Quantcast

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Carin's Best Book of 2019

This year this was a real toss-up. The last couple of years I read a book that when I read it, I knew, the odds of reading something else this great that affects me this deeply, was pretty low. This year I read three books like that! Argh! In the end, I have to go with Red, White and Royal Blue, for the sheer fact that it's such a feel-good book. I want to read a dozen more books just like this one, right this minute. Yes, it was fluffy and silly and romantic, but it also was clever and quippy and wonky. It was a lovely alternate-present in which we don't have a crazy person for a president, and where the world seems super similar, just not quite as fucked up. And Alex and Henry are each so likable in their own ways. It was funny and fun and just--I keep going back to this same description for this book--a balm for the soul. I know Casey has another book under contract but she just can't write fast enough for me!

runners up:
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Book Review: You're Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy

Initially I wasn't that psyched about this book--I tend not to read anything that seems like it might be self-help. But one of my colleagues who read it said it really made him not only realize he didn't listen to his wife--which he already knew--but it explained to him why that's a problem. That hooked me. Also, as a sales rep, a huge part of my job is listening. And yet, another huge part of my job forces me to multitask whether I want to or not. So improving listening skills could be really helpful.

And this book has been really helpful! I have done simple things like when on a call, turn away from my desk and face the other direction so I'm not tempted by emails or my computer in any way. I have also really been trying to ask more questions, and have those be more open-ended questions. I was at lunch with an editor-friend, and she complimented my necklace, which was an old ring of my grandmother's I'd had remade. She mentioned she had several jewelry pieces she needs help with too but hadn't been able to find a good jeweler. Since I figured she wasn't going to come out to NJ for that, it seemed to me like that topic was exhausted. But then I thought harder, and I asked her to tell me about the pieces she had that needed help. And she just lit up! It was interesting, too, from a necklace that her father gave her mother when they were dating that had been badly restrung, to a literal string of unstrung turquoise she'd gotten after a family friend had died, to a Bakelite clip she was using as a pendant but was worried could easily be lost if it weren't welded together. I have done this a few times in the last few weeks, and these conversations are fascinating and I hope my friends feel more listened to and like I'm paying better attention. It's hard in the everyday to be able to put the various tips and tricks and lessons into use, but with practice, it'll get easier.

I truly think every human being can use this book. It will improve all your relationships--family, SO, business. And it doesn't read in a boring or pedantic or trite way--it feels fresh and helpful and has interesting stories that aren't dumbed down or dragged out. So glad I read it!

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

Thursday, December 26, 2019

2020 Reading Challenges!

I liked my challenges last year. Plus... it's really hard for me to do many other challenges. I could, and I could really challenge myself with something like reading books in translation and have them still be books for work, but I find that boxing myself into a corner like that doesn't work well for me. To keep the number of books I read up where it is (120), I need to give myself a lot of leeway. So here are the same challenges as last year!



January 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021

Participants choose their own level of commitment and tour Europe through books. And there is a prize for the person who visits the most countries between the covers. 

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. 

WHAT COUNTS AS "EUROPE"?: We stick with the standard 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, and Italy), the really huge Russia, the tiny Vatican City, and the mixed bag of Baltic, Balkan, and former Soviet states.
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 with 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. 
LEVELS OF PARTICIPATION

FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

Carin says: this is the level I'm signing up for! I struggled a little with this last year, but I made it. It's not that I only read American books, but I read books set in Australia and on the moon and Antarctica, and then there will be a half-dozen in England which I can only count once. But I ought to read more internationally.



2020 New Release Challenge Sign-up


POSTED 17 NOVEMBER, 2019 BY LINDA @ (UN)CONVENTIONAL BOOKWORMS IN CHALLENGES / 27 COMMENTS
New Release Challenge 2020 - (un)Conventional Bookworms
The 2020 New Release Challenge is a year-long challenge in which we aim to read books released in 2020.  
The rules for the 2020 New Release Challenge are simple:
  • Books have to be released and reviewed in 2020.
  • Other challenges can be used as well.
  • The minimum length for a book to qualify is 100 pages, it can be in any format though, physical, e-book, ARC or audiobook.
  • The New Release Challenge is open from January 1st through December 31st 2020, and sign-ups are open until September 1st 2020.

There are five levels  in the 2020 New Release Challenge:

2. 31-60 books per year – New Release Pro
Carin says: It's always weird for me when signing up for this one to only sign up for level 2 when I read SO MANY books and they're pretty much all books coming out not just right now but in the future. That's what screws me. I did manage to read 57 last year which is really close to hitting Level 3, but I also read 41 books publishing in 2020, which I feel like I ought to be able to count, but I can't. If I could count those, then I'd be at 98, which is only level 3, so it's not like it bumps me up a lot anyway. Who ARE these people reading 200+ new releases per year!?!? Especially considering the page count requirement. If it included picture books, then I'd be a couple of levels up.



2020 Audiobook Challenge Sign-Up



Grab your earbuds and join hosts Hot Listens and Caffeinated Reviewer for the 2020 Audiobook Challenge! Choose your level and rock your ears off!

Challenge Details

  • Runs January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020. You can join at any time.
  • The goal is to find a new love for audios or to outdo yourself by listening to more audios in 2020 than you did in 2018.
  • Books must be in audio format (CD, MP3, etc.)
  • ANY genres count.
  • Re-reads and crossovers from other reading challenges are allowed.

Achievement Levels

  • 5. My Precious (I had my earbuds surgically implanted) 30-50
Carin says: I made it this year, but just barely. Still. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, especially given my work, and I don't see that slowing at all. I will make this my aim again.

I found a slightly different but basically the same Diversity Challenge for 2020:

2020 DIVERSITY READING CHALLENGE

This challenge is focused on intentionally reading more diverse books, whether it be diverse characters or diverse authors. There’s the basic challenge of reading as many diverse books as you can, with the added monthly theme mini-challenge, where you can get bonus points for reading towards a theme each month (and by bonus points, we really just mean bragging rights).  It’s a way to challenge yourself, but still reward yourself for just reading diversely altogether.

How do we classify a book as diverse?

The author or the main character – or one of the leads, who preferably has a POV – has to belong to a diverse group. According to the definition of We Need Diverse Books:
“We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.

*We subscribe to a broad definition of disability, which includes but is not limited to physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental illnesses (this may also include addiction). Furthermore, we subscribe to a social model of disability, which presents disability as created by barriers in the social environment, due to lack of equal access, stereotyping, and other forms of marginalization.”

Guidelines:

While we’re pretty lax about how you wish to set up this challenge for yourself, we do have a few guidelines to follow.
  • The challenge will run from January 1st, 2020 to December 31st, 2020.  Books must be read during this time frame to count.  Sign up is open from now until December 1st, 2020, so you may join even just for the last month of the year.
  • Any format and length of book counts – print, ebook, audio, ARC, etc.
  • Crossovers from other challenges are totally acceptable!
  • Reviews are not required, but highly encouraged.
Carin says:
Oddly, the way this is set up it kind of sounds like all the books need to be narrative, if they all need to have a main character or a lead, which I doubt is what they actually mean, as it would eliminate a lot of nonfiction that is specifically on these subjects, so I'm going to ignore that. I'm not doing any mini-challenges. I'm a tad annoyed there aren't any levels, so I guess like last year my goal will be 40. 

So those are my 2020 challenges, which will hang out in the sidebar as usual. Wish me luck!

Reading Challenges 2019

I officially finished all my 2019 reading challenges last night! So here's my wrap-up post.

2019 EUROPEAN READING CHALLENGE

Hosted by Rose City Reader. January 1, 2019 to January 31, 2020
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 standard 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, and Italy), the really huge Russia, the tiny Vatican City, and the mixed bag of Baltic, Balkan, and former Soviet states.

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.

This one is always a bit of a challenge for me, but that's the point. So once again I will try for FIVE STAR (DELUXE ENTOURAGE): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

1. The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair [UK]
2. Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman [The Netherlands]
3. The Secret Guests by Benjamin Black [Ireland]
4. A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell [France]
5. The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World's Most Expensive Fungus by Ryan Jacobs [Italy & France, counting for Italy]

5/5 as of 11/20/19 DONE!


The 2019 New Release Challenge is a year-long challenge in which we aim to read books released in 2019, hosted by (un)Conventional Bookworms.

I'm not sure how they do it at 120+ (!!!) new release reads per year, but they must not have the big problem I have--halfway through the year I always have to switch to the NEXT year. As I sign up for this, on Dec. 30, 2018, I have already read 40 books publishing in 2019, which I can't count toward my total as I read them in 2018. But even if I could, that would only get me to Level 3!

The Rules are:
Books have to be released and reviewed in 2019.
Other challenges can be used as well, if you are participating in the Netgalley / Edelweiss challenge or in the COYER challenge, books can count towards more than one challenge, as long as the ones you use for the 2018 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.
The New Release Challenge is open from January 1st through December 31st 2019

I am signing up for Level 2 again:
31-60 books per year – New Release Pro

1. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
2. War in the Ring: Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and the Fight between America and Hitler by John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro
3. Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg
4. Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center 
5. Kingdom of Lies: Unnerving Adventures in the World of Cybercrime by Kate Fazzini
6. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki
7. The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess 
8. Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
9. This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews
10. The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair
11. Amazing Decisions: The Illustrated Guide to Improving Business Deals and Family Meals by Dan Ariely
12. Twenty-one Truths About Love: A Novel by Matthew Dicks
13. Born to Fly: The First Women's Air Race Across America by Steve Sheinkin
14. Molly: The True Story of the Amazing Dog Who Rescues Cats by Colin Butcher
15. Ellie, Engineer: In the Spotlight by Jackson Pearce
16. Campusland by Scott Johnston
17. Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land
18. Broke: Seven Stories of Resilience in a City of Broken Promises by Jodie Kirshner
19. Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson
20. Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper
21. Pippa by Design: A Story of Ballet and Costumes by Claudia Logan
22. The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols: Adapted from the Journals of John H. Watson, M.D. by Nicholas Meyer
23. Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares by Aarti Shahani
24. Revolution of the Soul: Awaken to Love Through Raw Truth, Radical Healing, and Conscious Action by Seane Corn
25. The Lost Man by Jane Harper
26. Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden
27. The Man That Got Away: A Constable Twitten Mystery 2 by Lynne Truss
28. Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden
29. Give and Take by Elly Swartz
30. The Grammarians: A Novel by Cathleen Schine
31. Trapeze by Leigh Ansell
32. King of the Mole People by Paul Gilligan
33. The Long Call by Ann Cleeves 
34. Stargazing by Jen Wang
35. Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro
36. Mighty Moe: The True Story of a Thirteen-Year-Old Running Revolutionary (Little Mo) by Rachel Swaby and Kit Fox
37. Cross Stitch The Golden Girls: 12 Patterns Inspired by Your Favorite Sassy Seniors by Haley Pierson-Cox
38. Do You Mind If I Cancel?: (Things That Still Annoy Me) by Gary Janetti
39. For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity by Liz Plank
40. Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
41. Why My Cat Is More Impressive Than Your Baby by Matthew Inman, The Oatmeal
42. Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl
43. Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing by Robert A. Caro
44. Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
45. A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell
46. Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer
47. The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves
48. Best Friends by Shannon Hale
49. Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell
50. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell
51. The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
52. Me by Elton John
53. The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World's Most Expensive Fungus by Ryan Jacobs
54. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
55. No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder 
56. Articulated Restraint by Mary Robinette Kowal
57. Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Pérez

57/31 as of 12/25/19 DONE!


I was thrilled to find this new challenge! I have been kicking butt with audiobooks the last 3 years or so. I listened to 28 in 2018. It's hosted by both Hot Listens and Caffeinated Reviewer.

The Rules:
Runs January 1, 2019 – December 31, 2019. You can join at any time.
The goal is to find a new love for audios or to outdo yourself by listening to more audios in 2019 than you did in 2018.
Books must be in audio format (CD, MP3, etc.)
ANY genres count.
Re-reads and crossovers from other reading challenges are allowed.

I'm signing up for :
My Precious (I had my earbuds surgically implanted) 30-49 which is Level 6. There's only one level above this!

1. Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by Kim Brooks 
2. In Pieces by Sally Field  
3. The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish 
4. The White Darkness by David Grann
5. All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister
6. Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land
7. The Lost Man by Jane Harper
8. The Incomplete Book of Running by Peter Sagal
9. The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar: Evolution's Most Unbelievable Solutions to Life's Biggest Problems by Matt Simon 
10. In My Father's House: A New View of How Crime Runs in the Family by Fox Butterfield
11. Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman 
12. Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
13. Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro
14. Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
15. Every Patient Tells A Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis by Lisa Sanders
16. Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl
17. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
18. Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing by Robert A. Caro
19. A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell
20. Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer
21. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
22. Factfulness by Hans Rosling
23. The Ghost Map: the Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson
24. Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux
25. The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves
26. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell
27. The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
28. Me by Elton John
29. The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World's Most Expensive Fungus by Ryan Jacobs
30. Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Pérez

30/30 by 12/25/19 DONE!

I am so happy to find this challenge!

I’m not going to make any categories or levels for this challenge, as I want it to be a bit flexible. Read as many books as you feel like reading and yes, it can be children’s books, graphic novels, e-books, non-fiction, audio books, poetry and you-name-it. As it is a diversity reading challenge, it would be mean to exclude some types of reading materials, right?

Now, what is diversity you might ask? What I mean by diversity is, but not limited to;
People of colour/non-caucasian characters/authors
Native Americans and other indigenous people
LGBTQIA
Gender fluid/transgender people
Refugees
Religious minorities
Mental illnesses
Neurodiversity (like ADD and autism)
Feminist themes/issues
Physical/mental disabilities

The host doesn't specify if the book has to be about these diversities, if the author needs to fall into these categories, and if a character, if it must be a major character. So along with the no levels, there's also few rules. Which means I'm going to make some parameters for myself:
The diversity must be featured in the book. It doesn't need to be THE main character but it can't be a very minor character. Or it can be the author, especially for more non-narrative books. And I'm going to aim for 40. That's 1/3 of the books I plan to read this year. I counted last year and while there are some that are iffy, last year I read about 36 that fells into these categories. If I push myself just a little, this should be very do-able.

1. Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by Kim Brooks (feminist issues)
2. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (LGBTQIA + main character is half Mexican-American)
3. War in the Ring: Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and the Fight between America and Hitler by John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro (people of color)
4. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki (LGBTQIA)
5. The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish (people of color)
6. The Normal One: Life with a Difficult or Damaged Sibling by Jeanne Safer (Mental illnesses/neurodiversity)
7. Born to Fly: The First Women's Air Race Across America by Steve Sheinkin (feminist issues)
8. Ellie, Engineer: In the Spotlight by Jackson Pearce (feminist issues)
9. Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land (feminist issues)
10. Broke: Seven Stories of Resilience in a City of Broken Promises by Jodie Kirshner (people of color)
11. Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson (people of color)
12. Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden (LGBTQIA)
13. Give and Take by Elly Swartz (mental illness/hoarding)
14. In My Father's House: A New View of How Crime Runs in the Family by Fox Butterfield (mental illness)
15. Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman (mental illness)
16. Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule (mental illness)
17. Stargazing by Jen Wang (Asian-American characters)
18. Do You Mind If I Cancel?: (Things That Still Annoy Me) by Gary Janetti (LGBTQIA)
19. Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep (African-American characters)
20. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (Mexican characters)
21. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (Asian characters)
22. Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang (Asian author/main character, super-diverse characters throughout)
23. A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner (LGBTQIA)
24. What Stars Are Made Of by Sarah Allen (disability/Turner Syndrome)
25. The Phantom Twin by Lisa Brown (disability/conjoined twins)
26All Boys Aren't Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson (LGBTQIA/people of color)
27. A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell (disability/missing leg)
28. Spring Rain: A Graphic Memoir of Love, Madness, and Revolutions by Andy Warner (mental health)
29. Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales (LGBTQIA)
30. The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves (Autism spectrum)
31. Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell (people of color)
32. Displacement by Kiku Hughes (Asian characters)
33. A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler (people of color)
34. Me by Elton John (LGBTQIA)
35. No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder (feminist issues)
36. The Wrong Mr. Darcy by Evelyn Lozada (people of color)
37. The Invisible Boy by Alyssa Hollingsworth (human trafficking)
38. The Hilarious World of Depression by John Moe (mental illness)
39. The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal (feminist issues)
40. Poisoned Water: How the Citizens of Flint, Michigan, Fought for Their Lives and Warned the Nation by Candy J Cooper and Marc Aronson (people of color)
41. Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Pérez (feminist issues)

41/40 by 12/25/19 DONE!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Book Review: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux (audiobook)

My first attempt at reading Little Women failed. I managed to read the first half. (In my defense, originally Little Women was two separate books and what I read was the first book.) But I did go back a couple of years later and read the whole thing. I read it a couple more times as a kid--I remember being quite intrigued and simultaneously baffled by all the references to and--more baffling--aspirations to live life according to the seemingly draconian precepts of A Pilgrim's Progress which I felt like I'd read, after reading Little Women. I'd seen a couple of the movies, but felt no great affinity until the Winona Ryder version which, except for some liberties at the end in  merging Jo's storyline with the author's own life, felt so much more accurate to both the story and emotions of the book, and is now my personal definitive version, and I watch it every year around Christmas.

I have two sisters and at times we've been the best of friends and the worst of enemies. I come from a larger family as well, having grown up with 3 step-siblings and also having a half-brother (on the other side), so all of those aspects of the novel really resonated with me. Earlier this year, PBS had a vote on what should be The Great American Novel, and despite many, many problems I had with the lists (all the non-American books on it to start), after much thought, I ended up voting for Little Women. I also had a strange, mind-blowing moment about a decade ago when I realized that while not written at the same time, Little Women and Gone With the Wind cover pretty much the same time periods, and Jo and Scarlett are contemporaries, although they seem to be from such different worlds, they might has well have been different planets.

So when I heard about this non-academic deep dive into Little Women, I was intrigued. It gives a history, biography of Louisa May Alcott and family, context of the time when she wrote it, and her own background and how it influenced the writing. It then goes on to discuss the popularity, the sequels, the enduring legacy, the ups and downs, the media portrayals (more ups and downs), the ramifications, the influences, and even the common ground it can lay. (For example, the first three women Supreme Court Justices all listed Little Women as an influence on them, despite rather differing political views.)

It reminded me of bits of the book I'd forgotten. It contextualized parts I'd not understood. It explains aspects I had believed I understood, and yet had deeper meaning (such as Jo's hair being "her one beauty" and how that reflected on Louisa's own perceived--or real--lack of beauty.) I loved every minute of this book, and while I likely won't reread the book again, at least not anytime soon, I am very much looking forward to my rewatch of the movie next month with renewed excitement. And yes, I am going to see the newest version too (the PBS version from a few months ago to me seemed fine, but nothing special, and therefore unnecessary.) Anyone who's ever loved Little Women should very much check out this deep dive into the novel and its place in history.

I bought the digital audiobook from Libro.fm. A portion of the proceeds go to Main Street Books in Davidson, NC, an independent bookstore.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Book Review: The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World's Most Expensive Fungus by Ryan Jacobs, narrated by Ari Fliakos (audiobook)

I will pretty much never buy anything claimed to have been cooked with truffles again, after reading this book. Last night I was at a restaurant, saw truffles as an ingredient in one entree, and dismissed it out of hand. Most of what is sold as truffles is, if not fake, possibly stolen or fraudulent in some other way. Especially if you get it someplace like Applebee's (do you really think those truffle fries are $14 at a mass-market restaurant found every 10 feet in America and somehow that price is accurate, or the amount of truffles used in its production? Really?)

Unfortunately I had to start and stop this book a few times and listened to it over the course of a month, so the characters did not stick with me. But the book isn't really about them, so it still worked. It's about the massive amount of crime and fraud in the truffle industry--from the theft of truffle dogs to the mislabeling of truffles from Eastern European countries as being from France or Italy, to fungi that aren't truffles at all from the Middle East or the Far East, being mixed in and passed off. It's a business mostly built on personal relationships and faith, so the opportunities for crime are rampant. It's easy for immoral people to take advantage.

I must point out that the narrator has to pull off multiple different accents from several countries, which he does with aplomb (though his women's voices at times were a little eyebrow-raising.) It's a fun, casual, easy read with an undercurrent of crime throughout, but not one that fills you with fear at all--although there is fear for some of those dogs. But if you're looking for a true crime book that isn't scary, or a food book with a twist, you can't go wrong with this one!

I bought the digital audiobook from Libro.fm. A portion of the proceeds go to Main Street Books in Davidson, NC, an independent bookstore.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Book Review: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

I love that my new book club reads brand-new still in hardcover books. I get to read books that aren't published by my employer, and are big in the zeitgeist. This one made me a tad nervous as the one other Patchett novel I'd tried to read (Bel Canto, for my book club in Charlotte), I'd utterly failed. Didn't even get to page 20. I've read and loved I think all of Ms. Patchett's nonfiction, but I wondered if maybe I was destined to only like her nonfiction and to not connect at all with her fiction.

And the word "connect" is interesting here because while I liked the book, I couldn't truly connect with any of the characters. There was a distance and I felt like I was being held at arm's length throughout the book. But once I got into the book, got somewhat used to the jumping around in time (which pretty much stayed confusing), and mostly could remember who characters were when there were big gaps between their appearances, I started cruising. I read the second half of the book much faster than the first half. And while I enjoyed it, and boy was there a heck of a lot to talk about at book club from the book (siblings, step-parents, saints, Catholicism, duty, repeating the past), I said at the start of the discussion that there was no plot. A few people seemed annoyed I said that, but they also didn't refute me.

Maeve and Danny's father remarries Andrea, and then he dies. And after a while Andrea kicks Danny out of the house and he has to go live with Andrea (who is older.) He goes to law school but always wanted to own real estate like his father so that's what he does. He marries and has a couple of kids. He and Maeve periodically go back to the house they grew up in, The titular Dutch House, and park on the curb, and bitch about their step-mother. I'm sorry--I still see no plot. That's okay. Not every book has to have one, and this one instead very much was about character development and relationships. But if you prefer plot-driven novels, this book might not work for you.

I did enjoy it. I'm glad I finally read and liked a Patchett novel. But it felt a bit lackluster in the overall. Nothing really blew me away. It's not sticking with me long-term. I enjoyed the discussion very much. But I won't be seeking out other novels of hers, at least not in the short-term.

I bought this book at Browseabout Books in Rehobeth Beach, Delaware, an independent bookstore.