Monday, December 28, 2015

What I December

Hi! I am a terrible book blogger, huh? I'm reading, just not finding time to wrap it all up. 2016 resolution to get back on track with that. Since we're in the midst of an ice storm and I'm all caught up on cleaning and laundry and my kids are tired of spending time with me, I figured I should get this done now before another Wednesday comes and goes. Anyway, I hope you're looking for books to read because I've got them!

More Happy Than Not
Aaron lives in the projects in the Bronx. He's grappling with his father's suicide (in their bathtub) and how to best balance his girlfriend and his friends. In the midst of this, Aaron begins to develop an attraction to his friend Thomas and this makes him consider whether or not he should get something called a Leteo procedure, which makes you forget painful memories--like your father's suicide and struggling with your sexuality. As the story unravels, it appears that Aaron's life on the surface isn't quite as his life is beneath, something that is slowly unfolded to both Aaron and the readers. This novel grabbed me. I thought it would be more sci-fi because of the Leteo Institute, but it wasn't, not at all. It was real and painful to go through Aaron's journey along with him, to realize that he had more behind him than even he realized.

Once We Were Brothers
Elliot Rosenzweig is a respected man in the city of Chicago. Known for his philanthropic ways, as well as for being a Holocaust survivor, no one questions or doubts that he's anything less than a wonderful man. Until he's attacked at a gala event and accused of being a high-ranking Nazi official, Otto Piatek. Although he denies claims that he lived through the Holocaust in a vastly different way, he also drops charges against Ben Solomon, his attacker--a Holocaust survivor who once lived closely with Piatek and claims he would recognize him anywhere. A friend brings Ben to Catherine Lockhart to defend his case, a case she originally sees as a losing battle, until she the evidence begins to unfold itself.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Simon Spier is struggling with how to reveal that he's gay, plus also... all the normal teenage stuff. Through the means of social media, Simon begins emailing another gay boy at his school, a boy who goes by the moniker Blue. Simon begins to hint pretty strongly at who he is, but Blue doesn't reveal himself as easily. This, of course, causes angst in Simon as he tries to guess Blue's identity, while also trying to figure out how to tell his parents and his friends. I loved this book. Loved it. Simon and his friends were so real, but I think I loved his parents the most. This was just an all-around wonderful read.

The Game of Love and Death
I was afraid this book would be too much like The Book Thief, with Death as an actual character, but it wasn't. Love and Death play a game, involving two babies--Flora and Henry. Living only blocks apart but being born into different worlds, the game is over if Flora and Henry can put aside their differences and fall in love... or if they don't. In one case, Love wins. In the other, Death. Of course, a game isn't without its fair share of meddling, in this case by Love and Death taking on human forms. In the end, only one will prove to be more powerful. And in the actual end of this book, I was in tears.

We Are All Made of Molecules
This book was good, albeit a little too easily tied together. Stewart is 13 and smart, although socially awkward (perhaps on a spectrum, even). 14 year old Ashley is socially with it but intellectually not. The two are brought together when Ashley's mom gets divorced, starts seeing Stewart's dad and Stewart and his dad eventually move in. What follows is an adjustment period for everyone, especially Ashley. I liked this book for what it was, an engaging story and easy entertainment.
Nicolette lives in a world where faeries are real, where she's saddled with no parents and an evil stepmother and two step-sisters. Yes, this is definitely Cinderella with a twist. On her 16th birthday, she discovers a hidden workshop in her house and discovers that although faeries are banned in her world, she can make magic just like her mom. I loved this book for the magical twist on Cinderella. Although it was nothing new, it took the old and made it new.

Mim Malone is drug from the Midwest to Mississippi, aptly dubbed Mosquitoland, by her father and new stepmother after her mother becomes ill and is hospitalized. After finding what she thinks is a letter from her mother begging for her to visit, Mim steals her step-mom's money and gets on a bus for Ohio. Along the way, she meets travelers, some good and bad, and discovers quite a bit about her family and who truly loves her.

Challenger Deep
This book. Wow. I feel like YA books either glamorize or gloss over mental illnesses, but this book did neither. Caden Bosch is on a ship headed for the Challenger Trench. But Caden Bosch is also a high school student who is suddenly... changing. No longer attentive in class or to his friends and family, Caden has lost himself. He finds himself by walking miles a day, until his feet bleed, and by trying to learn about the ship and the crew and why he's on this journey. This book seamlessly weaved together Caden's real world and Caden's surreal world, but it made mental illness real and stark. There was nothing glamorous about what Caden was going through, but you felt for him, really felt for him. He didn't ask for the tricks his brain was playing, nor did he ask for his world to be suddenly rocked. There were times when this book was almost too hard to read, but in the end, it all came together. In a world where we like to ignore mental illness and certainly don't fund it enough, this book should be read by everyone.

Wolf by Wolf
The year is 1956 and in this dystopia, the Nazis won World War II. Hitler lives to seize more and more control of Europe, Asia and Africa, as the Aryan race takes new, terrifying power. Yael is a death camp survivor, a victim of Nazi experiments who is left with the power to alter her appearance. She uses this power to enter the Axis Tour, a sort of Nazi Amazing Race with the winner holding the Iron Cross and representing the great Aryan nation. Yael enters as the only female winner, a girl named Adele Wolf, with the ultimate goal of winning and then killing Hitler, hopefully being the spark to start a revolution. Through this, Yael remembers the dead who came before her and wonders if she can be ruthless enough to win at all costs.
I loved this book because I mean, who hasn't wondered what if? What if Hitler won? What if Japan joined in alliance with Nazi Germany? Where would it end? Although this book doesn't answer that question, it certainly explored it.

The Walled City
Told from he perspective of Jin, Mei Yee, and Din, life inside the Walled City (a real historical thing--look it up!) is both bleak and dangerous,whether you are a criminal, a girl forced to work in a brothel or a street kid trying to survive, it isn't easy. Jin ran away from home after her sister Mei Yee was sold into sex slavery. She suspects Mei Yee is in one of the brothels, but must figure out how to find her. Din is a rich kid who made a mistake and now must earn his way back into his society. The three stories come together in one tale of survival. Loved this story and loved the very brief piece of history within it.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

Pretty Girls: A Novel
Over two decades ago, Claire and Lydia's sister Julia vanished without a trace. 20 years later, Claire and Lydia are estranged. Lydia is a single mom recovering from a drug addiction, while Claire is a wealthy trophy wife with no children. The two reconnect after Claire's husband is murdered and are sent on a dangerous journey in an attempt to find out what happened to their sister. I liked this book for the easy distraction it offered, but I ended with a lot of unanswered questions. While the story itself was engaging, the ending was a little too abrupt. Still a good read!

The Grownup: A Story by the Author of Gone Girl
I definitely wouldn't buy this book because it's so short, but the story itself was great. The narrator, unnamed, makes her living through deception. As a fake palm reader, she encounters Susan who offers to pay the narrator to come look at her evil house. Once there, the narrator realizes she's quickly out of her depth in this house along with Susan's supposedly evil stepson Miles. I liked this story because I wasn't sure who was unreliable: the narrator, Susan, Miles... or maybe all three.

The Martian
The difference between Mark Watney and me is that if I end up trapped on Mars, I am just going to curl up in a crater and die. He, on the other hand, immediately began making a plan for survival. I enjoyed this. It was sci-fi without dystopia. Space exploration without monsters. It's definitely a classic story of survival in unknown elements, and I enjoyed it for that.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

Hey guys! I still read books. And blog. Occasionally, anyway. The last month or so has been an exhausting spin fest and honestly, every time I think to blog, it's already Thursday and then it's the next Thursday and well, you get it. I have been reading, although I admittedly haven't read anything at all this week. Hoping to change that over the four day weekend.

It's the year 2051 and Faith is living in a dystopian world, one where teachers are facilitators and pre-recorded lessons do all the teaching (you know this sone got me), where the world is divided into dome-like sections to protect the people. Only it's never really clear what they're being protected from, but some people choose to live outside the borders. Faith and her parents are such people, but Faith's life changes when she discovers that she is telekinetic and has an ability called pulse, just like another classmate. This ability puts her in danger, but could also be a saving grace to the world in which she lives. Although this book grabbed my attention, it was almost too undeveloped a read. It is part of a series that I have yet to read, so I am willing to give the others a try to see if the world and characters are more developed.

I love when the book within a book works. In this case, it did. Darcy has decided to forgo college for the time being to move to New York City and finishing editing her already optioned novel, Afterworlds. Over this year, Darcy learns a lot about herself, discovers how to work under pressure and when facing criticism and, oh yeah, falls in love. In the midst of this, Darcy's story about a girl named Lizzie who faces death during a terrorist attack and survives only by slipping into a death-like state. The books switches stories every chapter and for the most part, I found myself equally interested in both Darcy and Lizzie.

Black-Eyed Susans: A Novel of Suspense
Tessa was found barely alive in a Texas field, scattered amongst black eyed Susans and the bones and bodies of other girls. The press calls the girls Black-Eyed Susans, and Tessa's testimony puts a man on death row. Twenty years later, Tessa founds a fresh patch of black-eyed Susans growing outside her window and is fearful to what that means--who left them there if the killer is supposedly in prison? Tessa connects with a legal team working to prove that the man on death row was not responsible, and in the midst of this, Tessa teeters on a constant brink of fear and paranoia. This was a story that set my teeth on edge because it was really suspenseful in the way the author unfolded the story, really leaving me second guessing about every aspect within the novel.

After Alice: A Novel
I feel like Gregory Maguire books are either hit or miss. Wicked and that series was awesome, but others have been pretty meh. I loved this one. Told from the POV of Alice's briefly mentioned friend Ada, who follows Alice into Wonderland, and Alice's sister Lydia, who stays aboveground searching for the girls, this was a delight. Maguire's description of Wonderland isn't a knockoff of Lewis Carroll, but rather a strong extension. Lydia aboveground explores the dynamics of the Victorian era while trying to find her role in society.

Willowdean, known as Dumplin' by her former beauty queen mom, is smart, funny, sarcastic, a lover of Dolly Parton and--much to the consternation of her mom--overweight. Willowdean mostly doesn't care and is happy with the skin she's in, until she meets Bo, a private school boy who is handsome and seemingly popular. Willowdean struggles because Bo seems as into her as she is into him and she can't fathom if it's just a fun fling or not because she can't see Bo holding her hand in public. In the midst of this, Willowdean decides to join the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant, along with several of her less than beauty pageant-esque friends. I loved this book and absolutely loved Willowdean. This was a great read.

A student suggested I read this and I never ignore student requests. This tells the story of the fire at the Triangle Waist Company, which historically killed 146 workers and sparked a change in working conditions. Told from the point-of-view of Bella, Yetta and Jane, this did an excellent job of balancing between history and fiction. Loved it. This would also be great for a younger reader!

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things
It's The Bloggess. Enough said.

The Japanese Lover: A Novel
I really enjoyed this book. There is one part that bothered me, a glossing over of what it means to be a sexual abuse survivor, but other than that, I really enjoyed it.
As Poland falls to the Nazis, Alma's parents send her across the ocean to live with her aunt and uncle. There she meets a Japanese-American boy, Ichimei, and the two grow close--until Pearl Harbor is bombed and he is sent to live in an internment camp. As an elderly woman, Alma is living in a care facility, where she becomes close to Irina, a care worker. As the two grow closer, Irina works with Alma's grandson Seth to unravel the mystery of Alma's past and what Ichimei meant to her. Beautiful story with incredible depth. I couldn't put it down!

What are you reading?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

Carry On
I loved Fangirl, so I was excited to read this book. At first, I was bothered by the fact that I was reading a ripoff of a Harry Potter ripoff, essentially, but I was quickly drawn into the continuation of Simon Snow and Baz's story. It was engaging and a quick read. That said, it wasn't a Rainbow Rowell novel that'll stick with me like others have, but I appreciated her telling Simon's story--and I definitely feel like there are a lot of thematic messages tied in that teens need to read.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven
I read this for a co-worker. It was actually less heavy-handed than I thought it would be. Eddie is an old man, an amusement park worker who enjoys his job but feels he missed out on a lot in life. Eddie dies beneath a broken amusement park ride, unsure if he saved a young girl or not. Upon his death, Eddie learns that everyone meets five people in Heaven. It may be people you know, but it may be complete strangers, the connection being that you've impacted a live in some way--whether good or bad. I enjoyed the thematic overture of this book, the idea that we all make ripples in our lives and never know how far they will reach.

Out of My Mind
Melody is a unique girl. She has cerebral palsy, a photographic memory and synesthesia. Oh, and she can't talk. At all. Plagued by people underestimating her whole life, Melody's world changes when her school decides to include the kids from self-contained rooms into regular classrooms. Despite proving herself again and again, Melody's classmates and teachers still assume that she is unintelligent and don't treat her as a normal child. Melody earns the number one spot on the school's quiz team at about the same time that she gets an adaptive device that enables her to "speak." This book was heavy, but good. It is definitely something I feel that everyone should read. Melody and her differently abled classmates are humanized, without a happy fairy tale gloss placed on everything. There were parts of this book that hurt me to read and parts where I could literally feel Melody's frustration.

Bone Gap
Sean and Finn are brothers, abandoned by their mother, who rescue a girl named Roza--or maybe she rescues them. When Roza is kidnapped, Finn is plagued by the fact that he's the only one who believes she was taken against her will, yet he is unable to describe the face of her kidnapper. In the midst of this, Roza is with her kidnapper, yet she's unable to place a grasp on where she is or what will become of her, knowing only that the man wishes to possess her beauty. This was a stunning story of magical realism, done so well that I was often unsure of what was magical and what was not. It was chilling. It was not easy to read at points, yet I could not put it down. It was magic interwoven with real life issues that shouldn't be dismissed.

The Walking Dead Compendium Volume 3 (Walking Dead Compendium Tp)
The latest installment of the Walking Dead graphic novel. Even if you don't like graphic novels, I would encourage reading this if you are a fan of the show. It's grittier and more violent, arguably more realistic, than the show. The thread of the show follows the novels in some elements, in others it veers away, but the overall idea that humans are more fearful than walkers remains.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

A Child Called It: One Child's Courage to Survive
I've been avoiding this book for years because, well.. a lot of reasons, but someone asked me to preview it to see if it'd be appropriate to teach. The short answer was no. The long answer is that although I try really hard to always believe a victim, Dave Pelzer is not easy to believe in some aspects. Do I believe he was abused? Yes, I believe for him to be removed from his home, things were not good. Do I believe that he maybe exaggerates or that he is struggling with inner demons that are maybe related, maybe not? Yes. Let's just say that this article didn't leave me feeling the best about him.

After You: A Novel
This is the follow up to Me Before You. I love MBY. I felt that it separated itself a little bit from chick lit. I did not feel the same about After You, which is not to say that I didn't enjoy it. I did! It follows Louisa in the time after Will's death, as she struggles to heal, struggles to separate herself from the newspaper stories surrounding Will, struggles to live the life he would have wanted her to live. I felt like parts of this novel were pretty contrived, but like I said, it was still an easy read and I enjoyed the continuation of Louisa's story.

Six of Crows
In terms of YA fantasy, I feel like this author is one of the best. This is the beginning of a new series that takes place in the same world as her Grisha series. Grishas and other creatures fill the pages of this novel, told from alternating points-of-view. You have Kaz, the thief mastermind of a local gang; Inej, known as the Wraith, a slip of a girl remarkably skilled at climbing; Nina, a Grisha who can manipulate and heal; Matthias, a soldier formerly tasked with the job of hunting down and killed Grishas. Together, this crew, plus a few others, are to break into the notorious ice prison and sneak out a man who has figured out how to enhance grisha power. I was very engaged in this story and can't wait for the continuation. The author does an amazing job of bringing fantasy to life!

Fat & Bones: And Other Stories
Farmer Bald dies, leaving behind his son, his wife and a rather motley crew, including a fairy named Bones, an angry tulip, a distinguished poetry loving spider named Leonard, a cat and others. In seven connected tales, the story unfolds following Fat's death in dark and creative ways. This was a quick read, front to back without putting it down, but I loved it. And those of you who love cats (Hi Sarah!) will love the cat in this story.

A Night Divided
Vetting another one for a coworker. With the overnight rise of the Berlin Wall, Gerta finds her mother, her older brother and herself on one side of the wall, while her dad and her other brother are on the other. Living in East Berlin isn't easy, especially when your dad has been labeled a communist, when your neighbors and friends turn against you, but Gerta and her brother are devoted to escaping at any cost. Following her father enacting digging, Gerta and her brother Fritz begin the slow process of tunneling beneath the wall, knowing that if they get caught, it'll be certain death... but is life worth living in the east? This was a very easy read and a good way to introduce students to the history of the Berlin Wall.

What are you reading?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Run Chicago [Chicago Marathon 2015]

Way back a year ago when I started to toy with the idea of running a marathon, I swore I would be one and done. Just to say I had done it. And I did. Then I turned around and signed up for another one, like some sort of lunatic. I know. Who does that? A crazy person, but I really wanted to run the Chicago marathon because it's a historic event, and I've lived in Chicagoland my whole life so what better way to see my city than by running through it?

This meant that the only month I didn't train for a marathon was May and that was because I had just run a marathon. This may come as a surprise to you, but that's actually really tiring. No, I take that back. This summer was great. Sure, I was running 5 days a week, but I didn't have to work. Still, there was an element of already being weary of the runs dictating my life, but I enjoyed it. Then I had to go back to work at the same time that my runs increased mileage wise and also, this has been a really tough school year. EXHAUSTED. My 4AM runs were not effortless. They hurt. I was so tired. I would lie in the dark and want to cry at the thought of getting up to run. I was super excited for taper week, then the morning after my last Saturday run, my body started to fall apart. When I got out of bed on Sunday, it hurt to step on my left foot. I iced it, stayed off of it and by Monday morning, it still hurt. It felt okay when I ran, but walking was pretty painful. I panicked about a possible stress fracture or serious strain (especially because I had just stopped taking Cipro and among other things, that can cause tendonitis), then on Wednesday morning, I stepped out of bed to knotted calves and foot pain all over. Ahh, hello plantar fasciitis flare-up. I skipped my Wednesday run (my last pre-race run) and taped my feet, along with all of my other magic tricks. It got slowly better as the week progressed, but my feet were still not 100% by race day. More than anything, the mental state that I was in drove me nuts. I felt like all of my training was for nothing because my feet and legs would not stop hurting.

All of my taper week stress aside, I trained with much of the same group that I trained with last time, plus some new people. Initially, it felt fragmented because we were all on different plans and different schedules, so I ran alone a lot. Then we got it figured out and started meeting before the actual group runs and that was great. It's rare to meet other people willing to run in the dark on a Saturday!

So, on to the actual race and surrounding events.
Chicago Marathon Expo
I've never been to an expo before a big race, but this was an event in itself. Barb went up with me, which was awesome because we spent a great afternoon together AND her head wasn't in taper fog like mine. The streamlining of the process was incredible. They scan you race ticket, then tell you which booth to go to, at which point your bib and everything is ready to be handed over. Then you get your shirt at the back of the expo and theoretically, you could leave after that... but with hundreds of running related booths to explore, who wants to do that?! I could have easily dropped hundreds of dollars there, but I kept it under $50 and only bought a Many Magnificient Miles shirt and a Goose Island commemorative pint glass. There was this incredibly tempting Northface sweatshirt with the marathon date on the sleeve and in hot pink and orange, but I told myself that I could not buy a $55 sweatshirt. Except that true to form, all I can think about now is how I should have bought that sweatshirt. Figures. After the expo, we went to Tufano's where I had delicious mushroom rigatoni. Oh, and on the way, we got stuck in a parade, which was hilarious. We also drove over part of the course and that was really cool, too. Then I hurried home and went to Luke's baseball game, where his team won the fall ball championship (a mother runner never gets to rest, right?).

Race morning
The night before the race, we took the boys to Shane's parents' house, so I went to bed pretty early. Fortunately, since my alarm was set for 3:30 because the bus was leaving at 4:55 on the dot. So early, but so worth it to ride up with my running group and avoid the nightmare that would be driving into the city on race day. Everyone was pretty subdued on the bus ride up. I mostly just spent my time quietly thinking about the race and willing my feet to stop hurting. We got up there at 5:55, two hours before the race started. It took us a good hour to navigate from the museum campus to go through security checkpoints and finally get near our corral. We staked out an area near the portapotties and watched the sun rise over Lake Shore Drive. It was still pretty cool temperature wise at this point, and I kept reminding myself to embrace the cool because I knew it would be much warmer by the time I finished. As we were in line for the last bathroom break, the National Anthem was sung, signaling that the elites were about to start. This was a very neat moment. After that, we headed into corral J, which seemed so far back yet was somehow not even the last corral.
Miles 1-10
After this, we slowly started shuffling forward bit by agonizing bit, finally crossing the start line at about 8:20. And we were off! They say that Chicago is great because the crowds keep you from going out too fast, but I still felt like I was flying. Side note: the first tunnel is disgusting because every guy in the world stops to pee on the walls and dudes, just because you can pee anywhere you want doesn't mean that you NEED to pee everywhere you want because the river of urine was nasty. I'd been warned by a few people that you can't rely on your GPS early on due to the tunnels and tall buildings, so when my GPS told me I was running 4 minute miles to start with, I figured it would straighten out eventually (spoiler alert: it didn't). The early stages of the race were through the financial district, where it was shady and cool... and the streets were packed with spectators squeezed between the high rises. I was running with my friend Susan at this point and we were laughing over our favorite signs. At mile 2 or 3, I saw my friend Megan and then Sarah shortly afterward, followed by my running coach. In every case, I only saw them because they screamed my name--there are just so many people! I did not see Shane and found out later that he was on the opposite side of the street and only knew he missed me because he ran into Sarah and she told him.
My favorite part of the early race stages was definitely Wrigleyville and Boystown. I loved high-fiving all of the Cubs fan and laughed t the signs that read: "If the Cubs can make the playoffs, you can run a marathon." Boystown was like a party, featuring an all-male baton twirling troupe that made me want to just stop and hang out. After that, we looped back around into Lincoln Park which is very pretty--and which was the start of my first half marathon four years ago. Shortly after this, we ran past a nursing home where all the residents were lined up at the windows waving. This was super cool and I waved the whole way through. At Lincoln Park, I was still feeling pretty strong and hanging with the 4:40 pace group. The female pacer was really engaging, but I lost the group when I stopped for water at mile 10. At this point, my feet and legs were starting to hurt, which was a concern because it was still early in the race. My GPS was also still way off, showing that I was 2 miles ahead of the numbers on the course and not reflecting any sort of pace. At this point, I turned it so it was just a watch because it was stressing me out more than anything. Although I don't rely hugely on my watch, I had also trained in such a way that I was used to making sure I was sticking to my average pace and I couldn't do this. This was slightly frustrating and unnerving.

Miles 11-19
This part of the race is all a blur. At some point, I looked to my right and realized my friend Reggie was running next to me. He and I ended up running together until about mile 17 when we lost each other in the crowd. He was a huge help because we walked water stops together and regrouped, then pushed each other through those huge "hit the wall miles." I knew that Sarah would be joining me at mile 20, so I was chunking the race into the number of miles left until I met Sarah. She reassured me of this at mile 17, which was enough to make me smile.
I also saw Shane and my friend Megan right after mile 17, high-fiving everyone (and almost divorcing my husband on the spot for saying, "You're almost there!"). This was a boost. Shane claims I was somewhere in this crowd.
Shortly after this, I lost Reggie in the crowd and my back started to hurt. Badly. I was out of advil and knew I would have to power through, but it was uncomfortable with every step. It was also starting to get warm. There were workers on the course spraying people down with hoses and wet sponges available, too, but the sun was full on without any shade so you didn't stay cool for long. My favorite neighborhood in this section was definitely Pilsen, a heavily Latino section of the city. It was like a huge party, complete with giant dancing puppets. My back was really hurting at this point, so I ended up on a dirty sidewalk doing a quick yoga pose to try and loosen it. In the midst of this, some woman told me I was beautiful. Chicago really does have the best spectators!

Miles 20-26
By now, my back was really hurting. I was also starting to take all sorts of food from strangers. Pretzels? Swedish fish? Orange slices? If a stranger was handing it out, I was eating it. Sarah jumped in with me shortly after mile 20, and I immediately assured her that I could not finish. She immediately assured me I would finish. At some point, I know we ran through Chinatown and even though everyone swears it's the best race party location, all I remember is this elderly Chinese man trying to cross the street in the middle of the sea of runners. That's it. I don't remember one single other part of Chinatown. My back was really hurting at this time and Sarah was encouraging me by setting minor goals, telling me I was strong and promising me there was a surprise at mile 24. I asked her if the surprise was a stretcher to wheel me off the course, in case you're wondering what sort of joyful company I was at that point in the race. At mile 24, I spotted a woman with a bag of chips and I desperately needed those chips, except that suddenly Barb appeared in front of me cheering! This was a huge surprise and a good boost, and she didn't even care that I got her all wet when I hugged her (Sarah had been dumping a lot of water on me). After this, I literally remember nothing that we ran past except that I hurt and that I was so annoyed with the massive crowds of runners. Someone told me that you can expend a lot of energy dodging and weaving at Chicago and I believe this to be true. By the end, I no longer had that energy and I think I hit a lot of people with my elbows. Sorry, other runners. The course started to get really packed with spectators at this point and right before the 2nd to last turn, they made Sarah peel off the course (we were expecting this). Right after she left, I watched security actually chase and grab a guy who wouldn't leave the course, so that was entertaining. Then all that was left was the hill up Roosevelt (GOD, what sadistic person plans a marathon that ends at a solid uphill at mile 26?). I promised myself I would not walk the hill and even though the wind was blowing directly into my face and everyone around me was walking, I powered up the hill and grimaced at the sign at the top of the hill that said 200m left. I KNEW that was only half a lap around the track, but seriously? It seemed so far away, even after turning to the left and seeing the finish line. I knew from a few peaks at the timer on my watch (the only thing still working) that I was very close to finishing under the 5 hour mark, so I really pushed it into the finish line.
And then I did it, I WAS THERE. The elation I felt at this moment was pretty high--everyone around me was cheering. I will admit that I got a little teary at this moment because the energy was just so high.

The downside to big races became quickly apparent, as I couldn't see the end to the finisher chute. I also couldn't see the medals, which was making me crazy. GIVE ME MY BLING. Finally, I got to the medals and a volunteer put one around my neck along with a congratulations (I cannot say enough about the volunteers at this race--top notch amazing). I got a Gatorade refuel drink, a bag with a bunch of chips in it and some Powerade bars, then I stopped for a beer at the Goose Island table. The only problem here was that I was too tired to put the words, "What type of beer is this?" into a sentence and I knew they had 312 OR an IPA, which I definitely didn't want, so when I said, "What is this?" The woman behind the beer table said, "Uhh... BEER?" Yeah, no kidding, lady. Fortunately the woman next to hear was a more understanding soul and said, "This is the 312" because I couldn't even process a reply. After getting my beer, I saw Reggie and found out that he finished just two minutes ahead of me. Then we began the long walk together to runner reunite, which involves stairs. STAIRS. Every single person went down them sideways, wincing.

Finally, I found Shane and Megan.
After talking for awhile, Shane, Reggie and I began the long walk back to Field Museum to meet our bus to go home. The best part about the aftermath is that it's like an episode of The Walking Dead because NO ONE can walk properly. It was painful and hilarious all at once.

So, that's that. Once again, the true lesson of the marathon is how lucky I am, from my husband and friends spending their Sunday cheering me on, to Sarah giving away her whole Sunday to not only cheer me on but to almost literally carry me for the last six miles of a race, to Barb driving into the city on a busy Sunday just to surprise me. Will I run another marathon? Hmm... yeah, probably. Will I run one this spring? NO. My body and brain need a rest! That said, although it is expensive and crowded and the weather can go any way it wants to in early October, I really, really loved Chicago. I cannot say enough how cool it was to be cheered on by perfect strangers, to have little children standing on the side of the road giving out high fives, to feel pushed through by crowd energy and excitement. Chicago is one heck of a race!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

Last Wednesday came and went without me noticing because I was getting ready to run a marathon and lost my mind. (Was that subtle? I ran a marathon Sunday. Applaud me.)

Last Bus to Wisdom: A Novel
After Donal's grandma has to have surgery, Donal is shipped off to live with his aunt and uncle in Wisconsin. After arriving, Donal realizes it's not the vacation he thought it might be. His Great-aunt Kate is bossy. Opinionated. Uncaring. However, his great-uncle Herman proves to be worth the trip. A war hero, the calm to Aunt Kate's angry, Herman makes Donal's summer worth saving--especially when Aunt Kate throws Donal out and he ends up on a bus with Herman, riding across the country, hoping to find a better future. There were parts of this story that were a little too perfect, but I loved Donal and Herman and their interactions.

The Admissions: A Novel
I loved this book. It opens with Nora, a mother of three, receiving an ominous phone call that she needs to get to the Golden Gate bridge as soon as possible. Then the novel flashes back to events that lead up to Nora's phone call. Oldest daughter Angela is stretched to the max, desperately trying to get into Harvard to follow her dad's footsteps. Middle daughter Cecily is struggling with Irish dance, which she once loved. And youngest daughter Maya can't read at age eight and oh, Nora blames herself for this. Then there's Gabe, struggling with an intern at work who is threatening to reveal his darkest secret. This is a book that effectively switched perspectives and rolled out an enjoyable, somewhat suspenseful story... one that any of us could probably relate to in some aspect.

The Admissions: A Novel
The last book in the Miss Peregrine trilogy. I loved it! You get more insight into Jacob's history, as well as to that of the peculiar history. I would definitely recommend picking up this trilogy if you haven't.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood [Amazon was being a hater so pretend there is a link here]
Stan and Charmaine are trying to survive anyway they can. Living in their car, living off of Charmaine's frugal waitressing tips, skipping meals. When an offer to live in the town of Consilience floats toward them, Charmaine begs Stan to make the move, dreaming of her own house and clean bath towels again. The way Consilience works, however, is that you only live in the house six months out of the year (alternating). The rest of the time, you spend in prison. As all good things always turn in dystopian novels, Stan soon discovers there is more to Consilience than meets the eye and is, without Charmaine's knowledge, pulled in to help bring about a change. What I loved about this novel is that it wasn't an immediate good ending. I was left wondering what difference Charmaine and Stan really made and what, if anything, they really learned.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

Fates and Furies: A Novel
The fates would be Lancelot, called Lotto, the furies his wife Mathilde. Both tell the story of their marriage, but both offer differing perspectives. Lotto is the heir to a bottled water fortune, cut off from his fortune by his mom for marrying Mathilde. The two struggle to survive in the early years of marriage. While Lotto struggles to make a living as a playwright, Mathilde scrimps and saves, going without meals so that Lotto may eat, throwing potlucks so that they will be left with the food their friends bring. Despite the premise, Mathilde's story is not simply a retelling of Lotto's story. It is an entirely different perspective, bringing truth to the thought that no one is as they seem on the surface. Certainly not Lotto and certainly not Mathilde. This is not, by any means, an uplifting story, but I still found myself drawn into the chaotic whirlwind that was Lotto and Mathilde's marriage.

Darkness the Color of Snow: A Novel
This is an unusual book in that the title is never really revealed, leaving me to wonder what exactly darkness the color of snow is. Still, I enjoyed this novel. The story opens with Ronny Forbert, a smalltown policeman running a speed trap on a night with dangerous weather. He pulls over a car for speeding and for having a headlight out, only to realize that he's pulling over his childhood best friend--a boy with whom he no longer associates. True to Ronny's childhood, the driver Matt, is under the influence of both drugs and alcohol, as are the others in the car. Ronny demands they all get out--everyone but Matt easily complies. What happens next is a struggle between Ronny and Matt, one that ends with Matt falling (or was he pushed?) into the path of a car. A car that kills him, then leaves the scene of the accident. Following, the town is split, between those who believe that Ronny acted as an officer of the law and those who believe that Ronny killed him out of nothing more than a teenage grudge. The interesting thing about this book is that I didn't feel that the characters were that well-developed, but as someone from a small town... they all made sense. The ending threw me somewhat for a loop and while I might not have enjoyed it, I definitely had to close the book and sit and think on it for awhile.

Let Me Tell You
I love Shirley Jackson. I teach "The Possibility of Evil" and "The Lottery" every year, and I never tire of either. So of course, I couldn't wait to read this posthumous publication of both short stories and essays. I wouldn't recommend starting here if you've never read Shirley Jackson, but as someone who has read all of her published works, this was an unexpected treat. The first short story in the book threw me for a loop, leaving me sufficiently unnerved, but what I really enjoyed were her essays. My favorite was a rumination on being asked to write a children's book, leading her to write this: "I was given a word list, made out by a "group of educators," and asked to confine myself to this list, which included perhaps five hundred words of a basic vocabulary that was felt to be desirable for beginners. "Getting" and "spending" were on the list, but not "wishing"; "cost" and "buy" and "nickel" and "dime" were all on the list, but not "magic"; "post office" and "supermarket" were on the list, but not "Fairyland." I felt that the children for whom I was supposed to write were being robbed, persuaded to accept nickels and dimes instead of magic wishes. This is a very small quarrel; there are many groups of educators who feel that Fairyland is an unhealthy environment for growing minds, but in a choice between television ("television" was on the list) and Fairyland, I know where I would rather have my own children growing up."
I want to hang this on a wall. Oh, what Shirley Jackson would have to say about the education leaders of today, taking away play time and adding in standardized test time.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

To quote Tessie Hutchinson in "The Lottery," "I clean forgot what day it was!" I don't know how it's Wednesday already, but then again, I don't know how it's only Wednesday.

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!
This book was such a wonderful read. It's told from a sometimes omniscient narrator, sometimes second person, looking back through the life of Harriet Chance at different ages. This is interspersed with the present life of Harriet Chance. In present day, Harriet Chance discovers that her deceased husband purchased an Alaskan cruise. She intends to go with her best friend, but her friend backs out at the last minute, leaving Harriet with only a letter that she promises will explain. In her place, Harriet's daughter Caroline joins her on the cruise and the two attempt to revive a very embittered relationship. Harriet's story was compelling, sad and happy all at once. The basic gist of this was, what defines us? The person we were? The person we are? The person we hope to be?

Did You Ever Have A Family
The night before her daughter's wedding, June Reid loses it all. Literally, her daughter, her daughter's fiance, her boyfriend and her ex-husband all perish in a fire. This novel is told from multiple point-of-views, so you receive June's story but also others who were connected with the fire or the family--either intimately or just from a distance. At times, the multiple stories became confusing, but in the end, it did come together to create a strong novel. Although the crux of this story is tragic, there is a great deal of redemption and hope within the characters--all of whom are either reeling from grief, guilt, or both. I enjoyed that the event of the fire and how the fire/explosion began was not really the focus of the story, although it was in the story. There was much more of a focus on life and how you could possibly go on.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

Everything, Everything
Maddie has a life threatening disease, where she's essentially allergic to everything. The air. People. The grass. As a result, she spends her days alone with just her mom and her nurse, Carla, no visitors other than her tutor. All of that changes the day Olly moves in and he and Maddie spy one another through a window. As the two become connected, Maddie's life changes in ways she never imagined. This was a sweet, sometimes sad book, but I loved it.

In the Language of Miracles: A Novel
This story was heartbreaking but also uplifting. Samir and Nagla have it all. Assimilation into American culture in a post-9/11 world, a beautiful house, three promising children. Until one day, their eldest son Hosaam kills his girlfriend Natalie and then kills himself. This story is told a year later, as Khaled, the younger brother, struggles to live in the shadow of his brother's crime. What I loved about this book was that it didn't focus on Hosaam or why he did it, as much as it did the family and town living in the aftermath.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

I recently came across a list of book recommendations from Stephen King, so I basically requested everything on the list.

Bad Country: A Novel
Rodeo Garnet lives in the Arizona desert, alone with just his dog. A private investigator by trade, after retiring from his rodeo career, Rodeo manages to stay out of the limelight until he returns from vacation to find a dead man practically on his doorstep. Pushed by the dead man's grandma to investigate, Rodeo finds himself thrust into reservation politics and a crime that has many, many layers. This reminded me somewhat of a world that Cormac McCarthy would set forth, but I loved it. The dialogue is sometimes sparse, but at some point, I found myself drawn completely in to Rodeo's world without even realizing it. It's not a world I would like to live in, but it was enjoyable to read about.

A Head Full of Ghosts: A Novel
As an adult, Merry Barrett is fairly balanced. As a child, she grew up in a world of madness. Living in an angry household after her father lost his job, Merry was forced to reckon with her older sister Marjorie's supposed demonic possession. Marjorie is treated and medicated for mental illnesses, but nothing seemed to help so her father turned to religion. A local priest suggested an exorcism and through a twist of events, Merry and her family were suddenly starring in a reality TV show about her sister's possession. Because Merry was recounting childhood events, this book teeters on the verge of having an unreliable narrator, which makes it all the more appealing. In the end, many things are left unanswered and what was answered tugged at my mind for days after I finished this one. Was Marjorie possessed? Schizophrenic? Was she trying to destroy her family or save them?

In a Dark, Dark Wood
This book opens with the narrator, Nora, waking up in a hospital not remembering why, but noting that she has a recoil bruise from a gun on her shoulder. The rest of the book is told from the present day Nora in the hospital to her flashbacks of what happened before she ended up in the hospital. The reader learns that despite not hearing from her best friend Clare in ten years, Nora is invited to Clare's hen [bachelorette] party. She struggles with whether or not to attend, ultimately deciding to go along with their mutual friend Nina. When Nora arrives, she discovers the party to be at a glass-walled house in the middle of the woods. As the weekend moves along, neither Nora nor Nina wants to remain but it's clear that neither was able to leave before tragedy struck. As far as suspense novels go, there weren't any huge surprising twists within this book, but it moved at a fast and interesting pace.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

Orhan's Inheritance
After two friends raved about this book (Hi Barb and Lyndsay!), I thought I should probably hurry up and read it. When Kemal dies, his grandson Orhan discovers that although he has inherited the business, his grandson left his house to a completely unknown woman. Orhan finds himself faced with the dilemma of flying halfway across the world to visit this woman in a nursing home for Armenian elderly. The story flashes between the present, told by Orhan and Seda and Seda's past, as Seda slowly unravels the story of why, exactly, Kemal left her the house. This story gripped me. The fiction part was beautifully interwoven with WWI history and its impact on the country of Turkey--something I knew very little about until now. There is a lot of forgiveness and redemption in this story, along with the understanding that there's always so much more to a situation than what immediately appears.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant
Another past and present novel. This switches back and forth between Vivian Schuyler and her disgraced, never to be seen again aunt Violet Grant. In the early 1900s, Violet moved to Europe to study science, disgraced by her parents after going to school and marrying her professor. Meanwhile in the 1960s, her button pushing niece Vivian receives a mysterious package--Violet's suitcase, which was lost at the onset of WWI. Vivian sets out to find what happened to her aunt, discovering along the way that they're connected by much more than just genetics. I loved the voices in the story, although Vivian could be a bit much sometimes. Violet's story was incredibly endearing.

What are you reading?