1. Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to write this book.
I’m a retired widower with eight children, fourteen grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. I reside in New Jersey. I came to feel uncomfortable with my service (USAF) after a powerful conversion experience to Jesus in the Catholic Church. Eventually, I had to be true to my conscience and refused to continue as an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Crew Commander. I was given a trial and dismissed from service for incompetence. That was the spark to write this book because the charge was trumped up and totally unjust.
2. How did you come up with the title of Back from the Abyss: A Spiritual Solution to Nuclear War?
I was struggling for a title. After a friend read my book, he suggested, Back from the Abyss. A Spiritual Solution to Nuclear War.
3. Your book is a powerful testament to your life experience in the armed forces and your choices as God changed your “heart of stone to a heart of flesh.” Can you briefly tell us how God worked in your life to soften your heart of stone?
After my conversion to the Catholic faith, I was open to experiencing more of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit led me to deep healing and deliverance. The only thing that changed my heart was the Holy Spirit. He heard my desire to be set free and heard my prayer, and did His wonders on me.
4. Why do you think everyone should read your book?
The nuclear war threat is very real. We are at a place where action must be taken to avoid the threat we all face. Prayer is a very real solution. I know that prayer has given us time. If we use our time for prayer and turn to God, there will be a time of peace. On top of this, atonement needs to be offered for the sixty-five million unborn children who have perished through abortion since 1973.
5. In the synopsis of your book, you write that we “desperately need to face the nuclear age with the heart of God and not with our own thinking…” Can you give us concrete examples of how we can face the nuclear age with the heart of God?
Jesus gave us the key to bring His love to others, that is, mercy, forgiveness, and respect. Jesus sat down at the table with the sinner. We should do the same, especially since we are sinners too.
My latest column at Catholic Mom is a review of this beautiful new book.
“The foundation of all true culture is the search for God and the readiness to listen to him.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Sept 2008)
Benedict XVI, Servant of Love is the new commemorative book published by Ignatius Press and edited by Magnificat. The recent death of our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was not unexpected. However, the former Joseph Ratzinger led a holy and exemplary life, and I believe he is on his way to heaven (if he isn’t already there).
From the publisher: Through stunning photographs, glorious art, insightful commentary, and his own inspiring words, this beautiful deluxe commemorative book celebrates the extraordinary life and legacy of Pope Benedict XVI. Lavishly illustrated. Special Commemorative Edition, edited by Magnificat.
This is a beautiful book that includes three different parts: Benedict XVI, the Man; Benedict XVI’s Thought; and Praying with Pope Benedict XVI. Readers will enjoy this pope’s inspiring life and legacy from infancy to his becoming pope. He was born on a snowy Holy Thursday and had a great love of music from a young age. We learn about his family’s experiences under Hitler, and his father’s moving the family to Traunstein near Salzburg to distance them from the Nazis. He served a short time in his obligatory stint in the German Army and left in the spring of 1945. He was eventually taken prisoner by the Americans along with 50,000 other men in a vast outdoor camp. Every day, he took comfort in being able to see the steeple of the Ulm Cathedral, as well as the Masses in the camp. In June of 1945, he was given his liberation certificate. From there, he and his brother entered the seminary. Two professors influenced him: Gottlieb Sohngen, who was a pianist like Joseph, and Friedrich Wilhelm Maier, who was a professor of New Testament exegesis.
On the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul in 1951, Joseph and his brother received priestly ordination. There were many trials for Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (at his first parish, as a new professor, through Vatican II, and during student protests and riots in 1968), but he tried to remain positive. He enjoyed returning home to visit his family. His nostalgia for home continued throughout the rest of his life, even after his parents and sister were deceased. He was consecrated as an archbishop in 1977 and, within a few months, was appointed a cardinal by Pope Paul VI.
He endured trials, but his achievements were greater. Before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, he worked closely with Pope Saint John Paul II. He was the producer of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992. He wrote many books during this time. He was a strong proponent of fasting, not just during Lent, but year-round.
When his close friend Pope John Paul II passed away, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger celebrated the funeral Mass and, a few weeks later, was elected the new pope, Pope Benedict XVI.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote three encyclicals, many spiritual reflections, seven apostolic exhortations, and over 60 books. Excerpts of many of them are included in Part 2, Benedict XVI’s Thought, and Part 3, Praying with Benedict XVI. As an author myself, Pope Benedict XVI has always been an inspiration.
When traveling to Italy in 2007, my husband and I were privileged to pray the Angelus with Pope Benedict XVI and thousands of pilgrims in Rome. We listened to the Holy Father as he spoke in several languages from the balcony of his apartment above St. Peter’s Square one Sunday in March. Being present and hearing Pope Benedict XVI’s words was one of the highlights of our trip (even though we were quite far away from the pope, see below).
As Catholics, we believe in the intercession of those who have gone before us. We can be comforted knowing that the Holy Father is praying and interceding for us.
Pope Benedict XVI’s contribution to the Catholic faith and his service to the Church is joyfully celebrated in this book. Stunning photographs, beautiful artwork, and interesting commentary make this an extraordinary book. I learned so much about Pope Benedict XVI. Now that he has gone to his reward, this is an ideal keepsake for this extraordinary pope. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about and celebrate his life of service.
Amazon Synopsis: Three tragic events happened during my lifetime. First, there was the treacherous attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in 1941 when I was eleven years old. This was followed by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki when I was fifteen. The third event was the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon when I was 71. These three events are part of my history, as they are for many of you, and are very much the motivation for writing this book and what led me to stand in conscience against the use of weapons of mass destruction while still a member of the USAF. God changed my heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Our hearts have been hardened and wounded by these tragic events and by the painful events of our own personal lives. We desperately need to face the nuclear age with the heart of God, not with our own thinking but with God’s. Only then can we experience an age of peace on earth.
My review: This extraordinary book is part memoir and part spiritual conversion story. The author, a retired United States Air Force officer, had a crisis of conscience when asked to be ready, willing and able to drop an atomic bomb on targets that could kill innocent civilians. The catastrophic effects of the bombs on the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were brutal and long-lasting. Those who weren’t killed immediately were left in agonizing physical and emotional pain for many years.
The author makes the parallel between the atomic bombs’ destruction of innocent lives with the acceptance of the destruction of unborn children through abortion. That our (American) complicity in the use of the atomic bomb in many ways led to the murder of nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001.
When Margetts revealed that he, in good conscience, could not be called upon to drop one of these bombs, he was ridiculed and eventually driven out of the Air Force.
The author doesn’t just tell his story, he offers ways to atone for the tragedy of the atomic bombs and for the numbing of our country’s conscience in allowing the daily slaughter of tens of thousands of unborn children. Although the Supreme Court recently made Roe v Wade unconstitutional, many states now allow unborn children to be slaughtered right up to and including the moment of birth.
Reading this book will help anyone who believes that the atomic bombs were actually necessary in winning the war against Japan understand how this was not the case. This book will also give us steps to spiritually move forward and atone for these grievous sins.
Amazon Synopsis: Three tragic events happened during my lifetime. First there was the treacherous attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in 1941, when I was eleven years old. This was followed by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki when I was fifteen. The third event was the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon when I was 71. These three events are part of my history, as they are for many of you, and are very much the motivation for writing this book and what led me to stand in conscience against the use of weapons of mass destruction while still a member of the USAF. God changed my heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Our hearts have been hardened and wounded by these tragic events and by the painful events of our own personal lives. We desperately need to face the nuclear age with the heart of God, not with our own thinking but with God’s. Only then can we experience an age of peace upon the earth.
This true account was written by the high-ranking Air Force officer’s moral confrontation with his personal Catholic beliefs and commands he was given. It makes very real the stand of the Catholic Church in light of the stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. It presents excellent examples of moral decisions made in WWII and makes mention of considerations as recent as 9/11. It’s an engaging account of how Military Law can conflict with common religious moral obligation and the price this officer paid for following his conscience. Hendrick Soule
This book tells the journey of a soul, chronicling the courage and determination that is required to grow in union with God. The early chapters catch the reader immediately and won’t let go. The writer tells his story of conversion, and very quickly the struggle to be true to his conscience when it came to what he saw as unjust warfare. He clung to the truths in Vatican II documents as the foundation for his unwillingness to accept the profound rejection of the dignity of human beings. The author weaves the connection between war atrocities and the numbing of our country’s conscience regarding the value of the human person, and how this is being experienced in today’s carnage of unborn children through legalized abortion. This brings him to what seems to be the primary focus of this most captivating book, in the closing chapters on Atonement, Covenant and Unity. This is certainly a book that is worth reading and that will feed your soul. Tom Scheuring
I’m joining Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. Here’s what I’ve been reading for the past month.
Synopsis: Considered by many the greatest war novel of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front is Erich Maria Remarque’s masterpiece of the German experience during World War I.
I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. . . .
This is the testament of Paul Bäumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army during World War I. They become soldiers with youthful enthusiasm. But the world of duty, culture, and progress they had been taught breaks in pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches.
Through years of vivid horror, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principle of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against one another . . . if only he can come out of the war alive.
My review: I tend to avoid books written in the present tense, but this one does it well. I also found it fascinating that this book is written from the POV of a German soldier instead of an Allied soldier. It doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the war and humanizes every soldier, both German and Allied. It has beautifully written passages. Highly recommend.
Synopsis: Fear is at the heart of the sexual revolution, and its most fitting monument is the “hook-up.” Dr. Morse exposes the sexual revolution’s fraudulent promise of freedom and fearlessly explodes some of modern society’s most cherished—and destructive—myths. She argues that strong, lasting marriages are essential for the survival of a free society, not to mention basic human happiness. She fires the opening shots of a new sexual revolution and shows how everyone, married or single, can help.
My review: I picked up this book for five dollars at a local Catholic bookstore. I liked it, but the author didn’t go far enough in explaining why contraception is disordered and one of the underlying causes of a “hook-up” world. However, on the whole, it was an excellent book. Recommend.
Synopsis: If you met God today, what would He say to you? Words of Hope is a collection of powerful dialogues and sayings given by Jesus to four gifted saints from the Middle Ages and Renaissance: Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Genoa, Gertrude the Great and Margaret Mary Alacoque. These souls possessed the gift of “locution,” the ability to hear the actual voice of God. In this book, author Craig Turner collects into categories the locutions received by these saints, words from God that are meant not only for these four souls, but for all mankind.
My review: This is a beautiful book with powerful words given by Jesus to four gifted saints. These souls could hear the actual voice of God. Recommend.
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, taking care of yourself and baby after birth, and more. If Bonnie and Anna could sit down with you to have coffee and chat about pregnancy and new babies, this is what they’d like to tell you – mom to mom.
My review: I enjoyed this step-by-step book for new mothers. It offers great information, especially for first-time moms. Recommend.
Book 2 of the Westthorpe Academy Mysteries is here! After recovering from their daring exploits in the exciting first book of the series, The Ghosts of Westthorpe Academy, best friends Joe Pryce and Pete Figueroa return for another thrilling, action-adventure in Miracle at the Mission.
During a summer trip to California, Joe and Pete visit Mission San Antonio de Padua where they meet an old Franciscan monk who warns them of the dangers they will soon face. The boys are drawn into a series of events filled with suspense, mystery, espionage, a high-speed car chase, and an assassination attempt by Russian operatives on the President of the United States.
Caught up in the pursuit of the assassins, the boys discover they have become suspects in the investigation. They must prove their innocence while also counting on the guidance of the old padre, who happens to bear a strange resemblance to Saint Junipero Serra himself.
With the world teetering on the brink of an international crisis, the story reaches its climax at another mission—Mission San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel—where the boys and a large gathering of people witness an incredible miracle that changes their lives forever.
Miracle at the Mission is your second book in a series called the Westthorpe Academy Mysteries. How did the idea for the series originate?
Miracle at the Mission is a sequel to my first book, The Ghosts of Westthorpe Academy. The idea for the series began while I was teaching at an all-boys Catholic prep high school in the western suburbs of Philadelphia. On the campus is a charming old mansion that was the original building of the school. Over the years, rumors abounded of how a ghost haunted the mansion and that a stash of old money was hidden somewhere within it.
After hearing of such stories over the years, I finally convinced myself that a story needed to be written. One summer, I put pen to paper and completed my first book, The Ghosts of Westthorpe Academy, published in 2018. I borrowed the name Westthorpe from the original name of the property that surrounds the school––Westthorpe Farm.
Miracle at the Mission provides a completely different setting from the first book and brings the series to the Spanish missions of California. What was the inspiration behind doing this?
Not long after the first book came out, several people began asking when the next one would be coming out. I was throwing some ideas together when my wife and I traveled to California to visit my son who is in the Marine Corps. During the trip, we toured some of the missions founded by St. Junipero Serra where I was immediately struck by the beauty, the holiness, and the history of these extraordinary places. It wasn’t long before I began piecing together a story of how the same two friends from the first story, Joe and Pete, take a summer trip of their own to California where they visit Pete’s older brother Luke who is a Marine and explore some of the missions themselves.
So, in borrowing from my own travel experience, I was able to formulate the basis of a story that would ultimately become Miracle at the Mission. The trip also gave me the opportunity to visualize many of the places I write about in the book which helps provide vivid descriptions and setting details that I hope will enhance the reader’s enjoyment of the story.
Your interest in St. Junipero Serra goes beyond just a curious fascination. Explain how and why Father Serra plays such an important part in the story.
Many may remember that Junipero Serra was canonized a saint of the Church here in the United States in September of 2015. The canonization took place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. and was overseen by Pope Francis himself who was visiting the United States at the time. Serra is the only saint to be canonized on American soil.
Unfortunately, not all the news surrounding this momentous event was positive. Many took the occasion to criticize Serra and to blame him for the abuses perpetrated upon Native Americans many years ago, particularly in California. Some people resorted to defacing or toppling his statues and doing damage to some of the missions.
As a history teacher, and having studied something about Father Serra’s life, I knew that much of the criticism directed towards him was inaccurate, misguided, and unfair. My book provides an opportunity to correct some of that and convey truths of who he really was––a man who worked tirelessly for social justice and truly loved the people he served.
What do you anticipate the reader taking away from Miracle at the Mission?
Though the book is an exciting read, filled with mystery, adventure, intrigue and suspense, it is, above anything else, a story about faith, friendship, selflessness, and doing the right thing. It is a story that inspires hope that various peoples, cultures, and countries can join together in goodwill.
It is a reminder to us that although we live in a world filled with danger, uncertainty, and confusion, we can make a difference if we hold fast to those things that matter most: faith, hope, and love. And we needn’t look any further for help in this effort than the communion of saints who are there, interceding for us. And there is no finer example than the saintly Franciscan, Junipero Serra, who gave of himself totally in the service of his fellow man.
May his example inspire a more fervent faith and devotion, as well as a greater appreciation for the extraordinary work of the California missions and the Franciscan friars who founded them.
The padre turned and looked at Joe. The hood of his habit had opened wider, revealing more of his face. In the dim light, his eyes looked dark, his complexion a somewhat lighter olive-brown. His thinning gray hair was cut in the traditional tonsure style, something more common among religious orders in the past but not as much today. He wore a large crucifix that hung underneath his hood and rested over the top front of his habit.
As Joe prepared to leave, he suddenly stopped, though he wasn’t sure why. Something of what he had experienced earlier that day in the chapel seemed to compel him to want to listen to what the old padre had to say. Joe slid closer across the pew, stopping just a few feet from him in the pew.
“I am confident you will find your friend safe,” the priest said in a reassuring voice. “From what I gather, the three of you are here for an extraordinary week. So much of what is going on in the world today has found its way near to this very place. Important leaders will be meeting, and the eyes of the world will be watching. It is no coincidence that, at this time in history, they have come here, where so many peoples and cultures met not very long ago and welcomed the missionaries who brought the message of the Gospel. It was, and continues to be, a message of the love of neighbor, of joy and forgiveness, of thanksgiving for one another, and peace among all nations.”
Joe sat mesmerized. Though the padre referred to present-day events, his eloquent words and profound meaning made him seem like someone from another time, another world.
“But there are forces in the world that oppose these cherished things. Principalities who are enemies of God and of mankind, who choose the darkness; some who are visible and made of flesh and blood, others who are spirit and lurk in the shadows.” He paused as he looped the rosary beads he had been holding in his hand through the cincture around the waste of his habit. “My son, the world’s current dangers are real and require the courage and effort of a select few whose work can make the difference between conflict and resolution, division and harmony, hostility and goodwill for all peoples. The events of this week are crucial to determining the direction the world may be inclined to go. We must pray for God’s divine providence, that those who lead us may choose the path of peace. Look for the signs of God’s guiding hand in answer to those prayers. I also want to implore you and your friends to be vigilant this week, as you will be close to many of these things. The world can be a dangerous place, and sometimes people find themselves in circumstances they could hardly have anticipated.”
“I very much appreciate your concern, Father.” Joe politely accepted the padre’s advice, although he didn’t quite understand why he felt the need to offer it. But this wasn’t what Joe had come here searching for. He still didn’t know for certain if Pete was all right. Joe stood up. “I better get back and make sure my friend is okay.”
“Sí te entiendo.” The padre grabbed hold of the back of the pew and pulled himself up. As he did, he shifted as if to favor one leg. He had a thin frame and couldn’t have been more than an inch or two over five feet. His worn sandals looked as though they had traveled many miles.
“Please don’t get up on my account,” Joe said.
“I wish to extend to you my priestly blessing, my son.” With some effort, he shifted his legs again and moved a little closer to Joe. “I am extremely glad you and your friends can spend some time with us in this beautiful place. You know, the mission is in great need of support to help maintain it, not only to preserve the legacy of the missions but for the work they continue to do. This mission is an active parish and serves many people and families, some of whom are descendants of the native people who first lived here many years ago. Please keep the missions, and the people they serve, always in your prayers, won’t you?”
“I will, Father.” Joe turned to leave but turned back again. “I sure hope we have a chance to talk again. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation.”
“So have I, my friend, so have I. God willing, we will have a chance to meet again. In the meantime, go in peace.”
The padre raised his right hand and extended it toward Joe, who bowed his head. “Heavenly Father, I ask you to bless this fine young man and his companions in all their endeavors. May their work bear much fruit in the service of your kingdom. I ask that you protect them and keep them safe from harm in the name of Christ, Our Lord and Savior, Amen. May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost descend upon you and remain with you forever. Amen. Amar a Dios, mi hijo. Love God, my son … and may He make a saint of you!”
“Thank you, Father.” Joe slid back across the pew, then genuflected before the tabernacle. He pivoted and glanced back at the old padre, but he wasn’t there!
Joe looked around the church. “Father?” There was no sign of him. Where could he have gone—and so quickly? … He seemed to mysteriously vanish into thin air.
I’m joining Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. Here’s what I’ve been reading or working on for the past month:
Synopsis: Two years after returning to Havendale to help her octogenarian Aunt Bernie recover from a broken hip, Mibs has Monahan’s Sewing Shop running smoothly. The energetic seamstress is pleased with the increasing business and very happy with the growing relationship between her and Detective Jace Trueblood. The busy but enjoyable days start coming apart at the seams when an assassin shoots one man and wounds another at the local community theater. While working on costumes for an upcoming children’s play at the theater, Mibs becomes the only person who can identify the shooter. When the killer tries to silence Mibs from testifying, she ends up in a coma, fighting for her life. For the first time in years, Jace kneels in prayer. While the worried Detective Trueblood relies on his team of detectives to find and apprehend the killer, he relies on the Lord to give him the strength to face the life-and-death situation threatening the woman he loves. Will the circumstances binding friends and family together end up in torn and tattered lives? Or will the skill of the Havendale Police and the blessings of God tailor a happy ending for Mibs and Jace?
Synopsis: Prehistoric Resurrection… or Genetic Warfare?
Using Fossil Gene Redemption (FGR), geneticist Kevin G. Harrigan experiments with genes from a frozen “Ice Man”. His work prompts Iraqi leader, Ismail Mon, to provide resources for exciting new research that enables Harrigan’s team to regenerate extinct “cryptids” and human sub-species from the Ice Ages. But FGR can be the basis for genetic weapons of mass destruction; United States intelligence and defense leaders must act! Radically distinct from Jurassic Park, Ancient of Genes shows new megafauna regeneration methods by which the only prophecy held in common among major religions & myth traditions could manifest: Some form of regeneration of human ancestors and megafauna. Once considered junk DNA, personality genes and other traits archive in lineages. These genes await a virus vector that targets meiosis to re-express them in all subsequent generations. This can start a resurrection cascade enabling Mon to ruin enemy genomes, improve his allies’ genes… and inherit the earth!
Harrigan’s frightening choice can lead to redemption… or the terrifying sunset of humanity!
My review: This was a riveting Jurassic Park-type story, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I also enjoyed the Catholic references and the internal spiritual struggles of the main characters. Recommend! 4/5.
Synopsis: Detective Lt. Joe Kenda, star of Homicide Hunter, shares his deepest, darkest, and never before revealed case files from his 19 years as a homicide detective.
Are you horrified yet fascinated by abhorrent murders? Do you crave to know the gory details of these crimes, and do you seek comfort in the solving of the most gruesome?
In I Will Find You, the star of Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda shares his deepest, darkest, and never-before-revealed case files from his two decades as a homicide detective and reminds us that crimes like these are very real and can happen even in our own backyards.
Gruesome, macabre, and complex cases.
Joe Kenda investigated 387 murder cases during his 23 years with the Colorado Springs Police Department and solved almost all of them. And he is ready to detail the cases that are too gruesome to air on television, cases that still haunt him, and the few cases where the killer got away. These cases are horrifyingly real, and the detail is so mesmerizing you won’t be able to look away.
The tales in I Will Find You will shock you like the best horror stories-divulging insights into the actions, motivations, and proclivities of nature’s most dangerous species.
My review: I really enjoy the TV show, Homicide Hunter, with Joe Kenda. And while he’s not an expert writer, he sounds exactly like he does on the TV show, describing cases that were either over PG-rated or cases that he hadn’t solved (less than six percent). Interesting read. Recommend. 4/5.
Synopsis: Karl Keating defends Catholicism from fundamentalist attacks and explains why fundamentalism has been so successful in converting Romanists. After showing the origins of fundamentalism, he examines representative anti-Catholic groups and presents their arguments in their own words. His rebuttals are clear, detailed, and charitable. Special emphasis is given to the scriptural basis for Catholic doctrines and beliefs.
My review: I read this book every few years because it’s so fascinating, and it’s such an interesting read. Highly recommend. 5/5.
I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. Here’s what I’ve been reading for the past month.
Amazon Synopsis: Fifty years ago on November 22, 1963, in Dallas’s Dealey Plaza, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated while traveling in a motorcade with his wife, Jacqueline. LIFE magazine, the weekly pictorial chronicle of events in America and throughout the world, was quickly on the scene. The Kennedys had been our story: Jack and Jackie made the cover in his sailboat before they were married and he was a fresh-faced senator from Massachusetts, and the White House doors had remained open to LIFE throughout his presidency: Cecil Stoughton’s photographs of Caroline and John-John in the Oval Office, Jackie’s tour of the renovation, tense behind-the-scenes moments during 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis — all of this appeared in LIFE. We needed to be in Dallas.
The famous Zapruder film first appeared in LIFE, after being acquired by LIFE’s Richard B. Stolley. Stolley also interviewed at the time Dallas police, Kennedy administration officials, members of the Oswald family, workers at Jack Ruby’s bar. Jackie’s first conversation after the murder was with Theodore H. White for LIFE, and in it, she told the American people, for the first time, about the Camelot her late husband had imagined.
My review: I received this book as a gift for Christmas. Fascinating and essential for anyone who has an interest in JFK and his assassination. 5/5
Amazon Synopsis: As hundreds of rescue workers waited on the ground, United Airlines Flight 232 wallowed drunkenly over the bluffs northwest of Sioux City. The plane slammed onto the runway and burst into a vast fireball. The rescuers didn’t move at first: nobody could possibly survive that crash. And then people began emerging from the summer corn that lined the runways. Miraculously, 184 of 296 passengers lived.
No one has ever attempted the complete reconstruction of a crash of this magnitude. Drawing on interviews with hundreds of survivors, crew, and airport and rescue personnel, Laurence Gonzales, a commercial pilot himself, captures, minute by minute, the harrowing journey of pilots flying a plane with no controls and flight attendants keeping their calm in the face of certain death. He plumbs the hearts and minds of passengers as they pray, bargain with God, plot their strategies for survival, and sacrifice themselves to save others.
Ultimately he takes us, step by step, through the gripping scientific detective work in super-secret labs to dive into the heart of a flaw smaller than a grain of rice that shows what brought the aircraft down.
An unforgettable drama of the triumph of heroism over tragedy and human ingenuity over technological breakdown, Flight 232 is a masterpiece in the tradition of the greatest aviation stories ever told.
My review: I enjoy non-fiction books written like novels. This one is especially compelling. I’ve seen a few documentaries about this flight and how miraculous it was that so many people survived. This book goes into a lot more detail than the documentaries. Interesting, excellent read. 5/5.
Amazon Synopsis: Are DEMONS and ANGELS, like vampires and werewolves, merely legend and lore?
Or is there more to life than meets the eye?
This is the question high schooler, Clare Thomson, is faced with when she unwittingly discovers she can see spiritual beings.
My review: This was a compelling read from a new YA author. This book isn’t just for teens; it’s also for anyone who needs a reminder that angels and demons exist and are more real than vampires and werewolves. Highly recommend. 4.5/5.
I was blessed with a multicultural upbringing. My family moved from Wisconsin to Hong Kong when I was six, and from there to Malaysia when I was ten. I attended a small Evangelical missionary boarding school as one of many “business kids,” where my parents and a devoted staff immersed me in the Bible. My siblings and I spent our free time exploring the jungle beyond our backyard. We didn’t move back to the US until I graduated high school, and then I went straight into the US Air Force Academy. When I graduated, I cross-commissioned into the Marine Corps, and served as a logistics officer.
When I started dating my future wife, I started going to Mass with her. I began investigating Catholicism and stumbled onto the history of the Early Church. I had never heard of it before, much less studied it. It not only led to my conversion but also sparked a life-long interest in early and medieval church history, to the point that I earned my graduate degree in it. Despite that, though, I never used it professionally, instead serving in the military and the police department.
Beyond work and writing, I love to play games with my family and hike/bike/camp/ski the Rockies. My desire exceeds my ability in gardening, woodworking, and playing piano, but I keep trying anyway.
2. What was the inspiration for your book?
In late 2014 I bought and read Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages, by Patrick Geary. It’s a modern, historical study of early medieval relic thefts. My wonder at the motivation behind anyone stealing saints relics, when everyone believed he might get killed just for trying, inspired my character Egilolf. Geary’s main thrust—that bones without a written record authenticating their source and justifying their acquisition would have been just bones—necessitated Egilolf’s companion Aristeus. I kicked around ideas for a few months before writing an outline over six weeks. No more than 20 percent of that outline still remains in Eternal Light, but that first sketch got the ball rolling.
3. What drew you to writing historical fiction? This is a novel that depended on extensive research, correct?
My interests in writing and historical fiction were separate until Eternal Light. I’ve been writing since grade school, but never historical fiction before. My fascination with history, as I said, stemmed from my study of the development of the church, particularly with regards to saints and relics. When I studied about relic thieves, the book idea seemed to come naturally. By the time I sat down to draft the outline for my first historical fiction book, I had been studying various angles of church history for ten years. Very little of this book was something I had to research while I outlined or wrote. I did delve into Saint Philibert, Saint Martial, and Saint Valerie, and researched Limoges and the church of St-Philibert-de-Grand-Lieu, where my characters find the relics of Valerie. But all the rest of the research—the laws, saints, catacomb art, the medieval view of stars, Viking invasions, processions, food, magic—all of it I had already read and studied before. I got to write a book in a world I already knew and loved.
4. What do you hope the reader will take away from your book?
That depends on the reader. For the Catholic, a love of our glorious saints, many buried in time and space even more than earth. For the Protestant, an appreciation of the breadth of time where Catholicism was the only Christian faith, facing insurmountable challenges century after century, only to rise again. For the historical fiction lover, a vivid picture of the early medieval world: its daily rhythms, values, fears, and hopes. For the modern warrior, a step on the road to peace. For anyone not totally pigeon-holed by those categories, a renewed sense of wonder when gazing at the stars, or at least an adventure from your Sunday afternoon couch.
5. How do you find time to write?
Time is a lesser problem for me than energy. I’ve put in a fair amount of overtime in some of my police jobs, particularly as a Crimes Against Children detective, but for me writing—creating—takes spare brain power and emotional energy. Many work days leave me with none. I’ve heard of writers making themselves write at least five minutes a day, and that’s likely a better strategy than mine. My writing came and went in waves, particularly on vacations and during less demanding work assignments, or when I could spare a few hours to go to a coffee shop and exchange this world for an ancient one.
6. Are you working on any other writing projects?
I’ve almost always been working on writing projects since middle school. Some were mere ideas, some actually made it into notebooks of world-building, character backgrounds, and plot outlines. But until Eternal Light, I never wrote more than a handful of pages (I would like to skip over two very rough books I wrote in middle and high school, which will remain appropriately buried in my basement). Since Eternal Light, I’ve tinkered with a historical fantasy about 9th century missionaries to a group of newly discovered race of dog-headed men. That’s obviously made up, but the idea is historical, since two German bishops in the mid-800s actually reported the behaviors of such creatures and debated whether they were rational and descended from Adam. But I set aside that work when I stumbled upon TheLife of St Gerald of Aurillac, a saint and noble who lived 70 miles south of Limoges, reigning from about 880 to his death in 909. The setting, time period, and the subjects of St Gerald overlap too much with Eternal Light to pass it up as a sequel to Egilolf and Aristeus’ stories. I have the outline nearly hammered out, so I’m hoping it will come to fruition faster than another six years.
7. Who are some of your favorite authors?
Historical fiction: Stephen R. Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle about King Arthur in a historical dark age of 5th and 6th century England and Wales blends history and Celtic myth. The only thing he missed was the Church’s irrefutable ties to saints and relics during that period. Or Umberto Eco: despite the success of The Name of the Rose, he captured the medieval imagination best in Baudolino.
Fantasy: For scale, I can’t beat Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time epic series, which I started in high school and finished in my 30s. But for sheer style, I’ve always loved Steven Brust’s Khaavren Romances, especially The Phoenix Guards. But if you didn’t care for Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, you may want to pass.
Catholic apologetics: Rod Bennett, for without his Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words I wouldn’t have found the history whereby I came to accept the Catholicism I had already fallen in love with. For a study of historical works, it’s extremely approachable for any reader.
War novels: Tim O’Brien, particularly in The Things They Carried, paints trauma accurately but obliquely with his short stories.
Science fiction: Ray Bradbury. In high school, I was caught up in pulp fiction Stars Wars books, and never appreciated the likes of Farenheit 451 or the Martian Chronicles. My 10th grade English teacher had better taste.
Hagiography (stories of saints, typically written a long time ago): Prudentius, of course.
Comics: Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. No explanation needed.