Monday, September 8, 2014

book reviews v. 4

I've slept with a book in bed with me -sometimes a whole pile of them, in fact- for as long as I can remember. Still to this day, despite the addition of a husband, I wake up with a book tucked under my arm or my pillow or floating around in our covers. At first, Jason thought it was a random accident, but now, three years later, he realizes it's a lifestyle, a trademark of sorts. 

The Semi-Charmed Summer Reading Challenge certainly increased the books-in-bed-while-sleeping chances because thirteen books in four months is heavy duty reading compared to that of the recent past. A girl who loved characters and plot and lessons from the moment she could make up stories for the pictures on the pages had forgotten the love of a good novel. Until now. 

After completing thirteen novels in four months, I'm proud of myself and itching to maintain my pace. I'm thankful to no longer be following a list and to have the freedom to pull any old book off our shelves. Plus, I'm looking forward to getting a library card to use and to cuddling up in one of their over-sized chairs that looks out on our city's sports complex. 

That all said. Here's the four reads from August. Along with the ever-loving GIFs courtesy of my suddenly realized spirit animal: the llama. 
by Christopher McDougall 

"...there was some kind of connection between the capacity to love and the capacity to love *running*. The engineering was certainly the same: both depended on loosening your grip on your own desires, putting aside what you wanted and appreciating what you've got, being patient and forgiving and... undemanding...maybe we shouldn't be surprised that getting better at one could make you better at the other."

I ran almost every day last month. I blame it on Christopher McDougall and his novel, really, I do. And, I enjoyed, so deeply enjoyed, his discussion of how running is deep within our genetics just as it is in animals. His ability to write studies and statistics into interesting, personalized tales of running people. Not simply a super-running tribe in rural Mexico, but the ultra-running scene here in America too. The parallels were astounding and interesting and had me thinking about the role running plays in my life. 

The stories that weaved from one athlete to another and back again reminded me time and time again that the world is a small place, made smaller by our shared interests and cross-cultural hobbies. So how did a NY Post writer trying to learn how to run establish himself as my peer? His ability to write objectively, humorously, and honestly about the madness and pure joy that unites us in loving to cover miles by foot. Would this book interest everyone? Probably not. Though I am amazed that it was enjoyed by both Jason and myself -something that can be said of very few novels. 

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by Cheryl Strayed

"I made it the mantra of those days: when I paused before yet another series of switchbacks or skidded down knee-jarring slopes, when patches of flesh peeled off my feet along with my socks, when I lay alone and lonely in my tent at night I asked, often out loud: Who is tougher than me? 

The answer was always the same, and even when I knew absolutely there was no way on this earth it was true, I said it anyway: No one."

For the record, I hate hiking. Really, I do. And this book didn't convince me not to hate it, but it did convince me that there's a beautiful healing capacity in the midst of the great outdoors -even if just the forest we're fishing in or the meadow we live near. After the loss of her mother and dissolution of her marriage, Strayed takes on a seemingly impossible task: the Pacific Crest Trail. 

The unraveling and rebuilding of Strayed's life were beautiful to witness (and participate in). I could easily see and feel the parallels between her own life and mine, while, at times, feeling estranged from her extreme behaviors in the wake of emotionally charged experiences. At points in the book I was enthralled, couldn't stop, needed more desperately. Other times I found myself waiting, wishing for the next turn in action, hoping that the plot would climb faster than her feet on the trail. 

I struggled through the last 100 pages. At just over 300 pages I realized quickly that it may have been done a service to be 100 pages shorter, or more concise. The resolution doesn't feel extremely resolved, in that, hiking a trail isn't so much emotionally healing, as proof to one's self you can do hard things. Strayed, no doubt, was brave and strong and impressed me, but I did wonder how she worked through the complex heartbreak all that loss dealt her prior to her hike. 

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by Gayle Forman

"Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you."

Of all the GIFs I've used in the past, this is the most accurate. I ordered If I Stay because Jason and I agreed stay and run are opposites (because this one was for the challenge) and it had good reviews on Amazon. Like that cute little boy, I unexpectedly opened the novel with no clue how it's going to mess me up in every single wonderful , thought provoking way. 

 Jason most accurately described the way this book looks: a teeny-bopper novel. He asked me what I was going reading them since I'm most certainly out of my teens. And, well, I said don't bother me I'm reading. I finished this one in less than three days (one of them full of work) because it's one of those I NEED TO KNOW sort of reads. Forman's got you drawn in from page 15 and won't let you go until the moment she closes the novel. 

I'm thankful there's a sequel because she leaves the ending so open, so GIVE ME MORE, that I can't imagine having read this earlier in history and having to wait to read what happens with Mia and Adam next. So, yes, read it, but be sure to give yourself some time and space because you won't be able to focus on anything else. 

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by Sue Monk Kidd

"Drifting off to sleep, I thought about her. How nobody is perfect. How you just have to close your eyes and breathe out and let the puzzle of the human heart be what it is."


That's how good this book was -so good I can't even put together cohesive letters to make cohesive words. Holy. Anyone who even kind of liked The Help will adore The Secret Life of Bees. It's shorter, beautifully knit together, and full of such rich goodness. The plot took some amazing twists and turns, but the characters, oh how I loved them. 

The richness of Kidd's writing was only superseded by the glorious truths it revealed. Being set in the US in 1964, I thought I'd know what to expect, but I hadn't a clue how near and dear to our present time the content would hit. In the wake of Ferguson and large shifts in civil rights' attitudes in the US, this novel felt applicable in all the ways. It reminded me that we've come so far, we've made progress, but we're also just babies in learning how race and cultural relations are complicated, tender, and needing to be handled with immense care. 

And, the bees. The way Kidd weaved the behavior, real life facts, and habits of the bees within the fabric of the story is jarring. You'll know more about bees and their colony than ever before, yet you'll notice how we aren't that far off from our flying, stinging friends. 
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Now that my challenge is over and I'm back in the reading as I wish saddle, what's good out there? 


  1. I've been thinking of picking up If I Stay since I saw the movie previews...thanks for the review! Will you be seeing the movie?

  2. "If I Stay" was very haunting to me. However, I don't think I'll read the second. In fact, I think reading the second might spoil the first for me. It was such a gut-wrenching book -- and in the end, I'm not sure it was the ending I would have chosen. That said, I've never felt more intimately connected to characters in such a short amount of time. A great read to be sure!


  3. Time Travellers Wife, The Rosie Project and Eleanor and Park would be top of my list. Although it is a very large list!

  4. I've been dying to read "Born to Run" and I could really use some help with getting my passion for running back!

  5. I just finished "If I stay" this weekend, it was my vacation book. I loved it too!

  6. Definitely read the sequel to If I Stay - soooo good, and a little bit longer too!.

  7. Ah man, now I totally regret not reading "If I Stay" before seeing it in theaters. I might just have to read the book regardless though, I hadn't realized there was a sequel! The Secret Life of Bees is one of those books that I always think, "man, I gotta read that eventually." I'm about 100 pages into Wild and not sure I'm totally sold on it yet. It's definitely interesting, but in some ways I really don't understand her coping mechanism, especially in regard to her relationship with Paul. Going to push through and see how it ends though!

  8. I loved all of these (except the first which I haven't read yet). And ditto to falling asleep with a book. ALWAYS.

  9. I actually just finished Wild and I completely agree with your review. There were points in the book where I just had to put it down and read something else. It was just too drawn out. If I Stay is actually the next book on my reading list. :)

  10. I don't know about the movie... I want to, but then, I don't. Sometimes movies just ruin the book. Actually, almost every time they have (in my humble opinion) with two exceptions: Hunger Games and A Walk To Remember. Yep, imagine that! :)

    You'll love the book. It's a page turner and REALLY easy to read. :)

  11. I was struggling with if the second tempts me or not! I don't know if I want a love story -failed or successful- but I couldn't stay away from the life/death balance that was the entire book. I think that's what lent me to being so attached to the outcome (as sort of abstract as it ended up feeling) and makes me want more of them... To read or not to read the second?!?!

  12. I have Eleanor & Park on my list too! I have heard of both of the other's and haven't yet got to them... But I guess that's where a library card could come in SO handy. :)

  13. Girl, it'll light you up. SERIOUSLY. Light you up. Slash there's a mantra one of the guys has in the book that I find myself repeating when runs feel especially sucky (like every day now because it's in the 90s before 800 am). The end of it can feel like OKAY I'M READY TO BE DONE, but I really, truly loved it... Something I didn't expect!

  14. Did it just pull you in? I couldn't stop reading and NEEDED TO KNOW. :) Are you going to read the second?

  15. It's not too love story? I don't want it to go all mushy because the first one was SUCH a hard hitter... But I loved the characters so much that I'm sad for them to be "gone". :)

  16. Girl, you NEED to read Secret Life of Bees. It was, honestly, so beautiful and sort of life-changing. Plus, it's based in 1964 and that's SO CURRENT, especially when you think about how recent that is and how rampant racism was. Now I want to go read it again.

    Wild. Oh, I loved it and I truly struggled through it. I think her dependence on alcohol then drugs then men were hard for me to process especially because she acknowledged their emptiness. I am thankful I read it, but I have zero desire to see the movie... And I adore Reese Witherspoon, so that says a lot.

  17. Born to Run is really interesting in the way that it examines running as a historical and social construct that isn't so much skill as it is ingrained in us. The author is actually really wonderful at telling a good tale so you don't feel bored or like you're reading some dry anthropological study. :)

  18. RIGHT?!? I just wanted to shake her and say STOP BEING SO PATHETIC ABOUT YOURSELF. I know we all do it, myself probably the worst offender, but COME ON GIRL YOU ARE SO STRONG YOU'RE HIKING BY YOURSELF... That said, I was thankful she made it and the novel ended. :)

    If I Stay... Oh goodness. Tell me what you think. I had big feelings and opinions. All positive, but all deep and rooted in the death that's going on in my life. (If that makes sense)

  19. That totally makes sense. I just finished reading the book this morning, and it definitely tugs on your heartstrings. It hit on all the emotions still circling within me from the unexpected death of a close friend a few years back. I feel like having had that experience made the book more profound than it actually is, but it's still such a tearjerker.

    Lynsey Rosales
    Eternally WanderLyn
    Twitter Facebook

    I believe in the 3 W's: writing, wine & wanderlust.

  20. The sequel of If I Stay is just as good but for diferrent reasons. It is good and not mushy and really not what you think it will be!


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