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.

Julia’s Gifts #FREE on #Kindle Through Saturday

Julia’s Gifts (Great War Great Love #1) is now #FREE on #Kindle through Saturday.

As an added bonus, the other two books in the series are only .99 each until Friday.

Charlotte’s Honor on Kindle

Ella’s Promise on Kindle

#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.

Power in the Name of Jesus Conference

My husband and I participated in this international conference on the Power of Jesus’ name. Our talk begins around six minutes. (And a screenshot of us speaking is below the You Tube link/box. There are several other speakers from various parts of the world including Scotland, Wales and Poland. Enjoy!

Close to the Soul #1 in New Releases on #Kindle

Close to the Soul by Mary Jo Thayer (to be released on May 1st by FQP!) is #1 in New Releases on Kindle!

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

With equal measures of heartbreak and joy, Close to the Soul is a gripping novel that strikes every emotional chord.  Fans of Francine Rivers will flock to this one!  Lori Nelson Spielman, best-selling author

When I started reading Close to the Soul, I wasn’t sure how Mary Jo would approach this difficult topic, especially from a young woman’s point of view. What I found was a beautiful and inspiring story written in such a refreshing way that celebrates life, faith, love, redemption, strength of spirit, and family amid a devastating challenge. I felt honored to read Close to the Soul’ and pray that many readers will share this story.   Jim Sano, author of the Fr. Tom Series

What an uplifting and hopeful story! I have to admit that it brought tears to my eyes more than once while I was reading it.  I loved the solid and unwavering faith displayed by the Fandel family. The story definitely brings out the truth of God’s wonderful and mysterious ways and his constant care of us even when we are going through rough times that we cannot understand. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.   Linda Etchison, author, Sr. Aloysius Comes to Mercyville

Mary Jo Thayer has written an uplifting tale, dealing sensitively at each step with the challenges and trials faced by women raising their children alone. Mary Jo’s deep faith is obvious, shining through her main character, Carolyn Fandel. Carolyn’s resignation to the situation she finds herself in, along with the decisions she makes in the wake of her trauma, would certainly provide encouragement to any Catholic woman in any state of life, and indeed to anyone who picks up the book to read it.  Veronica Smallhorn, author, A Channel of Your Peace

Wow! What a powerful and moving story set in the 1950’s. The story is of great value for readers today. This is an amazing read. And an incredible debut novel. Christian fiction at its best. Excellent Catholic literature. Steven McEvoy, Book Reviews and More

To preorder the book on Kindle, click here.

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 – February #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 and what I’ve been working on.

Free Fall by Jessica Barry

Synopsis: They say your daughter is dead.

You know they’re wrong.

When her fiancé’s private plane crashes in the Colorado Rockies, everyone assumes Allison Carpenter is dead.

But Maggie, Allison’s mother back home in Owl Creek, Maine, refuses to believe them. Maggie knows her daughter – or she used to, anyway. For the past two years, the two women have been estranged, and while Maggie doesn’t know anything about Ally’s life now – not even why she was on a private plane to begin with – she still believes in her girl’s strength, and in their love for each other.

As Allison struggles across the treacherous mountain wilderness, Maggie embarks on a desperate search for answers about the world Allison has been involved in. What was she running from? And can Maggie uncover the truth in time to save her?

Told from the perspectives of a mother and daughter separated by distance but united by an unbreakable bond, Freefall is a heart-stopping, propulsive thriller about two tenacious women overcoming unimaginable obstacles to protect themselves and the ones they love.

My review: This was certainly NOT what I expected it to be. It started off slow so it took 50 or so pages to get into this, but once I did, I definitely didn’t want to put it down. It’s a complex story with well-developed characters and some twists and turns. Well written, highly recommend! 4/5.

Synopsis: (from Amazon) The most popular Catholic novel in America. Immerse yourself in a sweeping story set against the backdrop of historical and present-day Marian Apparitions. Join unforgettable characters as their lives intertwine during the Great Tribulations. Discover why America’s best-loved Catholic novelist has thrilled, inspired, and surprised over one million readers who simply could not put this unforgettable epic down. Must-reading for every Catholic.

My review: With our world in the state it’s in, I picked this book up again after about 25 years. It’s not as badly written as I remembered (especially this edition where Michael O’Brien helped with the edits). It’s a great story but you can definitely tell the author had never written fiction before. I’ve never liked that the priest and several of the faithful Catholic characters smoke and drink as much as they do in this book. The author’s favorite phrase is: he/she took another drag of his cigarette. The POVs are constantly switching between characters even within the same paragraph. I’ve always thought that the gushing reviews at the front of the book by unknown people to be somewhat embarrassing and the synopsis that indicates it’s the “most popular Catholic novel in America” to be over the top. All that being said, this is and will always be a great story, if you can overlook the mediocre writing and character development in the women (all the women’s dialogue sounds the same.)

And…without this book, I don’t think there would be the hundreds of great Catholic novels now available. This author gave me inspiration when I started out writing fiction. 3/5 for the great story.

Synopsis: With House of Gold, America’s favorite Catholic novelist returns to the riveting, apocalyptic storytelling which captured the hearts of countless readers in his explosive classic, Pierced by a Sword, while retaining the intimate, realistic characters who charmed, surprised, and ultimately swept readers away in his second novel, Conceived Without Sin. Join Bud Macfarlane as he takes you on a gripping spiritual odyssey that will reverberate through your soul long after you turn the final page.

My review: House of Gold has always been my favorite of the three in Bud’s series, probably because the writing is much better and one of the character’s names is Ellie (which is my nickname). It’s a fictionalized account of what might have happened had Y2K been real and all the computers shut down. Another great story, but this time, better written. Recommend! 4/5.

Amazon Synopsis: Now available! By the year 2030, medical science had become so advanced that death could be postponed indefinitely. A small group of ultra-wealthy people saw in this new technology an opportunity to create a more stable and peaceful world, but only if they had full control over the treatments. Keeping their life-extending procedures to themselves, they took on a near god-like identity under the name the Avogo, thinking that they could rule with consistent peace and wisdom that would come from their great age.

In 2045, fire reigned down from heaven. About two-thirds of the world’s population perished as the environment became harsh and desolate. Most people who survived took to living in earth-sheltered dwellings, including caves and tunnels. The Avogo — having been worried about climate change — had already prepared their own elaborate doomsday bunkers in mountainsides and stocked them well with the equipment and supplies they would need to continue their immortal lives. They welcomed survivors into their bunkers, offering a life of bliss to anyone who wanted to join their growing cities.

But that life of bliss was not free. People who joined the new cities had to agree to have a brain portal implanted into their heads. The portals enabled downloadable education… and reprogramming when their thoughts got out of line. And to monitor those thoughts, citizens had to live with a personal affective simulator bot (PASbot) at all times.

Now, in the year 2091, a seventeen-year-old boy named Jutta — born and raised in Volmar, the greatest of the new utopian cities — is plagued by a depression that he can’t shake and that no amount of reprogramming has remedied. Finding little enjoyment in the pleasures that the others in Volmar seem to love so much, he asks for the only solution that can possibly give him a new lease on life… the Refreshing.

Amazon Synopsis: Coming February 11, 2021 from FQP! Charon, master vampire, has known of an ancient prophecy foretelling the coming of a “nemesis” to destroy him and his kind on some future date. One of royal blood and—perhaps—half-human and half-vampire. His attempts throughout the ages to thwart the prophecy have failed. His senses tell him that the birth of his destroyer is imminent! He must act now, while it is a mere child, and vulnerable. He commands his horde to kidnap the baby and bring it back to him.

With great difficulty his plan is carried out. A great battle ensues; the child is snatched. Those that survive the perilous mission straggle back to the master’s lair. Only then is it discovered that the baby has been mysteriously lost.

The child falls into the hands of a humble couple living in the woods, who raise him as their own, in obscurity, preserved from danger until the time comes for him to fulfil his destiny. They name him Jude, unaware of his unusual heritage, though as he grows, he displays certain “oddities.” They are protective of the child and teach him to hide these oddities from a world unforgiving of anything different. He himself does not know what it all means, nor does he understand the recurring nightmares and “episodes” that seem so real. More frightening is the “phantom” that haunts the surrounding forest and seems fixated on him.

As Jude enters his teen years, he tries to piece together the puzzle of his life. Will a mysterious monk—who unexpectedly and fortuitously appears on the scene—help him sort it out?

Anything But Groovy by Amanda Lauer

Amazon Synopsis: Coming February 26 from FQ Publishing! 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, to balancing friendships, and to ultimately doing what she can to survive bullying at the hands of the school’s biggest jock — is anything but groovy.

My Queen My Mother by Marge Fenelon

Amazon Synopsis: In My Queen, My Mother: A Living Novena, award-winning author Marge Steinhage Fenelon brings you along on a pilgrimage to nine Marian shrines across the United States. Each day of this spiritual journey helps you encounter God and a deeper relationship with the Blessed Mother.

“My Queen, My Mother, I give myself entirely to you.”

The opening line to the Little Consecration sets the framework of this unique, nine-day pilgrimage, which culminates in a consecration to Mary.

This living novena is similar in style and structure to the pilgrimage Fenelon developed in the bestselling and award-winning Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. The key difference, however, is that the first living novena was framed by Pope Francis’s visit to the Holy Land. For My Queen, My Mother, Fenelon chose sacred destinations that reflect the Catholic heritage of the United States.

The nine Marian sites Fenelon visits are:

  • Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, St. Augustine, Florida;
  • National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, New Orleans, Louisiana;
  • St. Mary’s Mission and Museum, Stevensville, Montana;
  • Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows, Starkenburg, Missouri;
  • Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation, Carey, Ohio;
  • The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, Champion, Wisconsin;
  • Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs, Auriesville, New York;
  • House of Mary Shrine, Yankton, South Dakota; and
  • Our Lady of Peace Shrine, Santa Clara, California.

Even if you can’t make a physical pilgrimage as Fenelon did, you can still make a spiritual one through her extended guided meditation. Each day you’ll learn about a different shrine to Mary: its history, charism, and graces. Fenelon will also guide you to visit a new “place” in your heart, to understand more about yourself and how to open your heart more fully to Mary.

My review: This is a beautiful little book that takes you on a spiritual pilgrimage to different Marian shrines with reflection questions at the end of each chapter. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I highly recommend it!

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!