Eight Books You’ve Never Heard of for Summer 2017

I like to read. A lot. That is to say that I like to read very much, and I read a lot. I have so many lists of books that I practically have books of lists. Every morning, I log into an inbox full of book suggestions from listservs, publishers, booksellers, and friends. I tuck all of them away in folders in my email. Once a week, I go through the list and order as many as I can from the library. What I can’t order, I buy. I’m sometimes criticized for using a Kindle reader instead of holding actual paper books between my fingers, but honestly, how else am I going to take a dozen books on vacation with me? I once packed a whole extra suitcase of books. Have you seen the prices for extra suitcases these days?

Anyway, as I said, I like to read. No, I love to read. And I love receiving suggestions as to what to read. So as payback for the many suggestions I receive, I thought I’d put together a short list for you to get your summer reading underway. All of these are new, or new to me, authors with books I’ve read lately* and recommend for your reading pleasure, depending upon your reading mood.

For a sentimental read – Sunflowers in a Hurricane by Anne M. Faye

A mystery that will keep you guessing – Inherit the Bones by Emily Littlejohn

A paranormal romance, light on the paranormal, but heavy on the romance – The Dreamer by Alexa Jacobs

For some light-hearted, romantic fun with a delightful story – Two Doctors & and a Baby by Branda Harlen

A romantic suspense that surprised me – Luxury Model Wife by Adele Downs

For the history buff – Church of Spies by Mark Riebling

For adventure, culture, history, overcoming hardship, romance, and expanding your intellect, this one has it all – The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Okay, a shameless plug for a beach read I hope you’ll love – Island of Miracles by Amy Schisler

*disclaimer – some of these were books I judged for the Romance Writers of America romance fiction contest, and I was pleasantly surprised by how good they were!

What I was writing about one year ago this week: The Smell of Sunshine.

Things I’ve read this week that are worth sharing:  18 New Historical Fiction Novels to Read With Your Book Club by Chanel Cleeton on BookBub; 7 Challenges Successful People Overcome by Dr. Travis Bradberry, author Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages.  She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me  and Whispering Vines, are recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top three inspirational fiction books of 2015 and 2016. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Amy’s most recent novel, Island of Miracles, is now on sale.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me(2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017)

 

Waves of Emotion

Almost ten years ago, Ken’s aunt and uncle made us a deal we couldn’t refuse.  Fifteen years earlier, they bought an above-ground swimming pool from a store that was going out of business.  They had every intention of putting it up in their yard for their two little girls.  Well, one thing led to another, life went on, and the pool sat unopened in their garage. Their girls had grown up, gone to college, and moved out, and the pool was of no use to them any longer.  The pool was ours if we were just willing to drive the two hours to pick it up and then figure out how to put it together.  It DSCN4727had no pump or filter and no ladder, but it was spring, so those things were readily available.  Ken went the very next day to pick up the pool, and I scoured Craig’s list for the missing pieces.  By the time Ken got home, I had secured a filter and pump, and a few weeks later, Ken’s sister had located a ladder.  

Ken spent every evening after work for the next month digging out and leveling our yard, piecing together the outer wall of the pool, and trying to stretch the liner that, after 15 years in a garage, had shrunk from its original size.  When the five of us finally pulled the liner into place and stood back and marveled at the giant (and I do mean giant) pool that we had constructed ourselves, it felt as it we were witnessing a miracle.  And oh what a blessing that pool was.DSCN4878

When I was growing up, there was just one thing I always wanted and begged for (except for my 4th grade horse phase).  That one thing was a pool.  Unfortunately, we never lived in a house that had the right yard for a pool.  You can imagine my elation when we had our own pool in our backyard for the girls, Ken, and myself to enjoy.  That first summer, we were in the water every single night.  

DSC02117We had one party after another, inviting friends and family to come over and enjoy our pool.  I can still close my eyes and hear the squeals of delight from the girls as we swam and splashed and played.  It was Heaven right in our own backyard.  Morgan, our swim team champion, was in the water literally from sunup until bedtime.  It’s a miracle she had any skin or hair DSC01878left by the end of the summer.  After a couple if years, we were able to build a deck, and I spent many hours that summer reading books on the deck while the girls swam.  

Alas, as happens in life, the girls grew older, and we all grew busier.  Morgan began spending so much time in the swim team pool, practicing and competing, that she no longer had the desire to swim at home.  If she had friends over, they swam, but otherwise, she seemed to forget that the pool was even there.  Katie and Rebecca had summer jobs that kept them away from the house for long hours, and they lost their love of being in the pool.  Ken started traveling a lot more, and to keep our family together as much as possible, we tried to travel with him whenever we could.  Even I, the girl who longed for a pool, found myself closed up in the house sitting in front of my computer.  Entire summers went by without me even putting on a bathing suit.

Last summer, I got very sick at the tail end of our family vacation.  When we got home, my doctor told me that the best thing for me to do was to spend 10-30 minutes a day in the pool.  That last week of summer was the most relaxing and rejuvenating week of my entire year.  I had forgotten how much I love to swim!  I love the feel of the water, the rhythmic pulse of a string of laps back and forth across the pool, the sun’s hot rays slicing through the cool water and creating a soothing bathtub sensation on my body.  I spent this past winter and the long, cold, wet spring looking out my kitchen window with a smile  This was the summer I was going to swim every day.

A few days ago, Ken pulled the cover off of the pool.  He climbed into the green, murky, stale water, and began cleaning it out.  He noticed a few cracks in the liner, some that looked rather bad, and realized it needed to be replaced.  He found this no easy task as the pool was now around twenty-five years old.  Settling on patching it up, he figured he could get another summer out of the liner while searching for a replacement.  He then retrieved the filter and pump from the shed, cleaned them, hooked them up, and then took them off and carried them into the garage.  The pool was filling, and as Ken worked on something with the pump, I anxiously watched and waited.  Would it be ready by Memorial Day?  It seemed to be taking so much longer this year for Ken to get it all put together.  How much longer would I have to wait?

At dinner last night, Ken announced that we had to make a decision as a family.  “I can’t fix the pump,” he told us.  The pool was too old, the parts no longer available.  A new system would cost upwards of $1000, and he didn’t want to even say how much the eventual liner would cost.  “I spend $2000 a year and countless hours on the pool, and nobody uses it any more.”  

No!  Wait!  What was this leading to?  Were my ears deceiving me?  I was going to use it!  I needed to use it!  We had to have a pool!

“We could build a huge gazebo in that area,” Rebecca excitedly said.

“Or a Michael Phelps practice lane,” Morgan enthusiastically chimed in.

“Or just use the money for our vacation,” Katie suggested.

I was silent.  Did they not see?  Did they not care?  This was my pool!  Our pool!  Where we spent so many good times years ago.  Years ago.  The thought echoed in my mind.  Where did the years go?  Why hadn’t I seized every opportunity to spend time in the pool with my family when we had the chance?  Why had we let other things get in the way?  Why had I spent my entire summer indoors instead of enjoying the one thing I had always wanted so much?DSC09617

I cried last night while Ken held me and apologized.  I know.  It’s a pool.  I get it.  There are far worse things in the world to cry about than the dismantling of a pool.  But it was more than just a pool.  It was my childhood wish, my family’s nirvana for a few short years, a project that we put so much work, joy, and love into.  

The next few days won’t be very much fun for me as I watch the pool come down little by little.  Our backyard will never be the same.  You see, even if we didn’t use the pool as much in the past few years as we could have, the possibility was always there.  But I guess my memories will always be there, too.  In my mind, the pool will always be used by three excited little girls, their laughing father, and their overjoyed mother.  It’s not possible to turn back the hands of time and redo all of those lost hours, but we can make sure we don’t repeat that mistake.  We may not have a pool this summer, but we have each other.  And really, that’s all we need.DSC09619

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

   Old Time is still a-flying;

And this same flower that smiles today

   Tomorrow will be dying.

Robert Herrick, 1591 – 1674

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages.  She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her latest book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her next book, Whispering Vines, is now available for pre-order.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books:

Crabbing With Granddad (2013)

A Place to Call Home (2014)

Picture Me (2015)

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Prescription for Happiness

IMG_1159I have to admit that over the summer, I had many, many moments of envy.  Not all-consuming jealousy or want-to-tear-their-eyes-out rage.  Not even the kind of envy that lingers.  Each instance lasted for just a few seconds, but it was there nonetheless.  These moments came each time I took a few minutes to pause and steal a quick look at Facebook.  No, it wasn’t the traveling, or the shopping, or the amazing photos.  It was even more basic than that – I was envious every time someone posted a picture of themselves by the pool.  Yes, I said the pool.  People had time to lay by the pool.  Some even had time to get IN the pool!  How could they do that?  How did they find the time between laundry, housecleaning, work, driving children around, etc. to even sneak into their room and put on a bathing suit, not to mention make themselves that delicious looking cocktail, and lounge by the pool?  Some of them even had books on their laps or on the table beside them.  That was serious pool time!

Here’s the thing – we’ve had our pool for several years, but for the past two summers, I haven’t even gotten my toes wet.  Every day I look longingly out the window and think, Today I will find the time to get into the pool.  By bedtime, the pool is the farthest thing from my mind.  At least it was, until a few weeks ago.  Remember that fabulous vacation I wrote about?  The one to Canada that was such an awesome family adventure?  Did I happen to mention how it ended?  Nope, I spared you the details of the last few days when I walked around with a fever and a general feeling of something getting a hold of me.  On the fourth day of my fever, while in Niagara Falls, I awoke to discover that despite no previous signs of a sore throat, I had strep that had gone systemic.  Yes, giant spots covered my entire body, and Ken had to rush me to the nearest urgent care.  Fast forward to the following week when I happened to mention to the pediatrician at Katie’s physical that the spots would not go away.

The doctor took a quick peek and said “Spend 10 minutes every day outside in the sun exposing your body to the rays.  They’ll dry up and go away.”

“What about the pool,”  I asked.  “Would the chlorine help?”

“Absolutely,” she replied.

Willing to do whatever it took, later that day, I put on the new bathing suit that I bought at the beginning of the summer and had never even worn and quietly went out to the pool.  The water was warm and so soothing.  At first I just immersed myself in the luxurious liquid, and then I began swimming some slow, easy laps.  After a few minutes, I remembered just how much I love to swim.  I mean, I really, really love to swim.  I began doing different strokes, racing back and forth from one side to the other.  Then I just floated atop the water, letting it wash over me as I closed my eyes and relaxed in the glow of the late afternoon sun.  After about 30 minutes, I reluctantly dragged myself from the pool to go in and get dinner ready.

When I walked inside, Rebecca looked at me in surprise.  “You were in the pool?”

“Yep,” I replied with a smile.  I repeated to her what the doctor told me and then added, “This is the best prescription I’ve ever been given.  I wish my doctor would refill this at the beginning of every summer.”

“Mom,” Rebecca said, “you know, you can prescribe it to yourself.  You deserve to enjoy summer, too, and to get in the pool every day if you want to.  Nothing bad will happen if you take some time for yourself every day.”

Ah, the wisdom of a collegian.  As her words sank in, I realized she is absolutely correct.  Aren’t we always hearing about taking time for ourselves and paying attention to our own needs?  That seems so selfish to me!  But I can tell you, for the rest of the summer, each time I stepped out of that pool, I was in a better mood and felt more relaxed and ready to get back to whatever task awaited me.  The pool was good for my mind, body, and spirit (and by the way, the spots were miraculously gone in just a couple of days).

So I’m trying to remind myself each day, whether it’s an hour at the gym or a long, relaxing lunch, I’m going to take just a little bit of time for me.  So attention everyone I’ve ever promised to meet for lunch, I’ll be calling you to set a date.  We all deserve to prescribe some time each day to do something for ourselves.  I’ve realized that if I slow down and take just a few minutes for myself, everyone around me will benefit, including me.

Amy Schisler is the author of two mystery / suspense novels. Her first book, A Place to Call Home is in its second printing and may be purchased in stores, online, and through ibooks. Amy’s newest mystery, Picture Me, was released in August of 2015 and is available in stores and online.  Her previously published children’s book, Crabbing With Granddad, may be purchased in stores and on Amazon.

You may follow Amy at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

S’More Fun To Be Had

DSC01385For a country where all are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we sure do have to put up with a plethora of rules and regulations.  In my ten years as a camp director, I’ve seen the regulations regarding overnight camps skyrocket.  This year I will have 100 girls and 60 staff members at camp all week.  Think about that – a 6 to 10 ratio!  Why?  There is now a requirement that I give a two-hour break to all staff members every day.  I know, I know, that sounds reasonable enough; but this is an all-volunteer camp.  These adults have volunteered their time 24 hours a day (because incidents at camp don’t stop when the lights go out), and they expect to be busy running programs, watching on the beachfront, helping with crafts, going on hikes, etc. None of us expects to sit lazily under a tree or take a nap in our cabins for two hours.  And mealtimes and recreational time don’t count as breaks.  I’m turning away girls because I have to house staff in order to satisfy this rule.

Don’t get me wrong, I love our volunteers, but I’d love to welcome more girls to the joys of camp.

And paperwork!  You wouldn’t believe the amount of paperwork that has to be done to become a volunteer.  In addition to a lengthy application and three references who submit very detailed analyses of each volunteer, everyone has to do a background check through our Girl Scout Council, a state and federal fingerprint check, and a child protective services background check.  The theory is that one will catch what another misses.  Add to all of that the number of trainings required in order to run any type of program, and I’m surprised the volunteers don’t go running in the other direction.

Believe me, I know that our top priority is the safety of the girls, and I’m all for that.  But as Director, all of this paperwork is killing me.  Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned all of the medical information we are required to obtain, each piece carefully documented and signed by a physician.  Something tells me that Lord Baden Powell and Juliette Gordon Lowe would have given up before they even got started if they were trying to take children camping today.

Let’s hope that all of the state, national, and Council requirements don’t steer others from stepping up as camp directors and volunteers. Imagine all of this plus the time and effort put into just the administration and operation of the camp itself – planning programs, unit and cabin assignments, scheduling all events for the week without conflicts, meal planning, evening activities, and much, much more. It’s a grueling and full-time job at times, and I often wonder why I continue doing it.

Then the most amazing thing happens.  The time for camp arrives, and I see, often for the first time in a year, the wonderful volunteers I have come to love.  After spending 24 hours unpacking, cleaning, organizing, and setting up for camp, we greet the campers, smiling, happy girls from ages six to thirteen.  We work hard all week, but we have fun, too.  From the first night scavenger hunt to the closing ceremony, the smiles and laughs far outweigh the frustrations.  There is nothing else I would rather be doing each summer than spending it with this group.  We are family, and as we all know, family stays together through good and bad, thick and thin, sun and rain (but, please, no rain)!  So as the time grows near, and the first day of camp quickly approaches, I say let’s have s’more fun!

Amy Schisler is an author of mystery and suspense novels. Her first book, A Place to Call Home is in its second printing and may be purchased in stores, online, and through ibooks. Her previously published children’s book, Crabbing With Granddad may be purchased in stores and on Amazon.

You may follow Amy at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com

Is It Worth It?

snowconesThe dog days of summer are upon us, and in our family, that usually means one thing – snowcones!   For several years now, our family has owned and operated a snowcone business in the tiny, tourist town of St. Michaels on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  Ken and I support the business by maintaining the stand, ordering product, and financing the equipment; but the daily operations, inventory, record-keeping, etc. are all done by the girls.

I am often amazed by the number of children these days who do not have a summer job.  Our girls have been working the stand since Morgan was about nine years old.  And while it sounds like fun, it’s hard work.  The daily set-up itself is a real chore, and there’s no respite from the sun or heat.  On some days, the line of families stretches down the whole block, and whichever girl is working needs to keep moving hand over fist as quickly as she can to satisfy her waiting customers.  It’s demanding, boring on slow days, but overall, very rewarding.

Recently a girl in Morgan’s class called her spoiled because she owns both an iPad and iPhone.  Morgan rebuked her saying she paid for both items and pays the monthly fee with her own hard earned money.  When we travel, any and all souvenirs that the girls want, they have to buy.  The number one question they have to ask before making any purchase is “is it worth it?”

That’s the same question that Ken and I ask ourselves every spring when we dig out the machine and assess the shape of the cart.  The answer has always been a resounding yes.  Every time the girls deposit their money into the bank, they do so with the great satisfaction that they earned every penny of that money.  Every purchase is carefully thought out, and big items are saved for only by dividing up their earnings into savings and spending so that they are always putting at least half of the money away.

As with most things, the girls have grown up and are starting to move on.  This summer, Morgan does more babysitting than making snowballs, but she’s our backup when Katie can’t work.  Rebecca has worked for the past two summers at a law firm, gaining the experience she will need in her future career, but she, too, jumps in and works the stand when needed.  So while many of the other teens my girls know will be sitting by the pool this 4th of July weekend, my girls will be working hard.  Is it worth it?  Ask Rebecca tonight after she finalizes the purchase of her very first brand new car.  We think it’s worth every hard earned penny. But more importantly, it’s worth every lesson learned, every hot, sweaty day in the sun when not wanting to be there isn’t an option, and every time someone remarks on what the girls have and they can be satisfied in knowing that they earned it.  In a world where young people spend most of their time lazily lying around, playing video games, and doing things that get them into trouble, at least I know that my girls are learning the value of a dollar.  Yes, it’s worth it.

150 Reasons To Go

DSC01354I hate driving in Baltimore.  Please don’t take offense. It’s not the city itself.  It’s the multitude of one-way streets.  Even when relying on my GPS, I always seem to get twisted around no matter where I’m going.  Give me DC any day with its wagon wheel street design, every spoke emanating out from the beautiful white dome of the Capitol with states going in one direction and letters in the other.  Now that’s a city in which I can find my way around.  Even if I get lost, I know I’m never truly lost and can easily find the way out.  I have a very hard time finding one good reason to drive in Baltimore.  However, tomorrow, I will find 150 reasons.

Tomorrow I will attend the State of Maryland Camp Director’s Training.  Though I’ve been a camp director for nine years now, I have never made it downtown for the training.  This year, however, there are several crucial changes in the healthcare laws, so I must make the trek into the city to learn how to properly construct the necessary forms.  So for the benefit of the one-hundred girls and the fifty staff members that attend Summer Roundup, I will boldly take on the streets of Charm City.

If you have never attended an overnight summer camp or have never volunteered for one, you couldn’t possibly understand the lengths to which I would go for the group of people I consider my second family.  My own daughters and I have been attending Roundup for twelve years now.  My girls have all three progressed from first year campers as Brownies or Daisies to know-it-all Cadettes to Teen Camp Aides, and for the second year in a row, one Adult Staff.  I have watched them go from knowing nothing about camping or rowing or shooting an arrow to teaching younger girls how to pitch a tent, paddle a kayak, or hit a bullseye.  I have seen girls cry their eyes out for four nights straight, and then a few years later, console and tuck into bed a new camper pining for home.  I have staff members who were once Roundup campers themselves and are now attending with their own daughters.

There is something so special about an all-volunteer camp that it’s hard to put it into words. I’m sure that high-priced, fancy summer camps with fully paid staff and college kids making enough money to buy a car are a lot of fun.  But nothing can compare to the heart and soul that is put into a camp by people who are there for no other reason than they love the camp.  There is a feeling that each person, camper and adult alike, takes home from camp that never leaves them.  It is that feeling that leaves all of us counting down until the next year when we will see each other again.

I highly encourage everyone to send your child to an all-volunteer camp.  Don’t do it because they are by far the least expensive camps.  Don’t do it because it’s a way to keep the kids busy for one week of the summer or to get them out of your hair.  Don’t even do it because their friends are going to camp.  Do it because it will be a week they will never forget, a week without phones or television or video games, a week of learning about nature and survival, and a week of learning about themselves.  But before you send them, I ask you to think about this, what are you doing for that week?  It’s just one week.  You’ll survive.  You might even learn something about yourself.  So go ahead, fill out that form for your child, and while you’re at it, fill out one for yourself.  It will be an experience you will never forget and will never regret.

Amy Schisler is an author of mystery and suspense novels.  Her first book, A Place to Call Home may be purchased in stores, online, and through ibooks.  Her previously published children’s book, Crabbing With Granddad may be purchased in stores and on Amazon.

https://amyschislerauthor.com/amyschislerauthor.com/Books.html You may follow Amy at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com