Summer & Books: St. Magnus, The Last Viking

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Inspired by the A to Z Blogging Challenge this past April, I have decided to blog about books for the month of June. I will be sharing tidbits about my own books and the other books on the Catholic Teen Books website.

 

finalStMagnusFrontCoverSt. Magnus Erlendson was the Earl of Orkney, and he lived from 1106 to about 1115. He is sometimes known as Magnus the Martyr.

His grandparents were Earl Thorfinn and Ingibiorg Finnsdottir. They had two sons, twins: Erlend and Paul. Erlend was Magnus’s father. Other relatives include the Norwegian Kings Olav II and Harald II. You can do an online search and find plenty of interesting historical facts—which I enjoy doing—but nothing compares to stepping into Susan Peek’s novel: St. Magnus, the Last Viking.

About the Book:

Come back in time 900 years, to the fierce and desolate Northern lands, where Norsemen ruled with ax and sword. A dying king, a shocking death-wish, his heirs divided with an oath of blood . . . In this fast-paced new novel by the highly popular Susan Peek, the conflict unfolds between Magnus Erlendson, a heroic young prince aflame with the love of God, and his outlawed cousin Hakon, who blames Magnus for his banishment from their kingdom. What follows is a tale of betrayal and revenge, bravery and forgiveness, as Magnus seeks to restore his father’s vanquished kingdom to its rightful hands. Entertaining and inspiring from start to finish, a must-read for all those who thrill to learn the life of a saint we never knew existed!


And now we have author Susan Peek’s answer as to why she chose to write about Saint Magnus!

After my first two novels, A Soldier Surrenders and Crusader King, were swiped up by big-name Catholic publishers (Ignatius Press and TAN Books) and incorporated into language arts programs in Catholic high schools and homeschool programs across the globe, I knew I had finally arrived as an author. My childhood dream was a reality. By now I had established a fan base (mostly teens, but surprisingly many adults as well), and my vision was crystal clear: I wanted to write fast-paced novels of obscure saints whose lives were filled with adventure and action, and in a style that would appeal to today’s modern youth. It was at this point that I decided to launch an actual series, which I thought I could call “God’s Forgotten Friends: Lives of Little-known Saints.” Armed with a pen and a stack of lined paper, I sat down to write a brand new book. (Back then I didn’t even own a computer. Yeah, pen and paper . . . insane, I know.)

But after the blinding flashes of inspiration that had determined my earlier two heroes, I found myself painfully stuck. Who should I write about next? There were thousands upon thousands of saints out there, yet I had no clue whose story to tell. I went into a slump, spending a few years (yes, years) researching unusual and random saints. I experimented with outlines and wrote corny first chapters of countless holy people – everyone from St. Thomas Beckett’s parents, to King Sebastian of Portugal, to St. Gabriel Possenti, to St. Anthony of Padua, who isn’t obscure at all and shows how desperate I was getting. I wrote hundreds of ridiculous pages of Saint Dymphna, which ended up in the trash like everything else. Nothing worked. My writing career was over. With a heavy heart, I admitted defeat and gave up.

In the meantime, I went back to writing for a Catholic company that produced audio plays, which my husband and I had been involved with back in the 1990’s. While I never enjoyed writing plays in the same way I loved writing novels, it was still a creative way to pass a boring afternoon and earn a bit of extra spending money as well. At the time, all the rage in bookstores and movies seemed to be Vikings. Everywhere I looked were Vikings, Vikings, Vikings. Horned helmets, axes, and hammers of Thor stared at me from every video store and shop window. So, like everyone else in the world, I decided to cash in on the fad. (Awful, I know, but hey, business is business.) So I began an epic quest to find a Viking saint.

Easier said than done.

I discovered two. Only two. Saint Olaf of Norway, and Saint Magnus of Orkney, who isn’t TECHNICALLY a Viking, as he lived at the very tail end of the period. But he was close enough and less complicated than Saint Olaf, and besides, if ever a saint’s life held excitement and conflict, it had to be his. So I chose Saint Magnus. Or maybe he chose me. Either way, I whacked out an audio play and was stunned when I started receiving letters after its production. So many people wrote to tell me they loved the story, and requests poured in to adapt it into a novel. I didn’t take it seriously for a few more years, because I had gone back, yet again, to my idea of a book about Saint Dymphna (which still wasn’t working).

Eventually I did an author presentation at a school, where I learned that several of the boys had taken Saint Magnus as their confirmation patron after hearing the radio play, and one family even named their son after him. The students begged me to put Saint Magnus into a book, and that was the turning point, when I finally took it seriously. For the next several months I researched Saint Magnus in earnest, discovering to my horror that some of the facts in the audio play were way off the mark. I tweaked and changed and developed the characters fully, added more, loaded the story with battle scenes and adventure, and somehow ended up a year later with my third published book. It became a #1 new release on Amazon and I knew I had to keep going and write a fourth.

Again, easier said than done.

How I finally resurrected Saint Dymphna after years of failed attempts will be my last post in Theresa Linden’s wonderful blog. I hope you stay tuned. 🙂

Wow, I love to hear the reasons for all of Susan Peek’s stories! I can’t wait to hear about St. Dymphna!

My Review:

This story begins with the last will and testament of an 11th-century Norseman warrior, Thorfinn the Mighty. The opening scene sets the stage for the novel as the dying ruler makes a startling decision for the sake of the kingdom. The conflict begins here and never lets up. Peek pulls the reader from one tense moment to another. We go back in time and become witness to the dramatic trials Magnus endured and the sacrifices he made.

As the mother of three boys, ages twelve to fifteen, I can’t say enough about this book. My boys love to read and they enjoy saint stories, but Saint Magnus, The Last Viking appeals to them in ways no other saint books have. This is not a sterile retelling of the saint’s life. The characters leap off the page with energy my boys can relate to, keeping them completely engaged as the story of this saint unfolds.

With all the battles, fighting, and conflict, it’s obvious why this story appeals to boys, but I love it, too. As a writer, I thoroughly enjoy Peek’s powerful writing style and vivid descriptions. I marvel at her ability to develop every character in the story. Some lines and sections moved me so much that I found myself re-reading them for pure enjoyment.

Susan Peek’s inspired account of the life of Saint Magnus stirs up the desire to live as he did, with courage, perseverance, and brotherly love, faithful to God to the end. Peek has taken the life of this little-known saint whom time may have forgotten and whose story could’ve remained hidden, and she’s re-presented it to the modern Christian.

This book is not to be missed. I walk away from it knowing I will go back. The message of Saint Magnus’s life is a message for today and it remains with me even now. I can’t wait to step into my next Susan Peek book.

Visit Susan Peek and learn more about her and her books:

Website: http://www.susanpeekauthor.com

Goodreads author page

Amazon author page

Thanks for stopping by my blog! Have you stumbled upon a favorite book this summer? Tell me about it in the comments. Feel free to share a link.

CathTeenBooks

Summer & Books: 6 Dates to Disaster

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Inspired by the A to Z Blogging Challenge this past April, I have decided to blog about books for the month of June. I will be sharing tidbits about my own books and the other books on the Catholic Teen Books website.

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About the Book:

When Wendy’s family faces financial hardship, she must find a way to see Mrs. V and Sam again—but will she lose David forever in the process?

For her mom’s birthday, Wendy finds an old jewelry box at a flea market—the perfect gift for someone who loves salvaged junk. But inside the box is a cryptic note that appears to have been written recently. Wendy’s curiosity leads her on a search with boyfriend David at her side, eager to help. Who wrote the note, and did the intended recipient ever see it? But when Wendy’s stepfather loses his job, she needs more personal and urgent help—the financial kind.

The family’s plan to visit Alaska on vacation is headed down the sewer like a hard Louisiana rain. How will Wendy ever see Mrs. V or Sam again? An opportunity arrives in the form of tutoring Melissa, one of the Sticks, and Wendy’s money problems appear to be solved. Until the arrangement takes a turn that gets Wendy into trouble like never before. In the final months of ninth grade, she might lose everything she counted on for the future.


In addition to the fun story line and getting to hang with characters that I’ve come to know and love, this book gave me a lot to think about. Wendy has a lot of opportunities and moral choices to make in this story. I like to know how authors come up with story ideas and themes, so I asked Cynthia Toney a question.

Have you ever risked everything (or almost everything) like Wendy does to see someone you miss or to get what you want?

Today I’m not as impulsive as I was as a girl or young woman, but yes, I’ve taken risks in attempting to get what I want. There’s a saying: “The heart wants what the heart wants.” Often, I’d become frustrated because of a setback or because something wasn’t happening as quickly as I’d like. I’d leave a situation for what seemed a better one and then regret not giving the first one a little more time to develop into what I needed. Or I’d act out of desperation and later realize how undignified I appeared. Like Wendy, I found my integrity slipping away when I didn’t think my decisions through before making them.

~Cynthia T. Toney

My review:

Cynthia Toney has written another fun story in her “Bird Face” series. Many of the characters you’ve come to love in the first two books are back, even if only through email. Main character Wendy Robichaud and her family face new struggles. And Wendy stumbles upon a new mystery, a cryptic note she finds in an old jewelry box that she bought as a present for her mother. Wendy makes some choices she doesn’t quite think through and they lead her into a ton of trouble.

A great book for young teens that gives the reader a lot to think about: family responsibilities; giving tough advice to a friend; making mistakes, owning up to it, and paying the price.  I enjoyed the Cajun touches like this one, “My stomach flipped like a crab cake on a spatula.” I recommend this book for any teen, especially if they’ve enjoyed the first two books in this series.

Visit Cynthia T. Toney:

Website:  http://www.cynthiattoney.com

Blog:  http://birdfacewendy.wordpress.com

Facebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/birdfacewendy

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/CynthiaTToney

Twitter:  @CynthiaTToney

Instagram:  @CynthiaTToney

Pinterest: Cynthia T. Toney, YA Author

Thanks for stopping by my blog! Have you stumbled upon a favorite book this summer? Tell me about it in the comments. Feel free to share a link.

CathTeenBooks

Summer & Books: Crusader King

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Inspired by the A to Z Blogging Challenge this past April, I have decided to blog about books for the month of June. I will be sharing tidbits about my own books and the other books on the Catholic Teen Books website.

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Earlier this month, I asked author Susan Peek to tell readers why she wrote her first novel, A Soldier Surrenders: The Conversion of St. Camillus de Lellis. In this post, I asked her to share the story behind her second book, Crusader King: A Novel of Baldwin IV and the Crusades.

About the Book:

A new historical novel about the unusual life of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, the leper crusader king who – despite ascending to the throne at only 13, his early death at 24 and his debilitating disease – performed great and heroic deeds in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Teenagers and avid readers of all ages will be amazed at this story and be inspired by a faith that accomplished the impossible!


Here is why Susan Peek chose this saint to write about:

A Soldier Surrenders was received with such enthusiasm that I realized with shock that I wasn’t the only person on the planet who was bored with long-winded, dull saint biographies containing lots of names, dates and facts, but with little – or no – excitement and action. So I made up my mind, then and there, to write more books. After my experience with Saint Camillus, I felt deeply drawn to researching and writing about heroes whom no one (or almost no one) had heard of. I also wanted to write stories that readers would find fun. An idea formed in my mind to focus on lives of little-known saints who had lived exciting lives.

Okay, so technically Baldwin isn’t a saint. At least not a canonized one (although he is considered Blessed in France, where many boys are named after him). But his life certainly was exciting, so he qualified on that point. I have always loved the Crusades and was searching for a crusading saint to write about. I considered the obvious, Saint Louis. Nah, didn’t work. I toyed with the monumental Godfrey de Bouillon, and gave some thought to Raymond of Toulouse. Neither of them worked either. Somehow none of those giant knights grabbed me by the throat with their steel gauntlets and shoved a sword against my neck, threatening me to write their story or else! No, they just meandered away, remounted their warhorses, and left me alone with no crusader to write about. Where was the knight whose story I HAD to tell? Who was he? Would he ever show up? I had no idea.

Then, like with Saint Camillus, Baldwin zapped me. I happened to run across a few pages in an out-of-print history text that mentioned him. I was immediately struck by this obscure saintly prince who not only ascended the throne of the crusading Kingdom of Jerusalem at age thirteen, but also happened to catch, of all things, the horrid disease of leprosy. Talk about a shocking twist in a story! Talk about a hero! Wow!

Amazingly, at first it didn’t even cross my mind to write a book about him. Instead, I spent many months looking for a book about him. I couldn’t find one anywhere. After awhile, I stopped hunting and forgot all about King Baldwin altogether.

Then, one evening in our church, I stopped to light a candle at my favorite side altar – one with the image of Our Lord’s Face from the Holy Shroud. My intention with the candle was to ask God to please let me know which book, if any, He desired me to write. As soon as I knelt before the Holy Face, a line from scripture jumped unbidden into my mind: “We have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted.” (Isaias 53:4) The text prophesied Christ’s Passion, of course, but in that instant I thought of Baldwin, the young leper prince, who hadn’t crossed my mind in months. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that God was inspiring me to write his story.

I rushed home and, as I had done with Saint Camillus, snatched up pen and paper right there on the spot and started writing. Over the weeks, the story fell into place almost effortlessly. Research and ideas flowed at every turn. I completed the rough draft in six weeks of excitement, adrenaline, and not a few burnt meals. (My family teased me that all our meals were “Jerusalem food” since I spent all my time lost in the Holy Land instead of the kitchen, where a normal mom would be. The joke still stands to this day whenever I forget to take something out of the oven in time.) Although there remained many months of hard work ahead of me after that first draft, Crusader King was by far my easiest book to write.

With two books now published, my dream of being a real author was actually coming true. There was only one thing left for me to do. Write a third book.

But that is another blog post. 🙂

Here is a review from a teen boy’s perspective:

This review is from my 14-year-old son. “I really like Susan Peek’s writing style. I read the book in one day, then read it several times over the next few weeks. The way Baldwin perseveres despite his illness and struggles makes me want to imitate his example. This was an intriguing novel that I just couldn’t put down.”

Visit Susan Peek and learn more about her and her books:

Website: http://www.susanpeekauthor.com

Goodreads author page

Amazon author page

Thanks for stopping by my blog! Have you stumbled upon a favorite book this summer? Tell me about it in the comments. Feel free to share a link.

CathTeenBooks

Summer & Books: Saving Faith

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Inspired by the A to Z Blogging Challenge this past April, I have decided to blog about books for the month of June. I will be sharing tidbits about my own books and the other books on the Catholic Teen Books website.

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If you are looking for a character-driven series that promotes virtue, you might want to check out T.M. Gaouette’s Faith & Kung Fu series. Yesterday, I blogged about the first book in this series, Freeing Tanner Rose, and today I’ll share a bit about Saving Faith.

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About the Book:

Saving Faith is the second of four books in the Faith & Kung Fu series.

With Tanner Rose gone, Gabriel is left to settle back into the God-devoted life he’d become so accustomed to. Except that his best friend’s sister, Faith, has decided that a life for the Lord is just way too confining. In an attempt to live a little, Faith focuses her interests on a handsome, but worldly, boy from her school, who has major self-control issues in and out of the kung fu arena. When things get too deep for Faith, she looks to Gabriel for help. Can Gabriel save Faith from self-created destruction or is he just too lost in his own worldly struggles to lend a hand?

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Author T.M. Gaouette does a bit of research for each of her books. For this one she researched Scripture and the Catholic faith on various points, including pursuing the vocation of priesthood and attending seminaries. 

She also shared with me a bit about Gabriel, the main character of the Faith & Kung Fu series:

My character Gabriel is the center of Saving Faith and this four book series. He is a teen girl’s dreamboat. He’s exceedingly handsome, physically attractive, smart, and an expert in kung fu. But there’s a surprising twist. Gabriel is extremely devoted to God, and is unashamed about that commitment. He wears his godliness confidently, but with humility. Basically, he’s cool and he makes adoring God attractive and cool too. Gabriel is not perfect. He struggles also. But he always looks to the Lord and he never gives up on Him.

Gabriel’s faith is his life. He adores God. He talks to Him, defends Him, and leads people to Him constantly, but he’s not preachy or pushy. It’s just instilled within him so that it’s delivered and received naturally. Scripture plays a huge role in this series, and is usually a part of Gabriel’s everyday external and internal dialogue.

I’ve read and enjoyed the first book in this series and I look forward to checking out book two!

A few Amazon Reviews:

“Gaouette does an excellent job fleshing out her characters. They are real, and very well written. Also the plot, there are likely very few of us who have not known someone who drifted away from the faith, or someone who struggles or struggled with anger issues. Or have friend impacted by divorce and its effect on the whole family. Gaouette captures so many deep issues and yet deals with them with sensitivity and from her faith based perspective.”

“The author does a great job taking us on her emotional journey leading up to the moment where she must decide if she’s going to stay true to who she is or succumb to the overwhelming pressure placed on her by her peers. There is a firm foundation of Biblical truths woven through the story. The author has a pleasant writing style and this book nicely ties in with the previous book in the series.”

Connect with T.M. Gaouette and learn more about the author and her books:
Website: https://tmgaouette.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TMGaouette

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TMGaouette

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6037114.T_M_Gaouette

Thanks for stopping by my blog! Have you stumbled upon a favorite book this summer? Tell me about it in the comments. Feel free to share a link.

CathTeenBooks

Summer & Books: Freeing Tanner Rose

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Inspired by the A to Z Blogging Challenge this past April, I have decided to blog about books for the month of June. I will be sharing tidbits about my own books and the other books on the Catholic Teen Books website.

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Ever wonder what faith and kung fu have in common? This summer, dive into the first in T.M. Gaouette’s Faith & Kung Fu series, Freeing Tanner Rose, and find out!

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About the Book:

Freeing Tanner Rose is the first of four books in the Faith & Kung Fu series.

For Gabriel, Tanner Rose is just a superficial starlet, addicted to Hollywood. For Tanner, Gabriel is just a boring, kung fu-loving, Christian boy, who’s living a lackluster life in the middle of no-where. So, what happens when she’s forced to live in his world? It doesn’t take long before Tanner Rose craves a taste of her old life, even if it means upsetting a few people along the way. She thrives in the spotlight, after-all! Will Gabriel’s faith encourage Tanner to change her partying ways, or will her wild undertakings and addicting vices tempt him to do things he’d never considered before?

“There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.” ~1 Corinthians 10:13

My boys love play fighting in the backyard or wielding walking sticks (or even yard tools). The other day I was watching my youngest (a 13-year-old) spinning two sticks at one time, one over his head and the other out in front. And I thought to myself, “Wow, that boys has skills!” He would probably benefit from martial arts training of one sort or another. In addition to health and fitness benefits, I believe that such training would provide discipline that would benefit a person in every area of their life.

I asked Author T.M. Gaouette why Faith & Kung Fu was the title of her fiction series and here is her answer:

I’ve been told that it’s a fascinating affiliation. But I’ve never been asked why I chose it. And my reasons go far beyond the fact that both myself and the main character, Gabriel, are devoted to our faith and love kung fu – he is far more superior in both than I am, however.

What Gabriel gets out of kung fu, he puts into his faith, such as physical and emotional strength, discipline, modesty, and balance. Kung fu is also an external manifestation of his internal devotion. Finally, kung fu provides Gabriel with the forum for intense meditative prayer and connection with God.

Modesty plays a huge role in this novel. The author recently posted “Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series: Modesty” on her blog. Be sure to check it out!

A few Amazon Reviews:

“Principled and religious without being pious or cloying, this is a fun, refreshing story about something other than fashion and romance.”

“This book is great! Helps one realize that faith can get you through difficult situations and that you don’t need to know how to “do” religion in order to believe. The characters are easily imagined in looks and personality. Wonderfully engaging.”

Connect with T.M. Gaouette and learn more about the author and her books:

Website: https://tmgaouette.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TMGaouette

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TMGaouette

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6037114.T_M_Gaouette

Thanks for stopping by my blog! Have you stumbled upon a favorite book this summer? Tell me about it in the comments. Feel free to share a link.

CathTeenBooks

Summer & Books: 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status

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Inspired by the A to Z Blogging Challenge this past April, I have decided to blog about books for the month of June. I will be sharing tidbits about my own books and the other books on the Catholic Teen Books website.
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Book 2 in the Bird Face series. “The story goes beyond its catchy title to tackle serious issues relevant to teens, such as forming healthy relationships, living in a blended family, and coping with an elderly loved one’s Alzheimer’s disease.” ~ Kirkus Review

10 Steps to Girlfriend Status by Cynthia T. Toney

About the Book:

“Without knowing or caring where I’d wind up, I sneaked out of the house and took off running.”

Wendy Robichaud is on schedule to have everything she wants in high school: two loyal best friends, a complete and happy family, and a hunky boyfriend she’s had a crush on since eighth grade–until she and Mrs. Villaturo look at old photo albums together. That’s when Mrs. V sees her dead husband and hints at a 1960s scandal down in Cajun country. Faster than you can say “crawdad,” Wendy digs into the scandal and into trouble.

She risks losing boyfriend David by befriending Mrs. V’s cute hearing-impaired grandson, alienates stepsister Alice by having a boyfriend in the first place, and upsets her friend Gayle without knowing why.  Will Wendy be able to prevent Mrs. V from being taken thousands of miles away? And will she lose all the friends she’s fought so hard to gain?


My favorite character in this story was Sam, Mrs. V’s hearing-impaired grandson. I learned to sign the alphabet as a girl. And I’ve always admired people who can communicate with sign language. Perhaps one day I will learn more. In any case, I enjoy meeting and reading about people with unique struggles, who rise above them and become beautiful and interesting people….like Sam!

Why did you decide to create a character who is deaf and how did you develop Sam? 

In elementary school, I met a deaf girl and was fascinated by her ability to speak even though she was deaf. If I recall, someone told me that she had learned to speak as a small child before she lost her hearing. As an adult, I worked at a newspaper with several deaf individuals, some who could speak and some who relied solely on American Sign Language (ASL). I began to teach myself ASL, and I continue to enjoy and appreciate it as a language and as an art. I think it’s beautiful. I’d noticed very few books for teens that had a deaf character, and I wanted to develop one. I thought it would be interesting for my main character, Wendy, to meet such a boy for the first time in her life and to find that they have a lot in common. So I created Sam.

~Cynthia T. Toney

My Review:

10 Steps to Girlfriend Status by Cynthia T. Toney is a sweet story of Wendy Robichaud, a freshman in high school. Wendy seems to have everything together. She knows exactly what she wants and all the steps it will take to get it. But she’s in for a few surprises that throw her off her game. When neighbor lady Mrs. V, who Wendy loves dearly as if she were her own grandmother, begins to show signs of trouble, everything changes. Wendy’s attention is divided several ways. She still wants to achieve girlfriend status, but now she wants to look after Mrs. V, and Mrs. V has just hinted there may be a scandalous mystery from the past. Additionally, her mother has just remarried and her best friend has become her sister, adding struggles she hadn’t foreseen into the mix.

I loved the humor, fun writing style, and character development in this story, just as I did in the first book in this series, 8 Notes to a Nobody. The characters do not fit neatly into any stereotypes, often seeming to surprise Wendy with their behavior. My favorite character was Sam, the deaf grandson of Mrs. V. Too often we jump to conclusions about people with special needs or challenges, but Wendy soon discovers this character faces his own fears, goals, challenges, and needs, just like any teen. I hope that Sam will be in the next book in this series!

While I particularly enjoyed watching the mystery of the scandal from the past unfold, I was able to relate to the challenges of fitting in and finding yourself in high school. I remember how starting a new school threw everything in my life out of whack, and I often felt like a fish out of water. This story shows the importance of deciding what type of person you want to be. Wendy and all the characters grow in this story of friendship and forgiveness, a story teen and preteens are sure to enjoy.

Visit Cynthia T. Toney:

Website:  http://www.cynthiattoney.com

Blog:  http://birdfacewendy.wordpress.com

Facebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/birdfacewendy

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/CynthiaTToney

Twitter:  @CynthiaTToney

Instagram:  @CynthiaTToney

Pinterest: Cynthia T. Toney, YA Author

Thanks for stopping by my blog! Have you stumbled upon a favorite book this summer? Tell me about it in the comments. Feel free to share a link.

CathTeenBooks

Summer & Books: A Soldier Surrenders

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Inspired by the A to Z Blogging Challenge this past April, I have decided to blog about books for the month of June. I will be sharing tidbits about my own books and the other books on the Catholic Teen Books website.

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Author Susan Peek shares how she got to know about St. Camillus de Lellus and why she chose him to write about! Her answer is so amazing!

A Soldier Surrenders by Susan Peek

About the Book:

At last . . . a saint for strugglers! Soldiering, gambling, brawling, drinking. As a young man, Saint Camillus excelled at them all. Add to that his fiery temper and innate knack for getting in trouble, and Camillus de Lellis seems the last person who could ever achieve holiness! But God had plans for the stubborn young soldier, whether Camillus liked it or not . . .

“This novel for adult and young adult readers will introduce them to a great saint – a physical giant who had to contend with many personal struggles, much weakness, and repeated failures before he could become a moral giant. The story of Camillus de Lellis’ conversion will leave no reader unmoved, and those that feel hopeless about themselves will find new hope, a hero, and a friend in Christ.” – Michael O’Brien Bestselling Catholic Author.

Back in print by popular demand, this fast-paced and inspiring story of the wayward soldier-of-fortune who became an intrepid Soldier of Christ will appeal even to those who don’t normally like to read!


I asked author Susan Peek why she chose to write about this saint:

My special friendship with Saint Camillus, one of my absolute top buddies in Heaven, started three decades ago. The year 1986 found me a glowing, wide-eyed wannabe nun in a Carmelite cloister, and Saint Camillus existing as a mere name on the tattered page of my daily missal that popped up every July 18. Above his Mass readings, in tiny print requiring a magnifying glass to read, were typed the words: “St. Camillus was born in Italy. His youth was spent in dissipation but he was converted and gave himself to the service of the sick in the hospitals. He founded an Order which bears his own name. He died at Rome July 14, 1614. Pope Benedict XIV canonised him in 1746, Pope Leo XIII declared him patron of hospitals and infirmaries and inserted his name in the litany of the dying.” End of itty-bitty print. So every July 18, I would open that page, squint to read the tiny words, yawn, attend Mass, and inevitably forget about St. Camillus by the time I got my piece of dry toast for breakfast. He was just another . . . ahem, boring saint.

I imagine that most Catholics around the world treated him more or less the same way. He must have been fed up that so few people knew or loved him, because one day he zapped me. I remember the day perfectly. It was 1:30 in the afternoon, the time allotted for spiritual reading. I browsed the convent library, dismayed that every saint life I picked up seemed so, well . . . let’s be honest: Boring. I had already read the few exciting saint stories the small cloister library had to offer, and everything left on the shelves contained long lists of names, big words, tons of dates, and no action whatsoever. THEN . . . hidden behind a stack of dusty theological volumes, I spied a hardback book simply entitled “Saint Camillus.” Not even remembering his name from my tattered missal page with the minuscule print, I pulled it out, intrigued, wondering who this guy was. That book, literally, changed my life.

It was written as a novel, so immediately had dialogue and action. Camillus was far from holiness in chapter one – quite the lovable rogue, in fact. I was hooked. I read, engrossed, until the bell rang. It was hard to put down. Over the next several days, I found myself dying for spiritual reading time so that I could find out how this stubborn, proud, endearing young soldier was ever going to earn the accolade of “saint.” Finally I was enjoying – REALLY enjoying! – a saint book!

Then, half way through the book, he converted, became holy, was ordained a priest, and did all the usual boring stuff for the remaining 100 pages. The plot was gone. There was no reason left to root for him and worry about him, and my interest in the book waned.

(Maybe you can tell I wasn’t cut out to be a Carmelite nun. I wanted action-packed stuff. Excitement. Adventure. Not the typical things found in a cloister.)

Fast-forward to 1993. By then I had left the convent, gotten married, and was expecting my fourth child (who, by the way, is now a cloistered nun 🙂 ). Although I had always loved to write and secretly hoped my entire life to somehow become an author, the diapers and babies and duties of motherhood kept me far from my typewriter. Until one summer afternoon when I received a phone call that also changed my life. The man on the other end was a friend of my sister, and he was hoping to start a Catholic movie company. He had heard from big sis that I love to write. So he asked if I would consider writing a movie screenplay for him. Needless to say, I was blown away. “What do you want it to be about?” I asked. His answer, “Whatever you want to write about,” blew me away even more. It took me 30 seconds to decide. I wanted to write only one story – the conversion story of Saint Camillus (the bits BEFORE he became holy and, well, boring).

The next months were a flurry of excitement. Researching, writing, having a blast. My husband Jeff hopped on board and we actually wrote the movie together. My sister’s friend loved it, bought it, and started costumes, casting, producing, the whole nine yards. Then . . . he ran out of money. The project ground to a halt. Disappointment and apologies abounded. Everyone tried to accept God’s will. Seemed like Saint Camillus didn’t want to be known after all.

Later, my husband and I found an agent in New York who loved the screenplay but was unable to sell it. Unlike now, back in the 1990’s Catholic movies were all but non-existent. No producer was interested in a saint’s life for a movie.

The manuscript was henceforth stuffed in a bottom drawer and left to gather dust. Meanwhile, I had more babies, kept busy with more diapers, and forgot about the whole thing.

Until one day several years later. I woke up from a nap, literally, as if hit by a bolt of lightning. I jumped out of bed with the urgent thought, “Adapt it as a novel!” I felt it so strongly that I grabbed a pen and paper right then and there, and started writing.

By the end of the year, “A Soldier Surrenders: The Conversion of St. Camillus de Lellis” was not only published, but incorporated into the curriculum of a small Catholic school in Idaho. Humble beginnings, but it has since gone through four editions, been sold for foreign translation rights in Europe, and is now used in Catholic schools across the English-speaking world. And all because of a dusty book in a Carmelite library and a phone call from a wonderful man with a vision.

I truly believe Saint Camillus is a saint for everyone. He was not always holy. He struggled. He fought. He was a man with many vices and much to overcome. But he did it. He became a saint! And if he can do it, so can we!

Maybe someday he will zap you from Heaven too. He really is a friend worth getting to know!

My Review:

Within the first few pages of this story, I knew that this was a much needed story for our age. Children are not always raised in ideal situations. A parent dies. Or parents divorce. One parent may have faith, but the lifestyle and ideals of the other may be more appealing to the child. The parent with faith worries about the effects of the culture on the child.

St. Camillus’s mother was strong in her faith and tried to impart it to her son, but his father was a soldier and didn’t have much time for that. As a boy and young man, Camillus found his father’s ways more attractive. His mother died while he was young and as soon as he was able, he followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a soldier.

This is not the end of the story but only the beginning. This story makes so clear the powerful message that Our Lord is always there, with each one of us, calling us to Himself and to holiness. Our Lord never gives up on us.

Maybe more so than other saints, the story of St. Camillus’s conversion gives hope to the person who struggles with weakness and sin. Camillus had a bad temper and a love of gambling. For the longest time, he did not see the value of faith or self-control. He may have recognized virtue in others but did not see it as a possibility for himself.

But God did not give up on him, just as He does not give up on any one of us. Like a good father, Our Lord allowed many sufferings to come to Camillus. And like so many of us, Camillus had to reach rock bottom before he could look up in faith.

While I enjoy the stories of saints who responded to the call of God at a very young age, St. Camillus is not that saint. In many ways, he is more relate-able. For those who struggle with sin or various addictions, who feel deeply the hardships of life, and who suffer from the consequences of their own actions, there is the story of St. Camillus de Lellis.

Peek’s fast-paced writing style is perfect for this story. She brings the reader right into the conflict, struggles, and agony Camillus endures. She weaves the action, thoughts, and emotions of characters together expertly. I also found myself deeply moved by the moments of grace and spiritual insight that came to him and the way his conversion unfolded.

I recommend this book to everyone who loves saint stories. You will not be able to put this book down. But I especially recommend it to the person who struggles or who feels he or she has fallen too far and is unable to reach that better way. There is hope for us all. Holiness is obtainable for anyone. God can do all things. St. Camillus de Lellis, pray for us.

Visit Susan Peek and learn more about her and her books:

Website: http://www.susanpeekauthor.com

Goodreads author page

Amazon author page

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