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.

 

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.

 

subtlegrace

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!

 

turningincircles

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!

 

Charlotte' Honor Cover image
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!

It's sharing time!, Recommended Reads, Uncategorized

Battle For Our Souls

Although I believe the target audience for Battle For His Soul is teen boys, I highly recommend this book for EVERYONE.

Book Review By Molly's Momma
By the pool: Battle For His Soul changed my life.

I packed this book for some light reading by the pool on our family Spring Break, but reading Battle For His Soul by Theresa Linden turned out to be a life-altering experience for me. While that statement may seem a little over-the-top for a woman pushing 50 and still reading YA novels, what I mean is this: 1. I can’t stop thinking about it, and 2. it has changed my behaviors, truly transforming me into a better person.

Linden vividly describes her characters’ guardian angels, as well as the demons they fight. Something that made a big impression on me was how acts of sacrificial love (as well as prayer) actually gave extra powers to the guardian angels and took away power from the demons. I have found myself prattling on endlessly to my family about how much I enjoyed this book. But, more importantly, I have found myself actively looking for more ways to perform acts of sacrificial love for them in my day-to-day activities. This little change in me seems to be spreading out like ripples, affecting the rest of the family: I am catching them doing extra little things for me and for each other!

Does the name Theresa Linden ring a bell? I’ve no doubt that it does at this point. I’ve blogged about her books before here.  A prolific writer,Linden is a member of the Catholic Writers’ Guild and Catholic Teen Books, which are 2 great sites to check out for more amazing books by Catholic authors. I read this about her on her blog:

“Her Catholic faith inspires the belief that there is no greater adventure than the reality we can’t see, the spiritual side of life. She hopes that the richness, depth, and mystery of the Catholic faith arouse her readers’ imaginations to the invisible realities and the power of faith and grace.”

As an aside, given that ’tis the season, I am also reminded that this is what Lent is all about: making acts of sacrificial LOVE. It doesn’t do any good to give up chocolate if it’s just going to make us hateful. Giving up (sacrificing) something only “counts” if it is done with LOVE. Who’da thunk I’d find such a message in a teen novel?

Amazon link to purchase Battle For His Soul.

What are you reading? You can share your favorite books by tagging your social media posts with #OpenBook and linking up with us at Carolyn Astfalk’s “My Scribbler’s Heart” blog as well as CatholicMom.

Book Updates!, It's sharing time!, Mothers of Mollies, On Being a Good Friend, Recommended Reads

As We Forgive Those

I wonder, how many others might begin reading this book and think it will be another Marian theology study? While Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace is an extremely well-written Marian theological resource, it is much more. Yes, Steinhage-Fenelon explores the role of Mary in our personal lives for the purpose of teaching us about charity and forgiveness. Yes, she offers plenty of solid, supporting content, both biblical and Church doctrinal, to illustrate each of her ideas. Yes, she provides us with a beautiful Marian novena to pray as a part of the enlightenment brought forth by her thesis statement.

What I didn’t realize is that the title is missing an “A.”

This book isn’t about how Mary, Mother of God, is a forgiving mother. This book, while remaining a beautiful treatise on Mary’s forgiving nature, is the tale of how the author came to forgive her mother. It is a sort of self-help book for anyone who has suffered abuse, of any kind, at the hand of someone who was supposed to be a provider of love and instiller of trust. While there is a lot of literature out there about surviving child or partner abuse, I know of no other source as powerful as this one, because Steinhage-Fenelon has meticulously provided very practical, step-by-step advice, along with the logic of Marian theology and the power of prayer, to bring her readers to begin the process of healing. I would venture to say that Forgiving Mother can even serve as a source of healing for the repentant abuser, as well.

Forgiving is hard. Even forgiving little stuff is hard if you don’t know how. We none of us can accrue enough tools to help us get better at forgiveness. I highly recommend Forgiving Mother not only for people who are looking for help working through past trauma, but for EVERYONE, because we can all use some help learning how to truly “forgive those who trespass against us.”

What are you reading? You can share your favorite books by tagging your social media posts with #OpenBook and linking up with us at Carolyn Astfalk’s “My Scribbler’s Heart” blog as well as CatholicMom.

It's sharing time!, Mothers of Mollies, Recommended Reads, Uncategorized

Wake Up Your Rosary This Lent With Meggie K. Daly’s New Devotional

This winter has been BIZ ZEEE, my friends, and I’m afraid I’ve just been going through the motions of the seasons: Mardi Gras, ashes, fast, fish, grumpy ’cause I’m missing extra coffee. But I found a remedy for this lackluster Lent in my stack of beach reads! Maggie  K. Daly’s Bead by Bead: the Scriptural Rosary (I got the gorgeous full color version) was just what I needed. IMG_1612 (1)

I took my copy down to the beach about 3 PM Friday to say my Rosary while my oldest tried out her new boogie board. No sooner had I made the sign of the cross and read this line: “I renounce all distractions that may come to me while I am saying this Rosary…” (p 57 *) a laughing gull landed right in front of me and began laughing.

Soon after, the “Mom, look at me!” comments began, followed shortly by the congregation of the rest of the family with various wants, needs, and comments.

Lord, I need this book.

Somehow, I got through the Sorrowful Mysteries. And I made some very important observations along the way. My prayer life is sub-par. I can no longer hear the silence through all this chatter going on around me, both outside and inside my head. For example, Daly provides a short, one-liner bible verse after each Hail Mary, like this:

Hail Mary… Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. (LK 22:43, NRSV)

to be read with each bead. As I was moving to the next bead and began saying that Hail Mary, I caught myself looking ahead as my noisy mind “recited” the Hail Mary. Yes, I was “saying” a Hail Mary in my head at the same time I was reading ahead to the verse that Daly had so carefully chosen.  Busted.

I turned my beach chair and pushed my sunglasses up onto the top of my head. Now I was forced to close my eyes from time to time, and I used those moments to say the Hail Marys. My eyes could open against the bright sun only long enough to read the brief reflections. And what beautiful reflections! I was transformed back to the early days of my “re-version” (you know, like what you call a fallen-away Catholic who comes home: not a convert, but a revert) when tears would pour down my face every Tuesday and Friday as I said the Sorrowful Mysteries.

Every now and again, we need a little something to get us back on track. Bead by Bead: A Scriptural Rosary is the something I need right now, and I will be keeping it handy not only this Lent, but all year long. I highly recommend this devotional as an aide to rejuvenate your daily Rosary.

What are your favorite daily devotionals?

*Daly cites prayers from St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort’s The Secret of the Rosary throughout Bead by Bead.

You can follow Meggie K. Daly on FB here.

Her publisher’s website is here.

What are you reading? You can share your favorite books by tagging your social media posts with #OpenBook and linking up with us at Carolyn Astfalk’s “My Scribbler’s Heart” blog as well as CatholicMom.

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art, Book Updates!, It's sharing time!, Mothers of Mollies, Promoting Vocations, Recommended Reads, Uncategorized

Who(m) Do You Love?

The Cover Image: I think Bear came first. He might be about a year older than Hearts. I think Hearts was a Valentine’s Day gift to our little “Molly” when she was 3. They are well-loved.

The Title: As a homeschooling mom, I’m a little bit ridiculously proud of how I’ve managed to produce two mini grammar police.

But, what’s more important than a misplaced modifier or a surplus of exclamation points? How about a lesson in LOVE?

A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh (who may or may not be the inspiration behind a certain wolfpet-named-Francis) said you don’t have to know how to spell love, you just have to feel it.

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The point is, kiddos aren’t just born knowing how to perform acts of charity; they must be taught. Ideally, we are molding them into selfless adults through our own example. But when the day is long and the night is short, we may find that we have neither the energy to shuttle everyone off to help ladle noodles at the soup kitchen, nor the funds to adopt a highway. In these cases, we may have to resort to some direct, didactic teaching, or, even better, read stories!

May I suggest the latest in the Molly McBride series? It’s called Molly McBride and the Party Invitation and it’s available both at Amazon and direct from the publisher at Gracewatch Media.

"Party Invitation" is a tale of true love, charity.
A true love story, Molly McBride and friends, with the help of Father Matt, learn the real meaning of charity. The story also subtly examines school bullying through a unique lens: “loving thy enemy” via the Gospel of Matthew.

Party Invitation is a tale of true love, charity. I’m talking about “love” as in the word Paul used in writing to the Corinthians, using the Greek work agape, (also used by John to equal “God,”) that was later translated into the Latin caritas, the root of the English word “charity.”

"Party Invitation" is a tale of true love, charity. A true love story, Molly McBride and friends, with the help of Father Matt, learn the real meaning of charity. The story also subtly examines school bullying through a unique lens: "loving thy enemy" via the Gospel of Matthew.

And in this love story, Molly McBride and friends, with the help of Father Matt, learn the real meaning of charity in a surprising way: the story examines school bullying through a unique lens: “loving thy enemy” via the Gospel of Matthew.

 

Illustration of the pharisees, from Molly McBride and the Party Invitation
“Ever wonder why it is so much easier to love our friends than our enemies?” asks Father Matt of Molly and Dominic.

"Party Invitation" is a tale of true love, charity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As in the first 2 Molly McBride books, lessons abound whenever the fiery-haired 5-year-old encounters her faithful friends, the Children of Mary sisters and, in Book 2, Father Matt. It is my dream that every child will learn a little something, in a fun and entertaining way, from the relatable characters in these books. And, hopefully, the books will fulfill the daily goal of every teacher and homeschooling parent, that is, to help children learn to enjoy reading and to continue to grow in their faith.

Blessings!

Jeanie

What are you reading? You can share your favorite books by tagging your social media posts with #OpenBook and linking up with us at Carolyn Astfalk’s “My Scribbler’s Heart” blog as well as CatholicMom.