Tuesday, March 31, 2015

10 Books Recently Added to my TBR Pile

It's been a long time since I jumped in with a Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish).  This week's focus is...

Ten Books I've Recently Added to the TBR Pile

So many great books have been recommended to me lately!  I thought this would be a good excuse to share.

1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Bloggers are abuzz about this one, y'all.  I've heard you should have your tissues handy.

2. Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

I've already talked about how excited I am for this book several times.  And here I am talking about it again!  Less than a month til release date!

3. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Because literally everyone has read it but me.

4. Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova

I loved Lisa Genova's work BEFORE Julianne Moore took it to the silver screen.  :)  New release comes out April 7th!

5. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

An insider's guide to mortuary science from a 20-something mortician.  I am morbidly fascinated.

6. Tales from Another Mother Runner by Sarah Bowen Shea and Dimity McDowell

Because running.  And motherhood.  Change the title to Another Mother Runner Reader and it's my autobiography!

7. All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

This book was recommended to me when I put the call out to my bloggy friends for some ideas for my real-life book club.  It was not chosen by our group, but I'm still dying to read it.  It sounds very emotional and intricate...I am intrigued.

8. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

I heard a rumor that my friends over at The Socratic Salon are discussing this one soon.  That's enough for me to get on board!

9. Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

Not a new release, but I just heard about it and we all know how much I simply adore food-related nonfiction.

10. My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

This is another one that I heard requires tissues in the vicinity.  I just got it from the library, so I'll keep you posted!

What's new to YOUR reading pile these days?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Well-Read Runner: How Not To Prepare For A Long Run

Week 3 of training for the Mystic Half Marathon is done!  I'm 25% there!  :)

Total distance for the week: 18.53 miles

Overall, this was a great week.  My runs all felt good, I've managed not to skip any training days, and I'm just generally feeling confident.  I'm sure I'm still riding the wave of my 5K race last weekend.  Remind me how this feels in Week 8 when I'm a whiny, insufferable mess.  :)

Training for a late-spring race is a first for me, and the weather is a curveball for sure.  When I trained for a mid-September half last year, I began my 12-week program in June/July, when it was crazy hot.  I remember I had to bag a 10 mile long run at mile 6 because it was 98 degrees and JUST NO.  On the actual race day, it wasn't quite that warm (70's) but still humid.  So all of my training took place in weather somewhat similar to what I raced in.

This time around?  My runs for the last three weeks have averaged in 20/30 degree temps.  (Today it was 40, what LUXURY!!)  But when I race on May 31, there's a real good chance that it could be 80 and boggy.  A lot happens in 12 weeks of spring around here!  It will be interesting to see how the training cycle plays out, weather-wise.


Monday: Stretch and strengthen.  I let Jillian Michaels whup my butt again for 30 minutes.  I did 30 Day Shred, Level 2.  I love/hate that workout so much.

Tuesday: 3.5 miles, easy pace.  I had to get up early to do this one, and I really really REALLY didn't want to do the treadmill.  So I went outside...at 5am...in 11 degree weather.  And it was a glorious, quiet run.  I was dreading getting out of bed for it, but I'm so glad I kicked myself outside!
It's 5am, it's dark, it's cold, LET'S GO FOR A RUN!
Wednesday: 6 x 400 speed workout.  On the treadmill.  Tough, as expected.  Only remarkable thing is that I started a new movie while I was running (360, starring Jude Law) and realized too late that the first 20 minutes were almost entirely subtitled.  Yeah, let's do speed intervals while reading tiny captions!  Fun times!!

Thursday: 3 miles easy + strength work.  Did an easy treadmill run in the morning (no captions to read this time, thankfully) and some core training in the evening.  Plank, squats, plank, push ups, plank, scorpions, plank plank plank...haha.

Friday: Rest!  Enjoyed it by sleeping in (til 6:15...) for the first time all week, and watching Whiplash with the hubster that night after the kids went to bed.  Best movie we've seen in a loooong time.
Whenever I can't keep pace during a run, I'll just imagine JK Simmons throwing a chair at me.
Saturday: 3 miles @ race pace.  My first race pace run!  I was not psyched when I looked outside in the morning and saw 2 inches of fresh snow on the ground.
Pretty snow, but still.  Snow.
However, by the time I got out there at 11:30am, it was mostly melted off the roads (though very wet, and 20 degrees, weeeee!).  I am not excellent at pacing myself, so I knew this would be good practice...and it was.  My desired race pace is about 9:45/mile, and my splits on the Garmin were 9:30/9:31/9:34.  Still a little faster than I want, but I was getting the hang of it by the third mile (and Nike+ actually listed average pace as 9:43, so maybe I did better than I thought?).  Glad I have more race pace runs built into the training!

Sunday: 6 mile long run.  I did everything wrong leading up to this run.  Let's be clear on that up front.  I decided not to do the run until right before dinner.  So the first wrong thing that I did was order a Spanish omelet (with extra salsa!) at a diner when we went out for lunch.  The second wrong thing I did was take Small Fry ice skating for the first time directly after lunch, which (though awesomely fun) was basically 45 minutes of me catching a falling 35-pound child and then pushing him around the ice rink on a chair.  Yay, jelly legs!

By long run time, I was a tad worried.  But I popped two Tums, said a prayer, and hit the road.  I'm happy to say that I did not barf salsa OR lose steam during the run.  (I did burp omelet, just not barf it.  Unpleasant but manageable.)  Actually, I kept a pretty even pace (9:51 on the Garmin, 10:14 on Nike+...I think the Garmin is more accurate) and I felt great.  40 degree weather, sunny, the only downside was a strong wind, but I'll take it.

Week 3 in the books!  Let's keep this momentum going!

How was your running week, friends?

What's your least favorite season to train in, weather-wise?

What's the worst thing you ever ate before a long run?  (You do not have to share the results of that decision.)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Scanning the Backlist #2

Scanning the Backlist is a feature created by Julie over at Book Hooked Blog.  Julie's gone through all of the authors she's reviewed in the past, and explored their backlist titles.  Through this feature, she then highlights some of the backlisted books that she most wants to read.

I tagged along with this idea once before (post HERE), and today I'm excited to do it again!  This time around, I reached way back in my Goodreads history for some authors whose books I favorited way back in the day, but then never got around to reading any more of their work.

With that said, I have 2 authors to highlight today:

Kim Edwards

Most people I talk to either loved or hated Edwards' 2004 release, The Memory Keeper's Daughter .  I am in the LOVE camp for sure.  Unique storyline, excellent characterization, and plenty of good twists along the way.  However, after I read this one a couple of years after its release, I lost track of Edwards and have yet to seek out her other work.

Looks like she has two other books available: The Secrets of a Fire King (1997), which is a set of short stories, and The Lake of Dreams (2010), a novel about a woman who returns to her hometown (in upstate New York, WOOT WOOT) after her father's death and finds out lots of dark family secrets.  Hmmm, sounds right up my alley!  I may need to sift through my library's holdings and see if either of these are available.

(Bonus: her Goodreads page says Edwards is from Skaneateles, NY, not far from where my in-laws live.  Neat!  Also, big kudos if you know how to pronounce Skaneateles.)

Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (2005) is an absolutely fabulous novel that I read shortly before I started blogging.  It makes me happy to see that he has a rather long backlist for me to choose from!  I didn't know he is the author of The Remains of the Day (which I've heard of, but never read), as well as four other novels and a set of short stories.  (I did see that he just released a new novel March 1 as well, The Buried Giant...hmm, must go hunt that down.)  Each of their synopses seem rather unique...lots of interesting material to tackle here.

Whose backlist are YOU interested in perusing these days, reader friends?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

And then my heart burst. Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Title: Hausfrau
Author: Jill Alexander Essbaum
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: March 17, 2015
Source: review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband Bruno and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters into with an ease that surprises even her. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there’s no going back.  

My Review:

I read Hausfrau and now I AM BROKEN INSIDE.

Honestly, I was a bit unsure of this book during the first half.  Hausfrau is getting a ton of buzz right now, and as I jumped into the text, I had to spend some time unraveling Anna's inner turmoil.  At first, I found myself getting rather annoyed with her--what business does she have, cheating on her husband at every turn?  Ignoring her kids in favor of another tryst?  I even was (dare I say it?) bored for a chapter or two as things played out.  (And, I should note (for those who'd like the content warning), they do play out quite graphically.  It got a little 50 Shades of Grey up in there for a while.)  But as the details came together, I began to realize that Anna isn't a stereotypical desperate housewife.  Anna is really and truly depressed.  And this book captures her downward spiral in the most heartbreakingly stunning way.

I think that's the best thing to know going into this book: there is no catch here.  There's no mystery behind Anna's background that's going to explain her actions to you (I kept waiting for some big reveal about her past that didn't happen).  This book is a character study in depression, plain and simple.  And depression doesn't usually have one root cause that can be so quickly explained.

Even though there is no big revelation about Anna along the way, there is a rather significant plot change that occurs in the second half, and this is where my heart basically imploded and I could.not.stop.reading until the very end.  Oh, the sadness, my friends.  I felt so deeply for Anna by the end of this novel.  I don't get real attached to characters in novels most of the time, but I felt emotionally entrenched in her story for sure.

And the ending.  This book could make my favorites list for the year simply because of how well Essbaum wrote the last page.  I won't spoil it for you but just...amazingly poignant.

Do you like character-driven novels?  Do you like to feel all the feels (and I don't even like that phrase), especially the depressingly sad ones?  Then Hausfrau will be the most well-written novel to make you cry in 2015.  HANDS DOWN.

What's the last book that really and truly tugged at your heartstrings?  Made you cry?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Well-Read Runner: Hearts of Iron 5K recap!

Week 2 of training for the Mystic Half Marathon is complete!  Here's a recap of how the week went...

Total distance: 12.34 (not as much because I skipped a long run in favor of a 5K, see below!)

I won't give a day-by-day breakdown (I had 2 treadmill runs that were so-so, and two strength training days that were the same...I'll be honest, strength training is not my jam), but I will mention my Wednesday tempo run.  This was my first time doing a tempo run aaaaaand...I was not very good at it!  I did the run outside...10 minutes at an easy pace, then started trying to slowly work up to 10K pace (as Hal Higdon suggested).  I was really bad at the slow pace increase.  I went from 9:45 easy pace to 8:00 in about 3 minutes...what??  8:00 isn't even my 10K pace (too fast).  Then I tried to dial it back and ended up going too slow.  I was all over the place.

Finally, I stopped looking at my watch and just ran REALLY FREAKIN' FAST until I hit 25 minutes, because I wanted to make sure I got some kind of speed work in.  Finished with a 5 minute cool down.  I know that's not the best way to do speed, but I tried.  I obviously need more practice on these tempo runs!  In the end, the run felt good (and HARD), but I know I didn't do it properly.  Ah well, next time.

Anyway, let's talk about the Hearts of Iron 5K!

I am excited to add 2 real races into my half marathon training (I am also doing a 10K in early May) because I didn't do this when I trained last year, and I think it would have helped with day-of nutrition, equipment prep, etc.  At the very least, I need to practice dialing down my race nerves, because they KILLED me at the half marathon last year.

I chose the Hearts of Iron race for two reasons.  One, it gives money to a good cause (cancer research/treatment centers), and two, I looked at last year's results and realized that this race is so small that if I ran my 5K PR time, I could WIN MY AGE GROUP.  You have NO idea how excited this made me--I have never won anything race-related, ever!  And knowing that this was a possibility made me realize that my race-day nerves were bound to be ON FIRE, so what better race to use as practice for lowering my anxiety?

(I did, soon after registering, read that from the 1.5 mile to 2.5 mile marks of the race there is one long, continuous hill...which was mildly terrifying.  But whatever.  It's just a hill, right?......)

The race was in Rushville, NY, just south of Canandaigua in the Finger Lakes region.  This was about an hour from me, so I got up at 6:30 and had my usual race day breakfast (2 slices of peanut butter toast and a banana).  My husband and kiddos were still sleeping, so in typical Well-Read Runner fashion, I had my breakfast with a side of Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum:

Outfit for the day: Nike Pro tights, a thin Nike long-sleeve shirt, my C9 Champion running hoodie, Smartwool socks, and my usual Nike Lunar Eclipse 4 shoes.  I brought my running gloves and winter hat (both C9) as well, wasn't sure if I would need them, but I definitely did.

(The longer you follow this blog, the more you will realize that my running wardrobe is NOT extensive...haha.)

I drank a bunch of water, tried to get rid of the usual anxious race-day knot in my stomach, and left a little after 7:30.

I arrived at Marcus Whitman High School (site of the race) around 8:45.  I was not super psyched about race conditions at that point...32 degrees, cloudy, and some snow/slush still on the roads.  However, it warmed up just enough that the snow/slush was gone by the 10am start time.  Cold I can do!  Slush would have been less fun.

I ate a Nutri Grain bar, did some stretching, had some Cheez-Its (I know, I didn't really do nutrition that well) about a half hour beforehand, and then did some laps around the parking lot to get warmed up.  Most of the crowd was made up of the local girls and boys cross country teams...fast little buggers, those ones!  But a local Crossfit group also showed up, as well as some other random runners like myself.  Only about 90 total, the smallest race I've ever done.  I did love it though, because it's the first race I've been in where I didn't have to push people out of the way at the start!

As I was milling about, all I kept hearing about was that mile-long hill halfway through the race.  "OMG, are you ready for the hill??"  "That hill killed me last year."  "Ugh, I totally didn't train enough for the hill."  Oh boy.  I saw a guy wearing a shirt that said, "It's just a hill, GET OVER IT" and I decided to make that my mantra for the day.

Race began at 10am sharp, into an immediate downhill...woohoo!  I knew that The Hill was coming, and I told myself not to squander this downhill while I had it.  At one point I looked at my Garmin and saw 6:55 as my current pace...WOWWW.  Haha.  I finished the first mile in 7:45, the fastest I've recorded on my Nike+ since I downloaded that app (1 year ago).

I wish I could have snapped some pics of the scenery, because it was nice out there.  Lots of rolling hills and farmland.  A great backdrop for a small race.

Then, as expected: The Hill.  As soon as I saw that thing, I thought, "This is NOT a PR course."  Not for anybody.  It was relentless.
The Hill.
I just kept thinking of that guy's shirt though.  "It's just a hill, GET OVER IT."  So I did.  I ran up it until I thought I was going to puke, and then I did stop and walk for about 30 seconds.  Started running again, stopped again for another 15 seconds.  Then ran the rest of the way to the top.  This was a good test for me, because when I stopped for walk breaks in my half last year, I really beat myself down for it for the rest of the race.  But this time, I kept telling myself I was pushing as hard as I could.  I kept the breaks as short as I could, and then kept running.  I passed a lot of people on that hill!!  So I made sure not to let the walk breaks bring me down.  I finished the second mile mid-hill at a 10:00 pace.

After an eternity, I made it to the top of the hill.  The last 3/4 of a mile were fairly easy, some small rises and dips.  I pushed hard for the last .1 and crossed in 27:50.
Immediately post-race and lookin' haggard!
Considering that 1) my PR is 27:02 and 2) I had to walk twice during this race, I'd say 27:50 is excellent!!  I was very happy with my time, and really felt like I pushed myself as hard as I could.

Aftewards, I waited for the results to post.  I looked down the list to see if I placed.  They didn't have age group placement listed next to the times (just age group) so I had to go down the list and count how many were in the female 30-39 group finishing before me.  I counted 3, so I thought I was in 4th place.  So close!  Before I left, I decided to double check...and turns out, I was actually 3rd!  (One of the 30-39 that I thought was in my group was actually a guy...his name was Jody so that's why I had mistakenly placed him in the female group.)

So yes: I took 3rd in my age group!  WOOHOO!!!  This is a BIG BIG deal for me.  I know it was a small race, but I have never come anywhere close to age group placement, ever.  I mean, up until 8 years ago, I hated running with a FIERY passion.  And now I placed 3rd in my age group.  I was ECSTATIC.

I stuck around for awards (got my sa-weeeet certificate) and promptly put myself on Facebook/Instagram blast, as you do.

Overall, this 5K was a huge win for me all the way around.  I did really well controlling my race nerves, I kept myself mentally focused even during the toughest parts, and I got a huge confidence boost from my age-group placement.  Let's hope my half marathon race day can be this great!

How was your running week, friends?  Anyone else race this weekend?  Have you ever placed in your age group before (or if you're an old pro who places all the time, when was your first time)?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Thoughts on my "slow reading" of the classics...

I mentioned many (MANY) weeks ago that I started reading Moby Dick by Herman Melville.  This is a classic that's been on my TBR pile for a long, long time.  I even have a nice-to-look-at special Barnes & Noble hardcover edition to read.  I was excited to finally dive in!
I am going to fill this post with awesome Moby Dick jokes.
So I started it...and as with many classics, I moved slowly at first.  Older novels tend to be written in, well, older language, so it takes me a while to adapt to that style.  I didn't dislike it, but I couldn't fly through it the way I can with modern novels.

Then, when I was about 25% done, one of my book tour dates came up.  Okay, Moby Dick, move to the side for a moment.  I read the book tour book, and then picked up Moby again.

But then...oh wait!  A much-anticipated bestseller just went on sale, and I have an Amazon credit!  Just like that, the good ol' white whale takes a backseat while I gobble up another contemporary novel.

This cycle has repeated itself since December.  It is now March (OMG), and I still have about a quarter of the novel left to enjoy.

I don't dislike Moby Dick.  I mean, it's had some slow (okay, downright boring) parts at times, but overall, I do enjoy reading it.  So why can't I just bring myself to finish it?
Honestly, this happens to me a lot with classic novels.  I start them, and then take aaaaages to finish them (or don't finish them at all, as happened with Middlemarch...though let's all just agree that that book is the torture chamber of the literary canon).  Even the ones that I like, or that have a fast-moving plot, take me much longer than usual to get through.  Why, oh why?

I have usually justified this behavior by saying that I like to "slow read" my classics--really submerge myself in the (often outdated) language and styling, take my time working through it.  Plus, the extra brainpower that classic books sometimes require makes me feel like it's okay to interrupt my reading with a quicker, modern novel once in a while.

However, I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I believe there's more to it than that.  Saying I like to "slow read" these tomes makes my constant interruption of them sound almost noble, in some way.  But truthfully: I think I'm also just taking them for granted.

Because let's face it: classics aren't going anywhere.  No one's going to forget about Moby Dick tomorrow.  It's still going to be world-renowned.  They're still going to teach it in high school English classes.  People are still going to make references to it in casual conversation ("this project at work is my white whale!").  If I don't finish it today, it's okay--because there's a whole world of readers who will still want to talk about it tomorrow.

Newer books, on the other hand, don't have that feeling of longevity.  Yes, there are modern classics...but you won't know what books have that kind of staying power until their popularity has been proven in 5, 10, 20 years.  So I suppose that's why I feel the need to devour them so quickly.  Are people still going to be going gaga over The Girl on the Train in six months?  Is anyone going to care if I decide to read/review The Last Lecture this year, since that book is soooo 2008?  There's a feeling of immediate relevancy with newer books.  They're important today, but they may not be tomorrow.

Plus, sometimes you just have a favorite modern author that you know you want to keep up with.  Jodi Picoult, Stephen King, Jon Krakauer, etc are still publishing books, and I know I want to read them.  ALL OF THEM!  So I put down Moby Dick in favor of these new releases, because Melville's bibliography ain't goin' nowhere.  No keeping up for me to do there.

I feel guilty admitting that.  But 'tis the truth.  I love the classics, I really do--but sometimes I just can't resist reading the Next Big Thing.  Especially when it's by an author that I know and love.  There are only so many books I can read in my little lifetime, and it's HARD to prioritize sometimes. #readerproblems

What say you, readers?  Do you often interrupt your reading of classic novels in order to tackle some newer material?  Or are you faithful to reading one book at a time, new stuff be damned?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

5 Reasons to Read The Daughter by Jane Shemilt

Title:   The Daughter
Author: Jane Shemilt
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: March 3, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Jenny loves her three teenage children and her husband, Ted, a celebrated neurosurgeon. She loves the way that, as a family, they always know each other's problems and don't keep secrets from each other. 

But when her youngest child, fifteen-year-old Naomi, doesn't come home after her school play and a nationwide search for her begins, secrets previously kept from Jenny are revealed. 

Naomi has vanished, leaving her family broken and her mother desperately searching for answers. But the traces Naomi's left behind reveal a very different girl to the one Jenny thought she'd raised. And the more she looks the more she learns that everyone she trusted has been keeping secrets.

How well does she really know her sons, her husband? How well did she know Naomi? If Jenny is going to find her, she'll have to first uncover the truth about the daughter she thought told her everything.

Let me give you 5 easy reasons to read this book...hopefully you'll like it as much as I did!

1. The setting.  The story takes place in England and Wales, and while much of it is portrayed as rather dreary and melancholy (appropriate to the tone of the book), I was still swept up in the atmosphere that was created.  This was particularly true of the scenes set at Jenny's seaside cottage in Dorset.  Despairing yet beautiful...if that makes sense.

2. The tagline.  I've gone on record with my dismay over books with taglines, but (after having read the book), I'd say this one is pretty spot on.  "How well do you really know your family?"  I spent so much time trying to figure out where Jenny went wrong with her misconceptions of her children (and her husband, too, but mostly her kids).  I mean really, her kids are 100% NOT what she thought they were.  At all.  As a mom myself, that is a moderately terrifying idea, eh?  How can you not know your own kids?  What did Jenny do to get to this low point as a mother?  I was absorbed by her attempts to find out.

3. The red herrings.  Any good thriller needs to throw you off course a few times, but not so many times that it becomes tedious.  The Daughter finds that perfect balance.  There was a bit of time in the middle of the book where I felt like things stalled out (I started to get a tad bored, to be honest), but the last third really picked up steam and gave me enough new material to get excited about the conclusion.

4. The ending.  Because it's awesome.  I was afraid that the book was going to peter out after building so much good suspense (it had the potential to go that way, to take the easy way out), but I was delighted by the unexpected turn at the finale.  Didn't see it coming, and that's always a win for me.

5. The...daughter.  Not to be cheesy and use the title as a list item, but Naomi was such an interesting character.  I spent a lot of time trying to figure her out.  I didn't have her completely pegged by the end, but that's half the fun: trying to unravel her mysteries and get inside her head, even after the last page.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Well-Read Runner: Sleep is for the Weak!

Week 1 of training for the Mystic Half Marathon is done, my friends!  Here's a recap of how the week went...

Total distance: 16.72 miles

The name of the game this week was Sleep Deprivation.  Both of my kiddos were sick, and young kids being sick = no sleep for anybody.  Then, they got better just in time for us to drive the 7 hours (with kids = 10 hours) to New Jersey for my brother's Coast Guard Company Commander graduation.  An awesome time, but yeah, made for a busy week!!

I knew the sleep issue would be a potential hurdle during training (Small Fry has never been a good sleeper, even when healthy), but I'll be honest, this week made me worry about it a bit more.  I was able to complete all of my workouts despite the sleep issues, but most of my runs were only 3 miles long--a half hour at most, no problem.  When my workouts extend to 7, 8, 9 miles and beyond...getting hardly any sleep is going to be trouble.  I'm hoping the coming of spring (and the going of illness and dry nighttime air) will bring us some better rest all around!
This is how I feel about getting ready to run at 5:30am after being up with my 1-year-old from 3:00-5:00am.
ANYWAY--here's a breakdown of the week:

Monday: Stretch and strengthen.  I got up early and did a 35-minute Jillian Michaels ab workout (good overall core strengthening). Also did some reps on the weight machine we have downstairs.  It made me sore--the pain means it's working, right?

Tuesday: 3 miles, easy pace.  No issues here.  Kept about a 9:20 pace.  It was 45 degrees outside, felt awesome!

Wednesday: 5 x 400 speed workout.  Got up early to do this one on the treadmill, since all the tracks around here are still slushy.  Basically, I did a half-mile warmup, then 5 fast intervals of a quarter mile each (with a short recovery jog in between).  I was supposed to do the intervals at 5K pace, and my 5K PR is 27:02, so I ran them at about 7.2 mph on the treadmill (I used a treadmill pace converter that I found online to figure that out...if you're running at a 0 incline, it's actually easier/faster than running outside, so it's not an even conversion.)  I did well (I was watching Prefontaine on my tablet while running, that helped!), but wow, I am dreading when I have to start doing more intervals in a row.  They are HARD.  The last one was a struggle!

Thursday: 3 miles easy + strength work.  Instead of doing a separate strength workout, I added some hill work into my run.  The half that I am running has some pretty wicked hills in the last 4-5 miles, so I need to focus on that a bit.  I did this one on the dreadmill as well, because I had to do it at 5:30am and I really didn't feel like gearing up to go out in the dark.

Friday: Rest!  And good timing, it was my brother's graduation day.  Got to have fun with the family all day long.

Saturday: 3 miles easy.  After spending 10 hours in the car traveling home, I kicked my butt outside and did my miles...in a 36 degree rain.  (Insert strong-arm emoji here.)  I went easy for sure, 9:51 average pace.

Sunday: 5 mile long run.  My first long run of this training period!  It went really well.  I kept a 9:52 average pace, which was hard for me...I was in the mood to fly, and I had to keep pulling myself back.  My first mile was actually 9:41 and I kept dialing it down throughout the run so I wouldn't burn out (last mile was slowest at 10:03).  My "race pace" for my target time is about 9:54, and long runs are supposed to be a bit slower than your race pace...however, when my long runs aren't particularly long (under 7-8 miles) it is harder to keep myself slow.  Once I get to longer distances, this will not be a problem anymore...haha.

A great first week!  Hopefully we get more sleep around here this week.  Next weekend, my post should be interesting, as I have some plans to incorporate a local 5K into my training (instead of the long run).  Stay tuned!

How was your running week, friends?

How do you pace your long runs?

How do you keep yourself motivated to work out when you're sleep deprived?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Worst Vacation Ever = Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

Title: Summer House with Swimming Pool
Author: Herman Koch
Publisher: Hogarth
Publication Date: June 3, 2014 (English version)
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

When a medical mistake goes horribly wrong and Ralph Meier, a famous actor, winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser is forced to conceal the error from his patients and family. After all, reputation is everything in this business. But the weight of carrying such a secret lies heavily on his mind, and he can't keep hiding from the truth…or the Board of Medical Examiners.

The problem is that the real truth is a bit worse than a simple slipup. 

My Review:

There is a lot (LOT) more to the book description above if you look at the Goodreads link, but I didn't include it because I think it's SUPER SUPER spoilery.  And there are few things I dislike more than a spoilery book description!

If you've read The Dinner (Koch's other English-translated novel...review HERE), you likely suspect that this book is rather dark and unsettling.  And if so, you're 100% correct.  To paraphrase my thoughts on the other novel, I was impressed with the character development (none of them were quite what they seemed) but put off by the farfetched nature of many of their actions, as well as the slow-moving plot action.

That said, I believe I enjoyed Summer House with Swimming Pool more than The Dinner.  This was likely in part because I already knew what to expect from Koch, so the things that threw me off about the first novel didn't ruffle my feathers in this one.  Again, we have highly unlikeable characters all the way around (there's no other way to say it--the protagonist, Marc, is a straight-up a-hole), characters making very questionable choices, and inaccurate medical details that are often sprung from Koch's imagination.  However, one big difference is that I did not find the plot slow-moving at all in Summer House--something new was constantly being revealed, and the book takes place over a longer time period, so there was more to keep me involved as things moved along.

This combination of elements worked better for me this time around.  Koch has created an exceptionally thrilling, foreboding novel here, one that is sure to leave you feeling uneasy long after you finish reading.  (Seriously, some of the subject matter in this one is really stomach-turning at times.)  The "summer house" in question is brought into the novel as Marc (in the midst of the medical error that was mentioned above) flashes us back to the previous summer, when he and his family vacationed with the doomed Ralph Meier at a rental house on the coast.  The sinister nature of the novel's events come together slowly, which kept me riveted from beginning to end.  I had an inkling of what was going on before it was actually revealed, but that didn't make the buildup to the conclusion any less absorbing.

Overall, an excellent read, if not terribly unsettling.  I need to go read something about unicorns or fluffy puppies to even myself out.  If Koch can take a beautiful summer vacation and turn it into something horrific, I can't wait to see what he'll take on next.

What's the most disturbing novel you've read lately?

Ever rented a summer house?  Where?  DETAILS!  (I'm still waiting for the snow to melt here, give me some hope.)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Title: Burial Rites
Author: Hannah Kent
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: September 10, 2013
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. 

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes's death looms, the farmer's wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard.

My Review:

I have mixed feelings here, friends.  Burial Rites gets a lot of raves--you can look all over Goodreads and other book blogs to see that quite plainly.  Unfortunately, this one isn't sticking with me quite as strongly as I had hoped.  I'm not in love with Burial Rites, but I'd say I'm in like with it.

Kent has certainly done something unique here, as the basic story of Agnes Magnusdottir is, in fact, true.  She was the last woman executed in Iceland, back in 1828.  Kent took the general details of Agnes's conviction, imprisonment, and execution, and then made the story fictional by filling in all the information that you can't get from historical documents.  Agnes's relationships with her priest, the family that houses her as she awaits execution, and (most importantly) the men she allegedly killed, are all slowly brought to fruition as the novel unfolds.  In the end, you are left with a very morally ambiguous story that gives readers the opportunity to make their own decisions about Agnes's guilt (or innocence).

We've established that this book is unique and well-crafted.  And the writing is beautiful--no denying that.  So why am I only in LIKE with it?  Why couldn't I fall in LOVE?  For me, that answer lies in the pacing of the story.  As I said above, Agnes's story unfolds slowly...and by that I mean slowwwwwwwwwwwly.  The true nature of her relationship with the murder victims is brought to light through a series of conversations that she has with her priest and her host family.  Every one of these conversations is always cut short at some climactic moment, because a guest arrives, or the grass has to be harvested, a cow has to be milked, whatever.  By the last bit of the novel, it was enough to drive me crazy.  LEAVE THE COW ALONE, I WANT TO KNOW HOW THIS ENDS.

I don't always need a fast-moving plot to keep my attention--I love drawn-out, character-driven novels too.  But while the character development was very central to this book, there was still an element of mystery to it that left me feeling like I wanted things to move along a bit more.

So, while I did enjoy the questions that were raised at the end, by the time I got there, the lackadaisical pacing had tamped down my interest quite a bit.

Overall, I'd say this is a high quality read, and a unique take on historical fiction for sure.  However, the plot moved a bit too slowly for me, and that made it feel like more of a middle-of-the-road reading experience as a whole.  That said--I am definitely in the minority on this one, so if the description of this book has piqued your interest at all, don't let my lukewarm review keep you from giving it a try.

What was the last widely-loved novel you read that didn't quite hit the mark for you?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

New Feature: The Well-Read Runner!

Happy Sunday, reader friends!

I'm trying something a bit different around here for a few weeks.  My 12 week training program for the half marathon I'm running on May 31 starts tomorrow.  Half marathon training takes up a sizeable amount of my time (as I learned when I trained for my first one last year,,,recap post HERE).  There's a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that go into such an endeavor.  It affects my schedule greatly--including my reading time.

As such, I thought it would be fun to do one post a week that tracks my training progress.  Reading (and blogging about it) is an important part of my life, but this will be as well--so why not chronicle it along the way?

Each Well-Read Runner post will be on Sunday, though not necessarily in the morning (as that is when I'll be doing my longest run of each week, and I'd like to include it in the post).  I'll keep you updated on my training--the highs AND lows.  Feel free to chime in with your own exercise/training stories, and any words of wisdom!  I've learned that running long distances is often more mental than physical, and I could use any encouragement you've got.

With that said, tomorrow the journey begins.  I will be using Hal Higdon's Intermediate Half Marathon training program (for those interested, you can check it out HERE), which includes 5 days of running, 1 strength training day, and 1 rest day each week.  I raced a time of 2:21:12 at my half marathon last year.  This time, I'd really love to hit 2:10 or under.  That is close to what my original goal was for my first half, but for many reasons, that did not happen.  So I'm going back to the drawing board to try for that time again at this race.

I am very nervous about this goal though, knowing how I fell apart during my last half marathon (and also, you can't ignore that it's an 11-minute time drop...ambitious, to say the least).  This time around, I'm going to pay attention to more than just hitting my distance goals, since I've learned (the hard way) that nutrition, race-day preparation, and mental focus are just as important to practice.  And hey, if I come in at 2:21:11, I CAN'T be mad at myself, because it's still better than last time!  I guess that's the real goal for me here.

If you have ZERO interest in running, please feel free to avoid my blog on Sundays.  :)  Although I'm sure I can promise many laughs at my own expense along the way to keep you entertained!  Otherwise, I'll see you here for a bit of running chat each Sunday...and all my usual bookish goodness during the rest of the week.

Are any of you runners, my bookish buddies?  Potential runners?  Lapsed runners?  Not-a-runner-but-like-to-laugh-at-runners?  (We can admittedly be annoying, with the 13.1/26.2 bumper stickers and all.)  Do tell!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

GIVEAWAY! Life From Scratch by Sasha Martin

Title:   Life From Scratch
Author: Sasha Martin
Publisher: National Geographic
Publication Date: March 3, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

It was a culinary journey like no other: Over the course of 195 weeks, food writer and blogger Sasha Martin set out to cook—and eat—a meal from every country in the world. As cooking unlocked the memories of her rough-and-tumble childhood and the loss and heartbreak that came with it, Martin became more determined than ever to find peace and elevate her life through the prism of food and world cultures. From the tiny, makeshift kitchen of her eccentric, creative mother to a string of foster homes to the house from which she launches her own cooking adventure, Martin’s heartfelt, brutally honest memoir reveals the power of cooking to bond, to empower, and to heal—and celebrates the simple truth that happiness is created from within.

My Review:

If you like memoirs, and you like food, then look no further, reader friends!  I've got the book for you.

I was initially drawn to this book by that first line of the description.  Cooking food from all 195 countries of the world?  I'm drooling all over myself and I haven't even started reading yet.  If you have a penchant for good eats, you won't be disappointed--Martin peppers her narrative with many of the recipes she's tried over the years, and they sound DELICIOUS.  Especially the Dark Chocolate Guinness Cake with Baileys Buttercream--I will be dusting off my baking skills to try that out soon.

However, when you begin reading, the culinary delights of this book take a backseat to Martin's emotional retelling of her childhood.  She endured a long list of hardships as she grew up--being sent to foster care, the death of her brother, and the emotional abandonment of her legal guardians, just to name a few--but Martin has a way of telling her story that makes you feel like you are privy to not only the events of her childhood, but also to the emotional journeys that she endured during that time.  This is especially true as you watch Martin's connection with her mother unfold.  She really bears her soul as she attempts to figure out her mother's actions and emotions throughout their tumultuous relationship.  As a reader, I wrestled with my own emotions about their problems, and any memoir that can make you feel part of such a journey is well-written indeed.

Did I still get the satisfaction of reading about Martin's global culinary adventures?  Yes, but by the time that part of the book unfolds, it blends seamlessly into the poignant family history that's already been building throughout the rest of the memoir.  By then, the recipes are about so much more than the food that ends up on the plate.  As such, the last section of the book brings her past and present together perfectly.

I can't say enough good things here, readers!  Go read Sasha Martin's fascinating memoir.  Then cook her recipes and eat all the feelings that it made you have while reading.

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

The publisher is giving away a copy of Life From Scratch to one of my lucky readers!  Just use the Rafflecopter below to enter.  US entrants only.  Ends 3/12.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tour My Bookshelves!

Hello, reader friends!  You've heard me talk often of my need to periodically purge my bookshelves, because they run out of room.  So today, I thought it would be fun to give you a little peek at said shelves.

I have 4 bookshelves in my house.  Some of you may be appalled at that (ONLY FOUR??), others may be left yearning (if you only have one, or maybe none, at your disposal).  And I look forward to hearing about your shelf situations after reading mine!  (I should note that this doesn't include the bookshelf of kid's books in the boys' toy room, or the shelves that they each have in their bedrooms...luckily they don't have any purging to do yet...)

I shelve my books alphabetically by author.  I wish that I had a higher threshold for chaos so that I could shelve by color, because how boss is this:
from freshome.com
However, I am way too type A for that venture.  Can you IMAGINE separating all the Harry Potters because they're different colors?  I get itchy just thinking about it. #perfectionistproblems

Of course, the downside to shelving alphabetically is that anytime you get a new book (especially by an author at the beginning of the alphabet), it requires the shifting of every.single.shelf.  Not my favorite activity!

Anyway, my 4 shelves.  The first two are in the living room:
Books among the chaos. And Elmo.
The one on the left is roughly A through G.  The one on the right is G through R.  These are my two biggest bookcases.  They are also under ceaseless attack from Tater Tot, who just loves to rip apart the bottom two shelves on the left bookcase.  I adore my children, but I endure the let's-rip-covers-off-Mom's-books phase very grudgingly.  (LOVE YOU, BOYS!!!)  :)

The third bookcase is in my basement:

This is R through W.  The top shelf is reserved for the shot glass collection that my husband and I have been amassing since we started dating.  I know, I know, potential additional book space!  But the shot glass collection is dear enough to earn its own spot.

The fourth case is in our bedroom:

The middle shelf is W through Z (vertical), as well as books that I am looking to give away (horizontal).  (Lots of pregnancy and baby books there, if anyone is in need!!)  The bottom shelf consists primarily of random reference books (an English-to-French dictionary, my husband's old psychology textbooks, the texts from the class I used to teach online, etc).  Oh, and the top shelf is admittedly underused, consisting of my mishmash of jewelry boxes and a jar of change.  Hmmm...more books may need to move in there...

That's what I'm working with here in bookshelf land!  I dream of one day having a true library (with all the shelves in one room), but for now, this will do.

Tell me about your bookshelves, friends!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

SOS! Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Title: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
Author: Erik Larson
Publisher: Crown
Publication Date: March 10, 2015
Source: ARC borrowed from Jen at The Relentless Reader

Summary from Goodreads

On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the  Lusitania  was one of the era's great transatlantic "Greyhounds" and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship--the fastest then in service--could outrun any threat. 

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger's U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the  Lusitania  made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small--hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more--all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

My Review:

I have a serious question, readers.

Why did I know everything about the sinking of the Titanic (at least, everything as dictated by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet), but nearly nothing about the Lusitania until I read this GEM of a book?  Because I'm always first to admit that my knowledge of history is lacking, but really.  Hollywood has focused on the wrong subject here.

I have been striking it RICH with nonfiction lately, people!  And this might be the best one of late.  A few years ago, I read Larson's In the Garden of Beasts, and was impressed with his style of narrative nonfiction.  What that literary jargon means is that his nonfiction books read with the suspense and vivacity of a fiction novel.  All of his works are historically accurate (painstakingly so), but he formats them in a way that makes you feel like you're right in the moment with these historical figures, part of their conversations and triumphs and tragedies.

That absolutely holds true for Dead Wake as well.  I was on the edge of my seat while reading this book.  Larson outlines the entire week leading up to the Lusitania's sinking (oh yeah, spoiler alert: it gets sunk. By a German submarine), and even though you totally know what's coming, you'll find yourself praying that the darn thing stays afloat.  Because you KNOW these passengers.  Larson brings you up close and personal with the captain, the crew, the men, women, and (way too many) children on board, even the stowaways.  Plus, you get perspectives from the US (as President Wilson deals with some personal romantic issues while all this drama unfolds), the UK (as the British had far  more foreknowledge of this attack than you may think), and the German U-boat that actually perpetrated said sinking.  This gives you a clear illustration of the complex political forces at work during the attack as well.

In the end, you're left with a detailed, absorbing, and highly emotional account of one of the most devastating and politically-charged passenger boat disasters in history.

I can't say enough good things here.  Five stars all the way on this one.  Whether you're previously familiar with the Lusitania disaster or not, this is a nonfiction release that is not to be missed.

Ever been on a cruise, reader friends?  Did you pay attention during the lifeboat drills?  I bet you will after reading this.  Also: swimming lessons.
Imagination Designs