Archive for the ‘Cancer’ Category

The last line of Fredrik Backman’s AManCalledOve Acknowledgements at the end of A Man Called Ove reads, “Rolf Backman. My father. Because I hope I am unlike you in the smallest possible number of ways.” That says it all because that’s how I felt about my dad. And if Ove is even remotely like Rolf, Mr. Backman Sr. is worth emulating.

I’ve always said I’ll morph into a curmudgeon when I get older (and my kids notify me that I’m already there). If I do or if I am, I’ll take being compared to Ove as a compliment (as I do when compared to my father). He’s a quiet man. A man who found the love of his life and throughout 40 years of marriage could not understand by Sonja married him. He believed in few things. There is a right and a wrong. There are rules that must be followed. You can, to some extent, judge a man by the car he drives (absolutely!). And a person should be able to care for himself and his possessions-house, car, etc. If you can’t, you’re most likely an idiot. Ove is the type of man who is lost in today’s world of fast talkers, computers and possessions.

And so it is that when Sonja dies of cancer, Ove is lost. The one thing he valued most in this world is gone as are all the little things they did together. Have breakfast in the morning. Go to the café on Sunday morning where Sonja would have coffee and people watch while Ove would read the newspaper. He misses her curling her finger in the palm of his hand.

While alone and lost in the quiet of his house, he is annoyed when he sees someone backing a trailer in the space between his and the neighboring house, ruining his garden and running over his mailbox. To save what remains of his yard, he ultimately backs the trailer up himself. His new neighbors consist of a hugely pregnant Iranian woman, Parvaneh, her ‘idiot’ husband (he can’t back a trailer into a drive), and their three and seven year old daughters.

Little does Ove know the havoc they are going to wreak on his life, borrowing this,MyGrandmother asking that, barging in to his house uninvited, needing rides here, there and everywhere. It is sure to throw a major monkey wrench into his plans.

Backman’s latest book, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (which I loved), is filled with the kind of quirky characters I love to read about. In A Man Called Ove, Backman has created a character that it is hard not to love. Indeed, Ove is gruff. He’s opinionated. He can harbor a grudge (even after forgetting how it originated). But he loved Sonja more than life itself. He visits her grave every week, changing the flowers, telling her the news, imagining her responses.

I don’t know if Backman has a thing for animals but they pivotal roles in both books.  What can be bad about that, right?

I found the translation of this Swedish book to be somewhat halting in nature. And there were several favorite phrases that kept on appearing. But for some reason it added rather than detracted from the book.

It is rare that I read two books by the same author back to back. And it’s rarer that I like the second one more than the first, but that was the case with A Man Called Ove. I’m even considering making it part of my personal library. That says a lot. If you are in the mood for a truly satisfying read, Fredrick Backman is the author for you. I am awaiting impatiently for his next book. I hope it comes out soon.

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I must be in the ‘mother recently died’ phase of my reading. LastForeverFirst it was Oh Yeah, Audrey! by Tucker Shaw and now it’s The Last Forever by Deb Caletti. Tessa’s mother died three months earlier of cancer. She and her hippy, pot smoking, old tv show watching father, Thomas, are having a rough time of it. The only tangible thing Tessa has from her mother is a rare plant, a pixiebell, that has been kept alive since her grandfather Leopold stole the seed decades ago. Her mother took it everywhere and so will Tessa. She’s determined to keep it alive.

When her father suggests a road trip to the Grand Canyon a week before school ends, Tessa has no recourse but to go. She packs the pixiebell and its flower pot in an old shoe and cushions it well in a box so it won’t get tossed around on the trip. The road trip takes a few extra turns and Tessa and Thomas end up at his mother, Jenny’s house in Parrish Island, WA.

Her father leaves suddenly saying he needs time alone leaving Tessa with a grandmother she hasn’t seen or heard about since she was a toddler. It is certainly awkward.

It is in the Parrish Island library that Tessa meets Henry Lark, who will become the love of her life. It is also in Parrish Island that the pixiebell starts to droop. Tessa and Henry and a cast of several others vow to save the plant.

What did I like about The Last Forever? So many things. Caletti has developed wonderful characters: Tessa and Thomas, Henry, Jenny, the library staff of Sasha and Larry, Jenny’s art class students. The list goes on. They are colorful and caring. If I had to pick a community in which to live, these would be the people I’d like to live amongst.

Second, the library plays a prominent role in the story. As a librarian, that’s heart warming.

Third, every chapter starts with information about a seed. I love gardening and flowers and seeds. They intrigue me. That’s why I’ve read A Garden of Words by Martha Barnette, Who Named the Daisy by Mary Durant and Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales by Marta McDowell. Seeds are fascinating.

FortunesOf IndigoSkyeI learned something from this book. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault does actually exist (you’ll find out how it fits into the story when you read the book). It is located in the permafrost of the mountains of Svalbard, Norway and is dedicated to retaining the diversity of food crops.

And finally, it’s just a fun story. There are twists and turns that keep you reading.HoneyBabySweetheart

I’ve read several of Deb Caletti’s books: The Fortunes of Indigo Skye, The Nature of Jade and Honey, Baby, Sweetheart. I haven’t been disappointed yet.

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You’ll need your tissue box for this one folks…well at least I did. Zac has had a few rounds and relapses ofZacAndMia leukemia and is now in the hospital (Room 1) recovering from a bone marrow transplant. It’s pretty much isolation other than the fact that his mother stays with him, despite his entreaties for her to go home.

A new patient enters Room 2. Typically they’re older people but this one seems young. Since the walls are thin (6 centimeters according to Zac who is a numbers, statistics person) he can hear the arguing in the next room. When Lady Gaga is put on a continuous loop, as loud as it can go, Zac’s sure it’s a young girl. It turns out that the pain in her ankle wasn’t due to a sprain. It was cancerous.

Unlikely as it is, since they are both isolated, Zac and Mia develop some sort of friendship through the walls and notes passed back and forth via Nina, the nurse.

Zac and Mia are a contrast in personalities. Zac is the old pro at this and wishes he could tell Mia what to do–crushed ice helps, grilled cheese with ketchup when your taste buds dull due to chemo. He’d also like to tell her that statistically, her chances are 98% that she’ll be cancer free for 5 years once her treatment is over. Mia on the other hand is  mad, belligerent, despondent. Yet, at 3 AM, the cursed hour, when both are up, they communicate through Facebook.

If John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars set the kids with cancer standard, Zac & Mia by A. J. Betts is not far behind. The locale is Australia and is peppered with alpaca and kangaroos. It’s poignant, funny, sad, teary. Readers will fall in love with Mia and Zac, absolutely. While no one can understand what they go through unless they’ve been there, readers will get a good idea.

I’m going out on a limb and saying this will make my Top 10 list this year, it’s that good. So, on a day when you’re indoors, it’s dreary out, and you need to involve yourself in a book, sad story, get out your tissue box, put up a hot chocolate, put your feet under the blanket and read. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. But you’ll be better for it.


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OK, get your tissues out now. It’s sad. Livvie and Zoe are best friends and have been since they were young. MaybeOneDayThey started taking dance lessons together and progressed all the way up to the NYBC. That meant every day after school in New Jersey they would trek into Manhattan for several hours of ballet lessons. Until one day, their world was pulled out from under them, or so they thought. At the end of the summer before sophomore year, they were both told that they wouldn’t be continuing at NYBC…subtitle: they weren’t good enough.

Livvie, as part of her community service requirements, decided to teach ballet to underprivileged children in Newark. Zoe just foundered around, trying a little of this or that, but not finding anything to replace dance.

Remember I said, they thought their world was pulled out from under them? Well, now it really was. At the beginning of junior year, Livvie was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. Maybe One Day is the story of Livvie and Zoe coping with Livvie’s illness.

Kantor does a great job (I imagine since I haven’t experienced it) of running through the gamut of feelings experienced by both Zoe and Livvie, their families and friends. Shock, denial, disbelief in a God who would cause/allow such a thing. Zoe’s and Livvie were inseparable, at home, in school, at dance, so of course Zoe is the conduit of information for their classmates. Do you go into all the details or just say “she’s fine”?

Livvie and Zoe are remarkable characters, more like sisters than friends. Readers will feel their closeness and one happens to one, happens to the other.

Kantor has written Maybe One Day in a light tone…almost summer beach read light. But the story is anything but. This book may be overshadowed by the phenomenal success of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. But I hope it doesn’t. There’s room in YA literature for many books with cancer as the main topic…books coming from different directions.

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PurityPurity by Jackson Pearce runs the extremes. There’s some humor, but essentially it is a sad book, but different types of sad for different reasons. It’s my first foray into Pearce’s books and despite a recommendation and review from some journal or other, I wasn’t quite ready for the story.

So, I’ll ask you. If you’re 10 years old and your mother is dying of breast cancer and she asks you to promise her three things, what would you do? Of course, you’d do anything under those circumstances. And, when you’re fifteen, and those promises either don’t make sense or are unrealistic or you disagree with them, what would you do then? Keep them? Find loopholes? Well, that’s Shelby’s dilemma.

Shelby’s father, who for the past five years, has been a relatively silent house partner, gets involved in planning the Princess Ball, a father-daughter dance, and wants to attend with Shelby. That’s all well and good, but there are vows that the daughters must make, part of which is purity (abstinence) until marriage, of which Shelby disagrees. So, she goes looking for pre-Princess Ball sex (the loophole being if you’ve done it before the vow, then the vow is null and void).

I’ll let you read the book to find out what happens. But here are the different sads:

1. A 10-year-old (or anyone, for that matter) losing a loved one to cancer. We adults can’t come to grips with “God’s plan” or the withering of a body. How can a 10-year-old?

2. Pearce makes a point at the end about taking promises literally or understanding the meaning. Shelby’s relationship with her father is the result of a literal translation but there is so much missed as a result. But then again, can a 10-year-old read between the lines? Can a grown man read between the lines?

3. Although Pearce makes and reinforces the distinction between ‘getting laid’ and ‘making love’, Shelby and her friends’ cavalier attitudes to losing their virginity (both boys and girls) is unnerving for an old guy like me. And while pre-marital, extra-marital affairs are commonplace in our world, I would hope I’ve instilled in my children that making love is special and getting laid is vulgar. (My own humble opinion, folks.)

4. More melancholy than sad are the memories of moms (and dads) who have passed away. Regardless of your age, those memories remain and Pearce says it wonderfully.

“People expect you to miss the big things after someone you love dies. They expect you to think about graduating, falling in love, getting married without your mother there. And I do think about those things. But the things I really miss are smaller, fractions of my life intersected with hers, the moments I didn’t bother remembering because they seemed too unimportant–going to the grocery store, coming down the stairs in the morning, watching television, folding laundry.  Things that happened a thousand times that will never, ever happen again. It’s like a drug that I can’t have, yet am hopelessly addicted to; I want those moments all the time. Some days all I do is imagine them, an endless stream of daydreams.”

From a literary standpoint Purity is nicely written but it’s the story that makes this book worth reading and thinking about. Unfortunately, I find much of it a sad commentary.

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I truly was not going to blog about Kinsey and Me Stories, figuring that the stories in the book were typical KinseyAndMeSue Grafton/Kinsey Millhone stories. And for the first two thirds of the book this is true. In Part 1: Kinsey, in true Grafton/Millhone style, Ms. Grafton has crafted interesting, fun short stories featuring Kinsey. In an introduction to this section, she talks about how difficult short stories are to write and I whole-heartedly agree. If this was all the book was, I would have put a brief note in Librarything and moved on.

However….that is not the sum total of this book. The stories in Part 2:…And Me were written in the 10 years following Grafton’s mother’s death and these are riveting, revealing, honest, emotional and unlike anything Grafton that I’ve read. The stories talk about feelings of a young daughter towards her alcoholic parents, the emotional toll when a mother is stricken with esophogial cancer and what it’s like when the child becomes a parent to a parent. I only reluctantly put these stories down and went back to work.

As you know, I’ve been reading a lot of pulp fiction mystery stories from the 1920s through the 1950s. These stories are typically gritty and descriptive, with the occasional comic story thrown in. However, that’s not the Kinsey Millhone style. The Millhone stories here are short extensions of the detective series books, so they are easy going, enjoyable and comfortable.

So, if you’re not a mystery fan, skip Part 1 (that would be silly) and go directly to Part 2. In it are life lessons about understanding and appreciating later in life those things we don’t quite grasp or appreciate in our youth. In the final story is a letter from a father to a daughter in which he reminisces about her as a girl and the daughter’s reaction to these events thirty years later. In it, she said “You want to tell him you treasure all the relics of the past. You know now that you are a living museum, full of rooms and crooked corridors that repeat themselves at every turn.” And so we are a sum of the events of the past and for many of us, it takes us a long time to appreciate that past, as well as the present.

Get to know a deeper Sue Granfton by reading Kinsey and Me Stories.

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I just finished the most tender story, Starting From Here, a debut novel by Lisa Jenn Bigelow.SstartingFromHere Not that it wasn’t topical. It was. I just enjoyed every reading moment.

Colby lost her mother to cancer a year and a half ago. When we meet her, her girlfriend, Rachel, is breaking up with her.  Colby is devastated. Her father is a long haul trucker who is rarely around, so Colby is on her own.

Van, her best friend, wants to walk along the highway collecting cans…he’s a little short on cash. As they’re walking, a dog befriends them. When they walk away, the dog stays put but Colby decides they should take the dog with them. She runs towards it and, frightened, it runs into the road in front of an oncoming car. In a panic, Colby stays with the injured dog while Van runs to get Scarlett, Colby’s truck (great name, huh?) and they take the dog to the vet. In order to save the dog, its right hind leg needs to be amputated.

Starting From Here is the tender story of the recovery of the dog, Mo, and of Colby. Unlike most books, there are no characters you dislike, even Rachel, after breaking up with Colby is likeable. Readers can visualize everything and every act that Colby makes rings true…the continuing hurt after her mother’s death, her reaction to Rachel’s break up and her reluctance to let someone else into her life, the bond she forms with Mo.

Hey, I’ll give you that the end is too happily wrapped up. But, you know what? I needed just such an ending at just such a time. Not every book has to end on a sad note or prove a painful point.

If you just want a tender, enjoyable read, Starting From Here by Lisa Jenn Bigelow is where you should start. I’m already looking forward to her next book. Hey, Lisa, don’t make me wait too long.

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Birthdays are supposed to be great, but not so for Taylor Edwards. It was on her seventeenth birthday that she found out her father had pancreatic cancer and would not last the summer. So, it was decided that the family would spend the summer at their summer home on a lake in Pennsylvania, a place Taylor left abruptly five years earlier and had not returned to since, leaving behind her best friend, Lucy, and her boyfriend, Henry.

It was a big shock for everyone being back at the lake. Of course, Lucy and Henry were still there harboring unresolved hostility towards Taylor. Taylor wanted to be anyplace else but the lake, however circumstances wouldn’t allow it. And how do you act ‘normal’ when you know it’s your father’s last summer?

Morgan Matson’s Second Chance Summer is a book about second chances…second chances with friends, family, yourself. Taylor, always in the habit of running away when things got tough, is forced to stay and confront all those difficult situations. In doing so, she becomes a stronger person.

In this day when there are many families with two working parents there’s not enough time for family. Second Chance Summer reinforces how fleeting life is and how important family is. The book is 468 pages and I was fine until the last 15 when tears welled up in my eyes. While I don’t want to think about my own mortality and leaving my children, I admire the way Taylor’s father made sure he was still in their lives long after his passing. Second Chance Summer is quite nicely done. Congrats, Morgan.

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Those of you who review books for journals, on blogs or for newspapers, might know how I feel. I just reviewed a book for a journal and gave it somewhere between 2 and 3 stars (out of 5). And I feel bad. I wonder if I’m being too harsh. I wonder whether I’ve lost touch with what teens might like to read. I wonder whether I should get out of the reviewing business. I wonder, wonder, wonder, until I got my hands on The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Then I stopped wondering because I knew what a great book reads like.

I’m not going to tell you much about The Fault in Our Stars because my meager words won’t do it justice.  Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters meet at a cancer support group. Augustus was there at his friend Isacc’s request. All three have differing forms of cancer. They all suffer in different ways. They all carry on the best they can. They make quite a trio. Needless to say, Hazel Grace and Augustus become smitten with each other. Theirs is the love of a lifetime…the type of love we all wish to have, other than the prospect of either or both dying from their diseases. The Fault in Our Stars is a book of strength, of philosophy, of humor and determination. I mentioned once that I like Green’s odd numbered books: #1 Looking for Alaska, #3 Paper Towns and now #5. These are books not to be missed, but The Fault in Our Stars is stellar.

It is odd, but it seems that at times I unwittingly pick up books on the same topic, such as when I read several books dealing with Aspberger’s Syndrome. Hurt Machine, Reed Farrel Coleman’s latest Moe Prager book, begins with the protagonist exiting his oncologist’s office. I’m sure this will be another heart breaker. But that’s for another post.

Let me suggest two more Young Adult books with protagonists who have diseases that impact their lives or are, indeed, life threatening: After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick and Deadline by Chris Crutcher. In the former, Jeffrey Alper, now in eighth grade, narrates this sequel to Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie. He is cancer-free, but leukemia treatment left him with a limp and a brain that is “a little scrambled up.” When he learns he will be held back unless he passes a statewide standardized test, Jeffrey panics, then agrees to let Tad, his best friend and fellow cancer survivor, tutor him.

In Deadline, Ben has big things planned for his senior year. Had big things planned. Now what he has is some very bad news and only one year left to make his mark on the world. How can a pint-sized, smart-ass seventeen-year-old do anything significant in the nowheresville of Trout, Idaho? 

All three books deal with their subject with humor, insight and emotion. All three books should be on your bookshelf.

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