Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

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

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

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

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

What are you reading?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

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

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

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

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

What are you reading?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Running Buddies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

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

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