Showing posts with label memoir. Show all posts
Showing posts with label memoir. Show all posts

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!  :)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Runner's Read! Run the World by Becky Wade

Title:   Run the World: My 3,500 Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Around the Globe
Author: Becky Wade
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: July 5, 2016
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Fresh off a successful collegiate running career—with multiple NCAA All-American honors and two Olympic Trials qualifying marks to her name—Becky Wade was no stranger to international competition. But after years spent safely sticking to the training methods she knew, Becky was curious about how her counterparts in other countries approached the sport to which she’d dedicated over half of her life. So in 2012, as a recipient of the Watson Fellowship, she packed four pairs of running shoes, cleared her schedule for the year, and took off on a journey to infiltrate diverse running communities around the world. What she encountered far exceeded her expectations and changed her outlook into the sport she loved.

Over the next 12 months—visiting 9 countries with unique and storied running histories, logging over 3,500 miles running over trails, tracks, sidewalks, and dirt roads—Becky explored the varied approaches of runners across the globe. Whether riding shotgun around the streets of London with Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt, climbing for an hour at daybreak to the top of Ethiopia’s Mount Entoto just to start her daily run, or getting lost jogging through the bustling streets of Tokyo, Becky’s unexpected adventures, keen insights, and landscape descriptions take the reader into the heartbeat of distance running around the world.

Upon her return to the United States, she incorporated elements of the training styles she’d sampled into her own program, and her competitive career skyrocketed. When she made her marathon debut in 2013, winning the race in a blazing 2:30, she became the third-fastest woman marathoner under the age of 25 in U.S. history, qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Trials and landing a professional sponsorship from Asics. 

From the feel-based approach to running that she learned from the Kenyans, to the grueling uphill workouts she adopted from the Swiss, to the injury-recovery methods she learned from the Japanese, Becky shares the secrets to success from runners and coaches around the world. The story of one athlete’s fascinating journey,  Run the World  is also a call to change the way we approach the world’s most natural and inclusive sport.

My Review:

If Becky Wade is not the luckiest runner-traveler out there, I don't know who is!  With the help of the Watson Fellowship, she got to travel around the world for a YEAR and run.  And run.  And run some more.  And learn about how other cultures approach running.  If that doesn't sound like an insanely cool trip-of-a-lifetime, we have very different bucket lists. :)

Run the World is Wade's memoir of her year of running travels.  If you're a runner, this book will open your mind to all manner of different running techniques and traditions.  As Wade mentions often, American runners tend to focus on gadgetry, speedwork speedwork speedwork, and structured training plans.  However, she found that success as a runner doesn't always translate to keeping track of your pace on your Garmin with every run.  And every great runner does not always "carb-load" with pasta the night before a big race.  The things we take for granted as "must-haves" or "must-dos" as runners are not always available or desirable in other running cultures.  Wade's book highlights those differences and the ways she was able to combine some of them with her old running routines to make her training even more effective.

There are so many facets of this book for readers to enjoy.  Yes, there is the exploration of running culture, but the book is also peppered with international recipes for yummy runner foods that Wade discovered throughout her trip; descriptions of beautiful running locales the world round; and the wide variety of people she was able to form connections with in the running community.  My initial awe at the details of Wade's journey quickly combined with admiration for her ability to comfortably jump right in to cultures that were entirely new to her.  Wade rarely stayed in hotels or hostels, instead managing to find lodging with local runners or coaches during her stay in each country.  Not only did this steep her in the daily life of the host country even more, but it required her to have a certain amount of bravery as she experienced a trial-by-fire introduction to each new culture.  I'm not sure I could have done that with such a low level of anxiety!

Run the World is an excellent read, especially for the runners and the world travelers among you.  Bonus: just before I opened my computer to write this post last night, I pulled my new issue of Runner's World out of the mailbox and found a feature about Becky Wade (and Run the World) inside!  So check her out there as well.  She is also racing in the US Olympic Track and Field Trials THIS WEEK in Portland, Oregon, vying for a spot to compete in the 3000m steeplechase.

Go, Becky, go!  This is one runner/reader who will certainly be rooting for you from afar after following your running journey in this book.

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 Becky Wade via Twitter and Instagram.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Nonfiction Mini-Reviews x3!

I didn't mean to do it, but my last 3 reads have all been nonfiction...and now that I've realized it, I'm pining for more!  Send me all your latest nonfiction recommendations, if you please.  In the meantime, here's some snapshots of what I've been reading lately:

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach
W.W. Norton, 2016
received from the publisher for an honest review

If you didn't see my review of Mary Roach's Packing for Mars a few months back, let me tell you that she specializes in hilarious, science-based nonfiction.  She generally chooses unconventional topics (the particulars of space travel, the science of human cadavers, etc), researches the minutiae behind them, and peppers her findings with off-color humor.  Now that is MY brand of nonfiction.

In Roach's latest release, the topic is war, but not in the way it's covered via politics or military strategy.  Instead, she's delved into the oft-not-discussed ways that our military uses science to provide for our soldiers at home and overseas.  For example: what happens when a Navy SEAL really, really has to poop during a mission?  (I'm dead serious.  She actually ASKED A NAVY SEAL THAT.)  How are military hospitals providing for soldiers that lose not just limbs, but also their genitals, during combat?  How do submariners in the Navy prepare for undersea conditions?  (Nice shout outs to my hometown of Groton, CT (Submarine Capital of the World, say heyyy) in that section!)  These are the questions that you didn't even know you had, but now you want them answered.

Overall I enjoyed this one, because Roach's humor was on point (as expected), and the research was interesting.  However, as a whole the book did not click with me quite as well as Packing for Mars did.  I felt like the chapters were a bit disjointed from each other, which disrupted the flow between topics.  Plus, I found it harder to laugh at her humor on this particular subject.  Giggling over space toilets is one thing, but finding the humor in genital reconstruction for wounded soldiers was a bit tougher.  Perhaps my humor has it's limits?  I never thought I'd see the day...

Anyway, this is worth the read for followers of Mary Roach, and I think anyone connected to the military would find it intriguing.  It's not my favorite of hers, but I'm still interested in reading her other work.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Knopf, 2012
borrowed from the good ol' public library

The latest read for my MOMS Club Book Club!  This is Cheryl Strayed's memoir of when, after dealing with her mother's sudden death, her own divorce, as well as a descent into drug addiction, she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  The trail runs from Mexico to Canada via California, Oregon, and Washington.  Strayed tackled the trail with no previous backpacking experience, in the hopes that she would find something to allow her to get her life back on track.

There is a ton of hype about this book (especially since the release of the Reese Witherspoon movie), but I understand why.  This is a very moving memoir, and Strayed is startlingly honest about her childhood, her failed marriage, and her ups and downs on the trail.  I found many of her experiences to be inspiring, even in her weakest moments.  The interesting cast of characters that she encounters during her trek will (mostly) raise your faith in humanity.  Plus, it's excellent hiking inspiration for the outdoorsy readers--I already told my husband that we must put the PCT on our bucket list!

Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon by Ed Caesar
Simon & Schuster, 2015
borrowed from the good ol' public library

Love me a good running read these days!  In Two Hours, Ed Caesar discusses exactly what it would take for a professional marathoner to eventually break the coveted 2:00 mark.  The current world record is 2:02:57, and while 2 minutes and 57 seconds doesn't sound like a long time to most, to elite marathoners it is an enormous divide.  Caesar looks into the science behind it--there are researchers who have done a variety of tests in order to estimate what they believe to be the absolute limit for how quickly a human can run 26.2 miles.  But alongside that, he follows the marathon pursuits of Geoffrey Mutai, an elite Kenyan runner who has his sights set on both a world record and the 2:00 wall.  This combination of scientific and personal perspectives on the upper limits of marathoning made for a fascinating book.

One of my favorite tidbits from this book is the discussion of how modern day road races do not provide favorable conditions for runners to get the fastest marathon time possible.  Many are hilly, provide very little shade, and don't allow the runners to employ pacers (non-racing runners who are hired to pace them at exactly what they need to hit a certain finish time--one racer will sometimes use a few different pacers throughout a race, if it is allowed).  Plus, they are weather dependent--you could be in the best shape of your life, but if you wake up and have to run your marathon on a sunny 80 degree day, the chances of a good time are nil.  This is just one of many fun discussions that got my brain turning in this book.  Two Hours is a quick read, and excellent brain food for anyone with running interests!

What are your current reads?  Any new nonfiction on the docket for you lately?  What's the best memoir you've read lately?

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?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Fast Into the Night by Debbie Clarke Moderow

Title: Fast Into the Night: A Woman, Her Dogs, and Their Journey North on the Iditarod Trail
Author: Debbie Clarke Moderow
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Source: copy provided for an honest review by the publisher via NetGalley

Summary from Goodreads

At age forty-seven, a mother of two, Debbie Moderow was not your average musher in the Iditarod, but that’s where she found herself when, less than 200 miles from the finish line, her dogs decided they didn’t want to run anymore. After all her preparation, after all the careful management of her team, and after their running so well for over a week, the huskies balked. But the sting of not completing the race after coming so far was nothing compared to the disappointment Moderow felt in having lost touch with her dogs.   

Fast into the Night  is the gripping story of Moderow’s journeys along the Iditarod trail with her team of spunky huskies: Taiga and Su, Piney and Creek, Nacho and Zeppy, Juliet and the headstrong leader, Kanga. The first failed attempt crushed Moderow’s confidence, but after reconnecting with her dogs she returned and ventured again to Nome, pushing through injuries,  hallucinations, epic storms, flipped sleds, and clashing personalities, both human and canine. And she prevailed.   Part adventure, part love story, part inquiry into the mystery of the connection between humans and dogs,  Fast into the Night  is an exquisitely written memoir of a woman, her dogs, and what can happen when someone puts herself in that place between daring and doubt—and soldiers on.

My Review:

This is a different sort of nonfiction for me, considering that I had exactly zero familiarity with the Iditarod before picking it up.  (Well, I knew it was a dog sledding race.  In Alaska.  Probably pretty cold.  That's about it.)  However, I couldn't help giving it a go after reading the description.  Due to my obvious current interest in distance running, I was fascinated by the idea of all the training, preparation, and tenacity required to complete the Iditarod.  Running does not equal dog sledding, but both sports require a high level of athleticism and commitment, so I wanted to know more.

My curiosity was rewarded with an amazing story.  Moderow's two Iditarod journeys make for excellent reading on their own, but she also breaks up the telling of those races with the background on what led her into dog sledding.  From her childhood in Connecticut to her adulthood as a married mom of 2 in Alaska, she has a unique path to Iditarod racing that is full of both hard lessons and inspirational anecdotes.

In addition, my piqued interest in the sport of dog sledding was rewarded with Moderow's detailed accounts of her two Iditarods.  I had no concept of the months (sometimes years) of meticulous planning, the grueling training, and the thousands of dollars required to meet such a challenge head-on.  Not to mention the solid, caring bond that needs to be forged between a musher and his/her dog team--it was amazing to see how Moderow was constantly aware of the needs and quirks of each individual dog.  And Debbie Moderow did this TWICE!  After not finishing the first time!  That blows me away.  You'll certainly leave this book with an appreciation for the sport (and the 2016 Iditarod is in March, so read now and get excited for this year's race--I'm already following updates on Facebook!  Haha).

Fast Into the Night is both a moving memoir and an inspiring tale of strength and endurance, enhanced for me as it also became a learning experience about the world of dog sledding.  This may have been a subject outside of my usual nonfiction fare, but I'm so glad that I took a chance on it!

What's the last nonfiction book you read that taught you about a completely new-to-you subject?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

For my runner-readers! Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley

Title: Running Like A Girl
Author: Alexandra Heminsley
Publisher: Hutchinson
Publication Date: April 4, 2013
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

In her twenties, Alexandra Heminsley spent more time at the bar than she did in pursuit of athletic excellence. When she decided to take up running in her thirties, she had grand hopes for a blissful runner’s high and immediate physical transformation. After eating three slices of toast with honey and spending ninety minutes on iTunes creating the perfect playlist, she hit the streets—and failed miserably. The stories of her first runs turn the common notion that we are all “born to run” on its head—and expose the truth about starting to run: it can be brutal.

Running Like a Girl  tells the story of how Alexandra gets beyond the brutal part, makes running a part of her life, and reaps the rewards: not just the obvious things, like weight loss, health, and glowing skin, but self-confidence and immeasurable daily pleasure, along with a new closeness to her father—a marathon runner—and her brother, with whom she ultimately runs her first marathon.

But before that, she has to figure out the logistics of running: the intimidating questions from a young and arrogant sales assistant when she goes to buy her first running shoes, where to get decent bras for the larger bust, how not to freeze or get sunstroke, and what (and when) to eat before a run. She’s figured out what’s important (pockets) and what isn’t (appearance), and more.

For any woman who has ever run, wanted to run, tried to run, or failed to run (even if just around the block), Heminsley’s funny, warm, and motivational personal journey from nonathlete extraordinaire to someone who has completed five marathons is inspiring, entertaining, prac­tical, and fun.

My Review:

I have been on the hunt for some great running books for a while now, for obvious reasons.  (If you're new here, check out my running alter ego.)  Luckily, Wendy at Taking The Long Way Home does a monthly running book club!  Though I have yet to get my act together and read the chosen book during it's chosen month, I have at least started to peruse the past selections and fit them in to my reading calendar where I can.  A couple months back, Running Like A Girl was the book, and I knew it was one I had to try.

What appeals to me most about Heminsley's account of her running experiences is that she is an honest-to-God, late-to-the-party, amateur ME!  I read a ton of running blogs, and I love them, I really do, but it drives me BATTY when you read the "About Me" and the author is like, "Oh I started running late in life, really wasn't into it at all until my 30's...well except for that 4 years I ran cross country in high school...and just a short bit in college...but look, I've worked so hard and now my 5K PR is sub-20!"  No!  You stop it right there!  You've been a runner your whole life, just because you weren't in the Olympic Trials by age 18 doesn't mean you can downplay that.  Do you know that the very IDEA of cross country made me want to vomit in high school?  Running for FUN?  Are you kidding me?  I'd have rather died.  I was not born with any sort of natural physical or mental ability for running.  I didn't start until I was 22, and even then, I didn't really love it or get serious about it until age 30.  As such, I adore reading about the running experiences of other athletes like me...late bloomers, people who stumbled upon a love of running during their journey for weight loss, or stress relief, or whatever, and then suddenly found themselves enamored by it, unable to do without it.  That's Heminsley's journey, in a nutshell.

I found myself laughing at many of Heminsley's anecdotes about her early days as a runner.  One of my favorites is when she talks about how intimidating it was to get fitted for shoes at a running store for the first time.  (I've done this for a while now, and my local Fleet Feet employees still scare the pants off me. THEY KNOW TOO MUCH.)  Her humor falls flat at times (feels like she tries a bit too hard for the one-liners), but I was more impressed by her ability to hit on some of the most common, yet not talked about, difficulties of getting into running as an adult.  Her narrative is easy to relate to, both for current runners and for those thinking about getting into it.  (And that is an important point here: Running Like a Girl is not JUST for the runner-reader!  If you're thinking about getting into running, or have a runner in your life, so much of this book will connect with you.)

I also enjoyed her recaps of some of the marathons that she has completed.  Having never done a marathon (but wanting to in the future), I appreciated that in-her-head look at the mental toughness required to complete such a thing.  She is open about her highest highs and her lowest lows, and that honesty makes for excellent reading.

That said, I don't know how I felt about all of the specific running advice that she gives in Part Two of the book.  Part One is an autobiographical account of her running journey, but Part Two consists primarily of some running myths/facts (I liked this section), and running advice from Heminsley herself.  Since she is, indeed, an amateur runner, it felt odd that she was giving running advice with such authority.  I suppose that sharing running anecdotes vs sharing specific do's and don't's of the sport carry different weight for me.  For example, her section on how to look good on marathon day includes advice on the proper nail polish, eyeliner, eyelashes, and moisturizer.  (Cue **blank stare** from moi, who doesn't wear eyeliner for date night, let alone when I'm going to be running for hours at a time.)  I know this is a book primarily for female runners, but...really?  I felt like this took away from her "authority" as a runner, and instead she should have perhaps done some research on tried-and-true marathon advice and compiled it here for beginners.

All in all, Running Like A Girl was a quick, lighthearted, and refreshingly honest account of the life of an amateur runner.  While I may not have always appreciated Heminsley's humor, or agreed with her running advice, I do think this is a fun book for runners (and the ones they love) to delve into.

Do you have a favorite nonfiction book about a hobby that you love?

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.
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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Book Review: The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok

Title: The Memory Palace
Author: Mira Bartok
Publisher: Free Press
Publication Date: January 11, 2011
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads:

When piano prodigy Norma Herr was healthy, she was the most vibrant personality in the room. But as her schizophrenic episodes became more frequent and more dangerous, she withdrew into a world that neither of her daughters could make any sense of. After Norma attacked her, Mira Bartók and her sister changed their names and cut off all contact in order to keep themselves safe. For the next seventeen years Mira’s only contact with her mother was through infrequent letters exchanged through post office boxes, often not even in the same city where she was living.

At the age of forty, Mira suffered a debilitating head injury that left her memories foggy and her ability to make sense of the world around her forever changed. Hoping to reconnect with her past, Mira learned Norma was dying in a hospital, and she and her sister traveled to their mother’s deathbed to reconcile one last time.

Through stunning prose and gorgeous original art, The Memory Palace explores the connections between mother and daughter that cannot be broken no matter how much exists—or is lost—between them.

My Review:

Phew, what a memoir.  The Memory Palace is, at various points, sad, frightening, hopeful, and frustrating.  But mostly sad.  I was sad for the lack of support that Mira and her sister Natalia received over the years, both from their other family members and from social services.  I was sad for their mother, who Mira and Natalia loved deeply, but because she was unable to receive adequate help, they were forced to abandon her for their own well-being.  And most broadly, I was sad that Mira and Natalia had to live their entire lives under this shadow--because even when they separated themselves completely from their mother, they were still left with horrible memories and a suspicion of others' good will.

This memoir speaks strongly about the lack of social supports for the mentally ill in America.  Mira and Natalia tried countless times to get social services involved with their mother, or to appoint her a legal guardian who could take over her financial affairs--and in the end, the vast majority of their attempts failed, resulting in their mother's homelessness and declining physical health.  Also, I couldn't believe that Mira and Natalia were never taken from their mother's custody as children.  Mira does say that they never wanted that, but from an outsider perspective, it was heart-wrenching to see the fear they lived in throughout their childhoods because of their mother's illness.  It makes you wonder how many other families in this country face these obstacles with mentally ill spouses, children, siblings, etc. each day.

Well, I've made it fairly obvious that this memoir leaves a big emotional impact.  But I also have to comment on the writing style a bit.  I'll admit that, in the beginning, I almost DNF'd this one.  The first part of the book, when Mira is recounting her early childhood, took a long time to catch my interest.  I think because her memories of this time were so fuzzy (being early in life), she writes about them with a lot of symbolic references to artwork, music, etc and after a while, those references just became too abstract and flowy for me.  I wanted to know about her life...I didn't need all of the artistic imagery in its place.

However, as Mira moves into her adolescence and adulthood, she leaves a lot of these fluid images behind, and starts telling her story in a more concrete way.  (She does still rely on a lot of artistic images for embellishment--she is an artist, after all--but when paired with the more solid facts of her life, they take on  more relevance, in my opinion.)  By the time she was recounting her teenage years, I was enveloped in the memoir and found myself captivated by her life story.  In spite of the difficult time she has with her mother, Mira has led a truly amazing life, and the journey she goes on around the world is not one you'll soon forget.

Looking for a light read?  I think you need to find another book on my blog, perhaps.  The Memory Palace is sure to weigh heavily on your mind for a while after reading, but the message it sends about the treatment of the mentally ill makes it well worth your time.

Readers: read any other powerful memoirs lately?  Especially in regards to mental illness?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

GIVEAWAY and Book Review: Hungry by Darlene Barnes

Title:   Hungry
Author: Darlene Barnes
Publisher: Hyperion
Publication Date: August 6, 2013
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Newly arrived in Seattle, Darlene Barnes stumbles on a job ad for a cook at the Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity on the University of Washington campus, a prospect most serious food professionals would automatically reject. But Barnes envisions something other than kegs and corn dogs; she sees an opportunity to bring fresh, real food to an audience accustomed to "Asian Surprise" and other unidentifiable casseroles dropped off by a catering service. And she also sees a chance to reinvent herself, by turning a maligned job into meaningful work of her own creation: "I was the new girl and didn't know or care about the rules." 

Naively expecting a universally appreciative audience, Barnes finds a more exasperatingly challenging environment: The kitchen is nasty, the basement is scary, and the customers are not always cooperative. Undaunted, she gives as good as she gets with these foul-mouthed and irreverent--but also funny and sensitive--guys. Her passion for real food and her sharp tongue make her kitchen a magnet for the brothers, new recruits, and sorority girls tired of frozen dinners. 

Laugh-out-loud funny and poignant, Hungry offers a female perspective on the real lives of young men, tells a tale of a woman's determined struggle to find purpose, and explores the many ways that food feeds us.

My Review:

My interest in this book was twofold.  First, FOOD!  FOOD MEMOIR!  YES!  Always a winner for me.  Second, cook in a fraternity house.  I was not affiliated with Greek life while in college, but my husband was in a fraternity.  He went to a different university than I did, so I didn't see his experiences first-hand, but I've heard an awful lot of stories--including those about the food.  So I was very interested to read this and compare notes with him afterwards.

Hungry is a fun, witty memoir that also requires you to concentrate on not salivating on the pages while you read.  I sometimes have a hard time with memoirs that are written too soon after the events that they describe, because they give me the sense that the author lacks enough self-awareness to write about the subject with any sort of distance.  However, that is not the case here.  Barnes is unflinchingly honest about both her triumphs and mistakes throughout her tenure as cook to the Alpha Sigma Phi brothers, and her appealing candor is laced with a humor that makes it even more entertaining to read.  Barnes has been blogging about her adventures in the fraternity house for a while already, and her comfort in writing about the subject shines through in this book.

I was impressed by her determination to bring fresh, local ingredients to the Alpha Sig house.  Barnes's typical menus for the brothers are NOT what you would ever expect to see on Greek Row.  And it was not at all easy for her to produce these creative, delicious meals--between picky eaters, stubborn food suppliers, and unreliable kitchen help, she had her work cut out for her.  But she never lost sight of her ultimate goal, and I found that admirable.  (And by the way, based on the number of stories my husband has shared about the deep-fryer in his fraternity, he was not eating like this when he was in college.  Sadly.)

My only noted downside to the content of this memoir came near the end.  I felt like things got a little rushed in the last chapter or two as it began to wrap up.  I started to get confused about the timeline and whether Barnes was still the cook at the fraternity or not.  I can see how she probably didn't want to get repetitive at the end (since she had already related so many similar stories by that point), but the last section just felt slightly less polished than the rest.

Beyond the memoir itself, one of the best additions to this book is in the RECIPES.  Barnes scatters some relevant ones throughout the text, and that's where the salivation comes in, my friends.  I am moving this book to the "cookbooks" section of my Kindle, in order to remind myself to make every darn creation that she included.  If she doesn't inspire you to get in the kitchen, nothing will.

So, do I want Darlene Barnes to be my BFF?  I dunno, this lady has got a sass-mouth on her that I'm not sure I could handle.  But does this memoir make me want her to be my chef mentor for life?  You freakin' bet.

Much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Darlene Barnes on her website and Twitter.


TLC Book Tours is offering up a copy of Hungry, which is pretty awesome of them, I'd say.  Just use the Rafflecopter below to enter.  US/Canada residents only please.  Giveaway ends the night of September 4, 2013!
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Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review: I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag by Jennifer Gilbert

Title: I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag
Author: Jennifer Gilbert
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: May 15, 2012
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

When Jennifer Gilbert was just a year out of college, a twenty-two-year-old fresh-faced young woman looking forward to a bright future, someone tried to cut her life short in the most violent way. But she survived, and not wanting this traumatic event to define her life, she buried it deep within and never spoke of it again.

She bravely launched a fabulous career in New York as an event planner, designing lavish parties and fairy-tale weddings. Determined to help others celebrate and enjoy life's greatest moments, she was convinced she'd never again feel joy herself. Yet it was these weddings, anniversaries, and holiday parties, showered with all her love and attention through those silent, scary years, that slowly brought her back to life.

Always the calm in the event-planning storm--she could fix a ripped wedding dress, solve the problem of an undelivered wedding cake in the nick of time, and move a party with two days' notice when disaster struck--there was no crisis that she couldn't turn into a professional triumph. Somewhere along the way, she felt a stirring in her heart and began yearning for more than just standing on the sidelines living vicariously through other people's lives. She fell in love, had her heart broken a few times, and then one day she found true love in a place so surprising that it literally knocked her out of her chair.

As Gilbert learned over and over again, no one's entitled to an easy road, and some people's roads are bumpier than others. But survive each twist and turn she does--sometimes with tears, sometimes with laughter, and often with both.

Warm, wise, alternately painful and funny, I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag is an inspiring memoir of survival, renewal, and transformation. It's a tale about learning to let go and be happy after years of faking it, proving that while we can't always control what happens to us, we can control who we become. And instead of anticipating our present in a goodie bag at the end of an event, we realize our presence at every event is the real gift.

My Review:

I've read several good memoirs lately, and they have reminded me that their authors have a daunting job.  How do you tell your life story honestly, and keep it intriguing, while also maintaining a tone that doesn't smack of self-aggrandizement?  Balancing those three factors is no easy feat, because you can lose your reader quickly if any of them are off-kilter (especially that last one).  Jennifer Gilbert's memoir impressed me though, because she manages that balance beautifully.  I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag takes you on a candid journey through the highs and lows of Gilbert's life.  She has some amazing life lessons to share, but she also makes it clear that she is still learning as life marches along.  I appreciated that forthrightness, and Gilbert's sincere tone throughout the book is a big reason why I loved it.

Let's talk for a hot second about how amazingly resilient this woman is.  She has faced some seriously devastating tragedies in her life, and the fact that she is now able to look back on them with such clarity is inspiring.  Gilbert has suffered an attempted murder, countless heartbreaks, that, by themselves, could totally sink someone for a lifetime.  Yet she has managed to pull through, become a successful businesswoman/wife/mother, and write a memoir that allows her to effectively share what she has learned.  If that's not uplifting, I don't know what is.  Her final message is simple ("You can't control what may happen to you in this life, but you can control who you want to be after it happens") but stirring...a good reminder for any difficult times in life.

Gilbert's story is sure to pull at your heart strings, because whether you're a daughter, mother, wife, girlfriend, or friend, there is some piece of her journey that you will find relatable.  I was personally moved by the last sections regarding her struggles in pregnancy and motherhood.  She speaks so meaningfully of the hopes and fears we have for our children--it immediately resonated within me.  While I've never suffered the magnitude of trauma that Gilbert has, that doesn't mean her story is out of reach for me as a reader.  She shares it in a way that clearly illustrates her frustration and pain, while also allowing you to relate it to it on your own level.

An added bonus here is that, among the harder subjects, you get some entertaining looks into Gilbert's job as an event planner in New York City.  Her job is not predictable by any means, and she's worked with some...interesting clientele over the years.  These tidbits add some levity, while also continuing to support the other, tougher stories at the heart of the book.

This is a fairly quick read (just over 200 pages), though not necessarily a "light" one.  There are some tough subjects tackled here.  But if you're in the mood for a memoir that will move and inspire, I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag is your next book.  (And admit it, you're kind of intrigued by the title anyway.)  I was going to offer up my copy for a giveaway, but sorry guys--it's too good.  I'm keeping it for a re-read.  NYAH-NYAH.

Much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Jennifer Gilbert on her websiteFacebook page, or Twitter account.

Have you read any inspiring memoirs lately?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Book Review: The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

Title: The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific
Author: J. Maarten Troost
Publisher: Broadway
Publication Date: June 8, 2004
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

At the age of twenty-six, Maarten Troost—who had been pushing the snooze button on the alarm clock of life by racking up useless graduate degrees and muddling through a series of temp jobs—decided to pack up his flip-flops and move to Tarawa, a remote South Pacific island in the Republic of Kiribati. He was restless and lacked direction, and the idea of dropping everything and moving to the ends of the earth was irresistibly romantic. He should have known better.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals  tells the hilarious story of what happens when Troost discovers that Tarawa is not the island paradise he dreamed of. Falling into one amusing misadventure after another, Troost struggles through relentless, stifling heat, a variety of deadly bacteria, polluted seas, toxic fish—all in a country where the only music to be heard for miles around is “La Macarena.” He and his stalwart girlfriend Sylvia spend the next two years battling incompetent government officials, alarmingly large critters, erratic electricity, and a paucity of food options (including the Great Beer Crisis); and contending with a bizarre cast of local characters, including “Half-Dead Fred” and the self-proclaimed Poet Laureate of Tarawa (a British drunkard who’s never written a poem in his life).

With  The Sex Lives of Cannibals , Maarten Troost has delivered one of the most original, rip-roaringly funny travelogues in years—one that will leave you thankful for staples of American civilization such as coffee, regular showers, and tabloid news, and that will provide the ultimate vicarious adventure.

My Review:

The region of interest for this month's Around the World Challenge is the South Pacific islands.  I've read several rather serious books for my ATWC selections in previous months, so I figured April was a good time to try a new tone.  Thus, this entertaining travel memoir, set in the far-off island of Kiribati.

Before reading this, the only reason that I had heard of Kiribati (pronounced kir-ee-bas) was because I've played a lot of geography quizzes that require you to know the names of all 197 countries in the world. (Yes, I know them, and I can list them alphabetically, because as you would expect, I'm a little bit of a freak.)  However, beyond the name, I knew nothing.  I mean, what was there to know?  My picture of the South Pacific was largely based on my friend's honeymoon photos in Fiji: gorgeous beaches, crystalline waters, beautiful weather at all times, and lots of quaint oversea huts.  That's it, yes?

Apparently, no.  Maarten Troost and his girlfriend Sylvia trekked to Kiribati for 2 years while Sylvia worked for a government agency.  That two years was full of rabid dogs, feces-infested waters, and drought...rather unlike those Fijian photos of my mind.  Luckily, Troost took the entire experience in stride (quite unlike how I might have done), and wrote this lively memoir to commemorate it.

I got sucked into Troost's narrative right away, as he has a lighthearted and sarcastic writing style that I immediately enjoyed.  He has no problem poking fun at the many (many, many) mishaps that he and his girlfriend endured before, during, and after their time in the tiny Kiribati town of Tarawa.  I think the humor was important here, because in reality, Kiribati is rundown and quite full of poverty--a situation that could easily lower the tone of the memoir.  But I think Troost did a nice job of illustrating Kiribati's economic difficulties in between the humor, without making light of the country's problems.

Troost does also offer some historical chapters, which give you a lot of important background about the island's colonial roots.  He continues the humor in those sections too, which keeps the emphasis from changing too much throughout the book.  I will say that the last 30 pages or so of their time in Tarawa started to drag for me as a reader.  I almost felt like Troost started running low on funny anecdotes, and some of those final sections began to feel like filler.  However, it picked up again when he and Sylvia left Tarawa, leading to a well-crafted that makes me curious to check out some of the follow-up memoirs that Troost has penned.

Overall, if you enjoy travel memoirs that don't take themselves too seriously, this is a great choice.  (Bill Bryson fans?  This may be a good one for you.)  While I did find a few slow parts towards the end, as a whole this book manages to be both funny and informative...and I like my information funny, when possible.  (Seriously, history textbooks, where are you on this?)

Other reviews of The Sex Lives of Cannibals:
Reading Through Life
Small World Reads
The Book Lady's Blog

Have you read any travel memoirs lately?  Especially humorous ones?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Book Review: The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne

Title: The World's Strongest Librarian
Author: Josh Hanagarne
Publisher: Gotham Books
Publication Date: May 2, 2013
Source: e-ARC received from publisher for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Josh Hanagarne couldn’t be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn’t officially be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old and onstage in a school Thanksgiving play when he first began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he was twenty, the young Mormon had reached his towering adult height of 6’7” when—while serving on a mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints—his Tourette’s tics escalated to nightmarish levels.

Determined to conquer his affliction, Josh underwent everything from quack remedies to lethargy-inducing drug regimes to Botox injections that paralyzed his vocal cords and left him voiceless for three years. Undeterred, Josh persevered to marry and earn a degree in Library Science. At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman—and former Air Force Tech Sergeant and guard at an Iraqi prison—taught Josh how to “throttle” his tics into submission through strength-training.

Today, Josh is a librarian in the main branch of Salt Lake City’s public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting—and the proud father of four-year-old Max, who has already started to show his own symptoms of Tourette’s.

My Review:

What's the recipe for an immediately intriguing book description?  As the lovely Jen pointed out, it's a memoir that includes libraries, Tourette Syndrome, weightlifting, and Mormonism.  Readers, it does not get more unique than that.  Color me interested.

Josh Hanagarne has a one-of-a-kind story, and he knows how to tell it.  Each chapter begins with an interesting (and often hilarious) anectode about his time as a librarian with the Salt Lake City Public Library.  His stories will have you alternately astounded (at the crazy things people will do in a public place) and sad (at the unfortunate circumstances that often lead people there).

 (And before I go further, have you ever SEEN this library?  Feast your eyes on this amazingness:
HOLD THE PHONE.  It's like Book Nirvana up in hurrr.
I was in Salt Lake City for a trip 2.5 years ago, and I am TOTALLY BUMMED that I did not know about this place then.)

Okay, bookish drooling time is over.  Onward!

After each library anecdote, Josh (yes, we're on a first name basis...the tone of his novel makes me feel that way, and I'm okay with it) recounts part of his personal journey, from early childhood through the present.  Most notable was his ability to delve so deeply into powerful reservoirs of frustration and grief, while also managing to keep a laugh-out-loud sense of humor.  I know, I sound like a cheesy movie tagline ("You'll laugh!  You'll cry!"), but it's TRUE.  There were several times, in the midst of a very serious part of the story, when I encountered an unexpected joke or one-liner that left me giggling through the tears.  If anything, this makes Josh's story that much more inspiring.  He always sees some fun in life, even when it's trying to get him down.

This is not just a memoir about Tourette's.  The affliction obviously affects all areas of his life, but his ability to describe his other conflicts and doubts was equally impressive.  I was particularly moved by his description of his struggles as a teenager--all of the emotions that are wrapped up in maturing (mentally and physically), first dates, etc.  In this way, Hanagarne crafts a story that has a universal message for everyone.  I don't have Tourette's, I'm not a Mormon, I'm not a 6+ foot-tall weightlifter.  But I still found myself relating to pieces of his life as it was unveiled.

The only part of Josh's story that I would have loved to hear more about was his wife's pregnancy with Max.  They went through years of infertility, and I was completely absorbed in this part of his story--he writes it with heartbreaking emotion, and I think a lot of couples will find both common ground and solace in it.  However, once his wife got pregnant, the story suddenly jumped to Max's birth and childhood.  After hearing so much about their infertility struggles, I guess I was left wanting to experience the pregnancy with them as well.  Maybe that's just me being a sappy girl, but it was the only point in the memoir where I felt like I wanted a little more.

As I read the last word of this memoir, all I could do was close my eyes like a happy, contented reader and think, "Yes."  It wraps up at a perfect point, in a way that leaves you feeling both curious and hopeful.

I can't recommend this book enough.  Josh Hanagarne has a poignant and humorous way of relating his story that makes it reachable for any reader.  I learned a lot, I laughed a lot, and I was rooting for him at every turn.  I know I'm on a memoir kick this week, but trust me--if you're in the market for one, this is an awesome pick!

Other reviews of The World's Strongest Librarian:
The Relentless Reader
As The Page Turns
Bookin' It

Have you read any great memoirs lately?
Imagination Designs