St. Agnes, Pray for Us!

Today is the Feast of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr. I knew little of this saint until I read about her during my research for A Subtle Grace. This book was a finalist in Religious Fiction in the 2015 IAN Awards. I dedicated this book to her.

It’s no surprise that St. Agnes’ feast day is so close to the U.S. March for Life (which is, sadly, canceled this year). Agnes’ name in Greek means “chaste, pure or sacred,” and in Latin, it means “lamb.” She is the patron saint of young girls, chastity, engaged couples, rape victims (and others). In past centuries, young girls would recite this prayer/poem to St. Agnes on the Eve of the feast day with the hope they would dream of their future husband.

Now good St. Agnes, play thy part,
And send to me my own sweetheart,
And show me such a happy bliss,
This night of him to have a kiss.

St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, pray for us!

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.

Moonchild Rising #FREE on #Kindle

Moonchild Rising (Shadows of the Sun#1) is FREE today through Friday on #Kindle!

Amazon Synopsis:

Mara the Huntress resides in the sunny little town of Archangel, California, the location of the Gate of the Underworld—a fact unknown to the general populace. Most people don’t even know that vampires exist. As Huntress, Mara does know, and it is her job to kill those that dare venture forth to the Upperworld to prey on the humans living there. She is well-suited to this purpose, gifted with skills and talents far surpassing those of ordinary mortals. Though some vampires manage to evade her, she has so far managed to prevent the unleashing of a full-scale infestation. She has been at this job for a good portion of her not-quite twenty years, and it seems she has everything in hand. Then one day she gets a chill of foreboding, a feeling that things are about to change…

For she stands in the way of the master vampire’s plan for world domination, and, he fears, may be a key player in the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy foretelling his destruction. One dark night he sends the mighty Prince (his second in command) to put an end to this Huntress, this bane of vampires, once and for all. Mara confidently goes out to face him, but finds she has met her match at last. Just as all hope seems lost, this powerful vampire turns from the “dark side” to become Mara’s ally in the battle against his own kind.

Review from Sarah Reinhard:

Catholic vampire romance. Yes, you read that right: Who says there’s nothing good to read? (Not me. Not ever me.)

So what was in store with Moonchild Rising, by Mina Ambrose, the first in what will be a series of Catholic vampire novels?

A lot, as it turns out. It was a story with promise and solidly Catholic. It packed a lot of action and a lot of Church teaching. There was an exploration of love and sin and eternity. I found myself thinking and pondering: What is redemption? What does forgiveness really mean? How is mercy experienced?

And there are so many other things that come into consideration: What does it mean to live for 500 years? Or is it really living? And hunting vampires as a teenager?

When I read Dracula recently, I was struck with how much it held themes of redemption and evil. I was also struck by how Dracula was never ever anything but a monster. There was no sexy and appealing with him. He was evil, plain and simple.

That made the story of Moonchild even more challenging.

There’s a lot to explore in this book: There’s food for thought and plenty of room for discussion. Have a young person (probably a girl) who loves fiction? Read this with them, and talk about the hardpoints.

Because there are hardpoints. There is graphic description.

There are also a lot of tears. And some difficult dialogue. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s interesting in ways I wasn’t expecting.

Storytelling is an important way to share truths. In fact, it’s more effective.

My hat’s off to Ellen Gable and Full Quiver Publishing for giving Mina Ambrose an opportunity to tell this story and explore this space.

To get your free copy of Moonchild Rising, click here.

Christmas Cards Through the Years 2021

I’d like to share just a few of the original Christmas cards we’ve created over the past 35 years. 

We no longer send snail mail cards, but for many years, we did and we always created something original and unique to our family.  Now, we send these cards via email.  Which one is your favorite?

1. Let the Spirit In – 1989

1989 Christmas Card

Image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach 1989

2. She Brought Forth Her First Born Son – 1992

1992 Christmas Card

Image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach 1992

3. Glorious Strains – 1996

 

4. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – 2007

5. Hrkach Boys Assembly Line – 2008

 

6. Sleeping In – 2014

Copyright 2014 James and Ellen Hrkach, Please do not use without permission

Copyright 2014 James and Ellen Hrkach, Please do not use without permission

7. A Many Splendored Christmas (2015)

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

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

8. Empty Next 2017

2017 Christmas card

copyright 2017 James and Ellen Hrkach, please do not use without permission

9. Last year: 2020

2020 copyright James and Ellen Hrkach

All images copyright 2021 by James and Ellen Hrkach

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 Virtual Book Tour

Join me in the Where Angels Pass Virtual Book Tour!

Virtual Book Tour Stops/Links

December 4  Jim Sano

December 6 Mary Jo Thayer

December 7 Carolyn Astfalk My Scribbler’s Heart Blog

December 8 Elena Maria Vidal

Franciscan Mom

December 9 Victoria Ryan

December 10 Michael Seagriff

December  11 Patrice MacArthur

December 12  Amanda Lauer

December 13 Catholic Books Blog

December 14 Jeanie Egolf

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.