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Our Short History

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This is an absolutely devastating memoir written by a dying mother to her son. It will break your heart but will also show you that love can transcend even death.
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This memoir is heartbreaking. It makes you think about yur blessings and to be grateful for every single think in your life even though the circumstances are not the best ones. It's definetely a journey through the emotions and gives you a glimpse of what a mother would do for your child.
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Karen has ovarian cancer and writes a journal for her six year-old son Jacob to read when he is older and she is gone.  A story of a mother's  true love and devotion.  Wonderfully heartwarming.
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This is a turbulent, emotional - if sometimes predictable - novel about the powerful love of a mother for her child, and how it can manifest itself in surprising ways. Somewhat melodramatic, but it will definitely make you think about what's important in life.
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Karen Neulander has spent her life being fiercely independent, raising her son alone, and living life on her terms.  Now, she is diagnosed with cancer and has a drastically foreshortened life.  Karen begins to write a history of her life as Jacobs mother, cataloging their early moments and commenting on those things that she wishes she would be around to advise her son on  as he grows.    Simultaneously, Jake becomes more curious about his father, and Karen finds herself allowing Dave, Jacob's father, to spend more time and develop a bond.  

This story is beautifully written and will make you re-evaluate the importance of the everyday things that make us the parents, spouses, and children we are.
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3.3 - well-written, with decent characters - but rather forgettable
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How do you tell your small child how much you love them and all you want them to know about your history, their family history and how to navigate growing up? That’s the hard task Karen Neulander has before her. She’s been a political campaign manager, raised her only son by herself and through it all she’s been a strong, fearless woman but she’s facing terminal cancer and there is just so much she still has to do.

This novel is her letter to her child explaining her background, how she fell in love with his father and how unfortunately things didn’t work out between them. Along with writing her book for Jake she’s also preparing Jake for what happens when she’s gone. She’s trying to build a strong relationship for Jake and her sister and her children so that Jake will always feel like he has a family. She hangs on to some slim hope that she’s holding her cancer at bay but the monster is always there.

Karen has been prepared for everything except for Jake’s request to meet his dad. He was the love of her life but when she told him she was pregnant, he said he wasn’t ready. Karen was not one to beg and so she moved on and now that her son wants to meet his father she is angry that all of a sudden a man who didn’t want a son will get to meet this wonderful boy of hers.

At times Karen seems a bit unhinged when it comes to how she deals to her ex-boyfriend and her son’s budding relationship but I think I understand. Everywhere she turns, she feels like her world is changing too fast and she has no control.  The same can also be said for Jake, at six years old, he is still a child and his behavior sometimes feels even feels like that of a younger child but to me that felt real.

Is the story a bit predictable? Well, in some ways yes, but nevertheless I really found it moving and I liked the characters with all of their flaws and good qualities. I couldn’t stop reading this one and actually really loved the ending.
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This is a sad and moving story, and I liked that Karen isn't your typical heroine that you feel instantly sorry for. I did feel that the style of the writing - a memoir written from Karen to her son - didn't always work well and this did at times affect my enjoyment of the book. But overall it was very sad and a good read.
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Loved this book
Didn't want it to end
Highly recommend
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Stunning.  This is sometimes hard to read because it's just so sad- in a restrained and adult way but just so sad.  I wondered what Karen would have done if she wasn't dying; I think she would have made the same choice.  Karen is  such a wonderful complicated woman.  Jacob is the kind of kid we'd all like to have.  Dave wasn't what any of us expected but he's absolutely the right man for this novel.  Wonderfully plotted.  THanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  Novels with this basic plot (dying mom) have become a genre in recent years but Grodstein has hit some unique points.  A very good read.
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I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Karen Neulander is a successful and powerful political consultant in New York City. She is raising her 6-year-old son Jacob alone and is extremely protective of him. She's been this way ever since conceiving him with someone who made it clear that kids were never part of his life's plan. Karen was diagnosed two years prior with Stage IV Ovarian Cancer, and though she is in remission, she is aware that she will not survive to see Jacob grow up. Because of this, she plans to write a book for Jacob to read when he is older. 

While his mom is slowing dying, all Jacob wants to do is know his father. After much begging, he convinces Karen to contact him, and to Karen's surprise, Dave is delighted to find out more about his son and wants to have a relationship with him. A large portion of this book is Karen coming to terms with her need to let Dave be Jacob's dad. 

"Our Short History" made me feel almost the entire spectrum of emotions. I really enjoyed the perspective that the book was written from. It was much more powerful than if it was told in a more traditional manner. I've never read anything by Lauren Grodstein before, but I was impressed by how much she made me feel things. My anxiety rose whenever Jacob would have a temper tantrum. When Karen got worked up, I too, felt that same level of anger. And when she felt despair, I felt it. 

This book broke my heart in many ways, mostly because my mother is currently fighting cancer herself. I couldn't help but picture my mom writing this same book for her children, and at times I had to put the book down. I'm glad I read it, though, because it brought me a lot of peace.
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Karen Neulander is a mother, a sister, and a successful campaign manager.  And Karen Neulander is dying.  She has been struggling with cancer for years and after being in remission for a long while, she is sick again. She has plans for her six-year-old son's future. Jake is going to go live with her sister in Seattle and when he is eighteen he will get to read the manuscript she is writing for him. Her plans are put into jeopardy when Jake, starts asking questions about his father, the father who told Karen to get rid of the baby.  Against her better judgment,  Karen reaches out to her ex, Dave.  She was surprised by his eagerness to see Jake. When they hit it off, she is torn.  Her death is imminent, how can she trust this man who was so quick to toss her and their unborn child aside? 

Our Short History is Karen's story for her son.  It is the manuscript that she writes with the intention of Jake reading it when he turns eighteen.  Knowing her audience I struggled with liking her. She overshares her feelings and puts a lot on her son. Like her overreaction at her sister saying she might let Jake see his father.  Or her sharing details about her relationship with Dave that no kid would ever want to read about their parents.  I really wanted to shake her and tell her to grow up.  I wanted her sister to tell her that - but she walked on eggshells around Karen. I found it annoying and tiresome.  One thing was undeniable through it all - Karen's love for her son.  I know that I found fault with how Karen handled things with Jake, but I have to be careful because I don't know how I would behave in that situation.  I think the author did a good job of giving Karen some redemption at the end and it had the best ending possible when the main character had terminal cancer.

Bottom line - Our Short History was a book that I liked enough to finish, but I really wish that Karen was a more likable character.   I would love to hear what others think, to see if maybe I got thoughts on Karen wrong.
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Karen Neulander is a successful, New York political consultant; she is also a single parent to son Jake. When she is diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, discovering that her remaining life is now limited to months, she begins writing a memoir to her son while unraveling the emotions she's kept hidden about her son's father. 

"Selfish people jump into the life raft first. Cowards sneak out the back door. Liars say whatever it takes to get out of trouble. Craven people walk away from what they’ve wrought. But good, morally sound people take responsibility for their actions and stand up for the people they care about, even if they put themselves at risk. Even if they put their own desires second."

Grodstein masterfully crafted this story; I enjoyed the writing very much. By virtue of the fact that Our Short History reads, at times, like a memoir from mother to son, Grodstein handily takes on the role of her protagonist and I often had to remind myself that this is a work of fiction.

Karen's struggles provide a valuable perspective that allows the reader to relate easily; she is forced to confront her past, informing readers of the other, not-so-put-together, side, as she attempts to reframe her life in light of new circumstances.

At times, I found myself feeling frustrated with Karen's overbearing (and somewhat whiny) parental qualities in Our Short History; I recognize that she is facing her own mortality, without much support, but she shares certain qualities with other parents I know that drive me bananas. 

Even though Our Short History has received some excellent reviews, and there were times when I really enjoyed the reading, it wasn't the show-stopper I'd expected; due to the quality of Grodstein's writing, I will surely recommend this one to many other readers who enjoy similar works of fiction.
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This book!! I'm having a hard time finding the right words. It was raw and honest and ugly and gritty and real. A mother, dying from cancer, is writing a book for her 6 year old son to be read by his older self. She wants to give him life lessons and words of wisdom. And all her 6 year old son wants is to know his real dad. And she is torn. His dad doesn't know he exists - sure she told the father she was pregnant, but he said he didn't want children, and they went their separate ways. He thought she aborted the child, and never knew any different. She went on to have this child and raise him on her own. She raised a beautiful little man. He knows she is sick, but can only understand in the way a 6 year old can. She makes plans for his life - who will care for him and how he will be raised. Then, the little guy asks her to find his dad. She can't in good conscience deny him that. So, she reaches out to the father, but is adamant that he will not become a part of this boy's life. Her son is hers and hers alone. However, the little guy is enamored with the father, and the father is just as enamored with his newfound son. Cue the waterworks. Mom does not want to be replaced, she doesn't want to share HER son, but she knows she is soon to be gone. What's the right thing to do? The struggle is real!
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The central tragedy that drives the plot of this novel is undeniably moving, but the extensive discussions of the main character’s career as a political campaign consultant made this book less of a gripping read for me.

Karen Neulander is a hard-driving campaign consultant and a single mother to a six-year-old son, Jake. She also has Stage IV ovarian cancer, with limited time remaining before the disease claims her life. Because she will be gone from his life much too soon, Karen decides to write an account of her life for her son, and this book is the result.

The author makes the choice to write the book in first person, as if Karen is directly addressing Jake. I found the constant references to “you” (“You shrugged, but you were smiling”) to be a little off-putting at first, because it’s unusual. It does force the reader to see through Karen’s eyes, however, and brings the intensity of her pain to the forefront. She desperately loves her son and does not want to die and leave him—but her death is beyond her control. It’s no wonder that when Jake asks her to find his father, Karen has difficulty with the request, because it threatens her remaining time with her son. Most of the novel involves Karen coming to grips with her impending death and accepting that the father who rejected Jake before he was born will be the one who gets to be a part of his life long after she’s gone.

While Karen’s struggle with her disease and her love for her son were moving, I was a bit bored with the parts of the novel concerning Karen’s career. It’s an important part of her life and identity, and it makes sense for the author to highlight it, but I just didn’t care as much about that part of her story. I’ve never been deeply interested in politics, especially not the dirty laundry of the campaigns themselves, so the details didn’t grab me. (It doesn’t help that it seems to be difficult to escape political discussions these days, either.)

Overall, it’s a well-written novel, and I admit to tearing up several times as I read. Readers of women’s fiction who aren’t put off by all the political talk will probably enjoy it even more than I did.

An eARC of this novel was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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How do we come to terms with our mortality? How do we want to be remembered? Lauren Grodstein’s Our Short History follows the story of Karen Neulander, who has stage IV ovarian cancer, and her son, Jake. Candid and poignant, this novel portrays an accurate representation of life with all its intricacies and beauty.

Driven, vulnerable, funny, and witty–Karen Neulander is a character many will admire and relate to. With her illness, she realizes that coming to terms with mortality means accepting death as an integral part of human existence. In an attempt to pass her own wisdom, she writes a book for her son, Jake. The book becomes a vestige of herself that will always be with Jake, even long after she’s gone. Our Short Story is ipso facto Karen’s book. By writing in this viewpoint, Grodstein permits the readers to vicariously step out of their own skin and live into another.

Grodstein’s Our Short Story puts the meaning and purpose of human life in perspective and exemplifies the transcendent nature of love. A breathtaking and compelling novel that demands to be read.
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Our Short History

Lauren Grodstein

Karen Neulander is a political consultant and she is very successful at it. She is a single mom, with a six year old son named Jake. Two years ago, she was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer and knows her time on Earth is short. She decides to keep a journal for her son for when he is older and wants to know who his mom was. OUR SHORT HISTORY is their story.

OUR SHORT HISTORY shredded my heart over and over again. Jake becomes curious about his Dad and wants to meet him. Karen is torn by doing the right thing and protecting Jake. Karen and Jake’s father, Dave, had a short relationship but it was enough time for Karen to have her heart broken. At first, she thought Dave loved her and when she became pregnant she expected Dave to stand by her and with her. Instead he told her he wasn’t interested in being a family or a Dad and Karen walked away never telling him she had the baby. Once she contacts Dave to let him know about their son, he instantly wants to become Jake’s Dad.

I finished OUR SHORT HISTORY with a huge lump in my throat and tears streaming down my face! Lauren Grodstein broke my heart over and over again and she did it perfectly. When Karen finds out that her cancer has returned and she is no longer in remission I almost threw my Kindle across the room. I found myself so angry and I just wanted to reach out and hug Karen.

OUR SHORT HISTORY is a heart breaking story that will keep you up late into the night, reading and praying for Karen and Dave to get past their bitterness and fear to do right by Jake. I hated Dave at first and didn’t want him anywhere near Jake. I was so afraid he would break Jake’s heart just like he did Karen’s. But after a few chapters, I found myself feeling sorry for Dave. I get that Karen just wanted the best for Jake, any mother would. But Dave is his father and nothing she says can take that away from him.

OUR SHORT HISTORY is the first book I’ve read by Lauren Grodstein. Now that I’ve read this wonderful story, I’m going to go back and read her previous books and I’m excited about that. Do yourself a favor and read this beautiful and heart tugging story about a mother’s love and her journey to do right by her son whom she loves with all that she is and all she has left. Keep the tissues close by.
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Karen Neulander is a single mother with Stage 4 ovarian cancer with perhaps two years left to live.  She writes a book for her six-year-old son Jacob, the book we are reading but which is intended for Jacob when he is older.  At Jacob’s request, Karen contacts his biological father Dave whose desire not to have children led to Karen’s breakup with him.  Karen has to deal with her mortality and her fears about what will happen to her son once she dies.

The structural framework of the novel is awkward.  Karen writes the book because “It seems like the right way to tell you everything I want you to know.”  She also clarifies that she will include “whatever wisdom I have, whatever lessons I’d pass on to you later . . . [and] my hope is that whenever you miss me or whenever you just want to know more about the person I was, you’ll be able to open this book and read these pages and remember me.”  Would a mother really keep describing her extreme physical pain?  Why would she include such details about her job as a political consultant and her major client at the moment?  Though the book shows a growth/change in Karen’s thinking, why would she want to show her son the events that led to her epiphany?  Since Karen writes a day-by-day account of events, a diary or journal format would be more appropriate.  

Karen is not a likeable character.  In her professional life, as she admits, she has no qualms about using “dirty tricks” to smear an opponent’s reputation and whitewash her client’s scandals.  She describes her current client as “one of the least trustworthy people I’d ever met” yet she never considers dropping him.  She is very self-centred as well though, given her circumstances, her selfishness is totally understandable.   At times, her only redeeming quality is her love for her son.   Were it not for her terminal cancer diagnosis, it would be difficult to have much sympathy for her.

Karen’s character change is convincing.  Her fierce love for her son makes her capable of change and she has sufficient motivation to do so within the duration of the novel.  Dave’s change is less realistic.  He seems so very different from how Karen describes him.  Not only is he handsome and wealthy with a supportive wife, he seems totally reformed.  His lack of experience means he makes mistakes as a father, but he is so well-meaning and tries so hard to be a good father.  He just seems too good to be true.  

Of course, there is the spectre of unreliability in Karen’s narration.  At the beginning of the book, she states, “I plan to be honest here.  I plan to be excruciatingly, extraordinarily honest.  I will not edit out the truth; I will not try to make myself look better than I really was.  Than I really am.”  But does she really portray Dave as he was or have her emotions negatively coloured her portrayal?  At one point, she writes to Jacob that, “Your father was remembering what he wanted to remember in order to make himself feel better.”  Is the same not true for her?  And again, is it fitting that in her book to her son, Karen writes things like “no matter what else he turned out to be in life your father was also, indubitably, a moron” and “He was lying; your father was a liar”?  

The novel examines parental love.  What does it mean to really love a child?  Unfortunately, Karen’s realization is expected so the ending is predictable; in fact, much of the book feels like waiting for Karen to finally see the light.  

The book is written in a conversational, informal style which makes it easy to read.  It is insightful in some respects but its unwieldy framework detracts from the whole.  

Note:  I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
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Oh, the tears. I spent the last 10% of this book trying to read through the tears dropping onto my Kindle, but I just couldn't stop reading. I inhaled this book in just 2 sittings and it tore at my heart. It gets to the very core of motherhood and womanhood and the very essence of life and just needs to be read. The letter-style makes it incredibly fast reading and impossible to put down. Highly highly recommend.
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