WWRW: End of the Road and The House

WWRWbuttonHey, Tomato Pie fans!  I’m finally getting my ample fanny in gear and linking up with What We’re Reading Wednesday, hosted by the lovely and talented Jessica at Housewifespice.

I just finished reading End of the Road by Amy M. Bennett.  What a rip-roaring good time that was!  What’s it about?

Corrie Black, owner of the Black Horse Campground, hopes for a successful start to her summer season but the discovery of Marvin Landry, a long-time guest, shot dead in his own RV, along with $50,000 in cash missing, does not herald a good beginning… especially since the victim’s handicapped wife and angry stepson seem to have little interest in discovering who murdered him. Was Marvin’s murder planned or just convenient? And is the appearance of a mysterious biker with a shadowy past that includes a recently deceased wife merely a coincidence? Despite opposition from former flame, Sheriff Rick Sutton, Corrie is determined to find out who murdered her guest. But will she find out who is friend or foe before the murderer decides it’s the end of the road for Corrie?

Want to know what I thought?

It has been a LONG time since I read a book that made me literally laugh out loud! In Amy Bennett’s End of the Road, we have a cast of characters that that manages to be hilariously familiar yet fully dimensional. The plot of this cozy mystery kept me guessing up until the very end, kept me cheering for the heroine and the charming heroes who flanked her, and had me tearing through the fast-paced pages to find out what would happen next. All characters had clear motivations and believable flaws, and I got a clear sense of setting with just a few masterfully placed words, even though I’ve not been to New Mexico since I was a wee kid. With Amy Bennett’s End of the Road, reading is FUN again–lots of it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

All of you who’ve written me and told me that my book left you wanting tomato pie and other assorted Italian food?  End of the Road had me baking blueberry muffins on a Sunday and wanting to try piñon coffee (revenge, it seems, is sweet when it’s literary and food-related).  Guns ‘n’ Hoses.  The WESTLAKES?!?!?!  Hair the color of Kool-Aid.  I’m not exaggerating:  it was LOL funny and EOYS (edge of your seat–that’s a thing, right?) suspenseful.

You want to buy yourself a copy now, don’t you?  I also see that the second book in the series, No Lifeguard on Duty, just came out.  I just may edge some things around on my dance card to read that one next.  EOTR was just that good.

 Another one we’re reading:



The House by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Roberto Innocenti is a Charlotte Mason dream come true.  In this lovely book we watch the rise and fall of the 20th century through the eyes of a house in the Italian countryside.   Lewis’s quatrains both tantalize and humanize the memories of our book learning, but they also give children even as young as my four year old a jumping-off point to ask questions about the century they have yet to meet through study.  The illustrations are rich with nature study, history, anthropology, family life, and much, much more.  Here’s another book I wish Amazon would let me give six stars.  Highly recommended for all ages.

Recommendation: The Book of Jotham by Arthur Powers

I was blessed and lucky to meet Arthur Powers at the Catholic Writers Guild Live this past August, and I was very happy to pick up a copy of his award-winning The Book of Jotham.   I finally snagged a bit of time to read it, and it made for perfect sabbath-day reading.

This was a moving book that drew me into an illustration of a concept that is either mocked or championed in our current culture:  the value of the “incapable.”  With language that manages to be simultaneously both deep and light-handed, Powers paints a picture of both why and how God creates all His children in love, even if we can’t see that same loveability with which He sees us at every moment. If you’re looking for a brief vision to warm your heart towards those you might find yourself holding in any kind of contempt, I recommend you take a look at The Book of Jotham.

Review: Treason by Dena Hunt


Treason:  This was a lovely read.  Over a decade ago, I myself was going through a post-conversion crisis of faith and found myself on a trip to England and Ireland.  The stories I heard then of the Catholic martyrs, especially those of England, opened my eyes anew to the value of our faith:  that it is a truth worth dying for.  Dena Hunt’s novel Treason put flesh and bone and breath into those stories and made me value the faith anew.  I have to say that the pacing is much slower than I usually read, but I still finished Treason in a day.  Hunt brought a quiet immediacy to those far-distant stories of the priests and laypeople who gave their lives–not just their life-breath but their daily comforts, their moments of personal peace, their relationships with their countrymen–because they were not willing to lie.  Do you need an example of day-to-day courage?  Do you need hope that our flailing efforts have value to make present here the Kingdom of God? Then go read Treason by Dena Hunt.

Review: Cultivating God’s Garden Through Lent


I’ve said it elsewhere, and I’ll say it here.  You know what cracks me up the most about Margaret Rose Realy?  She keeps telling people she is not a writer.  Just in case her beautifully written blog isn’t enough cause for doubt on that,   Cultivating God’s Garden Through Lent goes and flat out proves her wrong.  If Margaret isn’t a writer, then I’m a toasted cheese sandwich.

Cultivating offers daily reflections for each of the days of Lent.  These reflections come from the writer’s (see?  I’m calling her a WRITER again) experience bringing order to gardens both real and spiritual.  At every turn of the trowel, every sprinkle of seed, every tug of a weed, Realy points out to us the rich, loamy meaning that God has for us, just waiting there quietly, if only we will make ourselves still and small enough to see.  The WRITER does this, shares the fruits of her contemplation with us, and in doing so, invites us to examine our own gardens, wild and weed-ridden they may be.  If we stop and look with her, we will see the kind of quiet, luscious adventure that only a gardener can find.

This is the first book to ever make me wish Lent could be longer than it already is.  The meditations in Cultivating are just the right length to slow you down without dragging it out, and the messages are presented so clearly as to engage even the reader who is least likely to enjoy her time in an actual garden.  I know this because I am that reader least likely to enjoy time in an actual garden.  Anyway, I am very much looking forward to re-reading this gem come Lent 2014.  I cannot wait to see what sorts of seeds come forth from the re-read during that time of cold, silent, invisible growth.

Review: Dog in the Gap by Lisa Colon Delay and Doug Jackson

It’s a quick, lovely read of meditations on how our relationships with dogs can be a reflection on how we form and grow our relationships with God.  This was an especially poignant read for me, as we just put down our loyal, sad-faced lab a few months ago (a topic similarly addressed by Jackson in this book).  I especially related to Colon Delay’s piece on “Responding to the Lead,” as well as to Jackson’s piece, “Adoption, Depression, and My Dog Spurgeon,” on the different types of dogs vs. our different styles of worship (says I with what seems to be my mastiff-in-a-mantilla worship style).

In case it weren’t obvious from the one author having dubbed his dog “Spurgeon,” this is a Christian rather than a particularly Catholic book; as most of my blog readers are my fellow papists, I felt that was a caveat worth mentioning.  However, I personally found nothing anti-Catholic in any of the reflections herein and feel comfortable recommending it to anyone of any religious persuasion–or none at all.  Yes, the spirituality is present, but it’s done with a light and soothing hand.  If you’re a cage-aggressive atheist/agnostic, give Dog in the Gap a try.  You might even like it.

Dog in the Gap is scheduled for an August 19 release.


Reviews: Shubert the Firefly!

We are loving these three books!

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The adventures of Shubert the Firefly give kids–and adults–real-life examples of coping skills and conflict resolution techniques.  I really wish I’d had them when First Shift of Kids were of a younger age; it would have helped all three of us have an example of how to deal with meltdowns, fighting, teasing, and more.  The text by Dr. Becky Bailey shows the kids how to choose to be  STARs, and she also models for adults how to deescalate our own frustrations when dealing with frustrated children.  The illustrations by James Hrkach are lively without being too busy, which is important for kids whose frustration often comes from issues with visual discrimination.  Highly recommended on all counts!


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Book Review: Bleeder

When I first learned of the Catholic Writers Guild at their booth at the CMN Trade Show two years ago, this book was the first to catch my eye.  We were strapped for cash, though, and have been so pretty much ever since.  Anyway, at this year’s conference, John DesJarlais was practically (practically) giving away Bleeder and Viper, so I quickly picked up both and let him know I’d been waiting two years to read these books.

I was not disappointed.

Bleeder is the story of an agnostic philosopher, damaged both mentally and physically, who stumbles into the path of a reportedly stigmatic priest, himself a philosopher, reportedly a healer as well.  When Father Ray dies during the Passion service on Good Friday, Reed, the main character, finds himself under suspicion of causing the priest’s death.  I can’t give away too much, but Bleeder was one of the most satisfying books I’ve read in a long time.  DesJarlais kept me guessing until almost the very end, teased me a bit along the way, but the payoff in the end was huge and well worth the read.  It was a fast read that I will probably go back and read again, just to get all those little things I may have overlooked on the first mad dash to get to the end.  It also scratched an itch I’d forgotten I had:  the story was replete with references to Aristotle, which made this old theatre major very happy.

If there were six stars, I’d give them to Bleeder.

7 Quick Takes Friday

Join Jennifer over at Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes Friday.

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Let the fun begin!


Less than three weeks until the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show and Catholic Writers Guild Live.

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I’ll be surfing for swag and celebrity sightings at the former and talking on a panel and introducing speakers at the latter. I’ll get to hang with AnnMarie Creedon again! And Ellen Gable! And Margaret Realy! And (hopefully? pretty please?) Laura at Green4God! And FranciscanMom! Anybody else?


I can’t believe it’s Friday, because it’s the week of VBS at our parish. Our parish runs VBS Sunday-Thursday, so because my brain is a creature of habit, it is always telling me during VBS week that Sunday is Monday, and Thursday is Friday… and now I’m confused. You may be, too.


We live in Amish country. This means we are in the middle of a heat wave with high humidity… and our neighbors consider this prime time to lay down the manure on their fields. In principle, I’m all about organic farming. In reality… well, I’ll just wipe my eyes, pinch my nostrils and move on.


Speaking of CMN/CWG, I’ll be bringing a stash of these beauties along with me!

If you’re going and want to pick up a hard copy, come find me at just about all of the CWG talks, and I’ll hook you up.


Speaking of dystopic novels written by Catholics, I just yesterday finished Death Panels by Michelle Buckman.

It was gripping, page-turning, and surprisingly satisfying at the end. I’m going to be bold and call it our Handmaid’s Tale. Well done, Michelle.


And now for something completely different! Our family recently discovered how to make “instant” lemonade! Fill a tall Tupperware tumbler with ice, pour in about 2-3 tsp of lemon juice (juice of one lemon, if you have it), sugar to taste, then almost fill it with water. Secure the tumbler’s lid, and shake the bejeezus out of it. It keeps the kids busy, teaches them about how agitation helps dissolve solvents into solutes (did I get that right), and it is downright delicious!

For no good reason, here is a picutre of my awesome Rat Terrier.


Recommendation: Stout Hearts and Whizzing Biscuits, A Patria Novel

THIS BOOK IS AN ANSWER TO PRAYER!  I kid.  You.  Not.  As alluded to in a previous post, about how hard it is to find suitable reading material for young kids with high Lexile scores… well, it’s really hard to find reading material suitable for young kids with high Lexile scores!  I once put my then-eight year-old’s score into a Lexile “find a book” page, and the first recommendation to come up was Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.  FOR AN EIGHT YEAR-OLD?!?  I won’t even let them read The Hunger Games yet (someday, just not yet), precisely because they are old enough to understand what is going on in the story… and have a month of nightmares because of it.  Thanks, but no thanks.

And then… along came Stout Hearts and Whizzing Biscuits: A Patria Novel by Daniel McInerney

Kingdom of Patria - Stour Hearts and Wizzing Biscuits

We have Oliver, a young American hero who accidentally finds himself in the middle of a war.  There’s Farnsworth, a wisecracking, biscuit-shooting prince from the country in conflict, who we absolutely know will never be friends with American Oliver Stoop.  Like, neverrrr.  Then there’s Princess Rose, who is a hilarious combination of Princess Giselle and (a far more mentally stable) River Tam.   The plot zips along with just the right pacing and just the right level of complications to keep minds young and old working for their entertainment.  There are just enough “go get your dictionary” words in there to provide a nice stretch for the younger reader and to prove that the novel is never dumbed down.  I laughed out loud through the whole reading of it, and am I very excited to pass it along to my kids old enough to read independently.

If there were six stars on Amazon, I’d give them to Stout Hearts and Whizzing Biscuits.  Alas, there are not.  There is, however, a brilliant Web site for all things Patria, where kids (adults too, why not?) can explore Patria, interact with Oliver, Farnsworth, and Princess Rose, and buy the next book in the series.  I hope it’s the next of many, many more.

Review: The King’s Gambit by John McNichol

Why did I not know about John McNichol until I was passed a review copy of The King’s Gambit for the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval?  Because, it seems, I have had my head in the sand for the past ten years.  That’s why.  Nobody to blame but selfie, self.

The King's Gambit

Anyways, John McNichol is the author of the Young Chesterton Chronicles… which I’ve not yet read, but I plan on remedying that shortly.  I wanted to review Gambit because I have a pair of young chess players for whom it is increasingly difficult to buy reading material.  Both read at a high school level but are nine years old.  (That’s not bragging.  They also still can’t get through a meal without flinging food everywhere or remember where they left their toothbrushes.  We all have our gifts.  Academics are theirs.) You try finding books for young minds eager for literary adventure without digging up something that’s dumbed down, morally offensive, suggestive, or all three and then some.

“Send them to the classics,” you say.  “Boring,” they say.  I can’t even get them to read Little Women.  I’m about to try Dickens.  Pray for me.

Back to Gambit.  We have an unlikely hero who conquers impossible–like, literally impossible–situations with the help of… wait for it… HIS FAMILY AND THE HEAVENLY HOST.  ::gasp!:: What a novel idea.  I was delighted to read the story of Edward and his battle against life-sized chess pieces.  I was even more delighted to pass it on to my “biggns” without having to explain why Catholics don’t believe that what this character did was right, and why that character’s choice was wrong, and so on.  Nope.  None of that.  I was able to share it with them, confident that they would see their faith upheld, not put down with flimsy characterizations or weak philosophies.

Best of all, they loved the story, too.  Well done, John McNichol! You have yourselves at least three new fans.