Grandfather’s Dance by Patricia MacLachlan

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Title: Grandfather’s Dance by Patricia MacLachlan

Notable: Book #5 in the Sarah, Plain and Tall series

Premise:

This story picks up a short while after the previous one left off.  Jack is now a toddler/preschooler and acts just like his grandpa, John.  Cassie has come to terms with the family’s new addition and she can’t help but love her little brother.  Anna and Justin finally marry, which necessitates a visit from the Maine relatives.  The joyous mood is short-lived, however, when tragedy strikes.

My thoughts:

Well,  I finally finished the Sarah, Plain and Tall series!  It’s a bittersweet ending because I always feel sad when a story featuring some of my favorite characters comes to an end.

In this book, little Jack fairly worships the ground his grandfather walks on and tries to emulate him in all he does.  Poor grandfather is finding it harder and harder to keep up with the rest of the family because of his failing health.  Each family member has to confront the prospect of a future spent without their father/grandfather, and come to terms with that eventuality.

This is a good story for introducing kids to mortality and helping them see that death is an unavoidable part of life.  For kids who might be facing the loss of a grandparent, I think this could be a very cathartic read.  I’ll confess–it made me cry.

I recommend Grandfather’s Dance to kids who are reading beginner chapter books, or as a touching family read aloud.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye by Brook Noel & Pamela D. Blair, Ph.D.

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Title: I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping & Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One by Brook Noel & Pamela D. Blair, Ph.D.

Premise:

This book is meant to be a reference aid for those who have experienced the sudden loss of a loved one.  It features personal stories, guidelines for coping and healing, grief recovery exercises, information about the grieving process, additional resources, and more.

My thoughts:

This is the most recent book I read in my quest to find quality books which cover the topic of grief.  The title jumped out at me because of my sister’s sudden death.  I haven’t found many books that deal with sudden death, in particular.

 

Personally, this was a very cathartic read for me.  I came away with a sense of affirmation and understanding, and the acceptance of being okay with my current progress in my grief journey.  The authors really emphasize the fact that grief is a journey, not a destination, and that there is no prescribed method or timeline for it.  For someone who is feeling out of control, like they are regressing, or like they’ll never “get better,” this is a very helpful thing to hear.  I agree with the authors that each person should make their way along the path of grief using the methods which suit them, and according to their own timetable.

 

There were some after-life views which I didn’t agree with, but the authors presented them as different modes of belief, not necessarily their own.  They neither endorsed nor discounted the different after-life beliefs, but left it open so that the book could be helpful for people of all different faiths (or no faith at all).

 

One criticism, if you can even call it that, is that I wish there were more examples of sudden deaths in which the family has to forgive the person who was responsible for their loved one’s death (i.e. murder).  It was lightly touched on, but not given a lot of discussion, probably because of the authors’ lack of experience with that kind of death.  Since it’s outside of their scope, I can’t really complain that they weren’t able to relate to those particular feelings.  I just wish I could learn about some ways to recover from a situation where your family member died a more violent death and you have to accept the fact that their killer gets a second chance at life.  Perhaps I’ll find a book like that one of these days.

 

Aside from that, there are a fair number of errors in the text which would have been caught with more careful editing.  It would have also made the book and writing style come across as more professional.

 

I recommend I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye to those who have experienced the sudden death of a loved one and are looking for healing.  No matter where you are in the healing process, this book should have something of value to offer you.  It’s quite helpful as a reference book on grief.


A favorite quote:“Laws of nature do not make exceptions for nice people.  A bullet has no conscience; neither does a malignant tumor or an automobile gone out of control.  That is why good people get sick and hurt as much as anyone.”  (p. 70, Rabbi Kushner)

“‘Relationships with a brother or sister help children know who they are and how they fit in the family.  The bonds between siblings are woven into the fabric of each one’s life.’  When we lose a sibling, we lose a piece of ourselves, a piece of our family, and a reflection of ourselves.”  (p. 160)

Possible Objections:

  • You may not agree with all of the after-life beliefs which are presented

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Permission to Mourn by Tom Zuba

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Title: Permission to Mourn: A New Way to Do Grief by Tom Zuba

Premise:

Tom Zuba experienced the loss of three of his family members, which caused him to seek out a new way to process his grief.  This book is full of Tom’s feelings and observations about his own grief, and a healthier way for anybody to work through their grief.  It’s told in free-flow poetic form and is relatively short.

My thoughts:

I’m on the lookout for a good book on grief that I can recommend to people.  We now live in a place where the crime rate is high, and I know that we’ll be going to more funerals.  Just a fact of life.  Usually I give people a copy of A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, but I wanted to find at least a couple of alternatives.

Tom Zuba has experienced some horrific loss in his life, and I can’t even imagine how that grief threatened to bury him.  I appreciate his open and honest observations about his grief and how he has and continues to work through it.  Many of the feelings he shared resonated with how I felt and still feel about my sister’s death.  It made me cry, but it’s good to cry every now and again to release some of those feelings.

I don’t really agree with Tom’s ideas about what happen to a person after they die, but I’m okay reading the book just to feel like I’ve met and talked to a fellow comrade in the grief journey.  Some people would probably be upset with his ideas though, so I thought I should lay them out.  He believes that we all go to heaven and that you can communicate with your deceased loved one through signs (i.e. a butterfly landing on your hand is your loved one communicating with you from beyond the grave, etc.), and that you should actively seek out and ask for such signs.  For me the question was: Can I read a book by someone who has some profound observations on grief, but whose life views may not match up with my own?  I thought it was worth the read.

I recommend Permission to Mourn to those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, whatever stage of the journey you find yourself in right now.  Even if you don’t fully identify with Tom’s beliefs, his emotions are the same as they would be for anyone else.

A favorite quote:

“Grief is not the enemy.

Grief is the teacher.

The powerful

blessed

gift-from-God teacher.

But you must be brave enough to enter the pit.

By feeling your feelings.”  (p. 54-55)

Possible Objections:

  • different worldview than your own about what happens after death

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Grieving the Loss of a Loved One: A Devotional of Comfort as You Mourn by Kathe Wunnenberg

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I chose Grieving the Loss of a Loved One as my free book from BookLook Bloggers to review.  Rest assured, I will be sharing my honest opinion with you.

This book is a devotional which is meant to help the reader work through their grief over the death of a loved one, or someone else who was close to them.  Each entry contains a passage of Scripture, a short story or anecdote, a prayer, and blank lines to record the progress of your own grief journey.  There are 52 devotions, so this could conceivably take you through an entire year.

When ordering the book, I didn’t at first realize that it was a devotional.  I got it mainly to read the author’s insights on grief, not to use it as a journaling exercise to work through my own grief.  Although I won’t be taking advantage of the journal portion of the book, there are still enough short entries that make it worth my while to read.  I have enjoyed the pertinent stories that go with each day’s theme.  It’s been helpful to learn how other people have dealt with their grief.  I also appreciate the thoughtful prayers at the end.  Sometimes it can be hard to put into words the things you are feeling when you’re grieving.

I would recommend this book as an appropriate gift to someone who has lost a loved one who they were very close to.  It’s overkill for what I term casual grief, and is aimed more at long-term grief.

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.

The Fault in Our Stars – Movie 2014

Fault Stars - Movie

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I feel like I’ve just had my butt kicked emotionally by this movie.  The Fault in Our Stars is the movie adaptation of the book by the same name.  I loved the book and I’m glad to say that I loved the movie, as well.

First, the main characters (Hazel and Gus) were cast and acted extremely well.  I was fully convinced that they were the real characters and that their story was true.  There was such a wonderful spark and connection between them which really came through in the movie.  It doesn’t take much to imagine that they really are in love.

I don’t want to completely ruin the story for somebody who hasn’t read/seen it before.  In a nutshell, the story is about two teens who have cancer.  They fall in love and learn how to deal with their circumstances.  Their family and friends also learn how to deal with it all.  That is the very vague explanation.  I have left a lot of good bits out of my explanation–bits that you should find out about by reading the book or seeing the movie (or both).

This story explores the complexities of life, death, what makes a life worth living, friendship, love.  It hits deep on several topics and imparts new insights and feelings in the viewer.  This is one of those rare stories that helps you focus again on the important things in life.

A couple of my favorite parts of the movie are when Hazel and Gus are talking while Isaac is freaking out on Gus’ trophies in the background (hilarious!), and Gus’ letter to Hazel at the end.  That letter was amazing and it perfectly wrapped up the story.

I would highly recommend this movie to both teens and adults alike.  It is an amazing story about life, death and love, that will break your heart–in a good way.

Possible Objections:

  • A mild sexual scene
  • A bit of strong language

Rated: PG-13

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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The Death of Bees: A Novel by Lisa O’Donnell

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The Death of Bees is my next review from my Rainbow Cover Reading Challenge.  The cover makes it look kind of nice with the pretty blues and purples, but let me tell you–this is one macabre book!

Two sisters have suffered from their parents neglect and abuse throughout their young lives.  Until one day when their parents die and the girls must learn to fend for themselves.  Not wanting to be put into foster care, they bury their parents and try to get on with life as normal.

Their neighbor, a kindly but ostracized man, sees that the girls need help and he becomes like a grandfather to them.  However, people start asking questions about where their parents are and they are in danger of being separated from the only person who has ever truly nurtured them.

I really liked this book, though it is very macabre and quite raw.  The chapters alternate between being narrated by the sisters and their neighbor, which gives an interesting view of events.  The younger sister, Nelly, has a humorous way of talking which lightens the mood even when talking about horrible things.

A couple of favorite quotes:

“She’s a nasty b**** this Fiona Mullen and is unforgivably rude to Lennie, who quite rightly tells her to go f*** herself while reminding her there is no law prohibiting him from caring for two abandoned children, but this doesn’t matter to her.  He is deemed an inappropriate guardian, whereas my parents who neglected us every day of our waking lives were always deemed appropriate guardians on account of the DNA issue.  No one wants to separate children from their parents, even when their parents are f*****-up delinquents.” (p.256)

“Birds keep chirping and music keeps playing.  Life continues as another life ebbs away.

We have seen death before, Marnie and I, a mountain of ice melting over time, drops of water freezing at your core reminding you every day of that which has vanished, but the despair we know today is a sadness sailing sorrow through every bone and knuckle.” (p. 268)

This book is based in Ireland and has Irish slang and word usage.  That could be a challenge for those who are unused to it.  Also, it incorporates themes of drugs, violence, sex, and homosexuality.  If you’re very uncomfortable with those things, you might want to skip this book.

Possible Objections:

  • Lots of bad language
  • Violence & gore
  • Sexual stuff

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Little Bee: A Novel by Chris Cleave

Little Bee

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I finished Little Bee last night, another book from my Rainbow Cover Reading Challenge.  This is the book that had a very non-specific blurb on the back, so I had no idea what to expect.  My review will give away some of the plot, so stop reading now if you’d rather not know before reading it for yourself.

How to start?  This story is about a married couple and how their lives intersect with that of a young Nigerian girl.  Something quite horrific happens on a Nigerian beach, and it changes the course of all of their lives.  Fast-forward a couple of years, and Little Bee, the Nigerian girl, finds her way into this family’s life once again.  Tragedy strikes again, and the two women must find a way to uphold and help one another.

Towards the end of the book things seem as if they will turn out alright, but we’re left with a sinking feeling at the end of the book.  I can’t give you a lot of details because that will totally ruin the plot line for you, even though I really do want to discuss it in more depth.

The characters in this story are great!  Just when you think you have somebody figured out, you find out that there is another facet to their personality.  It’s never a question of who is good and who is bad.  It’s a matter of which traits they are displaying at any given time.

The writing itself alternates between the two main female characters.  This is a really nice literary device that helps the reader see the story from different angles and gain understanding about what makes each character tick.

I also like how the story explores the theme of illegal immigration, refugees and detention centers in the UK.  The author stated that the inspiration for this novel came from the real-life story of an illegal immigrant from Angola.  When he and his son were going to be deported back to their country, the father hanged himself so that his son wouldn’t be sent back (according to a law in the UK, which prevents unaccompanied minors from being deported).

I had one nitpick about the story, when it comes to the part where they are driving around Nigeria.  (My husband lived there for several years and I visited there for about a month.) It says that the women would leave their hotel in the morning, drive into the south and return to their hotel at night.  First, driving in Nigeria is not that simple.  It might be okay in Abuja, but once you get outside of a large city, the roads can be quite treacherous and slow-going.  It’s also not feasible that they could simply drive around where ever they wanted.  They were not accompanied by a man (asking for trouble), and there are actually checkpoints along the roads which are manned by soldiers.  So, that part of the story wasn’t very accurate.  Not a major issue, but it just stood out to me.

A favorite quote:

“On the girl’s brown legs there were many small white scars.  I was thinking, Do those scars cover the whole of you, like the stars and the moons on your dress?  I thought that would be pretty too, and I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly.  That is what the scar maker wants us to think.  But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them.  We must see all scars as beauty.  Okay?  This will be our secret.  Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying.  A scar means, I survived.”  (p. 9)

I would recommend this book to adults who enjoy exploring social justice issues through the medium of a fictional work.  Sometimes that’s a good way to look at difficult issues. You know it isn’t a real person you have to pity, but you still get the underlying social message that the book is trying to convey.

Possible Objections:

  • Some violence
  • Some language
  • Some sexual themes

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Fault in our Stars - WM

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Huzzah–The Fault in Our Stars is the last book from my Friends & Family Top Picks Reading Challenge!  I’m glad to have finished the challenge (enjoyed it thoroughly) and am looking forward to working on the next one.  On to the book…

 Can I start off by saying that this is an amazing book?  Oh, I can?  Well then…whatever.  No need to repeat myself.  It’s hard to put into words what makes this book so awesome.  The characters are completely lovable, despite seeing their flaws, insecurities and brokenness.  Their difficult circumstances make me want to root for them 100%.  And it just seems like an epic story.  One of those stories that melts your heart and shapes it into something a little bit different from how it started.

I really don’t want to ruin this story for you, so I’ll stick to generalities in my analysis.  The story revolves around two main characters, Hazel and Augustus.  Each of them has/is still having a brush with cancer and they meet at a support group.  They grow close to one another and in the midst of this closeness, they truly transform one another’s lives.  Plot-wise, there isn’t a ton of major action in this book.  There are hospital stays and a little bit of travel, but most of the story stays close to home.  It’s set among a limited cast of characters.  I think that this closeness in telling the story allows the reader to become more attached to the story.  It starts to feel like you are one of the bystanders experiencing the situation from the periphery.

The ending will have to remain a secret in this post.  I can’t rob somebody of the satisfaction of reading it for themselves.  I will say that it was satisfying, for me personally.  The Fault in Our Stars helped me empathize more with those who have been touched by cancer.  In other ways I feel like it has made me a better person.  It speaks to the significance of human life, examining what makes a life lived worthwhile.  Read the book to find out the conclusion that the book arrives at on that particular subject.

I would recommend the book for teens and up.  If you’ve already read it, please let me know what you thought!

Possible Objections:

  • A little bit of bad language
  • A mild sexual scene

Rating: 5 Stars

 

Until next time…

Lori

 

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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

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The book Stiff is a fascinating compilation of author Mary Roach’s research on the human cadaver.  This isn’t just your average list of facts and figures, but an in-depth exploration about the many different situations a cadaver can find itself in once its animating essence has flown away.  So, let’s talk about the second-to-last book in my Friends & Family Top Picks Reading Challenge.

We shall begin with the topics covered in this book.  They are extremely wide-ranging and I really had no idea that there were so many things that could happen to a person’s body after they died.  There are sections about plastic surgery, dissection, early anatomists and body snatching, the study of human decay, embalming, car impact studies, army research, the shroud of Turin, organ harvesting, the use of cadavers for medicinal purposes, cannibalism, composting cadavers, and plastinated cadavers.

Firstly, I am a bit squeamish about things like human cadavers.  Secondly, I’m even more squeamish when somebody starts talking about cutting them open, etc.  With that being said, I was able to make it through the entire book.  Mary Roach has a wonderful gift for making this subject matter palatable by injecting just the right amount of humor when things get too uncomfortable.

As for the information she shared about cadavers, it was absolutely fascinating.  Mary did a very thorough job of researching the subject and sharing it with readers in a cohesive, logical and entertaining manner.  I know much more about cadavers than I ever thought I would care to know, but I feel better for knowing it.  As strange as that may sound, this book made me realize how important it is to understand the end of our lives, just as we would seek to understand any stage between conception and death.

I’d also like to share a couple of my favorite quotes from the book which highlight Mary’s style of writing:

“And ever since, the U.S. Army has gone confidently into battle, knowing that when cows attack, their men will be ready.” (p. 134)

“He is telling me about the pine beetle epidemic in the area.  I point to a stand of dead conifers in the woods a quarter mile back behind the target.  ‘Like over there?’  Scottie says no.  He says they died of bullet wounds, something I never knew pine trees could do.” (p.140-141)

I highly recommend this book to adult readers who are not overly offended (or disgusted) by a frank discussion about the human body after death.  You will be utterly fascinated by this book.

If you’ve already read Stiff, please let me know what you thought of it!

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time,

Lori

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Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent

Heaven for Real

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This is the first Friends & Family Top Picks – Reading Challenge book that I read.  (See my previous post to figure out what the heck I’m talking about.)  I remembered reading Heaven is for Real in the past, but I didn’t recall details well enough to do a thorough review.  I’m glad that I got the chance to read it again because it’s such an amazing story.  (If you don’t want the story spoiled, stop reading now.)

In a nutshell, this story is about a young boy who has memories of going to heaven and returning in a near death experience.  At the time, Colton was not quite four years old, and had started complaining about stomach pain.  His parents thought it was the stomach flu and because of a doctor’s faulty diagnosis, failed to get their son the medical treatment that he needed for a ruptured appendix.  This poor little guy ended up having poison pumping into his body for five days before being treated, at which point the doctors had no hope for a recovery.  Miraculously, Colton did survive!

Over an extended time period, Colton shared memories and information with his family which were quite startling.  He described Jesus, heaven, the Holy Spirit, told about meeting deceased family members, and was adamant about sharing God’s love with people.  Over time the many pieces of the puzzle came together for Colton’s parents and they realized that he was describing some type of out of body, heavenly experience.  They finally came to accept that what their son was describing had actually happened–he had actually gone to heaven.  This book is their attempt at sharing that testimony with others.

Personally, I was edified by the story.  I really like hearing about how others are trying to follow God’s path and the lessons they have learned along the way.  I also appreciate a good book that explores the themes of death and loss.  My sister died fourteen years ago and I still find healing by learning about how other people have dealt with loss.

Anyhow, Colton’s claims and descriptions don’t set off any alarm bells in my head, as far as squaring up with Scripture.  I’m not arguing that I absolutely believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that this really happened to him, but I’m open to entertaining the idea.  I don’t ask you to believe it, only to consider the idea and judge for yourself.

If you’re a Christian, you will probably enjoy this book and appreciate its sentiments.  If you’re open-minded, you will likely enjoy reading about this family’s story.  If anything Christian makes you a bit sick to your stomach, this is probably not the book for you.

Rating: 3 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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