February 2020–Part One

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

The SparkThe Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius and Autism by Kristine Barnett (Length: 281 pages).  This is an incredible account of how a boy who is severely autistic was able to “wake up” and become one of the world’s leading astrophysicists at a very young age, thanks to “play” therapy designed by his mom.  I heard about this book from Anne Bogel on What Should I Read Next, and because I work with children in my current job (a substitute teacher at an elementary school) my interest was piqued.  Jacob’s mom ran a daycare and discovered  that autistic children began to develop social skills when they were permitted to deep-dive into whatever their passion happened to be (dinosaurs, cooking, how light moves in space, in the case of Jacob).  This book is very well-written and very readable.  (However, I will say DO NOT Google this author until after you’ve read this book.  Let this sweet story stay with you awhile first.  You’re welcome!)

From the publisher:

Kristine Barnett’s son Jacob has an IQ higher than Einstein’s, a photographic memory, and he taught himself calculus in two weeks. At nine he started working on an original theory in astrophysics that experts believe may someday put him in line for a Nobel Prize, and at age twelve he became a paid researcher in quantum physics. But the story of Kristine’s journey with Jake is all the more remarkable because his extraordinary mind was almost lost to autism. At age two, when Jake was diagnosed, Kristine was told he might never be able to tie his own shoes.
The Spark is a remarkable memoir of mother and son. Surrounded by “experts” at home and in special ed who tried to focus on Jake’s most basic skills and curtail his distracting interests—moving shadows on the wall, stars, plaid patterns on sofa fabric—Jake made no progress, withdrew more and more into his own world, and eventually stopped talking completely. Kristine knew in her heart that she had to make a change. Against the advice of her husband, Michael, and the developmental specialists, Kristine followed her instincts, pulled Jake out of special ed, and began preparing him for mainstream kindergarten on her own.

Relying on the insights she developed at the daycare center she runs out of the garage in her home, Kristine resolved to follow Jacob’s “spark”—his passionate interests. Why concentrate on what he couldn’t do? Why not focus on what he could?  This basic philosophy, along with her belief in the power of ordinary childhood experiences (softball, picnics, s’mores around the campfire) and the importance of play, helped Kristine overcome huge odds.

The Barnetts were not wealthy people, and in addition to financial hardship, Kristine herself faced serious health issues. But through hard work and determination on behalf of Jake and his two younger brothers, as well as an undying faith in their community, friends, and family, Kristine and Michael prevailed. The results were beyond anything anyone could have imagined.

Book #2: 

Olive KitteridgeOlive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Length: 280 pages).  I have had the physical copy of this book for awhile, and picked it up because this won the author the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  I knew going into it that it’s a polarizing book–people either love it or they don’t.  I fall somewhere in the middle.  Set in a small town in Maine, these short stories feature (at times just tangentially) Olive a middle-school math teacher.  Olive is not a likeable character, by any stretch of the imagination, but by the end of the book, the reader will at least empathize with her.  The writing here is absolutely excellent, and I enjoyed the author’s in-depth character portrayals as well as how the stories interconnect in small ways . . . for example, two characters who appear well in the background in one story are later mentioned in a more fleshed-out way a few chapters later.  The stories are mostly depressing and sad, but I do think the writing style and quality make this book a worthy read.  

From the publisher:

In a voice more powerful and compassionate than ever before, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Strout binds together thirteen rich, luminous narratives into a book with the heft of a novel, through the presence of one larger-than-life, unforgettable character: Olive Kitteridge.

At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer’s eyes, it’s in essence the whole world, and the lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human drama–desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love.

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance: a former student who has lost the will to live: Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

Book #3:  

The Man who walked through timeThe Man Who Walked Through Time by Colin  (Length: 258 pages).  In preparation for an upcoming Grand Canyon hike, I picked up this “must read” first-hand account of the first person to walk the length of Grand Canyon National Park, in 1965.  The author’s writing is beautiful, and his narration is very descriptive and give the reader the sense of actually being there in the Canyon.  He describes the geology, flora and fauna of the Canyon in great detail, but the writing is not dry at all.  He made me appreciate the length of time that it took the Grand Canyon to evolve (Creationists may disagree with the half a billion years that geologists have determined the Canyon took to form).  I will say this book will not be relevant reading to you unless you’re also planning on hiking the Canyon.  

From the publisher:

The remarkable classic of nature writing by the first man ever to have walked the entire length of the Grand Canyon.

Book #4:  

Night RoadNight Road by Kristin Hannah (Length: 396 pages).  This apparently is a “must read” according to fans of Kristin Hannah.  I enjoyed The Great Alone so I picked this one up with great anticipation.  I was disappointed that I figured out the plot “twist” immediately, and I was not a fan of the main characters (Lexi and Jude).  I especially was not keen on how they both reacted to the major plot development.  The second half of the book (after the plot change) dragged to me, and to add insult to injury, the ending was entirely too pat and way too abrupt.  I will say that I enjoy Hannah’s writing style, so that was the redeeming factor in this altogether disappointing read to me.  I do see how this could be a good choice for book clubs, however, as there is plenty to discuss here.  

From the publisher:

For eighteen years, Jude Farraday has put her children’s needs above her own, and it shows—her twins, Mia and Zach, are bright and happy teenagers. When Lexi Baill moves into their small, close-knit community, no one is more welcoming than Jude. Lexi, a former foster child with a dark past, quickly becomes Mia’s best friend. Then Zach falls in love with Lexi and the three become inseparable.

Jude does everything to keep her kids out of harm’s way. But senior year of high school tests them all. It’s a dangerous, explosive season of drinking, driving, parties, and kids who want to let loose. And then on a hot summer’s night, one bad decision is made. In the blink of an eye, the Farraday family will be torn apart and Lexi will lose everything. In the years that follow, each must face the consequences of that single night and find a way to forget…or the courage to forgive.

Vivid, universal, and emotionally complex, Night Road raises profound questions about motherhood, identity, love, and forgiveness. It is a luminous, heartbreaking novel that captures both the exquisite pain of loss and the stunning power of hope. This is Kristin Hannah at her very best, telling an unforgettable story about the longing for family, the resilience of the human heart, and the courage it takes to forgive the people we love.



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