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Monday, November 23, 2020

Book Review: In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero, with Michelle Burford

You may know Diane Guerrero from her work on Orange is the New Black or Jane the Virgin. But what I'll bet you don't know is that her parents were illegal immigrants to the US. And one day, when she was a teenager, she came home from school to find them both gone. No one ever checked up on her, no social worker ever arrived. Instead Diane had to fend for herself when she was fourteen.

Luckily, she had some good family friends who took her in. But then they moved and she had to find another family willing to take her in. She was able to visit both of her parents in the prisons they were sent to before their final deportation, which was incredibly traumatic. And as a US citizen, when she was older and when their family had scraped together some money, she was able to visit them in Colombia. But they can never even visit her again. 

She had to figure out her life, alone. She never felt comfortable--always felt like an imposing guest. Luckily the year before she'd gotten into a prestigious performing arts school, and the teachers there as well as her fellow students, encouraged her to go to college (in fact it was pretty much assumed that she would.) She had to figure out how to do that on her own too. And while the college itself part was figure-out-able, what was tricky was what to do with herself over college breaks when she had no home to go to, she wasn't a foreign student so she didn't have a host family, and again she felt like a giant imposition if she went back to the families who'd already put her up for so long in high school.

Obviously, she did eventually figure things out. And she eventually was a successful actor, appearing on two hit shows simultaneously. But she gives us a window into the real consequences of the deportations of illegal immigrants. If she'd just had a tiny bit less support, if just one or two things had gone wrong, she'd have ended up with a tragically different adult life. I found the book eye-opening.

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

Friday, November 20, 2020

Book Review: American Hippo by Sarah Gailey

 I don't know about you, but currently I don't feel like reading anything about the here and now. A friend recently mentioned this as a reason why she's been reading a lot of historical fiction, but in my opinion that only takes care of one of the two issues--the now. But not the here. I have never been a big reader of speculative fiction... until now. And now I want nothing more than to escape. Completely. Maybe to another solar system, maybe to a magical world, and maybe to an alternate history of the United States where the Wild West took place in the swamps that used to be the Mississippi river Delta, but now are completely overrun with murdering feral hippos.

Not sound up your alley? Well give it a chance! I can count on one hand the number of alternate history books I've ever read, and this one was a delight.

This almost could have happened. A couple of decades after this book takes place, in the real world, it was proposed that we import hippos into the Mississippi to help with control of plant life, and as a great food source. This suggestion was taken very seriously and made its way far up the federal government before it was very wisely squashed, given that hippos are super murdery. This book takes that wacky idea, puts it in a more fun time frame, and plays out what likely would have happened. Just like with pretty much every other invasive species, while we'd say we'd keep it completely under control, we've never managed to do that, so it's safe to assume some hippos would get loose and go feral. 

Here we have a band of outlaws who have come together for a big--and legal!--score. They've been hired to destroy the dams keeping the majority of the hippos in the swamp, which hopefully means they'll all be swept out to sea and life in the region can more or less go back to the way it was before. Each of the outlaws have different skill sets and suffice it to say, none of them trust each other. Except for the ones who would kill for each other. So we have a fun western with better diversity than you've ever seen in that genre before, and lots of action. It was so much fun and an excellent distraction! So saddle up your hippo, and let's go!

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Book Review: Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten

I did take a class in Imperial Russian History in college, but I do not remember learning about Catherine I of Russia before, the first Tsarina of that country. Previously, in fact during the childhood of her husband Peter the Great, there had been women ruling as Regent, but Catherine I wasn't regent--she was full-on Tsarina in her own right, paving a path that would lead to Catherine the Great.

Marta grew up incredibly poor in the countryside, her family were serfs. As a teen, she was sold to a wealthy merchant as a house servant. After a rape, she killed him and escaped. She made it to a nearby town where she was nearly sold to a whorehouse, but she escaped yet again, and was found by a local minister's family who took her in (this is where the real history begins. To Ms. Alpsten's credit, I noticed no real shift in the writing and in fact, I had no idea what was fictional and what was historical until the author's note at the end.) I did start to wonder when she was ever going to get around to meeting the Tsar, Peter the Great, but that's not due to any lag in the story. It is a long book, but it's a Russian novel! Of course it is! Would you trust a Russian novel of 250 pages? I think not!

And meet him she eventually does, winning him over not through any manipulations or machinations, but by being her true self, strong and brave and open. She becomes Tsaritsa Catherine, and her life is complicated, exciting, unnerving, more than a little crazy, and all her own. It's a fascinating story that's impossible to put down.

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

Book Review: Murder by Milk Bottle by Lynne Truss

I started reading the Constable Twitten series because I loved Ms. Truss's grammar book and I loved old British mysteries and this felt like a lovely combo of the two. I keep reading them for the characters. The mystery itself, while well done with appropriate red herrings and twists and turns, is not my compulsion. How will the incredibly well-meaning, over-educated, and slightly naive young Constable Twitten put his foot in it this time? What evil and brilliant scheme will Mrs. Groynes pull off right under the noses of the police? How will Inspector Steine prove his utter dunderheadedness this time? What undercover shenanigans will Sergeant Brunswick get into? (Sadly, this time no undercover work for him.)

Yes, this particular book has The Milk Girl, an ice circus, and a meeting of the various heads of nefarious gangs from all around Britain, but as delightful as those all are (oh, and of course three people killed by actual milk bottle!), the characters are the real winners here. Will Twitten ever notice any of the various beautiful young women who fall in love with him? Will Brunswick ever ask out a woman he has a shot with? Will the town Brighton really never notice what an idiot Steine is? How long can Groynes keep up her criminal ways undetected? And in this book in particular, how long will Twitten not realize there's a police locker room and commissary? And how mad will he be that Brunswick never told him?

Pick up the book for the mystery, love it for the fully realized and hilarious characters.

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

Sunday, November 1, 2020

My Month in Review: October 2020

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:
Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley
American Hippo by Sarah Gailey
In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero
Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh
The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary
Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century: Unabridged Selections edited by Alice Wong (audio)
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah 

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Nice Girls Still Don't Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel
If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future by Jill Lepore

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh
Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad by Mike Birbiglia
Nice Girls Still Don't Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel
You Will Be Able to Crochet by the End of This Book by Zoe Bateman
The Diagnostic Manual Version-5

I bought these books from Main Street Books in Davidson, NC, along with 2 jigsaw puzzles, a candle, and a bunch of cards. Luckily, that last (giant!) book is for my husband, not me.