Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

If you find me
Carey lives in a broken down camper in the middle of the forest with her little sister, Jessa, and occasionally, her mom. Her mom is a meth-addict who stole them from Carey's dad, presumably because he abused all of them. Jessa is selectively mute, from an incident that happened one night when their mom was gone. One day, her mom leaves for good, sending a letter that she can no longer care for the girls. The authorities show and whisk them away to Carey's dad, who is maybe not what she thought. There is, of course, an adjustment period to this new life, as Carey learns to live as a normal teenage girl. While this book was good, it could have been great. I understand that as a YA book, the author didn't want to delve too deeply into child abuse. Yet, I felt that a LOT was glossed over, so much that very few of the characters were developed as fully as they could have been. Good story but could have been better.

Boxers & Saints Boxed Set
This is the graphic novel story of the Boxer Rebellion. It is brilliantly executed. One story is told by Little Bao, who channels the gods of old to form a band to strike back against the "foreign devils" whom he thinks are here to steal his native land. The other is told by Four-Girl, christened Vibiana who runs away from her family after converting to Christianity. The two sides of the Rebellion, told by these two characters, creates a beautiful story that leaves you able to see both sides from a rational point-of-view. I read Boxers first and would probably recommend that because Saints goes a little further into the story, but I would definitely suggest both!

We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel
This book reached into my chest and tore out my heart. This is not a happy book, but it is beautifully rendered. I would, first of all, not read any reviews on this book. Fortunately, I did not before reading but after reading looked at a few, and they definitely give away a major plot point that is better left unknown until you are reading.
Eileen wants better for herself. She is picky with men, to the consternation of her friends and family. Then she meets Ed Leary and marries him, despite her once upon a time wish to rid herself of her Irish last name. As time goes on, Eileen learns that Ed doesn't dream as big as she does, is okay with just a teaching position, is okay with living in the same apartment in which they've always lived. This is a long novel. You follow the Leary family through most of their lives, and you become attached. You feel their sorrow--and there is a great deal of sorrow--and occasional joys. I cried at the end. The characters were real and just as frustrating as real people are... and you so badly want them to have the most in life, even when it's clear that won't happen.

What are you reading?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

*On Thursday. Oops. I thought I had this scheduled to post yesterday, but it did not.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post
I requested a bunch of books recently because a school board in Delaware banned its entire reading list. This was the first to be banned, then when they were accused of banning it because of the themes, they responded by banning the rest of the list. Every book I read this week is off of the list.
Cameron Post is the protagonist in this coming of age story. She is also a lesbian, coming of age in rural Montana. The story follows Cameron from the time she's 12 until 17. Cameron falls in love with her best friend, then is discovered and sent away to God's Promise, a religious conversion camp. I loved this book. The voice of Cameron, her overwhelming guilt but also acceptance of who she is and who she always will be is incredible. It had the kind of ending that sometimes frustrates me but was just right for this book. I found myself rooting for Cameron Post beyond the book, basically for all the Cameron Posts of this world, struggling to gain acceptance.

I would call this a coming of age story with a twist, too. Butter is a morbidly obese teen. He has a real name, but everyone calls him Butter. In the beginning of the story, Butter has no friends, except a girl named Anna. Anna goes to his school, but he's created an online persona to get to better know Anna (who has no idea that she's talking to Butter). Frustrated with his life after an embarrassing moment in the school cafeteria (where he sits alone with his spread of food), Butter creates a website stating that he's going to kill himself on New Year's Eve. How? By eating himself to death, of course. Butter's website suddenly gains him popularity, with a group of kids who may be friends. Or who may just want a front row seat to the train wreck.
This book was not a comfortable read. It contains heavy themes of bullying and suicide, but it was beautifully written and well done. The author did an amazing job of making Butter a person, not just a kid who eats too much.

More Than This
This book opens with a fairly uncomfortable scene of Seth, a teenage boy, drowning. In his last moments, breathing in water and trying to fight the ocean, he bashes his head fatally on a rock.
Except that in the next chapter, Seth is alive. He is naked and thirsty and hurts everywhere. He also seems to be in his old neighborhood in England, an ocean away from where he died. Even more, his old neighborhood seems to be a ruined post-apocalyptic world where he's the only one there. Is this his own personal hell? Or is it something else?
The twists this book took were completely unexpected, going into it having no background information. It kept me reading through an entire day.

The Scorpio Races
On the island of Thisby, a race is held every year when the capaill uisce (cap-pall osshke) come from the sea. A vicious breed of water horses who eat meat, attacking other horses, each other and humans with their sharp teeth. Yet, despite the brutality of these horses, it is said that if you can get them from the sea, they make the best mounts--mounts who are violent and will always be drawn to the water. Some race for the money, some for the glory, while some just try to stay alive until the end. Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. Puck Connolly is a girl who gets mixed up in the Scorpio Races, though she never dreamed she'd ride. Sean and Puck clash with their own personal conflicts, but become entwined in one another as the Scorpio Race draws near. This was a longer book, with a steady build-up to the actual race, which left me anxious and ready to see who would survive. I definitely enjoyed it, especially the folklore elements.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

Whistling Past the Graveyard
I requested this one based on Corrin's recommendation and loved it. 9 year old Starla runs away from her grandmother, who spends most of her days telling Starla that she's a horrible child and grounded her for fairly minor infractions. Her destination is Nashville, where she believes her absent mother is a star singer. On her way, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman with a white baby. In the 1960s south, Eula is the wrong color, especially with a baby she took from the church steps. As the story unfolds, Starla and Eula become entrenched in one another's lives in a way no one would ever have expected, least of all the two of them. The author did an excellent job developing not only the two main characters, but secondary characters as well. I loved the voice of this story.

Big Little Lies
I love Lianne Moriarty's books because she has a really good handle on how to write a book from the perspective of different characters. I also love them because I can just shut off my brain and get really involved in the story, which is definitely what I did for this book. Written from the perspective of three friends (Madeline, Celeste and Jane), the story starts out in present time talking about a school trivia night that ended in murder. It then flashes back to six months before the trivia night and begins building toward that, interspersed with police statements from other characters. The police statements are never from the main characters or their spouses, so you have no idea who died on trivia night or who was involved, just a twisted web of gossip to unweave. My favorite part of the book was what lays beneath the surface of each person, how a person who may seem to have it all may really be one step away from losing it. Despite this book being over 400 pages, I finished it in one [lazy] day.

Painted Horses
I wanted to read this book based on the comparison to The Son and Lonesome Dove (please read Lonesome Dove if you haven't!!). Catherine Lemay is an archaeology student in the 1950s world where careers for women are still frowned upon by society. She's sent by the Smithsonian to investigate the site of a possible dam in Montana. She's never been to the west before and Native American artifacts are not her thing, but she's willing to ride out into the middle of nowhere to look for artifacts. If none are found, the dam build can go ahead and the canyon will be flooded. In the midst of this, she meets a mysterious man named John H. who lives in the canyon. Catherine's story is told in conjunction with John's and while there were parts that didn't hold my interest quite so strongly, the ending of the story was a series of beautiful twists and turns that made this one a book that I was glad to read.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves
I was interested by this book because we adopted a shelter dog in January who definitely showed signs of anxiety when we brought her home. This was the first time I became aware that dogs could suffer from what is typically thought of as a human condition. Fortunately, after a few months of showing her that we were safe and weren't leaving, her anxiety lessened. The author of this book did not have the same experience, as her dog never became less anxious, even with dog therapy and medications, to the point where he jumped out their fourth floor apartment window.
In this book, she speaks not only of her dog but of countless other animals who suffer from human conditions, such as night terrors, homesickness, separation anxiety and rage. While this book shows that we've come a long way in humanely treating animals and understanding them, it also shows that we've barely began. This was a fascinating read.

California: A Novel
Cal and Frida live off the land in a ruined world. They escaped from LA to live in the woods, after weather and humanity destroyed most of the civilized world. After their closest (only) neighbors commit suicide, Frida begs Cal that she needs to know what is beyond them, she needs to know that others are out there. Exploring leads them to a town surrounded by large metal spikes, a seemingly huge maze designed to keep out anyone who might dare to enter. Here, Cal and Frida's world is rocked by revelations that connect to her brother Micah, a suicide bomber who died during the beginning of the end of the world.
In the beginning of this book, I felt that it was going to be on a Cormac McCarthy level and tore through it, but unfortunately, it fell apart a little at the end. It felt like there should be a sequel, but I'm not sure there is. I don't mind open endings, but this one was a little too open, a little too rushed.

The Fracking King: A Novel
Winston Crwth (rhymes with truth) is at the Hale School for boys on a scholarship from Dark Oil. The name is not a misnomer, as Dark Oil is responsible for so much fracking around the school that the water out of certain sinks can be combustible. This is a coming of age story mixed in with an environmental truth story mixed in with satire. Think Carl Hiaasen. Winston uses his Scrabble tournament skills to attempt to schedule a meeting with the governor so he can force her to admit that fracking is destroying the water in Pennsylvania. Although I wished that tertiary characters better developed in this story, I loved the character of Win so much that I could overlook the rest.

The Walking Dead Volume 20: All Out War Part 1 TP
I also read part 2 but I'm not going to link to both. If you're a fan of The Walking Dead, I would definitely recommend making your way through the graphic novels--even if you don't typically like graphic novels.

I am a huge fan of Rainbow Rowell and was looking forward to this one. Unfortunately, it fell short for me. Georgie and Neal are struggling in their marriage. When Georgie tells Neal she can't accompany him to Omaha (where his mother lives) along with their two daughters, it's the last straw. The Omaha visit coincides with Christmas, which makes it a bigger deal than just skipping a vacation. While dealing with work stress and her staying at her mother's house because she can't stand to be alone, Georgie calls Neal from the old yellow landline in her room. After a conversation, she discovers that she's not talking to present day Neal, but to Neal from 1998. A Neal with whom she was once on a break, shortly before he proposed to her. I don't mind magical realism, I don't, but the book from this point on was so trite and contrived that it absolutely lost me. I guess they can't all be Eleanor&Park or even The Attachments, but this was not the book I expected.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival
I was too young when Flight 232 crashed to remember any of the story, so this was all new to me. I think that being on an airplane that is crashing would be one of the most terrifying experiences ever, whether you lived or died. Knowing that those on board Flight 232 spent 25 minutes in the process of crashing made this book a harrowing read. However, It was also an incredibly powerful book. Of the 296 people on board Flight 232, 184 survived. Looking at the photos of the plane and reading the description of the crash, it is hard to believe that anyone survived--let alone over half of those on board. The author does an amazing job of juxtaposing the stories of the survivors and the immediate moments after the crash, alongside the years that have followed, in with the stories of those who did not survive and finally, the fatal flaw that brought down Flight 232. Some of the science behind how airplane engines are built and what caused Flight 232 to crash were a little dry, but the overall book itself was incredibly powerful. In this moment, people became superhuman, helping their fellow passengers to safety, while the rescuers on the ground assumed they were heading to a crash in which no one survived. This was definitely not an easy read, but I am glad I read the stories the author included in this book to better know the people who lived and died that day. [side note: the 25th anniversary was just last week, if you're interested.]

The Girls from Corona del Mar: A novel
The girls from Corona del Mar are poor. They have fathers who have lost jobs, mothers who drink too much and live in houses or apartments way too small for their families. Yet, Lorrie Ann carries herself gracefully, amidst the poverty and struggle, so gracefully that the other girls are never jealous of her--even Lorrie Ann's best friend Mia. Mia's life is not so pretty, with a mom who drinks too much and an abortion at fifteen. Mia thinks Lorrie Ann has it all, until it suddenly goes downhill for Lorrie Ann, starting with the death of her father. As the two girls grow up, they drift apart but always, Mia's life orbits around Lorrie Ann… however, good or bad that may be, Mia cannot let go of the connection they once had.
This book was not a happy read, but it was engaging. I think any of us with friendships that started in middle school can understand the connection between Mia and Lorrie Ann.

The Untold
I read this one on the recommendation of Barb, who said she flew through it.
Jessie Hickman is on the run at the age of 22. Having just killed her husband, she buries her baby daughter, born way too premature to survive. Her not meant for this world baby becomes the narrator of the book, pondering "If the dirt could speak, whose story would it tell?" In this case, it tells the story of Jessie, based upon a female bushranger in the late 1800s Australia. Although little is known about the actual Jessie, the author reconstructs and twists history to form a fascinating tale. Although Jessie and her trials and tribulations were engrossing, what really engrossed me was the voice of the very unique narrator--almost an old soul, not a life snuffed out before it began.

The Hurricane Sisters: A Novel
This is a perfect summer read. Set in South Carolina low country, this book tells a story from the perspective of many different family members of a tumultuous time during hurricane season. While some of the dialogue was a little stilted, it was still a very enjoyable book and I was pulled into the family drama and attempts to reconnect. I loved 80 year old grandma Maisie, who kicks off the book by walking a llama on a leash down the highway. Her voice brought the most personality and life to this book.

What are you reading?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Buckley Five Miler [race recap]

I've been wanting to run this race for a few years now, but the date never works out for me. Buckley Homestead is a living history farm near where I grew up. I spent one week every summer there for Girl Scout camp, as well as various field trips to the historical one room schoolhouse. I definitely thought this would be a neat run to do.

It is part a road run, part a trail run. The first part of the run is an out and back on a hilly country road. The crowd was small (about 150 people), so they lined us up, said "on your marks, get set… go!" and rang a cowbell. I love races like this. I probably started a little further back than I should have because I had to do a little bit of weaving at first, but I settled in pretty quickly. I've never done a five mile race before, so I wasn't quite sure how to pace myself. I also wasn't quite sure how to pace myself with it being road and trail. I knew that the trail portions would likely be harder, so I didn't want to go all out on the road. I also knew just from driving this road that there would be a big hill at the turn around point, so I didn't want to push too hard and lose it at that, too.

At mile one, my pace was somewhere around 9:27, which felt good and easily maintainable. Slower than I would be for a 5k, but it felt right for this race. After I got to the turnaround point, I started passing people who took off in the beginning, so I felt like I was definitely pacing myself well. At the three mile mark, you run back into the park. The transition from road to gravel wasn't too bad and there was a downhill right away. After that, it turns to packed dirt/mulch and you run over a bridge. Like I said, I spent so many childhood summers here as a kid that this was definitely sparking my memory. I remembered excitedly running over this bridge as a kid, and it made me smile. After this, you run up a hill and through some of the outbuildings from the original pioneer farm, then you go into the "back 40," which is all grass. I felt my legs start to struggle in the grass, but I was still passing people, so I felt like I'd made the good choice by not going all out with my pace. This part of the race was basically a little over a mile on a big grass loop. At points, there were cornfields and open meadows around me and I took this moment to marvel over what a pretty trail race it was. I was also thankful that although it was humid, it was lower temps. I could see how on a hot day, the walls created by the cornfield would make it miserably hot.

By mile 4, my legs were starting to hate the grass, especially with a couple of uphills, but I knew that I could make it through the last mile. I passed a few more people, then settled into an area where when there were turns, I wouldn't see anyone behind or in front of me. This made it really relaxing, like I was truly, honestly running my own race. After the last bit of grass, it was back to packed dirt, which was a welcome relief! The last little bit looped around the old schoolhouse, and I ran over a culvert and remembered the time that my sister tried to convince us that a child murdered lived in the culvert. Then past the outhouses, where I was always terrified that snakes lived, and finally into the home stretch (more grass!).

I finished in 47:16, 4/9 in my age group. I've never run a 5 mile race before, so this was a very easily obtained PR. That said, I'm really pleased with my time. I kept my pace consistent and dealt well with the conditions. I also, most importantly, had fun and enjoyed the run. After the race, they had tons of watermelon, cantaloupe, bagels, pretzels. I also loved that they not only had recycling stations, but they even had compost bins for the melon rinds. I usually end up taking water bottles with me after races to recycle at home (yeah, I'm that person), so it was cool to see a very eco-friendly race. Although I didn't stop at any of the water stops, there were water stops every single mile, even out in the middle of the field!

I would definitely do this race again. I loved the small friendly vibe, and I really loved the challenge posed by the race.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What I Read Wednesday

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You: A Novel
This book was good. Not great, but good enough to keep me reading. Richard Haddon is a British artist living in France with his wife. Their marriage has lost the luster it used to hold, and Richard cheats on her. Not just once, but he carries out an affair over the span of seven months. Then his mistress leaves him to get married to another man and Richard realizes what he's lost with his wife (who is understandably angry once finding out about the affair). Richard spends the rest of the book trying to gain back her love. Richard definitely has an engaging voice, but it's hard to feel any sympathy for him whatsoever.

Field of Prey
I love John Sanford's Lucas Davenport series. Two summers ago, I read my way through all of them. This is the newest one. Two teenagers discover a horrific smell in the middle of farm country. The next day, one of them returns with a local policeman and they discover a once covered culvert… full of dead women. This was not my favorite of the Prey series because some of it was a little too predictable, but it still kept me turning the pages and engaged until the end.

High as the Horses' Bridles: A Novel
This book was a little slow at first, but once I got into it, I was hooked into the story of Josiah--once a boy who had a vision and predicted an end of time date--now an adult who goes by Josie and doesn't believe in God. Josie moves to California, as far away from his evangelist-like father as he can get. In his father's old age, Josie flies back to New York and finds his father slipping, obsessed with fasting and slowly wasting away in a garbage-filled house. The conflicts Josie feels with this situation, with his father's faith and his lack of were incredibly engaging. The voice of this novel was beautiful, too. Was it an exciting thrill-ride of a book? Nope, but it hooked me in so many other ways.

What are you reading?