Rosary Reflections for Pregnant Mothers

I recently contributed to Rosary Reflections for Pregnant Mothers for Catholic Mom. It’s now available free via ebook at this link.

My reflection was for the First Glorious Mystery, the Resurrection.

The Resurrection of Jesus is the necessary truth and foundation of our Catholic faith. Jesus has died but has risen from the dead. Jesus comes out of the darkness and into the light of life. The Cross comes before the Resurrection. Without the Cross, there would be no Resurrection. 

Your unborn child is the living reflection of spousal love. For nine months, your precious baby has been developing and growing as you nurture him/her. At birth, this tiny human will emerge from the darkness of the womb and into the light of life outside the womb. 

For women, carrying a baby for nine months is a sacrifice: morning sickness, fatigue, headaches, sleepless nights, and labor itself can weigh you down physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. If you have other children, this sacrifice can be more overwhelming. Nine months can seem like a lifetime.  It can feel like you’ll be pregnant forever. Pregnancy helps us to grow in patience. The sacrifices you endure for this beautiful child are necessary and must come before the birth of your child. 

In his book Life of Christ, Archbishop Sheen writes, “Deferred joys purchased by sacrifices are always the sweetest and most enduring.” 

When you finally gaze into the face of your newborn baby, it’s easy to forget the pain and embrace the sweet joy. Your child, the living reflection of your and your husband’s spousal love, is an eternal, unrepeatable, and irreplaceable gift from God. 

As you look forward to the birth of your unborn baby, remember that the sacrifices of this life will someday lead to the immeasurable joy of eternal life and the Resurrection. 

Let us pray for patience and grace to endure the sacrifices of pregnancy so we can embrace the sweet joy of our baby’s birth. 

An Open Book – May #openbook

Today I’m joining Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. Here’s what I’ve been reading for the past month!

St John Paul the Great, His Five Loves by Jason Evert


A French novelist once wrote, “Tell me what you love, and I will tell you who you are.” Although there are countless ways to study Saint John Paul the Great, the most direct route is by entering the man’s heart.

Discover the five greatest loves of Saint John Paul II, through remarkable unpublished stories about him from bishops, priests who organized his papal pilgrimages, his students in Poland, Swiss Guards, and others. Mining through a mountain of papal resources, Jason Evert has uncovered the gems and now presents the Church a treasure chest brimming with the jewels of the saint’s life.

Rekindle your own faith by learning what (and who) captivated the heart of this great saint.

My review: I’m in the middle of reading this wonderful book that showcased JP II’s “Five Loves.” So far, I’m thoroughly enjoying it!

Code Name Edelweiss by Stephanie Landsem


“What I am looking for―what I desperately need, Mrs. Weiss―is a spy.”

Adolf Hitler is still a distant rumble on the horizon, but a Jewish spymaster and his courageous spies uncover a storm of Nazi terror in their own backyard.

In the summer of 1933, a man named Adolf Hitler is the new and powerful anti-Semitic chancellor of Germany. But in Los Angeles, no-nonsense secretary Liesl Weiss has concerns much closer to home. The Great Depression is tightening its grip and Liesl is the sole supporter of two children, an opinionated mother and a troubled brother.

Leon Lewis is a Jewish lawyer who has watched Adolf Hitler’s rise to power―and the increase in anti-Semitism in America―with growing alarm. He believes Nazi agents are working to seize control of Hollywood, the greatest propaganda machine the world has ever known. The trouble is, authorities scoff at his dire warnings.

When Liesl loses her job at MGM, her only choice is to work with Leon Lewis and the mysterious Agent Thirteen to spy on her friends and neighbors in her German American community. What Leon Lewis and his spies find is more chilling―and more dangerous―than any of them suspected.

Code Name Edelweiss is based on a true story, unknown until recent years: How a lone Jewish lawyer and a handful of amateur spies discovered and foiled Adolf Hitler’s plan to take over Hollywood.

My review: This was an absolutely riveting novel, and I enjoyed it immensely. If you like Film Noir, you’ll love this book. I laughed out loud at the line, “The speakeasy was dark and smelled of late nights and bad decisions. Cigarette smoke hung in a thick fog along the low ceiling, and a sorry-looking three-piece band plucked out an off-key rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue.” I could almost hear Edward G. Robinson in the background. Highly recommend.

Dial M: The Murder of Carol Thompson


At 9:00 on the morning of March 6, 1963, in the quiet St. Paul neighborhood of Highland Park, Mrs. Fritz Pearson glanced out her window and saw something almost unimaginable: slumped on the front steps of the home across the street was a woman, partially clothed in a blue bathrobe and bloodied beyond recognition. The woman, Mrs. Pearson would come to learn, was her beloved neighbor Carol Thompson, wife and mother of four.

Earlier that morning, T. Eugene Thompson, known to friends as “Cotton,” dropped his son off at school and headed to the office, where he worked as a criminal attorney. At 8:25 am, he phoned home, later telling police that he did so to confirm evening plans with Carol. Mr. Thompson lied.

Through police records, court transcripts, family papers, and extensive interviews, William Swanson has re-created Middle America’s “crime of the century,” the deadly plot by a husband that made headlines around the world. But Dial M: The Murder of Carol Thompson also tracks the lives of the Thompsons’ children. Their journey from disbelief to acceptance culminates in a private family trial where they decide whether their father truly was responsible for the violent act that crushed their childhood and forever altered their views of the world.

My review: This was a riveting true-crime thriller that I would highly recommend. Four children lost their mother on the day of the murder in 1963, and not long after, their father was arrested for the crime. He served nearly 20 years and then was released on parole. What makes this book so unique is that the author shares what it was like for the children as they grew up without their mother and coming to grips with the fact that their father killed their mother. This is one I’ll likely read again.

Hidden Book 2: Secrets: The Truth Will Out by Verity Lucia


Perfect looks. Perfect boyfriend. Perfect image. High schooler, Elise Thames, has it all under control until one late night and two little pink lines change everything.

After fleeing to Chicago to erase the life growing inside her, Elise begins hearing voices and seeing visions that thrust her into the minds of others. Her newfound telepathy draws out grim insecurities buried within, and Elise’s identity as one of the most popular girls at Jefferson High shatters. When news of her pregnancy spreads, Elise must face the truth about who she is—and make a choice.

SECRETS: The Truth Will Out

  • A desperate girl.
  • A supernatural bracelet.
  • And a choice that will change everything

My review: Although this book is geared to teens, I found it a compelling read. It’s unapologetically pro-life, but it also illustrates well the rationalization from the pro-abortion camp as the pregnant girl in question keeps hearing she should just have an abortion and “things will be back to the way they were.” Highly recommend for teens and adults.

Saint Jerk by D.J. Dixon

Synopsis: Holy Smokes – Saint Jerk is Amazing!
Funny. Edgy. Uplifting. Catholic.

Jack knew what was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier to face. As the new school year started at St. Mary’s, his eighth-grade class was assigned to complete twenty hours of community service by the end of the semester. Bungling his way from one adventure to the next, Jack hilariously tells the tales of his deeds gone heroically right and horrifically wrong. Along the way, he learns unexpected lessons about his faith and its meaning in his life. Most importantly, he’ll realize that the person he becomes is determined by the choices he makes. And boy, does he make some bad ones

As provocative as it is hystericalSaint Jerk is a powerful response to a broken culture, a story that both entertains and arms young Christians with confidence in the truth of their faith in the face of a secular society. It’s an invitation to readers of all ages to consider the most important questions that have ever been posed by mankind, to recognize that the answers have already been provided, and to reflect on the consequences of that truth in their lives.

My review: I really enjoyed this teen book and would recommend it to any teen or adult. I’m not sure I’d call it provocative or hysterical, but it was a great story with some humor, and I felt I knew the main character. He’s not unlike many teen boys facing temptations, peer pressure, and trying to fit in. Recommend.

Forever Thirteen: A Family Tragedy and a Young Man’s Struggle to Recover by Doug Shumard


Have you ever wondered who you are? Or how you became who you are? Or what is it that defines you as a person and, more specifically, what were some of those defining moments in your life?

Forever Thirteen documents a Sunday morning newspaper headline that read, “Boy Scout Camper, 13, Drowns as Raft Sinks.” This is the true story of a family tragedy as recounted by the nearly twelve-year-old brother who writes this story some years later. It is a story of a mother’s nervous breakdown and a father’s inability to provide comfort to his children at this critical period. It is a firsthand account of unintentional abandonment, suffering, sadness, detachment, guilt, and recovery.

As a youth, the author struggled through this experience, maintaining his faith in God and continuing to hope and pray for the rebuilding of his family, while maintaining love for those who were letting him down.

This is a story that can help others in their personal journeys through those tragedies that we all eventually face.

My review: This is a tragic story of a boy who loses his older brother in a drowning accident and his struggle to recover. It’s a compelling tale that I’d highly recommend. It’s written by Douglas Shumard (we helped him publish this book). He recently passed away and has been reunited with his beloved brother.

Pete the Cat Big Easter Adventure by Kimberly and James Dean


Author and artist James Dean brings us along for a hippity-hoppity Easter adventure with the coolest cat around: Pete!

When Pete wakes up Easter morning, ready to check out his basket of goodies, he discovers the Easter Bunny needs a little extra help. Our favorite groovy blue cat puts on his bunny ears and finds a way to collect, paint, and hide the eggs all in time for Easter.

Pete the Cat: Big Easter Adventure will be a welcome gift in an Easter basket or anytime!

My review: We bought this book for our grandson for Easter. Pete the Cat has a very wry sense of humor, and I can understand why my grandson enjoys his books. Even the adults will chuckle. Recommend.

An Open Book – April #openbook

I’m joining Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. Here’s what I’ve been reading or working on this past month.

Season Of Mercy: Lent and Easter by Catherine Doherty

Synopsis: A guide to entering into the mystery and celebration of Lent and Easter. Catherine Doherty leads us into the riches of God s boundless mercy as she teaches us the spirit, the liturgy, and the customs of the Lent and Easter season, including: Practical guidance on preparing for the internal spiritual pilgrimage that is Lent. Meditations on the meanings of the many holy days preceding and following Easter. Traditions and customs will help your family live the holiness of the Easter season. After-dinner talks by Catherine Doherty, spiritual readings around the dining room table on the spirit, liturgy and customs of Lent, Holy Week, the Easter Triduum and Paschaltide. Catherine speaks on such topics as how to Prepare for Lent; Why Fasting; The Motive is Love; Sin, Repentance, Conversion. Also on Palm (Passion) Sunday; Holy Week; Holy Thursday: Priesthood and Eucharist; Good Friday; Holy Saturday: Christ s Descent into Hades; and Christ is Risen! Then Paschaltime and Christ’s Ascension, Pentecost. A rich tapestry of scriptural reflections and Customs and Traditions to bring it all to life! Excellent for personal and group study. A wonderful resource for preachers and teachers! Volume one of this series is Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas Meditations and Traditions by Catherine Doherty also available.

My review: This is another favorite of mine that’s perfect for Lent and Easter. Highly recommend. 5/5.

33 Days to Morning Glory, A Do-it-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Marian Consecration by Fr. Michael Gaitley

Synopsis: From Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC, author of the bestselling book Consoling the Heart of Jesus, comes an extraordinary 33-day journey to Marian consecration with four giants of Marian spirituality:

St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and Blessed John Paul II. Fr. Michael masterfully summarizes their teaching, making it easy to grasp and simple enough to put into practice. More specifically, he weaves their thought into a user-friendly, do-it-yourself retreat that will bless even the busiest of people. So, if you’ve been thinking about entrusting yourself to Mary for the first time or if you’re simply looking to deepen and renew your devotion to her, 33 Days to Morning Glory is the right book to read and the perfect retreat to make.

My review: Last month, I re-consecrated myself to Our Lady on the Feast of the Annunciation and used this book for preparation. It’s easy to read and follow, and Fr. Mike gives excellent quotes and information from St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Mother Teresa, and St. John Paul II. Highly recommend. 5/5.

The Demon of Brownsville Road by Bob Cranmer and Erica Manfred

Synopsis: October 1988: Bob Cranmer buys a house in the Pittsburgh suburb he grew up in. He has no idea that his dream home is about to become his worst nightmare…

The Cranmers seemed fated to own the house at 3406 Brownsville Road. As a young boy, Bob had been drawn to the property, and, just when the family decided to move back to Brentwood, it went up for sale. Without a second thought, they purchased the house that Bob had always dreamed of owning.

But soon, the family began experiencing strange phenomena—objects moving on their own, ghostly footsteps, unsettling moaning sounds—that gradually increased in violence, escalating to physical assaults and, most disturbingly, bleeding walls. Bob, Lesa, and their four children were under attack from a malicious demon that was conjuring up terrifying manifestations to destroy their tight-knit household. They had two choices: leave or draw on their unwavering faith to exorcise the malicious fiend who haunted their home.

Now, Bob Cranmer recounts the harrowing true story of the evil presence that tormented his family and the epic spiritual war he fought to save everything he held dear…

My review: I heard of this book while watching a documentary on a Catholic website. It’s a chilling and horrifying account of a demon who inhabited the house that, among other things, was used for illegal abortions in the 1920s. It’s not a book you want to read right before bed, but it is an excellent illustration that demons do, in fact, exist, and they thrive on man’s choice to sin. Recommend. 4/5.

The Cases that Haunt Us by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker

Synopsis: America’s foremost expert on criminal profiling provides his uniquely gripping analysis of seven of the most notorious murder cases in the history of crime — from the Whitechapel murders to JonBenet Ramsey — often contradicting conventional wisdom and legal decisions.
Jack the Ripper. Lizzie Borden. The Zodiac Killer. Certain homicide cases maintain an undeniable, almost mystical hold on the public imagination. They touch a nerve deep within us because of the personalities involved, their senseless depravity, the nagging doubts about whether justice was done, or because, in some instances, no suspect has ever been identified or caught.
In The Cases That Haunt Us, twenty-five-year-FBI-veteran John Douglas, profiling pioneer and master of modern criminal investigative analysis, and author and filmmaker Mark Olshaker, the team behind the bestselling Mindhunter series, explore the tantalizing mysteries that both their legions of fans and law enforcement professionals ask about most. Among the questions they tackle:
Was Jack the Ripper actually the Duke of Clarence, eldest grandson of Queen Victoria, or perhaps a practicing medical doctor? And did highly placed individuals within Scotland Yard have a good idea of the Ripper’s identity, which they never revealed? Douglas and Olshaker create a detailed profile of the killer, and reveal their chief suspect.
Was Lizzie Borden truly innocent of the murder of her father and stepmother as the Fall River, Massachusetts, jury decided, or was she the one who took the ax and delivered those infamous “whacks”? Through a minute-by-minute behavioral analysis of the crime, the authors come to a convincing conclusion.
Did Bruno Richard Hauptmann single-handedly kidnap the baby son of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the most famous couple in the world, or was he an innocent man caught up and ultimately executed in a relentless rush to judgment in the “crime of the century”?
What kind of person could kill six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey on Christmas night in her own home? Douglas was called in on the case shortly after the horrifying murder, and his conclusions are hard-hitting and controversial. Why, in the face of the majority of public, media, and law enforcement opinion, including former FBI colleagues, does Douglas believe that John and Patricia Ramsey did not murder their daughter? And what is the forensic and behavioral evidence he brings to bear to make his claim?
Taking a fresh and penetrating look at each case, the authors reexamine and reinterpret accepted facts and victimology using modern profiling and the techniques of criminal analysis developed by Douglas within the FBI. This book deconstructs the evidence and widely held beliefs surrounding each case and rebuilds them — with fascinating and haunting results.

My review: Because reading is part of my job, when I read for pleasure, it’s usually one of my guilty pleasures: true crime. This is one of the best books I’ve read on these unsolved cases (perhaps the best), especially regarding the Lizzie Borden case. The author, whose expertise in criminal profiling led to the Behavioral Analysis Unit at the FBI (on which the show Criminal Minds is based), analyzes all the evidence and gives us a profile of the killer. Fascinating step-by-step of how a profiler would take the evidence in each case and offer an accurate description of the Unknown Subject (UNSUB). Highly recommend. 5/5.

And Round Me Slays the Dark (Shadows of the Sun #6) by Mina Ambrose

Synopsis: New from Full Quiver Publishing! The sixth and final book of the Shadows of the Sun series. Jude is on the run again, this time not only from the mad doctor and his henchmen; there is also an over-zealous and determined police officer on his track.

Robert Anderson, Oregon State Trooper of heretofore exemplary reputation, is out to defend his honor and that of his squad from those who would doubt their sanity and would relegate him, as the officer in charge, to the bottom rung of the career ladder—or evict him from the force.

All because of an apparently unassuming young vagrant, who, he is convinced, somehow erased crucial minutes from their memories. True to his local fame as Master of Puzzles, Anderson puts his logical mind and his detective skills to work to track down this enigma and call him to account.

Jude manages to keep one jump ahead of his enemies’ mad pursuit, leading them in a wild chase across the country and back again, until they all converge on Mara’s hometown, and the Group is called into play.

He finds himself, against all odds, facing the mad doctor once more, to save Phaedra—and himself.

You Don’t Own Me by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke

Amazon Synopsis: Television producer Laurie Moran recently became engaged to her investigative television show’s former host, Alex Buckley, and since then, the two have been happily planning a summer wedding, preparing for Alex’s confirmation to a federal judicial appointment, and searching for the perfect New York City home for their new life together.

But then Laurie is approached by Robert and Cynthia Bell, parents of Dr. Martin Bell, a physician who was shot dead as he pulled into the driveway of his Greenwich Village carriage house five years ago. The Bells are sure that Martin’s disgraced and erratic wife, Kendra, carried out the murder. Determined to prove Kendra’s guilt and win custody over their grandchildren, they plead with Laurie to feature their son’s case on Under Suspicion, ensuring her that Kendra is willing to cooperate.

As Laurie dives into the case, she learns that Martin wasn’t the picture-perfect husband, father, and doctor he appeared to be and was carrying secrets of his own. And what does the web of lies ensnaring the Bell family have to do with a dangerous stranger, who gazes at Laurie from afar and thinks, She is actually quite a lovely girl, I’m sure she’s going to be missed…?

My review: I’m a long-time fan of the late Mary Higgins Clark (God, rest her soul), and in the past ten years or so, I haven’t found her books to be as good as her earlier works of the 80s and 90s. However, she began working with another author a few years back. This one is supposed to be Book 4 in a series, but I picked this up at a local bookshop because I had a gift card. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the characters were well-developed, and the plot kept me guessing until the end. 4/5. Recommend.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

Synopsis: For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Utterly original and compelling, it has been hailed as a modern true crime classic—one which fulfilled Michelle’s dream: helping unmask the Golden State Killer.

My review: This is another excellent true crime book, but it’s written with richer language than the usual non-fiction book. I would call this more of a true crime memoir. The author didn’t live to see the Golden State Killer’s eventual capture by genealogical DNA, but her book is a comprehensive retelling of the history of the crimes and her own search and obsession to bring him to justice. Recommend. 4/5.

Is the Holy Spirit Calling You to Attend this Dynamic Conference?

Sr. Dede Bryne will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming in-person Dynamic Women of Faith Conference to be held on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Saturday, March 25, 2023, at Old Mill Toronto Event Venue, 21 Old Mill Road, Toronto. Old Mill Toronto is a beautiful venue that is rustic and ideal for a conference like this.

If you’re a mom struggling to decide whether or not to go to this dynamic conference, there are so many excellent reasons to attend. As a previous DWOF attendee myself, I can tell you that you will not be disappointed. It is a life-changing event, and you will come home feeling more energized in your faith and as a Catholic woman because:

  1. There will be dynamic and inspiring speakers and an excellent keynote speaker that will help you to nourish your Catholic faith.

Sr. Dede is an incredibly gifted speaker and an inspiring example of serving others. In a previous televised convention, she stated: “As a physician, I can say without hesitation: Life begins at conception. While what I have to say may be difficult for some to hear, I am saying it because I am not just pro-life, I am pro-eternal life. I want all of us to end up in heaven together someday.” 

She may not be as well-known as some of the previous keynote speakers of the Dynamic Women of Faith Conferences, she is nonetheless one of the most interesting and inspiring. Sister Deirdre “Dede” Mary Byrne has spent her life serving others in many different capacities. She served as a colonel (retired) in the U.S. Army Medical Corps; a missionary surgeon in the operating rooms of underdeveloped countries, and has been a professed sister of the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary for over twenty years. Sister Dede lives each role with skill, humility, and compassion.

Her presentation for this conference is entitled, “The Heroes of My Life Lead Me to Our Lady.” Our Lady is the model and example for all physical and spiritual mothers.

Other inspiring speakers for this year’s conference include the Most Reverend Robert Kasun, CSB, who will be presiding over the Mass, (his homily is on the “Solemnity of the Annunciation,”) Dr. Josephine Lombardi, who will be speaking on “Healing and Forgiveness,” Diana Filipiak, Kasia Ryba, Sandra Wojcik will be presenting a talk entitled, “Journeying with Mother Mary,” and Dorothy Pilarski will be speaking on “Why Minister to Moms: How to Start a Catholic Moms Group.”

  • Dynamic speakers are only one aspect of this conference that will strengthen your faith. Since it takes place during Lent, attending this conference will help to invigorate your Lenten journey. There will be a Mass, and Confession will be available.

You’ll meet other Catholic Christian women and mothers who will enrich your lives and can develop into long-lasting friendships. These intimate conversations with our fellow sisters in Christ can also be life-changing.

Since the conference takes place during Lent, it’s the ideal way to invigorate your Lenten journey and take it up a notch by attending Mass and Confession.

  • Catholic vendors will be available for you to gather information and shop for religious items.

If you’re anything like me, you love shopping at authentically Catholic bookstores and shops. At this conference, it’s like having a mall of Catholic stores, ministries, and information.

  • It’s such a dynamic conference that many of the women who come to this conference have attended previous conferences and will attend future ones.

As I said, you will not be disappointed! Attendee Susan says this conference, “has been pivotal for giving me the courage to live an authentic Catholic faith. It taught me basic foundations and helped me make good choices as a woman and mother. This conference is a life-changer and has been an absolute must in my life for almost a decade. It has strengthened me to forgive and love others better and has helped me grow to be happier with inner joy and peace. Thank you to all the amazing organizers/speakers and contributors.”

Another frequent attendee, Judith, says, “What an inspiring, fun, uplifting day – food for the soul. It speaks directly to a woman’s heart. From year-to-year, you continue to surprise and delight! Thank you so much to so many!”

So…is the Holy Spirit calling you to attend this conference?  If so, what are you waiting for?  Click below to register. You still have a few days to get the early bird price.

For more information on this “Dynamic” Conference, click on this link:

An Open Book – March 2023 #openbook

I’m joining Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. Here’s what I’ve been reading and/or working on this past month.

Shooting at Heaven’s Gate by Kaye Park Hinckley

Amazon Synopsis: When Malcolm J. Hawkins, the Head of Psychology at Bethel University in Alabama, feels his position and his credibility threatened by up-and-coming English professor Ginnie Gillan, he decides to use her husband Edmund’s gullibility against her. Feeding Edmund a steady diet of drugs and manipulation, Mal lights the fuse of the greatest tragedy Bethel has ever known.

Eighteen-year-old Alma Broussard, her quirky mother Moline, and her feisty Aunt Pauline run a chicken farm in Bethel. Their lives seem wholly separate from the feuds of academia—but dark secrets lurk in Moline’s past that will bring the people she loves straight into the path of a murderous madman.

In the wake of death and destruction, the town that used to be called Heaven’s Gate will find no easy answers, but there may still be hope for redemption. Shooting at Heaven’s Gate is a Theology of the Cross novel in which genuine goodness, bona fide evil, and suffering truly live side by side.

My review: This is one of the best books I’ve read in the past few years. Well-drawn characters, a compelling story, and rich, beautiful writing make this an outstanding book. Highly recommend!

Pope Benedict XVI Servant of Love,

published by Ignatius Press

Amazon Synopsis: Through stunning photographs, glorious art, insightful commentary, and his own inspiring words, this beautiful deluxe commemorative book celebrates the extraordinary life and legacy of Pope Benedict XVI. Lavishly illustrated. Special Commemorative Edition.

Part 1: Benedict XVI, the Man
An intimate portrait of Joseph Ratzinger in word and image from his youth through his reign as Pope Benedict XVI

Part 2: Benedict XVI’s Thought
His writings on Divine Revelation, Christ, the Church, Mary, the Eucharist, Charity, Faith and Reason, and more

Part 3: Praying with Benedict XVI
The Pope’s most inspiring spiritual meditations and prayers

My review: I was fortunate enough to get an advanced review copy. Pope Benedict XVI’s contribution to the Catholic faith and his service to the Church is joyfully celebrated in this book. Stunning photographs, beautiful artwork, and interesting commentary make this an extraordinary book. I learned so much about Pope Benedict XVI. Now that he has gone to his reward, this is an ideal keepsake for this extraordinary pope. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about and celebrate his life of service. See my full review here.

Pope Benedict XVI, servant of love, pray for us.

Self-Portrait (Fr. Tom #4) by Jim Sano

Synopsis: New from FQP! Thieves have struck again at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the site of the largest unsolved and infamous art heist in history. This time the priceless self-portrait of Rembrandt is stolen. Detective Brooks isn’t too happy to have Father Tom back poking his nose into another police case, but the surprising twist and turns and complex lives of the players involved make for an intriguing and emotional climax. Themes: self-awareness, forgiveness, marital love, personal growth.

Advanced review: Self Portrait is a story of self-forgiveness, self-discovery, self-reflection, and self-acceptance. This story leaves readers contemplating their own humanity and humility as we watch Sano’s characters reveal their deepest fears and their greatest loves in personal quests for goodness and truth. Self Portrait delivers in every respect. Mary Jo Thayer, award-winning author of Close to the Soul

The Way of Mercy, Pilgrimage in Catholic Poland by Stephen Binz

Synopsis: Deep suffering, when united with the merciful Jesus, produces great sanctity. This is the story of Catholic Poland over the centuries and the reason for its legacy of saints and churches. This pilgrimage guide is meant for those who wish to travel to Poland, those who want to remember their experiences there, and especially for those who want to imagine the beautiful, tragic, spiritual, and inspiring places of this land. Paging through this colorful and well-written book, designed to spotlight the holy people and sacred sites of Poland over the centuries, provides a transformative journey in the best tradition of religious pilgrimage. Read, gaze, reflect, pray, and contemplate the richness of Catholic Poland.

My review: This is an excellent book for anyone who wants to travel to Poland to experience “The Way of Mercy.” Highlight recommend!

Interview with Author Robert Margetts

Special thanks to Robert Margetts, the author of Back from the Abyss – A Spiritual Solution to Nuclear War, for this interview:

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to write this book.

I’m a retired widower with eight children, fourteen grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. I reside in New Jersey. I came to feel uncomfortable with my service (USAF) after a powerful conversion experience to Jesus in the Catholic Church. Eventually, I had to be true to my conscience and refused to continue as an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Crew Commander. I was given a trial and dismissed from service for incompetence. That was the spark to write this book because the charge was trumped up and totally unjust.

2.     How did you come up with the title of Back from the Abyss: A Spiritual Solution to Nuclear War?

I was struggling for a title. After a friend read my book, he suggested, Back from the Abyss. A Spiritual Solution to Nuclear War. 

3.    Your book is a powerful testament to your life experience in the armed forces and your choices as God changed your “heart of stone to a heart of flesh.” Can you briefly tell us how God worked in your life to soften your heart of stone?

After my conversion to the Catholic faith, I was open to experiencing more of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit led me to deep healing and deliverance. The only thing that changed my heart was the Holy Spirit. He heard my desire to be set free and heard my prayer, and did His wonders on me.

4.     Why do you think everyone should read your book?

The nuclear war threat is very real. We are at a place where action must be taken to avoid the threat we all face. Prayer is a very real solution.  I know that prayer has given us time. If we use our time for prayer and turn to God, there will be a time of peace. On top of this, atonement needs to be offered for the sixty-five million unborn children who have perished through abortion since 1973.

5.     In the synopsis of your book, you write that we “desperately need to face the nuclear age with the heart of God and not with our own thinking…”  Can you give us concrete examples of how we can face the nuclear age with the heart of God?

Jesus gave us the key to bring His love to others, that is, mercy, forgiveness, and respect. Jesus sat down at the table with the sinner. We should do the same, especially since we are sinners too.

Thank you, Robert, for the wonderful interview!

Buy Robert’s book here.

Pope Benedict XVI Servant of Love

My latest column at Catholic Mom is a review of this beautiful new book.

The foundation of all true culture is the search for God and the readiness to listen to him.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Sept 2008)

Benedict XVI, Servant of Love is the new commemorative book published by Ignatius Press and edited by Magnificat. The recent death of our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was not unexpected. However, the former Joseph Ratzinger led a holy and exemplary life, and I believe he is on his way to heaven (if he isn’t already there).

From the publisher:  Through stunning photographs, glorious art, insightful commentary, and his own inspiring words, this beautiful deluxe commemorative book celebrates the extraordinary life and legacy of Pope Benedict XVI. Lavishly illustrated. Special Commemorative Edition, edited by Magnificat.

This is a beautiful book that includes three different parts: Benedict XVI, the Man; Benedict XVI’s Thought; and Praying with Pope Benedict XVI.  Readers will enjoy this pope’s inspiring life and legacy from infancy to his becoming pope. He was born on a snowy Holy Thursday and had a great love of music from a young age. We learn about his family’s experiences under Hitler, and his father’s moving the family to Traunstein near Salzburg to distance them from the Nazis. He served a short time in his obligatory stint in the German Army and left in the spring of 1945. He was eventually taken prisoner by the Americans along with 50,000 other men in a vast outdoor camp. Every day, he took comfort in being able to see the steeple of the Ulm Cathedral, as well as the Masses in the camp. In June of 1945, he was given his liberation certificate. From there, he and his brother entered the seminary. Two professors influenced him: Gottlieb Sohngen, who was a pianist like Joseph, and Friedrich Wilhelm Maier, who was a professor of New Testament exegesis.

On the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul in 1951, Joseph and his brother received priestly ordination. There were many trials for Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (at his first parish, as a new professor, through Vatican II, and during student protests and riots in 1968), but he tried to remain positive. He enjoyed returning home to visit his family. His nostalgia for home continued throughout the rest of his life, even after his parents and sister were deceased. He was consecrated as an archbishop in 1977 and, within a few months, was appointed a cardinal by Pope Paul VI.

He endured trials, but his achievements were greater. Before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, he worked closely with Pope Saint John Paul II. He was the producer of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992. He wrote many books during this time. He was a strong proponent of fasting, not just during Lent, but year-round.

When his close friend Pope John Paul II passed away, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger celebrated the funeral Mass and, a few weeks later, was elected the new pope, Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote three encyclicals, many spiritual reflections, seven apostolic exhortations, and over 60 books. Excerpts of many of them are included in Part 2, Benedict XVI’s Thought, and Part 3, Praying with Benedict XVI. As an author myself, Pope Benedict XVI has always been an inspiration.

When traveling to Italy in 2007, my husband and I were privileged to pray the Angelus with Pope Benedict XVI and thousands of pilgrims in Rome. We listened to the Holy Father as he spoke in several languages from the balcony of his apartment above St. Peter’s Square one Sunday in March. Being present and hearing Pope Benedict XVI’s words was one of the highlights of our trip (even though we were quite far away from the pope, see below).

As Catholics, we believe in the intercession of those who have gone before us. We can be comforted knowing that the Holy Father is praying and interceding for us.

Pope Benedict XVI’s contribution to the Catholic faith and his service to the Church is joyfully celebrated in this book. Stunning photographs, beautiful artwork, and interesting commentary make this an extraordinary book. I learned so much about Pope Benedict XVI. Now that he has gone to his reward, this is an ideal keepsake for this extraordinary pope. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about and celebrate his life of service.

Pope Benedict XVI, servant of love, pray for us.

Copyright 2023 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Back From the Abyss #Review #prolife

Amazon Synopsis: Three tragic events happened during my lifetime. First, there was the treacherous attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in 1941 when I was eleven years old. This was followed by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki when I was fifteen. The third event was the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon when I was 71. These three events are part of my history, as they are for many of you, and are very much the motivation for writing this book and what led me to stand in conscience against the use of weapons of mass destruction while still a member of the USAF. God changed my heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Our hearts have been hardened and wounded by these tragic events and by the painful events of our own personal lives. We desperately need to face the nuclear age with the heart of God, not with our own thinking but with God’s. Only then can we experience an age of peace on earth.

My review: This extraordinary book is part memoir and part spiritual conversion story. The author, a retired United States Air Force officer, had a crisis of conscience when asked to be ready, willing and able to drop an atomic bomb on targets that could kill innocent civilians. The catastrophic effects of the bombs on the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were brutal and long-lasting. Those who weren’t killed immediately were left in agonizing physical and emotional pain for many years.

The author makes the parallel between the atomic bombs’ destruction of innocent lives with the acceptance of the destruction of unborn children through abortion. That our (American) complicity in the use of the atomic bomb in many ways led to the murder of nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001.

When Margetts revealed that he, in good conscience, could not be called upon to drop one of these bombs, he was ridiculed and eventually driven out of the Air Force.

The author doesn’t just tell his story, he offers ways to atone for the tragedy of the atomic bombs and for the numbing of our country’s conscience in allowing the daily slaughter of tens of thousands of unborn children. Although the Supreme Court recently made Roe v Wade unconstitutional, many states now allow unborn children to be slaughtered right up to and including the moment of birth.

Reading this book will help anyone who believes that the atomic bombs were actually necessary in winning the war against Japan understand how this was not the case. This book will also give us steps to spiritually move forward and atone for these grievous sins.

I highly recommend this book to everyone!

An Open Book – February 2023

I’m joining Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. Here’s what I’ve been reading and/or working on for the past month.

Summer at West Castle by Theresa Linden

Amazon Synopsis: College student Caitlyn Summer arrives at the Wests’ castle-like house to fill in for their live-in maid. After a recent decision blows her vision of the future, this ideal job and the peaceful surroundings are just what she needs to seek God’s will for her life. That is, until Jarret West, not wanting a repeat of past mistakes, backs out of a summer-long field study overseas and returns home. The two have never gotten along, and unforgettable baggage from the past makes it hard even to be cordial. While Jarret’s faults convince Caitlyn he hasn’t changed, she forces herself to offer kindness. Her act of mercy puts them on an unexpected path where Caitlyn is challenged to look beneath the surface and Jarret struggles to trust that God wills good for him.

Note: to avoid spoilers, read this story only after reading Anyone but Him.

My review: I thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful prequel of Anyone But Him and was so very sorry to see the story end. When I read Anyone But Him a few years ago, I had hoped the author would write the prequel of how this unlikely couple fell in love. Summer at West Castle does not disappoint, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a clean but compelling romance! 

Ashes Visible & Invisible by Catholic Teen Authors

Now available from Catholic Teen Books (My short story is highlighted below):

Finishing the Journey: When Liz’s faith journey hits a roadblock, will an unexpected detour and chance encounter set her back on track?

Follow Me: A teen’s future was all set-before his tragic loss. But his best friend’s secret past just might save it.

Take Up Your Cross: Justin’s religion is outlawed. When an unbeliever asks him about the meaning of life, what can he say?

A Big Ask: Could God be asking Paul to sacrifice a piece of himself for Lent–literally?

Lent Royal & Ancient: A modern American teen discovers what faith, life and love are like in seventeenth-century Scotland.

No Greater Love: Teenager Lexie Dugan struggles to understand the sacrifice of Lent when she’s asked to help take care of her siblings while her pregnant mother is on bed rest.

A Very Jurassic Lent: When a risky Ash Wednesday mission to sterilize T. rex eggs goes wrong, fasting is the least of Joshua, Darryl, and Harry’s worries.

Lucy and the Forsaken Path: A medieval girl stranded on a forsaken path confronts threats from without and turmoil from within.

Bread Alone: Struggling with loss, hunger, and temptation, Ethan finds himself walking in the steps of Jesus.

Prepare the Way: Asher’s desire to prepare for the Messiah intensifies after he’s robbed by bandits, but would fighting alongside the Zealots be the best way?

The Saint Michael Chaplet – A Divine Catechesis on the Angels and Gifts of Heaven

By Carol Puschaver

Amazon Synopsis: What if an angel … were to teach you a prayer to honor the Angels? Not just any angel, mind you, and no ordinary prayer, either. Too impossible to believe?

Well, consider … St. Michael the Archangel, Prince of the Heavenly Host, revealed the Chaplet that bears his name to a Carmelite religious in 1751. As this book makes clear, he did much, much more than teach a formula of pious words, presenting instead a wonderment of divine catechesis on the nine celestial angel choirs. The author’s deeply insightful meditations on the Archangel’s teaching are bound to encourage a fresh and finely nuanced perspective on the angels, and also inspire a far deeper, richer appreciation of these marvelous beings who, among many, many wondrous deeds, guard [us] in all [our] ways. (Psalm 91. 10)

You do believe in angels, …don’t you?

My review: This is a beautiful book written by my friend Carol Puschaver. If you want to read more about St. Michael, the St. Michael Chaplet, and the Angels, this is the book for you. God’s people have been given a great gift in Saint Michael, protector and intercessor. The demons would like you to believe that they don’t exist. Not only do they exist, but they are constantly trying to turn God’s people away from Him. Highly recommend!

Into the Mind of Infinity by Joe Livingston

Amazon Synopsis: The author received a powerful spiritual experience, and this book is the result of that experience. It brings science and religion together to prove the existence of God.

My review: This is a beautiful little book that seeks to prove the existence of God. Many great points are made from a scientific standpoint, and it is definitely worthwhile reading.

Coming on Valentine’s Day from FQP:

Stitch in the Ditch (Mibs Monahan Mysteries #3) by Joan L. Kelly

Synopsis: When the curator of the Gregory Tuppence Museum is stabbed to death with an antique Toledo steel dagger, Lieutenant Jace Trueblood and his team of detectives work diligently to track down the killer.   They soon discover evidence that the murder was connected to the forgery and theft of valuable items from the museum.

Along with investigating the curator’s death, Jace, with the help of his intuitive fiancée, Mibs Monahan, search for the person providing fake identifications to high school students.  Fake licenses directly contributed to DUI accidents, resulting in injuries and death.

Despite the challenges and activities of their busy lives, the couple finds joy in preparing for their upcoming wedding.  However, that joy is disrupted when a DNA test shatters Mibs’ life.  This new information has her wondering who she really is and what she has to do with a twenty-year-old kidnapping.

Back From the Abyss by Robert Margetts

Back From the Abyss by Robert Margetts

Amazon Synopsis: Three tragic events happened during my lifetime. First there was the treacherous attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in 1941, when I was eleven years old. This was followed by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki when I was fifteen. The third event was the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon when I was 71. These three events are part of my history, as they are for many of you, and are very much the motivation for writing this book and what led me to stand in conscience against the use of weapons of mass destruction while still a member of the USAF. God changed my heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Our hearts have been hardened and wounded by these tragic events and by the painful events of our own personal lives. We desperately need to face the nuclear age with the heart of God, not with our own thinking but with God’s. Only then can we experience an age of peace upon the earth.

Purchase Back From the Abyss on




This true account was written by the high-ranking Air Force officer’s moral confrontation with his personal Catholic beliefs and commands he was given. It makes very real the stand of the Catholic Church in light of the stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. It presents excellent examples of moral decisions made in WWII and makes mention of considerations as recent as 9/11. It’s an engaging account of how Military Law can conflict with common religious moral obligation and the price this officer paid for following his conscience. Hendrick Soule

This book tells the journey of a soul, chronicling the courage and determination that is required to grow in union with God. The early chapters catch the reader immediately and won’t let go. The writer tells his story of conversion, and very quickly the struggle to be true to his conscience when it came to what he saw as unjust warfare. He clung to the truths in Vatican II documents as the foundation for his unwillingness to accept the profound rejection of the dignity of human beings.
The author weaves the connection between war atrocities and the numbing of our country’s conscience regarding the value of the human person, and how this is being experienced in today’s carnage of unborn children through legalized abortion. This brings him to what seems to be the primary focus of this most captivating book, in the closing chapters on Atonement, Covenant and Unity. This is certainly a book that is worth reading and that will feed your soul. Tom Scheuring

My full review coming next week!