My Mother, Munchausen’s, and Me

As a high school teacher, I have seen quite a few cases of parents with Munchausen’s, so this story hits a little personally for me.

Thank you Thread for the gifted ebook in exchange for my honest review.

Synopsis: There was a time when I loved my mother. It’s shocking to imply that I stopped loving my mum because mothers always love their children and always do their best for them. Mothers are supposed to be good. But my mother wasn’t good. Ten years ago, Helen Naylor discovered her mother, Elinor, had been faking debilitating illnesses for thirty years. After Elinor’s self-induced death, Helen found her diaries, which Elinor wrote daily for over fifty years. The diaries reveal not only the inner workings of Elinor’s twisted mind and self-delusion, but also shocking revelations about Helen’s childhood. Everything Helen knew about herself and her upbringing was founded on a lie. The unexplained accidents and days spent entirely on her own as a little girl, imagining herself climbing into the loft and disappearing into a different world, tell a story of neglect. As a teenager, her mother’s advice to Helen on her body and mental health speaks of dangerous manipulation. With Elinor’s behaviour becoming increasingly destructive, and Helen now herself a mother, she was left with a stark choice: to collude with Elinor’s lies or be accused of abandoning her.

This is a tough read – it’s emotional and eye opening at the same time. I do have a hard time rating memoir’s because who am I to judge their life experiences? It was well written, but I do feel it was more one-sided than it needed to be. I’d love to hear more about what the mother went through during her later years in life. While I agree that a memoir is to be more one-sided, the author did come across as wanting more self-pity from her life. I think that was a given considering the situation, but would love to have more insight from others in her life on what everyone went through during this lifetime experience.

3/5 Stars

Maiden Voyages by Sian Evans

I really have to give myself a pat on the back this year because I’m so dang proud of myself for stretching out and reading more nonfiction! I’ve definitely reached more for the science nonfiction, but I have found what intrigues me the most!

Thank you St Martin’s Press for my gifted copy in exchange for my honest review.

Synopsis: During the early twentieth century, transatlantic travel was the province of the great ocean liners. It was an extraordinary undertaking made by many women, whose lives were changed forever by their journeys between the Old World and the New. Some traveled for leisure, some for work; others to reinvent themselves or find new opportunities. They were celebrities, migrants and millionaires, refugees, aristocrats and crew members whose stories have mostly remained untold—until now. Maiden Voyages is a fascinating portrait of these women as they crossed the Atlantic. The ocean liner was a microcosm of contemporary society, divided by class: from the luxury of the upper deck, playground for the rich and famous, to the cramped conditions of steerage or third class travel. In first class you’ll meet A-listers like Marlene Dietrich, Wallis Simpson, and Josephine Baker; the second class carried a new generation of professional and independent women, like pioneering interior designer Sibyl Colefax. Down in steerage, you’ll follow the journey of émigré Maria Riffelmacher as she escapes poverty in Europe. Bustling between decks is a crew of female workers, including Violet “The Unsinkable Stewardess” Jessop, who survived the Titanic disaster. Entertaining and informative, Maiden Voyages captures the golden age of ocean liners through the stories of the women whose transatlantic journeys changed the shape of society on both sides of the globe.

You can really tell that Sian did her research on this one! This book just takes you back in time and paints a great picture of what life was like on ships and what life was like as a woman working on a ship. With that being said, it was way more detailed than I think it needed to be. I wanted a little more about the women in specific, not necessarily the history of the ships and the culture surrounding specific timelines focused throughout the book. I wanted more emotion, not necessarily repetitive factual information. If you enjoyed Radium Girls or Hidden Figures, I think you will really like this one!

3/5 Stars

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream by Dean Jobb

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you may be aware that I am a high school science teacher by trade. One of my reading goals this year (and it really has been my reading goals the last few years) is to read more nonfiction. I’ve definitely been leaning more towards science-based nonfiction books, and this one just sounded amazing. Science, mystery, murder, and thrills? Sign me up!

Thank you Algonquin Books for my gifted copy in exchange for my honest review.

Synopsis: In the span of fifteen years, Dr. Thomas Neill Cream poisoned at least ten people in the United States, Britain, and Canada, a death toll with almost no precedents. Structured around Cream’s London murder trial in 1892, when he was finally brought to justice, The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream exposes the blind trust given to medical practitioners, as well as the flawed detection methods, bungled investigations, corrupt officials, and stifling morality of Victorian society that allowed Cream to prey on vulnerable and desperate women, many of whom had turned to him for medical help. Dean Jobb vividly re-creates this largely forgotten historical account against the backdrop of the birth of modern policing and newly adopted forensic methods, though most police departments still scoffed at using science to solve crimes. But then most police departments could hardly imagine that serial killers existed—the term was unknown at the time. As the Chicago Tribune wrote then, Cream’s crimes marked the emergence of a new breed of killer, one who operated without motive or remorse, who “murdered simply for the sake of murder.”

This was a phenomenal read! Murder and obsession in it’s true form. Dean thoroughly did his research for this one. If Jack The Ripper’s story intrigues you, get a load of this one. If you like a good suspenseful mystery, then you will love this one. Thomas was so sneaky with everything he did, it’s the perfect real life suspense. It’s almost unbelievable! Highly recommend this one!

5/5 Stars

Fox & I by Catherine Raven

I’ll never forget my interactions with the wildlife at my old house in the mountains. I had squirrels walk up to me at my back door feeding out of my hands and black bears walk around my porch close enough for me to touch. While many people thought I was crazy for interacting so closely with them, it’s something I will never forget. This book brought me right back to those moments.

Thank you Spiegel & Grau for my gifted copy in exchange for my honest review.

Synopsis: A solitary woman’s inspiring, moving, surprising, and often funny memoir about the transformative power of her unusual friendship with a wild fox, a new window onto the natural world, and the introduction of a remarkable literary talent. Catherine Raven left home at 15, fleeing an abusive father and an indifferent mother. Drawn to the natural world, for years she worked as a ranger in National Parks, at times living in her run-down car (which lacked a reverse gear), on abandoned construction sites, or camping on a piece of land in Montana she bought from a colleague. She managed to put herself through college and then graduate school, eventually earning a Ph.D. in biology. Yet she never felt at home with people, and though she worked at various universities and taught field classes in the National Parks, she built a house on a remote plot of land in Montana and, except when teaching, spoke to no one. One day, she realized that the fox who had been appearing at her house was coming by every day at 4:15. He became a regular visitor, who eventually sat near her as she read to him from The Little Prince or Dr. Seuss. Her scientific training had taught her not to anthropomorphize animals, but as she grew to know him, his personality revealed itself—and he became her friend. But friends cannot always save each other from the unconstrained forces of nature. Though this is a story of survival, it is also a poignant and dramatic tale of living in the wilderness and coping with inevitable loss. This uplifting fable-like true story about the friendship of a woman and a wild fox not only reveals the power of friendship and our interconnection with the natural world but is an original, imaginative, and beautiful work that introduces a stunning new voice. 

What a beautiful memoir! It truly was a captivating story about human interactions with wildlife and the similarities and differences between the two. Catherine’s writing style is different than what I would normally read – a bit all over the place, but is still very poetic and tells a poignant tale. This book has a special place in my heart as I am a biologist by trade, but may not be someone’s cup of tea if animals just aren’t your thing.

4/5 Stars

The Wild World Handbook by Andrea Debbink

Ah, Spring. The perfect time to get outside and get your hands dirty in the best way possible. Need a guide of some of the most fun and beneficial things to do? I’ve got you!

Thank you Quirk Books for my gifted copy in exchange for my honest review.

Synopsis: The wonder of the natural world surrounds us—from the Amazon rainforest to the snowy peaks of Mount Everest to the green spaces in big cities. And as the threat of climate change grows, it’s more important than ever to show appreciation for our planet by taking action. This offers a roadmap for change and an invitation to explore the outdoors, alongside surprising facts and hands-on activities. Featuring nine habitats from around the globe, each section includes diverse biographies of outdoor adventurers, scientists, and artists who used their passion and skills to become bold allies for Earth’s natural diversity and resiliency. It’s up to us to protect this beautiful, awe-inspiring planet we call home!

I’ve been so excited to share this book with you all. I’m not just excited because I’m an Earth Science teacher, but even as a mom and Earth lover I’m head over heels for it! If you want to plan some fun Earth-saving adventures for this summer – get you this book. It’s got the perfect lesson-planning style layout that any teacher or parent would love. It’s entertaining and educational – what more could you ask for! It comes highly recommended! My toddler loves doing this with me even though it’s described as a book for middle grade kids. It’s the first in it’s series, and I can’t wait for more!

5/5 Stars

The Safety Trap by Spencer Coursen

I don’t know about you, but the news today is full of doom and gloom. It’s almost impossible to not be thinking about the worse-case scenario. But what if we flipped our thinking around and worked on embracing and being prepared for what’s to come in a positive light?

Thank you St. Martin’s Press for my gifted copy in exchange for my honest review.

Synopsis: Despite what the news and social media would have you believe, we have never lived in a safer time than we are now. Unfortunately, we live under a false sense of security enforced by authorities that only alleviates fears without reducing risk. We have placed our personal safety, and our responsibilities of guarding it, into the hands of people trained only to respond to crises, not actively prevent them. Our blind faith in institutions to protect us has only dulled our natural survival instincts. The truth is that when we feel safest is actually when we are in the most danger.
This is the paradox of The Safety Trap. When you don’t expect danger, you simply fail to see the signs that something bad is about to happen. But the signs are always there, and staying safe is about training yourself to see them. In easy-to-implement methods of maintaining vigilance, assessing risk, and taking preventative measures, you’ll discover how to be alert without anxiety and know how to best protect and defend yourself on the job, in school, in public places, at home, and online.

There’s a difference between anxiety and preparedness, and this book hits the spot. Before therapy, I used to be so anxious about the impossible. I honestly wish I had this book back then because it really puts things into perspective without making you question “but, what if…”. I do think you have to be in the right mindset for this book. If you are really in an anxious spot right now, thinking on these things may not be the best for you. All in all, this is a great book to always have on hand for whatever may come your way.

4/5 Stars

Kid Innovators by Robin Stevenson

I’m slowly developing a library of good books now that my daughter is getting older and loving to read with me. I saw this book advertised and was SO excited to get my hands on a copy!

Thank you Quirk Books for my gifted copy in exchange for my honest review.

Synopsis: Throughout history people have experimented, invented, and created new ways of doing things. Kid Innovators tells the stories of a diverse group of brilliant thinkers in fields like technology, education, business, science, art, and entertainment, reminding us that every innovator started out as a kid. Florence Nightingale rescued baby mice. Alan Turing was a daydreamer with terrible handwriting. And Alvin Ailey felt like a failure at sports. Featuring kid-friendly text and full-color illustrations, readers will learn about the young lives of people like Grace Hopper, Steve Jobs, Reshma Saujani, Jacques Cousteau, the Wright Brothers, William Kamkwamba, Elon Musk, Jonas Salk, and Maria Montessori.

This book is EXCELLENT! It has both males and females, people from all different cultures, and features of all different types of jobs. This is the best book of role models for my kids to learn about. I ESPECIALLY love that it features each innovator’s childhood, something that my little kids can resonate with now and realize that anything is possible! It’s written in little short chapters, but my almost four year old can follow along perfectly. I think it really helps that there are pictures on almost every single page. The art is adorable and each story is just so inspiring. I’m rushing to purchase the other books featured in this series right away!

5/5 Stars

The Puzzle Solver by Tracie White

I have been given the wonderful opportunity to be an #ownvoices reader for The Puzzle Solver, a true story about the struggle to diagnose and treat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (something I struggle with myself).

Thank you Hachette Books for my gifted copy in exchange for my honest review.

Synopsis: At the age of twenty-seven, Whitney Dafoe was forced to give up his life as a photographer who traveled the world. Bit by bit a mysterious illness stole away the pieces of his life: First, it took the strength of his legs, then his voice, and his ability to eat. Finally, even the sound of a footstep in his room became unbearable. The Puzzle Solver follows several years in which he desperately sought answers from specialist after specialist, where at one point his 6’3″ frame dropped to 115 lbs. For years, he underwent endless medical tests, but doctors told him there was nothing wrong. Then, finally, a diagnosis: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis. In the 80s, when an outbreak of people immobilized by an indescribable fatigue were reported near Lake Tahoe, Nevada, doctors were at a loss to explain the symptoms. The condition would alternatively be nicknamed Raggedy Ann Syndrome or the Yuppie Disease, and there was no cure or answers about treatment. They were to remain sick. But there was one answer: Whitney’s father, Ron Davis, PhD, a world-class geneticist at Stanford University whose legendary research helped crack the code of DNA, suddenly changed the course of his career in a race against time to cure his son’s debilitating condition. In The Puzzle Solver, journalist Tracie White, who first wrote a viral and award-winning piece on Davis and his family in Stanford Medicine, tells his story. In gripping prose, she masterfully takes readers along on this journey with Davis to solve one of the greatest mysteries in medicine. In a piercing investigative narrative, closed doors are opened, and masked truths are exposed as Davis uncovers new proof confirming that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a biological disease. At the heart of this book is a moving story that goes far beyond medicine, this is a story about how the power of love — and science — can shine light in even the darkest, most hidden, corners of the world. 

This book is POWERFUL. It’s emotional, captivating, and eye-opening. I completely understood and FELT every single emotion going into it, and I think that makes me want to recommend this book even more (even if you don’t have CFS). As someone who struggled for years to get a proper diagnosis, I couldn’t put that struggle and frustration into words as well as Tracie has explained. I think this book is even more poignant to read during these times as those that are recovering from COVID-19 are showing signs of developing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. You will definitely want to read this as soon as possible!

5/5 Stars

In The Waves by Rachel Lance

My husband and I have been all about anything dealing with 2,000 leagues under the sea lately. For his birthday this year, I even did an at-home submarine-themed escape room for him! This book was destiny for us to read.

Thank you Dutton for my gifted e-copy in exchange for my honest review.

Synopsis: On the night of February 17, 1864, the tiny Confederate submarine HL Hunley made its way toward the USS Housatonic just outside Charleston harbor. Within a matter of hours, the Union ship’s stern was blown open in a spray of wood planks. The explosion sank the ship, killing many of its crew. And the submarine, the first ever to be successful in combat, disappeared without a trace. For 131 years the eight-man crew of the HL Hunley lay in their watery graves, undiscovered. When finally raised, the narrow metal vessel revealed a puzzling sight. There was no indication the blast had breached the hull, and all eight men were still seated at their stations–frozen in time after more than a century. Why did it sink? Why did the men die? Archaeologists and conservationists have been studying the boat and the remains for years, and now one woman has the answers. In the Waves is much more than just a military perspective or a technical account. It’s also the story of Rachel Lance’s single-minded obsession spanning three years, the story of the extreme highs and lows in her quest to find all the puzzle pieces of the Hunley. Balancing a gripping historical tale and original research with a personal story of professional and private obstacles, In the Waves is an enthralling look at a unique part of the Civil War and the lengths one scientist will go to uncover its secrets.

Talk about a real submarine escape room mystery – this is definitely it! I was completely captivated by this story as a scientist and recent submarine aficionado myself. Because Rachel is writing from a scientist’s standpoint, it may be a bit tough for some to enjoy reading the technical side of things, but I truly loved it. I was engulfed from the beginning and wanted to help solve this mystery so badly. You just HAVE to read it to find out for yourself what truly happened!

5/5 Stars

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You by Janelle Shane

Need a good laugh? Look no further…

Thank you Little, Brown for my gifted copy in exchange for my honest review.

Synopsis: “You look like a thing and I love you” is one of the best pickup lines ever… according to an artificial intelligence trained by scientist Janelle Shane, creator of the popular blog AI Weirdness. She creates silly AIs that learn how to name paint colors, create the best recipes, and even flirt (badly) with humans–all to understand the technology that governs so much of our daily lives. We rely on AI every day for recommendations, for translations, and to put cat ears on our selfie videos. We also trust AI with matters of life and death, on the road and in our hospitals. But how smart is AI really… and how does it solve problems, understand humans, and even drive self-driving cars? Shane delivers the answers to every AI question you’ve ever asked, and some you definitely haven’t. Like, how can a computer design the perfect sandwich? What does robot-generated Harry Potter fan-fiction look like? And is the world’s best Halloween costume really “Vampire Hog Bride”? In this smart, often hilarious introduction to the most interesting science of our time, Shane shows how these programs learn, fail, and adapt–and how they reflect the best and worst of humanity. You Look Like a Thing and I Love You is the perfect book for anyone curious about what the robots in our lives are thinking.

I hate to admit it, but I use artificial intelligence way too much…but gosh, I say it likes a bad thing? Our family loves Siri, Google, and Alexa, I’m not going to lie! They entertain us endlessly! Why not learn more about how they work? The book is full of fun facts about the science behind AI’s and even adorable doodles to go along with it. Even if you don’t have a science background or knowledge on technology, you will still understand and enjoy this book. And if you haven’t checked out her blog AI Weirdness, be sure to do that as well. Hilarious!

5/5 Stars