Cover Image: This Shining Life

This Shining Life

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Member Reviews

Thank you for the advanced copy of this book! I will be posting my review on social media, to include Instagram, Amazon, Goodreads, and Storygraph!
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Thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
WOW!! Never have a read a story with such richly drawn real characters. This is the story of a man named Rich who is died of an inoperable brain tumor. But its not about death, it about life and love and the flawed wonderful people who make life worth living. His son Ollie, a bright boy on the autism spectrum, who is trying to make sense of it all. Rich promised to tell him  what it means to be alive, but didn’t get to, and now he is on a quest to figure it out. 

Rich’s wife, Ruth who has struggled with depression came to rely on his strength to make everything all right. Her sister Nessa, who was his friend first and has to put aside her own grief to pull her sister from the abyss. 

I especially want to call out how beautifully the author portrayed the parents- Rich’s father Gerald, mid way into dementia. His mudded thoughts and the agony that comes from losing your son while losing yourself. Marjorie losing her son and husband at the same time.
And finally Ruth and Nessa’s mother Angram who ALWAYS says and does the wrong thing. She loves them so fiercely that she cannot express it. She raised them as a single mom, and is the very definition of “love blocked” ( parents who’s river of love is there but blocked by the debris of life and is unable to flow to child).
All of these characters have a lot to learn and together figure out what it means to be alive.
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This Shining Life by Harriet Kline will surely strike a chord with anyone who is struggling to process, and make sense of, a devastating loss.  While I can fully appreciate what the author is trying to achieve through Ollie's journey, the narrative just did not capture me in any truly meaningful way.

Ollie is a young boy who loses his easygoing father Rich to a brain tumour.  The emotions that come are all-encompassing and overwhelming, but Ollie believes that his father has left behind a puzzle that, when solved, will help him to make sense of it all, and reveal the very meaning of life.

Told from the alternating viewpoints of the family members, it is Ollie's story that resonates most strongly, and the reader is taken through an emotional journey that, ultimately, has no satisfactory resolution.  Admittedly, the author does an admirable job of fleshing out the concept of loss, but I found that the story was not able to sustain my interest for the duration.  3.5 stars

Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Random House for an ARC.
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In reading other reviews, I notice the  triggers that inhibit full appreciation of a beautifully written novel. The experiences of death and grieving, of being and caring for a child who thinks and reasons differently can be overwhelming and put off the reader - hopefully to a later time when there is empathy to spare. That said, This Shining Life is written from a number of points of view within a family without being confusing. Eleven year old Ollie is the "Flavia de Luce'  who holds it all together and with whom we may find relief from the sadness and unfortunate behavior of others. I reference Flavia because this is among other things a mystery which is eventually and satisfyingly solved.
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There are several issues at the core of this story with death being the overriding one that affects the others. Ollie is a boy probably on the autistic spectrum, whose dad dies at the beginning of the book. He feels his dad has left him a puzzle that will help him figure out what life is all about, though no one else sees it that way. His mom, his aunt, his grandparents all have different ideas on how to deal with him and of course their ideas clash with each other and with Ollie's needs.
At times overly depressing to me, it seemed to bring out the family dysfunctions even more when death was added to it. At times I wanted to step in and stop what I felt was making it worse for Ollie. Having a family member on the spectrum might have influenced me for sure!
I really don't think the title was the best choice for this book, but otherwise I was glad I read it. Thank you NetGalley for an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest opinion.
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A beautifully written meditation on the meaning of life, and a deep dive exploration to the effects of trauma on a family. While I loved the idea of the story and the writing style, the structure of the book read a little unevenly for me, personally. 

Part One includes Rich's story and perspective and is quite magical. The reader also experiences Ollie's future tense perspective on the events of the story, one which is full of holes. This is a great metaphorical way to both get inside the brain of someone with Autism (who struggles to make connections that occur naturally for the rest of the family) and to place questions in the reader's mind that will thankfully be answered later in the book (although rarely to Ollie's satisfaction.)

Part Two is more of an exploration of grief and the story of these various objects Rich has bequeathed to various family members. Due to a mixup, everyone gets the wrong gift. But the story explores how they undertake the mental gymnastics of finding ways to make this the RIGHT gift and find meaning and purpose in them. This section is a bit slower...and a bit lacking from the loss of Rich's perspective (but perhaps that's a metaphor?)

Part Three was, for me, the weakest section. It's about Ollie's quest to get everyone the right gift and a dramatic escalation of the tensions and plot that has been carefully laid the entire book in the service of answering Ollie's big question: "what is the meaning of life?" It felt like it was trying very hard to tie up loose ends, which felt ironic when the ultimate conclusion was that sometimes life doesn't give you all the answers. 

Like I said, the three sections didn't always create an even ride for me personally. However the characters are all well rendered and the idea behind the story is a beautiful one. Often we are shown the same scene from a different character's perspective, which adds layers of richness. In a way, the writing style very much mimics the storytelling within families themselves--everyone seeing things from the vantage point in which they are decidedly the hero. 

Thanks to the author and NetGalley for granting me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
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This book is one sad chapter after the next. Rich is dying and this is the story of how his young, seemingly autistic son, and the rest of his family process his passing.  I gave the book two stars because I do enjoy books like this one that focus each chapter on  how each character is dealing with the subject matter. After 50%, though, I couldn't deal with the grief anymore, and had to put the book down.

Thank you, NetGalley for allowing to give this story a try.
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I wanted to say I didn’t like this book. I just wanted to jump in and slap Ruth, Angran and Nessa. Especially Angran. Butit’s a well written book and I really liked the other characters and how the story was told. The author does a good job of tieing the whole story together with the epilog.

Seriously, Ms. Kline has expertly told a story of a sad situation with flawed people who come to life on the page for all of us to experience.
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This is a despicable book, full of the kind of thinking that leads parents and other caregivers to kill their autistic children and themselves. I read this on the International Disability Day of Mourning, and couldn't help but to connect the story of Ruth and her autistic son Ollie with the horrific crimes committed every year against autistic people. Ruth continually expresses her despair at having and her inability to "cope" with Ollie, and by pleading with her son and with the universe in general for her child to be normal and not "overreact" to her husband positions herself in the category of people who think that perhaps death is better than being autistic, and that death might be preferable to "having to care" for an autistic person. 

The book also stigmatizes mental illness, suggesting that people should just get up and get on with their everyday lives. This willpower method of addressing depression is a dangerous one. Depression is an illness and needs proper treatment, not "tough love" or the badgering of other people. Not once in the book does anyone suggest that Ruth, her sister, and their mother could or should seek out professional care for their depression. 

Finally, there's nothing to suggest that author Kline spoke with autistic people or had autistic readers for this book. Her depiction of Ollie, an autistic child, relies on tired and inappropriate tropes. Her writing suggests that he is pitiable and sad and incompetent at communication and basic functioning. His own father--the saintly, perfect Rich, who is a problematic character in his own right--writes him a letter telling Ollie that he will grow up to be a "strange man." How awful to tell your child that they will be subject to such a label. I am autistic, and I am really glad I didn't grow up in Ollie's family. 

I'd like to give this zero stars.
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Genre” General Fiction/Literary Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: June 22, 2021

This character-driven novel is a sweet yet sad story that revolves around Rich who is a husband, father, brother, and son. Rich will die in the novel. We know this from chapter one. The book takes you through his prognosis until his death and his family’s grief afterward. The author’s descriptive writing will bring you into the inner thoughts and feelings on how Rich, as well as his family members, digest his upcoming death. 

Most of the characters have quirky yet lovable personalities including Rich’s 11-year-old son, Ollie, who is autistic. Although, Ollie is very hard to live with his parents adore him. Rich is the best with him when dealing with his rituals. Can you imagine being a parent of a child who will not leave the house without all his socks in case his feet get wet? Yet, he is such a tender and frequently confused soul that it is hard not to like him.  The author never actually states that Ollie is autistic but it becomes obvious through his words, actions, and rituals.  Rich wants to reprimand his parents that it is not Ollie’s fault that their grandson can appear to be disrespectful.  He is not.  It is just that his brain is wired differently. Unfortunately, when he finally gets the courage to confront his stern and ridged father it is too late. Rich is already gone. The message is obvious.

There is much more in this touching family drama than Rich’s premature death.  The author takes on many themes, living with a disability, adult unresolved painful childhood memories, chronic depression, the stages of grief with an inside look at the mindset of a dying man. Sometimes I thought the author went too heavy on the characters’ exhausting emotions.  It became tedious to read. But then again, maybe that was Kline’s point—to put the reader up close and personal to death.  However, for me, sweet Ollie is what grabbed my interest and held it throughout the novel.  Without being preachy, the author gives a lesson in patience, understanding, and the meaning of true acceptance.
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A really beautiful glimpse into a family that has to deal with a death.  Each family member goes through it differently and those stories are detailed enough to make us care. Poor Ollie just breaks my heart. How cruel autism can be. How hard it is to communicate your feelings. I like the idea of everyone getting a gift from a dying person even though it didn’t work out how he planned it was still sweet to see how each person felt about the initial choice.
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The story begins as Rich, a happy-go-lucky teacher, starts to feel unwell.  He is ultimately diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour and given a short time to live.  The narrative uses multiple points of view as each member of Rich’s family copes with his diagnosis and death.  The timeline also jumps from the weeks before his diagnosis, the weeks between diagnosis and death, and the weeks following his death.

Many members of Rich’s family are dealing with their own mental health issues and the story highlights the effect of grief on family dynamics as well on pre-existing mental health concerns.  Young son, Ollie, is perhaps on the spectrum; wife, Ruth, struggles with coping day to day; MIL, Angran, has a complex history of depression; and father, Gerald, is battling dementia.  Rich’s sister in law, Nessa, and mother, Marjorie, struggle to keep everyone going.  In the weeks before his death Rich sets out to leave each member of his family an important gift.  He tells Ollie this is the answer to the meaning of life.  Literal-minded Ollie takes this at face value and sees the gifts as clues to a puzzle he must solve in order to understand what it means to be alive.  He sets out to solve this puzzle but continually encounters barriers in the form of family members struggling with their own issues.  His mother retreats to her bed; his fiercely protective grandmother struggles with how to show her love she as attempts to overcome the damage her unacknowledged depression caused her relationship with her daughters; his other grandparents attempt to reconcile the loss of their son while coping with Gerald’s decline into dementia.  Ollie’s attempts to solve the puzzle are further thwarted when he realizes that each member of the family has received the wrong gift.  No wonder no one can tell him the special meaning of their gift- it was not intended for them!

Ollie decides to solve the puzzle once and for all and invites all the family to a party on what would have been Rich’s 49th birthday.  His aim is to redistribute the gifts and have each family member in turn announce the meaning behind their gift.  On the night of the party nothing goes right, but the family finds themselves brought closer together as Ollie understands that there is no carefully constructed puzzle he can solve to understand the meaning of life.  

This is a heartfelt novel containing relatable characters who face a major loss.  The author shows how relationships riddled with difficulties stemming from past grievances are further complicated by grief.

Thank you to the author and publisher for the opportunity to read and review this ARC.
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This was OK. It's well-written, but I didn't connect with it. Probably best for literary fans seeking an emotional read. 

Thanks very much for the ARC for review!!
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This ShiningLife was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It’s a beautiful book, written about a man who is also  brother, a father, a husband, and a son. It’s about his death and the affect it had on his family, especially his son. The book takes you through his prognosis and how he works to impart happiness and wisdom to the family in his last months. He gives each family member a gift as a reminder of his place in his life. He also tells his son that those gifts are meant to remind the person of the meaning of life and to live life to its fullest. The book centers around the son trying to find the answers by learning more about the gifts each person received. It was not as poignant or work it’s way into my soul as I thought it would when I read the books description.. I didn’t “feel it.” I give it a 3 for story line but couldn’t go higher since it didn’t pull me in the way I wanted to be.
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3.5 Stars

Trigger Warning: Cancer death

Ollie's dad has died. 

And, because Ollie is just a bit "different" from other kids his age, he thinks he needs to remind you of that, whenever it's his turn to talk. 

Ollie's Dad, Rich was a happy person, right up until the end, and he has carefully selected gifts to mail  to those he will be leaving behind-special gifts that only they will know the meaning of, so that they will know that they were loved.

Mum-pink vase
Dad-boat picture

So, what happens when they open their gifts, and are stumped by what they have received.

Ollie thinks it's all a puzzle, to help them to figure out what it means to be alive-so, he decides to solve this puzzle, with the determination he usually reserves for Sudoku. 

Although Ollie doesn't always understand adults, and their many "turn of phrases" he may just be the one to show them the way to come together in their grief and find their way forward.

I was invited to read this TOUCHING  tale by the Publisher, and think that it is the type of book that will or won't resonate with you, depending on your own personal experience with the loss of a loved one. 

Available June 22, 2021
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5 stars
Thoroughly enjoyed this book and couldn’t put it down. It reminded me of the books written by Jonathan Safran Foer—particularly Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close—with its focus on a young boy solving a puzzle that will somehow lead to an understanding of his father’s death and the meaning of life.

Each short chapter is told from the point of view of one of the characters in the book—Ollie (the autistic son), Rich (his dad, who dies), Ruth (his mom), Nessa (Ruth’s sister), Angran (Ruth and Nessa’s mom), Marjorie (Rich’s mom), and Gerald (Rich’s dad). Each has their own quirks and Kline’s writing brings each to life through a focus on their inner dialogue and individual perspective. Overall, the story is about how, despite our human brokenness, our lives are interwoven and there is a beauty and warmth in that. It took Rich’s death for the characters to accept their own flaws and weaknesses and to realize their interconnection and to appreciate each other, both because of and in spite of, their idiosyncrasies. All in all, a beautiful story and well worth the read.
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This was a thoughtful take on terminal illness and the ripple effects it has on a family, from young to old. Sometimes with multiple POVs (and there were quite a few here), the voices start to blend and it can get confusing as to who is speaking, but these were clearly distinct voices and their pain, while different, felt very real and unique to their individual spirit. I thought this book was beautifully done and I'm glad I was drawn in by the gorgeous cover. I am going to need a copy of this when it comes out.
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I have mixed feelings about THIS SHINING LIFE, which I was excited to read. I love the premise, the title, and the cover.

There are a lot of viewpoints to keep up with. I was most interested in Ollie, Ruth, and Angran. At times, I found myself skimming the other points of view.

The author does a great job at setting scenes and describing the setting using all senses. I loved being able to picture the waterfall, the house, and the countryside.

The characters are well-crafted and seem genuine.

However, the pacing is somewhat plodding and slow. I did enjoy the ending, but it takes a while to arrive...
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Thank you so much to Netgalley and the publisher for the arc. 

I had such high hopes for this book., especially since it was a book about grief and I usually find myself relating most to them.  But the book fell more depressing then anything else. 

I do love the cover though!
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Ruth, Ollie, Nessa, Angran, Marjorie and Gerald are all dealing with the death of Rich, husband, father, brother-in-law, son-in-law and child, respectively. Rich, while not exactly the glue that held everyone together, was the one everyone related to. As in everything, our reactions are colored by the lens through which we view life. In this case, all the views are muddied by illness, past hurts, or difficult relationships. Harriet Kline takes us through the grieving process form several perspectives - an interesting approach to understanding grief just a bit better.
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