Reviews

bookclubThe only thing better than reading a good book is getting the chance to talk about it with other people who love reading as much as I do, in my opinion. So today being the monthly meeting of the autism/Asperger book club I belong to made it a very good day. :)

Our group has been meeting for about a year and a half, and each of us has a close connection to the world of autism. Several have a child or children on the spectrum, others a grandchild or sibling, and for some, even a spouse. So far, I am the only regular member who is diagnosed on the spectrum herself.

We have read a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, all with some connection to the world of autism. This month’s selection was a novel called The Kitchen Daughter, written by Jael McHenry, in which the main character, Ginny, has Asperger’s Syndrome.

The book centers on how Ginny and her sister Amanda deal with the sudden death of both of their parents. Needless to say, they have very different ways of handling the situation and the emotions that arise throughout the process. At times, it’s unclear whether the grief will pull them together or push them apart for good.

One thing I personally liked a lot about the book was the connection Ginny has with Gert and her son David, as through these characters we see other examples of how different people and even different cultures handle grief, in ways that are sometimes more and sometimes less healthy than Ginny’s and Amanda’s own responses. The way cooking helps Ginny connect with those that had died, shown in the book through the conjuring of their ghosts by preparing recipes each had handwritten, is fascinating as well.

Despite being a first novel with a few rough spots and a slightly too-perfect ending, we all agreed that we enjoyed reading it and most even rated it more highly than a novel we read several months ago by a well-known author with a number of best-selling books to her name.

Every time we meet, I am glad to have taken the time to connect with this group of women. Their friendship and sharing has enriched my life, and the enjoyment I get out of it always makes it worth overcoming the anxiety that inevitably crops up as each meeting gets close.

Have you ever been (or are you) in a book club? What did you like, or not like, about it?

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I use Grammarly for english proofreading because the longer you look at a word, the stranger it looks, and sometimes you really need a second opinion before you hit that publish button!

Is it too early to start thinking about finding the perfect gift for all of the bookworms on your holiday gift giving list? I don’t think so; in fact, a quick glance at my Google Calendar tells me there are only 9 Saturdays between now and Christmas Day – and only 5 weeks from now until Hanukkah begins!

Since the holidays are quickly approaching, I thought this would be a good time to look back over the books I have read this year and pull together my favorites to get you started on your literary gift-giving quest.

To start off, here are two books (one fiction and one non-fiction) that combine two seemingly unrelated topics: gorillas and autism. Actually, both are great books, and I would recommend them to any serious reader even if these aren’t their usual subject matter!

1. Three Weeks in December by Audrey Schulman – I read this book for my book club earlier this year and was completely enthralled by it. The book follows the stories of two separate people who spent time in Africa almost 100 years apart. Although their circumstances are very different, they are each on a journey of personal discovery that leads them to some surprising places. This is definitely a great choice for someone who likes to be whisked away to distant lands through their books.

2. Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism by Dawn Prince-Hughes – This was another book club selection, prompted by the first one as it also covers the subject of gorillas through the eyes of someone on the autism spectrum. In this memoir, Ms. Prince-Hughes shares with us her life story as it relates to discovering her neurological differences as well as how she was able to relate to and find meaningful work with gorillas. Fascinating look into both the world of gorillas and the uniqueness of the human mind.

This next one is the lightest read of the bunch and was great fun!

3. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig – For the reader on your list who is always on the hunt for a new series with lots of titles to devour, this is one they might have overlooked. I know I hadn’t come across it until my college roommate recommended it to me, and now I am on the sixth book already! The series rests on a modern-day graduate student who has come to England to work on her thesis involving the activities of aristocratic spies during the Napoleonic era, and each book focuses on the adventures and romances of a different spy while also giving us glimpses into the ongoing academic and romantic saga of our modern-day researcher.

Next up, two great contemporary novels that explore the meaning of family and connection:

4. The Shortest Way Home by Juliette Fay – This is the third novel by an author that never fails to offer a realistic while still hopeful look into the importance of rediscovering and maintaining our connections to family. Loved it!

5. The Repeat Year by Andrea Lochen – This was a super fun read about a woman who goes to sleep on New Year’s Eve 2011 and wakes up on New Year’s Day – 2011! As she relives an entire year of her life, she struggles to make better choices and hopes that she will get things right the second time around. Perfect light read with a deeper meaning for the time of year when we are all reflecting on how our lives are going and wondering what we could have done differently over the past twelve months.

For those who prefer non-fiction, here are two of my favorite reads from this year on the subject of faith and how it impacts our lives:

6. WEIRD: Because Normal Isn’t Working by Craig Groeschel – My pastor preached a sermon series inspired by this book earlier this year, so I picked it up based on his recommendation and was both impressed and challenged by it. Groeschel deals with everyday situations and questions we all face and talks about how our faith in God could affect the way we respond to these challenges. He has a very approachable writing style and I had no problem finishing the book in a pretty short time frame. (I mention this because it is common for me to start out very interested in a non-fiction book only to have my interest wane after a couple of chapters, but that was definitely not the case here!)

7. The Zippered Heart: Healing for the Secrets We Hide Inside by Marilyn Meberg – I was introduced to Marilyn Meberg recently through the New Life Live radio program which I listen to daily and was intrigued to know more about where she was coming from on matters of faith and psychology. After a bit of looking around, I picked up this book from the local library. And Wow! I am glad I did. She is not afraid to tackle the things we usually prefer to keep secreted away deep inside, even hiding them from ourselves much of the time. But she approaches each topic with such clarity and mercy – I highly recommend this book for the Christian woman in your life!

And finally, a pair of stories that give a couple of new twists to the classic Robin Hood Legend. Both of these were well done and offered a new take on the old story that any fan of historical fiction or fairy tales would appreciate!

8. Robin: Lady of Legend (The Classic Adventures of the Girl Who Became Robin Hood) by R.M. ArceJaeger – What if Robin Hood were a woman? This was a fresh twist on the old tale, and I greatly enjoyed it. I liked the writing so much, in fact, that I have sought out more of this author. I would also recommend the short story A Stepmother’s Story: The TRUE Tale of Cinderella!

The Ghost of Sherwood: A New Robin Hood Tale by Wilson Harp – This look at the Robin Hood story takes it even farther – all the way to the idea that the outlaw was actually the invention of the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham! The historical setting felt very real, from the physical setting to the way the culture and politics worked at the time. There is also a good mix of action and humor within the overall story, especially as the sheriff keeps digging himself deeper as he is trying to extricate himself from the situation he has created. This is another author I have become a great fan of; he has even written a novella in the Silo Saga Kindle world, called The Law Man.

Well, I hope this short list of titles has given you some ideas for the perfect holiday gift for the bookworm in your life. If you have other suggestions, I would love to hear them. Please leave me a comment with the titles you think I should be putting on my own list this year!

HYM and HUR, a short story by Phillip Frey

About the Book:
In this fantasy-comedy Hym and Hur are a young couple who never age and have been in love for more than a century. They also possess an array of magical abilities, two of which are either to play pranks on humankind or to perform good deeds. Enacting both at the same time is now what gets them into trouble, especially since it’s the character of Death they must deal with to bring their plans to fruition.

The prank Hym and Hur have come up with must first be agreed upon by Death, who happens to be a rambunctious, difficult character. Once agreed upon, the prank is set in motion. But then Hym and Hur soon discover that Death had tricked them into a contract with dire consequences for all of us.

During their attempt to break the contract, Hym and Hur try to save the relationship of an earthbound couple, knowing they are truly meant for each other. A good deed that will bring Hym and Hur even more trouble.

My Thoughts
I read this story a few months ago, at the request of the author, so this review is based on my recollections of the experience. I do remember having a mixed reaction to it. The story has an echo of Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series, with the idea of characterizing amorphous concepts such as Death as individuals doing a job.

As I recall, the reader has to puzzle out the exact nature of who or what the main characters are, but whether that was because the short story format didn’t allow much time for explanations or simply done to make them appear more intriguing, I don’t know. Either way, I would have preferred more in the way of setting the scene.

The prank that they play is cleverly done, and the overall story was enjoyable. I would be open to reading more stories about these characters that would develop their personalities more.

peopleSo my last review was almost 5 months ago. I can hardly believe it has been so long, yet here we are already halfway through May and with only 5 weeks to go in the school year.

Speaking of school, this book has been especially timely for me as my son’s classroom teacher is one of the most crazy-making people I have ever met. Although I haven’t been totally successful in implementing the advice from this book, I will say that it has helped me get a better handle on myself as I navigated through the situation.

People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys by Mike Bechtle is a Revell title, published in October 2012. If the title alone doesn’t draw you in, here’s another gem I have shared with several people since reading this book:

Someone said that if you took all the crazy people in your life and laid them end to end . . . it would be best to just leave them there.

Bechtle’s approach to dealing with crazy-making people boils down to a few simple steps. First, try to influence change in the situation; next, focus on how you can adjust your own attitude by accepting the reality of the situation; and finally, decide if the situation is so unhealthy that you need to walk away from it. The book has 23 chapters, broken down into 5 parts:

  1. Stuck in a Crazy World
  2. Changing Someone Else
  3. Changing Yourself
  4. Changing Your Environment
  5. Putting It into Practice

Of course, all of these things are easier said than done, which is why this is a book worth reading all the way through. With a blend of humor and truth, Bechtle helps us look at people more realistically and compassionately, as well as challenging us to look at our own part in each relationship. He also discusses what makes a healthy relationship and how to evaluate them.

Ultimately, People Can’t Drive You Crazy is a book about how to experience freedom in your life, even when you have to interact with and relate to other human beings who are just as flawed as you are. Ironically, freedom comes not from trying to control everyone around us, but from realizing that we actually can’t control them and that we must instead focus on how we respond to them. I think he sets up the dilemma best in this section from chapter 4:

If we’re going to avoid becoming victim of other people’s craziness, it’s critical to operate from a dual perspective: hope and realism. Without hope, maintaining the relationship seems futile. Without realism, we set ourselves up for the probability of disappointment. Without balancing the two views, we lose our ability to make choices that are healthy.

Now I just need a book about what to do when I am the person making other people crazy!

Thank you to Revell for providing a review copy of this book. No other consideration was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

The Reunion {A Book Review}

by Trish on January 20, 2013

in Books, Reviews

So, I haven’t really been blogging much lately, for a variety of reasons. I had taken a break from reviewing at 5 Minutes for Books over the holidays and found that, even once the new year started, I didn’t feel free to continue with that endeavor. But I do have a few books that had been sent to me from one publisher or another, and I would like to share my thoughts on them as I have the time.

imagesOne of these titles was The Reunion. Written by Dan Walsh and published by Revell, it is the story of Aaron Miller, a Vietnam vet living in obscurity as a trailer park handyman in Florida. Aaron has long been estranged from his family, having fallen victim to addiction and homelessness after his return from the war. God got a hold of his life, however, so all is not lost. He spends his time ministering to those God puts in his path and living out the gentle faith that has grown out of his pain and suffering.

Aaron’s biggest regret is losing touch with his two children, Steve and Karen. All he has left is an old picture of them, but he’s sure that, even if he knew where they were, they wouldn’t want to hear from him again. Of course, we know that God always desires reconciliation and forgiveness, and this book gives us a beautiful picture of how that can happen. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I won’t go further with my description of the story. But I will say that we do get to meet Steve and Karen, along with a number of other fascinating characters, in the course of the book.

Beyond the story itself, The Reunion is a well-crafted book with a satisfying mix of emotional depth, mild adventure, a touch of mystery and even a bit of romance! The author’s ability to switch between the various characters’ voices is superb; I had no trouble keeping track of who was the focus and feeling immersed in their lives.

Reading, as I do, so many novels written by women, I am appreciative of the men who are able to bring their perspectives to the world of fiction in a way that resonates with me. Although Walsh definitely has his own voice, his writing put me somewhat in mind of Robert Whitlow and Ray Blackston. I whole-heartedly recommend this book and am myself looking forward to reading some of his previous novels as well.

Thank you to Revell for providing a review copy of this book. No other consideration was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.