The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs

the-bright-hour-9781501169359_lgThe Bright Hour is a wonderfully written memoir by Nina Riggs, who passed away after a courageous battle with cancer in February 2017. She was only 37. Nina, mother of two young boys, wife of 16 years, and great-great-great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, was a beautiful soul and talented writer. Her writing is emotionally raw; the conversations with her family members, her appreciation for nature,  and descriptions of her surroundings are thoughtful and true.  The Bright Hour, despite the heavy subject matter, is one of the most enjoyable and truly wonderful books that I have read in quite a while. I would highly recommend this book to all of you.  

I normally do not read nonfiction, but I make special exception for memoirs. I’ve always enjoyed them, because they are written with such heart and grit. It takes a lot of courage for a writer to pour out their most personal thoughts, hopes, and feelings on paper for others to read. Nina wrote her memoir, in part, as a tribute to her husband John and young sons, so that they might read it someday and get to know her even better, and really understand the depth of her love for them.

One of my favorite authors of all time, Elin Hilderbrand, recommended Nina’s book multiple times, and I knew that with her endorsement, I would undoubtedly enjoy reading The Bright Hour. I didn’t realize how quickly I would become immersed into Nina’s story, however, unable to put the book down because the writing was so beautiful.

Everything about this book is beautiful. Nina’s relationships with her husband, her sons, her dying mother, her father, her brother, and even her doctors are each unique and special. It is through these relationships with their well-times jokes, light-hearted humor, and even  the many tear-filled moments that Nina’s impact on each and every one of their lives shines through. She was a bright spot in so many lives.

Woven throughout the book are quotes and writings from Emerson’s works, as well as from French writer/philosopher Montaigne. Nina looks to both writers to guide her through fear and grief, allowing her to concentrate on living, really living with the time she is given.

The Bright Hour is not about dying, but more about how to live, which she discovers and shares with readers, as she is dying. Though Nina writes quite a bit about her experiences with chemo, radiation, and the many tests and hospital stays, she doesn’t sugar coat anything, but gives the unpleasant truth about cancer’s destructive path through her body and life as she knew it. As Nina is actually going through treatment, she loses her own mother to cancer, after a 9 year battle. I can’t even imagine losing a mother to cancer, but even worse, imagine losing your mother while you are also battling the greatest battle of your life, and knowing deep down that your time on Earth with your loving husband and precious children is coming to a close much sooner than you anticipated. It is heartbreaking and terrifying, but somehow Nina was able to get the most out of the days left with her mother, as well as her own time remaining after her mother passed on. She didn’t let grief consume her. She doesn’t focus on the cancer, but on her family, enjoying her days, and living with hope. If that isn’t strength and resilience, I don’t know what is.

Read Nina’s story. I promise you will come away from it with a better outlook on life and living.

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A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

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I’m not one to re-read books. One of the reasons for this is that I always have so many books in my TBR pile, that I must keep moving forward. However, there is one particular book, which is more of a short story really, that I re-read every year around Christmas. What is even more special, perhaps, is that every year I have the pleasure of reading it aloud to my grandmother, Mary. Each year we enjoy it more so, even though we could recite many of the passages by heart. For over 15 years, we have been reading A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. It is our own Christmas tradition, a Christmas memory I hope to pass down to my children and to their children as well someday.

When people think of Capote’s work, most likely they think of In Cold Blood, a famous story with a very graphic murder scene. However, A Christmas Memory, is a personal memoir based upon Truman Capote’s young life. A Christmas Memory is about as different as can be genre-wise from In Cold Blood. The story tells of a young boy named Buddy and the time he spent with a beloved, much older relative before he was sent away to boy’s school as a teenager. (The far left book cover photo above shows a young Truman Capote and his older relative and friend.)

The story is set in Alabama during the Great Depression. Buddy, age 7, and the older Miss Sook, who was in her 60’s but had a child-like mind, lived in a house with other distant relatives who didn’t approve of them or pay much attention to them. Though they had the essentials (food, water, shelter, and clothing), Buddy and Miss Sook lived a no-frills, but enjoyable lifestyle, delighting in simple pleasures such as collecting ingredients and then making fruitcakes in the winter, playing with their old dog, Queenie, and even killing flies in return for pennies from the other relatives in the house. Perhaps their favorite time of the year and fondest memories are during “fruitcake weather” when they focus all their time, energy, and scant funds to making fruitcakes to send to friends, acquaintances, and even some people they have never met. My personal favorite is Mr. Ha-Ha Jones, who donates some liquor in exchange for “one of them fruitcakes.” Another poignant memory is making gifts for one another every Christmas, where they always realize that their friendship with one another is better than any gift money could buy. The story is pretty short, but it is filled with descriptive details which allow readers to close their eyes and easily imagine the scenes throughout. This is one of the reasons it is such a great read-aloud book. The writing is beautiful, raw, and it flows seamlessly from one scene to the next. If you haven’t ever read this story, I would highly recommend it. There is actually a movie out now, but the book is so much better! Read it before you watch the film.

The first time I had ever heard of A Christmas Memory was back in high school. Our English teacher read it aloud to our class, and I am so thankful that she did. Something about the story really resonated with me. I was at a used bookstore a few months later and happened to find a copy of it. My grandma and I have always talked about books and both love literature, so I shared it with her one year and we have read it every Christmas season since then! Reading this with my grandma every year is something we look forward to and enjoy so, so much. In recent years, other family members have listened in a few times, including my oldest son who is now 7 years old, Buddy’s age during the time of the story.

My grandma has always encouraged me to write, even from when I was little writing her poems and notes (which she has no doubt kept safely preserved in a box all these years). I’ve always had a special, close friendship with my grandma and she is so dear to me. And literature and the written word have always been a big part of our bond. For both of these, I am truly thankful. Below is a picture of my grandma with each of my sons when they were very young.

Is there a book or story that holds a special place in your heart? One that you have read multiple times? Please let me know in the comments!

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

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I normally do not read much non-fiction, but I’m fortunate to have read and enjoyed this memoir from the late Dr. Paul Kalanithi. Paul’s writing is beautiful and his story is unforgettable. His passion for literature, neuroscience, the medical field, and living life fully shines through this memoir, written while he was terminally ill with lung cancer.

At the age of 36, as Paul was finishing with a decade of intense schooling and truly begin his career as a neurosurgeon, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After having been a doctor to so many patients with cancer, Paul found himself trying to serve in a dual role as both doctor and patient. His reflections of various operations and patients that stuck with him throughout the years in the operating room add an even greater richness to his memoir.

Paul was a man of many talents, extremely bright in the medical field, but also a very gifted writer, holding degrees in English literature and philosophy. He references many great authors, philosophers, poets, and even the Bible. Perhaps the most notable is that of Samuel Beckett, whose words, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” become Paul’s mantra as his remaining time diminishes.

As Paul comes to terms with the limited amount of life remaining for him, he attempts to find out what makes a life worth living. He comes to realize that the long-term goals he had set for his life are no longer attainable, and he must go on regardless. The last 8 months of Paul’s life were especially important to him, as he was able to spend valuable time with his newborn daughter. His descriptions of the time spent with her, as well as his wife Lucy, are both touching, and heartbreaking. Paul was a man capable of profound love, conviction, and dedication to his passions in life.

Both the introduction by Abraham Verghese and the epilogue written by Paul’s wife, Lucy, are heartfelt and beautiful. Knowing that Paul wrote such a moving story, while facing what he did, is truly humbling. One of my favorite reviews of this book was from author Ann Patchett, who wrote, “This is one of a handful of books I consider to be a universal donor—I would recommend it to anyone, everyone.” There you have it, folks, When Breath Becomes Air, is truly a book for everyone. Enjoy.

The 13th Gift – by Joanne Huist Smith


The 13th Gift is a true story of one family’s difficult Holiday season after the untimely and sudden death of their husband/father. The story is interesting, as it includes a bit of mystery which builds as Christmas day approaches. The book had me laughing out loud as well as crying at times. This is a wonderful story for those who love Holiday novels, but also for anyone who has lost a loved one and had a hard time going through the Holiday season without their loved one present. The author writes exactly how she and her children are feeling in the wake of the loss of their husband/father. The Christmas “miracle” the family experiences is really quite moving and humbling. The greatest message is that anyone can be giving and any day can be like Christmas. What a great book!

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Foxcatcher – by Mark Schultz

Foxcatcher by Mark Schultz , according to the cover is “the true story of my brother’s murder, John du Pont’s madness, and the quest for Olympic gold.” I received an advanced reader’s edition of this book in exchange for a review. The book will be published on 11/18/14 by Dutton. Additionally, the movie will be released in November 2014, as well. Steve Carell stars in the movie as John du Pont and Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz. As always, I would recommend reading the book prior to seeing the film!

The story is interesting, and ultimately has a very sad ending, with the loss of Dave Schultz, multiple time Olympic and World champion wrestler. The author, Mark Schultz, gives great play by play detail into each and ever wrestling match he competed in during his own journey for Olympic gold and World championships. If a reader doesn’t really like sports, they may find the wrestling a bit too heavy on the description. However, I am not a sports lover and I felt the book was very well written. The relationship between Mark and his brother Dave is an example of the unbreakable bond of brotherhood. For fans of memoir, true crime, or even fiction, I would recommend this book.