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Archive for the ‘BOOKS’ Category

January 5th, 2015 by

So, Whatcha Reading? 2015

nook, toes, Biscuit

I don’t like science fiction.

I am immediately sucked into an old mystery. If the 200-year old house was demolished and two skeletons and a love letter were found behind the cellar door, I can’t put the dadgum book down until I know whodunit. I don’t want to figure it out. I am disappointed if the author can’t trick me. I like to be surprised and say, “Well, I didn’t see that coming.”

I’m not afraid of hard, sad books, but the next book on my list will be lighthearted and funny and probably pointless.

I don’t like books where the daddy died when the heroine was a child.

I like happy endings.


Book Club Picks

I have learned about myself through my book club that I would rarely read a new release on my own. I typically choose a book that has withstood the test of time and proven its worth and other cliches. I am usually wary of a book from a top-selling author. The more best sellers the person has written, the less I trust him/her. Danielle Steel has penned a gazillion hits. (I just picked a name. I’ve never read her.) Harper Lee wrote one book. Margaret Mitchell wrote one. Olive Ann Burns wrote one. I will always choose to read a classic a second time before I choose to read a current big-time American book. (I enjoy a Mary Higgins Clark mystery, but she tells the same story over and over, and I can pick the killer every time.)

My book club peeps often pick newer books. I take the book club pick seriously. It’s like an assignment, and I’m a mark-it-off-the-list chick. I like that I HAVE TO read the newer books. I enjoy occasionally being able to discuss a contemporary tome with semi-intelligence.


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Thirteen-year-old Theo Decker and his mother were in the museum when the bomb exploded, and she died. In his confusion from a concussion and from the surrounding chaos, Theo took the painting The Goldfinch, because the old man who lay dying on the floor told him to.

The remainder of the 750 pages tell of the 13 or so years until the painting is returned.

It consumes his life, much as this book consumed mine. It is about 300 pages too long. I didn’t care what happened to Theo. I just wanted to read the last page.

I thought the plot was original, but there are only so many ways to say, “He took a lot of drugs and drank a lot of alcohol.” And the F-bomb does not make great literature, regardless of the amount of times it is repeated.


The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarity

I read it in 24 hours. (Please see above reference to old murders and lost letters.)

This story of three Australian women takes place the week before Easter.

Cecilia is a perfect wife and mother of three girls. She finds a letter from her husband to be opened after his death.

Tess’s husband Will falls in love with her cousin and best friend Felicity. Tess runs home to take care of her mom who broke her leg and takes her son Liam.

Rachel’s daughter was murdered 20 years ago, and the killer was never found.

Their lives intersect for that one week (or for me, one day).


Far Outside the Ordinary by Prissy Elrod

Prissy Elrod is an Ocala, Florida native and a current Tallahassee resident. This is her memoir about her attempts to save her husband from a fatal brain tumor. It is an easy, interesting read, and it made for a lively book club discussion between the women who think they would have reacted similarly in her situation (she dragged him to Texas for an unorthodox, unapproved treatment and had his parents’ bodies exhumed after his death, so they could rest in the same cemetery) and those–like me–who imagine they wouldn’t have responded in the same way at all.

Her husband’s name was Boone. Bonne and Prissy. How Southern is that?!


Wonder by RJ Palacio

Wonder is a children’s book on bullying told by seven characters.

August Pullman has serious facial abnormalities. He was not expected to live at birth. He was homeschooled until 5th grade when he enrolled in a private middle school in Manhattan. The story is about his every day struggle to be treated normally and the kids’ struggle to get to know him.

It raps up nicely, and the epilogue by the torturer Julian is unexpected.


“Let Me Tell You about the Time . . .”

I enjoy fiction and a well-spun yarn, but more and more as I age, I like for folks to tell their own tales, especially funny ones. Probably, I always liked it and never noticed.


Bossypants by Tina Fey

The book was funny, but I’m not really sure why I chose it. Tina Fey is popular right now, but I don’t watch anything that she does: SNL, 30 Rock, the Golden Globe awards.

She writes about her childhood and her journey to comedic superstar. She is a highly driven woman in a man’s domain; it was hard for me to relate. She has one daughter by the end of the book, but has two in “real life.” She loves her husband and her living, married parents. That was refreshing.


Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

This book was much more my style. Jim Gaffigan is called “a clean comedian,” but he doesn’t like that. He says that’s a phrase similar to “a family-friendly restaurant.” You can take your kids to it, but the food’s not good.

He tells about his and his wife’s adventures with their five children in a two-bedroom apartment in NYC.

It’s one of the books that I like to re-read at bedtime when I’m too pooped to retain any words. Just for fun.


A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel

Zippy was born in 1965 in Moreland, Indiana. She had a bad staph infection as an infant and was supposed to die. She didn’t die, but she didn’t talk until she was almost three. Her first words to her daddy were, “Let’s make a deal.” He called her Zippy, because she could not be still.

She was raised a Quaker in less-than circumstances; however, I found many similarities in our lives, simply because of our ages, but also . . .

  • She had two siblings who were several years older than she. The oldest one she adored, and the middle one was evil and they argued endlessly and chose to sleep together.
  • She loved, loved, loved Glen Campbell.
  • She had two best friends whose houses she hung at all the time.
  • Her daddy liked to go camping.
  • She made a new friend in the 5th grade named Jeanne Ann.

This was my favorite book of the year. It was published in 2001. I don’t know how I allowed her to slip through my fingers all these years.


She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel

The sequel to Zippy. Zippy’s mom sat on the couch watching TV, reading science fiction, eating popcorn, and talking on the phone for the first 10 years of Zippy’s life. Then, she took a CLEP test and got some student aid and went to Ball State University. She graduated with Honors, got her master’s degree, and got a job teaching English at Zippy’s high school.


My Friend Charise’s Brother-in-Law

My friend Charise told me a couple of years ago that her brother-in-law had written a book I might li-i-ke (that’s how she says it). I humored and ignored her. Then I gave in. She was ri-i-ght.


Sorrow Wood by Raymond L. Atkins

Sorrow Wood is the name of a grand and spooky old house surrounded by sourwood trees. It was recently bought by a hippie love guru, and she was murdered.

Wendell is the sheriff who has to solve the crime. His wife, Reva, is the local judge. Reva believes they have loved each other in many lifetimes.

There are three storylines in this book:

  • Current day, murder solving
  • The history of Wendell and Reva from Reva’s childhood through meeting Wendell in WW2 and raising their children
  • About 10 flashbacks to the other couples through time whose bodies their spirits have inhabited (a tad freaky, but very romantic)


Camp Redemption by Raymond L. Atkins

Early Willingham lives with his sister Ivey who is 18 years older than he is. Together, they run a Bible camp in inherited Willingham Valley near fictional Sequoyah, Georgia, where his other books are set. The camp has fallen on hard times. Ivey is a Good Christian Woman who speaks in Bible verses.

Fabulously Southern, I want to re-read a real copy, not a digital one, to underline Facebook-worthy quotes (high praise, indeed).


Books I Listened To

I was taking Emma to Atlanta to catch a plane. I wanted something to listen to on the way home by myself. I looked at Cracker Barrel, but nothing piqued my interest. (See above reference to current literature.) I didn’t have enough time to call my friend Yo, who has a great audio library, but I did have a few minutes to run by Barnes and Noble. Rarely have I purchased an audio book. They’re so expensive, and I can’t imagine listening to them again. But I had a gift card. (I know! The new libraries have a good selection! I’ll go the next time! Sheesh!)

My eyes fell on Outliers. It had been on my To Read list for some time, so that’s the one I purchased with my 10% off members reward card.

I was home from Atlanta before I knew it and looking forward to the return trip to pick Emma up.

Malcolm Gladwell reads his audio books. His father is English; his mother is Jamaican; and he was raised in Canada. His accent is mesmerizing. I decided I wanted for him to read me all his books.


Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell dissects success, especially success that seems to come from nowhere, using the Beatles and Bill Gates, among many others, as examples.

  • Hard work (10,000 hours practice)
  • Right circumstances
  • A fair amount of luck and talent


David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell looks at the advantages of disadvantages: disabilities, mediocre schools. Often, the underdog wins by virtue of being the underdog.


Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell analyzes split-second decisions that we make based on our likes and dislikes, prejudices, and experiences.



SheBooks are short, digital books for women. A few are released every month. I downloaded a couple that caught my attention.


The Mother of All Field Trips by Jeannie Ralston

Two married National Geographic writers took their two boys out of school for three years. They intended only one year. They explored South America. The boys talked them into another year – Europe, and then a third – Asia.

I should have gotten book club to read it just to discuss whether or not, given the opportunity, we would choose to do it. I think I would have done it, but I would have done USA in an RV.


Jamaica Dreams by Rosemarie Robotham

Four chapters, 52 pages, about growing up in Jamaica.


Sandra Dallas

Prayers for Sale was my first Sandra Dallas book and probably my favorite. It was a book club book several years ago. Frequently, I get obsessed by a theme or an author, and I became obsessed with her. I wouldn’t read anybody else until I had finished her dozen or so books. She writes of women of the west about a century ago. Sandra Dallas’s works are about hard life and strong women and everyday love. And quilting. I don’t quilt, but I do in my heart. Whatever that means.

Her characters meander in and out of more than one book.

I also love The Persian Pickle Club.


Fallen Women by Sandra Dallas

Set after the Civil War, Lillie Osmundsen was murdered in a whorehouse in Denver. Her sister Beret goes to stay with their aunt and uncle to assist the police in their investigation, whether they want her to or not.


A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas

Eliza Spooner loved her Will and their life together on their farm in Kansas with Davy, 14, and Luzena, 12. Kansas was not a state during the Civil War, but Will volunteered to fight. He hated the Secessionists and wanted to help preserve the Union and free the slaves. He left in August 1864. She began working on a Stars and Stripes quilt and sent it to him by a soldier returning from furlough.

“A quilt made with loving hands, a quilt that would warm Will against the winter cold, a quilt for Christmas.”

Will died, but his quilt came home with a Southerner and a good story.


World War II

I saw that Unbroken had been made into a movie to be released at the end of the 2014, and I wanted to read the book first. That decision plunged me into WW2. After reading Unbroken, it was time for me to pick a book for book club. I usually pick an older book that I have not read or haven’t read in two decades and think needs to be revisited. I chose The Hiding Place. I don’t remember why.

At the book club meeting, Night was mentioned. After I read it, I revisited The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I don’t know why I chose to delve into Hell this year, but I felt if they lived it and wrote about it, their books deserved to be read.

Zamperini and ten Boom were adults fighting the evil, officially and unofficially. Wiesel and Frank were children stolen by the evil.

Faith is present on every page. Zamperini chose Christianity after his ordeal. Ten Boom’s Christian faith never wavered. Wiesel lost his Jewish faith, but Frank retained hers.


Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

The life of Louie Zamperini:

He ran in Hitler’s Olympics in 1936.

He was a bomber in WW2.

He was shot down over the Pacific.

He survived on a life raft for 47 days with another man (which is actually a world record).

He was captured by Japanese and kept as POW for about three years.

The world thought he was dead.

He married Cynthia.

He suffered from PTSD and was an alcoholic.

Cynthia convinced him to go to Billy Graham crusade in LA.

He became a Christian.

He ran a camp for troubled boys.

He returned to Japan for 1998 Olympics when he was 80 years old. He tried to find his tormentor, The Bird, to offer forgiveness. The Bird refused to meet with him. Zamperini wrote him a letter instead.


The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom tells about growing up with her watchmaker father and kind mother above their watch shop. She has a brother and two sisters. Her three unmarried aunts lived with them in post-WWI Holland.

Her father, Casper, was well-respected in the community. He read the Bible to his family every night. His family tried to put the words to action. They took in a dozen or so foster children through the years after everyone was grown and the aunts died. Corrie and her sister Betsie never married.

In spring 1940, after a five-day battle, Holland fell to the Nazis. Business boomed in the watch shop for a year or so because of the German soldiers.

Corrie witnessed the disappearance of Jewish citizens and businesses. While watching soldiers destroy a Jewish man’s belongings, she grabbed him and quickly shoved him into her house. This began the 50-year-old woman’s involvement (along with Caspar and Betsie) with the underground. Their home became the hiding place.

On February 28, 1944, their house was raided, and they were arrested. They went to prison. Caspar died.

The women went to concentration camps: Vught in Holland and Ravensbruck in Germany. Betsie died.

Corrie was accidentally released on December 30, 1944.

She returned to her home in Haarlem and set about establishing rehabilitation centers for war victims, including one in Germany at Darmstadt, a former concentration camp.

She died on April 15, 1983, her 91st birthday.

Their hiding place is a museum.


Night by Elie Wiesel

His village in Sighet, Hungary was warned by Moishe the Beadle of the horrors. They called him crazy and ignored him.

Their evacuation came in April 1944 when Elie was 13 years old. He and his father stayed together, but they were separated from his two older sisters, younger sister, and mother. He never saw his mother and baby sister again.

Cattle cars





Suffering from dysentery, his father was beaten to death in front of him on January 28, 1945.

April 10, 1945, “the first American tank stood at the gates of Buchenwald.”

Elie Wiesel spent his life campaigning for peace and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1986.


The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

I thought Anne’s diary was important because it documented a young girl in Hell, which is true. But the writing is beautiful, profound. It is fascinating to watch her writing deepen as she grows up over the two years that her family was in hiding.

“Thank you, God, for all that is good and dear and beautiful.”

“At such moments I don’t think about all the misery, but about the beauty that still remains.”

“Beauty remains, even in misfortune. If you just look for it, you discover more and more happiness and regain your balance. A person who’s happy will make others happy; a person who has courage and faith will never die in misery!”

Their hiding place is a museum.


Fun-getable Fiction

Girl recovers from bad relationship and swears off men.

Girl meets Boy whom she hates and argues with.

Boy pursues her anyway.

They solve a mystery and confess their love.

They live Happily Ever After with a large, loveable dog.


Savannah Breeze and Savannah Blues by Mary Kay Andrews

Fun-gettable fiction set at the beach.


One Plus One by JoJo Moyes

Fun-gettable fiction set on a road trip across England and Scotland. (Bonus points for British accents in my brain.)


The Christmas Train by David Baldacci

Fun-gettable fiction set in a train. At Christmas. (There’s not a dog.)


This and That

The “Books that Don’t Fit Nicely into a Category” Category


The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

Sookie (whom we met in Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!) discovers at 60 years old that she was adopted. She was raised by Lenore in Selma and currently lives in Point Clear, Alabama, two doors down from Lenore who still runs her life.

She discovers that she is the illegitimate daughter of Fritzi Jurdabalenski from Pulaski, Wisconsin, who was a WASP in WW2. WASPs were women who flew planes to transport them from army base or factory to port to be shipped overseas. The women were allowed to help since it freed up men to fight.


Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom

Albom shares uncomplicated truths learned from his friendships with a Jewish rabbi and a Christian preacher. I read it a few years ago. Mary told me to. It’s my favorite Mitch Albom book, so I re-read it. I’ll probably re-read it again sometime. (That’s not redundant.)


Moonrise by Cassandra King

(She’s my cousin!)

Emmett Justice remarries quickly after Rosalyn’s mysterious death. He takes his bride Helen Honeycutt to Rosalyn’s summer home, Moonrise. Helen spends the summer with Emmett and Rosalyn’s friends, who obviously resent her and yet she seems not to understand why.

The mystery of the death is uncovered.

The story is told from three viewpoints: Helen’s, Rosalyn’s friend Tansy’s, and the housekeeper Willa’s.


The Seven Experiment by Jen Hatmaker

A 9-week Bible study against excess in seven areas: clothes, spending, waste, food, possessions, media, stress. My Sunday school class read it together and watched the accompanying videos. It enlightens on American overabundance. I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. I will read it again.


The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty

Laurel McKelva Hand goes with her father and silly young stepmother to a New Orleans hospital. Her father has eye surgery and loses the will to live. He dies, and Laurel and Fay return to Mississippi for the funeral. Fay leaves her for a couple of days after the funeral alone in her childhood home.

As she grieves her parents and their home, Laurel aches for her husband who died young and for the children they never had.

“If Phil could have lived–” she says out loud and repeats to herself.

That took my breath away. That was my mama’s mantra.

“If Phil had lived–.”


Fearless by Max Lucado

Jesus said “Do not be afraid” more than any other statement.

Lucado discusses about a dozen modern fears and how to face them with faith.

“Fear, at its center, is a perceived loss of control.”

“Storms are not an option but fear is.”


An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Colin Singleton just got dumped for the 19th time by a girl named Katherine. Not Kate. Not Kathy. And heaven forbid, not Catherine.

He is a former child prodigy. Former, because he just graduated from high school.

He and his friend Hassan set out on a road trip. They end up in Gutshot, Tennessee, where they spend the summer gathering oral history stories for a rich woman named Hollis and befriending her daughter Lindsey.

Colin excels at anagrams and languages. He wrote a theorem on how to figure which person in the relationship will dump the other: Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability.

My Abby is a huge John Green fan. She told me this was her 2nd favorite John Green book after A Fault in Our Stars. It is great fun; there is no heartbreak. Thumbs up; thumbs up.


The Circle Maker and Draw the Circle by Mark Batterson

“All of us love miracles. We just don’t like being in a situation that necessitates one . . . We want God to provide for our need before we even need it.”

Circle the prayer.

“Pray without ceasing.” – Jesus


The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

“The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.” They finagled themselves into the Christmas pageant. It was going to be a disaster.

I read this out loud to my kids every year. We start on December 18 and read a chapter a night through Christmas Eve. I started when the girls were four. They were 20 this year.


Books that Are Already on My Nightstand or Downloaded to My Nook

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

It’s a book about grace, amazing grace.


Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Cindi told me to read it, and her choices never let me down.


Sweetwater Blues by Raymond L. Atkins

See above reference to My Friend Charise’s Brother-in-Law.


What the Dog Saw and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Santa brought me the audio books. I am looking forward to a road trip.


Almost 4,000 words about words later, that’s all I’ve got to say. Now it’s your turn. What are you reading?


February 12th, 2014 by

When the Roof Caves In

I met Laurel at church, but I got to know her in Jamaica.

(That would be a good opening line for a murder mystery, wouldn’t it?)

For several summers, the youth group from our church went to Ocho Rios, Jamaica to teach Vacation Bible School for local churches. Laurel had gone once before. I heard all about that trip.


Jack's River Baptist Church

Laurel’s group taught up in the mountains at Jack’s River Baptist Church. On Monday, about 50 children came to VBS, but each day the Good News spread and more and more children came. By Friday, there were 200 children in a one-room church with no ac or sound system and very little wiggle room. It was loud and sweaty as Miss Laurel yelled that day’s lesson to the children.  Afterwards, she wanted to allow the children who were interested in Jesus to have an opportunity to learn more. She hollered and waved her arms in different directions, “ALL YOU WHO WANT TO GO TO HEAVEN, FOLLOW MR. JIM. EVERYONE ELSE CAN GO TO CRAFTS WITH MISS KIM!”

I doubt those words were written in the lesson plans.

What if someone wanted to do both? (I’m thinking 10-year-old Celeste would have gone home with a brightly beaded necklace that day.)

It was on the next trip that I got to know Laurel. She went back to Jack’s River and the atmosphere was worse. There was much-needed construction taking place on the roof of the church, so in addition to the 200 sweaty kids crammed into the church, the Bible story was punctuated with hammering and falling ceiling tiles. The adults wouldn’t let the kids go outside to play for fear of the nails that covered the ground. (I’m not even going to mention about the roof caving in on a leader while she was tinkling in the bathroom, because it wasn’t Laurel—but it should have been.) It was crazy and chaotic and fantastic. I imagine they let the kids talk about going to Heaven AND make crafts!

I was at nearby Hamilton Mountain Baptist Church. My envious friends called it Hamilton Mountain Resort, because we had a bathroom and a kitchen (albeit without running water in either).



So, it was on the bus rides to and from our churches or back at the condos as we prepared for the following day or over shared stories during dinners and delightful desserts at Glenn’s across the street or in the evening Bible studies by the Caribbean where I learned to love Laurel.

I loved her quick wit and loud laugh. I loved her wild, curly golden locks (about which her grandmother told her, “I don’t have much, but I’ll give you everything I own, if you’ll do something about that hair.”) I loved that she had the wisdom of a mom who had raised three godly young men and was willing to share it with the mother of a preteen boy who was thirsty for her knowledge.

Now, almost four years later, I find I am still thirsty for her knowledge. Fortunately for me, she has written a book.

Laurel asked me to write a review of Lean Forward  for Amazon. (I still haven’t done that!) She emailed the book to me on October 31st. I pulled it up on my laptop just to skim while the trick-or-treaters came and went. Except for answering the doorbell, I didn’t get up for several hours. I nibbled on bite-sized Snickers and read the whole book in one sitting. I quickly discovered that I wasn’t reading it for the Amazon review. I was reading it for my sinking and struggling and seeking soul. She didn’t know it, but she had written the book for me.

Or maybe she did know it. She told me, “We spend most of our time trying to make the pain go away: we eat, we hide, we take drugs, we shop, we drink, we get really busy and try to feel important. The list of what we do goes on forever.  But all those things are just symptoms of the problem. The problem is the human condition. Life hurts for many reasons. We need to experience God on a moment by moment basis.” 

(I’m not going to tell you the means I use to escape life, because that’s too personal. Just leave me alone and pass me the Cheez-Its.)

In 2011, Laurel and her husband, Jim, faced an unexpected and unwelcome move. Once the boxes were packed and later unpacked, with her three boys all grown, she had time on her hands to write down what she had learned through the difficult experience. Much of it, she had already learned just by living and striving for godliness most of her life.

“Sometimes a wilderness experience is not dramatic at all.” She readily admits in the book, “Our problem faded into insignificance when compared to what many people endure; however, I have come to this conclusion: whether a circumstance is desperate or merely difficult a believer must make a choice.”

Truth is Truth, regardless of whether we are surviving a move or drowning in the grief of burying a loved one.

“This book is neither a formula nor a set of religious rules,” she writes in Lean Forward .

She emailed me, “The disciplines (that this book is about) are biblical ways, proven-through-the-centuries ways, to encounter God. My prayer is that my experiences help others. I think that is finally what the pain is all about.” 

My favorite line from the book is “When you don’t know what to do, go to church.” Not because “the devil will get you,” like the sign says on I65 north of Montgomery, but because a commitment to church brings connection and companionship and, occasionally, a casserole.

Are you weary or fearful or angry or depressed or lonely or despairing (or all of the above)? If not, chances are you will be at some point.

Let my friend Laurel Griffith share with you how she learned to Lean Forward .

(Now, I’m off to write that Amazon review!)

The kindle edition of Lean Forward is available on Amazon for $2.99. The paperback is $8.99.



January 16th, 2014 by

So, Whatcha Reading? 2014

I’ve always been a reader. But life shakes us about, so some seasons I crawl into book after book and sometimes I feel I can’t spare the minutes or the emotions to read more than magazines and the newspaper. Last year, I read about a million blogs, because I wanted to learn about that. I like the satisfaction of the quick read, but it does not bring to me the pure joy that closing a book does. As much as I delight in touching books and smelling books, I have succumbed to an e-reader, and I delight in that as well. I take it with me everywhere I go. It’s like toting a library. And I can’t think of a thing wrong with that. 

When the kids were young, I mostly read books to them or about how to parent them. Emma was in Mr. As class in 5th grade. Near the beginning of the year, he overheard me talking to another mom about juvenile literature. He asked me if I would like to join him in Accelerated Reading. He read and tested for points every year, and he had always wanted to have a parent participate as well. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. As a 5th grade parent, I would have to accumulate 175 points to earn a trophy for the year. I read and tested on everything from Junie B. Jones (with 1st grader Phillip) to Harry Potter. (If you do not know Junie B., I suggest you meet her. Her charming books take about 30 minutes to read. You will laugh a lot and even learn a little about how to treat your friends.) I refreshed my memory on Little Women and Anne of Green Gables and tested on them, too. By the May deadline, I squeaked by with 177.1 points. (Unbelievably, Mr. A had the exact same score.) Actually, I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and didn’t test on it. It was worth about 40 points, and I would have ended with a higher score than Emma. (I was nowhere near reaching uber-reader Abby’s score, who was in a classroom across the hall.) I didn’t test on it, because she asked me not to. The 5th grade boys could not wrap their competitive minds around the fact that I was choosing NOT to win. They questioned my sanity every time they saw me–and encouraged me to test on it anyway.

Not long after, I met Mary. She had been in a book club while she lived in Memphis. She searched for one to join when she moved to Dothan and couldn’t find one. As she met friends, she listened for who loved books and started her own. (What a chick!) I joined Mary’s motley crew of readers about six months after they started. Phillip was in the 4th grade, and coincidentally in Mr. As class, so that was fall of 2008.

We are such book geeks that we talk about the book we read as a group, and then we talk over each other about the books we read individually. This has been a great delight in my life, and I never asked for it nor even desired it. I just stumbled into it. (Thanks, Mary.)

But enough about me. Let’s talk about books.

Below is my list of the books that I read in 2013. I pinkie promise that I won’t reveal any secrets. I’ll just give an overview and maybe a thought or two, so you can see if any of these books interest you. And maybe you’ll suggest a book or two to me.

Book Club Books

Each member of our book club takes a turn choosing the book to read. (We try to meet every month, but we never do.) We seem to read a lot of emotionally heavy books. We complain about how heavy the books are and then choose another heavy book. This is an aspect that I enjoy about book club. I am stretched by the choices of the other members. Most of the books they choose, I would never have read on my own, but I am usually glad I did, and I never feel I have wasted my time. (FYI, rarely do I like Mary’s pick.)

We unintentionally have read many, many books set in WW2 or soon after. None of us is sure why. Maybe WW2 is a literary trend right now, since we are still close enough in history to be intrigued by it, but not close enough for it to cause too much personal pain.

City of Women by David Gillam was the only WW2 book that we read in 2013. It is set in Berlin. Sigrid Schroder’s husband is away at war, and she lives with her mother-in-law who hates her. She accidentally gets involved in hiding Jews, but it becomes her purpose.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Father is a Southern Baptist preacher who takes his wife and 4 daughters to the Congo for one year in 1961. He is overbearing, dogmatic, and abusive. The five females expect to merely bide their time until they can return to Georgia. The Congo gains independence from Belgium that year and the country is in turmoil. The family is told to leave, but Father won’t.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a sweet story set in sadness. A teenaged girl with incurable cancer has a romance with an athletic cancer survivor who has lost a leg. Cancer invades every second of their days and of those who love them. They set out on a great adventure together. (A movie based on the book will be released in 2014.)

12th of Never by James Patterson was too violent for me. And I couldn’t relate to the cop mama who went back to work when her sick baby was one month old. But it was fast-paced and interesting. I see why other people enjoy his writing. In fact, one in our group liked it so much, she went back to the beginning of the Women’s Murder Club series and read them all.

My Book Club Peeps also read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, but I couldn’t stomach another heavy book at the time, so I opted out.

Basically, our only rule about picking a book is Pick a Book You Haven’t Read. I amended that rule to Or In the Last 20 Years. When I joined the book club, I appointed myself as the classics picker. Typically, everyone picks newer releases. There are so many books that we missed along the way or that we need to revisit that I always pick an older book. In years past, I have chosen for us to read To Kill a Mockingbird, Sense and Sensibility, and The Prince of Tides. This year, I picked All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. It is the first in the series of the real-life tales of the English country vet. Even the doubters enjoyed this gentle and funny, old-fashioned story.

The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom is about the first phone call from Heaven. This is his second fiction book. As a group, we read his Have a Little Faith. I also read Tuesdays with Morrie. If you’ve never read Mitch Albom, read Have a Little Faith. I will re-read it at some point. He shares uncomplicated truths learned from his friendships with a Jewish rabbi and a Christian preacher.

My School Reading

I loved reading out loud to my children, but now they are “too old.” Or are they? Phillip still has school reading to do and doesn’t love to read. He procrastinates and complains and whines and moans. So, rather than fuss at him and argue with him about getting his reading done, I just read it to him. He lies beside me for days on end with his head or his feet in my lap. He listens; we talk about the book; he passes the test. And I can’t think of a thing wrong with that. 

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

I would never choose to read a book about dwarfs, a dragon, a wizard and an adventure on my own. But I enjoyed every word. I’ve even seen the two movies.

Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

Three weeks after Granny Blakeslee died, Grandpa married Miss Love Simpson, who was young enough to be his daughter. It is set in Cold Sassy, Georgia (which is modeled on Commerce, Georgia) in 1918 and told in first person by 14-year-old Will Tweedy. Dripping with deliciously simple Southern splendor, I rank it with To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone with the Wind.

I Tend To Read Thematically

(A pretty way of saying, “The OCD takes hold of me and won’t let me move on until it thinks I’m done”)


All Over But the Shouting

Rick and his brothers were abandoned by his abusive father, who died when he was a teenager. With help from her family, his mama worked hard to take care of her boys. He wrote this book to praise her and honor her.

Ava’s Man

His grandfather died the year before Rick was born, yet his reputation lingered, and he was a large presence in Rick’s life. His name was Charlie. He was a bootlegger who liked to sample his own creation, who worked hard in during the Depression, who loved his children and his wife (who might be diagnosed as bi-polar today).

The Prince of Frogtown

Rick felt he had written a one-dimensional version of his father in All Over But the Shouting; however, he only knew one dimension of him. So, he interviewed his people: cousins and friends who knew the man before Korea haunted and alcohol controlled him. Rick transitioned the chapters about his father with stories of his developing relationship with his new stepson.

Don’t pick up one Rick Bragg book, unless you can commit to the trilogy, ‘cause you won’t want to put them down. All three are set on the north Alabama/Georgia border near Jacksonville, Alabama, from pre-Depression to current day.


Instead of reading Yancey’s books on my Nook, I bought real copies of both of these, so I could channel my mama and mark ‘em up.

The Jesus I Never Knew

Yancey starts at the beginning and tries to tell the story of Jesus as if he didn’t know how it ended. Who was he? What would I have noticed? Why did he come? What did he leave behind? What difference did he make?

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

Yancey dissects prayer for his own answers and takes the reader along the journey. He looks at the prayers of Jesus and others in the Bible and throughout history. He searches many religions and different Christian denominations.  He notes, “Christians in developing countries spend less time pondering the effectiveness of prayer and more time actually praying” then proceeds to ponder. Why pray? What to pray? Does it change God?

It is a 350-page book with small print. It was not an easy read. I cherished it for several months. I’ll probably read it again one day.


Both are fun, easy, take-the-blues-away kind of books.

Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle (

She is a Texas girl who writes about her adventures with her BFF and their children.

A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet by Sophie Hudson (

She is a Mississippi girl who lives in Birmingham, loves Mississippi State, and tells tales about sharing fried food with her people around her grandmama’s table.


After the movie Lincoln, I wanted to know about the man Lincoln.

Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

This is the only book I listened to this year. I listened to it on my way home from dropping Phillip at camp. It was horrifying and fascinating. Bill O’Reilly read it in his announcer voice and counted down the days to Lincoln’s murder. Don’t read this one. Listen to it.

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson

It is a middle-school book. I bought it at a book fair for Phillip a couple of years ago and pulled it off of his bookcase. It begins with the assassination and recounts the two-week manhunt for John Wilkes Booth. (Manhunt is the name of the adult book of the same story.)

I don’t think I learned what I wanted to know. I want to know more of Lincoln’s LIFE not his death. How did he become the man of character that he was? What shaped his wisdom and his compassion? What would have happened to our country had a lesser man been our leader? I think about the verse from Esther 4:14: And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?

Everything Else

Front-Porch Prophet by Raymond L. Atkins

AJ and Eugene were life-long friends. Eugene is dying of cancer and AJ is looking after him—a gloomy subject but an engaging read. The story moves forward and flashes back through their friendship. AJ is married to Maggie, whose full name is Margaret Mitchell. All the children in the Smith family line are named after great authors from mama Jane Austen to baby James Joyce (JJ).

It is set on the north Alabama/Georgia line, just like Rick Bragg’s books and Cold Sassy Tree, which is a complete and fun coincidence that I read them all this year. (It is also where Phillip goes to camp.)

Forever, Erma is a compilation of the best of Erma Bombeck. I read several of her books as a teenager, which is odd, since she wrote about being a housewife (later upgraded to homemaker then again to stay-at-home mom). I loved re-reading her after two decades of being a housewife/homemaker/SAHM (and never caring what it was titled). Her situations are occasionally dated (she and her husband share a car; her children listen to radios and record players), but her wit and wisdom are timeless. (That last sentence is cliché but true. And so was that sentence.)

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White

In 1993, Neil White was sent to prison in Louisiana for one year for mismanagement of about $500,000. After he arrived, he discovered the prison was also the last leper colony in the United States. He left as a changed man (with all his fingers and toes intact).

The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs

I try to read a Christmas book every December. Other than her children’s books, I had never read Liz Curtis Higgs. The Christmas story seems to be all about the men: the shepherds, the wise men, the evil king. This book is about Anna, Elizabeth, and Mary: an old woman, a middle-aged woman, and a young woman, who all were anxious for the Savior.

Lean Forward by Laurel Griffith provides practical, biblical advice for seeking God and changing one’s attitude in unwelcome situations. We can mope and pout, or we can find purpose in the pain and salvage the situation.

1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp

In the midst of the pain, the discouragement, and the loneliness, count your blessings. Literally, make a list. Eucharisteo. BEFORE every miracle, Jesus gave thanks.

Already Either on My Nook or On My Bedside Table

The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty

I’ve never read a novel by Miss Welty, and I am ashamed of myself for that. I began Losing Battles years ago, but I never finished it. I figure her Pulitzer Prize winning book is a good place to start.

A bunch of Beth Moore books that I downloaded for free

I’ll let you know in a year which ones I read.

Moonrise by Cassandra King

She’s my cousin!  

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg