On Barb’s Bookshelf: Cinder Allia

Karen Ullo’s brand new novel, Cinder Allia, is the perfect read for a rainy summer day. A Cinderella story like you’ve never heard it before, Cinder Allia fills in a grim backstory to the famous Grimm fairy tale. More Joan of Arc than typical fairy-tale heroine, Allia is a take-charge girl who knows that she’s the only one who can change her circumstances.

This novel answers the burning question every reader has about the fairy tale: why would Cinderella’s father allow her stepmother to treat her so badly? Ullo reveals Allia’s stepmother’s motives in keeping her in servitude and serves up a surprising twist in the form of a not-so-perfect Prince Charming.

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Who knew that a reader could manage to feel sympathy for the Evil Stepmother? It turns out that she’s trapped between a rock and a hard place too–though she’s still clearly a villain in this tale. And don’t go looking for fairy godmothers, pumpkin coaches or sweet little birds that put together ball gowns. Cinder Allia has none of those.

What it does have is a strong heroine with a keen survival instinct, struggling to overcome circumstances beyond her control in a world rife with treason and treachery. Move over, Katniss Everdeen: there’s a new leading lady in town.

Allia tightened her grip on the sword. Her scabbed palms burned with the wounds of hate while her heart drummed against the cross-shaped scar of love. No matter which she chose, it would leave her bleeding.

I highly recommend this book for teen and adult readers.

About the author: Karen Ullo is the author of the novels Jennifer the Damned (Wiseblood Books 2015) and Cinder Allia. She is managing editor of the Dappled Things journal and also writes recipes for Catholicmom.com. She holds an MFA in screenwriting from the University of Southern California. She is also a classically trained soprano who works as the music director at a church in Baton Rouge, LA, where she lives with her husband and two young sons. Visit her website: www.karenullo.com, Facebook page: www.facebook.com/karenulloauthor and blog: https://karenullo.wordpress.com/

(ARC received from author, who is a fellow member of the Catholic Writers Guild)

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Turning in Circles

“If only we had known.”

That’s the refrain at the heart of Michelle Buckman‘s latest novel for teens: Turning in Circles, a story of sisters, small-town secrets and teenage rebellion. So close in age that they’re in the same grade at school, Savannah and Charleston have always done everything together. That’s changing now that they’re teenagers. Charleston is younger but more strong-willed and independent than her naive sister Savannah.

turning in circles

The novel is a study in character contrast. Older sister Savannah is deliberate, careful and cautious. Resistant to change, she’s a rule-follower and a worrier. Charleston, on the other hand, lives for the thrill of taking risks: she’s impulsive and rebellious.

Charleston’s first love is the neighborhood “bad boy,” Dillon, who finds trouble to spare–while Ellerbe, the quintessential good guy and boy next door, crushes on clueless Savannah.

Savannah, busy covering for her sister who’s sneaking off to meet Dillon, uncovers way too many long-buried secrets as she seeks a way to protect her sister from her boyfriend. You know this won’t end well, but the ending is not what you expect. At the same time, it’s the only ending possible.

This Southern YA novel is appropriate for high-school students.

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: McCracken and the Lost Lady

Engineer, solver of mysteries, faithful Catholic and owner of a zeppelin: “Mac” McCracken is an intriguing character even before he ventures into the Russian wilderness in search of a lost icon.

Fifth in Mark Adderley’s adventure series for readers 10 and up, McCracken and the Lost Lady can be read as a standalone story due to the author’s careful inclusion of just enough backstory to inform the reader of what came before–without quenching the reader’s desire to read the rest of the novels.

Lost Lady Front Cover

In the spring of 1917, the world is embroiled in an ugly war and on the brink of change as revolutionaries are poised to take over the government in Russia. McCracken and his team overhear a conversation that leads them straight to Lenin, then receive a surprise commission to seek out the missing icon of the Blessed Mother: the lost Lady of Kazan. Restoration of this icon to its proper place is key to bringing peace to the world.

As we celebrate the centennial of the Fatima apparitions this year, McCracken and the Lost Lady is the perfect historical fiction to accompany a discussion of the historical context of the Blessed Mother’s message at Fatima.

Readers will enjoy the suspense and adventure that follows McCracken as he travels the world with his wife and toddler plus a fascinating crew from all over the world–in a zeppelin complete with its own library, chef’s kitchen, and a wealth of scientific equipment.

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Winning Reads for Kids and Teens

It’s always fun to learn that books you’ve enjoyed have won awards! It’s even better when you’ve met an author or have a local connection. That’s the case with two books for kids and teens from Pauline Books and Media, both of which won Excellence in Publishing Awards from the Association of Catholic Publishers this week.

If you’re looking for books for your children and teens this summer, I highly recommend these two!

A Single Bead by Stephanie Engelman

Stephanie Engelman, whom I met last summer at the Catholic Marketing Network tradeshow and Catholic Writers Guild Conference, proves that a story doesn’t have to be edgy to be compelling. In her YA novel, A Single Bead (Pauline Teen, 2016) teenage Kate finds faith in an unlikely way: through the stories of others who have been touched by the prayers of her grandmother, killed in a plane crash a year ago.

From my review: The novel opens with Kate’s extended family gathered around the plane-crash site for a memorial service. Needing a moment to get away from the tension and grief, Kate stumbles toward a wooded area where she finds a shiny bead–one from her grandmother’s custom-made rosary that had silver beads with the initials of her loves ones engraved on each. Kate doesn’t find just any bead. She finds the one with her own initials on it.

Kate and her cousins go on to discover that other beads have been found, and that the people who received them have experienced physical or emotional healing. Could it be that her grandmother’s prayers have such a deep effect?

Thus begins a journey of faith for Kate, whose extended family is deeply Catholic but whose own immediate family is less engaged in the faith. But faith is exactly what’s needed, because Kate’s mom has fallen into a deep depression after the plane crash a year ago. Kate hopes that finding other pieces of the rosary will help heal her mom.

This compelling novel is appropriate for students in grades 5 and up and challenges the reader to lay aside the idea that a prayer or a sacramental can be a “magical” thing. It is refreshing to read about an extended family whose life is centered on faith.

 

32 days

Author Ellen Lucey Prozeller writes from my diocese (Trenton, NJ). Her book, 32 Days: A Story of Faith and Courage, is a historical fiction account of the life of a little girl in China who, with her family, was forced to practice her Catholic faith in secret.

From my review: After her church was desecrated by Communist soldiers, Pei makes the risky decision to sneak into the church at night to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. The story is told from Pei’s point of view. Readers in grades 3 through 5 will learn about a child their own age who lives her faith in a time of oppression: a young, unknown Catholic hero.

Winning Reads for Kids and Teens

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

 

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Rightfully Ours

I’m thrilled to help introduce Carolyn Astfalk’s most-recent novel, Rightfully Ours (Full Quiver Publishing, 2017.) This one is written for the YA audience, but I’ve read it twice already and savored every page, so don’t leave it for just teenagers to enjoy! The book is already available for Kindle and the print edition can be pre-ordered–it will ship the week after Easter.

Rightfully Ours blog book tour/Barb Szyszkiewicz/Franciscanmom.com
Copyright 2017 Carolyn Astfalk. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

In this refreshing YA romance, readers have the chance to get into the head of the romantic hero. Paul lives in the Muellers’ guesthouse during his father’s deployment. He and Rachel, his landlords’ daughter, find their friendship turning into something deeper; while they struggle against temptation and Rachel’s dad’s opposition to their relationship, they discover historic artifacts buried beneath Rachel’s flower garden. I found Paul to be a more likable character than Rachel, perhaps because she is a few years younger than he and a little more immature.

A coming-of-age story of first love, buried treasure, and discovering some things are worth the wait.

 

One of the ways Carolyn helps to make her characters more real to the reader is by offering extras such as recipes, playlists and more. In this novel, music plays a huge role: when Paul inherits his father’s iPod, he listens to it to keep his connection to his dad alive. He puts the songs on shuffle and discovers that very often the song lyrics speak directly to a situation he’s working through. Carolyn has set up a Spotify playlist with the songs referenced in the novel. You can find that playlist, plus two recipes and other bonus content, on the Rightfully Ours Extras page.

Carolyn describes Rightfully Ours as a “Theology of the Body coming-of-age story.” That doesn’t mean it’s full of heavy theological content. It does mean that this book deals with the very real issues of sexual temptation that teens face, and the characters are challenged to reconcile their moral beliefs with their impulses to give in to that temptation. Readers also get a look at what parents of teenagers go through when they see their teens facing these issues.

Rightfully Ours cover

About the author: Carolyn Astfalk is a friend of mine and fellow Catholic Writers Guild member. She resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where it smells like either chocolate or manure, depending on wind direction. Carolyn is the author of the inspirational romances Stay With Me and Ornamental Graces and the coming-of-age story Rightfully Ours. Carolyn is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and Pennwriters and a CatholicMom.com contributor. Formerly, she served as the communications director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public affairs agency of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops. True to her Pittsburgh roots, she still says “pop” instead of “soda,” although her beverage of choice is tea.You can find her online here: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and at CarolynAstfalk.com.

 

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Visit the other stops on the Rightfully Ours book launch tour:

Monday, April 3 Virginia Lieto http://virginialieto.com

Tuesday, April 4 Bird Face Wendy https://birdfacewendy.wordpress.com

Wednesday, April 5 Plot Line and Sinker https://ellengable.wordpress.com

Thursday, April 6 Sarah Damm http://sarahdamm.com and Our Hearts are Restless heartsarerestless.blogspot.com

Saturday, April 8 Olivia Folmar Ard http://www.oliviafolmarard.com

Sunday, April 9 Things Visible & Invisible https://catholicbooksblog.wordpress.com/

Monday, April 10 Terry’s Thoughts www.thouchin.com and Erin McCole Cupp http://erinmccolecupp.com

Thursday, April 11 Peace to All Who Enter Here dmulcare.wordpress.com

Wednesday, April 12 Plot Line and Sinker https://ellengable.wordpress.com

 

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Perfect Blindside

I dare you to read The Perfect Blindside without imagining how great it would be as a movie.

Review of "The Perfect Blindside" at Franciscanmom.com

Anyone who knows me is amazed I’d say something like that, because I never like movies based on books–and I hardly ever see movies. But this mystery novel for teens is just begging to be depicted on the big screen.

Told from dual points of view, The Perfect Blindside follows Jake, a self-described “snowboarding phenom” and teenage Olympian with a chip on his shoulder and his classmate Sophie, a small-town girl who’s proud of it–and who tends to geek out over local history.

Jake and Sophie become an unlikely pair as they puzzle over suspicious occurrences in the town of Silver Springs, Colorado. Is the deputy sheriff up to something nefarious, or is he just a greedy cop who just pushes the limits of abusing his power, harassing teenagers with speeding tickets and finagling free coffee and pastry from Main Street merchants? What’s killing the local wildlife? Who slashed the tires on Jake’s Jeep while he hiked on the mountain? And did that joint the deputy found in Jake’s glove compartment really belong to someone else?

With true-to-life characters, an intriguing mystery and a setting so real you’ll imagine yourself walking down Main Street, this novel had me saying “Just one more chapter” over and over again.

The Perfect Blindside is published by Pauline Teen. I recommend it for readers in 8th grade and beyond.

The fine print: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purposes of this review. Opinions expressed here are mine alone. All Amazon links to the book in this post are affiliate links; your purchase of any items through these links help support my website. Thank you!

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: Life-Changing Love by Theresa Linden

Theresa Linden’s new novel for teens, Life-Changing Love, releases today from Silver Fire Publishing. A standalone sequel to Roland West, Loner, this novel tells the story of Roland’s classmate Caitlyn, who at 15 is not allowed to date but who dearly wishes for a romantic relationship, competing for Roland’s attention with a girl who has no restrictions and seemingly few inhibitions.

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After reading (and thoroughly enjoying) both novels, I interviewed the author about the series and the idea of courtship as a dating alternative, which was central to Life-Changing Love.

  1. Roland West, Loner was written from a male character’s point of view; Life-Changing Love was told in the point of view of a female character. Did you find one easier to write than the other?

I enjoy writing from the point of view of both male and female characters. Once I create them, giving them unique characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses, they sort of come alive in my mind. I can hear their thoughts in my head and understand how they feel about different situations. The only characters I struggle with are those that aren’t developed enough. That’s when I realize I need to spend more time “creating” a particular character.

  1. Will there be more books in the series? If so, who’s the main character in the next installment?

I have several books planned but Battle for His Soul is completed and scheduled for release October 2, 2016. Jarret West is the main character. This story is different from the others because Jarret’s guardian angel is also a point-of-view character in the story. It brings a completely different perspective to the events in Jarret’s life.

  1. A central theme in the novel was the idea of courting as a healthy alternative to dating. How can families learn more about this?

Through this book, I hope to encourage families to openly discuss this topic. Our children’s souls are at stake. Today’s culture too often promotes an unhealthy view of relationships that reduces everything to the physical. It has turned dating into something spiritually dangerous. Children are “dating” at younger and younger ages, making inappropriate emotional bonds. This opens the door to temptations for making physical bonds as well. But they are not necessarily thinking about marriage.

Some argue that old-fashioned courtship puts too much pressure on the couple to marry. Courtship might not be the perfect solution, but families can take the ideas that work from both dating and courtship and create a plan for their children that will allow them to get to know themselves and others without undue pressure and by keeping things in the right order.

While I think there are many definitions of the word “courtship,” I see it as something family-focused where two people get to know each other in a natural way. When a person is older and seriously thinking about marriage, getting to know the families provides valuable understanding about the person. A couple can further get to know each other in group settings like college groups. Courtship-type practices can allow people to get to know each other without risking their souls.

Other resources:

Emotional Virtue by Sarah Swafford comes highly recommended as a guide for developing healthy and pure relationships.

National Catholic Register has an article titled “A Parent’s Guide to Courtship” by Lori Hadacek Chaplin.

Catholic News Agency has an article titled “The difference between courtship and dating” by Anthony Buono.

  1. What can families do to help their teens be more receptive to the idea of courting?

Here are a few concrete ideas that might make courtship feel like the natural way to go:

  • Regular family prayer: be the leader and example in showing that God comes first. Enlist the help of the patron saints for purity and chastity like St. Aloysius Gonzaga and St. Maria Goretti.
  • Regular family discussions: the teenage years come with a whole new set of hopes, ideas, and challenges. Be there to guide them and let them know you care.
  • Talk about virtue and the spiritual side of life. Our primary goal is to get ourselves and our loved ones to heaven. It’s easy to lose focus so practice making the discussion of virtue a part of daily life.
  • Create a welcome and open environment in the home so your teens feel comfortable inviting their friends over.
  • Point out good examples and bad examples as you notice them in the news or in TV shows, books, and movies. Discuss the consequences that come from these choices.
  • Remember that helping our children to protect their virtue and develop healthy, age-appropriate relationships is very important. We want our children to have the freedom to get to know others, while having fun and showing respect, cooperating with God’s plan for their life. It will help them to have successful marriages and families in the future!

Here’s the book trailer for Life-Changing Love:

The Fine Print: I received an advance copy of the book, and no other compensation, for the purpose of this review. Opinions expressed are mine alone. Your purchase of this book through my Amazon link supports Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

On Barb’s Bookshelf: A Single Bead

Barb's Book shelf blog titleAuthor Stephanie Engelman proves that a story doesn’t have to be edgy to be compelling. In the new YA novel, A Single Bead (Pauline Teen, 2016) teenage Kate finds faith in an unlikely way: through the stories of others who have been touched by the prayers of her grandmother, killed in a plane crash a year ago.

A Single Bead by Stephanie EngelmanThe novel opens with Kate’s extended family gathered around the plane-crash site for a memorial service. Needing a moment to get away from the tension and grief, Kate stumbles toward a wooded area where she finds a shiny bead–one from her grandmother’s custom-made rosary that had silver beads with the initials of her loves ones engraved on each. Kate doesn’t find just any bead. She finds the one with her own initials on it.

Kate and her cousins go on to discover that other beads have been found, and that the people who received them have experienced physical or emotional healing. Could it be that her grandmother’s prayers have such a deep effect?

Thus begins a journey of faith for Kate, whose extended family is deeply Catholic but whose own immediate family is less engaged in the faith. But faith is exactly what’s needed, because Kate’s mom has fallen into a deep depression after the plane crash a year ago. Kate hopes that finding other pieces of the rosary will help heal her mom.

This compelling novel is appropriate for students in grades 5 and up and challenges the reader to lay aside the idea that a prayer or a sacramental can be a “magical” thing. It is refreshing to read about an extended family whose life is centered on faith.

Purchase A Single Bead through my Amazon link and support Franciscanmom.com with your purchase!

My review is based on an advance reader copy of the novel, provided by the publisher. I received no compensation for the opinions expressed here.