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A Storyteller's Guide to a Grace-Filled Life, Vol II - Book Review

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In A Storyteller’s Guide to a Graced-Filled Life – Vol. II, by Tony Agnesi, we get to read 43 additional stories that couldn’t fit into Vol I. As with Vol I, Agnesi’s stories in Vol II make you laugh, cry and leave you wanting more! There is a special spot in my heart for the story, Keith, about a young homeless man, who Agnesi befriended. One day, Tony asked Keith about his goals. Keith told Tony that he had three goals, 1) to find a job, 2) to find housing, and 3) to become Catholic. Well, it was that last goal that tugged at my heart. It would for any Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) Coordinator, of which I am one for my parish. This beautiful story ends with us learning that Keith met all his goals. This story made me cry tears of joy! Then there is the story titled, Catholics Come in Many Flavors. In this story, Agnesi describes a multitude of different types of Catholics. You know them. For example, the... Read more...

Waiting with Elmer, by Deanna Klingel - Book Review

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Waiting with Elmer, by Deanna Klingel is excellent book for the young adult in your life who needs to learn patience. Learning to wait for God’s timing can be an impossible task for anyone, but especially for a child. Meet Willy Skyes, left at a train station, by his father, to fend for himself. As Willy sits on a bench, waiting for the father who will never return, he meets Elmer, who seems to run the town of Waitnsee. Elmer introduces Willy to all the town’s residents, especially Rake, who runs the Union Street Mission. Willy and his dad were always running from town to town because of the misdeeds of Willy’s dad. Now Willy was alone, but not for long. The men of the Union Street Mission take Willy under their wings, and Elmer makes sure that Willy has what he needs; a place to sleep, food, new clothes, and an education. As the story progresses, we see Willy grow in virtue, especially patience, building bonds with the men of the Union Street Mission. He finds a “family” in these men…

A Love Such as Heaven Intended - Book Review

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In A Love Such as Heaven Intended, the third in a Civil War series, Amanda Lauer shows us that even during times of war, love wins. In this enchanting book, we meet Josephine Katherine Bigelow, a social elite, of the Washington D.C. circuit. As a recent graduate from the Georgetown Academy for Young Ladies, Josephine has grand plans to become a writer. Thinking she needs no further education, she readies herself to conquer the world with her pen. Yet, her father, on the other hand, Brigadier General Matthias Bigelow, has different designs. Although the country is at war, and the General is one of President Abraham Lincoln’s right-hand men, he wants to see his daughter receive more education. But, Josephine knows well how to get what she wants. By wrapping her father around her little finger, Josephine sets out on an adventure that proves to us all that living life fully means finding a love such as Heaven intended. Josephine Bigelow sets out on a course only God could design. First s…

Waiting for a Miracle - Book Review

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Waiting for a Miracle, by Cyndi Peterson, M.D. is a story of faith, conversion of heart and a mother’s love, all wrapped up in one page-turning true story. Cyndi Peterson is a dermatologist, married to a pediatrician. She is a lukewarm Catholic, going through the motions. Too busy with the demands of the world, Cyndi paid little attention to faith and a relationship with Jesus. That is, until one day when that nagging emptiness became a bit much to take. To squelch the nagging feeling, Cyndi begins to sneak around trying to learn more about Jesus. She attends events at her Church, reads books and does some soul-searching. As Cyndi’s faith begins to blossom, we see a conversion of heart. She begins to place more trust in Jesus. Cyndi learns that she is pregnant and looks forward to the birth of her fourth child. However, when her little girl Kelly is born, we learn of Kelly’s debilitating situation that would break any mother’s heart. Yet, Cyndi finds hope and trust as a result of a tr…

Belt of Truth - Book Review and Scavenger Hunt

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The Armor of God: Belt of Truth, by Theresa Linden, is the first in a new series of chapter books for young adults that teaches children the virtues! In this first installment, we meet George, a young lad of eight years, who longs to one day become a knight. However, there is much to learn, and just getting into knight school is a hurdle! Only the brightest get selected for such an honor. After two years of trying to get accepted into knight school, it finally happens! Now, George believes that all his dreams will come true. That is, until he almost burns down his home and lies to his parents as to how the fire started! This first lie resulted in future lies and everything begins to snowball on George. Because he accidentally started the fire, his parents needed to pay for the repairs. That meant that there wouldn’t be enough money to continue sending George to knight school. So, George concocts a plan with his classmates to poach a turkey to pay for his tuition. Then, he lies about w…

Stealing Jenny - Book Review

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Stealing Jenny, by Ellen Gable, is an interesting read about a wife and mother, named Jenny Callahan, who is nine-months pregnant with her sixth child. Just before Jenny’s due date, Denise Kramer, an unstable woman desperate to have her own baby, kidnaps Jenny. In this riveting, and page-turning novel, we see the Ontario police’s perseverance to find Jenny. We also learn about faith, courage, love and forgiveness. This book exhibits much virtue. Jenny Callahan, a loving wife to Tom Callahan, is a stay-at-home mom. One sunny afternoon, she goes to meet her children at the bus stop. However, before the bus arrives, Jenny disappears, leaving her young son tethered to the bus stop sign. From there the pursuit begins to find Jenny’s kidnapper, but more importantly, to find Jenny. You see, Jenny needs to deliver by Cesarean birth, or she risks losing not only her baby’s life, but her own! Time is ticking away, and Jenny needs to be found quickly! Will the Ontario Police find Jenny in time? …

Life's Greatest Lesson - Book Review

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If you are looking for a quick read that sets your heart aglow, then you will want to pick up a copy of Life’s Greatest Lesson, by Allen R. Hunt.  We can all use a feel-good story every now and then, and this one is a winner! In this charming story, we meet 10-year-old Christopher Grace, the first-born grandson of Lavish Grace. Christopher, and his Grandpa, Tom Grace, tell us all about Lavish through various interactions and stories. Grandma was one special lady. Her passing brought all kinds of people to her funeral. Throughout Lavish’s life, she poured love on everyone, exemplifying the virtues of love and generosity. Life’s Greatest Lesson Grandma Lavish lived by the credo and acronym LEGS: Love all you can.Earn all you can.Give all you can.Save all you can. This wonderful story demonstrates one woman’s earnest efforts at living a Christ-like life. Lavish shows us all how to bless many more people. For, it is by loving all you can, that you are able give so much more to those in nee…

Wisdom from the Western Isles - Book Review

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If you want to grow in spirituality, and learn the mystic way, then you will want to get a copy of David Torkington’s Wisdom from the Western Isles. In this thought provoking book, we meet the main character, Peter Calvay, a mystic in his own right. He acts as a spiritual guide for a young man named James. Torkington does a masterful job at interweaving the stories of the two men’s lives, who are completely different. James is Protestant, searching for meaning in his life. Peter is a middle-aged Catholic, who experienced much spiritual growth and is considered a mystic. Through Peter’s kindness and willingness to share his experiences and knowledge with James, we all get the benefit of Peter’s Wisdom from the Western Isles. The story is set in Torkington’s native England, thus the reference to the Western Isles. Peter Calvay teaches us how to pray, and why we should pray daily. One of my favorite lines states, “Prayer is a process of continual inner conversion that involves gently tr…

Charlotte's Honor - Book Review

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Charlotte’s Honor, by Ellen Gable, a sequel to Julia’s Gifts, is set in wartime Europe during the summer of 1918. Here, we find Charlotte Zielinski, working as a nurse at a field hospital in France. In Julia’s Gifts, Charlotte was a supporting character. Here in Charlotte’s Honor, we see Charlotte, with her hopes and dreams, take center stage along with the reality of war. The days are long, and the work is hard, but Charlotte finds solace tending to the dying, as each takes their last breaths. Someone needs to be by their sides, as no one should die alone. As Charlotte tends to the dying, she meets young Dr. Paul Kilgallen. She’s smitten with him, and he’s smitten with her. However, there was this thing called a war that seemed to continuously get in the way of Charlotte and Paul’s developing relationship. Then, there is a third person, named Hannah, who was “determined to make him her own” (p. 25). Hannah would do anything to discredit Charlotte, so that Dr. “Tall and Handsome” woul…

Bead by Bead: The Scriptural Rosary – Book Review

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With the upcoming Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, on Oct 7th, I thought it might be appropriate to share with you a wonderful book, written by Meggie K. Daly. In Bead by Bead: The Scriptural Rosary, Daly treats us to an insightful way to pray the Scriptural Rosary. You need not be an aficionado on the Rosary to appreciate this book. Perhaps you never said the Rosary but might be interested in learning how to do it. No sweat – Daly covers the basics to get you started. Bead by Bead, We Walk with Mary to Jesus Daly provides a history of how the Rosary evolved over the centuries. We learn that the Rosary is a living prayer, meant to change over time. For example, for several centuries, we said only the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries. Then in the 1970’s, Saint Pope John Paul II created the Luminous Mysteries to add to the Rosary. Anyone now can look back and go – duh! – of course we should have the Luminous Mysteries! You see, the Joyful Mysteries cover Jesus’ childhood.…

A Storyteller's Guide to Joyful Service - Book Review

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What sheer joy it was to read A Storyteller’s Guide to Joyful Service, by best-selling author, Tony Agnesi. This sequel to A Storyteller’s Guide to A Graced Filled Lifemoves us from the stories of Tony’s upbringing, to stories of how, and why, he entered ministry in service to others.  Agnesi is a storyteller, at heart. Give him a room full of people, and he will have them laughing, crying, and wanting more! Well, in this latest in his series, he did just that! Joyful Service Made Me Laugh He made me laugh when I read the story about the “80 MPH Rosary.” Bored, on a long drive home from an engagement, an elderly man passes Tony at about 80 MPH, with rosary beads in his hands as he holds on to the steering wheel. This gives Tony the idea to say a Rosary as well. But Tony feels the need to keep pace with this old gent, and they go neck and neck down the highway. Tony shows him his own Rosary beads.  As the man approached his exit, they smiled at each other and parted ways. The visual…

Playing by Heart, by Carmela Martino - Book Review

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In Playing by Heart, by Carmela Martino, we meet two gifted sisters. The story,  set in 1730’s, Milan, Italy, introduces us to Maria, a gifted linguist, mathematician and speaker. Her sister, Emilia, excels at playing and composing music, as well as singing. Where Maria shines in knowledge of the sciences, Emilia glistens in the arts. In 1730’s Italy, it was rare to come across educated females. We find that the girls father’s long held desire to gain a noble title, drives the entire story; propelling the girls into situations that a young lady of the 21st century would never need to confront. In the 1730’s, for example, parents arranged the marriages of their children. Young ladies had little to no say about who they would spend the remainder of their lives with as a wife. They found themselves married in their late teens. So, Maria and Emilia were approaching the age when their father would desire to marry them off to suitable husbands. Yet, Maria wants to become a nun. Emilia want…

Mommy, Mommy, When You Pray - Book Review

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Mommy, Mommy, When You Pray, is a delightful children’s book for ages 3-5, written and illustrated by Kimberly Cook. In this little gem of a book, children learn about the virtue of gratitude. Mommy is thankful to God for all He blesses her with, and she shares those thoughts with her children. The illustrations are colorful and engaging; surely to capture your child’s attention and interest. This little story will open up dialogue between you and your child; for the two of you share what you are thankful for, and why. Kimberly Cook has a knack for capturing the everyday occurrences of life and highlighting them as special – worthy of thanks! Cook has a lot of love packed into 24 pages. As you traverse through each page/scene, you will quickly see... Read more...

A Soldier Surrenders - Book Review

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Susan Peek has a knack for bringing the lives of obscure saints to the forefront. For example, in Saint Magnus, the Last Viking, she took us on a swashbuckling adventure. Today, Peek enthralls us with A Soldier Surrenders, the Conversion of St. Camillus de Lellis. In this action-packed adventure, we follow the life of Camillus de Lellis, mercenary for the Turks, and a baptized Catholic! We see contradiction from the start. How can a Catholic fight Catholics on behalf of the Moslems? You can, if you are hungry and have no other means to support yourself. Camillus de Lellis is a strong-willed, and stubborn young man, who thinks that all he can do is fight, gamble and drink excessively. Why would God want anything to do with the likes of Camillus de Lellis? Well, apparently, God has other designs. Things happen throughout Camillus’ life, that we only come to understand why, when... Read more... 

Calvary Road - Journey from Judaism to Calvary - Book Review

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Calvary Road, by Marty Barrack, is an interesting memoir/conversion story of Barrack’s conversion from Judaism to Catholicism. Roughly, the first 60% of the book is a memoir of Barrack’s life. We read about Barrack growing up in New York City and meeting the love of his life, Irene.  We learn about Barrack’s profession as a Customs officer. Very little touches on Barrack’s faith. I must admit, as I was reading the book, I kept questioning, “When do we get to the conversion part?”  With the title, Calvary Road, I expected more conversion and less memoir. However, when I reached page 220, the conversion part kicked into high gear! From that point on, it was a page-turner. Once I came upon the conversion part, I understood why Barrack spent the first 60% of the book on his memoir. It is through Barrack’s memoir, that we see where God was at work in Barrack’s life, unbeknownst to Barrack. God placed him where he needed to be to experience his conversion. We see Barrack embrace the Catholi…

Secrets, Visible and Invisible - Book Review

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What a treat it was to read Secrets – Visible & Invisible, a selection of seven short stories, written by seven different Catholic teen authors. Each story centers on a secret, and each story’s protagonist(s) depicted virtue, worthy of emulating. So, here is the run down: Secrets of Faith The Underappreciated Virtues of Rusty Old Bicycles, is a dystopian tale from Corinna Turner. In this story we meet Margo and Bane, two pre-teens out for a joy ride. They live in a futuristic time where religion and faith are taboo, yet Margo and Bane are practicing Catholics. Masses are said underground. After attending a secret Mass, they get into trouble while trying to get home on time. Will the authorities let them go, or will they convict them of joining the “Resistance?” Margo and Bane’s faith is only one of several secrets revealed in this page-turning, fast paced story, that serves as a prequel to I am Margaret. Secrets of Generosity In Recreation, by award winning novelist, Cynthia T. Ton…

Living Virtuously, by Erin Harrison - Book Review and Give Away!

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In Living Virtuously, Erin Harrison teaches us how to embrace and embody virtue in our homes. Harrison is a homesteading and homeschooling mom. She shares with us her own trials and triumphs in addressing vice and embodying virtue; using real-life recollections. Harrison’s perspective on life, and her tone of writing, calls us back to a time when manners and etiquette were valued. She’s quick to point out that the technological advances of the 20th century do not always give us a better quality of life. In Harrison’s opinion, sometimes it is better to do things the old-fashioned way – like talking to each other face to face! If you are a working mom, or a woman who doesn’t quite embrace the whole “submissive” thing (Eph 5:24), then you may not initially relate to Harrison’s suggestions on how to best incorporate virtue into your family life. But, I strongly suggest that you continue reading this gem of a book and allow yourself to search deeper, to find the numerous golden nuggets wa…

Emily's Hope, by Ellen Gable - Book Review

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In Emily’s Hope, by Ellen Gable, Gable gives us a glimpse into the two mindsets of the abortion/pro-life movements. In this fictional tale, Gable introduces us to Katherine Clayman, circa early 20th century, when women did not have the right to an abortion, let alone the right to vote. We learn of the illegality of ending a pregnancy and the lengths women would go to do just that.  Kathryn is a proponent of ending unwanted pregnancies and she doesn’t believe in God. Her philosophy was, “we live our lives, then we die and that’s the end of us.” (p.304). Contrast that thought with that of Emily Greer, Katherine’s Great-Granddaughter, who believes in the sanctity of life. Emily, born in 1959, sees life as a precious gift from God. She believes in a God who is the giver of life; seeing children as the fruit of self-giving love between a husband and wife. Katherine and Emily’s viewpoints on life offer a stark contrast, worthy of the read. Throughout the novel, Gable takes us back and fort…

Wisdom from the Christian Mystics - Book Review

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In reading Wisdom from the Christian Mystics, by David Torkington, I learned a great deal about how I might go about having a more intimate relationship with Jesus. Torkington begins this book by informing the reader of the Church history of mysticism and how its reception by the faithful has changed over time, due to the course of human events.  As a result, today, we do not know Jesus as we well as we could, because we do not communicate with Him in the same manner as the early Christians. Find God in Prayer To know God, we must come to experience Him in prayer; a prayer that begins with vocal prayer, moves to meditation and culminates in contemplation. It is impossible to love someone that we do not know. Torkington tells us that prayer is the answer, if we want to get to know Jesus better. Therefore, we must first come to know Jesus, via... Read more...

Masticate and Swallow - Book Review

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In this endearing memoir, Masticate and Swallow, by Fabio Alberto Hurtado, we learn of a young Cuban boy from the 1970’s, who emigrates to the United States. Hurtado sets the stage with a series of short stories from his childhood in Cuba, highlighting his relationship with family and the state. Masticate and Swallow – A Heartwarming Story He speaks of hardships living in a Communist country; yet he does it with humor. One of my favorite stories centers around a family game of Parchesi, where the family has only one die to play the game (The other was lost long ago). The game was competitive, and both Fabio and his cousin Sara did not like to lose. Fabio was one roll away from winning the game. Rather than lose to Fabio, Sara swallowed the die! Now, in Cuba, one cannot simply go down to the local store and purchase a new set of dice. So, what was anyone to do, but to wait for the die to appear again. As Fabio put it, “I do remember playing Parchesi again a week or so later with a shin…