Thursday, October 29, 2020

Three Audiobook Reviews

I've gotten way behind in my reviews so here's a trio of my most recent audiobook listens. 

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein, narrated by Adam Grupper

Talk about a book right up my alley! Random facts, history, AND legal stuff all wrapped into one. And the facts and history are the kind that make you repeat them to friends and family later because they're just so infuriating. Basically, this book explains the history behind the lower rates of minority home ownership in America and how laws have prevented Black Americans from growing familial wealth in this way. From redlining to government-backed mortgages being only for whites, to white ownership IN PERPETUITY being written into deeds that exist TO THIS DAY, Black people wanting to buy houses have always been thwarted in this country and it's not because they're poor or have bad credit or any other reason. It's because it's enshrined in our laws and our government. This is wrong and horrid and awful and has for decades and centuries worked to keep systemic poverty in place and prevent black and brown Americans from owning property. (It was a little bit dry though.)

Race Against Time by Jerry Mitchell

Jerry moved to Mississippi for his journalism career, having no idea where it would lead. But after watching a preview of the movie Mississippi Burning, a stray comment about the fact that those men were all still alive--and free, lead him down a path in history. Through research he found that yes, the men who killed those three civil rights workers were in fact still around and had not been prosecuted. And sure, it had been decades but he figured that could work to his advantage--people wouldn't be as loyal, wouldn't worry as much about retaliation, and might even see the error of their ways. He tracked down witnesses and records and eventually his dogged determination did lead to arrests and a trial! Several people threatened him along the way but he not only didn't give up, he figured if this worked once, why not again? So he dove back into the archives and started making phone calls again, until he also cracked the cases of the assassination of Medgar Evers, the firebombing of Vernon Dahmer, and the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham. At the end of this road, too many witnesses and perpetrators were dying to go on. But it was a valiant effort to bring to task some of the worst racists who committed the most heinous crimes of the twentieth century. I wish more people did similar work.

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century: Unabridged Selections edited by Alice Wong, narrated by Alejandra Ospina 

So now to change from African-American topics to another minority: people with disabilities. This is a series of short first-person essays written by a wide variety of people from all sorts of backgrounds and histories, but who all share disabilities. Not all the disabilities are visible, some people have multiple disabilities, and some are disabled and also belong to other marginalized groups. But all of them have experienced their disability causing them to disappear in society. They want their issues, and their personhood, stood front and center, where they can no longer be ignored, overlooked, othered, and shunted aside. Unlike most other classifications of minority, "disabled" is a classification that might affect all of us one day if we live long enough. And it can hit some of us while young, and some temporarily. It's also the largest minority group, which is interesting as it seems to be the one fewest people have awareness of. These stories were eye-opening, harrowing, heartbreaking, and empowering. Not for the faint of heart and yet, should be required reading for all Americans.

Each of these I listened to as a downloadable eaudiobook from Libby/Overdrive via my local library. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Book Review: Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh


I just adored Allie's first book, and I had this on my To Buy list for years. Eventually, I deleted it because it seemed like it would never be published. So I was thrilled when it did finally come out, yay! And I bought it and read it right away! It's less linear than her last one, and the stories pull more from her childhood, and are more metaphorical. I didn't dislike those stories at all (in fact the one about her as a very small child repeatedly sneaking into her neighbor's house through the doggie door and leaving "gifts," was hysterical. Allie obviously was a bit off the beaten path from a very young age.)

I do know that she went through some very traumatic things the last few years--a divorce, surgery, remarriage--and she only barely mentions them, and that made me sad. I'm not sure if she was more open just because she was younger or because her life's things weren't quite as dramatic, but I did miss her openness and honestly from the first book. But that's such a minor complaint--I wanted the book to have more! And it's already huge! Seriously, it's over 500 pages. And it's printed on fancy art paper due to all the illustrations and it weighs a TON. Resting it on my lap while reading sometimes was uncomfortable. Again, a super minor complaint! 

Overall, Allie is a delight. She's bonkers and bizarre and also seems to attract like. For example, her new cat also seems overly strange (in a fantastic way) Her drawings are also hilarious and oddball and fun. Like the first book, this is neither a traditional graphic memoir, nor a memoir with illustrations--it's her own unique category. And boy does she make all of us feel like it's okay to be weird. And she shows how to find the humor in that. 

I bought this book from Main Street Books in Davidson, North Carolina, an independent bookstore.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Book Review: Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law by Jeffrey Rosen

Right after the sad death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I really wished I knew more about her. I'd seen the movie and I watched the documentary, but I'm a word person (shocker!) and then I remembered this book that came out not too long ago from my own company and I immediately downloaded it. It's so fantastic mostly because you hear Ruth's own words from her own mouth throughout.

Mr. Rosen became friends with Judge Ginsburg a while ago over their shared love of opera. As he's a journalist writing about legal matters, they've discussed the law A LOT over the years. And a few years back he started (with her permission) recording their conversations, These are arranged topically, which might not be how the exact conversations proceeded, but it is helpful for following along. Additionally, there's an intro to each chapter, but I wish those had been shorter, as it then often felt like the conversation was a little repetitive. But it does help a lot with context and the historical overview on particular subject matter. 

I learned a lot. I respect her even more which I didn't know was possible. I know at the time she was appointed, her views on Roe v. Wade were controversial but now that I understand the big picture there, I agree with her. Did you know there has been an opera written about her and Antonin Scalia? This was fascinating, and gave great insight into this diminutive yet towering figure in the public zeitgeist and also in legal circles hopefully for decades to come. If you too are missing RBG, this is a great (and fast) read that will make you feel like she's there with you, on your sofa, talking about the cases she argued in front of the Supreme Court, and the cases she heard as a judge. Amazing.

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Book Review: The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War by Delphine Minoui, translated by Lara Vergnaud

I went into this just expecting a great book about books (which of us book nuts doesn't love those) but I was surprised, at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak (I read this in late March) to find so many parallels to what we were all going through.

This book takes place in Syria, in a rebel town that has been completely cut off from the outside world. A group of young men went house to house and collected books, expecting hundreds but finding thousands, and created a library. Even though their original owners were gone, they meticulously noted who the owner was in the front of every book in the hopes that one day they could be reunited. So in a desolate world where no one ventured out except in search of food, and people were isolated, fearing the news, hating their president, and afraid for their lives every day, books provided comfort and solace. The main leader of this library didn't read at all before the war. But books found him when he needed them.

Ms. Minoui is also in the story because how she found these men and how she communicated with them is part of the story as well. In a feat of super-modern journalism, she mostly talked to them over Whatsapp and occasionally text and Facebook Messenger. She never met them until the very end, and most of her communication and research was, by necessity, very remote. That's another parallel with the virus outbreak--she wasn't able to meet with them and had to do everything from a great distance.

So while this book might not seem pertinent, I promise it really is. It's a brief, compelling, important story about the power of books in tumultuous times.

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

Book Review: To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu

This is not my usual cup of tea. I generally hate short stories (just when you start to get into them and know the characters, they're over.) I don't read a lot of scifi or books in translation. But this book blew me away. After all, the exception proves the rule!

In stories set across the universe, from tiny mountain subsistence farming villages to the outer reaches of the Milky Way, time and again, and in interesting and unique ways, Mr. Liu finds ways to illuminate our humanity. In particular, our art, our poetry, our love, and our kindness. You might expect a book with robots and spaceships, and there are a few of those, but mostly it's about self-sacrifice, about relationships, and what it means to be human. It's hard to talk about a short story collection without discussing individual stories in a way that feels both spoilery and yet unrepresentative of the whole. So I'm just going to say again, this book is amazing. I think everyone should read it. I couldn't read more than one story in a sitting because they were so profound that after each one, I needed to sit with it for a while. But I was always eager to get back to the next one. A masterpiece.

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

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Book Review: This is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae Safi

One night, one of the teens working at Wild Nights Bookstore uses his manager's computer--which he's not allowed too--and sneaks a peek at her email--which is REALLY not allowed--and discovers the store's owner is selling the store out from under everyone. He hatches a get-rich-quick scheme that instantly backfires.

The next morning, Daniella, Imogen, and Rinn (oh, and the manager), will deal with the (secret) bad news, the fallout from the get-rich-quick scheme, a real jerk of an author, secret crushes, secret social media accounts (a big no-no considering that phones are banned on the sales floor), oh, and trying to keep the store open. All in one big day!

If you remember the 90s movie Empire Records, this has a similar vibe. If you love bookstores, this will be a fun read. I really enjoyed the teens doing a lot for themselves, and during this day, they all learn a lot. In particular, I appreciated how at a workplace, you're surrounded by coworkers, not your friends, so when you band together, it might be reluctantly, and it might not work well at first. You might have to work harder to see how the puzzle pieces of the people involved can best fit together into a cohesive whole. And I loved the diversity. It was a fun YA novel.

This book is published by Feiwel & Friends, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Book Review: Loved and Wanted: An American Woman's Education on Choice by Christa Parravani

Christa meets a man who she marries a little later in life, so they have kids right away. Two adorable daughters, and things seem perfect. While his career has had its ups and downs (he writes for Hollywood), Christa gets offered a full professorship at West Virginia University, After losing their shirt and then some in LA more than once, a steady, prestigious job in a gorgeous location seems ideal. The pay is not great, but it's just enough. 

And then Christa realizes she's pregnant for a third time. Unplanned. And not exactly wanted. In fact, this child will be a huge burden to their already overtaxed family. And like thousands of married women, she seeks out other options. And yet, she's in West Virginia. So the options that are available to many Americans, and are supposed to be legal in all of America, aren't exactly open to her.

There is exactly one abortion clinic in the state of West Virginia,and it's three hours away. And because of two-step procedures and the chance of complications and the need for recovery, she'd have to stay several days. What would she do with her daughters during that time (yes, her husband is kind of useless but that's not the point here.) She could instead try Pittsburgh but that's also 3+ hours away, so same problems. She tries to get the drug RU-486 but, while she finds a doctor who would prescribe it for her under the table, the doctor warns her that if she has complications and goes to the ER, they won't treat her. And the doctor would herself be fired.

So Christa is now faced with another, even more gut-wrenching choice than before. It's hard enough to decide to terminate a pregnancy, but then what that choice isn't actually available to you--what next? 

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

Thursday, October 1, 2020

My Month in Review: September

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:
All Girls by Emily Layden
Finding Freedom: A Cook's Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch by Erin French
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells
Exit Strategy by Martha Wells
Network Effect by Martha Wells
Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells
Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause by Ty Seidule
"Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory" by Martha Wells (a short story)
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law by Jeffrey Rosen

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley
Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray (for my book club)
Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World by Michele Gelfand (my husband heard about this on a podcast)
I ordered both of these from Bookmarks, an independent bookstore in Winston-Salem, NC.
Crochet The Golden Girls: Includes 10 Crochet Patterns and Materials to Make Sophia by Allison Hoffman
I ordered this one from Browseabout Books, an independent bookstore in Rehobeth Beach, DE, along with a couple of super-cute face masks!