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review 2020-01-05 11:14
The Little French Bistro by Nina George
The Little French Bistro - Nina George

Marianne is stuck in a loveless, unhappy marriage.  After forty-one years, she has reached her limit, and one evening in Paris she decides to take action. Following a dramatic moment on the banks of the Seine, Marianne leaves her life behind and sets out for the coast of Brittany, also known as “the end of the world.” Here she meets a cast of colorful and unforgettable locals who surprise her with their warm welcome, and the natural ease they all seem to have, taking pleasure in life’s small moments. And, as the parts of herself she had long forgotten return to her in this new world, Marianne learns it’s never too late to begin the search for what life should have been all along.

Amazon.com

 

 

**NOTE: This novel has also been published under the title The Little Breton Bistro

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: Themes of depression, suicidal thought, abusive relationships

 

Marianne has spent too long in a loveless marriage. At the end of her rope, she takes a walk one night to the banks of the Seine River, where she makes the decision to end her life. Though she goes so far as to throw herself into the river, she is unexpectedly rescued and taken to the hospital to recover from the suicide attempt. Once out of the hospital, she makes the choice to relocate and rebuild her life in a new town, eventually settling on the seaside town of Kerdruc, in the Brittany area of France. 

 

In Kerdruc, Marianne quickly comes to know a new definition of family among the staff of Ar Mor Restaurant, becoming especially close friends with the owner of Ar Mor, Genevieve, as well as Jean-Remy, the head chef nursing a bad case of unrequited love. Jean-Remy's pining away all the time has begun to affect his cooking for the worse. Lucky for him, Marianne's arrival means she can share her tips and tricks (from years of housewifery) for turning around any seemingly ruined meal. Immensely grateful for the help, Genevieve brings Marianne on as Jean-Remy's sous-chef. In return for helping him get his cooking back on track, he offers to help her improve her French. {Marianne, a German military wife who had transferred to France some time ago with her husband's job, had never gotten around to grasping much French, pretty much only learning enough to say "I am German."} Along with the crew at Ar Mor, Marianne also becomes acquainted with the sculptor Pascale and Pascale's longtime friend, the painter Yann.

 

 

"Get down from your cross, we need the timber." 

~ Pascale to Yann one day when he is moaning about his life

(one of my favorite lines in the book!)

 

 

It is in this seaside community that Marianne really works to restructure her life after years of being stifled in a neglectful marriage, largely devoid of affection, with selfish, philandering husband Lothar. Occasionally the reader is given glimpses into Lothar's tightwad ways: always making Marianne get her shoes re-soled rather than ever allowing her new ones; always making her go through the irregular / clearance bins for her clothes; never getting gifts for anniversaries; taking himself on holiday but not her, etc. Marianne even shares details of her hospital stay after the suicide attempt: her skipping out on meeting Lothar at a restaurant that night; him showing up at the hospital rocking a Rolex and yachting clothes, whining about the money he wasted on a meal at that restaurant and a cab to the hospital to come check on her. When she asks for a hug, he quickly denies her. Imagine being in a hospital bed, feeling emotionally eviscerated over so many things, and you can't even get a hug from your LIFE PARTNER, of all people! Gives you an idea of what a softie this guy is. She also hints at examples of emotional abuse throughout the years of marriage that she often forced herself to shrug off... until she just couldn't anymore. So you can understand the need (or at least temptation) to slough it all off and start anew somewhere far away from your usual. 

 

 

Shortly afterward, Lothar's lover Sybille had woken her from the wonderful illusion that a marriage, a house at the end of a turning bay and an indoor fountain were all a woman needed. Lothar had been determined to return to their normal daily routine as soon as possible after his affair with Sybille. "I've told you I'm sorry, What more am I supposed to do?" And with that the matter was closed. After a few years, her pain had subsided. Time had brought solace to Marianne, as had Lothar's secrecy about his other affairs, at least until it became too hard for him to keep lying. He started to leave a trail of clues in the hope that Marianne would make a scene and deliver him, but she had refused to do him that favor. 

 

Quiet Marianne is consumed by fear. She fears death, but also sometimes welcomes it. With the realization that she's maybe moved through a life largely un-lived, she fears that she might not know how to change, or that perhaps the opportunity for change (of any kind) has passed altogether. But with the help of her new friends, she hangs in there... and in time, comes to experience her first crush since meeting her husband. This new love she finds herself dipping her toe in... the two of them are just adorable together and I found myself so excited for her. Yes, technically she is still married to Lothar, and normally I'm not down with adultery --- not in novels, not in real life --- but it's hard to blame Ms. Marianne for craving some heart tingles after going so long trying to make it work in a relationship that very clearly flatlined ages ago. Though I gotta say, a funeral might be an odd way to go for a first date. 

 

I loved your grandfather, and after him, no one else. It is a rare form of happiness when a man makes your life so rich that you need no one else after him.

 

"Was he a magician?"

 

Any man who loves a woman as she deserves to be loved is a magician.

 

Just as Marianne is becoming reacquainted with the stronger, more fiery side of herself, a little something of her recent past makes a reappearance (as often happens in these kind of novels).  The quaint, light-hearted cover art of The Little French Bistro belies the darker themes of this story. In multiple scenes throughout the novel, Marianne continues to toy with the idea of making another suicide attempt. Though she always finds a way to talk herself away from it (or her friends do), Nina George writes a stark truth -- the underlying struggle that can go on in the mind of someone whose exterior seems to be doing well enough. 

 

She suddenly felt an incredible fear of dying prematurely and not having had her fill when her final day came --- her fill of life, up to the top and over the rim. She'd never felt such a lust for life: the pain of having missed out on so much was threatening to blow her heart asunder. Never had the act she had considered committing struck her as more egregious: she had tried to put herself to death long before her time....Yann put his hand on Marianne's back, and her heart was pumping and beating, as if to say: it's far from over. Every second can mark a new beginning. Open your eyes and see: the world is out there and it wants you.

 

The writing here gets a little flowery in parts, but I ended up liking this one more than Little Paris Bookshop and it certainly left me curious to try out George's most recent novel, The Book of Dreams. 

 

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review 2019-12-10 16:33
Wesley James Ruined My Life by Jennifer Honeybourn
Wesley James Ruined My Life - Jennifer Honeybourn

 

Quinn is having a rough summer. Her beloved grandmother has been put into a nursing home, her dad’s gambling addiction has flared back up, and now her worst enemy is back in town: Wesley James, former childhood friend and life ruiner. So when Wesley is hired to work with her at Tudor Tymes, a medieval England-themed restaurant, the last thing Quinn’s going to do is forgive and forget. She’s determined to remove him from her life and even the score for once and for all―by getting him fired. But getting rid of Wesley isn’t as easy as she’d hoped. When Quinn finds herself falling for him, she has to decide what she wants more: to get even, or to get the boy.

Amazon.com

 

 

Quinn's not having her best year. Grandma's Alzheimer's is advancing so she recently had to be moved to a nursing home; dad's fallen off the wagon again with his gambling addiction (Quinn's parents ended up divorcing over this years earlier); and her once-friend-now-nemesis Wesley James has recently moved back into town. To make things more difficult, Wesley gets hired on at Quinn's place of employment, the themed restaurant Tudor Tymes. While Quinn's role is that of a serving wench, Wesley curiously gets cast as a pirate come to King Henry VIII's court.

 

Quinn is still holding a grudge against Wesley for how their friendship imploded a few years earlier when these kids were 6th graders. She never really hashed out her beef with him, but Quinn is convinced that a comment Wesley made back then directly led to her parents deciding to split up, hence the Wesley James Ruined My Life proclamation.

When a reader is told that the main character, nearly grown, is holding onto a grudge from 6th grade, it's hard not to expect some aspects of this character to be disappointing and problematic. Sure enough, Quinn has her faults. On one hand, you want to say if she'd just acted a little grown and hashed out her feelings with Wesley, a lot of this silliness could've been avoided, but then you reason: if we did that, we'd be out of a story, so here we are. Rather than talk things out with him in a mature fashion, Quinn decides the much better route is for her to covertly try to get him fired... but life can be funny the way it sometimes takes you down the path least expected.... can Wesley successfully smooth things over between them and turn a grudge into goosebumps?

 

To a point, I can understand Quinn's general unhappiness with her life. This story does get a little heavier than the cover might lead you to believe, especially getting into her father's struggles with gambling addiction and how that directly affects Quinn's dream to see England (a dream she is actively working towards, putting large chunks of her Tudor Tymes paycheck into savings for it). I myself had a father who for years struggled with a gambling addiction, so I know first hand how stressful that can make home life. There are also heartbreaking scenes of Quinn visiting her dementia-ravaged grandmother --- a woman whose main loves were books and family now can't recognize most of her loved ones anymore, and can't focus long enough to enjoy a book. Tragic! All that said, though, it was incredibly immature --- not to mention dangerous --- for Quinn to tamper with the food of unsuspecting customers just so she could put the fall on Wesley.

 

And then I see Gran. She's sitting in a recliner, her feet propped up. She's wearing hand-knitted slippers with little pom-poms on the toes and the fuzzy blue cardigan I got her for Christmas a few years ago. Her sparkling ruby hairpin is pinned in her white hair, right above her ear. This, at least, is familiar. My grandfather gave it to her when they were first married. It makes me happy / sad to see her wearing it. Like even though she can't remember him with her mind, maybe she still does with her heart.

 

And speaking of Tudor Tymes, what kind of place would get around being allowed to leave staff members in the stocks (yes, like medieval stocks) for hours on end? You'd think there'd be some sort of OSHA realm employee protection against that sort of thing... but then again, how often does that particular scenario come up? LOL

 

If you can overlook the slight overuse of the word "heinous" in the text AND forgive some of these characters some of their more disappointing quirks and flaws, there's actually a pretty cute story here with a good amount of heart. It felt like we, the readers, didn't get to know Wesley as well as we could have, but Honeybourn delivers enough of his charming and kind side to see that there's a good friend to be had there for anyone that gets on his good side. So don't let your mind dismiss this one as simply a silly fluff piece, there's actually a surprising amount of depth to be found in this plot!

 

If you participate in a YA book club, the paperback edition of this novel includes a list of discussion question prompts.

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review 2019-11-21 17:42
All In by L.K. Simonds
All In - L.K. Simonds

Twenty-nine-year-old novelist and blackjack dealer Cami Taylor seems to have it all—but just underneath her confident exterior and newfound celebrity is a young woman in trouble. Cami’s boyfriend, Joel, wants to get married, buy a house on Long Island, and raise a family—a life that’s a million miles from Cami’s idea of happiness. Her therapist suggests compromise and trust, but Cami would rather bolt like a deer. Breaking things off with Joel, Cami launches herself on a new quest for happiness. But her pursuit of pleasure only takes her further from herself—and toward a harrowing new reality unlike anything she’s faced before.

Goodreads.com

 

 

 

In her debut novel, L.K. Simonds introduces us to main character Cami (Camille) Taylor, who, on the cusp of thirty in the late 90s, has found professional success over the years as a blackjack dealer and published author with one best seller already under her belt. Cami's Long Island boyfriend, Joel, is more than ready to marry her and settle into domestic bliss; his only frustration with her is the emotional wall she tends to have up, blocking them from ever reaching that deepest level of emotional intimacy.

 

Cami's not even sure she wants to go as far as marriage. She's always valued her independence far too much. But she does love Joel, so she makes an attempt to work on her emotional wall by going to therapy. In the beginning, she hopes the gesture will appease him, but it soon becomes clear that her heart isn't in the therapy process at this stage in her life. Joel and Cami come to accept they just want different things in life and the nearly two year union quietly dissolves.

 

While splitting up felt like the right move, it still hurts to lose someone whose presence you've gotten so used to. She tries to dip her toe back into the dating world but the pickins' ain't great out there. Even when she thinks she's scored a maybe, things turn sour one night when he mentions his girlfriend, followed by "You didn't ask." UGH. It'd be super cool if it could just be an understood rule all the way around that if you're already in a relationship YOU DON'T GO FISHING FOR ANOTHER.

 

This little talk does wonders for Cami's already fragile mental state and she gets to reflecting on her former life, working casinos back in New Mexico as Leona Lingo (her birth name). She thought she'd finished with that era of her life, but feeling herself heading towards a dark headspace in NYC, she figures a trip back to her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona might not be such a bad idea. But "going home" just ends up being a safe space to binge on vices. By this point in the story I was reminded a little of that Charlize Theron movie, Young Adult.

 

Note: the mention of casino life does not factor largely into this story except through some of Cami's referenced memories.

 

More of the same isn't going to be enough. I can see that now. When I think about it, I realize it isn't strange at all to need new goals after having reached all the old ones. I should've seen this coming. I'm doing okay, professionally, and now I need to concentrate on feeding my soul. Just as soon as I figure out what exactly my soul needs.

 

Eventually Cami works her way back to NYC, where she has an unexpected introduction to distant relative Kate Davis. After a day spent getting to know each other, Kate invites Cami to a family reunion being held in Texas. This ends up being the start of a legit growing family bond between the ladies that will serve Cami well later in the story when she'll need all the support she can get after receiving some life-altering news.

 

Cami's main motivation for going to new places or meeting new people often seems to fall to "well, it'll be great material for the next novel." Though she's rarely in it to make new friends or grab life by the horns, she still grudgingly puts herself out there time and again. By doing so, life shows her (and through her experiences, the reader) that if one is willing to embrace experiences even halfway openly, the takeaway can be so much more than ever imagined. It's no different when Cami takes on Texas (even if she's inwardly laughing to herself about just how out of her environment she truly is). I did find it a little weird, though, her being flirty with Jake. Yeah, he's a distant cousin... but, still. Should be a pretty standard rule: don't hit on people at a family reunion!

 

Throughout the entire story, it's alluded to that there might be something off with Cami's health, but she drags her feet getting herself checked out. Finally, after a bout of sickness that scares her enough to finally make an appointment... the diagnosis the doctor comes back with... wow, I was not expecting the story to go that direction at all! Virtually nothing hints at it, save for maybe one scene. The reality check leaves atheist Cami pondering on God, life, all the big questions.

 

Cami as a character, well, she can be a tough one to bond with because she often reads emotionally flat. It makes sense, that's part of the character flaw in her that sort of sets her on this whole path. Still, it can make for frustrating reading when she comes off as so emotionless. But I don't think it's a matter of her being devoid of feeling, but more her being afraid to feel. Life experiences, the world at large... it's all left her with a lot of disappointment. You go through enough of that for long enough, you get to where it seems like the easier path to just numb your heart to any more stabs. As far as other characters, it seemed like each one has a quality to them that'll have you saying YES! I know someone exactly like that! So, bravo to Simonds on wonderful attention to character detail!

 

There is an understated lyrical quality to Simond's writing style that I ended up quite liking. It took me a little time to really get into this plot... but I'll admit I wasn't in the best mood the day I decided to start this one. Initially, I wasn't sure I was going to like Cami, but, if I'm being honest, it might've been because I was seeing more of myself in her than I liked LOL, some of the sides of me I'm not so proud of. But like Cami, I'm working on them in my own time and I'll get there, eventually.

 

FTC DISCLAIMER: BookCrash.com & author L.K. Simonds kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

 
 
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review 2019-11-05 10:22
Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan Henry
Becoming Mrs. Lewis - Patti Callahan Henry

 

In a most improbable friendship, she found love. In a world where women were silenced, she found her voice.  From New York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan comes an exquisite novel of Joy Davidman, the woman C. S. Lewis called “my whole world.” When poet and writer Joy Davidman began writing letters to C. S. Lewis—known as Jack—she was looking for spiritual answers, not love. Love, after all, wasn’t holding together her crumbling marriage. Everything about New Yorker Joy seemed ill-matched for an Oxford don and the beloved writer of Narnia, yet their minds bonded over their letters. Embarking on the adventure of her life, Joy traveled from America to England and back again, facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, and against all odds, finding a love that even the threat of death couldn’t destroy. 
In this masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories of modern times, we meet a brilliant writer, a fiercely independent mother, and a passionate woman who changed the life of this respected author and inspired books that still enchant us and change us. Joy lived at a time when women weren’t meant to have a voice—and yet her love for Jack gave them both voices they didn’t know they had.  At once a fascinating historical novel and a glimpse into a writer’s life, Becoming Mrs. Lewis is above all a love story—a love of literature and ideas and a love between a husband and wife that, in the end, was not impossible at all.
Amazon.com
 

 

 

As the title hints, Becoming Mrs. Lewis is a fictionalized look at the life of Joy Davidman, the woman who would eventually become the one and only wife of author C.S. Lewis, largely known for his beloved Chronicles of Narnia series. While the prologue briefly dips into Joy's childhood in the 1920s, the bulk of the story runs throughout the 1950s, finishing in 1960, the year of Joy's death. Her death would sadly inspire another classic work of Lewis', A Grief Observed, chronicling his mourning period. But let's focus more on how this unique bond came to be.

Callahan's story, as it pertains to C.S. Lewis (known as "Jack" by close friends), opens in 1950. At that time, Joy is Joy Davidman Gresham; her husband, Bill Gresham, also a writer (Lewis was Joy's second husband). The story informs the reader that for years Joy has been struggling with her husband's alcoholism and philandering ways. But she does her best to stick things out for her sons. She also admits that during this first marriage she considered herself an atheist, until one night when her husband wouldn't come home, called home hinting that he was having suicidal thoughts. In desperation, Joy falls to her knees in prayer, not entirely convinced it will do anything but just needing to latch onto some shred of hope. In a moment that spans less than a minute but also feels like ages, Joy is convinced she's having a connection with the Holy Spirit. For the next three years, she seeks out every book she can get her hands on to try to find answers to what she experienced. Her newfound passion for theology brings Lewis' works into her hands. Nothing gives her peace like his non-fiction essays on philosophy and religion. She particularly moved by The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce.

By this time, the Greshams are still struggling to regain a healthy marriage, so Joy decides to write to Lewis to ask his advice on some of the questions plaguing her. She's ecstatic when she receives a reply back! So starts a friendship in letters, because it turns out there's a comfort in Joy's letters that Lewis didn't realize he so strongly needed. Joy being a poet and novelist herself, as well as having some theological pieces of her own recently published... well,the two can't deny they might have stumbled upon kindred spirits within each other.

This correspondence carries on over the course of years, Lewis in England, Joy in The States. Lewis makes several offers for Joy to come visit him and his brother at The Kilns, their personal residence. Having struggled with health problems all her life --- low thyroid, lung and kidney infections, chronic fatigue --- her body eventually declines to the point where Joy feels an escape to England might be just the thing to turn her health right. With her physical troubles being worsened with her stressing over her books not selling as well as she'd like and the arrival of her cousin Renee, moving in with two more kids in tow, Joy increasingly feels more sure that England is the place to take a breather from everything, focus on her health and work on finishing some writing projects that will bring in some much needed money for the family. So England also becomes a quiet "research trip" for her WIP novel about King Charles II.

While Joy doesn't stay with Lewis on those early trips to The Kilns (she's still a married woman for most of the book, after all), she does visit with the Lewis brothers quite often. It becomes pretty evident, the longer one reads into the story, that the Gresham union is largely being held by a sense of duty and history rather than much remaining love and friendship. They might have pet names for each other, but Bill Gresham (in this story) often speaks to Joy with a thinly veiled demeaning, patronizing tone to his words. Though she's a published author with a number of professional accolades (Callahan's historical note at the end points out that the real Joy graduated college at 15!), he still insists on going about as if HER writing is a hobby, his work the real breadwinning stuff. When Joy and Jack first speak, right from the get-go she has an instant sense of being valued and acknowledged. Even just as friends, Lewis is constantly praising Joy's work and values her opinion as an industry colleague. When Lewis says to Joy, "Our friendship is big enough even for the sorrows." --- that's a HUGE statement!

The connection works great as long as it doesn't go beyond the boundaries of strictly friendship --- philia, as Lewis refers to it. That's not to say they both don't feel more. Both are definitely aware of intensified feelings as the years pass. But there's plenty working against them, in Lewis' mind. He doesn't love Joy's confession about her meeting and getting involved with Bill when he was still with his first wife, but Lewis can brush that off as a "I didn't know you then" moment. But even after Joy's divorce from Bill is finalized, Lewis still hesitates to have ANY bodily contact with Joy, not so much as a brush on the arm most days, because now she is a divorcee, which is frowned upon in Lewis' church. They eventually find a way through these confusing feelings, the turnaround largely brought about by Joy's cancer diagnosis shortly after she and Lewis decide to marry (the first time around, it was essentially a green card marriage, solidified later with a second ceremony).

This does seem to be one of those stories you have to dedicate some time to --- there's a lot of themes covered and it doesn't always move terribly fast, but I was never bored! The early chapters hit the heavy topics early on: the prologue briefly referencing child abuse, the first chapters past that bringing up alcoholism, PTSD, abuse, suicidal tendencies... spouses who have these things and the spouses caring for them. Early in Part 3 there is also a scene of spousal abuse when Joy confronts Bill once and for all about his infidelities and he attacks her for it.

While the topics of philosophy and religion, references to Lewis' nonfiction Christian essay collections, etc do get somewhat heavy at times, much of the story is more about the various roles and difficulties a woman has to navigate throughout the course of her life. Much of Joy's story seems to be a woman's 30+ year journey towards addressing "daddy issues", as some might call it these days. There's a father she works so hard to please, but who is so quick to backhand her over a B on a report card, of all things! In that moment, something breaks in her and her path from that point on becomes an obsessive drive to prove to everyone that she is worthy of love and admiration. Her story is also one of a woman's aggravating struggle to be taken seriously by the medical community. Every complaint she takes into a doctor's office --- nausea, fatigue, leg pains, heart palpitations --- is regularly dismissed as rheumatism, middle age, "lady troubles".... until the day she loses the ability to walk and a doctor says her body is riddled with cancer that's probably been growing in her for at least seven years!

Those of you drawn to this book for the sheer "bookish" aspect, Callahan delivers on that front as well. You'll see plenty of literary figures pop into the story, from Lewis's good buddy JRR Tolkien... he wrote something people are always raving on about, what was that.... :-P .... mention of Joy having lunch with P.L. Travers (author of Mary Poppins stories), has a doctor consultation with a doctor who happens to be Graham Greene's brother... there's even a funny discussion where Joy is having a chat with friend Dorothy Heyward, whose husband wrote the book Porgy & Bess that was later turned into the famous stage production. Dorothy mentions how she did much of the work on the stage adaptation but for a time her contributions went largely uncredited. The fact itself -- not exactly laughable --- but the ladies have a little commiserating chuckle about their similar circumstances when Joy is at a particularly low point.

In the end, Joy's story made me that much more grateful to be in a solid relationship these days, deeply rooted in honest friendship. Having been on the other end of the spectrum myself --- having experienced a previously unhealthy cohabitation like Joy did --- I can tell you it makes all the difference to one's soul to find a centered sense of being within a cozy, supportive relationship where your partner doesn't guilt trip you for health issues beyond your control or accuse you of being lazy or self-indulgent when you have days where the energy just isn't there no matter how hard you try, someone who encourages your passions and professional pursuits, rather than feel threatened by them.

I'll close on saying that Callahan was also successful in not only motivating me to pick up some of these still-unread copies of Lewis' essays parked on my shelves but also in checking out Joy's works, which I'll admit, I was largely unacquainted with prior to diving into this story.

* Discussion guide included in the hardback edition

FTC DISCLAIMER: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.
 

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review 2019-10-04 19:52
Forged Through Fire (memoir) by Mark McDonough, MD
Forged Through Fire: A Reconstructive Surgeon's Story of Survival, Faith and Healing - Mark D. McDonough, MD

When Mark McDonough was a teen, a catastrophic fire claimed the lives of his mother and younger brother. It also left Mark with burns on over 65 percent of his body. During a long and painful recovery, his faltering faith in God was strengthened by a remarkable near-death experience. Inspired to pursue a career as a plastic surgeon to help those who suffer as he has, McDonough has overcome numerous other adversities on his journey, including addiction and a stroke. Now he shares his incredible true story of survival and perseverance to bring hope and healing to those dealing with great physical and emotional pain. Anyone who has suffered or watched a loved one suffer from a personal trauma, disease, or loss that has tested or stolen their faith and exhausted their emotional resources will find real hope in this redemptive story.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

In 1976, author Mark McDonough, as a teen, survived a house fire that tragically took the lives of his mother and youngest brother while also leaving 65% of his own body covered in deep burns. McDonough uses Forged Through Fire to share with readers his story of painful healing --- both emotionally and physically --- and the life lessons learned along the way. 

 

Doctors roughly calculate the mortality or likelihood of burn death by adding the age of the victim to the percentage of burns relative to their total body surface area. Sixteen years of age plus burns to 60-70% of my nearly naked body indicated that I had roughly a 20% chance or less of surviving. 

 

In addition to surviving the house fire, McDonough also includes stories of other medical challenges he's survived that required similar therapy programs, from contracting Guillian-Barre Syndrome as a small boy (which led to him temporarily being placed in an iron lung) to being surprised by a stroke as a young married man. If that's not enough, he also has a tale of falling prey to but eventually overcoming a period of alcoholism --- something he always promised himself would never be part of his life, despite coming from two parents who also struggled with alcohol addiction. McDonough's experiences with addiction begin as a way to self-medicate the pain of his injuries. That particular pain management option begins to lose its allure for him, but once a habit develops, the process out is a tricky one, requiring much dedication and patience.

 

Many claim that when faith is strong enough, there is no cause for fear. But for me, it was within the context of fear that my quest for faith began. It seemed only natural that I should fear the potentially challenging obstacles ahead or the pain that I expected to confront along the way. Yet, I was learning that I could have those fears while remaining faithful that God would stay nearby if I asked him to, helping me meet the demands head-on.

 

 

WARNING, READERS: THIS BOOK IS NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH! I have a pretty strong stomach for most things and even I was cringing and squirming through several of the medical procedure descriptions shared here. It's not ALL rough. I mean, there are passages describing some of his therapy including learning to speak and swallow again because his throat lining was so badly damaged in the fire. He mentions developing pressure sores from being kept supine for so long while waiting for his skin grafts to take. Description-wise, those parts aren't so bad, but the OTHER parts --- the cleaning of the wounds (when he talks of having the cleanings done with Betodine --- I had my own memory recall from that one! The brief but intense BURN of that stuff! *shudder* It is effective though!), the bandage dressing, anathesia not taking and him waking up during one of his surgeries.... yeah! 

 

Some of the therapists and doctors I met, like Dr. Fratianne, were among the most intelligent and admirable people I knew. I respected their character and their demonstrated ability to care. A few, however, had no idea about how to communicate or deal with people. They could tend to the body but overlooked the person, and they all but denied the spirit. I felt particularly sensitive to issues of pain and being dependently at the mercy of others; this was where I felt I could really make a difference and affect a positive change. I began to nurture that notion.

 

Keep in mind, this memoir is written by a doctor, so it naturally does run heavy with medical terminology, but to his credit McDonough does a pretty solid job of quickly following up with an explanation in layman's terms. He also shows incredible talent for getting his readers to truly feel the struggle and anguish of his painful journey to "being okay", you might say. McDonough doesn't hold back about keeping things real regarding his emotions, frustrations, the trying path of learning to overcome new physical limitations, and ultimately the joy in small victories during this arduous experience in healing. And healing wasn't just about his skin resealing or him regaining movement. McDonough also gets into the shift in the bonds between him, his father, and his surviving brothers, as well as the guilt associated with the amount of attention his outpatient recuperation period required of everyone. 

 

Contrary to the beliefs of many, nowhere in the Bible does it say that God won't give us more than we can handle. But much is written about how God will provide the strength we need to survive those things we fear handling.

 

 

After intensive physical and occupational therapy sessions (one story notes he was able to finish high school, in part, because the school accepted his hours of therapy as PE credits), McDonough is inspired to become a physical therapist himself. His experiences with patients in this field later encourage him to take it further, becoming a reconstructive surgeon. With his work in medicine, and now this memoir, McDonough hopes that his story can inspire others working to overcome various traumas to continue fighting the good fight.

 

 

Dr. Frat spoke about how some people get stuck harboring resentments, exhausting themselves over things of the past that they don't understand. Something started to stir inside me. I knew what it was like to have no energy left to do anything.  Why waste those precious resources on things that aren't going to change anything? Why not invest that limited energy or strength into something real, positive, and in the here and now, not in a past that cannot be changed?

 

 

In another part of this memoir, McDonough also mentions the guilt 

his father struggled with because of new smoke detectors

that he had purchased for the home but decided to delay installing

until he came back from his business trip. McDonough's father was

on this trip when the fateful fire broke out.

 

 

 

On a sidenote, kudos to him for closing his acknowledgements section with a shout-out to EMS workers. As a firefighter wife, I had to smile at this! :-)

 

I was also not expecting him to close the book with an eyewitness account of the murder of singer / Youtuber Christina Grimmie!

 

Honestly, I'm surprised this hasn't been optioned as a movie, but I won't be surprised if I see it is later. 

 

 

FTC DISCLAIMER: Revell Books kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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