An Open Book – October #openbook

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

Eyes of Fire by Mina Ambrose (Shadows of the Sun #3)

Synopsis: Now Available on Amazon from FQP!

Ancient legend comes to life: the prophecy that Charon, master vampire, has long dreaded, continues to unfold.

Jude has finally accepted his destiny as the hero who must foil Charon’s plans for world domination, though he has only just begun to understand the powers he possesses. Nevertheless, he sets out on his quest.   Halloween is just around the corner when Jude arrives in the small town of Sylvan and lands a renovation job at a nearby mansion—the very one that sits atop Charon’s underground lair, as it turns out. He also encounters Phaedra, whom he recognizes as the “damsel in distress” from his recurring dreams. As he interprets it, he has been sent here to protect her, but she will have none of that. Meanwhile, Tim the VK (Vampire Killer) breezes into town, armed to the teeth, his vampire-tracking wolf-dog Sarge at his heels. His announcement that he is here to clean out a nest of vampires shocks Phaedra and her friends—vampires aren’t real! Or… are they? It’s all fantastic fun—until Phaedra has a terrifying encounter one night, and Jude comes to the rescue. She reluctantly admits she may need his protection, after all.   Tim is not so sure—Sarge takes Jude for a vampire, and Sarge has never been wrong about vampires! Now, while Tim must single-handedly confront the whole crew of the undead, must he also guard Phaedra from her own heart?

A Freedom Such as Heaven Intended (Heaven Intended #4)

Pre-Order Available on Kindle Now!

Synopsis: Despite her royal heritage, Alice is the third generation of women in her family to be enslaved — and the last, if she has any say in it. The only thing standing between her and freedom is a certain Confederate soldier, First Lieutenant Marshall Kent. Follow Alice and Marshall’s story as suspicion turns to trust and a sense of admiration turns to something more as they navigate life during the last year of the Civil War.

Reviews:

Amanda Lauer’s latest ‘Heaven Intended’ book follows a group of runaway slaves as they begin a perilous and uncertain journey to freedom. Plenty of historical detail leaves the reader immersed in the world of Civil War-era Georgia, as characters struggle to discern whether to risk their lives in the service of others. Faith plays a role, in often surprising ways, in the twists and turns of the plot of this compelling novel.

Barb Szyszkiewicz, author of The Handy Little Guide to Prayer

My favorite of the series. ‘A Freedom Such as Heaven Intended’ is the first of Lauer’s acclaimed Civil War YA novels to feature an African American: Alice, the mysterious fugitive discovered by Brigid in ‘A Life Such as Heaven Intended,’ tells the story of her own enslavement, a tragic-but-royal past, and the tiny infant she must care for as she attempts the heroic journey to freedom. Catholic, law-abiding First Lieutenant Marshall Kent must choose between his religious beliefs and his sworn duty to defend the Constitution of the Confederate States.”

Jeanie Egolf, author, publisher

The Heaven Intended series continues with this fourth tale of intrigue, deception, compassion and love. I have been a huge fan of this series, so I anxiously awaited the newest book. It was worth the wait. Lauer seamlessly intertwines fascinating bits of history into her compelling story. A Freedom Such as Heaven Intended adds a captivating new dimension to this hard-to-put-down novel.

Leslea Wahl, author

Once again, a great Civil War novel: lively and lovable characters, an engaging plot and just the right amount of history and romance. The honest and true Catholic faith of Alice and Marshall makes their storylines interesting and enjoyable. An amazing read!

Sophie Habsburg-Lothringen

Synopsis: A young mother, blond and pretty, vanishes from her South Boston home, leaving behind only one witness—her four-year-old daughter—and one suspect—her handsome, secretive husband.
 
From the moment Detective Sergeant D. D. Warren arrives at the Joneses’ snug little bungalow, instinct tells her that something is seriously off with the wholesome image the couple has worked so hard to create. 
 
With the clock ticking on the life of a missing woman and a media firestorm building, D.D. must decide whether Jason Jones is hiding his guilt—or just trying to hide. But first she must stand between a potential killer and his next victim—an innocent child who may have seen too much.

My review: A real page-turner, compelling read. The story and characters were well-developed. 4.5/5.

Synopsis: Jenna’s Journey is the first book in The Hope trilogy. Jenna, a disabled orphan, finds herself in a chapel where she asks Mary if she will be her mother. Instantly, she is transported to a land where she begins a quest to find the answers she seeks. Along the way, she encounters a rosary tree, a protective bread, and a new spiritual friend. Her greedy aunt and whining cousin bring some comic relief to this adorable story for middle-grade children, teenagers, and adults alike.

My review: I enjoyed this sweet story about a disabled orphan. Recommend for middle graders. 4/5.

The Good Priest by Tina Beattie

Amazon Synopsis: Father John is the parish priest of Our Lady of Sorrows in Westonville UK, but when the ordered tranquility of his life is shattered by a stranger walking into the confessional on Ash Wednesday, he finds himself on a Lenten journey of increasing dread and horror. And when he is confronted with memories of his historic abuse, John discovers that what he thought to be forgiven and forgotten still lurks deep in his memory.

A pattern of murders unveils terrifying associations between the stranger’s appearances, John’s own past, and the murders. Could the stranger be the cardinal who abused him during his time in Rome, and who is rumoured to have died in the 9/11 attacks? Is he a ghost emanating from the same world as Sarah, the ghost of a little girl whose benign appearances are a protective presence in John’s life? Or is the man in the confessional not really dead? Through the increasing traumas of Lent, John struggles with the temptations and fears that begin to assail him wherever he turns.

The Good Priest is a story of faith and doubt, of real and imagined hauntings, of the epic dramas that lurk beneath the surface of an ordinary Catholic parish, and of the devastating power of violence and terror to rip apart relationships, friendships and loyalties. At once a thriller and a theological exploration, the book takes the reader into a world of altered realities where nothing is quite what it seems…

My review: This was better than I thought it would be, but it could’ve used another proofread. The story was engaging, the characters real, the plot compelling. I enjoyed the read and finished it in a few days. It had a liberal slant (the ultraconservatives who want to bring back the Latin Mass are described in a negative manner), but on the whole, it wasn’t over-the-top liberal. Recommend. 4/5.

Amazon Synopsis: Of the four horrific hijackings on September 11, Flight 93 resonates as one of epic resistance. At a time when the United States appeared defenseless against an unfamiliar foe, the gallant passengers and crew of Flight 93 provided for many Americans a measure of victory in the midst of unthinkable defeat. Together, they seemingly accomplished what all the security guards and soldiers, military pilots and government officials, could not — they thwarted the terrorists, sacrificing their own lives so that others might live.

The culmination of hundreds of interviews with family members and months of investigation, Among the Heroes is the definitive story of the courageous men and women aboard Flight 93, and of the day that forever changed the way Americans view the world and themselves.

My review: I bought this book fifteen years ago and recently read it again after watching the movie United 93. The writing is solid and polished and the author helps the reader get to know each passenger of this flight. What these passengers accomplished was beyond heroic. I wish they had been able to land the plane safely, but that was not meant to be. Highly recommend, 5/5.

Eyes of Fire Now Available #Catholicvampire

Eyes of Fire by Mina Ambrose

Synopsis: Now available on Kindle and in paperback! The third in the Shadows of the Sun series. Ancient legend comes to life: the prophecy that Charon, master vampire, has long dreaded, continues to unfold.

Jude has finally accepted his destiny as the hero who must foil Charon’s plans for world domination, though he has only just begun to understand the powers he possesses. Nevertheless, he sets out on his quest.   Halloween is just around the corner when Jude arrives in the small town of Sylvan and lands a renovation job at a nearby mansion—the very one that sits atop Charon’s underground lair, as it turns out. He also encounters Phaedra, whom he recognizes as the “damsel in distress” from his recurring dreams. As he interprets it, he has been sent here to protect her, but she will have none of that. Meanwhile, Tim the VK (Vampire Killer) breezes into town, armed to the teeth, his vampire-tracking wolf-dog Sarge at his heels. His announcement that he is here to clean out a nest of vampires shocks Phaedra and her friends—vampires aren’t real! Or… are they? It’s all fantastic fun—until Phaedra has a terrifying encounter one night, and Jude comes to the rescue. She reluctantly admits she may need his protection, after all.   Tim is not so sure—Sarge takes Jude for a vampire, and Sarge has never been wrong about vampires! Now, while Tim must single-handedly confront the whole crew of the undead, must he also guard Phaedra from her own heart?

The Chaplet of Seven Sorrows

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. One of the chaplets I say every day is the Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. This is a beautiful way to remember Mary’s suffering and sorrows.

This chaplet reminds us of Mary’s key role in our Redemption. She suffered along with her Son Jesus to save us. This chaplet is prayed using a special rosary comprised of seven “decades” containing seven beads each.

Here is how the Chaplet of Seven Sorrows is prayed:

Each group of seven starts with an Our Father, as in the regular Rosary. Some people start with an Act of Contrition, since the devotion has a penitential aspect. Also like the regular Rosary, the groups of seven Hail Marys are an occasion for meditation on “Mysteries” — in this case, the Seven Sorrows of Mary, listed below:

The First Sorrow

The Prophecy of Simeon
Reading: Luke 2:25-35.

When Mary and Joseph present the infant Jesus in the temple, Simeon predicts that a “sword” (of sorrow) will pierce Mary’s soul.

The Second Sorrow

The Flight into Egypt (Massacre of the Innocents)
Reading: Matthew 2:13-15.

When King Herod orders the death of all male children age two or younger, Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt with the infant Jesus.

The Third Sorrow

The Child Jesus Lost in the Temple
Reading: Luke 2: 41-50.

Mary and Joseph search for the child Jesus for three days, finding Him at last — after agonizing sorrow — in the temple.

The Fourth Sorrow

Mary meets Jesus carrying the cross
Reading: Luke 23: 27-29.

As Jesus makes His way to Calvary, condemned to crucifixion, He meets His mother, Mary. He is bruised, derided, cursed and defiled and her sorrow is absolute as Jesus drags His own cross up the hill of His crucifixion.

The Fifth Sorrow

Mary at the foot of the cross
Reading: John 19: 25-30.

Mary stands near her dying Son unable to minister to him as He cries “I thirst.” She hears Him promise heaven to a thief and forgive His enemies. His last words, “Behold your mother,” tell us to look on Mary as our mother.

The Sixth Sorrow

Mary receives the body of Jesus
Reading: Psalm 130.

Jesus is taken down from the cross and His body is placed in Mary’s arms. The passion and death are over, but for His mother, grief continues. She holds His body in her arms.

The Seventh Sorrow

Mary witnesses the burial of Jesus
Reading: Luke 23: 50-56.

The body of Jesus is laid in the tomb. The most tragic day in history ends, Mary alone in sorrow, awaiting the Resurrection.

The Promises of Our Lady to those who regularly recite this chaplet:

1 I will grant peace to their families.


2 They will be enlightened about the divine mysteries.


3 I will console them in their pains and I will accompany them in
their work.


4 I will give them as much as they ask for as long as it does not
oppose the adorable will of my divine Son or the sanctification of
their souls.


5 I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal
enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.


6 I will visibly help them at the moment of their death, they will
see the face of their Mother.


7 I have obtained from my divine Son, that those who propagate
this devotion to my tears and dolors, will be taken directly from
this earthly life to eternal happiness since all their sins will be
forgiven and my Son and I will be their eternal consolation and
joy.

An Open Book – August #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!

Eternal Light of the Crypts by Alan Van’t Land

Synopsis: 890 AD France.

The last imperial heir of Charlemagne is dead, and every duke is proclaiming himself king. Egilolf, a former soldier, could care less. He needs to steal bones. A saint’s bones.

With the prospect of a large payout, he recruits the scribe Aristeus, a refugee fleeing Viking invasions. Perhaps he should have told his new companion the true reason he’s pilfering saints. Together the thief and scribe must dodge bandits, Vikings, and warring lords—not to mention their own lies—only to find unearthing bones the easiest step.

Yet Egilolf’s fiercest battle is the one within. How can defending the weak be just, when God abandons him when he has to kill? And when Vikings become more than a faceless enemy to Aristeus, will he, like the ancient martyrs he’s always extolling, risk death to convert them?

Reviews:

I really enjoyed the sneak peek. A wonderful story well-told.”  A.K. Frailey, author

“Eternal Light of the Crypts is one of the best-written debut novels I’ve ever read. Painstakingly researched, beautifully written, and engaging from start to finish. This tale of two relic hunters is both comic and substantive.” Carolyn Astfalk, author

A Church in Crisis by Ralph Martin

Amazon Synopsis:

Nearly forty years ago, Ralph Martin’s bestselling A Crisis of Truth exposed the damaging trends in Catholic teaching and preaching that, combined with attacks from secular society, threatened the mission and life of the Catholic Church. While much has been done to counter false teaching over the last four decades, today the Church faces even more insidious threats from outside and within.

In A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward, Martin offers a detailed look at the growing hostility to the Catholic Church and its teaching. With copious evidence, Martin uncovers the forces working to undermine the Body of Christ and offers hope to those looking for clarity.

A Church in Crisis covers:

  • polarization in the Church caused by ambiguous teachings
  • initiatives that accommodate the culture without calling for conversion
  • Vatican-sponsored partnerships with organizations that actively contradict the teaching of the Catholic Church
  • and the recycling of theological errors long settled by Vatican II, Pope St. John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI.

Powerfully written, A Church in Crisis reminds all readers to heed Jesus’ express command not to lead His children astray. With ample resources to encourage readers, Ralph Martin provides the solid foundation of Catholic teaching both Scripture and Tradition to fortify Catholics against the errors that threaten us from all directions.

My review: Ralph Martin has written an excellent book on the state of the Catholic Church at the present time. And he does not mince words. He lists the reasons why the Church is in its current crisis and the ways to improve this awful situation. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. 5/5.

All Things New: Breaking the Cycle and Raising a Joyful Family by Erin McCole Cupp

Amazon Synopsis:

It’s time to break the cycle.

Not every family is the perfect model of Catholic family life. Some of us approach parenting still wounded by childhood experiences that were less than ideal. When we start our own families, at best we feel a bit unprepared, and at worst we feel paralyzed with fear that we will repeat our parents dysfunctional, abusive behaviors.

In All Things New, Erin McCole Cupp draws on her own and others experiences to discuss how to develop a joyful family life when our own experience of being parented was damaging. Erin wrote this book for moms and dads who want to parent better than they themselves were parented.

Drawing on the Holy Family as the model of family life, and distilling practical lessons from the Two Greatest Commandments and the Beatitudes, All Things New shows readers that, while change isn’t easy, God has given us all the ingredients we need to create a holy, joyful family.

My review: I just finished this book and I can’t say enough good things about it! A longer review coming, but I highly recommend this book for anyone who had had to endure abuse in any relationship.

The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner

Amazon Synopsis: A young mother, blond and pretty, vanishes from her South Boston home, leaving behind only one witness—her four-year-old daughter—and one suspect—her handsome, secretive husband.
 
From the moment Detective Sergeant D. D. Warren arrives at the Joneses’ snug little bungalow, instinct tells her that something is seriously off with the wholesome image the couple has worked so hard to create. 
 
With the clock ticking on the life of a missing woman and a media firestorm building, D.D. must decide whether Jason Jones is hiding his guilt—or just trying to hide. But first she must stand between a potential killer and his next victim—an innocent child who may have seen too much.

My review: I thoroughly enjoyed this thriller that had me guessing constantly who was a good guy and who was a bad guy. Excellent story and characters. Warning: language. Highly recommend! 5/5.

Falling by T.J. Newman

Amazon Synopsis: You just boarded a flight to New York.

There are one hundred and forty-three other passengers onboard.

What you don’t know is that thirty minutes before the flight your pilot’s family was kidnapped.

For his family to live, everyone on your plane must die.

The only way the family will survive is if the pilot follows his orders and crashes the plane.

Enjoy the flight.

My review: This novel has everything I could ask for in a thriller. A plane that’s about to crash, a pilot who’s been blackmailed to crash the plane in order to keep his family alive and great characters. And the short synopsis alone reeled me in. If you’re looking for a non-stop ride, this is it. Highly recommend. 5/5.

My #MeToo Moment in the House of God: Lifting the Curtain on the Other Side of the Clergy Sex Scandal, Young Adult Victims of Predator Priests and Bishops

by S.B. Zak

Amazon Synopsis: When I came forward to report the abuse, it should have stopped. But it did not. When the perpetrator was about to be promoted and once more I made a report to competent authorities, he should not have been advanced. Nonetheless he was. Proper and effective measures should have been taken so that others would have been spared his assaults. However they were not. Similar incidents should not still be a problem today. Yet they are. Current leaders should be dealing with this situation in an open, transparent manner. Regrettably they are not. This is the story of my #MeToo moment in the Church, both the actual events that took place more than thirty years ago when I was in the seminary, and what is happening today as I seek to have church leaders address this often overlooked aspect of the clergy sex scandal, adults — whether younger or older — who are targeted by predator priests and bishops.

My review: I’ve been downloading and reading about clerical sexual abuse for the past six months as research for my work in progress (which is loosely based on the effects of the abuse my father suffered at the hands of a priest when he was a freshman at a Catholic high school.) I wasn’t surprised that there was a plethora of books on that topic, but I was surprised that there aren’t more books like this one, from the point of view of a seminarian thirty years ago. It’s not a story for the faint of heart, but it is well written. It could’ve gone through a few more edits as there were typos and grammar errors, but overall, it’s a great book. 4/5.

Sexual Violence and the Violence of Silence

by Jewel Lee Herder, Ph.D.

Amazon Synopsis: Sexual Violence and the Violence of Silence takes a candid look at the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia from a historical and cultural perspective. The author reveals the five veils of silence—the actions or inactions of the church hierarchy, congregation, law enforcement, media, and general public—that shrouded these cases of clergy sexual violence and exposed the internal maneuverings by administrative officials to silence all those involved or who knew about the abuses. This violence of silence had a profound effect on the victims by adding to their pain and suffering and interfering with their ability to heal and obtain justice. The author begins with the history of the founding of the Roman Catholic Church in America and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and leads the reader through the confession and testimony of Father William Hogan, a nineteenth-century priest who acknowledged his role in grooming parishioners in the confessional, attested to the sexually abusive behavior of many of his colleagues, and argued for the pervasiveness of clergy sexual violence in the church.

The reader will also be exposed to graphic grand jury testimony of the victims of a small representative sample of accused sexually violent priests from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia—Father Gerard W. Chambers, Father Joseph Gausch, and Father Nicholas V. Cudemo—who targeted their victims based on race, class, and gender. The author includes the historical context in which each priest lived and served by presenting these priests to the reader in chronological order based on their date of ordination. To assist the readers in their understanding of the scope of the cover-up by the leadership of the church, the author examines the administration of the bishops or cardinals supervising the archdiocese during the tenure of each of these predator priests.

My review: This was a difficult book to get through, not just because of the topic and the testimony of witnesses (now adults), but because the author was clearly anti-Catholic. And while in many respects, the author is correct when she speaks of moving abusive priests from parish to parish was clearly wrong, her own anti-Catholic bias shone through too strongly for me and I had to skim over sections. Only recommend this book for those with a strong stomach. 3/5.

The Cross and the Godless by Joseph Mauck

Amazon Synopsis: 1979 -Terror reigns in Nicaragua. The Sandinistas have seized power. Julian Mendero, leader of the Christian opposition, is arrested for stealing a national treasure-the Valdivieso Cross. But not before his son, Pedro, flees to the Sanctuary underground and begins an arduous journey to the US border.

Months later, FBI Agent Steve Rodriguez enters the murky world of the border killings, a series of inexplicable murders. When evidence points to a foreign death squad he enlists the help of Carol Shannon, a Sanctuary activist searching for Pedro. But Carol is reluctant to help. Trauma of a recent sexual assault has left her fearful and suffering nightmares. Yet Steve’s compassion-and Carol’s commitment to end the killing and find Pedro-gradually builds trust, while mutual attraction soon gives way to passionate desire.

Mysteries unfold when Steve consults notorious ex-patriot Hector Rone. He learns Rone’s lover, Claudia Haas-antiquities expert, thief, and femme du monde-has joined two militant priests in their search for Pedro and the Valdivieso Cross. Tensions rise when Steve learns the death squad leader may be the father of Carol’s unborn child. Time is short. Steve must find a way to stop the death squad, find Pedro and the precious Valdivieso Cross, and save the woman he loves from making a terrible mistake.

My review: I thoroughly enjoyed this work of fiction from Joseph Mauck. The story is compelling and the characters are well-developed and believable. It’s a difficult read because there’s a sexual assault, many murders and the nature of the antagonists in this story, but it’s well worth it. It’s for mature readers so it’s not for the fainthearted, nor for children. Highly recommend!

Interview with Joseph Mauck, author of The Cross and the Godless

Joseph Mauck is the author of The Cross and the Godless.

Where did you get the idea for this story?

The first inklings of The Cross and the Godless came to me as I followed a news story way back in 1981, when increasing numbers of political refugees from Nicaragua and El Salvador made their way across the US/Mexican border.  I lived in Southern California at the time, when the ongoing violence in those two countries alarmed a great many Americans.  For me, the horrific murders of nuns and priests was particularly troubling.  But I also read about magnificent acts of  courage and sacrifice on the part of Christian volunteers who helped thousands of people. And yes, there were horrific murders along the border. Some were attributed to death squads. Helping destitute immigrants in those days was a dangerous undertaking. As a dramatist I couldn’t resist writing a story that reflected that same Christian courage.  At first, it was just a one page outline.  But with careful thought and a lot of research over the years, I pulled the story together between other projects. 

The big jump forward came about seven years ago, when I finally got fed up with all the filth and hedonism in mainstream American culture.  Fortunes have been made by the constant appeal to our greed, lust, and all that we think of as the “dark side” of human nature, and those who create these ugly stories don’t care whether children are exposed or not.  These are the same people who say they never have enough fresh stories for books, movies and television, but always seem to ignore Christians writers with great stories, both fiction and true-life.  Add to that Planned Parenthood’s growing influence, and I realized I had to do my part to fight back. Writing The Cross and the Godless  –  a suspense-thriller with a solid pro-life love story  –  became my way of  taking sides in the cultural wars.  Yes, it has its share of violence and contemptable behavior, but it only reflects what we find in the darker parts of a  fallen world.  Overall, I’d have to say The Cross and the Godless expresses the determination of good people trying to survive dangerous circumstances, and fight a persistent, unmerciful evil.  I’m proud of this book.  It’s a good read.     

The truth that each person is a unique and beautiful creation of God runs throughout this book. Why was it important that your reader understand this fundamental truth in the context of the story?

For the past several decades, mainstream crime fiction has gradually become increasingly harsh and brutal in its depiction of human behavior. Certainly one can say this gradual degradation only reflects today’s headlines. But that doesn’t explain why the counterforce of Christian writing—through the depiction of heroic characters, such as teachers, extended family, neighbors, and the like—has not taken root and grown at a similar rate.  The arguments of “profit margins” and “the bottom line” can’t explain it; stories with less violence and happy endings can be profitable too.  Nor can we simply write it off as a kind of “secular cynicism”; our current social debasements are the result of failings far more complex than that.

On the other hand, at the heart of your question, we see a way of turning things around, a way out of the morass of ugly depravity and its seemingly constant surrender to evil intent. We need only remind the reader that even the worst among us was born of God’s love. In other words, all children are born innocent. This “fundamental truth” not only allows for the broader development of an antagonist’s motives (such as the emergence of childhood trauma) it provides for the exploration of the deepest thought and behavior of all characters. More importantly, by reminding the reader “that each person is a unique and beautiful creation of God” we inspire hope, which might be the only way to survive a fictional crisis. Moreover, in the real world of increasing degradation, hope is a powerful antidote to real-life cynicism.        

Writers tend to include aspects of themselves in their characters. Do any of your characters possess your strengths or flaws?  Or are they all based on others?

My central protagonist, Steve Rodriguez, has a few quirks I see in myself. He’s a bit too hard on himself when he makes mistakes, and he’s especially cautious when it comes to self-pity. Like me, he knows self-pity can slow him down, discourage him, or distract him from the task at hand. In real life, I guess that’s one fault I have wrestled with from time to time, and that certainly made it easier to write about when I fleshed out Steve’s character. 

Charlie Bregetti, too, comes to mind.  As Steve’s second in command on the FBI task force, Charlie’s tough exterior tends to obscure his love for God and country, and it takes a while before we see his fondness for children, his respect for the meek and suffering of the world. Especially strong is Charlie’s compassion for the innocent victim. It’s there, all right. But it emerges slowly. Come to think of it, there’s a lot of my father in Charlie.  Deep down, a lot of love for humanity. Bill Mauck—to know him was to love him.       

What writing projects are you currently working on?

A few things right now. But it’s too soon to talk about. Maybe after the second or third draft. I’m sure there’s other writers who, like me, feel uncomfortable talking about new work in the early stages. The way I see it—the way I feel it—describing unfinished work can only hinder one’s creative engines.  

On the other hand, I have a new project that’s set to go.  I’m searching for a producer of my new play, Quinn’s Gift, a contemporary two-act drama about a black middle-aged widower who, with God’s help, finds justice for a murdered white father and daughter. 

Do you have any favorite authors or books you can recommend to my readers? I enjoy reading James Lee Burke.  His characters carry on despite their inability to correct enormous, self-destructive faults. Sometimes his supporting characters are too patient, too forgiving I think, but always colorful and interesting. Even in the darkest prose, Burke’s love for humanity shines through.  


Buy The Cross and the Godless here on Amazon.

The Cross and the Godless Review

First the summary: 1979—Terror reigns in Nicaragua. The Sandinistas have seized power. Julian Mendero, leader of the Christian opposition, is arrested for stealing a national treasure—the Valdivieso Cross. But not before his son, Pedro, flees to the Sanctuary underground and begins an arduous journey to the US border.

Months later, FBI Agent Steve Rodriguez enters the murky world of the border killings, a series of inexplicable murders. When evidence points to a foreign death squad he enlists the help of Carol Shannon, a Sanctuary activist searching for Pedro. But Carol is reluctant to help. Trauma of a recent sexual assault has left her fearful and suffering nightmares. Yet Steve’s compassion—and Carol’s commitment to end the killing and find Pedro—gradually builds trust, while mutual attraction soon gives way to passionate desire.

Mysteries unfold when Steve consults notorious ex-patriot Hector Rone. He learns Rone’s lover, Claudia Haas—antiquities expert, thief, and femme du monde—has joined two militant priests in their search for Pedro and the Valdivieso Cross. Tensions rise when Steve learns the death squad leader may be the father of Carol’s unborn child. Time is short. Steve must find a way to stop the death squad, find Pedro and the precious Valdivieso Cross, and save the woman he loves from making a terrible mistake.

My review: I thoroughly enjoyed this work of fiction from Joseph Mauck. The story is compelling and the characters are well-developed and believable. It’s a difficult read because there’s a sexual assault, murders and the nature of the antagonists in this story, but it’s well worth it. It’s for mature readers so it’s not for the fainthearted, nor for children. Highly recommend!

Buy The Cross and the Godless here on Amazon.

The Cross and the Godless by Joseph Mauck – Now Available

1979—Terror reigns in Nicaragua. The Sandinistas have seized power. Julian Mendero, leader of the Christian opposition, is arrested for stealing a national treasure—the Valdivieso Cross. But not before his son, Pedro, flees to the Sanctuary underground and begins an arduous journey to the US border.

Months later, FBI Agent Steve Rodriguez enters the murky world of the border killings, a series of inexplicable murders. When evidence points to a foreign death squad he enlists the help of Carol Shannon, a Sanctuary activist searching for Pedro. But Carol is reluctant to help. Trauma of a recent sexual assault has left her fearful and suffering nightmares. Yet Steve’s compassion—and Carol’s commitment to end the killing and find Pedro—gradually builds trust, while mutual attraction soon gives way to passionate desire.

Mysteries unfold when Steve consults notorious ex-patriot Hector Rone. He learns Rone’s lover, Claudia Haas—antiquities expert, thief, and femme du monde—has joined two militant priests in their search for Pedro and the Valdivieso Cross. Tensions rise when Steve learns the death squad leader may be the father of Carol’s unborn child. Time is short. Steve must find a way to stop the death squad, find Pedro and the precious Valdivieso Cross, and save the woman he loves from making a terrible mistake.

The Cross and the Godless is available at this link.

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