Book Review: In the Valley of Achor

Patricia Gaddis Brannon’s journey

As a book lover and compulsive reader, I’ve often wondered what life would be like if I went blind. What if I couldn’t read? It’s one of my favorite things to do in the world. In seventh grade, when at my first school eye exam I was told I was very nearsighted in one eye (an undetected lazy eye) I thought about it for the first time. With “be prepared” as a personal motto, I thought to myself, “I will learn braille.” Problem solved, I went on my happy way.

But what if you couldn’t walk? Patricia Gaddis Brannon had to face this question without any mental preparation. One morning, she got up, and within minutes was sitting on her floor, her legs paralyzed in front of her. Her book, “In the Valley of Achor” covers the first year of her journey after the extremely rare paralysis which took her mobility. One day she felt a little twinge in her back when she lifted her garage door, but it was so temporary she didn’t think of again. The next morning, June 28, 2014, she was up early to finish many errands before she left on her first trip to Europe. She was barely able to walk back to her bedroom before succumbing to a “falling sensation” and eased herself down to the floor by the footboard of the bed, unable to move her legs.

The doctors at first diagnosed her with transverse myelitis, an inflammatory disorder of the spinal cord. Doctors at Johns Hopkins later changed the diagnosis to vascular myelopathy, a mechanical malfunction of the spinal cord blood system. Her spinal cord had suffered a “mini stroke” in effect. But the doctors at Johns Hopkins left her with the news that though they didn’t know if she would walk again, they did not find any reason why one day she might not. Her job was to work hard at physical therapy and never give up.

“Do not fear; just believe.”

Patricia heads each chapter describing her journey with an appropriate Bible verse, showing how she leaned on her faith in Christ to see her through the struggle. Her memoir’s title comes from the Biblical book of Joshua, in the story of a disobedient Israelite who was stoned in the Valley of Achor – a Hebrew word meaning trouble. But the book of Hosea, God transforms that place of sadness for the Israelites: “There I will give her back her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.”

The author looks at every part of the story honestly, not sparing her feelings, and sharing with us the times she “melted down” in tears, angry and frustrated. She is no plaster saint, but a real woman placed in impossible-to-believe situation. One day she is playing tennis, coming back from active trips to the mountains and beach, driving her beloved red convertible: the next, in a wheelchair.

“I’m not going to take that sitting down!”

But Patricia doesn’t wallow. She’s too full of joie-de-vivre to do that. Two of the chapters are titled “A Comic Interlude” and prove that she nearly always saw the funny side of the situation. “‘I’m not going to take that sitting down!’ becomes a much more acceptable response, when spoken by one in a wheelchair.” and “‘Don’t worry, I brought my own chair’ is a great party-starter when in a wheelchair at a crowded restaurant table.” Her life motto is “If you ain’t living on the edge, then you ain’t got a view!” and it shines forth in these pages.

I’m blessed to have met Patricia in person: she now goes to the church I attend in Columbia. She is still in a wheelchair, but she still is doing physical therapy and has never given up hope of a full recovery. And with her many friends and activities, she’s still living on the edge, enjoying one heck of a view.

Books · Writing

Memoir vs fiction

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So many of the books I’ve been reading over the last few years are memoirs or memoir-ish:

Something Other Than God – the story of how comedian Jen Fulwiler came to Christianity.

Let’s Pretend this Never Happened – Jenny Lawson, aka the Bloggess (funny but she likes to cuss – do not click if you are easily offended)

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me – Mindy Kaling

…. and I could go on and on. 

Why memoirs now? Is this a product of our self-obsessed time? I read other authors and it’s not all about them. Don’t think I’m slamming these authors – each of these books is wonderful.  Yet they are all memoirs. For reasons I haven’t completely thought through, I have my knickers in a twist about the entire concept of writing so much about yourself. Even though I have a blog, the epitome of navel-gazing. Even though this blog post is written entirely in the first-person point of view.

One of the reasons I’ve been stuck so long in writing a book about my journey through a disastrous experience, and how it redirected my life, in so many ways is because I don’t want to do it as a memoir. I’m currently fictionalizing it as a novel. But – to anyone who knows me, it will be transparent. Good thing I’m not famous! 


Learning to Breathe

A review

Lately life has been hectic and fast-paced between work, friends, and my hobbies. I’m blessed beyond all reckoning to have the friends, and the ability (read: resources) to take part in so many activities, fun things, and expensive hobbies. All those gardening tools and Keto equipment isn’t cheap. The meme says “I’m too blessed to be stressed” but really? Stress is causing my blood pressure to edge up.

I was glad to hear one of my favorite podcasters, Jennifer Fulwiler, recommend this book: “A Little Bit of Mindfulness: An Introduction to Being Present.” This is SO HARD to do in our society of fragmented attention spans. Either I’m forced to juggle online meetings, emails and Teams messages at work, or I’m out with friends and we’re head down in iPhones as we chat. Either way – it’s not good. I was definitely interested in what author Amy Leigh Mercree had to say.

Quick and easy

The book was a quick, short read – only 128 pages. I finished it in a day. The author spends the first seven chapters on the history and science of mindfulness, and general techniques you can use to breathe properly and to watch your thoughts as an outside observer. My favorite parts of the book were the chapters “Quieting the Chemical Symphony” and “Watching the Inner Show.” One technique that I am going to try soon is “mindful eating.” So many times, I’ve rushed through a meal, in order to get back to work, or I’ve read a book while eating. That has to stop. Eating can be a meditation if done mindfully!

The last chapter contains eight mindfulness meditations that are based on Eastern meditation. This part I skipped through, because, as the author is a practitioner of Eastern meditation, she wrote two of the exercises include prayers to Hindu and other deities. That didn’t interest me except in an academic sense. As a practicing Christian I don’t fancy praying to Shiva or Aphrodite. Another thing that bothered me was her statement that “Hinduism is widely known as the oldest religion in the world” dating it to the ancient Vedic traditions from around 1500-600 B.C. The Hebrew patriarchs date back just a little farther than that, to early second millenium BC, per

Mercree has a series of short books that all start with the title: “A Little Bit of …” The other books in the series cover Intuition, Chakras, and Dreams. I just looked at the cover again – the subtitle is “An Introduction to Spirit Guidance.” I’m glad that was in such small print that I skipped it – I may have been put off on the book.

Techniques to try

There was still plenty to take away. In addition to eating mindfully, there were wonderful exercises for walking mindfully, watching your breath and practicing mindfulness by observing your thoughts. I know I’ll be trying all of these out. I’ve even started by putting my phone headphones away on my morning walk. I’m being in the moment – listening to the birds, watching my dog as he sniffs everything, and relaxing into the rhythm of the walk.


“The Magician’s Nephew”

Revisiting a beloved book

When my book club chose “The Magician’s Nephew” by C.S. Lewis for our next book, I was unsure. How were we adults supposed to enjoy this book, and stretch discussion out over several weeks? Isn’t the book for children?

It may have been written for children, but the book has so much to offer on second reading as an adult. Our first meeting (which I had to miss due to a cold) was devoted to talking about just chapters 1 and 2. In them we meet the children at the heart of the story: Polly and Digory, and Digory’s wretched Uncle Andrew, who entices them into a magical land far away. In those first two chapters Lewis builds out the characters of each child, and Uncle Andrew with careful descriptions. The children are written as children, who after meeting each other find an empty attic to explore, with a long corridor over their attached rowhouses. Lewis writes their daring and egging each other on to explore as anyone who remembers their tweens would:

“Shall we go and try it now?” said Digory.

“All right,” said Polly.

“Don’t if you’d rather not,” said Digory.

“I’m game if you are.” said she.

Uncle Andrew thinks so highly of himself he tells Digory:

“Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.”

…while Diggory shows his native 12-year-old smarts as he “saw through Uncle Andrew’s grand words:”

“All it means, he said to himself, is that he thinks he can do anything he likes to get anything he wants.”

Lewis closes each chapter with a cliffhanger designed to keep even his youngest reader following the story. At the end of Chapter One Polly vanishes; at end of Chapter Two, Diggory follows. And the pattern continues; at the end of one, Lewis ends with the characters thinking the trouble was over, “but they had never been more mistaken in their lives.” The depictions of the different worlds are so rich that it was easy for illustrator Pauline Baynes to create the beautiful artwork in the book (2001 HarperCollins edition.) The descriptions are not only visual; you can almost hear the songs that created Narnia as you read the chapter “The Founding of Narnia.” And to find what becomes of Uncle Andrew – that is a delight!

Aslan with Lucy and Susan from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, illustrated by Pauline Baynes

If I had one quibble with this book it is the description of Aslan. The description isn’t as rich, or full, as the careful description that Lewis gives Aslan in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” It makes sense that Lewis would describe Aslan more fully in the that book – since it was the first time he’d written about Aslan. To me, that is an indicator that the reader should start with “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” then read all the other books in the publication order. No matter that Lewis himself said that he preferred the chronological order, which makes this Book 1 in the series. I’ll always prefer the introduction to this wonderful world in that first published book.

Books · Hobbies · Introspection · just plain fun · me

The Joy of Book Club

Yes, you read that right. Book Club! (Or as I misspelled it in a DM to a friend, “boom club.” That did make it sound more enticing!) I joined my current group about a year or so before the Big Disruption – COVID-19. That shot our monthly meetings all to heck and gone – we didn’t meet again for over 18 months, I think. Days, weeks, months, all flow together in my brain.

A focused group

I love that that the group I joined goes in depth on the works of a select few writers: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R.Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, Charles Williams – all the writers that met together as “The Inklings.” The Columbia book club is named “The Inklings” in homage to them. This winter we started reading The Magician’s Nephew, from the Chronicles of Narnia series. I loved reading these books, and can’t wait to see how we’ll draw on the themes that this book begins to illuminate even in the first two chapters: a person’s character, honor, our responsibility to others, and more. Plus, the color illustrations by Pauline Baynes in the 2001 edition are beautiful.

The color plates inside are delightful.

Junk reading: the cotton candy of the brain

Of course I don’t read only literary fiction. I’m not finishing up some of the weighty tomes that I listed in a previous post last summer. In fact, I’m buying trashy non-fiction and fiction books and gobbling them up like popcorn and Milk Duds at the cineplex.

And I’m not fooling anyone by hiding them on my Kindle. In fact, that’s one of the two reasons I bought a Kindle. I first decided to buy one after I started running out of bookshelves, counter space, end table space, and floor space to stack books. Once I had it, I realized I could hide those unauthorized celebrity biographies, wacky sci-fi, dystopian end-of-the-world fantasies, polemical screeds, and the Twilight series on the Kindle. Oh, how I wish I was kidding about that last one. Several hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

Accentuate the Positive! · Books · educational · just plain fun

Time flies when you’re lost in a good book

Humidity and heat = AC and books!

I chose to take June off from blogging. Then the heat and humidity of a South Carolina summer sapped me of the strength to do anything more in my garden than just water the plants and let them be. Doing so left me nothing to blog about from my garden – how many posts can I write on wilting vines?

Summers in SC are perfect for staying indoors, reading, sipping sweet iced tea, and enjoying Mr. Willis Carrier’s wonderful invention of commercial air conditioning. To keep this short, I’m just posting a list of some of the books I read since June, with maybe one or two lines of description. Tell me what a person reads and I’ll tell you about that person….



Out of the Silent Planet
by C. S. Lewis

The beginning of Lewis’ lesser-known trilogy for adults. Fanciful yet deep. It rewards constant re-reading.

Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot
Bill O’Reilly, Martin Dugard

I’ve read so many books about the Kennedys – this was one of them. I can’t remember much about it.

January 6: How Democrats Used the Capitol Protest to Launch a War on Terror Against the Political Right
Julie Kelly

Julie Kelly has been the voice of those who have no voice in this matter. Read it and be infuriated.

OUTCRY: Why does Pope Barnabas release Catholic clergy from their vows of celibacy?
Ned Cosby

A piece of fiction which imagines a future pope determined to rid the church of sexual abuse.

Paperback and hardcover

Uncharted (1) (Arcane America)
Sarah A. Hoyt and Kevin J. Anderson

I love Sarah’s blog and love to read her books.



The Devil’s Hand: A Thriller (Terminal List Book 4) AND

In the Blood: A Thriller (Terminal List Book 5)
Jack Carr

I had to read both of these to finish the series before I watched an episode of Amazon Prime’s Terminal List series. My conclusion: I’m happier with the books.

Blessed With All This Life (The Wilder Bunch Book 7)
Max Cossack

The last of the Wilder Bunch series, and yes, of course I have them all. I was turned on to the famous novelist Max Cossack by his lovely wife who writes the Ammo Grrrll columns at Powerline blog.

Paperback and hardcover

The Bodies of Others: The New Authoritarians, COVID-19 and The War Against the Human
Naomi Wolf

Still finishing this one up – it makes my blood boil!!

August (so far)


The Iron Web
Larken Rose

A chilling look at a possible dystopian future, where men have forgotten how to be free.

The Puppet Masters
Robert A. Heinlein

My introduction to a master – thank you, Sarah Hoyt!

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
Robert A. Heinlein

I’m 75% of the way through this and it makes me cheer. The transportees settled forcibly on Luna (our moon) have risen up and declared their independence. I’d heard of this one before I read it – it is a masterpiece.

Waiting in the wings

The Little World of Don Camillo (Don Camillo Series Book 1)
Giovanni Guareschi

Another delightful recommendation from Sarah. Can’t wait.

Paperback and hardcover

One Row at a Time
Rochester A. Baker, Sr.

Rochester is in my Toastmasters club, Two Notch Toastmasters. He has written a lovely book which is both a memoir of lessons learned in his long life, “one row at a time,” and a tribute to his late wife Sheilda. She came with him to Toastmasters meetings years ago, before she passed. A wonderful elegy.

Gotta get back to my latest …

As you can see, I’m still finishing a couple or three. I’ll usually have four or five on the go at all times. Oh, yes, I read two Jack Reacher paperbacks as well this summer, but they’re in the car, destined for the Little Free Library on the corner and I can’t be bothered to dig them up.

A good book, a glass of sweet tea, and a little something to munch on – it don’t get better than this!

– Aunt Gem’s dad
Books · educational · Family · Introspection · politics

Gird Your Loins and Fight

Latest in my series of book reviews

Never go to war against a mom

Before I started “weaning” myself off my smartphone – I couldn’t have handled a 651-page book – even one as entertaining as “Shut Up! The Bizarre War that One Public Library Waged Against the First Amendment.

The librarian of your nightmares wants you to stop questioning the Library Board

This book makes me so glad I did the work to get my concentration back. Authors Megan Fox and Kevin DuJan tell the tale of their multi-year fight with a public library which allowed adults to access porn on their computers – and did nothing to stop it, saying it was allowed by the First Amendment. (Spoiler alert: no, the Supreme Court ruled libraries do NOT have to allow access to porn.)

A pleasant day turned peep show

At the beginning of the saga, Megan was a homeschooling mama of two little girls, named “Seven” and “Four” to protect them in the book. One day she decided to take them to the Orland Park Public Library with friend Kevin along with the ride. A quick errand to print some homeschool activity sheets led to a three-year saga – complete with lawsuits and a cast of characters that could fill a long-running soap opera. Here’s how Megan described it:

“There’s the awkward sibling of a beloved TV icon; a national hero from the Reagan administration; a former Playboy model, jewel thief, ex-wife of a Chicago Bear, ex-girlfriend of an infamous mobster who turned state’s evidence against him (and those last four are all the same person!); Our Ladies of the Perpetually Furrowed Brows; the heiress to the Comiskey baseball diamonds; a former United States Senate candidate from Illinois (who is more famous for once being married toa Sci-Fi starlet who flew around the universe in a spaceship); the King of Journalism; a gargoyle; someone who sold his soul on eBay (like it was a good thing); hot cops; … some of the best lawyers in the whole damn world (pitted against clearly some of the worst) … SNL’s Weekend Update; … the Karate Kid; famous legal scholars; fearless watchdogs; sexually harassed whistleblowers; and the nation’s leading expert on the dangers to children in public libraries.”

-Megan Fox

Truly, this book had EVERYTHING, as Megan described it: “Sex, government corruption, child porn, a gold heist, libel, slander, defamation, lawsuits, death and rape threats, police harassment, a SLAPP, cloak and dagger intrigue, fruits, 7 pounds of Italian beef and 2 large jugs of peppers, and special interest groups out to sabotage a suburban mom and her whimsical gay friend.”

Kevin and Megan take turns, chapter by chapter, telling the story. Their styles of storytelling complement and contrast with each other. Both bring in themes from children’s stories to anchor the tale: if you’ve read Harry Potter you’ll love the way they work in references to that saga. Kevin’s style is more “whimsical” as Megan said, and Megan’s motherly concern doesn’t just shine through – she’s on the warpath to make the library safe for all kids. Thank God these two are people who NEVER back down. They fought a public governmental body for years and triumphed. The best stories are ones where good defeats evil – and that’s exactly what happens here.


At the end, you, the reader are drawing in a long breath after just reading about it. By the time the final lawsuit was settled, Megan had added another baby to her family. Kevin was advising other libraries how to prevent these horrors from happening.

I wanted another book – a sequel. What new adventure did Kevin and Megan have? What crimes are they uncovering? Today, you can follow Megan’s investigative reporting on PJ Media and on her YouTube channel. I haven’t been successful finding Kevin’s public profile (but then, I don’t use Facebook anymore!) I’m sure wherever he is, he’s busy employing his talents of organization, letter-writing and campaigning to keep fighting for government accountability.

Books · Gratitude · Hobbies · just plain fun

Adventuring with The Hobbit

Dear readers: as you know, my site now focuses on four things: gardening, baking, cooking, and books. Today it’s time to focus on my love of reading.

So many books have famous first lines. There’s “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Herman Melville started Moby Dick with “Call me Ishmael.” And “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.” My favorite is from the book I just finished with my book club: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Of course, that’s from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

As much as I love the first line, the first paragraph of this adventure is what truly draws me in:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Tolkien’s verse

We gathered Tuesday night for the final session on The Hobbit, and we all were sad to leave it. Everyone was quoting favorite lines from the book to each other, just to hear Tolkien’s lyrical prose. One of my favorite parts of the book, aside from the sheer adventure of it all – the dramatic journey of our little hero, the modest hobbit, fighting with evil spiders and a DRAGON – was some of the poetry Tolkien crafted as the songs sung by the dwarves and the elves. The songs reflected the characters’ nature: light, cheerful verse for the elves, cruel consonant-heavy lines for the goblins. And of course, our hero Bilbo Baggins, invented silly verses on the fly when he distracted the spiders away from his friends.

Old fat spider sitting in a tree!

Old fat spider can’t see me!

Attercop! Attercop!

Won’t you stop

Stop your spinning and look for me!

-The Hobbit, chapter 8

A complete world

Beside the poetry, everyone who has read Tolkien knows about the care he takes with what the sci-fi community calls world building. I’ve always thought of it as scene setting. The maps on the inside covers of the book were created by the author. But you can get it all from the descriptions Tolkien gives of the Shire, of Bilbo’s very nice hobbit hole, of the paths the adventurers take through the deep forest of Mirkwood, the wastes near the Lonely Mountain and finally in the dragon’s cave. Everything is described so beautifully that I can picture every scene of the book. But of the first Hobbit movie – I remember nothing except the first dinner scene. That’s the magic of books – you, as reader, collaborate with the author in creating the story in your mind.

Finding the Lonely Mountain

A brief, final battle

I’m thankful that Tolkien resorted to the “Deus ex Machina” technique of the using the Eagles to shorten the final battle – because it nicely shortened a brutal war scene. I thought that at least 30 minutes of graphic fighting could have been cut from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy movies – which I DO remember – without sacrificing the story. And it was somehow so hobbit-like for Bilbo to be conked on the head with a rock, causing him to go unconscious and miss the last part of the battle.

A humble hero

Bilbo Baggins is described as a hobbit who “looked and behaved exactly like a second edition of his solid and comfortable father” and indeed he lived a decorous life until he was 50 years old. But then, with the visit of Gandalf the wizard, the part of him from his mother’s people, the adventurous and less respectable Tooks, came out. The two halves of his personality warred within him starting with the unexpected tea party he hosted for the 14 dwarves. In shock the dwarves were expecting table service (and knew his larders better than he did) he muttered “Confusticate and bebother these dwarves!” Then after being thought a grocer instead of fierce, he marched forth to join the fray. On the journey Bilbo went back and forth from bemoaning the lack of a pocket handkerchief to devising ingenious plans to save his friends from danger. That was Bilbo’s charm: he was a hero who didn’t think highly of himself, who forgave those who did him wrong (witness his weeping over Thorin) and who was pleased to be “quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”


I’m sure I don’t have to tell this erudite audience from whence the lines in the first paragraph came, but in case you don’t know:
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

The cover of the copy I have – the 75th Anniversary edition.
Accentuate the Positive! · blogging · Books · me

I like big books and I cannot lie

This person likes books too.

“Like” is too mild. I love books. No, that’s too mild a statement. How much do I love books? (“How much, Aunt Jim?”) Years back – you’ll have to be a certain age to get this, it was in the 80s – there was a series of TV commercials for Old Milwaukee beer. 

 Each commercial ended with a group of guys around the campfire, the picnic table or wherever, saying “Fellas, it just doesn’t get any better than this.” Or in Texas around the chili, “Boys, it don’t get no better than this!” My dad would take one look at me with my nose perpetually in a book, a glass of iced tea in hand, and usually munching on something, and say, “a good book, a glass of sweet tea, and a little something to munch on – it don’t get any better than this!”

Continue reading “I like big books and I cannot lie”
Books · Gratitude

Blessing no. 16

….is being tired from a long day – but a good tired, the kind of tired when you’ve been productive and had a great day. Not when you’re tired from the nervous exhaustion of worry or waiting or just having nothing significant to do. Today I was in an all-day training class at work. At first I thought it was just, ho-hum, oh well – a day away from my desk! But it was fascinating – about how trust can be built quickly; how to do it and how to quantify it. Now I can’t wait to finish reading the book that we got as part of the class – Stephen M.R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything. The author is the son of famed “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” author Stephen Covey. Talented family!