The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin

 

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Synopsis (from the back of the book): Temple Grandin may be the most famous person with autism, a condition that affects 1 in 88 children. Since her birth in 1947, our understanding of it has undergone a great transformation, leading to more hope than ever before that we may finally learn the causes of and treatments for autism.

Weaving her own experience with remarkable new discoveries, Grandin introduces the advances in neuroimaging and genetic research that link brain science to behavior, even sharing her own brain scan to show which anomalies might explain common symptoms. Most excitingly, she argues that parents and teachers of kids on the autism spectrum must focus on their long-overlooked strengths to foster their unique contributions. The Autistic Brain brings Grandin’s singular perspective into the heart of the autism revolution.

 

My Rating: 5/5 stars

 

My Review: The Autistic Brain by Dr. Temple Grandin and co-author Richard Panek is a brilliant overview of the science of autism, and a look into the mind of an autistic woman who is also what she calls a picture thinker.

In this book, Dr. Grandin focuses on how the minds of autistic people might work, and what their potential strengths are. According to Dr. Grandin there are potentially three types of thinkers: picture thinkers, like her, pattern thinkers, and word-fact thinkers.

The book is full of relatable individual experiences (if you’re autistic) and up-to-date summaries of autism research. Dr. Grandin even includes her own brain scan compared to that of a neurotypical (non autistic) persons, and she explains in detail how the very shape of her brain may play a role in her autistic symptoms.

Dr. Grandin emphasizes autism being in your brain rather than in your mind. Here is a quote from the book explaining why: “When something is ‘all in your mind,’ people tend to think that it’s willful, that it’s something you could control if only you tried harder or if you had been trained differently. I’m hoping that the newfound certainty that autism is in your brain and in your genes will affect public attitudes.”

At the back of the book Dr. Grandin includes a few lists with jobs that will suit the various kinds of thinkers. Examples include photographer for picture thinkers, historian for word-fact thinkers, and computer programmer for pattern thinkers. This is a practical way to get people thinking less about what an autistic person can’t do, and more about what they can do.

The book also includes an AQ test, or Autism-Spectrum Quotient created by Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at Cambridge’s Autism Research Centre. While this tool is not suitable for making a diagnosis, in the first major trial using the test 80% of those diagnosed with autism or a related disorder scored 32 or higher (out of 50). For those who are wondering if they are on the spectrum, taking this test could help lead someone to seeing a specialist to rule out, or diagnose, autism.

Overall I enjoyed the tone of the book. I found only one typo (at the very top of pg. 194 “How do you that?” Presumably should be “How do you do that?” It’s well formatted with frequent breaks, and intelligent use of bullet points, and images. The notes section is full of references for further reading.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in autism.

 

Type of Reader Suited For: Autistics, friends, relatives, spouses of autistics.

 

Additional Notes/Links: Dr. Temple Grandin has a TED talk that is informative and inspirational. It is a must-see.

 

 

 

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Mastering Census & Military Records – W. Daniel Quillen

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Synopsis (from Goodreads): 

This book covers the use of two of the most effective sets of genealogical information available to genealogists: Census and military records. Quillen’s Essentials of Genealogy includes: what they are, how to use them, pitfalls, and issues concerning the information found.

My Rating: 3 Stars – Good reference material, but vexing formatting issues

My Review: 

This short, though useful, reference by Daniel Quillen is full of pertinent information, especially for the beginner genealogist. The book largely reads like a stream of consciousness, which doesn’t detract from it. The author uses examples in his own family to illustrate potential problems and their potential solutions, so readers can more readily apply the tips to their own family searches.

One thing that did throw me off about the book is the apparent formatting issue. It may be something that slipped past during editing, but sometimes the last sentence of a paragraph on one page will end up smack in the middle of the next!

So if one paragraph is about Daniel Quillen, and the next is about Daniel Quillen’s mother, and the next after that is about Daniel Quillen’s grandmother, the last sentence of the paragraph on Daniel himself will end up sandwiched in between the paragraphs about his mother and grandmother!

It’s quite vexing while reading, truth be told. It wasn’t an issue throughout the entire book, but I did notice it several times during the first third of it.

All in all, I think this is a fine resource, and will likely be reading it again to brush up on census and military record tips.

Recommended for: Beginner genealogists

Scrapbooking Your Family History – Maureen Taylor

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Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Readers will learn how to:
– Choose items already in their family’s possession for presentation in a scrapbook
– Find and identify family photographs
– Locate and interpret historical documents about their ancestors
– Discover new information from old postcards, keepsakes and other family artifacts
– Put their ancestors in historical perspective
– Tell the story of their family in different ways
– Take their research beyond the limits of a heritage album
My Rating: 4 Stars – Worth re-visiting
My Review:
The book is beautifully put together, as you might hope for a book about scrap-booking. The illustrations are relevant and pleasing to the eye, and the design echoes that of a scrapbook.

However, while the book does carry a heavy scrap-booking theme, there are quite a few tips and how-tos in regard to genealogy research as a whole. There’s a timeline of the history of handwriting, of genealogical milestones, instructions on how to care for your documents and photos (archival materials only, acid free, and keep your newspapers, paperclips, and staples away from your photos and documents!), and commands to double-check and cite your sources.

I would say this book is largely a very visual, entertaining “getting started in genealogy book.”

However there are sections dedicated to picking themes for your books, how to organize them prettily and properly, what paper to use, a section on rubber stamping, stickers, and ways to save money during your family history scrap-booking journey.

The book stretches beyond the promised subject matter in a pleasant way. I would say it’s a worthwhile read for beginners, as well as those vetted in the world of genealogy, who are ready to begin scrap-booking as a way to showcase their years of intensive research.

Who Would Benefit: Beginning genealogists, and experienced genealogists interested in a new way to showcase their years of intense research, as well as those non-genealogists who want to make family scrapbooks and make sure their books last for their children, and great-grandchildren to enjoy.

The Kraken Sea – E. Catherine Tobler

The Kraken Sea by Catherine E. Tobler

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Fifteen-year-old Jackson is different from the other children at the foundling hospital. Scales sometimes cover his arms. Tentacles coil just below his skin. Despite this Jackson tries to fit in with the other children. He tries to be normal for Sister Jerome Grace and the priests. But when a woman asks for a boy like him, all that changes. His name is pinned to his jacket and an orphan train whisks him across the country to Macquarie’s.

At Macquarie’s, Jackson finds a home unlike any he could have imagined. The bronze lions outside the doors eat whomever they deem unfit to enter, the hallways and rooms shift and change at will, and Cressida – the woman who adopted him – assures him he no longer has to hide what he is. But new freedoms hide dark secrets. There are territories, allegiances, and a kraken in the basement that eats shadows.

As Jackson learns more about the new world he’s living in and about who he is, he has to decide who he will stand with: Cressida, the woman who gave him a home and a purpose, or Mae, the black-eyed lion tamer with a past as enigmatic as his own. The Kraken Sea is a fast paced adventure full of mystery, Fates, and writhing tentacles just below the surface, and in the middle of it all is a boy searching for himself.

My rating: 2.5 Stars

My Review:

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Kraken Sea is a short book, a novella, that I would describe as a fantasy coming-of-age story.

Jackson is an orphan who gets adopted by a mysterious woman called The Widow. He’s drawn from his average, if miserable, life at the orphanage, and is chucked into one full of magical creatures, and unspoken rules which, when broken, mean death or serious bodily harm. There’s a steep learning curve as Jackson struggles to understand who and what he is, and how he fits into the grand scheme of things.

A few things I liked about this book: I love the idea of a magical world enmeshed with the ordinary human one. One that only some humans are privy to. One where anyone you see, could in fact just be in human form, but certainly inhuman.

I love the idea of this woman, Cressida, gathering these inhuman people and mystical creatures, and giving them a home. I even love the idea that she may have nefarious intentions for this.

A few things that bothered me: The book needs more editing, and quite a bit of it. There were sentence fragments, misused words, and typos that slipped past the spell checker.  Characterization, character development, pacing, and the plot need tweaking. There were a few formatting issues as well, such as breaks in the story that weren’t clearly noted.

The author used some intense imagery, and that was both a boon and a detriment to the story. There were beautiful lines like this, “These human-like shapes peeled away from clotted darkness; Jackson was certain if he was close enough, he would have heard a wet puckering kiss as they separated from the black.”

And then there was a clumsy descriptions of a mirror that I had to take a second to realize was indeed a mirror, and not some magical new thing I needed to pay attention to. Also, there was a tendency for the writing to get too abstract during every intense scene, from Jackson’s heady moments with Mae, to brawls with the neighborhood boys.

Overall, I like the book, but I think it could almost be considered a work in progress. It needs a good polish.

Type of Readers Suited for: Readers who want something quick and easy.

Additional notes: The cover art is beautiful.

 

The Martian – Andy Weir

 

Synopsis (from the back of the book):

Six days ago astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’s surface, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

Armed with nothing but his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–Mark embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive. but will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

My Rating: 5/5 Stars — Worth re-reading at least twice more.

My Review:

The Martian is the story of one astronaut, Mark Watney. The unluckiest man on Mars.

Watney finds himself stranded on the red planet injured, alone, and unable to communicate with his crew or NASA. The Martian follows Watney in his attempt to not die, which is already a difficult task on an empty planet with limited supplies. The situation is made worse as problems arise, and Watney’s solutions create new, bigger problems.

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Let me begin by saying that I have never seen a writer put so much technical detail into a book. You get all the nitty-gritty details regarding hydrogen, how to convert x into y, and how long it takes. There’s good reason for this – The author, Andy Weir, is a huge space nerd.

The Martian is the lovechild of his affair with science. So there is a lot of science in the text. The good news is he’s written it in a way that a layman can understand, and enjoy! Not once was I bored or bogged down with the details.

The details are delivered to us through Watney’s internal dialogue. Watney is not a dull man. His humor is down to earth (hah!), sarcastic, and admirable. The way he takes every hit to his morale and turns it around into an entertaining problem solving session is so clever, so authentic that you can truly fool yourself into believing that Mark Watney is a real man, and that this story is based on his actual experiences.

I have to say that the text is flawless. There aren’t any awkward breaks in sentence structure or plot, or typos (that I could find) that interrupt the reading experience. The most brilliant part of this book is how the author managed to maintain suspense in a story where you as the reader are spending your time almost exclusively with one character.

And he did it without getting deeply psychological or disturbing. I have read so many stories where a character is stranded or alone in a cabin in the woods or otherwise isolated, and they suffer this internal roller coaster. It’s something you might expect, but in many of those stories they are hard on your “reading energy,” and you need a break with something a little more light.

That is unnecessary with the Martian. Watney’s character will carry the reader on his back, from start to finish. I highly recommend this book to science lovers, and to those looking to get their feet wet in the science fiction genre. 5/5. This is going in my re-read pile!

Bonus link: Here is where The Martian was born.