Monday, July 28, 2014

Special Heart

One out of every hundred babies is born with a congenital heart issue. Some problems are pinpointed and diagnosed early, while others go undetected for years. When Bret and Amy Baier joyfully gave birth to their son, Paul, in 2007, he was a "perfect," healthy baby. But less than 24 hours later, through a seeming coincidence—or more likely, providence—a substitute nurse assigned to the newborn didn't like something about Paul's color and alerted doctors. Paul was later diagnosed with a complicated combination of five major heart defects, the most serious and life-threatening being that his "walnut-sized heart" was pumping in the wrong direction.   

The main story that ensues in Special Heart: A Journey of Faith, Hope, Courage and Love is an intimate and detailed account of Paul's harrowing struggle to survive as his parents face hard choices amid his critical health condition. What hospital was best for Paul? Which pediatric surgeon would be the most experienced and capable to handle the delicacy of reconstructing and rebuilding Paul's fragile heart with vessels as "narrow as angel hair pasta"? And how long could the couple wait to make such life-changing decisions?

Along the way, Bret Baier, noted journalist and anchor of "Special Report," gives a well-told, anecdote-filled back story of his life—his years as a traveling reporter whose goal was to break into the Washington news business; how he met his wife, Amy, and courted her; his passion for golf; and his ascent en route to becoming the Chief White House Correspondent and ultimately manning the helm of a successful daily news program. These details offer a fully drawn portrait of Baier and enhance an era of his life when he and Amy had their faith and courage tested amid the challenges of Paul's unexpected medical crisis.

Throughout, the story is touch-and-go and stirring. Baier and his co-writer, Jim Mills, render it with perfect balance, blending facts with raw, emotional honesty, which makes for a riveting, page-turning read. From the time of Paul's birth until he turns six years-old, he bravely endures three open heart surgeries, seven angioplasties and one unrelated stomach surgery. The most moving parts of the memoir are the reprinted emails Baier sent to family, friends and others concerned and interested in the Baiers' journey, those who also offered love, support and the power of prayer. These passages are deeply personal and revealing. They shed light into the mind and soul of a sincere, sensitive person grappling with his faith, fate and the future.

In the end, all "Three Baiers" are physically, emotional and spiritually transformed by an experience that continues to require diligent, ongoing effort. At its core, "Special Heart" emerges as an inspirational story of hope from a man in the public eye unafraid to share the depth of his experiences in order to help and heal others.

* Note: One hundred percent of what the author receives from the sale of this book is donated to various non-profit pediatric heart causes.

 Click HERE to watch an in-depth interview with Bret Baier on Book-TV 

Center Street, $25.00 Hardcover, 9781455583638, 288 pp
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Invisible Ellen

Well-drawn characterizations and a compelling opening launch Invisible Ellen, a unique story of friendship by actress/writer Shari Shattuck. The book begins with an intriguing description of Ellen Homes, a 24 year-old, 273 pound, socially-awkward woman who shares a low-income, one-room apartment—and a "love of caloric excess," namely in the form of bacon—with her cat named Mouse. Ellen was once a product of the foster care system, where she was either taunted or ignored due to a prominent scar on her face and her left eye, halfway closed, which limits her vision. Ellen's background, along with her physical deformity, encourages her to espouse evasive techniques of anonymity to accommodate her limitations and cultivate her reclusiveness. But one afternoon, a young, blind woman boards the same bus that Ellen takes to her job cleaning at a Costco store, and Ellen instinctively intervenes to save the stranger from being mugged. Ellen's once-manageable, invisible life—spent quietly observing, from a distance, her struggling, also afflicted neighbors and co-workers, namely a troubled, pregnant woman and a drug dealer—is suddenly upended by the incident. In an ironic twist, the blind woman named Temerity takes an interest in Ellen and after more than six years of isolation, offers Ellen friendship—along with the motivation to more fully participate in life and courageously help others, regardless of complications.

Shattuck (Legacy) has written an upbeat, entertaining survival story about the souls of lost human beings often ignored by society and shows how lives can be profoundly transformed through unlikely human connections.

Putnam Adult, $26.95 Hardcover, 9780399167614, 304 pp
Publication Date: May 29, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (6/5/14), click HERE

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Mill River Recluse

"Sometimes, what you find in a small town can surprise you," writes author Darcie Chan in The Mill River Recluse. The novel centers on Mary Hayes McAllister, a wealthy, disfigured, elderly widow who inhabits a white marble mansion that overlooks the insular town of Mill River, Vermont. Chan describes Mary as "a woman who knew the difference between being alone and being lonely, who wanted so much to be accepted, to have coffee at the bakery, to come face-to-face with someone she didn't know without feeling fearful." Mary's early life was marred by an event which stole her innocence and confidence—and later led to an abusive, heartbreaking marriage. 

The story behind Mary's reclusiveness, which winds back to WWII, unfolds among other Mill River townsfolk who are struggling with their own challenges and demons. This includes an 87 year-old priest, Mary's only friend and confidante; a lustful, power-hungry cop; a widower transplanted from Boston with a young daughter; a teacher battling her waistline; and the town misfit, who practices witchcraft.

Secrets and unexpected gestures of kindness shape Chan's compassionate novel that blends elements of mystery, suspense and romance. After sixty years, Mary's reclusiveness is second nature in town, but behind-the-scenes, she remains attuned to the lives of those around her—"decent, hardworking people, the kind that don't have a lot but would give everything they have to a neighbor in need." Mary humbly leads this initiative, which culminates in a beautifully rendered denouement that rekindles hope for a troubled world. 
Ballantine Books, $15.00 Trade Paper, 9780553391879, 416 pp
Publication Date: June 17, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (6/24/14), click HERE