An Open Book

An Open Book CatholicMom

Welcome to the January 2018 edition of An Open Book, hosted both at My Scribbler’s Heart AND CatholicMom.com!

Star Spangled BannerAfter a recent overnight trip to Washington, DC with our family, my husband picked up Star Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America’s National Anthem by Marc Ferris. His interest was piqued by our visit to the Smithsonian Museum of American History, where the original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key is on display. Not as moving as the display at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, but close. We’re looking forward to learning more about our anthem’s history.

Christmas at CarntonOn the way to and from Washington, DC, I listened to Christmas at Carnton by Tamera Alexander. I loved this historical Christian romance set during the Civil War in Tennessee.  The narration was extremely well done, in my opinion, and I was immediately drawn into this story of a pregnant widow in dire financial straits and an injured Confederate sharp shooter. Easily the best Christmas book I’ve read/listened to this season.

Charming the TroublemakerWhile waiting for hotel staff to resolve our overflowing toilet issue in the hotel room, I was able to finish Charming the Troublemaker by Pepper Basham. I enjoyed this second book in the Mitchell’s Crossroads series set in Appalachia (Virginia, to be specific) much more than the first. Both main characters, brokenhearted but independent Rainey and lonely, charming Alex are likable, but Alex’s originality steals the show. Light humor and gentle faith themes make this “kissing book” a fun, easy read.

Life Changing Love CoverFor Christmas, we gave our oldest son Life-Changing Love by Theresa Linden, the second in the West Brothers series of Catholic teen fiction by Theresa Linden. He received Roland West, Loner for Christmas last year, and eagerly dug into this book during his Christmas break. While clumsy redhead Caitlyn graces the cover, Roland and his brothers are front and center in this book, and it’s equally enjoyable for boys and girls.

MythologyHis only homework during the Christmas break is to begin reading Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton. Somehow I missed reading something this comprehensive despite majoring in Classics in college. I love that my son enjoys these classic myths.

Indian CaptiveAt the recommendation of Franciscan Mom, my fourth-grader is enjoying books by Lois Lenski. She zipped through Strawberry Girl, and is currently reading Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison.  This Newbery Award-winner recounts the true story of a young girl captured and raised among the Seneca Indians. My daughter is captivated.

The Other Side of FreedomThe other book open next to “her” side of the loveseat is a Christmas gift: The Other Side of Freedom by Cynthia T. Toney. She’s told me twice so far what a good book it is.  On a southern strawberry farm in 1925, young Sal and his Italian immigrant family must discern when to be silent and when to speak up in defense of his father as they become embroiled in a case of bootlegging and police corruption.

Christmas with Morris and BorisMy new reader borrowed Christmas with Morris and Boris by Bernard Wiseman from the school library. We have a collection of Morris the Moose stories that all of my children have loved. Listening to a beginning reader can be tedious, and the humor of Morris makes the task more pleasant.

Henry and MudgeI’ve also introduced her to Henry and Mudge through Henry and Mudge and the Bedtime Thumps by Cynthia Rylant. This series about a boy and his HUGE (but not Clifford-sized) dog is also fun for new readers and their families. I love Cynthia Rylant’s writing for children.

The Monks Daily BreadMy youngest child received a copy of The Monks’ Daily Bread by Sylvia Dorham. This simple rhyming book, delightfully illustrated, follows the monks through their daily routine when the cupboards are bare, and they must rely on God’s providence for their dinner. A great read-aloud book that children will long remember and treasure.

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An Open Book

An Open Book CatholicMom

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

Rise of the Fourth ReichDuring our Thanksgiving travels across Pennsylvania, my husband began listening to The Rise of the Fourth Reich: The Secret Societies That Threaten to Take Over America by Jim Marrs. I confess to only half listening in the car, but I know that the book traces the legacies of the high-ranking European Nazis who made their way to corporate America at the end of World War II.

Making RoomI just finished reading Billie Jauss’s soon-to-be-released book Making Room: Doing Less So God Can Do More (available for pre-order). I first met Billie through 10 Minute Novelists and was blessed to meet her in person a couple of years ago at a Pittsburgh Pirates game. (Her husband, Dave, is a coach.) Making Room recounts her spiritual journey from a busy life filled with her own priorities to an intentional life with God at the center. The author’s pitfalls and suggestions for overcoming them will resonate with women who want more from their relationship with Christ, but can’t seem to order their lives to make that happen.

The Christmas TrainAfter seeing approximately 1,594 previews for The Christmas Train movie on the Hallmark Channel, I stumbled across the audiobook on Hoopla. The more audiobooks I listen to, the pickier I’ve become about narration. So far, actor Tim Matheson’s narration of The Christmas Train by David Baldacci has been excellent! I’m only a few chapters in and a few anachronistic details threw me off course, but so far, so good. I’m in Christmas reading mode and looking forward to the remainder of the book.

God's FavoriteMy son read the Book of Job and God’s Favorite by Neil Simon during our Thanksgiving travels. As you might guess, since the author is Neil Simon, God’s Favorite is a  play, and it’s a modern look at Job. It’s short, and, my son said, very funny. Adding it to my to-read list.

Destination BethlehemMy fourth-grade daughter is reading a book I originally bought for her brother and read aloud. Destination Bethlehem by Shannon R. Altman and Christine M. Winkelman makes perfect Advent reading.  Two boys travel from Palestine to Bethlehem at the time of the Messiah’s birth. Its twenty-four chapters can be read one a day during the month of December in anticipation of Christmas.

Plain GirlPlain Girl by Virginia Sorensen became another Thanksgiving travel read. I guess the title should have tipped me off, but with only a desk on the cover of the library version my daughter borrowed, I didn’t realize the book was about plain folk. The premise is an Amish girl, Esther, attending a public school.

Poppleton in WinterMy kindergartener is going through easy reader books quicker than I can keep up with!  While at the library this week, I introduced her to Poppleton in Winter by Cynthia Rylant. The simple, humorous stories feature a pig (Poppleton) and his friends Cherry Sue (a llama) and Hudson (a mouse). I highly recommend Poppleton for beginning readers.

The Promise QuiltMy  youngest child brought home The Promise Quilt by Candice F. Ransom from a blanket-themed story time.  This sad, but ultimately hopeful, story centers around a Civil War era girl whose father dies in battle. The red shirt he left behind becomes the family’s means of achieving the dreams he had for them. Touching.

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An Open Book

An Open Book CatholicMom

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

Astrophysics for People in a HurryMy husband recently finished listening to Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. It’s a short read/listen at 224 pages and under four hours. Although he described it as “a little political,” my husband said it’s a good presentation of astrophysics in layman’s terms.

Tasting BeerSince I turned him on to Hoopla Digital, he’s also listening to Tasting Beer, 2nd Edition: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink by Randy Mosher. (First thought: Someone wrote a whole book about it?) It’s a highly rated guide and contains a bit of history as well, which I’ve heard as the Bluetooth speaker moves about the house. A good read for beer snobs aficionados.

Benedict OptionI’ve introduced 45-minute morning walks to my routine, so I’m officially aboard the audiobook train too. I listened to a book I’ve been reading about for months: The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher. (I loved his Crunchy Cons: The New Conservative Counterculture and Its  Return to Roots, which I read about a decade ago.) I’m a teensy bit more optimistic about the state of the world than Dreher, who I haven’t kept up with on social media. It’s tough to condense my full review, but I’d say the book is a good synthesis of a brief history of the West, monasticism, and authentic Christian living in the post-modern, technological age.

Shatter MeMy other current “adventure in audiobooks” is with Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me, the first in The Juliette Chronicles Series. This dystopian book came highly recommended and well-reviewed. I knew going in that the writing was unconventional, but I think there needs to be a note bene stating that at the beginning of the audiobook production so that unsuspecting listeners like me don’t think there’s a glitch in the app when the sentence, “I am not insane,” is repeated about fifty times or to explain that the intermittent scratchy sound is an overstrike in the text. I’m not sure what I think of the book yet. The author uses a lot of imagery, and I’m getting weary of the metaphors, but she builds empathy very well. The stakes are getting higher and the romance is building as it goes along.

Hometown GirlLastly, I’m enjoying Courtney Walsh’s Hometown Girl. (Look at that pretty, bright cover!) The heroine, Beth Whitaker, is a well-written, very human character. I love that her flaws are not glossed over. In fact, they’re known to just about everyone. And still the silent, secretive hero, Drew Barlow, is drawn to  her.

Inherit the WindTogether with his Humanities English class, my ninth grader is reading Inherit the Wind: The Powerful Drama of the Greatest Courtroom Clash of the Century by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. I’ve heard the title so many times, but didn’t realize that (1) it is a play, and (2) it is about the Scopes Monkey Trial.

Cabin Faced WestMy fourth-grade daughter selected another book by Jean Fritz from her school library: The Cabin Faced West. She especially enjoyed that the book is set in places she’s visited, including Gettysburg and what’s presently the Monongahela area outside of Pittsburgh.

Will You Sign Here, John HancockShe still can’t get enough of the colonial era, and has also read Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May? also by Jean Fritz, The Secret Soldier: The Story of Deborah Sampson by Ann McGovern , and, her favorite of the three, Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? (again) by Jean Fritz. Let’s just say my little girl is addicted to historical fiction from the Revolutionary War Era.

Autumn WalkMy youngest daughter pulled an old board book from the shelf, Autumn Walk by Ann Burg. This is one of my all-time favorites for reading to the kids since they were little babies. The illustrations are bright and cheery and meld perfectly with this fall poem.

Secret Pizza PartyBoth of my youngest enjoyed Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri, also the authors of Dragons Love Tacos. I enjoyed this funny story of a thieving, pizza-craving raccoon as much as the kids. Their big sister was unimpressed. Can’t please ’em all.

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An Open Book

An Open Book CatholicMom

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

Hauntings Possessions and ExorcismsWhen I saw a book recommendation by our friend and author Mike Aqulilina, well-known for his expertise in patristics, I knew it was something my husband would enjoy. We were able to borrow a copy of Hauntings, Possessions, and Exorcisms by Adam Blai from the Kindle  Owners’ Lending Library with our Amazon Prime subscription. (It’s a little confusing in that there are two editions of the book with the words of the title transposed. I’m guessing (hoping) that the content is roughly the same though.

DistortionI’ve been listening to the audiobook of Distortion (Moonlighter Series Book 2) by Terri Blackstock. I borrowed this one from Hoopla Digital (which is about a million times easier to use than Overdrive). Like the first book in the series, this is a fast-paced, multi-layer mystery involving a family with more than its share of murders. The victim in Distortion turns out not to be so much a victim, but rather an ostensibly respectable surgeon and father who led a double life. This series is categorized as  Christian fiction, but that aspect of the story is fairly insignificant.

Just MaybeAfter finishing and loving Begin Again, I’m eager to begin reading an advance copy of Just Maybe (Home in You Book 3) by Crystal Walton. She writes clean, contemporary romances that I believe get better with each book. The series traces an interconnected group of friends tied to New York City, but set in various American locales including the Adirondacks and Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.

Inferno SquadMy son waited weeks for a copy of Battlefront II: Inferno Squad (Star Wars) by Christie Golden to become available from the local library. While watching The Star Wars Show, he noted the Janina Avankar, the voice actress who plays Iden Versio, recommended reading Inferno Squad before the Battlefront II video game launches this fall. Reviews look good, and he’s enjoying the book.

I Survived the Shark AttackMy daughter’s fourth grade class will be reading books from the I Survived Series this year. They started with I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916 (I Survived #2) by Lauren Tarshis and Scott Dawson. Did you know the shark attacks took place in a creek, not the ocean? These attacks were said to have been the inspiration for Jaws, but Peter Benchley has denied that claim. The class has since begun reading I Survived the Attacks of September 11th, 2001 (I Survived #6), also by Lauren Tarshis.

Early ThunderWhile still zipping through the Childhood of Famous Americans Series (Amelia Earhart: Young Aviator is  her latest selection), my daughter also checked out Early Thunder by Jean Fritz from the school library. I’m sure the early colonial setting appealed to her. She’s only read a couple of chapters, and seems to enjoy it, but I noticed the Amazon reviews are, uh, not so great. So, we’ll see what she thinks as she gets farther into the story.

Stray DogI brought out some picture books that I’d enjoyed with my older kids but which had been packed in boxes for lack of space. I remember not really “getting” The Stray Dog by Marc Simont, a Caldecott Award Medalist, when I first read it. Too many illustrations without text for my taste. But, it’s since grown on me, and the kids enjoy it as well. I could just see the wheels turning in their heads as we read it, wishing that we would come across a lovable, adoptable stray.

How I Became a PirateHow I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long and David Shannon is the perfect choice for Talk Like a Pirate Day. I can’t read this one in a  normal voice. Just can’t. It’s a fun story with bright, colorful illustrations of a boy’s pirate adventure – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It never fails to bring a smile to my face.

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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. Continue reading

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 CatholicMom.com!

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