An Open Book – July #openbook

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

Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult

Amazon Synopsis: To the outside world, they seem to have it all. Cassie Barrett, a renowned anthropologist, and Alex Rivers, one of Hollywood’s hottest actors, met on the set of a motion picture in Africa. They shared childhood tales, toasted the future, and declared their love in a fairy-tale wedding. But when they return to California, something alters the picture of their perfect marriage. A frightening pattern is taking shape—a cycle of hurt, denial, and promises, thinly veiled by glamour. Torn between fear and something that resembles love, Cassie wrestles with questions she never dreamed she would face: How can she leave? Then again, how can she stay?

My review: Jodi Picoult tackles a tough topic with this book: spousal abuse. This is one of those books that I read every few years because Picoult expertly creates and develops her characters. When the abuser is pleading with his wife to allow them to reconcile, part of me was saying, “Tell him yes!” That’s a great author who can have the reader cheering for the abuser. That being said, since this is one of her early books, I noticed a few writing errors and typos that wouldn’t normally be in her later books. Regardless, I have enjoyed every Picoult book until about ten years ago when she became politically correct (the Christians in one of her more recent novels are seen as the villains). But this particular book is excellent. 5/5.

Victoria’s War by Catherine Hamilton

Amazon Synopsis: In Victoria’s War, Hamilton gives voice to the courageous Polish women who were kidnapped into the real-life Nazi slave labor operation during WWII. Inspired by true stories, this lost chapter of history won’t soon be forgotten.

POLAND, 1939: Nineteen-year-old Victoria Darski is eager to move away to college: her bags are packed and her train ticket is in hand. But instead of boarding a train to the University of Warsaw, she finds her world turned upside down when World War II breaks out. Victoria’s father is sent to a raging battlefront, and the Darski women face the cruelty of the invaders alone. After the unthinkable happens, Victoria is ordered to work in a Nazi sewing factory. When she decides to go to a resistance meeting with her best friend, Sylvia, they are captured by human traffickers targeting Polish teenagers. Sylvia is singled out and sent to work in brothels, and Victoria is transported in a cattle car to Berlin, where she is auctioned off as a slave.

GERMANY, 1941: Twenty-year-old Etta Tod is at Mercy Hospital, where she’s about to undergo involuntary sterilization because of the Fuhrer’s mandate to eliminate hereditary deafness. Etta, an artist, silently critiques the propaganda poster on the waiting room wall while her mother tries to convince her she should be glad to get rid of her monthlies. Etta is the daughter of the German shopkeepers who buy Victoria at auction in Berlin. The stories of Victoria and Etta intertwine in the bakery’s attic where Victoria is held the same place where Etta has hidden her anti-Nazi paintings. The two women form a quick and enduring bond. But when they’re caught stealing bread from the bakery and smuggling it to a nearby work camp, everything changes.

My review: On my “To Read” shelf.

The Lacemaker by Anne Faye

Amazon Synopsis: St. Zélie Martin (1831-1877) is best known as the mother of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, one of the most-loved saints of modern times, but she is also a saint in her own right. In this work of historical fiction based largely on St. Zélie’s letters, a compelling portrait of a working mother who always put God first comes to life.

St. Zélie is a saint many women can relate to. She suffered from anxiety, struggled with work-life balance, grieved the loss of children, cared for aging parents, had a child with special needs, and dealt with personal illness. Above all, she loved God and her family and had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother.

In this intimate portrayal, you will come to know a complex woman who achieved holiness while living in the world and dealing with the stress of modern life.

My review: I thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful book based on St. Zelie Martin’s life. It’s written in a journal format and easy to follow along with the events, joys and challenges of a woman in the 19th century. Highly recommend.

A Song for the Road by Kathleen Basi

Amazon Synopsis: It’s one year after the death of her husband and twin teenagers, and Miriam Tedesco has lost faith in humanity and herself. When a bouquet of flowers that her husband always sends on their anniversary shows up at her workplace, she completely unravels. With the help of her best friend, she realizes that it’s time to pick up the pieces and begin to move on. Step one is not even cleaning out her family’s possessions, but just taking inventory starting with her daughter’s room. But when she opens her daughter’s computer, she stumbles across a program her daughter has created detailing an automated cross-country road trip, for her and her husband to take as soon-to-be empty nesters.

Seeing and hearing the video clips of her kids embedded in the program, Miriam is determined to take this trip for her children. Armed with her husband’s guitar, her daughter’s cello, and her son’s unfinished piano sonata, she embarks on a musical pilgrimage to grieve the family she fears she never loved enough. Along the way she meets a young, pregnant hitchhiker named Dicey, whose boisterous and spunky attitude reminds Miriam of her own daughter.

Tornadoes, impromptu concerts, and an unlikely friendship…whether she’s prepared for it or not, Miriam’s world is coming back to life. But as she struggles to keep her focus on the reason she set out on this journey, she has to confront the possibility that the best way to honor her family may be to accept the truths she never wanted to face.

Hopeful, honest, and tender, A Song for the Road is about courage, vulnerability, and forgiveness, even of yourself, when it really matters.

My review: I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book that on the surface seemed like it might be depressing. But I was pleasantly surprised. This is a beautifully written journey of grief but one that ultimately becomes a journey of joy and discovery. Rich, well-developed and believable characters make this a book that you won’t forget. Highly recommend. 5/5

The Handy Little Guide to Prayer by Barb Szyszkiewicz

Amazon Synopsis: God knows what’s on our minds and in our hearts, but we still need to verbalize our innermost thoughts, feelings, and intentions. That’s prayer.

In this easy-to-read, down-to-earth introduction to conversation with God, you’ll discover, or rediscover, what you need to be able to “pray without ceasing.”

In this brief booklet, author, mom, wife, and Secular Franciscan Barb Szyszkiewicz helps you strengthen your connection to God through prayer. You’ll learn:

  • How to pray alone and establish an intimate connection with God
  • How to pray with the whole Church
  • What the saints teach us about prayer
  • When to pray, including formal and informal times for prayer
  • Different styles and methods of prayer, including the prayers of the Church, adoration, meditation, music, art, and journaling

Your connection to God in prayer can happen anywhere, at any time. No special equipment is needed, and no dress code, no reservation, no admission fee. All you need is an open heart and a willingness to engage with our Creator.

My review: As a short person, I was always told “Good things come in small packages.” This wonderful little prayer book is also an example of that saying. It’s small enough to carry in your purse or to have on your nightstand. It’s also ideal for taking to Adoration. It’s short and to the point. Highly recommend. 5/5.

If Today You Hear His Voice by Irene Lynch

Amazon Synopsis: Throughout our rich and inspiring Catholic history, many saints have proclaimed to have had a conversation with Christ or the Blessed Mother. I believe that everyone can hear the voice of God! He is as alive and involved in our lives today as He was when He walked the earth over two thousand years ago! God wants a loving relationship with each one of us. I believe that through the Holy Spirit, God prompted me to write this book. My complete trust in His endless love and mercy has given me blessings beyond my greatest dreams. My prayer is for you to seek God in all things, walk with Him in your life journey, and listen to His voice. Come walk with me and let me show you how!!

My review: I enjoyed this lovely book. It’s self-published so the writing is not as polished as it can be, but I can definitely feel the author’s joy through her journey. Recommend. 4/5.

Beginner’s Guide to Growing Baby by Bonnie Way and Anna Eastland

Amazon Synopsis: Beginner’s Guide to Growing Baby is a friendly, conversational book about pregnancy, birth, and your first three months as a new mom. With respect and honesty, authors Bonnie Way (mom of 5) and Anna Eastland (mom of 9) share their experiences, walking expectant moms through some of the questions and concerns they may experience from conception to colic. This book includes tips on dealing with first trimester exhaustion, dressing your baby bump without breaking the bank, choosing the best care provider for your pregnancy, whether or not to write a birth plan, dealing with pain during labour, and taking care of yourself and baby after birth.

My review: On my “To Read” shelf.

#Prolife Grandparenthood

child’s hand in adult’s hand © Pavelvasenkov Dreamstime.com

My latest post at Catholic Mom: “Human life is precious, because it is a gift from God whose love is infinite, and when God gives life, it is forever.”  Saint John Paul II

Our grandson was born nearly two years ago.  I don’t remember ever being that excited for an impending birth (except for those of our children, but I was preoccupied during their births!) When we held our grandson – our baby’s baby – there was overwhelming joy and thanksgiving to God.

Still, none of us are perfect and we can struggle with our attitudes towards children and grandchildren. From an unplanned baby to a disabled child, to finding out the unborn child is the “wrong” sex,  to conflicting philosophies on how to raise children, parenting – and grandparenting  –  can present its share of suffering.  We can use Saint John Paul II’s prolife message to remember that each and every human being is an unrepeatable gift from God, whether he/she is planned or not, whether he/she is healthy or disabled and whether he/she is a boy or girl.

A few years ago, in speaking about her daughter who got pregnant at sixteen, a pro-choice celebrity spoke about how she tried to get her daughter to have an abortion (the daughter went on to have her baby). I know one grandmother who responded to the impending birth of her fourth grandchild in this way: “When are you going to stop having kids?”  More than a few grandmothers have said, “Don’t expect me to babysit. I already raised my own kids. I’m not raising yours.” 

These examples sound negative and perhaps our first instinct is to criticize. But all of us have anxieties about our children and grandchildren. We know a grandmother who said to her adult son with many children, “Every time you have a child, it just gives me one more thing to worry about.” Because of the way she was raised, this attitude was something that she could not control initially. As time went on, thankfully, she joyously loved each and every one of her grandchildren anyway, despite her initial comments.

My husband James and I are still newbies at grandparenthood, but we’ve discovered that there are things we can do to help us (and all grandparents) to focus our/their attitudes toward the truth that every human being from conception to natural death is an unrepeatable and unique eternal gift from God.

  1. Be supportive!

Even if our adult children are prolife, that doesn’t mean they will never need our support with regard to parenting and decision making. I know a young couple with many children whose in-laws continually criticize them for having such a big family. Conversely, another young couple has two children, but one of the grandparents is pressuring them to have more.  Keep in mind that the decision to have a child is between husband, wife, and God.  Grandparents, technically, do not have a say, and should always be supportive, despite parenting disagreements. Our adult children need to discern their parenting style/decisions like we did in the previous generation.2.Generosity in Service

Admittedly, we like when we are called upon to babysit our grandson. We may have had something else planned, but we always try to be available if we are needed. Even so, it can be challenging trying to keep up with this energetic miniature human being, especially when we, as his caregivers, have had little sleep. .

2. Theology of the Body

St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is a beautiful way to teach your adult children, in-laws and grandchildren about the beauty of human life.  Through the Theology of the Body – the study of God through our bodies – we can help our grandchildren understand that everyone is a gift, and that God made us to love. Recommended reading: TOB for Tots from Ascension Press, Angel in the Waters by Regina Doman, and Before You Were Born by Jennifer Davis and Laura Cornell.

3. Have Fun and Play

If you’re able, don’t be afraid to get down on the floor and play with your grandchildren! Some of the best moments come from being on their level and playing with their toys.

When we were babysitting one day, the power went out.  Our grandson’s parents were on a mission to help him gain weight, and sometimes he would only eat if his favorite toddler show was on TV.  With the electricity gone, we had to be creative.  I sang nursery rhymes from my own childhood. James joined in and our grandson finally returned to eating his meal.  Even now, when we start singing, he dances and sings with us.

4. Remind Them (Out Loud) They Are Loved

There was one particular night that our grandson (around 16 months old) would not go down to sleep.  So after he fussed, I picked him up and rocked him in the rocking chair.  I sang to him, told him how blessed he was. I told him I love him. Then I listed all the people who love him (not a small list if you count all the grandparents, the aunts, uncles and cousins). At one moment, he sat up, put his hands on both sides of my face and kissed me.  Then he lay down against my chest and he finally fell asleep. 

5. Pray  

It’s not easy to be ‘fully’ prolife with the culture of death surrounding us on all sides. Pray for yourselves, that you can always have a prolife attitude. Pray for your children and grandchildren that they will realize the blessing of life as it truly is: an unrepeatable, unique and eternal gift from God.

Copyright 2021 Ellen Gable Hrkach

An Open Book – May #openbook

I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book.

Here’s what I’ve been working on or reading.

Synopsis: Through grit and grace, Carolyn Fandel survives being raped by someone she knows and trusts. She will not accept defeat—even when confronted by her rapist a second time. Instead, she uses her tragedy to help hundreds of others, some of whom she will never meet. Set in the era of the Vietnam War and the new feminism, this book will have you crying and cheering for Carolyn as she navigates the challenges of life after sexual assault.

Reviews:

Close to the Soul is a beautifully written novel that weaves the story of redemption through every character on every page.  Edith Schafer once wrote that our lives are a tapestry, we are looking at the backside which is often messy and confusing, but God sees the beautiful work of art, each thread precisely woven together.  I have spent my life grappling with the questions this novel boldly addresses. Pam Stenzel, M.A. Enlighten Communications

This is a moving and powerful story set in the 1950’s. Life was different, and society was very different. But the story is of great value for readers today. I mentioned at the beginning that the book landed on my desk at a critical time. I had just found out I have a 25-year-old daughter I did not know about. Reading this, I could not help but think about this daughter and her mother. This is an amazing read. And an incredible debut novel. Christian fiction at its best. Excellent Catholic literatureSteven McEvoy, Book Reviews and More

Synopsis: Parkland (originally titled Four Days in November) is the exciting and definitive narrative of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The film—starring Paul Giamatti, Zac Efron, Jacki Weaver, and Billy Bob Thornton—follows a group of individuals making split-second decisions after this incomprehensible event: the doctors and nurses at Parkland Hospital, the chief of the Dallas Secret Service, the cameraman who captured what has become the most examined film in history, the FBI agents who had gunman Lee Harvey Oswald within their grasp, and Vice President Lyndon Johnson who had to take control of the country at a moment’s notice. 

My review: This was on sale on Kindle, so I downloaded it. I needed something to read (our internet wasn’t working and we only have live streaming television.) Bugliosi can write compelling narrative (he’s the author of my favorite crime novel, Helter Skelter). I know most of what went on during those four days in November of 1963, but I didn’t know much about the murder by Oswald of Officer J.D. Tippitt. Like many, I don’t believe Oswald did it alone. However, I don’t believe Oswald was “just a patsy.” I believe Oswald murdered the police officer and fired some of the shots at President Kennedy. Highly recommend. 4/5.

The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau

Synopsis: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1965, The Keepers of the House is Shirley Ann Grau’s masterwork, a many-layered indictment of racism and rage that is as terrifying as it is wise.

Entrenched on the same land since the early 1800s, the Howlands have, for seven generations, been pillars of their Southern community. Extraordinary family lore has been passed down to Abigail Howland, but not all of it. When shocking facts come to light about her late grandfather William’s relationship with Margaret Carmichael, a black housekeeper, the community is outraged, and quickly gathers to vent its fury on Abigail. Alone in the house the Howlands built, she is at once shaken by those who have betrayed her, and determined to punish the town that has persecuted her and her kin.

Morally intricate, graceful and suspenseful, The Keepers of the House has become a modern classic.

My Review: I downloaded this for sale on Kindle a few weeks ago and just started reading it. Review coming.

Synopsis: 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: FQP just published the Kindle edition of this book. It’s a heart-wrenching memoire of the author’s experience of the tragic death of his thirteen-year-old brother. Beautifully written and only .99 on Kindle.

Synopsis: Coming next month from FQP! Twenty-two years after Mibs Monahan was adopted by her great-aunt Bernie, it became apparent that the woman who had raised her was suffering the frailties of old age.  Mibs set aside her dream of becoming a clothing designer to take care of her great-aunt.

Mibs had not realized that opening a sewing shop would also open the door to experiencing the loss of two new friends, Jennifer Morris and her sister, Jasmine Hornsby.  At first, Jennifer’s death appeared to be an accidental poisoning.  A short time later, Jasmine’s death was declared a suicide.  When authorities claimed that grief drove Jasmine to take her own life, Mibs confronted the staunch, self-assured Detective Jace Trueblood and told him that was not possible.  Even when Mibs realized that the detective’s alluring blue eyes and disarming smile were changing her first impression of annoyance to undeniable attraction, she still insisted that following the thread of evidence would lead to the hidden truth.

Balancing the challenges of opening and running a new business and contemplating the tragic deaths of two sisters has Mibs wondering what tomorrow will bring.  Being brought up on love, kindness, and sacrifice gave Mibs Monahan a kind heart, but it also gave her determination and a desire for justice.

Virtual Attendance #cartoon

copyright James and Ellen Hrkach, please do not use without permission

Back in 2013 when we created this cartoon, we had no idea how close this would be to the truth eight years in the future.

I never thought we’d be attending both weddings and funerals virtually. After all, the idea for this cartoon was supposed to be a joke, not real life.

However, our new normal seems to be here to stay.

We now teach marriage preparation virtually via Zoom. Sometimes the only way to attend Mass is via Zoom. We visit with family and friends via Zoom and FaceTime. Just about everything we used to do in person, we do via Zoom. Yes, it’s more convenient. Yes, it’s safer. But I do miss the face-to-face interaction and the hugs.

However, if we can’t find some humor in social distancing, virtual weddings and funerals, mask-wearing and sanitizer, then it’s going to be challenging finding it elsewhere these days.

Stay safe. Take time to smile, laugh and be happy about your blessings, even in these challenging circumstances.

Copyright 2021 Ellen Gable Hrkach

A Channel of Your Peace #bookblast #sale

A Channel of Your Peace by Veronica Smallhorn is currently on sale on Kindle for .99 (until Tuesday, April 20) and is this month’s Catholic Writers Guild Bookblast!

Synopsis:

Would a God who truly loves you allow things to get this bad?

Lapsed Catholic Erin Rafferty has the life she always wanted. Or at least she did, till the moment her fiancé of five years announces he’s leaving her for another woman. Heartbroken and humiliated, a further devastating development leaves her wondering if she can ever live a normal life again.

Mark Ashcroft is a devout Catholic looking for an equally devout Catholic wife. A chance encounter with Erin leaves Mark completely captivated, yet deeply unsettled, knowing Erin is not in a place to accept him, nor is she the model Christian woman he’d hoped to start a life with.

A tentative friendship begins, and Erin finds herself questioning her long-held rejection of her faith, while Mark finds himself healing from memories of his own wounded past.

But as love grows, further tragedy in Erin’s life threatens her burgeoning faith and her hope for a future with Mark.

What follows is a difficult journey of love, surrender, trust, and faith in the ultimate knowledge that Christ is always in the midst of our sufferings.

Excellent debut novel. I was very impressed with the writing. The story is masterfully written and was very hard to put down.”

Steven McEvoy, Book Reviews and More

Download A Channel of Your Peace for only .99 on Kindle!

An Open Book – April #openbook

I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book.

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

The Way of the Cross by St. Alphonsus Liguori

My review: Probably the most popular book for following the Stations of the Cross. I bought it on Kindle so I could have it with me whenever I attended the Stations of the Cross or said them privately. It’s excellent!

Shirley Jones: A Memoir

Amazon Synopsis: From golden-voiced ingénue to bus-driving mother of a pop band, Shirley Jones sets aside her wholesome, squeaky clean image in a memoir as shockingly candid, deliciously juicy, and delightfully frank as the star herself.

“You are going to meet the real flesh-and-blood Shirley Jones, not just the movie star or Mrs. Partridge,” says the beloved film, television, and stage actress and singer of her long-awaited memoir, an account as shockingly direct, deliciously juicy, and delightfully frank as the performer herself.

Sharing the “candid” (Los Angeles Times) and “revealing” (Associated Press) details of her life in Hollywood’s inner circle and beyond, Shirley Jones blows past the wholesome, squeaky-clean image that first brought fame, and gives us a woman who only gets hotter with time.

My review: As a huge fan of The Partridge Family, this was one of those books that I had wanted to read back in 2013 when it was first published. Then I read the reviews and decided to wait until it was on sale. Well, I finally downloaded it. In some respects, I was interested in reading her inside story. And in other respects, there are things I can’t “unread,” like the time she was coaxed into having an abortion several months after she married Jack Cassidy in 1957. The way she tells it, she was dead set against it. After all, they were married. But to her husband and her agent pressuring her, her career was more important. She talks about the abortion like this: “…as I watched him (the doctor) while he worked, finally removing a mass of blood but no fetus as it was too early for one to have formed inside me.” That sounds very much like she was downplaying it. Even so, I give her credit for her resolution that no matter what happened in the future, she would never have another abortion.

There are other things that I can’t unread that I won’t share, but it saddens me that she felt she had to write a “tell-all” book that sometimes focused on the licentious and at times, it was over the top. The writing is okay, but she jumps from time period to time period too much, and she could’ve used an extra developmental editor. 3/5.

Treasures: Visible and Invisible by Catholic Teen Authors

Amazon Synopsis: Treasures: Visible and Invisible is a collection of short stories by eight CatholicTeenBooks.com authors.

  • A teen boy sets out to save a friend from pagan druids, but maybe he’s the one who needs saving.
  • Between an unearthed treasure and a visit from Heaven, a young monk is in for the surprise of his life!
  • A young girl seeks a mysterious treasure that holds the key to granting a nun’s dying wish.
  • Honora is desperate—then a peculiar clover and a mysterious young man change everything.
  • William’s weekend job is a little gift from heaven, but now his family needs a real miracle.
  • When threatened by mobsters, Grace receives help from a surprising source.
  • Alone and afraid, a young girl finds friendship in a stranger. But could this boy be trouble?
  • Kyle was determined to save the precious relic–but now his whole family is in danger.

My review: This is an enjoyable clean Christian fiction anthology with an Irish theme. Highly recommend!

Stolen Blessing by Jim Sano

Amazon Synopsis: Erick and Addie Comghan have a good life in Boston. When the baby they have longed for is born, the unimaginable happens—Elizabeth goes missing the day after her baptism at St. Francis Parish. Father Tom and Angelo are pulled in to help solve the mystery of her disappearance in a race against time and the complicated dynamics of the relationships involved. Stolen Blessing is the third book in the Father Tom Series and is a story that offers suspense, intrigue, and a journey of love, redemption, and forgiveness.

Newest book from FQP!

A Scarlet Cord by Deborah Raney

Amazon Synopsis: In the four years since her husband’s death, Melanie LaSalle’s life has been consumed with managing the family design firm and caring for her five-year-old daughter, Jerica. The possibility of a new relationship is the last thing on her mind. But when Melanie meets Joel Ellington, a new staff member at her church, she is instantly attracted to his warm spirit.
As their friendship deepens, however, Melanie is troubled by something she can’t quite understand or explain. Joel past seems to be off-limits, even to Melanie. Because of her growing feelings for him, Melanie pushes her doubts away. But when Joel disappears, along with the contents of a church bank account, she can no longer ignore her suspicions.
Now, torn between her feelings for Joel and the evidence mounting against him, Melanie faces a heart-wrenching decision: to forget the man who gave her reason to love again or to trust Joel enough to give him her heart.
Exploring themes of the importance of truth, loyalty, and trust, A Scarlet Cord illustrates that who we truly are depends little on outward appearances and solely on our relationship with God, and on the fact that through faith in Him, we can find places of comfort, healing, and selfless love.
This novel was originally published in 2003 under the same title, and was a Golden Quill Award finalist.

My review: I downloaded this for free many months ago and finally got around to reading it. It’s a great story with well-developed characters and a few twists and turns. A page-turner! Recommend: 4/5.

An Open Book – March #openbook

Today I’m participating in An Open Book with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom.com. Here’s what I’ve been reading or working on this past month:

Amazon Synopsis: In 2018, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano released an 11-page testimony that rocked the world. In it, he called out the corruption of the Church, especially with regards to its handling of the sexual abuse crisis—addressing most specifically the case of disgraced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick—and stunningly called for the resignation of Pope Francis. And then he was gone . . . at least physically. In these pages, longtime Vatican journalist Robert Moynihan, publisher of Inside the Vatican magazine, brings to bear his vast experience in the corridors of power in Rome as well as his longstanding friendship with Vigano to produce a book that both provides an incisive look at the content of the Testimony itself, but also, through interviews conducted in-person with Vigano at undisclosed locations, a personal look at the man whose conscience compelled him to speak out about the “filth” in which the Church he loves and to which he has given his life, has been mired for years.
Part thriller, as when Moynihan details his efforts to reach Vigano and makes his way to their meeting, and part personal memoir as both men reflect on their lives, families, and the state of the Church in the world, Finding Vigano has something for everyone. Readers familiar with the Vigano saga will appreciate the insights into the man provided through the interviews, while those unfamiliar with the drama of the Testimony will, after reading, have a better understanding of the key issues and players involved.

My review: This is a compelling book and, as the description says, it’s part-thriller because of Vigano’s unknown location. It’s also a disturbing book with allegations from someone who knows what’s going on inside the Vatican. Moynihan also takes Vigano’s testimony and gives reflections on it. This book is difficult to read, but I highly recommend it. My only criticism is the more-than-a-few typos (I’m guessing that is because the book was published quickly). It could’ve used more fresh eyes. 4/5.

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 which 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!

My review: This is another excellent book by Catherine Doherty and one of my favorite books to read during Lent. Highly recommend!

Amazon Synopsis: St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938) immersed herself in a vision of Christ s Passion that became a predominant theme in her famed Diary. In Praying with Jesus and Faustina During Lent and in Times of Suffering, award winning and best-selling author Susan Tassone presents the Diary’s words of Christ and St. Faustina on his sorrowful Passion. The book will engage you in Jesus horrific sufferings, giving you grace, light and strength to bear your own sufferings.

The book opens with daily Lenten meditations featuring the words of Jesus and St. Faustina on the Passion. Each day also includes both special reflections for times of suffering and a prayer. In the following chapters, St. Faustina will lead you through heartfelt prayers on the Way of the Cross, Christ’s wounds, and on the Blessed Mother’s sorrows. Susan also includes chapters on unique litanies, the Divine Mercy devotion, and confession.

My review: Susan Tassone has done it again. “The Purgatory Lady” truly loves the Holy Souls in Purgatory but she also loves the souls on earth and wants to be able to see everyone in heaven. I am blessed to know this beautiful soul and I highly recommend this and all her books!

Anything But Groovy by Amanda Lauer

Synopsis: New from FQP! Morgan is looking forward to junior high school and all the adventures it holds in store for her. But after a collision on the volleyball court, she wakes up on the first day of school trapped inside her mom’s teenage body circa1974. It doesn’t take long for Morgan to discover that living life as a seventh-grader in the ‘70s and dealing with everything going on in her mom’s life back then — from uncool parents, to annoying older brothers,  balancing friendships, and ultimately doing what she can to survive bullying at the hands of the school’s biggest jock — is anything but groovy.

Amazon Synopsis: Ashlyn may finally have her life under control. Abandoned by her own mother when she was a kid, Ashlyn found a home when the Castletons embraced her as their fourth child. Nowadays Ashlyn plays viola in the Castleton String Quartet. She’s got a family and rent money. What more could she ask for? 

After months of searching for his biological family, Michael has just seen his DNA results. Astonishingly, he has a full sister–violinist Lindsey Castleton. One frenzied drive later, Michael finds Lindsey performing with her string quartet, alongside the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen.

The Castleton siblings insist the report is wrong because their parents weren’t even in the same country when Michael was born. Is this a scam? The deeper they dig into his story, though, the more Ashlyn wants him to be a Castleton. Michael seems stable, strong, and reliable. Not to mention his gorgeous eyes and dusky voice.

As each answer reveals another question, Michael and Ashlyn are drawn together by the brokenness of their past. To achieve the potential of their future, Ashlyn will have to trust Michael enough to open her heart, but with trust comes the risk of betrayal.

Heart of the Violist is the first novel of the Castleton String Quartet romances, a story about the families we’re born into and the families love can make for us.

My review: I really enjoyed this clean read by Maddie Evans. Great story and characters. My only criticism is that there were more than a few typos. Overall, though, highly recommend. 4/5.

Amazon Synopsis: Research and experience tell us that children who are hopeful, purposeful and goal oriented do well in and out of school, build successful futures and are happy. The author uses the metaphor of sailing to explore this concept in parent-friendly ways. The rudder of the sail boat is a hopeful, purposeful outlook that the parent helps the child acquire. The centerboard represents the practices and habits that the parent helps the child internalize that despite challenges, adversities and loss, help the child build a successful future. The author’s Nine Winning Practices model is presented with numerous anecdotes and stories that a parent can use in helping a child develop a success oriented perspective. Using the rudder and centerboard, the sailor can arrive at the desired destination regardless of the winds that are confronted. So also, a child who is hopeful, purposeful and goal oriented and who also embraces success oriented principles and habits will be enabled to build a future that is chosen and planned regardless of the life challenges encountered along the way. This book is the third in the author’s Raising Successful Children Series. The author brings many years of experience in this series of books for parents. His experience includes that of educator, counselor/therapist, lecturer, consultant, parent and grandparent. Parents are shown how to help their child keep their rudder in hand and their centerboard in the water so as to arrive at the desired destination and future despite the confronted challenges and adversities.

My review: This is a book that I edited and helped the author to publish. It’s an excellent parenting (and grandparenting) book that seeks to help parents bring out the best in their children. Highly recommend!

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.

My review: This is another book that I edited and assisted the author in publishing. It’s a heart-wrenching memoir of a former Air Force Major who changed his stance on the use the weapons of mass destruction and was discharged from the Air Force for doing so. The author gives a spiritual solution to the many issues that plague us today and connects the use of weapons of mass destruction to widespread abortion. Fascinating read. Highly recommend.

St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr

Today is the Feast of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr. I knew little of this saint until I read about her during my research for A Subtle Grace. This book was a finalist in Religious Fiction in the 2015 IAN Awards. I dedicated this book to her.

It’s no surprise that St. Agnes’ feast day is so close to the U.S. March for Life (which is, sadly, canceled this year). Agnes’ name in Greek means “chaste, pure or sacred,” and in Latin, it means “lamb.” She is the patron saint of young girls, chastity, engaged couples, rape victims (and others). In past centuries, young girls would recite this prayer/poem to St. Agnes on the Eve of the feast day with the hope they would dream of their future husband.

Now good St. Agnes, play thy part,
And send to me my own sweetheart,
And show me such a happy bliss,
This night of him to have a kiss.

St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, pray for us!