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A Potpourri of Reads: Reviews for “Ghost Boy,” “Working Stiff,” and “On the Island”

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By Gini Rainey

“Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body” By Martin Pistorius

This international best-seller is the sad yet ultimately victorious story of Martin Pistorius from South Africa, who at the age of twelve was stricken with a mysterious disease that left him a quadriplegic and unable to speak. When the doctors felt nothing more could be done for him and that he was probably severely brain damaged, he was institutionalized during the day while both of his parents worked to support their family.

Martin spent 10 years either in a wheelchair or on cushions on the floor, virtually a prisoner in his own body, unable to communicate in any way and hating his existence. At the mercy of his caregivers, he was unable to move or speak, tell anyone he was hot or cold, or uncomfortable. He had no way to tell them what he wanted to eat, drink, or what he wanted to do. He was abused mentally, physically, and even sexually by his caregivers. Unable to verbalize, he was not able to tell anyone about the abuse, so it continued.

Fortunately for Martin, one of his caregivers recognized a glimmer of awareness in his eyes and sensed that he was very much aware of the world outside his body. At her encouragement, Martin’s parents had him tested and discovered for themselves what Martin had known for a few years – he had a fully functioning brain. After a series of trials and errors, and with the incredible and patient assistance of his parents, Martin was able to finally communicate with those around him.

Now able to communicate, Martin’s life started to become better. He got a job and because of the technological communication advances for people such as himself, he was in high demand as the voice for the voiceless at seminars and symposiums for Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

Perhaps the greatest moment of Martin’s life, though, was when he met Joanna, a friend of his sister who was living in London. They met online, and although they lived on different continents, they pursued a relationship with each other via SKYPE. Joanna was very kind, caring, and loving and accepted Martin exactly as he was. After 6 months of SKYPE-dating, they finally met in person and it was not too long after, they were married.

Martin’s story could be anyone’s story. What happened to him could happen to anyone, but I think what makes his story so amazing is that he had the courage and determination to fight for his life while faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. It also is an amazing story of the love and dedication of his parents who fought against the odds to help their son become all that he could become.

Rating: 5 of 5

Copyright 2013 – Thomas Nelson

“Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner” By Judy Melinek, M.D. and T. J. Mitchell

You knew it was just a matter of time before I would pull out another medical forensic book, didn’t you? Well, this one is a bit different from my usual Patricia Cornwell fare – this one is real. “Working Stiff” is extremely rich in medical detail, so if you choose to read it, be prepared for grisly, uncensored descriptions of the cases Dr. Melinek witnessed or was involved in.

Dr. Melinek moved to New York from California to study to become a forensic pathologist. Based out of the medical examiner’s office in the Bronx, she sees it all in one form or another. Of particular interest are the sections that recount her experiences in the aftermath of both the 9/11 terrorist attack at the World Trade Center and the American Airlines Flight 587 crash in Queens. Most of us witnessed these events via sterile viewings on our televisions, but Melinek takes her readers right into the nitty gritty of it and introduces them to the incredible efforts made by heroic people during the aftermath of these mass-casualty disasters.

Although Melinek jumps around a bit in time, her writing is suffused with her personality, character, and her dedication to her profession. There are times when you might feel that the medical personnel are a bit irreverent, but then you will realize that this is a survival technique for people who deal with not-so-neat death on a daily basis.

As Judy tells her husband, T. J. after he complains that listening to her daily stories of her work will cause him to wear gloves and a mask when he is out in public, “Staying alive is mostly common sense.” There are a lot of folks out there who are doing some pretty stupid things and she’ll unabashedly tell you their stories. Certainly the stories she shares can be gruesome and cause you to wonder how they will die, but then she reminds the reader that a pathologist gives you the last physical exam you will ever have.

One strong point that Judy makes is that an autopsy is really a medical discovery. To be a pathologist you have to want to be a detective, albeit a cautious one, for the pathologist’s word and cause of death is the last word.

Dr. Melink’s stories are sometimes funny, but they are always filled with the knowledge that comes from someone who truly knows her profession. This book is definitely one of the best of this genre and it is extremely well written, with just the right amount of medical terminology, and the translation of what could otherwise be a very grisly topic is tastefully handled.

Rating: 5 of 5

Copyright 2014 – Scribner

“On The Island” By Tracey Garvis Graves

This book could easily be renamed “The Blue Lagoon Meets the Nanny Files.” Anna Emerson, a thirty year old English teacher looking for adventure, has been worn down by the cold Chicago winters and a personal relationship that is going absolutely nowhere. She literally jumps at the chance to spend the summer on a tropical island tutoring sixteen year old T. J.

J. Callahan has no desire to go anywhere. He is a survivor of cancer and is ready to get back to his normal life, but his parents insist that he spend his summer in the Maldives catching up on all of the school work he has missed while taking cancer treatments.

So Anna and T.J. board a private plane to fly to the Callahan’s summer home. Well, of course, the unthinkable happens as they are flying over the Maldives’ twelve hundred islands – their plane crashes in shark-infested waters. They make it to shore, but soon discover that they are stranded on an uninhabited island.

At first their only thought is about survival, but as the days turn to weeks, and then months, they encounter plenty of other obstacles. Violent storms, the many dangers lurking in the sea, and the possibility that T.J.’s cancer could return make life in the Maldives more interesting than Anna or T. J. ever thought it could be. Oh, and then there is the fact that T. J. is on the cusp of manhood.

Sarcasm aside, this really is a lovely story about two people thrown together who learn to depend on each other to survive. You would think that a romance between the two would seem very unlikely, but with the sensitive and powerful way the story is told, it just seems to make good sense that this would happen. Not told from just one point of view, but from both, you are able to get inside Anna and T.J.’s heads to see their thought processes and how their relationship evolves.

This is a great romance novel and an easy read. Additionally, it is one of the better self-published books I have read in quite a while and I would recommend it for a great way to spend a rainy afternoon during the upcoming spring.

Rating: 5 of 5

Copyright 2012 – Plume



Around East Texas

And the Summer Fun Continues at Tyler Public Library!!

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More than 1,000 people have participated in the Tyler Public Library’s summer reading challenge and more than 4,200 people have attended various programs. The Library says, “Thanks for being a part of a super, rocking summer!”

Any year-round weekly programs, like story times, will be temporarily suspended during movies week, but will return on Monday Aug. 6. These programs include:

  • Mondays at 10:30 a.m. Léeme Un Cuento, Spanish preschool story time
  • Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m. Panera story time, only Aug. 7 and 14 at Panera Bread on S. Broadway
  • Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m. Lap and Play time for Babies
  • Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. Toddler Time
  • Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. Read Aloud Crowd for Preschoolers

Maker Space events will continue throughout the coming months on the second and fourth Saturdays of every month.  Upcoming events can be found on the Library’s website under Maker Space.

  • Saturday Aug. 11 2 p.m. Anime and Manga Drawing
  • Saturday Aug. 21 2 p.m. Hydraulics 101

For more information on any of these programs, please contact the Library at (903) 593-7323, or find us on the web at The Library is located at 201 S. College Ave. in Downtown Tyler.

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Wasn’t That Just Yesterday?


By Gini Rainey

It seems like just yesterday that my daughter Beth came home from middle school and announced that one of her classes was going to put together a booklet of favorite recipes of the students’ families.  Interestingly enough, she just celebrated another year around the sun yesterday, and as her older sister reminded her, she is on the downhill slide to 50!  At least she included a laughing emoji.  

So, there I am, cooking dinner, with her sitting across the bar from me asking where the recipe for what I was making (I think it might have been pepper steak) was so she could copy it down and take it with her to school.  Imagine her dismay when I tapped my head!  I could tell she felt like that was never going to work.  But I told her get a piece of paper and a pencil and we would figure it out together.  She may not even remember that moment in time, but seeing what a good and experimental cook she has become, perhaps what she learned that afternoon stuck with her.  Things like always, always taste what you are cooking, less is better when it comes to salt/pepper, your cupped palm will hold about a teaspoon, rub dry herbs between your palms as you sprinkle them into what you are cooking, and never be afraid to try something new.  

So, believe it or not, this memory was jogged by a cookbook, Top Secret Recipes Unlocked, written by Todd Wilbur and published in 2009 by Plume Books/Penguin Books.  As I was flipping through it, it occurred to me that even though there are some pretty good recipes in it, I found it interesting that it also included recipes for Jimmy Dean® Breakfast Sausage, Kraft® Miracle Whip, Hidden Valley® The Original Ranch® Dressing, Fritos® Hot Bean Dip, and Lipton® Brisk® Iced Tea.  Just reading the Dressing recipe made me hyper-ventilate over the list of ingredients it called for.  I mean, if I‘m going to the store to pick up all of that, why not just grab a packet of the mix? 

But, I will say the recipes included for things like Panera Bread® Broccoli Cheddar Soup, Popeyes® Red Beans & Rice, Boston Market® Butternut Squash, and Carnegie Deli® Classic New York Cheesecake sound pretty darn yummy and the ingredient lists aren’t terribly daunting.  The cool thing about this book, and the others out there that have copycat recipes, is someone took the time to taste – really taste – the original foods and experiment in their kitchen to come up with the end product that is a pretty darn good second to the original.  That’s turning cooking and your kitchen into a food lab – and I’m for that! 

One of the recipes that Beth and I saved for posterity was for my version of Pepper Steak.  First trim about 1 ½ pounds of round steak and slice paper thin (this is easier to do if the meat is slighty frozen) making the strips about 3 inches in length.  Dredge the strips in flour and brown in hot oil in a Dutch oven or a 4 quart pan. Mix 1 ½ teaspoon of garlic powder with 4 tablespoons of corn starch and blend with ½ cup soy sauce (I prefer Kikoman®) and 3 ½ cups water and pour over the beef strips.  Stir until well mixed and beginning to thicken.  Cover and reduce heat. Cut 1 large, white onion and 2 large bell peppers into eighths and add to the beef mixture.  You can also add a small can of drained sliced mushrooms and a small can of sliced water chestnuts.  Continue to simmer until the onions and peppers are cooked, but still a bit crunchy.  Serve over steamed rice.  This is some might good eating and so relatively easy to make, you might want to have the kids help cook it. 




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Jump Into Something Interesting

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By Gini Rainey 

“Checking Out of The Hotel Euthanasia” by Gerard Graham 

Here is a very interesting read that reveals a lot about human nature in a very satirical format.  Graham proves he is a wizard at subtlety and irony as he spins a tale about a fictitious hotel in the fictitious kingdom of Villadedino that had pretty much fallen to ruin when Zeca, a hotel manager, was appointed to the most prestigious hotel management spot in the world by King Eugene III.  Because of Zeca’s capable management, the once decaying hotel, rose from the ashes to become a mecca for those seeking assisted dying. 

On the other side of this coin is Rab and a small group of cohorts who are on a Pope-funded mission to destroy the hotel because of the Catholic anti-assisted death platform.  Rab, who once supported assisted-suicide with a great passion, now has turned those passions against the Hotel Euthanasia and all that it represents and assumes his leadership role with great vigor. 

Along the way, we are introduced to a group of people from various walks of like who are guests at the Hotel and are seeking release from their earthly bodies in one of the various ways offered by the Hotel.  The back stories of these people could be novels in and of themselves but, bound together they comprise a very interesting read filled with different ways to look at euthanasia.  And while some readers might find the whole concept exceptionally macabre, the idea behind it certainly carries merit for those facing a lifetime of pain (however long) and an eventual death. 

 5 of 5 – Copyright 2017 – Ringwood Publishing  

 “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn 

Told from various character’s points of view, this book is Gillian Flynn’s (Gone Girl and Sharp Objects) second novel that was published in 2009 and made into a movie in 2015 and starring Charlize Theron.  Based on the fictious satanic murder of a family in Kinnakee, Kansas, “Dark Places” follows the investigation that Libby Day, who was 7 at the time her family was murdered, undertakes to find out who actually killed 3 members of her family.  If she can find the real murderer, her brother Ben will be freed from prison where he has been held for 25 years, mostly because of her coached testimony during his trial. 

Funded and aided by the Kill Club members who believe in her brother’s innocence, Libby finally opens the boxes that hold a lot of family secrets and provide her with leads to the various people who wandered in and out of the Day’s lives 25 ago, prior to their grizzly murders. 

As usual, Gillian Flynn has written a page-turning, spell-binder that keeps you guessing till the very end about “who dun it!”  Flynn has filled this novel with characters as raw and real as possible, so real that you will find yourself drawn into their hard lives and perhaps even develop compassion for what they have face.  As with Flynn’s other books, this one is definitely worth the read and will keep you turning the pages until the very end. 

5 of 5 – Copyright 2009 – Broadway Books 

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