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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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 Mistletoe Inn by Richard Paul Evans

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The Mistletoe Inn is the second installment in a Christmas series from Richard Paul Evans, referred to as “the King of Christmas Fiction.” The first book in the series, The Mistletoe Promise, was excellent. The books need not be read in order, like most series, because neither the characters nor the plot continue from the first to the second novel. One interesting thing Evans did, however, is to use the story line from The Mistletoe Promise as the book idea for the main character, an author named Kim Rossi, in The Mistletoe Inn. Well played, Mr. Evans. That was a really neat idea, and it brought back fond memories of the first book as I read the second one. I enjoyed The Mistletoe Inn just as much, if not more than The Mistletoe Promise. Every year around Christmas, I’m in the mood for a Christmas story, and Richard Paul Evans books are always perfect to satisfy my reader’s craving.

Kim Rossi is a newly divorced, single 32 year old aspiring writer who spends her days working as a finance officer at a car dealership. She is living in Denver, farther than she would like from her only remaining family member, her father. She lost her mother to suicide at a young age, and she still suffers from grief and guilt about her mother’s passing. To top it all off, she finds out some unsettling news about her father’s health. She decides to attend a writer’s conference at the Mistletoe Inn around Christmas time, in hopes that she will finally be able to get her novel closer to publication. The best part about the conference is that her favorite author of all time, H. T. Cowell, is the keynote speaker. Figuring she has nothing to lose, Kim spends Thanksgiving with her father and then sets off for the conference. The setting for the conference is beautiful, in wintry Burlington, Vermont. She meets a few new friends at the conference, namely Samantha and Zeke, as well as a few interesting characters, as well.

I won’t give away much more of the plot, because I want you to read and enjoy the story as much as I did. Let’s just say that the conference doesn’t turn out the way she thought it would, in more ways than one.

I truly enjoyed this book, and my only regret is that it was a very short read. I finished it in an evening, and then I wanted to read more about Kim and Zeke. Evans has an amazing way of bringing readers to spontaneous bursts of laughter and also tears with his romantic scenes and heart wrenching moments.

Now, to wait for the final installment next Christmas. I’ll be looking forward to it!

 

The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand

The Rumor will be published on June 16, 2015.

Elin Hilderbrand has done it again – created a beautiful story that I absolutely couldn’t put down! Although her books are mostly all set during the summer on the island of Nantucket, she manages to create distinctly different story lines and characters that blend perfectly. The Rumor is a story of Grace and Madeline, who have been friends forever. As each woman deals with their own family issues and stress, rumors start to swirl throughout town. One thing I really loved is that each chapter has a different character perspective, and Elin gives makes the island of Nantucket a character in itself. The chapters titled Nantucket are informative about just how skewed actual events become when they are turned into rumors. I found myself laughing out loud at the absurdity of some of the rumors. Another awesome thing is that Elin wrote this book while also battling breast cancer, and as such, she dedicated it to her doctors and medical staff. I won’t give away much about the plot, because you have to read it for yourself to fully appreciate the story. No spoilers! I absolutely loved this book. Thanks, Elin, for keeping my must-have-great-books addiction in control.