A great reading year for fiction and nonfiction – check out these recommended reads!

Image: Pixabay

It’s been a great reading year and the perfect time to share the books I’ve enjoyed. I’m ready to curl up with a good book, are you?


Leaving the Beach by Mary Rowen

The story of a young woman and her search for happiness. Set in the working class town of Winthrop, Massachusetts, readers get to know her in alternating time periods—in the 1970s and ‘80s as an awkward teenager and college student, and in the 1990s as a young adult.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Highly recommend this terrific story of complicated family dynamics. You’ll want to read it all at once to know how it works out!

Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington

Debut collection of 13 coming-of-age stories, set in Houston, and told mainly by one character. An uncensored look at a struggling population with a hopeful finish. One of Barack Obama’s Top Picks of 2019.


The Beneficiary – Fortune, Misfortune, and the
Story of my Father by Janny Scott

Interesting biography of Robert Montgomery Scott, written by his daughter Janny Scott. A history, spanning four generations of a wealthy family that settled on what’s called the Main Line outside of Philadelphia.

Honor Girl – A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash

Young Adult graphic memoir about the author’s coming-out experience at a summer camp in the mountains of Kentucky.

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in
Thirteen Animals
by Sy Montgomery

The more Sy Montgomery studies animals and nature, the more she knows that humans have a lot to learn about the creatures that share our world. In this book, she describes her unique relationships with 13 animals and what they have taught her.

What good books did you read in 2019?

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Book Club Mom’s great reads of 2019

I read some great books this year. Here’s a list of my favorites!

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Is it good luck to survive a plane crash over the Atlantic? Most would think yes, but Scott Burroughs, after a heroic swim to safety, with four-year-old JJ Bateman clinging to his neck, may wonder. Because he will soon find himself caught between competing government agencies searching for a cause and the media’s ruthless pursuit of a story, any story, even if it’s unfounded. Winner of the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Novel and the 2017 International Thriller Writers Award for Best Novel.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Fantastic nonfiction novel, the first of its kind and considered Truman Capote’s masterpiece. The chilling depiction of a senseless 1959 murder of a Kansas family. Capote and his childhood friend, Harper Lee, went to Kansas to research the story and compiled over 8000 pages of notes. They were granted numerous interviews with the murderers, who by then, had confessed and were in jail awaiting trial. They moved to death row after their convictions, where Capote continued to interview them until their hangings. He became particularly attached to Perry Smith and related to his unhappy childhood.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Fantastic memoir about Hope Jahren’s experiences as a scientist. Jahren’s field is plants, especially trees, and her interest in them is contagious. She explains the fascinating way in which they grow, reproduce and adapt. Jahren writes beautifully about her profession, its challenges and about her lonely childhood in Minnesota, college life and early years trying to make it as a scientist.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Arthur Less is turning 50 and he’s at the edge of a crisis: his writing career has stalled and his former lover is getting married. To guarantee he’ll be out of the country on the day of the wedding, Less accepts a string of unusual writerly engagements that take him around the world. His goal? Forget lost love and rework the novel his publisher has taken a pass on. In a comedic series of travel mishaps, Less bumbles through this symbolic journey in search of happiness. Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Set in New York during the Depression and World War II, the story begins with Anna Kerrigan as a young girl whose father has ties to organized crime. She accompanies her father on an errand and meets a mysterious man with powerful connections and won’t fully understand the impact until years later. I highly recommend Manhattan Beach to readers who like historical fiction and big stories with strong female characters.

Notes from a Public Typewriter – edited by Michael Gustafson and Oliver Uberti

Guaranteed to put you in a good mood, about the Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, owned by Gustafson and his wife, Hilary. When they set up the store in 2013, they put out a typewriter, with paper, for anyone to use. It wasn’t long before customers began to type random, sometimes whimsical and often heartfelt messages for all to see. This book is the combined story of these messages.

Refugee by Alan Gratz

Terrific Young Adult historical novel about three refugee children, caught in different periods of conflict, who flee their countries in search of safety and a better life. In alternating stories, the children face unpredictable danger as they desperately try to keep their families together. Each discovers that, by being invisible, they escape many dangers, but miss chances for others to help them. Published in 2017 Refugee is now included in many middle and high school curriculums. A New York Times Notable Book, an Amazon Best Book of the Year, and both Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year.

Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman

Great memoir about a woman who is hired to play violin in a prestigious touring orchestra, only to discover that the microphones are turned off. What’s turned on is a $14.95 CD player from Walmart, playing a recorded version of a composer’s music, performed by other musicians. The music sounds suspiciously like, but a strategic note or two different from, the score of the popular 1997 film, Titanic.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Kya Clark is six years old when her mother walks out of their shack, a place hidden in the marshes of North Carolina, where racial tension and small-town prejudices are firmly in place in the nearby coastal town of Barkley Cove. Soon her father’s abusive rages drive Kya’s older siblings away, leaving only Kya and her father. Then one day it’s just Kya, known in town and shunned as the wild Marsh Girl. The story begins in 1952 and jumps to 1969, when a young man has died. In alternating chapters, readers learn Kya’s story of survival and how she becomes part of the investigation into his death.

What books were your favorites in 2019? Leave a comment and share your best!

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My Friend Anna – The True Story of a Fake Heiress by Rachel DeLoache Williams

My Friend Anna – The True Story of a Fake Heiress
Rachel DeLoache Williams


In 2017, Rachel Williams, a young woman working for Vanity Fair magazine in New York, made friends with a 26-year-old woman named Anna Delvey. Delvey was living in a swank hotel and claimed to be a German heiress. The two became fast friends and Anna brought Rachel into her world, treating her to expensive restaurants, nightclubs, workouts, saunas, and pedicures. Anna claimed to be negotiating a big idea – a private art club, housed in the historic Church Missions House on Park Avenue. A couple months later, Anna invited Rachel and two others to join her on a lavish, all-expenses paid vacation in Marrakech, Morocco.

That’s where it all went south. When Anna’s credit cards didn’t work in Marrakech, she persuaded Rachel to put the charges on her own cards, including a Vanity Fair American Express expense account, assuring Rachel she’d pay her back as soon as she talked to her bank. The charges totaled over $62,000 and Anna began to drag her feet. After two months of promises (my favorite line from these conversations: “Would Bitcoin be okay?”), Rachel began to understand that she’d been conned.

My Friend Anna is the story of how Rachel, 29, dealt with being duped out of a large amount of money, which included providing authorities with information and evidence that led to Anna’s arrest. The charges were grand larceny and theft of services from Rachel and others of more than a quarter million dollars. Rachel testified at her trial and wrote this book.

This story has gawkers’ appeal. You read it because you want to know how anyone could fall for a scam like this and you’re glad it’s not you! The author fell for her friend’s tales of wealth and billion dollar trust fund. And her fatal mistake was taking out her own credit card to cover the costs of their vacation. I didn’t feel too sorry for her, however. The book deal and HBO’s purchase of the story have probably taken the sting out of this friendship gone wrong.

That said, I tore through the story and enjoyed reading how it all unraveled. I especially liked the text message exchanges, which while they were repetitive and a bit whiny, reflected Rachel’s desperate attempts to get her money back. I would have liked to know more about Anna, whose past is revealed late in the book. For most of the story, she’s an enigma.

Of course, when I finished, I wanted to see just who these people were. To round that out, here’s a good interview from ABC Nightline:

So all in all, a good, fast read, a little light on substance, but entertaining.

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Notes from a Public Typewriter – edited by Michael Gustafson and Oliver Uberti

Notes from a Public Typewriter
edited by
Michael Gustafson and Oliver Uberti


Here’s a quick – read-in-an-hour – book that is guaranteed to put you in a good mood. I learned about Notes from a Public Typewriter from my blogging friend Charley over at booksandbakes1 and I’m so happy I got my hands on the book!

Notes from a Public Typewriter is all about the Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, owned by Gustafson and his wife, Hilary. When they set up the store in 2013, they put out a typewriter, with paper, for anyone to use. It fit the mood of the store perfectly because Gustafson has a soft spot for old typewriters. His grandfather’s 1930s Smith Corona is on display at the register.

It wasn’t long before customers began to type random, sometimes whimsical and often heartfelt messages for all to see. This book is the combined story of these messages. From confessions and affirmations to marriage proposals and humorous ditties, Gustafson, his wife and their booksellers have seen it all. They share the best of the best in this little book. When you finish, you’ll feel a little more connected with the world.

I don’t want to share too much because the fun is in reading the messages and seeing the store for yourself! Notes from a Public Typewriter is a feel-good book you’ll want to keep on your coffee table. It would be a great gift for a friend, too!

Thank you, Charley, for telling me all about this book. Books and Bakes is one of my favorite blogs so be sure to visit and see Charley’s creative day-trip posts, book reviews and Poloroid snaps.

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Audiobook review: Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman, narrated by Cassandra Campbell


In 1994, Piper Kerman, was a recent graduate of Smith College when she became romantically involved with a woman who was deep into a heroin smuggling scheme. Soon, out of a combination of infatuation and boredom, Piper agreed to help with the business. The ugly reality and danger of moving drugs, however, made her nervous, so she eventually broke free, moved across the country and started a new life.

Piper’s old life caught up with her, however, and in 1998 she was indicted for money laundering and drug trafficking. In 2004, after years of delays, due to other pending indictments and sentencings, Piper was ordered to report to the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury where she would serve thirteen months.

Orange Is the New Black is Piper’s memoir about her experience in this minimum security prison. Her story was published in 2010 and was adapted for Netflix in the Emmy award-winning show of the same name. Season 7, its final season, is scheduled for release on July 26.

I listened to the audiobook version, which is narrated by Cassandra Campbell, who does an excellent job adapting her voice to many characters. I thought her voice sounded familiar and that’s because Campbell is an audiobook superstar. She’s narrated over 700 titles, has won four Audie Awards and is in Audible’s Narrator Hall of Fame.

Piper’s engaging story tells of a young a privileged white woman who learns to assimilate herself in a diverse population of women. While life at Danbury is far different from anything she has experienced, she approaches it with a positive attitude and develops strong friendships with her “bunkies” and other women in the prison. Of course, she has many regular visitors from the outside, including her journalist fiancé. And she receives a lot of mail and books and remote support from her family, including plenty of money to get what she needs at the commissary.

Many of the women at Danbury are in far worse shape, serving long sentences, separated from their children, and with few visitors. Piper’s empathy seems genuine, though and, despite the differences, the women find ways to connect and support each other.

I enjoyed listening to this memoir. I’m late to the party in learning about the book and the show, but I’m glad I finally got to it.

Today, Piper Kerman is an outspoken advocate for women in prison. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her family and teaches writing in two state prisons as an Affiliate Instructor with Otterbein University.

Have you read or listened to Orange Is the New Black? Have you watched the show? I plan to watch eventually!

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Honor Girl – A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash

Honor Girl – A Graphic Memoir
Maggie Thrash


Honor Girl is a graphic memoir about the author’s coming-out experience at a summer camp in the mountains of Kentucky. When Maggie returns to Camp Bellflower at age fifteen, friends, traditions and camp activities are largely the same, until she meets Erin, a college-age camp counselor. Her crush is undeniable, but also frightening and confusing and Maggie makes her best effort to sort out her feelings, spending her free time at the rifle range where she is trying to earn a Distinguished Expert certification.

Rumors spread, however, when Maggie’s camper friends begin to question her relationship with Erin, subjecting Maggie to embarrassing jokes and conversations. Despite the taunts, she is surprisingly strong and her good friends are generally accepting.

The story has a coming-of-age and camp camaraderie feel to it and even readers who have never attended summer camp will ease into life in tents and canoes. The author tells her story with humor and light sarcasm, making Honor Girl an easy read, without a heavy message. And while the story is about Maggie’s feelings for another girl, its appeal is in the author’s ability to describe her experience in the same way as a traditional boy-girl crush.

I have not read many graphic novels or graphic memoirs, so this was a nice change. Like a comic book, it’s mostly illustrated dialogue, with occasional narrative. Honor Girl is a Young Adult book, but I would recommend it to any reader who likes to try different genres. As for the artwork, I did find the illustrations a little difficult to follow. They are simple drawings and it was sometimes hard for me to figure out who was who, as many of the faces are similar. All in all, however, a good (and fast) read.

Do you read graphic novels or memoirs? What are your favorites?

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Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman

Sounds Like Titanic
Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman


Imagine being hired to play violin in a prestigious touring orchestra, only to discover that the microphones are turned off. What’s turned on is a $14.95 CD player from Walmart, playing a recorded version of a composer’s music, performed by other musicians. Also imagine that the music sounds suspiciously like, but a strategic note or two different from, the score of the popular 1997 film, Titanic.

Oh, and the job also includes gigs “playing” violin and selling The Composer’s CDs at craft fairs and malls. When you’re a college student, struggling to pay tuition, you might be okay with that.

Here’s a terrific memoir about a young woman from West Virginia who dreams of becoming a concert violinist, but isn’t quite good enough, something she quickly discovers in her first year at Columbia University. She takes the violinist job to help pay her tuition, where she majors in Middle East Studies. Her study abroad in Egypt has just begun when 9/11 happens and, while most American students return, she decides to finish out the semester, preferring to develop her war correspondent skills. Back at Columbia, scrambling between classes, doing the work, and making money to pay for the classes, the author hits many lows, turns to drugs and suffers debilitating panic attacks.

It’s during Hindman’s time in college, after 9/11, when she begins to question what is real and what is fake, a major theme in her memoir. Her gigs in the orchestra are a perfect metaphor for these feelings, which to her also represent Bush’s responsibility for the Iraq War and his failed search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

While Hindman’s book is mostly about her experiences, the reader gets a look at who the unnamed orchestra leader is, but she only refers to him as The Composer. She does not want to “out” him. Her reasons are clear. He is wildly popular during a post 9/11 period of American anxiety and is wholly devoted to his fans, whom he spends hours greeting and listening to after concerts. He also supports and donates large amounts of money to many worthy causes. He’s clearly selfless in that regard. She says in the beginning that, “when it comes to the most genuine gesture an American can make—giving away money—The Composer is the real deal.”

As a reader, however, I wanted to know who this enigmatic man was, the one who continues to smile maniacally during performances and public appearances and demands the same of his performers. It’s easy enough to find out who it might be, but by the end of the book, it doesn’t really matter.

I highly recommend Sounds Like Titanic to anyone who likes a good story. It’s well-written, real, funny and original. Hindman abandoned her dreams of becoming a concert violinist and a war correspondent. But during that period, she came to better understand herself. She received her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia and a PhD in English from the University of North Texas. She now teaches creative writing at Northern Kentucky University.

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Book Club Mom’s May recap – books, birthdays and a graduation

I don’t know what happened to May, but here we are at the finish. It’s a big month for birthdays in my family and we squeezed in a college graduation too! It’s always nice to settle into a comfy chair during the down times and relax with a book, a show or a puzzle.

I’ve become a bit crazy with a word game I have on my ancient Kindle called Every Word: Crossings, and I have been playing it obsessively. I never look at that as a waste of time, though. Things like that always help me sort out my day.

And I went a little overboard with my Barbie doll posts (see below), but it’s been fun (for me, at least!) sharing something that I loved as a girl.

This month, I read and reviewed three regular books:


A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd – if you like mystery series, this is the first of the Bess Crawford stories, set in England during World War I. I enjoyed both the characters and the historical setting. The author, Charles Todd, is actually a mother-son writing team.

More and more, it seems, fiction books are being co-authored and this month I wrote a post about this very thing!

Author teams and pen names – if the story’s good, does it matter? Not to me!

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – in this memoir about becoming a female scientist, Jahren writes a compelling personal story about family, love, friendship, mental health and the difficulties of earning a living as a scientist. (Jahren made it big, after a long road, and has won many awards.)

The Beneficiary – Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of my Father by Janny Scott – a biography of Robert Montgomery Scott, written by his daughter. A tale of four generations of a wealthy Main Line, Pennsylvania family and their 800-acre estate and the complicated relationships among family members.

As I mentioned above, I also started a series that celebrates books about the Barbie doll’s 60th birthday. Here are the first two posts, indulging my obsession. I’ll share my final Barbie post next week.

Dressing Barbie: A Celebration of the Clothes That Made America’s Favorite Doll and the Incredible Woman Behind Them – Carol Spencer

Look what Barbie’s wearing! Barbie Fashion 1959-1967 by Sarah Sink Eames

May was a busier indie author month. I introduced three hard-working writers:

Richard Doiron
Lucia N. Davis
Frank Prem

If you are an indie or self-published author and would like to be featured on Who’s That Indie Author, please email me at bvitelli2009@gmail.com. To shake things up, I’ve updated my interview with a new set of questions!

Next week, we’re starting a Summer Reading program at the library where I work, so I’ll be signing up for that. I plan to work these two books onto my list:

June book previews: Lot – Stories by Bryan Washington and Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

And last, I was sorry to see that American author Herman Wouk died on May 17, at age 103. I’ve enjoyed many of his books and think I will go back to some of them this summer. I had a fun time looking at these book covers – did you notice that the last two, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, fit together to make a bigger picture?

Remembering American author Herman Wouk, 1915 – 2019

I hope you had a good month, out in the world and between the pages. I’m looking forward to a good summer!

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Who’s That Indie Author? Frank Prem

Author name:  Frank Prem

Genre:  Free Verse Poetry/Memoir

Books:  Devil In The Wind (2019); Small Town Kid (2018)

What’s your story and how did you become a writer?  I’ve been a prolific free verse poet for over 40 years now. Mainly keeping my work low key and developing skills and a kind of back catalogue of completed work. I’ve started to draw on that work now as I move in to presenting myself to the public in book form.

My professional career has been as a Psychiatric Nurse, which I’ve also been doing for 40 odd years, now. In that role, I have spanned the days of the old mental asylum, which I grew up with in my town, through student nursing for three years and a range of clinical experiences at different facilities around my state (Victoria, Australia). My current plan is to have a third memoir style collection of poems focusing on my experience of psychiatry in book form by the end of 2019, or early in 2020.

I started writing way back, when I was in high school. I discovered then that my teacher was so impressed that a student had attempted poetry that I was given credit even though my essay submission was a few hundred words short of requirements. I figured there was something very ‘right’ about that, and I’ve been a poet ever since.

How do you balance your work with other demands?  I’m not entirely sure that I do achieve balance in this respect. In my professional career I was always charging at my next objective as though NOW was the only possible moment in universal history to achieve it.

I am like that with my writing as well. I chase my fads with a singlemindedness that leaves other routine or mundane considerations behind.

It’s not necessarily a great trait to have and I need to constantly remind myself (or have others do it for me) to give attention to the other important things in my life that aren’t the passion of the moment.

Name one of the happiest moments in your life:  There are a few big moments across a life such as I’ve had, but the memory that comes to mind is from about 15 years ago. At the time I was courting a lady considerably younger than myself and had all the doubts that you might expect an old-ster (as I saw myself) having.

The memory is of the lady in question – a talented singer/songwriter – turning up to one of our earliest get togethers bearing a cassette tape, on which she had taped herself playing and singing a song that she’d created from one of my poems.

That was a very big moment.

What’s your approach to writing? Are you a “pantser” or a planner?  I am a ‘pantser,’ in every respect.

Why plan, when you can write? Why trouble to create a story arc and plot, when the next thing you write is the next thing in the sequence?

Creatively delightful, but tricky as I’ve had to transmogrify myself from simple writer into author, editor, publisher and self-publicist.

Very tricky.

Can or could you write in a café with people around?  Yes I can.

The likelihood is that the people in the café will become the subjects that I write about.

In all seriousness, I find I can tune out most distractions when I have something to write, and on occasion, at least, the atmosphere in a busy café is positively stimulating.

Have you ever written dialogue in a second language? If so, how did you do it?  I have indeed, and have even had the privilege of being published in another country (that being the USA) with a poem using that ‘voice.’

My family was originally from Croatia in what was then Yugoslavia. I grew up with the Croatian language all around me and for a period in my writing evolution I wrote in pidgin language that is half Australian English and half Croatian.

This may sound a little arty-odd, but when I’m writing I have made it my practice to allow the idea I’m pursuing or the image I am contemplating to find its own voice and tell its own story. My job is to steer it so that it remains coherent and meaningful for a reader. In the case of the Croatian voice, I had enough familiarity with the idiom and vernacular and with the way this particular migrant population was likely to think to be able to shape poems in a reasonably accurate representation.

Quite a task, and not always successful, but completely unique when it worked.

What’s your favorite book and what are you reading now?  For a favorite book, I draw on my ‘go to’ library here at home, which includes Tolkien, Le Guin, Robin Hobb, and Mathew Reilly, to name a few.

I’m currently re-reading a Mather Reilly book – Ice Station, but I’d probably have to nominate Tolkien and Lord of the Rings as my favorite because of the inspiration and pleasure they have given me over the journey.

What’s your favorite way to read a book: hardcover, paperback, eReader?  Paperback, for me. Hard cover is fine, too, but I really struggle with the electronic book forms. I think it may be because I sweat over the keyboard for as much as 12 hours a day, and the idea of reading for pleasure electronically just doesn’t feel right.

Do you think print books will always be around?  I’m a print book guy who is only now discovering electronic forms with any purpose, so I say yes.

If you ask me in a few years’ time, when I’m perhaps scratching a living out an e-book readership, I may give a different response.

Would you ever read a book on your phone?  Yes. I do that now, when I need to, and reluctantly. I don’t own an e-reader.

What’s your go-to device? iPhone, Android or something else?  I have an Android device. The first I have owned and I fell in love with its picture taking capacities long before I began using it as a phone.

I have begun to make something of an art out of writing to the image and letting the image communicate its own story without too much control from myself. The Android device has been quite material in allowing me to develop a new capacity within my writing skillset.

How long could you go without checking your phone?  I check it frequently. Not for the phone, but for the email and the social media that I might be working with. Looking for responses to my latest posting of a poem on my blog.

I’ve become a bit of a junkie in that respect.

Do you listen to audiobooks? If you do, what do you do while you’re listening?  I have listened to audio books when traveling. Usually something from The Great Course range of educational materials, rather than novels.

I am very interested in perhaps creating my own audio books in future and have done a number of amateur audio recordings and podcasts and radio interviews, all of which are accessible from my Author page on the web.

I enjoy reading to live audiences very much.

Do you like using social media to promote yourself and your book? If so, what’s your favorite platform?  The only reason I use Social media is to pursue connections regarding writing and publishing and promotion of my work. It is a critical element in the pursuit of free publicity and promotion of new works.

The tricky bit is how to make contact with an audience that isn’t myself in disguise i.e. another author, pursuing the same goals and objectives that I am (only maybe better and smarter than me).

What I enjoy most is contact with genuine readers who might be curious about what I’ve done, why and how and so on.

That, I enjoy very much.

Website and social media links:
Website: frankprem.com
Daily Poetry Blog: frankprem.wordpress.com
Facebook: FrankPrem11 and @frankprem2
Twitter: @frank_prem

Awards/special recognition:  No Awards for a number of years – I stopped seeking them a long time back. Book reviews at Goodreads are worth a look, though. Try these: Small Town Kid and Devil In The Wind.

Are you an indie author?  Do you want to build your indie author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email bvitelli2009@gmail.com for a bio template and other details.

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Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Lab Girl
Hope Jahren


Here’s a book I resisted reading for two reasons. First, there was so much hype about Lab Girl that I took a step back. When everyone gushes about a book, I feel as if the decision is already made that I have to like it. Stubborn as I am, I like to make my own decisions.

I also avoided Lab Girl because I am not a science person. I fulfilled my lab science in college (barely) and then moved on to English. Years later, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a book about a scientist.

But then my book club friend chose Lab Girl and I committed to reading it.

So, wow. This book was excellent. Jahren writes beautifully about her lonely childhood in Minnesota, college life and early years trying to make it as a scientist.

Being a female scientist is not easy. Applying for grants and university pressures make financial stability a long-distant goal. She describes how she built her first lab out of a neglected basement classroom and how she and her lab partner, Bill, made do and scrounged for used equipment.

Jahren’s field is plants, especially trees, and her interest in them is contagious. She explains the fascinating way in which they grow, reproduce and adapt, making me think I probably would have liked this kind of science. She is perpetually curious and awestruck by the way nature works. I learned how seeds can lay dormant for years, waiting for the opportunity and courage to take a chance on growing. I like how she applies this to human life.

In the right place, under the right conditions, you can finally stretch out into what you’re supposed to be.

Lab Girl is a memoir more than it is a science book. Jahren’s father taught science at a community college and it was in his lab where she developed a love for learning. But her parents were cold and distant and she craved a nurturing existence. She also describes her personal struggles with bipolar disorder, a condition which reveals itself in her young adult years. Equally important to Jahren is her relationship with Bill, to whom she gives ample credit for their successes. Their connection, while not romantic, is like a marriage.

The lengths scientists go to satisfy their obsessive curiosity is what makes them successful at their jobs, even when the way they go about achieving their goals runs counter to how the rest of us live. All-nighters in the lab, eating junk food, cross-country road trips without a map, spontaneous overseas trips to study soil: these are normal times for Jahren, Bill and her students. I’m glad there are people like Jahren because they give us the gift of their knowledge. Jahren’s delivery is beautiful.

Lab Girl deserves all the hype and recognition it has received and I recommend it to all readers.

Jahren is an American geobiologist and geochemist and has won many prestigious awards. She currently works at the University of Oslo in Norway.

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