One-Sentence Book Reviews

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When I last shared some mini book reviews with you, I was in the throes of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy. Though I really enjoyed the first book, my love of the series dwindled with each subsequent installment. But I have read some really fascinating works since then, and if you’re only going to read one of the books I’m recommending below, let it be Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith.

The novel blew me away with its lyricism and tight descriptions, its sense of restraint, giving you just enough clues to vaguely piece together the action but still retain the pleasurable tingle of a mystery waiting to be solved. In fact, I still find myself thinking back to this book, its intricately woven themes, its heart-wrenching prose. Here’s an excerpt that I really loved:

“Up the road were other abandoned parcels, barely visible driveways leading to vacant foundations, as if someone had plucked the houses right out of the ground, leaving cavities in the shape of living spaces. I could feel the house that wasn’t there, rising out of the gaping concrete mouth. The alders shivered in the breeze, a sound so familiar that I shivered, too.”

Now, without further ado, the reviews:

Worth It…

Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith: In this novel, written with remarkable precision and passion, a young woman visits an old friend on an island commune—but she soon realizes that nothing is as it appears, not even her own mind, her shadow-struck heart.

The Way of Wanderlust by Don George: This writer’s very intimate anecdotes offer great insight into travel, writing, and our own capacity for goodness and human connection.

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey: At turns whimsical and wry, poet Novey reveals bit by bit the strange and compelling tale of a Brazilian author who climbs into a tree and disappears, and the translator who leaves behind a solid life in Pittsburgh to search for her.

The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik: If you can look past his copious allusions and penchant for philosophical rambling, you’ll discover interesting stories and good questions about the past, present, and future of the food scene.

Don’t Bother…

Christmas Caramel Murder by Joanne Fluke: I liked the “cozy mystery” concept of this novel, but everything else fell flat: a weak and illogical plot, characters that were no more than caricatures, an insubstantial setting, and a serious dependence on telling the reader things that were quite obvious already.

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein: I read the first volume of this series when teaching fourth grade last year and enjoyed it; however, the second book felt forced, and much of the intrigue of the earlier novel had been extinguished.

Run the World by Becky Wade: Professional runner Wade recounts her travels in order to learn about running cultures in other countries, but unfortunately the entire book just sounded like an extended high school essay.

 

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Music: Calendar Year Album Release

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Todd’s latest music endeavor is a duo called Calendar Year, formed with his friend Rob—and they’ve just released their first album, Jaded, Apathetic, with No Hope for the Future! It’s a sort of indie-rock blend that has punk and emo influences and describes their attempts to “determine their place in the world.” Todd’s on drums and backup singing/shouting; Rob’s on guitar and vocals. Please check it out. The album is free (donation-based) to download from Bandcamp and streaming on Spotify, or you can just listen below:

 

I Ran My First Half-Marathon!

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It was a long road to get here. I thought I’d attempt 13.1 miles last year, but a leg injury kept me out of my running shoes for too long before the race; I didn’t feel confident or prepared, and I feared hurting myself even further. So this year I made sure I was ready, running speed drills on weekdays and progressively longer runs every weekend leading up to the half-marathon, then slowly tapering and letting my muscles heal starting two weeks before. And last weekend I did it, in 2 hours and 20 minutes—10 minutes faster than the goal time that Todd and I had set for ourselves.

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Before the race, waiting for our corral’s wave to start.

In terms of running standards, it wasn’t very fast, averaging out to about 10 minutes and 48 seconds per mile. We started the first mile some distance down the block from Prospect Park. The weather was 58 degrees or so but it felt humid, with a little sun peeking through the clouds. I didn’t mind; I was just glad it wasn’t raining. Our corral, number 20 out of 22, inched forward, then finally the countdown began and we were off. Todd and I started out slow, about 12 minutes per mile for Miles 1 and 2. My parents ran, too, and they hovered just ahead of us for the first half of the race.

The first two miles felt easy, no huge hills or major descents. We ran comfortably; I listened to some low-key songs on Spotify, like “As We Ran” by the National Parks and “The Wolf” by Mumford and Sons. By Mile 3 we reached the Brooklyn Museum, and spent the next two miles traveling alongside the park. Todd and I chatted a bit and observed the other runners around us. I really liked a shirt than one older man was wearing: “I have fought the good fight,” it said, quoting from 2 Timothy 4:7 in the Bible, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

The start of Mile 5 turned us onto Ocean Parkway, which had been closed to traffic for the half-marathon. As we ran, we saw runners from earlier waves already making their way back up the parkway, passing the Mile 9 mark and getting ready to head into Prospect Park. Around Mile 6, I started to feel it. My knee hurt a bit; I was getting bored with the monotonous scenery and the knowledge that, as far down as we traveled, we would still have to come all the way back. I counted down: If that’s the Mile 8 sign across the road, it means we have another mile down this way, then another mile back up until I get to that point. To distract myself, I changed up my running stance, first skipping sideways for a few steps, then busting out a few high knees.

Mile 7: We looped around and headed back up toward Prospect Park. Around Mile 8 we caught up to my parents and passed them, then Todd broke away from me because he wanted to run faster. By this point I was running about 11-minute miles. It was hard but not too hard, and I knew I still had energy left. At Mile 9 we ascended a steep hill that left me breathless at the top, but when I tried to walk for a minute, my legs wobbled like jelly so I kept running instead.

We entered the park at Mile 10 and I sped up, running the next 2 miles in around 20 minutes. I kept an eye out for Todd and just after Mile 12, I spotted him walking. I ran up beside him—he looked at me incredulously, like he couldn’t believe I’d caught up—and then I pushed on ahead. He followed, and we ran the last mile together as fast as we could. We crossed the finish line holding hands. (Here’s a picture, but I have to link to it because I don’t want to pay $25 for a download.)

After the half-marathon, we received really awesome finisher medals and some free water and snacks. And then I got a good, hot latte from one of my favorite hipster coffee shops, followed by a celebratory meal at Shake Shack later that afternoon. This morning I signed up for my next race, a 7.5-mile scenic run in November, but I’m still looking for another half-marathon where I can try to beat my new PR.

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The family with our medals after the race! Love doing things together 🙂