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August 2017

Dispatch from Wedding Central

Just a quick little check-in to let you know that I'm climbing aboard the Wedding Crazy Train today.  

Houseguests.

Last-minute details and decisions.*

A transportation schedule that looks something like a battle strategy.

(You know.)

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But mostly . . . so much love in my heart.

I'll be back next Tuesday to tell you all about it.

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* I still haven't made a final decision about my shoes.  Maybe I'll wear one of each???


And All the Rest

It's just about time to wrap up another season of Summer Book Bingo.  Quietly - and without fanfare - I finished the summer with a coverall.

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Here's a quick rundown of the books I read that I haven't already identified:

Outside your comfort zone - I read Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith.  Why was this book of poetry outside my comfort zone?  Why . . . because I'd never read Tracy K. Smith before.  But when she was named the current U.S. Poet Laureate, I decided I needed to check out her poetry.  Let me just say -- it is lovely!

Any book (free square) - I could slide a couple of different books into this square (because I actually read a few books beyond the 25 Summer Book Bingo squares) but I decided that another book of poetry would fit perfectly here in this free square.  I read Rain in Portugal, a new collection of poems by Billy Collins.  What a treat!  Billy Collins remains one of my favorite poets of all time.

About art/artists - I read A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass.  When it first came out, I read Three Junes, Julia Glass's first novel.  It was fabulous, and I hold it up as one of my favorite reads of recent memory.  I keep reading her follow-up books as they come out -- hoping for another Three Junes.  But . . . nope.  This one wasn't it either.  Still enjoyable - in that summer, beach-read kind of way.  But certainly not another Three Junes.  (Oh, well.)  (I could have also plugged A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume into this Bingo square.  It's a very good book; interesting perspective -- but probably not for everyone, and certainly not a summer beach-read.)

Thriller - I read Magpie Murders by Alan Horowitz.  Not exactly a "thriller" . . . really.  More like a "cozy mystery," I guess.  But the closest thing to a "thriller" I'll read this summer (my bingo; my rules).  Although rather light, the concept was interesting and unique -- and it kept me entertained for a couple of days.  

Classic - I re-read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  I first read this one as Le Petit Prince - en français - as a high school sophomore.  It is a very sweet story - although I must admit to being much more taken by it's message as a high school French student than as an adult in her fifties.  Still . . . it's fun to re-read beloved books from other eras of your life.

Audiobook narrated by the author - I listened to David Sedaris read his newest book, Theft by Finding.  I am a big fan of David Sedaris, so I enjoyed this book.  But . . . if you aren't already familiar with his work, this is NOT where I would start.  (It starts out very dark, and the whole thing is a bit choppy if you're not already familiar with the people in his life and the stories he tells.)

Set in a place you'd like to know more about - I struggled with this category.  Because I just didn't want to choose a book based on setting alone.  So . . . (my bingo; my rules). . . I'm going to fill this square with Bear Town by Frederik Backman.  (Because I am always interested in knowing more about Sweden.)  I loved this book!  Excellent writing, a solid story, Sweden . . . and hockey.

And . . . that's a wrap, my friends!  Another summer.  Another Summer Book Bingo coverall.

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If you're interested in seeing the rest of the books in my Summer Book Bingo squares, you can check out this blog post.  And this one.


Sometimes Mondays

Oh, man.  Sometimes Mondays look like . . . 

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letting go.

You can convince yourself that . . . it's just the laceweight.  (Because things always look wonky with laceweight.

But then it becomes all too obvious on the last row.  (That satisfying last row, y'know . . .  that really pulls everything together.)  
That there is Something Very Wrong.
Something you really should have caught (and done something about) 8 or 10 rows ago.

Because half-way through the final row, you can see that . . . everything is not pulling together anymore.

You apparently lost the plot.  Right there in the middle of a row.  8 or 10 rows back.
(Turns out it wasn't the laceweight.)

And so. . . it is not to be.
Not now.  Probably not ever.
Because you don't have the time.  
Or the energy.  
Or the mindset.  
To fix this.

I'm sure there's a metaphor in there somewhere.

But I'm not going to find it now.

Sometimes Mondays . . . show you that letting go is the only way.
(And it's going to be just fine.)


My Fix is IN

As I have mentioned before, I am a regular listener of Gretchen Rubin's Happier podcast.  One of her frequent sponsors is Stitch Fix . . . and I've always been so intrigued.  Because just how would that work, exactly?  What would be in the box?  And wouldn't it maybe be sort of fun to boost your wardrobe with pieces selected just for you . . . that you didn't have to shop for?

Nah.

I didn't bite.

But each time I heard their sponsorship ads on the podcast, I went through the same thought process.  

And then . . . people I know started ordering from Stitch Fix -- and having positive experiences with it.  Bloggers I know - like Carole and Cheryl - tried it and loved it.  Facebook friends from way back tried it and loved it.  Even people I know in real life tried it and loved.

What the heck.

I bit.

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Stitch Fix works like this:  

You sign up and fill out an extensive personal survey about your likes/dislikes, lifestyle, wardrobe desires, sizes, price point preferences, etc.  You can even link in relevant Pinterest boards.  Basically, you're trying to help your Stitch Fix stylist make good wardrobe choices for you.

Then . . . you wait for your Fix.

When it arrives (which is way more exciting than I thought it would be), you open the box to find five items -- with a short, personalized note from your Stitch Fix stylist, a style card (to give you ideas of how to wear your new items), and an invoice.

You don't pay for your Fix up front -- except for a $20 "styling fee" that gets credited back to you if you decide to keep any of the items.  (You don't pay for shipping -- even if you send it all back.  You are only "out" the $20 if you decide not to keep anything.)  You only pay for items you decide to keep.  And -- here's the kicker -- you get a 25% discount on everything if you keep all five pieces (more on this later).  

You have three days from receipt of the Fix to decide.  You try it all on, and fill out a fairly detailed feedback form for your stylist, and pay then.  (Prices will vary by person -- because you set price ranges you're comfortable with in that initial survey.)  You can sign up to receive Fixes on a regular basis (monthly or quarterly, for example), or you can just request one whenever you're in the mood.

It's pretty simple!

As for me, I told my stylist that I was looking for casual items that were just a bit more trendy than what I usually find at my local Eddie Bauer store.  (Don't get me wrong -- I love Eddie Bauer.  I just thought it might be nice to . . . step it up a bit now and again.)  Here's what she sent me:

First, item #1 . . . 

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A lightweight denim jacket that I LOVE.  So much . . . that I put it on right out of the box and have now worn it for two days straight!  (The temperature really dipped into October here this week, so it's been perfect.)  I will truly wear this all the time!  

I do have a denim jacket that I've had for about 15 years.  (Guess where I got it?)  (Eddie Bauer, of course!)  My old jacket is sort of boxy and made of heavy weight denim and is quite warm.  I'll still wear it and love it -- but this one is lighter and the fit is a lot more trendy.  I'm a real denim-jacket-kind-of-gal, so this was a perfect choice for me.  WINNER.

Next, item #2 . . . 

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A kicky little shift dress in my favorite clothing colors - neutral black and white.  I love it!  I've been wondering what to wear to Erin and Keith's rehearsal dinner next week . . . and now I think I have my answer.  I can see wearing this dress right through fall with tights and a cardigan, too.  It's perfect.  WINNER.

Next, item #3 . . . 

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It's called a "utility tunic" -- but I call it pretty much just the kind of thing that appeals to me.  I love the color and the fit.  I have a feeling I'll wear this quite a lot -- even though I can tell it's going to wrinkle easily.  This is the kind of shirt I'm always looking for -- but never finding.  And look . . . 

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It works great with my new denim jacket.  WINNER.

Next, item #4 . . . 

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Another flowy, tunic shirt -- this one in white mini polka dots on a navy background.  The shirt looks great with jeans, too.  (And - of course - layered with my denim jacket. . . )  WINNER.

Next, the final item - #5 . . .

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Ummmm.  Not so much.  These are . . . cropped, wide-leg, pajama-style pants . . . in a truly hideous and not-at-all-me shiny/crinkly fabric WITH a track-suit style stripe down the sides . . .

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that I cannot imagine wearing ANYwhere (even though I do know that this type of style is trendy right now -- but not so much here in Kalamazoo).  (Funniest thing?  The style card showed these pants with a nautical striped, boat neck t-shirt and red sandals.  Really????)  
DUD.

So.  That's my Fix.  Four items I love . . . one item that is a total dud.

My decision should be super easy, right?  Keep four items, send one back.  Pay for four items, free shipping on the dud.  Right?  Not so fast, my friends!  Because there is that 25% discount if you keep all 5 items.  And because my dud-pants were really fairly inexpensive, I would pay significantly MORE for the 4 items I love if I send the dud-pants back.  Because of the 25% discount.

So.  I am now the proud owner of the dud-pants.  

And there . . . I think . . . is the biggest problem with Stitch Fix.  You can end up - potentially - keeping items you don't really want because it costs you more to send them back -- not in shipping costs, but in the loss of that hefty 25% discount.  On the other hand, with the feedback I provided my stylist . . . I shouldn't receive pants (or any other item) like that again!  

I'll try Stitch Fix again (I signed up for quarterly Fixes) and we'll see how the next one goes.  I'm really happy with the new WINNER items for my closet, and I know they're things I'll love wearing.

In the meantime . . . anyone interested in those pants???

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If you're thinking of trying Stitch Fix for yourself, you can use my referral code.  (Tell 'em Kym sent you!)

 

 


Flowers are Magical

Last night, a gardening pal and I joined a group of our fellow Master Gardeners for a couple of "garden walks."  These walks are usually fairly close to town -- but last night we drove far out into the country.  Dirt roads, barns, corn fields stretching on for acres, and even a big Christmas tree farm.  We were so far out in the country that Siri wouldn't have been able to help us if we had gotten lost!  (Luckily, we didn't.)

We almost didn't go.  I've got a wedding in (gulp) 9 days.  My friend - who just returned from a week's vacation up north - is flying out to the west coast for another this morning.  Really.  Neither of us had time for this.

But we went.  And I'm so glad we did!

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Both gardens we visited . . . were dahlia farms (one for business; one for sheer love of dahlias).

Dahlias are just gorgeous flowers.  Stunning, in fact -- and especially so when you see big fields of them, all different types and colors and sizes!  They are truly the stars of late summer and fall gardens -- blooming and putting on quite a show when pretty much everything else is winding down.  

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But.

Dahlias are also a lot of work -- and especially at a tough time of year to be out in the garden!  Because dahlias grow from tubers, and those tubers need to be dug up each fall (but not until AFTER the first hard frost) and lovingly stored in a cold (but not freezing), dry location where they overwinter until the threat of frost is passed each spring.  I can't even begin to imagine the work these gardeners do -- to dig up and overwinter and re-plant thousands of dahlia tubers each year.

But, oh my!  What a payoff!

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In addition to their obvious charms, dahlias hold a very special place in my heart.

My mom loved dahlias.  

She always grew them in her own garden, and was constantly trying various methods of overwintering her tubers.  (Her condo did not quite have a cold enough storage space, so often her tubers got moldy over the winter.)  When I was going through my mom's files last fall, I came across a huge file folder stuffed with articles and information she had printed out from the Internet -- all about overwintering dahlias.  (Hope springs eternal when you're a gardener. . .)  I always gave my mom at least one dahlia plant for Mother's Day.  We marveled at their beauty every year when they bloomed -- and especially when they made it through to bloom the next season.

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I've been thinking about my mom a lot these last few weeks.  

It was a year ago now that my mom's health was in rapid decline.  It was a very hard time for me.  I was struggling with decisions, shock, feelings of helplessness, the burdens of responsibility.  But most of all, I was struggling with overwhelming sadness.

Those feelings are all re-surfacing now, a year later.  Missing my mom . . . and replaying all the not-so-pleasant parts there toward the end.

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But being surrounded by dahlias last night turned out to be a surprising gift.

It was like I flipped a switch in my head.  

Instead of remembering all the hard stuff of a year ago, I started remembering all the happy times of gardening with my mom instead.  

How much she loved dahlias.  

How delighted she would have been to see so many dahlias -- all in one place. 

How each dahlia . . . was kind of like my mom . . . smiling right at me.

I'm in a much better place now.

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Flowers are magical.

 


Progress

The blob . . . it grows.

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It really doesn't look like much right now.  But Erin's wedding shawl is coming right along.

I'm knitting carefully . . . because ripping back with lace and super thin lace weight and beads is just Not What I Need right now.  So.  Slow and steady.  Counting constantly.  No wine.  No TV.  No book-listening.  Just focused knitting.

I'm nearing the final lace chart.  But . . . So. Many. Stitches.

In reading, I finished Bear Town over the weekend, and I'm recommending it to everyone I run into (and all of you, too).  Now I'm reading The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso (and I need to really pick up my pace because it's a loan through Overdrive and the deadline fast approaches; I don't want it to disappear mid-read. . . ).  I'm listening to A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume (and I'm not so sure what I think about it quite yet).

How about YOU?  What are you knitting?  Or reading?  Or both?

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Today's post is part of Kat's Unraveled Wednesday group.  Be sure to check out what everyone else is knitting and reading!


Well, Now. Wasn't That Fun?

The weather forecast here yesterday called for heavy cloud cover.  But, once again, the weather forecast turned out to be . . . WRONG!

We had some clouds, sure.  But all afternoon we had clear eclipse viewing!

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What a spectacle!

My dad nabbed an approved pair of eclipse glasses just days before the eclipse -- and he was more than willing to share.  So we gathered in the backyard for a little eclipse party.

We tried a bit of everything when it came to watching the eclipse (because Science).

The humble colander (complete with requisite dog hair)

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The tricky binoculars (with modification).

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Old-school pinhole box camera (thanks Amazon Prime).

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Everything worked -- but nothing was quite as awesome as watching with the eclipse glasses!

Here is my very favorite photo from yesterday . . . 

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(Makes me laugh out loud every time I look at it!)

It was a great afternoon.  So much fun!

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And . . . speaking of amazing spectacles . . .

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Today is our anniversary.  36 years.  And all of them sunny!

 


No Regrets

I said I wasn't going to, but I did.

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Last Friday afternoon, I drove over to check out the Michigan Fiber Festival.

My strategy lately . . .  is to go on Friday afternoon.  The vendors are set up and ready, but the Fiber Festival isn't officially open.  (The workshops and competitive events are going on, though.)  It's perfect for me . . . no crowds, first pick of the yarn, nice time to chat with unhurried vendors, parking is a breeze, and you don't have to pay the entrance fee.  (The downside?  I miss the excitement of being with so many other knitters.  Plus ... the animals are just coming in and getting settled, so seeing them is not an option.)

I haven't been terribly inspired about my knitting lately, so I almost didn't go.  And god knows I don't need any yarn. . . 

But.

I bought yarn.  

I found some really lovely yarn that I am inspired to knit with.  So Win-Win!  (Just need to finish that beaded shawl for Erin first.)  

What I like best about going to the Fiber Festival is finding yarn-dyers and spinners that I'd never hear about otherwise.  This year, I found a spinner/dyer from Cincinnati who works with very unconventional fiber bases and creates absolutely beautiful color combinations.  (I nearly had a serious "falling down" in that booth.  I wanted every skein I touched -- and that doesn't happen much to me anymore.)  And another from Ohio that puts interesting and unexpected "bits" in her yarn (also some very unexpected color combinations).  I found a small Traverse City (Michigan) company that locally-sources every aspect of their yarn production:  local alpaca and sheep, local dyes, local everything.  Their colors are to die for -- and all inspired by Northern Michigan landmarks and Traverse City hot spots.  (Bought some of that, too.)  (I love their "farm-to-needles" approach.)

No pictures.  Sorry.  You'll just have to wait until I knit with it.

And knit with it I will!

I wasn't planning to go to the Fiber Festival this year . . . but I'm awfully glad I did.

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In eclipse news . . . we're busy putting together our old-school viewing boxes this morning.  And my dad scored a pair of official eclipse glasses.  Sadly, we probably won't be using any of our devices.  We're expecting heavy cloud-cover here . . . just around eclipse time.  Oh, well.  We can watch it live on the Internet here at the NASA live-coverage site.


Getting Ready

Unless you've been living deep in a cave for the last several weeks, you already know that the solar eclipse is coming on Monday.

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Michigan is not in the Path of Totality (isn't that just kind of fun to say?), but we do expect to experience a 90% partial eclipse here in Kalamazoo.

Although I'm not excited enough to head for totality, I am excited about the eclipse.  I've collected a bunch of "eclipse information" over the last few days, and I thought I'd share my finds with you.

  • If you want to see information about the eclipse for your particular location, click here.  You can enter your city, and the site will show you information about the eclipse near you.
  • If you want to learn more about the eclipse in an "in-depth" kind of way, the New York Times Science section has a great series of articles.  So does the Washington Post.
  • If you didn't nab a pair of eclipse glasses, Science Friday has a list of 5 easy ways to safely view the eclipse without them.
  • If you want some tips from the pros, Vox has a list for you here.
  • If you're wondering what happens to animals and wildlife during an eclipse, you can read about that here.
  • If you want some tips about watching the eclipse with kids, Michigan State University Extension put out a nifty little guide just yesterday.
  • And, finally, if you want some good old tongue-in-cheek humor about the eclipse, check this out from The Atlantic.

Have a great weekend!  


Falling Like Dominoes: A Book Bingo Update

It always happens like this . . . 

I read and read and read with nary a bingo.  And then - suddenly - there they go.  One bingo after another after another!

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Want to see what I read?

Let's take a look at the first row, moving across:

Biography - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot) - So, technically this book isn't a "biography."  But it's a book about a very REAL person, so I'm counting it as a biography.  (My bingo; my rules.)  I found this book fascinating and Important -- with a capital I.  (And some of those researchers?  Despicable.)

Set in more than one time period - Covered in my last bingo-update post.

Borrowed - The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane (Lisa See) - I borrowed this book from the library, and read it quickly over a weekend up north.  It was much more compelling than I expected it to be, and I enjoyed learning about tea along the way.

An author with a disability - Last Night in Twisted River (John Irving) - John Irving has dyslexia.  I am a fan of John Irving, and I have read most of his books.  If you're not already a fan, but want to try one of his books, I wouldn't suggest this one for starters (go with Owen Meany or Garp or Cider House Rules instead).  It's definitely not his strongest novel -- but I still found it worth the slog.

Backlist from an author on your current year favorites list - The Gifts of Imperfection (Brené Brown) - I'm working my way through Brené Brown's books as part of my look at all-things-balance this year.  If you're looking for a bit of self-care and personal reflection, her books are not a bad place to start.

BINGO!

Next up, let's check out the last column, on the right, going down:

Backlist from an author on your current year favorites list - See above.

That you want to read because of the cover - Covered in my last bingo-update post.

Banned in a country outside the US - Reading Lolita in Tehran (Azar Nafisi) - This book is banned in Iran. Hmmmm. Although I really wanted to like this book (after all, I am a lover of the classics, and particularly interested in the overall concept of the book), I just . . . didn't. I found it a far more tedious read than expected. Great concept; strong and interesting women; just . . . not quite captivating.

Alternate history - The Yiddish Policeman's Union (Michael Chabon) - Tom read this book when it first came out, many years ago.  It was just sitting there . . . on our bookshelf . . . waiting for me.  As usual, Michael Chabon doesn't disappoint.

Bird or animal on the cover - The Essex Serpent (Sarah Perry) - Okay.  So a "serpent" isn't really an animal.  And there isn't really even a serpent on the cover (although there is the strong suggestion of one).  But . . . my bingo; my rules.  I had wanted to read this book since I first heard about it (when it made the long list for the Women's Prize for Fiction this year), and so . . . by gum . . . it was going to fit into one of my squares!  Lovely book.

BINGO!

And there's one more -- the fourth row across:

About a person with a disability - Shtum (Jem Lester) - Just as we were all sorting through our Bingo cards for the summer, I happened to be driving and caught an interview with Jem Lester on NPR.  I was hooked!  If you're interested in a rather gut-wrenching story about what it's like to live with a severely autistic child, this is your book:  Love. Commitment. Struggle. Redemption.

Wanted to read for more than a year - Covered in my last bingo-update post.

Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test - Chemistry (Weike Wang) - Ah . . . the Bechdel-Wallace test.  For those of you unfamiliar with this category, let me explain a bit.  The Bechdel-Wallace test (or sometimes just called the Bechdel test) was originally applied to films, but has been expanded to include fiction.  The qualifications for passing the test?  The work must include two women who talk about something other than a man.  (Sometimes it further requires that the women be named.)  And this test, my friends, is oh-so-much harder to pass than you might think!

I decided to just . . . read . . . this summer -- fiction I would choose just as I always choose -- with the Bechdel-Wallace test in mind.  I continued to be disappointed.  Because in each book I read, women talk about men!  It really is rather infuriating when you think about it.  Finally, as I read Chemistry, I found two women who talked about something OTHER than men.  They talked about grad school and work in the lab and their careers.  Eureka!  I found it.  But . . . no.  Eventually, our characters ended up . . . talking about men.  But.  This one is the closest I came to reading a book that - at least for a portion of the novel - passes the Bechdel-Wallace test.  (Of course, the characters aren't named.  But that is the style of this particular book.  The characters are the narrator herself and the other woman, known simply as The Best Friend.)  (Further irony?  The only named character in the book is a man.)  No other book of fiction I read this summer came even close to meeting the Bechdel-Wallace test.

As for the book itself, I think I liked it because of the chemistry.  Having gone through Tom's chemistry graduate school experience along with him - and seeing what life was like for the (few) women grad students in his lab - I could really relate to the story and situations.

Thriller - Covered in my last bingo-update post.

Alternate history - See above.

BINGO!

Like I said . . . falling like dominoes.