book review

7QT: 7 Books in 7 Days


Go on over to Jennifer’s place for 7 Quick Takes Friday!

Not this week but the previous, our family got a crazy-good deal on a beach house in the Outer Banks.

It was vacation.  An actual, real live vacation.  I made the choice to leave the laptop at home and refill on reading.  I had (well, still have) a large pile of review copies to go through, so I selected seven of these with the goal of finishing one book a day.  Did I reach said goal?  Read on, but if I did, it was in no small part thanks to these babies.  As the years have gone by, I’ve developed motion sickness, especially when I read in the car.  These “patchies” let me read in the car again for the first time in decades!  Yay!  Talk to your doctor to find out if these are right for you. Duh.


The Tripods Attack! (The Young Chesterton Chronicles) by John McNichol

I am no longer ashamed to admit that I cut my writing chops in the world of fanfiction.  Jane_E is a little bit fanfic-y, if you think about it.  Therefore, I will always have a soft spot in my cold, snarky heart for anything that could be called fanfic.  In this first book of The Young Chesterton Chronicles, we have a young, skinny (I know, right?) Gil Chesterton, born into a completely foreign universe. I mean, literally foreign:  he spent his childhood in Minnesota.  We also have his new buddy Herb Wells and this quietly tough little priest… Really, Tripods is a rollicking wooden roller coaster through a number of different fictional universes.  Hm.  Take that roller coaster and turn it into a “dark ride,” and voila!  Tripods.    Think fanfic for the Catholic soul.

Some caveats:  While I did enjoy The Difference Engine, I’m really not a fan of steampunk (#nerdshaming).  I’m also a girl.  While I spent a bit of my childhood (more than happily) playing the neighborhood Princess Leia, when things get violent, I do tend to watch through the slits between my fingers or just leave the room.  Tripods brought me lots of punchcards, steam power, and there was a considerable body count.  So, I admit, I may be more of a King’s Gambit sensibility.

That being said, if you like stuff more on the goggles-and-airships, high-body-count side, and you want to see your Catholic faith held up as a good thing and not a hindrance, Tripods might be just the ticket.  Also, if you have a young sci-fi reader who just can’t seem to stomach H. G. Wells straight from the, erm, well, or Chesterton straight from the, erm , chest? I can see Tripods piquing enough interest in the original work of both authors to turn the young reader on to same.


Trusting God with St. Therese by Connie Rossini

I posted about this when I started reading it, but it wasn’t until the aforementioned beach trip that I had the actual chance to finish it.  In Trusting God with St. Therese, Connie Rossini brings us the life of St. Therese chapter by chapter, retold with more clarity than, honestly, I found in Story of a Soul.  [Will I get in trouble for saying that?] As if this clarity weren’t gift enough, Rossini distills for us the lessons in trust and holiness that Therese learned bit by painful bit, then gives us a reflection from Rossini’s own, more modern life to help the reader apply Therese’s own lessons.  This last bit was done with great skill:  so often I get the sense that spiritual memoirs are written to stroke the author’s ego and not to lead others deeper into the heart of Jesus.  Trusting does not fall into this easy trap.  The questions at the end of each chapter are great for either personal journaling or for group study.  In the end, I’m glad Connie Rossini approached me with the offer of a review copy.  I’m even happier I accepted.  I don’t often review nonfiction, and this was a worthy exception.


Unholy Bonds by Leslie Lynch

Unholy Bonds is the sequel to Hijacked, which I reviewed here.  If you haven’t yet read Hijacked, I’m confident you can still follow along with Unholy Bonds, but still, go read Hijacked too, because it’s one of the strongest books I’ve read this year.

Anyway, back to Unholy Bonds.  We meet again with Ben & Lannis, now getting married and finding their way through their relationships and through their own hearts in the aftermath of crimes committed against them.  We also get a chilling view into the heart of a criminal (I can’t say much without spoiling Hijacked) whom Ben & Lannis worked together to bring to justice.  “Bring to justice” usually conjures images like the one you see on the cover of this book:  row upon row of prison cells.  However, in Unholy Bonds, Leslie Lynch gives us an illustration of the concept of restoratative justice, the goal of which is to bring dignity and hope back into the lives of not just the victim but the perpetrator as well.  This sounds like such a, well, dangerous concept–trusting criminals to promote justice?  Really?  But because she does it in novel, Leslie Lynch breathes life into the concept, giving us a view into how much one person’s courage could, possibly, breathe courage and hope and honesty into another–into the last person you’d expect, really.  This was shown powerfully, not just through the prisoner but through the growth and healing in the relationship between Ben and Lannis as well.

I do want to say that Unholy Bonds does feature a small handful of scenes that are a little more explicit than I will choose to read these days.  However, the overall illustration of hope and healing and justice is so very, very uplifting and strong throughout the rest of the novel.  I encourage you, continue breaking through all the chapters of Unholy Bonds.  You–and your view of humanity–will be better for it.   


Opal’s Jubilee also by Leslie Lynch

When I saw that Opal’s Jubilee was inspired by pardons granted to women incarcerated for defending themselves against domestic abuse, I found the rich opportunity for conflict irresistible and couldn’t wait to read it.  I was not disappointed.  Again we get another spot-on opening chapter from Leslie Lynch (she is good, people!) that pulls us right into the conflict:  good cop doesn’t want released felon working for  his sweet mom.  From the opening sentences all the way through to “THE END,” all of the main characters gripped my heart and wouldn’t let go.  Leslie Lynch’s sense of beauty in the broken, of hope in the darkness, and of justice through courage all carry through a sharp plot and a living setting to make for yet another powerful novel.  You too will celebrate Opal’s Jubilee!


The Grace of Yes by Lisa Hendey

Okay, so I got a review copy of The Grace of Yes at the CMN Trade Show last month, but from what I understand we’re not supposed to start promoting it until closer to the November 3 release date.  So this is me biting my tongue and not telling you anything.  ANYTHING.  (grittingteethsogreatyesIcriedandlaughedtooandfeelalotmorehopefulyetproperlyconvictedaboutmywobblypathtoChrist).


The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning by Simcha Fisher

Do you already know what Natural Family Planning is? Do you want to use it?  Are you not quite always happy about using it?  Do you wish NFP were easier on you?  Then guess what–you’re normal!  You’re also the target audience for this book.  If you could really use some validation for your struggles to live your Catholic faith obediently as it’s actually taught, then The Sinner’s Guide is right up your alley.  Not a page goes by that isn’t filled with honest, deliciously sardonic belly laughs (which, incidentally are my favorite kind of belly laughs).  I say this as someone who is clearly outside the target audience for this book (I can’t relate to worrying about having an easy time getting pregnant, for starters).  Still, if you’re a fan of Simcha’s blog, and you’re otherwise pretty normal, (horny husband, exhausted wife, ill-timed Peak-Type Mucus, and so on and so on), then I bet you’ll get a rip-roaring kick out of The Sinner’s Guide.  Go buy it!


And sometimes, you just don’t finish them all.  I had seven books to read on my vacation.  I started reading Book #7… and, honestly, it was written in a style that is really, really hard for my frazzled-Type A-mommy brain to manage.  As a matter of personal conscience, I (generally) don’t give reviews that are less than 4-5 stars.  First, I know it’s unpleasant to get a negative review, so there’s that. More importantly, I also see my own limits as a reader.  I’m not the be-all, end-all authority on What Makes A Good Story.  I do think I have a decent eye for structure, characterization, setting, blah blah blah.  However, sometimes there’s just no accounting for taste–including mine.  Including yours, dear reader.  So, I encourage you, consider your own humility a moment before you press “post” on that “honest and constructive” review.  Something to think about.  YMMV.  ASAP.  LOL.  Pronto.  Texting and scones.  Etc.

I went on a trip to New Mexico! Well, sort of.

Actually, I went on a trip to the Outer Banks…


to celebrate one last week of summer before we start back to regular schooling lessons.  While I was away, I made a virtual visit to The Back Deck Blog.  Mystery-romance-comedy-suspense author Amy M. Bennett poured me a cup of virtual pinon coffee and let me blab on about moi.  Thanks, Amy!  If you haven’t already, go check out her gracious hostessing skills, then go buy her books.  You won’t be sorry.  End of the Road and No Lifeguard on Duty are two of my favorites from this past year.



WWRW: No Lifeguard on Duty by Amy M. Bennett


Whuddup?  It’s Wednesday, when we talk about What We’re Reading with the freshly-delivered-of-her-bebbeh Jessica over at Housewifespice!

Amy M. Bennett is back with another tale of murder, mystery, and man-which-guy-do-I-want-Corrie-to-end-up-with!?  

What’s No Lifeguard on Duty about?  

Summer is coming and at the Black Horse Campground in Bonney County, New Mexico that means warm sunny days, a cool refreshing pool, and… murder?   Corrie Black and her friends are ready to welcome the summer camping season with a party to celebrate opening the swimming pool… but murder becomes an unwelcome guest!   The shock of discovering Krista Otero’s body in the pool the morning after the party is bad enough… what’s worse is that Krista’s death wasn’t an accident. And what’s more confusing is that Krista’s closest friends all have something to hide.  Despite opposition from Bonney County’s finest, Corrie is determined to find out who used her swimming pool as a murder weapon and who is using her home as a base for illegal activities. But someone wants to keep Corrie out of their business… even if it means killing again!

Here’s my Amazon review:  

I loved this second book in the series!  If you’re looking for a clean mystery that will keep you guessing, keep you laughing, and keep you cheering, then No Lifeguard on Duty will be sure to satisfy.  After only two books, it’s like the people of the Black Horse Campground are already my family.  Corrie, Rick and JD have the most tantalizing yet non-trashy ongoing flirting triangle I’ve ever read.  The mystery itself is well-turned and hits all the right notes throughout.  Bring on Book #3!

This is the kind of book that a faithful Catholic can read without being scandalized and a person of no faith at all can enjoy without being irritated, preached at, or otherwise bored to tears.  Amy M. Bennett really knows how to turn out the UST, which is my favorite kind of ST to read.  I’ll also admit here that I was 100% sure I knew “whodunit” until about twenty pages from the end, and it turned out I was 100% wrong, so expect to be surprised by the twists and turns.  The characters all have their motives but nobody is demonized (well, except Corrie’s “date,” but he kind of deserves it…).

No Lifeguard does well as a stand-alone, but if you haven’t already read the first book in the series, I heartily encourage you to do so.  You can also read my interview with Amy here.  

Recommending One of Two More Books on Writing

Writing the Breakout Novel delivers advice to the would-be novelist in a friendly format that is easy to understand, even when it delivers blows to the pride of the writer who can’t imagine why his/her work isn’t already of breakout quality. I especially appreciated the unassuming tone and the wide variety of references to narratively successful works. Some of the complaints Maas makes about the poor authors whose work he rejects could have been stated with better grace, perhaps. He also seems to imply that simply by writing with great skill there is no possible way your work could fail commercially. Putting those issues aside, which you can do easily as long as you love writing more than you love your ego, I’d call this a solid addition to one’s reference desk.


“Today, though perhaps not in Shakespeare’s day, the resolution never to behave like Macbeth does not inevitably carry any clear implication of what to do instead.” John Gardner, On Moral Fiction, p. 107.

Reading the first two chapters of On Moral Fiction filled me with such hope. After all, I had just finished with The Art of Fiction and found it to be self-congratulatory bombast. My hopes were not high on opening On Moral Fiction. But, soft! At last, here was serious writing on the purpose of art, on the high aims a writer can take to improve the world by offering his (almost always “his,” but what of that?) gifts through story. Here was genuine consideration of the idea that we might–GASP!–learn how to be more human through fiction, both reading and writing the stuff. I was ready to set aside my anger and look anew at Gardner on fiction. Alas, what followed after that was more of what was to be found in _The Art of Fiction_: pompous put-downs and inflated verbiage. As Gardner noted in the quote with which I opened this review, there’s value to be had in the excoriation of those artists who provide a list of “what not to do.” There is much more value however, in shining the light on examples of what TO do. Macbeth fell short of that. So does Gardner in On Moral Fiction.

Recommendation: It’s ALMOST My Birthday!

This book is ADORABLE!  If you have a preschooler or early reader with a birthday coming up, this is an excellent choice.  The author captures perfectly all the anticipation involved in an upcoming birthday, and as a bonus, she touches on both the whole concept of the passing of time as well as the value of patience.  The illustrations are super charming without being too busy (as a mom to two with visual discrimination/figure-ground problems, I notice this kind of thing). Kudos to author Shelly Emery!