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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Reading Challenges 2017 Summary

So last year I thought this year the challenges would be better because of no cross-country move (did move cross-town though) and yet, I knew I was going to have some issues, chiefly among them that last January I was unemployed and did not know where in the publishing world a new job would take me. As it happened, my new job took me to a Big Five publisher, where I am reading an absolute ton and almost exclusively one publisher and almost exclusively new releases. Which made some challenges more challenging than others. I also ratcheted down my number of books from 100 to 80 which is a huge joke since I read more than 130.

Overall, I read a lot, very few stinkers this year, and even though I didn't finish all of my challenges, I'm happy with where things ended up. 

The European Reading Challenge

Welcome to the 2017 European Reading Challenge – where participants tour Europe through books. And have a chance to win a prize. Please join us for the Grand Tour!

THE GIST: The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it's supposed to be a tour. (See note about the UK, below)

WHAT COUNTS AS "EUROPE"?: We stick with the same list of 50 sovereign states that fall (at least partially) within the geographic territory of the continent of Europe and/or enjoy membership in international European organizations such as the Council of Europe. This list includes the obvious (the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy), the really huge Russia, the tiny Vatican City, and the mixed bag of Baltic, Balkan, and former Soviet states.

THE LIST: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vatican City.

NOTE: Even after Brexit, the United Kingdom is still one country, in Europe, that includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. So one book from any one of these four counts as your one book for the United Kingdom. I'm not going to be a stickler about it because challenges should be about fun not about rules. However, when it comes to winning the Jet Setter prize, only one book from one of the UK countries will count.

Carin says: After my three-year challenge reading a book from every state, I wanted an international challenge this year. I was originally thinking of something broader but A) most of the books I read will be from Europe, let's face it and B) I didn't find one but I found this one. I am signing up for the level of FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries. Whoever reads and reviews the most (but you only get to count each country once) is eligible for the Jet Setter prize, a $25 gift card to Powell's.

1. Pancakes in Paris: Living the American Dream in France by Craig Carlson FRANCE
2. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh BRITAIN
3. Schadenfreude, A Love Story: Me, the Germans, and 20 Years of Attempted Transformations, Unfortunate Miscommunications, and Humiliating Situations That Only They Have Words For by Rebecca Schuman GERMANY
4. Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin RUSSIA (USSR)
5. Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dash THE NETHERLANDS

5/5 as of 12/7/2017 DONE! Frustratingly, I read several books set in Germany and Britain, and a several non-European countries (South Africa, Australia, Antarctica), but that fifth European country I had to work for. I thought it would just happen organically through my normal selections. 

New Release Challenge

The rules for the 2017 New Release Challenge are simple:

Books have to be released and reviewed in 2017.
Other challenges can be used as well, as long as the ones you use for the 2017 New Release Reading Challenge qualify to the other rules.
The minimum length for a book to qualify is 100 pages, it can be in any format though, physical, e-book, ARC or audiobook.
You don’t have to be a blogger to participate, you can link to your review on Goodreads or Booklikes instead – so don’t be shy!

Carin says: Given that I am back in the land of publishing and hope to shortly be working again at a major publishing house, I need to stay on top of new releases. In fact, my bigger problem I hope is that 2018 books will not apply (I have already read 3 2017 books in 2016.) I am signing up for 31-60 books per year – New Release Pro which is only level 2. The host of this challenge is really hard-core and reads a ton more than I do and her top levels are ginormous. I read 29 2016 books in 2016 so this level seems perfectly do-able without completely knocking out all backlist from my reading.

1. Class by Lucinda Rosenfeld
2. Rise: How a House Built a Family by Cara Brookins
3. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
4. Schadenfreude, A Love Story: Me, the Germans, and 20 Years of Attempted Transformations, Unfortunate Miscommunications, and Humiliating Situations That Only They Have Words For by Rebecca Schuman
5. Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town by Brian Alexander
6. Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Malone Scott
7. Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham
8. The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater
9. The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs by Janet Peery
10. Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas
11. Thornhill by Pam Smy
12. Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast
13. Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
14. Bored and Brilliant: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Spacing Out by Manoush Zomorodi
15. Sourdough by Robin Sloan
16. The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris
17. Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling by Michael Cannell
18. Prairie Fires: The Life and Times of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser
19. Real Friends by Shannon Hale
20. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore 
21.. Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani 
22. Killers of the Flower Moon: Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
23. Spinning by Tillie Walden
24. Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris
25. A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids by Shelley Tougas
26. In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary
27. Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell
28. The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry by David Carlson
29. Come Sundown by Nora Roberts 
30. It's All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan by Tristan Donovan 
31. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney 
32. Hazy Bloom and the Tomorrow Power by Jennifer Hamburg
33. Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller
34. The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
35. Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger
36. The Dry by Jane Harper

36/31 as of 10/22/2017 DONE! My new job sure did help with this, but since I now spend 2/3 of the year reading next year's books, this was a tad more challenging than you might think. If I could include next year's books as well, I would have practically won this one.


The basics: The challenge runs from January to December. During this time you choose a book to read from each of the following categories. (Examples of books you could choose are in brackets – translations and other languages most definitely count!):

A number in numbers (84, Charing Cross Road; 12 Years A Slave; 31 Dream Street)
A building (The Old Curiosity Shop; I Capture The Castle; House Of Shadows; The Invisible Library; Jamaica Inn)
A title which has an ‘X’ somewhere in it (The Girl Next Door; The Running Vixen)
A compass direction (North and South; Guardians Of The West; The Shadow In The North; NW)
An item/items of cutlery (The Subtle Knife; Our Spoons Came From Woolworths)
A title in which at least two words share the same first letter – alliteration! (The Great Gatsby; The Luminous Life Of Lilly Aphrodite; Gone Girl; The Cuckoo’s Calling)

Extra information:
Books can be any format (print, audio, ebook).
It’s preferred that the books don’t overlap with other challenges, but not a requirement at all.
Books cannot overlap categories (for instance my example of I Capture The Castle could be used for ‘a building’ or ‘a title in which at least two words share a first letter’ but not both).
Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed, it’s encouraged!
You don’t have to make your list of books beforehand, you can choose them as you go.
You don’t have to read your chosen books in any particular order.

Carin says: I like doing one of these more random challenges and I looked at a couple of bingo challenges (25 categories) and the PopSugar challenge for this year, but given my other challenges and the potential starting-a-new-job-needing-to-familiarize-myself-with-their-books-ASAP challenge on the horizon, I decided to go with this one with a smaller number of categories. And I've done it before and enjoyed it. Usually about half of them just happen naturally.

1. NUMBERS The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater
2. BUILDING Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town by Brian Alexander
3. X Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film by Alexandra Zapruder
4. DIRECTION South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby
5. CUTLERY
6. ALLITERATION Pancakes in Paris: Living the American Dream in France by Craig Carlson

5/6 as of 12/21/2017
Cutlery was just too obscure a category. I did find a couple that I could have read: Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory or The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean, but neither of them were books I was dying to read, and in this new world where I have to read a TON of books for work, neither struck me as a book worthy of knocking a work book off my TBR list, so I didn't finish. But I came close! I might try this one again next year, just to see what I will happen to read.

Reading the Books That I Want Challenge
In 2015 I got frustrated with my reading challenges and my book clubs and other reading obligations. And while looking at my end of year post, I was annoyed that I didn't get to read a couple of books from the rather short list of books I was really looking forward to. And then I had an idea. Last year I created my own reading challenge, just for me. And it is to list the top 20 books on my TBR list and be sure I actually read them. I am very much looking forward to this! The list does not include any books currently assigned for my book clubs. I hope to read at least 10 of these books this year.

1. Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan DONE
2. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple DONE
3. Landline by Rainbow Rowell DONE
4. Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard DONE
5. Garth Williams, American Illustrator: A Life by Elizabeth K. Wallace, James D. Wallace
6. Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris DONE
7. The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
8. Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
9. Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss 
10. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson DONE
11. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
12. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
13. Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
14. Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World by Rachel Swaby
15. Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital by David M. Oshinsky
16. Marrow: A Story of Love, Loss, and What Matters Most by Elizabeth Lesser
17. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
18. I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong DONE
19. The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon
20. The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar: Evolution's Most Unbelievable Solutions to Life's Biggest Problems by Matt Simon


7/20 as of 10/22/2017 Well in the end this year this just wasn't as important to me. I am not pining away for these and I think next year I will cut this back a lot to just a handful. Although I don't know that I would have gotten to the excellent Candice Millard without this challenge. So it's nice, but just not necessary at the moment. I think really having done this for a couple of years really got those frustrated books finally read, and so I'm not feeling that as much now.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Book Review: Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard

Candice Millard knows how to tell history like nobody's business. She really is truly top-notch. And yet she isn't in the pantheon of historical biographers: Chernow, Isaacson, and Meacham. And I think it's because she's found a more unusual, more interesting niche for herself. Could she write a straightforward biography encompassing all of Winston Churchill's life and make it utterly fascinating and compelling readable? Without breaking a sweat. Yet, she takes it a step beyond that. She takes on not a super-obscure or super-well know subject. She takes on a super-well known subject and finds an obscure but pivotal time in his life (they've all been hims so far) and elucidates that moment. Yes, with President Garfield, the moment of his assassination wasn't as obscure (although as far as her subjects go, he's the least known), but to cover Theodore Roosevelt's amazon exploration and now Churchill's time in the Boer War, she manages to cover something not bizarrely tiny and far-flung, but something significant and yet overlooked. Those sorts of topics take a keener eye.

In this book, young Churchill sets out to make a name for himself, after having decided he wants to go into politics, but failing the first time he tried. He knows without some major accomplishment in his life, ideally a military one, he will always be in the shadow of his father, and will have his work cut out, trying to gain a foothold in British government. So when war breaks out in South Africa, he is super eager to go. So much so that he signs on as a reporter (he is a good writer and he doesn't want to get killed) to go right away. And while there, he is captured along with a a troop he was embedded with. Two men come up with an escape plan, and Winston hears about it and wants in. But when it came time to execute it, Winston was separated from the other men, and ended up being the only one to actually escape. Which is not so good as he only had a couple of chocolate bars and his name. He didn't even know the rest of the plan to get back to British-held territory, and he also now had zero supplies. So what he thought would be a heroic escape became suddenly quite perilous and nearly was his undoing.

I learned so much although I fear I will never, ever truly understand the Boer War despite efforts to do so. (Was first inspired upon reading The Forsyte Saga.) And it was a tad dense for audio perhaps, as I didn't notice at the time, but upon reflection back I think I missed some things. But it was a rip-roaring escape story, but one with consequences and real history at stake.I wish she'd write faster, but she does such terrific research, I can see why each book takes a while. Still, I wish she had a ton of backlist I could dive into.

I checked this eaudiobook out of the library via Overdrive. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Book Review: Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dash

I've rarely had a book that was this kind of up-and-down for me. Parts of it I thoroughly enjoyed, and parts made my eyes glaze over and were a slog. It's a history of the tulip bubble in the Netherlands in the 1630s. I thought with my slight background in economics, I'd be just fine with it.

It started off with a fascinating history of tulips and where they came from and how they eventually, over hundreds of years, got to the Netherlands. Also how they got to looking like tulips, and how the more interesting tulips happened. But there was a bog down when explaining guilders and how to try to compare them to contemporary money, which for me was pretty much a fail. There are no apples to compare to. In a time when it was common to own a horse but only 2 outfits of clothing, there just aren't good benchmarks to hang any kind of exchange rate to. But the middle eastern rulers who first discovered how awesome tulips are were utterly fascinating in a trainwreck kind of way.

Then we get the buildup with tulips becoming popular among the flower set. And how it expanded to investors, and then to common folk. That also fluctuated between more interesting parts about people from other industries selling their main way of making money (for example, a weaver would sell his loom) to get money to buy tulips, which was a new definition for me of going all-in. But when the numbers came out, my eyes glazed over again. I have nothing against numbers, but when they seem to be fairly random and don't mean anything to me, it's hard to find them compelling. If I told you tulips were selling for 600 gazilliers, that means nothing. Is that a lot, or a little? Mr. Dash did try to make the relation but it didn't work and so he might as well have been using a gibberish or fictional measurement of money as I understand the value of a 17th century Dutch guilder as well as a gazillier (which, for the record, I just made up. You got that, right?)

So anyway, I stopped a couple of times, and had to push myself to finish. I did learn a lot (and at the end he talks about a slightly later tulip bubble in France, one a century later, and he goes back to the Turkish rulers who still loved the tulips and why they fell out of power, which was a fun note to end on, although not happy per se.) I'm glad I read it. But it felt a bit like a book I was reading for school. Like I knew it was good for me and I knew I'd appreciate it if I saw it through (which was accurate) but I wasn't always reading it because I was enjoying it.

I have owned this book for a long time. No recollection how I acquired it but if I had to guess, I'd bet I bought it at an independent bookstore, although since I acquired it in 2011, it's also a likely I got it at a Borders GOOB sale.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Book Review: Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (Audio)

Like Mindy Kaling's first book, this one was fun, silly, occasionally thoughtful, and has more substance than it appears on the surface. And like with her first book, I'm really glad I listened to it on audio, as she read it. And no one knows quite her intended inflections and sarcastic tones better than she does.

In this book, we get less of her childhood, and more of her growing up. We hear about college life at Dartmouth including rushing sororities, and hear about her burgeoning career including The Office, and culminating in The Mindy Project. While it might seem like name dropping, she is friends with people mostly from work, like we all are, and so over the years on different projects and shows, some of her friends like B.J. Novak have also become successful and famous, and those just happen to be her friends.

If you're looking for a fun distraction that isn't angst-y and fraught, but still is real and honest, this is a great book for that mood.

I checked this eaudiobook out of the library via Overdrive.

Friday, December 1, 2017

My Month in Review: November

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

I note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star.

Books completed this month:
Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter*
Bad Mermaids by Sibéal Pounder
Because I Come from a Crazy Family: The Making of a Psychiatrist by Edward M. Hallowell
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri*
How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dash *
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow *

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
My brother sent me the Rough Guides to Argentina and Antarctica in preparation for our crazy family trip next month!