Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review: Truly Madly Guilty

Truly Madly Guilty Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first 2/3 of this story progressed slowly. The set up for the story and the big reveal of what happened that fateful day becomes hand-wringingly agonizing. As always, Moriarty's story packs an emotional punch -- I don't value a book that's merely depressing and upsetting and that is not what this book is, although there are certainly stretches that are both. You might be able to pin down the events of this book in a nutshell but this is a beautifully complicated story about many things -- motherhood, friendships, marriage, healing, guilt and how we survive our parents shortcomings, both large and small. I could go on and on. The last 3rd deserves 5 stars but it felt like work to get there so we'll settle on 4.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Play Ball! Part 2: Lessons from Moriarty

This past year I read a good book by Liane Moriarty.  Actually I read every book by Liane Moriarty after being wowed by Big Little Lies.  The story relevant to this discussion, however, is What Alice Forgot - the tale of a woman with amnesia who finds herself jumped forward in her life 10 years, sorting through what her life has become and struggling to understand how she has come to be where she is.  As she picks up the reins on the life of her older self she is at times dumbfounded by the choices she seems to have made, by what she has allowed to happen. Without great thought she acts to corrects Older Alice's blunders.  After a single afternoon watching her oldest child's misery at sport practice she removes the child from the team.  She will [spoiler alert] remember it all.  She will recall why enforced sports participation seemed like a good idea; however, in that moment it is a simple straight forward matter and it is obvious what needs to be done.

I am not sure when I let youth sports become My Battle.  I am sure of one thing, though -- it is a simple straight forward matter and it is obvious what needs to be done.  Yes indeed, Mr. Gaiman, Alice did provide not just an escape, but a meaningful and educational one.

This past Fall my youngest played youth football and my oldest sat with me on the sidelines.  The world did not end.  He chose to try soccer instead where he had fun and struggled.  At times the struggling outweighed the fun.  His particular place on the autism spectrum means he has many real challenges to success with physical activities.  Now that he is getting older he is actually noticing, "Hey! Everyone else is doing better than me!".  He feels the frustration of working just as hard as everyone but yielding poor results.

Physical activity is still important.  I'm not giving him permission to do what his heart most desires and become a total couch potato.  I am acknowledging, however, that baseball with all its fine motor intricacies is not the smartest place for us to put our energies.  And I know that my younger self would say, "Duh."

Monday, May 18, 2015

Play Ball! Part 1

I've always wanted my boys to play sports.  I watched my little brothers grow up playing soccer, baseball, basketball and football with my dad as their team coach most of the way.  I still have the trading cards of my little brothers in their first years of little league, little guys holding up little bats and looking more adorable than there are words for.  I could probably recite by heart my father's speeches on the benefits of team sports and I will admit that he convinced me long ago.

I can remember trying to engage Little Guy with ball play and how, from very early on, he struggled and quickly lost interest in trying.   I didn't know then what I know now - that simple things are often not simple at all for him.  I didn't know that it was extra difficult for him to plan and execute body movement or that he experiences double vision and has difficulty tracking moving objects.  With those barriers success with balls is pretty hard to get to.

Last season when I signed him up for Little League, I knew.  I knew it would be hard for Little Guy and I knew it was likely to not be a successful run.  My dreams aside, I probably wouldn't have even tried but for one very important reason -- Big Boy.   Big Boy who is smart and funny and typically developing and enjoys playing ball.  Big Boy I knew could be successful at Little League and I didn't want to deny him his chance at it.  And Big Boy was not going to want to do it unless his big brother was doing it, too.

So with great trepidation and some hope I signed them both up for T-ball and it was...just fine.  At that level the kids are little and they're all learning.  Some kids have more skills than others but there are plenty of tikes out there who aren't great.  Little Guy couldn't throw or catch well but the same could be said for other teammates.  The coaches were supportive and everything was good humored.  Little Guy was challenged in many ways and if he didn't bubble over with excitement to be playing baseball he did enjoy many parts of it and had some great experiences.

This year has been different.  

By the time the season even started he'd taken a few balls to the face in the process of trying to teach him to catch.  This year before the season even started there was frustration.  A year of development and some practice later he has progressed by bits while Big Boy's progress is more significant.  Little Guy has not yet put together the larger implications of a kid 2.5 years younger out-performing him.  He just knows that he works hard and his output is not so great.  Big Boy works hard and gets a much better result.

And it's not just Big Boy.  This year almost all the kids play better.  If Little Guy hasn't noticed that I know who has -- all the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends that make up the crowd of spectators at each game.  There is more of a competitive edge to some of the peanut gallery this year.  They are not flagrantly mean but they get frustrated and say careless things that make me want to slash their tires from time to time.  They haven't crossed the line yet but every once in a while they go stand by it.

Still, if you set the difficulty of practice aside, both boys enjoy actually playing the game.  I ask myself often if I'm doing the right thing pushing Little Guy at something that is so difficult for him. Then I see his grin as he does a little victory dance on first base after hitting the ball.  I see him sitting on a bench playing rock paper scissors with a teammate.  And I remember that many things worth having don't come easy.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Of Shadow & Stone : They can't all be great books

My last three book reviews were glowing and I have to admit it's been making me nervous.  It's hard to have credibility when all you ever say is "Great job!"  The problem is that I hate reading mediocre books and I carefully pick what I spend my precious little reading time on.  Hence when I was sent an advanced reading copy Of Shadow & Stone along with works by tried and true favorites it's not really surprising that I got to it last.  Eventually, though, its day did come and alas, my 5 star review streak has come to an end.

Of Shadow & Stone by Michelle Muto is not terrible.  I've read worse.  I've read worse just this year.  Most of the book feels like a better than average set up for a new series.  The main characters, Kate and Ian, are likable and Shadow Wood is mysterious and intriguing. 

This story suffers from premature resolution unfortunately.  By the end everything is tied up neatly.  Too neatly, too soon. 

Fantasy writing requires a certain amount of world building and back story in an introductory piece -- the author is giving us a new world and we must be made to understand it. A certain amount of character casting is also required -- the author is giving us new characters and we must be made to care about them.  It feels like Muto was just accomplishing those two things when suddenly everything is fixed and the story is done.  

Of Shadow & Stone gets many things right but ultimately doesn't live up to its promise.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Skull Throne : more great reading

I received an advanced reading copy of The Skull Throne, the 4th book of Peter V. Brett's Demon Cycle series. What follows is my honest review.

My first impression of this book is that it was very, very long.  I routinely digest large volumes but this story was just so incredibly big. Fortunately it was equally entertaining.

As in previous books the point of view jumps around, this time spending relatively little time with the original protagonist, Arlen.  Some might find this egregious but the time spent with the other main characters is very enjoyable.  The addition of new characters breathes fresh life to the story.  Four books and countless pages deep into this story Brett still surprises and delights, still keeps us caring, and still leaves us with great cliffhanger endings.

This series has grown to remind me of the great work of Robert Jordan.  The shifting points of view, the antiheroes, the feminism, the fight for all of mankind -- the Demon Cycle shares much with the Wheel of Time.  With additions as strong as Skull Throne I can only that hope that Brett is equally prolific.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Vision in Silver   starts my literary year off right

I was beyond thrilled to receive an advanced review copy of Anne Bishop's Vision in Silver.  Her series The Others stands out as top tier fantasy fiction and this third installment was on my short list of books that I most looked forward to in 2015.

I expected greatness and that is exactly what was delivered.  Bishop demonstrates once again that she is a master of her craft.  Her world and the characters in it feel real.  The things her characters do are believable and the things they say are credible.  The conflicts and growing pains they experience feel genuine.  The suspense she imbues keeps the pages turning and the payouts she delivers are satisfying.  

In this book, as in the previous two, Bishop takes us to some dark places.  What stands out about this installment is the feeling of hope. Not hope for a rosey rainbow perfect world where everyone lives happily ever after but hope that good things can happen for our heroes.

Vision in Silver is suspenseful, dark, sweetly hopeful, poignant and at times laugh out loud funny. This is sure to be one of the best books this year. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Parenting contradiction #2049

Part of the job of raising little humans is training them out of bad behaviors and into good ones, or at least attempting to do so.  There is a judgement each parent makes with their little ones -- what should be changed?  What is fine as it is?  It is a troublesome line to walk.  On the one hand we as parents want our children to feel completely loved just the way they are while almost simultaneously we press upon them our desire for improvements.    It is a curious juxtaposition of "You are so awesome!" and "But let's work on x!".  The latter makes a lie of the former, acknowledging implicitly that there is some aspect that falls short of awesome.

The push for learning and changing is probably part of every parent child relationship but perhaps none more so than in the case of high functioning autistic children.  Sometimes their very proximity to the norm increases the ambition to get them there, as if they were a puzzle piece that almost fit.  If it was a radically different piece you wouldn't even imagine trying to make the fit, but since it's pretty close you are sometimes tempted to hammer it in.

I worry about this.  Our Little Guy has had so many different kinds of therapy -- all amounting to "learn! change!".  It's gotten him where he is today -- able to participate in life in a way not vastly different than his typically developing peers.   I see the obvious importance of Little Guy improving basic skills.  I hate the message behind it that feels less and less hidden the older he grows.  All I can do is keep reminding him that we do love him completely just the way he is, even as we seek to change him.