Faithful and My Sweet Vidalia Reviewed

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FAITHFUL by Alice Hoffman

There are certain books about which you discover, I needed to read this book at this very momentFaithful is such a book.  Shelby Richmond’s life has been derailed by a sudden tragedy for which she feels responsible, and the rest of this amazing novel is an atonement, a story of redemption and forgiveness, of moving forward in the most literal sense.  It is raw and beautiful, not overly dramatic, but always honest.  “She is vindictive, even when she’s the guilty party,” Hoffman writes.  “Perhaps it’s always true that when you wreck your own life, you blame everyone else for your misfortune.”  Shelby is a complicated character, pushing love away because she doesn’t deserve it, burying her feelings, shrinking into a pale, bald-headed, empty vessel.  That’s what I took away, but the writing is too beautiful to be captured in these trite descriptions.  At Alice Hoffman’s deft hand, Shelby Richmond is also worthy, understandable, honorable, a young girl set adrift, but one who will ultimately find her shoreline.  I give nothing away by saying that Faithful is tragic, optimistic and highly recommended.

MY SWEET VIDALIA by Deborah Mantella

One of my favorite reads this summer, MY SWEET VIDALIA, has the most unique point-of-view since Death narrated The Book Thief.  Though Vidalia Lee Kandal Jackson loses her unborn baby through an act of spousal abuse, Cieli Mae, the “determined spirit child,” will not leave her mother’s heart and psyche.  She stays on with the poverty stricken young woman through successive births and abuses, giving advice and moral support to her “Sweet Vidalia.”  Only an author as talented as Deborah Mantella could pull off this technique in such a seamless manner.  Cieli Mae becomes a cherished confidante to her mother and a delightful character to the reader.  You will root for this family and the colorful array of secondary characters too.  The well-plotted story reminded me a little of FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AT THE WHISTLE STOP CAFÉ with its southern charm and suspense.  Kudos to Deborah Mantella.  Can’t wait to see what she writes next!

Proof of Heaven

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We met Tom on Christmas Eve a year ago when, as if preordained, a frantic bustle of customers vanished, leaving this thirty-something man and his young children alone at FoxTale with me and Karen. Tom was tall and muscular, ruggedly good-looking, the epitome of good health. Except that he wasn’t. We were strangers to Tom, and I think that’s why he felt comfortable confiding in us that he had just been diagnosed with a ravaging illness. Surgery was scheduled for the week after Christmas, followed by, who knew what? Would he be able to keep working? Would he have to have chemo? What would happen afterward? We listened. The kids, oblivious, kept running up to Tom with a toy or book to show him, interrupting the options and outcomes, the what ifs and a reiteration of how his world had been turned on its head after one doctor visit. So many questions, no easy answers. Just the knowledge that good, bad or indifferent, Tom’s life would never be the same.

It’s that very life-altering moment in time that is a hook for Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander. One minute the author is making professional decisions as a neurosurgeon for his own sick patients, and the next he is careening with wild abandon towards (he would say well into) the afterlife. The irony of Alexander’s story is that he had spent his 25-year career denying the very experience—a glimpse at heaven—that would go on to utterly change his life among mortals (as if the sudden illness that caused the near death experience wasn’t life-altering enough.)

Alexander devotes a section of his writing to a description of his journey into heaven, and this is the part of the book I least enjoyed. As a scientist, he seemed too intent on categorizing the experience for my taste: The Core, The Gateway, The Realm of the Earthworm’s Eye View. But don’t mind me; I get bored with all of Tolkien’s inner sanctums too. What’s interesting is Alexander’s reaction to his experiences in light of his lifelong training to think scientifically. Of course, he had listened to patients describe unearthly experiences before and delegated them to the not-thinking-clearly-yet department. But to survive an illness that by all accounts should have killed him or left him hopelessly brain-damaged, and then to recall with clarity his journey to another realm where all his questions were answered . . . well, that was a horse of a different color for Eben Alexander.

When the doctor-turned-patient described what he’d been through to his own physicians, he recognized the dismissive head nod, the quieting words that were meant to rationalize his journey and keep his recollections within acceptable this-worldly confines. Thankfully, Alexander couldn’t stay silent about what he’d been through, and we have a well-written, honest account of his life story with a new big-picture perspective. “Humor. Irony. Pathos. . . . in addition to being consolations, these qualities are recognitions—brief, flashing, but all-important—of the fact that whatever our struggles and sufferings in the present world are, they can’t truly touch the larger, eternal beings we in truth are,” he says.

It’s naive to restrict your beliefs to what is scientifically provable, this doctor/author now believes. To think that the soul/spirit/essence of life is permanently extinguished, to discount the possibility of an afterlife, to believe that passing souls cannot surround our earthly lives and give us comfort, requires—in his book—a much bigger leap than to embrace that which is now obvious to Eben Alexander. There is more.

During the chaos of Tuesday’s weather/traffic crisis that is referred to as Atlanta Snow Jam ’14, two seemingly unrelated events occurred. A baby was born in a car on I-285, and our friend Tom succumbed to his illness. Neither birth nor death waited or cared about these earthly troubles, and somehow that seems appropriate and ironic. “I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be,” said Albert Einstein (as quoted in Proof of Heaven.) Tom did, and by now he knows exactly what is on the other side. He has all the answers. Maybe he even celebrated the birth of that new baby.

That makes me hopeful, ironically enough.

Karen’s Wonderful Gift Emporium

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Since Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Graduation are coming up soon, here’s my list of can’t go wrong gifts available now at your favorite indie, FoxTale!





Sorted Books by Nina Katchadourian, Brian Dillon

For:  Bibliophiles!

Why I’d want it: Book lovers love books about books and this one delivers in a most unusual way.  The physical book is an art form and the arranging of titles

makes for an amusing afternoon walk through bookshelves, titles speaking for themselves in clever and often hilarious ways.  This book honors the written word, the physical book in this age of electronics and celebrates its many art forms.  This is a book I’d pick up again and again for the joy of its pages while it calls me to arrange my own bookshelves in creative ways.  Great conversation piece!


Alphabet by Kveta Pacovska

For: Art lovers

Why I’d want it:  Pacovska is a celebrated contemporary artist who received the Hans Christian Andersen award for her lifetime achievement in art for young people. “Alphabet” is a multidimensional journey through the ABC’s with windows, textures and pop ups.  It’s a delight to the eye and imagination, perfect for any age who appreciates fine art and whimsy.  To have a book by Kveta Pacovska at this price is astounding.  Her books sell in museum stores for much more.  Take home work by a celebrated artist at an affordable price!



Art of the Heart by Mary Emmerling

For: Art and Design Freaks

Why I’d want it:  Mary Emmerling is well known among décor enthusiasts, I’ve followed her work for years.  She is a master of arranging and finding unusual objects.  I love sitting with a cuppa tea and any book by Mary Emmerling.  Eye candy for the soul.



Birds and Blooms of the 50 States by Anna Branning and Mary Murphy

For: Birders, Gardeners, Artists and U.S. History fans

Why I’d want it:  I’m a novice birdwatcher and love being able to identify the birds that come to my feeder.  Increasing my knowledge by knowing what birds are native to what state and why is right up my alley.  The birds and blooms are arranged in vintage-style compositions beautifully rendered.  A gift book sure to please.


Bird Watching and Other Nature Observations Journal

For: Birders and Nature Enthusiasts

Why I’d want it: Perfect companion to Birds and Blooms for the birdwatcher.  Plenty of room for personal bird watching observations with quotes scattered throughout. I love quotes!  End section has lots of information on honing your bird watching skills as well as further reading on the subject. I can never have too many journals for every imaginable reason and this baby blue baby is deevine.


You’re Only Human: A Guide to Life by The Gecko

For: Graduates, Father’s Day, Those easily amused

Why I’d want it:  Who doesn’t love the Gecko?  And now he’s writing books.  What a cute little fella! This is his humorous take on life.  I gotta hand it to him, he’s got a lot of wisdom crammed between the covers and a lot of laughter to make it go down easy.  Ease the day away, take a break from the rat race, and love your Gecko!  Great with a cold beer or iced tea.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

For: Guy Graduates, Father’s Day

Why I’d want it:  It’s a modern classic, told by a father to his son on a summer roadtrip.  The work on the motorcycle asks and answers the great life questions that are a part of all of us.  A book to be read again and again.  Great travel writing is an extra plus.  Give it to the men in your life.  They’ll get it…

You’re invited to CAMP REDEMPTION

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I finished Ray Atkin’s “Camp Redemption” yesterday.  I hated to.  Finish it, that is.  After beginning the book late Sunday, I took it with me everywhere, reading in clandestine places when I had a spare moment and reading it aloud to anyone who would listen. Those who did, laughed out loud with me and I sold one right on my porch after reading a passage to a friend.  🙂

This book was rich in character and place as true Southern writing is.  You’ve never been to a camp like Camp Redemption.  But you DO want to go and hang out with Early and Ivey and their ragtag band of campers…  You’ll find yourself there, in one of them.  Fully flawed humans shuffling along on the road to grace.  God indeed works in mischievous ways, just walk the path with Early for a while and you’ll agree. 

Don’t even wait, RUN TO FOXTALE THIS SATURDAY AT 1PM  and meet the creator of this one of a kind storytelling.  If you can wait that long.  Until then, I’ll be hanging out at the lake with Early’s Dr. Grabow, waiting for you.


I’m just sayin….

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Maya's Notebook

I just finished Isabel Allende’s new novel, “Maya’s Notebook.”  Excuse me here while I SWOON.  I have read some of Allende’s work and know her to be a great writer, but this, THIS IS AMAZING.  First of all, the idea of writing the story in her notebook is right up my alley, I love anything and everything about notebooks, pens, paper, writing and pouring out souls onto paper. 

This notebook, Maya’s notebook, is the story of an extraordinary young woman, a survivor, a can you believe it kind of character that I liked from the first page.  Maya’s grandfather, her Popo, her hero, her constant, is key in this story.  I’m the kind of reader who does not read fly leaves or back covers because I hate to know what the story is going to be, I only want to experience it myself and that is why I’m not going to do that here by telling you more.  What I am going to tell you is if you miss this story with this caliber of writing, then you miss.  Sadly.  Allende is a genius at setting up the scene where you find yourself so intensely IN the story that even the phone ringing was so foreign in the scene that I screamed from my chair when Jaq called from FoxTale.  Whew! 

I happen to know a great little indie who has a copy waiting for your weekend read.  RUN and snatch up this little gem while you can.


~ Karen




Yes, Jojo Moyes, You Made Me Cry

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Me Before You, Jojo Moyes

There were two reasons I wasn’t interested in reading this book.

1. Stupid Title–I’m sorry, but ME BEFORE YOU just screams sappy, stupid love story, and SOMEBODY could have/should have come up with something much better.  In fact just about anything would have been more interesting  and attention-grabbing than Me Before You.

2. Stupid Premise–“Before Louisa met Will, her plans didn’t reach beyond their tiny English town. Will, when he wasn’t closing multimillion-dollar deals, blew off steam scaling mountains, leaping from planes, and enjoying exquisite women — until an accident left him paralyzed and seriously depressed.” Gag.  Trite, made-for-tv movie material.  You have to figure there’s some romance involved, and I SO didn’t want to go there.  Seriously, could the publisher have done a worse job of promoting this book, of turning off potential readers before they even gave it a chance?  (You do realize that authors don’t write the book flap material and oftentimes don’t pick their titles, thus my irritation at the publisher.)  However, Karen read it and recommended it, so in I went.  And was surprised and had to eat my negative preconceived notions and admit that this is one truly amazing book.

The whole handicapped aspect was handled well, for one thing.  It wasn’t over-dramatized, but there was accurate detail sufficient to have you empathize with Will and his point-of-view.  And Louisa was a much more complex character than I first suspected.   I won’t give any spoilers, but there are some meaty issues in MBY that gave me serious food for thought, issues I thought I had already made my mind up on, but now . . . Let’s just say I was right there beside Louisa, flipflopping all over the place and practically yelling at the characters in the book, such was my involvement in their no-easy-solution problems.

Yes, Jojo Moyes, you made me cry.  Are you happy now???  But not because MBY was depressing or sappy or predictable.  I cried because you transported me to the shabby closet-sized life of a quirky British non-dreamer and made me BE that girl who was forced to abandon fear, despite her best efforts to hang tenaciously onto it.  THAT is what I would write on your book jacket, Jojo.  And:  Challenge yourself and your set-in-stone ideals, put your own fear on the chopping block, ignore the blase title, and READ Me Before You, A Novel.

Sunny Saturday

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Image of Elizabeth GraverWhat a gorgeous spring day in beautiful downtown Kennesaw.  Yes, Kennesaw because I am stuck at home with a yukky cold!  No matter, I have retreated to the porch chaise lounge in the sun, to read, of course.  Today’s offering is a novel by an author I’ve never read, Elizabeth Graver.  The novel “End of the Point” is her 4th novel and I wonder why I’ve missed her thus far.  I rather pride myself on being up to date on most authors but Elizabeth’s work has eluded me until now.  I like to know about an author once I start a book, so I’ve been on her website and looked at her other work.  Gorgeous covers and titles!  And whoever said that you don’t judge a book by its cover??!!!  Who are they kidding??  I DO.  🙂  just sos you know.

This is a character driven, sweeping family novel but I can’t say much more because I’ve thus only dipped my toes in to the “End of the Point.”  I will say the writing is exquisite, I find myself wanting to read passages out loud just to hear the beauty of the language but my raspy voice doesn’t do much for it right now.  So, off with my pot of tea and book.  If you’ve read anything by this author, holler back and let me know!



Time Flies by Claire Cook

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TIME FLIES by Claire Cook

Time does fly when you’re reading Claire Cook, my go-to author for the perfect romantic comedy escape novel. Her latest, TIME FLIES, had me completely caught up in the journey of Melanie and B.J. as they returned for their high school reunion with a few hilarious stops along the way. But don’t let Claire Cook’s humorous style fool you. She is one heck of a writer with pitch perfect comedic timing and plenty of heart. (No wonder MUST LOVE DOGS was so easily adapted to the big screen!) Marital struggles, mental health issues, plastic surgery, later-in-life romance, sibling rivalry, even tattoos and autism, were themes seamlessly (and tastefully) interwoven into this story that’s all about women coming into their own and following their passions, regardless of age. Cook’s writing will either inspire you to set aside the mundane in favor of extravagant adventure, or it will reinforce that you are reaching deep within and discovering each day the person you’re meant to be. Trust your instincts, women everywhere, and read TIME FLIES.
Ellen Ward, Owner
FoxTale Book Shoppe

Launch Party: Saturday, June 8 at 5:00 PM at FoxTale Book Shoppe, of course!