Most writers and editors post on their websites a series of favorable recommendations from the people they have worked with. I am more than willing to share what my clients think of me, but I believe the real proof of the pudding is in what book reviewers think. Below are a few reviews of books I've written or ghostwritten.
The Coastal Star
By Steve Pike
“I was born addicted to heroin.”
That Garcia Marquez-esque line opens The Painting and the Piano, co-authored by Ocean Ridge residents John Lipscomb and Adrianne Lugo. The self-published book follows Lipscomb and Lugo from seemingly well-adjusted childhoods through the rock bottom of addiction and finally to lives of discovery, redemption and recovery.
As the opening line of the first chapter implies, The Painting and the Piano is not meant to be an altogether pleasant read. It is, however, a “must read” for anyone whose life — directly or indirectly — has been touched by addiction, a broken family, abandonment and isolation...
Lipscomb and Lugo tell their stories as a tandem, but each of their stories blends into a fine piece of writing.
By Tracy Slowiak for GoodReads.Com
Have you ever read a book, that upon finishing, you just knew would be a story that would stay with you for a long, long time? Well, that certainly was the case for me when I finished the last words of The Painting and The Piano by authors John Lipscomb and Adrianne Lugo. Following the true story of the authors through their childhood and into adulthood, the story shows how the devastating effects of having a parent, and more specifically a mother, who deals with substance abuse issues can have lifelong consequences for children. John and Adrianne are raised thousands of miles from each other, and both seem to have all that a child could ever want, but their mother’s actions will cause their lives to be torn completely apart. With little help from anyone, including the court system, it is almost entirely left up to John and Adrienne themselves to find what all humans strive for; security, love and happiness.
I so loved The Painting and The Piano. Authors John Lipscomb and Adrianne Lugo have done a simply splendid job in telling their stories, although unique, in a wonderfully intertwined way that pulls them both together. The stories, though difficult, are told delicately, but with humor and will grab readers from the very beginning. I was absolutely unable to put down this book until the very end, and that is certainly not the case for me with many works of non-fiction. Any reader who enjoys a great work of non-fiction, an autobiography, or a story of redemption and triumph in the face of great odds and a difficult history, should absolutely read The Painting and The Piano. They will not regret it.
By Red City Review
A memoir detailing the trials and tribulations of two souls experiencing parallel struggles with family and addiction, The Painting and The Piano paints a vivid picture of two lives darkened by pain and loss. The first storyline involves the coming-of-age of the wealthy son of a titan of industry: Johnny Lipscomb. Johnny’s mother and father are both functioning alcoholics—though, sadly, his mother becomes less and less able to cope as his story progresses. Johnny relies heavily on the surrogate mothering of his dear governess, Lizzy, who is firm but ever faithful. Eventually, Johnny’s parents divorce, he must part ways with Lizzy, and his mother succumbs to the weight of her addiction: dying tragically and leaving Johnny to navigate his existence with nary a guiding light. Similarly, Adrianne, a foster child living in a loving home, comes to learn that her biological parents are not only recovering drug addicts, but also that they want to wrench her away from said loving home. Abusive and an alcoholic until the day she dies, Adrianne’s mother is a direct parallel for Johnny’s mother.
These two stories unfold in brilliantly poignant and tragic ways, and the cycles of abuse and addiction are explored in meaningful, real discourse that brings about a deeper meaning to the reader as they follow along the narrative. Although it is a non-fiction memoir, the book reads much like a novel: intense and at points, almost unbelievable. ...Over all, it’s a thrilling, fast-paced ride for those who don’t mind a little gritty reality.
By Kirkus Review
A vivid, moving account of addiction, trauma, and hard-won triumph by two survivors.
"A bit of the angry dust cloud comes sulking into the bar like a lonely old man looking for a drink. It settles and lies at my feet and on my shoes. I take a drag on my cigarette and the smoke sweetly passes through the port wine that hangs like a mist at the back of my throat."
Reviewed by Sarah Hilary
The title story of this collection, Selling Their Childhood, is a visceral tale related by a cynical teenager who, at the age of sixteen, is already past his prime as a young prostitute working the bus stop steps in Omaha. His best friend is a dreamer but the hero knows their fate is written in the hard eyes of the fathers who pay for their services before returning home to family life in the suburbs. We see these predatory hypocrites very clearly although they don’t feature in the story as anything more than the reason for the hero and his friend to be sitting at the bus stop, a few yards from Sammy, a young dealer who is waiting for the hero to earn enough money to buy his next hit. The relationship between these boys and the men who use them is vividly drawn by Buchanan, who keeps everyone distant from one another, the better to underline the mercenary nature of the relationships. It’s a masterly balancing act and one that makes the story accessible while in no sense sanitizing the hard truth at its heart.
The suburban family man is brought to life also in The Incorrigible, a coming-of-age story about a group of friends rebelling against their school and community. Buchanan writes with bitterly black humor of the family men who mount their riding lawn mowers more often than they mount their wives, and who are as trapped in the patterns of their lives as the boys feel in their adolescence. The hero in The Incorrigible, like that in Selling Their Childhood, seems wise beyond his years, sometimes straying into an adult perspective that jars a little in this tale (we can believe in the cynicism of the young hustler, but this schoolboy seems preternaturally adult).
A cynical note of my own: I could wish the collection hadn’t kicked off with its weakest story. Reason #1,133 to Quit Drinking begins with the hero waking with a hangover. My heart sank; I feared I was in for a whole book of stories about despoiled machismo, the smoking of dead cigarette butts and the hubris of inaccurate male urination... but once I was beyond this first story I found the collection as a whole very nearly eclectic in its range of subject matter, and the author more than adept at writing young boys, old men and new fathers.
The second story, Alexei K, is an almost painfully private glimpse into the life of an aged Russian émigré in New York. The third story is more convincing still: a lascivious old roué recalling past triumphs as he imagines pleasures yet to come. The descriptive passages – sensual, shocking and amusingly self-deprecating – are brilliantly handled by Buchanan.
Rainy Day with Jack is a touchingly intimate portrait of a new father struggling to pacify his hungry son as they wait for the return of the baby’s mother (who has, with an exasperating lack of foresight, decided to breastfeed their son but failed to provide expressed sustenance for the poor child should she be delayed returning home). Luckily for Jack, his dad is a lovely chap who resists the negativity that comes with the exhaustion of trying to get a hungry baby to go to sleep without feeding first.
Taken overall, this collection is a testament to Buchanan’s intimacy with human frailty and his ability to bring it to life without blunting any of its sharp, breakable edges.
Read the title story from this collection in the Plum Ruby Review
Sarah Hilary is an award-winning writer whose fiction appears in The Fish Anthology, Smokelong Quarterly, The Best of Every Day Fiction, and in the Crime Writers’ Association anthology, MO: Crimes of Practice. Sarah won the Fish Historical Crime Prize in 2008. Most recently, her work was Highly Commended by Aesthetica and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. A column about her mother, who was a child internee of the Japanese, was published in Foto8 Magazine and later in the Bristol Review of Books.
By Holly Barret
Life is Beautiful: How a Lost Girl Became a True, Confident Child of God, by Sarah M. Johnson, reminded me that none of us are alone when it comes to facing trials in life. Stuff happens. People don’t do what they are supposed to do. And sometimes you wind up in situations that you never dreamed of.
For Sarah, it was a plane crash that forced her to deal with life’s realities. Sarah grows up in a family that is at once loving and distant. Her father’s drug abuse made Sarah angry but wasn’t enough to keep her from sliding down the same slope of alcohol abuse. As families are complicated, Sarah loved and hated her father all at the same time she didn’t want to disappoint him. Feeling like she had when she failed in school, she slipped further into the addiction cycle.
God, however, has a funny way of showing up when we least expect it and when He showed up for Sarah, she kept Him in her sights even through the worst days of her life. During her father’s recovery the family travels to Guatemala on a mission trip. In a small plane with 14 passengers when it crashes, Sarah, her mom and one other passenger are the only survivors. And Sarah is left to deal with the deaths of her father and brother, and the severe injuries of her mom all alone.
Again, Sarah continues to go back towards God, even though some days she can barely function through the haze of her addiction. Sarah’s story seems hopeless at times but with God, there is always hope. Through prayer and therapy, Sarah begins to rely more and more on God and begins to so see how He is truly working to make her life beautiful again. That’s the compelling part of Sarah’s story – that she returned to God over and over again, and He answered her prayers.
Life is Beautiful will encourage you to view your life’s circumstances through a different lens. It will help you look for the ways God is working around you. It will lead you to search out the places where God is connecting with you through the story He is allowing you to live.
Because that’s the thing about this life. God never promised it would be easy. But He did promise to show up. He did promise to never leave us. He did promise to work in all things for our good. And when you recognize that, just like Sarah, you will find that life can truly be beautiful again.
There never seems to be any real respite from the tension and stress that underscores life. I feel tautly coiled; like the world I inhabit spins far too fast. Like a merry-go-round you wish you could stop for a moment just to catch your breath. ~Sarah M. Johnson
The quote above pierced my heart as I read the words several times over. It touched me deeply because I’ve experienced the exact same feelings, but never put them into words so perfectly.
Life is Beautiful by Sarah M. Johnson is her personal story of brokenness and redemption. She takes the reader on a journey through her family’s real struggles as her Father’s drug use comes to light and his determination to redeem his life.
After finding out her father had been using for more than a decade Sarah begins to face her own insecurities while spiraling out of control due to alcohol use and depression.
As this family deals with their new reality Sarah’s parents decide to take in a relative dying from cancer. Her father visits Africa with her brother, and then wants the whole family to make another trip together.
It is this trip’s tragic end that causes Sarah to look at her life and living it out in a completely different way.
When I compare Mrs. Johnson’s story to my own life (I believe as readers we do this without even thinking) I can feel her pain of wanting to fit in but not knowing how.
I can step inside her house and feel the distance between family members as they discover how to live with ugly truths that now exist.
I can picture my own season of spinning out of control and making choices that lead to heartbreak and regret.
Mrs. Johnson has a way of exposing her vulnerabilities that cause me to cringe and whisper me too.
My vice was not alcohol, but don’t they all make us feel the same?
When I’m drinking, I feel as if I’m a passenger in my own life. I want to love God, I want meaningful friendships, and I want to do well in school, but alcohol, insecurity and anxiety impel me down a much different path ~Ch.7
If you’ve ever been addicted to anything you know what she’s describing. The life around you seems distant, almost as if you don’t belong.
Insecurity and anxiety play a vital role in Mrs. Johnson hitting rock bottom as she deals with the pain of the Cessna crash, her mother’s deep resentment and physical pain, and her own addiction.
I matched my experiences to Mrs. Johnson’s as she finally reached out for help and found comfort in therapy. The way she shares her private thoughts and feelings is another reason why I love this book.
When we are honest with others about the worst parts of ourselves we can connect on a much deeper level.
Time passes slowly, like an inexorable drum beat, but each day seems to build on one another…Telling Pauline my story has not magically cured me, but it no longer feels quite so fearful to talk openly and honestly about what I experienced. ~Ch. 11
Life is Beautiful is a book I will recommend over and over to anyone searching for a story of redemption and God’s love.
It truly is about a lost girl who became a true, confident child of God.
By Red City Review
Sarah M. Johnson shares a story of great personal tragedy and personal triumph in her spiritual memoir, Life is Beautiful: How a Lost Girl Became a True, Confident Child of God. It is a powerful and gripping story from the beginning. Yet, after reading the first chapter focused on the plane crash that took the lives of Sarah’s father and brother, the realization comes that the crash really isn’t the beginning of the story. Sarah flips back and forth, especially in the first half of Life is Beautiful, from reflections and descriptions of the plane crash, the deaths and the survivors, to life prior to her family’s trip to Guatemala. Her father had not often been present during the early years of her life. Yet, getting arrested for drugs and then bringing Sarah’s aunt home to die led to his transformation. He no longer wanted to take from others, but instead wanted to give back. This is why Sarah and her family flew to Guatemala. As the story jumps back and forth, you also come to realize that heavy drinking was a part of Sarah’s family culture. It is no surprise that she, too, tried to escape her issues through drinking. Between alcoholism, the tragic loss of her family, and the failure of her first year of college, she comes to realize she has tremendous work to do on herself. Throughout Life is Beautiful, she explores her connection or lack thereof to God. Eventually, she steps fully into her faith and finds herself walking life’s path with God at her side.
Life is Beautiful is very well-written even if the flipping back and forth between time frames is a bit perplexing at first. Sarah M. Johnson has an inspirational story to share with the world, and she has done an eloquent job of doing so. By sharing her story in such an open and honest way, Sarah shows readers they are not alone. She finds that there are others who are willing to be there and help her. Just as Sarah found guidance and help, she inspires others to do the same. Sarah M. Johnson truly expresses the concept that life can be beautiful no matter what has happened in our past.
Danielle Urban at Good Reads
Life is Beautiful is a must read for all. I can't stress just how great this beautiful read is. Life isn't easy, it's difficult. Bad things always happen and sometimes we lose a bit of ourselves along the way. Sarah M. Johnson has brilliantly written a book, that all should keep a copy handy. This book shows readers her journey through life's trials. We are tested every day. Things can go well for us for a time and then unexpectedly fall apart and never be the same again. Here, inside of Life is Beautiful, readers get a first hand glimpse into a young woman's life journey. First, her dad struggles with an issue. Then it's her struggling to love and forgive her father. Her mom is angered and feels betrayed by her husband's fall into the dark side.
The youngest child, the son, feels the pain just like the rest of his family but somehow it's like he holds them together. He tells his father that no matter what, they will always be here for him. That is a showing of true love. Love for a father even when that father betrayed his family and fell off path. His son isn't giving up on him. Later on, there's more family issues that will rock their family way of life once more. A father must learn to be the father and husband that he should be. A daughter ,who needs to learn to forgive and move on, as well as recognize her own bad behavior. A mother and wife stressed out from everything. A son, who watches everything unfold and tries to remain strong. Life is Beautiful, shows us, at the end, that life can indeed be beautiful to us once again. I loved reading this book by Sarah M. Johnson. It will tug at your heart, leave you feeling sad, angered, and scared. It will also, give readers hope. Overall, I highly recommend reading this story. You will love this stunning book and all that it brings.