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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Book Review: American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI by Kate Winkler Dawson (audio)

Oscar Heinrich opened the first forensic laboratory in the United States. He pioneered dozens of new techniques and processes in forensic science. He was quite famous in his day, but is now mostly forgotten outside of forensics historians.

He grew up poor, the child of German immigrants, and when his father committed suicide, he had to drop out of school at 16 and support his family. Despite not having finished high school, he became a licenses pharmacist, but he always wanted to be a chemist. He found a loophole to attend college, and he became a water engineer. But his home lab took more and more of his attention and he started consulting for police departments and being an expert witness in trials ranging from Fatty Arbuckle's murder case to the case that inspired the movie The Great Train Robbery. In between he worked on more run-of-the-mill cases from forgeries to murder, many of which were scandalous for a moment but were quickly forgotten.

He developed new ways to consider blood spatter, new ways to analyze sand particles to determine their origins, and his notes were so detailed they were used as examples for decades in forensic classes. He was so meticulous that he'd actually calculate a person's height from their clothes, instead of eyeballing it and guessing as the police were doing, and he'd find loads of evidence that was overlooked, from hair and minute particles, to missed pockets. On the stand, he was hit and miss, as the scientific understanding of juries was so far behind the science he was presenting, it was often confusing--kind of the opposite of today's courtroom CSI problems.

A fascinating biography of a real forward-thinking scientist who was never satisfied with anything but perfection. Oh, and he didn't really like Sherlock Holmes (although he did like being compared to him) as he said Holmes relied too much on guesswork, even if it was usually correct.

I listened to this digital audiobook on Libby/Overdrive via my local library.

Monday, June 1, 2020

My Month in Review: May

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:
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Strange Bedfellows: Adventures in the Science, History, and Surprising Secrets of STDs by Ina Park
Spin with Me by Ami Polonsky
The Better Half: On the Genetic Superiority of Women by Sharon Moalem (audio)
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker (audio)*
Loved and Wanted: An American Woman's Education on Choice by Christa Parravani
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips*
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Check, Please!, Book 2: Sticks and Scones by Ngozi Ukazu
Even the Stiffest People Can Do the Splits: A 4-Week Stretching Plan to Achieve Amazing Health by Eiko*
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips* I bought this one at Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, NC
Then I bought these four from Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC:
Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World by Noah Strycker
Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller
Classic Krakauer: After the Fall, Mark Foo's Last Ride and Other Essays from the Vault by Jon Krakauer
Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen by Mary Norris
A small book bender! But hey, stuck at home, I really wanted to support independent bookstores, and also I want to read some more books for fun.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Book Review: One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway -- and Its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad, translated by Sarah Death

I decided to take a break from reading for work, and yet I still managed to read a Macmillan book! But it's an older title, which is why it counted as reading for fun and not for work. Also some people will be freaked out that I classify a book about a mass killing as "for fun," but c'mon, I'm not the only one into true crime! Also it's a translation and over 500 pages--you do your version of fun and I'll do mine!

In 2011, Anders Behring Breivik went on a rampage in Norway. Most people I've mentioned this book to are familiar with it, but I was not. Maybe in 2011 I was, but I didn't retain it at all. First he set off a bomb in Oslo, then he went to an island full of children and teens at a political camp, and killed scores and scores of them. Ms. Seierstad has done an utterly meticulous job recreating both Anders' actions and thoughts (from interviews) from his childhood up to the events themselves, in what created this monster, and how he prepared for this chilling day of massacres. Then she also recreated the day itself, minute by minute, from Anders' perspective but also following a dozen of the victims (and those she starts back a few months or a few years to make them fully developed people, and to explain why they ended up at the camp.) You feel as if you are there, but in an omniscient mode as you're able to see and understand everyone all at once. Now, when I say understand, I don't mean that you'll sympathize with Anders at all--yes, he had a problematic childhood and his parents were both jerks in a lot of ways and should never have been parents--but you certainly are aware when he goes off the rails and is no longer making sense.

And the tension in this book--it's always so impressive when a reader goes into a book knowing the outcome, and yet is on the edge of her seat with anxiety during the read. That takes masterful writing. If you like true crime at all, for example if you were riveted by the book Columbine, you should really read this one. Riveting.

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

Friday, May 29, 2020

Book Review: Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker, narrated by Sean Pratt

Wow. Twelve kids. Six of them with schizophrenia.

The Galvin family seemed like the epitome of the Baby Boom generation. The twelve kids were born between 1945 and 1965, perfectly spanning that entire generation from beginning to end. And the boys who started to lose it, well, that doesn't surface until the last babies were being born. No one knows exactly why but schizophrenia tends to show itself in the late teens or early twenties. They were a good Catholic, military family living in Colorado Springs, And Mimi and Don (especially Mimi) were determined to prop up that facade until well past the time when everyone could see the reality of the situation.

As tragic as this family's story is, it also is an amazing opportunity for medical researchers. Schizophrenia has remained highly elusive in the years since the mapping of the human genome, with no one or even dozen genes showing responsibility for the illness. Treatments are also stubbornly antiquated. But a family with twelve children, half of whom are mentally ill, and half of whom are not, is a gold mine for science. Even though we've moved past blaming the mother and the nature/nurture battles of the last half-century, we haven't improved in either figuring out who is susceptible and any way of early intervention, or in treatment after symptoms have arisen. The Galvins can really help, at least with the first of those problems.

This was a riveting book, which I listened to in just a couple of days. It was long, but nothing seemed unnecessary. There is an early diversion about falconry, but that is something Don pursued most of his adult life, as did many of the kids, so it proved much more important than I realized at the time. Don was most likely the person to suggest The Falcons as the mascot for the burgeoning Air Force Academy he was helping to get off the ground. I do wish there was a little more information about the well adult children now, aside from the two daughters who seemed both to do the most in helping out, but also probably provided the bulk of the information to the author. One complaint they all had about their mother was that she spent all her time and effort on the sick boys at the expense of the well children, and this book did echo that to a degree. A couple of the well boys did not participate much as adults, which is one of the typical reactions to growing up with mentally ill siblings, and I wish that had been further explored. But that wasn't the focus of this book, and the information we do get about that dynamic is a bonus I shouldn't overlook.

I thank the Galvin family for participating in the research studies, and I hope this book both provides information for those who don't understand the illness and also might convince other families to engage with scientific research where they can, especially if it's as simple as giving some blood and doing a survey.

A harrowing and eye-opening story of a family with unprecedented battles to fight, simply in their everyday lives.

I borrowed this digital eaudiobook from the library via Overdrive/Libby.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Stuck Inside Recommendations 51-60: Historical Fiction!

On Facebook I started recommending a book a day for those stuck inside and looking for something good to read. I'm alternating between books published by Macmillan (my employer) and not (actually for this category only 1 was from Macmillan). (Simply, because the vast majority of my reading is Macmillan books, it's really hard for me to not have this unbalance in any list I put together.) And I thought I'd pull together those recommendations every 10 days here, for people who I'm not Facebook friends with. These 10 books are all mysteries, as requested!

Please buy books from independent bookstores! You can find your nearby indies here, or you can buy from bookshop.org or you can get audiobooks from Libro.fm. Those last two you either can get to through the website of an indie, and have part of your purchase go to that indie directly, or if you really don't know of one, any purchases made on those sites, even unaffiliated ones, will indirectly support independent bookstores. Bookstores are really struggling right now, from chains on down to the little guys, and right now, you have a lot of time to read! Seems like two great things that go great together.

Now, on with the list! While these are numbered, they are not ranked. I've starred the non-Macmillan books, and if I reviewed them, I'll link to the review. Every one of these books got a 5-star rating from me! Memoirs are my favorite genre! Hope you find some delights in here.

51. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute*

52. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan*

53. Hell at the Breech by Tom Franklin *

54. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro*

55. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks*

56. Old Lovegood Girls by Gail Godwin

57. Maud's Line by Margaret Verble*

58. Jim the Boy by Tony Earley*

59. Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín*

60. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann*


      

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Book Review: Smacked: A Story of White-Collar Ambition, Addiction, and Tragedy by Eilene B. Zimmerman (audiobook)

I read an article based on the opening chapter of this book a few years ago and it stuck with me. Eilene went to check on her ex husband who had been sick for a long time, after her kids couldn't reach him for several days. She found him dead in his house. She was utterly shocked when it turned out to be a drug-related death, and she was so saddened when she discovered the very last thing he did before he died was call in to a work conference call.

From her horrific discovery, we jump back to their meeting right after college, the years they were just friends, when that crossed over, their long-distance relationships and Eilene moving for Peter repeatedly, their marriage, kids, house, disintegrating relationship, divorce, and then this.

Most people have no idea how many addicts they know. Particularly in white collar, upper class communities. My husband is a substance abuse counselor and I've heard hair-raising stories. Drug abuse and drug use disorders are pervasive across all classes--it's just that it's easier to hide when you have more money, and when you don't look like what our society stereotypes as a "drug addict." Eilene thought at first that her ex-husband had died from exhaustion, maybe a heart attack brought on by his stressful job as a high-priced lawyer, but she later learned he'd been phoning it in at work for a couple of years. And what I know from my husband's studies and work is that work is usually the very last thing to go. Both the addicts themselves and their loved ones use that as a justification--it can't be all that bad because he still has a good job. Peter's cautionary story certainly proves that horribly wrong.

Eilene wants to tell her story so that others are aware of the commonness of drug use disorders in white middle class families, as often it's so far off one's radar that it never occurs to the user's friends and family that it's even a possibility. It didn't occur to anyone in Peter's life. Yes, she was desperately trying to figure out what was wrong with him--googling symptoms of schizoaffective disorders and other mental and physical illnesses that she thought might account for his health problems and his increasingly bizarre and troubling behavior. But this never crossed her mind. Or Peter's kids or his boss or colleagues or anyone. Yet, through research Eilene did after his death, she discovered how common substance use and abuse is in the legal profession, how many lawyers suffer from depression and anxiety and self-medicate, how the field makes people more negative which leads to emotional and relationship problems that aren't easily solved--and how a simple solution of a pill instead of months or years of counseling seems like the better option when working 80-120 hour weeks.

It turns out this is a major issue that no one is discussing. Addiction doesn't discriminate. Eilene's harrowing retelling of Peter's story is one everyone should read so we're all more aware. Yes, she couldn't have saved Peter, but had anyone ever broached the subject with him, he might have had a better chance to save himself. I couldn't put this riveting book down and listened to the whole thing in just two days.

I borrowed this eaudiobook from the library via Libby/Overdrive.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

I first joined The Jane Austen Society in my senior year old college. I knew it had a long history, but I never thought about its founding. This is a highly, highly fictionalized story about that (in fact, it's completely made up. Nothing is based on real people or anything.) And it's delightful.

A group of unrelated and unlikely Jane Austen fans meet in Chawton, England. They get together multiple times. The last Austen relative is childless and funds have been dwindling and she's going to lose the estate to developers. The library, which might have important information about Austen hidden in it, will go along with the house. A movie star has bought a couple of pieces of Austen memorabilia. A local doctor and a housemaid are also drawn in to the group. They band together, and in order to collect Jane Austen's things before it's too late and they're all gone, and also to try to save her house, they form a society to raise money and have ownership.

Naturally along the way there are some romances, misunderstandings, monetary problems, and other twists and turns. It's a fun story about a beloved author and the beginnings of our understanding of her as one of the all-time greatest authors in history, and how preserving her life and letters and home can help us come to a greater understanding of why she is so important to so many of us.

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

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Book Review: Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America's Fast-Food Kingdom by Adam Chandler (audiobook)

So is everyone eating only drive-through and take-out right now? Good. Is the world outside making you crave comfort food? Me too. Isn't the Spicy Chicken Sandwich from Wendy's the best fast food item out there? You're wrong, yes it is.

So everyone I know claims to spurn fast food and only eat organic. You're all lying and you know it and I know it but that's okay. I'll see you in line at Popeye's and we'll pretend we never saw each other. Meanwhile, you should read this really fun book! It's the complete opposite of Fast Food Nation. Mr. Chandler appreciates fast food. He doesn't say it's healthy or that we should eat it daily, but he doesn't deny its appeal.

He goes back in time to the beginnings when White Castle was the first successful national chain. He progresses through McDonalds and Ray Kroc, up through KFC's Twitter feed (KFC follows exactly 11 people on Twitter--6 random guys named Herb and the 5 Spice Girls. Hysterical.)

If you have opinions on which chain has the best french fries and whether or not meat-substitutes will ever be able to work in the fast food world, you'll appreciate this book. With 20 minutes left, I had to turn into Wendy's. Especially because it was one of the fancy new ones with wood paneling and a fireplace! Mmmm, Frosty. Are you with me?

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

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Stuck Inside Recommendations 41-50: Memoirs!

On Facebook I started recommending a book a day for those stuck inside and looking for something good to read. I'm alternating between books published by Macmillan (my employer) and not. (Simply, because the vast majority of my reading is Macmillan books, it's really hard for me to not have this unbalance in any list I put together.) And I thought I'd pull together those recommendations every 10 days here, for people who I'm not Facebook friends with. These 10 books are all mysteries, as requested!

Please buy books from independent bookstores! You can find your nearby indies here, or you can buy from bookshop.org or you can get audiobooks from Libro.fm. Those last two you either can get to through the website of an indie, and have part of your purchase go to that indie directly, or if you really don't know of one, any purchases made on those sites, even unaffiliated ones, will indirectly support independent bookstores. Bookstores are really struggling right now, from chains on down to the little guys, and right now, you have a lot of time to read! Seems like two great things that go great together.

Now, on with the list! While these are numbered, they are not ranked. I've starred the non-Macmillan books, and if I reviewed them, I'll link to the review. Every one of these books got a 5-star rating from me! Memoirs are my favorite genre! Hope you find some delights in here.

41. Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer's Search for Wonder in the Natural World by Leigh Ann Henion*

42. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

43. Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe*

44. Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children by Sara Zaske

45. Red-tails in Love: Pale Male's Story—A True Wildlife Drama in Central Park by Marie Winn*

46. Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime by Scott Simon

47. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman*

48. Nothing Good Can Come from This by Kristi Coulter

49. My Own Country: A Doctor's Story by Abraham Verghese*

50. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
   

   

 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Book Review: Modern Family: The Untold Oral History of One of Television's Groundbreaking Sitcoms by Marc Freeman

Man, what a great sitcom. It was so buzzy the first season that I resisted. Plus, it began just at the end of a terrible run of sitcoms. They were all crass, lowbrow, and also just terrible. And it had that fake-documentary style that was so fresh with The Office but now felt very also-ran. And then it won like all the Emmys, and I decided to stop being an idiot and start watching. And it has been appointment viewing for me ever since!

And I love an oral history. It's really great to get the unvarnished direct words of all the important people involved. The most fascinating thing was how the two creators/producers really hated each other after making the pilot, and then each of them took the helm of every other episode. And yet, I never noticed. Did you? No unevenness. No ping-ponging. If anything, it may have kept the show more balanced as they had different focuses, and different approaches. That way you didn't have a bunch of Very Special episodes in a row, or a bunch that were rather slapsticky. It was more balanced.

The perspective of the kids was great. I had no idea that Ariel and Nolan are the same age, and goofy Nolan who plays the rather dense youngest kid is actually a member of MENSA who graduated from high school several years early in order to be able to focus more on work. It was fun to hear about Sofia's changing and variable accent and how they used that for jokes. And the poor twin babies who were so miserable playing Lily the first two years. And how desperate Julie Bowen was to get the role--despite being enormously pregnant with twins when they filmed the pilot.

This show managed to be both groundbreaking and yet homey and safe at the same time. And it's true--this is how modern families look today. As someone with multiple step-families, a half-brother, and ex-step-in laws, this felt very real to me. The only part that didn't resonate was all of them living in the same city as adults, but that might be particular to me.

With so much uncertainty and angst these days, it's a perfect time to revisit the show and be comforted.

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

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Book Review: Poisoned Water: How the Citizens of Flint, Michigan, Fought for Their Lives and Warned the Nation by Candy J Cooper, Marc Aronson

I truly didn't understand the Flint water crisis until This Old House explained the crux of it to me very simply a couple of years ago (gist: when the water was switched from the lake to the river, the protective additive wasn't added and the river water removed all of the protective coating from the interior of the lead pipes. This is why simply switching the water source back doesn't solve anything. The water might be cleaner at origination, but all the lead pipes now have to be replaced, period.) Since then I've been pretty fascinated, from a comforting remove. But this sort of boneheaded short-term cost-cutting happens everywhere and could happen anywhere. It happened this year, the exact same problem, in Newark, New Jersey, right here in my county.

This book explains to teens what's happened. Teens are very interested in the environment, and this crisis in particular has hit children especially harshly. Elevated lead levels in children shave off IQ points forever. While the authors are not local, they did a ton of on-the-ground research, including talking to local children, from kids who spend their entire weekends picking up cases of water and lugging them home, to children with permanent health problems, to young adults who had to move away to get away from the bad water. The complicitness of all the governmental officials who had to look the other way is infuriating, and the few whistle blowers who spoke up despite great pressure not to, are real heroes. This problem isn't over. It won't be for decades. And it can happen again, when people turn a blind eye to the outcome of looking the other way when the disadvantaged are mowed over.

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

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Book Review: The Dirty Girls Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

This book was originally published nearly two decades ago, at the height of the chick lit trend, during the run of Sex and the City, and it was way ahead of its day. Despite (or perhaps because of?) having 6 Latinx women as its leads, in a time of lily-white media, it was very successful. And it's going to be rereleased in the fall of 2020, as strong books with Latinx characters are having their day.

When this book came out, I was an acquiring editor, and after just a couple of years, I was incredibly tired of the usual tropes of chick lit. I was actively asking agents to look for chick lit books where the main character didn't work in publishing, didn't live in New York, didn't hate their boss, and didn't have a gorgeous male best friend who they were "just friends" with. I remember being jealous when this book was published BY MY OWN PUBLISHING HOUSE but a different editor, as this was just what I was looking for. The characters are all in their late 20s (that also was something I wanted--I wanted the women to have more "real" problems than just dating and fashion, and that shift seems to happen around age 25 when, to put it in the parlance of Gen X, problems "stop being polite and start getting real.") They went to college together in Boston and as the only Latinx women in the journalism program, they gravitated towards each other, despite having wildly different backgrounds. Some of them grew up with a pretty non-Latin experience, one of them believes (despite a vast lack of evidence) that her family is descended from Spanish royalty, two are Cuban-American, one Puerto Rican, and one is from Columbia (the only one who is not American and for whom English is a second language.) Even within these varied experiences, there are further differences as the varying colors of their skin lead to different assumptions and stereotypes. One woman is constantly baffling people who don't believe she can be both Latina and black. Another woman, who had a fairly upper middle class American life, was seen by her husband when they met, as an "earth mother" type, even though she couldn't be further from that. Just because of her heritage.

Two of these women are married, one has kids, one has founded a successful magazine, one is a TV news anchor, one gets a record contract, one is being abused by her SO, one writes a column for the paper about being Latina in Boston, and all of them have various struggles with love (one or two have career issues but generally they're wildly successful across the board. That's my one quibble with the book--these women have the careers of 45-year-olds, not 28-year-olds.) I do wish that the end solution isn't pairing all of them (but one) off, but it was the era and the genre for that (and heck, we still see that today.) There is a sequel so perhaps the pairings don't all work out. The voices of the different women were really well drawn--you wouldn't read a Rebecca chapter and get confused and think she was Elizabeth or Usnavys. And they're incredibly different women too.

It's not too dated reading it today, but a new generation of women who didn't come of age with Bridget Jones and Andy from The Devil Wears Prada might have a different take. I'd be interested to hear how Millennials--and even Gen Z--react to this book in 2020. Happy Cinco de Mayo!

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

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Stuck Inside Recommendations 31-40 Mysteries!

On Facebook I started recommending a book a day for those stuck inside and looking for something good to read. I'm alternating between books published by Macmillan (my employer) and not. (Simply, because the vast majority of my reading is Macmillan books, it's really hard for me to not have this unbalance in any list I put together.) And I thought I'd pull together those recommendations every 10 days here, for people who I'm not Facebook friends with. These 10 books are all mysteries, as requested!

Please buy books from independent bookstores! You can find your nearby indies here, or you can buy from bookshop.org or you can get audiobooks from Libro.fm. Those last two you either can get to through the website of an indie, and have part of your purchase go to that indie directly, or if you really don't know of one, any purchases made on those sites, even unaffiliated ones, will indirectly support independent bookstores. Bookstores are really struggling right now, from chains on down to the little guys, and right now, you have a lot of time to read! Seems like two great things that go great together.

Now, on with the list! While these are numbered, they are not ranked. I've starred the non-Macmillan books, and if I reviewed them, I'll link to the review. Every one of these books got a 5-star rating from me!

31. The Lost Man by Jane Harper

32. Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story by Leonie Swann, translated by Anthea Bell*

33. A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks

34. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins*

35. The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair

36. Wobble To Death by Peter Lovesey*

37. Glass Houses by Louise Penny 

38. The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett*

39. The Devil's Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch

40. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier*
 
 
 


Saturday, May 2, 2020

Book Review: The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton

Kit works as a wench, aka a waiter, at a Medieval Times restaurant. Her older brother works as a knight, which is a much cooler job, and, more importantly, it pays a heck of a lot better (after all it's highly skilled and dangerous.) One night, just before showtime, he gets in a fight with a fellow knight and his eye is swelling shut, so he encourages Kit, who practices with him every week after all and therefore knows his entire routine, to go on in his place. No one will know, he argues, due to the armor. However, another friend at the restaurant who knows about the switch, films Kit's performance in the ring. And at the end, in a moment of defiance, Kit whips off her helmet and her long hair flows behind her, revealing the fact that she's a girl to everyone. The video is uploaded and goes viral.

Kit decides to use this moment to fight the corporate policy. After all, when better to fight sexism and patriarchy, than when the whole world is on your side? And she does really need the money too--their family is living on the financial edge. Since their father took off and hasn't paid child support, their mother has barely been able to keep up. Her brother's been going to community college and even though Kit has gotten into her dream college, she might have to defer that dream too. But she doesn't have to defer this one! She can be the first girl knight at the restaurant chain! And she'll do what she has to do, to make that happen.

This is a fun and empowering girl-power YA novel, with a satisfying ending, although everything isn't wrapped up with a bow (which is a good thing in my opinion!)

This book is published by Page Street Kids, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

Friday, May 1, 2020

My Month in Review: April

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:
Historically Inaccurate by Shay Bravo
The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War by Delphine Minoui, translated by Lara Vergnaud
You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe, narrated by Brittany Pressley (audio)*
Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains by Kerri Arsenault
Murder by Milk Bottle by Lynne Truss
Flamer by Mike Curato
Smacked: A Story of White-Collar Ambition, Addiction, and Tragedy by Eilene B. Zimmerman (audio)*
The Dirty Girls Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker (audio)*
InvestiGators: Take the Plunge by John Patrick Green
American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI by Kate Winkler Dawson (audio)*
Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Even the Stiffest People Can Do the Splits by Eiko*
Check, Please!, Book 2: Sticks and Scones by Ngozi Ukazu

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
The Impossible First: From Fire to Ice—Crossing Antarctica Alone by Colin O'Brady*

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Book Review: The Hilarious World of Depression by John Moe


I wasn't sure how hilarious this book would be. Or if its hilarity might be inappropriate for its subject matter. But I needn't have worried. John Moe knows precisely how to balance the two.

Books about depression aren't funny. And that's a big reason why no one reads them. The subject matter is rough enough just in its existence. And John noticed over time that a lot of comedians used depression or other mental health problems in their stand-up acts. He had a successful NPR show in Seattle, and when it had run its course he was offered a job in NPR in the midwest. From that, his podcast grew (which is an official podcast of NPR even if it's not an on-air NPR show.) As word got out, impressive people contacted him, most of whom really surprised him, like Peter Sagal, the host of NPR's Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me and Andy Richter, best known as Conan O'Brien's sidekick. But he wasn't wrong--there are a lot of comedians who either are open about their depression or were eager to be so when given a platform. And the podcast became wildly successful.

As he's interviewing these guests, he rarely talks about himself, He acknowledges that he has depression too, but the focus is always on the guest, never on him. And in this book, John Moe tells his own story. He tells of struggling with depression since his childhood. Of his family dynamics that probably didn't help. Of times over the years when it became really problematic. And then there's a crushing blow out of left field that makes him rethink everything.

Along the way, he's really funny. Mostly in the if-I-don't-laugh-I'll-cry mode which, as a Southerner, I'm very familiar with. But as he's a Seattleite, he has his own, slightly more sardonic spin on it. He never actually laughs it off--in fact that's a really unhelpful piece of "advice" (which I'm putting in quotation marks as it's such a truly terrible piece of advice that it doesn't deserve to have the word advice attached to it.) But he points out how it does have its moments of ridiculousness and absurdity, and how giving it too much power is a big part of why it's problematic. It's his own story, but it's incredibly useful for anyone. If you've known anyone with depression (and if you know any humans, you fall into that category), this book is chock full of humanity, empathy, understanding, good humor, and gut-wrenching stories. It truly helped me to better understand a disease that is pretty difficult for those on the outside to comprehend. And I laughed along the way.

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

Friday, April 24, 2020

Book Review: Old Lovegood Girls by Gail Godwin

It's not often that a book really reminds me of someone I know, but this one did. This book about freshman college roommates reminded me of my freshman college roommate so much!

Feron and Merry are paired together their first year at Lovegood College, a two-year women's college in North Carolina, in the late 1960s. Feron's childhood was... difficult, and Merry's was fairly idyllic. Feron has been rescued by her uncle from a terrible situation with her step-father. Merry grew up on a famous tobacco farm with loving parents and an annoying but fun little brother. Over the holiday break, Feron was supposed to visit Merry, but there's a tragedy and Merry doesn't return to school. Feron finishes at Lovegood and goes on to finish her last two years at Chapel Hill.

The book then proceeds to cover their lives over the next sixty years. Both bad correspondents, they sometimes go years between letters and decades between visits, but it doesn't mean they're not close, and in fact Merry really is Feron's best friend. Because of the time and distance, they sometimes don't know incredibly important things about each others' lives until much later. But neither take offense at that gap, and in fact I think there's comfort in knowing there's someone out there who doesn't know about the thing and can almost be a Schroedinger's friend, who still knows the person to be who they were before the Important Thing. Some of the important things aren't unexpected--marriages, children, illnesses--which is not to take away any importance.

I recently read an article that said college friendships are forged in the forge of hottest flame--when emotions are intense, anxiety high, and one can spend pretty much ALL their time with another person--and that's a big reason why they often last lifetimes. I'm not all that sure about the why, but I agree they can certainly last. Having just seen my own freshman roommate earlier this month (when I wrote this, not when it posted) I can attest that it's most certainly possible to have close, special friendships where years go between communication and Important Things aren't communicated in a timely way, and the friendship is strong nonetheless.

In this novel is was lovely to see Merry and Feron growing up, growing old, growing together while they're apart. Neither one's life turns out as expected (what does?) but they are there for each other when needed. It was nice to see echoes of my own friendships, and to see some paths the future may hold. Women's friendships are often strong, and we also draw strength from them. I thoroughly enjoyed spending these decades with Feron and Merry, and wished I could have spent even more time with them.

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Stuck Inside Recommendations 21-30

On Facebook I started recommending a book a day for those stuck inside and looking for something good to read. I'm alternating between books published by Macmillan (my employer) and not. (Simply, because the vast majority of my reading is Macmillan books, it's really hard for me to not have this unbalance in any list I put together.) And I thought I'd pull together those recommendations every 10 days here, for people who I'm not Facebook friends with. These 10 books are all for kids of various ages!

Please buy books from independent bookstores! You can find your nearby indies here, or you can buy from bookshop.org or you can get audiobooks from Libro.fm. Those last two you either can get to through the website of an indie, and have part of your purchase go to that indie directly, or if you really don't know of one, any purchases made on those sites, even unaffiliated ones, will indirectly support independent bookstores. Bookstores are really struggling right now, from chains on down to the little guys, and right now, you have a lot of time to read! Seems like two great things that go great together.

Now, on with the list! While these are numbered, they are not ranked. I've starred the non-Macmillan books, and if I reviewed them, I'll link to the review. Every one of these books got a 5-star rating from me!

21. Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary*

22. A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner 

23. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell*

24. Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

25. Scaredy Squirrel by Mélanie Watt*

26. Llama Destroys the World by Jonathan Stutzman, illustrated by Heather Fox

27. Best Friends by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

28. The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois*

29. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz*

30. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrations by Rosemary Valero-O'Connell