My December book haul, courtesy of 2nd and Charles.
A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Austim
by Kristine Barnett
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After a traumatic pregnancy, Kristine and Michael Barnett considered their son, Jake, to be a miracle. However, their giggling, lovable baby boy went from a sweetheart to a shadow as he slowly retreated into himself and stopped responding to them as a toddler. Unsure of what to do, the couple called specialist after specialist and pushed their son through all sorts of therapies only to get a diagnosis of Autism, with the expectation that their son would never speak again.
A few years later, Jake is now enrolled in a Bachelor’s degree program at Purdue University and completing on groundbreaking astrophysicist work that will one day earn him a Nobel prize. How? Faith and excellent parenting.
In The Spark, Kristine Barnett shares the story of her family: how she grew up in an Amish lifestyle, how her grandfather and mother nurtured her passions and creativity, how her sister was an art prodigy, how she met her soulmate, the rough parts of her marriage, her health problems and difficult pregnancies, and, most of all, her work with children. Though Kristine is quick to say there is nothing special about her, she has a real gift with nurturing and raising children, which she started out doing with her daycare and eventually went on to do with Little Lights, a children’s learning group she created for local autistic children where they could go from unfunctioning mutes to socially-engaged children. Kristine’s story is truly incredible, not only for the peeks she gave into her genius son’s mind and experience, but also for the gift with children she shares with the reader.
Instead of training her son like a race horse to engage socially, like all the therapists suggested, Kristine saved her son by focusing and nurturing his passion: space. From showing him the local observatory to taking him to physics classes at the local college, Kristine found a common ground with Jake so that he could express himself over the things he is truly passionate about.
I’m not sure if I ever want to have children one day, but this book definitely gave me hope that one day I could. The challenges Kristine faces and her creative ways of solving them are truly inspirational, and this book was a quick, absorbing read that left me absolutely amazed at what our human brains can accomplish.
Girls of Tender Age
by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith
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So I bought this book without a summary on the back cover telling me what it was about. Instead, the front cover offered a few blurbs stating that it was a book about a journalist who tracked down her childhood best friend’s murderer in a real-life mystery. That’s actually not really what this book is about, so I’m here to set the record straight so no one else is lured to this book under false pretenses.
This book was a memoir, not a mystery. That’s not to say it wasn’t divinely interesting, but it wasn’t what I expected.
Growing up in the 1950’s, Mary-Ann’s childhood is very different from what I experienced a few decades later. Her mother was emotionally-distant, her grandfather couldn’t speak English, and her socioeconomic status left a lot to be desired. Her older brother, autistic in a time when no one knew what autism was, made life at home even more difficult. Despite the inclusion she felt amongst her cousins in her extended family, and despite the close-knit community she was raised in, Mary-Ann struggled to find her voice in a town with so many characters.
In between the chapters about her childhood, Smith includes accounts about the transgressions of a pedophile: a man who eventually goes on to murder her classmate, Irene. While Girls of Tender Age is a memoir about Smith’s early years, the death of her neighbor was an interesting event in her formative years, and after decades of not thinking about Irene, Mary-Ann returns to the murder while writing her book to share what really happened that night in her memoir.
There really was no great mystery. The killer was caught shortly after the murder took place, and from the start, Smith shares exactly who he was. I was expecting some great investigation on the part of Smith, maybe as an adult pouring through evidence on a cold case that happened when she was a child and getting a lucky break and being able to catch the killer, but I ended up with a book that was largely about her life with a little piece tacked in at the end describing the trial of Irene’s murderer. Basically, I felt like the murder was a tactic to sell more books by luring people in to a false story line. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my read, I just felt a little gypped.
I enjoyed this book as a memoir, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in autism in particular, as it gave a really fascinating look at the disorder before it was fully understood. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend it for lovers of mystery as it fell pretty flat.
A Little Bit Wicked
by Kristin Chenoweth
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In my Wii right now is a disc entitled “Dance on Broadway.” My #1 Sirius radio station is “On Broadway.” In New York last Christmas, I went on a behind the scenes Broadway tour. For my 16th birthday, I saw Wicked on the West End the night before the grand premiere and GOT TO HEAR IDINA MENZEL’S VOICE UNFILTERED WITH MY VERY OWN EARS.
There are some people in the world who might be a little put-off by a memoir about a Broadway legend, but not this girl.
If you have not heard her on the “Wicked” soundtrack or seen her on The West Wing, maybe you can recall Kristin Chenoweth from her stints on Glee. Her voice is unmistakable, her talent incomparable, and her personality absolutely adorable.
Okay, I’m gushing. But Kristin Chenoweth is truly an amazing woman, and this book did nothing but reenforce my faith in her. As a young girl growing up in a small town in Oklahoma, Kristi had no idea where her dreams would take her. Starting out in ballet and moving into theater, beauty pageantry, and vocal performance, Kristi dominated her high school stage, her college theatrical performances, and eventually Broadway.
Kristi is funny, open-hearted, and a woman of faith (but doesn’t come off preach-y in her memoir). While some parts of her book did seem a bit disjointed and frazzled, she’s so upbeat that one hardly notices it. One complaint I have is that the book didn’t really offer me much in the sense of real-life application. It was an interesting read, but I was expecting there to be more about how Kristin earned her stripes on the stage. In terms of entertainment, however, it was a great read. If you’re a fan of Kristin Chenoweth, Broadway, or showbiz in general, you’ll probably love this book as much as I did, but as it’s a book with a very specific subject, it might be worth a pass if Broadway isn’t really your cup of tea!
I just finished an emotionally-draining (nonfiction!) book about a little girl who is raped and murdered. Looking through my bookshelves for something more light-hearted to read, I am freaked out about how many books I own revolving around murder. Murder mysteries, chick lit involving homicide - how did I get so many of these?!
P.S. I Love You
by Cecelia Ahern
Genre: Irish Chick Lit
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Holly is a woman in her late 20’s with a wonderful husband, a great relationship with her family, and some fantastic best friends. When her beloved husband, Gerry, dies of cancer (no spoilers, it’s pretty much the point of the book!), Holly doesn’t know how she will go on. Thankfully, with some help from those close friends who make her life so colorful and vibrant - as well as some guidance from her late husband - Holly begins to fight through the depression and see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I have been a fan of Cecelia Ahern for years, but somehow I never got around to reading her first novel. I saw the movie a couple of years ago. though, on a girl’s night in, and I cried through its entirety because it was just so sweet. While I’m usually a bigger fan of books over movies, P.S. I Love You is a notable exception.
The movie was awesome. Hilary Swank brought so much emotion to the film that I felt as invested in Holly’s relationship with Gerry as she was. There was eye candy, comic relief, and some really beautiful cinematography. The book just felt a little off to me, to be honest. I just couldn’t muster up the same emotions for the book that I had for the movie, and the ending was really frustrating. The journey to the ending wasn’t bad, but I felt very disappointed having loved the film as well as pretty much every other Cecelia Ahern book I’ve read.
If you’re looking for a book along a similar theme, I’d recommend Anybody Out There? by Marian Keyes. Both Marian Keyes and Cecelia Ahern are Irish writers who can showcase the dark parts of life with a lighthearted, engaging attitude and can mix in a fair bit of comedy to make you both laugh and cry at the same time. However, Anybody Out There? stirred emotions in me that I didn’t even know I could feel, and it’s a far superior book to P.S. I Love You.
The Defining Decade
Why Your Twenties Matter - And How to Make the Most of Them Now
by Meg Jay, PhD
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When I graduated from college a year and a half ago, I knew I was entering a job force that was exhausted and hoping to break into a field that was downsizing dramatically. I found a job in a completely unrelated field, and while I still try (in vain) to get my dream job, in short, I have given up in a lot of ways. My career. My friends. My family. My love life. My future. I feel like a failure in a lot of ways. I guess you can call it a quarter-life crisis, but whatever it is, it’s pretty freaking depressing.
The Defining Decade taught me that my feelings are not unusual. I took a really long time to read this book and a long time to post about it; not because it was long or difficult to read, but because there was a lot of information to absorb and transmit.
Discussing twenty-something careers, families, romances, and mental development, The Defining Decade covers some of the common pitfalls young people encounter when they’re on their own. For example, I (and many of my friends) feel like we were taught we could do anything. In a lot of ways, I know exactly what I want to do and have my dream career picked out, but as it’s almost impossible to get into that field right now, I feel like there are a lot of different paths I can take in the meantime. I love to write and would love to work for a magazine. I love volunteering and to travel, and I would love to teach foreign children with the Peace Corps. I am obsessed with crime shows and could see myself with a career in criminal justice. Or I could take the LSATs, go to school again, and be a lawyer. Or learn programming and get a real job in computer technology. Or I could pursue a career in acting. Try my luck on American Idol. Find a Sugar Daddy. THERE ARE UNLIMITED OPTIONS, AND CHOOSING ONE SEEMS LIKE GIVING UP ON ALL THE OTHERS.
And apparently that’s completely normal. Acknowledging these feelings and giving the Y2K generation advice on how to rise above these speedbumps, Jay’s book is a great read for anyone in their 20’s. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, I borrowed this book from the library and was SO BUMMED that I couldn’t keep it, but one of my best friends conveniently sent it to me for my 23rd birthday so I could have it forever. It’s definitely a book to hold onto and consult.
I can list a lot of interesting tidbits I learned from her book, but instead I’m going to ask that you read it. It’s a fantastically interesting and relevant book to a lot of 20-somethings out there.
by Jodi Picoult
Genre: Chick Lit
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Delia Hopkins is a young mom in a small New Hampshire town, running a search-and-rescue business with her dog, Greta. She’s used to her small-town life, getting engaged to one of her childhood best friends and still living next door to the other. Her father, a beloved community figure, is supportive enough for two parents, a role he’s fulfilled since Delia’s mother’s death when she was just a child. With a wedding to plan, a sweet little girl to raise, and missing people to find every day, Delia’s under a lot of stress, which could explain the strange flashbacks she starts to get about places and things she’s never seen before. When a police officer arrives at her house out of the blue, she realizes that these flashbacks might not be as strange as she originally thought, and she soon finds herself on the other side of the country, searching for people and things that even Greta can’t help her find.
This was not my favorite book of Picoult’s, partly for its subject matter and partly for its unbelievable ending. Picoult is a fabulous researcher, and every one of her books provides a very in-depth look at a community or field that I ordinarily would have never thought about. This book contained a lot of information about Native American culture and folklore, which isn’t really my cup of tea. Picoult’s research did seem very inclusive of the subject, though. Picoult’s books are very feelings-heavy, and they really make you think about how you’d respond to different situations if you were in the position of the characters, which ordinarily is a very good thing, but unfortunately, it just made Vanishing Acts’ conclusion very unbelievable.
This was not a bad book by any means, just not my favorite. If you’re looking for a good Picoult book, I’d recommend The Tenth Circle or My Sister’s Keeper first.
My November book haul! I nabbed it at Ed McKay’s in Greensboro, NC.