Saturday, February 29, 2020

Book Review: The Queen Bee and Me by Gillian McDunn

Everyone immediately knows who the Queen Bee of their childhood was. Most of us have seen the movie Mean Girls which really dove into the phenomenon from a fictional POV. That movie was based on a sociology book called Queen Bees and Wannabees, which was great. And now we have a book for a slightly younger set (it's middle grade). Many books about bullying and about how the popular girl is really cruel are told from the viewpoint of the bullied. This one is different in that it's the best friend of the bully who is seeing negative changes in her once-nice friend.

Meg is used to being Meg-and-Beatrix and she's always loved that inclusion, that feeling of belonging. But when she meets new girl Hazel, Beatrix takes an immediate dislike to her and leads a charge against her--targeting Hazel for name-calling, pranks, and general bullying. Meg is assigned to be Hazel's lab partner in their science elective (and Beatrix is mad Meg is even taking the science elective as that means she's not taking dance--which is Beatrix's love--anymore.) And Meg tries to ride a fine line between staying friends with Beatrix--who Meg also knows from personal experience will turn on Meg too if Meg displeases her--and not being mean to Hazel, who Meg thinks is smart and quirky and lonely.

As you may already suspect, that's a hard line to ride, and Meg eventually falls off. Which side does she land on? Will she stick by her life-long best friend and turn on the weird new girl who has upended the usual order of things? Or will she befriend the unusual girl who keeps bees, and risk the wrath of Beatrix?

A great story for middle school girls who often face this sort of decision, and it's told from a more common point of view. In most schools there's only 1-2 Queen Bees and 1-2 bullied kids, and the whole mass of kids in between who are in similar situations as Meg, giving this book wide appeal.

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

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

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Book Review: The Phantom Twin by Lisa Brown

Isabel and Jane are so-called Siamese twins. conjoined along their sides, they are rejected by their parents and go to live at a circus, literally becoming part of the sideshow act. When they are young adults, Jane, who is by far the more opinionated and demanding sister, who wants to date (they do already but it's understandably awkward) and not be dragged down by her more reticent and reluctant sister, arranges for them to have separation surgery. This is a very new and experimental thing (I think this book is set in the 1930s?) Isabel goes along with it because she always goes along with what Jane wants.

Isabel wakes up with one arm, one leg, and no sister. Jane did not survive the surgery. Except, well, she seems to now be a ghost, still attached to Isabel (sometimes). Isabel isn't familiar with making decisions for their lives and wasn't prepared for this outcome at all. She has to navigate a whole new world, learn how to be a single person, figure out her prosthetics, and decide if she wants to (or even can) stay part of the circus. In the mean time she meets a nice guy at a tattoo parlor, but he can't really be interested in a freak like her, can he?

This book flirts with the fantastical but always does stay squarely in reality. The historical era makes it feel a little less real, but that was the height of the circus popularity not to mention, when this surgery first could be attempted, so it makes sense. I was truly worried at parts that Isabel wasn't going to find her way in the world alone. And Jane's ghost is sometimes malevolent. The only thing I wish was different was that the ghost part was both better explained and had more of an outcome. But this is a really cool book. The graphic novel format works especially well for a story so reliant of the physicality of the main character.

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Book Review: Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

When I was a kid, my step-mom had a VCR. In 1984. It was shocking. Her movie selection was more shocking. She owned Grease, and every other movie she owned starred either Shirley Temple or Elvis. My sisters and I watched A LOT of Grease. Sometimes we'd watch it 2-3 times on a Saturday. Suffice to say that despite having not seeing it (in its entirety) in a couple dozen years, I am still WELL VERSED.

So a YA novel based on Grease, with gay protagonists was right up my alley! Oliver is in North Carolina for the summer (from California) because his aunt is dying of cancer. At the lake where they spend the summer, he meets a guy, Matt, and they have a clandestine romance. Ollie is supposed to go back to California but his mother just can't leave her sister now, at the end. So Ollie will be finishing up his senior year in NC unexpectedly. His first day he meets a trio of girls who take him under their wing. The leader is a bit bitchy, with her fashionable and flirtatious sidekicks (they've done away with the Jan character altogether from the Pink Ladies, which frankly makes sense. In what universe are Rizzo, Frenchy, and Marty friends with Jan?) When he bumps into Will a few days later at a party, in a meet-awkward orchestrated by the bitchy girl friend, he's surprised and then terribly disappointed by Will's macho response to re-meeting Ollie, in front of his fellow varsity basketball players (see, they all wear letterman jackets, which kind of makes them look like a gang like the T-Birds! And is further ironic given that Danny Zuko almost doesn't graduate since he failed PE and in the last big scene of the movie he finally gets his letterman sweater in track.)

If you've seen the movie or play, you might think you know where this is going, but as it's set in 2019 and Ollie and Will are gay, and Will is closeted, and there's Ollie's sick aunt, it is more interesting than a pastiche would be. And I really loved the ending, and the much better lessons in the book than in the movie. This book was a refreshing delight from beginning to end. If you aren't familiar with Grease, it doesn't matter one bit. You certainly don't need to be. It's a great contemporary YA rom-com on its own.

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

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Book Review: InvestiGators by John Patrick Green

I actually laughed out loud when I first heard this book described. I figured it was about alligators who were investigators. But I did not expect that they also wear vests! That was a pun past the usual and it tickled me. Mango and Brash are our investigators, and they're looking into the disappearance of a local famous baker. There's also an explosion at a local science lab that seems to have been set on purpose--and where a giant cake they'd baked was sent. But why? To solve the crimes, they travel through sewers, meet a doctor who is a Werecopter (he was bitten by a rabid helicopter, of course), and meet the fearsome Crackerdile!

Filled with hijinks, more puns than you can shake a stick at, and multiple mysteries, this graphic novel is ideal for fans of Dog-Man. Any fun-loving reader of graphic novels in the 7-11 age range will likely fall in love with this new series. I enjoyed the heck out of it myself.

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

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

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Book Review: When Did the Statue of Liberty Turn Green?: And 101 Other Questions about New York City by The Staff of The New-York Historical Society Library

I picked up this book this summer initially, when my husband and I went to the park on a picnic. It was ideal for that scenario--not paying a lot of attention, picking up and putting down, and most importantly the putting down of the book for weeks or months after. I brought it along when we went to a ballooning festival. It is so nice to have fun snippets of fascinating information that don't require much attention or any plot, to keep one occupied during lazy afternoons outside.

It was also great as I was recovering from food poisoning. Again, without a plot to follow and with just enough information to keep me interested without overly taxing my mind, it was ideal. I especially liked that I read about the first New Year's Eve party in Times Square, just a couple of days before New Year's Eve! A perfect book for any New Yorker, wannabee New Yorker, tourist, or a history buff. Loved it.

I bought this book at the New York Tenement Museum in the gift shop.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Book Review: A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner

Silas Walker does a presentation about former Major League Baseball player Glenn Burke for his sixth grade class, complete (thanks to assistance from his best friend), sound effects and extra drama. Glenn Burke invented the high five in 1977. That blew my mind. (And it's really true!) The high five was invented after I was born. seems like it would have been centuries older, right? And it's wild that it was at a baseball game, so it's documented to the exact time and place.

What Silas doesn't tell his class or his baseball teammates is he has another reason he was researching Glenn Burke and is a huge fan--Glenn Burke was openly gay to his teammates. No, not to the general public, and yes, a coach asked him if he would get married just for show (he declined rather vociferously) and he was pretty quickly fired from baseball, despite being an excellent all-around player, which is rare.

You see, Silas is pretty sure he's gay. He's scared about it. He's scared to tell anyone, even his best friend, even his coach. But he sees how Glenn Burke dealt with it, in the 1970s. How he stood up for who he is. How he was discriminated against and run out of baseball. He sees a role model--and also a cautionary tale.

So Silas worries. He goes to school and he goes to baseball, and he's his usual fun-loving, exuberant, over-the-top self, but at the same time he's also always scared in the background. How will he be able to come to terms with this? His fear is making him lose part of who he is. Can he be strong like Glenn? Can he be himself, and be happy?

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

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

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Book Review: Articulated Restraint by Mary Robinette Kowal

This is a short story that takes place during the action of The Calculating Stars. Ruby, a different astronette, has twisted her ankle the previous night in a dancing competition--something she does to try to retain one single "normal" thing from before the meteorite struck. An emergency has happened on the moon, and she is called in to work in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab immediately to try to work the problem. If they can't figure this out, people--some of them her friends--will die. So she grits her teeth and ignores the pain as she works and works and works the problem.

I love when Kowal gives us the perspectives of others in the astronaut program in this series. Different personalities and different backgrounds lend to different outcomes, and I feel like I could stay in this world forever, as she explores different people's experiences and decisions. Even a short story is beloved because I got to be in this world just a few minutes more.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Book Review: The Watergate Girl: My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President by Jill Wine-Banks

Jill was one of the prosecutors in the Watergate trials. She worked on Ehrlichman, Magruder, Dean, all the men made famous by All the President's Men. She was the loan woman attorney involved in the case, and often the only woman in any room at that time. She was a tough prosecutor, having come from working Mob cases, but she was often sidelined and daily faced rampant sexism and misogyny.

But she stuck to the job. It was grueling work with horrible hours and not great working conditions. She was in her early 30s and still felt she was proving herself. It also helped as a distraction from her terrible marriage to work herself to exhaustion.

Throughout this book we see the inevitable parallels between what happened in 1973-74 and today, with the manipulation, threats, power plays, and truly despicable abuse of the office of the President. With the benefit of hindsight, Nixon doesn't seem as bad as he once did, and this play-by-play within the context of the time helps remind us that his behavior, and that of the men under him, was truly reprehensible. It as also interesting for me to hear for the first time about people like Rose Mary, Nixon's personal secretary, who probably played as active a role in the cover-up as the men mentioned above, but was never even considered as a co-conspirator because of her sex (even by Jill!)

This is a fast read, and a worthy reminder of the past which we seem to be doomed to repeat.

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

Friday, February 7, 2020

Book Review: Go to Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood by Lucy Knisley

I don't have kids. But I am the oldest child, my youngest sibling, my half-brother, is 12 years younger than me, and he slept in my room until he was four. I got up in the middle of the night with him scores of time, and taught him how to climb out of his crib before he could walk. I also was a nanny in college for infant twins. I am very good with babies. So this lovely, sweet, occasionally distracted memoir in cartoons about being a brand-new mother still managed to speak to me despite my lack of child. Lucy's exhaustion, pain, hunger, and LOVE all come through with a few strokes of the pen. Made me appreciate mothers everywhere, and also so glad I'm not one myself.

THE most perfect baby shower gift ever.

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

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Book Review: The Other Bennet Sister: A Novel by Janice Hadlow

Most people I know who read Jane Austen just detest Mary Bennet, the unlikable, prudish, judgmental middle sister from Pride & Prejudice. However I've always felt a little bad for her. Even in a large family, she's obviously cast out, with no allies to get her through their somewhat difficult life out in the rural countryside with nothing to do, no real prospects for her, and a highly uncertain future. It's lovely of Ms. Hadlow to imagine a different future for Mary than most of us do.

The book begins a bit before the appearance of Mr. Bingley and his party, and near the beginning of the book Mary, having learned that books are her only friend, is struggling to see well, and she talks her mother into letting her see an oculist, who makes a pair of spectacles for her--of which Mrs. Bennet is horrified. The oculist's son, who is learning the trade, actually seems interested in Mary and this gives a frisson of hope right up front, which sets a hopeful and positive tone for the whole book, even when things seems bleak.

The Pride & Prejudice plot is set into motion and we see some scenes from the book from Mary's eyes instead of Lizzy's, which does turn things a bit on their head. We also see that the much-older Charlotte Lucas is both a source of advice and frustration to Mary, who is following in her old maid footsteps, and may also one day have to hope for a Mr. Collins to come along. So when Charlotte seems to swoop in and snatch Mr. Collins right out from under Mary, it's a blow to her already minuscule self-esteem.

Then the book jumps ahead. The Bingleys are married, the Darcys are married, and Mr. Bennet has died. Mr. Collins has taken over Longborne, and horrifyingly Mary is the last single daughter, doomed to spend her days not only at the charity of her sisters, but with their mother at her constant side. After unfortunate stays with both the Bingleys and Darcys, Mary is desperate to escape, and finds solace and a welcome home in London with her Aunt and Uncle, who previously had hosted both Jane and Lizzy.

With some advice from her Aunt, a lot of self-reflection, and a couple of handsome young men who see much more potential in Mary than her relatives back home ever did, Mary starts to blossom. She'll never be the great beauty that Jane is or the life of the party that Lydia is, but she's herself--just better--when she's no longer hounded and disapproved of and insulted all the livelong day. And will she find love? Is this an Austen pastiche? Is the sky blue?

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

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Book Review: Chirp by Kate Messner

Mia has moved back to Vermont from Boston. It's the beginning of summer which is not the best time to make new friends but her grandmother lives in town, and her mother makes her sign up for a couple of summer camps. Everyone assumes she'll sign up for gymnastics camp. But she's's done with gymnastics. After breaking her arm badly last year, requiring surgery, she's finished. Plus, there was her creepy assistant coach she'd rather forget.

So instead she signs up for a Makers camp that's participating in a Shark Tank-type of entrepreneur competition at the end of summer, and on the spur of the moment, an American Gladiator camp that she immediately regrets. Plus she'll be helping her grandmother with her cricket farm! Mia will have plenty to keep her busy.

Everything soon ties together. The entrepreneur project she decides to work on is her grandmother's company. And at the gladiator camp, while she can't do most of the activities which she's either too weak for, or which remind her too much of gymnastics, she does work on strengthening her arm. Even if all she's doing is hanging from a bar for 10 seconds, she's still building muscle and growing stronger. Soon she figures out her grandmother's cricket farm is being vandalized and having too many weird problems to be coincidences--it must be sabotage! Inspired by old classic teen mystery novels, she and her new friends investigate.

There's a lot going on here, but it absolutely does all come together, and the constant action keeps the story moving forward briskly. The mystery element kept me guessing for a while. I liked her new friends. You can probably already guess that her old assistant coach in Boston is a Problem. He didn't abuse her, but he made her very uncomfortable, and he was inappropriate. There's also a boy in the Makers camp who's a creep and a future lech, but over the course of the novel, multiple people, mostly his peers, call him out on his behavior and put him in his place, and by the end he's started to see he can behave better and then the other kids will like him more. The other kids are very diverse (which, given this is set in Vermont, which is in actuality the whitest state in the country, isn't very realistic, but I still appreciate the effort). And the cricket farm was a fascinating thing I was unfamiliar with and really appreciated learning about, even if I'm never, ever going to eat a cricket. But good for others who do! It's a great protein source and really good for the environment.

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

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

Saturday, February 1, 2020

My Month in Review: January

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:
Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels by Rachel Cohen
Stealing Mt. Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar
Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America's Fast-Food Kingdom by Adam Chandler (audiobook)
Once Upon a Time I Lived on Mars: Space, Exploration, and Life on Earth by Kate Greene
This Is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae Safi
One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway -- and Its Aftermath by ├ůsne Seierstad, translated by Sarah Death
Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of "The Children's Ship" by Deborah Heiligman (audiobook)
Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness by Catherine Cho
Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss by Rajeev Balasubramanyam*

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton
Check, Please!, Book 2: Sticks and Scones by Ngozi Ukazu

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
Off to a good start with none! Read a lot of magazines on flights this month though.