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Good Reads

Good Reads
Good Reads

A Few Good Reads

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

If I found out the Night Circus was in town, I’d be one of the first in line. The mysteries of the magical black and white world that Morgenstern creates are spell-binding.

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.”

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

Honestly, read this book, it is so amazingly good, no wonder it’s been on so many recommended reading lists and won the Pulitzer. And, funnily, on the same day I finished reading it on my Kindle I discovered the paperback copy I’d bought months ago sitting on a shelf, forgotten. The book was so good I bought it twice! (Note to local friends – one copy up for grabs!). Set in World War II, it’s a beautiful work of historical fiction with delicious writing and characters to whom you don’t want to say goodbye.

“To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air.”

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

Ebola, Zika, these are real viruses infecting our planet and finding their way into the headlines. So, is the fundamental premise of Station Eleven, that humans are annihilated by a fast spreading airborne virus, really that far-fetched? I think not. Mandel weaves an intricate tale of survival and hope where multiple threads and stories become one. And while set in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s full of beauty.

“The beauty of this world where almost everyone was gone. If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it?”

Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Under-rated Organ – Giulia Enders

As someone who suffers from Crohn’s Disease, a disease of the gut, I found this book really interesting. Enders tries to make the science accessible, but it’s still pretty heavy on the science, so I wouldn’t suggest this for a lazy read on the beach. And, it certainly has the most informative and frank discussion about poop that I’ve ever read. But this is a great book if you’re interested in how the working of gut affects our entire well-being.

“We humans have known since time immemorial something that science is only now discovering: our gut feeling is responsible in no small measure for how we feel. We are ‘scared shitless’ or we can be ‘pooing our pants’ with fear. We can’t get our ‘arse into gear’ if we don’t manage to complete a job. We ‘swallow’ our disappointment and need time to ‘digest’ a defeat. A nasty comment leaves a ‘bad taste in the mouth’. When we fall in love, we get ‘butterflies in our stomach’. Our ‘self’ is created in our head and our gut — no longer just in language, but increasingly also in the lab.”

Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl

A classic and one of the most influential books of all time. If you’re ever feeling sorry for yourself and that life is hopeless, give this a read. Frankl spent years in Nazi concentration camps, lost his family, and yet still found hope and meaning in life.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

I Know How She Does It – Laura Vanderkam

Reading articles and books on productivity is one of my things, doesn’t make me any more productive, but I find the study of productivity interesting. I learned about this book through a podcast I follow, The Broad Experience, and an episode that resonated deeply with me, How to Make the Most of Your Time. Vanderkam studied time logs from thousands of high-achieving women and lays bare the truth behind business and the myths about what we can and can’t fit into our 168 hours.

“When you face a choice of whether to strategize about your career, do deep work, mentor a colleague, or even enjoy some slack in your schedule, or whether to spend an hour cleaning out your inbox, just remember that your inbox will fill up again, but you’ll never get that hour back.”


If you’re looking for even more Good Reads, follow the excellent Modern Mrs. Darcy on her blog and podcast, What Should I Read Next. I’m getting tons of great new reading suggestions from her podcast, I can’t read fast enough!


Good Reads
Good Reads

A Few Good Reads

1. Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes

My favorite book on this list. I consumed this as an audiobook, narrated by Shonda herself, and man, she can tell a story. (The creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal has clearly found her calling.) Everything she has to say about life, happiness, hard work, motherhood, and dreams, is badassery stuff. Read it.

“There is no list of rules. There is one rule. The rule is: there are no rules. Happiness comes from living as you need to, as you want to. As your inner voice tells you to. Happiness comes from being who you actually are instead of who you think you are supposed to be. Being traditional is not traditional anymore. It’s funny that we still think of it that way. Normalize your lives, people. You don’t want a baby? Don’t have one. I don’t want to get married? I won’t. You want to live alone? Enjoy it. You want to love someone? Love someone. Don’t apologize. Don’t explain. Don’t ever feel less than. When you feel the need to apologize or explain who you are, it means the voice in your head is telling you the wrong story. Wipe the slate clean. And rewrite it. No fairy tales. Be your own narrator. And go for a happy ending. One foot in front of the other. You will make it.”

2. The Boys in the Boat – Daniel James Brown

No need for me to summarize what the book is about when this video does it best (spoiler alert). But it’s a fascinating read into a piece of history I knew nothing about. A page-turner for those who like true stories of heroism and succeeding against all odds.

3. Find a Way – Diana Nyad

Diana is one of my heroes and I’ve written before about how she inspires me. But while I thought I knew her story, her determination to never give up and to swim from Cuba to Florida, I really didn’t. And after reading this, I’m in even more awe at how she overcame all the suffering that life handed her and chose to transcend it.

“Yes, it’s true. At age sixty, I’ve let go of the rage. At sixty, in every way, including as an athlete. I am at the prime of my life.”

4. Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch

The first in the Peter Grant series, it’s a detective story with some fantasy, magic, and British humour mixed in. So if you like your crime novels and a bit of the supernatural, this one is for you.

“You put a spell on the dog,” I said as we left the house.
“Just a small one,” said Nightingale.
“So magic is real,” I said. “Which makes you a…what?”
“A wizard.”
“Like Harry Potter?”
Nightingale sighed. “No,” he said. “Not like Harry Potter.”
“In what way?”
“I’m not a fictional character,” said Nightingale.”

5. The Secret Keeper – Kate Morton

A book full of mysteries and secrets that alternate between the 1930s, 1960s, and present day. It reminds me somewhat of Elizabeth is Missing in that the past and present must come together in order to solve a crime.

“It suddenly seemed to Laurel that all the absences in her own life, every loss and sadness, every nightmare in the dark, every unexplained melancholy, took the shadowy form of the same unanswered question, something that had been there since she was sixteen years old— her mother’s unspoken secret.”

6. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

Well I do love my mysterious thrillers and this book felt like a homage to Hitchcock and Rear Window, a girl watches the lives of strangers unfold as she peers into their windows from her passing train. But like Jimmy Stewart, she can’t help but dig deeper and becomes part of the story. (Read it before the movie comes out.)

“There’s something comforting about the sight of strangers safe at home.”


A Few Good Reads
Good Reads

A Few Good Reads

Thanks to the miracle of audiobooks, I’ve been “reading” more books lately. I know some people might think that’s a bit of a cheat, but I don’t think so. Audiobooks are allowing me to consume some great books I’d otherwise not have time for, all while turning dead time like commuting into something productive and enjoyable. Books for me have now become a true multi-media experience, and paper books, ebooks, and audiobooks all have a place in my library.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari

Who knew that a book about anthropology could be so engaging? Sapiens is a sweeping and fascinating history of how we, as the last remaining human species, evolved and became the most dominant and deadly species on Earth. “Over the past 10,000 years, Homo sapiens has grown so accustomed to being the only human species that it’s hard for us to conceive of any other possibility. Our lack of brothers and sisters makes it easier to imagine that we are the epitome of creation, and that a chasm separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. When Charles Darwin indicated that Homo sapiens was just another kind of animal, people were outraged. Even today many refuse to believe it. Had the Neanderthals survived, would we still imagine ourselves to be a creature apart? Perhaps this is exactly why our ancestors wiped out the Neanderthals. They were too familiar to ignore, but too different to tolerate.”

Harari organizes our evolution into cognitive, agricultural, and scientific revolutions and, controversially, posits that it was the creation of fiction, shared myths like religion, judicial systems, and nations that unified us and enabled us to cooperate at scale. “Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths. Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination….There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.”

I learned so much from this book. It’s a powerful and engaging account of what it means to be human and what we might be evolving into next.

Yes Please – Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey might be my favorite celebrity power couple, kick ass women breaking down barriers, speaking their mind, and being comfortable in their own skin. So in a way, this book felt like a companion piece to Fey’s Bossypants which I’d previously read. And I’m a huge fan of all the work Poehler is doing with her Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls organization, encouraging girls to be their authentic wonderful selves.

“Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it. And by doing it, they’re proven right. Because, I think there’s something inside of you—and inside of all of us—when we see something and we think, ‘I think I can do it, I think I can do it. But I’m afraid to.’ Bridging that gap, doing what you’re afraid of, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that—THAT is what life is. And I think you might be really good. You might find out something about yourself that’s special. And if you’re not good, who cares? You tried something. Now you know something about yourself. Now you know. A mystery is solved. So, I think you should just give it a try. Just inch yourself out of that back line. Step into life. Courage. Risks. Yes. Go. Now.”

The Happiness Advantage – Shawn Achor

If you’ve seen Achor’s Ted Talk, you’ll be familiar with the subject of this book, success doesn’t lead to happiness rather happiness leads to success.  “When we are happy—when our mindset and mood are positive—we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful. Happiness is the center, and success revolves around it.” I picked up the book because I’d watched the Ted Talk and wanted more.

Like his talk, Achor’s book is full of humor, but it digs deeper into the latest research about happiness and positive psychology and includes many practical methods for bringing more happiness, gratitude, and optimism into your life. And, don’t let the “success and performance and work” tagline fool you, the principles of positive psychology that Achor outlines apply to us all, working or not.

“Because our brain’s resources are limited, we are left with a choice: to use those finite resources to see only pain, negativity, stress, and uncertainty, or to use those resources to look at things through a lens of gratitude, hope, resilience, optimism, and meaning.”

It’s the wolf you feed that wins.

The Martian – Andy Weir

When I read The Martian, I didn’t even know this book was about to be released as a blockbuster Matt Damon movie. I just thought it looked like a great sci-fi story, and it was. Full of humor, space travel, and thrilling cliffhangers, you can see why Hollywood picked it up.“It’s a strange feeling. Everywhere I go, I’m the first. Step outside the rover? First guy ever to be there! Climb a hill? First guy to climb that hill! Kick a rock? That rock hadn’t moved in a million years! I’m the first guy to drive long-distance on Mars. The first guy to spend more than thirty-one sols on Mars. The first guy to grow crops on Mars. First, first, first!”

The Martian was one of the audiobooks I listened to on the commute and, honestly, I just wanted to find excuses get in the car and drive around so that I could hear more of Mark Watney’s saga on Mars.

And, how cool is that NASA has even put together an interactive map of Watney’s journey so that you can get a true sense of his challenges through actual satellite imagery from Mars.

I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh

This was the book I finished in Lanzarote.  “The car comes from nowhere. The squeal of wet brakes, the thud of a five-year-old boy hitting the windscreen and the spin of his body before it slams on to the road. Running after him, in front of the still-moving car. Slipping and falling heavily on to outstretched hands, the impact taking her breath away. It’s over in a heartbeat.” This book grabbed me from the very first page with that sharp punch to the gut and it continued to keep me turning the pages as its mysteries unfolded. It’s hard to say much about this book without spoiling its secrets and plot twists, but there was a point at which I gasped out loud and then was forced to question everything I thought I knew. Mackintosh has written a very clever thriller that had me on the edge of my seat until the very end.

Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey

I confess, it took me at least a year to finish this book after several false starts. But I persevered and once I got past a slow start, I couldn’t put it down. The main character, Maud, suffers from dementia and Healey does an excellent job of giving her a voice and letting you peek into the fragile mind of someone living with this disease. “But it’s not true. I forget things—I know that—but I’m not mad. Not yet. And I’m sick of being treated as if I am. I’m tired of the sympathetic smiles and the little pats people give you when you get things confused, and I’m bloody fed up with everyone deferring to Helen rather than listening to what I have to say.” And it is through Maud’s fragmented memories that we piece together the crime she is trying to solve.


Running Like a Girl
Good Reads, Running

Running Reads: Running Like a Girl

It’s no surprise that as I’ve picked up a running habit, I’ve also picked up the desire to learn more about it, to read about other runner’s experiences, and to get tips and advice.

One of the first running books I picked up was Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley and I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  For me, where Heminsley excelled was in making running accessible. Browse the running section in any bookstore and you’ll find it full of biographies and “how-to’s” from elite athletes and ultra-runners, athletes like Mo Farah, Scott Jurek, and Paula Radcliffe.  And while these athletes can inspire me, they don’t represent my running career, past, present, or future.  On most levels, I can’t relate to their story.

But in Heminsley I found a kindred spirit, a woman who was never the sporty type, tried numerous types of exercise, and who was bored senseless by the gym.  Running Like a Girl is an honest and humorous account of her journey from running around the block to running a marathon. Like her, I’m not out to win races, only competing against myself and my fears.  So her tale of couch to middle of the pack runner was one to which I related.

And while she offered plenty of practical advice about the sport, (buying trainers, avoiding injury, joining running clubs) the book was about much more than running.  It was also about overcoming your fears and challenging yourself to do things you never imagined possible.

Highlighted Passages:

Somehow removing the idea of exercise simply as something to do with getting fit or reaching aesthetic perfection had made sport a very different experience for me.  I was enjoying the thrill of setting goals and sticking to them, of developing a bit of mental discipline.

A good run when you least want to leave the house has a magical ability to unravel a knotty problem that has been vexing you for days, without you really understanding how.

Once you have taught yourself that running isn’t about breaking boundaries you thought you could never smash, and realised that it is about discovering those boundaries were never there in the first place, you can apply it to anything.

Lacing up and leaving the house is the hardest moment of any run.  You never regret it once you are en route.

The secret that all runners keep is that they don’t do it for their bodies but for their minds.  Slim legs can get boring but a clear mind never does.

It was in running that I discovered that the scope of our achievements is not determined by others, but by ourselves.

Sometimes to find out you are a runner, you just have to go out and run.


In other running news, on March 2nd, I’ll be running the final race in my 12 month running challenge in support of Crohn’s & Colitis UK.  When I started this challenge, my plan was to run a 10K race every month.  But as the year progressed and my running improved I wanted to do more, wanted a bigger challenge.  So my final race isn’t a 10K, is the Reading Half Marathon.

So I’ve upped my game.  Surely that deserves a few more donations as I head for the finish line? It’s easy to donate on my Just Giving page.

Good Reads
Good Reads

A Few Good Reads

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith  //  Yes, I picked up this book because of who wrote it, You Know Who.  But you know what, I loved it, it was a page turner just like some of the author’s previous works and I couldn’t put it down.  And I feel like the author has completely redeemed herself for the unreadable thing (in my opinion) that came before this, A Casual Vacancy.

Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter  //  Oh how this book made me want to travel to Italy, where “all around her shards of sunlight broke on the flickering waves.” It was the imagery of the place that instantly sucked me into the pages.  And then it was the characters, they caught me in their web of connected stories and kept me turning the page.  “It was as if I was a character in a movie and the real action was about to start at any minute.  But I think some people wait forever, and only at the end of their lives do they realize that their life has happened while they were waiting for it to start.”

Women Who Run with the Wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estes  //  A powerful book full of stories about reawakening the spirit of the “wild woman”, a spirit often repressed in misogynistic cultures.  “We must strive to allow our souls to grow in their natural ways and to their natural depths. The wildish nature does not require a woman to be a certain color, a certain education, a certain lifestyle or economic class … in fact, it cannot thrive in an atmosphere of enforced political correctness, or by being bent into old burnt-out paradigms.  It thrives on fresh sight and self-integrity.  It thrives on its own nature.”

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green  // This exquisitely written book is one of the best novels I’ve read in some time, filled with engaging characters and a heart-warming story about love and loss.  “You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice.” And Green does exactly that. I might have sobbed at the end but my tears were diluted by laughter.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter – Seth Grahame-Smith  //  This book was given to me as a gift over a year ago.  The friend who gave it to me said she’d enjoyed this book more than anything else she’d read in recent memory.  But it sat on my bedside table for almost a year until I finally decided to pick it up and give it a chance.  And I enjoyed it, how the author has written this as a “documentary” recording Abe’s journals.  And there is some pure Photoshop genius in here adding weight and plausibility to the story, making you question in your own mind, could this be true?

Mists of Avalon – Marion Zimmer Bradley //  Phew, I’m not going to lie, this was a long one. But after a recent trip to Glastonbury, I felt compelled to dive into this book and connect with a bit of the magic and mysticism of “Avalon.”  And this retelling of the Arthurian Legend, with the women at its heart, didn’t disappoint, adding meaning to my drink from the Chalice Well and my breathless trek to the top of The Tor.  “There is no such thing as a true tale. Truth has many faces and the truth is like to the old road to Avalon; it depends on your own will, and your own thoughts, whither the road will take you.”


What good books have you read lately?