Monthly Archives: May 2013

Until I Say Goodbye: My Year of Living With Joy by Susan Spencer-Wendel and Bret Witter

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“We are born alone and die alone, but all my favorite moments of life had been spent with someone else.” –Susan Spencer-Wendel

Until-I-Say-Goodbye_custom-234c902cc18a9db2bd48b9c9f4f7aa29af7856b7-s6-c10I have had this book sitting on my Kindle waiting to be reviewed for a long time now. I can’t quite figure out how to explain to you that you should read it. Because you will love it. Because you will be challenged by it. Because you will see that it is possible to live with joy. In any circumstance.

In 2011, Susan Spencer-Wendel is diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She knows that this diagnosis means a loss of her career, her mobility, her freedom, and ultimately her life. And her life is not simply the breath in her lungs, it is also a husband and children, friends and family. Once she receives this diagnosis, she decides to live these last days fully. To give her children and her husband memories to help them through the hard days ahead. She says this, “I thought of my new uncertainty: How long can I live with ALS? I thought, ‘Don’t search for answers. Live the question.’ Enjoy life more because of the uncertainty, not less.” She takes trips with her children, and her husband, and her best friend Nancy. She lives her life while she still can. And when she is incapable of the outward, physical side of life, these same people step in and perform each and every task for her.

I remember describing Until I Say Goodbye: My Year of Living with Joy to someone while I was reading it. I started crying, and I know they were thinking, “Why are you reading that book if it’s so sad?” But the thing is, it’s not sad while you’re reading it. It really is filled with joy. Somehow, Susan manages to truly live with joy. She pulls her mind out of the funk as often as she has to and reminds herself of the joy to be found. And in doing so, she will remind you too. The story is sad. But the telling is incredible. It offers hope. Susan reminds us to live our own lives no matter what the circumstances. To love your children and husband with everything you’ve got.

I’ll leave you with this thought of Susan’s. It may show you a little bit of why I enjoyed this book so much.

“I said I felt like the luckiest person in the world.

And I did.

I might have been dying, but that night- on that terrace, after that meal, with those people- I was experiencing the full wonder of life.

I had arrived a stranger, but I was leaving with a new family.

I was unafraid.

Fearless.”

Every Day by David Levithan

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“There is a part of childhood that is childish, and a part that is sacred. Suddenly we are touching the sacred part- running to the shoreline, feeling the first cold burst of water on our ankles, reaching into the tide to catch at shells before they ebb away from our fingers. We have returned to a world that is capable of glistening, and we are wading deeper within it. We stretch our arms wide, as if we are embracing the wind. She splashes me mischievously and I mount a counterattack. Our pants, our shirts get wet, but we don’t care.”

David Levithan

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Every Day had so many great word pictures like this one. So many times, I was caught in the illustrations. The main character had such an appreciation for life. Enjoying details and nuances that so often go unnoticed. The premise of the book is that of someone who wakes each morning in a different body. Never the same one twice. Each morning it must be determined if the body is male or female, kind or unkind, healthy or not. Parents, friends, situations, locations all change daily. Nothing remains the same outside of the mind. Until the day that Rhiannon walks up to him. Suddenly, he wants to be with someone for more than one day. So we follow the adjustments necessary to know and be known by one who inhabits a different reality every day.

There was so much that I enjoyed about this book. It was unknown. I couldn’t figure out how the author would make it all work out in the end. I was intrigued. But, always accompanying my enjoyment was the social commentary that was a huge theme throughout the book. I’m not a fan of being convinced of things in fiction. I know where to find sermons- in churches. I know where to find lectures- in college. That’s not what I’m looking for in a novel. If I could know that his other books were less about changing the way I see the world around me, and more about telling a story in that voice of his that I enjoyed so well, I would read everything written by David Levithan. As it stands now, though, I don’t think I will.

Whisper My Secret by JB Rowley

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imagesAs a little girl, JB Rowley found a tin with three papers in it. They were birth certificates with names she had never heard before. When she asked her mother about it, the question was deflected and ignored. This was her first hint that her mother had a family before she and her siblings were born. After her mother passed away, the author decided to find out the truth of what really happened all those years ago. This is the story of what she found.

Her mother Myrtle, finds herself pregnant out of wedlock. Myrlte’s mother marches her over to the father’s house and demands that they get married. Unfortunately, the father, Henry is not interested in getting married and his mother is furious that Myrtle traps him in a marriage that she deems beneath him. This is not the basis for a loving marriage, but they have a go at it anyway. After three children, Henry decides that he’d like to try marriage with someone else. And his mother decrees that he will take the children along with him. With the family’s wealth, and connections, the legal battle is over before Myrtle is even aware of it, and the children are forcibly removed from her custody. She later meets a man named George who is kind, and loves her for who she is. They proceed to have the family that the author is a part of.

At one point near the beginning of the book, the author says this, “And it was always true that I could not keep a secret. Often when my loose tongue led me to betray a confidence she had shared with me my mother would put her finger to her lips and say, ‘Shhh. That’s a secret.’ Then seeing the mortified look on my face she would smile and say, ‘It’s all right. It’s not really telling if you whisper. You can whisper my secret.’ This is where the title of the book comes from (obviously) and appropriately so. The book is not loud and obnoxious as it could very easily be. It’s not overpowering with excuses for her mother’s behavior. It’s not a whiny tome about the unfairness of life. It’s just a quiet explanation of a string of events. One story, told about many women doing what they think is best for their families, within the lives that they have been given.

Locked up in La Mesa by Eldon Asp and Steve Peterson

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book-cover-large“My name is Steve Peterson, and in 1974 I was sentenced to four and a half years inside of the worst prison in Mexico- which is saying something, because Mexican prisons are pretty bad. It’s gonna seem hard to believe at times, but everything in this book really happened, most of it exactly the way I describe it (although I have combined a few characters and events here and there to make it flow a little smoother.)”

“In all other respects these stories are true, as crazy as they might sound. I lived through them, and after all this time I finally feel like I’m ready to share them with others. So imagine you just sat down on the next bar stool over, and I’ll get started…” Steve Peterson

I’m not exactly sure what drew me to this book. True stories of prison life are not typically something I would pick up, but whatever it was that drew me did not steer me wrong, and I found this book to be fascinating.

This guy Steve decides that he’s going to smuggle some marijuana across the Mexican/American border. Unfortunately, he and his buddies get caught in the act. I love what he says as he’s thinking back on his planning: “It didn’t seem like that big a deal because in those days pot was everywhere and like I said, I knew it was illegal but I didn’t believe that was right. (For some reason that seemed like a sensible thing to factor in at the time, the unfairness of the law. I look at it now and it’s like, who cares if it should have been illegal or not, it was illegal, and that should have been the end of the story right there. Well, whatever.)” He’s so right, and so many people justify what they are doing by what they believe to be right or true. The thing is, you must follow the laws and rules of the land you are in. Once they are in jail, awaiting trial, which I’m not sure actually ever happened, Steve recognises that his friends are not coping well and signs a form stating that he doesn’t know them and he was the only one carrying drugs over the border. His accomplices are released and Steve prepares his mind for survival.

The book then continues with story after story of life in La Mesa prison. Some stories have you laughing. As you see these situations through Steve’s eyes, his humor and amazement pull you in so you want to read more. Some stories are so over the top unbelievable that you think you’d like to see it with your own eyes. And just when you begin to feel that it’s simply a foreign land that he is in, he reminds you that it is prison, and it is awful, and it is frightening and dangerous.

I’ll leave you with Steve’s final thoughts.

“I still think about La Mesa almost every day. I remember the scary times and the good times, the friends I made and the terrible things I saw. It was years before I could sleep through the night without waking up screaming from awful nightmares of the walls closing in on me, crushing me in a little box. But even with all that, I can’t say I look back on that year with regret. Not entirely. It was a challenge, no question, but I got to experience a world that most people can never imagine and I survived it. In that sense, I feel fortunate; not many people can say that. And if nothing else, I came away with some pretty cool stories to tell.”

From Notting Hill with Love Actually by Ali McNamara

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notting-hill-love-actually“There’s something very comforting about watching a Hugh Grant movie. You know no one’s head will be blown off in the first three minutes, no one will be tortured, and the worst thing that might happen is seeing a lanky Welshman eating mayonnaise in his underpants.” Ali McNamara

How can you not enjoy a book with thoughts like this? “From Notting Hill with Love Actually” was such a fun read. It is all about Scarlett, a young girl, (ok early 20’s is not necessarily a girl anymore, but the older I get, the younger 23 seems) who loves the movies. Especially any movie starring Hugh Grant. She’s a romantic at heart and wishes her life were more like a romantic comedy. So, she sets off to prove to everybody that romantic and fun coincidences happen every day in real life, just like they do in the movies. She ends up with a house sitting gig in Notting Hill and that’s where her adventures begin.

The book has a fun cast of characters. As you read, you feel as though you are transported onto a big screen… and while Hugh Grant may not actually be in your movie, you fully expect him to waltz into the room at any moment. It’s easy to picture each character and setting because they are all filtered through Scarlett’s movie obsessed brain. Whenever a new person is introduced, they seem vaguely familiar. Like a friend you once knew who has drifted out of your life, but still fits perfectly in your day to day existence.

If, like me, you enjoy an afternoon watching dry british humor mixed with a romantic story, then pick this guy up. You’re going to love it.

If, however, you didn’t actually realize that there are two movies contained in the title of this book, or if Hugh Grant sends shivers (in a bad way) up your spine, then maybe give this one a pass.