Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Book Review: Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty

These books came out after I was an adult, but before I started reading YA again, so even though they were wildly popular, I missed them! But I might have anyway as they were about a teenager (at least the first couple) and yet were published as adult books. That's sometimes the appropriate way to go--when the subject matter is really adult--but that's not the case here. It's more just that YA market was so in the toilet when they first came out that the publisher probably thought that classification would doom the books.

But my publisher has now bought the whole series for reissue, and we're publishing them as young adult, which feels SO MUCH more appropriate. In this first book, Jessica Darling's best friend has just moved across the country, leaving her to deal with some very second-tier friends. But she both writes Hope letters and writes in her journal (that's basically what the novel is--those writings) to get through it. Her ditzy older sister is getting married. School has the usual drama. And Marcus Flutie, who she and Hope most definitely Do Not Like starts turning up everywhere Jessica is. Which is weird. And it would be so awkward to tell Hope about for Reasons. 

There have been minor updates to the books to make sure they're not offensive, but otherwise they keep their delightful super-late-'90s vibe. This was so true to what high school felt like that I couldn't read it in big chunks, as I couldn't take my anxiety ratcheting up to that level! Man, we should all be so grateful we're not dealing with the drama, trauma, and angst anymore. Actual teens will find the book so relatable and realistic, albeit without cell phones if they can imagine that. I'm eager to see Jessica go on with her life as the series tracks her through her mid-20s which is pretty unusual.

These books are being reissued by Wednesday Books, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Book Review: The Secret Bridesmaid by Katy Birchall

Sophie Breeze has parlayed an extreme helpfulness with a love of weddings into a unique job: professional bridesmaid. These days brides want to do more of the planning themselves, and hiring a wedding planner has a whiff of laziness combined with lack of creativity that is out of vogue. However, a bridesmaid who knows a heck of a lot about wedding planning and has all the time to devote to a wedding, can make all the difference in the world. So now it's her full-time job!

A previous bride's mother calls one day to ask Sophie to meet with a potential client, with a candidate that Sophia might want to wait until after the meeting to thank her (or not). It turns out the new potential client is the Marchioness of Meade, mother of the bride. That's never ideal, as the bride needs to be on board, and this bride, Lady Cordelia, is notorious and difficult. But Sophie is optimistic and determined! She! Can! Do! It!

What I loved most about this book is even though it's about weddings and there is a love interest and it's billed as a rom-com, the primary relationship is Sophie and Cordelia possibly, maybe, reluctantly becoming friends. Yeah, Cordelia's older brother Tom is cute and nice, but he's definitely a B story. The fact that a friendship between two women is the A story I found refreshing and enlightened.

This story was a delight. It was fun and fast and had lots of ups and downs and twists and turns. There are funny little bits of stories of other weddings in between (the Star Wars themed wedding for which Sophie has to dress up as Chewbacca and learn how to do the Wookie roar, is especially funny.) I enjoyed the heck out of it. 

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

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Book Review: One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

August has had a tough life. Not as tough as some, but not fun either. Her mom has been obsessed with her missing uncle since before August was even born (she's named after him.) And August spent her entire childhood learning how to research, finagle, request, and dig to find answers, even where there don't seem to be any. The two of them lived hand to mouth in New Orleans and now she's finishing up college, having transferred to Brooklyn College. She moves into an interesting apartment with pretty unique roommates, and gets a job as a waitress at a local pancake house. Her first day commuting to class on the Q, she spills coffee all over herself. A stranger on the subway offers her a scarf to hide the stains. The stranger, who she dubs Subway Girl, is mysterious, confidant, and sexy. August sees her again the next day. And again the day after that. As they share the same commute, they eventually strike up a conversation, and August finds herself reluctantly falling in love.

Then, there's a twist. A pretty new twist, to me. One I really didn't see coming. That's when I finally was all-in on this book. It's no fault of this book, but Ms. McQuiston's last book, Red, White, and Royal Blue, was so bananas amazing that I was having a hard time at first getting over the fact that this wasn't Red, White and Royal Blue II. But the hook got me.

Now August has a new mystery on her hands to research. She has to figure out the twists and turns of her new relationship. She loves her found family, but also is wary of risking her feelings. Speaking of feelings, her relationship with her mother changes too. Oh, and she finds out something about her uncle. And the pancake house might close. And there are drag queens. And an epic party.

It's a super fun book with all the feels. It came at me from a different angle and I really appreciate that. Having lived at the very end of the W, I understand what it's like to have strange opinions about different types of subways cars, and the weird feeling when you start to notice the same people day after day. August grows up, starts to come into herself, and makes some room for other people in her tightly wound heart. A colleague said this book is like a warm hug, and it's hard to argue with that, or come up with a better summation.

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

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Book Review: The Best Worst Summer by Elizabeth Eulberg

Peyton's family has moved from Minneapolis to a small town four hours away, which means she's had to leave her best friend Lily. She doesn't know anyone and she has nothing to do. While weeding in the backyard (that's how bored she is), she digs up a shoebox full of stuff. And finds that a couple of eleven-year-old girls, just like her and Lily, made a time capsule in 1989! There's a mysterious note written in code, a couple of weird rectangles she can't figure out (a mix tape and a disc film cartridge), half a best friends necklace, and a note with an abject apology that it seems like never got to its intended. 

At the library, where her father has tracked down a cassette player, Peyton meets Lucas, who joins in her quest to figure out who the two girls were, and track them down to return their stuff. 

Back in 1989, Melissa and Jessica are determined to have the best summer ever! They're eating hamburgers and gushing over New Kids on the Block. But one of them has a family secret that will ruin everything. 

Will Peyton and Lucas be able to puzzle out the mystery of that summer over 30 years ago? What happened to Melissa and Jessica? And can Peyton and Lily keep their own friendship from falling apart? This is a cute middle grade book with a lot of energy and fun, but with more serious themes at its heart.

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

Monday, April 19, 2021

Book Review: Buses Are a Comin' : Memoir of a Freedom Rider by Charles Person, with Richard Rooker

Charles Person was one of the original Freedom Riders, and the youngest at 18. An Atlanta native, he did find it ironic that he traveled to DC to travel back through Atlanta, and on to the deeper South, during this test of an unenforced Supreme Court decision, that declared buses and bus stations should not be segregated. He had no idea how it would change his life.

As a young college student in the 1960s, he'd grown up firmly under the jackboot of Jim Crow. Naturally, he'd both resented and accepted it. But after getting rejected from Georgia Tech solely due to his race, he was fired up. He and a friend did peaceful lunch counter sit-ins around their campus. And when they heard about the Freedom Ride project, they both applied, and Charles was accepted. He got his dad's permission and fibbed to his mom. 

The ride started out peaceful. There was no trouble in Virginia, and very little in North Carolina. It started just over the border in Rock Hill. And it did not end in New Orleans as planned, but instead it ended in Alabama with Sheriff Bull Connor and a great deal of bloodshed.

It's amazing to get a real inside account of this seminal event of the Civil Rights Movement. The beginning with his background dragged a bit, but when it gets to the ride itself, it really began to sing. Mr. Person unfortunately does have a tendency to use three metaphors when one (or none) would do, and flit off to extemporizing about the meaning of things and the inspiration when more straightforwardness would have served the book better. But those are minor bumps in an otherwise inspiring and meaningful memoir about a life-changing and world-changing act of bravery by a dozen or so people, who saw America needed to move forward, even if it was painful.

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

Book Review: Thief of Souls by Brian Klingborg

A woman is murdered in Raven Valley Township. The authorities are more than happy to sweep it under the rug, to pin it on a local troubled young man who may have been interested in her. However, Inspector Lu Fei knows he didn't do it, and he's determined to get to the bottom of the case. Far, far away from Beijing, Lu Fei is alone in being an educated outsider. 

The setting in this book is brilliant and really makes the book (though Lu Fei is also a compelling protagonist.) I love that it's not in a major or even minor city. It's out in the boonies, and really reflects the true China in a way that a small town in Indiana would be a much more accurate portrayal of American then New York or LA ever can be. Mr. Klingborg gives great very brief explanations of some bizarre differences in how things work in China--for example there are 2 different men in charge of the town--some things I'd expect the town manager to be responsible for, instead the Communist Party chair is in charge of. I really appreciated both the explanations, but also how he didn't get bogged down in long-winded interpretations. This book, even though it's contemporary, felt so foreign and unusual, it really took me out of the here and now which is a nice break this year. I look forward to future installments.

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

Friday, April 9, 2021

Book Review: You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

You may know comedian Amber Ruffin who both writes and occasionally performs for Seth Meyers on his late night show, and also has her own show on Peacock. What you don't know is that she's from Omaha, Nebraska, where her sister Lacey Lamar still lives. And boy, the things people say to Lacey are shocking!

Lacey is often the only Black person at her workplace and the people around her either let down their guard or simply are proudly racist. She reports back to Amber--who lives in New York where these sorts of daily racist remarks are a thing of the past--who finds great humor in the majority of them. Here both sisters tell Lacey's stories (and a couple of Amber's) to illustrate through humor how racism is still pervasive and ridiculous. The humor is truly key, as it helps the medicine go down, and also lowers people's defenses so they can truly hear these stories without getting their back up. Because ya'll, you guys, racism's still out there. And by the time you read this Lacey will probably have been fired from yet another job for standing up for herself and not putting up with other people's stupidity. 

The audio version was especially good as both sisters recorded it, and while I appreciated them describing some of the pictures included, audiobook publishers have got to figure out a way to make photos in book more accessible to us listeners. Like just putting them up on the publisher's website would be good. I don't even need all of them--just a couple would be fine. 

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

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Book Review: Death of a Showman by Mariah Fredericks

The lady Jane Prescott is maid to, Louise Tyler, is interested in the theater, and as her new husband isn't paying much attention to her, when Jane learns her old friend Leo Hirschfeld has co-written a musical that is actually being produced on Broadway, the two of them start attending rehearsals, and Louise is soon pressured into financially backing the production. 

Jane isn't thrilled about seeing Leo every day as there  had been sparks between them, but Leo has recently and suddenly married a chorus girl in his new musical, whose claim to fame is slowly--and bouncily--walking down stairs. That's it. Jane understandably feels slighted that Leo would go from her to... this. But Jane is also a sensible woman and an excellent maid so she overlooks that for now, and even tries to get to know the woman. If Leo married her she can't be as stupid as she seems, can she? 

One night the whole cast and crew go out to dinner at a fancy restaurant and Leo's partner is murdered in the bathroom! Who could have done it? His wife? The woman he was stepping out with? Leo? The lead actress's disgruntled boyfriend? Whoever it is, the scandal could close the show, losing all of Louise's money, so Jane must go to work as the police are all too eager to lay the blame at the feet of someone who obviously had an alibi. Luckily for Louise, Jane is an excellent detective. Luckily for us readers, Jane is also a delightful sleuth to tag along with, during the beginning days of Broadway's height, as the musical was finding its feet in the transition from Vaudeville. Join her and Louise as they have a fun time dabbling their toes into the exciting life of the theater!

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

Thursday, April 1, 2021

My Month in Review: March 2021

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:
Brat: An '80s Story by Andrew McCarthy*
A Face for Picasso: Coming of Age with Crouzon Syndrome by Ariel Henley
Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune
The Heron's Cry by Ann Cleeves
No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality by Michael J. Fox (audiobook)
So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix by Bethany C. Morrow

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Brothers on Three by Abe Streep
My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Psycho by the Sea by Lynne Truss
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer* (audio)
The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser*

What I acquired this month (non-work books): 
Brat: An '80s Story by Andrew McCarthy* (from a friend who is a rep at Hachette)