Thursday Book Feature: Wonder

Wonder

by R. J. Palacio

Copyright 2012.

For the first four years of his education, August, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder resulting in severe facial deformity, was home-schooled. As this book opens, he is told that he will be starting fifth grade at a prep school near their home in River Heights, a suburb of Manhattan, New York. Naturally, he is reluctant to go, and as you can imagine, he has a hard time fitting in with other kids. This story is told from several points of view including August’s sister and his best friend, a couple of his sister’s friends, and of course August himself. At the end, there’s a list of sayings August’s teacher writes on the blackboard each month during the school year.

One thing I liked about the Brilliance Audio production of this book was how each of the three narrators portrayed each character from who’s point of view they were reading the story, as well as other minor characters. As I listened, I was taken back to my own school days, especially my experiences with starting junior high in a new school. In the good old days, junior high was similar to middle school now in that students move from one classroom to another every hour and have lockers. The book also helped me put those experiences in perspective. Because of my visual impairment, like August, I wasn’t popular at first, but at least kids weren’t screaming and running away from me or calling me a freak.

Once I got into this book, it was hard to put down. I laughed and got mad and was almost moved to tears by the ending. By telling the story from the first person point of view of each of the major characters, the author writes in a style that identifies with both kids and adults. For this reason, this book should be required reading for students from fifth grade up. Even adults can learn, from this book, lessons about open-mindedness and acceptance of others not like us.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Thursday Book Feature: News of the World

News of the World

By Paulette Jiles

Copyright 2016.

In Texas in 1870 after the Civil War, Captain Kidd travels around the state, presenting world news to paying audiences in rural communities with little or no access to newspapers. In Wichita Falls, he meets Johanna, a ten-year-old girl who was captured by Indians when she was six, then rescued by the Army. He reluctantly agrees to take her 500 miles across the state to her relatives near San Antonio. Along the way, he tries to domesticate her, and as they encounter outlaws and other interesting characters on their journey, they develop a bond, not unlike grandfather and grandchild. After delivering her to her uncle and aunt in a small farming community near San Antonio, he feels compelled to make a decision that affects her life and his.

One thing I didn’t like about this book is Captain Kidd’s back story, inserted smack dab in the middle of the action. By that time, I was more interested in his journey across Texas with Johanna and couldn’t care less about his battle experiences in the 1812 War and the conflict between Texas and Mexico and his marriage and family and printing business. Although this is, in a way, relevant to the story, a few paragraphs would have sufficed. An entire chapter devoted to this was not necessary.

Otherwise, I enjoyed reading about Captain Kid’s and Johanna’s adventures and loved the ending. Sadly, according to an author’s note, many children captured by Indians and later rescued and returned to their families during this time don’t adapt to their original white lifestyles, and no one seems to understand why.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

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Stepping and Cooking

The poem you’ll hear me read when you click below appears in My Ideal Partner. It describes how my feet traversed through the house many times, as I cooked, cleaned, and cared for my late husband Bill, who was partially paralyzed. I swear if I’d been wearing a pedometer during those six years after his strokes, it probably would have been overloaded. The text of the poem is below.

The song I’ll sing is one I sang to Bill many times before his strokes. He loved to cook, so whenever I found him stirring something on the stove or peeling potatoes at the kitchen counter, I sang this Hank Williams standard. If I’d known he would have two strokes and I would have to do all the cooking, I would have paid more attention while he was preparing meals instead of flirting with him. I hope you enjoy my presentation of poetry and song.

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MANY STEPS

From counter to wastebasket, back to counter

to wheelchair, to bathroom, to recliner, to bed,

my feet pound linoleum and carpet to cook his meals,

dress and transfer him from one place to another.

At the end of the day, weary, footsore,

I hold him in bed, enjoy the fruit of my labor.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: A Christmas Embrace

I know it’s a little late, but maybe you can put this on your reading list for next year.

A Christmas Embrace

By Ellen T. Marsh

Copyright 1994

In California, Alex and Rose have been married for almost ten years. He is an accountant, and she is a veterinarian. Their careers have kept them busy over the years, and as a result, Rose feels they’re drifting apart. In an attempt to save their marriage, she books a surprise weekend for them both in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Meanwhile, Alex, by a stroke of luck, ends up with a pair of tickets to a football game in San Diego and a weekend’s stay at a posh hotel there. He plans to surprise Rose with this, but when she reveals her surprise first, although he’s angry, he reluctantly agrees to accompany her. After landing in Baltimore, Maryland, during a snowstorm, Alex and Rose get more than they bargained for.

When I read this book, I was depressed because my Internet was down, and a technician wasn’t scheduled to repair my service until the day after Christmas. I soon realized that there are worse things than being without Internet. Although I knew that all along, I needed to be reminded of the important things in life: food, clothing, and shelter. These I had. I’m also thankful that my own marriage with Bill, though short, was never strained, despite the fact that I had to care for him during the last six years of his life. This feel-good book helped me escape from my woes and retrieve my attitude of gratitude.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Thursday Book Feature: The Mistletoe Secret

The Mistletoe Secret

by Richard Paul Evans

Copyright 2016.

Eleven months after Alex’s wife leaves him for another man, he’s lonely but won’t admit it. His friends and co-workers encourage him to try an online dating service, which proves fruitless. Then, he discovers a blog written by a woman who calls herself LBH. There’s no profile, no contact information, no way to identify her. Alex feels compelled to find her. He discovers clues in the woman’s posts, and his search eventually takes him to Midway, Utah.

I was drawn to this book’s title because my late husband Bill once invited me to kiss him under the mistletoe in his home in Fowler, Colorado. Halfway through the book though, I wondered how I could have gotten into such a story. It might have been better without the prologue, in which the mysterious blogger’s identity is revealed, but the idea of a man traveling across the country in search of an unknown woman is ridiculous.

Alex turns out to be a flake. The author may have made him that way to interject some humor, but I didn’t find it a bit funny, especially as it pertained to his relationship with LBH. The ending, with its shocking revelation, gave me pause but didn’t completely change my mind.

I spent almost an entire Sunday reading this book because it was recommended as a good holiday read. To me, it was a waste of time. However, if you are young and believe in the magic of holiday romance, this book may be for you.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Thursday Book Feature: The Demmies

The Demmies: A Novel

By Ann K. Parsons

Copyright 2017.

Fast forward to the year 2050. Demmies are what Randy Newman could have meant by “.” These genetically engineered human beings are no more than a foot tall, and as a result, their bodily functions are different from ours. However, they have voices and minds just like we do and can live, love, and think just like the rest of us.

For years, Alex Kenyon and his family have been birds in a gilded cage, living in a luxurious doll house in a lab in Houston, Texas. By day, they are celebrities, promoting the cause of genetic engineering through regular press conferences. By night, they are tortured at the hands of mad scientist Dr. Lud.

As the book opens, Alex’s wife has just given birth to their tenth child. Everyone is on edge as a result of what is being done to them at night, which no one knows about, and the adults fear for their safety and that of the children. They’re afraid to try and escape because it’s a big world out there with big people who may or may not help them. After a series of events including the discovery of a Mexican family of demmies in a different part of the lab complex and the fake death of the Kenyons’ oldest son, some of those big folks risk their lives in an attempt to help them escape and start a new life.

I met the author, Ann Parsons, several years ago when she joined a writers’ group to which I belong. She began writing this story in the 1970’s. After joining our group, she decided to start work on it again and sent chapters to our email list. Even so, knowing how the book ends, I found it hard to put down and might have pulled an all-nighter in order to finish it more quickly.

You don’t have to be a science fiction buff to appreciate this story of oppression followed by freedom. In a way, this book is similar to Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World except in this case, the demmies are only conditioned not to trust big folk, and the ending is more positive. The Demmies is the first of a trilogy of books Ann has written about these little characters. I hope she publishes the other two books in this series. I want to read more.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: Follow Your Dog

Follow Your Dog: A Story of Love and Trust

by Ann Chiappetta

Copyright 2017.

The author, blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa, shares her experiences with a succession of dogs that influenced her life, focusing on her first guide dog, Verona. She describes her turbulent childhood: her parents’ divorce, her father berating her when she broke or lost her glasses, and how she found a way to escape through nature and books.

She talks about the dogs she and her husband and children had as pets before Verona came along. She explains the process of applying for a dog through Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, New York, about a forty-minute drive from her home in New Rochelle: why she was rejected the first time, how she applied to other schools and was eventually accepted by Guiding Eyes for the Blind and started training in January of 2008.

She then describes the arduous twenty-six day process of learning to work with Verona: her apprehension and excitement on the day she first met her, the full days of walking routes in bitter winter weather, the exhilaration upon graduation. She explains the adjustments her family had to make since Verona wasn’t a pet.

She then describes reactions of others to her dog and how Verona impacted her life until 2015 when she was compelled to retire her. She explains how she returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind and obtained Bailey, her second dog, describing how Verona adjusted to Bailey doing the work she once did. She then talks about how Verona became a certified therapy dog. Inserted at strategic points throughout the book are essays, poems, and blog posts, and at the end, a list of resources for those interested in applying for a guide dog.

I met Ann over a year ago through Behind Our Eyes, a group of writers with disabilities. I’ve always enjoyed reading her material.

I like dogs but am not interested in getting a guide dog. For one thing, I do really well with a cane, so I don’t think it’s necessary for me to have one. For another, they’re a lot of work, as illustrated in the book, whereas with a cane, when you arrive at your destination, you just fold it up, put it somewhere out of the way, and forget about it until you need it again. It’s a matter of personal choice.

Since November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month, after reading this book, you might want to think about adopting a retired guide dog. Verona was lucky that Ann and her family were willing and able to keep her after she was retired, but other former guide dogs aren’t as fortunate. In any case, this book would make a great gift for a dog lover or someone with a visual impairment interested in getting a guide dog. It would also be a good educational tool for anyone training in a disability-related field.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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