Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Book Review: Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

A memoir about sexual assault is never going to be easy. And I wasn't sure about reading a book in verse--I'd never tried one of those before. But I heard such good things about this, that I figured I should give it a whirl. After all, last year when I first heard about the Reading Without Walls program (it's in the summer but what the hey), I scoffed at it, saying "I read so broadly I can't possibly need to stretch myself." Well the third thing mentioned as a possibility was "a book in verse." Oops. Well now I can say I've ticked that off my list.

This book was good. It was powerful. Anderson really got a lot off her chest. And it's good for teens--memoirs aren't just for adults. However, it hasn't stuck with me. Not like Speak did. I think Shout was more elusive because of its lack of a single narrative thread throughout and the multiplicity of topics. I did love it while I was reading it and it will be beloved by many, but Speak was still such a harrowing the visceral experience that it stands head and shoulders about all its peers. This is a good companion book and will lead to discussions and much thinking, especially in teens.

I got an ARC of this book for free from the publisher at SIBA.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Book Review: The Breakaways by Cathy G. Johnson

Faith is starting at Middle School and doesn't know anyone. When a popular older girl asks her to join the soccer team, the Bloodhounds, on the first day, she's elated. Only to find out she's on the C team full of kids who don't really care, aren't any good, and don't like soccer. She never even sees that popular 8th grader until the end of the season. But over time, Faith figures out that the girls on her team are good at something else--being friends. No, they're not perfect. A couple of longtime friends have a falling out that lasts for a while, and a couple of the kids are certainly teased/bullied by other kids, but overall, they're pretty supportive and nice to each other. And that's much more important than winning soccer games you don't care about.
This book would be so good for kids who like to play games/sports just because they like them, not because they're good or want to win. Also good for kids going to a new school or struggling to make friends. And Faith draws her own graphic novel, so perfect for more artsy kids. Also kind of meta, since this is a graphic novel.

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

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Book Review: Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos by Lucy Knisley

I really enjoyed this graphic memoir. But I don't know who to recommend it to! Lucy and her husband wanted to have kids, and they got pregnant. But she lost the pregnancy. And then another. And before they became on of those tragedies you sometimes hear about with miscarriages in the double-digits, she went to the doctor and was diagnosed with a condition that was causing her pregnancies to fail. She had to have a minor surgery, and it was corrected.

She became pregnant and did not miscarry! Although of course that was a worry for a long while. Instead she had deep, debilitating "morning" sickness. She couldn't keep anything down, couldn't sleep, could only barely function as a human for months and months. Eventually, towards the end of her pregnancy, that finally passed. And she was having some uncomfortable symptoms, like being really swollen, which she did tell her doctor. But he didn't put two and two together, and so after she had a healthy baby, she nearly died of preeclampsia. That was so unforgivable--she pretty much had every symptom, like a textbook case, and he ignored her complaints.

In the end, she has a happy healthy baby, but her road there was harrowing. It was life-threatening, and not a path many would choose to go down, if they knew what dragons lay in wait. But it was a fascinating memoir and as a graphic memoir, her changing body and the baby growing inside her, were skillfully rendered in a way that made them very real.

That said, I just don't know who this book is for? Someone who wants to have kids? Yikes! Someone pregnant? No way! Someone with little kids? Too soon. Someone who doesn't want to have kids? Well, why do they want to read about someone struggling to have them? Anyway, I fall into the last category and I did like it, but it's a tough story. You need to have a strong stomach and a strong heart to get through it. Like many memoirs with tragedy in them, be careful who you give this book to, but it's an important story nonetheless.

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

Friday, February 15, 2019

Book Review: The White Darkness by David Grann

This is Into Thin Air crossed with Endurance. It is short (I think it was originally published in The New Yorker) but I really appreciated that it wasn't chock full of filler. It was exactly long as it needed to be and no longer, which was perfect.

Henry Worsley idealized Ernest Shackleton all his life. It was great when he was in the military, but otherwise, it was mostly just a fun quirk. Until he decided to recreate Shackleton's infamous attempt to get to the South Pole. And then emulate his attempt to fully cross the Antarctic continent. It's riveting and harrowing. And I'm not going to give away the ending. But it's great.

Here is Henry's favorite Shackleton quote: "better a live donkey than a dead lion." Good advice.

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Book Review: How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr

Before the hurricane hit it last year, did you know Puerto Rico was a part of the United States? How many other US territories can you name? Just one or two? The US Virgin Islands are fairly easy because they have "The US" in the name. And Guam is often listed with them so you might get that too. But there have been hundreds of others. Does that surprise you?

We try to pretend that the US is unique among superpowers in that we never had colonies. But we kind of did. The Philippines. The Guano Islands. It's true that large parts of our former territories are now states: The Western Territory, Indian Territory, Alaska, Hawaii. But some still aren't. Like DC (which oddly is never mentioned, I guess because it's a "district" and not a "territory") they have taxation without representation. And without representation in Washington, it's not too shocking when natural disasters aren't adequately prepared for or repaired, as just one example.

But how and when and why did we get all of these territories? And what fun facts can we learn along the way? Two of my favorites: In 1940, an American was more likely to be living in a territory than to be African-American. 1 in 12 Americans were African-American but 1 in 8 Americans lived in a territory. And how long was the United States totally and completely just the "logo map" of the lower 48 states? No more, no less? In other words, how long after the 48th state did we get our first outside territory?

Learn these fun facts and many more, while also learning why we have territories, what has happened to them in their history which isn't taught in US history classes, and what is to become of them?

[answer: 3 years]

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

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Book Review: Bloom by Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau

This graphic novel centers around Ari. He's just graduated from high school and wants to move to Baltimore from his beach town with his best friends and fellow band-mates. But his sister has just gotten married which leaves him to help out his parents with the family bakery. He really doesn't want to do that, so he advertises to find someone to replace him, so he can escape.

Enter Hector. He is in town temporarily to sort through his grandmother's belonging and sell her house before resuming college. And he loves to bake. Really loves it. He's a pretty happy guy, easy-going and mature, but his love for baking really and truly comes through on every page. And eventually he starts to remind Ari that he once loved baking too. And his presence also serves as a counterpoint to Cameron, the band's lead singer and lead asshole. Will Ari ever see the light in front of him? Or will he keep being is own worst enemy, in getting his life together?

This is a charming graphic novel about love, friendship, figuring out how to adult, adjusting to more grown-up relationships with your family, and love. Yes, I did say it twice. And sourdough.

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.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Book Review: The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

I've mostly not read sci-fi, except for the occasional cross-over book like The Martian or The Sparrow which are most definitely written for a more mainstream audience. Even those are pretty few and far between. But with my new job, I have to sell a whole line of sci-fi, Tor Books, which luckily is one of the best in the business. And this year I gave myself a challenge: to read 3 Tor books. And I am done, and it's only June! (I know it's February; I hold my reviews until right before the books publish, but I read this one in June 2018.) And I enjoyed them all!

I didn't know anything about this book but one of my buyers had highly recommended the author, Charlie Jane Andrews (and initially I didn't know if the author was male or female as that name could be either, but she is female. So it turns out all three Tor books I read are by woman.) Before Sales Conference I read the first 10 pages of about 35 books and this was one of them. And I decided to give it a go.

Initially it didn't feel very science fiction-y, but more post-apocalyptic, even though it's most definitely way in the future and on another planet. At some point in the 25th century humans had to leave Earth and we found a planet we called January which seemed habitable. But seemed is a key word there. The planet must turn in parallel with its star and not perpendicular, because half the planet is always a black winter, half is a glaring desert, and in between there's a thin strip of livable twilight. We have two main cities, one very regimented and the other more Vegas-like.

Mouth is the last of her kind, from a people of nomads. She now is a member of a band of smugglers operating between the two cities, navigating the Sea of Murder, and the terrifying creatures we have named with our old Earth names, even though they don't very much resemble crocodiles or squids.

Sophie, a student at university, takes the blame when her friend steals and is busted, and the she is dragged out to die on a mountain in the night. One of the crocodiles finds her, and she is too exhausted and sluggish to fight it off. But instead of attacking her, the creature warms her and shares knowledge that these scary beasts have built an amazing city in the middle of the cold, dark night part of the planet, which we humans are endangering.

Mouth and Sophie will cross paths and change the entire future of the humans on this planet, and themselves as well. I am not sure if this is the first book in a series as it ends with a lot of loose ends which could easily be picked up. The ending was still satisfying, but if I could find out more, I would.

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

Monday, February 4, 2019

Book Review: Good Kids, Bad City: A Story of Race and Wrongful Conviction in America by Kyle Swenson

A few years ago my youngest sister moved to Cleveland, which many people find a surprising move. It has a thriving foodie scene, a world-class art museum (where she works), and of course, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. However, since The Drew Carey Show, its only media hits tend to be about crime. So when I saw this book was about a wrongful murder conviction in Cleveland, and using that as an extrapolation point from which to look at the issues with the criminal justice and policing systems writ large, I jumped on it.

A sales rep who worked for a money order company was on his rounds of convenience stores, and had an unusually high amount of cash on him. Outside one store, he was jumped, had acid thrown on him, and was shot and killed. Three teens were convicted of the murder on the bases of a sole eyewitness, a small child. Dozens and dozens of other eyewitnesses were there, none of which described these three boys as being on the scene. The boys had alibis. And the kid also was demonstrably not in a position to have seen what happened. And yet, they were convicted.

Almost 40 years later, they were released. Kyle Swenson tells their story. And he tells the story of Cleveland. How a city that was once proudly fully integrated, which scoffed at Jim Crow laws and refused to uphold them, later became one of the most segregated cities in the Midwest, and how its once-vaunted infrastructure and government crumbled at the hands of corruption, mismanagement, and social ills. By the 1970s, African-Americans in the city were pushed into smaller and smaller neighborhoods, which were crumbling and not maintained, but overly policed. And three teens had a very, very bad day which wasn't rectified for decades.

If you are enjoying the current season of Serial, you must read this book. It truly goes hand-in-hand with Sarah Koenig's reporting and Cleveland really isn't a bad city--it's like dozens of other cities across the US. This could have happened anywhere. In fact, stories just like this have happened everywhere. Luckily, these three men were freed. Not all are. And the murderers were never caught.

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

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Book Review: Ruby in the Sky by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

After her father dies, Ruby and her mom move from DC back to her mom's hometown in Vermont, where she swore she'd never return. She gets a job at a local diner and on her first day is sexually harassed by her boss and stands up for herself. And gets arrested since he's best buds with the sheriff. Despite how right she is, Ruby is mortified. They've been in town for one day and her mom is arrested, and she has to start her new school like this? It's the worst.

She tries to lay low including not really speaking with or interacting with anyone, especially not Ahmed, the nice Syrian immigrant boy who wants to be her friend. The one person she reaches out to is the "bird lady" who lives in a shack at the end of her street. Ruby's mom has expressly forbidden her from talking to the Bird Lady, and the kids at school say she murdered her family, and even if that isn't true why is she living in a shack in the middle of winter instead of in the boarded up house she owns? Ruby finds out Abigail is actually a fascinating person and a true friend. She starts to open up and get along better in school, but then a big school project where everyone has to participate in a "wax museum" makes her clam up again. Meanwhile her mother's court case is proceeding, and the town is trying to force Abigail off her land.

It's a middle grade book so despite the difficult subject matter, it's handled thoughtfully and all comes together in the end. I wish Ahmed hasn't been rather cookie-cutter of a character, but otherwise it was a good read. It's not too difficult, either with the writing style or the content, for even kids on the younger end of range, but a little emotional maturity wouldn't hurt.

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

Friday, February 1, 2019

My Month in Review: January

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:
Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by Kim Brooks (audio)
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
War in the Ring: Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and the Fight between America and Hitler by John Florio,  Ouisie Shapiro
Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg
In Pieces by Sally Field (audio) *
Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
Kingdom of Lies: Unnerving Adventures in the World of Cybercrime by Kate Fazzini
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero O’Connell
The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish (audio)*

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing by Merve Emre (audio)*
The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 by Rick Atkinson
The Dharma of the Princess Bride: What the Coolest Fairy Tale of Our Time Can Teach Us about Buddhism and Relationships by Ethan Nichtern

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
none! Another win in the war against clutter!