Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

Book #35: Fabookulous October 11, 2010

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White

Book description:

Neil White, a journalist and magazine publisher, wanted the best for those he loved-nice cars, beautiful homes, luxurious clothes. He loaned money to family and friends, gave generously to his church, and invested in his community- but his bank account couldn’t keep up. Soon White began moving money from one account to another to avoid bouncing checks. His world fell apart when the FBI discovered his scheme and a judge sentenced him to serve eighteen months in a federal prison.

But it was no ordinary prison. The beautiful, isolated colony in Carville, Louisiana, was also home to the last people in the continental United States disfigured by leprosy. Hidden away for decades, this small circle of outcasts had forged a tenacious, clandestine community, a fortress to repel the cruelty of the outside world. It is here, in a place rich with history, where the Mississippi River briefly runs north, amid an unlikely mix of leprosy patients, nuns, and criminals, that White’s strange and compelling journey begins. He finds a new best friend in Ella Bounds, an eighty-year-old African American double amputee who had contracted leprosy as a child. She and the other secret people, along with a wacky troop of inmates, help White rediscover the value of simplicity, friendship, and gratitude.

Funny and poignant, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts is an uplifting memoir that reminds us all what matters most.

This book came highly recommended to me by a friend’s aunt. I read every page wide eyed and in awe. It was news to me that we had lepers in our country; it has always been something I think of from biblical times or in third world countries. To learn that there was a leprosarium (the only one in the U.S.) in Louisiana for people with leprosy (or Hansen’s Disease) was mind blowing to me. And then to incarcerate convicted felons alongside them…well, talk about a sanctuary of outcasts.

Neil White is convicted in the ’90s of kiting checks in excess of $1 million and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Sent away from his wife and two children, he checks into prison and takes up residence among a wide array of people. After he learns there are patients with leprosy living at the colony, the job given him when he first arrives is writing up the menu boards in their cafeteria. Talk about being taken out of your comfort zone.

It’s easy to feel sorry for White and to be sympathetic. Granted, he was in there because of his pride, greed, selfishness, and lack of regard for the well being of his family, business, employees, and investors. However, I think it’s safe to say that most people would be pretty terrified to live at the leprosarium. There is such a stigma to the disease and then to be surrounded by the patients every day…well I can see where this would unnerve most people.

Having known people who have spent some time in jail, I have a soft spot for inmates. Yes I believe a lot of them deserve to be in jail but at the same time, I feel a compassion for those who are separated from loved ones, disowned by their families, and are making an effort to really better themselves and learn from their mistakes. People are unforgiving and not always willing to offer second chances. White was in a prison with lepers and inmates, two groups of people considered outcasts and looked down upon in our society.

This book will challenge you to open your eyes and feel a compassion for humans you otherwise may not have noticed. Ella Bounds, White’s closest friend while at the colony, is 83 years old upon White’s arrival. It was discovered that she had leprosy when she was just 12 years old. Her dad dropped her off never to return and Ella spent her life apart from the world, bound to the same four walls her entire life.

While his family makes tough decisions “on the outside” without him, White is fortunate enough that his parents would still visit, his children could come for “play days” and he had forgiving loved ones. He learns valuable lessons about himself and the kind of life he wants to live upon receiving his freedom.

When the government decides to close the prison due to the financial burden created in running it, inmates with less than 6 months to serve are considered for early release and others are transferred to another prison. After the closing, the National Hansen’s Disease Museum is opened to honor the lives of many at Carville as well as support the National Hansens Disease Program in educating the public on the history, treatment and rehabilitation of leprosy.

At the end of the book, White updates you on the whereabouts of his new friends that he will likely never see again. While always nice to see “where are they now”, I was hoping for a more profound wrap-up and longer conclusion about how White’s life has been different since he served his time.

Neil White summed it up best with the last line of his acknowledgments. First apologizing to those he hurt, then thanking those who offered their love and support, White closes with:

“To Judge Walter Gex for holding me accountable.”

Bravo, Neil, on recognizing your wrong, serving your sentence, and coming out a better man. May more inmates follow in your footsteps.

4.5/5 stars



Book #41: LibraryLove October 2, 2010

Stash by David Klein

Book description~ Gwen Raine is a thirtyish stay-at-home mom in the kind of tranquil suburban community where the wives spend their days ferrying the kids to and from school and music lessons and nature camps and where the husbands work long, grueling hours at stressful white-collar jobs in order to maintain the upscale standard of living to which the whole family has become all-too-accustomed. It’s a milieu in which everything seems to be right–yet so much can go wrong. And it does–starting with a seemingly minor decision that turns Gwen’s perfect life upside down. It’s a typical Friday morning in late summer and Gwen is anticipating a long-awaited weekend away at the lake with her overworked husband, Brian, and their two small children. After dropping her daughter off at swim class, Gwen drives across town to purchase a small bag of marijuana from an old flame. She’s counting on the pot to help her unwind later that night in those precious private moments with Brian after the kids are asleep. Then, on the way home, Gwen gets into a car accident–an accident that leaves her bruised and somewhat battered but leaves the other driver (an elderly man who crossed over into her lane) dead. The local police know the accident isn’t her fault, but when they find the marijuana in Gwen’s car, they throw the book at her. There have been problems with drugs in the schools and they want to crack down on abusers, whoever and wherever they are. Before long, Gwen is in legal hot water–and the temperature keeps rising. Finally, under pressure from the police, her attorney, and her own husband, she reveals her source’s name. Meanwhile, Brian is embroiled in a moral and legal dilemma of his own when the big pharmaceutical company he works for markets an anti-anxiety drug for “off-label” use as a weight-loss aid, only to discover that it can have deadly consequences. And Gwen’s former lover Jude, a local restaurateur and the supplier of the stash of the title, has gotten in way over his head with his little side business.

First, let me thank Jennifer Robbins of Broadway Books who sent me a Galley copy of this book to read and review.

Now down to business. I started out really enjoying this book. Think American Beauty + Season 1 of Weeds + Desperate Housewives and there ya have it. In a nutshell. Granted I absolutely love American Beauty,  Showtime’s Weeds AND Desperate Housewives, but it’s nothing new. When I make time to read, I want to expand my horizons. I want to learn something new. I want to discover about a foreign land, a time period in history, or about the human condition. This book did not enlighten me at all, but rather it made me feel like I was losing brain cells by the minute. Stash could have easily been an episode or two pulled right out Weeds or DH. I was completely on board until about half way. The action starts out really gripping. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to see what happened after desperate housewife Gwen decided to visit an old flame for some Mary Jane before leaving for the weekend with her husband and children to their lake house. Making yet another poor decision, Gwen got behind the wheel after smoking a joint and set a series of unfortunate events in motion. Sounds interesting right? It did….until about halfway through. The introduction of too many moderately developed characters and moderately developed plot lines later, the action, chapterization and dialogue became so choppy, it was no longer enjoyable. I hoped sometime before the ending things would pick up. The author took the (attempted) ‘plot twists’ so far into left field, I found myself suffering through the last half of this novel.

Sadly, I do not recommend this novel, nor do I want to waste anymore time reviewing it.

I know I can’t love every book, yet I am always disappointed when I can’t at least recommend folks pick it up and give it a try. You’re better off watching American Beauty and Season 1 of Weeds than reading Stash.

2/5 stars

Holy smokes. This marks 41 books read leaving 11 to go! Can I do it? Stay tuned to find out…the year is almost over!

In progress- Cutting for Stone




Book #34: Fabookulous

A Heart Like His by Beth Moore

Book description:

In this in-depth biblical biography, Beth Moore takes you on an intimate, exciting journey through virtually every astonishing episode of David’s remarkable life. From shepherd, to refugee, to king of Israel, David exhibited the purest virtues and the most heinous sinfulness. But through it all, his relationship with the Lord continued to grow. A Heart Like His looks at this bond of mutual love and admiration from today’s perspective and draws spiritual insight and understanding from a man who boldly fulfilled his divine destiny.

Based on Scripture and Moore’s probing insights into the romantic, majestic life of David, A Heart Like His, will show you how to serve God better by understanding our own unique place in His heart.

It’s taken me a while to finish this book. It has nothing to do with how good or not good I thought it was, rather a busy schedule and a new fall study has kept my reading time to a minimum. Unfortunately, I’ve fallen behind in the “52 books this year” challenge. I do hope to still complete the challenge, and if nothing else this has been a great year for me to plow through all of the Beth Moore books I’ve wanted to get to.

Moore remains one of my favorite teachers and if you’ve been following this blog, you probably feel like you know her too! She writes in such a clear way, you’ll find yourself thinking “That makes total sense, why didn’t I think of that?!” as you study the lives of biblical characters with her. She is also always entertaining and humble in her approach. A Heart Like His is a book based on a bible study Beth created about the life of David. This makes it ideal for those who want to just read the story without the 12 week commitment to a study. As with most of Moore’s books, review questions can be found in the back of the book if you enjoy going a little further into detail.

David has been a fascinating character to many. A “man after God’s own heart”, David seemed like the perfect example of being a faithful servant. Yet when he sinned royally with Bathsheba, thus setting off a domino effect of sins, he still kept God nearby and sought forgiveness. How refreshing, considering we all have our highs and lows. It’s pretty amazing the significance these ancient stories still have today.

Though I don’t feel I gave this book the attention it deserves, I did read it in its entirety. However there really is something to be said for picking up a book, reading a few chapters at a time versus picking up a book and just getting through a few pages at a time. A slower pace really will make you feel like the book is dragging on and on. Sticking with my better judgment, Beth Moore continues to be one of my favorite authors and teachers. This would be a great book for those wanting to discover more about David’s life and the lessons we can glean from reading about it.

For Christian non-fiction fans like myself, add this one to your TBR list! As for me, I’ll still plow my way to number 52 by December 31st…

4/5 stars

Happy Reading,