Showing posts with label memoir. Show all posts
Showing posts with label memoir. Show all posts

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Chasing My Cure - Book Review

Read the Five-Star Reviews
When I first began to read Chasing My Cure by David Fajgenbaum, the proverb that came to mind as an alternate title was Physician, Heal Thyself.  Though it may have been apt with regard to his early love life, and perhaps some of the medical establishment he encountered, I certainly have nothing but respect for the author, and compassion for what he and his family have lived through.

Fajgenbaum was still reeling from the death of his mother to an aggressive brain cancer when he began to experience mysterious flu-like symptoms.  At first, he ascribed the overwhelming fatigue to the stresses of medical school and tried to power through it to complete his rotations and exams.  When his condition rapidly deteriorated, landing him in a hospital's emergency department, the early indications and tests pointed to Lymphoma cancer.

While that diagnosis would have been a severe blow, the real blow was yet to come.  There would be no quick identification of Fajgenbaum's mystery illness.  With all of his major organs shutting down, death seemed imminent.

As a doctor in training, the author wasn't ready to give up hope.  He kept noticing details of his extreme illness that others did not recognize as significant.  One of Fajgenbaum's strengths was a laser-like focus born of what others deemed a disability (the hyperfocus variant of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder).  When he got hold of something that captured his attention, Fajgenbaum did not let go.  In this case, that would be his eventual salvation.

After several weeks of multiple near-death experiences and debilitating pain, and after insisting on a lymph node biopsy, Fajgenbaum finally received his diagnosis: Castleman Disease.  In nearly every respect, this medical sentence was much worse than the initial fears raised by a potential cancer diagnosis.  Knowing what he was fighting did not make this an easy or fair fight.

To read Chasing My Cure, is to obtain an intimate glimpse into the world of living tenuously day to day.  It will take you into the often perplexing universe of attempting to find a cure for a relentless, ruthless, incredibly complex disease.  You will meet people of heart and courage who invoke a brand of hope that is invincible—and just as relentless as the enemy.

Fajgenbaum has not only had to fight the ultimate foe within his body.  Equally daunting has been his mission to revolutionize the medical research field and to convince others that it takes a whole different approach when chasing down a cure for Castleman Disease.  Attempting to change the deeply seated ways in which institutions, corporations, physicians, and researchers operate has been essential to this enterprise.  To create this kind of change will be as critical as solving the mystery of the disease, for systems are often as much in need of cures as are the people they serve.

I encourage you to read this inspirational memoir of how hope, faith, and love accompany Fajgenbaum on his ultimate journey of discovery.  This recently published book is consistently receiving five-star ratings.  I believe that is so because this is much more than a story.  It is a call to each of us to act on the kind of invincible hope that makes a true difference for others.









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Thursday, June 6, 2019

Deep Creek - Book Review

Deep Creek by Pam Houston
Terrifying splendor.  Wonder nested in grief.  Reconciling grief and hope.  Traveling the world over to discover the real adventure awaits you at home.  Creating a life in the midst of a thousand departures.  Savoring the one thousand arrivals that bring you to you—to your home of homes.  This is Deep Creek.

In Deep Creek, Finding Hope in the High Country, author, teacher, ranching greenhorn, and survivor, Pam Houston, takes us inside the paradox of becoming.  Though we may initially think the genesis of this homecoming odyssey is Houston's purchase of a dream ranch and homestead in the Colorado Rockies, the larger revelation, as unveiled through linked essays, is how her connections to nature, animals, trauma, and eventual healing come together in perfectly imperfect ways to build a life filled with gratitude and wonder.

This is a memoir that finds its essence in those spaces where two disparate elements are held together.  For instance, while the West Fork wildfire is threatening to destroy Houston's beloved ranch, she is able to stand amazed at the extreme beauty of the raging firestorm.  There is a breathtaking awe to be felt in the face of the fury that might destroy everything you own.  This capacity of the author to appreciate the splendor of potential devastation turns something bleak into something transformative.

Likewise, while Houston explores the grief associated with climate change, she simultaneously urges us to sing the song that is the language of wilderness and to feel a certain joy within the mourning.   In this manner, one may begin to reconcile grief and hope.

Besides these themes, there is more to appreciate while reading Deep Creek.  If you love animals, there are horses, mini donkeys, Icelandic sheep, Irish wolfhounds, and chickens.  And then there is the glory of Colorado's San Juan Mountains and the Upper Rio Grande Basin.  For those who dream of living on their very own piece of land, there is plenty to stoke that fantasy.

I was drawn to Deep Creek for many reasons.  As one who lives in Colorado's San Luis Valley, I have  been to the places shared by the author.  To experience them through another's perspective, makes those places come alive in a new way.  Houston's affection for her animals also resonates deeply with me.  To read of how the land has been so significant in her becoming who she is today, reinforces my own connections to this place that is growing me into the fullness of my own being.

If you need any more reasons to read this book, read it because the writing is compelling.  Read it because the author is an enigma.  Read it to contemplate how you become who you are in relationship to what matters to you.  Read it to celebrate the life that emerges when you dare to dance with paradox.














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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Dog Medicine - How My Dog Saved Me From Myself - Book Review

Dog Medicine - How My Dog Saved Me From Myself - Book Review
Dog Medicine by Julie Barton
Most of us have so much going on in our own lives that we seriously question reading a book that will immerse us in someone else's unrelenting anguish.  Why would we want to do that?  We already know from reading the reviews that Dog Medicine is going to make us cry.  When reviews use words like raw and brutal honesty, we know we are in for a read that will demand something from us.

Perhaps that is the point.  Could it be that the demanding, heart-wrenching accounts most grow our humanity, our compassion, and our capacity to connect with others in the ways that are most authentic and useful?  In a genre overflowing with I-was-saved-by-my-dog books, what does it take to transcend it — the genre and what cynics would say is the same old, same old story?

Well, here's the thing: this story matters because Julie Barton and Bunker matter.  Without Bunker, the author's Golden retriever puppy, Julie would surely not have lived to write this book.  And this book needed to be written just as much as we all need to read it.

When initial therapies failed to lift Barton out of the deep, dark depression unleashed by long-term childhood trauma, it took the powerful medicine of Bunker—his unfailing solace—to bring Julie back from the brink.

It is in how the author captures the first glimmers of healing that this book soars.
Perhaps what began to save me was that I started creating this sacred, safe space where he and I met.  In this space, there was no ridicule.  There was no doubt or loneliness.  There was no sorrow or anger.  It was just pure, beautiful being.  It was looking at the world with wide-eyed, forever hopeful puppy wonder.
Could it be that we share in vicarious healing in reading about the transformation brought about by the kind of love that can only be known in relationship with a dog that has chosen his human?  Ultimately, I chose this book because I cherish my animal relationships and the healing they bring me.  I deeply related to the purpose Barton found in caring for a dog with special medical needs.  When Julie's broken psyche bound up Bunker's broken body, the result was a unified whole that the two of them could not have found by any other means.  We are all broken in ways that call for us to find our healing in offering up the gift of compassion... in being the sacred space needed by another.

Given my recent launch as a therapy dog team member, I found inspiration in knowing that, like Julie, the good medicine in my life, in the form of my dog Finn, will make itself manifest in the lives of those who enter the sacred space he and I share.  For what is the sacred, if it is not that which exists to bless others?

It is my hope that Julie and Bunker's story will bless you in whatever way you most need at this point in time.  I will close here with a reviewer's blurb that I found compelling when deciding whether or not to read Dog Medicine:
Read it for the voice, read it to savor the power of love, read it to enjoy an inspiring, hopeful story, read it to learn about healing, read it if you're depressed and want to get better, read it if you're happy and want to stay there.  Whatever else you do, read it.  ~Peter Gibb
Yes.  Read it and savor the power of love.




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Monday, August 13, 2018

I Can Only Imagine - Movie Review

The Bart Millard story.
I Can Only Imagine is a movie that was recommended to me by one of the young people I work with. That speaks volumes alone. If one of my work children tells me that a movie meant something to them, I watch it as soon as possible. And I'm here to tell you that you should consider watching it as soon as possible. This is a movie about pain, abuse, life, choices, anger, and eventual forgiveness.

I Can Only Imagine is a movie based on the life of Bart Millard; his abusive father, runaway mother, his hopes and dreams, and the anger that he can't release.


I Can Only Imagine The Movie


Bart Millard is growing up in a rural area. His father is abusive to both Bart and his mother. The abuse is both physical and verbal. Mr. Millard shames his son during what seems like every waking moment - pushing him to follow in his high-school-star football footsteps.

I ache from the irony of an abusive parent pushing a child to be like them.

Mrs. Millard drops Bart off at camp, which becomes the best week of his life. Only to return to find that she has left the family. Leaving Bart to learn to navigate living with his father on his own.

Bart attempts to become a football star too. He outgrows his dad physically. But is still finding his own way as an emerging adult. We hope that he outgrows his dad emotionally. But he waivers and also begins to hurt the ones he loves. 
The Very Best of MercyMe album

Clearly, he eventually finds his way and it leads to the record hit crossover song I Can Only Imagine by the group MercyMe. 

The messages of the story (and song) are far greater than the number of records and movie tickets sold. It is a powerful story of those who struggle, of real relationships, and how to find your way.

Cast: J.Micheal Finley, Dennis Quaid, Trace Adkins, Madeline Carroll, Cloris Leachman and more. 



My Personal Take


This is a Christian movie. Should that keep you away from watching it if that's not "your thing"? No. A resounding no. I probably would best be categorized by others as a non-believer. This movie is full of real human experiences. And how to be a better person. Don't limit yourself based on genre.

This is a movie about redemption.

Redemption:
  • the action of saving or of being saved from sin, evil, or error
  • the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt

Which of us don't have debts (the relational debts that are a part of being human) that need to be cleared? 

There are lessons in his story. And one of those lessons are that what we experience as children can be the baggage we carry with us for the remainder of our lives - impacting us in ways we don't want to be impacted.

There are no eloquent tel-prompter type monologues. The conversations are simple and real. Too simple according to some negative reviews. I did not share that opinion. 

In my opinion, people of the Christian faith and things related to that faith are currently the victims of the bullies. I truly believe some of the negative reviews online are based on the reviewer's personal feelings about faith rather than on the movie itself. And interestingly enough, seem to parrot what mean Mr. Millard would have said.

This may not be your cup of tea. That's okay. It definitely touched me. And at least one young person I know, who liked it enough to recommend it. My only complaint is that it wasn't long enough. I wanted more. More details about the journey.

Good thing there is a published memoir by Bart Millard. I'm ordering it today.


The Movie on Amazon





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Monday, March 26, 2018

No Fourth River Book Review

No Fourth River book review.
I just finished reading No Fourth River by Christine Clayfield. As soon as I read the final word, I turned to my laptop to begin writing this review. Christine has shared her life with us - from her very painful beginnings to the moment she took control of her own life and beyond. She shows us how she created safety, happiness, love, and success and assures us that we can do the same. 

Christine was born into a family in which her father's parenting style was over-the-top abusive. At the tender age of 5 (just old enough for kindergarten in the US), she was sent to a boarding school with nuns who not only shamed and tormented Christine but encouraged the other students to do the same. So it is no surprise that Christine turned to sex and alcohol as a teen. Then things turned really bad. 


No Fourth River by Christine Clayfield


Set in Belgium and the UK, Christine describes her life from age 5 to 58. She describes how the actions and inaction of others leave scars - physical and emotional. 


No Fourth River's Cast of Characters



Christine's Father - Christine's father is a wealthy businessman and well-known in their village. We are given the impression that he's ruthless in business and clearly he's ruthless in his expectations for his wife and children. 

Christine's Mother - Christine's mother conspires with the children to have happier times, to hide some things from their father, and provide for their material needs. And yet she is unable or unwilling to stop the abuse.


"Mum regularly got the worst of my father, and she never seemed to be able to please him for long, although she never gave up trying"
"I remember my mother telling me once, in later life, that she stayed in the relationship because of my father's money."

Christine's Brothers - Of the 5 children in the family, all are boys except Christine. The children take their roles in the family. Kane takes the role of being most able to meet dad's expectations and avoids some of the physical punishments. However, it is clear that even he has not escaped unscathed.

Christine's Husband - After Christine leaves home and is living independently, yet constantly in the realm of poor choices, she marries her 1st husband.  During that marriage she is nearly murdered. She decides "enough is enough". Christine finds her voice, and the trajectory of her life changes. 

Shame & Doubt - Shame and Doubt are so tangible in this story that it as though they become part of the list of main characters. Humans make decisions, usually horrible decisions, based on Shame and Doubt. Christine was not immune to this. Through the story she describes how shame and self-doubt initially controlled her but then how she learned to take control of herself and her life - relegating shame and doubt to the shadows. 

Well-meaning friends and miscellaneous onlookers - I have learned in my experiences at work and in life that it often seems easier to take the physical abuse from the abuser than the hurtful things they say. And sometimes, even more hurtful, are the reactions (real or imagined) of friends or onlookers.


"I felt their eyes on me and their pity and anger. It felt terrible to be so exposed like this, for people to see how my husband treated me."

There are many other very important characters in this story, but I don't want to risk any spoilers. I want you to discover these important people naturally as the story unfolds. To learn how Christine finds her true self and not only survives but launches into a life of her creation.



This book begins with the harsh realities of child abuse, teen rebellion, and domestic violence. The subject matter is TOUGH. There are no gratuitously violent scenes in the book. However, there are many violent scenes described. I felt nothing was told in a shocking manner just for the shock value and to sell the story. But the truth of this subject matter cannot be told without exposing the cruelty that occurs when people choose to abuse. The lessons can't be learned without honesty - even if that honesty is what nightmares are sometimes made of.

Christine Clayton describes the transition from the abuse and turmoil to her life as a happily married wife, successful business woman, public speaker and advocate. She ends the book with an afterword that includes some of her philosophy, why she doesn't blame her abusers, the reality of some of her health issues as a result of the abuse, and 12 valuable messages meant to help others.

Christine writes: 
"If I can change one person's life who will read this book, I will have achieved my goal. I have shared my life experiences and hope to make a difference in someone else's life" 

Having worked in the field of social work for over 20 years, I am quite sure that her story, her style of telling it, and her sharing of the lessons learned will help many people in a variety of ways. I highly recommend No Fourth River. This is the most important story I've read in quite some time.


Note: I received a copy of this book from the author for review. However, all comments are mine and based on my honest reaction to the book.


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Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Glass Castle: A Memoir - Book Review

The Glass Castle:  A Memoir - Book Review
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Some things just speak for themselves.  That Jeannette Walls' memoir, The Glass Castle, has been on the New York Times Best Seller List for seven years is one of those things.  Obviously, I am not the only reader who has found this book to be extraordinary.

The Glass Castle, in short and yet potent vignettes, reveals what has to be the most bizarre childhood of all time.  Born to an artist and a dreamer, Jeannette and her three siblings find themselves living the barest of subsistence lifestyles.  A good day is one on which they are feasting on green grapes and stardust.

On the move constantly, their lives are an alchemy of famine, fire, fleeing (doing the skedaddle), fairytales, and far-off fortune.  One day, their father promises, just as soon as he perfects his invention, The Prospector, and finds gold, he is going to build them a glass castle in the desert.  While Rex chases his elusive dreams, and their mother, Rose Mary, loses herself in her art, the children are left to fend for themselves.

What is it that makes this collection of stories so compelling?  I asked myself this question over and over again as I began to draft this review.  I mean, there are plenty of memoirs about dysfunctional families out there.  What would make any of us want to immerse ourselves in another family's dysfunction?  Don't we have enough of our own?

One reviewer surmised that it could be the same human nature that makes people slow down and gawk at a wreck that draws one into this memoir.  Perhaps we can't help but stare at the scene of an accident.

Here's what I think.  It is the fending the children did, and the odd ties that bind a family together, that make for compelling reading.  I just had to stay by the side of Jeannette, Lori, Brian, and Maureen as they figured out how to survive each disaster.  I just had to know how they moved beyond the kind of upbringing that would scar most children for life.

This is the kind of book that puts things in perspective for anyone who previously thought he or she had a tough childhood.  It is also a memoir that reminds us of the amazing resilience of children.  Thank heavens for that.  I have a favorite quotation from the book that pretty much sums up the beauty of this memoir:
One time I saw a tiny Joshua tree sapling growing not too far from the old tree.  I wanted to dig it up and replant it near our house.  I told Mom that I would protect it from the wind and water it every day so that it could grow nice and tall and straight.  Mom frowned at me.  'You'd be destroying what makes it special,' she said.  'It's the Joshua tree's struggle that gives it its beauty.'
May you be reminded, in a healing way, of what has made you beautiful as you enter into this walk on the painful side of childhood.  Here's to coming out on the other side.









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Monday, August 21, 2017

Half-Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls

Half Broke Horses; A True-Life Novel
Welcome to the book review of Half-Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls. The thing is, I haven't completed the book, so can I really consider this a review?  I'm not sure. What I am sure about, this is one of those stories that is painted so vividly that you don't want to put the book down. It is one of those stories that as soon as you begin, you want to start asking folks if they've read this book. And if they say no, you want to tell them to start. That's what this book review is about. To encourage you to sit down and meet Lily Casey Smith.


Why I Chose Half-Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel 


I have a long list of books that are yet unread in my Kindle. There are so many books and so little free time. So why would I add yet another book to that list?  What would cause me to start a book that I hadn't even considered previously?

I was in the process of packing for my most recent camping trip and there was a commercial on the television about a soon-to-be-released movie titled The Glass Castle. The commercial went on describing the movie that is based on the best selling book by Jeannette Walls and so on and so forth.  So I stopped what I was doing an did a quick internet search to find out what all the hub-bub was about.

The Glass Castle: A Memoir is written by Jeannette Walls and has been "more than seven years on the New York Times Best Seller list". Some of my favorite books have never been, to my knowledge, on the New York Times best seller list. So that information does not guarantee that I'll purchase the book. I read the Amazon reviews and considered. Unfortunately, I really don't care for spending over $10 for a digital copy of a book so I did not click the "buy now" button.

However, I went on to look at the other books Ms. Walls had written. Half-Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel is advertised as "Laura Ingalls for adults" and that appealed to me. I read the "look inside" excerpt and was hooked. 

This story is about Ms. Walls' grandmother's life. The life of Lily Casey Smith. Ms. Lily began in Texas. Helping to break horses and raise her siblings. Flash floods, broken bones, and tornadoes were not unexpected parts of her children. Her father, gimpy, with a speech impediment, and a quick temper depended on her to help on the ranch. Her mother, a delicate and proper woman who was prone to fainting spells. Likely due to the tightness of her corset.  As Lily became older (a whopping 15 years old), she left the nest by teaching in frontier towns over 500 miles away from home. She filled the teacher vacancies the war created at these small town schools. However, the war ended and the teachers returned. Ms. Lily was forced to return home. 

As I said, I'm only halfway through the book and after her teaching stint, I've accompanied Ms. Lily to Chicago, have witnessed the impact of the growing ownership of cars by the public, and have seen her struggle with her mother's constant warnings of becoming a spinster. However, I believe that particular disaster is about to be avoided. Honestly this time. And just as she seems to be falling in love with a decent man, I understand that the Great Depression is looming on the horizon. I am anxious to witness how Ms. Lily navigates this true disaster.

I am glad to be reading the story of Lily Casey Smith before considering reading the memoir of Ms. Walls' life. I am also very glad to be reading this before watching the movie. If you think you'd enjoy a not-so-sweet adult version of Little House on the Prairie, you ought to take a peek at Half-Broke Horses. Not that I'm speaking poorly of the Little House series. I was a huge fan. But where Nellie was the anomaly, it seems the Nellie-like characters are the norm in Ms. Lily's life. 


selections available on Amazon

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The contributors on Review This! love to read. We enjoy a wide variety of genres. For the complete list of our book reviews click the site directory here.

The last book (series) I read that grabbed my attention and imagination like this was the Refined By Love series by Judith Miller. I could not put those books down! Rather than doze off after a chapter or two, I stayed awake, neglect housework, and devoured the three books in the series. For more details, see the review of The Brickmaker's Bride which is the first in that series.



I seem to currently be in the mood for stories of a certain time period in the earlier history of the United States. If you prefer more current memoirs and/or heartfelt stories involving dogs, check out Renaissance Woman's book review of Will's Red Coat. This is definitely one of those books on my to-read list, as soon as I come out of this historical mode. 






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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Book Review of Will's Red Coat by Tom Ryan

Will's Red Coat by Tom Ryan
What would happen today if we gave ourselves over, wholeheartedly, to a hurting soul?  What if we could let go of all expectations and simply concentrate on pure giving?  Tom Ryan, author of Will's Red Coat, lived the transformational answer to these questions when he responded to a Facebook post about a soul in desperate need.  Little did Ryan know at the time how that seemingly straightforward act of kindness would dramatically change him and forever alter the course of his life.

On the surface, this book would appear to be yet another memoir of a man and his dog.  Oh, but this is so much more than that.  There is a man, yes -- Ryan, the New York Times bestselling author of Following Atticus.  And there is a dog -- a deaf, mostly blind, senior dog that is raging against the dying light.  But this is not your typical rescue story of human saves animal, or animal saves his person.

This is a story of finding the life you have always wanted, and needed, by submitting to that which you would never have knowingly chosen.  Up front, Ryan thought he was providing a temporary last home for a dog that was expected to live only a very short time.  In essence, it was a hospice situation.  Ryan was offering Will a place, and space, to die with dignity.

Things are never this simple, though, are they?  This weak, angry dog wasn't ready to die without a fight, without experiencing the underlying beauty that is so easy to miss in life.  The heart of this book is how two souls, Tom and Will, became the beauty they were each seeking.

As an animal welfare volunteer who deals with abandoned, forgotten souls on a daily basis, I found myself deeply moved by the profound truths of this poignant story.  The truths you will discover when you read this book are these:
"It's never too late to trust again, to love or be loved again; and it's never too late to live again."  ~ Will's Wisdom
 Yes, this book will make you cry, but the tears will be joyous and healing.  They will be a celebration of the triumph of a life lived in full.  I found this book to be an incredibly beautiful tribute to what happens when you become who you were always meant to be.





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