Relevant Fiction Reviews: High School Theater

Relevant Fiction Reviews

I was a behind the scenes gal when it came to high school theater, but I still have many happy memories tied to our musical productions. As a proud member of the stage crew for four years, I was able to identify with the closeness and camaraderie that comes from putting on a show together.

The following are three excellent YA novels that stand on their own merit, but have something just a little extra special if you are or were a high school theater geek.

IntermissionIntermission by Serena Chase

Intermission left me breathless in the best way. My internal book-rating system includes a heart-clench level, and this book made that level explode off of the charts. I had to fight off tears while reading in the waiting room of my daughter’s ballet class.

This beautifully-written, gut-wrenching story is not only a touching, tender, and chaste love story, but an examination of obedience, an exploration of faith, and God’s magnificent plans for our lives – which may not follow our plans or our timelines.

The injustice Faith suffers will break your heart. Her growth both in virtue and courage will make you cheer. And God’s tender mercy towards her and Noah will leave you with a song in your heart whether you’re a musical theater buff or not.

AngelhoodAngelhood by A.J. Cattapan

Angelhood offers important messages about hope and regret through the first-person account of 17-year-old Nanette, who, in the first chapter, puts a gun to her head and pulls the trigger. From there she embarks on her “angelhood.”

Despite the name, the body-less souls, and the acquisition of wings, the period of “angelhood” bears more resemblance to purgatory than angelic life. In order to gain her own redemption, Nanette is assigned a charge whom she must prevent from making the same fatal mistake she did in taking her own life.

Nanette shadows a friendless, angsty poet named Vera, whose mother has succumbed to breast cancer. Despite Nanette’s frustration with Vera’s anti-social, “loser” ways, she takes her task seriously and struggles to find means to influence Vera’s behavior and help her see the wonderful possibilities around her.

Throughout the novel, Nanette and other angels, including her mentor of sorts, Warren, engage in spiritual warfare in defense of their charges and their own journey towards sainthood. Darkness and evil tempt and taunt, eager to draw souls to their eternal torment.

Interspersed with the action are Nanette’s memories – both those leading up to her suicide and happy memories with her sister, mother, and fellow theater geeks. Not only does concentrating on positive memories help her to grown in grace, it also enables her to see clearly the rashness of her life-ending decision.

While Nanette had seen death as an escape from her various troubles, she now realizes that not only has peace eluded, her but her absence has had profound effects on her family members as well. Her perspective matures and broadens, allowing her to see hope where in the past she felt despair and to recognize, in theater terms, that comedy and tragedy exist side by side.

There are several twists, turns, and revelations along the way to maintain tension and keep the reader engaged.

In the years following the suicide of a friend’s 15-year-old son (also by gun), I’ve become hypersensitive to its frequent portrayal in media. While its depiction here made me uncomfortable, the overriding, hopeful message integrated so seamlessly into Nanette’s memories and experiences convinced me of its valuable message for teens in particular, who think their life isn’t worth living and the world would be better off without them.

I listened to Angelhood on audiobook, which opens me to distraction more than reading print does. It can also be a challenge to hear over the noise level and kid interruptions in my home. I did, however, enjoy the narration, which fit Nanette’s voice well.

An Unexpected RoleAn Unexpected Role by Leslea Wahl

Leslea Wahl has done it again – another great book custom-tailored to teens (teen girls in particular). I’m always a little put-off by present tense narration, but I quickly grew to enjoy Josie’s voice.

Great writing peppered with humor and insight, the author captures the human tendency to hyperfocus on our own problems that can be part and parcel of the teen years.

Take a mortifying yet hardly life-threatening problem, add an alluring backdrop of sunshine, sand, and an attractive guy, and watch Josie’s self-preoccupation melt away as she forges relationships with those outside her narrow Minnesota high school circle.

Her summer escape is populated by people of different ages, races, and backgrounds, and not everyone – even those she thinks she knows – is what they seem.

There’s a nice little mystery that keeps the story moving, but the most touching moments involve Josie’s self-discovery, the softening of her heart, and, eventually, genuine romance with an upstanding guy and reconciliation with her mom.

Enjoyable for adults, highly recommended for teens. Bonus if you’re a fan of musical theater.


Relevant Fiction Reviews: Conquering Addiction

Relevant Fiction Reviews

Novels in which the hero or heroine are battling an addiction are not typically easy reads. Both My Unexpected Hope and Blue Columbine are childhood sweetheart/second chance romances that make your heart hurt in the best ways as the characters fight to break the bonds of addiction (alcohol in Blue Columbine and alcohol and illegal drugs in My Unexpected Hope). The Things We Knew includes a large cast, several of whom are addicted to alcohol and drugs. Gray Carlisle is the character to watch, as he struggles to get clean for the sake of himself and those he loves.

The Grace Crasher includes a minor character addicted to alcohol, but the heroine in this hilarious novel is addicted to love. (Say that out loud without singing the refrain of the Robert Palmer song. I dare you.) Hip and funny, yet serious when it needs to be, The Grace Crasher tackles the “less popular” addictive behaviors, such as those involving serial crushes and (in another minor character) overeating. Continue reading

An Open Book

An Open Book CatholicMom

Welcome to the July 2017 edition of An Open Book, hosted both at My Scribbler’s Heart AND!

The Whys Have ItI had long been looking forward to reading a trio of contemporary Christian romances for which I received ARCs. (Those are Advance Review Copies, for the uninitiated.) First up was The Whys Have It by Amy Matayo. Her writing gets better with every book (and I know she wrote this one years ago, but the rewrite benefited from the skills she’s acquired over the years).  I’m just going to admit it: Maybe it’s leftover teenage fangirling over Duran Duran et al, but I’m still a sucker for a rock star romance. This one isn’t all crushes, butterflies in the stomach, and glamour. This one is grief, regret, and making peace with the hands life deals you.  I loved it.

My Unexpected HopeThe second ARC was by another of my favorite contemporary romance authors, Tammy L. Gray. My Unexpected Hope is technically not the second in a series, but it builds on her previous novel, My Hope Next Door. Back-to-back with The Whys Have It, it was another heavy-hearted romance, if there is such a thing. The main characters are grieving their divorce and trying their best to move past messed-up childhoods, a dysfunctional relationship, and addiction to make a new start. I especially loved the unexpected twist the ending took.

Just Look UpLast up was Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh, the first novel by her that I’ve read. After The Whys Have It and My Unexpected Hope, the lighter mood of Just Look Up was welcome. And while it’s a lighter romance, it’s filled with good, important stuff about worrying less about what we do and concentrating more on who we are. If you’re driven to distraction or just plain driven, this book is for you.

When the Timer DingsI topped the romances with a short, nonfiction, self-help book by 10 Minute Novelists foundress Katharine Grubb. When the Timer Dings: Organizing Your Life to Make The Most of 10 Minute Increments is a quick read, but you’d benefit by taking some time to answer the thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter, which will help you see where and how you may improve your approach to organizing your time. I don’t do chapter-end questions, but I still got something out of the book. On, to tackle our clutter!

Animal FarmMy son has completed one of the three books that are part of his summer reading assignment. He selected Animal Farm by George Orwell from one of the lists provided. After hearing him talk about it, I’m eager to read this classic that I somehow missed along the way, especially since he left me with this remark: “I’ve never been so moved reading a book.”

Can You Survive in a DystopiaThis morning, while waiting for his sister to finish up with lunchtime book club at the library (Chewsy Readers), he grabbed a pick-your-own ending book from the shelf. We hadn’t made it home from the library before he’d reached a dead-end in Can You Survive in a Dystopia? by Anthony Wacholtz. As I type, however, I spy him going back in and reading through to other possible endings.

The Strange Case of Origami YodaMeanwhile, his sister was discussing the book she’d been reading over her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Late one night last week, she couldn’t fall asleep and, horror of horrors, there was no new Trixie Belden book on hand. I suggested she take a book from her brother’s shelf, and now she’s hooked on the series beginning with The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger. I’m sure I’ll be finding a slew of paper puppets around the house again, including Han Foldo.

Knuffle BunnyMy little kids have a bad habit of asking “Can I have a book?” at the library and then grabbing random books from the shelf that may or may not be of interest to them. This week, I selected Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems, sure that they’d love it, and they did. I love the illustrated expression on the father as he drags his boneless toddler home in mid-tantrum. Ah, so familiar.

The Tree That Would Not DieI rolled my eyes after first skimming The Tree That Would Not Die by Ellen Levine. Really? Who would poison an old tree? But then, sure enough, a note in the back of the book explained how a nearly 500-year-old tree, the “Treaty Oak” of Austin, Texas was poisoned in 1989. The picture book broadly traces 400+ years of Austin history in this tale. (By the way, the Treaty Oak still stands.)

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An Open Book

An Open Book CatholicMom

Welcome to the June 2017 edition of An Open Book, hosted both at My Scribbler’s Heart AND!

My family is in a bit of a reading slump. Blame it on the busyness of May: baseball, softball, Boy Scouts, field trips, graduations, and so on and so forth. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? When I asked my husband what he’s been reading, his pathetic response was, “Reading is hopeless.” As you can see, life is taking a toll on our reading time.

A Monster CallsDespite the craziness and a long-lingering case of laryngitis, I’ve been plowing through my reading list. This week, I’m reading two selections for Erin McCole Cupps Sabbath Rest Book Talk. Each month, Erin hosts me and Rebecca Willen as we talk about books pertaining to a pre-selected theme. June’s theme is suffering, and, as always, we’ll be discussing  a children’s book, a Young Adult selection, and an adult novel. I’m currently reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which was recently made into a major motion picture (which I have not seen). I’m barely into it, but I’m glad that I borrowed the hardcover from the library rather than reading it on a device so that I can enjoy the illustrations by Jim Kay. I also know this story of a child’s grief is a tear-jerker, so I’m going in prepared, tissues at the ready.

The MoviegoerOnce I finish A Monster Calls, it’s on to The Moveigoer by Walker Percy (a National Book  Award winner). I’m thrilled with this selection since Percy has long been on my to-be -read list yet I’ve never managed to read one his books. The description says, “ Wry and wrenching, rich in irony and romance, The Moviegoer is a genuine American classic. ” I can’t wait to dig into this one, which I’m reading on a new-to-me app, Hoopla.

War HorseMy son exceeded his eighth grade 30-Book Challenge by completing War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. When I think War Horse, I can only recall watching the movie in the hospital on an iPad mini with my husband while I was in labor with our youngest son. So, yeah, I don’t really recall much about the story.

Assassins CreedMy newly-minted grade school graduate is also finally reading our Christmas gift to him, Assassin’s Creed: A Walk Through History (1189-1868). He’s not allowed to play the game, but he’s watched his dad play through some scenes. I think the historic aspects of these games can be a great tool for teaching history. He confessed he’s learned more about the Third Crusade from this book than he learned in class.

Mystery in ArizonaAfter completing the entire Little House on the Prairies series, my daughter returned to Trixie Belden. She’s reading the sixth book in the series, Mystery in Arizona, by Julie Campbell. (She’s slumping a bit in the reading department lately too.) I get regular updates on Trixie’s friends, including the number of millionaire pals she has. Must be nice.

ChameleonsMy youngest children are still enjoying books they selected at the library’s story time.  My son picked out one of the most beautiful animal books I’ve seen: Chameleons (Amazing Animals) by Valerie Bodden. Based on the stunning, detailed photographs and accompanying text in this book, I’m eager to see other books in the Amazing Animal Series.

My Mama SaysWe’re also reading My Mama Says There Aren’t Any Zombies, Ghosts, Vampires, Creatures, Demons, Monsters, Fiends, Goblins, or Things by Judith Viorst. My goodness, that’s a long title! It’s a cute story of a very fallible momma’s reassurances that there are no zombies, ghosts, vampires, etc. How can a kid trust a woman who makes so many mistakes, like bringing home the wrong ice cream flavor or telling a kid to wear his rain boots when it doesn’t rain? Well, sometimes those mommas get things right too.

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An Open Book

An Open Book CatholicMom

Welcome to the May 2017 edition of An Open Book, hosted both at My Scribbler’s Heart AND!

psalter for couplesDespite the many times over the past decades that my husband and I have been reminded couples should pray together, we’ve been horrible about doing it. As in, we almost never pray alone together. Meal time, yes. Bedtime with the kids, yes. But outside of attending Mass together, no routine prayer. To remedy that, when buying a wedding gift for my son’s teacher, I bought an additional copy of A  Psalter for Couples by Pierre-Marie Dumont. (Happy 20th Anniversary! To: Us, From: Us.) There are some recommendations in the back of the book for establishing weekly prayer time together that I will read more carefully, but for now, we’re selecting a psalm to read together each night after all of the kids go to bed. It’s a beautiful hardback book with gold trim and red ribbons. It makes a lovely gift (even if it’s to yourself).

AaroI’ve been working my way through Dana Pratola’s Descended Series using my free monthly loan from the Kindle Lending Library via Amazon Prime. Last week, I read Aaro (Descended Book #3). As the series progresses, more of the nature of the brotherhood of Jett, Sebastian, and now, Aaro, is divulged. Their supernatural abilities suggest a quasi-angelic nature, which I expect will be more fully revealed in the final book as the prophecy regarding these men, all dedicated to defending and protecting women (and extraordinarily good-looking, to boot) is realized. FYI – The books are tagged as “not your mother’s Christian fiction,” and they are not. Particularly in this third book, there’s quite a bit of sexual tension and sensuality.

True to YouAs soon as I finish a couple of advance copies of forthcoming books from friends, I’m looking forward to diving into Becky Wade’s new novel, the first in the Bradford Sisters series, True to You. You can get a jumpstart on the new characters by downloading (for FREE!) the prequel novella, Then Came You. I’m eager to participate in the Facebook Release Party for True to You tomorrow night, May 4, at 8 p.m. EDT and then host a spot on the book’s blog tour later this month!

outsidersNow that my oldest son has finished reading The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton with his eighth grade class, I’m ready to re-watch the movie with him. I’m only slightly embarrassed to say that there was a time circa 1984 when I could recite the movie dialogue pretty much line for  line. I may also have had pictures of the cast members taped to my bedroom walls. I knew the book inside and out, too.

White FangThe other book he’s finishing is White Fang by Jack London. When I asked what his favorite part of  the book was, I got a smart aleck answer regarding White Fang ripping something or someone apart, so I’m just going to spare you recounting those details. I’ve never read Jack London’s books, and my son really enjoyed both White Fang and Call of the Wild, which I’ve been trying to sneak in between other books.

Trixie Belden Glen RoadMy third grader is back into the Trixie Belden series since I supplemented the library’s collection by buying her a used copy of a book the library doesn’t carry. She’s reading Trixie Belden #5 The Mystery off Glen Road as well as 7 Riddles to Nowh7 Riddles to Nowhereere by A.J. Cattapan. I think of 7 Riddles to Nowhere as sort of a National Treasure for kids. So far, she’s only asked me about a single character in the book, one whose inclusion is maybe my favorite thing about this novel – Old Man Englebert. Having been a bit awed by people who had electronic voice boxes when I was a kid, Kam’s  (the protagonist, who suffers from selective mutism) horror/fascination with Old Man Englebert was among my favorite parts of the story.

Harry MaclaryThe little kids are back in story time at our local library, so we’ve been reading a couple of their selections. I really enjoy reading aloud Hairy Maclary’s Bone by Lynley Dodd. I’m partial to rhyming books, as is my little girl. This is a fun story of a dog who manages to outwit a group of other dogs coveting his delicious butcher’s bone. The varied dogs in the illustrations as well as the predicaments that prevent them from stealing Hairy’s bone are fun to look at.

Squirrel ParkMy cynical self is less thrilled with Squirrel Park by Lisa Campbell Ernst. A kid and his squirrel friend must prevent the boy’s overbearing father from creating a dull park and removing their beloved tree. When it looks like the mean dad is going to get his way, the squirrel resorts to ecoterrorism and gnaws his tools. Whatever. The kids will like the pictures, and who doesn’t enjoy a beautiful park with a big, old tree? I’m just a wee bit tired of the evil capitalist/anti-nature trope. (Even the School Library Journal called it “a bit heavy-handed.”)

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Fatima: The Apparition That Changed the World Blog Tour

Fatima book cover

I’m happy to host the blog tour for Jean M. Heimann’s latest book:

Fatima: The Apparition That Changed the World

About the Book:

Fatima. Few place-names in the Christian world conjure up such powerful images and associations as that of this humble town in Portugal. For it was there that Our Lady appeared to three shepherd children beginning in 1917 apparitions that are intimately linked to pious Catholic practices such as devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the five first Saturdays, daily recitation of the Rosary with the Fatima prayer, as well as miracles attested to even by non-believers, such as the day the sun danced. The Virgin’s message, as it always is, was penance. But she also predicted world historical events such as the rise and fall of communism, the second world war, and the attempted assassination of Pope St. John Paul II. She promised refuge in her Immaculate Heart to all who approach her – a promise extended, and urgently needed, today. Continue reading

An Open Book

An Open Book CatholicMom

Welcome to the April 2017 edition of An Open Book, hosted both at My Scribbler’s Heart AND!

Let’s dive right in, shall we? Here’s what we’ve been reading. What are YOU reading this month?

Show Us the FatherAt this point, I’m ready to blindfold my husband as he walks by the book rack in the narthex of our church. He’s added many books to our collection by buying them from that kiosk. At least they all seem to be good books, including the most recent he purchased: Show Us the Father: 7 Secrets to Be a Father on Earth Like the Father in Heaven by Devin Schadt. My husband’s not too far into it yet, but he read several passages aloud to me last week, including the author’s home improvement woes, which seemed to mirror ours.

The Hesitant HeiressCarrie Schmidt, my favorite book blogger and the wit and wisdom behind Reading Is My Superpower, recently gushed about the hero in a historical romance by Dawn Crandall. I think this swoony hero is three to four books into The Everstone Chronicles, so I’ve started at the beginning with The Hesitant Heiress. This story, written in first person and hinging on perception and misperception, would appeal to Jane Austen fans. I think fans of Julie Klassen’s historical romance would enjoy it as well, although the book takes place in New England as opposed to “old” England. I’ll be working my way through the remainder of the series. The publisher, Whitaker House, was new to me, and I was surprised to discover that it’s located outside of my hometown, Pittsburgh.

Turning In CirclesI’m set to begin Michelle Buckman’s newest release, Turning In Circles, due out from Vinspire Publishing at the end of the month. I’ve only read the front matter so far, but the endorsements from Dolly Parton and Earl Hammer, Jr., author of Spencer’s Mountain, the book on which The Waltons was based, really caught my eye. Michelle’s writing has a wonderful Southern sensibility, and I thoroughly enjoyed her novel Rachel’s Contrition, which is being serialized at during Lent.

Con AcademyMy eighth grader finished Con Academy by Joe Schreiber. He’s been a fan of Joe Schreiber’s since a local author event that he and I both participated in last year. I think Mr. Schreiber’s table in the corner had the most foot traffic since it was piled high with his Star Wars books. I read Con Academy before my son, and I loved the author’s voice from the get-go: his smart, economical style hooked me, and my son and I agreed that this high school con man story is a fast, fun read.

Saint MagnusYesterday, I cued up the Kindle app on the iPad mini and handed it to my son to divert him from the video game console. He’s started reading Saint Magnus, The Last Viking by Susan Peek. I’m anxious to hear what he thinks about this one. I read it a couple of years ago, I think, and purposefully waited to give it to him. While not explicitly or grossly violent, there is warfare, and I think he’s now mature enough to enjoy this inspiring story.

Charlotte's WebI was thrilled to see my third grader tear through Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. I had read the story aloud to her older brother, but, sadly, hadn’t read it  with her. She had her nose buried in it for a few days. Now, I have to make a point of watching one of the movie adaptions with her. The book provided her with a short respite from the Little House on the Prairies series, but she quickly resumed reading By the Shores of Silver By the Shores of Silver LakeLake by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This is the only book in the series that I owned as a child and therefore read several times. My daughter nearly squealed with delight when near the end of the book she reported the Laura had spotted Almanzo. (Her brother has taken to calling her a “farmie,” due to her Almanzo Wilder fangirling.)

The Carrot SeedMy husband ordered The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss for a couple of bucks. It’s a very simple book, but the little kids enjoyed the lesson in faith and persistence demonstrated by a little boy waiting for his carrot to grow from seed. I think the minimalist illustrations by Crockett Johnson appeal to them as well since they are big fans of Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Give a Pig a PancakeThe kids often bring me books in the If You Give A [fill in the blank] series. Currently, we’ve been reading If You Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Numeroff. My little ones love these books and their illustrations. They are fun books, but I often find myself stifling thoughts of what a cash cow the premise has become and how easy they are to satirize. Still, delightful illustrations by Felicia Bond keep me from tiring of the series.

Finally, if you like chatting about books, Erin McCole Cupp hosts a monthly Sabbath Rest Book Talk. I recently joined her, along with Rebecca Willen, to discuss books that include themes of self-sacrifice.  Take a look!Sabbath Rest Book Talk

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