How stories of courage and hope change lives

The fourth book in our summer series

My fourth — and final — summer book recommendation is one that you’ll want to take to the beach or sit on the porch and read. You might also want to read it in one quick sitting to find out if Daniel Knight can find the childhood friend he’s been searching more than 70 years for.

Author Melanie Dobson’s novel, Catching the Wind, tells how Knight and Brigitte Berthold escaped the Gestapo agents who arrested both their parents. She describes their harrowing journey from Germany to England and then paints a picture of their heartbreaking separation when they were 13 and 10.

Throughout the years, Knight hires detective after detective, and none can find Berthold. Finally, he hires Quenby Vaughn, an American journalist working in London, to find his friend. Vaughn has a personal investment in a related WWII espionage story and is wrestling her own demons from her past — and she isn’t crazy about working with Knight’s attorney.

As with all good fiction, Dobson’s novel contains many truths. I had a chance to ask Dobson a few questions about those truths. Here are her responses.

  1. We live in a world where “friendship” is sometimes just a digital connection — an easy click of a button. Friendship is treated differently in your book. How can we build friendships to stand the test of time and hardship today? One of my main characters (Daniel Knight) made a promise to a friend seventy years ago, and he is trying desperately throughout Catching the Wind to be faithful in keeping it.  As I wrote this book, I was challenged to invest even more in my own friendships. I think building solid friendships is done through a willingness to sacrifice ourselves as well as extend a tremendous amount of grace to one another. Daniel was gracious and kind to Brigitte even in the hardest of times, and he was willing to put aside what he wanted to rescue her.
  2. Even when we aren’t in times of war, we can feel overpowered and need to make difficult decisions. How can we do that better? And what can we do if we get it wrong? I love to tell the stories of ordinary people throughout history and today who do extraordinary things to help others. Risking our lives for someone else can come at a tremendous cost, and while the risking today may not be as extreme as during war, I think it is always extraordinary to sacrifice ourselves by giving our time, money, and resources to help someone else. When we feel overpowered, I believe the best way to make difficult decisions is by praying for wisdom and a peace that surpasses understanding. Even after prayer and trying to follow the wind of Spirit, we might think we made a wrong choice, but I believe that God works all things together for good for those who love and serve Him. What we perceive to be “wrong” might be exactly what He needed for us to do.
  3. If there is one thing that readers remember from this book, what do you hope that is? The power of sharing stories is a key element in this novel. I would love for readers to remember that God uses the courage and hope in both our stories and the stories of others to change lives.

 

Welcome to the 2016 book club

I think when you hear the same message from more than three people, you should take it seriously. And I’ve heard that several of you want more book suggestions and more opportunities for book discussions.

Finally, I think I’ve figured out how to do that for you.

Here’s what it will look like:

  • On the first day of every month I’ll host a three-book giveaway. Each month one person will win, and the package will include a children’s book, a novel and a non-fiction book. Look for these giveaways on the Simply Faithful Facebook page.
  • On April 15, June 15 and Aug. 15 I’ll host a book giveaway where six people will win a copy of the same book. Those people will be asked to discuss the book on the Simply Faithful Facebook page so the rest of us can determine if we might like to read it, too. Then, I’ll capture that discussion and share it here so it is easy to find for everyone.
  • In the fall, I will select a book for us all to read. I’ll interview the author and you’ll all have a chance to chat live with him/her on social media. This year, if the author is comfortable with it, we may offer live streaming on Facebook so you can see the author, too, while you are asking questions. (Yes, just like the Jetsons!)
  • I’m working on creating a monthly newsletter that will include suggestions for living a life of faith, free printables and book suggestions, along with Q&As with talented authors. If you are interested in receiving those newsletters, just slip your email address in the box on the bottom left.

Let’s try it. Sound good?

P.S. Feel free to share your book recommendations with me – especially for the fall. Thanks!

Summer books: Two Steps Forward

Sharon Garlough BrownEditor’s note: This is the final piece in a series of four author interviews.

I first fell in love with Sharon Garlough Brown’s story in Sensible Shoes – a work of fiction full of spiritual truths. That book introduces readers to four strangers who meet at a spiritual retreat center and begin to learn the value of community and of spiritual practices like walking a labyrinth and praying the examen.

Hannah is a pastor on a forced sabbatical. Meg is a widow haunted by her past and struggling with an empty nest. Mara has experienced a lifetime of rejection and now is in a difficult marriage. And Charissa is a graduate student who desperately wants to do what is right.

Their stories continue in Two Steps Forward, which releases in October and offers plenty of truth of its own.

I feel like your characters in Sensible Shoes became my friends, and I’ve been wondering about how they are all doing. Are they all included in the sequel? If so, do they share the spotlight like they did before – or does this book focus in on one character in particular?

Yes, Two Steps Forward follows the stories of each of the four main characters in Sensible Shoes. It picks up right where Sensible Shoes ends, with Meg on the plane to England.

In your first book, we saw how each character had struggles and spiritual lessons. What are some of the issues we’ll see them deal with in the sequel?

One of the differences with Two Steps Forward is that the characters are no longer participating in a retreat together. So the question is, what will they remember (or forget) about what they’ve learned, especially when life falls apart? The primary theme of Two Steps Forward is persevering in hope and trusting that somehow in the midst of the mess, Jesus comes to reveal his presence. Since transformation is a slow and non-linear process, you’ll see the characters wrestling with some of the same issues they struggled with in Sensible Shoes: perfectionism, anxiety, rejection, grief.

One of the things I enjoyed about Sensible Shoes was that it combined a great fiction piece with solid spiritual practices that I could put to use in my daily life. Is there more of that in this book?

Yes! Though Two Steps Forward does not contain teaching handouts like Sensible Shoes, the spiritual disciplines are embedded and integrated into the story. You’ll get to watch how the characters are practicing the disciplines they’ve learned. A study guide is included at the back of the book, with opportunity to engage with reflection questions and spiritual disciplines.

Summer books: Secrets She Kept

Cathy GohlkeEditor’s note: This is the second in a series of four author interviews.

I’ve enjoyed three of Cathy Gohlke’s novels and am anxious to read Secrets She Kept, which releases in September. Read her answers below for a sense of why she’s one of my favorites.

I know you do extensive research for your novels and this is your second one that is set in Nazi Germany. What is it that intrigues you about that time period? What is it that we can learn? 

It has fascinated, even frightened me that an entire nation was swept into a passion while persecuting an entire group of human beings. Why didn’t more Germans stand up to Hitler and his degrading Nuremberg laws? How did intelligent people step onto such slippery moral slopes, losing their moral and spiritual compass, ultimately losing their ability to stop the monster they’d enabled? Can such superior racist attitudes be prevented in the future, and what are the warning signs? Do we see them in our society? If the answer is yes, what can we, as individuals, do about that?

One of my favorite things about your writing is that your characters struggle with faith and mature in their understanding of God. What are the struggles in this book? 

Secrets She Kept is my first time split novel.

Lieselotte, the young woman in Nazi Germany, needs love, acceptance and a purpose, but the cost for each of these is greater than she knows. When everything is taken from her, who will she be and what will she believe?

Hannah, Lieselotte’s grown daughter of the 1970s, longs for a connection with her estranged mother. Only after her mother’s death does she discover her family’s tragic wartime past. Hannah struggles to understand their actions and is desperate to redeem the tragedy of those actions. But, can any person redeem the deeds of another? Can one person forgive the deeds of another? Must children bear the consequences for the sins of their parents?

What makes this book different than your last book – and from most other books about Nazi Germany? 

Saving Amelie probed the consequences of the eugenics movement popular in Nazi Germany and around the world. It also asked why the church and German people did not stand against Hitler. 

Secrets She Kept explores questions of guilt, redemption and forgiveness of enemies as well as of those with whom we are in close relationship. It asks, how do survivors of war reclaim their lives? How do we respond when we, or someone in our family, have been responsible for something tragic—something that destroyed the life of another? These questions bring the aftermath and the results of war crimes and desperate acts home to us. Secrets She Kept reveals that the root causes of war do not disappear with victory or defeat, and when a nation is conquered, its ideologies do not necessarily or immediately change. Consequences of war cannot be swept away as if they do not exist—not in the current generation nor the next.

A summer reading series for July

IMG_4055I walked in to the church a bit nervous mainly because I’m used to the process of writing where I can cross my words out and try again before anyone knows my mistake. But these were women who had read my words in the newspaper already. They wanted to hear them. From me.

We talked for the better part of an hour and then the questions came. Some about my family. Others about my writing process. Then, at the end, we talked books. They wanted specifics. Titles. Names of authors. These were women who read, and read seriously.

They are the inspiration for what you’ll see in my columns for the month of July. I’ll share three books that are next in my personal queue today, and then each of the following four weeks I’ll share interviews with authors of new books that I know you’ll really enjoy.

Today my bookmark is on page 10 of Longing for Paris: One Woman’s Search for Joy, Beauty, and Adventure – Right Where She Is. It’s written by Sarah Mae and releases in August. It promises to be “for the woman who knows she can’t uproot her life to discover herself and her longings, but who desperately wants to uncover them so she can get unstuck.”

Next in line for me is Brave Enough: Getting Over our Fears, Flaws, and Failures to Live Bold and Free by Nicole Unice. It also releases in August and asks tough questions like, “Is fear holding you back from becoming your best self?”

“Bravery doesn’t have to mean cliff diving out of your comfort zone,” the synopsis says. “Life is about being brave enough – for yourself, for God, for your tasks, and for your calling – right where He’s placed you.”

After that, I’m hoping to start reading the Believe series by Randy Frazee. The premise is to encourage readers to think, act and be like Jesus. The study includes scripture, life application questions and books for all ages so an entire congregation (or family) can work through it together.

What are you reading? Remember I’m hosting the Simply Faithful Book Club starting Oct. 8 so email me at markettagregory@yahoo.com to share your book recommendations.

A conversation with Sharon Garlough Brown

Sensible Shoes Sharon Garlough BrownWe were so thankful to have Sharon Garlough Brown, author of Sensible Shoes, spend time with us on Facebook as part of the Simply Faithful Book Club. She is full of wisdom and grace, so I wanted to capture that conversation for you here.

Click on the comments button (the one that looks like a speech bubble) to read along… Be blessed!

Your summer must-read (Join us?)

Sensible Shoes #6453Like most people, I enjoy a good book, but I don’t like to take time to weed through the mediocre ones. That’s why I love recommendations from friends.

And that’s why this summer’s Simply Faithful book club pick is “Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey” by Sharon Garlough Brown ($18, IVP Books). A friend suggested it, and I read it and fell in love.

Now, I can’t wait to discuss it with you and introduce you to the author during a Facebook chat in August.

Brown does a masterful job of introducing us to four strangers who meet at a spiritual retreat center and begin the difficult work of unmasking themselves. Hannah is a pastor on a forced sabbatical. Meg is a widow haunted by her past and struggling with an empty nest. Mara has experienced a lifetime of rejection and now is in a difficult marriage. And Charissa? She is a graduate student who desperately wants to do what is right.

They all wrestle with faith in such a true-to-life way – a way I often don’t see in Christian fiction – and that’s the real gift of this book. Brown, who has a master’s of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and is a pastor and spiritual director with the Evangelical Covenant Church, paints faith as a relationship that grows and stumbles and strengthens, as something more than merely a subplot to life.

She also weaves in scripture and spiritual practices, like walking a labyrinth and praying the examen, so readers come away with tools to draw closer to God in their own, non-fiction lives. In fact, at www.sensibleshoesclub.com Brown offers a free 80-page companion guide to the book, which essentially serves as a 12-week devotional.

In the next few weeks I’ll share more about the author and your chance to chat with her. In the meantime, what do you say? Will you join us for the Simply Faithful book club?

The best books remind teens the Bible isn't boring

Dear readers,

When my oldest son says he can’t wait for the next book in a series, I pay attention. And this series by Christa Kinde? Well, my loves-to-read boy loved every book and wanted more. So, I asked the author how she got her ideas and what books she would recommend. (You can find a photo album of teen books on the Simply Faithful Facebook page, and — also on Facebook — I happen to be giving away The Threshold Series, courtesy of Zonderkidz.)

Now, Christa…

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Prissie Pomeroy never gave much thought to invisible things

until the day she met a boy she shouldn’t have been able to see.

I’m often asked why I chose to write about angels. Supernatural things never fail to capture the imagination, so I borrowed a little from what the Scriptures tell us, pondered the possibilities, gave the details a tiny twist, and let the story take flight. The result is a four-book adventure about a girl who takes three very important things for granted—her family, her friends, and her faith. God catches Prissie’s attention in a miraculous way, proving He knew her needs even before she did.

Why do I write for tweens and teens? Maybe because I have five of them at home! While it’s true that I write the kinds of books I love to read, I’m also conscious of the imprint stories can leave. My childhood reading list shaped my desires and influenced my decisions. I’m grateful to God for the good books that found their way into my hands. Because they’ve read my stories, my kids have collapsed into giggles, grabbed for tissues, cheered for right choices, and learned what’s dearest to their mother’s heart.

In my opinion, the best books remind us that the Bible isn’t boring, church isn’t a chore, prayer connects us to our Maker, and Christians will stand out. Bible stories are given an interesting twist in the six-volume Passages series by Paul McCusker. Lovers of fantasy would enjoy the 10-volume Seven Sleepers series by Gilbert Morris. And a story I’ll never forget is The Heart Reader of Franklin High by Terri Blackstock.

To learn more, visit ChristaKinde.com and watch for monthly story installments at  Christian Fiction Online Magazine.

The importance of teen literature, day 1

 

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Dear readers,

This is the first of a three-part series on the importance of great literature for tweens and teens. Today I have the pleasure of turning this space over to a wise friend — one who gives much thought to the power of words and to the preparation of hearts. Lisa…

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

~Philippians 4:8 KJV

With twin boys who will soon cross the 15 year mark, I am constantly on the lookout for good reading material. The boys have always been voracious readers (we joke that our decorating style is Modern American Book, complete with shelving in every room), and through the years we had no problem finding great literature for our boys. Right up until they hit the tween and teen years.

That’s when we found out we’d have to really keep an eye out for good books. Because many books written for middle and high schoolers tend to focus on typical teen problems like identity, boy-girl relationships, drug use and bullying, they often introduce worldly concepts in the spirit of informing curious minds.

And while I have no problem with books dealing with issues, as a parent I really prefer to be the one influencing my kids. If I hand them books loaded with kids making risky choices or books that approve of ungodly behaviors, I feel as if I am condoning those practices. That’s why we’ve been really careful with what our kids read.

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Lisa Tiffin

As my boys got older, I often pre-read books.Eventually I started skimming or spot checking books as well as scouring summaries and reviews. Now I trust my guys to choose their own books. We’ve discussed issues together, talked about what is appropriate and what isn’t. We’ve even discussed how to ignore small issues or to separate personal beliefs from an author or character’s point of view.

The reward? Boys who stop reading when they feel a book is too graphic, ungodly or over the top. In other words boys with wisdom and maturity to make their own good choices.

I’m not saying all my choices would be the same as the next person’s, but what I am saying is that it’s important for us to be involved and engaged in our children’s interior lives. It’s important to steer them toward what is right and good and worthy.

Providing our kids with worthy reading, discussing what is right and wrong and talking about why a book measures up or doesn’t is vital. Because that is how our kids will grow and mature as readers and as young men and women of faith.

Lisa Tiffin is a freelance writer and author who lives with her family in Upstate New York. In addition to numerous articles published in The Democrat & Chronicle as well as many local and national magazines, Lisa has authored literature study guides and several short stories for kids and adults. She is also the author of Theft of the Star Tracker, the first in a series of novels geared toward readers ages 8 to 14. Learn more at www.lisatiffin.com.

 

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