Reading Room Treasures
This is the place where Valerie shares a tidbit or two about some of the books that fill her shelves. She is an advocate for people who believe that one can never have too many books. Most times, when she's not writing, she's reading. This is a new page, so check back often while she adds her favorites...some old, some new.
The Fifth Avenue Story Society
What might you do if you had an opportunity to take your present self—the sum of every choice you’d ever made—and discover the person you could have been? This is a moving tale of five lost and damaged souls, unlikely friendships, and the power of redemption. I paused over the text a number of times, savoring a description, a thought, or a character’s insight. One of my favorites originated with the author among the group who wrote because “he wanted the rest of the world to know the beauty and power of a story. How truth woven into the prose could change a person.” I love a good story—one such as this.
The Art of Racing in the Rain
Long before the movie came out, I buried my golden-retriever-lovin’ heart between the pages of this funny, happy, tear-jerking love story. Ride along with Enzo while he takes a journey that is both exhilarating and excruciatingly painful. It’s easy to envision the pooch wearing a grin as his owner drives him around the racetrack. In other scenes, he uses his knowing eyes and gentle touch to soothe sorrow. Enzo’s story, and that of his two-legged family members, is a tender depiction of unconditional love.
Where Lilacs Still Bloom
During a walk on a glorious spring day, the scent of lilacs drew my attention to clumps of pale violet petals and called this book to mind. Jane Kirkpatrick writes about strong women whose determination marked the lives of those around them and those who followed after. In Where Lilacs Still Bloom, Hulda Klager’s husband supported her quest for a perfect hybrid, but that was not often the case for early twentieth-century women who stepped out of their defined roles. I’ve read many of Jane's books, but this is my favorite—my mother’s too. When Mom’s father learned the cost of his daughter’s wish to hold a bouquet of lilacs at her wedding, she had to choose between the flowers and a cake. She picked the blooms.
There Is No Me Without You
Melissa Faye Green
I glimpsed hardship and poverty when I went on my first mission trip to Central America. I saw it in South America, in the densely populated communities of Uganda, and in unauthorized settlements in South Africa where thousands live in makeshift dwellings. It was in rural Kenya that I recognized a missing generation. I met grandparents and children, but scores of parents were absent, victims of AIDS. In this book, Journalist Melissa Faye Green takes us to Ethiopia where a widow ignores the protests of her neighbors and community and becomes the rescuer of rejected and discarded AIDS orphans. Green’s book is a touching and compelling account of kindness, tenderness, and hope.
The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
When my mother sent me her copy of this book, she said, “Let me know what you think.” After reading partway through page one, I learned that the narrator of the tale is Music, and that he’s come to take Frankie Presto’s soul home. My first inclination was that I would have to describe the book as “interesting,” which is family-code for “not for me, but thank you anyway.” I kept reading, turning pages. What an intriguing presentation of a remarkable story. Whether your heart picks up with the beat of rock and roll, country twang, or jazz, you’ll find this tale isn’t “interesting,” but something quite remarkable. Memorable. I might also mention that my mother asked me to return her copy when I finished reading.
My Dearest Dietrich
A poignant telling of the last years of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's life. Barratt's fictional account of two people who held fiercely to love and to duty is both heartwarming and heart wrenching. Although I knew the outcome, part of me wanted the author to rewrite history.
Whose Waves These Are
The paths people choose when tragedy strikes affect the grief-stricken and generations beyond. Dykes’ debut novel is a remarkable tale. Her words paint vivid pictures of a quaint harbor and the town’s characters. I’ve made a note on my calendar to pick up a copy of the author’s Sets the Stars Alight soon after its June 2020 release date.
The Girl from the Savoy
Not everyone enjoyed the prosperity and celebration of London’s Roaring Twenties. Instead of watching the festivities from the sideline, temptation inspires one young woman to find the means to join the crowd. After all, who can resist the call of the music, the stage, and the dance?
The Promise of Jesse Woods
I could devote an entire page to Chris Fabry books, but will share my two favorite picks here. Fabry’s West Virginia settings touch this city girl’s inborn country heart. He describes the wonder and cruelty of the landscape with the same affection and reverence as he bestows on his characters. Find a seat that puts to mind a rocking chair on a front porch, open the book cover, and sit for a spell. You’ll be glad you did.
I discovered Barbara Mutch in 2013 when the English translation of The Housemaid’s Daughter was published. Mutch, a native of South Africa, takes us to Simon’s Town in The Girl from Simon’s Bay where social conflict, pursuit of an unlikely occupation, and a forbidden relationship tangle within the backdrop of World War II. I keep checking for new works from this talented writer. I want to read more.
Valerie Fraser Luesse
Rural South Carolina in the 1960s has its share of challenges, including an uncommon bond between a fatherless boy and the man who does his best to fill the empty role. Luesse’s novel shows that ordinary people can transcend racial norms that often inflicted harm. I am looking forward to reading her June 2020 release, A Key to Everything.
Child of the River
Another of my favorite South Africa writers pens a tale in which her characters have to take sides. No one can straddle the fence when it comes to apartheid or choosing between the Anglo World War II supporters or the renegade Boer nationalists. Choosing comes at a cost. Joubert balances her portrayal of suffering and sacrifice with tenderness and hope.
West with the Night
Two comments on the book jacket say it all:
#1: Beryl Markham (1902-86) was a British born Kenyan aviatrix, adventurer, and racehorse trainer.
#2: "Written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer . . . [Markham] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers . . . It is really a bloody wonderful book." —Ernest Hemingway
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series
Any one of the series is soothing to the soul. Reading one of McCall-Smith’s Botswana detective stories is akin to a daily-grind detox. He takes the reader beyond the frivolous, stressful, and frenetic pace of life and puts priorities in their rightful place. If you need a “feel good” book, pick up one, then another. When you reach book #20, To the Land of Long Lost Friends, pick up #1 and repeat the process.
I consider the novels written by this attorney-turned-author a cross between Frank Peretti and John Grisham. His latest book is timely, thought-provoking, and one that might cost the reader some sleep.
What the Wind Knows
Wow. The movement of Harmon's story between time periods caught me by surprise, but she had me from the get-go and kept me turning pages until I reached the back cover. She weaves history into her narrative with ease, and for her efforts I have a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the history, politics, and people of Ireland.
A partly-true, partly-construed tale of Homer Hickam's parents as they traveled from the coalfield of West Virginia to sunny Florida. Their objective? Returning a pet alligator to its natural habitat. The reader has to wonder where the tale slides from reality to really embellished, but who wouldn't want to hitch a ride on this storyteller's masterpiece?
Stephanie Marie Thornton
Society had plenty of rules for young women at the turn of the century. The standards for the daughter of the President of the United States were higher still, and Alice Roosevelt bucked every last one of them. The author shares some of the extraordinary events surrounding the life of Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter, but it is her tender rendering of a women hungry for her father’s love and attention that swept me into the narrative.
Carry Me Home
Adamek took me back to the 1870s and guided me to the harsh land of Australia where one generation’s sins cast a pall and stubborn reputation over those who followed. It’s hard to begin anew when opinion outweighs truth. I’m looking forward to adding Carry Me Away, Book 2 in the Blue Wren Shallows series.