Book Chat

This month’s book reviews, which may contain affiliate links. Check out what others are reading at 5MinutesforBooks. Thanks to Blogging for Books for a review copy of The Perfect Score Project:
Perfect Score Project

The Perfect Score Project: One Mother’s Journey to Uncover the Secrets of the SAT was written by Debbie Stier, and I think she and I could be friends in real life. We’re the same age, and we are both overachievers who jump into things with gusto. Inspired by wanting to help her ADHD son with the SAT, Debbie began a project in which she took the well-known college entrance test seven times in a single year, in addition to trying several test-prep methods.

I found this book fascinating! It’s full of all kinds of tidbits about what kind of info the SAT tests, and what it doesn’t … lots of facts about the history of the test. A few things I marked —

  • analogies are no longer part of the SAT. I remember answering so many analogies on standardized tests when I was a teen (one test to enter grad school was exclusively analogies). I really enjoyed those, and am wondering why they were dropped.
  • Also, originally the SAT stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test, and was thought to be more of an IQ test than a test of what one had learned. The A no longer stands for Aptitude though, and that’s a reason why prep for the test has grown so much. Indeed, when I took the test in ’82, I don’t remember anyone taking the test multiple times or studying for it. Y’know, why study for something that tests your intelligence?

And interestingly enough, even after all Debbie’s test prep, her scores overall improved very little. When my oldest took the SAT, she took it just once without any test prep, and reading this book made me feel better about that decision. It seems, in fact, that taking the test twice seems to produce as much score improvement as does buying some type of test prep.

I have to say that Debbie’s son (and daughter too) seem like the perfect teens. They both overall embraced their mom’s commitment to the SAT, and her son willingly does the hours of test prep she lines up for him. At one point, he looks up from studying and says to her, “You’re the best SAT mom in the whole world.” He seemingly eagerly discussed various SAT questions with his mom on a regular basis, etc. I think my kids would have killed me if I’d tried all that she did!

Very interesting book overall, for anyone with teens or for anyone who has taught, or for anyone who enjoys the minutiae of standardized tests.


The Boy Who Loved Rain

The Boy Who Loved Rain begins with a scary premise: Fiona’s teenage son Colom (yep, I agree: what a weird name — Column? Cuh-LOM?) is troubled, to the degree that he’s writing suicide notes and withdrawing from life. But Fiona’s husband is the pastor at a high-profile church and doesn’t want to get outside help that would sully his reputation. In a panic, Fiona flees with Colom to France where she seeks the advice of a counselor-nun friend. I was interested up to this point.

Then, much of the book deals with all the angst of the various characters as they spend a few weeks in France. Miriam the nun is emoting and giving advice. Fiona is distraught and overcome with mom-guilt, untold secrets-guilt, you name it. Colom is just distraught, although he does come around in a way that seems (to me) a bit too convenient. I just kept feeling like I was in a never-ending counseling session throughout much of the middle of the book.

It’s well-written overall, although in the author’s fervor to write lyrically, some of his similes struck me as a bit strange: Tears pressing at the back of her eyes like teen fans trying to force their way into a concert … questions gathering in his mind like a traffic jam on the M25.

To sum up: the premise had promise, but didn’t really deliver.

Thanks to Kregel for a review copy of this book.


Easter Stories Classic TalesAs Easter approaches, I’ve traditionally read some of my childhood Easter stories to the girls after dinner. I love them, although I admit they’re not really age-appropriate anymore for teens (well … maybe. Even at a half-century, I still love them).

So, I was happy for the chance to review Easter Stories: Classic Tales for the Holy Season. Everyone who believes Easter is about more than Easter egg hunts will be grateful for this new anthology of short stories that illumine the true meaning of the season. Selected for their spiritual value and literary quality, these classic tales capture the spirit of Holy Week and Easter in a way that will captivate readers of all ages, touts the back cover.

I was hooked! With works by C.S. Lewis, Tolstoy, and Oscar Wilde, among others, how could this not be great? So, most nights after dinner, I’d read either a short story, or a portion of a longer one.

The first few stories I read were great; others were average, and a few were downright odd (I have in mind here “Stories from the Cotton Patch Gospel,” which has Jesus telling his disciples, “Big businessmen hold the reins over their subordinates, and those invested with authority are called ‘executives’ ” and “Get up and start praying so that you might not get in a bind.” O-kay then. Somehow, paraphrasing well-known Biblical quotes just doesn’t work for me.

I’d take issue, too, with the assertion that readers of all ages would love these tales. Most are pretty “deep,” and this isn’t the book to buy for a snuggle between Grandma and a five-year old.

Still, a great choice for those who like stories with deeper meanings. Nice reflections for this holiest of seasons.

Thanks to Plough Publishing for a review copy.


3500: An Autistic Boy's Ten-Year Romance with Snow White

Having just returned from a Disney trip, it was the perfect time for me to pick up 3500: An Autistic Boy’s Ten-Year Romance with Snow White, since it’s been on my to-read list for a while. It is basically a memoir by Ron Miles, whose autistic son, Ben, loves Snow White.  Ben is nine when his parents take him to Disney World, and he loves it, specifically the “Snow White’s Scary Adventures” ride. It changes his life: he comes alive on the ride, riding it over and over. He begins speaking, something he didn’t do before. The parents move across the country to Orlando so they can take Ben to Disney more often.

“I knew right down to my core that Walt Disney World was the single biggest piece of magic that had ever entered Ben’s life,” writes Ron, and although Ben hasn’t become a normally-functioning adult (he’s now in his early 20s), Disney has brought him joy. I was so impressed by his parents and the lengths they went to to help their son meet his potential and be happy. I also was impressed by how difficult it would be to live with an autistic child — constant repetitive routines, extreme upset when those routines are interrupted, etc. Pretty much anything Ben wanted to do, his parents would do.

I found this book touching and really enjoyed it (and as to the title’s significance: Ben rode the Snow White ride 3500 times before it was closed in 2012). It was kind of like re-visiting Disney World, as frequent mention was made of various attractions at the park.


6 thoughts on “Book Chat

  1. I agree about feeling the SAT used to be something you didn’t have to prepare for. I find it hard to believe anybody’s kids would be that enthusiastic about having a mom that into it. 🙂

    The similes in the second book do sound a bit contrived. Though I would understand wanting to hide a difficult situation, I think being real with each other in the church and making it a safe place where we can be would be more valuable, but that would make for a different kind of book.

    I am not much on presenting Biblical paraphrases as Scriptural quotes, either. That one makes it sound like a sin to be an executive.

  2. Analogies were dropped because no one understood them unless they were taught the test. We learned nothing about them in my high school unless you took a certain “elective” English class. Poor students received no coaching and got abysmal scores on them.

    On the Rain book: Remember my PC Checklist to get a novel published? A character MUST have a weird name that’s never found in real life!! lol… Usually there must be character named Claire/Clare too!

    Good reviews!

  3. I’m sure I would enjoy the “Snow White” book. Bless those parents’ hearts for all they’re doing for their son. And if life is difficult for the parents of a single child with Autism, what must it be like for the parents of multiples having Autism?

  4. If I still had kids young enough to take the SAT, that would be a book I would devour too. Sounds very interesting. So does 3500–I’m glad people can keep coming up with such original books! As long as we live authentic lives, there will always be things to write about.

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