Review of Shameless, by Nadia Bolz-Weber


A Case for Not Feeling Bad About Feeling Good (About Sex)

by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Convergent Books, 2019. 200 pages.
Review written March 29, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #2 Christian Nonfiction

I wasn’t sure about this book. It’s a book about sexuality and spirituality and how the church’s teachings on sexuality have harmed people.

I saved sex for marriage and married my first boyfriend. I was proud of that. So pleased that we did it “right” and followed God’s best plan. I even thought that the fact we waited for marriage proved the guy had self-control and wouldn’t ever have an affair. Well, that didn’t work out; he had an affair, left me, and now I’m divorced. And there are some who read the Bible to say that means God doesn’t want me to ever have sex again. What do I do with that?

Here’s a bit from the Introduction:

In the ten years I’ve been pastor at HFASS, I’ve known young married couples who did what the church told them and “waited,” only to discover that they could not, on the day of their wedding, flip a switch in their brains and in their bodies and suddenly go from relating to sex as sinful and dirty and dangerous to relating to sex as joyful and natural and God-given. I’ve known single women who didn’t have sex until they were forty and now have absolutely no idea how to manage the emotional aspect of a sexual relationship. I’ve heard middle-aged women admit that they still can’t make themselves wear a V-neck because as teenagers they were told female modesty was the best protection from unwanted male sexual advances. I’ve seen gay men who never reported the sexual abuse they experienced in the church because the church told them being gay was a sin. I’ve heard stories from women who experienced marital rape after getting married at twenty years old (because if you have to wait until marriage to have sex, then you hurry that shit up) but got the message from their church that because there is a verse in the Bible that says women should be subject to their husbands, it was not actually rape.

It doesn’t feel very difficult to draw a direct line between the messages many of us received from the church and the harm we’ve experienced in our bodies and spirits as a result. So my argument in this book is this: we should not be more loyal to an idea, a doctrine, or an interpretation of a Bible verse than we are to people. If the teachings of the church are harming the bodies and spirits of people, we should rethink those teachings.

So I wasn’t sure what I’d think about this book – but what I found was a message of grace. And insights I’d never thought about before.

She talks about purity systems – rules and regulations to keep us pure. She says it’s natural for us to make them, because we want to be holy.

But no matter how much we strive for purity in our minds, bodies, spirits, or ideologies, purity is not the same as holiness. It’s just easier to define what is pure than what is holy, so we pretend they are interchangeable….

The desire to live a holy life that is pleasing to God is understandable, but this desire is also fraught with pitfalls.

Our purity systems, even those established with the best of intentions, do not make us holy. They only create insiders and outsiders. They are mechanisms for delivering our drug of choice: self-righteousness, as juice from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil runs down our chins. And these purity systems affect far more than our relationship to sex and booze: they show up in political ideology, in the way people shame each other on social media, in the way we obsess about “eating clean.” Purity most often leads to pride or to despair, not to holiness. Because holiness is about union with, and purity is about separation from.

She explores lots of ideas here, and they surprised me by how lovely these ideas were. She’s not just questioning rules and systems and teachings, she’s also talking about what does healthy sexuality look like? One fascinating insight is that sexuality and spirituality have much in common.

She doesn’t give us a list of new rules in this book. She explores and she asks questions and she gets us thinking about the bodies God gave us, what pleases Him and what pleases us.

The point is, it all calls for attention. Does something enhance my life and relationships, or does it take it over? Is my behavior compulsive? When I or my partner experience this pleasure, is it bringing me or my partner more deeply into the moment, into the sacred, into our bodies, or is it separating one or both of us from these things?

Here’s another insight:

Jesus, we know, was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton, a friend of prostitutes and tax collectors. His first miracle was to keep the wine flowing at a party he was attending. So the guy was not afraid of pleasure. But he also fasted for forty days in the desert and would often go to a mountain to pray alone. He seemed to live an integrated life of feasting and fasting.

I like so much in this book, and it’s hard to describe and hard to explain. I like the connection she makes that good sexual connection comes when we can put aside our shame. When we can see each other as we truly are and reveal ourselves with all our scars.

Too often, the diagram that religion draws up for explaining sex takes the snake’s-eye view – it names only the physics of fear, threat, and control, but none of the magic. Likewise, media and advertising thrust the commodification of sex our way, and sex becomes either something to trade in or just another aspect of life in which we are judged and found lacking. But neither of these approaches is enough. Neither points to the whole truth. Because there is also magic.

This magic is what God placed in us at creation. It is the spark of divine creativity, the desire to be known, body and soul, and to connect deeply to God and to another person. This magic is the juiciest part of us, and the most hurtable. This magic was breathed into us when God emptied God’s lungs to give us life, saying, “Take what I have and who I am.” This magic is what snakes seek to darken with shame. This magic was what was sanctified for all time and all people when Jesus took on human form and gave of himself, saying, “Take and eat, this is my body given for you.”

This book isn’t about rules and regulations. It’s about finding shamelessness, magic, and a closer connection with God and others. It took me by surprise.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, by Patricia Love and Steven Stosny

How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It

Finding Love Beyond Words

by Patricia Love, EdD, and Steven Stosny, PhD

Broadway Books, 2007. 224 pages.
Starred Review
2007 Sonderbooks Standout: #1, Relationships

Okay, why am I reviewing a book about marriage today, when I’ve been divorced for 8 years, separated for 13 years, and with no prospects or evidence that I’ll ever marry again, besides being too busy reading for the Newbery committee to do any dating – or to have time for more than one book for adults at a time?

Well, I’m not sure I completely know the answer to that. It’s partly that it’s a Steven Stosny book. I’d recently reread some others, and they’re so full of wisdom. I’ve also spent a lot of time alone while doing so much reading – but since I don’t have time to date, maybe reading about marriage satisfies a little bit of that loneliness. I’m hoping I can learn some things while my emotions aren’t invested and busy triggering and blinding me – so maybe I won’t make the same mistakes the next time.

This book also has some super interesting things to think about, many ideas about men and women and how we respond and think differently. Everything they say about women rings true, so I suspect what they say about men is also true, and I’m still hoping I’ll absorb some of that.

Besides, the first time I read this book, when I still hoped against hope that my own marriage would be healed, I was taking grad school classes for my Master’s in Library Science, and didn’t have time to write or post a review. When I named it as a 2007 Sonderbooks Standout, I promised to write a review some day. So I’m finally keeping that promise for this book!

Besides, it’s an outstanding book! I read it too late to help my marriage, but I will always wonder if I’d read it sooner and tried some of these things, if something might have changed. As it is, if there’s anyone I can point to this book before it’s too late, that would be a wonderful outcome of writing this review, and nothing would make me happier.

The main premise of the book is similar to the book Love and Respect, by Emerson Eggerichs, which says that a man’s deepest need is respect and a woman’s deepest need is love. Or John Eldredge’s books, as in the book Captivating, that says women need to answer the question, “Am I lovely? Am I worthy of love?” and men need to answer the question, “Do I have what it takes?”

But Doctors Love and Stosny take a different approach. And those books I mentioned are from a Christian perspective and refer to the Bible to make their points. This is a secular book and refers to research, but I think it’s the flip side of the same ideas.

They say that a woman’s deepest vulnerability is fear, and a man’s deepest vulnerability is shame.

Most of the book is about how this falls out and how we can overcome it and use these vulnerabilities to connect rather than resent each other. But let me also talk about the promise in the title – these methods do not require lots of talking about it or building your “communication skills.”

They are not disconnected because they have poor communication; they have poor communication because they are disconnected.

The ideas for connecting are excellent – I wish I could try them out! But what’s helpful for me and can teach me even when I’m not in a relationship is better understanding a man’s perspective, better understanding what things I do that would trigger shame in my partner – despite my best intentions.

I was really surprised by the idea that a woman sharing unhappiness with her husband can make him feel like he’s failing to protect her or she doesn’t appreciate all she does.

Women build alliances with other women by doing what they learned in early childhood: exposing vulnerability. Marlene doesn’t have to mention to her girlfriends that she feels sad, unhappy, lonely, or isolated. They infer it from her body language or tone of voice, just as she can tell if something is wrong with them. As soon as one woman senses a friend in emotional need, they become more interested and emotionally invested in each other. But what do you think happens when Marlene tells Mark that she feels bad? (She has to tell him – his defense against feeling failure and inadequacy has blinded him to her emotional world by this time.) You guessed it – once she forces him to face her vulnerability, he feels inadequate as a protector. He responds with typical shame-avoidant behavior: impatience, distractedness, defensiveness, resentment, anger, criticism, or “advice” that sounds an awful lot like telling her what to do.

Here’s why talking doesn’t help:

One reason that talking about your relationship has not helped is that fear and shame keep you from hearing each other, regardless of how much “active listening” or “mirroring” you try to do. The prerequisite for listening is feeling safe, and you cannot feel safe when the threat of fear or shame hangs over your head. The threat is so dreadful that the limbic system, the part of your brain in charge of your safety, overrides any form of rational thinking. Almost everything you hear invokes fear or shame.

This is also why things sometimes change drastically when a couple gets married. Or why someone outside the marriage suddenly seems much more understanding. If a male friend talks about quitting his job and starting a business, I might admire him for his vision, for living out his principles. But if my husband does that? Oh, you can be sure my fears will get triggered! And if I express my concerns or start asking questions, “Have you thought about this….?” or offering suggestions or even criticism – You better believe I’ll be triggering his shame. [I can’t even begin to express what a comfort it was to me that when my then-husband retired from the military and was looking for a job, I was not in his life and was not in a place to give any input whatsoever. I could all too easily imagine how those conversations would have gone. This book explains why.]

This dynamic is explained in a chapter addressed to men. Again, I hadn’t realized how much a man’s identity is tied to making his wife happy – in a way that’s not as true when they are dating.

There was a time when your partner, before she was your partner, talked to you about various things that made her feel anxious or insecure. You most likely responded with a sense of protectiveness. You knew intuitively that she was upset. If she felt disregarded, you paid more attention to her. If she felt unimportant, you showed her that she was important to you. If she felt accused, you reassured her. If she felt guilty, you helped her feel better. If she felt devalued, you valued her more. If she felt rejected, you accepted her; if she felt powerless, you tried to empower her; if she felt inadequate, you helped her appreciate her competence; and if she felt unlovable, you loved her more. You did all this out of a natural desire to protect the person you loved.

You fell in love because you were able to connect, and you were able to connect because you felt protective. It started to go wrong when you began to see your impulse to take care of her, which made you feel great while dating, as costing too much time or money in a committed love relationship. You probably had good reasons for starting to feel that way, but as long as you feel that way, you will not find viable solutions to time and money problems. In other words, things will certainly get worse until you decide to be protective of your partner’s fear as you used to be; and in the long run, this will cost far less in time and money than a disconnected relationship and divorce.

Of course, this switch in how you reacted to her anxiety was confusing to her, to say the least. She was doing the same thing that used to invoke your protectiveness – worrying or expressing needs – but now she provoked your anger and resentment. It’s as if once you got married you expected that she would never again feel bad, or at least not show that she did. When she did show it, you interpreted her complaints as an indictment of your failure as a provider.

There’s a lot more about how things break down. Before rereading this, I would have said – no, I have actually said – that I don’t have much of a problem with fear.

But I came to see that I work so hard at managing my fear, I’m not even conscious of it. That’s what was going on when I’d give my husband career advice, or over-manage one of the many times we moved. That may be behind my tendency to plan way ahead, to over-pack for trips. I can so easily visualize every What-if scenario. And of course there’s physical fear. Women are trained from childhood not to go for a walk alone at night, for example. I am smaller than most adults, and there’s some fear that comes with that. I plan around it.

And of course the deepest fear is of not being loved, and ending my life alone and abandoned. When that fear’s triggered – well, is it any wonder your partner might feel like you don’t trust him as a lover? Once his shame is triggered, if he withdraws to feel better, my fear’s going to increase, and so on.

But the main thrust of this book is about overcoming those vulnerabilities, seeing your partner’s perspective, and being able to connect. Besides all the insights, there are some wonderful techniques that can build your connection to each other and remind you of your love for each other. Like I said, I really hope I get a chance some day to try these techniques out!

Here’s the last paragraph in the book:

The most profound moments between two people occur when their emotions resonate, soothing their different vulnerabilities and raising their hearts to simple enjoyment. When emotional connection goes deeper than talking, women overcome the stifling limitations of their anxieties, and men abandon destructive shame-avoiding behavior. The best protections from fear and shame are compassion, appreciation, and a sense of connection that is so deep, flexible, and resilient that it creates love beyond words.

I like that the title doesn’t say anything about fixing a bad marriage. This book offers a way to improve your marriage. Even good marriages can stand a little improvement! I hope some of my friends will try it out! And I will plan to reread it if I ever get married again. Until then, I’ve got some food for thought, and I’m mulling over what parts of my life are affected by fear I didn’t even realize I had.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Empowered Love, by Steven Stosny, Ph.D.

Empowered Love

Use Your Brain to Be Your Best Self & Create Your Ideal Relationship

by Steven Stosny, Ph.D.

Ixia Press, 2018. 226 pages.
Starred Review

Steven Stosny is my favorite author on relationships. If you have a relationship with a lot of anger between partners, I highly recommend Love Without Hurt (also known as You Don’t Have to Take It Anymore). I know from experience, this book really can help you transform your anger into compassion, and reinforce your own core value.

If you’re dealing with betrayal, I also recommend from personal experience the book Living and Loving After Betrayal. It will help you heal and help you move on.

This book, Empowered Love, I think will help relationships that are good get better and relationships that are sinking come up for air. This time, I can’t speak from personal experience, but I hope someday to try the ideas out!

As in his other books, he reminds the reader that we feel lovable when we are more loving, and we feel valuable when we treat others as valuable.

This book is an expansion of his work in the book Soar Above, bringing the ideas presented there into the realm of love relationships. Both books help you rise above your conditioned responses – the ways you learned to respond as a toddler, which he calls your Toddler Brain.

I realized fairly early in writing Soar Above that I had to write a separate book to accommodate the special challenges of committed love relationships. These occur on an altogether different playing field from those of work and social life. As we’ll see, many of the problems of love relationships stem from partners who behave at home in ways that might serve them well in work and social gatherings but fail miserably in love relationships. No important human endeavor makes it harder to stay consistently in the profoundest part of the brain than interactions with loved ones. The simple explanation of why this is so is that living with someone invokes a wide array of routine behaviors, running on autopilot, without forethought or conscious intention. Routine ways of behaving are likely to stimulate old emotional habits when stressors are added to the mix, such as quarreling children, urgent text messages from work, or overdue bills. The Toddler brain by habit looks for someone to blame, denies responsibility, or avoids the issue altogether.

The more subtle reason that we’re apt to invoke Toddler-brain habits in committed relationships lies at the very heart of love. The same quality that makes love wonderful – giving fully of the deepest parts of ourselves – also makes it a little scary. Most lovers have not felt so emotionally dependent and powerless over their deepest vulnerable feelings since they learned to walk. Similarities in vulnerability can fool the brain under stress and increase the likelihood of invoking Toddler-brain ways of coping in love relationships. Most of the hundreds of couples I’ve treated were fine at work and with friends, smart, resourceful, and creative. But at home they were like playground kids pointing out each other’s faults: “It takes one to know one!” Most were compassionate and kind to other people, but to each other they were opposing attorneys in a bitter lawsuit.

Like his other books, this book is rooted in value. Here’s where he talks about value in the beginning of the section on Adults in Love:

To grasp the psychological function of values, it’s useful to think in terms of the verb to value rather than the noun values. To value someone or something goes beyond regarding that person or object as important; you also appreciate certain qualities, while investing the time, energy, effort, and sacrifice necessary for successful maintenance. If you value a da Vinci painting, you focus on its beauty and design more than the cracks in the paint, and, above all, you treat it well, making sure that it is maintained in ideal conditions of temperature and humidity, with no harsh or direct lighting. Valuing loved ones requires appreciation of their better qualities and showing care for their physical and psychological health, growth, and development.

The experience of value gives a heightened sense of vitality – you feel more alive looking at a beautiful sunset, connecting to a loved one, knowing genuine compassion for another person, having a spiritual experience, appreciating something creative, committing to a cause, or identifying with a community. Valuing gives a greater sense of authenticity and often a greater sense of connection. High value investment gives meaning and purpose to life, with a stronger motivation to improve, create, build, appreciate, connect, or protect.

This isn’t a book about improving communication.

Couples whose interactions are dominated by the Toddler brain often fool themselves into thinking their high emotional reactivity – if not all their problems – is rooted in poor communication. Sadly, they find lots of reinforcement for this pervasive myth in pop psychology, where catchy notions that lack empirical support or theoretical validity reign supreme. The great cliché about intimate relationships is that they are all about communication and that communication is all about talking….

In intimate relationships, verbal communication is a function of connection, rather than the other way around. When people feel connected, they’re able to talk and listen with ease. When they feel disconnected, they tend to attack and counterattack, however cleverly hidden in verbal skills, as they blame each other for the pain of disconnection. Both partners seem to imply:

“I cannot love you until you agree with me or see things my way or express them the way I think you should.”

If partners are motivated to attack or avoid, employing even the most sophisticated communication skills will make them appear phony and manipulative. In my quarter-century of clinical practice, I have never seen skillful communication form a connection without a sincere desire to connect, nor have I seen poor communications skills or choice of words interfere with a sincere desire to connect.

Adults in love don’t try to communicate in order to connect. They connect in order to communicate.

There’s a small chapter on Metaphors, which toddlers don’t understand. If you think of your marriage with a positive metaphor, it will help you love like an adult. Several strong metaphors were given as examples, and I especially liked this one:

Love is like a musical duet. In a duet, both musicians are able to make beautiful music on their own. But together they make something greater than either can do alone: harmony.

Harmony is an appealing combination of elements in a whole. In music, it’s an arrangement of sounds pleasing to the ear. Harmony in intimate relationships is more about emotional tone and atmosphere than expressions of love or specific behaviors. It’s about both partners thriving and growing into the best musicians they can be. You stop making harmony when the Toddler brain dominates the relationship, simply because it cannot balance the drives for autonomy and connection. In the Toddler brain, all you can do is try to criticize or stonewall the violin into becoming the cello, and vice versa.

Harmony rises from partners attuned to their deepest values, which will necessarily include compassion and kindness for each other. The foundation of relationship harmony is frequent notes of compassion and kindness, focused on the long-term best interests of both partners. Focusing on compassion and kindness, rather than on being right or wrong, creates the sort of relationship harmony that keeps the drives for autonomy and connection in balance, and creates Power love.

There’s lots more here, but that gives you the idea. This is about building a relationship on compassion and valuing each other. It has many ideas for getting back on track if your relationship is going astray from that, but trying these things is going to make you feel better about yourself even if your spouse never does get on board.

If they do join you in this kind of a relationship? I do think you will soar. I hope I get to try it sometime!
Psychology Today blog: Anger in the Age of Entitlement

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, ordered via

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, by Ada Calhoun

Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give

by Ada Calhoun

W. W. Norton & Company, 2017. 192 pages.
Starred Review

Maybe I shouldn’t have picked up this book. My own marriage ended badly. I tried hard to keep it from falling apart, but finally figured out that if one party really wants to get out, one person can’t knit it back together by themselves. Now I’d like to get married again – and this book reminds me of that. It also reminds me that I don’t actually want some nice man to get divorced just so he’ll be available! I don’t actually want the sort of man who doesn’t try hard to stay in his marriage. And I don’t wish divorce on anyone. So in a way, thinking about what makes a marriage isn’t necessarily a place I should go right now!

But – the book was so much fun! And really does speak truth. Though I agree with the author that you wouldn’t necessarily want to point out these truths at the wedding of a dewy-eyed bride and groom. They’ll find out soon enough.

Here’s how she explains the book in the Introduction:

Now in the second decade of my second marriage, I can’t look newlyweds in the eye and promise they’ll never regret marrying. (Well, not sober. Maybe this is why weddings correlate with binge drinking.) I adore my husband and plan to be with him forever. I also want to run screaming from the house because the person I promised to love all the days of my life insists on falling asleep to Frasier reruns.

“The first twenty years are the hardest,” an older woman once told me. At the time I thought she was joking. She was not.

And this is why I don’t give wedding toasts – because I’d probably end up saying that even good marriages sometimes involve flinging a remote control at the wall.

She’s got some good insights.

The main problem with marriage may be that it’s not better than the rest of life. Suffering occurs in marriage because we think it will be different – purer, deeper, gentler – than other relationships. We expect our partners and ourselves to be better – more patient, more faithful, more generous – than we are. We believe ourselves exceptional, first in the depth of our passion and then in the breadth of our failure.

I like this take on it:

By staying married, we give something to ourselves and to others: hope. Hope that in steadfastly loving someone, we ourselves, for all our faults, will be loved; that the broken world will be made whole. To hitch your rickety wagon to the flickering star of another fallible human being – what an insane thing to do. What a burden, and what a gift.

But most of the book isn’t just musings. It’s also stories – stories from her own married life. And these stories do lead to musings, and truths, and some good thoughts about what marriage has to offer these days. She doesn’t offer a particularly religious perspective, so I wasn’t sure I’d really think I’d find them applicable – but she does offer a practical perspective. What does marriage do for you? This is worth thinking about, and she approaches it in a humorous way.

She finishes the Introduction this way:

Such are the thoughts I keep to myself, sitting in rented folding chairs, watching friends begin their married lives. To the newlyweds, I say congratulations, and I mean it sincerely. To say out loud the rest of what I’m thinking would be bad manners. And so I’ll say it here instead.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Another Tip for Finding Online Dating Scammers

A year ago, I posted some tips on dealing with online dating scammers.

Today I discovered another scammer, so I have another tip: Reverse image search! has a Reverse image search. You upload an image, and the site searches the web for matches of that image.

Here’s the situation: A year and a half ago, I “liked” someone’s profile on OKCupid, and was told that he had “liked” me. So I sent him a short message. Then he never was online again. I figured he’d found someone else, but why didn’t he delete his profile?

Anyway, a couple days ago, he answered my message! But when I asked what the story was behind the year and a half absence, he said something about a long trip! Ummm, that’s a long trip.

On top of that, though he’s answering more quickly than a year and a half, he’s not exactly forthcoming or eager to talk with me.

And then I thought to do a reverse image search.

Sure enough! His picture comes up — on a Romance Scam site. The original photo is from a modeling agency. (I had thought he was maybe a little too good-looking to be real.)

I strongly suspect he’s a scammer with multiple profiles and had let that one rest for awhile.

I’m going to be doing this a little more often, any time I have any doubts at all.

I’m now torn between triumph and frustration. Triumph that I figured out this guy. Frustration that someone who seemed nice — isn’t.

But in the long run, I think I’ll go with triumph.

Review of The Real Thing, by Ellen McCarthy

real_thing_largeThe Real Thing

Lessons on Love and Life from a Wedding Reporter’s Notebook

by Ellen McCarthy

Ballantine Books, New York, 2015. 263 pages.

Written by a wedding reporter, this book is composed of stories — stories of people committing to each other. But Ellen McCarthy didn’t stop with weddings and also includes stories of couples whose love has lasted decades. Along the way, she throws in some good advice about finding and keeping the love of your life.

Bottom line, even if you don’t take any of the advice, this book is fun to read. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded that people out there are finding love.

The author throws in her own story — she started as a wedding reporter when she’d just finished a major break-up, but wrote the book as part of a married couple with a child.

Here’s some of her introduction:

When I first started on the weddings beat — also starting, as I’ve mentioned, a new chapter of single life — I wasn’t sure how it would affect me to spend my days interviewing deliriously happy couples and watching them walk down the aisle. It could have been like salt in a wound.

But the job had the opposite effect. All of these people — young, old, rich, poor, plain, beautiful, sophisticated, and simple — they’d all found someone. I was reminded again and again that love happens every day, in all kinds of ways, to all kinds of people. And when it does, it adds a beauty and richness to life that nothing else can match.

So a couple of months after the breakup, I found my dating legs again. This time I had the lessons of the people I’d written about swirling around in my head. Their experiences pushed me to be more open and optimistic, and at least try to enjoy it.

Even more important, the collective wisdom of these couples challenged me to rethink what I was looking for. So much of what they taught me about love ran contrary to what we learn in pop culture and society. Don’t look for lightning. Forget about presenting your best self — it’s your real self that counts. And dreams do come true, but almost never how you dreamed them.

Yes, reading these stories could have been like pouring salt in my wounds. But it wasn’t. Instead, this book left me smiling and encouraged.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Four Ways to Click, by Amy Banks

4_ways_to_click_largeFour Ways to Click

Rewire Your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships

by Amy Banks, M.D.
with Leigh Ann Hirschman

Tarcher, 2015. 320 pages.
Starred Review

The premise of this book is an easy one to believe: We are wired for connection. Connection with people is good for us. However, the authors point out that this seemingly obvious truth goes against accepted wisdom about mental health.

The book begins like this:

Boundaries are overrated.

If you want healthier, more mature relationships; if you want to stop repeating old patterns that cause you pain; if you are tired of feeling emotionally disconnected from the people you spend your time with; if you want to grow your inner life, you can begin by questioning the idea that there is a clear, crisp line between you and the people you interact with most frequently.

The authors expand on that idea further in the introductory chapter:

This book is going to show you a different way of thinking about your emotional needs and what it means to be a healthy, mature adult. A new field of scientific study, one I call relational neuroscience, has shown us that there is hardwiring throughout our brains and bodies designed to help us engage in satisfying emotional connection with others. This hardwiring includes four primary neural pathways that are featured in this book. Relational neuroscience has also shown that when we are cut off from others, these neural pathways suffer. The result is a neurological cascade that can result in chronic irritability and anger, depression, addiction, and chronic physical illness. We are just not as healthy when we try to stand on our own, and that’s because the human brain is built to operate within a network of caring human relationships. How do we reach our personal and professional potential? By being warmly, safely connected to partners, friends, coworkers, and family. Only then do our neural pathways get the stimulation they need to make our brains calmer, more tolerant, more resonant, and more productive.

The good news for those of us whose relationships don’t always feel so warm or safe: it is possible to heal and strengthen those four neural pathways that are weakened when you don’t have strong connections. Relationships and your brain form a virtuous circle, so by strengthening your neural pathways for connection, you will also make it easier to build the healthy relationships that are essential for your psychological and physical health.

This book consists essentially of information about the four main neural pathways and ideas for strengthening each one. There’s a self-assessment at the start to see how your brain and relationships are doing.

The author calls her approach the C.A.R.E. Plan. C. stands for Calm; A. stands for Accepted; R. stands for Resonant; and E. stands for Energetic.

Each of these four pathways is a feedback loop. Supply the loop with good relationships, and most of the time, the pathway will become stronger. Strengthen the pathway, and your relationships become more rewarding. There are plenty of places in each loop to step in and boost the entire system.

I came away from the book feeling that I’m in a pretty good place. This book looks at the relationships to which you give the most time – in terms of thought and energy – so you aren’t counted “down” if you are not in a romantic relationship. Living alone, I wasn’t quite sure if I was cheating by counting the three people I email with daily or almost daily, but I do give them a lot of thought energy, and filling out the questionnaire confirmed that this connection is good for me.

The book did give me things to think about. For example, if I’m feeling a need for a pick-me-up, it might be a good idea to reach for the phone rather than play a game of Candy Crush. If I reinforce getting dopamine by reaching out and connecting, that pathway will become all the stronger.

This book is about all relationships – with family, friends, and coworkers, as well as with a “significant other.” It gives you plenty to think about for strengthening this crucial part of human life.

I’m thinking this might be a great gift for a college graduate. Rather than giving the message, “Okay, time to stand on your own two feet!”, this book reinforces the message that they will need other people in their lives – and will be healthier and happier the more they learn to connect with others.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Some Tips for Dealing with Online Dating Scammers

how_to_avoid_falling_in_love_with_a_jerk_largeOkay, I’ll admit I don’t have vast experience. But I’ve been doing online dating for about a year now, and just the other night I figured out someone I was corresponding with was a total fake.

I thought I would imitate my friend, who when she gets an email scam letter, posts the letter on her blog, with addresses, to warn others away.

I am on OKCupid. I like that dating site a lot, because I like that *you* choose what questions you have answers to, and you tell the program which questions are most important to you. There’s no “patented match formula” that’s mysterious and magical — and didn’t turn out to seem terribly good in my case.

I will say, right up front, that I met one man through OKCupid whom I dated for two months and liked tremendously. I’m still friends with him, and I am still friends with his friends — and meeting him feels like a huge win for online dating, even though I’ve communicated with some scammers since.

My first tip, which would have ruled out the first scammer I communicated with, “Dejan Dimitrevi,” supposedly from the Netherlands but living in Virginia, is this:

1. Don’t correspond with anyone who hasn’t answered at least 100 questions.

That sounds like a lot, but these are multiple choice questions. It is easy to take a little time and answer them. I have a draft response written out which I paste into a message for people who correspond with me who haven’t answered very many.

Commonly they’ll say, “ask me anything,” but when you’re asking in a message, they can answer what they think you wish to hear.

I’ve answered many, many questions and marked the ones important to me. If someone has some of my dealbreakers, why go on? It’s the beauty of OKCupid to know up front where they stand. However, if they don’t answer the questions, you don’t have any of that information.

Now when I say “communicated with some scammers,” no one has ever asked me for money. I have corresponded with some people who probably would have asked for money eventually — but we didn’t get that far, because I followed the principles in the book How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, by John Van Epp.

It’s a wonderful book that my sister gave me last year for my 50th birthday. I really hope some day I’ll get to apply the principles to a dating relationship, but for now, they have stood me in good stead for dealing with potential scammers.

And this last experience, with someone who calls himself “Ron Francher” (I use the name in case he still is trying to scam other women with this identity.) consolidated in my mind some more Tips for Dealing with Potential Scammers:

2. Don’t make any commitment to someone you don’t know and haven’t met.

This one is straight from the book How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk. It was this principle that eventually made “Dejan” lose interest.

“Ron” sent me this long paragraph, when we had only exchanged a few emails and had certainly not met:

Since we met on Okc, will you still be on the site checking out other men and corresponding with them? If so, then I am not your man. I think it only fair that if we are to truly find out if we are the one for each other, then we need to concentrate on each other without the distraction of others emailing us for our attention. If you are not in agreement with this, that is truly fine and you must follow your heart to search for the one right for you but please do not do it at my emotional expense. For two people to truly experience the wonderment that is defined by falling love, then love can only happen when no others are involved. Building trust, for me, is the core foundation for a long, loving, lasting relationship. If I found out you were corresponding behind my back or seeing another, my faith in you would be gone and our budding relationship finished before it got started.

Ummm, excuse me? We had not even met!

Yes, we would need to build trust — but I am not going to trust you until I find out if you actually are who you say you are.

I confess, I still hadn’t figured him out. Then after a few more emails exchanged, when I said, if you want me to commit to you, let’s meet first, he said, oh, we could not meet for a few *months* because he was preparing to be deployed to Damascus for a classified mission with the US Army.

And I *still* didn’t quite get it. But I thought the whole situation felt fishy, so I ran it by my friends. And that’s my next tip:

3. Run everything by your friends!

I explained the situation to my friends, and that I was cautiously optimistic about this man I was corresponding with. He grew up in France (so he said) but had been in America for 40 years and in the US Army for 35 years.

I wasn’t going to commit to him, but I was okay with corresponding a couple months…

However, a friend who is former military heard the basics and got very alarmed. He pointed out that someone in the military should not and would not mention a classified mission to someone they’d never even met — but a scammer certainly would.

I admit, I had been a bit flattered “Ron” would tell me about his mission. I had emailed back that I’d pray for him (but that I would not commit to him exclusively while I was waiting).

Another friend who is a romance novelist told me that the character sounded suspiciously like a character written for a romance novel, to be attractive to women — French accent, special forces, widower, lost his only son, grandson in Paris.

Their concerns made me start thinking harder. Even if he *were* telling the truth, wasn’t it rather deceptive to tell me he expected an exclusive commitment and only later say, Oh by the way, we won’t be able to meet for a few months?

4. Use common sense.

My former military friend also pointed out that given the description “Ron” had given me in an early message, he would have to be a general officer. Here’s what “Ron” said:

I completed the Armor Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, United States Army Command and General Staff College, and the national war college. I also completed the Army’s Ranger School.

I was commissioned in the U.S. Army in June 1979 as an Armor/Tank 2nd Lieutenant. Later, I received a Master of Science in Systems Management from the University of Southern California. I have commanded units at every echelon from platoon to division, with duty in Germany, Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and the United States. After my first assignment with the U.S. Army Europe, I was assigned to Fort Bragg, N.C, where I commanded a Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha in the 5th Special Forces Group and an Infantry company in the 82nd Airborne Division. My retirement is due by the end of July and then the would will be my oyster.

My friend had some contacts still in the military who would have to know someone in such a position. Would I like him to check?

I also know enough about the military that I knew an officer commanding divisions would make the news when he takes command. I googled “Ronald Francher” and didn’t get anyone who fit this description. I checked a library database, RefUSA, and he still didn’t come up. If he were really such a high-ranking officer, this was highly unlikely.

He went six days without emailing me, so I thought I’d discouraged him by not promising commitment. However, then I heard from him again. I had asked about his late wife. He told me they met in France (when did he have time for that?) and dated two years before marrying (earlier he’d said one year). They were married for 11 years. He’d already said she died 7 years ago.

So how on earth does he have a six-year-old grandson living in Paris?

Okay, with all that I was awfully sure he was telling me a story. Where I finally became absolutely sure this was the case was when I thought to do this:

5. If only one part of his background is grammatical, google keywords from that description.

In “Ron”‘s case, I googled: June 1979 Armor/Tank 2nd lieutenant

Bingo! I got the biography of Major General Seward, with about half of “Ron”‘s bio copied verbatim.

Googling from what’s left: “every echelon from platoon to division”

I found the rest of the bio he cobbled together into his “own” from General John F. Campbell.

I no longer have any doubt. I’m not going to answer any more of his emails (coming from — unless he asks for money, in which case, my answer will be: LOL

So — today someone contacted me who said he grew up in Lyon, France.

I refrained from letting him have it and instead sent him my standard response for those who have answered fewer than 100 questions.

There are some good men out there. I know it’s true.

But I’m going to have to meet you before I will make even the slightest commitment to you, thank you very much.

Review of Deeper Dating, by Ken Page

deeper_dating_largeDeeper Dating

How to Drop the Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy

by Ken Page, LCSW

Shambhala, Boston. 2015. 255 pages.
Starred Review

I like the philosophy of this book so much, almost as soon as I’d read the Introduction, I ordered myself a copy. I will confess that I haven’t actually dated anyone while I’ve been reading it, and I haven’t done all the exercises. (There are some designed to help you find someone to date.)

However, I still love the principles behind this book, and I have a better idea of what I’m looking for, and I’m happier while I’m waiting to find someone, as well.

Let me quote from the Introduction to give you an idea of what’s found in this book:

The path to a loving relationship is about something much more profound, essential, and life changing than we have ever been taught. The real search for love is about embracing our most authentic self, sharing that true self with the precious people who know how to honor it, and learning to offer others the same in return. The amazing paradox is that the parts of our personality we think we must fix in order to find love are usually the keys to finding that love. On the path you’ll be taking, the focus won’t be on fixing yourself; it will be on honoring and expressing your innate gifts. And that changes everything. Instead of holding the whip of self-improvement over yourself, as many of us have spent so much time doing, you will learn to value, trust, and express what I call your Core Gifts.

What are Core Gifts? They are simply your points of deepest sensitivity to life. You will find them in the things that inspire you most, the things that touch you most deeply — and in the things that hurt you the most. Often we think we need to conceal these vulnerable parts of ourselves, to hide them or fix them in order to make ourselves more attractive, but the absolute reverse is true: they are the bullet train to authentic intimacy. When we learn to lead with our Core Gifts, our lives shift on their very axes. Our personal magnetism becomes stronger. We experience more passion and more connection to ourselves and others. Most important, we move closer to the love that may have previously eluded us, a love that empowers us and brings us joy.

This book explores how these ideas relate to your dating life. I especially enjoyed the section about finding your Core Gifts — because these things make life more rich, even while you’re still single.

The more you feel close to your joys, the more the people who are right for you will notice you and become attracted to you. Your joys are some of the very things your partner-to-be will love most about you, and will need most from you….

Also, the more time you spend with the things that touch you and move you, the more you will be noticed by the people who are good for you. The kind of person you are seeking is someone who is drawn to your Core Gifts, your authentic self. If you wait until you know someone loves you before you reveal these parts of yourself, it’s as though you’re waiting for the harvest without planting the seeds. It’s the vulnerability, warmth, and humanity of your gifts that will make the right person notice and come to love you.

Would you like to think about how these ideas can play out in your dating life? I highly recommend this book.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Say This, Not That, by Carl Alasko, PhD

say_this_not_that_largeSay This, Not That

A Foolproof Guide to Effective Interpersonal Communication

by Carl Alasko, PhD

Jeremy P. Tarcher (Penguin), 2013. 219 pages.

This is a handy and practical book about communicating in every area of life.

First, Carl Alasko gives an introduction that includes the Five Rules of Effective Communication:

1. Decide in advance what you want to accomplish.

2. Say only what you need to say; nothing more.

3. Don’t ask questions that don’t have an actual answer.

4. Do not use blame: no criticism, accusation, punishment or humiliation.

5. Always be ready to stop when things get too heated.

After explaining what he’s setting out to do in the introduction and explaining these principles, the author goes on to present scenarios from many different life situations. All of them take up two pages. On the first page is what you shouldn’t say (and why); on the second page is what you should say (and why). All these examples give you a good idea of how to put the principles into effect.

The sections of the book are Dating, Developing a Long-Term Relationship, Parenting, Friendship, the Workplace, and other Everyday Situations. There’s a section on Advanced Work at the end, now that you’ve learned the basics.

I read this book slowly, one scenario at a time. I can’t think of a situation when I actually used the book, but the message is a nice calming one, reminding me that I can rationally deal with tense situations and resolve them without blame. I began reading the book around the time I signed up for online dating, too. Even though I didn’t necessarily come up with the situations listed in the book (though there was one about writing your profile), reading through the dating scenarios was confidence-building. I can do this. And reading the Relationship scenarios is also confidence-building. We can be adults in communicating with each other.

This book contains nice practical advice for dealing with others.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.