Friday, October 9, 2015

Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne

Title: Everything She Forgot
Author: Lisa Ballantyne
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: October 6, 2015
Source: copy provided by the publisher for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

They’re calling it the worst pile-up in London history. Driving home, Margaret Holloway has her mind elsewhere—on a troubled student, her daughter’s acting class, the next day’s meeting—when she’s rear-ended and trapped in the wreckage. Just as she begins to panic, a disfigured stranger pulls her from the car just seconds before it’s engulfed in flames. Then he simply disappears.

Though she escapes with minor injuries, Margaret feels that something’s wrong. She’s having trouble concentrating. Her emotions are running wild. More than that, flashbacks to the crash are also dredging up lost associations from her childhood, fragments of events that were wiped from her memory. Whatever happened, she didn’t merely forget—she chose to forget. And somehow, Margaret knows deep down that it’s got something to do with the man who saved her life.

As Margaret uncovers a mystery with chilling implications for her family and her very identity, Everything She Forgot winds through a riveting dual narrative and asks the question: How far would you go to hide the truth—from yourself…?

My Review:

Having never read any of Lisa Ballantyne's other novels, I was not sure what to expect from her latest thriller.  I've read a lot of thrillers lately, and I was wondering how Ballantyne would make hers stick out from the rest of the pack.  I was pleasantly surprised!  Ballantyne keeps this book going at a fast pace, and her writing excises the extraneous detail and description that I find often plagues other mystery novels.  The plot never lets up, and I was hooked right up to the end.

One thing that really impresses me about this book is that it is a thriller, but it is not bogged down in a lot of violent, gruesome detail.  I've found extreme violence to be commonplace with most of the suspenseful novels I've read lately, and while I don't have a problem with that as a literary tool in general, it can get difficult to read such graphic violence over and over.  There are some vicious scenes in the book, but they are few and far between, with much more focus placed on the motives of the characters and their personal struggles.

Ballantyne uses a multiple-narrator format, which works well for the type of mystery she weaves together here.  That said, I was surprised by a few of the details she chose to reveal before the end.  There was one "big" reveal in particular that I felt was let out of the bag a bit early, and there was also one primary narrator whose story ended up feeling rather ancillary to the rest of the plot.  The multiple POVs were definitely necessary for how the book rolled out, but I do think they could have been used a bit more poignantly, especially around the conclusion.

While I do think those caveats are worth mentioning, I don't think that should push you away from the book as a whole.  Everything She Forgot grabbed my attention right from the get-go, has a cast of characters that will make you run the gamut of emotions, and does a great job balancing the labels of "captivating thriller" and "heartwrenching family drama".

William Morrow is hosting a giveaway of Everything She Forgot!  Three lucky readers will win a copy at the end of this blog tour.  Enter below!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Purchase links:

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Well-Read Runner: BIG news...65.5 miles of it!

Remember a few weeks back, when I mentioned that one of my goals for 2016 is to complete Rochester's 4 Seasons Challenge (4 half marathons during the year, 1 in each season)?

About that.

My husband told me well before my birthday (September 24, in case you forgot!) that he was going to give me the entry fee for the 4 Seasons Challenge.  All I had to do was tell him where to make the purchase.  However, our local Fleet Feet (the owners of which also own the local race timing company) said that they were not opening registration for 2016 yet, because they had "new details" to iron out.  Oooooh, mysterious!

So my birthday came and went last week, with no news of 4SC.  The anticipation was killing me!  I just wanted to register already!!

Then, the news struck.  On September 30, Fleet Feet announced that the 2016 challenge will have two options: you can either do the 4 half marathons, OR you can do the first 3 half marathons, and then do the full Rochester marathon in September (instead of the Rochester half, which runs at the same time).

Registration was set to open the next day, October 1.

What's the difference between the two options?  Other than an extra 13.1 miles, not much.  You still get all the same 4SC swag, and the same giant medal at the end of all 4 races (at each race, you get the finisher medal but then also 1/4 of a GIANT 4SC medal, the 4 pieces come together once you have all of them).  The same feeling of SUPREME AWESOMENESS when you finish all 4.

But I just.couldn't.resist. the challenge.  So I woke up October 1 and signed up...for the marathon option.


I am SO EXCITED and also completely FREAKING OUT!

I have said for a while that I wanted to have my first marathon be a BIG one (Chicago, NYC, etc), because who knows if I'll want to do a second marathon?  But this opportunity was just too cool to pass up.  So now I have to do a second marathon too, I suppose!  But that's okay, because if marathons are anything like halfs, I'll enjoy the second one a LOT more than the first.  ;)

Many thanks go out to my husband in advance, as we did chat about this before I signed up, and he has expressed his full support for this endeavor...something I will certainly need as the mileage builds up next summer.  My husband and my kiddos are my biggest cheerleaders, and I definitely could not do this without them!

Sounds like 2016 is going to be quite the year for my running.  For now, I have to focus on training for the first of the 4SC halfs, Winter Warrior, coming up January 9.  Already ordered some new thermal tights to get me going (I ran the relay this year and it was -15 degrees)!  Stay tuned...

Anyone else committed to a big race for 2016?  Something you've never tried before?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Let's talk about BANNED picture books!

Happy BANNED BOOKS WEEK, reader friends!  This is one of my favorite reading weeks of the year, and yet again, I am hopping on the "banned" wagon with Sheila from Book Journey for her Banned Books Week event.

Usually I try to read/review an adult fiction novel for this oh-so-special week, but I lost track of time and didn't get around to doing that this year.  Instead, I felt it would be the perfect time to talk about banned children's picture books.

If you're anything like me, you heard the words "banned children's picture books" for the first time and did a double-take.  Picture books?  REALLY?  I disagree with banning books in general, but at least with YA or adult novels, I can see exactly what material the "banners" find objectionable...sexual content, violence, etc.  Still not worth banning, but I at least understand what got their panties in a twist.  But picture books?  What's so wrong with Dr. Seuss and Where's Waldo?

Apparently, a lot of things.  Like teaching our kids to love the Earth.  THANKS, LORAX.

(A California school district banned The Lorax because it would turn children off to the idea of logging.  Stop loving the Earth, kids!  Just stop!)

You know what else sucks?  Liking other people, even if they are different from you.  WTF, TANGO.

(And Tango Makes Three, an adorable book based on the true story of a same-sex penguin couple at the Central Park Zoo, is often banned because it raises the topics of homosexuality and nontraditional families.)

And let's not forget the insidiousness of creativity and imagination!  That's a no-go, Maurice Sendak!

(Where the Wild Things Are, a Caldecott Award winner, has been banned in some schools because it promotes witchcraft and the supernatural.)

I think I am even more bothered by the banning of picture books than I am YA/adult novels, because at least teens and adults can be sneaky and find ways to read the books anyway, if they really want to.  ;)  However, young kids are largely limited to the books that their parents and schools provide to them directly...and if their parents and schools are keeping certain books out of reach, then chances are that they will not get access to them, period.

Plus, these books touch on topics that are SO great to introduce at a young age!  A 5-year-old who regularly reads books such as And Tango Makes Three is going to be much more kind and accepting to LGBTQ peers as he/she grows up, because they will already have relationships like that as part of their mental framework.  (Not to mention, if they later come out as LGBTQ themselves, they may feel more confident knowing that this is a lifestyle they have not only read about, but discussed with family/friends, for a very long time.)

Is it easy to talk to a young child about sexual orientation, or divorce, or bullies, or any other complicated topic?  Of course not.  But don't picture books with relevant messages make it a little easier?  By putting the topics in a format that is familiar to kids, picture books are doing half the work for us!  And a book paired with thoughtful discussion is a far better option than no discussion at all.

So get out there, parents! Aunts! Uncles! Grandparents!  And everyone else buying books for the younger generation.  Pick up a banned picture book for your littlest reader friend, and help them expand their lil' mind.  :)

What's your favorite banned picture book?  Have you used picture books to approach any tough topics with your children?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Spoiler: We're All Gonna Die. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

Title: The Sixth Extinction
Author: Elizabeth Kolbert
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: February 11, 2014
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

Over the last half-billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us.

In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, The New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

My Review:

As I mentioned last week, I jumped into this book so that I could participate in Katie's Nonfiction Book Club September readalong, over at Doing Dewey.  I'd heard about this book around its release last year, and was itching to read it--the subject sounded fascinating, and I loved Kolbert's previous book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe.

When I first dove in, I was not at all disappointed.  In each chapter, Kolbert highlights a different species that has either gone extinct, or is currently being driven in that direction.  In doing so, she brings us through the history of extinction (not just extinctions themselves, but how modern humans figured out that species do go extinct...I had never considered that that was something that needed discovering!), and also introduces the myriad ways that humans, as a species, are likely pushing the world towards yet another mass extinction.  (Not, like, tomorrow.  No need to hunker down in the fallout shelters just yet.  But yes...extinction!)

While the overall intention and message of this book certainly held my attention, the organization and writing style did leave a bit to be desired.  The different-species-for-each-chapter format could have been a home run, but the order in which Kolbert put them did not always seem to make sense, especially in the middle part of the book.  This disrupted the flow of information significantly, and sometimes took away from her core points.  It also didn't help that those middle chapters tended to be rather dry--so on top of disorganized information, it wasn't always the most stimulating.

HOWEVER.  I am glad that I didn't give this one up, because the last few chapters were excellent, and by the end I felt that Kolbert had brought everything together for me.  I learned so much cool stuff (did you know BATS are going extinct?  And frogs?  TONS OF THEM!  More every day!  I had no idea.  Also, sadly, the science behind Jurassic Park is totally not feasible...WHOMP WHOMP).  One question that I kept asking myself throughout the book was, are human-caused species extinctions inherently bad?  For example, let's say that humans killed off a species of bird back in the 1800's primarily because it was a source of food for them--is that something we should be vilified for?  Especially if it was at a time when we did not have the scientific means that we do now to track and monitor a species?  I'm not saying it's okay to kill off animals--poaching/trophy hunting, no good.  And with the information we have now, there is no excuse for it when we have the means to assist endangered animals.  But I just thought it raised an interesting question...because humans are animals too.  We gotta eat, right?

After spending much of the book mulling this over, Kolbert does finally address it a bit in the last chapter, noting that humans are likely causing the "sixth extinction" simply by existing as we do.  By reading and writing and having complex thoughts, we are outgrowing the natural limits of this world, often in damaging ways.  We don't always mean to.  But we're doing it anyway.  The question is, can we reverse any of the damage we've done?  And if not...will we be able to survive it?

While this book definitely requires an interest in the sciences (biology/ecology/geology especially), and some patience with the chapter formatting, I think it is an excellent read to get your wheels turning and take a closer look at the everyday impact that we, as humans, have on the world around us.

Join Katie & crew for the next Nonfiction Book Club readalong in October: Devil in the White City by Erik Larson!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Where dey at, doe?

(In case you are unaware, this post title comes from the title of a T.I. song, which I love because of this amazing video that went viral several months back...really, it is worth watching over and over again.)
But seriously...where The Well-Read Redhead at, doe?

Apologies for the blog silence.  What a crazy month!  Small Fry started up preschool again, as well as soccer classes, so the transition there has kept us quite busy.  Tater Tot and I have started attending a music class for toddlers during Small Fry's school hours, which is fun.  My husband and I celebrated our 8 year anniversary last week, and actually got to go on a REAL DATE for the first time in a year!
Plus, we recently joined our local YMCA, which means we've been trying to figure out a new workout routine.  My husband is back in the weight room after a lengthy, PhD-writing-induced hiatus, and I'm having a boatload of fun trying out the classes.  Yoga and spin are my current faves.  Yoga makes me feel amazing post-long run!  And spin is a great cross-training workout when I don't want the high impact of running.  (Plus, the hill work is going to come in handy for sure.)

All of this schedule juggling has left little time for reading, and even less time for blogging.  I'm currently reading 2 books, but both are rather slow going.  The first is The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (reading it as part of Katie's Nonfiction Book Club for this month).  I was DYING to read this beforehand, but it is proving to be a slower journey than I originally hoped.  The material is interesting, but the organization of the chapters makes much of the information feel disjointed.  I'm hoping the last third of the book brings all of her concepts together a bit more clearly.

The other is Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson, my book club's current pick.  Our meeting is Sunday and I'm getting worried that I won't finish in time!  I think the concept of the novel is intriguing, but the pace and writing style are getting to me.  Hoping for an explosive ending to save the day.  Review forthcoming!

Here's hoping for more reading time in the coming weeks, especially because I have a few blog tour books to complete in October!  In the meantime, hopefully things will settle down here, and these two books will get a bit more enjoyable for me.

How is your reading life these days, friends?  Any other parents still adjusting to school schedules?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Well-Read Runner needs your help!

Hello, friends!  Today, I'm not recapping a race or talking about training.  Nope, today I'm asking if you want to help a sista out, and I'm not afraid to beg!  :)

On October 18th, I am running the Monster Scramble 10K in Rochester, NY.  As soon as I heard about it, I was like, YUP, sign me up!  Because the proceeds from this race go to the fight against multiple sclerosis, which is an important cause for me.

My good friend Liz was diagnosed with MS last year, at the age of 31 and just weeks before her wedding.  What a suck-fest, right?  When she shared the diagnosis with me a few months later, I was devastated for her.  I knew very little about the disease before her diagnosis, but what I've since heard from her and read about myself shows that she has a lifelong battle ahead.  There is no cure for MS.  Luckily, Liz caught it early and has a great team of doctors to help her out along the way.  And hopefully, as research into the disease continues, better treatments (and maybe a CURE!) could help her even more in the future.

After I signed up for Monster Scramble, I was surprised when a few of my Facebook friends came forward (privately) and told me that they, too, were diagnosed with MS within the last few years.  This disease is more prevalent than I originally knew, and makes me even more motivated to assist where I can.

So, as you may have guessed, runners of the Monster Scramble race are encouraged to fundraise for the event, and I am indeed doing so!  My original goal was $500, but I've gone above that (yay!) and am now shooting for $1000.  Any little bit helps!  $5, $10, $20, whatever you've got!  That money is going to an important cause and will help the millions of people around the world who are battling multiple sclerosis.

If you'd like to make a donation, you can do so HERE at my fundraising page (just click the gray button on the left that says "Donate to Me").  And please feel free to share this with any family or friends who might want to help out.

Thanks, readers!!  I'll report back next month with my final fundraising totals (and a race recap, of course!).  :)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

#30 Authors: Ruth Galm on Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce

Hello, lovelies!  As mentioned earlier this week, I am honored to be serving as today's blog host for this month's #30Authors book event.  I followed along with it last year, and loved the entire concept, enough to want to participate this time around--I hope you will check out the other blog stops throughout the month as well!

#30Authors is an annual event connecting readers, authors, and bloggers. Throughout the month of September, 30 authors review their favorite books on 30 blogs in 30 days. The event has been met with incredible support from and success within the literary community. In the six months following the event’s inaugural launch, the concept was published as an anthology by Velvet Morning Press (Legacy: An Anthology). Started by The Book Wheel, #30Authors remains active throughout the year and you can join in the fun by following along on Twitter at @30Authors, using the hashtag, #30Authors, or purchasing the anthology. To learn more about the event, please click here.

The author I am hosting is Ruth Galm, whose first novel, Into the Valley, came out last month (check out my review and giveaway currently going on HERE!). Ruth is here reviewing Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce. Check it out!:

There is one novel in the last year that I want to require everyone to read, that I recommend to anyone who will listen, a novel that has received much well-deserved praise and that I have circled and pondered to understand my deep admiration for it.  Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce is the story of a Dallas waitress named Marie, a young single mother who works in a high-end steakhouse and spends much of the book in a numb spiral of sex and drugs.  It is not just that I am awed by Tierce’s skill for writing sex, of self-destructive and beautiful flavors, at its most tangible and vivid; she is fearless and genius at this in a way I envy.  It is not just that she has brought me so keenly and viscerally into worlds I do not know, of restaurant workers, of working class Dallas:  “We were standing in the ugly galley kitchen of our apartment.  It was right next to a highway.  It never got dark at night and I pretended the constant sound of traffic was the ocean.” 

What fuels my compulsion to this novel is the unsentimental and un-hand-holding prose and point of view, the unwillingness to offer us a genial, arced structure that in its climax and closure soothes us.  In the book’s opening paragraph Marie describes one of the four doctors—all sleazy, three of whom she sleeps with—who asked her out after a catering event:  “Cornelius wore Tommy Bahama hibiscus-print silk shirts, and was more than twice my age, but who knows.”  There is no question mark at the end of this weary sentence, no willingness to aid us in comprehending what Marie is doing with this man, these men.  Much like:  “There is no point in asking what the attraction was—that’s the wrong question.”  Or:  “It had something to do with love and something to do with grief.”  In so much of the prose of Love Me Back, Tierce does not offer even a slowing, comforting comma to rescue us from dark and thorny questions about life paths, class, and one woman’s psychological duress.  And it is in this extraordinary sentence-level detail—along with the bold eschewing of a comfortable story arc—that the baldest, starkest, and most irrational truths are left to unsettle us, exactly the way great literature should.
More info about Ruth Galm...

Ruth Galm is the author of the debut novel Into the Valley (Soho Press, August 2015).  She was born and raised in San José, California, earned an MFA from Columbia University, and has been in San Francisco ever since. Her short fiction has appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Indiana Review, and Joyland, and she is a past resident of the Ucross Foundation.  Check her out on her website, Goodreads, or Twitter.
Want to pick up a copy of your own? Check out Soho Press or Amazon.

And if you'd like to learn more about Merritt Tierce's Love Me Back:
Author site:

BONUS! There is also a HUGE giveaway going on in connection with #30Authors! Just use the entry form below for your chance to win! And don't forget to visit the other blogs on this month's tour. :)
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