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Alex: The Life of a Child

Alex

Alex: The Life of a Child by Frank Deford

Pub: 1983

A father’s story of his daughter’s life as she suffered the debilitating effects of cystic fibrosis.

This is one of those real-life, heartbreaking stories that I have a hard time reviewing. There comes a point where you feel cruel if you nitpick the prose or pacing or other literary elements when the poor guy’s pouring his heart out over his dead child.

This is definitely one of those ‘trigger’-warning books. If you have a hard time dealing with reading about a child’s suffering and death, skip this one.

If you would, however, like to read about a sweet (and somewhat precocious) child as remembered by her doting father… If you’d like some information about what it’s like to have a child with a fatal illness… If you want to know more about cystic fibrosis and how it effects a person and his/her loved ones, by all means, pick up this book. It’s tough to get through, emotionally, but holds some really important truths about mortality, hope, and the tough realities of being a parent.

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Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures

Parenting

Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures by Amber Dusick

Pub: Jan 2013

Blogger mom-of-two writes (and illustrates!) about the daily trials of parenting.

You know what changed after I had kids? Everything.

I’ve been following Amber Dusick’s mommy blog for some time now. As I went back through, I figured it must have been around the time that I was attempting to potty-train my first son, because I think that one of the first posts I saw was her experience trying to use public restrooms, which included this lovely image:

Ah, yes, the things we do for our children...

Ah, yes, the things we do for our children…

Although this wasn’t one of the blog entries included, this new book does include some old favorites, including “Going Viral,” “What it’s Like to (Not) Sleep at Night,” and “Well-Child Doctor Visits.” In fact, I’d kind of describe this book as a scrapbook of some of the ‘best-of’ moments of the blog, because while it was all organized really neatly into categorized chapters, and included a fun “”50 Crappy Laws of Parenting” at the end, there wasn’t a huge amount of new material. So while this would be a great baby shower gift that’s sure to give the new mom something fun to relate to, if you’re already a follower of the blog, be aware that you’re not going to get a whole lot of new material from buying this one.

Hyperbole and a Half

HyperboleHyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened by Allie Brosh

4 of 5 stars

A self-depreciating book of comic essays on everything from humorous stories about cakes and dogs to a brutally honest look at depression.

I hadn’t planned on investigating the source of the noise, because, as you know from watching scary movies, people who investigate noises die.

I discovered Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half blog a number of years ago and in one sitting read every single post, often laughing to the point of tears.  Even if you haven’t read the blog, you’ve probably seen Brosh’s images if you’ve spent any amount of time online in the last few years, particularly this one:

clean and this one:

alot

 

This entire book is more of the same hilarious drawings, absurd situations, and deeper-than-you’d-expect-from-a-humor-book insights into philosophy and life.  Combined, all these factors just  make me want to give the author a hug.

How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent

HowToLandHow to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent by Noah Lukeman

Pub: 2008

4 stars

An informative look at the querying process, and what happens when an agent offers representation and afterward.

There do indeed exist many incredibly talented authors who will never get published, for the sole reason that they do not know how to approach the industry in the right way.

Available (for FREE!) at www.landaliteraryagent.com, this short book outlines the need for literary agents, a huge list of resources for querying writers, how to tell if an agent is reputable, how to query agents, and what to do before, when, and after an agent offers representation.  Though most (probably all) of this information is available online on various writing sites and blogs, it’s great to have comprehensive resource like this, which any aspiring writer should consider a must-read.

My only warning for authors is that in the past five years, some things have changed in the publishing industry, and to double-check agent websites to see specifically HOW they want to be queried, and to check out sites like QueryShark.blogspot.com for guidelines on writing queries, as some of the information in this book has changed in recent years or may simply be the personal preference of the book’s author.

The Novel Cure

Novel

NEW this week…

The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness; 751 Books to Cure What Ails You by Ella Berhoud & Susan Elderkin

1.5 of 5 stars

An A to Z encyclopedia of ailments, with book recommendations for each condition.

Lovers of literature have been using novels as salves — either consciously or subconsciously — for centuries.  Next time you’re feeling in need of a pick-me-up or require assistance with an emotional tangle, reach for a novel.

I’d never heard of bibliotherapy before reading this book, but I would never discount the ability of a book to be able to influence a person’s mood.  Obviously, it happens all the time.  Yet even if I were a true believer, I found this particular book a little hard to swallow.  The biggest problem I found was that I didn’t actually know whether the authors wanted me to take them seriously or not.

Aside from having many, many books I’d never even heard of (nor could I find in my local library’s catalog) and skipping over some combinations I’d have thought would be obvious, other ailment book “cures” seemed mighty peculiar to me.  Wuthering Heights making a list of “best breakup novels”?  The Count of Monte Cristo for “best novels for a plane flight”?  At times, I wasn’t sure if the authors were being facetious or serious.

What I got out of this book, more than anything else, was that people glean different lessons from novels.  A novel that might make one person laugh, can make another cry, and vice versa, and that there’s a lot of books out there that deal with every subject under the sun.  I’m just not sure that I need a book to tell me that.

Dancing with the Enemy

DancingNEW this week…

Dancing with the Enemy: My Family’s Holocaust Story by Paul Glaser

3 of 5 stars

Rosie Glacer, a Dutch Jewish dance teacher, survives the horrors of Auschwitz.

I saw them go, mothers carrying their babies, toddlers and older children with sacks on their backs made from old towels.  I saw them go, a few thousand of them.  Everyone here was devastated, fathers were in tears; you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.  What kind of madness was this?

Holocaust stories are always difficult to review, especially ones that are real people’s stories.  When it comes down to it, they’re all terrible — terribly sad, terribly painful, and terribly frightening to think that these things happened within the past century.

Rosie Glacer’s story was unique in that it focused a lot on how she got to the point where she was brought to Auschwitz, and a bit on her life afterward, but 1/4 or less was actually about her time in the concentration camp and her experiences there.  She had a fascinating life leading up to her arrest, and even while being shipped around labor camps, she found ways — through her social skills and undaunted attitude — to rise to the top of the group, get special exceptions made for her, and improve her life there.  Often we think of Nazi occupation as machine-like, but here, Rosie elaborates on her experiences with the guards and SS officers she came to know, forcing the reader to view even the individual Nazis themselves as real people.

The story of Rosie’s nephew (the author) discovering his family’s Jewish heritage and connection to the Holocaust is interspersed within Rosie’s story.  While this obviously was a life-changing experience for him, I’d have preferred all of this together in a foreword or a epilogue, rather than broken up within Rosie’s story.  Many of his discoveries overlapped Rosie’s story anyway, and felt repetitive.

Empty Mansions

Empty

NEW this week…

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

3 of 5 stars

Spanning three generations, from the gold rush to present-day, this biography tells the story of the Clark fortune, and W.A. Clark’s youngest daughter, Huguette, the eccentric woman that left a trail of empty mansions across the US during her last decades.

[T]he story of the Clarks is like a classic folk tale — except told in reverse, with the bags full of gold arriving at the beginning, the handsome prince feeling, and the king’s daughter locking herself away in the tower.

Having done some genealogy work of my own, I loved how this story told decades worth of American history through the lens of one particular family.  Following W.A. Clark out west with the gold rush, then down to southern California, out to found the city of Las Vegas, and then reading about his daughter growing up in the Roaring ’20s, living through wars and the Great Depression, and all the way up until the present day.    I found the historical content fascinating.

The final years of Huguette’s life, spent in a hospital, and the ensuing legal battle for her wealth, were, admittedly, not really my kind of story.  Although I’m sure the authors went through a lot of trouble to research and document this part of her life and the time after her passing, I simply have little interest in legal battles.

Editing Made Easy

Editing Made Easy

Editing Made Easy: Simple Rules for Effective Writing by Brace Kaplan

Pub: 2012

3 of 5 stars

A short, simple look at common errors to look for while editing.

No item escapes the eye of the skilled editor.  She or he will home in on a misplaced comma, a split infinitive, a misused word or an error of fact.  The skilled editor pays ruthless attention to detail.

This book was useful in providing a list of items to look for while editing to make writing clearer and more concise.  I appreciated the lists of words and phrases that indicate passive voice, and I liked that the narrative itself was short, simple, and to the point.

This book would, however, probably be more useful for writers of short nonfiction (articles, blog posts, web content, etc) rather than fiction.  Many of the same principles apply, but the examples were obviously geared towards those in journalism rather than creative writing.

The 30-Day Praise Challenge

July Daily Devotion

30DayPraise

NEW this week…

The 30-Day Praise Challenge by Becky Harling

2 of 5 stars

A twenty-minute-a-day devotion encouraging readers to spend time praising God.

Focus your praise on God’s grace and forgiveness.  Lay down every burden of guilt, shame, regret, and self-punishment.  Imagine yourself clothed in Christ’s righteous robe.

This book was simply not for me.  Before picking it up, the reader should know that of the twenty minutes of praise encouraged by this book only includes about five minutes of reading.  The rest is supposed to be spent listening to praise music.  Let me say now, I’m not really a fan of the genre.  Not only that, but I tend to like to spend my daily devotion time away from my computer, so being encouraged to look music videos up on YouTube is kind of counterproductive for people like me who could easily get sucked into checking email or updating a blog whenever opening a browser window.

The rest of the devotion tends to follow the same kind of feel-good praise-music vibe as the genre, so if you’re into that sort to thing, this would probably be a great book for you.  I did really appreciate the prayer portions, though.

The Astronaut Wives Club

Astronaut

The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel

Pub: June 2013

4 of 5 stars

This biography shows the extraordinary (and at other times entirely ordinary) lives of the women who stood by their men during the space race of the 1960s.

“Standard operating procedure,” Susan called it.  All she had to do on launch day was sit back, surrounded by women who knew what she was going through, and watch her husband ride a Saturn V rocket into the unknown on national television.

I’ve always found the space race to be one of the most interesting periods of time in American history, so when I saw this book written about the women who watched their husbands vie for a place in a space capsule and be blasted off into the unknown, I knew I was interested, and this book held up to my expectations.  Through this book, we get to hear about the everyday lives of these women as they dealt with the loneliness, the constant scrutiny, and high expectations of their husbands’ job.  From just squeaking by to instant celebrity status, I loved this story of how this group pulled together for the highs and lows of the space age, experienced on an incredibly personal level.

I’ll admit, though, there were too many ‘characters’ to keep straight.  I think that focusing on just the initial Mercury Seven would have been a more cohesive book.  I would have loved some sort of appendix that listed all of the astronauts and their wives, as well as what missions they were on.  I had just gotten somewhat of a grasp on the Mercury Seven when more astronauts (and wives!) were added.

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