Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Fifth to Die Review

Y''s safe to say that I'd been in a reading slump for a bit. I was really struggling to find a book that would make me argue with myself over whether I REALLY needed to set the book down know...use the bathroom or eat. I'm a fan of books that you can't put down. The ones that cause you to lose sleep (although Lord knows I don't need any help in that department!). It had been a while since I'd truly felt that way. Since I read a book I was talking about days after I'd finished it. Uninspired is a great word to describe it...although this has no bearing on the books I've talked about recently because I do pick up a lot of books that never make their way to the blog. 


Some of you might remember me reviewing the book The Fourth Monkey by J.D. Barker last year. I had the distinct pleasure of being sent his second book in the 4MK Thriller series, The Fifth to Die, and boy oh boy, did it impress.

Before I get too far into the review, I feel like I need to let you know that this is really a two for one review because when I finished the book I passed it on to my husband who was about to hop on a plane...and he carried this bad boy around, thoroughly engrossed...and I've already heard him personally recommend it to two friends. We were actually talking about it last night with an old friend over beers in the back garden!!

The Fifth to Die picks up basically where the first book ends. We have the same cast of characters, now tense and insular due to the events of said book. I'm going to be extremely vague and cagey with the plot just in case you haven't read the first book. I try so very hard not to include spoilers in any of my reviews! We have a new death...strange circumstances...odd occurrences. Detective Porter and his team don't believe it to be Bishop, but the FBI have other ideas. When Porter makes some questionable decisions and gets suspended from duty, the crap hits the fan and basically this book moves from one tense scenario to another.

There are flights, road trips, child abductions, creepy torture scenarios, great detective work, iffy detective work, snowstorms, a cool cab driver, some more diary entries, a storyline that caused me to have a 20 minute conversation with 2 jehovah's witness boys (while carrying a guitar, 3 grocery bags, and a case of beer), and an ending that had me throwing the book across the room and saying various expletives while using the author's name in ways not normally used in polite conversation.

THAT, my friends, is a GREAT book.

I'm just sleep deprived enough today to feel that this is an appropriate book review. I loved this book. If you like thrillers, and don't mind the creepy stuff, you most definitely need to pick them up. They're not going to disappoint. And I can so see these as movies. They would be EPIC.

My husband read this second book without reading the first...but I wouldn't recommend it, especially given how this one ended. They definitely build on each other. I think the only reason my husband was able to follow along okay was because I gave him a very thorough play by play of The Fourth Monkey before he started The Fifth to Die (mainly because I gave away my copy, and I'm regretting it now).

The only other thing I feel I need to say, besides an enormous thank you to both the author and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for sending it to me, is...J.D. Barker, you'd better be working swiftly on that third book. I mean, really. I don't want to see any more cute kid pics on Instagram...or fun shenanigans. Nose to the grindstone, sir. Take a hot minute to bask in the glow of praise, and then get your ass working, because I'm not sure I forgive you for that ending.

I hope everyone is having a fabulous July!!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

What I've Read Recently

In my absence from writing regularly, I read a few books that deserve words on this here platform! I thought that instead of writing a big full review each, I would write a condensed one here as a catch-up, and then try to get going again on a regular schedule. For some reason, I have been struggling with my writing/reading. The reading part has really just been me bouncing from book to book looking for something that would really snare me...although it's taken a back burner to my intense need for music. But physically sitting down to put words on "paper" has been...hard. So we'll see if this group of mini-reviews can get me back in the flow! I totally get now that whole thing about needing to do stuff regularly or you lose the habit.

I need to start this mini-review by thanking author Tal Gur for sending me his book to review. I'm a big sucker for memoirs of this type. I want to read about people's epic adventures...their goal they've achieved big dreams. Tal has managed to write, and live, the biggest of these I've read to date! He had a conversation with a few friends one night that culminated in a list of 100 life goals (you can see the list here). And then he literally travelled the world, immersing himself in other cultures and lifestyles, learning and growing...and for lack of a more eloquent phrase, beast-moded the crap out of his life. 

There are a few passages that felt like the infomercial to sell his business, or e-books, etc. And as he's bouncing across the globe, I couldn't help but think about how much money one would need to have in the bank to tackle his goals in the manner that he did, which could be disheartening to read if you struggle to pay your bills every month, or haven't taken a proper vacation in years. BUT, the grand majority of this book is very inspiring, uplifting, well-written (especially for a person who is not a native English-speaker) and motivating as all get out. I highlighted the crap out of my copy, and am inspired to make my own life goal/bucket list. I believe this guy knows what he's talking about. 

This is another one that was sent to me to review, so a big thanks to Seal Press for giving me the opportunity to lay hands on this gorgeous specimen of motivational fun! I was SO excited to give Mia Michaels book, A Unicorn in a World of Donkeys. a thorough perusing. If you aren't a dance person, you might not know who she get to googling, as she's pretty damn impressive. The book sets out to be an empowering tool to help wondrously creative and unique individuals be themselves, and let nothing get in the way of leading the most amazing life they possibly can.

Now, maybe it's because I'm too much of a donkey, but this book was kind-of all over the place for me. There were bits that had me ripping whatever bit of paper happened to be nearby so I could mark the passage to refer to later...and then there were sections that I found myself skimming. Skimming is never good. So while I truly love the woman, love the message (although if you were reading, and found yourself leaning toward donkey on those Teen magazine style quizzes, I feel incredibly bad for you because Michaels doesn't have much nice to say about donkeys), and thought the look and layout was final feeling when I closed the book was more of a meh than I'd hoped for. But, having said that, I do have friends who I think should definitely read it. 

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll is one of the Booksparks Summer Reading selections for this summer...and I'm incredibly grateful to be a part of their wonderful program again this year! This story about 5 successful women entrepreneurs who are a part-of a reality television show, and the whodunnit murder of fan favorite Brett, is an intriguing summer read for fans of Real Housewives. It offers a glimpse into the behind the scenes shenanigans of a show like that, and manipulation up the wazoo.

I would call this one of those fun summer reads that you pick up between heavier a palate cleansing book. I thought it would pull me in more than it did. I expected it to be more of a page turner. But it included some serious, "wow, I didn't see that one coming" moments...and an ending that was so not what I expected from those first beginning chapters. If you need to like the characters in your fiction...need them to have redeeming qualities...then this probably isn't the book for you. But if loving to hate those Real Housewives ladies is your guilty pleasure, then you probably need to add this to your TBR pile. 

I previously reviewed the second of Kristy Woodson Harvey's Peachtree Bluff series The Secret to Southern Charm on the blog, and thought it was only fair that I read the first book in the series. I actually picked it as the May Book Club Selection for my T&T Virtual Book Club over on Facebook (if you're not taking part, head over to my FB get reading Gillian Flynn's Dark Places for July). 

I really enjoyed getting to see the beginnings of stories I loved in the second book. I wouldn't necessarily advise picking to read the second in a series first! It tends to ruin surprises. But I love Ansley and her three daughters...and every southern bit of these books. I can not WAIT for book three to come out. I think Kristy Woodson Harvey has a special way of writing that just makes me happy when I'm reading. It's like sweet tea and sunshine all rolled up in your happiest bird-chirping day. I'd put her up there with Maddie Dawson, in my list of contemporary women's fiction writers who have a certain something that makes their voices stand out of the crowd. If you're curious about my thoughts on Slightly South of Simple, I'm putting the video discussion from my Facebook Page below for your viewing pleasure. 

Well, there you go! I think I'm pretty much caught up. I read a few others in there that I just don't feel need reviewing (which ought to tell you something)...but these were the ones worth mentioning! I have a few books I'm almost done with, so there are plenty of reviews to come. If you're interested in taking part in my online book club, for July we're reading Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. It's not a big book, so there's still plenty of time for you to read it! I'll be going live for us to discuss it on July 25th at 9 pm EST on my Facebook page. I hope to see you there. And I hope everyone is having a fabulous summer!!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Complacency in Marriage: A Guest Post by Kris Barney

Some Straight Talk from Your Southern Girlfriend

I was watching one of my new favorite television shows the other day, the new Queer Eye on Netflix, and something they said really hit me. JVN was telling one of the men how he needed to keep himself up for his wife. How wives still gussy themselves up, put makeup on every day, take care of the kids, cook a snazzy dinner, etc...the least this guy could do was shave his face occasionally, and put some clothes on that fit! He told him to make his wife proud to be married to him. And it got me thinking about how many women DON'T do what was being touted on this fabulous tv show. I have been really making a concerted effort in the past year, but for a few years there I lost myself...and I am married to a man who looks basically the same as he did in high school (with the exception of his sexy white hair and laugh lines). All of this coincided with reading something my friend Kris wrote on Facebook. So, I thought I'd ask of the most Southern, and put together, women I write a guest post about something she feels passionately about also. If you don't remember Kris Barney, please head over here to read this amazing interview we did detailing her story of perseverance through the most horrific of ordeals. She truly is inspiring. And now I'll hand the pen (or I guess keyboard) over to her!

Ladies (and dudes)….let’s talk. If someone were to ask you how many days out of 7 do you actually get dressed for the day, what would your answer be? I’m not talking sweat or yoga pants and a t-shirt. I am talking about getting a shower, doing your hair, putting on your makeup, shaving and a spritz of your favorite (or his) perfume/cologne? 

If you have to dress for work, that’s a different story, but let’s face it. Most places nowadays do not require you to look your very best for work. If you have visited your local retail store or fast food restaurant or heck, even a fancy corporation or business establishment, you can tell that times “they are a changing”, right? Gone are the days when you went for an interview and you had to look your very best REGARDLESS of where you were applying.  The interview “dress code of conduct” is well…how should I say this….gone to shit in the past 20yrs. 

Young men don’t shave anymore, man buns are in and huge holes in your ears and purple hair is acceptable. I honestly do not think anyone owns an iron anymore.  But that’s neither here nor there. I am just showing my age I guess. Dressing impeccably for whatever reason is a dying art, if you will. The term “dress to impress” is now “ I don’t dress because I am stressed.” Or, “who has time for that when I am raising 3.2 kids and I am walking around with vomit on my shirt almost all day.” Or “this is the era where “anything goes” and it is my right to do and dress how I want”.  It’s sad really. And this little blog isn’t about putting people down for the way they dress. This is about how much things have changed in the way of self care and self respect is concerned.  

Frankly I could care less how people dress as long as they smell nice. You don’t have to dress nice, but you damn sure better, at the very least, shower. But that’s another blog for another day. 

No, this is about how we women and men have, over the years, become so complacent in our appearance and how we take care of ourselves that it is BOUND to affect our relationships, our confidence and really our overall health. Let me explain before your heads pop off. 

I will begin with how a couple of the women in my life influenced me growing up. My grandmother, who I affectionately call my Maw Maw (if you're from the South, you know this term of endearment well) and my very own, very stylish and adorable mother, who reminded me so much of Farrah Fawcett when I was a little girl but now reminds me so much of the beautiful model Maye Musk. 

When I was a little girl I spent A LOT of time with my grandparents. Most summers I would stay for weeks and never bat a bright red eyelash (I am a natural ginger/auburn) at not being back home with my parents or stinky brother. My grandmother always had a routine. She would get up at 4:30 am with my grandfather, fix him a big healthy breakfast, then pack his lunch then send him on his way to work. She would of course, do her daily chores around the house while I lounged around after eating a mile high plate of her homemade pancakes. My summers with them were pure bliss. No air conditioning, just a huge attic fan blowing in the country air. It was INTOXICATING. 

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

But the one thing about my grandmother’s day that I remember so vividly is this: Once she was done with her chores, and the kitchen was clean and the clothes were hung on the line to dry, she would wash her face, fix her head full of red curly hair AND THEN the most fascinating thing would occur. It was my favorite thing to watch her do. It was mesmerizing to me to watch and I could hardly wait to see her do this tiny ritual every morning. See, my Maw Maw is a VERY bright ginger (well at nearly 93 she is a beautiful cotton white). And she has the most beautiful green eyes you have ever seen. So imagine this beautiful redhead with green eyes for just a moment….just the thought of her makes my heart swell. I love her so damn much! After her face was washed and her curly red hair was coiffed just perfectly, she would then pull out her makeup bag.

In this one bag I swear were 20 different shades of AVON LIPSTICK! My god, this woman LOVED her lipstick (and still does). To me, it was like Christmas. Because she ALWAYS let me choose a tube of my very own to wear for the day. Now I am not talking subtle colors here. NO WAY! I am talking as many reds, fuchsias and burgundies she could fit into that bag. I loved watching her as she chose her color for the day. But what was mesmerizing to me was watching her apply it. 

From a very early age, I learned that make up and lip stick was an ART. She would take great care in applying the brightest color she had and just watching her take her time so as not to get outside the lines of her lips was amazing to me. Then she would let me choose a color. 

For years before I was actually allowed to wear make up, I practiced with the  brightest Avon lipstick that nowadays would make me look like the biggest floozy on Bourbon Street. What was really funny about my Maw Maw’s lipstick, if you actually look at the lipstick  itself is that it is completely flat on the end. Some people wear down their lipstick in several different ways. It really is fascinating and there are even lipstick tests that tell you how you wear down your lipstick says a lot about your personality. I’m sure there’s an app for that somewhere.  

So you see, every day, before my Paw Paw got home from work, she was dressed, her hair was done and she had on her favorite shade of lipstick. She really didn’t need much else, but she sure did look beautiful in her favorite shade and my Paw Paw thought she was the most beautiful thing he had ever laid eyes on. 

Then there’s my own mother, who taught me at a very early age that looking your best was the only way to be. There was a time when she worked 3 jobs and she would have to get my brother and I up and ready for school. Not once can I ever remember leaving the house seeing my brother’s hair sticking up from bed head, still in his pajamas headed to school or daycare. NO WAY…but what I do remember is always seeing his wet hair neatly combed to perfection. 

As for me…I used to have waist length auburn hair and you can bet your butter that it was either in tight pigtails with those rubber bands with the balls on the ends. You know the ones. The ones that if your mother accidentally let go, you had a concussion that lasted a week because of those awful balls on the ends. Or my favorite, two braids. When I wore my hair in braids, I literally looked like Melissa Gilbert from Little House on the Prairie. Of course, by the end of the day, I looked like I had gotten into a slight altercation with a swarm of bees  as it was a hot mess by bedtime. And my mother has pictures to prove it. At least my mother was in control of my hair and not me, thank goodness. Nonetheless, when my mother, brother and I walked out of the house every morning, you can bet we looked like a million bucks and certainly smelled like it.

So getting dressed and feeling beautiful has always been a part of my life and daily routine. As was/is most ladies living in the South. It has never occurred to me to be any other way. It’s just a given. It’s never been “work”, even when my own kids were babies. Sure there were times that I didn’t do makeup but that wasn’t often, unless I was really sick. 

But most of all, I didn’t want my husband to forget who he had married. I didn’t want him to forget that I was still interested in him and invested in our marriage. I didn’t want him to have to come home every day after work and see me in the same clothes he saw me in 3 days before. It wasn’t fair to him. He deserved the best of me. After all, I didn’t have to work outside the home but that didn’t mean I was allowed to let myself go and forget that I still had a marriage to nurture. 

Let’s be real here…ladies with husbands, ladies with ladies, husbands with husbands….men, especially men, are visual creatures. The synapse does not necessarily connect unless they SEE something that makes it connect. Like your beautiful face, the woman he/she married. As years pass and babies come, we all get complacent. We get comfortable. Lazy. And let me speak the truth, as much as it hurts…that’s when we stop caring. Our significant other stops caring and things can start to go awry in our relationship. 

Photo by Diana Kadreva on Unsplash

I remember the day I had to bury my sweet Miranda girl. The hardest and most tearful day of my entire life. I got up, took my shower and dressed to impress even on the hardest day of my life. I had on a black dress, black panty hose (because those horrible things were in back then) and black pumps. It never occurred to me then, NOT to put on makeup or forgo looking my best. I just did it. As did everyone else in my family. As did all of our precious friends. Most people wouldn’t bother, I don’t guess. Especially nowadays. Why bother, when you are going to ruin it anyway by crying off all your hard work. Wasted time, perhaps. But not for this girl. Even in death, Miranda deserved the very best of me. 

You may be asking what my husband thinks?  I mean, we have been married almost 20 yrs and he has certainly seen me at my very best and the worst of the worst.  Of course he’s always known that  had he ever said anything derogatory about my appearance, he would be eating his dinner through a feeding tube. And through each and every year we are together, he knows nothing is going to change about me. Except my weight. My weight has definitely fluctuated over the years but one thing has been certain….I NEVER have gotten complacent about my appearance. 

Even at my heaviest, I always looked very well put together.  Always. He knows how important it is for me to look my best. When I go days without putting on a face or lounging for days in my lounge pants, the inevitable happens…” are you feeling ok”? “Are you sick”? His eyes get wide and wild and he thinks something terrible is about to happen. Like the apocalypse because I don’t have my face on. It really is a big deal. The only time I forgo the makeup...and again, it is when we are camping. Even then, I will at least shower and do my hair. 

So WHY do we get complacent when it comes to self care and self love? It took me YEARS to realize that self care was IMPORTANT. Could it be that we stop loving ourselves. Or do we just forget how important it is? 

I remember when it actually occurred to me. I was living in England. We hadn’t been there long and we had just moved into this beautiful farmhouse with the most beautiful stables and horses. It was so bitter cold out and I had no friends or neighbors. My babies were literally babies. Tanner was 2 and Emma was 9 months. It was dark by 4:30 and I was the fattest and the loneliest I had ever been in my life. I was stuck out in the fens, alone all day with no human interaction except the tiny humans I had attached to my legs. When Jeff got home that evening and dinner was done and kids were playing, I asked for  just 15 minutes to myself. So I put my coat on and went out to the back garden and stood in the middle of our backyard and just stared up into the night sky. I had never seen so many stars in my whole life. I was sad and depressed and felt overwhelmed. I had never been out of the state of Louisiana (except right over into Texas, but that doesn’t count). I literally felt like I was losing myself. I stared up into the sky and just said “help me”. It was then that I made the decision to, once again, pull my shit together and realize that in order for me to be the best mom and wife I could possibly be, I NEEDED to love myself. I NEEDED to help myself. I spent my very existence taking care of my husband and my two tiny humans that I forgot to take care of myself. Haven’t we all been there at some point? It was at that moment I came up with a plan. 

Even though I always looked great every day when Jeff got home from work, I had gotten complacent when it came to taking care of my body and my mental health. In 2001, I began a work out plan and a healthy eating schedule with the help of my wonderful husband, and in a year I had lost 60lbs. And I have kept it off (give or take a few fluctuations here and there). I have also instilled in my own children how very important it is to dress, to shave, to put on a little gloss and to wash their hair and look like they give a dern about their appearance. And I hope they pass this dying ‘art’ down to their children. Believe it or not, I tell them…people will notice. People always notice. 

You see…here is my theory as to why we women, and men too, stop taking care of ourselves and stop “dressing to impress”. I think that the times they REALLY are “a changing”. People REALLY do not care how they look or if YOU care how they look. It’s a sign of the times, my friend, and we old fogies are losing this battle. We have to accept it and accept people for who they are. In order to dress nice and look nice, you have to FIRST…give a damn. And most people don’t. OR some people just don’t know how to. 

When I was first allowed to wear make up my mother took me to Dillards Department store and paid for a makeup tutorial and bought all my makeup. Then as I progressed in age, we did a Beauty Control party at our house and we upgraded our pallets. My mother was very proactive in my life and she taught me all there is to know about application and less is more.

Now there are these wonderful makeup tutorials on YouTube that are helping the next generation. It’s really a wonderful thing!! Except when I started wearing lip liner. To this day my mother hates my lip liner. But it keeps my lip gloss from feathering and looking like a 90 yr old woman trapped in a 49 yr old body. And now I can at least say my liner actually MATCHES my lip gloss. Yeah, that’s another story for another day. I will call it “Makeup debacles over the decades”. LOL! 

Anyway, I see so many mom blogs that write about how they are too tired for anything other than taking care of their littles, and how there is so much housework, if they even DO housework. There are so many mom blogs about kids, babies, husbands and how HARD it is to function and get through a normal day, whatever that is. 

Let me tell you…even though Jeff and I had been through hell and back, then had 2 babies of our own, THEN orders to England, I never once stopped thinking about our marriage. So over the years, even when we were new parents, it never occurred to me to not shower all day and lay around in my yoga pants. It never occurred to me to not clean the house  (ok there was that one year after my babies were born that one room of the house looked atrocious) or fail to get my babies on a sleeping schedule IN THEIR OWN BEDS. 

I was a stay at home mom and you can bet your pretty pink bikini panties my house was clean, my babies were clean and my coochie was clean. After working all day I KNEW the last thing my husband wanted to come home to was a nasty house and coochie. I am just keeping it real. Some husbands may like that. I don’t know and it’s none of my business. To each his own. But what I do know is that my husband and I were a team (GO TEAM BARNEY) and as long as I was doing my job as a wife and mother, and he was doing is job of bringing home the bacon, then team Barney would always be a winner. 

Why do we get complacent? We stop caring about ourselves. We stop caring about our spouses. We get lazy. All too often our significant other gets put on the back burner and all that matters are the children. Then we are surprised all of a sudden when our marriage begins to suffer, then our confidence suffers, our self esteem plummets and we are angry and sad. 

Let’s be honest here…doesn’t it FEEL GOOD to soak in that tub, shave our legs and freshen up our whoo-hah? Doesn’t it make us feel amazing to brighten our eyes and our lips and put some curl in our hair and a bit of mascara on our lashes? Science has proven that when you love yourself enough to make the effort to do even the smallest adjustments to your appearance, our feel good endorphins increase and we have a glow about us. Then out of the blue someone will look at you and say “You look so beautiful today”. BAM! Up goes your confidence. 

In closing let me say this…you don’t have to be skinny to be beautiful. You don’t have to be rich to feel or look your best. You don’t have to wear sexy panties or lingerie to turn your husband or wife on. All you have to do is put forth a little bit of effort. Even if it is only 3 days a week. You will begin to see others noticing and you will begin to feel more self confident, because let me tell you…just like my Maw Maw, I will be wearing my beautiful lipstick until well into my 90’s and you will have to pry my butterfly effect mascara from my cold dead hands before I stop putting on a pretty face.  

Love yourself  enough to know you are worthy to do anything you need to do to make yourself FEEL beautiful. And if you feel beautiful lounging in yoga pants and a t-shirt you’ve been wearing for 3 days, then GOT FOR IT. All that matters is that you love yourself enough to take care of you and yours. 

But in all seriousness…times are changing and as I have witnessed, complacency is acceptable these days. WE older generation may not like it, but we have to accept it, I suppose. Except, my kids better not come around looking like an unbathed hippie. I will have some lye soap and a brillo pad with their name written all over it. HA!

-”Getting up and getting beautiful is really no work at all. It makes me happy and lifts my spirits. Even on cold and rainy days.” Kris Barney