Taking My Life Back by Rebekah Gregory

On April 15, 2013, Rebekah Gregory and her five-year-old son waited at the finish line of the Boston Marathon to support a friend who was running. When the blast of a homemade bomb packed with nails and screws went off three feet away, Rebekah’s legs took the brunt of the explosion, protecting her son from certain death. Seventeen surgeries and sixty-five procedures later, she finally made the decision to have her left leg amputated.

This stirring memoir tells the story of her remarkable recovery–including her triumphant return to Boston two years later to run part of the race and her participation in the trial of one of the terrorists–and explores the peace we experience when we learn to trust God with every part of our lives: the good, the bad, and even the terrifying. – from publisher’s website

I remember where I was and how I heard about the Boston bombings and it was eye-opening to read about how it affected someone not just at the event itself, but recovering from it and as she says, taking her life back. I liked how Rebekah didn’t sugarcoat her story and I felt she did a good job of talking about her own mistakes she’d made in her life. I also liked how she didn’t paint herself as a victim but as someone who was living in spite of everything. She focused more on how she recovered from the effects of the bombings than the actual bombings themselves. I also liked what she said about happy endings and that she calls them happy continuations because it doesn’t end but rather continues.

Grace Behind Bars by Bo & Gari Mitchell

Grace Behind Bars shares the true and dramatic account of how Bo Mitchell, businessman and chaplain for the Denver Nuggets, inexplicably ended up in federal prison only to find God’s true freedom behind bars. Ironically, it’s in a six-by-nine-foot cell that God begins to free this driven Christian leader from his prison of performance and success. In the end, Bo realizes that God’s love is a gift, not something he must earn.

But there’s more to the story: Just before Bo enters prison, his wife, Gari, becomes incapacitated by a brain illness and enters her own prison of clinical depression.

Readers will see how the couple struggled together as their world fell apart, yet ultimately grew closer to each other and God behind the bars of their trials. This story will not only inspire and encourage readers, it will show them how they, too, can find spiritual freedom in life’s “prisons” if they choose to see God’s hand in their lives. – from Focus on the Family’s website

Grace Behind Bars is a candid look at one man’s journey through prison and how pride came before his fall. It was fascinating to read how Bo and Gari didn’t become bitter about how he was treated for his unintentional crime, but rather they saw it as a lesson from God and were always open to learning what God wanted them to learn through the experience. I liked getting little snippets of Gari’s perspectives at the end of the chapters. I also liked how Bo related the lessons he learned while in prison to how they could be applicable to everyone, although in his speech he geared it to men. A lot are still great tips for everyone, regardless of gender. Their story wasn’t that relatable for me, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn’t Give Up by Ian & Larissa Murphy

Eight Twenty Eight

What if that thing you really feared happened? Would the joy you hold pop? Or would you experience love and joy deeper than you can imagine

They met in college and fell in love. They talked about getting married, and he started looking for a ring. They dreamed about life together, a life of beauty and joy, raising babies and laughing with friends and growing old.

They did not imagine a car accident. They did not imagine his brain injury. They did not dream about the need for constant care and a wheelchair and fear that food might choke him.

And they could not have imagined how persistent love would be. Theirs and God’s.

Ian and Larissa Murphy tell their story of love in Eight Twenty Eight. Except, it’s not just their love story. Really, it’s yours as well. Read and gain a picture of love that will challenge all you think you know about what is true and what persists. – from author’s website.

This was an inspiring book about how Larissa stayed with her boyfriend, Ian in spite of his brain injury and their love for each other. I could feel along with Larissa as she tells their story and was inspired by how God worked through their lives. I liked how they flipped between the past and the present (at the time of the writing), however, at times it was a little confusing knowing the timeline of their story. I thought a coma was when the person was asleep so I was a little confused as to what constituted as a coma because she often talked about him still being in a coma after he had already been awake and after he had gone home. It would have been nice to have got some clarification on that. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it.

Double Play by Ben and Julianna Zobrist

Double Play

All-Star player Ben Zobrist (Tampa Bay Rays), considered one of the best all-around players in baseball, writes about the importance of his faith, life, and athletic career in Double Play. Written with his wife, Christian singer Julianna Zobrist, and Mike Yorkey, best-selling author of Every Man’s Battle and Linspired: The Remarkable Rise of Jeremy Lin, the book gives fans a first look into the heart of an athlete whose talent and devotion to God, family, and baseball make him one of the most loveable figures in the Major League today. – from publisher’s website

I grew up in a sports-loving family and we watched a lot of baseball towards the end of this season. Through my casual baseball watching and the more frequent baseball watching this past season, I knew who Ben Zobrist was, or at least I had heard of him. So I knew he played professional baseball, formerly for the Tampa Bay Rays and more recently for the Kansas City Royals, although this book was published before he went to Kansas City. This book gives an overview of how he and his wife, Julianna, grew up, but its main focus is their romance, faith, and how they do what they love.

I enjoyed this book, partly because I enjoy reading about the lives of people I’ve heard of before, whether through sports, music, TV, movies, etc. Seeing how Ben & Julianna met and how their romance wasn’t presented in a way that made their relationship seem perfect. Julianna wrote about how certain things that Ben did turned her off and it took a while from when they first met before they actually started dating. They also shared their struggles, like depression, anxiety, pride, and how Julianna actually considered leaving Ben for a period of time. When I was reading this book, I was in a place in my life where I needed encouragement and reading about their struggles gave me some hope and gave me some perspective.

With the way this book is written, Ben & Julianna come across as real people and not just people you see on TV or hear on the radio. You can see a baseball player’s romantic side and see a Christian music singer and mother’s dedication to her husband and her marriage. How they have a policy of not going more than six days apart from each other in order to put their marriage first, which can be quite difficult when Ben is on the road a lot of the time for his career.

Andy and Don by Daniel de Vise

Andy and Don

A lively and revealing biography of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, celebrating the powerful real-life friendship behind one of America’s most iconic television programs.

Andy Griffith and Don Knotts met on Broadway in the 1950s. When Andy went to Hollywood to film a TV pilot about a small-town sheriff, Don called to ask if the sheriff could use a deputy. The comedic synergy between Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife ignited The Andy Griffith Show, elevating a folksy sitcom into a timeless study of human friendship, as potent off the screen as on. Andy and Don—fellow Southerners born into poverty and raised among scofflaws, bullies, and drunks—captured the hearts of Americans across the country as they rocked lazily on the front porch, meditating about the simple pleasure of a bottle of pop.

But behind this sleepy, small-town charm, de Visé’s exclusive reporting reveals explosions of violent temper, bouts of crippling neurosis, and all-too-human struggles with the temptations of fame. Andy and Don chronicles unspoken rivalries, passionate affairs, unrequited loves, and friendships lost and regained. Although Andy and Don ended their Mayberry partnership in 1965, they remained best friends for the next half-century, with Andy visiting Don at his death bed.

Written by Don Knotts’s brother-in-law and featuring extensive unpublished interviews with those closest to both men, Andy and Don is the definitive literary work on the legacy of The Andy Griffith Show and a provocative and an entertaining read about two of America’s most enduring stars. – See More

This book wasn’t as interesting to me as I thought it would be. There were a lot of facts that made the book seem dry to me. There were some sections interesting – when it was Andy and Don interacting with one another. When I was younger, I watched The Andy Griffith Show with my mom and I’ve seen several of Don Knotts’ movies, as well as some episodes of Matlock, so my perspective of them resulted from those shows and movies. However, this book kind of changed my perspective of them, with the drinking, partying, affairs, and the anger and abuse. Maybe I just had the wrong impression of them before reading the book, but reading it affected my view on them.

The book also seemed all over the place, where it wasn’t ordered by theme or time frame. For the most part, I think it was written by time frame, but then there were times when it seemed to be written by themes.

At the end of the book, the author includes an annotated list of some of the best Andy Griffith Show episodes and a selected filmography of both men. This is a neat feature so those who read the book can look at the lists if they want to watch some of Andy’s and Don’s movies, as well as some of the episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, if they don’t want to watch all of them or want some episodes to start off with.

Standing on My Brother’s Shoulders – Tara Lal

Standing on my Brother's Shoulders

Tara’s childhood was scarred by the debilitating mental illness of her father and by her mother’s death from cancer when she was thirteen. Caught up in grief and despair, Tara and her older brother Adam developed a deep, caring bond, but Adam struggled silently with growing anxiety and depression. Four years after their mother’s death, he committed suicide, throwing himself from his study window at Oxford University. Grief and insecurity threatened to engulf Tara, but eventually she found, within her brother’s diaries, her reason to live. The story moves from London to Sydney as Tara rebuilds her life, firstly as a physiotherapist and then a firefighter. Through her search for understanding and a powerful dialogue with her brother, she eventually gains freedom from the past and a life of meaning. Trained in suicide prevention, the author hopes that sharing her story will allow the reader to identify risk factors for mental illness, as well as strategies that reduce the effect of trauma and loss. She also seeks to give examples of techniques to improve resilience, and show how we can aid post-traumatic growth and improve happiness levels through positive psychology. – From Publisher’s website

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

It took me a while to get into this memoir because the first several chapters were background information which I didn’t find all that interesting. The memoir did hold my attention enough for me to stick through the background chapters to get to the part where it deals with Tara’s brother’s depression and suicide. Before reading this book, I thought it was going to focus more on mental health than it actually did, but it was still interesting to see how Tara responded to her father’s illness, her brother’s suicide, and her own struggles. There was some swearing in the book, but it wasn’t excessive. I lost one of my brothers unexpectedly last year and so when Tara talked about losing her brother, I could feel along, and at times I teared up because it reminded me of my loss. Overall, I think this could be an interesting read for those who like memoirs.

A Beginner’s Guide to Paradise By Alex Sheshunoff

A Beginner's Guide to Paradise

So You Too Can:

– Move to a South Pacific Island
– Wear a Loincloth
– Read a Hundred Books
– Diaper a Baby Monkey
– Build a Bungalow

And Maybe, Just Maybe, Fall in Love! *

* Individual results may vary.

The true story of how a quarter-life crisis led to adventure, freedom, and love on a tiny island in the Pacific.

From the author of a lot of emails and several Facebook posts comes A Beginner’s Guide to Paradise, a laugh-out-loud, true story that will answer your most pressing escape-from-it-all questions, including:

1. How much, per pound, should you expect to pay a priest to fly you to the outer islands of Yap?
2. Classic slumber party stumper: If you could have just one movie on a remote Pacific island, what would it definitely not be?
3. How do you blend fruity drinks without a blender?
4. Is a free, one-hour class from Home Depot on “Flowerbox Construction” sufficient training to build a house?

From Robinson Crusoe to Survivor, Gilligan’s Island to The Beach, people have fantasized about living on a remote tropical island. But when facing a quarter-life crisis, plucky desk slave Alex Sheshunoff actually did it.

While out in Paradise, he learned a lot. About how to make big choices and big changes. About the less-than-idyllic parts of paradise. About tying a loincloth without exposing the tender bits. Now, Alex shares his incredible story and pretty-hard-won wisdom in a book that will surprise you, make you laugh, take you to such unforgettable islands as Yap and Pig, and perhaps inspire your own move to an island with only two letters in its name.

Answers: 1) $1.14 2) Gas Attack Training Made Simple 3) Crimp a fork in half and insert middle into power drill 4) No.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I have to be honest, I only finished about half of this book. I was interested for the first part of the book (about a quarter of the way through), but it started losing my interest as everything seemed to drag on. This book is a very long read with short chapters that make you feel like you’re making a lot more progress than you actually are. I found the book to be not interesting enough to keep my attention for the whole book. I think this book could have been much more interesting if it was made shorter by either cutting some things out or summarizing more.

I did like the “What You Can Expect to Learn in This Chapter” sections at the beginning of each chapter. They provided some interest to the chapter. An example of this is:

Chapter 25
What You Can Expect to Learn in This Chapter
– How do you know if the hunk of steaming sea turtle you’ve just been handed is undercooked?
– What month is cell phone etiquette month?

This book may be for some people and I found it a little bit interesting, but for me it was too long and it dragged on.

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome by Reba Riley

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome

Reba Riley’s twenty-ninth birthday was not a good time to undertake a spiritual quest, but when chronic illness prompted her to focus on one thing she could fix – her whopping case of Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome – she undertook a challenge: Visit thirty religions before her thirtieth birthday. This was transformation by spiritual shock therapy. Reba would find peace and healing … if the search didn’t kill her first.

During her spiritual sojourn without leaving home, Reba: Danced the disco in a Buddhist temple; Went to church in virtual reality, a movie theater, a drive-in bar, and a basement; Was interrogated about her sex life by Amish grandmothers; Got audited by Scientologists, mobbed by NPR junkies, and killed (almost); Fasted for thirty days without food – or wine, dammit!; Washed her lady parts in a mosque bathroom; Learned to meditate with an Urban Monk, sucked mud in a sweat lodge with a Suburban Shaman, and snuck into Yom Kippur with a fake grandpa; Discovered she didn’t have to choose religion to choose God … or good. For everyone who has ever needed healing of body or soul, this poignant, funny memoir reminds us all that transformation is possible, brokenness can be beautiful, and sometimes we have to get lost to get found.

This book was a fascinating read. Before I read this book, I thought it might say more about the beliefs of the various groups, but it focuses on Reba Riley’s journey of spiritual healing instead. It doesn’t mention a whole lot about the beliefs of the groups themselves, but rather Riley’s thoughts and feelings, and what happened to her. I enjoyed her writing style and that she wrote this book as more of a story than just facts. I also liked that she included humor, which made this book that much more enjoyable. I didn’t necessarily agree with some of what Riley did or said, but I was able to glean things from her journey that could help me in my own spiritual journey.