CMPR’s Best Books of 2017

At the end of every year, major outlets compile a list of their favorite books of 2017 by editors and readers alike. Since we love to read at Claire McKinneyPR, we decided to follow suit with our own Best Books of 2017!

Claire McKinney’s Best Books of 2017:

The Secret History by Donna Tartt: The Goldfinch is an amazing novel and I decided to pick up The Secret History earlier this year at a bookstore. Tartt’s debut novel is fantastic – the characters come alive on the page.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: This book about best friends from camp felt so realistic to read. It didn’t hurt that I could really identify with the characters, who are from my generation.

Fractured by Catherine McKenzie: Fractured was a real page-turner. Over the past year I read other psychological thrillers, but they didn’t deliver the same way McKenzie’s novel did.

Larissa Ackerman’s Best Books of 2017:

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan: I was late to hop on the bandwagon for this one, but I’m glad I still read it. It’s the perfect book to read during a year that has had such an up-and-down climate! Crazy Rich Asians is gossipy, juicy, compelling, and will make you want to book your next vacation to the glittering lights of Singapore.

Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner: Matthew Weiner is most known for being the creator of two of my favorite characters on TV, Don Draper and Roger Sterling of Mad Men. I expected Heather, the Totality to be in a similar vein – serious yet with its human and humorous moments – but was surprised when this book took a very dark turn very early on.  It’s a compelling yet uncomfortable read about the male gaze.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix: Although the book is about a teenage girl being possessed and her best friend’s attempt at saving her, this is not a young adult novel. Although it’s considered horror genre, the book is ultimately an extremely well written and eerie story about the bonds between two best friends. I also highly recommend Hendrix’s book Horrorstör, about employees getting trapped overnight in an ominous, Ikea-like store.

What books did you read this year that you loved? Tweet us your favorites @McKinneyPR.

8 Tips to Keep in Your Mind When Seeking Book Reviews

Seeking Book Reviews CMPRWhen I worked for publishing houses in New York City there was a debate about book review coverage.  Does seeking book reviews really sell books?  The answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no, but with a bit of knowledge of the media and how things work, it is possible to influence some control the of the results.

Here is a list of some of the Do’s and Don’ts of seeking book reviews:


  1. Don’t put your review eggs in one basket, like only being satisfied with a big review in the New York Times or another major newspaper.  I have had front page reviews in the New York Times Book Review that have not done a thing and I have had reviews in the daily section that have tipped a title over the edge on the road to being a bestseller.  It depends on the book, the quality of the review, when the review comes out, and the person who reviewed it.
  1. If you are self-published don’t try to get traditional newspapers to review your book.  Most of the book editors will not accept these titles because they are overwhelmed with traditionally published books already.  Here’s the thing, every in-house publicist sends almost every book to USA Today’s book review editor.  There are upwards of 700,000 books published every year. Granted, not all of them are new, but that’s still a lot of stacks to have in your office if you are an editor.
  1. Don’t automatically send your books to bloggers without asking.  Bloggers are often working from home and don’t have the bandwidth to accept that many packages from the postal service.  Email them first with a pitch about your book and offer to send a copy if they request one.
  1. Don’t send the wrong book to the wrong person.  If you have written a self-help book on how to buy jeans, the literary editor at The New Yorker isn’t going to be happy receiving an unsolicited copy.
  1. Do search for other books like yours on Google to see who has reviewed them, and where.  Your book could be perfect for these reviewers.  Go track them down on social media or elsewhere and pitch the book to them directly.
  1. Do know the content the outlet covers.  Visit the blogs and know what kinds of books they review.  Go to Barnes & Noble and check out print publications to make sure your title fits their bill.  While you are at it, check the masthead to see who the editor is for entertainment, culture, and/or books.  Make a note of this person as the right one to contact with a review copy.
  1. Do look for people other than book review editors who might be interested in your title.  If you have an historical novel based heavily in World War II, you might be able to send a copy to historical publications or people who are specifically interested in that era.  Research the internet to find the right places.
  1. Research, research, research, if I haven’t said it enough.  One of the biggest ways to manage how well your book will be reviewed, if it will be reviewed, and whether the review will influence readers is to find the best people and places to cover it.  Matching the interests of the publication or blog’s audience to your topic and a good review balances the scale in your book’s direction.

Keep these tips in mind when you are seeking book reviews to maximize your outreach to book bloggers and media outlets!

Book Review: Yes Please by Amy Poehler


Yes Please is a great collection of personal anecdotes that not only gave me a glimpse of Amy Poehler’s personal life, but into the life of the struggles of being a woman in show business—particularly, comedy.

Yes Please is a blend of the history of Poehler’s childhood growing up in Massachusetts and her Boston-based college experiences; the struggle to become a comedy actor in Chicago, and her success in the Big Apple; advice on dating and careers; and lovable stories about the people she has worked with. It is a melting pot of Amy Poehler’s brain, and it’s crazy in there: “I love Boston, but we sound like idiots. Our mouths never close and we talk like big, lazy babies. I might get s*** for this but as a true Bostonian all I will say to that is F*** YOU, AHHSOLE, IF YOU GOT A PRAWBLEM WIT ME THEN LET’S MEET BY THE RIVAH!” Spoken like a true Bostonian, Amy.

Poehler gives an abundance of stories that detail her friendships with colleagues such as Tina Fey (“Tina Fey is my comedy wife”) and Seth Meyers (who pens an awesome letter to Amy in the book). She provides a solid amount of autobiography from her birth to her current life without boring the reader. She goes into detail about her years in Chicago as an unpaid sketch comedian in the Upright Citizens Brigade, but rushes through her years at SNL with memorable incidents. However, I have a feeling that if Poehler told you everything she remembered from SNL and Chicago, you’d be stuck with a book twice as long (andYes Please is literally a heavy book).

Amy is mostly silent on her divorce from Will Arnett, except for mentioning how proud she is to have raised their two children together. And why should she comment on their divorce? That’s what the chapter about her “books on divorce” is about. My personal favorite title: I WANT A DIVORCE! SEE YOU TOMORROW. She briefly mentions her relationship with Nick Kroll and chooses not to go into detail. Amy will acknowledge something exists without delving into the entire story. That’s her prerogative, although I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t any gossip she could give her readers. But Amy Poehler is nothing if not classy and professional, even when she’s writing a memoir.

I loved reading about her time at SNL and her years in Chicago struggling to be a comedian. If you don’t watch SNLYes Please doesn’t leave you feeling left out; instead it lets you into the glorious mess of the studio at 30 Rock that is helmed by the well-known executive producer, Lorne Michaels. And the stories she does save for us are amazing, such as the one when Sir Ian McKellen hosted SNL and “greeted us every day by booming out in his perfect voice, ‘Good morning, actors!’”

The best part about Yes Please is that it leaves you wanting to read more about her, even if it was another fifty pages (please). When you close the book, you’re not done with Amy Poehler. You want to know more about her, see more of her. And that’s the way she wants it; because she’s not done with us just yet either as she moves on from Parks and Recreation (this upcoming season is its last) onto bigger, and possibly better things.

Book Review: Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch


“A look says more than words alone. That’s a cliche, of course. But a cliche, also says more than words alone.” 

Summer House with Swimming Pool begins and ends with a murder.

Herman Koch’s new novel is the story of Marc, a family doctor who is smart and self-aware to a fault. He has a heightened awareness of other people and their actions combined with a compulsive need to invent fictional scenarios about these people.  This leads him to a conscious state where it is difficult to determine fact from fiction.

Marc focuses most of his obsessive thinking on Ralph Meier who he actually murdered–an important fact we learn in the very first chapter. The subsequent chapters backtrack to several months before to engage the reader in the events leading to Ralph’s death.

Being a doctor for years is clearly starting to get to Marc, and he is simultaneously apathetic and disgusted by his patients.  He is also well-known by celebrities for being a “go-to” guy who will write prescriptions for whatever they want. Ralph Meier is a high-profile Shakespearean actor who stops into Marc’s office one day in search of a drug prescription, and their interaction begins an unsteady friendship between the two men.

A film and television star, Ralph has a pretty and obnoxious wife, Judith, who doesn’t know about Ralph’s piggish appreciation for women–including Marc’s wife Caroline and their two teenage daughters. Ralph and Judith invite Marc’s family to their summer house near the beach, which has a swimming pool that wins his daughters over, resulting in the family deciding to stay longer than initially planned.

Although Ralph is easily the most detestable character in the book, Marc is not so innocent himself; we learn right from the beginning that he murdered Ralph due to a medical error, although it’s clear that Marc has no regrets about the incident. Marc also takes part in an affair with Judith behind Caroline’s back.

Marc is also excessively passive when it comes to taking action. Although he has some evidence that Ralph may be making sexual advances towards his daughters, he says and does nothing. Instead, Marc would rather brood about Ralph’s alleged pedophilia and analyze the situation that may be happening to his daughters. But for the majority of the book, he doesn’t lift a finger towards Ralph.

Only when his 14-year-old daughter Julia is attacked on the beach one night does Marc confront Ralph about molesting his daughter. He quickly–weakly–backs down when Ralph gets angry at him, opting to take the passive route of packing up and leaving with his family to go back home. After the drama of the summer house dies down, Ralph boldly returns to see Marc at his office, and we soon discover that even the way Marc murders Ralph is as passive as a murder can be.

Summer House with Swimming Pool is a book that I like to think Albert Camus would enjoy. The narrator’s emotions are not necessary indifferent towards his friends and family, but his actions are. Marc is a man who is angry at Ralph’s perversion and disgusted by his existence, but he does nothing to stop Ralph from leering at Caroline and their teenage daughters. The narrator’s viewpoint and Koch’s writing style reminds me of The Stranger and Mersault, the indifferent and passive protagonist who is always thinking, but never doing, resigned to his fate and never seeking a different outcome. If you are searching for similar authors to Camus, Herman Koch and his new novel Summer House with Swimming Pool is the perfect fix.

Review: Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller

Kimberly Rae Miller/Amazon Publishing

The dark side of living with hoarders and the damage it does to a child is what makes Kimberly Rae Miller’s memoir Coming Clean such a great story: she was born into a family that loved her and would do anything for her, but they were hoarders. Her father literally could not get rid of his things, because they were of such importance and he was obsessed by them.

Miller is torn between being angry with her parents for allowing her to live such a life and rationalizing what they do–her mother’s sick and can’t clean; her father just doesn’t realize what he’s doing wrong, even when he’s being dangerous. One day when Kimberly’s friend Carolynn is visiting, her father accuses Kimberly of breaking one of his many radios. She says he “made a fist, and he punched me in the face…I was torn between telling [Carolynn] that my dad wasn’t usually like this, that my parents never hit me, or acting like this sort of thing was no big deal and happened all the time.”

Even after finishing the 250-page book, which was a quick read and extremely hard to put down, it’s hard to admit that there are people who have to deal with hoarding every day. It is a real condition that is often sad, and can have lasting physical and emotional effects. But it is taken lightly by our culture, even to the point of being “funny”. Miller shares her thoughts about the show “Extreme Hoarders”:

“Episode after episode, I cried-not because of what was on the TV, but because I knew that there were people, millions of people, who watched shows like this for fun. People who laughed and feigned gagging, people who would never really understand what it felt like to live like that.”

There is much to be learned about hoarding from Coming Clean, including that one out of every four hoarders is the child of an alcoholic parent, and that hoarding is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder. No matter how many times you clean house, whether by discarding all your beloved things or by moving into a new place, you’ll eventually turn around and face the mess all over again. All that cleaning will never amount to anything if you don’t deal with the heart of the problem.

Shame is also a major theme in the book; Miller is embarrassed by the way her parent’s live in filth, and it’s difficult for her to let other people see that:

“‘I’m not doing this alone. Rachel and Tim will be on their honeymoon, and frankly I’m sick of asking her and Anna to clean your apartment. You have no idea how humiliating that is for me.’

‘You don’t think I’m humiliated?’

Apparently not humiliated enough to hire someone to help as opposed to taking advantage of my friends.”

Coming Clean is a darkly comic confession from a woman who has needed to pour her heart out to the world about what she faced as a child living in a “hoarding” environment. Although depressing at times, the author shows us that she has proved strong time and time again, facing the horrific childhood of living in a house full to the brim with objects, rats, no running water, and fleas. When her parents finally sell the house to move into an apartment, and hopefully a smaller space that won’t allow such devastation, they discover that someone has been living in the attic of their house without their knowledge. Their hoarding had become so unmanageable that someone else was living with them, and no one had any idea. Nothing can be more disturbing than that.