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.


An Open Book

An Open Book CatholicMom

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

Hungry SoulsI’ve been swapping chapters for critique with author Theresa Linden, and she mentioned the research book she had read in relation to her work in progress. It sounded like something right up my husband’s alley, so I quickly looked it up and mentioned it to him. Only to find out that he’d purchased it last year! Its mention was enough for him to locate the unread book and crack it open. It is Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages, and Warnings from Purgatory by Gerard J.M. van der Aardweg. The book recounts stories of “Church-verified accounts of earthly visitations from the dead in Purgatory.” Sounds creepy.

Land of My DreamsEach month, I borrow a book from the Kindle Lending Library, a perk of our Amazon Prime account. This month, I downloaded Land of My Dreams by Norma Gail, an author I’d come across on social media. I’m only a third of the way through the book and enjoying the Scotland setting and the characters. While it’s free of typos and grammatical errors, I’m struggling a bit with my internal editor when it comes to dialogue and several other issues. I’m only a third of the way through though and intend to stick it out.

Dying for CompassionNext on my list to read is Dying for Compassion by Barbara Golder, the second in the Lady Doc Murders Series. The first in the series, Dying for Revenge, is excellent! I’ve been looking forward to this one, which is set in both Telluride, Colorado and Ireland, but somehow it keeps getting bumped back on the pile. No longer. I will begin this book next!

Weird Al: The BookDuring one of our many early August library trips, my son picked up Weird Al: The Book by Nathan Rabin. It’s an oversized hardcover book with lots of color photos tracing the singer’s life from childhood throughout his career of popular parodies. My son inherited his love of Weird Al from me and his Uncle Pete. I’ve seen Weird Al in concert at least four times, the most recent being last September, which was my son’s first concert. Highly entertaining show, and a very interesting personality.

Star Wars: TarkinAs a reward for completing the library summer reading program, my newly-minted high school freshman also grabbed a paperback copy of Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno. Like his father, this kid never tires of Star Wars. Tarkin is set between Star Wars: Episode 3 – Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. As the title suggests, the novel is about Imperial bad guy Grand Moff Tarkin.

Attack at Pearl HarborMy daughter spent most of the summer either tending to Monarch caterpillars or buried in a book. One by one, she’s ticking off the books in the Childhood of Famous Americans series, most recently reading about Sacagawea, George Washington, and Theodore Roosevelt. She’s currently finishing  Liberty Letters: Attack at Pearl Harbor by Nancy LeSourd. The Good MasterShe has also been reading one of our selections for September’s Sabbath Rest Book Talk: The Good Master by Kate Seredy. I’ll be reading this Newbery Award winner as well. It is a historical novel set in  Hungary, and all my daughter has said thus far is how much she dislikes the character Kate.

Muncha, Muncha, MunchaI brought out  one of our all-time favorites for the little kids: Muncha, Muncha, Muncha by Candace Fleming and G. Brian Karas. I love reading the book aloud! Mr. MacGregor plants a garden, only to be continually outwitted by three hungry bunnies. It has the perfect amount of repetition and onomatopoeia. The illustrations are among my favorites too. I love the puff-tail rabbits!

BeginningsWe also read Beginnings written by Lori Ann Watson, illustrated by Shennen Bersani. This is a simple yet lyrical book about God’s loving creation of the natural world culminating in His loving each precious child into being, cared for and nurtured by the family. It makes a beautiful addition to a child’s collection of picture books.

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Seven Quick Takes

7 Quick Takes

Seven Most Recent Reads Edition

As if I didn’t blather enough about books already, right? Between An Open Book (here and at Catholic Mom), Sabbath Rest Book Talk with Erin McCole Cupp and Rebecca Willen, and my Relevant Fiction Reviews posts, you’d think I’d be covered on the book front. But, no, I’ve read such a strong string of books – fiction and nonfiction – that I thought they’d earned their own post. Here are the seven books I’m reading or have recently finished, in order from currently reading to already read. Continue reading

An Open Book

An Open Book CatholicMom

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

My husband has spent ten days with our oldest son at the National Scout Jamboree. While he was there, he received a copy of Your Word is Your Bond: Lessons in Leadership from Rex W. Tillerson by Perry L. Cochell. It’s so brand-spanking new that I can’t find it anywhere online. Rex Tillerson is the Secretary of State, the former national president of Boy Scouts of America, and an Eagle Scout. Should make for some interesting reading on his long bus ride home.

Hope Dies LastAfter I drag my weary bones home from Vacation Bible School and tend to the rest of the day’s duties, I’ve been wrapping up the night by watching Poldark: Season 2 and reading Hope Dies Last: An Alaskan Adventure by Megan Webb. A young woman crash lands in Alaska with a small group of airplane passengers now tasked with surviving in the wilderness. I’m only about a third of the way through, but I’m enjoying the characters, and the writing is good – always a treat when I pick up a book by an author I’ve not read before.

Bead by BeadNext on my reading list is Bead by Bead: The Scriptural Rosary by Meggie K. Daly. My Rosary “habit” is in constant need of being re-invigorated, so I’m looking forward to this book, which I’ve read many good things about. I’m also looking forward to incorporating some suggestions for praying the Rosary that Allison Gingras shared on my blog: 3 Unique Ways to Harness the Power of the Rosary.

AntigoneI’m pleased that instead of saving all of his assigned summer reading until the final week before school, my son spread his three books out by reading Animal Farm by George Orwell in June  and Antigone by Sophocles in July. Although he liked it, he admitted he didn’t quite understand it all. Sounds about right for his first foray into ancient Greek literature and his unfamiliarity with reading plays. (Ashamed to say that I was a classics major, and this is one of many Latin and Greek classics I haven’t read yet.)

Woe Is IWhile his first two reading assignments were ones he chose from a list, the final book is required for everyone in the class. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English  by Patricia T. O’Connor is, according to my son, “a lot better than you’d think” for a grammar book. It appears to be written in an engaging style, and you can be sure my writer’s paws will be all over this book once he’s finished with it. I can’t guarantee I’ll agree with all of it, since I don’t like anyone messing with the grammar rules I learned in school, but there appears to be a lot of solid writing advice contained within.

Underground RRMy daughter’s been zipping through books so quickly, I’ve taken to roaming the library during the other kids’ summer programs to find her new series.  She reads well, but she’s only nine, so books must be appropriate for her maturity level. I discovered the Liberty Letter series, published by Zondervan, that as a fan of American history, she has absolutely loved! Escape on the Underground Railroad by Nancy LeSourd, is her favorite thus far. The series is written from a Christian worldview and the characters rely on God in their difficulties.  Other books in the epistolary series, which she has read or is reading, pertain to the Civil War, Jamestown, and Pearl Harbor.

Paul RevereAnother series that indulges her love of American history is the Childhood of Famous Americans Series. She enjoys them because she said they “tell you about a lot of things you might not learn in school,” like the fact that Martha Washington went by “Patsy.” So far, she’s read about the childhoods of Pocahontas, Martha Washington, and Betsy Ross. Her favorite, though, remains Paul Revere: Boston Patriot by August Stevenson.

The Happy JarWe read The Happy Jar by Jake Frost at bedtime, and it melded seamlessly with out nighttime prayers. We typically go from person to person thanking Jesus for various things that happened throughout the day. I have to pull it out of some kids and for others I have to limit the list to a manageable number. The Happy Jar took us a step farther in considering the memorable aspects of our day for which we are thankful and that we may cherish for years to come. A sweet, simple book that could start a new custom in your household.

The Great Fuzz FrenzyI chose The Great Fuzz Frenzy by Susan Stevens Crummel and Janet Stevens from a box of displaced books in our hallway! The younger kids didn’t remember this story of a group of prairie dogs greedy to grab the fuzz from a tennis ball that has fallen into their burrow (courtesy of a dog). Fun illustrations, and a book I enjoy reading aloud. The kids like looking at the prairies dogs and their creative uses for the green fuzz.

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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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Relevant Fiction Reviews: American Colonial Period

Relevant Fiction Reviews

I’ve always had an affection for American history, but as I’ve matured, I’ve grown to love it. (Don’t talk to me about European history. Kings, queens, blah, blah. It causes my eyes to roll to the back of my head.) The colonial era has long been my favorite, and I’d love to visit some of the historical locations so important to our nation’s founding.  Until then, I can read about them! Continue reading