Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Not My Father's Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming

Not My Father's Son: A MemoirNot My Father's Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am not terribly familiar with Alan Cummings but once I placed him as the villain in Spy Kids, it was easier seeing his face. It is not a prerequisite to know the actor. The book stands alone as a literary work. Cummings may be an actor, but he is also a gifted writer. The book is working on a couple of timelines and stories with chapter headings as either "Then" or a date in the summer of 2010. Cummings was 45 years old and preparing to be on the ABC show, "Who Do You Think You Are?" Which explores your ancestry. Alan was particularly curious about his maternal grandfather who served in WWII and never really returned. He died in Maylaya working as a policeman.

This was a brave undertaking for Alan as he had his own skeletons in his closet. Perhaps by this time they had mostly been exposed, however. Alan grew up on an estate where his father was a groundskeeper. He and his brother, 6 years older, were very close and they worked hard at protecting one another and his mother. They all suffered horrific abuse by their father, Alex. Their delicate life rhythm was dictated by his rages and mood. Once free of the control the man wielded, the brothers are, decades out, still dealing with the aftermath. Days before filming the show, his father unleashes another curve ball of control. He reveals a devastating secret without evidence to support it, leaving the brothers to deal with the carnage.

Cummings juxtapositions the life of his grandfather with his own as he lives the trauma of that summer at the same time he comes to know the man who was also deeply damaged by the ravages of war. The main conflicts of both mysteries are solved by the end of the book. A moving epilogue is added.

Although the subject of child abuse is horrible and Alan does what many adult survivors do, disassociates, for a few years, Cummings adds appropriate and personal humor throughout the book. It is not used as a smokescreen to hide hurt but more of a commercial break from the heaviness of that summer. He does not find humor in the abuse or in his grandfather's tragedies but in the moments between. Just a small respite.

The book is very well written and spends much of the time solving the mysteries and going through the timeline of the controlling damage his father doled out to the boys growing up and moving away, his mother leaving shortly after that, to Alan's breaking point and working through the memories as they returned to that summer of 2010. I would also suggest reading "Etched in Sand," another book by an articulate author who survived an abusive childhood with her siblings. The abusive parents share commonalities.

I would recommend the book.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Crucible of Doubt by Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens

Faith is the first principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So what happens when a person has doubts?
Questioning is not the problem, according to authors Terryl and Fiona Givens. “After all,” they write, “the Restoration unfolded because a young man asked questions.” The difficulty arises when questions are based on flawed assumptions or incorrect perceptions, which can “point us in the wrong direction, misdirect our attention, or constrain the answers we are capable of hearing.”
This insightful book offers a careful, intelligent look at doubt—at some of its common sources, the challenges it presents, and the opportunities it may open up in a person’s quest for faith. Whether you struggle with your own doubts or mostly want to understand loved ones who question, you will appreciate this candid discussion. You’ll come away feeling more certain than ever of the Lord’s love for all of His children.
About the Authors
TERYL GIVENS holds the James A. Bostwick chair of English and is Professor of Literature and Religion at the University of Richmond and the author of several books. His writing has been praised by the New York Times as “provocative reading” and includes, most recently, When Souls Had Wings, a history of the idea of premortal life in Western thought; a biography (with Matthew Grow) of Parley Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (winner of the 2012 Best Book Award from the Mormon History Association); and Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought.
FIONA GIVENS is a retired modern language teacher with undergraduate degrees in French and German and a graduate degree in European History. She is now an independent scholar who has published in several journals and reviews in Mormon studies, including Journal of Mormon History, Exponent II,and LDS Living. Along with Terryl, she is the author of The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. Terryl and Fiona are the grandparents of five—fonts of delight; and the parents of six—sources of intellectual challenge and inspiration.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Effect (Don Tillman #2)The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is almost as good as The Rosie Project. Don Tillman is still Don Tillman. I definitely didn't get enough of Rosie in this book. It's a continuation of The Rosie Project and you don't have to read that one in order to enjoy this one. Don and Rosie are married and living in the same close quarters in New York City. Don Tillman is a brilliant geneticist with an I.Q. in the genius levels. Although referenced, Don Tillman bears no resemblance to Raymond the Rain Man. That said, Don Tillman just might be a perfect example of someone on the PDD Spectrum.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Focused by Noelle Pikus-Pace

Where are your choices leading you? Regardless of our circumstances, each moment presents us with decision to make. It doesn't matter what question, trial, or success we experience—each traces back to a choice. At any given moment, we can choose to doubt, fear, worry; to be prideful, angry, depressed, or miserable—or we can choose to move forward. We can choose to be a light. We can choose to be happy. The choice is always ours, and each choice can be a step forward on the path of life we want for ourselves.
The life lessons learned by Olympic athlete Noelle Pikus Pace can equip each of us to turn daily choices and challenges into opportunities for growth. In her warm and relatable style, Noelle shares touchingpersonal stories and teaches how these experiences can help us keep a healthy perspective on the things that matter most. She helps us to see that though all of our goals and trials are different, we each can choose to become the best versions of ourselves one day at a time.
Covering topics from letting go of expectations and pressures to finding a healthy life balance, from standing up for ourselves to standing for righteousness, world champion Noelle Pikus Pace infuses readers with the enthusiasm and confidence to get a little closer to their goals each and every day.

My thoughts: All right. I'll admit it. She is identifiable because she lives a few towns over. Or she grew up a few towns over. I have no idea if she's still there. I'd totally stalk her if I had the time. She is extraordinary in that she is a woman athlete who is world class Skeleton. How many people do you know that claims skeleton as their sport? I'm sure I've met a few since Park City is a 40 minute drive, but it's never come up in a conversation, oddly enough. But world class? Olympic gold winner? Exceptionally extraordinary. And yet...

She's also very ordinary. If she lived next door, the difference between her and the rest of us is that she disappears for weeks at a time during the winter. But so does my neighbor. She goes to Singapore to see her family then comes home at the tail end of winter, missing the cold snap, complaining about the heat she had to endure. Cry me a river. But I digress.

Noelle discusses real life challenges, aimed at a teenage audience, I believe, yet uses those extraordinary experiences from her own life to teach a strong and memorable lesson. Regardless of her skill and talent, all her accomplishments, Noelle is just like any other young woman who struggled with insecurities and doubts that run the gamut of what we all suffered through. She wanted to be included in the group yet was rejected over and over again. She nearly quit even though she was one of the best in the country. She shares how she handled it and what she learned.

My personal favorite was on keeping your goals clear, focusing on where we want to go rather than the obstacles. This one reminded me of Peter who saw Jesus walking towards him on water. In his excitement and with great faith, he left the boat and began walking towards Christ. Then Peter got distracted by all of the obstacles keeping him from reaching the Savior and he sunk.

Noelle was clear of her goal when she started a very difficult track. She began strong but, at a very difficult turn, forgot to make the appropriate corrections because she was concentrating on the screaming voice in her head, "Don't hit the roof!" She got distracted and lost sight of her goal. You'll never guess what happened next.

She hit the roof. Of course she did! That's where her sights were suddenly set.

Every chapter has a life lesson with a story from her life. Unfortunately, I did the stupid Mom thing and ranted about the book to 16 year old daughter because I thought it would be excellent for her. Never do that, by the way. Teenagers are wired to do anything BUT what their mother thinks is a good idea. I'll give it a few months then reintroduce it by leaving it out but obscured by a magazine. Then she'll suddenly be interested in it.

I'm learning.

About the Author

NOELLE PIKUS PACE became the first American woman to win the Overall World Cup Title in skeleton in 2005. After playing a variety of sports through high school and college, her exceptional strength in skeleton made her favored to win the gold medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics. An unfortunate accident prevented her from competing, but the following year she came back to win the World Championships by the largest margin in the history of the sport. Noelle competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics and was the top U.S. finisher, placing fourth.
She retired after the Olympics to spend more time with her family. Following a miscarriage in April of 2012, Noelle and her husband, Janson, decided that she would try one last time to earn an Olympic medal, on the condition that the family would all travel together. Competing in 32 national and international competitions over two years, Noelle finished on the podium 29 times and concluded her career by triumphantly winning the silver medal at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and jumping into the stand to share the moment with her family and the world.
Noelle earned a bachelor’s degree in 2005 and a master of business administration degree in 2007. Noelle and Janson have two children, Lacee and Traycen.

Monday, September 29, 2014

How Will I Know If I Know? by John Bytheway

Now, more than ever, young people are asking insightful and important questions about testimony, worthiness, mission preparation, and more. John Bytheway discusses ways we can come to know that the restored gospel is true, and—more importantly— how to know that we know.

It's spiritual gut-check time! The mission age has been lowered, and now more than ever, young people are asking themselves important questions:
  • How do I know if I really have a testimony?
  • Am I ready to serve a mission?
  • What does the Spirit feel like?
John Bytheway suggests that we "F.E.E.L." the truthfulness of the gospel through our feelings, our experiences, the many evidences we encounter, and our logical conclusions about how a loving God interacts with His children on the earth. Like gradually turning up a dimmer switch, understanding all the ways we F.E.E.L. our testimony will help it grow brighter.
As you read, you may discover that your testimony is stronger than you thought, and you'll also become more excited and motivated to let your light shine!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison



"Urgent, real, and often very funny."—James Frey, New York Times bestselling author of Bright Shiny Morning and A Million Little Pieces

Neil Kazenzakis is barely holding his life together: ever since an accident left his wife profoundly disabled, he's been doing his best as a single dad and popular high school teacher. He's also been dealing with Lauren Downey, his sort-of girlfriend of the past two years who's pushing for a commitment—and for Neil to finally tell his son Christopher about their secret relationship.

Neil's carefully balanced world begins to fall apart when some questionable footage of him is anonymously posted to YouTube...just as Chris learns about Lauren in the worst possible way. Doubting his own recollection of the events in the online video and threatened with the loss of his job and the ability to care for his wife, Neil must find a way to prove the truth to his family, his community, and himself as he struggles to regain the splintered trust of his son.

Heartbreaking, poignant, and written with devastating humor and warmth, The Banks of Certain Rivers is a shattering story of memory, loss, and just how far a man will go to show the people closest to him the meaning of love.

"Jon Harrison's debut The Banks of Certain Rivers is a jewel-box of a novel. Tracing the limits of one man's love (and self-knowledge) with humor and drama, Harrison breathes life into Neil Kazenzakis and his struggles with such grace that the reader feels like she knows him. Elegant, poignant, and page-turning."—Katherine Howe, New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

This one is being promoted by one of my favorite authors, Catherine McKenzie. Amazon has it in Kindle version for a screaming good price. Just in case you want to have a gander at the writing style and content, here's a good sized snippet. I haven't read it yet but if McKenzie is recommending it, I believe it has to be good. If, after I do read it and I hate it, not only will I let you know, but I will also demote Catherine from being my best friend. Even though she doesn't know she is best friend. 

That's how good her books are.