Book-giving Guides


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!

peanut butter

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 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!









Book Review of Angel on Assignment


Today we have another guest post from author Susan Peek!


Book Review of Angel on Assignment by Wanda Carter Roush

The moment I saw the gorgeous cover of Angel on Assignment written by Wanda Carter Roush and illustrated by Mike Motz, I knew my children HAD to have this book.

Although I haven’t read Elf on the Shelf, for which this story is a Christian alternative, I was nonetheless delighted by the idea of a Guardian Angel “sitting upon a shelf” watching over whatever child God had assigned him. But before the young reader gets to that part, the book kicks off introducing angels from the New Testament.  Gabriel the Archangel appears first, greeting the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation, then visits Saint Joseph with instructions to name the Baby “Jesus.” Next come the Heavenly Spirits who filled the sky on Christmas night, followed by those present at the Manger, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection of Our Lord. After introducing these angels from Holy Scripture, the author shifts focus and the rest of the book is about our own Guardian Angels and how they protect, inspire, comfort, and encourage us. The final pages contain directions on how young children can make, with parental help, a craft angel to sit on their own bedroom shelf!

I absolutely love the concept of this story. The message is joyful, and presentation fun, and the illustrations alone are worth the price of the book. The only thing that disappointed me is that the text is written as a poem (I assume Elf on the Shelf is too) and some of the stanzas seemed contrived, as if the author was fumbling to fit rhyming words together. In several places, my 8-year-old had a bewildered look on her face, not understanding the awkward rhyme, which forced me to stop and paraphrase what the author intended to say. That broke the flow of the story and was frustrating. I wish the text was more “little-kid-friendly” with perhaps a simpler rhyme. Having said that, I definitely plan to purchase a copy as a Christmas gift for a little girl I know.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookCrash in return for an honest review. I received no other compensation and the opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

ChristmasFrontCoverSusan Peek is the author of fast-paced and exciting saints stories for children and young adults. I highly recommend her books as Christmas gifts, whether you have children or teens to shop for. Be sure to check out her Christmas story The Forgotten Christmas Saint: St. Anastasia!

Still Celebrating!


It might seem like the Christmas season begins the day after Thanksgiving, just after the turkey carcass gets dumped into the garbage can. And it ends on Christmas day with the tossing of the tree to the curb. But, hey, Catholics, it ain’t over till it’s over. So keep those decorations up and make more treats, because we keep on celebrating for a wee bit longer.

There is a bit of disagreement as to when the Christmas season actually ends:

The Solemnity of the Epiphany, January 8th.


Lord, every nation on earth will adore you. ~Psalm 72

The Baptism of the Lord, January 9th.


And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” ~Matt 3:17

The older tradition extends Christmas to the celebration of Candlemas, or the Presentation of the Lord, which is February 2nd.


Painting from the Menologion of Basil II (c. 1000 AD)

Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
—and you yourself a sword will pierce—
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” ~Luke 2:34-35


So we can end up with 40 days of celebration!

In the spirit of Christmas, here are some of our family traditions and experiences this year. My theme: it’s the thought that counts.



We begin Advent with our beat up old Advent wreath and homemade crib. To prepare for Jesus’ coming, we try to remember to say extra prayers and do little acts of kindness. Whenever we do, we put a construction paper straw in the crib to make a softer welcome for baby Jesus. Last year, we kept forgetting and had to try to crank out the prayers and kindness in the last few days.


We used to wait before putting up our Christmas tree but the boys wanted it up ASAP, so it went up on the weekend after Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, some of the lights stopped working. See the top section of the tree? But it’s like that every year. They go out after we’ve gotten the entire tree decorated so that there’s nothing we can do about it.

Last year we packed the tree with almost every ornament we own, including all the sweet ones the boys made as toddlers and little children. But this year my 13-year-old insisted we limit it to red, gold, and white. So I’m guessing he thought it was a bit tacky last year.

This is our simpler tree. It includes the homemade candy canes, the Christmas disco ball, the ornament I won from Carolyn Astfalk’s Ornamental Graces book release party, and our newest addition–the Christmas rooster!

We also set up our Nativity set, minus baby Jesus who doesn’t get to join in the fun until Christmas day. So all the people and animals are all staring at the same spot, waiting for the arrival! This year, two new animals joined in: a Minecraft pig and cow. They were the right size so they gained admittance. And then there’s St. Patrick who doesn’t really belong there, but oh well. We ran out of places to put non-Christmas things. In his defense, he is wearing green and he has some nice quotes about Jesus.

 “Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me,   Christ beneath me, Christ above me.” ~St. Patrick

I fell behind on cookie baking and didn’t get done until the day before Christmas Eve. But we have some traditional favorites that my mom, my sister, and I used to bake: Magic Cookie Bars, Lemon-Cherry cookies (yes, you see stems. I was in a hurry and one jar of maraschino cherries had stems),  Molasses Raisin Nut cookies, cut-out cookies, and modified Russian Tea Cakes. All of the recipes are modified based on which nuts are affordable and what ingredients I have or forgot to get. And we made the Lemon-Cherry gluten-free this year.

A special thank you to Carolyn Astfalk who routinely posts delicious recipes on her blog. She gave me the recipe for the cutout cookies and said it was from her mom’s 1950s Betty Crocker cookbook. Here’s the recipe:

Butter Cookie Cutouts

Cream together 1 cup butter and 1 cup sugar. Add 1 unbeaten egg, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Beat well. Gradually blend in 2-2/3 cup sifted flour. Chill dough. Roll out on floured surface to 1/8″ thickness. Cut with floured cutters. Bake at 375 degrees for 7-10 minutes. Cool slightly before transferring to a wire cooling rack.

We made icing from powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. They are delicious!

As the rest of the Christmas season unfolds, we will continue to celebrate at home, at church, and with family and friends. We’ll play Christmas songs and eat more cookies, careful to avoid the stems. We’ll leave our tree up–bad lights and all–until the ornaments get dusty. We’ll add more creatures to the Nativity scene, squeezing them in between the regular and the Minecraft animals and the misplaced saints. And we’ll try to join in all the feast days in these 40 days and understand a little bit more the significance of each one to a Christian today.

  • December 26th – Feast Day of St. Stephen, the first martyr
  • December 27th – Feast Day of St. John the Evangelist
  • December 28th – Feast Day of Holy Innocents, martyrs, the infants slain by King Herod (Matt. 2:16-18)
  • December 29th – Feast Day of St. Thomas Becket, martyr
  • December 30th – Feast Day of the Holy Family
  • January 1st – Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

and the rest which you can find here.

Have a blessed Christmas season, everyone! Family 2016.Christmas (2) (002).jpg

I feel bad for leaving our dog out of this post. Rudy was so happy opening his present and ripping up all the wrapping paper this year. Here’s Rudy:

All images are mine or public domain.