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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Month: December 2015

Becoming Unique by James Charles

 

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Becoming Unique is a moving and informative account of one man’s journey towards Autism Spectrum Disorder. Whilst delivering practical and constructive advice for those living with autism, Charles also examines the positive attributes of the disorder, which he calls a diffability. Becoming Unique is also a story of faith, as Charles examined his relationship with God and how he made peace with his diagnosis. A rare and valuable first-person narrative about living with autism, James Charles’ story will stay with the reader forever.

 

James Charles grew up in County Leitrim, Ireland to a family of seven children.  In Ireland James received his education and a good awareness of the Catholic faith.  James moved to England aged 20, but never considered himself an immigrant due to England being the country of his birth.  Despite that, James had difficulty with people understanding his Irish accent and frequently changed jobs within his first year in England.  James began to feel more like his old friends still living in Ireland, when he started college part-time in September 1987 and a few months later he worked as a care worker in a hospital caring for adults with learning disabilities and this was to influence much of his career.

After a few years in care work, James quit concentrating on being a full-time student and where he gained a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Public Administration.  However James returned to Ireland in 1992 due to limited job opportunities in Luton and being unable to get a further grant to complete his degree.  James was a full-time student in 1993 at University College Cork (UCC), where he hoped to gain a Bachelor in Social Science degree with the aim of becoming a Social Worker.  While James succeeded in England working on continuous assessments and no exams, James faced the exam nightmare just like when he was a boy, resulting only remaining a year at UCC.  Yet James remained living in Cork prior to returning to England in 1995.

James returned to care work, but this time in mental health care settings in London.  James would later say “it was not exactly an experience of being thrown in the deep end”, as James had experience of people with mental health problems both when working in learning disabilities but also through people he got to know over the years.  After six months James was finished agency work in mental health and returned to one of his old jobs in July 1995.  James had no intention of further job moves and remained in his post as a care worker in learning disabilities, till he moved to Stafford to become a student nurse in mental in 1998.  It was here James met his future wife, James later said “she was the only stable thing in my life”.  While James often had many struggles in more than twenty five years of working, ten of them years were spent working as a mental health nurse.  In 2008 James and his wife moved to one of the British islands, where they lived and worked for five years and it was while working here, it was discovered that James had Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

This is a book about a man who was bullied, a victim of discrimination and experienced difficulty on many occasions with his communication.  It is also about growing up in Ireland and like many James emigrated to England in the 1980’s, as well as trying to integrate into the socialising environment.  As well as struggling with many changes, struggling with faith played a big part throughout his life, but the book also shows that faith is not through one religion.  The book looks at the challenges and misunderstandings faced by many Autistic people, even those on the so called high functioning Autistic spectrum.  Yet the book also looks at a future for Autism and what Autism can contribute to the world.

Becoming Unique is the voice of someone Autistic rather than the views of a clinical expert.  Having an Autistic voice is important, especially where many Autistic individuals often cannot communicate.  Becoming Unique also shows that Autistic individuals can have common interest like football and music, as this is shown in the Chapter Glasgow Celtic.  The book also shows that more work needs to be done to support Autistic individuals, but also many other individuals struggling with a disability.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

A Tiny Feeling Of Fear by M. Jonathan Lee

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“I’ve made a decision to become the only person on the planet to become completely truthful about everything. I’ve never told anyone my secrets before. I’m hoping that being honest with you may just save my life. And perhaps yours.”

This third novel by Jonathan Lee takes the reader through the many insecurities we all experience, through the eyes of Andrew Walker, an ordinary guy with an extraordinary twist to the tale. Jonathan is working closely with MIND and Rethink mental health charities to raise awareness of mental health issues.

 

Thanks to Publishing Push and the author for gifting me this review copy!

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, as the blurb talks about mental health. Was this going to be the crazy ramblings of a manic depressive, or a thinly disguised dream sequence passed off as real life until the very end?

It’s neither. A TINY FEELING OF FEAR is a wonderfully down to earth, no holds barred tale of a man who is suffering from depression. It’s also something more—a story with a crazy, jaw dropping twist that no one could EVER see coming, not in a million years. The plot kept me interested, and I so appreciated the author’s wry humor, especially when describing Walker’s coworkers. After spending time with his office mates, it’s no wonder he was depressed. Hostility and impotence hang over everyone’s head like a miasma, with Andrew Walker at the center. The author’s recounting of a nasty, demanding customer is spot on and cringingly accurate. Anyone who has ever worked in client services will have flashbacks, especially when an angry customer is abusing Walker and we are privy to his mental dialogue. Those are the bright spots. Interspersed with these moments are Walker at his darkest, when he is having such a bad day he can’t even get out of bed and is contemplating suicide. His anxiety and how it affects him is recounted in excruciatingly correct detail; anyone who has suffered from this all too prevalent malady will be intimately familiar with the pounding heart, crushing doubt, and sense of failure. A simple trip to the supermarket nearly turns into a disaster, as Walker almost loses his grip on reality as he travels up and down the aisles.

The one bright spot in his life is his next door neighbor, newly moved in and with issues of her own. The two form an oddly awkward yet comforting relationship, and she helps Walker come to grips with a personal decision that is a long time coming. Some details about his life are revealed very slowly, and I got the sense that even though he was keen enough to make others familiar with the anxiety, I was not permitted to gain very much insight into the man that Walker was. Often the character says that he is worthless, ordinary, and uninteresting, which is normal for someone with depression. Over time, we learn exactly what happened to bring about this life change.

As Walker leaves for a business trip, a few plot lines are near to becoming resolved. I felt so bad for the character and wondered what would be happening–would the author create a happy ending or would there be more misery? Depression and anxiety are not always “fixed”, and I was curious to see how things would turn out. After all, the blurb says that the character is being honest, and this may just save a life.

In any case, no matter what scenario you may have built up in your mind will not prepare you for how things end. Anyone who says they saw this coming is either lying or crazy–or both. I felt exhilarated and manipulated all at the same time, and there were times where I wasn’t sure what just happened. Jonathan Lee is crazy talented and crafty as hell to have pulled this off, that is about all I can say without spoiling the surprise. He has managed to create a book that will spark dialogue about mental illness while entertaining the reader and making their mind boggle. Quite impressive.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

 

Pumpkin Farmer by Michael Hughes PLUS GIVEAWAY

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The year is 1979. Malaise, stagflation, turmoil in the Middle East, and a gas crunch; these things are but background noise for what unfolds when a lovesick businessman and a sociopathic drifter cross paths. John Nix, business manager of a Silicon Valley semiconductor startup, picks up Horace Fullworth, a ne’er-do -well heir of a wealthy California family, who has returned to San Francisco after surviving the Jonestown Massacre.
After John discovers his girlfriend cheating, he drives to a bar in the small rustic town of La Honda. He meets Ellie O’Neil, a pretty young woman he offers to drive home. Feeling misled by her, he leaves her on the side of the road, where Horace finds her. John hears that Ellie has gone missing and is overcome with guilt. His struggle with his conscience leads him back to those rugged coastal foothills of the San Francisco Peninsula.

Thanks to the author for giving me this review copy! I’m going to pass it on to one lucky reader: see bottom of post on how to enter.

Horace Fullworth flies back to California after surviving the Jonestown Massacre. He is curiously empty inside, devoid of feeling or conscience. John Nix becomes extremely depressed after walking in on his girlfriend in bed with another man. Their stories are intertwined when a girl named Ellie goes missing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the nostalgic atmosphere of California circa 1979–Harvey Milk, reduced emissions, smoking on airplanes, and Dallas on TV. Hughes does an exemplary job of setting the reader right back to those days, and that was one of my favorite things about the book. The mood is dark and murky, and happiness is just out of reach for the characters.

John spends a lot of time drinking and wishing he was a stronger man, while Horace is enjoying the life of a sociopath, living for himself and trying not to give in to those feelings and urges that lurk below the surface. I grew a bit weary of John’s self pity, and by the time things really started happening, the book was almost half over. This resulted in a rush to the end that felt a bit lopsided to me. The way the story was told needed better timing, but the plot itself was captivating and kept me focused.

John Nix’s life was so depressing that Horace seemed positively cheery in comparison. Hughes does an excellent job of showing how John stagnates while everyone around him goes on with their life, things falling their way effortlessly. Even Horace manages to develop a farm, complete with hired help to plant a pumpkin field.

The character of Ellie is a curious one, not as developed as the two man, and this bothered me a little. The plot twists seem a bit forced once you digest all the information revealed towards the end. Ellie is mostly a mystery, and it was hard for me to root for her to be found. Some things about her are made deliberately obtuse, for the purpose of furthering the mystery, but it just frustrated me. I think if the action was more spread out throughout the entire book it would have worked better.

Other than that, PUMPKIN FARMER was an easy to read book that gets its strength from the atmosphere. Choosing the 70’s as the backdrop makes this story work by inciting nostalgia along with the mystery. Times were more innocent back then, and the juxtaposition of these characters is what makes the dichotomy so powerful. The details are exact and mildly comforting (I remember almost everything Hughes describes) as they pop up amongst the drinking binges and self loathing. Hughes captures the emotions of the times well, adding the background naturally, not forcefully. I especially liked the idea of the emotionless Horace harboring the secret desire to become the titular pumpkin farmer. The lesson goes to show that what people appear to be on the surface, is not always the true measure of their souls. Remember this as you read the book.

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Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Crimson Shore (Pendergast #15) by Preston & Child

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A secret chamber.

A mysterious shipwreck. A murder in the desolate salt marshes.

A seemingly straightforward private case turns out to be much more complicated-and sinister-than Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast ever could have anticipated.

Pendergast, together with his ward Constance Greene, travels to the quaint seaside village of Exmouth, Massachusetts, to investigate the theft of a priceless wine collection. But inside the wine cellar, they find something considerably more disturbing: a bricked-up niche that once held a crumbling skeleton.

 

Many thanks to NetGalley for providing this ARC copy for review.

Pendergast almost turns this case down because he feels it’s too pedestrian for him. But once he hears about the priceless wine being offered as payment, he decides to travel to Massachusetts after all.

He and Constance stick out like sore thumbs, skulking about and dressed in black, manipulating everyone in sight.   His sarcastic comments and glittering eyes will make every Penderpeep sigh with joy, and we see Constance’s emotions stirred as well. There is an episode where the two of them share wine together, and I read it holding my breath. No spoilers here, though! (I’m actually not sure I want to see the two of them together, as I fear it may change my perception of both of the characters.)

One of Preston and Child’s trademarks is the extensive research done to ensure the environment is described well, and CRIMSON SHORE is no exception. It was easy to hear the pounding surf and feel the sullen stares of the townspeople due to the stellar depiction of the desolate surroundings. There is a perfect balance of action, conversation, and description, just enough of everything to keep the plot moving forward and place the reader firmly in the salt marshes.

Constance is not happy to sit and wait for Pendergast to do all the work, as she takes on responsibilities of her own and helps things along by doing extensive research on the history of witchcraft that’s endemic to the area.

That’s when the plot veers off to the supernatural and violent. Almost all the loose ends are tied up when, suddenly new things appear and Pendergast must brave the marshlands to rescue Constance. This is where the suspense ratchets up quite a bit and things start happening quickly.

Earlier books had Pendergast sporting almost superhuman strength, and these last few show him in a different light. This one is no exception, as I was prepared to see him put up a good fight but suffer in the process.  There is the almost mandatory cliffhanger ending that draws in elements from other books, written deliberately cryptic to keep us all guessing.

I enjoyed this latest outing even though it got sidetracked to the supernatural. The spotlight is centered firmly on Pendergast and Constance here – with humor, suspense, witchcraft and even a cooking lesson, there is a great deal to get your mind around. Preston & Child are continuing to create quality work with consistency and no lack of interesting plotlines. Exactly what the doctor ordered.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Living With ADD – A Workbook for Adults by Roberts and Jansen

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An estimated 3 to 10 million adults in the US struggle with the symptoms of attention-deficit disorder (ADD.) If you’re among this group, this interactive workbook will enable you to identify the personal problems caused by your condition and develop skills for coping with it. Learn how to assess yourself and the ways in which ADD affects your daily life. Then, work through exercises structured to help you deal with self-esteem issues; find out how to change distorted thought patterns, manage stress, and develop a structured approach to starting and finishing tasks. Final chapters offer specific suggestions for handling common problems at work and school, dealing with intimate relationships, and finding support.

 

Thanks to New Harbinger Publications for this review copy!

While LIVING WITH ADD is a book designed to help the individual struggling with ADD symptoms better understand his or her own situation, I believe that this book would be better sold as a “couples therapy” book than a “self help” book. Kyle and I read this book together, and it did much more to help us understand each other than it did to help me understand myself (to be fair, that may have more to do with my having read multiple books on this topic than with any quality inherent to the book itself).

LIVING WITH ADD follows a format of:
• Introducing a problem faced by ADDers – mood swings, for example
• Describing different ways in which people with ADD typically handle or experience the problem
• Asking the reader about his or her own experience with the problem being discussed, prompting him or her to write and answer directly onto the page
• Providing advice on how to limit the negative impact of the problem on the reader’s life

The idea of this workbook is to help the ADD’er work through frequently encountered problems related to ADD. You don’t have to follow the chapters in order, which may bring joy to an ADD’er’s heart! What’s important is that the reader take the time to think about the exercises and answer truthfully. The questions are both probing and simple, and most all of them provoke a thought process.  I found that some of the questions really forced me to come to terms with some of my actions, both in the past and recently.

Kyle would read a chapter first, and then I would read it, filling in the blanks as I went along. She would then look again to see my answers. Since she would have already read the chapter, she would have had time to think about how I might have answered, so that when I would answer differently from how she expected, it would lead to a conversation that made us understand each other more deeply.

I think that people who struggle with ADD symptoms are tired of hearing themselves explain themselves. We feel like we’re making excuses, and our experiences over time teach us that people don’t want to hear it. It’s helpful to have a disinterested third party, like this book, initiate the conversation. For couples who often find themselves getting defensive when they would really just like to get closer, this book might be the right tool to make that happen. If that doesn’t sound like you, you may still stand to learn more about each other.

The wealth of value in this workbook is bolstered by the easygoing, unambiguous prose that neither assumes prior knowledge in the reader, nor disrespects his or her intelligence. It’s an easy read even though it maintains a high level of information density. That is, you won’t find yourself sojourning multiple pages into a chapter wondering when the author will move on. Examples are usually employed to introduce new dimensions to the the problem being discussed. Otherwise, they are included to flesh out a topic that may be difficult to identify with, where the reader might think, “That isn’t me… oh wait. That actually is me.” In LIVING WITH ADD, Ph.Ds. Roberts & Jansen have provided us with a case study for the judicious use of examples in a self-help text.

Finally, the margins on these pages are enormous, leaving tons of room for notes. I was compelled to leave a doodle here and there in my copy!

I feel compelled to conjure up some criticism for this workbook, but nothing serious has come to mind. I would really have to nitpick. One or two of the writing prompts don’t leave enough room for a broad range of possible answers, forcing me to leave them blank. If this wasn’t such a fantastic book, something like this would genuinely irk me. In this case, however, this was a mild curiosity sandwiched by reams of goodness. That these questions stood out to me at all speaks to the overall quality of the rest of the book.

Want your own copy? Know someone with ADD who would like this? You can pick it up here.

 

Holiday GIVEAWAY! A present from GTB and author Ellie DeFarr!

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What better gift than a book? And what better book than THEY CALLED HER PAPERBACK ROSE by Ellie DeFarr? She’s becoming one of my favorite authors, so my gift to you is a chance to win one of THREE e-copies of her latest mystery. Enter the giveaway below.

Here’s my review of PAPERBACK ROSE. I loved it, and so will you! See below to enter.

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PaperbackRoseCover_300wGood luck and happy holidays from all of us here at gimmethatbook. Endless thanks to author Ellie DeFarr for thoughtfully providing these gift copies for our giveaway– we love you, Ellie!

Rosetta by Simon Cornish

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Damaged, enigmatic and beautiful, Rosetta could prove to be the key to unlocking a three thousand year old mystery that would shake modern science to its roots.

With the unexpected death of his old university professor, Graham Chandlers travels to Exeter for the funeral. He is surprised to learn the professor had a daughter, Rosetta. He is even more surprised when she performs a strange ritual at the funeral service. A ritual delivered in an ancient language that only a handful of paleolinguists, Graham included, would have a hope of understanding.

Already intrigued by Rosetta, Graham is drawn in further when he is left the professor’s journals. Journals that hint at a cover up concerning the professor’s last dig and a mystery for which Rosetta holds the key. But the more he learns, the more fascinated he becomes with her.

A highly readable novella woven from the thread of both romance and mystery.

Thanks to the author for gifting me this review copy!

I thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in the archaeological atmosphere of this novella. Right away you enter the world of Graham, an Exeter university professor who has received bad news: his mentor has passed away and Graham has been tapped to give the eulogy. His interest is piqued by the deceased’s daughter, who is known as a bit of a looney amongst the community. As he learns more about her personal life, he uncovers things that could either make him a pariah or a visionary.

Delightfully British and quite intriguing, ROSETTA is easy to grasp with comfortable characters and a plausible plot. What makes it crackle with tension is the discovery Graham makes; just off kilter enough to seem possible yet crazy enough to cause doubt. Both believer and non believer opinion is portrayed equally well; Cornish has done his research and envelops the reader by the usage of small but significant details, such as the potsherds and the ancient language.  His graceful story telling packs a large amount of plot into a few words, in a truly satisfying way. There is just enough going on to keep you hooked, plus there is a sprinkle of romance to add yet another dimension to the tale.

ROSETTA was a fantastic departure from my usual fare and I loved it. Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

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