Christmas Gift Ideas for Catholic Children

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Books by Susan Peek,

author of fast-paced saint stories

ChristmasFrontCoverMeet Saint Anastasia, one of the greatest Christmas saints and the Patroness of Martyrs. Take her hand and let her lead you to the Crib! For centuries, this humble and unassuming martyr has remained hidden in the shadows of the stable. Yet of all the saints in Heaven, she is the only one whose feast day falls on Christmas itself! It’s about time she stepped forward and made some new friends! Join Saint Anastasia and her best friend, Saint Theodota, as they bravely prove their love for God and neighbor, even unto the sacrifice of their own lives.

AOGfrontCoverChildren’s Stories of Animals Who Encountered Saints . . . Told from the Animals’ Points of View! Three delightful stories for young Catholics, beautifully illustrated with black and white drawings. Includes Bonus Reproducible Coloring Book in the back! Stories in Volume One: “The Little Lamb’s Wish”  “The Hungry Gray Mule” and “The Loyal Friend”

AOGV2cover final front cover animals of god volume two (2)Two more stories of animals that encountered saints…told by the animals’ points of view! Stories include: “The Lion Who Lost His Appetite” Rex the Lion has it made. A delightful tale of a saint’s unwavering trust and God’s infinite power, told from the lion’s point of view! “Cuthbert for Breakfast” An endearing story of brotherly love and God’s unfailing mercy, told by the little goose’s point of view!

SmallFrontCoverGOD and learned to love Him enormously! Being different from others is never easy. Saint John the Dwarf, of all people, could tell you that! Forever standing on chairs to reach things, unable to play games with other children because of his size, and being teased by the village bullies were all hard things to bear, and could have made John bitter and full of self-pity. But John discovered a secret – a great BIG secret – which changed his life and turned him into a giant of a saint. Join Little John on his adventures – from his home to a desert cave, to the altar and beyond – and let him teach you his secret of holiness too!

WilliamFrontCoverMeet Saint William, a young French nobleman who could have had it all . . . and gave it all up!Riches, fame, knighthood, an easy life in a grand castle. These were the things that rightly belonged to William by his noble birth. Instead he chose to leave it all behind and give himself completely to God. Building a hut in the quiet woods, he planned to live out his days there in prayer and solitude. But God had other plans for William . . . plans that ensured his suitcase would never stay unpacked!Join William as God sends him one surprise after another, until William finally receives the biggest surprise of all!

MY REVIEW

Whether she is writing teen fiction or children’s stories, Susan Peek knows how to bring characters to life and send them on exciting adventures.

Every book has detailed, beautiful artwork that allows children to visualize scenes. The simple vocabulary makes her stories easy to understand and enjoy. The setting details and imagery Susan Peek uses will draw young readers deeper into the story, speak to their imagination, and stir their little hearts.

Peek’s stories definitely entertain, but they also encourage virtue. The message of each story will appeal to a child’s sense of awe and have them appreciating the Blessed Mother, the saints, holiness, and the Blessed Sacrament in deeper ways.

Visit Susan Peek’s website. Find all of Susan Peek’s books on Amazon or through your favorite bookseller.


Little Runty Trilogy by Martina Parnelli

RuntyBook1FrontCoverA fresh telling – based on actual events! – of the trip taken by the donkey that went to Bethlehem, and all the wondrous things that he saw on the way and there at the cave. Full color illustrations bring to life more vividly this charming account of the classic Christmas story.

 

RuntyFrontCoverIn this exciting adventure, we join the donkey that was present at the crib of Bethlehem. Follow him as he accompanies the Holy Family through the events that occurred on their way to their new home in Egypt. Wondrous miracles, joyful happenings, visits from angels, or great hardships, Little Runty was there and saw it all!

 

Runty Book 3 frontAngels, miracles and adventures await Little Runty in this last of the Little Runty trilogy. The little donkey who went to Bethlehem and Egypt with the Holy family now rejoins them for the trip home. The trek is full of surprises and hardships and at its end there is the question of Runty’s return to the farmer from whom he was borrowed. Follow Runty through his journey and its happy conclusion in this last of the Little Runty series.

MY REVIEW

Author and artist Martina Parneli has created a delightful trilogy that will not only entertain but edify its readers. Parneli’s sweet and engaging writing style is sure to connect with children. Detailed and beautiful artwork fill these books, giving young ones a lot to look at while being read to. Inspired by Venerable Maria D’Agreda’s book The Mystical City of God these stories provide unique insights into the Christmas story and beyond. All three stories convey beautiful messages like trusting God even with your imperfections, knowing that He has a plan for you, making the best of a situation, working hard, and holding onto hope. Through these stories, readers will also grow in a deeper understanding of the trials and sacrifices the Holy Family likely experienced during Jesus’s early years.

Visit Martina Parnelli’s website. Her books are available on Amazon or through your favorite bookseller.


This month I am linking up with Carolyn Astfalk’s “An Open Book” and CatholicMom.com. What have you been reading lately? Feel free to link up your blog post too! You can find the details here.

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New Teen Fiction: 3 Things to Forget

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I am excited to share award-winning author Cynthia T. Toney’s newest release! This is the final book in the Bird Face series! To celebrate, the publisher has made book one FREE on Amazon on release day only:  October 16th! And the new release, 3 Things to Forget, is only 99 cents today too!


3 Things to ForgetNew People
New Challenges
And a whole new Altitude

In Alaska, Wendy thinks she’s left behind the problems resulting from her mistakes in Louisiana, at least for a while. But starting the summer at her friend Sam’s house and volunteering with Alaska Wildlife Conservation bring not only strange surroundings but also strangers into her life. And those strangers have a secret involving a troubled girl who threatens Wendy’s friendship with Sam.

As Wendy struggles to understand the Alaskans she meets and gets to know, will she be able to forget what she hopes to, or will her new challenges teach her the importance of remembering the past?


I was happy to have received an advanced copy of this book and so I’d like to share my review!

My Review

Cynthia Toney has written another strong story about friendship and the complicated issues that many teens face, this one with the beautiful messages of encouraging teens to share their troubles with their parents and offering kindness even to the unkind.

Wendy is such an admirable character in the way she longs to bring comfort and joy to her elderly friend who has Alzheimer’s. She is a three-dimensional character with interests in writing, sign language, and cute little wolf pups, but she also has room to grow. The more she tries to help her friends in this story, the more of a mess she makes! This is especially true of her relationship with Dev—a girl with many secrets. Wendy becomes so suspicious of Dev’s motives that she even starts to lose faith in her best friend, Sam. Her stepsister gives her great advice that we can all benefit from: “There’s always more to a person’s story than you think when you first meet them.”

With a beautiful Alaskan setting, mystery, and drama, teen readers are sure to love this fourth book in The Bird Face Series. If they’ve read the first three books, like I have, they will also enjoy revisiting favorite characters. Ever since reading 6 Dates to Disaster, I’ve been looking forward to finding out more about Sam, and this story does not disappoint.

Click here to get your copy!

Visit Cynthia T. Toney’s website to learn more about the author and the series.

 

Blog Tour: Where You Lead

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I am excited to be part of the Virtual Book Tour for Leslea Wahl’s newest Christian young adult mystery, Where You Lead! Please check out my post so you can not only learn about the book but find out about a treasure hunt and discover author Leslea Wahl’s favorite Washington DC sites. Note: these sites are also mentioned in this story!


where you leadTeen Eve Donahue’s lonely existence changes in an instant when visions of a mysterious stranger haunt her. Certain God is calling her for a mission, she bravely says yes and begins her quest to meet this young man. Thousands of miles away, Nick Hammond has been dealing with his own unusual experience, an unwavering certainty to convince his father to run for political office. When these two unlikely teens finally meet, their belief that God has called them to work together sets them on a journey of faith to untangle a web of deception involving international trade agreements, lost confederate gold, and a blossoming romance. As they follow century old clues, they realize God can call us all in big and small ways. We just need to listen.

Available in Kindle and paperback. Buy the book here.


Wahl is one of my favorite authors of young adult fiction. But she is also the favorite of a lot of readers! I want to congratulate her on the Gold Medal The Perfect Blindside recently won from Readers Choice! This book was also the 1st-place winner of the 2016 Catholic Press Association book awards, in the teen fiction category. Another one of her books, An Unexpected Role, was a Gold Medalist in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards. Her books have also received the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval. You can check out other awards her books have won here. Or on her website. And if you ask me, Where You Lead is another winner!

My review:

This is an incredibly fun mystery with a great combination of action and adventure and tension that builds throughout the story. The main characters, Nick and Eve, are well-developed and likeable. She’s romantic, talkative, and has a style all her own: Eve doesn’t try to be like everyone else; she’s comfortable just being herself. Nick is level-headed, resourceful, and charming. Plus, he comes from a big and very interesting family.

I enjoyed the attraction and interactions between these characters and following along as they tried to solve this unique mystery. As a history lover, I enjoyed the tidbits about the Civil War and the “virtual tour” of Washington D.C., visiting museums, monuments, cemeteries, and other historical places with the characters.

Several wonderful messages are weaved through this story, too, like trusting in God even when we can’t understand His plan and realizing that the smaller missions from God are just as important as the bigger missions. With her sharp writing style, ability to develop a riveting mystery, and the way she weaves faith into her stories, Leslea Wahl has become one of my favorite authors.

I highly recommend this story for teens and adults. In addition to the bits of history and positive role models, this book is just plain fun!


Leslea Wahl’s 10 Favorite DC Sites

“As a reader, I’ve always enjoyed books where the setting of a story comes alive through the eyes of the characters. I certainly hope I that I was able to accomplish that feat in my new novel, Where You Lead. This adventurous mystery is set in a city that is near and dear to my heart. A place that I lived for four years, right after I was married – Washington DC. I loved every moment of our time there and had so much fun including some of my favorite spots in this story. Here are 10 of my favorite DC sites that are part of this book’s adventure.”  ~Leslea Wahl

1. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

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2 – Embassy Row

 

3 – Georgetown

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4 – The Smithsonian

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5 – The National Cathedral

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6 – The Tidal Basin and cherry blossoms

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7 – The Reflecting Pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument

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8 – The C&O Canal

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9 – Oak Park Cemetery

10- Arlington Cemetery

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treasure huntClick here for the treasure hunt!


bookLeslea Wahl is a Colorado native who loves to travel with her family. She considers herself blessed to have found a way to intertwine her two passions by creating adventurous stories with positive Christian messages for today’s youth. She hopes to inspire others to find their gifts as well. Her first book, The Perfect Blindside, was awarded a 2016 Illumination Christian Book Award silver medal and was a first place winner at the 2016 Catholic Press Association Book Awards.

Available in Kindle and paperback. Buy Where You Lead here.

Contact Leslea Wahl:​

Book Review: The Things We Knew

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I just finished reading a book that is on the Sabbath Rest Book Talk reading list. With a bit of romance and a lot of mystery, this is a beautiful and emotional story of faith, family, forgiveness, and facing the truth. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and can’t wait to read more from this author.

The Things We Knew by Catherine West

51eGLI0vfBLThis story takes place on the little island of Nantucket. Lynette lives at home, struggling to care for her father, who has memory issues that are not yet diagnosed, and their enormous family home, which is falling apart faster than she can fix it. She is one of five siblings. Her mother died when she was a teen. She can’t remember the specifics about that day and no one ever talks about it, but it’s obviously had a profound effect on every member of the family and even on the neighbors. Their family was once very close, but the relationships are now strained.

They were also close to the neighbor’s son, Nick Cooper, who is another main character in this story. He’s around the siblings ages and spent his childhood and teen years at the Carlisle’s home. You get the impression early on that he knows more about the Carlisle family than he wants to admit. He also cares deeply about this family, and about Lynette, in particular. And Lynette had a crush on him when they were teens.

As the siblings become aware of the bleak financial situation back home, and of their father’s failing health, they each return home to see what they can do. Once home, they find themselves facing the past, their own problems today, and strained relationships with one another, but they’ve got to work together for the sake of their father and their family home. The easy answer is to sell their large estate, and Nick’s father is all to eager for them to do this. In fact, all the siblings except for Lynette seem to like this easy answer. But Lynette loves her family home and wants their father to be able to spend his last years there. As the youngest, she hasn’t been accustomed to insisting on her way, but this is very important to her, so that’s about to change.

I really enjoyed this story and was sad for it to end. The writing is beautiful. The author develops characters and setting details that you can see, smell, and touch in your mind. With a bit of romance and a lot of mystery, this is a beautiful and emotional story of faith, forgiveness, and facing the truth. It is a heart wrenching story about a family in crisis who has lost so much and stands to lose so much more, but who also has much to gain.


You can watch Sabbath Rest Book Talk on Youtube. Check out any of the past episodes or catch this September’s episode. The theme will be aging.

Love Hurts: A Book Review of Resistance: Fighting the Devil Within by Michael Voris

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young-woman-2622725_1920She laughs as she runs with her diamond-shaped kite. Her long auburn tresses fly across her face and bounce down her back as she peers at the sky. She is beautiful, maddeningly beautiful. So carefree. So competent. So real.

He runs along after her, watching her, loving her.

With one hand held aloft, holding the kite string, she runs. Faster and faster, she sprints over the rocky terrain. Her kite spins and rolls in the air. She can’t get the height she wants. But then, she’s made the kite herself and it has no tail, nothing to make it stable.

He doesn’t dare correct her. It would dampen her delight, her pride of accomplishment. Maybe hurt her feelings. She hates when he criticizes her. And he can’t bear her rejection, her anger.

Catching a wind current, the kite shoots up. “Oh, look! There it goes!” She runs faster, her eyes on the kite and not on the ground.

A cliff lay ahead, hidden from view. Should he tell her? Though she didn’t look inclined to slow down, she likely knew. If he brought it up, it would spoil her fun. She would think he doubted her. He couldn’t bear to hurt her feelings, to risk making her mad at him.

Look how she smiles. How she laughs. How she runs like there is no cliff. In a few short steps she’ll reach it. Should he say something?

Five, four, three…

Two…

One…


Love Hurts: A Book Review of Resistance: Fighting the Devil Within by Michael Voris

The short story is preposterous, of course. No one would let another, much less one they love, race off a cliff to avoid hurting his or her feelings. Or would they?

resistanceMichael Voris’s Resistance: Fighting the Devil Within drove home to me the fact that true love does not remain silent in the face of danger, especially the danger that matters most: spiritual danger.

Michael shares a lot of tough stuff in this book, including the influence of Liberation Theology, Sexual Liberation, Homoheresy, and the media on many in high places in the Church, and the dismal statistics that show the decline of authentic faith in the Western world.

These are hard topics to read about, write about, research, and discuss. In reading this book and from following Michael over the years, I’ve come to realize: Michael Voris loves Holy Mother Church. If he didn’t, he would not expose himself to the anger, hostility, misunderstanding, and rejection of so many brothers and sisters in Christ. But he knows, as any good parent, friend, or spouse knows, that sometimes love hurts.

Real love desires the good of the other and not just the affection of the beloved.

Through his ministry, a labor of true love, Michael seeks to warn the wayward and motivate the faithful. Resistance: Fighting the Devil Within gives a clear warning about the fate of the Catholic Church in the West and in the world. This book reveals the evil that has been attacking the Church in modern times. Michael calls on faithful Catholics to “adopt an attitude of resistance to the corruption of the faith.”

While I’ve heard and read about the disturbing modern-day attacks against the Catholic Church from without and within, Resistance shows the cause and effect, which explains how we got where we are today. Because these things are so ugly, diabolical even, it is hard to look at them. And a part of me would rather not know. But not knowing doesn’t make the problem go away. As with any successful marriage, company, or organization, productive and sometimes painful self-evaluation is necessary. It is not enough to just recognize the bad fruit, we must also look at the tree and all the way down to the roots.

Resistance does not stop there. This book makes clear that to effect change, we need to begin with ourselves. And so Part II of this book provides concrete steps for self-evaluation and spiritual growth through an examination of the Beatitudes. I know that I will read Part II many times, especially the mediation on Peter. Peter’s story is told in the meditation of “Blessed are those who Mourn.”

“There is no man in Scripture who so impulsively and radically loved Our Lord as did Peter. And then in one horrible succession of events, he cursed and threw it all away. All that was left now was a lone, direct look from Jesus penetrating Peter’s spirit to its core…” ~Resistance: Fighting the Devil Within

We’ve all been there. At least I have. We’ve denied Our Lord. We’ve failed the test. We’ve chosen the easy way and not the right way. But Peter repented, and Our Lord forgave him. Then Peter got back up and lived his life boldly, fearlessly, selflessly in love with Christ and His Church. He loved to the point of death, also on a cross but upside down because he felt “unworthy to die in the same fashion as Our Lord.”

We need to get up too and live in this love. I love the Catholic Church. It is the church that Jesus built. Thus, it provides all that one needs to know God and to grow in holiness. It is the Bride of Christ.

For my love to be real, it needs to be selfless and purified. I need to look at the ways in which I seek to compromise with the truth or fail to follow the teachings of the Church, the ways in which I’ve shied away from correcting another or speaking the truth to avoid hurting feelings or coming across as being judgmental. Does this sound hard? Impossible?

As so many saints have proven over the years, unflinching faithfulness is possible.

And isn’t that what we all want? Faithfulness. You want it from your spouse, your children, your family, and friends. God wants it too. He wants me to be faithful because He wants me to open my heart to His transformational love. And whether we like it or not, sometimes love isn’t that heart-tingling feeling that has you walking on clouds. Sometimes the beloved has to say, “No, that’s not good for you.” “You’re on the wrong path.” “This is going to be hard.”

Because—let’s face it—when love is real, sometimes love hurts.

When writing my dystopian trilogy, which is a supposition of our world if we don’t change course, I struggled with the final book. I couldn’t fathom an ending because, at times, it seems evil has won and falsehood is so enmeshed in our culture that it would be impossible for a new, holy culture to emerge. Like in the Battle at Minas Tirith in the Lord of the Rings, the odds are ridiculously overwhelming. Evil stretches out aminis tiriths far as the eye can see. The good are few and most are ill-prepared. Evil goes on the offense while the good tuck themselves away and struggle at defense. Walls that have stood forever crumble, lives are lost, and the enemy has just unveiled Grond.

You know what I’m talking about, right? That one-hundred-foot long battering ram shaped like a ravening wolf with fire burning in its jaws.

But I am a Christian. And I’ve read the last page of the book. (Not referring to the Lord of the Rings, though of course I’ve read that.) I’m referring to the Holy Scriptures. We win. Jesus Christ has already claimed the victory. And in Him, we win too. Love win—true love, that is.

So I realized how the third book in my dystopian trilogy needed to go. The answer is with you and me. It is in pursuing holiness right here and right now. It is loving despite the cost. It is that sacrificial love that makes me willing to lose a friend today because I am unwilling to lose that friend for all eternity. Not on my watch.

Resistance: Fighting the Devil Within gives a clear idea of what the spiritual battle looks like for the Church in our times. It is a clarion call to all the faithful to get our boots on the ground.

Whether you are Catholic or not, I recommend that you read this book. It will offend you and startle you and maybe even open your eyes to the attacks that have been going on for years against the Catholic Church. And hopefully, this book will shake you to the core and motivate you to get on your feet and enter the fray. Fight for true love! Fight for Christ!

Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
Spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!

Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

~Theoden’s rallying cry in The Lord of the Rings

 

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 of Angel on Assignment

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Today we have another guest post from author Susan Peek!

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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!