Friday, November 20, 2015

November Minis: Lisbeth Salander & Nonfiction!

Hi, friends!  I know that November is not over, but I don't really want to include more than 3 mini-reviews in one post, so here's a little recap of what I've read so far this month.

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz
Knopf, 2015
borrowed from the library

You've heard of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson, yes?  One of my FAVORITE series in the history of all series.  When I got to the end of the 3rd book and realized that Larsson had died before he could continue Salander and Blomkvists's stories, I was devastated.  However, David Lagercrantz got permission from Larsson's family to continue the series on his own, and now we have this 4th installment of Larsson's brainchild.

Here's the deal: if you're a devout Salander/Blomkvist fan, you have to go into this book knowing that Lagercrantz can't resurrect the dead.  He can't write in EXACTLY the same tone and style that Larsson did.  But you know what?  He does a damn good job trying.  I found myself being very critical and picky at the beginning (how could I not?).  Some of the new characters introduced were basically walking stereotypes, the overall tone didn't feel dark enough, etc.  But suddenly I was 300 pages in and realized I was completely sucked into the story, differences be damned.  Lagercrantz has still managed to create an excellent mystery full of espionage and seedy doings, and the spirit of the originals is certainly there.  I will say that the ending was a bit kitschy (full of too many sudden romantic successes, presumably for a "happy" ending?).  But otherwise, I was happy to have Lisbeth Salander back in my life, and would welcome more of her besides.

Run Like A Mother by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2010
borrowed from the library

I run!  And I'm a mother!  So I felt like I definitely had to check this book out.  This is a nonfiction guide to running specifically for busy moms who are juggling husbands, kids, jobs, etc. with their love of getting on the road (or the trail).  The introduction and first chapter had me completely HOOKED.  I felt like McDowell and Shea were totally speaking my mother-runner language.  It was great to read stories about how other moms manage to balance running with all of the other priorities in their lives.  However, after that first chapter, I did realize that this book is primarily geared towards beginner runners--a lot of the next sections covered things like choosing the proper running attire, how to do speed/track workouts, etc...things that more seasoned runners are already quite familiar with, though I did appreciate the reminders here and there.  Towards the end, they get more into the balance of family and running life, which was more of what I was looking for.

I didn't love the repetitively cheesy humor used by the authors, but it was manageable.  I DO like that Shea and McDowell are two very different runners, and as such, provided two very different perspectives on the sport.  McDowell, like me, is more of a laid-back runner who does not always push herself to the max, whereas Shea is more driven, always going for the PR and leaving everything out on the road.  So there's something for every momma here.  Overall, this was a fun read with a great angle, but may be better for beginning mother runners, rather than veterans of the road.

On Immunity by Eula Biss
Graywolf Press, 2014
borrowed from the library

Yes, I managed to read 2 nonfictions for Nonfiction November!  Amazing!  On Immunity has been on my radar since it first came out, because if you know me, you know that I don't stand on many soapboxes, but VACCINATING YOUR DAMN KIDS is one of them.  I was mighty interested in what Biss had to say here, and I am 100% open about the fact that I went into this with a biased POV--so you've been warned.  :)

This book was actually quite a bit different than what I anticipated.  I think I was expecting a straightforward, research-driven discussion of the immunization debate.  That is certainly the basis of her essays--Biss has done her research, and (unsurprisingly!) it throws in favor of vaccinations--but as the tone of the title suggests, this book is also a good bit of musing on her part, regarding the fears she faced as a parent when her son was born, and how that translated into the immunization issue as a whole.  I'm torn on how I feel about this approach.  I am partially thankful for the humanizing touch that this gave the topic, but at the same time, I was kind of hoping for a stronger, more hard-hitting book that could really be used to shut down the anti-vaccine stance.  This book wanders too much down the road of an academic waxing philosophical for it to be seen as that.

Overall, this one will certainly get the immunization discussion going, and it is a unique angle in the debate.  And while she never comes out and definitively says it, all of Biss's research points towards the need to vaccinate, which I appreciate.  However, this is not a focused discussion of the issues, so if you're looking for that, go elsewhere.

What did you read so far this month?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mendocino Fire by Elizabeth Tallent

Title: Mendocino Fire
Author: Elizabeth Tallent
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: October 20, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

The son of an aging fisherman becomes ensnared in a violent incident that forces him to confront his broken relationship with his father. A woman travels halfway across the country to look for her ex-husband, only to find her attention drawn in a surprising direction. A millworker gives safe harbor to his son's pregnant girlfriend, until an ambiguous gesture upsets their uneasy equilibrium. These and other stories—of yearning, loss, and tentative new connections—come together in Mendocino Fire, the first new collection in two decades from the widely admired Elizabeth Tallent.

Diverse in character and setting, rendered in an exhilarating, exacting prose, these stories confirm Tallent's enduring gift for capturing relationships in moments of transformation: marriages breaking apart, people haunted by memories of old love and reaching haltingly toward new futures. The result is a book that reminds us how our lives are shaped by moments of fracture and fragmentation, by expectations met and thwarted, and by our never-ending quest to be genuinely seen.

My Review:

I am so impressed by this collection of short fiction.  While some short story collections show a great deal of variety in tone, in Mendocino Fire, Tallent has put together a cohesive group of tales with such similarity in atmosphere that the transition from one to the next is incredibly smooth.  However, just because the overall feel of each story is similar, does not mean that they all don't have unique subjects and merits.  While many themes recur throughout the book (marital strife, loss, familial discontent), each story has a perspective that's all its own.

I enjoyed the subtleties in Tallent's writing style.  I found myself re-reading passages at times in order to make sure they could fully sink in.  While the primary 'moral' of each story is made quite clear by the time you reach the end, there are always several smaller, less obvious lessons for your brain to chew on as well.  I never object to a book that makes me think!  Each story explores a different aspect of romantic and family relationships--often aspects that are uncomfortable, or difficult to admit to.  Even so, Tallent approaches each one with an impressive level of thoughtfulness and depth.

If I had to pick a favorite (because don't we always have to pick a favorite in a short story collection)?  I'd have to go with "Mystery Caller".  A woman (divorced, but now remarried with kids) occasionally calls her ex-husband, but never says anything when he answers.  The result is surprising, sad, but a little bit comforting as well.

Fans of short stories need to put this one on the radar.  It's certainly not an uplifting read (that atmosphere I talked about before?  Pretty heavy.), but if you don't mind that, this is an excellent collection to devour.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.
Elizabeth Tallent

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Nonfiction November: Fiction/Nonfiction Duos!

It's week 2 of Nonfiction November!

This week's host is Leslie over at Regular Rumination, so please stop by!  Here's the prompt for the week:

For the second week of Nonfiction November, we are discussing Book Pairings. The original intention of this week’s theme was put together a fiction book and a nonfiction book that go well together. If you decide to pair two nonfiction books together, that works too! It could be two (or more!) books you’ve read, one book you’ve read and one you have not, or two books that you’ve added to your TBR and want to read that you think will complement and inform each other.

What a fun topic!  I thought it would be hard to come up with many appropriate pairings, but instead I ended up with quite the list!:

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, and The Martian by Andy Weir

I read the Roach book after The Martian, and I found myself constantly thinking about the fiction novel while I was reading about how the real-life astronauts prepare for space.  They compliment each other perfectly!

The Residence by Kate Andersen Brower, and American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Real-life descriptions of life in the White House, vs. a fictional story about a modern day First Lady (though it is very obviously based upon Laura Bush).

Expecting Better by Emily Oster, and A Bump in the Road by Maureen Lipinski

A nonfiction book with a unique twist on pregnancy do's and don'ts, and a funny fiction novel about a woman's unexpected first pregnancy (and all the hazards that go along with it).  Pregnancy requires a sense of humor, that's for sure!

My Life by Bill Clinton, and Primary Colors by Anonymous/Joe Klein

I patted myself on the back for this one.  That's just funny, y'all.

Marley & Me by John Grogan, and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Both of these are stories about dogs that made me cry big baby tears.  One is true and one is not.  Both are amazing!

Night by Elie Wiesel, and The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Or, substitute the Picoult novel for any heart-wrenching fictional depiction of life in the concentration camps.  Some heavy reading material here.

What are some fiction and nonfiction marriages that you'd like to put together?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Hey, It's Nonfiction November!

Happy November, reader friends!  I hope you didn't forget that this month means NONFICTION NOVEMBER!  :)

Last year, I had a ton of fun participating in this event.  While I don't think I am going to get much nonfiction reading done this month (based on how my library hold list currently own fault!), I still want to jump in and post during NFN where I can, because it really reignited my love for nonfiction books when I took part last year.

This week's host is Kim over at Sophisticated Dorkiness, so please stop by!  Here's the prompt for the week:

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Let's start with my favorite nonfiction book of 2015 (so far).  That's a tough call!  I'd have to say it's a tie between Missoula by Jon Krakauer, and Dead Wake by Erik Larson.  Both are truly exceptional in their own way.

As for the nonfiction book I've recommended the most (at least from my 2015 reads), other than the 2 faves above, I think it's been Grain of Truth by Stephen Yafa.  I have several friends with gluten allergies and/or sensitivities, and that book was a very enlightening read for me on the subject.  I've recommended it to both gluten-free and non-gluten-free eaters, because I think it sheds a lot of light on a topic that is often regarded as "just a trend" by the non-GF eaters.

A nonfiction topic I haven't read enough of yet...hmmm.  I've covered a lot of nonfiction areas, but one that I have a lot of interest in (even though I've yet to read much of it) is medical nonfiction.  Examples would be the Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, Stiff by Mary Roach, or On Immunity by Eula Bass.  (All three have been on my TBR list for ages!)

What do I hope to get out of Nonfiction November this year?  Well, as I mentioned above, I probably won't be able to read a lot of ACTUAL nonfiction this month (and I'm quite sad about it!).  However, when I participated last year, just talking about nonfiction with other NF lovers made me so very excited to dive into some new titles, and my nonfiction TBR list went through the roof as I read through the other blogs that were involved.  So I suppose I hope to spread the nonfiction love, and get plenty of new nonfiction inspiration for myself.  :)

What's your favorite nonfiction read of 2015 been thus far?

Friday, October 30, 2015

October Minis: Dracula, Meg Wolitzer, & more!

Hellooooo, readers!  And HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVE!  I will be celebrating this weekend by trick-or-treating with a small monkey and a Ninja Turtle.  Let's honor the holiday with my first round of mini book reviews for the month of October.  Three books to discuss with you today...

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
Harper, 2011
personal purchase

Here we have a psychological thriller with a unique premise: Christine has suffered a brain injury that erases her memory almost completely every evening when she goes to sleep.  So each morning, she wakes up unaware of where she is, or who is sleeping next to her (poor, forgotten husband).  She has to re-learn her entire life.  Unfortunately, this also means that Christine is easy to manipulate--who can she really trust if she never remembers anyone from day to day?  She finds a journal that she's begun keeping with the help of her doctor, and realizes that her life may be very different than what is being presented to her.

While the suspense and twists in this book are intense (as expected), for me, they were slowed down quite a bit by Christine's journaling style (which is how much of the book is narrated).  For someone who has to furtively write in her journal each night before her husband catches her doing it, she writes in such flowy, painstaking detail.  This felt disingenuous and made it hard for me to find her believable as a character.  However, the story itself is delightfully convoluted and will get your heart rate up (even though I did figure out the "bad guy" a good bit before he/she was actually revealed).

Dracula by Bram Stoker
Grosset & Dunlap, 1897
personal purchase

The most famous vampire story!  I'd been saving this book as a spooky October read for years, and finally got around to it.  It was well-worth the wait, as this was a perfect novel for this time of year.  If you're unfamiliar, Dracula is the tale of how Jonathan & Mina Harker discover, and attempt to take down, the wily vampire Count Dracula, along with their mentor, Van Helsing, and a few brave friends.  There's garlic and wooden stakes and bats and a castle in Transylvania!  How can you go wrong?!?!  The story is told through letters, diary entries, telegrams, and journals written by the main characters.  I loved this format, as it gave the narrative a more modern, fast-paced feel than its publication date would have you expect.  I was a little annoyed by how Mina Harker is treated as a female character (Stoker alternately builds her up as a smart, independent woman, then breaks her down as the male characters keep her out of the loop in order to protect her delicate lady-brain), but otherwise this book was fantastic.  Do yourself a favor and put this one on your Halloween reading list!
(Has anyone seen the film adaptation of this from the early 90s?  From what I can see, it looks like Coppola kind of massacred the plot.  Also, Keanu Reeves?  Srsly?)

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer
Scribner, 2003
personal purchase

This story is told by Joan Castleman, in her mid-60s and wife of the (fictional) famous novelist, Joe Castleman.  It's immediately clear that Joan is a tad bitter about her life these days.  As she flies to Finland with Joe to a ceremony in his honor, she flashes us back to their early days of courtship and marriage.  By the end of this quick 200-ish page read, you have a REALLY good understanding of why Joan is disgruntled.

This was my first Meg Wolitzer novel, and I was beyond pleased.  The writing is fantastic: snappy, beautiful, intelligent, and humorous, all at once.  While the title left me thinking that the purpose of the novel was a character study of Joan-as-wife, I soon realized that Wolitzer was also making some interesting statements about the "wife" role in general: what it symbolizes, its value within a family, and how much some women give of themselves when they take on the title.  There was even a surprising twist at the end.  I'm impressed with everything that Wolitzer was able to pack into such a short book, and I can't wait to read more of her work.

What was your best read of October?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Well-Read Runner: Monster Scramble 10K recap

A quick recap for you of the Monster Scramble 10K that I ran last Sunday, October 18.  You may remember that this was the 10K I was fundraising for in order to support the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  I'm DELIGHTED to report that I was the #1 fundraiser in the Rochester area!!  I reached a grand total of $765, and am so appreciative of every single person who donated.  It felt awesome to hand all that moola over to a great cause!!

The race took place at Mt. Hope Cemetery in downtown Rochester.  I'd never been to the cemetery before, but heard it was a great place to run if you love HILLS.  Knowing that beforehand, and taking my recent health issues into account, I knew going in that this was not going to be a PR race.  I was happy to take this one easy and enjoy the ride.

The race started at 10am, but I was parked at the shuttle pickup by 8:45.  I am not real familiar with downtown, and knew that I would have to park a few blocks away and take the shuttle to the race.  Plus, the night before, Tater Tot got a cold, and my husband and I decided that they would not be accompanying me to the race.  (There was a 1 mile trick-or-treat walk for families at the same time as the race...Small Fry was sad to miss out!)  So I planned to get there early in order to give time for the shuttle, packet pickup, and then a possible shuttle trip back to my car to drop off stuff (there was no bag drop...kind of inconvenient when they were giving out so much stuff at packet pickup) before heading back to the start line.
Pre-race.  Those are some super-cool Halloween tights/stockings from Target.  Never ran in stockings before this.  Was not as terrible as expected.  ;)
Unfortunately, I overplanned this one, because I was fully checked in by 9am, and had an hour to wait for race the cloudy 39 degree day.  I was not the only one who was early, and you could tell we all regretted it!  My fingers and toes were fairly numb by the time the race began (and that was with gloves and Drymax socks on).  Note to self: don't get there quite so early next time!

I'd had peanut butter toast for breakfast, and ate a banana around 9:30.  I probably could have done with more fuel, but I have such a hard time working up an appetite on race mornings.  I had my small handheld water bottle with me during the race, though the course was very well stocked with water along the way.  (I also held my friend Liz's bandana from a Muck MS event she did earlier this year, that says "I Muck It With MS" gave me some extra good juju when I needed it!!)  :)

Finally, 10am approached.  The start line was at the very bottom of a very, very, very long and steep hill.  3, 2, 1, GO and off we went up that hill!  I was feeling my lack of recent hill training immediately, and made it about 80% of the way up before I had to stop and walk the rest.  Oh well.  Kind of a kick in the pants right at the beginning, but I didn't get down on myself about it.  Hit the top of the hill, and back up to pace I went.
Pretty much all of my race photos are awful because the photographer was stationed at the bottom of a rocky hill that required you to be looking down and watching your footing the whole time!  Oh well!
Honestly, much of this run was very uneventful.  The cemetery actually made for beautiful scenery (as odd as that may sound), and it wasn't a very crowded race (even less so in the second half, when the 5Kers peeled off).  Just me and my music, trying to keep a decent pace and enjoying the run.  Yes, I did walk many of the hills, but because I knew I hadn't trained like I should, it didn't bother me.  But the 10K was two loops of the 5K course, and it was a bummer to watch all those racers finishing while I made my way up that killer hill again!!  :)  However, I did enjoy that everyone was much more spread out for the last 3 miles.

I finished this one in 59:29.  Not close to my fastest, but still under an hour, so I was pleased.  My stomach was feeling a little delicate afterwards (what else is new for me??), so I walked around for a while and watched the Best Costume awards being handed out before getting back on the shuttle and heading home.

Overall, this was a very fun race that supported an excellent cause.  Even though the course itself is challenging, I would love to do it again in future years, if only for the opportunity to fundraise again.  That said, I think this race would benefit from two things: a bag drop, and some sort of warming tent (depending on the weather).  But, neither of these things were a dealbreaker...just would have made the day a bit easier.

Have you done any Halloween-themed races?  Any great running costumes to share??

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Well-Read Runner: In Search of Mojo

OMG, a Well-Read Runner post that's not on a Sunday!  These running posts are getting insidious!!

Full confession: I have slacked way off on running lately.  At the beginning of October (like 10 seconds after I signed up for the Four Seasons Challenge, OF COURSE), an unexpected health issue (long story, but basically a heart arrhythmia) came up that required me to stop running for about a week.  At the end of that week, my doctor gave me the okay to continue my running regimen as usual, even though a few more tests are being done on me through the end of this month.  While the doctor's okay should have been enough to make me lace up the shoes again, it wasn' least, not entirely.

I've been running since my doctor approved it, but the runs haven't been much fun.  They've been fraught with worry (will the palpitations start up again?  Will speed work aggravate them?  If I didn't fuel/hydrate the right way before the run, will they come back?).

And let me tell you--not-fun running kind of sucks.  It's real hard to get up at 5am on a Tuesday to knock down 4 miles when you know you're going to spend 90% of the time stressing out.

At this point, the medical testing is nearly completed, I have fewer and fewer reasons to worry, and runs are getting a bit easier, mentally.  But all this has left me feeling rather dispassionate about developing a training plan for the Winter Warrior half on January 9.  A twelve week program would have me start training, but even with the OK from my doctor, I feel like I've fallen out of my running routine and am having trouble getting the motivation to make any sort of training schedule.

That said, I have a general idea of how I'd like to structure each week.  I'm going rogue and not following a strict Hal Higdon/Nike +/whatever schedule this time around, because I've learned a few things about my body with the last two half marathons, and want to adjust accordingly.

Sunday: long run,
Monday: yoga,
Tuesday: run,
Wednesday: BodyPump (just tried this earlier in the month, LOVED it, been looking for some good strength training!!),
Thursday: rest,
Friday: run,
Saturday: rest.

I know, that's only 3 runs a week.  But for this cycle, I really want to add yoga, I really want to add strength training, I really don't have time to double-up workouts in one day, and I really want 2 rest days.  So that's where it leaves me.

However, if I make those 2 weekday runs work for me (maybe speed work one day, hills the other), it should be adequate.  Winter Warrior is on a completely flat course anyway, so I could probably skip hills and perhaps just do a longer weekday run (4-5 miles instead of my usual 3-4)...because the big factor in the WW race is getting used to running in the arctic cold.  So time spent outside on the roads is valuable no matter what.  Right?  This is what I'm telling myself!

I'm hoping that if I keep to that schedule, I will fall back into a happy running routine within a couple of weeks.  We all have peaks and valleys with this crazy sport, don't we??  And apparently, this is one of my valleys.  But I know it's time to climb out...I just need to find the foothold that will get me started.

How do you find your running mojo when it goes missing?
Imagination Designs