Bringing books to the beach? I packed (and loved!) me a little Linden, Peek, and Walsh this trip.
Call me backwards, but I’d already had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Theresa Linden’s Battle for his Soul, the third installment in her profoundly popular West Brothers’ Series, a while back. So now I’m going catching up and here to tell you about book one in said series, the tale behind the youngest West brother, Roland.
Wow, wow, wow! But then again, Linden never disappoints.
Even though we are a household of girls here at Egolf U and the main characters of this series are teenaged boys, we are all huge fans. Full of adventure AND emotion, this story has the power to deepen the faith of even the most skeptical of teenaged hearts, I’m sure. To boot, you may even learn about the life of a new saint! (There is one very awesome female character named Caitlyn that lends a beautiful little touch of the feminine to these stories.)
RW,L was the second-place winner of the 2016 Catholic Press Association Book Awards in the Teen & YA Fiction. It’s the first in a series about Jarret and Keith, 16-year-old twins, and Roland, the younger brother by 2 years. . They’ve always been homeschooled (yay!) because their sorta-cowboy father is a sorta-archeologist. (I’m trying not to spoil too much, but, suffice it to say, exactly WHAT Mr. West does for a living is part of the suspense woven throughout the series. Mother died when boys were younger, sorry if that is a slight spoiler.) This year they are put in school. It’s a social heaven for the outgoing older brothers, but for shy, serious, (mysterious?) Roland, it’s a nightmare. And being a “loner” isn’t even the main conflict this kid faces.
Full of lovable and relatable teen and adult characters, Roland West, Loner is one part Indiana-Jones-meets-the-Goonies, one part Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and one part miraculous.
Theresa Linden is one fabulous story-teller, folks. I actually got to meet her in person at this year’s Columbus Catholic Women’s Conference, (couple pics below) where I made certain to scoop up more of her works. I’m already halfway through book two in the West Brothers’ Series, and I can’t wait to finish it and report back here at MMPH.
Again, I’m apparently working backwards. Having loved Susan Peek’s The King’s Prey: Saint Dymphna of Ireland, I thought I was delving into one of her later novels; Magnus was actually her first. What a way to make a debut! This book has been very popular in Catholic teen reading circles for years, and I’m glad it made his way into my shopping cart AND my suitcase this trip. Continuing on the brotherly conflict theme, although Peek tells of Magnus from a teen boy’s perspective with plenty of action and gore, my teen daughter loved it as well.
I didn’t really know anything about Saint Magnus before reading this, and it’s a great book to incorporate into your Charlotte-Mason-style homeschooling as far as learning more about the Vikings and other world history of the first century. I really appreciate such well-written, exciting, (NOT dry) teen, tween, and YA historical fiction, not only for my students, but also for my own continuing education. Theologically, the book is marked with the Catholic Writers’ Guild Seal of Approval, so it’s been thoroughly screened. With loads of forgiveness and “offering up” themes, Peek dares to bravely go places most Christian authors seem to avoid these days. God bless her for leading us back to a time when people still recognized that our eternal souls are more important than our fickle flesh. I’m a better person for reading this book.
So, the hubs likes to tease me about my little habit of collecting books, especially when I buy a book about other books. But I REALLY want to share this one! And so now after all this teen-boys talk, here’s something just for us moms!
You may recognize the name Tiffany Walsh of Life of a Catholic Librarian if you subscribe to CatholicMom.com or enjoyed Ave Maria Press’ 2017 The Catholic Hipster Handbook. I had the honor of meeting both her and and another author (more below) involved in the Stay Connected! Journals for Catholic Women series, also at CCWC 2019. Now, I’m going to admit, I’m not a big “journaler,” but I really, REALLY like this one and here’s why:
Are you like me and have a sort of nebulous bucket list of books to read that includes the greats in Catholic writing? Walsh’s Exploring the Catholic Classics has provided us with a mini “easy button” this Lent, my friends! Sample and study, side-by-side with relevant Scripture and well-written reflections, selected passages from the writings of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Pope St. John Paul II, St. Francis de Sales, Thomas á Kempis, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), and St. Teresa of Avila. It’s a spiritual goldmine of a collection in this pretty purple package, I’m actually finding it FUN to pull out a pencil and fill in the beautifully decorated journal pages. It’s a great Lenten reflection tool, one that I didn’t even think I needed until I delved into Walsh’s work.
Since I’m enjoying this edition of the Stay Connected! Journals for Catholic Women so much, I’m curious to explore more of them. Pretty in pastels, wouldn’t these be as lovely as colored eggs in Momma’s Easter Basket (@hubs @kids)?
Ok, so I mentioned another author. I first met the dynamic social media evangelist/author/blogger/speaker Allison Gingras of Reconciled to You in Lancaster, PA whilst attending the Catholic Writers’ Guild annual conference (which is held in conjunction with the Catholic Marketing Network’s annual conference.) Been to anything Catholic lately? You’ve probably caught a glimpse of Gingras, too. My girl is ev-er-y-where, friends! And, yes, I caught up with her at CCWC19, and yes, she has authored one of these beautiful journals, the turquoise one, entitled 7 Ways that Jesus Invites You to a Life of Grace. Talk about the perfect Lenten or Easter gift for a mom, older daughter, or bestie! And don’t forget Invite the Holy Spirit Into Your Life (pictured gracefully in green, above) by Deanna G. Bartalini: this one makes a great confirmation gift as well.
The best part of today’s blog is this: all the books featured here are but a sampling of what these great authors and/or publishers have available. I love that cozy feeling of knowing, as I’m nearing the end of a good book, that there are plenty “more where that came from” just waiting for me to sweep them up and add them to the stack on my nightstand. How about you?
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!
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.
Adrienne blogs here.
A friend recently turned me on to this contemporary Catholic poet, and so I purchased Roses For the Most High on Kindle. This work is nothing short of stunning. Colonel Ronald Smith’s name belongs with Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Robert Frost. One can read just a few lines from Roses for the Most High and hardly disagree:
“I contemplated mantric shores
and living mist upon the moors
when breath of heather blushed the lea
medieval chants by ancient sea
would reeve galactic jewels that kite
the indigo of endless night”
I’m going to push the envelope a bit farther. Smith’s ability, to craft poetry that brings readers deeper into an understanding of our Faith, is truly inspired. Perhaps his military experience, combined with a brilliant understanding of Mystical Theology and the lives of the saints, contributes to making his reflections so captivating. Natural Theologists will appreciate Smith’s way of conveying awe of the beauty of God’s creation as could only be attained through the very unique position of an Air Force pilot who found himself flying in the north and south Polar Regions.
Colonel Smith is a fascinating person. I found this article about him:
His poems belong in the curriculum of every Catholic high school. Seton Homeschool, Memoria Press, Classically Catholic Memory, Homeschool Connections, Kolbe Academy, and other traditional and classical Catholic educators: this poetry belongs in your high school literature requirements, right beside Joyce Kilmer, Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton. I fully expect my grandchildren and their grandchildren will one day be memorizing Smith’s words as part of a classical Catholic education.
Smith’s book starts are on Amazon and also https://www.westbowpress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001128600.
Click here for Author website .
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