We are just past the middle of the year so it is a good time to reflect on what I’ve read so far in 2017. According to Goodreads I’ve read 118 books so far.
Best Book of the Year So Far
Well, let’s start with a hard one shall we?
Both of these books were hard hitting looks at the lives of black teenagers and they couldn’t have been more different. These are books that I would hand to everyone and tell them that they have to read these.
We have the memoir of a comedian/politician, the memoir of a survivor of genocide, the very detailed history of ACT UP, and a comedian covering the Arab Spring in Egypt.
I rarely think a second book is even close to equal to the first book in a series but I actually liked this one more.
New Releases I Haven’t Read but Want To
This is on my nightstand. I preordered it. I read the first chapter out loud to the husband since we read Every Heart a Doorway together. I’ve read 4 or 5 other Seanan McGuire novels while this book has been sitting on my nightstand. I’ve preordered the next book in the series that comes out in 2018. I haven’t read this one yet.
That’s crazy. I’m reading it today. Promise.
Most Anticipated Release for Autumn/Winter
I usually never know what is coming out but I know a few sequels that I want to read.
These are the sequels to Akata Witch and River of Teeth respectively.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year So Far
I absolutely adored Elisa Kova’s Air Awakens series. I was so excited to read her new series and just I could not get into it.
Biggest Surprise of the Year
I loved this series about a mentally ill suicide survivor who is recruited to work managing fairies in Hollywood. I’m looking forward to the next installments.
New Favourite Author
Contemporary YA isn’t usually my thing (Yes, I’m still saying that even though my best books I just chose up at the top of the post are contemporary YA – shut up.) but I love the voice of the characters in Hannah Moskowitz’s books.
New Favourite Character
Reese Eddings is a ship captain who is down on her luck. She’s in debt. She’s dealing with health issues. Then she gets hired to go on a mission to go rescue a man who is a member of a supposedly mythical alien race. All she’s got to go on is what she’s read in her favorite subgenre of romance novels that feature this race. It would be like a human fantasy fan being hired to go rescue an elf.
Book That Made Me Cry
I am a hard hearted cold person so it would take a lot to make me cry.
This one got me a little teary eyed. It is the real-time story of actor Jim Beaver’s wife’s terminal illness, death, and his grief. It is taken from emails that he wrote every night. It is sad but not depressing.
Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890's, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.
They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners' agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.
I am a supremely organized book blogger. When I do book tours as soon as I find out the date I am scheduled to post, I put a draft post on my WordPress calendar. That way I don’t get messed up. I’ve known for months that my review of The Essex Serpent was due on July 19. When I went to write this up I looked at the list of other bloggers participating and wanted to see what they thought of the book. I was surprised to find no posts for the people posting before me. I looked at my email. Still didn’t see the issue. Then I saw it. JUNE 19. Oh.
So here is my way-belated book tour review of The Essex Serpent.
I first heard of this book through the enthusiastic promotion of the British release last year by Simon Savidge. When the book became available in the U.S. I decided to read it to see why he was so enthusiastic. We obviously read very different types of books because he considers this to be a very plot driven novel and I think of it as more of a character driven one.
Cora is not a typical Victorian widow. It is implied that her husband was abusive and she certainly is not grieving him. She decides to go with her companion Martha and her young son Francis to Essex because she wants to follow in the footsteps of female amateur naturalists. Hearing rumors of a monster in the estuary thrills her to no end. Her friends urge her to contact the local vicar. She has no interest in that. She doesn’t want to be stuck in company with a stuffy vicar. The vicar and his wife don’t have any interest in her either. They assume she is an elderly lady with a wastrel son but they invite her to dinner to be nice.
This book covers a lot of issues in England at this time. Martha is a socialist who is campaigning for safe housing for the poor in London. At this time to get into good housing you had to prove that you were of good morals. This offends her because the landlords could go out drinking and being irresponsible but the tenets would be evicted if they acted like that. She convinces a young doctor with family money to spare to join in her the cause.
Francis would now be recognized as autistic but in this book he is just seen as a bit odd. He’s mostly left to his own devices because Cora doesn’t know how to interact with him.
Cora has an admirer in Luke Garret, the doctor who treated her husband. He wants to do more and more daring operations and is fighting the medical establishment.
The Ransomes, the family of the vicar, get involved with Cora and her entourage. Will Ransome is the vicar who is interested in science. He knows that rumors of a serpent killing people and livestock are just superstition but he can’t get his parishioners to listen to reason. This talk is tearing his small village apart and then Cora appears and runs roughshod over the town. It is hard to tell what is more damaging – the rumors or the visitor.
The writing is lyrical and mystical. It evokes foggy mornings and salt water breezes. Of course because this is historical fiction and not urban fantasy, there is no magical creature in the river. Seeing how the author resolves all these plot lines and logically explains the serpent is part of the drama.
This is a relatively slow read. It takes time for the writing to sink in. The plot jumps around often so it can be a bit tricky to keep track of who is where at what time. You don’t always know why you should be interested in characters until they start to tie into the larger narrative.
This book is good for people looking to lose themselves in the writing of a slow paced glimpse of life in rural Victorian England with a hint of mystery mixed in.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
In Japanese-occupied Malaya, lives are shattered and a woman discovers her inner strength in a world ravaged by war.
Following the death of their matriarch, the lives of Chye Hoon’s family turned upside down. Now that the British have fled and the Japanese have conquered, their once-benign world changes overnight.
Amid the turmoil, Chye Hoon’s daughter-in-law, Mei Foong, must fend for her family as her husband, Weng Yu, becomes increasingly embittered. Challenged in ways she never could have imagined and forced into hiding, Mei Foong finds a deep reservoir of resilience she did not know she had and soon draws the attentions of another man.
Is Mei Foong’s resolve enough to save herself, her marriage, and her family? Only when peace returns to Malaya will she learn the full price she must pay for survival.
I loved the first book in this series – The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds. That was the story of a woman in Malaya who witnesses the change of her area when the British colonize. Her oldest son is educated in England and she has huge hopes for him that he fails to live up to. He marries a Chinese girl to please his mother. This book picks up immediately after the death of the protagonist of the first book. Her Chinese daughter-in-law tells the story of how they survived the Japanese occupation of World War II.
I was a bit reluctant to pick this book up because of the time period. I know that Japanese occupations in Asia were brutal. This book does talk about one massacre but overall it keeps a much narrower focus. It looks at how this one family survived the war. They know people in the resistance but that isn’t talked about much.
One of the conflicts was knowing how to react to the Japanese. They were invaders and they could be cruel but they also allowed Asian people into high ranking jobs that the British establishment would have never allowed. Our narrator Mei Foong’s husband, Weng Yu is given a job that he has always wanted by the Japanese. She has learned that her husband is a coward. He would head to bomb shelters first before helping her or their children. She has lost a lot of respect for him. He is in turns indifferent and cruel to her. Mei Foong learns to grow her own food and sells her mother’s jewelry in order for her family to be able to eat. The family basically keeps their heads down and does what they have to do to survive unnoticed.
“If anyone had called me a collaborator to my face, I would have recoiled. As far as I was concerned, we were only giving the Japs our unwilling cooperation.”
This is a shorter book than the first one. It only covers the years of the war. It mostly the story of the disintegration of a marriage and a woman’s finding strength in herself that she didn’t know she had set against a backdrop of war instead of a novel about the war. It isn’t necessary to read the first book before picking this one up but it adds to your background knowledge of the area and the characters.
I would recommend this to anyone who likes historical fiction. Mei Foong is a great character. She grows from a shy, pampered, upper class bride into a woman who knows her worth and is able to take care of herself.
About Selina Siak Chin Yoke
Of Malaysian-Chinese heritage, Selina Siak Chin Yoke (石清玉) grew up listening to family stories and ancient legends. She always knew that one day, she would write. After an eclectic life as a physicist, banker and trader in London, the heavens intervened. In 2009 Chin Yoke was diagnosed with cancer. While recovering, she decided not to delay her dream of writing any longer.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
I binge watched all of Alpha House on Amazon Video. It was a show about Republican senators rooming together in Washington. I thought it was really funny. The husband refused to watch it with me because he said he was sick of politics. Has anyone else watched this?
Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there?
Mary Quinn is given a last minute reprieve from the gallows and is sent to a school for girls. She is savvy enough to know that this is very strange. She doesn’t know what is behind it until years later when she finishes her education and is offered a place in a detective agency run by the headmistresses of the school.
Mary has secrets of her own. She is an orphan and knows that her father was Chinese. In 1850s London Chinese people are not admitted to polite society. She explains away her dark coloring by saying that she is Black Irish. That settles things for most English people but Chinese people she meets recognize the truth about her.
The Agency places its agents undercover as maids or ladies’ companions because women are considered not smart enough to be spies. They can infiltrate places that men would never be able to get.
On Mary’s first assignment she runs into James Easton in a closet while snooping. He is snooping about the family she is assigned to also but for different reasons. They are forced to work together. Mary and James have great chemistry in this series. It is a slow romance that has many reasonable obstacles.
Now nearly a full-fledged member of the Agency, the all-female detective unit operating out of Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls, Mary Quinn is back for another action-packed adventure. Disguised as a poor apprentice builder and a boy, she must brave the grimy underbelly of Victorian London - as well as childhood fear, hunger, and constant want - to unmask the identity of a murderer. Assigned to monitor a building site on the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament, Mary earns the confidence of the work crew, inching ever nearer her suspect. But if an irresistible desire to help the city's needy doesn't distract her and jeopardize her cover, unexpectedly meeting up with an old friend - or flame - just might.
The Agency has always placed female operatives but one of the founders wants to expand. She agrees to let Mary go undercover as a boy in order to get a large contract. They are hired to figure out part of the reason why a man was murdered at the construction site of the Houses of Parliament. Mary knows nothing about construction but is trying to fit in with her new crew when an engineer comes to do a review of the building practices. It is a physically and emotionally battered and beaten down James Easton.
I think that this may be my favorite book of the series. I don’t usually say that about second books. They are usually a let down. In this one the author has already established the characters so well that you care about them and their adventures. You get a better idea of the dangerous world of the extremely poor in London. For me this book was more about life in the city and the class and gender and racial barriers that both characters are bending than the mystery.
Get steeped in suspense, romance, and high Victorian intrigue as Mary goes undercover at Buckingham Palace - and learns a startling secret at the Tower of London.
Mary is on assignment undercover in Buckingham Palace to investigate some thefts. This gives the author the chance to examine the lives of maids in Victorian times. They worked all the time. They were not supposed to be seen by members of the royal family so they had to freeze or hide if any of the nobility came into a room. They are also vulnerable to any male member of the nobility who take a fancy to them.
While investigating the thefts, Mary stumbles on a scandal involving the Prince of Wales. One of his highborn friends was killed in an opium den by a Chinese man who has the same name as her supposedly dead father. She decides to investigate this and has to face the truth of her Chinese heritage that she has managed to avoid for most of her life.
Right when she is starting to make progress, she is recalled because the Agency finds out that the engineering firm owned by James Easton will be doing some top secret work under the palace. They don’t want her to get involved with him again because he has complicated her other cases. Should she stay or should she go?
The series comes full circle as the one of the criminals from book one is dying in prison. Mary is hired to watch for the one that escaped making a last minute visit. She knows they will have a score to settle with her and James.
This was a great last book. It ties up a lot of loose ends by going back to the villains of book one and seeing how everyone has changed in the intervening years. It is hard to talk about this book much without spoilers for the series.
I binged this series over the course of a week. I absolutely loved it. On top of complex mysteries there were discussions of the intersections of race and class and gender at the time. Add a very fun and banter-filled romance on top of that and this is a great series even if mysteries aren’t usually your favorite.
About Y.S. Lee
Y S Lee was born in Singapore, raised in Vancouver and Toronto, and lived for a spell in England. As she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture, she began to research a story about a girl detective in 1850s London. The result was her debut novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House. This won the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s inaugural John Spray Mystery Award in 2011.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
This is a book about an unlikely campaign that had an even more improbable ending: the closest outcome in history and an unprecedented eight-month recount saga, which is pretty funny in retrospect. It's a book about what happens when the nation's foremost progressive satirist gets a chance to serve in the United States Senate and, defying the low expectations of the pundit class, actually turns out to be good at it.It's a book about our deeply polarized, frequently depressing, occasionally inspiring political culture, written from inside the belly of the beast.
This book answers the question that so many people had – How did this man:
turn into this man?
Al Franken was best known as a writer for Saturday Night Live when he announced his candidacy for Senate in his home state of Minnesota. His candidacy was treated as a joke but he was very serious. He had written several books on political topics and had been hosting a three hour daily political radio show that taught him a lot about issues. He had campaigned for Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone prior to Wellstone’s death in a plane crash. When the Republican senator who took over Wellstone’s senate seat said that he was a 99% improvement over Democrat Wellstone, Franken decided that someone had to defeat that guy. He just didn’t realize yet that it was going to be him.
This memoir was very well done. It talked just a bit about his childhood and then moved quickly into his life as a satirical writer. This is important because as he says he spent 35 years learning to be funny professionally and the next decade learning not to be. He calls the Republican plan for dealing with him “The Dehumorizer”. Just assume that everything he ever wrote was absolute truth and not a joke – up to and including shooting elderly people over a river in a rocket. Turn that into “Franken hates the elderly” and you get the idea. It wasn’t like he hadn’t given them huge amounts of easy material to work with. He did write a story for Playboy called “Pornorama” after all.
Once he got into the Senate by winning the closest election in Senate history, he started working to prove that he was there work and not be a clown. What do Senators do every day? He discusses in detail how bills are made into laws; what compromises to do you have to make to get things done? He talks about working with people you totally disagree with in order to get laws passed. He tells what it is like to grill people you like personally but don’t want to get a cabinet position (Jeff Sessions). And there is a whole chapter on why everyone hates Ted Cruz. He also discusses what needs to be done now in the age of Trump.
Franken lets out a little of the vitriol that he needs to keep inside during his day job. There is more humor than he is allowed to show at work. Apparently he is only allowed by his staff to speak freely in car between events. I’d love to hear what actually happens in the car.
Franken reads the audiobook himself so you can feel the ideas that he is passionate about and feel his anguish at having funny lines in his head that he isn’t allowed to say.
I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to know what it is really like to be a Senator. Now I’m watching the news and seeing the people who he spoke about in the book in a new light.
Importance of Topic
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
I’m not a big Spiderman movie fan. I watched the Tobey Maguire movies and I’m still cranky about how bad the third one was. I didn’t see any of the other reboots of the series. I don’t get the point of rebooting series. It is also cranky-making for me.
But, this newest Spiderman film, Spiderman: Homecoming, looked cute and it has Robert Downey, Jr who I do like, so I wanted to go.
We tried to go on Sunday afternoon of opening weekend. There are two major theaters we go to. One has the only popcorn I’ve ever liked in a theater and iced tea to drink. The other has pretzel bites which used to be an absolute requirement for me to go to a theater but since I’ve mostly given up cheese I don’t eat them unless I want to be self-destructive. We went to Good Popcorn theater.
The problem is that Good Popcorn theater has recently gone to assigned seating. This sucks. I understand why the theater likes it but it sucks for movie goers. You don’t know when you pick a seat if people will come and sit right next to you. You don’t know if people you are sitting by actually are bringing 16 screaming children. You can’t adjust where you plan on sitting once you get into the theater. This is extra bad because the husband has PTSD and gets panicky if he feels trapped.
So it ended up being super crowded and he freaked and we had to leave before the previews came on. Spiderman Fail #1.
I decided that I would go by myself on Tuesday morning to see the movie. I also decided to be self-destructive and go to the Pretzel Bites theater because I had errands to run in that area who am I kidding? I wanted pretzel bites and cheese. I get there in time for the 11:15 AM showing. I get my pretzel bites and a medium root beer which ends up being this gigantic flagon of liquid sugar. I go to the theater and settle in the back row content with my lot in life.
The first preview comes on the screen. A space ship crosses from right to left on the screen. The screen goes dark. Strobe lights start flashing on either side of the theater. Sirens start to wail. This seems like an impressively elaborate preview. This theater has really upped their immersive effects since I was here last. Then the lights come up and a robotic voice says over the sirens, “There is an emergency. Please evacuate the theater. Do not use the elevators.” (Not hard since this is a one-level theater.) Huh.
There were about 11 of us in the theater. We made the decision to actually try out the emergency exits that you never get to use. No other theater seemed to make this decision so we were on the back of the building and now had to walk all the way around to see what was going on.
Sirens were still going off inside so we waited outside. Our group was still the only people outside. No other patrons. No workers. No emergency response personnel. Eventually a cop showed up and ambled inside. I continued eating my pretzel bites while balancing my flagon of root beer in the crook of my elbow. Priorities.
Eventually we hear fire sirens. If there was a real fire, the whole place might have burned down before the fire department came. They strolled in too but I decided to quit leaning against the columns of a possibly actually burning building and go finish my pretzel bites a bit away from the building.
About this time people from other theaters started to come out. I guess our theater had all the smart people who are not going to die in a horror movie because we got out at the first sign of trouble. We also entertained the idea that our theater was only starting previews so we weren’t as invested in sticking around as groups who were in the middle of a movie. All the “lucky they weren’t murdered by a serial killer” people had movie passes in their hands though so our group went inside to get ours. Officially, no one could actually find anything on fire but the alarm wouldn’t shut off either so we should come back another day.
Is the universe trying to tell me not to go see Spiderman?
Am I bad luck for Spiderman?
When I use my voucher to go try to see the movie again, will I be self-destructive enough to eat pretzel bites again? I’m already starting to feel sick. Or, will I be satisfied with the very fancy candy bar I snuck in and didn’t have a chance to eat?
Is a movie actually worth this much effort even with 94% on Rotten Tomatoes?
I’ve been seeing ads on Twitter for Playster. I was interested in the audiobooks that they offer. Would this be a suitable replacement for Audible?
Only $9.95 for unlimited audiobooks and ebooks. I’m paying $14.95 for one audiobook a month from Audible
Playster offers music, movies, books, audiobooks, and games. I chose a free trial subscription of just the books and audiobooks. You can’t get audiobooks only. When you go to the audiobook page on Playster you are offered playlists in addition to being able to search for books.
One of the playlists under Genre and Mood is Hungry. Yes, they have a whole section dedicated to Foodie Books!
These are the categories under Hungry. There is a fairly good selection in each one.
Do they have the books that I’m going to want to listen to?
I checked the books that I’ve gotten from Audible in the last six months. Playster had all the nonfiction but was missing a few of the urban fantasy books.
The Listening Experience
The Android app is a bit of a mess. It is pretty but it is not easy to navigate. I think on an audiobook listening app there should be a huge button as soon as you open it that says, LISTEN TO YOUR BOOK. This app has….nothing. It took me a while to figure out how to play the books.
I ended up saving any books I downloaded to the My Audiobooks tab. Then I could open that and select them to play. There is no place I could find to just access books that you’ve downloaded. That is my biggest complaint.
Once you find your book on the app, it works well. It remembers where you left off. It puts a bar on your homescreen so you can access it without digging through the app until you shut down the app. It plays well through the bluetooth connection in my car.
Less expensive for more audiobooks than Audible. I haven’t even started exploring the ebooks that it comes with too.
Slightly annoying audiobook app but the work-around isn’t too cumbersome.
You don’t own your books like on Audible. That doesn’t matter to me but might to other people.
Selection might be smaller than Audible. I could still find a lot of books on here that I would be interested in.
I am going to keep Playster instead of Audible after my free month because of the cost savings and being able to listen to more than one audiobook a month.
I think this site is what Overdrive could be if my library subscribed to more audiobooks and I didn’t have to wait for other people to be done with them.
Has anyone else tried Playster? What did you think?
This is my 200th It’s Monday! What are you reading? post.
I started this a long time ago. It was how I got into book blogging. Then I started reading more books than having interesting things that I could publicly post about in my life and switched to mostly posting about books. I left the party for a while but now I’m reading more books than I am able to post reviews for on the blog so I’m back.
I looked up my very first one of these posts. It was June 7, 2010 and I was reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest among other books I can’t remember.
My reading has slowed down some from last month. I spent a lot of last week at my parents’ house and that isn’t really reading friendly since I’m required to speak to other humans and other crazy things.
Finished This Week
What Am I Reading?
Both of these are ARCs for reviews next week. They are both good so far.
What Am I Listening To?
I’m really enjoying this audio. Even though I know he became a Senator the details of his campaign are stressful. It was also interesting to hear how his opponents used his 35 years worth of satirical political comedy writing against him in the campaign.
A journalist channels her ice-cream obsession, scouring the United States for the best artisanal brands and delving into the surprising history of ice cream and frozen treats in America.
Amy Ettinger is obsessed with ice cream. She says that she routinely eats ice cream 1 – 2 times a day. She’s the perfect person to go on an exploration of the state of ice cream in the United States.
In her journey she rides along on an ice cream truck route in New York. I had no idea that being an ice cream truck driver was such a dangerous job. The woman she was riding with freely admits to getting into fist fights with other drivers that she sees driving in the same neighborhoods as she does.
She visits frozen custard makers in Wisconsin to find out why true frozen custard is regional speciality. She investigates the rise of new soda shops and discusses the sometimes poisonous history of soda shops. She finds out what is behind the newest experiments with ice cream flavors – celery or foie gras or mealworms anyone? She also tries a revival of Dolley Madison’s recipe for oyster ice cream.
She wonders how frozen yogurt stores fit into the ice cream world and investigates the largest chains. She goes to Penn State’s ice cream course to find out how to make ice cream. (I will say that Penn State makes some amazing ice cream. It made all my trips there bearable back when I could eat it.)
She seems shocked to find out that because of federal regulations most ice cream shops don’t make their own base for the ice cream. They just add the flavors. She gets very judgy about it. Likewise she is horrified that ice cream sandwich makers outsource making the sandwiches. I found it hard to believe that anyone was actually this naive about how foods are made in the U.S.
If you like books that give you a culinary tour, this is a good book for you.
I just have a few complaints.
She points out that people in the midwest are fat and wonders if we have different standards of beauty than in California. It is a totally passive-aggressive insult to an entire region.
I cringed anytime she referred to sandwiches as “sammies”. Can that please not be a thing anymore?
She is absolutely dismissive of the idea of non-dairy ice cream. As a non-dairy eater, I assure her that just like dairy ice cream, some are horrible and some are amazing. I offer Ben and Jerry’s PB & Cookies as proof of awesomeness.
Kathleen Mcinerney does a wonderfully upbeat and perky narration that fits the subject matter perfectly.
About Amy Ettinger
Amy Ettinger is an essayist, journalist, and editor. She has written for the New York Times, New York magazine, The Washington Post, Salon, and the Huffington Post. She lives in Santa Cruz, California, with her husband and daughter.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Picking up where The Tipping Point leaves off, respected journalist Lee Daniel Kravetz’s Strange Contagion is a provocative look at both the science and lived experience of social contagion.
In 2009, tragedy struck the town of Palo Alto: A student from the local high school had died by suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming train. Grief-stricken, the community mourned what they thought was an isolated loss. Until, a few weeks later, it happened again. And again. And again. In six months, the high school lost five students to suicide at those train tracks.
A recent transplant to the community and a new father himself, Lee Daniel Kravetz’s experience as a science journalist kicked in: what was causing this tragedy? More important, how was it possible that a suicide cluster could develop in a community of concerned, aware, hyper-vigilant adults?
The answer? Social contagion. We all know that ideas, emotions, and actions are communicable—from mirroring someone’s posture to mimicking their speech patterns, we are all driven by unconscious motivations triggered by our
environment. But when just the right physiological, psychological, and social factors come together, we get what Kravetz calls a "strange contagion:" a perfect storm of highly common social viruses that, combined, form a highly volatile condition.
Strange Contagion is simultaneously a moving account of one community’s tragedy and a rigorous investigation of social phenomenon, as Kravetz draws on research and insights from experts worldwide to unlock the mystery of how ideas spread, why they take hold, and offer thoughts on our responsibility to one another as citizens of a globally and perpetually connected world.
The most interesting part of this book to me was the social science of how people interact with each other in a work environment. It seemed like scientific proof of the old adage “One bad apple ruins the barrel.” It is important to get rid of people who are going to bring team morale down. I’ve seen that a lot in different jobs.
The book doesn’t come to a conclusion about the suicide clusters in Palo Alto. He looks at this as an outsider. He talks to a teacher and a principal but doesn’t talk much to the kids. Whatever is going on in that school would be invisible to outsiders and may not have anything to do with too much homework or high societal pressure to achieve.
I did like the part of the book that discussed why Palo Alto schools have such high achievement rates. The kids appear to be intrinsically motivated to succeed. It would be great if this was not abnormal. I’ve never understood why people aren’t intrinsically motivated. It is in their best interest. Being able to export a culture that creates motivated students would be amazing.
Lee Daniel Kravetz has a master’s degree in counseling psychology and is a graduate of the University of Missouri–Columbia School of Journalism. He has written for Psychology Today, the Huffington Post, and the New York Times, among other publications. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and children.
The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards are given out every year in Cleveland. I generally hear about this on the radio after the event. This year, I am on the mailing list so I can remember to get to as many events as I can.
What are the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards?
“The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures. For over 80 years, the distinguished books earning Anisfield-Wolf prizes have opened and challenged our minds.
Cleveland poet and philanthropist Edith Anisfield Wolf established the book prizes in 1935, in honor of her father, John Anisfield, and husband, Eugene Wolf, to reflect her family’s passion for issues of social justice. Today it remains the only American book prize focusing on works that address racism and diversity.” from the award website
The books that won this year have already been announced. The winners are honored at a multi-day event in September.
“Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets and astronauts into space.
Among these problem solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly these overlooked math whizzes had shots at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia, and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.”
“Inhabiting four lives—a railroad baron’s valet who unwittingly ignites an explosion in Chinese labor, Hollywood’s first Chinese movie star, a hate-crime victim whose death mobilizes Asian Americans, and a biracial writer visiting China for an adoption—this novel captures and capsizes over a century of our history, showing that even as family bonds are denied and broken, a community can survive—as much through love as blood.
Building fact into fiction, spinning fiction around fact, Davies uses each of these stories—three inspired by real historical characters—to examine the process of becoming not only Chinese American, but American.”
“When brothers Tushar and Nakul Khurana, two Delhi schoolboys, go to pick up their family’s television set at a repair shop with their friend Mansoor Ahmed one day in 1996, disaster strikes without warning. A bomb—one of the many “small” bombs that go off seemingly unheralded across the world—detonates in the Delhi marketplace, instantly claiming the lives of the Khurana boys to the devastation of their parents.
Mansoor survives, bearing the physical and psychological effects of the bomb. After a brief stint at university in America, Mansoor returns to Delhi, where his life becomes entangled with the mysterious and charismatic Ayub, a fearless young activist whose own allegiances and beliefs are more malleable than Mansoor could imagine.”
“Part fact, part fiction, Tyehimba Jess’s much anticipated second book weaves sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers directly before and after the Civil War up to World War I. Olio is an effort to understand how they met, resisted, complicated, co-opted, and sometimes defeated attempts to minstrelize them.“
“Isabel Allende Llona is a Chilean-American novelist. Allende, who writes in the “magic realism” tradition, is considered one of the first successful women novelists in Latin America. She has written novels based in part on her own experiences, often focusing on the experiences of women, weaving myth and realism together. She has lectured and done extensive book tours and has taught literature at several US colleges. She currently resides in California with her husband. Allende adopted U.S. citizenship in 2003.“
Each of the winners is speaking somewhere in Cleveland that week and there are book fairs. The only event that I’ll be able to get to is on Thursday, September 7. It is the actual awards ceremony hosted by jury chair Henry Louis Gates, Jr. I love all his TV shows. Tickets are free but in demand. They are available starting on July 18. I don’t know if there are any other bloggers in the area who would want to come but if you do let me know and I’ll try to get the tickets.
What do you do when you have a lot of books that you need to move on to new homes? A lot of the books I wanted to donate were ARCs so they can’t go to thrift stores. I decided to feed my local Little Free Libraries.
I have been donating to the one in my neighborhood but it couldn’t handle the volume of books that I wanted to donate on its own. I used this map to find other ones around me.
I started by donating these books to my neighborhood library, which isn’t even registered on the map.
Then I found this one nearby. It had mostly kids’ books so I added what YA books I had and a few adult books.
This library was hidden in the wandering roads of a subdivision near my house. I had to turn around a few times to find it.
I got rid of about 20 books in these three libraries. I still need to go through my upstairs bookcases and purge some more.
Of course I had to see what books were already in the libraries. It would have been rude not to! I only picked up three books which I figured was a pretty good trade off.
Do you donate books to these Little Free Libraries? Do you get books from them?
Now we know what happens when you give me a month off work.
I read 24 books this month!
I read whole series.
I picked up books from other series that I had started previously.
I read nonfiction.
I read romantic books.
I even read some YA and graphic novels.
I read a couple of ARCs too.
Honestly, I started to get a bit tired of reading after a while. (I know, it is blasphemy!) I definitely slowed down at the end of the month. Getting distracted by real life was an issue at that point too but the beginning of the month was a glorious exercise in going to the library every day to pick up books I had requested and then devouring them because I had NOTHING ELSE TO DO.
The books were:
Set in England, Australia, India, Congo, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and the U.S. (Ohio, New York, Maine, California, and Pennsylvania)
Only one audiobook!
The Turner series was actually three novels and a novella but I only counted it as one book.
The authors were:
14 unique female authors and 4 male authors
2 black women, 2 Indian authors, 2 biracial women of East Asian descent, 1 Latina, 1 Arab woman, 1 Singaporean woman, 1 Japanese woman, 5 white women, and 3 white men.
Critically acclaimed, award-winning British comedian and actor Eddie Izzard details his childhood, his first performances on the streets of London, his ascent to worldwide success on stage and screen, and his comedy shows which have won over audiences around the world.
Over the course of a thirty-year career, Eddie Izzard has proved himself to be a creative chameleon, inhabiting the stage and film and television screen with an unbelievable fervor. Born in Yemen and raised in Northern Ireland, Wales, and England, he lost his mother at the age of six—a devastating event that affected the rest of his life. In his teens, he dropped out of university and took to the streets of London as part of a comedy double act. When his partner went on vacation, Izzard kept busy by inventing a one-man escape act, and thus a solo career was ignited. As a stand-up comedian, Izzard has captivated audiences with his surreal, stream-of-consciousness comedy— lines such as “Cake or Death?” “Death Star Canteen,” and “Do You Have a Flag?” have the status of great rock lyrics. As a self-proclaimed “action transvestite,” Izzard broke a mold performing in makeup and heels, and has become as famous for his “total clothing” rights as he has for his art. In Believe Me, he recounts the dizzying rise he made from the streets of London to West End theaters, to Wembley Arena, Madison Square Garden, and the Hollywood Bowl.
I’m a huge Eddie Izzard fan. That’s a requirement for listening to this audiobook. If you think he is slightly funny or if you aren’t really sure if you know who he is, read the book but don’t listen to the audio yet. I’ve never experienced an audiobook quite like this. I think it is an audiobook that only could have been made by Eddie Izzard.
He is reading his book but he keeps getting distracted. The tape just keeps rolling as he goes off on tangents – things that he remembers about what he was talking about in the book but didn’t write down; new things that have happened since he wrote the book; or just things that have popped into his head that are more interesting right now than the printed words of the book. These include asking questions of the audio engineers and getting out his cell phone to Google the answer to questions he has. When he realizes how far afield he’s gone, he signals that he’s heading back to the text by saying, “End…Of…Footnote.” I’m going to use that phrase from now on to close any rambling monologue I have.
Even as a fan I was bored by the beginning of the book. His mother died when he was six and he was sent off to boarding school. This is important but all the details of his childhood were not necessary. I wanted to hear about how he got started performing and his later life. Once he got to these sections, I was much more interested.
One thing I was curious about when picking up his book was hearing how he discusses his gender identity. He’s famous for his “Executive Transvestite” routine. I always think of this when people on Twitter get angry about the use of the term transvestite. Eddie came out publicly in 1985. He still uses the terms transvestite and transgender interchangeably when referring to himself. I think of him as a person out living his life openly in public while others are fighting over terminology that he doesn’t care about. I think if he was coming out now he would most likely be identified by others as genderfluid based on his descriptions of his life.
He’s an amazing person who has performed standup all over the world in several different languages, has raised millions for charity by running insane amounts of marathons back to back, and has had many serious dramatic roles in TV shows and movies. He still thinks that he is a boring person who has made a choice to try to make himself more interesting by getting out and doing things. You could do worse.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
This is the big one that makes formatting book reviews simple. It is a paid plugin so it must be good if I have it since I am cheap. There is a learning curve for this one because it can do so much but there is great support. I also have add ons for this:
Automatically send my published reviews to Goodreads. (I like that this gives an option to send an edited review to Goodreads if I get too rambling here.)
Reading challenges add on makes the little bars on the right side of the screen that track categories of reviews. My only complaint is that I write a lot of reviews with multiple books and you can’t track each one.
I just downloaded a multiple rating report that I may use for audiobooks to separately rate the narration and story and any other category I want to make up.
My UBB wishlist:
The ability to host cover images on a third party site
Automatically sending reviews to Amazon or other sites
Featured Image from URL
My theme has the big picture at the top of the post. I love the look of that but I didn’t like having to host all those images on my site. This plug in lets you host pictures on Flickr and then use them as a featured image. I love, love, love this one! Find it by searching on your Add Plugins page.
Where do all those stock photos come from? Pixabay is my favorite free stock photo site. I can usually always find a great image that ties into whatever I’m writing about.
If you write a lot of posts that follow the same format, this is a time saver. I use it for my Monday posts. I click on last week’s and it copies the post to a new draft. I change out the galleries of the books I am reading but my headings and featured picture are all preset. I use this for monthly wrap ups too where I am updating information on challenges. I don’t have to look up and link to the challenges again. It just gets copied over. Find it by searching on your Add Plugins page.
WordPress Editorial Calendar
I love being able to move posts around on my calendar. I write down title names when I get an idea and if I don’t get around to writing it or if I want to change when it is posted, I just drag and drop. It is so much better than working off a list. Find it by searching on your Add Plugins page.
I use Later.com to schedule tweets, instagram posts, and pinterest posts. When I write a review, I send the cover photo here and then write the tweet to go out once in the morning and once at night. It is easy to use the same picture for Pinterest but it isn’t as easy to pin to multiple boards as Tailwind is.
It’s 1949 and South Philadelphia bursts with opportunity during the post-war boom. The Palazzini Cab Company & Western Union Telegraph Office, owned and operated by Dominic Palazzini and his three sons, is flourishing: business is good, they’re surrounded by sympathetic wives and daughters-in-law, with grandchildren on the way. But a decades-long feud that split Dominic and his brother Mike and their once-close families sets the stage for a re-match.
Amidst the hoopla, the arrival of an urgent telegram from Italy upends the life of Nicky Castone (Dominic and his wife’s orphaned nephew) who lives and works with his Uncle Dom and his family. Nicky decides, at 30, that he wants more—more than just a job driving Car #4 and more than his longtime fiancée Peachy DePino, a bookkeeper, can offer. When he admits to his fiancée that he’s been secretly moonlighting at the local Shakespeare theater company, Nicky finds himself drawn to the stage, its colorful players and to the determined Calla Borelli, who inherited the enterprise from her father, Nicky must choose between the conventional life his family expects of him or chart a new course and risk losing everything he cherishes.
Kiss Carlo is a meandering family story that takes place over a few years in post WWII Philadelphia. The Palazzini family lives together in a large house containing Uncle Dom and Aunt Jo, their three sons and their wives, and a cousin, Nicky. The men all work together also in the family cab company.
What no one knows is that Nicky has been moonlighting at a struggling Shakespeare theater. He’s a stagehand but an emergency forces him onstage mid-play and makes him realize that he wants to act. He also has a man die in his cab which forces the realization that he isn’t doing exactly what he wants with his life. His actions shake up the whole Palazzini family when Nicky breaks off his engagement and moves out of the house.
The book is full of distinct and interesting characters. With such a large cast it could have been hard to keep the characters separate, but the author did a very good job of writing each one as a individual with their own backstory, personality traits, and motivations. There are no “generic sisters-in-law” here.
Hortense is the African-American dispatcher and telegraph operator at the cab company. She’s no nonsense and proudly self-educated. Her husband doesn’t appreciate her and demeans her. She forges a friendship with a housebound Italian widow over a weekend who shares part of her way of making marinara sauce. This leads to a business opportunity for Hortense because she’s savvy enough to see how a simple sauce fits into the need for convenience for the modern house wife. Adding this character gives an outsider’s view of the Italian families and neighborhood of Philadelphia.
This is a long book that doesn’t have one distinct through story. It is a book that you just need to settle into and let it take you along for the ride instead of trying to imagine where the journey is going to take you.
Adriana Trigiani is the bestselling author of 17 books, which have been published in 36 countries around the world. She is a playwright, television writer/producer and filmmaker. She wrote and directed the film version of her novel Big Stone Gap, which was shot entirely on location in her Virginia hometown. She is co-founder of the Origin Project, an in-school writing program that serves more than a thousand students in Appalachia. She lives in Greenwich Village with her family.
Ghoulies. Ghosties. Long-legged beasties. Things that go bump in the night... The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity—and humanity from them. Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she'd rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and is spending a year in Manhattan while she pursues her career in professional ballroom dance. Sounds pretty simple, right? It would be, if it weren't for the talking mice, the telepathic mathematicians, the asbestos supermodels, and the trained monster-hunter sent by the Price family's old enemies, the Covenant of St. George. When a Price girl meets a Covenant boy, high stakes, high heels, and a lot of collateral damage are almost guaranteed. To complicate matters further, local cryptids are disappearing, strange lizard-men are appearing in the sewers, and someone's spreading rumors about a dragon sleeping underneath the city...
I’m loving this urban fantasy series! The Price family fled to North America several generations ago after they broke away from the monster-hunting Covenant. The Covenant thinks the family died out. The Prices have worked hard to make it seem like they did.
Verity Price isn’t sure she wants to spend her life as a cryptozoologist. She has trained to be a professional ballroom dancer. Now she has one year in New York to try to make a living dancing as long as she uses her spare time to survey the local cryptid community. But her side job is taking up more time than her dancing.
There is so much great world building here. There are ultrareligious mice colonies that live with the Prices. There are telepathic cuckoos that can make humans give them things and not notice they did it. There are boogeymen who know all the secrets. Dragon princesses live to make money and gorgons have a hard time keeping their snakes happy under their wigs.
Verity comes face to face with a Covenant member. He was sent to see if New York needs to be purged of cryptids. Verity isn’t going to let that happen to her friends.
Cryptid, noun:1. Any creature whose existence has been suggested but not proven scientifically. Term officially coined by cryptozoologist John E. Wall in 1983.2. That thing that's getting ready to eat your head.3. See also: "monster."
Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she'd rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and when her work with the cryptid community took her to Manhattan, she thought she would finally be free to pursue competition-level dance in earnest. It didn't quite work out that way...
But now, with the snake cult that was killing virgins all over Manhattan finally taken care of, Verity is ready to settle down for some serious ballroom dancing—until her on-again, off-again, semi-boyfriend Dominic De Luca, a member of the monster-hunting Covenant of St. George, informs her that the Covenant is on their way to assess the city's readiness for a cryptid purge. With everything and everyone she loves on the line, there's no way Verity can take that lying down.
Alliances will be tested, allies will be questioned, lives will be lost, and the talking mice in Verity's apartment will immortalize everything as holy writ--assuming there's anyone left standing when all is said and done.
This is book two with Verity. Now the Covenant is coming. Dominic has to decide where his loyalities lie and Verity has to decide if she can trust anything he is saying to her.
This book does a good job of picking up where the last one left off without feeling like a filler book that you see so often with second novels in a series.
When Alex Price agreed to go to Ohio to oversee a basilisk breeding program and assist in the recovery of his psychic cousin, he didn't expect people to start dropping dead. But bodies are cropping up at the zoo where he works, and his girlfriend—Shelby Tanner, an Australian zoologist with a fondness for big cats—is starting to get suspicious.
Worse yet, the bodies have all been turned partially to stone...
The third book in the InCryptid series takes us to a new location and a new member of the family, as Alex tries to balance life, work, and the strong desire not to become a piece of garden statuary. Old friends and new are on the scene, and danger lurks around every corner.
Of course, so do the talking mice.
It can be a hard transition in a series to leave the previous main character behind and start with a new one. I’m always a little bit leery of these transitions but this was done well.
Alex is Verity’s older brother. He doesn’t work with large cryptids like she does. He works more with cryptid wildlife. He’s identifying ecological problems that are increasing the likelihood of someone realizing that there are feathered frogs in Ohio.
If that wasn’t enough, someone turned one of his assistants to stone and seems to targeting him.
I thought this book was really well done. I wasn’t crazy about the girlfriend. Her name was also Shelby Tanner. That seemed really familiar to me. Then I realized that I knew a person with dogs named Shelby and Tanner and then I couldn’t unsee that.
Alexander Price has survived gorgons, basilisks, and his own family—no small feat, considering that his family includes two telepaths, a reanimated corpse, and a colony of talking, pantheistic mice. Still, he’s starting to feel like he’s got the hang of things…at least until his girlfriend, Shelby Tanner, shows up asking pointed questions about werewolves and the state of his passport. From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to Australia, a continent filled with new challenges, new dangers, and yes, rival cryptozoologists who don’t like their “visiting expert” very much.
This book moves the action to Australia. It is nice to see how the author imagines a different ecosystem and what cryptids evolved there.
There was a lot of “Daddy threatens the boyfriend for sleeping with the daughter” trope which I absolutely hate. The characters try to diffuse it but it doesn’t work. I could have done without all that.
I did miss the rest of the Price family in this one. Hopefully they come back in the next books.
A few complaints about the series:
The names of the books have absolutely nothing to do with the books. You could call any one of them “Your Aunty Jane’s Peach Cobbler” and it would not change anything. The word Ragnarok does not appear in Half-Off Ragnarok for example. I don’t understand how they are named.
There are roughly a gazillion short stories in this universe. I’m sticking with only reading the integers – books #1, #2, etc. – for now.
About Seanan McGuire
“Hi! I’m Seanan McGuire, author of the Toby Daye series (Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation, An Artificial Night, Late Eclipses), as well as a lot of other things. I’m also Mira Grant (www.miragrant.com), author of Feed and Deadline.
Born and raised in Northern California, I fear weather and am remarkably laid-back about rattlesnakes. I watch too many horror movies, read too many comic books, and share my house with two monsters in feline form, Lilly and Alice (Siamese and Maine Coon).”
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: