The Reason I Jump: An Insight into the Autistic Mind

The spectrum of mental disorders is vast and growing. New disorders are being diagnosed with such regularity it’s hard to keep up. For those not struggling it may feel impossible to understand exactly what it’s like to have any of these psychological difficulties, and unfortunately there are far too many people who don’t see them as a real problem. My wife and I both have anxiety and depression. Sometimes it feels like a battle to get people to understand that “getting over it” is harder than making a decision to be happy. There are many whose lives are made so much harder by things such as ADHD, autism, and down syndrome. For teachers and parents it would be a dream to figure out exactly what these people are going through in order to help them.

The Reason I Jump is written by a thirteen-year-old boy with autism, and this is his message to the world.

Written in a question answer style, Naoki Higashida addresses a variety of questions about what it’s like to have autism. His youthful voice is honest and to the point, providing a unique insight into the mind of an autistic teenager who still has one foot in childhood and can remember and describe what it’s like to grow up when you can’t communicate with anyone. Using an alphabet grid he can construct words, sentences, and ideas, which allow him to communicate in the only way he can with a world that’s struggling to understand those with mental disorders.

I don’t know what to say about this book. It was beautifully written, and for those people who wrote negative reviews, yes it was probably touched up and made to sound a bit more fluid in the translation. Every book is. That’s part of the editing process. This is not a guide to how all autistic children think. This is not a how to book or a guidebook. This is a reference book of one child’s experiences and insights with some points that may help some children.

So who should read this book? My first thought was that everyone who lives with/works with someone who has autism should read this book, but let’s be honest: everyone should read this book. At some point in our lives we will meet or interact with someone who struggles with this particular mental disorder. We should be reading more books that compel us to be more compassionate and understanding of others. Take a minute out of your busy day. You may not be a regular nonfiction reader, but Naoki has a story to be shared and it deserves to be heard.

Rating: ★★★★★

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The Darker Shade of Magic Trilogy

Sometimes it’s easier to simply talk about a whole series. The Darker Shade of Magic trilogy flows smoothly from one book to the next and is hard to describe as separate entities. Granted I was forced to read them with long gaps in between because they’re my wife’s books and she didn’t read the second one until the third one came out, and then I had to wait a couple weeks after the second one before she finished the third. Torture, I know, but it’s rude to read someone else’s book before they do.

In the months separating The Darker Shade of Magic from A Gathering of Shadows Lila has established herself on a ship of somewhat reputable individuals and has finally found the freedom she has dreamed of since her childhood, while Kell feels more imprisoned than ever. After the events of the Black Night, the king and queen have tightened their leash and it’s all Kell can do to keep from screaming. But as the Essen Tach, a magic competition between three allied nations approaches, Lila and Kell’s paths begin to converge once again. But other powers begin to loom in the shadows. The evil that was trapped in Black London begins to move and its corrupting influence seeks richer worlds: worlds where rivers run red with power.

Beautiful and compelling. V. E. Schwab’s series will pull you to the edge of your seat and hold your interest from start to finish.

If I wrote those back of the book blurbs that might be something I would write.

The second book is a little slow and doesn’t really pick up until the final quarter of the book, but what trilogy doesn’t do that. The second book is the development book. The author has a lot of characters to introduce and develop, a world to create, and a plot to flesh out. Is it as action packed as the first book? No, but that doesn’t mean it’s not as good as the first and third books. Schwab weaves information and detail through the plot with trained fingers, providing me with a story that’s rich in detail and full in everything else.

The third book was phenomenal. All the characters you hated in the second book are redeemed, and the concept of good and evil becomes a matter of perspective. (Except for the real bad guy. He’s evil no matter how you look at it). This book, on the other hand, starts off at a run and doesn’t rest until the last couple of chapters. I was like a drug addict, coming home from work every day I made a beeline for the book to feel the exhilarating high as the words seeped through my fingers and eyes and into my blood stream.

This is the kind of young adult fiction I enjoy to read: fun, intriguing plot, compelling characters, and romance that doesn’t take a center stage position. It also doesn’t try and make me like all the main characters. In fact I think I disliked half of the characters that most people would like, including Lila most of the time.

I’m not sure how I feel about the YA genre as a whole. There are a lot of bad books out there and a lot of them end up in the YA section of the bookstore, but V. E. Schwab has written several great books and has contributed some quality work with The Darker Shade of Magic trilogy. Her books did more than entertain: they challenged me to take a new look at the world and questioned the concept of good and evil.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Reading a Series: Something I just Can’t Seem to Do

For a while I’ve been in a mood where I’ll read what ever fits my fancy, which sounds normal enough, but now I look at the books I’ve read and I discovered I have a knack for starting a series and never finishing it. I have the first two books of Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy, the first book of the Lady Trent Memoir series, the first book of The Wheel of Time series, and several others. It’s a problem.

I don’t mean to be a series lobotomizer. When I start a first book I have every intention of finishing it, but then something catches my eye and I abandon ship like an attention deficit squirrel trying to find the best acorn. Then once I finish this other book I find something else and the cycle continues until I’m left with a path of culled first books in my wake and an overwhelming desire to go back and finish some of them while knowing deep down that I never will. But this isn’t the only problem.

I’m a book collector. I enjoy looking at my bookshelf and admiring my collection, rereading old favorites, and perusing my tiny handwriting scrawled in the boarders. When I buy a book and love it I want to get the rest of the series. Unfortunately, I don’t have the money to buy this many books so I tell myself I’ll wait to keep reading until I can afford it. This usually means it was nice reading the first book but the rest of the story will probably remain a mystery.

So I’ve made a decision to change.

I recently finished a reading challenge with the local library and am ready to turn over a new leaf. I browsed the library looking for abandoned stories and decided that I was going to start finishing what I started and return to some of the abandoned books I’ve left in my wake. So now the real question:

Where to start?

I have some ideas about that. As I’m currently in the throws of book hangover it would be best to start small. Maybe a young adult series I started but never finished. Then once I’ve got some momentum I’ll work on some longer series until I’m satisfied. Then, and only then, will I begin reading new books. Hurrah!

I say this with enthusiasm, but my self-control when it comes to reading new books is rather low, so maybe on a more realistic level I’ll read a new book after I finish a series. That sounds more doable.

Wish me luck!

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The Shadow of What Was Lost: A New Name in Epic Fantasy

When I looked up “must read fantasy novels” I found a variety of opinions. Recently I decided to take a look and see what everyone thought was the best fantasy fiction out there, and there was a lot of cross-over: The Wheel of Time, The Mists of Avalon, and The Dark Tower series to name a few. I’m a bit of a fantasy fan, but to be honest I’m also really skeptical. It’s just so easy to fall into a cliché with wizards, magic, elves, and dragons.
Gag!

It would be accurate to say I’m picky. I want to read things that create new pathways in my imagination. New worlds and new stories that prove there are still some new ideas out there. So with out further ado, if you like Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, or any fantasy for that matter, than you are going to love James Islington’s debut novel, The Shadow of What Was Lost.

Once those known as the Gifted ruled all the land south of the Border; but twenty years ago their power was crushed, their leaders (the Augers) were killed, and the Gifted were subjugated under the control of the four tenants. Now a power from beyond the Border is stirring. Damien, a boy with the power of the Augers, is forced to flee his home and seek out a mysterious group with the promise that they will help him develop and control his powers. Meanwhile, Caeden, a boy with no memories, finds himself in the woods covered in blood. As these two begin to discover who they are their actions begin to alter the course of the world.

It’s so hard to write a description for a book like this. There are so many moving parts that it’s impossible give the book justice.

For those of you who have been reading my blog for some time will know, I’m a character guy. I’ve met many individuals who are plot people, some are world-building enthusiasts, but for me it really comes down to the characters. You can have a regular world, with regular stuff going on, but if you have bad characters than the whole thing comes crashing down in a big literary mess. James Islington had a lot going on. The plot was detailed and complex, the world building was great with new religions, races, and philosophies, but it was the characters that pulled it all together. Sometimes it’s easy to skimp on some of the characters by making the main ones dynamic and deep in order to hide the static lesser characters from view. Islington provided great detail for all the characters, giving them all dynamic personalities and a variety of struggles that deepened them as individuals and as cogs in the greater mechanism.

If you’re struggling to find good fantasy that doesn’t feel cliché or over done than take a look at The Shadow of What Was Lost. There’s so much fantasy that it’s so easy to overlook some of the great stories. Don’t miss this one. You’ll have to wait a little bit for the second one to come out, but it’s so worth it and you’ll be that much more excited for August.

Happy Reading.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Fireborn: The Book that Proves a Sequel Can Outshine the Original

Why do authors do this to me? I mean, I know why, but why?! I just finished this book and I loved it… and yet I want to throw it across the room at the same time. Now I have to wait five months before the next one comes out. FIVE MONTHS! Someone just kill me now.

And another thing… I can’t seem to write a summary of this book. Anything I write will potentially ruin things in the first book. So here’s what I can tell you:

Kael and Bree continue to be awesome and learn more about themselves. They kick some butts and engage in epic battles with death as their dance partner, but nothing will prepare them for what is to come as secrets are revealed and their worlds begin to come crashing down.

Well… that wasn’t one of my best summaries, but I managed not to give anything away, and that’s what matters.

Surprisingly, this is one of those rare occasions when the second book is better than the first. I’ve attempted to come up with a generalized reason for why so many sequels are worse than their predecessors, but there’s no simple answer (if there was it wouldn’t be an issue). I think it all comes down to balance between characters and plot. In Fireborn, David Dalglish moved both with precision and purpose, sweeping me along until the very end where he left me starving for more.

Dalglish also didn’t answer all of my questions. Any good author does the same thing because too much information takes away from the magic and mystery, but Dalglish used this as a tool to build suspense and tension both inside and outside of the story. In the first book he didn’t explain how the islands flew, where the elemental crystals came from, or much else for that matter. He introduced it, described it, and left us to enjoy it without revealing anything behind the curtain. Then in Fireborn he pulled back the curtain and revealed a depth to his world that floored me.

And then, as like so many before him, he ended his sequel at precisely the worst moment.

I’ve never read his other series, but if it’s as good as this one then I might have to. I would recommend Fireborn to anyone who enjoys fantasy adventure. This book reads like an intricate dance where Dalglish is balancing all the parts on the very edge, and the result is utterly amazing. You won’t want to miss out on this adventure.

Rating: ★★★★★

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The 7 Deadly Sins of Reading

Yes, there are heinous sins that can be committing when you are a reader. No one is perfect. The reason I know about all seven of the deadly sins of reading is because I’ve committed each of them at one time or another.

So what makes something a reading “sin”? It’s actually quite simple: anything that can take away from my reading experience, the experience of others, or causes structural damage to the book. The point of reading is two fold: first, to gain knowledge and second, to be entertained. If you find that you have committed any of these sins than please, don’t beat yourself up. Everyone makes mistakes.

  1. Reading someone else’s book before they do

Now this is just plain mean. If someone gets a book, or if you get a book for someone else, it is simply common courtesy to allow him or her the time to enjoy their book before you jump into their comfy seat. Now I know this one can be very hard, especially when you are a fast reader and your friend/family member is a slow of distracted reader and they have the sequel in the series you want to read. Just have patience and do your best to find another book. They will finish eventually.

  1. Dog-earing pages

When I read through a book I don’t want to see a bunch of turned down corners. This is especially bad if the person who is reading the book is busy or easily distracted because they dog-ear twice as many pages. Now I know some of you may be thinking this is just a personal pet peeve and that it shouldn’t be listed among the major reading sins, but consider the purpose of a book mark. You can buy a fancy one that slides onto the page, get a free one when you go to a bookstore, or even grab a piece of toilet paper to mark your spot (I prefer to fold a sticky note in half when I’m desperate, but to each their own). This is similar to the sin of slothfulness. Just stick something between the pages.

  1. Skipping to the end of the book

What is the point of reading the rest of the book when you already know how it ends? This is especially applicable if that book happens to be a mystery novel. The only exception to this is when you are struggling to get through the book and you need to know if it’s worth it. This happened to me when reading the last book of the Eragon series. I felt like it was dragging on and on, and wanted to see if it was worth it. (It wasn’t). So just keep reading and remember the joy is in the journey not the end goal.

  1. Refusing to read a book because it would ruin the movie

This is like saying I don’t want to look at any work by Picasso or Rembrandt because it’ll make your neighbors artwork look bad. What!? First off, you should never deny yourself the opportunity to experience greater art because it will ruin the lesser work. That just sounds plain silly. Talk about masochism.

  1. Breaking the spine

It just invites everyone else to do the same. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book with a broken spine and felt like I was only contributing to the day when it eventually broke in half. Be polite and don’t do this…

Or this…

And especially not this…

(The spine was already broken. I felt terrible about having to do this to a book, but it needed to be done for the greater good).

  1. Rejecting a book before you try it

“How do you know you don’t like it until you try it?” How many parents have tried that on us, right? But seriously, you can’t know until you’re at least given it the good ol’ college try. You don’t have to finish it, just like you (hopefully) didn’t have to finish your green beans if they made you gag at the dinner table. But don’t say it’s bad unless you’ve actually tried it. I have never spoken a bad word about the Twilight books because I’ve never read them. The movies on the other hand…

  1. Continuing to read a book when you don’t like it

Again, masochism. Don’t torture yourself if the book sucks. Now I know this is a weird thing to include in the Seven Deadly Sins of Reading, but think about it. There are so many good books out there that are begging to be read. If you spend your time reading a terrible book (or just a book you don’t like) than that gives you less time to read the books you will like. When people are forced to read books they can’t stand then they may end up hating books. In which case the sin falls on the enforcer. Books, as I said previously, are meant to be enjoyed. If you aren’t enjoying it than you aren’t doing it right.

So when you decide to pick up a book just remember that there are commandments that need to be followed so that you can enjoy reading to the fullest and not make anyone else miserable. Now go find that book you love, grab a nice cup or tea, hot cocoa, or whatever your preference tells you, and get comfortable. Happy reading.

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A Man Called Ove: A Book for Everyone

Over the years I have read many books that take root in my mind and become a part of how I think. In those same years I have found very few books that plant a seed in my heart and become a part of who I am. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman reached out and taught me how to be a better man.

***

Ove is Ove. There is no better way to put it. After the death of his wife and being let go from his job of over a third of a century Ove has nothing to live for.

What follows is the heart touching account as Ove, the grouchiest man anyone has ever met, who looks at the world as if it’s full of idiots, discovers what he still has left to live for, and the community is forced to take a fresh look at the man they thought they had all figured out.

***

I heard so much hype about this book. People said it was the greatest book they had ever read, others that it was the best-written book they’ve read in years, as well as further praise. When I bought this book it was because I was trying to use a sale and needed to spend $50 at B&N to save $15, and this was the only book I could think of that I wanted. As soon as I got home I began to worry. What if it isn’t good? Why didn’t I buy any of the other countless books on my book list? I talked to my wife and she told me to shut up and read the book before I ruined it for myself. So I did.

To all those people out there who spoke highly of this book: thank you. It has been a long time since I read anything that I needed to read as much as this.

There are not many novels I would recommend to everyone. Certain books are wonderful but they don’t jump genre preferences, so they aren’t for everyone. A Man Called Ove is a book for everyone. It’s a book about the importance of principles, the difficulty of grief, and the value of loyalty. I expected to read a heartwarming novel about a grouch. Instead I read a life-changing book about a misunderstood man.

What was my favorite part of this book? I loved the analogies. “Ove looks at the book more of less as if it just sent him a chain letter insisting that the book was really a Nigerian prince who had a ‘very lucrative investment opportunity’ for Ove and now only needed Ove’s account number ‘to sort something out’.” From that description I can see exactly how he views the book without having to be told emotions, what his face looks like, or anything else. For a man who talks so little his expressions provide more than enough dialogue on their own.

I wish I had thought to highlight all these great analogies, but I guess that gives me a reason to read it again.

So again, thank you for those people who had positive things to say about A Man Called Ove. Without your praise I may never have picked up this book, and I may never have found another book to be added to the shelf of favorites.

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