Sunday, September 27, 2009

My Child Has Autism

My Child Has Autism: What Parents Need to Know by Clarissa Willis, Ph.D. is an excellent introductory tool for parents with a child newly diagnosed with autism. It explains all of the involved jargon in a clear fashion, allowing parents to better understand everything.

Willis begins by explaining what autism is and what it is not, including a look at what is known as the autism spectrum. She also provides an overview of the diagnostic process and applicable treatments and techniques.

A whole chapter is devoted to trying to answer common questions asked by parents of children with autism. Common behaviors of rituals, obsession with objects, and autistic tantrums are bewildering to parents. Willis also provides several activities designed to meet these challenges head-on.

Lack of communication skills are at the core of autistic difficulties. Parents and children struggle to understand each other. Willis takes a lot of time to explain the difficulties as well as strategies to implement to facilitate communication. These activities can amplify techniques used by therapists and teachers.

Another chapter is devoted to Sensory Integration Disorder, which often occurs in children with autism. Willis again provides an overview with some common strategies used with children with autism. She also provides resources for further information, as entire volumes have been written dedicated to SID.

The last three chapters of the book are about helping the autistic child to become as independent as possible, as well as learning how to socially interact. Social interactions are very difficult, especially with the lack of communication skills.

As an educator, I found this book to be quite useful. It is filled with beneficial information that can help a regular educator in her classroom. It is one of the clearest books I have yet read on the subject. Key terms are defined at the end of every chapter. The numerous references and resources, also found at the end of each chapter, allow for further study on a particular area. It can also provide a springboard for conversation between educators and parents.

Students can also benefit from use of this book as an initial textbook in their studies of autism.

Parents will benefit from the introduction to autism, and can also use the resource lists to gain more information. It can give them a list of questions to ask doctors and therapists. A mother of an autistic child who skimmed the book said that while she wished more information was given in the treatment section, she felt everything else was explained quite clearly. She wishes she could have had such a book when her son was first diagnosed.

Purchase My Child Has Autism: What Parents Need to Know.

Andrea Coventry is a reviewer for

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Max Lucado's Fearless

Best-selling author Max Lucado released his new book Fearless today. I was one privileged reviewer who got an advanced copy to preview.

I have never read Max Lucado before, but I know he is highly regarded by my sister (who is an ordained pastor) and many other devout Christians as one of the best. After reading this book, I understand why.

Lucado tackles the concept of fear by providing real-life experiences to which readers can relate, then backs them up with Bible verses in which they can seek comfort. He is not ashamed of sharing his own weaknesses and how he copes with them. You don't get a "holier than thou" attitude from him, which can be common in similar books.

I also found the book interesting because it caused old knowledge of the Bible's teaching to resurface. I'm not an avid reader nor scholar of Scripture anymore, but it's amazing how much I retained from my years of study. It was a good introduction for me to Max Lucado's works. I'm sure his continuous fans will be pleased with it.

Receive Me Falling

Receive Me Falling is an excellent debut novel from Erika Robuck. It chronicles the plight of Meg, whose parents die in a tragic car accident while on their way home from her engagement party. As Meg sifts through her parents’ belongings, she discovers that she is heiress to a former sugar plantation, named Eden, which is found on the island of Nevis in the Caribbean.

Eager for a respite from her woes, Meg heads down to the island. She is in awe of its obvious former beauty and wishes to revive the house, though she is not keen to learn that it was a slave plantation in its heyday. Upon discovering that her father came by his wealth, including this plantation, through illegal means, Meg decides she needs to sell the plantation. She owes millions of dollars to the people her father had swindled.

Simultaneously, the story of Catherine is told. Catherine Dall runs her father Cecil’s sugar plantation, which is the Eden that Meg has come to love. Catherine is unlike other plantation owners, in that she believes slavery is wrong.
She comes more at odds with her family and her beliefs when British abolitionists arrive on the island.

The two women’s stories are told in alternating chapters, each one paralleling the other. Each woman learns more secrets about her family, as the stories progress. Each women’s plans for a perfect life and happiness is shattered by deceit, much as the original Eden was ruined by Eve’s deception by the serpent Satan. How each woman copes with the deception, however, is different. Their resolutions and ends are opposite.

The book itself divides nicely with the alternating chapters, as each one neatly flows into the other, despite the time setting differences. It is easy to keep track of what is happening within each story. While not a book that can be polished off in one afternoon, it is engaging enough to keep you coming back for more. The underlying ghost story isn’t meant to be macabre or scary; it’s actually almost believable.

Another appealing part about this book is that it discusses slaves in the Caribbean islands. So many stories revolve around the American’s enslaving Africans, forgetting that we were not the only ones to do so. Erika Robuck did a lot of research to maintain the accuracy of slave life on the sugar plantations. This alternate point of view demonstrates the cruelty that slaves faced, despite their location, as well as the attempts by abolitionists to treat them as humans.

Erika Robuck is a descriptive writer who makes the reader feel as if she is actually there. I could easily picture the characters and settings and felt like I was there while I was reading. I found the book to be highly enjoyable and engaging, and have already recommended it to friends.

Buy Receive Me Falling

Read Erika Robuck's blog.

Read another review, posted on Everything Distils Into Reading.

Andrea Coventry is a reviewer for

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Die Trying: One Man's Quest to Conquer the Seven Summits

Die Trying: One Man's Quest to Conquer the Seven Summits is an inspiring memoir by a man, who at the age of 26, began a four-year journey to summit all of the highest climbs on the seven continents. When starting his journey, Parfet was an overweight, under-trained 26 year-old working 100 hours a week as an investment banker at J.P. Morgan. His first summit, of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, made him realize that he was capable of doing anything that he set his mind to, and whetted his appetite to go for more.

He had always dreamed of going to Mt. Everest, ever since reading about Sir Edmund Hilliary and Tenzing Norgay being the first documented people to summit the world's tallest mountain. Then, hearing about the challenge to summit the tallest on every continent, Parfet began taking the necessary steps to prepare. He started eating better, working to lose the excess weight he had put on as a junior banker at J.P. Morgan. He began to actively train during the off times when he wasn't climbing.

Each mountain brought its own set of challenges. Lessons learned on one mountain didn't necessarily translate to a different mountain. He learned the importance of friendship, trust, and simplistic intelligence, as well as the necessity of staying cool in the face of danger. And as if it isn't already inspiring enough that he conquered all Seven Summits, Parfet shares about his scholarship funds that were set up to educate people in each country he visited.

The mountains that Parfet climbed, in order of ascent, are as follows: Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa), Cerro Aconcagua (South America), Denali/Mount McKinley (North America), Vinson Massif (Antarctica), Mount Elbrus (Europe), Castensz Pyramid and Mount Kosciuszko (Australia -- two different lists of the Seven Summits exist), and finally Mount Everest (Asia).

Parfet's recollections of each of his climbs are filled with vivid detail that help you feel like you are right there with him. An energy to his storytelling keep the pages turning, because you want to know what happens next.

The accomplishments Parfet shares in Die Trying are humbling, especially when you realize how young he was at the time. You will laugh, cry, and bit your nails as he fights with a tent mate, loses a team member, and slides down the ice.

This book definitely ranks up there with the likes of Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air. If Bo Parfet has more stories to share, he should tell them! Die Trying has definitely become my favorite book of 2009.

Buy Die Trying: One Man's Quest to Conquer the Seven Summits

Andrea Coventry is a reviewer for

The Anti-Alzheimer's Prescription

Dr. Vincent Fortanasce has intimate knowledge of the horrors of Alzheimer's disease, as he watched his father plummet down the black hole. Through much research, he has developed a diet and exercise program to help himself, and others like him, to reduce their risk of this debilitating disease.

Alzheimer's tends to be inherited, so those with a close family member suffering from the disease are automatically more at risk. Other lifestyle factors, such as obesity, diabetes, poor diet, and lack of exercise, can also come into play.

Dr. Fortanasce first devotes time explaining the signs, symptoms, and stages of Alzheimer's disease, to help readers fully understand it. He also wants readers to look at themselves with a microscope, to determine their personal level of risk. With each risk factor explained, he provides steps to be taken to reduce the risk.

The first step in the Anti-Alzheimer's Prescription is to eat an Anti-Alzheimer's diet. This diet is Mediterranean in style, focusing on a low glycemic index and high in "good fats", such as omega-3s. Dr. Fortanasce provides extensive lists of the types of food he recommends, to allow for a healthy brain-boosting balance in the diet. He explains how to clean out the kitchen and go shopping for specific brands. In the appendices, he includes a 28-day menu and a mini-cookbook. The included recipes are palatable, even to us picky eaters.

The second step is to exercise the body to benefit the brain. Diagrams and detailed explanations of exercise to tone the body, reduce stress, and subsequently boost brainpower, make it easy to see how the moves can be implemented into daily routines.

The third step is to perform daily neurobics, or exercises for the mind. Simple tasks such as playing Solitaire, balancing the checkbook, and memorizing sequences of numbers can keep current brain dendrites strong and stop deterioration.

The fourth step in the Anti-Alzheimer's Prescription is to get plenty of rest and relaxation. Stress has long been known to be a killer; now it can also destroy your brain.

Concluding chapters focus on testing, diagnosis, and medications used for Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Fortanansce's book appears to be well-researched and consistent with other theories about beneficial diets and practices for other medical issues. As a neurologist, he has had plenty of opportunities to test out his theories with his patients. It will be interesting to see how the theories hold up against the test of time, as medical studies have a tendency to disprove each other on a regular basis. However, having a strong family history of Alzheimer's disease, I hope and pray that he is right, as I work to implement more of his techniques in my own life.

Buy The Anti-Alzheimer's Prescription: The Science-Proven Plan to Start at Any Age

Andrea Coventry is a reviewer for

Boardinghouse Stew by E. E. Smith

Boardinghouse Stew by E. E. Smith is an interesting snapshot about life in a boardinghouse during World War II. The author tells her own story of working as a maid and cook for a summer in Mrs. Mumson's home on the West Coast in 1943.

Told from the point-of-view of eleven year-old Eileen, the story is about the interactions between Mrs. Mumson, and the six "guests" who live with her. Patsy, the beautiful stenographer; Iris, a welder and air raid warden; and Margaret, the telephone operator who has been a little "sickly" lately, make up Mrs. Mumson's "girls." Howard, a supervisor at the cannery; Doc, who is a doctor; and Teddy, whose job is a mystery, yet he comes home with a new car every few weeks, make up Mrs. Mumson's "boys". Eileen, who lied and said she was thirteen years old, has been hired to do the cooking and cleaning, because Mrs. Mumson's Japanese help has been transferred to a holding camp.

Eileen works hard to run the household. She has to be frugal in her shopping, due to the rationing, and becomes creative in her culinary creations, following the misguidance of the fictional "Miss Kitchen". Her treats leave much to be desired, but no one else is doing the cooking. She strives to keep the house clean, and works harder than even most adults. Along the way, she gain insight into various prejudices of the time, against the Japanese and the Germans. These come to a head when a mysterious visitor appears on the doorstep. She even learns a life lesson from the mysterious goings-on between Margaret and a certain man.

Boardinghouse Stew is an easy read, as it is written in the style of a play, told mostly through dialogue. As someone not as familiar with reading scripts, I could picture the play-by-play action, as if it were occurring on a stage, thanks to the narrative style in lieu of stage directions. The strong voice of an eleven year-old narrator helps you appreciate any filtering and interpretation of events that could easily otherwise seem ludicrous. Photographs of people familiar to the author, and of places and things of the times, also bring about a real quality to the story.

The story is unique, because most novels about WWII seem to focus on the concentration camps and the war being fought overseas. This brings the fear back to the homefront, and brings about a sense of reality to the daily happenings of Americans at the time, even if the characters seem sensational. It helps that it is based on the recollections of E. E. Smith's actual experiences during the war.

In the end, E. E. Smith addresses any burning questions that the reader may have, such as what happened to certain characters in the novel in real life. She also shares her experiences with the boardinghouse as an adults, as well as some experiences from writing and producing the original play.

Buy Boardinghouse Stew

Andrea Coventry is a book reviewer for

The Blue Fairy and other tales of transcendence by Ernest Dempsey

Ernest Dempsey opens his short story collections with a moving dedication to his Aunt Farahana, who passed away in November 1992. Her passing had a profound effect on Dempsey, as familiar to him today as it was 17 years ago. His description of her influence on his life literally moved me to tears.

Dempsey has collected several short stories he has penned over the years, to put into the collection entitled The Blue Fairy and other tales of transcendence. He takes a look at death from many points of view.

Some are told in the first person, almost seemingly like he is literally telling about someone he knew in real life. Others are third-person looks inside the troubled mind of one who is dealing with death. Stories are about the loss of a child, impending death from illness, and mysterious people floating in and out of one's life.

On occasion, a story would leave me wanting for more. Either I didn't understand the point, or felt that the point was lacking. I frequently find this to be the case when reading a short story collection by an author, as well as when rereading some of my own short stories. Sometimes, a story would seem like it was trying too hard to be deep. Again, I think it is a common issue in short story collections.

Luckily, the more that I read, the more I was drawn into the stories, the more I was able to understand them, and the more I was able to emotionally feel connected to some of them. I am particularly drawn to stories of the loss of a child or a sibling, as I feel like I can relate to those best after losing a baby cousin some years ago.

"Recreating Stone" was particularly painful to read, as it is a story of unrequited love that is lost forever. Here, I can see the parallels drawn between Dempsey and his 19th century counterparts, referenced by other reviewers.

I also found ones like "Just a Kilometer" to be reminiscent of a Stephen King short story. A man is shot far away from civilization, and is striving to find his way back to the love of his life, despite the bleeding and the pain. Stephen King has been one of my favorite authors for the last 20-plus years, and I enjoy finding well-written stories within the same genre.

Short story collections should never be read in one sitting, as each piece is designed to stand on its own. The same holds true of The Blue Fairy. It also should only be read when the reader is in a mood that can accommodate darker stories without being thrust into an emotional depression. Stories such as Dempsey's have the potential of striking a chord deep within, especially if one has experienced a similar situation.

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Andrea Coventry is a book reviewer for