An Open Book – February 2023

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

Summer at West Castle by Theresa Linden

Amazon Synopsis: College student Caitlyn Summer arrives at the Wests’ castle-like house to fill in for their live-in maid. After a recent decision blows her vision of the future, this ideal job and the peaceful surroundings are just what she needs to seek God’s will for her life. That is, until Jarret West, not wanting a repeat of past mistakes, backs out of a summer-long field study overseas and returns home. The two have never gotten along, and unforgettable baggage from the past makes it hard even to be cordial. While Jarret’s faults convince Caitlyn he hasn’t changed, she forces herself to offer kindness. Her act of mercy puts them on an unexpected path where Caitlyn is challenged to look beneath the surface and Jarret struggles to trust that God wills good for him.

Note: to avoid spoilers, read this story only after reading Anyone but Him.

My review: I thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful prequel of Anyone But Him and was so very sorry to see the story end. When I read Anyone But Him a few years ago, I had hoped the author would write the prequel of how this unlikely couple fell in love. Summer at West Castle does not disappoint, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a clean but compelling romance! 

Ashes Visible & Invisible by Catholic Teen Authors

Now available from Catholic Teen Books (My short story is highlighted below):

Finishing the Journey: When Liz’s faith journey hits a roadblock, will an unexpected detour and chance encounter set her back on track?

Follow Me: A teen’s future was all set-before his tragic loss. But his best friend’s secret past just might save it.

Take Up Your Cross: Justin’s religion is outlawed. When an unbeliever asks him about the meaning of life, what can he say?

A Big Ask: Could God be asking Paul to sacrifice a piece of himself for Lent–literally?

Lent Royal & Ancient: A modern American teen discovers what faith, life and love are like in seventeenth-century Scotland.

No Greater Love: Teenager Lexie Dugan struggles to understand the sacrifice of Lent when she’s asked to help take care of her siblings while her pregnant mother is on bed rest.

A Very Jurassic Lent: When a risky Ash Wednesday mission to sterilize T. rex eggs goes wrong, fasting is the least of Joshua, Darryl, and Harry’s worries.

Lucy and the Forsaken Path: A medieval girl stranded on a forsaken path confronts threats from without and turmoil from within.

Bread Alone: Struggling with loss, hunger, and temptation, Ethan finds himself walking in the steps of Jesus.

Prepare the Way: Asher’s desire to prepare for the Messiah intensifies after he’s robbed by bandits, but would fighting alongside the Zealots be the best way?

The Saint Michael Chaplet – A Divine Catechesis on the Angels and Gifts of Heaven

By Carol Puschaver

Amazon Synopsis: What if an angel … were to teach you a prayer to honor the Angels? Not just any angel, mind you, and no ordinary prayer, either. Too impossible to believe?

Well, consider … St. Michael the Archangel, Prince of the Heavenly Host, revealed the Chaplet that bears his name to a Carmelite religious in 1751. As this book makes clear, he did much, much more than teach a formula of pious words, presenting instead a wonderment of divine catechesis on the nine celestial angel choirs. The author’s deeply insightful meditations on the Archangel’s teaching are bound to encourage a fresh and finely nuanced perspective on the angels, and also inspire a far deeper, richer appreciation of these marvelous beings who, among many, many wondrous deeds, guard [us] in all [our] ways. (Psalm 91. 10)

You do believe in angels, …don’t you?

My review: This is a beautiful book written by my friend Carol Puschaver. If you want to read more about St. Michael, the St. Michael Chaplet, and the Angels, this is the book for you. God’s people have been given a great gift in Saint Michael, protector and intercessor. The demons would like you to believe that they don’t exist. Not only do they exist, but they are constantly trying to turn God’s people away from Him. Highly recommend!

Into the Mind of Infinity by Joe Livingston

Amazon Synopsis: The author received a powerful spiritual experience, and this book is the result of that experience. It brings science and religion together to prove the existence of God.

My review: This is a beautiful little book that seeks to prove the existence of God. Many great points are made from a scientific standpoint, and it is definitely worthwhile reading.

Coming on Valentine’s Day from FQP:

Stitch in the Ditch (Mibs Monahan Mysteries #3) by Joan L. Kelly

Synopsis: When the curator of the Gregory Tuppence Museum is stabbed to death with an antique Toledo steel dagger, Lieutenant Jace Trueblood and his team of detectives work diligently to track down the killer.   They soon discover evidence that the murder was connected to the forgery and theft of valuable items from the museum.

Along with investigating the curator’s death, Jace, with the help of his intuitive fiancée, Mibs Monahan, search for the person providing fake identifications to high school students.  Fake licenses directly contributed to DUI accidents, resulting in injuries and death.

Despite the challenges and activities of their busy lives, the couple finds joy in preparing for their upcoming wedding.  However, that joy is disrupted when a DNA test shatters Mibs’ life.  This new information has her wondering who she really is and what she has to do with a twenty-year-old kidnapping.

Summer at West Castle VBT and Review

Today I’m participating in the Virtual Blog Tour for Summer at West Castle by Theresa Linden.

Synopsis: College student Caitlyn Summer arrives at the Wests’ castle-like house to fill in for their live-in maid. After a recent decision blows her vision of the future, this ideal job and the peaceful surroundings are just what she needs to seek God’s will for her life. That is, until Jarret West, not wanting a repeat of past mistakes, backs out of a summer-long field study overseas and returns home. The two have never gotten along, and unforgettable baggage from the past makes it hard even to be cordial. While Jarret’s faults convince Caitlyn he hasn’t changed, she forces herself to offer kindness. Her act of mercy puts them on an unexpected path where Caitlyn is challenged to look beneath the surface, and Jarret struggles to trust that God wills good for him.

My review: I thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful prequel of Anyone But Him and was so very sorry to see the story end. When I read Anyone But Him a few years ago, I had hoped the author would write the prequel of how this unlikely couple fell in love. Summer at West Castle does not disappoint, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a clean but compelling romance! Note: To avoid spoilers, read Anyone But Him before you read this story.

About the Author: Theresa Linden is the author of award-winning Catholic fiction. One of her great joys is to bring elements of faith to life through a story. She has over a dozen published books, three of which won awards from the Catholic Press Association. Her articles and interviews can be found on various radio shows and magazines, including EWTN’s The Good Fight, The National Catholic Register, Catholic Digest, Catholic Teacher, and Catholic Mom. She is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and CatholicTeenBooks.com. A wife, homeschooling mom, and Secular Franciscan, she resides in northeast Ohio with her husband and family.

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Summer-West-Castle-Theresa-Linden/dp/1734992956

Ebooks: https://books2read.com/u/4AvZ0q

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/65755374-summer-at-west-castle

Author website: https://www.theresalinden.com/westbrothers/summer-at-west-castle Silver Fire Publishing website: https://www.silverfirepublishing.com/west-brothers-series/summer-at-west-castle

Amazon: Anyone But Him

Infant Loss Awareness Month #neverbestill

My latest post at Amazing Catchecists: The entire month of October is devoted to Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness.

James and I are blessed, honored, and grateful to be the parents of five adult sons and three beautiful daughters-in-law (as well as two grandchildren!)

But not a day goes by that I don’t think about those seven precious babies we lost through miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. This month, we remember in a special way these seven little souls (and intercessors) in heaven.

Here are some of my reflections on pregnancy loss:

Among Women Podcast Episode 89 (Pat Gohn interviewed me about miscarriage and pregnancy loss)

Five Little Souls in Heaven    (This article was written 27 years ago and published in the Nazareth Journal)

Difficult Anniversaries/Responsible Parenthood

One of the themes of my first novel, Emily’s Hope, is pregnancy loss.

This excerpt describes Emily’s loss of baby “Seth.”

“I need to push.” She wanted so desperately not to push, to allow her baby to stay inside of her, and for her to continue to nourish and nurture her child, but her body wouldn’t allow that. She pushed only twice and her small child was born. Emily heard a sound like a kitten crying, then realized that her baby had let out a small, soft, weak cry.

As soon as the umbilical cord was cut, the nurse immediately carried the baby across the room as the pediatric staff attempted to work on their child. Emily and Jason sat quietly, their hearts heavy with emotion. A few minutes later, she felt another contraction and her placenta was delivered. She could hear a nurse referring to “him,” and realized that their child was another boy. After a few minutes, the doctor brought him back, his small form still hidden in the blue hospital blanket. He spoke in a hushed, almost apologetic voice, “There is nothing we can do for him.”

He handed the tiny less-than-one-pound baby boy to his mother. Jason held onto Emily’s shoulder and watched as she cradled the smallest baby they had ever seen. He was so perfect and looked identical to their oldest son, Jake. His small body was covered with minute white hairs. He was perfect as he struggled to breathe. He was perfect as he opened his mouth to cry. Emily held her new son as gently as she could. Jason reached over and poured a few drops of water on him and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Emily could feel the vibration of his tiny heart
beating fast.

The nurse came in with a Polaroid camera and asked if they wanted her to take a photo of their child. Emily nodded as the nurse took a photo of her and Jason and their tiny son. She gazed in awe at this miniature human being and marveled at the fact that even though he was tiny, he was so perfect. His little hands looked like a doll’s hands. She removed the baby blanket and laid his small, warm body on her chest. She could feel his heart beating rapidly. After several minutes, she wrapped him again in the small blue blanket.

Then, in an instant, he was still. She could feel that his heart had stopped, and he wasn’t breathing, but he continued to feel warm and soft. He looked like a sleeping angel.

Excerpt copyright 2005 Ellen Gable (End of excerpt.)

Here is a list of Catholic novels with miscarriage/baby loss as a theme.

In Name Only by Ellen Gable

A Subtle Grace by Ellen Gable

Stealing Jenny by Ellen Gable

A World Such as Heaven Intended by Amanda Lauer

Rose, Sola by Carmela Martino

The Rose and the Sword by Gina Marinello-Sweeney

Bane’s Eyes by Corinna Turner

Ornamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk

If you have lost a baby through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth, or infant death, please click the link above “Baby Loss” for resources and helpful links.

In memory of our seven little souls in heaven:

Baby Hrkach Twins (June 1986)

Baby Hrkach  (February 1991)

Baby Hrkach  (June 1991)

Mary Elizabeth Hrkach (June 1993)

Seth Hrkach  (April 1998)

Lucy Hrkach (March 2006)

An Open Book – October 2022

I’m joining Carolyn Astfalk and CatholicMom.com for An Open Book. Here’s what I’ve been reading and working on:

Mary’s Life Journey & Her Amazing Yes by Denise Mercado

Synopsis: (will be available October 21 via Amazon.)

Who is Mary, and why is she so important to the Catholic faith?

Denise Mercado invites readers to explore this question with her as she uncovers the meaning behind the rosary and other important Catholic traditions.

After being raised as a Catholic, Denise finds herself distracted by all life has to offer. When her youngest son is diagnosed with a terrible illness, however, she begins to question her beliefs and sets out on a quest to discover the truth.

Denise wanders through Protestantism, reading spiritual writings and attending a nondenominational church, but something is missing.

Denise returns to her roots and digs deep, investigating the rosary and its importance in her spiritual journey. She realizes that the rosary strengthens her faith and helps her navigate life’s troubles. Denise begins to look at the life of the Blessed Mother, Mary, in the Bible, the Infancy Gospels, and the apocryphal writings.

Join Denise as she shares her personal faith journey and the research that helped to shape it. You will come away with a greater appreciation for the stamina and endurance of the Mother of Our Lord and learn about the important origins of many Catholic beliefs.

My review: This is a wonderful book that outlines the life of Mary with the author’s thoughts as well as autobiographical information. It’s written in a more academic style that is refreshing in this day and age of so many self-publishing authors. Highly recommend.

Amazon Synopsis: He presided over 61,000 abortions—one of which was suffered by his then-girlfriend—and directed the largest abortion clinic in the world. He had helped to legalize abortion in the first place.
One day, he had a change of heart. One day, he found God.
At the drop of a hat, an abortion doctor renounced his profession—and his atheism—for pro-life advocacy and Christianity.
In the most shocking revelations ever expressed in an autobiography, one man unveils his entire life story, detailing countless events—from his gruesome abortion procedures to his conversion and involvement in The Silent Scream.
Discover one man’s incredible journey from death to life in Bernard Nathanson’s The Hand of God.

My review: I bought this book after watching Roe v. Wade on Netflix or Prime. The content of the movie was outstanding, but the acting, writing and directing was, unfortunately, mediocre. However, it made me want to read about Bernard Nathanson’s conversion (from atheist-abortionist to pro-life doctor to Catholic). I’m just starting this book, but it’s excellent already.

Redemption (Shadows of the Sun #5)
by Mina Ambrose

Synopsis: Now available for pre-order from Full Quiver Publishing!

Unnoticed by all except Phaedra, Jude’s body has been spirited away by Dr. Lee Davis and his henchmen in the midst of the great battle between Charon’s legions and Mara’s VK army.

Mara and the Prince set out, intending to track down the villains and retrieve the body of their son. Phaedra is left desolate.

Meanwhile, Jude awakens in the mad scientist’s lab and finds himself in the hands of unscrupulous researchers who mean to study this half-human, half-vampire creature. But Dr. Davis is not content with that; he has mad plans for using Jude’s preternatural powers for his own gain.

Forced to play the doc’s infernal game in order to save his loved ones, Jude finds himself battling yet another “dragon,” perhaps worse than the first. It seems there is no way out, but that he must finally bow to Dr. Lee’s indomitable will—at the cost of his freedom, his sanity, perhaps his very life.

Or will Phaedra find the key so that Mara and the Prince can locate him in time to fly to his rescue?

An Open Book – September #openbook

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

All Quiet On the Western Front by Enrich Maria Remarque

Synopsis: Considered by many the greatest war novel of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front is Erich Maria Remarque’s masterpiece of the German experience during World War I.

I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. . . .

This is the testament of Paul Bäumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army during World War I. They become soldiers with youthful enthusiasm. But the world of duty, culture, and progress they had been taught breaks in pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches.

Through years of vivid horror, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principle of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against one another . . .  if only he can come out of the war alive.

My review: I tend to avoid books written in the present tense, but this one does it well. I also found it fascinating that this book is written from the POV of a German soldier instead of an Allied soldier. It doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the war and humanizes every soldier, both German and Allied. It has beautifully written passages. Highly recommend.

Synopsis: Fear is at the heart of the sexual revolution, and its most fitting monument is the “hook-up.” Dr. Morse exposes the sexual revolution’s fraudulent promise of freedom and fearlessly explodes some of modern society’s most cherished—and destructive—myths. She argues that strong, lasting marriages are essential for the survival of a free society, not to mention basic human happiness. She fires the opening shots of a new sexual revolution and shows how everyone, married or single, can help.

My review: I picked up this book for five dollars at a local Catholic bookstore. I liked it, but the author didn’t go far enough in explaining why contraception is disordered and one of the underlying causes of a “hook-up” world. However, on the whole, it was an excellent book. Recommend.

Synopsis: If you met God today, what would He say to you? Words of Hope is a collection of powerful dialogues and sayings given by Jesus to four gifted saints from the Middle Ages and Renaissance: Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Genoa, Gertrude the Great and Margaret Mary Alacoque. These souls possessed the gift of “locution,” the ability to hear the actual voice of God. In this book, author Craig Turner collects into categories the locutions received by these saints, words from God that are meant not only for these four souls, but for all mankind.

My review: This is a beautiful book with powerful words given by Jesus to four gifted saints. These souls could hear the actual voice of God. Recommend.

Amazon Synopsis: Beginner’s Guide to Growing Baby is a friendly, conversational book about pregnancy, birth, and your first three months as a new mom. With respect and honesty, authors Bonnie Way (mom of 5) and Anna Eastland (mom of 9) share their experiences, walking expectant moms through some of the questions and concerns they may experience from conception to colic. This book includes tips on dealing with first-trimester exhaustion, dressing your baby bump without breaking the bank, choosing the best care provider for your pregnancy, whether or not to write a birth plan, dealing with pain during labour, taking care of yourself and baby after birth, and more. If Bonnie and Anna could sit down with you to have coffee and chat about pregnancy and new babies, this is what they’d like to tell you – mom to mom.

My review: I enjoyed this step-by-step book for new mothers. It offers great information, especially for first-time moms. Recommend.

Arnprior Author’s New Novel Wins Award

The local newspaper published an article about my newest award.

Photo by James Hrkach

Local author Ellen Gable Hrkach is already an award-winning author whose books have received top prizes in various fiction awards. But, for Hrkach, the award for her newest book is particularly satisfying. Where Angels Pass, Hrkach’s twelfth book and based on a true story, won First Place in the Catholic Media Association Book Awards in the category of Catholic Novels (Educational). Her book also won Honorable Mention in an additional CMA category of Best Book by a Small Publisher. 

She says, “I’m grateful for any awards or recognition, but to win a CMA Book Award is a bucket list item that I can now check off.”  The CMA judges gave this comment about Hrkach’s book: “This is a timely and well-written story, showing the effects of child abuse by a priest, not only on the victim but also on the victim’s family. A worthwhile read!”

Hrkach explains, “Where Angels Pass tells the fictionalized story of my father’s abuse and the ensuing tragedies that befell our family because of that abuse. My siblings and I didn’t find out about the abuse until after my father died. When I discovered the reason he had such a troubled life, it all made sense to me.”

By writing this book, Hrkach wanted to share that despite the clerical abuse that had occurred for decades in the Catholic Church – and specifically with her father – her own Catholic faith, although tested, prevailed nonetheless. Similarly, her abused father remained a Catholic until his tragic death. She says, “I had a beautiful relationship with my dad and, despite all the difficulties, he was a wonderful and caring father.” Author Jim Sano says that the book is “a love story of a daughter for her father…that will surely touch people in a profound way.”

Former attorney and author Michael Seagriff says, “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. Masterful job mixing fact with fiction.”

Originally from the Philadelphia-South Jersey area, Hrkach is now a dual citizen. She began writing religious fiction as a hobby twenty years ago when her five sons were small children. “When I first started writing, I planned to eventually get around to working on a story about my father’s life, but for twenty years, I couldn’t actually sit down and write the story, partly because it was too difficult to relive our family’s most disturbing experiences.”  Then, Hrkach relates that, “Last summer, I just sat down and wrote for three weeks until I finished the first draft. Yes, it was excruciatingly painful to write about, but it was also very therapeutic.”

Six of Hrkach’s books have been translated into various languages, and the author’s books have been collectively downloaded 780,000 times on Kindle. To date, she has published twelve original works, has ghostwritten five others, and has contributed to numerous other books and websites.  Find out more about her at http://www.ellengable.com.

Where Angels Pass is available in ebook, paperback and hardcover on Amazon and through the author: fullquiverpublishing@gmail.com

An Open Book #open book August 2022

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

Tangled Violets by Denise-Marie Martin

Synopsis: Denise-Marie Martin’s debut novel exposes the greatest longings of the human heart: to belong and be loved. Tangled Violets is the riveting story of an adoptee’s search to find out who she is. Advanced degrees, professional success, and a string of failed marriages have done nothing to fill the void that has defined Lizzie Schmidt’s life. Armed with mostly false information, she embarks on an improbable journey of self-discovery, searching for her biological family before the days of the internet or consumer genetic testing made such reunions commonplace.

Tangled Violets is the shocking story of how far one woman is willing to go in search of love and acceptance—a journey that leads to joy, pain, lies, and absolute heartbreak. A tale of redemption and the healing power of forgiveness, this novel demonstrates that no matter what we have done or where we have been, no one is outside the mercy of God and the healing balm of his unconditional love.

My review: I was privileged to read an ARC of Tangled Violets (which is scheduled for publication on September 8, 2022.) Denise-Marie Martin’s debut novel is beautifully written, and I could not put the book down. It’s told from the point of view of an adopted child who grows up with many questions. As an adult, when she reaches out to find her birth parents, the story takes an unexpected but disturbing turn. The characters are so real that I felt I was in the story with them. The writing is beautiful and rich in imagery, and the story is compelling. I highly recommend this incredible book! 5/5.

Fantacy Daughter of Fate Part 1 by Vanessa Marie Caron

Synopsis: “Bravery is not the absence of fear, but the ability to move forward despite that fear.”

Sixteen-year-old Arianna is at a crisis with her identity. Frustrated, she searches for answers to her past, but instead, she finds herself teleported to a whole other fantasy world, a world suffering under the tyrannical rule of the Shadow Lord, Keshieena.

Unintentionally branded as the powerful Stone Bearer, the protector of peace, and also the Fated One prophesied to restore the lost heir to the throne, Arianna embarks on a dangerous journey against all manner of evil. At first homesick and hesitant, Arianna doubts herself and her newfound abilities, but she is not alone. Under the protection and tutelage of her elusive yet handsome male companion, Arianna tests the limits of her powers, uncovering potential she’d never dreamed of.

Together, they pursue a series of archived texts that lead them closer to finding the rightful heir to Fantacy’s throne. However, with the Stone of Power in her possession, Arianna becomes the Shadow Lord’s personal target. The stakes rise further as Arianna develops an attachment to the suffering peoples of Fantacy. Although Arianna might not have found the answers to her past, her future has become clear: find the heir, protect the Stone and bring back peace.

Friendship, love, action and adventure…

Part One in the Fantacy Duology, “Fantacy: Daughter of Fate,” is geared towards young adults and teenagers who have a nostalgic fondness for the brightness of, “Narnia,” fused with the romance and intrigue of more contemporary works such as, “Throne of Glass,” and, “Eragon.”

My review: I enjoyed this fantasy novel and the beautiful world the author created. There was some telling (to be expected in a debut novel) but the unique imagery and setting made up for that. The story kept me turning the pages. It does include some violence so I’d recommend it for teens and older. 4/5.

#NFP Awareness Week #nfpawareness

This week is NFP Awareness Week.

Natural Family Planning, Supporting God’s gifts of love and life in marriage.

Check out these articles I wrote about NFP!

Rebuilding a Culture of Life 

NFP and Resolutions for the New Year

Humanae Vitae and the Benefits of NFP

Responsible Parenthood and NFP

Image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach. Please do not use without permission
Image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach.
Please do not use without permission
Image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach.
Please do not use without permission
Image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach.
Please do not use without permission