Book-giving Guides

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Christmas shopping can be overwhelming. You want to show someone that you care about them, that they are important to you. And you want to give them something they will enjoy and even treasure for years to come. But as you’re scrolling through gift items on-line or wandering through yet another store, questions pop into your mind:

  • Will he like this?
  • Does she already have that?
  • If I spend all this money on this, will it be worth it?
  • Will they stop playing with it in a month or two?
  • What size does she wear?
  • What does he really like to do?
  • Do they already have something like this?

Lately, I’ve stumbled across a few great gift-giving lists. These are not your ordinary top-ten-toys lists. These are lists of books! Book-giving guides!

Books make fantastic gifts because they cost so little and give so much. Books can transport readers into different times and places. They allow you to leave your own life for a while and step inside someone else’s life. And if the book is Christian fiction, it gives the reader even more! Christian fiction can provide gems of value that can transform lives, jump-start faith, and delve into new and deeper insight.

I’ll share links to some of those book-giving guides here:

The first two lists are compiled by author Carolyn Astfalk. In addition to writing Christian romance, Carolyn is a full-time mom to four children and an avid reader. She posts a monthly “Open Book” blog that anyone can link to if they want to share what books they’ve been reading. I am always discovering new titles of interest on her blog.

I found another super-awesome book list on Jeannie Egolf’s Peanut Butter & Grace blog. This blog is worth following too. Previous posts give other “Shop Catholic” gift ideas, Advent reflections, video suggestions, and so much more!

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Shop Catholic This Christmas

Virtue Ink is another not-to-be missed website. Cathy Gilmore, the founder of Virtue Works Media, is dedicated to helping parents, grandparents, and teachers become effective spiritual mentors to the children and teens they love. You can learn about the TOTALLY Feminine GENIUS Generations Book Club on her website too. But be sure to check out the reading & entertainment list:

For the Catholic teen in your life, stop by CatholicTeenBooks.com for books in a variety of genres and many award-winning titles.

I will update this blog post if I discover more!

And I invite you to check out the new Christmas video that showcases my books!

Happy Advent!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Coming Soon! New Release ELFLING by Corinna Turner

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Alone on the streets of London, young Serapia Ravena seeks the Duke she believes to be her father; her only hope of survival… 

Thirteen-year-old Lady Serapia Ravena has lived as an urchin on the streets of London since her mother’s death. Thrown from the house by her uncle, her only companion is her strange little pet, the ‘lizard chick’ Raven. Her only hope is a ring, and her mother’s dying command, ‘find the Duke of Albany’. But she has sought him in vain for years.

When the elusive Duke suddenly returns to the city, Serapia finds a loving father, and a wealthy, powerful one too. He thwarts her uncle’s murderous plans, and her life seems to have righted itself, with only happiness in store.

But it soon becomes clear that her father hides a dark secret, one that threatens his very life, and his very soul. The search for his salvation will carry Serapia hundreds of leagues, to the heart of the wild places, and to the fort of the elfin, bringing her face to face with her own mysterious heritage.

‘I was instantly drawn in’ – EOIN COLFER, author of Artemis Fowl

Corinna Turner’s new novel, ELFLING, is currently under consideration for a contract with Kindle. Kindle wants to know which books readers actually want to read, so they invite readers to let them know by nominating books via Kindle Scout. Readers who nominate ELFLING will get a free Kindle copy if Kindle takes on the book. Click here to check out/nominate ELFLING.

I was fortunate to have read an advanced copy of this hot new young adult fantasy story. I loved the main character, Lady Serapia Ravena and the intriguing story line. But I totally fell in love with her unusual little pet.

ravenWhat is it? Well, when Serapia first sees it, she thinks it resembles a baby bird with its underdeveloped wings and its little beak. But it also has a lizard-like tail and clawed front feet. The cute little thing fits in the palm of her hand–its leathery skin soft to the touch–and looks up at her with its huge golden eyes. Read the excerpt for more! And be warned…whether you consider yourself a fan of fantasy fiction or not, you will be drawn in to this clever story.


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Corinna Turner has been writing since she was fourteen and likes strong protagonists with plenty of integrity. She has an MA in English from Oxford University, but has foolishly gone on to work with both children and animals! Juggling work with the disabled and being a midwife to sheep, she spends as much time as she can in a little hut at the bottom of the garden, writing. She is a Catholic Christian with roots in the Methodist and Anglican churches. A keen cinema-goer, she lives in the UK with her classic campervan ‘Toby’ (short for Tobias!), her larger and more expensive substitute for her lovely Giant African Land Snail, Peter, who sadly passed away in October 2016.

Check out her books on www.CatholicTeenBooks.com or visit her website!


EXCERPT

Chapter 1—Raven

I was hungry. So hungry that most eleven-year-old girls of my rank would have been crying, throwing a tantrum, or fainting. Perhaps all three. Not me. I was thinking what to do about my hunger. I began each day with the same all-consuming thought.

I sat on a thin blanket under the overhang of an old, crooked stone house. I had to bend my head to sit up, but I scarcely registered the minor discomfort. Rain splashed from the eaves to the cobbles of the street only a few feet in front of my nose, but under here it was fairly dry; a good sleeping place. I contemplated the various possible solutions to this particular morning’s hunger, until a tiny scuffling noise preceded a whiskered nose from a narrow crack in the wall. When I remained motionless, the rat scurried almost soundlessly to the side of the blanket, attracted by a few crumbs so tiny even I hadn’t noticed them.

My hands shot out and seized the rat, wrapping around its plump body. Ignoring the squealing and the snapping teeth, I gripped the head and twisted, feeling the sudden give as the vertebrae in its neck parted company. Laying the twitching rodent beside me, a rare smile snuck onto my face.

So early in the morning and I had already acquired my day’s meal! I would take the rat down to the Scrinny Lane cookhouse, where I would skin it, cook it, and eat it. The bones would go to Old Joe the gluemaker as payment; the skin to the skin man in return for a precious half copper. In the new language I had learned since my mother’s death, a half copper equaled a piece of bread. If I was extravagant, I would eat it for supper. Otherwise it would go some way towards staving off the hunger on the morrow.

The smile fading, I shuffled to one side, picked up the blanket and knotted it around my shoulders like a cloak. The rat I tucked out of sight in my jacket. Its body still jerked slightly, still refused the truth. I wriggled out into the street, straightened and froze.

Two urchins stood waiting. Unlike me, who merely dressed as a boy, these were actual boys, bigger than I. Born in the gutter and never slept on a feather bed in their lives. They would cut my throat for the rat.

“We heard a squeaking,” said one boy, holding out a hand, his eyes cold.

“Do you see anything?” I said—running even before I had finished speaking.

The boys followed close on my heels. So close that when my bare foot slipped from under me on a slimy cobblestone the first was on me immediately. As I fell I caught sight of a mangy dog lurking by the side of the street. I struck the ground painfully, one hand already inside my jacket. The boy landed on top of me, a knife appearing in his hand like magic. Dragging the rat free I flung it towards the dog, which moved in a brown streak. The urchin had a choice of cutting my throat or getting the rat. It was no choice at all; he was already in mid-air after the meal. Back on my feet even as the rat struck the ground, I bolted.

I stopped in the comparative shelter of a lopsided building, wet, tired and sore. I didn’t bother contemplating the downturn in the day’s fortunes, too busy checking over my clothing. My knees and elbow were badly bruised, but nothing was torn, so I headed for a disreputable inn I knew where the landlord did not keep a porter on and usually allowed me to earn a few pence carrying the luggage.

When I arrived, the cheap coach was throwing out a passenger at the door. It was nothing personal; that was just how the cheap coaches went about things. The passenger, having gained the cobbles, ducked as his two cases were thrown down beside him. The coachman flogged his broken-down horses for a good few seconds before they were convinced to move and the coach swayed unsteadily away through the wet streets of London town.

I was already in motion. Stopping beside the passenger I put on my stolid, dependable expression and, with a tug of my forelock, took hold of the cases.

“I’ll get those, sir,” I said, in my feigned gutter accent. Was it really feigned? When had I last spoken as myself?

The traveler did not want to spend money on a bag boy, I could tell. He had planned to carry them quickly into the inn himself. Recoiling from appearing miserly when actually put to it, with a poor attempt at grace he gave me a curt nod and entered the inn, looking back only three times to check the luggage was following.

I dragged the heavy cases up the stairs, appreciating why the man had ducked their descent from the coach top. But my scrawny frame was up to it, and I set them down carefully in the room and waited. I only ever stuck my hand out as a last resort, it frequently seemed to do more harm than good. The traveler noticed my continued presence with a flash of irritation, dug a coin from his purse and threw it in my general direction.

I caught it and left quickly. It was a good-sized copper, and I was hungry enough that I went straight down to the inn kitchen and swapped it for a half copper and a chunk of bread. Retreating to the inn courtyard to eat my meal and watch for the next traveler, I eyed another urchin lingering there. Did he also have the landlord’s permission to carry bags?

The bread was finished all too quickly, as always, and I sat wishing another traveler would arrive. More at that moment for the distraction from my own thoughts, than for the coin I could earn. Only when I had some amount of food in my belly was I troubled by thoughts of the future. It was the only time I could afford to be.

I had lasted three years on the streets, three long, painful years since my mother died and my uncle threw me from the place that had always been my home.

“Be gone, witch child,” he’d snarled at me, “or I’ll duck you in the pond till you’re clean and cold.”

Even at eight years old I’d recognized a death threat when I heard one and I hadn’t tried to go back. Of course, I had always known my uncle hated me, but to be thrown from my own home to what should’ve been almost certain death? It had been utterly unexpected. The house in which my uncle now lived was mine, was it not? My rank came to me from my mother and there was nothing legal to take the property away from me.

Legally, though, my uncle was my guardian. No doubt he assumed me dead long since and it was a fair assumption. Serapion the urchin had no more chance of reclaiming what belonged to Lady Serapia Ravena than the morning’s rat had of breathing again.

In fact, Serapion the urchin had only one chance in the world and it was tied around my waist, carefully concealed under my clothing…

I looked up as the kitchen staff burst from the doorway, chattering excitedly to one another and followed by the cook, who swept something ahead of her with an expression of grim courage. They were calling for the landlord and I darted over to see what the to-do was about, slipping to the front. I’d have seized any distraction.

The heap of ash was tipped over the doorstep onto the cobbles of the yard. The landlord came striding out of the building even as I crouched to peer more closely at the tiny creature floundering weakly in the midst of the soot. As grey as ash, it resembled a bird, for it had a curved, beaky upper lip and a pair of little things that were clearly undeveloped wings on its back. But it was entirely featherless and had two tiny front paws, just now making feeble movements in the ash. Fragments of broken, blackened eggshell lay around it, showing it to be newborn. Or rather, new-hatched. I had never seen anything so intriguing.

“A demon-creature, sir, a demon-creature in the fire…”

“I was sweeping out the grate, sir, and I sees it…”

“It ain’t nat’ral, sir, ain’t right…”

“Shall we have a priest, sir? Don’t like the thought of it otherwise…”

A priest? Whatever for? I’d sensed evil often enough, and there was nothing of it here. But I’d learned long ago that other people just didn’t seem able to sense things as I could. Even my mother couldn’t. I had stopped mentioning my strange sensitivity only a short time after learning how to talk about it at all.

The landlord leant over to scrutinize the ‘demon-creature’. “Evilest looking blighter I ever did see,” he pronounced, “but soon sorted.” He raised his foot. His intent was obvious.

The baby animal raised its head and peered around with a pair of huge golden eyes. It gave a little cough and a cloud of ash came from its beak. It must be half choked. Without even considering it, I reached out and snatched it from the path of the landlord’s foot.

The assembled group turned a look of astonishment on me and the landlord swelled with rage. “You impudent little…” He took a step towards me.

For the second time that day, I ran for my life. Or in this case, the life of the creature I held pressed to my chest. I would survive a beating, it would not.

The landlord did not pursue me beyond his inn gates, but his furious shout followed, ringing in my ears. “If you ever come back…”

An inn without a porter was rare. One where I was trusted to carry bags was rarer still. I had lost the closest thing to a real job I had ever achieved, and for what? A deformed chick? I must be mad. Panting and heart pounding, I slipped into an alley and sank down on the cobbles to take a closer look at just what I had saved.

My hands were filthy with soot and the chick, or whatever it was, still grey, so that must be its natural color. It could not be a chick, I realized, as I looked more closely. Apart from its four legs it also had a tail, a very lizard-like tail. Its little, clawed front feet scrabbled gently at my thumb in a way that reminded me of a mouse. It could hold things in them, I suspected. It was, I concluded with a sense of shock, some rare exotic creature from across the seas. How its egg had come to end up in the inn fireplace was a question I did not even bother pondering. But if it was rare and from far away, then it was worth an enormous amount of money.

I looked at the tiny thing again. It fitted snugly in my palm, leathery hide soft against my skin. I’d never get close enough to the nobility to sell it for a pet. I’d have to sell to a middleman and it would go to an apothecary to be dried and powdered for potions. And much as I usually ignored the fact, I was terribly, achingly lonely. The creature raised its head again and gave another little cough, and I knew I could not sell it. It was mine and I would keep it. It would not eat much.

Talking of food… I looked again at my new companion in distress. It would need milk, or something… I tucked it securely inside my jacket for warmth and set off once more along the streets. Climbing up some abandoned scaffolding to the rooftops, I entered the attic of a deserted house through a hole in the roof. The rotten floor groaned under my weight, but I moved lightly to a pile of old rugs in a dry area of the room. There, curled in a little nest, lay a cat and her five kittens. The mother cat regarded me warily with yellow eyes, but did not run or move to attack. The cat and I had shared the loft on many a night.

Now I put my handful down carefully at the edge of the nest and crouched there, watching, ready to snatch it back out if the cat tried to harm it. This was a very long shot, and I knew it. The creature was unlikely to know how to get to the food on its own, for one thing, and the mother cat might try to savage it if it got close. I’d probably have to catch the cat and hold her down while carefully guiding the lizard-chick to the teat. But I wouldn’t do it immediately when there was just the feeblest chance I wouldn’t have to shatter the trust that existed between us.

The lizard-chick peered around, coughing again. Its babyish gaze travelled from me to the mother cat and it swayed forward unsteadily, opening its beaky mouth again to let out a soft, quavering cry not unlike those of the kittens. The mother cat went on watching me, seeming scarcely aware of the intruder now easing its way slowly, but persistently, in among her brood. Finally the lizard-chick’s mouth closed around a teat and it began to swallow. Every so often it released its mouthful to give the kittenish cry again. The cat still did not react.

I watched in something close to wonderment. The mother cat hadn’t noticed the interloper, of that I felt sure, and the back of my neck prickled in the way I associated with my odd senses. My new pet intrigued me more and more.

 

Although I usually avoided staying in the same sleeping place for more than one night at a time, I remained in the loft for over a week. By then, desperate to sleep elsewhere, I began to consider coming to the loft in the daytime to let my pet feed. But my problem was solved when my casual offering of a crumb of bread was eagerly swallowed by the lizard-chick.

“You don’t need milk any more, huh?” I said, stroking under the soft leathery chin. “Well, time for a name, I suppose…”

I turned my pet around in my hands. I had already established as well as I could that the lizard-chick was female, something most young noblewomen could not have done. Now I considered the question of a name. The baby was still a uniform grey all over, apart from her beautiful golden eyes.

“You are quite like a bird,” I mused softly. “And you’re mine. I’m a Ravena, in name, at least. Ravens are black not grey, but you’re close, and there are girl ravens as well as boy ravens. I’ll call you Raven. Then you’re part of me.”

 

 

Book Review: The Grace Crasher

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516arGS316L._SX331_BO1204203200_It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed so much while reading a book. This story has so many hysterical parts! I absolutely loved it!

The Grace Crasher opens with Julia and her best friend Robin in a Christian store, shopping for things that can help Julia look like she’s evangelical. She desperately wants to get an apartment but the landlady is a born-again Christian.

At one point, Julia tries on a shirt and turns her backside to Robin.

“Does this Jesus shirt make my butt look big?”

“Not big, just …trapezoidal.”

Then they move to the Bibles. Julia grabs the plain one that simply said Holy Bible because it seemed like the most Bible-ish one.

We soon learn more about Julia, her family, and her interests. She has a crush on Dylan Heath, the lead singer of a local indie band, but when she sees cute Mark, the store’s manager, she decides it’s a good idea to have a backup crush.

I must admit: it was Carolyn Astfalk’s review of The Grace Crasher that compelled me to get a copy for myself. Her book reviews are thorough and reliable, and I think we have similar tastes.

I cracked this book open (actually I read an ebook, so that phrase doesn’t really work) expecting to find a light, humorous, enjoyable story that I could read a little at a time before bed, and I was not disappointed. Author Mara Faro pokes fun at both Evangelical and Catholic Christians, but not in a mean way. It was all gut-busting fun! But as the story developed I also found surprising depth of character and story-line. The main character faces trials many can identify with and goes through a beautiful transformation.

Well-developed and realistic characters, along with the continuous humor, and the deeper spiritual insights made this a fantastic story that I highly recommend.

Other Reviews:

“A great take on infatuation vs. love, speaking the truth in love, and being true to yourself.” ~

“Julia’s path is a relatable one, and in her flaws and the flaws of the characters around her, we see ourselves and our own brokenness with delightful clarity.” ~

“Loved it! Fun, inspiring, quirky,…I had lots of laughs reading this!” ~Amazon review

Funny, insightful, and brilliant!” ~Vera A. Velk

A hilarious, poignant story that sets the broken love among families, friends, lovers, and fellow believers against the backdrop of God’s unfailing, patient, perfect love.” ~

You can learn more about the author Mara Faro at her website.

You can get the book on Amazon in both paperback or ebook format.

Contemporary Catholic Teen Fiction

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The Goodreads GIVEAWAY for my contemporary Catholic teen fiction Standing 3DStandingStrongCoverStrong ends soon. If you haven’t had a chance to check out my books, here is an opportunity to get one for free. This is the fourth book in the West Brothers series. Many of the same characters are in each book, and they take place chronologically, but you can still enjoy them out of order.

“Another chapter in Theresa Linden’s masterfully-developed series for teens that will resonate with everyone who has struggled to find his place in the world, been tempted to take the easy way out, or doubted the work of God s hand in his life.”    ~Carolyn Astfalk, author of Rightfully Ours

“After reading STANDING STRONG your own spiritual life cannot but be strengthened, making you also want to stand strong for God.” ~Susan Peek, author of The King’s Prey

“This is an excellent book by an incredible author so check it out. Her handling of faith in her fiction is masterful. ~Steven McEvoy, reader extraordinaire

You’ll have another opportunity to win this book and much more on November 17th (which happens to be my birthday!). Along with 5 other authors from www.CatholicTeenBooks.com, I will be hosting a Pre-Christmas Virtual Facebook Party.

Check out the video invitation for a bit of inspiration! The party will be from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. It will be packed with games, prizes, and wonderful gift ideas.

We’ll have a winner every ten minutes and an amazing Grand Prize. Follow the FB page for details. Beginning November 1st we will post prize images and other fun details. Here are the prizes I’ll be contributing:

Standing Strong is available as a paperback and eBook. You can learn more about it and my other books on my website.

New Fantasy Series: The Aletheian Journeys

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The Aletheian Journeys

Last summer I discovered The Arrow Bringer, the first in a new Christian allegorical fantasy series by Lisa Mayer.

ARROW BRINGERfrontThe Arrow Bringer tells the story of Evangeline Lewis, who has just been diagnosed with leukemia at the age of sixteen. Before she can catch her breath, a mysterious being called the Arrow Bringer offers her a choice: spend her last days in peace with her family, or save another world called Aletheia from a great evil. She chooses to stay. But then she learns Shawn Lawrence—the closest thing she has to a friend—has gone in her place. His life now hangs in the balance. Now it is up to Evangeline to save Shawn and race to fix her mistake as a shadow falls over Aletheia and the new friends she finds there. Even as her disease consumes her body, a new enemy and more imminent perils pursue her. And she must endure all and save Aletheia while keeping her darkest secret: that all of it is her fault. Hers is a story of Salvation.

Lisa Mayer’s writing style and fantastic character development drew me in immediately. Filled with betrayal, repentance, and forgiveness, this fantasy story has well-developed and interesting characters, beautiful setting details, and fantastic chapter endings that force you to turn the page.

This story is action-packed with battles, conflict, and mystery. The Christian allegory and symbolism appeals to me, the same way as in the Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. I liked reading actual Scripture verses in the story. It is so well done!

“Filled with emotional, moving scenes, this story brings out the beauty of true sacrificial love, sacrificing one’s self for others. And it gives a vivid reminder that God is ever by your side, despite the trials you are going through, and He loves you intensely, even when you fall.” ~Theresa Linden


The second book in this series, Jairo’s Battle,  tells the story of a reformed traitor king Jairo'sBattleFrontCoverwho wishes to prove to everyone, especially himself, that he is no longer a murderer. But that will be hard to do when his past of serving Kotu, the greatest threat to ever overshadow Aletheia, haunts him at every turn. Before he can even try to gain his bearings, a mysterious dark magic user called Stassia banishes him and his friends to the Other-World. Now, Jairo has little time to discern not only how Evie and Shawn’s families fit into all this, but also Stassia’s impossible connection to Shawn. Most troubling of all is Stassia’s certainty that she will corrupt him, and he will ultimately lose the battle within himself. His is a story of Redemption.

“Why does God allow suffering? Why has He given us free will? And how can He possibly forgive a person who has fallen so far? We’ve all grappled with those questions, but nothing compares to watching those ideas materialize through the pages of a gripping story. Great character development, surprising twists, and high tension make this book a page-turner. The powerful messages will resonate with everyone who’s questioned the struggles and sufferings of life and keep reader’s thinking long after the story ends.” ~Theresa Linden


Helper'sBladeFrontCoverThe third book, The Helper’s Blade tells the story of Shawn Lawrence, who once thought he was nothing more than a regular guy. But that all changed when he learned the truth about his past, and that the invisible rapier around his waist isn’t the only secret his father kept from him. But simply saving his father’s legacy is not enough for him—he wants to save his life. It seems impossible, until he discovers that dark magic will allow him to travel back in time. With the help of Kata, a dark magic user, he journeys into the past, determined to kill Stassia before it’s too late. Now, Shawn will have to race against time, despite the fact that doing so will require him descending into the darkness he is sworn to prevent. His is a story of Conversion.

I haven’t read this story but I will soon!


The author was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about her writing. Please enjoy this author interview of Lisa Mayer:

What inspired the Aletheian series?

The Aletheian Journeys was inspired by Narnia. I had always known about Narnia, but didn’t get into them until 2005 when I saw the movie. I now own the books and love C.S. Lewis’ writings and consider myself a Narnian. I thought it would be cool to write an allegory series based on Narnia, which is why I wrote The Aletheian Journeys. I wrote it in honor of Narnia but I also gave it a modern twist so it would appeal to today’s youth.

Why did you write an allegory?

A lot of readers connect with an allegorical story. We all long to know the love of Jesus, even if we don’t know it. Allegories can be meaningful but also exciting. While the books are Catholic-Christian allegories at heart, they also have age-appropriate romance, fantasy, adventure, mystery, suspense, friendship and faith, hope and love. It’s meant to be enjoyable even if you don’t like allegory. It’s meant to help the reader have a deeper relationship with God, but also find themselves in the characters.

How many books do you plan to write in this series?

I plan to write seven books all together. Three are currently available. Readers can contact me at thearrowbringer@gmail.com for a free PDF copy of the first book: The Arrow Bringer. The Arrow Bringer, along with Jairo’s Battle and The Helper’s Blade are on Amazon as well.

What authors inspired you to write fantasy?

 I’m inspired by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, John White and his Archives of Anthropos series, as well as J.K. Rowling. I’m also a huge nerd and I love other world stories and movies, superheroes, sci-fi and fantasy.


15589960_706039216220005_8956142513724993667_n (002)Author Bio:

When not writing, I enjoy hanging out with my husband Rich and our dog Scooby. I spend time with family and friends, work on puzzles, bike-ride, read, watch my favorite shows, and jam out to loud music in the car. I’m a huge fan of superheroes and am proud to be a nerd.

Visit Lisa Mayer’s website and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

FB: https://www.facebook.com/TheArrowBringer/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Lisa_Mayer2015

Website: https://lisamayer0125.wixsite.com/thealetheianjourneys/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisa-mayer-216a05150/

New YA book: Playing by Heart

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New Young Adult Historical Fiction

Emilia Salvini dreams of marrying a man who loves music as she does. But in 18th-century Milan, being the “second sister” means she’ll likely be sent to a convent instead. Emilia’s only hope is to prove her musical talents crucial to her father’s quest for nobility. First, though, she must win over her music tutor, who disdains her simply for being a girl. Too late, Emilia realizes that her success could threaten not only her dreams for her future but her sister’s very life.

Playing by Heart is inspired by two amazing sisters who were far ahead of their time—one a mathematician and the other a composer. At its core, the novel is the story of two teens struggling to follow their true calling, even when it conflicts with their father’s goals. It’s a clean historical romance suitable for ages 12 and up.


I am so happy that author, Carmela Martino was willing to share a bit about her new release. Please enjoy this author interview:

I love the amazing setting details in Playing by Heart. Did you go to Milan to do your research? If not, how did you create such realistic and lovely details?

I have been to Milan only once in my life, long before I decided to write Playing by Heart. As a result, the research for this story almost did me in! I’m a stickler for detail and if I couldn’t verify some aspect of the story, I wouldn’t include it. Even though it’s a work of fiction, I wanted the details to be true to the time and place.

For the events of the story, I relied heavily on the research materials I found about the two Milanese women who were my inspiration: Maria Gaetana Agnesi, a child language prodigy who later wrote an acclaimed math textbook, and her younger sister, Maria Teresa Agnesi, who was one of the first Italian women to compose a serious opera. But the biographical information I found gave me few setting details.

So, I looked for primary documents describing what life was like in Milan during the early 1700s. One of my greatest research finds was an account by someone who had witnessed Archduchess Maria Theresa’s visit to Milan in 1739. The document had been scanned into the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale. I was able to download and print the pertinent pages. The document gave me wonderful details that I incorporated into my novel, such as the description of the crowds that lined the streets waiting to greet the archduchess and how she participated in the Ritual of the Holy Nail.


Can you tell us more about the Ritual of the Holy Nail? Is it still performed in Milan?

While researching Milan’s history, I learned that the Cathedral of Milan houses a holy relic purported to be one of the nails used to crucify Christ. I’d had no idea the relic even existed. It’s housed inside a crystal case set in the center of an enormous gold cross that’s suspended high inside the cathedral’s dome. The cross can only be reached by means of a mechanical, cloud-shaped lift called the Nivola, which was supposedly designed by Leonardo da Vinci himself.

Yes, the ritual of removing the Holy Nail from its place high within the dome is still performed annually in Milan. The tradition began in 1576, when Saint Charles Borromeo, then archbishop of Milan, carried the relic in procession during an outbreak of the plague. Originally, the ritual was conducted on May third, the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross in the old liturgical calendar. At some point, the date was changed to September 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. There are numerous videos on YouTube depicting the event—they were a huge help to my research. Click here to watch a brief one narrated in English. And click here for one that is a bit longer, but narrated in Italian.


You mention in the Author’s Note to Playing by Heart that you couldn’t find any book-length biographies of composer Maria Teresa Agnesi, only ones about her older sister. How then did you research her life?

Yes, that was a difficult challenge. Maria Teresa is mentioned briefly in the biographies of her sister, but that wasn’t much to go on. While investigating possible sources, I found an analysis of one of her compositions in a book of essays on Italian music of the 17th and 18th century. The article’s author, Professor Robert L. Kendrick, had also co-written an entry about Maria Teresa in an encyclopedia of music. With a little digging, I learned that he was a professor of music at the University of Chicago. He was kind enough to answer many of my questions about what Maria Theresa’s life had been like and to also point me in the direction of additional research resources.


Even though there are book-length biographies of the older sister, Maria Gaetana, you say in your Author’s Note that there are still many myths surrounding her and her family. Can you elaborate?

Gladly! First, some background. Playing by Heart grew out of my research for a nonfiction biography of mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi for young readers; The only published biographies about her are for adults. I first came across Agnesi’s name in an article about little-known women of note. Even though I have an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Computer Science, I’d never heard of her before. But when I started to research her, I kept finding conflicting information, both in books and online. For example, some references said that Agnesi wasn’t allowed to enter the convent as she wished because after her mother died she was left in charge of the household and the care of her twenty siblings. In actuality, Agnesi was 13 when her mother died and she had only six siblings at the time. Maria Gaetana may have helped out with those siblings for a while, until her father remarried less than two years later. The reasons for her not entering a convent had nothing to do with her mother’s death. Interestingly, it is true that she was the eldest of 21 children—her father married a third time after his second wife died. But many of her siblings died young.

I encountered so many myths about the Agnesi family that I created a website to dispel some of them. You can read more at www.mgagnesi.com .


How did writing Playing by Heart compare to working on your first novel, Rosa, Sola?

The process for the two novels couldn’t have been more different. My middle-grade novel, Rosa, Sola, began as a short story I wrote as an exercise while I was working on my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. The exercise was to write a story based on an event from my own childhood that still evoked strong emotion in me. The emotion I wrote about was the fear I felt at age ten when I thought my mother might die. I called the short story “Rosa’s Prayer.” The feedback I received from classmates and instructors encouraged me to expand that short story into a novel that was eventually published by Candlewick Press.

I have to say, it was much easier to write a novel set during my own lifetime than one set two centuries earlier. For Rosa, Sola, I still had to research some of the setting details, such as the popular songs of the time, to make sure I got them right. That was easy compared to the extensive research I had to do for Playing by Heart. Still, it was an amazing experience. I’m thrilled to see all my work finally come to fruition.


As you can read in my review, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. And I am glad that you shared this fascinating background information with us. Thank you!

Thanks so much for hosting this interview, Theresa. I hope your readers will visit the other stops on the Playing by Heart Blog Tour. I invite them to go to my website for the complete list of tour links and enter for a chance to win a copy of the novel:

http://www.carmelamartino.com/blog/posts/2406

I’ll also be hosting a Facebook Launch Party on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 7-9 p.m. Central Time, where readers can win not only copies of Playing by Heart but other great books and prizes.

www.facebook.com/events/1926037200756000


My review:

Filled with beautiful scenes and heart-wrenching moments, PLAYING BY HEART by Carmela Martino is an absorbing story of perseverance, the pursuit of excellence, and of sacrificial love.

This story shows the dreams and trials of two talented sisters. Emilia excels in music. But her father’s and the maestro’s attitudes lead her to feel inadequate. So she finds herself envious of the praise and attention given to her older sister. Maria, the older sister, is humble and faith-filled. And while she loves studying languages and philosophy, she longs to enter religious life and serve the poor. But this is an age where the father chooses the vocation of his children. Emilia and Maria’s father, driven to gain the title and status of a nobleman, makes choices that move him closer to his goals but farther from theirs.

The characters were inspired by two historical sisters who lived in the eighteenth century, so I appreciate the author’s faithfulness to research and time-period details. The engaging prose brings the scenes to life in full color! I especially loved how the descriptions took me into the heart and mind of Emilia, a talented young musician who “heard music everywhere—in the whispering of the wind and the rustling of the trees.” I also appreciated the way faith is weaved into the story.

For more early response to Playing by Heart, click here.

Click here for the Amazon buy link!

Author biography:

Carmela_martino-smallCarmela Martino is an author, speaker, and writing teacher. She wrote the middle-grade novel, Rosa, Sola (Candlewick Press), while working on her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. The novel was a Booklist “Top Ten First Novel for Youth” and received a Catholic Press Association Book Award in the “Children’s Books” category. Her second novel, the young adult historical romance Playing by Heart, will be released by Vinspire Publishing September 30, 2017. The novel took first place in the Young Adult category of the 2013 Windy City RWA Four Seasons Romance Writing Contest. Carmela’s credits for teens and tweens also include short stories and poems in magazines and anthologies. Her articles for adults have appeared in such publications as the Chicago Tribune, Catholic Parent, and multiple editions of the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. Carmela has taught writing workshops for children and adults since 1998, and she blogs about teaching and writing at TeachingAuthors.com.

New Release: Catholic teen fiction and St. Francis!

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STANDING STRONG, the fourth book in the Catholic teen fiction West Brothers series, came out October 4th, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. I chose this for the release date because of a strong Franciscan theme. In this blog post, I’ll tell you a bit about seventeen-year-old Keefe West and the Franciscan Brothers.

Standing Strong follows the seventeen-year-old West twins, Jarret and Keefe. While Jarret struggles to remain faithful to God when faced with old temptations, Keefe tries to discern whether he has a calling to religious life.

Roland Front Cover with Award NoteKeefe West has come a long way since readers first met him in Roland West, Loner. He was once under the thumb of his controlling twin brother, Jarret. Sometimes he tried to talk his brother out of bad ideas, but more often he went along with Jarret’s schemes, even when he knew they were wrong.

While Keefe has always cared about his brothers—not wanting them unhappy or in trouble—he had a distorted view of true compassion.

The word “compassion” means to “suffer with” someone. However, true compassion cannot “suffer with” someone when sin is the cause of the suffering. True compassion considers the real needs of the other, including moral and spiritual. And sometimes the compassionate choice is to speak the hard truth.

In Life-Changing Love, on a trip to Italy, Keefe experienced a life-changing event. LCLFrontCover(Spoilers: he visited the Basilica of St. Mary in Bagno di Romagna, where he witnessed a Eucharistic miracle.) As he knelt before the Lord, the transforming fire of Christ’s love touched his heart. Upon returning home, he experienced the true measure of his transformation. He had to finally show true compassion to his twin by refusing to condone Jarret’s poor choices.

Keefe’s transformation created a rift between himself and Jarret, but it opened the door of Keefe’s heart to Christ. In Standing Strong, the latest book of the West Brothers series, Keefe feels drawn to a religious vocation, but he must first fight a few inner battles.

Battle Front Cover with awardIn Battle for His Soul, a group of Franciscan Brothers passed through Keefe’s town. To ensure accuracy, I researched Franciscan communities and happened upon a group of Brothers who I’ve been following ever since: the Franciscan Brothers of Peace in Minnesota. The Brothers in my story are loosely based on the Brothers of Peace.

These Brothers know all about true compassion. From their website: they are a “Pro-Life Religious Brotherhood dedicated to giving (their) lives for love of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Catholic Church.” Faithful to the teachings of the Church, these men are committed to serving and defending the most vulnerable members of society: the pre-born child, the severely disabled, survivors of torture, the poor and the homeless.

I was incredibly touched by the story of their founder, Brother Michael, and by the other Brothers’ loving care of him. At age thirty-two, he suffered cardiac and respiratory arrest and was left with brain injury and a severe disability. The Brothers remained by his side at the hospital and later at an extended care facility, where he spent seven months. Then they brought him home to provide round-the-clock care. They did not see caring for him as a burden.

“Brother Michael became the loving heart of our home and of our Brotherhood. In the mystery of God’s plan for Brother Michael and for us, the Lord Jesus Christ manifested Himself in Michael and through his brokenness, and brought about a spiritual formation that we could not possibly have experienced in any other way.” 

I encourage all to pray for vocations and to visit the Franciscan Brothers of Peace website to learn more about the Brotherhood. Read about their history and “The Roots of Brotherhood.”

Like the Franciscan Brothers of Peace, I too have been deeply moved by the story of St. saint-francis-of-assisi-300x300Francis, especially by the way he took the words of Christ literally.

“If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow Me.”      ~Matthew 19:21

I wrote a blog post about this called “All In with St. Francis.” Thousands of men and women hear this call today and choose to follow Christ in the footsteps of St. Francis. And the Franciscan Brothers of Peace are beautiful testimony to that.


Standing Strong is available in paperback or ebook.


Follow the blog tour now!

  • CatholicMom.com posted the Press Release: “Catholic teen fiction can turn the tide of young adults leaving the faith.” You can also read an excerpt from Standing Strong!
  • T.M. Gauoette – writer, blogger, and author of Catholic fiction and non-fiction. Author T.M.G. has been kind enough to host my guest post “Why We Need Catholic Teen Fiction”
  • Leslea Wahl, author of award-winning Catholic teen fiction has read an advanced copy and posted her review, along with several other early reviews of the book.
  • Cynthia Toney, author of the Bird Face series, has posted my article about the inspiration for Standing Strong. It has to do with a nun and her teenage student who doesn’t like to read.
  • Carolyn Astfalk, author of coming-of-age romance Rightfully Ours, has posted the book trailer and her review of the book.
  • And finally, please check out my blog post about the Top Ten reasons you need a copy of Standing Strong!