my latest favorites!

This week I want to share two books I've read during my research for my latest work: Among the Living, by Jonathan Rabb, and The Silver Suitcase, by Terrie Todd.

In Rabb's Among the Living,  we find a thought-provoking story of the fate of WWII holocaust survivors. Moving to Savannah to live with his only surviving family, Yitzhak Goldah must adjust to life among people less affected by the war. Savannah has two separate and opposing Jewish groups, which Yitzhak finds confusing. He also is confused by the treatment of African Americans by his Jewish family and others living in Savannah. He wonders at one point how it was possible for him to move from the damned side of society to now be one of the white elite.

 

Jonathan Rabb weaves the human condition, moral values, and social history into a riveting story about duty to family and the cost of self-preservation.

 

I expected the story to be sad, and waited to read it until I felt prepared, but found that was not the case. The story brings hope and awareness. It shows courage and strength in the face of adversity. And it shows the weaknesses in our society that we often do not see.

 

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants not only a good read but a thought-provoking story.

Now,  in The Silver Suitcase, by Todd, we find a riveting story beginning during WWII and spanning three generations. Seventeen-year-old Cornelia has secretly shunned God after her fervent prayers for the healing of her sick mother went unanswered five years ago. Quitting school to care for her father and younger brother, Cornelia saw her dream of becoming a teacher disappear. Hope for a better life surged with the arrival of a handsome teen working on his uncle’s farm for the summer.

 

But when he leaves to join the WWII effort, Cornelia is left alone and faced with a life-altering decision. She chooses family honor in spite of personal pain, and records her journey from despair to hope in a series of diaries she keeps in her silver suitcase.

 

The story moves to Cornelia’s granddaughter, Benita, who is struggling with an unemployed spouse and the loss of two significant people one after the other. Just as she thinks she cannot endure another day, she begins to read her grandmother’s diaries. The secret of her grandmother’s hidden life changes Benita.

 

I liked how the generations supported each other, one using the other for strength and comfort. I liked how God showed His goodness in an unexpected way to Cornelia, and then used her diaries for good.

 

I recommend this story to anyone who likes a good family relationship story, one with hope and tenacity.

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Normandie Fisher is a dear friend and a great author. If you are in the mood for some Christmas spirit, try her new novella. You will love it! Find it online here.

Heather Blanton is a friend and a great writer. I love her books, so full of twists and turns, and lots of good clean romance. If you haven't read any of her works, give her a try! You will fall in love with her. Find her book online here!

I love reading! Send me a book to read ... email me at ReginaSmeltzer@gmail.com

When I was in upper grade school, around fifth grade I think, I asked my aunt for one of her books to read and she gave me Lorna Doone. Now, years later, I only remember one part of the book, a boy trying to get around a waterfall to rescue a maiden in distress. I decided it was time to read that old classic again – if it was still in print.

 

It is in print, doing quite well actually. Written by R. D. Blackmore in 1869, it is a story of love and politics, fate and duty. It is a historical novel that is still read today. So I ordered my copy and dove in.

 

After the first sentence I began to doubt my memory. Was Lorna Doone actually the title of the book I read as a child, my first “adult” novel? I couldn’t imagine reading this as a fifth grader. Here is the first line:

 

           "If anyone cares to read a simple tale told simply, I, John Ridd, of the parish of Oare, in the county of Somerset, yeoman and churchwarden, have seen and had a share in some doings of this neighborhood, which I will try to set down in order, God sparing my life and memory."

 

I had to read the line a couple of times to digest it. It certainly isn’t my usual literary meal. Three hundred and seventy-eight pages later, I both confirmed Lorna Doone was the book I read in my youth, and it is a classic worth the effort it took to digest, one line at a time.

 

R. D. creates clear descriptions of rural England in the 1860s, both the farm life of the main character John Ridd, the exploits of the family bad-boy Tom Faggus, and the outlaw band called the Doone’s, among whom the lovely Lorna lives. It is John Ridd’s desire to free Lorna from these outlaws.

 

The language is quaint, many terms being unfamiliar to me, and the style somewhat slow compared to the action-packed adventures of today. But the descriptions are magnificent, and I found myself transported to 1800 England and experiencing the everyday life and political turmoil of the day.

 

I cheered when I got to the waterfall. Without doubt, this was the book I had read decades ago!

 

If you haven’t dug into a classic lately, I recommend Lorna Doone. Don’t expect to complete the book in an afternoon, nor even in a week, but the time invested is worth it. Lorna Doone will always hold a special place in my heart as my first grown-up book!

 

 

I read books for different reasons, and I picked up Ordinary Grace because of the subject matter. The book deals with a young boy as he grows up. I plan to write a novel based on the life of my uncle as a teen, so I was anxious to see how this author handled the topic. What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with the book and with the author’s writing style.

 

Ordinary Grace, written by William Kent Krueger, is set in Minnesota in the summer of 1961. Frank is a thirteen-year-old boy. His parents were married when the his father planned to be a high-paying lawyer. After a stint in the military, the changed man became a minister, much to the displeasure of his wife.

 

Three deaths happen in the book. In the opening chapter, we hear about the death of a young boy playing on the railroad tracks. The second and third deaths are more personal to Frank, and his family is impacted in different ways. While dealing with these deaths, Frank pulls away from God, hides secrets from his father and the police, and struggles between what is right, and what is lawful. Through all of this, Frank learns that in life all may not be as it seems.

 

William Kent Krueger has a mastery of words. His descriptions take me back to a time when we had to be home when the street lights came on and neighbors watched out for neighbors. The flow and tempo is perfect and he kept my interest as I turned page after page.

 

His opening paragraph is: "Moonlight pooled on the bedroom floor. Outside the chirr of crickets and other night bugs gave life to the dark. It was not yet July but already hot as blazes. That may have been why I was awake. In 1961 no one but the rich had air conditioning. During the day most folks battled the heat by closing their curtains against the sun and at night fans drew in the promise of cooler air. In our house there were only two fans and neither was in the the bedroom I shared with my brother."

 

Ordinary Grace is a thought-provoking novel on the subject of violent loss and the grace of God.

In the heat of the summer, sometimes it is good to read a book based in the frigid north during a blizzard and without hope of rescue. I found this book in The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin. (Click here for more about Charles Martin and his books.)

 

Dr. Ben Payne, on his way home from a conference meets columnist Ashley Knox who is on her way home to her wedding. Stranded due to snowstorms approaching the Colorado airport, they hire a private plane to take them out of the storm area. The pilot has a heart attack and the plane crashes in the middle of the wilderness with no hope of rescue.

 

The book shares their strugg;e to survive, and in the process learn who they are and what is important. Ben dictates into his recorder daily for his wife his thoughts and actions, hoping if the two of them do not survive, the record of their efforts will be found.There are many twists along the way, hopes of survival thwarted by nature and human error. But threaded throughout is the strength of the human spirit to survive at all cost. 

 

The story is uplifting and inspiring. It made me wonder if I could have survived, or would have given up long before the journey’s end. I think Charles Martin might become one of my favorite authors outside the Christian arena.

 

 

New author find: You’ll want to read this author!  I just finished reading my first book by Athol Dickson, and it won’t be my last.Since I am a voracious reader, my favorite authors cannot keep up with my appetite for newreads. An author friend of mine, Normandie Fischer (visit her at http://www.normandiefischer.com and if you have not read her books, do so!) recommendeda couple of authors to me,  including Mr. Dickson.

 

In the forward of the book, Athol Dickson wrote, “If a man expected and experiencedmiracles all the time, would the miracles that surrounded him become ‘invisible?’I decided to find out so I invented such a man. I named him Hale Poser. And I set him adrifton the lower Mississippi River … to see what would happen next.” The novel went on tobecome a Christi Award Winner, the highest award given to Christian fiction by the AmericanChristian Fiction Association.

 

In the novel River Rising, Hale Poser, a black man, shows up in a river town at the mouthof the Mississippi in the mid 1920s. Having been raised at an orphanage, he is unaware of theorder of things, related to blacks and whites. He is confused over why there are two separatechurches. Hale is on a quest to find his birth mother, but in the process he provides what the other people see as miracles. I could not put this novel down. His flowing, melodic southern voice flows like the sweet molasses cited in the story. The characters glow with life, and the story is a mystery of redemption and regret, salvation and loss, handled with mastery and skill. I am off in search of another of Athol Dickson’s works!

 

 

I read an excellent novel called Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. (Check her out by clicking on the

cover photo at the right.) I knew very little about Asperger’s Syndrome before reading this novel. However, authorKatherine Erskine conducted a great deal of research on the topic before writing the novel, and her expertise on the topic is apparent. This is a must read for anyone who wants to learn about how a child with Asperger’s sees the world, or simply wants a good read that will lift your view of humanity.

 

In Mockingbird, Caitlin, a school aged child with Asperger’s Syndrome, has lost her brother to a random school shooting. Now she must navigate in a world she does not understand without the help of her main support system. I cheered for her and cried with her as she led me through her life and her growth. This is one of those books that you hate to have end.

 

 

I want to introduce author and organizational guru Sandra Felton, often known as The Organizer Lady ®. With more than ten books printed on the topic, if you have an organizational or time-management issue, she is the one to go to. When I first learned about Sandra via Facebook (Ha), I wondered if she had been born perfect, or if her ability to maintain order within a chaotic world was something learned. I made arrangements to interview her over the phone, and this is what I discovered:

 

Regina:    Were you always neat?

Sandra:   (laughing) Goodness no. I struggled with it most of my life.

Regina:    So what happened that turned you from messy to neat?

Sandra:   I was a junior high math teacher with a husband the three kids depending on me for supper. I raced home from work, only to find water running from under my oven. There’s no water supply under the oven. So logically I opened the door beneath the sink. The newspapers I had saved in case I needed them to clean the oven or for the new puppy (I didn’t clean the oven and we never had a puppy) were saturated with water. I later discovered that all the wood along the wall was rotted. Dinner was delayed (for several weeks) until the entire kitchen was remodeled, an expense I was not prepared to handle. And all of this happened because I was a “messie.”

Regina:    What is a messie?

Sandra:    A messie is a person who keeps too much stuff. Usually a messy is a perfectionist and imaginative, and thus has trouble making decisions, especially about what to throw away. 

Regina:    What did you do to transform you from a messy to a guru of neatness?

Sandra:    The difference this time was my commitment. I had to do something about the overflowing amount of stuff I kept in my house. There was so much stress from it all, for instance I couldn’t have guests over to the house. I didn’t want anyone to see the mess. If I did plan on company, I would shove all the excess stuff into one room and shut the door, hoping no one would open it.

Regina:    So this time you felt committed to change. How you did know what to do?

Sandra:    I could not live organized in a disorganized house. I interviewed friends who had the sort of house I wanted to have. I discovered a thread running through most of their actions. So I developed a plan of attack, based on what I had learned.

Regina:    And your plan worked, and you published it?

Sandra:    It seems straight-forward, but it was hard to do. It didn’t happen overnight. But yes, it worked.

Regina:    What was hard about it?

Sandra:    You have to change not only your habits, but those of your family too. I have written a book on living with messy kids to help address the issue of family. The more you tell kids to change, the worse they will become. There are tricks to accomplishing your goal.

Regina:    How has becoming organized at home changed your life?

Sandra:    I can live a more open life. It is more harmonious. I know where things are now, and this has really helped reduce my stress.

Regina:    Talk to me about your blog (www.Messies.com). I noticed you have over 7,000 followers. Way to go!

Sandra:    I list tips and helpful ideas on my blog. I have the site dividedinto sections to help people find what they are looking for.

 

Sandra and I chatted a while longer. Some of her book titles are:

                        Smart Office Organizing,

                        5 days to Clutter Free Your House

                        Organize Your Day – Time Management

                        Organize Your Life – DeClutter your mind to DeClutter Your Life

                        40 Days to a Well-Ordered House

                        Living with Messy Kids

 

I totally enjoyed the time I spent with Sandra, and consider her a new friend. Even though I write fiction, I wanted to share the work of this amazing Christian author. Her books are available at local bookstores like Barnes and Noble, on Amazon, and through her website (www.Messies.com). Because of her work, Messies like me have a chance!

 

 

I found inspiration in Normandie Fischer's Becalmed. If you like Southern fiction and sailing, this is a good read for you! Check her out at www.NormandieFischer.com .