An Open Book – January 2022

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

Amazon Synopsis: Fifty years ago on November 22, 1963, in Dallas’s Dealey Plaza, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated while traveling in a motorcade with his wife, Jacqueline. LIFE magazine, the weekly pictorial chronicle of events in America and throughout the world, was quickly on the scene. The Kennedys had been our story: Jack and Jackie made the cover in his sailboat before they were married and he was a fresh-faced senator from Massachusetts, and the White House doors had remained open to LIFE throughout his presidency: Cecil Stoughton’s photographs of Caroline and John-John in the Oval Office, Jackie’s tour of the renovation, tense behind-the-scenes moments during 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis — all of this appeared in LIFE. We needed to be in Dallas.

The famous Zapruder film first appeared in LIFE, after being acquired by LIFE’s Richard B. Stolley. Stolley also interviewed at the time Dallas police, Kennedy administration officials, members of the Oswald family, workers at Jack Ruby’s bar. Jackie’s first conversation after the murder was with Theodore H. White for LIFE, and in it, she told the American people, for the first time, about the Camelot her late husband had imagined.

My review: I received this book as a gift for Christmas. Fascinating and essential for anyone who has an interest in JFK and his assassination. 5/5

Amazon Synopsis: As hundreds of rescue workers waited on the ground, United Airlines Flight 232 wallowed drunkenly over the bluffs northwest of Sioux City. The plane slammed onto the runway and burst into a vast fireball. The rescuers didn’t move at first: nobody could possibly survive that crash. And then people began emerging from the summer corn that lined the runways. Miraculously, 184 of 296 passengers lived.

No one has ever attempted the complete reconstruction of a crash of this magnitude. Drawing on interviews with hundreds of survivors, crew, and airport and rescue personnel, Laurence Gonzales, a commercial pilot himself, captures, minute by minute, the harrowing journey of pilots flying a plane with no controls and flight attendants keeping their calm in the face of certain death. He plumbs the hearts and minds of passengers as they pray, bargain with God, plot their strategies for survival, and sacrifice themselves to save others.

Ultimately he takes us, step by step, through the gripping scientific detective work in super-secret labs to dive into the heart of a flaw smaller than a grain of rice that shows what brought the aircraft down.

An unforgettable drama of the triumph of heroism over tragedy and human ingenuity over technological breakdown, Flight 232 is a masterpiece in the tradition of the greatest aviation stories ever told.

My review: I enjoy non-fiction books written like novels. This one is especially compelling. I’ve seen a few documentaries about this flight and how miraculous it was that so many people survived. This book goes into a lot more detail than the documentaries. Interesting, excellent read. 5/5.

Amazon Synopsis: Are DEMONS and ANGELS, like vampires and werewolves, merely legend and lore?

Or is there more to life than meets the eye?

This is the question high schooler, Clare Thomson, is faced with when she unwittingly discovers she can see spiritual beings.

My review: This was a compelling read from a new YA author. This book isn’t just for teens; it’s also for anyone who needs a reminder that angels and demons exist and are more real than vampires and werewolves. Highly recommend. 4.5/5.

I’m Listening: Praying with Art and Story

I’m Listening: Praying with Art and Story by Victoria Ryan is a delightful new book.

Synopsis: In a unique approach to meditation and contemplation, I’m Listening: Praying with Art and Story uses colorful Catholic holy card images and the story of a little sheep adrift in the dark night of the soul for personal reflection. The 40-day guide engages your emotions, opinions, and experiences to explore your relationship with God, both His approach to you and your approach to Him.

My review: I’m Listening: Praying With Art and Story is a beautiful book that will help develop your prayer life. There are 40 reflections. The first section includes sacred art where God is pursuing you and the second section is the story of you pursuing God through a story of a lost lamb. I highly recommend this book to all those who wish to grow closer to God, especially those who wish to hear what God is telling us! 

Where Angels Pass Now Available

My new book is now available on Kindle and in print.

Based on true events. Teenager Evie Gallagher is stunned when her 45-year-old father dies tragically and suddenly. Too many unanswered questions accompany Evie’s challenging journey to adulthood. When she finally discovers the reason her father led such a troubled life, shock turns to anger. She is determined to find justice for her father.

Nervous about the first day of his freshman year, 14-year-old Hank Gallagher steps inside Holy Archangels High School for the first time in September of 1954. Although the majestic Holy Archangels statues inside the school’s grand lobby present an air of protection, it is not long before Hank passes right under them and into the hands of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Confused and cornered by threats, Hank attempts to abandon his secret to the past, but a horrible wound on his heart eventually leads to a catastrophic breakdown.

Based loosely on actual events, chapters alternate between Evie and Hank to reveal a life haunted by betrayal and a revelation of true justice and hope.

Reviews:

Ellen Gable’s newest novel, Where Angels Pass, will take readers to the depths of their emotions. It is a beautifully written, yet heart-rending tale of sexual abuse and the long-term effects such a crime has on its victims. From the beginning of the story, Ellen draws in the reader bringing them close to loveable characters, each with their own story to tell. Curiosity and empathy compel the reader to keep moving through a story that might be difficult for some to read, as it zooms in on sexual abuse by clergy. Anger and compassion go hand-in-hand throughout this tale, and Ellen Gable does a remarkable job balancing the two. I believe this novel will bring to light the utter tragedy of clerical abuse and the ripple effect it has for generations to come. Yet through the darkness of that abomination, dawn rises, and we are assured that justice can prevail and healing can be achieved. I highly recommend this book for anyone who seeks to understand, for this just might be one of the most important novels of our time.  Mary Jo Thayer, award-winning author of Close to the Soul

Ellen Gable tells a very personal and difficult story, Where Angels Pass, with such gentleness, love, and heartfelt honesty. What I expected to be an uncomfortable story ended up being a love story of a daughter for her father, a father who suffered the lifelong effects of something no young person should ever experience. Thank you, Ellen, for sharing this deeply moving story that will surely touch readers in a very profound way.    Jim Sano, author, The Father’s Son

Incredible book. A story with uncompromising honesty. Children reflect our worst and best selves. What they inherit from us speaks to our final judgment. Here is a story that offers humanity hope despite one of the worst sins of all—the corruption of innocence.   A.K. Frailey, author

The greatest tragedy that could befall the Roman Catholic Church is for a child’s innocence to be stolen by a priest. And yet it has happened thousands of times and continues to happen. Told by Ellen Gable, as only she can tell it, with candor and faith, this story sheds light on the darkness of a case of clerical abuse. As the results of the abuse envelop an entire family, one sees how that the original victim truly had his life destroyed by one evil man. A moving and heart-breaking read that will change your life and strengthen your faith!  Elena-Maria Vidal, author

Where Angels Pass may be hard to read at times, but you will not regret the insights it provides into one of the darkest issues of our time. With skill and sensitivity, Ellen Gable presents the story of one boy and his family, showing the devastating effects of clerical sexual abuse on him and eventually his wife and children. ~Theresa Linden, author of award-winning Catholic fiction

Ellen Gable addresses the darkness of sexual abuse and the resulting lifelong wounds with delicate finesse.  Michelle Buckman, award-winning author

Gable’s style of storytelling equips the reader with courage enough to journey with the characters throughout their torment. And in the unfolding of the story — with the inevitable fury and sorrow that surfaces along the way — we are finally brought face to face with Jesus’ call to forgive those who harm us. A feat that Ellen shows us is not impossible, for nothing is impossible for those with God on their side. This book will change, teach, and inspire. Every Catholic should read itVeronica Smallhorn, author, A Channel of Your Peace

Ellen Gable has done a great service to our Church, the victims of this dreaded abuse, and particularly to their families whose suffering has gone virtually unnoticed. While sharing this story was no doubt painful for her, Ellen’s courage in doing so will help other families living through this nightmare. She has done a masterful job mixing fact with fiction.  Michael Seagriff, author

I couldn’t put this book down, so don’t let the topic deter you. The story, told simply and honestly—and without sensationalism—will draw you in and have you rooting for these characters long after you close the book. Victoria Ryan, author

A powerful story that helps Catholics better understand the long-lasting damage that this type of abuse creates.  Carolyn Astfalk, award-winning author of Stay With Me and Ornamental Graces

Excerpt of Where Angels Pass

Fr. Tim unlocked his classroom door, and the two stepped inside. Fr. Tim closed the door behind him as he said, “Would you please erase and clean the chalkboards?”

Hank nodded and proceeded to the front of the classroom. Red usually cleaned the boards.

Once he started erasing, he realized he was too short to reach the top of the board. So he did what he could first, then he turned to scan the room for the stepstool. He couldn’t see it anywhere.

“Need the stepstool, Hank?” the priest asked.

For a minute, Hank wondered whether Fr. Tim was teasing him, but the priest would never do that. “Yes, sir.”

The priest picked up the stool from the closet and carried it to the front of the classroom. He placed it on the floor beside Hank. “There you go. All set.”

Hank got onto the stool and finished erasing the blackboard. He was about to step down when he felt a grip on his pant leg. Was that Fr. Tim’s hand? Every part of his body went still.

After what seemed like moments, the priest finally said, “Come on, I’ll help you down.”

Hank breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks, F-Father.”

Hank moved the stool and climbed up to finish erasing the middle section of the blackboard when Fr. Tim’s hand again gripped Hank’s pant leg.  This time, the priest held onto Hank’s legs with one hand on each leg. “Don’t want you to fall, Hank.”

Once Hank finished erasing that section, Fr. Tim assisted him down. Hank moved the stool to the far end of the board and stood up to erase the rest of the chalk writing. He felt weird about the priest holding onto his legs, so he quickly cleaned off the board.

When he was almost done, Hank felt Fr. Tim’s hand go from around his pants, up underneath his trousers and stroked his bare leg above his socks. Instinctively, he shook his leg free of the priest’s hand.

Fr. Tim cleared his throat. “Here you go, Hank. I’ll help you down.”

“Uh…what job can I do now, Father?” He tried to shake off the odd feeling, ready to move on.

“Let’s get you settled over here at this front desk, and you can put these files in alphabetical order.” The priest pointed. “Oh, and I’ve got Christmas chocolates on my desk. You’re welcome to take some if you’d like.”

“Sure.” Before Hank sat down, he took a healthy handful of Whitman’s sampler chocolates. He unwrapped one and wolfed it down.

While Hank worked on the alphabetizing, Fr. Tim acted normal, as if nothing had happened. Well, nothing had happened. The priest had simply put his hand on Hank’s leg. Sister Rose Bernadine had done worse when she slapped his leg with a ruler when he’d ignored the recess bell and remained in the schoolyard. It had stung like the dickens.

“You okay there, Hank?”

“Yes. I’m fine.”

That night, Hank pulled the covers up and shivered.  His bedclothes were cold.

He reflected on the day, his thoughts turning to Fr. Tim standing beside him while he was on the stool. He couldn’t stop thinking about it. But of course, the priest was just trying to keep Hank steady.  What other reason could he have?

Fr. Tim was always putting his hand on Hank’s shoulder or back. Heck, he touched Hank more than his mother or father did most days.

Hank put his headphones on and turned the radio to the sports channel airing the Philadelphia Warriors against the Syracuse Nationals basketball game.

He drifted off to sleep, dreaming of spring, hotdogs, and Phillies games.

An Open Book #openbook

I’m joining Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. My new book is now available!

#Sale! Only 2.99 USD on Kindle and 12.99 USD in paperback until Christmas.

Synopsis: Based on true events. Teenager Evie Gallagher is stunned when her 45-year-old father dies tragically and suddenly. Too many unanswered questions accompany Evie’s challenging journey to adulthood. When she finally discovers the reason her father led such a troubled life, shock turns to anger. She is determined to find justice for her father.

Nervous about the first day of his freshman year, 14-year-old Hank Gallagher steps inside Holy Archangels High School for the first time in September of 1954. Although the majestic Holy Archangels statues inside the school’s grand lobby present an air of protection, it is not long before Hank passes right under them and into the hands of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Confused and cornered by threats, Hank attempts to abandon his secret to the past, but a horrible wound on his heart eventually leads to a catastrophic breakdown.

Chapters alternate between Evie and Hank to reveal a life haunted by betrayal and a revelation of true justice and hope.

And now for a few of my favorite Advent books!

Synopsis: Discover how Christians celebrated Christmas before the days of television, shopping malls, and the Internet. In Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas, Catherine’s three-in-one book on this most expectant of holiday seasons is an ideal Advent book to be used every year.

My review: My favorite Advent book and one that I read every year at this time is a book called Donkey Bells. I enjoy reading this inspiring book curled up in a comfortable chair by the woodstove, a hot chocolate or apple cider beside me, Advent and Christmas music playing quietly in the background.

I especially appreciate the heartwarming stories (such as Donkey Bells) as Catherine Doherty was a captivating storyteller. Also included in this book are customs and traditions like celebrating St. Nicholas Day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, The O’Antiphons, the blessing of the Christmas tree and Advent wreath, the Feast of the Holy Family, and the Feast of the Epiphany. Meditations including The Gurgle of a Baby and Looking into the Child’s Eyes are extraordinary and beautifully written.

This book provides an inspirational way for children, teens, and adults to prepare their hearts for Christmas.  Available on Kindle and in paperback.

Synopsis: Beginning with the first day of Advent and continuing through the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, these selections from the immortal pen of Fulton J. Sheen encourage readers to explore the essence and promise of the season.

My review: This is a beautiful Advent devotional that focuses on quotes from Archbishop Fulton Sheen that are taken from his many published books. Editor Judy Bauer includes many quotes that will inspire the reader to grow in his/her prayer life, to embrace Advent, and to become more prepared to celebrate the arrival of the Savior. Each day contains a Scripture passage relating to the daily readings, a short paragraph from one of Sheen’s books, and a prayer written by Bauer. It only takes a few moments each day. This is an ideal book to use when lighting the Advent wreath each night. It’s available in paperback.

Synopsis: This is a treasure trove of exciting ideas that will enable your family to focus anew on preparing for the holy time of Advent and Christmas! With a fresh, lively set of suggestions that will attract young and old alike, Joy to the World will help lay the foundation for long-lasting family memories.

My review: Joy to the World takes a three-point approach to the season: The Advent Calendar with daily activities, The Evening Ritual that incorporates the Advent Wreath and the Jesse tree, and The Good Deeds Manger. I especially love the Good Deeds Manger. Basi suggests that a family obtains a box and some straw, chopped paper, or Easter grass. When a good deed or something kind is done by the children, straw is added. When something mean is done, it is taken away. The idea is to have lots of straw for the baby Jesus.

The author writes, “The motto for Advent should be: ‘Be ready; be present; be waiting.’” This book helps children – and adults – to understand the meaning of Advent: to be ready, be present and be waiting.

This book has been around for over ten years, and it’s written by Kathleen Basi. If you have children between the ages of four and eighteen, this is the book for you. This is a great bargain at only 6.49 for the Kindle edition and 6.99 USD for the paperback.

Synopsis: Advent is a season almost forgotten by the secular world. With new toys and electronics available, why should we focus on this time of anticipation? Most everyone cannot wait for Christmas morning to arrive, but is it for the right reason?

My review: Each section of this book encompasses three different activities: Think, Pray and Act. Each Sunday has its own theme. The First Sunday of Advent and the week following is “Get Ready.” The Second Sunday and the following week is “Repent.” The Third Sunday’s theme is “Love,” and the fourth Sunday, “Anticipate.” The Christmas season has its own theme:” Rejoice.” There are also stories and activities for the Feast of the Epiphany.

What sets this apart from other Advent preparation books is that it has reflections and activities for the entire family (parents included) so that both parent and child can prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth.

My kids loved this book when they were younger. A great bargain at .99 on Kindle and 3.50 (or less) in print.  

Synopsis: Perhaps the Christmas story has become almost too familiar. A virgin giving birth. A child laid in a manger. Shepherds greeted by angels. The Christmas story has become so familiar that the profound, even shocking, nature of the incarnation might be overlooked. But what if we had never heard the story before?

My review: This is a day-by-day reflection that goes right to the Feast of the Epiphany with reflection questions for each day. What makes this one so unique is that Sri asks us to imagine ourselves in the world of Judaism in the first century. His reflections inspire us to put ourselves in the shoes of the people who first experienced the exceptional – yet seemingly normal – birth of the Christ child.  How would we react to a young girl giving birth in a stable, surrounded by animals, feeding troughs, and manure?  Would we be surprised to learn that this was the birth of the Redeemer who would save all mankind?  Excellent book.

Advanced Praise for Where Angels Pass by @ellengable

My twelfth book will be available on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2021!

Teenager Evie Gallagher is stunned when her 45-year-old father dies tragically and suddenly. Too many unanswered questions accompany Evie’s challenging journey to adulthood. When she finally discovers the reason her father led such a troubled life, shock turns to anger. She is determined to find justice for her father.

Nervous about the first day of his freshman year, 14-year-old Hank Gallagher steps inside Holy Archangels High School for the first time in September of 1954. Although the majestic Holy Archangels statues inside the school’s grand lobby present an air of protection, it is not long before Hank passes right under them and into the hands of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Confused and cornered by threats, Hank attempts to abandon his secret to the past, but a horrible wound on his heart eventually leads to a catastrophic breakdown.

Based loosely on actual events, chapters alternate between Evie and Hank to reveal a life haunted by betrayal and a revelation of true justice and hope.

Special thanks to the following authors who read a pre-publication copy of Where Angels Pass!

Advanced Praise for Where Angels Pass:

Ellen Gable’s newest novel, Where Angels Pass, will take readers to the depths of their emotions. It is a beautifully written, yet heart-rending tale of sexual abuse and the long-term effects such a crime has on its victims. From the beginning of the story, Ellen draws in the reader bringing them close to loveable characters, each with their own story to tell. Curiosity and empathy compel the reader to keep moving through a story that might be difficult for some to read, as it zooms in on sexual abuse by clergy. Anger and compassion go hand-in-hand throughout this tale, and Ellen Gable does a remarkable job balancing the two. I believe this novel will bring to light the utter tragedy of clerical abuse and the ripple effect it has for generations to come. Yet through the darkness of that abomination, dawn rises, and we are assured that justice can prevail and healing can be achieved. I highly recommend this book for anyone who seeks to understand, for this just might be one of the most important novels of our time.  Mary Jo Thayer, award-winning author of Close to the Soul

Ellen Gable tells a very personal and difficult story,Where Angels Pass, with such gentleness, love, and heartfelt honesty. What I expected to be an uncomfortable story ended up being a love story of a daughter for her father, a father who suffered the lifelong effects of something no young person should ever experience. Thank you, Ellen, for sharing this deeply moving story that will surely touch readers in a very profound way.    Jim Sano, author, The Father’s Son

Incredible book. Magnificently done. A story with uncompromising honesty. Children reflect our worst and best selves. What they inherit from us speaks to our final judgment. Here is a story that offers humanity hope despite one of the worst sins of all—the corruption of innocence.   A.K. Frailey, author

The greatest tragedy that could befall the Roman Catholic Church is for a child’s innocence to be stolen by a priest. And yet it has happened thousands of times and continues to happen. Told by Ellen Gable, as only she can tell it, with candor and faith, this story sheds light on the darkness of a case of clerical abuse. As the results of the abuse envelop an entire family, one sees how that the original victim truly had his life destroyed by one evil man. A moving and heart-breaking read that will change your life and strengthen your faith!  Elena-Maria Vidal, author

Where Angels Pass may be hard to read at times, but you will not regret the insights it provides into one of the darkest issues of our time. With skill and sensitivity, Ellen Gable presents the story of one boy and his family, showing the devastating effects of clerical sexual abuse on him and eventually his wife and children. ~Theresa Linden, author of award-winning Catholic fiction

Ellen Gable has done a great service to our Church, the victims of this dreaded abuse, and particularly to their families whose suffering has gone virtually unnoticed. While sharing this story was no doubt painful for her, Ellen’s courage in doing so will help other families living through this nightmare. She has done a masterful job mixing fact with fiction.  Michael Seagriff, author

It is impossible to pick up a novel written by Ellen Gable without being utterly drawn in by her storytelling, and Where Angels Pass is no exception. Once again, Ellen expertly juxtaposes two separate timelines, those of father and daughter, weaving in touching details that connect them across the generational gap. But perhaps most striking is the way Ellen has told such a heartbreaking story of clerical abuse (and the appalling consequences that follow) with such subtlety and feeling. Her style of storytelling equips the reader with courage enough to journey with the characters throughout their torment. And in the unfolding of the story — with the inevitable fury and sorrow that surfaces along the way — we are finally brought face to face with Jesus’ call to forgive those who harm us. A feat that Ellen shows us is not impossible, for nothing is impossible for those with God on their side. This book will change, teach, and inspire. Every Catholic should read itVeronica Smallhorn, author, A Channel of Your Peace

An Open Book – November #openbook

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

Hold My Beer: An Apocalypse by Fr. Mark Goring

Amazon Synopsis: Six people escape the apocalyptic Media Reset. A great adventure!

My review: I follow Fr. Mark on YouTube and also sometimes attend his parish here in the Ottawa Valley. I love his unique humor and his unabashed courage to speak the truth. While this is an entertaining read, characters are not very well-developed and the story is so short that it’s hard to follow through on some plot points. Also, too many typos. Overall, 2.5/5.

Impossible Marriages Redeemed by Leila Miller

Amazon Synopsis: The message of the culture is clear: When things get REALLY bad in a marriage, the best, and even only, thing to do is to divorce and “move on.” The message of the contemporary Church is not much different, although Catholics (both ordained and lay) might advise annulment after the civil divorce and before the “moving on.” The 65 stories in this book tell of a different way: A way of Christlike faithfulness and solemn commitment to one’s sacred promises–something that was common (or at least considered honorable and right) in eras past, but which seems forgotten today. If the world is telling you (or if you are telling friends and family) to walk away from a marriage, read this book first.

My review: Interesting book, with compelling stories of couples on the brink of divorce who saved their marriages. Highly recommend. 5/5.

Person of Interest: Why Jesus Still Matters in a World That Rejects the Bible

by J. Warner Wallace

Amazon Synopsis: Detective J. Warner Wallace listened to a pastor talk about Jesus and wondered why anyone would think Jesus was a person of interest.

Wallace was skeptical of the Bible, but he’d investigated several no-body homicide cases in which there was no crime scene, no physical evidence, and no victim’s body. Could the historical life and actions of Jesus be investigated in the same way?

In Person of Interest, Wallace describes his own personal investigative journey from atheism to Christianity as he carefully considers the evidence. Creative, compelling, and fully illustrated, Person of Interest will strengthen the faith of believers while engaging those who are skeptical and distrusting of the New Testament.

My review: This is an absolutely outstanding book for any Christian of any denomination. Wallace mixes facts with his own story of conversion and fascinating cases from his police career where he was able to prove murder without a body. J. Warner Wallace is a frequent commentator on Dateline NBC. The illustrations were all done by Wallace himself and they’re pretty impressive on their own. Highly recommend. 5/5.

Your Life is Worth Living by Fulton Sheen

Amazon Synopsis: For over four decades, Fulton Sheen was the face of Catholicism in America and literally received hundreds of thousands of letters from people around the world in search of truth, faith, salvation, and spiritual guidance. In this newly repackaged reissue of one of Sheen’s classic works, the Emmy Award-winning priest takes an intimate look at our sacred journey to God and answers some of life’s most profound questions. With his clever wit and straightforward language, he explains how we can find contentment in the modern world by applying the Christian philosophy of life in our day-to-day exchanges.

Drawing authority from scripture, and created for people of all ages and backgrounds, Sheen explores our journey home to God in an insightful conversation designed to strengthen the reader’s personal relationship with Jesus. Sheen also shares humorous stories that made him one of the most celebrated personalities of his time. This book is a lasting testament that your life is worth living.

My review: I’m still in the process of reading this book, but it’s as excellent as Sheen’s many other books.

Where Angels Pass

Synopsis: Coming December 8th!

Teenager Evie Gallagher is stunned when her 45-year-old father dies tragically and suddenly. Too many unanswered questions accompany Evie’s challenging journey to adulthood. When she finally discovers the reason her father led such a troubled life, shock turns to anger. She is determined to find justice for her father.

Nervous about the first day of his freshman year, 14-year-old Hank Gallagher steps inside Holy Archangels High School for the first time in September of 1954. Although the majestic Holy Archangels statues inside the school’s grand lobby present an air of protection, it is not long before Hank passes right under them and into the hands of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Confused and cornered by threats, Hank attempts to abandon his secret to the past, but a horrible wound on his heart eventually leads to a catastrophic breakdown.

Based loosely on actual events, chapters alternate between Evie and Hank to reveal a life haunted by betrayal and a revelation of true justice and hope.

Comments: This is the second book I’ve written that is based on the true stories of myself and a relative. In this case, this is the story of my father’s troubled life and my journey of forgiveness and justice. It’s a book I’ve been trying to write for years and only recently was able to finish the first draft. I wouldn’t have been able to write this many years ago as the death of my father was still too raw.

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.

Interview with Author Alan Van’t Land

Alan Van’t Land is author of Eternal Light of the Crypts (new book from Full Quiver Publishing).

1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

     I was blessed with a multicultural upbringing. My family moved from Wisconsin to Hong Kong when I was six, and from there to Malaysia when I was ten. I attended a small Evangelical missionary boarding school as one of many “business kids,” where my parents and a devoted staff immersed me in the Bible. My siblings and I spent our free time exploring the jungle beyond our backyard.  We didn’t move back to the US until I graduated high school, and then I went straight into the US Air Force Academy. When I graduated, I cross-commissioned into the Marine Corps, and served as a logistics officer.

When I started dating my future wife, I started going to Mass with her. I began investigating Catholicism and stumbled onto the history of the Early Church. I had never heard of it before, much less studied it. It not only led to my conversion but also sparked a life-long interest in early and medieval church history, to the point that I earned my graduate degree in it. Despite that, though, I never used it professionally, instead serving in the military and the police department.

Beyond work and writing, I love to play games with my family and hike/bike/camp/ski the Rockies. My desire exceeds my ability in gardening, woodworking, and playing piano, but I keep trying anyway.

2. What was the inspiration for your book?

     In late 2014 I bought and read Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages, by Patrick Geary. It’s a modern, historical study of early medieval relic thefts. My wonder at the motivation behind anyone stealing saints relics, when everyone believed he might get killed just for trying, inspired my character Egilolf. Geary’s main thrust—that bones without a written record authenticating their source and justifying their acquisition would have been just bones—necessitated Egilolf’s companion Aristeus. I kicked around ideas for a few months before writing an outline over six weeks. No more than 20 percent of that outline still remains in Eternal Light, but that first sketch got the ball rolling.

3. What drew you to writing historical fiction?  This is a novel that depended on extensive research, correct?

     My interests in writing and historical fiction were separate until Eternal Light. I’ve been writing since grade school, but never historical fiction before. My fascination with history, as I said, stemmed from my study of the development of the church, particularly with regards to saints and relics. When I studied about relic thieves, the book idea seemed to come naturally. By the time I sat down to draft the outline for my first historical fiction book, I had been studying various angles of church history for ten years. Very little of this book was something I had to research while I outlined or wrote. I did delve into Saint Philibert, Saint Martial, and Saint Valerie, and researched Limoges and the church of St-Philibert-de-Grand-Lieu, where my characters find the relics of Valerie. But all the rest of the research—the laws, saints, catacomb art, the medieval view of stars, Viking invasions, processions, food,  magic—all of it I had already read and studied before. I got to write a book in a world I already knew and loved.

4. What do you hope the reader will take away from your book?

     That depends on the reader. For the Catholic, a love of our glorious saints, many buried in time and space even more than earth. For the Protestant, an appreciation of the breadth of time where Catholicism was the only Christian faith, facing insurmountable challenges century after century, only to rise again. For the historical fiction lover, a vivid picture of the early medieval world: its daily rhythms, values, fears, and hopes. For the modern warrior, a step on the road to peace. For anyone not totally pigeon-holed by those categories, a renewed sense of wonder when gazing at the stars, or at least an adventure from your Sunday afternoon couch.

5. How do you find time to write?

    Time is a lesser problem for me than energy. I’ve put in a fair amount of overtime in some of my police jobs, particularly as a Crimes Against Children detective, but for me writing—creating—takes spare brain power and emotional energy. Many work days leave me with none. I’ve heard of writers making themselves write at least five minutes a day, and that’s likely a better strategy than mine. My writing came and went in waves, particularly on vacations and during less demanding work assignments, or when I could spare a few hours to go to a coffee shop and exchange this world for an ancient one.

6. Are you working on any other writing projects?

    I’ve almost always been working on writing projects since middle school. Some were mere ideas, some actually made it into notebooks of world-building, character backgrounds, and plot outlines. But until Eternal Light, I never wrote more than a handful of pages (I would like to skip over two very rough books I wrote in middle and high school, which will remain appropriately buried in my basement). Since Eternal Light, I’ve tinkered with a historical fantasy about 9th century missionaries to a group of newly discovered race of dog-headed men. That’s obviously made up, but the idea is historical, since two German bishops in the mid-800s actually reported the behaviors of such creatures and debated whether they were rational and descended from Adam. But I set aside that work when I stumbled upon The Life of St Gerald of Aurillac, a saint and noble who lived 70 miles south of Limoges, reigning from about 880 to his death in 909. The setting, time period, and the subjects of St Gerald overlap too much with Eternal Light to pass it up as a sequel to Egilolf and Aristeus’ stories. I have the outline nearly hammered out, so I’m hoping it will come to fruition faster than another six years.

7. Who are some of your favorite authors?

     Historical fiction: Stephen R. Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle about King Arthur in a historical dark age of 5th and 6th century England and Wales blends history and Celtic myth. The only thing he missed was the Church’s irrefutable ties to saints and relics during that period. Or Umberto Eco: despite the success of The Name of the Rose, he captured the medieval imagination best in Baudolino.

     Fantasy: For scale, I can’t beat Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time epic series, which I started in high school and finished in my 30s. But for sheer style, I’ve always loved Steven Brust’s Khaavren Romances, especially The Phoenix Guards. But if you didn’t care for Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, you may want to pass.

Catholic apologetics: Rod Bennett, for without his Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words I wouldn’t have found the history whereby I came to accept the Catholicism I had already fallen in love with. For a study of historical works, it’s extremely approachable for any reader.

War novels: Tim O’Brien, particularly in The Things They Carried, paints trauma accurately but obliquely with his short stories.

Science fiction: Ray Bradbury. In high school, I was caught up in pulp fiction Stars Wars books, and never appreciated the likes of Farenheit 451 or the Martian Chronicles. My 10th grade English teacher had better taste.

Hagiography (stories of saints, typically written a long time ago): Prudentius, of course.

Comics: Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. No explanation needed.

Eternal Light of the Crypts is available in print or on Kindle.