Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

I've been terrible about keeping up with this lately. I keep forgetting when it's Wednesday, and also, I've had a terrible run with books lately. I've started quite a few and returned them without finishing, so hit me with good book suggestions. I'm desperate!

In the Unlikely Event
I love Judy Blume and this book was really no exception. This book is set in a New Jersey town in the 1950s. During my Miri's 15th year, a succession of airplanes fall from the sky, causing panic and fear amongst her hometown. I struggled with this book at first because it is told from the perspective of so many characters, and I had a difficult time connecting them. Then I just started looking at their connection to the plane crashes and that made it much easier. Although I would call Miri the main character or the main focus, this book was full of interesting characters and plot lines. It was definitely an engaging story and since it was based on the plane crashes of Judy Blume's own youth, I had to wonder how much of it was personal versus fictional.

Go Set a Watchman: A Novel
Ahh, the book that caused much anger. If you haven't yet read it, my suggestion is this: Read it. Remind yourself that it was never edited and that it is not a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. Enjoy it for what it is. What it is: a coming of age for Jean Louise. The realization that her father is not the perfect, larger-than-life man she thought he was. The realization that even though people can recognize change as a good thing, they can still be resistant to it. An engaging story set during the Civil Rights era south. I loved this book. It worked. It did not change my view of Atticus Finch, rather it made him more human. I breezed through this in one day because I had to finish it, but I will definitely be revisiting it.

The Book of Speculation: A Novel
Simon Watson has a storied family history. He lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His sister, Enola, rarely keeps in contact, making her living reading tarot cards with a traveling carnival. Simon's parents are long dead, his mother one of many women in a line of "mermaids," women who make their living holding their breath for an unbelievably long time in carnival shows. One day, a book arrives on Simon's doorstep, from an antique bookseller who purchased it in a speculation lot. The bookseller believes that the book relates to Simon's family, and as Simon begins to read, he realizes that it not only relates to his family, but tells a dire warning of the women in his family who can hold their breath, yet all seem to drown on July 24. As July 24 draws near, Simon races against time and superstition to save his sister. This book flipped back and forth between the book Simon received and the actual events going on in Simon's life. This was one of the rare books where I was just as enthralled in both ends of the story--the past and the present. The author did an amazing job seamlessly weaving it together and allowing me to suspend my disbelief and just follow the story. I loved this book.

UnDivided (Unwind Dystology)
The final book in the UnWind dystology. Like the rest of the books, it is told from multiple perspectives and interspersed with real life newspaper and magazine articles. In this book, the world set forth in Unwind is beginning to unravel, as teenagers and others are standing up against unwinding. It's no longer seen as a solution by all. Connor and Risa still play major roles but both have matured throughout the novels and play a different role than they did in the beginning. Ultimately, I felt this worked well as a conclusion. I was miffed in book three that it wasn't done, but I can now better understand the lead-in to the last book and it was a well-done ending.

Finders Keepers: A Novel
This is part of the Mr. Mercedes series, which Stephen King purports to be a hard boiled detective series. Because there are possibly some elements of supernatural in here, I couldn't quite buy the hard boiled detective aspect, but it's Stephen King so it still works. Morris Bellamy is angry because his favorite literary character sold out. So angry that years after the books have been published, he tracks down the author and kills him. In the process, he discovers a treasure of unpublished books (and a safe full of cash), which he hides just before being locked away for another crimes. Years later, a young boy discovers both the books and the cash. Unsurprisingly, Morris is released from prison and comes back to claim what is rightfully his. Bill Hodges, Jerome Robinson and Holly Gibney from Mr. Mercedes are, of course, in the mix and out to stop Morris. This was an easy, enjoyable read.

The Last Pilot: A Novel
Jim Harrison is a US Air Force test pilot. He spends his days rocketing into the sky, at speeds most of it can barely imagine. When America enters the space race, Jim passes up the chance to be an astronaut to welcome his miracle daughter Florence to the world. As Florence grows, life becomes blissfully routine--until tragedy hits and the foundation Jim had built his life upon is shaken to the very core. What follows beyond is the incomparable pain that life can bring and how it can ruin even the strongest of us.



Wednesday, July 8, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

I have so many library requests stalled right now. I can't wait until they all come in at once, probably on my first day of school.

The Well: A Novel
As the novel begins, Ruth Ardingly reveals that she's under house arrest at her farm, called The Well. As bits of the story trickle out, it seems that most of England is under a drought. Water is restricted, farms are dying, except for Ruth's lush property where it rains, the ponds are full, and everything thrives. The story goes between Ruth's present and the past, as it trickles out that many people--good and bad--were attracted to The Well, almost like a pilgrimage. In the midst of this, lies Ruth, her husband Mark (forced to leave the city after beating child pornography charges but not beating the shame of being accused), her daughter Angie an on-again, off-again drug addict, her grandson Lucien, and a group of women called the Sisters. There were parts of this novel that seemed a little too long and winding to me, but overall, the author weaved a haunting story of the ties that bind and how easily they can be broken.

Luckiest Girl Alive: A Novel
Ani, formally known as TifAni, has it all. A successful career with a woman's magazine, a fiancé who comes from old money, a diet that is going to make her as thin as Kate Middleton on her wedding day, but she can't escape her past. The story fluctuates between present day Ani and TifAni (known as Finny) in high school. Ani's high school days make up part of the insecure adult she is now, as her story of bullying, violence and revenge slowly trickles out. Through all of this, it was also somewhat tricky to tell if Ani was truly a reliable narrator--or whether she was really giving the whole truth. The book is peppered with hints about something that happened to Ani at her prestigious high school, Bradley. Whatever it was is so big that Ani is taking part in a documentary about the incident, despite the misgivings of her fiancé. As Ani comes closer to facing the past, parts of her present self begin to unravel. I enjoyed this book at the value of what it was… an interesting, somewhat twisted mystery with a few tough subjects thrown in between. There were some plot holes and questions left unanswered, but it kept me interested.

Await Your Reply: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle)
This is the kind of book that builds up three different people. At first, you're not sure how their lives interact, but then it slowly becomes clear. At the heart of the novel is Miles and his twin, Hayden. Diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teen, Hayden has escaped institutionalization and Miles is desperate to find him. Along the way, Miles follows a trail of broken lives discarded by his brother. In the midst of this, 19 year old Lucy has escaped her boring midwest town with her history teacher, George, who promises her a life of money and happiness--and she's inclined to believe him because after all, how else could a teacher afford a Maserati? Finally, there's Ryan and his dad, Jay. Ryan fakes his death to follow a money-making scheme with Jay, leaving his family to believe he committed suicide. This is a book with many threads, but the author managed to tie them all together at the end--with a finish that left me questioning what was real and what was imagined.

The Shadow of Your Smile
Sometimes I read books because I can read them and not think. Mary Higgins Clark always offers a book that I know will keep me engaged without having to put forth too much brainpower. Olivia Morrow is dying. In her possession is a document that will prove that her cousin Catherine, a nun in the running for sainthood, gave birth to a child at age 17 and that child is heir to a considerable fortune. As she mulls over what to do with this information, it becomes clear that there are many forces willing to go to all ends to bury this information along with Olivia.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

I fell down the vacation rabbit hole last week and forgot what day of the week it was most days, but I'm back to reality now.

Color Blind (A Dr. Jenna Ramey Novel)
Dr. Jenna Ramey has synesthesia, a condition that causes her brain to see colors in place of feelings or emotions. As an FBI psychologist, this helps her to break cases or find new clues. In this particular case, a mass murderer has asked specifically to speak to Jenna--claiming to know information about her from her mother, a woman locked in prison herself for committing atrocious crimes. As far as crime novels go, this followed much of the same pattern, with the exception of Jenna's synesthesia which created an interesting twist. The characters were well-developed, and this was a good, easy summer read.

Double Vision (A Dr. Jenna Ramey Novel Book 2)
This is the second book in the above series. Like in the first book, Jenna uses her synesthesia to help her solve crimes. Her intuition, among other things, help with her work. In this instance, she's tasked with finding an UNSUB whose kill pattern is to shoot people three times. As the case unravels, Dr. Ramey discovers that her UNSUB is specifically drawn to the number three and at the heart of it all, lies a little girl who has a knack for numbers and is closely connected to the case. This was a good mystery novel. Sometimes a little too predictable, but still an interesting read.

Disclaimer: A Novel
Although this didn't set me totally on edge, this was still a pretty good psychological thriller. Catherine finds a novel in a pile in her new house, one she doesn't remember purchasing. As she flips through, she realizes this book is about her. Her by other name, but still a dark part of her past she wishes to forget, one her husband knows nothing about. Catherine becomes obsessed with the author of the book, intent on discovering why he wants to ruin her life, to the point that it begins to entirely unravel her life. As the novel unfolds, you find that there is more to Catherine's dark secret that she wants to admit and that the admission of it will change her life and those around her forever.

The Water Knife: A novel
In a somewhat dystopian but also somewhat realistic future, the American Southwest is devoid of water. Phoenix is a dying city. No water, dust storms and very little law. Angel works for Catherine Case, the woman who basically owns the Colorado River, and aims to own as much water as she can. Lucy is a journalist, drawn into watching Phoenix die and unable to leave before her inside scoop ends. Maria is a migrant hoping to cross the border to the north, where she's heard grass is green and you don't have to pay $6/liter for water. The three find themselves linked as their world becomes more violent and dangerous by the day. I liked this book, but I struggled to find redeeming qualities in all but one of the characters. But then, maybe this is what you have to do to survive in their world?

What are you reading?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

The Shakespeare Conspiracy (A Christopher Klewe Novel Book 1)
Although I'm an English teacher, I will admit that I am more of an American lit person, so my Shakespeare knowledge is sadly limited. I did not realize that there were possible questions about Shakespeare's ethnicity until reading this book and doing a little Google research.
I enjoyed this book. It opens with Mason Everly, a retired history professor, brought down by a dagger in his back, while his killer chants about making his praise. In the meantime, Christopher Klewe, a professor well-versed in Shakespeare lore, discovers Mason's death and wonders if it relates to the theory he and Everly were trying to prove--that Shakespeare was not white, as portrayed in paintings. Mason's death sparks Klewe to travel across the Atlantic to Europe, to trace Everly's final steps and follow the clues he left behind.
I loved that this book was full of facts about Shakespeare and other things--I enjoy it when fiction still weaves in non-fiction elements. I was definitely engaged in the mystery, though like any mystery novel, parts seemed a little contrived. Overall, this was an enjoyable, fun read.
**I did receive a copy of this book for free to review, but all opinions are--as always--my own.**

Charlie, Presumed Dead
I was pretty ambivalent about this book. First, it contained a lot of cliches that seemed to be easily lifted from popular culture. Second, most of the book was slow and kind of boring, until the last ten pages--when it suddenly went into warp speed. Is there a sequel? I'm not sure, but it was annoying to have it get somewhat interesting and then finish abruptly. The gist is that a boy named Charlie dies in a plane crash, leaving behind only a bloodied jacket. At his funeral, his girlfriend Aubrey discovers that Charlie has another girlfriend--Lena. The two form a clumsy relationship over a shared belief that Charlie isn't dead and head to Mumbia and Bangkok to find him. Aubrey is also searching for her journal, which she says holds a horrible secret that could wreck her life. In the end, there were too many moments of suspending my disbelief to make this book enjoyable.

Saint Mazie: A Novel
While reading this book, Tommy pointed at the picture of Mazie on the cover and said, "Mama, she looks just like you!" Aww. This is loosely inspired by a true story. Mazie Phillips is a loud party girl, who loves good times and fun men. When the Great Depression hits, however, Mazie can't stand to see the down and out men on the street, so she uses her position as ticket taker of a theatre to help them. In this, she becomes known as Saint Mazie. This story is told through her diary entries, interspersed with interviews and accounts from other people. I absolutely loved the story of Mazie and her life. I don't know how factual it is to the actual story, but as a work of fiction, it was incredibly engaging. Mazie was such a well-developed character that I couldn't help but love her and hang on to her every word.

Our Souls at Night: A novel
Kent Haruf is one of my favorite authors. Knowing that this was his last book made me want to savor it, but I couldn't help becoming completely immersed and finishing it in one sitting. Like all of Haruf's novels, this is set in Holt, Colorado. The story begins with a lonely widow, Addie Moore, approaching a lonely widower, Louis Waters, with a proposition. Addie hates sleeping alone and wonders if Louis would like to share her bed. This arrangement is nothing sexual, it is purely about wanting a voice to say goodnight to, a hand to hold as you fall asleep. Of course, Holt being a small town, people begin to talk about Louis and Addie. Like all of Haruf's books, there is no huge climactic ending or plot twist. It is simply in the average lives of humans that his words bring beauty, as always. Knowing that Haruf wrote this novel while he was dying makes the subject matter all the more poignant.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

The Handmaid's Tale
I'm basically the last person in the world to read this book. It was good, but I enjoyed the Mad Addam series more. In a dystopian future, society as we know it has collapsed and women are classified into categories. This story is told by a Handmaid, who serves the purpose only of trying to provide children to the Commander and his wife. This story was a little disjointed but very eerie and left me hoping that the Handmaid made it out okay. The classification of women in this story was, honestly, frightening.

Seveneves: A Novel
It's hard to review this book because at some points I loved it, some points I liked it and at some points, I hated it and just wanted to be done. Not the best review, huh? Stephenson begins his book with the moon breaking into seven pieces. From this point on, life on Earth as we know it is forever changed. Shortly after the moon splits apart, scientists realize that in--give or take--two years, something called the Hard Rain will begin. Once the Hard Rain begins, there is no hope for survival. Aside from a select few who will be sent to dock with the space station, everyone on Earth will die once it becomes inhabitable--a situation that will continue for at least 5000 years. This was fascinating, though somewhat bogged down by an overly scientific approach. I don't actually need to know detailed instructions for asteroid mining, but I do love character development which this book lacked. The losing point for me, however, came when the book jumped forward 5000 years to discuss the inhabitation of New Earth. This is where it really fell apart for me. Character development was weak, I didn't understand how the new planet was developed or why the technology of a race of people who could survive in space for 5000 years and genetically engineer women to get pregnant without the help of a man didn't have that great of technology. Then at the end, the author threw in some fairly interesting facts about some things that happened right after the Hard Rain… but that was it. The book ended. This was a novel with such potential, but it lost me.

Dietland
Plum tries to blend into the crowds, but as an overweight woman in a materialistic world, she deals with stares and comments. She endures it silently, knowing that it'll all end when she get gastric bypass and becomes the skinny woman she knows lives inside of her. All of this comes to a confusing halt when she gets caught in a world of women who strive to convince her that life is worth living regardless of size. In the midst of this is a subplot about gender equality and treatment of women in our world, women of all sizes. I really loved this book and at 300 pages long, I was still wishing for more of Plum's story.

Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel
It takes 800 grapes to make one bottle of wine, or so the author tells us. This book is split between the first person present narration of Georgia and the past narration of her father, Dan. At stake is Georgia's upcoming marriage, her brother's marriage, her other brother's ruination of that marriage, her parents' marriage and her family's vineyard. There's a whole lot at stake her, to sum it up. As the novel unfolds so does the family history and the stories behind why everyone is the way they are. This book was an easy chick lit read. Predictable plot but still very enjoyable for a summer read.

What are you reading?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Running Buddies

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A friend from my running group shared this on my Facebook, and it is perfect.

Shane and I try not to push our interests on our kids. Both boys play baseball, like Shane did all the way through high school, but they both love it. If they didn't, we wouldn't push it. Luke is in taekwondo and Tommy will be soon--this is something neither Shane nor I have done. Last year, Luke started expressing an interest in running 5ks with me. Like a typical runner, he discovered that he hated the actual running part but couldn't wait to sign up for another race. In his first 5k, he finished in 30:37 and came in 5th in his age group--beaten only by 9 and 10 year olds. In his second 5k, it was a trail race and we finished in 35 minutes--earning him 2nd in his age group.

When a local 5k in support of an abused dog caught my eye, I asked Luke if he wanted to run it with me. He said, yes, of course. I told him that I could get him under 30 minutes if he stuck with me, but he was skeptical. The only running he does is at baseball, so it's not like he's been training. Still, I told him that I knew he could do it.

Race day was perfect--overcast and 60s. Luke was nervous beforehand, but I reminded him to channel those nerves. When we started off, Luke pulled ahead of me, and I reminded him to pace himself, but he remained ahead of me by about 1/4 mile. Although he didn't have a watch, I was running just over 9 mi/mi, so I knew he was hitting sub-9 miles. I was worried about him, but I loved watching his natural, bouncing stride from behind, and I really loved hearing the race volunteers cheer him on. Kids always get more cheers, I think, and it was awesome to hear those cheers for my child. Because this was an out and back course, he turned past me at the halfway point, and I got to cheer for him. The man next to me who told me originally that his 7 year old dog doesn't know how to pace herself (she kept up the whole race!) said, "Man, he is still going strong." At the two mile mark, he slowed to get a cup of water and dumped it over his head. I could see he was struggling a bit, and I caught up with him at 2.1. He started telling me he couldn't do it and he wanted to walk, but I reminded him that we just had a mile left and he could do this. At the last turn with a volunteer, I said, "He's struggling!" and the man started clapping and cheering and saying how amazing Luke was. This got him through a little bit more, then he started to walk. From past experience running with him, I know that if I run ahead, he will use me as a rabbit, but if I run next to him, he'll walk and whine, so I said, "There's no walking--I can see the tunnel to the finish line," and I pulled ahead of him. I kept about 1/4 mile ahead of him but continued to look over my shoulder. At one point, I could tell he was crying, but he was still running, so I kept going and shouted, "Come on, buddy. You can't let anyone pass you!" At which point, he picked it up. I also told him that if he was crying and yelling at me, he wasn't running hard enough. I'm such a nice mom.

The end of the race went through a tunnel on the bike path, and I knew that would be a good place to stop for him. I also knew from looking at my watch that if I kept going, I would get a PR. That thought flickered so briefly in my mind, but it wasn't even an option because getting Luke across the finish line meant more--so much more. I stopped and said, "Come on, come, you're going to cross the finish line ahead of me!" He caught up to me, still crying and yelling at me that he couldn't, but I reminded him that he could and he was. I pushed ahead and he kept even with me, then we got out of the tunnel, and there the finish line was. I dropped back a step so he could cross ahead of me, and then we were done. And the tears really started in earnest because he said his stomach hurt, but they dried up pretty soon when the two adults behind us came up to him and asked what his name was, then told him how he got them through the end because they were focused on him. The one man even brought his daughter over, probably about 12 years old, and asked her to tell Luke what hurts when she runs. She told him his chest, and I said, See? We all have something that hurts when we finish. We went over to the food and water table, where I knew all the workers and they all congratulated him. Some cold water perked him up and then he was all smiles and so proud of himself.

Because it was a charity 5k, the timing was donated so our results haven't yet been posted, and I was so caught up in the moment that I didn't stop my watch (THE HORROR), but Luke thinks he crossed at around 27:27. I know it was somewhere in the 27-minute range, which is quite frankly, so incredible to me for an 8 year old who doesn't really run. When it came time for awards, I knew he had finished in front of the other boys in his age group (yes, I definitely scoped out the competition!), so I was pretty sure he had the first place in his age group. They did females first, and I was surprised that I got 2nd in my age group because it was a ten year split. I won a hat, a $10 g/c to Fleet Feet and a key chain bottle opener (SCORE). Then they got to the males and after overall male winner, Luke's age group was first, and he won! The smile on his face was hard to beat. The man behind us who crossed just after Luke started cheering his name, as did my friends who were working the event, so it was pretty cool to listen to him have his own cheering squad.

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(Tommy was jealous because no one was congratulating him for doing a fine job spectating.)

I have a feeling that if he continues running, I'll be seeing more and more of the back of his head, but it is right now so cool to share this common interest, to be able to cross a finish line together. It's something I never imagined when I held this little guy in my arms, but seeing him do this is the coolest thing ever. Mostly what impresses me is how he pushes through the mental part of it, which is honestly the toughest part of running for me. He wanted to stop. He was hurting. He was yelling that he couldn't do it, but aside from five steps walking, he ran the whole thing. I can't wait to see where this takes him.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

How to Start a Fire
Anna and Kate are roommates who meet Georgianna (George) the night that she is passed out on the front lawn of a party. The two girls bring George to their house in a shopping cart and from this moment, their futures are linked. The book bounces between the past and the present: the past girls have dreams. The present girls are a barista, a doctor who has lost her medical license and a mom who gave up her career for an abusive, philandering husband. Behind this is the hint of something awful and unspoken that happened between the three. I really loved this book. Parts of it were hard for me to follow when the time would jump, but the way their lives were linked was fascinating.

Swamplandia! (Vintage Contemporaries)
This is a book that got into my brain. Swamplandia! is the theme park owned by the Bigtree family. They aren't really Native Americans, but for the sake of showmanship, they pretend to be. The book introduces us to the family dynamic by talking about Hilola Bigtree, famous alligator wrestler, who died not by a tragic alligator bite but from ovarian cancer. In the family also is her husband, Chief, and her children, Kiwi, Osceola and Ava. Ava is the youngest and training to be an alligator wrestler like her mom, until it all starts to fall apart. A new bigger, more amazing theme park opens nearby, called World of Darkness and fashioned after the Underworld. Swamplandia! loses tourists until there are none left. Kiwi escapes to the mainland to attend high school and try to earn money to save the family theme park, Chief leaves on one of his "business trip," Osceola believes she can talk to spirits and claims to be in love with and getting married to the ghost of a Dredger whom she will follow to the Underworld, while Ava sets out to save her sister. There were times when I didn't know if this book was supernatural or if it was showing a dark side of human nature, and it definitely weighed heavily on my mind. The narration switched back and forth between Kiwi and Ava. I will admit that I didn't find Kiwi's parts as interesting because what Ava was going through was so worrisome, but I loved this book. It was truly unique and stunning in its own way.