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really good read

Really Good Read: The Good Dream by Donna VanLiere

Written on July 24, 2013 at 12:15 pm , by

This novel, released in early July, is set in a close-knit Tennessee farming community. (Courtesy of Amazon.com)

Book critics, whether professional or casual, sure can be harsh. Everyone is looking for something different in their leisure time reading, right? So when a book earns ★★★★★, you know it’s a keeper. Donna VanLiere’s The Good Dream received that favorable rating from Amazon reviewers—and us!

The novel begins in the 1950s with Ivorie, a small-town Tennessee woman who is on a quest for emotional connections after her mom recently died (don’t worry—we’re not spoiling any big secrets!). Despite only being in her early 30s, Ivorie is known as the lonely town “spinster.” She slowly begins to connect with George, a neighboring farmer who she had previously only looked at as a friend. That is, until a mysterious town visitor and Ivorie’s compassionate nature threatens to put a halt to their romance. Will she go the way of her heart or her head?

The book’s spunky, courageous protagonist makes this beach-friendly read hard to put down. Plus, the retro setting, in an era prior to the invention of the Internet and cell phones, will transport you back to a time when warm summer evenings were spent on the porch with a cold glass of lemonade and a good book. Put your cell phone on silent and follow suit.

More page-turners to peruse:

Really Good Read: Love Me Anyway by Tiffany Hawk

Written on June 28, 2013 at 9:20 am , by

Toss this in your beach bag and watch the hours fly by. (Photo courtesy of St. Martin’s Press)

Have you ever read a novel where you can easily envision a celeb-filled movie adaptation? You know it’s going to be a good one when your imagination jumps to film…or the likes of Leo, Brad and Channing! Whatever comes first.

Love Me Anyway, the debut novel by former flight attendant Tiffany Hawk, was one of those books. Think of a toned down Fifty Shades of Grey with steamy love affairs, funny flight anecdotes and a whole lot more adventure and possibility with each new passport stamp.

After battling turbulent, lonely (even abusive) pasts, twenty-somethings Emily—a recent divorcée from a blue-collar California town—and KC—a promiscuous party girl in search of her estranged father—seek haven in the air. Despite emotional baggage, the girls’ lives take flight as they discover the true definition of freedom in both personal and national security contexts along the way.

The quick beach read weaves an intricate tale of love, friendship, moral conviction and self-discovery. Buckle up, it’s a bumpy but thrilling ride full of scandals and an all access behind-the-scenes look at the airline industry’s emotional side. While I hope one day I’ll see Megan Hilty play the role of the bubbly blonde KC, there’s one thing I know for sure: Love Me Anyway is the perfect accompaniment for the toes-in-the-sand, (low-cal) cocktail-in-hand summer bliss.

Really Good Read: “Boston Billy” Is Back in Marathon Man

Written on May 30, 2013 at 2:23 pm , by

Read this and you’ll be lacing up those sneaks faster than ever before. (Photo courtesy of St. Martin’s Press)

Long before the time of Gatorade, GU or GPS watches, Bill Rodgers set a 2:09:55 American record at the Boston Marathon. There were no clocks or traffic control for his 1975 victory and medals were awarded only to the top three runners.

“You didn’t see lots of couples or families showing up to races,” the legendary long-distance runner reminisced in his new book-meets-memoir, Marathon Man, which he co-authored with Matthew Shepatin. “I didn’t know any running couples, and to see a woman runner was shocking. Some would think: Oh, good grief, there’s a woman runner. My attitude was: Good going!”

Running as both a sport and culture has made drastic strides over the past few decades—something I rarely considered before reading the 26.2-mile journey of the infamous “Boston Billy.” The book’s chapters alternate between play-by-plays from his first big victory and life prior to the momentous moment in history, as he falls in, out and back in love with running.

The pavement-pounding passion that burns within so many of us used to be quite the enigma “for freaks and fairies,” although seemingly simpler. Perhaps that ease was just the spirit Bill conveyed despite his quick pace. With each turning page, I craved the same sweat and pain that comes with training territory, but it was Bill’s natural, liberating take and mindset—something no gadget could ever provide—that I found truly moving.

“Running wasn’t an escape from life; rather it was an embrace of it,” Bill explained. “As I bounded along the park trail, I wasn’t sailing around in chaos. I was charging forward with purpose.” For Bill, rising to the top of the running world wasn’t about the fame or a collection of tech tees (well, those didn’t even exist yet!). It was a sense of freedom he couldn’t experience anywhere else.

Road races before the late 70s running boom were nuts and bolts affairs, a morale-boosting medicine that wasn’t so much about the time, but a hunt for the win. Bill sported ensembles from dumpster dives (stiff jeans in the colder months—yikes!) and hydrated with an old shampoo bottle. He ran the same way he did as a kid catching butterflies in the fields of Connecticut, even stopping to tie his shoes with six miles to go before winning the Holy Grail of marathons.

Yes, we now know a lot more in respect to the athletic do’s and don’ts, something we here at FITNESS love to keep you all up on. But if this invaluable book taught me anything, it’s to lace up my sneaks without much of a thought and simply enjoy the ride. Who knows, maybe I’ll leave my pop playlist behind, turning to the birds and sound of my own breath to pace my stride. This book is more than a good read. It’s my new Bible. Pages are folded, quotes are highlighted and it will be a go-to gift for my fellow running pals. You learn through Bill’s mistakes, defeats and triumphs, cheering him along as if the historical race is live. I won’t be fueling up on ketchup-smeared brownies anytime soon—sorry, Bill, that’s a little much—but I will pour myself full force into what Bill often referred to as his “channel.” His perseverance sparked a fire under my tread that lead to a race-filled summer. Who knows, maybe I’ll even go for the full 26.2 soon, too.

Now you tell us: Where do you find your run-spiration?

Really Good Read: The Star Attraction by Alison Sweeney (Plus Q+A with ‘The Biggest Loser’ Host!)

Written on May 23, 2013 at 1:58 pm , by

Dive into the world of working in Hollywood. (Photo courtesy of Hyperion Books)

Ever wonder what goes on behind-the-scenes in Hollywood, where celebs strut their stuff and their publicists work tirelessly to make sure they look good? If so, then we recommend picking up The Star Attraction by Alison Sweeney. Available now, the first fiction novel from the host of The Biggest Loser takes us into the world of Sophie Atwater, one of the best publicists in Los Angeles. She loves her boyfriend, Jacob, her job and the thrill of working with the stars. But when hottie actor Billy Fox (think Ryan Gosling-level here, ladies) becomes a client, Sophie’s life quickly spirals out of control as sparks fly and she starts to fall for a client for the first time.

We breezed through this story in a few days, making it a great choice for devouring while lounging poolside or at the beach. Just don’t forget the sunscreen because you might get sucked into the story and lose all track of time. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

And if you want to know what compelled Sweeney to pen her first piece of fiction, we’ve got you covered there, too. We sat down with the actress and author to find out whether the scenes she created come from experience, and if we can expect a sequel sometime soon.

What made you want to dive into fiction writing?

I love to read. I gobble books up left, right and sideways. But I also love telling stories. And being apart of Days of Our Lives for 20 years has given me a million stories to tell. I’m so grateful for that. But you know, sometimes it doesn’t go the way I would want it to go as a fan. I wanted to write something that had the ending that I wanted it to have. It was so fun to get sucked into this girl’s life and tell her story.

You’ve said you read all of the time. Who are some of your favorite authors?

Well, my favorite author alive today is Jodi Picoult.

We love her! Did you read her new book, The Storyteller?
[Editor's note: Check out our thoughts on The Storyteller, another one of our Really Good Reads, here.]

Yes, it was amazing! I did this book club on Twitter and Facebook and we read it right when it came out. It was amazing. She’s so inspiring and I just love her controversial topics. She’s amazing.

OK, back to your book. Sophie seems like she’s at a very different point in her life than where you are. Did you relate to her at all, or did you pull from your own experiences when creating her character?

Oh yeah, there’s a lot of her that’s in me, and vice versa. I think that her story is so interesting to me because she is growing and learning and finding herself, and that’s such a great thing for people to see and relate to. And the steamy, fun, romantic stuff – all the red carpet gossip – it’s all stuff I’ve seen in Hollywood, been a part of or witnessed, so it was fun to pull the curtain back a little bit.

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Really Good Read: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Written on March 28, 2013 at 12:30 pm , by

Give yourself plenty of time to get lost in this book, otherwise you’ll be up way past your bedtime! (Photo courtesy of Emily Bestler Books)

At the beginning of the year, many staffers made the resolution to read more in 2013. While statistics show that most resolutions fall by the wayside by the end of January, we’re determined to stick with this one! Reading during a commute to work (bonus of public transportation!) and unplugging from technology for a few hours before bed has allowed me to not only unwind after a busy day, but sleep better and prep for tomorrow.

The only downside? When you get a really good read in your hands, it’s so hard to put down! That’s what happened when Jodi Picoult’s latest title, The Storyteller, landed on my desk. Here at FITNESS, we like to get lost in the story of a strong female protagonist, and Picoult gives us just that with Sage Singer, a baker who’s trying to escape a reality of loneliness and the emotional scarring her mother’s death has left behind.

At her grief group, Sage meets Josef Weber, an elderly gentleman who seems to be the nicest guy in town. Before long she’s confiding in him, telling her own stories and developing a friendship. Unfortunately, Josef’s befriended her for a reason – he asks her for a huge favor; one that will make him feel better about being a Nazi who worked at one of the worst concentration camps known to man. Yup, he was at Auschwitz.

Not only do we watch as Sage develops her own confidence, but the story bounces back to that of her grandmother’s – a survivor of Auschwitz. In her soul lies true strength, love and determination to get out alive, even while her family and loved ones are falling victim to the Holocaust left and right.

And of course, we can’t have a page-turner without a love interest, right? Don’t worry, Picoult delivers when Leo Stein enters the picture. I won’t reveal how or why he’s there, but he definitely provides relief in an otherwise intense novel, and satisfies those of us craving some romance.

If you’re a fan of books surrounding World War II and the Holocaust, this is definitely one for you. Picoult manages to be searingly honest in her portrayal of each character, yet delicately explores what people will do in order to protect family and not repeat the mistakes of our nation’s history.

Now you tell us: What books are at the top of your 2013 must-read list?