Recommended Reads, Uncategorized

The Review I was Afraid to Write

Sydney and Calvin Have a Baby

I read this book “cold,” that is, I never once glanced at any reviews, summaries, or other potential spoilers. I had no inkling what this book was about other than the cover and the title. And, I admit, I didn’t really want to read it, figuring it was just another teeny-bopper “OMG she’s pregs!” story. Definitely not my cup o’ tea. So what made me pick it up? The author bio!

Here is this YA novel, put out by a Catholic publisher, written by a graduate of what is probably the most authentically-Catholic university in the world, with this rather shocking title that definitely does NOT look like the kind of thing I hand down to my daughters as “inspiring reading.” Curious. But I am here to tell you, this is not a book to be judged by its cover!

*SPOILERS a-comin’!*

Told as a retrospective account by (not-baby-daddy) Calvin, this is a painfully honest look into today’s Catholic high school culture through the eyes of a British student recently come to live in the States with family he never knew existed until the recent death of his single mother. Although he narrates the story of main character Sydney, a gifted social outcast who has been date raped by Calvin’s American cousin Josh, Calvin is the redeeming character in the story, a hero’s hero in every way. Thorne’s genius in crafting this “cursedly dashing British fellow” is the reason this (not really!) typical teenage tale, which could have potentially come off as trashy in the hands of a less-adept wordsmith, is worthy of high praise amongst diehard March-for-Lifers and Cafeteria Catholics alike. Similar to how Harper Lee used a child-protagonist/narrator to address volatile social topics in To Kill a Mockingbird, Thorne uses Calvin, a good-natured “foreigner” with an almost innocent bystander persona, to deliver harsh truths that might not sit as well with us coming from our own neighbors or family members. 

Calvin observes, “This particular Catholic school was one of those uniform-clad institutions that might make a pass at religious instruction here or there, but you’d probably never guess it if you walked the halls.” He relates a typical family dinner: “The three of them mumbled a quick, standard Catholic grace and began eating…” His perspective on the lackluster attitudes of American Catholic families comes off somehow less offensive to readers in the same way that Lee’s Scout could make racial observations no adult character could get away with in the deep South. Even so, it was pretty uncomfortable to read (one of) the (several pieces of terrible) advice from Sydney’s best friend Winnie on the topic of abortion: “Oh come on. Big Catholic school, oh no. Like we’re not all screwing each other and on the pill and watching our parents get divorced? Nobody cares about that stuff anymore. It’s not a big deal.” Ouch.

Winnie is not the only astonishly-horrible giver of advice. I was very surprised and sad at how Syndey’s beloved and trusted aunt, the adult she turned to for help, also let me, um, I mean Sydney, down. But then again, Thorne is telling a story that is painfully realistic. Parents, police, and even the school principal majorly drop the ball throughout, and a careless reader may call out Thorne on this aspect of the work, citing lack of good role models as a reason to keep this book out of the hands of our Catholic young adults. I admit this is something that had me dragging my feet a couple of days before I could recommend this book whole-heartedly to the Catholic community. But after letting it gel and rise and bloom in my heart for a night or two, I think what a mistake it that would have been, to not share this book!

I believe Thorne has heaped up such a high pile of mistakes and obstacles for our protagonist with good reasons beyond lending to a dramatic suspense the size of impossible: she’s fearlessly daring to illustrate our human fallibility. She’s shaking us all up a bit, saying even we grownups make mistakes, and we need to face it. Many situations in Sydney and Calvin Have a Baby are hard to look at, for young and not-so-young adult readers. And I’m sure many a Catholic mom-reader, as I did, will want to deny that a Catholic school could really be as bad as the one in this story, but I’ve lived this. I have to admit it really can be.

These harsh truths give Thorne’s tale power and credibility, for it is in contrast to such horribleness that we appreciate the profound goodness that exists in a character such as Calvin. Thorne gives YA readers a modern-day saint, if you will, that we can truly aspire to be. Oh! this book. It isn’t for the weak-of-heart, folks, but somehow I wish everyone would read it.


Adrienne Thorne is a Franciscan Steubenville grad who worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood until she returned to her first love, writing YA novels.

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Adrienne blogs here.

 

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Best of 2018!

Momma, Molly, and the gang just couldn’t be more tickled pink purple! And there were a TON of amazing Catholic children’s books published in 2018. I’m overwhelmed by the love.

Thanks to all who’ve been so supportive, especially those who’ve taken the time to write those reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, etc.

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For the complete list of all the CR picks from 2018 click here: https://catholicreads.com/2019/01/01/best-books-of-2018/

Happy New Year to all the Molly fans out there! Keep “Momma” in your prayers so that I can put together a 2019 Molly book for ya!

 

It's sharing time!, Recommended Reads, Uncategorized

Subtle Grace, Turning in Circles

A long-time fan, I’ve reviewed Catholic Canadian Ellen Gable novels in the past, but today I’m delighted to do not only another one of hers, but also my first review of a work by the lovely and talented Michelle Buckman.

 

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Set in turn-of-the century Philadelphia (one of my favorite cities!), A Subtle Grace is actually a sequel to In Name Only (Full Quiver Publishing, 2012), but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel with no problem. Our protagonist is Kathleen, the rather head-strong 19-year-old eldest and only girl of the prestigious O’Donovan family. She falls for Karl, the dashing son of a police chief. Karl, to put it mildly, turns out to be a nightmare, and is the reason this novel is for a more mature reader. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but there are violent and sexual themes, although they are examined through  in a 100% appropriate and Christian lens.  This novel could be a bit much for a young teen, so parents are encouraged to read this compelling page-turner first. You won’t regret it! It’s an excellent read!

My favorite character was the young physician Luke, who falls in love with spunky Kathleen. He is such a noble character, a role model for all young Christian men! This virtuous character wins the respect and admiration of the entire O’Donovan family. He is a true hero in every definition of the word. Subtle Grace holds a lovely subplot as well: one of the O’Donovan sons feels the calling to become a priest. But a family secret makes this a more difficult task than William could ever imagine. Although I haven’t yet read the first book in the O’Donovan Family series, I am thinking In Name Only will be very interesting and offer more on this twist. I’ll keep you posted!

 

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Fun fact: Turning in Circles, billed as “YA” in some places and “Southern fiction” in others, was actually reviewed by Dolly Parton (because one of the characters in this story is based on her song “Joshua”) and Earl Hamner, Jr., creator of The Waltons (since Ellerbe is based on John-Boy Walton.) Growing up listening to Dolly and watching The Waltons, I was intrigued to pick up a copy of this book. And I just loved it! Buckman’s characters are colorful, and her style of writing is sweet, soft, and just . . . mesmerizing. Here we go:

Two teen sisters, who have always been as close as twins, find themselves growing apart as the younger Charleston (“Charlie”) enters into a destructive relationship with the school bad boy.  Slightly-older sister Savannah finds her relationship with her sister, as well as her relationships with her parents (for complex reasons that provide further depth and suspense to the tale) becoming unstable. She finds solace in life-long bestie Ellerbe and his large, loving Catholic family, but Ellerbe is beginning to think of Savannah as more than just friends. Mix into this coming-of-age story a racist teacher, an abused friend, a neighbor’s dirty little secret, and a Gatsby-like hit-and-run shocker, and we’ve got the makings of a haunting and unforgettable book here, readers! I couldn’t put it down. Ms. Buckman, you have found another fan in me!

Turning in Circles is by Vinspire Publishing, and, like I wrote for Subtle Grace above,  I’d say it could be read by a mature teen due to some violent and sexual themes. Buckman has six other contemporary fiction works I’m excited to check out. Squee!!!

It's sharing time!, Recommended Reads, Uncategorized

Sequels Are Here! Give Gable and Gaouette For Christmas

Two of our family’s favorite Catholic Teen/YA series are sporting shiny new sequels just in time for stocking-stuffer shopping! Ellen Gable’s Charlotte’s Honor, follow-up to her Julia’s Gifts, as well as T. M. Gaouette’s Guarding Aaron (Book 3 in the Faith and King Fu series I wrote about here) will not disappoint!

 

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Gable’s second installment in her “Great War, Great Love” trilogy is a tender and moving romance set in the field hospitals of war-torn France.

 

For the fans of historic fiction, it is with great pleasure that I recommend Charlotte’s Honor, a beautiful, tender, and moving story set in the field hospitals of France during World War One. Charlotte, to whom we were first introduced in Julia’s Gifts, is a strongly-positive role model for our daughters. She endures trials that most of us cannot imagine facing today, yet the genuine manner in which the characters react and respond rings true for all time. I would place Charlotte’s Honor high on any list for a historical fiction, mother-daughter generational, or virtue-based book club. Of course, Gable’s tales are perfectly delectable as personal pleasures curled up alone by a cozy, fire or packed along with your winter break beach reads!

The perfect mix of historical detail and romance, this second installment in the planned “Great Love, Great War Trilogy” makes a delightful stocking stuffer for any aged 13-and-up (due to some descriptions of the medical aspects of war injuries) ladies on your list.

From the historic Great War abroad to the war kids face today, I now present to you Guarding Aaron:

Guarding Aaron Book Cover
T. M. Gaouette’s 3rd installment in the Faith and Kung Fu series will not disappoint!

 

Wow, this author just keeps cranking out stuff that I firmly believe every Christian teen MUST READ. In this third installment of the Faith and Kung Fu series, Tanner is back in town. She and her friend Faith both have feelings for series hero Gabriel (who serves as a sort of “guardian angel” to a kid named Aaron in this story). But rumor has it Gabriel wants to become a priest. Faith’s overwhelming jealousy causes her to make a few very poor decisions that lead to a series of violent and life-altering events for the group.

I love how there are so many descriptions and scenes illustrating the kids’ faith and its influence on their daily lives. In particular, Gabriel’s deep trust and reliance on God’s plan for him is inspirational to readers of all ages. But Gaouette masterfully manages to mix in plenty of action-packed scenes for these characters that the Faith and King Fu series’ fans have grown to love (like Tanner Rose, Faith, Gabe, Christian, etc.)! And cleverly woven into the parties and the punches are just so many important issues. Characters experience and explore everything from bullying and believing in yourself to chastity and true charity. Guarding Aaron’s a winner, full of action, emotion, and didn’t-see-THAT-coming moments for both girls and guys. Moms and dads would enjoy these books, too.

More book reviews are coming, so stay tuned for updates on Astfalk, Beckman, Linden, Wahl, and more!

Molly McBride cartoons
art, Molly Comics, Uncategorized

Faith Vs. Fairies

Molly McBride cartoons
Dominic shares an important truth with bestie Molly McBride!
Molly McBride is disappointed with the seasons.
art, Molly Comics, Uncategorized

Second Winter

Molly McBride is disappointed with the seasons.
Don’t like the weather in Ohio? Wait five minutes.
art, Molly Comics, Uncategorized

Happy Easter from the McBrides!

Molly McBride Easter Banner 2018
Happy Easter from “the McBrides!”