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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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.

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!

#Open Book: November 2017

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This is my second Open Book blog post! I don’t know if anyone caught the date of my last Open Book post, the one for September, but I titled it with the year 2107! Wow, I was really looking into the future with that post! library-2544157_1920

I hope that by the year 2107, I’ll be reading books from the Divine bookshelves!

One reason I like doing the Open Book blogs: I’ve discovered that while it feels like I have no time to read, I actually #AmReading! I guess it feels like I don’t read because I don’t get to read in my favorite way: resting on a mound of pillows on the couch with a hot beverage and pastry within easy reach in a quiet house, for hours and hours and hours. Oh well; there’s always the Divine library in the year 2107 for that.

I am happy to participate in CatholicMom.com and Carolyn Astfalk’s My Scribbler’s Heart #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve recently read. You are welcome to link up your own blog about the books you’ve read. Stop by Carolyn’s blog to see how.


Jairo'sBattleFrontCover I first stumbled upon Lisa Mayer’s Aletheian Journeys a year or so ago. I enjoyed The Arrow Bringer, the first book in the series, and jumped at the opportunity to read the second book. These fantasy stories contain Christian allegory, much in the style of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. They are filled with action, adventure, battles, and a bit of magic. Jario’s Battle shows the struggles of a man who has turned away from a life of profound wickedness. As he strives to fight the good fight, his past continues to haunt him. He wants others to believe that he’s changed, but at times he can’t even convince himself. I enjoyed the thorough development of themes about free will, forgiveness, and the purpose of suffering.


I love solving puzzles. Lately, I’ve been addicted to Sudoku. The lousy game keeps me up51Bfmxs18CL._SY346_ at night. I tell myself, “As soon as I find one more number, I’m turning out the light.” Then I find another number, and I’m saying the same thing again! I guess I like to keep my mind busy, and maybe that’s why I enjoy Judith White’s 1940s mystery series. I was excited to learn that Drowning in Deception, the next installment of The Case Files of Sam Flanagan, is out! Set in Detroit, these sleuth stories remind me of the Old Time Mystery Radio Shows. I’ve come to know the regular characters, so it’s fun to see them again in each new book. My favorite is Sam Flanagan’s grandmother! In addition to enjoying the great time-period details, I love how Judith White’s mysteries are a challenge to solve. She develops characters and threads so well, revealing a bit at at time so that you’re never really sure who done it! Her newsletter is quite a treat too. I encourage everyone to sign up. It’s unique and entertaining.


Because I am now following Erin McCole Cupp’s Sabbath Rest Book Talks, several of the books I’ve read have Christmas themes! Unlike the rest of the country, I don’t like to think about Christmas until we are at least in Advent. (I guess that’s not entirely true because I think christmasgracecoverabout the Blessed Nativity every Monday when we pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary! But I digress…) Anyway, I still enjoyed these Christmas-themed books.

The first one I read was Christmas Grace by Leslie Lynch. This story follows three women (a mom, her daughter, and her mother) who are also not in the Christmas mood, each having her own personal struggles. Natalie is pregnant and her husband is deployed, Ella’s husband takes her for granted, and Gert is trying to find herself after losing her husband. Before they find answers to those problems, crisis strikes and they are forced to reevaluate their priorities. This story got me thinking about the challenges and blessings of different stages of life.


unearthingchristmascoverThe next book I read for the SRBT was Unearthing Christmas by Anthea Piscarik. This book is hard to get a hold of at the moment, so I am grateful to Carolyn Astfalk for sharing her copy. This story jumps back and forth between 1955 and modern times, following two 14-year-old girls and their families. The families have their share of flaws and you can see how the faults of one generation affect the next generation. When one of the girls gets permission to turn the family bomb shelter into her own personal Christmas room, the story takes a wild turn. This story brought home to me the message that we shouldn’t put of reconciliation because tomorrow is never promised to us. I also enjoyed a little thread about the Infant of Prague and the St. Andrew Christmas Novena.


The Birds’ Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin is the third book that I 413qLkDHFALstarted reading for Sabbath Rest Book Talks. I didn’t get to finish the book yet because I was reading on my library’s website and they only let me read the first chapter. My reserved copy just arrived at the library so I’ll finish it today. But so far it seems like a sweet Christmas story that would make a perfect read-aloud. It begins with a beautiful presentation of family and motherhood. And the descriptions are lovely. The brand-new baby girl is described as “a rose dipped in milk” and “a little cherub with a halo of pale yellow hair softer than floss silk.”


Okay, that’s all I’ve got for this month! If you want to link up to Open Book with the books you’ve read, you are more than welcome to! Click here for details.

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!