returned from the pit: spreadsheet madness

Whoops, I didn’t realize quite how long I’d ignored the blog. I’ve been busy, busy, busy in work and life and writing aspirations, though a great big scheduling toss-up is coming soon that’ll change the equation.

You guys. I’ve entered a new phase of Sam’s Grand Writing Plan. I’ve entered… agent research hell! Next comes query hell. Then comes the great unknown (probably still closely related to hell). I’m excited, but also a little nervous. 16-year-old Sam is aghast that it’s taken me this long to reach this step. 31-year-old Sam is older and slightly wiser and knows this step could take anywhere from a couple months to ETERNITY OF FAILURE.

(Before any helpful suggestions are made: I do not, at this point in my life, have the skills, knowledge, or money necessary for effective self-publishing. I’m going to exhaust the traditional route first before reconsidering.)

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been scouring reputable agent listings and cross-referencing them against industry sites to generate a list of legitimate professionals with recent sales in my genre. I’ve also been doing scavenger hunts for names in books I like, and next I’ll take a broader look at recent and upcoming releases by publishers I like.

Woooo spreadsheets.

No, really, spreadsheets are my jam! My years of cataloging and organizing information have come to personal fruition. I’m going to scour the print and web worlds until I have a list of 75-100 suitable agents. Then I’m going to agonize over my query package. And then it’s go time! AKA hours and hours of prioritizing lists and tailoring the query to a bunch of different specifications and updating my spreadsheets with the results.

I figure if I get rejected 75-100 times, then that project is simply not meant to be (yet), and I’ll start back at the top of the list with the next book. I’ve got two books I think are suitable for shopping around, and I’ll be working on the next one during the long months of waiting for rejection. (Or, dare I say it… not rejection!?) My hopes and dreams aren’t ever pinned on just one thing.

I’ve already spent many hours at work on the Great Agent Spreadsheet. It’s been a royal pain in the ass to compile, but it will save me a lot of headache later.

And… that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Thank you for joining me on this self-pep-talk of a post. This is my way of marking the writing timeline on my blog and also telling myself: oh wow, I’m not just reading endless industry blogs for fun anymore, I’m honest-to-goodness ready to embark on this ride.

!!!!

Mr. and Mrs. Cat v. the State of Washington

It’s been two and a half years since Mr. and Mrs. Cat last left Southern California. They were itching for adventure, but nervous at the prospect of traveling with a toddler for the first time. In the end, they were right to be nervous. Not entirely because of the toddler! It turned out the Cat family had a secret enemy all of these years. A secret enemy that only now chose to reveal itself.

The entire state of Washington!

Let me backtrack.

The traveling party consisted of myself, my husband, my younger sister, and my toddler. It was a one week trip with two days in Seattle, two days in the mountain town Leavenworth, and two days staying with friends just outside Seattle, bouncing in and around town.

The positives:

  • It was nice to get out of town for a week!
  • It was very nice to see my friends!
  • The Museum of Pop Culture rocks!
  • Snowwww!
  • Murder bear!
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Snowwww

The negatives:

  • Bad timing,
  • Or perhaps it was a witch’s curse,
  • Or some wrong committed in a past life in the greater Washington area,
  • Or perhaps it was murder bear all along.

I should have known when we arrived at the airport and the diaper bag promptly split apart that we were in for a stretch of bad luck, but we ignored the omen and kept going. We arrived safely in Seattle–and thank goodness the toddler absolutely LOVED flying, so it wasn’t a nightmare plane trip. That afternoon we did a bit of pottering through Pike’s Place fish market and stopped at a Safeway to stock up on diapers and toddler snacks.

While we were shopping, somebody smashed in the window of our rental car and stole my husband’s bag. Thanks for scattering glass all over a toddler carseat, jackhole! Hope you enjoy two power cords and reading somebody else’s travel diary!

What proceeded was a trip in which there were no major disasters…but everything was tinged with slight bad luck, bad timing, misconception, illness. Washington was determined to slightly dissatisfy–but unbeknownst to the state, it was doing battle against folks with STEEL-LINED SENSES OF HUMOR. Once we realized what was going on, the fact that we were under the vaguest and mildest of curses became an ongoing joke and every subsequent inconvenience just added to the hilarity.

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At least there was cherry pie.

My husband injured one wrist carrying our son, injured the other one falling in snow, banged up his shin, and had his bag stolen. My sister was nearly deaf for the first two days after the flight. I had gotten sick overworking myself before the trip, and promptly gave my cold to the toddler. He didn’t sleep for two days in Leavenworth and gave us hell the entire 3 hour ride back to the Seattle area, and as a result for the second half of the trip we could only go out for a few hours each afternoon in order to give him ample rest.

Our timing was consistently bad. It was rainy the day we went up the Space Needle, then sunny the morning after. We were in the mountains during the off season, so the pastry shop had almost no pastries, the sausage shop had no sausage, the beer garden my husband wanted to go to was closed for renovations. The AirBnB we rented had a busted DVD player and we weren’t allowed to raise the temperature over 55. We had to drive an additional half hour to find the last place in the region still offering any kind of snow activity–though to be fair, it was a gorgeous sleigh ride through fresh snow with a nice driver, one of the trip highlights! But honestly, the way our luck was going, I’m shocked we didn’t get snowed into the mountains or run off the road.

We spent 90 seconds at Snoqualmie Falls because it was raining again, and likewise spent most of a Harbor cruise belowdecks to keep the sick toddler bundled up. He was actually WAY ENTHUSED to go on adventures each day despite being sick, and was delighted by new sights, restaurant food, all the cool stuff at the Museum of Pop Culture, playing in snow, and so on. On the last day he finally lost his cool and was bored on an underground tour, so the one thing in my purview (history trivia!) I only half-heard in between lassoing a Totally Done With This Toddler.

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Water above, water below

When we bought tickets to the underground tour it said “get a discount on food in the restaurant/bar upstairs!” so we arranged the day assuming we’d eat dinner there–and so of course, since we were under a mild curse the bartender informed us, “No we’re not serving food right now.” We ran across the street to scarf down some Subway instead, where a total scumbag looking slacker wandered in and stole some soda and looked like he’d murder us if we objected–and the very hangdog employee told us he usually comes in and steals chips. We left him a tip.

And then…we said our goodbyes and came home, with only a minor catastrophe at the airport when TSA banged up my husband’s brand new Nintendo Switch.

The End!

Or…. was it?

It took me a week and a half to write this blog post, because the Mild Curse of Washington followed us home. The toddler had a rough transition back to his usual routine. During my first attempt to write this post, my laptop was knocked off the couch and my USB flash drive destroyed by the impact. The laptop limped on for another couple of days, and then died a tragic death in another couch-knocking incident. I forgot my paperwork for some routine lab work because I forgot I’d taken it all out of my purse before the trip, making me late for work despite getting up an hour early.

But it was all worth it. One, for the endless jokes. Two, because despite everything I’ve just said it was nice to get out of town for a week and visit friends, and I can have fun doing anything when I’m with funny people. My sister and I even made a gallery of increasingly shitty selfies consisting of our faces at bad angles and the barest hint of a landmark behind us. I think they adequately convey the feeling: “we were here, but barely.”

Finally, perhaps most importantly: this trip gave us murder bear.

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Murder bear.

This fine looking fellow was heavily chained to a bench outside a chocolate shop in Leavenworth. Some might say he was chained up to prevent theft, but WE say he was chained up because he’s a murder bear who comes alive at night and stalks the countryside, dragging his murder bench behind him. He was clearly responsible for everything that went wrong on our trip. Murder bear smashed our car window and broke our DVD player. Murder bear ate all the food in the shops. Murder bear knocked the Switch off the security conveyor belt. Murder bear put on a human suit and steals soda and chips from local Subways in broad daylight. You get the idea.
Happy travels!
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live life samtastically!

About seven and a half years ago I was in a serious post-college rut: working multiple minimum wage jobs to pay half the rent on an apartment with an awful roommate, depressed about dating said roommate, hardly writing, aware that I needed to go back to school but absolutely lacking the motivation or self-esteem to do it, aware that I desperately needed a better job but only able to apply to things accessible by walking/public transportation–and also, lamentably lacking in cats!

And then! A whirlwind! Dropped the guy! Got better roommates (praise be to sisterhood)! Learned how to drive (praise be to friends with cars)! Got writing again! Applied to graduate school! Got the childhood kitty back! I even cut my hair short, which hadn’t been a problem, but if you’re doing the NEW YOU whirlwind you might as well commit!

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By 2010? Kiiiiilling it

Most importantly, I went through a transformation in the way I thought about my needs and goals. My emotional needs were real needs, and nobody was going to convince me they didn’t matter. My career goals were important and worth pursuing, and it wasn’t worth keeping anybody in my life who didn’t support that.

In other words: it was time to live life samtastically!

Living life samtastically means doing things whole-heartedly and without embarrassment. Go overboard! Take that new hobby way too far! Attack that school/job application because you are the best and you’ll do your best! Love your friends and let them know it! Love your partner and let them know it! If they don’t deserve it, jump ship and don’t look back! Just do it with commitment. Make a decision and squash the little voice obsessing over the million branching paths your every move could send you down. You’ll never know what might have been, so let it gooo.

It doesn’t mean you’ll never be depressed or overwhelmed again. It doesn’t mean you’ll even necessarily get what you want (if what you want involves other people, then it also has to be what they want!). It gives you something to return to when you manage to fight off that funk. It means banishing the doubt that tugs you back half a step and sets you up for failure by convincing you to only halfway-try.

When big life-changing events are coming up, I spend miserable months hemming and hawing between my options, because what if I pick the wrong one? Jobs, school, family, writing life, you name it, I’m worried.

Well! Enough of that! When I get into a real tangle (and that tangle conveniently results in me not doing a damn thing at all), that’s when it’s time to metaphorically slap myself across the face a few times and yell, “KNOCK IT OFF! DO IT SAMTASTICALLY! It doesn’t matter what you pick, just pick it and then own it.”

Life is absolutely hectic but I’m doing the things that are important to me. Every now and then I melt down from over-scheduling myself, and then I climb back up and re-calibrate. The important part is the getting up again. The important part is loving things enthusiastically and making the time.

If you aren’t using way too many exclamation marks, you aren’t doing it samtastically.

If you find yourself apologizing for getting overexcited about a dorky new hobby, you aren’t doing it samtastically.

If you decide to give up the first time it all goes to crap, you aren’t doing it samtastically.

That’s about all there is to it.

Caveat! I fully acknowledge that I am in good health, financially stable (finally), and have a loving support network. It’s a hell of a lot easier to make time for things you love when you aren’t juggling multiple jobs and health issues. HOWEVER. It’s not impossible. It was while I was juggling full-time work, graduate school, and semi-monthly stress meltdowns that I really embraced the chaos and tried turning it into enthusiasm instead. It doesn’t always work. I still melt down. But I ride it out now, knowing I just need a breather before I swing back up again.

If you’re in the rut right now, it’s hard to see a way out of it. Reach out for help, especially if it isn’t just a funk and you suspect it might be something chronic! Find that little thing that makes you happy and spare a few minutes for it here and there, even if it’s checking out new books from the library or fangirling over your favorite show. If you’re inclined to make things, then for god’s sake make things. Learn how to set goals without lashing yourself to impossible standards (I’m still working on this one).

In short: be samtastic!

And, before you go, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I wrote this entire post as a pep talk for myself, because life is about to go sideways again and I’ve been fretting for months. Slap! Slap! ROLL WITH IT, SAM! See? I still need the occasional reminder. It’s okay.

toddlers, man

I’m within 50 pages of the end of a rough draft! This is the point where everything is coming together beautifully but I also have a running list of minor edits to go back and make in order to smooth it all out. It also means every other pursuit goes on hiatus, including the blog, because unghhhh I’m so close to the endddd.

In lieu of anything with more teeth, here are some fun facts about living with an almost-two-year-old.

You think the gross bit is that he keeps picking his nose, and then he tries to shove his booger finger up your nose.

And speaking of his nose, this week you found both kidney beans and raisins up there.

All you really want is to poop in peace once in a while. Except the one time you get him to leave you alone, you immediately hear the sound of uncased DVDs being banged together in the other room. The grass is always greener!

But seriously, how did he even reach so many DVDs? They’re on shelves behind a baby gate. If the baby gate betrays you, what CAN you trust?

He learned how to brush his teeth! Now he won’t stop brushing his teeth!

You’re definitely going to have a fork shoved in your eye at some point. The mystery is not how, but when.

When he snottily suggests that you put something away, you are slightly gratified that he wants things tidy, but also have to wonder, “Is that what I sound like?”

You’ve heard the jingle play on this particular toy for twenty minutes straight, but you aren’t about to interrupt because that means he’s been sitting in one spot for twenty minutes straight.

On the plus side, he’s willing to let you doze on the couch for a good half hour before he loses patience. On the other hand, he expresses that impatience by throwing blocks at your face. Best case scenario: he decides to kiss you awake instead, but his face is a river of snot.

You’re never going to sleep again. Everybody in the house sleeps but you, but you’ve developed some kind of permanent hyper-vigilance and even a cat’s sneeze will jolt you up. You read “Yes, Please” by Amy Poehler, and the part you identify with most strongly is that she’s a workaholic mom with a sleep disorder.

It’s not all snot and mischief, though. Living with an almost-two-year-old also means incessant conversation with an almost-two-year-old. He finds everything exciting and his vocabulary grows every day. He asks creepily observant questions and recognizes the musical cues for his favorite characters, and everything has a name, a color, and a sound effect. Everything is filtered through known concepts. For example, Iron Man is going to be right back because he’s checking the mail.

You also get a lot of hugs. Hugs are nice.

“what hapend march ninth!!”

Have I told you this story before? I probably have. Even if you’ve never met me, I probably found some way to bend time and space and relate this anecdote about how I wrote my first short story. Because everybody wants a cool origin story, and this one doesn’t involve dead parents or women in fridges.

In an infamous incident that my older sister (likely to her regret) will never be allowed to forget, a head injury was caused which would symbolically shape my life.

It was a fine March day when I was 7 years old. At the time there were only 3 children in what would become my brood of siblings, and all three of us were playing outside in a small kiddie pool full of water. Also it was Southern California, which means March is plenty warm enough to start playing in pools again (sorry, places who have “seasons”!).

Do you remember Squeeze-Its? I think they’re called Kool-Aid Bursts now, but I don’t know a single child who drinks them anymore. They were liquid sugar crack for kids, available in thin plastic bottles with small holes at the top. You know. So you could squeeze them when you drank.

Well, my brother and I were allegedly filling old Squeeze-It bottles with water and then squirting them at our older sister, and allegedly laughing and refusing to stop despite her repeated and increasingly angry demands that we desist. And then maybe, it’s possible, we took our torment too far and in a fit of pique she decided to scare us off by threatening to throw a rock. And then maybe we still wouldn’t stop, and she threw it, but she didn’t know her own strength and instead of landing menacingly at my feet the rock hit me in the head.

Blood! Everywhere! Mom running out to screams! Paramedics summoned! Horrified sister hiding in the house, fearing maternal murder! 4 year old brother washing blood off the bricks with a Squeeze-It bottle!

After being declared non-life-threatening by the paramedics, I was driven off to an emergency room to await stitches. I don’t know how long we actually waited, but in child time it was definitely months. Months of sitting in a hard chair with my mom pressing some cloth to my head. X-rays that had to be conducted twice because the first time I hwas wearing a hair tie with a metal piece and it looked like metal was embedded in my head. And then! I finally went in! And the doctor gave me six bright blue stitches along my hairline while I was staring right at him!

It was the most exciting and traumatizing adventure of my young life. On the one hand, it was the beginning of a lifelong fear of needles. And on the other hand, it was an Interesting Story. The average 7 year old has nothing interesting to say. Trust me, I’m a former babysitter! It’s not their fault. They’ve got no stories yet. But now I had an exciting tale to babble to anyone who would listen. And on top of that…I was a first grader! I knew how to write! I COULD PRESERVE IT FOR ALL TIME.

And thus I wrote my first autobiographical short. And it was so exhilarating, I wrote more stories. And more. I still have a stack of construction paper stories Written and Illustrated by Sammy that I will share with the blog some time because they are works of art. I’ll even heartily acknowledge: it’s possible this wasn’t the first story and childhood memory fails me. But it’s the first in my mind, and in my mind I was hit in the head with a rock and that knocked something creative loose, so I’m a writer because of a childhood head injury.

I didn’t even mention the final injustice. That rock was my special rock with one big flat side, upon which I had crappily painted a hideous landscape scene! AND MOM TOOK THE ROCK AWAY!

Without further ado, since this is the version I know you’d all really prefer to read, I present: WHAT HAPEND MARCH NINTH!!

Translation of first grade spelling errors posted below.

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I was playing in the pool, and when my sister came out I wetted her, and after I wetted her she got mad at me, and then threw a rock at me and then, I had a one and a half [inch] hole in my head, and I went to the Emergency Room and I had to wait a lot and then, they made sure that it was not too too bad, and it was not too too bad. I went to the place that I got the x-rays. I got two x-rays and then when they were ready to take the last one they noticed that I had something in my hair that had a metal piece on it so they had to do it all over again, and then I went back to the place where the bed was and then we had to wait some more then when the doctor was back I got six stitches. I went home and I got undressed then I watched Cheers and Married With Children!!!!!! I went to sleep! The End!

 

Truly, the beginning of a legend.

2016 in review: reading edition

It definitely feels like cheating to spend the entire month of January reflecting on the previous year.

But let’s continue!

So. Life is a balancing act. There are a limited number of conscious, capable hours in each day, a limited number of days per week. Where one priority rises, another must yield. The sun rises and it sets. The tide ebbs and flows. The–

Okay, this is a really obnoxious way of acknowledging the fact that my startling productivity in 2016 writing word count corresponded with a regrettable drop in reading time. Something must yield! I always start off striking a good balance (say, naptime is for writing, bedtime is for reading), and then my workaholic zeal takes over and EVERY FREE MOMENT MUST BE THE WIP! COME BACK WITH YOUR WIP OR ON IT!

My goal is 52 books per year. One story absorbed into the noggin per week. It’s an eyebrow-raising goal if you’re not into reading, but exceedingly modest in the world of voracious SFF fans. It’d be plain laughable in the even more voracious world of romance. But, as I said, I try to strike a balance. I need the bulk of my free hours devoted to writing, but reading is the reason I write! 52 times a year I get an opportunity to pick apart something unsatisfying and figure out why it didn’t work for me, or to rage in good-natured jealousy at something superb and try to figure out how to steal their magic tricks.

I even give myself cheats. The goal is stories, not page count, so I include graphic novels and some novellas right alongside my doorstop fantasy tomes.

On to the analysis! In the menu you’ll find my complete list of books by year under the READING tab.

I made my goal in 2015 with 54 books read. Funnily enough, the condition that dashed my word count that year (the horrors of newborn baby care) gave me ample time to read. When you’re breastfeeding for half an hour every three hours all day every day, you keep a stack of books on your boob supply shelf and power right through them!

In 2016, on the other hand…ehhh. 45 books. And that was with a post-Christmas graphic novel cram session cheat. That’s nearly two months of not reading! And you know what? Those months were November and December. Wowza but they wrecked my stats. I always kind of admire the tenacity of NaNoWriMo writers, because November is my absolute most unproductive month of the year. More power to you!

Some highlights from the 2016 book pile!

I came very late in the game to the Hellblazer comics this year, and very much want to continue reading them. I’m always strapped for comic cash, so they will now grow agonizingly slowly on my shelves along with Hellboy. I really need to start finishing series before I start new ones.

It was a year of great essay and memoir, including Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day, Yes Please by Amy Pohler, and Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley.

I also began or continued some very fine fantasy series, with installments including City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett (the conclusion is coming out this year WOOHOO), Updraft by Fran Wilde, The Awakened Kingdom by N.K. Jemisin, and The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson.

And, perhaps most importantly of all, I discovered the comic series Bitch Planet, which everybody knew about but me, and why didn’t anybody tell me before?! It’s a glorious mashup of 80s apocalyptic action movies (think Running Man) and 70s badass bitch exploitation movies. I need mooooaaar!

Except, oops, I’ve got 44 books on my TBR pile to get through first.

Happy reading, 2017!

ALCHEMY TO YAMADA: the 2016 book haul is here!!

They’re here! THEY’RE ALL FINALLY HERE!

By which of course I mean my birthday/Christmas book haul, the most important haul of them all! This really is my favorite part of the new year: stacking up my new books and daydreaming that I’ll have time to read them all before next January.

And this year I–haha, heehee, hoohoo. Oh my.

Between direct gifts and gift money, I acquired 44 new books.

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BUT AREN’T THEY BEAUTIFUL??

Believe it or not, I showed remarkable restraint! I combined nearly all of my gift cards and gift cash, yes yes, BUT I also had a big Target gift card, and even though Target sells books I used that for desperately needed winter wear, which I’ve needed for two months but kept putting off in favor of buying books.

“See?” I told my husband, “See how much money this will save us all year?? Now I only need to buy book club selections and also a few things I have on pre-order!”

I’ve gotten really good about reading from my existing TBR pile, so I only had 3 or 4 left from before. Close call! I nearly ran out! Considering I’m lucky if I have time to read 50 books in a year right now, and considering the aforementioned book club and pre-order situation, there is a crow’s throw’s chance in hell I’m finishing these in 12 months. It’s really tragic. I need to have another baby and pack in that primo boring breastfeeding time. “Husband! Feed our toddler! I have to breastfeed yet again and finish this chapter.”

Another option would be to convince my book club to pick things off my pile, I guess.

Anyway, what exactly is in these glorious stacks? Take a gander, look some of them up, and read along with me this year!

Fantasy/Scifi (stand-alone)

  • Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine
  • The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
  • Mama Day by Gloria Naylor
  • Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
  • Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
  • Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Fantasy/Scifi (series)

  • The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente
  • The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente
  • Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
  • The Thousand Names by Django Wexler
  • The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Kushiel’s Mercy by Jacqueline Carey
  • Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb
  • City of Dragons by Robin Hobb
  • Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb
  • Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik
  • Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik
  • Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik
  • League of Dragons by Naomi Novik
  • The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
  • Rebel Angel by Libba Bray
  • The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

Fantasy/Scifi (short story collections)

  • Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson
  • The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente
  • Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter by Richard Parks
  • Classic Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson

Comics/Graphic Novels

  • Meanwhile by Jason Shiga
  • Astonishing X-Men vol. 1: Gifted
  • Batman: Year One
  • Bitch Planet book 1: Extraordinary Machine
  • Lumberjanes vol. 2: Friendship to the Max

Other Fiction

  • Overqualified by Joey Comeau
  • Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America by Leslie Knope
  • The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
  • Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

Nonfiction

  • The Heroine’s Journey by Maureen Murdock
  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
  • Grunt by Mary Roach
  • The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer