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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Reading Challenges 2020 Wrap-Up

To start with, I did make my overall reading challenge which was to read 120 books! I might even finish one more today. I completed 3 of my 4 challenges with room to spare.

 The 2020 European Reading Challenge



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.

1. One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway -- and Its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad (Norway)
2. A Royal Affair: A Sparks Bainbridge Mystery by Allison Montclair (UK)
3. Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten (Russia)
4. Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen by Mary Norris (Greece)
5. The Lost Manuscript: A Novel by Cathy Bonidan (France)
6. The Mountains Wild by Sarah Stewart Taylor (Ireland)
7. Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them by Nancy Marie Brown (Iceland)

7/5 as of 12/31/2020 DONE! I've occasionally struggled to finish this one but this year I came out with a couple of extras, yay!

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
1. Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels by Rachel Cohen
2. Stealing Mt. Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar
3. Once Upon a Time I Lived on Mars: Space, Exploration, and Life on Earth by Kate Greene
4. This Is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae Safi
5. Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness by Catherine Cho
6. The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton
7. The Switch by Beth O'Leary
8. A Royal Affair: A Sparks Bainbridge Mystery by Allison Montclair
9. Modern Family: The Untold Oral History of One of Television's Groundbreaking Sitcoms by Marc Freeman
10. Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai
11. History Comics: The Roanoke Colony: America's First Mystery by Chris Schweizer
12. Braver: A Wombat's Tale by Suzanne Selfors and Walker Ranson
13. To Hold Up the Sky by Liu Cixin 
14. Dancing with the Octopus: A Memoir of a Crime by Debora Harding
15. Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Frémont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War by Steve Inskeep
16. Good Morning, Monster: Five Heroic Journeys to Emotional Recovery by Catherine Gildiner
17. The Other Mother by Matthew Dicks
18. Historically Inaccurate by Shay Bravo
19. The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War by Delphine Minoui
20. You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe
21. Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains by Kerri Arsenault
22. Flamer by Mike Curato
23. Murder by Milk Bottle by Lynne Truss
24. Smacked: A Story of White-Collar Ambition, Addiction, and Tragedy by Eilene B. Zimmerman 
25. Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker
26. InvestiGators: Take the Plunge by John Patrick Green
27. American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI by Kate Winkler Dawson
28. Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten (Russia)
29. Strange Bedfellows: Adventures in the Science, History, and Surprising Secrets of STDs by Ina Park
30. Spin with Me by Ami Polonsky
31. The Better Half: On the Genetic Superiority of Women by Sharon Moalem
32. Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker
33. Loved and Wanted: An American Woman's Education on Choice by Christa Parravani 
34. The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History by Andy Greene
35. The Nutcracker and the Mouse King: The Graphic Novel by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Natalie Andrewson
36. Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller
37. Race Against Time by Jerry Mitchell
38. Network Effect by Martha Wells
39. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
40. Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh
41. Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century: Unabridged Selections by Alice Wong
42. Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford
43. Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing by Jacob Goldstein
44. The Mountains Wild by Sarah Stewart Taylor
45. The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad by Mike Birbiglia

45/31 as of 7/8/2020 DONE! Last year I did 57 so I was way down this year. Probably because I read more backlist than I had the last couple of years. Still way beat the level. 

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

1. Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of "The Children's Ship" by Deborah Heiligman 
2. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
3. American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan, read by Amy Landon
4. A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage, read by Sean Runnette
5. One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives by Bernd Heinrich
6. Never Caught by Erica Armstrong Dunbar, read by Robin Miles
7. Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Frémont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War by Steve Inskeep
8. You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe
9. Smacked: A Story of White-Collar Ambition, Addiction, and Tragedy by Eilene B. Zimmerman
10. Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker
11. American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI by Kate Winkler Dawson
12. The Better Half: On the Genetic Superiority of Women by Sharon Moalem
13. Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker
14. March Sisters: On Life, Death, and Little Women by Kate Bolick, read by Cassandra Campbell
15. This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Medical Resident by Adam Kay
16. Becoming by Michelle Obama
17. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
18. Race Against Time by Jerry Mitchell
19. Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century: Unabridged Selections by Alice Wong
20. Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford
21. Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing by Jacob Goldstein
22. The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
23. Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty
24. The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

24/30 as of 12/31/2020 DID NOT FINISH
Well, I haven't been in my car very much this year. At all. No commuting. No travel. Also I had a lot of DNFs in audio this year. I just wasn't into several audiobooks I started. I still listened to a lot! 

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.

1. This Is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae Safi (two of the main characters are African American and Muslim)
2. One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway -- and Its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad (mental illness)
3. Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness by Catherine Cho (mental illness)
4. Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss by Rajeev Balasubramanyam (main character is Indian)
5. The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton (minor characters are very diverse)
6. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (LGBTQ)
7. American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan (mental illness)
8. Modern Family: The Untold Oral History of One of Television's Groundbreaking Sitcoms by Marc Freeman (LGBTQ)
9. Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai (main characters are Chinese/Singaporean)
10. History Comics: The Roanoke Colony: America's First Mystery by Chris Schweizer (narrators are Native American)
11. Never Caught by Erica Armstrong Dunbar (main character is African-American)
12. To Hold Up the Sky by Liu Cixin (all the characters are Chinese)
13. Dancing with the Octopus: A Memoir of a Crime by Debora Harding (mental illness)
14. Good Morning, Monster: Five Heroic Journeys to Emotional Recovery by Catherine Gildiner (mental illness)
15. The Other Mother by Matthew Dicks (mental illness)
16. Historically Inaccurate by Shay Bravo (main character is Mexican-American)
17. The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War by Delphine Minoui (takes place in Syria)
18. Flamer by Mike Curato (LGBTQ)
19. Smacked: A Story of White-Collar Ambition, Addiction, and Tragedy by Eilene B. Zimmerman (addiction)
20. The Dirty Girls Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez (Latinx characters)
21. One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (LGBTQ)
22. Spin with Me by Ami Polonsky (LGBTQ)
23. Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker  (oh so much mental illness)
24. Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips (indigenous people)
25. Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr. (African-Americans)
26. Broken (In the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson (mental illness)
27. Becoming by Michelle Obama (African-American)
28. Buses Are a Comin': Memoir of a Freedom Rider by Charles Person, Richard Rooker  (African-American)
29. Love Is for Losers by Wibke Brueggemann (a mid-major character has a mental disability)
30. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein (African-American)
31. My Brilliant Life by Kim Ae-ran (Korean)
32. Stella Díaz Dreams Big by Angela Dominguez (Latinx characters)
33. Girlhood by Melissa Febos (gender)
34. Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green (LGBTQ)
35. Race Against Time by Jerry Mitchell (African-American)
36. Baseball's Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues by Andrea Williams (African-American)
37. The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel by E.L. Shen (Chinese-American lead character)
38. All Girls by Emily Layden (gender)
39. Finding Freedom: A Cook's Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch by Erin French (addiction)
40. Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause by Ty Seidule (race)
41. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune (LGBTQ)
42. Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law by Jeffrey Rosen (gender)
43. Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley (Indigenous people)
44. American Hippo by Sarah Gailey (LGBTQ)
45. In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero, Michelle Burford (Latinx)
46. Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh (mental health)
47. Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century: Unabridged Selections by Alice Wong (disability)
48. Pawcasso by Remy Lai  (Asian characters)
49. Everything I Have Is Yours: A Marriage by Eleanor Henderson (addiction)
50. Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani (Indian characters)
51. She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (Chinese characters)

51/40 as of 12/11/2020 DONE!
It's so nice to hit this one out of the park really without even trying! 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Carin's Best Book of 2020

Not a big mystery this year. It's the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells! But then having to narrow it down to one, well for a minute I thought that would be heard. Should it be the beginning of the series? The full-length novel? But there's only one answer: it's book two, Artificial Condition. After all in this one, our dear Murderbot makes a friend, ART! And ART isn't just any friend--ART is a friend on Murderbot's level--as smart (if not more so), as crafty at surveillance and spying, with the added bonus of both sarcasm, and this way of leading Murderbot to conclusions that drives Murderbot crazy because it's both so manipulative and effective (and also Murderbot can't figure out how to do it, which further drives it crazy.) And you don't really have a relationship with anyone if there isn't something about them that bugs you. It's a true friendship of equals.

runners up: (not doing the rest of the Murderbot books as that wouldn't be fair)
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
The Better Half: On the Genetic Superiority of Women by Sharon Moalem

Book Review: Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them by Nancy Marie Brown

What a fascinating book! A colleague recommended this a few weeks ago and as soon as I looked at the cover, I said wait--we used to have a set of these chess pieces! I had no idea they were something cool! (Don't worry, my parents didn't commit major art theft--apparently there was a kit or something you could buy and my mother made them by filling molds with resin.)  But I didn't have a clue that these were based on something famous--the Lewis Chessmen.

Ms. Brown does an amazing amount of research into the history of these chess pieces and even more so into the history surrounding them. When, most likely they were made, possibly by whom, and for whom. They were found in Scotland but have always been assumed to be Norwegian. But Ms. Brown makes a persuasive argument that probably they were Icelandic--and also made by a woman. 

It seems like the information has been there all along, it's just that so few Icelandic books have been translated and so aren't available. Their sagas are famous, but mostly still only readable in Icelandic. It's only been in recent years that Icelandic scholars have pointed out some pretty straightforward evidence in their archives and histories that make the Icelandic roots of the chessmen very likely. And thanks to those Icelanders making that information more known, other scholars and historians can go to those sources as well to find even more documentation. 

Yes, a lot of it is by necessity, conjecture. Art history runs across that a lot. There's simply a lot we don't know and may never know. Archeology might bring us more facts in the future, but based on what is known now, this is the best theory on these adorable and personality-filled little playing pieces. You've got to check out the berserk rooks biting their shields!

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Book Review: Race to the Bottom of the Earth: Surviving Antarctica by Rebecca E. F. Barone

In 1910, Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen raced to see who could get to the South Pole first. Both were intrepid explorers. Both lamented they were at the end of the age of discovery, when there was little left unexplored. So Antarctica became their last stand, the last place on earth still unseen by human eyes. Their equipment was rudimentary--although I was impressed that Scott had three transports of a sort made, which used tracks like a tank instead of tires for traversing the ice, even if they broke down frequently (and permanently, after not a very long run.)

In 2018, Colin O'Brady and Louis Rudd competed to see who could be the first to travel to the South Pole completely unaided by other humans, at least after their initial preparations. They had a lot of technology--from satellite phones to ultra-light tents and sledges. Since we can no longer discover new lands, the adventurous sorts have to come up with new ways to test their own limits and the boundaries of the possible.

Neither competition was intentional--they were both coincidental. The first one ended tragically. The second one began with a tragedy. And both show that no matter how well you prepare, sometimes Mother Earth has other ideas for you. A fantastic pair of tales of struggle, science, and a lot of ice.

This book is published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Book Review: Baseball's Leading Lady : Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues by Andrea Williams

Aside from the special exhibit on the women who played during the period made famous by the movie A League of Their Own, Effa Manley is the only woman in the Baseball Hall of Fame in New York. 

She (and her husband, but she was the driving force), bought and owned a couple of Negro League baseball teams during the heyday of the Negro Leagues, and up through the end of their existence. Most of the time she owned the Newark Eagles, moving from New York to New Jersey to manage them. Most of the Negro League teams at the time only used verbal contracts (which, to be clear, are real and enforceable contracts) which the white baseball teams knew, used themselves occasionally, and flagrantly violated to steal the stunning players that came to their attention after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Both before that and afterwards, the Negro League teams tried various arrangements to make their teams profitable and to be able to play white teams and stay viable. They didn't work. In the end, Major League Baseball's white teams drained their best talent, while still refusing to play them in anything but exhibition games, and the League finally folded. But leading up to that time, Mrs. Manley was a force both working to keep the League afloat and to make her team a winning one. 

This is a very cool introduction both to the Negro League as a whole, and to a woman who loved baseball and wanted to be a part of it. Great for kids even remotely interested in the sport, but also for kids who like American history and pop culture and who are interested in race relations and the history there. 

This book is published by Roaring Brook Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Book Review: Stella Díaz Dreams Big by Angela Dominguez

Stella Diaz has grown so much since book one! This is book three in this young middle grade series, and she now has friends, is in clubs, and is fitting in. In fact, that's the big problem in this book! 

She gets overextended and isn't able to fulfill all the obligations she's volunteered for. She wants to do it all and she has to understand that she needs to make choices and prioritize, super important lessons for kids that are usually skipped (or made by parents.) Also when she lets her friends down, she has to talk to them about it and deal with their anger and frustration. Another important lesson. There are a few Spanish words sprinkled throughout but nothing that tripped up this non-Spanish speaker. 

It's a fun read, not too hard, with good lessons that don't overpower the story. 

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Book Review: Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty (audiobook)

Caitlin Doughty is a funeral director which you'll already know if you've read her memoir, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory, as I have. This book is another one not for the squeamish. Here she has taken questions from kids (this isn't a children's book, but kids ask the best, most direct, weirdest questions) about death, and she answers them! 

As you can guess, this book is chock full of bizarre, gross facts. And occasionally a useful one suitable for the dinner table. Suitable: you're more likely to die on a plane of natural causes than in a plane crash. Not suitable: the world record holder for fingernail length is 6.5 feet long. Ew. And that's probably the tamest of the not suitable facts. Want to know if you make a horrible face at the moment of your death, will your face freeze that way? What about if you eat a bunch of popcorn kernels immediately before death and then you're cremated--will you blow up? Can you be buried with your beloved pet? Can you get your parent's skull to artfully place on your desk as a conversation piece?

Learn all of the answers to these and so many more questions you had no idea you want to know the answers to! She reads the audiobook herself which was fun, too. 

 I downloaded this digital audiobook from my local library via Libby/Overdrive.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Book Review: Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

Back when I was about twelve, I read the entire Oz series. Very few people know there are any additional books beyond The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but they are delightful. 

Here, we get the backstory (fictionalized). In two timeframes, we have the filming of the movie, with the imperious Mrs. Frank Baum showing up at the studio to make sure the film of her husband's book is accurate, and also the story of Maud and Frank meeting, falling in love, and how he came to write the book. 

In the more modern part of the story, she becomes very protective of Judy Garland, who seems like a sweet bright light, but you can already see the cracks forming. Knowing her inevitable tragic ending (not in this book but a couple of decades later), you catch yourself wishing that Maud could get rid of the skeezy misogynists on set and shake some sense into her mother who thinks anything--including Judy's safety and sexuality--is worth sacrificing for fame.

In the older version, you find an awkward and somewhat rebellious girl whose mother is focused on women's right to vote and feminism, to be the player in Maud's life that she would have preferred. Maud ends up being a groundbreaker at her mother's behest in attending college (at Cornell no less!) but then her vaunted independence that allowed her to go into that fraught situation (very few girls, lots of rules for them, spoken and unspoken) is the same independence that annoys her mother when Maud is determined to quit school and to run off with Frank. 

Figuring out who in the book inspired Dorothy and Oz (or Ahs it is first appears) are fun runners throughout, and I really enjoyed this. It was a great window into an era I know very little about, and learning at least some of the backstory behind one of America's greatest novels (It's mentioned in this book that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is perhaps America's first fairy tale, and I think that's true), was just lovely. This book doesn't go where you expect, but it tells the story that needs to be told.

I bought this book at an independent bookstore.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Book Review: Notes on a Silencing: A Memoir by Lacy Crawford (audiobook)

In high school, at a prestigious boarding school, Lacy was sexually assaulted by two older male students. This memoir tells the story of the event and its aftermath. And also addresses the problem more generally--of this school in particular covering up multiple issues of sexual assault, and our society that often looks the other way or blames the girl in the situation. In fact, it was only as an adult, as a decades-long period of actively hiding these problems came to light, that Lacy stepped forward to finally deal with something she thought she'd been able to put behind her.

I wouldn't have picked this book right now as during this weird year, I'm actively avoiding traumatic books, but someone had recommended it much earlier in the year, and when the audio came up in the queue for me, it was the week I was moving which meant it was a great week for listening to an audiobook, and I'm glad I did. Yes, it was harrowing. But also important. And crazy frustrating--as a result of her assault, she developed an STD incredibly deep in her throat in a way that only could imply force, and multiple adults (administration, doctors) knew about this, and were mandatory reporters, and not only didn't report, but did basically the opposite--accusing her of promiscuity, once loudly to her father's face no less. 

A powerful and important book, now an addition to the #metoo conversation.

I borrowed this digital audiobook from my local library via Libby/Overdrive.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Book Review: The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary

Tiffy has broken up with her boyfriend yet again, and this time it seems like it's going to stick. She needs to find a new place to live ASAP and on her salary working in publishing, that's not easy in London. She runs across an unusual listing, and decides to take a chance. Leon works the night shift at a hospice center and spend the weekends at his girlfriend's place. He needs extra money to help out his brother who's in trouble, so he figures he should rent out his flat when he's not home. 

At first Tiffy and Leon haven't even met. They communicate through post-its and food they leave for each other. Leon is somewhat horrified but also resigned to the flowery dresses and floofy blankets Tiffy moves into their flat. Everything's going well so it feels like they might jinx things if they change the situation by meeting. 

But when Tiffy's ex-boyfriend keeps popping up (unwanted) and things with Leon's brother come to a head, they end up relying on each other in a way they hadn't expected. And it becomes a cute rom-com, although with some more substantial issues under it than usual. 

It's light and fluffy in the right ways, but not so light and fluffy that you feel your brain rotting. It actually has a couple of pretty important themes woven throughout but they don't feel tacked-on to the rom-com. It works. This is a perfect pandemic read, especially if you're looking for lighter fare. 

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Book Review: The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

In her twenties, Susannah Cahalan went crazy. She was just a regular young journalist in New York City who got paranoid and manic and depressed and eventually ended up at the hospital. Because she was middle class, educated, white, and had very involved and educated parents, her parents were able to convince doctors to continue to treat her as a medical patient instead of a mental health patient, and lo and behold, she was eventually diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that was in fact causing her insanity, and when it was treated she became herself again, albeit missing a few weeks of her life. That's the story she tells in her memoir, Brain on Fire. 

After that experience and after that book came out (and went on to become a New York Times bestseller!), Susannah started giving a lot of talks about mental health. Along the way, she learned about a famous study done in the late 1960s that changed the state of mental health treatment forever. A psychologist, David Rosenhan, and about a dozen people he recruited, went undercover as mental health patients at a variety of hospitals around the country. They presented completely normally, but said they had auditory hallucinations of the words "empty," "hollow," and "thud." All of them were committed, all of them were given the diagnosis of schizophrenia but one, and all stayed for anywhere from two weeks to two months without any of the professionals figuring out they really weren't insane. Basically they were recreating Nellie Bly's famous undercover bit, but in a more scientific way. Afterwards, the study was a scandal, showing how psychiatrists couldn't tell they were sane, the hospitals were horrible (this was the era of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), and there was almost no treatment. The horror! It led directly to the revision of the DSM, and has been cited for decades. In fact, I remember learning about it, and that could only have been in my college Psych 101 class.

Ms. Cahalan decided to look into this study further, since she found it and Professor Rosenham so important and influential. She wanted to know more about it, and in particular she was hoping to track down all the pseudo patients and talk to them about their experiences. What she found out was not at all what she was expecting. 

I don't want to give too much more away, as the reveal was fascinating and unexpected. Suffice it to say, for his own sake it's good that Prof. Rosenham has passed away as he would not like dealing with the aftermath. It's also not what Ms. Cahalan wanted, so she didn't go in trying to undermine him but quite the opposite--she fought her ultimate conclusion until the evidence was just too overwhelming.

Along the way, you learn all about the trajectory of mental health care in the 20th century. It's made several turns but never been very good, unfortunately, at least not for the severely ill. I am a big proponent of therapy and think it's incredibly helpful, but I also have had two relatives diagnosed with schizophrenia and the options are limited. I do hope that we're on a better track now, but it's not as much better as you would have hoped in 1968.

I borrowed this digital audiobook from my library via Libby/Overdrive.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Book Review: The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

I saw the movie of The Right Stuff eons ago and don't remember much about it. But the new show on Disney Plus is awesome! So partway through I remembered that my company publishes the book and I could easily read it, and so I did! 

Now, the Disney Plus show leaves out half of the book. It only focuses on the astronauts. When really the "right stuff" is referring to pilots. And half of the book looks at Chuck Yaeger and his fellow test pilots, some of whom did go on to join the astronauts. But he makes an excellent point that the Mercury astronauts at least weren't really piloting the spacecraft by any loose definition of the word. The first capsules didn't have a window or even controls. They quickly made NASA add those but still--97% of the piloting was done on the ground. Although that became less so with each trip. 

But the test pilots flying the X planes were truly pilots in every sense of the word, and they were doing some seriously scary, experimental stuff, including actually flying as high as space, and of course breaking the sound barrier and eventually flying upwards of Mach 10. The book lays out the question of what makes one an astronaut and one a pilot--if it's going to space, then technically many of the test pilots did that. If it's rather time spent in space, than Alan Shepherd's first Mercury flight probably wouldn't count (clocking in his time in space around 15 minutes. He only ended up in the Caribbean when he landed.) So what is the difference? Where is the line drawn? 

It seems like a shame that the experimental Air Force aircraft were essentially abandoned soon after the Mercury spacecrafts launched. A lot of money, time, expertise, and lives were spent in those experiments. Although I think that recently Virgin Galactic has been going back to some of those earlier designs.

Come for the history, stay for the thrilling excitement as Air Force pilots zap through space so much faster and higher than you ever thought possible. And learn what parts of the TV show are legit (pretty much everything--it's very well researched.)

This book is published by FSG/Picador, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Book Review: The Mountains Wild by Sarah Stewart Taylor

Twenty-three years ago, Maggie D'Arcy's cousin Erin, who was like a sister to her growing up on Long Island, went to Ireland to sort out her life, and disappeared one day. A couple of other young women have been found murdered on the side of the same mountain where Maggie found Erin's necklace. Now another woman is missing. And a body has been discovered. Maggie, now a Detective herself, goes back over to Ireland to see if Erin's disappearance can be solved once and for all. 

The book flashes back from the "now" of 2016 to the "then" of 1993, when Maggie, in her early twenties, first went to Ireland to look for Erin. As a young woman and not a police professional, she was able to ask questions and talk to people the police couldn't (or knew they shouldn't.) She stuck her nose in where it wasn't wanted a couple of times. But overall, she's a responsible and sensible young woman, unlike the flighty and kind of crazy Erin, so things never get too out of hand. Both cousins went through some troubles growing up, each losing a parent, which accounted for a lot of their closeness, but they grew apart in high school, to Maggie's despair. 

Believe it or not, I completely buy how similar Maggie and Erin look (which gives Maggie a lot of clues she never could have otherwise gotten from people who startle when they see her) as my mother has a cousin looks as similar as a twin (looks a million times more like her than either of her full sisters. Was insanely startling the first time I met her in my mid-twenties, so I understand why people start when they see Maggie.) I do find both the title and the cover generic, which makes it difficult to tell people about the book and have them remember it, alas. But it was a great read. I whipped through it in three days and kept thinking about it in between. I didn't get on Facebook when I went to bed, and I stayed up late to keep reading. There's a second book coming out in the spring, and I am going to tackle that one very soon. Maggie nicely isn't a cliche--she's not hard as nails or married to her job or a police officer who thrives on risk. Instead, she's just very, very good at her job. Which is a nice change of pace.

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Book Review: Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing by Jacob Goldstein (audiobook)


If you like the Planet Money podcast, you might have already heard about this book because Jacob Goldstein is a co-host, and I know he told one story from this book in brief on the sister podcast, The Indicator (which is where I first heard about it.) And if you like Planet Money, you should definitely listen to this, because it's like a super-long podcast, which is awesome!

Mr. Goldstein goes back to the beginning--when we decided silver and gold were the things we should use as money, when we came up with the concept of lumps of metal with images stamped on them (aka coins)--one "coin" I liked was the super-absurd daler in Sweden which was a slab of copper more than 2 feet long that weighed 43 pounds--and how we got from there to bitcoin. There's a long discussion of the gold standard and getting off of it, a really excellent point about why paper money can never really work in an absolute monarchy, and why people at the top of government disagreeing about what constitutes money and how it works, is a very good thing (keeps everyone in check). 

Even as the daughter of an economist, I learned a lot of fun new things, and this was a delightful romp through history up through to modern day. A perfect short book for these pandemic times when we need distraction without too much pedantry.

I downloaded this digital audiobook from Libby/Overdrive through my local library.

Monday, November 30, 2020

My Month in Review: November 2020


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:
Death of a Showman: A Mystery by Mariah Fredericks 
Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty 
Everything I Have Is Yours: A Marriage by Eleanor Henderson
Notes on a Silencing: A Memoir by Lacy Crawford (audio)
Pawcasso by Remy Lai
Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani
Bubble by Jordan Morris, Sarah Morgan, Tony Cliff, Natalie Riess
Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy by Anne Sebba

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
Nice Girls Still Don't Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel
If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future by Jill Lepore (audio)

What I acquired this month (non-work books): none!

Monday, November 23, 2020

Book Review: In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero, with Michelle Burford

You may know Diane Guerrero from her work on Orange is the New Black or Jane the Virgin. But what I'll bet you don't know is that her parents were illegal immigrants to the US. And one day, when she was a teenager, she came home from school to find them both gone. No one ever checked up on her, no social worker ever arrived. Instead Diane had to fend for herself when she was fourteen.

Luckily, she had some good family friends who took her in. But then they moved and she had to find another family willing to take her in. She was able to visit both of her parents in the prisons they were sent to before their final deportation, which was incredibly traumatic. And as a US citizen, when she was older and when their family had scraped together some money, she was able to visit them in Colombia. But they can never even visit her again. 

She had to figure out her life, alone. She never felt comfortable--always felt like an imposing guest. Luckily the year before she'd gotten into a prestigious performing arts school, and the teachers there as well as her fellow students, encouraged her to go to college (in fact it was pretty much assumed that she would.) She had to figure out how to do that on her own too. And while the college itself part was figure-out-able, what was tricky was what to do with herself over college breaks when she had no home to go to, she wasn't a foreign student so she didn't have a host family, and again she felt like a giant imposition if she went back to the families who'd already put her up for so long in high school.

Obviously, she did eventually figure things out. And she eventually was a successful actor, appearing on two hit shows simultaneously. But she gives us a window into the real consequences of the deportations of illegal immigrants. If she'd just had a tiny bit less support, if just one or two things had gone wrong, she'd have ended up with a tragically different adult life. I found the book eye-opening.

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

Friday, November 20, 2020

Book Review: American Hippo by Sarah Gailey

 I don't know about you, but currently I don't feel like reading anything about the here and now. A friend recently mentioned this as a reason why she's been reading a lot of historical fiction, but in my opinion that only takes care of one of the two issues--the now. But not the here. I have never been a big reader of speculative fiction... until now. And now I want nothing more than to escape. Completely. Maybe to another solar system, maybe to a magical world, and maybe to an alternate history of the United States where the Wild West took place in the swamps that used to be the Mississippi river Delta, but now are completely overrun with murdering feral hippos.

Not sound up your alley? Well give it a chance! I can count on one hand the number of alternate history books I've ever read, and this one was a delight.

This almost could have happened. A couple of decades after this book takes place, in the real world, it was proposed that we import hippos into the Mississippi to help with control of plant life, and as a great food source. This suggestion was taken very seriously and made its way far up the federal government before it was very wisely squashed, given that hippos are super murdery. This book takes that wacky idea, puts it in a more fun time frame, and plays out what likely would have happened. Just like with pretty much every other invasive species, while we'd say we'd keep it completely under control, we've never managed to do that, so it's safe to assume some hippos would get loose and go feral. 

Here we have a band of outlaws who have come together for a big--and legal!--score. They've been hired to destroy the dams keeping the majority of the hippos in the swamp, which hopefully means they'll all be swept out to sea and life in the region can more or less go back to the way it was before. Each of the outlaws have different skill sets and suffice it to say, none of them trust each other. Except for the ones who would kill for each other. So we have a fun western with better diversity than you've ever seen in that genre before, and lots of action. It was so much fun and an excellent distraction! So saddle up your hippo, and let's go!

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Book Review: Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten

I did take a class in Imperial Russian History in college, but I do not remember learning about Catherine I of Russia before, the first Tsarina of that country. Previously, in fact during the childhood of her husband Peter the Great, there had been women ruling as Regent, but Catherine I wasn't regent--she was full-on Tsarina in her own right, paving a path that would lead to Catherine the Great.

Marta grew up incredibly poor in the countryside, her family were serfs. As a teen, she was sold to a wealthy merchant as a house servant. After a rape, she killed him and escaped. She made it to a nearby town where she was nearly sold to a whorehouse, but she escaped yet again, and was found by a local minister's family who took her in (this is where the real history begins. To Ms. Alpsten's credit, I noticed no real shift in the writing and in fact, I had no idea what was fictional and what was historical until the author's note at the end.) I did start to wonder when she was ever going to get around to meeting the Tsar, Peter the Great, but that's not due to any lag in the story. It is a long book, but it's a Russian novel! Of course it is! Would you trust a Russian novel of 250 pages? I think not!

And meet him she eventually does, winning him over not through any manipulations or machinations, but by being her true self, strong and brave and open. She becomes Tsaritsa Catherine, and her life is complicated, exciting, unnerving, more than a little crazy, and all her own. It's a fascinating story that's impossible to put down.

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

Book Review: Murder by Milk Bottle by Lynne Truss

I started reading the Constable Twitten series because I loved Ms. Truss's grammar book and I loved old British mysteries and this felt like a lovely combo of the two. I keep reading them for the characters. The mystery itself, while well done with appropriate red herrings and twists and turns, is not my compulsion. How will the incredibly well-meaning, over-educated, and slightly naive young Constable Twitten put his foot in it this time? What evil and brilliant scheme will Mrs. Groynes pull off right under the noses of the police? How will Inspector Steine prove his utter dunderheadedness this time? What undercover shenanigans will Sergeant Brunswick get into? (Sadly, this time no undercover work for him.)

Yes, this particular book has The Milk Girl, an ice circus, and a meeting of the various heads of nefarious gangs from all around Britain, but as delightful as those all are (oh, and of course three people killed by actual milk bottle!), the characters are the real winners here. Will Twitten ever notice any of the various beautiful young women who fall in love with him? Will Brunswick ever ask out a woman he has a shot with? Will the town Brighton really never notice what an idiot Steine is? How long can Groynes keep up her criminal ways undetected? And in this book in particular, how long will Twitten not realize there's a police locker room and commissary? And how mad will he be that Brunswick never told him?

Pick up the book for the mystery, love it for the fully realized and hilarious characters.

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