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