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Saturday, May 23, 2020

Book Review: Smacked: A Story of White-Collar Ambition, Addiction, and Tragedy by Eilene B. Zimmerman (audiobook)

I read an article based on the opening chapter of this book a few years ago and it stuck with me. Eilene went to check on her ex husband who had been sick for a long time, after her kids couldn't reach him for several days. She found him dead in his house. She was utterly shocked when it turned out to be a drug-related death, and she was so saddened when she discovered the very last thing he did before he died was call in to a work conference call.

From her horrific discovery, we jump back to their meeting right after college, the years they were just friends, when that crossed over, their long-distance relationships and Eilene moving for Peter repeatedly, their marriage, kids, house, disintegrating relationship, divorce, and then this.

Most people have no idea how many addicts they know. Particularly in white collar, upper class communities. My husband is a substance abuse counselor and I've heard hair-raising stories. Drug abuse and drug use disorders are pervasive across all classes--it's just that it's easier to hide when you have more money, and when you don't look like what our society stereotypes as a "drug addict." Eilene thought at first that her ex-husband had died from exhaustion, maybe a heart attack brought on by his stressful job as a high-priced lawyer, but she later learned he'd been phoning it in at work for a couple of years. And what I know from my husband's studies and work is that work is usually the very last thing to go. Both the addicts themselves and their loved ones use that as a justification--it can't be all that bad because he still has a good job. Peter's cautionary story certainly proves that horribly wrong.

Eilene wants to tell her story so that others are aware of the commonness of drug use disorders in white middle class families, as often it's so far off one's radar that it never occurs to the user's friends and family that it's even a possibility. It didn't occur to anyone in Peter's life. Yes, she was desperately trying to figure out what was wrong with him--googling symptoms of schizoaffective disorders and other mental and physical illnesses that she thought might account for his health problems and his increasingly bizarre and troubling behavior. But this never crossed her mind. Or Peter's kids or his boss or colleagues or anyone. Yet, through research Eilene did after his death, she discovered how common substance use and abuse is in the legal profession, how many lawyers suffer from depression and anxiety and self-medicate, how the field makes people more negative which leads to emotional and relationship problems that aren't easily solved--and how a simple solution of a pill instead of months or years of counseling seems like the better option when working 80-120 hour weeks.

It turns out this is a major issue that no one is discussing. Addiction doesn't discriminate. Eilene's harrowing retelling of Peter's story is one everyone should read so we're all more aware. Yes, she couldn't have saved Peter, but had anyone ever broached the subject with him, he might have had a better chance to save himself. I couldn't put this riveting book down and listened to the whole thing in just two days.

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

I first joined The Jane Austen Society in my senior year old college. I knew it had a long history, but I never thought about its founding. This is a highly, highly fictionalized story about that (in fact, it's completely made up. Nothing is based on real people or anything.) And it's delightful.

A group of unrelated and unlikely Jane Austen fans meet in Chawton, England. They get together multiple times. The last Austen relative is childless and funds have been dwindling and she's going to lose the estate to developers. The library, which might have important information about Austen hidden in it, will go along with the house. A movie star has bought a couple of pieces of Austen memorabilia. A local doctor and a housemaid are also drawn in to the group. They band together, and in order to collect Jane Austen's things before it's too late and they're all gone, and also to try to save her house, they form a society to raise money and have ownership.

Naturally along the way there are some romances, misunderstandings, monetary problems, and other twists and turns. It's a fun story about a beloved author and the beginnings of our understanding of her as one of the all-time greatest authors in history, and how preserving her life and letters and home can help us come to a greater understanding of why she is so important to so many of us.

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

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Book Review: Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America's Fast-Food Kingdom by Adam Chandler (audiobook)

So is everyone eating only drive-through and take-out right now? Good. Is the world outside making you crave comfort food? Me too. Isn't the Spicy Chicken Sandwich from Wendy's the best fast food item out there? You're wrong, yes it is.

So everyone I know claims to spurn fast food and only eat organic. You're all lying and you know it and I know it but that's okay. I'll see you in line at Popeye's and we'll pretend we never saw each other. Meanwhile, you should read this really fun book! It's the complete opposite of Fast Food Nation. Mr. Chandler appreciates fast food. He doesn't say it's healthy or that we should eat it daily, but he doesn't deny its appeal.

He goes back in time to the beginnings when White Castle was the first successful national chain. He progresses through McDonalds and Ray Kroc, up through KFC's Twitter feed (KFC follows exactly 11 people on Twitter--6 random guys named Herb and the 5 Spice Girls. Hysterical.)

If you have opinions on which chain has the best french fries and whether or not meat-substitutes will ever be able to work in the fast food world, you'll appreciate this book. With 20 minutes left, I had to turn into Wendy's. Especially because it was one of the fancy new ones with wood paneling and a fireplace! Mmmm, Frosty. Are you with me?

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

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Stuck Inside Recommendations 41-50: Memoirs!

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. These 10 books are all mysteries, as requested!

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! Memoirs are my favorite genre! Hope you find some delights in here.

41. Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer's Search for Wonder in the Natural World by Leigh Ann Henion*

42. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

43. Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe*

44. Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children by Sara Zaske

45. Red-tails in Love: Pale Male's Story—A True Wildlife Drama in Central Park by Marie Winn*

46. Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime by Scott Simon

47. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman*

48. Nothing Good Can Come from This by Kristi Coulter

49. My Own Country: A Doctor's Story by Abraham Verghese*

50. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
   

   

 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Book Review: Modern Family: The Untold Oral History of One of Television's Groundbreaking Sitcoms by Marc Freeman

Man, what a great sitcom. It was so buzzy the first season that I resisted. Plus, it began just at the end of a terrible run of sitcoms. They were all crass, lowbrow, and also just terrible. And it had that fake-documentary style that was so fresh with The Office but now felt very also-ran. And then it won like all the Emmys, and I decided to stop being an idiot and start watching. And it has been appointment viewing for me ever since!

And I love an oral history. It's really great to get the unvarnished direct words of all the important people involved. The most fascinating thing was how the two creators/producers really hated each other after making the pilot, and then each of them took the helm of every other episode. And yet, I never noticed. Did you? No unevenness. No ping-ponging. If anything, it may have kept the show more balanced as they had different focuses, and different approaches. That way you didn't have a bunch of Very Special episodes in a row, or a bunch that were rather slapsticky. It was more balanced.

The perspective of the kids was great. I had no idea that Ariel and Nolan are the same age, and goofy Nolan who plays the rather dense youngest kid is actually a member of MENSA who graduated from high school several years early in order to be able to focus more on work. It was fun to hear about Sofia's changing and variable accent and how they used that for jokes. And the poor twin babies who were so miserable playing Lily the first two years. And how desperate Julie Bowen was to get the role--despite being enormously pregnant with twins when they filmed the pilot.

This show managed to be both groundbreaking and yet homey and safe at the same time. And it's true--this is how modern families look today. As someone with multiple step-families, a half-brother, and ex-step-in laws, this felt very real to me. The only part that didn't resonate was all of them living in the same city as adults, but that might be particular to me.

With so much uncertainty and angst these days, it's a perfect time to revisit the show and be comforted.

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

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Book Review: Poisoned Water: How the Citizens of Flint, Michigan, Fought for Their Lives and Warned the Nation by Candy J Cooper, Marc Aronson

I truly didn't understand the Flint water crisis until This Old House explained the crux of it to me very simply a couple of years ago (gist: when the water was switched from the lake to the river, the protective additive wasn't added and the river water removed all of the protective coating from the interior of the lead pipes. This is why simply switching the water source back doesn't solve anything. The water might be cleaner at origination, but all the lead pipes now have to be replaced, period.) Since then I've been pretty fascinated, from a comforting remove. But this sort of boneheaded short-term cost-cutting happens everywhere and could happen anywhere. It happened this year, the exact same problem, in Newark, New Jersey, right here in my county.

This book explains to teens what's happened. Teens are very interested in the environment, and this crisis in particular has hit children especially harshly. Elevated lead levels in children shave off IQ points forever. While the authors are not local, they did a ton of on-the-ground research, including talking to local children, from kids who spend their entire weekends picking up cases of water and lugging them home, to children with permanent health problems, to young adults who had to move away to get away from the bad water. The complicitness of all the governmental officials who had to look the other way is infuriating, and the few whistle blowers who spoke up despite great pressure not to, are real heroes. This problem isn't over. It won't be for decades. And it can happen again, when people turn a blind eye to the outcome of looking the other way when the disadvantaged are mowed over.

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

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Book Review: The Dirty Girls Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

This book was originally published nearly two decades ago, at the height of the chick lit trend, during the run of Sex and the City, and it was way ahead of its day. Despite (or perhaps because of?) having 6 Latinx women as its leads, in a time of lily-white media, it was very successful. And it's going to be rereleased in the fall of 2020, as strong books with Latinx characters are having their day.

When this book came out, I was an acquiring editor, and after just a couple of years, I was incredibly tired of the usual tropes of chick lit. I was actively asking agents to look for chick lit books where the main character didn't work in publishing, didn't live in New York, didn't hate their boss, and didn't have a gorgeous male best friend who they were "just friends" with. I remember being jealous when this book was published BY MY OWN PUBLISHING HOUSE but a different editor, as this was just what I was looking for. The characters are all in their late 20s (that also was something I wanted--I wanted the women to have more "real" problems than just dating and fashion, and that shift seems to happen around age 25 when, to put it in the parlance of Gen X, problems "stop being polite and start getting real.") They went to college together in Boston and as the only Latinx women in the journalism program, they gravitated towards each other, despite having wildly different backgrounds. Some of them grew up with a pretty non-Latin experience, one of them believes (despite a vast lack of evidence) that her family is descended from Spanish royalty, two are Cuban-American, one Puerto Rican, and one is from Columbia (the only one who is not American and for whom English is a second language.) Even within these varied experiences, there are further differences as the varying colors of their skin lead to different assumptions and stereotypes. One woman is constantly baffling people who don't believe she can be both Latina and black. Another woman, who had a fairly upper middle class American life, was seen by her husband when they met, as an "earth mother" type, even though she couldn't be further from that. Just because of her heritage.

Two of these women are married, one has kids, one has founded a successful magazine, one is a TV news anchor, one gets a record contract, one is being abused by her SO, one writes a column for the paper about being Latina in Boston, and all of them have various struggles with love (one or two have career issues but generally they're wildly successful across the board. That's my one quibble with the book--these women have the careers of 45-year-olds, not 28-year-olds.) I do wish that the end solution isn't pairing all of them (but one) off, but it was the era and the genre for that (and heck, we still see that today.) There is a sequel so perhaps the pairings don't all work out. The voices of the different women were really well drawn--you wouldn't read a Rebecca chapter and get confused and think she was Elizabeth or Usnavys. And they're incredibly different women too.

It's not too dated reading it today, but a new generation of women who didn't come of age with Bridget Jones and Andy from The Devil Wears Prada might have a different take. I'd be interested to hear how Millennials--and even Gen Z--react to this book in 2020. Happy Cinco de Mayo!

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

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Stuck Inside Recommendations 31-40 Mysteries!

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. These 10 books are all mysteries, as requested!

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!

31. The Lost Man by Jane Harper

32. Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story by Leonie Swann, translated by Anthea Bell*

33. A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks

34. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins*

35. The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair

36. Wobble To Death by Peter Lovesey*

37. Glass Houses by Louise Penny 

38. The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett*

39. The Devil's Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch

40. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier*
 
 
 


Saturday, May 2, 2020

Book Review: The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton

Kit works as a wench, aka a waiter, at a Medieval Times restaurant. Her older brother works as a knight, which is a much cooler job, and, more importantly, it pays a heck of a lot better (after all it's highly skilled and dangerous.) One night, just before showtime, he gets in a fight with a fellow knight and his eye is swelling shut, so he encourages Kit, who practices with him every week after all and therefore knows his entire routine, to go on in his place. No one will know, he argues, due to the armor. However, another friend at the restaurant who knows about the switch, films Kit's performance in the ring. And at the end, in a moment of defiance, Kit whips off her helmet and her long hair flows behind her, revealing the fact that she's a girl to everyone. The video is uploaded and goes viral.

Kit decides to use this moment to fight the corporate policy. After all, when better to fight sexism and patriarchy, than when the whole world is on your side? And she does really need the money too--their family is living on the financial edge. Since their father took off and hasn't paid child support, their mother has barely been able to keep up. Her brother's been going to community college and even though Kit has gotten into her dream college, she might have to defer that dream too. But she doesn't have to defer this one! She can be the first girl knight at the restaurant chain! And she'll do what she has to do, to make that happen.

This is a fun and empowering girl-power YA novel, with a satisfying ending, although everything isn't wrapped up with a bow (which is a good thing in my opinion!)

This book is published by Page Street Kids, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

Friday, May 1, 2020

My Month in Review: April

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:
Historically Inaccurate by Shay Bravo
The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War by Delphine Minoui, translated by Lara Vergnaud
You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe, narrated by Brittany Pressley (audio)*
Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains by Kerri Arsenault
Murder by Milk Bottle by Lynne Truss
Flamer by Mike Curato
Smacked: A Story of White-Collar Ambition, Addiction, and Tragedy by Eilene B. Zimmerman (audio)*
The Dirty Girls Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker (audio)*
InvestiGators: Take the Plunge by John Patrick Green
American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI by Kate Winkler Dawson (audio)*
Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Even the Stiffest People Can Do the Splits by Eiko*
Check, Please!, Book 2: Sticks and Scones by Ngozi Ukazu

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
The Impossible First: From Fire to Ice—Crossing Antarctica Alone by Colin O'Brady*