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Lisa Morguess RSS Feed (Fullerton, CA USA)

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Sun Shine Down: A Memoir
Sun Shine Down: A Memoir
by Gillian Marchenko
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.94
33 used & new from $3.61

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Gem, September 5, 2013
In this slim little gem of a memoir, Gillian Marchenko recounts the birth of her third daughter by emergency c-section in Ukraine - far away from her family in her native Michigan. Soon after her daughter's traumatic birth, Gillian and her husband learn that not only is their new baby very ill, she also has Down syndrome - and this in a country where babies with Down syndrome are still routinely institutionalized from birth.

After leaving their missionary work in Ukraine and moving back to the states, Gillian struggles to come to terms with Polly's diagnosis. Weighed down by depression, she turns to alcohol for escape and solace, all the while trying to keep up appearances as a good mother, and a pastor's wife.

Stark and beautiful in its honesty, this is a very human story of a mother struggling to cope with a new reality, and ultimately of a baby who lights the way.

I've read a lot of Down syndrome memoirs, and this jewel rises to the top as one of the better ones.


The Crooked Branch: A Novel
The Crooked Branch: A Novel
by Jeanine Cummins
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.50
112 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A Book That Got Under My Skin, April 21, 2013
The stories of two mothers - one in famine-era Ireland, and the other in modern-day New York - intertwined and told so beautifully, so authentically . . . it's one of those books that I felt as if I had climbed into and was witnessing firsthand every time I opened it. And I didn't want to put it down! It kept me turning pages, wanting to know what was going to happen next.

I could relate to so much of Majella's postpartum/new mother struggles, as I've experienced so much of it myself, and I thought the author did a wonderful job capturing the emotional roller coaster that new motherhood is for so many women. I felt like Majella was a down-to-earth girlfriend, and I often found myself nodding my head as I read her narrative. The story of Ginny and her family trying to survive the horrors of famine kept me on the edge of my seat, and I kept rooting for her. Both women's stories had me laughing and crying at different times. This is one of those books that left me sorry to have read the last page because I had become so attached to the characters and I didn't want the story to end.


The Unfinished Child
The Unfinished Child
by Theresa Shea
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.52
30 used & new from $1.06

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unputdownable, April 21, 2013
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This review is from: The Unfinished Child (Paperback)
As the mother of a little boy with Down syndrome, I was eager to read this book. I broke down in tears many times throughout this deftly imagined story, and although I wanted to be able to summon up some righteous outrage at times, what I mostly felt was enlightened and a deep compassion. It drives home the fact that despite the debates raging about prenatal testing, abortion, and inclusion, nothing is black and white, and there are no easy answers.

This is a must read for not only parents in the Down syndrome community, but for all parents, and for anyone who appreciates masterful story-telling. I will not soon forget this book.


Ugly to Start With
Ugly to Start With
by John Michael Cummings
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.29
40 used & new from $4.78

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gritty and Moving, October 21, 2012
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This review is from: Ugly to Start With (Paperback)
In this gritty coming of age novel, Jason Stevens is a teenager from the wrong side of the tracks in a small town in 1970s West Virginia. He is one of three boys in a family ruled by a tyrannical, eccentric father, but even in this family of misfits, Jason often feels like he doesn't belong. Short stories follow the thread, much in the same style as Olive Kitteridge, of Jason's often painful growing up. Along the way, various colorful and edgy characters come and go, and throughout, a grim honesty pervades. Certain parts, like the chapter from which the book takes its title, about the family cat, disturbed me and moved me, and stayed with me long after I moved on to subsequent chapters. Reading this, I was very much reminded of The Glass Castle; told in first-person narrative, I'm actually unsure whether this book is fictional, as it very much feels at least partially autobiographical.

Cummings is a talented writer who manages to paint vivid scenes and characters and evoke a myriad of emotions from his readers. I really enjoyed this short book.


Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected--A Memoir
Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected--A Memoir
by Kelle Hampton
Edition: Hardcover
182 used & new from $0.01

56 of 71 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Impressed, April 27, 2012
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I would definitely NOT recommend Bloom to a new or expectant parent of a child with Down syndrome. I can absolutely understand the sentiment of the overall positivity/beauty of what Hampton presents (mostly in the form of beautiful photographs) being beneficial to new parents, but I think "positive realism" is a better approach. The truth is, not everyone is going to have the privileged life Hampton seems to have, not everyone is going to have the intense, massive support system she seems to have, not everyone is going to have a child with Down syndrome with NO medical issues and negligible delays, etc. etc. etc. It's not a realistic picture, and it has the potential to create unrealistic expectations, which I think can backfire and send a parent reeling. I have run across plenty of people who have said that reading Hampton's blog makes them feel bad because their life looks nothing like that, and she projects this effortlessness about it all (which I highly doubt is truthful; it must take an incredible amount of effort to make things look so perfect all the time), which makes parents who are dealing with real struggles feel like they must be doing it wrong. Hampton has her story, and yes, what she puts out there DOES benefit some people. However, there is also, inarguably, a downside.

Furthermore, her "message" feels very shallow, materialistic, and self-centered. I would rather a new parent hear from a veteran parent how Down syndrome has changed them, brought out the best in them, made them re-evaluate their values and priorities and world view, instead of how Kelle Hampton is so great because she refused to let Down syndrome change her, she's a "rockstar," she is going to rock this like nobody has ever rocked it before, yada yada yada. Yes, life goes on with Down syndrome, life is beautiful with Down syndrome - I will jump up and down waving my arms attesting to that from the rooftops - but I think Hampton's values are mostly in the wrong place, and I absolutely do not think she's role model material and don't understand why people look up to her as much as they do, unless it boils down to a simple attraction to aesthetics and celebrity.

As for the book itself, I didn't find it to be particularly well written (or well-edited). It seems very much to be the sophomoric ramblings of a person stuck in young-adulthood, trying to prove how cool she is. She strains for wisdom and maturity with manufactured mantras and recycled phrases from other writers, and the spotlight is always on her, and usually in a very superficial way.

Not impressed.
Comment Comments (14) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 24, 2012 2:59 PM PDT


I Live with Peter Pan
I Live with Peter Pan
by Missy A. Vaughn
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.49
6 used & new from $13.49

20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Disappointing Promotion of An Old Stereotype, December 20, 2011
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This review is from: I Live with Peter Pan (Paperback)
A softcover book aimed at children, the author, who has a young son with Down syndrome, explains that she was inspired to write this book when faced with explaining Down syndrome to her own children. She apparently hit upon the Peter Pan comparison - a boy who never wanted to grow up.

While I can see the appeal of this simple book that conveys a family's love for their child who has Down syndrome, I have several problems with the angle the author takes. The main problem I have is the fact that explaining Down syndrome in terms of "never growing up" perpetuates a stereotype that so many of we parents of children with Down syndrome have tried to eliminate. Portraying them as forever infantile or childlike only does a huge disservice. People with Down syndrome do, in fact, grow up, and given the opportunities, can accomplish more than most people realize, and it's up to us, the families of individuals with Down syndrome, to raise awareness of this fact, not promulgate old misconceptions.

The book also focuses very much on the child's differences and goofy behavior. While it's true that differences should be celebrated and kids indulge in goofy behavior, Down syndrome or not, I don't think that focusing on what sets a child with Down syndrome apart does anything to promote acceptance, tolerance or an attitude of inclusion.

Finally, while this is probably a minor thing, it bugged me that throughout the book, the author uses "Down Syndrome" instead of the proper "Down syndrome" (syndrome should not be capitalized). This is probably an example of poor editing which seems to be part and parcel of self-publishing.

The author's goal with this book is to provide a tool for parents to explain Down syndrome to their kids in a non-scary, non-threatening way. I think what the author accomplishes, instead, is portraying Down syndrome as a cartoonish stereotype, without any true explanation of Down syndrome at all. Being the mother myself to a child with Down syndrome as well as five older kids, I never felt that I had to sugar coat my explanation of Down syndrome. Kids appreciate frankness and honesty - it's perfectly okay to tell kids that Down syndrome is a genetic condition that gives a person certain physical characteristics, that it might take them a little longer to learn things, but that they are whole people who do grow up and accomplish some pretty awesome things.

Interestingly, my teenage son read this book and pointed out to me that in Hook, the sequel to Peter Pan, Peter Pan actually did grow up - it just took him a little longer.

This is not a book I would choose to share with my children.


Life, Sex and Ideas: The Good Life without God
Life, Sex and Ideas: The Good Life without God
by A. C. Grayling
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.11
66 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Intelligent and Thought Provoking, September 10, 2011
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Despite the title, this book is not an atheist manifesto, nor is it largely about sex. The author, a professor of philosophy at Oxford University, does devote a chapter to sex, and touches on religion throughout the book, but really, more than anything, it is a book about thinking and ideas. Grayling is a gifted essayist, and each chapter is actually an essay - most only two or three pages long - covering such topics as marriage, guns, utopia, suicide, nature, and dozens more. Although he makes clear to the reader where he stands, each chapter is a nugget of wisdom and delectable food for thought.

This is my first foray into philosophy and I loved it. Very stimulating and thought-provoking; I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in opening their mind, or those who value open-mindedness, insightfulness, and introspection.


The Story of Beautiful Girl
The Story of Beautiful Girl
by Rachel Simon
Edition: Hardcover
209 used & new from $0.01

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, September 10, 2011
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On a stormy night in 1968, a young woman and an older black man arrive at the door of an aging widow's farmhouse. With them is a very newly born baby. The young woman is intellectually disabled; she has escaped the institution in which she has lived since childhood, with the help of her companion, who is deaf, to give birth to this baby, the result of a brutal rape at the hands of an institution staff member. Before the night is over, police, searching for the two escaped residents of "The School" as the institution is known, raid the widow's home and haul Lynnie, the young woman, back to the institution, but not before she manages to hide her newborn daughter in the old woman's attic, and her companion manages to escape into the woods.

The story follows the next forty-plus years, during which the old woman raises the baby, hiding the child's parentage and heritage; Lynnie survives many more years at the institution before it is finally closed down, living constantly with a hole in her heart for her baby, and Homan, her companion of that fateful night, spends years on the run, but always hungering to find his way back to Lynnie - or "Beautiful Girl" as he has named her - and the baby, who, although he didn't father, he did help deliver on that rainy night in 1968.

I really, really wanted to like this book more than I actually did. The premise drew me in, but I found that the way the author chose to present each chapter from a different character's point of view, and with several years lapsing between each chapter, it was difficult to become attached to any of the characters. It felt like there were too many time-gaps; I think the story could have been much more engaging had it been told entirely from a third-person omniscient narrative perspective, with a smoother, more filled in time-line. I also found the overall story to be just plain hard to believe; at its heart, it's a feel-good story with happy endings, and I didn't find it to be realistic given the subject matter and general premise of the story. Overall, it's a very readable book, but I think it could have been so much more.


A Stolen Life: A Memoir
A Stolen Life: A Memoir
by Jaycee Lee Dugard
Edition: Hardcover
526 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting, Disturbing, and Ultimately, Inspiring, September 10, 2011
Like probably most everyone else, I've been riveted by stories in magazines and in the news about Jaycee Dugard. And like probably most everyone else, I've had a morbid curiosity about what actually happened during her captivity.

This is her detailed account of what happened: how one June morning in 1991, she walked to the bus stop like on any other ordinary school day, only on this day, a man by the name of Phillip Garrido pulled up alongside her in his car, reached his hand out the window, and paralyzed her with a stun gun, and then, with the help of his wife, Nancy, abducted her, drove her to their home a couple hours away and proceeded to keep her in captivity in their backyard for the next eighteen years. Eighteen years! It's almost inconceivable. During this time, she becomes no less than Phillip Garrido's sex slave and bears two children by him, giving birth both times in the squalid backyard, the first time when she was only fourteen years old.

It is an utterly riveting read, and yet, extremely difficult and disturbing. What this girl endured was horrific, and I honestly don't think I could have read it had I not known that in the end, she triumphs.

I got the impression that the book is intentionally not over-edited; it has a very stream-of-consciousness tone to it and very much reads like a young girl pouring her heart and memories out. And yes, she does still come across as very young; her writing has a very adolescent tone to it, which makes perfect sense - she was abducted at the age of eleven, and in a big way began a state of almost suspended animation at that point, being robbed of all the ordinary life experiences that mature a person.

It's very much worth reading, but not for the faint-of-heart.


Face of Hope
Face of Hope
by Carol Guscott
Edition: Perfect Paperback
Price: $25.99
35 used & new from $0.78

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not My Cup of Tea, September 10, 2011
This review is from: Face of Hope (Perfect Paperback)
On an ordinary day in July of 1994, Carol Guscott went to work at her lumber yard in her native Jamaica, where two men attacked her, pouring battery acid in her eyes and on her face, leaving her blind and disfigured. This is her story in her own words of coming to America searching for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. Over the course of many years, she faced the anguish of looking different, of learning to live without sight, of undergoing dozens of surgical procedures, and all the while, barely scraping by financially but for the charity of others through her own fundraising efforts and word of mouth. Through it all, she maintains an unshakable faith that God is looking after her, and her ordeal and trials serve a larger purpose.

In all honesty, this is not a book I would have sought out. It was given to me by the author herself, who is a friend of a friend, and she asked me to read it and review it on my blog and just generally get the word out so other people will read it. While I appreciate her perseverance in the face of so much adversity, the heavily faith-based flavor is not something that appeals to me, nor am I swayed to "see God at work in the course of my life," as she entreats her readers to do in the book's introduction. I think being so heavy on Christian faith, this book is limited to a very niche audience: like-minded Christians.


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