Distant Shores by Kristin Hannah

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After 24 years of marriage, Elizabeth has finally come to terms with the fact that her husband, Jack, and her 2 daughters have all taken center stage in her life, leaving her to cast aside her own dreams and aspirations.  When Jack was a famous football star, she cared for her young daughters mostly by herself.  When Jack later became a smaller time sports caster, moving from town to town where opportunities arose, she duly followed. But now that the girls are both out of the house, she realizes that it is time for her to attend to herself – she just has to figure out whether that plan will include Jack or not…

This is a story that will, sadly, strike a familiar chord with many readers, I believe.  When the nest empties, it is often a challenge for couples to fill the void – or it is the time when the void has to finally be acknowledged.  Hannah describes this conflict with sensitivity, honesty and warmth, presenting both Elizabeth’s and Jack’s sides to a complicated story.

I think it was not good that I knew before reading this book that the author had written The Nightingale.  That book was so outstanding that I had elevated expectations for this one.  For example, some subplots were hinted at but then left undone.  One character, Kim, who Elizabeth met in a support group, was a mysterious, moodier member of the group.  It appeared that she was going to be more of a presence in the book (and it was an interesting possibility), but she was just sort of abandoned in a more underdeveloped state.

I would still recommend this book – it was a nice read – but manage your expectations if you’ve read The Nightingale!

Lasting Impact by Kostya Kennedy

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So the bottom line, here, is that my friend, Kostya Kennedy must be a good writer to get me to read – and actually enjoy! – a book about football.  While I love some sports, football is not one of them and being a pediatrician experienced in treating concussions, I am really not a fan.  But in this non-fiction account of Kostya’s shadowing the New Rochelle High School football team for their 2014 season, Kostya manages to impress upon even me (a true cynic) why many tolerate the risk for the game.

In the course of the season, Lou DiRienzo, the NRHS football coach takes on the role of coach, teacher, mentor, father-figure, even therapist to many of the boys and he leads them with a kindness and honesty and integrity that earns their trust and respect.  Right from their intensive camp experience at the start of the season, the boys bond and their lives are knitted together as a family.  The team becomes an anchor for those with family issues and a sort of home base for all.  Even at the advent of the Ray Rice scandal, Coach D reiterates that no matter what kind of trouble the boys ever get themselves into, the NRHS football family will always have their back.  And even though the players are injured one after another, there is still an undying devotion to the game.  So even though I am one of those mean mothers who won’t let my son play football, I do see, through the reading of this evenly researched account, its allure.

On the other hand, the negative side is presented quite clearly, too.  The statistics about sudden death from the game, about the potential long- lasting cognitive and emotional deficits, not to mention the broken bones and orthopedic surgeries, are exposed.    This feels to me like a high price to pay for something that another team experience might lend itself to.Still, what is conveyed here is that football, maybe because of its physicality, achieves gains for its players that transcend the immediate physical injuries.

So for all of you football fans, this one’s for you; however, even if you’re just human, you will feel the warmth and compassion of the writer toward the sport and the young people playing it.