An Open Book – January 2021 #openbook

I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. I haven’t had a lot of time for pleasure reading this past month, but here’s what I read or re-read:

Donkey Bells by Catherine Doherty

Synopsis: Catherine Doherty is well known for reviving many holy Christian traditions. In Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas, Catherine’s three-in-one book on this most ‘expectant’ of holiday seasons, you’ll receive wonderful gifts:

Meaningful and heartwarming stories, the telling of which will surely become a family Christmas tradition. Including: The Little Christmas Angel O’Ryan, How Pride Became Humble, The Christmas Gift, Christmas in Harlem, The Bruised Reed, and others.

Customs which you can adopt into your own Christmas celebration, such as: The Advent Wreath, The ‘O’ Antiphons, Baking Christmas Foods and Decorating, and The Blessing of The Christmas Tree. Traditions surrounding important Advent and Christmas feast days are presented, including: St. Nicholas, The Immaculate Conception, Feast of the Holy Family, New Year’s Eve, Epiphany, and more.

Earthy and inspiring meditations to prepare the entire family for Christ’s coming, including:A Candle in Our Hearts, Little Things, The Gurgle of a Baby, Where Love Is God Is, Looking into the Child’s Eyes, Advent: A Modern Bethlehem, A Short Season—A Long Journey, and many more.

My review: This is my favorite Advent and Christmas book, although I can be found reading this well into January. This is another book I’ve read numerous times. I enjoy reading this on a comfy chair by a warm fire with a cup of hot chocolate or tea.  So many beautiful stories and traditions. Highly recommend!

Kathleen Morgan

The Christkindl’s Gift by Kathleen Morgan

Amazon Synopsis: When Anna Hannack’s father-in-law brings home a wounded stranger only days before Christmas, Anna’s not happy. Christian charity moves the Hannack family to help the injured man, but the young widow Anna keeps her distance. The tragedies of life have shattered her trust, and she’s determined not to let another stranger threaten her family. Could it be, though, that this rugged Scotsman is actually the gift Anna’s young children have asked of the Christ Child this Christmas?

My review: I enjoy reading this book each Christmas.  It’s a well-written and clean historical romance.  4/5 stars (there was one anachronism in the book.)

Pregnancy: An Advent Eternally Renewed

My latest at CatholicMom.com:

Image by Bartek Ambrozik FreeImages.com

“Pregnancy, an advent eternally renewed in every woman expecting a child, is a book written by the hand of God, with each page, each day, each hour, reminding us of the first Advent.  Think of the first Advent now, when worlds were hushed and angels still…waiting, waiting for the answer of a young girl!  Her fiat, spoken so softly as to be almost a whisper, shook heaven and earth, and began the ineffable, incomprehensible, most beautiful mystery of the Incarnation!  Each pregnancy sings of the first Advent.  Each time is a time of waiting, of joy so immense that it can only be encompassed by the eyes and soul of a woman in love and filled with the fruit of that love.”  Catherine Doherty, Dear Parents

There are so many things to be thankful for during Advent this year.  Yes, it’s 2020, and many would prefer to rush to the end of this eventful, stressful year.

I don’t agree.  During this challenging time, we can use these beautiful weeks to prepare for and to be thankful for Our Savior’s birth and for Mother Mary’s “yes” to carrying Jesus. 

I was blessed to be pregnant during five Advents, and during each one, it was easier to understand this truth that “every pregnancy sings of the first Advent.”  However, the Advent before my January baby (number-four son) was probably the most impactful, given that I was exceptionally large, and I had suffered more during this pregnancy than in the previous three healthy ones combined. I had debilitating migraines every two days until four months along. I’m four feet nine inches tall and, before pregnancy, my weight was typically 95 pounds. I had already gained 65 pounds with that pregnancy, and the baby measured at seven pounds during December. (He would be born a month later at nearly ten pounds).  While I didn’t love the difficulties and challenges of childbearing, I was filled with joy when I was pregnant because it was a time when the fruit of our love was growing and kicking inside of me.

And growing and kicking this baby did. A lot of it! Because of the excess weight, I could barely walk, let alone move. I couldn’t imagine myself sitting on a stinky donkey and traveling in warm weather, far away from home, then giving birth in a damp, smelly stable. 

Needless to say, that was the first time I understood with greater clarity what Mother Mary endured that first Advent. I continue to be in awe of Our Lady’s yes to carrying Our Savior.   Mary was – and continues to be –a beautiful example of patience and virtue during pregnancy, having to sit on a donkey for miles and miles, then having to give birth in a stable, with the accompanying sounds, odors, and discomforts.

Mary also acted as my consoler when I lost seven babies through miscarriage.  There is no other woman who could so completely understand the heartbreak of losing a precious child better than Our Lady herself, who stood under the cross, her heart pierced by the sword of watching her own flesh and blood, the very Savior of the world, die in agony.

Let us embrace this Advent with Our Lady’s open welcoming of the Savior, the one she bore for mankind.  And let us pause, remember, and pray for all those who carry a precious child in their wombs, that they will understand with great clarity the unique and everlasting gift of carrying an eternal, human soul.

Nearing the end of a challenging pregnancy (1996)

Copyright 2020 Ellen Gable Hrkach

An Open Book – November #openbook

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

What Follows After by Dan Walsh

Amazon Synopsis: 2nd Edition – Carol Award Finalist, Selah Award Winner !! (Best Historical Fiction) It’s October, 1962. Life is simple. The world makes sense, and all families are happy. When they aren’t, everyone knows you’re supposed to pretend. With their family about to collapse, Colt Harrison and his little brother, Timmy, hatch a plan. They’ll run away from their Florida home, head for their aunt’s house in Savannah and refuse to come home until their parents get back together. But things go terribly, terribly wrong. Colt’s parents must come to grips with years of mistrust and fight for their son’s return…and to mend their broken marriage. In this emotional story, Dan Walsh takes readers on a suspense-filled journey to rediscover the things that matter most in life.

My review: I liked this book because it had some twists and turns and an interesting plot. The part of the story that takes place in 1962 was very well done and mentioned songs, TV shows and movies from that time. Recommend. 4/5.

The Crown of Sanctity
by Daniel O’Connor

Amazon Synopsis: 2,000 years ago, the Son of God prayed to His Father, “Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” This prayer, the greatest ever uttered by the lips of man, will not go unanswered. Jesus has revealed to an Italian mystic named Luisa that the time has now at last arrived for its fulfillment; that is, for the restoration of what was destroyed by Adam 6,000 years ago in the Fall of Man. In brief: the entire world is about to be radically transformed like never before in its history. This is probably something you should know about. This book has been written to inform you about the transformation and to enable you to take part in it and hasten it.

But this transformation will not be achieved through human effort. It will be given directly from Heaven by way of God’s greatest Gift: the Gift of Living in the Divine Will, which is the Crown of Sanctity, and which even now we must all strive to receive. In this sanctity is found The Culmination of Deification, the Fruitfulness of Mystical Marriage, the Aspiration of the Unification of Wills, and the Essence of Marian Consecration. This is none other than the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary promised at Fatima. It is the coming of the Kingdom of God.

This is a long book, but its length should turn away no one, as a thorough and detailed table of contents is given so that each reader can easily select only those sections in which he is interested for his perusal.

And any reader is sure to find much that interests him. Within these pages is a treasury of resources; not only concerning Luisa’s revelations directly, but also on new arguments for God’s existence and the truth of Christianity, extensive Catechesis on Private Revelation in general and on the spiritual life in general (including overviews of the greatest teachings on spirituality in the history of the Church), and details on the Era of Peace as revealed to Luisa and many other mystics, visionaries, and seers (Fatima, Medjugorje, Venerable Conchita, Fr. Gobbi, and dozens more). You will not regret reading this book.

“This is our great hope and our petition: “Your Kingdom come” – a kingdom of peace, justice, and serenity, that will re-establish the original harmony of creation.” St. JP II

My review: Amazing, compelling book about the times we’re living in and approved revelations of Jesus to Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta back in the late 1800’s and 1900’s. She was bedridden for most of her life and neither ate, drank or slept, only being nourished by the Holy Eucharist. She was called the “Little Daughter of the Divine Will.” Highly recommend. It’s permanently free on Kindle. 5/5.

Firstborn by Robin Lee Hatcher

Amazon Synopsis: Erika Welby had a secret she thought no one would ever discover. But someone knew …

“Dear Mrs. Welby, I know you were only seventeen when I was born. I’ve got many questions. I wonder if you have questions to ask me, too.”

Erika’s worst fear is realized when her well-kept secret shows up on her doorstep. As she reaches out to the daughter she gave up for adoption 21 years ago, her husband pulls away, leaving Erika with an impossible choice.

My review: The synopsis hooked me in, so I downloaded this when it was either free or .99. However, for me, the story didn’t deliver. We find out that before she was married, Erika had a one-night stand, got pregnant and wound up giving up the baby for adoption. She never told her husband or the man she had the one-night-stand with. When Erika hears from the daughter she gave up, she panics because her well-kept secret is about to be revealed. I found both the husband and wife standoffish and not that likeable. 3/5.

Mommie Dearest by
Christina Crawford

Amazon Synopsis: The 40th anniversary edition of the “shocking” #1 New York Times bestseller with an exclusive new introduction by the author (Los Angeles Times).
 
When Christina Crawford’s harrowing chronicle of child abuse was first published in 1978, it brought global attention to the previously closeted subject. It also shed light on the guarded world of Hollywood and stripped away the façade of Christina’s relentless, alcoholic abuser: her adoptive mother, movie star Joan Crawford.
 
Christina was a young girl shown off to the world as a fortunate little princess. But at home, her lonely, controlling, even ruthless mother made her life a nightmare. A fierce battle of wills, their relationship could be characterized as an ultimately successful, for Christina, struggle for independence. She endured and survived, becoming the voice of so many other victims who suffered in silence, and giving them the courage to forge a productive life out of chaos.
 
This ebook edition features an exclusive new introduction by the author, plus rare photographs from her personal collection and one hundred pages of revealing material not found in the original manuscript.

My review: I downloaded this when it was on sale for 1.99 on Kindle. Like many people, I’ve seen the disturbing movie. I was prepared for any disturbing incidents, but it was hard to stomach most of this book. Recommend only for those with a strong stomach. 3/5.

In a People House by Dr. Seuss

Amazon Synopsis: When a spunky mouse invites a passing bird to see what’s inside a People House, chaos ensues while beginning readers learn the names of 65 common household items—and that people are generally not pleased to find mice and birds in their houses! A super simple, delightfully silly introduction to objects around the home—from none other than Dr. Seuss!

My review: This is another favorite of my sons as they were growing up and I’m sure will be a favorite of my grandson’s. It’s got catchy rhyming (as usual for Dr. Seuss) and when reading it to a toddler, you can almost read it as a rap. I was surprised that I knew this book almost by heart! Highly recommend! 5/5.

Llama llama Nighty-Night by Anna Dewdney

Amazon Synopsis: What’s the best part of bedtime? Stories with Mama! Before cuddling, Llama Llama must splish and splash in the tub, then put his red pajamas on.

Dewdney’s catchy rhymes, effortless rhythm, and adorable artwork can now be enjoyed by even younger audiences. Toddlers will love this perfect read-aloud.

My review: This is a clever little book for toddlers with adorable pictures and great rhyming. One of my grandson’s favorites. Just short enough for bedtime. Highly recommend. 5/5.

An Open Book – October #openbook

I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. Here are the books I’ve been reading for the past month.

Home At Last (edited by Rosalind Moss)

Amazon Synopsis: The impressive Bernini columns that stretch from St. Peter’s Basilica out towards Rome, enclosing St. Peter’s Square, have been described as the arms of the Church reaching out and welcoming all people, all language groups, all cultures, and all individuals looking for truth, happiness in this life, and eternal salvation in the next. Our beloved converts have come to love the Church as their mother and home. They have prayed, argued, studied, and finally embraced the Catholic faith. But it wasn’t by their works alone that they have found a home in the Church. Ultimately they–like all Catholics–are members of the Church because of God’s generous gift of faith, which we neither earn nor deserve. May these converts, and all like them, persevere in their newfound faith and bear fruit a hundredfold. -Most Rev. Michael J. Sheehan Archbishop, Archdiocese of Santa Fe

My review: I’ve been watching the former Rosalind Moss (now Mother Miriam) on YouTube for quite sometime, so I decided to purchase this book to read more about her conversion story and the conversion story of others. Mother Miriam’s is probably the most interesting to me. A Jewish girl brought up in New York City became an Evangelical, then a Catholic, then became a sister and founded a new religious order. Fascinating read, but the other stories are also quite compelling. It’s always interesting to see how the Holy Spirit works in the conversion of others. Every conversion story is as unique as each individual person. Highly recommend! 5/5.

Our House by Louise Candlish

Amazon Synopsis: On a bright morning in the suburbs, a family moves into the house they’ve just bought on Trinity Avenue. Nothing strange about that. Except it’s your house. And you didn’t sell it.

When Fiona Lawson arrives home to find strangers moving into her house, she is plunged into terror and confusion. She and her husband, Bram, have owned their home on Trinity Avenue for years; how can another family possibly think the house is theirs? And why has Bram disappeared–along with their two young children–when she needs him most?

As the nightmare takes hold, Fiona begins to untangle the lies that led to a devastating crime–and a betrayal so shocking it will teach her to keep her own secrets behind locked doors….

My review: I happened to pick this book up at Costco. The blurb definitely hooked me in. It was a great read (although the middle section where the author dragged out the antagonists’ cat-and-mouse games, I just skimmed because it was too much of the same). However, the last 70 or so pages were compelling and I read that in one sitting. Highly recommend. 4/5.

Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties

by Tom O’Neill

Amazon Synopsis: Over two grim nights in Los Angeles, the young followers of Charles Manson murdered seven people, including the actress Sharon Tate, then eight months pregnant. With no mercy and seemingly no motive, the Manson Family followed their leader’s every order — their crimes lit a flame of paranoia across the nation, spelling the end of the sixties. Manson became one of history’s most infamous criminals, his name forever attached to an era when charlatans mixed with prodigies, free love was as possible as brainwashing, and utopia — or dystopia — was just an acid trip away.

Twenty years ago, when journalist Tom O’Neill was reporting a magazine piece about the murders, he worried there was nothing new to say. Then he unearthed shocking evidence of a cover-up behind the “official” story, including police carelessness, legal misconduct, and potential surveillance by intelligence agents. When a tense interview with Vincent Bugliosi — prosecutor of the Manson Family and author of Helter Skelter — turned a friendly source into a nemesis, O’Neill knew he was onto something. But every discovery brought more questions.

O’Neill’s quest for the truth led him from reclusive celebrities to seasoned spies, from San Francisco’s summer of love to the shadowy sites of the CIA’s mind-control experiments, on a trail rife with shady cover-ups and suspicious coincidences. The product of two decades of reporting, hundreds of new interviews, and dozens of never-before-seen documents from the LAPD, the FBI, and the CIA, Chaos mounts an argument that could be, according to Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Steven Kay, strong enough to overturn the verdicts on the Manson murders. This is a book that overturns our understanding of a pivotal time in American history.

My review: I bought this book after seeing the author’s gripping interview on Joe Rogan’s YouTube channel. I wanted to hear more about his research. Chaos is a very interesting book. although tedious at times. The author had legitimate questions and sometimes the answers were not what he (or his readers) expected. My one biggest disappointment in this book is that there is never any definitive answer to many of the questions he asked. He did, however, illustrate with evidence how Vincent Bugliosi, prosecutor in the original Manson trials, lied by omission during the trial and in his book, Helter Skelter (which I’ve read at least five times: it’s probably THE most compelling book I’ve ever read!) Recommend to true crime readers: 3.5/5.

Woman in the Trees by Theoni Bell

Amazon Synopsis: Set within the expanses of the American frontier, The Woman in the Trees follows Slainie, an inquisitive pioneer girl, whose life is forever transformed when a mysterious seer shows up at her door. Amidst the backdrop of the Civil War, family tragedy, and the nation’s most destructive wildfire, Slainie must navigate her rugged pioneer life as she encounters love and loss, and comes face to face with the story of America’s first approved Marian apparition.

My review: I really enjoyed this young adult book about America’s first approved Marian apparition. I also enjoyed the descriptions of what it was like in the pioneer days, especially with immigrants. Recommend! 4/5

Hand Hand Fingers Thumb by Al Perkins

Amazon Synopsis: A madcap band of dancing, prancing monkeys explain hands, fingers, and thumbs to beginning readers.

My review: I just recently purchased this book for my grandson. Since I’ve been babysitting him part-time, one of the things we do together is read. This was one of my boys’ favorite books growing up and it has become one of my grandson’s favorite books. It’s simple, funny and entertaining. Highly recommend. 5/5.

Go Dog Go by P. D. Eastman

Amazon Synopsis: Reading goes to the dogs in this timeless Beginner Book edited by Dr. Seuss. From big dogs and little dogs to red, green, and blue dogs, dogs going up and dogs going fast . . . who knew dogs were so busy? And laughter will ensue at the repeated question “Do you like my hat?” Like P. D. Eastman’s classic Are You My Mother? Go, Dog. Go! has been a go-to favorite for over fifty years, leaving audiences of all breeds wagging their tails with delight.

My review: Believe it or not, this is one of the books that taught me to read (it was published in 1961.) I remember absolutely loving the part at the end with the tree (no spoilers here!) and my boys shared the same excitement. So this is another book I bought for my grandson in the hopes he can also enjoy it! Highly recommend. 5/5.

Open Book – September #openbook

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

Here’s what I’ve been reading for the past month:

The Last Closet by Moira Greyland

Amazon Synopsis: Marion Zimmer Bradley was a bestselling science fiction author, a feminist icon, and was awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. She was best known for the Arthurian fiction novel THE MISTS OF AVALON and for her very popular Darkover series.

She was also a monster.

THE LAST CLOSET: The Dark Side of Avalon is a brutal tale of a harrowing childhood. It is the true story of predatory adults preying on the innocence of children without shame, guilt, or remorse. It is an eyewitness account of how high-minded utopian intellectuals, unchecked by law, tradition, religion, or morality, can create a literal Hell on Earth.

THE LAST CLOSET is also an inspiring story of survival. It is a powerful testimony to courage, to hope, and to faith. It is the story of Moira Greyland, the only daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and convicted child molester Walter Breen, told in her own words.

My review: I’ve got a pretty strong stomach for disturbing books, but I could only read one chapter or part of a chapter at a time. The author talks about all this happening in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s when sexual permissiveness was not as widespread as it is now. It is a testament to the author that she was able to pull herself out of her home life and have the courage to report her father to the police. My only criticism is that the book could’ve been edited better. It’s far too long and the author includes letters and comments from others. However, I do recommend it, but only for those with a strong stomach for disturbing stories.

The Butterfly Miracle by Michelle Halliwell

Amazon Synopsis: A devout Catholic, graduating at the top of her class with a scholarship to Harvard, is drugged and assaulted by a stranger. Unfairly pregnant, she must choose between her dreams and her faith.

My review: On my ‘To Read’shelf.

Tippi: a Memoir by Tippi Hedren

Amazon Synopsis: In this absorbing and surprising memoir, one of the biggest names of classic Hollywood—the star of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and Marnie—tells her story, including never-before-revealed experiences on the set of some of the biggest cult films of all time . . . now with a foreword by Melanie Griffith

For decades, Tippi Hedren’s luminous beauty radiated from the silver screen, enchanting moviegoers and cementing her position among Hollywood’s elite—beauty and star power that continue to endure. For too long Hedren’s story has been told by others through whispered gossip and tabloid headlines. Now, Hedren sets the record straight, recalling how a young and virtuous Lutheran girl from small-town Minnesota became a worldwide legend—as one of the most famous Hitchcock girls, as an unwavering animal activist, and as the matriarch of a powerful Hollywood dynasty that includes her movie star daughter Melanie Griffith, and rising star Dakota Johnson, her granddaughter.

For the first time, Hedren digs deep into her complicated relationship with the man who discovered her talent, director Alfred Hitchcock, the benefactor who would become a repulsive and controlling director who contractually controlled her every move. She speaks openly about the dark pain she endured working with him on their most famous collaborations, The Birds and Marnie, and finding the courage she needed to break away.

My review: To come.

Shadow Stalker by T.M. Gaouette

Amazon Synopsis: It all happened one morning. It was as if the world had gone mad. Well, maybe not the whole world, but enough of it to get noticed. People were waking up as if possessed; suffering souls resorting to tearing at their skin, crying out loud to no one in particular, haunted by a sudden internal torment that no one around them could decipher. For investigative reporter Elijah, this news story was way bigger than a scoop. Unless he could unmask the truth behind the madness, how could he stop it, once and for all? And more urgent – how could he keep it from happening to him?

My review: I thoroughly enjoyed this novella. In an age where sexual trafficking and molestation happens to the youngest of children, I found myself wishing this internal torment would happen to all those who destroy the innocence of a child. Compelling page-turner. Highly recommend.

Love’s Labour Started by

Martina Parnelli and M. Roberto Angelorum

Amazon Synopsis: A poetic peek into Renaissance era romance beckons us in this tale of lords and ladies at odds in their pursuits – pursuits that quickly change as camaraderie creates bonds from both unexpected turns and surprising discoveries. Medieval gentility makes for an authentic taste of yore in this tale of love and life’s lessons therein.

My review: I thoroughly enjoyed this play involving lords and ladies meeting and interacting. Romantic attractions occur but what follows is a beautiful illustration of chaste love and following one’s vocation. Exquisitely written in fine poetry. Highly recommend.

NFP Awareness Week! #NFP

This is the end of NFP Awareness Week but better late than never!

National NFP Awareness Week – JULY 19 – JULY 25, 2020

Live the truth and beauty of
God’s plan for married love!

Natural Family Planning
It’s about love. It’s about life. It’s about freedom. It’s about gift.

“Celebrate and reverence God’s vision of human sexuality.”

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NFP Articles:

Rebuilding a Culture of Life 

NFP and Resolutions for the New Year

Humanae Vitae and the Benefits of NFP

Responsible Parenthood and NFP

My Last Period FB

Copyright James and Ellen Hrkach Please do not use without permission

Fertile Time Small

Image copyright 2013 James and Ellen Hrkach (Please do not use without permission)

Here's to 20 yearssm

Image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach Please do not use without permission

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Image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach. Please do NOT use without permission.

 

Motherhood Matters Study Guide

Motherhood Matters by Dorothy Pilarski is a beautiful book that contains reflections of a mother for mothers. 21st century mothering has become one where mothers are expected to work a double, sometimes triple shift: in the workplace,  still carrying most of the load of housework while often caring for their own parents or in laws.  In a culture that has run amuck, Motherhood Matters is a healthy reminder that motherhood is a vocation, a call from God.  It is a sacred gift – one that unfortunately many women have been forced into treating it like just a role or a series of tasks. For some unfortunately it’s treated like an afterthought.  Pilarski illustrates through these writings that truly ‘Motherhood Matters.’

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Hot off the presses is the new Motherhood Matters Study Guide. I helped to edit this book as well as writing some of the reflections. Each study includes a story from Motherhood Matters, questions for discussion, a saint, a recommended book and activities. It’s extremely well done, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to do a year-long study of motherhood.

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