An Open Book – August #openbook

An Open Book 800W

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

Though War Be Waged

Though War Be Waged Upon Me:

A Saint Michael Treasury of Prayer and Reflection

by Carol Puschaver

Blurb: Make no mistake. Satan is very much alive — and hellbent on revenge. He is waging war against humanity, and indeed against all creation, with the reckless abandon of one who has nothing more to lose. Cast out of heaven; crushed at the foot of the Cross, he is multiplying evil and outrage and scandal to unprecedented effect as he “strikes at [the] heel” (Gen 3.15) of “fallen mankind” (St. Joseph Edition of the New American Bible, Revised Edition, 9).Without question we are living in a time of increasingly brazen evil. That is to say, a time of extraordinary and abundant grace also. Christ has already won the final victory over Satan. By His grace, we stand strong against the forces of evil. By that same ineffable grace, we stand in the company of holy angels — most especially the glorious Warrior Archangel Saint Michael.And the high ground belongs to us!

My review: This is a beautiful booklet dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel.  If you thought the only St. Michael prayer was the one we sometimes say at the end of Mass, then this book will be an eye opener for you.  Included is a history of the St. Michael prayers as well as a chaplet and reflections. Highly recommend.

Unspeakable Beauty

Unspeakable Beauty by Joshua Elzner

Blurb: When Adam awakes without a past, he is impelled to ask the question, “Who am I?” and yet this question itself is already cradled in the awe of first discovery, in which his heart is stirred to childlike wonder and playfulness at his contact with a beautiful world that he had almost lost forever. But whenever his memory comes flooding back in, and his whole being is shaken by the trauma of a painful life, will he be able to retain his childlike wonder, and will he be able to answer this question, both for himself and for others?

His only hope lies in letting himself be buoyed up by what has gone before him, carries him now, and will always remain—a mystery greater than himself and yet enfolding him in his uniqueness, a mystery knitting his life together with the lives of so many others in a tapestry that, while composed of light and darkness, of joy and sorrow, of profound hope and inexpressible anguish, is nonetheless a masterpiece of unspeakable beauty.

My review: The author can write well and the story is engaging.  My only criticism is that it’s very, very long.  For those who can handle lengthy books, this is a good read.

Jazz

Jazz and Other Stories by Dena Hunt

Blurb: Like jazz music, these singular life stories play out in an improvisational current of tragedy, comedy, drama, and discovery. A little girl in rural Georgia, a young woman in Germany, a Floridian priest, a history professor in New Orleans, and others all contribute verses of experience—some with joy, some with sorrow, and some with shock, or even violence. Written over a period of many years by an award-winning author, these stories and their characters make up a varied collection of life’s jazz-like rhythm, its recurrent refrain of surprise, its terrible and beautiful crashes against the cymbals. Not one of the stories is about love, but they are all, in their different ways, love stories.

My review: This is a new book by my favorite author, Dena Hunt.  I’ve read some of the stories and they’re wonderful.  I can’t wait to read the rest of the book!

Peace Among Brambles Front Cover for Kindle

Peace Among Brambles by May Akonobi

Blurb:  Mma loves children. Preoccupied by this love and the desire to have her own children, she rushes into marriage with Joey, throwing overboard her mother’s wise counsel to pray and seek God’s will. The honeymoon is a dream come true for Mma and her new husband. But when they return home, Mma finds that Joey’s mother and sister have moved in. What follows is a challenging time for Mma. How will she face her new situation? Will she ever realize her dream of having her own children?

My review: This is a beautiful story of a young Nigerian woman, who yearns for children. She  marries quickly without praying to God for guidance. What follows is a series of life lessons for Mma, who eventually learns to trust in God.

Reviews for Though War Be Waged Upon Me by Carol Puschaver

Though War Be Waged

Catholic reviewers have been enthusiastic about Though War Be Waged Upon Me:

Though War Be Waged Against Me by Carol Puschaver is a great collection of prayers and information about St. Michael the Archangel – an excellent resource for a much-needed devotion in these troubling times.

Linda Etchison, author of the Sister Aloysius books

This book is a powerful little gem that inspires deeper devotion to St. Michael and provides the prayers and practices to lives it out.

Laurie Power, Director of Evangelization and Discipleship at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Parish

Is there a more timely saint for the present age – or any age! – than St. Michael the Archangel? This short book is filled with information about the beloved angel who stands between us and evil. Some prayers were familiar and some were new to me, especially the St. Michael Chaplet. The significance of classic depictions of St. Michael was also interesting.  For those who are familiar with the popular prayer to St. Michael but would like to go deeper and cultivate a devotion to the Archangel, this is a great book! I have a couple of Michaels in my life who will benefit greatly from it.

Carolyn Astfalk, award-winning author

This prayer booklet came recommended from a friend. I am very thankful that they did and that I picked it up and I can highly recommend it. It is a small volume but packed full of information and prayers.

The chapters in this volume are:
Introduction
Mikha-el!
Defend Us in Battle
The Saint Michael Chaplet
A Small Prayer Treasury
An Archangel’s Beauty: Reflections on the Treasury of Western Christian Art
Ways to Love and Honor Saint Michael
Did you know …?

In the introduction we are told:

“As I reflect on the words of St. Paul in the context of current events around the world, I earnestly believe that we are living in a time of extraordinary, if not indeed unprecedented, grace.

The near-constant and ubiquitous barrage of evil can be mind-numbing and paralyzing: nuclear weapons’ brinksmanship, mass extinctions of untold species, resurgent nationalism coupled with seemingly irreconcilable ideological divides, the mounting, ominous frequency of “once-in-a-century” weather events, commonplace mass shootings, brazen terrorist attacks . . . and the list goes on.”

And that is exactly what this volume does. There are 15 prayers to Saint Michael in the chapter A Small Treasury of prayer. The book is a mix of prayers, instructions, and teachings.

Overall, I am very happy to have added this booklet to my library. It is a great little volume. And I highly recommend it.

Steven McEvoy, Book Reviews and More

 

After the second wave of Church scandals two summers ago, my pastor requested and received permission from our bishop to lead the assembly in praying the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel after each Mass.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl around the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

It struck me, those first weeks as we all prayed together, that there is power in this prayer.

I did not know that there is so much more to the story of St. Michael and devotion to him until I read Carol Puschaver’s Though War Be Waged Upon Me: A Saint Michael Treasure of Prayer and Reflection.

This booklet, only 68 pages long, details interesting saintly connections with St. Michael the Archangel as well as encouraging the faithful to make frequent recourse to him in prayer.

Ask his help!
How wonderful it is when someone turns to you with complete confidence and asks your help! They know you are capable, they entrust their need to you, and they give you a chance to shine with your God-given talents!
Recite the Prayer to St. Michael often, and seek his intercession, especially in time of danger, trial and temptation.
Ask him for the gifts of spiritual, moral and civic courage.
Ask his help to know and discern right from wrong and act accordingly. (57)

I love how this brings home the truth that we don’t need to wait for the big stuff to happen to call upon the saints for their intercession. Indeed, we shouldn’t wait. We should keep them close. We wouldn’t want our loved ones to wait for situations to get completely out of hand before asking for our help, after all.

Learn to pray the Litany to St. Michael, the St. Michael Chaplet, and other prayers listed in Though War Be Waged Upon Me, and find the best way to keep this powerful intercessor close to you.


(Review Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz)

Barb Szyszkiewicz, Franciscan Mom and Editor, Contributor Catholic Mom

Though War Be Waged Upon Me: A St. Michael Treasury of Prayer and Reflection

Though War Be Waged

Since that most dire moment when “war broke out in heaven” as Lucifer rebelled against God, the war between good and evil has always raged, and our present time is no exception.  To the contrary, the forces of good and evil are locked in a battle that appears to be escalating, growing more ominous by the day.   And it hardly seems any exaggeration to feel that evil has the upper hand – and Satan is not about to pull any punches.

So what is the average layperson to do?

Though War Be Waged Upon Me:  A Saint Michael Treasury of Prayer and Reflection is a book written by Carol Puschaver as one answer to this pressing question.  The reader can draw hope and remember that grace is at work as he/she appeals to St. Michael, starting with the Prayer to St. Michael that was composed by Pope Leo XIII.  As the book makes clear, however, there is much more not only to the Warrior Archangel, but also the many other prayers, including the especially powerful St. Michael Chaplet.

Also in this book:

St. Michael in Salvation History
The Vision of Pope Leo and the Original Prayer to St. Michael
St. Michael Chaplet
Prayer Treasury
Ways to Love and Honor St. Michael

The blurb: Make no mistake. Satan is very much alive — and hellbent on revenge. He is waging war against humanity, and indeed against all creation, with the reckless abandon of one who has nothing more to lose. Cast out of heaven; crushed at the foot of the Cross, he is multiplying evil and outrage and scandal to unprecedented effect as he “strikes at [the] heel” (Gen 3.15) of “fallen mankind” (St. Joseph Edition of the New American Bible, Revised Edition, 9).Without question we are living in a time of increasingly brazen evil. That is to say, a time of extraordinary and abundant grace also. Christ has already won the final victory over Satan. By His grace, we stand strong against the forces of evil. By that same ineffable grace, we stand in the company of holy angels — most especially the glorious Warrior Archangel Saint Michael. And the high ground belongs to us!

My review: This is a beautiful booklet dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel.  If you thought the only St. Michael prayer was the one we sometimes say at the end of Mass, then this book will be an eye opener for you.  Included is a history of the St. Michael prayers as well as a chaplet and reflections. Highly recommend.

About the Author: Carol Puschaver earned her Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in English from Kent State University, Ohio, and lives in Upstate New York. A lifelong scholar, amateur historian and world traveler, she has a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Michael the Archangel.

To purchase the Kindle edition at only 1.99, click here.

To purchase the Paperback edition at only 5.99, click here.

Virtual Book Tour: Moonchild Rising Interview with Mina Ambrose

Moonchild Front JPG Final

As part of the Moonchild Rising Virtual Book Tour, here is my interview with the author, Mina Ambrose:

EG: What was your inspiration for Moonchild Rising (and in fact, all the upcoming books of the series Shadows of the Sun)?

MA: I’d always loved writing, eventually collecting a whole file-box of notes and story beginnings—none of which, incidentally, had anything to do with vampires—that never went anywhere, due to other interests pushing them to the back burner. Even after I “discovered” vampires (read a few books, saw a few movies, though I wasn’t really a fan of the horror genre) I soon grew tired of the gore and ugliness and lack of real story or interesting characters, though there was the odd exception.

Then along came Buffy the Vampire Slayer, sticking more or less to traditional vampire lore, but with certain intriguing innovations: its young female heroine, small and delicate—the very image of innocence, vulnerability and weakness, as the “slayer”—unusual at the time (not a learned doctor like Van Helsing, or a tough-guy vigilante type, or a whole crew of them); a vampire that regains its soul (I was skeptical at first, then it occurred to me that nothing is impossible with God); the “reformed” vampire joins her in her work and the two of them fall in love (possible in this case, I decided, because the restoration of the vampire’s soul allows him to choose good over evil). They were a cute couple and the show was entertaining, except, as usual, Hollywood kept getting off track. For example, to them, falling in love means falling into bed. And the heroine was typical—supposedly “good,” but actually not. It seemed to me the slayer must actually be above reproach or demons would just laugh at her; and she wouldn’t be in the business of killing vampires for very long. Neither is the vampire’s soul likely to be restored by evil means (supposedly a gypsy’s curse).

“No, that’s not right, it ought to be this way!” I’d say to myself in frustration each time. And finally, “If I was writing it…” And that’s how it started. It was not intended to be a retelling of someone else’s story, but merely to put things in their “right order,” from the Catholic perspective. With God as present as He is in the real world; the use of holy water and crucifixes as blessed objects with power against evil—not just superstition like some sort of lucky charm.

From the beginning my actual hero was meant to be the child that resulted from this unlikely marriage (for marriage it had to be). This was to be his story, ultimately, though the first book only hints at his presence on the last page.

author photoEG: How long did it take you to write the entire series?

MA: About twenty years, more or less.

EG: What intrigues you about vampires?

MA: The “outsider” has always held a certain fascination, and a vampire is the quintessential outsider. Once human but now soulless, it is cut off from all it once had forever, not alive or dead, just undead, doomed to walk the night craving human blood. Though a horror, it is at the same time a pathetic creature. It is interesting to consider not only what must be done to protect the innocent (enter “the slayer”), but also to imagine the vampire’s point of view. At some point in its history the vampire seems to have taken on a romantic image, unlike most other monsters, and I suppose that’s part of the attraction (unlike zombies, which are ugly and disgusting and not romantic at all). Of course, that’s my opinion. Apparently they are pretty popular nowadays, for some unaccountable reason.

EG: Before the Prince became a vampire, he lived several centuries ago as a human. How did you go about creating a character who lived so long ago?

MA: Just as with any other character, but in addition, it is something like creating a historical novel, I suppose. I had to research the era and locale, by reading histories and looking at artwork depicting how people lived and worked and dressed in that time and place. Always keeping in mind that he must have a different worldview than someone born in our own time, but as a vampire the Prince would have been affected by his many experiences over the centuries, so there is a lot of leeway. For example, his “ambiguous accent” that Mara’s father couldn’t quite place.

EG: What sort of research, if any, did you do to write this book (series)?

MA: I’ve always been a bookworm, so my research mainly involved books on relevant topics: vampires, history, geography, astronomy, angels and art, for example. I resorted to the Internet when necessary, and asked for input from others, for instance the fight scenes; several of my children involved in martial arts provided helpful feedback.

EG: You have quite a few adult children. Did any of them read early copies of your manuscript?

MA: Yes, my three daughters and a daughter-in-law loved the manuscript—two of them read it several times during its various stages of development. I was pleased (and relieved) when they assured me that my characters are my own and not those of the TV series. Their input was greatly appreciated. Several of the boys (not big readers) read the first few chapters at one point. Their encouraging comments helped me to persevere during the dark times when I felt like chucking the whole thing.

EG: Who are some of your favorite authors and why?

MA: There are so many I don’t know where to start. Michael O’Brien has to be at the top of the list for novels, ranging from historical to apocalyptic (even prophetic) to science fiction with characters sympathetic and interesting, people you can relate to. J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and of course George MacDonald with their classics. Josephine Tey’s mysteries, and Canon Sheehan’s accounts of Catholic Irish life set in the nineteenth century are a few of the older authors I admire. Joseph Pearce is top-notch in non-fiction and literary criticism, as well as poetry; I admire his sharp mind and common sense, and in particular his poetic way with words even when writing prose. A lot like G. K. Chesterton, another favorite. A few of the more recent authors are Robert Ovies, Roger Thomas, Gail Caress with a satisfying mix of adventure, romance, mystery, suspense—sometimes even horror and tragedy—but always the “right order of things.” Recently I have enjoyed a number of authors from FQP as well.

EG: Thank you, Mina, for the wonderful interview!

To purchase Moonchild Rising, click here for the Kindle edition and here for the paperback edition.

An Open Book – June #openbook

An Open Book 800W

I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book.  Here’s what I’ve been reading these past four weeks:

 

Susan Tassone Book

 

Jesus Speaks to Faustina and You by Susan Tassone

Amazon Synopsis:  In her celebrated 700-page spiritual Diary, St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938) tells of her many visions of Jesus and her conversations with Him. For years now, best-selling and award-winning author Susan Tassone has lived in the thrall of that spiritual classic, recently drawing forth from its rich mystical depths 365 meditations.

Each meditation features Jesus’ words to Faustina, to which Tassone has added a short original reflection and a prayer to help you hear and live by Jesus’ words as if they had been spoken directly to you. From these pages, you’ll discover the mercy, love, and compassion of the Lord that’s available for you – day by day, each day of the year.

My review: Another beautiful book by Susan Tassone that is ideal for someone who likes daily reflections.  Highly recommend!

 

Remembering Mom front only

Remembering Mom 

My new book!

Amazon Synopsis: In Remembering Mom, author Ellen Gable shares memories of her beloved mother, an unconventional woman who was often thrust into situations by necessity. She endured having to watch her first husband spiral into psychosis and schizophrenia, then have him be committed to a psychiatric hospital on the same day she was in labor with their fourth child. She worked from home typing back in the day when women didn’t have jobs other than homemaking. Her humor was quirky, and she had some strange sayings. She could swear like a sailor, but loved her Catholic faith. She wasn’t a perfect Catholic, nor was she a perfect mother, but she was devoted to her five children. After the death of her first husband, she remained strong for her young adult children, then eventually found love again and another opportunity for motherhood.

Thunderstruck

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

Amazon Synopsis: In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson tells the interwoven stories of two men—Hawley Crippen, a very unlikely murderer, and Guglielmo Marconi, the obsessive creator of a seemingly supernatural means of communication—whose lives intersect during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time.

Set in Edwardian London and on the stormy coasts of Cornwall, Cape Cod, and Nova Scotia, Thunderstruck evokes the dynamism of those years when great shipping companies competed to build the biggest, fastest ocean liners; scientific advances dazzled the public with visions of a world transformed; and the rich outdid one another with ostentatious displays of wealth. Against this background, Marconi races against incredible odds and relentless skepticism to perfect his invention: the wireless, a prime catalyst for the emergence of the world we know today. Meanwhile, Crippen, “the kindest of men,” nearly commits the perfect murder.

With his unparalleled narrative skills, Erik Larson guides us through a relentlessly suspenseful chase over the waters of the North Atlantic. Along the way, he tells of a sad and tragic love affair that was described on the front pages of newspapers around the world, a chief inspector who found himself strangely sympathetic to the killer and his lover, and a driven and compelling inventor who transformed the way we communicate.

My review: The two true stories here are compelling enough (Marconi’s development of the wireless and Dr. Hawley Crippen’s life leading up to him being accused, found guilty and hung for murder.)  I enjoyed how both stories converged at the end. However, the Marconi sections were quite technical and hard to follow so I scanned those.  Still a compelling story, but so far, my least favorite of Larson’s books.  Three stars out of five.

 

Violet

Violet (I Am Girl #2) by Renee Lichtenhan

Amazon Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Violet Windsor is obsessed with the rush and thrill of skateboarding through a dangerous, gang-ridden part of New York City. Certain that her high-society parents wouldn’t approve of the rough-and-tumble sport or the sketchy neighborhood, she and her best friend, Sloane, hide her secret adventures in a thick veil of lies.

When Violet’s neurodiverse brother, Oliver, begins drawing pictures that reveal a mysterious knowledge of her secrets, Violet is rattled to the core. Intrigued by clues in Oliver’s drawings, she follows them down a reckless path toward redemption and truth.

My review: New teen Violet Windsor secretly visits a dangerous part of New York City to pursue her passion for skateboarding. Her wealthy parents wouldn’t approve so she and her best friend, Sloane, keep her skateboarding adventures secret. Meanwhile, Violet’s autistic brother, Oliver, shows her drawings that indicate not only that he knows her secrets but that he has been gifted with artistic ability that might be supernatural in origin.

I thoroughly enjoyed this middle-grade novel that includes all kinds of relevant, present-day issues. The writing quality is excellent. The characters are well-developed and believable, and the setting made me feel I was in the midst of New York City. Highly recommend for anyone who enjoys a great story and characters!

Clint Hill

Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill

Amazon Synopsis: The #1 New York Times bestselling memoir by Clint Hill that Kirkus Reviews called “clear and honest prose free from salaciousness and gossip,” Jackie Kennedy’s personal Secret Service agent details his very close relationship with the First Lady during the four years leading up to and following President John F. Kennedy’s tragic assassination.

In those four years, Hill was by Mrs. Kennedy’s side for some of the happiest moments as well as the darkest. He was there for the birth of John, Jr. on November 25, 1960, as well as for the birth and sudden death of Patrick Bouvier Kennedy on August 8, 1963. Three and a half months later, the unthinkable happened.

Forty-seven years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the one vivid image that never leaves Clint Hill’s mind is that of President Kennedy’s head lying on Mrs. Kennedy’s lap in the back seat of the limousine, his eyes fixed, blood splattered all over the back of the car, Mrs. Kennedy, and Hill as well. Sprawled on the trunk of the car as it sped away from Dealey Plaza, Hill clung to the sides of the car, his feet wedged in so his body was as high as possible.

Clint Hill jumped on the car too late to save the president, but all he knew after that first shot was that if more shots were coming, the bullets had to hit him instead of the First Lady.

Mrs. Kennedy’s strength, class, and dignity over those tragic four days in November 1963 held the country together.

My review: I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It really laid a firm foundation for what happened on November 22, 1963.  It showed me a side of Jackie Kennedy that I had never seen before.  I learned that Patrick Kennedy (the baby she lost while in the White House and just a few months before the assassination) was born at the same gestation (five weeks early) that I had been born and weighed the same as me (four pounds 11 ounces).  It’s hard to understand why I survived and he didn’t.  Recommend.

Interview with the Hollywood Times

Interview with Hollywood Times photoI was recently interviewed for the Hollywood Times.  Special thanks to Jules Lavalle! Here is a short excerpt:

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 4/4/20-  When she joins the war effort during the Great War, American nurse Ella Neumann doesn’t see allies or enemies. The daughter of German immigrants, all soldiers — Allies or Axis — are human beings in need of care. A promise to herself and a promise made to her by an enemy officer become the catalyst for the life she plans to lead after the war. But a handsome Canadian soldier may complicate her plans. In this third installment of the Great War – Great Love series, join Ella in a tale of promises, betrayal and unconditional love.- Ella’s Promise (Great War Great Love Book 3)

Did you always want to be an author?

English, Creative Writing and Spelling were the subjects I loved most in High School and college. As a small child, I enjoyed telling stories and making up stories. When I was a young woman, I married my husband, James, and raised five sons. For me, that was a vocation in itself.

It never occurred to me to be an Author, however, until my husband suggested the idea twenty years ago after I found out some disturbing information about my great-grandmother. “You should write a novel and base it on the stories of yourself and your great-grandmother.” So that’s what I did.

There are several recurring themes in your books. One theme is that every human being is unique and irreplaceable and should be treated with charity and kindness. What are the other themes?

St. John Paul II said, “ Human life is precious because it is the gift of a God whose love is infinite; and when God gives life, it is forever.” Human beings from the moment of conception to natural death are eternal gifts, and that is another theme that flows through my novels.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Intense love does not measure; it just gives.” My faith and love for Jesus Christ and the Blessed Mother are important to me, so self-sacrifice is also a theme in most of my books.

St. John Paul II also said: “Love that leads to marriage is a gift from God and a great act of faith toward other human beings.”

Another recurring theme is that husband and wife are called to love as God loves: freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully. This is why all of my publishing company’s books are called “Theology-of-the-Body Fiction.”

To read the entire interview, click here.

 

Open Book – April 2020 #openbook

Today, I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book.  One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about social distancing and being home all the time is the extra time I’ve had to read. I usually work from home anyway, but James and I take part in several ministries for the diocese so I don’t usually have that much time to read. Now that all of our out-of-home activities have been canceled, I’ve been able to get through many of the books on my “To Read” Pile!

Devil in White City

The Devil in White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

Synopsis: Come for the Killer, Stay For the Fair. Anonymous death came early and often. Each of the thousand trains that entered and left the city did so at grade level. You could step from a curb and be killed by the Chicago Limited. Every day on average two people were destroyed at the city’s rail crossings. Their injuries were grotesque. Pedestrians retrieved severed heads. There were other hazards. Streetcars fell from drawbridges. Horses bolted and dragged carriages into crowds. Fires took a dozen lives a day. In describing the fire dead, the term the newspapers most liked to use was “roasted.” There was diphtheria, typhus, cholera, influenza. And there was murder. In the time of the fair the rate at which men and women killed each other rose sharply throughout the nation but especially in Chicago, where police found themselves without the manpower or expertise to manage the volume.

But things were changing. Everywhere one looked the boundary between the moral and the wicked seemed to be degrading. Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued in favor of divorce. Clarence Darrow advocated free love. A young woman named Lizzie Borden killed her parents.

And in Chicago a young handsome doctor stepped from a train, his surgical valise in hand. He entered a world of clamor, smoke, and steam, refulgent with the scents of murdered cattle and pigs. He found it to his liking.

The letters came later, from the Cigrands, Williamses, Smythes, and untold others, addressed to that strange gloomy castle at Sixty-third and Wallace, pleading for the whereabouts of daughters and daughters’ children.

It was so easy to disappear, so easy to deny knowledge, so very easy in the smoke and din to mask that something dark had taken root.

This was Chicago, on the eve of the greatest fair in history.

My review: So far, this has been my favorite of the three Larson books I’ve read. I could not put this book down.  Larson weaves the story of H.H. Holmes, one of America’s first serial killers and the story of how the Chicago Fair was organized.  Outstanding read and I learned so much as well.  Highly recommend.

Garden of Beasts

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and

An American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

Synopsis: The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Nazi Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another, including with the surprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels.

But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance—and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.

Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Göring and the expectedly charming–yet wholly sinister–Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror

My review: This was also another compelling read, and again, I learned a lot, especially about the early days of the Nazis when they were in control of the country.  Dodds, the American ambassador, tries to warn others about the diabolical Hitler, his SS and the Nazis in general.  He saw firsthand the persecution of the Jews and other unspeakable acts even before others outside Germany.  Highly recommend.

112263

11-22-63 by Stephen King

Amazon Synopsis: ON NOVEMBER 22, 1963, THREE SHOTS RANG OUT IN DALLAS, PRESIDENT KENNEDY DIED, AND THE WORLD CHANGED. WHAT IF YOU COULD CHANGE IT BACK?

In this brilliantly conceived tour de force, Stephen King—who has absorbed the social, political, and popular culture of his generation more imaginatively and thoroughly than any other writer—takes readers on an incredible journey into the past and the possibility of altering it.

It begins with Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away—a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life—like Harry’s, like America’s in 1963—turning on a dime. Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958. And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson, in a different world of Ike and JFK and Elvis, of big American cars and sock hops and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine (where there’s Dunning business to conduct), to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading eventually, of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.

My review: I absolutely loved this book.  It has something for everyone: time travel, great characters, someone trying to stop the Kennedy Assassination, a love story, interesting plot.  It’s a LONG read (900 pages), but after I finished the book, I immediately ordered the DVD of the 2016 mini-series with James Franco.  Highly recommend both the novel and the DVD!

Such Good Girls

 

Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust’s Hidden Survivors by R. D. Rosen

Synopsis: Edgar Award-winning mystery novelist R. D. Rosen tells the story of the hidden children who survived the Holocaust through the lives of three girls hidden in three different countriesamong the less than 10 percent of Jewish children in Europe to survive World War IIwho went on to lead remarkable lives in New York City.

Only one in ten Jewish children in Europe survived the Holocaust, many in hiding. In Such Good Girls, R. D. Rosen tells the story of these survivors through the true experiences of three girls.

Sophie Turner-Zaretsky, who spent the war years believing she was an anti-Semitic Catholic schoolgirl, eventually became an esteemed radiation oncologist. Flora Hogman, protected by a succession of Christians, emerged from the war a lonely, lost orphan, but became a psychologist who pioneered the study of hidden child survivors. Unlike Anne Frank, Carla Lessing made it through the war concealed with her family in the home of Dutch strangers before becoming a psychotherapist and key player in the creation of an international organization of hidden child survivors.

In braiding the stories of three women who defied death by learning to be “such good girls,” Rosen examines a silent and silenced generation—the last living cohort of Holocaust survivors. He provides rich, memorable portraits of a handful of hunted children who, as adults, were determined to deny Hitler any more victories, and he recreates the extraordinary event that lured so many hidden child survivors out of their grown-up “hiding places” and finally brought them together.

My review: I just downloaded this for .99 so this is in my “To Be Read” pile.

 

Rome Sweet Home

Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism by Scott and Kimberly Hahn

Amazon Synopsis: The well-known and very popular Catholic couple, Scott and Kimberly Hahn, have been constantly travelling and speaking all over North America for the last few years about their conversion to the Catholic Church. Now these two outstanding Catholic apologists tell in their own words about the incredible spiritual journey that led them to embrace Catholicism.

Scott Hahn was a Presbyterian minister, the top student in his seminary class, a brilliant Scripture scholar, and militantly anti-Catholic … until he reluctantly began to discover that his “enemy” had all the right answers. Kimberly, also a top-notch theology student in the seminary, is the daughter of a well-known Protestant minister, and went through a tremendous “dark night of the soul” after Scott converted to Catholicism.

Their conversion story and love for the Church has captured the hearts and minds of thousands of lukewarm Catholics and brought them back into an active participation in the Church. They have also influenced countless conversions to Catholicism among their friends and others who have heard their powerful testimony.

My review: I’ve read the original of this book three times in the past and enjoyed it tremendously.  I picked it up again the other day and still found it as compelling as the first time I read it. Highly recommend.

 

Ella’s Promise Receives Seal of Approval

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My book, Ella’s Promise, has just received the Seal of Approvalfrom the Catholic Writers Guild for quality and content!

All three of the series, Julia’s Gifts, Charlotte’s Honor and Ella’s Promise, now have the Seal of Approval!

Here is the link for all books in the series:  Great War Great Love Series.

Reviews for Ella’s Promise:

Readers will love this third installment in the Great War Great Love series with espionage, romance, faith, and determination all set amidst the backdrop of wartime France.” Carolyn Astfalk, author, Ornamental Graces

“Ella’s Promise is a story of love tested through war-time confusion and pain, enduring into a new hope for a better future.” A.K. Frailey, author of historical fiction/science fiction

An enjoyable read that fans of historical fiction are sure to love. ” Theresa Linden, author of contemporary romance, Anyone But Him

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Extreme Blindside – New Release by Leslea Wahl #newrelease

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Synopsis: Extreme Blindside follows teen snowboarder Jake Taylor and his aspiring-reporter girlfriend, Sophie, as they struggle to navigate his newfound fame and all that comes with it. When Jake accepts a gig as the celebrity spokesperson for a new state-of-the-art athletic training facility, he hopes that his fame will bring some attention to its accessibility for Special Olympians and para-athletes. He agrees to do some publicity promotion and to participate in the facility’s first competition. But Jake gets far more than he bargains for as he becomes further embroiled in a world of reporters, gushing female fans, and bitter athletic rivals. In the chaos of it all, he begins to rely more and more on God’s help to navigate the ins and outs of his job, his public interactions, and his relationship with Sophie.

As Sophie struggles to accept their changing relationship and still cover the story of his first competition at the new facility, she begins to wonder if Jake might be in real danger, as one by one athletes for the upcoming competition are sabotaged or injured. As the competition approaches, things begin to get dangerous. Time is running out for Jake and Sophie to figure out what is going on before he is also sabotaged . . . or worse. With thrilling adventures and real teen struggles, Extreme Blindside inspires teens to consider how their faith in God might guide them in their own lives and relationships. Fast-paced and exciting, this book is an engaging read for teens or young adults who enjoy stories about sports, adventures, mysteries, or fame.

To buy Extreme Blindside:

Amazon

Pauline Press

The Big Three TOB

An Open Book – January #openbook

I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for “An Open Book.”  Here’s what I’ve been reading over the past month (and will be reading this month).

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The Lion’s Heart by Dena Hunt

Amazon Synopsis: Is love ever wrong?Paul Meyer has never let anyone get too close.Until Max.The Lion’s Heart is a heart-rending story about love and sacrifice. The emotional struggle of Paul’s same-sex attraction, the guilt he feels, and his ambivalence toward his Catholic faith all come together in this look inside the heart of a tortured man. “Dena Hunt is a consummate story-teller who does not shirk or shy away from the difficult questions about life and love that her story raises. The Lion’s Heart contains not only the loves of lovers, spouses, parents, and children but also the demons and dragons that selfishness unleashes. The Lion’s Heart is not for the faint-hearted, nor is it for the hard-hearted. It pulsates with a passion that will bring true hearts to their knees.” Joseph Pearce, author of The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde, co-editor of the St. Austin Review

My review: I reread a few weeks ago in preparation for a radio interview.  The interviewer wanted to ask me about a “Catholic novel that impacted me.”  I know I am slightly biased because I published this book, but even before I published it, I knew it was an extraordinary book.  The author brilliantly illustrates the Church’s teachings on sexuality through the story and characters. Highly recommend.

Barron

Letter to a Suffering Church by Bishop Robert Barron

Amazon Synopsis: The sexual abuse scandal has gripped the Catholic Church for the past thirty years, and continues to wreak havoc even today. It’s been a diabolical masterpiece, one that has compromised the work of the Church in every way and has left countless lives in ruin. Many Catholics are understandably asking, Why should I stay? Why not abandon this sinking ship before it drags me or my children under? In this stirring manifesto, Bishop Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, explains why this is not the time to leave, but the time to stay and fight. Reading the current crisis through the lenses of Scripture and Church history, Bishop Barron shows that we have faced such egregious scandals before; that the spiritual treasures of the Church were preserved by holy men and women who recommitted themselves to fighting evil; and that there is a clear path forward for us today. For Catholics questioning their faith, searching desperately for encouragement and hope, this book will offer reasons to stay and fight for the Body of Christ.

My review: I received this book for free from a local parish and read it one Sunday afternoon in December.  Bishop Barron gives a lot of excellent insight and guidance regarding the Church scandals.  Highly recommend (and only .75 on Kindle!)

 

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The Book of Jotham by Arthur Powers

Synopsis: For 23 years the completed manuscript of The Book of Jotham sat in the author s desk drawer typewritten collecting dust and time. On an early autumn day in 2012, the manuscript arrived at Tuscany Press, and we discovered this compelling and moving story.

Jotham is a mentally challenged man-child who, like the other apostles, follows Jesus as Christ carries out his ministry and experiences death by crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Yet the other apostles the dedicated Mary, Peter, Thomas, and the rest while they care for Jotham and look out for him, don t understand why Jesus loves him so. Thomas even says, after Jesus offers a parable, I don t see why all the pots can t be strong and beautiful.

Jotham may be different, but through him, we come to see Jesus and Jotham not just with our eyes, but also with our hearts.

My review:  I read this again in preparation for FQP publishing the second edition of this book (hopefully before June!)  This is another book that is brilliantly written through the eyes of a mentally challenged man who follows Jesus. It’s a short read, but is very powerful.

 

Rule

Mortal Danger by Ann Rule

Amazon Synopsis: Featured here is the case of a Southern California family man who lured a beautiful flight attendant into a passionate and dangerous relationship. Other cases include that of the woman who masterminded her husband’s murder to gain his inheritance…the monstrous sadist whose prison release damaged a presidential candidate’s campaign and ended in a bitter double tragedy in a quiet neighborhood three thousand miles away…the shocking DNA link between a cold-blooded crime and a cold case…and inside the horrific case of the man who crossed an ocean and several countries to stalk the Eurasian beauty who had fled from him in desperation.

My review: Every now and then, I enjoy reading about true crime cases and Ann Rule is never a disappointment.  She takes the reader through cases with great attention to detail.  Recommend.

 

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Five Days in November by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin

Amazon Synopsis:  Don’t miss the New York Times bestseller Five Days in November, where Secret Service agent Clint Hill tells the stories behind the iconic images of those five infamous, tragic days surrounding JFK’s assassination, published for the 50th anniversary of his death.

On November 22, 1963, three shots were fired in Dallas, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the world stopped for four days. For an entire generation, it was the end of an age of innocence.

That evening, a photo ran on the front pages of newspapers across the world, showing a Secret Service agent jumping on the back of the presidential limousine in a desperate attempt to protect the President and Mrs. Kennedy. That agent was Clint Hill.

Now Secret Service Agent Clint Hill commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the tragedy with this stunning book containing more than 150 photos, each accompanied by Hill’s incomparable insider account of those terrible days. With poignant narration accompanying rarely seen images, we witness three-year-old John Kennedy Jr.’s pleas to come to Texas with his parents and the rapturous crowds of mixed ages and races that greeted the Kennedys at every stop in Texas. We stand beside a shaken Lyndon Johnson as he is hurriedly sworn in as the new president. We experience the first lady’s steely courage when she insists on walking through the streets of Washington, DC, in her husband’s funeral procession.

A story that has taken Clint Hill fifty years to tell, this is a work of personal and historical scope. Besides the unbearable grief of a nation and the monumental consequences of the event, the death of JFK was a personal blow to a man sworn to protect the first family, and who knew, from the moment the shots rang out in Dallas, that nothing would ever be the same.

My review: My parents were devastated at President Kennedy’s assassination. I was only four years old at the time, but all I remember is seeing my parents cry and the beating of the drums during the televised funeral. Ever since then, I’ve read many books on the assassination.  This one was particularly interesting in that it tells the story from the POV of the secret service agent assigned to Jackie Kennedy.  Compelling read.  Highly recommend.