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review 2018-09-13 02:24
Forever With Jesus (Sea Kids #7) by Lee Ann Mancini
Forever With Jesus - Lee Ann Mancini

In Forever With Jesus, the sea kids learn that Jesus died for their sins, and that by believing in Him they will live in heaven forever. The cousins visit their grandparents for Grandma Pinky's 80th birthday. During their visit, their grandparents' neighbor, Mr. Higgins, passes away. Grandma reads the Bible and tells her grandchildren how wonderful heaven is and how there will be no more tears, pain, or suffering. The children understand that they do not have to fear death because their belief in Jesus guarantees they will live forever with Him in heaven.





The Sea Kids gang returns with another important life lesson to share with all young readers following their underwater adventures! Fish siblings Guy and Lena meet up with their cousins Luke, Zachary, Christopher and Isabella at their grandparents' house to celebrate Grandma Pinky's 80th birthday.




The day of the party is naturally a celebratory one, full of reunions, cake, playtime and sleepover fun. The next morning however, the kids wake to the sad news that their grandparents' neighbor, Mr. Higgins, has passed away.


Grandma Pinky uses the news as an opportunity to sit with her little blessings and discuss the topic of death and heavenly afterlife. She wants to assure the young ones that death is not something to fear, because Heaven is a place free of any kind of pain, suffering, or sadness. It's a place full of only love and light. 



The story here is a good one, approaching a tough topic in an age-appropriate way that will be easy for little ones to digest. As far as general excitement though... I mean, it's a story about death, so clearly it won't be quite as light in tone as the previous books... but just in general, the writing and engagement factor here fell a tad flatter than earlier installments of this series. Though it's always great to have books like this available to help open conversation for the sadder subjects of life, the execution here was just slightly repetitive. 


This series continues to be enhanced with the wonderfully colorful, movement-filled illustrations of Dan Sharp. There's not quite as much little detail worked into the scenes here as in some of the previous books, but Sharp is a master at delightful facial expressions for these characters (I love how the grandfather here has an almost Buddy Hackett look!).



As in all the other books, the spot-the-cross game is incorporated throughout all the illustrations and characters from previous Sea Kids books can be spotted in background artwork in the grandparents' home. Some also make an appearance as attendees of Mr. Higgins' funeral.



FTC Disclaimer: BookCrash.com and GLM Publishing kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 





My reviews for the previous books in this series:


#1 Fast Freddy


#2 What A Bragger


#3 I'm Not Afraid! 


#4 A Servant Like Jesus


#5 God's Gift


#6 God's Easter Miracles

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review 2018-09-12 00:14
Ghosting by David Poyer
Ghosting: A Novel - David Poyer

Dr. Jack Scales, a prominent neurosurgeon, is at the peak of his career. To celebrate, he decides to make up for lost time and buys a sailing yacht christened Slow Dance, for a family cruise to Bermuda. But the family is strained: Jack’s wife Arlen is secretly considering leaving the marriage; Rick, their bipolar twenty-year-old son, may need to be committed to a group home; Haley, a rebellious teenager, would rather be anywhere but trapped on a boat with her family; and Jack himself is not prepared for the challenge of the open sea. Day by day, the Scales face mounting dangers. A lightning storm nearly destroys the boat, Rick’s unstable condition worsens, and both Arlen and Haley realize that Jack is in over his head. Still, emerging from the storm, they find a fragile unity…until a man adrift on a raft leads them into danger against a terrifying gang of smugglers, who will stop at nothing to gain control of Slow Dance.







POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel includes scenes of gang rape. Also within this book are intense, emotionally raw scenes with a character who is struggling with schizophrenia and suicidal thoughts. 


Neurosurgeon Jack Scales may be riding a high professionally but over the years his personal life with the wife and kids has suffered. Now near the breaking point, with Jack's wife, Arlen, having an affair with a younger man, and his schizophrenic (or at least schizo-affective) son, Ric, hearing voices urging him to commit murder and self-mutilation, Jack thinks a family trip is long overdue. Also along for the journey is daughter Hailey, a dedicated swimmer who generally does what she can to avoid the whole family. Jack plans a family trip to Bermuda on the new sailboat he bought but has yet to actually sail. What could go wrong?  Oooh, just wait, readers. 


In the course of this short novel that clocks at just under 300 pages, we the readers witness: a stowaway that nearly dies, a lightning strike that damn near sinks the boat, Hailey walking in on brother Ric trying to shove a kitchen knife down his throat, a gang rape, AND the boat taken hostage by smugglers! Phew! At times it almost felt like some macabre, darkly comedic take on National Lampoon's Family Vacation, minus the scenes where I came to really feel for Ric with his dark episodes and internal struggles. Ric reminded me a bit of the character Andy Hoffstadt (the brother of Hank Azaria's character) on the short-lived tv drama, Huff. 


No surprise, there is a healthy dose of medical and boating jargon scattered throughout the story (author David Poyer himself is a sailor with 30+ years experience). But I got a chuckle at one point when Jack insists to his family that any complaining is to be done using correct boating terminology. The sex scenes though... I'm talking about the consensual ones here --- not so sexy. Maybe it's just a matter of personal preference, but having a guy bust out one or more "kiddo" during bed dancing just weirds me out. 


The plot, post-smugglers taking over the boat, gets incredibly intense. As noted in the trigger warning at the beginning of this review, this novel does include scenes of gang rape. Though painful to read, their existence within the story plays a powerful role in illustrating just how far a parent will go to protect their child, sacrificing themselves at all costs if it will me the offspring will stay safe. 


Recommended for: Fans of Corban Addison's The Tears of Dark Water.

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review 2018-09-07 13:35
Perennials by Julie Cantrell
Perennials - Julie Cantrell

Eva Sutherland—known to all as Lovey—grew up safe and secure in Oxford, Mississippi, surrounded by a rich literary history and her mother’s stunning flower gardens. But a shed fire, and the injuries it caused, changed everything. Her older sister, Bitsy, blamed Lovey for the irreparable damage. Bitsy became the homecoming queen and the perfect Southern belle who could do no wrong. All the while, Lovey served as the family scapegoat, always bearing the brunt when Bitsy threw blame her way. At eighteen, suffocating in her sister’s shadow, Lovey turned down a marriage proposal and fled to Arizona. Free from Bitsy’s vicious lies, she became a successful advertising executive and a weekend yoga instructor, carving a satisfying life for herself. But at forty-five, Lovey is feeling more alone than ever and questioning the choices that led her here. When her father calls insisting she come home three weeks early for her parents’ 50th anniversary, Lovey is at her wits’ end. She’s about to close the biggest contract of her career, and there’s a lot on the line. But despite the risks, her father’s words, “Family First,” draw her back to the red-dirt roads of Mississippi. Lovey is drawn in to a secret project—a memory garden her father has planned as an anniversary surprise. As she helps create this sacred space, Lovey begins to rediscover her roots, learning how to live perennially in spite of life’s many trials and tragedies.





Eva "Lovey" Sutherland and her estranged older sister Bitsy are asked by their parents to put differences aside and come together for the parents' 50th wedding anniversary.


As small children, Lovey and Bitsy were actually quite close, playing in the woods around their Mississippi home, catching fireflies, etc... you know, all the classic markers of a Southern childhood. That changed the year a new girl moved into the neighborhood and made one comment that forever after had Bitsy feeling self-conscious about possibly being perceived as "trash". From then on, it was all about appearances for her -- no more playing in the dirt, nails / hair / outfits kept obsessively pristine, even a run in the beauty pageant scene. But Lovey never wanted any of that for herself, so Bitsy grows to resent this embarrassment of a sister. Tensions come to a head one night when their mother's gardening shed catches fire. Lovey's friend, Finn, is pulled from the blaze, surviving, but physically scarred for the rest of his life. Bitsy immediately calls out Lovey as the suspected arsonist and from that point on Lovey is made to feel the redheaded stepchild of the family. 


By the age of 18, tired of being the scapegoat for all of Bitsy's bad behavior (as well as the target of her most severe bullying), Lovey hightails it out of the South, finding a new home in the arid lands of Arizona. Now in her 40s and a successful ad exec / part-time yoga instructor, Lovey gets a call from her father right in the middle of perhaps the most important advertising contract of her career, pressing her to rush back home and visit with her mother for a few weeks. Lovey hears urgency in his voice, but he's notably evasive about his reasons for asking for a rushed arrival, only claiming that Lovey's mother needs "emotional support" during the stress of the party planning. Lovey rightly assumes there's plenty not being said here but figures she can get the full story once everyone meets up face to face. After some juggling around with the staff, she manages to make time for the trip, though the decision puts her career on the line. 


"When it all comes down to it, it's the only real job we've been given," Mother continues. "Get this one spirit through to the end. And still be willing to love and be loved in spite of all the hurts we endure along the way."


Once home, Lovey finds that not much has changed, at least on the surface. Her mother is still ever the classic Southern Belle type, perfect posture, fine clothes, pristinely coiffed and draped in Chanel No. 5 and just crazy about her flower beds.  Lovey's parents still speak glowingly of golden child Bitsy, much to Lovey's annoyance. Adult Lovey is still struggling with barely processed, long-buried hurts from her childhood, hurts that seem to be resurfacing now that she's at the scene of the crime, so to speak. How can one family be so blind to the pain of a loved one directly in front of them, she wonders. They're either blind to it or blatantly dismissive! Lovey struggles with the realization of the truth of all these years, the core of the emotional lacerations: Her parents failed to defend / protect her from the evil of the world. They failed to protect their child. The bad people of the world who made her life hell were never held accountable. In fact, the blame was often placed on Lovey's shoulders, in some form or another. There are some pretty serious topics touched upon in this novel, but let me say, IMO they were addressed in a VERY mild manner. Still, I could feel for Lovey on this front, having gone through similar struggles myself with my own family. 



"She's been jealous her whole life, Lovey. You're bound to know that much." (Lovey's friend, Fisher / Finn's brother talking about Bitsy)


"Jealous of me? Oh, come on. That's ridiculous. She's the golden girl. Homecoming queen. You name it."


"She may wear the crown, but she's never had half the heart you have. That's why she tries to break yours."



Cantrell could've taken this story so much deeper, I think. So many of us are struggling with the familial strains she only lightly skims the surface of in this book. But because she only mildly skirted around these tensions, this novel didn't have quite as much punch as I was expecting. Some of the places where it fell short for me:


* I sometimes got a little bored with Cantrell's interpretation of New Age themes, though I will admit Marian, the Sedona yogi, does give the readers some gems of dialogue from time to time:


 -- "Just remember, Eva. The harsher the winter, the more vibrant the bloom come spring."


-- "It doesn't matter what people call me. Fact of the matter is, I'm all that encompasses this human journey, and change is constant. That can't possibly be summed up in one little word."


* I felt Bitsy's bitterness was carried out a bit over-long in the story. 


* The plot overall is a little predictable. That phone call between Lovey and her father at the beginning of the book -- the 1st time he hesitates when she asks him what the rush is about, I knew where Cantrell was likely taking the story (because it's where SO many authors in this genre tend to want to take family dramas nowadays).


Where this book DOES shine though:


* Cantrell's story illustrating the danger in thinking that there'll always be time later on to tell loved ones how special they are to you, time to resolve differences etc. We're all guilty of it, but this story reminds readers that there's no time like the present to say your peace and share the love among family & friends.


* Cantrell NAILS the "life is like a garden" type analogies. Seriously, some of the imagery she thinks up for her characters to speak had me like "Oh wow, that's good!"



"Think of it this way." Mother leans to pull one of her bright pink zinnia to hand. "When a flower blooms, its seeds will scatter. Right? Well, let's say some of those seeds land in a parking lot. Others land in a fertile field. Is that fair? No. Some will have real disadvantages, greater challenges."


"But they can all grow," Finn says. "As long as they find a healthy place to root."


"Bingo!" Mother points Finn's way, giving him the win. "Some may have to settle for a crack in the pavement. But once a seed takes root, it can find its way to the light. Become all it was born to be."


Bitsy looks at us with frustration, as if we still don't understand. "Don't you see? Even if the flower manages to bloom, some people will stomp it to bits just because they can."


"But others will go out of their way to water it," Fisher counters. Finn nods.



* I kept thinking this story could make a pretty good Southern drama movie, or at the very least an idea for a country music video LOL. There's even one scene in the book that illustrates how music can bring people together when nothing else will. 


* Cantrell shows some love for classic Southern literature: plenty of Faulkner references; as you can imagine, but I especially loved the Eudora Welty bits. Reminded me I need to get into some of her stuff again sometime soon! 


For book clubs --- or maybe garden clubs who also like to do reading on the side? -- there are discussion questions included in the back of the book, as well as an "Activity Sparks" page with prompts for creative projects inspired by scenes / characters from this novel.  



FTC DisclaimerTNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2018-08-31 09:47
Falling Out of Time by David Grossman
Falling Out of Time (Vintage International) - David Grossman

In Falling Out of Time, David Grossman has created a genre-defying drama––part play, part prose, pure poetry––to tell the story of bereaved parents setting out to reach their lost children. It begins in a small village, in a kitchen, where a man announces to his wife that he is leaving, embarking on a journey in search of their dead son. The man––called simply Walking Man––paces in ever-widening circles around the town. One after another, all manner of townsfolk fall into step with him (the Net-Mender, the Midwife, the Elderly Math Teacher, even the Duke), each enduring his or her own loss. The walkers raise questions of grief and bereavement: Can death be overcome by an intensity of speech or memory? Is it possible, even for a fleeting moment, to call to the dead and free them from their death? Grossman’s answer to such questions is a hymn to these characters, who ultimately find solace and hope in their communal act of breaching death’s hermetic separateness. For the reader, the solace is in their clamorous vitality, and in the gift of Grossman’s storytelling––a realm where loss is not merely an absence but a life force of its own.





Translated from the original Hebrew, Israeli author David Grossman's unique novel explores various aspects of the grieving process through a combination of prose, poetry, even presenting a bit of the story in play format. At its core, it is described as a "fable of parental grief".


Our main character, simply named "Walking Man", working through the grief of having recently lost a child, paces around the courtyard area in front of his home in ever-widening concentric circles. This pattern has him gradually moving throughout the village, talking with other townspeople on matters they are struggling with in their own lives. Others in town choose to fall in step with him, so through this, the reader comes to know Net Mender (mute himself, he lost a six year old child); Midwife (married to Town Cobbler, they also lost a child -- a son less than 2 years old); Math Teacher; and The Duke, each working through the stories of their individual losses or struggles. Over the course of the book, we come to see that this process carries on for about five years. Occasionally, a question on the themes of grief or death is posed, something for readers themselves to think on. 


There are additional characters with a little extra something interesting to their own stories, such as Town Chronicler and Town Centaur. The chronicler serves as an almost Shakespearean sort of narrator to the rest of the story, but he also has a place as character in the plot (such as it is) himself. Having lost a daughter himself, the chronicler -- as you may have guessed -- chronicles the town's activities -- especially this new fad of walking in circles everyone seems to have taken up -- in his journal, findings to be shared later with The Duke. The Duke has decreed that villagers are to share & explain their various grief stories to the Chronicler as truthfully as possible. Each person in town is asks, how would you describe the grief in your mind?


Then there's the Centaur, who is the story's placeholder for representing people that choose to try to heal or cover up emotional hurt through rabid consumerism, sometimes leading to compulsive hoarding. Centaur -- who lost a nearly 12 year old son -- most definitely uses his "collecting" as a coping mechanism, and he also seems the most vocal and cross or is it just brutal honesty? regarding the behaviors of his neighbors. Some could read it as him simply deflecting away from his own problems. As he cries out at one point, "Even the Inquisition's tax accessors didn't torture people like this!" (regarding the Chronicler's line of questioning). Near the end, Centaur actually takes over the narration of the book. 


Presented in an allegorical-like style similar to that of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, the primary theme of this story does reflect on mourning the death of a child. One character's story even looks at losing a child to suicide. However, other emotional trials are explored as well. The way Grossman chooses to bring forth the story draws the reader toward their own quiet ponderings on the various stages of mourning -- you know: mourning, sadness, denial, anger, bartering, acceptance -- as well as the ways a grieving mind will tend to look for signs of faith or hope in nearly anything. 


So, yes, undeniably some heavy themes going on in this little book (less than 200 pages total) but the combination of the unique format presentation (which makes it an even quicker reader), the thoughts it provokes, and just the sheer word choice still make this a pleasure to read. I haven't read any of Grossman's other books but some of the lines in this one just stunned me in the stark, simple beauty of the phrasing. Lines like "we unspoke that night", "Why did you become dead? How could you be incautious?" or this image of a married couple trying to come back from nearly breaking apart: "I stood up. I wrapped you in a blanket, you gripped my hand, looked straight into my eyes: the man and woman we had been nodded farewell."



All universal ideas he incorporates here, but never before have I experienced them presented in quite this way. Just think on that one line:  "Why did you become dead? How could you be incautious?". It sounds odd at first, but when you pause and consider it, does it not just capture that early anger you sometimes feel at having lost someone too early in life... that sense of how DARE they leave me? Again, that choice of wording! Amazing! 

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review 2018-08-22 12:31
Lydia Cassatt Reading The Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman
Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Chessman, Harriet Scott (2001) Hardcover - Harriet Scott Chessman


This richly imagined fiction entices us into the world of Mary Cassatt’s early Impressionist paintings. The story is told by Mary’s sister Lydia, as she poses for five of her sister’s most unusual paintings, which are reproduced in, and form the focal point of each chapter. Ill with Bright’s disease and conscious of her approaching death, Lydia contemplates her world with courageous openness, and asks important questions about love and art’s capacity to remember. 





Lydia Cassatt, the forty-one year old sister and muse of 19th century Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt, is dying of Bright's Disease, a form of kidney disease, the same illness that took poet Emily Dickinson. While the American sisters are living in Paris, France, Mary (whom Lydia calls "May") asks her sister to sit for five paintings, each chapter of this novella dedicating itself to one of the five featured works. The story, told in Lydia's voice, imagines the conversations during those sittings, what inspired the paintings themselves, and also Lydia's own internal thoughts on such subjects as mortality, lost love, missed opportunities, and the idea of lasting legacies. Lydia finds herself quite moved by the paintings because they capture a healthier vision of her. It pleases her that this will be the way her life will be remembered for future generations, but this novella hints that in some of the paintings, Mary Cassatt may have actually snuck in some harder truths of the real Lydia's struggles, such as with "Woman and Child Driving" and "Lydia Crocheting In The Garden" (my personal favorite of the five featured).


I see this painting, suddenly, as a message from May to me. I know you're on a journey, the painting says, to another, darker place. And even though you betray me by leaving, I grant you companions -- a child; a groom -- to accompany you when I cannot follow. I cannot make your journey joyous, but I promise to at least record your passage.



Lydia thinks on specific moments or experiences that the average person takes for granted in the course of one's life that she sees as missed opportunities for herself because of Bright's Disease. She also reminisces about a once almost-lover lost to the Civil War, and shares with the reader her suspicions regarding the friendship between her sister Mary and Mary's friend / mentor, fellow established artist Edgar Degas, who, in this novel, is just starting to experiment with the ballet paintings that would later become one of the signature themes of his works. Degas is actually featured as one of the primary characters in author Harriet Chessman's scenes, and she illustrates him in a way that may surprise many readers.


This little book includes full color glossy inserts of each of the five paintings, reminding me of that "pretty, but something off" feeling I get whenever I see Cassatt's work. Then I ran across a line that maybe finally put into words the sensation I was struggling to pinpoint: a scene where Phillipe Bunty is commenting on Cassatt's painting style as "aspiring to the partially completed image". Okay, maybe a bit harsh with that wording, but truthfully, I think that was pretty much what my own impressions were leaning toward... that "something off" quality I seemed to feel being more along the lines of "something unfinished". 


But that isn't really the focus of this particular story. No, this is all about Lydia and her journey of pondering on her life, reaching for peace and closure as she reluctantly approaches the end of it. Poetically served up, this is a lovely if bittersweet glimpse into the humanity that inspires the art. Lydia, as Cressman imagines her, touches upon thoughts that I dare to say will prove pretty universal and moving among most readers. Definitely recommended for classic art lovers or those who just enjoy a nice, quiet, contemplative novel on a slow, soft kind of day.


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