Friends, you know how I love me some Ellen Gable. She does historical fiction/Catholic romance like nobody’s business! I am so happy that I no longer have to keep this one a secret, and secret I did promise to keep, because I had a tiny role in Ella’s Promise. (I helped with some of the medical info! Every now and then I still get to use that M. D.)
“When she joins the war effort during the Great War, American nurse Ella Neumann doesn’t see allies or enemies. The daughter of German immigrants, Ella sees only human beings in need of care. A promise to herself and a promise made to her by an enemy officer become the catalyst for the life she plans to lead after the war. But a handsome Canadian soldier may complicate her plans. In this third installment of the Great War – Great Love series, join Ella in a tale of promises, betrayal and unconditional love.”
In case you forgot, m’girl Ellen is an award-winning author (2010 IPPY, 2015 IAN finalist, 2019 IAN Finalist), publisher (2016 CALA), editor, self-publishing book coach, speaker, NFP teacher, Marriage Preparation Instructor, Theology of the Body for Teens instructor, and past president of the Catholic Writers Guild. She is an author of ten books and a contributor to numerous others. Her novels have been collectively downloaded 750,000 times. Some of her books have been translated into Portuguese, Italian, French, and Spanish. She and her husband, James, are the parents of five adult sons, seven precious souls in heaven and one cherished grandson. In her spare time, Ellen enjoys reading on her Kindle, genealogy, and watching classic movies and TV shows. Her website is http://www.ellengable.com. Ellen is past President of the Catholic Writers Guild (2012-2015). She has appeared numerous times on EWTN’s Bookmark with Doug Keck, EWTN radio and other Catholic TV and radio shows. A frequent presenter at Catholic conferences and Catholic high schools, Ellen speaks on a variety of topics: Pregnancy Loss, Theology of the Body for Teens, Responsible Parenthood, Natural Family Planning and various writing topics. She and her husband of 37 years, James Hrkach, live in Pakenham, Ontario Canada.
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’sBattle 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.
View of some of the vendor booths at the annual Columbus Catholic Women’s Conference
My buddy Erin Broestl of Eight Hobbits blog manning the Catholic Writers’ Guild booth
Again, I’m apparently working backwards. Having loved Susan Peek’sThe 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.
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.
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!
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!!!
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 herJulia’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!
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:
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!
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.”