Thursday, January 4, 2018

When Breath Becomes Air

The first book I finished (I say finished because I started it before New Years) was, "When Breath Becomes Air," by Paul Kalanithi. Let me start off by saying I typically don't enjoy memoirs but as a nurse working in the medical field I thought this would be something I could get into. I was right! I did enjoy  this book very much even though at times I would find myself lost in certain aspects Paul's thinking.

Let me start off by saying what a beautiful mind this man had. I mean you would have to be amazingly intellectual to become a neurosurgeon for one. However, his journey takes us through getting a BA and MA in English Literature (yes! He was a fellow bookworm), from Stanford University and a BA in human biology. He also earned his MPhil in history and philosophy of science and medicine (this is where sometimes I am not ashamed to admit he lost me) from the University of Cambridge. If that wasn't enough he also graduated cum laude from Yale School of Medicine. From there he returned to Stanford to complete his residency training in neurological surgery and fellowship in neuroscience. That right there is impressive enough!!

We meet thiurty-six year old Paul when he and his wife are told that he has stage IV lung cancer. He was in his last year of residency with his whole career in front of him. To see your own CT scans and know you are looking at potential death in the face has to be so difficult. It's one thing to be the doctor giving the bad news but to be the patient on the other end?

So what does he do? First he takes us on a journey through medical school and his early residency years. This is where I couldn't put this book down. From cutting into cadavers and going through different rotations I was glued to the page. I really felt at home in the LDR and NICU portions of his writing. Other areas felt like I was in the middle of a great episode of Grey's Anatomy right there performing brain surgery. It's really mind boggling how precise one has to be for brain surgery and how 1 millimeter can change a person, I mean REALLY change a person into a completely differnet person than they were before surgery.

As we catch up to present Paul we are there for his diagnosis and treatment plans. How he couldn't let go of being the doctor at first and just be the patient. Once he did what a load of his shoulders he admitted to feeling. He didn't think he would return to surgery after being diagnosed, but he did!  Fighting cancer and continuing to heal others! Pushing his tired body and mind to finish his last year and graduate. We are there for his contemplation with his wife of should or should they not try nad have a baby knowing his diagnosis?

Paul Kalanithi died March 9, 2015 after his battle with cancer. He faced it head on and with such bravery I don't think not just anyone would have given the same fate. He started writing his memoir to help others face their death if they had to face it head on. Paul never finised his memoir. He died before it was completed. His wife Lucy finishes it with a warmest epilogue that had me crying all over the pages as I read it.

Paul is survived by his wife, Lucy, daughter Elizabeth, and large extended family. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to look into a beautiful mind and into the journey of a brave soul.

Til next time!

-Scilla Lee

Monday, January 1, 2018

Winter Street Series by Elin Hilderbrand

Hello, book friends!  This is our first ever blog post and what a better time to launch it than on New Years Day!

As mentioned on my Priscilla's Picks page, reading went on the way side for a few years while I was busy raising my babies.  Before kids, I enjoyed holiday reading and every year, I'd search reviews on popular holiday reads to compile a list of seasonal books.  Local ghost story books were perfect for October, cozy Thanksgiving reads were a must for November and romantic, atmospheric Christmas stories piqued my interest for the month of December. 

Although, ghost stories are no longer my thing and there seems to be a limited amount of Thanksgiving books; this year, Christmas stories were of plenty!  One series in particular was my favorite.  The Winter Street series by Elin Hilderbrand.  It not only provided me with all the holiday feels but it also pulled at my heart strings. 


The first book in the 4-book series is Winter Street.  This one sets the scene for all the characters of the Quinn family, residents of Nantucket, a small island off the coast of Massachusetts.  We start off the story with Kelley Quinn, the father and patriarch of the family, finding his second wife, Mitzi, kissing "Santa Claus" days before Christmas and their annual, popular and charismatic Christmas Eve party, in their very own bed and breakfast inn on Winter Street.   

When I first started reading the story, I thought it would be more on the comical side, but it ended up being more than that.  We quickly learn that the dysfunction isn't only with Kelley and Mitzi but it's also with his four children, Patrick, Kevin, Ava and Bart.  But wait!  It doesn't end there, Margaret, Kelley's first wife and mother to the three oldest children, comes into play in all the craziness!  There were times that I felt my jaw drop and wondered, "do families really function like this?"

Patrick, the eldest, and his wife Jennifer, have had a strong marriage for many years until one day, Patrick takes a chance at work that costs his freedom and wife's sanity. 

Kevin, the second oldest, is a college drop-out that hasn't advanced beyond working as a bartender at a local pub.  With a divorce under his belt, in his late 30's and in a secret relationship, he wonders if he will ever get out of this rut.

Ava, the youngest of the first three children, is a 29 year old music teacher stuck in a dead-end relationship.  All she wants is to get married and settle down.

Bart, Kelley's youngest child and the only child he had with Mitzi, joined the Marines right out of high school and is serving a tour in Afghanistan.  Without giving away too many details, this decision has caused a rift between Kelley and Mitzi. 

Margaret, is Kelley's first wife of 19 years, and a well known CBS news anchor.  After hearing the news of Mitzi's affair with "Santa Claus", she comes to Nantucket to make sure everything is ok with her ex-husband. 

From here, there is a spiral effect of questionable relationships, broken hearts, new love and lots of longing and heart ache.


In the Winter Stroll, the second in the series, we once again meet up with the Quinn family.  A year has gone by and some relationships are still in turmoil while others are rekindled.  Patrick and Jennifer's relationship seems stable, but is Jennifer?  Kevin is finally settling down and is trying to make things right with his new love.  Ava is trying to find herself and trying to make the right decisions when it comes to love.  What about Bart?  Well, you have to read the book to find out!  Mitzi and Kelley's relationship takes a turn and we learn more about Margaret as a lover and a mother. 
The start of this story is set during the Winter Stroll on Main Street, the first weekend of December when the island kicks off its' holiday season.  I had to do my own research in regards to the holiday festivities on the island (confession, I love all things Christmas and typically try to attend one local event each season) and learned that the Nantucket Christmas Stroll, is an actual event.  And to my delight, Nantucket is only a ferry ride away from me!  You know where I will be the first weekend of December 2018!
Hilderbrand changed the scene of the third book, Winter Storms, and we meet the Quinn's in the spring time.  Lots have changed since the first book and the ending leaves you with tears and questions that need to be answered.  I couldn't get to Winter Solstice fast enough!
This series was originally supposed to be a trilogy so that last installment, Winter Solstice, came as a surprise, and boy, Hilderbrand did not disappoint!  The character development was on point as they grew from book to book.  The love and brutal honesty of the family members was felt and heard loud and clear.  I wanted to visit Nantucket in hopes to meet the members of the Quinn family, but had to remind myself they didn't really exist!
I was truly sad to leave them but Hilderbrand tied up the story so nicely that you didn't leave the story with unanswered questions, but instead with a heart filled with love and eyes filled with tears. 
I highly recommend that you read these novels.  Each one is less than 300 pages, so it is easy to read through and hard to put down!  Although these are predominately based in the holiday season, you can read them anytime of the year.  If you are upset and missing Christmas already, pick these books up right now to immerse yourself in the holiday cheer.  But if you want to wait until next Christmas to pick these up, then please add them to your December TBR list!
Enjoy!  Happy reading and Happy New Year my friends!