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Monday, December 17, 2018

Book Review: The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis, narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris (audio)

Michael Lewis is the master of explaining complicated economic and financial issues and concepts, and lately I've discovered I like his books even better on audio. My father is an economist so I've always known a bit. I even took a couple of classes in college. Only after college did I discover behavioral economics (through Michael Lewis!), which I find so much more accessible and interesting. And this book is about Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, the Israeli psychologists who came up with behavioral economics.

It's unusual that psychologists came up with the first new sub-field of economics in the last century. But economists since the beginning of the field have posited the curious base notion that people make rational decisions and therefore X will equal Y when you do Z. And then it doesn't happen that way. But economists rarely changed their theory. They certainly never changed their theory about "rational decisions." They ignored blatantly bizarre-seeming consumer behavior. Such as when extremely poor families get a small windfall, why they don't use it to pay off debt or fully stock their pantries, but instead often use it for a purchase like a big-screen TV. They shouldn't do that according to economists, and yet they do.

Kahneman and Tversky came at this from psychology, from looking at people and why they do the things they do. The fact that their research eventually intersected with economics was, to them, a coincidence. They never set out to have anything to do with that field. Opposites in nature, their ways of thinking and approaching subjects worked in sync with each other to the point that neither was able to have much success alone. Initially Tversky was the more famous, however since he died before their work was awarded the Nobel (and the Nobel is not awarded posthumously), Kahneman, who often felt outshone by Tversky, has come out ahead in recent years.

This book is about friendship and partnership and how sometimes one plus one equals far more than two. And how sometimes a relationship like that can burn out. Even among brilliant academics, sometimes there are hurt feelings and relationships that flounder. It's like that Us Weekly feature: "Nobel-Prize Winners: they're just like us! Here is Daniel Kahneman pumping his own gas and nursing hurt feelings." This is a fascinating dual-biography of two men who likely never could have come up with their theories individually, but together, created a whole new branch of academia, which can finally explain our seeming irrationality.

I downloaded this eaudiobook from the library via Overdrive.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Book Review: Manfried the Man by Caitlin Major, and Kelly Bastow (Illustrator)

Oh my god this book is so FRIGGIN cute! It's a graphic novel about a large cat named Steve who walks on his hind legs and lives in an apartment and works in a call center, and his tiny naked man pet named Manfried. (It's like having a cat named Kittycat.) You can see the jokes from the front cover where Manfried walks on Steve's computer keyboard and Steve shoves him off.

The storyline isn't terribly deep or complicated. Steve doesn't do much or have much to offer, except that he really loves his man (some of his coworkers make fun of his love for his man.) He takes care of a neighbor's man for a few days when she's out of town and the two mans don't get along. (Funnily, in this world, there are no women, all the pets are men. And when the men are "kittens," they're not actually baby humans, they're just younger adult men. Some unusual choices but just go with it. Don't overthink it. It's adorable.) Then Manfried runs away! Oh no! What will Steve do!?

My husband also read and loved this book. But halfway through he did need me to reassure him that the book would have a happy ending. It doesn't go exactly where you're expecting. And the ending is even better than I thought it would be. What a delightfully absurd world that Ms. Major has come up with! Loved it.

I checked this book out of the library.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Book Review: Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown

In high school, I went to a summer program called Governor's School, at the University of Tennessee at Martin. There is nothing to do in Martin, Tennessee. I brought $100 for 4 weeks. I spent $20 of it on Tetris. I got very good at Tetris very fast, so I didn't have to spend a whole lot on the game, luckily. Lately my husband keeps trying to get me to try different video games with him, but I don't like most of them. Yes, when I was a preteen, I could spend all day playing Atari, but I just can't do that anymore. Except with Tetris.

I think it's the puzzle aspect of it. And I've always been very good at physical relationships--like those tests where you are presented with a variety of shapes and have to figure out which ones you could fold into a cube. I don't know why, but my brain does work that way. I'm good at packing when we move, at figuring out at a glance really close to how many books fit on a shelf, that sort of thing. And so this game that's all about shapes, shifting them into 4 aspects to get them to fit, and planning several steps down the road, really works with my mental strengths.

This is a fascinating graphic novel history of the invention and development of Tetris. Unlike other computer or programming origin stories, this one doesn't involve any Ivy League dropouts in a garage. The inventor lived in Soviet Russia and worked as a programmer. This is a game he came up with just for friends and colleagues that he thought would be fun. Thus ended his thought on the game. His co-worker suggested that it was salable and that he should contact the proper Soviet authorities about selling it. He wouldn't ever get a dime, but since he just wanted to spread the fun, that was fine with him.

So the Soviets dive into this project and reach out to various Western companies, floundering around in a very foreign project, of selling something fun for profit. And since they'd never done anything like this before and refused to ask for help, they did screw up. They thought they only sold tabletop computer rights to one guy, and he thought he had all rights. And he sold off the rights for the stand-up console games, for cartridge games, and handheld games. Rights he didn't have.

Anyway, I will skip over the legal and contractual details. Eventually it was wildly successful. And the Soviet Union fell. And the founders were able to move to California and work in American programming and gaming, although never with anywhere near the success of Tetris. At the end there's a very shocking event with one founder (the guy who said you should sell it, not the programmer.) The graphic format lent itself better than I would have thought to this story. I wasn't sure if a story about a computer game could be interesting in any format, but it especially doesn't seem like a particularly graphic story. But Mr. Brown is just brilliant at this and it works really well. I'd recommend this most highly to any junior high or high school boys who are getting less interested in books and more interested in games. Like most graphic novels, it can be read in just a couple of hours, and hopefully can span those interests and bring some kids back to books. For the rest of us, it's just a really interesting history, told in a novel way.

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

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Book Review: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

I already had my eye on this book when it won the Pulitzer Prize. That really made me sit up and pay attention as humorous books (or movies) never win prestigious prizes! So I suggested it for my book club. It was my very first time ever hosting book club, and in my new bookclub, the host gets to pick the book. You can make a short list and get feedback, which I did, since I'm still new.

Arthur Less is a middle-aged gay man living in San Francisco, when he gets a wedding invitation for his ex-boyfriend's wedding. He is a novelist with a middling amount of success who spent his twenties as the paramour/muse/houseboy to an older prestigious poet. Then his thirties and forties were spent floundering and getting his feet back under him after that relationship ran its course. He eventually started a relationship with the son of a frenemy who he knew was completely wrong for him, which made it easier: no future, guaranteed. But when the younger man eventually pushed for more and broke it off, Arthur found himself at loose ends. And then, a scant year later, he's getting married?

Well. That is the worst. Arthur can't go. And he can't not go. Something catches his eye on his desk--an invitation. Not of the wedding variety, but a professional invite to be a speaker abroad. He grasps at it. And searching, finds others. He cobbles together a many-months-long trip abroad to Germany, Paris, Japan, Morocco, and India. Yes, he's going to turn 50 and he's alone and his successful novel was years behind him, but he's going to keep moving. Now he has a great excuse for skipping the wedding, and he can run away from his problems. Right? That always works out, doesn't it?

But he can't get Freddy out of his mind. (Or his head out of his ass.) He's selfish, superficial, solipsistic, but I found him endearing. He's earnest and wishes he could do things different and he is trying to change up his life and his future. He's somewhat blind to what he needs to do, but aren't we all? And I loved the twist towards the end when I figured out there was a narrator and it wasn't third-person, and then to figure out who that narrator was! It was a great twist.

So Arthur travels the world, and in the end, love wins. And you'll laugh a bunch. What more can you want from a book?

I bought this book at Watchung Booksellers, an independent bookstore.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Book Review: Love Saves the Day by Gwen Cooper

Years ago, my husband Jordan read and loved Homer's Odyssey, Gwen Cooper's memoir about living with her cat, Homer the Blind Wonder-Cat. So when I saw this novel by the same author, again about a cat, in a Buy 2-Get 1 Free sale, I picked it up. I was looking for a distracting novel that wasn't overly sad, wasn't about a romantic relationship, and wasn't enormous. This fit the bill along with a high Goodreads rating, which made it an easy decision.

And in a way it is about a romantic relationship, as Sarah is most definitely in love with New York City. She moved to the city the minute she graduated from high school at 17 to live with her best friend, Anise, who she'd met at a Lower East Side vintage store called Love Saves the Day. Anise joins a rock and roll band and becomes very successful, while Sarah marries young, has a daughter, Laura, and quickly gets divorced. Sarah sets aside her own rock and roll dreams and instead finagles opening a record store which allows her to be around the music she loves, and have a flexible schedule and be her own boss, so she can be a great single mom.

But this back story isn't revealed right away. We start out with an older Sarah living alone in a run-down apartment, with her cat Prudence. Prudence is mostly our narrator (I wish she could have been our 100% narrator but I see how that would have been quite tricky in a few places.) Sarah found her as a soaking wet kitten in an empty lot, and say the Beatles song "Hey Prudence" to get her to come out. Sarah works as a typist in a legal office, Anise still comes over a fair amount, and while her life is small and quiet, she's fairly happy. Except that her daughter Laura is difficult with her. Something happened in their past that was brutal and scarring and changed their relationship forever. Laura does come over to visit monthly, but it's very obviously reluctant and resentful, and neither woman is able to bring themselves to discuss the hurt feelings and the past.

And then Sarah dies. And it's too late. She stated in her will very clearly that she wanted Laura to take Prudence, so the tabby cat moves to the Upper West Side with Laura and her husband Josh in their high-rise apartment, and she tries to sort out what's happened and if she's okay with this new living arrangement. And she spends a lot of time remembering Sarah, waiting for Sarah to return, and nestling in Sarah's things in the spare room.

Prudence is kind of oblivious to what's going on with her humans, except as it impacts her, but eventually she does break down Laura's barriers, and we readers also get to know more of what's happening in the human lives (the chapters occasionally switch to be Laura-, and later Sarah-focused, third-person). This story is so imbued with New York that it literally couldn't take place anywhere else. The horrible thing in the past isn't an everyday thing, not experienced by many people, but I think everyone can relate to it (and it's based in history--Ms. Cooper includes details in the endnotes about the real event.) And more likely, everyone can relate to the emotional aftermath. And the silence that can descend. A silence, a refusal to discuss an event that becomes almost A Law in a relationship, and can feel inviolable.

I don't know if I've ever read a book before that deals with the so-common situation of a person dying without having resolved everything in their relationships, and how the survivors might be able to come to resolution themselves down the road. That's a really important topic that more books should tackle. And how animals can not only provide comfort, but can even bring us emotional health. And yes, I read this mostly with my cat Turkey snuggled up against my leg.

I bought this book at a Barnes & Noble.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Book Review: I'll Be There for You: The One about Friends by Kelsey Miller

I love Friends. I watched the first episode live when it debuted, and the characters were just a couple of years older than me, so I took it as a primer about how to live and work and love in my 20s. I followed these 6 characters religiously, even eventually moving to New York myself, and I have watched the reruns dozens and dozens of times.

As a pop culture nut, this book was a no-brainer for me. I guess I wish it had had more trivia and done more of a deep dive into episodes and more minor plotlines, but it does a very good job with what it does--look at Friends in the bigger picture--why is was such a big hit, what it spoke to at that time, why it has endured, if it deserves to have endured, and what is its legacy. It does get into the weed on some topics such as the casting (which is one reason I thought it would be a deeper dive into the show itself on a granular level) and I wasn't as interested in the various contract negotiations, although those did impact the plots as a couple of times they thought a season might be the end, and then it turned out not to be.

I know, there have been issues with how white the cast is, and how it's rather homophobic, and Ms. Miller addresses those thoroughly. It was a show of its time, and it's too bad it wasn't more ground-breaking and forward-thinking in those areas, but it is what it is.

And what it is now for me and millions of people, is comfort food. You don't have to pay attention. You know how it's going to end (in fact you might be able to quote it.) But it's so well-acted, well-written, and relatable, that it doesn't get boring or stale. I have suggested it to young 20-somethings today as a look at what's in store, from bad jobs to bad relationships to being broke to parental issues to difficult decisions. Those parts are universal. And you will always have your Friends by your side to see you through.

I bought this book at Newtown Bookshop, an independent bookstore.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

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:
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell *
March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell *
March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell *
Carnegie Hill: A Novel by Jonathan Vatner
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden (audio) *
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (audio) *
I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest
Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime by Ron Stallworth (audio)
Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark
I'll Be There for You: The One about Friends by Kelsey Miller *
Honestly, We Meant Well by Grant Ginder

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman (audio) *
The Dharma of the Princess Bride: What the Coolest Fairy Tale of Our Time Can Teach Us about Buddhism and Relationships by Ethan Nichtern
The Pennypackers Go on Vacation by Lisa Doan

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
The Brightest Sun by Adrienne Benson
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

I bought these three books at a WNBA event at Towne Book Center outside of Philadelphia. The third book wasn't part of the event--it was a book I'd gotten several influential recommendations for and picked up there.

A Sentimental Education by Joyce Carol Oates was sent to me by my sister-in-law! She loves JCO, and thanks to her I have now read one JCO and acquired another one, but this is great because even though short stories aren't my usual thing, given my reading requirements for work, short stories are a great way for me to read an outside book when I might need to put it down for several days.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann I bought at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC.

I'll Be There for You: The One about Friends by Kelsey Miller I bought at Newtown Bookshop in Newtown, PA. It's one of my accounts and I was there for work, and I've been eyeing this book for months and finally I couldn't resist anymore.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Book Review: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (audio)

I don't know that I would have picked up this book except that a friend at HarperCollins asked if my friend at Random House could get her a copy. That intrigued me, plus I felt guilty for giving my copy away, and as I like nonfiction on audio and true crime in particular of late, I figured I'd give this a try. I ended up listening to the entire thing in about 2 days.

Elizabeth Holmes was a 20-year-old college dropout when she founded Theranos. Her goal was to be able to process dozens and eventually hundreds of tests on a single drop of blood in a small machine in people's homes. Admirable goal. But for someone with no background in medicine and very little in engineering, when she hit roadblocks along the way, she simply lied. Eventually the Silicon Valley-startup became one of the most highly valued companies in the world, but it was built on sand. Despite NDAs, legal threats, and intimidation, eventually several whistleblowers came forward to The Wall Street Journal's John Carreyrou who exposed the whole swindle.

Don't worry about medical jargon in this story--there's very little of it and it's explained very well. This reads like a legal thriller, hearkening me back to A Civil Action. Mr. Carreyrou really did his research and knows his stuff. And luckily for all of us, he and the WSJ have balls of steel to withstand Theranos's and Ms. Holmes's onslaught of legal scare tactics and bring us this story. It's pretty crazy how this company skyrocketed and then fell to earth, a modern-day Icarus.

I listened to this audiobook on Libby/Overdrive, via my public library.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Book Review: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

I've wanted to read this author for years. I've owned copies of her books previously (including this one I think) so I was thrilled when my book club picked this. And I loved it!

In the 1870s, Captain Kidd, a Civil War veteran, travels around the Western United States, mostly Texas, and read the news. He gets to a decent sized town and he rents out a local space such as an opera house, auditorium, or even a space in a general store for an evening. He goes to a local print shop or newspaper office and has fliers printed up. He posts them around town, and that evening, townsfolk arrive, pay a dime, and listen as for an hour or two he reads news from all around the world. Some of the townsfolk are illiterate, but others simply have no access to this international news. He tailors his presentation for each town, and makes sure to include flowery, amazing stories of the exotic, mixed in with stories of real news from far away places like Boston and Chicago.

One day a man asks him for a favor of sorts, which is also a job. For $50, will Kidd take a young girl to South Texas, back to her family? She was captured by Kiowa a few years ago in a raid but recently was returned. Her parents were killed in the raid but she does still have relatives looking for her. You get the distinct impression that Kidd was chosen for this task not just because he's up to the dangerous trek, but also because his very high standard of ethics and morality mean the man passing off the young girl to him doesn't have to worry about her safety in any way.

And it is a harrowing trip. Initially, Johanna seems to have forgotten all of her English, and certainly her American ways. She is scandalous to people in towns and she tries to run away and occasionally she does dangerous things. But as they travel, she grows to trust Kidd, who grows to care for her, and through their adventures, they become a tight band of two.

Post-Civil War era novels tend to focus on the aftermath of the war, not on the everyday life, the parts of the country not much affected by the war, and the people who have moved on. It is an era I haven't read much about, and this job in particular was fascinating. Kidd is a wonderful character and even Johanna grew on me quite a bit. The book starts a little slow and the language is a bit stilted so it can be hard to get into, but once you are, it just flows.

I checked this book out of the library.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Book Review: Mrs. Sherlock Holmes by Brad Ricca, narrated by David Bendena (audio)

This title is misleading. It has nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes, and the intro is about Holmes, and has even less to do with the overall book, so just ignore that. This is a biography of Grace Humiston, a lawyer who became a default detective, and was sometimes called "Mrs. Sherlock Holmes" in the newspapers because of her ability to solve cases no one else could. But it wasn't by her powers of deduction at all--in fact she dismissed those. It was due to diligence, determination, and mostly the willingness to put in the hours and follow all the leads. She wasn't on the police force nor a private detective. She ended up investigating cases because of her work as a lawyer. Mostly her detecting was done to clear the names of defendants she represented. But boy, did she get it done. And as a woman lawyer in the first couple of decades of the 20th century, she got a lot of press doing it.

The main case the book follows is that of the disappearance of teenager Ruth Cruger in New York City. It was one of those stories that captured the nation at the time (although I'd be shocked if anyone had heard about it today outside of this book's readers and her family). The book picks up and puts down Ruth's story several times, in a way that is a bit disjointed and as a listener, had the potential to be rather confusing. It managed not to be, but I'd have rather had the story laid out in a more straightforward way. But poor Ruth did keep a through-line in the narrative, and boy, Mrs. Humiston was a fascinating woman. Today she probably wouldn't have stood out at all, except that as a boundary-pusher, she might have been still famous as a feminist, pushing things that much further. Of course we'll never know. But she fought for the rights of workers, of immigrants, of women, and pretty much anyone downtrodden or put upon. It's hard not to like her. This was an amusing distraction and I learned some localized history as well.

The print version of this book is published by Macmillan, my employer. I downloaded the eaudiobook from my library via Libby.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Book Review: As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes (audio)

If there was ever a book that was made for audio, this is it. This book is essentially an oral history, pulled together by Cary Elwes (Westley), with him at its center. Only Mr. Elwes (or Rob Reiner or Robin Wright) could have written this book, as it would have been strange from the perspective of a more minor character. And it makes the most sense from him, as he was so young and this was, in many ways, the pinnacle of his career. I know he's gone on to start in dozens of movies and have a successful career, but I'd bet that 90% of people who know him as an actor, know him from this movie. It was certainly seminal for him.

Anyway, he had read the book as a kid and loved it, and so knew exactly what it was when Reiner cast him, and was appropriately awed and nervous and excited about the opportunity. It was a tad dismaying when Robin Wright was initially repeatedly described only physically (by others as well, not just him) but of course, that was in discussing first impressions and it did change once they got to know her.

I absolutely loved the dozen or so other actors who also recorded parts of the audiobook (I assume those are sidebars throughout the print version) and even the three who could not record but had still provided snippets of their own personal experiences during the filming--don't get distracted thinking, wow, Mandy Patenkin and Fred Savage sound just alike! They are read by the same person who is neither. But having Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Chris Sarandon, and more reading their own recollection of the experience, really brought everything to life. It was crazy how, to this day, Wallace Shawn feels like he was not good enough for his role, and how Billy Crystal was allowed to go off-script and ad-lib, provided he could do it in a medieval fashion (hence the MLT bit, mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich.)

If you love this movie, you will get great new insights, particularly about sword-fighting, and you'll be paying extra attention to the ROUSes and to Andre the Giant's scenes. If this book doesn't have you saying, "Anybody want a peanut?" by the end, you have no soul.

Afterwards, I was inspired to pick up the graphic bio Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown. You get a fair amount of his biography here, as Mr. Elwes (along with the entire cast) just loved him and still miss him and wanted to be sure his story was told. Mr. Brown has additional stories, and of course someone so unusually large makes for an excellent graphic subject as sometimes it's hard to explain just how large he truly was. Mr. Brown's book really gets into wrestling and explains a lot of that particular backstory which is fascinating--how much is fake and how much is real, and what is predetermined, and how the most important part is for the audience to get a good show.

I bought this audiobook through Libro.fm, supporting independent bookstores. The graphic novel I got free from my work, as it is published by First Second, a division of Macmillan.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Book Review: Glass Houses by Louise Penny (audio)

I have heard wonderful things about Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache novels, but one odd aspect of the reading I do for work is that when a book is crazy popular with everyone and sells like hotcakes, I really don't need to read it. My reading time could be better spent elsewhere, on a book that will need more of a boost. This means I often miss out on some of the best books on the list. Luckily, this is where audiobooks come in! And mysteries do especially well on audio. And this one in particular, with its smattering of French (it's set in Canada), might even do better as then I'm not mangling the pronunciations in my own mind. It makes it easier to become immersed in the setting. And speaking of setting, while I've certainly read books set in Canada before, rarely has the US-Canada border come up, and it's jarring to keep hearing about Vermont as being "south," as it's always been super-north in my own context, no matter where I've been. It's good to read books that can change your perspective from time to time, even if just geographically.

So in the adorable (and sadly fiction) town of Three Pines, one day, a man (we presume) in a black cloak appears in the town square and does not move all day. His face is obscured by the hood, but it's very ominous. Several people ask Gamache, as a police officer, to do something, but it's not illegal to look ominous and scare people. Then the man is gone. Then his body turns up in the church. Who was he? Why was he there? Is he in fact a cobrador, an ancient order of men made to accuse the guilty and make them pay for their crimes? If so, who was he there for?

Worry not! Inspector Gamache will figure it all out. When crime comes to his own hometown, it will be solved. A wonderfully twisty and atmospheric mystery, I hope to have time to keep reading Louise Penny! This was thoroughly enjoyable.

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

Monday, November 19, 2018

Book Review: The Library Book by Susan Orlean (audio)

This book was so much more and so much better than I had hoped! Isn't that a treat when that happens!? I had expected a pretty straightforward book about this horrific fire at the main downtown branch of the Los Angeles Library in 1986 and the "true crime" aspect of the hunt for the culprit. Instead, while it is all of that, it is also a love story to libraries and books. In fact, it is primarily a love story to libraries.

Susan was horrified to learn about this fire, years and years later when living in LA, and baffled about how she didn't hear about it at the time (excellent reason: It happened less than 24 hours before Chernobyl which dominated every national newspaper for days and weeks afterward, leaving only local coverage really of this catastrophe.) She thinks back on her own relationship with libraries and how much they remind her of her mother who, a child of the Depression, took Susan religiously. As an adult, in a fit of rebellion, Susan switched from borrowing to buying books pretty exclusively, until she herself had a child, and went back to the library. In researching this book she met most of the full-time staff of the main LA branch, which not only is where all the system-wide administration is fun from, but also houses most of the special collections, archives, and other unique matter, which is one reason why the fire was so devastating--much of what was lost could never be recovered or replaced.

Harry Peak, a blond actor who works part-time jobs and is a habitual liar, is quickly singled out as a suspect, but Ms. Orlean explains how and why arson is so hard to prove and it seems that Mr. Peak might not have been the culprit. He also might have--we'll likely never know.

Meanwhile, the lovely librarians toil on in their restored and renovated space, dealing with modern library problems such as homeless populations and whether to allow the viewing of porn on the public computers. They also deal with modern advantages, such as a local teen on the spectrum who is voluntarily cataloging a massive train map donation and finding spectacular finds which anyone else would overlook. We get a full history of this library system, and also of the book Fahrenheit 451 which I still haven't read (one day!) Made me think fondly of my years volunteering at the library in Charlotte and I immediately went onto my local library's website and reserve some books which I'd meant to do for some time. Delightful. And Susan Orlean reads the book herself.

Appropriately, I listened to this book on audio from my library via Libby (overdrive)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Book Review: Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World's Most Famous Detective Writer by Margalit Fox, narrated by Peter Forbes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle didn't just make up Sherlock Holmes from whole cloth. He was based on a professor Conan Doyle had in medical school. And also on Conan Doyle's own experiences as a doctor. What Holmes does is similar to taking a detailed case history, and diagnosing the problem. And therefore it should be a shock that his creator, a physician, did occasionally solve crimes himself.

Marion Gilchrist was an elderly, wealthy woman living in Glasgow with her maid, mostly estranged from her family. She was murdered one evening as her maid went out to get the paper. Despite descriptions that didn't resemble him at all, and despite having alibi witnesses, Oscar Slater, a German Jewish immigrant to Scotland who had lived an itinerant, not always above-board life, became an easy scapegoat for the police. After all, he'd recently pawned a half-moon brooch like the one missing from Miss Gilchrist's apartment. Of course, he'd pawned it BEFORE the murder and he'd pawned it previously since he'd owned it for years and it didn't resemble Miss Gilchrist's brooch at all. Nevertheless, the police persisted in believing he was their man! He was convicted and sentenced to death. Nearly immediately doubt crept in, and his sentence was commuted to hard labor. He was eligible for parole after 15 years but it was denied because they didn't want him in Scotland and he'd been gone from Germany so long, he'd lost his citizenship there.

Meanwhile, Conan Doyle got involved to right this injustice. Like Mr. Holmes, Conan Doyle solved the case from his home without ever seeing the evidence, on the basis of testimony and journalism, through adduction (in the Holmes novels he calls his logical process deduction but that's inaccurate.) But it still took a very, very long time to free Slater. Not only were the police recalcitrant, but there was no appeals system at all at this time in Scotland.

This was a fun book about a once-famous but now little-known case, and a bit of trivia write large that illustrated pretty well the changes between the Victoria age and the modern world.

I downloaded this audiobook from the library via Libby/Overdrive.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Book Review: Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh

I still haven't read Hillbilly Elegy, but this feels like a good companion book. If you, like me, are still wondering how and why the middle and especially lower classes can feel so foreign--fearful, insular, and rejecting of intellect--this book gives an excellent glimpse in, through Ms. Smarsh's own family.

Sarah grew up on a farm in Kansas. She was the result of multiple generations of teenage parents. Her grandmother was 34 when she was born. Her mother and grandmother both had professional jobs in the city. When her farm couldn't support her family anymore, her dad had to get a "real" job, and he got poisoned by chemical fumes which caused permanent brain damage. Her parents' marriage probably wouldn't have lasted anyway, as you could tell from the very beginning that her mother felt incredibly trapped (more by her kids than her husband but they were a package deal). But that didn't help. The one good thing was that Sarah's parents' marriage was the first one in many generations that didn't have any physical violence in it.

Sarah excellent at school and she both loved the farm and also wanted more. She knew her family's life wasn't usual, especially as she often lived with her grandparents, and she knew there were more options, but she also didn't quite know what they were. She studied hard, went to college (first in her family), and grad school, and moved away, but eventually moved back (not to the farm--she's a professor in the region.) When you get to know her family, you get to see people in the "flyover country" as individuals, with flaws and skills and personalities. They become humans instead of a faceless monolith that behaves bizarrely. At the end of the book she does dip into their political affiliations, although that's never a focus in anyone's lives (and FYI, they're NOT all Republicans.)

One thing I didn't like about the book: it's written as a letter to Sarah's never-born child. Not just her unborn, but the child she will never have. The child who would have ruined her prospects and trapped her in a life like her mother's and her grandmother's and her great-grandmother's. She spent her entire teens and twenties trying to prevent this child from existing, and she succeeded. I get her thought process here, even if it's rather weird, but I didn't find the conceit very successful. It was off-putting and kept pulling me out of the narrative whenever it resurfaced. It's not a big part of the book--just a few lines at the beginning of every 10th chapter or so, but it's distracting, especially at the beginning of the book. But other than this detail, the book did an amazing job of making the Americans living in farm country, interesting and accessible to those of us on the coasts. This is a good conversation to start.

I got a copy of this ARC for free from a friend who is a rep for the publisher.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Book Review: You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson (audio)

So this book wasn't what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it anyway. I was expecting something more along the lines of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me or So Close to Being the Shit Ya'll Don't Even Know, in other words, a hilarious memoir by a lesser-known woman of color in the entertainment business. Instead, this is a relatively funny memoir about being a women of color in the entertainment business. I know, that seems like a fine line I'm drawing, but the "woman of color" part was much more prominent, and even the entire point of this book, as opposed to her own story. Now, all the points she makes about how being African-American and a woman have down sides in this business (and this country and this era), are related back to her personal experiences, but I didn't hear much at all about her childhood growing up in Cleveland or her struggles coming up in stand-up comedy. We got some of that, but again, it was as examples, not as a through storyline.

Not that there's anything wrong with that! I enjoyed the book immensely, feel more aware (will never use or hear the word "uppity" again without thinking twice about it!), and it was funny. It's just not what I was expecting. And that's probably my own fault for going based on recommendations and not reading the description thoroughly.

As always, listening to a comedian, and also with a memoir-ish book, audio is the way to go. Ms. Robinson's delivery was fabulous. Plus Jessica Williams and John Hodgeman read their own parts. (Hodgeman's was especially hilarious, about taking Wyatt Cenac to a bespoke custom mayonnaise store in Brooklyn.) It's truly amazing how tone-deaf and still kinda racist people are on a daily basis. And I hope Phoebe's career takes off soon as I'd love to see her in something without having to track down a blog-based show (sorry, not going to happen.) And people--who asks these things? If you wouldn't ask to touch my hair, don't ask to touch Phoebe's either! Just stop it!

I downloaded this eaudiobook from my library via Overdrive.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Book Review: Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age, and the "powerless" Woman Who Took on Washington by Patricia Miller

Colonel Breckinridge was a powerful Congressman from Kentucky, the scion of a long legacy of Breckinridges. Madeline Pollard was a teen from a respectable family whose father had died, leaving the family to ruin. She bounced from relative to relative, learning how to claw her way to some funds, trying to   get an education and further her place in life. Madeline had made an arrangement with a much older man wherein if he would pay for her college, at the end of it, she'd marry him. She wanted out of the arrangement but was baffled as to how. When the eminent and knowledgeable Rep Breckinridge introduced himself to her on a train, she saw an opportunity to both get some free advice and indebt herself to a powerful man. He saw a different opportunity, and he took it. She was seventeen at the time, and he was middle-aged. They had an affair for nearly 20 years. He always promised her that if his wife died, he'd marry her. She had at least two pregnancies by him that she had to give up, and probably additional miscarriages.

Then one day, his wife dies! Madeline is excited--they can finally marry! (After a respectable waiting period.) He assures her this is true. and then, he marries someone else! And so, in 1893, Madeline sued him for breach of contract. He was really broke, and it's not like she could sue for enforcement of the promise as he was already remarried. She sued mostly on the principle of the matter. A couple of times in the recent past, other women had been "ruined" by powerful men (one of them later became president!!) and had tried to hold them accountable, to no avail. But the times they were a'changing and it was finally occurring to people that it was patently unfair to hold men and women to wildly different standards when it came to sex, when both were involved. And the first battle in the war against powerful men misusing sex in relationships with vulnerable women was waged.

This would have been a fascinating history at any time, but is even more so now, in the midst of the #metoo movement and the massive pushback against powerful men misusing sex against vulnerable women, 130 years later. Here we can see when women first made a stand and first decided they were fed up with the shockingly hypocritical social morays that created these situations. And we can see how far we've come. And how much stays the same. And we can more clearly see the road ahead, when we learn about the road behind. Madeline may not have been a perfect woman, but she was willing to stand up for herself in the face of disgrace and public humiliation, and it turns out that's exactly what was needed.

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

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Book Review: Ellie, Engineer: The Next Level by Jackson Pearce

This sequel to Ellie Engineer finds our budding builder in fine form. With the help of her friends Kit and Toby, and is trying to build an elevator. In a safety run, to add weight, they use pickles Kit's mother has special ordered for an event, and the elevator topples, the pickles go crashing, glass breaks, they are ruined, and Ellie needs to be punished (not because her build didn't work but because they took someone else's stuff without asking.) Her punishment is that for a week she has to help an older neighbor around her house.

Ellie isn't that bummed because she assumes she's been asked to help Mrs. Curran due to her engineering skills. She envisions fixing things, making improvements, and maybe even inventing something to make Mrs. Curran's life better. But when she shows up (with Kit and Toby in tow), not only are her building skills not wanted, but when she does find some small things to fix, Mrs. Curran assumes that Toby is the handyman (emphasis on the MAN.)  Over the course of the week, Ellie does eventually convince her that girls can be builders and engineers too, she is able to build something, and she does help out Mrs. Curran, although not in the way she expects. But before she can get to that point, she has to show a lot of patience and persuasion, two skills Ellie could use some practice in.

My favorite middle grade engineer works her magic on an older neighbor who opens Ellie's eyes to sexism and assumptions that cut both ways.

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.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

My Month in Review: October

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. October was another tough month work-wise but not as tough as September. Wrapped up my sales calls for the season. Worked a second trade show.

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

Books completed this month:
How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr
Hotbox: Inside Catering, the Food World's Riskiest Business by Matt Lee and Ted Lee
Off Season by James Sturm
The Macmillan Story: Bringing Authors and Readers Together Since 1843 by Macmillan Publishers
Calypso by David Sedaris* (audio) REREAD
My Twenty-Five Years in Provence: Reflections on Then and Now by Peter Mayle* (audio)
Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh*
How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery*
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson*
Less by Andrew Sean Greer*
Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai
The Library Book by Susan Orlean*

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Carnegie Hill: A Novel by Jonathan Vatner
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime by Ron Stallworth
Ask a Manager: Clueless Coworkers, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and Other Work Conversations Made Easy by Alison Green*

Did Not Finish:
The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk W. Johnson, narrated by MacLeod Andrews* (audio) I thought this would be fascinating but I really just want to smack this kid. I found myself dreading going back to the book, so I didn't.
The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meacham* (audio) This book was actually shaping up to be quite good, but also really depressing. I know he was teeing up the deep dive into Reconstruction and Andrew Johnson as a comparison to our current administration, but both topics are highly depressing to me and there is only so much I can take. I'm sure if I stuck with it, it would end on a hopeful note, but I just couldn't get there. At another time, in another mindset, it would have been great.

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy--I got an ARC of this for free from a bookstore which had extras.
How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery--I got this for free from the publisher at NAIBA, a regional trade show.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Book Review: A Shot in the Dark by Lynne Truss

You may already know Lynne Truss from her phenomenal book about grammar, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. If so, you may be surprised to hear that her newest book is a historical British mystery. But you won't be surprised that it is filled with period slang and she has a lot of fun with language throughout. But if language isn't your thing, no worries, the plot is rollicking enough to carry you along without dwelling on what is really a minor aside.

In the English beach town of Brighton, the police are run by Inspector Steine who, years earlier, made his name in the Middle Street Massacre in which two local gangs were going to have a shootout, which the police were heading to, when they decided to stop for ice cream. The gangs completely and totally wiped each other out, while not a copper got a scratch on him. Steine (pronounced STEEN by the way, he'd like you to know) was lauded for the way he brilliantly allowed the bad guys to clean up the town for him, without any loss of life or even minor injury to the good guys. In the movie he was portrayed by a handsome leading man whereas his number two, Sergeant Brunswick, came off as a doddering fool. Since then Steine has bragged about the lack of crime in town. Brunswick has lamented that the crime there is has now gone totally underground and is hard to suss out, and worse, that Steine refuses to investigate anything (lest he be proven wrong) or even admit there is anything to investigate. Then a young whippersnapper, Constable Twitten, who has managed to offend half of the British police force in very short order, is assigned to Brighton, and immediately starts to look into a series of thefts which seem to be tied to the unsolved Aldersgate Stick-Up Case of 1945. While Steine is hastily trying to sweep it all under the rug, a renowned theater critic is shot and killed at the theater (while sitting next to Twitten) and the playwright is also murdered, which are much harder crimes for Steine to ignore.

This story is pretty hilarious. The period details for the 1950s are dead-on. There are loads of quirky characters and red herrings and a phrenologist and a strong lady and if you have any affinity for British mysteries of the mid-twentieth century, you will love Ms. Truss's farce, which is told with much love, even though she's also kind of making fun of them all. It was a ball of fun!

This book is published by Bloomsbury, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Book Review: Thundercluck! And the Kitchen of Destiny by Paul Tillery, Meg Wittwer

Thor's chicken, Thundercluck, has acquired a Thor-like power with shooting lightning. Now the Under Chef wants to eat him. Thundercluck must go to the human world to grow up, protected from Under Chef, and he returns when he's bigger. But Thor and the other gods are tricked by Under Chef and they're all drugged. Thundercluck and Brunhilde, a Valkyrie (his best friend) have to travel to all the realms of Valhalla to track down the Under Chef, defeat him, and save the gods.

This book is adorable, hilarious, and introduces kids to Norse mythology. Thundercluck has to deal with his fears which make him unable to wield his power and puts Brunhilde at risk. But in the end, his finds his inner power of thunder and is able to save the day. This would be an especially good book for struggling readers as it's super exciting, has a lot of fun details about all the lands he goes to, and moves along quickly. I loved the creativity and absurdity.


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, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Book Review: My Twenty-Five Years in Provence: Reflections on Then and Now by Peter Mayle (audio)

Wow, hopes dashed. I thought this book had everything needed to hit it out of the park--I love memoirs, travel, and amusing snarkiness. This book is supposed to have all of those elements. Well, it is a memoir. And it takes place in France. But it was undelightful.

It seemed like a bunch of random, unrelated essays, spanning 50+ years, that were slapped together. I know Mr. Mayle died a few months before it came out so it could have been pulled together without him, and/or it may have been only lightly edited with him not being able to okay edits or do any rewrites. I just don't know. But that being said, it was a hot mess. Thankfully it's very short, but even at just 4.5 hours, I almost didn't finish it. (The narration was very good though.)

It's filled with cliches. Isn't it ridiculous when English-speakers (for once the example was not American so in that regard I suppose it isn't a cliche) who can't speak French, when faced with a Frenchman who doesn't speak English, resort to speaking more slowly and loudly? And how many annoying friends want to come visit/impose when you move to a beautiful location. It's very smug. It was delightful when Peter and his wife discovered this charming and delicious restaurant, which then got a Michelin star. And he won some awards himself. It ranged wildly. Topics ping-ponged from seeing-eye dogs to truffles to the mistral (a bad wind akin to El Nino) to how he was friends with Ridley Scott BEFORE Scott made Mayle's story into a movie starring Russell Crowe (who was late every day).

Anyway, I think this book will be a good one for his huge fans who have read all his previous books. I've only read one other and only gave it three stars, so I should have learned from that earlier experience and skipped this one. They can't all be winners.

I borrowed this eaudiobook from my library via Libby.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Book Review: How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery

I've never been an animal nut, in fact I was especially good at my job selecting all the books in PetSmart and Petco for 3 years precisely because at that time I had no pets and so was very unbiased. Along with my husband came first one cat and now two, and I had a couple of cats growing up and my sister had a dog. We even had goldfish for a while. But we've gone long stretches between animals and nothing exotic. So you might think a book like this one wouldn't be for me, but I loved it.

It helps that Ms. Montgomery is unabashed about her animal love. She doesn't hedge it, doesn't overexplain, doesn't defend it. It just is. She's felt an affinity, an empathy for animals even stronger than her feelings for most humans, since the youngest of ages with her family dog, Molly. Every other animal has a shadow of Molly in it.

Shortly after college, with her dream job and wonderful boyfriend (now husband), she decided to chuck everything and move to the South Australian Outback for a non-paying research job for 6 months, and ended up following 3 emus pretty obsessively. I've been to South Australia and observed some emus, both in the wild and in an animal sanctuary, and they're pretty hard to identify with. They don't strike one as especially intelligent and are skittish in addition to behaving in a daft manner. That said, Ms. Montgomery makes an excellent argument that each and every animal is smart in their own way that I might not get. I have a lot more respect for emus now, which I didn't think was possible.
She then goes on to tell us about 3 more pet dogs, a pet pig (he got up to 750 pounds! If intrigued, read The Good Good Pig. It's excellent and it solely about the pig, with a dash of dog.), a series of octopuses (no, octopi is not correct), tree kangaroos, tarantulas, and a brief but stunning appearance by an ermine.

I am not 100% sure but I think this is classified as a children's book. Up until the death of her first pet dog as an adult which sent her into a suicidal depression, I was okay with that classification. She discusses it in a straightforward and not maudlin way but it still might be an unexpected turn of events for someone looking for happy animal stories. Still, death is a part of life, one often learned about through the shorter lifespans of pets, and anyone who reads books about animals regularly can tell you how all of them end. It can absolutely be a fine book for more mature kids down to 10 years old.

However, and delightfully, it's also great for adults. It does have cute illustrations throughout, but not in an infantile style. It's beautifully designed and will be a great gift at the holidays for those animal lovers among us, especially the ones who love even the more obscure and possibly icky ones.

I got a copy of this book for free from the publisher at NAIBA.

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.