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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu

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

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

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

Saturday, October 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 1, 2020

My Month in Review: September

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

I note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star.

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

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

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

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Book Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Are you looking for an excellent quiet, lovely, thoughtful escapist read right now? Well, most people are, and I've found it for you!

Linus Baker is a case worker for DICOMY, the Department in Charge of Magical Youths. He travels to various orphanages and evaluates their ability to thoughtfully care for the orphaned magical children in their charge. That is, when he isn't at his unadorned desk in a windowless room, filling out paperwork. Because of his dedication to his job and his diligence in his forms, he is chosen by Extremely Upper Management to travel out to a house on an island what houses the most... interesting magical children.

Linus has always dreamed of seeing the ocean. His mouse pad is the only thing on his desk that is truly his, and it's a beautiful picture of the sea, and it says, "Don't you wish you were here?" He's going to the ocean for the first time in his life. And also for the first time Linus, who is used to dealing with small witches and vampires and other creatures, will be meeting more unique children than he ever has before: a female gnome, a wood sprite, a were-Pomeranian, a wyvern, an unidentifiable blob, and the anti-Christ (but don't call him that please! He's Lucy, short for Lucifer.) And Mr. Parnassus, the headmaster. Who makes Linus feel very warm.

He's there to do his job--to evaluate the home and see if it's appropriate and safe. But part of his job is to remain objective. What if he just can't do that anymore?

This book was everything I needed right now. Fun and silly and yet also a metaphor for racism as the nearby town reacts to the magical youths, it was easy to become fully immersed in this world, and it was also reassuring and kind and made me wish I could live in a rambly old house on an island by the sea... with a wyvern. I would be sure to give my wyvern all the coins and buttons he wants for his hoard. I never knew why I always save those extra buttons that come with a new shirt or coat, and now I know.

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Book Review: Historically Inaccurate by Shay Bravo

Sol is a first-generation freshman in college, and despite having a full courseload, a part-time job in the library, a vibrant social life, and a crazy club she's in, she now is adding a boyfriend. But that's what college students do, right? Anyway she met him through the crazy club (it's The History Club but that seems to be more of a front, like the happy hour group I used to be in called The Book Club.) when, for her initiation, she was required to break in to (well, they had a key) his grandparents' house (he lives with them) and he caught her. So she explains (later) and not only does he understand, but he then joins the club too.

Meanwhile, Sol is jugging a lot, including keeping up with her mother, who was "voluntarily" deported and is living in Mexico. Her relationship with her father is sweet, too. But her membership in the club starts to become fraught as if she gets in legal trouble, it could cause bigger problems for her family. As the story goes on, the club gets busted for their exploits, and some past secrets come to light. It was a light college-based rom-com YA.

This book is published by Wattpad, and distributed by Macmillan, my employer.