When Bad Things Happen to Good People

bad-thingsAn impulsive act of a friend saw this book bobbing it’s way over the wide ocean from America to Australia at the end of last year. The byline of this book is “for everyone who has been hurt by life…”

The author, a rabbi by the name of Harold S Kushner, wrote this book because he had been hurt by life. His only son was born with progeria, “rapid aging”. His son died two days after his fourteenth birthday and When Bad Things Happen to Good People was the result of the pain and hurt the author felt. But, more importantly, it was the sharing of how his faith was tested to the extreme and the conclusions he made in the end that helped him carry on with life.

Not being much of a religious person, I was a little taken aback when I realised the direction the book was taking from the start. However, the author writes in a manner that is absorbing and touching and I found I couldn’t put the book down. More than once I felt that all familiar lump choke my throat and tears well in my eyes as I felt he was talking directly to me.

As I turned the pages I felt something stir within me. The fundamental message of this book is that God is not all powerful, He is not perfect and He is not to blame for bringing the bad things into our lives. He is not punishing us for things we have done wrong, He is not piling grief and sadness onto our shoulders because He thinks we can handle it and He is not sitting back looking down on the world enjoying what He is seeing.

Bad things happen to good people, bad people and indifferent people. No one is favoured, no one is spared. But it is not God’s doing. It’s just life and nature. God is there to help us through those bad times. He will give us the strength, perseverance and the courage we need. He will walk beside us and offer us comfort.

In order to let us be free, in order to let us be human, God has to leave us free to choose to do right or to do wrong. If we are not free to choose evil, then we are not free to choose good either. Like the animal, we can only be convenient or inconvenient, obedient or disobedient. We can no longer be moral, which means we can no longer be human.
~ Harold S Kushner ~

If God is not to blame, who is? I never blamed a God I wasn’t even sure existed for what happened. Barry took his own life, how could I blame God for that. I blamed myself for the loss of my son. To me, something I had done had bought this about, but When Bad Things Happen to Good People has helped me see that I’m not to blame either. I am not to blame! However, I can see how a mother of a child who dies from cancer might blame God. Or why the parents of a child who is handicapped feel as if they have been abandoned by God. These things are not fair and in the midst of pain and grief, we automatically want to blame someone for what has happened. This book helps the reader see that no one is to blame. Life is cruel and so is nature, but no one is to blame.

Harold Kushner wrote of an old Chinese tale about a woman whose only son died. Desperate to have her son back, she goes to a holy man and asks if there is a magical incarnation which will bring her son back to life. The holy man tells the woman to fetch him a mustard seed from a home that has never known sorrow. The woman set off on her quest to find the magical seed. Of course, she could not find such a house. She learned that everyone – the rich and the poor, the educated and the not so educated, the young and the old – everyone had their sorrow, but on her journey she learned to help other people and eventually forgot about the mustard seed.

In grief, it can feel lonesome. People don’t know what to say, because they don’t want to hurt you more than you are already hurting. Yet to say nothing also hurts you. We don’t want to hear that our loved one has gone to a better place (if it’s so great there, why are we all still here?). We don’t want to hear that there was a reason for that person to suffer and die (that statement certainly did not help me). We don’t want to hear that their time was up, or that God needed them more than we did, or that they have learned the lesson they were send here to learn. We don’t need to hear “don’t cry” or “don’t feel bad”. None of these things help and the book explains why these statements are damaging. All these things result in guilt and blame and punishment. The people left grieving do not need this added pressure at the darkest hour of their lives. They need comfort and understanding. They need the comforter to say, “this is unfair” and “you have a right to cry”. They need the comforter to just be there and listen.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People helped me see that I shouldn’t be asking why this has happened to me. The simple fact is that it did happen and nothing I can do will change the fact the Barry is gone. I have to stop asking why this happened and concentrate on how I will respond to what’s happened.

When bad things happen to people, some of those people turn bitter and nasty, others live a life feeling disappointed and unforgiving, and others can’t push the hurt aside. But this book has reminded me that although the world and its people are not perfect, and although it doesn’t always seem like it, there is great beauty and goodness to be found around us. All we have to do is forgive and love.

I think of Aaron and all that his life taught me, and I realize how much I have lost and how much I have gained. Yesterday seems less painful, and I am not afraid of tomorrow.
~ Harold S Kushner ~

Thank you, Sherry, for being impulsive and being a friend. Your gift helped me immensely.

Midnight for Charlie Bone

midnight_for_charlie_boneMidnight for Charlie Bone (The Children of the Red King, Book 1)
I bought books 1 and 2, brand new, for only $4 on sale, which I thought was a bargain.

First off, I have to admit that I bought these books because I thought (maybe I saw this on the internet somewhere, I’m not sure) that the story was similar to the Harry Potter books.

Yes, there is an 11 year old boy who has a magical “ability”. Yes, there is a special school for children with these abilities. Apart from that, the story is quite different. I had to push the Harry Potter thought out of my head and start thinking Charlie Bone, because wherever I got that idea…I was wrong…and it was wrong of me to continue reading with that thought in my head.

This was a slightly longer children’s book than normal, but it draw me in and captivated me from the beginning. I loved the characters and the setting. Although I never worked out when the story took place, it didn’t matter. It felt “up-to-date” and that was enough for me.

Reading this book showed me that whilst characters need to learn and grow throughout a story, their problems don’t have to be resolved completely. I think this is the main problem with my series. I tried to resolve all their problems and make the world perfect in book 1, which makes it difficult to undo all that hard work in book 2.

As I mentioned before, Midnight for Charlie Bone is the first book in a series. Although the immediate problem in the story was solved and the author gave the impression that everything was fine for the characters, it was quite obvious that it wasn’t and the very last line of the story confirmed this. However, I didn’t feel cheated and I don’t feel as if I have to read the next book (although I will, because I’ve already got it). So this story also showed me that it is possible to have stand alone books in a series, which is something I’ll be aiming for in my series. I never want my readers to feel like I’m conning them into buying more books, because I hate it when I feel that way.

Recommendation: A definite “yes”. Read this book.

Secrets

secretsI’m coming to the end of my two week holiday (I still haven’t managed to relax yet and I return to work on Monday), and I have managed to read several books. Three, in fact. And that is excellent for me.

This morning I woke up quite early. I wasn’t ready to face the day, but I couldn’t return to sleep so I decided to make myself a cup of tea and sit in bed and read.

Secrets by Jacqueline Wilson is the current book I’m reading. I had already reached the half way point last night and I sat in bed until 9.30 this morning (which is uncharacteristic for me) and finished the book.

Here’s the blurb:

Treasure and India are two girls with very different backgrounds. As an unlikely, but deep, friendship develops between them, they keep diaries, inspired by their heroine, Anne Frank. Soon the pages are filled with the details of their most serious secret ever.

In my opinion, the story started out a little slow. I like to get straight into the action, but the author took several chapters to set up the two characters – Treasure and India. The book is written in diary form – a chapter from each girl’s viewpoint. When the story finally started to unfold, I was completely hooked and the little things that I thought were just page fillers suddenly became important.

The book covers a number of “real” issues too, ie broken families, broken promises, aggressiveness, friendship and more. All these issues are handled well, and they certainly endear the characters to the reader. I was able to relate to the girls and their individual problems. I wanted to see how things would turn out, and to do that, I had to keep reading.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl is woven into the story. I won’t tell you how, because I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone wishing to read Secrets, but I did think this was well done too.

Recommendation: Yes, go out and get this book. You’ll enjoy it.

Review: The Secret

thesecretAfter a mammoth adult book, I quickly turned back to the smaller, easier to read children and young adult books I have lined up in my bookshelf waiting to be read.

The first one was The Secret by Sophie Masson. First published in 1996, it felt a little aged with the main character being named Florence, but other than that I had no complaints.

The story is about acceptance and new beginnings. This was shown in a number of ways and, I felt, the topic was handled nicely in each thread. I didn’t have a sense of where the story was “acted out”, but that didn’t bother me either. My imagination was happy to fill in the gaps.

It took me two hours to read, so it will take most people less than that. Young readers will enjoy this story, as will some adults. I enjoyed learning about Polichinelle – the original puppet that is well known as Punch in the Punch and Judy act.

Recommendation: It’s a bit outdated, but still worthy of a read.

Review: False Impression

falseimpressionFalse Impression is written by Jeffrey Archer. It uses the 9/11 tragedy to capture the reader’s interest, but it is mainly about conspiracies in the art world – or, if you want it in simpler terms, it’s a murder mystery.

This book didn’t compare to the other book I’ve read by the same author – As The Crow Flies – but it is still a good story, set in the real world, with believable characters. At first, I felt a bit confused with all the characters (not to mention the head hopping), but the confusion settled after about six chapters. Luckily, the chapters in this book are quite short, so it isn’t as bad as it sounds.

The fact that I read the first six chapters and then put the book aside for two months didn’t help either. However, chapter seven saw the action really begin so I was drawn back into the story quickly once I started reading again.

Although I don’t know for sure if the facts stated in the book about the art world are true or not, it sounded true to me. As a reader, that’s important. However, I suspect that the author did do the necessary research and if I were to check up on any of the facts I think I’ll discover that they are correct. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn anything from these facts except Van Gogh painted a self portrait with a bandaged ear; however, it was actually the left ear which was really bandaged, not the right ear as shown in the portrait. Van Gogh used a mirror when doing the painting. I also learned that Van Gogh died by suicide.

Recommendation: If you have an opportunity to read the book, do it. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

The Fog, Hagwitch and False Impression

With less than two hours sleep last night, I’m moving through a day of fog. My mind is sluggish at best, my eyes are blurry, and my stomach…you don’t want to know! I’m not sure if I’ll make it through the day (at work).

I remember thinking during the night, “this is an all-nighter without actually getting anything done”, and then squeezing my eyes shut and hoping for sleep to find me. It didn’t. I guess I’ll be having an early night tonight. It’s Friday, I like staying up late on Friday night.

Ellie and the HagwitchAnyway, at the beginning of the week, I finished reading Ellie and the Hagwitch by Helen Cresswell. It wasn’t a bad story, but it didn’t do much for me either. I think it was because the story was too much like a fairy tale. You know, “Once upon a time…” and “…they lived happily ever after”. Not my thing at all. However, the author did impress me with how she brought everything to a clear close, even what happened to the poor cat in the story. It was a good reminder for “make everything count” and, as a writer, I appreciated a good example of that.

My next reading attempt will be an adult book. Shock, horror! G has False Impression by Jeffrey Archer sitting on the shelf. I’ve read one of Archer’s books – As The Crow Flies – which kept my interest from page one to the last word. False Impression sounds interesting so I’ll see how I react to this book and then I’ll share that reaction with you.

Green for Danger

Green for Danger by Emily Rodda is the latest book I’ve finished reading. Admittedly, whilst reading I thought there was a lot of “padding”, but by the end I realised that every scene did advance the storyline (in other words everything was there for a reason).

The book isn’t a fantasy, it’s a mystery. I’ve decided to try and read a bit of a variety of genres now. I think you can have too much fantasy. I needed a change and trying to solve a mystery before the characters in the book figure things out is a good distraction for me.

With this book, I guessed one of the “baddies” but couldn’t work out where the jewels were hidden. The ending was tied together nicely and the characters were nicely fleshed out.

I do have another mystery by Emily Rodda, but I don’t think I’ll read that yet. I’m not sure what I’ll read next, I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Scum of the Earth

Scum of the Earth is written by Pamela Freeman. This is actually the second book in a series of three. However, if you’re a goose like me and tend not to realise these things until after you’ve finished reading the book, it doesn’t matter.

I read Trick of the Light first, which turns out to be the last book in the series. So I’ve started at the back and am working my way forward. Typical. But, as I said, it doesn’t matter because the books are stand alone.

Scum of the Earth isn’t as good as Trick of the Light. It’s slower and it took longer to get to the “juice”. There was a lot of setting up required for the plot. Technical jargon (which was simply, and quickly, explained) slowed the pace, but was necessary to make the book work. And the message behind the story didn’t stand out as much as it did in Trick of the Light. In fact, I can’t tell you what the message behind Scum of the Earth is.

All in all, it was a good story, but not my favourite by this author. I might add, at this stage, that I’ve only read two of her books.