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!

 

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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!!!

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

When you’re pinch-proof

Molly McBride St. Pat's Day Comic
When you’re pinch-proof
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.

art, Molly Comics, Mothers of Mollies, Promoting Vocations, Uncategorized

Molly For President!

Molly McBride For President!
Sounds good to me!
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.

pooh.jpg

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.