Saturday, May 23, 2015

Review: Inside the O'Briens


Inside the O'Briens: A Novel

About the Book:
Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.

My Comments:
My dear readers, there is something I have to tell you.  I'm sure some of you have guessed, but for those who haven't, I'm going to come right out and say it:  I'm dying.  I don't know exactly how much time I have left, but my day is coming.  Ok, I'm not dying anymore today than the average woman my age is, but none of us make it out of this world alive, and I don't expect to be the exception.  However, there are people, people who feel fine, people who have no symptoms, who know that they are going to die young and who know what will likely kill them.  They have the gene for Huntington's disease, a genetic, progressive neuromuscular disease that manifests itself to most people when they are in their 40's.  Those of us who do not have parents who had Huntington's do not have to worry (providing our parents are old enough, or lived to be old enough, to have manifested the disease); those who have a parent with Huntington's have a 50% chance of developing the illness.  

This is the story of the O'Brien family.  They are Irish-Catholics who live in the Charleston area of Boston.  Joe O'Brien is a Boston police officer and the father of four adult children.  Gradually, he and his wife, especially his wife, come to the realization that something is wrong.  After being diagnosed with Huntington's Disease, he realizes that his mother, who he had been told was institutionalized due to alcoholism, actually died of Huntington's Disease.  As we follow the O'Brien family through the first years after Joe's diagnosis, we see how this awful disease changes their lives.  The now-adult children have to decide whether to have genetic testing that could reveal whether they will follow in their father's jerky footsteps.  While we learn something about all the family members, the main characters are Joe and his youngest daughter, Katie.

Katie has always felt like she lived in her sister's shadow, but now she has a boyfriend and a job she likes.  She has dreams for the future.  But does she have Huntington's Disease?  Does she want to know?  What difference will knowing make?  Those are the thoughts that run through her mind.  Two of her siblings have chosen to know; one adamantly claims he does not want to know.  She isn't sure. In order to undergo testing, Katie has to visit a genetic counsellor.  The protocol then calls for her to return for another appointment, if she wants the test.  Finally, once the results come in she has to return to the counsellor, who will open the envelope in her presence, and, perhaps, predict the type of death she will die.

While certainly not religious fiction, this was a book about faith.  The O'Briens are Catholic and, unfortunately, not so unlike many Catholic families today.  After baby number four, Joe refused intimacy with his wife until she went on the pill, It took his devout wife several months to give in, but she did give in--and then got a dog that she named Yaz.  She want to Mass regularly; he didn't, and now the kids don't go.  Even in his illness, Joe does not return to Mass, but he does start going to the church after daily Mass and sits in the pew in which he sat as a child.  One day he comes home and finds his wife in despair and sees that she has removed the many religious items from their home, and he convinces her that God is there and cares.

This book had me in tears and praying for families that face this disease.  I don't know what I'd do in Katie's place.  What do you do if the test is positive?  Do you get married?  Have kids?  Seek experiences now since you know you don't have a long future ahead of you?  Wallow in self-pity?  Worry that every forgetful moment, every muscle twitch, every bit of clumsiness is the beginning of the end?

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley  Grade:  A.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Let Me Love You Forever: My Review

Let Me Love You Again (An Echoes of the Heart Novel Book 2)

About the Book:
An endearing series about love, family, and the magic of small-town life.

Selena Rosenthal left behind her high school sweetheart, who was the love of her life, seven years ago.

Now, she and the once-rebellious Oliver Bowman are back in Chandlerville—after his foster father’s heart attack and Selena’s contentious divorce—to deal with her secrets, the recklessness that caused their breakup, and the almost-strangers they’ve become to each other and their families.

As soon as his father is stronger, Oliver must return to the successful career that helps support a new generation of foster kids. But he’s falling for Selena again, her daughter has a hold on his heart, and he can’t imagine leaving behind his brothers and sisters once again.

More attached by the day to their charming hometown and families, Selena and Oliver fall in love for the second time.

Has fate brought Chandlerville’s prodigal children together again…this time forever?

My Comments:
It's a romance novel; of course the prodigal children will come together forever.  It's the journey that is the story; not the ending.  

I liked both Selena and Oliver and enjoyed watching them grapple with their pasts and move to the future.  It turns out that one thing they share is a history of substance abuse.  Of course neither feels worthy of the other's love and both have demons they need to confront before they live happily ever after.  

Honestly, this is a pretty basic romance novel, and since it is part of a series set in a small town we get to meet a lot of peripheral characters who have little part in the story, but I'm sure many of them will be featured in future books.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B

Short Review: Save Me


Save Me

About the Book:
Daphne Mitchell has always believed in cause and effect, right and wrong, good and bad. The good: her dream job as a doctor; Owen, her childhood sweetheart and now husband; the beautiful farmhouse they're restoring together. In fact, most of her life has been good--until the day Owen comes home early from work to tell her he's fallen head over heels for someone else.

Unable to hate him, but also equally incapable of moving forward, Daphne's life hangs in limbo until the day Owen's new girlfriend sustains near-fatal injuries in a car accident. As Daphne becomes a pillar of support for the devastated Owen, and realizes that reconciliation may lie within her grasp, she has to find out whether forgiveness is possible and decide which path is the right one for her.

My Comments:
I read this one quite some time ago and I guess I forget to write the review at the time since it is still showing as un-reviewed and there is no review on my blog.  The main thing I remember is that I didn't like the characters and thought that their problems came about mainly because they concentrated their lives on achieving career goals, not on family. I think Kristyn Kusek Lewis is a talented writer; I just wish she'd come up with characters I like.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B-.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Author Interview: Sherry Boas


I've reviewed several books by Sherry Boas, so I was definitely interested when Catholic Word asked me if I wanted to interview her.  Sherry's comments are in bold type below.

Hi Sherry!  I'm a fan of your Lily books and I'm so glad you agreed to take time for this interview.
I looked at your website and the photos of your kids are great.  I understand why you are vague on the details about them, but can you tell us a little about them--their genders and approximate ages (teens, toddlers, pre-teens, etc.).

My children range in age from 9 to 16. They are awesome gifts from God and make our lives rich and joyful.

All of your kids are adopted, and none of them were the healthy, perfect white infants that so many adoptive parents want.  How old were your kids when you adopted them?  Do you have any advice for parents considering adopting special-needs kids?

We adopted all our children when they were infants. If you feel you may be called to special needs adoption, pray, research and have courage. Let love guide you, not fear. Love will determine whether each placement is right. Love doesn’t require you to say yes to everything. Sometimes love means saying no. But fear is never a good decision maker. As our beloved St. John Paul II always reminded us, “Be not afraid!”

Your website said you homeschool your kids.  Is this something that you think you would have done if your kids did not have special needs, or is it something you chose to do largely because of your kids' special needs?

I was led to home schooling after seeing the fruits of home schooling in families I knew or read about. It seemed they had a very close bond and that’s what I wanted for my family.

In Until Lily, we learn that Lily works, uses public transportation independently and lives in a group home.  What type of future to you envision for your children?  I have a son who has autism and so far, I've found adulthood to be harder than the school years. I can't imagine having to worry about four kids with special needs and what they are going to do when I'm gone.

From what it looks like now, thanks to so many miracles, I think most of my children will be independent. My daughter with Down syndrome is the one who will require help all her life. I think she will hold some kind of job and live with family or in a group home. Her older brother, who is now 15, has expressed a desire to help her through life, which I think is beautiful. If it doesn’t end up working out that way, I pray God will send the right people into her life, and as she gets older, we will begin to make more solid plans. She is only 12 now. But I know it’s a worry, and I hear what you say, loud and clear. Adulthood for people with special needs can be a real challenge. Perhaps we as parents must rely on God’s providence even more at those times. And work very hard and pray for the strength to endure whatever suffering and sacrifices are necessary because that’s what love requires.

All the Lily books are published by Caritas Press, and your bio on their website says you are the owner of Caritas Press.  As a book blogger I've started to learn about the business of books and I'm still trying to figure things out.  What is the difference between owning a company like Caritas Press, and self-publishing?  Is there a difference?  Does Caritas Press publish books by other authors?  Do you want to?  Did you try to publish any of your books with other publishers?

I started as a self publisher in 2011, when I published the Lily Trilogy, but my mission unexpectedly grew and now I have a small publishing company called Caritas Press. I do publish other people’s work, including children’s books, but I wouldn’t be able to do any of it without my publishing partner, Catholic Word, which handles all my distribution, marketing, order fulfillment and accounts. Catholic Word is the reason I was able to make the cross-over from self-published author to publisher, so their decision to take on my titles has been a huge blessing.

In my review of The Things Lily Knew, I asked my readers:  If adults could take pre-conception pills to eliminate defective eggs or sperm, would that be a good thing?  I'm not talking about something that would hurt an already conceived zygote, embryo or fetus; rather this hypothetical drug would work on gametes (eggs and sperm).  What is your answer?

Such a good question. It is the question that the main character in The Things Lily Knew has to face. I would love for people to read the book and see if it helps them decide for themselves!

In your books it becomes clear that for Lily's family she is a catalyst for salvation--both salvation in the everlasting sense and in an earthy sense, as the family was better off here on earth because of the interactions with Lily.  Fast forward twenty years.  A drug has just hit the market that cures Down's Syndrome or a condition that one of your other children has.  I know you can't fix chromosomes but this hypothetical medicine provides what is missing because of that extra chromosome, and studies have shown that if people with those conditions take this medicine and then undergo extensive tutoring (because they were so far behind to start with) they can achieve normal intelligence/abilities.  Would you give the medicine to your children?

Another really good question. Probably similar to the question of cochlear implants for people who are deaf. If I were deaf, I assume I would sign up for that surgery. But I have heard some in the deaf community say that deafness is something that doesn’t need to be fixed. For myself, if there was a magic drug that had no side effects and could make my memory better, I would probably take it. I think it would improve my quality of life to be able to remember where I put my car keys and what chapter contains the scene where Lily gets married, for instance, and I don’t think it would change my personality. I think I might view medication for improving intelligence in those with intellectual disabilities the same way. On the other hand, one would have to wonder if such a medication would change one’s personality, and then that becomes a tougher question.

Your bio says that you spent ten years as a journalist.  Now you are a novelist.  How do the jobs compare?  Why did you decide to switch fields?

I quit my very demanding job as a reporter at a daily newspaper in 1998 when we adopted our first baby. I became a stay-at-home mom and have loved every minute of it. Then in 2009, I decided to try writing a book, and that turned into a trilogy, which I published in 2011, and then a series, and I began to see how I could publish other books as well. I have been blessed to be able to do it all at home, in the stolen moments between laundry and times tables, and late at night when everyone has gone to bed. It has been a blessed journey!

I'd like to thank Sherry for taking the time to visit with us. I've enjoyed getting to know her and hope you enjoy her books as much as I do.

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