Monday Book Review: Ten Commandments for Kissing Gloria Jean by Britt Leigh

I won this book in a giveaway and was happy to do so since it’s from one of my fellow authors from the Books for Catholic Teens Facebook group.

Monday Book Review: Ten Commandments for Kissing Gloria Jean by Britt LeighTitle: Ten Commandments for Kissing Gloria Jean

Author: Britt Leigh

Genre: contemporary romance

Age category: young adult (but on the young end, really more upper middle grade in terms of voice)

Synopsis: (from back cover) “Gloria Jean wants her first kiss more than anything in the world. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Parents, friends, the sex ed teacher at school, and her Confirmation class catechists: everyone has opinions about what a fourteen-year-old girl should–and shouldn’t–do. Even Gloria’s own body adds to the confusion with troubles of its own. In a world of mixed messages, Gloria Jean wonders how she can find a way to listen to her own heart, and how she’s supposed to follow the rules if she isn’t even sure what they are.”

The book opens with eighth grader Gloria Jean going on her first movie date with a boy–although she swears to her mom it’s really just boys and girls hanging out as friends since her two female friends are also bringing guys as well. Secretly, Gloria Jean is hoping this date will end with her first kiss, but part way through the movie, she experiences “the Troubles” and needs to run to the bathroom. It takes her a long time to come back to her movie seat, and the “mood” is ruined by then.

Eventually, Gloria Jean learns that the “troubles” she’s been plagued with is actual celiac disease. She can’t have any gluten, and when she does it wrecks havoc with her digestive system, making her feel absolutely miserable, and it could have serious consequences later in life. This means she can’t receive Communion, which makes participating in her Confirmation retreat and regular Sunday Mass a matter of utter social awkwardness for Gloria Jean. Every young teen and preteen just wants to fit in, and Gloria Jean is standing out like a sore thumb when she can only receive from the chalice.

If you heard me on the Jennifer Fulwiler show last week, we were talking about good books for Catholic kids, some overtly Christian and others not. As you can probably guess, this book is very overtly Catholic. It’s essentially Theology of the Body told in novel form. Her Confirmation classes are set up in direct contrast to her sex ed classes at her public middle school. At times, some teens may feel this book gets a bit preachy.

However, if you’re a parent of a preteen who doesn’t know how to get started talking about your values with regard to sex, this book may be a good place to break into that conversation. Or if you’re a parent of a child with celiac disease, this book might make them feel less alone.



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Facebook Launch Party for Seven Riddles to Nowhere!

It is now less than a month until the release of my middle grade mystery Seven Riddles to Nowhere!

Where has all the time gone?

Like I did with Angelhood, there will be a launch party on Facebook with lots of fun giveaways! You might win a copy of Seven Riddles to Nowhere, Angelhood, book marks, pens, or one of many other children’s books (from picture books up to young adult books) that my writing friends have generously donated.

So if you’re on Facebook, come join us here on Wednesday, August 31, from 7-9 p.m. Central Time.

7 Riddles Facebook party header

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Studiare Days 20 & 21

I’ve been home for over 24 hours now, so I guess I’m finally rested enough to write this blog post!

Friday was my last day in Rome, and as is typical for me, I tried to cram a lot in. It’s as if I just can’t drink in enough Rome to last me until my next trip.

My final classes in the morning went well. People ask me if I’m fluent in Italian yet. Oh brother, not at all! I’m pretty good at “restaurant Italian,” and I can buy stamps and groceries in Italian. In fact, the day before, I was buying a super cheap lunch at the local Pam grocery story (yes, that’s the actual name of the store), and the girl in front of me was buying a sandwich and a dessert. The clerk behind the counter asked if she wanted the “menu.” (That’s what we would call a “value meal.”) The girl had no idea that the clerk was trying to tell her she could get a free drink with her sandwich and fruit. I had figured it out based on the Italian sign hanging in the store.

“Parli italiano?” asked the clerk.

The girl just looked at her. So I tried English. “You get a free drink,” I said to the girl and held up my beverage.

The girl looked at me.

“It’s free,” I repeated. “You get a free drink when you buy the sandwich and the dessert. Do you want the free drink?”

Finally, the girl seemed to understand what we were saying, but she just shook her head and said, “No, I have aqua.”

Oh well. The clerk behind the counter thanked me, and then when it came time for my transaction, she talked to me in Italian. Hooray! My words in English didn’t trick her into thinking I didn’t understand Italian!

Still . . . despite my little victories, I still struggle a lot with spoken Italian. It’s like my brain is on slow translation speed. I need a moment to separate the sounds into syllables and then figure out which syllables go together into words, and then finally translate the words into English ones!

When class ended at 2:00 in the afternoon, I headed over to St. Peter’s Square. I had some postcards to mail to fans who follow me on Instagram (What?!? You’re not follow me on Instagram yet? For heaven’s sake, why not?).

Then I hopped on the Metro line A and went to visit Santa Maria Maggiore. I hadn’t been to this basilica in two years, and there’s another holy door there. There are four holy doors open in Rome this year for the Year of Mercy. I’d already been through the St. Peter’s holy door, and I wanted to get at least one more in.


Holy Door at Santa Maria Maggiore

The church was very crowded. With World Youth Day coming up in Poland, a lot of youth groups were stopping in Rome first, so I saw two youth groups holding Mass in the side chapels at Santa Maria Maggiore.

A youth group at the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica.

A youth group at the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica.

Then I walked over to Santa Maria in Via because I promised an Italian classmate that I’d do so. Along the way, God sent me this little surprise . . . a church dedicated to guardian angels! Pretty cool for this author of a guardian angel story.

"Angelo Custode" means "Guardian Angel" in Italian. :)

“Angelo Custode” means “Guardian Angel” in Italian. :)

Then I booked it down to Trastevere. I hadn’t yet visited the Basilica of St. Cecilia, and I couldn’t image a trip to Rome without stopping in to see one of my all time favorite saints. St. Cecilia was actually my mom’s favorite saint, and my very first published article was on St. Cecilia. Plus, on the previous Saturday, I’d just seen the actual spot she had originally been buried in in the catacombs, so now everything had come full circle to me.

My only slight problem with stopping by St. Cecilia is that I was also on my way to another church in Rome. You may remember that my Loyola classmates and I had been introduced to a man named Paolo from the Community di Sant’Egidio. They pray together every night at Santa Maria in Trastevere at 8:30 p.m., and I had even gone back there on Wednesday to pray with them a second time.

Well, on Friday night, I was invited to pray with their seniors group at 5:30 in a small church just around the corner from Santa Maria.

I was running short on time to visit St. Cecilia before that, so I’m sure I must have made a little bit of a scene in the church. I dashed through the courtyard that leads to the church, in my head I heard the words, “Sono qui, Santa Cecilia! Sono qui!” (“I am here, St. Cecilia. I am here!”) as if for some reason she needed me to announce my arrival. But it was a happy announcement, a joyful proclamation of thanksgiving that I had indeed made it back to her on this trip to Rome.

I composed myself–a.k.a. slowed down–as I entered the church, but I knew I couldn’t stay long, so I walked straight down the center aisle, threw myself onto a kneeler in front of the altar, said a quick prayer, and dashed right back down the aisle. I can only imagine what the other people praying the church must have thought. Man, that girl must have had an urgent request! Or She looked pretty happy. Maybe she was just offering a quick thank you?!

Back on the cobbled streets of Trastevere, I dashed through narrow streets to get to St. Calisto where I was supposed to meet Paolo. I arrived at 5:32 and heard music already playing in the church.

I stepped inside and was immediately greeted by a friendly Italian woman about my height. “Are you Paolo’s friend?”


She lead me toward the front of the church and headed me a prayer book and a song sheet. There were maybe 20 people in the pews and about eight members of Community at the altar leading the prayers, my friend Paolo among them.

The prayer service was very similar to the other two I had attended. There was lots of singing, a litany of saints, a Scripture reading, and a reflection by one of the Community members. The main difference between this prayer service and the previous two was that most of the people in the pews were seniors (anziani in italiano).

San Calisto

San Calisto

Afterward, I was invited to join them for fellowship (and ice cream sandwiches) at a local community center. We sat in folding chairs (or wheelchairs) in a circle and talked. I found out that the woman who greeted me at the door of the church was Paolo’s wife. I also got to meet his parents and several of the senior members of the community.

Paolo kept introducing me as his “amica americana” because he said I looked too Italian, and everyone would just think I was his Italian friend instead of his American friend. Ha! I consider this a high compliment to be mistaken as a real Italian woman!

It was wonderful to talk with them and learn more about the Community and what they do. There is already a Community di Sant’Egidio at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and there may be one in Chicago before too long! I will keep in touch with Paolo to find out more.

After that, I had plans to meet up with a classmate from Scuola Leonardo for dinner, but I had a little time first, and I had some prayer intentions left to pray, so I decided to find this church Paolo had pointed out to me. On the way there, I passed another church. I didn’t see a name outside, so I headed it to see what church it was. Turns out it is the church of Santa Dorotea (St. Dorothy). This struck me as the perfect place to say my remaining prayer intentions. You see, my Aunt Dorothy past away last year while I was in Rome. My mom and she were close, and my mom passed away just a few months later.

Santa Dorotea

Santa Dorotea

I felt a great sense of comfort in this church, like my mom and Aunt Dorothy were praying with me, so later, I let everyone know that if they sent me a special prayer intention that I’m sure they can count on my mom and Aunt Dorothy praying for them, too.

I did eventually make it to that other church (San Pietro in Montorio), which was way up on a hill, but there was a Mass going on, and I had little time to admire it before heading back to the historic center to meet my Scuola Leonardo classmate for dinner. She’s a middle school teacher from New York who has spent time living in Italy. Like me, she sees Italy as a second home, so we were rather kindred spirits. I had also received a text message from one of my Loyola classmates who had just returned back to Rome after visiting other Italian cities with her husband and mom.  So all five of us (three of us teachers!) had a wonderful dinner at one of my new favorite restaurants in Rome, Monte Vecchio.

After dinner, I took a brief last stroll past St. Peter’s. Unfortunately, they’ve taken to kind of blocking it off at night, so I couldn’t sit around the obelisk. I just said a quick prayer of thanks for another wonderful trip to Rome and headed back to the apartment to pack.

The next morning turned out to be a bit of an adventure. I was scheduled for an 11:20 a.m. flight, but when I woke up in the morning, I found out my flight was delayed  . . . 10 hours!

My Italian landlady couldn’t believe it. She turned on the Italian news. There had been talks of strikes at the airports, buses, and trains, and sure enough, they talked about it on the news that morning, but they said the flights were all “regolare.” So why was my plane so late?

I had already missed the 8:00 a.m. shuttle bus I was supposed to take to the airport, but my ticket was good all day, so I headed out on the 9:25 bus. By 10:15, I was at the airport and standing in line at the counter.

To make a long story slightly shorter, I found out the pilot had called in sick. They were flying in a new one, but by regulation, they had to let him rest before flying us back for 9 hours.

The airline compensated us by sending us to the very nice Hilton airport at the hotel. We got free lunch, free rooms, and free dinner. I got to take a two-hour nap and a shower. It was heavenly!

The flight left at 9:05 p.m, which meant I didn’t land in Chicago until after midnight, but at least I wasn’t like many of the other passengers who had missed connecting flights or trains and were going to have to spend a night in a hotel in Chicago.

Well, I’m home and fairly well rested, which is good because tomorrow the Catholic Writers Guild Conference starts, and I’m a presenter.

On to the next adventure!

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Studiare Day 19

This will probably be my last blog post until after I get home. Friday night I’ll be busy packing for my Saturday flight, so I don’t think I’ll have time to blog.

After today’s classes, I decided to head to the Keats-Shelley Museum near the Spanish Steps. If you followed my blog two years ago, you may remember me visiting the graces of Keats and Shelley here in Rome.


The bedroom Keats died in


Keats moved to Rome after getting tuberculosis. He knew another British winter would kill him, so he came to Rome with a friend and they found an apartment above the Spanish Steps. Keats lived only a few more months and then was buried in the only non-Catholic cemetery in town. He had visited the cemetery ahead of time and said he liked it because daisies, his favorite flowers, grew abundantly there.

Keats spent a good amount of his last days looking at the Spanish Steps from this window in his bedroom.

Keats spent a good amount of his last days looking at the Spanish Steps from this window in his bedroom.

In the early evening, I headed back to school for an extra lesson on pronunciation. Then I ate some gelato, walked some more, ate some pizza, did a little bit more grocery shopping (yogurt and fruit) for my last two mornings, and headed home to do my homework.

Can’t believe the time here always goes so fast! There are definitely things I miss about home, but I’m also trying to soak up as much Rome as I can before heading home.

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Studiare Day 18

Class continues to go well. My two morning sessions are with one teacher who focuses on grammar and the writing and conversation. The afternoon session is with another teacher and that is just a conversation class. I do a lot more listening than talking, but that’s okay. It’s still good practice for me.

In the afternoon, I set off in another mission. This one by one of my Italian classmates back home, who emailed me about a church that is supposed to have healing water kind of like in Lourdes. So off I went!

Santa Maria in Via wasn’t too far from school. Inside, there is a side chapel, and in that chapel there is a passage to an old wellhat supposedly sprung up and overflowed miraculously one night in 1256. You can now drink a little paper cup filled with the water.

Do you see the Dixie cups?

Do you see the Dixie cups?


On the way back from the church, I heard some organ music and discovered another beautiful church. This one was Santa Maria in Aquiro.


In the evening, I did a guide tour of Campo de Fiori with one of the teachers from school. Then another student (who is also an American middle school teacher) and I went out for burgers. Don’t laugh! They were recommended to me by a friend who lives here in Rome. They were Kosher burgers as the restaurant was in the Jewish ghetto.


I rarely eat burgers or drink Coke at home, but it felt right in Rome!

I rarely eat burgers or drink Coke at home, but it felt right in Rome!

Then I headed to Trastevere to pray with the Community di Sant’Egidio. This is the group my Loyola class met with two weeks ago.

Time to go. I still have homework to finish tonight!

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Studiare Day 17

My second day of Italian classes went well. There is so much to learn about pronouns in Italian! Mamma mia!

After class, I decided to finish my mission to visit all seven official pilgrimage churches of Rome, so I crossed off the last one on my list, San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura (St. Lawrence Outside the Walls). As the name implies, it’s just outside the old walls of the city. It was built originally in the fourth century over the tomb of St. Lawrence, patron saint of cooks and comedians. How did he get that distinction? When he was condemned for being a Christian, he was roasted over a fire. Legend has it that he said at one point, “Turn me over. I’m done on this side.”


Early Christians put me to shame. I mean, seriously, death by roasting?!?

Tomb of St. Lawrence

Tomb of St. Lawrence

Also inside the church is the body of Pope Pius IX, who died over 100 years ago, but is still in pretty good shape.


In the evening,  I went back to school for an Italian language film with Sophia Loren: “Ieri, Oggi, e Domani.” The Italian subtitles were on, so I could read and listen.

Afterward, I ate a late, simple dinner of salad with chicken and an iced tea that I picked up at the market. Enjoyed it back at the apartment, where my Italian landlady decided to take out her own pre-cooked meal and eat with me.


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Studiare Day 16

So much to tell, so little time!

Italian class went well this morning. After my test, I was placed in the class with the fifth little workbook, which is good because last summer I was in the fourth workbook. I still sound like a little kid when I speak Italian, but I’m slowly getting better.

This year, I am taking the super-intensive class, which means I get an extre 90 minutes in the afternoon and don’t get out until 2:00.

However, I still had time to take the two buses and the Metro train that take you out to Il Santuario della Madonna del Divine Amore. It’s one of the seven official pilgrimage churches of Rome.


The ride out there took about 89 minutes, but I really felt like I got out of the city for a bit, and the whole complex was beautiful.

There’s a new church . . .



And an old church.



Plus a Lourdes grotto.


In the evening, my school hosted a “tandem night,” where we head to a local place for drinks and appetizers and talk in Italian with students from other classes.

A full but very good day!

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Studiare Days 14 and 15

And you thought this trip was over?!? 🙂

Saturday morning I took a cab ride from Loyola to the small bed and breakfast I was going to stay in for one night. And when I say small, I mean three rooms and one tiny kitchen.

Finding the location was a bit hard. I had the address right, and there was a sign outside, but inside it just looked like a condo building. The sign outside said it was on the second floor. So I took the elevator up, but on the second floor, I could only find condos that looked like people’s homes, not a B&B. So I went back downstairs and found a man sweeping the floor who showed me how to find the call button for the B&B. The woman ran down and took me across the street. Apparently, the one building is just where the owners live. Their tiny B&B is in another building.

I left my luggage there and then headed out quickly as I had a tour group to meet. I had booked a catacombs and Appian Way tour that left at 10:00 in the morning. Our tour guidewas a woman who was originally from Orlando but had moved to Italy in her early 20s.

imageWe could not take pictures inside the catacombs, but I got to see where they had found St. Cecilia’s incorruptible body before moving itto the basilica that was built over her family home. Interestingly, they had a copy of the statue of St. Cecilia that is in the basilica. It shows the position St. Cecilia was in when they found her body. She had three fingers held up in one hand and one finger in the other to show her belief in the Trinity.

After visiting the catacombs, we got to walk part of the Appian Way, which is the same street Spartacus and St. Peter walked. You might remember the story that St. Peter was walking on this street when Christ appeared to him and said he was going to Rome to be crucified a second time, indicating how St. Peter would die.


We also saw some remains of the ancient Roman aqueducts.


Saturday night, I met up with one of my Loyola classmates who was still in town waiting for her family to join her on Sunday. The two of us enjoyed a really yummy dinner not too far from Piazza Navona.

Sunday morning, I slept in a little and then went to 11:00 Mass at St. Ann’s church in the Vatican. Did you know St. Peter’s isn’t the only church in Vatican City? St. Ann’s (Sant’Anna) is just north of St. Peter’s Square. It’s a small but very beautiful church and makes me feel more like I’m in a home parish than when I go to Mass at St. Peter’s.


Right after Mass, I saw Pope Francis give his Sunday Angelus. After the talk and prayers, he mentioned the attack in Nice, France, and said something about being close to the people in their tragedy and praying for them. Of course, he ended as always by asking us to pray for him and wishing us a good lunch.

Then I took the bus out to one of the seven official pilgrim churches of Rome, St. Lawrence Outside the Walls. It was a rather long bus ride, and my map directions for finding the church weren’t quite right. I saw what looked like a church, but the map had me walking up this hill, so I followed the directions and ended up in a large cemetery!


Finally, I found a way out and discovers that what I had suspected was the church really was the church. Lesson learned: follow your gut instinct, not the GPS system. Unfortunately, the church was closed when I got there. Second lesson learned: my attempts to be spontaneous don’t seem to end well.

A long bus and Metro ride brought me back to the B&B, where I picked up my luggage. Another bus ride brought me to my usual apartment in Rome. Those of you who have followed along for a while know that this apartment is up on the sixth floor, which is really seven floors up. My Roman landlady had texted me earlier that the elevator wasn’t working, so when I arrived, we took the two ends of my giant suitcase and lugged that puppy up floor by floor!

On the way up, she said something about it being good for us and no cholesterol in our blood!

Once inside, we chatted for a bit about my classes at Loyola. She only speaks Italian, so I’m really forced to practice here.

It’s getting to be about dinner time now, so I’ll probably head out in a bit. I’ll write again on Monday night. We’ll see what level Italian they put me in tomorrow.

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Studiare Day 13

Friday morning, we gave our final presentations and did a few wrap up activities, including writing haiku poems about our experiences. One girl mentioned including some Italian words, so of course, I took that as a challenge to write two haiku, one in English and one in Italian. If I have more time, maybe I’ll share them with you later.

In the afternoon, I did laundry and wrote to the Italian man we met at the Community di Sant’Egidio last week. I am hoping I can pray with the community next week or even volunteer in the soup kitchen one night.

At night, we took a charted bus out to the Appian Way for a special good-bye dinner at Cecilia Metella, a restaurant I visited on my pilgrimage two years ago. It was a fabulous meal with some great farewell speeches, poems, and “skits.”


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Studiare Day 12

Thursday morning, we took a class trip to the Roman Forum and the Colisseum. We didn’t have a private guide, so we had to wait an hour to get tickets, wait another half hour while some group members took a bathroom break (only two stalls!), and then we used a couple guide books to walk around. Then our professor gave us an activity to do at each site, making connections back to our lessons.


After the Roman Forum, we visited the Colisseum. Standing there in the Colisseum for the third time was still a thrill. Moreover, I realize how incredibly blessed I am. Most people would be happy to make it there once. And here I am in Rome for the fifth time and in the Coliseeum for the third time!

imageIn the afternoon, we returned to campus for a late lunch and then worked on our final projects, which will be presented in class on Friday.

For dinner, we headed back to the neighborhood of the Colisseum to a restaurant recommended to some classmates by a cab driver. It was a beautiful night in Rome. After nearly two weeks in the 90s, the temp has finally dropped, and the evening weather was perfect for a stroll to a gelato stand.


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