Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Song for a Whale

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Grandpa told a story, I saw it as clearly as if it were happening right there in front of me. His signing hands showed me the whale in an ocean that suddenly went quiet, swimming over there, over there, over there, trying to find the sounds again. Maybe that was why she’d been there on our Gulf of Mexico beach instead of in deep ocean waters where she belonged. Sei whales didn’t swim so close to shore. Only her, on that day.

Iris was named for the whale that beached itself on the day she was born, at her grandmother’s request. After second grade, her family moved to Houston, only able to visit her beloved grandparents once a year. Now 12, Iris misses her grandparents more than ever; after her grandfather passed away, her grandmother lost her spark and spends listless days in a senior housing complex. In her free time, Iris repairs radios that she gets from the junkyard, bringing abandoned antiques back to life. The vibrations from the speakers tell her when her work has been successful. Like her maternal grandparents, Iris was born Deaf.

School has been especially difficult since the move. The only Deaf student in her school, Iris relies on an adult interpreter who accompanies her to classes. He does not come to the cafeteria with her for lunch, leaving her alone to deal with well-meaning but uncomprehending fellow students.

She learns about Blue 55 in Science class. A whale who sings at 55 hertz, much higher than the usual range for whales, he sings into the ocean, but no one understands his song, and he cannot understand anyone else. Iris hatches a plan to record a song for Blue 55 to let him know that he’s not alone in the wide world. Now she just has to find a way to get it to him.

This is a lovely and poignant novel about the loneliness that so many of us feel. There are so many ways to communicate, which is shown so beautifully throughout the book. The desire to reach out and connect with another, to know that one is not alone, underscores the entire story. What tween (or person who has been a tween) has not had trouble understanding and making oneself understood by classmates, friends, and family from time to time?

Kelly is a long-time ASL interpreter, and her respect for Deaf culture shines through. For Iris, hearing or not hearing is not the problem. Her Deafness is just part of her, like hair color or eye color. It’s other people who are flustered or confused by it.

An Author’s Note at the end explains some of the mechanics of whale communication and the story of 52-Blue, also called the Loneliest Whale in the World, on whom Blue 55 is based. A second note on Deafness and Sign Language gives more information about Deaf culture, the development of ASL, and why Kelly made particular narrative choices. Finally, there is an illustration of the ASL for “Song for a Whale”.

Source: Checked out from my public library

Challenges: Read Harder 2020 (#21: A book with a main character or protagonist with a disability (fiction or non))

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week. It’s a great post to organise yourself. It’s an opportunity to visit and comment, and er… add to that ever-growing TBR pile! So welcome in everyone. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date.

What I Read Last Week:

Book cover of Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly
  • Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly – Read Harder task 21 (A book with a main character or protagonist with a disability (fiction or non))

What I’m Reading Now:

  • Courting the Countess by Jenny Frame – Read Harder task 14 (A romance starring a single parent)
  • Henry VI by William Shakespeare (Not the edition shown, but it’s a nice cover) – Shakespeare 2020 Project
  • Tales from Shakespeare by Charles & Mary Lamb – Georgian Reading Challenge, Classics Club

What I’m Reading Next:

Down the TBR Hole #19

Down the TBR Hole was originally created over at Lost in a Story.

Most of you probably know this feeling, your Goodreads TBR pile keeps growing and growing and it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. You keep adding, but you add more than you actually read. And then when you’re scrolling through your list, you realize that you have no idea what half the books are about and why you added them. Well that’s going to change!

It works like this:

  • Go to your goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10, if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?
  • Keep track of where you left off so you can pick up there next week!
Book cover showing a small airplane flying over a deserted beach

Globetrotter Diaries: Tales, Tips and Tactics for Traveling the 7 Continents by Michael Clinton
Published:  February 16, 2013
On TBR Since:  February 16, 2013

As much as I love both travelling and reading about travelling, I’m not entirely sure why this was even on here.

Stay or Go: Go

Book cover showing an illustration of an open human mouth

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach 
Published:  January 4, 2013
On TBR Since:  February 27, 2013

Mary Roach is another automatic stay for me. Her writing is just so much fun.

Stay or Go: Stay

Book cover with blue ichthys with feet and the words "The Happy Atheist"

The Happy Atheist by P.Z. Myers
Published:  January 1, 2013
On TBR Since:  March 9, 2013

I kind of love the cover, but I think I can skip the book.

Stay or Go: Go

Book cover

O My America!: Six Women and Their Second Acts in a New World by Sara Wheeler
Published:  January 1, 2013
On TBR Since:  March 9, 2013

Now this is a travel book I definitely still want to read.

Stay or Go: Stay

Book cover

Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for Children by Katherine Paterson
Published:  1981
On TBR Since:  March 18, 2013

This is a collection of essays and articles that falls into Professional Reading.

Book cover with orange background and a dandelion in the base of a light bulb

Stay or Go: Stay

Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
Published:  March 1, 2013
On TBR Since:  March 22, 2013

This is one of a number of business books that will start appearing in the TBR. Letting it go.

Stay or Go: Go

Book cover

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss
Published: February 26, 2013
On TBR Since: March 22, 2013

I am really torn on this one. I suspect it’s going to make me really mad. But I’ll keep it on for the moment.

Book cover

Stay or Go: Stay

The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley’s Masterpiece by Roseanne Montillo
Published: February 01, 2013
On TBR Since: March 22, 2013

I have absolutely no recollection of ever hearing about this book. But it sounds fascinating.

Stay or Go: Stay

Book cover

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Published: 2008
On TBR Since: March 30, 2013

Yeah, I’m going to read it. Eventually.

Book cover with the word "DRiVE" in red text

Stay or Go: Stay

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink  
Published: December 29, 2009
On TBR Since: March 30, 2013

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Pink’s work. This still sounds good.

Stay or Go: Stay

Seven to stay, 3 to go. Ending last week: 1807. Beginning this week: 1830. (That’s a subject for another post.) Ending this week: 1827.

Visit my to-read shelf to see how very far I still have to go!

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Shakespeare 2020

Two weeks ago or so, the Shakespeare 2020 Project came across my social media feeds. It’s been a long time since I read any Shakespeare – not since some really excellent college classes, I think. In fact, it’s even been years since I donated/sold off the various volumes I acquired for said classes.

But y’all know how I love a self-imposed challenge. And I’ve still got Lamb’s Tales on my Classics Club list. (Although, oddly, no Shakespeare on that list.) Of course, I’m already two plays behind. I’ll get caught up on Henry VI before we all move on from part III, and I’m planning to go back and revisit Twelfth Night in December.

Yesterday, I took a bag of books to my local used bookshop to sell (they bought about half of them). Between that and a gift certificate from Christmas, I was able to pick up this lovely three-volume annotated complete works from the 1970s, in its somewhat battered slipcase. They’re not exactly portable, so I’ll be doing most of my reading from them at my desk, but I’m awfully pleased with the purchase.

Are you in for Shakespeare 2020?

Spinning by Tillie Walden


Spinning by Tillie Walden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Every rink smells the same.
They look the same, too.”

Tillie Walden begins her graphic memoir with her first visit to an ice rink in some time. Just before she steps on the ice, the narrative jumps back eight years, to an early morning in New Jersey. Walden relates the story of her life as a competitive figure and synchronized skater through her family’s move from New Jersey to Texas, through her transition from public to private school, and through her experiences of friendship, bullying, and first love. As she grows into herself, she eventually quits competitive skating after 12 years.

The artwork is lovely, but the narrative suffers from a lack of focus. The dominant mood is a sort of diffuse sense of disappointment. After the move to Texas in the summer after fifth grade, skating “felt dull and exhausting.” She continues skating until the summer before senior year of high school, though, unable to explain it even to herself. Walden has her first relationship with another girl – after having known since she was five that she was gay – and eventually comes out to her friends and family. She experiences sexual harassment and the ensuing self-doubt that will feel horribly familiar to many readers. Yet, no matter what happens, it all feels muted: the highs aren’t very high, and the lows aren’t very low. Despite literally showing her life on the page, it feels distant. It is all beautiful and cold, sitting a little too perfectly in that ice rink.

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Source: Checked out from my public library

Challenges: Read Harder 2020 (#4: A Graphic Memoir); Reading Women 2020 (#23: An LGBTQ+ Author)

Reading Challenges 2020

The Reading Challenges haven’t gone so well for me the last two years. But I’ve once again succumbed to the promise of a brand new year and brand new challenges. Here’s what I’ve got lined up for 2020:

  • Back to the Classics is hosted by Books and Chocolate. I read two out of 12 last year (and failed to post about either one). Some of the titles I’ve picked for this year are carry-overs from last year’s list.
  • The Georgian Reading Challenge is hosted by Becky’s Book Reviews. The goal is a minimum of four books – fiction or non-fiction – related to the Georgian era (I’m using the 1714-1830 period – sorry, William IV). I’ve earmarked some possible titles, mostly the same as last year, since I read exactly zero books from the list in 2019.
  • The Victorian Reading Challenge is also hosted by Becky’s Book Reviews, and she’s switched it up with bimonthly themes, plus a year-long bonus theme. I’ve picked some books to match.
  • Classics Club is a multi-year challenge. I have a list of 50 books that I plan to read before the end of 2023. I read two of them in 2019, but I never posted about them. Whoops.
  • Read Harder comes from the fab folks at Book Riot. Some of the 24 tasks are going to be more challenging than others.
  • The Reading Women challenge comes from the Reading Women podcast. It also has 24 tasks, and some of these will definitely be challenging.

How about you? Are you doing any of these challenges? Or different ones?

The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan

The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The woman’s name doesn’t matter. Just picture anyone you know and love. She’s in her mid-twenties when her world begins to crumble. She can’t concentrate at work, stops sleeping, grows uneasy in crowds, and then retreats to her apartment, where she sees and hears things that aren’t there — disembodied voices that make her paranoid, frightened, and angry. She paces around her apartment until she feels as if she might burst open. So she leaves her house and wanders around the crowded city streets trying to avoid the burning stares of the passersby.

In 2009, Susannah Cahallan was hospitalized with what appeared to be classic symptoms of schizophrenia: paranoia, delusions, violent impulses. Anti-psychotic medications didn’t help. Test after test found nothing useful. Until one did, and as soon as the medical establishment was able to identify her illness as auto-immune encephalitis rather than psychosis, everything about her treatment changed: “Hope, clarity, and optimism replaced the vague and distant treatment. No one blamed me or questioned if each symptom was real. They didn’t ask about alcohol consumption of stress levels or family relationships. People no longer implied that the trouble was all in my head.”

In 2012, Cahalan published Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, a memoir of her experience. A variety of subsequent encounters led her to continue looking into the history of psychiatry and the fine line between sanity and madness, and how society identifies those on either side of that (shifting) line. That brought her to the story of Stanford psychologist David Rosenhan and his 1973 “pseudopatient” experiment: Eight healthy people got themselves committed to psychiatric facilities and then had to prove their sanity to get released.

The resulting Nature article, “On Being Sane in Insane Places”, cast a glaring spotlight on what appeared to be serious problems in diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. But there seemed to be holes in the story, questions without answers. Rosenhan died in 2012, never having finished the follow-up book he was contracted to write. The volunteers were never publicly identified.

Cahallan digs into the details of what happened and how it affected the development of psychiatric care. She also looks backward, into the various threads of psychological theory and their supporters and detractors over the years. From Nelly Bly’s 1887 undercover investigation at Blackwell Island through the mass closure of mental institutions a century later and into the present day, it’s a fascinating and sometimes appalling tale, told with a story-teller’s flair. 

In the words of medical historian Edward Shorter, “The history of psychiatry is a minefield. Reader: Beware of shrapnel.

Source: Checked out from my public library

Challenges:  N/A
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Down the TBR Hole #18

It’s ba-ack!

Where does the time go? The last time I did this was October 2018?!? Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we?

Down the TBR Hole was originally created over at Lost in a Story.

Most of you probably know this feeling, your Goodreads TBR pile keeps growing and growing and it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. You keep adding, but you add more than you actually read. And then when you’re scrolling through your list, you realize that you have no idea what half the books are about and why you added them. Well that’s going to change!

It works like this:

  • Go to your goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10, if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?
  • Keep track of where you left off so you can pick up there next week!
Book cover showing a house with silhouettes of people in all the rooms

The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age by Catherine Steiner-Adair
Published: August 13, 2013
On TBR Since: February 3, 2013

I wanted to read this partly for professional reasons and partly for personal reasons. But there are more recent books that will fill the niche.

Stay or Go: Go

Book Cover

Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life by Brian Wansink
Published: March 19, 2013
On TBR Since: February 4, 2013

I kind of thought I read this already, but I was probably thinking of his previous book. In any case, I’m letting this one go.

Stay or Go: Go

Book cover showing gold shield under the words "The Song of Achilles"

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Published: September 20, 2011
On TBR Since: February 4, 2013

I just recently acquired a hardback copy of this, and I’m planning to read it after I read the copy of The Iliad I have coming on hold at the library.

Stay or Go: Stay

Book cover showing black and white photo of two women

Passionate Commitments: The Lives of Anna Rochester and Grace Hutchins by Julia M. Allen
Published: June 1, 2013
On TBR Since: February 4, 2013

This is one of those that if I haven’t gotten to it yet, I’m not getting to it.

Stay or Go: Go

Book cover showing people wearing face masks under the word "FLU"

Flu: The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It by Kolata, Gina Published: 1999
On TBR Since:  February 4, 2013

I’d forgotten about this one, and now I want to read it. Get your flu shot.

Stay or Go: Stay

Book cover showing a stack of books

A Family of Readers: The Book Lover’s Guide to Children’s and Young Adult Literature by Sutton, Roger
Published: September 28, 2010
On TBR Since:  February 6, 2013

I really need to get to this soon.

Stay or Go: Stay

Book cover showing a black and white photograph of San Francisco

A Crack in the Edge of the World: America & the Great California Earthquake of 1906 by Simon Winchester Published: January 1, 2005
On TBR Since:  February 6, 2013

Simon Winchester always stays.

Stay or Go: Stay

Bright pink book cover with the words "A Little F'D Up" Why Feminism is not a Dirty Word" in white

A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism Is Not a Dirty Word by Julie Zeilinger
Published: April 3, 2012
On TBR Since:  February 7, 2013

This was on a recognition list the year it was published, but I’m not feeling a need to read it 8 years later.

Stay or Go: Go

Book cover showing a block of processed cheese

Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal by Melanie Warner
Published: February 26, 2013
On TBR Since:  February 11, 2013

Much like F’d Up, the moment has passed. There are more recent books on the topic on my TBR.

Stay or Go: Go

Book cover showing woman knitting

Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity by Emily Matchar
Published: January 1, 2013
On TBR Since:  February 11, 2013

In the GoodReads reviews, someone posted a drinking game to go along with this book. As much fun as that sounds, it mostly convinced me to pass.

Stay or Go: Go

Four to stay, six to go. Beginning: 1813. Ending: 1807
Visit my to-read shelf to see how very far I still have to go!

2019 Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

Remember all those reading challenges for 2019 I was so excited about back in December of 2018? Turns out, 2019 had its own special set of challenges for me. Still, let’s take a look back and see how things went.

12 Children’s Classics for 2019 (hosted by Book Hippie)
Goal: 12 books (pre-selected by challenge rules)
Result: 1/12 (8.3%)

January: Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Finished: March 8)
February: Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb
March: Goody Two Shoes by McLoughlin Brothers
April: The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston
May: The Tale Of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
June: Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
July: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
August: Tom Brown’s Schooldays by Thomas Hughes
September: Tales of Mother Goose by Charles Perrault
October: Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie
November: Raggedy Ann & Andy by Johnny Gruelle
December: Nutcracker and Mouse-King by E.T.A. Hoffmann

2019 Middle Grade Reading Challenge (hosted by Becky’s Book Reviews)
Goal: 6 or More Books with optional checklist
Result: 10/6 (166%) (I know there were more, but I seem to have forgotten to log them somewhere in the middle of the year.)

  1. a Newbery Winner: Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (finished February 11)
  2. a Newbery Honor: The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (finished February 14)
  3. realistic/contemporary: Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake (finished February 23)
  4. Author beginning with C: Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender (finished March 7)
  5. nonfiction: Camp Panda by Catherine Thimmesh (finished March 8)
  6. children’s book published in the 1880s: Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett (finished March 8)
  7. historical fiction: Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransom (finished March 13)
  8. mystery: The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (finished March 28)
  9. fantasy: Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper (finished December 3)
  10. any book in a series: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (finished December 21)

Back to the Classics (hosted by Books and Chocolate)
Goal: 12 books
Result: 2/12 (16.67%)

  • 19th Century Classic (1800-1899): Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett (finished March 8)
  • Classic in Translation: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, translated by Marie Borroff (finished December 28)
  • 20th Century Classic (1900-1969)
  • Classic by a Woman Author
  • Classic Comic Novel
  • Classic Tragic Novel
  • Very Long Classic
  • Classic Novella
  • Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean)
  • Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia
  • Classic From a Place You’ve Lived
  • Classic Play

Georgian Reading Challenge (hosted by Becky’s Book Reviews)
Goal: 4 books
Result: 0. Just didn’t happen.

Victorian Reading Challenge (hosted by Becky’s Book Reviews)
Goal: 20 books
Result: 1 (5%) – Little Lord Fauntleroy was the only one here.

Cruisin’ Thru The Cozies (hosted by Socrates’ Book Reviews)
Goal: 10 cozy mysteries
Result: 4 (40%)

  • Paranormal: Fatality in F by Alexia Gordon (finished June 28)
  • Based outside the US: A Dream of Death by Connie Berry (finished February 8)
  • Career-based: Reading Up a Storm by Eva Gates (finished May 30)
  • Travel: Savasana at Sea by Ava Dunne (finished March 24)
  • Culinary
  • Animal-related
  • Craft-related
  • Historical
  • Holiday based
  • Freebie

Read Harder (Book Riot)
Goal: 24 Books
Result: 13 (54%)

  1. An epistolary novel or collection of letters: To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (finished December 20)
  2. An alternate history novel
  3. A book by a woman and/or AOC (Author of Color) that won a literary award in 2018: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (finished January 2)
  4. A humor book: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (finished July 28)
  5. A book by a journalist or about journalism
  6. A book by an AOC set in or about space: The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum (finished April 24)
  7. An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America
  8. An #ownvoices book set in Oceania
  9. A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads: Savasana at Sea by Ava Dunne (finished March 24)
  10. A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, translated by Marie Borroff (finished December 28)
  11. A book of manga
  12. A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character
  13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse
  14. A cozy mystery: Fatality in F by Alexia Gordon (finished June 28)
  15. A book of mythology or folklore: Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles by Jeanette Winterson (finished January 27)
  16. An historical romance by an AOC: An Unconditional Freedom by Alyssa Cole (finished January 9)
  17. A business book
  18. A novel by a trans or nonbinary author: Hurricane Child by K. Callender
  19. A book of nonviolent true crime
  20. A book written in prison
  21. A comic by an LGBTQIA creator: Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe (finished December 18)
  22. A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009: Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora (finished February 13)
  23. A self-published book
  24. A collection of poetry published since 2014: Wait for Me: The Irritations and Consolations of a Long Marriage by Judith Viorst (finished December 18)

Reading Women (Reading Women podcast)
Goal: 24 Books
Result: 9 (37.5%)

  1. A mystery or thriller written by a woman of color: Fatality in F by Alexia Gordon (finished June 28)
  2. A book about a woman with a mental illness
  3. A book by an author from Nigeria or New Zealand
  4. A book about or set in Appalachia
  5. A children’s book: Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (finished February 11)
  6. A multigenerational family saga
  7. A book featuring a woman in science
  8. A play
  9. A novella
  10. A book about a woman athlete
  11. A book featuring a religion other than your own
  12. A Lambda Literary Award winner
  13. A myth retelling: Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles by Jeanette Winterson (finished January 27)
  14. A translated book published before 1945
  15. A book written by a South Asian author
  16. A book by an Indigenous woman: We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell (finished March 8)
  17. A book from the 2018 Reading Women Award shortlist
  18. A romance or love story: An Unconditional Freedom by Alyssa Cole (finished January 9)
  19. A book about nature
  20. A historical fiction book: The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye (finished January 19)
  21. A book you bought or borrowed in 2019: A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard (finished February 4)
  22. A book you picked up because of the cover
  23. Any book from a series: By Book or by Crook by Eva Gates (finished May 24)
  24. A young adult book by a woman of color: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (finished January 2)
  25. BONUS: A book by Jesmyn Ward
  26. BONUS: A book by Jhumpa Lahiri

Official TBR Pile Challenge (Roof Beam Reader)
Goal: 12 (pre-selected) books
Result: 1, but I didn’t post about it. Whoops.

Did I perhaps overcommit myself on challenges for 2019?

Mmmmm, possibly.

Am I going to let that stop me from signing up for more challenges in 2020?

Of course not. But more on that another time.

Ten Books I’m Looking Forward to in January

Image by Ylanite Koppens from Pixabay

Time again to take a peek at the TBR and a few books I’m especially excited about in the next month.

1. Westering Women by Sandra Dallas
January 7, 2020

It’s February 1852, and all around Chicago Maggie sees the postings soliciting “eligible women” to travel to the gold mines of Goosetown. A young seamstress with a small daughter and several painful secrets, she has nothing to lose.

So she joins forty-three other women and two pious reverends on the dangerous 2,000-mile journey west. None of them are prepared for the hardships they face on the trek through the high plains, mountains, and deserts. Or for the triumphs of finding strengths they did not know they possessed. And not all will make it.

2. There’s A Murder Afoot (Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery #5) by Vicki Delany
January 7, 2020

The 6th of January is Sherlock Holmes’s birthday, and lucky for Gemma Doyle, January is also the slowest time of the year at both the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium, and Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room. It’s a good time for Gemma and her friends to travel to England for a Holmes Convention. For Gemma, the trip provides an opportunity to visit her parents, Jayne Wilson is excited about seeing all the sites London has to offer, and Ryan Ashburton just wants to spend some time with Gemma. But the trip is immediately derailed when Gemma’s father Henry recognizes his brother-in-law Randolph Manning, who disappeared more than thirty years ago on the night he stole a valuable painting from his own parents.

3. You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy
January 7, 2020

In this always illuminating and often humorous deep dive, Murphy explains why we’re not listening, what it’s doing to us, and how we can reverse the trend. She makes accessible the psychology, neuroscience, and sociology of listening while also introducing us to some of the best listeners out there (including a CIA agent, focus group moderator, bartender, radio producer, and top furniture salesman). It’s time to stop talking and start listening.

4. A Girl, a Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon by Karen Romano Young
January 7, 2020

In a slightly fantastical New York City, one very special library branch has been designated for possible closure. Bookish, socially awkward Pearl, the daughter of the librarian, can’t imagine a world without the library—its books, its community of oddballs, its hominess. When the head of their Edna St. Vincent Millay statue goes missing, closure is closer than ever. But Pearl is determined to save the library. And with a ragtag neighborhood library crew—including a constantly tap-dancing girl who might just be her first friend, an older boy she has a crush on, and a pack of raccoons who can read and write—she just might be able to.

5. Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
January 14, 2020

Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.

Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

6. Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
January 14, 2020

Lately, seventh grader Nizhoni Begay has been able to detect monsters, like that man in the fancy suit who was in the bleachers at her basketball game. Turns out he’s Mr. Charles, her dad’s new boss at the oil and gas company, and he’s alarmingly interested in Nizhoni and her brother, Mac, their Navajo heritage, and the legend of the Hero Twins. Nizhoni knows he’s a threat, but her father won’t believe her.

7. The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious, #3) by Maureen Johnson
January 21, 2020

In the tantalizing finale to the Truly Devious trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson expertly tangles her dual narrative threads and ignites an explosive end for all who’ve walked through Ellingham Academy.

8. The Angel and the Assassin: The Tiny Brain Cell That Changed the Course of Medicine by Donna Jackson Nakazawa
January 21, 2020

Proving once and for all the biological basis for the mind-body connection, the discovery of the true role of microglia stands to rewrite psychiatric and medical texts as we know them. Hailed as “riveting,” “stunning,” and “visionary,” The Angel and the Assassin offers us a radically reconceived picture of human health and promises to change everything we thought we knew about how to heal ourselves.

9. The Self-Help Compulsion: Searching for Advice in Modern Literature by Beth Blum January 28, 2020

Samuel Beckett as a guru for business executives? James Joyce as a guide to living a good life? The notion of notoriously experimental authors sharing a shelf with self-help books might seem far-fetched, yet a hidden history of rivalry, influence, and imitation links these two worlds. In The Self-Help Compulsion, Beth Blum reveals the profound entanglement of modern literature and commercial advice from the late nineteenth century to the present day.

10. Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond by Lydia Denworth January 28, 2020

With warmth and compassion, Denworth weaves together past and present, field biology and cutting-edge neuroscience, to show how our bodies and minds are designed to make friends, the process by which social bonds develop, and how a drive for friendship underpins human (and nonhuman) society. With its refreshingly optimistic vision of the evolution of human nature, this book puts friendship at the center of our lives.