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Posted: Saturday, September 22, 2012 7:00 am

In a split second life changes for a family in “Those We Love Most,” a new novel set in a Chicago suburb by Lee Woodruff. Reminiscent of an ensemble production, this book strikes at the heart, chips away at the veneer of its characters, exposing their mistakes and secrets.

A trauma in the opening pages forces Margaret, the matriarch, her husband Roger, and their adult children to deal with an accident that casts them into an abyss of grief. The family looks perfect on the outside — seems to have everything — success in the workplace, a comfortable lifestyle, their health.

Tragedy strikes on an ordinary day when Maura Corrigan, the adult daughter of Margaret and Roger, walks to school with her children, the oldest, 9-year-old, James, riding ahead on his bike. Maura calls out to him to slow down.

On the beautiful June day, Maura’s mother Margaret works in her garden, unaware that anything is amiss until the call comes. James has been hit by a car and has a serious head injury.

Hundreds of miles away, in another woman’s bed, Roger, 65, a successful businessman, catches a flight from Florida to join his loved ones in the vigil at the hospital. His extramarital affair is a secret, but one Margaret has suspected.

Neither prayers or promises can save James. Within days he is dead. Now Maura and her husband Pete must make funeral arrangements, deal with their loss, and try to be there for their two younger children.

The couple has marital problems — Pete’s a drinker — that’s obvious to Maura. She wishes her husband wouldn’t spend so many nights out at the bar drinking with the boys. But Maura has her own skeletons in the closet. The Corrigans’ house of cards is about to implode, as is Margaret and Roger’s.

“Those We Love Most,” plays out at a leisurely pace, its flawed characters each, in time, owning the mistakes of their past, as they look to the future and adapt to their new reality, living up to the author’s opening words, “Loss is not the end. It’s simply an invitation to change.” What a book.

***

Remember the bumper stickers popular some years ago: “My child made the ‘A’ honor roll.” They’re no longer common, but flip through the newspaper and you’ll still see lists of honor roll students.

Everyone wants their child to do well in school. But a new book highlights the importance of students not only succeeding academically, but also honing character traits that will serve them well throughout their lives.

“How Children Succeed, Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character,” by Paul Tough, contains a wealth of interesting and fascinating information that can benefit parents.

Reading this research-based book, rife with stories of students who have overcome abuse, poverty and violence, and the programs that helped them achieve their highest academic and personal potential, will require abundant Post-It notes.

The “most critical time in a child’s life,” Tough writes, is birth to age 3, a period when a baby/toddler’s needs should be attended to, rather than ignored because you might spoil them, a child-rearing philosophy common in the 1950s.

But as a child grows, Tough feels it’s vital that parents allow this emerging individual to fail, to experience adversity. It is in these failures that real learning takes place and character is developed — character qualities that include grit, zest, curiosity, self-control, perseverance and optimism.

“How Children Succeed,” isn’t a how-to book with clear-cut tips on stepping back and allowing children to fail, it’s a compilation of case studies and a reporter’s investigation into character education programs that really work, and benefit our nation’s children just as much, or more, than a string of perfect test scores and acceptance into top Ivy League colleges.

***

Guest review by Eric Kitchell

“No Easy Day: The Autobiography of a Navy SEAL,” written by retired Navy Seal Operator Mark Owen, describes in detail the first-hand account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Written under an alias, with co-author Kevin Maurer, a former journalist, the book was published about a year after the 2011 Operation Neptune Spear mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The book was released amid criticism from the Department of Defense. The department felt they should have been given the opportunity to review its content because the book reveals classified information. But Owen defends the steps he took to ensure this did not happen — noting that he hired a retired special operations lawyer to review the contents.

Owen’s motivation was to give a true account of what took place in the raid on bin Laden’s family compound, a scenario far different from the accounts given by the U.S. government. According to Owen the stories leaked to the press within six hours of bin Laden’s death were inaccurate and false.

Seal Team Six was unhappy about these leaks, according to Owen, due to the secrecy the Seal teams work under. Owens goes to great lengths to protect the identity of his Navy Seal operators and other military personnel mentioned in the book. He tells readers up front that if they are looking for military secrets “this book is not for you.”

However, readers with no military background, or lacking knowledge of one of America’s greatest fighting forces, will think they have hit the jackpot.

Until recently, very few books have been written about the Navy Seal forces. If you enjoy reading “No Easy Day,” you may also want to read “The Red Circle,” by Brandon Webb, “American Sniper,” by Jim DeFelice, or “Lone Survivor,” by Marcus Luttrell.

Owen’s book reflects the true character of how Navy Seals are keeping America safe — best summed up on a bait shop sign in Alaska, the state where Owen was raised. The sign reads “ . . . terrorists are like King Salmon — life is good until the seals show up.”

According to Owen, the majority of the proceeds from “No Easy Day” will go to a memorial fund for fallen Navy Seals since 9-11.

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