Summer Reading.. Plus September!

My site was a little hacked.. so that explains the serene default scene at the top of the page. I am working on a nasty email to the Mother Computer to let her know what I think about hacking a web page of someone who doesn’t even know where they come from… bitch.

Anyway, summer is over, and it turns out, September is over as well! Here’s a little catch up on the reading during that time.

The Invisible Bridge, Julie Orringer
I have mixed feelings about this book. It reminded me a little bit of Atonement, which is one of my all time favorite books. The similarities were in the parts of the story being told (relationship, war, relationship) but the thing that Atonement had that The Invisible Bridge didn’t, was the incredible ending. It’s not that The Invisible Bridge had a bad ending, it was a fine one, but it just wasn’t one that stunned me. There were slow parts of this book, but the good parts of the story were plenty. We have all read stories about the Jews and the Holocaust, but this story is different in the fact that it is told from the perspective of the Jews in Hungary. The characters were passionate and very real, which I really enjoyed. All and all, I would suggest it to another reader, but I, personally, just needed a little bit more from it.

A Friend Like Henry: The Remarkable True Story of an Autistic Boy and the Dog That Unlocked His World, Nuala Gardner
I have spent quite a bit of time researching autism, working with people with autism and learning about various stages, lifestyles, habits, ect. of autism, but I haven’t done much research in the way of animal therapy in relation to people with autism. I have to say this book would not be one that I would recommend for either; information about children with autism or pet therapy. While I feel empathy reading a mother’s true account of her son’s journey through autism, I also felt a little of it was exaggerated/misleading. In my personal opinion, autism is not 100% curable, especially when talking about the degree of autism that Gardner described her son as having. The one thing I did enjoy about this story was the role that Henry (the dog) played in helping Dale navigate through social interactions with autism. For example, they use Henry to teach Dale about life skills, using gentle hands, taking responsibility for things, etc. But, there was just so much of the story that I disagreed with it was hard to focus on the few good things along the way.

Anthropology of an American Girl, Hilary Thayer Hamann
Ehh. I heard so many great things about this book, and I have nothing really to say about it in return. It was compared to Catcher in the Rye… not even close to a worthy comparison. Hamann says it is written about a teenage girl representing women who fall between the cracks of Boomers and Gen Xer’s. I just found it to be totally stereotypical, completely cliche and really just annoying.

Secret Daughter: A Mixed Race Daughter and the Mother Who Gave Her Away, June Cross
I was really trying not to be pissed while reading this book, but turns out I was pretty irritated throughout the whole thing! June Cross was born to a white mother and black father and at the age of four, given to a black family to raise her. While I appreciate the honesty of June’s story and her raw feelings, I really wanted her to be more pissed than she was. I thought her mother was one of the most selfish people I have read about. (Turns out, June isn’t the only child that her mother didn’t want to raise. She had two other children before June, with different men, that she let other people take care of.) I was disgusted by Norma, June’s mother, and really had a hard time finishing this story.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, Wes Moore
This story fascinated me. It is told of two young black men, starting their lives in the same area of Baltimore, both with the name Wes Moore. While the beginning of there lives start in the same area and with the same name, there are so many differences in the way these young men are raised. Naturally, where they are at in their lives right now is very different as well. I would have loved to have read this book in a psychology or sociology class to discuss the age long debate, “Nurture verses Nature,” but even going a little further, there is so much more to talk about; parenting, race, socio-economic status, education…
In fact, I am real excited that Drea read it as well… maybe we can have our own little book club discussion soon!

A Piece of Cake, Cupcake Brown
I was expecting another Million Little Pieces story from Brown’s tale, but instead I found something more real, more haunting and more uplifting all at the same time. Brown finds her mother dead when she is 11, she is strung through the foster care system, horribly abused, continually runs away, fights a horrendous drug and alcohol addiction and in the end makes her way through law school. What touched me most about this story were two things. One, the horrific experience that Brown had while being in foster care. While not all foster care families are this way, the system is broken, and kids do suffer everyday. Brown continues to make the reader understand this accusation is a real, eye opening experience. And two, we all of course like it when the narrator succeeds in the end. We want her to quit using drugs and alcohol, we want her go to college, be a role model, etc. But, I think the most powerful message in this story is that Brown wanted that (eventually) just as much. As a reader, I really felt all sorts of emotions toward Brown, but in the end I felt really good for her.. mostly because she felt really good for herself.

The Stuff That Never Happened, Maddie Dawson (Book Club 1)
I feel like it really isn’t fair for me to review this book because I didn’t pick it myself, and I generally have a bad attitude about “chick lit” books. So, that being said, I didn’t love it, but I really didn’t hate it either. The main character, Annabelle, made me slightly crazy. Her husband, Grant, made me feel slightly sad. Her daughter made me feel slightly pissed. And the whole idea of marriages being that awful 30 years in made me slightly crabby. What I did love about this book though, was the conversations that I brought to the table. It truly was an interesting story to talk about with multiple generations of women.

Ape House, Sarah Gruen (Book Club 2)
I love Sarah Gruen. I wish I could sit down with her and chat. I love that you can feel her passion for animals through her words. Gruen actually spent time at the Great Ape Trust here and Des Moines and used her time there as inspiration for this novel. It tells the story of a young woman working with great apes, specifically bonobos, and how they truly are family even through a horrible time apart (the facility gets bombed, the apes get stolen and are exploited on national television). The story is a little weird, and seems a little unreal at times. But, Gruen does an amazing job at making the reader feel compassion and love for the bonobos. The book also made me incredibly curious about bonobos, especially their language acquisition skills, that I have ton quite a bit of research regarding the great apes. And because it would be silly not to, here is the link the the Great Ape Trust I promise you, it’s fascinating!

Freedom: A Novel, Jonathan Franzen
I was completely shocked and surprised, but I really liked this book. The characters were so incredibly flawed and real that I felt like I was listening to an old friend talk about her family life. I loved that I didn’t love all of the characters in this book. I loved that I was able to see how a family really loves one another, but can really have times of not liking each other. I loved the honesty of mistakes, selfishness, marriage, parenting and age. All of this, with this huge underlying theme of freedom. That we really are free human beings; free to make choices, free to live our own lives, free to make mistakes… but that freedom doesn’t always make a person happy or content.
Don’t get me wrong, there were parts of the story that I didn’t enjoy so much, especially when it got a little heavy on over population and environmental issues. But, I really, really would love to chat more about this one.

I promise to be more on time with book updates through the fall. I’ve got a few good ones to read on the plane… because we are off to Ireland!

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