Thursday, May 31, 2018

Book Review: Because I Come from a Crazy Family: The Making of a Psychiatrist by Edward M. Hallowell

When I first ran across this book, I saw he'd also written Driven to Distraction, and I asked my husband, and yep, we have a copy of that on his bookcases somewhere. It's interesting to hear what background brings someone to psychiatry, to be sure, but even more so when it's someone famous.

In his adult life, Dr. Halloweell brought ADD and ADHD into the public awareness, wrote a half a dozen bestselling books, and has been on probably hundreds of TV shows talking about these issues. But he got interested in all of this because, as he says, he himself came from a crazy family.

And it's true. There was a lot of instability in his immediate family. Luckily, he had a strong and robust support system in more extended family, but they couldn't help as much when he moved away. He jokes about how his family has the usual WASP problems of drinking and mental health issues and an unwillingness to deal with any of these problems. His step-father was pretty awful, and after all of the uncertainty, abuse, and alcoholism in his life, as an adult, he wanted to help people like his own father, who lived in a mental hospital for years. (In fact he was conceived one day when his father escaped from the hospital. It was a pretty harrowing description.)

The read felt a little old-school, more in the vein of telling me about his childhood, rather than showing. It was still fascinating, but keeps the reader at arm's length, and never allows you to fully be immersed in the story. But it is a great example of resilience, and how some people just have that trait naturally and can get through horrible experiences relatively unscathed.

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Book Review: How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson

I read I Don't Know How She Does It back when it came out in the early 2000s. While I didn't personally identify with it (I don't have kids), I did thoroughly enjoy it, and looking back now, and looking at my friends with kids, I truly don't know how they do it. It's hard enough to keep up with my life and I do think I'd collapse in a puddle if I had more people to be responsible for. I don't have any additional bandwidth in my life, and it's kind of amazing that the majority of people think they do. Or at least, get by on little sleep, little money, and lots of stress, and somehow stay functional.

At the time the book was also groundbreaking, because it was squarely aimed at the "chick lit" crowd, even though the protagonist was married with children, instead of single and dating. That was the usual trope after all. This broke new ground with still having a funny main character who got into sticky situations, with quirky friends, a difficult job, and even a bit of romance (a flirtation and possible affair!) It was probably the book that for a lot of young women, along with L'Divorce, showed us there was a wider world that we could still identify with and enjoy, beyond The Devil Wears Prada and Confessions of a Shopaholic.

And she's back! Not just Allison Pearson, but Kate Reddy! It's roughly 15 years later, and her kids are in junior high/high school, her husband is embarking on a second career (well, he's in grad school), her beautiful historical home is crumbling, parents are becoming slightly addled and need help, and most importantly, she must return to work, thanks to aforementioned husband quitting his job to get a Master's degree. (Nothing against that to be sure, as my husband did the same just a few years ago, but it really caught my attention that he just up and did it, without ever talking to Kate and without it being a mutual decision.) Anyway, she's not just been out of the world of work for 15ish years which is hard for most women to hurdle, but also she works in high finance, where it's much, much harder. In the world of investment funds, young is considered better, there's a fair amount of ageism which would have impacted her even if she'd stayed in, which makes it a doubly difficult obstacle to overcome. She does get a job, albeit with her old fund. Not just her old company, but at a fund that she founded and got off the ground and managed spectacularly well. (It's not doing as well these days she noted smugly, but also a little sadly.) Given the penchant for youth, the entire department has turned over, so no one remembers her from the old days, so she can lie about her age. But it's also a tad embarrassing to return to a much more junior job than what she once had. Oh well. She can work her way back up, right?

Meanwhile, her kids are getting into all kinds of trouble, starting off with her daughter having a picture of her butt circulated on social media, and going downhill from there. Her husband is completely useless as he's pretty much not around. The handyman working on her house is terrific but often disappears. She has a cadre of good old friends, and some new ones from a support group for older women returning to work, who act as a bit of a Greek chorus of humor. And then, also, her old flirtation returns! How she has time to get anything done in all this chaos is beyond me. But I sure do enjoy reading about it! It's as hilarious (although the problems are naturally more serious so maybe not at the exact same level) as the first book and if you remember that one fondly, you'll love this long-awaited sequel.

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Book Review: I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

Michelle McNamara was obsessed for years with the Golden State Killer, a serial rapist and murderer who terrorized California for decades. She did an absolute ton of research, diving down the tiniest of rabbit holes, pursuing threads so thin they were gossamer, interviewing retired cops, and relentlessly pestering police precincts for access to old case files. She wrote articles on the subject, was an expert for TV documentaries on the subject, and seemed to be getting close to an answer when she suddenly and unexpectedly died in her sleep.

This book was mostly done, and her husband, Patton Oswalt, and a couple of her researchers and her editor, pieced the rest together. It doesn't feel pieced together except for one or two places where she was planning to do more research and hadn't yet, so there's a gap.

Thank goodness this didn't get set aside after her death, as it's an utterly compelling and creepy read. It's most definitely a can't-put-it-down book, but also it's a can't-read-it-at-night book (I tried, and it nearly became a book I read in one night because there's no way in hell I was going to sleep. Finished it during the day.) This isn't a typical ripped-from-the-tabloids true crime book--instead it belongs to this newer, more literary spin-off of true crime (which I think needs rebranding as the two sides of true crime don't have much overlap). It's beautifully written, convincing, and terrifying. I only wish Michelle could have lived to see its success, and to finish her work. If you have even the tiniest interest in this sort of thing, run out and get this book now.

I got this book for free from a friend who works at the publisher.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Book Review: Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

I feel like most graphic novels have an advantage over non-graphic books in that they don't have to introduce the characters and the setting--you can see them instantly so it's easier to feel immersed right away. Not so with Mr. Drnaso's book. His characters I actually found hard to tell apart, to the point of even sometimes not being able to tell if a character was male or female until much later. So initially I felt held at arms length.

It begins with Sabrina and her sister Sandra at their parents' house where Sabrina is house-sitting. They have a casual conversation about Sabrina's boyfriend and crossword puzzles. Then we jump to an airman, Cal, who works in a cubicle (a lot of people are shocked that the majority of military jobs are in office buildings just like yours and mine, the only real difference being what people are wearing.) He has left work to pick up a friend at the train station. The friend isn't doing too well. It's an old friend, Teddy, and Teddy's girlfriend, Sabrina, went missing one day after work. It's been a month. No one is hopeful. Teddy is obviously despairing and really grieving. Mostly he lies around, half-naked, not eating, not doing anything. Cal is very worried about him, hiding his guns, forcing him to eat, checking on him. But there's a limit to what Cal can do. He says he thinks Teddy came to him because they haven't been close as adults and he needs someone who didn't know Sabrina and where there's some distance. Meanwhile, Cal is trying to figure out what he's going to do when his tour is up--apply for a big promotion he's a shoe-in for but would involve him going undercover, or getting out and moving to Florida to be near his estranged wife and young daughter in hopes of reuniting with them.

I really got sucked in. It's got a lot of text but it wasn't at all a chore to read. The book felt very current as eventually conspiracy theorists, Reddit nuts, and trolls get involved and attack Sabrina's family, Teddy, and Cal, after Sabrina's story takes a dark turn. I found the ending rather sudden and I wish it had wrapped things up more. But that doesn't stop it from having been a really immersive, and very different book. I hadn't read anything like this before, particularly in this format. The vague figures eventually allow you to impose on them your own feelings and thoughts about what's going on. And as I've sat with it throughout the day, the ending is bothering me less and less. I think it's about how life goes on no matter what. It's always one day after another, after another.

This book is published by Drawn & Quarterly, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Book Review: The Devil's Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch

It took me a minute to place the author's very familiar name, especially when I looked him up in Goodreads and found... almost nothing. Just some obscure book about economics. And then it occurred to me--he's on NPR's Marketplace! I love him! (He's actually on leave to focus on his writing which is a bummer. Not the writing part, but why can't he do both?)

In 1799 New York, Justy has just returned from law school in Scotland, where he was also involved in some Scottish skirmishes. Before he left, his father committed suicide, so he returns an orphan, under the financial care of his uncle, a gangster of sorts, even though he desperately doesn't want to be under any obligation to or connection with the underworld. He wants to be upstanding and ethical, like his father. And in fact, he doesn't think his father would ever commit suicide. And as he's thought about it over the last few years, he doesn't believe that he did--he thinks he was murdered and it was staged to look like a suicide. As Justy looks into that, things quickly take a turn, as he angers some important people who want to keep things secret and won't hesitate to shut him up permanently.

A real thrilling page-turner with a cameo by Alexander Hamilton, this was a truly fun read. I think this period in American history, particularly in places like New York, is utterly fascinating and very ripe for stories, so I'm glad to see someone mining that fertile era. It really reads like a movie, very visual, with chase scenes and the like. It predates The Alienist by a century but is similar in some ways, with the old New York feel, but in this book, there's a real lawlessness I normally associate with the Wild West, as there aren't really cops (police haven't exactly been invented yet) and people to a certain extent have to police themselves and can't rely on the good guys to come save the day. Justy has to find out the truth and save himself, all by himself. (Well, with the help of a couple of friends.) Good rollicking fun.

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

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sidelines! Or, some crazy shit I bought last month.

I have been able, over years of practice, to mostly resist books when I am in bookstores. I have a long list of books to buy, an insanely long list of books that I already own that I haven't read yet (over 450), I have dozens of books on my iPad to read for work, and I often can get books I want for free from a publishing friend.

Sidelines, however, are another story. I can't get those for free. I often don't see the same ones from one store to another so I can't think about it and get it at a later visit (unless I'm willing to wait until next season.) Not all stores have strong sidelines departments, but the good ones do. Sidelines have the margin books don't and really help the stores keep their doors open. Ideally, they are good matches to books, and often are even cross-shelved with books mixed in. Often they even have a direct tie-in such as bookmarks, bookends, and reading glasses. My job is great for any gift-giving seasons. And then, I sometimes just can't resist and must buy things!

I did do Mother's Day shopping at one of my stores. Here were a few options (and you'll see books mixed into the display if you look at the sides.)

These were just hilarious/adorable. And really, this was just buying more cat toys for Turkey. The minion with the straw hat already has one fewer foot.

And some of these are just so ludicrous, so delightfully bizarre, that I know Jordan will freak out, and I can't resist that!

These were for me:

So, if you are in need of a gift or want something fun for yourself, think of independent bookstores! They tend to have very fun options.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Book Review: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

I loved summer camp. Really loved it. Now, I only went to sleep away camp once, briefly, but day camp was terrific. And I went to early care and after care (my parents worked after all) and so I was there about 10 hours a day, and it was great. In fact, I've even been known to say that it saved my life as I was being bullied really hard at school, but the fact that I was popular (but not in a bad way!) and had lots of friends over the summer told me the problem was them, not me. In Be Prepared, Vera has this same idea. She doesn't fit in at school, as she has an accent and brings weird food and doesn't dress like the other girls. She hears about this Russian summer camp, and not only does she think this will finally be the place where she fits in, but it's affordable, and her mother is also thrilled with the idea since having the kids away for the summer will allow her to start a new job unencumbered and get some other things dealt with that are hard as a single mom.

So Vera and her little brother head off to camp and... it's nothing like she expected. There are cool girls here too, no amenities, long daily lessons about Russia, in Russian, and she's just as unpopular and miserable as she is at school, although maybe it's actually worse. Her little brother makes friends immediately, while Vera is scorned by the older, popular girls in her tent. There are lots of rules and expectations she didn't know about, coming here. And the summer looks like it's going to be utterly miserable.

Graphic novels can often seem quite short, but this one certainly conveyed the feeling that this was a long summer, made to feel even longer by the miserableness of Vera's experience. I really felt like my old memories of summers when I was a kid that seemed ssssooooooo long. A three week session at camp seemed like forever. And this summer is in the end redeemed. Vera has a good counselor, who, while she probably could have been more proactive, gives Vera good advice that eventually she follows, and she does make a friend towards the end, and the cool girls actually aren't all that cool really when you get to know them. This would be a fantastic companion piece to Real Friends as it shares a lot of the same themes, but in a summer camp setting instead of school, and also with the added not-fitting-in of a second-generation girl who doesn't feel wholly American. Poor Vera--this is based on her own experiences as a preteen, so like Real Friends, it's also basically a memoir. And the realism of her feelings really comes through.

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

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

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Book Review: Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong (audio)

Like all of America, I loved Seinfeld in the 1990s. When I considered moving to New York City to be an editor, I thought of Elaine Benes, and if she could get by in the city, surely I could too. I have thought it odd though that afterward, while I will catch a rerun from time to time and enjoy it, it's not a show I seek out or have rewatched dozens of times, like other sitcoms from the era. I rarely say, "Oooh, a Seinfeld is on!" They both seem really of their time and also without much plot or throughline to hang on to. I watch old episodes of Friends to see if there's any clues in early seasons about Monica and Chandler getting together, things like that. But famously, the Seinfeld characters did not grow or learn, so there's no payoff in the end. Maybe that's why the final episode was such an epic flop. I did make my little brother watch it with me, live, even though he was way too young (12) to understand or care.

But I still have nostalgia for it. When I do run across the reruns, I certainly watch them. And I think, man this show really was funny! Even though I then don't seek them out going forward. The last one I caught was one of my all time favorites with George pretending to be a marine biologist and finding a beached whale which has had its blowhole obstructed by a Titlest golf ball that Kramer had been hitting into the ocean to practice his drives. It was one where all the plots came together beautifully and seamlessly in an unexpected way with a huge payoff.

But how did the show happen? How was NBC persuaded to make a show about nothing? How did this seminal 90s sitcom come to be, maintain quality for so long, and go out on top (barring the last episode)? What was the inspiration? How did the grumpy and angry Larry David stay so involved for so long? How were the actors to work with? Were they like their characters or not? How did they fare after the show? This fun book gets into all of that and more. I kept calling people (I was listening to this while driving) to tell them fun trivia. For example the actors who played Jerry's parents had fascinating back stories: the dad used to be a real cop and got his start in show business as Jackie Gleason's body double, and the mom used to date James Dean! If you're a fan of the show, this book is a delight.

I downloaded this book on Overdrive via my library.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Book Review: How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

I haven't read Jojo Moyes, but I can sure see why the books are being compared. But Ms. Center's book has a happy ending.

Margaret just bought a condo, she's poised to receive a dream job offer, and her Ken-doll boyfriend, Chad, seems about to propose. One thing though that Chad does that rubs Margaret the wrong way is that, despite her near-paralyzing fear of flying (or perhaps because of it), he's determined to become a certified pilot. But if that's his only flaw, everything's pretty great, right? Well, except for the fact that her older (and only) sister is estranged from the family. But surely that will blow over eventually. And so on Valentine's Day, she dresses extra nice, convinced this is The Night. And it is. But Chad wants to propose to Margaret mid-air. And Margaret's worst fears are realized, changing her life forever.

So as to not give away spoilers, this is going to be a short review. The book is juicy, with lots of drama, between her black sheep sister, her lug of a boyfriend, and now an incredibly changed life she didn't ask for or want, Margaret has to rethink everything she's ever known about everything--including who she herself is and what she wants. I started it just meaning to read a couple of pages and then get back to my other book, but next thing I knew I was 50 pages in and there was no stopping! A perfect beach read.

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

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Book Review: Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

Livy and her mom go to Australia to visit her grandmother, who they last saw five years earlier when Livy was just five years old. She is astonished to open her closet door and find a small green creature wearing a ratty old chicken costume, waiting for her, as he promised. Bob is beyond dismayed to discover Livy doesn't remember him. After all, he's been in a closet for 5 years, reading a dictionary and rebuilding a Lego pirate ship hundreds of times, as the only ways to pass the time.

Curious as to what he might be, Livy asks him a lot of questions, and soon they both discover that Bob doesn't know what he is or where he came from. And he realizes he's missing his own mom, who he doesn't remember. So they start to investigate. Bob does remember finding Livy by the well, soaking wet, as his first memory. Livy has a bad idea of why she must have been wet and that Bob likely saved her life. They find a clue in a photograph of an old book of folklore which has a picture of a Bob-creature on the front, but they can't find the book!

Meanwhile, Livy's grandmother is having quiet but fraught conversations with her neighbors and her bank, as there's been a drought on for five years now, and it looks like not only will she lose her farm, but the whole town might go under. And when a nearby little boy goes missing, they all turn out to look for him, even Bob. And he might find more than he bargained for.

This book is very hard to classify. Bob isn't an imaginary friend and he isn't a mythological creature of the kind we're familiar with, and he's not a stuffed animal like Winnie the Pooh. Also the book isn't set up to be a series like that. It has the whimsy of James and the Giant Peach (at a younger level) and the Australian setting is foreign and different. Often with children's stories that have a real timeless feel to them, which you believe might become future classics, it's easy to find parallels to other stories, and I keep trying them out--maybe he's kind of like Paddington the Bear?--but none are quite right. Because Bob is Bob. He doesn't need to be anyone else. Nor does Livy. Their story is pretty unique and I loved it.

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

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

My Month in Review: April

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:
Street Warrior: The True Story of the NYPD’s Most Decorated Detective and the Era That Created Him by Ralph Friedman and Patrick W. Picciarelli
If You're in My Office, It's Already Too Late: A Divorce Lawyer's Guide to Staying Together by James J. Sexton
Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age, and the "powerless" Woman Who Took on Washington by Patricia Miller
Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth (audio)*
The Princess Bride by William Goldman*
Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar
Listen to the Marriage: A Novel by John Jay Osborn
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (audio)*

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin
Impossible Owls: Essays by Brian Phillips

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
I bought lots of sidelines from bookstores in April, including my Mother's Day gifts. But I did also get:
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza