Showing posts with label chris cleave. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chris cleave. Show all posts

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?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

2 Mini-Reviews and They Are Both AWESOME.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Read. Enjoy. Thank me later!

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

Friday, January 29, 2016

January Minis: From Antarctica to London

Mini-reviews!  They're back!  And both of them are on my 30 Before 35 list, which is pretty exciting.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Little, Brown and Company, 2012
borrowed from the library

This was the book EVERYONE was talking about a couple years ago, which is why I put it on the 30 Before 35 list.  I finally got around to it, and I definitely liked it, though for a lot of unexpected reasons.  This is a unique story, both in subject and perspective.  Short synopsis: Bernadette Fox is mom to middle schooler Bee and wife to a Microsoft exec.  Bernadette was a famous architect back in the day, but is now a bit of a recluse (albeit a spunky one) in their Seattle home.  Bee convinces her parents to take her on a cruise to Antarctica, and shortly before the trip, Bernadette disappears.  Now Bee is trying to track down her Mom, using all the resources she can dream up.

This book is a lot of things.  It's hilarious, for starters.  Bernadette can be off-putting at times, but mostly she had me in stitches.  She's surrounded by snotty, wealthy soccer moms, and she can't stand a bit of their crap.  Bee is equally entertaining, as she's wise beyond her years and has picked up many of her mother's tendencies to swim against the current.  However, the novel also touches on many more serious themes of mental illness, work-family balance, and marital issues...even as it keeps its sense of humor.

The conclusion is fitting without being explosive, and I was left enamored with Bee and Bernadette as a mother-daughter team.  Where'd You Go, Bernadette is nothing that I expected, while still somehow being everything that I wanted...that is probably the corniest thing I've ever written, but that makes it no less true.

Incendiary by Chris Cleave
Knopf, 2005
personal purchase

Fact: Chris Cleave is one of my favorite authors.  Most people know him from Little Bee, but I honestly loved his 2012 release Gold even more.  I bought Incendiary, his debut novel, quite a while ago and finally jumped into it this month.  I am so glad that I did!

Synopsis: the story is told via a series of letters written from an unnamed woman (our protagonist) to Osama bin Laden, after her husband and son are killed in a (fictional) terrorist attack in London.  Yes, an odd premise.  But this almost stream-of-consciousness style is perfect for readers as you move through the story.  After I finished the book, I read that Cleave wrote it in just six weeks, and I find that completely believable.  The writing is furtive, with a sense of urgency that heightens as the book goes on.  The narrator has many psychological issues that make her telling of the story a bit shaky, but we also get a sense that Cleave's fictional London has taken a rather Orwellian turn after the terror attack--leading to a lot of interesting questions about government control, social structure, and morality (especially in the wake of terror threats).  And despite that heavy fare, the book is still peppered with a dark humor that will, at the very least, keep a wry smile on your face.

This is a short novel with an awful lot to say.  Cleave's novel was originally released on what, sadly, was also the same day as the London tube attacks in 2005, making this book especially relevant at the time.  However, as we continue to face terror threats around the globe, I think this makes for fascinating reading.  Incendiary forces you to think more deeply about these problems, beyond threat levels and travel advisories and removing your shoes at the airport.  It's quite a bit different from Little Bee, but I think will give you just as much to discuss when you're done.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Well-Read Redhead's Best Books of 2012

I know there's still technically 2-ish weeks of the year left, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I've waited long enough to announce my...
Now you still have 10 days to buy them before Christmas!  WINNING!

It is always so hard for me to look back on a year's worth of reading, and narrow it down to just a few favorites.  I start with a list of eleventy billion great books, and I swear that I will never be able to cut any of them from the list.  After many tears, I get it down to maybe 20, then 15, and finally 10.  And I did it.  I DID IT FOR YOU.  You're welcome, world.

So without further ado!

I will start with the two books that were, far and away, the best things I read this year.  FAR. AND. AWAY.  I cannot choose between the two.  They were:

1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

and
2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.


These two books blew my mind, for entirely different reasons.  Gone Girl is probably the best psychological thriller I've read in the history of ever.  The Night Circus has some of the most outstanding writing and detail work I've seen, along with a romance that draws in even the most mush-resistant reader (ME).  Unfortunately for you, I read The Night Circus before I started blogging, but you can read my gushing review of Gone Girl here.

After those two, here are the other 8 that made the cut, in no particular order.  (I included links to my reviews for any that I read after starting the blog.)

3. Girls In White Dresses by Jennifer Close

Chick-lit with wry, deadpan humor?  Yes.  More of this please.  Perfect for the late 20s/early 30s set.

4. 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Finally got around to reading this masterpiece.  Worth every page.  Furthered my already-existing King love.

5. Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Deeply heartbreaking, but the writing is beautiful.

6. Gold by Chris Cleave

Phenomenal character development, unpredictable twists, and the Olympics!  TRIFECTA!

7. The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond

A frightening premise (child abduction) told from a unique perspective.  Richmond does a great job exploring the relationships between her characters.

8. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

(Kind of) dystopian, (kind of) romance, (definitely) raises tons of sociological/cultural questions.  Great twist at the end.  I'm dying to see the movie now.

9. The Light of Amsterdam by David Park

I know, I didn't pick this as my best book of November, and the book that did get picked isn't on this list.  What can I say?  It's books, not a math equation.  A month later, this book is sticking in my mind longer than most.  The setting and the characters are just so well done.

10. Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

My one non-fiction pick of the year.  Jenny Lawson is hilarious, and so is her book.  She makes me want to taunt my husband with a yardful of metal chickens.

That's all she wrote, 2012!

What were your favorites this year?  What should I add to my MUST READ list for 2013?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

August 2012 Reads (and other stuff)

On my old personal blog, I used to do a monthly post recapping all of the books I read that month.  I figured I'll continue that here, because even though I'm reviewing every book on the blog as I go, it's also nice to see what kind of progress I made over the last month.  Here's what I read in August (three were pre-blogging, so I included Goodreads review links):

The Other Woman by Jane Green (here's my Goodreads review)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Goodreads review)
Still Alice by Lisa Genova (Goodreads review)
Gold by Chris Cleave (blog review)
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (blog review)
Look Again by Lisa Scottoline (blog review)

Definitely one of my more productive reading months this year!  I know that's not much compared to many other bloggers, but I think many moms of babies/toddlers will agree that reading habits inevitably get harder to maintain when you have a crazy (though adorable) banshee running through your house 24/7.  (Speaking of which, I saw this excellent post on Book Riot last week; mom book bloggers, check it out!)

I used to average about 75 books/year...now I'm closer to 50.  But I'll trade those 25 books for time with my little banshee, no questions asked.  Also, since this is still a new blog, I should warn you that I am also an obsessive mommy photographer, and any mention of my son requires me to immediately share a heart-melting photo of him (well, it melts mine, and so I naturally imagine it melts all others).  Ooooo, here it comes!

Le sigh.

Anywho.  I'll end here by saying that I'm quite enjoying this book blogging venture so far.  Thanks to all those that have welcomed me to the blogging community (book bloggers and book readers alike!).  If you haven't yet, follow me on Twitter @TheWRRedhead...I'm still working on being witty in 140 characters or less.  Twitter is not for the verbose.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Review: Gold by Chris Cleave

Title: Gold
Author: Chris Cleave
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: July 3, 2012
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads:
What would you sacrifice for the people you love? Kate and Zoe met at nineteen when they both made the cut for the national training program in track cycling—a sport that demands intense focus, blinding exertion, and unwavering commitment. They are built to exploit the barest physical and psychological edge over equally skilled rivals, all of whom are fighting for the last one tenth of a second that separates triumph from despair.

Now at thirty-two, the women are facing their last and biggest race: the 2012 Olympics. Each wants desperately to win gold, and each has more than a medal to lose.

Kate is the more naturally gifted, but the demands of her life have a tendency to slow her down. Her eight-year-old daughter Sophie dreams of the Death Star and of battling alongside the Rebels as evil white blood cells ravage her personal galaxy—she is fighting a recurrence of the leukemia that nearly killed her three years ago. Sophie doesn’t want to stand in the way of her mum’s Olympic dreams, but each day the dark forces of the universe seem to be massing against her.

Devoted and self-sacrificing Kate knows her daughter is fragile, but at the height of her last frenzied months of training, might she be blind to the most terrible prognosis?

Intense, aloof Zoe has always hovered on the periphery of real human companionship, and her compulsive need to win at any cost has more than once threatened her friendship with Kate—and her own sanity. Will she allow her obsession, and the advantage she has over a harried, anguished mother, to sever the bond they have shared for more than a decade?

Echoing the adrenaline-fueled rush of a race around the Velodrome track, Gold is a triumph of superbly paced, heart-in-throat storytelling. With great humanity and glorious prose, Chris Cleave examines the values that lie at the heart of our most intimate relationships, and the choices we make when lives are at stake and everything is on the line.


My Review:
My first question is, did you read Cleave's Little Bee?  If not, you should.  It got a ton of hype when it was released in 2008, and in my opinion, completely lived up to it.  That was what got me so excited for this, his next novel.  Surprisingly (given how talked-up Little Bee was), I didn't hear much chatter about Gold before it released.  And now, post-reading, I am VERY surprised about that.  Because I thought this was just as good, if not better, than his last novel.

First off, I read this during the London Olympics, which made me that much more engrossed as I delved into it.  Reading a fictional novel about female cyclists at the Olympics is pretty cool when you're actually watching female cyclists at the Olympics on your TV.  However, as awesome as it was, I don't recommend waiting another 4 years before you read this one.  You need to read it MUCH sooner.

This book is all about the character development.  Your perceptions of both Zoe and Kate morph, change, and get flipped on their heads multiple times throughout the novel.  The protagonist(s) in every novel are expected to change during the course of it, but Cleave brings that idea to another level.  I love the complexity of these ladies, and the intricacies of their relationship brings so much to the story.  Zoe was especially captivating.  I alternately wanted to punch her in the face and be her friend throughout the book.

Not to mention, there are some OMG moments that will keep you completely riveted.  I know a book is good when it makes me wish my son would sleep during naptime for just TEN MORE MINUTES, PLEASE, ANYTHING FOR ME TO FINISH THIS CHAPTER.  Cleave does a good job of throwing you for a loop when you didn't even know a loop was going to be thrown.  I would say more about this, but I don't want to hit spoiler territory.  I know I'm new to blogging, but TRUST ME, Y'ALL.

An added bonus is that Cleave clearly did his research on indoor cycling.  I knew next to nothing about the sport before reading (exact quote to my husband: "I thought they only biked outside at the Olympics?"), but the details in this book let you in on everything from the curve of the track to the wind patterns behind the riders.  Really well done.

Overall?  Don't miss this one.  And replay some Olympics clips online while you read, just to get yourself in the spirit.
 
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