Jimmy – by Robert Whitlow (2005)

Jimmy

Robert Whitlow is best known for writing legal thrillers, and is himself a practicing attorney in North Carolina.  The main character in this story is Jimmy, a boy with a limited IQ who was abandoned by his birth mother. He is being raised by his father and step-mother, who he considers to be his real mother. His grandparents live nearly, and Jimmy shares an intensely close relationship with his grandpa. It’s a good life.

As the novel tells the progression of his childhood, you can see some of the hurdles he faces – being picked on by other kids, a terrifying fear of water, a tormenting cousin, and a legal battle when his birth mother decides that she wants partial custody of him. But his deep faith in God and the strong love of his parents and grandparents carries him through these trials.

My favorite characters in the story were Jimmy and his grandpa. A great deal of the story is focused on the relationship between the two of them. It highlights how important grandparents are in the life of a child. The ending of the story may be disappointing to some readers, but this is still one of Mr. Whitlow’s best books.

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Michael Douglas – by Marc Eliot (2012)

Michael Douglas

I’ve been on a kick with Michael Douglas movies lately. I’ve seen: Falling Down (1993), Romancing The Stone (1984), The China Syndrome (1979), Coma (1978), The American President (1995), Don’t Say A Word (2001), The Sentinel (2006), King Of California (2007), And So It Goes (2014). I have to say that my favorites were King Of California and Falling Down, with Michael playing the part of a crazy man in both.

It seemed like good timing to read his biography now, with scenes from his movies still fresh in my head. As I read through the book, two things struck me:
1 – How extremely difficult it is to succeed in Hollywood. It takes years of hard work and patience, and even if you’re related to a successful actor, it’s no guarantee that you will also have success.
2 – How devastating being an actor can be to your family life. In Michael Douglas’ case, it caused him to constantly feel that he was competing with his dad (Kirk Douglas) as an actor. Michael’s first marriage failed because he was gone so much, and because he was living up to the Hollywood stereotype and sleeping around. He also developed an alcohol and drug problem. Michael was an absent, detached father, just as his father had been. It was no surprise that his son Cameron developed a serious drug addiction, and ended up in prison on drug charges.

The chapters that described the difficulties of making many of the movies were interesting. It makes one appreciate the movies more because of the hard work that went into them. But overall, it’s a sad book. Michael Douglas may have millions upon millions of dollars, but his family history of strained relationships, failed marriages, and addictions is nothing to envy.

The Library At The Edge Of The World – by Felicity Hayes-McCoy (2017)

The Library At The Edge Of The World

I absolutely loved the cover of this book! The librarian with a book in her hand, overlooking the cliffs along the ocean in Ireland, is the perfect picture for this novel. So I started reading. But the novel seemed to be more about the main character’s feelings about being cheated on by her husband years ago, missing her grown daughter, and hating living in her mother’s back bedroom than about a library. I made it about half-way through the book before giving up on the story.

Hannah Casey is an unhappy, dissatisfied character. She decides she can’t stand living with her mom anymore, and decided to renovate the cottage she inherited from an aunt many years ago. This made me wonder why she hadn’t moved into the cottage years ago, instead of living with her mom all these years. The story didn’t make much sense. Also, I  really didn’t like the way she treated her library patrons, her library clerk, the contractor who was renovating her cottage, or her long-suffering mother. For a main character of a novel, Hannah is quite the unlikeable character. Perhaps if the storyline about the library and the cottage had moved along a little quicker, I could have kept going with the book. But sadly I did not make it to the end of this book, and must give it a thumbs-down.

The Good, The Bad, And The Grace Of God – by Jep and Jessica Robertson (2015)

The Good The Bad The Grace Of God

If you’ve ever watched “Duck Dynasty” on tv, you probably remember Jep Robertson as the baby brother of the family. While the older brothers Willie and Jase are outspoken and constantly interacting with each other, Jep is often absent or quietly sitting on the sidelines.

This book is the story of Jep and his wife Jessica. The two had a lot in common. Both were very close to their families, both loved hunting and the outdoors, but both had impulsive tendencies that got them into trouble as young adults. Thanks to their families and the grace of God, they chose to turn their lives around. Both Jep and Jessica became followers of Jesus – Christians. But this new commitment to live for Jesus didn’t automatically make their lives trouble-free. They rushed into marriage at a too-young age, and soon started having children. By the time they were married for eight years, they had four children. Things were great and disastrous by turns.

What I loved about this book was the way their family loved them, surrounded them, and never gave up on them. The love of Jesus showed in the way they worked with the young couple. Toward the end of the story, things started going better financially as the family was given the “Duck Dynasty” television show. But I love what Jessica said in conclusion: “Fame is fleeting, but family is forever.” (pg. 200) Well spoken!

The White Zone – by Carolyn Marsden (2012)

The White Zone

This novel of young cousins living in Baghdad in 2003 reads like the nightly world news. First one part of the city is bombed, then another. Bullets come through apartment windows. The Muslim residents of the city are at war with each other. Sunni Muslims hate Shiite Muslims. Shiite Muslims hate Sunni Muslims. Families move from place to place.

Nouri and Talib are 10-year-old cousins who have grown up very close. But Talib has the misfortune of having one Sunni parent and one Shiite. It was not a problem when the boys were younger. But now, with the increasing hostility between the two religious groups, Talib and his mother are rejected by their Shiite relatives. They are treated as if they have the plague, and Talib and his parents are forced to move. The scene where Talib’s front door is spray-painted with an “x” reminded me of World War II when Jewish families had “juden” painted on their windows.

After 170 pages of depressing storyline, the last five pages show everyone momentarily getting along as they watch beautiful white snow fall, an unusual event in Iraq. This is supposed to be a book for children. If you are trying to convey what everyday life is like in Iraq, it is informative. But the predominance of hate and rejection by family and friends, along with the impression that nothing will ever get better, makes it a poor choice for young kids to read.

Better books by this authors include “Moon Runner” and “Mama Had To Work On Christmas”.

https://alwaysreading1.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/moon-runner-by-carolyn-marsden-2005/

https://alwaysreading1.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/mama-had-to-work-on-christmas-by-carolyn-marsden-2003/

I Can Only Imagine – by Bart Millard (2018)

I Can Only Imagine

You’re in your car, zipping along, listening to the radio. Then a song comes on that sends chills up and down your spine. The simple, thoughtful lyrics reach deep, and you find your eyes blurring as tears fill them. You don’t really know why there’s suddenly that giant lump in your throat and salt on your face, but it’s something about that song. The man singing is singing with such honesty that you know it’s flowing from the experiences of his own life.

The song is “I Can Only Imagine” and the songwriter/performer is Bart Millard. Where did some an incredible song come from? This memoir tells of Bart’s early childhood, his mother’s leaving them, and his father’s abuse. Many people in this environment would have been permanently scarred and cynical about life and family. But through the love of Jesus, Bart slowly began to heal. When his father was diagnosed with cancer, their relationship became one of love instead of anger and fear. All of the things – good and bad – that happened to Bart came together in this song.

The song moves me every time I hear it on the radio, but now it has even more meaning as I know the story behind the song.

Restoring Harmony – by Joelle Anthony (2010)

Restoring Harmony

I have been trying out some young adult/teen authors lately, and this book caught my eye. The story is set in the future – 2041 – and straddles the United States and Canada. The world’s petroleum has been mostly used up, and what little remains is strictly administered by the government. Most ordinary people can no longer use their cars. Almost everyone has shifted over to mass transit – buses, trains, and subways. Horses and bikes are also used to get around. People have returned to growing their own food if possible, and trading goods or bartering services. Molly is a teenager living on a Canadian island with her family, helping out with the farm.

Word comes that Molly’s grandmother in the U.S. has had a stroke. Telephone is gone and internet service is limited, but they manage to get through to the hospital, only to have the video-call dropped in the middle of the sentence: “I’m sorry, Mrs. Buckley is d -”. Was the nurse trying to say “discharged from the hospital” or “deceased”?

Unable to re-connect to the hospital for days, they finally decide to send Molly to Portland, Oregon to see if Grandma is still alive, and to check if Grandpa would like to move in with them. (Her older sister is busy planning her wedding, her father needs to take care of the farm, and her mother is in the later stages of a high-risk pregnancy.) So Molly leaves the island, sneaks across the border into the U.S., and laboriously works her way toward Portland in search of her grandparents.

I loved the way this novel was futuristic without being dystopian or science fiction-y. It really portrayed the way our continent could be in 25 years if we lost our easy supply of gasoline. Our reliance on cars fueled by inexpensive gasoline keeps our society going and our standard of living quite high. Most people would have an extremely hard time adjusting to the stay-at-home, fend-for-yourself lifestyle described in this book.

I also really liked the character of Molly. She didn’t whine and complain about the hardships of life, or that she had been sent on a difficult mission. She just did the best she could, handled obstacles as they came up, and never stopped showing love for her family. Organized crime, drinking, child neglect, and some violence are part of the storyline, so I would recommend it for readers over the age of 12.