Saturday, June 23, 2012

Heaven is Here

Heaven Is Here: An Incredible Story of Hope, Triumph, and Everyday JoyHeaven Is Here: An Incredible Story of Hope, Triumph, and Everyday Joy by Stephanie Nielson
Source: Borrowed from my aunt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was not familiar with Stephanie's story or her blog before reading this memoir. My aunt had read it first and lent it to me along with a high recommendation. I didn't get to it right away, but every time I saw her, she'd ask me if I had read it yet. After answering "no" at least two or three times, I decided it was about time to get started.

It's not that I didn't want to read it, I knew it would be an interesting and inspiring story, but I was a little hesitant because I knew it was very religiously oriented. Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly a believer, it's just that I've been a bit disillusioned with organized religion for various reasons I won't bore you with here. But, regardless of my own feelings about religion, I truly admire Stephanie's faith and commitment to her beliefs and after reading her story, I believe they played a major role in her survival of such unimaginable pain and suffering.

While the book is mainly about the plane crash that almost took the lives of Stephanie and her husband Christian, the first third of the book is basically their real-life love story. The reader is introduced to this happy young couple and follows them through their courtship, marriage, and the births of their first four children. I didn't really expect this part of the story, but it was fascinating to read about their "before" life, especially since it reflected a lot of the Mormon culture I'm not all that familiar with. It was also good to have the beginning of their story in the back of my mind as I was reading about their struggle to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the accident.

Though it could be read as simply a testament to faith, religion, and God's love (which it most certainly is), what resonated even more with me were the human relationships. This book is just chock-full of love. Parents, siblings, children, spouses, and friends -- the support network Stephanie and Christian have is truly amazing and the love they have for each other is remarkably strong and touchingly beautiful. I can't even imagine what these two people suffered, but I don't think they could have done it without the love of their families and their love for each other. This is truly the story of "for better or worse, in sickness and in health" and it is amazing to see what they were able to overcome together.

The book's dedication has a line for each of Stephanie's children. While all of her children are memorable in their own ways, I'll never forget little Ollie. Her line to him is "For Ollie, who never cared."  That little boy has a special place in my heart. Of all her children, Oliver was at an age where he was old enough to understand, but young enough to not be frightened or judgmental of his mother's disability or appearance -- she was still just his Mom. We all could learn a lot from little Ollie as well as from the entire Neilson family. Even if you don't normally read memoirs, or if you think a book like this would be too difficult or depressing, trust me, it's worth the read.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Before I Die

Before I DieBefore I Die by Jenny Downham
Source: Purchased
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a coming-of-age story about a 16 year old girl dying of leukemia. Tessa has been battling the disease for four years and this book starts toward the end of her treatments. It's come to the point where modern medicine can't do much more to help her. So, Tessa decides to take control of the things in her life that she still has some power over and makes a list of all the things she wants to do before she dies. Tessa ends up doing some crazy things she probably never would have done if she wasn't dying, but she purposely chooses things that make her feel alive.

She doesn't intend to put "fall in love" on her list, but it happens anyway. Her first and only real relationship is heart-breakingly beautiful. More so, because it is something she never thought she would get the chance to experience. I've read some reviews of this book that say Tessa isn't a like-able character or that she doesn't deserve the person she falls in love with. Personally, I couldn't disagree more. This book is raw and it is real. It portrays a girl, her family, her friends, and her boyfriend dealing with an impossible situation. NO ONE really knows how they would act if they were 16 and dying unless, heaven forbid, they are in just that same situation. People don't suddenly act all perfect because they have a terminal illness. What 16 year old do you know who is perfect? What person at all do you know who is perfect? People aren't perfect because life is hard and I'd imagine it's even harder when you are dying.

As depressing as this all sounds, this book will truly make you grateful to be alive and really make you want to LIVE your life. It makes you want to take advantage of all life has to offer, every single day you are lucky enough to open your eyes in the morning. But, as life-affirming as this book is, it is obviously also horrendously sad. It takes a LOT for a book to make me cry and this one did it for sure. Just try to read Tessa's letter to her Dad and you too will be a goner. It wasn't exactly fun to be bawling late into the night finishing this book, but I think it's a mark of an excellent writer to elicit that kind of an emotional response from me. Jenny Downham writes about a difficult subject with clarity and heart. She makes you think and more than that, she makes you feel. I really can't ask for anything more in a book.

I Suck at Girls

I Suck at GirlsI Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern
Source: Purchased from
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was another audio book I listened to in the car with my husband. It wasn't *quite* as funny as Sh*t My Dad Says, but we still really enjoyed listening to it. It's more of a narrative with really funny parts, rather than the string of hilarious anecdotes the prior book was.

In this installment, Justin traces his romantic history all the way from childhood to marriage proposal. Not surprisingly, Justin's Dad is still the star (in my opinion anyway) as he has quite a lot to say about women and romance.

If you liked Sh*t My Dad Says, you definitely need to read this book. If you never read Sh*t My Dad Says, read it NOW, then check out this sequel. If you are Justin Halpern, please keep writing so I can keep buying your books. If you are Justin's Dad, you are hilarious and I love you.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Sh*t My Dad Says

Sh*t My Dad SaysSh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
Source: Purchased from
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My husband and I listened to this on audiobook in the car and I'm eternally grateful that we did not get in a accident -- it's just that funny. Justin's Dad has something to say about just about every topic you can think of and it's all hilarious. The man has no filter -- he cuts to the chase, tells it like it is, says what he thinks, and really likes the word sh*t (and bullsh*t). If that kind of thing bothers you (Mom, I'm talking to you), you probably should pass on this one. If you prefer your humor with a sprinkling of colorful language, you MUST read or listen to this book. It's hands down the most entertaining memoir I've ever read.

The Lucky One

The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks
Source: Purchased
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let's face it, Nicholas Sparks books will never win any high-brow literary awards, but that is not the reason I read them. This book is exactly what you expect it to be -- a light, feel-good read. There's a secret, a warm and fuzzy romance, an evil ex-husband, a lovable kid, a loyal dog, and an eccentric grandmother. It's not exactly predictable, but it doesn't keep you guessing until the last page either. It's a solid romance for readers who like that kind of thing. I also saw the movie and, as always, the book is better than the movie. Don't get me wrong, I love a Nicholas Sparks chick flick, but the book is definitely a notch above.