Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

So last week, it was Wednesday and I was all, "I've only read one book. I'm a failure." Then I realized it was actually THURSDAY, and I was a really big failure. Sorry about that, blog readers.

Light from a Distant Star: A Novel
This is one of those books where a young teen protagonist is set in a situation where she has to make a choice that may disrupt her family life and the world she knows. The book covers a few months in Nellie's life and follows her somewhat boring, but somewhat tumultuous family life. Her dad is a slightly drift less dreamer who is more focused on writing his book than he is on earning money to provide for his family. Her mom is tired of having to provide for everyone. Her older, half-sister Ruth is on the search for her real father, who lives in Australia. Her younger brother Henry is weird and just can't quite fit in. Her grandpa Charlie owns a junkyard and lacks certain moral and ethical guidelines. Add in a vivacious tenant, Dolly, who is a stripper--or a singer and dancer, as Nellie thinks, and Nellie has quite the adult world to learn to navigate. I could see this as a pretty strong coming of age story and really enjoyed the author's prose.

UnSouled (Unwind Dystology)
I thought this was to be the last book in the Unwind series, then realized about 20 pages from the end that unless there was going to be a very rapid tying up of everything, it obviously wasn't. A quick Google search explained that no, it isn't the last book in the series and I have to wait longer for the last book?! No! It's been awhile since I reviewed the first book in the Unwind series and since it's really hard to review the third book, I'll just tell you why you should look into this series. Unwind (book 1) takes place in a dystopian future set after the Heartland War, a war fought over the issue of pro-choice vs. pro-life. Both sides came to an agreement: abortion is illegal, but if you have an unwanted baby, you can leave it on someone's porch, as long as you don't get caught. This is called storking. If you're storked, you're obligated to raise this child. Oh, and there's another catch… somewhere along the way, someone invented a technology that allowed every part of the human body to be harvested as an organ donation. Amazing, right? Except that there's always a need for organ and well, with the public school system in collapse in the midst of the Heartland War, there was this issue of these pesky, feral teens running around. So, a new law was put in place where you can choose to Unwind (full body organ donation) your child at the age of 13. Storked children are often at the most risk, but biological parents choose to Unwind children who misbehave. And children in state homes are at the highest risk, unless they can demonstrate they have something worth saving. This is not a pro-life/pro-choice statement disguised in a book, not by any means, but it is a powerful book on maybe how we treat children and teens in our society. The third book was as strong as the first and I absolutely cannot wait for the fourth and final book.

The Signature of All Things: A Novel
I am one of the five people who did not read Eat, Pray, Love, so I wasn't sure what to expect of this author. I was pleasantly, incredibly surprised. Despite being a pretty big book, I finished this over the weekend because I was very drawn in to the story and characters. This book follows Henry Whittaker and later, his daughter Alma through much of the 18th and 19th century. Both are interested in matters of botany, both of which take them over the globe. Henry was a boy who went from poor to wealth, but despite raising Alma in luxury, Henry and his wife Beatrix still instilled a work ethic in her. Indeed, every night Beatrix would sit with Alma and her adopted sister Prudence and recount how they could have bettered themselves that day. As the story evolves, Alma enters into a tenuous love with a man named Ambrose who makes his living (if you can call it that) drawing orchids. She becomes somewhat of a scholar in the field of studying mosses, yet not as well known as if she'd been a man. She travels to Tahiti and discovers much about life and herself. There's so much more, but you should definitely read this one for yourself.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
I've been wanting to read this book for awhile now and finally got around to it. Junior is a teen growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation who doesn't feel like he belongs. When he gets a math book, opens it and sees his mother's name on the inside cover, he snaps. He realizes they get so little at the reservation that their supplies are outdated by thirty years. He realizes he has to get off the reservation or he will never leave, so he makes the move to transfer to the school for rich white kids, where the only other Indian is their mascot. I loved this book. It was based on the author's own experience and it spoke of the rage and sadness felt at the plight of his people, at the poverty and alcoholism, but it was also so funny and had such strong voice. It was an incredibly easy read, and I found myself feeling like I knew Junior and wanting to read so much more.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Movie Pack {Giveaway}

Giveaway closed. chose comment #1, Megan. Thanks for entering!

I always think of The Hunger Games as the trilogy that launched a new genre of dystopian young adult lit, so like many people, I'm pretty excited for movie two: Catching Fire (click that to watch the exclusive trailer if you haven't already!).

Catching Fire is set to release on November 22 and as book 2 of The Hunger Games trilogy begins with Katniss and Peeta returning home safe after the 74th annual Hunger Games. But like life in any dystopian society, nothing is truly as it seems and along her victory tour, Katniss senses that rebellion is brewing, one surely to simmer over as President Snow announces his plans for the 75th annual Hunger Games.

In celebration of the release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, I have a prize pack for one lucky reader!

The prize pack includes:
*One (1) movie poster
*One (1) official movie T-shirt with Mockingjay logo
*Two (2) wristbands
*One (1) iPhone cleaner
*One (1) iPhone dot

To enter, leave a comment telling me which book of The Hunger Games trilogy was your favorite. Me? Catching Fire was my favorite. Haven't read the series? GASP. Go out and buy the books right now! You can still enter, just let me know who your favorite character is.
Giveaway closes Tuesday, November 19th. Only open to US residents.

I received the same prize pack in exchange for this post. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

I read some great books this week. You should add all of them to your list.

Somebody Up There Hates You: A Novel
Richard Casey is 17 years old and residing in a hospice unit. As you can imagine, he's unhappy about it. Although he has cancer, he tells anyone who asks that he has SUTHY, which stands for Somebody Up There Hates You. In hospice, he meets a 15 year old girl, Sylvie, and the two develop a relationship… or at least, want to help one another not die with certain things unconsummated. Is this book The Fault in Our Stars? Well, no, but few books are. Still, I loved it. I loved Richard's voice, the strange twists, the secondary characters in the hospice, the way that the author didn't gloss over the reality of the fact that sometimes, kids die and it's really sad.

Prodigy: A Legend Novel
This is the sequel to Legend, which I reviewed last week. I felt like this was a much stronger book than Legend, but it always seems like the middle book of a trilogy is the best (at least to me, anyway). I felt like this book explored the dystopian world more and explained what happened to create The Republic and The Colonies. Of course, the end leaves you hanging, but fortunately I came into the series just in time for the final book to be released.

The Circle
This book was incredibly fascinating. The main character, Mae, gets a job at Circle, the most powerful internet/social media/everything technological company. Hired in by her friend Annie who is in one of the top employees of the company, Mae is overwhelmed by the huge, beautiful campus. As time goes on, she realizes there's no need to ever leave. Parties after work, dorms on campus, Circle has everything. Except not everyone in Mae's life may agree with her assessment on Circle. While there were some incredibly obvious plot points in this book, I was able to overlook them because the overarching theme of this book was so powerful and the dystopian world that Eggers set up was so disturbing in the fact that it could be so real, so soon.

Rustication: A Novel
I think I would've enjoyed this book a lot more if I wouldn't have been so tired, but it's been a week of going to bed by 9 every night. Okay. 8:30. Still, I would give it a solid 3ish out of 5 stars, even with my tired brain. This novel is set in 1863 and is told through the journal of Richard, a former Cambridge student who has been rusticated. Side note: A google search taught me that rustication is used at Cambridge, Oxford and Durham and means, "being sent down or expelled temporarily." It's used more modernly to talk about students who leave temporarily but was originally derived from the Latin word rus, countryside, as most students were sent back to their families in the country. Although situations vary, some students may be disallowed from entering the university after rustication. So, that was interesting. Yay for learning! I'm going to start threatening my students with rustication instead of detention.
The events surrounding Richard's rustication aren't very clear, though the reader knows he has an unpleasant opium addiction and he likes girls but maybe in a slightly awkward way. Upon returning to his family, things start to go haywire in his town. His neighbors start receiving threatening and slightly dirty letters, farm animals are mutilated… and Richard is, of course, the prime suspect. All in all, the premise was interesting, but I guess I struggled with the sheer amount going on in the novel--which may have been my tired brain. That said, it was definitely an interesting plot and I did enjoy the ending, it just lost me a little bit in the middle.

The Isle of Youth: Stories
Every time I read a book of short stories, I think I remind myself that I'm not a fan of short story collections. However, this one really grabbed me. Each short story in this book features a female main character who is fighting some sort of uphill battle, but who also really isn't to keen on changing her uphill battle. Or who maybe doesn't really know how to change her battle, in some circumstances. They were all really strong stories, and I saw myself in so many aspects of the different characters the author created. This is one that I would recommend reading even if you aren't a fan of the short story genre.

What are you reading?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ever Happily

She asked me, "Son, when I grow old,
Will you buy me a house of gold?
And when your father turns to stone,
Will you take care of me?"

twenty one pilots


Life with a six year old boy who pushes himself to be the very best at school and then collapses at home has been a little rough lately, but this photo makes me step back and notice. These are the moments I live for, the nose crinkling moments where he's so very mine, where he'll be my boy forever.

Gorgeous photo by Donya Marie Photography. Are you local? You should hire her. She's the best.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

I read all Young Adult lit books this week, except for the first book. Sorry, but not sorry because YA is a good genre that you should probably explore if you haven't yet.

The Night Guest: A Novel
I love books with unreliable narrators, but I'm not really sure if the narrator of this book is unreliable. Maybe a little unreliable with an unreliable antagonist? Either way, it was good. Really good. I would like you all to read it. Ruth is a 75 year old woman who lives alone in a cottage by the sea, who seems pretty well put together, except that she thinks she hears a tiger at night. Her sons are kind of worried about her, so when Frida shows up, saying she's been sent by the government (this takes place in Australia) to help out for an hour a day, everyone is pretty happy. At first, Frida proves helpful, cleaning Ruth's house, assisting with medicine, making meals before she leaves. But then, Frida starts to stay longer and longer hours, on the seemingly small salary paid to her by the government. This was one of those books that had a slow opening, then smacked me over the head and left me kind of chilled when I realized what twist might be coming. This novel is described as a psychological thriller and it is aptly so. I found it even more disturbing than books like Gone Girl or others of its genre, even though it wasn't as overtly in your face. It creeps up on you, but leaves you unable to think about anything else. While the ending wasn't a huge surprise, the relationship between Ruth and Frida and the way this story was written was so well-done to me that I didn't need the surprise. It was definitely creepy and unsettling.

My students had an essay due last week where one of the possible prompts was to compare Divergent to another dystopian novel. One boy asked if he could compare it to Legend. A quick google search revealed that it's a dystopian book, but I figured it'd be a good idea to read it prior to his essay. This book is told by dual characters: Day, a 15-year-old street boy and June, a 15-year-old sister to one of the Republic's top military men. Day is the bane of the Republic's existence in that he's constantly pulling off heists, yet they never come close to catching him. June is thrust into Day's path when he murders her brother. Like any dystopian novel, the flaws in the society are slowly unraveled and revealed as the novel goes on. While there were some plot holes that were left empty, this is also part 1 of a trilogy, so I would assume they'll be answered. I really enjoyed this book and felt like she did an excellent job developing the characters and the horrors of the dystopian world June and Day live in.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
Leonard Peacock has one wish for his 18th birthday: to kill his ex-best friend, Asher, then kill himself. Before he can carry that out, he has gifts to give to the few people who he feels have cared about him or helped him in some way: Walt, his elderly neighbor with whom he watches Humphrey Bogart movies; Baback, a school "friend" who allows him to listen to his violin recitals; Lauren, an evangelical Christian who hands out tracts at the subway station; and Herr Silverman, Leonard's Holocaust teacher. As the story unfolds, we learn about Leonard's childhood and what happened to lead Leonard to this place where he wants to kill Asher and himself. This book, honestly, set my teeth on edge, but there was something raw and real about it. I could see Leonard in so many kids that I've taught, where you just hope that they know that someone cares about them. I was a little disappointed in the ending, but sometimes ambiguous endings are good and this is probably the type of book that benefitted from it. I guess a part of me just didn't want to let Leonard go. This is one that will stick with me for awhile.

A Chance for Charity (The Immortal Ones - A Paranormal Romance)
Sometimes my students will recommend books to me and they're books that I would've loved at 13 but not so much at 31. This book is an awful lot like another book that rhymes with Smilight. Charity is 17 (but really she's immortal) and lives with her aunt and uncle, who are also immortal. Her uncle is a doctor. The family has to move around every so often so no one notices that they don't age. They have a lot of money. A mortal boy falls in love with Charity and finds out her secret. Sound familiar? Fortunately no one sparkles in the sunlight. All joking aside, the kindle version is free to download and it was actually an easy, enjoyable read. Good literature? No, but it kept me occupied while I recovered from 13 miles on Sunday.

What are you reading?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Indy Monumental Half

Way back in June, Barb asked if I wanted to buy her sister's bib for the Indy Monumental. They'd planned to run it together, but her sister was going to be unable to run. I told her to give me a few days to think about it, then I'd let her know. At this point, my feet were still pretty up and down. I wasn't running any more than 3 miles, my pace was all over the place and I couldn't foresee another half. Then I think I texted her back 20 minutes later and was like, You know what? I'll take it. I figured that I would start training and if my feet couldn't handle it, I wouldn't do it.
Barb told me that for $20 more I could transfer the bib from her sister's name to my name, but I was all, "Pssh. I'm cheap. And this is definitely not going to be a PR or anything." Sarah was considering doing the marathon, then decided to step down to the half so at some point, it became a kind of girls' getaway, too.

I decided to follow the TLAM Finish It half plan. I followed the Own It plan last fall and while I got a PR with it, it's also a pretty intense plan and I was definitely burned out on running by the time I was done. The Finish It plan was nice because it was somewhat more intense than some of the other lesser plans I looked at, but not so that it would kill me. And then, I'll be honest. I cut down on the week day runs. Most weeks called for 3-4 runs during the week. I only did 2. With preschool pick-up and drop off, that's all I could squeeze in. I picked the ones that I felt would be the most beneficial. I always did the long weekend runs, of course. My feet flared up a few times, but I made sure to roll them, step back if needed and always wear good shoes (Orthaheels, of course!) to work. In other words, I trained smart. Somewhere around week 7, I started to feel stronger in my running again and was seeing paces in long runs that I hadn't seen since last fall. I thought that maybe I could come close to my time last fall, which would be really cool.

Then I got up super early for a long run on a Saturday morning, with a month to go before the half. I had brunch plans with friends, so I figured I'd start out my run by doing laps around my block, then head out of my neighborhood when it got light. I do laps around my block on the mornings before work, so this is nothing new and should've been routine. On my second lap, I moved over for a car and moved right into a pothole. Normally when I roll my ankle, I can roll it back the other way, but I didn't even see this one coming. I went down, hard. Once I crawled out of the way of the car, I realized that I was hurt. I limped home crying, bleeding and swearing and realized that I wasn't going to be finishing that run. Or going to brunch. Instead I went to urgent care with a swollen ankle, where I got an unsurprising diagnosis of a sprained ankle. The doctor gave me a wrap and an air cast to wear and told me that maybe I could run again in a week, but that it would more likely be two weeks (meaning that I would miss the last two double digit runs of the training plan). I was optimistic about a week, but he was right about the two weeks. I'm not going to lie that it was incredibly defeating to be at a point where I felt like my foot issues were almost all the way cleared up, only to go and sprain my ankle. I knew it was temporary, but come on. So, I gave up on any thoughts I had of a good half marathon time and just wanted to run it and finish it without hurting myself. I did my first run a week and a half after spraining my ankle and it was in a lot of pain the next day. I let myself rest for four more days, realizing that I should've just waited until the weekend. Then I headed out for what was supposed to be 8 miles but ended up being 7.5 when my left knee and legs seized up. My ankle wasn't so bad, but my legs and knee were a mess, I can only assume from off-loading weight from my right ankle. It was painful. I didn't have much hope, but I pushed through the last two weeks of the training plan. I did feel better and better with each run, although my left knee and calves continued to bother me. I just got better at ignoring them.

The day before the race, Barb, Sarah and I headed down to Indy around 11, stopped for lunch, then went to the expo. I'd been dealing with a migraine since the day before (because why not?), but I found an amazing doctor at the expo who specializes in ART and he did some incredible maneuvers on my neck and shoulders that really helped. After that, we went to the mall where we all proceeded to go broke at lululemon, Athleta and Lucy (which may be my new favorite store). We ate dinner at Cheesecake Factory, where we shared a divine pumpkin pecan cheesecake for dessert, then we headed to Barb's brother's house, where we were staying for the night (he was also running the half). I seriously slept like a rock. I'm thanking the ART guy for this.

The weather on race day was perfect. Mid-40s at the start. I decided awhile ago that I wasn't going to run with a watch. When I ran the 5k in July, I also didn't use a watch and I really liked doing that. I've become good at running by feel and through most of this training, I've ignored the pace on my watch and don't even look at it until the very end of my run. It's not something I care about or need to know anymore. I knew that it took us a few minutes to cross the start line, so even the split clocks at each mile were meaningless to me. I found my pace, settled in and just kept going. I could tell somewhat where my pace was because I was hanging pretty close to the 4:00 pace group for the marathon, but otherwise, I was blissfully unaware. And for the most part, I felt good. I was loving the course. The spectators were amazing. There were a lot of funny signs, a lot of people high fiving and little kids and strangers cheering you on. I haven't ever run a half marathon with crowd support like this and I think it made a huge difference in my motivation.
Normally, my game plan for a half is that I run without stopping until mile 6, then I stop for water, stretch if I need to and run again until mile 9 or whenever the next water stop is. However, when I reached mile 6 on Saturday, I thought, "You know what? I still feel good. I don't feel like I need water." So I kept running. There were water stops every mile, so I knew that if I got thirsty, I could stop. I was in such a good stride and such a good place that I didn't want to stop, which is not something that has ever happened to me during a half marathon before. I was with a group of people who just kept running, too, and this was definitely a huge help. But mostly, I felt strong. Occasionally, my breathing would get a little out of control, but I was able to get it back under control. The miles seemed like they were passing by quickly because there was so much to look at and take in. I didn't really start to struggle until mile 11 or 12 and by then, I was SO close that there was no way that I was stopping for a drink. I realized that if I pushed through, I could tell myself (and anyone who will listen, hi!) that I ran the whole entire half marathon without stopping once. 2+ hours of non-stop running without slowing one single time, after this last year of injuries and wondering if I'd ever run another half again. I'm not going to lie, I started to tear up a little when I got to mile 12, but that might also be because my knee and ankle were starting to kill me.

Finally, we were almost to the end and all the spectators were cheering (seriously, best crowd ever) and saying things like, "Just two more turns, you're almost there!" and the finish line literally right around the last turn, which was awesome. Because how much does it suck when you come into that home stretch only to have the finish line be SO far away? The time on the clock said 2:09 when I crossed, which was already a PR, but I was more focused on the fact that I'd forgotten how to walk and I was seriously crashing into people left and right while trying to navigate my way through the crowd to get to where we'd all agreed to meet post-race. I found Sarah and discovered that she also PRd, then she looked up my official time (apparently she'd been trying to look me up to see what my projected finish was but couldn't remember Barb's sister's last name, because remember, I was too cheap to switch the bib?), which was 2:06:14. A six minute PR! About ten minutes later, Barb came up with a huge smile and announced a nine minute PR, so basically, this was a magic day for the three of us--none of whom set out to PR or followed a strict training schedule. It was just one of those days, one of those races where everything fell into line. Numbers and paces don't mean everything to me or much at all to be honest, but this one feels pretty good.