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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Book Review: An Unexplained Death: The True Story of a Body at the Belvedere by Mikita Brottman

It takes a lot for me to read a book off-season. I just finished selling the fall season and am now reading for Winter 2019. But the editor of this book made a really compelling pitch and I was already intrigued by the book before that. I figured I'd just give it a try and see. Well, I couldn't put it down.

Mikita lives in a condo in the Belvedere, which used to be the fanciest, biggest hotel in Baltimore. It was the tallest building in the city when it was built, just over 100 years ago. And it was a financial disaster right from the beginning. It went into bankruptcy before it ever opened and changed hands three times in its first 10 years. And here's something you don't know about hotels--a lot of people go to them to commit suicide. And this hotel is very near a large, prestigious mental health facility, making it perhaps even more of a draw than most.

One day she notices a missing sign on a light post while walking her dog. It's a a young, successful-looking man who was married and had a job and doesn't seem like the usual type to go missing. A few days later, his body is found in her building. He seems to have jumped/been pushed/fallen off the roof down to a much lower roof over the former swimming pool. He went through that roof into an unused office below and wasn't found for some time. Mikita watched the police officers gathering up his cell phone and flip flops from the pool roof. And as she's always been curious about crime and is a professional writer, she starts to look into this further. And what she finds is both surprising and yet not surprising. Was it suicide? Murder? An accident? Why are the police so cagey? Why is his former boss refusing to talk to anyone?

Along the way, Mikita looks into dozens of suicides (and a few possible accidents/murders) in the Belvedere over the decades. There's something about this book I can't put my finger on, but it's haunting, and there's something universal in this story even if you haven't been touched by death in this way in your life. It's also a love story to Baltimore, which she obviously loves even with its warts, in fact,partly because of them. She goes to the shady parts of town and feels badly for the poisoned rats. As a quiet but extremely thoughtful look at death and decline, she finds the human in the story that is often played off as voyeuristic gossip. I'll be thinking about this book for a long time.

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

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Book Review: Attucks!: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City by Phillip Hoose

I have been trying to brush up on my understanding and knowledge of the history of blacks in America over the last many years, and I'm finding more and more that children's nonfiction books are the way to go. They are robust, they often can cover lesser-known incidents due to their shorter length, and they do it in a very easy to understand and accessible way.

Turns out I didn't even know the history of Crispus Attucks, which this all-black high school in Indiana was named for. He was a freed slave who was the first person killed at the Boston Massacre, therefore also the first person killed in the American Revolution. When Indianapolis decided to build a single high school for all the African-Americans in town,  they wanted to name it after Thomas Jefferson or some other president, but the African-Americans refused to do that and instead named it for this prominent and impressive young man. (And really, after a president who owned slaves? Come on.)

In the 1950s, a teacher and coach came to Attucks high school who understood that the students needed to start playing basketball younger, and that fundamentals, while important, were not everything, and if you found an outstanding player of impressive talent, you shouldn't try to force him into a model of who you think a good basketball player should be--let him be himself. For years Attucks was not allowed to play the other (white) Indianapolis high schools. They had to travel all around the state to fill their game roster, playing tiny rural schools and a lots of Catholic schools (also prohibited from playing public schools). And they really had to travel as they did not have a home court where they could play games. Eventually, after many years of persuading and pushing, Attucks finally got permission to play in the Indianapolis state-wide high school championship. As you may remember from the movie Hoosiers which also takes place in the 1950s and is based on a real story, for many decades, Indiana was proud that its state championship was the only one in the country which let everyone play on a level playing field. They did not separate out schools based on size. So a tiny rural school with barely enough players to field a team could play a huge urban school with thousands of students.

From the first year they were allowed to play in the championship, Attucks went very far in the playoffs to the semifinals. The next couple of years they also came close. And then finally, a young man by the name of Oscar Robinson was playing for them, and they won the whole thing. They were the first all-black school to do so (also the first school from Indianapolis). That's a feat in and of itself. A number of the players got college scholarships or went on to play in the Harlem Globetrotters or NBA including Oscar. But there was an interesting outcome to this game. When African-Americans started really dominating basketball, the coaches from the white schools started recruiting them. Thanks to Brown versus Board of Education, the law had changed (even though reality had not) and African-American students were now allowed to attend high schools other than Attucks. And so coaches wanted some of these players on their teams, at other schools. So they started desegregating, by themselves, without a court order, because they wanted to. Granted, it was in a pretty small way, but that was really cool. For the first time ever, African-American students were wanted. So this might be a blip in the Civil Rights movement, but it's still a really amazing story.

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 Farrar Straus & Giroux, a division of Macmillan, my employer. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Book Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper (audio), narrated by Stephen Shanahan

I am a sucker for all things Australian, and with Ms. Harper's first Aaron Falk novel, The Dry, I decided I really love them on audio, as Mr. Shanahan's Australian accent sucks me in and I never for a moment forget where these books are taking place. Not that you can. Like in The Dry, the Australian landscape is a major figure in this thriller. But this one isn't in the arid outback, but in a wild and deeply forested area called the Girlang Ranges. A group of five women from a financial firm went into the woods on a corporate retreat, and only four came out. The one who is missing called Aaron Falk right before she disappeared, left a cryptic message, and also happens to be the key witness in a case against the firm that Aaron and his partner, Carmen, have been preparing. Of course she hadn't gotten them the last, crucial piece of evidence before this trip. Aaron and Carmen infiltrate the investigation even though they're financial investigators, not homicide or missing persons. Oh, and did I mention that years ago a serial killer was operating in this area? And his son might still be around somewhere?

As you can imagine, this is an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Every other chapter is a flashback to just three days earlier when the retreat began, and then to "now" with the police investigation. Unlike in the first book, this one doesn't have half as much to do with Falk's personal life (which is fine. It would be weird if every book did.) Although it does turn out that Falk's father had hiked a lot (and annotated his maps) in this region when Aaron was a teen, refusing to go with his dad. All of the women on the retreat have secrets and motives to hide. All have strained relationships with the others. I was worried I'd have trouble keeping them straight in an audiobook (especially one with a male narrator--while Aaron is male of course, with all the female protagonists, I was concerned it would be weird, but it was not.) but it was fine. I am really looking forward to Ms. Harper's next book!

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Book Review: A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler

I grew up surrounded by Vanderbilt, as my father is now a retired professor at the University. While no actual Vanderbilt family member ever visited the school (at least during its founding era, I'm not saying ever), I still have always had a great affinity towards the Robber Barons in general and the Vanderbilts in particular (although a while ago I did realize that people who works with Robber Barons blanch at that term and prefer to refer to them as "Gilded Age." Which yes, is nicer, but perhaps less accurate?)

So this is a novel about Alva Vanderbilt. She grew up poor but dignified, and they got poorer as both of her parents' health failed. After her mother's death, shortly before her father's, she decided that either she had to marry well, or she and her three sisters would have to get jobs, which women in their family just did not do, and which would permanently change their class. With the help of her best friend, Alva snags W.K. Vanderbilt, the grandson of Cornelius aka The Commodore (it was a nickname not a military position.) Now this was not just a poor girl marrying a rich boy to better her family. It was certainly a mutual arrangement. For all the Vanderbilts' money (or perhaps, almost because of it), they were shunned by New York Society. Whereas Alva Smith was accepted, coming from a family that dated themselves back to the 1600s in American, and which had always been respectable. So the quid pro quo was that Alva would get all the money in the world, and she would work to finagle the Vanderbilts into Society and rehabilitate the family name and varnish it with some class. All of this is accomplished, although not without some bumps. Along the way, she has several children, W.K. buys a couple of yachts, some older Vanderbilts die, Alva builds an impressive house on Fifth Avenue and then a more impressive one in Newport, Rhode Island. As the Gilded Age ticks along, she begins to feel ennui--is this all there is? Yachting and parties and making sure her daughter made a good marriage. Was this the purpose to her life? Or is there more?

Suffice it to say, yes, but you'll have to read the book to find out how she makes changes and what sorts of changes those are, to make her life more meaningful and happier. This book feels spot-on with the details of the era. I looked up some things like photos of the Fifth Avenue house and it's impressive. I wish there'd been more about her sisters--I get the impression that her older sister might be gay, and much later it's mentioned that at least one of her younger sisters made a good marriage, but they just vanish more or less. It seems they are in the city as well and even if she didn't hang out with them regularly, surely she saw them on rare occasions. Oh well. Her relationship with her African-American ladies maid was nice--and fascinating that the wealthy people in that time would not have any people of color as servants. Because Alva's family had until recently been Southern slave-holders, they were actually more comfortable with African-Americans. That's something my mother mentioned to me decades ago as she also lived in both regions growing up--she felt that racism was more subtle but more pervasive in the North in certain ways, and she thought unfamiliarity with African-Americans was the primary cause. Ms. Fowler seems to have come to the same conclusion.

The book is filled with fabulous gowns and trips to Europe and amazing architecture, so if you love all this, this book has it in droves. But it is deeper than that--Alva is not gilded. She is actual gold (or maybe silver but she's an actual precious metal, not a superficial imitation of one.) A fascinating and multi-layered story of a woman who lived in an interesting time with interesting people and who made some interesting decisions. A fun read for us history lovers.

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

Monday, October 1, 2018

My Month in Review: September

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. I did not read many books this month! VERY heavy travel month. I was home for 6 days this month, which was supposed to be five (had a cancellation), and that includes weekends! Many appointments for work, a trade show, and an out of town baby shower for my cousin.

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

Books completed this month:
You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson* (audio)
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin*
Good Kids, Bad City: A Story of Race and Wrongful Conviction in America by Kyle Swenson
The Widows: A Novel by Jess Montgomery
Mrs. Sherlock Holmes by Brad Ricca, narrated by David Bendena* (audio)

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Ask a Manager: Clueless Coworkers, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and Other Work Conversations Made Easy by Alison Green*
How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr
The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk W. Johnson, narrated by MacLeod Andrews* (audio)
The Macmillan Story: Bringing Authors and Readers Together Since 1843 by Macmillan Publishers

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
I went to SIBA, the Southern Independent Booksellers' Alliance Fall trade show, and there I picked up (for free, from publishers):
Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken
SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson
A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Book Review: The Chaos of Now by Erin Jade Lange

Last year, a boy who had been teased and bullied committed suicide at school by lighting himself on fire in front of everyone in the cafeteria. This book begins one year later, on the anniversary of his death at a school assembly meant to honor him. But Eli notices quickly that the students coming up and saying nice things about him, didn't even know him, and certainly weren't his friends. Right after, a couple of his actual friends reach out to Eli. The three boys were going to enter a coding competition together (you must have a team of three) and now they want Eli to be their third. He quizzes them on why they didn't stand up for him at the assembly but agrees to be on the team, overlooking some read flags, as he loves to code, and he wants to get out of his house, where his father's very young, very hot, former stripper girlfriend is always trying to act like his mom.

In the aftermath of the suicide, national laws were passed regarding bullying, particularly as regards social media. Kids are no longer allowed to really have any social media accounts except the most innocuous on heavily-policed (literally) sites. It hasn't really cut down on bullying which has just gone old-school but it has meant that students no longer feel they have any place to vent or to actually call out bullies. So the coding project is that these three boys are going to make a website that is untraceable where students from their high school can post things to out bad people. They start it off with a video of an obnoxious wrestler shooting steroids.

But later, Eli overhears some boys at school talking. It turns out that the wrestler was doing what every wrestler did in order to compete. He didn't want to do it. He's lost his college scholarship which means he can't go to college at all. He was pressured into the steroids, and his life is now destroyed. And Eli starts to realize that even bullies might have more to their story and be real people with their own problems. But by this time, the website has taken down more people, and begins to take on a life of his own. He also starts to realize he doesn't know these two other boys very well and they might have an alternative agenda for this project.

This book really delves into the complications of bullying. How bullies are often themselves bullied at home, how bullies aren't just 100% evil, how even bullied kids can themselves bully others, how we can be bullied by people who we think are friends, and so on. It's thoughtful, multilayered, and really timely, with topics super-relevant today. The book really has stuck with me and I think it's both a great story, and a really important one.

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 Bloomsbury, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Book Review: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

This was originally published as a webcomic, so you might already be familiar with On a Sunbeam. But even if you read it in that format, this has been edited, polished, condensed a little, and is a more refined piece. In the future, Mia has just joined a crew that travel around the far reaches of the galaxy, putting buildings and planets back together so they can be used again. Her compatriots are also young, 20-somethings (but really, close to 20) except for the captain and her partner. Turns out Mia has joined up because she wants to find her first love, Grace. So throughout we have flashbacks to the boarding school where Grace and Mia met.

This is a captivating world with spaceships that look like koi fish, dangerous planets, and very realistic teens (and just above teens). The relationships all feel very real, and the quest to find Grace again, not to win her back, but just for resolution (which was a nicely mature goal), was a fine plot driver for this fascinating and magical world. There's plenty of content--this was certainly not one of those graphic novels I can finish in just a couple of hours. Graphic novel fans will adore this book, and it has plenty of character development and story for non-graphic novel readers too.

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

Friday, September 21, 2018

Book Review: Listen to the Marriage by John Jay Osborn

This is an unusual novel. It's about a failing marriage. And you, the reader, have limited access to information about it. It reads like you are a fly on the wall in the marriage counselor's office. You know nothing of Gretchen and Steve's marriage outside of those four walls. What they tell their counselor is also all that you know. You do sometimes get to hear the thoughts of Sandy, their therapist (and sometimes her thoughts are exactly what you worry your therapist is thinking: "How can you be so obtuse, Steve?") But it's not limited third-person in the usual way. You really feel like a fourth presence in the room, but invisible and silent. And as the book really entirely takes place in the office with just these three people, it reads very much like a play. It's mostly dialogue.

Steve and Gretchen may have let things go too far before going to counseling. When one party has moved out and is dating, there's not much marriage left to save, perhaps. But you can also feel real, genuine feeling between them, even if at times they deny it. Sandy is an interesting character in that she's far from a traditional counselor. She gets very involved, very pushy, and calls Gretchen and Steve out on things most therapists wouldn't (she does acknowledge that she's unconventional--it's not that Mr. Osborn doesn't know how therapists are supposed to behave. It's much more that she and the book are more fun--and heck, Steve and Gretchen get a lot further a lot faster--than they would be in traditional therapy.)

It's a short book that packs a punch. Might put you somewhat off both therapy and marriage a bit. But really explores how relationships can end up in the places they do and how--and if they even should--patch things up.

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Book Review: Impossible Owls: Essays by Brian Phillips

This essay collection makes me really regret that I never read Grantland, which is now defunct and so I can't anymore. But I can say that Brian Phillips's essays would all appear right at home in a New Yorker issue.

Like some of my favorite nonfiction essay writers from John McPhee to Chuck Klosterman, Phillips's interests are wide-ranging. He covers topics in this book from the Iditarod to Princess Kate to an eccentric rich old woman in his hometown who disappeared for a decade. I think the essay on the current best sumo wrestler was probably my favorite, but it's hard to pick one. I did enjoy the one about the Russian filmmaker the least, but that may have been colored by my own personal frustration with a man who's been working--and not finishing--one project his entire life. I just want to shake him.

But the other essays were fascinating and kooky and deep enough that I learned a lot but moved on when they needed to so they didn't get bogged down. Thoroughly enjoyable.

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Book Review: The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

This book is a tricky one to tell anything at all about without giving away some serious spoilers. But I will try.

In 1970, Caroline's husband has just been killed in Vietnam. Her one consolation has been her pregnancy--that she will get to love a baby that reminds her of the love of her life forever, even if she can't be with him. But then she gets devastating news. Her daughter who isn't even born yet has a life-threatening condition and doctors can't save her. Caroline leans on her sister and brother-in-law for support. They've all moved out to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, even though her BIL, Hunter, still has to commute in to the Triangle area to work on his research project. Now Hunter comes to Caroline to reveal that there is hope for her daughter--if she'll listen to his crazy story and trust him. And what he tells her gives her real pause because it sounds utterly nuts. But Hunter's always been a good man who has loved her sister and done right by them from the beginning. Could his crazy plan actually work? What does Caroline have left to lose?

What happens next really pushes Caroline's understanding of the world, belief in herself, and her love for her daughter. But she has to do anything, even things that seem crazy or that cause her great pain, for her daughter, right? What does unconditional love really mean? What lengths would you go to for your child?

Ms. Chamberlain has upped her game from her previous book I read, Pretending to Dance. This is a thought-provoking, juicy book that will be perfect for book clubs. I read it in just a couple of days, as the story is really compelling and it's an easy read. Her fans will be thrilled to see her achieving new heights, and if you're curious, you should give it a try, as you'll likely become a fan yourself.

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

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Book Review: Check, Please!: # Hockey by Ngozi Ukazu

Bitty is a former-figure skater-turned-hockey player starting college and doing a vlog about his experiences. This book covers his first two years (I believe there is a planned sequel that presumably will cover the rest of college.) He is gay and he goes to a college that has a good reputation for inclusiveness, even if he's involved in a sport that isn't known for being super gay-friendly. But his teammates are actually very accepting when he finally does come out to them. It probably helps that he's already won them over with his fantastic pies. He is scared of being hit, but otherwise is a great player, which also doesn't hurt. The star player--whose dad was a professional NHL player and has high expectations--helps out with Bitty's weaknesses and he just improves.

College is tough and Bitty is a wonderful stand-in for any teen worrying about what it will be like. Even though he is a white man, he still has a lot of issues with and worries about being accepted, and different people have varying levels of issues with him as a person, some of which are related to his identity but more of which aren't, as with everyone. He struggles with difficult conversations, he worries about crushes, he is told he has to improve his big hockey problem or he'll lose his spot on the team, and he has a relatively normal college life.

I loved this story. Bitty is so endearing and optimistic and tries so hard that you can't help but root hard for him. I do find it fascinating that the author is an African-raised woman, and yet she's written about a white male. But don't worry--my little brother played hockey for at least 13 years and everything hockey struck me as really accurate (she did a ton of research.) The only problem to me was that I wanted the book to keep going! I wish the sequel was out right now! (I hate reading books in a series before they're all available.) The book is sweet and fun and honest and just great.

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 First Second, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Book Review: Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar

It's odd that I am squeamish and yet like medical books. I nearly failed high school biology (and to be honest, I should have failed it. I only passed by cheating. Sorry, Mom.) and yet decades later, I wonder about those organs I tried not to look at too closely in my little frog.

I read Dr. Jauhar's first medical memoir, Interned, years ago. (Unfortunately, I missed his second memoir. This is his third.) Like in Atul Gawande's Being Mortal, in this one, Dr. Jauhar is not just the medical expert, but he also becomes a patient in his own arena. He is a cardiologist, and he got his brother (also a cardiologist) to run some tests and found his cardiac arteries were mostly blocked, while he was still on the young side of middle age. His grandfather died of a sudden heart attack, and many members of his family have heart problems.

But it is not just a memoir. It is about how the heart itself functions, including the ludicrous idea still circulating today that it's where "love" is (the first heart transplant patient's wife asked the doctors if he would still love her after the surgery.) It is about the history of the understand of the heart, and the history of cardiology. Even years after we were exploring the brain, the heart was still considered off limits to doctors. And as Dr. Jauhar remembers his training in cardiology and how he learned important facets of his field, he elucidates this vital organ in all its mystery and simplicity.

If you have any interest in the medical field at all, even tangential like mine, this is an excellent book.

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

Saturday, September 1, 2018

My Month in Review: August

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

I note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star. This was my last month off from travel, and in fact, it wasn't because the last week in August I was in DC!

Books completed this month:
The Peacock Feast: A Novel by Lisa Gornick
Conan Doyle for the Defense by Margalit Fox (audio)*
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn
An Unexplained Death: The True Story of a Body at the Belvedere by Mikita Brottman
Sadie by Courtney Summers
Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Ellen T. Crenshaw
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
Bloom by Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau
Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story by Peter Bagge

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson*
Good Kids, Bad City: A Story of Race and Wrongful Conviction in America by Kyle Swenson
Ask a Manager: Clueless Coworkers, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and Other Work Conversations Made Easy by Alison Green*

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh, this was given to me for free (an ARC) by an employee of the publisher.

Book Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers

I hadn't wanted to read this book. It's being heavily pushed by my company, but it felt gimmicky to me, and I was selling it in easily, so I didn't feel the need. And then I had two different bookstore buyers in the same day tell me how amazing it was so I gave in.

I never was big into thrillers as a teen and I'm still not, although every once in a while they're fun. Basically, this book is inspired by the first season of the podcast Serial, and half of it is a podcast. a young girl has been found dead, and now her older sister has gone missing. A podcast producer hears about the story and goes to Colorado to investigate. Sadie is sure that she knows who killed her little sister, and she's out for revenge. West McCray doesn't know what happened exactly to Mattie or Sadie, but he knows a good story, and he's determined to find out.

My favorite parts of the story were when West took a wrong turn, or believed someone's lie (that Sadie hadn't believed) or made a wrong assumption. He usually got back on track in the end, but I liked how that demonstrates how no matter how meticulously researched and how many people interviewed, a journalist's story is never the whole truth--just an angle of the truth. And sometimes they can get things wrong.

In other circumstances Sadie could have gone far, so that part is a shame. When bad families happen to good people. But it is important to have books set in poor towns in broken families, so kids see themselves in their reading options. Other kids like Sadie, raising her younger sister alone after her drug-addicted mother disappears, need to know they're not alone. Hopefully their own circumstances don't go as off the rails as hers did, but some probably do. After all, the majority of violence happens in economically depressed areas.

Anyway, it was good fun, not for the faint of heart, and Sadie was a compelling protagonist who would do anything for her sister, even when her sister is no longer here.

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 Wednesday Books, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Book Review: Calypso by David Sedaris

Oh David. I love David Sedaris. I've seen him live 5 times. And it's so important, I think, to hear him read his stories, or you miss half of the jokes. Which means that later, I will probably listen to this on audio. Because as it is, while I adored it, it was one of his less funny books.

Granted, a lot of it has to do with or is informed by, the suicide of his sister. But he's dealt with his mother's death in previous books in ways that end up infused with humor. This time around though, there feels to be a thread of melancholy running through. Is it because of aging? A very unexpected and unprepared for death? He also has an essay about his mother's alcoholism which deals with it in a very frank and honest way, with one of the best, most insightful lines on alcoholism I have ever read. After looking back and seeing what perhaps drove the escalation of her drinking, he nevertheless concludes that she was lonely because her kids grew up and left, but she drank because she was an alcoholic. I very much appreciated the lack of excuse and the lack of blame on anything but the alcoholism.

I would love to go to his new North Carolina beach house, the Sea Section (great name!) I have read in reviews that others find his father to be strict and uncompromising but I see none of that--I find his father to be a man stuck in his ways (who among us isn't already, or won't be by the time we're 90) but who genuinely likes spending time with his adult kids and who seems pretty genial if quirky. And I am super impressed that he goes to spin class every day when he's at home. At half his age, I couldn't do that!

What I can do is compete with David's FitBit obsession. I am still annoyed that I chose not to wear it on my wedding day, five years ago. I also wish I could somehow go back in time and own a FitBit (had they been invented yet?) when I walked my full marathon back in 2011. FitBit thinks I've only walked one 35K day in my life (May 11, 2015) but I did that at least 5 times while training for the marathon. I do think obsessed is very much the right word for David's relationship with FitBit, as he paces around an airport despite an intestinal illness. But I wish I could be his FitBit friend. Even if he would kick my ass in any Challenge.

As per usual, David manages to tackle issues both giant and infinitesimal in his trademark humorous way, finding the amusement in even very depressing topics, and finding hilarity in the absurd. My life would be a dream if he would only publish a book every month. I would read them all.

I bought this book at Watchung Booksellers, the independent bookstore in my town.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Book Review: Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin

I had heard of Jim Thorpe before. I knew he was a Native American and a great athlete. And it turns out, that's pretty much all I knew.

Jim Thorpe was, like a lot of Native American kids, sent away to a boarding school run by whites that was designed to get the Indian out of these kids and basically make them as white as possible. It didn't work. Even the students who assimilated 100% still couldn't find jobs in the white community afterwards due to racism and prejudice, so even if it worked perfectly, it didn't work. But the Carlisle Indian School did have one thing that worked: their football team.

This was in football's infancy. Players didn't wear helmets, the forward pass was illegal, and most players played both offense and defense. Jim Thorpe was on Carlisle's track and field team and he was amazing. The coach, Pop Warner (yes, the guy that kiddie football leagues are named after to this day--I didn't know he was a real guy!), didn't think Jim was big enough. But it turns out you don't have to be big if you can outrun everyone. And break every tackle. If eleven men can't drag you down. Warner let Thorpe join the team.

This was also before conferences, right around the time of the formation of the NCAA, and teams made their own schedules. Warner wanted to prove how great his team was, so every year he tried to schedule games against The Big Four: Princeton, Yale, UPenn, and Harvard. Oh, these were all away games for Carlisle, too, making them even more underdogs.

And yet, they usually won. They beat the pants off other schools. And they did it all playing more than fair--from the beginning they knew the prejudice they were up against would end poorly with them, if they resorted to slugging or other illegal but largely ignored tactics that other teams did regularly, so they played extra-clean. And really, while some of them were older, they were mostly a high school team, playing against colleges. And his last year, the biggest game of all was against Army. The player in the same position as Thorpe on the other team was Ike Eisenhower.

Oh, and one summer Jim went to the Olympics and beat the pants off everyone there. His competitors all said he was the best athlete ever. Several news articles including the New York Times repeatedly compared him to Greek gods, and in a memorable comparison said he would have been far better than Goliath and other famous strong men of lore, because he wasn't just strong, but also fast and agile. But also he technically wasn't a US citizen when he competed for the US, because at that time, no American Indians were given citizenship, as ironically, the US government didn't consider them lawfully here.

Jim Thorpe's story is impressive, inspirational, frustrating, and one that all Americans should know. While this book is written for teens, it's not dumbed-down at all, and adults can also read it and enjoy it with ease. Filled with amazing photos throughout.

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 Roaring Brook Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Book Review: I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O'Farrell (audio)

I love a good memoir on audio, and if it has to do with medical issues, even better! So when this one came along, I know I'd read it sooner rather than later, and then when I saw it was also pretty short, it rocketed to the top of my list.

Maggie has structured this memoir around moments in her life when she almost died. Some of them terrible accidents resulting in a trip to the hospital. Others a near miss, like when the creepy guy who harassed her on a hike killed someone on that same trail a few days later, or when a brain misfunction caused her to nearly drown in front of her friends. A couple of them she was even too young to remember.

It makes a reader wonder about her own life--have I had 17 near-misses? That seems like an exceptionally high number. I remember going off the high dive at the pool and landing on my back, getting the breath knocked out of my and feeling paralyzed as I sank toward the bottom of the pool (18 feet), watching the daylight get dimmer and dimmer. But then that temporary paralysis wore off and I swam to the top without anyone noticing anything had happened. (I never went off the high dive again.) So that's one.  But 17? Now, one reason Maggie has had so many was a terrible childhood illness that at first they thought she wouldn't survive, and when she did, she had to relearn how to walk and she never regained her body's spacial knowledge, and to this day she can't do two things at once. Walking and chewing gum is a literal impossibility for her. And then in her twenties, that created an impetus to travel broadly and singly, in a death-defying manner, in countries that were dangerous, and to go solo in places where it wasn't smart. Now granted, I think we all did some pretty stupid things in that decade, and most of us just would never know if that creepy guy on the subway went on to be a murderer, or how close we came to being a victim on any given night, stumbling home very late and rather drunk. Perhaps much closer than we realize. And Ms. O'Farrell's book makes us look at our own lives and reevaluate our memories through a much more precarious and dangerous lens.

I listened to this book on Libby via my public library.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Book Review: The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

I can't say too much about this book or I will give away spoilers for the first book, The Calculating Stars. Suffice it to say that I was sick as a dog but I stayed up until 1:00 AM to finish it. I was about to reluctantly put it down with about 40 pages left when Something Shocking Happened and then I was in it to the end. It's a great sequel and I was super bummed to find out there will not be any more Lady Astronaut books (there is a short story which won the Hugo Award, which was published first but which takes place after the two books.) The book doesn't end in a way that precludes the store going on and on. There could be way more books. And I really wish there were!

Once again, like the first book, this is by no means just for Sci Fi lovers, and while it's alternative history, that's a genre that normally makes me itchy but this is the exception that proves the rule. These books are so much fun, easy to read but they make you feel smart, with tons to discuss for book clubs, and anyone who read Hidden Figures would love them. They're the best summer reads I've read in many years. It's early in the year yet (even earlier when I read them in January) and I am pretty sure they're going to end up being my favorites of the year. So I don't care if you don't usually like this kind of book. Read them anyway. You'll thank me.

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

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Book Review: Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

36315374This book turns the typical thriller setup on its head. Georgina--Geo--is a successful young executive at a pharmaceutical company run by her future father-in-law, and everything in her life looks near-perfect on the outside. Until one day when the police arrest her for murder. And not just any police officer--the arresting detective was a friend of Geo's in high school. The victim she's accused of murdering? Was her best friend.

Well, okay, not exactly accused of murdering, but of covering up the murder, done by her boyfriend. He was older, a bad boy, abusive, and quickly taking Geo down a bad path. And now that the past has been uncovered, Geo takes her punishment. She serves her time (a few chapters read a lot like Orange is the new Black) and is released. Upon release, all she has is her car, which her father has kept for her. She moves in with him, and his house is repeatedly vandalized. She can't get a job in their small town, and is ostracized by everyone.

But while she accepted her fate and her role, her ex-boyfriend disappeared halfway through the trial, jumping bail. He is still on the loose. And now, new murders are happening. And they resemble that old murder of her old best friend. Is he after her now? Can she get away? Or is there an even darker secret in Geo's past that's now coming back to haunt her?

I read this book in just a day and half, just ripped right through it. It's a fun, easy read, and is twisty in just the right ways.

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

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Book Review: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I came to this book through the movie, not even knowing it was a book at first. Although it is the most meta of books, as even in the movie it is a book, being read to a sick grandchild by his grandfather. What I didn't expect is for the book to be so similar--including interruptions and skimming and--ew--kissing parts. It was a delight! If you love the movie, you will adore the book. The movie was also written by William Goldman (an award-winning screenwriter whose other credits include All the President's Men). So it does track VERY closely to the book. There are stretches of multiple pages which feel verbatim.

Necessarily there are changes. There are shortenings. Most notably the secret underground "zoo" was cut altogether, and the beginning when Buttercup is introduced and later when she is picked to be the Prince's bride, is much more brief in the movie. Also there are extensive bits back and forth about Mr. Golding's publisher, and about his efforts to track down other manuscripts by "S. Morgenstern" such as "Buttercup's Baby," a chapter of which is included at the back, which are all highly entertaining but made sense to cut.

I was worried that a book with so many asides, which purported to be a history of Gilder and Florin, would bog down, but it was a fun, rollicking story that whipped along. Despite being a rather long book, I whipped through it in just a couple of days. Much fun!

I bought this at Montclair Book Center, a mostly used (but this was new) independent bookstore in my town.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Book Review: Wish Upon a Sleepover by Suzanne Selfors


Leilani wants to have more friends. She has a best friend, Autumn, but she's out of town visiting her father every other weekend, leaving Leilani to only be able to hang out with her grandmother. There's a group of 6 girls named Hailey (some variation of spelling) in their class who are popular and seem like they're always having fun. One Hailey lives in the building next door to Leilani's in Seattle. Leilani comes up with a great idea: she'll plan a sleepover for the Haileys and Autumn, and it will be awesome and afterwards they'll all be friends. While planning her sleepover (theme: luau!), a few kids annoy her and she makes not only an Invite list but also a Do Not Invite list (admittedly, a not nice thing to do, but she never meant for this to be seen by anyone other than her.) Her grandmother then "accidentally" send her invites to the Do Not Invite list, argh! So she has three kids she doesn't especially like (and Autumn) come over. While she can see the Haileys at their own sleepover in the next building. 

Her grandmother then tells Leilani about a Hawaiian tradition of Sleepover Soup which she starts. Each person must contribute an ingredient that means something to them and is from somewhere important. Then they all drink the soup together under the moon, and good things will happen. If you caught on that this is a variant of the "stone soup" story, congratulations, you are correct!

Naturally, by the end of the evening, the scavenger hunt for ingredients brings the kids together, they reveal personal things about themselves and end up liking each other and forging bonds. (They also have a run-in with the Haileys and the main one is quite bitchy, although another Hailey would like to be invited to their party next time, showing they're not all obnoxious.) And in the end, did her grandmother do much much more than she claimed, for Leilani to gain some new, better friends? A sweet story without being cloying, fun without being frenetic, and with lessons learned but not heavy-handed, this was a thoroughly enjoyable book.

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 Imprint, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

My Month in Review: July

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

I note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star. I am home for a couple of months before I start traveling for work again, so I have been able to catch up on reading. Now, to get ahead! Luckily lots of rain predicted this week. But that was true last week also, while on vacation, and the rain was underwhelming.

Books completed this month:
News of the World by Paulette Jiles*
Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution
by Nathaniel Philbrick, narrated by Scott Brick* (audio)
Love Saves the Day by Gwen Cooper*
Tito the Bonecrusher by Melissa Thomson
Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos by Lucy Knisley
Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sergeant Isaac Woodard and the Igniting of the Modern Civil Rights Movement by Richard Gergel
Strangers Assume My Girlfriend Is My Nurse by Shane Burcaw
Manfried the Man by Caitlin Major and Kelly Bastow*
Force of Nature by Jane Harper (audio)
The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot Against George Washington by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
The Breakaways by Cathy G. Johnson

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Peacock Feast: A Novel by Lisa Gornick
Conan Doyle for the Defence by Margalit Fox (audio)*
Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story by Peter Bagge

What I gave up on:
The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home by Denise Kiernan *
This seemed to have a lot of potential but it turns out the Vanderbilt who built the Biltmore didn't do anything else interesting.

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Vox by Christina Dalcher--the publisher sent this to me.
Meaty by Samantha Irby I bought this at the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, VT

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Book Review: Nothing Good Can Come from This: Essays by Kristi Coulter

This is a memoir told in essays, which can feel disjointed, but for me it did come together in the end. Kristi is a successful businesswoman with a drinking problem. This is not a story commonly told. Pretty much all of the addiction memoirs I've run across have felt like a competition to who can achieve a new low. Which is a dreadful thing to aspire to, as many people die on their way down. Also, the vast majority of people with drinking problems do not have the horrific consequences described in those books. A lot of people are able to deny their problems, and also aren't able to find help they feel is appropriate because it's all geared to much more severe versions of the problem. But I really admire Kristi for acknowledging that it was a problem and figuring it all out for her, before she had terrible consequences. I think more people might see themselves in Kristi than in Sarah Hepola.

Anyway, I thought she was very forthright and straightforward. Her life seems fairly normal, with a loving husband she sometimes squabbles with, a house that sometimes breaks down, a very demanding job with a lot of travel, and a level of income that means she can eat out at super-fancy restaurants regularly, and developing a palate and considering herself a "foodie" came with an awful lot of wine. Soon she was drinking a bottle of wine every night. And when she tried not to, she found she couldn't. She'd really, really try, and she still couldn't.

What seemed to be key for her eventual success, after being a functional alcoholic for ten years, was when she stopped hoping that one day she's want to quit. And instead she just quit. It was waiting for the wanting, certain one day it would appear and provide her with unlimited fortitude and strength, that held her back.

It wasn't easy. And she didn't do it alone. Well, she did for the first year, white-knuckling it. But then she went to AA. She writes in a fun, breezy style, that's also refreshing for an addiction memoir. I really enjoyed it. It's short and can be read in just a few hours.

I got this book for free from my employer. It is published by FSG, a division of Macmillan.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Reading By Publisher Take 3

So in 2016 I started tracking what publishers I was reading in my year-end stats and last year, while job hunting, I started a project (never finished because of job getting) to purposefully diversify my reading by publisher. Since the job getting, the opposite has happened to me.

I was initially concerned about reading books from just one publisher, based on my unhappy experience reading only Knopf books (while interviewing for a job in case you're tracking variations on this theme). Of course that's reading a single imprint, not one publisher, and I've worked at Macmillan before (at St. Martin's Press, so in a single division) so I knew I did/do like a lot of their books. But still. It feels limiting.

And yet, I've found it to be so much fun! After all, Macmillan (and her distribution lines) publish 3000-4000 books a year. And they're super diverse in subject matter and literary ilk and even age range, since I sell children's books as well as adult. There definitely are publishers where I would struggle, as my interests diverge a lot from their genres, to find books to interest me, and I would feel much more forced into reading, which sucks. Or I might just not read a whole heck of a lot of their books. That's a choice, and I do know a couple of my fellow Macmillan reps make that choice, but to me, that would make my job harder and also I'd get a lot of side-eye in the office, especially from my boss, so that feels like a questionable decision if you can find some books in the mix that you do like. And at the 5th largest US publisher, that shouldn't be hard to do.

And it isn't! So far every season I have not managed to read all the books I wanted to at the beginning of the season. That's a very good thing. Sometimes it's due to those books not being available until too late (I give myself 4 months to read books for each season and then I have to move on to the next season), sometimes I'm distracted by other books, and sometimes I have heard things throughout the season that make me less excited about a book than I initially was. But this has actually, so far, been a good problem to have, at least on this side.

But it does create another problem. What about all of the non-Macmillan books I want to read?

Argh. Well, I now have to aggressively prioritize. Non-work books can absolutely wedge themselves into my reading agenda the minute they come out (see: David Sedaris). And of course, I prioritize my book club books (which is why when one sucks, nowadays that's an even bigger bummer than before.) But in reality, most of my non-work books are audiobooks. And that really skews what I read for a couple of reasons. For one, a small fraction of books are available on audio in the first place. Tons of books that I want to read just aren't made into audiobooks for a variety of reasons. Second, it's what's available. I don't want to listen to an audiobook on CD, because then I can ONLY listen in my car (no longer own a CD player in my house). Downloadable is the way to go. Thanks to my awesome library system, I have 2 ways I can log into 2 systems: Overdrive/Libby and CloudLibrary. But what I can download depends on what books my library has purchased (leased) on audio from that service. We don't actually have access to the entire library of available audiobooks at these services. I did recently sign up for Libro.fm as well (which is not free; it's like Audible, but
for indies.) That opens up a whole new list of options. But the biggest limitation for me is that there are a bunch of books that I don't want to listen to on audio. I know the experience won't be enjoyable, and I might end up disliking a book that I would have liked in print. Fiction, especially of the literary type, fares less well on audio in my brain. I really prefer nonfiction, and the few novels on audio I listen to tend towards thrillers. I either need something I don't have to 100% listen to and occasionally can be distracted from without missing a crucial element (nonfiction) and/or something compelling that sucks me in which will grab my attention and hang on to it like a vacuum (thriller).

So far this year, I've read 69 books. We are just past the halfway point in the year. Of those 69, 22 are non-Macmillan titles, or 31%. 10 of those were in print so 12 on audio (a much more even split than I was expecting) and 3 (all print) were book club selections. This is not including all of the picture books and early reader books that I read for work, which is roughly 40-50/season, which would really skew my numbers pro-Macmillan.)

I suppose I could cut out those 22 books and read exclusively Macmillan, but I'm not going to do that. Not only because of the David Sedarises in the world, but because it helps me keep up with the market more generally, actually makes my bookstores trust my recommendations more when I occasionally suggest another publisher's book, and it makes me feel more free and not oppressed by what I have to read for work. I've long known that as soon as a book is assigned to me, I don't want to read it, EVEN IF I'M THE ONE WHO ASSIGNED IT (for example, if I suggested it for book club).

With more than a year of mostly reading one publisher, this is my conclusion: it's not bad! I can keep this up. Not sure if my numbers will always look like this, but for now, it's do-able. I do wish more (all?) books were available on audio though.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Book Review: Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

This is a gentle epistolary novel that is initially deceptive in its subtlety. So when I read the first 10 pages, I wasn't blown away by the book, but I am SO glad I went back to it.

In England, when Tina was a small child, her grade school class was captivated by the story of the discovery of the Tollund Man, a prehistoric man found buried in peat and perfectly preserved, who is now in a museum in Denmark. The class wrote a letter to the professor who found him, and he ended up dedicating his book about the Tollund Man to her class. Tina and her best friend Bella always swore they'd go to the museum to see the Tollund Man. But there was always a reason not to go. And they never got around to it. And now Bella has died.

In her grief, Tina writes to the museum. The professor has died long ago, so one of the curators, Anders, responds. Amusingly, he takes her hypothetical questions to be literal and answers them as best he can. And so Tina responds to his endearing letter. And he writes back. And so on. And a true friendship develops, across countries and languages and different life situations. Tina lives on a farm, her adult children are moving on with their own lives separate from hers, and she's feeling ennui. Anders lives alone, as his difficult wife died years ago, and his adult children have moved away. And yet their different problems draw them together.

This is a quiet and important novel, about connection and relationships and trust and faith in the human experience. I truly loved it.

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

Monday, July 23, 2018

Book Review: The Breakdown by B.A. Paris, narrated by Georgia Maguire (audio)

I've said before, these women-focused, domestic thrillers aren't my usual cup of tea. But they're so prevalent these days that I do pick one up every once in a while. And thrillers are good for audio, even if I tend to avoid fiction on audio.

Cass was driving home in a terrible storm, and she took the dangerous windy road through the woods with no cell service that her husband asked her not to take. She saw a car pulled over. She stopped and waited to see if the driver would somehow signal they needed help, but they didn't. She went on. The next morning she found out that the driver of the car, a woman she knew slightly, had been murdered. And Cass can't put this behind her. It starts to obsess her, eat away with her, ruining her confidence, making her doubt her sanity, until she nearly gives everything up. Cass is meant to be a very sympathetic main character, but instead she is frustrating, often causing the reader to want to shake her or slap some sense and some gumption into her.

You know, given the genre of the book, that there will be twists and you're looking for them from the very beginning. When they come, while they have been set up and are (within the realm of the genre) believable, and I didn't entirely guess them, Cass's new level of agency, self-determination, and finally gumption, seem out of character with the Cass we've gotten to know in the first 80% of the book. There are some reasons for that, but it still felt somewhat disjointed. And the complexity of the gaslighting seemed to be hanging together by a thread.

But hang together it does. Even when Cass was driving me up a wall, I couldn't stop listening. It was compelling, even when annoying. If you like these domestic, women's thrillers, this is a good one.

I listened to the audiobook on Overdrive via my library. This book is published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Book Review: 30 Before 30 by Marina Shifrin

I love a list. If it's a list where I can already cross off a whole bunch of things and feel accomplished for having done nothing more than read a list, all the better! So while it might seem a little unusual for a 43 year old to read a book about 30 things to do before you're 30, I figured this sounds like a list where I can check everything off!

Of course not. That's not how a book like this goes. If it's all boring, everyday stuff that most everyone has done, it's not a book. Yes, I've done a few (donate hair) and I could do others if I felt like it (ride a bike across the Brooklyn Bridge) but a lot fell in the category of I didn't want to do them, but it was fun watching someone else (Become Internet Famous.) That one in particular crossed off two things, because it was her epic viral video in which she quit her job that made her famous, so I give Marina big points for that.

For the past several years, stomping on Millennials has felt like a sport, one that is rather mean-spirited and unfair (I'd guess 70% of the things we Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers claim are Millennials being entitled are simply things everyone--including us Gen-Xers and Boomers who apparently have really terrible memories--did ourselves when we were early 20-somethings not because of our generation, but just because of the lack of real-work experience that age dictates. Don't believe me? Rewatch Reality Bites and Friends and the first three seasons of The Real World and get back to me. I'll wait.) I super-appreciate that while Marina's book is an obvious push-back to that attitude, she never names it. Instead, she's happy to let it die a quiet death. Meanwhile, she will try to be positive and uplifting, without being cloying or peppy or annoying, which is a great attitude to have.

Sure, some of the things she does like move to another country where she doesn't know the language, are things I do not aspire to, but hey, I've done things she probably wouldn't enjoy either, and we each get to pick our own life lists. Overall, it was a series of essays that ended up being a memoir, about a 20-something working hard to figure out this Real World and her place in it and how to make a go at it without falling on her ass. That's what most of us were trying to do at that same age, with varying levels of success, and I think other 20-somethings will really identify with her and find her journey inspiring. I found that it reassured my faith in this younger generation who are finding their way through some rather rough terrain.

This book is published by my employer.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Book Review: Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick, narrated by Scott Brick (audio)

I've been trying to bone up on my Revolutionary War knowledge since moving to New Jersey two years ago. Our first apartment here was on a block where George Washington had stayed in a temporary headquarters during the war, briefly, as our town has a good view of Manhattan. And a few months ago I stopped at Valley Forge and walked around. I just don't know much about the war itself, and it's fascinating when I read about it to hear of towns I've been to or driven past, which really brings it home and makes it more real.

Most Americans have heard of Benedict Arnold and know he was a world-class traitor, perhaps the best one that ever lived (at least in this country) what most Americans won't know or even puzzle through is that he was also a world-class general. Don't believe me? Well, think about it: how could he have been in such a position to betray our country on such a level, if he weren't very high up in the military?

He was bad playing politics. And I don't mean in the governing of a country sort of way--I mean playing the politics of sucking up to the powers that be to get promotions, that sort of thing. His social skills were seriously lacking. He was blunt and off-putting. Therefore, despite some really spectacular feats on the battlefields, he often didn't get the promotions and seniority that he rightly deserved (also this was because the Continental Congress got to make promotions in the military, not the military higher-ups. Washington did want him to get promoted.) So over time, he fell behind his peers, and especially he fell behind men who had made major military blunders, who had publicly proven their cowardice, and who were just incompetent. And he was a spendthrift, so he really needed the extra income that came with promotions.

Then he met Peggy Shippen. Mr. Philbrick doesn't outright claim that she was the brains behind his betrayal, but it's heavily implied. Peggy and Benedict got married. And Peggy then introduced him to a British officer, Andre, and Andre and Arnold plotted for Arnold to gain command of West Point (at that time a fort, not a military school) and turn it over to the British. The plot was foiled by Andre's stupid behavior upon attempting to return to the British lines, and he was caught with a letter from Arnold on him revealing the plot. Arnold became a high-ranking British officer. Andre was hanged by the Americans. And I hope Arnold was very happy with Peggy for the rest of his life. America lost a great general, although one who by that point, due to multiple on-field injuries, was not as useful as previously.

And then Mr. Philbrick makes a great conclusion which I never thought of before but heartily agree with: America at this point in time, was distracted, factionalized, and really needed a rallying point for everyone to get behind. And Benedict Arnold turned out to be that thing. King George, as not-awesome as he was, was not an inspiring villain. But Benedict Arnold was! His betrayal really became a rallying point that all Americans could agree on. And it helped coalesce various factions into a single nation. So the rather unusual conclusion is that America needed Benedict Arnold to be a traitor. He couldn't have done a bigger favor for our country.

I borrowed this audiobook from the library via Overdrive.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Book Review: Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Suzette lives with her husband and daughter in their stunning, custom-built home in Pittsburgh, dealing with her irregular health, and her weird, possibly murderous child. She's been h ome-schooling Hanna since she gets expelled from every school, but she can't keep that up much longer and maintain her own sanity. Her husband just doesn't get it since Hannah acts like an angel when he's around, but soon Hannah's dangerous predilections for harming Suzette are undeniable.

Hanna is a creepy, creepy little girl. She reminded me a lot of My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier or The Bad Seed (although I haven't read that, but I know enough about it thanks to the cultural zeitgeist.) But I'm starting to feel that little psychopathic girls are becoming a trope and they needs to be expanded upon before they firmly meld into a cliche. Particularly since according to psychological studies, the vast majority of psychopaths are male.

The narrative switches back and forth between Suzette and Hannah. The Hannah parts felt kind of weird to me, stilted and not like the real voice of a child (always tricky to pull off.) And Suzette's medical issues are presented as a serious problem in the beginning of the book, so much so that you expect them to come back and have some important role in the end, but they don't. For me, the level of tension in the book didn't payoff, but I did like the ending as one that's actually realistic in this situation. However, thrillers about psychopathic kids aren't usually noted for their realistic endings, so I am not sure that's effective. It was a fun read, but uneven, and with some gaps.

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

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Book Review: Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (audio)

What a glorious book! Made all the better by hearing Bruce himself read it on audio.

He had a close, loving, but unstructured childhood, where he often stayed up until all hours and didn't go to school, even as a quite young kid. His family was poor but because his father was a fix-it man, they were the first on their block to have a TV. He never felt truly deprived. His grandmother raised him more than his mother. And then at one point, he decided he really wanted a guitar. His mother bought him one that cost way more than they could afford, but also was a bad guitar, and yet he was determined to make it work. Eventually someone clued him in that he was playing a base as a guitar, and that's why it never was quite right.

One of his first bands had trouble finding a lead singer. They decided everyone in the band should try to sing, and Bruce was rejected instantly for his terrible voice. In fact they made fun of him for years for his bad voice. Like most bands, initially they were a cover band. But then Bruce wrote a song. And another song. It's actually not too surprising that he's a decent writer in this memoir, considering that he's been writing since he was about 16. Occasionally, there was a line where, to my amusement, I could hear the cringe in his voice. He's obviously thought it was really clever when he wrote it, I imagine it's a line that his editor flagged as being twee or eye-rolling or pretentious but he stuck to his guns. And now that he had to say it out loud, I could hear the embarrassment and regret in his voice. (Hint for aspiring writers: read everything you write out loud. You will find tons to fix with that method and catch loads of typos.) I feel smug on his editor's behalf.

Anyway, you hear about what it's like to tour, about his father's tricky mental health, about his first short marriage, about finally getting fame and recognition 20 years after he started playing, about his second happy marriage, about his long-time friendships with bandmates like Clarence Clemmons, about touring some more, about his kids, about being inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, and finally about some of his own mental health issues (which, unlike his father, he gets help for. He both sees a therapist and is on medications.) He really wants to be open about those issues as he wants to destigmatize it so more people, like his father, will get help.

The book was fascinating, fun, well-written, occasionally poetic, and really made me understand what it's like to be a working musician, where this is a job, not a hobby or a lark or a treat. It's a job. And he's the CEO. And he has employees who count on him for their livelihoods. It is a different side of the industry than most people see. And he's had a truly fascinating life. I do wish there had been photos though. That feels like a big loss. I was so excited that I had both the print and audiobooks because I thought, for once I won't be stiffed on the photo insert! But alas, no photos.

My husband bought me the hardcover as a gift at an airport store, and I listened to the audiobook from my local library via Overdrive.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Book Review: Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence by Bill James

In my interview for this job, my now-boss brought up the subject of the genre of True Crime, and how it probably needs to be rebranded. I agree wholeheartedly. But I think that it needs to be broken in half, and that's what needs to be rebranded. In the year and a half since then, I've thought of this a lot. My Mother-in-law reads a lot of true crime, and I read a modest amount, but until this book, the Venn Diagram of our true crime reads had no overlap at all. She tends to read the ripped-from-the-headlines, commercial, tabloid-esque variety (not that there's anything wrong with that!) such as Jaycee Dugard's tell-all and books co-written by People Magazine journalists (really, no judgment. I subscribe to People and I love it.) Whereas the books I read that fall within the True Crime genre are more like The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science, about a nineteenth-century French serial killer. My boss was discussing this because the more literary side of this genre has been on a big upswing, but the books can be hard to sell as the phrase "true crime" has a salacious ring to it that doesn't resonate with literary readers, even if they're missing out.

A few months ago I was at one of my accounts and I mentioned my MIL's birthday was coming up and she liked True Crime, and the buyer immediately went to this title. I knew who Bill James was instantly, having eaten up Moneyball when it was first published. I jumped on it and bought it for her right away. Then I thought, this looks so fascinating, I ought to get one for myself. And when I went to add it to Goodreads, I saw that I already had added it. Hm. (This is why I am religious about my Goodreads or I would own dozens of duplicate copies of books.) And I thought, this could be interesting if my MIL and I both like it. We could actually finally have a book in the middle of the Venn Diagram! So I sat down and read it.

Chunkster as it is, I read it very quickly. James is making the argument that while the intelligentsia looks down on true crime aficionados as exploitative and low-brow, this fascination has been going on for centuries, has been beloved by plenty of the high-brow, and actually has a purpose or two. It helps us to NOT become inured to the horrific goings-on around us, it can actually be a welcome distraction from awful news that is more difficult to mentally and emotionally deal with, and heck, publicizing serial crimes can often lead to arrests and heightened public awareness. He goes back and looks at dozens of "crimes of the century" over the last 200 years in America. He looks at patterns in the coverage of crimes. He looks at how in a few cases like JonBenet Ramsey, the public scrutiny of course screwed up the way the case was handled by the police, irreparably. He does give his opinion of who committed certain "unsolved" murders. He shows how American culture has been influenced by crime, and how crime has influence American culture. He gives his opinions on how and what could help reduce crime and in what ways we're actually exacerbating it. If you are a pop culture junky like I am, and have even a passing interest in the O.J. Simpson case or any of the classics like The Boston Strangler or Ted Bundy, this is a must-read. It is a few years old (2011) so don't expect the high-profile crimes of the last few years to be included. Personally, I was annoyed by a sprinkling of typos throughout, but it happens. And it didn't take away from the masterful synthesis of two centuries of "popular crime" in America.

I bought this book at Solid State, an independent bookstore in Washington DC. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

My Month in Review: June

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

I note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star. I am home for a couple of months before I start traveling for work again, so I should be able to catch up on reading, but this weekend it's supposed to be mind-blisteringly hot which is not great for reading, so we'll see.

Books completed this month:
I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O'Farrell (audio) *
Maybe a Mermaid by Josephine Cameron
Ruby in the Sky by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo
Girls on the Verge by Sharon Biggs Waller
The Astonishing Maybe by Shaunta Grimes
Educated by Tara Westover, narrated by Julia Whelan (audio) *
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate (audio)
Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart
Calypso by David Sedaris *
Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home by Denise Kiernan *
Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story by Peter Bagge
News of the World by Paulette Jiles *

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen
Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly
I bought these two at Park Road Books in Charlotte when I was in town for the Women's National Book Association annual national board meeting.

A friend at the publisher got me a gratis copy of Ask a Manager: Clueless Coworkers, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and Other Work Conversations Made Easy by Alison Green, which is based on my favorite blog.