Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Book Review: Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling by Michael Cannell

Why has everyone forgotten about the Mad Bomber? He planted dozens and dozens of bombs all about New York City from the 1930s through the 1950s (although as a patriotic American--and a vet himself--he paused for WWII) from Grand Central Station to the New York Public Library to Radio City Music Hall. It's amazing how much of history is lost to the wind until an enterprising author puts pen to paper.

This bomber was truly outwitting the NYPD, even though he made calls and sent notes about his bombs (he didn't really want to hurt people.) It took absolutely forever to figure out who it was. Finally what did it was the lead detective going to a psychiatrist for a profile, which was so not done in those days that they didn't even have a word for it, and a tabloid newspaper reaching for a headline and trying to engage the bomber.

The profiling didn't have as much impact on the case as the subtitle would have you believe, even though it was uncanny how accurate it was. But the newspaper's open letter that got a response, and the back-and-forth that finally lead the bomber to admit an important date when he was injured at Con Edison (he was clear from the beginning that ConEd was who he was mad at for an injury and their subsequent treatment of him.) That date allowed ConEd to find his file (even though earlier they'd sworn up and down to the police that they had no records going back to the 1930s), and put a name with the face.

Who was he? Well, you'll have to read it and find out! I'm not going to give it away! A real-life Law and Order episode from the near past.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book. This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Book Review: Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith (audio)

I do like books about science but occasionally they can be a bit of a slog, so I like them especially on audio. While I might get a little lost, it's just easier to have someone else reading the book to me. This one, however, I found quite compelling.

Mr. Godfrey-Smith uses an octopus to explore neurology, how brains work, what we don't understand about brains and therefore about consciousness, and how much that means we don't understand of ourselves. He is a philosopher and so that's his angle, but I think luckily, he didn't dwell on that and kept the focus mostly on octopuses (not octopi) and brains. And why not as those are two truly fascinating things.

For example, only half of an octopus's brain is in its head. The other half is in its arms. It can think with its arms. How? We don't know. Illustrating how little we actually know about how thinking works. Also, octopuses can change color. They often change color to blend in with their surroundings. But, as far as we can tell, they are color blind. Since they're not magic, obviously we humans don't fully understand how octopuses understand color, showing yet another deficiency in our understanding of how brains and thinking works. If we understand this little about how octopus brains work, might we also maybe not fully understand how human brains work?

It's a truly interesting book filled with bizarre facts (Octopuses have no fixed body shape! Which means they can squeeze through a hole as small as their eyeball. See one do that here.) And a book that really makes you think about... how we think. I mean not the philosophical how but the physical, chemical how.

I downloaded this eaudiobook through by library via Overdrive. This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Book Review: Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

My book club in Charlotte not only moved their meeting by 3 weeks so that I could attend after having moved away last year, but they also knew I'd be under the gun about reading books for my new job, so they super-thoughtfully even picked a Macmillan book newly in paperback! That was so cool of them! I feel very loved. Also, I miss my book club.

Karl is nearly 40, owns a bar in Chicago, and used to be a band, when one day he finds a wormhole in his closet that takes him back in time. He shows it to his friend (and bar regular) Wayne, who connects computers and a generator to it, figures out a way to send people to a particular time and place, and how to get them back with their smart phone. They start a small business sending people back to old rock concerts, so they can experience an idol in person, or relive old glory days. Everything is going swimmingly until Wayne wants to go back to 1980 and prevent John Lennon's murder. They argue, after all, Karl has been dead-set against doing anything to change the past from day one. But Wayne wins the argument and in his frustration and haste, Karl mistypes and sends Wayne to the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 980. Yep, 980. 600 years give or take before the locals set eyes on a white man. Uh oh. Frantic, Karl contacts Lena, a physicist at Northwestern (based on the band T-shirt she's wearing in her faculty picture) to help him get Wayne back. And Lena turns out to be much more than Karl bargained for...

I don't want to give away too much so I'm going to end the plot synopsis there. I found it thoroughly enjoyable, not too science-y (it helps that our protagonist is the bar owner, not the physicist, which also helps the author gloss over a lot of technical and scientific details), with lots of juicy topics to discuss. Alas, when discussing a book for an hour that glosses over details, you do start to see inconsistencies and gaps, however the discussions were very enjoyable and overall, it still held up for me. While reading it, I felt the plot was a little meandering and I'm not sure the author knew where she was going at all times, and yes, some threads were dropped, but I liked Karl so much and felt for his conundrums, so I happily overlooked those flaws. It deals with some issues all time-traveling stories deal with—loops in the time continuum; the ethics of changing the past, even if you think it's for the better; will you like the consequences of something you've changed, even if unintentionally or with the best of intentions? What I found the most intriguing question was, if you can love someone enough to improve things in their past that mean they won't be the same person and likely won't love you again in the present or the future? As another great music novel asks, “What came first—the music or the misery? Did I listen to the music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to the music?" (High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.)

This book is published by my employer, Macmillan.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Book Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, narrated by Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra (audio)

I'm trying not to torture readers by telling you all about books not out for months, but I'm about out of books to review otherwise! But I do have a couple of audiobooks still left, so here is one.

Wow, this book was amazing. At the end, I just couldn't stop listening. I was so scared for Eleanor, and so proud of Park's bravery. I hope I'd be able to do what each of them did, had I been in their shoes.

Eleanor is new at school in the middle of the semester, after her new step-father finally lets her come back to live with her family (she'd been staying on her mother's friend's couch for months). There's no where to sit on the bus until Park finally lets her sit next to him. He thinks she's weird. She just wants to  get through each day. Eventually they start to like each other, bonding over comic books that they share (she starts reading them over his shoulder) and eventually, they are  boyfriend and girlfriend. But all is not good, as Eleanor's step-father is just awful. Her home life is pretty dreadful. There's barely enough food, she only has a few items of clothes, and as a big girl who started school late and is quiet and smart, she's also bullied at school. She does start to make friends, and Park helps immensely, but it's still really bad. Park's home life is pretty normal for the late-1980s. He wants to get his driver's license, and thinks his parents are too overprotective. It's jarring for Eleanor to see someone with a normal, happy home. And makes her home life looks even worse by comparison. Sometimes you don't realize how awful something is when you're in it, but Eleanor does. And then it gets worse.

This is a really powerful, and important book. Like many tragic YA novels, it helps teens mentally cope with an awful situation before they're actually in it and have to face it for real. Because unless you lived a very sheltered life, pretty much all of us had at least one friend who we thought might be being abused at home, right? But what do you do? Do you say something? To whom? What do you say? Will you just make the situation worse?

Ms. Rowell creates here a very believable and beautiful relationship between Park and Eleanor, and a sadly true situation at Eleanor's home. I truly was scared at the end of the book and couldn't stop listening. But it's definitely for older teens, and also it's an excellent book for adults who might have forgotten how rife with trauma and angst, teenagehood was all about. Bonus points if you were yourself a teen in the late '80s.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Book review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, narrated by Rebecca Lowman and Maxwell Caulfield (audio)

This was so great! I think Rainbow Rowell's books are so terrific on audio. I wasn't sure about alternating narrators, but it completely makes sense here. The main narrator is telling the story of Cath, whereas the male British narrator reads her fan fiction that she writes about a Harry Potter-esque school for magical kids, so it really works.

Cath has just started college and she was horrified to discover that her twin sister, Wren, didn't want to live with her. Wren wants to have a more normal college experience and doesn't want to be known as "the twin," and wants to have an easier time distinguishing herself. Cath wants none of these things, but she is stuck with a roommate, Reagan, an angry sophomore whose boyfriend, Levi, is always hanging out (sometimes when Reagan isn't even there.) Cath continues to write her "Simon Snow" fanfiction, partly because that's just who she is, but also partly as a coping method.

This is a wonderful book about how the transition to college can be difficult. It deals with the fact the home life (including home problems) still continue even though you're away, and a search for identity (if reluctant), and how sometimes good things can happen to like friends and--oh my, the last thing Cath expects--even maybe a boyfriend! Cath's voice really rings true, her experiences feel all too real, and it really slingshotted me back in time, to my own college days. Every high school senior should read this. And really, just everyone should because Rainbow Rowell is awesome.

I checked this eaudiobook out of the library via Overdrive.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Monday, May 1, 2017

My Month in Review: April

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

I'm going to start to note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star.

So in March I mostly read Macmillan children's backlist, boning up for my new job as the Mid-Atlantic field sales rep. For April, I jumped into the Fall 2017 list, which is what I started selling this month. On the one hand, I know it's kind of cruel to review books that aren't coming out for months, but on the other hand, you can always add them to your TBR lists! I will make a big effort to do the reviews for published books right away and if I stay behind on my reviewing, I will let it be the Not Yet Published (NYP) books that get delayed. Heck, that will just bring the review a little closer to the actual pub date, so that's not a bad thing, unless I completely forget everything about the book in the mean time! I'm not entirely sure what to do when I start reading Winter 2018 books that aren't even in the Goodreads database yet. I suppose I could add them and then combine them with the real book at a later date, but that's more effort and involves me remembering to do a fairly minor thing months down the road.

Books completed this month:
Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham
*American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater 
The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs by Janet Peery
Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas
Thornhill by Pam Smy
Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast
Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
Bored and Brilliant: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Spacing Out by Manoush Zomorodi
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (audio)
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith (audio)
The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters With Extraordinary People by Susan Orlean
Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
none! Doing better on my budget. Although I did buy some sidelines (non-books) at bookstores. Always dangerous.