Monday, March 30, 2015

The American Catholic Almanac--My Review

About the Book:
They’re all Catholics who have shaped America. In this page-a-day history, 365 inspiring stories celebrate the historic contributions of American men and women shaped by their Catholic faith. From famous figures to lesser-known saints and sinners, The American Catholic Almanac tells the fascinating, funny, uplifting, and unlikely tales of Catholics’ influence on American history, culture, and politics. Spanning the scope of the Revolutionary War to Notre Dame football, this unique collection of stories highlights the transformative role of the Catholic Church in American public life over the last 400 years.

Did you know…
• The first immigrant to arrive in America via Ellis Island was a 15-year-old Irish Catholic girl?
• Al Capone’s tombstone reads “MY JESUS MERCY”?
• Andrew Jackson credited America’s victory in the Battle of New Orleans to the prayers of the Virgin Mary and the Ursuline Sisters?
• Five Franciscans died in sixteenth-century Georgia defending the Church’s teachings on marriage?
• Jack Kerouac died wanting to be known as a Catholic and not only as a beat poet?
• Catholic missionaries lived in Virginia 36 years before the English settled Jamestown?

My Comments:
I love reading about my people and this book features 365 of them, one for every day of the year.  There are men and women, lay and religious, priests and politicians.  While a bit heavy on the Irish (but then I wonder, percentage-wise, what percent of American Catholics are of Irish descent) it covers both cradle Catholics and converts (did you know that Buffalo Bill converted on his deathbed).  We learn about Stagecoach Mary "a sharp-shooting, whiskey-drininkg, cigar-puffing, pants-wearing, punch-throwing, six-foot-tall former slave" who loved the Ursuline Sisters and about Fanny Allen, a socialite who became the first known woman from New England to become a nun.  

Each biography is only a page long so it is a perfect book to pick up, read a page or two and then save for later.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for sending me a complimentary review copy.  Grade:  B+

Review: The In-Between Hour

About the Book:
Bestselling author Will Shepard is caught in the twilight of grief, after his young son dies in a car accident. But when his father's aging mind erases the memory, Will rewrites the truth. The story he spins brings unexpected relief…until he's forced to return to rural North Carolina, trapping himself in a lie.

Holistic veterinarian Hannah Linden is a healer who opens her heart to strays but can only watch, powerless, as her grown son struggles with inner demons. When she rents her guest cottage to Will and his dad, she finds solace in trying to mend their broken world, even while her own shatters.

As their lives connect and collide, Will and Hannah become each other's only hope—if they can find their way into a new story, one that begins with love.

My Comments:
I downloaded this one to my Kindle quite some time ago, and never got around to reading it.  Judging by the description, it was just another romance, and somehow it never made its way to the top of the stack.  Then Kathleen Basi invited me to the Women's Fiction Cafe Week with Barbara Claypole White.  If figured it might be interesting and I started the book--and then life got in the way.  Still, I loved it.  I loved the story, I loved the characters and I loved the writing.  

A big issue in this book is mental illness.  Will's mother was mentally ill (my guess is bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia) and because of that, his childhood was anything but ideal.  Still, he knew his parents loved each other.  Hannah's son suffers from depression, and depression is the reason her father committed suicide. Will's father is losing his memory.  Barbara Claypole White manages to show the real effects mental illness has on other family members.

There are bedroom scenes in the book, though they aren't terribly graphic.  I don't generally recommend books with bedroom scenes to people who don't like them, but in this case, I will.  The bedroom scenes are easy enough to skim through and the rest of the book is good enough, different enough to make it worthwhile.  

Barbara Claypole White's descriptive writing was absolutely beautiful.  It slowed me down and made me savor the words and the pictures they painted.

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley and I'd like to thank Kathleen Basi for moving this book from the bottom of my stack to the top.  Grade:  A.  

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sunday Snippets--Final Edition

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for  the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

Well folks, there gets to be a time when you have to decide something has run its course.  I think Sunday Snippets has run its course.  I started Sunday Snippets when the old Catholic Carnival folded because the organizer didn't want to do it anymore.  There was no other major gathering of Catholic bloggers and I hoped to make this such a place.  Via this link-up, I've met some terrific bloggers and learned a lot about the Catholic blog world.  However, our numbers are getting fewer each week and frankly, I don't have the desire I once did to contact new bloggers and invite them to join.  There is a new(ish) (if they are new than us, they are new, right) group called Catholic Bloggers Network which is doing what I set out to do years ago.  They give Catholic bloggers a place to network with each other, and since they are a large group, I'd say they are more successful than this link-up has been.  Click here to join them.    I hope to see you all there and I appreciate you all linking up here all these years.  I'm sure my stats will go down by shutting this down, but honestly, I'm ready to move on.  

I published two book reviews this week.  One is a double-threaded story, and a clean romance.  The other is a general market romance. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bliss and the Art of Forever: My Review

About the Book:
Now that she’s committed to leaving Hope Springs, she’s falling for the wrong man…but he just might give her all the right reasons to stay.

Two years after her husband’s death, kindergarten teacher Brooklyn Harvey is leaving Hope Springs for her in-laws’ vineyard in Italy—with no plans of coming back. That is, until she meets a disarmingly sexy biker-turned-chocolatier. He might be the man of her dreams, but he’s also the father of one of her students; as such, he’s strictly off-limits.

Callum Drake knows a good thing when he sees one, and he doesn’t want to let Brooklyn get away, even if his rival for her affection is the ghost of her dead husband. He’ll do whatever it takes to win her over, including making chocolates concocted just for her—chocolates that evoke memories of their time together. But can he create a second love bright enough to pull her, and her heart, out of living in the past?

My Comments:
Since I loved the other books in his series, I was eager to read this one.  While I enjoyed it, the other books were better (but the chocolates described herein seemed divine!).  Brooklyn is a kindergarten teacher, a lover of medieval romance novels and a good friend to people in this small town.  Because of the danger involved in his job, Brooklyn and her husband chose not to have children.  After he dies, she is alone.  She decides to join his family in Italy and is in the process of closing out her life in Hope Springs, and then she meets him--the bad boy biker who is the loving father of one of her students.  Sparks fly, chocolate is made, a  cute kid almost steals the show and in the end...

While it takes them a while to end up in bed, eventually they find their way there, and readers get to watch. 

I liked the fact that this book really showed the art of courtship.  He wanted her right away, and in a lot of ways, she wanted him too, but she wasn't ready, and he knew it. He was  there, he kept letting her know how much she meant, and in the end...

I'd like to thank the publisher for providing a complimentary review copy via NetGalley.  Grade:  B.

The Memory House: My Review

About the Book:
New York Times bestselling author Linda Goodnight welcomes you to Honey Ridge, Tennessee, and a house that's rich with secrets and brimming with sweet possibilities 

Memories of motherhood and marriage are fresh for Julia Presley—though tragedy took away both years ago. Finding comfort in the routine of running the Peach Orchard Inn, she lets the historic, mysterious place fill the voids of love and family. No more pleasure of a man's gentle kiss. No more joy in hearing a child call her Mommy. Life is calm, unchanging…until a stranger with a young boy and soul-deep secrets shows up in her Tennessee town and disrupts the loneliness of her world. 

Julia suspects there's more to Eli Donovan's past than his motherless son, Alex. There's a reason he's chasing redemption and bent on earning it with a new beginning in Honey Ridge. Offering the guarded man work renovating the inn, she glimpses someone who—like her—has a heart in need of restoration. But with the chance discovery of a dusty stack of love letters buried within the lining of an old trunk, the long-dead ghosts of a Civil War romance envelop Julia and Eli, connecting them to the inn's violent history and challenging them both to risk facing yesterday's darkness for a future bright with hope and healing.

My Comments:
On the one hand, this book has "series romance" written all over it, from the (Honey Ridge) after the title, to the setting in a bed and breakfast (what a stage for new characters to come and go) to the parts of the plot that did not wrap up neatly.  On the other hand, this story stands well by itself and frankly, the loose ends, the unanswered questions, make it much more realistic than those books where not only do he and she live happily ever after, all questions are also answered.

Julia's son disappeared one day, and as of the start of this book, there had been no trace of him found. Her marriage crumbled and she became depressed.  She and her sister purchased an old plantation home and have turned it into a bed and breakfast.  At this point it ranks higher on the charm scale than on the profitability scale.  Eli just got out of prison and has just been contacted by his son's great aunt.  It seems the mother of his son has died, and the aunt is too old to raise him.  She wants Eli to take on the job.  On the way there, Eli's car breaks down, he meets Julia, and things go from there.  Taken by itself, this part of the book would be a pretty standard good but not great romance full of hometown charm, an ex-husband who makes you roll your eyes and a bad guy boyfriend for the flakey younger sister.  However, this thread is not the whole story.  

The rest of the story is set during the Civil War, and it too is a romance.  By the end of the book there are several parallels between the two stories but they come together as the letters of the Civil War couple are found by the modern couple.  Sections are dated so it is easy to tell which story you are reading in each chapter.  

I looked up Linda Goodnight and found that she generally writes short inspirational romances.  While it is metioned that characters go to church and pray, we don't hear sermons and prayers are short.  It is a clean romance with no bedroom scenes or suggestions that they happened.  One of the heroines is married and though she has romantic feelings for her hero, her marriage is respected by both of them. 

I don't give many A's and I'd guess that most I give aren't to romance novels, despite the number of them that I read but this book is exceptionally good so I'll give it an exceptionally good grade, A.

Thanks to the publisher for making a review copy availble via NetGalley.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for  the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post. Click here to sign up.  

I know I'm later than usual with this posting but we spent the afternoon at our parish Crawfish Cookoff.  It has rained and been gray all week; today however was beautiful, perfect weather for a crawfish boil and there were a lot of good crawfish there.  The team I liked best used a boil that included pineapples.  Yum!  Hopefully we made money.  

One post for me this week--I reviewed a Christian novel about forgiving the person who is often hardest to forgive--yourself.  Mercy's Rain was wonderful and I highly recommend it.  Right now it is a $0.99 download.  

St. Patrick's Day and St. Joseph's day are this week so I'll leave you with a picture of last year's Tupa Tupa at my daughter's school.  She was Mary.  This year she'll be an inn keeper.  

Monday, March 09, 2015

Mercy's Rain

(free download on 3/9/15)

About the Book:
Mercy Roller knows her name is a lie: there has never been any mercy in her young life. Raised by a twisted and abusive father who called himself the Pastor, she was abandoned by the church community that should have stood together to protect her from his evil. Her mother, consumed by her own fear and hate, won't stand her ground to save Mercy either.

The Pastor has robbed Mercy of innocence and love, a husband and her child. Not a single person seems capable of standing up to the Pastor's unrestrained evil. So Mercy takes matters into her own hands.

Her heart was hardened to love long before she took on the role of judge, jury, and executioner of the Pastor. She just didn't realize the retribution she thought would save her, might turn her into the very thing she hated most.

Sent away by her angry and grieving mother, Mercy's path is unclear until she meets a young preacher headed to counsel a pregnant couple. Sure that her calling is to protect the family, Mercy is drawn into a different life on the other side of the mountain where she slowly discovers true righteousness has nothing evil about it--and that there might be room for her own stained and shattered soul to find shelter. . . and even love.

Mercy's Rain is a remarkable historical novel set in 19th century Appalachia that traces the thorny path from bitterness to forgiveness and reveals the victory and strength that comes from simple faith.

My Comments:
I loved this book.  For someone who likes happy stories with lots of sunshine, that's saying something, because this book is like the Smokey Mountains in which it is set--covered with a gray fog, but beautiful underneath that fog.  In the book, the fog is the guilt and the hurt in Mercy's heart, and of course the sunshine that breaks through the fog is the love of God, manifested through some special people. 

The book opens at a river baptism.  A sinner has repented and wants to be baptized.  The whole community is there.  The sinner and the pastor enter the river, where the pastor holds the sinner under until he drowns.  The pastor is bound, a rope is put around his neck and he is placed on the back of a horse.  It is not clear what was supposed to happen--whether there was to be a quick trial or or whether someone was to be chosen to carry out the hanging, but before what ever was to happen was able to happen, the pastor's daughter, Mercy, slaps the horses and the pastor is hung.  Mercy thought her mother would be grateful (we learn in the book why) but instead, her mother banishes her.  While Mercy is walking to the other side of the mountain, she meets a travelling preacher who is everything her father was not, and who was not anything her father was.  She agrees to accompany him to a home where a young couple is expecting a baby because she does not want him hurting the baby.  Throughout the course of the book we learn Mercy's story and watch her learn to trust God and man again and we watch her give the love she never realized was from God to others.  Mercy learns about Mercy and forgiveness and how forgiving others frees us.

Mercy's Rain is clearly a religious novel, but it is a well-written story with relateable characters.  It is reminder that those of us in the church are the reflections of God to which people look to discover Him, and that when we sin, those reflections become distorted.  Mercy's father was a grave sinner and caused Mercy to have a very distorted view of God.  Her new friends removed that distortion but Mercy still needed to look to God.  

If religious fiction bothers you, this isn't the book for you.  However, for those who enjoy Christian fiction or who can accept religious messages in books, this one is a real winner and I highly recommend it.  Grade:  A.  

I'd like to thank the folks at Kregal for providing a complimentary review copy.  

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for  the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post. Click here to sign up.  

Well, I'm kind of back in the blogging groove.  I reviewed two books this week.  One is called Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving; the other is a romance.  I also introduced my new blog and invite you to follow it.  

Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving

About the Book:
Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are often called “spiritual disciplines.” The term highlights their similarity to physical disciplines. But like a physical fitness program, we can go through the motions of these practices without deriving much benefit from them. Jesus wants the spiritual disciplines to work for us. Only the Holy Spirit can make us holy, but we can spur the Spirit to help us. That is what almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are: ways of seeking the Holy Spirit’s help, ways of beginning to cooperate with his work in us.

In this Bible study, popular Scripture commentator Kevin Perrotta selects six readings from Scripture—one Old Testament and one New Testament text for each spiritual discipline. Each passage confront us with some of the most important aspects of these practices, showing us why we undertake them and how they can transform us so that we become more like the persons that God has created us to be.
Perfect for Lent but can also be used at any time of year.
“In the Spotlight” sections highlight background information on passages, words used in Scripture, and biblical history.

My Comments:
While I haven't done more than flip through this book, it looks like a quick non-technical Bible study.  It is divided into six chapters with an introduction and a guide for using with a group.  Each section begins with a Scripture passage--Session 1 is Ruth 1:1-22 (wonder why I like that one?) Following the passage is some explanatory material that ties the reading into the theme.  This is followed by some questions marked "Understand!" and the questions themselves have some explanation in them.  There is space to answer them in the book.  These questions are basically text-based.  Then there are questions marked "Grow!" which relate the story to your life.  One example is "Serving others' needs can be burdensome.  When have you found joy in helping another person?" Again there is space for the reader to answer the question.  There is no room to answer the "Reflect!" questions and they are obviously there to be fodder for prayer over a period of time.  The "Act!" section challenges you to select one action to do as a result of this study.  The sections also include sections titled "In the Spotlight" that may tell about other people or other scripture passages that go along with the theme.  

More Comments:
Everything above this came from a previous post on on the loot I got as a result of winning the Advent Megagiveaway at the Catholic Book Blogger.  Now that I've had a chance to do more than just flip through the the book, I'd like to add a line or two highly recommending this as a personal or group Lenten study.  There is a lot of information tucked into this relatively short book and yet it manages to remain approachable and readable but not dumbed-down.  It goes into ideas and themes that repeat throughout scripture--like names having meaning -- and calls them to readers' attention but does so without getting bogged down in irrelevant minutiae.  Grade:  A.  

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

I Have a New Blog

No, I'm not moving to WordPress and no, I'm not going to stop blogging here, but after writing all those posts about Lending Club, I decided to try my hand at blogging about personal finance.  My new blog is called Racing Towards Retirement and right now I've got two posts per month pre-scheduled through June, though I plan to supplement them with a few more posts.  I also have some draft posts "in the hopper" so that I should have posts for most of the next year, though I will not be publishing as often as I usually publish here.  Please, take a look, and subscribe to my new venture!

Monday, March 02, 2015

Review: This Heart of Mine

About the Book:
As the daughter of a hoarder, Phoenix Fuller had a tough childhood. So when the handsome, popular Riley Stinson became her boyfriend in high school, she finally felt as though she had something to be proud of. Phoenix was desperate not to lose him—especially once she found out she was pregnant. Yes, she might have acted a bit obsessive when he broke up with her. But she did not run down the girl he started dating next. 

Unfortunately, there was no way to prove her innocence. Now, after serving her time in prison, Phoenix has been released. All she wants to do is return to Whiskey Creek and get to know her son. But Jacob's father isn't exactly welcoming. 

Riley doesn't trust Phoenix, doesn't want her in Jacob's life. He is, however, ready to find someone to love. And he wants a good mother for his son. He has no idea that he's about to find both!

My Comments:
This is one of my favorite of the Whiskey Creek books, perhaps because Riley has become a favorite character.  He is solid, reliable, hard-working and a great father.  He's just the kind of guy a girl would like to take home to meet her parents (except for the fact that he is a single parent, and these days, that's not the turn-off it once was either).  Shortly after Riley and Phoenix broke up while in high school, Phoenix was driving a car that hit and killed his new girlfriend.  Riley has been raising their son,who is now in high school, and he has severely limited contact between their son and Phoenix.  Now Phoenix is out of jail, back in town and she wants to know Jacob.  

Phoenix has had to survive  a lot in prison and has learned that the only one she can count on is herself.  She doesn't want to be indebted to anyone and has always sent money home for Jacob.  Now she wants to contribute even more.  While getting to know Jacob, Phoenix also becomes re-acquainted with Jacob's father, who, it turns out,dumped her not because he wanted to but because his parents wanted him to do so.  Sparks fly, wounds are healed and they live happily ever after--you can't fuss at me for spoilers, the book blurb above says the same thing, and besides, its a romance novel; how did you think it would end?

That whole big Whiskey Creek gang is in the book on the sidelines, but they really don't get all that much screen time.  The big secret isn't discussed but we are caught up on a few  people's stories, but they don't make any difference in this story, and those who are not reading the series will just wonder why those passages are there.

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B+

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