Friday, April 9, 2021

Book Review: You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

You may know comedian Amber Ruffin who both writes and occasionally performs for Seth Meyers on his late night show, and also has her own show on Peacock. What you don't know is that she's from Omaha, Nebraska, where her sister Lacey Lamar still lives. And boy, the things people say to Lacey are shocking!

Lacey is often the only Black person at her workplace and the people around her either let down their guard or simply are proudly racist. She reports back to Amber--who lives in New York where these sorts of daily racist remarks are a thing of the past--who finds great humor in the majority of them. Here both sisters tell Lacey's stories (and a couple of Amber's) to illustrate through humor how racism is still pervasive and ridiculous. The humor is truly key, as it helps the medicine go down, and also lowers people's defenses so they can truly hear these stories without getting their back up. Because ya'll, you guys, racism's still out there. And by the time you read this Lacey will probably have been fired from yet another job for standing up for herself and not putting up with other people's stupidity. 

The audio version was especially good as both sisters recorded it, and while I appreciated them describing some of the pictures included, audiobook publishers have got to figure out a way to make photos in book more accessible to us listeners. Like just putting them up on the publisher's website would be good. I don't even need all of them--just a couple would be fine. 

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

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Book Review: Death of a Showman by Mariah Fredericks

The lady Jane Prescott is maid to, Louise Tyler, is interested in the theater, and as her new husband isn't paying much attention to her, when Jane learns her old friend Leo Hirschfeld has co-written a musical that is actually being produced on Broadway, the two of them start attending rehearsals, and Louise is soon pressured into financially backing the production. 

Jane isn't thrilled about seeing Leo every day as there  had been sparks between them, but Leo has recently and suddenly married a chorus girl in his new musical, whose claim to fame is slowly--and bouncily--walking down stairs. That's it. Jane understandably feels slighted that Leo would go from her to... this. But Jane is also a sensible woman and an excellent maid so she overlooks that for now, and even tries to get to know the woman. If Leo married her she can't be as stupid as she seems, can she? 

One night the whole cast and crew go out to dinner at a fancy restaurant and Leo's partner is murdered in the bathroom! Who could have done it? His wife? The woman he was stepping out with? Leo? The lead actress's disgruntled boyfriend? Whoever it is, the scandal could close the show, losing all of Louise's money, so Jane must go to work as the police are all too eager to lay the blame at the feet of someone who obviously had an alibi. Luckily for Louise, Jane is an excellent detective. Luckily for us readers, Jane is also a delightful sleuth to tag along with, during the beginning days of Broadway's height, as the musical was finding its feet in the transition from Vaudeville. Join her and Louise as they have a fun time dabbling their toes into the exciting life of the theater!

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

Thursday, April 1, 2021

My Month in Review: March 2021

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:
Brat: An '80s Story by Andrew McCarthy*
A Face for Picasso: Coming of Age with Crouzon Syndrome by Ariel Henley
Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune
The Heron's Cry by Ann Cleeves
No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality by Michael J. Fox (audiobook)
So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix by Bethany C. Morrow

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Brothers on Three by Abe Streep
My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Psycho by the Sea by Lynne Truss
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer* (audio)
The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser*

What I acquired this month (non-work books): 
Brat: An '80s Story by Andrew McCarthy* (from a friend who is a rep at Hachette)

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Book Review: Finding Freedom: A Cook's Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch by Erin French

Erin didn't have the easiest life. Her dad was a tyrant who forced her to work long hours in his diner in Freedom, Maine. Her mom was loving but didn't speak up for her. She loved the food at the diner and trying new things but she didn't love how much it took her father away from the family and made him perpetually stressed and angry. 
She managed to get away to college even though her father refused to pay for it. And after a late-night get together with her old high school boyfriend, she ended up pregnant, which went over like a lead balloon. So she dropped out of college at 21 and had a baby boy (what her father always wanted instead of Erin and her sister.) Meanwhile she was working at the diner, often solo, often 16+ hour days. When she moved out, she also got a job at a high-end restaurant. There she met Tom, twice her age, who at first seemed like a creep. Eventually she decided her wasn't, and reader, she married him. And reader, it was bad.

Tom was an active alcoholic when she married him. He cheated on her. He also adopted her son and helped her open a restaurant so it seems like he wasn't all bad. But then when she started taking a lot of pills to deal with the stress of the restaurant and him, things went south fast. There was some physical abuse and a restraining order. But then when she went to rehab, he closed her restaurant (somehow only her name was on the mortgage and only his name was on the title, hmmmm) and took away her son. She fought him for custody and also fought her way out of debt to open another restaurant, which is wildly successful (the reservations are sold out within minutes of their opening for the entire season.)

It's as if Ruth Reichl had a bad childhood and a terrible twenties. Or if Anthony Bourdain was a women who was a teenage mom. Tons of drama, lots of trauma, but oh the food, the glorious amazing food.

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

Friday, March 26, 2021

Book Review: Broken (In the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson

More excellence and funny from Jenny Lawson!

As usual, a series of essays, often hilarious, often dealing with her mental and physical health issues, and the poor, suffering Victor. Her daughter plays more of a role here, which makes sense as she's older. And for me, this particular collection seemed to skew slightly less funny, but it's still always a good day when you get a new book from Jenny Lawson! 

The transcranial magnetic stimulation treatments were so cool (although fighting with her insurance company over them wasn't.) And I can't stop thinking about her thinking that dog rain boots are essentially small condoms, and then she went to the pharmacy to try to get some herself, and she was looking for those rubber glove fingers that you can put over an injury, and the whole exchange was hysterical and bizarre. Much fun!

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

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Book Review: Girlhood by Melissa Febos

A couple of booksellers told me Melissa Febos was their favorite author, and those are STRONG words from a bookseller! Most of us are highly annoyed when we're asked for a top ten  of authors, and we never volunteer that as it's SO HARD. So I immediately checked out her new book to see what the hype was all about.

So Ms. Febos has an interesting background as a professional Dominatrix (that's the subject of her first book) and in her third book, she's addressing that in an oblique way, as this book is a series of essays more or less in chronological order that are about being a girl and becoming a woman. She starts each section off with a subject, such as when your body was first objectified by a man. How old were you? Thirteen? Ten? Eight? And then she writes her story, and she follows that with the stories of several other women, who mostly she talked with, and a few who wrote up their essays (Ms. Febos teaches writing, and I assume that's the origin of those other essays.) 

So the book is super #metoo as it's about objectification, assault, bullying, pressure to be and act in a sexualized manner, first kiss, first boyfriend, and so on. This book is not for the faint of heart, but it very much is for those looking for stories about how we all got to where we are in this day, in terms of personal experiences of the pressures--emotional, verbal and physical--that impact the healthy sexual development of girls into women.

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

Monday, March 22, 2021

Book Review: No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality by Michael J. Fox (audiobook)

I wasn't entirely sure what this book was going to be. I've already read Mr. Fox's first memoir, and it seemed like perhaps he'd already used up the best material as this is now his fourth memoir, but like the great memoirists out there, he has an interesting life and an even more interesting take on it. 

Yes, he is a movie and TV star who in the 1980s starred in some of the biggest shows there were. And yes, we all now know of his early diagnosis with Parkinson's Disease, forcing his semi-retirement from acting (but boy he was good on The Good Wife. He points out that Parkinson's has made him switch from leading man to character actor, which is so much more interesting and I agree.) What I did not know was that he also had a tumor on his spine (seriously, can he catch a break?) And had to have surgery to remove it, which could have paralyzed him. Instead, it was successful, but took months of rehab and round-the-clock nurses and help from family. And then, he fell and badly broke his arm. Back to rehab he went. 

His stalwart wife Tracey gets (and deserves) a lot of praise, as do his four kids who seem just terrific. But also, as the subtitle hints, his own optimistic attitude has been a big boon in his multiple recoveries and his continued slow decline. He's not Pollyannaesque--he doesn't see the world through rose colored glasses. It's more that he doesn't see the point in wallowing or dwelling on bad things that can't be changed. In this book however, he does start to experience some real depression for the first time. Maybe it's all the setbacks. Maybe it's seeing himself as old for the first time. Maybe it's seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is closer... meaning the tunnel isn't all that long anymore. Probably a little bit of all of these.

But as light as a celebrity memoir can be, this one was at time truly profound. In fact, I found myself thinking that this is a book I would want to revisit, particularly if I'm ever deathly ill or experiencing some kind of medical issue, as I really appreciate his attitude and outlook and I'm sure I could use a reminder at a time like that. 

I love his humor, his golfing, his family's love of travel (and refusal to leave him behind, especially as my own parents get older and travel is more difficult.) Come for Marty McFly, and leave with a better perspective on life.

I listened to this book on audio. I wasn't sure if Michael reading it himself was even going to be possible (initially the publisher thought it wouldn't be) and as I heard him read an earlier memoir and the audio was at that time very influenced by his Parkinson's. He was able to, and if anything, he seems to have more control now, even if his rhythm and cadence are obviously changed from Alex P. Keaton days. But it did make for an excellent read, as is so often the case with celebrity memoirs.

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

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Book Review: Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green

I just watched the documentary I'll Be Gone in the Dark, based on the bestselling book, and talked with my husband about why true crime has such an appeal to some. I don't read all of it, but the literary, elevated stories I do. I want more than salacious blood and gore--I want the underlying story of why, and maybe even something more.

Last Call really hit the spot for me as it is literary true crime, but it's also a history of the LGBTQ scene in New York City during a time we usually don't hear about. It's after the initial liberation of the 1970s, and it's after the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, when gay and lesbian people were becoming more accepted and having more freedom because of that. And just as this change is happening, a serial killer starts targeting gay men. You might at first assume it's someone who hates gay men, some kind of vigilante homophobe but you'd be wrong. I won't tell you more but the call is coming from inside the house. Which makes it extra sad.

It's also extra sad in that these crimes should have been investigated harder and solved more quickly. But it's also nice that they weren't completely swept under the rug and in fact were followed through on. The true crime aspect is well researched and thorough, but I also really appreciated the slice of life of the nice quiet gay piano bar scene of the 1990s. A compelling read.

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

Monday, March 1, 2021

My Month in Review: February 2021

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:
The Arctic Fury by Greer Macallister*
Check, Please!, Book 2: Sticks & Scones by Ngozi Ukazu
A Rogue's Company by Allison Montclair
Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health by Leana Wen
We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence by Becky Cooper (audio)*
The Burning Blue: The Untold Story of Christa McAuliffe and NASA's Challenger Disaster by Kevin Cook
Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina by Georgina Pazcoguin

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Brothers on Three by Abe Streep
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer* (audio)
The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser*
Nice Girls Still Don't Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel*

What I acquired this month (non-work books): nothing this month

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Book Review: Love Is for Losers by Wibke Brueggemann

Phoebe's best friend Polly has started dating a really stupid, gross boy, and never even wished Phoebe a happy new year, so Phoebe is done with her. Which is just as well as her whole life has deteriorated. Her mother, a doctor with Doctors Without Borders, has gone overseas again, abandoning Phoebe with her godmother, Kate. And then Phoebe has accidentally let Kate's prize-winning purebred cats out of the house and one has come back pregnant, so Phoebe now owes Kate the breeding fee Kate can't get for the cat. Which is how Phoebe ends up volunteering (working off the money she's owed) at the thrift shop Kate manages.

While there, almost against her will, Phoebe makes friends. Emma, who is her age, and a variety of other people at the shop, who range in ages and abilities (including Alex who has Down Syndrome, and elderly couple, and a middle aged woman who seems to hate her.) While it would be good if Phoebe were to make up with Polly (but I'm not giving that away), it's also very good that she stretches herself and makes new friends, and particularly that she makes friends across generations and almost none of them are people she would have chosen. Phoebe is very sure of herself, knows exactly what she likes (and hates), has extremely strong (and sarcastic) opinions, and yet against her will she grows and learns about life. And love. And kittens.

This book is published by Farrar Strauss and Giroux Books for Young Readers, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Book Review: Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Daunis has just graduated from high school but because of family issues, she's taking a year off before college. Her half-bother (who isn't even 9 months younger than her--so you can guess her parents aren't still together) has asked Daunis to befriend a new student who is on his hockey team, and introduce him to the town and maybe work out with him. Jamie is unaware of his own indigenous heritage so Daunis also introduces him to a lot of the traditions of the reservation and her tribe. 

At a party one night, something absolutely horrible happens to someone Daunis loves, and she finds out that there is an undercover FBI agent in their midst. Daunis knew there was a meth epidemic hitting her community, but when it hits that close to home, she's willing to get involved--although she's also conflicted. If she helps the feds, is she betraying her people? But she's trying to help save her people. But what if that means lying to her friends and family and betraying trust? Is that worth it if it saves lives? And the federal government hasn't exactly proven themselves to be trustworthy in the past, with Ojibwe or other tribes. Are they telling the truth?

It's like 21 Jump Street set in an indigenous community. It's exciting, a thrilling ride, with twists and turns, and some good red herrings that threw me off. Meanwhile, as a white reader I learned a lot about the Ojibwe nation, this particular tribe in Michigan, and issues surrounding being biracial (Daunis's mother is white) in this community. I learned interesting things about living so close to the Canadian border, hockey, and native medicine. It's a fantastic read, great for both teens and adults, and very much an adrenaline rush at the end. 

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

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Book Review: We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence by Becky Cooper (audiobook)

When Becky was a student at Harvard, she heard a story about a student from 1969 who was murdered by a professor she'd been having an affair with--and he was never caught and was still teaching. That chilled her to the bone. She had to look it up and she found Jane Britton, a graduate archaeology student. She was murdered. It was still unsolved.

This began several years of obsession on Becky's behalf with this case. She tracked down everyone possible, filed freedom of information act requests, and even went on a dig herself. She looked at several possible suspects, including the professor originally implicated by campus gossip. She looking into the sexism in the department and on campus, she looked into alleged police misconduct, and she investigated every possible lead. 

She insinuated herself into the story. I don't use the word obsession lightly here. She let it affect her relationships, her job, and her living situations. She took things personally. At times she was nervous or even scared around people. She let her feelings get enmeshed in the case and the outcome. I understand that's often the impetus that leads strangers to take on cold cases like Michelle McNamara does in I'll Be Gone in the Dark, but this felt different, like she didn't even try for any objectivity, and I did find myself rolling my eyes at points. Do I care if Becky's feet skimmed over the floor at the airport? What does that even mean? 

However, the saving grace is that she's a great writer. And also, unlike a lot of disappointing true crime I've read/listened to/watched lately, this one does have an ending. But I'm starting to wonder about this whole genre for me. The endings are a problem. Is the whole point truly the path there? I thought the point was whodunit. Without definitive answers, unless these are classified more as "Unsolved Mysteries," I'm getting frustrated. Because even though this case purports to have an ending, there are still some questions at the end (which Ms. Cooper not only acknowledges but helpfully enumerates.) 

Also, boy, Harvard just feels like an asshole. The whole institution. I detest Lawrence Summers and I think he was the perfect Harvard president in how he embodied the corporation. (At one point Ms. Cooper compares Harvard to a corporation but it is in fact one, and I think it should be called out as such.) The cover-ups and the just rampant, blatant sexism that still goes on today is unforgivable. 

Still, if you're into true crime and the involvement of the author/investigator doesn't both you, this is a great read. It's compelling and hard to put down. The author read the audiobook herself and I thought she did a fine job. 

I borrowed this digital audiobook from my local library via Libby/Overdrive.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Book Review: The Arctic Fury by Greer Macallister

I'd heard a lot of good things about this book so I was glad when my book club picked it, plus I love a good historical novel. 

Virginia Reeve has been leading groups of settlers through the Sierra Mountains on the California Trail out west. Thanks to a newspaper article, she is contacted by a wealthy benefactor and paid to come to Boston for a project. Once there she discovers the woman is Mrs. Jane Franklin, the wife of the missing Arctic explorer. He's been gone for a couple of years so most people have given up hope, but Mrs. Franklin wants to know what happened once and for all. And after multiple expeditions of men have failed, she decides to secretly fund an expedition of women to go. She thinks women have different strengths and might be the difference in getting there. Secret because if it fails, that will set back women's rights (or at least that's the story.) 

So there's a motley group of thirteen women with a variety of skills (medical, cartography, journalism, financial) who need to be corralled by Virginia into a solid crew of explorers, to head into the deep Arctic unknown. 

Meanwhile, in alternating chapters we know that Virginia is on trial for murder of one of her crew. The woman on her team with whom she butted heads the most did not come home (and she's not the only one), and her parents want someone--Virginia--to pay. Also we get some flashbacks to Virginia's days in California, and her childhood when her family made that same fateful journey West. 

There were excellent discussion topics throughout the book. However, a lot of us in the book club found the book less than compelling. With so many characters, it was hard to get to know many of them well, and while the multiple POVs and timelines were not too confusing, it did seem to lend an element of contrivance to the structure that seemed unnecessary. I felt the trial chapters were drawn out to equal up with the exploring chapters in a way that overly balanced the book. But the exploring chapters had more meat to them and heft. I often felt like I was just getting through the trial chapters to get back to the main action. And the payoff didn't feel worth all the hype--I guessed most of the "twists." That said, I still found it entertaining to imagine a group of women explorers in the 1850s and I did finish it (I had not finished it before the discussion so I certainly could have stopped then.) But I'd say it was good, not great.

I bought this book from Main Street Books in Davidson, NC, my local independent bookstore.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Book Review: Check, Please!, Book 2: Sticks & Scones by Ngozi Ukazu

 So a weird thing happened with my reading of this book. At first, I could only read half! I downloaded it at work and I was horrified when it ended after Bitty's Junior year of college, knowing that certainly couldn't be the end (plus it was kind of a cliffhanger) and so I had to wait until the book was published to read the whole thing. And when it was published, I was distracted by pandemics and moving multiple times, so then it actually took like a year and a half for me to finish, which means I had to go back to the beginning and restart. Which wasn't an issue as this is a delightful book. 

The first Check, Please! book takes up through Eric "Bitty" Bittle's first two years as Samwell University and on their hockey team. In his last two years, he and his NHL boyfriend go public (in fact, very, very public) and come out to their parents and he is voted captain of his team and he bakes A LOT of pies. Some old faces resurface (love that Shitty keeps coming back. Yes, that's his nickname--no one even knows his real first name until the last page of the book.) and you get to know new freshmen and Jack's teammates, too. 

I love this super idealized university that is wildly diverse and tolerant and kind. I wish I could live there. I also love Bitty who's so full of energy and verve and jam, and only 20-something athletes could eat this much baked goods and keep it off. It's a fun conclusion to the story that pulls together all the earlier stories and will make you want to watch some hockey!

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

Friday, February 12, 2021

Book Review: Spin with Me by Ami Polonsky

Essie moves from St. Louis to North Carolina with her dad while he has a temporary teaching gig at the university. It's weird to be away from her mom and her friends and she's counting down the days, but she quickly makes friends, including Ollie, who is non-binary. And she develops a crush on Ollie, which she thinks might be reciprocated, but things are even more confusing than usual. One of her friends back home is kind of ghosting her, and she comes up with the idea to make a big art piece. 

Then the narrative switches to Ollie, and their life at home and their burgeoning crush on the new girl, Essie. But Ollie also isn't sure if Essie feels the same way about them. As they work together preparing for an upcoming parade, they get close, bumble things, and nervously navigate their way through complicated feelings.

This is a thoughtful book exploring a lot of themes involving relationships, gender, sexual identity, and more. I did enjoy it, and I think it'll be really useful to some kids who are curious about these issues or dealing with them themselves, but these kids are insanely mature and respectful to the point where it's more than a little hard to believe. That said, it's an easy flaw to overlook, and all it means as that they're mostly acting exactly as we all wish we would if we didn't have things like tempers, miscommunication, and knee-jerk reactions. It's pretty lovely living in a world where those really aren't issues. And it's a very supportive book, that helps explain and normalize some more complicated concerns.

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

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Book Review: A Shot at Normal by Marisa Reichardt

Juniper Jade has been homeschooled her whole life and she's extra annoyed at the beginning of 11th grade when her family has moved across the street from the local high school. But she couldn't go even if her parents would allow it (they won't) because she doesn't have any vaccinations. Her parents won't allow that either. Her parents are hippies who went to the second Woodstock and make their own shampoo and deodorant. Her mother sells bundles of herbs at the farmer's market and Juniper has no hope of having a normal teenage experience. Everything she's read and heard about--proms, football games, even cafeterias--remains tantalizingly out of reach.

One day after working with her mom at the farmer's market, she feels sick. It turns out she has the measles. It's very bad and she ends up at the hospital with pneumonia. Her younger siblings get it as well but they don't have it quite as bad. And it seems like things are getting back to normal as she is recovered and makes her way to the library. There, she finds out someone else also died of the measles--an infant who she saw at the farmer's market and whose fingers she disentangled from her hair. Suddenly Juniper knows--she killed that baby. Or, well, her parents' decision to not vaccinate her did. And now she wants to get her vaccinations. But in California, that means she'd have to sue her parents. How would she even begin?

Meanwhile the town has figured out who it was who brought the measles and her family is outed and ostracized. But she's also met a nice boy at the library who invites her to the high school's film club night. How will she manage first love amidst the raging crises in the town and in her own home?

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

Monday, February 8, 2021

Book Review: All Girls by Emily Layden

At an all-girls boarding high school in New England, a scandal has erupted belatedly. An alum who is roughly my age (mid 40s) is suing the school and has publicly made statements about having been sexually assaulted by a teacher when she was a student there. She went to the school administration and she got kicked out of school. Not only were there no repercussions for the teacher, he is still teaching there. Well, until this gets out now, in this era of #metoo. The teacher promptly leaves and the school hopes the scandal will just go away. Which of course it won't. 

This book follows about a dozen different girls at the school, each one narrating her own chapter. Some are freshman, not having any history at the school and being shocked by this news hitting just as they start school. Others are seniors who are dismissive, as everyone knew that teacher was problematic for years--why worry about him now? (I get that. I had an English teacher in high school who everyone said dated students. It was well-known.) Some students deal with the new stress and strain of sexual assault in their backyard through art. Others through protest. 

If you love a good private-school novel, as I do, this one is completely current (minus COVID) and brings this setting well into the twenty-first century. Having gone to a small, private college, I understand that insular feel, as well as the criss-crossing student relationships and almost incestuous feeling of closeness. I think these girls will all turn out okay, one way or another.

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

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Book Review: The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal, narrated by Michael Maloney (audiobook)

I'm so glad I listened to this! What a wonderful story of art and family and history. Edmund de Waal inherited over 250 netsuke, tiny carved Japanese figures (careful if you google them because a lot are erotic). He's a ceramicist, so he's very interested in art. And his uncle, who lived in Japan, who left these to him, had inspired him to look into them further. His family, the Ephrussis, had lived in Paris and Austria and were wealthy bankers who collected art. They hung out with the Impressionists--were truly friends with them (or so it seemed until it was no longer cool to be friends with Jews.) 

But at the beginning of our story, everything seems lovely with a growing family of art lovers who entertained with Degas and Cassatt and even arranged commissioned portraits by Renoir when he was in financial straits. I thought this book would just be that--lovely and serene and quiet and art-focused. But I should have known better. To get from the 1880s to now, this Jewish family in Europe (Austria, no less!) would have to get through the 20th century. And as World Wars crept closer, the tone shifted. 

It managed to tiptoe around the truly sad, as the family was fortunate, had some foresight, and all of the adult children were living abroad when the Nazis arrived. But it is heartbreaking nonetheless, especially when their "friends" turned their backs on the Ephrussi family. 

Still, somehow these little carvings made their way through the war, to Edmund. From the height of Japanese art as a "fashion" in the Belle Époque, to modern-day England, these precious and fine tiny sculptures managed to stay in the family, intact. It's an impressive feat. I desperately want one. Or ten.

The narrator is particularly excellent, needing to pronounce French, German, Japanese, and an occasional Russian or Italian word or phrase. I now can pronounce "Belle Époque" which I've struggled with for decades, and while I still can't pronounce "Fin de siècle," I now know it can be done. He reads with emotion and yet lightness, and he has such a feeling of investment that it's hard to believe it's not the author himself.

This book is published by my employer (FSG/Picador), however I downloaded this digital audiobook from my library via Libby/Overdrive.

Monday, February 1, 2021

My Month in Review: January 2021

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:
A Distant Grave by Sarah Stewart Taylor 
Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance by Erica Dhawan
A Walk Around the Block: Stoplight Secrets, Mischievous Squirrels, Manhole Mysteries & Other Stuff You See Every Day (And Know Nothing About) by Spike Carlsen (audio)*
Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean
Stolen Science by Ella Schwartz
I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom (audio)*
Thief of Souls by Brian Klingborg
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal (audio)
Somebody's Daughter by Ashley C. Ford

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Arctic Fury by Greer Macallister *
The 2000s Made Me Gay: Essays on Pop Culture by Grace Perry
The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser*
Nice Girls Still Don't Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel*

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
The Arctic Fury by Greer Macallister (for my book club)

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Book Review: Strange Bedfellows: Adventures in the Science, History, and Surprising Secrets of STDs by Ina Park

This book was compared to Mary Roach and that always gets me simultaneously excited and skeptical. But the subject matter just had too much potential to pass up. So glad I read it! It was much fun!

Dr. Park specializes in sexually transmitted infections, and over the years it's been a constant in her house, so much that her son was excited when he was told the wart on his knee was HPV and he fights with his sibling over who gets to play with the stuffed animal of chlamydia. But Dr. Park noticed very few people actually talk about STIs and she wants to change that. She's certainly got me talking about them! I was thrilled to learn that crabs are pretty much gone (although sadly, she notes, never appeared on the endangered species list.) And thanks to the new vaccine, HPV is quickly on its way from being the most prevalent STI to the least (and taking cervical cancer along with it!) But of course, the fun stuff was what I was here for. Did you know the merkin first appeared around 1450? And if you don't know what a merkin is, picture a toupee, for your nether regions. Over 3000 people go to the ER every year for pubic grooming injuries. That seems overly high. And there's a terrific story about STD contact tracers in the 1970s getting invited to a swingers party, where it was initially difficult for them to do their work of interviewing the participants, until they too discarded their clothes. At the end of their work, they joined the swingers in the hot tub (nude.)

Naturally, the chapters in the middle of the book on antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV were not funny at all. However, sandwiched around those were delightfully amusing anecdotes about the latest version of the female condom, getting a Brazilian in Brazil (along with the fun side topic of vajazzling), douches (the original was Lysol. Yep, you could smell pine fresh!), and a researcher gripping a tank of half-frozen gonorrhea samples between his knees on on a harrowing flight from Manila to Hawaii.

If you like armchair science, aren't too easily grossed out, and think we all could do with more frank talk about sexuality and the medical issues that come along with it, this book is for you! Your friends and family should be prepared for some eye brow-raising fun facts along the way.

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Book Review: Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Finn's life is kind of a disaster. After her cheating husband left, she's had to rent their house from him, which the sales of her books just won't pay for, and more than once she's had to beg him to turn the power back on. He and his girlfriend are seriously threatening to take Finn's two kids away, and her latest book is way overdue. After a disastrous morning during which her daughter cut off her own hair and duct-taped it back on, cutting herself in the process, Finn is late to meet with her literary agent at a nearby Panera (annoyingly, the one she's banned from, so she has this wig/scarf combo she has to wear.)

While discussing her contract, and her ideas for her next mystery novel, a neighboring patron overhears and misunderstands, particularly after she caught a glimpse of Finn's open diaper bag with a bloody burp cloth, knife, and duct tape tucked inside. She leaves a note, asking Finn to kill her husband, as she thinks Finlay is a contract killer.

How absurd! Although, the money would be great. Especially after her husband fired her babysitter that morning. And now that she's looked into him, the husband seems like a very bad dude. But she could never do that! Right? It wouldn't hurt to check him out at the bar she knows he's supposed to go to that night. Right? I mean, what could go wrong, just going to the bar? Finn isn't a killer after all! Isn't she?

This is a hysterical novel that riffs on the harried-mom-can't-hold-it-together subgenre epitomized by I Don't Know How She Does It, but combining it with a hitman storyline is truly original and creative. I enjoyed every minute of it.

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

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Book Review: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

 I attended a virtual event with the author recently and someone asked about the seeming variety of her last three books, and how they all seem so different from each other: The Nightingale, The Great Alone, and now The Four Winds. But then a theme was called out that crosses them all and I loved it as it made them all make sense: they're about women having to find inner strength during difficult times. And what better book to read during the winter of 2021, as we're all hoping for a return to normalcy, but it's not here yet?

Elsa was sick as a child and has been beyond-babied by her family ever since. They won't let her go out or do anything. They think she's incapable of taking care of herself and won't let her try. Once night she makes herself a new dress in the fashionable new styles of the twenties, and sneaks out of the house. She meets a handsome young man and they have a brief love affair. Naturally, she ends up pregnant. Her family kicks her out and so she shows up on the Martinelli doorstep. Despite her being several years older, Rafe makes an honest woman out of her and they even have another child. They seems to have had a pretty good life, living on the family farm with his parents. But as the story jumps ahead to 1934, things are bad as anyone with even a passing understanding of US history would expect. 

In the panhandle of Texas, dust storms are a constant occurrence. Everyone wears a bandanna or scarf around their neck to pull up as a mask as soon as it's needed. The family goes from struggling to keep their crops and animals, to struggling to keep themselves alive. The government promises help, but it's too late and not enough. Then Elsa has to make a decision, and so they pack up and try their luck in California. 

We don't see the beginning of the Depression in this novel, nor the end. But I think a whole lot more people now understand the Depression than did just two years ago. Elsa never wanted to be in these situations and this wasn't the life she saw for herself. But she does the best she can with the hand she's dealt, over and over. She's a thin woman who was once sickly, and she has a deep well of inner strength she never even knew she had. During our own troubled times, it's nice to see another story of strength during hardship. 

Personally, in the past I've found Ms. Hannah's endings to be too pat for me, too tied up in a bow, but this one was not. I think she's achieved a new level in her writing. I'm glad I read this. It gave me hope.

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

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Book Review: My Brilliant Life by Kim Ae-ran, translated by Chi-Young Kim

Boy, this book is really hard to describe, so this will be a short review.

Areum has the opposite of the Benjamin Button disease. He's one of those little kids you see who looks like a tiny, really old man. Because essentially, he is. His body is aging at an astonishing rate, causing stress and havoc on his whole family. His parents, who are very young and had fewer resources and experience when they had him, have had to grow up fast and muster help. 

He decides to give his parents the ultimate gift: he is writing their love story as a novel, even though their young pregnancy with him was not a welcome event. But he is shifting the focus of the story to their love for each other.

Then his family's story is filmed and shown on a national show that solicits donations for families in need. Through that exposure, Areum makes a new friend online who seems to truly understand him. And since he likely will never meet her in person, she's not put off by his sickliness and appearance. 

Even though there is no magic in this book, it had a very magical, unreal feel to it. It's about family and unconditional love. It's about sacrifice and responsibility. It's about facing down uncomfortable truths you can't avoid. It is beautiful and tragic. It was a unique reading experience. 

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

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Book Review: Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause by Ty Seidule

Ty Seidule was born and raised in Alexandria, Virginia where his only goal in life was to grow up to be a good Virginia gentleman, like his hero, Robert E. Lee. After graduating from a segregation academy (a private school founded with the explicit purpose of letting white children continue to go to an unsegregated school), he went on to Washington & Lee University and then joined the army. When he joined the faculty of West Point, he was temporarily housed in Lee Barracks on Lee Drive. 

Recently he quit the military so he can speak his mind. This history professor wants to explain to everyone about the three causes of the Civil War:
slavery, slavery, and slavery.

He has gone back to the sources, he has done the research. He had looked into the naming of every one of these army bases that are named after Confederates. None of them were done to honor the Civil War. All of them were done to slow the progress of human rights and to intimidate African-Americans. He has the paperwork. He can prove it. And in that paperwork, he also disproves the notion that Lee joined the Confederacy solely because he felt it his duty as a Virginian to defend his state. That's bunk. And Lee said so in letters to his family. He joined because of slavery. (Also there were other Southern colonels at West Point when the Civil War broke out and he's the only one who defected to the traitors.)

In his quest to tell this story, Col. Seidule goes back and shows how he was taught to be a racist by his elders and his school system (he even finds the Virginia state history books he was taught from in school). And he explains how we have to get past these issues to move forward in this country. 

If you have someone in your life who might hear this message better from an older, white, military man, this is the most perfect book. But I, who thought myself pretty well-educated in this area, had my eyes opened in a couple of ways. For example, I am striving to change from saying "plantation" and instead calling them what they are: enslaved labor farms. I also never before realized that the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s... was exactly 100 years after the Civil War. Coincidence? 

This read was utterly fascinating and I learned a lot. You will too. 

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

Monday, January 18, 2021

Book Review: I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom (audiobook)

While I rarely read a memoir by a TV/movie star where I haven't seen at least some of their shows, this book was the exception! I've never seen Crazy Ex-Girlfriend but I still enjoyed this book. I had seen Rachel Bloom in a discussion with another funny author (Jenny Lawson) and they both were so great that I immediately added this book to my TBR. 

I'm glad I listened to it on audio as she did a lot of funny voices and occasionally sung. I did miss out on the amusement park map, but she described it which was also fun. If you purchase the audio book you should also get a PDF of the images. 

About half of the book is about Rachel's childhood and teen years which were rather traumatic. There's not a Bad Thing that happens and her parents seem nice, but she just had a ton of trouble fitting in and finding her tribe, and she was unpopular and yet couldn't manage to fly under the radar like a couple of her friends did. So most people can identify with that. But even the parts about when her show was nominated for an award and when she had to fly to NYC for the Up Fronts, were very relatable as she had to sleep on a friend's sofa the night before the WB's paid hotel room kicked in, and she wore borrowed clothes (not borrowed from a designer, but from a friend's mom) and she was asked if she could change into something darker and... that fit better. 

Occasionally you have to kind of give her a pass with some of the singing and the (blessedly short) chapter told from her dog's POV about her award win (she is not impressed. Also she thinks of Rachel as her step-dad.) Overall it's delightful fun and if you're also a fan of the show, I'm sure it's even more amazing. I might check out the show now even though the musical interludes might not work for me. We'll see.

I borrowed this digital audiobook from Libby/Overdrive.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Book Review: A Walk Around the Block: Stoplight Secrets, Mischievous Squirrels, Manhole Mysteries & Other Stuff You See Every Day (And Know Nothing About) by Spike Carlsen (audio)

I like to walk. And I love random facts. This book was made for me.

Spike goes for a walk around the block and along the way, he wonders about the composition and cost of sidewalks, where the water goes down the drainage grates, and why there's a metal number on telephone poles and what it means. You'll find out the answers to all of these and much more in this book! Where does the water coming into your house come from? When and how were road surfaces invented and developed? 

Some facts: squirrels chew on your house not to be assholes, but because if they don't wear down their teeth, they will grow too long for squirrels to be able to eat. Their teeth continue growing throughout their life.

Also: there is water in your concrete. It binds with the cement in the mixture and while it "dries" (it's not drying), it's forming crystals through chemical reactions. So even "dry" concrete still has about 10% water. And yes, you can add way too much water and no, it won't just take longer to "dry"--it will be terrible concrete that is weak and not functional.

You'll learn about the different types of electrical poles. I was fascinated that the highest wires, which are the ones with the most high power, aren't insulted. That would cause the wires to be enormous, heavy, and expensive--in ways that just won't work. So they're super duper dangerous if they were to come down. Which is why they're so high. Also the reason birds can sit on wires and not be electrocuted is because A) they're so little that they're not very useful to electricity as a conductor and B) they'd need to be touching something other than the wire for the electricity to go through them. Electricity just go into things that touch it--it travels through things to get somewhere. While Mr. Carlsen doesn't state it specifically, the implication is that humans also could sit on a wire and be safe--if they don't touch anything else. 

What do you wonder about when you go on a walk? Would you like a fun walk companion who will tell you all sorts of trivia? Invite Mr. Carlsen along. He's an excellent walking companion.

I downloaded this digital audiobook from Libby/Overdrive.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Book Review: The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel by E.L. Shen

Maxine's family moved to way upstate New York, to Lake Placid, where she's the only Chinese-American kid at her school, and where there are multiple world-class level skating facilities and instructors, thanks to Lake Placid having hosted the Winter Olympics way before Maxine was born. Maxine practices hard every day and she's determined to master the next trick in her skating repertoire. 

She and her best friend have grown apart, but that's not presented as a tragedy which is nice. A new girl at the rink, Hollie, at first seems like fierce competition for Maxine, but eventually they become friends. The titular comeback in question is what Maxine should say to this horrid boy at school next time he makes a racist remark to her. The book's description describes the events as "micro-aggressions" but there's nothing micro about these--they're pretty obvious. So Maxine and Hollie come up with some harsh but true comebacks, and next time she's bullied, she's prepared and attacks right back. The bully, naturally, is shocked by this turn of events and Maxine standing up for herself.

You don't have to know anything about skating to enjoy this book. I really liked the friendship between Maxine and Hollie, who is relatively shy and homeschooled, so not a traditional school-based friendship like you normally see at this age. And it's a great message about clapping back and not just accepting being bullied. I wish at her age someone had helped me come up with a comeback or two instead of just spouting off the useless advice to "ignore them and they'll stop" (NO THEY WON'T.) It also just would have been nice to have an approach that was proactive instead of just defensive. I hope Maxine grows up to be a strong young woman mentally as well as physically. 

This book is published by Farrar Strauss Giroux BYR, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Book Review: The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff (audio)

I wasn't sure if I'd ever like an audiobook with multiple narrators. But an oral history is the natural book for that audio format. I've been reading more oral histories the last few years and liking them, although thus far they've mostly been about pop culture (TV shows and movies). This was my first serious one. And boy, how serious! I also wasn't sure if I should listen to a book about September 11th. I was in New York on that day and I don't especially like hearing other people's stories much, plus I strongly think that abbreviations like "9/11" are disrespectful, and even though I myself was in NYC, I dislike how many accounts ignore the Pentagon and Shanksville, PA. A college friend's brother died in Shanksville.

But this won the Audie award for best audiobook in 2020 and the reviews were fantastic and it kept showing as available in my library system, so I finally decided to give it a try. If I didn't like it I could stop. It also was much longer than I usually prefer, but it was over the holiday break so I had a good chance at finishing it before my 2 weeks were up. 

It is amazing like everyone says. An oral history was perfect for multiple narrators (and no, that one guy who sounds like Rainn Wilson isn't. There is a listing at the end of all the narrators. Although they don't seem to be listed anywhere else, particularly not in any of the publisher's websites or materials, which I thought was kind of crappy.) I do wish at least a couple of famous people --Rudy Guiliani, Katie Couric--could have recorded their own parts, especially because they were not very long overall. The accounts of people who were trapped in the World Trade Center buildings that day were particularly harrowing, of course. And the firefighters and other first responders brought a different perspective. They didn't have a lot of perspectives of regular office workers uptown like me who only had to walk several miles and be out of work for a couple of days. I wish the chapter on children's responses had been half the length. It was interesting hearing about kids whose schools were in the Financial District and Battery Park City, who were in danger themselves and who often had parents who worked in the buildings. But there were too many kids from all across the country. That though is the book's only flaw. I was amazed that people went back to work in the Pentagon the next day, even though parts of it were still on fire! 

If you experienced that day in those places and know what it was like, this book is respectful and conscientious and thorough. If you didn't, it will give you a real insight into what it was like. And for all of us, it was fascinating to learn about how the president being shuttled around the country from Florida in the days before technology was where it needed to be, meant those aboard Air Force One knew less about what was going on than pretty much anyone else in the country. They occasionally could get a local news channel for about 20 minutes as they traveled over a major city. Hearing about the responses within government that day was pretty eye-opening.

There were a few moments where the recordings were tough, but you knew everyone on the recordings had survived by the nature of the project (not everyone they were speaking to, though.) I really appreciated having the actual recordings from air traffic control and George Bush's speech. 

If you kind of what to read/listen to this but are worried you'll be sobbing throughout--I wasn't. I had one little moment where I teared up for a second, but I was fine. I wouldn't recommend listening/reading before bed. Pick a sunny day.

I listened to this digital audio book through Libby/Overdrive.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Book Review: The Lost Manuscript: A Novel by Cathy Bonidan

While on vacation in Brittany, Anne-Lise finds a manuscript in her bedside table and reads it. And loves it. The novel touches her deeply, and she's determined to find the author. 
She quickly tracks him down. And the mystery deepens incredibly. He lost the manuscript on a plane twenty years earlier. And at that time, it was unfinished. It is no longer.
In this fun epistolary novel, we hopscotch across France, a few times to the UK and Canada, as Anne-Lise enlists the help of her best friend, and everyone she runs across along the way. She picks up strays and befriends everyone who has loved this novel in a rare way that feels both entirely open and genuine at the same time. The manuscript took a varied and curious trip as it meandered its way from the author to Anne-Lise. At first it's odd that Anne-Lise would go to so much effort on this quest but even that makes sense in the end. 
I do appreciate that unlike a lot of epistolary novels, there's no recapping of events the recipient of the letter attended, for the same of telling the reader. That means some things are skipped over and occasionally you have to figure out what happened through deduction or a little later. The one contrived part is the use of actual snail mail. Anne-Lise's best friend has eschewed all modern technology, not owning a phone (at all--landline or cell!) which is the primary excuse, but it's flimsy. This all could have just as easily been on email and it wouldn't be any the worse for wear, in my opinion. But it's charming and light and a real treat for writers.
This book is published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Book Review: Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood by Gary Paulsen

The beloved and bestselling author of Hatchet has a new memoir out that explains a lot. Little Gary, almost still a toddler, was exploited by his young partying mom who would bring him to bars and get him to sing and dance as other patrons would then buy her drinks. It didn't pay the rent nor put food in Gary's mouth, so Gary's grandmother stepped in and got him shipped off to his aunt and uncle's. (The story of the five-year-old traveling by train alone--complete with a transfer!--across multiple states is a shocking tale that could NEVER happen now!)

His aunt and uncle are fantastic. They put him to work right away, but not song-and-dance work. He learns how to fish and how to clean and gut the fish. He learns how to feed the chickens and how to get water from the well, and he spends a lot of time outside, with animals and nature, learning homesteading skills. I wished he could have stayed with them forever, as that part of the book read like the best of the Little House books, but 60 years later. This, you could tell, was where he learned a lot of the skills that Brian later used in the Hatchet series of books. 

However, his parents show back up and take him back. His father has returned which isn't a great thing. They spend a couple of years in the Philippines where his parents drink and fight and he stays away as much as possible. They return to the US where his parents drink and fight more. Eventually Gary takes to basically camping out in the basement of their apartment building where there's an old lounge chair near the furnace. He does lots of odd jobs and occasionally steals for food. 

Just when he seems to be going completely off the rails with school, two things happen. He's introduced to a special program at school where if he comes every day, he can learn how to fix televisions (which are new and fascinating) and graduate early. And he goes into a library to get warm, and meets the best kind of librarian. He's worried she's going to kick him out or make him pay something or just be snotty and obnoxious, but she mostly leaves him alone, eventually starts recommending books for him to read, and one day she gives him his very first blank notebook, and the first new pencil he's ever owned. He starts writing and never looks back.

His childhood is pretty awful. I really hated his parents and wondered where CPS was (although I've heard equally awful stories about CPS care so maybe Gary did best by himself.) And it just goes to show how one person can have a massive influence on a child's life, even when what they did doesn't seem like much. Could that librarian have ever imagined that her pretty simple gift would lead to a Newbery Honor Medal? This is very readable and shows kids that they are hardy, resilient, and can go places despite not-great beginnings.

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

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Book Review: The Other Mother by Matthew Dicks

Matthew Dicks climbs up my Favorite Authors list with each new book. In this one we have Michael, a young teen, who one day over breakfast looks at his mother, and has the horrible realization that while she looks like his mother and sounds like his mother, that woman or that creature in front of him, is not actually his mother.

And that's by far from his only problem that he has to deal with. His little sister has invited their next door neighbor, one of the prettiest and most popular girls at school, to go fishing with them. His jerk of a step-father is still a jerk. He has to check in with the counselor at school twice a day. He has a big secret about his father's death that he hasn't told his mother. He regrets having agreed to help a friend at school get revenge on a teacher. And his little brother is... well, a little brother. And yet every time he comes home, he hopes his mother will have returned and this faux-mother will have disappeared to wherever she came from.

Michael is dealing with a lot of crap. And his brain which already was on overload and already had learning differences going on and maybe some depression, kind of goes on the fritz when it comes to his mother. There is an actual condition that is like this, but that's not the point. The point is whether or not that's resolved, Michael has too much on his shoulders, and not enough workable coping skills.

While this is an adult book, I think it's perfect for teens too. And in a way, everyone will be able to identify with Michael. Hopefully none of us has all this on our plates, but we've all felt overwhelmed and like life is just too much, and you'll see a bit of yourself in this story. And you'll come away with some hope.

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

Friday, January 1, 2021

2020: The Year in Review

In 2010 I got this meme, I think from Boston Bibliophile. It was a fun way to summarize the year, so I now do it every year. Last year I added a couple of new categories (how many books for work and how many different publishers). 

How many books read in 2020? 120

How many fiction and non fiction? 53 fiction, 67 nonfiction. I'm usually really even here but I've said before that my book club reading probably pulls my fiction reading up and... I haven't done much book club reading this year! Proving my theory!

Male/Female author ratio? 35 men, 87 women. Whoa! Two years in a row of really unbalanced, in women's favor, without trying!

Favorite book of 2020? Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries #2) by Martha Wells

Least favorite? This is really hard to come up with this year. I went through a few periods of near-reading-slump which I fought off by not reading anything that seemed the least bit iffy, by reading the first few pages of a dozen books that I didn't continue with, and by actively going with more sure-things and fewer risks. That said, I do have one and it's not one you'd expect because everyone else loved it but I think the problem for me was the format. I listened to it on audio and I think that just wasn't the right way to go on this book. Nothing against the narrator, but I had no idea that this book consisted of hundreds of super-short chapters and that's something very hard to discern verbally, so it felt very choppy and disjointed when read aloud. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. I didn't hate it, I just didn't at all love it. I think also my expectations were high.

Any that you simply couldn't finish and why? Not every book works in audio for me, so those are ones I sometimes don't finish. Some of these authors I absolutely love so it's no indictment on the book:
Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld
If Then by Jill Lepore
The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher (not audio)
Sweet Taste of Liberty by W. Caleb McDaniel
Too Much by Rachel Vorona Cote
Had I Known by Barbara Ehrenreich
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

Oldest book read?  The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe 1979
Newest? Two coming out on August 17, 2021: Big Apple Diaries by Alyssa Bermudez and A Brief History of Motion: From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next by Tom Standage

Longest and shortest book titles? (not including subtitles)
Longest: Even the Stiffest People Can Do the Splits by Eiko 42 characters
Shortest: Money by Jacob Goldstein 5 characters

Longest and shortest books?
Longest: One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway -- and Its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad 544 pages
Shortest: History Comics: The Roanoke Colony: America's First Mystery by Chris Schweizer, 128 pages 

How many books from the library? 23. All the audiobooks except one.

How many audiobooks? 24

How many graphic books? 14 plus a few children's too short to count.

Any translated books? Three. One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway -- and Its Aftermath
by Åsne Seierstad (from Norwegian) My Brilliant Life by Kim Ae-ran, translated by Chi-Young Kim (from Korean) and To Hold Up the Sky by Liu Cixin (from Chinese)

Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author? Martha Wells, 6 novels/novellas and one short story.

Any re-reads? Nope.

Favorite character of the year? ART from Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

Which countries did you go to through the page in your year of reading? England, Norway, Australia (Tasmania), China, Canada, Syria, Turkey, Russia, Greece, France (Brittany), Korea, Antarctica, Ireland, Scotland, and Iceland.

Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation? The Mountains Wild by Sarah Stewart Taylor, first recommended by Pete at McIntyre's Fine Books in Pittsboro, NC but then later recommended by a colleague, Sage. Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford, recommended by a former colleague, Patty. Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century: Unabridged Selections by Alice Wong was raved about by a friend, Elaine Ruth. The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary was pushed on me by Hannah at Doylestown Bookshop in PA. American Hippo by Sarah Gailey was recommended by Tony at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC. All Systems Red by Martha Wells and the whole Murderbot Diaries series was recommended by a dozen people but none louder or more often than my friend Jessica. Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller had an amazing review in Quail Ridge Books' newsletter. Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley was recommended by Cecilia at East City Books in DC. One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway -- and Its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad was recommended by Mark at Politics & Prose in DC. It's funny how only 3 of these are not Macmillan books (Notes, Disability, and Fish). It's not shocking to have work books recommended by work colleagues, but it's interesting to have them recommended by my buyers (I'm supposed to be pitching Macmillan books to them, not the other way around) or even friends (they generally aren't aware it's a Macmillan book--that's just kind of luck.)

Which author was new to you in 2020 that you now want to read the entire works of? Martha Wells, and I did it! At least all of her Murderbot books.

Which books are you annoyed you didn’t read? None. I have literally hundreds of books I'd like to read one day but I don't feel any anxiety about having to read any of them NOW. I'll get to them or I won't. 

How many books did you read for work? This was a hard number to hit on this year because I read a huge number of Macmillan backlist titles, which I don't normally do. So I read 66 frontlist (pre-pub or reissue books I am currently selling) and 24 backlist (books already out). The grand total is 90 but it's a little misleading as a few of the backlist books are actually going to be helpful for my sales (The Right Stuff) and others are too obscure.

How many different publishers (not imprints) did you read? 8. As usual since I've been a field rep for Macmillan, this number is smallish. 

Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read? This question is vague but I take it to mean you've been meaning to read something for more than a year. I'm going to say 6 as the following have either been on my radar or my shelf for that long. A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage; The Dirty Girls Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez; Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr.; When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams; The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein; The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

2020 TOP FOUR Book Events in Carin’s Book Life (this used to be 8 but that was always very difficult to do, and is more so since I have a steady job and am no longer on the WNBA board):
1. Got through 2020!
2. Got through 2020 healthy and employed! 
3. Moved twice and I don't think I lost any books. 
4. I think I'm past my doldrums of almost-reading-slump.
That's all we can expect from 2020 and I consider those really great accomplishments this year!

2021 Reading Challenges!

What challenges to do for 2021? I really like to do reading challenges but they're hard with my job. On the other hand, some I've been doing in recent years like the one for reading as many books as possible published this year, aren't really a challenge at all (and the next level up from where I've been participating is impossible without stretching the rules.) So I'm having a think about what to pick for 2021. This first one, European Reading, is easy to decide to do again because it's always a slight challenge. Last year I read two extra, but that was the only time that has happened. I think I'll stick with the Audiobook challenge but go down a level. And also stick with the diversity challenge but change it up a bit this year. And I'm dropping the reading as many books as possible in favor of a challenge on Facebook from a friend. It's got 52 categories this year (last year it was 26) and on that one I'm hoping to hit 40 of the 52. I can't post it yet (it's not up yet) but I will soon.


The 2021 European Reading Challenge! 

January 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021

Please join us for the Grand Tour or Europe through books! 2021 is the 9th year of the European Reading Challenge, which has been going steadily along since 2012. Participants choose their own level of commitment to complete the challenge and there is a prize for the person who visits the most countries between the covers. 

Thank you to those loyal readers who have joined in since the beginning! A warm welcome to those joining us for the first time or those who are coming back after some time off.

THE GIST: The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – fiction, nonfiction, novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, whatever. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it's supposed to be a tour. (See note about the UK, below.)

WHAT COUNTS AS "EUROPE"?: We stick with the standard list of 50 sovereign states that fall (at least partially) within the geographic territory of the continent of Europe and/or enjoy membership in international European organizations such as the Council of Europe. This list includes the obvious (the UK, France, Germany, and Italy), the really huge Russia, the tiny Vatican City, and the mixed bag of Baltic, Balkan, and former Soviet states.
Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.
NOTE: Even with Brexit, the United Kingdom is still one country, part of Europe, that includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. One book from any one of these four counts as your one book for the United Kingdom. I'm not going to bust your chops about it because challenges should be about fun not about rules. However, when it comes to winning the Jet Setter prize, only one book from one of the UK countries counts.


Participants can read as many books as they want and are encouraged to visit as many European countries as possible. The Jet Setter Prize will go to the person who reads (and reviews) books from the greatest number of different countries (see below).

Not everyone wants to compete for a prize, review books, or read a lot of books. You can complete the challenge by reading one to five books from different countries.

To participate in the challenge, sign up at the levels below. If you want to go on to compete for the Prize, keep reading!

  • FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.
From Carin: I always like this one and it keeps me from reading UK-set books over and over (I mean, I still usually end of with several of those, but it encourages me to think outside the box, at least when it comes to Europe. I know, not very diverse, but I've got that covered below.)

Grab your earbuds and join hosts Caffeinated Reviewer and That’s What I’m Talking About for the 2021 Audiobook Challenge! Choose your level and rock your ears off!

We have a new co-host and a new category to achieve! Please welcome Jen from That’ s What I am Talking About.

Use hashtag #2021AudiobookChallenge on social media to alert others of your listens and progress!

Challenge Details

  • Runs January 1, 2021 – December 31, 2021. You can join at any time.
  • The goal is to find a new love for audios or to outdo yourself by listening to more audios in 2020 than you did in 2018.
  • Books must be in audio format (CD, MP3, etc.)
  • ANY genres count.
  • Re-reads and crossovers from other reading challenges are allowed.
  • You do not have to be a book blogger to participate; you can track your progress on Goodreads, Facebook, LibraryThing, etc.
  • If you’re a blogger grab the button and do a quick post about the challenge to help spread the word. If you’re not a blogger you can help by posting on Facebook or Tweet about the challenge.
  • Updates plus a giveaway will be posted twice during the year. The first update will be July 2, 2021, and the last update will take place on December 30, 2021.

Achievement Levels

  • Binge Listener (Why read when someone can do it for you) 20-30
From Carin: I am dropping down a level this year as I expect most of 2021 will still be working from home and not driving to stores, so audiobooks present more of a challenge. I have to intend to listen to them. And every time I try to really ramp up my walking again, my body says no (some kind of pain/injury) so that good walking/listening time is also unlikely. Audiobooks are also good during packing/unpacking for a move but unlike 2020, WE ARE NOT MOVING IN 2021.


We’re back for another year!  This challenge is focused on intentionally reading more diverse books, whether it be diverse characters or diverse authors.  We’ve been hosting it since 2019, when we merged some concepts from the Platypire Diversity Challenge and the 2017 Diverse Reads Book Challenge hosted by Chasing Faerytales and Read.Sleep.Repeat.  There’s the basic challenge of reading as many diverse books as you can, with the added monthly theme mini-challenge, where you can get bonus points for reading towards a theme each month (and by bonus points, we really just mean bragging rights).  It’s a way to challenge yourself, but still reward yourself for just reading diversely altogether.

how do we classify a book as diverse?

The author or the main character – or one of the leads, who preferably has a POV – has to belong to a diverse group. According to the definition of We Need Diverse Books:
“We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.
*We subscribe to a broad definition of disability, which includes but is not limited to physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental illnesses (this may also include addiction). Furthermore, we subscribe to a social model of disability, which presents disability as created by barriers in the social environment, due to lack of equal access, stereotyping, and other forms of marginalization.”


While we’re pretty lax about how you wish to set up this challenge for yourself, we do have a few guidelines to follow.

  • The challenge will run from January 1st, 2021 to December 31st, 2021.  Books must be read during this time frame to count.  Sign up is open from now until December 1st, 2021, so you may join even just for the last month of the year.
  • Any format and length of book counts – print, ebook, audio, ARC, etc.
  • Crossovers from other challenges are totally acceptable!
  • Reviews are not required, but highly encouraged.

how to play:

  • Declare your intentions to participate in this challenge somewhere on the internet!!  You do not need to be a blogger to participate, there are many ways to declare.  You could write a blog post, create a reading challenge page, create a Goodreads shelf containing diverse books you hope to read, post about it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
  • Some things you could include (but that aren’t required):
    • A link to this page so that others may find us and join the fun as well (feel free to download the button at the bottom to use in your posts).
    • The goals you are setting for yourself (number of diverse books you want to read over the year, number of different kinds of diversity you want to explore, and if participating in the mini-challenge, the level you are aiming for).
    • A list of potential diverse books you hope to read for this challenge.
  • Sign up for the challenge using the link up below, and link directly to where you’ve declared your intentions (ie to the specific blog post, the goodreads shelf, the facebook post, etc).
  • We will be posting quarterly link ups for you to add links to your reviews or any wrap-up/overview posts you wish to share.
  • Go forth and READ!!  And have fun!!
  • Use the hashtag #DiversityRC2021 on any social media to keep up with other participants!

mini-challenge (optional):

For those who want to challenge themselves even more, each month has a theme to read towards.  These themes will help you tackle the different kinds of diversity.  On occasion we’ve given multiple themes in a month to give readers options (ie I had a lot of great choices, and I couldn’t decide).

JANUARY – diverse folktales/culture/mythology; or diverse retelling; or non-western setting
FEBRUARY – poc: Black/African American
MARCH – #ownvoices; or gender: female authors in male-dominated genres/non-fiction
APRIL – poc: Middle Eastern/South Asian
MAY – poc: East Asian/Southeast Asian/Pacific Islander
JUNE – LGBT+ pride summer: sexuality and gender identity
JULY – LGBT+ pride summer: sexuality and gender identity
AUGUST – mental health/addiction
SEPTEMBER – poc: hispanic/latinx
OCTOBER – physical/sensory/cognitive/intellectual/developmental disabilities
NOVEMBER – poc: Native American
DECEMBER – religious minorities

There’s sort of an extra level to the LGBT+ pride summer in June and July — aim to check off as many letters in LGBTQQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) as possible!

From Carin: last year I made my goal 40 and I read 51. I'm going to stick with an overall goal of 40, but in addition, I'm going to try to hit all the mini challenge topics BUT NOT IN THEIR DESIGNATED MONTHS. I'll read them when I read them.