Tag Archives: Mary Roach

Book Club Reflection: Stiff by Mary Roach

6 Jun

I read this book about six months ago but my second book club decided to read it and I thought I’d go without a refresher. It was my first meeting back after school ended so I was just glad for an easy transition. Much of the conversation was like my other book club’s discussion but I thought I’d share some of our thoughts with you all here.

Again, the main question we pondered was if the book was offensive. Some people found the humor to be too much. But we reasoned that the humor is how people can deal with working so close to death. The same way I can be light about a person not getting a job (I’m in recruiting), people have to make light of a heavy situation to deal with sad facts.

We discussed donating our bodies to science. Many in our group had living wills or insurance policies covering what would happen to them after they pass. We talked about how it’s the family, commonly the children of the deceased who have to live with the body donation. Could a child deal with what’s happening to their parent’s body? After reading the book, many of us were turned off to embalming or cremation so donating seemed like a better option. Many liked the idea of being composted into a tree.

We’ve all been to funerals and one thing the book cleared up for us is why sometimes the person doesn’t look the way you remember. If there was an illness especially, modern mortuary science can make the person look more like his or her healthy self than like they did before death.

Roach was very fearless in her pursuit of this book. We were impressed with how much information she was able to gather considering when the book was written. One of our members did question her facts, especially about automotive crash safety. She mentioned on page 92 that you can survive a 60mph crash into a wall. He didn’t believe this was a repeatable statistic from a crash lab, it seemed too unbelievable. It might have happened once, but cars are not designed for that.

This is a really fun book to discuss with a group and I’m glad I had a second go at it. We’re reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance next. I haven’t started yet but I’m looking forward to it!.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Book Club Reflection: Stiff by Mary Roach

15 Dec

I was apprehensive when our book club picked Stiff for our November selection but I could get the audiobook and I decided not to complain. The audiobook turned out to be amazing and I really loved the book. I was wondering what my fellow book-lovers would say. This is a book that’s hard to talk to people about unless they’re reading it too!

Mary Roach has written several books about unusual topics though Stiff was her first. She’s lived most of her adult life in California and her background is in magazine writing. She stuck mostly to travel writing and light science before Stiff.

A lot of the things covered in the book were things we hadn’t considered. The decay studies stuck with us all. I will say that the Wayne State Universities studies lasted the longest with me. I actually went to Wayne State for a work trip and got it all set up to see their crash barrier before my appointment. Unfortunately, the professor didn’t want to take me into the cadaver prep area. I’m actually kind of glad. The book seemed to oddly focus on my area of Detroit because the McCabe Funeral Home mentioned in the book is less than a mile from my library and I drive by it every time I go there. For anyone else who is interested, a librarian called them to ask about their new cremation techniques. It turns out the state shut them down before it could ever get off the ground. They objected to human remains going into the water supply.

The ethical distinctions between if the soul resided in the brain or heart were really interesting to us. Roach did a good job of explaining why it mattered so much. Another thing she made very clear was that decisions on what happens to a cadaver ultimately should be left up to the family. The living are the ones who have to live with either respecting or going against the desires the deceased had about what to be done with his body. We also discussed where a person is buried and if it’s done in the manner he or she asked for. The deceased won’t have to live with the decisions, but the family does.

A lot of our members felt there were parts of the book that were hard to read. The black box chapter was hardest for a lot. Roach tried to use humor in a lot of the book and sometimes it wasn’t enough to distract from the gruesome topic, the black box being one of those times. Most of the time, the disrespect seemed to be more about what was being done to the cadavers, not in Roach’s writing. She did keep a very detached style which must have helped her deal with her topic. One reader complained that in addition to being detached, the writing seemed to jump subjects a lot and felt a bit disjointed. We wondered if that was how Roach’s brain worked.

Hearing about grave robbing made it easy to see where Mary Shelly came up with Frankenstein. We thought the chapter on cellular memory had the same creepy feel to it. It was almost a disappointment to hear that those who claimed they had characteristics of their donors did not have corresponding claims. We wondered what someone with an animal donor might claim!

A few of our members had personal connections to the book. One reader had done a cadaver lab in college. She found it was hard to cut the body ad disassociate it from a living person. She recalls that not all of the students were as respectful as she had been or had wanted everyone to be. The procedures described in the book sounded different from her memories and she thinks protocols have changed since her time in the lab.

Another member had a family member who had been a breathing cadaver. She remembers that the staff had been very respectful of her family member, talking to him while they were waiting for all the doctors who would be receiving the donations to arrive at the hospital. Like Mary describes, the donor is treated more like a patient than a cadaver.

We’re not meeting in December but we’ll reconvene in January to talk about Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell. I’ll be starting it soon.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Challenge Update, November 2016

1 Dec

This month was ridiculous when it comes to finishing books. Considering I took my final and did NaNoWriMo this month, I wasn’t counting on much progress. I’m ecstatic about it, don’t get me wrong. I wonder if I can keep this up? You can look at my progress at any time on my challenge page.

Books finished in November:

Stiff // Mary Roach
The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing // Marilyn Durham
In the Garden of Beasts // Erik Larson
Z // Therese Anne Fowler
The Lost Daughter // Elena Ferrante
The Tempest // William Shakespeare
Only the Paranoid Survive // Andrew S. Grove

I can’t remember the last time I read seven books in a month! This is such a good feeling. I’m a bit overwhelmed by the number of reviews I owe you all! I’ll be hard at work on those this weekend.

When Are You Reading? Challenge

12/12
This is my challenge to read a book from 12 different time periods. You can read about it here. And I finished! I’m cutting it down to the wire a bit this year but The Tempest will be my 1600s book. I may continue to do Shakespeares for this in years to come, the 1600s can be hard!

Goodreads Challenge

49/45
Woo hoo! Finishing it off like it’s nothing, haha. I’ll probably get to 52 or so by the end of December. I’m going to try to put more time into writing while I can so books might take a bit of a back seat.

stiffBook of the Month

Stiff was really good. The audiobook was wonderfully narrated as well but the writing took my breath away. I wasn’t expecting to be so interested in dead bodies! It was a great surprise and a smash hit at book club (more on that to come in a few weeks!).

Added to my TBR

I added three this month which I’m not happy about, but I think I’ll survive. I’m down one overall with 123 total books. I’m going to be missing my book club meetings for a while so this might really start to drop!

  • A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab. This may be premature because I haven’t read A Gathering of Shadows yet but I’m going to assume I’ll want to read this one!
  • Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell. A book club selection for January. I’ll probably start it next but I do hope to speed through it and get some other books read over the holidays!
  • South of Broad by Pat Conroy. Another book club pick. This one is a clunker so I’m hoping it sweeps me along and I can finish it fast.

How are your challenges going? I hope you’re killing it. If you love historical fiction, give some thought to my challenge, it’s fun! I’ll do it again in 2017 to be sure.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 9-November-2016

9 Nov

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

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The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


lostdaughterCurrently reading: Nothing with In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. I got it renewed again but I’m not sure I’ll find the time to devote to it. I know, it’s sad. I’m enjoying the book, too! I think I’m not too far from the end.
I’m so certain I’ll get World Without End by Ken Follett soon. I’m next in line for the hold and I’ll dedicate my time to the book 100% when I get it.
I’ve enjoyed Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald so far. The narration is great but I’m starting to feel really bad for Zelda! I want better things to happen to her but having read more about the end of her life, I know it’s not all rosy.
I began The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante on Friday and I’m already making substantial progress on it. The file is just under 5 hours long so I’m expecting to finish this one soon. Which will leave me time for Follett as soon as it comes back!
I started reading Only the Paranoid Survive by Andrew S. Grove. This is a book my old boss recommended and said it was very influential to him so I’ve wanted to read it forever. Finally going to get to it!

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Recently finishedStiff by Mary Roach was really fun. I finished it early Thursday morning while I was running and was thinking about it most of the rest of the day. My review of it went out yesterday so please go check that out. I gave it a full 5 out of 5 stars.
I finished The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing by Marilyn Durham on Friday so WOOO for finishing books! It was a better week than I expected. My review will be up around December 1st as I’m gearing up for NaNoWriMo and will not be posting (besides WWW Wednesday, of course) until December. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.

Reading Next: I’m thinking of reading a Shakespeare to finish up the When Are You Reading? Challenge but haven’t decided on one yet. Can anyone recommend one that’s specifically set in the 1600s? If not, I’ll pick any because they were written in the time period. Close enough!


I have MY FINAL TODAY (!!!!) so please be patient with me due to delayed responses.

Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: Stiff by Mary Roach (5/5)

8 Nov

I’d seen this book listed once or twice, probably in ‘recommended non-fiction’ or something similar, but I would never have read it if my book club hadn’t picked it for our November book. I grabbed the audiobook and started listening to it with my coworker on a work trip and finished it up on my own later.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Summary from Goodreads:

Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers—some willingly, some unwittingly—have been involved in science’s boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.

I thought I was going to be a lot more grossed out by this book than I ended up being. Roach approached the subject in a very scientific and respectful way which made for a great read. She broke the book down into logical chapters and I really enjoyed reading each one. The weirdest part for me was when she was talking about alternatives to cremation and she mentioned McCabe Funeral Home which is down the street from my library! I literally pass it on my way there. Creepy. I’m wondering about inviting them to our discussion, haha.

I think Roach chose good topics for the book. I like that she ended with a personal reflection on her choices of what to do with her body. It made me think about what I want to do with mine. My favorite chapter was the one on automotive research. It’s very similar to what my company does. I knew about Wayne State’s research with automotive crash because I hire their students. I was a bit put off in the audiobook when the narrator pronounced accelerometer ac-CELERO-meter instead of acceler-OM-eter. I’ll get over it, though. Being from Detroit, automotive research and crash testing seem pretty close to home and very relevant to me so I was very interested in that chapter and even listened to it a second time when I fell asleep for a bit of the car ride with my coworker.

Mary Roach Image via the author's website

Mary Roach
Image via the author’s website

I found the part on human decay the hardest to read. The embalming process was fine, but the University of Tennessee lab on decay was a bit much for me. I can’t imagine the smell and what it would be like to see those things. I sympathized with the university employee who was less than willing to go with Roach on the tour. So much of the research in the book was respectful but the decay studies (and the facial plastic surgery practice) were less so and I think that’s what bothered me about it. Though, both of those were at the beginning of the book so maybe I got more used to it as the book went on.

With the exception of the pronunciation of accelerometer, I really enjoyed the narration of Shelly Frasier. She had good inflections for the more gruesome or gory parts of the book and had a good time for Roach’s sense of humor. I’m not sure if I’d listen to her for a fiction novel, I’d have to hear it first, but she was great for nonfiction.

Roach mentions that we don’t give a lot of thought to what happens to our body after we die and to be honest, we don’t need them very much anymore. There are religious implications to body donation for many, myself included, that I think could have made for an interesting chapter. Roach points out that it’s more important that our loved ones can live with what we choose when we don’t have the power to object. They have to live with it while the corpse doesn’t live with anything.

Writer’s Takeaway: Many nonfiction writers keep themselves out of their books and remain neutral. I loved that Mary Roach inserted herself into the story, telling about her visits and research with her opinions and reactions included. It gave a good sense of her personality and it was run to relate to her when she felt the same way and wonder at her when she didn’t. I can’t imagine this approach would work with every subject, but it worked well with this one and I wonder if Roach inserted herself into her other books as well.

A really fun read about a subject I realize I knew very little about. A full Five out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
The Dog Eared Review of ‘Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers’ by Mary Roach | biblioTECH
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach | The Sleepless Reader

WWW Wednesday, 2-November-2016

2 Nov

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

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The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


zCurrently reading: So far not much at all with In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. I’d be happy to finish this before the end of the year, but I’m not sure even that will happen!
Still on hold with World Without End by Ken Follett. I’ve got to be getting it back soon, right? The only problem is when to listen to it now that I have two other audiobooks going!
Stiff by Mary Roach has been a fun read. I’m getting close to the end and it’s safe to say I learned a lot but it hasn’t always been things I think I’ll use in my daily conversations. Roach has a great style and I’m curious about her other books now.
I’m getting close to the end of The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing by Marilyn Durham. There’s only been one part so far I didn’t think was believable but I’ve really enjoyed this book.
It will be a slow go with Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler only because I’m not planning on driving a lot any time soon and this one is in my car only. I like the story and the narrator is great but this will be here a while.

Recently finished: As expected, after last week’s tidal wave, noting finished this week. I think a few will be here next week so I’m optimistic.

lostdaughterReading Next: My book club met Monday and I’ve been reminded that my next book will be The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante. I have another of her books on my shelf that I haven’t gotten to yet but it comes highly recommended so I’m excited to start with this shorter title.
I’m in need of some help to finish my reading challenge this year. Can anyone recommend a book that’s set in the 1600s? It’s the only time period I have left for the When Are You Reading? Challenge. Thanks to anyone who can help!


I have a class after work Wednesdays through November so please be patient with me due to delayed responses. I’m checking as often as I can.

Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 26-October-2016

26 Oct

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Cat DancingCurrently reading: I think I got through one chapter of In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. I’m still enjoying this one even though I’m going through it so slowly. I always read ebooks slowly so this is no surprise.
Still on hold with World Without End by Ken Follett. Ugh.
I was able to start Stiff by Mary Roach on Friday. I introduced my coworker to audiobooks and he wanted to start this one during a work trip to Cleveland. We got through almost three hours of it and I’m going to show him how to get books on his phone so he can finish it himself. Yay!
I started The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing by Marilyn Durham. It’s more of a Western than I was expecting which is wonderful. I don’t remember the last time I read a Western and I’m really enjoying it!
I started the audiobook of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. This book focuses more on Zelda before the plot of Call Me Zelda so it will be interesting to listen to these two close to each other and compare the character.

bookofliesRecently finished: My book tidal wave came! I finished three this week. The Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer was my latest finished, earlier this week. It was fun to listen to a thriller but it always seems like some things are too convenient in this genre and it bothers me from time to time. Overall, enjoyable. My review will come next week.
I finished Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck last Thursday. It was a little too over-dramatic for me at times and too slow at others. Overall, everything tied up well and I liked that but it wasn’t quite right for me. My review went up yesterday.
I finished Still Alice by Lisa Genova and have already watched the movie. Wow! The writing in this book was a little weak in places in my opinion, but the plot was great and I’m really amazed at Genova’s ability to write Alice. My review went up Monday.

Reading Next: I try not to do this, but I’m not going to put anything here this week. I’m just starting so many books, it’s hard to say when they’ll be over and I’m not anticipating anything just yet.


I have a class after work Wednesdays through November so please be patient with me due to delayed responses. I’m checking as often as I can.

Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 19-October-2016

19 Oct

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


zeldaCurrently reading: No movement with In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. I’ve got a doctor’s appointment which might grant me a little bit of time coming up this week, but I’m, unfortunately, not hopeful. We’ll see how this goes!
Still on hold with World Without End by Ken Follett. I keep thinking about the story and I can’t wait to get the audio back!
I made decent progress on The Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer as I did errands this past weekend. I’m hoping to get this done soon because I have some other audiobooks I really want to catch up on but I’m being realistic and I know a car audiobook will take me some time.
I’m really getting close to finishing Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck. I’m not a big fan of this one, to be honest. I’m kind of looking forward to it being over so I can move on to something I think I’ll enjoy more.
As many of you implied, Still Alice by Lisa Genova is great. I’m flying through it and I’m hoping to finish up soon so I can get on to some other titles but this is a great roller coaster to be on!

Recently finished: Nothing! I’m so sad about this. I really wanted to say I’d gotten through at least one of these titles, but no such luck! I’m hoping for a tidal wave of ‘finishing books’ to come in the next week and pack this section to the brim. Fingers crossed.

stiffReading Next: I’m still planning on Stiff by Mary Roach which is sitting on my bedside table and ready to be downloaded on my phone. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it either way but right now, audio is sounding better so I can grab some physical books off of my shelf.


I have a class after work Wednesdays through November so please be patient with me due to delayed responses. I’m checking as often as I can.

Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 12-October-2016

12 Oct

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


stillaliceCurrently reading: I read just a little bit of In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. I was hoping it would be more, but I think it was two chapters. Not too impressive.
Still on hold with World Without End by Ken Follett. I now have two people in front of me in line. I hope none of them end up checking it out!
I ended up carpooling to my conference over the weekend so I didn’t listen to much of The Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer this week. I try to have it on in the car as much as possible but I’ll probably struggle to get through it. I have it on eaudio as well so if I finish my other book, I’ll pick this one up in that format.
I’ve made moderate progress with Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck, mostly from my runs. It’s not my favorite so far but I’m enjoying it enough. We’ll see how this goes.
I started  Still Alice by Lisa Genova on Sunday night. It seems like it will be a fast read so I’m hoping to get through it well before my book club meets.

Phew! What a list.

slade-houseRecently finished:I got through Slade House by David Mitchell on Friday and my review went up on Monday. I liked it more than I thought I would and it actually makes me want to read more Mitchell! I know, shock! After Cloud Atlas, I never thought that would happen. My book review went up on Monday so go check it out!

My book review of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz went up last Thursday. I enjoyed the book a lot so go check out my review. It got 4 out of 5 Stars from me.

stiffReading Next: My book club’s next pick is Stiff by Mary Roach. I’ll see if I can eaudio this one and maybe read a ‘for fun’ book from my TBR! It’s been a while since I knocked one of those out!


I have a class after work Wednesdays through November so please be patient with me due to delayed responses. I’m checking as often as I can.

Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!