June 19, 2013

The Still Point of the Turning World - review

The Still Point of the Turning World 
by Emily Rapp
publisher Penguin Press
source: publisher

Reflections:  There are no reflections for me to post before the review.  Emily Rapp has lived what I have not lived through.  She is a mother to admire. 

Emily Rapp describes the day she discovered her son Ronan, age nine months, had Tay-Sachs disease.   She wailed.  We all would wail too.     During her pregnancy she specifically had asked to be tested genetically for Tay-Sachs.  She was tested, but did not know she needed to ask for a deeper combination test.

Rapp quotes from well-known authors such as Mary Shelley who wrote Frankenstein.  Her quotes add poignancy to her book.    This is such a poignant read --- took me several days to follow Rapp and Ronan's journey. 

Read Notes from a Dragon Mom in the New York Times for a taste of Rapp's writing;  then get the book to linger over with tears.

June 17, 2013

Brain on Fire - review

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
by Susannah Cahalan
publisher Free Press, division of Simon and Schuster
published November 2012

Reflections:  One summer was rough for me.   Four people in my family had brain issues:  bipolar, cancer, PTSD, and early Alzheimer's.   A group of friends I knew on-line got together and sent me the most beautiful bouquet of flowers.   Our brains certainly do affect us, as well as the people surrounding us.

Susannah Cahalan is a reporter for the New York Post who was hospitalized with a mysterious illness.  Day by day she became worse -- hallucinations, attempt to flee,  blurred speech, short-term memory loss, and psychosis.

Her family and boyfriend stuck by her side.  More and more doctors looked into her case.  A brain biopsy was performed.  Eventually, one doctor made the diagnosis simply by asking her to draw a clock.  Susannah's fire in her brain finally faded.  A medical mystery became a medical miracle simply because her family refused to let her go into madness.

Because Susannah is a reporter, she wrote a short article about her experiences in the hospital and during recovery.   She interviewed the people who were there that month,  read her hospital files,  read her journal, and watched videos of her actions while in the hospital.   After more research, her article became a book.   Some of the book gives details about other people who suffered the same kind of mystery.  

I ended up closing the book with appreciation for medial personnel who won't give up and for patient advocates such as family members.

pages from The Reader's Digest

June 16, 2013

Anything but Typical - review

Anything but Typical
by Nora Raleigh Baskin
publisher Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
source: purchased

Reflections:   Aeons ago I had a student with Asperger's.   He had difficulties reading emotions on people's faces and understanding why they were so mad.   He adored writing stories, creating scenarios and names for his characters,  and told me about a girlfriend he met on the Internet because both of them wrote stories. 

Ahhh, when I read Anything but Typical, I kept nodding ...   my student could have written this.  This book is written in the first-person.

Jason Blake is 12-years-old.  He has difficulties in school and in the community because he is autistic.   He calls "normal" (non-autistic) people typical neurotypical.   They don't understand him,  they don't understand his thinkings,  they have issues with him.

Jason enjoys sharing his stories on the Storyboard website.   He meets PhoenixBird (gasp! a girl!) on-line.   She could be his first real friend.   Jason's brother is Jeremy -- the book doesn't say he has OCD tendencies, but we learn Jeremy doesn't like his food to touch each other, so their mom gets plates with dividers, or "plates with the little rooms."   Their mom has a sadness about her because of her difficulties dealing with Jason's autism.  Dad doesn't pester Jason about his differences.

Jason suggests various ways to be a good writer, such as "Names are important." One of his characters is a dwarf named Bennu. We go "ah-ha!" when we discover why he chose this name.

Books are like brownies. 
 This is one of the gems we pick up from Anything but Typical.  There is no one way to write a book, just as there is no one way to bake brownies (chewy or cake-like? one egg or three?) The author, Baskin, has written a perfect book.

June 15, 2013

Life Without Limits

Life Without Limits
author  Nicholas James Vujicic
source  Blogging for Books

Reflections:    When I was  around age five years old,  I was playing in my aunt and uncle's living room.   All of sudden my parents said to me, "Look at the t.v.  A man with no hands is playing the piano!"   I watched.    From that point on, that "man with no hands" became my bogeyman.   I was scared of him.  I thought he lived under my bed, and I was afraid he'd grab my ankles when I got out of bed.

After that fear, it is amazing that I requested to review Life Without Limits.    The author Nicholas Vuijcic was born without limbs.  He is an evangelist and a motivational speaker.   His memoir tells of his early years, how he overcame his limits, and gives inspirational paragraphs and chapters.

This book was an enjoyable read.  The photos!  Vujicic has an amazing smile,  you can see his spirit glowing thorough that smile.  

Learning to Fly - review

Learning to Fly
Steph Davis
publisher: Touchstone, Simon and Schuster
published April 2013
source: publisher

Reflections:  me climb mountains?  Hah! The closest I ever did that was Stone Mountain near Atlanta.  Our college P.E. class camped there twice.  We rode the cable car up the steep part and walked down the sloping side.  I tripped,  slid on my stomach and knees several feet, and ruined my favorite pair of slacks.  Didn't even skin my knees, but it was enough to turn me off climbing.    Now Steph Davis is completely opposite of me.  That is what makes reading books so much fun --- we live adventurously through them. 

Steph Davis dropped out of law school, lived in a truck and climbed wherever and whenever she could.    "It was a life of pure adventure, and nothing about it was safe," she said.  However her marriage and career as a professional climber unraveled.   What next?

Learning to Fly describes her discovery and exploration of free fall,  skydiving, and BASE (building, antenna, span, earth)  jumping.   Always at her side was her dog Fletch.  

I enjoyed reading about Davis' adventures;  my favorite parts were when she talked about Fletch, the four-legged love of her life.   Fletch tugged at my heart.   I felt the book could have been better edited and organized chronologically.   Rather it jumps from one scene to another several years in the future back to the first.   She describes how she met Fletch and her husband in several points in the book.   Fortunately there's an index in the back.

June 14, 2013

The True Secret of Writing - review

The True Secret of Writing:  Connecting Life with Language
by Natalie Goldberg
publisher:  Atria
source:  publisher

Reflections: I have been told I should write a book --- truthfully, I'm more of a reader than a writer. I'm content with this blog, my too-many Facebook posts, and notes to friends.

Natalie Goldberg holds writing workshops. Her newest book The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language focuses on mantras.  Two are:
 Sit. Walk. Write.
 Shut Up and Write!

Goldberg describes her life -- this was the most interesting to me; then gives exercises and lists of things to meditate upon and write about. This was an interesting book to skim through, however I was not motivated enough to actually want to sit down, shut up, and write.

June 11, 2013

Sniper Elite: One Way Trip - review

Sniper Elite: One Way Trip 

author: Scott McEwen and Thomas Koloniar
publisher:  Touchstone, Simon and Schuster
source:  publisher
published June 2013

Reflections:   Ten years ago, a U.S. Army soldier named Jessica was captured in Iraq when her convoy was ambushed.  She was rescued by a Special Ops team.    Two years ago, a humanitarian aid worker also named Jessica was kidnapped by Somali pirates and held for 93 days.  She was rescued by SEAL Team Six.

In Sniper Elite: One Way Trip, McEwen and Thomas Koloniar write fiction about Gil Shannon,  one of the most lethal SEAL snipers ever.   Gil lives in Montana with his wife when he is not on a military mission.  However, he considers his true home to be the Navy.   We read about Gil's hunting of a bull elk and the calculations in his brain while looking through the rifle scope.  We learn through his flashback about his first kill.

In the meantime, a female Black Hawk pilot Sandra Brux is captured in Afghanistan.  The scenes of what her captors do to her are difficult to read.

The military code is:
Leave No Man Behind.
It also should be
Leave No Woman Behind.

However, the President of the U.S.  orders that Brux not be rescued.  Say what?!  Gil and the others in the special ops community plan to defy this order.

Our hearts race with adrenalin when we learn about another One Way Trip.  Gil talks to Brux's husband.  He calls his wife ---  this phone call is a tear-jerker.    No spoilers here about the rescue attempt.   At the very last page, a cold chill ran down my spine.  

Highly recommended!

June 3, 2013

Ten Things I've Learnt About Love - review

Ten Things I've Learnt about Love
author:  Sarah Butler
publisher:  Penguin
to be published July 2013
source:  publisher

Reflections:   One of the first books that we discussed in Book Club was  Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.   Opal learns ten things about her mother.  We ate egg salad and wrote ten good things about each other.   That list about me has been on my refrigerator the past 8 years.  Therefore I had some positive sentimental feelings when I approached Ten Things I've Learnt about Love.

A debut novel based in London tells the story of a backpacking young woman called to come home because of the impending death of her father.  It also tells the story of a homeless man in London.

Is there a connection between the two people?  Yes.    Early in the book, the reader will figure out the connection.  

Both characters are written in first-person;  I had difficulty at the beginning figuring out which person was speaking.   We follow the past and present of the two characters.   The city of London itself can be considered a character as well.

Each chapter begins with a delightful list of "Ten Things ...."   Some examples:
  • Ten ways other people might describe me.   
  • Ten inappropriate thoughts during my father's funeral.
  • Ten things I'd say about London. 

Blue Plate Special - review

Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites
author Kate Christensen
publisher Doubleday
publishing date: July 2013
source Publisher

Kate Christensen, author of six novels along with a foodcentric blog and a column about drinks, has written her autobiography connecting her life with desire for food and other things.

She grew up in a free-style family, with a violent hippie-type father.  Fortunately he finally left.   The family moved frequently. Kate gives vignettes of her childhood with two younger sisters and teenage years. Frequently I winced in pain while reading.   She married in her mid-thirties and describes her marriage.  He had a conventional calm upbringing completely opposite of hers.

Because this is a book supposedly about food, a few recipes are included.   Mmmmm.  These recipes help off-set the angst.  I don't cook, so won't be trying these recipes.