Run for your liiiiiife with @JJHensleyAuthor ‘s Resolve

Run for your liiiiiife with @JJHensleyAuthor ‘s Resolve

At last year’s Podcamp Pittsburgh, one of my favorite session was a presentation by local authors. One of the speakers was JJ Hensley, and right at that moment, I added his novel Resolve to my “To Read” list. I was excited and honored when he sent me an email a few weeks ago, requesting that I review his book! As a blogger, I frequently get requests to review this or review that (and, as you’ll see from my Note on Reviews above, I generally decline), but there’s something special about an author personally reaching out to you and saying, “I made this, I’d like to know what you think.”


Hensley combines three favorite topics of mine– Pittsburgh, crime writing and running– into a fun, light read. Resolve follows (fictional) Three Rivers University professor Cyprus Keller as he tries to unravel the mystery of the murders happening all around him, all seemingly pointing to his guilt. The story unfolds as he runs the Pittsburgh marathon, which both provides a clever structure to the story, and gives the reader a unique overview of our city.


Resolve works well as a light read. The tone is very conversational, and anything that falls into police lingo/practice, Hensley spells out for you. The characters are fun and it’s the kind of book that it’s enjoyable to watch unfold. It’s hard to write about a crime novel without giving things away, but suffice it to say that it ends in a somewhat unexpected but satisfying way.

My one gripe with the story is that when Keller runs through the Homewood neighborhood during the marathon, he describes it as desolate, crime ridden and depressed. Homewood’s a tough neighborhood, but let me tell you, Homewood loves the marathon. I ran that stretch of the relay last year, and there were churches and families and community groups out cheering and blasting music. I got SO MANY high fives from kids. It was one of the best stretches of the run. It was a little disappointing to see Homewood represented in that negative way, when the marathon is one of the events where the neighborhood really shines.

Resolve was a timely read for me, as registration opened on the Pittsburgh Marathon this past week, and I’m all signed up for the Half Marathon. WILL I SEE YOU OUT ON THE COURSE?  Can you tell I’m excited? Resolve is a great book to get you all excited for the run, or even just to feed your enthusiasm for our city.

Also, Hensley’s newest book, Measure Twice, was just released. Measure Twice looks to be another perfect read for crime novelist enthusiasts of this fair city:

Pittsburgh Homicide Detective Jackson Channing is struggling to break free from an addiction. His alcoholism may have cost him his marriage and now threatens to sweep away his sanity.

​ When the body of a city official is discovered in a public location, the entire city of Pittsburgh bears witness to a form of evil that is difficult to comprehend. Channing learns the killer is patient, methodical, and precise. In order to stop the killing, Channing will have to pull his life together and come to terms with a secret that is tearing him apart.

(PS- I declined the offer of a copy of Resolve for this review, and just checked it out from the library instead. So the general marketing disclosures aren’t even applicable here.)


The Things I’ve Been Reading Lately

The Things I’ve Been Reading Lately

Because my spring and summer were hijacked by the demands of buying a house and selling a house, most of the items on my 32 before 32 list have fallen miserably by the wayside. Whatevs, it’s all for fun anyway. However, there is one item where I am all gold stars and A ++++++ and Exceeds Expectations, and that’s on my reading progress. I planned to try to read 40 books this year, and here it is, mid-September and I’ve already blown through 35. I’m going to be beating that goal by leaps and bounds. Yessssss!

WHERE am I finding the time to read all these books, when my job is mostly reading all day, and I’ve got a feisty 4 year old to chase around, and sometimes my husband likes to see me too? Answer: Audiobooks. Between my husband and Baby Beez, I get virtually no say in what’s on TV, so I listen to audiobooks instead. When I’m driving in the car (which takes a surprising amount of time, despite having a 5 minute commute)– audiobooks. When I’m doing laundry or going for a run– audiobooks. And I don’t even pay for a subscription service. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has an amazing selection of books to download. I load them on my phone, plug in my headphones, and off I go!

The last several books have been emotionally heavy and melodramatic, which isn’t quite my style. I like dark books, true crime, books about people surviving horrific situations, that kind of stuff. Except I am not interested in war books, no thank you. My favorite book of all time is the Grapes of Wrath, which doesn’t quite fit that description, but it is dreary and miserable. Prime examples of my kind of books are In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Room by Emma Donaghue. I’ve been known to enjoy a funny book from time to time as well (hello, David Sedaris), but I am picky, and many humor books fall flat for me.

These are some of my favorites from this year so far:


This book is everything. It’s rare to find a book and movie that are both good, but both the book and the film are A.MAZ.ING. This is JLaw before she was JLaw, and that woman can ACT. And the story, so dismal, so gritty, it draws you right into the crank-cooking Ozarks, for Ree Dolly’s determined hunt for her father, who is on the lam but put the family home up as the bail bond. I can’t even. Go read it.

spellman files

Sandy picked this for our book club, and I think this book is the first one that has received unanimous approval. It’s like a grown up Harriet the Spy, set in reasonably-close-to-modern-day, and the whole family is private eyes and they are all crazy. And it is wonderful. Many of the women in my book club went straight from this book to devour the rest of the series in a matter of days, and I really need to get on that, because I feel like I’ve missed out on half the party.

sharp objects

With the much-awaited Gone Girl movie opening later this year, there’s probably going to be a run on Flynn’s earlier work. I rate this closer to 3.5 out of 5 stars (the other two above are 5 stars for sure), but it’s definitely worth picking up for something dark, entertaining and fun. I loved the whole small, demented, troubled town storyline and found it drew me in and kept me interested. I think the whole cutting storyline (for which the novel was named), actually didn’t add to the story, and seemed like the kind of dark over-the-top stuff I would have written myself during my teenage goth phase. But maybe that’s the target audience the book is going to (and admittedly, it hooked some of my shameful nostalgia for those years of my own life).

wolf of wall street

Ok, I can’t maintain any credibility as a book nerd in praising this book…but it IS a lot of fun. Totally, totally ridic. And an easy read. So if you need a book to make you feel so very normal and secure by comparison (because, yes, sometimes I need that), it’s a goodie.

PS- Are you my friend on Goodreads? If not, you should be!


32 Before 32: The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

I only got into audiobooks recently. My habit was to listen to the news in the car, but over time, the news just wore on me. I grew tired of listening to everyone killing and hating and complaining. I was perusing the books at the Dahntahn Carnegie Library, when it struck me: Forget the news! I’ll just listen to stories!

Dahntahn’s selection isn’t the greatest for books on CD.  I could usually find something that interested me, but not a whole lot. Then I checked out the collection at Main, and I was in loooove. It took a great deal of restraint, but I managed to only carry home 3 books my first visit.

While I was there, I spotted it: The thirty two disc unabridged audiobook of The Pillars of the Earth. I didn’t know much about the book other than I heard it was “good.” And being that it was SO ridiculously long, I felt like listening to the whole thing would be something of an accomplishment, something perfect for my 32 before 32 list.

Pillars of the Earth

I started listening to it right after the new year, and I finished it just tonight. There were a few times I had to turn it off while Baby Beez was in the car, because battle scenes and love scenes aren’t appropriate for young ears (see, I can responsibly parent sometimes!) Sometimes when I’ve got a lot of discs to go through in a book, I get bored and impatient. With Pillars, however, I wasn’t impatient for a second. I was immediately drawn in, and remained entranced for all FORTY ONE hours of the story.

The mini-synopsis: This is a story of a determined monk, and his life’s work of building a cathedral.

But the story isn’t just about the monk and the cathedral. The myriad characters from all walks of life are complex, endearing or horrible, or sometimes both. Their lives intersect in unexpected and complex ways. The story is remarkably layered, but still relatable on an emotional level.

There were two things that I loved best about this book: (1) It left me morally satisfied. The good people get their rewards, the bad people meet horrible ends, and (2) Follett has a talented way of describing the extremely subtle political interactions, both within the clergy, and between the clergy and nobility, in a fashion that is easily understandable to the reader, but simultaneously not insultingly dumbed-down or boringly dry.

I’m not a patient reader. I like things that go fast, and I like the satisfaction of quickly checking books off my list. The enormity of Pillars did not deter me, because it kept me unerringly engaged. It is not often I say this, but I was a little sad when I came to the end, because I enjoyed the story so much.


2013 and 52 books down

2013 and 52 books down

I’ve got 2 days left in 2013, and I’ve made it to my 52 “fun books” goal for the year!  Some books were long, some were short. Some took weeks, some took hours. Fitting in this much reading time takes some strategy:

1. I have to read before I go to bed. Not “have to” as in I really want to, but “have to” as in “it is absolutely necessary for me to read if I wish to sleep through the night.  If I do not read, I will be up at 2am for several hours, staring at the ceiling or in a panic. Reading is the only successful method I have found for getting a full night’s sleep.

2. I read fast.

3. I listen to books on tape in the car, too. And even though I don’t do a whole lot of traveling, it’s surprising how many books you can get through just doing errands here and there around town.

4. When the rest of the house is watching TV, I’m reading.  I don’t watch much TV at all. I watch American Horror Story and that’s about it. The rest of the time, it’s either Mr. Beez or Baby Beez in control of the remote, and I read.

5. I tend to pick a lot of light, fast books. There were a few heavier books in there, but a lot of them are very breezy fiction or YA.

My favorites from this year’s list were:

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan (2012)

We Live in Water, Jess Walter (2013)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (2013)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple (2012)

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier (1938)

The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling (2012)

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green (2012)

What were your favorites that you read this year? What’s on your nightstand for next year?


Good Morning

Hello. It is Saturday Morning. Well, afternoon technically. It’s 12:05. So far I have survived Baby Beez’ ballet class, got a little coffee, and got a little work done. None of this has been easy. Baby Beez is in the “Fighting about Every Darn Thing” phase which involves a lot of screaming and flailing. Plus she’s aggressively cuddly, meaning that she throws elbows and knees in a crazed race to climb into and monopolize my lap. That makes it very hard for me to any work. I got so unbelievably frustrated and irritated that I was yelling too, and had to hide up in the bedroom to get my work done.

I hate being so angry in response to her WANTING to be close to me. I know that the time for her cuddles is limited. And I never want her to feel like I am pushing her aside to get work done. But sometimes I just need a darn hour to revise a Complaint, and she just needs to WAIT one darn hour (watch Tangled again for goodness sake!) and she’ll get all the cuddles she wants. I am thankful for Mr. Beez running interference today. I try to be patient. But try is not always the same as succeed. And when I don’t do as well as I would wish, I’m glad he is there to help out.

So the remainder of today involves holiday parties and writing briefs. I have two very big filings at the end of the year, which is unusual because December is usually a slow month for litigation. Truth be told, I would rather work hard and bank the hours now, and have a little more room to breathe in the warmer months. Winter is not my thing and I don’t mind spending the hours in the warm indoors takin’ care of business.

I’ve been looking forward to the release of the BlogHer Food agenda, ever since BlogHer announced that the conference will take place in Miami this year.  It was released earlier this week, and after much thinking and talking with Mr. Beez and thinking some more, I have decided I am not going to go this year.  This year’s conference has a much more commercial focus than last year. Most of the sessions are tailored towards brand/blogger relations, and people who want to turn their food blogging into a career, whether through a book or company or what have you.  It focuses a lot more on the cooking side of food blogging, and has nothing on the restaurant/food enthusiast side of blogging.  This is not a criticism in the least. The conference provides a totally valuable forum for a huge number of people. It’s just not the right emphasis or approach for my interests, so I decided that my time would be better spent just picking my own weekend to visit Miami at another time. I was considering buying my ticket earlier, but now I’m glad that I held off, because I think the event would not be the right fit for me. Big Summer Potluck is still TOTALLY in the cards, and now that I see that Big Traveling Potluck is only a bit of a drive from my Mom’s house, that too is a possibility….gotta choose FAST though, because tickets go on sale Monday!

During the last few weeks I have gone a little crazy with Amazon purchases (lots of sales!), so I’ve got the following books locked and loaded: The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt). And the Mountains Echoed (Khaled Hosseini), Burial Rites (Hannah Kent), Orange is the New Black (Piper Kerman), Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card), Books 2-5 of the Song of Ice And Fire (aka Game of Thrones) (George R.R. Martin). I am also 2% into Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace), but I can only hope to get that read by the end of my life, forget the end of this year.
What do yinz guys have on your nightstands?