Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

Visitation Street (Dennis Lehane)
I've been excited to read this book because it was printed under Dennis Lehane books and I love Dennis Lehane. LOVE. I had pretty high hopes for it, and it mostly didn't disappoint. I enjoyed that it was set in Red Hook, Brooklyn because I've been there before and it's interesting neighborhood. You have gentrification and the yuppies moving in, but then you have the Red Hook projects, so it was a great setting for this novel. It starts out on a hot summer night with two girls, Val and June, who take a pink raft out in the bay. In the morning, Val is unconscious on shore with no memory of what happened and June is missing. I loved the mystery as it unfolded and I loved the characters in this story, but I wished that the author had given more depth to all of the characters. They were each so interesting, but I didn't feel as connected to them as I wanted to because she introduced so many (which made sense, to give a broad view of the neighborhood) and never really gave them true depth.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
I love Neil Gaiman and was pretty excited when this was released, but so was everyone else at the library because it felt like I waited forever on the wait list. I loved this book. I read it in one sitting and found it an unnerving fairy tale. Is it on the level with American Gods or Anansi Boys? Well, no, but come on. It wasn't meant to be. In this book, the main character revisits his childhood, during which a man commits suicide in his father's car and while the body is being removed, he's thrust upon his neighbors: an old woman (older than time itself), her daughter and her daughter's daughter. The youngest, seemingly his age, shows him the ocean at the end of the lane that she claims to have crossed to come to this country, but the ocean is really just a pond--or is it? After this, the boy is left dealing with an entity from another world intent on taking over his life and that of others around him. There isn't much else to say without giving it a way, but it's a good, quick read.

Sisterland: A Novel
I love Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep and American Wife to the point that I've read them multiple times and this one has garnered a lot of praise. I didn't love it as much. I loved the premise. I loved the plot. The narrator grated me to the point that I couldn't enjoy it as much as I wanted. To put it bluntly, she reminded me of a really overbearing Internet mom and I wanted to unfollow her on twitter, only I couldn't. It was overdone to a point in the beginning where I wondered if it was part of the character or the author trying to push her own beliefs because a sentence like, "I poured myself a cup of coffee (when I'm breastfeeding, I limit myself to one cup of coffee and one beer per day)" seemed so clunky and NO ONE CARES. My annoyance with the narrator aside, I enjoyed the idea of twin sisters, one living the suburban mom life ignoring the fact that she used to be able to sometimes predict things about people (have senses), the other a clairvoyant embracing her senses who believes there will be a major earthquake soon, both trying to balance each other out.

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality
I was wary of reading this one because I thought it would tell me things like: don't ever stay in a hotel again because you will get bedbugs and diseases and die. Fortunately, it did not. I would say that this is basically to hotels what Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential was to the restaurant industry. I loved it! The author has a great voice and sense of humor and gave an inside look into what it would be like to work in the service industry, as well as some tips on what to do and what NOT to do when staying at a hotel. I'm not sure if I will ever have the nerve to tip the person at the check-in desk $20 to try for an upgrade, but I may have to work up the nerve someday!

Joyland (Hard Case Crime)
Does anyone remember the Stephen King who wrote "The Body"? Because I love that author and much to my sheer delight, he's back in Joyland. Joyland is not a horror novel. There were parts that creeped me out and are supernatural, yes, but it isn't The Shining. It's somewhat a coming of age story that centers around a college aged boy, Devin, who takes a job at an amusement park and learns that the house of horrors is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a girl who was murdered there years ago (her killer was never found). As the story unfolds, King introduces a rich cast of characters, supernatural elements and of course, continues the mystery. This is one that I stayed up past midnight reading because I had to know how it ended.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

This was one of THOSE weeks where I only read one book. How pathetic, right? I have two excuses: one, I was in the midst of planning and executing a fourth birthday party, which I hope to blog about sometime in this century. Two, I started watching "Orange is the New Black" on Netflix and totally binge watched all 13 episodes in four days, which is really unlike me because I am not a TV person. But it's a really good show and when does season two come out?! I'm going to make up for cheating on books by reading the book that the TV show is based on, so it's all good there.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells
This is one of those books that I loved but couldn't totally get into for some reason. The story itself was great, though. It's set in 1985, during the initial AIDS epidemic. Greta loses her brother Felix and can't get over her loss, so after many failed therapies she tries a last hope: electroconvulsive shock treatments. An unexpected result is that Greta is transported back in time after each session, swapping lives with different Gretas. There's a Greta in 1941 and a Greta in 1918, each facing her own struggles. As Greta goes back and forth through time, she tries to correct and fix wrongs and make lives better, only to find out that the other Gretas are doing the same. What struck me about this book is that there was some beautiful prose, some parts that I wanted to pull out and keep with me. The ending also left a strong message, too. I just didn't feel quite as connected to it as some of the reviewers did.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery
I'm not a true crime reader, but I've been following this case ever since the news broke that a girl ran to a man's door, begged him to call the police, then ran off into the night--followed by an Asian man in a black SUV who told the man he shouldn't have called the police and drive off. The whole thing chilled me. Who was the girl? Where did she go? Who was the man? Was he pursuing her? And then, in the search for the missing girl, the police find the bodies of four women but not the woman who was running away that night.
Of course, as happens in the media, the case was lost when the media moved on the bigger and better things, but I still wondered what happened to those four girls and to the original girl who led the police to the bodies. The girls are, as often happens, marginalized by society, by the police, because they were prostitutes. Ignored at first when they were missing persons and ignored again when it comes time to investigate, there is a lot that's frustrating about this case, but not the book itself. Some of my questions were answered, like who the man in the black car was on the night that Shannon was running frantically through Oak Beach, begging the community to call the police. I learned a lot about the sex trafficking and what a scary world it can be for some women who don't think they have any other options.
Although the crime isn't solved and possibly never will be, the author, the families, the community of Oak Beach (where the women were found) all offer various theories as to what happen to the girls, but what you're left with is something these girls were never given: a memory. A chance to leave a voice in the world, to be known as more than just prostitutes and that, in itself, is pretty powerful. The story is fascinating and does due process to who these women were because they were people--all five of them--before they ended up lost in Long Island.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods
I had some trouble getting into this book at first. I don't think I was entirely sold on the voice being consistent with a boy Alex's age, but as I read on and figured out that he was quirky, older than his years, I was able to buy it and got into the book. Alex has trouble fitting in at school, made even moreso difficult by the fact that he loves to read and doesn't like people. His troubles become worse when, in a freak accident, he's struck on the head with a meteor and becomes prone to epileptic fits. In the midst of this, he forges an unlikely friendship with an older, American war vet, Mr. Peterson, and the two bond over a love of Kurt Vonnegut--whose novels become an underlying theme of this story. In the universe that Alex is up against, there is a great deal of tragedy and life certainly isn't fair, but there's somehow beauty amidst it. This was one of those books that really pulled me in during the last 1/3 of it.

Heft: A Novel
I love novels where groups of people from different walks of life are brought together for a reason. This was one of those novels. It was also beautifully written and grabbed me from the start. Arthur Opp begins the novel by confessing to us that he's very obese. Between five and six hundred pounds. He also hasn't left the house for years. He has a pen pal, a woman named Charlene who was a former student. In his letters to her, he isn't entirely truthful but then Charlene asks him to help with her son and Arthur must be truthful. As the novel unfolds, we switch back and forth between Arthur and Charlene's son, Kel. Every character in this novel is very humanly flawed, which makes them so likable. By the end, I was pulling for every one of them to find happiness and hoping it was there.

What are you reading?

Monday, July 15, 2013


On Friday, we saw Tommy's neurologist for what is hopefully the last time. The. Last. Time. When you've been seeing a specialist regularly for 2.5 years, it feels a little strange to break that relationship, but good. Very good. When we began weaning him off seizure meds in January, we hoped so big that this would be it. The end of our journey with epilepsy, but we were afraid to hope too big because epilepsy has a way of squashing your hope.

It's been a long journey, yet I recognize that our journey has been much shorter than that of so many others. Still, you guys. My baby looked like this when our journey began. That shaggy hair and those tired eyes from keeping him up for a sleep dep EEG and the always present pacifier. He was SO LITTLE. Remember how I rode in the MRI with him?
I get a choke-y tight feeling in my throat when I remember how terrifying those days were. We have come so far.

When we hit the two year mark (October!), his chance of remaining seizure-free forever hits 80%. It's amazing how this disease works, because one day I had a healthy 15-month-old who didn't like to sleep. And then, out of nowhere, he had three seizures in one week. Just like that. There are no signs with the type of epilepsy Tommy had. No fever. No illness. Nothing. Just one day, he fell down and had a seizure.

And just as suddenly, almost two years later, his neurologist tells us that we don't have to consider him actively epileptic anymore. I don't have a child with epilepsy. I don't. It is really hard to process that, because I did and now I don't, but I fully recognize that I could again and my God, that's a lot for your brain to handle. I asked her what we should do on his forms for pre-school. Do we write that he has epilepsy? She said no, that we don't want them to hover, that we want them to let him to climb to the top of the jungle gym and yes, yes, we do. But we also want them to know that he has a history of seizures, so we put that under past medical history, just like we would a broken leg. She said that often times, she still has people come in, but because Tommy shows no developmental delays and because he's never shown seizure activity on an EEG, there's no need for us to come back, unless he has another seizure, of course. No more yearly EEGs or blood tests.

I thanked his neurologist profusely for all she's done for us, for listening to us when the neurologist at our local hospital wouldn't. For being caring and loving Tommy. She told us that she loved these graduation ceremonies, even though she would miss seeing us. I know that we were probably one of her very minor cases, but she always treated us like his epilepsy was a big deal--she always understood that every seizure was so very scary.

This is the end of our journey, I hope, but I know that so many are still in their journeys. Epilepsy is and will always be a cause near to my heart. As we left her office, I found it hard to not cry, because it was big and overwhelming. We let Tommy choose a restaurant that night to eat dinner and celebrate, though I wasn't sure if he understood what we were celebrating. Someday he will. Someday he will understand this part of his life that was so big, during which he was so brave.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

I stayed up late a lot reading this week. My grandfather passed away Friday night and I've definitely been using books as a coping mechanism. Luckily, I had a really good round of books on my nightstand. Unluckily, I've had a lot of busy, early days, so I'm pretty tired as I'm typing this!

Flora: A Novel
Ten year old Helen is described later as a haunted little girl. Isolated with only her naive, young guardian Flora, while her dad works on a secret project at the end of World War II (Oak Ridge ring a bell?) and the polio epidemic rages in the outside world, Helen is your typical self-absorbed child. Despite being unable to leave the decaying house due to Helen's father's wishes, Helen and Flora forge a friendship with Finn, a war veteran who delivers groceries. As the summer unfolds, you realize that it's being told from the perspective of an adult Helen and that something happened that summer, but you're not quite sure what until the end of the novel. While this wasn't a fast-paced, twist and turn story, it was haunting and melodious and definitely worth the read.

Reconstructing Amelia: A Novel
I've read quite a few reviews where this book is compared to Gone Girl. I didn't particularly care for Gone Girl (don't stone me, everyone--I just think Gillian Flynn's other two are stronger), but I was still interested in the premise of this story. Kate can't quite accept the theory that her daughter Amelia committed suicide, further fueled by an anonymous text she receives telling her that Amelia didn't jump. The story of the days leading up to Amelia's death is constructed through Facebook posts, text messages, chats, emails and then real time conversations and incidents that Kate has. There were a few plot points that seemed overly contrived to me, but overall, it was a gripping, easy read and I loved the way it was done.

A Thousand Pardons: A Novel
This is a story of redemption and moving on from several different characters: Helen, Ben and Sara, who form a troubled family, and Hamilton Barth, a movie star shakily connected to Helen. Everyone has done wrong and hurts and is hurt and seems to struggle with asking for forgiveness. At first, I found the prose a little stilted, but once I got used to it, along with the quick character switches, I was drawn into the story. I was a little disappointed at the ending because it seemed too neatly tied together, but overall, I really liked the book.

Call Me Zelda
I love Zelda Fitzgerald and feel like her creative genius is often overlooked because of her husband's, because of her madness, because of the era in which she lived. Anna is a fictitious narrator who tells the historical fiction angle of Zelda and F. Scott's tumultuous marriage, the jealousy, F. Scott's habit of using material from Zelda's diary in his novels and so on. I enjoyed this book a lot because it balanced the historical aspects of the Fitzgeralds really well with the fictional aspects of Anna, the narrator, and her relationship with Zelda, alongside the backstory that the author created for Anna.

Friday, July 5, 2013

[Running] By Feel

*Alternate title: The time I ditched my Garmin for a month and learned to love running again (most days).
**Alternate title two: The one time I didn't obsess over my pace and won an age group award (caveat, it was a small 5k).
***Alternate title three: The one time I blogged about something other than books.

Because I have a foot injury that will not die (really, I'm rolling my feet on a stupid foot roller as I'm typing this), running is kind of a struggle these days still. I've learned that I'm going to have to accept that while my feet might not hurt during a run, I will have hot spots after I run or that sometimes during a run, I'll hit a spot on the pavement wrong and pain will flare up my foot. That's always fun. I have hope that this won't last forever and truthfully, they are better than they were six months ago. I need to remember that. It's just that way back in December, I had no idea that my feet would still hurt like they do somedays and that kind of sucks.

The biggest struggle has been comparing myself to myself. To where I was before I was injured to now. Before my injury, I was at my peak--running faster and further than I'd ever run, setting PRs at every distance. I expected that following my half-marathon PR, I'd knock out a bunch of 5k and 10k PRs. I didn't expect this setback, but life happens and I've done my best to accept that. Still, there are times when it's hard when I'm struggling to run at a pace that would've been so easy before. I knew that I was rebuilding, but I'm also only human and I missed when those paces were easy.

So I decided to ditch my watch for the entire month of June and just run. I mapped out all the routes between 2 and 4ish miles from my front door and back to my neighborhood. I tried my best to not look at the clock when I left because I knew that if I did, I would try and figure out my pace. I didn't stress if I had to walk or if I got stopped by traffic. I just ran. The more I did it, the more in-tune with my body I became. On one run, I could tell that I was pushing it when I stopped for traffic and my heart and feet were pounding harder than usual. Before, I would've known instantly by looking at my watch and I maybe would've backed off. This time, I just ran and felt pretty good doing it.

When June ended, I found that I had no desire to put my watch back on, even though I was signed up for our local 4th of July 5k. This is the third year our town has done this race, and I've run it every year. The first time was my first 5k and last year was my first official sub-30. I almost didn't sign up this year because I haven't done a race since the Turkey Trot when I was robbed of my super awesome 5k PR and also, I've been running sporadic amounts each week and definitely not doing any sort of speed training, plus that whole thing where I could very well be running 12 minute miles and have no idea (which is not to knock anyone who runs 12 minute miles because a mile is a mile and every single mile counts, no matter how the minutes). However, Luke really wanted to do the kids' run, so it seemed like I shouldn't break tradition. Another tradition is that every year, Shane takes the boys to the playground (the start and finish is at the elementary school) and they always just miss me at the finish line. I cautioned him that this would likely be my slowest 5k yet, so to take at least 30 minutes playing.

I left my Garmin at home, gathering dust. I felt a little smug when everyone around me started their watches at the start of the race and I could just start running. I settled in to a pretty steady pace, knowing that the first mile is a gradual downhill with a steep hill at the halfway point and since it's out and back, the end is a gradual uphill. Nothing major, but enough that it's slightly annoying and I didn't really want to push. Truthfully, I was just enjoying myself because it was the first race ever where I wasn't staring at my watch. Because I started out so steady, I ended up passing a lot of people throughout the race who didn't start off so steadily. A woman near me had a watch or phone or SOMETHING that was emitting a loud noise every quarter-mile or so and that was driving me nuts and wrecking my relative calm. At mile 1, a volunteer was shouting out split times and I thought about covering my ears, but then realized that would make me look nuts. My split for mile 1 was 9:01, which would've panicked me if I'd seen it on my watch, I think, and momentarily panicked me when she said it out loud, but I told myself that I felt fine before she said it and that I needed to keep feeling fine. After mile 1, the course turns into a neighborhood, where you go up a steep hill, then turn around and go back out. Into the neighborhood, I passed a 10 year old girl who used to go to Luke's sitter who was walking at the time--I took the chance to pat her back and tell her how well she was doing. I saw her next when I was going down the hill and she was going up. She was running again, so I clapped and cheered for her. After that, it was back out of the neighborhood when I saw the girl's mom. She cheered for me and I said, "Emma's going up the hill!"

As I was approaching mile 2, a little boy ahead of me pulled aside and started walking, but as every runner passed him he said, "Good job!" and all I could think was, "Some parent trained him right." As I got to mile 2, the same volunteer was shouting out split times and mine was consistent with the same pace, even with the hill. I took a cup of water because a cute little girl handed it to me, but I kept running with it and just splashed it down my front. I knew that the last mile of the race was all road and sun and I would need to cool down. At this point, the woman with the constant loud watch/phone/whatever device was STILL near me and I started thinking, "I wish I had my watch so I could throw it at her." At this point, I started to pull ahead to get away from her noise and I caught up with a little boy who any time I would try and pass him would kick it in and surge forward. It made a fun game for me for the last mile. I would push, he would surge. This kid was a machine. When we got to the last little bit, where the finish line was just around the corner, he started to fall back and I knew I could pass him, but I said, "Come on... we're almost there, don't let me catch you now!" and he took off like a SHOT. He definitely has a future as a sprinter.

My official time was 28:19. While not my 5k PR, it's a course PR of over 1:30 and honestly, my funnest 5k. I was just in the moment. I chatted with people on the course, I encouraged other runners and I just enjoyed every moment. I wasn't going all out, but I pushed myself. Oh, and in true tradition, the only one clapping for me as I came across the finish line was one of the first grade teachers that I know. As I slowed down through the chute, I saw Shane and the boys scrambling up the sidewalk in the distance--ahh, well. There's always next year. When I checked the official results list because I wasn't quite sure what time the clock read as I came across, I saw that I was listed 3rd in my age group. Fortunately, #4 in my age group was right behind me, so I was happy to learn that there were more than 3 people in my age group. It is a small race, but there were 15 people total in my age group, so while it was a small field, it wasn't as small as I originally feared. Before awards, the kids lined up for the Sparkler Sprint.

(Luke is in the red shirt and grey shorts.)
Unfortunately, in typical kid fashion the little boy lined up like a serious sprinter tripped and fell and Luke tripped and rolled over him. Amazingly, Luke jumped right back up and despite then being at the back of the pack, managed to pass all but two kids and end up third in the shoot.
After the race, he told me how much fun it was to pass people. I don't want to push my kids into running just because I like it, but I think this one might be my runner.

After the kids' race, they gave out awards and I got to wear my medal for about one minute before Tommy stole it. Still, it was an exciting minute where I got to pretend to be a fast runner. Small races are awesome.

I'm not sure where I go from here, but I don't feel like I'm too eager to pick up my Garmin again. I wasn't hitting these paces a month ago. Obviously this month of running without a watch was good for my body, and I've learned to listen to it better without the watch. At some point, I'd like to train for something longer if my feet will let me. Can I do that without a watch? I guess that'll be a new adventure!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton: A Novel
This is one of those books where the pieces of the story slowly fall into place, like filling blocks in on a Tetris board. Yet at the end of the novel, you're still left to wonder parts of Noa's story, why she made the choices she did--which is a huge strength of this particular novel. On death row for killing a girl her age, Noa is visited a few months before her execution date by the girl's mother; an attorney who promises to do what she can to change Noa's sentence to life in prison if Noa will only tell her why she did it. As the story unravels, learn that there's so much more to Noa's story than meets the eye, so much more than Noa is even willing to let the reader know as the calendar marches toward her execution date. This was a definite page-turner.

This book was brilliant. Even if you don't typically venture into the YA lit genre, I would urge you to pick up this one. I found myself shake laughing out loud at various parts of it because the narrator's voice was so authentically hilarious. Ryan Dean, the narrator, is a 14 year old Junior attending a boarding school. He's not shy about his faults--he's rooming with the school's biggest bully, he's in the dorm for delinquents, he can't stop himself from looking at all girls as sex objects and oh yeah, the girl he's desperately in love with keeps calling him a little boy. But then somehow, the novel turns and twists and pulls you in and you find yourself unbelievably drawn into the whole world the author has created, invested in every character. By the end of the novel, my laughter had turned to tears. This is one that I won't forget.

Doll Bones
This was sort of a coming of age novel mixed with horror mixed with fable and it was very well-done. In this, three best friends have always played with action figures and created fantasy lands. Zach's father decides he's too old for this and throws his away while he's at school. Afraid to tell his two best friends, Zach simply tells them angrily he's too old to play with dolls and doesn't want to be a part of their stories. Add in a haunted doll and a quest to return her to a grave and you have a horror story. This is an excellent middle grade novel and would work well for strong upper elementary readers, too. I definitely enjoyed it!

A Hundred Summers
I like period pieces when they're done right. This one was definitely done right. It made me long for simpler times of sitting on the beach, smoking without a concern for lung cancer and downing a thermos filled with gin and tonic while the men worked. That sounds lovely. Except in this book, it's not quite lovely as socialite Lily Dane is seven years later, still hurting from the loss of her first (and only) love to her best friend, Budgie. As Lily returns to summer at Rhode Island, she finds that Budgie and Nick will be summering there, too. The book as follows switches between the current summer of 1938 and the 1931, as the story of what transpired between Lily and Nick in the past slowly unfolds, while Lily tries desperately to ignore the ties that still bind her to Nick. This was a beautifully told story that grabbed me in from page 1 and didn't let go.

What are you reading?