Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Book Review: Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan by Ted Scheinman

I am so bummed that this happened in Chapel Hill and I never heard about it before now, even though I lived in Charlotte at the time. I guess that was the year I let my JASNA membership lapse, sigh.

Mr. Scheinman was a grad student at UNC when one of his professors came up with the idea to host what they jokingly refer to as a summer camp for grown ups but what is more of a conference, for academics and laypeople alike, focusing on Jane Austen. It is interesting to mix the two groups. Normally, they don't mix much, aside from the handful of professors who are invited as speakers to JASNA's annual meeting, but they are wildly outnumbered there, and tailoring their topics to a more lay audience, so this did have a different feel. I found one chapter to be too formal in tone, but then Mr. Scheinman settled down and got into the fun of things. Were all the costumes of the people's behavior perfectly accurate to the era? Certainly not. And is he a little full of himself after he's asked to play Mr. Darcy? Yes indeed. But it's easy to forgive these trips as we're all only human, even Austen herself was human, and so at times there are stumbles. However, for a casual Janeite, this was a fun read, and will inspire envy and hope that they'll do it again.

I got this book for free from FSG, the publisher, part of Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Book Review: In Search Of by Ava Dellaira

Angie never met her father. He died before she was born. Sure, life would have been hard with him too, as her parents were still teens when they got pregnant, and her father was black and her mother is white, but still, she'd give anything to have known him. Her mother won't even talk about him—she gets too upset when he comes up.

When Marilyn met James, she and her mother were crashing at her uncle's crappy LA apartment, as her mother's dreams for Marilyn's future as a famous star were pursued. Her uncle is a drunk, abusive, and sometimes scary, so Marilyn gets out of the house as much as she can. She meets James, a neighbor in the complex, and while her uncle warns her to stay away from him, James's nuclear family with even his grandmother living with them, hot home-cooked meals eaten around the family dinner table, and engaged parents and siblings, seems like the dream family Marilyn never had. She can't stay away.

Angie finds out that she has an uncle she never knew about, her father's brother. She wonders about his whole family who she's never met. In fact, she wonders, if her mother kept his family away, maybe she kept him away too. Maybe she lied about him being dead. So she sets out to LA to find out the truth for herself about Marilyn and James, all those years ago.

The book deals a lot with secrets and lies, and Marilyn and James are compelling characters. Angie is a little less-so, as it's fairly reckless to just decide to take off for California as a teenager, and also a little juvenile to believe her father might still be alive. But teens are prone to that kind of magical thinking. The older narrative had a lot more resonance for me. Maybe it's because that time frame was closer to when I was a teen, but I think those characters were just more fully drawn and more alive than the contemporary ones. Well, in a dual-narrative story, you're always going to like one story better than the other. This was a heart-wrenching story and you'll find yourself rooting for Angie, Marilyn and James, all the way.

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

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Book Review: P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy

This book wrecked me. At fist, I just thought it was a sweet story, albeit around some deeper topics, but the end had me sobbing (and I am not an easy book crier.) Literally, I was reading in bed after my husband had gone to sleep and while I was able to be quiet, I had to get out of bed because I was sobbing so hard I was shaking the bed and I was afraid I would wake him up.

Cilla got pregnant in high school, and her parents sent her away to live with an aunt in Virginia, as they are super-Catholics (I say, having been raised as a liberal Catholic), and it's embarrassing and shameful to her parents. Her little sister Evie, finds her parents' reaction to Cilla's pregnancy, embarrassing and shameful. Who send their child away in her moment of need? Who denies that they have a daughter just because she made a mistake? If this is what their religion tells them to do, maybe Evie doesn't need their religion. And given how they treated Cilla, Evie can only imagine how her parents would behave if they found out about the feelings she's been having for her new friend, June. So instead, she writes to Cilla, first at their aunt's, and then later at the Catholic boarding school where she's going to finish up school after the birth and adoption. Cilla doesn't answer, but Evie persists nonetheless.

Cilla seems like she was a good big sister, and even without her responses, it's nice to see how Evie uses their one-sided communication to help her work out some questions about religion, faith, doubt, trust, love, and grief. And then there's a big twist. And it's the aftermath of that twist that left me so touched that even weeks later, when talking about that point in the book, I still get teary-eyed. It's a powerful and moving book, perfect for older preteens and younger teens, covering some serious topics with a believable main character, written with a deft hand.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book Review: The Kevin Show: Love, Mania, and the Olympics by Mary Pilon

Have you seen the movie, The Truman Show? Well, what if your life was like that. I mean, what if you were the center of a hit TV show, and a director was behind the scenes, pulling the strings, making sure everything goes according to plan? What if your ratings were important? How would you change your behavior? Well, as absurd as this thought game seems, Kevin Hall believed exactly that. He has bipolar, and his has manifested in this distinctly unusual manner.

And Kevin doesn't seem like a typical raving hallucinatory. That's what makes his story so intriguing. He was a top sailing athlete who competed in the Olympics and was on an America's Cup team. In fact, sailing is a fairly dangerous sport if one isn't paying 100% attention 100% of the time, so it's a particularly bad sport to have a team member who hallucinates. In fact, the book begins with an America's Cup practice run in which someone dies.

An intriguing look at a peculiar symptom of a mental illness that is more common than most people realize.

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Book Review: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

This was the second book I read for my new book club in Montclair, but sadly they had to move the meeting to another date when I was on the road and couldn't attend, so that's a bummer. But it will happen with my job. And I'm thrilled I was goaded into reading this terrific novel!

Set in 2007, Jende gets a job as a chauffeur for Clark who works at Lehman Brothers in Manhattan, to drive around him and his family. Jende's wife, Neni, and their son have just come over from Cameroon and Neni is attending college with the goal of becoming a pharmacist. With a cheap sublet apartment in the Bronx, things are going okay. However, most all of us know what is coming in 2008 and that Lehman Brothers is no more. So you read with this impending sense of doom hanging over each page as the time ticks down.

Life of course happens no matter what and you see Clark's unhappy wife, their older son who goes off to India to find himself, and their young boy named Mighty (I was never clear if that was a nickname or actually his name) who briefly befriends Jende's son. Neni becomes pregnant, and they see an immigration attorney who recommends a particular approach, and they think of the bright future.

But futures almost never turn out as we plan. No matter how diligent or how careful or hopeful we may be. This was an excellent portrayal of the life of an immigrant family, which is extra-important to read about now, I think. Combined with the economic downturn in the US, it showed how that affects people all up and down the strata. Trickle down economics never seems to work in a positive way, only negative.

I checked this book out of the library.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Book Review: Raffie on the Run by Jacqueline Resnick

This story is so cute! An adventure-quest novel where a little rat, Raffie, travels from Brooklyn to Manhattan to rescue his little brother, Oggie, who was rat-napped. I loved the themes (which thankfully aren't hit over the head) of making friends, overcoming fears, trying something you haven't tried before, the importance of family and home, and how if you're helpful to someone that someone might be helpful to you down the road. A famous squirrel wearing jewelry really cracked me up. Raffie's family felt real to me. I liked the ratization of sayings (replacing foot with paw) and the normalization of the rats' life, such as sleeping twice a day during rush hour, when it's loud in their subway station home and there's no point in being awake as they can't forage.

It was sweet and poignant and kept me on the edge of my seat, although not so much so as to make a reader anxious, and make me think fondly of rats, which is a big feat. A great book for younger middle school kids who will love the adventure, soak up the lessons, and probably lobby for a rat as a class pet.

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 part of Macmillan Publishers, my employer.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Book Review: #Prettyboy Must Die by Kimberly Reid

I really don't normally read this kind of book, but I figured, what the heck, and I gave it a try. It was fun! Basically, it's a teenage CIA agent in a spy thriller that, aside from the prologue and backstory, takes place in the course of one day.

I know, a teenage CIA agent already makes you roll your eyes (it's called Operation Early Bird, get it?) But hold that aside, and we've got a teenage hacker and orphan, Jake, who was found breaking into the NSA's database, and instead of being prosecuted, was made a part of this program. And we start off in the Ukraine, on the last day of a huge case, where Jake manages to get in the way instead of help and a bad guy gets away.

Fast forward a few months, and he's no longer an active agent, but his boss has helped him get into a fancy prep school in Boulder, CO, where he thinks there might be some activity, in particular where he thinks the hacker the Ukrainian bad guy was using might be hanging out. Without his boss's approval, he's been trying to track the hacker down.

Then one day he's at the track, running, with his best friend, Bunker, when a group of freshmen girls ambush him and take his picture, without his shirt or glasses, which starts going viral on Twitter with the hashtag Prettyboy. So his cover is blown and he can't go back to the CIA. But he doesn't even have time to be mad about that, before a couple of bad guys rappel down through the ceiling into his chem lab classroom (luckily he was getting supplies from the supply closet at that moment.) And he has to go into full-on spy mode and use all his Langley training, to try to save all his friends and classmates from the bad men who have caught up with him.

The action was non-stop, I kept wondering exactly who could be trusted, as there are some other spies and some double-agents, and plenty of red herrings to throw readers off the path. It was just good, old spy thriller fun, and I wish his cover wasn't blown, because I'd like to read another book starring Jake.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Book Review: Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, narrated by Simon Prebble

I went to Antarctica last month. Right after I got home, my hold on the audiobook of Endurance came in. Now, you might think (as I initially had) that it would be better to read a book like this before going, in preparation and as research. But I am glad the popularity of the title made me wait until after! Only when you've actually been to the frozen continent can you truly appreciate what Shackleton and his crew went through. They didn't have giant parkas and fancy gloves from REI with little pockets that you could slip one of those heat packs into. They had wool and Burberry and reindeer-pelt boots.

 But let's back up. The South Pole had been achieved by Amundsen already (even though Scott's deadly expedition got more press). So what was Shackleton to do? He strove for a more impressive feat--crossing the entire continent from one side to the other (which wasn't achieved until 30 years later, and with the help of tracked vehicles, not dogsleds.) Having read a book about the harrowing crossing of Australia (a continent 1/3 the size of Antarctica), I was already skeptical the minute he announced this, even if I hadn't already been aware of the outcome of this trip. Shackleton had pretty bad luck at the start of the trip, and his ship got encased by ice quite early on, and well before they got anywhere near land. Luckily his ship was great, he was well-stocked, and even though his interviews were brief and seemed cursory, he hired an excellent and well-balanced crew (with only one stowaway). This had been expected (except for the early and far from land bit) and so they weren't too concerned. They camped out for the winter and planned to escape in the spring and hope to get closer so they could start the actual expedition part of the trip. But it was not to be. The ship never got free, and was eventually crushed into splinters. So the crew (and some dogs) were stuck with three life boats, on a large ice flow, and at that point they had to abandon the original plan, as the only option now was to try to rescue everyone.

Mr. Lansing was the Jon Krakauer of his day. I couldn't believe this book was 50 years old. It didn't read old-fashioned at all, and he managed, like Krakauer, to inject suspense and tension into historic events when I already knew the outcome, which is an impressive feat of writing. The book was riveting and, despite being over 10 hours, I listened to the whole thing in two days. I also had moments, particularly in the beginning, where I almost experienced deja vu and I wondered if I'd already read the book but no, I saw the PBS/BBC miniseries starring Kenneth Branaugh as Shackleton last year, and it was extremely faithful to the book, even pulling large parts of dialogue verbatim. One difference is that the movie was from Shackleton's perspective so when the party was split and he went with the smaller group to find people to come back and rescue the larger group, you didn't know what was happening to the larger group until Shackleton returned. (An excellent movie, by the way.)

Overall, I think the book was a wonderful overview of the events, a great character analysis of Ernest Shackleton, and a harrowing example of how if you fight Mother Nature, she always wins. How they crossed the Drake Passage in small open boats, I shudder to think about. Terrific adventure story.

I checked this eaudiobook out of the library via Overdrive.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

My Month in Review: January

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

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

Books completed this month:
I was on an Antarctic cruise over the holidays so I was totally off-grid and couldn't update my December post, which is why I have a few December books here. Also, it was weird--like other cruises I've been on it did have a library but ALL of their books (in a dozen languages) were about the Antarctic, the Arctic, Greenland, and Iceland). Nothing else.

So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y’all Don’t Even Know by Retta (actually December)*
Every Fifteen Minutes by Lisa Scottoline (audio) (actually December)*
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate (audio) (actually December)*
30 Before 30 by Marina Shifrin (actually December)*
My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley*
Cottons: The Secret of the Wind by Jim Pascoe*
South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby*
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson (audio)
How to Argue with a Cat: A Human's Guide to the Art of Persuasion by Jay Heinrichs*
Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, narrated by Simon Prebble (audio)
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Wish Upon a Sleepover by Suzanne Selfors*
Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead*
On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks (audio)
Dear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner*
The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal*

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology by Lisa Margonelli*
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal*

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
I had to wait an hour for a massage the other day and next door is a big used bookstore, so that's where I spent my time (and money!) Three of these four books were already on my TBR list and the fourth one has been on (and off). It's unusual to be able to actually find books you're looking for at a used bookstore. Usually at those stores, you just have to buy impulsively.
West with the Night by Beryl Markham
A Woman of Independent Means by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan