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2015 summary… via book review!

For my upcoming birthday, I’m building myself a library. A special little space full of coziness and books. (And when I’m in it, a big old nerd!) A space to read, think, relax, unwind or wind up, depending on the book, maybe even write a little. And I’m pretty dang excited about it. All I need is the chair — and that’s going to be my birthday present from Seth. Something big enough so that should Curly choose to join me, there will plenty of space for the both of us.

Curly doesn't actually need space. And I always get the butt end.
Curly doesn’t actually need a lot of space though. And I always get the butt end.

Maybe a little side table for the lamp and cup of tea I envision at my side. My set up will face the fireplace, of course, for night time reading, and soak up the sun from the big window when it’s shining. But most importantly: the books. And I’m definitely an avid collector in that respect. Physically and mentally. I just soak them up, always have, always will. 2015 has been no exception in that respect, although it has been exceptional in a million other ways and because of that — books have been even more important than usual. They have consoled me and distracted me in a way nothing else possibly could and I am so grateful that comfort like that is always, always, always available. Words are so powerful. And well-timed words are probably the most powerful thing of all. I read some spectacular ones this year.

I'm building a library!
I’m building a library! I really need to refinish that fireplace… hate the brass… but my library!!

As I moved my most special books from their stacks, shelves, and cupboards into my new little library, I thought back to the Lincoln Later El library (I think it’s maybe called Brick now?) — where I spent all my lunchtimes many years ago. Sixth grade was probably my peak of loser-dom and recess was kind of a nightmare. So to avoid it, I reshelved books in the library. It was glorious to spend my lunch that way every day — handling the books, seeing what others were reading, getting ideas about what I should read next, and helping Mrs. Van-can’t-spell-the-rest a little bit at the same time. (But most importantly, avoiding the playground.) As I looked over my laundry baskets of collected books, I thought back on those lunch times, about the Dewey Decimal System, and how I would organize things in my own little space. A story about the stories I’ve read began to emerge and it suddenly seemed like an appropriate way to sum up the year I’ve had… my mental shelves are bursting, after all. So a little recap of 2015 — in a literary context:


Even before it started, I was quite aware that 2015 was going to be a tough year. Our last round of IUI was in December of 2014 and when it was unsuccessful (again) we knew that IVF was next. I was unhappy and I wasn’t alone. My sister-in-law, Kayla, and I were both dealing with stuff, feeling unhappy, and so we thought we’d read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin together. We started and I thought the research on happiness was fascinating, but we quickly petered out — I don’t know. It just wasn’t really for me, maybe it was the rigidity? Under normal circumstances, I’m a big fan of plans and dates and times and the like, but there’s something about the beauty of evolution and letting things naturally develop over time that I guess I find preferable. Happiness is always a worthy goal, to be sure, but I guess I prefer to take a step, see what happens, and let that inform the next step over making a 12 month plan with its 12 pre-planned steps and putting checks in the boxes as I accomplish them. (Gasp! I love to check boxes! A revelation that that does not apply here.) I’m not sure what Kayla’s thoughts on the topic are (note to self: ask Kayla for her thoughts), but I think the read was worth it just to better understand the science of happiness — the idea of a set point that you can’t sway too much and the notion that little things can make a surprisingly big difference when they become part of the every day.

The Hapiness Project

One of those little things that makes a huge difference for me is audiobooks. I subscribed to Audible in the middle of 2014 and started listening to books while walking, running, mowing the lawn, sewing, driving long distances, etc, and ho-ly cow, I’m so in love. While there’s no doubt in my mind that reading is a worthwhile activity, I somehow always either felt guilty for reading while I could/should have been doing something else or, conversely, while doing something else hobby-ish, I’d rather be reading. Audible has solved that problem completely — now I can do both. This year alone, I’ve listened to All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony DoerrOrange is the New Black by Piper KermanThe Elegance of the Hedgehog by Murial BarberyLightning by Dean KoontzSaint Odd by Dean KoontzOne Door Away from Heaven by Dean Koontz (so yeah, I’m a big DK fan, and his books are so fast paced that they’re some of the best I’ve found for running to), The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk KiddAwakenings by Oliver Sacks (although admittedly, I haven’t finished this one yet — probably better for something like driving than running), The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (which I hated so much, but we chatted about that before), all three All Souls Trilogy books by Deborah Harkness (A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life), The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, and, at present, Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz (his newest — yay yay yay). I also listened to Scrum by Jeff and J. J. Sutherland. That one was not my choice. It’s a book about a business productivity technique that Seth wanted to listen to and he talked me into listening along as we drove across the UP in September. It was interesting, but not super duper applicable to my lone wolf work environment. On the plus side, however, it was in exchange for that listening experience that I talked him into listening to The Five Love Languages with me on our next drive to and from Madison. As far as self-help goes, it was ridiculously cheesy and almost alarmingly intuitive, yet, Seth and I had an excellent time mocking the self-important and overly serious author and, honestly, recognizing the primary way in which we tend to hear and speak love (me in words, Seth in action) was excellent for us both. Five hours of car time well spent! As far as the rest go All the Light was so beautiful and so hard, but so important and I’m so glad I read it; Orange is the New Black was interesting and informative, definitely a good look at the broken prison system in America, but probably not what you would expect if you just watched the show — sometimes I felt like I was in prison listening to the overly long descriptions of kind of boring things, like prison cheescake and salad bars, a thousand times over; and all the Dean Koontzes were delightful as expected, except that I’m craving so much more about the smooth and blue than the final Odd Thomas book had to offer. The others warrant special attention, however.

Audible Books

The Invention of Wings and The Elegance of the Hedgehog were two of the best books I read all year. They’re both amazing, thought provoking, fascinating. And, while I didn’t think of it really until now, both have in some respect shaped the way I feel about life’s unexpected turns as well as its meaning. Like, so much so, that I should really go back and read Elegance again with an eye to the point of existing, as I’ve lamented over recently. I was so annoyed with both narrators at first — the self-important adolescent and the chip-on-her-shoulder concierge. But they grew and I loved them for it so much in the end. So so much. Anyone can grow, everyone has purpose. Even if just for a moment. Oh, love, love, love! Similarly, the main character in Wings seems so naive at first — and she is, I suppose, because she’s 11 and it’s basically your job at 11 to be naive. But growth and change and heartbreak and breaking hearts, standing up for what’s right for others and recognizing what’s right for yourself, all of that. It’s just beautiful. One of my favorite, favorites. So much so that after I was gifted a second copy (thanks, sweet Ellen! you do know me well!), I re-gifted it to my dear friend Marie and then again at Christmas to my friend Deb. And now you should all read it. Because it’s so so good. (Btw, Sue Monk Kidd also wrote The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, which you know you loved, and that should be an even better recommendation for The Invention of Wings.)

Audibel Best

Speaking of good fiction… I also devoured The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and think it was truly the best of the best that I read all year. It’s a World War II-based story about two sisters who are both simultaneously jealous of one another and insecure about themselves, in the end realizing that they’re both incredibly courageous in two distinctly different ways. It’s such a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful story. Simultaneously heart breaking and heart making. This is probably the book I’m the most insistent that other people read — when Aimee said she was reading books with bird titles I was so excited for her to get to this one, I told Erika to start here when she was looking for recommendations, I sent it to Melissa after she had surgery, and gave Marie a copy for Christmas. These are people I love very, very much and this is a book I love very, very much. Definitely my 2015 Must Read. Oh! And one more “deep fiction” winner — At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen, the author of Water for Elephants knocked it out of the park once again with another fascinating look back in time, although this time it was the Loch Ness craze in war battered Scotland rather than the depression-era circus scene. Loved.

Best Fiction

But it’s not just prize-winning, super deep fiction that I love… I just love, love, love a good story, and twice this year, Lara Lacombe delivered, with both Lethal Lies and Killer Exposure. The biggest problem with Lara’s books is that if you have even the tiniest inkling of nerdy girl-ness inside you or potential for enjoyment of romantic suspense, you better start reading on a Friday night so that by the time you have to go back to work, you’re done with the book and ready to come up for air. I can never put them down and I think that Killer Exposure was actually my favorite that Lara has written so far. It’s crazy to me how addictive her stories are! Similarly, I devoured lots of Dean Koontz, as mentioned above, including my old hard copy of Life Expectancy, which again, proved itself to be my favorite Koontz of all time. It’s just SO good. I also forced Erika to read it. And she loved it. N = 2, must be true! I also loved One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, which wasn’t quite as amazing as Me Before You, but still excellent and a good reminder that when life is super crazy hard, we can, and should, lean on each other; Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal, a race-exploring New Orleans-based book with super likable and interesting characters; Invisible Ellen by Shari Shattuck because I’m a total sucker for stories about fat girls finding acceptance, friendship, worth, purpose, self-love, etc (a la Jemima J by Jane Green), and this book totally fits that bill — brilliant and interesting and funny and witty and super feel-good; and Lila by Marilynne Robinson, which is apparently a stand alone part of the Gilead series that I obviously need to read more of. Sadly, however, not all the fiction I read delivered quite so well and I did find myself pretty disappointed in Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin, probably because it was my understanding that Le Guin was a science fiction writer and I just couldn’t reconcile my expectations with the reality of the book — although if I really wanted to read about a woman bogged down by unreasonable expectations that had to overcome great adversity, particularly within the context of her unexpected husband, I’d re-read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (a total masterpiece) instead. I was also disappointed by The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner, which is so sad because it’s a legitimately brilliant idea for a story — I just didn’t really dig the execution, I think. It could have been such a lovely little love story wrapped up in history, but instead felt cheesy. I feel like I want to read the same story with an author like Sarah Gruen or Sue Monk Kidd instead, which seems like such a mean thing to say, but it’s my truth. Sorry, Susan.

Other Fiction

Perhaps my two most personally important fiction reads, however, actually fall under a broader category of books — namely, those I read in the wake of grief and really helped me to cope. I re-read J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series this year, as we’ve discussed, and while I thought it was about making my maybe baby magical, it actually ended up being an important thing to have done for myself, as I learned only in the wake of my miscarriage. Interestingly, my friend Kristen also recommended to me an adolescent-fiction-slash-graphic-novel called A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and it kind of had a similar story line — a young man’s mother is dying and he calls up a monster to save her, except, the monster wasn’t actually there to save his mother. The monster was there to save him. It’s a quick read, but ridiculously profound and I loved it so much. Probably my number one recommendation in the context of grief specifically. It’s beautiful. I sobbed. So did Kristen. I highly recommend this book. I also recently finished the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness as I mentioned above. Had I read anything about them before diving in, I probably wouldn’t have even stepped a toe in the water — the vampire, witch, demon deal sounds a bit too Twilight-y to suit my HP devotee style (Hermione for life!!), but my mom’s friend and former school social worker, Linda, recommended them to me as I walked and walked and walked through IVF and I am so grateful that she did because I absolutely adore these books. History and magic and love and family and meaning and spirituality and all of the above. Love, love, love, love, love. At nearly 30 hours a piece, it’s impressive to think how many miles I must have run and walked while listening to these three books. The main character even grieved a miscarriage at one point. It was perfection.

Grief Fiction

In addition to the grief-important fiction, I’ve also read a lot of grief-important non-fiction. Early after my miscarriage, Aunt Becky sent me a copy of To Live Again by Catherine Marshall and I walked with Ms. Marshall for a good long while — in Hawaii, on my way home, many difficult nights, and she’s proven to me over and over again why I find her Prayer of Relinquishment so meaningful, it’s how she lives her whole life. It’s the place she found after the greatest of tragedies, in the wake of the most difficult situation, and she and her words are really an amazing source of strength. Similarly, and then again so completely not similarly at all because there really is no comparing the Catherine Marshall of the 1950s to the Jenny Lawson of now, I also read and loved Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy this year. We talked about the brilliant Bloggess already, but to bring the point home one more time — to move from grief into a state of long-standing, long-battled, hard fought mental illness is not a surprise. Depression is always there waiting for me and I live with it, through it, in spite of it, every single day of my life. Some periods are harder than others and I am not alone. To have collaborated with my healthcare providers to decide to use medication, to participate in talk therapy, those things are not weaknesses — they are strengths, they are good decisions, they are active participation in my own wellness and growth. Also, Jenny Lawson is freaking hilarious and for someone to fit jokes in amongst all that good stuff? Well, that just seems rather amazing, doesn’t it?

Grief Non-Fiction

(Sad sidenote: hoping for non-fiction goodness a la Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling and Jenny Lawson and the like, I also picked up Yes Please by Amy Pohler at the Honolulu airport after I busted my Kindle on the beach. Unfortunately, I was disappointed — I feel guilty for even saying so, but it just felt so name droppy and gushy about the amazingness of her amazing friends without being particularly hilarious, except when she basically says, “trust me, we were all so hilarious”… I guess you had to be there? So sad about this… but it’s the truth, and it sits half read in a stack next to my bed. Sorry, Amy. This doesn’t change the way I feel about Parks and Rec. Promise.)

Yes please

I also super loved The Shack by William P. Young and found it particularly encouraging to read Young’s super fascinating imagining of God the trinity. God as black woman, even if only as a representation, among other anti-institutional and/or anti-dogmatic sentiments, has this book frequently labeled as heresy, which I love so much because it says so much about the people who label fiction (a la the Dan Brown books) as such, don’t you think? But besides that, it’s just such an interesting read. I especially loved the way God, the black woman, greets the main character when he first shows  up:

Instinctively he jumped back, but he was too slow. With speed that belied her size, she crossed the distance between them and engulfed him in her arms, lifting him clear off his feet and spinning him around like a little child. And all the while she was shouting his name — “Mackenzie Allen Phillips”– with the ardor of someone seeing a long-lost and deeply loved relative. She finally set him back on Earth and, with her hands on his shoulders, pushed him back as if to get a good look at him.

“Mack, look at you!” she fairly exploded. “Here you are, and so grown up. I have really been looking forward to seeing you face-to-face. It is so wonderful to have you here with us. My, my, my, how I do love you!” And with that she wrapped herself around him again…

… He felt the presence of love. It was warm, inviting, melting.

…and I lose it. I highlighted that passage when I gave this book to my dad for Christmas (even though he’d already read it) because I wanted to make sure that he knows that that’s what it feels like to be his daughter. I just loved the things this book made me think and feel and consider. If you’re at all interested in spirituality sans dogma, in spite of dogma, or to make you think about dogma, this is a really good read. Also, spiritually speaking, I super loved The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I started reading it right after my friend Aimee‘s mom (I love all Rathbuns so much — like, they’re basically my sports team and I should get myself a jersey to wear) pinned it and shortly thereafter, my mom bought me a copy that she then kept for herself because she loved it so much too. Brene Brown is a shame researcher, a true academician and expert in psychology, and also one of the greatest spiritual thinkers/writers I’ve ever encountered. Imperfection is all about being who you really are, warts and all, why that’s hard, and why it’s so necessary. There was so much good packed into the book that I feel like I need to have it with me at all times as a reference manual — things to constantly think about until completely internalized. Similarly, Savor by Shauna Niequist is a daily devotional, or perhaps more accurately a book of daily reflections, chock full of this kind of thing — ideas about giving yourself grace, being present in the moment, etc, that are totally worth thinking about. Beautiful things, every day. And something I think I could read over and over again every day in perpetuity.


At present, I’m reading Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America by Margot Adler as quickly as I can and tiny bits of Praying with Celtic Holy Women by Bridget Mary Meehan and Regina Madonna Oliver on a daily basis. The Moon is a really interesting historical narrative on polytheistic practices in this country over the past century, as well as where they may have come from in the more distant past. I got interested in the topic after reading about some of these Celtic Holy Women who were really fascinating early adopters of Christianity. I wish I had more time to spend deep diving into all the millions of areas I get interested in because both of these books make me ask more and more questions and want to read more and more books. I suppose that’s what my little library and all this spare time are for.

Current Reads


I approach 2016 knowing that we’re in for another tough year. My 32nd birthday is nearly here, which means my ovaries are rapidly approaching what the fertility specialist appears to believe is the end for me in my fertility journey. We’re doing IVF again in the spring and I know full well what that means now. In addition, I also know that even in the unlikely event of pregnancy, miscarriage is not only a very real possibly, but a pretty likely outcome. I know what that feels like too. But I’m not ready to give up on this path quite yet, so we head into the new year with our eyes wide open and our scars still red and fresh. My mental library has a whole new annex and my physical library will be a place of refuge when I need it. So back to my dear Hagrid, one more time — what’s coming will come and we’ll greet it when it does. Fortunately, for me, I can greet it like my beloved Hermione, frizzy haired and nose in a book.

Au revior, 2015! Any recommendations for stocking my shelves in 2016???

Except in 2016 -- when my nose is in a book, it will also likely be in my library!
Except in 2016 — when my nose is in a book, it will also likely be in my library!

Book Review: I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan

I’m about write a review of a book narrated by Satan. Incidentally, Satan appears to have taken up residence in my THROAT for the time being. Moving down into my chest. Woe. Is. Me.

More importantly: woe is my husband who ended up sleeping in the spare room last night because I could not stop the coughing. Couldn’t stop. Satan!

But enough about viral-style satan… and on to the literary version.

Remember once upon a time when I told you about the 1,001 book challenge? It’s still happening just… differently. Not exactly as anticipated, but awesome nevertheless. It kind of morphed over time and I really enjoy the Between the Covers Facebook group it turned into because it gives me a place to talk about really interesting books with really interesting people that I might never have read or spoken to, respectively, in the absence of random internet-based connections.

Most recently, we read I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan. And wowza.


I hated it so much. So so so much. For almost the whole book. But only almost.

Because in the end, I loved it. And I’m so so so glad that I not only started it, but especially that I finished it. Because wow.

So, first, why I hated it.

Basically, it boils down to the fact that Satan, who narrates the vast majority of the book while inhabiting the body of mere mortal Declan Gunn, is an arrogant a-hole.

I know, it’s not terribly surprising– Satan as an a-hole. Yet for some reason, I expected Satan as the narrator to try to make himself at least somewhat likable. I mean, doesn’t everyone want people to like them, to want to listen? Even Satan?

Apparently not. And Satan the narrator was pompous and annoying and condescending and awful in every way. No better way to say it: an arrogant a-hole. I hated him so much… and I really had a hard time reading the musings of someone I hated so very much. For quite I while, I just wanted him to get to the dang point so it could be over.

However, as I endured, looking up big, fancy, literary words that I suspected were placed in the text largely to make me feel like an idiot, some intriguing themes started to jump out at me, to capture my attention, and to make me hate reading the book a little less…

The notion of not recognizing how painful a pain really is until you’ve left it.

Thoughts about the way our very human senses allow us to perceive the very human world we live in with just the slightest hint of something else… something beyond.

And then, most strikingly, most excitingly and beautifully, forgiveness.

Oh my gosh. The idea of forgiveness is what redeemed the book for me. Absolutely and completely. It was powerful enough for me to go from hate to love in mere pages and I’m generally not super good at changing my mind… so that’s something.

As I said, the premise of the book is that God offers Satan the opportunity to inhabit a mortal being for a month, as a trial run to the big redemptive offer of living out life as a human in exchange for reentry into heaven. Satan ends up inhabiting the body of a man named Declan Gunn following Declan’s suicide attempt (or success, perhaps?) and in Declan’s body, Satan uses his mortal fingers to type out a manuscript (amongst use of other body parts in rather Satan-ly ways). Satan as Declan is, as I said, a complete and total a-hole. Other a-holes love him. He has a following and friends and success. Everyone is awful. But unable to shake all of Declan’s humanity, Satan finds himself continually fixated on Declan’s former lover. The woman who broke Declan’s heart. Broke Declan himself. Shattered him. And just to spite Declan while he can, because he’s Satan, Satan decides to go do the very worst thing he can think of — forgive her. As Declan. And he does.

And then: FEELINGS.

SO MANY FEELINGS. So many feelings that all the drugs and all the alcohol could not make them go away. Feelings of every sort– good and bad and ugly and… human. Forgiveness, even in spite, came with soooooo many feeeeeelings. More than he could bare. More than he could understand. Or comprehend. Or allow. Too much.

After this powerful demonstration, Satan had the choice to go on living out Declan Gunn’s life to it’s natural end with the promise of that very same thing from God waiting on the other side — forgiveness, grace. Or, he could return to hell. And, believe it or not, from Satan’s perspective, I can see some advantages to hell… a freedom, if you will, that didn’t exist for him otherwise. I won’t spoil the end for you, but I would not have seen it coming. And just as a bit of icing on the cake, the former angel (now human, long story) Raphael took a turn narrating a bit of the book. And the tone was completely different, suggesting to me that the arrogance, the a-hole-ish-ness at the beginning was really just Glen Duncan’s way of portraying Satan, making him completely and wholly unlikable, and that’s just impressive.

Grace is something I really like thinking about. I talk about it all the time. But never like this. Never ever like this. It really was spectacular, this description. Coming from the most arrogant a-hole of all.

In this new format of what was the 1001 Book Challenge, we’re basically a disparate group of people from all over the country taking turns picking books, reading them, and then having a bitty little Facebook-based discussion, always with the option to participate or not. And dang, though this was not a book I would have chosen on my own, not in a million years, I sure am glad I got to read it… and I am very grateful to this little group for that! Highly recommend if you’re interested in something very different!

A Quarterly Book Club Review: Murderers and Nerdy Girls Work Late, Deadly Contact, and Mary: Mrs. A Lincoln

One of the items that’s been on my to do list for quite a while now is a quarterly book club review. This is a review of the books we’ve read for my actual in person, physical book club in the last three months… I thought you might want to know about them! Especially because all three were G-O-O-D good! And, for some reason, people often ask me to recommend books. It’s like they know I (really) like reading or something 😉

(Also, I just finished The Master of Ballantrae last night for our Under the Covers virtual book club, but I’ll tell you all about that one another time.)

I think I’ve mentioned all three of the books we’ve read so far at some point, simply because when I read I get very wrapped up in the fictional world I’m enjoying and it’s hard (really, really hard) for me not to let it creep out into my real life. (Take, for example, my new Hermione-style time turner to keep me from sitting in front of the computer for big, long, extended periods of time.) But here are my real, true, comprehensive reviews of the first three books we read… all in one place.

I wasn’t kidding… cannot even tell you how thrilled I was to find this little guy! Although disappointed that it doesn’t actually run for an entire hour.

So, without further ado, let me tell you about Murderers and Nerdy Girls Work Late by Lisa Boero, Deadly Contact by Lara Lacombe, and Mary: Mrs. A Lincoln by Janice Cooke Newman.

Murderers and Nerdy Girls Work Late by Lisa Boero

{Available at Amazon.com}
{Available at Amazon.com}

(Dang… that picture is big. I just noticed the goosebumps on the legs– that’s hilarious to me!)

I told you quite a bit about this book before here, so I’ll spare you the big spiel about prosopagnosia. Instead, let me tell you about why this book was such a good read!

Honestly, the thing that struck me first was the title. I mean, nerdy girls. That’s my love language. Nerdy is a word that truly describes me to a T and I try pretty hard to embrace it, as opposed to shying away and trying to insist that I’m cool (I swear!) because I’m not. I’m a nerd. And that’s ok. (You had me at nerdy, Lisa. You had me at nerdy.)

Nerdy Girls is a totally self-written, self-published, and self-promoted masterpiece. I’m so impressed by the circumstances in which Lisa wrote the book. And besides all that, it’s GOOD! Really good! I think everyone in our book club agreed that the ending was a little too brief… like all of the sudden everything was clear, the murderer was captured, the hero and heroine were in love, and it was the end. But besides that, truly  a good read. Especially because of the prosopagnosia piece. (Clearly, I lied when I told you I’d spare you that spiel because here it comes).

Like women in real life, women in books are insecure for all sorts of different reasons, but it seems most often to be related to physical (I’m not thin enough!) or emotional (you don’t think I’m thin enough!) insecurities… this was the first time I considered the notion of a neurological insecurity, and I thought that was really interesting. To be honest, the way that the main character Liz copes with her neurological condition is actually very similar to the way I’d say I cope with depression in public. You know the motions, you know the drill, so even if you don’t really feel it, you can smile when you need to, chuckle when you ought, and make it through day after day after day out in the world without anyone ever being the wiser. It was a fascinating thing for me to think about!

When I went and heard Lisa Boero speak at the Marshfield Public Library, she mentioned that she had five more books in the nerdy girl series on the way. (Exciting!) Apparently though, all of the books feature Liz’s prosopagnosia-based story. That’s super cool, I really liked Liz, but how fascinating would it be to have all sorts of different “nerdy” girls with different neurological and/or psychiatric issues as the heroines?! I thought it would be really cool! (Note that I’m using the word cool here in a way you may be unaccustomed to it being used… you know what I mean.) I said so to Lisa during the Q&A (I got so brave for a minute) and she seemed intrigued by the idea… although I’m sure she’d have to quit her day job to research other disorders since prosopagnosia is the only one she’s got! Regardless, if you see that series come out sometime in the future, you can totally credit me!!


Deadly Contact by Lara Lacombe

{Available at Amazon.com}
{Available at Amazon.com}

OMG! I loved this book. I absolutely devoured it.

I remember the day I read it very distinctly because my in-laws were over and my sister-in-law came over with her copy, thinking she might read a bit. I had just finished something else and can’t stand when my SIL thinks she reads faster than me (because she doesn’t) so I picked up my copy too, thinking I’d get a little ways in once everyone left. Except I couldn’t… stop…

I have no idea how late I was up reading, but it was seriously late. I woke up the next morning and started reading again in bed (good thing it was Saturday– that may have been difficult to explain to the boss), eventually moved my behind out to the couch, and didn’t stop until mid-afternoon when I was completely done and left quite satisfied with the ending.

It was just that good! Not only that, but I actually know know the author… like she’s a personal friend of mine. She’s an absolutely brilliant and meticulous scientist, she mentored me in my first ever grad school rotation, and the last thing I would have ever guessed would be that she happened to dabble in romantic suspense on the side. And that she’s really, really good at it! How the? What?

So not only is it brilliantly written, truly romantic, and exceptionally suspenseful, but all the freaking SCIENCE is correct, too! For instance, near the end of the book, she was describing the vial of yellow-ish opaque liquid that Kelly was going to have to deliver to the bad guy and I thought to myself, “Lara, you know better– if it were liquid and not on ice, all the bacteria would be dead, and the bad guy would be tipped off immediately.” And then that’s what Kelly said to the guys in the FBI… because she’s like Lara, and she knows her science.

Now, how Lara knows her romance… that leaves much up to the imagination, but clearly she’s expert. Definitely an awesome read and another in the works for later this year, I believe– I will be anxiously awaiting it!


Mary: Mrs. A Lincoln by Janis Cooke Newman

{Available at Amazon.com}
{Available at Amazon.com}

Another book I absolutely loved. Although, with some caveats.

First, the book is really, really long. At 620 pages, it takes you through Mary Todd Lincoln’s life from beginning to end and spares little detail, I’m sure. I loved the completeness of it, but there are really only so many times you need to hear about how Lincoln’s great oration made Mary’s “bosom heave” before it becomes a bit much. I get it. He talks, she’s hot and bothered. It was the 1800s… what are you gonna do?

The other kind of crappy part is how confused I feel about Mary Todd Lincoln now. I thought I knew some things about her, but now I am plain confused. I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to read an actual biography now because I’m so disturbed by some of the things about Mary’s life that may or may not have been fictionalized. You see, the book is based on the historical facts of Mary’s and her family’s life, but it’s also historical fiction, which means it is, in fact, fiction. So… did Mary Lincoln really have an affair during Lincoln’s presidency? Were her tendency for hoarding and her attachment to things really as horrifying as they sound? Was Robert really that unloving toward his parents, his brothers, and his wife? Clearly, I’ve got some researching to do! It’s difficult sometimes for me to appreciate the good and bad about a historical subject. I get that people are complicated, and always have been, but it can be hard not to idolize people who did so much good in their lives and are now long gone… to remember that they weren’t perfect.

But besides all that… a truly awesome read. I’m completely fascinated by the Civil War era and this book really highlights some of the most important injustices suffered, especially by women, at the time. Not only that, but it really highlights how far psychology has come over the last nearly 200 year. We’re much better at not poisoning crazy people, or even accusing them and labeling them of being crazy, as we were back then. The “remedies” Mary took, and Lincoln too, were just disturbing!

Probably the most interesting thing to me in the whole book was that the worst offense ever uttered to Mary during her life was related to the notion that she, a woman, might have had some sense of ambition. Can you even imagine?!

This was definitely the most mixed of our books so far, in terms of reception. I really liked it and so did one other member of the book club… the other two struggled to finish and probably wouldn’t readily recommend it. So I’d say it’s a taste thing for this one. The nerdier you are, the more likely it is to be your cup of tea (sorry, Emily, but like I said above– I really don’t think of nerdiness as a bad thing and you are legitimately cool and pretty, even though you liked Mary like I did).


Next up we’re reading Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Spoiler Alert: It’s really freaking good. Like so good I force people to read it by telling them they have to pick it as their next book club book. Abraham Verghese is an MD who wrote a beautiful, beautiful work of fiction and I’m super excited to read it again. I read it crazy fast the first time, wanting to know more, more, more… this time I can slow down a bit and really think about some of the things I might have thought of only briefly the first time around. I’m already really enjoying it. But more on that next quarter, yes?

Have you read anything good lately? Are we friends on GoodReads? We should be!


Quiet: A Long-Winded Book Review From a Girl Who Can’t Stop Talking (On the Internet)

On my way out of the office this afternoon I walked out the door just as a coworker from another department walked past.  We said hello, she asked me a question, and I panicked.  Panicked!  Because it’s a long walk to the parking lot and the thought of small talk all the way after a day full of interpersonal interaction was just too much.  Much too much.  So I did what any slightly neurotic yet professional adult person would do… I ducked into the bathroom.  I didn’t go, but I stood in there for a couple minutes, putting my hat and mittens on, and then left.  I walked all the way to may car in sweet, sweet solitude.  That was close!

So what exactly is my deal?  I think I might know…

For a nerdy girl like me, school (of the elementary, middle, and high school variety and beyond) was tough for many reasons, but none were quite as painful to me as group work.  It was always my least favorite thing– I hated having to depend on others, to not be in control, and most of all, interacting.  Do you know how hard it is for someone like me to constantly try to say words to other people without being awkward?  It’s hard!  Real hard.

Turns out, it’s not actually all that uncommon to feel that way.  A revelation!  And that one piece of information made reading Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” completely worth my while… but there was so much more!


I have to admit, I wasn’t in love with the writing style– too many direct quotations for my taste, but the information was good.  Really good.  And the way it was organized made a ton of sense.  (Ok, now that I’m thinking about it, maybe the problem wasn’t really the use of text from other sources, but rather the length of the passages that were quoted and the quoted text within the quotation and such… sometimes it was hard for me to follow.  Perhaps an issue with reading it on the Kindle?  Either way, it was a relatively minor thing.)

Cain begins by explaining how extroversion became the ideal in the US, describes the biology behind the personality type, and then discusses how to deal with introversion in the real world, in a culture where it’s not necessarily valued.

As a science-minded individual, I really loved the explanation of the biology.  Cain discusses really interesting research on “high reactive” individuals and explains that introversion can be predicted even in infancy by observing reactions to external stimuli. Introverts tend to react more strongly and than extroverts… translate that to adulthood and new people, new places, new situations leave an introvert in need of some major recharge time.

And it turns out:


I hate small talk– I’m terrible at it.  But becoming overly familiar and engaged in deep conversation from the get go?  That’s something I’m good at.  Apparently, that’s an introvert thing.  I enjoy social things once I’m there and fully engaged, but dang do I ever freak out in advance… and I really need to take time to wind down after the fact.  Apparently, that’s an introvert thing too.  And it’s all ok.

The only part of the book I really didn’t like was the amount of detail related to parenting and teaching introverted children.  It’s possible that it annoyed me only because I’m well past the point of it being helpful for my own life (watch me end up with devastatingly shy children now that I said that– karma), but I almost felt like it could have been a completely separate book– “Nerds: How to Parent or Teach a Child that Seems Really Weird.”  Just think on it, Ms. Cain.  We can discuss if you’d like.

One of the things I found particularly interesting was the discussion of pseudo-extroversion and the ability of introverts to build community over the internet.  No wonder I’m in love with Facebook (sorry, I know it’s not cool to admit that, but what a great way to keep up without direct interaction– dream come true!) and I’ve been surprisingly open to spilling my guts here…  It turns out, a lot of introverted people interact better when they can do it virtually.

Finally, if you read the book carefully, you’ll note Cain’s subtle promotion of Under the Tapestry… on page 263 (emphasis mine):

“We all write our life stories as if we were novelists, McAdams believes, with beginnings, conflicts, turning points, and endings.  And the way we characterize our past setbacks profoundly influences how satisfied we are with our current lives. Unhappy people tend to see setbacks as contaminants that ruined an otherwise good thing (‘I was never the same again after my wife left me’), while generative adults see them as blessings in disguise (‘The divorce was the most painful thing that ever happened to me, but I’m so much happier with my new wife’).”

So, Susan, friend, you say that introverts tend to be pretty good at the blessings in disguise thing?  Finding the silver lining?  Remembering that we can only see the underside of the tapestry from our vantage point?  I’d say that’s an advantage to being an introvert– an introvantage, if you will.  Cool.

Anyway, if you’re an introvert, you’re going to love this book– because it is thoroughly validating and if you’re like me, you love it when people grab you by the shoulders, look you directly in the eye, and scream “YOU ARE NORMAL (at least in this respect)”… of course, I prefer all of that in a metaphorical way because too much touching makes me cringe, direct eye contact is uncomfortable for me, and when people scream at me it hurts my feelings even if the words being screamed are positive.  (Ugh, introverts, right?)  Even if you’re not an introvert, reading this book may give you a little more insight into people who seem obnoxiously shy, or even stuck-up, aloof, or distant… perhaps they’re just introverted.  (Or stuck-up.  You never can tell.)