Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Book Review: Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law by Jeffrey Rosen

Right after the sad death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I really wished I knew more about her. I'd seen the movie and I watched the documentary, but I'm a word person (shocker!) and then I remembered this book that came out not too long ago from my own company and I immediately downloaded it. It's so fantastic mostly because you hear Ruth's own words from her own mouth throughout.

Mr. Rosen became friends with Judge Ginsburg a while ago over their shared love of opera. As he's a journalist writing about legal matters, they've discussed the law A LOT over the years. And a few years back he started (with her permission) recording their conversations, These are arranged topically, which might not be how the exact conversations proceeded, but it is helpful for following along. Additionally, there's an intro to each chapter, but I wish those had been shorter, as it then often felt like the conversation was a little repetitive. But it does help a lot with context and the historical overview on particular subject matter. 

I learned a lot. I respect her even more which I didn't know was possible. I know at the time she was appointed, her views on Roe v. Wade were controversial but now that I understand the big picture there, I agree with her. Did you know there has been an opera written about her and Antonin Scalia? This was fascinating, and gave great insight into this diminutive yet towering figure in the public zeitgeist and also in legal circles hopefully for decades to come. If you too are missing RBG, this is a great (and fast) read that will make you feel like she's there with you, on your sofa, talking about the cases she argued in front of the Supreme Court, and the cases she heard as a judge. Amazing.

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Book Review: The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War by Delphine Minoui, translated by Lara Vergnaud

I went into this just expecting a great book about books (which of us book nuts doesn't love those) but I was surprised, at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak (I read this in late March) to find so many parallels to what we were all going through.

This book takes place in Syria, in a rebel town that has been completely cut off from the outside world. A group of young men went house to house and collected books, expecting hundreds but finding thousands, and created a library. Even though their original owners were gone, they meticulously noted who the owner was in the front of every book in the hopes that one day they could be reunited. So in a desolate world where no one ventured out except in search of food, and people were isolated, fearing the news, hating their president, and afraid for their lives every day, books provided comfort and solace. The main leader of this library didn't read at all before the war. But books found him when he needed them.

Ms. Minoui is also in the story because how she found these men and how she communicated with them is part of the story as well. In a feat of super-modern journalism, she mostly talked to them over Whatsapp and occasionally text and Facebook Messenger. She never met them until the very end, and most of her communication and research was, by necessity, very remote. That's another parallel with the virus outbreak--she wasn't able to meet with them and had to do everything from a great distance.

So while this book might not seem pertinent, I promise it really is. It's a brief, compelling, important story about the power of books in tumultuous times.

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

Book Review: To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu

This is not my usual cup of tea. I generally hate short stories (just when you start to get into them and know the characters, they're over.) I don't read a lot of scifi or books in translation. But this book blew me away. After all, the exception proves the rule!

In stories set across the universe, from tiny mountain subsistence farming villages to the outer reaches of the Milky Way, time and again, and in interesting and unique ways, Mr. Liu finds ways to illuminate our humanity. In particular, our art, our poetry, our love, and our kindness. You might expect a book with robots and spaceships, and there are a few of those, but mostly it's about self-sacrifice, about relationships, and what it means to be human. It's hard to talk about a short story collection without discussing individual stories in a way that feels both spoilery and yet unrepresentative of the whole. So I'm just going to say again, this book is amazing. I think everyone should read it. I couldn't read more than one story in a sitting because they were so profound that after each one, I needed to sit with it for a while. But I was always eager to get back to the next one. A masterpiece.

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

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Book Review: This is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae Safi

One night, one of the teens working at Wild Nights Bookstore uses his manager's computer--which he's not allowed too--and sneaks a peek at her email--which is REALLY not allowed--and discovers the store's owner is selling the store out from under everyone. He hatches a get-rich-quick scheme that instantly backfires.

The next morning, Daniella, Imogen, and Rinn (oh, and the manager), will deal with the (secret) bad news, the fallout from the get-rich-quick scheme, a real jerk of an author, secret crushes, secret social media accounts (a big no-no considering that phones are banned on the sales floor), oh, and trying to keep the store open. All in one big day!

If you remember the 90s movie Empire Records, this has a similar vibe. If you love bookstores, this will be a fun read. I really enjoyed the teens doing a lot for themselves, and during this day, they all learn a lot. In particular, I appreciated how at a workplace, you're surrounded by coworkers, not your friends, so when you band together, it might be reluctantly, and it might not work well at first. You might have to work harder to see how the puzzle pieces of the people involved can best fit together into a cohesive whole. And I loved the diversity. It was a fun YA novel.

This book is published by Feiwel & Friends, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Book Review: Loved and Wanted: An American Woman's Education on Choice by Christa Parravani

Christa meets a man who she marries a little later in life, so they have kids right away. Two adorable daughters, and things seem perfect. While his career has had its ups and downs (he writes for Hollywood), Christa gets offered a full professorship at West Virginia University, After losing their shirt and then some in LA more than once, a steady, prestigious job in a gorgeous location seems ideal. The pay is not great, but it's just enough. 

And then Christa realizes she's pregnant for a third time. Unplanned. And not exactly wanted. In fact, this child will be a huge burden to their already overtaxed family. And like thousands of married women, she seeks out other options. And yet, she's in West Virginia. So the options that are available to many Americans, and are supposed to be legal in all of America, aren't exactly open to her.

There is exactly one abortion clinic in the state of West Virginia,and it's three hours away. And because of two-step procedures and the chance of complications and the need for recovery, she'd have to stay several days. What would she do with her daughters during that time (yes, her husband is kind of useless but that's not the point here.) She could instead try Pittsburgh but that's also 3+ hours away, so same problems. She tries to get the drug RU-486 but, while she finds a doctor who would prescribe it for her under the table, the doctor warns her that if she has complications and goes to the ER, they won't treat her. And the doctor would herself be fired.

So Christa is now faced with another, even more gut-wrenching choice than before. It's hard enough to decide to terminate a pregnancy, but then what that choice isn't actually available to you--what next? 

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

Thursday, October 1, 2020

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:
All Girls by Emily Layden
Finding Freedom: A Cook's Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch by Erin French
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells
Exit Strategy by Martha Wells
Network Effect by Martha Wells
Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells
Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause by Ty Seidule
"Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory" by Martha Wells (a short story)
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law by Jeffrey Rosen

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley
Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray (for my book club)
Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World by Michele Gelfand (my husband heard about this on a podcast)
I ordered both of these from Bookmarks, an independent bookstore in Winston-Salem, NC.
Crochet The Golden Girls: Includes 10 Crochet Patterns and Materials to Make Sophia by Allison Hoffman
I ordered this one from Browseabout Books, an independent bookstore in Rehobeth Beach, DE, along with a couple of super-cute face masks!

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Book Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Are you looking for an excellent quiet, lovely, thoughtful escapist read right now? Well, most people are, and I've found it for you!

Linus Baker is a case worker for DICOMY, the Department in Charge of Magical Youths. He travels to various orphanages and evaluates their ability to thoughtfully care for the orphaned magical children in their charge. That is, when he isn't at his unadorned desk in a windowless room, filling out paperwork. Because of his dedication to his job and his diligence in his forms, he is chosen by Extremely Upper Management to travel out to a house on an island what houses the most... interesting magical children.

Linus has always dreamed of seeing the ocean. His mouse pad is the only thing on his desk that is truly his, and it's a beautiful picture of the sea, and it says, "Don't you wish you were here?" He's going to the ocean for the first time in his life. And also for the first time Linus, who is used to dealing with small witches and vampires and other creatures, will be meeting more unique children than he ever has before: a female gnome, a wood sprite, a were-Pomeranian, a wyvern, an unidentifiable blob, and the anti-Christ (but don't call him that please! He's Lucy, short for Lucifer.) And Mr. Parnassus, the headmaster. Who makes Linus feel very warm.

He's there to do his job--to evaluate the home and see if it's appropriate and safe. But part of his job is to remain objective. What if he just can't do that anymore?

This book was everything I needed right now. Fun and silly and yet also a metaphor for racism as the nearby town reacts to the magical youths, it was easy to become fully immersed in this world, and it was also reassuring and kind and made me wish I could live in a rambly old house on an island by the sea... with a wyvern. I would be sure to give my wyvern all the coins and buttons he wants for his hoard. I never knew why I always save those extra buttons that come with a new shirt or coat, and now I know.

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Book Review: Historically Inaccurate by Shay Bravo

Sol is a first-generation freshman in college, and despite having a full courseload, a part-time job in the library, a vibrant social life, and a crazy club she's in, she now is adding a boyfriend. But that's what college students do, right? Anyway she met him through the crazy club (it's The History Club but that seems to be more of a front, like the happy hour group I used to be in called The Book Club.) when, for her initiation, she was required to break in to (well, they had a key) his grandparents' house (he lives with them) and he caught her. So she explains (later) and not only does he understand, but he then joins the club too.

Meanwhile, Sol is jugging a lot, including keeping up with her mother, who was "voluntarily" deported and is living in Mexico. Her relationship with her father is sweet, too. But her membership in the club starts to become fraught as if she gets in legal trouble, it could cause bigger problems for her family. As the story goes on, the club gets busted for their exploits, and some past secrets come to light. It was a light college-based rom-com YA.

This book is published by Wattpad, and distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Book Review: Dancing with the Octopus: A Memoir of a Crime by Debora Harding

This is a memoir about Debora's kidnapping and rape. And horrifyingly, that's not the worst thing in this book.

She was living a typical 1970s middle class childhood in the middle of America, but no one knew how her mother abused her and her sisters. They adored her father, and he adored their mother. Sometimes it seemed as if he didn't see what was going on, was essentially willfully blind, and other times it seemed like he knew but he just couldn't bring himself to do anything about it--either out of a feeling of helplessness, or inertia--it's hard to say. But Debora's mother was pretty awful to her on a more or less daily basis. Her sisters were a bit more able (or willing) to avoid her wrath through compliance, toadiness, and lack of rebelling. But Debora wouldn't buckle under, leading to her suffering the worst of their mother's abuse.

One day there was a snowstorm and school let out early. She had church choir practice that evening so she waited around after, going to the mall with a friend. When it was finally time, she headed over to the church in her thin jacket with a broken zipper, and found choir cancelled and the church locked. As she pondered how she'd get home, a boy just a few years older than her grabbed her and forced her into his van. As he drove around for hours, Debora was able to keep her wits about her, engage him in conversation, and she probably saved her life by fully appearing to him as a real person. And she was most likely able to do that, because throughout it all, it wasn't quite as bad at what she'd suffered at her mother's hand for years. She'd become inured to pain, threats, and insults. She knew how best to manipulate the situation so that she's survive.

Years and years later, as an adult, she found out about a program which introduced convicted criminals and their victims, and worked towards honesty, and if, possible, forgiveness. She wanted to participate. Would he? Would this be a good idea? Would she get resolution?

Wow, talk about riveting. This true crime memoir was white-knuckle anxiety-producing from beginning to end. Even though you knew she survived, she was able to produce real feelings of anticipation and worry throughout. And also a hypnotizing curiosity about her mother--how did that situation come to be, especially when her father was so nice, and how did it resolve itself? I couldn't look away.

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Book Review: Good Morning, Monster: Five Heroic Journeys to Emotional Recovery by Catherine Gildiner

Dr. Gildiner is a psychologist and had a thriving practice for decades in Canada. Now, she's looked back on her patients and collected here the five cases that most stood out to her as "heroes."

Each of these five clients went through horrible, awful times, and fought like mad to come out the other side. Often they'd done a majority of the hard fighting before they ever came to her--they all on the outside appeared to be functioning adults with careers and personal lives. However, each of them had massive childhood trauma--abuse, neglect, and I don't even know how to classify the First Nations man who was taken from his parents, beaten if he spoke his language, sexually assaulted by teachers he trusted, and eventually couldn't even communicate with his own parents. There needs to be a whole new word for that. And that childhood trauma is what they need to work through and process with Dr. Gildiner in order to have a happy and fulfilled life.

The main draw for a book like this, naturally, is voyeurism. However, I believe for most people that's just the reason they pick the book up. Upon reading it though, it normalizes therapy, shows it's not a traumatic experience, and hopefully it makes the whole process less scary. But also, wow, some people's lives are much worse than yours!

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

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Book Review: Murderbot Diaries #2-3-4 by Martha Wells

So I can't stop reading these books. Over Labor Day weekend, I read the first 4 Murderbot novellas in 4 days. These are:
All Systems Red #1
Artificial Condition #2
Rogue Protocol #3
Exit Strategy #4
Now, before you're super impressed, these are mostly under 100 pages (except for the last one). But also, do be impressed, because these books are AMAZING and I could not put them down!

As you may know, I am not a big sci-fi reader, but the exception proves the rule, and these books have blown me away. Murderbot is about half robot and half human, but as it explains in the first book, that doesn't mean it has two halves inside itself, fighting and misunderstanding each other. It is a single, whole being. I like to think of it as the way we full humans have two halves of our brains which don't always communicate well or have the same goals. And as it's also explained, it means SecUnits like Murderbot can think and have autonomy and personality, it also means they can experience pain and emotions, and that is the downside. But for us readers, that's the upside. Because Murderbot is funny and sarcastic and thinks humans are dumb and keep trying to (accidentally or purposefully) kill ourselves and Murderbot is surprisingly vulnerable and very protective. When Murderbot says sometimes that it just needs to look at a blank wall for a while, my heart breaks a little bit (that means it's completely overwhelmed by unfamiliar emotions--often gratitude or friendship.)

And who doesn't identify with Murderbot's love of soap operas and how it wants to have the familiar ones droning on in the background. Is it any different than when I watch The Great British Bake-Off for the hundredth time? Or Big Bang Theory or Friends? Boy do I envy Murderbot's multi- multi- multi-tasking capabilities!

Each of these four novellas is a discrete story but together, the four have an overarching plot, particularly as in book 4, the characters from book 1 all resurface. Books 2 and 3 do each have an internal story arc, but together, they are much more powerful. I just knew the Book 1 characters had to come back, although my favorite character of all has to be ART, the transport from Book 2. I was pleasantly baffled at first in that book when the initial third is just Murderbot on ART, traveling to a transit hub. They have fascinating conversations, ART is a bit of an asshole (which is what the A stands for in ART) and I really liked how Murderbot pointed out how ART is highly skilled at asking questions that get the human or SecUnit its communicating with go to the conclusion ART wants without ART forcing it (but still kind of forcing it, with the skillful questions. I bet it works a lot better on humans as we are, as Murderbot correctly points out, kind of dumb.)

I love Murderbot! I hope it gets lots of time to watch media to its heart's content at the end of all of this. And yes, I am already halfway through book 5. You should go read these! Right now! They are the perfect distraction during pandemic times.

These books are published by Tordotcom, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Book Review: Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai

Henry flies from Australia to Singapore to visit his dad every break. But when his big sister needs to stay home to focus on university applications, that means Henry can't go either. But Henry's sick and tired of always being treated like a baby! And he's twelve--the age kids can fly solo. So he hatches a plan.

Yep, he buys a plane ticket with his mom's credit card, sneaks his passport out of the house, and heads to the airport. He's arranged his former best friend to cover for him with his overly protective family during the 8 hours or so it will take for him to get there, and then he'll have proven to everyone how he's responsible and capable! Or will he?

Meanwhile, on his flight is a boy from him class who's kind of been his nemesis this year. Plus, Henry thinks the boy saw him uploading a satirical cartoon he draws about his school, under the moniker Fly on the Wall, and could out him. When Henry's notebook goes missing, it makes him all the more determined to figure out if that boy is behind it. Another plan!

This is such a clever story. It's all hand-drawn although most pages are just writing on notebook paper (Henry's notebook) but there are plenty of drawings mixed in. I especially liked how he showed his ability to draw in a very different style than his usual style, which is why no one has pegged him for Fly on the Wall yet. It's also very interesting to see a book for kids that takes place entirely in one day. There were great lessons about friendship, about consequences, and about what growing up and maturity really means. Henry doesn't always see how his actions and decisions affect--and occasionally even hurt--others. He has some growing up to do, while also proving that he has come a long way.

This book is published by Henry Holt BYR, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Book Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Damn Murderbot! Where have you been all my life?
Big shout-out to Jessica who has tried to get me to read these books for at least a year. She was right.

Last night I looked at all the books I've downloaded onto my iPad and I didn't want to read any of them. But I had just been working on Tor books for work, including the upcoming latest Murderbot novel, and it jumped into my head as a book that wouldn't be depressing, wouldn't be about anything relevant to today, and it's short. So I downloaded it (it's published by Tor, part of my employer. I am supposed to be reading books coming out in "winter 2021" aka Jan-April which the latest book is but not the first book.) And damn!

I read the whole thing at once. It's a short novella (86 pages) so that's very do-able. And I immediately downloaded the second book. I am in love!

Murderbot is a SecBot (security bot) and it is half robot, half human. Although as it explains, it isn't a half-and-half, it's a full entity that has struggled. (Also, it's an it. It has no gender identifiers of any kind as it's not a sexbot.) Murderbot has hacked its OS, in particular it's regulator system. It is assigned to a crew of scientists who have traveled to a distant planet and are taking samples. Murderbot does a half-assed job, which is usually fine, as all Murderbot really wants is to watch its soap-operas. Then a giant creature comes out of the ground and tried to eat two of the scientists. Murderbot saves them, but then it's obvious that the information the crew got about this planet is incorrect--who deleted the information about the giant dangerous creatures and why?

Sure, this book could have been the length of a regular novel with a lot of backstory to the scientists and Murderbot, but I'm glad it wasn't. We don't need all that backstory. It was exactly perfect. There wasn't a single extra or wasted word. 

I will be reading ALL of the Murderbot Diaries in the next few weeks. So excited I still have 2 novellas and 2 full-length novels to go.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Book Review: The Invisible Boy by Alyssa Hollingsworth

Nadia wants to be a reporter. So when she sees her classmate she has dubbed "Paddle Boy," who inexplicably broke her family's second canoe paddle, she follows him around, taking notes. Her dog gets swept off into a storm drain and she's worried he's going to drown. When a mysterious boy appears out of nowhere, saves her dog, and vanishes again.

Obviously she's now got a bigger story to report! Emulating her hero, Lois Lane, she tries to find the boy she dubs Invisible Boy, as that's obviously his secret power. Paddle Boy (who lobbies for a new superhero name) annoying tags along, and they do eventually meet the boy, who lives in the basement of a house on their street, can only talk with them when his "foster mother" isn't home, and doesn't seem to go to school. It takes them a while to figure out what's going on--he's been trafficked and is being forced to work for free all day. What will Nadia do once she figures it out?

Luckily the ending really works. It's not one of those implausible crazy endings you sometimes see. Her aunt is a lawyer who actually works with human trafficking (she never understood her aunt's job and thought she worked with traffic as in cars and roads.) And in the end, after a bit of an adventure, they go to grownups for help. The ending was exciting and an adrenaline rush and it doesn't read like a book with an agenda--it reads like a story about a girl who gets caught up in something over her head that she eventually needs help with. This truly could happen to anyone. Luckily Nadia is a persistent, loyal, and determined girl.

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

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:
Love Is for Losers by Wibke Brueggemann
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein, narrated by Adam Grupper (audio)*
My Brilliant Life by Kim Ae-ran, translated by Chi-Young Kim
Stella Díaz Dreams Big by Angela Dominguez
Astronaut Academy: Splashdown by Dave Roman
Gone to the Woods by Gary Paulsen
These six I actually read in July, but because I was in the middle of moving, I wasn't able to update the post to add these in a timely fashion.
These are what I really read in August:
Girlhood by Melissa Febos
Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green
Race Against Time by Jerry Mitchell (audio)*
Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano
Baseball's Leading Lady : Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues by Andrea Williams
A Shot at Normal by Marisa Reichardt
Race to the Bottom of the Earth: Surviving Antarctica by Rebecca E. F. Barone
The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel by E.L. Shen

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
All Girls by Emily Layden
Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Hieroglyphics by Jill McCorkle (signed!)
Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams
A Mind Unraveled by Kurt Eichenwald
Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
The first four I bought from Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina after a Jill McCorkle online event, as I could get a signed book, and then as long as I was ordering, why not add some more? The last one I had preordered from Loyalty Bookstore in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Book Review: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King: The Graphic Novel by E.T.A. Hoffmann, retold and illustrated by Natalie Andrewson

In this fantastical graphic novel, Natalie Andrewson goes back to the original story of The Nutcracker, as told by E.T.A. Hoffmann, which is considerably different from the ballet, so be prepared. 

Marie (Not Clara), loves the nutcracker that family friend, Uncle Drosselmeyer makes for her and her brother, even after it gets broken. She goes downstairs at night to the locked shelves where it's put away to check on it, and finds the mouse king threatening it. If only Marie will give the mouse king her sweets, and her dolls, and this goes on for a few nights. Finally, as we know, the nutcracker does defeat the mouse king, but only with Marie's help and her sacrifices. Then she is ill and Drosselmeyer tells her and her brother the story, over several days, of how the nutcracker came to be (he was once a real boy). At the end, you decide what is real and what is imaginary.

I loved hearing the real story. It's true that the entire second half of the story I was familiar with is different, as there's no Snow Queen or Sugar Plum Fairy, but I did like it better. There's no real story in the second half of the ballet--just prettiness as Clara and the nutcracker passively watch all the treats. Here, there's plenty of story! I love that the pallet and style isn't overly "girly" so there's a chance boys too will pick this up, as it does have toy soldiers and the battles with the mice and everything. (I know, I hate the gendering of books like this. It's more the extreme gendering of ballet--which is impossible to escape--that makes this story feel more gendered than most.) I wish I'd known this version of the story, growing up!

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Book Review: Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains by Kerri Arsenault

Kerri's hometown of Mexico, Maine, is the titular mill town. It has a paper mill factory where her father worked and her grandfather before him. It's also where they both died of cancer. Like most people in town. And if you don't get cancer, it's something else horrific and rare, like aplastic anemia.

Kerri left home long ago and has lived all over the world. But when she resettles in the US and spends time with her parents both before and after her father's terrible death, she starts to see what a blight the mill is on the town and the people. And she begins to investigate.

It's not too shocking anymore what she uncovers--mishandled toxic waste, regulations skirted or flouted, misdiagnoses by the company doctors, and whistle blowers run out of town. But for once this story is being told by an insider (although the locals no longer claim her, as she's moved away.) This isn't a full-scale investigation as it's also a memoir. Many of the mill workers, insiders, and whistle blowers, are her childhood friends and neighbors. And she remembers was a boon the mill was back in the day. She loved her hometown, before the rot began to show. In that, this is an appropriately complex story of how one can appreciate the dream and plans of the original mill founders, and she can understand the current locals who are protective and defensive of their jobs and the backbone of the community. And yet, she wants to protect them. But it could come at the cost of their livlihood. Sadly, this is a story with no happy ending. But an important one nonetheless.

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

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Book Review: Flamer by Mike Curato

Aiden is at boy scout camp for the summer. It's not perfect, but he likes it well enough. It's a heck of a lot better than school, and even though he's a little afraid for his younger siblings back home, he's glad to be out of the house and away from his dad's volatile temper. This summer is especially fraught as he's 14, hormones are raging, he's switching from Catholic school to public school for 9th grade, and while he doesn't consciously realize it yet, it seems he might be gay.

He wants to concentrate on being part of his scout troop, The Flaming Arrows, learning archery and orienteering, building fires and canoeing. His bunkmate, Elias, is especially cool--a football player but one with long hair who listens to Alternative music. Oh, and he's really attractive. Aiden feels bad about his own body (pudgy) and really, really hates being called "faggot" (who wouldn't!?) He detests the communal showers (WHERE DO YOU LOOK?!?!) He misses his best friend and pen pal when he doesn't get letters from her. He makes some friends but that doesn't always make up for the racist remarks (he's half Filipino) and bullying. And the bullying and name calling just makes him worry that high school could be even worse than junior high.

With vivid illustrations, this graphic novel deftly uses just one color (orange) to make its point. I really was reminded of summer camp, of the out-of-school friendships that can save you, of that time to be a different person, to reinvent yourself in a way, even if you can't escape who you are. I really hope there's another book as I want to know if Aiden makes it through okay. I understand this is heavily based on Mr. Curato's own experiences, so I assume he does, but I still would love to follow him further along his path.

This book is published by Henry Holt BYR, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Book Review: The Wrong Mr. Darcy by Evelyn Lozada

So I didn't know what this book was when I downloaded it at work--I just saw the title and thought, "yep, that's for me!" I was a bit surprised when I got into it to find it was a fairly traditional commercial romance novel, but set int he world of professional basketball. That's pretty out-there for a retelling of Pride & Prejudice. But I thought I'd appreciate the unconventionality so I pressed on.

Hara is a young sports journalist, working at her hometown newspaper. The NBA set up a nationwide contest for sportswriters to compete to win an interview with the most reclusive basketball star, Charles Butler. Hara wins and flies out to Boston for the interview. Before she can meet Butler, she has an unpleasant run-in with his best friend, Derek Darcy, who she finds obnoxious, even if he is gorgeous.

Multiple twists and turns ensue, and I wasn't sure the book was going to sustain my interest, but just as I was starting to tire, Ms. Lozada stopped following the P&P outline and went off the rails in a spectacularly great way. With blackmail and prison and an eventual shooting, it diverged quite a bit, and really came into its own when it let go of Austen's coattails. While the romance parts weren't for me (I know, I actually read Outlander for the history), the plot was a lot of fun and I raced through to the end. Romance readers will love this one.

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

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Book Review: Stealing Mt. Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar

Nell was supposed to be a boy. Her dad loved Mt. Rushmore and a postcard of it got him through his time serving in the Korean War. Afterwards he had three boys--George, Tom and Toddy--and a girl, Nell (actually named for Susan B. Anthony, Nell is a nickname). Nell has always felt like she's had more to do to make him proud, and since their mom left, she's really been carrying the lion's share of the household (she's the second oldest.) Her brothers aren't slackers per se--George works full-time (in the summer) as a busboy at the same diner where their dad is a short-order cook, and Tom has a paper route and picks up a second job as a bagboy at the grocery store. Nell's primary job is watching Teddy, the six-year-old, but somehow all of the cleaning and shopping and laundry and dishwashing falls on her 13-year-old shoulders.

Since their mom just disappeared one day (but her suitcase and record player and records are all gone so they know she left by choice), their dad has been in a serious funk. He didn't leave the bedroom for a week. And now finances are even tighter than before. But he's trying to hold the family together. A long-planned cross-country trip to see Mt. Rushmore is what they're all hanging onto. Their dad saved $500 so they can go (it'll be a camping trip, plus it's 1974 so $500 goes further). Then he discovers that the coffee can in the freezer with the vacation money is empty. His wife took that too when she left. He retreats to the bedroom again.

Furious, Nell is determined to recover the money. She's been saving to replace the record player and she now puts all of that money toward the trip, as does Tom with his savings. She holds a car wash, and asks neighbors about doing yardwork. Finally she has an idea. If her mom isn't coming back, why can't she sell all her things, sitting in boxes in the basement? Would that be appropriately ironic if it could get them to South Dakota?

I really appreciated that this book wasn't all cutesy and things didn't get wrapped up in a bow. It reminded me a lot of last year's Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart, but much grittier. This family is also in mourning in a way and just barely hanging on. But the situation is a lot more realistic. As is the ending. Things don't all work out in the end. And life is usually like that, so kids need books that show those situations. Sometimes your family members can be real jerks. And sometimes they can step up when you least expect it.

This book is published by Feiwel & Friends, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Book Review: The Switch by Beth O'Leary

Leena has worked herself into a breakdown. But that was precipitated by her sister's death from cancer last year. After that, she threw herself into her work which worked for a while, but not forever. After an incident in a presentation with a client, her boss has put her on a mandatory two month sabbatical.

Meanwhile, while talking with her grandmother, Eileen, Leena finds out her grandmother had had grand plans back in her youth, to move to London and be a city girl, that were thwarted by an early marriage and kids. Since Eileen's husband has left her for a younger woman, which doesn't particularly upset Eileen (boy, that's when you really know a relationship is over--when you just don't even care about the breakup), Eileen and Leena hit upon a plan--Eileen will move into Leena's apartment in London (with her two roommates) and live out her 20-something dream and also start dating again, and Leena will move into her grandmother's village cottage and experience life slowed down and calm.

Leena takes over her grandmother's committees and other village responsibilities, including the town's annual festival. She talks to her best friends a lot, but since she and her grandmother even swap phones, she can't Facetime or even text easily on Eileen's ancient hardware. Her boyfriend has to keep canceling his plans to come out and see her due to too much work himself. But she's keeping busy. Meanwhile Eileen has gotten set up on Tinder, thanks to Leena's roommates, and has come up with some plans of her own in London!

This granddaughter-grandmother novel is billed as a rom-com, and while there's a tiny bit of romance, that's not really the story. Leena has to reconcile with her mother and finally deal with her sister's death. Eileen is coming to terms with choices she made in her youth and how those have played out over the years. It's relatively light but also pretty real and full of ups and downs. It's a great escape for a few hours, thoroughly distracting.

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

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Book Review: Displacement by Kiku Hughes

One day Kiku is shocked to find herself having jumped back in time to the 1940s from now. It happens again. And again. She starts to think this is interesting and even cool--she sees her grandmother as a teenager and feels like she could start to get to know her, when it takes a dark turn. She is rounded up along with other Japanese-Americans into an internment camp. And this time she doesn't jump back.

Instead she lives in the camp, near her grandmother but not interacting with her. She experiences what life was like then, as do we, the readers, who feel fully immersed in the experience as well. As Kiku starts to come to grips with the idea that she might be stuck in this era forever, she stops going along with the rules as much, and pushing back against an unfair, racist society.  She knows how things will turn out for America, and that she's on the right side of history, but she doesn't know how her actions will affect her personally and the others she's gotten to know in the camps. Also, will she ever get back to now?

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

Monday, August 3, 2020

Book Review: When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams

When Terry's mother was dying, she told Terry she was leaving her journals to her. She had 54 of them, one for every year of her life. But Terry had to promise not to read them until after she died.

After her death, Terry reached to them for comfort, and she found... nothing. Nothing. They were blank. All of them. She bought one every year and kept them all on a shelf. What did it mean? What did it mean that she gave them to Terry? And now in 54 short essays and meditations, Terry looks at her life, her mother's life, and tries to make sense of the world.

First of all, I have to say WOW, Terry is SO much more understanding and resigned to this situation that I would have been. I would have been utterly furious. I imagine a lot of screaming, "how dare she!" It's one thing to have pretended to keep a journal. After all, they're Mormon, and that's expected of all women, regardless of whether they actually want to, if they find it helpful, or if it's a burden to them. But to tell Terry they were especially for her and to  make her promise not to read them until after she's dead, and leave no explanation--that's really cavalier with Terry's feelings at the worst time in her life. 

That being said, if you can get past the origin of this book, the essays are beautiful. Ms. Williams is a terrific writer, who loves the environment and the nature surrounding us. She takes inspiration from her mother's lack of voice, and gives her voice back to her. Using the recurring metaphor of women as birds, she ties it all together. It was a quick read and definitely worth it. I've heard of writers and writing classes using this book and that makes sense to me. 

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

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Book Review: Becoming by Michelle Obama

I wanted to read this book when it first came out like everyone under the sun. But I heard the audiobook was the way to go. And it's (just) over nineteen hours. Which just has been too much of a commitment for me to make until now. Now, instead of going to the gym, I'm walking for 2 hours 4 days a week, which meant I could finally tackle it without worrying it would take me so long to finish that I'd have forgotten the beginning by then! (Also, because I knew it would take me more than 2 weeks to listen, I couldn't get it through my library. I had to purchase it.)
Michelle has a fairly ordinary growing up, if rather poor. On the infamous South Side of Chicago she lived in a small apartment with her parents and older brother Craig, in a little house owned by her aunt and uncle. She took piano lessons, eventually went to a better school, and followed her brother to Princeton, where he'd won a basketball scholarship (despite her school counselor telling her she couldn't get in to Princeton.) I was very struck by a comment made by Michelle's mother after Barack was elected, when she was asked about how Michelle was a special child. Her mother said she wasn't special. She said, there are hundreds of kids just like Michelle and Craig on the South Side--we just aren't looking for them. And I can see that. Which isn't to say that Michelle isn't brilliant and accomplished and impressive--she's all those things and more. But truly, there was nothing exceptional about her that made you think she'd end up in the White House. If she was in my book club or I worked with her, that would make sense. She's so accessible and down-to-earth, and Everywoman.

She did work hard and her accomplishments are laudatory, and I'm no longer annoyed that she didn't do more as First Lady, as I once was. She was trying to find a good balance, her kids were young, her job wasn't something she could keep doing, and she did do a lot with nutrition and health for kids. In fact, she did a lot more than I knew, along with Jill Biden, from getting food vendors who sell to schools to provide better options, to getting the parent company of Olive Garden to offer more low-calorie options. 

I kept waiting for a moment to happen when she was shocked by what was happening and that never did occur. But that also makes sense. Everything was incremental. The road the White House was built in many small steps over years. That realization makes it seem much more like truly, anyone can be president. With Barack's books, it seems he saw the path laid out more clearly and earlier on than she did, but there wasn't ever a point where she would've said, "Wait, that's crazy!" 

Meanwhile, there are gowns and celebrity sightings, and backstage details. It was inspiring, and right now a real kick in the head, too. Man, what a classy, smart, together family we once had in the White House. We really let them down in the last election. It's nice to remember how great they were but also sad in comparison.

I bought this audiobook digitally from Libro.fm. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

My Month in Review: July

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:
When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams
Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen by Mary Norris*
Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller*
Broken (In the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson 
Even the Stiffest People Can Do the Splits: A 4-Week Stretching Plan to Achieve Amazing Health by Eiko*
Becoming by Michelle Obama (audio)*
Buses Are a Comin': Memoir of a Freedom Rider by Charles Person, with Richard Rooker

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Check, Please!, Book 2: Sticks and Scones by Ngozi Ukazu
Love Is for Losers by Wibke Brueggemann
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein (audio)*

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
none. I was good! Also I am moving and the last thing I wanted to move was more books.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Book Review: Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen by Mary Norris

Mary tried to learn Latin as a child but her father opposed her learning a "dead" language. As an adult, she pursued Greek with abandon. Her job at the New Yorker would pay for continuing ed, so she was able to expense her initial classes, but when she started studying Ancient Greek, as opposed to contemproary (which are pretty completely different languages), they balked. After some help, that went through and she not only pursued the learning (complete with acting in a couple of Ancient Greek plays, in Greek), but of course had to go to Greece.

She prefers to travel alone, especially as her travel style isn't compatible with many people's. She prefers to do absolutely everything it is possible to do and see in a place. She's not good at sitting by a pretty place and just relaxing.

But she is an excellent companion for this armchair traveler! I have long aspired to visit Greece but I haven't managed it so far, and I think when I finally do, I'll have to reference this book as she has some places she really enjoys. I was thrilled to see that she visited The Parthenon in Nashville, my hometown, and she liked it! Its' hard to describe to people how a life-sized Pathernon, made of aggregate instead of marble, in the middle of a park in Tennessee, can be impressive and not kitschy. Few people believe you until they see it for themselves. She was a doubter. 

If you have any love of language, any dreams of visiting Greece, this was a delightful and fun read. I truly enjoyed it.

I bought this book at Quail Ridge Books, an independent bookstore.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Book Review: Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness by Catherine Cho

Catherine Cho never placed much credence in her parents' Korean superstitions. So when she and her husband had a baby boy and coincidentally,  just after they had the opportunity to come back from England for an extended trip around the US to introduce their son to friends and family, it made sense. Her parents were horrified as he wasn't 100 days old yet. Also she hadn't subscribed to the myths about staying in bed for the first 21 days and all that goes with that.

At first, the trip went great. They began on the West Coast and drove East. In Virginia, where Catherine is from, things started to be uncomfortable, but she thought that was due to her family who were never comfortable people to be around, in the best of times. Then at her in-law's in New Jersey, she saw the devil in her baby's eyes. Next thing she knew, she woke up in a locked ward.

The storytelling goes back and forth, explaining Catherine's childhood, an abusive relationship she was in before, and what life was like on the ward for her now. She pieced back together, from medical notes and her husband's recollections, what happened that last bad few days that caused her family to have her committed. And she had to piece things back together, if she ever wanted to put her life back together, and go back home.

Certainly there are some shadows of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Awakenings, but Catherine's story is purely her own. We've all known someone who's struggled with postpartum depression, but postpartum psychosis is something else. And she tells it so amazingly, it's shocking to realize that the person who was once so unhinged, is the same person reconstruction those events so beautifully. Insanity is such an incredibly hard thing to write from first person (although as a reader, that's the best way to understand it) and it reminded me a little of Jill McCorkle's The Cheer Leader which is my gold standard for that. Gives you an incredible amount of empathy and sympathy for people who go through this, and an understanding as to why there's such a stigma. The ending, with Catherine now suffering debilitating periods of depression, probably for the rest of her life, is melancholy, but realistic. This book reminds me why I love memoirs so much. This was a riveting story but one I would never, ever want to live through.

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

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Book Review: March Sisters: On Life, Death, and Little Women by Kate Bolick, Jenny Zhang, Carmen Maria Machado, and Jane Smiley (audiobook)

This is a short book of four essays, one focusing on each of the four March sisters in Little Women, by four prominent women authors of today. 

My favorite was Jane Smiley. Some of the other essays I felt had anachronisms and were not always considering the world of the later 1800s--they were often forcing the morals and feminism of today on a different century which isn't fair. But that was rare. Ms. Smiley was the one writer who really did not do that. It also made me rethink the character of Amy somewhat, which I'd already started doing after the most recent movie adaptation. 

And the essay on Beth was interesting in pointing out that as idealized as Beth was, that's problematic in its own way. She wasn't allowed to be a three-dimensional person like her real-life counterpart, Lizzie. 

Meg was the boring sister when we all ready this book as tweens/teens, but now, I think I am a Meg. She shouldn't be dismissed so lightly as she tends to be by younger readers, as she's the stable, stalwart one who follows her heart.

Finally, Jo. Beloved Jo. Frustrating Jo. Jo who stands in for the author. Jo who most young girls identify with initially. I don't want to say too much about her, but the essay rings very true.

This was super enjoyable, a short read (or listen) and if you're at all a fan, you will love it.

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

Friday, July 24, 2020

Book Review: The Mall by Megan McCafferty

It's 1991. Cassie has just graduated from high school. She missed the beginning of the summer due to an aggressive bout of mono, but now she's ready to tackle her fun summer job at a cookie store at the mall with her perfect boyfriend before heading off to college in NYC with him. What could be better?

Well it turns out that while she was sick, he was cheating on her. And she gets fired for never showing up at work. What looked like the ideal summer is now the worst! She can't bear the humiliation of telling her parents (plus she does need a job) so after spending a couple of fruitless days at the mall applying for "Dylan" and "Brandon" jobs (she has a hilarious Beverly Hills 90210-based ranking system of mall jobs), she ends up with the worst job possible: working in the slutty dress shop owned by the mother of her former best friend. And yes, former best friend still works there too. While avoiding her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend and figuring out where her life is going, she runs across a treasure map of sorts based around old Cabbage Patch dolls, and ends up having the summer of her life!

1991 is also the summer I graduated from high school. This book SO spoke to me! I know it's classified as YA, but I think anyone who grew up then will love it. In fact I think today's teens will miss a lot of the cultural references and not enjoy the nostalgia as much. It's a light, fun read, perfect for summer.

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Book Review: Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller

NPR reporter Lulu Miller felt she'd made a mess of her life. Ever since she was a kid and asked her dad what was the meaning of life, and he'd answered "Nothing!" she'd felt unmoored, pointless, depressed. Her father had seen it as freedom, but she found it terrifying. She ran across a story of a man, David Starr Jordan, which inspired her, and she set out to find out more about him, hoping it would bring order to her chaotic life.
David Jordan was the first president of Stanford. He also was a taxinomist, identifying and naming a quarter of all the known species of fish in the world. By many counts, he'd been incredibly successful. But he'd also suffered many losses: his first wife, a beloved daughter, and his entire fish collection. The 1906 earthquake sent his fish collection crashing to the floor in a sea of broken glass, with the names of the fish floating unattached. It also set fires on campus and destroyed buildings, even unironically crashing a statue of Jordan's mentor headfirst into the ground. Yet he picked himself up and set right back to setting things straight. He not only saved a lot of his collection, he came up with a clever solution of sewing the name tags directly onto the fish, so they could never be separated again. How could someone face devastating losses and keep going, with cheer and energy, knowing it could happen again? This is what Lulu wanted to figure out.
But maybe that's not all that was going on with Mr. Jordan? In fact, maybe he wasn't someone to put on a pedestal at all. Maybe his way of thinking is just as flawed and problematic as all of us. And maybe, along the way, Lulu will find out more about herself. And maybe she'll figure out she doesn't need this man to emulate, this crutch, after all.
I bought this book from an independent bookstore.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Book Review: A Royal Affair by Allison Montclair

In book 2 of this series, Gwen and Iris's fledgling matchmaking business is picking up, so much so that they are eyeing the office next door, complete with two enormous, extravagant desks, for expansion. Their dreams will be helped by a nice paycheck when a friend of Gwen's titled family arrives, who works for the Queen (unofficially. But officially. She'll deny it if you ask. But she totally works for the Queen.) It seems that young Princess Elizabeth is enamored of a minor Greek Prince who might be of dubious background, and now a cryptic note has arrived, threatening scandal. Gwen and Iris seem like just the young women to look into this sort of thing. And of course, they are.

Yes, we all know Elizabeth married Phillip, but that doesn't rule out the suspense of secrets and lies and royal machinations. And someone sure seems to want Gwen and Iris to stop their investigating! Is it Iris's old boss? An enemy of the royal family? I for one really appreciate that their investigations so far all make sense, for women who aren't in fact private investigators. The secrets kept me guessing, and there was a great twist I didn't see coming in the denouement. I can't wait for the next Sparks and Bainbridge mystery!

This book is published by Minotaur, an imprint of Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Book Review: Dung for Dinner: A Stomach-Churning Look at the Animal Poop, Pee, Vomit, and Secretions that People Have Eaten (and Often Still Do!) by Christine Virnig, illustrated by Korwin Briggs

If you have any kids in your life who like gross stuff, here's the perfect book for them! They'll learn interesting and fascinating things and not even realize it. Not useful things--but it's still learning. It's especially great for reluctant readers. Do you want to know why the Egyptians ate poop? All the many times pee has been used as something useful? Why people might eat other super gross things from your body. Yuck. But can't put it down. NOT for reading at or near mealtime.

This book is published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Book Review: This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Medical Resident by Adam Kay (audiobook)

Adam became a doctor. He picked it when he was 16 and in the UK, there's not a lot of room for looking back or changing course from there on out. Some terminology is different (I was surprised by the fact that once a doctor finishes up all of what we call the internship and residency, he or she stops going by Dr. Kay and goes back to Mr. Kay which is somehow better.)

He quickly settles on ob/gyn as his specialty through process of elimination, and he's quite good at it. But it takes a real toll. The hours are brutal, babies are unexpected, complications are myriad, and there's no room left for emotions or a personal life. Luckily Mr. Kay kept both a journal and his sense of humor.

You can't be especially squeamish to read (or listen) to this book as the number and variety of bizarre things people will stuff up inside themselves is astounding. Along the way, though, you do hear numerous stories that will make you smile, laugh, occasionally be sad, and will give a great deal of appreciation for all of your physicians from here on out. They are human. And this is a tough job. Thankfully, parts of it are funny. Although the other parts are why Mr. Kay isn't a doctor anymore. But he's also a good writer!

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Book Review: Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels by Rachel Cohen

Just after Rachel had her first baby, her beloved father's illness returned and he died. She found throughout the period in which she had two children and lost her father, she could read nothing else but Jane Austen. She returned over and over and over again to her five novels (not Northanger Abbey which is a farce of a Gothic novel.) At different times, different novels spoke to her. She could pick them up anywhere and just read a few pages and put them down. Reading them was more of a form of meditating, rather than novel reading. She wasn't reading for content or critique, but for comfort and reassurance. Much like H is for Hawk, this novel is about how grief renders one utterly shocked and unable to cope in their usual ways--therefore glomming on to a talisman that seems to make some sense of the new world.

At times the book made me sad. Rachel's father sounds delightful. I have a professor father myself, but we never go on walks (unless you count golf in which case on vacations we often go on walks.) It's a fascinating idea, for one who hasn't reread a book in years, to consider rereading and rereading and rereading. What new insights would one get on the 20th rereading? The 50th? Would I one day grow to like, or at least appreciate, Mansfield Park? Unlike other readers I've always liked Emma--would I perhaps grow frustrated with her? Anne is so passive and so sad, but has been my favorite heroine--would she stay that way? And the silly Marianne, would I perhaps appreciate her emotionality more?

Alas, I don't see me finding out, but I do, in my own way, revisit Austen's novels over and over, through pastiches, retellings, biographies, hagiographies, and other variations on this theme. This likely will be a lifelong pastime.

And it it calming to read this quiet meditation on Austen, on her life and her heroines, during a difficult time in someone else's life, and how Austen provided solace and comfort. Each of us will deal with grief in our own time and our own way, and I hope I can do it with as much grace and thoughtfulness as Ms. Cohen.

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

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Book Review: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

I hadn't read a book club book in a while and I'd heard really good things about this one so I was excited to read it. But it was nothing like I expected.

It's set on this obscure peninsula in far, far Western Russia, past Siberia. Two young girls go missing and are missing for a long time. The story is told from multiple points of view, never returning to the same narrator again, some directly involved in the crime, and some only tangential. It takes quite a ways into the story before you start seeing overlaps and connections between the characters. The story is described as a mystery, but it's really not. In that there's no detective who solves anything, and there are no real clues until one at the very end. It's more just the story of a region which is affected by a terrible crime and how that plays out. Oh, and there was another girl, an Indigenous teenager, who went missing a couple of years ago, but the police assume she ran away (impossible in this remote area--no one can get in our out without leaving a trace as you'd have to go through a checkpoint, an airport, or a port.) so they don't look for her. Did she not run away? Is it related?

The book is a fascinating look at cultures we're very unfamiliar with, and yet in other ways it seems like exactly what we know. It's a mash-up of cultures in a way we often don't see in the United States. The various Indigenous peoples and the way they do or don't mesh with the surrounding Russians, provided an extra layer of intrigue and interest.

It was slow going at first, and at middle, and it read like a series of short stories (which I personally don't like) but in the end, I'm glad I read it.

I bought this book from Bookmarks, an independent bookstore in Winston-Salem, NC.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Book Review: Once Upon a Time I Lived on Mars: Space, Exploration, and Life on Earth by Kate Greene

Kate majored in Chemistry and got a Master's in Physics. She applied to NASA and got turned down, so she became a science journalist instead. Years later, she saw a notice about this experiment that needed volunteers, applied, and was selected. She became one of five "astronauts" who went to Hawaii for five months and lived in a geodesic dome.

Their primary goal was to study food and eating. It's a big problem in space. On the International Space Station, after the first month, most astronauts basically stop eating. The most coveted item on the ISS is hot sauce. This is troublesome in and of itself as it has a serious impact on the health of our astronauts and needs to be solved if we truly want to have long-term space programs. And speaking of long-term space programs, food is also an issue there because if you think about something like a mission to Mars, food will be the biggest weight, biggest mass, and biggest expense for the trip. Can we let astronauts cook? On the ISS they actually grow a few foods--can that be improved on?

In addition to this study, each of the "astronauts" have their own studies they're responsible for and Kate's is about sleep. Others are studying things like isolation and group dynamics and leadership. Even though she never left the planet (except presumably to fly to Hawaii but she was still within the atmosphere), she will greatly help the future of space travel.

Interestingly, this experience also changed her life. She was not the same woman coming out of this experiment as she was going in. She writes about everything so beautifully, so poetically, you forget you're reading about science. And it's styled as individual essays so even though they certainly come together into a cohesive whole, you don't have to read it all through at once.

It's a fascinating, thoughtful, and unexpectedly lovely essay collection covering Ms. Greene's experience as a pretend astronaut, performing scientific experiments for the future of the space program.

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

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Book Review: Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr.

This book gives a surprising angle on where we are today with black incarceration and police relationships. It focuses on DC where there's no surrounding state to sway statistics, but where the neighboring other-state counties can provide contrast, and also it's a majority-black city so issues tend to stand out in relief.

And in going back to the beginning, to the 1930s when police forces really started being a thing and when Jim Crow was in full force, and when illegal drugs first popped up, Mr. Forman finds something utterly fascinating: initially, African-Americans were on board with more police presence and actually argued for harsher drug laws.

Obviously you need to understand the full context for this, but before this time there was essentially NO police presence in black neighborhoods, as they were only protecting whites, and no one was responding to any crimes that happened to black people. Separately, when drugs started to really affect black neighborhoods, black leaders often thought (mistakenly but they had no way of knowing it at the time) that harsher drug laws would prevent black youths from getting involved with drugs, and therefore would protect black families and black neighborhoods. Obviously, that drastically backfired. The book then follows these policies up through now, showing the consequences. Very important read today. Oh also, this book won the Pulitzer Prize.

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

Monday, July 6, 2020

Book Review: The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal

I worried about writing a review for a book later in a series without giving away spoilers. Luckily this book runs parallel to Book 2, The Fated Sky, so it's not as spoilery as I had worried. (That said, you should read them in order as a couple of major twists in Book 2 are necessarily revealed in Book 3.)

Nicole Wargin is the main character here. She was another of the original Astronettes alongside Elma York. She's a former debutante and the wife of the Governor of Kansas (remember, Kansas City is now the capitol of the U.S.) A lot of people don't know that in WWII she was also a spy. Luckily, her time at a Swiss Finishing School helped in that, as it did later as the First Lady of Kansas. And she has no idea how helpful it will be in her next trip to the moon. As the Earth Firsters are gaining in strength, confidence, and destructiveness. And it seems there is a saboteur on the moon. The latter 75% of the book reads like a mystery or a spy novel with lots of twists and turns, clues, and investigation. It's impressive how Kowal can shift between genres effortlessly.

I didn’t want it to end. I was reading it for a week which is incredibly long for me and completely threw off my book count for the year, and I didn't care. Kowal is amazing. Her characters are so real, and what happens to them is so real—including injuring and occasionally even killing important people who in the course of humanity would probably die, but who other authors wouldn’t have the guts to kill. This one didn’t make me cry like Book 2 did. But I just want to live in this world forever. If there were 10 more books of 700  pages, I would read them all. Waiting so hard for Book 4.

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

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Book Review: Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World by Noah Strycker

I love stunt memoirs. You know, like Julie & Julia or The Year of Living Biblically--those people who'd go off and do a nutty thing for a year. It's a memoir, my favorite genre, and you know nothing can go too horribly wrong or else they wouldn't have gotten through the year and there'd be no book. So it's memoir with a purpose and it's emotionally on the lighter side, sometimes even funny. Perfect. And yet, there are almost none of these left. I read all the decent ones back in their heyday in the mid-2000s. But we've run out of crazy-thing-for-a-year ideas. All the good ones are done. So alas, my absolute favorite subgenre has been moribund for a decade or so.

But then I found this book! Several years ago I read The Big Year and I watched the movie, which I recently rewatched (it's decent. Not amazing, but a good watch and moderately entertaining with nothing offensive.) I looked the book up on Goodreads to see when I read it and Goodreads suggested this book to me--which was recent and has an even better rating! Woo hoo! This rocketed to the top of my TBR list.

Noah is a big birder. He even works at Birding magazine. And he decides to take his 29th year and do an International Big Year. Most big years are geographically limited which means if you do a Big Year for your state or for North America, when a bird has gotten off track and is in the wrong place, you have to jump in your car or on a plane and race off, otherwise you're limited by the birds native to your area, and that isn't the way to make a record. But Noah's year was different. If he was in one place and there was a sighting of an unusual bird halfway across the country, he didn't care. He'd probably go to that bird's natural habitat and see it there. Instead, his goal in each stop was to see the birds endemic to that place--the ones never seen elsewhere at all. So it's the opposite theory--he really wants to see all the native Sri Lankan birds when he's there and all the Costa Rican birds while in that country. He's able to become more immersed in the local habitats and environments, because his focus is much more on what's supposed to be there, not on the outliers.

He does spend the entire year on the road except for a few days in May when he does hit his home of Oregon, on the US part of his trip. He starts in Antarctica, hitting all seven continents, a few of them twice. There are over 10,000 known species of birds (according to the guidebook he uses. There's a different one that has a larger number, and recently scientists have way upped the number to over 14K using genetics.) A few years ago a couple got over 4500 birds on a world Big Year.  Noah plans to pass them and his goal is 5000--to see half the known species. Along the way he meets loads of people. While he's traveling alone, he never is alone--he meets up with locals he finds through a birding app and occasionally friends meet up with him for brief stints. The birds seem fascinating--I did have to look up a couple of them that are just bizarre. I keep being tempted to start birding and yet, I can't possibly keep even 1000 birds straight, let alone ten times that, so I'm content to just observe the ones in my own backyard.

Meanwhile, I was so grateful, in this time of uncertainty and weirdness, to find one last stunt memoir, to lighten my days.

I bought this book from Quail Ridge Books, an independent bookstore.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Stuck Inside Recommendations 81-90: Graphic Novels and Sci Fi!

On Facebook I started recommending a book a day for those stuck inside and looking for something good to read. I'm trying to alternate 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! 

81. Thornhill by Pam Smy

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

83. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi, translated by Mattias Ripa

84. Kiss Number 8 by Colleen A.F. Venable, illustrated by Ellen T. Crenshaw

85. The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry by David L. Carlson, illustrated by Landis Blair

86. The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

87. The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

88. Mort(e) by Robert Repino*

89. The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, translated by Marlaine Delargy*

90. The Martian by Andy Weir*