Monday, May 23, 2016

Let's Talk About The Incredible Virtual Run!


Hey, remember when I signed up for that 10K virtual race back in March?  Yeah, I ran that!  Let's talk about it!

To refresh your memory, the race was The Incredible Virtual Run, organized by Level Up Runs.  This was the first virtual run I ever participated in, and it was a unique experience.  I signed up for the 10K option because I thought it would be easy-peasy to fit in a 6-ish mile run during the last couple weeks of training for the Flower City Half.  (This run was supposed to be completed between April 15-30, and Flower City was the 24th.)  Um, that was not a good plan, because I kiiiiind of forgot to factor in the pre-race taper, so I wasn't running a whole lot the week before Flower City.  That meant that I had to save the run for the last possible day--April 30, because it was far enough from Flower City that I felt recovered and was able to put in a good effort.

Even though this race wasn't "officially" timed (beyond what I saw on my Garmin), I still had a goal to try to beat my current 10K PR of 55:55.  Because I was making up my own race course, I could have totally cheesed out and done a flat/downhill route, but I didn't!  I purposely worked in some of the bigger hills in my area, because I wanted the challenge.

Long story short: goal achieved!  I finished in 54:16.  :)

Not a huge gain on my PR, but a gain nonetheless!  And I considered it a win, given the hills I threw in and the fact that I was only 1 week post-half-marathon.

So, given that this was my first virtual race, what did I think?

Pros: I loved that I had a big window in which to fit the race--you can plan around various weather conditions and scheduling conflicts to find a time that works for you.  You also get the advantage of running your race on whatever surface or route you prefer.  I liked that I was "racing" without all the pre-race adrenaline/pressure that comes from racing in a large crowd.  I was more in control of my pace than I usually am at a big, chaotic starting line.  And because there was a (pretty awesome!) medal coming to me at the end, I was motivated to hit my goal, even without the cheering crowds.
(As predicted, my kids are totally jealous of this medal and have already tried to steal it from me 5,462 times.)
Cons: I don't feel like I can call this race time a true PR, because it wasn't done with an official timing chip, and because I got to set my own race conditions--something that is not reflective of a "true" race setting.  Not a huge deal, but something to consider if you really want 100% confirmation of a PR goal.  My only other caveat is that, other than the race medal, the other swag I received was a $25 gift certificate to SLS3--something I was very excited about.  However, when I received it, I was bummed to find it was more of a coupon than a gift certificate--I can't use it in conjunction with any sales (and they are having a ton of good sales right now), or other promotions, and it does have an expiration date.  I wish they had referred to it as a coupon (granted, a high-value coupon) rather than a gift certificate, because it was a letdown to find that all these stipulations were attached to it.

Overall, this was a fun experience, and I think if I find myself between road races and need a motivational boost, another virtual race could be a great option.

Have you ever done a virtual race?  What other races do you have coming up??

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Well-Read Runner: Right to Run 19K RECAP!


It's time to tell you about one of my most fun race experiences EVER!  Settle in!

I ran the Right to Run 19K in Seneca Falls, NY on May 7.  I registered way back at the end of 2015, when I first heard about it, even though I was already committed to the Four Seasons Challenge for 2016.  It just sounded too unique to pass up.

This was the inaugural year for the race, which celebrates women's rights (and women's running in particular), hence the 19K = 19th amendment.  The race was co-ed though, and I saw just as many guys as girls at the starting line!  The proceeds from the race benefit the National Women's Hall of Fame (in Seneca Falls), and the spokesperson for the race was Kathrine Switzer.  All of this put together...how could I NOT run it?  Especially when it's so close to home??

Race start was at 9am, and I live about 75 minutes away, so I got up at 5:30 and left my house at 6:45 to get there with plenty of time to spare.  The 19K and the 5K (the other race option) had starting lines in two different places (but finished in the same location), so I headed out to the farmland beyond Seneca Falls for the 19K start.  Plenty of parking available and lots of port-o-potties--we were off to a good start!  I got all my stuff together and left my drop bag at the registration table--this was a nice perk, as they transported the drop bags to the finish line in downtown Seneca Falls, so you could pack up your flip flops/extra layers/snacks/etc and have them waiting for you at the finish.

Just before 9, I walked down the street to the start line, and was delighted to find that Kathrine Switzer was there to help send us off!  I was hoping I'd get to meet her at the finish, but seeing her at the start was a HUGE inspirational boost for me.  (In case you missed my review of Marathon Woman earlier this week, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967, and is an enormously important running idol of mine.  FANGIRL ALERT!!)

There were technical difficulties with the national anthem, so the race director had all the runners sing it together, and it MIGHT have been the best race national anthem ever!  Right after that, we got ready to go and Kathrine started walking through the start line crowd, giving high fives/hugs and sending us off.  I was like, "OH HELL NO, there is no way I don't get a selfie right now."  And I did, with 90 seconds to go before start:
I WAS A LITTLE EXCITED.
And so the gun went off as I was posting to Facebook, with an enormous grin on my face.

Race conditions: low 60's and full sun.  Sounds pretty good, right?  Not to mention that I was feeling so awesome after that amazing start line experience. I shot off the line and had to curb my enthusiasm a bit.  I will admit that I didn't prepare as well for this race as I should have--I had no solid goal in mind, and because I ran Flower City Half only 2 weeks before, I hadn't done much as far as training in the last 14 days.  Plus (and this feels dumb to admit), because I had just done 13.1 miles recently, my brain kept telling me this race would be easy-peasy, because it was ONLY 11.8 miles.  (In hindsight...that it NOT that much shorter than 13.1!!  What was I thinking??)  Despite all that--I just wanted to have fun with this race, so after the first couple minutes of running, I felt good and decided to hold my half marathon goal pace (9:00/mile) as long as I could, and see how it went.

The course itself was very beautiful, and very flat.  Like, so flat.  If you hate hills, this is the run for you.  That said, there was also ZEROOOOOO shade.  NADA.  For the first 6 miles.  Nothing but open farmland as far as the eye could see:

No shade, and full sun?  I was dying from the heat by mile 4.

I started pulling back a little at that point, but I realized quickly that I had pushed too hard in the heat for the early miles.  There was a water stop at the 6 mile marker, and right after it I walked for about a quarter mile.  Got my breath back, had a Honey Stinger gel, drank a bunch of water.  Then kicked it back up again feeling MUCH improved.  At this point, I vowed to stop looking at my Garmin so much, and just run for comfort.  I mean, it was a 19K, I was going to PR no matter what, right??  :)

Thankfully, at this point we got close to Cayuga Lake, as well as some treed areas, so we had a bit more shade and wind coming our way.  Crowd support was not big for this race, but the enthusiasm of the runners was high, which helped a lot.
Me and Cayuga Lake. I am honestly dying a little bit here (see: red face), but I smiled for you anyway.
The later miles were, admittedly, a mental battle for me--I knew my legs were okay to keep it up, but my head was berating me for going out too hard at the start and losing steam.  That, paired with the fact that I desperately needed to pee from mile 9 to the finish (couldn't find a portapotty anywhere!!), made the last 3-4 miles pretty tough.  But I hung in there as best as I could, walked when I had to, and kept on.  Plus (and I'm not saying this to be cheesy), I kept thinking about Kathrine Switzer being at the race, and how much adversity she had to push through in her running career, and that  helped me refocus and get my groove back more than once.

Crowd support picked up in the last mile as we headed into downtown Seneca Falls, which provided a great boost.  I passed a woman who runs a Facebook group for westside (of Rochester) runners/walkers, and her cheering sign had my name on it, which was fun and unexpected!  Despite the tough go in the last few miles, I crossed the line with a smile on my face at 1:55:36 (roughly 9:47/mile).
Insert self-deprecating remark about using watermarked race photo here.
Afterwards, I was happy to note that my stomach felt okay (I knew if I'd pushed too hard, I'd have my usual nausea problems).  I drank some chocolate milk, ate a granola bar, and hydrated like crazy.  I know it doesn't sound like much, but any race that ends with me being able to eat/drink ANYTHING without feeling like vomit is a reeeeeeally good race.

I got in line to meet Kathrine Switzer again (a bit more formally this time), as I wanted to say hello, thank her for all that she's done, and (in true book blogger fashion) get my copy of Marathon Woman signed.  Switzer is incredibly gracious and funny, and I was so happy for the opportunity to chat with her!  She signed my book and my race bib, and I also picked up a copy of 26.2: Marathon Stories, which she co-authored with her husband, Roger Robinson.  (Because I need more books, yes?)  Plus, I bought a Marathon Woman shirt, which I have told myself I am NOT ALLOWED TO WEAR until I finish the marathon in September--good motivator, right??  :)

Despite the fact that the race itself was a hard one for me, I still chalk this up as one of the most fun and unique races I've ever done.  They've already announced the 2nd annual Right to Run for May 13, 2017, and I hope to be there!

Have you ever run a race with an unusual distance?  Ever met one of your running idols?  Any races coming up??

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

2 Mini-Reviews and They Are Both AWESOME.

So busy around here these days, reader friends!  In the last couple of weeks, I've run 3 races (if you include my virtual 10K--recap coming soon!), we road tripped to Connecticut to watch my stepbrother graduate from the Coast Guard's Officer Candidate School (woot!), I had a busy/excellent Mother's Day with my crew, and (most importantly) my husband successfully defended his doctoral dissertation after 7 LONG years of hard work!!!  I am beyond excited for him, and we are gearing up for the graduation this weekend.
Me, my brother, and my stepbrother at OCS graduation.  I am a proud seester!  Go Coast Guard!
Then we have all the things on the horizon: Small Fry's last couple weeks of preschool, planning for my mom's 60th birthday celebrations in June, gearing up for a beach vacation in July...

These are all great reasons to be busy, but my head is spinning and it leaves little time for bloggy activities.  Luckily, I am still reading, because I have so many good books on the docket right now that I'm having a tough time choosing between them!  And for my running friends--my marathon training starts on Tuesday (the 17th), so I'm getting ready to fit that into my life as well.

If you want to stay up-to-date on my reading/running activities, your best bet is Instagram (@thewellreadredhead), because a quick snap from my phone takes way less time these days than a blog post.  ;)  But lucky you, I did manage two mini reviews for today...and both of these books rocked my socks!

Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer
Da Capo Press, 2007
personal purchase



I hope that Switzer's name is, at the very least, ringing a small bell for you, but if not: she was the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967.  (Roberta Gibb ran it before her, but "bandited" the race--ran it without registering--whereas Switzer actually registered (as K.V. Switzer) and ran it with a bib.)  Because she registered with her initials, race officials did not realize she was a woman until the race was underway and the press trucks started following her.  One of the officials was so furious that he actually tried to attack her/rip her bib off during the race--a now-famous confrontation that she was able to escape, as she went on to finish the race.

Switzer's story was incredibly inspiring to me well before I read her memoir, but after I finished Marathon Woman, I had a whole new respect for her journey.  After that first marathon (Boston was her first!), she went on to cut over an HOUR from her marathon PR, win the NYC Marathon, and organize an international series of women's races that showed the world that women are just as capable of running (and competing) in distance races as men.  All of these things had an integral role in making women's running a respected sport (leading to the eventual addition of the women's marathon to the Olympic games) and helped make it the mainstream activity that it is today.  If you are a woman who runs, for fun or for competition, Kathrine Switzer is someone you should thank!

To top it off, Switzer's voice in the memoir is wonderfully candid and funny, while still emphasizing the lasting importance of her work in women's sports.  (I also had the AMAZING opportunity to meet Switzer at the Right to Run 19K in Seneca Falls, NY last weekend, and can tell you that her demeanor is every bit as inspiring and lighthearted in person!)  This book is NOT just for runners!  If you want a memoir that inspires, I can't recommend this one enough.
My copy of Marathon Woman. Now featuring extra awesomeness!
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Simon & Schuster, 2016
copy received from the publisher for an honest review

The #1 reason I picked up this book was because of its author.  I've not found a Chris Cleave book yet that did not agree with me (and/or was downright amazing--Gold is one of my favorites).  That said, I was a little unsure about the subject matter in this one, as WWII era historical fiction novels have been hit-or-miss for me in the past.  I know that's a real broad genre to comment upon, but still.  I had my reservations.  To give a very general synopsis, Everyone Brave is Forgiven is set in WWII London during the Blitz, and focuses on three (okay, the description says three, but I think it's more accurate to say five) extremely different characters that are thrown together in the desperate circumstances created by the war.

WHY DID I HAVE RESERVATIONS?  This is likely on my favorites list for 2016. You know how sometimes you're reading a book, and things are happening that are making you get very emotional, or at the very least are causing your blood pressure to rise, and it all just gets to be TOO MUCH and you have to set the book down for a while so you can catch your breath and recoup?  This is that book.  And I just love a book that can leave me breathless for a bit, don't you?

In addition to being in awe of the events of the story as they unfolded, I was also impressed by the writing.  Cleave's prose is insightful and incredibly quotable (thank goodness I read this on my Kindle, as the highlighting was fast and furious), and the dialogue (especially Mary's and Alistair's) is amusing and snappy.  Even if you're unsure if this story is right for you, genre-wise, the novel is worth reading just so you can steep yourself in such excellent wordsmithing.

Read. Enjoy. Thank me later!

What are your current reads?  Have you met any authors/gone to any book signings lately?  What recent read of yours has had the best/most enjoyable dialogue?

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline


Title: Most Wanted
Author: Lisa Scottoline
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 12, 2016
Source: copy provided for an honest review by the publisher

Summary from Goodreads

When a woman and her husband, desperate for a baby, find themselves unable to conceive, they decide to take further steps. Since it is the husband who is infertile, the heroine decides to use a donor. And all seems to be well. Three months pass and she is happily pregnant. But a shocking revelation occurs when she discovers that a man arrested for a series of brutal murders is her donor - the biological father of the child she is carrying. Delving deeper to uncover the truth, the heroine must face her worst fears, and confront a terrifying truth.

My Review:

This is my third Lisa Scottoline novel, and the third one I've given 3 stars to on Goodreads.  I went through the exact same experience with this book as I did with the other two of hers that I've read.  Let me lay out my typical Lisa Scottoline chain of events for you, and maybe this time I will actually learn something from it...

1. Read book description, instantly be like "OMG I must read this NOW."
Done and done.  I found the book on NetGalley and despite the fact that I've been trying (note: mostly failing) at controlling my impulses over there, I took one look at the description for this book and knew that I HAD to request a review.  Serial killers and infertility and marital strife, oh my!!

2. Begin book, love explosive intro!
The novel opened, and I was fascinated by hot-button topics that Scottoline introduced: confidentiality of sperm/egg donors (especially interesting for me as I was thisclose to applying to be an egg donor when I was in college), the impact of nature vs nurture in psychological disorders, coping with male infertility, etc.  This is cool.  I'm on board.

3. Middle of book. Female protagonist is annoying. Completely unbelievable series of events start happening. Losing faith in my ability to choose good novels.
First, things got slow.  Christine was spending so much time debating what her next step should be that the entire plot hit the brakes for a bit too long.  Then things got moving again, and Christine proved herself to be absolutely insufferable and she continued to make one ridiculous decision after the next.  Not only did I find Christine's choices questionable, but their resulting odd consequences felt so far-fetched at times that I just couldn't play along.

4. Ending: good but not great.  Three star book for interesting concept but subpar execution.
I was pleased that the ending did not turn out as I predicted.  That said, I had trouble embracing Christine's "heroine" status after it was caused by so many flighty decisions beforehand (see above).
Plus...I don't want to give anything away, but suffice to say that there is one person in this book who brings the phrase "wrong place, wrong time" to a whole new (completely implausible) level.

In the end, Most Wanted was a solid 3 stars for me.  Great concept, but the execution left a lot to be desired.  I WANT to love Scottoline's novels so badly!!  She comes up with such compelling topics!  But I've had the same middle-of-the-road reaction to each of her books that I've tried so far, unfortunately.

Do you have an author that you keep trying over and over, in the hopes that maybe THIS time will be different??

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Well-Read Runner: Flower City Half RECAP!


It's recap day, runner friends!!  Who doesn't love a good race recap??

Well, the basic gist is that FLOWER CITY WAS AWESOME.  It was, by far, the best half marathon race day I have ever had...potentially my best race day, period.

As you may remember, I decided a few weeks ago to trash my original plan (to train for a sub-2 half) and just train to complete this race for fun.  And oh my--let me tell you, my running felt REJUVENATED!  It was no longer a chore to get up in the morning and run.  I still got all my miles in, but stopped pushing myself with race pace and tempo runs and Yasso 800s.  It was a beautiful epiphany for me.

Enter race morning (yesterday).  I woke up SUPER PSYCHED for a fun day.  After changing my training plan, I decided my best bet was to start the race with the 2:00 pace group (just to make sure I didn't go out any faster than that--which is my running kryponite), but then fall back as soon as I felt like I was starting to toe that line where I would end up miserable and vomity at the finish.

I got up at 4:30, had breakfast, made 1000 wardrobe changes (low 40's is great racing weather, but hard to dress for!), packed up and drove to my friend Mandy's house to pick up her and our friend Michelle.  I drove us into downtown Rochester and we were at the Blue Cross Arena by 6:30 (start was at 7:30).  I was glad we got there so early, because we had plenty of time to stretch, use the bathrooms, check out the set up in the arena, etc.

We headed out to Broad Street just before the start to line up.  Mandy and I were both starting with the 2:00 group while Michelle was heading further back, so we said our goodbyes and jumped into the crowd.  It was a beautiful (and packed!) starting line!:

Mile 1: 8:47

The gun went off right at 7:30, and...due to the push and pull of the huge crowd, Mandy and I crossed the start only to realize we'd been pushed wayyyyy back behind the 2:00 pacer.  Eeek!  We had some catching up to do!  First mile was fast because we were just pushing our way through the crowds to get to our pace group...haha.  The congestion was a little tough to handle in the early miles, but thankfully everything evened out about 3-4 miles in and we had more elbow room.

(I also noticed a completely barefoot runner during the first mile!!  I thought that was so cool/gutsy/insane!!  Couldn't help but take a pic):

Miles 2-6: 8:47, 9:01, 9:03, 9:02, 8:59

OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS.  FOLLOWING A PACER CHANGED MY WHOLE LIFE.  After so many races where I just depended on my own pacing (and inevitably went out way too fast), at Flower City I tucked into the 2:00 pacers and enjoyed the ride.  Thanks so much to Wendy and Tom (especially Wendy, for whatever reason I ended up on her side of the street more often) for letting me be glued to their butts for 6 miles.  There were SO many times during these miles when I felt my legs saying, "Hey, I feel pretty good, I could go faster than this!"  And then my brain would say, "You shut up, legs!!  Just follow Wendy and SHUT UP!!"  As a result, these were the easiest 6 race miles I've ever done.  The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, lovely Roc City was waking up, I was high fiving everybody, and I felt FAB-U-LOUS.

Mile 7: 9:34

The slowdown begins!  We hit the first hill on Goodman Street towards the end of this mile.  I knew as soon as it started that I was done with 2:00 pace.  I waved a silent goodbye to my beloved pacers (and Mandy), kicked up my tunes, and got ready for the hills to roll.
Goodbye, wonderful pacer Wendy.  I found out afterward that she just ran the Boston Marathon on Monday.  WHAT!!
Mile 8: 10:56

HILLS WITH A SIDE OF HILLS!  We headed into Highland Park and Mount Hope Cemetery, and it was one roller after another.  Some pretty nasty ones thrown in there for sure!  One of the worst ones was on uneven cobblestones, for added pleasure on your ankles.  This was the point where I knew I would kill myself for the second half of the race if I pushed too hard.  So I dialed it down, enjoyed the scenery, waved to the crowds, and powered through.  I also had to make a fast Porta-Potty stop when we entered the cemetery, which explains why this is my slowest mile of the race.  (Mucho apologies to the girl I threw the door open on, but darlin', you gotta LOCK that thang!!)

Mile 9: 9:07

The second half of the cemetery was surprisingly flat/downhill.  I was so happy to be out of the worst hill section that I felt like I was flying!
Out of the hills and loving life!
Miles 10-12: 9:37, 9:44, 10:03

These miles were mostly along the Genesee River, and while they were pretty, they were very quiet (not many spectators here), and kind of mentally difficult because you could see downtown Rochester (where the finish line was) but it was VERY VERY FAR AWAY.  Physically I felt good here, but my paces reflect more of the mental challenge of staying in the game and not giving in to my desire for walk breaks.

Mile 13: 9:50

My most favorite mile!!  I could see downtown, the crowds were getting bigger, I knew I had run a great race, and I felt AWESOME.  I saw 4-5 race photographers, and I jumped and smiled like a goon for all of them.  My husband and kiddos were waiting just before the finish line with loud cheers and high fives.  I saw the 2:05 on the clock when I got close and grinned, because I couldn't believe that in a race where I consciously did not (often) look at my Garmin and tried to hold back, I still was running close to my PR.  That felt damn good.

View from mile 13!
I only missed that PR by 29 seconds: final time was 2:05:40!

(EDITED: When I wrote this post, the results on the race website only included gun times.  Afterwards, they posted chip times, and I found out I actually did PR, by 2 seconds!  Haha!  2:05:09.  A pleasant surprise!! (I know some people consider gun time as "official" since it is used for awards placement, but when it takes me 30 seconds to cross a start line--I'm going with the chip, thankyouverymuch.))

 And, the bling was pretty sweet: the Flower City medal is a bottle opener, and I also got part 2 of my Four Seasons Challenge medal:

On top of the awesome race experience, I have to say this is the best I've ever felt physically after a race.  My stomach did not rebel against me (as it usually does)--I pounded a bunch of water, a piece of pizza, and some cookies after the finish.  With no repercussions!  It was amazing!  I also got to run Small Fry's 1/4 mile race with him at 10:30, which was so fun--that kid is turning into a little speed demon.  He'll be smokin' his momma soon.  :)
Mandy and I at the finish
After we came home and had rested a while, I turned to my husband and said, "I had so much FUN today."  Not something I have ever uttered after other half marathons.  But I hope to do so again soon!

I hope everyone who raced this weekend had an excellent race day!  What race has been the most fun for you?  Why?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

It's Time to Talk About OUTLANDER!

Hello, reader friends!!  I know, I fell off the face of the Earth, AGAIN.  Lots going on in our household lately--all good things, no worries, but it's left very little time for blogging.  (Even this post was pre-written, as I am running the Flower City Half Marathon today--WOOHOO!!)  That said, I've been chomping at the bit to talk with you all about Outlander by Diana Gabaldon!

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I finally decided to tackle this much-talked-about tome.  I've had a copy on my shelf longer than I've been married (9 years this year, woop!).  I think there were two things that kept me from picking it up right away: the length (800+ pages, in a series of books that are ALL 800+ pages, feels like a huge commitment) and the genre (historical fiction is OK by me, but romance is not my forte).  However, the time had come.  I had to see for myself if the hype was warranted.

(A quick synopsis for those unfamiliar with the novel, from GoodreadsThe year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord...1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.)

As the novel opened, I was off to a slow start.  Getting to know Claire and her husband Frank was interesting, but not particularly captivating.  Then the time travel thing happened, and I was kind of ehhhhhhhhh about that whole piece of it.  Don't get me wrong, time travel done well is a cool plot element (The Time Traveler's Wife is still one my favorite novels), but I didn't know if I really loved how Gabaldon worked it into the story here.  Plus, I felt like Claire acclimated to her new environment (200ish years in the past) WAY faster than I'd think is normal.  (But what do I know, right?  When was the last time I traveled to 1700's Highland Scotland?)

ANYWAY.  I tried to let all this slide.  I was in for the long haul here, and I had to believe there was more in store.

(Okay, there was definitely more in store, there were still 600 pages left.)

After Claire time traveled and settled into her new home at Castle Leoch, that's when things turned over for me.  Gabaldon's period details, plus Claire's sassy attitude, AND the ever-so-delightful introduction of Jamie Fraser, turned this into a totally different novel for me.  I was totally on board.  And, I'm happy to say, completely taken with Claire and Jamie's romance.  I love how it has this constant undercurrent of "but what about Frank?!" as you wonder about the husband that Claire left behind.  Can't wait to see more of that in the rest of the series.
The Jamie Fraser memes out there are just hilarious.
I don't want to give any spoilers for others who haven't read it, but by the end of the book, I was completely taken.  100% on board the Outlander train.  I did have a lot of hesitations, both before I started reading and within the first several chapters, but I was happy to see all of those hangups dashed by the time I reached the final page.  That said, while I think readers who don't often read romance could still enjoy this book, it would be awfully hard to like it if you don't have a thing for historical fiction.  That's definitely the dominant genre here, and the details that drive it make up many of the 800+ pages.

I have a few other books I'm hoping to tackle in the coming weeks, but Dragonfly in Amber (part 2 of this series) is already sitting on my night stand...so the series will continue!  :)  Much thanks to all of my friends that pushed me to read this one.  Now to decide if I want to make time for the TV series as well...

Monday, April 11, 2016

3 Minis: A New Release, an Old(ish) Release, and More Zombies!

Hola, readers!  Most of my reviews lately have been for TLC Book Tours (which means they are a bit longer), but I finally have another set of mini reviews here for you today.  I hope you like reading them as much as I like writing them...sometimes it's nice to keep it short & concise!

Alice & Oliver by Charles Bock
Random House, 2016
received from publisher for an honest review

I read this book and now I am broken inside.  /review

Okay, I'll add a little more, but really, this book is heart-wrenchingly amazing.  I requested it via NetGalley and quickly realized that the online description of the novel does not do it justice.  Quickie synopsis: Alice and Oliver are happily married with a baby daughter, Doe, when Alice is diagnosed with cancer.  Alice & Oliver is not only the tale of their physical battle with the disease, but also a penetrating look at what happens when relationships are pushed to the brink.  It takes much more than physical strength and fierce mental fortitude to survive such suffering, and Bock's novel illustrates this better than any other that I've read on the subject.  I loved Alice.  I didn't love Oliver, but did come to understand him a bit more by the end.  Together, they have a connection that is uncommon, but is still illustrative of the myriad ways that couples muck their way through difficult, seemingly impossible problems.

There are parts of this book are funny, unique, and thought-provoking.  There are also parts that are harrowing, sorrowful, and difficult to read.  Read it anyway.  You'll likely be seeing this on my best-of lists at the end of the year.

All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
Pantheon, 2014
borrowed from the library

This is the latest pick for my MOMS Club book club.  I'm interested to see how our discussion goes in a few weeks, because this novel left me feeling half in awe, and half totally scratching my head.  Jake Whyte is the female protagonist, currently a sheep farmer on an island off the coast of the UK.  However, she has a shady backstory that goes back several years and thousands of miles.  As present-day Jake tries to find out what is killing the sheep on her farm, the chapters also alternate back to her past, slowly opening the story of what brought her to the sheep farm, and what demons may still be lying in wait.

I was half in awe because this book is BEAUTIFULLY written.  It's a fairly quick read, but there is not one wasted word on these pages.  And I love how the chapters alternate between Jake past and present--the structure was perfect, as the action peaked in both timelines right at the end.  Jake is a fantastic character, terrifically complicated--watching her develop is amazing.

BUT (my one "but"): the ending.  Like really, what WAS that ending?  I am all for not tying up the loose ends and giving the reader something to chew on, but this was too much.  I could have used a little less symbolism and a little more closure.  Still--I'm happy I spent the time on this one, because it's a stellar read, the final pages notwithstanding.

The Walking Dead: Compendium Two by Robert Kirkman & co.
Image Comics, 2012
borrowed from the library

I've already discussed with you my recent love affair with The Walking Dead comics (here).  The affair has only grown as I finished the second compendium of the series.  It has been awesome to watch the major characters grow and change, and to see how well many of the comic scenes were translated to TV.  (And on the flip side, how many of them never even made it to TV.)  Gotta say that one of my favorite characters so far is Andrea--what a bad ass!  And that's hilarious, given how much I despised her TV persona.  I'd say the one downside is that I think Rick's character waxes philosophical on the same topics a bit too much--it gets repetitive after a while.  But beyond that, I'm loving this view of the Walking Dead world.

(And, for those who follow the show--this compendium ends just after Rick's group starts interacting with Hilltop.  Um, I NEED to get Compendium Three before Season 7 starts!!!  EEEEEKKK.)

What are your current reads?  Do you have any 2016 reads so far that you think will be on your end-of-year favorites list?
 
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