be surprised to learn there are streets today, in America (mostly in West Virginia apparently), that aren't named at all? What happens when two towns merge and there are already two Beacon Streets? (If you're Boston, you keep them both and confound any outsiders! Most other towns try to come up with a better solution.)

Have you heard Chris Rock's joke about Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.? It's pretty funny. But when you think about it. it's also really sad. I love that in Chapel Hill, NC, MLK Blvd. isn't a bad street in a bad part of town. Heck, it's where the independent bookstore is, and nothing says fully gentrified like that! But Ms. Mask looks at efforts in St. Louis to improve the business district on MLK Blvd. and the stumbling blocks that keep arising.

Did you ever think that grid systems didn't just happen? And that they're a very American invention? And yet we hired a Frenchman to design Washington DC, where we have a combination of a grid system with wide boulevards and roundabouts. How did the advent of addresses relate to the cholera epidemic? And the Hapsburgs? How does Amazon find you if you don't have an address? Can giving everyone addresses help stop the epidemic of homelessness? If you have ever wondered about any of these things, wonder no more! This is the book of fascinating facts and micro history for you!

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

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Book Review: It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood


Her senior year, Natalie's parents announce they're getting a divorce. But what really knocks her back is that they're been separated--but living under the same roof and Natalie didn't suspect a thing--for ten months. No fights, no yelling, nothing. Natalie is incredulous and also wondering why they're divorcing if everything is so amiable. Recently her two best friends, Zach and Lucy have starting dating, leaving her feeling a bit like the odd man out in their threesome. So when Zach's older brother's friend invites her to go to a party, she says yes.

It's horribly uncomfortable. She hates parties. Everyone's a lot older. She can't find Owen or Alex and locks herself in the bathroom for twenty minutes. While eventually she comes out and the boys arrive, she quickly figures out that Owen is a dolt, despite being incredibly cute. But Alex, Zach's brother, keeps an eye on her at the party, and she starts to wonder if there's something there.

But she just can't believe it. Why would any cute guy be interested in her? Natalie's self-esteem was destroyed in her early teens when cystic acne destroyed her face and her back and her opinion of herself. After years of doctor's appointments and creams and ointments and pills, it's finally, barely under control. But the scars are permanent. And most of them are not on her skin, but in her soul. I did find this to be an interesting condition which I know affects a lot of people. My husband has some acne scarring, and two of my three siblings had acne bad enough that it required powerful medication to resolve. I'm sure tons and tons of teens will appreciate having a protagonist who goes through this and has come out the other side--but with life-long side effects.

The book doesn't follow a lot of the traditional teen romance tropes, but it was incredibly enjoyable. Not despite that, but largely because of that. Natalie is used to being the funny one, but her role has changed within her friend group and her family, and she's not sure who she is anymore, or how to act. The uncertainty makes her sharper than usual and she can be antagonistic and push people away. She has to learn how to be herself again, and who that is. And how to be a good friend, a good daughter and--dare I say it? A good girlfriend even.

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 Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

My Month in Review: March

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:
One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives by Bernd Heinrich (audiobook)*
Never Caught by Erica Armstrong Dunbar, narrated by Robin Miles (audiobook)*
To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu
Dancing with the Octopus: A Memoir of a Crime by Debora Harding
Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Frémont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War by Steve Inskeep
Good Morning, Monster: Five Heroic Journeys to Emotional Recovery by Catherine Gildiner
The Other Mother by Matthew Dicks

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Check, Please!, Book 2: Sticks and Scones by Ngozi Ukazu

What I acquired this month (non-work books):

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Book Review: Miss Austen by Gill Hornby

Late in life, twenty-five years after her sister Jane Austen died, Cassandra Austen systematically destroyed (or edited by cutting out parts) many of her letters. Jane Austen had not yet achieved the literary status she holds today, but she was well on her way, and Cassandra had hopes. It's a tragedy for literary historians, but a boon for other novelists. In this book, Gill Hornby (yes, wife of Nick Hornby) imagines Cassandra going to visit a relative in hopes of recovering some of Jane's more open and honest correspondence--and getting rid of it.

Cassandra has outlived her parents (her mother lived to 87 though!), her sister, a few brothers, and while she's always, always made an effort to be exceptionally helpful, as she knew an unmarried female relative was a burden, she's also mostly outlived her helpfulness. But when her brother dies and his daughter has to pack up and move out of the vicarage, she uses her reputation for helpfulness as an excuse for a visit in order to hunt for more of Jane's letters. Throughout the book, we get flashes back to Cassandra's own engagement which ended in tragedy, to missed romances for both Jane and Cassandra later, to Jane and Cassandra's life together, and to Jane's final days. As Cassandra reflects on her (and Jane's) life choices and the results, she consistently declares herself to be incredibly happy with how things turned out and that she wouldn't have it any other way. And yet, when she sees her niece, a fellow spinster who is about to be homeless, Cassandra can't help but try to help. Is it possible she does regret some opportunities not taken? She'll never admit it to herself, but we readers can perhaps see alternate paths that would have also lead to happiness.

This novel is contemplative, quiet, about looking back on a life well-lived, but not the traditional path taken. There are hints here and there of where bits of their own lives were appropriated by Jane, or perhaps inspired certain scenes or language. Had Cassandra married, would we not have Jane's novels? Or would they have been different? Ms. Hornby really gets into the mind of a nineteenth-century woman, who doesn't even consider most options a single woman would these days, and it's just fascinating how burdensome and guilty they felt about what was only partly a choice and partly circumstance. There is a distinct feeling of failure throughout, despite achievements and happiness. As if shepherding six spectacular novels that will one day enter the canon of English Literature, to fruition, were naturally a much lesser accomplishment than marriage and children. The assumptions of gender roles are both expected and sad.

That said, the book isn't sad. Jane is a feisty and sharp observer, and Cassandra as our narrator, softens her a bit, at least with us. It's interesting to see their parents as lighter, less extreme versions of the elder Bennets, and to finally notice that Emma and Mansfield Park are opposites of each other based on a single line of dialogue (one book is about a girl who is rich in material good but poor in values, and then the reverse. How did this never occur to me before?) It was hilarious to hear James Austen's wretched poetry (which is all real, direct quotes of Jane's brother's dreadful attempts, which were lauded at the time.) And to wonder at Jane Austen's life turning out rather like how we imagine Mary Bennet's future, of all people. Was Austen to cruel to Mary because she didn't want to acknowledge their similar circumstances?

This book will make you think a lot about Austen, her works, and the actual human everyday life of writers outside of their books. Ms. Hornby seems to have done extensive research which all rang true (Ms. Hornby actually lives in one of the houses where the Austens once lived!) A must-read for any Austen fan.

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

Sunday, March 29, 2020

4 History Audiobooks

I love listening to history books on audio. For me, fiction on audio has issues. Nonfiction is my preferred audiobook, and after memoir, history is just great. You might be familiar with the broad strokes, if you miss a line or two due to traffic situations, it won't affect the overall story, and it's usually pretty interesting.

I've gotten way behind on my reviews, so I thought I'd combine four history audiobooks into one post. By the way, if you're stuck inside and listening to some audiobooks sounds like a good idea, I get most of mine through my local library on the Libby app, and the rest through Libro.fm. On Libro.fm you can pick an independent bookstore and help support them through your audio purchases. Most libraries only have new releases and you might have to wait weeks or months for the hot ones. On Libro, their depth of backlist is greater, and you own it, so you get it right now, and you don't have to listen to it in two weeks or it disappears--ideal for longer ones. Now, on to the reviews!

A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage
It's good to start with an overview! This history goes back to the very beginnings of civilization, with beer. Water has rarely been potable once humans stopped being nomadic and settled down. Plus humans (and some other animals too!) have always had interest in intoxicants. After we got beer mastered, next up was wine. Following that, naturally spirits. Then we've got all of alcohol down pat, so on to coffee, tea, and finally cola. This book covers thousands of years of history, and I learned some really interesting tidbits, like how Pepsi was able to sell behind the iron curtain, therefore when the Eastern Bloc countries were finally opened to the west, Coke took over a symbolic of the west, even though Pepsi had long been available in Moscow.

Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
While George and Martha Washington lived in Philadelphia, the second capitol of the United States, Pennsylvania had a law on the books that after 6 months, any enslaved person could petition for (and be granted) their freedom. Luckily for them, this was pointed out to them just before they were there six months, along with a loophole. If they took their enslaved people back to Virginia every five and a half months, the clock would restart every time. Well, if you think that was good enough for those enslaved people, who had worked alongside free whites and some free blacks in both New York City and Philadelphia, you'd be sorely mistaken. And one in particular, Ona Judge, Martha's personal slave, had had enough, and ran away. And man, the Washingtons really tried to get her back.


Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Frémont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War by Steve Inskeep
Ah, how comforting it is to hear Steve Inskeep in your ear, talking just to you for hours on end. And about a truly interesting and largely forgotten character from the early days of the United States. Yes, I know you've heard of John Fremont, but can you tell me why? I sure couldn't. Turns out he was an explorer of the West, helped found California (and was one of its very first senators, just for a matter of months), fought Mexicans (sometimes illegally), was court-marshaled, and went on to run for president (not necessarily in that order). Along the way he married Jessie Benton, daughter of a longtime Senator, who turned out to be the famous woman behind a great man. John wouldn't have accomplished half of what he did, if it wasn't for Jessie's support, and more importantly her behind the scenes power, her understanding of political machinations and manipulations, and her ability to play the new media in a way never done before, making them the first real "celebrities" in the modern sense of the word.

You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe
Most biographies of George Washington are written by men (and by most, I mean 99.9%) and they're mostly not very critical, rather fawning looks. Even the ones written by respected Big Guys in biographies, don't tend to question what they read in previous biographies about how Washington's mother was horrible (um, take context into consideration please, and also go back to original sources) and they also are overly concerned about Washington's lack of progeny and hence, his manliness (which never seemed to bother Washington.) So this is a refreshing look at him as a three-dimensional human. Ms. Coe isn't out to tear him down from his pedestal, but rather to make him not  a marble statue at all, but instead, a human being. It's fascinating and a fresh look and I listened to the whole thing in one day! (Yes, it did cover a little of the same ground as Never Caught. But not in a way that felt overly redundant. That incident here is just given a few paragraphs in the last section of the book. You should definitely read both.)

All four of these I borrowed from my local library via Libby. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Stuck Inside Recommendations 1-10

On Facebook I started recommending a book a day for those stuck inside and looking for something good to read. I'm alternating between books published by Macmillan (my employer) and not. (Simply, because the vast majority of my reading is Macmillan books, it's really hard for me to not have this unbalance in any list I put together.) And I thought I'd pull together those recommendations every 10 days here, for people who I'm not Facebook friends with.

Please buy books from independent bookstores! You can find your nearby indies here, or you can buy from bookshop.org or you can get audiobooks from Libro.fm. Those last two you either can get to through the website of an indie, and have part of your purchase go to that indie directly, or if you really don't know of one, any purchases made on those sites, even unaffiliated ones, will indirectly support independent bookstores. Bookstores are really struggling right now, from chains on down to the little guys, and right now, you have a lot of time to read! Seems like two great things that go great together.

Now, on with the list! While these are numbered, they are not ranked. I've starred the non-Macmillan books, and if I reviewed them, I'll link to the review. Every one of these books got a 5-star rating from me!

10. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

9. The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel*

8. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

7. Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl* (sorry, I read this book before Goodreads existed and before my blog, so no review!)

6. A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

5. A Shot in the Dark (Constable Twitten #1) by Lynne Truss

4. The Story of the Great British Bake Off by Anita Singh*

3. The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal

2. Life With Jeeves (Jeeves #2, 4, 6) by P.G. Wodehouse*

1. Twenty-one Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks

      
  

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Book Review: What Stars Are Made of by Sarah Allen

Libby has Turner Syndrome. It causes a lot of problems like different learning abilities and an enlarged heart, but Libby lives with it just fine--after all, she was born this way and doesn't know any other way to be. It sometimes causes issues at school when she doesn't make friends easily and blurts out things in class that don't go over well. But she's excited when there's a school assignment to pick a person from history who you think should be included in textbooks who isn't. She knows exactly who to do: Dr. Cecilia Payne, who first discovered what stars are made of, although a man was later named as the discoverer of that. Also, a new girl at school seems friendly. And the best thing of all--her beloved older sister Nonny has come home to stay for a while. She's pregnant and her husband has gone away for work. There's a nationwide contest sponsored by the Smithsonian behind the school assignment, and Libby is determined to win, so she can give the money to Nonny, for her baby. After all, there's a worry that Nonny's baby could also have Turner Syndrome.

This is a very sweet story about a well-meaning, whip-smart, and truly kind girl who has some issues, but always tries her hardest (and then some). I was thrilled when she made a friend (a half-Samoan girl who likes poetry and rap) and the relationship with her sister was very loving and Nonny's advice was great. The lengths Libby went to for the contest were impressive and yet believable. I think any middle-school girl will adore this 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 Farrar Straus and Giroux BYR, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Book Review: One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives by Bernd Heinrich (audiobook)

I listened to this book back in January but it's ideal for right now. It's all about Mr. Heinrich watching the birds right in his own backyard (granted, he lives in the woods in Maine). Each chapter focuses on a different bird or bird pair that he notices doing something interesting, and so he focuses on them for a while.

Now, I doubt many of us have the level of interest that would persuade us to cut a hole in a bedroom of our own house in order to better observe a nest of baby birds, but I'm glad Mr. Heinrich does. This book is quiet, contemplative, and yet fascinating even though it's on a tiny scale. There is a world of interesting wildlife right outside our own back doors, even in a city. If we slow down and pay attention, we might learn something.

I downloaded an eaudiobook of this from Libby/Overdrive.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Book Review: The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer

Thalia lives in a world where there are three kinds of people. There are Traders, who change between human form and an animal and are incredibly rich and beautiful and rule everything. There are the ones who commune with nature (and are the go-betweens with the native peoples). And finally, there are the Solitaires, who are just ordinary humans with no powers.

Except that--Thalia is a stage magician, giving the illusion that she has magical powers. One night when a trick goes horribly wrong and her life is endangered, something happens. She's not exactly sure what, but her arm felt numb and cold and turned white, and then she was able to slip out of a handcuff without any trouble. Something... happened. Did she trade into an animal? That's not possible. After all, she's a Solitaire, not a Trader. Isn't she? She is an orphan after all--maybe she doesn't know as much about her parents as she thought she did. Add in the theft of a trick and a murder, and Thalia has too much going on to really figure out who she is right now--except there are secret powers that demand her attention no matter what. And she must give it to them, or her life is in danger, too.

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

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Book Review: Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit

I love a good historical novel, and you rarely encounter one set in early colonial days, so that pulled me in right from the start. Set only ten years after the Mayflower landed, we have two narrators--the second wife of one of the leaders of the colony, and the wife of an outsider, the pair of them having come over as indentured servants, not as Quakers.

The language is stilted and evocative of the overly formal, antique style of the era. One woman is not sure about her husband, about what exactly happened to his first wife, her friend, and about how to act in her new community. The other woman is a rebel, defiant and sure, standing up for herself and her husband.

A new ship has entered the harbor. There must be a big dinner, sapping their resources, to welcome newcomers (and a couple of oldcomers) to the settlement. There is a land dispute. And a body.

I was expecting a more traditional mystery set in these colonial times and the book isn't that at all. There's no mystery except what will result from it. There is a lot of preamble, setting up the atmosphere and relationships and for a long while you are wondering who is going to kill who, as there is a lot of hatred and mistrust. In this book you really feel as if you walk amongst the colonials in a way I haven't encountered before. And the women's voices, as awkward as they sound in this day, truly immerse you in the 1600s.

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

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Book Review: Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang


Gene Yang teaches math at a Catholic high school with an excellent basketball team. When he learns the school is about to go to the State Championships--which they've been to many times and never won--yet again, he decides to follow the team and for a year and make it the story of his next book. The book went off in directions he never anticipated.

He did a lot of interviews with the coaches and students. The head coach himself was once a student, and a basketball player, at the school. The two stars of the team have been best friends for years and seem to be complete opposites. The school has been so close to major success so many times, and yet keeps falling short. Several players have gone on to the NBA.

As the story wends its way through the season, with the predictable and yet no less enjoyable ups and downs, what isn't predictable is the revelation of a scandal involving the previous coach, and also the lessons learned by Gene as the year goes on. He starts off not particularly interested in sports in general and basketball in particular, And of course he gets into it and feels and wins and losses and close calls as passionately as any long-term fans, but he also learns from it. He's offered a big opportunity midway through the book, which is a distraction, and also involves him making a big decision. In the end, the Dragons basketball players inspire him in the choice he makes.

Will they win the big game? If not, how will his book end? Gene's wife points out that winning isn't the only possible ending here. In fact, losing can be a more inspiring ending, if addressed well.

I loved this story. The kids are so impressive--I want to look them up and see what successes they went on to--and amazingly diverse and really thoughtful. The parts with Gene are unique. I can't recall often seeing an author insert themselves into a narrative in this way. It feels unintentional, like he was pulled in against his will. And yet, as the season unfolds and he takes inspiration from the athletes, it also feels so natural, like it was the intention all along.

You don't have to like basketball to love this graphic novel.

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

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Book Review: A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

In a suburban neighborhood in North Carolina that sounds an awful lot like where I grew up, the nouveau riche are tearing down the older homes and putting up McMansions. African-American college professor Valerie has been unhappily watching a giant extravaganza complete with swimming pool go up directly behind her beloved ranch. She is disinclined to like the Whitmans, and they her as well, so when her son and the Whitman's daughter start dating, it's not good news. In fact Juniper isn't supposed to be dating at all, having gone through a "purity ceremony" a few years earlier with her step-father Brad.

When things blow up, it's spectacularly bad. In fact, you're told on the first page that someone will die, so I read with dread throughout, as I kept trying to anticipate who that would be (and changing my mind several times.) The neighborhood narrates the novel as a kind of Greek chorus, but it really works and is unobtrusive. It has the added effect of making us, the readers, complicit in some of the bad acts. Because I could be in this book club. I could live in this neighborhood. This could happen nearly anywhere. Filled with juicy, timely topics like race, class, grief, assumptions, money, and sex, this would be an ideal book club pick. It stayed in my mind for weeks after I read it. I was bummed at first when I heard Ms. Fowler's new book wasn't a historical like her previous ones, which I loved, but this one rises to the challenge and proves she is as adept at contemporary novels.

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

Sunday, March 1, 2020

My Month in Review: February

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:
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout*
The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (audio)
The Switch by Beth O'Leary
A Royal Affair: A Sparks Bainbridge Mystery by Allison Montclair
American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan (audiobook)*
Modern Family: The Untold Oral History of One of Television's Groundbreaking Sitcoms by Marc Freeman
Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai
A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage, narrated by Sean Runnette (audiobook)
History Comics: The Roanoke Colony: America's First Mystery by Chris Schweizer
Braver: A Wombat's Tale by Suzanne Selfors and Walker Ranson

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu
Check, Please!, Book 2: Sticks and Scones by Ngozi Ukazu
One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives by Bernd Heinrich (audiobook)*

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
For my new niece I bought a copy of Scaredy Squirrel, which is a truly excellent picture book.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Book Review: The Queen Bee and Me by Gillian McDunn

Everyone immediately knows who the Queen Bee of their childhood was. Most of us have seen the movie Mean Girls which really dove into the phenomenon from a fictional POV. That movie was based on a sociology book called Queen Bees and Wannabees, which was great. And now we have a book for a slightly younger set (it's middle grade). Many books about bullying and about how the popular girl is really cruel are told from the viewpoint of the bullied. This one is different in that it's the best friend of the bully who is seeing negative changes in her once-nice friend.

Meg is used to being Meg-and-Beatrix and she's always loved that inclusion, that feeling of belonging. But when she meets new girl Hazel, Beatrix takes an immediate dislike to her and leads a charge against her--targeting Hazel for name-calling, pranks, and general bullying. Meg is assigned to be Hazel's lab partner in their science elective (and Beatrix is mad Meg is even taking the science elective as that means she's not taking dance--which is Beatrix's love--anymore.) And Meg tries to ride a fine line between staying friends with Beatrix--who Meg also knows from personal experience will turn on Meg too if Meg displeases her--and not being mean to Hazel, who Meg thinks is smart and quirky and lonely.

As you may already suspect, that's a hard line to ride, and Meg eventually falls off. Which side does she land on? Will she stick by her life-long best friend and turn on the weird new girl who has upended the usual order of things? Or will she befriend the unusual girl who keeps bees, and risk the wrath of Beatrix?

A great story for middle school girls who often face this sort of decision, and it's told from a more common point of view. In most schools there's only 1-2 Queen Bees and 1-2 bullied kids, and the whole mass of kids in between who are in similar situations as Meg, giving this book wide appeal.

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.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Book Review: The Phantom Twin by Lisa Brown

Isabel and Jane are so-called Siamese twins. conjoined along their sides, they are rejected by their parents and go to live at a circus, literally becoming part of the sideshow act. When they are young adults, Jane, who is by far the more opinionated and demanding sister, who wants to date (they do already but it's understandably awkward) and not be dragged down by her more reticent and reluctant sister, arranges for them to have separation surgery. This is a very new and experimental thing (I think this book is set in the 1930s?) Isabel goes along with it because she always goes along with what Jane wants.

Isabel wakes up with one arm, one leg, and no sister. Jane did not survive the surgery. Except, well, she seems to now be a ghost, still attached to Isabel (sometimes). Isabel isn't familiar with making decisions for their lives and wasn't prepared for this outcome at all. She has to navigate a whole new world, learn how to be a single person, figure out her prosthetics, and decide if she wants to (or even can) stay part of the circus. In the mean time she meets a nice guy at a tattoo parlor, but he can't really be interested in a freak like her, can he?

This book flirts with the fantastical but always does stay squarely in reality. The historical era makes it feel a little less real, but that was the height of the circus popularity not to mention, when this surgery first could be attempted, so it makes sense. I was truly worried at parts that Isabel wasn't going to find her way in the world alone. And Jane's ghost is sometimes malevolent. The only thing I wish was different was that the ghost part was both better explained and had more of an outcome. But this is a really cool book. The graphic novel format works especially well for a story so reliant of the physicality of the main character.

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Book Review: Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

When I was a kid, my step-mom had a VCR. In 1984. It was shocking. Her movie selection was more shocking. She owned Grease, and every other movie she owned starred either Shirley Temple or Elvis. My sisters and I watched A LOT of Grease. Sometimes we'd watch it 2-3 times on a Saturday. Suffice to say that despite having not seeing it (in its entirety) in a couple dozen years, I am still WELL VERSED.

So a YA novel based on Grease, with gay protagonists was right up my alley! Oliver is in North Carolina for the summer (from California) because his aunt is dying of cancer. At the lake where they spend the summer, he meets a guy, Matt, and they have a clandestine romance. Ollie is supposed to go back to California but his mother just can't leave her sister now, at the end. So Ollie will be finishing up his senior year in NC unexpectedly. His first day he meets a trio of girls who take him under their wing. The leader is a bit bitchy, with her fashionable and flirtatious sidekicks (they've done away with the Jan character altogether from the Pink Ladies, which frankly makes sense. In what universe are Rizzo, Frenchy, and Marty friends with Jan?) When he bumps into Will a few days later at a party, in a meet-awkward orchestrated by the bitchy girl friend, he's surprised and then terribly disappointed by Will's macho response to re-meeting Ollie, in front of his fellow varsity basketball players (see, they all wear letterman jackets, which kind of makes them look like a gang like the T-Birds! And is further ironic given that Danny Zuko almost doesn't graduate since he failed PE and in the last big scene of the movie he finally gets his letterman sweater in track.)

If you've seen the movie or play, you might think you know where this is going, but as it's set in 2019 and Ollie and Will are gay, and Will is closeted, and there's Ollie's sick aunt, it is more interesting than a pastiche would be. And I really loved the ending, and the much better lessons in the book than in the movie. This book was a refreshing delight from beginning to end. If you aren't familiar with Grease, it doesn't matter one bit. You certainly don't need to be. It's a great contemporary YA rom-com on its own.

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

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Book Review: InvestiGators by John Patrick Green

I actually laughed out loud when I first heard this book described. I figured it was about alligators who were investigators. But I did not expect that they also wear vests! That was a pun past the usual and it tickled me. Mango and Brash are our investigators, and they're looking into the disappearance of a local famous baker. There's also an explosion at a local science lab that seems to have been set on purpose--and where a giant cake they'd baked was sent. But why? To solve the crimes, they travel through sewers, meet a doctor who is a Werecopter (he was bitten by a rabid helicopter, of course), and meet the fearsome Crackerdile!

Filled with hijinks, more puns than you can shake a stick at, and multiple mysteries, this graphic novel is ideal for fans of Dog-Man. Any fun-loving reader of graphic novels in the 7-11 age range will likely fall in love with this new series. I enjoyed the heck out of it myself.


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.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Book Review: When Did the Statue of Liberty Turn Green?: And 101 Other Questions about New York City by The Staff of The New-York Historical Society Library

I picked up this book this summer initially, when my husband and I went to the park on a picnic. It was ideal for that scenario--not paying a lot of attention, picking up and putting down, and most importantly the putting down of the book for weeks or months after. I brought it along when we went to a ballooning festival. It is so nice to have fun snippets of fascinating information that don't require much attention or any plot, to keep one occupied during lazy afternoons outside.

It was also great as I was recovering from food poisoning. Again, without a plot to follow and with just enough information to keep me interested without overly taxing my mind, it was ideal. I especially liked that I read about the first New Year's Eve party in Times Square, just a couple of days before New Year's Eve! A perfect book for any New Yorker, wannabee New Yorker, tourist, or a history buff. Loved it.

I bought this book at the New York Tenement Museum in the gift shop.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Book Review: A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner

Silas Walker does a presentation about former Major League Baseball player Glenn Burke for his sixth grade class, complete (thanks to assistance from his best friend), sound effects and extra drama. Glenn Burke invented the high five in 1977. That blew my mind. (And it's really true!) The high five was invented after I was born. seems like it would have been centuries older, right? And it's wild that it was at a baseball game, so it's documented to the exact time and place.

What Silas doesn't tell his class or his baseball teammates is he has another reason he was researching Glenn Burke and is a huge fan--Glenn Burke was openly gay to his teammates. No, not to the general public, and yes, a coach asked him if he would get married just for show (he declined rather vociferously) and he was pretty quickly fired from baseball, despite being an excellent all-around player, which is rare.

You see, Silas is pretty sure he's gay. He's scared about it. He's scared to tell anyone, even his best friend, even his coach. But he sees how Glenn Burke dealt with it, in the 1970s. How he stood up for who he is. How he was discriminated against and run out of baseball. He sees a role model--and also a cautionary tale.

So Silas worries. He goes to school and he goes to baseball, and he's his usual fun-loving, exuberant, over-the-top self, but at the same time he's also always scared in the background. How will he be able to come to terms with this? His fear is making him lose part of who he is. Can he be strong like Glenn? Can he be himself, and be happy?

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.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Book Review: Articulated Restraint by Mary Robinette Kowal

This is a short story that takes place during the action of The Calculating Stars. Ruby, a different astronette, has twisted her ankle the previous night in a dancing competition--something she does to try to retain one single "normal" thing from before the meteorite struck. An emergency has happened on the moon, and she is called in to work in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab immediately to try to work the problem. If they can't figure this out, people--some of them her friends--will die. So she grits her teeth and ignores the pain as she works and works and works the problem.

I love when Kowal gives us the perspectives of others in the astronaut program in this series. Different personalities and different backgrounds lend to different outcomes, and I feel like I could stay in this world forever, as she explores different people's experiences and decisions. Even a short story is beloved because I got to be in this world just a few minutes more.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Book Review: The Watergate Girl: My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President by Jill Wine-Banks

Jill was one of the prosecutors in the Watergate trials. She worked on Ehrlichman, Magruder, Dean, all the men made famous by All the President's Men. She was the loan woman attorney involved in the case, and often the only woman in any room at that time. She was a tough prosecutor, having come from working Mob cases, but she was often sidelined and daily faced rampant sexism and misogyny.

But she stuck to the job. It was grueling work with horrible hours and not great working conditions. She was in her early 30s and still felt she was proving herself. It also helped as a distraction from her terrible marriage to work herself to exhaustion.

Throughout this book we see the inevitable parallels between what happened in 1973-74 and today, with the manipulation, threats, power plays, and truly despicable abuse of the office of the President. With the benefit of hindsight, Nixon doesn't seem as bad as he once did, and this play-by-play within the context of the time helps remind us that his behavior, and that of the men under him, was truly reprehensible. It as also interesting for me to hear for the first time about people like Rose Mary, Nixon's personal secretary, who probably played as active a role in the cover-up as the men mentioned above, but was never even considered as a co-conspirator because of her sex (even by Jill!)

This is a fast read, and a worthy reminder of the past which we seem to be doomed to repeat.

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

Friday, February 7, 2020

Book Review: Go to Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood by Lucy Knisley

I don't have kids. But I am the oldest child, my youngest sibling, my half-brother, is 12 years younger than me, and he slept in my room until he was four. I got up in the middle of the night with him scores of time, and taught him how to climb out of his crib before he could walk. I also was a nanny in college for infant twins. I am very good with babies. So this lovely, sweet, occasionally distracted memoir in cartoons about being a brand-new mother still managed to speak to me despite my lack of child. Lucy's exhaustion, pain, hunger, and LOVE all come through with a few strokes of the pen. Made me appreciate mothers everywhere, and also so glad I'm not one myself.

THE most perfect baby shower gift ever.

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

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Book Review: The Other Bennet Sister: A Novel by Janice Hadlow

Most people I know who read Jane Austen just detest Mary Bennet, the unlikable, prudish, judgmental middle sister from Pride & Prejudice. However I've always felt a little bad for her. Even in a large family, she's obviously cast out, with no allies to get her through their somewhat difficult life out in the rural countryside with nothing to do, no real prospects for her, and a highly uncertain future. It's lovely of Ms. Hadlow to imagine a different future for Mary than most of us do.

The book begins a bit before the appearance of Mr. Bingley and his party, and near the beginning of the book Mary, having learned that books are her only friend, is struggling to see well, and she talks her mother into letting her see an oculist, who makes a pair of spectacles for her--of which Mrs. Bennet is horrified. The oculist's son, who is learning the trade, actually seems interested in Mary and this gives a frisson of hope right up front, which sets a hopeful and positive tone for the whole book, even when things seems bleak.

The Pride & Prejudice plot is set into motion and we see some scenes from the book from Mary's eyes instead of Lizzy's, which does turn things a bit on their head. We also see that the much-older Charlotte Lucas is both a source of advice and frustration to Mary, who is following in her old maid footsteps, and may also one day have to hope for a Mr. Collins to come along. So when Charlotte seems to swoop in and snatch Mr. Collins right out from under Mary, it's a blow to her already minuscule self-esteem.

Then the book jumps ahead. The Bingleys are married, the Darcys are married, and Mr. Bennet has died. Mr. Collins has taken over Longborne, and horrifyingly Mary is the last single daughter, doomed to spend her days not only at the charity of her sisters, but with their mother at her constant side. After unfortunate stays with both the Bingleys and Darcys, Mary is desperate to escape, and finds solace and a welcome home in London with her Aunt and Uncle, who previously had hosted both Jane and Lizzy.

With some advice from her Aunt, a lot of self-reflection, and a couple of handsome young men who see much more potential in Mary than her relatives back home ever did, Mary starts to blossom. She'll never be the great beauty that Jane is or the life of the party that Lydia is, but she's herself--just better--when she's no longer hounded and disapproved of and insulted all the livelong day. And will she find love? Is this an Austen pastiche? Is the sky blue?

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

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Book Review: Chirp by Kate Messner

Mia has moved back to Vermont from Boston. It's the beginning of summer which is not the best time to make new friends but her grandmother lives in town, and her mother makes her sign up for a couple of summer camps. Everyone assumes she'll sign up for gymnastics camp. But she's's done with gymnastics. After breaking her arm badly last year, requiring surgery, she's finished. Plus, there was her creepy assistant coach she'd rather forget.

So instead she signs up for a Makers camp that's participating in a Shark Tank-type of entrepreneur competition at the end of summer, and on the spur of the moment, an American Gladiator camp that she immediately regrets. Plus she'll be helping her grandmother with her cricket farm! Mia will have plenty to keep her busy.

Everything soon ties together. The entrepreneur project she decides to work on is her grandmother's company. And at the gladiator camp, while she can't do most of the activities which she's either too weak for, or which remind her too much of gymnastics, she does work on strengthening her arm. Even if all she's doing is hanging from a bar for 10 seconds, she's still building muscle and growing stronger. Soon she figures out her grandmother's cricket farm is being vandalized and having too many weird problems to be coincidences--it must be sabotage! Inspired by old classic teen mystery novels, she and her new friends investigate.

There's a lot going on here, but it absolutely does all come together, and the constant action keeps the story moving forward briskly. The mystery element kept me guessing for a while. I liked her new friends. You can probably already guess that her old assistant coach in Boston is a Problem. He didn't abuse her, but he made her very uncomfortable, and he was inappropriate. There's also a boy in the Makers camp who's a creep and a future lech, but over the course of the novel, multiple people, mostly his peers, call him out on his behavior and put him in his place, and by the end he's started to see he can behave better and then the other kids will like him more. The other kids are very diverse (which, given this is set in Vermont, which is in actuality the whitest state in the country, isn't very realistic, but I still appreciate the effort). And the cricket farm was a fascinating thing I was unfamiliar with and really appreciated learning about, even if I'm never, ever going to eat a cricket. But good for others who do! It's a great protein source and really good for the environment.

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.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

My Month in Review: January

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:
Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels by Rachel Cohen
Stealing Mt. Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar
Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America's Fast-Food Kingdom by Adam Chandler (audiobook)
Once Upon a Time I Lived on Mars: Space, Exploration, and Life on Earth by Kate Greene
This Is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae Safi
One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway -- and Its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad, translated by Sarah Death
Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of "The Children's Ship" by Deborah Heiligman (audiobook)
Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness by Catherine Cho
Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss by Rajeev Balasubramanyam*

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton
Check, Please!, Book 2: Sticks and Scones by Ngozi Ukazu

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Off to a good start with none! Read a lot of magazines on flights this month though.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Book Review: Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani, with illustrations by Maris Wicks

I love the title of this book. I LOVE that the title isn't Women Astronauts. It's just Astronauts. Because it's not that Astronauts and men and Women Astronauts are something different. Right there, before you even open the book, you know this book's approach is somewhat different, in an awesome way.

This graphic novel traces the history of women in space, mostly at NASA, but also of Valentina Tereshkova, the Soviet Cosmonaut who went up in space way, way back before the US was even considering it. But eventually, decades later, the U.S. caught on that not only are women just as good astronauts as men, there are certain things women excel at. In fact, one of the biggest advantages to letting women into the astronaut pipeline is that it opened that pipeline to all sorts of people who weren't all just test pilots. So we have much more diversity of opinion and approach when it comes to problem-solving, than NASA used to have when everything looks like a nail because they'd only hire hammers.

We follow Mary Cleave as our narrator through the background, and then on her two missions, building the ISS. I loved this book! The science is accessible, the history is appalling, and the future is promising. For any budding young scientist--of either gender--who might be interested in space, this is a must-read.

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

Friday, January 24, 2020

Book Review: The Cactus League: A Novel by Emily Nemens

Baseball is certainly the most literary sport. It's not my favorite sport, but it tops my sports reading, by far and away. It's no contest. And in this novel-in-stories, baseball once again hits it out of the literary park.

In 9 stories (get it? Like 9 innings?), we see various angles on the L.A. Lions' preseason Arizona league. We start with the batting coach who once tried for the major leagues himself, who returns to his beloved Arizona home only to find it has been trashed by squatters while he and his wife were away. Then we spend time with a woman who once was young and beautiful and hopped from baseball player to player, but now is no longer so young, no longer so beautiful, and no longer has the pick of the team, as she considers reevaluating her life and her choices. Then there's the star rookie.

These stories truly can be read as individual stories, but as they progress, they do coalesce into a greater whole. particularly in the last story as several themes from previous ones come together. Perfect for spring. Perfect for baseball fans. But you don't have to be one to love this book.

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

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Book Review: Spring Rain: A Graphic Memoir of Love, Madness, and Revolution by Andy Warner

When I was in college, I did not do study abroad. I am dreadful at foreign languages, I'd already spent some time abroad with my family as as tween, and I liked my college and wasn't sure why part of the point was to leave it. Yet most people did. Including Andy, who in 2005 went to Lebanon to study abroad. That's a fascinating decision that he kind of glosses over (yes, he makes a good case for Lebanon being a beautiful and interesting country but only after he's there--I'd like to have known more about why he chose to go to a country that's been war-torn for decades, after Sept. 11.) But the book pretty much starts with his arrival.

He meets people, he makes friends, he gets an apartment, he goes to clubs, he misses his ex-girlfriend, he starts to drawn cartoons again and most of all, he goes a little insane. Like he sometimes hallucinates, he's paranoid, and he has disturbing and realistic dreams. I'm glad that all seemed to be a one-time thing that resolved itself after he came back to the United States, but I also wish he'd explained that further--did he ever have any medical testing? Or even psychological? What would cause a person to temporarily go somewhat crazy for a few months, but then fully recover and never have another incident.

And yet, I don't get the book I wish for, I get the book he has written (and drawn). To see even a low level of a break with reality from the inside, from someone who's come out the other side, is truly a gift. To have someone who is now sane, be able to explain it in a way we can understand, gives a level of empathy most of us who've never struggled with mental health in that way, insight.

Now, that's not the only thing going on while Andy's there. There's a political assassination and unrest, Andy has his first sexual experience with a man, and in the end he decides the breakup with his girlfriend was a mistake (they're still together today and have kids). This book is incredibly open and raw, and reads like he doesn't even know the word artifice. It's one of the most honest and vulnerable memoirs I've ever read.

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

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Book Review: Catching a Russian Spy: Agent Les Weiser Jr. and the Case of Aldrich Ames by Bryan Denson

The second book in the FBI Files series for kids, I find these just utterly fascinating. The last one, The Unabomber, was about how the FBI works. This one is mostly about the CIA, and about the rather evil CIA operative, Aldrich Ames, who went to the Russians and offered to give them information if they paid him. His information lead to the death of dozens of American spies in Russia. The FBI got involved when the CIA figured out they had a mole and uncovered who it was. It turns out (I didn't know this!) that the CIA is not a law enforcement agency, so they can't arrest people. At that point they brought in the FBI, who worked with the CIA to discover evidence that would convict Ames, and to then arrest him before he could leave the country.

A single double agent can undercut and endanger the lives of dozens and scores of agents. One actually inside the primary spying organization of the United States was particularly dangerous. This book highlighted the problems, but also ended on a positive note as he was discovered and taken out. These books give kids an inside look at the FBI (and CIA) without glossing over the issues, and with an exciting and interesting story to go right along with it! Today, true crime is everywhere, and it's important for kids to have age-appropriate books they can turn to as well, so they don't end up watching Manhunter on Netflix and scaring the bejeezus out of themselves. As an added bonus, they'll learn some modern American history along the way.

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.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Book Review: Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Pérez

This book burned me up! A lot of this stuff I already kind of knew. But I never really thought about it. How everything in life is designed for men. How women's clothes don't have pockets. But I didn't know that Siri is designed to hear men's voices. And iPhones are designed to fit in men's hands. And when I thought about it, a big reason why I hate filling up the humidifier and leave it for Jordan' to do, is because of the massive opening which is very hard for me to twist the lid off, as it doesn't fit a woman's hand at all.

 But this book isn't just about modern technology. She discusses everything from how women MPs are treated in Parliament, to how different nonprofits have designed cooking stoves for African women who still cook over open fires--without ever asking the women what they want or need and then being shocked and dismayed after when the women aren't using them. Somehow the fault there lies with the women, according to the designers. Not with their designs. (Seriously, a spokesperson at Apple said we just need to train women--all women--to speak to Siri in a lower tone. Not fix the phone.) It reminds me a lot of another book I read recently, No Visible Bruises, about abuse, and the common question of why don't the women leave. The question ought to be, why don't their men stop hitting them?

But we can't fix any of these problems because we don't understand the problems. We don't know the extent of them. We don't study them. It's harder to study the effect of drugs on women because of hormone fluctuations. So we don't. So some drugs aren't effective on women at all. That's the solution our society has come up with. In what universe does that make sense? You think that's crazy, a drug that was DESIGNED for period pain was tested on men. That's how they found out a weird side-effect of the drug--Viagra--and completely changed the use for it (they never finished the testing on it for period pain, even though it looked to be extremely effective in early trials.)

It also reminded me of a graphic novel I read called Astronauts, which is about women astronauts, and it pointed out that when NASA expanded their idea of what an astronaut was to include women (and to include all sorts of strange things like Not Just Test Pilots), suddenly their troubleshooting became a lot better, because it wasn't any longer just a room full of hammers trying to force every problem into being a nail. When 52% of the population is being excluded, we can't possibly be functioning well. Want to raise the GDP? Instate universal day care. It would raise the GDP by 10% practically overnight. Ooooh, this book made me mad and aware and is really sticking with me. Everyone should read it.

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

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Book Review: American Dirt: A Novel by Jeanine Cummins

The person who told me to read this did warn me, that once you pick it up, it's impossible to put down. From page one, it's a roaring adrenaline-rush. In fact, I found it to be a terrible before-bedtime read as it excited me instead of lulling me, and I couldn't sleep at all. I should have just stayed up all night and read the whole thing.

It's hard to know where to go with a description with not wanting to give away even the very first chapter, but I think it's inevitable. Some backstory as preamble: Lydia lives in Acapulco with her husband, a journalist, and young son, Luca. She owns an independent bookstore. Their life seems happy and normal. But one day, they are at her mother's house for a party--it's Lydia's niece's quinceanera. The family is grilling out and everyone has gathered. Luca has gone inside to use the bathroom, and Lydia goes after him to see if he needs help. When the two of them are inside, machine gunfire erupts outside. Lydia grabs Luca and throws him into the shower and throws herself on top of him. They lie in silence, terrified, as they hear their entire family murdered around them. Some the killers come inside. They must be even quieter, making no sound at all. Finally, when there is silence, they must run. Run for their lives. Leave Acapulo forever with only what they have with them. A cartel is after them. Lydia's husband ran a profile of the leader in the local paper, and they vowed not just to kill him, but his whole family. They won't be safe anywhere in Mexico.

This book read like the best kind of summer action movie, but with much higher stakes, if only because the situation was so much more believable. And speaking of believable, I read nearly 100 pages before I finally realized this was fiction. It read just so true, that I was convinced initially that Lydia and Luca were real and that Ms. Cummins had done extensive interviews to tell their stories. Even now, weeks later, writing this summary, my heart has started beating faster, and the rush of the heart-pounding story is literally making my breathing increase. Yet it's not a fluffy beach-read thriller--I learned so much about the plight of immigrants striving to come to America for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways. The danger, the uncertainty, the diligence and incredible effort they must put forth for.... who knows what outcome. But for Lydia, and many, many others, there is no other real option. She does what she has to do to protect herself and her child once she has lost everything else in the world. Desperation proves a strong motivator. Pick this book up when you have many hours to devote to it. You won't be able to put it down.

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

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Book Review: Finding Mr. Better-Than-You by Shani Petroff

When Cam returns home from camp for her senior year of high school, her loyal boyfriend Marc is waiting for her. She's so excited to spend a year in art class with him, cheering him on at his soccer games, and ending with getting into Columbia alongside him. So when he publicly dumps her at their favorite diner surrounded by their friends, she's crushed in many ways, and has to figure out where to go from here.

Her best friends help her out, and along the way she figures out some important stuff, like that she doesn't have to sublimate her own interests for a boyfriend, and that true loyalty and real love doesn't even have to come from a romantic relationship at all. It's a fun romp with things going on practically every minute--she joins (and is the entire!) yearbook committee, becomes the secondary school mascot (at volleyball games and the like), rediscovers her love for NYC--and that NYU is probably a better fit for her than Columbia ever was--organizes an art show for one of her friends, dates a little, and basically has a fun, rollercoaster, more typical senior year. What about Marc? Marc who? Let's move on!

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 Swoon Reads, a division of Macmillan, my employer.