Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Best Books of 2017

2017 is turning out to be a pretty good year for books around here.  I have beat my last year's record by 54%.  I attribute this to several things: starting a book club, actually reading my Book of the Month and Shelf Subscription books each month and the fact that I did not teach a Bible study this past fall.  There is more time for reading when I am not studying in the evenings.

So what were my favorite books of the year?  Here are my top 6 (though it is acutally a list of 7 because I couldn't choose so I made a double feature out of one pick). 


Big Little Lies
by Liane Moriarty
So, if #4 on my list is a double feature...this one is a 'twice the bang for your buck' entry.  I enjoyed listening to Big Little Lies on Audible.  It is such an entertaining story even though it is intense and deals with some hard subject matter.  I was swept up in the adventure from the very first minutes.  My heart raced when I wasn't sure what was going to happen to the characters...and I cheered like crazy for 'my girls.'  Madeline, Celeste and Jane became girlfriends and I was invested in their lives even when they were driving me crazy!

Then I watched the HBO series which is up for all kinds of awards.  The book was better and I still don't understand why they reset the story in California instead of Australia, but I enjoyed the show and found myself even more invested in their lives.  Yes, this is chick-lit...but it is chick-lit at it's finest! 


The Rules of Magic
by Alice Hoffman
I just finished this November selection from Book of the Month.  All of the activity and travel in our lives made it last longer than it normally would have because I was just so tired when I tried to read at night.  But read, I must, because I couldn't wait to find out more about the Owens siblings Franny, Jet and Vincent.

I sobbed as I read some of the final pages, but closed the book with a smile on face.  It's that good!

From Amazon:
For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man. 

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the '60s, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood-red hair; shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people's thoughts; and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk. 

From the start, Susanna sets down rules for her children. No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And, most importantly, never, ever fall in love. But when her children visit their aunt Isabelle in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City, each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse. 

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered and sometimes feared aunts in Practical Magic while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy. Thrilling and exquisite, real and fantastical, The Rules of Magic is a story about the power of love
I'm still pondering this story and cannot wait to read Practical Magic (of which this is the prequel) and then to watch the movie. 


The Ocean at the End of the Lane and The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman

 I am giving you a double feature on this one because I really can't choose which was my favorite.  Nobody Owens, the boy whose family is murdered and finds himself in a graveyard, taken in by ghosts?  Or the unnamed middle aged man who transports us back in time to his relationship with Lettie Hempstock, the girl at the end of the lane who tells him that her pond is an ocean?

Both were such rich stories with memorable characters that I suspect I will read them again at some point in time.  I think they would make great reads when you find yourself in a reading slump.


The Kitchen House
by Kathleen Grissom

There are times when books just seem to fall into your hands that you were not even looking for.  This was one of those books.  Stacy chose it for our Book Club at the Barn solely because it had good comfort food that we could share at our next meeting.  (We try to eat in theme to the book...not always an easy task.)  For a couple of books prior, the food options were sparse as we read about the mail order brides of the Louisiana Purchase, a mystery set in a bakery, and a book of five novellas set in biblical times.  Let me just say, "Lots. Of. Bread."

Then we read The Kitchen House and it's characters snatched me out of my modern day complacency.  To read of how people treated one another -- slavery, indentured servitude, even in family and in a marriage -- it was moving and convicting and heartbreaking.  "Man's inhumanity towards man."  Belle's story stripped me bare.  Lavinia's story grieved me. And yet, I closed this book with hope for the world to come.

Sidenote: Jim and I recently watched Matthew McConaughey in Free State of Jones and I had flashbacks to The Kitchen House. I'm not a huge fan of his, but this one was good.


The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard
by Kristin Schell

This book still has me thinking of how I might encourage community around the table.  I am hoping in 2018 to begin a quarterly gathering similar to If:Table with the women of our church.  I have commissioned a large picnic table for our backyard in hopes of gathering our neighbors, family and friends more often.  Kristin's book is beautiful to the eyes and she gently encourages us to open our hearts to those the Lord brings into our lives. If you feel even the slightest pull toward hospitality, you need to read this book.  It doesn't shame you or tell you how you SHOULD do it.  No Pinterest Perfection called for...just love for those already around you.


A Gentleman in Moscow 
Amor Towles
I am planning to read Towles' highly regarded Rules of Civility over the Christmas holidays, but honestly, it will take a lot to displace Count Alexander Rostov as one of my all time favorite characters.  I never could have dreamed that a novel that spans thirty years and never leaves the confines of a hotel could be so interesting.  But the Count captured my imagination and I absolutely adored his outlook on life.  Talk about making the most out of a difficult situation.  Life does not have to be limited by your surroundings.  It is what you make of it.

If you want a book that sweeps you away to another time and place, this is your book.  I have honestly never desired to visit Russia...but after reading this book I took a virtual tour of the Hotel Metropol and dreamed of visiting.

This one had the most satisfying ending! I absolutely adored it.

And because it was so hard to cut this list down to 6(ish), here are my honorable mentions for 2017:
  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  • Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett
  • Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
  • The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin (the book...not the movie!) 
  • Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang (was narrowly knocked off my The Rules of Magic)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

We're All In!

At Bailey's party last weekend, I had asked Jim to run me to the house in the Polaris so that I could grab something for Brianne.  Dena had my camera and was going to snap a quick pic of Jim and I, when Weston came running to ride with us.  The pictures that followed just illustrate what happens at our house when the side-by-side is started.

Wait one second: One grandchild

Wait thirty seconds: Five grandchildren

Wait a whole minute: Every child at the party!
Don't worry...Jim went really slow so we didn't lose anyone sitting in the back.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Friended Simulcast With The Ladies

What? No books are mentioned in this post? You have got to be kidding me!

Three weekends ago we had a fun simulcast event at the church called "Friended".  In it we talked about how to be a friend like Jesus -- to go first, to forgive and to trust in Him for a friendship that will always last.

Here's a few pics from our fun day!
Fonda and the young women testing the photo booth. Who knew Selfie sticks were so difficult to use?


You will see these flowers at a few different events this fall...but here is use #1.
Jim never believes me when I tell him that all of my party decorations come in handy in the future.  He thinks I should get rid of them rather than store them.  Pshaw!
Finishing up breakfast before we start the video.

Assignment #1: Take a photo of your group and post it on Instagram

Lunch at Magnolia Super Burger.  Yes the sign does advertise both Elk and Buffalo burgers!

Those of us who made it to the end of the event snapped a quick pic in the photo booth.
We had a great day and sharing our stories with Alyssa and Amanda made it even sweeter.  Women mentoring women...sharing hearts, lives and stories...that is what I love about Women's Ministry.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tricks and Treats and Everything Sweet

Bri and Josh threw Bailey's second birthday party at the barn on Sunday. It was a costume party so we will not be having a Halloween Party tonight...but I do have pictures of the grands (and girls) to share!
Weston aka Lloyd from Ninjago

Maddux aka Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy

Davin aka Special Ops Leader

Brooke (also the birthday girl on Sunday) aka Vampira

Ellie aka Sweet Witch (she ditched the hat within two seconds of arrival)

Delayne aka Butterfly Princess

Brianne, Kelli and Megan aka Little Red Riding Hood, a Sanderson Sister and Wednesday Addams

Dayton aka Batman

Bailey (the birthday girl) aka Anna
Happy Trick or Treating tonight!

Hope your bag is filled with all of your favorites!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Reading In October Has It's Own Atmosphere

A little spooky. A little darker than summer's beach reads. Kind of like this picture from our front yard on an early Saturday morning in mid-October.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
(Fiction)  (Audiobook)
Fun. Fantastical. With just a bit of spooky to keep you glued.  This Audible version was read by the author who did a wonderful job. I can hardly wait to pick this one up for my grandchildren when they are ready.

Side note: This novel is the only one to win both the Newberry Medal and the Carnegie Medal.

Bod is an unusual boy who inhabits an unusual place—he's the only living resident of a graveyard. Raised from infancy by the ghosts, werewolves, and other cemetery denizens, Bod has learned the antiquated customs of his guardians' time as well as their ghostly teachings—such as the ability to Fade so mere mortals cannot see him.

Can a boy raised by ghosts face the wonders and terrors of the worlds of both the living and the dead?

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
(Classic Fiction) (Audiobook)
Slow.  Plodding.  Had to get it on Audible to move past the first chapter (after several tries).  Probably my least favorite Classic, but I certainly understand why it is one.  The character progression was drawn out with lots (and lots and lots) of words.  But the ending was worth the effort.


In this celebrated work, his only novel, Wilde forged a devastating portrait of the effects of evil and debauchery on a young aesthete in late-19th-century England. Combining elements of the Gothic horror novel and decadent French fiction, the book centers on a striking premise: As Dorian Gray sinks into a life of crime and gross sensuality, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his recently painted portrait grows day by day into a hideous record of evil, which he must keep hidden from the world. For over a century, this mesmerizing tale of horror and suspense has enjoyed wide popularity. It ranks as one of Wilde's most important creations and among the classic achievements of its kind.

Heating And Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly
(Memoir)  (Shelf Subscription: October)
Laugh out loud funny.  Moving and poignant.  Deeply disturbing in all the right ways.  I devoured this little nugget from the Bookshelf Thomasville's Shelf Subscription in just a couple of nights.  But it will remain on my nightstand as I slow down to savor as I read through it again.

Side note: The author of these micro-memoirs is the Poet Laureate of Mississippi and teaches at the University of Mississippi -- just down the road from my sister's new home.


The 52 micro-memoirs in genre-defying Heating & Cooling offer bright glimpses into a richly lived life, combining the compression of poetry with the truth-telling of nonfiction into one heartfelt, celebratory book. Ranging from childhood recollections to quirky cultural observations, these micro-memoirs build on one another to arrive at a portrait of Beth Ann Fennelly as a wife, mother, writer, and deeply original observer of life’s challenges and joys. Some pieces are wistful, some wry, and many reveal the humor buried in our everyday interactions. Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs shapes a life from unexpectedly illuminating moments, and awakens us to these moments as they appear in the margins of our lives.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstances: A Novel by Ruth Emmie Lang
(Fiction)  (Book of the Month: October)

Magical.  Beautiful.  Moving.  A baby is born. It begins to snow.  It is the middle of summer.  And that is the most normal part of Weylyn's story.  This novel swept me away from the very first page.  Not an easy feat for a debut.  Releases on November 14.  Pick it up!

Side note: It is already signed to a movie deal.  I hope it makes it to production.


Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was.

As amazing as these powers may appear, they tend to manifest themselves at inopportune times and places, jeopardizing not only his own life, but the life of Mary, the woman he loves.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance tells the story of Weylyn Grey’s life from the perspectives of the people who knew him, loved him, and even a few who thought he was just plain weird. Although he doesn’t stay in any of their lives for long, he leaves each of them with a story to tell: great storms that evaporate into thin air; fireflies that make phosphorescent honey; a house filled with spider webs and the strange man who inhabits it.

There is one story, however, that Weylyn wishes he could change: his own. But first he has to muster enough courage to knock on Mary’s front door.

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People's Lives Better, Too) by Gretchen Rubin
(Non-Fiction)  (Audiobook)
This was my commute listen while reading Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstances.  I listen to Gretchen's "Happiness" podcast with her sister, Liz, and really enjoy it.  Her book 'The Happiness Project' remains one of my favorite non-fiction reads ever.  It was revealing to learn a bit more about my own tendency (Obliger -- all the way!), but I think what I enjoyed most was learning about other tendencies (especially Jim's -- Rebel).  It just helps me to make sense of some of our challenges.  I am actually thinking of buying a hard copy to highlight and keep around for personal and professional use.


During her multibook investigation into understanding human nature, Gretchen Rubin realized that by asking the seemingly dry question "How do I respond to expectations?" we gain explosive self-knowledge. She discovered that based on their answer, people fit into Four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Our Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so using this framework allows us to make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress, and engage more effectively. 

More than 600,000 people have taken her online quiz, and managers, doctors, teachers, spouses, and parents already use the framework to help people make significant, lasting change.  

The Four Tendencies hold practical answers if you've ever thought...
·         People can rely on me, but I can't rely on myself.
·         How can I help someone to follow good advice?
·         People say I ask too many questions.
·         How do I work with someone who refuses to do what I ask—or who keeps telling me what to do?

With sharp insight, compelling research, and hilarious examples, The Four Tendencies will help you get happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative. It's far easier to succeed when you know what works for you.

I had a great recommendation from a friend in Finland for my next Classic. (Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway)  Another for our next Book Club Read from a dear friend who belongs to several herself.  (Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah)  How about you?  Read anything worth recommending lately?

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Book And A Movie

The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin
When a blizzard strands them in Salt Lake City, two strangers agree to charter a plane together, hoping to return home; Ben Payne is a gifted surgeon returning from a conference, and Ashley Knox, a magazine writer, is en route to her wedding. But when unthinkable tragedy strikes, the pair find themselves stranded in Utah’s most remote wilderness in the dead of winter, badly injured and miles from civilization. Without food or shelter, and only Ben’s mountain climbing gear to protect themselves, Ashley and Ben’s chances for survival look bleak, but their reliance on each other sparks an immediate connection, which soon evolves into something more.

Days in the mountains become weeks, as their hope for rescue dwindles. How will they make it out of the wilderness and if they do, how will this experience change them forever? Heart-wrenching and unputdownable, The Mountain Between Us will reaffirm your belief in the power of love to sustain us.

First a confession: I love Charles Martin's writing and have never been disappointed by his work.  I have novels I prefer over the rest and his Chasing Fireflies remains on my all time favorite list.  It was the first time I had read his work and was totally swept away.  Because I know that I will enjoy his novels, I pick them up whenever I find them...and this one has been on my TBR shelf for several years after I plucked it from a clearance shelf at Half Price Books for $3.  Hardback! (Thunder and Rain & Where the River Ends are still waiting on that shelf for me.)

During our last Barn Book Club meeting, we decided that we would like to read something movie related...and wouldn't you know it, the movie version was being released on October 6.  We read his latest novel earlier this year and the consensus was 'liked it', so they were game to read this one and schedule a movie date for Sunday.

Sharnel and I read the book, Stacy and Anita only saw the movie.

First the book:
We loved it!  Such a sweeping and enthralling tale.  It truly is 'unputdownable' as the book blurb says.  The story is full of adventure and of heroism.  You find yourself so entranced by their sheer will to survive that you have to know how they overcome each setback...willing them forward with every chapter because you care so deeply for the characters. 

There is a story within the story as Ben takes time each day to record messages to his wife (some of which Ashley overhears).  He tells her of what they are facing on the mountain, but he is also recounting for her their own love story and how much he misses her.  You know that something has happened between them that stirs his own unwillingness to leave Ashley behind to go for help (even as she urges him to), but it takes time for that unveiling and that is what makes this such a wonderful story.

For the two of us that read the book, we couldn't give it any higher praises.

Rating: ★★★★★

Now the movie:
There is a doctor named Ben.  There is a journalist.  There is a dog.  There is a plane crash.  They are stranded on a mountain in the middle of nowhere.  That is all.

The storyline is so different.  More politically correct.  More feminist friendly. 

Don't get me wrong...the actors do a superb job.  But the storyline lacks the spark that the novel thrives upon. 

One of the things that disappointed me so with the movie was that it was so bland...and even though the actors say at one point that they have been on the mountain for three weeks, it seems more like 5 or 6 days.  The novel makes you feel the ice, snow and cold and the fear that grabs you each time something goes wrong and you wonder if they will make it out alive.  The movie just shows them plodding through heavy snow and finding plenty of shelter and fire as if they only experience a bit of discomfort.  There is little suspense.

For instance, in the novel they become aware that they are being stalked by a mountain lion.  This goes on for several days as they realize it is closing in on them and Ben tries to figure out how to take out the cat before it takes them out.  Suspenseful, right?  In the movie, Ben goes out to climb a peak for a better look, the cat comes to the crash site, attacks the dog and enters the broken hull of the plane looking hungrily at Alex.  A moments excitement at best.

So at dinner we asked Stacy and Anita their thoughts about the movie.  They both agreed that is was okay, predictable and that they felt the love scene was a bit out of place.  When we shared the plot of the novel with them, they both agreed that the book would have been better.

It currently has a 45% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

We are going to try it again soon with Same Kind of Different As Me.  I've been told I will cry in that one too...maybe more so since it is a true story!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Flower Girls, Junior Bridesmaids and a Fun Day with My Girls

Last Saturday all of us Goode Girls...all 9 of us...spent the day in wedding prep mode. The goal of the day was to find dresses for the two flower girls, the junior bridesmaid and the mother of the groom.

Here are a few pictures from our adventure:
The beautiful Bride-to-be with one of her flower girls at brunch.

Brooke (Jr. Bridesmaid), Delayne and Ellie (Flower Girls).
My favorite photo of the day.
My three beautiful daughters, our soon to be daughter-in-love and
the four granddaughters enjoying brunch at The Cheesecake Factory
Not my best photo ever...but I sure love this girl!
I left home at 8 in the morning.  Returned home at 7:30 in the evening.  Secured one flower girl dress, with a plan to find another in stock at another bridal shop.  Nothing on the Junior Bridesmaid.  A possibility for Mother of the Groom. And the Bride-to-be found her Rehearsal Dinner dress.

We were whooped...but had a great time with lots of laughs, a few tears and only two minor breakdowns (Bailey and Delayne, not the grown-ups).

It's times like these that I want to remember and cherish.  I told the girls that I would like for us to make room in our calendars for these types of days when there are no weddings to prepare for...even if it's once a quarter.

Wedding day is getting closer!

Friday, September 29, 2017

What a Weekend

So much fun, it's taken me a week to put in into words!

My wild weekend started off with these two beautiful ladies.  Kelley, Kristina and I began the night with dinner and drinks at Cyclone Anaya's and followed it up with Luke Bryan's "Huntin', Fishin', and Lovin' Every Day" Tour, along with Granger Smith and Brett Eldredge. What a fun night we had! 
I slept in on Saturday morning and only crawled out of bed when Bri called and invited me to join her and Kelli at Meagan's for the Southwest Classic Game -- Arkansas vs Texas A&M.  (The guys were golfing.)  I can't say many kind things about the game...but these two cuties made up for it.

Minnie Mouse, Babs Bunny and Ariel made an appearance.
During the game, the girls helped me put all of the finishing touches on the games for our Fellowship at Field Store Women's Progressive Dinner.  We had a great turnout (22!) and so much fun.  I laughed so much.  We are quite the competitive group...especially when it came time for the photo scavenger hunt!  There are photos that cannot be seen in public unless someone is there to explain what is happening. 
We are missing Nancy in this picture...but the rest of the gang is accounted for.
Sunday morning I drug my aching body out of bed and then to church.  We had a sweet time of worship and fellowship followed by the celebration of our 'Jo' birthdays...Jo, Joe and Joseph.  I came home to Jim's delicious brunch and enjoyed the quiet of our house.  The kids were all gathering at Meagan's for the Texans game, but I just couldn't.  I chose to stay home and enjoy my beautiful flowers instead.

Gerbera daisies that look like fall.
Instead, I curled up with a good book!  I curled up in bed, on the couch, on the loveseat...anywhere I could find a place of quiet and solitude.  And I had read the WHOLE THING by the time I went to bed Sunday night!

Young Jane Young: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin
Un-put-down-able book of the year for me!
This was my first book from The Bookshelf Thomasville's 'Shelf Subscription, an independent book store in Georgia whose podcast ('From the Front Porch') I listen to faithfully. I did a happy dance when I opened my first package to reveal not only a book I had been wanting to read, but an autographed copy!

This is the story of a political affair between an older politician and his intern, BUT from the viewpoint of the women caught in the storm.  We hear from the mother of the intern, the intern herself, her daughter and the politician's wife. The story jumps back and forth in time (thus the daughter) revealing a little more of how each person played a part in the outcome. I found it to be well written and to bring up the conversation of how the politician moves forward with just an asterisk by his name while the women never truly recover and find themselves as either the butt of the joke or the one that bears all the blame and shame.

I would love to sit down to discuss this one with someone soon.  I thought the author did a great job of neither condoning the affair or excusing either party while still asking the questions about power, fame, responsibility and naivetΓ©.

Aviva Grossman, an ambitious congressional intern in Florida, makes the mistake of having an affair with her boss--and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the beloved congressman doesn’t take the fall. But Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins: slut-shamed, she becomes a late-night talk show punch line, anathema to politics.

She sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. This time, she tries to be smarter about her life and strives to raise her daughter, Ruby, to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, Aviva decides to run for public office herself, that long-ago mistake trails her via the Internet and catches up--an inescapable scarlet A. In the digital age, the past is never, ever, truly past. And it’s only a matter of time until Ruby finds out who her mother was and is forced to reconcile that person with the one she knows.

Young Jane Young is a smart, funny, and moving novel about what it means to be a woman of any age, and captures not just the mood of our recent highly charged political season, but also the double standards alive and well in every aspect of life for women.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

September Book Club

As I mentioned last month, September's Book Club at the Barn read is the sequel to last month's 'The Kitchen House'. And it did not disappoint!

Glory Over Everything by Kathleeen Grissom
The latest New York Times bestseller from the author of the beloved book club favorite The Kitchen House is a heart racing story about a man’s treacherous journey through the twists and turns of the Underground Railroad on a mission to save the boy he swore to protect. Glory Over Everything is “gripping…breathless until the end” (Kirkus Reviews).

The year is 1830 and Jamie Pyke, a celebrated silversmith and notorious ladies’ man, is keeping a deadly secret. Passing as a wealthy white aristocrat in Philadelphian society, Jamie is now living a life he could never have imagined years before when he was a runaway slave, son of a southern black slave and her master. But Jamie’s carefully constructed world is threatened when he discovers that his married socialite lover, Caroline, is pregnant and his beloved servant Pan, to whose father Jamie owes his own freedom, has been captured and sold into slavery in the South.

Fleeing the consequences of his deceptions, Jamie embarks on a trip to a North Carolina plantation to save Pan from the life he himself barely escaped as a boy. With the help of a fearless slave, Sukey, who has taken the terrified young boy under her wing, Jamie navigates their way, racing against time and their ruthless pursuers through the Virginia backwoods, the Underground Railroad, and the treacherous Great Dismal Swamp.

How an author can write two page turning novels back to back, using the same the characters, yet make them so different is an art form to be certain.

When we read The Kitchen House last month, I was swept away into Belle and Lavinia's often brutal and heart wrenching story from its first words.  This sequel was more of a slow boil in the action, yet a page turner just the same.

In Glory Over Everything we are reintroduced to Jamie Pyke, Belle's son, only his name has changed and he is living a white man of social status in Philadelphia.  There is a crisis brewing in his life and as that crisis unfolds we are filled in on the backstory of how Jamie, now James Burton, came to be in his current situation. 

In the beginning, I didn't find Jamie to be very likable and I was frustrated by his demeanor.  But as the story unfolds, he reveals more about himself and the way the secrets and fear have affected him deeply. 

At the end of the book, there is a transcript of a conversation with the author in which she says, "In Glory Over Everything, I heard Jamie's voice as clearly as I'd heard Lavinia's and Belle's from The Kitchen House.  The difference was that both Lavinia and Belle were open to me and very forthcoming; whereas Jamie, a man with a secret, was guarded and kept me at a distance when I first met him.  For that reason, I found Jamie both frustrating and intriguing.  Fortunately, the other characters, such as Pan, were quite verbal and gave me deeper insight into Jamie, until gradually he became less cautious and was ready to reveal himself."

That is exactly what it felt like reading Jamie's story...frustrating, yet intriguing...until he felt safe enough to tell his story, secrets and all. 

While I thoroughly enjoyed this book and felt that the story was handled well, there were a few tidy bows at the end that answered questions we were left with after The Kitchen House that I felt were unneeded.  Jamie's story, on the other hand, was left with a couple of bows but mostly the unknown and I liked that.  He had undergone such a transformation, yet his origin story still had quite the pull on him, so I liked that I didn't know exactly how he would be able to accomplish all that he planned to do.

I'm looking forward to discussing this with the ladies on Monday night.  Due to the hurricane, illnesses and other life issue, we are meeting a week later than originally planned.  I wonder if they felt the same as I did.

Rating: ★★★☆

Friday, September 15, 2017

Escapist Reading

They say a book has a way of finding you when you need it most.  Usually it's a serious piece of work that addresses an issue in your life.  For me, at least this time, it was a funny little tale of money and manners and family expectations. 

After two days of watching non-stop news coverage of Hurricane Harvey and feeling more anxious than a person whose home and family were still safe should, I decided to indulge in my favorite pastime and read a book. 

BUT it couldn't be a hard or suspenseful book.  I had enough of that in my real life as we watched flood waters rise and kept close tabs on family and friends in our greater Houston area.  This was our first major storm where all of our children were not in the same home as us.  Each morning began with a 'safety check'...first of our children, then of our employees and close friends...followed by a mandatory check in with my sister to let her know that we were all okay.

Once the worst of the storm had passed and we knew that our home, office and family were all safe, I was ready to fill my mind with something other than the 24 hours news cycle.  It would be nearly a week before we would even be able to watch network television, yet we were all still trapped due to road closures and continued rainfall. Thank goodness I had added this little gem to my July selection at Book of the Month.

The Windfall: A Novel by Diksha Basu

A heartfelt comedy of manners, Diksha Basu's debut novel unfolds the story of a family discovering what it means to 'make it' in modern India.

For the past thirty years, Mr. and Mrs. Jha's lives have been defined by cramped spaces, cut corners, gossipy neighbors, and the small dramas of stolen yoga pants and stale marriages.  They thought they'd settled comfortably into their golden years, pleased with their son's acceptance into an American business school.  But then Mr. Jha comes into an enormous and unexpected sum of money, and moves his wife from their housing complex in East Delhi to the super-rich side of town where he becomes eager to fit in as a man of status; skinny ties,  hired guards, shoe-polishing machines, and all.

The move sets off a chain of events that rock their neighbors, their marriage, and their son, who is struggling to keep a lid on his romantic dilemmas and slipping grades, and brings unintended consequences, ultimately forcing the Jha family to reckon with what really matters.  Hilarious and wise, The Windfall illuminates with warmth and charm the  precariousness of social status, the fragility of pride, and above all, the human drive to build and share a home.  Even the rich, it turns out, need to belong somewhere. 

I needed the laughs...and the truths...that were waiting for me in these pages.

The Jha's find themselves in the struggle between their former lives as a working class family and their new lives after the family business is sold for twenty million dollars.  No matter what they try to do in their old neighborhood, even their oldest friends are often either offended at their new wealth or questioning how honestly it was made.  New appliances are seen as a snub to the rest of the neighborhood...and moving away is seen as a betrayal.

Meanwhile, as the new home is being prepared for their arrival, the new neighbors reveal their own prejudices towards wealth and what exactly constitutes being wealthy enough.  Mr. Jha and his neighbor even find themselves trying to one-up each other with tales of how 'worthless' their sons future careers will be (one is an aspiring poet, the other makes short films) because they see it as a sign of pride that they will have to provide for not only themselves but the future generation as well. 

Once the danger had passed us by, this was a fun little escape for a few hours each afternoon.  I did laugh out loud a few times, but I also felt a few pangs of recognition in how we all try to fit in and find our places in our communities.  Our motives are not always right, and the outcomes can certainly be embarrassing.

I was reminded of an illustration that I heard a Pastor share once.  A group of Pastors were gathered on a panel and the question was asked, 'how big of a house is too big?'  After lots of numbers being discussed and passed around the group, one of the participants says, 'Honestly?  Anything bigger than my house.'

As a people, we distrust those who financially have more than we do and we find their displays of wealth vulgar.  Yet when we are the ones being judged as vulgar and untrustworthy for what we have worked hard for, we are often hurt and offended.  We all need to just show a little grace! 

Rating: ★★★

On Wednesday I was able to make it into the office for a few hours to run payroll.  It was the first of the month and we knew our employees had rent and mortgages due.  By Friday I was able to begin commuting to work daily again, so I started listening to an Audible book that I had downloaded a few weeks back.

Ready Player One: A Novel by Ernest Cline
At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, READY PLAYER ONE is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.  

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

What would you think of an America where everyone escaped into a virtual world because the real one was just too depressing and hard?

Fuel is expensive and something devastating has happened.  People live twenty trailers high in 'the stacks' where Wade grew up with his aunt and several other families in the same small space.  She isn't a motherly type to him but only cares for him so that she can get his ration coupons.

Although this isn't my normal read, I was so swept up in the story that I picked up a paperback copy in Target so that I could continue to read over the weekend. (Can I just say that listening to a dystopian novel that describes the scarcity of a future Oklahoma then walking into a Houston department store during a record breaking weather event with sections of the food aisles empty can be a discomforting experience.)

The '80's trivia alone kept me going in the beginning.  Flashbacks to my own life, the movies, the video games, the situation comedies, even song lyrics...it was very engaging.  When the arcade game Joust was being described (but not yet named) I could picture it so perfectly as it was one of Jim's favorites to play at the Hamburg Circle K Food Mart.  He dropped quarters in that machine almost every time we walked through the door.

As I read the story of Wade and his quest to find the 'Easter Egg' hidden in a virtual world while the whole time avoiding the real world that he inhabited, I felt sorry for him and for all the people described in the book.  But then, by the middle of the story, I realized that this was somewhat a tale of our world today.  People don't interact face to face, we prefer presenting our 'Online Selves' that are all put together with perfect pictures and perfect lives.  We have presented ourselves as being our own avatars while ignoring the people and the world right in front of us.  All we see is a screen.  We prefer keeping in touch with our Internet 'friends' and don't even speak to the people in the next room of our homes. 

And to think that this book was written ten years ago! 

It is being made into a movie by Stephen Spielberg to be released in 2018.

Rating: ★★★

As soon as the roadways opened up and life returned to an irregular normal, we reached out to help where we could.  But in the evenings when the news coverage became just too much, it was nice to have a book to escape into for at least a hour or two.

Monday, September 11, 2017

What I Read In August

Due to Hurricane Harvey, I'm a little late posting this past month's reading log.  We are all just trying to catch our breath after spending days on end rushing from the television screen to our windows as we watched flood waters rise all over the Houston area.  Over two weeks later we still hear of friends that need help removing items from homes still surrounded by water.   It will take awhile for Houston to recover...but recover she will.  We are Texas Strong.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Sussex, England: A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. He is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet sitting by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean), the unremembered past comes flooding back. Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie - magical, comforting, wise beyond her years - promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. A stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

I have heard so much buzz about this author and felt for certain he would be someone I enjoyed reading.  So in April of 2016 I purchased his novel American Gods on Audible.  I finally got around to listening to it in June...and didn't make it far at all before I had to TURN IT OFF! 

It is the only Audible book that I have ever returned for a refund.  I just could not do it!  Since then, American Gods has been turned into a television mini-series on Starz...and my husband was instantly hooked.  It wasn't a Game of Thrones or Westworld for him, but very close.  After the second or third episode that Jim watched, I mentioned that I wasn't able to do the audio version of the book and he knew in an instant where I quit.  But...he would give me PG rated recaps of each episode and I remember thinking how intriguing the storyline was to me and that I wish I could have made it through.  (FYI: He does the same thing for me when it comes to Game of Thrones which I had to give up during the fourth season for its brutality...but I still love the story!)  I decided that maybe it just wasn't the right Neil Gaiman for me.  Enter this book, on my future daughter-in-love's recommendation.

This is a beautifully written book.  Whimsical, yet dark in places.  I was so swept away by this book that it took me only a few days to devour even though we had out of town guests at the time. It's premise comes from a quote in the New Yorker from Maurice Sendak. "I remember my own childhood vividly...I knew terrible things.  But I knew I mustn't let adults know I knew.  It would scare them." I think this should be required reading for later high school or early college aged.  There are only two scenes that would keep me from giving it to a junior high reader.  I am eagerly awaiting Deborah's next Neil Gaiman handoff, Neverwhere. (link to Amazon)

My Favorite Quote:

"I'm going to tell you something important.  Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either.  Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing.  Inside, they look just like they always have.  Like they did when they were your age.  The truth is, there aren't any grown-ups.  Not one, in the whole wide world."

Rating: ★★★★★

Discipling Women by Lori Joiner
(Non-fiction/Christian Living)

A practical guide to helping your women grow. Filled with personal stories, humorous examples and helpful advice, Discipling Women will guide you in how to invest spiritually in other women. Whether you are mentoring a new Christian, reaching out to a neighbor, or in full-time vocational ministry, Discipling Women gives the answers, lift and encouragement you need.

I am a little over halfway through a year long commitment to a discipleship group.  As part of that group, I committed to praying about the possibility of launching a group in 2018.  While I love our group and I see the great advantage of studying and doing life in a group of four, I am not totally sold on the curriculum we are using.  So, I am looking at alternatives as I learn all that I can about small groups and discipleship.  I had ordered a women's curriculum from CRU earlier this summer and, on a whim, added this to my cart.  It was a quick read.  About a third of the book goes into the why and how of discipleship.  The remaining chapters addresses certain issues that may arise in a discipleship relationship and gives some guidance on how to look to Scripture for answers, as well as when to seek professional help.

My favorite quote:
"Do you want to partner with 100 people who are 10 percent committed or 10 people who are 100 percent committed?"
I am not sure where I first read this question, but it is burned onto the hard drive of my mind.  I want to disciple people who are 100 percent committed to growing and helping fulfill the Great Commission.  I would rather disciple a few people who are completely committed than hundreds who are only half-hearted.  I do, though, want to make the distinction that they don't have to be 100 percent perfect - just 100 percent willing.  
Love that thought!

Rating: ★★

Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett
(Fiction), (Audible)

Elvis Babbitt has a head for the facts: she knows science proves yellow is the happiest color, she knows a healthy male giraffe weighs about 3,000 pounds, and she knows that the naked mole rat is the longest living rodent. She knows she should plan to grieve her mother, who has recently drowned while sleepwalking, for exactly eighteen months. But there are things Elvis doesn’t yet know―like how to keep her sister Lizzie from poisoning herself while sleep-eating or why her father has started wearing her mother's silk bathrobe around the house. Elvis investigates the strange circumstances of her mother's death and finds comfort, if not answers, in the people (and animals) of Freedom, Alabama. As hilarious a storyteller as she is heartbreakingly honest, Elvis is a truly original voice in this exploration of grief, family, and the endurance of humor after loss.

This book was highly praised by the staff at The Bookshelf in Thomasville, GA during their From the Front Porch podcast on Summer Reading Recommendations.  I downloaded the audible version and 'ate it up' in less than a week. 

The first line of the book:

“On my tenth birthday, six months before she sleepwalked into the river, Mom burned the rabbit cake.”

Such a witty, yet heartbreaking, look at a family trying to pick up the pieces after personal loss.  From the guilt that we somehow didn't do enough, the withdrawal from those we need the most (and that need us), the search for meaning to an unexplained death,  the laughter of family life with all of its ups and downs...this book does a great job of looking at how, even when we share the same DNA, we grieve so differently. 

I just want to warn you that you might now be able to get out of the car when you arrive home because you do not want to leave Freedom, Alabama just yet.  Or you might find yourself carrying the trash to the curb for your husband because you want to pop in the ear buds and listen to 'just one more chapter.'

You've been warned!

There were a few times while listening that the audio had some dead space...that might have been due to my phone or a faulty download.  But it was just enough of an annoyance to cause me to knock it down to a 4 1/2.

Rating:  ★★★★☆

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

August Book Club

The Kitchen House: A Novel by Kathleen Grissom
Kathleen Grissom, New York Times bestselling author of the highly anticipated Glory Over Everything, established herself as a remarkable new talent with The Kitchen House, now a contemporary classic. In this gripping novel, a dark secret threatens to expose the best and worst in everyone tied to the estate at a thriving plantation in Virginia in the decades before the Civil War.

Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook, clean, and serve food, while guided by the quiet strength and love of her new family.

In time, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, caring for the master’s opium-addicted wife and befriending his dangerous yet protective son. She attempts to straddle the worlds of the kitchen and big house, but her skin color will forever set her apart from Belle and the other slaves.

Through the unique eyes of Lavinia and Belle, Grissom’s debut novel unfolds in a heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of class, race, dignity, deep-buried secrets, and familial bonds.

Can a book be both beautiful and terrible at the same time?

I think this one comes close.

I was so swept up in the story that I couldn't keep myself from turning the pages.  I think that the alternating points of view between Lavinia and Belle gives such a rich and honest look into life at Tall Oaks.  You see Lavinia's childlike understanding of the world around her and you get to see how she matures into womanhood.  Yet, with Belle's viewpoint, we get to see the real dangers that lurk around every corner and to feel the hopelessness that comes from being caught in the middle of secrets a child cannot understand.

While I honestly was swept away in the story, it was nonetheless difficult to read in more than one place.  The brutality of humans toward one another is hard to digest.  At least for me.  I couldn't stop...but at the same time, I didn't want to read of any more heartbreak or cruelty. 


After writing this brief synopsis of my thoughts and before our book club meeting on Monday, I listened to a podcast where the author was the guest.  She shared a quote that so beautifully sums up this book and my thoughts on it.

"Man's inhumanity towards man."  And I might add, towards women.

To this point our book club has limited ourselves to titles of Christian Fiction.  I was a bit worried how our ladies might respond to this story; which while disturbing, is not graphic.  I think it walked that thin line very well as everyone loved this story so much that they voted to read the sequel, Glory Over Everything, for our next meeting.  They just couldn't leave this story behind yet.

There was only one real complaint against the seemingly one dimensional, cookie cutter portrayals of slaves...but as I've thought that through a bit more, we get a one dimensional view of most everyone except the two narrators. 

The story begins with a heart-thumping run through the woods that ends at a tall oak tree with a body hanging from it...and it never really lets up from there.  It is the story of secrets that tear at the fabric of a family, some natural born and some chosen...and how words unspoken can create just as much havoc as those spoken in haste or anger.  You will cheer the characters on...and you will want to smack them upside the head.  Sometimes both while reading the same paragraph.  At one point I even thought about throwing my book across the room, but I didn't want to have to walk over to pick it up and find my page again. 

We enjoyed a wonderful Southern potluck dinner of roasted pork, turnip greens, beans, cornbread and peach cobbler with Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream.  It was all so delicious that I can hardly wait until next month's meeting.