Caraval by Stephanie Garber:  Book Review

Caraval by Stephanie Garber: Book Review

Caraval is the first book of a series written by Stephanie Garber. It is a Teen fantasy book with a little bit of romance in it. I enjoyed reading this book very much. The characters and the story were captivating. I was always trying to figure out what was real and what was not, just as the main character was in the story. From the very first page, the story lead me away to another world. That is what stories are supposed to do. The story was entertaining from the beginning to the end of the book.

Scarlett is a delightful character. She is only one year older than her sister, but she feels responsible for her ever since their mother left them and their father. When their mother, Paloma, abandoned them, Scarlett thought she needed to protect Tella from their mean father. These two sisters have a very strong bond, which they will rely on throughout the story.

Caraval Synopsis

Scarlett and Donatella (Tella) have been told enchanting stories by their grandmother about Master Legend and Caraval ever since they were little girls. She explained to them how she was at Caraval and had the most beautiful dress. She also told them about the story of how Legend got his name. The sisters grew up fantasizing about what it would be like to go to Caraval.

Every year, right after their mother left, Scarlett would write Legend a letter begging him to bring his Caraval players to Trisda, the island where she lived, for her sister’s birthday. Finally, after seven years, Legend wrote Scarlett a letter back with three tickets for entrance to Caraval. Legend only responded to her once, and that was after she told him she was engaged to be married.  He ignored all of her other letters.  The three tickets were for Scarlett, her sister, and Scarlett’s fiance.

Scarlett’s father had arranged the marriage. She has not met her fiance yet. So far they had just a little correspondence with each other through letters. He seemed nice and said he had a room ready for Tella too. It was a way to get them away from their father.  Scarlett was looking forward to this marriage.  It gave her hope for a better life.

Julian, a sailor that Scarlett just met, gets the fiance’s ticket. He bargained with Scarlett that if he can have one admission to Caraval, he will get Scarlett and Tella to the isle where Caraval will perform this year. Scarlett accepts his offer.  Julian ends up pretending that he is the fiance at Caraval and helps Scarlett in the game.

Caraval: The Magical Game

Caraval is a magical place where the guests have the option to be players in the game. Upon entrance, the guests have the option to be a player or a spectator.  The players have five days to figure out all of the clues. The first one who completes the contest wins a prize, which is different each year. This year the award is a wish. After Scarlett arrives at Caraval, she finds out that Legend has kidnapped Tella. Tella is a part of the game. The person who finds Tella first wins and receives a wish.

The announcer invites each guest into Caraval with the same speech. Every guest is invited into Caraval with the same announcement.

“Welcome, welcome to Caravel! The grandest show on land or by sea. Inside you’ll experience more wonders than most people see in a lifetime. You can sip magic from a cup and buy dreams in a bottle. But before you fully enter into our world you must remember it’s all a game. What happens beyond this gate may frighten or excite you, but don’t let any of it trick you. We will try to convince you it’s real, but all of it is a performance. A world built of make-believe. So while we want you to get swept away, be careful of being swept too far away. Dreams that come true can be beautiful, but they can also turn into nightmares when people won’t wake up.” (page 77)

Throughout the story, Scarlett will often go back to the words that were said in this announcement to try to figure out what was happening in the game. A lot of it is not real, but it will seem very real and dangerous.

My Thoughts While Reading

Throughout the book, Scarlett and Tella’s mother, Paloma, is often mentioned. She just disappeared one day and abandoned her husband and children. Scarlett’s father did not become mean until she left. He searched everywhere for her but could not find her.

“When their mother, Paloma, had abandoned them, all the soft parts of Scarlett’s father seemed to disappear along with her. His rules went from strict to severe, and so did the consequences for failing to obey. It would have been so different if Paloma had just stayed on Trisda. Scarlett vowed she’d never leave Tella alone the way their mother had left them.” ( page 111)

In the beginning, I thought that her mother got lost in the Caraval, and maybe a wish made her father mean. However, her mother wasn’t part of the story. It was Scarlett’s grandmother that was mentioned at Caraval often. I think maybe in another book in the series, Stephanie Garber will tell the story about Paloma. I hope it will because I want to know what happened to her.

My Analysis

There were cliffhangers after almost every chapter. I thought to myself that I would read to the end of the chapter and then stop. But I couldn’t because I had to continue reading to find out what happens next.

There is a lot of action. Scarlett never knew who to trust. She didn’t know what was real or just magical. The magic works with your fears and desires. Every chapter there was a new adventure. There were no dull moments.

I didn’t keep on thinking, as I do in some novels, about the end because there are so many mysteries in this story. Scarlett doesn’t know who Julian really is. Could he be trusted? Why did Legend pick her? Is she going to find her sister? I’m enjoying every part of the story.

I was thinking at the end of the book that we would find out about their mother. I was thinking that she went to Caravel and that is where she disappeared. Did some magic happen that changed their father? This question that I had throughout the book was never answered.

I will need to read the next book in the series to find out. This was a very good book. I can’t wait until I can get the next book to continue the story.

The other two books in the series are Legendary: A Caraval Novel and Finale: A Caraval Novel. I am definitely going to read these books.

Hamstring Exercises For Runners

Hamstring Exercises For Runners

I used to have weak hamstrings. I thought they were just tight. However, After working with a fitness trainer for a week, I found out that my quadriceps were much stronger than my hamstrings. It was hard for me to do any exercises on the hamstring machines, except if I used really light weights. Eventually, after focusing on hamstring exercises for a few weeks, my hamstrings and quads were more equal in strength.

Consequently, my running also improved. The hamstrings and quadriceps work together to help with your balance during running. Optimally, one muscle shouldn’t be more dominant than the other. The quadriceps move your leg forward, and the hamstrings moves it back. If the hamstring muscles are weak, the gluteus muscles take over. The hamstrings should work in conjunction with the gluteus and quadriceps. Balance is crucial with all the uneven pavement during road and train running.

Strengthen Hamstrings

I found the video below when I was searching for tight hamstring stretches. I thought my hamstrings were tight. In gym class, when we would work on hamstring exercises, I had a hard time doing them. I always wondered why almost everyone else could do it, but I couldn’t. After doing some research, I found that they weren’t tight. I just needed to strengthen them.

In the video, Kirk Warner answered this question for me. It is because I am quad dominant, as he mentions in the video, and so I need to work on strengthening my hamstrings more. Quad dominance is often a problem with runners, which leads to knee pain. It can also result in hamstring and knee injuries. Now my hamstrings are powerful, and I am no longer quad dominant.

Kirk says that when you have tight hamstrings, it may not be that they are tight but that they are weak. Which then, it is better to strengthen them rather than to stretch them all the time. Hamstrings are tight because they are weak compared to the quads.

I suggest doing these exercises two to three times per week. Some of them are hard and will take some time to build-up to the advance movements.

Hamstring Exercises for Runners
Kirk Warner

Kirk is not really smooth in doing the exercises, but they are good exercises to do. These are the hamstring exercises he demonstrates. I added a few suggestions.

1. Single leg bridge

Start with a two-leg bridge, and then move up to a single leg bridge when your hamstrings get stronger. Hold for 30 seconds; repeat 3 times on each leg. Keep the leg parallel with each other.

2. Hamstring Curls

Start in the two-leg bridge, then push your feet out slowly in front of you, while keeping your hips up. When you get more advanced, do one leg at a time. Do 12 on each leg.

Kirk says to buy a bucket top. When on a hardwood floor, you can do it in socks. Or you can also use a towel. When on a carpet, you can use a paper plate.

Exercises that Work Both Hamstrings and Balance

The best hamstring exercises are leg curls and deadlifts. I really couldn’t find any other kind of training. Although I added two mini-workouts below that work on both balance and hamstrings. I enjoy doing these movements more than the traditional exercises. Also, once your hamstring becomes more robust, they do need to be stretched. The two movements that I demonstrate are dynamic, which both strengthens and stretches the hamstrings.

Runners Pose
Brenda Humphreys Jones

Runners Pose

Start standing on one foot and lift your other leg up in front of you with the knee bent. While balancing on one leg, bring the bent leg behind you while leaning forward. Your arms will be bent also. Move the same side arm back as the leg, and the other arm will come forward for balance. The standing leg will be slightly bent too. Make the movement slow. Then return to the starting position. Repeat this five times on each leg.

Warrior III Pose

Start in a standing position with your arms straight over your head. Slowly lean forward, keeping your arms by your ears, with your back straight while extending your other leg. Warrior III Pose is when your arms and raised leg are parallel to the ground. Keep your standing leg slightly bent. Continue leaning over until your hands reach the ground. Then, slowly return to a standing position. Repeat five times on each leg.

Hamstring exercises are important to keep the muscles balanced in your legs. We are always working on quad exercises, but not so much for the hamstrings. Keep them both well toned by performing these trainings regularly.

Stretching is also important, as I show in my other blog post, 6 Post-Run Stretches to Prevent Soreness.

How I Became A Marathoner

How I Became A Marathoner

I often get asked how I started running and why I became interested in marathons How did I become a marathoner? Here is my story.

Sometimes people pass through your life for just a brief moment but can change your life completely. That is what happened to me. I believe that you can do or say something that affects another person. Sometimes you will never know how you affected someone else, whether it is good or bad. You could change their life for better or worse.

I had a potential boyfriend who I only talked to online. We talked long distance but never met. We never did date. But he changed my life drastically. He told me one day that he was going to a meetup group event. I was intrigued so I asked him about this group. Immediately I went to the website and signed up. The meetup group wasn’t just in his state. There were meetup groups around my city too. One little mention about meetup gave me such hope and excitement.

My First Hike

There are so many groups to sign up for on this website. I enjoy the outdoors so I signed up to become a member of the Pittsburgh Hiking Group. My first hike was a very difficult hike. It was the most challenging part of the Rachel Carson Trail.

We carpooled that day and I told the other people in the car that this was my first hike. They were apprehensive if I could do this treacherous hike. This is not a hike for first-timers. I told them I should be fine since I do a lot of spinning and am active at the gym. I really had no idea what I was getting into.

Surprisingly, I did terrific on the hike. I had no problem at all hiking up and down the huge hills. I was exhilarated after the hike. Finally, I can do activities outdoors with other people. None of my friends like that stuff.

I went hiking almost every Saturday from that day forward. Usually, I am at the front of the group where the fast walkers are. After a period of time, I started running parts of the trail. I was walking so fast, I just naturally made it into a jog.

After a few months of hiking, other hikers were telling me about the Rachel Carson Challenge. “The Challenge is a 35-mile long, one-day, sunrise to sunset endurance hike on nearly the entire rugged Rachel Carson Trail.” I immediately signed up. During the Rachel Carson Challenge, I ran a lot of it. The first time I participated I completed it in 10 hrs 11 min. I felt great. I kept doing it every year for three years.

My First Marathon

Eventually, I got some other hikers interested in running. We were running on the trail together, going fast during the hikes, and then jogging some of the time. My hiking friends started signing up for half marathons. So I decided to also. My first Half Marathon was so much fun. I never trained for it, but with all the running I did while hiking and working out at the gym, I was conditioned for the long run.

After the half marathon, I took a few years off of both hiking and running. Not because I wanted to but because circumstances in life forced me to.

When I got back into running, it was a slow process. I signed up as a member of Steel City Road Runners, a Pittsburgh running club. I began running every Saturday to train for the marathon. For the first year, I was really slow. I did a walk/run pace before I could do a steady slow run. Eventually, my speed increased.

In my first marathon, the picture shown above, I was crying the last couple of miles of the race. I couldn’t believe that I was running a marathon. Seeing the finish line, tears were coming down my face. I was so happy. I did it!

So far, I have done two half marathons and three full marathons, and many other small races. I do more running than hiking now, just because it does not take so long to do. I still love hiking and do as many hikes as I can.

To learn more about how you can start running, go to How To Start Running for Fitness.


Common Running Injuries:  How to Prevent and Treat Them

Common Running Injuries: How to Prevent and Treat Them

Runners at one time or another usually end up with an injury. Thankfully, I have not experienced any running-related injury. Since I don’t know much about these injuries, I thought that I would look to see what information I can find to share with you.

My foot would cramp up to where it would hurt even if I would stretch it a little. I didn’t really call this an injury because it would go away after about ten minutes. This happened almost every time I worked out hard on the treadmill for about 40 minutes and then I took a 60-minute spinning class. My foot would cramp up as soon as I got off of the spinning bike. I tried to stretch but I couldn’t because it hurt too much.

After reading through these articles I tried to figure out what was causing my pain. None seemed to fit. The closest I could find that described what I was feeling was the Plantar Fascitis, although I do not feel pain in my heel. I will follow the advice to prevent this from occurring again.

These are five articles that I want to share with you. I think the articles are very good to either prevent injury or to recover from one. I always emphasize on doing things to prevent injury.

1. 6 Post-Run Stretches to Prevent Soreness

5 Post-Run Stretches
by Brenda Humphreys Jones

This article, 6 Post-Run Stretches to Prevent Soreness, demonstrates stretches to help prevent injuries from occurring. Stretching is very important after a run. Otherwise, your muscles get tight, which can cause pain in your muscles a day or two later. It is not a good kind of pain where the muscle is getting stronger.

2. Common Running Injuries and How to Prevent Them

by Kelsey Ogletree

This article Common Running Injuries and How to Prevent Them lists some common injuries and explains what it is, what it feels like, and how to prevent the injury. She describes them in terms that most people would understand. I like the preventative methods she has for muscle pull; strength training is good.

3. 5 Most Common Running Injuries: Tips for Prevention and Treatment

by Clay Abney

In this article, 5 Most Common Running Injuries: Tips for Treatment and Prevention, the author describes each running injury and gives exercises to help prevent from developing this condition. I like how he includes foam rolling to massage the muscle. I’m taking the advice he gives for Plantar Fasciitis.

4. Understanding Common Running Injuries and How to Prevent Them

by Charlotte Manning

I enjoyed this article, Understanding Common Running Injuries and How to Prevent Them, because it describes the injury in medical terms and shows pictures of each injury. Some pictures show the specific muscle, while others are x-rays showing which bones or ligaments that are affected by the injury. I like seeing the images to know exactly where the muscle or bone is that they are referring to.

5. Common Running Injuries

by Runner Market

Runner Market is a running store. I found this great article, Common Running Injuries, on their website which describes the most common injuries, including shin splints, which the other articles do to mention. The writer goes into much more detail about how you can identify the injury and exactly treatment can be done and how to prevent it.

How To Start Running for Fitness

How To Start Running for Fitness

There are several reasons people want to start running for fitness.

Many people have told me that they could only lose weight when they started running. Even though they are active at the gym participating in group classes, spinning, and lifting weights, they still can’t lose weight.

Some people are cyclists who say that they ride their bikes as a recreational activity and to stay fit. Yet when they started running, they began to lose weight and gain muscle.

Running is done with no equipment (except for a good pair of shoes) so it is great for your fitness goals if you can’t get to a gym and don’t have any equipment at home.

Sometimes it is just good to do an exercise outside in the fresh air. It can be done solo or with a group. To start running for fitness, follow these guidelines.

Run/Walk

Start your running session with walking. Walking for ten minutes to warm up the muscles will prevent injury and will get your heart rate up a little before you start the hard workout. After the warm-up, you will begin running. Try running for one minute and walk for two minutes. Or, if you feel comfortable, run until you feel you have to walk. Then walk until you catch your breath again. Keep alternating until you are done with the distance you want to run.

Run easy. Don’t sprint and then stop. Run at a slow pace at first. In a few weeks, you will eventually be able to run longer before you need to walk. Naturally, you will also get faster and your running time will be greater than your walking time.

Run With a Group

Find a running group to join. It is easier to run consistently if you have accountability. Also, when you run with other people they will help you push on to go a little longer during your running and maybe go a little faster. Although don’t go too fast if it is not comfortable for you. Go at your own pace. Running should be fun, not torture.

Some people are better at running by themselves. It gives them time to think and enjoy their surroundings. Running in groups is not for everyone. You could split it up also. Run the long runs with a group and the shorter runs by yourself. This sport does not have to be competitive. Start running for fitness and the joy you receive from it.

Stretch After Your Run

Stretch after you are done running. This will prevent injury and help your muscles not be sore afterward. You may still be a little sore because you are gaining muscle. That is a good thing. You are using muscles that you haven’t used much before. Your muscles will get toned which will help with your fitness goals.

I wrote a blog post, 6 Post-Run Stretches to Prevent Soreness, demonstrating the stretches that I do after every run, whether it is a short or long run.

Sign Up For a Race

Signing up for a race will give another incentive to run, and it will give you a goal to work towards. Start out with a 5K or a 10K. The accomplishment after crossing the finish line is exhilarating. After you get more fit and can run longer distances, try a half marathon or a full marathon. Even during the race is fun because you are surrounded by other people who love running also and the spectators help you move forward by cheering you on.

Keep Track of Your Running Progress

Keep track of your running progress by downloading a fitness app. Two great ones are MyFitnessPal and RunCoach. They both are free. I use MyFitnessPal to keep track of my food intake, weight, and fitness activities. Runcoach is good to know what to run every day. Enter your race or goal into the app and it will then generate a running program for you, telling you how many miles to do each day and at what pace.

Running can help with your fitness by toning your muscles where other exercises don’t work. It is great for endurance by running at a steady pace for a longer period of time.

6 Post-Run Stretches To Prevent Soreness

6 Post-Run Stretches To Prevent Soreness

It is essential to stretch after each run, even if it is only three miles. Although it is more important to stretch after long runs. Stretching after a run helps to keep you flexible and to prevent soreness. Tightness in your muscles can also lead to pain and injuries.

I used to do long runs and afterward get in my car and go home. On my way home I felt soreness in my legs and butt. It continued throughout the night and sometimes into the next day. I thought maybe if I stretched afterward it might help.

After trying out different stretches, I came up with these 6 post-run stretches to prevent soreness. It worked. Now I have a routine after every run to do these sequences of stretches. I don’t get sore anymore and I am more flexible. You do not need any equipment for these exercises. These are stretches you can do outside after a long run.

After a long run, it is advisable to walk around for about five or ten minutes before starting any stretches. Your muscles are too tight yet to stretch.

6 Post-Run Stretches To Prevent Soreness

It takes me 10-15 minutes to complete these sequences of post-run stretches. Hold each position for about two minutes. Timing isn’t as important as feeling a deep stretch. Go into each stretch slowly. After about 30 seconds into the stretch, go a little bit further if you can. Don’t force it. If the muscle is too tight, go on to the next stretch and then come back to it.

Lunging Calf Stretch

Place one foot behind trying to press heel to the floor. The further apart your feet are, the deeper the stretch will be. Keep back and torso straight. Do not lean forward. As the muscle relaxes, bend the forward knee more to intensify the stretch. Repeat on the other leg.

This is a very important post-run stretch since the calf muscles get used the most during your run.

Post-Run Stretch Lunging Calf Stretch
Lunging Calf Stretch

Standing Quad Stretch

Balance on one leg while grabbing the other foot behind you with your hand. If you are having a hard time balancing, lean your hand against a wall or counter (or tree if you are outside) for support. Keep the bent leg parallel with your other leg. Hold for 30-60 seconds and then repeat on the other leg.

Standing Quad Stretch
Standing Quad Stretch

Downward Dog

Start in a standing position, then bend over until your hands reach the floor. Walk your hands out a couple feet. Try to touch your heels to the floor. You may not be able to do this if you are not that flexible. That is ok. Go down as far as you can without pushing your foot down. Ease into the stretch. Hold for about 30 seconds and see if you can then touch your heels further to the floor. Hold for another 30 seconds.

Downward Dog
Downward Dog

Butterfly Stretch

Sit on the floor and put your feet together in front of you. Press down on your knees to push your legs further to the floor for a nice stretch. Lean slightly forward with your back straight. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

This is a great post-run stretch to open up your hips and for inner thighs. Runners usually have tight hips from moving the legs just forward, not side to side. It is good to keep the hips flexible to prevent groin injuries.

Butterfly Stretch
Butterfly Stretch

Pigeon Pose

Bring one leg in front of you bent and extend your other leg behind you. Keep your hips facing the floor. Once your muscles relax, you will be able to go further into the stretch. You can then bring your elbows to the floor while keeping your back straight. Hold for at least 60 seconds. Repeat on the other side. This post-run stretch is another great hip opener.

Pigeon Pose
Pigeon Pose

Standing Hamstring Stretch

From the pigeon pose move the front leg behind you and go up into downward dog again. From there walk your hands back until they are right in front of your feet. Hang there for about 30 seconds feeling the hamstring muscles stretch. Roll up slowly until you are in a standing position.

Standing Hamstring Stretch
Standing Hamstring Stretch

It is important to ease off of a stretch if it hurts. Stretching is not supposed to be painful. If you begin a stretch and the muscle is still too tight, skip that particular stretch and go onto the next one. Come back to it later in the routine.

Make these six post-run stretches part of your routine after every run to prevent soreness and promote flexibility.

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