The Americana Series Monthly Challenge – February 2021: California

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The Americana Series Monthly Challenge – February 2021: California

Jan 31, 2021, 2:12am

Each month, we will visit a different state in the United States of America for the Monthly Reading Challenge in the Mystery & Suspense Extra! Group. This month, we head to a western US state that has been in the news for the past couple months following the US elections - California.

The Americana Series Monthly Challenge – February 2021: California


California is a US state in the Pacific region of the country. With over 39.3 million residents (approximately one-eighth of the US population) across a total area of approximately 163,696 square miles (423,970 sq km), California is the most populous US state and the 3rd largest by area, as well as the world's 34th most populous subnational entity. California is also the most populated subnational entity in North America, and has its state capital in Sacramento. The Greater Los Angeles area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation's second- and fifth-most-populous urban regions, with more than 18.7 million and 9.6 million residents respectively. Los Angeles is California's most populous city, and the country's second-most-populous, after New York City. California also has the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles County, and its largest county by area, San Bernardino County. The City and County of San Francisco is both the country's second most densely populated major city after New York City and the fifth-most-densely populated county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs.

California's economy, with a gross state product of $3.2 trillion as of 2019, is the largest sub-national economy in the world. If it were a country, California would be the fifth-largest economy in the world, and the 37th-most populous as of 2020. The Greater Los Angeles area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation's second- and third-largest urban economies ($1.3 trillion and $1.0 trillion, respectively, as of 2020), after the New York metropolitan area ($2.0 trillion). The San Francisco Bay Area Combined Statistical Area had the nation's highest gross domestic product per capita in 2018 ($106,757) among large primary statistical areas, and is home to four of the world's ten largest companies by market capitalization and four of the world's ten richest people.

California is considered a global trendsetter in popular culture, communication, information, innovation, environmentalism, economics, politics, and entertainment. As a result of the state's diversity and migration, California integrates foods, languages, and traditions from other areas across the country and around the globe. It is considered the origin of the hippie counterculture, beach and car culture, the Internet, and the personal computer, among others. The San Francisco Bay Area and the Greater Los Angeles Area are widely seen as centers of the global technology and entertainment industries, respectively. California's economy is very diverse: 58% of it is based on finance, government, real estate services, technology, and professional, scientific, and technical business services. Although it accounts for only 1.5% of the state's economy, California's agriculture industry has the highest output of any U.S. state.

California is thought to have been settled as early as 13,000 years ago. The indigenous peoples of California included more than 70 distinct ethnic groups of Native Americans, ranging from large, settled populations living on the coast to groups in the interior. California groups also were diverse in their political organization with bands, tribes, villages, and on the resource-rich coasts, large chiefdoms, such as the Chumash, Pomo and Salinan. Trade, intermarriage and military alliances fostered many social and economic relationships among the diverse groups.

The first Europeans to explore the California coast were the members of a Spanish sailing expedition led by Portuguese captain Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo; they entered San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542. Privateer and explorer Francis Drake explored and claimed an undefined portion of the California coast in 1579, landing north of the future city of San Francisco. The first Asians to set foot on what would be the United States occurred in 1587, when Filipino sailors arrived in Spanish ships at Morro Bay.

After 1770, Spanish missionaries led by Junipero Serra began setting up 21 California Missions on or near the coast of California, beginning in San Diego. During the same period, Spanish military forces built several forts (presidios) and three small towns (pueblos). The San Francisco Mission grew into the city of San Francisco, and two of the pueblos grew into the cities of Los Angeles and San Jose.

During this same period, Russian ships also explored along the California coast and in 1812 established a trading post at Fort Ross. Russia's early 19th-century coastal settlements in California were positioned just north of the northernmost edge of the area of Spanish settlement in San Francisco Bay, and were the southernmost Russian settlements in North America.

In 1821, the Mexican War of Independence gave Mexico (including California) independence from Spain. For the next 25 years, Alta (Upper) California remained as a remote, sparsely populated, northwestern administrative district of the newly independent country of Mexico. The missions, which controlled most of the best land in the state, were secularized by 1834 and became the property of the Mexican government. The governor granted many square leagues of land to others with political influence. These huge ranchos or cattle ranches emerged as the dominant institutions of Mexican California. The ranchos developed under ownership by Californios (Hispanics native of California) who traded cowhides and tallow with Boston merchants. Beef did not become a commodity until the 1849 California Gold Rush.

From the 1820s, trappers and settlers from the United States and the future Canada arrived in Northern California. These new arrivals used the Siskiyou Trail, California Trail, Oregon Trail and Old Spanish Trail to cross the rugged mountains and harsh deserts in and surrounding California.

The early government of the newly independent Mexico was highly unstable, and in a reflection of this, from 1831 onwards, California also experienced a series of armed disputes, both internal and with the central Mexican government.

One of the largest ranchers in California was John Marsh. After failing to obtain justice against squatters on his land from the Mexican courts, he determined that California should become part of the United States. Marsh conducted a letter-writing campaign espousing the California climate, the soil, and other reasons to settle there, as well as the best route to follow, which became known as "Marsh's route". His letters were read, reread, passed around, and printed in newspapers throughout the country, and started the first wagon trains rolling to California. He invited immigrants to stay on his ranch until they could get settled, and assisted in their obtaining passports.

In 1846, a group of American settlers in and around Sonoma rebelled against Mexican rule during the Bear Flag Revolt. Afterwards, rebels raised the Bear Flag (featuring a bear, a star, a red stripe and the words "California Republic") at Sonoma. The Republic's only president was William B. Ide, who played a pivotal role during the Bear Flag Revolt. This revolt by American settlers served as a prelude to the later American military invasion of California and was closely coordinated with nearby American military commanders.

The California Republic was short lived; the same year marked the outbreak of the Mexican–American War (1846–48). When Commodore John D. Sloat of the United States Navy sailed into Monterey Bay and began the military occupation of California by the United States, Northern California capitulated in less than a month to the United States forces. After a series of defensive battles in Southern California, the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed by the Californios on January 13, 1847, securing American control in California.

Following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (February 2, 1848) that ended the war, the westernmost portion of the annexed Mexican territory of Alta California soon became the American state of California, and the remainder of the old territory was then subdivided into the new American Territories of Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Utah. The even more lightly populated and arid lower region of old Baja California remained as a part of Mexico. In 1846, the total settler population of the western part of the old Alta California had been estimated to be no more than 8,000, plus about 100,000 Native Americans, down from about 300,000 before Hispanic settlement in 1769.

In 1848, only one week before the official American annexation of the area, gold was discovered in California, this being an event which was to forever alter both the state's demographics and its finances. Soon afterward, a massive influx of immigration into the area resulted, as prospectors and miners arrived by the thousands. The population burgeoned with United States citizens, Europeans, Chinese and other immigrants during the great California Gold Rush. By the time of California's application for statehood in 1850, the settler population of California had multiplied to 100,000. By 1854, more than 300,000 settlers had come. Between 1847 and 1870, the population of San Francisco increased from 500 to 150,000. California was suddenly no longer a sparsely populated backwater, but seemingly overnight it had grown into a major population center.

Once the state's Constitutional Convention had finalized its state constitution, it applied to the U.S. Congress for admission to statehood. On September 9, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850, California became a free state and September 9 a state holiday.

During the American Civil War (1861–1865), California sent gold shipments eastwards to Washington in support of the Union. However, due to the existence of a large contingent of pro-South sympathizers within the state, the state was not able to muster any full military regiments to send eastwards to officially serve in the Union war effort. Still, several smaller military units within the Union army were unofficially associated with the state of California, such as the "California 100 Company", due to a majority of their members being from California.

At the time of California's admission into the Union, travel between California and the rest of the continental United States had been a time-consuming and dangerous feat. Nineteen years afterwards, in 1869, shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War, a more direct connection was developed with the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. California was then easy to reach.

Much of the state was extremely well suited to fruit cultivation and agriculture in general. Vast expanses of wheat, other cereal crops, vegetable crops, cotton, and nut and fruit trees were grown (including oranges in Southern California), and the foundation was laid for the state's prodigious agricultural production in the Central Valley and elsewhere.

Under earlier Spanish and Mexican rule, California's original native population had precipitously declined, above all, from Eurasian diseases to which the indigenous people of California had not yet developed a natural immunity. Under its new American administration, California's harsh governmental policies towards its own indigenous people did not improve. As in other American states, many of the native inhabitants were soon forcibly removed from their lands by incoming American settlers such as miners, ranchers, and farmers. Although California had entered the American union as a free state, the "loitering or orphaned Indians" were de facto enslaved by their new Anglo-American masters under the 1853 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians. There were also massacres in which hundreds of indigenous people were killed.

Between 1850 and 1860, the California state government paid around 1.5 million dollars (some 250,000 of which was reimbursed by the federal government) to hire militias whose purpose was to protect settlers from the indigenous populations. In later decades, the native population was placed in reservations and rancherias, which were often small and isolated and without enough natural resources or funding from the government to sustain the populations living on them. As a result, the rise of California was a calamity for the native inhabitants. Several scholars and Native American activists, including Benjamin Madley and Ed Castillo, have described the actions of the California government as a genocide.

Migration to California accelerated during the early 20th century with the completion of major transcontinental highways like the Lincoln Highway and Route 66. In the period from 1900 to 1965, the population grew from fewer than one million to the greatest in the Union. In 1940, the Census Bureau reported California's population as 6.0% Hispanic, 2.4% Asian, and 89.5% non-Hispanic white.

To meet the population's needs, major engineering feats like the California and Los Angeles Aqueducts; the Oroville and Shasta Dams; and the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges were built across the state. The state government also adopted the California Master Plan for Higher Education in 1960 to develop a highly efficient system of public education.

Meanwhile, attracted to the mild Mediterranean climate, cheap land, and the state's wide variety of geography, filmmakers established the studio system in Hollywood in the 1920s. California manufactured 8.7 percent of total United States military armaments produced during World War II, ranking third (behind New York and Michigan) among the 48 states. California however easily ranked first in production of military ships during the war (transport, cargo, merchant ships such as Liberty ships, Victory ships, and warships) at drydock facilities in San Diego, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area. After World War II, California's economy greatly expanded due to strong aerospace and defense industries, whose size decreased following the end of the Cold War. Stanford University and its Dean of Engineering Frederick Terman began encouraging faculty and graduates to stay in California instead of leaving the state, and develop a high-tech region in the area now known as Silicon Valley. As a result of these efforts, California is regarded as a world center of the entertainment and music industries, of technology, engineering, and the aerospace industry, and as the United States center of agricultural production. Just before the Dot Com Bust, California had the fifth-largest economy in the world among nations. Yet since 1991, and starting in the late 1980s in Southern California, California has seen a net loss of domestic migrants in most years. This is often referred to by the media as the California exodus.

During the 20th century, two great disasters happened in California. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and 1928 St. Francis Dam flood remain the deadliest in U.S history.

Although air pollution problems have been reduced, health problems associated with pollution have continued. The brown haze known as "smog" has been substantially abated after the passage of federal and state restrictions on automobile exhaust.

An energy crisis in 2001 led to rolling blackouts, soaring power rates, and the importation of electricity from neighboring states. Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric Company came under heavy criticism.

Housing prices in urban areas continued to increase; a modest home which in the 1960s cost $25,000 would cost half a million dollars or more in urban areas by 2005. More people commuted longer hours to afford a home in more rural areas while earning larger salaries in the urban areas. Speculators bought houses they never intended to live in, expecting to make a huge profit in a matter of months, then rolling it over by buying more properties. Mortgage companies were compliant, as everyone assumed the prices would keep rising. The bubble burst in 2007-8 as housing prices began to crash and the boom years ended. Hundreds of billions in property values vanished and foreclosures soared as many financial institutions and investors were badly hurt.


California shares a border with Oregon to the north, Nevada and Arizona to the east, and the Mexican state of Baja California to the south.

California's diverse geography ranges from the Pacific Coast and Metropolitan areas in the west to the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the east, and from the redwood and Douglas fir forests in the northwest, to the Mojave Desert endorheic basin in the southeast. The Central Valley, a major agricultural area, dominates the state's center. Although California is well-known for its warm Mediterranean climate and monsoon seasonal weather, the large size of the state results in climates that vary from moist temperate rainforest in the north to arid desert in the interior, as well as snowy alpine in the mountains. All these factors lead to an enormous demand for water; in total numbers, California is the largest consumer of water in North America. Over time, drought and wildfires have become more frequent; further straining California's water security.

Fun Facts

Approximately 45 percent of the state's total surface area is covered by forests, and California's diversity of pine species is unmatched by any other state. California contains more forestland than any other state except Alaska. Many of the trees in the California White Mountains are the oldest in the world; an individual bristlecone pine is over 5,000 years old.

As part of the Ring of Fire, California is subject to tsunamis, floods, droughts, Santa Ana winds, wildfires, landslides on steep terrain, and has several volcanoes. It has many earthquakes due to several faults running through the state, the largest being the San Andreas Fault. According to an article in National Geographic in April 2019:
A new study, published in Science magazine, that dug through seismic data between 2008 and 2017 found that Southern California experienced a startling 1.81 million temblors during that decade. That's an order of magnitude more than previously documented, with an earthquake striking roughly every three minutes. Of course, the vast majority of these quakes are so weak they are imperceptible to humans.

San Francisco Earthquake 1987

More avocados are grown in Fallbrook than any place else in the U.S., hence its nickname – the Avocado Capital of the World. Every year, Fallbrook holds an avocado festival to celebrate. But, almonds are California’s top exports. Most of the state’s almonds are grown in the Central Valley, which is considered the world’s almond capital.

California was originally known as the Grizzly Bear State. As California boomed—and the bear population was wiped out—it became the Golden State. The grizzly bear on California's current state flag is a tribute to Monarch, a 1,200-lb. wild California grizzly bear captured by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (or, rather, the reporter he hired, Allen Kelley) in 1899. Monarch was sent to San Francisco, where he was a star attraction at Woodward's Garden and then Golden Gate Park until his death in 1911. The last reported sighting of a wild California grizzly bear was in 1924.

California is the only state that's hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

The mineral benitoite can be found in California, Japan, and Arkansas, but only San Benito County, California, has it in gemstone-quality deposits. The California State Gem Mine in Coalinga allows the public to dig and take home a quart-sized bag of treasure.

The highest point in the contiguous U.S., 14,494-foot Mt. Whitney, is only 76 miles from the lowest point in the contiguous U.S., Death Valley. Both are located in California.

The majority of California's residents belong to a minority ethnic group; in fact, one out of every four Californians was not born in the U.S.

Eureka—the Greek word for “I have found it!”—is a cry of happiness when you've achieved something; Archimedes uttered this very word when he discovered the method of determining the purity of gold. In honor of the California Gold Rush, the state later adopted “Eureka” (no exclamation point!) as its official motto.

Here's an especially weird fact about California: In the summer months, the Sierra Nevada surprises and delights visitors with its magnificent “watermelon snow.” As a result of microscopic algae, pink-tinted snow drapes the mountains, and some even say it smells and tastes just like watermelon. (not to be confused with Harry Styles' Watermelon Sugar…lol)

Notable Residents

Kamala Devi Harris is an American politician and attorney who is the 49th and current Vice President of the United States. She is the United States' first female vice president, the highest-ranking female elected official in U.S. history, and the first African American and first Asian American vice president. Born in Oakland, California, Harris graduated from Howard University and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. She began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, before being recruited to the San Francisco District Attorney's Office and later the City Attorney of San Francisco's office. In 2003, she was elected district attorney of San Francisco. She was elected Attorney General of California in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Harris served as the junior United States senator from California from 2017 to 2021. Harris defeated Loretta Sanchez in the 2016 Senate election to become the second African American woman and the first South Asian American to serve in the United States Senate.

Famous California natives include authors such as John Steinbeck, Joan Didion, Dean Koontz, Robert Frost, and Jack London.

The list of actors/actresses from California is (no surprise!) extensive as is the list of media personalities (Rachel Maddow, Bill Maher), musicians (Gwen Stefani, Karen Carpenter, Shaun Cassidy, Nat King Cole, Billie Joe Armstrong, Joan Baez) and reality tv celebrities (Julia Child (chef) and, of course, the Kardashians).

Well-known athletes that hail from California include Tom Brady (football), Aaron Rodgers (football), Kevin Harvick (Nascar), Joe DiMaggio (baseball), Jackie Robinson (baseball), Mark Spitz (Olympic swimmer), Pete Sampras (tennis) and Tiger Woods (golf).

In honor of CALIFORNIA, read a Mystery/Suspense book (any sub-genre will do!) that satisfies one or more of the following:

• A Mystery/Suspense book with "Gold," "Desert," "West," or "Ocean" in the title OR has a cover that is more than 50% gold (not yellow) OR has a bear on the cover;

• A Mystery/Suspense book that takes place during an expedition/treasure hunt/long journey OR has a character that is/was an entertainer (actor, musician, etc) OR the story takes place in California;

• A Mystery/Suspense book where the author's initials (BOTH the first AND last) can be found in CALIFORNIA.

Happy Reading ❤

Edited: Feb 24, 2021, 3:39pm

Brenda's February 2021 Americana Challenge - California
3 of 3 Complete

In honor of CALIFORNIA, read a Mystery/Suspense book (any sub-genre will do!) that satisfies one or more of the following:

• A Mystery/Suspense book with "Gold," "Desert," "West," or "Ocean" in the title OR has a cover that is more than 50% gold (not yellow) OR has a bear on the cover;
Westwind by Ian Rankin; 2/24/21; 3 stars

• A Mystery/Suspense book that takes place during an expedition/treasure hunt/long journey OR has a character that is/was an entertainer (actor, musician, etc) OR the story takes place in California;
Grave Descend by John Lange (an early Michael Crichton thriller); takes place during a treasure hunt; 2/14/21; 2.5 stars

• A Mystery/Suspense book where the author's initials (BOTH the first AND last) can be found in CALIFORNIA.
The Vanishing Man by Charles Finch; 2/18/21; 4 stars

Edited: Feb 14, 2021, 4:26pm

Carol Goes To California To Break Into The Movies! (save me an Oscar)
📌 - ★

3 of 3 Complete - DONE 2/14

📌1. A Mystery/Suspense book with "Gold," "Desert," "West," or "Ocean" in the title OR has a cover that is more than 50% gold (not yellow) OR has a bear on the cover;
Daddy - Emma Cline - 2.5★

📌2. A Mystery/Suspense book that takes place during an expedition/treasure hunt/long journey OR has a character that is/was an entertainer (actor, musician, etc) OR the story takes place in California.
Nine Times Nine - Anthony Boucher - 3★

📌3. A Mystery/Suspense book where the author's initials (BOTH the first AND last) can be found in CALIFORNIA.
Five Total Strangers - Natalie Richards - 5★ (N & R)

Edited: Jan 31, 2021, 9:46am

This message has been deleted by its author.

Edited: Feb 19, 2021, 11:29pm

Lynda and Oliver's California Challenge

of 3 Complete

In honor of CALIFORNIA, read a Mystery/Suspense book (any sub-genre will do!) that satisfies one or more of the following:

💌 A Mystery/Suspense book with "Gold," "Desert," "West," or "Ocean" in the title OR has a cover that is more than 50% gold (not yellow) OR has a bear on the cover.

The Escape Room - Megan Goldin - 5 Stars - 2/3/21

💌 A Mystery/Suspense book that takes place during an expedition/treasure hunt/long journey OR has a character that is/was an entertainer (actor, musician, etc) OR the story takes place in California
Find Me - Anne Frasier - 4.5 Stars - 2/4/21

💌 A Mystery/Suspense book where the author's initials (BOTH the first AND last) can be found in CALIFORNIA
Murder Handcrafted - Isabella Alan - 3.5 Stars - 2/18/21 - IA

Edited: Feb 24, 2021, 5:39pm

Saving my place.

Hole in One - Catherine Aird 4★s (Author's initials in CALIFORNIA)
Without Fail - Lee Child 5★s (Two musicians)
Gently North West - Alan Hunter 4.5★s ("West" in the title)

Feb 1, 2021, 5:21pm

I'm going to read The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. The author's initials (BOTH the first AND last) can be found in CALIFORNIA - R, O.

Edited: Mar 2, 2021, 11:01pm

Jaret Goes to Disneyland
(1/3 completed)

• A Mystery/Suspense book with "Gold," "Desert," "West," or "Ocean" in the title OR has a cover that is more than 50% gold (not yellow) OR has a bear on the cover;

• A Mystery/Suspense book that takes place during an expedition/treasure hunt/long journey OR has a character that is/was an entertainer (actor, musician, etc) OR the story takes place in California;
Along Came a Spider by James Patterson 4 stars 2/26/2021 long journey

• A Mystery/Suspense book where the author's initials (BOTH the first AND last) can be found in CALIFORNIA.

Feb 11, 2021, 5:16pm

Done - The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman 4 *
The author's initials (BOTH the first AND last) can be found in CALIFORNIA - R,O.

Feb 12, 2021, 9:23am

>9 gaylebutz:

Well done, Gayle!!!

Feb 14, 2021, 4:26pm

Done - Thanks Brenda.

Feb 15, 2021, 2:10pm

congrats to both Carol420 and Gayle - well done!

Feb 19, 2021, 11:30pm

I got them all this month!

Feb 20, 2021, 2:17am

congratulations! Good Job!

Feb 20, 2021, 8:43am

Feb 20, 2021, 4:26pm

The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams - 2.5 *
It's a (very slight) Mystery/Suspense book with "Ocean" in the title.

This is the 2nd time I've gotten 2 out of 3 in the same month!

Feb 24, 2021, 3:40pm


Feb 24, 2021, 5:32pm

>17 bhabeck:

Congratulations, Brenda! Great work.

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