The Sunshine Sisters isn’t all sunshine

32867521The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green is about the relationships within one family.  Ronni Sunshine is the perfect selfish Hollywood diva who cares more about her image than her three daughters who can’t wait to get away from her, and a husband who can’t make her happy no matter what he does.  To the general public, Ronni is a wonderful person who has the perfect family.  But behind closed doors it’s another story.  Ronni is narcissistic and often a cruel mother.

When the veil comes off and her mood comes out, Ronni treats her daughters differently and the daughters react in different ways to Ronni’s cruelness.  Nell, who is the oldest, withdraws within herself and when she turns 18, flees to a farm a few miles away where she befriends the owner, who becomes a stable mother figure.  Nell seemed like a genuine, down-to-earth person who worked tirelessly to fill the voids she didn’t get from her childhood.

Meredith takes a lot of abuse from Ronni.  She is told she needs to lose weight, that she isn’t pretty enough.  This breaks Meredith and she flees to England to stay with relatives.  Meredith is a people pleaser and wants everyone to be happy.  Because of her mother’s comments over the years, Meredith doesn’t feel she deserve to be treated with respect, which leads her to be engaged to a who acts like she isn’t good enough as herself.

Then there is Lizzy who doesn’t take any crap from Ronnie.  While growing up, she laughed at the things Ronni said and did, never taking it seriously.  Lizzy really came across just as selfish and self-centered as Ronni.  Now a famous TV chef, Lizzy doesn’t care who she hurts with her actions, including her husband and child.

The main focus of the book is bringing the three girls together again to be with Ronnie, who has become ill and wants them by her side as she passes.  Once again making everything about her and bringing the attention to her, the center of attention.  This story is also about the relationship between the sisters, who are not close and are so very different.

The Sunshine Sisters shows that families can look all rainbows and sunshine on the outside, the inside, behind closed doors, might not be what it seems.  It’s probably why on the news, the neighbors say “they were such a nice and loving family” when something goes wrong with a family member or an entire family.

I have four older sisters so it was interesting for me to see how the sisters were very different yet could support each other after being reacquainted. There were relationships where I wanted to smack people on the back of the head and relationships where I wanted to stand up and cheer.

I have pretty much read all of Jane Green’s books and have enjoyed every one of them.  Like her other books, I had a hard time putting The Sunshine Sisters down.  When I wasn’t reading the book, I found myself thinking about the sisters.  The Sunshine Sisters looks like a fun cheerful book, but instead it dives into family dynamics that aren’t so filled with sunshine.

Book Description:
The New York Times bestselling author of Falling presents a warm, wise, and wonderfully vivid novel about a mother who asks her three estranged daughters to come home to help her end her life.

Ronni Sunshine left London for Hollywood to become a beautiful, charismatic star of the silver screen. But at home, she was a narcissistic, disinterested mother who alienated her three daughters.

As soon as possible, tomboy Nell fled her mother’s overbearing presence to work on a farm and find her own way in the world as a single mother. The target of her mother s criticism, Meredith never felt good enough, thin enough, pretty enough. Her life took her to London and into the arms of a man whom she may not even love. And Lizzy, the youngest, more like Ronni than any of them, seemed to have it easy, using her drive and ambition to build a culinary career to rival her mother’s fame, while her marriage crumbled around her.

But now the Sunshine Girls are together again, called home by Ronni, who has learned that she has a serious disease and needs her daughters to fulfill her final wishes. And though Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy are all going through crises of their own, their mother s illness draws them together to confront old jealousies and secret fears and they discover that blood might be thicker than water after all.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

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Flora Banks’ motto is Be Brave in the new Emily Barr book

33287077The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr tells the story of Flora, a seventeen year old who suffers with anterograde amnesia. Flora has memories of her childhood but now her brain resets every few hours and she forgets everything after the age of 10. Flora has a book with notes to remind herself who she is and what has happened over the years. It reminds her of who is in her life and what they mean to her.

One night Flora kisses her best friend Paige’s boyfriend, Drake, and the next day she remembers the kiss. This is the first memory her brain has kept since the amnesia took hold.  Drake heads off to Norway to study and Flora is certain the key to “fixing” her is tied to seeing and kissing Drake again. She also thinks she loves him. Flora secretly follows Drake to the very small town in Norway and meets many different characters who help her along the way and shows how a community comes together to help a stranger.

While Flora is traveling to Norway, she has enough notes to remind herself to lie to her parents about where she is as they have gone to Paris to take care of her very ill brother Jacob.  Jacob is a very supportive brother who is very patient and protective of her.  A lot happens to her brother that I will not mention but his story is an interesting addition to Flora’s.  We also find out why Flora has a tattoo on her arm that says “Be brave,” which is her personal motto and keeps her going through the dangerous travel to Norway.

I have read mixed reviews on this book. It seemed like either you liked it or you hated it.  I think the narrative through Flora can put some people off as she repeats herself a lot but that is what her amnesia is all about. As a mother, this book made me think of my daughter. How would I feel if she couldn’t keep a memory for very long? Would she try to go somewhere on her own? Would she be able to cope? What would I do to keep her safe? How far would I go?

I found Flora brave and adventurous. I can understand why she would follow Drake.  Who doesn’t want to be normal and it’s probably frustrating forgetting things and people, even who you are. I didn’t care for Paige who was a selfish, spoiled little brat. Her reactions really showed their age and shows no matter how mature you think you are, there is always room to grow.

This book took me into the mind of someone with amnesia and to get a small glimpse of what that might be like. It made me appreciate my healthy life and my family. I really enjoyed this book and I’m glad I read it.

Book Description:
Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

Be careful what you wish for

22813276I have mixed feelings about How to Date Dead Guys by Ann M. Noser.  One, it was very well written and an interesting concept.  Two, I wanted to reach in and throttle Emma.  Emma is a very naive college student who can barely talk to a guy without showing how socially inept she is.  Her extrovert roommate and sister take Emma to a campus party where they leave Emma leaning on the wall by the beer keg while the party raved on around her.  In walks Mike and he is a vision of beauty to Emma, he is all she can see.  He is a guy that she could fall in love with.

When Mike’s 21st birthday rolls around, his friends and brother get him super drunk.  He leaves with Emma and wants to swim across the river where others have drowned.  Emma wants to do something crazy, so she decides to swim across the river with him.  But Emma makes it to the other side and Mike is nowhere to be found, which Emma thinks is all her fault.  Personally I thought it was partially her fault because if Mike was as drunk as he was, then I think she could have distracted him away from the river.

I was mad at Mike’s brother Kevin for getting him super drunk.  It drives me crazy when I hear about a 21-year-old over drinking on their birthday and either getting injured or die.  They have a lifetime to drink, their friends should know better than to keep pushing the drinks on them.

Emma finds a book of spells under her roommate’s bed and decides to bring Mike back.  Like that is a good idea.  Of course, she doesn’t get what she wants and soon dead guys are showing up all around her.  There is a reason they are showing up and Emma has to figure out how to help them while avoiding her roommate, who is dating Mike’s brother Kevin.

This is part paranormal romance, part mystery and very entertaining as the nightmare of one night pushes a young woman beyond her comfort zone and into the hearts and souls of strangers.  There are funny moments, sad moments and moments that might make you cry.  A very enjoyable story that makes you ask the question – would you bring someone back from the dead?

Book Description:
College sophomore Emma Roberts remembers her mother’s sage advice: “don’t sleep around, don’t burp in public, and don’t tell anyone you see ghosts”. But when charming Mike Carlson drowns in the campus river under her watch, Emma’s sheltered life shatters.

Blamed for Mike’s death and haunted by nightmares, Emma turns to witchcraft and a mysterious Book of Shadows to bring him back. Under a Blood Moon, she lights candles, draws a pentacle on the campus bridge, and casts a spell. The invoked river rages up against her, but she escapes its fury. As she stumbles back to the dorm, a stranger drags himself from the water and follows her home. And he isn’t the only one.

Instead of raising Mike, Emma assists the others she stole back from the dead—a pre-med student who jumped off the bridge, a desperate victim determined to solve his own murder, and a frat boy Emma can’t stand… at first.

More comfortable with the dead than the living, Emma delves deeper into the seductive Book of Shadows. Her powers grow, but witchcraft may not be enough to protect her against the vengeful river and the killers that feed it their victims.

Inspired by the controversial Smiley Face Murders, HOW TO DATE DEAD GUYS will ignite the secret powers hidden deep within each of us.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

Goat Children shines a light on dementia

Lonely teenage girl sitting on the dock on cold winter day.

Lonely teenage girl sitting on the dock on cold winter day.

Goat Children by Jordan Elizabeth Mierek features high school senior Keziah who’s Grandmother (Oma) is starting to show signs of dementia.  Oma needs to go into assisted living but her children aren’t ready to put her there so Keziah volunteers to live with Oma and take care of her.

Oma tells Keziah the story of the Goat Children and tells Keziah that she was once one of them.  She says they are coming to get her and also tells Keziah she is next to become one.  She even tells Keziah how to join them.

I found the story about Goat Children very interesting.  The author told me it was difficult to write the story as she used a lot of events from when she took care of her Grandmother in the story.

Some of the things I struggled with this story was the fact it seemed like Keziah didn’t receive much guidance on how to care for Oma and what to expect from the disease.  Keziah was supposed to go to school and leave Oma home alone during the day, which didn’t seem very smart.  Keziah wanted a normal life hanging out with friends and participating in extracurricular activities, but then Oma would be home alone too long.  She also didn’t understand why she couldn’t go out with her friends and was upset when Oma was mean to her.

I found Keziah a little selfish despite the fact she volunteered to take care of her Grandmother.  This story did make me feel for the people who pretty much stop their lives to make sure their loved ones have a decent life as their minds deteriorate.  This was very well written…another great book by Jordan.

Book Description:

When Keziah de Forest’s grandmother, Oma, is diagnosed with dementia, the seventeen-year-old makes the decision to leave her family and move to New Winchester to care for Oma.  However, the decision comes with burdens Keziah never expected.  Each day becomes a greater weight and loving the woman she once cherished becomes a chore.

Resentful of her hardships in New Winchester and the family secrets buried in the attic, Keziah finds herself drawn to Oma’s ramblings about the Goat Children, a mythical warrior class who ride winged horses and locate people in need, while attempting to destroy evil in the world.  Oma sees the Goat Children everywhere, and as Keziah reads the stories her grandmother wrote about them, she begins to question if they really exist.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

Everyone needs to know a Fred Johnson

Fred with Chanda Rubin, professional tennis player.

Fred with Chanda Rubin, professional tennis player.

My heart is broken this week.  Broken because a friend has lost his battle with cancer.  A friend who had the biggest and kindest heart I have ever known.  Fred Johnson came into my life about 25 years ago while I was working at USTA Missouri Valley.  Fred is the kind of guy who smiled when he saw you, gave hugs freely and truly cared about what was happening in your life.

I had the privilege of working with Fred in the same office for several years when my daughter was little.  It was fun to see my tiny little white girl trying to climb the tall black man so she could hug his neck.  If she was around Fred, she had to have all his attention.

One of my favorite moments happened in the office.  Fred was on the phone behind his desk and my 3-year-old daughter stood next to him, hands on her hips tapping her foot giving him a look that said “you better get off that phone and pay attention to me and it better happen now.”  He did cut that call short and then threw her up over his shoulder making her laugh out loud.

Fred with Martina Navratilova

Fred with Martina Navratilova

I left the USTA Missouri Valley and Fred worked there until the end.  He and my husband were very close and they kept in constant contact over the years but over the last eight years, I saw Fred at events for my current job at the Kansas City Sports Commission.  In true Fred fashion, he volunteers for the Sports Commission and for our program WIN for KC.  He even served on the advisory board for WIN.  We had lots of fun out at the Triathlon cheering on the participants.

I always knew that Fred was well known in Kansas City.  Well known because of his giving to other people without asking for anything in return.  Well known because he seemed to put other people before himself.  Mention you know Fred Johnson to a random stranger and 9 times out of 10 they knew him and commented what a wonderful person he is.

My husband presenting Fred the USTA Missouri Valley President's Award.

My husband presenting Fred the USTA Missouri Valley President’s Award.

Right before Fred was diagnosed, he volunteered for the WIN for KC Camp WIN.  A four-day sports camp we hold for girls ages 6-12.  Fred was out there teaching all these little girls tennis even though he felt horrible.  I know he enjoyed volunteering for Camp WIN.  He was there every June for many years.  Seeing him interact with kids, you could tell, that was one of his favorite places to be.

Now he is gone and it’s so hard to wrap my mind around never seeing his smile, never receiving one of his bear hugs, never laughing with him.  I’m a better person knowing Fred and he will always own a little piece of my heart.

Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat

Here are a few stories of how Fred affected people’s lives, making an impact.  These stories are from his Facebook Profile:

Gianni Amber North: I met the man I affectionately called Poppa Fred when I was 6 years old.  My mother took me to Parade Park to take tennis lessons.  He and the equally amazing Prentice Blackmon taught a bunch of “hood kids” how to hit forehands and backhands.  They made us believe we could be tennis players.  In the winter, he would kick the basketball players out of Greg Center and pull a tennis net across the basketball courts.  Myself, Mike Johnson, and about 15 other kids would put all of our boots in a pile, throw our tennis shoes on and play tennis.  Rain, shine, sleet, snow, there was never an excuse not to play.  They are some of the best childhood memories I have.  Poppa Fred told me I was talented and that I should keep playing.  And it was in large part because of his encouragement and support that I was able to develop my talent and get a tennis scholarship.

He sent me court shoes, racquets, paid for tournament fees.  He was an ear to vent to when I felt like I wasn’t good enough.  When my mother and I moved to California and he could no longer be there for me in the flesh, he even made sure I had another angel in Ronita Elder.

They don’t make ‘em like Fred anymore- His laugh, his spirit, his truth, his integrity, his love, his kindness.  He was in every sense of the word the embodiment of what a good man is.  He was a fighter and he went out like a champ.  Good or bad everyone leaves a legacy.  Poppa Fred’s is immeasurable, indelible, and all heart.

Margaret R. Acker: My first memory of Fred was back in 1957.  We meet in our brand new Kindergarten classroom.  We were all quiet, scared and not knowing anyone.  He walked over to me (twice my size – the guy that he was) and said “will you be my friend and can I sit next to you.”  He could hardly fit in those tiny chairs, but he pulled the biggest one over next to me and never left my side that first week.  I will always cherish this special friend.  We grew up together and shared many good times. He was such a fighter and always with that dynamic smile.

Jeff Sikes and Fred.

Jeff Sikes and Fred.

Jeff Sikes: Fred took me under his wing when I started working for USTA Missouri Valley in 2005.  The man always took care of me, always looked out for me, and always was a helping hand.  In this digital age of everyone doing things through the computer or an e-mail, he did it old school, you know by actually talking to people and going to them.  I’ll be honest – his typing skills and computer skills sucked, but the guy made more tennis magic happen than anyone I’ve ever seen.  Generations of kids started playing and will continue to play tennis because of his unique personal skills and effort.  He’s the perfect example of the multiplying effect in action:  He was a singular man turning the love of tennis into thousands feeling the same way.

Yeah, Fred and I took a few-too-long-of-lunch-breaks sometimes together, but we were always getting good BBQ or soul food somewhere in Kansas City, or venturing out to places that would leave lasting impacts on me, like the Negro League Baseball Hall of Fame in downtown KC, or the Brown vs. Board of Education national historic site in Topeka.  Sometimes it was just doing fun stuff like sneaking in a couple of seconds of shooting hoops together at an underprivileged school before we’d teach them tennis.

It was a common occurrence him showing me something I’d never seen before, or, putting me in touch with people doing awe-inspiring things for this sport.  He knew them all.  He knew everyone.  Everyone knew him.  Fred was the ultimate connector of people, the strongest link I’ve known in this great big tennis chain.  This sport of tennis has immediately become a less cool place because of the loss of Fred Johnson. We all need to be links like he was, if only to serve the memory of all the effort he put in.

My first week on the job at USTA Mo Valley, Fred Johnson and I went to a maximum security prison in Fort Madison, Iowa together to teach tennis to inmates – still one of the best stories I have.  Every day I was around him was a fun one, an experience, a memory to not be forgotten.

Yasmine Osborn: Thanks for ALWAYS looking out for me, as a junior tennis player, and throughout my USTA career. I promise to keep you alive in my heart and by continuing your legacy of bringing tennis to all! 

Linda Mann: Today, I lost a special friend. More like a big brother, Fred Johnson has been a part of my life for more than 20 years now. As a new member of the tennis community and family, Fred embraced me like a big brother, educated me, guided me, and kept me laughing throughout all of the work we did to promote tennis in the community. His warm and loving spirit, love for his family, and brotherly demeanor made him special to me and all of us who were part of the Diversity & Inclusion community in the tennis world.