Review of RESOLVE, A Novel by J.J. Hensley

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If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may recall I am aspiring to be an author of an actual physical book one day (sooner, rather than later would be nice). Truth be told, I already consider myself a writer both because of this blog and my newest writing adventure to promote blood clot education and awareness. As you may also know, I have done a few book reviews on this blog and they are by far my favorite thing to review, especially when written by a first-time author. I recently read Resolve by J.J. Hensely and was able to review it.

Resolve is a murder-mystery novel written by J.J. Hensley, and while I love a good mystery, I was originally interested in reading this book because it takes place at the Pittsburgh Marathon – the race I ran as my first marathon in 2011. What I found once I started reading was that the plot and mystery of the story itself were simply intriguing. I could not put the book down from the first sentence, which remains my favorite.

Here is a short synopsis of Resolve from where you can also order your own copy-

In the Pittsburgh Marathon, 18,000 people from all over the world will participate. Some 9,500 will run a half marathon, while 4,500 participants will attempt the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 will quit before it’s over. More than 100 will be injured and require medical treatment. And one man is going to be murdered. When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows who is going to die — for the simple reason that he’s going to kill him.

Keller, a university professor of criminology at Three Rivers University and a former police officer, is an expert in criminal behavior and victimology. However, when one of his female students is murdered and his graduate assistant attempts to kill him, Keller finds himself swinging frantically back and forth between being a suspect and a victim. When the police assign a motive to the crimes that Keller knows cannot be true, he begins to ask questions that somebody out there does not want answered.

In the course of 26.2 miles, Keller recounts how he found himself encircled by a series of killings that have shocked the city, while he pursues — literally — his prey: the man who is behind it all.

Hensley has a unique and hilarious sense of humor (not too far off from my own), plus the ability to tell a riveting tail that keeps the reader turning the pages until the very end. The characters are well-developed, relevant and the story really portrays both Hensley’s experience as a runner and his background in law enforcement, both of which I can relate to as well. This book is a must read for any runner desiring a non-traditional running book or any person looking for a suspenseful novel.

The book is arranged in a series of chapters named after the miles in a marathon – an idea that I have always thought to be brilliant when writing a running book. Each chapter begins with a recap of that particular mile in the Pittsburgh Marathon and is followed by a section of the murder-mystery story, which takes place at a local university. The miles and story are welded together seamlessly throughout the novel, and I soon forgot I was reading two different stories. Hensley is a seasoned storyteller – both on and off the race course.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Mr. Hensley about his novel and here is what he had to say-

1.     Why did you choose to write about the Pittsburgh Marathon? Is it a significant race for you?

The concept of the novel evolved as I was training for the 2010 Pittsburgh Half-Marathon.  My wife and I had moved to the Pittsburgh area in 2006 and had fallen in love with the city.  As I devised the plot of Resolve, I realized I wanted the city to evolve into its own character and the marathon is a perfect vehicle for describing an urban setting.  Additionally, there are so many mysteries and thrillers out there that are set in New York, Los Angeles, or Washington, D.C.  I prefer books in atypical settings with protagonists who are less-than-perfect.

2.     How did you write the recaps of the miles on the race course? I know I ran Pittsburgh and I can barely remember what I saw on the course!

I have to admit I retraced the steps of the half-marathon and also drove the rest of the full marathon course while constructing the novel.  I also quickly discovered the importance of Google Street View because like many runners, during a race, a great deal of my attention was on not crashing into the person in front of me or missing a much needed water station.  It also helped that I’m local to the area, so I’m fairly familiar with the city.

3.     How difficult was it to write about the race as it was taking place and the murder-mystery together? Did you write them together or separately?

I wrote the book exactly as the reader experiences it.  I would construct a race scenes and then move on to the flashbacks in that same chapter.  I wanted to make sure that what was happening in the race (the struggles to climb a steep hill or the main character passing a particular landmark) was symbolic of what was occurring in the main plotline.  I have always felt that each distance race is its own story and every mile is a unique chapter.  Resolve was mapped out in way that I hope reflects that belief.

4.     Do you have a favorite character or one you are particularly proud of?

I really like the two police detectives in the book.  In many novels where the protagonist is not with a police department, law enforcement officers are portrayed as incompetent or corrupt.  Throughout my history in law enforcement, I discovered most officers and agents are extremely honorable and intelligent.  For me, it was important to paint a realistic picture when it came to the detectives and not fall into the trap of using a stereotype that I believe is overused.

Oh, and the main character’s dog, Sigmund!  I have to give him a shout out.

5.     What advice would you give to someone training for their first marathon? What helped you get to the finish line?

I’m admittedly not a great marathoner.  I’ve found I like the half-marathon distance much, much better, but the challenge of the full marathon is something special.  For whatever reason, I can’t seem to run more than 25 – 30 miles per week without getting injured, so for my first marathon I fast-walked every 3rd mile.  That strategy worked great for me as it mentally broke the race up into 2 mile chunks for me.  I would tell myself, “Just run two miles and then you’ll be walking.”  Doing things that way kept me healthy and made the process much easier for me.  By the time I only had 6 or 7 miles to go, I didn’t even bother walking anymore.

6.     How has running influenced your writing? Do you find you are more creative when or shortly after running?

I’m a big believer in the psychological benefits of running.  I think running helps my writing, but it also helps me in my “real” job, my family life, and my overall wellbeing.  If I go three or four days without working out, I’m a real pain in the… well, I can be difficult.

7.     In your opinion, how are running and writing alike?

The biggest similarity is the mental approach.  If you stare at a blank page on the computer monitor and say, “Okay.  Now, I’m going to write 100,000 words and get published.  This should only take a year or two.”  You’re screwed.  It’s the same with running a distance race.  If you stand at the starting line and start thinking about the 13.1 miles or the 26.2 miles you have ahead of you, it’s too overwhelming.  I have to take things one chapter – or one mile – at a time.

8.    How has writing made you a better runner?

I’ve never really thought about it, but it probably has because it forced me to sit at a desk and not over-train.  Of course, I also tend to drink scotch when I write… so maybe not.

9.     How has running made you a better writer?

 Again, I think the psychological benefits have helped greatly in that aspect.  Of course if I’m exhausted after a 10 mile run, my spelling is probably atrocious.

I would definitely recommend Resolve to anyone looking for a great read this summer, especially if you are a runner. Be sure to connect with Hensley on Facebook too where you can find updates and more about his book.

Thank you to J.J. Hensley for the opportunity to interview him!

What about you? Have you read Resolve? If so, what did you think? Will you be adding Resolve to your summer reading list?

Until the next mile marker,

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The Jade Rabbit by Mark Matthews (Not your typical Easter bunny)

As I wrote Friday, Easter will never be the same for me. I grew up believing that Easter was a time of celebration, hope, renewal and joy. It was a time to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection in which He has cleansed us of our sins and we are made new again. Not to mention, my mother always made Easter special for us with Easter baskets, treats and a fun pair of socks. Last year, my mother was ripped unexpectedly from my life four days before Easter, and it is forever changed for me.

While I know people care and are there to support me even a year later, I sometimes feel like no one understands. I feel that I am alone in the hurt that I feel. Mostly I feel like I can’t even adequately describe the pain I feel – in speech or in written words. And, I have not found anyone else who can either.

Several weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to review a novel written by Mark Matthews called The Jade Rabbit. I was hesitant at first; honestly, there are not many fictional books that I enjoy. I always want to insert my opinion or thoughts into that of the author and they rarely match up. I can be critical and judgmental with fictional writing and frankly, if the story doesn’t turn out like I think it should, then I typically don’t like it.

The Jade Rabbit is one of the best fictional books I have read in a long time. And don’t think I say this lightly. My fictional world pretty much began and ended with Wuthering Heights so I don’t routinely read or review fictional novels because it seems to be that nothing will ever impact me like that book did.

This book is about an American-Chinese woman named Janice who was adopted at birth and grew up with her parents in the United States. She works with troubled and neglected youth at a local shelter for runaways and she is a runner attempting to run a sub three-hour marathon. Yes, this book is about a woman who runs and is passionate about it, but it is not solely about running. As a runner myself I can relate to this book on a deeply personal level, but it is not primarily the running part that I was able to relate to. Janice, the main character of the book, is faced with several life challenges and dilemmas that she must resolve while balancing the ethics of her job, home life, personal feelings about abandonment and loss, and training for the race of her life. The characters in this book are beautifully developed and true to the roles they take on in actions, thoughts and speech. It is clear that Mr. Matthews has done his research about Chinese adoption, social services, and running. This book challenges the reader to not only open his/her mind about things he/she may never have thought of, but encourages him/her to develop his/her own thoughts about the relevant topics of today and form opinions that may be different from what he/she originally thought. The book starts out a little slow in terms of action, but it is clear Mr. Matthews takes great care in developing the people, places, situations and plots that make this book unique.

Now, you may ask, what does all of this have to do with me? You see, although she is a fictional character, Janice and I have a lot in common. She is adopted, just like me and she lost her mother, as have I. We are both runners and we both Run to Remember. We both have a deep passion for helping those who are in pain or struggling, especially youth. I think it is captured best in the email I wrote to Mark. I debated whether or not to include in in this post because it is emotional and raw, but I feel compelled to do so in order to attempt to explain what this book has meant to me:

Dear Mark,
I am shaking as I write this. Maybe I should take a minute to compose my thoughts, but I can’t. I have to tell you, right now. I have a feeling you understand how that is. I’m reading your book. I’m not done yet, but almost. I just read the part where it is revealed that Jan’s mother is gone. Literally, my heart fell into my feet and then fell some more. I think I stopped breathing for a minute or two.
This is my life. My heart is beating so fast. The similarities between myself and Janice are unreal. I am adopted and do not know my birth mother. I once worked with at-risk youth. My mother passed away while running. I ran the race of my life in Florida for her. Running is the only way I feel like I can still connect with her sometimes.
Did you know that I love running and hate it all at once in some passion-filled, mixed up, fantastic relationship? I love it because it gave me my mother (her health, happiness, years to her life, time with one another) and I hate it because, in my mind, it took her too. I want to quit, but I can’t. I don’t want to quit, but I do. And on and on and on. It will be one year since her passing in April. Now, I run to remember her.
It is so much like my story.
Not only can I very clearly relate to it above all else, but it is beautifully written and the characters are masterfully developed.
I can’t fully articulate it yet, but with tears in my eyes now, I thank you for this. Somehow, I know I needed to read it.

Yes, I needed to read this book, and I do not believe that it was a coincidence that it was sent to me by Mark when it was. In Mark’s correspondence to me, he articulated that he likes to read something that recognizes pain as well as joy. Let me tell you, I think I needed to read this book because of the pain. After I wrote Mark my initial response, I sat alone on the couch and thought about Janice and how much I could relate to her. I thought about her pain, but tried my hardest not to feel my pain. Then, I let myself feel it. It was intense. I cried and my heart just started aching. A physical, burning, pounding, tightening – a real pain, that I felt. Janice’s story hits home because it is so close to my own.

I sat there just feeling it over and over again. And, in that moment, I realized that I had not entirely let myself feel the pain of my mom’s death. I tried to be strong for everyone. I was heartbroken when my mother died (and still am), but I never really truly let myself grieve to the point of feeling this deep, dark, horrible pain.

I was born in Hannibal, MO and no one really knew a lot about my birth mother. I always knew I was adopted and adoption was always explained to me in a positive light by my parents. We never spoke poorly of my birth mother. It was always said that she did what she did out of love, to give me a better life. Still, from time to time throughout my life, I felt like there was a hole in me. And that is not to say I ever felt unloved or unwanted. There is no doubt in my mind my parents love me!! Two summers ago, my husband and I travelled to Hannibal because I had never been back there, and I wanted to feel close to something that was from my birth. I have never met my birth mother and I don’t know why she made the decisions she did so many years ago, but I don’t have hate or anger towards her. I just feel sadness that I can’t tell her I understand why she did what she did. I wouldn’t have my parents if it weren’t for the decision she made. 

Now that my mother is gone, I know now that things happened exactly how they were supposed to. Janice’s character helped me to realize that I do have both women inside of me. My birth mother because she gave me a life and my mother because she gave me my life. They will live on in me. I needed to understand just how much a part of me my mother is, even though she is gone. And I will keep her memory alive by running. I know she runs with me always.

You can find The Jade Rabbit on Amazon and you can find out more about Mark Matthews on his own blog. Please stop by and read some of his posts. He is a masterful writer. 
Happy Easter, friends. May you be filled with peace and feel renewed on this day. 
Until the next mile marker, 

Are YOU Running Inspired?

Little known fact about me: My running career (if you want to call it that) actually began in middle school. I joined the Cross Country team in 7th grade only because it was not called Track and therefore implied I did not have to be fast. Then I found out the team name was the Huskies and once again worried about the fast part. I was pretty sure there were not any slow Huskies hanging around. I ran Cross Country for a season or two, I was slow – usually last to finish – but I had fun. I had friends on the team and looked forward to spending time with them (someone tell me exactly how that is different from today). I joined the marching band in high school and didn’t really think twice about running.
In college, my roommate took Running as her gym credit and I thought, “Seriously?! She’s going to run for a semester?!” Ugh. I took swimming instead and then I took weight lifting. Anything to avoid having to run around campus. That sounded too hard and she was getting up before the sun. Not me. After college, I made several attempts to start running (it was never start running again), but never followed through. Most notably was when I signed up for the Columbus Half Marathon several years ago and then drove my car from my house to work one day and noticed that my odometer said 10.9 miles. Not even a half marathon? Not hardly. I never even made it to that start line.
In 2009 I started running again, this time training for a half with the help of a training group, Marathoners in Training. And, I guess you could say it stuck. Often times, I look back on what was different about that time than all the others. Why did I keep running? I firmly believe it was because I had the encouragement, advice, support, guidance and instruction from top-notch coaches and veteran runners to help me. They taught me to run. Without MIT, I felt like just another idiot trying to run laps around the park with absolutely no idea what I was doing. Who knew you had to learn to run? Apparently not me.
I get a lot of questions about running – people want to know how I run, why I run, where I run, do I run by myself or with friends, what do I wear, what do I eat, how far and how fast but mostly, other people want to know how I started running and how I stick with it. I am fortunate enough to have access to an awesome training group and many experienced runners and coaches, but I also know that not everyone is so lucky. For people who aren’t in Central Ohio, I wish there was a place I could direct them, a good resource for a good running start. After all, there is no reason for us not to run. It is simple, you don’t need a lot of gear, it doesn’t have to be expensive and anyone can do it. Yes, anyone.
I was recently given the opportunity to read and review The Ultimate Beginner’s RunningGuide: The Key To Running Inspired by Ryan Robert. Enter my great resource! In fact, Ryan’s book is written for people who want to get off the couch and get running.

As Ryan sums it up, his book will help the beginning runner:
  • Run with good form for maximum efficiency and to avoid injury.
  • Build a powerful mental training program that includes a running journal and visualizations.
  • Select the right shoes and gear for different conditions and weather.
  • Eat simply, with suggested menu items.
  • Get past embarrassment and being self-conscious.
  • Prevent and treat common running injuries.
  • Find support and encouragement in the running community.
What I like most about Ryan’s book is that it is simplistic in nature. If you are looking for great detail or have been running for years, this book is not for you. Who is it for then? The complete beginner, someone like me who is going from nothing to jogging a few days a week in an effort to maybe lose weight, get in shape or maybe take on a new challenge. In fact, Ryan’s book offers several training plans based on multiple reasons why someone may take up a running program: Active Beginners, Non-Exercisers, Weight Loss, and People 50 and Over. I wish I had copies of this book to hand out to people when they say, “I’m too (fat, old, busy, slow) to start running now.” If it can be done (which it can because I did it), Ryan will help you find the way.
For someone who has a lot of experience running, this book may seem too general or not detailed enough, which is what I first thought when reading it. Then, I thought back to myself when I first started running – I literally had no idea what to do if there was a raindrop, let alone if I had an ache or a pain. Proper footwear? What on earth does that mean? I have tennis shoes, right?
While reading, I immediately started to change how I was approaching it. I imagined myself back, almost three years ago, when I didn’t know anything. What would my old self have wanted to know more about? It was then that I realized this book is an all-inclusive guidebook for the beginning runner. In fact, I wish I had multiple copies to distribute to my new running friends.
Some of the topics that I found particularly helpful were Mechanics, including proper running form, stretching (with examples), heart rate and training zones (I really wish I knew more about this in the beginning) and the importance of proper footwear. Ryan also talks about self-consciousness while running and how to overcome it – definitely worth the read! Once you get the basics down, the book goes into a little more detail about improving performance with hill running and staying motivated. Finally, Ryan discusses nutrition, hydration, how to run in adverse conditions (rain, hot, cold, wind) and common injuries, including treatment. Ryan in no way claims to be a doctor or medical professional, but gives you enough information to determine if you have a serious injury as well as some basic tips to alleviate pain and determine whether or not you should keep running without further medical advice. All of which are invaluable for the first-time runner.
On a personal note, I found Ryan’s nutritional guidelines especially valuable because they are very similar to my own personal nutrition (when I am fully on track) even though I feel like I seldom find anyone who agrees with me. He promotes a clean diet (free of processed, boxed and sugar-laden foods) and encourages the consumption of complex carbohydrates including whole grains and pastas as well as vegetables. What I value is that Ryan encourages increasing the amount of proteinwe ingest when beginning a running program. I have to pay particular attention to this because of my insulin sensitivity – I must pair a complex carb or a simple carb (such as fruit) with a protein to aid in proper digestion. I find a lot of runners back off on protein, especially before a long run, but I feel like I am often doing just the opposite! Ryan also discusses alternative protein sources (and I do get tired of meat) like beans as well peanut and nut butters. He includes simple meal plans to get you off to a healthy, inexpensive and simple start.
So, I know from time to time I get new runners following my blog. This book would definitely be a great resource for you to get off the couch and get moving! You can find it through HERE. It’s only $2.99 and you certainly can’t beat that. You can also visit the book’s Facebook Page to stay up to date.
Until the next mile marker,