Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

Everything I Never Told You: A Novel
Lydia is the favored child of the Lee family. Her mom desperately wants her to become a doctor, to pick up her medical career where her mom failed--due to gender constraints and impending motherhood. Her father wants her to be popular, to fit in, as he never could as a Chinese American. But Lydia doesn't want any of this, all of which no longer matters because Lydia dies before the book even begins. No one knows what happens, but it takes the youngest to begin to piece Lydia's final days together.
Told through the eyes of the Lee family and sometimes Lydia, this book really explored the dynamics of parental pressure and the mother-daughter relationship.

It is overall a sad book and not terribly mysterious, but I loved it. It really reached down to a point where I felt a connection with all the characters and truly felt their struggles.

Ender's Game (The Ender Quintet)
Orson Scott Card has made some political and social statements that I don't agree with or find potentially hateful, but I figured if I checked out this book from the library, I wouldn't be putting any money toward him. EXCEPT I lost the book somehow, so I ended up having to buy it to replace the library copy. Thwarted by the universe, right? Anyway, I always try to separate the author from the book in cases like this, and I did enjoy the book.
In Ender's world, child geniuses are monitored and plucked from their homes to be trained by the government to fight the endless war of humanity vs. the buggers. The book is split between Ender's time in space, training to be a great solider, and his siblings on earth--who are changing the world in their own way. Although parts of the plot bogged a little bit, it was still, overall, a good read and great message.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

This was a very weird week for reading. I somehow lost the book I was reading (Ender's Game) somewhere inside my house. Like, carried it in, set it down… and I have no idea where it is. I spent a good three days looking for it before giving up and picking up something else. Lest you think I live in a mansion, I do not. I have no idea how I lost a book inside my house (yes, I've checked the couches).

Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us
Corrin sent me this book after she tweeted about it and I discovered our library didn't have it. (I can't imagine why a library wouldn't carry this book.) It reminded me of a Mary Roach book, which I always adore. Based on the title, it's obviously about sexual norms and mores and a look into why certain things are considered deviant. What I found interesting was the historical aspect behind so much of the book--why certain deviancies evolved at the time they did and whether or not they were considered normal at one time. Parts of the book were a little scientifically dry, but overall, it was a pretty fun--and sometimes disgusting--read.

Summer House with Swimming Pool: A Novel
I was very excited about this book, having been left pretty speechless by The Dinner. This is not The Dinner, which is not to say that it wasn't still good. It opens with a man who describe himself as a good doctor, a great general physician who takes the time for his patients. Only it seems that one of his patients, a famous actor named Ralph Meier is dead and--from the profanity Ralph's wife is screaming--Dr. Marc Schlosser is to blame. Marc's voice is, first of all, excellent. From the beginning, the book goes back to the summer before Ralph died, where Marc, his wife Caroline and their two daughters end up spending much of the summer at Ralph's summer house. The characters in this book are not likable. They are deviant and immoral and in many ways, not nice people. While the ending didn't leave me with the same shocked feeling as The Dinner did, it still made me stop and think and read between the lines. Like The Dinner, it left me feeling uncomfortable in quite a few parts, but it didn't stop my enjoyment of the book. I like books that make you think, and this is definitely one of them.

What are you reading?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Fireworks 5k

This is and always will be my favorite race. One, it's a half-mile from my house, meaning we can walk there. Two, it's a small race, usually capping out at about 200 participants. Three, it's laid back, like most small races. There is no technical starting line, just a starting area. You run when the firework explodes. I also love it because like I said, it's so close to my house--meaning I run those roads several times a week and could run this course with my eyes closed. I know there's a big hill at the halfway point, and I know that when the road starts to slope upward at the end that I'm almost done.
They've been doing this race for four years and I've managed to run every single year, which is pretty cool. In fact, it was the first race I ever ran, so obviously it holds a special place in my heart. While I run it, Shane usually takes the boys to playground. He also usually manages to miss me at the finish line, but this year, he swore he would get there on time.

This year was extra special because Luke wanted to run the 5k. I was a little nervous about it because although we've run 3 miles together before, we hadn't been doing it on a regular basis. Also, he was insistent that I not run with him, so I could just picture him taking a wrong turn or something crazy because I didn't know where he would be at in the crowd. In fact, I wrote his name and my cell number on his bib in permanent marker just in case. We did run the course together before the race, so I made sure that he knew the course. I also had a friend who I knew would be further back in the pack and she was going to watch out for him, too. Still, I was nervous because, you know. I'm a mom.
Luke started out the race running next to me for about 1/4 of a mile. I kept telling him he needed to fall back, otherwise he was going to crash and burn. I asked him again if he wanted me to run with him and he said, "Nope!" then fell back behind me. I was still super nervous, but tried to focus on my run. I haven't run with a watch for months and wasn't wearing one during the race, so I just tried to find a good 5k pace and settle in. I hit mile marker one at 8:50, according to the woman with a stopwatch. I still felt good, so I tried to keep my pace even. At the halfway point, there's a hill that you go up, loop around and go back down. As I was coming down the hill, I spied Luke coming up the hill. He had a super determined look on his face but managed a smile at me as I clapped and cheered for him. I couldn't believe he was that close to me and didn't know if he would be able to maintain, but seeing him relaxed me enough that I was able to just focus on finishing the run. At the two mile mark, the woman with the stop watch shouted out 17:30. I've been trying to break 28 in a 5k for awhile (and I use trying loosely here, in that it's just a goal… I haven't been doing any speed work or focused training), so I knew that if I maintained, I would most likely be able to make it.
The only thing I dislike about this race is that they don't close down the streets. I understand why because the parade starts at the same place as the 5k, so they can't exactly deny people from getting to the start of the parade--especially those in the parade who need to line up. That said, the police are very good about making sure traffic is stopped for runners; however, the exhaust fumes from the idling cars are pretty brutal. At about 2.5 miles, there's a gradual uphill that you don't notice in a car, but you definitely notice it while running. I was behind a little boy about Luke's age who was crying to his dad that he wanted to walk, but dad kept telling him that the finish line was near. I turned my head and said, "Good job, buddy! You're so close!" and got a small smile out of him. At the final push, he blew past me like I was standing still. Kids!

When I got to the final turn into the parking lot towards the finish line, I saw that the clock said 27:0x and relaxed because I knew there was NO WAY it was going to take me 50 seconds to cross the finish line. My official finish time was 27:15, which is a 5k PR for me. I ran the turkey trot two years ago at under 27, but the course was way long so my time was not at all reflected on the official time (yes, I'm still frustrated about this). My time two years ago was after coming off a rigorous half-marathon training schedule and running myself into an injury, so knowing that I can hit my goal with no speed work or training, aside from making myself get up and run five miles every morning before summer school? That is a good feeling.
And yes, Shane made it to the finish line this year. It was a good feeling to see him clapping and cheering at the end. After finishing, I grabbed a bottle of water and stood next to Shane and Tommy to catch my breath for a minute, then I headed back to find Luke. I'd just started down the sidewalk when I saw him coming and truly, I wish I'd taken my phone to capture this. He didn't see me because his face was sheer determination, arms and legs pumping. I hopped in next to him and said, "You're almost done, just around the corner!" and he kicked it in so strong that I couldn't catch him--legitimately could not catch him.

He crossed the finish line at 30:37 and hands down, I am more proud/excited about his time than mine. He was so close to a sub-30, he did way better than I expected and on so little training. He finished 5th in his age group. Aside from the boy who finished just in front of me, the other kids who beat him were 9 and 10.
After the race, he told me that he couldn't feel his legs and that halfway through, he wanted to stop and walk, but his legs just wouldn't stop moving. He's already asked me when we could run another 5k, so I registered us for Run Dirty. I think he will love a trail race!

Not to be outdone, Tommy ran the sparkler sprint for the first time. Little kids are funny because they all just fall in a perfect line and don't pass, but I loved watching him run and he loved getting a box of sparklers and a ribbon at the end.

All told, it was a perfect way to kick off our 4th of July. I am hoping next year, Shane will also run!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

I read a lot this week. It was awesome.

The Vacationers: A Novel
I was pretty ambivalent about this novel. On the one hand, it was an easy turn off your mind book to read. On the other hand, I kept thinking… what is the point? The Post family vacations to Mallorca in the midst of a lot going on in their lives. Jim was recently fired from his job for an office affair. Franny is struggling to deal with whether or not she still loves him. Bobby is going through a financially tough time and brings with him an older girlfriend who no one likes. Sylvia has a slightly illicit goal to reach before she goes to college. Beyond this, it was a fairly predictable and slow novel. It started out grabbing me, then just kind of unfurled slowly. An easy beach read but not the most engaging.

Ruin and Rising (Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone))
This is the last book in the Shadow and Bone trilogy. I previously reviewed the other two books. The trilogy follows a magical world where people can summon the wind or the sun or heal and where an entire area is shrouded in impenetrable darkness filled with monsters who used to be human--and like any magical world, you have light forces and dark forces. The third book was an excellent conclusion. I enjoyed this series!

Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature's Most Memorable Meals
This book is a must-read for anyone who loves food and literature. Featuring fifty meals from literary classics, I loved this book because it not only had a selection from the book where the meal came from, but it also went over the types of food, how they related to the book, the book's contribution to the literary world and other interesting footnotes. Some of my favorites were the Mad Hatter's tea party from Alice's Adventure in Wonderland, a beach fruit meal from Robinson Crusoe, the chicken breakfast from To Kill a Mockingbird and a cocktail from Lolita. There were a few nitpicks, like Holden Caufield's sandwich lunch, which clearly states has swiss cheese, but in the photo, it's bright yellow American cheese. Still, despite those few minor consistency errors, I loved seeing some of the books I love come to life a little more.

I Am Pilgrim: A Thriller
Pilgrim is an upper-echelon intelligence officer--not the FBI, not the CIA, more than that. He thinks he's finally left the life, until he gets pulled back in after investigating a murder that shadows a book he wrote. Quickly, he gets pulled back into the life and ends up in Turkey where he's chasing a bio-terrorist. I loved this book. It was suspenseful, a little gritty and the author did a great job of humanizing even the bad guys. It was a longer book, at 600 pages, but I read it pretty quickly, anxious to follow the thread of the story to the (excellent) conclusion.

The Fever: A Novel
In a town where the biggest attraction seems to be a "dead" lake, a health epidemic is sweeping through the high school. First one girl falls in the middle of class, seizing and foaming at the mouth, then other girls follow. The first girl lies in a coma while the others recover quickly, but the town is up in arms over what could be the cause. Is it the lake? Is it the HPV vaccines all the girls just received? Or is it something far more sinister?
This story is clearly meant to shadow the Salem Witch trials and the hysteria that swept Salem, but I enjoyed it. It definitely seemed more like a young adult read, but it kept my attention to the very end.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel
I've been wanting to read this ever since Barb and Sarah both gave it glowing reviews. AJ Fikry, owner of Island Books on Alice Island, is a fairly unhappy man. Widowed at a fairly young age, he mostly spends his night drinking himself into a stupor. After one such night, he wakes to find his apartment cleaned… but also missing his collector's copy of Tamerlane by EA Poe. Then he finds a two year old left in his store, with a note from her mom asking him to take good care of her. As the story evolves, AJ starts to see the beauty in life. He makes friends. He learns to love again, in more ways than one. I kind of sensed the ending of this story shortly after I started reading it, but it didn't diminish my love for AJ and his story any. This is a good one.

The Wolf of Wall Street
I don't usually watch a movie, then read the book, but when I watched this movie I wasn't aware that it was a book. After watching the movie, I was pretty well-versed in the life and times of Jordan Belfort. I thought this would be more of a story on his rise and fall in Wall Street, but alas, it was basically 500 pages of Jordan Belfort waxing poetic about his constant drug use and other illicit activities. I'm not offended easily so those parts didn't bother me so much as the fact that it got old, especially when he had his first kid. Then his second kid. And still didn't stop. And when he finally did, he still doesn't seem to echo much remorse about all that he did and the potential damage caused. Definitely not the best memoir I've ever read.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

Take This Man: A Memoir
I think I've said this before, but I'm really only interested in memoirs if the writer's life has something that is unequivocally unique from mine. If you're a normal person who went on a journey or something, I'm not super interested because let's be real. I could go on a journey if I felt so inclined to put down my book and get off the couch. At any rate, Brando Skyhorse definitely had a story to tell, one that is thankfully unique from my life. When he was three years old, his father abandoned him and his mother. His mother seized the opportunity to reinvent their lives and told Brando he was son of Paul Skyhorse Johnson, an American Indian activist. However, Paul is in prison, so Brando lives his life with a rotating cast of fathers and his acerbic, verbally abusive mom and sometimes overbearing grandma. It takes thirty years for Brando to untangle the web of lies his mom wove and attempt to find his father, whether biological or the man who was willing to fill that role.
What was really gripping about this story was the extent of Brando's mom deception and the long-lasting effect it had on his life. I was definitely pulled in to his story and his pain.

The Book of Unknown Americans: A novel
Arturo, Alma and their daughter Maribel come from Mexico to America, after Maribel suffers a tragic accident and is left with brain damage. They believe that in the land of opportunity, Maribel can get what she needs. They move into the same apartment complex as the Toro family, a family from Panama. Mayor Toro, the son of the family, falls in love with Maribel at first sight, despite her limitations. Interwoven amongst both families are stories of others who have come to America, seeking prosperity and opportunity. This was a beautiful, rich story that reached in depth to humanize those that we may sometimes overlook.

Natchez Burning: A Novel (Penn Cage)
At almost 800 pages, this book consumed most of my reading time this week. This is the first installment of a trilogy and was definitely captivating. Set in Mississippi and told from the perspective of Penn Cage, a mayor whose father was just accused of murder, the book chronicles race relations and decades old murders in this southern town. Penn's point-of-view is balanced with that of Henry, a journalist set on exposing the horrific crimes of the Golden Eagles, a KKK splinter group who claimed to be behind the assassination of MLK Jr and RFK. With the length of this book, this is not one you sit down and breeze through. There was a lot going on and a lot of plot shifts and points to remember, so it definitely took me awhile to make my way through it, but it was an enjoyable, interesting read.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel
This is a book that reaches into your heart… and then tears it out. Set during WWII, the book is split between the story of Marie-Laure, who has been blind since age six, and Werner, an orphan drafted by the Hitler youth. Marie-Laure ends up working for the French resistance, while Werner is working his way through Europe, destroying the resistance. As you can probably guess, their paths eventually intertwine. Aside from one key point at the end that left me a little disappointed at the lack of follow through, this book was both tragic and hopeful. I loved it.

Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three
I've been fascinated by the West Memphis Three ever since I saw Paradise Lost in high school. That said, I truly don't know which side I stand on… I know that the three recently accepted the Alford Plea and were released from prison, but I don't know what I believe. From a layman's standpoint, I do think it was a stretch to find them guilty and sentence one to death based on the little evidence they had, but I also understand that there were quite a few things pointing toward the three as the perpetrators (and no, I'm not talking about wearing black or reading Stephen King or listening to heavy metal--or truly even Damien Echols' mental issues… I have students with mental issues. I can't fathom them doing this). What does bother me about this case is that it was bungled from the start, with evidence being lost and destroyed, a search party not being organized until the next day and so on. What bothers me is that, in the end, whether these three are innocent or guilty, we seem to have forgotten about the three 8 year old boys who tragically, horrifically lost their lives that day, and I guess that's why I keep reading whatever I can about it.

The Farm
Daniel receives a call from his dad, telling him his mom has been institutionalized. Then he receives a call from his mom, telling him not believe his dad. And so begins a story in which we don't know who to believe--Daniel's mom, Tilde, or Daniel's dad, Chris. Tilde claims of a conspiracy, a plot to make her look insane. Chris claims she's broken down and is insane. Daniel is in the middle and must decide which parent to believe. This book was slightly reminiscent of Shutter Island, except that the bombshell twist at Shutter Island was more concealed. Still, I couldn't wait to read on and find out if Daniel would believe his mom or side with his dad.

Bankson is an anthropologist alone in the field, until he meets up with Nell and her sometimes angry husband Fen, who are escaping the volatile Mumbanyo. Bankson finds them a new tribe nearby, the mostly matriarchal, gentle Tam, but in the midst of this, he cannot stop thinking about Nell. This book grabbed me. Quickly. The storyline was fascinated but also the relationship between Nell, Fen and Bankson. This was a book that reminded me somewhat of The Poisonwood Bible but on a very different level. What does it take to live amongst native peoples? And what does one sacrifice or give up for the sake of science?

What are you reading?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

I only read one book this week. It was 600 pages long and I followed it up with a 300+ page. Also, 8th graders don't want to read in the last week of school (shocking), so I lost my silent reading time. Which I guess is a nice transition to next year when I lost it all together (no, I don't want to discuss this).

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair: A Novel
I am torn on this book. It started off strong and I was sucked in. Marcus Goldman is a writer who trained under Harry Quebert, his professor and a famous author. After Marcus' first book is a huge success, he encounters serious writer's block and escapes to Harry's house to try and shake it. In the midst of this, a body is found on Harry Quebert's property and Harry is arrested for a decades old murder. As the story unravels, it seems the dead girl, Nola, disappeared at 15 and was involved with Harry. The story and the mystery itself was interesting… but this is where I get hung up on it. It could've been about 200 pages less. And the dialogue was absolutely appalling. To the point where I almost had to set the book down a few times. I want to chalk it up to the book being translated to English, but it was bad. Cringeworthy. It is not a great story, but it was a good story. It could've been better, much better, but I will say that the story drew me in the first few hundred pages, so that's a bonus.

What are you reading?