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review 2017-05-25 08:13
Allie and Bea
Allie and Bea - Catherine Ryan Hyde

By:  Catherine Ryan Hyde 

ISBN:  978-1477819715

Publisher:  Lake Union 

Publication Date: 5/23/2017 

Format: Paperback 

My Rating: 4 Stars 

 

Master storyteller, Catherine Ryan Hyde returns following Say Good-Bye for Now landing on my Top 50 Books of 2016 with another emotional thought-provoking saga ALLIE AND BEA – two protagonists from different generations caught up an unfair system find they may learn something from one another.

The best and worst of humanity.

Bea a senior barely making it on her small social security check. Her husband is deceased and she resides in a mobile home with her cat Phyllis. Her savings is nearly depleted trying to make ends meet.

Then a phone scammer saying he is from the IRS to collect back taxes. Quickly her money is gone. Wiped out. She has nowhere to turn and nowhere to live. Even her rent check will bounce since someone wiped out her bank account.

Feeling stupid and helpless, she has to change her direct deposit bank account and decides she has no choice but to live in her old van with her cat; and leaves her things with a friend. She barely has enough money for gas and food for another month until she receives her next social security check.

Then she is faced with the impossible and begins doing things she never thought she would do in order to survive. Bea does not have any knowledge of cell phones, nor the internet. She never had the opportunity to do much traveling nor see the world. She is rough around the edges, and over the years she has learned not to let others in or get too close. She does not trust easily, cynical, and now a loner. How will she continue to survive sleeping in her van and too old for a job?

Told from two points of view, we meet Allie. Allie is a teen and wise beyond her years. She is smart and has strong principals and integrity. She is a devout vegan and very strict with her food and lifestyle.

She has just discovered her mom and dad are being arrested for tax fraud and being sent to jail. She is left with a social worker, and has to leave her home, friends, school, and all her possessions -
taken to a group home. Allie has no clue of the evil of this world.

All this is foreign to Allie. She soon learns people in this world are not so nice. Some of the girls are very dangerous at the group home and things get out of hand. She has nowhere to turn and no money. Then her only hope is a friend who helps her escape and soon finds herself in another nightmare even worse than what she left. Human trafficking.

She has one shot in order to escape a madman. Soon an unlikely old woman and a runaway teen connect. Two lives both desperate. They soon discover they may learn some hard life lessons together.

As always, Hyde takes readers on a thought-provoking adventure. It may not be an easy road; however, her characters always find a way to connect with someone on a different path to change their lives. Fate intersects. They may not know the reason for the encounter, but you can be assured they were meant to take the journey.

Even though I could relate to Bea being a senior, had to think of my recent experience with my dad, age 86 yrs old with this crazy healthcare system and a recent phone scam. Luckily he did not get sucked into this and lose his money.

 

I also related to Allie in so many ways. She is wise beyond her years. She has integrity. I am also a vegan and some of the reactions are ones I face daily. I had to laugh when I went to a shelter during our last Florida hurricane evacuation. I could eat nothing they had. It was good I packed some healthy snacks and was able to go home the following day. Being a vegan is foreign to many in our world. Lots of laughs between the two.

I admired Allie for her strong principals; however, it also demonstrated how when faced with survival, how people get desperate enough to cross moral and ethical lines. A heartwarming story of the kindness of others. She taught Bea so much about herself.

No one can take you on a better road trip adventure than Catherine Ryan Hyde— mixed with life messiness, emotion, heart, and lots of humor. I think we have all been close to living in our car at one time or another, in our lives when things have looked hopeless.

A good look at our broken system and how it fails the young and the old in different and similar ways. When this happens, we may not always have a family; however, there may be a guardian angel where we least expect through the kindness of a stranger.

The highs and loves of life! The cracks in life let the light through. After reading a CRH book you want to rush out and do something good for someone, or volunteer at a homeless shelter. Help someone less fortunate. You want to give back. Life changing moments. Inspiring.

In addition to the reading copy, also purchased the audiobook, narrated by Lauren Ezzo and Janet Metzger with an engaging performance for both voices. Loved the journey along the Pacific Coast. One of my favorite cities: Santa Barbara, CA! I was curious to see how these two souls from different walks of life would connect - fans will enjoy this one.

From an online interview with the author we get a glimpse into what’s coming next:

“After Allie and Bea will come a novel called The Wake-Up, about a former cattle rancher who becomes so sensitive to the emotions of others that his entire life is turned upside-down. And all this just as he’s trying to find his way with a seriously abused new stepson who can’t be trusted around his animals.” Read more

Ironically, have read many of CRH books ; however, realized this evening I have never watched or read, Catherine Ryan Hyde’s international sensation, Pay It Forward, the moving story of Trevor McKinney, a 12-year-old boy who accepts his social studies teacher’s challenge to come up with a plan to change the world. Rented it tonight on Amazon Kindle- highly recommend if you have not read the book or watched the movie. (have some Kleenex handy).

A special thank you to Lake Union and NetGalley for an early reading copy.

Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2017/02/01/Allie-and-Bea
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review 2017-05-10 09:25
Marcelo In The Real World by Francisco X. Stork | #AutismAwareness
Marcelo in the Real World - Francisco X. Stork

Marcelo Sandoval hears music that nobody else can hear --- part of an autism-like condition that no doctor has been able to identify. But his father has never fully believed in the music or Marcelo's unique perception of reality, and he challenges Marcelo to work in the mailroom of his law firm for the summer... to join "the real world". There Marcelo meets Jasmine, his beautiful and surprising coworker, and Wendell, the son of another partner in the firm. He learns about competition and jealousy, anger and desire. But it's a picture he finds in a file -- a picture of a girl with half a face --- that truly connects him with the real world: its suffering, its injustice, and what he can do to fight.

~from back cover

 

 

 

 

Seventeen year old Marcelo (pronounced "Marselo") is described as having an "autism-like" condition. That's as close as doctors can come to defining his unique gift of being able to hear music where no one else can. Unfortunately for Marcelo, his father doesn't see anything particularly rare or special about his son's gift. Instead, the father pushes Marcelo to take a job in the mailroom of his law firm --- dad's reasoning being that the position will teach Marcelo useful skills about "the real world"  and put him on the path to success, rather than let his mind run away with creative dreamer fancies. 

 

Once in the mailroom environment, Marcelo meets and befriends the lovely Jasmine and Wendell, the son of one of the partners at the law firm. As his father anticipated, the first days were an experience for Marcelo, to say the least, as another "autism-like" trait that Marcelo displays is a struggle with interpreting facial expressions. But thanks to classes Marcelo attends to help him learn tips & tricks to help him out with this (instruction in voice inflection, speech patterns, and the like), it actually doesn't take him too long to find his way. It's a tough time for the reader though. We have to watch Marcelo navigate around co-workers who assume he's mentally incompetent, or those who try to bully or take advantage of him because he can't immediate recognize that he is being tricked. This is the "real world" his father so desperately wanted him to be a part of... thanks, dad! 

 

 

"What's wrong with you, anyway? With the way you think. Your father said you had some kind of cognitive disorder."

 

"He said that." It surprises me to hear Arturo refer to me that way. He has always insisted that there's nothing wrong with me. The term "cognitive disorder" implies there is something wrong with the way I think or with the way I perceive reality. I perceive reality just fine. Sometimes I perceive more of reality than others.

 

Marcelo develops a love for religious texts and often turns to reading or reciting scripture to himself to calm his nerves when the world starts to overwhelm him. At one point, he finds himself unexpectedly caught up in one of his father's most important legal cases, one that will push Marcelo to fight for what he believes in, regardless of what others around him might say. 

 

After being published in 2009, in 2010 this novel was awarded the Schneider Family Book Award for Teen Fiction, an award that recognizes fiction that focuses on characters with disabilities. 

 

I've come across pages of glowing reviews for this one, and while I did very much enjoy it, I can't comfortably join the 5 star crowd here. The story had some dents for me. I loved Marcelo, the way his mind worked and his unique style of interacting with others even if he didn't (admittedly) always understand all the unspoken social cues. Something in that I found myself relating to quite a bit. His friendship with Jasmine was undeniably sweet and I found myself wishing he and Wendell could get on a bit better. So the characters undeniably spoke to me on some level. My trouble was with the writing. Some of the characters came off just a little too weirdly staccato in their speech and mannerisms for my enjoyment. The flow of things just felt a shade off from natural. In Marcelo's case it's understandable and almost expected, given that he's been diagnosed with a "autism-like" condition, but that doesn't explain the other characters!

 

Also, if I'm being honest with my reading experience... there was just something a little... lackluster... with the plot as a whole. I was all about this story in the early pages! Those first few chapters definitely had me hooked. But this was one of those books where I could feel my love and interest of it slowly trickling down instead of racing up. Reading pages on end and then realizing later, "you know, that was actually a whole lotta nothing going on"... and the book's not even that long! Still, I did quite like Stork's message here -- the way Marcelo finds his own voice in a sea of so many others telling him what he needs or what he should do --- it made me curious to try out some of Stork's other works just to compare, so I now have a couple on order. Even with the elements I myself found problematic, I would still solidly recommend this to anyone looking for YA reads featuring the theme of autism and enhanced abilities. 

 

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review 2017-05-02 21:45
Melting Down (graphic novel) by Jeff Krukar & Katie Gutierrez | #AutismAwareness
Melting Down: A Comic for Kids with Asperger's Disorder and Challenging Behavior (The ORP Library) - Jeff Krukar,Katie Gutierrez,James G. Balestrieri,Nathan Lueth

Based on dozens of intensive interviews with parents, clinical psychologists, teachers, and more, Melting Down is the illustrated fictional story of Benjamin, a boy diagnosed with Asperger's disorder and additional challenging behavior. From the time Benjamin is a toddler, he knows he is different: he doesn't understand social and emotional cues, does not know how to play with his sister or other children, and dislikes making eye contact. And his tantrums are not like normal tantrums; they're meltdowns that will eventually make regular schooling-and day-to-day life-impossible. Told from Benjamin's perspective, Melting Down gives a unique glimpse into the journey taken by children with Asperger's disorder and additional challenging behavior, demonstrating that the path toward hope isn't simple—but with the right tools and teammates, it's possible.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Benjamin spends his early school years struggling to make progress, not only in academics but also when it comes to social scenarios. He doesn't seem to understand the unspoken rules of the schoolyard. What is certain about Benjamin is that he does love learning! He loves all things involving history or trains, but becomes uncomfortable or even upset when asked to move away from those topics onto something else. Benjamin doesn't like interruption to his preferred daily routines and patterns and is prone to moments of intense anger, sometimes leading to physical altercations with teachers and / or students. At wit's end with the situation, his parents begin taking him to a revolving door of mental health professionals (not to mention the mountain of trial medications!), one doctor finally pinpointing Benjamin's behavior as Asperger's Syndrome. Through the doctor's recommendation, Benjamin is enrolled in Genesee Lake School, a school for students with special needs.

 

There, Benjamin learns proper coping skills on how to manage his feelings of anger and stress in a healthy manner, how to grade his moments of anxiety on a scale of 1 to 5 and take action accordingly, even how to do home skills such as cooking and laundry. The staff at Genesee teach Benjamin that he is not broken, he just requires a different approach to things in life. He is incredibly talented, he only needs to funnel that energy toward productive goals. Benjamin finds comfort in the new found order in his life. With the skills he learns at Genesee, he is able to finish school, take a job as a library aide, and even joins a tae kwon do class. 

 

Genesee Lake School is a real place in Wisconsin. The school not only provides education for autistic students, but also those with mood / anxiety disorders or victims of trauma. Dr. Jeff Krukar, one of the co-authors of this graphic novel, is Genesee's resident psychologist. He helps develop books for the ORP Library, a catalog of works that offer resource books for parents and teachers of students with mental disorders. The adult works are accompanied by graphic novels that can be provided to the students themselves, the idea being that between the two a dialogue between adults and children with said disorders might be more successfully reached. Melting Down is only one of many titles within the ORP Library. 

 

In simple, straightforward text and imagery, Melting Down gives children and adults alike a clear impression of what some of the often misdiagnosed or unaddressed challenges of Asperger's Syndrome are. The colorful artwork by Nathan Lueth keeps the reader's eyes entertained while also sucking you into the challenging life of Benjamin, a good kid who just wants to understand why life feels so hard. 

 

I much enjoyed experiencing the graphic novel portion of Melting Down and look forward to delving into its nonfiction companion book. In fact, I am most curious to get into the other titles within the ORP library which look at not only autism but also conditions / topics such as bullying, bipolar disorder, children with PTSD, and even the conflicting emotions that can come with being an adopted child. 

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review 2017-04-28 23:59
Drawing Autism, an art book compiled by Jill Mullin | #AutismAwarenessMonth
Drawing Autism - Jill Mullin,Temple Grandin

Over the last decade autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has become an international topic of conversation, knowing no racial, ethnic, or social barriers. Behavior analyst and educator Jill Mullin has assembled a staggering array of work from established artists like Gregory Blackstock and Jessica Park to the unknown but no less talented. Their creations, coupled with artist interviews, comprise a fascinating and compelling book that serves to educate and inspire anyone who knows someone diagnosed with ASD. Mullin's introduction and the foreword by best-selling author Temple Grandin provide an overview of autism and advocate for nurturing the talents, artistic and otherwise, of autistic individuals.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Now in its second edition, Drawing Autism is a collection of artwork compiled by NYC-based behavioral analyst Jill Mullin. Mullin explains in her introductory essay how one year her work had her cross paths with an autistic artist living in a group home who showed extraordinary joy and talent through his artwork. Her acquaintance with this artist inspired her to seek out other talented artists with autism across the world. Mullin lays out her end goal with this project:

 

"Commonly in the media, individuals with autism have been shown to have great talents in certain areas such as science and math. The intention of this book is to display another area where individuals with autism can have great abilities."

 

Within this opening essay, Mullin also reveals that this project ended up being so successful that it helped greatly propel the featured artists into global notoriety, many of them being asked to do art showings all over the world. Mullin's essay is preceded by a foreword written by none other than Temple Grandin, one of today's most famous faces when it comes to autism awareness! Also included in the art collection are a few of Grandin's diagrams of her inventions (designs for more humane deaths for cattle in meat processing facilities).

 

Mullin wrote up a list of interview questions that she submitted to each artist she asked to be featured in this collection. From those questions, she pulls some of the most interesting or revealing answers, placing them alongside the artwork, giving the viewer / reader an eye-opening look into the world of an autistic mind. The collection as a whole is broken up into themed sections that illustrate common characteristics of the autism spectrum as a whole. For example, "Getting From Here To There" collects art pieces that focus on fascination with various modes of transportation; "Interaction, Individual and Societal" gives artists a space to express how they perceive themselves from a societal point of view. Many pieces in this section illustrate feelings of isolation, not being fully understood or accepted, frustration with miscommunications, etc; "Art For Art's Sake" is a place for the artists to just create for the sake of joy and fun. There's no particular deep meaning to the works in this section necessarily, just pieces that have made the artists happy or at peace in their souls. 

 

 

Personally, "Art For Art's Sake" and "Bird's Eye View" (pieces focusing on nature themes) were my favorite sections. I especially loved the works of Shawn Belanger -- his autism leaves him predominately non-verbal -- whose work is featured on several pages of Drawing Autism. The colors and movement of his pieces shouted a joy of life to me!

 

 

 

 

My very favorite piece though, I think I'd give that to "The Death of Love #373" by Charles D. Topping. I could not stop looking at it!

 

 

Some of the images, several actually, have definite grit and darkness to them. Some perusers of this book might be shocked at certain pieces if the paintings are only taken on their own. I would urge that you read the accompanying interview answers explaining many of the pieces. There you will see that while perhaps initially a shock to the eye, there is a purpose and / or a story of hurt behind the inspiration that you should hear. 

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review 2017-04-22 00:09
The Dog Who Was There by Ron Marasco
The Dog Who Was There - Ron Marasco

No one expected Barley to have an encounter with the Messiah. He was homeless, hungry, and struggling to survive in first century Jerusalem. Most surprisingly, he was a dog. But through Barley’s eyes, the story of a teacher from Galilee comes alive in a way we’ve never experienced before. Barley’s story begins in the home of a compassionate woodcarver and his wife who find Barley as an abandoned, nearly-drowned pup. Tales of a special teacher from Galilee are reaching their tiny village, but when life suddenly changes again for Barley, he carries the lessons of forgiveness and love out of the woodcarver’s home and through the dangerous roads of Roman-occupied Judea. On the outskirts of Jerusalem, Barley meets a homeless man and petty criminal named Samid. Together, Barley and his unlikely new master experience fresh struggles and new revelations. Soon Barley is swept up into the current of history, culminating in an unforgettable encounter with the truest master of all as he bears witness to the greatest story ever told.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

In 1st century Jerusalem, a pregnant stray dog gives birth to a litter of pups in a wooded area near the river. The runt of the litter is spotted by Micah, the young son of a wealthy landowner. Micah sneaks away from chores each day to play with the pup, until the day he is found out by his father. The father tries to have the whole litter killed but thanks to the efforts of Duv, a woodcarver, and his wife, Adah, the young pup is saved and named Barley. 

 

It is in the home of the woodcarver that Barley first starts to hear stories of an already near-mythic man from the land of Galilee. That's right, none other than than big man himself, Jesus! For seven years, Barley has a cozy home life full of love and treats. But one regular work day in town leads to tragedy for the woodcarver and his wife, a turn of events that once again puts Barley out on the streets. The scared canine is soon spotted by Samid, a homeless man / petty criminal, and his lady friend Prisca. Though the accomodations are significantly more humble than his previous pad, Barley takes what he can get and soon settles into a moderately comfortable routine with new pal Samid. Barley's life with Samid puts him in close proximity to Jesus, now in Jerusalem, so Barley is there to witness the final days leading up to the Passion of Christ

 

For dogs, no less than for people, firsts matter. They echo long past their point in time, especially in dreams. It's true of the good firsts, and very true of the bad ones. That's why when a dog cries in a dream -- even a full-grown dog, even an old dog -- the cry it cries is the cry of a pup, because that's what it is doing when it sleeps -- reliving a first. 

 

Well, right off, I will say that this is a unique way to breathe fresh new perspective into a tale that's been told a million times over! The writing sometimes struck me as somewhat simplistic but that could just be a natural by-product of the author choosing to tell the story from the inner thoughts of a dog. Perhaps the simplicity is intentional? Regardless, the benefit of a simple voice is that it makes this story perfect for sharing with readers within a wide age range.

 

Note that I was careful not to say "of all ages", because there is material within this novel that may be a little traumatic for the littlest ones in your life, whether they read independently or have you read to them. Barley witnesses (and describes) seeing the bodies of people executed by hanging, there are moments of extreme violence within Barley's own life, moments where he is injured, not to mention Barley relaying the sights of the Crucifixion itself near the end of the novel. The fate of Duv & Adah (the woodcarver and his wife) show just how rough and sometimes lawless this time period could be. So when it comes to the smallest of your story lovers, I'd recommend maybe first doing a read-through to see what you need to gloss over for them. 

 

Much of the story, as far as plot, while solidly enjoyable, lacked that little something extra for me. For the majority of the book, I kept waiting for that extra oomph to kick in. That said, I did enjoy the "voice" of our dog narrator and one of my favorite bits of the whole story was Samid and his friendship / something more? with Prisca. There was a good dose of humor and lively banter between them. I agree with Prisca, Samid outwardly appears rough around the edges, but you get the sense there's a good guy there deep down.

 

"Despair."

 

Samid said the word before she could. Which made them smile at each other, sweetly but sadly. 

 

"Why is our despair such a difficult thing for us to give up?" asked Samid.

 

Prisca replied, "I think despair is so difficult to let go of because it helps us to justify teh worst things inside of us. We think: I lack, so I can steal. I hurt, so I can injure. I failed at one thing, so now watch me destroy my whole life ... But when the despair is gone, we cannot help but change. We simply must."

 

The two were silent for a few moments. 

 

 

What ended up bumping this up to a four star read for me was simply Barley's observations during the Crucifixion. The way author Ron Marasco painted these scenes gave me a whole new visual of this event I've heard told in stories SO many times over. Yet something in the way Marasco illustrates it (in words) made it more real for me than nearly any other piece on the Crucifixion I've ever read. Ever. I physically flinched at what Barley describes himself seeing as the walk up to the cross is taking place. The attention to detail Marasco provides when describing the whippings Jesus is taking from soldiers, the way Barley winces and whimpers and thinks of him (Jesus) as Kind Man. It all just knocks you right in the heart! Beyond the Crucifixion scene, there is a further twist to the ending that I did not entirely see coming! 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

 

 

--------------------------

 

EXTRAS

 

Author Ron Marasco has a PhD in theater history and is a professor at Loyola University. He also has some acting credits to his name on shows you've likely watched! 

 

 

 

 

A note on promo blurbs & cover design:

 

First off, thumbs up for getting a blurb from Kristin Chenoweth on there. Love her!

 

But regarding the cover, I was one of a select group of bloggers who were asked to give their opinion on the few different design options designed for this title. Still bummed that my pick was not chosen, as I voted strongly AGAINST having to have a cover featuring a dog anus front and center. Particularly when there was one design (the one I voted for) that featured an ADORABLE dog's profile giving a little glance to the reader. I'll let it go though, because this cover dog does look similar to my mother in law's sweet pup. :-)

 

But props to Thomas Nelson Pub. for at least darkening that area to a little less off-putting level lol Also funny to read in the book the dog's coat being described as "off-white fur". I know it's a little hard to tell with the lighting but that cover dog looks as if it'd be pretty distinctly brown with maybe some black highlight areas. A little reading peeve of mine, when it seems like the cover designer didn't read the book they were designing for! 

 

 

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