Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival
I was too young when Flight 232 crashed to remember any of the story, so this was all new to me. I think that being on an airplane that is crashing would be one of the most terrifying experiences ever, whether you lived or died. Knowing that those on board Flight 232 spent 25 minutes in the process of crashing made this book a harrowing read. However, It was also an incredibly powerful book. Of the 296 people on board Flight 232, 184 survived. Looking at the photos of the plane and reading the description of the crash, it is hard to believe that anyone survived--let alone over half of those on board. The author does an amazing job of juxtaposing the stories of the survivors and the immediate moments after the crash, alongside the years that have followed, in with the stories of those who did not survive and finally, the fatal flaw that brought down Flight 232. Some of the science behind how airplane engines are built and what caused Flight 232 to crash were a little dry, but the overall book itself was incredibly powerful. In this moment, people became superhuman, helping their fellow passengers to safety, while the rescuers on the ground assumed they were heading to a crash in which no one survived. This was definitely not an easy read, but I am glad I read the stories the author included in this book to better know the people who lived and died that day. [side note: the 25th anniversary was just last week, if you're interested.]

The Girls from Corona del Mar: A novel
The girls from Corona del Mar are poor. They have fathers who have lost jobs, mothers who drink too much and live in houses or apartments way too small for their families. Yet, Lorrie Ann carries herself gracefully, amidst the poverty and struggle, so gracefully that the other girls are never jealous of her--even Lorrie Ann's best friend Mia. Mia's life is not so pretty, with a mom who drinks too much and an abortion at fifteen. Mia thinks Lorrie Ann has it all, until it suddenly goes downhill for Lorrie Ann, starting with the death of her father. As the two girls grow up, they drift apart but always, Mia's life orbits around Lorrie Ann… however, good or bad that may be, Mia cannot let go of the connection they once had.
This book was not a happy read, but it was engaging. I think any of us with friendships that started in middle school can understand the connection between Mia and Lorrie Ann.

The Untold
I read this one on the recommendation of Barb, who said she flew through it.
Jessie Hickman is on the run at the age of 22. Having just killed her husband, she buries her baby daughter, born way too premature to survive. Her not meant for this world baby becomes the narrator of the book, pondering "If the dirt could speak, whose story would it tell?" In this case, it tells the story of Jessie, based upon a female bushranger in the late 1800s Australia. Although little is known about the actual Jessie, the author reconstructs and twists history to form a fascinating tale. Although Jessie and her trials and tribulations were engrossing, what really engrossed me was the voice of the very unique narrator--almost an old soul, not a life snuffed out before it began.

The Hurricane Sisters: A Novel
This is a perfect summer read. Set in South Carolina low country, this book tells a story from the perspective of many different family members of a tumultuous time during hurricane season. While some of the dialogue was a little stilted, it was still a very enjoyable book and I was pulled into the family drama and attempts to reconnect. I loved 80 year old grandma Maisie, who kicks off the book by walking a llama on a leash down the highway. Her voice brought the most personality and life to this book.

What are you reading?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Buckley Five Miler [race recap]

I've been wanting to run this race for a few years now, but the date never works out for me. Buckley Homestead is a living history farm near where I grew up. I spent one week every summer there for Girl Scout camp, as well as various field trips to the historical one room schoolhouse. I definitely thought this would be a neat run to do.

It is part a road run, part a trail run. The first part of the run is an out and back on a hilly country road. The crowd was small (about 150 people), so they lined us up, said "on your marks, get set… go!" and rang a cowbell. I love races like this. I probably started a little further back than I should have because I had to do a little bit of weaving at first, but I settled in pretty quickly. I've never done a five mile race before, so I wasn't quite sure how to pace myself. I also wasn't quite sure how to pace myself with it being road and trail. I knew that the trail portions would likely be harder, so I didn't want to go all out on the road. I also knew just from driving this road that there would be a big hill at the turn around point, so I didn't want to push too hard and lose it at that, too.

At mile one, my pace was somewhere around 9:27, which felt good and easily maintainable. Slower than I would be for a 5k, but it felt right for this race. After I got to the turnaround point, I started passing people who took off in the beginning, so I felt like I was definitely pacing myself well. At the three mile mark, you run back into the park. The transition from road to gravel wasn't too bad and there was a downhill right away. After that, it turns to packed dirt/mulch and you run over a bridge. Like I said, I spent so many childhood summers here as a kid that this was definitely sparking my memory. I remembered excitedly running over this bridge as a kid, and it made me smile. After this, you run up a hill and through some of the outbuildings from the original pioneer farm, then you go into the "back 40," which is all grass. I felt my legs start to struggle in the grass, but I was still passing people, so I felt like I'd made the good choice by not going all out with my pace. This part of the race was basically a little over a mile on a big grass loop. At points, there were cornfields and open meadows around me and I took this moment to marvel over what a pretty trail race it was. I was also thankful that although it was humid, it was lower temps. I could see how on a hot day, the walls created by the cornfield would make it miserably hot.

By mile 4, my legs were starting to hate the grass, especially with a couple of uphills, but I knew that I could make it through the last mile. I passed a few more people, then settled into an area where when there were turns, I wouldn't see anyone behind or in front of me. This made it really relaxing, like I was truly, honestly running my own race. After the last bit of grass, it was back to packed dirt, which was a welcome relief! The last little bit looped around the old schoolhouse, and I ran over a culvert and remembered the time that my sister tried to convince us that a child murdered lived in the culvert. Then past the outhouses, where I was always terrified that snakes lived, and finally into the home stretch (more grass!).

I finished in 47:16, 4/9 in my age group. I've never run a 5 mile race before, so this was a very easily obtained PR. That said, I'm really pleased with my time. I kept my pace consistent and dealt well with the conditions. I also, most importantly, had fun and enjoyed the run. After the race, they had tons of watermelon, cantaloupe, bagels, pretzels. I also loved that they not only had recycling stations, but they even had compost bins for the melon rinds. I usually end up taking water bottles with me after races to recycle at home (yeah, I'm that person), so it was cool to see a very eco-friendly race. Although I didn't stop at any of the water stops, there were water stops every single mile, even out in the middle of the field!

I would definitely do this race again. I loved the small friendly vibe, and I really loved the challenge posed by the race.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You: A Novel
This book was good. Not great, but good enough to keep me reading. Richard Haddon is a British artist living in France with his wife. Their marriage has lost the luster it used to hold, and Richard cheats on her. Not just once, but he carries out an affair over the span of seven months. Then his mistress leaves him to get married to another man and Richard realizes what he's lost with his wife (who is understandably angry once finding out about the affair). Richard spends the rest of the book trying to gain back her love. Richard definitely has an engaging voice, but it's hard to feel any sympathy for him whatsoever.

Field of Prey
I love John Sanford's Lucas Davenport series. Two summers ago, I read my way through all of them. This is the newest one. Two teenagers discover a horrific smell in the middle of farm country. The next day, one of them returns with a local policeman and they discover a once covered culvert… full of dead women. This was not my favorite of the Prey series because some of it was a little too predictable, but it still kept me turning the pages and engaged until the end.

High as the Horses' Bridles: A Novel
This book was a little slow at first, but once I got into it, I was hooked into the story of Josiah--once a boy who had a vision and predicted an end of time date--now an adult who goes by Josie and doesn't believe in God. Josie moves to California, as far away from his evangelist-like father as he can get. In his father's old age, Josie flies back to New York and finds his father slipping, obsessed with fasting and slowly wasting away in a garbage-filled house. The conflicts Josie feels with this situation, with his father's faith and his lack of were incredibly engaging. The voice of this novel was beautiful, too. Was it an exciting thrill-ride of a book? Nope, but it hooked me in so many other ways.

What are you reading?

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?