Friday, November 15, 2019

Book Review: The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson (audiobook)

I love Bill Bryson! I have read every book he's written (even his dictionary! Seriously!) I love the most his books on giant single subjects and yet I'm also always astonished when he comes up with a new area for those. The Body may be his best yet.

As always, it's utterly filled with trivia, bizarre fact, and anyone with just a passing understanding of anatomy and medicine will find something fascinating every few minutes. Did you know that if all your DNA was made into a single strand and stretched out end to end, it was stretch past Pluto and out of the solar system? Did you know that most stutterers are left-handed? And that stuttering is much worse in those who are left-handed but were forced to learn to write right-handed? Did you know that we get 2-5 cancer cells every single day of our lives, which our immune systems get rid of? And that kissing is a surprisingly bad way to spread a cold? My husband doesn't have any idea how lucky he is that I listened to this book while I was out of town and he was spared a massive amount of gasping and me telling him interesting things endlessly (he still got a few). And you need to have no prior knowledge or interest in the subject at all--I nearly failed my high school biology class.

Mr. Bryson narrates the book himself, and I know some people find him an annoying narrator, but I do not at all. He has developed a bit of a British accent and I find him charming. It's the best of both worlds where he sounds fancy and slightly foreign but he doesn't pronounce words like "laboratory" in that bizarre British way.

I found the book utterly delightful, completely fascinating, and I wish it had been twice as long.

I downloaded the eAudiobook from my local library via Libby/Overdrive.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Book Review: Broke: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises by Jodie Kirshner

Did you read and love the amazing book Evicted? First of all, you should. And then this is the perfect follow-up. In a similar fashion, Ms. Kirshner looks at Detroit, and its perfect storm of job losses, property value tanking, crime rising, infrastructure crumbling, and the spiral that creates.

From afar, we all might think why do people stay there, but she follows a half-dozen residents to fully explain that. It's hard to just abandon a house that your family has owned for three generations. Especially when you can't afford to fix it up or--more crucially--to move. People forget, moving is expensive. Also it's hard to leave a neighborhood you once loved, where your kids grew up, where you once had hopes and dreams. The few remaining residents aren't losers who didn't get out while the getting was good--they're warriors, the last bastion of hope for this city. They're maintaining entire blocks single-handedly. They're alerting friends and family of abandoned homes they can move into and protect from vandals (yes, they're squatters, but is that worse than the house being literally ripped apart for its pipes and water heaters?). Some even see hope and opportunity. With the housing values so incredibly low, people who never could have afforded to buy a house before, now might be able to. Although the legal hoops make getting a conventional mortgage seem like a walk in the park. (And no, you can't get a traditional mortgage in Detroit. It doesn't matter how good your credit is, or how much money you have in the bank. No underwriter will insure it, so no bank will lend it.) Admittedly, also some carpetbaggers have arrived, both in the form of out-of-towners who have romanticized Detroit as a noir land of opportunity, and of absentee landlords, often flippers (but not the kind of flippers who fix up the house first).

But these personal stories serve to illuminate the larger picture. This could happen to any single-industry city. If something bizarre happened to the internet, this could happen to Silicon Valley. And it has happened to a lesser scale to other rust belt cities, from Buffalo to Cleveland (where my sister pays 1/5 the rent I do for a very similar apartment.) Diversification is the best bulwark against devastation, and then smart management if that's too late. Hopefully a city's state won't screw it to the extent Michigan did Detroit (in fact, I think Ms. Kirshner lets Michigan somewhat off the hook for some of the financial shenanigans that went on there. I think the state could have been pilloried some more and they'd have deserved it.) It's a cautionary tale, but also hopefully a story that will increase empathy for those not in booming coastal cities, for those who are struggling are often victims of circumstance and bad timing. This is an eminently readable, important book about a very American problem.

This book is published by St. Martins Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Book Review: Ellie, Engineer: In the Spotlight by Jackson Pearce

I just love these Ellie Engineer books! In this one, we really see one of my favorite aspects of the books, as it's set at a pageant. Kit often goes along with what Ellie likes to do but this time Ellie joins Kit for one of her favorite things: a kids pageant. Their friend Toby tags along too even though he can't compete (but that doesn't prevent him from trying his best to win Miss Congeniality!) Their moms take advantage of the long weekend with kids' supervised activities to have a Girls' Weekend, which is how this all comes together.

Anyway, as Ellie works on a light-up, foldable skateboarding ramp for Kit's talent, and laments that engineering doesn't lend itself well to a talent contest so she has to go with ballet, her second-best talent, the story gets underway. She meets the nasty Queen Bee of the pageant circuit, Melody, who promptly accuses Kit of theft when her precious rabbit, the highlight of her winning magic show, disappears. With the help of Ellie's engineering skills (although actually more her logic skills), Melody's rabbit is found in the nick of time, Kit's ramp lights up just right, and naturally--I know you knew this was coming--Ellie does end up showcasing her engineering skills (AND her ballet skills) in her talent after all.

For me the very best thing about this series, beyond the great friendships with girls and boys, the way they are so good at compromising and empathizing, and even beyond the engineering, is how ungendered they all are. Aside from the fact that it's a pageant and Toby can't participate (I was a little surprised he didn't fight that!), it's wonderful to see the more "girly" character of Kit doing skateboarding for her talent, and the more "tomboyish" Ellie doing ballet and being fairly excited about the whole pageant. I mean, Ellie didn't care about winning (and was bummed when Melody called her out on wearing her toolbelt on stage), but she still thought the weekend would be fun. It's so refreshing to see these variations on the usual highly-gendered kids activities and interests, just presented without comment, as if of course a girl interested in engineering would also dance ballet. Love.

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.

Friday, November 1, 2019

My Month in Review: October

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

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

Books completed this month:
Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales
Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux (audio)*
The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves (audio)
The Hollows by Jess Montgomery
Best Friends by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
Displacement by Kiku Hughes
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell (audio)*

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World's Most Expensive Fungus by Ryan Jacobs (audio)*
Check, Please!, Book 2: Sticks and Scones by Ngozi Ukazu [annoyingly I am "still reading" this because even though I work at the publisher, only the first half of the book is available to me pre-pub.]
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
When Did the Statue of Liberty Turn Green? And 101 Other Questions about New York City by Jean Ashton*

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Yale Needs Women by Anne Gardiner Perkins--I picked this up at NAIBA.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett--my book club book. I bought this at Browseabout Books in Rehobeth Beach, DE.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Book Review: Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks

For the last three falls, Josiah and Deja work together in the Succotash hut of the local (and bonkers crazy int he best way) pumpkin patch. They're best friends... while they work together, but they don't see each other the rest of the year. On the last day of work--Halloween, natch--on their senior years, Deja is determined to make it important. Josiah has had a crush on a girl working in the Fudge Shoppe the whole time and has never spoken to her, so that become their (possibly just Deja's, but Josiah will do pretty much whatever she asks) goal, even though it means Josiah won't win employee of the month for the 3rd consecutive time. Along the way, they eat a lot of snacks (I really want to try both a twice-dipped candy apple and a pumpkin bomb, very much. And a Freetos pie. And fresh made kettle corn. Even Succotash. Really everything in this book.), Deja is tortured by a little kid, they get lost in the corn maze, and they talk about why they're only friends at the pumpkin patch. Will Josiah ever talk to the Fudge Shoppe girl? Will Deja eat all of the snacks (and run into all of her exes)? Will anyone capture the crazy escaped goat? Will something even more interesting happen?

This YA graphic novel was light and fun and Deja and Josiah have such a terrific friendship. I both desperately want now to go to a pumpkin patch, but I also want to be friends with these two. It's kind of a perfect story, with the only caveat that it's a bit short. Yes, it takes place in one night, but I could have used a lot more of them.

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Book Review: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, narrated by Jenna Lamia (audiobook)

I knew a little about Zelda Fitzgerald I thought but it turns out--not actually much. Back one summer in college, I had a book of short stories written by both F. Scott and Zelda. I don't remember much, but I remember not being able to really tell them apart, which says a lot for her caliber of writing, considering how much less famous she was.

Zelda was a debutante and the daughter of a judge back in Montgomery, Alabama. Towards the end of WWI, she met some young men stationed nearby in the army. Scott was captivated by her immediately, and courted her hard, despite being a Yankee (!), older, and without great career goals. The war ended moments before he was due to be shipped out, and Scott worked feverishly to finish and sell his first novel so he could prove he could support Zelda as a writer. They married, she moved to New York, and they came to define the Flapper lifestyle. They drank, had stylish and famous friends, wore amazing fashions, lived in Europe, got involved in scandals, had amazing fights, and drank some more. Scott's income was never solid so their move to Europe was actually an economic move although it didn't help a whole lot in that arena. In France they met other writers, a couple already famous, some who would be later. Most importantly, Scott became friends with a young upstate named Ernest Hemingway and introduced him to Scott's agent and editor. Hemingway, with his colossal ego and streak of evilness, then went on to undermine Scott's self-esteem, disparage him to their mutual friends, hit on Zelda, and drag him off on expensive misadventures. While Scott's drinking was already taking a heavy toll on his health before Hemingway's appearance, I do wonder how he would have fared in the long run if he'd never met Hemingway at all. I already thought Hemingway was a giant jerk for his behavior toward Fitzgerald before reading this, and I think even more poorly of him now.

Zelda for her part explored a lot of artistic endeavors, with ballet being the one she most excelled at and loved the most. But in the end, even though she was offered a professional position, it didn't work out. She ended up doing some writing, a lot of which was published under Scott's name or theirs together (as his named garnered much more money.) They had a daughter who was along for the crazy ride. But she really was a truly modern woman. She always expected to work if she wanted and to be able to pursue her own interests. Sometimes she and Scott fought about those things but mostly things worked out. They just got by a lot of the time, on credit, advances, and friends' goodwill. Also Scott occasionally worked himself to the bone to get them out of debt. Zelda eventually found things to be too much, and Scott had her committed to an asylum. He was his most productive (in terms of number of stories written, not quality) the year she was away, but that may also have been the result of less socializing meaning less drinking.

Then, as we know, Scott died terribly young. The Depression didn't affect them much as they had no savings to lose, and magazines and Hollywood kept paying during those lean years. But his health was no match for his lifestyle and he died of a heart attack at 44 in 1940. Zelda didn't live a whole lot longer, but she did outlive him, only to die a tragic death herself under terrible circumstances.

I had previously heard unflattering stories about Zelda, that she was crazy, that she held Scott back, but of course none of that is true. She may have not been the most supportive wife, if by that you mean someone who devotes their every waking moment to his care, like Hemingway's first wife (not that it did her any good.) But for a modern woman, she really was, and she was no more crazy than any of us. Who among us wouldn't mind going away to a sanatorium for a few months' rest if we could possibly afford it and manage the time? Ms. Fowler really manages to get inside her head and give us full insight into this complex, creative, and relatable woman. I really enjoyed my time with Zelda and kind of think I should go back and reread some of her stories.

This book is published by St. Martins Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Book Review: The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves

Annika is awkward and doesn't have many friends. She meets Jonathan at the chess club in college and they hit it off immediately. Others are surprised as he's not a fellow awkward person, but they connect and he appreciates her way of thinking while she appreciates his willingness to work with her quirkiness. They get into a serious relationship pretty fast. And as they're both seniors, graduating soon, they start planning their post-college lives together: moving to New York City and starting careers.

Then something bad happens. And neither of them handle the fallout of it very well. And that's the end of their relationship.

Ten years later, they run into each other in a grocery store in Chicago, where they most now live. They are still attracted to each other, and both of them seem to have improved a bit in the ensuing years. Can they rekindle their old relationship? Or will circumstances tear them apart again?

I really did like this story being mostly told from the POV of a character on the autism spectrum. It gave a unique perspective. And it addresses some serious subjects like how in depression a person can run off their friends who are trying to help. I wasn't crazy about the ending which felt a bit contrived, but I went with it. And I really liked the dual narrators--although I preferred the woman (is that because Annika is a bigger character than Jonathan in the book? I don't know. I don't often like fiction on audio but this one worked for me. Not a lot of characters to keep track of and even though the narration jumps back and forth in time (not linearly like I've retold the plot here), that was easy enough to follow.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer. But I listened to the audiobook from my local library via Overdrive/Libby.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Book Review: Give and Take by Elly Swartz

Maggie's beloved grandmother recently died after a bout with dementia. And now her family is fostering a pre-adoption baby, Izzie. Maggie already was dealing with her anxiety by hoarding, but the knowledge that this tiny baby she loves so much is going to leave and won't remember her, is too much for Maggie. Terrified that she will start to forget things as well, her hoarding kicks into overdrive. After a scary day when she screams at her mother for touching a box of her things, her parents bring her to a therapist who helps her deal with her feelings and with her not-good coping method.

Meanwhile, her all-girls trap shooting team gets a new member: a boy, Mason, and loses one of her friends, which throws Maggie for a further loop, even though it means the team is better. When her pet turtle goes missing in her grandfather's yard, will it be more than Maggie can cope with?

The hoarding is portrayed realistically (along with the defensive thinking that as long as she doesn't look like an episode of Hoarders and can still walk through her room, there's no problem here.) In fact, I think most of us will think back to a box in the closet filled with old birthday cards and movie ticket stubs and other mementos. Where do you draw the line?

Her family is lovingly portrayed, Maggie as the middle sister between two brothers has a lot of emotions on her back, and the issue of very-short-term infant fostering is an interesting and new one to me. As is the hobby of trap shooting. I really appreciated the author's creativity and research in not going with the usual suspects in both issues and after-school activities. There's an explanation at the end of research she did and further resources for anxiety and hoarding in children.

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 and Giroux BYR, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Book Review: The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols: Adapted from the Journals of John H. Watson, M.D. by Nicholas Meyer

As a young teen, I read all the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. My mom got me into the Mystery! Theater adaptations starring Jeremy Brett (who will forever and always be Holmes to me) so it was a delight to read a "newly found" Holmes story.

Ostensibly, this was found among the manuscripts and papers of Dr. Watson in the form of a diary, and he never published it for good reason. Because it was "never published," it includes some details Watson would normally leave out of his accounts, such as Holmes's romance with the Russian woman who is helping them. The story goes, Holmes's brother Mycroft asks Holmes (and be default, Watson, as he knows they are a package deal) to look into a mysterious manuscript that one of the secret service agents was killed over. Watson, newly married, and settled into a routine, asks his sister-in-law who translates Russian literature, for help. They discover it is a bizarre, obvious fraudulent supposed transcript from a meeting of Jews who want to take over the world. Then they are off! On an adventure to prove the fraudulence so this screed, which they come to call The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, won't gain traction and become widespread. On a trip across Europe including on the Orient Express, they, with the help of a stunning beautiful Russian woman, are followed by Russian spies while they try to uncover and expose the truth.

It's a fun, short read. Although the subject matter isn't fun at all, and is irritatingly familiar as antisemitism seems to be on the rise (along with all kind of white supremacy). It's both refreshing and sad to see that after more than a century, we are no more advanced in society. But it's still good to feel that frustration in the company of Sherlock Holmes. No better company.

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

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Book Review: The Man That Got Away: A Constable Twitten Mystery 2 by Lynne Truss

God I love this mystery series! They are so funny and witty and full of word play and twisty turns and just hilarious. Constable Twitten is not feeling much more like he fit in to Brighton than he did in the first book (this one takes place shortly after the first one so that makes sense.) And neither Sergeant Brunswick nor Inspector Steine has gotten a clue in the meantime either. When Twitten accompanies Steine to the local wax museum, which is going to make a terrible replica of their famous Inspector, he overhears a young couple talking about a murder among other things (they mistake him for a wax figure and talk about their plans right in front of him!) He must of course look into this case, with a body and a missing head. And then there is a man going about town claiming to be a local lord trying to get people to buy gold bars from him for cheap (a brilliantly funny play on modern internet scams). And what does this have to do with the local nightclub (where Brunswick goes undercover as a trumpet player--and is nearly too good) or the police's char-lady's former love, or the man found on the beach with his throat cut, or the strange smells emanating from manholes? Trust that in time, with some luck, some help (not from his colleagues!), and some puzzling-out, Twitten will save the day.

Like the very best, most twisty, and most fun Agatha Christie novels, these mysteries are a true bright spot of beach reading.

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

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Book Review: Twenty-one Truths About Love: A Novel by Matthew Dicks

I liked my first Matthew Dicks novel, Something Missing. I loved loved loved the second Matthew Dicks novel I read, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. So when I saw he had a new novel coming out from my own company, I jumped on it. Even though it's written in a gimmicky style. The entire novel comprises of lists.

Normally a novel with a convoluted, contrived structure and/or format screams "MFA thesis!" at me and I run away screaming. Normally. The exception proves the rule.

Things I hate in a novel:

  • unnamed narrators 
  • lack of quotation marks 
  • second person 
  • a "chorus" 
  • sudden and complete narrative changes halfway through the book. 

You have to be a MASTER to pull that shit off. You've made the bar a million times higher and I'm going into your novel expecting to hate it. Is that what you want? Don't flout convention simply to flout it. You MUST have a VERY GOOD reason. And you must be able to write at the caliber of Ian McEwan to pull off the "Oh wait--you've been reading a novel written by one of the main characters! Now let's get to the real story." (And he does pull it off, but others don't.) Have I liked books with these ridiculous contrivances? Yes. But as I say, I hold them to a much, much higher standard and go in with a bad attitude. (And I have recently even read a Pulitzer Prize-nominee who pulled this crap and I hated her novel.) Luckily, this book is one of the beloved exceptions.

Things I loved about Twenty-One Truths About Love:

  1. Lists (which are the best).
  2. Actually had a plot. (Which I wasn't sure about going into a novel written in lists.)
  3. Was funny.
  4. Was touching.
  5. Hinted throughout at an outlandish crazy thing that might happen. Which I never thought would. But then, HE WENT THERE!
  6. Made me think maybe I could also start journaling if I did it as lists.
  7. Made me wonder what I would do for my spouse, or my child (if I had one).
  8. Made me think about what it would be like if my spouse had a first wife who'd died, and how that would change everything. It's hard to compete with a ghost.
  9. Loved the friendship with the older vet.
  10. Features an independent bookstore!
If I haven't sold you on the book, well, your loss. It's a warm, quick read with humor and angst and crises and it felt very real. And I kind of really, really want to try bullet journaling now. Who knows--maybe I'll end up writing a story.

Published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Book Review: Mighty Moe: The True Story of a Thirteen-Year-Old Running Revolutionary (Little Mo) by Rachel Swaby, and Kit Fox

Last year I listened to a fascinating podcast about Moe Wilton that really annoyed me when it was over, it was so good. Turns out this editor also did because he reached out to the podcasters who expanded their research and storytelling into this terrific biography of Mighty Moe.

In 1967, Moe was thirteen years old when she broke the world record for the women's marathon. At this time women often had to run surreptitiously (she ran alongside Kathrine Switzer) if we could run at all, for men thought our uteruses would fall out if we ran any distance.

Moe just loved running. She started to keep up with her brothers and despite her height and being younger, she quickly outran them. Her parents were endlessly supportive, finding her a team and a coach and going to great lengths to get her to meets across Canada. Once her coach hired a private plane and her father raced her and other girls across town to fly directly from one meet to another across the country. Moe ran and ran and ran. It was beautiful, impressive, even intimidating. And then she ran herself out. The best runner of her generation was completely burnt out before she was twenty and quit and sport. Decades later, her own daughter asked her grandmother if her mother had ever run. Moe's mother said she'd better ask her herself. Luckily Moe's mother also had kept exhaustive scrapbooks.

What an achievement! And yet for decades afterwards it was unheralded and completely forgotten. And it wasn't an easy race either--there weren't fuel stations and a band every mile. It was around a square, over and over, on a college campus, with giant older men. And yet, she outran all of them. At thirteen. I think this book would be impressive and inspiring for many kids this age showing that diligence and effort pays off. And how often do kids get to read a biography of a kid? Hey, if Moe can do it, anyone can, if they put their mind (and body!) to it.

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 and Giroux Books for Young Readers, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Book Review: Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church by Megan Phelps-Roper

Megan grew up in the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. You know, the ones who picket funerals of veterans and others with unconscionably cruel signs? They were all over the news about a decade ago. Well you can guess their politics but you'll only be half right. You'll also only be half right about the religion, and in the end you'll be very surprised and happy that Megan got out.

She was raised in the church and community. They didn't live on some compound out in the wilderness, but did live in a very tight-knit neighborhood where they helped build each others' houses and all lives within a block or two off each other. Megan's grandfather was the minister, and she was related to everyone in the church. She was brought to her first protest when she was about five years old--long before she even understood what the signs she was carrying meant.

I was shocked to find out that her grandfather, mother and aunt were all lawyers. In fact, I was gobsmacked to hear that her grandfather had been a strong civil rights attorney, fighting for the rights of African-Americans. He somehow reconciled this with his later hatred of gays, and I suppose they are two different things, not a continuum, but that's a world view I was unfamiliar with to hold both of those ideas simultaneously. Megan's mother and aunt really ran the church and the family law firm. Another thing that surprised me was that the family was very involved in the outside world and not closed off. Megan and her siblings and cousins went to public school. They obviously has to know what was going on, in order to protest as they did. Usually with such rabidly conservative outside-the-norm views, blinders are necessary. But not so here. In fact, as the internet blew up, Megan became the voice of the church on social media, in particular on Twitter.

Lots of people engaged with her there. Some much more civilly than others. And she thought she had an answer for everything unbelievers could throw at her. But a couple of doubts crept in. Especially after an incident involving her mother and the church, she had a hard time hanging onto her beliefs. And eventually, Megan left. Which didn't just mean leaving the church but also her family.

I don't want to give too much more away, but it's an amazing story of realization, understanding, and forgiveness. Megan is so open to others and to really looking thoroughly into herself and her blame in everything and her beliefs and her culpability, it's refreshing. Especially in this day and age when people are just getting more polarized--to hear about someone who completely changed sides and what accomplished that and how she coped with the radical change, was fascinating.

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

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

My Month in Review: September

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

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

Books completed this month:
You're Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy
Spring Rain: A Graphic Memoir of Love, Madness, and Revolution by Andy Warner
Miss Austen by Gill Hornby
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, narrated by Jenna Lamia (audio)
The Cactus League: A Novel by Emily Nemens
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, and Anna Rosling Rönnlund (audio)
The Ghost Map: the Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson, narrated by Alan Sklar (audiobook)*

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
When Did the Statue of Liberty Turn Green? And 101 Other Questions about New York City by Jean Ashton*

What I acquired this month (non-work books): 
again, nothing! Being so good! My budget is happy!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Book Review: Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer (audio)

The head of Random House's copyediting department has written a definitive book on his opinions, tips, and some fun facts about the super-quirky English language. Every aspiring writer should read this for his advice on tightening language and clarity, and also, should they be so lucky as to one day be published, to understand the editorial and especially the copyediting process better. I worked with authors over the years who took copyediting personally, as if the copyeditor, who has never met you, is insulting you by pointing out that no one has ever drunk coffee from a Styrofoam cup, as Styrofoam (a trademarked name, hence the capitalization) is a rigid pink insulation used in roofing. What you call a styrofoam cup is in fact a polystyrene cup. No insult is meant here--it's just a fact.

I was thrilled to have yet another expert go on the record that yes, you can split infinitives and yes, you can drop prepositions at the end of a sentence, and those are not grammatical errors at all. Just because a grammar loon 100 years ago made up those rules, doesn't make them correct. (And yes, I really mean "made up." Please drop those bugaboos right now.) He makes an excellent case for completely discontinuing the use of the pejorative "grammar Nazi" which is a way over-the-top insult to those who like grammar and simultaneously it degrades the atrocities committed by the Nazis as comparable to grammar mistakes. Done. I won't ever use that again.

I also learned a ton of fun trivia throughout, Such as that the word Onesie is a trademark owned by Gerber. Fine. But if there's a trademarked term, than there must be a generic term. Gerber claims the generic term is either "diaper shirt" or "infant bodysuit" which are both patently absurd (and hilarious) suggestions.

Listening to the audio was enjoyable, but take care--the last half is a series of lists of words. Each word does have a little explanation or definition, so it's not truly just a list of words, but it's something you'd probably skim in print, and on audio, where you can't skim, it can be a bit much in a large block, so that part is best listened to in a series of smaller chunks of time.

And yes, the serial comma is the only way to go (you might know it as the Oxford comma, but as Oxford hasn't used it in decades, I think that should be phased out.) I quibble with him calling it the "series comma" but I think we can agree to disagree on that point and otherwise be friends.

I borrowed this digital audiobook from my local library via Overdrive/Libby.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Book Review: Molly: The Amazing True Story of the Pet Detective Who Rescues Cats by Colin Butcher, with JoAnne Lake

In a previous job, I actually selected all the books that went into both PetSmart and Petco for three years. At that time I didn't actually have a pet, which made me somewhat unbiased. But honestly, I am biased towards cats, even when I haven't owned one. Yet most books published are about dogs. (Yes, you can argue there are more dog owners, but there are more cats as pets as cat owners more often have multiples. We have two.) So when I saw my company was publishing yet another dog book, at first I nearly scrolled right by it, but the subtitle caught my eye. Wait--what? This is a book about a dog who finds cats? Yep!

Colin was a police detective in the UK, and after hanging up his hat he opened a PI office. Initially, he did all sorts of work, but as a real animal lover, animal cases seemed to gravitate to him. But after a brutal puppy mill case (during which the lives of him and his employees were seriously threatened), he thought he'd look into working more with cats who never seemed to get into quite the same amount of trouble. Almost all of the cat cases were simply a missing pet. And despite his best efforts, Colin's recovery rate was low (60%) and he really wanted to get it up. He threw himself into research, finding a town with a ton of cats, getting permission to put up cat-height cameras all around town and on a few of the more robust cats, to study their behavior. This helped a lot. But you know what would help more? A cat-sniffing dog. He'd worked with drug-sniffing dogs on the force, and it made a lot of sense to him. But you'd think he was insane with the responses he got to this! The first several places he contacted laughed in his face. He couldn't find anyone willing to try training a dog initially. When he finally did, it was a long time to find the perfect dog (a black working cocker spaniel named, of course, Molly.) But once Molly was ready to go, they were off to the races! Turns out most lost cats haven't actually gone that far. They've just gotten shut in to a basement, a shed, a greenhouse, etc. It can be hard to search dozens and dozens of outbuildings at a variety of neighbors' properties, but when you've got a dog to tell you where to search, your search is much more successful. Sadly, a couple of cases of course don't end well. But the majority do. This is a heartwarming, lovely story that's surprisingly perfect for BOTH cat and dog lovers.

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Book Review: Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares by Aarti Shahani

Aarti Shahani is an NPR reporter in Silicon Valley, who I've heard on the radio and podcasts dozens of times. I had no idea about her fascinating backstory.

Her family emigrated to the United States when she was quite small. They lived in a crappy, small, bug-ridden apartment in Queens. Her father, who had been a successful movie importer before, had trouble finding even menial physical jobs in the US. Her mother, a whiz of a seamstress, quickly became the family breadwinner working at a bridal shop. But after an accident, she could no longer work. Aarti's father had left but he came back at that point. Eventually, he and a cousin went into business together, opening an electronics store in Manhattan.

Life improves considerably. The family moves to a large house in New Jersey. Aarti's older brother gets married and has a baby. Her sister goes to college. And as Aarti is herself starting college, her father is arrested. It turns out that a lot of his business was mail-order, and when he was receiving large sums of cash and shipping thousands of electronics in return, he was unwittingly laundering money for the Cali cartel. And her brother's wife disappears with the baby.

Aarti puts college on hold to move home and help out. The lawyer she finds tells them their best bet is for him to plead guilty. Her uncle serves his terms first, and then is deported. Horrified, as Aarti and her father are the sole members of their family who hadn't yet applied for citizenship, she fears the worst as her own father's prison term looms. Meanwhile she works with her brother and sister to try to recover her kidnapped nephew.

This is the story of one immigrant family. Granted, the Shahanis have more ups and downs than most. But it's the story of America. This could have happened to any of us. And it's happened to an NPR reporter who you hear on the radio regularly. It's the story of hopes and dreams, of dreams dashed, of new dreams, of fighting for your rights, and of fighting for a better future. The stories of immigrants are often portrayed as "others" and yet, they truly are all around, everywhere, including in your car radio. In this country of immigrants, we need to know and understand and empathize with the more recent immigrant stories, and Ms. Shahani is in a unique position to personalize one family's story.

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

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Book Review: Pippa by Design: A Story of Ballet and Costumes by Claudia Logan

I took ballet from the age of 5 until my freshman year in college. What I lacked in talent and flexibility, I made up for in stamina and the ability to go on pointe easily and without damage to my feet. However, neither of those things ever came close to making me a good dancer. In one of my last performances, I was in The Nutcracker. I was a snowflake. Yes, most of my friends in the Intermediate II class were the Candy Cane and Chinese Tea and Spanish... something and the wind-up dolls, a few of us were relegated to the corps. Well, someone has to be in the corps! And less than an hour before the performance, someone appeared and said that our snowflake costumes were missing something. She had these pieces of tulle with sequins in the shape of a snowflake. Those were supposed to have been attached to our bodices beforehand but were forgotten. Did anyone know how to sew? Well, I did.

So, while normally anything involving bodies and touching and possible nudity would have been the most squeamish thing to us 13-14-year-olds, there was a show to go on, and we were athletes. So I grabbed the needle and thread and whip-stitched those appliques onto the bodices of my fellow snowflakes--while they were still wearing them (which meant yes, I had one hand down the front of their shirts. And no, you can't wear a bra with this sort of costume.) It was most awkward when trying to do my own which probably ended up being the most poorly attached, but it only had to stay on for 20 minutes or so, it wasn't the most strenuous dance, and it had to look good from 20 feet away or further, so we completely got away with it.

All of this incredibly long explanation goes to show why I was so drawn to this lovely children's book. Pippa's sister takes ballet and is chosen to be one of the children featured in the upcoming professional performance of Sleeping Beauty. Pippa, who has to sit in the hallway waiting with her mother during the interminable practices, amuses herself with sketching. One day she forgets her sketchbook. When they return the next day to retrieve it--it's gone missing. It is returned a week later with a note, which turns out to be from the head of the wardrobe department at Toronto's National Ballet of Canada, who is very impressed with Pippa's fashion sketches. For the entire run of rehearsals leading up to the performance, Pippa is allowed to spend all her time in the wardrobe department, and is eventually named as an intern, learning all the intricacies of costuming for ballet, and in the end even saving the day. It's an utterly fascinating look behind the scenes for any aspiring ballerina, but it was also a lovely look at how both sisters can enjoy different aspects of the same interest. Ballet costumes are crazy complicated! Between sweat and flexibility and the stiff stand-out tutus, and costumes that don't injure the ballerina's male companion as he lifts her or spins her, there's a heck of a lot that goes into these, and it was a riveting read.

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 and Giroux BYR, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Book Review: Born to Fly: The First Women's Air Race Across America by Steve Sheinkin

Can we all agree, Steve Sheinkin is just the best when it comes to kids' nonfiction? I think it's just not even a contest. But this book sure was! It's about the first women's air race!

Amelia Earhart may be the only women from the early days of flight who we can name today but she was by no means the first, the fastest, or the best. Yes, she was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Did you know on that first flight, she was a passenger, not a pilot? She was recruited to do it, and while the pilot was paid $20,000 and the mechanic was paid $5000, she was paid zero. (She did later become the first woman to pilot a plane across the Atlantic also. Those two records are often confused/conflated.)

But this book is about so much more! It's about Marvel Crosson (her real name, not a nickname!) and Louise Thaden and Elinor Smith and a dozen more women pilots of the 1910s and 1920s. This race took place in 1929, in a time when it took 4 days to fly halfway across the country. It started in California and ended in Ohio and the race lasted 9 days. These women were badasses. At a time when flight was still experimental and incredibly dangerous, they faced sexism, some outright laws against them, and they did it all better than the men (not that anyone seemed to notice that! But the number of deaths and injuries was way, way below what it was in men's air races.) Riveting, fascinating, and just plain fun.

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.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Book Review: Stargazing by Jen Wang

Wow, this is different from Jen's previous book, The Prince and the Dressmaker!

Christine is a good girl. She does everything her parents want, including taking Chinese lessons after school. When Moon and her mom move into their garage apartment, her parents push her to befriend Moon, who is strange. Soon Moon has introduced Christine to all kinds of fun stuff like painting your nails and K-Pop (a couple of side effects her parents didn't see coming and aren't thrilled about.) But when Moon goes from being the weird girl at school, to becoming popular, Christine gets jealous and does something she regrets. Then Moon has a crisis which changes everything.

I loved this story of two different ways to "be Asian" and about first rebelling as kids get older, and starting to figure out who you are and what you like aside from your parents. It's also about making friends, even if they're weird, and then the odd, hard realization that you need to share your friends.

Finally, there's Moon's health crisis. I was shocked in reading the author's note at the end, to discover the same thing had happened to Ms. Wang. I then was fascinated by her decision to tell the story not through the eyes of Moon, but her friend. For Ms. Wang to have somewhat based this story on her own life--but not to make herself the central character is an interesting decision.

Everything felt very real and relatable, even though I grew up very differently. Some parts of childhood and maturing are universal.

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, September 11, 2019

Book Review: For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity by Liz Plank

I didn't want to read this book. It looked like a feminist polemic, and while I am very much a feminist, I find a lot of the literature didactic, humorless, and strident. But I was asked, for work, to read just the introduction before Sales Conference. I did. And then I stopped and put it away and read a dozen more books.

And yet, I couldn't stop thinking about it. At the very end of the season, I picked it back up and read the whole thing. It's not a fast read. I generally found I couldn't read it several nights in a row. There was just too much to think about, to chew on. I needed several days between chapters. The basic thesis is this: toxic masculinity isn't just terrible for women. It's actually worse for men.

For example, over the last 50ish years, thanks to the women's movement, women's career options have expanded exponentially to include pretty much everything. Men's haven't. As someone married to a man who used to be a teacher and now is a social worker, both women's jobs, I'll tell you it's not always easy on him, both to be in such a women-focused environment (and yet still be perceived as the privileged majority) and also to work in fields where the salary has always been kept low because they're perceived as "women's jobs." Just think if instead of politicians insisting they are going to bring back manufacturing jobs and factory work and coal mines and the like, instead we retrained those unemployed men to work in the health fields, which is a growing area, you can get a job pretty much anywhere, and always be guaranteed of employment. Wouldn't that be a better world? But because of the mindset of toxic masculinity, the men who work in those dying industries would never consider making that kind of change to a touchy-feely girls' job. So men are limited.

Plank talks about a talk she gave when she asked the audience how many of them had daughters. Hands went up. How many of them had told their daughters "you can do anything boys can do." Hands all proudly stayed high up. She then asked how many of them had sons. And how many of them had told their sons, "you can do anything girls can do." All the hands went down.

Toxic masculinity hurts men in every aspect of their lives, from health to relationships to family to work to mental health and well-being. But it will never be addressed and resolved, unless we truly understand the consequences and the price of not doing so. Hopefully this important book is a first step down that road.

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

Monday, September 9, 2019

Book Review: Do You Mind If I Cancel?: (Things That Still Annoy Me) by Gary Janetti

A funny collection of personal essays by a former producer of Will and Grace. They're mostly about him being gay, about his twenties, about figuring himself out, and going through a series of terrible jobs (mostly he could only get terrible jobs because he was terrible.) They are snarky, humorous, very much about being gay, name-droppy, and fun.

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

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Book Review: Trapeze by Leigh Ansell

I'd never read a crowd-sourced book before, and I wasn't sure how it would be. This book is being published by Wattpad, the app where writers can upload manuscript and readers can read, comment, and review them. Wattpad has decided to publish in print the books that are the cream of the crop. I think it's great that for their first list, all of the books are Young Adult. As much as editors try desperately to keep their thumb on the pulse of the zeitgeist, teens also want desperately to keep adults out. Not to mention, the trends and needs just change so darn fast. I think YA books in particular can really benefit from the readers telling us publishers what they want to read, instead of the other way around.

This book took several twists I wasn't expecting. It starts out with Corey doing her usual pre-show routine in a new town: heading to the closest restaurant for dinner. if the food is good, the show goes well. The show meaning, the circus, where she's in the trapeze act. Until Sherwood, California. She meets a cute boy at the restaurant, he highly recommends the fries and he's right--they're amazing. and things seem to be heading towards amazing with the lead trapeze artist promoting Corey into the lead position for the first time, but in the middle of their act, the worst thing happens: fire.

Stop reading now if you don't want some minor spoilers. But I do need to tell you a little more to really explain the book. Because at this point, I was thinking the book was Water for Elephants meets The Circus Fire for teens, but it completely stops being about the circus or the fire at this point. Corey's aunt, who owns the circus, has been raising her since Corey's own mom, who was a teen when she had Corey, was a hot mess when she was a baby. Turns out her mom lives in Sherwood and has gotten her act together. While the investigation happens and various people are hospitalized and the circus itself doesn't have the funds to repair, let alone move on, they're stuck here for now. And it's best for Corey to go live with the mom she's never known. So she'll be attending the local high school (with the cute guy who likes French fries) and she SO doesn't want anyone to know she's from the circus, although her spotty education up to this point might out her. Turns out the cute boy is in her Precal class and is great at math and can tutor her.

At this point I was expecting just a traditional teen romance, but things took yet another turn or two! There's a lot more meat on the bone of this book than I had expected, and I really appreciated that. I do wish Corey had checked in more with the circus and her friends and family there, as it felt very cut off from the beginning of the book and like she didn't care about the circus, but I'm choosing to interpret that as simply her being too overwhelmed by her circumstances, and the natural self-centeredness of teens developmentally. It does circle back around at the end. The book is melodramatic in all the best ways for teens, pretty darn clean in terms of sex (but there is excessive drinking and some violence), and certainly unique in storyline and background. I think teens will eat it up. And that cover is just gorgeous!

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 Wattpad, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Book Review: Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden

Bea has run away. At a gas station, she runs into Lou, an older family friend, who is driving to West Texas to visit family. Bea says she is on her way to West Texas too, and Lou gives her a ride. Bea is angry and volatile, but luckily Lou is both understanding and no-nonsense. As the miles tick away, they rescue a lost cat, and determine to try to return her to her home. Mysterious men in a van start following them, and the town where the cat is from seems to have magical elements. as fantastical things happen, Bea and Lou come to understandings about themselves and their pasts, and what they want for their futures. And the cat.

Lushly drawn, in a Texas I've never seen before full of snow and magic, these two women come to terms with themselves. With the help of a snow-white cat.

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

Sunday, September 1, 2019

My Month in Review: August

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

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

Books completed this month:
Go to Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood by Lucy Knisley
A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner
InvestiGators by John Patrick Green
What Stars Are Made of by Sarah Allen
Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
Chirp by Kate Messner
The Phantom Twin by Lisa Brown
It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood
All Boys Aren't Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson
Catching a Russian Spy: Agent Les Weiser Jr. and the Case of Aldrich Ames by Bryan Denson
The Secret Guests: A Novel by B.W. Black
Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Maris Wicks
A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II
by Sonia Purnell, narrated by Juliet Stevenson (audio) *
The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer
Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer (audio) *

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
You're Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
When Did the Statue of Liberty Turn Green? And 101 Other Questions about New York City by Jean Ashton*
The League of Wives: The Untold Story of the Women Who Took on the U.S. Government to Bring Their Husbands Home by Heath Hardage Lee (audio)

What I acquired this month (non-work books): 
None! I was good!

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Book Review: Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson

Amara grew up outside of Portland, Oregon, which she does love, but she's always been so curious about her dad's hometown of New York, specifically Harlem. After pestering and bothering her parents about this, they finally agree she can accompany her father on a business trip to the city, when she's assigned a project at school about family and where she comes from. This way she can finally meet her grandfather and cousins. Along the way she discovers her father and his father haven't spoken since she was born. And she's horrified to learn her grandmother died the same day that she was born. 
Once in Harlem, her cousins don't turn out to be perfect, and she doesn't understand the city. She does go to see some things she really wants, like The Apollo, and also some more off-the-beaten path attractions like the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. She does get to know her family better, and if she plays her cards right, she might even get her dad and grandfather talking again. She learns a lot about herself, her family's history, and where she comes from both geographically and metaphorically. 

I think the thing I liked the most about this book, is that through Amara's eyes, it will encourage kids to see, perhaps for the first time, that their parents are humans, who once were kids, who might have difficult relationships with their own parents. Kids often idealize and dehumanize their parents into perfect automatons of parenthood, instead of seeing them as flawed, 3-dimensional people. This isn't a front-and-center issue and it's something only adults can appreciate, but I do think it's important, especially today. It was easy to read, compelling, and filled to the brim with new experiences for Amara. She even has a first-time experience of getting into a fight with her cousin and being accused--as a black girl by another black girl--of being privileged. Which she is, although she's never seen her life that way. This is a multilayered book.

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

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

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Book Review: The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine

Daphne and Laurel are twins obsessed with words. Just a few years older than me, they grew up in the 1970s in Westchester and as soon as they're old enough, they move to Manhattan. A lifelong relationship with an unabridged dictionary, torturing their therapist uncle, and of course their own very personal relationship with each other and with being twins, suffuses every pore of this novel.

I found it fascinating that my sympathies actually shifted throughout the book. Initially, I liked Daphne more. Laurel seemed smug and competitive and almost like she expected Daphne to fail at everything. But when Laurel has a baby and doesn't go back to work, and instead Daphne begins to thrive at her job at an independent newspaper, eventually leading to a column, a book deal, and then a column in The New York Times, my loyalties changed. Laurel seemed more sympathetic, less sure of herself, and Daphne seemed judgmental and--quell horror!--dogmatic in her grammar dictates at the expense of accuracy. (FYI, yes you CAN end a sentence with a preposition and also split an infinitive. Not only are neither wrong, those "rules" were made up just a scant hundred years ago by pedants who wishes English was a Latinate language. It's Germanic. If those are hills you want to die on, you need to know your hills were built on sand.)

This book covers close to 50 years in their lives, as they grow from babies who speak in a language all their own, to adult who don't speak to each other at all, with all the stops along the way. For anyone into language, grammar, literature, and words, this book will amuse immensely. If not, just come along for the relationship between two sisters who couldn't be more alike--and more different.

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

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Four audiobook reviews

I've just been too busy to review everything I've been reading lately, so I thought I'd combine 4 audiobooks into a single post to try to catch up a bit.

In My Father's House: A New View of How Crime Runs in the Family by Fox Butterfield

As we all now know that true crime works really well on audio, and this is not a salacious account of murders but instead, a sociological look at a single family of criminals, and because most crimes are committed by a tiny percentage of the population, how dealing with families like this could have a major impact on society at large. The book looks at this family's background, the major players, the few who got out unscathed, and the repercussions of their criminal activity in the region and beyond. Fascinating.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, read by Lynn Chen (audio)

I read very, very little fiction on audio. I find it much harder to follow than nonfiction, and also a small distraction can cause the missing of crucial information, ruining the book. But I thought I could manage this one, hvaing seen the movie twice. I knew who the major characters were and could probably mostly keep them straight, and I even knew where the plot was going, although the ending is different (truth be told, I prefer the movie's ending.)

I enjoyed the book very much. There's much more detail of course. But I missed that Peik Lin wasn't as big of a character (I get that's mostly due to Awkwafina's portrayed being so fantastic, they made the part bigger in the movie. But I liked that. I did like getting much more of Astrid's background. And while the portrayal of certain characters was unbalanced compared to their impact on the story, I believe that's because the story goes on in future books and those characters prove more important later.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

Another audiobook that's a half-step removed from true crime, and features a Pulitzer-Prize winner novelist as the main character--this seemed like a no-brainer! Harper Lee's life has been so fascinating, despite a couple of movies (well, the movies were mostly about her best friend Truman Capote and she was a side character) and a biography, we don't know much about the reclusive author of To Kill a Mockingbird, the posthumous release of Go Set a Watchman just confused everyone further, and then when this book came out, claiming to recreate a true-crime book Harper wrote but never published, well, that's pretty much literary gold. The beginning of the book truly is true crime, telling the full story of Willie Maxwell who killed his first two wives, a step-daughter, a cousin, and basically a half-dozen or so family members, then the book dives into Harper's story from her childhood in Alabama to her adulthood in New York City, and finally, when she worked on writing the book that was never published, about Willie. A fascinating look at a messed-up woman and how amazing it is that someone so accomplished still felt like she had something to prove, and yet never did.

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell, read by Juliet Stevenson

Not too shocking, but the best spy in WWII was a woman, and everyone around her tried to deny that for decades.

Virginia Hall was raised to marry well, but instead she was an independent minded young woman from Maryland who tried to join the CIA, then moved to England to join the secret service there instead, who set up the French Resistance, and after she was revealed, escaped by hiking over the Swiss Alps on a moments' notice. Oh, and she had a wooden leg which almost no one knew. England wouldn't put her back in the field, so she quit and went back tot he US, which was in the war finally at this point, and joined the OSS. She deployed back to France and continued to help the Resistance so much that the area she was in, which had been known as a Nazi stronghold, was liberated from the Nazis by the locals two days before the Allies liberated Paris. The intelligence she provided, the sabotage she coordinated, and simply the hope she gave to the French people immensely helped the outcome of WWII, possibly more than any one individual, certainly anyone below the level of world leader or general.

I thoroughly enjoyed all of these audiobooks. None stood out as amazing. But all were great, captivating, kept me listening, and are worth you checking out as well.

I checked out all of these on Libby/Overdrive through my local public library.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Book Review: King of the Mole People by Paul Gilligan

Things are not going well for Doug Underbelly. His family moved into a freaky old house with a cemetery in the back yard. His father makes meals exclusively out of eels. His efforts to fit in at school all fail miserably. He has a back-up bully for when his primary bully is otherwise busy. And he's been made the King of the Mole People. Can it get any worse?

This book is pretty friggin hilarious. I'd have loved a silly book like this when I was a kid. It's all about fitting in, accepting yourself for who you are, helping out your true friends, and maybe caring a little less about what the other kids at school think about you in the meantime. And apparently you can make quite tasty mac & cheese from eels, who knew? Poor Doug will work things out, both above and below ground, although not the way he's expecting, and not in the way he'd like, but things do work out. And I'm pretty psyched to see what the King of the Mole People gets up to next!

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 Henry Holy BYR, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Book Review: Revolution of the Soul: Awaken to Love Through Raw Truth, Radical Healing, and Conscious Action by Seane Corn

I wasn't sure about this book. I'm not really into yoga and yoga celebrities induce eye-rolling in me, and it also seemed like a woo-woo kind of book. But I needed to read it for work, so I did. And I'm glad I did. It wasn't what I was expecting at all.

First of all, it isn't a yoga book at all. It's a book in which Seane talks about yoga a lot, although more as a concept and a belief and lifestyle, rather than a physical events. But it's about the principles and core beliefs of yoga, not the movements or poses. It's not about yoga to lose weight or get healthy or gain flexibility. None of that. If you get into yoga and those things happen, good for you. But yoga is about applying the many underlying principles about how to live a good life, to your own life. You can be yoga without ever touching a mat.

It's also about Seane's personal journey. It starts off as she's a bartender in a sketchy but fun bar in the East Village in the late '80s when it's a very dangerous and rundown place. When her friends at the gay sex bar she works at start dying of AIDS, she starts rethinking her own life and how she can live it better. In her daytime waitressing job, her bosses are vegetarian and do yoga, and she decides to give these things a whirl in order to clean up her act somewhat, never expecting it to completely change her life. But it did. She eventually moves to LA and through yoga--and also therapy and a hilarious life coach--she starts to deal with traumas from her past, her not-great coping methods, and the results of those. After years of working on herself, she starts to give back to the community, with varying results, and also in ways that show her how far she still has to go, to reach perfection. She starts with the Evolution of the soul, and moves to the Revolution.

The book isn't overly preachy (and I was highly sensitive to that going in) and she very much emphasizes finding your own way. It's a tad pedantic when it comes to the principles of yoga, many of which overlap with Buddhism, so I was already familiar (having taken a class in Buddhism in college). Those parts might bog down for people who are baffled by the unfamiliar words and names and concepts. But she's really trying for an accessible introduction to these principles, and an easy-to-understand outline for how you can improve your life--and eventually the world--should you want to make things better. She very much emphasizes that everyone has their own path, although one area in which she's very rigid, is that radical honesty is the only way through--not just to others, but most importantly with ourselves, in seeing our flaws, our prejudices, our assumptions, and our areas for growth.

If you're looking for some help in changing things up and improving your life, Seane Corn can be an excellent guide onto a path. She hopes it will be a good path for you. I do too.

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Book Review: The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

I have long wanted to read Ann Cleaves, as she's a maven of the contemporary British mystery, but I hate starting a long series in the middle, and I didn't know which of her two ongoing series I should try first. Then, everything changed. Those series are done and this new one has begun, so it was easy to jump right in.

After a difficult childhood and youth, Matthew's life is finally on track. He's married to a lovely man, promoted to head detective, and living in a beautiful house by the sea. It's in his old hometown, where many of the people in the cult he was raised in still live and shun him, but other than that, it's idyllic. A body turns up at the beach, and during the investigation, his entire life is upended. He has to interact with those people from his past again, including his mother, his husband is falling under some suspicion, and his dedication to his work is called into question. How can a single murder ruin everything so quickly? And can Matthew solve the case and get his life back?

This mystery reads like a long-ago classic while being completely contemporary at the same time (accomplishing that by setting it in the middle of nowhere where it feels like time has stood still, even though it certainly has not.) Ms. Cleeves is certainly a master of the genre, keeping me guessing along the twists and turns of the case, while never making me feel left in the dust or like important clues were being withheld. The ending came naturally and satisfactorily, and I really look forward to the next book in this Two Rivers series.

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

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Book Review: Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl

I have read several Ruth Reichl memoirs, and if you have enjoyed them too, this one won't disappoint.

Tired of life as a restaurant critic, with late nights out, never having dinner with her family, and never even getting just to eat what she wants and purely enjoy it, Ruth is startled but jumps when she's asked to take over the helm of Gourmet magazine, long-respected but perhaps past its prime. She works tirelessly to bring Gourmet into the 21st century, and despite never having worked at a magazine before, she slowly, with a few missteps, manages to do so. And then the rug is pulled out from under her.

With luscious descriptions of food (I really wanted to be at the movie-viewing photo shoot as the meal shot there made me so hungry) and vibrant personalities and the glamour of Conde Nast, this is a wonderful book to get lost in. I listened to the audio but apparently there are a few recipes throughout (which are strange to hear read out loud) if you are more ambitious than I am. Ms. Reichl reads the book herself which is nice as you know the pronunciations are correct. She has a very soothing voice.

I downloaded this eaudiobook from Libby/Overdrive through my local library.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Book Review: Why My Cat Is More Impressive Than Your Baby by Matthew Inman, aka The Oatmeal

I saw this book in a store, neglected to buy it, regretted it, and several days later ran across it in another store and jumped on it. After all, I love my kitties and I have no baby, so this book was a natural for me.

The Oatmeal is a hilarious, well-known cartoon I've run across a few times over the years and always enjoyed when I did. I nearly bought the last book, How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You, except that I assumed it would be a very short book (answer: yes.) In this book, the cat is often plotting to kill the baby. But the cat is so obviously superior to the baby that death isn't warranted--the battle was won before it began. With hysterical cartoons about pyromania, poop, and the vast superiority of cats, this book will be a real winner with pretty much any cat lover, even those odd ones who seem to prefer babies. There's simply no denying their aroma and lack of self-cleaning mode.
Are those the eyes of a killer? Yes.
I discovered this book at Loyalty Bookstore in Washington DC but I bought it at Kramerbooks, also in DC.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Book Review: Carnegie Hill: A Novel by Jonathan Vatner

Pepper is an heiress. She's really never had to work, but she's wanted to, and she's had a variety of jobs, but she's never figured out what she's good at or what she wants to do. She's hoping, after moving into the Chelmsford Arms apartment building in tony Carnegie Hill in Manhattan, that being on the board will help her to feel more like an adult. As will getting married to Rick.

In addition, being on the board means she will meet more people in the building and make friends. They're all much older than her but that's okay, she wants the benefit of their experience. She sees these happy older couples and wants to know what they know--how to be happy.

The book then switches narrators quite a few times (although always circling back to Pepper), and shows us the inside of the marriages of Birdie and George, and Francis and Carol. And things are not as rosy as they seem. In fact, the longer she lives there, the more facades she uncovers and the more Pepper starts to realize that no one is as put-together as they seem, and maybe she should stop striving so hard for that. There is one happy couple in the building--a gay porter and doorman. But they are closeted at work as it's a very conservative building. As Pepper slowly comes to discover what it is she wants in life, and how to claim her happiness, relationships around her shift and change.

I went into this book expecting something light and fluffy, but instead it got fairly dark at times, as life can do, and yet it was ultimately a hopeful novel. It's almost as if, by removing the gilt and showing the grit underneath, we're exposed to something ultimately more beautiful, more real. I know this is a bold thing to say, but this book felt a bit like what Edith Wharton might be writing today (had she ever done multiple-narration.) Mr. Vatner is simultaneously sympathetic to and skewering of the upper classes in a way that makes them feel much more relatable. And this book has kept me thinking, weeks afterward.