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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!