Guest Resident Blogger’s Book #38 of 2016

Madame Picasso by Anne Girard410lzwzat7l-_sy344_bo1204203200_

Pageturner’s September Book Club Selection

This is one of those that sneaks up on you. You’re just reading along, half interested, more tuned into the fact the author neglects the Oxford comma than in the budding storyline when *sluuuurp!!* you’re sucked into Paris, the City of Light, in the year of our Lord, 1914. And it’s magical.

I didn’t want to like the protagonist, Eva. She was too perfect. But she was as irresistible to me as she was to everyone else. And of course, Picasso is lovable in his puppy dog ways. There’s no clear villain in this page-turner, there are characters you will like less than others, but it’s difficult to pin down the adversary. The story is laced with bits of French & Spanish, but nothing to worry your pretty little head about. Just sit back & let the words wrap around you to transport you back to that enchanting time. And call me when you’re finished so we can chat about it over coffee & croissants. My apologies to whoever gets the copy I borrowed from the library. I got a bit of sand between the pages…and maybe a few tears.

If you like this, you might also like Paris Wife by Paula McClain. That is, if you didn’t get enough of Paris & heartache the first time.

Amy Johnson, Guest Blogger in Residence 2016
Book #38 of 52

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Guest Resident Blogger’s Book #37 of 2016

All Summer Long by Dorothea Benton Frankdownload

A Book That Takes Place During Summer

Well, if the title doesn’t say it all, allow me to spell it out for you: This is a whirlwind, unbelievable story that takes place from Memorial Day to Labor Day in the life of Olivia Ritchie.

And it could not be less relatable.

I am so disappointed in my favorite author! Surely she did not actually pen this mindless drivel!! It’s all dialogue, the only descriptions are of food, and the majority of characters are truly heartless & without dimension. I wanted to close the book & stick it on my shelf without another thought by page 20. By 48 I was squinching my eyes closed & praying it would improve. By page 88 I had messaged my friends, who love Mrs. Frank’s stories as much as I do, not to waste a minute on this manuscript. If I had to read one more contrived “I love you sweetheart” I think I might have put a needle in my eye. The Southern Belle, Maritza, is portrayed as ridiculous & ditzy. They were all truly despicable. How could a lovely story of the Low-country possibly be so ruinous, you ask? Well, throw in half a dozen miserable filthy rich characters with one agenda, two spoiled brats, and a storyline that most of us can barely fathom, & you’ve got an idea of how horrible it is. Historically we could depend on Mrs. Frank to deliver an engaging tale with one lovable, perfect character- South Carolina itself. But even that is lacking in this one. It hurt my heart. Pass on this one, read one of her older novels instead.

Amy Johnson, Guest Blogger in Residence 2016
Book #37 of 52

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Guest Resident Blogger’s Book #36 of 2016

Fearless by Eric Blehm51hub8tesbl-_sx324_bo1204203200_

An Autobiography

My husband has been on me to read this book for over a year. I wasn’t opposed to it, I just hadn’t made time. But oh, yet another joy of a reading list! If your To-be-read pile is out of control, I strongly urge you to partake in a reading challenge.

Put aside all the things you think you know about the military. The picture you have probably includes young men just out of high school, perhaps hailing from military families, that have bloodlust in their hearts, or those who are wanting a “free” ride to college. Yeah, erase all that.

Meet Adam Brown. The first page tries to prepare you: “What you are about to read is the account of an American hero who bravely gave permission to share his journey, from small-town America to the gutter to jail to Jesus to war to the top tier of the U.S. military: SEAL Team SIX.”

That pretty much sums it up. What it doesn’t tell you is how attached you will become to Adam, how you want to squeeze him tight when he’s little & endearing, and laugh at his wit & practical jokes through school. You envision saving him when he starts hanging with the wrong crowd, & then fighting the desire to chain him to the front porch so he can’t steal from his family & friends to buy drugs. You want to hold his hand & pray for him when he’s in rehab, then physically beat Jesus into him when he relapses. You’ll be weak & shivering while he’s in training, & ready to feed him fried chicken and apple pie and run him a bubble bath when he comes home from war. You will be astounded as you read about the injuries he endures that never impede his warrior stride. You want to tell him not to go on that last mission, because you know how it ends.

But Adam is not only fearless, he’s stubborn. When he’s training himself before shipping out to boot camp at age 22, his wife says, “There was an intensity. A focus.” He says he could “smell the {drugs} sweating out of me”. He would swim a quarter mile, climb a trail out of the lake bottom, & try to run back to his truck. “By the time he got there he was stumbling & nearly collapsed. Angry at his weakness, Adam returned the next morning to do it again.”

Adam makes it through boot camp, and then begins the first leg of Navy SEAL training, called BUD/S. He struggles with the time limit on the two-time ocean swim. He needed to shave ten whole minutes of his time or he would be cut from the program. “We had the whole church praying for him that day…a friend prayed aloud that Adam would not only qualify, he would beat his best time by so much it would be evident to everyone that God did it, not Adam.

On the crucial day, Adam came in at under 75 minutes. He not only cut twenty minutes off his prior best time, he also beat the required time by a full ten minutes.”

Adam makes it. He’s the elite now, a SEAL. But that’s not all. He can’t stop when there’s another level to attain. He presses on, past his many injuries, to the DEVGRU unit, the pinnacle of all SEALs. At the funeral of a fallen fellow soldier, the Captain makes a speech to define what we, as a nation, are up against: “The enemy we face in Afghanistan is as hard & tough as the land they inhabit…It is their intimate knowledge of every inch of the most rugged terrain on earth that is matched against our skill, cunning, & technology. They are worthy adversaries & our intelligence confirms that they fear & respect us. They have learned to carefully choose their fights because SEALs will answer the bell every time.”

Adam was almost invincible. He had the surest sense of God supporting him to make it through almost any situation, doing so left handed & one-eyed. One of his fellow SEALs says to him (on Easter, no less), “‘I don’t understand how you can do what we do & be religious.”‘ To which Adam replied, “‘I can’t believe you can do what we do and NOT be.'”

He was a Christian exemplified. A Green Beret who worked with Adam during one deployment remarked, “Here we are, packing extra ammo & grenades when we went outside the wire, & Adam was Adam stuffing his ruck with shoes…He’s got his weapon slung & he’s on his knees in the dirt, helping kids who have never tied a shoe in their life. This is a war zone, & he’s passing out shoes.”

His widow, Kelley, gives us a glimpse of her side of his career: “He told me, ‘I’m not afraid. God gave me this gift–I don’t feel fear.’ That terrified me.”

“It was his job & he believed in it,” she adds towards the end of the book.

Adam was a fan of the book Tender Warrior, by Stu Weber, a Special Forces veteran. A passage included reads, “There is a difference between a warrior & a brute. A warrior is a protector. Men stand tallest when they are protecting & defending.”

So please pick up Fearless & meet the good ole boy from Arkansas that had a dark patch but lived through it to tell it. He wants the world to know it’s never too late. And he wants you to know he was just a regular guy who achieved something truly spectacular, all through the grace of God. This book will drive you to your knees, in more ways than one.

Amy Johnson, Guest Blogger in Residence 2016
Book #36 of 52

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Guest Resident Blogger’s Book #35 of 2016

 

Intention of Wings by Sue Monk Kiddintention

An Oprah Book Club Selection

I chose this book because I loved her previous works–The Mermaid Chair & The Secret Life of Bees. And this one has been on my list since it was released because of the setting, my favorite of all, the Lowcountry.

You can read a book review anywhere. Readers love to rehash books. They’ll give you the synopsis in their own words but never divulge an opinion. Generally, I find those reviews a yawn. They’re just repeating what the publisher says. So I try to skip that & give you an honest, if biased, review.

I don’t always agree with what all the fuss is about. It happens frequently. Somebody important & well respected–in this case Oprah– makes a big deal out of an average (at best) book. You don’t have to like me or agree with me. I just don’t see it. I think truly successful, wonderful books should make you want to go to where they are set, or in the very least, read more about it. This book, while written about a difficult time in our history, could have made Charleston as enticing as peanut butter pie. Because it is. Unfortunately, it fell flat as a flitter. (Don’t ask me what a flitter is, I just know my momma always said it so it must be true.)

The thing about it is, this book was based on a true story. The Grimke’ sisters were real abolitionists. They truly were planter’s daughters who became shunned by Charleston society after they began speaking out on the slaves behalf.

I don’t like anything this novel represented. Handful’s mother did do wrong. She stole without shame, purely for spite. She lied. And she was punished. While her discipline was harsh, she never let that stop her. She didn’t learn her lesson, it only made her worse. I found myself gritting my teeth against it. Her stubbornness bled over into her daughter. There’s nothing wrong with having fire & yearning for a better life, but this was no way to go about obtaining it. And while Sarah & Nita’s mother was portrayed as Satan’s mistress, that was the only life the woman knew. She was a product of her raising. Women did not speak out or question another way back then or they were beaten like their slaves were. They were simply ornamental & charming.

While this could have been a colorful, truthful portrayal of two women coming of age in a land that time & wisdom have erased, it was just a mundane, fabricated, droning story full of misery on all fronts. Mrs. Kidd did not even attempt to make Charleston beautiful by description of the city or sea. This is probably intentional but I thought this was detrimental to the story. All this horror in a land so astoundingly gorgeous.

If that isn’t bad enough, we are left at loose ends with several of the main characters. If I give a book time, it should give me answers.

Save yourself the agony by reading another saga with some sustenance. The Invention of Wings is repetitive & drab, & paints no one in the flattering light of the Lowcountry.

Amy Johnson, Guest Blogger in Residence 2016
Book #35 of 52

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Guest Resident Blogger’s Book #34 of 2016

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkinsdownload

Pageturner’s August Book Club Selection

An-tic-i-pation… I’ve made myself not read this all year just so I could read it with my book club. We just met three days ago & got the book & now I’ve already finished it.

Maybe I had this novel on a pedestal. Who can blame me? It’s all anyone talked about for six months! It’s one of those novels that are uber popular for people who only have time to read a handful of books per year, so they go with the Sure Thing. The book that all magazines gush about, spilling into social media all over until you feel pressured to read it or be judged.

I felt mislead about everything! The plot, the protagonist (can you call Rachel that?), the untrustworthiness of generally every bit. The narrative switches between several female voices regularly, and the dates are not consecutive. So be on your toes!

All this hype, so many unlikable characters! I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’re not out much. You can be through this in one enthralling afternoon, & when you finish, you’ll be wondering, “That was it?”

So, read it to say you did. It’s one of those you’ll always wonder about if you skip it. And it’ll give you something to talk about with people who don’t read much and that opens the door to suggest some AWESOME books.

Amy Johnson, Guest Blogger in Residence 2016
Book #34 of 52

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Guest Resident Blogger’s Book #33 of 2016

Redneck Woman by Gretchen Wilson 62540
A Book Written by a Celebrity

I’ve been wanting to read this for years. Years. My uncle has always said that was “my song” (never mind I don’t keep my Christmas lights up all year long, details, schmetails). So yeah, I sing loud & proud with her when I hear any of her tunes on the radio. I suppose as far as celebrities go, she is one that many people of my “culture”, if you will, can identify with.

I figured I’d enjoy the book, even if it didn’t have a huge impact on my life. I’m sorry to say that it was a struggle from beginning to end. And for me to say I struggled brings on some guilt…Gretchen really struggled in every aspect of her life. She was on the move constantly growing up- from Southern Illinois to Miami & back again so many times I lost count. From someone who attended the same school from kindergarten all the way through graduation, I simply couldn’t imagine that kind of instability. The only steadfast thing was her grandmother, who was so poor they ate possum three times a week. Her great dream involved poisoning her one legged alcoholic husband & taking her dog to a spa. It about broke my heart reading about all her trials! Gretchen followed right along with what was normal: dropping out of school at 15, working as a bartender, turned into a full blown alcoholic long before her 21st birthday.

It was all too much.

What could have been a heart wrenching drama was written in a language suitable for fifth graders (not the content, mind you) & about as colorful as cardboard. It was almost as if she was trying to squeeze in all the names of people who have given her any sort of encouragement over the years but unfortunately she didn’t include much in the way of specific details that would have brought the story to life. Interspersed throughout were lyrics to several of her songs–repeatedly. She needed a better ghostwriter & editor, both. She says herself, “The more of yourself you put in the music-warts and all-the greater the chance that the audience will take that music into their own hearts.” Well, the same goes for writing. The book lacked depth, heart, & soul, all of which I feel GW has in abundance.

Gretchen makes no apologies for what she is: a hardworkin’, good-time-havin’, ballad bawlin’, redneck woman. She loves her daughter unconditionally & music to her core. She is persistent & stubborn & hard. And it’s no wonder. It ain’t the years, it’s the miles. And the hours spent in a bar, most of them past the witching hour.

I wondered what she’s doing now, ten years after her two years of fame, but couldn’t find much. Hope she’s surrounded by 27’s & is at peace with her life. I hope she’s still writing songs. Because an author, she ain’t.

Amy Johnson, Guest Blogger in Residence 2016
Book #33 of 52

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Guest Resident Blogger’s Book #32 of 2016

American Thighs by Jill Conner BrownethL31D66NT

A Book Written by a Comedian

So, seriously, you’ve never heard of The Sweet Potato Queens? Girl. You’ve GOT to get on board. They only represent everything fabulous, fattening, & fun in this day & age.

Based in sweltering Mississippi, Yankees & Southerners alike will find common ground with this snort-carbonated-beverages-out-your-nose series. Yes, this is book 8, but feel free to start with any of them. You’ll fall instantly in love & be grabbing for the rest by chapter 2. JCB embodies every thought you’ve ever had about pretty much EVERY THING. Her only flaw is her propensity to use caps lock on nearly every page, & as you can imagine, gets a little hard to swallow. But don’t let that deter you! Oh no! You have to read about the Queen who let her ex keep all the tv’s in the divorce–but she took all the remotes. *Insert sinister laugh here* So, larva (women under 40), & geezers (over 40) alike have something to learn from this little gem. Kick off your shoes, grab a glass of sweet tea, head to the porch, & get ready to laugh off a pound or two. If you’re like me, you’ve got it to lose. Besides, I think I gained it back reading the recipes at the end.

Amy Johnson, Guest Blogger in Residence 2016 Book #32 of 52

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