Sunday, December 31, 2017

Carin's Best Book of 2017

P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy
Publishing March 6th 2018 by Feiwel and Friends (a division of Macmillan)

When you get a job in book publishing, you will have to read books put out by that publisher. Some companies I was applying to, I almost hoped I didn't get the job, because I didn't want to read their books. I was lucky last year working for Soho Press. Would I get lucky twice?

Well, I got more than lucky. I went back to Macmillan, but now I was working on the corporate level instead of for a single publisher, and I have literally thousands of books I could read each year (each season I have roughly 1200 books to sell, so that's about 3600 per year.) And I was even more lucky in that this publisher isn't big on really pushing just a handful of commercial books each year, but instead, seems to think that if we are left to mostly read what we want, we'll be more enthusiastic in what we sell (which I've found to be totally true.) There are of course exceptions, and a couple of times a book has been strongly urged on me, although not forced, to be sure. The only real reading assignments I have are just before sales conference. We reps are presented with a list of about 30 books. We each then pick out 4-5 we're interested in. And we get assigned 2-3 of those books. It's not a bad list in the first place as they are targeted (so the list I am looking at, as an indie rep, is quirkier, more literary, less commercial.) And then we have some say so in it.

But the first time I had to do this, I was nervous. I wasn't sure if management was really self-aware enough to make the right calls and not give us a list of books that would be better in mass merchants, so I was pleasantly surprised. And then, I also hate being told what to read. I am notorious for this. Even when I am the one who chose the book club book, once it's officially picked, I officially dread it.

I was assigned to read P.S. I Miss You. It's about a family I will describe as "Super-Catholics" (I was raised Catholic myself, but in the South, where we tend to be more mellow about things since we're a minority.) The main character is Evie, the younger of two sisters. Her older sister recently got pregnant (she's in high school) and was sent away to Virginia to live with an aunt. Their parents now act like they only have one child. So when Evie starts having questions about a girl friend who she might like-like, and also starts doubting her faith (after all if their religion is why her sister's been sent away, when Evie knows her sister isn't a bad person, what does that say about their religion?), the last people she can talk to is her parents. Without a lot of options, she starts writing letters--actual paper letters since their aunt's house is in the boonies with no internet--to her sister.

I don't want to give away any more. But I will say that what started off as relatively light in tone, becomes rather dark towards the end, to the point where I was just sobbing at the end. I do not remember the last time a book made me cry like that. A single tear, or tearing up, sure. But this was rip-your-heart out, gut-wrenching, bed-shaking sobbing. In fact, I had to leave the bed and go into another room because while I was managing to cry softly, I did worry the bed shaking would wake up my light-sleeping husband. Granted, this book is not for every middle schooler as the subject matter is pretty tough. Although at that age, I adored a book that would make me cry (Bridge to Terebithia, Where the Red Fern Grows, With You and Without You, Tiger Eyes, You Shouldn't Have to Say Goodbye, I could go on and on.) But for the more mature preteens, this book will be a real stand out. The emotional resonance was like nothing I've read for a very long time. It's been six months since I read this, and it still really stands head and shoulders above the other books I read this year. I'm just sorry you all can't run out and read it right now. Although you can preorder it or put it on hold at your library, which you really should do, because it's truly excellent.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Book Review: Snow Lane by Josie Angelini

Annie is a darned cheerful kid. And the more you learn about her life, the more you realize how she's an awfully resilient kid to be so cheerful in  the face of her situation.

She's the youngest of nine in a very Catholic family in Massachusetts, and of course they are struggling. She doesn't have any shoes to wear to school when it starts in the fall until an older sister takes pity on her and buys her a pair with her babysitting money. On the weekends her whole family is trucked out to the family's farm and has to work at farming all day, often on little to no food. But they're cheerful, they mostly all love each other (she has a couple of sisters who are brutal), and she has friends. She has issues at school, too, as she's dyslexic, but luckily someone noticed what was wrong and so she's actually in advanced classes. And just as you're thinking that well, none of this is great but it's also not terrible, one more shoe is dropped. When their mother is stressed (and with nine kids, when is she not?) she loses her temper. And hits them. And I don't mean spankings, I mean she beats them. And eventually, the authorities get involved.

Boy, Annie is an inspiration! She really is doggedly optimistic, but not in a Pollyanna-ish way. She doesn't pretend everything is great when it isn't, but she makes the best of a bad situation. She's so endearing and sweet and funny, that I just wanted to swoop right into the book and hug her (if not foster her.) So this is a book with a harsh reality and with a dark secret at its core, but it isn't a dark book at all. You're worried for Annie at times, but I never was sad or traumatized. Annie's just so gosh-darn resilient that you know she's going to get through all this—the big question is how.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Book Review: Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children by Sara Zaske

I am not a parent so you wouldn't think I am the audience for this book but it was utterly fascinating. Sara and her husband moved to Germany for his work, along with their baby. It takes them a while to get settled in. but once they do, everyone starts asking Sara when they're going to enroll their toddler in preschool/daycare. Sara is confused as she's not working so she had assumed that she was taking care of their daughter, especially since a mother is the best and most important person in her world and in the best position to provide her with everything she needs, right? Right? Well, that's certainly not the assumption in Berlin. Instead, it is assumed that the child will learn from her peers and learn how to navigate social settings, along with a lot of other benefits, and it's kind of crazy not to send your child to school. So, Sara realizes she can pursue her long-delayed dream of being a writer and send her daughter to daycare, only to discover she's pregnant again.

So now she gets to navigate the German system from scratch, learning about how your register at the hospital ahead of time, even for a home birth, so if things go awry and you end up at the hospital, you aren't trying to fill out mounds of paperwork while in active labor. She meets her midwives, and the one for after the birth is especially helpful in showing Sara how, by not saying no to her son at all to anything during the day, she was in part creating the situation where he screamed all night. It's not Ferberizing, but it also isn't attachment parenting at all. Which makes sense, in a country where people park their strollers with kids in them outside a restaurant or coffee shop before they go inside to eat and see friends.

And that's not the only baffling thing Sara experiences in the five years of raising her kids there. in kindergarten children do these long, complicated projects where they have to not only learn about a topic they pick out, but figure out what they're going to learn, and where they're going to get the information from. She's confused that one of the topics to be mastered in grade school is "traffic and mobility" until she discovers that, by third grade, her daughter is the only one in her class whose parent is still walking her to school. All the rest walk or bike themselves to school, crossing busy streets, some of them going further than a mile. Then she gets a permission slip asking if it's okay for her daughter to use matches at school in  a section about fire. That's after the section they've already done on knives.

Obviously, Germans value autonomy and independence above all else in school. And while Grammar and math might take a back seat in the first few years (they don't really care if a child hasn't mastered reading by the end of first grade, figuring he/she will learn eventually when they're ready), scores on international testing, the same tests where Americans score abysmally so we add more testing, and our scores get worse, they do pretty well. A big part of this mentality comes from the understandable very strong anti-totalitarianism mentality in Germany. And there are still some residual differences in the former East Germany, where, for example, the rates of day care use are highest, as under communism all women worked.

While the book is pitched as a parenting guide for parenting the German way, I instead read it as a memoir of moving to Germany with a young family, with a side of sociology about the educational field. And as someone childless by choice, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I read it in just over one day. Couldn't put it down. And couldn't stop talking about it for weeks afterwards, thoroughly annoying all my friends and family.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Book Review: The Forgotten Book by Mechthild Gläser

Emma finds a magical book and everything she writes in it comes true! But someone else wants the book and she, with the help of the handsome and arrogant Darcy, needs to uncover the secret before she is killed for the book!

Emma is the headmaster's daughter at an old boarding school is a castle in Europe. Initially, she wants her best friend's first year at the school to be terrific, she's interested in Frederick (a Wickham-type), and she does what she can to help her father's school look it's best for new and prospective students. Then Darcy shows up. His family donated the castle, with some rights retained, and he was a student himself just a few years ago, and is back looking for clues about his twin sister's disappearance, when they were sixteen. Emma gets pulled into the search.

Yes, this is another Jane Austen-inspired novel. The main character is Emma and her father's a hypochondiac. Darcy is haughty and at first his best friend is interested in her best friend but then he's told something untrue and drops her. They're in a Gothic castle which might be haunted. So it riffs on multiple Austen novels, not just one (Emma, Pride & Prejudice, and Northanger Abbey in those examples). It was a fun treat, and is an enjoyable read for any teen Jane Austen fan, and the non-Janeites won't even notice the references which are just fun and not remotely important to the storyline.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Book Review: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

This is one of the Macmillan books that yes, I did read for work, but I actually already had it on my To Read list before I started working here, and I was thrilled when the paperback was coming out and I had an excuse to read it.

Lillian isn't quite the curmudgeon of Ove, but she is an elderly woman whose family is mostly gone, evaluating her life, and it certainly does appeal to the same market. But the tone is quite different, without the extreme highs and lows of that book. Instead, on New Year's Eve 1984, she walks around New York City, her longtime home, and reflects back on her life. Through extended flashbacks we get to experience her life, mostly in the 1930s and 1940s, when she was the highest paid woman working in advertising (for Macy's, not for a advertising firm), in a pre-Peggy world, and then when she meets and marries her husband and her family life, which never quite lived up to its billing. She had to quit her job when she got married, that was the rule then, and family life never lives up to the creativity, the excitement, and the fulfillment she'd found at Macy's. You can tell she always wished she could go back. She wanders from her apartment in Murray Hill to Delmonico's, then Battery Park City, in a very different 1980s New York than the more glamorous city she'd come up in, and you could see how this Grande Dame in her fur coat could still stick it out with the drug dealers and the rappers and other ne'er-do-wells of a city that had seen better days. (There is a map to show exactly where she walks.)

I found the book refreshing and uplifting, without being remotely sweet or cheesy or manipulative. It's helpful if you've ever walked around New York, particularly if you've lived here. but not necessary. Every city we've lived in has its touchstones, its landmarks, its empty lots where such-and-such used to be. And this is a wonderful homage to a time and place long gone, in a place yet still around, where new young female advertising executives are taking their first tentative steps up the career ladder, and you can see them in Lillian's reflection.

I got this book for free from my work, Macmillan, which is the publisher.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Book Review: Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration by David Roberts (audio)

This perhaps wasn't the best book to listen to. I thought it would be great--Australians marking their place in exploration, sensibly in the place closest to them (Antarctica), and also as an exploration story, Antarctica is nice because it's the one place where you don't have any displaced and possibly tortured or murdered natives. And this in particular was an impressive and harrowing detail in history, when Douglas Mawson lost the other two members of his expedition crew and had to make his way back to the ship, alone, without dogs, and with very little food. One man (and sledge and dogs) fell into a crevasse as shown on the cover. The other succumbed to illness.

Unfortunately, I had a lot of trouble keeping the men straight, keeping the timelines straight, and I often would think, "wait, didn't that already happen?" Just as tromping day after day after day across whiteness can become a lot of the same, even when it's land no human has ever before laid eyes on, the book also had an inevitable feeling of monotony, which is not good on audio. that said, I still did enjoy it, even if I feel I missed large bits, and I did finish it. But I think it would have been better to read in print.

I downloaded this eaudiobook from my local library via Overdrive.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Reading Challenges 2017 Summary

So last year I thought this year the challenges would be better because of no cross-country move (did move cross-town though) and yet, I knew I was going to have some issues, chiefly among them that last January I was unemployed and did not know where in the publishing world a new job would take me. As it happened, my new job took me to a Big Five publisher, where I am reading an absolute ton and almost exclusively one publisher and almost exclusively new releases. Which made some challenges more challenging than others. I also ratcheted down my number of books from 100 to 80 which is a huge joke since I read more than 130.

Overall, I read a lot, very few stinkers this year, and even though I didn't finish all of my challenges, I'm happy with where things ended up. 

The European Reading Challenge

Welcome to the 2017 European Reading Challenge – where participants tour Europe through books. And have a chance to win a prize. Please join us for the Grand Tour!

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 – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. 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 same 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, Spain, and Italy), the really huge Russia, the tiny Vatican City, and the mixed bag of Baltic, Balkan, and former Soviet states.

THE LIST: 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 after Brexit, the United Kingdom is still one country, in Europe, that includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. So one book from any one of these four counts as your one book for the United Kingdom. I'm not going to be a stickler 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 will count.

Carin says: After my three-year challenge reading a book from every state, I wanted an international challenge this year. I was originally thinking of something broader but A) most of the books I read will be from Europe, let's face it and B) I didn't find one but I found this one. I am signing up for the level of FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries. Whoever reads and reviews the most (but you only get to count each country once) is eligible for the Jet Setter prize, a $25 gift card to Powell's.

1. Pancakes in Paris: Living the American Dream in France by Craig Carlson FRANCE
2. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh BRITAIN
3. Schadenfreude, A Love Story: Me, the Germans, and 20 Years of Attempted Transformations, Unfortunate Miscommunications, and Humiliating Situations That Only They Have Words For by Rebecca Schuman GERMANY
4. Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin RUSSIA (USSR)
5. Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dash THE NETHERLANDS

5/5 as of 12/7/2017 DONE! Frustratingly, I read several books set in Germany and Britain, and a several non-European countries (South Africa, Australia, Antarctica), but that fifth European country I had to work for. I thought it would just happen organically through my normal selections. 

New Release Challenge

The rules for the 2017 New Release Challenge are simple:

Books have to be released and reviewed in 2017.
Other challenges can be used as well, as long as the ones you use for the 2017 New Release Reading Challenge qualify to the other rules.
The minimum length for a book to qualify is 100 pages, it can be in any format though, physical, e-book, ARC or audiobook.
You don’t have to be a blogger to participate, you can link to your review on Goodreads or Booklikes instead – so don’t be shy!

Carin says: Given that I am back in the land of publishing and hope to shortly be working again at a major publishing house, I need to stay on top of new releases. In fact, my bigger problem I hope is that 2018 books will not apply (I have already read 3 2017 books in 2016.) I am signing up for 31-60 books per year – New Release Pro which is only level 2. The host of this challenge is really hard-core and reads a ton more than I do and her top levels are ginormous. I read 29 2016 books in 2016 so this level seems perfectly do-able without completely knocking out all backlist from my reading.

1. Class by Lucinda Rosenfeld
2. Rise: How a House Built a Family by Cara Brookins
3. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
4. Schadenfreude, A Love Story: Me, the Germans, and 20 Years of Attempted Transformations, Unfortunate Miscommunications, and Humiliating Situations That Only They Have Words For by Rebecca Schuman
5. Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town by Brian Alexander
6. Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Malone Scott
7. Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham
8. The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater
9. The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs by Janet Peery
10. Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas
11. Thornhill by Pam Smy
12. Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast
13. Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
14. Bored and Brilliant: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Spacing Out by Manoush Zomorodi
15. Sourdough by Robin Sloan
16. The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris
17. Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling by Michael Cannell
18. Prairie Fires: The Life and Times of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser
19. Real Friends by Shannon Hale
20. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore 
21.. Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani 
22. Killers of the Flower Moon: Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
23. Spinning by Tillie Walden
24. Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris
25. A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids by Shelley Tougas
26. In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary
27. Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell
28. The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry by David Carlson
29. Come Sundown by Nora Roberts 
30. It's All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan by Tristan Donovan 
31. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney 
32. Hazy Bloom and the Tomorrow Power by Jennifer Hamburg
33. Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller
34. The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
35. Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger
36. The Dry by Jane Harper

36/31 as of 10/22/2017 DONE! My new job sure did help with this, but since I now spend 2/3 of the year reading next year's books, this was a tad more challenging than you might think. If I could include next year's books as well, I would have practically won this one.

The basics: The challenge runs from January to December. During this time you choose a book to read from each of the following categories. (Examples of books you could choose are in brackets – translations and other languages most definitely count!):

A number in numbers (84, Charing Cross Road; 12 Years A Slave; 31 Dream Street)
A building (The Old Curiosity Shop; I Capture The Castle; House Of Shadows; The Invisible Library; Jamaica Inn)
A title which has an ‘X’ somewhere in it (The Girl Next Door; The Running Vixen)
A compass direction (North and South; Guardians Of The West; The Shadow In The North; NW)
An item/items of cutlery (The Subtle Knife; Our Spoons Came From Woolworths)
A title in which at least two words share the same first letter – alliteration! (The Great Gatsby; The Luminous Life Of Lilly Aphrodite; Gone Girl; The Cuckoo’s Calling)

Extra information:
Books can be any format (print, audio, ebook).
It’s preferred that the books don’t overlap with other challenges, but not a requirement at all.
Books cannot overlap categories (for instance my example of I Capture The Castle could be used for ‘a building’ or ‘a title in which at least two words share a first letter’ but not both).
Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed, it’s encouraged!
You don’t have to make your list of books beforehand, you can choose them as you go.
You don’t have to read your chosen books in any particular order.

Carin says: I like doing one of these more random challenges and I looked at a couple of bingo challenges (25 categories) and the PopSugar challenge for this year, but given my other challenges and the potential starting-a-new-job-needing-to-familiarize-myself-with-their-books-ASAP challenge on the horizon, I decided to go with this one with a smaller number of categories. And I've done it before and enjoyed it. Usually about half of them just happen naturally.

1. NUMBERS The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater
2. BUILDING Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town by Brian Alexander
3. X Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film by Alexandra Zapruder
4. DIRECTION South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby
6. ALLITERATION Pancakes in Paris: Living the American Dream in France by Craig Carlson

5/6 as of 12/21/2017
Cutlery was just too obscure a category. I did find a couple that I could have read: Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory or The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean, but neither of them were books I was dying to read, and in this new world where I have to read a TON of books for work, neither struck me as a book worthy of knocking a work book off my TBR list, so I didn't finish. But I came close! I might try this one again next year, just to see what I will happen to read.

Reading the Books That I Want Challenge
In 2015 I got frustrated with my reading challenges and my book clubs and other reading obligations. And while looking at my end of year post, I was annoyed that I didn't get to read a couple of books from the rather short list of books I was really looking forward to. And then I had an idea. Last year I created my own reading challenge, just for me. And it is to list the top 20 books on my TBR list and be sure I actually read them. I am very much looking forward to this! The list does not include any books currently assigned for my book clubs. I hope to read at least 10 of these books this year.

1. Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan DONE
2. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple DONE
3. Landline by Rainbow Rowell DONE
4. Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard DONE
5. Garth Williams, American Illustrator: A Life by Elizabeth K. Wallace, James D. Wallace
6. Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris DONE
7. The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
8. Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
9. Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss 
10. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson DONE
11. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
12. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
13. Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
14. Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World by Rachel Swaby
15. Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital by David M. Oshinsky
16. Marrow: A Story of Love, Loss, and What Matters Most by Elizabeth Lesser
17. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
18. I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong DONE
19. The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon
20. The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar: Evolution's Most Unbelievable Solutions to Life's Biggest Problems by Matt Simon

7/20 as of 10/22/2017 Well in the end this year this just wasn't as important to me. I am not pining away for these and I think next year I will cut this back a lot to just a handful. Although I don't know that I would have gotten to the excellent Candice Millard without this challenge. So it's nice, but just not necessary at the moment. I think really having done this for a couple of years really got those frustrated books finally read, and so I'm not feeling that as much now.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Book Review: Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard

Candice Millard knows how to tell history like nobody's business. She really is truly top-notch. And yet she isn't in the pantheon of historical biographers: Chernow, Isaacson, and Meacham. And I think it's because she's found a more unusual, more interesting niche for herself. Could she write a straightforward biography encompassing all of Winston Churchill's life and make it utterly fascinating and compelling readable? Without breaking a sweat. Yet, she takes it a step beyond that. She takes on not a super-obscure or super-well know subject. She takes on a super-well known subject and finds an obscure but pivotal time in his life (they've all been hims so far) and elucidates that moment. Yes, with President Garfield, the moment of his assassination wasn't as obscure (although as far as her subjects go, he's the least known), but to cover Theodore Roosevelt's amazon exploration and now Churchill's time in the Boer War, she manages to cover something not bizarrely tiny and far-flung, but something significant and yet overlooked. Those sorts of topics take a keener eye.

In this book, young Churchill sets out to make a name for himself, after having decided he wants to go into politics, but failing the first time he tried. He knows without some major accomplishment in his life, ideally a military one, he will always be in the shadow of his father, and will have his work cut out, trying to gain a foothold in British government. So when war breaks out in South Africa, he is super eager to go. So much so that he signs on as a reporter (he is a good writer and he doesn't want to get killed) to go right away. And while there, he is captured along with a a troop he was embedded with. Two men come up with an escape plan, and Winston hears about it and wants in. But when it came time to execute it, Winston was separated from the other men, and ended up being the only one to actually escape. Which is not so good as he only had a couple of chocolate bars and his name. He didn't even know the rest of the plan to get back to British-held territory, and he also now had zero supplies. So what he thought would be a heroic escape became suddenly quite perilous and nearly was his undoing.

I learned so much although I fear I will never, ever truly understand the Boer War despite efforts to do so. (Was first inspired upon reading The Forsyte Saga.) And it was a tad dense for audio perhaps, as I didn't notice at the time, but upon reflection back I think I missed some things. But it was a rip-roaring escape story, but one with consequences and real history at stake.I wish she'd write faster, but she does such terrific research, I can see why each book takes a while. Still, I wish she had a ton of backlist I could dive into.

I checked this eaudiobook out of the library via Overdrive. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Book Review: Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dash

I've rarely had a book that was this kind of up-and-down for me. Parts of it I thoroughly enjoyed, and parts made my eyes glaze over and were a slog. It's a history of the tulip bubble in the Netherlands in the 1630s. I thought with my slight background in economics, I'd be just fine with it.

It started off with a fascinating history of tulips and where they came from and how they eventually, over hundreds of years, got to the Netherlands. Also how they got to looking like tulips, and how the more interesting tulips happened. But there was a bog down when explaining guilders and how to try to compare them to contemporary money, which for me was pretty much a fail. There are no apples to compare to. In a time when it was common to own a horse but only 2 outfits of clothing, there just aren't good benchmarks to hang any kind of exchange rate to. But the middle eastern rulers who first discovered how awesome tulips are were utterly fascinating in a trainwreck kind of way.

Then we get the buildup with tulips becoming popular among the flower set. And how it expanded to investors, and then to common folk. That also fluctuated between more interesting parts about people from other industries selling their main way of making money (for example, a weaver would sell his loom) to get money to buy tulips, which was a new definition for me of going all-in. But when the numbers came out, my eyes glazed over again. I have nothing against numbers, but when they seem to be fairly random and don't mean anything to me, it's hard to find them compelling. If I told you tulips were selling for 600 gazilliers, that means nothing. Is that a lot, or a little? Mr. Dash did try to make the relation but it didn't work and so he might as well have been using a gibberish or fictional measurement of money as I understand the value of a 17th century Dutch guilder as well as a gazillier (which, for the record, I just made up. You got that, right?)

So anyway, I stopped a couple of times, and had to push myself to finish. I did learn a lot (and at the end he talks about a slightly later tulip bubble in France, one a century later, and he goes back to the Turkish rulers who still loved the tulips and why they fell out of power, which was a fun note to end on, although not happy per se.) I'm glad I read it. But it felt a bit like a book I was reading for school. Like I knew it was good for me and I knew I'd appreciate it if I saw it through (which was accurate) but I wasn't always reading it because I was enjoying it.

I have owned this book for a long time. No recollection how I acquired it but if I had to guess, I'd bet I bought it at an independent bookstore, although since I acquired it in 2011, it's also a likely I got it at a Borders GOOB sale.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Book Review: Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (Audio)

Like Mindy Kaling's first book, this one was fun, silly, occasionally thoughtful, and has more substance than it appears on the surface. And like with her first book, I'm really glad I listened to it on audio, as she read it. And no one knows quite her intended inflections and sarcastic tones better than she does.

In this book, we get less of her childhood, and more of her growing up. We hear about college life at Dartmouth including rushing sororities, and hear about her burgeoning career including The Office, and culminating in The Mindy Project. While it might seem like name dropping, she is friends with people mostly from work, like we all are, and so over the years on different projects and shows, some of her friends like B.J. Novak have also become successful and famous, and those just happen to be her friends.

If you're looking for a fun distraction that isn't angst-y and fraught, but still is real and honest, this is a great book for that mood.

I checked this eaudiobook out of the library via Overdrive.

Friday, December 1, 2017

My Month in Review: November

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

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

Books completed this month:
Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter*
Bad Mermaids by Sibéal Pounder
Because I Come from a Crazy Family: The Making of a Psychiatrist by Edward M. Hallowell
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri*
How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dash *
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow *

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
My brother sent me the Rough Guides to Argentina and Antarctica in preparation for our crazy family trip next month!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Book Review: The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

At first I was confused by the setup of this book. The author, Alexandria, was a law intern working on a case of a convicted child molester and murderer, when it suddenly turned and became personal. And short of discovering that the child in question (or the criminal) was related to her, I didn't understand. But now I do.

See, Alexandria was molested by her grandfather, frequently and regularly throughout her childhood. He did this to her sisters as well. Her grandmother surely knew and turned a blind eye. And she told her parents at one point, who did change a lot of things and the abuse stopped, but never confronted him. When Alexandria, as a young adult, started working on this case, an appeal no less, the similarities between what this criminal did, and what her own grandfather did to her, short of murder, were eerie, and she had trouble coping with it, although she also had trouble keeping distance. It turns out that she was the perfect person to be on this case because she became obsessed and found out everything possible there was to know, but at the same time, she was completely, 100% on the side of the victim. But she really could see both sides of the story. And she hoped in understanding this case, she could help to understand her own family and her own trauma.

I don't want to give too much away. It was pretty riveting. It's true crime, but not the ripped-from-the-headlines kind. This was not a famous case at all, but instead is illustrative of all the ordinary cases of abuse and murder that happen every day, in every part of the country. And the all-too ordinary cases like her grandfather's which never become court cases at all, as they are never found out, never prosecuted. Sexual abuse and assault is luckily becoming less tolerable in this country, which makes this book well-timed. As celebrities come out about the inappropriate behavior of other celebrities and politicians, maybe the non-famous sexual assailants can be outed as well.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer, and I got the audiobook free from work.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Book Review: Spinning by Tillie Walden

A graphic novel memoir is a special kind of work. Because you're not only getting the author telling you their own life story, but also drawing it, it's extra-intimate. Some things are hard to put into words, and graphic novels are perfect at those stories. Also some things are really visual, like figure skating.

Tillie Walden was a competitive figure skater as a child. She did both individual, and synchronized (group) skating. Skating is a brutal sport, mostly (in my opinion) for the hours, but on  top of it being a hard sport with sore muscles and long hours, there's the added bonus of being objectified and held to an impossible physical perfection that most other sports don't have at all. Football players who don't look like Charles Atlas aren't penalized in any way. Baseball players can be fat and ugly and that's perfectly okay if they have a good batting average.

Tillie is growing up, hitting her teens, and in something I myself remember from hitting my teens as a ballet dancer, that's when people get serious, or get out. For one thing, puberty makes physical changes to your hips and other areas, throwing off your balance, affecting your flexibility, that actually make things you used to be able to do much harder and sometimes you even have to learn them all over again. But also that's when you ought to be able to know, after roughly a decade, if this is something you want to devote your life to, and if you're any good at it, or not.

So while Tillie is going through all that, she's also figuring out some things about herself. Like about her sexuality. She comes to realize that she's a lesbian, which in an uber-feminized sport like figure skating, is more difficult to acclimate to.

Her images really convey her feelings of isolation and not fitting in, they show the beauty of skating, and the awkwardness of Tillie's feelings. This is a beautifully drawn and told memoir, by an exceptionally honest and open voice, and I hope to read more books by her in the future.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I got this book for free from my work, as it is published by First Second, a division of Macmillan.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Book Review: It's All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan by Tristan Donovan

My family have always been board game players. I have known how to play parcheesi and Chinese checkers and even chess for as long as I can remember. And we'd play Monopoly in the summer, when you have the time for long games. My brother though was obsessed with Monopoly when he was about 4. We had about 8 different versions, all from other countries, and once or twice we tried to play 2- or 4-board versions although those would last days, not just hours, and were quickly abandoned. I remember when my 4-year-old brother would look at a property with 3 hotels and the rents would be something like $1075 each , and he'd say, "You owe me $3225" and I'd say, "You just multiplied a 4-digit number in your head!" Anyway, we still have a lot of games although we don't get to play them as often as we'd like as no one seems to want to do game night with us. Clue was always my favorite, as it's a game of logic, and if you pay close attention, you ought to be able to figure it out long before you test all the cards.

This book goes through the history of board games, from ancient civilizations, up through very modern games like The Settlers of Catan, that I don't even know how to play! It traces precursors of some of the ur-games like Go. And tells the invention stories of much more modern games like Mousetrap and The Game of Life (oh how I hated Life. No strategy--all determined by the spin of the wheel, like a grown-up version of Candyland, but without the candy. Worthless.) As a history it is far-ranging in both centuries and countries, and yet it does in its way tell the history of all of us. Would wars have turned out the way they had without Risk? What do popular games say about our society at different eras? A fun and trivia-filled book that is exactly what it says--a history of board games. If you like games, you'll like this book.

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Book Review: The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough, narrated by Edward Herrmann

I believe I first heard about this flood when learning more about Carnegie and Frick in a documentary. I love the Gilded Age (or as I like to call it, the age of the Robber Barons. But I say it with love.) And this story perfectly epitomizes all the problems with that era, which is looking more and more similar to the times we live in today, with the highly polarized incomes, the complete disdain for the lower classes by the upper, and the pushing of the working classes until they're ready to revolt. And boy, did this deserve a push.

In Johnstown there was a huge dam, Or really, just uphill of Johnstown. It was built by the railroad company, which then promptly decided it wasn't needed after all. It wasn't built right in the first place, wasn't maintained at all, and was occasionally vandalized, like when the runoff valve was removed. But the kicker was when a bunch of Gilded Age millionaires got together to form a hunting club on the crest of the hill abutting the dam, and in order to make driving over the dam more convenient for them, they lowered the top and flattened it, making it closer to the water table, and less structurally sound. No problem, right? After all, this was their lake for their resort and so they'd do whatever they wanted to it. And then in 1889, it rained and rained and rained, overtopping the dam, and pretty quickly after that, it broke, and a wall of water slammed into Johnstown, killing over 2000 people.

The stories from that day are both staggeringly tragic, and shockingly bizarre, such as people who floated conveniently into structures that would save them, small children and even babies who survived solo, and then whole families that were killed. In the aftermath, it was difficult to ascertain who were members of the exclusive club with secret membership, but eventually it did come out, and it was a big scandal, even if it didn't cause much financial hardship for the club members in the end. But this was still the heydey of the Gilded Age, and it would take many more tragedies of this nature, if not of this caliber, to bring down the Robber Barons at last. I adored hearing Edward Hermann's voice again and I might seek out more of his audio narrations as I think he's just terrific, and his sonorous baritone is perfect for histories.

I downloaded this eaudiobook from my local library via Overdrive.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Review: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Normally, I really avoid short story collections like the plague. They're really not my thing. For me, just when you get to know the characters and become invested in them--it's all over and they're dead to you. And I hate that. But this one was picked by my new bookclub, it won the Pulitzer, and my SIL loves the author, so I went in with high hopes. And they totally were rewarded.

The first story was very depressing. And the second story was mildly depressing. Which had me worried for the whole book. I wouldn't say it was depressing overall, but it sure wasn't cheery. Obviously, stories will vary in tone and I did like it, but it's not a collection of happy stories.

A quote on the back of the book described it as a collection of stories about immigrants but at least two stories are not that. Someone at bookclub posited that it had the theme throughout of outsiders, but that didn't work either. Every theme beyond, "all these people have some relationship to India," fell apart in one or two stories, but I don't think a story collection is required to have a pervasive theme.

Regardless, the writing was stunning, the characters were super real and three-dimensional and easy to connect with, and the stories were just great. I really, really do wish that a couple of them at least were full-length novels instead, and so I'm going to check out a novel of hers at some point. But for a short story collection, this was spectacular.

I checked this book out of the library.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Book Review: Hazy Bloom and the Tomorrow Power by Jennifer Hamburg

Hazy is a pretty ordinary kid, until one day when she discovers her secret power. She gets hot, and then cold, and then gets goosebumps. Then she sees... something. And that tiny flash image will happen tomorrow. And as a superpower, Hazy does what she can to stop it! Not that is always needs stopping. Or that she's the right person to stop it. Or that she even understand what the image means at all. But she means so well!

This all takes place in one week, during which her aunt is visiting, so she has to stay in her brother's room. It's also the week leading up to a school fundraising fair, and every class is responsible for a booth. For example, one class is doing an egg toss game, and one day Hazy seems an image of breaking eggs. So when a pallet of eggs is delivered to the school, and Hazy seems boys tossing the eggs outside her classroom window, she goes to try to stop them! Of course she's not supposed to go outside during class, and the boys don't break any of the eggs, so she gets in trouble. (However when her dad gets home from the grocery store and trips... well, there's the broken eggs!)

Cute shenanigans and misunderstanding ensue. Her best friend is excited that she gets to be a sidekick. Her aunt is extraordinarily helpful. And by the end of the week, Hazy might better understand how her "tomorrow power" can work for her. First in a series.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I got this book for free from my work because it is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Book Review: Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller

Nowadays it seems like everyone knows about my Laura Ingalls obsession, which is how it should be. And which is why, when this book was first announced, no fewer than five different people all told me about it within  roughly a week. It was all over my wheelhouse, and I had plans to get it the day it came out, but then I saw someone at BEA walking by our booth with a huge stack of it in her arms! I practically ripped her arm out of the socket, getting her attention. I was able to also tell her about Henry Holt's Laura Ingalls Wilder biography, Prairie Fires, and we talked about Pioneer Girl, and she gave me the oh-so-important news that the South Dakota Historical Society Press was there--with follow-up books to Pioneer Girl. (On a mission, I did track those down before I left the show.) And she gave me a copy of Caroline: Little House Revisited. And although I haven't read a lot of non-Macmillan print books this year, this is one I made an eager exception for.

Caroline Quiner Ingalls, also known as Ma, was in her late twenties with two kids when her husband, Charles, announced he wanted to go West. He was feeling like the land in Wisconsin was too settled up and he wanted some wide open spaces and some free land. Caroline never really asks herself if she wants to go. Given the times and the way she was raised, it never occurred to her, most likely, that her opinion on the matter was even relevant. She did get Charles to agree that when the girls were school aged, they would live someplace with a school, and with that detail buttoned down, she helped him prepare (it never occurred to me before that she must have sewn the wagon cover, but of course she must have), pack, and eventually, leave and travel west (well, more like south. They didn't go especially west.) They went to Kansas where they built a log cabin, plowed land for planting, played with their girls, had a third girl, and eventually had to leave. In the story as we've all heard it through Laura's eyes, Ma is angelic, practically perfect, with nary a sharp word or doubt, hardworking and patient. But of course, Caroline is a person, a human, and she's not practically perfect, even if she might appear so to doting daughters with the benefit of hindsight. But making her out to be a superhuman unattainable saint doesn't actually do Caroline the woman any favors, as that makes her both not human, and not interesting.

Sarah Miller has reimagined the store of the Ingalls's first trip in the wagon through the eyes of Caroline, a young mother, devoted to her husband, but distraught at leaving her family, and understandably nervous about just what Charles was getting them into. Not only would they be in a more literal middle of nowhere than we can conceive of these days but when a bad thing happened, like a log falling on Caroline's ankle, or her having to give birth, they were virtually on their own. Luckily, a neighbor's wife helped with the baby( first time they met! That's not awkward at all) and when they had the "fever 'n ague" (probably malaria), an African-American doctor (!) happened by. But any number of things could have meant life and death to their small family. They did mostly luck out in terms of health and well-being. But in the end, the settlement didn't work out.

Ms. Miller has positioned her reimagining from a more historically accurate point of view, closer to Pioneer Girl than Little House on the Prairie (for example, Carrie was born in Kansas, not in Wisconsin, both in real life and in this book, although not in Little House on the Prairie.) For serious fans, this is a must-read. I was riveted, and even now, months later, the time just before the end of the wagon trip, when they are stranded in a flooded plain for what seemed like weeks of torrential downpours, still stays with me. For more casual fans, I think it's a truly fascinating story of what those pioneer days were like for the womenfolk, who are often ignored in history books and popular culture.Just like the proverbial quote about Ginger Rogers, Caroline had to do everything Charles did, but in a corset and several layers of petticoats. (And probably backwards too.) She was a stalwart, determined young woman who was willing to give it a try, and try her hardest, to help Charles achieve his dreams. The fact that hers weren't even considered wasn't a character flaw on either side, just a sign of the times.

I got an ARC of this book for free from the publisher, HarperCollins, at BEA.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Book Review: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is mostly known for her novels, but I've read (and thoroughly loved) her two nonfiction books. This one isn't a memoir, but rather a collection of essays, many of which are memoirish, but there's no through-narrative. The closest thing is simply watching Ann's maturing, in glimpses, in bursts, and over time seeing how she becomes who she is, and how her becoming that, and her finding the right partner, leads her to be happy. She does have a funny answer to the title question: You marry early and badly, divorce, stay single for 20+ years, refuse to marry the man who proposes to you a dozen times, and finally say yes when you think he's going to die, and have him turn out not to die. If you do all of that, you'll have a happy marriage. Because that's the only way she knows how to do it.

Aspiring writers should most definitely read this as she talks about the difficulties of touring, of what it was like for her first couple of books, which were not raving successes, as she talks about trying to balance work, writing, and marriage in her 20s, and as she talks about being a success now. Her particular path won't work for anyone but her, but there are gems in the commonalities. I particularly loved the chapter about an aborted book project for which she took the Los Angeles police entrance exams. Her father was a cop, so he really was charmed by her interest, even though he knew it was a literary interest and she didn't want to actually be a cop. But then, when I know she never wrote the book about it, I do wonder if maybe more of her interest in that topic wasn't about her father, and she was using "it's a book idea" as an excuse?

She narrates the book which was great. Particularly as a fellow Nashvillian, she pronounced some trickier local names correctly. In the chapter where she meets up with a former teacher, a nun, who is elderly, and they become friends, I was excited that I guessed she'd gone to St. Bernard's before she said it (which is pronounced Ber-nerd, not Ber-nArd). And it was great fun to hear my friend and mentor Mary Grey James mentioned several times (she was the first manager of Parnassus Books, and she introduced Ann to Karen Hayes, her eventual business partner in the bookstore venture.)  It was delightful and charming without being twee or sweet. She feels very honest (although I do think part of why it isn't a straightforward memoir is that she's judiciously leaving parts out. But she's entitled to some privacy.) I wish she'd write a dozen more. I would gobble them up.

I checked this eaudiobook book out of the library via Overdrive.