Connie A Thompson

Red White and Blue Fireworks Cake

10432116_10205764596265816_6728605159903548004_nMy Mom loved the Fourth of July. One of my earliest memories is of her holding my hand and helping me hold a sparkler. We wrote my name in the air. I marveled at the sparks and the smoke they left behind. I’m sure there were other fireworks, but it is the sparkler that I remember.

Each year she would invite us all to her house. There would be burgers, hot dogs, and all the usual cookout foods. There was always a dessert fitting the holiday theme. It often involved blueberries and strawberries.

This year as I was looking around Pinterest, I found the cake I knew my mother would have baked if she were still here. I pinned it. I knew I would make it.

Even though it is the fifth of July, the family will come together today and I’ll serve the Red White and Blue Fireworks cake. I know the red is really pink. I should have used more red food coloring, but I’m still tickled with it. I know the grandkids are going to love it.

Today for dinner, I’m taking it easy. It is taco day. I know grandmother would get a good laugh out of it, but I had two of the three grandkids yesterday. I’m quite thankful I had my babies when I was younger and had more energy.

The Book of James by Ellen J. Green

24965074Summary from Goodreads:

A terrible car crash sets things in motion for 31-year-old Mackenzie when her critically injured husband, Nick, whispers warnings that someone from his past may attempt to harm or kill her after his passing. He urges her to travel to Philadelphia to his childhood home. Find James, he insists. It’s the only way out.

His last words are pushed to the side in the aftermath of his death, as Mackenzie is consumed with grief. Until the things he had spoken of start to come true. Mackenzie’s search brings her to the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, to the 19th-century mansion where her husband was raised, and face to face with a mother-in-law she didn’t know existed. The two women each have an agenda. Cora, a recluse, worries that her son revealed devastating childhood secrets to his wife. Mackenzie is concerned that unless she uncovers those secrets and finds the elusive James, she may not survive. The two women circle around one another, hunter and prey. But which is which?

As the plot unfolds Mackenzie becomes more driven and takes increasingly dangerous risks while Cora’s precarious mental state rapidly deteriorates forcing her to relive a past she has worked so hard to keep buried.A gallery of photographs in the bowels of the house holds clues to generations of abuse, treachery and possibly murder. Messages hidden in Nick’s childhood Bible within the Epistle of James have Mackenzie racing against time to put the pieces together, unearth the reasons her husband chose to vanish when he was sixteen years old, and locate the person mentioned in Nick’s dying breath.

When James is finally found, the results are more horrifying than Mackenzie could have ever imagined.

Connie’s Thoughts:

The cover and the title caught my attention. I was cruising through the available titles on Netgalley, and I kept coming back to this one. What if you found yourself widowed, a tragedy, but then you learn you never really knew your husband. He lied about his past. His mother is still alive. He lied about his lack of money. Mackenzie is his only beneficiary and learns she has inherited millions. They were fighting about money when the accident happened.

I enjoyed the story. Often I would find myself asking if a real woman would take the same actions as Mackenzie would. I knew that I wouldn’t have made those same choices, but isn’t that part of the reason we read? To experience other lives.

I’ve only recently begun to read novels classified as mystery thrillers: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight,  and That Night by Chevy Stevens. I tend to gravitate more towards women’s fiction with novels that focus on family, marriage, love, and ordinary lives albeit usually with a little more flair than a normal life.




I’m giving The Book of James four stars. I often found myself saying “just one more chapter.”

Sunday Dinner: Kindness

512px-Flag-map_of_South_Carolina.svgMy mother loved all holidays, but especially birthdays. When my nephew, Zachary was five, he loved Spongebob Squarepants. Said nephew is now an adult and Spongebob is still adored by many children including my grandkids.

Mom found one of those character pans that was all the rage and decided to make her grandson a birthday cake. It looked simple. Use a star tip and fill in with the appropriate icing color. I’m not sure what she did to the icing, but it wasn’t firm and the stars began to dissolve into one another. It was pitiful, but to my nephew, it was the best birthday cake ever.

I tend to get caught up with my own perfectionism. I like things to be done a certain way. I like them to look a certain way. At the time, I thought my mom should have thrown the cake out and started again. My mom hesitated when she presented  it to him. I saw the excitement in a five-year old’s eyes. It was a Spongebob Squarepants cake and it was for his birthday.

It isn’t always about being perfect. It’s about doing the best you can.

I’m a South Carolina native. I was horrified to hear of the Charleston shootings. Forgiveness is the most difficult thing to give and the yet the families of the victims stood up one by one and gave forgiveness. I applaud them. They set the standard for what could have been a volatile situation. People came together in love, honor, and compassion.

This weekend people have painted their social media profiles blue and encouraged one another to perform nine acts of kindness in honor of those who died. Wouldn’t it be great if acts of kindness turned into a way of life? My prayers go out to those affected by this tragedy.

At Sunday dinner, my family and I will celebrate my nephew, Ethan’s birthday. I’ve made a Red Devil cake and one of his favorite meals, barbecue chicken. Thank goodness he’s too old for a Spongebob Squarepants cake.


Review of Barbara Claypole White’s The Perfect Son

51YP+MLWosLFelix Fitzwilliams strives for perfection. He is meticulous in his professional life. His wife, Ella takes care of the household and their teenage son, Harry, who lives with Tourette’s Syndrome.

Ella has been Harry’s champion helping him adjust to the nuances of life in the world that doesn’t understand the disorder. Ella quit her job as a jewelry designer to be Harry’s full-time Mum. Felix didn’t have the patience or understanding to deal with Harry. He worried that he would become like his father. Felix makes the money working long hours while Ella devotes herself to family and home.

Harry has scored 1400 on the SAT. His mother wants him to choose a college close to home. His father dreams of an Ivy League education.

Heart troubles send Ella to the hospital. She needs rest. Felix must take over all of Ella’s duties and care for their son. Felix must find a way to balance his professional and home life, and he discovers Harry is in love, and it appears the girl loves him too.

Harry and Ella have an eclectic and eccentric group of friends. Harry and Max have been friends since preschool. Max helps Harry navigate through high school. Eudora is their neighbor, a retired professor with a passion for gardening and knowing when to pop in on father and son. Katherine is Ella’s best friend. She doesn’t care much for Felix, but for Ella she tries. Reluctantly they work together to give Ella the time she needs to heal. Harry must learn to rely on himself and his father.

I immediately fell in love with Ella and Harry. I found myself wondering what she ever could have seen in Felix. He had a demanding father, but that isn’t an excuse for being so emotionally withdrawn.

The squirrel scene is hilarious. You’ll just have to read it.

The Perfect Son is about relationships, a young man living with Tourette’s Syndrome, and a love story. By the last page, you’ll understand why Ella fell in love with Felix.

I found myself staying up long past my bedtime reading to find out what happened next. Five stars to The Perfect Son.

For a limited time, The Perfect Son is a Kindle First pick and available for a special pre-order price. The novel is available July 1.


Review: Sarah Pekkanen’s Things You Won’t Say

_2929166What happens to the people behind the headlines? It seems as though the whole world knows the story, but they only know a snippet, what supposedly happened in a short span of time. What happens to the wife, the children, the family, the friends?
Mike Anderson is a policeman on administrative leave after killing a young Latino man. Mike claims he saw a gun, but no one can find a weapon. Worse, his new partner claims he didn’t see a gun either.
The story takes place after the shooting. Mike lives with the daily regret that his longtime partner and best friend is recovering from a gunshot wound. It should have been him.
Mike’s wife, Jamie justifies her husband’s actions. It was raining. She desperately tries to keep the family together despite the news vans and strangers berating her for buying her daughter a bathing suit while a young man is dead. Life as usual can’t go on, but for the children’s sakes, Jamie tries.
Christie, Mike’s ex and the mother of his eldest child seems to be the only one who believes him.
As Mike faces further difficulties, and possible jail time, Jamie tries to hold on, seeking help from everyone except her husband. Christie asks for help from her new boss, a private investigator.

Things You Won’t Say reminds us that there is so much more to the story than the headlines and the few paragraphs that follow. Every incident ripples, affecting the lives of many.
I’m giving Things You Won’t Say four and a half stars. We are often horrified by headlines, but we tend to follow the collective. It is easy to identify with what should have been done, but unless you are there, you’ll never truly understand. Pekkanen’s novel gives a voice to the family behind the headlines.


Sunday Dinner: No Cooking Today

 Usually at the time of morning, I’m putting the macaroni and cheese in the oven. Dessert is ready. Green beans are simmering and peeled potatoes wait for the heat. Grandboys play with bowls and wooden spoons nearby.

But today, I rest. My husband and I have taken a much needed weekend getaway. We woke to birds singing. Sitting on the porch, we felt the cool breeze pass over us and watched as the leaves of trees swayed and the water of the nearby river rippled. The sun beams, but the air doesn’t have the mugginess of home that comes with the approaching summer.

Next week is Father’s Day and our anniversary. We chose to celebrate our anniversary a little early. Last night we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Lucia’s. Afterwards we sat on the porch as lightning bugs made their sparkling appearance. My husband shared that the first time he saw fireflies, he thought he was imagining things until reality set in and he realized what he was seeing. He’s from California and it was new to him.

Sometimes we need to pause from all of life’s busyness and experience the beauty of the world we live in.

Next week I’ll be back in the kitchen preparing family favorites and celebrating the fathers in my life: my dad, husband, and brothers. My brother loves to say it is the best day ever. I might even make his favorite, fried okra.

Review: Lisa Jewell’s The Third Wife

ThirdWifeAdrian’s youngest daughter, Pearl says her father is “addicted to love.” The Third Wife is about the Wolfe family, two ex-wives, five children ranging in age from five to twenty-three, and the new wife.

The family goes on vacation en masse. They get together for holidays, recitals, and all sorts of life events. The older children from the first marriage love and adore their younger siblings from the second marriage. And everyone genuinely appears to like one another, even the exes.

Adrian and his third wife, Maya were trying to have a baby. Their marriage ended when an intoxicated Maya was hit by a bus at three in the morning.

As Adrian grieves his late wife, he begins to realize that things are not what they seem. He discovers that Maya had been receiving horribly critical emails from an unknown person. The knowledge the sender had is very intimate. Could it be one of his children? Or maybe it was Jane, the woman who answered his ad about adopting Maya’s cat. The mysterious Jane has been seen all about London. Adrian attempts to find Jane and discovers she wasn’t really Jane.

As Adrian spends more time with his children and ex-wives without the buffer of a new wife, he learns about himself and his children. They are not the perfect creations he has always considered them. And he is not the perfect father he thought he was.

I am giving The Third Wife four and a half stars. I found the story provocative, intriguing, and entertaining.


Sunday Dinner: Naomi’s Legacy

Mary "Naomi" Goudelock 1886 - 1958

Mary “Naomi” Goudelock
1886 – 1958

Every year my grandmother and mother would plant gardens. They were usually small. Grandmother’s fit in a bricked off area that had once been the foundation for a coal house. What is a coal house? Many years ago their house was heated by coal. There were small grates in every room that looked like small fireplaces.

My grandparents eventually upgraded to a gas furnace, and there was no longer a need for coal. The building, which was about 6′ x 6′ was torn down, but the foundation remained. The floor had been dirt. During the fall and winter months, grandmother would put all the leftover food scraps in the dirt creating a compost pile. Come spring she would plant tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, green beans, and anything that suited her.

I loved to go pick the tomatoes. Grandmother would often slice a tomato, put a thin layer of Duke’s mayonnaise on white bread and a little salt and pepper. She said as a girl, lunch in the summer was often a fresh vegetable from the garden and a leftover biscuit from lunch.
My grandmother, Laura was born in 1918 and grew up on the mill hill. Her parents had a cow, chickens, and a garden. She claimed her mother wasn’t much of a cook, but she was an excellent gardener.

Her mother, Naomi was stern, but kind. If someone was passing through and asked for food, she always gave them what she could. Young Laura watched these travelers pass by other houses before stopping at theirs. She wondered how they knew. Her mother claimed that the travelers left a sign indicating that their house would offer food. Young Laura combed the yard in search of the mysterious welcome sign, but never found one.

When I was ten, I sat on the porch one day with my grandmother. A young woman toting a baby on her hip lumbered off the bus and walked up the street. The baby whined; they were both drenched in sweat. Grandmother called out to her inviting her up to the shade of the front porch. The young woman not much more than a girl looked around trying to decide if she should stop. The baby cried out, and she trudged up the steps. She took a seat on the metal glider, the baby perched on her knees. The baby became mesmerized by her own toes painted with pink nail polish. She babbled. I continued reading my book as I if I wasn’t paying attention to them. I had long before mastered the art of having my nose in a book and seeming oblivious while watching everything.

Grandmother returned with juice and shortbread cookies for the baby. She handed the woman a tall glass of iced tea. They talked about her baby, and my grandmother talked about when her children were babies. When their tea glasses were empty, they sat for a little longer and then the mother tucked her sleeping child on her hip and picked up her bag. Her steps were a little lighter than when she first trudged up the street.

I saw my great grandmother, Naomi’s legacy living on through her daughter. Kindness to others.

Today will be the first Sunday dinner without my son and daughter in law living nearby. Some family members are away at the beach. We’ll have a small group today rather than the usual crowd. Both my grandsons will be here. I know this is a day they won’t specifically remember, but I know that Sunday dinners will be something they will always carry in their heart.

Sunday Dinner: A Legacy of Love

Sunday Dinner 2000

Sunday Dinner 2000

When my grandmother died, the pastor preached a beautiful funeral about how my grandmother had been a true Proverbs 31 woman, “worth far more than rubies…speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue…Her children arise and call her blessed…Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” As I sat there with tears in my eyes reflecting on the wonderful woman my grandmother had been, I heard the preacher call my name. He called me out in the sanctuary and urged me to continue what my grandmother had started, a tradition of Sunday dinner with all the family gathered around.

My grandmother’s house was small, maybe 1,000 square foot, two bedrooms, and everything was tiny. To increase counter space, there was a special board with a notch for the faucet placed over the sink. The food was set out buffet style. We used real dishes, not fine China; grandmother preferred Correlle since they wouldn’t break. The silverware didn’t match. There was one special fork with a black handle that everyone fought over. The thickness of the biscuits depended upon how many were expected. Grandmother bore six children. She had ten grandchildren and then, of course, the great grands began to come.
She was quiet and strong. She could be stern. She would speak her mind when necessary. While she usually deferred to her husband, she would put him in his place when necessary. She went to church every Sunday, and she saw that we went too.

Grandmother's House

Grandmother’s House

When the pastor called me out that day, I felt an overwhelming desire to run. Before my mother passed, she told me to continue cooking Sunday dinner and bringing grandmother to it. I obeyed. I had planned to give it up, but the pastor called me out. It seemed a sign from God. Inwardly I grumbled, but I obeyed.

It is a lot of work: planning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t understand until my grandson was born.

I wanted to be called Grandmother like she had been. My kids vetoed that. My brother threatened me with Granny. Daniel decided one day that I was Mamaw, and that was that. For him, I keep apples, bananas, blueberries, and just about any fruit will do. He loves cake, but only when it has lots of frosting. He’ll push his plate back and with his Southern drawl announce that he wants cake. He now has a little brother, and I love watching them play together.

My mother always told me I wouldn’t understand motherhood until I became a mother. I think being a grandparent is the same way.
Today is a sad Sunday dinner. My son and his bride of six years are moving away. Only 3 1/2 hours, but a little too far to make dinner every week. I am proud of them. They have been working towards this goal for years, and it is the perfect opportunity for them. I can still miss them though.

We’ll be celebrating my niece’s fifteenth birthday. She is excited about getting her permit. For dessert, she wants brownies and Oreo icecream. You only turn fifteen once. I love that I have gotten to watch her and her brother grow up. He’ll turn thirteen next month.

I am thankful that my family takes an hour or so each week to stop and come together to enjoy a meal together.

Book Review: Inside the O’Brien’s

22716194I met my best friend, Lisa when I was six. She was only five. Little did we know during those first few tentative moments of friendship that it would be the friendship of a lifetime. We were in junior high, when Lisa’s mother learned she had Huntington’s Disease. It was during the late 1970’s, and we knew two things: it would take her mother’s life, and Lisa had a 50% chance of inheriting the disease. She was a teenager facing her mother’s mortality as well the possibility of her abbreviated life.

Lisa lived in fear that with any twitch, stumble, or even moment of forgetfulness that it was the disease manifesting. She refused testing; she was only a blood test away from knowing her fate. She wasn’t willing to give up her 50% chance of hope.
I found Lisa Genova’s Still Alice captivating. And still when I have a moment of forgetfulness, I immediately think of Alice and wonder if it is more than a momentary lapse.

Genova’s, Inside the O’Brien’s, transports the reader into the lives of a working class Boston family as they face the diagnosis of an unfamiliar terminal illness. Told through the dual point of view which shifts from Joe, the patriarch and his youngest daughter, Katie the family grapples through all the stages of grief as they learn about the disease. Joe always thought his mother drank herself to death. She embarrassed him. He feels guilt for how he treated his mother as well as for the legacy he has possibly bestowed upon his four children.

The story unfolds through Joe and Katie’s points of view, but the novel is about all six members of the family. The mother, Rosie clings to God then spurns him. The eldest, JJ is married and planning a family. The second born, Patrick works in a bar and spends most of his time with his friends. Meghan, the first born daughter, is a ballet dancer.

Katie is the youngest. She is a yoga instructor, who covers her bedroom walls with graffiti, handwritten quotes in hopes that the view of “her exterior world would seep into her consciousness and perk things up.” She is in love with a man her parents would not find suitable: he isn’t from the neighborhood, he isn’t Catholic, and his heritage is not Irish. If she has Huntington’s, what kind of future can she offer him?

How do you live with Huntington’s Disease? Is it better to know or to hold onto to that 50% chance of hope?

I give Inside the O’Brien’s a five of five-star rating.

About the number of stars, you’ll only see four or five stars here. I refuse to continue reading a book that doesn’t keep me interested. There are too many good books to force myself to suffer through one that doesn’t interest me. Lack of interest doesn’t always mean a book is bad; sometimes it just isn’t the right time in my life to read it.