Saturday, February 26, 2022

"Grieving The Gift" - a gift for parents and readers


   Grieving The Gift: Experience The Journey Through Eyes of A Parent by Dr. Jamie McClintic is an extraordinary book on many levels. It defies any attempt to pigeonhole it.

     On one level, it's an expertly told tale of the struggles the author faced when she gave birth to her daughter Maddox who has Down Syndrome. The book also chronicles the emotional rollercoaster that followed the birth. But even that attempt to summarize is feeble. It neglects to salute a remarkable personal narrative produced by McClintic and a book filled with pages of helpful clinical information and advice that other parents dealing with impacts of having a disabled child might face.

     A little reviewer self-disclosure is required. McClintic's father, journalist Greg Awtry, is a good friend, though I have never met Dr. Jamie McClintic in person. Nor have I met her daughter Maddox, whose birth and first decade of life fill this book. That said, after reading Grieving The Gift closely, I feel like I'm part of the family.  

     Grieving The Gift is not easy reading. The author is painfully honest and frank about her thoughts, reactions and struggles from the moment of Maddox's birth through the astounding challenges of her early years. Today Maddox is the love of her mother's life. It wasn't so at first at all. And therein lies the title.

     It's might be as emotionally charged a book as I have ever read. And the writing? Compelling from start to finish. I'm not usually a weeper when reading. But this book in places had me groping for the tissues. I would rate it a two-Kleenex box book.

     Take chapter 6, titled Fake It Until You Make It: Three to Six Months.

     McClintic writes about her realization that the denial and anger she experienced immediately after Maddox's birth - and depression over what having a Down Syndrome child could mean - denied her the understanding that her first child was, in truth, a gift. 

     "I never recognized the gift of acceptance until Maddox turned five years old. I was late," McClintic writes. "This revelation made me sad. That was part of my personal motivation for writing this book. I don't want any of you to miss as many years as I did. While wallowing in my depression, I ended up missing some really amazing moments in Maddox's life."

     The details of those moments, many of which are chronicled across the 11 chapters, are best left to readers to absorb themselves from reading Grieving.

     Besides being a well-written, compelling tale. the book's photos, layout and design are engaging and dramatic. The design makes it like looking at a family photo album, one with margin notes written by a narrator who doesn't pull any punches, but who still manages to demonstrate vulnerability, strength, compassion as well as the ability to learn and adapt.

     Grieving The Gift does not have to be read straight through in marathon sittings. But McClintic's writing makes it difficult to put the book down. 

     One very important final note: You must read the Epilog carefully and in its entirety. Really. Every word. OH! And for sure, please keep that tissue box nearby in those final pages.

                                                          (Review By Michael J. Fitzgerald)      

Friday, December 10, 2021

'Madhouse at the End of Earth' - a polar adventure

 ANTARCTICA, Bellingshausen Sea - My natural aversion to being cold went through the roof as I read Madhouse at the End of the Earth. Ditto for living in the kind of haunting darkness experienced by people living in extreme northern and southern climates in winter.

     The non-fiction book by journalist Julian Sancton pulls no punches in describing the 1897 voyage of the ship Belgica as it goes deep into the Antarctic on an expedition to find the South Pole. It gets trapped in sea ice forcing captain and crew to winter over in sub-zero temperatures.

     The temperatures were bad enough. Almost as bad as the food. Being trapped in the ice with little hope of escaping could trigger claustrophobic feelings in anyone. But descriptions of the desolate darkness for months are horrific. So is reading about the crew devouring penguins.

     Yes, they reluctantly resorted to eating penguins. It was that or starve.

   Penguin meat - particularly eaten almost raw - had such a foul taste that some of the crew and captain refused to eat it.

     "Imagine a piece of beef, an odoriferous codfish and a canvas-back duck roasted in a pot with blood and cod-liver oil for sauce," the ship's doctor wrote, describing the taste.


     The food, cold and light deprivation all play heavily into the madhouse the resulted. But the story also examines the ambitions of the ship's captain, Adrien de Gerlache. He wanted glory and recognition, both of which pushed him to deliberately allow the ship to be trapped. He thought he could demonstrate extraordinary courage and valor of he and his men by surviving a polar winter. 

     It proved true, but a very costly gamble.

   The ambitions of others are also weaved throughout Madhouse at the End of the Earth.

     One of those is Roald Amundsen, who would become a famous explorer after surviving his stint on the Belgica. The book makes it clear the men of the Belgica might not have survived if were not for Amundsen's help. The same can be said for the ship's doctor, who ended up going to prison.

     But the doctor's tale is best left to readers to suss out.

     Meticulously researched and written with almost novel-like style, Madhouse at the End of the Earth is highly recommended reading. Sancton has done an amazing job in this book.

   Oddly enough, the book is published by Crown, an imprint of Random House, which is a division of Penguin Random House LLC of New York.

     Yes, Penguin.

 Review by Michael J. Fitzgerald

Sunday, November 07, 2021

'Project Hail Mary' a prayer for a human future

   PLANET ERID - It's hard at the moment to imagine the entire Earth pulling together to save humanity. Really.

     We are facing extinction, thanks largely to human greed and stupidity. (Check out any debate about how real climate change is for evidence of that.)

     But Andy Weir's new novel, Project Hail Mary, chronicles an extra-terrestrial threat that pushes earthlings into just such an unlikely planet Earth scenario - nations working together. The sun is losing its power and the Earth is, gasp!, cooling. Quite the turnaround from what we face today.

     Weir's first novel, The Martian, was a smash hit with readers. It eventually was made into a movie of the same name starring Matt Damon. It was a great film. And for lots of reasons I never read Weir's book.

     But Project Hail Mary has a movie in it certainly. I'll be in line early to see it. And the book is a best-seller.

     The premise is simple. The earth is threatened and the answer to saving the planet lies in the stars. Stars waaaaay away. This threat also presents a menace to other creatures in far-away galaxies. And those other creatures are chasing the solutions just as aggressively as Andy Weir's protagonist, Ryland Grace, a science teacher.

     Grace could be called "The Almost Accidental Astronaut." You will have to read the book to understand why.

    Project Hail Mary is told through Grace's eyes. The timeline bounces around slightly, going back and forth between Grace on the ground on Earth before leaving for his adventures in space, light years away.

     Did I mention Grace's intergalactic meetup with an alien spaceship - and an alien?

     Project Hail Mary gets a little technical in spots. Actually, it can be downright nerdy. But those nerd sections can be lightly scanned and not hurt the understanding of the overall plot. Some of the technical asides are fascinating. Given Weir's background, you can bet the science is real.

   This novel - like The Martian - has plenty of twists and turns providing life-threatening scenarios for both Grace and his newly found alien friend. Yes. Alien friend.

    In the end, most readers will go away satisfied having read a good yarn. And perhaps readers might even be slightly more optimistic about the possible future of humanity. Perhaps.

     Project Hail Mary is available at the Scappoose (Oregon) Public Library on the new book shelf and in bookstores and online everywhere.

(Review by Michael J. Fitzgerald)

Sunday, October 24, 2021

'Lightning Strike' novel is electric for readers

 SCAPPOOSE, Oregon - William Kent Krueger's Lightning Strike begins with the trappings of a murder mystery - which it is, in part.

   But before the first chapter is finished, it's clear the novel is also a coming-of-age story, commentary on intermarriage between Native Americans and non-natives, and a sharply tuned look at the interplay of the ultra-rich with the poor.

   On top of all that it's a page turner that's almost impossible to put down.

   The story is set in the early 1960s in the area around Minnesota's Iron Lake - a real place you can look up if you want to see it though a non-fiction lens. But Krueger has created a detailed fictional world that should make most readers feel as if they visited.

   Lightning Strike also is a short course in the culture of the Native American Ojibwe tribe, highlighted by the clash between non-Ojibwe law enforcement and the tribal members over two Native American deaths. The clash pieces point out the beliefs of the Ojibwe and how difficult it is for the non-Objiwe to relate.

   The story is told through the eyes of 12-year-old Cork O'Connor, who is also the main character in other Krueger works.

   The chapters are relatively short. Some end with cliffhanger episodes, many have a philosophical ending that has readers pondering.

   Besides a solid mystery yarn, Lightning Strike is also often a warm family tale. But, a warning. There's plenty of heartache lurking, too.

 If this latest William Kent Krueger novel strikes a chord with you, Krueger has a long list of other books that have garnered excellent reviews, too. Krueger is a NY Times best-selling author and lives in St. Paul Minnesota with his family.

  Lightning Strike was published by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster of NY. It's available on the new book shelf at the Scappoose Public Library in Scappoose, Oregon and bookstores.

(Review by Michael J. Fitzgerald)