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review 2018-03-03 21:44
Between Sinners and Saints (Audiobook)
Between Sinners and Saints - Marie Sexton

Why did I wait so long to read this?


Well, because I found out there was a Mormon character and I always worry about that being done wrong. And while Levi's family isn't a carbon copy of my own or other Mormon families I know, I can still see this family dynamic existing in real life. It's almost too easy to see it. Even the church presidents spews the "love the sinner but not the sin" nonsense that Levi's family does here. Sadly, the Church isn't contend with just that. The book really gives a fully detailed and nuanced view of the various Binders and how they feel about Levi being gay. It's never questioned that they love Levi, some of them just don't know how to love him unconditionally like the Church also teaches us to do. His family runs the full spectrum of strictly following Church doctrine to believing it's high time the Church get off their high horse and catch up with the times.


Still, I can see how some readers not familiar with Mormonism or Mormons might hate Levi's family, and that's okay too.


Ok, onto the good stuff. Levi starts out a selfish windbag who's only concern is where to stick his dick. Working for a gay night club in Miami gives him plenty of hookups but little else. He doesn't realize how hollow his life is until he meets Jamie. Jamie is a massage therapist who Levi goes to for help with his surfer's hip and Levi, in true douche bag fashion, tries to seduce Jamie. Jamie though has a lot of trauma in his past and he quickly throws Levi out on his keister where Levi belongs. When Levi finally realizes what an asshole he's been, he has a turn around and he and Jamie become friends.


This is a nice slow burn, as Jamie and Levi get to know each other, and Jamie learns that he can in fact trust Levi. Levi in turns learns how to put someone else's needs above his own. It's the start of the change to a better life for both of them.


The romance takes it's time and doesn't rush things, and I didn't feel like Jamie's sexual awakening in the latter half of the book was too easy. It's anything but easy for him, and it's Levi's patience and understanding that goes a long way to helping Jamie become comfortable with his own body and letting himself be vulnerable.


The narrator, John Solo, does a fantastic job with the story and characters. He really brings the story to life, and his voices for the various characters are all well done and feel perfect for each one.

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review 2018-02-19 05:15
The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later–the night before New Year's Eve–the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma. This powerful book is Didion's attempt to make sense of the "weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself."





In the year 2003, Joan Didion and husband, novelist John Gregory Dunne, receive word that their daughter, Quintana, has been rushed to the ICU (on Christmas Day, no less). Quitana had been battling a severe case of pneumonia when her condition had suddenly turned septic. Just a few days later, December 30th, Dunne and Didion are settling into their dinner meal when Dunne suffers a massive, fatal coronary right at the dinner table. 


By October 2004, Joan Didion decides to start journaling some of her thoughts since experiencing all this pain and loss, this journal being the seed that would eventually become this book, The Year Of Magical Thinking. Here, Didion thinks on moments over the course of her forty year marriage to Dunne. Moments where she now, in retrospect, believes there were warning signs of the grief that was to come. As far back as 1987, she recalls, Dunne had expressed fears of premature death. By 2003, what would end up being the year of his death, Dunne had developed a long history of heart trouble, even having a pacemaker installed. Numerous times that year he had said he felt sure he was dying, but Didion admits she dismissed these moments as him just having momentary bouts of depression. 


Like most people trying to cope with the sudden loss of a loved one, Didion struggles to navigate through feelings of guilt, that sense that you could have done something more to save them. She even toys with the idea that she can still reverse the outcome of the events. But hey, don't judge. It's wild what grief can do to an otherwise seemingly sane mind. 


Didion also shares her feelings on being a mother having to witness her child suffering in illness and feeling helpless to fix it. While Didion's passages regarding her husband read strangely distanced in tone to me, it was these moments where she talks on Quintana that touched me much more. How awful that must have been for her to witness her daughter pull through brutal pneumonia and septic shock only to improve a bit before suffering a hematoma, pretty much putting the poor girl's health struggle back at square one! 


This book didn't land quite as perfectly for me as it did for a lot of other readers. That could be, in part at least, to the fact that I often don't do well with books -- either fiction or non -- that are written in a stream of consciousness style. As I mentioned earlier with some of the passages that speak on Didion's husband, the writing, at times, had a distanced feel to me. I acknowledge that grief can often bring on a certain sense of numbness and detachment from the world, but from time to time, this just read a little too arm's length to me, alternately reminding me of either a police report snapshot of events or perhaps a college paper being written on the theme of melancholy. 


But that's not to say I got nothing from this book. There were definitely passages that resonated with me, maybe moreso in that I read this the same year I lost my mother. That said, I am a little confused as to where the "magical thinking" comes in? Well written, no doubt, but it struck me as just a general sort of grief memoir rather than the life-changing work so many have touted it to be. 







* Author Joan Didion has worked as a writer for both VOGUE and LIFE magazines


* There are a few spoilers for other books to be aware of in this book: namely her husband's novels DUTCH SHEA, JR. and NOTHING LOST, but also the play ALCESTIS and the film ROBIN & MARIAN starring Audrey Hepburn and Sean Connery.

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review 2018-02-19 03:08
Where The Truth Lies by Jessica Warman
Where the Truth Lies - Jessica Warman

On the surface, Emily Meckler leads the perfect life. She has three best friends, two loving parents, and the ideal setup at the Connecticut prep school where her father is the headmaster. Then the enigmatic Del Sugar enters her life, and Emily is immediately swept away-but her passionate relationship with Del is just the first of many things that aren't quite what they seem in Emily's life. As the lies she's been told start to unravel, Emily must set out to discover the truth, a journey that will lead her to question everything she thought she knew.






To the casual observer, Emily Meckler looks like she has pretty much everything going for her: good friends, loving parents, private school education.... but at night, Emily is having horrible nightmares involving out of control fires and walls of water. She can't figure out what these night terrors are stemming from and her parents are at a loss for a solution, other than sending her to the school therapist. Then a shift happens in Emily's life, brought about by the arrival of new student Del Sugar (yes, cringe now -- I know I did -- that's the name the author decided to plaster onto our main male love interest). Emily is warned by multiple people (including her father / academy headmaster) that Del is bad-boy-bad-news but of course the two find a way to get to know each other and Del convinces Emily he truly understands her inner turmoil (oh, and that they're totally meant to be).  No surprise, in no time flat Del has Emily's once stable life in quite the pickle. Strangely though, her involvement with him does set her on the path to finding the root cause of her nightmares. The answers she finds disrupt all she thought she knew to be true and solid, in terms of her very existence. 


My initial interest in this book mainly came from the main character struggling with sleep issues. As I have a sleep disorder myself, I was intrigued. But (my luck!) it seems that this plot element was really only used as a gimmick to hook readers in, as virtually no time or description is put into the nightmares themselves, other than a generic "ooh fire, oohhh so much water"... AAAND she's awake... and we're left to just accept that her very soul is shaken. Emily also seems to have very little issue with side effects of sleep deprivation. Sure she's a little sleepy here and there but that seems to be the extent of it. 


No surprise, the primary focus is put on Emily's interest in Del... who is very possessive and manipulative with her but in fiction that makes him SOOO hot, right?! For a "bad boy" character, Del struck me as being a lot of talk more than anything. You get 100 pages into this book that's barely over 300 and very little has actually gone down. He is, however, a stereotypical jerk that I'd venture to say a fair majority of women have had experience with at least once in their life. 


Scene after scene of Del straight up lying to Emily and trying to control all these aspects of her life, and Emily acknowledges here and there that she sort of recognizes it, but she adores him anyway... even though she notes he pretty consistently smells of sweat, beer, cigarettes and kerosene. Her words, verbatim: "The smell on him almost makes me want to gag." NOICE. LOL. The scene with the contacts -- Emily actually allowing Del to stick his fingers in her eyes and shift around her contacts just to say "I see parts of you you can't see..." NOOOO SIR. True love means you keep your dang fingers outta my eye sockets unless I have an eyeball literally dangling from my face (god forbid... just sayin'). 


To balance bad boy Del, readers are given over-the-top sweet, stand-up borderline boring guy Ethan to also vie for Emily's romantic attention. I'll admit, at the start of the story I was thinking with Ethan "Okay, this seems like a good guy for our girl" but his lack of virtually any edge had me changing my mind. Also, Emily's bland personality grated on me too much for me to care who got her in the end. 


It seemed like SO much focus / detail was put on the most mundane aspects of the story. This was one of those ones where I was just waaaiiting for the plot to kick in already. In the end, literally NOTHING in this book was a surprise. No redeeming plot twists! 

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review 2018-02-04 09:50
Counting The Days While My Mind Slips Away by Ben Utecht
Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away (Thorndike Press Large Print Inspirational Series) - Ben Utecht,Mark Tabb

After five major concussions, NFL tight-end Ben Utecht of the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals is losing his memories. This is his powerful and emotional love letter to his wife and daughters—whom he someday may not recognize—and an inspiring message for all to live every moment fully. Ben Utecht has accumulated a vast treasure of memories: tossing a football in the yard with his father, meeting his wife, with whom he’d build a loving partnership and bring four beautiful daughters into the world, writing and performing music, catching touchdown passes from quarterback Peyton Manning, and playing a Super Bowl Championship watched by ninety-three million people. But the game he has built his living on, the game he fell in love with as a child, is taking its toll in a devastating way. After at least five major concussions—and an untold number of micro-concussions—Ben suffered multiple mild traumatic brain injuries that have erased important memories. Knowing that his wife and daughters could someday be beyond his reach and desperate for them to understand how much he loves them, he recorded his memories for them to hold on to after his essential self is gone. Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away chronicles his remarkable journey from his early days throwing a football back and forth with his father to speaking about the long-term effects of concussions before Congress, and how his faith keeps him strong and grounded as he looks toward an uncertain future. Ben recounts the experiences that have shaped his life and imparts the lessons he’s learned along the way. Emotionally powerful, inspiring, and uplifting, Ben’s story will captivate and encourage you to make the most of every day and treasure all of your memories.






Ben Utecht spent six years in the NFL as tight end for the Indianapolis Colts as well as the Cincinnati Bengals. Between those NFL years and his four years of college football, he suffered no less than FIVE documented major concussions. In the years following his last NFL game in 2009, he began to suspect that he was losing precious memories. This wasn't just temporary amnesia -- moments of his life appeared to be irretrievably wiped from his memory. With this realization, Utecht quickly became an advocate for brain health and education, nabbing a spot on the board of the American Brain Foundation. He's even spoken before Congress on the matter. 


Despite his efforts to learn all he can regarding what's going in his mind and to preserve what's left, Utecht fears for what his future may hold. With that in mind, he wrote Counting The Days While My Mind Slips Away, what he calls "a love letter to my family" something tangible to capture his memories of the man he was in case his mind fails him. In these memories, readers are given an inside look at the questionable practices of the NFL regarding head trauma. Even within this text, several times Utecht admits that he had to refer to others to verify  or remind him of what used to be some of his own memories. For instance, he discusses his experience with playing the Colts when they won the Super Bowl in 2006... he has pictures of him with the Lombardi trophy but in his mind it's like it never happened. 



I now understand that our essence as human beings lies in our ability to remember. Everything that matters about our identities -- our very sense of self -- comes from our memories. We may live in the present, but the present doesn't last. Every moment quickly slips into the stream of short-term memory and journeys toward the ocean that is the long-term memory center of the brain. There our memories take root, shaping us, refining us, defining who we are. We are the culmination of all we have experienced, all we have thought and read and believed, all we have loved. We are living memories. Without memories we cease to be ourselves. In a very real way we cease to be.


Utecht takes us back to the very beginning: his early days of growing up a preacher's kid. Like many a young boy, Utecht was introduced to football by his father, through many hours of tackles & tosses in the yard, even taking Ben (at age 11) to watch his first NFL training camp. As he says, "That's what I loved about the game...Football meant time with my dad." Utecht grew up big for his age, so by the time he started his school years, coaches took notice of his size and football seemed a natural path to take, as it also meant pretty much immediate social acceptance within school hierarchy. It doesn't read as intentional, but it's almost like he was groomed for this as a career choice from the very beginning, being quietly guided by something on life's sidelines.


I was so excited to sign with the Colts and start my career, and yet, as a result of my career I cannot even remember how it started.


Almost immediately upon completing high school, Ben is offered a full ride football scholarship to University of Minnesota (which he accepts, naturally). Pretty much right out of college, he is signed to the Colts. By this time, Utecht's formidable size weighs in at 6'7", 250lbs. A reader may go into this book thinking they're in for pages full of descriptions of head trauma but dang, I was distracted by all the skeletal issues this guy was having over the years of his NFL career --- popped ribs, hip fractures, pelvic damage, separated shoulder, broken ankle.. that's not even all of it -- left me wondering if this guy was ever tested for some sort of skeletal disorder, bone deficiency, something?!


In one portion of the book, Utecht shares some entries from a journal he began to keep of symptoms he was noticing after head injuries, most excerpts focusing on 2009, his last year with the NFL... and it wasn't a planned retirement. There's a whole swirl of drama surrounding him being cut from the Bengals. He describes being "cut" while still on the IR (injured roster), which is technically not supposed to be allowed. A player is supposed to be cleared for play before they can be cut. Utecht comes to find out that the doctor who signed off on his being cleared wasn't even a medical doctor! Amazing how shady the NFL comes out in these memoirs I've been picking up lately! 


Utecht's story is interesting, but not necessarily the most riveting stuff (though he does offer some comedic stories involving Peyton Manning). But I feel like in the case of CTE, it's important to get as many testimonies out there as possible if a true solution is ever to be found. In that respect, this remains an important read. It does have a heaaaavy Christian lean to it though, so just a heads up if that's not your thing. I don't mind it most times but some stuff he says here... even I was giving some of the pages some side eye. 


If you've read other books on this subject, many of them are likely referenced here. Utecht cited League Of Denial many times and Bennet Omalu himself is blurbed on the back cover of this book. Utecht also covers some of the material that was discussed in Cindy Feasel's book, After The Cheering Stops (to clarify, he doesn't mention her book specifically, he just discusses similar topics). 



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review 2018-02-04 06:38
Truth Doesn't Have A Side by Dr. Bennet Omalu
Truth Doesn't Have a Side: My Alarming Discovery about the Danger of Contact Sports - Bennet Omalu,Will Smith,Mark Tabb

When Dr. Omalu discovered a connection between head injuries and cognitive dysfunction, he thought the sports industry would welcome his findings. Instead, this gentle man of faith became the subject of a controversy that threatened his career, his family, and his right to live in the United States. In Truth Doesn't Have A Side, the doctor who inspired the movie Concussion shares insights that will change how you view your family's involvement in contact sports. This is a riveting story of finding new life in America, new strength within the heart, and renewed faith in God's call to speak the truth no matter what. 

~ from back cover




The book Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas (the basis for the movie by the same name starring Will Smith) explored the topic of "mild" brain trauma within the NFL and Dr. Bennet Omalu's role in bringing the dangers of brain trauma in athletes to light. In Laskas' book, we got to know a bit of Omalu's personal story. In Truth Doesn't Have A Side, readers get the expanded version (though, in all honesty, the bulk of the first 65 pages or so of material in Truth are pretty well covered in the Concussion book).


Yes, he does talk about his discovery of and work with CTE cases, but the majority of this book focuses on the years prior to his time in the spotlight -- the journey from a small community in Nigeria, through years of red tape and racial prejudice to finally finding a new place to set roots in the United States. What a journey it's been for this man!


In his own words, Omalu discusses his family history, the good and the bad. The story of Omalu's father is particularly harrowing: Omalu's father and aunt were abandoned by their mother after her husband's supsicious death, leaving them to survive as street children until a visiting missionary was able to arrange housing for them. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out well -- Omalu's father was beaten, often starved, treated as a servant, but endured it because the family did provide him with schooling. The way Omalu tells it has an almost biblical tale kind of ring to it! 


During the Nigerian Civil War (aka Biafran War), the time during which Omalu himself was born, his father's accomplishments -- college degree, years of dedicated employment as a civil servant -- were minimalized to "You're Igbo", forcing the entire family to have to relocate to a refugee camp for the duration of the war. The crazy thing is Omalu's father STILL worked as a government employee while they forced him to live in a refugee camp! 


My father's name was Amaechi, which means, "I may be down today, but no one knows what tomorrow may bring!" 


~ Bennet Omalu


As mentioned a bit in Concussion, Omalu explains how medicine was actually not a natural calling to him. His true dream was to become an airline pilot, but since his parents had their hopes set on him studying medicine, that's what he went with (though he does admit that science DOES feed his natural curiosity quite nicely). Imagine where the medical community would be had he take the "I do what I want!" stance. Truthfully, it made me a little sad for him that he didn't feel the freedom of choice to pursue his heart's desire, but I applaud his commitment to fully dedicate himself to his field regardless, as his work has opened the way to research that is on its way to helping so many in future generations.


Omalu describes the journey of how he came to have SO many degrees and certifications, the process of earning medical degrees in both Nigeria and the US. Through it all, he reveals his struggles with deep depression, racial prejudice in his new American community once arriving here in 1994, and the frustration of having certain people wanting to bar his progress every step of the way. It certainly seemed like an act of God that he managed to get a medical degree here at all.


The CTE material, Mike Webster case that started it all, all of that... actually takes up only a small portion of this book. The book in its entirety is not a long read, less than 300 pages total. The bulk of his discussion on his CTE years starts in Chapter 11 (approx. 120 pgs in, hardcover ed.).


For those interested in behind-the-scenes movie facts and trivia, Omalu also dishes on his very first meeting with Will Smith, who was chosen to portray Omalu in the film Concussion, how Smith originally wasn't interested but once a friendship developed between the to, he was quickly and happily immersed in the role. 


Omalu tells a powerful story, but it was sometimes hard to follow, as he would jump back and forth between his days as a medical examiner in Pittsburgh and his time as an ER doctor in Nigeria... with little to no transition or chronological explanation in between. I will say though, Omalu closes on a wonderful prayer for the future that left me quite moved. 


Following the close of his story, Omalu offers parents a Q & A guide on the topic of sports and head trauma, should their children want to play contact sports. He strongly urges readers to keep their kids out of such sports altogether, but admits that if you choose to go forth with sports anyway, it's best to at least go in informed. 


FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers.com and Zondervan Publishing 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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