Monday, December 12, 2016

The Well-Read Redhead's Best Books of 2016!

It is time to announce...

The Well-Read Redhead's Best Books of 2016!

As I always disclaim with this list: you may be surprised by some of my choices...and some of my non-choices.  There are books on here that, in my initial review, I enjoyed but maybe wasn't completely gushing over.  And there are books not on the list that I mentioned as potential favorites when I wrote my reviews.  But at the end of the year, when I make this list, I go by what's really stuck with me--after months have passed, what are the books that are still leaving an impression?  Still giving me something to think about?


I am fully aware that I have not been the best blogger lately, but I just love making my end-of-the-year best-books list, so I had to throw in my two cents before 2017 rolls around!

As in past years, this list is in no particular order:


1. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley


I lied, this part of the list is definitely in a particular order, because this was absolutely the best book I read all year.

2. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty


Many would write this off as "chick lit", but I found it very thought-provoking.

3. Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich


Villians and intrigue and spectacular writing.

4. Alice & Oliver by Charles Bock


ALL THE SADNESS.  But I loved it anyway.

5. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes


More sadness!  Like seriously, so much sadness.  But SO SO GOOD.  Can't wait to see the movie and cry my eyes out.

6. Run the World by Becky Wade


I read a lot of running books this year, but this is the one that stuck with me the most.  I love Wade's fresh perspective and diverse discussion of the world of running.

7. Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave


In a literary world full of WWII stories (not to be trite, but that's true), this one is a stand out.  The dialogue alone is reason to pick it up.

8. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult


What would my best-of list be without the latest Picoult release?  Pointless, that's what.  But seriously, this has to be the most immediately socially relevant book she has ever written.

9. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett


This book reminded me why I really, really need to read more Ann Patchett.

10. Do Your Om Thing by Rebecca Pacheco


As an amateur yogi, my perspective of the practice was completely changed by this book (for the better!).  I learned so much from it, and I know I will refer to it for years to come.

That's a wrap!  What made YOUR best-read list for 2016?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

I'll Take You There by Wally Lamb


Title: I'll Take You There
Author: Wally Lamb
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: November 22, 2016
Source: copy received from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

I’ll Take You There centers on Felix, a film scholar who runs a Monday night movie club in what was once a vaudeville theater. One evening, while setting up a film in the projectionist booth, he’s confronted by the ghost of Lois Weber, a trailblazing motion picture director from Hollywood’s silent film era. Lois invites Felix to revisit—and in some cases relive—scenes from his past as they are projected onto the cinema’s big screen.

In these magical movies, the medium of film becomes the lens for Felix to reflect on the women who profoundly impacted his life. There’s his daughter Aliza, a Gen Y writer for New York Magazine who is trying to align her post-modern feminist beliefs with her lofty career ambitions; his sister, Frances, with whom he once shared a complicated bond of kindness and cruelty; and Verna, a fiery would-be contender for the 1951 Miss Rheingold competition, a beauty contest sponsored by a Brooklyn-based beer manufacturer that became a marketing phenomenon for two decades. At first unnerved by these ethereal apparitions, Felix comes to look forward to his encounters with Lois, who is later joined by the spirits of other celluloid muses.

Against the backdrop of a kaleidoscopic convergence of politics and pop culture, family secrets, and Hollywood iconography, Felix gains an enlightened understanding of the pressures and trials of the women closest to him, and of the feminine ideals and feminist realities that all women, of every era, must face.


My Review:

It's no secret that I am a huge Wally Lamb fan, and have been for some time.  As mentioned in previous reviews of his work, he sets all of his fiction in and around the not-so-fictional town of Three Rivers, Connecticut.  I say "not-so-fictional" because if you're a southeastern CT native (like me!), you can see that Three Rivers mirrors Norwich, CT rather closely (and Three Rivers is the name of the community college in that town).  Anyway, I always get a kick out of seeing familiar landmarks in Lamb's writing, and that paired with his talent for crafting intense family dramas has made me a long-time Lamb fan.

So, here comes his new release!  And of course I'm all over it.  To be honest, didn't even really read the description that closely.  Wally Lamb is just one of those authors where I know when I see his name on a cover, I want to read it.

In the end, I found this novel to be quite different from his other fiction work.  A few points of difference were obvious early on: this novel is quite a bit shorter than his others, so the prose is a bit more succinct, the characters less fleshed out.  Also, ghosts.  There are ghosts in this book.  Totally was not expecting the supernatural element (my fault, like I said...I should have read the description!).  While it wasn't my favorite thing about the novel, I did appreciate how Lamb used the ghosts to teach readers about an often-forgotten segment of Hollywood's history (that of its early female directors).  Even beyond the ghosts, there is quite a bit of thought-provoking history woven into this novel, and that was one of its biggest strengths.

However, the biggest difference between this book and Lamb's others, for me, was its lack of subtlety.  This is not a novel that encourages you to think very hard, which was a big disappointment for me as a reader.  The overarching themes of the novel (women's rights, feminism, etc) are hammered so hard, I had a headache by page 10.  I'm not saying that these themes aren't relevant and important (hi, talking to you, President-Elect), but I wish they had been allowed to flower within the prose more naturally.  Instead, because the novel was so much shorter than Lamb's others, I quickly wondered if that meant he had to do away with the thoughtful, more drawn-out narrative that fans of his work are likely used to, and instead fell back on this more directive writing to make sure his points got across.

Overall, this was an enlightening read, and Lamb proves that he still has his flair for historic detail and convoluted family relationships.  However, I have to admit that it's likely my least favorite of his fiction works thus far.  For me, that still means 3 stars on Goodreads though!  This may work for someone who wants to try a Lamb novel but is not ready for one of his longer tomes.

As always, much thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What I Was Reading When I Wasn't Here (and, Hi!)

And Lord knows it's been a while since I've been here!

Sorry for the protracted absence, reader friends.  I told ya this was likely to happen though, what with me in school, and child in school, and toddler in full force, and making time for me + husband, and running, and this freaking election (don't even get me started), and just EVERYTHING.  All the things.  There are too many things.  So yes, I have been absent.

However, I have been reading!  I just haven't been blogging about it!  Which has been weird (since I've blogged about EVERY book I read between August 2012 and...6 weeks ago), but also very liberating.  I just fly through books when I have the time, and don't worry about how I will review them.  It's rather wonderful, in fact, even though I know that doesn't bode real well for the blog...though I'm still staunchly NOT shutting it down, for whatever that's worth.

Anyway, instead of full-on reviews, I thought I would highlight the best of what I've read lately, in a very short and sweet list...plus let you know about the one book I've been reading forever, but have yet to DNF.

The Best of What I've Read Lately (with exceedingly short descriptions):

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

RELEVANT IMMEDIATELY.  READ NOW.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

New release by a debut author, the hype in the blogosphere was justified.  Plus, I like pretty things, and the cover is a very pretty thing.

In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10, both by Ruth Ware

Mystery and debauchery!  Lots of red herrings!

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (my first Christie!)

The queen of Mystery and Debauchery and Red Herrings!  I was not disappointed.

Why I Run by Mark Sutcliffe

Runners need to read this one.  It helped me get out of a running slump and pushed me to sign up for a marathon (again).  More on that in another post...

And...The Book I Have Been Reading Forever:

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

I dunno guys.  I am starting to think this series is not for me.  Been at this since August?  September?  I still have 300 pages to go.  Determined to do it, but it might be a while before I think about picking up the third installment.

So, readers, catch me up...what are you reading lately?  Have you read any of the books I listed above?  What should be next on my ever-expanding TBR list?

Also, send Joe Biden memes.  All the Joe Biden memes.  #UncleJoe

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Brady Bunch Gone Bad in Commonwealth by Ann Patchett


Title: Commonwealth
Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Source: copy received from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.


My Review:

Add it to the "best of 2016" list!  Commonwealth left me enthralled from page 1.  If you've enjoyed Ann Patchett's books in the past (Bel Canto left an impression on me, making her newest novel sound all the more attractive), or if you just love a good family saga, this is your next read.

The family structure here is a bit more complex than "Brady Bunch gone bad," but I couldn't help thinking of America's favorite blended family as I read about the Keating/Cousins kids, who are pretty much the antithesis of the beloved Bradys.  The fateful christening party mentioned in the book's description is the dynamite that blows this family in so many different directions.  Patchett shows you this initial explosion, and then gives you a glimpse of how this affected each member of the family over the subsequent decades.  The story is rich with regrets and guilt that will leave you wondering--what would have happened if Bert and Beverly never met on that first day?  Would it have been for the better, or the worse?

If I had to pick one thing that makes this novel stand out, it's the fluidity as Patchett transitions between characters.  There are SO many family members in the Keating/Cousins clan that it does, admittedly, get confusing at times.  However, this made it all the more impressive that the narrative was able to move from one person to the next without requiring a designated chapter for each character (or even a page break, in many cases).  The story lasts just long enough with each family member that your interest never falters, and you end up with a captivating drama that spans generations.

I can't express enough goodness about this book!  Five stars, must read, go go go.

As always, much thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson


Title: Be Frank With Me
Author: Julia Claiborne Johnson
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Source: copy received via a giveaway at Book Hooked Blog--I was then asked for an honest review through HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Reclusive literary legend M. M. “Mimi” Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years, but now she’s writing her first book in decades and to ensure timely completion her publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress.

When Alice Whitley arrives she’s put to work as a companion to Frank, the writer’s eccentric son, who has the wit of Noël Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth-graders. The longer she spends with the Bannings, the more Alice becomes obsessed with two questions: Who is Frank’s father? And will Mimi ever finish that book?

Full of countless only-in-Hollywood moments, Be Frank With Me is a heartwarming story of a mother and son, and the intrepid young woman who is pulled into their unforgettable world.


My Review:

I went into this book without knowing very much (thanks to my penchant for not often reading full book descriptions), but it made the blog rounds rather favorably when the hardcover came out.  I kept it on my radar, then won a copy from Julie at Book Hooked, and was prompted to move it up my to-read list when TLC ran it on tour.  I am so glad that I kicked myself into reading it sooner rather than later.  This is such a fun gem of a book, and certainly a standout debut for Johnson.

The eponymous protagonist of the novel, Frank, is absolutely the best element of this story.  While he is never given any sort of official diagnosis, I made the conjecture that Frank is somewhere on the autism spectrum.  Alice, the narrator, has quite a job ahead of her when she is thrown into Frank's rigidly-ruled world.  However, despite his penchant for monotone diatribes and precise ways of doing things, Frank comes with his own brand of humor that is made even better by his relationship with Alice.  Watching the two of them grow together in the book is both entertaining and heartwarming.

Johnson has managed to bring the perfect mix to this novel: it's emotional, yet fun.  Wise, yet lighthearted.  I haven't read anything quite like it.  If you're looking for a swift-moving story with unique characters that has a little bit of everything, Be Frank With Me is a sure bet.

As always, much thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

September Reads: Generation Chef, and new Herman Koch

In between all the craziness going on around my house this month, I've actually still managed to READ!  Here's the latest and greatest from 'round these parts lately:

Generation Chef by Karen Stabiner
Avery Books, 2016
copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Hey, remember how I love foodie nonfiction?  Yeah, you probably forgot, because it's been so long since I reviewed any!  But when Generation Chef was offered up to me for review, I absolutely could not resist.  Journalist Karen Stabiner shadowed up-and-coming New York City chef Jonah Miller as he embarked upon his life's dream: opening a restaurant of his own.  As Miller opened the door to his restaurant (Huertas), Stabiner bore witness to everything: the bureaucratic frustrations of real estate, investors, and liquor licenses; the continual management of both kitchen and service employees; the painstaking balance between making a menu that's true to the chef, and one that gets people in the door.  I was fully impressed by the depth of detail that she was able to include--this is one of those nonfiction books that almost reads like fiction, because so much emotion is embedded in the text.
The book stands out for another reason: Stabiner takes the story beyond Miller's journey with Huertas, and weaves in the journeys of other, more seasoned chefs, and how they did (or did not) find success.  All of these side stories compliment the central narrative perfectly, without taking away from the flow of the book.
Generation Chef will amaze you (with Miller's persistence and drive), amuse you (there's a fair amount of restaurant-style humor included), and make you incredibly hungry.  Seriously, if I didn't live 7 hours from NYC, I'd be at Huertas right now ordering nonstop pintxos.  Foodies and nonfiction fans alike will love this read!

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch
Hogarth, 2016
copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

I am doing a bang-up terrible job of turning down ARCs lately, especially those from authors that I've enjoyed in the past.  I know Herman Koch's The Dinner was not for everyone, but I was a huge fan, and Summer House With Swimming Pool worked equally well for me.  I couldn't wait to see what Koch had in store with this latest release, Dear Mr. M, which deals with the disappearance of a high school teacher after he has an affair with one of his students.
Since this is a mini review, the short version is that I did not enjoy this one as much as Koch's other two novels.  It started off in typical Koch fashion: narrator is a creepy, possibly psychotic?, stalker-type, and the constant flashbacks make the storyline continuously more mysterious.  However, about halfway through the book, the narration switches to the girl who had the affair with her teacher, and Koch lost me.  Her story was too drawn out and lacked the suspense of the earlier section.  By the time we switched to other, more engaging narrators, it was hard for me to jump back on board and enjoy the (admittedly twisty) conclusion.  This one definitely had a whiff of the Herman Koch I remember from his first two books, but didn't pack the same punch.

What are you reading this month?

Monday, September 19, 2016

It's Been A Long Road...(4 Seasons Challenge is DONE!)


Well, you've been hearing about it since I signed up on October 1 of last year, so here it is: the FINAL phase of the Rochester 4 Seasons Challenge.  IT IS DONE!  And my leg didn't fall off!
4 Seasons mega medal!  The 4 squares are each medal I earned during the year, held together with the final piece in the middle.
For those that are just joining us, the 4SC is a challenge for runners in the Rochester area: to run the 4 Rochester half marathons in 1 calendar year.  January, April, July, and September.  All was well for me until right before the 3rd one (in July), when I started having some leg pain that ended up being a calf strain.  I was originally supposed to run the full marathon instead of the half this September, but because of the strain I pulled back to the 13.1 distance...but then still had to take almost 8 weeks off running to heal it.

Okay, you're all caught up!  The final race was the MVP Rochester half marathon yesterday (9/18).  Let's break this into 2 parts: recap, and lessons learned.

RECAP!
I went into the race having zero idea what to expect.  My husband was wondering when I might finish, and I gave him a range of 2:15 to 3:00.  When you haven't run for 8 weeks, it's real hard to guesstimate your time, even if you've run the distance many times before!

I ran 2 miles on Friday before the race, and that was the first time since the diagnosis that I had no pain while running, so fingers were crossed for a good race.

And guess what--NO PAIN!  I did the entire 13.1 miles with zero calf pain.  It was truly amazing.
Taken around mile 6.  No calf pain, but the struggle still got real there for a bit
So that was the good news, no calf pain.  The bad news is that everything else had it's own special brand of pain...haha.  Have you ever seen that running shirt that says "Everything Hurts and I'm Dying"?  Yes, that was my hamstrings/knees/right foot.  Again--I totally DO NOT recommend running 13.1 miles if you haven't run at all in 8 weeks!  But I was determined to complete this darn thing.

I started out feeling superhero-amazing (as one does at the start of a half), but around  mile 6 is when I felt how out of practice I was.  I started to get down on myself, and then mentally punched myself in the face.  Why am I getting upset about time??  I didn't even fully train for this race!!  Just have fun!  Stop worrying and enjoy yourself!

So that's what I did.  The Rochester half had a huge course change last year, so it was all new to me, and it's BEAUTIFUL!  It brings you through scenic parts of Rochester that I never even knew existed.  So it was easy to cruise through the race and enjoy the sights.  I stopped for pictures, took lots of selfies (texting my husband and friends along the way), walked when I needed to, high fived every little kid I could find.  It was a great time.
Selfie with a waterfall!  Totally necessary!
Favorite race story: this course is incredibly HILLY, and I decided early on to walk most of them, since I knew my lack of training would cause them to completely wipe me out.  However, while walking one I spotted a race photographer 3/4 of the way up the hill.  Crap, no one wants a race photo of themselves walking!  So I kicked myself into a run as best as I could.  As soon as I passed the photog, I walked and yelled, "I did that for you!  I hope you got it!"  He laughed and assured me he did.  Can't wait for that pic.  :)

My husband and kiddos were near the finish line, and when I got there, Small Fry jumped over to run the last .1 with me, which was the total highlight of the day.  I was so wrapped up in holding his hand across the finish that I didn't look at my time!  I found out later that it was 2:23:17, only 2 minutes slower than my slowest half (which was also my first, a total hot mess).  I'll take it!

Lessons Learned!
I was very excited for this 4 Seasons Challenge when I first signed up for it, but now that it's over, I have to say I took even more away from it than I originally expected.  I thought this would be a great way to test my running abilities and keep myself in shape all year long.  Yes, those things happened, but there was much more as well.

1. I learned what I want to do as a runner, vs what I think everyone else thinks I should do.
As I was training for the second race, I realized I hated the regimented speedwork and constant pace-pushing required to hit my then-goal time of under 2:00.  Furthermore, I realized I was only doing that because I felt like it was the next logical step for me--my PR is 2:05, shouldn't I break 2:00?  But then I thought, why?  If this doesn't make me happy, then why do it?  I started running more for the distance than the speed, and immediately started enjoying running more.  A simple but valuable lesson--if you love something, do it the way YOU want to, not the way you think others want you to!

2. I was forced to think of my fitness more holistically.
After getting so wrapped up in half marathon training the last few years, I think I lost sight of my larger fitness goals.  I was just running, running, running all the time.  And when that was taken away from me (with my injury), it was like I lost part of my identity.  I was totally depressed and had no idea what to do with myself.  Then I started trying new fitness areas: biking, swimming, group fitness classes, etc. and slowly realized that those were fun in their own ways too.  By the time the injury healed, I was thinking maybe...maybe?...I could do more than just run.  What a novel concept!  But a bright side of the injury is that it really forced me to look at my fitness goals beyond the next road race.

3. I'm tougher than I think.
My husband said to me after the race that he was so proud of me for completing 4SC, for a variety of reasons, but one was because I could have bowed out at any time when I hit obstacles to my training, but I never did, the whole year.  And he is right.  The opportunity to quit was always there, but I never took it.  I'm pretty proud of that, and those are exactly the sorts of lessons I hope my kids learn when they see me do stuff like this!

I could go on, but I think you probably want this post to end eventually.  The bottom line is that 4SC was an amazing experience for me.  Would I do it again?  Ummmm...get back to me about that.  But even if I move on to other challenges, I don't at all regret taking this one on!

Monday, September 12, 2016

It's time to Do Your Om Thing with Rebecca Pacheco


Title: Do Your Om Thing
Author: Rebecca Pacheco
Publisher: Harper Wave
Publication Date: March 3, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

In Do Your Om Thing, master yoga teacher and creator of the popular blog OmGal.com Rebecca Pacheco shows us that the true practice of yoga is about much more than achieving the perfect headstand or withstanding an hour-long class in a room heated to 100 degrees. "Yoga is not about performance," she tells us, "it's about practice, on your mat and in your life. If you want to get better at anything what should you do? Practice. Confidence, compassion, awareness, joy—if you want more of these—and who doesn't?—yoga offers the skills to practice them."

In her warm, personal, and often hilarious prose, Rebecca translates yogic philosophy for its twenty-first-century devotees, making ancient principles and philosophy feel accessible, relatable, and genuinely rooted in the world in which we live today. And by illuminating how the guiding principles of yoga apply to our modern lives, Rebecca shows us that the true power of a yoga practice is not physical transformation, but mental and spiritual liberation.


My Review:

Yogis, take note!  I loved this book, and I bet many other amateur yogis out there will too.  I read it at the perfect point in my yoga journey.  I've been practicing the physical aspect of yoga (asana) for almost a year now, and while that started as a way for me to cross-train with running and gain flexibility, I've now gotten to the point where I am interested in yoga in and of itself.  You hear bits and pieces about the background and philosophy of yoga in classes, but I have not yet had an instructor who really goes in-depth with any of it.  Plus, I'll be honest--some of it just sounded way too crunchy-granola for me, so I wasn't sure where to begin.

If you find you're in a similar spot with yoga, Do Your Om Thing is for you.  Pacheco leads you through all the ins and outs of yoga philosophy, with a down-to-earth voice that is totally NOT too crunchy-granola. :) The book is easy to follow, and she writes with such wisdom and clarity that I found myself wanting to head right to the mat and put my new knowledge to work.  I never thought I'd say this, but after reading the book, I'm even dying to try meditation (one part of yoga that I've always felt is beyond the abilities of my million-thoughts-at-once brain).  Honestly, there were parts of this book that felt meditative while reading them--I found Pacheco's writing to be thoughtful and calming, a perfect fit for this subject matter.

Do Your Om Thing is not strictly a yoga manual--Pacheco will make you think deeply about how you approach your self, your work, and your relationships within the framework of yoga tradition.  If you're a beginner yogi, I can't say enough good things about it!  If you're ready to learn more about yoga than how to get into Crow Pose, pick up this book ASAP.

As always, much thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Rebecca Pacheco on her websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell (Giveaway!)


Title: The Girls in the Garden
Author: Lisa Jewell
Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: June 7, 2016  (originally published in 2015 as The Girls)
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Imagine that you live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses. You’ve known your neighbors for years and you trust them. Implicitly. You think your children are safe. But are they really? 

On a midsummer night, as a festive neighborhood party is taking place, preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?

Dark secrets, a devastating mystery, and the games both children and adults play all swirl together in this gripping novel, packed with utterly believable characters and page-turning suspense.


My Review:

If you want a thriller that you can gobble up quickly, I can't recommend The Girls in the Garden enough.  This is a fairly short read, but it moves along quickly and throws so many red herrings at you along the way that you definitely won't feel like you're being shortchanged!

Normally I find that mystery novels with too many suspicious characters begin to feel implausible after a while (could ALL of these people be THIS shady?  Really?!).  However, Jewell finds a way to cast doubt upon nearly every person in the book, while still keeping your interest (and your faith in the story).  You may decide early on that you know who the culprit is, but even if you're correct, you won't be disappointed because you'll have taken so many interesting segues along the way.

I also think that Jewell has really nailed the angst and confusion of 13-year-old-girl life here.  Several of the main characters are in that age range, and much of the story hinges upon the quest for maturity and self-understanding that comes along with that stage of development.  Having been a 13 year old girl once (albeit many moons ago...), many of the struggles the characters faced rang true for me, which made for an even more engaging reading experience.

The Girls in the Garden isn't going to overwhelm you with extraneous detail and long-winded diatribes.  Compared to many other thrillers, it's rather concise and to the point.  But the writing is solid, the characters are fleshed out just enough to keep your attention, and the mystery at the heart of the novel will certainly make you want to devour it as fast as possible.

As always, much thanks to Lisa at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Lisa Jewell on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.


GIVEAWAY TIME!  TLC Book Tours is running a giveaway for 5 copies of this book, open for entry until October 3, 2016.  Enter using the Rafflecopter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, August 22, 2016

More Mini Reviews with Boston Bound and The Fireman

Guess what starts today, my friends?  My first day of my first semester as a college student (well, round 3 after my bachelors and masters degrees).  :)  As such, I expect my pleasure reading time to diminish significantly, but I do have 2 more mini reviews to share with you as I enter this drought period.  Unless you want me to review my Sports Management textbook...?

Boston Bound by Elizabeth Clor
Createspace, 2016
personal purchase

I encountered Elizabeth Clor's recently-released memoir via her Instagram page, and was immediately intrigued.  Elizabeth started road racing in 2005, and has since run 20 marathons (as well as countless other races at shorter distances).  She began her marathon career at the mid-pack with the rest of us average Joes, but after years of hard work and persistence, she started to realize that a Boston Marathon qualifying time was in her reach.  However, the time between her first inclination towards that dream and its realization was SEVEN years.  Elizabeth knew she was capable physically, but anxiety and a host of other mental barriers stood in her way.  Boston Bound is the story of how she overcame them to earn her BQ (she finally ran it this year!).
I ended up giving this one a 3 on Goodreads.  There's no doubt that Elizabeth's story is inspirational, especially for those of us that are "hobby" runners, training in between jobs and families and everyday life.  Plus, as someone who deals with many of my own anxiety issues, I made note of a lot of the strategies that Clor used to realize her dream.  Running is about 90% mental for me, so I relate to that struggle!  That said, the reason I gave a 3 instead of a higher rating was because of the writing.  Clor's formatting doesn't give her story a solid flow, and her race recaps eventually started to sound repetitive.  Her takeaway advice is excellent, but the journey for readers to get there is a bit clunky.  Plus, she relies heavily on past blog posts from her running blog (Racing Stripes), which ends up making the whole book feel like a long blog entry--not really the tone I was wanting from a memoir/nonfiction book.
Overall, runners will like this one, as it certainly has a lot of inspirational material!  It's just not the most well-written running book that I've encountered lately.

The Fireman by Joe Hill
William Morrow, 2016
borrowed from the library

Oh, I have so many feelings about this book.  Let's start with the good thing: the creative post-apocalyptic world that Joe Hill has created.  Basically, a spore called Dragonscale has infected humans, and the people infected are spontaneously combusting into flames.  So there's fire and mayhem and just overall good, end-of-the-world chaos.  This premise alone was reason enough for me to pick up the book, and Hill certainly delivers as far as interesting sci-fi-ish plots go.  I absolutely expected to love this novel.
BUT (and you knew there was a but).  I had two serious issues with the The Fireman.  First was Harper, the protagonist.  I felt like Hill was trying to make her too many things at once.  She's cutesy and naive and loves Mary Poppins, but then she's swearing like a sailor and unfazed by carnage and violence at the same time.  I wanted to be like, PICK A SIDE, DUDE.  I am all for complicated characters, but in 747 pages I never felt like Harper came together.  Second issue was that this book is trying way, way too hard to draw off Stephen King's The Stand.  Which is awfully interesting, considering that Joe Hill is King's son but has (in the past) gone to great lengths to hide it.  But in The Fireman, we have a deaf character named Nick, a main character who is pregnant and has the middle name Frances (goes by Frannie...), and all sorts of little Easter eggs referencing other aspects of King's work.  I'm surprised SK didn't read this and be all, "Get your own apocalypse epic, sonny-boy."  This, paired with the fact that Hill constantly references Harry Potter (seriously, so many JK Rowling references, let's give it a rest), the Rolling Stones, and other aspects of popular culture, makes this book feel like it is not at all his own creation.
A longer review than I intended, but I 3-starred this one.  It had promise, and despite the length of the book it moves along at a brisk clip.  However, in the end I was disappointed with how Hill put the pieces together.

What are you reading these days, reader friends?  I will add your suggestions to my list for after the semester ends!  :)

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Well-Read Runner: Bye to the Marathon


If you follow me on Instagram, you already know this, BUT...there will be no marathon for me next month.

I know.  BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.  Trust me, I'm right there with ya.

As I mentioned in previous posts, I've had a nagging injury since the first week of July, and an orthopedist finally made it official when he diagnosed me with a calf strain.  Which is pretty much exactly what I expected, though it does certainly suck to hear it, especially when it's followed by the prescription of NO running (like at all.  Like zero. Like NONE) for 6 weeks.

Let's see...6 weeks from my doctor's appointment puts me at...September 15.  THREE days before the Rochester Marathon.

Yeah, I emailed the race director that very day, and asked to move down to the half marathon.  And even that should be real interesting to complete with zero running leading up to it!  But since I've got several halfs under my belt already, at least it's a beast that I know how to fight.

That said, I'm handling this change of plans better than expected.  Don't get me wrong--I had my mourning period, though it took place well before the doctor's appointment (I knew deep down from the start that this injury was not going away easy).  I had a miserable couple of weeks when I couldn't BELIEVE that this year of hard work was going to end without me completing 26.2.  When I got down on myself and didn't want to work out at all.  When I wondered if I should give up running completely, forever.

However, right before we went on vacation, I promised my husband that I would use the time away to step back from my injury, and running in general, and try to clear my head.  And I did exactly that.  A week away in the beach air did wonders, and I came home feeling okay about the loss of the marathon (even before the doc made it official).

In fact--I will go so far as to say that this injury has been a blessing in disguise.  Let me count the ways:

1. Once I decided not to do the marathon, I realized that there was a part of me that was a tiny bit relieved.  I signed up for it as part of the Rochester 4 Seasons Challenge, which I was very excited about, but I was NOT pleased that my first marathon would be on a hilly, two-loop course.  The two loops bothered me the most--I've done two-loop 10Ks (running the same 5K route twice), and the mental challenge of completing a hard course and then doing it AGAIN is painful.  Now put that on a marathon...I was prepared to do it, but very nervous.  Now that I won't be running the Rochester full, I can choose a different first marathon experience that might play more to my strengths as a runner.

2. I have learned a LOT of patience.  I am not a patient person.  I tried a billion remedies to get rid of this injury...more foam rolling, icing, elevation, massage, compression, stretching, ibuprofen, blah blah blah.  But the ONLY fix for this calf strain is no running, and 6 weeks of waiting.  Patience required.

3. I have now learned the difference between a real injury and normal post-run soreness.  This is my first true running injury.  Every other ailment I've had while running has been an ache or pain that was easily remedied by taking an extra rest day or two, and foam rolling a bit more.  This pain felt different from the start, and now I know going forward what's worth trying to run through, and what's not.

4. If I had to get injured, this isn't the worst thing that could happen.  For a while I was concerned that this was an Achilles-related injury, which is NOT good news, as Achilles injuries tend to recur for runners.  But a calf strain, while slow to heal, WILL heal.  And then I can move on.  So I have to be thankful for that.

5. It's like a billion degrees outside right now, and I'm completely not jealous of those of you running in it.  ;)

So, just over a month til the Rochester half--what am I doing if I'm not running?  Well, the only activities that hurt my calf are running (duh) and jumping, which eliminates a lot of plyometric-based workouts from my regimen.  (I tried a BodyCombat class last week to cross train, and it was very no-bueno on my leg with all the jumping and kicking.)  However, there are a lot of other cross training activities that feel just fine.  I've put in a LOT of time on the stationary bike (both in spin classes and in the gym).  It's giving me a killer cardio workout, and I better be able to fly up some hills once I start running again, because my quads are killing me!!  :)  I've done some swimming as well, plus lots of yoga and strength training (I still love BodyPump!).  Plus, my friend Michelle just loaned me her road bike, so I might be able to take all this spinning out on the roads starting this week--woohoo!

At this point, I'm just trying to keep my fitness level up enough to finish this race without completely dying.  I am VERY interested to see how all this cross training plays out in the race...am I headed for success, or a hot mess?  Stay tuned, because we're gonna find out soon enough!

Friday, August 5, 2016

August Mini-Reviews

It's Mini Review time again!  My streak of good novels continues--it's certainly been a wonderful summer for reading.  A bit o' popular fiction to share with you this time around:

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin
Ballatine, 2016
ARC received from the publisher for an honest review

In case you've forgotten, I'm a huge Emily Giffin fan, and fully ADORED her last release (The One & Only).  That put her 2016 novel, First Comes Love, near the top of my must-read list this summer.  However, on the whole I have to say that I liked it, but didn't quite reach "love it" status.  Giffin's usual penchant for relateable, well-rounded characters is still intact--I loved the protagonists, Meredith and Josie, and the fact that they were both so perfectly flawed and quirky.  HOW does Giffin make characters that are both unique and yet have at least one trait that you can totally identify with??  It is a gift, for sure.  This novel is absorbing and involves some interesting discussion topics, but I was unable to get 100% on board when Josie's story got a bit too convoluted and far-fetched for me.  I appreciate Giffin's ability to include lots of gray areas and touchy subjects in her writing, but this one became a bit too hard for me to get behind.  I'd love to discuss with anyone else that has read it!  Overall: worth the read, but just not as outstanding as some of her other work.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Viking, 2012
ARC received from the publisher for an honest review

Yeah, take another look at the info above.  An ARC that I received...4 years ago.  OOPS.  Not long after I started the blog, actually, and well before this book's hype flew through the roof.  But even after the good reviews started rolling in, I was a tad skeptical because...it's a romance.  And as I've said so many times before (see: every time I talk about Outlander) I'm not known for loving the romance genre.  However, one of my friends really wanted to see the movie with me, so I figured it was time to finally dive in.
OH LORDY.  THE SADS.  ALL THE SADS.  Please excuse me while I add to the hype, because this book was amazing.  I adored the two protagonists (Lou and Will), and their ever-changing dynamic is what makes this book a home run.  This is not at all a typical romance, but one that will make your wheels turn (it has some interesting moral dilemmas in the mix).  You'll laugh (I love Lou and Will's snappy dialogue), you'll cry, and then you'll do it all again.  The ending is one that I love to hate, and I'm looking forward to checking out the sequel very soon.  Highly recommend!!


Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
William Morrow, 2015
borrowed from the library

This was the latest pick for my MOMS Club book club, and I was intrigued, because I've seen many Karin Slaughter books on the shelves before but had yet to pick one up myself.  My first warning to you is that the description of this book on Goodreads/Amazon/etc does NOT give an accurate idea of how much brutality is involved in the plot.  I've read my fair share of violent novels (hi, Stephen King groupie over here), but Pretty Girls is shockingly graphic in a way that I did not expect going in.  Alley stabbings, serial killing, snuff porn, we really cover all the bases here.  It took me a while to acclimate to that, but once I did, I found myself involved in a thrilling story.
Pretty Girls is impressive as a mystery, a thriller, and a crime drama.  The plot twists were never predictable for me, and even though the book is quite long, it never loses momentum.  The main character (Claire) is the perfect mix of tough heroine and annoying Stepford wife--easy to root for, but just naive enough to drive you insane once in a while.  This whole novel came together for me, which is impressive, given the crazy number of plot elements that Slaughter weaves into the story.
Definitely recommend this one as well--I see that Slaughter has quite a backlist, so I'm sure I'll be checking out more of her work soon!

What are you reading lately, bookish friends?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Reading and Running (& more) in the OBX

Hello, reader/runner friends!  Yes, a long absence around here, but for good reason.  If you saw my Instagram post the other day, you know that the Well-Read Redhead family recently returned from a 10ish day long summer vacation.  Woohoo!  Add in the time required to recover from said vacation (because all vacations with children require substantial recovery periods), and wait a minute, when did August get here...?

Let me fill you in on the trip, especially the reading and running highlights!

(I'll warn you that this "brief" update post turned into a rather long vacation review, reading discussion, and race report, so...just read the highlights that interest you most, I guess?  BEAR WITH ME PEOPLE, I'M STILL IN VACATION MODE.)

Our first stop was at Sesame Place down in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.  We added Sesame on to the front of our summer vacation last year as well, because our kids are at PERFECT ages for it (2.5 and 5), and it's a fun way to kick off a big trip.  This year, we broke family records by staying at the park for NINE HOURS.  My kids are serious troopers for hanging in there that long!!  We had a great day, then hopped in the car and let the kids sleep while we drove to a hotel in Maryland.
The Happiest Place on Earth (for kids who have not yet been introduced to the actual Happiest Place on Earth)
The next day, I impressed myself by getting up at 6:30am to work out in the small, but well-equipped, hotel gym.  I had the place to myself, and ended up doing 30 minutes of cycling, plus a bunch of core/strength work with the free weights and BOSU.  I thought about trying a treadmill run, but one running step told me my right leg was still not okay (more on that later).  Boooo.  Still, this was good for spending 9 hours running around a theme park the day before!
Up in the gym just workin' on my fitness. Pretty sure someone famous said that.
After checking out, we headed to our final destination: the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  We vacationed here in 2012 as well, and fell in love with it.  A return trip was most certainly in order.  We shared a beach house with our 2 good friends and their 2 kids in Corolla, and had an absolutely AWESOME week.  We managed a beach trip (or 2 or 3) every day, as well as a side excursion to the aquarium on Roanoke Island.  It was fun, relaxing, exhausting, and rejuvenating all at the same time.  :)
More of this please.
Reading highlights...well, there aren't too many.  You do a beach trip with two young kids, and you don't end up with much reading time (see: Reading with a Toddler, an old guest post on the blog from 2013...very appropriate here! Sorry for all the broken pic links though. Too lazy to fix right now...).  I packed my book into my beach bag on day 1, and promptly removed it that evening, knowing that the oceanside reading of my 20's was just never gonna happen.  However, after the kids went to bed and during their afternoon downtime, I did often get some pages in on the deck.  My book of choice was Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter.  Full review to come, but WOWZA, this was an enthralling mystery, albeit an extremely, horrifically graphic one.
View while reading. Not sad about it.
Running highlights...again, not many, this time because of my injury!  (I still don't have a name for said injury, but I'm finally seeing an orthopedist tomorrow, so stay tuned.)  Other than my hotel biking/strength session, I also got in some sunrise yoga on our deck (AMAZING!!) and on a whim I decided to run a local 5K on the 27th.  I knew it would stir up my injury, but how could I resist a local race along the ocean?  I mean, just one little 5K, right...
My sunrise view during yoga on the deck. Seriously? Stop it.
The Brindley Beach Lighthouse 5K is run every Wednesday during the summer months in Corolla.  I was afraid that a race that is put on every single week would be kind of shoddily done (like, are they going to go all out for something they do over and over?), but holy moly--OBX Running Company has a pretty amazing thing going on!!  Every race employee I talked to was super friendly and helpful, the entire race was smoothly executed, all the little details were taken care of...it was great.  Very nice finisher medals and race tshirts for all participants, plus an email later that day with your official race results, finisher video, and pictures.  Seriously awesome.  They also do a 5K every Thursday in Nags Head, so I highly recommend checking one out if you are ever vacationing down there!

I got to the race site near Currituck lighthouse early to register, then spent some time stretching, warming up, and exploring the area.  The race started a little after 8am, which in Corolla means HOT HOT HOT.  It was 81 degrees with 96% humidity, to be exact.  YEAH.  For an upstate New Yorker, that is literally trial by fire, because I can't remember the last time I ran in those conditions.  Between the heat and my leg, I decided to keep myself going no faster than 8:30 pace, and just push as comfortably as I could.

The race started, and a minute or so in, I looked at my watch to see 7:45 pace.  Nope nope nope.  I dialed it back and fell pretty comfortably into the 8:30 range.  I finished mile 1 at 8:35 and felt surprisingly good.  Mile 2, I encountered the one water station and decided to walk through it.  I knew I NEEDED the water, and the thought of choking down 1-2 mouthfuls while I ran was not appealing.  I still managed to complete the second mile in 8:55.

As expected, the heat was getting to me badly by the third mile, but I still finished it out at 9:03 pace, for a final result of 27:27, good enough for 2nd in my age group.  Not bad!!  Only about 1 minute off a PR in fact, and that's damn good for those conditions.  I attribute much of it to the fact that my legs were very (very very?) well rested from no running lately, and that I put zero pressure on myself, since I did this race at the last minute anyway.
Sweaty me + medal + Currituck Lighthouse
So glad I participated in this race--the whole experience was so fun, and it ended early enough that I still had enough time for a long, fun day with the family on the beach afterwards.  :)

(I did pay for it with my leg afterwards though.  OW OW OW.  Le sigh.  Damn injured leg.)

Anywho, after that 5K, all my other working out for the week went out the window.  I will admit that I had MORE than my fair share of wine last week, participated in a lot of late nights laughing with our friends and playing ridiculous rounds of Cards Against Humanity, and ate a lot of not-workout-friendly foods like Duck Donuts and cookies and ice cream sandwiches.
In case you've never met Duck Donuts. LET ME INTRODUCE YOU.
But hey--no regrets!  Honestly, I'm starting to feel like this injury was "meant to be", as cheesy as that sounds, because it would have been hella hard for me to continue marathon training last week and still have the fun, carefree vacation that I enjoyed.  Plus, it's saving me from heavy training in the hottest months, and I gotta tell ya, all you runners with the hot-weather-running Instagram photos are NOT making me miss it.  ;)

Does taking a running break suck?  OH YEAH.  Watch my face turn green with envy every time a runner goes past my house.  I find it mentally painful to open my newest edition of Runner's World right now.  If it's possible for a Garmin to rust, I'm sure mine is currently doing it.  But if I have to find the bright side, then I will, because I can't let a speed bump get me down.  (More on this in a later post...)

Oh man, are you loving my rambling today, or what???  I have lots of upcoming posts for you though, and I promise they will be better organized!  I owe you a Shoreline Half race recap, I have a bunch of mini-book-reviews to publish, and I have some deep thoughts about running to share in the wake of this injury.  STAY TUNED!

 
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