outhern Belle. The words conjure up thoughts of genteel, tea-sipping ladies or feisty harridans the likes of Scarlett O'Hara. But these days, Southern women are a rich combination of both sets of characteristics, and they are depicted with insight in Lois Battle's new book, The Florabama Ladies' Auxiliary ∧ Sewing Circle. Atlanta socialite Bonnie Duke Cullman has come to a life-altering crossroads in her life. Her husband has run out on her for a younger woman. To add insult to injury, he has also spent their life savings and filed for bankruptcy. Accustomed to a country club existence, she has never done a real day's work in her life. So, for the first time in her life, 50-year-old Bonnie is financially strapped and facing life alone.

Hope for Bonnie comes in the form of a position at a tiny community college in Florabama, Alabama. The Cherished Lady lingerie factory is being closed down, and the college hires Bonnie to run its program for displaced homemakers and workers. In a blind-leading-the-blind proposition, Bonnie is supposed to help the factory workers, many of whom have never known another job, figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. She starts out by gathering them into a weekly group session to help everyone air their opinions and concerns, and begins to learn just how hard life is for these women.

Determined to help the ladies better their lives, Bonnie calls upon friends from her former life to help set up a cottage industry using their skills as seamstresses to design a line of unique children's clothes. The project is a huge success, but teeters on the brink of disaster when one of their own runs off with the first big check. But with resolve that surprises even the most skeptical in the group, the women regroup and come back to prove they are capable of overcoming the odds.

Lois Battle, a South Carolina writer with seven previous novels to her credit, has gathered a delightful group of women in this heartwarming tale. There's patient, saintly Ruth, who has always wanted to be a teacher; the hot-tempered, slightly bigoted Hilly who finds the second love of her life in a Mexican restaurant; and Roxy, the irresponsible young mother who takes any job she can get, as long as it doesn't involve work. But the star of the story is Bonnie, who proves to herself that she is capable of overcoming her own obstacles to find a happier life and, in doing so, develops a healthy respect for herself. She even finds a little love along the way.

The Florabama Ladies' Auxiliary ∧ Sewing Circle provides a genuine glimpse into the lives of modern-day Southern women. Don't be surprised to find there is a little tea-sipping (and a little Scarlett) in each of these resilient ladies.

Sharon Galligar Chance is the senior book reviewer for the Times Record News in Wichita Falls, Texas.

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