Open Book: June reads for July Reviews!

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

an-open-book

One thing can be said for having a couple of complications dragging out weeks after super minor abdominal surgery: there’s lots of time to do nothing but sit in bed and READ!   Perhaps that’s the only thing to be said for it, though; being unable to work on one’s own writing and publishing is pretty frustrating.  That said, today is the rescheduled release date for UNCLAIMED, Book 1 in The Memoirs of Jane E, Friendless Orphan.

Jane EyerFinal-FJM_Low_Res_500x750

Unclaimed cover art Copyright 2016 Fiona Jayde Media

I was chomping so badly at the bit to get that up and running by June 24, but instead I was propped up in bed with my iPad and this guy for my reading buddy.

SiggieReadingBuddy

Funny story: five days after I came home from  the hospital, Siggie (above) suddenly started sniffing around my belly and instead of making me take his tennis ball out of his mouth to play fetch, he just gave it to me.  The two days later I was back at the doctor, and lo and behold! I had an infection developing.  Of course, if he were really intuitive, he wouldn’t have kept trying to jump directly onto my belly… but he’s still a good recovery companion.

Okay, let’s look at what I got to read in June…

Testing Liberty & Fight for Liberty by Theresa Linden

I really cannot rave well enough about the Chasing Liberty trilogy.  If you took The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World, and 1984, wove them together with a fresh, deeply human sensibility and gave it just the lightest sprinkle of holy water… you might come close to getting a series as fast-paced, powerful and satisfying as Liberty’s three-part tale.

I loved Chasing Liberty, butTesting Liberty Brown Red in Testing Liberty, Linden really ups the ante.  It was like in Chasing we got to see the veneer of Aldonia’s oppressive deep green culture scraped painfully off, and then in Testing, we dive down deep, deeper into the hearts and lives threatened, destroyed, and changed for good or ill by the conflict between the Regimen’s culture and the inner drive for freedom and independence that some of the colonists live out for themselves… and are getting ready to share with Aldonia on a wider and far more risky basis.   Usually the middle installment in a trilogy is the most difficult to keep spinning on a lively axis, but Linden turns that idea on its head and somehow makes Testing even more heart-rending and engaging than its predecessor.

FightForLibertyAnd then in Fight for Liberty, it all comes so satisfyingly full-circle.  Something Linden does so powerfully in this conclusion(ish) to the series is that the encourages us to look at the future of freedom (and, frankly, the present) through the lens of our history.  The way she approached a renewal of personal freedom as a rebirth of the ideals and courage of the American Revolution is a tack we don’t see often taken in speculative fiction.  It works.  Fresh, engaging, honest and uplifting, we can see our future as fraught with danger… but also promising courage and hope and the best humanity has to offer.

Fight for Liberty dropped on July 4! Keep an eye out here for an in-depth interview with Theresa Linden later this week.  

The Tomb by Stephanie Landsem

The tomb

It’s the story of Mary and Martha illuminated in a way you’ve never imagined.  In this conclusion (I think?) to the Living Water series, Stephanie Landsem gives us a rich backstory on why Martha is the way she is–a controlling, put-upon, neat freak who’s never satisfied.  I’d never before considered the kind of heartbreak that might have gone into making a Martha.  Landsem took my preconceived notions of a picky, spoiled, overly pious Jewish daughter and made her into someone who’s been through just as much as any of us has in on our way to becoming the fragile, cautious creatures we can be… until we let Christ come in to our lives and change us.  This third book has just as much delicious angst as The Well but just as much sweet satisfaction as The Thief.  For readers who like a good ends-tied-up series, this last book makes that happen but infuses the ending of the trilogy with great energy; it left me happy for the characters (each in his/her way) but still sad to see it end.  Highly recommended.

At the Crossroad by Amy M. Bennett

At the Cross Road: Book 4 in the Black Horse Campground Mystery Series by Amy M. Bennett (Oak Tree Press)

People, I just adore this series.  It’s really so much fun to read.  Okay, I realize I just said that about a series with a body count, but hey, take me as I am.  In At the Crossroad, Corrie, Rick, and JD all have to face the past–their own and the ghosts of others.  The mystery is fast-paced, crisp, and richly human.  The storytelling is clean, and the violence and relationships are never gratutitous.  All these characters have come to feel like family to me over the years, to the point that, yes, I’ve declared myself #TeamRick (and Crossroad makes that seem even more possible than No Vacancy did… but I’m sure Amy will keep us guessing).  In fact, I kind of know who I want to set JD up with, but Amy would pee her pants if I told her, because it’s so outlandish… Anyway, I hope that the fact that these characters have taken on their own lives in my imagination (am I writing Black Horse fanfic in my head?!?!) is endorsement enough.

After the Thaw by Therese Heckenkamp

AfterTheThawCover

A sequel to Heckenkamp’s Frozen Footprints that yet stands strong on its own, After the Thaw is a story of courage, healing, redemption, self-sacrifice, and the value of honesty.  The plot was fast-paced and kept me well invested in the future of heroine Charlene, the people she loves, and the people who sought to use her for their own ends.  Serious and tragic but with a great touch of humanity, Thaw kept me turning the pages and caring about the characters.  Should Charlene really marry Ben?  I mean, he’s a good guy, but is he the guy?  And what is going on with Clay and that pregnant girl?  For all the angst of the beginning and middle, the end is super satisfying with a touch of just-right sweetness.  Tough but still clean, this would make a great beach read.

Sunflowers in a Hurricane by Anne Faye

Sunflower Front CoverA sweet, touching story of healing, forgiveness and closure, Sunflowers in a Hurricane weaves together the lives touched, smote and healed by an unlikely friendship. When single-mom Cheryl must clear out her estranged mother’s house, daughter Ruth becomes the garden help and Mass companion of elderly widower George next door.  The move brings Cheryl face-to-face with her difficult past, a past she’s been evading ever since Ruth was conceived, as well as with her fears for her own and Ruth’s future.  Meanwhile, George stands courageously and compassionately in the face of his own past losses resurfacing in ways he hadn’t expected. The two households mirror each other in ways that make us think more deeply about the nature of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and redemption.  Faye turns a tale with an honest kindness often missing from family drama fiction these days, while keeping readers hooked on the story.  This was an uplifting and enjoyable read you’ll want for your beach bag!

Don’t forget to link up YOUR reviews over at Carolyn’s!

WWRW: Liberty & Virtue

Don’t forget the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show Selfie Scavenger Hunt!

Long time no review!  Let’s link up with What We’re Reading Wednesday over at Jessica’s Housewifespice Place.

WWRWbutton

I’ve had it for months, now, but I finally got around to Chasing Liberty by Theresa Linden.

ChasingLibertyCover

Once I got started, it didn’t take me long to finish it, either.  If you’re looking for characters you can love, love to hate, or hate to pity… you’ll find them in Chasing Liberty.  

Here’s what it’s about:

Liberty 554-062466-84 of Aldonia lives in a responsible society that cares for the earth and everyone on it. They have learned to balance resource consumption with replacement initiatives, unavoidable pollution with clean-environment efforts. Science ensures that every baby born is healthy. The government ensures that every baby born is needed. All are cared for, taught, and given a specific duty to perform, their unique contribution to society. Why is Liberty so unsatisfied? In less than two weeks, Liberty must begin her vocation. Every girl in Aldonia wishes she had Liberty’s vocation. Liberty would rather flee from Aldonia and live on her own, independent of the all-controlling government, the Regimen Custodia Terra. The high electrical Boundary Fence crushes any thought of escape. The ID implant imbedded in her hand makes it impossible to hide. She has no choice but to submit. Liberty is slated to be a Breeder. As vocation day draws near, a man with an obsession for Liberty attacks her and injects her with a drug. She’s about to lose consciousness when someone comes to her rescue, a man in a mottled cape and dark glasses. She wakes in an underground facility where people watch over Aldonia with an array of monitors and surveillance equipment. These people are full of secrets, but she discovers one thing: they rescue a man scheduled for re-education. They rescued him. They can rescue her.

I love how Linden handles the suspense in this one.  She knows how to end a chapter, that’s for sure.  She also has a good hand with the dramatic irony, which uses the two points of view (first-person Liberty vs. 3rd person subjective with the bad guy) to play off of each other, one cranking up the tension on the other in one scene, and then vice-versa in the next.  Another thing the author handled well was the Liberty’s motivation for putting into action the final sequences, hurtling the characters into their point-of-no-return.  I was not left wanting for why things were happening, but neither were things ever dragged out.  The conflicts were clear and engaging.  The numerous characters were so clearly drawn that I never felt there were too many, which is a hard thing to manage.  Kudos to Theresa Linden for Chasing Liberty.  I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel!

I’ve asked Theresa for an interview here, so check back for that.  In the meantime, go buy her book and you’ll be in for a rip-roaring thrill ride that will rip out your heart and stomp on it!

Today’s second book is The Virtuous Jane Austen: Short Reflections on Character by Rhonda Ortiz.

The Virtuous Jane Austen: Short Reflections on Character by Rhonda Ortiz

What a charming little book! Yet it’s still a bargain at 99 cents.  Why?  Because it offers something sweet but new.  I’ve seen Austen often discussed as a writer of manners, but when seen as a writer illuminating virtue, Austen’s work takes on greater life, depth, and import. Well done!  Come back next week when author Rhonda Ortiz shares her own story about character building… through NFP?  It’ll make sense next week.

What’s on your summer reading list? 

PS: Don’t forget the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show Selfie Scavenger Hunt!

DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME ONLY 99c 4/27-5/1/15

DYFAM99centSalePin

Yes, friends, it’s true!  Don’t You Forget About Me Kindle edition is only 99 cents all this week, April 27-May 1.  What’s DYFAM about?

Mary Catherine Whelihan made it out of Walkerville alive once before.  Can she pull it off this time?  Bullies, sexual harassment, finding a corpse in the local creek… Cate’s childhood in 1980s Walkerville was murder!  So what could possibly tempt her to return?  A cryptic email from Eugene Marcasian, MD, her grade school crush might do the trick.  Can Cate and Gene find the cause of the mysterious illness afflicting nearly all of the girls in their graduating class, including Cate herself?  Or will corporate bullies continue to take down anyone who gets in their way?  More importantly, can Cate stay alive long enough to get one more slice of tomato pie?

Excerpt from Don’t You Forget About Me:

“Doesn’t signing in at the Technology Annex check-in desk blow the whole cloak-and-dagger bit?”

Gene furrowed his brow for a moment. “I’m not looking for cloak-and-dagger. I just want to buy enough time to get some answers and put a stop to whatever is making people sick. But Mary Catherine—I don’t know what kind of wasp nest we might be kicking at here.”

“Nice image.” My stomach knotted.

Gene gently but firmly grasped me by my upper arms. “I’m not kidding. If what our coffee shop friend said is true…”

I picked up where he trailed off, “Then Walkerville wasps carry some pretty wicked stingers.”

Gene nodded. “I’m willing to give it all to find the truth. I’m not sure I want you to.”

He was right. This wasn’t picking up rocks in Quaker Creek and looking for water pennies. This was digging up what two potentially deadly forces—Big Pharma and The Mob—wanted kept buried.

I forced myself to look directly into his eyes. “Search softly,” I said, “and poke with a big stick.”

Praise for Don’t You Forget About Me

“This book has all the elements that make a book addictive: a compelling story told well with characters who are unforgettable. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll stay up all night reading.”

Sarah Reinhard, author, SnoringScholar.com and A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy

This captivating murder mystery made me laugh, cry, and crave Italian food; ‘80s pop tunes are still stuck in my head. If you like mysteries that offer a good mix of suspense and science, don’t miss this book.”

Barb Szyszkiewicz, franciscanmom.com

“Don’t You Forget About Me…is a rollicking fun and exciting cozy murder mystery.  The author’s strong and clever command of the written language makes this book an entertaining page-turner. I recommend this highly-enjoyable, cozy, clean, lively mystery to all readers!”

Therese Heckenkamp, award-winning author, Frozen Footprints

A quirky, fun, mystery-romance that will tickle your funny bone while making your hair stand on end.

AnnMarie Creedon, best-selling author, Angela’s Song

“It’s easy to identify and sympathize with protagonist Cate Whelihan as she returns to her hometown and faces not only the classmates who bullied her in school but also her junior high sweetheart and fellow nerd, Gene.  Readers will be chuckling one moment…and biting nails the next as she faces threats, corrupt police, and the business end of a gun.”

Daria Sockey, author, The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours

Get your copy today!

#SmallSuccess Thursday with CatholicMom.com

Small-Success-Thursday-550x330

Join me and the rest of the optimists, the hopers of far-flung hopes and the dreamers of improbable dreams over at CatholicMom.com for Small Success Thursday.

-1-

I’m being interviewed over at CatholicFiction.net!

20140515-061332.jpg

Make with the clicky to read more than you ever wanted to know about me. Thank you, CatholicFiction.net, for this opportunity!

-2-

Mother’s Day has the potential to be very difficult for me, but my husband and kids always make it so beautiful and so much fun. At breakfast, hubby asked, “Are there any movies you’d like to see?”

I hemmed and hawed a bit. “Well, I’d like to see Mom’s Night Out at some point, and I”m pretty sure it’s family-friendly. I’ve heard nice things about God’s Not Dead and Heaven is for Real, though I’m not sure they’re for the kids–”

“No, I meant we arrange babysitting and go see a grown-up m–”

CAPTAINAMERICAWINTERSOLDIER!”

Image by Takk courtesy of Wikicommons

Image by Takk courtesy of Wikicommons

I don’t have time to post a real review, but we’ll just say I LOVED it. The plot was solid, the acting was spot-on, and… this might sound weird, but it was one of the best scores I’ve heard in a while (that may not be saying much–I don’t get to many movies these days). Anyway, it was the perfect end to the perfect day for a nerdy mom like myself.

-3-

I took my kids to the pool yesterday and didn’t lose my mind with boredom chasing Second Shift around.  Oh, and nobody drowned.

-4-

I let the older member of First Shift fix Second Shift’s toothbrush. It’s a kiddie spin brush, and fixing it involved using a jeweler’s screwdriver, so this is a big accomplishment for someone with low muscle tone, poor coordination, and resulting generalized anxiety. It’s not my success (well, I guess it is if you count me not doing it for her), but it’s so awesome it’s worth sharing.

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.

Cyber Monday Book Recommendations

Attention Web-mart shoppers!  Today is commonly called “Cyber Monday,” the sequel to Black Friday.  In other words, people are shopping–today, mostly online.  If you’re looking to get the reader in your life a little sumpin-sumpin, take a look at the following recommendations below.  If they’re helpful, go on over to author Declan Finn’s page, because sharing this kind of list was totally his very brilliant idea.

Forgive me for getting myself out of the way first, but for the mystery lover in your life, there’s always Don’t You Forget About Me.  Then there’s Jane_E, Friendless Orphan:  A Memoir for the science fiction adventurer on your list.

Then for the kiddos I recommend:

  • Dear God, I Don’t Get It by Patti Maguire Armstrong.  My review is here.  Buy the book on Amazon here.
  • The King’s Gambit by John McNichol.  My review is here.  Buy the book on Amazon here.
  • The Shubert the Firefly series by Dr. Becky A. Bailey, illustrated by James Hrkach.  My review is here.  Buy the books on Amazon here.
  • Stout Hearts and Whizzing Biscuits:  A Patria Novel by Daniel McInerney.  My review is here.  Buy the book on Amazon here.

Non-fiction for the grown-ups in your life:

  • Strange Gods by Elizabeth Scalia.  My review is here.  Buy the book on Amazon here
  • Fleeting Glimpses of the Silly, Sentimental and Sublime by Michael Seagriff.  My review is here.  Buy the book on Amazon here.
  • God’s Bucket List by Teresa Tomeo.  My review is here.  Buy the book on Amazon here.
  • Cultivating God’s Garden Through Lent by Margaret Rose Realy.  My review is here.  Buy the book on Amazon here.
  • Race with the Devil by Joseph Pearce.  My review is here.  Buy the book on Amazon here.
  • Classroom Management for Catechists by Jennifer Fitz.  My review is here.  Buy the book on Amazon here.
  • Dog in the Gap by Lisa Delay and Doug Jackson.  My review is here.  Buy the book on Amazon here.

Last but not least of my personal recs, here’s some fiction, a.k.a. “brain candy”:

  • Death Panels by Michelle Buckman.  My review is here.  Buy the book on Amazon here.
  • Bleeder and Viper by John Desjarlais.  My reviews are here (BleederViper).  Buy the books on Amazon here.  
  • Treason by Dena Hunt.  My review is here.  Buy the book on Amazon here.
  • Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes by Ann Margaret Lewis.  My review is here.  Buy the book on Amazon here.
  • Sons of Cain by Val Bianco.  My review is here.  Buy the book on Amazon here.
  • Stealing Jenny by Ellen Gable.  My review is here.  Buy the book on Amazon here.
  • Angela’s Song by AnnMarie Creedon.  Buy the book (and find my review) on Amazon here.  

Now for some other books I’ve not read yet but which are getting heavy buzz on the Catholic Writers Guild Facebook page:

Happy shopping, my Advent-agious peoples!