Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Reviews: Quarterly Update

For awhile I was writing book reviews every time I finished a new book. I stopped because I realized that I only read book reviews on other blogs if (a) I've been wanting to read the book, (b) I know the author or (c) the title really intrigues me. With that in mind, I stopped writing reviews after each book and decided to switch to quarterly updates on the books I've been reading.

With my new job, my commute takes the same amount of time but I no longer have to switch metro lines, so I get a lot more reading done on my way to and from work. I've read more books this year than I've read in a long time and it's great! It helps that I'm not tackling any 900 pages books like I tend to do at least once a year...though that is coming soon.

So, here's what I've read this year:

"Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea" by Barbara Demick - I kicked off 2015 with a nonfiction book recommended to me during the interview for the job that I'm now at. This book was excellent. It was nonfiction that read a bit like fiction. The stories were all from people who had defected to South Korea about what their lives in North Korea were like. It was a fascinating read. What I found most interesting was just how little I knew about North Korea and how closed off the society truly is from the rest of the world. Highly recommend.

"Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - I had marked this on my Amazon Wish List and then found it in a Little Free Library in my neighborhood. It was a good book...a very interesting perspective on race in the US from the perspective of a non-American African. I couldn't put this book down. I found it fascinating and was really intrigued by the main character, Ifemelu's journey. That being said, I could see a lot of people I know not liking it. Recommend with reservation.

"The King's Curse" by Philippa Gregory - Philippa Gregory is a love her or hate her kind of author but historical fiction is my guilty pleasure. This book was the last in The Cousins' War Series and basically serves as a prequel to her books on The Tudor Court. I didn't love this book as much as I loved the others but I thought it wrapped up the series nicely. Recommend.

"Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel - I really didn't like this book. It left so much to be desired. There were way too many characters and the characters were underdeveloped. This book had so much potential but it fell flat. I was completely hooked in the first 15 pages and then it just left me wanting so much more information. Set in a world where 99% of the population has been killed by a deadly strain of the flu, the book follows the survivors. Don't Recommend.

"The Bookseller of Kabul" by Asne Seierstad - I may have a bias on any book written about Afghanistan since I did part of my graduate thesis about the country but I loved this book. It's my current pick for next month's book club and I'm so intrigued to see what everyone else thought of it. Another nonfiction book that reads more like fiction, this book follows one family in Kabul over the course of one summer while Norwegian journalist, Asne Seierstad, is living with the family after the fall of the Taliban. The book reads a bit more like short stories about the individual members of the family, rather than having a central plot and theme, but's nonfiction. I found it fascinating and loved the way it was told. I think a lot of the mixed reviews are a result of people not reading, and taking to heart, the Foreword of the book. Highly recommend. 

"The Ocean at the End of the Lane" by Neil Gaiman - Meh. I read this book in a day and a half. It was ok. I was hoping it would fall in line with the Miss Peregrine series but it was just ok. It's a flashback of an older man (whose name you never learn) who is at a funeral (for his wife? Maybe? That never becomes clear) back in his home town. He recalls one wildly imaginative night when he was 7-years-old about witches and monsters and good overcoming evil. For me, it fell flat, but it was entertaining and a quick read. Recommend with reservation.

"Atlantis Never Lost: The Story of Santorini" by George Koukoulas - I loved this book. If you're into Greek mythology, I recommend it. It tells the story of the Santorini from an archaeological and mythological perspective, offering a version of the idea that the lost city of Atlantis may have been on the island presently known as Santorini (Thera). The novel starts in the present day with Alexandros, a former student, meeting a professor, Nicodemos, on Santorini after Nicodemos has discovered something at the ancient archaeological site of Akrotiri (which The Pilot and I visited). The story than alternates between present day and prehistoric times at the end of the Minoan civilization, in the 10 days leading up to the volcanic eruption that destroyed the civilization. The prehistoric parts of the novel are told backwards going from when the volcano erupts, to 10 days before and then back again. I loved this. It was such a fascinating way to tell a story. Highly recommend. 

So, there you have it! I hope you like this condensed version of my reviews! I figured it would be to skim the titles you're interested in and get my perspective! Let me know your thoughts and if you think I should continue writing reviews this way!

Happy Friday!

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Thursday, March 26, 2015


Feeling... really good about running. After my short run on Monday, I did another mile on Tuesday (just to yoga) and then 3 miles last night. Everything is feeling really good right now.

Reading... The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris. I picked this up in the Little Free Library in my neighborhood and started it this morning. I'm only a few pages in and don't really have an opinion yet, but I did some googling on the author and he created a Pinterest map of London based on what happens in the books. I've never seen this before and think it's awesome!

Watching... I watched the last season of "Parks and Rec" over the weekend. It was ok...definitely time for it to end. I started watching "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and hated it. I'm starting to realize that I'm just not a Tina Fey fan. I loved her on SNL and have loved her films (Baby Mama and Mean Girls) but I really didn't like Bossy Pants and I can't stand "30 Rock".

Thinking about... marathons. I've been wanting to run another marathon ever since I ran my last. I'm really hoping I can make that happen this year. I registered for the Marine Corps Marathon lottery and didn't get in, which is ok because I really want to run Chicago. I entered MCM with the plan of it being my back up in case I didn't get into Chicago. So, now it's just a waiting game.

Working on... my's a constant work in progress and I love it.

Needing... a vacation. It's been two months since Sundance and I'm itching to go somewhere new.

Loving... The Skimm. I've been reading it for a few years now, but since we no longer have cable, it's the only way for me to quickly digest what's going on in the world.

Excited about... a lot of upcoming, long overdue family time.

What's on your list?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Training Update: Cherry Blossom 10 Miler

After the Rock 'n' Roll Half-marathon, I took the week completely off. While I was happy with the run, the fact that my knee did flare up towards the end left me thinking that rest was the best option if I still want to run Cherry Blossom.

I went to a Relaxed Flow Vinyasa class om Wednesday and it was incredible. It was exactly what I need to work out all of the lingering soreness from the race.

Saturday, I finally ran again. I headed out for 3 easy miles but my knee started bothering me 3/4 of a mile in. Given that I had gone to a pretty vigorous yoga class that morning and walked 4 miles all over the city before my run, I'm not worrying about it too much though I would like to get to the point where that doesn't affect anything.

Because of how I felt Sunday, I took the day off and planned to run Monday.

I felt awful yesterday. I had horrible cramps and a headache. I was really bloated and just felt weighed down. My hamstrings were exceptionally sore from Saturday's yoga class and I really didn't want to run.

I read something once that said that if you don't feel like going to the gym, just go. If, when you get there, you still don't feel like it, turn around and go home. 9 times out of 10, you'll stay. I've since applied this to every workout and it works.

With that in mind, I set out for a run. Within the first few minutes, I already felt myself loosening up. I felt so much better. I decided to take the chance to explore a different part of the neighborhood (nothing special) and before I knew it, I felt really, really good. I only wanted to run 2 miles...I really didn't have much more than that in me but as I got closer to home and checked my watch, I saw that I was running a 9:34 pace...the fastest I've run since August. I felt awesome. I wasn't worried about my knee, I was just running. I ended up running 2.3 and ran that last quarter mile or so at an 8:53 pace. It was awesome.

I haven't had a run like that in almost 2 years. I felt amazing...not just because I was running fast...because for the first time in 2 years, I forgot that I had been injured and I just ran.

Channeling all of that into these next 3 weeks, I'm hoping to run a strong Cherry Blossom. If I could make it to 12.5 pain free, I can run 10 (I hope). So, here's what I'm doing this week to get there:

Monday: 2 miles
Tuesday: Rest or Yoga + PT exerises
Wednesday: 4 miles
Thursday: Rest or Yoga + PT excercises
Friday: 3 miles
Saturday: Yoga + PT exercises
Sunday: 6 miles

Right now, 6 seems a little daunting after taking a week off, but I have to remember...I'm already trained for this.

Are you running the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler? 
Have you ever had a run that helped you "reset" either after an injury or during a rough patch in your training?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Weekend Thoughts

I really needed to unplug this weekend. I needed to just spend sometime alone and do my own thing this weekend. I got home Friday from work, poured myself a glass of wine and made myself some dinner. I watched some TV, straightened some stuff up around the house and called it a night.

Saturday morning, I set an alarm for 8:30 so that I could get up for yoga and not rush. I got a glorious 9 1/2 hours of sleep and felt amazing when I woke up. I made some coffee, whipped up an omelet, took Peyton for a quick walk and had an awesome yoga class. I felt great afterward. The sun was starting to peek out so I took Peyton for a nice, long walk around the neighborhood before heading to the farmer's market to pick up some stuff. 

By the time I got home from the Farmer's Market, I had already done 12,000 steps for the day...and it wasn't even 3:00! Naturally, I decided to go for a run. I laced up my sneakers and headed out for an easy 3 first run post-race. I finished the 3 miles, but my knee started hurting 3/4 of a mile in, which was really unnerving, especially after taking a full week off post-race.

I came back, stretched, whipped up a green smoothie and took Peyton out to the backyard while I sat and read my book for awhile.

I came back inside, did a few more things around the house and took Peyton for another long walk. just as the sun was setting. It was starting to turn into a gorgeous night and she loved being outside.

While we were walking, I came across a Little Free Library. Do you guys know about these? They're little book libraries people put in front of their houses. The mentality is "Take a book, leave a book." I love it so much and there are a bunch of them in our neighborhood. I can't wait until we have a house of our own and I can build one!

I picked up this thriller, which sold me based on this sentence alone "...a vividly evocative love letter to London"... and will definitely be reading it soon.

After our little walk, I roasted up some brussel sprouts for dinner and had myself a "Scandal" bingefest before calling it a night.

Sunday morning, I got up, took Peyton out and spent the morning watching "Friends" on Netflix while meal prepping for the week. I had just bought some dates (which I had never used before) and basically put them in everything I made. I did a lot of stuff around the house, finished my taxes and then spent most of afternoon hanging out in the backyard before heading to church.

It was a perfectly refreshing weekend. I didn't really do anything spectacular, I just spent a lot of time doing things that I wanted to do and it was just what I needed. Going into this week, I feel nice and refreshed and I'm ready for a great week!

Do you ever take a weekend to just disconnect in order to reconnect with yourself?
What's the best thing you did all weekend?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Libester Award {Discover New Blogs!}

Last week, my friend Carolann tagged me in a blog post after being awarded The Liebster Award. It's a way to raise the profile of other bloggers and, since I've been finding and exploring so many new blogs lately, I was excited to participate!

Here's how it works:
1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their site
2. Write a post answering the questions you were given
3. Nominate 5 – 11 other bloggers for the award (let them know you have done so!) and come up with a set of 10 – 11 questions for them to answer
4. Enjoy!

So, here are Carolann's questions for me: 

1. What are you reading right now? Atlantis Never Lost - The Story of Santorini...a book I picked up on our honeymoon at this adorable little book shop on Santorini.

2. What advice do you have for new bloggers? Focus on what makes your blog YOUR blog. Don't worry about what other bloggers are doing, always remember why you started blogging in the first place and work to maintain your unique voice. I've been blogging for five years and the blogging world has changed so much since then...some if for the better, some of it not as much.
3. How do you stay creative with your blog? In other words, where do you get your inspiration, and how do you come up with ideas for new posts? This is definitely something that can be a challenge. This year, I've started trying to plan out my posts for the month and I've definitely started using the Drafts tool. Sometimes, I'll write just three sentences into a draft post on something that I want to write about later...whether it's my thoughts on a particular subject, a flashback to somewhere I've been before or anything else! 
A little oasis in the middle of DC (Rock Creek Park)
4. What is your favorite thing about where you live? Washington, DC is an incredible place to live. I love that I'm walking distance from everything: museums, restaurants, national parks, etc. I don't own a car and I hate driving so being able to just walk out my door and be surrounded my history is what makes me fall in love with this city a little bit more every single day.
5. Share a link to your favorite go-to weeknight dinner recipe! This edamame pasta is so easy and so delicious! Recipe in the comments section!

6. How would you spend an extra $100? Right now, I'm focusing on saving, rather than spending but if I had an extra $100, I'd probably spend it on a weekend getaway! There are a lot of super cute towns near DC that I haven't been to yet!
7. What’s the best place you have ever traveled to? Sarajevo, I fell in love with that city in a way I didn't think I ever could. 
8.  What is a skill you would like to learn? I'd love to learn to speak French!
9. What is your favorite TV show? I really like Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. I hate that Season 4 isn't coming out until next year! 
10. Which blog post are you most proud of? Share a link! "Finding my Strong" I posted it just before I headed to Madrid for the 2012 Madrid Marathon. It was my 2nd attempt at a sub-4 race and up until that point, I really didn't think I could do it. Unfortunately, I didn't, but it's still my favorite post.

For this award, I'm tagging Erin (Erin Runs Happy), Megan (Semi-Charmed Kind of Life), Tara (Running 'n' Reading), Dawn (Sneaker Therapy), and Erin (Love, Fun and Football). Here are the questions I have!

1. What is one thing that has changed for you as a result of blogging?
2. If there were no obstacles and you could pack your bags and leave tomorrow, where would you go?
3. If you came to visit me in DC, what would be the first stop on your itinerary?
4. Are you a baseball fan? Who's your team? If you're not, go here and pick one and tell us why you picked them!
5. What's your favorite season? What's your favorite thing to do during that season?
6. What is the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night?
7. If you could live in any place other than where you live now, where would it be?
8. What is your favorite blog post you've written?
9. What's the number 1 thing on your Amazon Wish List?
10. Do you still subscribe to magazines? What are your favorites?

If anyone else wants to take on these questions, I'd love to read your answers! Leave a link to the post in the comments! Have a great weekend!